Twas three nights before Christmas and most of Houston was still. The recent snowstorm glistened on the streets keeping most people indoors; even the most hardened criminals were absent.
The city was decked out with lights, trimmed for a Texas holiday with little kids waiting anxiously for a jolly fat man to come in a few short days. This was normally a busy, joyous time of year but on this night, things were not so joyous.
"Damn it Levon, you are NOT driving like this." Chicken rarely raised his voice or lowered his tone but tonight he had done both.
The large friendly black man had lived and worked in Houston for over 20 years and enjoyed the holidays when they came. His restaurant, Chicken's Place, was always packed and at this time of year and it was doubly so.
But even he had to draw the line somewhere and when he seen one of his longest and closest friends about to do something stupid he knew it was time to step in.
The young Texan he was in the middle of arguing with was about 20 years his junior and a good 190-some pounds lighter but even when drunk Sergeant Levon Lundy could be a handful.
A native Texan, Lundy at 6'5 had wavy blond hair that brushed the collar of his blue jean shirt and had normally bright blue eyes. Tonight, those eyes were cloudy with the amount of beer and whiskey he'd consumed.
Lundy was a Sergeant in Houston and almost always worked the holidays but this year his superior and former partner, Lieutenant Joann Beaumont, had given both he and his current partner the time off due to some stressful cases.
Now he was off duty 3 days before Christmas and never more utterly alone than right then and he sure as hell didn't need Chicken hovering.
"I'm fine. Drove home...plenty of times." He returned, finally pulling free and reaching twice for his tan Stetson before finally getting it. "I'll…talk to you tomorrow."
Chicken started to object but the Texan was out the door and the older man couldn't get rid of the feeling in his stomach that this was not going to be a silent night.
"Damn, a man has a right to get drunk." Lundy muttered as he sloshed through the newly fallen snow toward his red 4x4 Jimmy and frowned as he thought of why he was drunk. "LaFiamma."
Lundy's partner for the past few years, Joseph LaFiamma, had transferred from Chicago after a contract was put on his life and his uncle had worked a deal that spared his life so long as he stayed out of Chi-town.
No one expected the partnership to last long, as the two men were as different as night and day. Lundy was pure Texan, casual and laidback while LaFiamma was style and temperamental. They fought almost constantly but were also best friends.
"Ain't all Joe's fault." He sighed, staring at his truck keys as he recalled his partner's face when he got the call 2 days ago.
While the dark haired Italian had adjusted to life in Houston, the one thing that bothered him was his family on holidays. This year, some mutual friends including Lundy's own cousin, had pulled some strings and arranged for Joe to be able to spend Christmas in New York with some of his closer family.
Levon accepted that but what made this worse was that his cousin who was supposed to also come to Houston this week had been delayed and since he was miserable, the Texan chose to forget his losses with a more stable friend.
"Yep, pity I ain't as drunk as I should be." He muttered, opening the truck door when a step sounded to his right and pain exploded behind his ear as the world went black.
Chicken had finally cleared the last stragglers out a few hours after his friend had gone and he decided that after he went home he'd call Lundy's ranch to make sure he had made it home.
Locking the restaurant and starting across the parking lot, Chicken froze and frowned at the red Jimmy. "Levon?" he called as he carefully made his way across the slippery pavement to the truck, expecting to find his friend asleep inside but stopped at the open door, blood stained snow and tossed away Colt. "Oh damn."
"I don't care what you say! This is not as good as Chicago." Sergeant Joseph Lafiamma crossed his arms and glared at his younger brother with his back toward the New York skyline.
"Maybe but at least I can almost guarantee you aren't going to get killed here." Michael LaFiamma retorted, meeting his brother's green eyes fully and smiled. "Besides, Houston can't have shops like NY does."
Joe felt the growl coming and turned away from his snickering brother to look out the window of the rented house in West New York.
It could be Chicago for the snow but there was more noise on the streets and other little things that bothered Joe. Of course, he refused to admit his biggest problem was that he actually MISSED Houston.
Joe ran his fingers through well-styled black wavy hair that pieces curled into his deep green eyes. Tall at 6'6, he had pure Italian features with drop-dead looks and a smile that melted hearts though at that time he was working on one person's heart.
"The boss didn't like the delay either but the 'raiders do need to work for a living sometimes." Michael, was several years younger than Joe but with the same looks, spoke as if knowing what his brother was thinking.
His cell phone interrupted that thought as Joe flipped the phone into his hand while smacking Michael in the head. "LaFiamma." He spoke casually but frowned at the voice on the other end. "When?" he demanded quietly. "Why the hell wasn't I called sooner?"
Michael raised his eyes as Joe lapsed into Italian then blew out a breath. "No, I'll be back today. Have someone meet me at the airport."
The phone was slammed back into his pocket and Joe was silent as his thoughts whirled rapidly at what Joann Beaumont had said then he turned to his brother. "Tony still got his pilot's license?"
"You know that Tony could fly before he could drive legally." Michael replied with a frown to match his brothers. "Trouble?"
"Yeah, my stupid hardheaded partner has up and disappeared after getting bombed at Chicken's last night." Joe muttered, silently cursing himself for even leaving the Texan. "Get Tony, get a plane and start calling for Morgan. John Boy needs rescued…again."
As his brother quickly left the room yelling for the youngest LaFiamma brother, Joe closed his eyes and sat down on the couch.
"Goddamn you Lundy, you promised you'd be fine and you had better be when I find you cause I am not putting up with those mercenaries of your cousin's by myself." He muttered to himself, wondering how long it would take to get back to Houston and how much time had they lost already.
"The way the scene looks, someone came up on Levon as he was leaving' Chickens'." Sergeant Jillian Rodriez explained as she drove the police issued plain car back from the airport.
A newly promoted detective coming from Vice, she had been appointed to meet LaFiamma at the airport when Joann Beaumont had been unexpectedly called to a meeting with the Mayor.
A rather tall woman in her middle 30's with short blond hair and a Texas accent, she reminded Joe of every other Texas rookie detective he'd met and that scared him.
"I got that much from the Lieutenant on the phone. What I want to know is if anything else had been discovered? Like motive, suspects, or anything I can actually use?" Joe demanded, staring at the passing scenery and not even seeing it.
"With most of the senior officers on vacation, the department is sort of shorthanded so we're still working out a lot of details." The woman admitted in embarrassment.
Joe's short fuse about lit then. "My partner got kidnapped and from the time I was called to now you still don't know anything?" he demanded, hearing a cough from the backseat.
Michael LaFiamma had decided to go with his brother and the policewoman in case some tact and patience was needed. He was glad he did.
"Joe, it's Christmas. We'll find Levon." He assured his uptight brother.
Pulling into the parking lot of Chicken's where the crime scene had been taped off, Seg. Rodriez shut the car off and looked at the dark haired Italian. "I know it seems like we aren't doing anything but…"
"You're right. That's sure as hell what it looks like." Joe cut her off, getting out of the car and slamming the door.
"You'll have to forgive my brother." Michael put in to cut some of the tension. "He's a little upset right now."
The woman just smiled, dismissing the outburst. "I just chalk it up to Italian temper. He's not Texan and doesn't understand how we do things."
Michael didn't care for that, wondering if he shouldn't have called for more help than he had.
"No fingerprints on the Jimmy, his hat or the Colt." A white coated tech was saying as Joe paced. "Whoever did this came prepared."
"What about the blood?" Joe demanded. "Is it his?"
A pause then a shrug. "It matches Lundy's type so we assume so."
Joe's face darkened even as Michael was grabbing his arm and tugging him toward Chicken's.
"Lets go see if Chicken knows anything." He urged, wanting his overly angry brother away from so many targets.
