Caleb Berkley’s Bastards Release Blitz&Giveaway

Caleb Anderson just lost his mother to cancer. He had never known his father, Howard Berkley, now deceased as well. Her final wishes were for Caleb to deliver a letter of her passing to her estranged parents,   grandparents that he’d never met and to find the other five boys sired by Berkley. Caleb would do anything he could to honor her wishes.
Tabby Tillman had had enough of the Andersons. She was tired of running the company and their lazy son Shep taking all the credit and bonuses. Just pay her for her overtime and vacation, and she was out of there.
Caleb was impressed with Tabby. The woman didn’t curb her opinions, and he liked that about her. Moving to be closer to her was something he didn’t think twice about. A change of scenery would be just what he needed.
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Caleb let the tears fall down his cheeks. His mother, his hero, had taken her last breath, and he was having a hard time dealing with the pain of her leaving him. He knew she was no longer suffering. The drugs and things they’d been giving her since she took to her bed three weeks ago had taken care of that. But she had been there for him all his life, and he wasn’t sure what he was going to do without her around. “Sir, Hospice is here. They wish to come in and see her.” He nodded and kissed his mother’s cold hand before putting it under the blanket, which was over her body. “She’ll be sorely missed, sir.

Your mother was a great woman. One of a kind, if you were to ask me.” “I know you loved her too, Ben. She loved everyone so much.” Nodding, the two men embraced for a few moments. Then he straightened up and moved out of the way for the people from Hospice to do what they needed. Caleb found himself in the kitchen then. The cup of tea was just what he’d needed. Mary, Ben’s wife, asked if his mother had passed. Nodding, a fresh stream of tears fell down his face, and she hugged him as well. He clung to the woman who had become his second mother in all these years and cried softly into her warm bosom. “She’ll be wondering what all the fuss is about if she were to look down on us now.” He laughed a little. “That’s my boy. You’ll be simply fine, Caleb.

It’s why she left when she did. A real lady doesn’t stay too long when there are other things to be taken care of. You’ll be good because she raised you well.” “Mom and I couldn’t have done it without you and Ben around all the time. I think when she had to work, she didn’t mind leaving me here because the two of you were around.” Mary nodded and said she’d do it all over again if asked. “I know you would. She knew too that leaving me now would be all right because of the two of you. You are staying on, right? You won’t leave me here all alone?” “What a thing to ask of me. Of course, we’ll be here for you. When you find yourself a pretty little wife to come here, we’ll be there for your children as well. However, I will tell you that if you decide to sell and move to another place, Caleb, we will go out west.

I don’t think I could get used to another home this late in my life. You know that.” He did but didn’t know about the pretty little wife. “You’ll see. As soon as you’re out and about again, women will be relieved to know you’re back to work and such. Your momma, she told you not to mourn her too long, didn’t she?” “She said I was to dump her out of the bed and have the room redecorated as soon as her body was cold.” He laughed and cried a little at that. “Mom was full of it all the way to the end. I’ll miss her so much.” Crying again, he felt hands patting him on the back. Not just Mary’s, but her husband’s comforting hand as well. Letting himself grieve for a little bit, he sat up in the chair when Mary gave him a plate of little food, as she called it.

It was apple slices and peanut butter. Cheese and crackers with a bit of mustard on the side. Also, since he’d gotten older, she would put either a glass of wine with his little meal or a bottle of beer, neither of which he had the stomach for right now. The nurse that had been with his mom during the day came into the room with him. He started to stand up. “No, don’t do that. Just sit there and eat. They’ve taken her away just as was arranged, Mr. Anderson. Also, because your mother was good about getting things taken care of, all the arrangements have been made too.” He said he was aware of that. “Good, good. Also, there are just a couple of things for us to come back for. She wanted to donate the bed and equipment to us so we could get some use out of it. Such a fine woman, your mother.” “She was. Thank you. Yes, she told me last week that she was going to make sure you had what was left here.

I’m to understand that everything that was left will be reused.” She told him that was what his mom had wanted. “Good. I know she’s made a donation to Hospice, too, in her will. I don’t know what it would be, but I’ll make sure you have plenty for the help you give.” “Thank you, sir. We do appreciate yours and your mother’s kindness.” Nodding, he waited for her to leave or say something more. It was like this every time he spoke to the woman—she just didn’t seem to know how to end a conversation. Even his mom had gotten a good giggle out of it. Finally, she left them, and he looked at Mary. “You’re to say something at the funeral.” He said he’d gone over it with his mom yesterday. “She would have wanted you to say what was in your heart. And your mind. I’m going to have a nice spread here when the funeral is over.

Bring back whoever would like to come. We’ll make it work.” “I will make the announcement after my speech.” He got up, knowing he had a lot of things to do today. Avoiding the parlor where his mom had been staying, he made his way to his office. Caleb had left a great deal unfinished when he’d stopped everything to be with her. Caleb had loved his mother more than he thought anyone had in all the children he’d met when he was younger. She’d taken the time to show him things he doubted any other parent had done.

He knew how to trade stocks and make himself a good meal that didn’t come out of a microwave. Caleb also had a good education and was at the top of his game in architectural design, both for the building he might be working on as well as the landscaping surrounding it. He had literally followed in her footsteps when it came to making a living. “Sir? There is a man here to see you. I’m sorry, but he’d only tell me that he had an appointment with you.” Caleb looked at his calendar and saw that, like he had thought, nothing was there. “Shall I send him on his way?” “Yes. Tell him we’re a house of mourning and don’t have time for his shenanigans today. Thanks, Ben.” Caleb went back to work after smiling a little smile at him. Ben would enjoy sending the man on his way more than warranted, Caleb thought.


It was nearly dark when he finally lifted his head from work. He’d been behind, something he detested, but he wouldn’t have changed things one bit if he had it to do over. Spending the last few days of his mom’s life with her had been hard, but it had also been something they both needed. A time to say goodbye. He went to the parlor first. The room was devoid of anything pertaining to the last days of his mom’s life. The bed, as well as all the equipment, was now gone. The couch and chair that had sat in the room prior to being a sick room were now back in place. She would have wanted it done like this. Moving on. Mom had said that to him at least ten times a day when she’d been ill. Going to the kitchen, he thanked Mary for what she’d done for them. Bursting into tears once again, he was glad for the warm hug from her. She sat him down, feeding him more than he thought he could have eaten, yet he finished every bite while she spoke to him. “The director called here. I told him you were resting. I know you well enough to see that you working is almost the same as you getting a good eight hours of sleep. Did you get a lot done, Caleb?”

He told her he thought he was caught up for now. “Good. She would have wanted that. Getting back to life now that hers is over. My goodness, I will miss that woman. She had a way about her that made a person wonder where she’d been all their life. And now that she was around them, well, they had a friend for life.” “She even told me which suit to wear at the funeral. And to wear one of her button roses on my lapel.” He laughed a little. “I don’t know what I’m to do without her. If she were here right now, she’d smack me in the back of the head and tell me I know just what to do and to get on with it. Mary, I’m not sure what to do, to be honest.” “You keep doing what she wanted of you.” Mary got up and began cleaning the already spotless kitchen.

“She called me to her room the other day. Asked me to stay on here until you got your feet under you. I’m not sure you ever had them under you all the way, but I’ll stay until you decide on what you’re going to do. She also said you’d marry soon. I didn’t have a comment for that. I was not aware you’d been dating.” “I was until recently.” He thought of Violet and shook his head. “I don’t think she’s going to be happy with me. I’ve decided she’s not the woman for me. She told me she couldn’t live here with me after having a death in the house. Like I had asked her to or something. No. She didn’t even come here to sit with me when Mom was in her last days. Told me she had more important things to do than to watch someone die. I thought that was very telling. What would she have done had it been me, I had to wonder?

Do you think she might have gone shopping?” They both laughed, and it felt good. Laughter had been encouraged within the walls of this house, and he’d missed it a great deal since his mom had been diagnosed with cancer. Mary told him he was to call the director back and to do it now. He was headed to the living room when he called, and it was answered on the first ring. “I’m sorry it’s so late, Mr. Carroll. I got into things here and didn’t think you might need something from me. What can I help you with?” He told him that his mother was ready, did he want to see her before the funeral. Did he? Caleb wasn’t sure
but said he’d be there in the morning. “What time can I come in? I don’t want to disturb your household.” “I’ll have to have the little ones off to school by nine, sir. That should be enough time for you to get your hugs if you were to come by at eight-thirty.” Caleb said he’d very much like that. “Good.

I’ll tell Margaret. She’ll have them fed by then. They’re as sorry as the rest of us are about her passing. She was a wonderful woman, your mom. Didn’t take on like she was better than anyone when you needed a shoulder to cry on or even a little lift up. I don’t know that I should be saying this to you, but you couldn’t have had a better role model or mom than her, Caleb.” “I know. I thank my lucky stars all the time that she decided to keep me. I think we were very good for each other.” He felt his eyes fill with tears again and wondered if there would ever be a time when he didn’t want to sob when he thought of his mom being gone. “I’ll see the family in the morning then. And then see to my mom. I’m sure you did an amazing job, Mr. Carroll.”

After closing the connection, he headed up to his room. Caleb had lived in this house all his life except for the few years he’d gone off to college. Even then, he’d been home weekends and holidays. The two of them, with Mary and Ben, had had such good times together. When they vacationed, Mary and Ben had gone as well. Making sure his suit was clean, he pulled out the shirt his mother had picked out for him too. Smiling, he wondered what everyone would think about it. He was positive that no one would expect him to wear a pink paisley shirt with a suit. But that was what his mom wanted, and he was going to do this one thing, the last thing he could for her, without any qualms about it. Closing his eyes after stripping down, he wasn’t sure he could sleep. But almost as soon as his head hit the pillow, he was out. He knew his alarm would go off well after he was up, and if not, then it would wake him to get started on his day. Caleb was nothing if not organized.

The next morning, he was up and ready to head out the door by a quarter to eight. Excited to see the kids, he stopped by the store to pick up a few things for them. Yes, he did spoil them, but they were his god children, and he loved them to pieces. Sharon met him at the door with a stern look on her face. She was the most adult eight-year-old he’d ever met. “You brought us stuff, didn’t you?” He handed her one of the wrapped gifts he’d picked up for her. “Your momma would bust your ears if she knew you were doing this. She said you spoil us too much.” “Yes, but she was just jealous that she didn’t spoil you as much as I did.” She grinned at him. “I’ve missed you, Sharon. You and Paul. My mom thought about you often while she was ill.”

“I’m gonna miss her too. She was the best grandma in the world.” Sharon hugged him tightly around his neck when he bent to her level. Picking her up, he carried her into the kitchen, where her brother was still eating. “Paul, you were supposed to be done eating by now. How are you gonna give Caleb hugs when you’re covered in mush?” “I’ve dressed for the occasion. Come here, Paul. Give me a big hug.”


