Cowboy M7 ATF
JD Dunne's hand paused as he looked into the wooden box he'd just opened. The members of the ATF's Team Seven were all at leader Chris Larabee's house helping the blond rearrange some stuff and decide what to put on the second floor so that there would be more room downstairs. The whole team now spent as much time at Larabee's as they did their own abodes, so the lean form was trying to clear out some storage space for the other men to use.
JD's gaze took in the collection of silver and gilt buckles, framed photos, and other memorabilia that rested in the well-crafted walnut box he held. Reaching inside, he reverently picked up a large, oval silver buckle with a gold bronc rider in the center and a matching rectangle underneath that held Chris' name and the words "Saddle Bronc Champion" and a date from six years previously.
His mouth opened in amazement for a moment, then he turned to the tall blond who was rummaging in a cardboard box nearby.
"Man, Chris! I knew you and Buck used to raise and train horses, but I didn't realize you competed in rodeos!"
Larabee raised his head and glanced at the belt buckle in JD's hand. Broad shoulders shrugged negligently, the pale blue material covering them rippling at the motion.
"When you train rodeo stock, it helps to actually ride in some of the events. So yeah, Buck and I did ropin', both individually and as a team. And I did a little bronc and bull ridin'."
Vin had moved over next to Dunne, and was now looking in the box the kid held. One long finger came out to gently touch a few of the buckles. The sky blue eyes then cut to the blond's green ones.
"I'd say ya did more than 'a little' ridin'. There's a lot 'a stuff in here."
Again the shrug. "We entered when we could, but we didn't rodeo full-time, so I wasn't nearly as prolific as some of the professional riders. Just happened to get lucky a few times."
JD turned to Wilmington, who was moving some books off of a shelf to make more room.
"Do you have buckles, Buck?"
The wide shoulders copied Larabee's move.
"Yeah, Kid. I've got some ropin' ones."
Josiah looked up in interest.
"You didn't do the bronc or bull riding?"
Dark hair fell over the tanned forehead when the explosives tech shook his head.
"Nah, I left that to Chris. Couldn't squire the ladies around if I broke somethin'."
The attractive mouth turned up in a wry grin under the trademark mustache.
"And some of those bulls would just as soon trample ya as look at ya. Chris was lucky some bruises and sprains and a mild concussion or two was all he ever got."
JD's eyes started sparkling.
"Hey, I know! There's going to be a rodeo here in a couple of weeks. We should all go!"
Wilmington got a considering look in his eyes as he glanced at Larabee.
"Kid's right. Your neighbor David mentioned it a few weeks ago."
Chris nodded. "Yeah, he's entering the bull ridin'. Invited me to come watch."
Dunne looked hopeful.
"So we can all go?"
The blond shrugged again. "Don't see why not if everyone likes the idea."
Several murmurs of approval came, even Ezra conceding that he wouldn't mind.
Agreement reached, the seven men settled down to have their lunch.
Two weekends later, the team gathered at Larabee's again, then rode together to the fairgrounds which were used for the rodeo. All of them sported fitted jeans, and western-style shirts clung to broad backs and well-muscled chests. Even Dunne was in a pair of tighter denim than he usually wore and a cream shirt with a brown vest over. Matching brown boots covered his feet, and he was grinning with excitement.
Larabee wore ebony Wranglers that hugged his lower body and enhanced the long, lean feline image that was his alone. A black shirt with a narrow silver pinstripe and onyx snaps clung to the impressive torso, the metallic threads catching the light as the tall figure moved fluidly. Ebony leather hand-made boots and a matching belt with one of the rodeo buckles formed his accessories, along with a dark felt hat that set off the piercing green gaze and deep tan. His silver spurs chimed as he moved, the silver trim on the ebony harnesses glinting attractively.
Buck was impressive in tight indigo Wranglers worn with a sapphire blue and white plaid shirt with pearl snaps that showed off his broad-shouldered physique. Brown leather made up his boots and belt, a roping buckle drawing attention to the lean waist. A tan hat covered the dark hair and the cobalt eyes sparkled with anticipation.
Vin was attired in faded jeans and a pale blue shirt with silver snaps that brought out the sky hue of his eyes. The attire displayed the firm muscles that were sometimes hidden under various layers on the slim form. Brown square-toed boots with a silver chain harness formed his footwear, and a matching belt encircled his waist. A tan cavalry-style hat rested over the sandy curls, and a wide smile graced the handsome face.
Standish looked a bit different than he normally did, since expensive suits were the undercover agent's usual working attire. This time however, he wore fitted indigo jeans with a pair of hand-crafted ebony boots and matching belt. The denim clung to his lower body enticingly, and an emerald shirt with black piping and ivory snaps showcased the well-muscled shoulders and abs and brought out the color of his eyes. A black flat-crowned riverboat hat sat on the chestnut locks and gold glinted in the sunlight as the handsome figure teased his companions.
