DEADLY OBSESSION    

by Winnie

 

Chapter 4

The man’s hands were steady as a rock as he slipped through the partially open door. This was something he found in all buildings, whether business or apartments. If you waited long enough someone was bound to prop the door open in order to get back in without a key. More often than not they forgot to remove the blockage when they re-entered. He sang in a low off key voice, the familiar song barely audible in the dark basement.
 
“De camptown ladies sing this song...doo da...doo da...
 
He strode quickly towards the car, smiling as he felt the explosive device in his pocket. He caressed the simple vial of liquid that would completely destroy the vehicle it was attached to.
 
“De Camptown racetrack's two miles long...Oh, de doo-da day...”
 
He moved across the dimly lit garage and spotted the green mustang, sinking behind another car as someone stepped out of the doors to the building. His voice grew lower, but the song did not stop as his eyes sparked with a dangerous light.
 
“G'wine to run all night...G'wine to run all day...I bet my money on a bob-tailed nag...Somebody bet on the gray.”
 
He watched the young couple leave and moved forward, keeping to the shadows as they got into a car and drove towards the garage doors.
 
“Oh, de long tailed filly and de big black horse...Doo-da...Doo-da...”
 
He slid under the front side panel of the car and attached the explosives to the wheel well, all the time singing the song as his fingers expertly maneuvered the wires to the timer.
 
“Come to a mud hole and dey all cut across...Oh, de doo-da day.”
 
He moved the wires along the edge and hooked it to the front door, making sure the signal would be sent to the detonator once the door was opened.
 
“I went down South with my hat caved in...Doo-da, Doo-da.”
 
He finished the instalment and moved away from the car. There was no doubt in his mind that he’d done his job and as soon as the victim opened the door his fate was sealed and the bomb would explode in five minutes. A satisfied smile formed on his face as he walked back to the main door, singing the song as if it added to his strength.
 
“I came back North with a pocket full of tin...Oh, de doo-da day.”
 
He finished his trademark song as he slipped eerily out the door and turned back as it closed. “De Powderman done come and did his job. De Powderman never fails.”
 
~~~~~~~~~~~
 
Robert Spike smiled as he entered the bedroom and found the woman dressed in a beautiful suit of pale mint green. Her dark hair hung over her shoulders, framing her face, yet there was nothing warm about the set of her eyes.
 
“I see you’re ready to leave,” he said, motioning towards the full set of Taussh luggage.
 
“The concierge should be up to take them to my car. Jack and I will be leaving on the nine o’clock flight and will return in two weeks under different names. Make sure you’ve taken care of Wilmington and the others by then.”
 
“What about the Powderman? When do you want him to complete his job?”
 
“I will be back on the thirtieth...tell him to have everything ready for the following night. I want that bitch and her pup out of the way.”
 
“How can you be sure Larabee will come back to you?”
 
“Once I’ve taken out the woman who got her claws in him, there’ll be no reason for him to stay away. He loves me, Robert, it’s just a matter of him realizing that, and remembering how good the sex was!”
 
“How can anyone forget how good sex is with you, Ella,” Spikes said, smiling at the memories of the night before.
 
“Hmm, I do love a good romp with a virile man who loves it rough,” Gaines told him, as she pick up her purse.
 
“So will you be staying here again?”
 
“No...I think I’m better off to go to one of those shabby hotels and make it harder for Chris to find out I’m back in town.”
 
“Well, I think he’ll have his mind on other things,” Spikes said.
 
“Ah, yes, is the first one ready to go?”
 
“Yes, I believe Powderman finished that job earlier today and we should see some explosive fireworks very soon.”
 
“Is Powderman as good as you say?’
 
“Ella, if you want someone or something to disappear in a glorious display of fireworks, Powderman is the one for the job.”
 
“Very well,” she said, linking her left arm through his right. “Care to walk me down to my car?”
 
“It would be my pleasure,” Spikes said as he placed the tophat on his head and walked towards the door.
 
~~~~~~~~~~~
 
Buck and JD had only recently moved into the Rocky Meadows Apartment building at 2460 Village Lane. The duo were sharing a two bedroom apartment and so far were getting along well. Buck looked up from his coffee as the kid came back through the door.
 
“Problems, JD?”
 
“Damn bike won’t start!” he said as he made his way to the kitchen to scrub the grease from his hands.
 
Buck knew the kid was proud of the 1962 Triumph Daytona 500cc he’d picked up at a local bike show. Between them they’d managed to get it working and painted it in the original colors, and bringing it back to the bike it had once been. This was JD’s baby, one he coddled until it purred like a kitten. Picking up his empty cup he made his way into the kitchen and patted the younger man’s back.
 
“Well, JD, I’ll help you check it out when we get back tonight. Why don’t you get cleaned up and I’ll drive us both in. Chris wants to go over the stuff you and Ezra found on Barker!”
 
“Wasn’t much,” Dunne said as he reached for the towel sitting on the cluttered counter.
 
“Right now anything we come up with should help.”
 
“Think Chris believes that Gaines woman really left town?” Dunne asked.
 
“I don’t know, JD, but if I know Ella she’s not gone for long. Chris was lucky she didn’t chew her way back into his life before this.”
 
“Sounds like you’re talking about a dog, Buck.”
 
“I am, Kid, a rabid one. You ready to go?”
 
“Yeah, think so. Never should’ve bought that bike!”
 
“You’re just frustrated, JD. That bike looks great and it suits you. I’m betting it’s something simple and you’ll kick your ass when you find out what it was,” the rogue said with a grin. 
 
“Hope so, Buck, thanks,” the younger man said as they exited the apartment, locking the door behind them.
 
~~~~~~~~~~~~~
 
He stood in the shadows, watching for his prey, knowing it wouldn’t be much longer as his watch ticked off the seconds. The song was hummed now, but again barely audible as he waited near the main gate. From this position he had a bird’s eye view of the entrance to the parking garage.
 
~~~~~~~~~~~~
 
Buck moved to the driver’s side and got behind the wheel as JD did the same on the passenger side. He put the key in the ignition and immediately put down the roof. He mustang started on the first turn of the key and he smiled as he turned to his friend.
 
“Buckle up, kid,” he ordered as he snapped his own in place.
 
“Already done,” the youth said as the garage door began to rise. Neither man heard the tiny click as tumblers turned and a timer started ticking backwards.
 
~~~~~~~~~
 
4:59
 
~~~~~~~~~
 
He watched as the garage door rose and the green Mustang came slowly into view. He smiled as he noted the passenger.
 
~~~~~~~~~~
 
4:51
 
~~~~~~~~~~
 
“Ah, shit!” Dunne cursed.
 
“What’s wrong, JD?”
 
“I forgot my damn notes, Buck. I need them for the meeting!”
 
“Alright, just hang on and I’ll drive up to the main door. Just don’t be long, okay?”
 
“Okay!”
 
~~~~~~~~~
 
4:30
 
~~~~~~~~~~~~
 
“De campdown pigeons gonna fly...doo...da. De pigeons friend’s gonna blow sky high...oh de doo da day! Powderman is a funny guy...oh de doo da day... ” the man said, frowning as the car stopped in front of the building.
 
~~~~~~~~~~~
 
4:20
 
~~~~~~~~~
 
“Don’t be long!”
 
“I won’t!” Dunne said as he raced through the main doors and used his key to gain entrance.
 
~~~~~~~~~~~
 
“Still gonna blow de pigeon sky high...doo da...find enough pieces for de pie...oh de doo da day!”
 
~~~~~~~~~~~
 
3:58
 
~~~~~~~~~~
 
JD hurried down the hallway and opened the door. The papers were sitting on the coffee table exactly where he’s left them.
 
~~~~~~~~~~~~
 
2:44
 
~~~~~~~~~~
 
Wilmington had never been a patient man and several times he found himself looking at his watch. Drumming his fingers on the dash as he waited.
 
“Come on, JD!” he said, leaning back against the headrest.
 
~~~~~~~~~~~
 
1:57
 
~~~~~~~~~~~
 
JD locked the door and hurried towards the elevator, unaware of the ticking time bomb waiting for him in front of the building. He punched the button, cursing as he dropped several papers and had to pick them up.
 
~~~~~~~~
 
1:00
 
~~~~~~~~~~
 
Chris frowned as a shiver ran down his spine and he was uncertain what caused it. Moving towards his office window he looked down at the parking lot. There were three notable vacant spots. Vin’s jeep, JD’s Triumph Daytona, and Buck’s Mustang, lovingly dubbed The Lean Green Love Machine. He knew why Vin’s was missing, but JD and Buck should’ve been there by now.
 
~~~~~~~~~~~
 
0:32
 
~~~~~~~~~~
 
“Soon gonna see dem bodies fly...oh de doo da dayyyyyy!”
 
~~~~~~~~~~
 
0:28
 
~~~~~~~~~~
 
Buck smiled as the redhead from apartment one ten came out of her apartment. “Hmm, stay a little longer, Kid,” he thought as he opened the door. He waved to Angelica as he closed the door, cursing under his breath as Dunne came through the door.
 
“Got them, Buck!” the Bostonian said as he stepped into the bright sunshine.
 
~~~~~~~~~~
 
0:17
 
~~~~~~~~~~~
 
Powderman watched in disbelief as Wilmington moved away from the car. “No...de powder gonna blow...”
 
~~~~~~~~~~~~
 
0:12
 
~~~~~~~~~~~
 
Buck hurried towards the younger man, smiling as the voluptuous woman blew a kiss in his direction.
 
“JD, I’ll be right back...”
 
~~~~~~~~~~~
 
0:07
 
~~~~~~~~~~
 
“Buck...we gotta go...we’re already late!” the young Bostonian said pointing to the car parked 20 feet away.
 
~~~~~~~~~~
 
0:03
 
~~~~~~~~~
 
“Just be a...”
 
~~~~~~~~~~
 
0:02
 
~~~~~~~~~
 
“Buck!”
 
~~~~~~~~~
 
0:01
 
~~~~~~~~
 
“Ah, Hell!” Wilmington cursed his luck as he turned towards his car.
 
~~~~~~~~~
 
0:00
 
~~~~~~~~~~~
 
“Dem boys are flyin’ through da sky...Pick up pieces bye and b ye!” Powderman laughed as he watched the two men be thrown back by the force of the explosion. He turned away from the scene, whistling the tune as he stuffed his hands into the pockets of his tattered jeans and walked away from the screaming chaos.
 