After getting his hugs, the kids ran off when he handed them the other gifts he’d gotten. Making sure they knew they needed to come to him before they left for school, he settled down with Margaret and Paul. “I’ve done as she asked. My goodness, I do love her choice of her sending-off outfit. Your mom, she wasn’t one on doing what others did, was she?” Caleb laughed, knowing that his mother had picked out an outfit that would not just shock but would make people laugh. It was what she had wanted. “If you’d like to see her after the children have gone, I can take you there. The service will be in the large chapel. I’ve also been receiving a few flowers.” “There won’t be a notice in the paper. The people that need to know have been notified. That’s the way she wanted it.” Wilson nodded. “She’ll be happy with the way things are going. I plan on doing just what she wanted. Because knowing her as well as I do, she really will come back and smack me on the back of the head if I don’t.” “She was a good woman, that mother of yours.”

Margaret handed him a framed photo of the two of them. “I never saw a woman so determined to make sure she was successful after having you. Abby wanted only the best for you and her after being tossed out. It’s a small wonder she didn’t want her parents notified in the paper. They didn’t deserve anyone like her as their daughter. Nor you as their grandson.” “I’m to tell them in person.” Neither one of them said anything after he made his announcement. “She told me it has to be done in person and that I wasn’t to allow them to say anything to me about how she was a terrible child. There is a letter with our attorney that she wrote in her final days. If they refuse to read it, then I’m to read it to them, so they understand what sort of person she was. Do you suppose they would have kept up with her life after her leaving home?” “I wouldn’t think so.

Abby wouldn’t have been one to let them into her life after she was tossed aside, either. Have you heard from her brother? What was his name?” He told Margaret. “That’s it. Sheppard. What a piece of shit he was too. Even before Abby left home, he was a mean little prick.” “Margaret.” She huffed at Paul when he scolded her. “We need to keep a civil tone with this. For all we know, they wanted to contact her but weren’t sure how to go about it.” “Doubtful. I knew them before this happened, so I’m in a position to tell you they weren’t nice people at all.” Margaret went to get the children, as it was time for the bus. “Mark my words, Caleb.

When push comes to shove, you push them back as hard as you can. They don’t deserve any sympathy at all for what they did.” After hugging the children, he made his way to the lower level to make sure that Mom was just the way she’d wanted. There were a lot of things in the room, including flowers that indicated that a donation had been made in the deceased’s honor. Mom looked to him as if she’d fallen asleep and was resting peacefully. It hurt him again how much he was going to miss her. “You got her hair and makeup just perfect, Mr. Carroll. And the shirt is perfect for my mom. She bought this about four years ago when we were in Hawaii.” Carroll said something, but Caleb was thinking about that vacation. “She found a way to work with some of the beautiful shells that were in abundance around the island.


I think she must have put three or four kids through college with that venture.” “I’ve seen those houses. If I remember correctly, they were featured on the cover of a few magazines as well.” He nodded and turned from the casket. “You’re going to be just fine, Caleb. You’re your mother’s son, and you’ll gather strength where you least expect it, I’m thinking.” Nodding, he left. There wasn’t much he could say to that. Caleb went home to work again and found that he could bury himself in work, and the pain would lessen. He was nearly finished working for the day when Mr. Fowler, their attorney, called to ask him if he needed anything. “Nothing I can think of. I’m assuming you’re wanting to get her will taken care of.” He said there was no hurry. “Thank you for that. But there are a few things you have for me that I need to take care of after the funeral. Mom said you have the addresses.” “I do. Wasn’t hard to find them. Mr. and Mrs. Anderson still live in the same house. I only had to read the paper to see where her brother was. Nasty piece of work, him. Anyway, it’s all here.

Just tell me when you want to go, and I’ll go with you. You are taking me, right?” That was what his mom had wanted in the event they tried to hurt him. “Also, there are some envelopes here for Mary and Ben and for the children of Mr. Carroll. I’m assuming she paid for them to go to college as she had mentioned before.” “I don’t know, to be honest. She didn’t want me to know all her plans. Mom said it would spoil the surprise. I’m not sure what she meant by that, but I guess it’ll be all right.” Gus laughed a little. “If you could bring it to the funeral home tomorrow, I’ll take care of it after the reception at the house. If you have time to go then?” “I’ve only worked for your family for years, Caleb. Watched you grow into a good man too. No, you tell me when and I’ll be there with bells on.” Thanking him, Caleb decided that if he could, he was going to keep Gus on until he was too tired to work for him. Almost as if he had read his mind, Gus spoke again. “Also, you might want to know that I’ve been looking into a replacement.

I know you and your mother have paid me well for all these years, but you need someone younger than this eightyyear-old geriatric. My granddaughter would be good for you or her brother. Might need them both after a while. But I’ve told them all they need to know about your plans, as well as your money. Who would have thought that when your mom came to see me, fat with her baby boy, that she’d be one of the richest women in the world? She certainly did work for it. So have you.” Caleb went to bed that night, knowing he had to be on his best game tomorrow. It was going to be a long day, and he wasn’t sure how well he was going to handle it. But he also knew that in some way, his mom was watching over him, so he was up for the challenge. At least he hoped he was. The next morning, he was at the funeral home at a little past seven. Hugging the kids again gave him strength and love. They were not going to school today, he’d found out, so they could be there for their parents. It was going to be a big funeral, and all hands were needed.


Caleb thought that having them where he could grab a hug or two was going to be just the thing. Kids, he knew, had an understanding of grief that went well beyond their years on this earth. When everyone was seated that there were chairs for, a great many people standing around the room, he went to the podium and cleared his throat. It was time, he thought. A microphone had been unearthed so the people in the long hall leading to the chapel could hear him. “I noticed that a few of you got a kick out of the way we’re dressed. You know Mom. When there was a gathering of people, she wanted to party.” Another round of laughter, and he pulled out his notes. “My mom approved my speech that I’m going to give today. I also want you to know that while I was writing this, she was checking my spelling, as well as looking for any grammatical errors. She knew I’d have it all wrong if she didn’t. “My mom was seventeen when she was tossed out of her family home. Again, this is her story, not mine. Her parents decided it was shameful to have an unwed daughter around when she began to show.

Not to mention, according to her father, she was spoiled for all other men after that, whatever that meant to him. Then, when I was born, she sent a telegram telling her family of my birth. That she had had a healthy baby boy and that we were both doing fine.” Looking at his notes, he continued. “After my birth, Mom made sure she could support not only herself but me as well. After getting her high school diploma with me at her feet sleeping, she got into college and then got a job.” Caleb almost skipped over some of the notes but went back to them. “While she worked and studied, Mom taught me what hard work and determination could afford a person. It’s a lesson I’ve taken with me all my life and will continue to do so.” He knew this next part was going to be the hardest to say. “Several months ago, after finding out she was beyond help with the diagnoses of cancer, she began making plans that would be felt by the rest of the town we call home for the entirety of its future.” There were a few murmurs of wonder, but he ignored them.

“I’ve decided it would be in all our best interests if I should carry on my mom’s legacy and continue to support the causes we have before.” Before sitting down, Caleb announced that there would be a reception with light food at his home. Going to his seat, he watched as the funeral director took his place and announced that there was a nice luncheon at the Anderson home. Then he asked people to go to their cars. He’d said all he wanted to say at the funeral home. At the reception, people came to wish him well and to tell him how sorry they were for his loss. Caleb wanted to tell them that sorry didn’t bring her back to him, but he didn’t. His grief was profound. The finality of what they were doing here hurt him deeply in his soul and heart. People came to speak to him about his mom, telling stories that they knew about her that he knew as well. There was one that he so enjoyed thinking about. It was about when Mom had come upon a child in one of the barns, crying because her cat was going to die. The little thing was in hard labor, and the kitten was turned the wrong way.
After assisting in the birth after resolving the issue, Mom stuck around for the rest of the birthing.

“Then, not two weeks later, Mr. Jamison calls her up and tells your mom that he has a cow in a bad way. Not sure why he’d think she could help, your mom, being her, she went there and helped with the birth of that cow. Mr. Jamison, he named the calf after her, and to this day, he refers to it as Abigail when asked. Darnest thing I done ever did see, I tell you.” Mr. March laughed and acted like that was the only time his mom had gone out on an emergency like the ones with the cow and kittens. “I heard tell she was there when Mrs. Parker gave birth to those twin little boys too.” There were many stories like that one. Mom had driven the school bus one week when the system had been short-staffed. She’d helped bring in some crops, driving the big tractor like she’d been born to it. He loved all of them, even the ones told about when he was an infant. Mr. Fowler caught up with him just as people were beginning to leave. As they entered his office, he was sure he was going to tell him something he didn’t want to hear. Gus told him he’d not be able to go with him in the morning, as something else had come up. “I’m to be acting county judge tomorrow.

The one that was coming here to hear some of the backed-up cases got himself a case of food poisoning, from his mother-inlaw, of all people. Anyway, they didn’t really ask so much as told me that it was my duty as a good standing attorney to see to this. I’m hoping it’s a one-time shot, but who knows what will happen with all this other stuff going on.” Caleb said he could go when he was finished. “No. I’ve spoken to my grandchildren. They’re good, Caleb, if not a little green on things. They’re ready to go with you to keep you out of hot water if things go badly there.” Caleb did want to get this over with and move on. When Gus handed him the things he’d need when he went to confront his mom’s parents—never would they be his grandparents, he thought—he decided to go. “I’ll go, but I don’t like it. I wasn’t even sure I was onboard with it when I thought you were going with me.” Gus said he was sorry. “Not as sorry as they’ll be if I have to get into it with them. But you are right. I need to get this finished so I can focus on my life without my mom.

I knew she was dying, Gus, but it’s hard for me to realize she’s gone. I find myself looking for her or even going into the parlor when I think of something I want to say to her. I wonder if it will ever get better.” “Yes. It’ll soften after a while, the pain of it. When my Marie passed on, it was all I could do to get myself cleaned up and fed daily.” He laughed a little. “Your mom did a fine job of shaking me around a little. But she was good to do that. Not only did she save my life—I’ll believe that forever—but she got me moving in the right direction to keep my sanity as well. That mom of yours, Caleb, she knew how to make a person see her way about things.” “She was the best.” Gus agreed with him, and Caleb smiled. “I’ll take both of them with me tomorrow. That way, they can show me that they can work with someone like me. Someone who is a little too demanding at times but means well.”


“Yes, well, I don’t think you’re demanding at all, but a man that likes to get things going. Also, before I forget, once you’re back, we’ll go over your mom’s will. There are a couple of things she added in the final few days. Some of it you’ll need to care for.” Caleb asked him if he needed to take care of them now. “No. nothing like that. But just some things she had for you. I’ll see you when you return, Caleb. You do what your mom asked, and that’ll hopefully be the end of it.” After getting a file from his car regarding the family, Gus left. Kylie and Arthur were to meet Caleb here at his house at seven sharp. It wasn’t a far trip to make, a couple of hours of driving time, but since he was driving, he didn’t want anyone to make him late.