Even as they were going in the door, Michael sensed the hostile gaze from some of the officers outside.
"LaFiamma!" Chicken greeted, coming from behind the counter and eyeing the younger man. "He with you?"
Joe barely nodded. "My kid brother. Michael, this is Chicken." He looked around before asking. "You know anything more than those nitwits outside are telling me?"
Chicken's normally open face turned grave. "Can we talk at your place tonight?"
This startled Joe as Chicken was usually the most open man in Texas but he sensed his reluctance and nodded. "Sure, I'll be there all night unless I get some lead."
"Joe, don't go off until we've talked." Chicken urged firmly, turning away as several uniformed officers came in.
Joe glanced at Michael who only shrugged and nodded to the door. "Tony's coming."
Too fixated on current problems, he didn't think to ask how his brother knew that but just walked outside.
"Anyplace you want me to take you to start looking for Lundy?" Jillian asked, meeting them even as a black and silver Blazer turned into the lot.
"No thanks. My brothers' are gonna take me to pick up my car." Joe replied, wincing as his brother took the turn on 2 wheels.
The young woman frowned at that. "But you may need help with the investigation."
"Then I'll call the Lieutenant." Joe returned. "I have some leads but need to sort them out. I'll call the office before I do anything."
Joe climbed into the front seat beside a young man in his late teens or early 20's while Michael got in the back and leaned over the seat.
"Don't think that made her very happy, Joe." He spoke casually.
"That was the plan, Mike." Joe reached over and turned off the blaring radio. "Levon's music is one thing but this junk is out while you're with me."
Anthony LaFiamma at 22 was the youngest of Joe's family and shared the same good looks as his brothers only he let his black wavy hair run long and wore 2 gold hoops in his left ear.
He was actually in between Joe and Michael in temperament. Being laidback one minute and angry the next. Right now he was in cool mode to temper either of his brothers.
"You are music deficient, bro." He complained, wincing as a smack came from the back seat. "Do we have a plan?"
"Until I talk to Chicken, no." Joe leaned back, looking in the rear view mirror. "Right now we're going to go to Lundy's place and see if we find anything interesting."
Tony and Michael exchanged looks in the mirror. "I thought you said you'd call the office before doing anything." Michael reminded him.
"Yeah, I did." Joe grinned. "Guess I lied."
A few miles outside of Houston was the ranch where Levon Lundy called home.
It was of good size with a dirt driveway that still drove Joe nuts with a few acres of grazing land for the animals he owned.
As Tony drove the rented Blazer up to the front door, Joe got a cold feeling in the pit of his stomach.
"Tony, stay out here and look around. Michael and I'll check the house real quick then head to my place." Joe instructed, stepping outside the Blazer and looking around.
As Joe headed for the porch and the spare key, Michael paused by the driver's window. "If anything looks funny, buzz me and stay sharp."
"I know what to do." Tony retorted, rolling his eyes. "Joey just doesn't know it."
"And I would like to keep him from knowing for a while yet." Michael returned, jogging to catch up with his brother as Joe was reaching for the knob and the door fell in. "Whoa, serious rust on those hinges or what?"
Joe gave his brother a sharp look, pulling his own 9mm handgun before stepping inside. "I suppose, being a subsidiary of Harrison Enterprises means you know how to use a gun?" he asked quietly, glancing over to see Michael had already pulled and cocked the 9mm Beretta he carried.
"Yeah, something like that." He replied, following Joe inside the ranch but halting just inside the door. "Ohh yeah, this looks real promising."
From what little could be seen the entire front of the house had been ransacked. The furniture, which was heavy wooden pieces, were tossed aside, pillows ripped open, drawers opened and their contents scattered all over the place.
"My guess is someone was looking for something." Michael offered.
Joe just gave him a look that meant death as he moved further in the house. "Check down here. I'll go upstairs and Mike? Be careful."
"My middle name, Joey." Michael smiled, but as his brother went up the stairs the younger man's green eyes took on a darker more serious look, the look of a professional. "And this pro doesn't like what he's seeing."
Doing a room by room search downstairs wasn't all that hard for Michael since all of the rooms had been completely and totally trashed. The question for him was what they were looking for.
It was soon discovered that robbery hadn't been the motive since Michael found all of Lundy's late wife's silver still in its leather case. There was also money in a jar in the kitchen along with gold Rolex on a counter.
"So it wasn't robbery, then what the hell was it?" Michael asked himself, hearing something outside. "Tony, what's up?"
A few seconds later his brother answered. "I thought I heard something near the barn but I can't find anything." Tony sounded disgusted by that.
"Get back here then. Something's not right." Michael ordered when all of a sudden gunshots sounded outside. "Tony!"
Leaving his younger brother downstairs to search, Joe headed upstairs warily. His first stop was his partner's room.
"Damn." He found the same as below. The room had been searched, only here they were more thorough. The items ripped apart more neatly.
Down the hall, the rest of the rooms were the same but only Lundy's and the room used by his cousin, Morgan Harrison, were the worst.
Joe was kneeling, picking through pieces of Morgan's clothes she had left here and actually wishing his friend's hyped up mercenaries were in the country.
"Where is Robinson when I actually want him?" he asked himself, standing when the first gunshots were heard and he heard Michael shout from downstairs. "Oh hell, Tony!"
Feeling bored after his brothers went inside the house, Tony wandered around the Blazer for a few minutes before gazing toward the barn and stopping.
Not at all the bumbling little brother that most of his immediate family thought he was, Tony knew a great deal more and had a sixth sense of danger that was going off like crazy right then.
Reaching into the bag he had thrown in the back seat, he pulled out a 9mm Heckler & Koch handgun and headed for the barn.
Carefully, he went through the barn but only saw animals eating and nothing seemed sinister about that so he left the barn and was going back to the house when he was talking to Michael.
Tony was about 5 yards away from the Blazer when the first shots were fired from the tree line.
"Shit!" he swore, throwing himself to the ground and rolling. "Mike, a little backup would be appreciated!"
Bullets struck the ground closer to him than he liked as Tony finally was able to find some cover behind a low cement wall and aimed for where the shots were coming from.
More shots came until Tony got a better idea of where to shoot and shot a full clip in the direction he wanted and was rewarded with the sound of cursing and an engine roaring to life.
"Tony!" Joe yelled as he ran from the ranch, guns drawn and ready. "What happened?"
His youngest brother was still kneeling behind the wall, his H&K still aimed and ready. It was when Joe was nearing him that Tony finally stood up.
"Someone tried to ventilate me as some of our illustrious family members would say." He replied, still feeling the bullets whizzing past him.
Joe stared at him, looking for injuries. "You hurt?"
"No, barely." Tony sighed, clicking the safety of his gun and shoving it in the waistband of his jeans. "Where's Mike?"
"Damn, it's harder to keep track of you two now than it was when I was home." Joe muttered, turning to yell for his other brother when Michael appeared next to him.
"The brat actually hit one of them." He announced. "There's also a tire track. I've called the local H.E. office to send some of our boys out to handle the forensics since the cops aren't being a help."
Joe looked between his brothers, eyeing the gun in Tony's waistband. "Where'd you learn to use that?"
Silence hit as both younger LaFiamma's exchanged wary looks. "C'mon Joey. Remember where he lives and who our family is." Michael smiled his best smile. "One of the family had to teach him to look after himself, right?"
"Mike, right after I find my partner and scalp Morgan's mercenaries I will find time to decide how lame that line was and think on it long and hard." Joe promised firmly, starting to turn but paused to eye Tony. "I'll also be talking to Morgan."
"Damn, busted." Tony muttered as their brother went back to the blazer. "I am so in trouble if he figures it out."
