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Chris Larabee shuffled his papers into a neat pile and began to place them back in his briefcase. The meeting of Denver area law enforcement officials had gone well in Judge Orrin Travis's office. Suddenly the Judge spoke to Chris as the meeting was breaking up.

"Chris, can I talk to you for a minute?"

"Uh, certainly Judge," Chris replied.

The Judge walked a few members of the group to the door. While he chatted good bye's with them, Chris wondered what the Judge wanted to talk to him about. Orrin Travis sat down and cleared his throat

"You know about the May Ball this Saturday night?"

Chris nodded yes. He knew it was a major fundraiser for area youth activities. Chris thought he remembered that the committee had somehow snared the Dalai Lama as guest speaker. They had never had such a famous person appear at the ball before.

The Judge continued, "I have two tickets for the ball. My daughter-in-law Mary and I were going, but something's come up and I have to make an emergency trip to D.C. this weekend. Mary is a great admirer of the Dalai Lama and is doing a story for the paper."

Chris wondered how Mary managed to snag that assignment from the Denver Clarion News.

"Since I can't escort her, I was wondering if you would be her escort for the evening?"

"Excuse me," Chris stammered. "You want me to escort Mary to the May Ball?"

"Yes, would that be a problem?" the Judge queried.

"Oh no, "not at all." Chris swallowed hard. This was not at all what he had expected to come out of the Judge's mouth!

"The cocktail hour starts at 7:00 p.m., with the speech by the Dalai Lama, then dinner and dancing follow."

Oh, God, Chris groaned to himself, not dancing!

Chris got up to leave, and said," I'll call her today to make the arrangements."

"Thank you Chris," said the Judge, "I knew I could count on you. And Chris--"

Chris turned around to face him.

"--it's black tie."

"No problem," he responded.

Chris walked to the elevator in somewhat of a daze. Holy Jesus, dancing and on top of that, I have to wear a tux. How in Heaven's name did I let myself get roped into this? The elevator door closed. I know how, Chris thought, The Honorable Judge Orrin B. Travis is just not a man you say no to, that's how!

Agent Chris Larabee, head of the ATF unit known as The Magnificent Seven, sat at his desk wondering how he had ended up going to Denver's premiere social event with -- of all people -- newspaper reporter Mary Travis. Chris was deep in thought, thinking about the beautiful Ms. Travis. And she was beautiful. Long blonde hair, and crystal-clear blue eyes with a dynamite figure to boot. She was also pushy, nosy, forward, arrogant, and worst of all, Mary Travis was bossy! And if there was one trait Chris Larabee hated in a woman, it was being bossy!

"Mr. Larabee," intoned agent Ezra Standish in his particular southern drawl, "may I inquire as to why you look so deep in thought today?"

"Huh," Chris responded. "Ezra, do you own a tuxedo?"

Ezra was momentarily taken aback, that question coming from the taciturn Mr. Larabee, had caught the undercover agent off guard. Ezra soon recovered and replied "Of course, I own three of them. Why do you ask? Are you in need of evening attire"?

"Ah, yes, I am", the senior agent replied.

"Well my friend, unless you shrink about three inches in height, mine will simply not meet your needs."

Chris looked at the nattily Armani attired agent with a look of sheer desparation.

"Have no fear, Mr. Larabee, simply tell me when you need a tux for and I will take care of all the details." Ezra stood there mentally sizing up Chris. "Yes, just leave everything to me."

Chris asked him "What did you come in here for?"

"Oh, nothing that can't wait" was the Southerner's reply. Ezra went back to his own desk, and sat down. He still had the look of utter amazement on his face.

"Hey pal, what's up," asked agent Buck Wilmington, followed closely by his roommate, agent J.D.Dunne.

"You'll never believe it," said Standish.

"Believe what, "said agent Vin Tanner as he strode into the office with fellow agents Nathan Jackson and Josiah Sanchez.

"Mr.Larabee just asked me to acquire some evening wear for him."

"You're kidding," exclaimed J.D with his usual youthful enthusiasm. "Chris in a monkey suit? No way!"

"Holy Cow," chimed in Buck. "I haven't seen Chris in a tux since his wedding day."

"Well," Ezra continued."whatever the reason, I need to procure an evening suit for Mr.Larabee. Although he didn't say for when, I gather its need is rather imminent."