~~~~~~~~~~~~~
 
Buck heard the explosion at the same time the force of it threw him backwards into the younger man. They landed hard and he registered the thud as Dunne’s head connected with the macadam. His own body somersaulted over the Bostonian, his right shoulder sliding across the rough cement, tearing not only his clothing but several layers of the skin underneath. His head struck the ground once more before coming to rest at the base of the stairs leading up to the main door. 
 
Angelica Anderson screamed as a fireball rose into the air, spreading thick black smoke with it as the noise echoed and re-echoed off the buildings. Flames lapped at the interior of Wilmington’s Mustang as she grabbed her cordless phone and dialed 911 as she raced towards the front of the building where other tenants were already gathering.
 
“911, Police...Fire...Ambulance?”
 
“All...I don’t know. A car blew up outside my apartment building and two men are hurt and there’s a lot of smoke and flames and I think...”
 
“Hold on, ma’am. I’ll get Police, Fire and Ambulance started.”
 
“Okay...but hurry. It looks like JD’s hurt. Do you need the address?”
 
“No, Ma’am, I have it. Are the two men bleeding?”
 
“JD is...should I see where he’s hurt?”
 
“No...don’t move him. Paramedics are on the way. You said there are two injured men.”
 
“Yes...No...no...don’t turn him over, Steven!” she called as a blond haired man knelt beside Wilmington.
 
“Ma’am...”
 
“...oh...sorry. I had to stop them from turning him over.”
 
“They didn’t move him?”
 
“No, ma’am, but it looks like his arms bleeding.”
 
“Do you have a first aid kit?”
 
“Looks like the superintendent is bringing one out.”
 
“Good, see if there are any sealed sterilized bandages and put pressure on the bleeding wound.”
 
“Okay...I think I hear the ambulance...yes...there they are. Danny’s gone to wave them down!”
 
“Very good, thank you for your help,” the operator said as Angelica hung up and watched the ambulance and fire trucks pull into the driveway.
 
~~~~~~~~~~~~~~
 
Chris knew in his heart something was wrong at the same time his phone rang. The number was displayed on the cradle and he swallowed as he recognized the name. His hand shook as he picked up the receiver and looked towards the outer office where Josiah, Ezra, and Nathan were looking at him. He felt a lump forming in his throat as he spoke into the phone.
 
“Larabee...”
 
“Chris, it’s Angelica. Look there’s been an explosion at the building. Buck and JD are hurt...”
 
“How bad?” his voice caught as he asked the question and he knew by the sounds of the sirens in the background it wasn’t good news.
 
“I’m not sure...”
 
“Are they taking them to Saint Vincents?”
 
“Hold on and I’ll ask them.”
 
Chris put his hand over the phone and answered the unasked questions he saw on the other faces. “Some kind of explosion...Buck and JD are hu... Okay...thanks, Angelica.”
 
“You’re welcome, Chris. Will you let me know how they are?”
 
“I will,” the blond said as he hung up and reached for his jacket. “The ambulance will be taking them to Saint Vincents.”
 
“Any idea how badly hurt they are?” Jackson asked.
 
“No...that was Buck’s friend. All she said was they were hurt. Josiah, let’s take the club van.”
 
“Sure,” the ex-preacher said, silently praying that the news was not as bad as it could be.
 
~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~
 
Angelica watched as the first team of paramedics went to work on the young man she’d grown so fond of since they’d moved into Rocky Meadows. Now he looked so pale as his body was gently handled by the medical personnel.
 
JD remained unconscious as a cervical collar was placed around his neck and his body was logrolled onto a back board. A young female paramedic quickly started an IV as her partner checked the injured man’s vitals.
 
Buck was receiving almost the same treatment as his room mate, except the concern was the damage done to his arm. Blood had soaked through the bandage they’d placed over it and the paramedic quickly applied a new one. An older man had started an IV just after moving the rogue onto a backboard and securing a cervical collar. A second bandage was placed on a profusely bleeding gash on the handsome man’s forehead.
 
“Alright, let’s get him ready for transport!” the female working on Dunne ordered as they moved him onto the stretcher and raced towards the waiting ambulance.
 
The second team repeated the same procedure and moved Wilmington towards the waiting vehicle.
 
“Where are you taking them?” Miller asked as he watched the doors slam closed.
 
“Saint Vincents,” an older man answered before hurrying to the drivers side.
 
Robert Miller stood and watched as the two ambulances, sirens warbling, drove out into the street. He knew the two men, not well, but enough to know they had enemies. Turning away from the street he looked at the destruction in front of the building. The Mustang was a write off and he knew the investigators would go through it with a fine tooth comb to find the cause of the fireball the witnesses described seeing.
 
~~~~~~~~~~~~~
 
Stacey Midland pushed open the doors as the ambulance pulled into the bay. She knew who the patients were and frowned as the back doors opened and the stretcher holding JD Dunne was pulled out. She listened as the paramedic rattled off the vitals and held the IV over the gurney as he was raced into the ER and towards one of the cubicles.  
 
“Jason, the second ambulance is just pulling in,” Midland explained as the older man came into the ER and she followed her into Dunne’s room.
 
~~~~~~~~~~~~~
 
Jason Henderson moved out of the way as a second gurney was pushed through. Again the paramedic read off the injuries and vitals as they pushed the second stretcher towards the cubicle next to Dunne. The physician moved to the side of the stretcher as one nurse began taking blood samples, and two others began cutting the ruined clothing from the injured man’s body. He took a small light from his pocket and flashed it into the patient’s eyes, checking for the proper pupil reactions.
 
“Sandy, call X-ray and tell them I want a full series!”
 
“Yes, Doctor,” the woman said as she finished with the blood samples and hurried out of the room. 
 
Henderson lifted the bandage from the wound that ran from shoulder to elbow. Several layers of skin were missing around a deep groove that looked like it went all the way to the bone. He watched as the nurse prepared a sterile dressing tray and moved to the head of the bed as a soft moan escaped the slack lips.
 
“Easy, Son, just lie still and we’ll take care of you,” Henderson said as the blue eyes flickered open and closed several times.
 
His right side was numb, but it was slowly coming to life and he felt the return of pain with the return of consciousness. He forced his eyelids open and looked up at the too white light stabbing at his skull. His ears were ringing, and he wondered why he kept hearing the buzz of insects. A white blur stood over him and he groaned as the man lifted his eyelid further. Still whatever was being said didn’t seem to make sense.
 
“..the h...hell hap...pened...”
 
“What do you remember?” Henderson asked.
 
“...car...late for w...work...” Wilmington frowned as his eyes closed once more, only to snap them open and moan and cry out as he tried to come off the bed, but was stopped by the straps keeping him on the backboard.
 
“Easy, Son, just lie still...”
 
“...don’t un...un...der...stand...JD...hurt...”
 
“I know he is and Stacey’s looking after him in the next room. I’ll find out how he’s doing as soon as I finish examining you. Okay?”
 
“...o...kay...” the dark haired man moaned as the doctor slid his hands down his right side, gasping as consciousness left him once more.
 
“We’re gonna need a CT scan once x-ray is through!” Henderson said and knew one of the nurses was already making the call. 
 
~~~~~~~~~~~~
 
Stacey Midland continued her initial examination of the young patient lying on the stretcher. His clothing had been removed and revealed several darkening bruises on his legs and chest. A second IV was being inserted as she checked the young man’s obvious injuries. She knew he hadn’t regained consciousness since the explosion and worried about the possibility of major damage to his head. She looked up as the door opened and recognized one of the techs from portable x-ray. 
 
“Alright, everybody out. Danny, I want a full series!” Midland ordered.
 
“Yes, Dr. Midland,” the tech agreed as the nurses left the room.
 
~~~~~~~~~~~~~
 
Chris was out of the club van before Sanchez turned off the ignition. He raced to the ER doors and pushed through them in time to see Stacey Midland exit a room.
 
“Doc, how are they?” Larabee asked, hurrying towards the pretty woman.
 
“I don’t know anything yet, Chris. JD’s having x-rays right now. He took a severe blow to the head and is still unconscious. He has some major bruising to his lower back. We’ll know more once x-rays are complete. His vital signs are good and that’s a good sign.”
 
“What about Buck?” Jackson asked from behind Larabee. 
 
“Dr. Henderson is in with him now,” she explained. “Why don’t you guys go to the waiting room and I’ll come tell you as soon as I know anything else?”
 
“Alright, come on, Chris,” the medic agreed, grabbing Larabee’s arm and turning him away from the two cubicles.
 
Larabee held his ground as the door next to JD’s room opened and an older man stepped out. He’d seen the man around the hospital and knew who he was. “Doc, how’s Buck?”
 
“Well, he was awake for a brief period which is a good sign. His right arm and shoulder sustained some damage and he hit his head. Anything else I’ll have to wait until we have the test results. If you’ll excuse me I’ve got a few other patients to check on while I wait,” Henderson said before hurrying off.
 
“Alright, gentlemen, you heard him. You know where the waiting room is and hopefully we’ll have some news for you soon,” Midland said, smiling sympathetically at the four men.
 
“Thanks, Doc,” Sanchez said as they steered Larabee away from the woman.
 
“I need to call Sarah,” the blond said as they passed a bank of pay phones.
 
“Would you like me to make the call for you, Mr. Larabee?” Standish asked.
 
“No...thanks, Ezra, but I think she’d better hear it from me.”
 
“Is she at Nettie’s place?” Jackson asked.
 
“Yeah, I dropped her and Adam off this morning, but I think she’s getting wise to me,” the blond said as he moved to the pay phone. His cell was in his pocket but he knew it should not be used in the hospital and he did not want to go outside in case he was needed.
 
“Josiah, you and Ezra go ahead. I’ll wait here with Chris,” the medic said as Larabee picked up the receiver.
 
~~~~~~~~~~~~
 
“I got it, Aunt Nettie,” Sarah called as the phone rang. “Hello.”
 
“Sarah...”
 
“Chris,” she frowned at the sound of his voice. “Is something wrong?”
 
“There’s been an accident...”
 
“Who? How bad? Is it Vin?”
 
“No...haven’t heard from Vin since the other night. It’s Buck and JD...I’m at Saint Vincents.”
 
“How bad? Do you want me to come down there?”
 
“We don’t know anything yet. No...you stay there with Adam and Nettie. I’ll call as soon as we get any news.”
 
“What happened to them?”
 