"Trevor says they'll check all the local hospitals, clinics and doctors within a 50 mile radius of Houston. If anyone comes in with a bullet wound we'll know about it." Michael LaFiamma shut his cell phone down to face his brothers.
After waiting for several local members of Harrison Enterprises to arrive, Joe and his brothers finally arrived at his place to wait for Chicken to arrive.
"What about the tires tracks?" Joe asked from upstairs where he was changing.
"They've made casts and are going to try and match them to some at Chicken's but little hope there with the melting snow that night." Michael replied, hearing his brother curse.
Tony glanced up the steps then at Michael. "He's getting more upset. Any word from Kelly or Morgan?"
"I did talk to Kelly but we have a worse problem." Michael looked to be sure Joe was still upstairs and out of listening range.
"They're stuck in England for a while longer."
"How much longer?" Tony asked. "The 'Raiders are the only ones we have in Houston with any power."
Michael knew that wasn't true but had other worries right then. "Kel said they'd be here as soon as the medics in London said Morgan was stable."
"What the hell are you talking about? Why isn't Morgan stable?" Joe yelled from upstairs, appearing on the landing that was his 2nd floor bedroom.
"Ears of a shark Uncle Mikey always said." Tony muttered.
Knowing how close his employer and brother had become Michael hadn't really wanted to drop this news on Joe but now was out of options.
"Kelly said she was hurt in a final raid on a terrorist base in Belfast. Knife wound in the stomach." He answered, preparing for the swearing.
Joe came down his steps swearing in rapid Italian. "I knew her going off to Europe was a mistake. I just knew it!"
"Joey, chill. Morgan can take care of herself and right now we need to concentrate of getting her cousin back before she gets here." Michael soothed his brother's temper just as the doorbell rang.
"Yo." Tony looked through the peephole at Chicken before opening the door. "Ignore Joe. My stupid brother just told him that Morgan's hurt."
Chicken stared down at the young man and seen much of LaFiamma in him so he took a wild guess. "Tony?"
"Yep, Anthony LaFiamma. The real brains and good looks in the family." Tony grinned, ducking before either brother could hit him.
"Chicken, I hope you can tell me something cause Levon's ranch was tore apart and someone was taking potshots at little bigmouth here." Joe motioned his friend to sit down.
The large black man eased down in one of Joe's low chairs, a troubled look on his face.
"Joe, I'll be honest with you. I've been in this town for more than 20 years and I've seen a lot of things I didn't like but nothing like this.
"Y'know how you and Levon were having trouble with this one case a few months back." He spoke carefully while Tony fiddled with a machine he had gotten from his bag.
LaFiamma knew the case. "Yeah, someone in the Houston big shots were smuggling everything from guns, drugs and people into and out of the country but we got smacked with brick walls at every turn."
Chicken nodded. "That's the one."
"We dropped that case last month." Joe told him, scowling. "Well actually we had it dropped for us. Mayor's office came down on Joann and we were kicked off."
While Joe was speaking Tony was scanning the apartment and not liking what he was picking up. Using another machine, he flipped a switch that emitted a low energy wave.
"We're debugged, Mike." He spoke to his brother in a whisper. "This could be bad."
"After you left Levon got a call from someone but he never told me who. A call about that case and he met with someone who told him things he didn't like and gave him some pretty nasty stuff." Chicken declared grimly. "Right after that Levon started acting weird, almost paranoid. The cops got nastier right about then too."
Joe was getting more concerned by the minute. "The damn idiot went to a meeting about a case we had closed on us without calling me?!" he was incredulous. "Why?"
"He said he knew how important spending the holiday's with your family was to you and that he could handle it." Chicken shrugged, looking worried. "You know how stubborn that boy can be."
"Oh yeah, I know that all too well." Joe scowled. "Any idea what he was given or what he did with it?"
Chicken only shook his head. "All I know is it was pretty bad stuff but as for what he did with it I haven't a clue, Joe."
"That's probably why someone tore his house apart." Michael nodded almost to himself. "The question is, did they find whatever it is?"
Joe was silent for a long while, thinking. "I don't think whatever Levon had would have been at his place if he was getting as paranoid as Chicken says. I figure he put the stuff someplace else."
"Where?" Tony wondered.
"Only one place in Houston that Lundy would trust since I was gone." Joe stood up and reached for his jacket. "Morgan's office."
Michael frowned and Tony swore. Both knowing that the Houston branch of Harrison Enterprises had a rather testy relationship with the police in Houston.
"I need to talk with the new VP of the office." Joe decided, pointing at Michael. "You're a subsidiary for H.E., get me in with him."
Before Michael could argue his brother was turning to let Chicken out and have a few final last words.
"Trevor hates cops." Tony whispered. "Only Kelly or Morgan have this much authority in Houston."
"No, Houston's new H.E. Subsidiary has the power to override Trevor." Michael sighed, eyeing Tony. "He's just going to have to arrive a little earlier than we wanted."
"You are totally out of your mind, LaFiamma." Trevor Monroe was leaning against his desk, arms crossed and firmly adamant.
As the new vice president for Houston's branch of Harrison Enterprises the 25 year old Native American was determined to do better than his predecessor.
Tall at 6'8 with long black hair and intense dark eyes on his bronze face, he was right then a very unhappy man.
"I know you mean well but without the proper authorization from either my employer or Kelly I am not giving you access to my computers or any files." He refused.
Joseph LaFiamma had always hated dealing with H.E. people but the ones in Houston were constantly giving him problems.
"Treve, we don't have time for this. If Lundy gave you anything then we need it to find him." Michael cut in before Joe could start yelling.
"Mike, you know the rules." Trevor shrugged easily. "I can't just hand stuff out to…"
Michael sighed, gazing between Joe then back at Tony who had just entered the office with a look of being led to slaughter.
"Trevor you have to give him the files and anything Joe wants." He stated, slipping into his professional mode.
The other man smiled. "Your authority doesn't come clear to Houston, Mike. You can't give me orders."
Joe looked ready to kill by then and started to explode when Michael grabbed his shoulder with a shake of his head.
"No, he can't." Tony spoke slowly, stepping further into the office and closed the distance between himself and the vice president with a few strides. "But I can."
Joe just frowned when Trevor suddenly swore and for the first time Joe saw the signet ring his youngest brother wore.
After having years of dealing with H.E., Joe knew that the mantle of power for the company was shown in a special ring worn only by those in high power.
He'd seen several Queens Court Raiders with them. He'd also seen his brother Michael with one but the one Tony had was a complete shock.
"As Houston's new subsidiary leader, you can't refuse me when I tell you to give up whatever my brother's partner left here." Tony's normally laid back calm voice had a new power to it that surprised both of his brothers.
"I want explanations." Joe hissed at Michael who just waved him off as Trevor signed but finally nodded.
"Lundy left these cause he said he knew there was going to be trouble." He reached in his desk and pulled out several files. "When he vanished, I guessed he was right."
Joe grabbed one of the folders and leafed through it, face paling. "Sweet Jesus." He breathed, rereading the file. "This is bad."
Michael was looking through another folder and shaking his head.
"No wonder the Mayor's office wanted you guys pulled."
"Lieutenant Beaumont isn't going to like this." Trevor was certain of this. "These files could bury half of the current Mayor's office and some of the Lt. Governor's staff as well."
"I take this to Joann she'll have to go to the Commissioner about this." Joe muttered darkly. "That happens; Lundy's as good as dead."
Tony looked up, green eyes grim. "What makes you so certain he's still alive?"
"If he was dead they would have dumped the body by now." Joe replied, refusing to think otherwise. "We need to find him then deal with this."