Nathan and Josiah both sported jeans as well, the medic pairing his with a burnt orange shirt with gold-tinted snaps that showed off the impressive torso to advantage. Dark brown boots and belt and a black felt round-crowned hat completed his look, the tall figure quite impressive in the clothing. The dark eyes snapped in pleasure as he joked with the rest.
The profiler had chosen a blue and red plaid western shirt with silver snaps to go with his denim, the material straining across the wide chest and shoulders and emphasizing the taut biceps. Brown boots covered his feet and a matching belt drew attention to his waist. A brown ten-gallon hat sat on his head, the piercing blue-gray gaze shining from the shadow of the brim and white teeth gleaming in a big grin.
Chris had spoken to David Raintree, his neighbor, and the man and his wife and one of her friends met the group there so they could check out the stock before the events started.
As they walked around the space, Buck and Chris both gave sighs of pleasure. They eyed the animals, gazes roaming over the conformations expertly as the group looked around, sidestepping horses, piles of tack, and skirting trailers as they walked. They paused for a minute next to the horses that belonged to the Raintrees.
Cobalt eyes met hazel ones as the ladies' man patted one of the geldings.
"Wish we had our horses." said Buck as he took in a deep breath and then smiled at a young woman on a roan as she rode by.
David pointed to the black and white appaloosa Buck was stroking and the dark gelding who stood next to it.
"You're welcome to use them if you want."
Chris looked thoughtful. "So they're used to being roped from?"
The dark-haired man nodded.
Buck looked at the blond again.
"Whadda ya think, Stud? Wanna enter somethin' and see if we've still got it?"
Chris glanced at the others who were smiling at him in encouragement.
Broad shoulders shrugged, making Buck rub his hands in anticipation.
"Why not? You wanna try the team ropin' like we used to do? Probably won't place since it's been so long, but it'd be fun."
The taller form nodded.
"Sure thing, Pard! We can give it a try. Be like old times."
Decision made, the duo followed behind David as the other man headed for the registration table, the rest of the group trailing along as well. JD walked on the blond's left, excited to get to see the lithe former rodeo rider in action.
The men pulled out their wallets to pay the entrance fees and started giving their personal info.
"Chris Larabee" said the lean form when asked his name. The cowboy who was manning the table looked up in interest.
"Say, didn't you used to do some bull and bronc ridin' a while back?"
Chris nodded. "Yeah. It's been a few years though, and I didn't enter enough to be a big purse winner even then."
The other man smiled and winked. "Might not 'a got to ride at all of rodeos, but you were good enough when you did to win a few buckles as I recall! You still got that one you won in Tucson when you rode old Widow Maker the full 8?"
David Raintree's mouth fell open as Chris nodded.
"Shit! You're THAT Chris Larabee? They still talk about that ride when a bunch of bull riders get together." He shook his dark head. "I had no idea!"
The blond just gave a one-sided grin and shrugged that it was alright.
David looked excited. "You gonna enter the bull ridin' too? I won't mind losin' to you." White teeth gleamed in a genuine smile that was also complimentary.
Chris shook his head. "Nah, think my bull ridin' days are behind me. Some of those SOBs carry grudges."
David grinned. "How about broncs? Seem to recall you were pretty good on those, too." Brown eyes gave the two riders a slightly reproachful glance. "You never mentioned that you'd both won buckles when you told me you used to train horses."
The blond shrugged and tilted one corner of his mouth.
"You were tellin' us about ridin', and we'd just met. Didn't want to seem like we were tryin' to compete with you."
Buck winked and added "Didn't wanna sound like we were just tryin' to fit in either. Real cowboys don't have to brag."
Vin suddenly got a big smirk on his handsome face. "So we can call ya 'Cowboy' tonight and not have ya threaten to shoot us?" Sky blue eyes twinkled merrily, the grin getting even bigger at the level 3 or so glare Larabee sent his way.
Leah's friend Laura slid up and wrapped her hands around Chris' arm. Mischief glinted in her own eyes when she said "Personally, I subscribe to the 'Save a Horse, Ride a Cowboy' philosophy."
Chris nearly choked on his laughter at the innocent look on her face, while the rest chuckled out loud. Buck leaned over and kissed the blonde on the cheek in beaming approval. When the small form gave an impudent wink and then lightly swatted the butt in the tight ebony jeans, an ice-green gaze swung around and skewered her.
"Oops! Might have gone too far there! Sorry Cowboy!" With a giggle, the petite figure skipped out of arm's reach. Instead of giving chase, Chris grabbed a rope lying nearby. Shaking out a loop, he quickly swung it over his head. A couple of twirls were all he needed and then he flicked his wrist and the noose settled neatly over the dancing woman's shoulders. A small gasp of surprise escaped her, then the powerful form was pulling her and the rope back to him.