The next afternoon there was a knock on Chris's door and in came a delivery man carrying a zippered suit bag from Denver's most exclusive men's store.

"Just sign here, sir" the young man said. "Everything you need is in there."

"Thanks," Chris responded. He peeked into the bag and found a very sedate looking Armani tux, plain white shirt, simple bow tie, and suspenders. Heck, there were even black socks and shoes in his size. Ezra thought of everything.

The week passed without incident and Saturday evening found Larabee taking one last fateful look in the mirror.

"Jeez, I look like a mortician!"

Forty five minutes later he pulled his black Dodge Ram Super Club Cab 4x4 into Mary Travis's driveway. Chris got out and knocked on her front door. The door opened and what Chris saw literally took his breath away! She was gorgeous! Mary was wearing a short black dress with just the right modest amount of cleavage showing. Her hair was piled on top of her head in some kind of French twist.

"Hello Chris," she greeted him warmly, "Come on in."

Mary had taken a good look at the ATF agent and decided he had never looked more handsome. The tux fit immaculately, showing off his lean, hard physique. With his dark green eyes and short blond hair, Chris certainly cut a striking figure.

"Let me get my wrap and I'll be ready to go."

Chris watched as Mary pulled a black evening wrap from the closet. Chris got up and helped her drape it over her shoulders. He had a strange feeling when their hands brushed each other. The ride to the hotel ballroom was filled with idle chatter, mostly about Billy or the team. When Chris pulled up for valet parking and saw all those BMWs and Mercedes, he cursed himself for not taking Ezra up on his offer to borrow the Jag. They entered the hotel lobby and quite a few heads turned. The men envying Chris for the stunning tall blonde on his arm and the ladies envying Mary for her very handsome escort. Chris got them both a glass of wine and they took their seats.

The Dalia Lama gave an impassioned speech about human rights and non-violent protest. He was fascinating to listen to. Chris was mesmerized by the Noble Peace Prize winner's speech. After the Dalai Lama had left the podium, dinner was served, some kind of poached salmon. It was very good even though Chris wasn't entirely sure what he was eating. Josiah would have known, being the culinary expert of the team.

As the evening progressed, Chris found himself enjoying the company of the beautiful newspaper reporter more and more. She was still nosy and forward, but Chris decided she wasn't as bossy as he had first thought.

Mary too, was enjoying Chris's company. She had long been fascinated by the cool, collected Mr. Larabee. Mary wondered what really made the agent tick. What got under his skin? What was he passionate about? Chris and Mary were kindred souls in a way, having both lost their spouses to tragedy. Mary knew that his wife Sarah, and son Adam has been killed by mobsters 4 years ago. Many said that Chris would never recover from the ordeal. Mary had lost her husband Steven to a sniper's bullet in Sarajevo, while he was on assignment for the Associated Press.

The sounds of the orchestra brought Mary back to reality. The dancing had begun. They continued to make small talk (mostly funny stories about Buck and J.D.), while the band played some faster songs. Suddenly the strains of Moon River began. Mary looked tentatively at Chris, who stood up and held out his hand. She smiled at him in a silent thank-you. He led her out onto the dance floor and cautiously placed his arm around her waist. They began to dance and to feel more comfortable with each other.

Chris smiled down at Mary "this is nice," and slowly drew her closer to him. She eagerly responded to his gentle pull and settled closer into his embrace. Chris marvelled at how soft her cheek was next to his and how subtle the smell of her perfume was. Roses, Chris thought. Mary thought how strong but yet gentle his embrace was. She thought his cologne had a woody, outdoors smell to it, rugged, like the man himself.

The song had ended but the dance did not! Suddenly, Chris was aware that the music had stopped but he still held Mary in his arms. Thankfully, another waltz started and they settled back into an even closer embrace. Chris and Mary had become lost in both the music and each others arms.

Suddenly, a loud and terrifying BANG reverberated throughout the ballroom. It was definitely some kind of explosion! Parts of the ceiling began to fall in, smoke filled the room, furniture and bodies were flying all over the place. Mass confusion and hysteria set in. Chris and Mary were jostled in all directions.

"Are you okay?" Chris asked as he covered Mary's body with his own. They had been thrown to the floor by the force of the explosion.

"Yes, Yes, I'm fine. Chris, what happened?" Mary tried to sit up and realized she had blood on her arm. "Oh my God!" She screamed as she realized the blood came from a gash on Chris's forehead. "You're bleeding", she exclaimed.