"If these files are right, the main departing zone is a little town in the no-man zone called Los Goblas." Trevor read the name then frowned. "Kel's boys dealt there once. Not a nice place to be. The cargo from this side goes over the border from there and after that…" he let the rest hang.
"If we go to Joann with this the wrong people could find out." Joe swore, tossing the folder on the desk.
Michael and Tony exchanged looks. "Dealing with the local side won't be a problem." Tony declared, glancing at his watch and figuring time zones. "Trevor and my people can handle that."
"What people?" Joe finally demanded, whirling to face his brothers. "How long have you worked for H.E. and why the hell didn't anyone tell me?"
"I've worked for her since before I was 16, younger actually and I've worked damned hard to get this position." Tony replied, anger showing. "As for why you weren't told, consider how you're reacting now and ask me that again."
"Joe, Kelly was going to tell you after the holiday was over." Michael broke in to try and smooth over some of the growing anger. "We knew you'd take it badly and didn't want you taking it out on Morgan.
"Tony was offered his choice of cities but he chose Houston." Michael scowled, shooting his younger brother a look. "To be honest, we kind of wanted him in New Orleans where Lance could watch him."
Joe seen the outrage in Tony's eyes but cut it off. "I'll deal with this later. Do one of you actually have a plan?"
"Well, since you're back it's obvious that these guys know there time is limited so we have to move fast." Michael began, following Tony's thinking. "Tony and Trevor's people can handle the local angle. I'll go with you to Los Goblas."
"As much as I like that plan, little brother and maybe I am getting too old for this but I think we'll need more than just the two of us." Joe countered, muttering. "Like an army."
It was at this time that Trevor decided to make himself absent as the detective's brothers exchanged grins.
"Joe, I may have also forgotten to mention that I didn't plan on us going alone." Michael assured him, stretching his lanky body with a dry smile. "In fact, I arranged for backup before I left New York."
A wary feeling overcame Joe right then as he looked between his brothers. "Do I want to know who?"
"No." Tony replied, again looking at his watch. "We're running out of time. If you plan on finding Lundy alive then you and Mike had better get moving. Treve will supply a truck and gear."
"Why do I have that same feeling of dread I get whenever I let Kelly overrule my judgment?" Joe asked aloud.
Michael shot Tony a look then headed for the door. "Trust me Joey. It'll all work out."
Joe seriously hated the way that sounded but was out of both options and time.
"Lundy will seriously owe me for this one." He muttered, eyeing his youngest brother. "Don't get killed."
Tony shrugged. "Why should I? Someone has to keep an eye on you."
The long drive from Houston to the border zone of Los Goblas too what seemed like an eternity to Joe as he tried to ignore all that had changed in his recent life.
"When did I start actually caring about him?" he wondered.
"Lundy's your friend, Joe. Whether you want to admit that or not." Michael spoke from the driver's seat, his green eyes never wavering from the road. "Maybe your best friend. So there is that and the fact that you're in love with his cousin."
Joe blinked and stared and his brother. "I seriously hate you sometimes, Mike."
"So when are you going to tell me the rest of this plan?" Joe asked, avoiding all thoughts to Lundy's cousin as that would seriously take his mind away from the current situation.
"Oh, I don't actually have a plan." Michael coughed, inwardly closing his ears.
There was silence for a long time until finally Joe realized what had been said.
"What the hell do you mean you don't have a plan?!" he demanded, considering throttling his brother if the brat hadn't been driving. "You said…"
"I said I had help and I do." Michael cut in calmly, pulling over about an hour outside their destination. "The plan is supposed to be taken care of by them."
"Them? Supposed to be?" Joe repeated, feeling a migraine coming on and swearing he would never again complain about Kelly Robinson. "Michael, this is my partner's life we're talking about so what in the hell are you playing at?"
Michael started to reply when a hand reached in Joe's open window and grabbed his arm.
Startled, the Houston cop whirled while starting to swing his free hand up when his brother caught it.
"Not a cool move to slug our help Joe." He chided.
"You ask me Joey isn't being very cool at all."
The voice that spoke made Joe freeze then look at the man holding his arm.
Tall and slender with long mahogany hair and gray eyes shining in mischief dressed in light tan clothes with a shoulder holster and various other weapons.
"Tell me he isn't your help." Joe pleaded as the man laughed and climbed in the back of the truck and handed Michael a slip of paper with directions on it.
"Of course not Joey. The rest of the gang is waiting not far from here."
Lance Duvall sensed his cousin's unease and concern as he made light of things but could understand it.
A native of New Orleans, Lance had been the first to get Michael's call for help and it was simple to get the others once things were explained.
Joe still was unclear on what Lance and two of his other cousins did for a living but had a strong hunch and it wasn't that he wasn't glad for any help. He had just been wishing for more people.
As Michael drove closer to what appeared to be a nomad camp, with several tents and jeeps parked in a tight circle, Joe got more concerned.
"Lance, what's going on?" he demanded.
"Simple Joe. You didn't think Zach would come unprepared, did you?" Lance smile was smooth, stepping out and leading them to a large tent. "We never leave home unprepared."
"For this case, I think that saying should be 'Never leave home without a bloody tank'." A casual voice that still carried the Irish accent of his father, Aiden O'Neill looked from where he was staring at a map. "Cause it would be easier if we had one of those."
Thirty year Aiden had the fair hair and eyes of his father, author Douglas O'Neill, with the patience of his mother. A good combination since he was often called on to calm his more temperamental cousins.
Though right then he didn't seem happy, stabbing a finger at the map. "Mike, when you called for help you neglected to mention the exact odds."
Michael rolled his eyes, dropping a duffel bag just inside the tent. "I didn't know the exact odds at the time Aiden." He admitted, shrugging. "Besides, I thought you guys were big time heroes who didn't care about odds."
"Sure, lad. When I have all the right information, the equipment and the back up support. Not to mention the actual clearance for the job I don't care about odds." Aiden agreed calmly then got louder. "This time I don't have ANY of those things."
Lance finally decided to cut in before Joe got more upset. "Everything is fine. Zach has a plan, we have plenty of help and the boss swore we'd have clearance to make things go boom if we needed to." He assured his cousin, letting more of his Cajun accent surface like he did whenever he needed to be a calming influence.
Joe was looking between his brother and cousins, not liking anything of this. "What the hell is going on?" he demanded. "Where is Zach?"
"Wondering how he gets talked into things like this." Zachary LaFiamma replied entering the tent with a dark look. "First off, Michael you owe me. Second, Aiden, quit complaining until you have something to complain about.
"Now, Jax and I have been scouting around our intended target. The good news is we have no worries about non-combatants getting involved since these guys own the whole damn town."
Zach, at 32 years old, had the same LaFiamma dark good looks with long dark hair, deep green eyes and a steady tan. He also was a former Army Ranger who owned his own bar in Chicago.
Right then he looked like something out of a war movie. Dressed in light clothing with a leather shoulder holster, combat boots and other essentials needed for combat.
"Expect anyone who looks like a civilian to pull a gun or knife on you if given the chance so please react accordingly people."
He paused to look at Joe. "We are not playing by cop rules this time Joey. I'm sure Kelly has said this to you but in this world you play by jungle rules."
"Kill or be killed." Lance sighed, going over the other map carefully. "He's a professional Zach. Get on with it."
"These animals have killed more people than any serial killer I've seen and they have my partner. You don't have to worry about me." Joe replied coolly, eyeing his cousin. "But I will not kill anyone needlessly."
Zach's smile was genuinely amused. "Oh, don't worry then Joe. Cause if you have to kill here, it won't be needlessly.