When the small figure was in front of him, Chris looked at her, but left the rope in place, tightening it back as she attempted to shrug out of it.
"If I turn you loose, are you going to behave properly?" The unique tones put a bit of emphasis on the 'properly'.
A pink tongue came out and flicked along the rose-tinted lips. "Depends. Is ridin' a cowboy 'proper' behavior?"
At that, Chris couldn't keep a straight face and the rest burst out into loud laughter, Leah applauding the other woman.
Buck stepped forward and removed the rope.
"Darlin', if he won't give ya a ride, I will!" cooed the brunet, one cobalt eye giving her a teasing wink.
Chuckling, Chris coiled the rope and tossed it back where he got it. The handsome form then prowled up to his former 'captive' and knelt in front of her with one hand out in invitation. Beaming, she took his offering and then moved around so that she could climb on his back. The tall form stood gracefully even with his 'rider'. The blonde gave a smug smirk.
"See, I really do get to ride a cowboy." A sudden thought struck her. "Hey, we should have our own event!"
Leah's dark eyes flashed in amusement, and then with a delighted laugh, she climbed up on a surprised David's back.
"Straight race, barrels, or keyhole?"
Laura almost fell off when she realized what the other woman said. Spying about six striped barrels that were waiting for the proper events she pointed, laughter filling her voice.
The two 'riders' chuckled and then both squealed just a bit when their respective 'steeds' decided to go for it.
Brown and green eyes met and then both well-muscled men sprinted for the twin line-up of barrels. Chris's stride was a fraction longer, so he reached one of the rows of three barrels first and started weaving in and out between them while David got to the others and began doing the same. The rest of their group had followed, cheering and clapping, which drew a few more spectators. Ezra had his small notebook out taking friendly wagers, even as he cheered Chris on.
Both men avoided knocking down any of the obstacles, so when they reached the far end, they turned and started straight back at a run, their 'riders' calling encouragement.
Both were fast and powerful and they slid to a stop almost side-by-side, breathing hard.
Buck and Josiah, who were the closest, honestly couldn't say who won, so they turned to the man taking the registration fees. Since he had risen so he could see better and there was no one on his side to block his view, he'd had an unobstructed line of sight.
A huge grin split the weathered face as he gave his decision.
"Larabee, by a nose."
The team and Laura cheered and the Raintrees accepted the call good-naturedly.
David and Chris knelt to let the women 'dismount' as the others handed over money to Ezra, grinning or moaning theatrically as the gambler handed out winnings to some and commiserated with the losers.
As Laura got to the ground, a lady in the watching crowd asked "What exactly was that?" since she'd missed the beginning.
With a grin and a pat to her 'steed', the blonde replied "That was our 'Ride a Cowboy' event!"
The woman eyed both handsome men and then grinned. "I think it could catch on! I'd sure sign up to ride next!" The emerald gaze turned to take in a preening Buck who had sidled up next to her.
The ladies' man gave the redhead a wink. "I'd be happy to give ya a ride any time, darlin'!"
The woman bobbed her eyebrows at the good-looking brunet. "I'm sure you would, handsome! And I'm tempted to take you up on the offer!"
Laughter floated around the group, then Buck tipped his hat to the lady and he and Chris turned back to finish their event registration. After a bit of consideration and lots of encouragement from the rest of the group, Chris not only signed up with Buck for the team roping, but also for the saddle bronc riding.
Nathan quickly began calculating what medical supplies he might need if the blond got bucked off and trampled, causing Ezra to suggest another bet!
Once the registration was closed down, the rodeo participants filed into the arena and around the oval space in the nightly parade entrance. David rode his appaloosa, letting Chris have the big black. A friend loaned Buck a big dapple gray. David also provided slim ebony leather stove-pipe chaps with discreet silver trim for Chris and a pair of dark brown leather fringed ones for Buck, garnering the women's unequivocal approval when they saw the two gorgeous men. The rest of the team and the two ladies sat on the top rail of the fence to watch and clap enthusiastically as the riders paraded past, cameras clicking excitedly. Once the entrants and rodeo crew had filed back out, the events started, the cutting and roping being some of the first ones.
As it turned out, the first aid kit wasn't needed. Chris and Buck proved to be better than even they'd expected. The duo placed second in the team roping, which was really good considering how long it had been since they'd competed together. Both proudly accepted the prize money and posed for pictures, making sure the rodeo and news people knew not to use their true occupations for the captions. Low-pulled hats and sunglasses against the bright light helped conceal their features for the photos.