Jonas Robinson Destruction Release Blitz&Giveaway

Jonas Robinson had his hands full but was loving every minute of it. Those four children needed him, and he had to admit he needed them as well. If no other family came out of the woodwork wanting them, he had his heart set on adopting them.
Ginger Morgan, a talented photographer, worked undercover for the Government. She was good at her job, but it often put her off the radar for weeks at a time. She had just heard of her sister Sissy’s recent hospital stay when she returned to town.
Sissy had it in her mind that she wanted a ready-made family and wanted to take in her nieces and nephews, whom she had never met. When Ginger found out who had the kids, she called her college buddy, Dawson Robinson, to find out more. What happened next had all their heads spinning.
Ginger was swept into a world of intrigue as Rogan Robinson brought her team in and hid them from the world. Those children’s identities had to be kept secret at all costs. Now that Ginger and her family were involved, they would be targets as well.
Ginger knew a little about shifters, but being mated to one was something she’d have to give some thought to. And being a mother was something she’d never wanted to be—until now….
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A fresh start was what Rogan Hall needed. A small town, out of the way, where no one knew her or her brother was where they’d start over.
She worked from home, and they kept to themselves. The only thing Rogan couldn’t give up was her early morning run.
Like clockwork,
she ran every morning, and again, like clockwork, the same family would pass her on the country road heading to who knew where.
The little boy in the back seat would wave at her with such enthusiasm, it made her heart melt. However, that morning, everything would change.
Only moments after the car passed her and drove around the bend, she heard a loud commotion.
Another car barreled past her, and she found the quaint family’s car overturned and on fire.
Rogan did the only thing she could do,she saved them.
Thatcher Robinson was on duty at the hospital when his parents contacted him through their link and told him about the accident
and what to expect when the ambulance arrived. Thatch, his dad, told him they had to save the woman by changing her,
but her burns were severe, and his dad wasn’t sure that the new tiger would survive.
When Rogan regained consciousness,
she was unsure where she was, but she knew she was different. She could feel the tiger move just beneath her skin.
Rogan knew very little about shifters, but what she did know had her cringing. Why someone would take it upon themselves to change her,
she didn’t know, but when the young doctor, Dawson, said his brother was her mate, she was furious. If the big, bad,
Thatcher thought he was going to order her around, he had another thing coming….
Anna didn’t know what to do with the man who acted like he was attached to
her hip. Every time she moved, just to get up and move
to the bathroom,
he’d be right there with her, helping her into a panic attack. Not really,
but that was what it felt like to her.
Morgan wasn’t sure what he’d have to do to convince Anna that he wouldn’t
just up and leave her. She was a tiger too, and she knew they
were mates
just as well as he did. But for some reason, he couldn’t get her to trust
him.
“I don’t think that I’d offer you my hand.
You’d more than likely bite
it off.”
She growled at him.
“I’m not sure if you feel the same way I do about me growling at you,
but all it does
when you do it is making me want to spread you out before
me and lick every square inch of you.”
Trudy Justice was good at her job, but that didn’t mean she wasn’t vulnerable. Caught unaware by a fellow FBI agent, the gunshot wound
to Tru’s gut nearly did her in. To the world, Tru was dead. Rogan was hiding her out until they could figure out who had marked her to
be a target.
Houston Robinson, a tiger shifter, was preparing to shift and take a much-needed run when a strange woman’s voice interrupted
him before he could remove his pants to shift. At first, he was irritated, but when he saw the blood, he wanted to help.
Hurting bad and suspicious of everyone, Tru was in no mood to listen to anyone, especially a shapeshifter claiming to be her mate.
She didn’t care how nice he pretended to be….
Allie Langley was upset about losing her job. It wasn’t the teaching job she wanted, but it helped pay the bills.
It was just how her luck had been running since she’d moved to that town: first, she’d been kidnapped and tortured,
now the job. What next?
Becket Robinson’s car had broken down, and he needed to use the phone. He hadn’t expected to
find his mate when he knocked on the door, but now that he had, he couldn’t wipe the grin off his face. It didn’t matter
how much she ranted and raved about it either. She would fit right in with the rest of the family.
But when Becket discovered her injuries and how infected they were, he called in Thatcher, one of his brothers,
to help.
Allie collapsed in Beckett’s arms when her fever spiked. Allie’s brother begged Beckett to change
Allie into a tiger to save her. Thatcher agreed that converting her would be the only way to save her.
Beckett knew he was damned if he did and damned if he didn’t. But, he couldn’t let her die….
He knew he was going to have one pissed-off mate when she finally woke up. If she woke up….
Thatcher  https://amzn.to/2sxdJmK
Morgan  https://amzn.to/2kCfxKI
HOUSTON https://amzn.to/2Z6v0ob
BECKETT http://amzn.to/34ueKzj
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Jonas sat in the office and waited for the doctor to finish up with Hailey. He was glad that he’d asked Rogen for help in finding him a good psychiatrist for the child. At only ten, Hailey was having more difficulty than the other kids. Her lack of trust was beyond anything he’d ever seen in his life. Even his brothers, who were both doctors, were worried for her. The door opened, and Hailey came out, with the doctor right behind her. “He said I’m insane.” Jonas looked at the doctor, who was laughing while shaking his head. “Well, he might as well have said it. He thinks I’m not telling him everything.” “Are you?” She shook her head and turned to look at the doctor before looking at Jonas. “That’s all right, honey. Whatever you need to do, I’m right here for you.” “You say that, but then you bring me here. Why?” He told her, deciding that lying to the kids was going to hurt them all in the long run.

“I have my reasons. Why do I have to share them with a stranger?” “Will you tell me?” She looked back at the doctor, then at him again. “Hailey, have I given you any reason not to trust me? At all? If I have, then you have to tell me what it is. I can’t fix what I don’t understand.” “That’s what Ms. Tru said. That she can’t fix what she doesn’t understand that is broken. Do you think I’m broken, Mr. Jonas?” He said he didn’t know, that he didn’t want her to be afraid of everything. “I’ll have to think about it.” When she walked back to the doctor, he got down on her level. Dr. Miser was supposed to be the best child psychiatrist in the world. He hoped so. Jonas really was afraid for his children and their mental well-being.

“I’ll come to see you. But I don’t trust you.” Dr. Miser told her that he was well aware of that. “I know you are. But I’m not going to give you that until I’m sure. I’m not insane—you know that, don’t you?” “I do. More than you do, I think. You have some trauma that you’re not dealing with well, but I think with time, the two of us can get to some sort of conclusion. I’m not going to make you trust me, Hailey, but I am happy that you’re at least willing to have an open mind about it.” She told him point blank not to put his horses before the cart just yet. “I promise you I won’t. But I do see a lovely little girl that has had more than her share of things happening to her that never should have. Also, you might find this hard to believe right now, but you couldn’t be with a better group of people than the ones you are right now.

They wanted only the best for you and your brothers and sister, and they hopefully found that in me.” As she returned to him, Jonas was so happy when she took his hand into hers. She would do that on occasion, but not often enough for his heart. As they were making their way to the car, he saw that Rogen was there waiting on them. Rogen was large enough with child that he worried about her just walking around. But like the rest of the men in his family, he didn’t say a word to her. She asked Hailey how the appointment went.


All four of the children were coming to see the doctor now. Even Sarah, the youngest of the children, seemed to be coming along better with his help. The only holdout was Hailey. Tru had told Jonas that he should search her mind for the issues, but frankly, he was afraid of what he might find there. “It was all right. If you’re here to drop that kid, then I’ll help you. I helped my momma deliver Sarah. I’m not one to faint with blood all over me.” Neither of them said anything to her, but Hailey seemed to realize she might have said too much. “Mr. Jonas said he’d take me to lunch if I didn’t murder the doctor like I wanted to. Are you going to join us?” “I’d like that. Are you really going to murder the doctor? I have to tell you, he’s a good friend of mine, and while I can understand wanting to murder a doctor, he’s been a good man so far.” Hailey said that for now, she wasn’t going to.

For some reason, Jonas wasn’t reassured by her comment, but she got into the car and strapped in. “She’s going to be a lot to handle when she does spill out what she’s holding to her heart. I thought you’d like to know that I’ve talked to Sissy Whitman and her father. There is a sister, Ginger, that is around, but she’s out of contact with most of the world. I’m trying my best to narrow down what it is she does, but she’s off the grid most of the time. How are you doing?” “Great now that they’re all not sick. I’ve hired a nanny—thanks for the suggestion. Sarah is coming along nicely now that she has her diaper rash under control. Thomas and—” She told him she’d asked about him. “They are mine, Rogen. I find that I can’t function without them around me. I know they’re more than likely going to be adopted by their aunt, but I love them with all my heart right now, and I don’t know what I’m going to do without them.”

“Benny Whitman is in jail. He hit his wife, Sissy, in the face and did some pretty painful wounds to her head. That was only the second time he’d hit her, but it was enough for her to call in her father. You know Heath Morgan, don’t you?” Jonas said he did. “I thought so. Thatcher said you’d done some work for him a few years ago. Sissy is his daughter.” “I wonder how that will affect whether she is interested in bringing the children home with her. They’re a great deal to handle. I’m sure she can afford the help she’ll need.” Jonas had to turn away. Thinking about the kids leaving him was almost too much for him. “I really love them, Rogen.” “I know you do. We all do.” He nodded and opened the front passenger door for her to get into his car. “I can’t ride with you—I have my car over there. However, I’d love to join you. I have some things on the burner at home that I need to care for. I’ll meet you wherever you’re headed.” He laughed as he was getting into the car. If she said burner, he knew for sure it wasn’t on the stove. Rogen had about a dozen computer monitors going at any given time that she worked with. Jonas was happy that she was willing to meet him. People looked at him oddly when he was out alone with one or all of the kids like he was some sort of pervert.


Hailey was getting better about going out to lunch with him. So long as she didn’t drink anything but bottled water, which he brought with them all the time, she was able to eat things that were hot. Pizza, so far, was her favorite meal. Tru had told her that if there were any poisons in the pizza or anything associated with it, it would be cooked out in the oven. It had taken her three times to be able to eat an entire slice. Now, however, she wanted her own personal pizza. He’d never seen a kid like her food to be so spicy that even he couldn’t get close to it because the smell burned his nose. Tru and Hailey would have contests about how hot they could handle it. They were waiting on their food when Rogen turned to Hailey. “I found out what made the four of you sick that day at the apartment. It wasn’t anything you could have avoided.

What I mean is, it wasn’t poison like we thought, but the vitamins that Cindy was giving you each day. For some reason, they were sold expired. They should have been tossed out about a year ago. Not her fault either. The store they were gotten from should have caught that too.” Hailey asked what she’d done about it. “What do you mean?” “Did you kill them? The people that work at the pharmacy?” Rogen said she’d not thought about it, but if it would make Hailey feel better, she could have them shut down for a while. “No. I don’t want that. But someone should have to pay for making us all sick, don’t you think?