"Now, our main objective is this camp where they hold all the stuff they're transporting out of the country: guns, drugs and other non-living items are on one side while any living contraband are housed in these 3 small sheds on the other side near the landing strip."
He pointed out each area with a metal pointer, lightly tapping other key points. "These are manned machine gun nests, 4 total. Also in these watch towers are snipers.
"These 2 things have to go before we can get anywhere so Aiden is going to give us a distraction by blowing the munitions area. That distracts them and we deal with the big guns and the snipers and go from there."
"Man makes it sound so bloody easy." Aiden muttered, eyeing his cousin. "Flaws?"
"Plenty but we're out of time if we want to stop them before the plane from Mexico arrives." Zach replied easily, seeing Joe's frown. "You have doubts?"
Joe considered all that had been said. "A lot of those. I just want to know the odds of getting Lundy out of that hellhole in one piece."
"Joe, you have us backing you up. You couldn't have better odds." Zach assured him with a smile, motioning to the blond man who had arrived with him. "Now, go with Jax and he'll give you some better clothes."
After his brother had left the tent, Michael shot all three of his older cousins a dirty look. "You should have been honest with him. The odds of Lundy even being alive are slim but keeping him that way after we attack is practically zero."
"Joe's worried enough as it is, Mike. He needs to believe that his partner will be alright." Aiden replied, understanding the logic of Zach's reply. "If he was too worried he'd be too much of a liability to take in there."
"Yeah and besides, we have every intention of getting Lundy out alive." Lance added, giving a fake shudder. "He's Morgan's cousin and I, for one, have had her mad at me too many times to risk it again by failing to save him."
Zach stayed silent until Michael went to find his brother then faced his cousins and partners. "I talked to the boss before coming back."
"Joy." Aiden scowled. "Do we get to raze this place?"
"He said we have the o-kay to do what is needed." He nodded, green eyes going colder. "So the basic plan is this: keep Joe alive, get his partner and make Ramon Salazar a VERY dead man."
Lance pulled his long hair back, eyes serious. "If Salazar knew who Lundy was we could have a bigger problem."
"Nobody knows that Morgan is his cousin so let's worry about getting this over with before Christmas." Zach replied.
Aiden looked grim. "Kind of odd to be planning a raid the day before Christmas Eve."
"Well let's hope we aren't going to any funerals on Christmas Day." Zach muttered, nodding. "Let's do this."
"You sure this will work?" Joe demanded, kneeling a few feet from their objective.
A well built little camp with wired fence all around it, the mentioned machine guns and towers. It looked a lot more formidable
Than Joe had first thought.
"Trust me Joey. This will work." Zach smiled.
"You hope." Aiden muttered from their earphones. "These blokes don't look too sane if you ask me."
Zach hated it when his Irish/Italian cousin got into this mode but couldn't reply like he normally would because of Joe's presence. "Just blow the damn munitions pile and let's get to work."
"Fine but if I get blowed up my mother will never forgive you." Aiden returned, sighting down the barrel of his high-tech silenced sniper's rifle.
The munitions pile was in the center of the camp and a sure distraction as the fired bullet hit the center and the entire pile began exploding.
"Go!" Zach snapped. "The snipers and those gunners need to go Lance."
Lance Duvall just nodded, eyeing the distance to the first sniper and throwing a set of taped together grenades at the base of the tower.
The sudden attack took the camp by surprise as the enemy began running from barracks or tents, fumbling with their guns to find the attackers but Zach's team were pros and didn't allow that to happen.
"Let's go." Zach lightly touched Joe's arm. "Aiden's taking the other side. Michael, go with Lance and search the main building. Joe and I will start searching those sheds."
Michael LaFiamma nodded, silently praying his brother would be alright. "Lance?"
"Zach will look out for him, kiddo." Lance replied, knowing what the younger LaFiamma brother was thinking. "My question is who will look out for us."
The bullets flew constantly as ill dressed fighters began firing back. Joe ducked as the came closer to his head than he liked but finally got to the first shed.
"You sure your people can handle these guys?" he demanded, firing his two guns at a running attacker with a battered M-16.
Zach didn't bother to reply, just listened at the door of the shed before pulling his 9mm H&K handgun.
"Joe, worry about yourself." Zach urged, opening the shed door and swearing. "Aiden, tell Rick I need him now."
Hearing the silent rage in his cousin's voice, Joe looked in and felt his stomach turn.
The small metal shed was packed with about 20 young girls ranging in age from about 13 to 19.
"Zach, why would…?"Joe lost the words, staring at the girls in the next 2 sheds and finding the exact same scenes. "I've been a cop and I've seen things that I thought were bad but this…" he motioned at the girls in the last shed, some of whom had obviously been beaten or worse. "Who would do this or why?"
His cousin didn't answer as he looked on this scene, his Italian blood beginning to boil as memory mingled with the present.
"Zach?" Joe nudged his cousin's arm.
"Salazar is a human scumbag that traffics in the lives of others." Zach's voice was pure hatred, turning to look at Joe. "Ramon Salazar is an El Salvadoran native with ties to the government. He's also a sick minded SOB with no care for anything but money or drugs."
Never hearing the anger in the man's voice before, Joe knew there was something else but before he could ask shots rang out and he heard Zach grunt as a bullet struck.
"Zach!" Joe dropped low, firing back then checking on his cousin. "Damn."
His cousin was bleeding from the head. "Aiden, Lance? Zach's been hit."
Loud swearing in French told Joe that Lance had heard him. "How bad is he?" he demanded.
"Can't tell. He's bleeding from the head." Joe answered grimly. "He's out cold but breathing. Shots are coming from that center room so I'm going' to check it out."
"Non." Lance snapped, switching back to English. "Joe, don't do that! Joe! Damn him!"
Aiden had hurried across the camp with Joe's message and quickly knelt by Zach to see how badly he was hurt. "Lance, you and Mike get after Joe. I'll stay with Zach."
After leaving his cousin, Joe quickly but carefully followed the gunshots and seen the shadow at the edge of the building.
"Joe!" Michael hit his brother in the side, knocking him to the ground just as shots flew over them.
"You cannot stop me!" a man yelled from behind the building, laughing like crazy. "I will never be stopped. Your government couldn't stop me and this little attack will not stop me!"
Lance shook his head, glancing around for a way around the building. "Ramon, Mon ami, you're still full of yourself."
Joe rolled behind a jeep, gauging the distance between himself and the man. "Keep him talking." He hissed to his brother.
Before his brother could object and before Lance knew what his cousin was up to, Joe eased away from the jeep and while the El Salvadoran smuggler was involved in his yelling match with Lance he went around the building from the other side.
"Your people couldn't stop me 10 years ago, Duvall." Salazar sneered, firing another round. "I know you want revenge. Your little partner never recovered from what I did to her did she?"
Michael froze and Lance swore, knowing this could ignite Joe. "This isn't about our past." He yelled back.
Salazar laughed. "Your cousin swore vengeance for what I did to his woman."
Joe slid around the building; his guns held ready but the man's words made him pause and think, adding things up.
"Drop the gun." He ordered, refusing to think on the implications.
The smuggler hurled a harsh oath as he started to whirl, firing at Joe just as the Houston cop fired, striking the man in the chest and shoulder.
"Joe?" Lance skidded around the corner, stopping at what he saw. "You alright?"
"I want to know where my partner is." Joe answered, and then eyed his Cajun cousin. "Then I want to know what he was talking about."
A gurgling chuckle interrupted them. "I had some time with their cute little partner and his cousin got upset."
Lance latched on to Joe. "Ramon, ignoring how much I hate you I'm looking for a Houston cop you had nabbed this week."