Chris then proved that he still had the touch with bucking horses, too. The others nearly cheered themselves hoarse when the lean blond stayed the full eight seconds on a strawberry roan called 'Twister', who lived up to his name. The roan jumped stiff-legged, twisted and turned this way and that, then tried to sunfish as he attempted to turn his belly toward the sky. Chris' lithe figure rode with grace and as if one with the horse, appearing to know what the animal was going to do before it did. One long arm stayed high in the air, silver spurs flashing with every jump the horse made. When the buzzer blew, he slid fluidly over to the pick-up rider, neatly avoiding the flashing hooves of the roan who was still twirling like a dervish.
"Damn! He makes that look easy!" commented David with an impressed bob of his eyebrows.
Buck grinned. "Always has. Man possesses an innate understanding and appreciation of horses, and knows how to read 'em like few others do. Plus that cat-like grace of his works to his advantage ridin' broncs. He's able to move with 'em, and sticks like a burr to a saddle blanket once he's on."
Leah looked impressed as well. "Did he ever ride bareback?" she asked, referring to the saddleless bronc riding event.
Buck dipped his head in assent. "Yep. And just as well."
"Man!" JD enthused, awed. "That was great! I knew Chris was a good rider, but I didn't know he could do all that!"
Buck grinned and ruffled the younger man's dark hair when the kid pulled off his ball cap and slapped his leg with it in excitement. Even at 24, Dunne still had the exuberance of a sixteen year old, though he was now steady and dependable on the job and most people who knew him respected his abilities as an agent.
"There's quite a bit ya don't know about the ol' war dog, Kid. Chris ain't an easy book to read."
"Amen, brother." "Ain't that the truth?" "No kiddin', Bucklin" and other wry comments met the lanky brunet's remark, causing the ladies' man to grin cheesily at them. The comments quickly dwindled to a stop as the lean form under discussion came striding fluidly toward them, a pleased grin on his face. The ebony chaps and gloves, hat, and boots gave the handsome figure a distinctly eye-catching look that he seemed unaware of.
"Good job, Pard. Ya still got it!" Buck congratulated.
The others voiced approval and appreciation as well. Chris doffed his hat and wiped his brow with his shirtsleeve, causing Ezra to pull an immaculate bandana out of his pocket and hand it to the blond with a grimace of distaste at the leader's uncouth behavior toward his haberdashery.
"Thanks. Wasn't sure how it'd go, but once I was on, it was like I'd done it only last week."
"That was great, Chris! I've never seen riding like that. I mean I've seen folks break horses when I was a kid, but not ride 'em when they're twistin' all over the place like that." gushed JD as he practically danced around his hero.
Chris looked a bit embarrassed at the younger agent's adulation. He knew JD looked up to him, wanted in some ways to be like him, but he'd never asked for the smaller figure's hero-worship, and in fact felt that it was somewhat misplaced.
"Thanks, JD. Just takes practice like anything else. You could probably do it, as good a rider as you are."
"Chris! Don't go givin' 'im any ideas! Dang kid takes enough risks as it is. Do ya wanna give me gray hairs before my time?" protested Wilmington vigorously, hands waving in the air to emphasize his point.
"Thought it was almost yer time, Buck. Ya are gettin' on up there…" said Vin quietly, reaching up to flip off the lanky man's hat so he could peer intently at the jet black hair underneath.
Buck grabbed his hat back and swatted the sharpshooter with it.
"Fat lot you know, Junior. I'm in my prime. Just ask the ladies!"
"Rather not, Bucklin'. Don't wanna hear about yer exploits, or lack thereof…"
"Tanner! I've still got enough life to take you on!" growled the tall brunet, reaching for the back of the sniper's shirt. Vin ducked out of the way and took off at a lope, Buck's long legs eating up the ground after him, much to the amusement of the rest of the group.
The two were back when it was announced that Chris and another rider had tied for first place in the saddle bronc riding. Both strode out to accept the prize money and black and gold buckle that went to the winners, Buck beaming with as much pride as if he'd won the event himself.
David's turn at the bull riding came next. The rest cheered him on, Chris calling a little advice that the attractive man surprisingly heard over the noise of the crowd. Making it the full eight, he beamed happily as his score was announced and strode out to accept the money second place brought him.
The group hurried to the concession stand and grabbed some of the last food before the place shut down. Settling at a nearby picnic table, the others watched with a bit of surprise as Chris continued to flirt lightly with Leah's friend Laura. The redhead Buck had spoken to stopped by for a few minutes as well.
When the food was gone, all of them stood. Buck's lady invited him to her house for a drink, and Chris offered to drive Laura home. When she said "Sure, Cowboy" and tucked her hand through his arm, the blond just grinned. For tonight at least, he didn't mind being called "Cowboy".