“We’re not sure...all I was told was there was an explosion at their apartment building. I see Robert Miller and a couple of his officers coming this way. Honey, I need to go, but I’ll call as soon as the tests are done. Alright?”
 
“Okay, Chris, I love you.”
 
“I love you too...hug Adam for me...okay?”
 
“I will...try not to worry too much.”
 
“You too.”
 
“Has something happened, Sarah?” Nettie asked from the patio doorway.
 
“There’s been some kind of explosion...Buck and JD are hurt...”
 
“Oh my, Stars! How bad?” Nettie asked knowing how close Casey was to the youngest member of Larabee’s team.
 
“Chris doesn’t know. They are at the hospital...he sounds so down, Aunt Nettie.”
 
“Buck’s his best friend, Honey. They’ve always been close. Did he say whether anyone’s told Casey?”
 
“Oh no, Casey! I didn’t ask. Maybe we should pick her up and go to the hospital. Oh Hell...Adam!”
 
“Why don’t you see if Marcia will look after him for the day?”
 
“Danny’s mother...I’ll call her right away,” Sarah said, dialing her friend’s number as Nettie worriedly looked on.
 
~~~~~~~~~~~~~
 
“Bob, what did your boys find out?” Larabee asked as he rushed toward the police officer.
 
“According to several eyewitnesses, Buck’s car exploded soon after he exited the garage. One of the tenants said JD went into the apartment building and when he returned Buck was already out of the car and walking towards one of the outer suites. We won’t know anything else until the team goes over the car. We don’t expect to find much as whatever caused the explosion was hot enough to incinerate everything but the steel frame and several smaller pieces. I’ll let you know as soon as we find out anything.”
 
“Thanks, Bob.”
 
“Any word on Buck and JD?”
 
“Not really. JD’s still unconscious, but Buck was awake for a few minutes,” Jackson answered.
 
“Damn, I was hoping the injuries weren’t serious,” the police officer said. He’d known Larabee and Wilmington since Travis asked them to investigate the duo before he asked the blond to head the agency known as The Firm. He knew there were some cases that were secretive and black ops, but at least he had men he could call in case he ever needed back up.
 
“Hopefully nothing too serious will show up,” the medic said.
 
“I hope you’re right, Nathan. Look, I’m headed back to the station...but I’ll need to get statements from Buck and JD once they come around.”
 
“I’ll call,” Larabee told him.
 
“Okay, but if there’s anything you need...anything at all. Just let me know...okay?”
 
“Thanks, Bob, we will. You’ll let us know when the team is done with Buck’s car?”
 
“I will, Chris. You boys try not to worry too much. Buck and JD have something in common...hard heads!” Miller said before shaking hands with both men and leaving the hospital once more. 
 
Chris and Nathan watched the officers leave before turning towards the waiting room. Larabee knew this was going to be a long day as a nurse entered the room he knew housed JD Dunne.
 
‘Just hang on, Kid,’ he thought, forcing himself to walk away from the door.
 
~~~~~~~~~~~~~`
 
“How can there be no sign of them, Ernesto? Barker said they left Pousada Vrajabhumi Hotel nearly two weeks ago!” Mendoza spat as he paced the living room. 
 
“The patrols have been looking for anything that would signal intruders, Hector, but so far nothing. They’ve widened their parameters to include the overhanging cliffs and the lower valleys. Perhaps, Barker was lying to you to get in your good graces once more,” Ruiz explained, watching as his friend moved to the window and looked out into the darkness.
 
“Barker would not do something as foolish as that. He’s seen the way I deal with traitors! The man is a coward and will not go against me,” Mendoza said, clasping his hands behind his back as he turned and strode across the room.
 
“Perhaps he was misinformed as to Tanner’s mission!”
 
“No...Tanner met with him and Maynard and if he thinks there’s any truth to my being here he will come after me.” Mendoza again walked to the window and frowned as a chill raced down his spine. “He’s out there, Ernesto, and he won’t give up.”
 
“If he is we will find him!” Ruiz vowed.
 
“Will you? Don’t be so sure of that, my friend, and don’t let your guard down. Tanner is like a ghost and will be upon you before you can blink your eyes.”
 
“You sound like you admire him.”
 
“I respect his abilities and you would do well to do the same. Watch the shadows and shoot first...if he’s alive we’ll ask questions later. Make sure the men are clear on my orders! Do I make myself clear?”
 
“Yes, Hector, I will see to it,” Ruiz said before leaving the office.
 
‘You’re out there, aren’t you, Vin? It’s almost as if I can feel you inside my head. The world has certainly gotten small and therefore you or I will die this time, my friend!’ he thought, smiling as he walked to the bar and poured a shot of Tequila.
 
~~~~~~~~~~~~~
 
Chris paced the waiting area, unaware of the others watching him. They’d already filled out the papers at the main desk and now began the waiting game. Every so often he’d look at his watch, curse softly and look towards the open door that led into the ER.
 
“Dammit, what’s taking so long?” Larabee asked as he dropped wearily into a chair.
 
“Chris, the tests take time,” Jackson answered, hiding his own worry from is friends.
 
“Chris, any word on Buck and JD?”
 
Larabee turned at the familiar voice and hurried to his wife’s side. He smiled thinly as Nettie and Casey Wells entered behind her.
 
“No...nothing since I called you,” the blond answered, smiling as Standish hugged Casey and Sanchez did the same with the older Wells woman. Jackson hugged each of the women and led them to the empty seats.
 
“How long has it been?” Casey asked, wiping away the evidence of her tears.
 
“It’s been about an hour. I’ll check with the desk and see if there’s any news,” the medic explained.
 
“Thanks, Nate,” Larabee said, holding his wife as a soft sob escaped.
 
“Have you heard anything new about what happened?” Nettie asked.
 
“No, Bob said the teams are going over the car, but the fire may have destroyed the evidence,” Sanchez answered.
 
“So we still don’t know if it was an accident or someone with a grudge against Buck?” Sarah inquired.
 
“No, but Bob will let us know as soon as he hears anything.”
 
“Mr. Larabee?”
 
“Doc, how’s Buck?” the worried blond asked as Jackson re-entered the waiting room.
 
“He’s just been sent down for a CT scan, but I thought I’d let you know x-rays are normal. There are no broken bones, but he does have a laceration on his right arm from shoulder to elbow. I won’t tell you how many stitches it took to close it up, but suffice it to say it took a lot. He must have slid across the ground because there are several layers of torn and abraded skin around the wound. He’s going to be sore and need to use a sling for several weeks. If the CT scan is negative then we just have to wait for him to wake up and assess him again. I’ve already admitted him, at least overnight for observation,” Henderson explained.
 
“Can we see him?” Larabee asked.
 
“When they bring him back from CT two of you can sit with him until they move him upstairs.
 
“Make sure it’s a double,” Sanchez warned.
 
“Pardon?”
 
“A double. If JD’s admitted they’ll want to be in the same room and believe me it’ll make things easier on your nursing staff!” the ex-preacher explained.
 
“I’ll keep that in mind when I talk to Stacey. Thank you for the advice and I’ll have the nursing staff let you know when Mr. Wilmington is back in his room,” Henderson said, knowing these men were probably telling him the truth.
 
“Nathan, any word on JD?”
 
“He’s back from CT and in his room. Dr. Midland was just checking the results and said she’d be in to see us as soon as she’s done,” the medic explained as the waiting game began again.
 
~~~~~~~~~~~~~~ 
 
“Jackie...Jackie,” Tanner called softly as several night birds called out a warning. The star studded sky was obscured with intermittent clouds as he backtracked to the last place he’d seen the other agent.
 
“I’m right behind you, Vin,” Maynard answered, wiping the sweat from her eyes as she quickly caught up with her partner.
 
“Where were ya?” the tracker asked as she knelt on one knee beside him.
 
“I thought I saw something in the southeast corner!”
 
“Why didn’t ya wait fer me?”
 
“Vin, I’m a big girl and I know how to handle myself,” the woman said indignantly.
 
“Yeah... sorry, keep forgettin’ yer not afraid of breakin’ a nail or two,” the Texan teased.
 
“Hell, Vin, broke all of them too long ago to worry about that now. Think I outgrew pedicure’s the first time I ran down a drug dealer!” She heard his soft laughter, ducking down as the moon peeked out from behind a cloud.
 
“What did you find back there?” Tanner asked.
 
“Nothing...just more of these damn plants! Anything up ahead?”
 
“Didn’t go very far. Figured I’d better check on you.”
 
“Ah, bet I’m the only DEA damsel with her own Texan in shining armor,” Maynard said as they moved further into the field.
 
~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~
 
Stacey Midland looked at the group sitting in the row of chairs beside the window. She held up her hands and motioned for them to remain seated as she leaned tiredly on the window sill.
 
“How is he, Doc?” Sanchez voiced the question on all their minds.
 
“Okay, the scans are negative and he’s showing signs of coming around.”
 
“Thank God,” Nettie Wells observed as Casey sobbed against her in relief.
 
“So he’s going to be alright?” Sanchez asked hopefully.
 
“I think so, but until he’s fully conscious there’s no way of knowing for sure. He also sustained some deep bruises on his back, probably from the way he landed and the force of the explosion. I’ve admitted him and before you ask he’ll be sharing a room with Buck Wilmington. The floor will call down when the room is ready.”
 
“Can I see him?” Casey asked.
 
“Yes, for a couple of minutes. Chris, someone can go in with Buck now as well, but remember they need to rest!” Midland stressed the last word.
 
“Thanks, Doc,” Sanchez said as the physician left the room.
 
~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~
 
Sarah walked beside her husband, aware of how much this was affecting him. She loved Buck Wilmington as a friend, but his relationship to her husband was more like a brother. The two had known each other long before she came into the picture. She held tightly to his arm as they entered the cubicle and looked at the man lying on the bed.
 
Wilmington was hooked up to several monitors and an IV dripped fluid into his left hand. A square patch of gauze partially covered a deep purple and black bruise on the man’s forehead and his right arm were covered in thick bandages. Several bruises were visible above the blanket covering his abdomen and they knew he would be sore for some time.
 
“Here, Honey,” Larabee said, pulling a plastic chair over to the bed.
 
“He looks so pale,” Sarah half sobbed as she reached for the unmoving fingers of his left hand. This man meant so much to her family and it angered her to see him lying so still and injured. She smoothed the sticky hair away from the bandage and heard a soft moan from the gentle rogue.
 
“He’s gonna be okay, Sarah...he’s got to be,” the blond said, silently praying he was right.
 