"Dead." Salazar coughed up blood. "You wasted your time. He's dead."
Joe shoved Lance away to grab the man his collar. "You're lying!" he hissed, refusing to accept his friend's death.
"Joe." Michael was holding something out to his brother.
LaFiamma's blood went to ice when he seen the badge in his brother's hand.
"Hey guys." Aiden called as he approached. "Zach's alright. It's just a graze but I left him with Rick. What's…?"
Joe walked away, not hearing anything else but that his partner was dead. "God damn it!" he felt the rage explode out.
"Joey?" Lance slowly approached his cousin, figuring what he was feeling. "You doing' o-kay?"
"I never should have left." Joe muttered, staring out at the barren land. "If I had never left Houston, he'd never been at Chicken's alone and…damn him!"
Lance sighed. "Joe, this isn't your fault. You had no idea that Lundy was in trouble."
"I knew I should have stayed. Lance, how can I tell Morgan that her cousin is dead?" Joe demanded, pain growing as his thoughts settled on his friends. "She loved him like a brother. This will destroy her."
"I know, cousin, I know." Lance nodded, glancing back at Aiden and shaking his head grimly.
Joe walked further away, a strange feeling in his gut. "Damn you Lundy. You couldn't call me? You had to do this yourself. Now what the hell am I going to do? How can I tell Morgan that you're dead?"
As he walked and swore to himself, a sudden light away from them a few hundred feet caught his eye.
"Lance, you guys got air support?" he called back to his cousins.
Lance and Aiden looked at each other. "If I had air support then I wouldn't be so bloody unhappy about all this." Aiden replied, then saw the light. "What the bloody hell?"
Joe continued to stare at the light and remembered a quote from his childhood about the light that appeared to the shepherds when the baby Jesus was born.
"A sign from above?" he frowned then felt a cold chill go up his spine and he headed for that light.
"Joe?" Michael called, frowning. "Joe, where you going?"
His cousins looked at each other then shrugged. "Jax, call on the choppers to come gather this stuff up." Lance ordered before following Joe. "You exploring Joey?"
Joe shook his head. "Why that light?" he asked quietly. "It's like a sign but to what?"
"A grave?" Michael murmured, seeing the freshly dug mound a few feet from them. "Joe!"
Joe swore and broke into a run, dropping to his knees and started to dig with his hands.
"Damn." Aiden radioed to one of the men to bring a couple shovels. "Joe, this is not wise."
"If he is dead then I'll take him home, dammit!" Joe snapped, not even realizing what he'd said. "I won't leave him out here like some piece of meat."
Two men with shovels appeared and started to dig and it didn't take long to uncover the shallow grave with a rotten wood box thrown in.
Joe wasn't sure if he wanted to do this but caught the look going between his cousins. "Open it." He nodded.
Lance reached down and pulled off the tacked on lid, taking a deep breath before peering in.
"Mike, get back to Rick and have him yell for our choppers ASAP." He ordered, dropping into the hole and jerking the lid off the rest of the way. "Joe, here. Now."
Joe swallowed his fear at the tone and neared the grave to see the box fully opened.
"He's alive, Joe." Lance assured him. "Aiden, help me."
Joe blinked as those thoughts gelled in his mind. "Alive?" he repeated as his cousins got Levon Lundy's prone, battered body out of the make shift coffin and onto the ground.
The light haired Texan had seen better days. His face was pale from blood loss, dried blood covered his face and hair and his clothes were dirty and torn but despite how he looked he was breathing, better now that he was in an open area.
"Levon?" Aiden called in a louder tone, feeling for a pulse then keying his radio. "Jax, I need that airlift in this century lad. I want to get Lundy and Zach back to Houston ASAP."
Joe knelt next to his partner while Aiden was yelling for a chopper and Lance was binding a wound in Lundy's arm.
"Lundy, you damn moron, you had better be fine or I will make your life a living hell for putting me through this." Joe growled under his breath,
"Late…again." A raspy voice made Joe jump then look down into his partner's glassy blue eyes. "Typical."
Joe's breath released in relief then he coughed and snorted. "For a mule headed Texan who got himself into this mess by not calling me you got no reason to yell cause I'm late, Lundy." He retorted, hoping he sounded gruff.
Lundy started to reply when he broke off coughing blood and Joe swore, pressing a hand to his shoulder. "Stay still. Help's coming and you'll be able to see Morgan soon."
The mention of his cousin made Lundy look at his friend. "She home?" he asked, speech slurring.
"Soon." Joe assured him, careful not to mention the girl's own injury. "Morgan and Super Merc will be home soon."
Lundy slowly nodded then looked back at his friend. "I'm…glad
To see you...LaFiamma." he murmered, starting to slip under as shock and blood loss set in.
"Stay with me Lundy." Joe urged as Aiden knelt next to them.
"Will he be alright?"
Aiden hated to say anything to give his cousin false hope but had to be honest. "I'm not going to say anything yet one way or the other.
Let's just get him back to Houston and see."
"He's been beaten up pretty bad, lost a lot of blood, has a severe concussion, starved, dehydrated and other stuff. With some rest and time off for care he should recover fully." Dr. Stanley Blackwell looked up from his chart to eye Joe. "My recommendation for you LaFiamma? Sleep, sleep and more sleep."
Joe rolled his eyes. Now recalling why he hated the Queens Court Raiders and especially the main medic.
"Stan, go back where you came from and just tell me how my partner is." He urged, hearing his cousins from the down the hall.
"Go see for yourself and if you see Zach, tell him just cause all that bullet did was graze him he still needs to rest."
Upon returning to Houston with the girls and surviving prisoners, Joe found that his little brother had more than lived up to his end of the mission.
Tony and Trevor had split up to take care of the local end of the smuggling operation by calling on their respective authority to deal with the Mayor's office and Lt. Governor's people who had dealt with Salazar.
Joe wasn't sure he really wanted to know what exactly had happened. All he did know was that Lt. Joann Beaumont told him that things had been taken care of and that agents of the FBI, Federal Marshals and others were clearing up the rest of it.
Joe had seen his partner only once since they got to the hospital. After arriving, he found the main medic of Harrison Enterprises main subsidiary, the Queens Court Raiders, waiting for them.
Lundy was more alert now but he had no clear memory of his capture or the events after.
"Stan says you have to rest." Joe chided as he entered the private room. "If not you can listen to him yell."
The Texas native was standing by the window, his arm in a sling, bruises cleaned and dressed. The only thing missing was his ever present Stetson which Joe had with him.
Lundy turned to face his partner, still seeming pale from the loss of blood.
"I thought you were at the station." he replied, wincing as pain still wracked his body.
"No, I've sicced Tony on Joann. Figuring since he's Houston's new subsidiary he may as well get to work." Joe shrugged, tossing the Stetson on the bed and eyeing his friend. "You alright?"
An odd silence filled the room as Lundy considered this. "Considering I don't really remember anything but the pain and his bragging." He sighed, finally sitting on the bed to look at Joe. "Y'know Joe, I thought this time was it."
"It nearly was." Joe agreed, scowling. "You should have called me, Lundy. This was our case."
"I knew this time with your family was important to you, LaFiamma. I didn't want to ruin that but it happened anyway." Lundy muttered, sighing. "I am sorry this ruined your trip."
Joe shook his head, waving away the apology. "Hell, it wasn't something I was upset about. Don't let either of my brothers tell you that New York City is as good as Chicago cause it ain't." he declared firmly, adding with a forced grimace. "Hell, Houston is better."
"I'll remind you of that the next time you start whining about Houston, partner." Lundy told him, glancing out the window. "This isn't the Christmas Eve I imagined."
"I know." Joe sighed. "Joann said you got more time off."
