don’t own these characters, although sometimes, with just a little
imagination I can dream…
Well, this is being written for all the ladies who celebrate birthdays
in the month of December. It’s a Christastrophe (I know-big surprise)
and is also a Christmas fic. Hope you enjoy and that your birthdays
and your Christmas and New Year are filled with joy and happiness.
music played softly from the stereo and added to the joy of the
two men in the front seat. How many songs had they listened to as
they made their way slowly along the highway? The snow was beginning
to fall heavily, but it didn’t dampen their spirits as the two friends
sang slightly off key. The gift, the perfect gift, sat in the backseat,
boxed and wrapped in colorful green metallic paper and circled by
a shimmering red bow. The card said it all and the gift giver was
hopeful that the receiver would understand the meaning of the words.
driver watched the road for any other traffic, silently frustrated
at the storm’s sudden appearance. The weatherman had called for
a few snow flurries, but this went far beyond that as the wipers
continued to fight to keep the windshield clear. The white landscape
hurt his eyes and he reached for the Ray Ban sunglasses he kept
in a case in his pocket. His eyes were extremely sensitive and the
vast whiteness often affected his vision. He heard the man beside
him cry out and returned his attention to the road as a deer suddenly
shot out in front of him. He turned the wheel, feeling the tires
trying in vain to grip the icy pavement as it spiraled out of control.
He fought for control, but knew there was nothing he could do to
prevent the vehicle from making a headlong nosedive into the ravine.
jeep slid along the icy patch as driver and passenger saw their
lives flash before their eyes. It struck the guardrail with a screeching
wail and slid along the edge before finally losing the battle to
stay on the road. There was nothing left in its wake to stop the
vehicle from plowing a trail through the hardened snow and it rolled
once before coming to rest against a stand of evergreen trees. The
falling snow sizzled when it struck the undercarriage of the jeep
as the front tire on the driver’s side continued to spin before
it too stopped, signaling the silence of a highway bereft of traffic
on Christmas Eve.
Chris sat back in his office chair and smiled contentedly. It had been a year
of discoveries and healing and he knew this year marked a new milestone
for his team. There was less than a week until Christmas and they
were all healthy and he hoped they would stay that way. The caseload
had been a heavy one, but most of it was either solved or the clients
were no longer interested in the outcome. He closed the file in
front of him and listened to the banter from the outer office. JD
was trying out a new routine and Chris grimaced as he delivered
the punch line of his newest Christmas joke. It was time to call
it a day, or a week…or two if it came right down to it.
Orrin Travis had given him some good news at this morning’s meeting and he could
hardly wait to tell the others that the agency would be closing
down for the holidays. A two-week paid vacation for each man as
a bonus for a year of well earned victories. The former judge would
be spending Christmas with his daughter in law and his grandson
and wanted to make sure there was no reason for him to come back
early. His boss was arranging for a party at Buck’s Bar and Grill,
and it was up to Chris to make sure the boys got there on time.
He stood framed in the doorway of his office and smiled as Standish
took note of his presence.
“Mr. Larabee, one can only presume by the glimmer of elation in your eyes that
we have permission to leave early,” the gambler said.
“Ez, yer talkin’ ta Scrooge, he don’t got none of that elation, whatever the
hell that is,” Tanner quipped.
“Very funny, Vin, maybe Scrooge is going to surprise you this year,” Larabee
“No shit, Chris,” Wilmington said and sat forward. “Tell me you’ve hooked me
up with that babe you were talking to yesterday.”
“Sorry, Buck, Mandy said to tell you she prefers to date real men,” the blond
answered and smiled when the others began to laugh.
funny, Chris. A man goes undercover in a bar…”
“Transvestite bar,” Dunne reminded the ladies’ man.
“A bar and ends up scarred for life. You did tell her I was undercover didn’t
“She wanted to know whose covers they were,” Larabee laughed.
“Chris, you didn’t!” Wilmington snapped.
“Well, you did seem mighty taken with…”
“God damnit, Larabee…”
“Buck, God’s last name is not damnit,” Dunne supplied and again there was laughter
in the room.
“Chris, I’ll get you back for this,” Wilmington said, but the smile on his face
said there was no offense taken or given. His relationship with
Chris Larabee went back far enough that the two men knew when to
draw the line. It would take a lot to push things that far, and
neither man had come to that point yet and probably never would.
‘I believe we’ve sort of gotten away from the main topic here,” Sanchez said.
“Was there something you wanted to tell us, Boss?”
“Something like we can take the rest of the day off,” Jackson added hopefully.
“Actually, that’s exactly what I was going to say,” Larabee answered and smiled
when a series of loud whoops echoed through the office. “But…”
“Ah, here it comes. Bet ol’ Ebenezer wants us in here all the earlier tomorrow,”
Tanner said with a grin.
“Vin, keep it up and you’ll lose your Christmas bonus this year.”
“Oh, yeah, what’s he getting, double last year’s?” Dunne teased.
“Double nothin’s still nothin’,” the Texan said, ducking when Larabee threw
a pair of gloves at him.