Mr. Jonas was freaking out, and then he had to call in his mom. Who I like, by the way. She doesn’t understand me, but she is a nice person.” “My mom loves you very much, Hailey. All of you.” She nodded but didn’t comment. Jonas asked about the stash. “I was just curious if there was any word on how it was stored where it was.” Thomas and Bobby had moved nearly five-thousand pounds of drugs from the back of a semi-truck trailer to one that had been sitting on the lot their parents had at one time rented. Having it right there under their noses had been the perfect place to keep it from their father, as his plan had been to sell it all and get himself “better children.”

Garry, the kids’ biological father, had stolen it from some very bad people and the kids, worried that it would kill children like them, had moved it, over a period of three weeks, into the trailer sitting abandoned on the land behind their home. “It’s been stored away. We did it on our own, so there is no trace of it on any books. The thing is, no one has said a word on the streets about it being missing. That’s what we’re hoping for. Some idiot comes along and starts spouting off about how he’s been robbed.” Jonas asked if that had happened before. “Sure. For the most part, bad guys are stupider than fuck.” “Packer. That’s his name.” They both looked at Hailey when she spoke. “What? Did you think we’d be out of touch with what was going on in our home? Never that. If we didn’t pay attention, we’d be hurt for sure. I don’t know anything more about him, but that’s what his street name was. He would come around the house when Mom was away at some jail, and Dad would tell this Packer guy that he didn’t know shit about it.”


“Do you happen to have any idea what he might look like?” Hailey said he had tats on his face. One of them was an ugly unicorn or some kind of horse. Rogen pulled up her phone and fiddled with it as their food was brought to them. “Is this him?” The whispered way that Rogen was talking to Hailey worried him a great deal. He didn’t want the kids involved in this. However, he also knew that Rogen and the rest of the family needed help in getting this taken care of before someone else came for them. Also, that even now, they were being guarded with the utmost care. No one would get by anyone in his family to get to the kids. Hailey took the phone from Rogen and looked at the picture. When she asked if there were more of him, Rogen told her to just flip through the photos there and see what she could find. It was perhaps three or four moments before Hailey handed her back the phone and picked up a slice of her food. “The man you showed me first is Packer. The second and fourth men in those pictures are always with him. I don’t have their names.

He usually just nods at what he wants, and they get it for him. I think he might be some kind of shifter person. One time I saw him get all furry like Mr. Jonas does when he’s all upset about something.” Hailey looked at Rogen as she chewed her food. As soon as she was finished with that, she spoke again. “They carried guns when they were at the house. I helped them move those when we found them. I can’t tell you where they are until I talk to my brothers. We made a pinky promise not to tell without all of us agreeing.” “Is there anything else the four of you stashed around? I mean, things that Packer or one of the others with him might have mentioned?” Hailey nodded and continued to eat her food. Jonas was honestly too afraid to eat. He didn’t know if he’d be able to keep it down the way that— “Wait. Did you say Packer got all furry like I do? Or were you just using me as an example?” Hailey told him he was a tiger, just like he was. “Christ. Thatcher can summon him to him if he’s not already told him he is in the area. In fact, he can call him to him anytime he wants. Will that be something you can do?” “I can.”

Rogen kissed Hailey on the head and got up to leave them. “I’m so thankful for you, Hailey, that if there is a reward for this, I’m going to make sure you get it.” “You can give it to little kids that need it more than we do now.” Hailey eyed him. “Unless you want to take it for yourself, Mr. Jonas.” “You four earned it. Whatever it is, you should take it for yourselves and use it for college or something. I wouldn’t dream of taking your money from you after all the hard work you’ve done.” Rogen left them there after waving at the waitress and staff. Not too long ago, he and his family had gotten someone out of this place that was being abused. It was a small world, he thought. “Mr. Jonas, I have a question for you.” Jonas told Hailey that she should just ask him. “We’ve been around you and your family for two weeks now. You’ve never once hit any of us or lost your temper. And when we need something, even if it’s just an extra blanket, you give it to us. Are you really this nice all the time?”


“I’d like to think I’m that nice. However, as you know, I do have bad days.” She said he’d never taken it out on them. “That wouldn’t serve anyone if I were to do that, now would it? But in answer to your question, what do you think my mom would do to me if I were a mean person and didn’t allow you an extra blanket?” “She’d beat your head in with a wet noodle.” His mom had said that to him on more than one occasion when he’d been younger. “I’m sort of afraid of her. Not that she’s hurt me or anything, but she could, I think.” “Mom would die before hurting anyone. Unless they were planning to harm any of her babies. To her, you are all her babies.” She shoved away her pizza, and he was happy she’d been able to eat all but one slice. “If you’re ready, we can head back to the house. I’m to understand that Bobby is going to have my brother come and visit him today.” “Why do you care?” That gave him pause, and he asked her what she meant. “Why are you so caring, Mr. Jonas? No one else gave a fiddle about us. You’re nothing but a stranger, and you’ve done more for us than anyone ever has before. Why?” “I have an answer for that, I think. I love you guys. I know you’ve heard me say that to you before.” She nodded. “All right. I tried to get your mom in a place where she could take care of you if she wanted, but I have since changed my mind about that.

I don’t think she’d be any better to you than your father was. And I want you four as safe as I can make you. Is that a good answer for you? I can go deeper if you want. But I know how much you hate when I get mushy.” They were both laughing as they went out to the car. This time when he looked around, Jonas could see the men following them—their guards. He’d never been one for people hanging out with him or around him, but he felt a good deal better knowing they were there. Driving home, he decided he was going to take his mom up on her offer to get him a staff. Having people helping with the kids was nice, but he had a feeling that if staff were there, he’d have a lot less stress in keeping up with things. ~*~ Sissy was just getting home from the grocery store when there was a knock at her back door. The only person that used it was family, and when she opened the door, thinking it’d be her father, she was so happy to see her sister. “Dad called and left me a message that you were in trouble. Christ, that prick really changed his tune about being around you, didn’t he?” They hugged several times before Sissy saw that her sister was hurt.

“It’s nothing. I wasn’t paying attention to where I was walking and tripped up on a log. Fell against a boulder and broke my arm. How is your face? You look like shit if you don’t mind me saying that.” “I know. People have been pointing that out to me for the last several days. But I decided that getting back to my life is more important than caring about people pointing and staring at me. How are you?” Telling Ginger to sit down, Sissy made them both a cup of tea. Knowing that her sister didn’t care for anything but black tea, she made her a cup. Sissy had a cup of Earl Gray, her favorite.


“Great, but for this arm. I would have been home sooner, but I had to finish up the pictures I was assigned to take. Dad told me you were with him, and I knew you’d be all right. Have you pressed charges yet? That little fucker needs to pay for what he’s done to you.” Sissy loved her sister so much and was thrilled to have her with her. She told it like it was, and that was just what Sissy needed. “If you’d go with me to take the pictures to the company that asked for them, you and I can get going on whatever it is you’ve been keeping from Dad.” “How did you know?” Ginger just laughed and said she’d not known. “You’ve done that to me before, and I can’t believe I still fall for it. Yes, I am keeping something from Dad. And I want you to help me with it. Benny’s sister? Margo is her name. She is out of jail just recently and wants her children back. That’s what caused this last thing with Benny. He didn’t want to go get them because one of them might be black. What a fucked up reason not to want them close by. Anyway, I want to go and get them and bring them back here.”

“You know I’ll do anything for you, but what the hell are you going to do raising a couple of kids?” Sissy corrected her. “Okay, four of them. I’m not saying you can’t do it, but Sissy, that’s a lot of work. What do you know about them? Much at all?” “Are you asking me if they’re black too?” Sissy knew she’d hurt her sister, and when Ginger stood up, so did she. “I’m sorry for saying that. I know what you’re asking me. I honestly don’t know what I can do or not. I’ve never been around children much before. I’m simply stressing over everything I have going on. Please forgive me, Ginger. Please?” “Don’t say things like that to me. All right? You know as well as I do that I could care less about things like skin color and their sexual preference.” She hugged her again, and they both sat down. “Do you know where the kids are?” “I do.

They’re in Ohio with a family there. It’s not a long flight, but we can drive from here if you’d like. Pittsburg isn’t a long trip but still too much to do in one day. I think you might be familiar with the Robinsons.” She knew that her sister knew the Robinsons and asked her what she knew that wasn’t in the background check Dad had done on them a long time ago when she’d gone to college with one of them. “I think you went to school with one of them, correct?” “Yes. Dawson. He’s the youngest. A doctor.” She could tell that Ginger was thinking about them. “Can I tell you my opinion about the kids being with them without upsetting you?” Sissy said she wanted her to tell her. “They might be better off with them than you trying to raise them on your own. I love you, Sissy, but as you’ve said, you don’t know a great deal about children.

Especially ones that have been around Margo. I can make a call to Dawson, but the last I heard about them, they were taking in children that had been abandoned for a while now.” “All right. Will you call him? Then if he tells us that they’re better off with them, I’ll believe him. But I’d really like to go and see them. They’re my nephews and nieces, and I know nothing about them other than they’ve been born.” Ginger pulled out her cell phone. “I can’t thank you enough for this. You don’t know how much I’ve been worrying about them.”
“I’d like to speak to Dawson Robinson, please. My name is Ginger Morgan. He and I went to school together.” Sissy couldn’t hear what was being said on the other end, but when Dawson must have come onto the line, Ginger spoke again. “How the hell are you, dumbass?

I didn’t think I’d get through to you. I figured you’d be out on the golf course or some other equally stupid shit I’ve heard about doctors.” Ginger told him she was putting him on speaker phone. “I’ve not thought of you in…well, I’m not going to say how long it’s been. Busy with life. But I do reminisce about some of the antics we were up to. No, not on the course. I don’t have time for that now that I’m working for myself. Holy Christ, Gin. I miss you. Where are you now? Still taking pictures of weddings and grads?” “No. Wildlife. I just got home and was told that my sister’s soon-to-be exhusband has some relatives that might be in your care. I don’t know a great deal about them, but the Feds were supposed to have called Benson a few weeks ago to come and get them. I was hoping that my sister and I could come out and see what we can do about this.” Sissy heard the background sounds cut off when a door was shut. “Something wrong, Dawson?” “I’d say that’s an understatement. How much do you know about why we have them?”

Sissy spoke up then and told them she knew nothing more than what someone had told her husband, brother to Margo. “Hello, Sissy. Your sister spoke highly of you while we were friends in college. About the kids…I’m not sure what I can tell you over the phone. If you’d like to come out here, I can arrange that for you, but you’d not be able to tell anyone where you’re headed or why.” “Is it that bad?” Ginger watched Sissy’s face as Dawson said it was about as bad as he’d ever seen it. “All right. You make the arrangements, and we’ll head that way. Should Dad come with us? I don’t want him left behind if we can help it.” “You give me your addresses, and I’ll make sure your homes are watched over.” Sissy was starting to get very nervous about this now that it seemed the kids might be trouble.