Chris placed his hand on his forehead. Sure enough, he was bleeding. He pressed his handkerchief to the wound to stop the blood flow.

Just then an older lady started moaning, "I'm hurt, someone please help me."

Mary went to her side to help her. A table had landed on her legs.

"Chris, over here."

Chris and another man tried twice before they were able to lift the banquet table off her. Mary took her expensive evening wrap and placed it under the woman's head.

"Some one will help you, just stay calm."

A fire had started in a corner of the ballroom. Smoke was rapidly filling the room. Chris could hear the wail of the emergency vehicles en route. Suddenly, a familiar voice rang out.

"Larabee, where are you"? Chris recognized the voice as that of Dan St. Patrick, head of the Denver FBI office.

"We're over here, Dan."

St. Patrick made his way over to Chris and Mary.

"This room is utter chaos, you and I need to take charge as federal agents. Listen up, people," bellowed St. Patrick, "everyone move to the entrance in an orderly fashion."

The smoke had become very thick, people were coughing, wheezing, trying hard to breath. Chris took his hanky and covered Mary's mouth. He led her to the entrance and a group of waiting rescue workers.

At that moment, a firefighter began to yell, "Help! There's a lady trapped in the stairwell."

The stairs had become partially ripped from the building by the blast. Chris, Dan and the fireman ran to the to stairs and peered down. Using a high-beam flashlight, they could see an older society matron hanging on for dear life.

"Hold on", Chris hollowed down to her. "Help is on the way!"

"My leg is hurt. I can't walk on it. Someone will have to come and get me. Hurry," she pleaded.

The three men looked at each other. St. Patrick was not in good enough physical shape to attempt a rescue, and the fireman had on too much equipment, so Chris decided he would go down after her.

"I'll lower myself down with your rope. You two will have to pull her up, then pull me up." Chris began to take off his tux jacket when Mary came along.

"Chris, what are you doing?"

"Here, wear this, it doesn't belong to me."

With that, Chris handed her the jacket. St.Patrick and Daniels, the fireman, held on to the rope as Chris gingerly let himself down to the woman.

"Ma'am, what's your name"?

"Hilda Ellison" was her reply.

"Mrs. Ellison, I'm almost there."

Chris swung himself around till he landed on the remaining stairs. Going down was out of the question. It was up or they stayed there. Chris quickly checked Hilda for other injuries. Satisfied it was only her ankle, he placed the rope under her arms and tied it securely.

"Oh no, I can't to this" she moaned.

"Yes, you can, you have to." Chris knew that she needed a boost. He thought he could guide her with his hands under her seat to the top of the stairwell, then the two men above could hoist her the rest of the way. Chris explained the plan to the men.

"Stand by now, Hilda, there's no other way to do this. I have to place my hands under your, um, um, derriere and boost you up. Don't mean to get personal ma'am, it's the only way."

Hilda thought to herself that if she has to have a strange man place his hands on her bottom, it's a good thing he's handsome!

"Boost away, my dear."

Chris placed his hands on her backside and yelled,"Okay, boys, hear we come!"

He guided Hilda up as far as he could go and the two men above hoisted her to safety.

Mary called down, "Chris, are you all right?"

"Fine, but you boys better hurry, this thing is gonna cave any minute."

The stairwell had slowly been pulling away from the wall and was going to collapse. They lowered the rope back down and pulled Chris back up to safety. Within seconds of getting back on solid ground, the stairway gave way and fell into a black shaft of nothing. Mary threw herself in to Chris's arms and hugged him tightly.

"I couldn't stay outside, not knowing where you were."

He stroked her back, "Hey, hey, calm down, I'm all right. But it's time to get the hell out of here."

They made there way though the twisted wreck of the hotel to the outside parking lot. Ambulances, police cruisers, and fire trucks were everywhere. Chris spotted a familiar face in the crowd.

"Vin, over here!"

Vin Tanner, Chris's best friend came running over to them.

"Are you guys all right? We heard about the explosion on TV. All law enforcement agencies have been called in for emergency duty. The whole team is here."

Chris told Vin to check in with St. Patrick and that he'd be along in a moment.

"I'll find you a ride home."

"Not on your life am I leaving. You forget Chris, technically I'm here on assignment. I've got to find a phone."