“You’re just a barrel of laughs, Tanner. What I was going to say was the first
drink is on me…”
Bar & Grill?” Wilmington asked. Since Jake Taylor had introduced
the team to the bar and grill, it had quickly become a favorite
hangout for the seven men. Friday nights would find them at a table
in the back, talking, laughing, and drinking. Tonight would be no
Bucklin, haven’t you learned that Inez has no interest in your sorry
ass?” Tanner asked, causing the others to snicker loudly.
assure you, Vin, that that’s not the part of my anatomy I want her
interested in,” Wilmington leered, wagging his eyes suggestively.
I take it you want her looking at the small stuff,” Dunne replied,
again causing laughter from the men
scoundrel swatted the youngest member of the team across the shoulders
as he answered. “If it was small stuff then I’d just point her in
your direction, Small Stuff!”
ha, ha, Buck, how the hell would you know?” the young easterner
asked as they headed out the main door.
know more than you think, Kid. Hell, the way you dress anyone can
see you’ve got nothing between your...”
up, Buck!” Dunne hissed sharply.
hurts, Kid,” Wilmington laughed as he held the door for the others
to go through.
could see JD was getting tired of the teasing and turned to the
ladies man. “Buck, give it up. We all know you’re jealous of JD’s
The scoundrel laughed. “Next thing you know you’ll be saying I’m
jealous of your assets.”
hurts, Bucklin,” Tanner smirked at the older man.
hell, Tanner, I don’t need to be jealous. Just ask any lady around
and she’ll tell you ol’ Buck is...”
of shit,” the sharpshooter finished, again the light hearted laughter
rose in the hallway.
the scoundrel laughed, knowing it was impossible to argue with the
men he called friends. The seven headed for their respective vehicles
and would meet at Buck’s Bar and Grill.
“Damn!” Vin cursed as JD read the sign on the outside of Buck’s Bar and Grill.
“Closed for private party, sorry for the inconvenience,” Dunne repeated as the
remaining five men joined them. “Hey, Chris, we can’t get in.”
“Why?” Larabee asked and reached for the door handle.
“It’s closed for a private party,” Tanner told them.
“Damn, guess it’s gotta be Ezra’s favorite hangup…”
“That’s hangout, Mr. Wilmington,” the conman supplied.
“Hangup, hangout…works either way,” the ladies’ man teased.
“All right, boys, let me check this out,” Larabee said and pushed open the door.
“Chris, are you gonna crash a private party?” Dunne asked incredulously.
“Never stopped him before, Son,” the rogue said and slapped his long time friend
on the back. “God, I remember those days.”
“Yes, and I’d like to forget them,” Larabee said and moved inside. “I’ll be
“Jesus, its colder’n…”
“Please, do not favor us with one of your delightful analogies, Mr. Tanner,”
“Anawhatgies?” the Texan asked jokingly.
“Analogies, Vin, he means comparing things that are different…”
“Hell, I wasn’t gonna do that, Josiah,” Tanner said slapping his hands on his
arms in an effort to keep warm.
“Boys,” Larabee called from the open door.
“Bout fuckin’ time ya got back. I’m freezin’ like the monkey’s brass balls out
here,” Tanner said.
“Do we stay, Chris?” Sanchez asked.
“Well, I would be a little ticked if you didn’t,” Travis explained and opened
“Orrin, I didn’t know you knew about this place,” Wilmington observed.
“Me not know where my agents hang out on Friday nights? I’ve known since the
beginning…since Jake Taylor told Chris about it,” Travis explained.
“This party can’t get started without the guests of honor, so Chris,
if you would kindly escort your team to their table.”
“My pleasure, Orrin,” Larabee said and stepped past the older man. He led his
friends to the table near the back of the restaurant and smiled
in greeting to the people they passed.
“Casey, what are you doing here?” Dunne asked, pulling the young woman into
a warm embrace.
“When Mister Travis called to ask Nettie and I to come to a party for you guys
how could we say no?” Casey Wells asked.
“Miss Nettie, I ain’t never seen a prettier lady…”
hell, Vin, don’t start that blarney now,” the elderly woman said,
accepting the hug from the Texan before reaching for her nephew
in law. “Chris, thank you for getting them all here.”
“It was easy, Nettie, I told them the drinks were on me…Sonofa…gun!” Larabee
cried as cold water ran down his back.
“Gotcha!” Wilmington said of the ongoing joke between them. All it took was
those four little innocent words and all bets were off. Whatever
the other person was drinking became a weapon and Larabee stood
laughing with the others in spite of the cold liquid seeping into
owe you, Buck, and payback’s a real bit…” Larabee trailed off when
he remembered the woman standing beside him. “Sorry, Nettie.”
“Chris, apologies for language are not required tonight, but I am glad you remembered
I’m here,” Nettie said, sitting once more and handing the wet blond
“Thanks, Nettie,” Larabee said, kissing her cheek before joining the others
at their table. He took his normal seat, flanked on one side by
Vin Tanner, JD Dunne, and Ezra Standish and on the other by Buck
Wilmington, Nathan Jackson and Josiah Sanchez. The opposite end
of the table was empty, and the seven men looked around the tables.