“...gon...na be f...fine...if th...those hands be...long to a beau...ti...ful wo...man,” the rogue’s voice filtered through parched lips as he forced his eyes open. He smiled as his eyes finally focused on the woman seated beside his bed. “hell...o...gor...geous...Chris’ll be jea...lous.”
 
“Not likely, Stud,” Larabee smiled in relief as the man’s humor came through in spite of the obvious pain he felt.
 
“Da...damn...how c...come t...there’s two of. y...your ugly face and only one of this vi...sion...”
 
“Leave it to you to insult me and make a pass at my wife while you’re hurt and I can’t do a damn thing to you. Just remember I’ve still got my gun,” Larabee gently warned. “How do you feel?”
 
“I’d say like s...shit, b...but th...that don’t har...hardly describe it. Wh....what happened?”
 
“What do you remember, Buck?” Sarah asked, knowing short term memory loss could be a factor with the head injury.
 
“N...not sure...” he groaned as he lifted his hand to his head.
 
“Don’t touch that, Buck,” the woman warned.
 
“Head hurts...some...body h...hit m...me? God...” he gasped as his eyes closed and he lost consciousness.
 
~~~~~~~~~~~~~~
 
Nathan and Casey stepped into the second cubicle just as a nurse changed the IV bag over the young man’s head. The medic recognized her and nodded as she left them alone with the patient. Jackson placed a steadying hand on the woman’s arm as she slowly walked to the bed. He grabbed for the chair but Casey shook her head, preferring to stand next to the bed and lean over the injured man.
 
“JD, you’d better be okay,” Casey said, swiping at the tears overflowing her eyes. She reached forward and took his right hand in her left and slowly ran her fingers through the thick black hair. “I thought you were gonna get your hair cut,” she sniffed as she felt Jackson watching her. 
 
“Easy, Casey,” the medic said, smiling as he watched the tender way she held his hand.
 
She smiled as she looked from the injured man to the one standing beside her. She knew the friendship that developed so quickly was now a bond between the seven men and knew she could lean on them whenever they needed her. She was doing that right now and was thankful as a soft moan came from the Bostonian.
 
“JD?” she cried. “Please, JD, open your eyes,” the woman begged as she held his hand to her cheek.
 
“Come on, Kid, time to wake up. You’ve been sleeping long enough,” Jackson said as the young man showed all the signs of waking up.
 
His ears were working, but his mind was having trouble making sense of the sounds he heard. His sense of smell was strong and he grimaced at the medicinal smell, knowing instinctively what it meant. Hospital, and from the way he felt this time he was there as a patient. He heard the strange sound repeated and realized it was coming from his own throat. Moaning softly he forced his eyes open and looked into the familiar face he was growing so fond of.
 
“Ca...Casey...okay?”
 
“Oh, JD,” she cried as she flicked the long strands of hair away from his forehead.
 
“Easy, JD, just lie still,” Jackson warned as the younger man’s face showed a grimace of pain.
 
“...head hurts...”
 
“You have a concussion, JD,” Jackson explained.
 
“Con...concussion? How? What hap...penned?”
 
“What do you remember, JD?” Casey asked, watching the young man closely for signs that he was in trouble.
 
“Bike wouldn’t start...late f...for meet...ing. Buck? Some...thing wrong...forgot the papers,” Dunne frowned as he tried to grasp what happened next. He closed his eyes in an effort to ease the pounding in his skull. “I c...can’t think s...straight!”
 
“Easy, JD,” Jackson ordered as the younger man moaned again. “Just relax and it’ll come back to you.”
 
“W...where’s Buck? Re...member talking to him...is he...okay?” The silence went on too long and the injured man’s eyes opened once more. He looked from one to the other and saw the worry and concern on both faces. “Buck...Nathan...what happened?”
 
“You and Buck were both injured in an explosion, JD, but you’re going to be alright. Why don’t you go on back to sleep and when you wake up you two will be sharing the same room. Just don’t try any three legged dawg jokes or he’s liable to shoot you just to put himself out of misery,” the medic said. He watched as Dunne lost the battle to stay awake and his eyelids dropped, covering his glazed orbs.
 
“I’m so glad he woke up, Nathan,” Casey said as she released the young man’s hand and lifted the covers up over his body.
 
“That’s a real good sign, Casey. Are you okay here while I go let the others know?”
 
“Yes, I’m fine,” Wells assured him. She reached for the chair and pulled it next to the bed as Jackson left the room. “Don’t you even think about leaving me, JD Dunne, because I’ll chase you to hell and back if you do,” she whispered softly.
 
~~~~~~~~~~~~~~
 
The agents moved silently through the night, ducking into the thicker growth when they heard voices or anything remotely resembling a patrol. Vin had no idea how long they’d been moving through the fields but suddenly realized there was light ahead. He heard voices and dogs barking and pulled Jackie down beside him.
 
“What’s wrong?” Maynard asked, her voice whisper soft in the night air.
 
“I think we’re closer to Mendoza than we thought...look to the right,” he told her.
 
Jackie saw the dim lights and turned towards her companion once more. “Guess we’d better take a look.”
 
“Let’s not get too close...dogs,” he said of her confused stare.
 
“Damn, we need to verify Mendoza’s presence,” Jackie said as she turned back to the lighted area.
 
“I know, but...” he grew quiet as the sharp bark of a dog sounded much closer. He felt Jackie stand up and make a move towards the lights and grabbed her arm. He saw anger in her eyes as she pointed towards the illuminated area. Shaking his head, Vin used his finger and made a slicing motion across his throat before pointing back the way they’d come.
 
“We need to go in there!” she hissed through clenched teeth.
 
“Not yet! We need to figure out what we’re gonna do!” he spat, shaking his head as she tried to pull out of his grip. He held tight, waiting until she turned a deadly glare in his direction, surprised at the change in the female agent. “What the hell’s wrong with ya?”
 
“I need to go in there, Vin, and kill that fucking monster!” she whispered, yet the ferocity was there in the words.
 
Vin knew he’d missed something important with the woman beside him and vowed to find out what it was. Their job was to verify Mendoza’s presence, but something told him there was more pushing Maynard and he needed to find out what it was. Unknown factors often resulted in unwanted consequences and right now they could not afford those. Again he made a slicing motion with his hand and pointed back through the field.
 
Jackie glared at the Texan, but knew he was right as the sounds of the dogs grew closer still. Taking a deep breath she turned away from the lights and followed the tracker back through the trees. It took over an hour for them to make it to the end of the field and they were relieved when there was no signs of pursuit. They moved into the deeper darkness at the edge of the trail and slowly began their way back the treacherous ground towards the cave. 
 
“Jackie,” Tanner said as they neared the entrance to the cave.
 
“What?”
 
“Why were ya so hell bent on going in there before we’re ready?”
 
“We were ready!”
 
“No, dammit, we weren’t! Now what the fuck is goin’ on?” Tanner said turning her until they faced each other as twilight began to take over the landscape.
 
“Nothing!”
 
“Don’t give me that shit, Jackie. Ya tell me why ya were ready ta go in there! What’s between you and Mendoza?”
 
“You really want to know, Vin?”
 
“Hell yeah...I need ya ta watch my fuckin’ back and if’n yer not thinkin’ straight I can’t trust ya!” Tanner said as he pulled her towards the cave entrance and shoved her inside. He turned and made sure the brush was back in place and their hideout concealed once more.
 
Jackie stood behind him and knew she owed him an explanation. She hadn’t told him anything about her past, or why she’d become a DEA agent in the first place. They needed to trust each other and she sank down on the sleeping bag as she heard Tanner coming towards her.
 
“Ya ready ta tell me what that was all about?” the Texan asked, anger making his whispered words sound harsh in the darkness.
 
“The bastard killed my brother!”
 
“Ah, Fuck!” Tanner cursed. “I’m sorry...but...”
 
“But I can’t let it get in the way of bringing Mendoza and his cartel down! Don’t you think I know that, Vin? Every fucking time I get close to the slick bastard he slides out from under the surveillance. I can’t let that happen this time! I won’t let it happen! I’ve lost him four times over the last year and now we’re this close I don’t aim to lose him again! The little bastard seems to know as soon as I’m in the area!”
 
“Ya think Barker had something ta do with that?”
 
“Yes...I do! I can’t prove anything yet, but Barker’s behind Mendoza’s quick escapes and I’m afraid of it happening again! I can’t let it happen again. Jamie’s dead and it’s my fault, but I will find a way to repay Mendoza for what he did!”
 
“Jamie?”
 
“My brother...we were on vacation in the Cayman Islands. Mom, Dad, me and Jamie. We’d been there about a week when I met this man who literally swept me off my feet. I thought he was perfect...the one and only man for me. I was so damn naive and went with him to this private party, but Jamie found out about it and followed us. He’d be alive today if I hadn’t been so stupid!”
 
“What happened?” Tanner asked, hearing the remorse in her voice and pulling her close.
 
“It was a party alright. A drug party...a get the wet behind the ears girl loaded with drugs and make her the star of a porn show before dumping her in a ditch somewhere with her throat slit. Mendoza was there, but I didn’t see him right away. Ernesto brought me this drink and it was sickly sweet, but it was alcohol and something I’d never been allowed to try before. There I was with all these people, drinking and laughing and feeling like I was so much older than seventeen! I started feeling shaky and remember thinking I’d only had one drink and it shouldn’t be affecting me like this. Ernesto began toying with me and I was giggling like a school girl as he undid the buttons of my blouse. I remember hitting his hand and he told me to relax and enjoy. I felt sick, but couldn’t fight him. I think that’s when I passed out. I woke up, naked and in the middle of these soft pillows with a man lying beside me, and then heard Jamie’s voice and the sound of gunshots. Jamie was two years older than me and had just entered the military...he was smart and called in the police. Next thing I remember is waking up in the hospital. I’d been pumped full of drugs, but Jamie arrived in time to stop the bastards from ra...raping me. I was in the hospital for three days and when I got out Mom, Dad and Jamie had everything packed and we flew home. I can’t tell you how humiliated I was...couldn’t even look at Mom, but Jamie was always there. He let me cry and scream and rant about everything and he just held me. My big brother, my hero,” she said, finally letting the tears fall.
 
“I’m sorry, Jackie,” Tanner whispered, holding her as she cried softly against his shoulder.
 