“Bring Mr. Morgan with you too. I’d like to see him again. But just be careful, guys. There is a great deal at stake, and a lot of lives involved that could be endangered should there be any kind of leak out there.” “Call me when you find out anything. In the meantime, we’ll get going here. Nothing packed, so there is no reason to think we’re leaving. No mail stopped. Nothing.” Dawson said he’d take care of it. “Good. Thanks. I’ll wait to hear from you.” Twenty minutes after her sister hung up the phone, an officer came by the house. He said he was there to inspect the windows and doors as he’d been asked to do. As soon as he was in the house, the man went through the house and opened the back door, letting several men in with not just guns on their person, but also armor and other very scary equipment. Ginger was handed a cell phone, as well as a bag. When they were told to stand in the hallway, three men went over the house with equipment, telling them they were to search for bugs and other devices. A camera was set up in the dining room, and they were asked to have a seat. First, however, Sissy was asked to call their dad over for lunch.


Dad was happy to join them. She wasn’t to tell him that Ginger was at her house, nor about the people in her home. Sissy was beginning to see that the kids were in deeper shit than even she thought anyone could handle. As soon as their dad joined them, they were asked to go to the computer monitor and have a seat. Someone appeared there almost as soon as they were surrounded by the men that came with them. “Hello. My name is Rogen Robinson. I work for the Federal Government. My family and I are protecting the children and want to make sure that when you arrive, you’re as safe as they are.” Dad asked what was going on. “I can’t tell you anything right now, Mr. Morgan. Only that the children are safe and that we’ll make all the arrangements to have you brought to them. As you’ve been informed, you’re just to leave your home the way you entered. Ginger, you’re not on the radar just yet, so when you leave, I’d like for you to go out the back the way you entered and into the woods. The car you drove is no longer parked where you left it, but someone is there you can trust with your life.” “Since you’re not giving us anything to work with here, you tell me why I should trust you with my family, Ms. Robinson.

They’re all I have in this world.” Someone entered the picture with them, and Dad asked Dawson what was going on. “They’re treating us like we’ve done something wrong here, Dawson. You know us. We’d never harm a fly.” “Mr. Morgan, had you been even the least bit suspicious that the men in the home with you now were there to kill you?” Sissy asked Rogen if that was necessary to tell them. “It is. I won’t lie to you about any of this. I will tell you that the kids are heroes and have been working with us since we brought them here. Once you arrive, you’ll stay with my husband and I, and we’ll explain everything. For now, you’ll do as I asked. The phone that Ginger has is secure. If anything goes wrong on your end, even if one of you are even remotely worried about something, call. The men with you are going to be at your beck and call until you arrive. Trust them as you would each other.”

“And if we don’t?” One of the armed men came into the room then and put the gun to her father’s head. “Are you trying to scare me, Ms. Robinson? I’m made of sterner stuff than having an empty gun to my head.” The gun was fired at the wall and blew a hole large enough that she could see her side yard. Sissy started crying when Ginger stood up and punched the man that had fired in the face. Then while he was falling, Ginger kicked him in the crotch. He went down much harder than Sissy had thought, but Ginger had always been strong. Ginger then stood in front of the monitor. “You fuck with my family like this again, and I don’t care who the fuck you’re working for. I’ll hunt you down for the rest of my life to kill you. Understand?” The woman laughed and said she did. “Good. My dad isn’t healthy, and doing shit like that will hurt him. I will not hesitate to pull the gun from your downed man and kill the rest of them here, even if it means my own death.” “I like you, Ginger. No, I won’t pull any more tricks on you.”
After Rogen told them again how to leave the house, they did so without any more incidents. They were on the plane in short order and served not just drinks but lunch as well. It freaked Sissy out a little when they not only had her favorite meal for her but a cup of hot Earl Gray as well. Sissy was even more terrified, thinking of what they did know about her and wondered how much more they knew about her and her family.

Milo Xaiver’s Hatchlings Release Blitz&Giveaway

Jamie Darkhouse had inherited the large historical house when her parents had died. She had always hated living there and joined the Army to get away from the house and her parents. But when her parents died, she had things to take care of. So returning home seemed her best option. With the others gone, the house had lost the oppressive feeling, and she was now happy being home.

Jamie and Pem were good friends, and the Mannings were more than ready to accept Jamie into the family even if she hadn’t been Milo’s mate.

Milo Manning wasn’t a dragon shifter like four of his brothers. Yet, he wasn’t entirely human either. Immortal and magical, he still fit right in with the rest of his shifter brothers and large extended family. The Mannings were a large and well-respected family.

It only took moments for Milo to confirm they were mates, and Milo moved into the old house with her. Each discovering the new magic that came to them daily. What came to them as a shock, though, had Milo’s mother, Cindi, rolling with laughter. Neither Milo nor Jamie found seeing and talking to the dead the least bit funny.

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Finn Manning had so much on his plate, he wasn’t sure which end was up. He’d been there six months, and the pile of work on his desk hadn’t diminished by one sheet of paper. None of the construction projects the family had lent the money for had even been started. The foreman was a bully, and Finn had had enough.

Rachel Merkel had literally felt the earth move from beneath her feet. The plates she had been stacking at the restaurant crashed around her when she hit the floor. Her sister-in-law Sandra, instead of being concerned, threatened to fire her. Rachel was wondering how that worked, considering she owned the majority share in the restaurant, but instead of arguing with her, she clocked out and went home.

After a heated argument with her brother, Chad, about Sandra, Rachel quit to keep the peace. Then, Rachel felt the earth move again. This time she was sick with it.

Finn had felt it too through an unseen connection and came to Rachel’s rescue. He didn’t know the woman, but he had an overwhelming need to help her. As soon as he caught her scent, he knew what she was to him.

Rachel, not entirely human herself, could sense Finn was a dragon, and she felt the connection when he did. What she wasn’t sure about was what all came with it—the Mannings—all the parents, brothers, aunts, and uncles—it was overwhelming….

Pembroke Black had always had a lot on her plate. As a child, she could not tolerate her father, and Pem had moved in with her grandparents when her mother died. When she was old enough to move out, she joined the Army and served the front lines as a doctor. Stitching people up was what she did best. Coping with her own emotions was another story—Pem found little joy in this world.

When Pem’s grandda passed away, Theo Manning was there to help Pem’s grandma any way he could. That included keeping grandma safe. He had no idea until he met Pem that she was his mate. Theo wanted to protect her, too, from what was to come. Pem only had to touch his hand to receive the magic coming to her, but neither had any idea how much magic would flow between them.

Pem had always had her emotions take her under at times, but this was nothing like that. She was happy. She felt better than she had in years. Pem only hoped that Theo would not rush her. There was just too much going on for her to deal with a pushy man.

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Prologue


Long ago, at a time when all creatures roamed the earth as only their true self. Working with and helping humans in whatever way they could. Where magic was celebrated. And dragons darkened the skies every day. It was then man figured out there was magic in the dragons and hunted them to almost extinction.
“I’m afraid there is no hope for us.” No one made a sound as their leader continued. “Once the humans found out about us and what we can do for them dead, we were doomed. I’m so terribly sorry.” Coop looked around the room. There were so few of them now he could easily count them. When he had been younger, thousands of years ago, there would not be enough room for all of them to share this room. Now they were down to having a quarter of them share the space because so many, his own wife included, had been murdered so needlessly. Coop was saddened by it all.

Turning to leave the large cave, he was stopped by his brother, Xavier. “The boys, they are well?” He nodded and smiled. Coop felt it all the way to his heart, a place that had been dead for so long, it seemed. “You have the spell? You are going to use it on them? I so wish I had thought of this before my own family was taken from me, Coop. You are a brave man and a good father.” “Thank you. And I shall use it tonight. It is the only way to save them.” Xavier nodded, his own heart heavy with the losses they had suffered. “You know I would have shared should I have had it sooner. I am so sorry, brother. All of my heart, it’s sorry for you.” “I know that. I do. But they are all gone now. My other half, my children. Killed for things not fair to our kind.”

Coop knew all too well. “Aria was a good woman, Coop. A good woman and mother to your sons. She will be missed forever.” “Aye, in my heart and those of my sons.” Xavier stood there for several seconds, and Coop told him he must go. “They’re awaiting word on what is to happen with us all.” “One more thing, if you please. It will not take but a second. I have left them all I have. It is where you keep them hidden away, the boys. Deep within the cave, it’s all there.” Coop asked him what he meant. “I cannot go on, brother. I cannot. There is too much grief in my heart for me to live. I have left my things for them there. They might survive this, with the magic you have to give to them. And if so, they’ll need more than you have to help them.” “Xavier, please, you mustn’t do this. They’ll miss you as much as I.” Xavier nodded and said it had begun. “You can come and stay with my sons. You’ll live with them in the caves, and they’ll care for you.” “Nay. I cannot. I must go. Just tell them I love them. With all of my heart.” There would be no stopping him once his heart was made up, Coop knew this, but it made his heart no less full for it.


“Goodbye, my brother. Take care you are not caught by the humans.” Coop made his way back to his hidden cave and sat before the fire. The boys, he knew, were resting, their bodies getting stronger daily with their age. Soon they would be as big as him, dragons of worth and size. When his eldest son came to him, his eyes full of fear, Coop knew it was well past time he did what he had been practicing. The magic would keep them safe. Gathering his sons, six of them of varying shades of blues and greens, he asked them to have a seat. He had a story to tell them. It was not a story, not truly, but a tale that would, hopefully, keep them safe. “A witch told me once of a great magic only few can do. It takes a loving heart and a strong dragon to make it work. I have asked her, and she has told me how to make it so. In this magic, it will keep you all safe from the humans.” They nodded, each of them knowing it was a human blade that took the life of their dear mother. “I will perform this upon you, each of you at the same time, and give you some magic you will use when you need it. This magic, strong and powerful, will let you roam with the humans, and they’ll not know your true self is just below your flesh.”

“You mean we’ll be humans as well?” He nodded, then shook his head at Cooper, his oldest. “I don’t understand, Father. Will you explain?” “Yes. The magic I will give you will let you change into your true self when you are alone. But when you are out in the world, you will need to be a human. A man.” Cooper looked at his brothers, then back at him as he continued. “With this magic, I will also give you a gift. Something you will need to keep yourself safe should they find out. A stronger armor than any other dragon before you, as well as the same immortality you have now, as man or dragon.” Hudson stared at him for long moments. He was the thinker, and if he could think of a reason for this not to work, he would voice it loudly. He was much like his mother in that. She would be the first to say when she did or did not like something. And the first to say the plan was perfect.