Nettie, Casey, Rain, Inez, and several women from Travis’ office sat at one
table. Another seemed to be filled with several people the men were
familiar with. Tom Parker, Stacey Midland, Brandon Silverman and
their respective dates, lifted their glasses in a toast to the seven
men. Alonzo and Sophia Delvecchio shared a table with Orrin and
Evie Travis while several nurses from Saint Vincents sat to their
immediate left. Frank Thompson, Robert Miller and several other
officers from the Billings Police Department sat together near the
front of the restaurant. Raphael Cordova de Martinez, Jake Taylor
and their dates, were seated close to the bar. There were several
other tables filled with friends and clients and the seven members
of The Firm acknowledge them all before Orrin Travis stood in front
of the microphone placed before him.
“You failed, Orrin,” Sanchez said with a toothy grin and sipped the champagne
the waitress poured for him.
“In that case, Josiah, why don’t you come up here and make the announcements?”
“No, that’s all right, Judge, I’ll leave the public speaking to you tonight,”
the ex-preacher said and held his glass out for more.
“Ladies and Gentlemen, I would like to take this opportunity to thank you all
for coming this evening and hope you enjoy yourselves. As you know
the guests of honor have finally arrived, late, as usual,” Travis
said and looked toward the gambler. “Ezra, did they set their watches
“Actually, Judge, it was Mr. Larabee who timed our arrival and I really must
say he is a very tough taskmaster and kept us shackled…”
“Ezra, better watch it…Chris got that gleam in his eyes,” Dunne warned.
“I am only speaking the…”
“Ezra, I could come up with several dossiers that need your complete and utter
undivided attention,” Larabee stated.
“Mr. Larabee, that would constitute cruel and unjust punishment,” Standish said.
“Gentlemen, are you finished?” Travis asked.
“I think Ezra gets the point,” Larabee said with a grin and smiled at the gambler.
“I want to thank Maude Standish for granting us the use of her establishment…”
“Your mother owns this place?” Wilmington asked incredulously.
“Mothah won it in a poker game,” Standish answered.
“Isn’t that illegal?” Dunne asked,
“Not if it’s done properly,” the conman answered.
“You mean she cheated?” the rogue asked.
“Mothah does not cheat…”
“Be that as it may, Ezra, why don’t we let the judge continue?” Jackson asked.
“Thank you, Nathan. Maude Standish also asked that I tell her son that she wishes
she could be with him, but there is a poker game in Monte Carlo
and a chair with her name on it.”
“That sounds like Mothah,” Standish said. He’d long ago given up on spending
holidays with the woman, yet he knew she loved him and that’s what
“She sends you all the best,” Travis said and took a sip of champagne before
continuing. “I’d also like to thank Alonzo and Sophia for providing
the food for tonight.”
“It was no trouble,” Alonzo and Sophia assured them.
“Well, I’m sure it will be delicious as always,” Evie Travis said.
“The music for tonight will be provided by Raphael Cordova de Martinez. I would
like you all to know that he volunteered his services for this and
he’s brought a wide variety of music for your dancing pleasure.
Thank you, Raphael.”
pleasure, Judge,” the man said and nodded to Larabee’s table.
“Well, I could keep talking…”
“Ah, hell,” Wilmington said with a grin.
“Damn, thought he talked enough,” Tanner said.
“The gift of gab,” Dunne said and suddenly realized he’d spoken aloud.
“Gentlemen, you’re in rare form tonight,” Travis said enjoying the good-natured
ribbing from the members of his agency.
“Orrin, I believe they know you as well as I do,” Evie said and smiled at her
“Good Lord, not you too,” Travis said and turned his attention back to the seven
guests of honor. “Josiah, would you do us the honor of saying grace?”
“My pleasure,” Sanchez said, folding his hands and bowing his head. “Lord, we
thank you for the food we are about to receive, and for gifting
us with the company of family and friends. Amen.”
“Amen,” the others said and the waitresses began serving the meals.
“Chris, how long did you know about this?” Jackson asked.
“Actually, I didn’t know anything until the meeting with Travis,” Larabee answered.
“Would you like more wine?” a pretty redhead asked.
“Yes, please, the red,” Larabee answered and held his glass out for her to refill.
“So, Ezra, when were you going to tell us about your mother taking
over this place?”
“I bet he was afraid we’d start expectin’ free drinks,” Tanner teased.
“Mr. Tanner, I have no say in the management of this establishment. Mothah has
always believed in a hands-off organization when it comes to her
assets. I believe Inez Recillos is the manager so if you desire
complimentary drinks you will have to speak with her,” Standish
“I bet I could get her to give me a free drink,” Wilmington said.
“Only if you promised not to hit on her,” Dunne said.
“I believe her last answer to one of Buck’s attempts at a date was ‘nunca’,”
“Have you figured out the translation on that one yet, Buck?” the Bostonian
asked with a grin.
“Ha, ha, Kid,” Wilmington said and reached for a dinner roll.
The dishes were cleared from the tables and drinks were being served when Raphael
Cordova de Martinez checked the speakers and made sure his equipment
was set up properly. Maria Delgado, a beautiful raven-haired woman
dressed in a shimmering red form fitting dress helped him. The lights
were soon turned down low, leaving only a soft light shining over
the dance floor.
“All right, ladies and gentlemen, are we ready to do a little dancing?” Raphael
asked and smiled when a loud cheer went up in the bar. “Sounds like
the animals are restless. If you have any requests don’t hesitate
to ask and if I have it…well, you’ll get it. If I don’t, hmm…I’ll
play the next best thing. So, without further ado let’s start off
with something soft and mellow and let the ladies choose their fellow.