Lundy groaned at that, hating that. "You going back with your brothers?"
"Apparently Tony has moved to Houston and Mike's staying until after the New Year." Joe replied, shaking his head. "Guess you're stuck with me here and considering the hell I've been through the past few days I'm going to make sure you make it up to me."
Lundy glanced at his friend seriously then leaned back on the bed. "I thought killing you for wanting to date my cousin was enough."
"Dating Morgan is my business. Dealing with her overly hyper mercs is yours." Joe returned, thoughts turning inward to think back to what Salazar had said.
"Lundy, you ever think on what Morgan might not tell us about her life and past?" he asked quietly.
The Texan frowned, knowing the Italian well enough to know something was bothering him. "Truth is Joe, I try not to think about what she does or did. I faced knowing that Morgan has a past she probably doesn't talk about a long time ago. Why?"
Joe hesitated in answering and was saved by a knock on the door and Stanley Blackwell entering.
"LaFiamma, I said to go find someplace to sleep." The Israeli raised medic complained, rolling his dark eyes behind wire framed glasses.
"And you know what I told you Stan." Joe replied with a grin but saw the look in the young man's eye. "You want to play doctor?"
The young man winced, nearly telling the cop what was waiting for him out in the hall but after that remark refrained. "I need to check Levon now that he's more alert so you go play with your cousins and kick them out."
LaFiamma kept to himself what he was going to say to his cousins but hesitated, looking back at his partner. "You o-kay?"
"Go, LaFiamma. I'm fine." Lundy assured him, not sure what was bothering his partner but knew something was.
Stan hummed as the dark haired cop left, glancing at the chart. "I suppose I should have mentioned to him that Kelly would be arriving in less than 10 minutes."
Knowing how well the leader of the Queens Court Raiders and his own partner got along, Lundy was sort of glad he was confined to bed.
"We need to book before either Joe starts asking about Salazar or Kelly arrives." Aiden O'Neill was saying as he leaned against the wall in the waiting room.
Zachary LaFiamma winced as he lightly touched the gauze around his head where the bullet grazed him. "Are you sure that he caught on to what Salazar was saying? If he didn't mention any names..."
"Joe may be hard headed, stubborn and a bit dense at times but the one thing he isn't is stupid." Lance Duvall stated firmly, shaking his head as he turned from the window. "I'm sure that he suspects enough about us and our past with Morgan to be curious about what Salazar was saying."
"You could say that." Joe replied from the door, letting the door close behind him and eyeing each of his cousins carefully. "First off, I do appreciate the help you guys gave me by doing this but I'm thinking you did it for more than family devotion.
"Salazar spoke like he knew Lance personally and he also knew Zach's name so I'm figuring he was another piece of your past."
Aiden scowled. "Yeah, a sorry piece." He muttered, wincing as Lance hit him in the back.
"So Zach, care to tell me what's going on?" Joe asked, facing his dark haired cousin fully. "I can ask you or I can ask Morgan since I think she'd know about him."
Joe watched and saw with satisfaction the dark anger that came into the other man's eyes.
"Salazar remarked that you wanted revenge on him because of what he did to your 'partner' 10 years ago. Morgan told Lundy and me that you guys were her partners so I did the math and figured out that about 10 years ago would put her working with you three.
"Now, I've always known that she's had some parts of her life that she keeps quiet but I didn't like what he was saying and I want the answers from one of you before I ask her." Joe sat down across from Zach and had the pleasure of seeing the vein in his temple pounding.
Lance and Aiden were both watching the growing tension mount before finally Zach released a breath and leaned back in his chair, green eyes meeting Joe's.
"We had a mission in El Salvador ten years ago. Simple job, per se. Find the leak in the DEA office and shut down a major drug operation. No problem. We had the specs, we had the equipment and we had local help." Zach's eyes were haunted with memory and his voice was bitter. "The local help is what did us in."
"We got set up, Joey." Aiden put in more calmly. "Our local help turned out to be both the DEA leak and the head of the drug op we were supposed to stop. We didn't know any of it until it was too late."
Joe watched his cousins, seeing the dark looks passing between them and reading the anger. "What happened?"
"Salazar set us up. He got Zach to split us up then his men ambushed Aiden and Morgan outside of a small rural town." Lance explained, sighing. "He captured Morgan and thought Aiden was dead."
"By the time we even found out, located Aiden where some locals were helping him and got the information we needed, it was a week before we could go after her." Zach's voice spoke volumes that he still felt the guilt of that failure.
"What happened to her is not your concern Joe." Aiden replied firmly, his blue eyes giving a strong warning. "It was 10 years ago and still a very bad thing for her."
Zach's hand reached over to grab Joe's wrist. "If you care anything for that girl then you will never, EVER mention Salazar's name to her.
"Joe, we're blood family so I'll be more honest with you than I would normally be with anyone else including Robinson, Morgan has a past that neither you nor Lundy would like but if you love her or even care for her then you'll have to get past that and let her tell you about it at her own pace." Zach declared, tightening his grip. "I swore once that I wouldn't see that girl hurt again and I won't. Not by a stranger and not by my family."
Joe didn't wince but felt his own temper flash at the warning, starting to stand when the waiting room door opened.
"LaFiamma, quit threatening LaFiamma or I'll throw you outta here myself." An outraged voice exclaimed and Joe groaned.
Even without turning, the Texas cop knew the voice. He knew he would never forget that voice. Not from the first time he had heard it on a cell phone where the voice spoke from Turkey and not now.
"Damn Kelly. Can my Christmas get worse? First I deal with a stubborn partner nearly getting himself killed, 2 younger brothers, one of whom I need to talk to you about, these 3 idiots and now you?" Joe groaned, finally turning to face the smirking young man leaning in the door.
Tall and slender with long blond hair and brown eyes, Kelly Robinson exchanged nods with the other three men in the room before tossing a grin at Joe.
As leader of Harrison Enterprises main subsidiary, the Queens Court Raiders, he and LaFiamma had never had what could be called a good 'friendship' from the start. Now, it was more a teasing dislike because Kelly knew how much the Italian hated having his team around.
"Hell, Joe. I left you alone and look at all that happened." Kelly scoffed, tossing his leather jacket over a chair. "Besides, I thought you'd be thrilled to see me this time."
Joe rolled his eyes, wondering who up above seriously hated him. "Kelly, why would I ever be thrilled to see you? And do you want to tell me about Tony?"
"Don't know anything about him." The mercenary leader remarked, refusing to be baited then smiled. "Also, I thought you'd be thrilled to see me since with me I bring my most lovely and very agitated employer."
Those words sunk in and Joe stood up quickly. "Mike said Morgan was hurt. How bad, was it safe for her to travel and where the hell is she?"
Lance laughed at the rushed questions as Kelly sat down with a sigh, intentionally stalling until he seen the real concern in Joe's eyes.
"Chill out LaFiamma and that goes for you three too." Kelly spoke calmly. "Morgan got stabbed in Belfast but it turned out to look worse than what it was. The blade did minimal damage. She just has to rest. Once she was stable it was fine for her to travel and she's with Lundy now."
Joe slowly released a breath then started for the door, hesitating. "I owe you guys for helping."
"Joey, you're family." Lance replied, smiling. "But if you want to repay us then just take care of yourself and also watch out for Morgan. She may be your partner's cousin but to us, she'll always be our partner."
Kelly snorted. "Please, if he just saw her as Lundy's cousin then I'd have fewer hassles."
"I hate you, Kel." Joe replied, choosing to deal with him at a later time but shook hands with his cousins before leaving the waiting room.