He only hoped she would have approved of this. “I think you are very smart, Father, to try and keep us safe. But I can only think this will not work on you. Or is that your plan?” The boy was much too smart, Coop thought. “If you change us, who will change you?” “There will be no one to change me, son. I will…. It is my wish to join your mother in this earth.” He watched them, seeing if they understood the love he had lost when she was murdered. “Giving you this magic, it will be something I can tell her I’ve done for her sons. You know as well as I that she loved you more than anything on this earth, including herself.” “She died saving us.” Coop nodded at Lincoln. “I’m not happy you’re going to die, Father, but I understand wanting to be with Mother. I miss her more every day.” “As do I.” He looked at his sons, all of them growing into dragons of worth. “I must have an agreement from you all. Even if one of you does not want this, it will not work. I would say you should think on this hard.


For once I have given this to you, there will be no going back.” “I wish to have it.” He knew Cooper would be the first. Not that he did not love his father, but Cooper would see things in a way most would not. To not have this done would mean a certain death for them all. Dragons were too valuable dead not to be hunted for all time. “I will do whatever it takes to make sure you are proud of me as well.” “I am already, Cooper. Forever.” The others nodded too. They were ready for this as much as he was dreading it. Because once he started the process to change his sons into men, he would begin to die. It would take all he was to change them. Standing up, spreading his wings out behind him, Coop told them about the things their uncle had left them. They knew where the family jewels were, the things their mother had left them as well. Once they were standing, their bodies strong and healthy, he felt his heart swell and break for what he was about to do.

“I, Cooper Manning, of the Manning Dragons of the earth, give to my sons, Cooper, Hudson, Lincoln, Lucas, Tristan, and Xavier, all I am. Each of you will take a part of the earth with you when you are converted. The part of you that is unique in all ways will be strengthened and enhanced. You will be immortal, forever, and those you take to your hearts will be as well.” His sons bowed before him when he told them to. He said the words over them that would change them to men. Coop could feel his body shutting down, his heart beating a little less. But he had one more thing he wished to bless them with and held himself upright to give it from his own dying heart. “One day, true love will come to you. And you will have more than you have ever known. It will fill you in ways you cannot ever imagine. Love will be yours for all times. For only then will you become a true dragon, a Manning Dragon.”

~~ Cooper sat with his brothers while their father lay dying. His heart was weak from what he had done, and it was tearing him apart. Father was weak, yes, but he continued to tell them tales of their mother, of their adventures when they were only small dragons. They were going to be alone soon; their father was so close to joining their mother it hurt Cooper in ways he had not expected. “What shall we do with his body?” Cooper looked at Tristan and asked him what he meant. “He will not be able to lie here. If the humans were to find him, they would surely cut him up into pieces. I do not want that for him. We were never able to bury Mother in the proper way after what they did to her.” “We could burn his body.” Cooper wondered how it would work when Hudson continued. “His scales will be worthless to them should they come upon his body. The magic he held within him also will be useless to them.

He will be nothing more than a carcass. They’ll leave alone.” Burn his body. It was something to think about. But he did not want to, not while he was still breathing, his body still alive. When he laid his head upon his father’s chest, hearing his heart beating slower and slower, Cooper wondered what his father would think if he knew the magic he had given them had not worked. They were all still as dragons. “He gave his life to keep us safe. But it did not work.” No one said anything to him as they each watched their father. “Dragons such as we are, we’ll be hunted and killed by the humans. There is nothing we can do but wait for them.” “We will survive if we stay here.” Cooper told Xavier they would have to leave eventually. “To feed and to fly, yes. But perhaps we could do it only at night. To keep to the skies and not let them see us.”

“They know we are about and will have spies out looking for our lairs. We will have to kill any man should he come for us, and still, we will not be safe. We are, after all, dragons who have a great deal of magic.” Cooper stopped breathing. Cooper did not hear his father’s heart and knew it was at an end. He was quiet for a bit longer, waiting, hoping for just one more beat, one more sound that would mean he was still alive. But there was nothing. Their father was dead. Sitting up, he told them he had passed from this world into the next. None of them had ever seen a dragon die before. Their mother had been dead when they found her. Each dragon they had come upon when they were out had been dead long before they found them, their bodies stripped of every part, so they resembled less of a dragon than just a pile of bones. Their scales were used for roofs for their homes and for shields. The very meat of them was roasted and stored away so it could be used for medicines and potions. Hearts were cut up and dried, then ground into a powder to use for other things the humans would use to keep them from sickness, as well as magic to have a grand garden and trees heavy with fruit. The only part that would be left was the bones, and sometimes even those were carried off and used for something. Cooper hated all humans. “We will do as suggested by Hudson. It is the only assured way we can—”

Before he could finish, he felt the stirring of the earth. It shook so hard it knocked each of them off their feet. As they lay there, terrified someone was coming for them, their father appeared before them. His body was still aground. But instead of dark in death, he was brilliant in light. Faeries, thousands upon thousands of faeries, seemed to be covering him. Before Cooper could tell them to stop, to leave him alone, Father spoke. “I love you, my sons.” Each of them nodded, fear almost something he could touch. “I will now and forever join my true love, your mother. I must warn you, when you find your other half, and you will, you will have to be careful of the slayers. They will know what you have found by the magic you both will share. My sons, you will leave this place and take your place among men. Becoming someone I will be proud of.” “Father, the magic didn’t work. We’re still dragons.” Cooper felt shameful to say a thing like that to his father. To tell him his sacrifice had not worked. “We will be hunted and killed.” “Nay, you only need to think of being your other half. Becoming a man is simple. The same when you wish to be your true self.” Cooper was not sure what that meant, but his father continued before he could ask.

“Go now, before men come here. The magic to hide me will draw them here. Be safe, my sons, and know I love you more than I do any other creature on this place.” Cooper stood then, the faeries still working, taking the body of his father apart. But as he watched, he could see they were not doing anything but preserving his body. Faerie ropes were all around him, and strings of magic were wrapped around him like a cocoon. It made him invisible to all. As Cooper stood there, his brothers beside him, he knew that, like him, they mourned the loss of yet another parent. “You are the eldest.” He nodded to the faerie when she asked. “We have a gift for you. For all of you, but you will receive the most. Your father was a great man, your mother a queen among her people. We wish to bestow upon you all your father had.” “My brothers, they will need it as well. I should like to share.” She smiled at him and bowed. “What have you done with his body?” “He is being prepared to be moved.

We will make a grand garden upon him. Flowers will be there for all to see, but only a few will know a dragon is there with his other half, his love.” He nodded. It was as it should be. “You will take this gift? You will share, but as I said, you will get more than the others.” “I don’t care. Please, just do what you must so we can hide.” She nodded again and touched her fingers, small, tiny ones, to his forehead. Then she did the same to the others before coming back to him. “It is done. You have shared it with us?” “I have, Lord Cooper. But you must leave here now. There are humans coming. The magic we used to do this thing has given them cause to come here.” He nodded and looked at the ground where their father had been. “He is safe. Just as your mother is now. Go before they find you here and murder you as well.” He thanked her for her help and left. The exit from this part of the cave was hidden so well only they knew about it. As they made their way into the night, he thought of the human inside of him, and the pain of it took his breath away. In seconds, he was down on his knees. Whatever was happening, he was surely going to die. “You’re a man.

” He looked up at his brothers as they began to transfer to men themselves. “We’ll be safe now, all of us. We’ll be humans for them until we can find a place where we can be ourselves.” “I don’t think that’s ever going to happen again.” Hudson nodded and held his head tightly as he did so. “We will need to train ourselves in their ways. Become what they are. But never monsters.” “No, never.” They made their way to a building; any would do for now. Hudson, like him, was staggering a little, but they were getting stronger as they moved. He turned to look at him as they were settling in the empty shell of a house. “We will need to buy things, houses and such.” “Yes. But tomorrow. I am too tired to think beyond how much we have lost.” Hudson and the others agreed. “When the humans are gone from our cave, we’ll go and find what Father was telling us about earlier, about the wealth that will keep us safe.” “I only hope there is a great deal of it. I don’t know how to work, much less walk around like they do.” Cooper told Xavier, the youngest brother, they would soon learn.

“I hope so. I hope so.” He did as well. It was going to be hard enough for them to learn to eat and dress like humans, much less get around. Cooper hoped this worked. For he was as afraid as he had ever been in his life. ~~ After a time, thousands of years, each of the dragons turned into men, forging their way into a world that was so different than the one they had been born to. It seemed a different planet. But survive they did. Having their mates come to them, children born to all of them, gave them hope. A small and fragile thing after such hardships they were born to. Cooper became, as his father had been before him, the king of dragons—his mate, Carson, their queen.

It had been and still was a time for celebration. To this day, they commemorated often and hard at each new birth of the dragons turned men and women. The others, his brothers, prospered too, finding their other halves, making their magic stronger for having their love. They worked hard in keeping everyone safe and well fed, humans or other dragons. No one, not anyone in need, would have ever been turned away from their help. The Manning Dragons, true to their father and mother, became the most powerful dragons ever born. Of the six sons, Xavier’s sons, four hatchlings, and two humans moved far away to be the next generation of Manning dragons who would open their hearts and doors for all creatures. Even the sons of their heart, the two human-born men, carried powerful magic. They used it, with their brothers, to help as many creatures as possible, humans and dragons alike, to live in the ever-changing world. To help them not only succeed but to perhaps help someone else when they needed it. These boys, now men, have stories to tell.


Remington Release Blitz&Giveaway

Remington and her warrior sisters had been around for several millennia. Their time of fighting wars and conquering kingdoms was now a distant memory. Before Queen Dante passed, she’d graced her prized warriors—the falcon, hawk, eagle, phoenix, vulture, and owl—with humanity as well as immortality.
Remi wasn’t unhappy with her life. She was just bored.
Harlin Tayler was working deep undercover, and he was thinking that hopefully, the case he was working on was about to come to an end. Sorrel was the worst sort of person, and Harlin was aiming to bring him to justice. But Sorrel wasn’t human at all. He was a powerful fae.
His case against Sorrel brought him to Remi, and from the moment they met, they both knew they were mates. Harlin also discovered that as a small child, his memory of who he really was had been erased for his own protection. Now that his memories had been restored, the cloak had been lifted, and they were all in danger. But with Remi by his side, they could face anything coming their way—he hoped….
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Mercy and her warrior sisters had been around for several millennia, their time of fighting in wars and conquering kingdoms now a distant memory. Before Queen Dante passed, she’d graced her prized warriors—the falcon, hawk, eagle, phoenix, vulture, and owl—with humanity as well as immortality. A gift that Mercy, to this day, was having difficulty coming to terms with. Living as a human was not what she was born to do, nor what she wanted to do. Being an immortal in a life she didn’t want left Mercy feeling angry at the world and turned her into a workaholic.

As an intervention, Blaze arranged an extended vacation and guilted her into taking it. She made all the arrangements and wouldn’t tell Mercy where she was going, just to be at the airport and do as she was told.