Shania Twain’s Forever and Always.”
JD stood and hurried over to the table where Casey sat talking with her aunt.
Nettie saw him first, smiled and nodded to her niece.
“Casey, would you like to dance?”
“Sure do, JD. I’ll be right back, Aunt Nettie.”
“Off with you, Child,” the elderly woman said with a grin. She watched the young
couple join others on the dance floor and was carried back in time
to a similar celebration when her husband’s arms encircled her and
filled her with joy.
“Mrs. Wells, it’s good to see you again,” Stacey Midland said. She knew the
woman from her volunteer work at the hospital and held a great deal
of respect for her and others like her.
“Hello, Dr. Midland. Where is James this evening?”
“He wasn’t feeling very well and I told him to stay in bed,” Midland explained.
“I do hope it’s nothing serious,” Nettie said.
“Just a cold, but James tends to forget to look after himself.”
“I know several men like that,” the elderly woman explained with a grin as she
looked at the dance floor. Buck had his arms wrapped around Inez
and was whispering something in her ear. JD and Casey were gazing
into each other’s eyes, their bodies seemingly joined at the waist.
Josiah, Chris, and Ezra were each dancing with a nurse from Saint
Vincents. Nathan and Rain clung to each other as they swayed with
the soft strains of music. Orrin and Evie Travis were also moving
beneath the soft glow of white light.
“Miss Nettie, would ya like ta dance?”
“Now, Vin, I dear say there are plenty of young ladies…”
“Yes’m, there are, but ain’t one of ‘em can hold a candle ta ya,” the Texan
said and smiled at Stacey Midland.
“Well, Mrs. Wells, how can you turn down a compliment like that?” Midland said
and returned to her own table.
“Wow, this place is rocking tonight!” Wilmington said breathlessly and sank
into his chair.
“Are you getting old, Mr. Wilmington?” Standish asked.
“Bite your tongue, Ez, ‘cause I’m only just getting started. What the hell’s
JD up to?”
“I believe he is requesting a special song for his lady love,” the gambler said.
He had spoken with Dunne earlier and found out that tonight would
indeed be a special one for him and Casey Wells.
“Why do I get the feeling that you know more than the rest of us, Ezra?” Sanchez
“I happened upon Mr. Dunne at Emerson’s Jewelry…”
“Oh, hell, the kid’s getting ready to propose,” Wilmington said with a teasing
gleam in his eyes. He pushed up, but was stopped as Larabee and
Sanchez pulled him back into his chair.
“Leave JD alone, Buck,” Larabee warned and pushed a drink toward his long time
“Shit, Chris, I was just…”
“Gonna sit and watch and maybe learn a thing or two,” Tanner chided softly and
pointed to Raphael as the man reached for the mike.
“Ladies and gentlemen, and with some of you I use those terms loosely,” Raphael
teased and smiled when several muted curses reached his ears. “This
next song goes out to a special lady from her special man.”
The lights were turned low once more as JD made his way across the small dance
floor and reached for Casey’s hand once more as the first strains
of John Michael Montgomery’s song came from the speakers.
Casey smiled as JD led her back onto the dance floor and several other couples
soon surrounded them, but it was her date’s voice she heard and
she felt her heart beating faster in her chest.
“I can love you like…I would make you my
world…Move Heaven and Earth if you were my girl…I will give you
my heart…Be all that you need…Show you you’re everything that's
precious to me…If you give me a chance…I can love you like that.”
JD smiled as the lights were turned up slightly and he went down on one knee.
He’d rehearsed this moment over and over in his mind, but nothing
had prepared him for this. He reached into his pocket as Casey stared
into his eyes and the room was suddenly quiet as the spotlight shone
on the two young lovers surrounded by their family and friends.
“J…JD,” Casey stammered around the lump in her throat.
“Casey, I know we talked about our future and the plans we have, but I want
this so much and would never need anything else in my life if you
would marry me,” Dunne said and held the ring in front of her. Two
perfect hearts joined by twin diamonds sparkled beneath the light
as JD stared at her.
“Oh, JD, yes, God yes,” she cried as he placed the ring on her finger and lifted
her into his arms. Amidst celebratory slaps on the back and catcalls
the young couple only had eyes for each other. The music began to
play once more and they finished the dance before turning to see
the circle of people surrounding them.
“Way to go, Kid,” Wilmington was the first to shake Dunne’s hand and pulled
Casey into a tight embrace.
“It’s about time, JD,” Sanchez said with a grin.
“Didn’t think ya had it in ya,” Tanner commented.
“Congratulations, Mr. Dunne,” Standish said and took his turn hugging the pretty
young woman as Vin released her.
“JD, you done good,” Jackson assured the younger man.
“JD, you’re a lucky man,” Larabee said and saw the sparkle in the Bostonian’s
eyes as he watched everyone making a fuss over his fiancé.
“Now, Son, you do realize you’d best do right by my niece or you’ll have me
to deal with,” Nettie said and hugged the younger man.
“I’ll do everything in my power to make her happy,” Dunne promised.
“Casey, congratulations,” Nettie said and hugged her niece before looking at
“Isn’t it beautiful?” Casey asked.
“Not so beautiful as the woman wearing it,” Nettie said as tears formed in her
“Thank you, Aunt Nettie.”
