DEADLY OBSESSION image created by Pywacket

Winner of the GAMBLERS AND GUNFIGHTERS 2012 7 SHADES OF MAGNIFICENT Award

 DEADLY OBSESSION
    

by Winnie

Rating: NC17. Violence, bloodshed, graphic sex scenes, deals with the deaths of Sarah and Adam Larabee.

A/N:
The Firm AU. As I said in the warnings this deals with Sarah and Adam Larabee’s murder and the events leading up to it. It closely follows Silverwolfs fic Lost and Found (http://www.blackraptor.net/m7fic10/lost-found.htm ) and a few characters from that fic make an appearance in this one. Thanks, Cowboy, for this wonderful AU to play in. The song If 'Tomorrow Never Comes' is a wonderful song by the one and only Garth Brooks. Thanks also go to Jackie, Marti, and Ninheve for reading along with me on this one. Thanks also go to Kathy for the information on JD’s bike. As always, Thanks go to Antoinette, who deserves a gold shovel for putting up with me. Thank as always to Julie, my pard, my friend, just for being who you are.


Chapter 1

 

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

“Chris...Chris!”

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

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

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

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

“Vin’s taking him fishing.”

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

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

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

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

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

 “What kind of plans, Daddy?”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 “Chris! You didn’t!”

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

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

 “Chris!”

 “Sarah, it’s not what you think!”

 “You didn’t lie to him did you?”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 “But how did he do that, Mommy?”

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

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

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

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

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

 “Commercial?” Sarah asked.

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

 “Chocolate bars?” Larabee asked.

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

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

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

 “Ah, Daddy, fish don’t have beds.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 “Tanner!”

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

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

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

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

 “...I need...y...you...”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 “You are naked,” the blond said.

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

 “What...thought you wanted me naked?”

 “I do...but...”

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

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

“D...dance...” 

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

“Damn, honey...I...” 

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

 “Sarah...” 

“What should I play?” 

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

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

“Only when you’re with me.”

 “I’m with you now...”

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

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

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

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

 

“Sometimes late at night

I lie awake and watch him sleeping

He's lost in peaceful dreams

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

And the thought crosses my mind

If I never wake up in the morning

Would he ever doubt the way I feel

About him in my heart...”

 

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

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

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

 

“If tomorrow never comes

Will he know how much I loved him

Did I try in every way to show him every day

That he's my only one

And if my time on earth were through

And he must face the world without me

Is the love I gave him in the past

Gonna be enough to last

If tomorrow never comes...”

 

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

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

 

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

Who never knew how much I loved them

Now I live with the regret

That my true feelings for them never were revealed

So I made a promise to myself

To say each day how much he means to me

And avoid that circumstance

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

 

“If tomorrow never comes

Will he know how much I loved him

Did I try in every way to show him every day

That he's my only one

And if my time on earth were through

And he must face the world without me

Is the love I gave him in the past

Gonna be enough to last


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

“So tell that someone that you love

Just what you're thinking of

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

 “I love you so much, Sarah.”

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

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

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

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

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

“I want you to love me...”

“Always and forever...”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Vin?” 

“Yeah.”

“How come you don’t got no kids?”

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

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

“What secret?” the sharpshooter asked.

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

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

“Buck knows...”

“He does?” 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Chris!” 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Chris, will you call the boys?” 

“Sure.” 

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

“Ah, hell!” 

“What’s wrong, Cowboy?” 

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

“What?” 

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

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

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

“Who? Not Buck?” 

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

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

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

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

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

“She cut ya off fer a week?” 

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

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

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

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

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

“Talk about being cut off...” 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Do we have any corn on the cob?” 

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

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

“Sounds good...oh and Chris?” 

“Yes...” 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Any other takers?” the conman asked. 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“More, Buck!” 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Could  get a copy of it?” 

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

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

“You know. How do you like Nathan?” 

“He’s a nice man...” 

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

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

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

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

“You kissed him?”  

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

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

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

“All of an hour.” 

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

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

“Oh no...what happened?” 

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

“Macho type?” 

“Of the worst kind,” Sarah laughed. 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Yes, I think you’re right...” 

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

“Want to?” Sarah asked. 

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

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

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

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

“Mommy...Mommy...throw it to me!” 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“But we’re on the same team!”  

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

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

“Sorry, Rain...” 

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

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

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

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

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

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

“let me get him, Buck,” Chris said. 

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

“You sure?” 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Always is...” 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“I will...night Buck.” 

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

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

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

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

“O...okay...don’t be long...” 

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

“Is he sleeping?” 

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

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

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

“Chris, are you okay?” 

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

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

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

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

“S...Sarah...God...” 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“I need a shower...” 

“Me too...we could save energy...” 

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

“Damn, guess you’re right.” 

“Sleep well...I love you.” 

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

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

~~~~~~~~~~~~
 

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

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

“Sorry...didn’t want to disturb you.” 

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

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

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

“I need some time off, Chris?” 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“So the DEA is sending you in undercover?” 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Vin?” 

“Yeah, Cowboy?” 

“Watch your back!” 

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

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

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

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

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~
 

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

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

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

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

“Yeah.” 

“What do they want with Vin?” 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Can we go? Please!” 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Can we have a picnic?” 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

~~~~~~~~~~~~
 

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

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

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

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

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

“A little after six...” 

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

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

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

“Alright, Adam, I’m coming.” 

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

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

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

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

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

“You want to do a slam dunk?” 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

~~~~~~~~~~~~
 

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

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

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

“Where is everyone,” Sarah asked. 

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

“Did everyone get here?” Sarah asked. 

“Yep, hey, here comes Josiah and JD.” 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Tastes good does it?” 

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

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

“Yes?” 

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

“Ah, hell...” 

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

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

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

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


PART 2 | PART 3 | 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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