Joel Oliver needed this job. Finances were tight, and Blaze said all he had to do was chauffer a rich woman around town. What he would receive would catch him up on the mound of bills piling up and keep the roof over his—and his thirteen-year-old daughter, Miley’s—head for a few months longer. Miley was in a wheelchair—and as a result, had a lot of medical bills—but he loved her more than his own life. However, Joel was about to bite off more than he could chew.

The woman was gorgeous, and he found her snarky, hateful, attitude amusing until she interfered with how he was raising his daughter. Now, all bets were off.

Mercy would normally laugh in the man’s face for his hurtful remarks, but for some reason, her heart shattered instead. After a night of the most mind-blowing sex she could’ve imagined, he was treating her like it all meant nothing…. She had just realized he was her mate, and he hated her….

Blaze and her warrior sisters had been around for several millennia, their time of fighting in wars and conquering kingdoms now a distant memory. Before Queen Dante passed, she’d graced her prized warriors—the falcon, hawk, eagle, phoenix, vulture, and owl—with humanity as well as immortality.

Blaze, a hawk, had done many things in her immortal life. Now, making toys was a pastime she enjoyed. However, the owner of the print shop that made the blueprints for her designs had not only ripped her off but several other companies by giving them faulty blueprints and keeping the correct ones for himself to profit from. Blaze had caught the defect before she had put her project into production, the other firms hadn’t been so lucky and had lost millions. Given the opportunity, Blaze purchased the print shop.

Bryson had worked for the print shop for ten years. However, he had no knowledge of the owner’s dirty dealings. When the new owner stepped in, he was happy to still have a job and was eager to help in any way he could. What he hadn’t expected was the jolt he received when he shook the new owner’s hand. In that moment he knew two things, she wasn’t human, and she was his mate.

Judith and her warrior sisters had been around for several millennia, their time of fighting in wars and conquering kingdoms now a distant memory. Before Queen Dante passed, she graced her prized warriors—the falcon, hawk, eagle, phoenix, vulture, and owl—with humanity as well as immortality.

With two of their sisters mated, Jude and Piper were finding themselves a little envious of the large homes they had. Jude and Piper both were on the hunt for nicer accommodations. Christmas was just around the corner, and neither was sure if they wanted to attend the big gala that had been arranged this year in the old castle where they had all once lived.

Duncan was his mother’s son, thru and thru. He had inherited the gift of foresight as well as immortality and a few other magical traits. Jude being his mate, had been foreseen by his mother, Queen Dante, several millennia ago, and Queen Dante had kept Duncan’s identity a secret from them all.

When Duncan approached her, Jude didn’t know whether to stay put or flee. Being a warrior, she wasn’t afraid of any man, it’s what being with him represented, being a queen, Jude wasn’t sure she was ready for that. She wasn’t sure she would ever be ready for that.

Piper and her warrior sisters had been around for several millennia. Their time of fighting wars and conquering kingdoms was now a distant memory. Before Queen Dante passed, she’d graced her prized warriors—the falcon, hawk, eagle, phoenix, vulture, and owl—with humanity as well as immortality.

Piper wasn’t really happy with the way her job was going and how much travel that would be required of her in the near future. She liked the art that she made, but she wanted to do whatever she wanted, not fill specific orders. She wasn’t feeling the inspiration for that.

Grant had lived in Queen Dante’s kingdom since before the old king had died. He and his mother were fae and, therefore, immortal. He had done many things over his lifetime. Being fae and their unity with the earth, Grant and his mother were the healers for their community.

When Grant and his mother were invited to King Dante’s new castle for dinner, he was excited to see what the new king had done with the place. What he didn’t expect was the charge of magic he’d receive when he met Piper. It knocked them both on their asses. Neither knew what to expect from the other, nor what magic they had exchanged. Although Piper was wary, Grant couldn’t wait to find out.

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Prologue


The castle was going down, thanks wholly to her birds. Queen Dante sat upon her horse and watched as stone after stone crumbled to the ground. In a matter of moments, not only were the walls of the fort destroyed, but the king inside his castle was dead as well. Turning her mount, she headed back to the encampment to ready herself for the long ride home. The birds joined her not half an hour later, their large bodies covered in dust and blood. “You have done well, my darlings.” They could understand her and she them, but no one else could. She had made them what they were, and she would be the only one to control them. “Have you fed well on his dying cattle? What serves a man to have his food dying? His people, they were fed no better, I saw.” The falcon—she had never named them—told her the people were headed west. In a few months, probably less, they would all be dead too. It bothered them when the people suffered because of the king or queen of the castle. But it was to be. Dante could not care for anymore in her own keep.

No one would attack her keep. If they tried, she knew them to be too stupid or too drunk on their own mead. She had her birds, all of them bigger than life, made large by magic that she gave them. Looking at them as they landed around her, forever keeping her safe, she wondered why she had not thought of it sooner when her king was still alive. “I would have set you upon him. You could have eaten him for your dinner. Though I suspect it would have given you a great deal of belly pains.” The hawk told her she was lucky he had died the way he had. No one would come for her if she had killed him. “Yes, that is very true. But I suffered greatly when he was living. No children either, to give me comfort in my olden age. Though they might have been just like him, and that would have been too much to bear.

” She would never marry again. Love wasn’t anything she searched for. Not that she didn’t have someone to warm her bed on occasion, but it was nice to be able to send them on their way when she had finished with them. Her heart belonged to no one, and she would not have another man take her to bed by force. All would be well, and no one would threaten to come and take over her home. That was a certainty. The hawk used her beak to put delicate things upon the backs of the others. There was aplenty this time. Barrels and smoked meats. Pottery that they would use like it wasn’t worth a king’s gold. They raided the castle each time they conquered. Hawk was the best at getting in and out before they took the place to the grounds. The eagle took off toward home. She would let the people know the queen was returning simply by showing up. They would have a feast this night. The food upon her back would feed them for many days, and the barrels of spices, hoarded in the lower levels of the castle, would go a long way toward helping them trade for what they did not grow.

The phoenix, by far the deadliest of her birds, shed her feathers in anticipation of getting new ones. After a battle, she would become anew, each time getting stronger, and her feathers, brilliant now, would be brighter still. She could flame a fire so hot that stone would crumble under a man’s feet. The ground would no longer hold a seed within its belly to produce food, and she could kill a man with a single breath so that there would be nothing left of his body. She loaded the last of her things onto the back of the owl. She might be small, she had always thought, but she could carry more than her own weight. And she would pick up her horse, used to flying through the sky like a bird himself, and take him back to the castle.

He would be fed and groomed before the queen ever landed on the ground. The vulture squawked at her, and she turned to look at the two men there. They looked as if they might have been about to kill her, but the sight of such large birds threw them off their duty. In no time at all, the vulture snapped both of them up and ate them down. A gruesome sight, but one that filled her heart with joy too. She was safe again. The vulture took off, too, once she was loaded up. “Well, my falcon, it is just you and I left.” She told her she was still armed. “Yes, well, probably not too bad of an idea seeing that they nearly shot us.” The falcon laid her body to the ground.

She was the only one fitted with a seat, one that Dante rode on. Scouring the area, Dante always made sure the places she camped were left as neat and clean as she’d found them. Sometimes in better shape. As she climbed on the back of her bird, she held her breath. “I do hate the height. I should have thought this through when I turned you into my warriors.” Her laugher, should there have been someone around to hear it, might have caused them to think her insane. “Homeward, my love, and we shall eat well tonight.” She took no one with her on her fights except the birds. That was why she believed her people were so loyal to her. She protected them, fed them better than herself, and made sure there was plenty for them to trade and share for things that she did not provide for them. The soil was rich and would give forth a bounty like no other gardens. Flowers, too that were woven into pretty things and traded. There was a smithy, as well as a doctor who doubled as a dentist.

They had even acquired a grave digger, who also made markers. There was a single merchant that came by, his wagon filled when he arrived, but it would be near empty when he left. The latest news came with him and any posts he had been asked to bring to them. He would also, for a small coin, take outposts for the next time he was in the keep of a relative or friend. And today, there was such a missive. But it was for her, from someone she had hoped never to hear from again—the king of the land, the only man she answered to, though it wasn’t with any kind of happiness on her part. After the others were settled down and the food that had been brought put into storage, she sat down and wasn’t surprised that the falcon came to see her. The room she was in—the throne room for lack of a better term—had no roof and six perches for the birds when they wished to see her.

Otherwise, they sat upon the top of the castle turrets, watching for anything that might befall them. “I am to wed. The king of the land, he has decided my castle is the best there is, and he will marry me himself.” The falcon asked about his castle. “He says it will be his son’s, of which he has none as yet. His last five wives have only given him daughters from what I have heard, and they did not last long afterwards.” The falcon asked her what she would do. Dante knew what would happen to her should he come here. He would kill her. Being in her fortieth summer, she was much too old to bear any children now, and he would be better with a younger bride. One that could birth him the sons he wanted. “He will kill me; we both know that.

And you six will kill him or be killed. I worry so much for the people here too.” She thought of several plans and threw them out. It was in her head that if she should die, then she would do so on her own terms. “I will need a day to think on this. In the meantime, he says he will be here in the new year. That will give us a month to provide for the people and make sure they are not harmed.” ~*~ Dante worked as hard as the rest of her people. With her hair up in a rag, she didn’t look any different than any of the men and women that toiled with her. There was much to be done in the little time they’d been allotted. Today they were drying all the beef and goat meat they had. It would last them for several months, and where she was sending them for safety, they’d need that extra time. Long enough for them to breed more of their cattle and goats, so there would always be food for them to eat.

“What of the dried herbs that are left, my lady? There are already barrels of it packed away for the trip. Shall we put them in bags to go?” She shook her head. “There are no more barrels until the morn. The copper is working as fast as he can, making more. What shall we do?” “Leave them. There is very little, correct?” The man said that there wasn’t enough for a good strong stew. “Good. They will think you all died off from lack of planning, and that will keep you safe for a longer time. Leave it for them so that when the keep and castle are in ruin, the king will understand why.”

Not that anyone was going to be coming to the castle to live, she thought. There were things in motion that would make sure everything here was gone well before the lands were walked upon again. She looked to the sky when a dark shadow fell over her. Her hawk was making her way to the village Dante had set up. Long ago, Dante had purchased the lands far from where she was now and put them in the name of Mercy Dante. She knew so much about all their futures that it made her so sad to know she’d never be there to see it happen. “My lady?” She looked at her man of arms, a man that had very little work to do but was brave and true to her. “We have plenty of things to go on the next load if you have a desire to send it on.