“This next song goes out to JD and Casey from all your family and friends,”
Raphael announced and the speakers came to life with Randy Travis
singing FOREVER AND EVER, AMEN.
The night wore on with everyone dancing and talking and celebrating the engagement
of JD Dunne and Casey Wells. Orrin Travis had arranged for a limo
to drive his team home and they would be able to leave their vehicles
in the parking lot until the next day. Anyone who needed a ride
home had been told to see the bartender and he would be glad to
call a taxi and Travis would put it on his tab. The music had been
a mixture of new country and soft rock and everyone seemed to be
“Chris, I’m telling you she’s been ogling you all night,” Wilmington said with
a grin as drinks were handed out once more.
“Well, if she was it’s too late now,” Jackson said and pointed to the pretty
brunette who was making her way toward Raphael and his date.
“Damn, Stud, hard luck there…she would have…”
“Buck, can you get your head out of your pants?” Larabee asked, smiling good-naturedly
at his friend.
“I think Raphael is about to make another announcement,” Sanchez explained as
the mike came to life once more.
“I am rather surprised Senor Cordova is such an impressive Master of Ceremonies,”
“Damn good DJ,” Jackson stated and sat back to listen to the announcement.
“This seems to be a night for special requests and this one goes out to a man
we all know from a lady who would love to get to know him and ‘his
tight fittin’ jeans’ a little better,” Raphael said as a spotlight
shone on Larabee’s table.
“I told you!” Wilmington said with a grin and slapped Larabee on the back.
“Chris, Pamela would like to know if you’d dance with her,” Raphael said as
the brunette sauntered up to the blond and reached for his hands.
“I’d love to,” Larabee said as she led him to the dance floor. He silently cursed
when the music began to play and raucous laughter escaped from the
men at his table.
Oh Lord it's hard to be humble
When you're perfect in every way
I can't wait to look in the mirror
Cuz I get better lookin each day
“Pamela, you do know I’ll never be able to go back to my table?”
“That’s okay, you can join ours and I’m sure most of us have seen most of you,”
the ICU nurse teased.
“Ah, hell,” the blond said, laughing as he began to move to the music.
To know me is to love me
I must be a hell of a man
Oh Lord it's hard to be humble
But I'm doin' the best that I can
“Jesus, Chris, you’re a lucky man!” Tanner shouted as Pamela rubbed up against
“Don’t I know it!” Larabee shouted back as the rest of the nurses joined him
on the dance floor.
I used to have a girlfriend
But I guess she just couldn't compete
With all these love starved women
Who keep clamoring at my feet
“Sweet Jesus, that man’s got the luck of the Irish,” Sanchez said.
“And then some,” Jackson agreed as their friend and leader moved his body and
had the women fawning all over him.
Well I probably could find me another
But I guess they're all in awe of me
Who cares I never get lonesome
Cuz I treasure my own company
“Somebody shoot me now,” Wilmington said, awed at how easily Larabee had let
down his defenses and was enjoying himself in the midst of the gyrating
“Jealous, Buck?” Dunne asked.
“Damn right I am and don’t tell me you boys aren’t ‘cause I’d call you a bunch
of liars,” the rogue said and continued to stare at his friend.
Oh Lord it's hard to be humble
When you're perfect in every way
I can't wait to look in the mirror
Cuz I get better lookin each day
Chris could hear the laughter as he moved with the group of dancers. Of the
six nurses, Pamela was the prettiest and had the body of a model
and the face of an angel. He heard her singing along with the lyrics
and couldn’t help joining in as he looked toward his table. He nodded
toward Wilmington and smiled when the other man raised his hand
in a victory salute.
To know me is to love me
I must be a hell of a man
Oh Lord it's hard to be humble
But I'm doin the best that I can
“He’s gonna throw something out if he keeps moving like that,” Jackson observed
as Larabee continued to show his prowess on the dance floor.
“If’n he does I hope he throws ‘em my way,” Tanner said lifting his beer in
I guess you could say I am a loner
A cowboy all locked up and proud
Well I could have lots of friends if I wanted
But then I wouldn't stand out in a crowd
“I don’t think I’ve ever seen Chris quite so loose,” Rain said, smiling at Nathan
“Just remember who you’re here with,” Jackson scolded lightly.
“Would you dance like that for me? Go Chris!” the pediatrician shouted and heard
the other women join in her cheers.
Some folks say that I'm egotistical
Hell I don't even know what that means
The music paused as Raphael reached for the mike and spoke in a teasingly sensual
voice. “All right, ladies, let’s hear you.”
“I GUESS IT HAS SOMETHING TO DO WITH THE WAY THAT HE FILLS OUT THOSE SKIN TIGHT
Chris felt the heat rise to his face as the nurses from Saint Vincents surrounded
him and either pinched or squeezed his cheeks. He couldn’t believe
how easy it had been to give in to the teasing fun and amidst the
catcalls from his friends he hugged each woman before heading back
to his table.
“Jesus, Chris, I don’t think I ever saw you move like that,” Wilmington said.
“Hell, I didn’t think he’d be able ta in them tight pants…what’d ya do, Cowboy,
paint ‘em on?” Tanner teased.
“Jealous, Vin?” Larabee asked and reached for his beer.
“Hell yeah, I think we all were,” the Texan answered and moved to dance with
one of the nurses.