“Thanks, Vin,” the woman said as she brought the tears under control. “It was a month later and Jamie and I were home alone. I was sleeping and he was watching TV. I don’t know what woke me, but I knew something was wrong. I pulled on my robe and went downstairs. The lights were off, but the TV was on...one of them damn westerns he loved was playing and they were right in the middle of a gunfight. I saw Jamie lying on the floor facing the TV same as he always did and called to him. He didn’t answer me, Vin and I thought he was asleep, but he wasn’t. I walked over to him and put my hand on his shoulder and turned him towards me. God help me his eyes were open and pleading and there was blood on his lips. I knew he was dying and I cradled him in my arms. He said one word before he stopped breathing and it was at that moment I swore I’d get his killer.”
 
“He told ya who did it?” Tanner asked.
 
“Yes...”
 
“Mendoza?”
 
“Yes...he killed my brother, Vin and it was all my fault!”
 
“No, Jackie, the fault lies with Mendoza. We’ll get him, you got my word on that!”
 
“Thanks, Vin, that’s the first time I’ve talked about that since I saw mom and dad...that was twelve years ago.”
 
“Why so long?”
 
“I can’t face them after what happened. They call and we talk, but I haven’t been home since Jamie was buried.”
 
“You need to see them,” Tanner said.
 
“I know and I will once Mendoza is taken care of,” Jackie said, yawning tiredly.
 
“Guess we’d better get some shut eye,” the sharpshooter said as they laid down beside each other. They were silent for a long time, but Jackie pulled the Texan closer.
 
“Thanks, Tex,” she said softly.
 
“Anytime,” the tracker said, before giving in to the call of sleep.
 
~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~
 
Sarah settled Adam on the bed and covered him with his blankets before kissing him on the forehead. She turned on the nightlight and turned to leave the room, but a sleepy voice stopped her.
 
“Mommy?”
 
“Yes, Sweetie?”
 
“Are Uncle Buck and JD gonna be okay?”
 
“Yes, Honey,” she said as she sat on the edge of the child’s bed.
 
“How come they had to stay in the hostible?”
 
Sarah smiled as she looked into the green eyes so like his father’s. “Buck and JD were both hurt, Honey and the doctors want to make sure they are okay before they send them home.”
 
“How come they gots hurt?”
 
“We’re not sure of that yet, sweetheart, but the police will let us know how Buck’s car caught fire.”
 
“Uncle Buck’s gonna be sad that his car is gone.”
 
“Yes, he will, but he’ll also be happy because him and JD are both going to be fine. A car can be replaced...but people can’t.”
 
“Mommy?”
 
“Yes, Honey?”
 
“What happens when you die?”
 
“Well, sweetheart, some people believe you go to this wonderful place called heaven where all your friends and family meet you and everyone is happy.”
 
“So Grandpa and Grandma will be there and daddy’s brother too?”
 
“Yes...and Grandma Sheila.”
 
“What about Grandpa Hank?”
 
Sarah swallowed with some difficulty at her father’s name, but she’d grown to live with his coldness. She’d called him once to tell him about his grandson, but the stubborn man refused to listen. 
 
“Grandpa Hank is still alive, Sweetie, so he can’t be in heaven. Now you need to go to sleep. Tomorrow is a busy day,” Sarah explained, kissing him once more.
 
“Mommy?”
 
“Yes?”
 
“Why doesn’t Grandpa Hank ever come for a visit? Doesn’t he like me?”
 
Sarah bit back the pain her son’s words brought to her heart and hugged the child close. How could she possibly explain her father’s stubborn refusal to see the gift God had bestowed on them? She fought back the tears and tried to come up with the right words to answer the boy’s question.
 
“Adam, Grandpa Hank doesn’t understand how much mommy loves daddy. He thought we should not get married because daddy’s job can be dangerous.” She knew it was more than that, but she could not bear to face the truth of her father’s actions. “Grandpa Hank doesn’t want to see daddy so he stays away.”
 
“He’s mad at daddy...but, Mommy, daddy doesn’t do anything bad. He helps people!”
 
“That’s right, Honey, he does and you can always be proud of him.”
 
“Grandpa Hank is mean!”
 
“No...he’s not mean...he’s just confused and someday he’ll remember what love and family is all about. When he does we’ll be able to show him how good your daddy really is.”
 
“Heaven’s where you go when you die?”
 
“Yes, it is.”
 
“If I died would you and daddy come with me?”
 
“You’re not going to die, Honey...”
 
“But what if I did...what about you and daddy. Would you come with me?”
 
“That’s not how it works, Adam...”
 
“But you said it’s a good place and everyone is happy...I wouldn’t be happy there if you and daddy weren’t with me,” the boy said frowning as he saw the tears in his mother’s eyes. “Mommy, what’s wrong?”
 
“Nothing, Adam, I’m thinking maybe we should all stay here for a long, long time,” Sarah told him.
 
“Me too,” the boy said, smiling at the woman sitting on his bed.
 
“You need to go to sleep now, okay?”
 
“Okay, good night, Mommy.”
 
“Good night, Sweetheart,” Sarah said smiling as the boy turned over and cuddled his stuffed toy.  She walked into the living room, but didn’t see her husband there. Looking toward the patio doors she saw they were open and knew where he was. Chris loved being outside, saying it was there that he did his best thinking. She stepped through the door and spotted him sitting on the steps. Without a word she walked over and sat down beside him, smiling as he passed her a glass of Chablis. Neither spoke as Larabee’s left arm went around her shoulder and pulled her close. She heard him sigh and knew the events of the day were tearing him up inside.
 
“Hell of a mess,” Larabee finally said.
 
“That’s putting it mildly. Are you okay?”
 
“I’m not the one who’s hurt, Sarah.”
 
“Aren’t you?” his wife asked. “I can see this is tearing you up inside, Chris. You’re still worried about Buck and JD and you won’t be satisfied until they’re out of the hospital and you know the reason for the explosion. These men are more than friends, Chris, they’re family and right now you’re trying to carry the burden of their injuries on your shoulders, and in spite of how much I love those shoulders, they can’t carry this alone. I’m here and you can lean on me a little too,” Sarah told him and smiled as he turned towards her.
 
“You’re a wise woman, Sarah Connelly Larabee,” the blond said.
 
“Must be...I married you didn’t I?”
 
“Yes, you certainly did, but was that really a smart move?”
 
“Chris, that was the smartest move I ever made. Now what else is bothering you?”
 
“You know me too well...”
 
“You’re only just figuring that out now?” she asked, smiling as she sipped from the glass.
 
“Yeah, Buck always said I was a little slow on the uptake.”
 
“Buck doesn’t know everything,” Sarah said seriously.
 
“He knew enough to warn me about E...Ella. He never did like her and to tell the truth I don’t know what I ever saw in her either,” the blond explained.
 
‘Probably one of those things they used to call puppy love,” Sarah cooed in an effort to lighten the load on her husband’s shoulders.
 
“Yeah...more like a bitch in heat...”
 
“Chris!” Sarah said, laughing at the look on her husband’s face.
 
“Sorry, Honey, just slipped out...but it is a good description of her.”
 
“So she’s a bitch in heat and I’m a shecat...does that make us related...at least in the animal realm?”
 
“Damn, Sarah, you know I don’t mean it like that!”
 
“I know...but it’s always nice to rattle your chains. She’s gone Chris...you had JD and Ezra check to make sure she really did leave.”
 
“I know, but she could’ve come back. What if she’s involved in what happened to Buck and JD?” Larabee asked worriedly.
 
“Chris, I know you’ve been checking to see if she’s back in town. She hasn’t come back, right?”
 
“Not yet...at least not under her name. She could use an alias!”
 
“Well, we don’t even know what caused the explosion yet, Chris. Don’t go jumping the gun until we hear from Robert.”
 
“I just can’t help feeling...” he stopped as his cell phone rang. He released his wife and hurried to the glass topped patio table and picked it up. ‘Vin’ he mouthed as he accepted the call and watched his wife go into the house.
 
“C...ris...you t...re?”
 
“Vin, speak up...connections not very good.”
 
“Th...k...ba... con...tion...need ta know if ya found out anythin’ on Barker?”
 
“Shit, that’s better, thought we were gonna have to try again. Are you okay?”
 
“I’m fine...did you find anythin’?”
 
“No...not yet, but we’ll keep looking...may take a little longer though...”
 
“Why? What’s happened?” Tanner asked suspicious of the tone the blond used.
 
“Nothing...”
 
“Hell, Larabee, when are ya gonna learn I can read ya from anywhere? What’s goin’ on? Sarah and Adam are okay aren’t they?”
 
“Sarah and Adam are fine...”
 
“Then who?”
 
“Buck and JD,” Larabee answered softly.
 
“How bad?”
 
“Bad enough. They were involved in an explosion and both suffered head injuries, cuts and bruises and Buck’s right arm was torn up a bit.”
 
“Are they gonna be okay?”
 
“Looks like it. Midland wanted them kept in at least overnight.”
 
“Were they on a case?”
 
“No...happened at their building...Buck’s car was totaled...”
 
“The green machine? Ah hell,” Tanner said, knowing what the car meant to the ladies’ man.
 
“Yeah, but it could’ve been worse. JD forgot some papers and went back for them and you know how impatient Buck gets. He got out to check on JD...if the kid hadn’t left them they’d have both been in the car when it exploded.”
 
“Damn lucky! Have you found out what caused the explosion?”
 
“No...waiting for Bob to call with the results of the investigation. How are things going there?”
 
“We’re okay...”
 
“Tanner, that mind reading thing goes both ways,” Larabee grinned as Sarah returned with two steaming cups of coffee.

“Damn...almost fergot that. We think we’ve found the fortress, but we can’t check it until tanight. I want ta make sure Mendoza’s there before we do anything. We found it last night, but didn’t want ta do anythin’ until we were sure how things stood with Barker.”
 
“I’m sorry, Vin, with everything going on here we didn’t get much done. I’ll check with Ezra first thing in the morning, just make sure you stay in contact and don’t let Barker know you’re on to him.”
 
“Might be ta late fer that, Cowboy.”
 
“What do you mean?” Larabee asked worriedly.
 
“We haven’t contacted him since entering the mountains. Jackie’s sure he’s on the take and I trust her instincts, Chris.”
 
“Are you sure, Vin? I mean you don’t know her that long and you’re depending on her to watch your back.”
 
“I’m sure...look, I gotta go. We’re going ta check out the compound tonight and see if we can confirm Mendoza’s presence. I think he’s there, Chris and I ain’t sure if we can get him outta there or not.”
 