"I'll meet up with you later."

Mary took off, still wearing Chris's suit jacket, her hair flying in the wind. Chris went to find the rest of Team Seven. This was going to be one long, long night. Whoever had blown up the hotel, whether in an attempt on the life of the Dalai Lama, or a simple act of terrorism, would never get away with it. Chris wondered what the casaulty count was. He was certain their had been fatalities tonight. He found the rest of his agents already getting their assignments from St. Patrick at the command post.

At about five a.m. in the morning, Chris finally caught up with Mary. She looked as tired and dishelved as he did. She smiled at him.

"I filed the story" I'll have a front page by-line in tomorrow's, oops, today's special edition, and you"?

"I'm gonna bring you home, then sack out at Buck's for a couple of hours. Briefing back at the Federal Building at 9 a.m. sharp."

Chris noticed that Mary was still wearing the jacket. Good thing; there was a chill in the air. He put his arm around her and they walked out to the parking area and found his black Dodge truck. It was a quiet ride back to Mary's house. Thank God that Billy had spent the night with friends. Mary had called them to let Billy know that both she and Chris were fine. Chris walked Mary to the front door. He looked into her eyes. God, they were the most beautiful shade of blue he had ever seen.

"Hell of a night, huh."

He placed his hands lightly on her shoulders. She placed hers lightly on his chest. They both stared at each other not quite sure of what to do next. Chris bent down and brushed his lips gently over hers. God, it felt good he thought. Mary responded by bringing her hands up around his neck; he answered by pulling her closer to him. Chris deepened the kiss, and Mary let a low groan escape from her throat. She opened her mouth and he slid his tongue into hers. She responded in kind, and soon they were locked in a passionate and breathless kiss. Chris felt his body stir with emotions he had long thought dormant. As they reveled in each other's kisses, Chris thought back to his initial conversation and how he had not wanted to take Mary to the ball. They stopped kissing literally to take a breath. Mary had a look of pure joy on her face. She had never felt like that during a kiss. Not even during her very happy marriage to Steven Travis had her stomach literally done somersaults during a kiss!

"I got to go, I'll call you."

"You better" Mary said.

Chris bent down and kissed her fore head. "Goodnight, Mare."

Mary did not miss the endearment. As Chris walked back to his truck, Mary came running after him.

"Chris, I forgot, I'm still wearing your jacket."

The tux!!! Oh man, I'm going to owe Ezra's friend big time for ruining an Armani tux. Chris didn't exactly know what an Armani tux cost but if Ezra had procured it, it had to be expensive.

Chris took the jacket from her and said, "You looked a hell of a lot better in it then I did."

With that he got back into his truck and drove away.

Chris Larabee unlocked the front door to his ranch at 7:30 p.m. and wearily stepped inside. He threw himself down on the couch in utter exhaustion. What a day! He had been at the investigation of the terrorist bombing all day. Other then a three-hour cat nap at Buck's earlier that morning, Chris had not slept in over 24 hours. He went to the bedroom, stripped off his clothes and took a steaming hot shower. He let the hot water just cascade over his weary tired bones. He let his mind drift back to thoughts of Mary Travis and felt his body react.

Good Grief, he thought, am I going to have to turn this into a cold shower?

He toweled himself off and put on comfy sweats and a favorite old tee shirt. He went into the kitchen, got a beer and sat down on the living room sofa. He was so wound up by the events of the last day that he needed some time to just unwind. He glanced at the clock on the fireplace mantle, 8:15, not too late to call.

Chris dialed the number he had recently committed to memory. A warm, familiar voice answered.


"Hey Mare." There was that endearment again.

"Chris, thank God, I've been so worried. I tried calling, but was told you were unavailable."

"Yeah, it's been a long day," he said. "I'm getting ready to turn in but wanted to make sure you and Billy were okay."

Mary smiled to herself. Yup, Orrin was right. Chris Larabee was definitely a keeper!

"We're fine. Go to bed and get a good night's sleep. Your team is going to be right out strait, till they catch these crazies."

"You're right about that, Mare."

There was that Mare again.

"Hey, I'll call you first chance I get this week."

Her answer was the same as earlier, "You better!"

"Night," Chris said as he hung up the phone.

Chris finished his beer and just sat staring into space, Yes indeed, he thought as he contemplated his first real date with Mary Travis, it certainly was a Bang of a Beginning!