“Can I have your attention one more time?” Travis asked as the evening drew
to a close. He knew the people in the bar had enjoyed themselves
and hated to see it end, but the hour was late and the bar was about
“We got a chish, Orrin,” Wilmington said, his words slightly slurred by the
liquor he’d consumed.
“Actually, no, Buck, not if you want your Christmas bonus,” the former judge
“Double nuttin…still nuttin’” Tanner stated with a grin and reached for the
bottle of Corona in front of him.
“You boys are in the wrong business,” Travis said when the laughter died down.
“In all seriousness, tonight is meant as a thank you for the hard
work you’ve put in over the last year.”
“That’s what you pay us for,” Larabee said.
“No, Chris, I don’t think I pay you enough to go out there and put your lives
on the line day in and day out. If I had a nickel for every minute
one of you boys spent in the hospital I’d be a rich man…”
“By many standards you are a rich man,” Standish said seriously.
“That may very well be, but I’m no where near as rich as the seven of you. I
believe someone once said the greatest gift of all is the love of
one’s family and friends and looking at the seven of you I’m a poor
man by far. I’d like to make sure that gift is around for a long,
long time, but I guess that’s up to the Good Lord. What I can do
is show my appreciation by giving you all the next two weeks off
“Woohoo!” Tanner whooped and lifted his bottle in a celebratory gesture.
“I second that!” Dunne said.
“Orrin, thanks for the holiday.”
“I don’t think he was including us in his vacation offering, Stacey,” Parker
“Oh, I don’t know. Think about it, Tom…if they are on holiday they won’t be
at the hospital.”
“Hell, I never thought of that. Thanks, Orrin,” Parker said with a grin and
tipped his glass toward Larabee and his team.
“You’re welcome,” Travis said and turned the microphone over to Raphael once
“All right, Ladies, this is the final song of the night and I believe it should
be ladies choice…so find your favorite guy and move to the soft
tones of Garth Brooks’ THE DANCE.”
“Buck, would you like to dance?” Inez asked and was pleased when the gentle
rogue smiled and let her lead him to the dance floor where, JD and
Casey were already locked in each other’s arms. It wasn’t long before
Nathan and Rain joined them along with Orrin and Evie Travis. Next
came Tom Parker and his wife, followed by Josiah Sanchez and a nurse
from Saint Vincents.
“Chris would you like to dance?” Stacey Midland asked and smiled at the look
on the blond’s face.
“Sure, Doc,” Larabee said and accompanied her to the dance floor.
Nettie Wells smiled as the dance floor quickly filled and was delighted with
the way the evening had gone. JD had finally asked Casey to marry
him and she’d accepted the ring and more importantly the love he
offered. She’d danced so much that her legs were tired and she’d
decided to sit this one out. She could tell a lot by watching people
and tonight there was none of the pain she’d so often seen on the
faces of the two men she cared so much about. She cared about them
all, but Chris Larabee and Vin Tanner were special to her. The two
men had been through so much and had finally realized they’d been
meant to be brothers and shared that special bond like no other.
It had seen them through some rough times and she knew that gift
was what kept them from going off on their own on more than one
occasion. As the night drew to a close, Nettie smiled and thought
of her niece.
“Well, it’s been my pleasure to play the music and hopefully you enjoyed it,
but as we know all good things must come to an end. Orrin, you picked
a man to start the team now known as The Firm, and I’ve grown to
know and respect not only, Chris Larabee, but each and every man
he chose to join him in the never ending battle against crime. I’ll
make one final toast before the lights go up. To the men of The
Firm, may you never find a bullet with your name on it! Good night
folks and thank you for making this a night to remember.”
“Thanks, Raphael,” Larabee said reaching out and shaking the other man’s hand.
It took nearly half an hour for everyone to collect their coats and make sure
those who needed a ride home had one. Snow had begun to fall, but
it was only a light covering and did not hamper the drive home,
but Nettie Wells shivered as she looked around her and wondered
why it felt as if someone had walked over her grave.
Chris sat in the truck; his hands on the steering wheel and knew there was no
way to stop the tears spilling from his eyes. The cemetery gates
were open and the snow had been cleared from the roadway leading
inside. Five years had passed since he’d lost his heart and soul,
but the searing pain of that loss was not as telling as it once
was. He still grieved for his lost family, but he had another one
in the six men of The Firm and for that he was grateful. Orrin’s
words from three nights ago came back to him *’the greatest gift
of all is the love of ones family and friends.’*
He took a deep breath and knew in his heart that he would never forget the love
he shared with Sarah and Adam, but at least now he could look at
life and live it to the fullest again. He could go on and be thankful
for the gift he’d been given. Turning his head he sighed and reached
for the small tree he’d chosen from his ranch. It was covered with
the white garland that represented purity and the red roses that
represented his love for the two people who’d shared his life for
such a short time. Holding the small symbol close to his chest,
Chris pushed the door open and stepped out of the truck, before
shutting it once more and walking toward the snow covered graves.
He couldn’t see the marker, but the path was imprinted on his mind
and he soon stood beside the graves. He cleared as much snow as
possible from the headstone and read the words as tears slipped
past his lids.