"Joe knows about Tony, Kel." Zach remarked, hearing the muttered swearing. "Better be nicer to him because he's also getting more suspicious about her past."
Kelly sighed, wondering when that would happen. "Hell Zach. If all I have to worry about is dealing with LaFiamma's temper over Tony's new position and throwing him off track about her past then my life is made." He stated, hoping he was right.
Joe knew it was clear the Queens Court Raiders had returned to Houston because the halls were now full with leather clad young men with more guns than the National Guard.
"Anderson, that sadist of a medic still with Lundy?" he asked as he neared the 'Raiders 2nd in command.
Pat Anderson hid his smile, nodding. "Yep, he's tracking Zach now but it's clear for you to see Lundy."
Joe hesitated at the door; thinking of all that he'd been told and wondering if he could still look at his friend in the same way knowing that there were parts of her life she was keeping from them.
He opened the door and watched silently as his best friend talked softly with his younger cousin who sat beside him on the bed.
Morgan Harrison was Lundy's only living relative that he counted. A British girl in her middle 20's with long auburn hair and blue eyes that were almost exactly like Lundy's own.
At 5'7, with naturally pale skin and a soft British accent, the girl looked paler right then from Joe's point of view.
What had started out as a friendship had progressed through attraction until Joe had been forced to admit both to himself and to his partner that he was falling in love with the young woman.
Now he just had to answer his own concerns if he could get past the secrets in her life, both past and present.
"So, who you kill? Your cousins or Kelly?" Lundy asked, looking up and noticing his friend. "LaFiamma?"
Morgan turned, her blue eyes brightening more as she seen him. "Hi." She greeted softly, always awkward with the Italian cop after being away for long periods.
"He's too quiet. Must have killed Kelly." Lundy joked to relieve some of the tension he felt, meeting the green eyes of his partner and seeing something there he never had before and couldn't recognize. "LaFiamma, did Stan tell you some all terrible news about all those tests? Is that why you're just staring or did you really kill Kel?"
Finally Joe snapped back to the present, his thoughts locked on the blue eyed girl in front of him.
Lundy muttered about stupid Italians. "I think he's just tired, sugar. He's been acting funny since we got back here."
"Kel says Joe's been funny since he first met him." Morgan smiled, but sensed the distraction in her friend.
Normally any mention of Kelly Robinson caused Joe to make some sarcastic comeback. Today though it was if he didn't hear.
Joe considered what Zach had told him then he considered all that had happened since he had met the girl; he considered his own feelings and wondered if those could change by something as little as secrets. He knew they could but also knew if she was keeping things from them it was most likely to protect those she cared for.
"I swear, I think this whole thing with Salazar must have burned his brain." Lundy muttered, not seeing the slight change the came over the girl.
"Salazar?" Morgan repeated softly, staring between them. "Ramon Salazar? He was the one behind this?"
Lundy yawned, nodding. "Yep, LaFiamma knows more because I don't remember much so if he ever snaps outta this funk you can...Morgan?"
The Texan seen his cousin tense and pale more, lightly touching her arm. "Sugar, what's wrong?" he asked, concerned. "LaFiamma!"
Joe seen her go pale at the name and silently swore. "He's dead." He finally spoke, quietly but firmly as he neared the bed.
"They told me he was dead." Morgan whispered, blue eyes going haunted until Joe took one hand. "Joe?"
"Salazar can't hurt anyone anymore, Morgan." He assured her softly, holding her gaze and seeing the fear, the memory in them. "He's dead, this is over and he won't be haunting you anymore either."
This softly made comment caused her to look up quickly, staring into his eyes as if searching for something.
Lundy watched the exchange, vowing as soon as he was stronger to find out just what the hell was going on.
Right then the Texan yawned, wincing as pain returned. "Damn." He muttered.
"You need sleep." Morgan knew that and also knew she needed words with LaFiamma.
"I need to find out how bad hurt you are, sugar." Lundy countered, yawning again.
She smiled, leaning closer to kiss his cheek. "I'm fine and Joe and I will be right back after I find out which of my mercs he killed."
That answer seemed to satisfy the Texan cause Lundy nodded and was soon drifting off back to sleep.
Morgan waited until she was sure her cousin was sleeping before motioning Joe out the door.
"You know about Salazar." She spoke softly, crossing her arms as if to ward off a chill and avoided his eyes.
"He said some things to Lance and I figured out the rest." Joe nodded, watching her begin to chew her bottom lip and pace. "I also asked Zach some things."
The mention of his cousin made her stop and look back at him, realizing that he knew more.
"And?" she asked warily, a fear he'd seen before come into her eyes.
"And what?" he teased, surprised that he was relaxing and realizing all his concerns were unfounded.
Morgan scowled, hating this. "Joe, you know about Salazar, Zach or Lance must have told you about El Salvador which explains why you're so distant now."
"I was distracted before. Realizing that you did have a past you didn't readily share. Things in that past like Salazar and wondering what else you were hiding from us." Joe began, holding up a finger to stop any interruptions. "I was wondering if those secrets or your past could or would change the feelings I have for you."
"Guess I can't blame you. Hard to have an honest relationship with someone when a part of that someone is hidden." She murmured, looking away and hoping she sounded calmer than she felt. "I never talk about my life because my past can endanger those I love. But… it isn't fair for you to… Joe?"
LaFiamma allowed her to pace and babble a few minutes before stepping in front of her, gently lifting her face and meeting her eyes.
"If I asked you about ten years ago or anything else, would you tell me?" he asked pointedly.
Morgan hesitated before finally sighing. "Yes." She whispered, watching his eyes. "What do you want to know?"
He saw the fear in those blue eyes but smiled, softly brushing his thumb across her cheek. "I love you." He replied quietly. "I know that when you're ready you'll tell me and Lundy what you want and that I could no more stop loving you than I could abandon that mule headed cousin of yours."
"Joe, I don't…" she began but stops when he interrupted her by leaning closer and lightly kissing her.
LaFiamma had always been careful to keep the physical aspects of their relationship within certain bounds but on this night he waited until he felt her lean up against him then deepened the kiss.
"Lundy needs a lot of rest to be over…oh boy." Stanley Blackwell stopped in mid sentence as he and his 2nd in command entered the hallway to see their employer in LaFiamma's arms. "Joe's gonna need the ER if we tell Kel about this."
shook his head, pulling the medic in the other direction.
That's why we aren't."
Joe broke the kiss but didn't release the embrace, gently touching her face and hair. "I love you." He whispered against her hair, and then smiled. "But you're grounding Lundy for this stunt."
Morgan laughed at that, still unsure. "You don't mind…?"
"Truth? I mind a hell of a lot but for you I'll wait." Joe replied, slipping an arm around her waist to draw her closer to him. "Now, please go kick my cousins out."
"Sure, leave me the bloody hard jobs." She muttered in a teasing tone, starting down the hall when Joe caught her hand and pulled her back into his arms. "Joe?"
Joe smiled, lightly running a finger down her nose. "Hey babe, want to tell me something?" he asked slowly.
Seeing the look in his eyes, Morgan was wary. "What?"
"Want to tell me just how long my little brother Tony has worked for you?" he asked, careful to let her know he wasn't angry.
Morgan tensed then relaxed as she wound her arms around his neck. "Well Joe, I could tell you." She began with a light laugh, giving his cheek a quick kiss. "But then I'd have to kill you."
With that, she slipped free to go down the hall and yell for her ex-partners to get out of Houston.
"She's protecting you and Lundy." Kelly Robinson spoke from behind him.
Joe nodded, looking back. "I know, Kel." He glanced back in at his partner then down the hall where Morgan was physically trying to tug Zach. "Merry Christmas, partner. I guess we both finally got what we wanted."