“Don’t take any chances, Vin! If it looks like you have to take him out do it and get out of there!”
 
“We will, Chris. Watch yer back, Cowboy!”
 
“That’s supposed to be your job, Tanner!”
 
“Yeah, well, ya gotta do it ‘til I get back.”
 
“Any idea when that’ll be?”
 
“Not sure...depends on Mendoza and Barker. I’ll try ta call ya in a couple of days...”
 
“Just be careful...”
 
“Yeah, ya best do the same,” the Texan said as the line went dead.
 
Chris put the phone back on the table and smiled as his wife moved behind him and massaged his shoulders. He sighed contentedly as the tense muscles and nerves began to relax. He closed his eyes, relaxing in the cool evening air and wondering what he’d done to make him so lucky.
 
“Is Vin okay?” Sarah asked as she continued to work the knots out of her husband’s shoulders and neck.
 
“Says he’s fine, but I don’t know...I just worry about him being down there!”
 
“He’s a big boy, Chris, and I’m sure he’d be ticked if he knew you were beating yourself up worrying about him with everything else that’s going on.”
 
“Yeah, you’re probably right...you know...you really could make us rich with those fingers of yours,” Larabee muttered tiredly.
 
“Hmm, so are you asking me to give up nursing and take to male mass...”
 
“Honey, the only male I want those fingers to touch is me...oh, and Adam...anyone else and well I just might become a bit of a hellcat myself,” the blond warned.
 
“I’ll keep that in mind, Cowboy...”
 
“I’m gonna have to shoot me a blue eyed Texan...”
 
“...just retract those claws, baby...” she whispered as she continued with the massage.
 
“Sarah...”
 
“Yes?”
 
“Why don’t this male cat take his female hellcat off to bed?”
 
“Got something in mind?”
 
“Yeah...can think of a few other body parts that could use those magic fingers of yours,” the blond said as he stood, picked her up in his arms and carried her to their bedroom.
 
~~~~~~~~~~~~
 
Ella lay on her stomach, her legs bent at the knees and her ankles crossed. She wore very little, and the man sitting on the side of the bed ran his index finger along the length of her perfectly shaped thigh. Ella smiled as she looked at the bold headlines of the Billings Gazette from the day before. ‘TWO INJURED IN FIERY BLAST!’ She read the article four times and was pleased with the way things were going. She turned onto her back and popped a strawberry into her mouth as she sighed contentedly.
 
“So, Powderman didn’t kill them, but this might be even better,” she whispered as Averil placed another juicy berry at her mouth.
 
“Why?” Averil asked as he picked up the paper and saw the pictures of the two injured Firm agents.
 
“Well, now Chris’ mind will be on Wilmington and Dunne. He’ll be worried about whether someone did this because of a case they’re on...”
 
“It was Wilmington’s car, Love. Dunne wasn’t supposed to be with him.”
 
“Even better, perhaps we should have Powderman try for Wilmington again. Make it look like someone’s out to get the sonofabitch...they wouldn’t be wrong because eventually I want him dead!”
 
“What did he do to you to gain such loathing?” Averil asked, reaching for the bottle of Bordeaux in the silver ice bucket.
 
“Buck was the reason Chris didn’t want to see me anymore. The bastard never did like me and he calls himself a ladies man! Yeah right, Buck Wilmington wouldn’t know a lady if she walked up and bit him on the...”
 
“Ah, sweetheart, I think I understand...”
 
“Well,” she said, turning on her stomach once more and placing her head on her arms. “Chris was to meet me for dinner and I had this wonderful night planned.
 
Wine...steak...cheesecake...sex...everything he loved, but he called to say he couldn’t make it!” she said angrily patting the pillows.
 
“Why?” Averil asked, his hand resting on one firm globe.
 
“He was at Wilmington’s apartment...sharing a few drinks...”
 
“He stayed with his friend instead of spending the night with you.” His voice was filled with disbelief as he continued to touch her body. “Ella, are you sure you still want him? I mean any man would jump at the chance to be with you.”
 
“Thank you, Jack, you always know just what to say to make me feel good.”
 
“Then why don’t you stay with me and give up on Larabee...he doesn’t deserve you!”
 
“I love him, Jack...”
 
“Are you sure of that, Ella, because I think you’re in love with the idea of being in love with him.”
 
“How can you even think that Jack? How many times have I cried over him since you’ve known me? I love Chris Larabee and I’m the only one who deserves him! That bitch he married and the pup she gave him can’t begin to understand what he needs! Wilmington fucked with the wrong woman when he got between me and the man I own...”
 
“Own?”
 
“Yes, dammit! Own! Chris and I would’ve been married if Wilmington hadn’t interfered. I had Chris ready and willing to do anything for me, but that night when he didn’t show up I went over to Buck’s apartment. Chris was there alright and so were Buck and these two women!
 
Wilmington answered the door and wouldn’t let me in, but I could hear Chris laughing and I burst in and found him drinking with these two women! I was so angry I called them whores and bitches and told them to get their fucking hands off my property!”
 
“So what happened?” Averil asked when she grew quiet.
 
“I don’t remember ever seeing Chris so angry, but he stood up and grabbed my arms. He pushed me out the door and told me I had no right being there! I was so angry...how could he be there and with those two bitches when he could’ve been alone with me!”
 
“Did you find out who they were?”
 
“Oh, yes, I did. They were friends of Wilmington’s and were in town for just that night. He figured Chris could help him show them around. We argued outside Buck’s door and I cursed him for cheating on me! He said he wasn’t cheating on me and that I didn’t own him and he was big enough to make up his own mind on who he saw and didn’t see! I called them whores and him and Buck whoremasters and I slapped him across the face.”
 
“What did he do then?”
 
“He grabbed my wrist and told me he didn’t need me in his life! That I was too possessive of him and that the two women were a couple! Yeah...a couple...they were lesbian friends of Buck’s and were only in town one night. Buck asked Chris to help him show them the town. Lesbians! He turned down a night with me to be with Buck and two women who had no interest in him at all! That was the last night I saw Chris. He told me he didn’t want to see me anymore and that it was time we both started seeing other people. He refused my calls and I left town soon after that”
 
“So why do you want to go after him now? He’s married and has a rugrat and seems happy!”
 
“Seems happy, Jack, but he’s not. I can tell. Sarah Connelly is not strong enough to be with him. She can’t give him what he wants...what he needs!”
 
“And you can?”
 
“Of course. As soon as that bitch is out of the way I’ll be able to take my rightful place in his bed!”
 
“Well, Lover, he’s not here right now, but I am and I do have needs,” Averil said, reached for one ripe breast as she turned to face him.
 
“Needs, Jack?”
 
“I want to fuck you, Ella!” he moaned as he pressed his lips to hers.
 
“Hmm,” the woman said, meeting his forceful kiss with her own.
 
~~~~~~~~~~~~
 
Vin shifted on the hard ground and smiled at the intimate way Jackie was snuggled up against his back. Neither had bothered to get dressed after making love the night before and her soft skin chased away the chill of the early morning mountain air. He shifted and finally managed to turn over, smiling at the frown covering the woman’s face.
 
“Morning,” he said as her eye’s finally opened and gazed up at him in the semi darkness.
 
“...hmm, what time is it?” she mumbled tiredly.
 
“Just after six,” Tanner answered. “We need ta get movin’ if we’re planning no checking the area around the compound.”
 
“Damn, can’t we sleep a little longer?”
 
“Wish we could, Jackie, but we need ta get close enough to the house to see if Mendoza’s there and if he is, we need ta find a way ta get the sonofabitch out!”
 
“Or take him out!” Maynard said.
 
“Yeah, might be the only way ta be sure,” the Texan pushed back the blankets and stood up. He dressed hurriedly and heard Jackie doing the same on the opposite side of the sleeping bag. He finished dressing and stood to admire the woman, frowning as he heard movement outside the cave.
 
“Vin...”
 
“Hang on,” the tracker whispered as he turned and moved towards the entrance. He pushed aside a small piece of brush and looked around the perimeter. Seeing nothing he made the opening a little bigger and cursed softly when he spotted two men coming towards their hideout. He turned towards Jackie and motioned for her to take up position on the opposite side of the camouflaged opening. He lifted his hand and held up two fingers, pointing outside and then using his finger to slice across his throat in a signal for her to keep silent.
 
Jackie held her breath as the sound of shuffling footsteps reached them from outside the cave. She heard voices, but only picked up a word here and there. She knew from Tanner’s signal there were two of them, and from the voices she knew they were both men. Taking shallow breaths she silently prayed the duo would move on. Unfortunately they were not going to be that lucky.
 
~~~~~~~~~~~~~
 
“Miguel, there is something strange over there,” Manuel Ortez explained as he looked towards several strange marks on the ground.
 
“I don’t see anything, Manuel,” Miguel Garcia said as he followed his partner towards the area of brush and rubble.
 
“Look at the ground! See how some of the stone have been turned over while others are untouched and look at the broken twigs. Someone has been here!”
 
“How do you know it’s not an animal?” Garcia asked as he watched the younger man kneel down and touch the ground.
 
“Animals don’t wear boots!” Ortez said as he pointed out several foot prints.
 
“Shit! Think it’s the man and woman Mendoza’s been looking for?”
 
“Could be...you know we’d be in Mendoza’s good graces if we catch them and bring them in!”
 
“Maybe get a few nights off and check out the new whores at  Trevino’s.”
 
“Si, I got my eye on that pretty redhead,” Ortez explained as they followed the slight trail.
 
“The new one...oh man what I wouldn’t give to have her warming my bed for me!”
 
“I’d rather have her warming my cock!” the other man smiled lewdly as he groped his own crotch. He frowned as he stopped in front the stone face of the mountain. “I don’t get it...the prints stop right here!”
 
“Maybe they turned and you missed it!” Garcia suggested.
 
“You forget who you’re talking to, Miguel, I’m the best damn tracker...”
 
“Si...si, but if that’s true where are they?”
 
“Check everywhere. Perhaps there’s something hidden behind some of these brush and rock,”  Ortez suggested and started pulling at the foliage.
 
~~~~~~~~~~~~~
 
Vin and Jackie stayed close to the wall on either side of the entrance. Jackie picked up a fair sized rock and held it ready, while Vin pulled a knife from his backpack. He nodded to the female DEA agent that he was ready as the first man stuck his head inside.
 
“Anything Manuel?”
 