“Oh, Sarah, I miss you both so much,” the grieving man whispered, running his
fingers along the names of his beloved. “I wish…I wish you and Adam
could see the ranch. I know you chose it and God knows it would
have been a perfect place to raise Adam and the b…baby. The boys
are coming over tomorrow and we’re going to get a Christmas tree…a
big one…the type you loved. Remember our first Christmas tree? It
looked so scrawny, but the ornaments you and Nettie made were special…they
Larabee placed the small tree between the graves and let the tears fall as he
softly sang the tune he’d heard Sarah sing every Christmas Eve while
they were married.
“I'll be home for Christmas…You can count on me…Please have snow and mistletoe
and presents on the tree.” The tears flowed faster as the words escaped
trembling lips and Chris felt the air around him changing as if
another voice had joined his off key singing. He smiled inwardly,
knowing who that presence was and felt some of the aching loneliness
“Christmas Eve will find me…Where the love light gleams…I'll be home for Christmas…If
only in my dreams…My dreams,” he repeated the last two words
once more and took a deep breath of the frosty winter air. He smiled
and pressed his hands against the headstones before standing once
more. There were several other people scattered around the cemetery
and Chris couldn’t help smiling when he spotted a familiar figure
striding purposefully toward him.
“Figured I’d find you here,” Wilmington said his voice soft and filled with
emotion as he held out a small package to his long time friend.
I have made for Sarah and Adam. I was kind of hoping you wouldn’t
mind,” the gentle rogue said and watched Larabee remove the wrapping.
He saw the sea green eyes light up, and the smile that dawned on
the handsome face drove away the chill he’d felt.
“Where did you find these?” Larabee asked, holding the turtledove sun catchers
tightly in his hands.
“Found them last year, but wasn’t sure whether you wanted them or not. I figured
they belonged on the tree…I’m sorry if I’m wrong, Chris.”
“God, Buck, you’re not wrong. They do belong here…and so do you. Maybe next
year we could come here together,” Larabee suggested and saw the
tears shining in Wilmington’s emotive blue eyes.
“I’d be honored, Chris,” the gentle rogue managed and hugged the blond for several
seconds before releasing him and watching Larabee kneel by the little
“Buck, would you…would you put them on?”
“Are you sure?” Wilmington asked and swallowed the painful lump in his throat
before taking the turtledoves and placing them near the top of the
“Thanks, Buck,” Larabee said, taking a deep breath before turning away from
the graves. He knew the other man would need a minute alone and
did not feel any jealousy over the fact that Buck Wilmington had
loved Sarah and Adam almost as much as he did.
“There’s nothing to thank me for…you were always there for me…for us and for
that I am forever in your debt. Got any plans for today?”
“No…just gonna relax.”
“Well, how about coming out to the ranch and giving me a hand to get the place
presentable?” Larabee asked, striding purposefully toward his truck.
“Sure, plenty of root beer…”
“Sorry, couldn’t resist. I think I could rustle up a beer or two…maybe throw
a couple steaks on the grill.”
“Now that sounds like a plan,” Wilmington said. “I’ll pick up some chips and
dip and meet you at your place in about an hour.”
“Sounds good, Buck,” the blond said, opening the door and climbing into the
truck. “Make sure it’s French Onion.”
“Is there any other kind?” Wilmington joked before hurrying toward his own car.
The top was up on the green Ford Mustang and Buck patted the car
he referred to as his ‘baby’. He watched his long time friend drive
away and was struck by how much the blond had changed since losing
his family. There had been a time when he thought they would lose
Larabee, but Chris had proven he was stronger than they gave him
credit for. Buck also understood Vin Tanner had played a major role
in the healing process, but that knowledge no longer hurt him as
it once had. He had Larabee back and that was something he thanked
God for every day of his life.
Chris watched the car pull into his driveway and smiled when Wilmington exited
the car with two full bags in his hands. He shook his head, holding
the door open as the gentle rogue hurried into the house.
“Buck, are you expecting an army?”
“No, but I figured I’d get a few supplies while I was there,” Wilmington said
and hurried toward the kitchen as the phone rang.
“Larabee,” the blond answered on the second ring.
“Mr. Larabee, this is James Bellingham from Bellingham western gear. I’m afraid
I have some bad news for you.”
“The saddle you ordered will not be ready. There was a death in the family and
I’m afraid we’ve had to cancel orders.”
“I’m sorry for your loss, Mr. Bellingham.”
“Thank you, Mr. Larabee, and please come into the store in the New Year and
I’ll find some way to pay up for not being able to complete our
business. Again, I am so sorry for the inconvenience this causes
“I understand about the loss of someone you care about, Mr. Bellingham. You
just take care of yourself and your family.”
“I will…and M…Merry Christmas.”
Chris hung up the phone and sank down on the chair nearest him. He rubbed at
tired eyes and tried to think, but all he could see was Vin’s face
when he’d seen the saddle in the catalogue. The blue eyes had shone
with open admiration at the workmanship.
“Chris, you okay?”
“I’m fine, Buck,” Larabee lied.
“Sure you are. What happened?” Wilmington asked, handing his friend an open
bottle of beer.
“That was James Bellingham.”
“Vin’s saddle?” the rogue asked.
“Yeah, he can’t finish the order…”
“Why the hell not?”
“Easy, Buck, it’s not that he booked too many orders. There was a death in his
“Ah, hell, Chris, is there anyone else who can fill the order?”
“Not on such short notice,” Larabee answered.
“Damn,” Wilmington softly cursed. He’d known what Larabee had ordered for the
Texan and wished there was something he could do, but the blond
was right and there were only four days until Christmas.
“Tell me about it,” the blond said and leaned back in his chair.
“Could you maybe give him a card explaining that his gift was coming, but was
“Maybe,” Larabee said, taking a long pull on the beer. “Well, there’s not much
we can do about it today.”
“Wish I could help.”
“Not much anyone can do right now,” Larabee said.
“Wait a minute…maybe there’s nothing I can do, but…”
“But what?” Larabee asked when Wilmington reached for the phone.
“What about him?” the blond asked, but grew quiet when the ladies’ man held
up his hand to stop him from talking.
“Hey, Ez, it’s Buck.”
“Ha, ha,” Wilmington said and spoke quickly before the conman could interrupt
again. “Listen, that uncle of yours…the one that makes things with
“Yeah, think he has any saddles?”
“Saddles, Western or English are his specialty.”
“Excellent, think he has one at his place?”
“I’m certain he has several on hand. Why?”
“Can you come out to Chris’ place and bring that catalog you showed me?”
“Certainly, but you haven’t answered my question.”
“You’ll get your answer and a beer when you get here,” Wilmington supplied and
hung up the phone.
“Care to tell me what that was all about?” Larabee asked.
“Nope, you’ll find out when Ezra gets here. Better take out another steak.”
Wilmington said with a grin as he sat back and enjoyed the look
on Larabee’s face.
“Ezra, thanks for coming out.”
“My pleasure, Mr. Larabee, but I must say I am curious as to the reason for
the visit and the haste it seemed to require.”
“Ez, did ya bring it?”
“It would be prudent of me to bring the catalog since that seemed to be the
requirement for my visit. Do I detect the delectable aroma of steak
“Yeah…yeah, you do and there’s one on for you, but where’s the damn catalog?”
Wilmington asked impatiently.
“Right here,” Standish said and handed the well-worn catalog to the ladies’
“Thanks, Ez. Chris, come take a look at these,” the ladies’ man ordered and
led them into the kitchen.
“What is it, Buck?” Larabee asked, sitting beside his long time friend. “Ezra,
there’s beer in the fridge or the harder stuff in the bar.”
“I think I’ll have a shot of your Brandy, Mr. Larabee.”
“You know where it is,” Larabee answered; amazed at the catalog Wilmington was
“Look at these, Chris, and tell me Vin wouldn’t love anything from this catalog,”
the ladies’ man said and turned page after page, revealing each
treasure to the smiling blond.
“Are you telling me Ezra’s uncle…hell I didn’t even know he had an uncle…makes
“Uncle Hiram is the black sheep in my family, Mr. Larabee. Mothah refuses to
acknowledge his existence as does most of our relatives, but I believe
Uncle Hiram is my favorite of mothah’s brothers.”
“It says here that his name is Hiram Standish. I thought Standish was your mother’s
maiden name,” Larabee said.
“No, Standish is mothah’s maiden name. She’s changed it back after each debacle
of a marriage she’s had. She changed mine to Standish when I was
only two and never changed it. Hiram has always been a man I could
look up to and admire for his departure from convention. He never
gave into the family’s attempts at getting him into the hmm, shall
we say family business.”
“Ezra, do you think your uncle has any of these on hand?”
“I’m afraid not, Mr. Larabee. This catalog only shows the workmanship Uncle
Hiram is capable of.”
“Damn,” the blond swore disappointedly.
“Hell, Ezra, I figured he’d have something ready,” Wilmington commented.
“I’m sure Uncle Hiram has plenty on hand…”
“But you just said he wouldn’t have any of these?”
“He won’t, because Uncle Hiram only does one of each style so when you purchase
it you can be sure it’s an original. He modifies the catalog every
year in an effort to show people the ones he’s sold.”
“That means he has saddles at his place?” the ladies’ man asked hopefully.
“Certainly,” Standish answered.
“Can you call him, Ezra?” Larabee asked.
“Of course. When would you like to drive up to his home and see the merchandise?”
“Anytime he’s available,” Larabee answered.
“I’ll call him immediately.”
“Thanks, Ezra,” the blond said and hurried to check the steaks sizzling on the
grill. He could hear the gambler speaking.
“Well, Christmas is looking up,” Wilmington said.
“It certainly is,” Larabee answered. “I owe you, Buck.”
“No, you don’t…well maybe another beer?”
“Bring me one too,” the blond said, flipping the steaks and checking the mushrooms,
peppers, and onions that sizzled in the frying pan. Baked potatoes
and salad would also be part of the meal and he looked up to see
Ezra standing in the doorway.
“Chris, Uncle Hiram has several saddles and wondered if we could be at his place
early on Christmas Eve. He’s going into the woods with several friends
and won’t return until then.”
“Christmas Eve is fine, Ezra.”
“Would you like me to accompany you?”
“That’d be great, Ezra,” Larabee answered.
“I shall inform Uncle Hiram of our intentions,” Standish explained.
“Sounds great,” the blond said, shaking the conman’s hand before removing the
steaks from the grill. Things were looking up and it seemed as if
the gift he’d planned for the Texan was only a couple of hundred