“Can’t see a damn thing yet...Wait!” Ortez spat as a movement to his right caught his attention.
 
Jackie brought the rock down on his head and the intruder dropped to the ground as Tanner dove through the remaining debris blocking the entrance. She heard a muffled grunt as she knelt to check on the man she’d hit. One look at his face told her he wouldn’t be bothering them anymore. The dark eyes were open and unmoving, and a tough of her fingers to his neck verified that he was dead. She moved quickly to the door and watched as Tanner fought the second man. She saw them both gain their feet, a wicked blade held tightly by each man.
 
Vin circled the newcomer, feigning left and right as he moved. Several times the other man slashed out at him, but didn’t make contact. Vin could see the anger and frustration on the man’s face as they continued to taunt each other. The newcomer moved in again, this time faking left and smiling as he finally caught a piece of Tanner’s right arm, just above the elbow.
 
“Not so good are you?” Garcia asked, smiling as he spotted the woman standing near the entrance. “Once I gut you I’m gonna have me a go at that pretty woman of yours! Been so long since I dipped my wick...”
 
“Ya touch her and I’ll cut yer wick off and shove it down yer fuckin’ throat!” Tanner ground out as he moved his knife from one hand to the other and slashed at his foe. This time he connected, cutting deep into the man’s left forearm. 
 
“Bastard!” Garcia cursed as he moved in, lifting the blade to shoulder level and bringing it down in a short arc.
 
Vin jumped back, barely avoiding the other man’s attack, and bringing his own knife across Garcia’s thigh. Blood welled up from the wound as the other man’s face contorted in pain and rage. The Texan couldn’t help smiling as the man lunged for him again, but wavered as his leg began to give out under the strain.
 
“I’ll kill you!” the man said as he stumbled backwards, reaching for the gun tucked in his belt as he spoke.
 
“Not likely!” Tanner spat, throwing his heavy blade and smiling as it stuck into the man’s throat. A deep, rattling gurgle signaled the man’s death as he toppled towards the ground. The tracker felt as if he’d been fighting for hours, but knew a lot less time had passed since the two men had invaded their sanctuary.
 
“Vin, you’re bleeding,” Maynard said, rushing forward to check his arm.
 
“Damn, guess the sonofabitch got lucky after all!” the Texan hissed as the pain finally registered.
 
“Sit down and I’ll get the first aid kit!”
 
“No time. We need ta rid of the bodies before someone comes looking for them!”
 
“No, you need to sit down and let me take care of this. Who the hell knows what the bastard used his knife on and I’m damn sure he didn’t clean it! I don’t need you falling over from an infection before we’re finished with this! Sit!”
 
“Yes, ma’am,” the tracker said, realizing he suddenly felt weak and knew it was from blood loss and shock. He looked around and spotted a rock big enough for him to sit on and he sank gratefully down on it. He looked at the wound on his shoulder and winced at the ragged gash.
 
“Vin, I’m going to clean it, okay?”
 
“...okay...Shit!” he hissed as she dabbed at the wound.
 
“Sorry, guess I should’ve warned you I’d be using alcohol to clean it!”
 
“Wo...would’ve helped...” Tanner spat.
 
“Poor baby,” Maynard said, a hint of humor in her concerned voice. She continued to clean the wound and shook her head as she realized her field level first aid training was about to come in handy. “Vin...”
 
“Yeah,” the man said tiredly.
 
“This needs stitches...”
 
“...figured as much...have ta wait ‘til...”
 
“No, it doesn’t! I’ve had some training in field first aid. I don’t have anything to give you for pain, but at least I can sew you up,” the woman said as she readied the sterilized kit.
 
“We should get rid of those bastards first!”
 
“No...first we take care of you! Then we take care of them!”
 
“But...”
 
“No, Tanner, if I don’t take care of this now you’re gonna end up falling on your face from blood loss and then we’ll be up shit creek without a paddle! Now shut up and let me finish this!”
 
“Damn cranky ain’tcha?”
 
“Nope, damn smart. I know I need your help with Mendoza so I gotta keep you around for the heavy stuff. Got it, Tex?”
 
“Got it. Fuckkkk!” The Texan forced himself to be still as his partner pinched the wound closed and pushed the needle through. He tried to ignore the pull on his skin and the pain radiating outwards from the wound, but he groaned as he forced several expletives past his clenched teeth. “Ya done yet?”
 
“Sorry, big boy, gonna have to stay still a little longer,” Jackie warned as she put in the eighth and ninth stitches.
 
“Worse’n Nathan!” the tracker spat as the needle was forced through his skin once more.
 
“Nathan?”
 
“Friend back home. Training ta be a paramedic...his touch ain’t ta gentle!”
 
“Get hurt a lot do you?”
 
“More’n enough,” the tracker said, holding his body still by share force of will.
 
“Done...took more stitches than I thought. Hang on and I’ll clean it and cover it up.”
 
“...okay,” the Texan mumbled tiredly. He forced himself to stay awake as he looked at the two unmoving bodies lying in the sun. He felt her pour something over the wound, winced as it burned, and sighed in relief as she placed a sterile dressing over it.
 
“That’s all I can do for now,” Maynard told him.
 
“Ya did fine, Jackie, now let’s get these guys outta here!”
 
“What’ll we do with them?”
 
“Drag him to the edge and drop them into the ravine,” Tanner explained.
 
“Are you going to be able to help me pull them that far?”
 
“Don’t have a choice,” the sharpshooter said as he moved to the nearest body and retrieved his knife. His right arm was already starting to stiffen up and he rotated his shoulder, feeling the stitches pulling on his skin.
 
“Are you okay?” Maynard asked.
 
“Yeah...fine.”
 
Jackie shook her head, knowing the man was far from fine as she grabbed the dead man’s arm. She watched Tanner do the same and between them they dragged the body towards the ravine. It took more time than either would’ve imagined to dispose of the first body and return for the second, but they managed to finish it and return to the cave.
 
“Vin, you need to rest,” Maynard said as the tracker seemed to be searching for something.
 
“I will...soon’s we cover up the blood. It won’t stop the animals from scentin’ it, but hopefully it’ll keep other patrols from spottin’ our cave!” Tanner exclaimed as he picked up a brush and began swiping at the darker ground. He saw Jackie do the same and soon had the ground a more uniform color as they erased both the blood and the trail leading to the ravine.
 
“Alright, let’s get you inside and lying down,” Maynard ordered, the tone of her voice telling him she wouldn’t take any arguments. She moved quickly, grabbing the Texan around the waist as he swayed precariously and nearly fell over.
 
“Come on, Tex, let’s get you settled.”
 
“...dangerous...keep watch...”
 
“I’ll keep watch...you rest,” she told him as they moved through the opening.
 
“...need ta cover the entrance,” Tanner told her as she lowered him to the sleeping bag.
 
“I got it,” Maynard said, covering the semi conscious man with the sleeping bag.
 
“...be...care...ful...”
 
“I will...now rest...I got your back.”
 
Tanner closed his eyes, ignoring the nausea and pain as he drifted towards sleep.
 
~~~~~~~~~~~~
 
Buck opened his eyes, wincing as the light stabbed at his skull. He’d woken several times during the night and morning, glanced at the patient in the next bed to assure himself the kid was still breathing and drifted off once more. This time he fought to stay awake, searching the area surrounding his bed before his gaze came to rest on a familiar figure framed in the light seeping through the window.
 
“Ch...Chris,” he croaked out, his tongue flicking out in search of moisture.
 
“Hey, Stud, how’re you feeling?”
 
“...thirsty...”
 
“Hang on,” Larabee said and reached for the pitcher of water and the glass on the table. He poured a small amount as Wilmington pressed the button to raise the head of his bed. Chris helped him drink the water before the injured man signaled he had enough and sank back on the pillows.
 
“Thanks...JD o...okay?”
 
“JD’s fine. He’s been awake more often than you have,” Larabee explained as the younger man showed signs of coming to.
 
“What time is it?” Wilmington asked.
 
“A little after three in the after noon...”
 
“Damn, slept most of the day away,” the rogue observed, trying to sit up and wincing as the movement jarred his aching body.
 
“Sure did,” Larabee agreed.
 
“Buck!” the cry came form the next bed and Chris pressed his long time friend back against the pillows.
 
“I got him...you stay put!” the blond warned before moving to the second bed. He placed a calming hand on the young agent’s shoulder and spoke softly to him. “Hey, JD, Buck’s okay.”
 
“Buck...no Buck’s hurt!” the Bostonian fought to get away from Larabee’s touch.
 
“JD, it’s Chris...you’re okay...Buck’s okay. Come on now, open your eyes and see for yourself!” the blond ordered, smiling as the young man forced heavy lids upwards.
 
“Buck?”
 
“Right there,” the blond said, pointing to the other bed.
 
“Buck...shit...you look like crap!” the youth said, relief evident on his face.
 
“Now, kid, we all know that’s just not possible,” the ladies man answered as the door opened and Stacey Midland stepped into the room.
 
“Well, hello, Buck, JD, how are you two feeling?” the physician asked.
 
“Okay...” came from both men and Chris had to laugh at the automatic answer.
 
 “Well, nice to know I don’t have to work overtime, but you know it might be a good idea if I check you two out and give you my opinion...okay?”
 
“Sure, Doc,” Wilmington said.
 
“I’m gonna go grab a coffee...think you can handle these two on your own, Doc?”
 
“Chris, I can handle all of you. I’m the one in charge of the drugs, remember?”
 
“Oh, yeah, how could I forget. Good luck, Buck, JD,” the blond said before leaving the room. He walked down to the small deli on the ground floor, just off the main lobby and ordered the strongest brew they had. He paid the young volunteer in cash and turned to walk back the way he’d come. He hurried along the corridor and made it to the bank of elevators across from the ER.
 
“Mr. Larabee, how are they?” Standish asked as he hurried to catch up to his boss.
 
“Dr. Midland just came in to see them so I figured I’d take the time to grab a coffee. They’re both awake and talking.”
 
“That doesn’t surprise me in the least,” Standish said as they entered the elevator and the blond pushed the button for the third floor. “Misters Wilmington and Dunne have never been without something to say, whether someone wanted to listen or not.”
 
“Yeah, they do seem to enjoyed talking...makes them the perfect room mates,” Larabee agreed as the elevator stopped and they stepped out onto the third floor. “Everything okay at the office?”
 
“Yes, Josiah and Nathan are checking into some new information I found on Richard Barker.”
 
“What kind of information?”
 
“It seems Mr. Barker would be considered a fairly rich man if the links to funds I’ve found are correct. He’s got money in several accounts under suspicious names, but to find them I had to dig deeper than JD and I thought.”
 
“How long before you can confirm the information and where it’s coming from?”
 
“My contacts should get back to me within a day or two. I requested the information ASAP and should they find anything else untoward about Mr. Barker to call me immediately.”
 
“Good work, Ezra,” Larabee said as he pushed open the door to find Wilmington glaring at the woman standing beside the bed. “Uhoh, problems Doc?”
 
“Not me, Chris,” Midland said with a grin. “It seems Buck has a problem with my prescription.”
 
“That ain’t no prescription, Doc. Chris she wants to keep me here another night...”
 
“Me too,” Dunne said, relaxing against the pillows.
 
“Well, hell, boys, the doc knows what’s best!”
 
“Hey, who’s side are you on?” the ladies man asked in frustration, crying out as pain shot through his arm.
 
“Right now I’m on the doc’s side,” Larabee said sympathetically as he watched the pale face grimace in pain.
 
“Buck, I’m going to send the nurse in with a mild pain medication for you. Then I want you and JD to get some rest. I’ll see you both in the morning and if you’re feeling better I’ll let you both go home as long as someone is there to look after you,” Midland said.
 
“Actually, Doc, that’s taken care of,” the blond explained.
 
“Good,” the woman said before leaving the four men alone.
 
“It is?” Dunne asked.
 
“That’s right, Mr. Dunne, it seems the lovely Miss Wells plans to practice her training on a real patient and you’re it. Her aunt plans on keeping an eye on both of you at her place,” Standish said with a grin.
 
“Ah, Hell,” the younger man said, yet there was a smile on his face as he thought of the young med student.
 
“Buck, you’ll be staying at my place,” Larabee said.
 
“Don’t need to put yourself out, Chris. I know of a couple of ladies who’ll be glad to take care of me,” the rogue said as a nurse entered the room and moved towards his bed.
 
“Hi, Jenny,” the rogue said as he watched the woman clean the juncture she would use to deliver the meds.
 
“How are you feeling, Buck?”
 
“Sore...I’m afraid I may need a little massage before I can sleep...”
 
“Actually, Buck, that medication will probably knock you out before I retrieved the baby oil,” Jenny said smiling as she moved to the second bed. “How are you feeling, JD?”
 
“I’m okay,” JD answered as the woman began taking his vitals.
 
“Well, you just buzz if you need anything. Dr. Midland has ordered a mild pain reliever for you as well,” the nurse said when she finished her duties.
 
“I will...thanks, Jenny,” the Bostonian said.
 
“Now, Chris,” the ladies’ man yawned as he looked at his long time friend. “About staying with you and Sarah...”
 
“Sorry, Buck, Sarah said to tell you she won’t take no for an answer. You know how Sarah gets when she’s got her mind set!”
 
“Damn,” he yawned again and looked sheepishly around the room. “Here I was planning on being waited on hand and foot...”
 
“Sarah will be doing just that,” the blond assured him.
 
“I know...but there are certain ladies who aren’t adverse to sponge baths...”
 
“Buck, you try anything like that with my wife and you’ll find out just what kind of jealous husband I can be,” the blond said, the smile on his face belying the sternness of his words.
 
“Well, now, Stud, if you ain’t man enough to keep her happy...I’m more’n willing to take over. That’s one gorgeous woman you married.”
 
“Don’t I know it!” Larabee said, knowing Wilmington cared for his wife, but not the same way he did. Wilmington’s eyes began to close and his breathing soon evened out.
 
“He’s okay, isn’t he, Chris?” Dunne asked.
 
“He will be, JD, you both will, but you’re gonna be on leave for a week or two,” the blond told him.
 
“But...I got to check into Barker and Ella Gaines!”
 
“Mr. Dunne, although you are by far the better man when it comes to computers, I do have certain skills and contacts that make me better than most,” Standish explained.
 
“JD, Ezra’s doing just fine,” Larabee explained, looking towards the door as it opened and Casey Wells peeked inside.
 
“JD, can I come in?” the young woman asked.
 
‘Sure, Casey, come on in,” the Bostonian smiled excitedly as she came to stand beside his bed.
 
“How are you feeling?”
 
“I’m okay...doc says I may get out tomorrow morning,” Dunne told her.
 
“Really, that’s great. I’ll let Aunt Nettie know...”
 
“You don’t have to go through any trouble...”
 
“Ah, Mr. Larabee, I believe it would be prudent if we left young love to grow on its own,” the gambler said., smiling as the injured man glared in his direction.
 
“You may be right, Ezra. Casey, if either of them needs anything will you call?”
 
“Sure, Chris.”
 
“JD, behave yourself,” Larabee ordered, smiling as the young man nodded his head. Chris opened the door and held it for his friend, smiling as he saw Casey place a chaste kiss on the patient’s forehead. 
 
Casey smiled as she gently touched JD’s cheek with her hand before sitting down on the side of his bed. Their eyes met and she knew he was suffering from a headache, but he would not acknowledge it until the pain became unbearable.
 
“Are you sure you’re okay, JD?”
 
“Yes, Casey, I am...just have a slight headache...”
 
“Slight?”
 
“Okay...little more than slight, but I don’t need anything yet. Casey,” he said, seeing the worry in her soft eyes. “I’m really okay.”
 
“I was scared, JD...when Aunt Nettie called and told me you were hurt I thought I’d go outta my mind.”
 
“There’s nothing to be afraid of...doc says me and Buck are gonna be fine.”
 
“I know, but it was still pretty scary.”
 
“Casey, this could happen again...this is my job...”
 
“Your job’s to get hurt! I don’t think so!”
 
“You know what I mean, Casey! My work can be dangerous and I could get hurt again. I’m gonna do my damndest not to let that happen, but sometimes there’s no way of knowing what I’ll run into! I explained that to you the first time we went out!”
 
“I know, JD, and I won’t ever ask you to quit it, but I’ll still worry about you and be there to take care of you,” Wells explained as she gently kissed him again.
 
“I’m counting on that,” Dunne said, wincing as the headache became intolerable. He heard Casey press the button and tell the nurse he needed the pain meds. “...thanks...”
 
“You’re welcome,” she said as the nurse entered and injected the meds into his IV. It wasn’t long before his eyes closed and she knew he was sleeping. Taking a deep breath she kissed his forehead and left the two men to their dreams.
 
~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~
 
Ella looked at the man sleeping beside her and knew she could never be satisfied with him or anyone else. The man she needed would soon realize she was the only one for him, and he for her. She knew there was no way to convince him of this while the woman and child lived and she would soon have Powderman rid her of the nuisance that plagued her. She turned on her side and looked out the window, her body reacting to thoughts of Chris Larabee and how he felt in her arms. She would soon have more than just her memories to keep her warm...for whether he wanted to admit it or not he would soon be ensconced in her bed once more. She felt the stirrings inside her and wished the man was there with her, holding her, making love to her.
 
‘Oh, Chris, things will be so good when you’re back where you belong. Why can’t you see how much I love you...how we were destined to be together,’ she thought moaning as her body continued to be engulfed with passion at the thought of being with the blond. She turned to see the man next to her and tried to imagine him with blond hair and green eyes, but it didn’t seem to be working. Sighing heavily she turned away and snuggled down in her blankets.
 
“Soon, Chris...very soon we’ll be together forever and no one will be able to rip us apart again!”
 
~~~~~~~~~~~~~`
 
Jackie sat beside the Texan, touching his cheeks and forehead in an effort to see if he had a fever. So far they’d been lucky, but she knew it was still early. She needed to keep the wound clean and make sure he drank enough fluids to replenish the blood he lost. She watched him sleep as she listened for movement outside the cave. So far nothing had come near them, but she would have to keep vigilant. She knew Tanner needed proper medical care, but she would have to do for now. 
 
“I hope your tetanus is up to date, Tanner!” she whispered as she reached for the cloth and wet it from the canteen. She heard a soft moan and waited to see if he was coming around, but he settled into a deep sleep once more. She moved to the entrance and checked the perimeter once more, relieved to see nothing had changed before moving back inside once more. She sat against the wall of the cave and leaned her head back, closing her eyes and fighting to stay alert.
 
Vin shifted, biting back a groan as his arm came in contact with the ground, before settling into the dreams he’d been having. He frowned as he saw Chris Larabee kneeling before two coffins, and tried to rid himself of the picture as a woman stayed just at the edge of the shadows. The dreams grew more intense as Larabee screamed out his rage and Vin again moaned softly.
 
“No...can’t let ya do that to ‘em,” he mumbled as he felt a hand on his right shoulder. His left arm shot out and wrapped around the wrist as his eyes snapped open.
 
“Vin! Ouch, damnit!” Jackie cursed as she twisted out of his grip. She waited for him to focus on her and helped him sit up.
 
“Jack...Jackie?”
 
“Yeah, Tex...sheesh some grip you got there. Wanna tell me what you thought you were doing?”
 
“Thought ya were someone else,” the Texan answered, frowning as he tried to grasp the elusive dreams. 
 
“Must be someone you dislike,” she said, rubbing her wrist.
 
“Don’t know her....sorry, didn’t mean ta hurt ya!” the Texan said as she handed him the canteen.
 
“You don’t know her?”
 
“No...think she’s got it in fer Chris though!”
 
“So you’ve seen her before.”
 
“No...”
 
“Then how do you know she’s got it in for Chris?”
 
“Chris and I can sense things about each other. I know...sounds crazy, but it started the first time we met and I can sense when he’s in danger. Sometimes it’s downright embarrassin’ the way it happens, but it’s also saved our lives a few times.”
 
“And you think something’s wrong now...with this woman?”
 
“Yeah, ain’t much I can do about it though,” the Texan said, shifting uncomfortably on the ground. “Anythin’ happenin’?”
 
“Nothing...least not that I could see or hear.”
 
“How long was I out?”
 
“Couple of hours....you needed it. How does the arm feel?”
 
“A little sore...we should get moving...”
 
“Not today, Tex. You need to rest and get your strength back. We’ll head back to Mendoza’s tomorrow morning!”
 
“Jackie, I’m...”
 
“Bleeding again. Now sit down and shut up while I check the stitches!” Maynard ordered and was pleased when the injured man did as she told him. 




PART 1 | PART 2 | PART 3 | 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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