Do you still wish for some of the armed men to go with them this time? I’m to understand we’re to fell trees for homes.” “Yes, that would be good. How many men can you spare today?” He told her all she had. “Then send them on. I know some of you are frightened to ride the birds, but you should have no fear. They would no more harm you than they would me.” He nodded and looked at her hawk. “I shall send you all on her. She is the gentlest of the six of them.” The carrier had been fashioned a week ago. It had upset her that it had taken so long to get right, but it was safe now, and that was all she wanted. There were only a few short weeks to get the people gone from here with all that would keep them safe.

Now all she had to do was make sure the birds didn’t know the last of her plans. The platform had been made from several drawbridges from castles they’d taken over. She’d known that saving them would be helpful, but it had taken a great deal more work than she’d thought to put them together and have her fishermen weave a netting to carry it with. After several trials and failures, the carrier worked. Loading up the men on the first run of people, she noticed they had put the several men that were afraid of the ride in the middle. One of them, a hardy man otherwise, had been knocked out with much wine. It had been funny to all around that it had taken so little of the wine to do that to him. But they didn’t know she’d given him a bit of magic to help him travel. All was well when her hawk took off with the several dozen men to start on the homes that would be needed. Barrels would be next. They had been sealed by magic that would keep them well preserved.

The other birds, her warriors for all time, had been taking jewels and other items to a cave she had also covered in magic. It would help the people of the new village for as long as they lived, well beyond her body becoming nothing but dust. Dante watched as several more people were taken to the new village. She would allow them to name their new place as long as it would never be attached to the name of the castle. That would be bad for them and would bring much trouble onto their heads. When her hawk landed, she went to ask how things were progressing.

“Well, my lady. They were no more off the platform for seconds when they started to work. I believe you were good to get them started on this. ‘Tis only late winter, so they should be able to have a few of the buildings up before the rest are moved.” Dante agreed with her. No one else could understand the birds but her and the other birds. It had, she knew, kept everyone safe all these years. “I can only make two trips there and back, my lady. ‘Tis not a long way by the way we fly, but the pack is heavy. Please forgive me for that.” “You have nothing to be sorry for, my bird of prey. You have done one more than I had hoped for this day. And when the others have finished their tasks for me in carrying away the riches and other things they will need, it will take no time at all to move the rest. Nay, you have done well this day in taking the men and then the food to feed them while there.” Her hawk, who would someday be called Blaze, bowed before her.

Stacking up the loads that would be going on the platforms, she could see that they’d be taking away the last of it only the day before the king was to arrive. Dante was glad now that she’d had such good people working for her. They asked nothing as to why they were doing this but did it for her. When in reality, it was all for them and her birds. Dante knew the king would never make it here. His ship and all his bounty would be deep in the waters he crossed to kill her and take her castle. The man was a fool to think she would easily do what he wanted. Wiping at a tear, she looked around the keep she’d worked so hard to keep everyone safe in. It was then she saw her son. Duncan was everything she was and more. Each time she saw her son, she would give him a little more of herself, teach him something of running a castle.

He knew what he was to her and that Mary was doing her a great favor in keeping him safe. Duncan would be a greater king than she ever was a queen. Just the way it should be. She was glad now that she’d told him he was to be mated to one of her birds. Leaving him to his work, she entered the castle to see what else was there that she could easily live without. There was very little left as it was, but she moved from room to room to make sure nothing was left behind of any value. The only thing she could see in the great room was the painting of herself. Dante wished so many times that she could have put her son there with her, but it was not to be.

It would have been foolhardy to think she’d be able to keep him safe if she was to put out there that he’d been born. Other kingdoms would have done a great many things to have captured him to bring her to heel. Dante would do anything to keep him safe, including submitting to a man again. A thing that she would never do again in her lifetime. “I shall give this to our falcon.” She turned her head enough to find Duncan behind her, and the doors closed to anyone walking around. “She will be a great person, I think. Sour to many but the one that she will love.” “You have seen this?” Duncan said he’d seen a great many things. “Well, you know as well as I that it might not turn out the way we see it. There can be changes, you know.”

“This I am aware of. As well as you not living past the last person that is taken from here.” She turned to look at him then, trying to see just what he was seeing. “I shall forever miss you, Mother.” It was the first time he’d called her that. Her heart was so tender of late that she would burst into tears at all that would be gone in so short of time. Hugging him to her, she felt the strength in his body was getting stronger daily. He knew how to work and did it without complaint. “I have been writing a book. It is just for you, my son. You will know things I have known for some time. It will replenish your riches that I have put aside for you. Also, how to keep the birds safe should they need it.” He nodded. “I will give it to Mary on the day you travel. I do not want the others to know you are my son, even after all is finished here.”

“They will only know me as a man you trusted. But I will need to tell them at some point. This you know as well as I. I will be their king when they need me.” She nodded, tears flowing quickly now. “Mother, you do know I will take care that they are as safe as you made them here?” “I do, my son. I know that better than you could. You are not anything like your father. A cruel and terrible man. When you marry, and you will, I want you to know that she will only love you if you give her your heart. It’s important that you do that for her.” He said he would. “Let her strength help you when you know you are not armed to do it on your own. She will love you more and respect you forever for that.” “Will she be stronger than me, Mother?” Dante told him she was sure of it. “Then I will be for her what you have been for these people. A leader of worth. I will promise you I will also protect her forever.”

“That is all that anyone can do for their mate, my child.” He hugged her, something neither of them were able to do often. “I shall miss you, Duncan. Much more than I could ever explain to you. Go forth, protect all the people of your kingdom, and do what I say. Love your mate more than anyone, including yourself, and the two of you will be able to move mountains.” ~*~ New Town, what they had begun to call the new place they were living, looked like any other town in the country. The only difference was, this one was only several weeks old. It, to Dante, looked as if it had been established long ago. She was pleased with the work her people had given the place she’d moved them to. “My lady? There is a problem in one of the homes we’ve put up. I know how to fix it, but the man living in it, he said he will be fine with it. To have his own home was more than he could have hoped for.” The queen of the people asked Barron what the issue was.

“He has five daughters, my lady, and we’ve somehow put him into a house with only one bedroom. There are ones he could use, but he insists that it be used for the other families.” “I shall speak to him. Is it Donald, the mule man?” Barron nodded, his face nearly touching the ground, he was bent so much. “Stand up, man. I believe I have pointed out this is not a time for formality. We must all work together for the greater good of the people. I shall speak to him now. Then I must, as you know, return to the castle for the final loading.” Along the way to speak to Donald, she was stopped no less than twenty times to be thanked for the things she’d provided for the people here.

Without making the great move, Dante knew all of them would have been killed. Because of their loyalty to her as queen of the castle, the king of these realms, a tyrant of a man, would have ordered them all butchered as soon as he killed her on their wedding night. Of this, she was certain. “My lady? I have yet to put on a pot for tea, but you must join us in it.” Dante was not one to hold back when she had something to say. She told Donald she wanted him to take a larger home. “Oh, my lady. Barron should never have bothered you with this. We are quite happy with where we are.”

“But you have six people in a single man’s home, Donald. What, I ask you, will the man who was supposed to be in this home do with a home with many bedrooms? He will be overwhelmed in trying to keep them clean while you are smashed up in this one-bedroom chamber with your little girls.” Donald looked at his daughters, beautiful little ones that were the pride and joy of himself. “There is a home just over the road here you shall be moved to. I insist. Your daughters will share two bedrooms, and you will have your own. I know for a fact, sir, that your snore is legendary. For your daughters to have a good sleep, you will need to be far from them. Do you not agree?” “Yes, my lady.” He moved just a little closer, and in a low voice, spoke to her. “I did not wish to cause you any undue trouble. You have given all of us a chance to survive this, and I wanted to be sure you knew I was ever so grateful for it. I’m as happy here with you and yours as I ever was in the castle keep, my lady. Incredibly happy.” “I’m glad you’re happy here, Donald.

You are a good man and a man that cares well for his daughters. I shall have the men move you to the new home. It will give me a good feeling knowing you have plenty of room for yourself and your family.” He thanked her. “Your daughters, sir, they will be safe here. You need anything, you make sure you contact Barron.” “Thank you, my lady. If there is ever anything I can do for you, you need only to ask. I am and will be indebted to you for the rest of my days.” Dante felt her eyes water up with the man’s words. Her life, she knew, was only a short time away from ending. “Thank you very much.” The little girls curtsied at her, and she had to move on. It broke her heart every time she saw small children. She so wanted to hold her own. Telling Donald once again that she’d have the men move him, she moved toward the long house that would serve as a church for the people and a meeting place for them to gather should they need to. Her eagle was awaiting her when she returned to the now all but abandoned castle.

“You have done well, my heart. You, of all the birds I have, are the one I worry most about.” The eagle asked her why. “You are so much like me. Hard when you’re needed to be. Too soft when it comes to our people. I fear someday it will harm you in ways that not even I could fix.” Her eagle, like the other birds, was a huge part of getting the people moved. If not for them, there would be no way she could have done this alone. It would have meant certain death for all of them, including her own son.

Going to the throne room, she sat upon the floor. Dante had moved her chair to the caves for the others to sell off should no one want it. But because she could see into the future, just bits and pieces, she knew at least one of them would want such a monstrosity. “When this is finished, soon now, I will give you and the others magic to keep you safe from others who would try and capture you.” Her eagle asked what sort of magic. “You will be able to blend into situations you wouldn’t normally consider a problem. There will be problems, too. From the things I have seen, you all will have trouble from those around you.”

She laid back on the cold stone. The castle had been forged so long ago, Dante could not remember who had been the person to have erected it. Now, as she looked up into the night sky, the roof here long since removed, she thought of what was going to happen in the coming days. “He has set sail and is nearly here. The king of all the lands is coming to claim not just my castle and my wealth but my birds as well. There are many people on the vessel that carts his bottom here who have no desire to be his servants. If only I could have saved them as well.” The eagle, standing upon her perch built just for her, reminded her she could not save them all. “In this, I wish it was wrong to have thought that. They will suffer, these people.

They are suffering, for there is nothing to do to appease the king to find favor with him. There are so few that he has not made suffer by lashing them on their backsides. Too many of them have died in his foolishness to make me his wife for such a short time.” Listening to her eagle squawk at her about the king and idiocy, Dante thought of her impending death. It would be a sad affair only to her son and the birds he would one day claim as his own. However, just knowing all would be safe from the king’s tyranny made the other things so worthwhile. “If I had to do it again, I would do nothing differently. I would still do what I am doing now so that all will live and live on. Even with you birds, I would do just what I have done to keep my kingdom here.” The eagle asked her if she’d been happy. “Happy?

I don’t know that I have had that much in my lifetime. I have been content. Not the same, I suppose, but I have been content with my lot in life. If only I could have kept living the way we have, I do believe I could have made such a difference in things here and in the future. Before I forget this again, I have taken the time to write out the things t’will keep the new town with coin in their coffers. I know it will be aplenty, but I will worry until my last breath if it will be enough.” Her last breath. It was only a few days away. Much too soon for her, but Dante knew it would be well worth the pain of dying to her. Sitting up, she looked at the birds, all six of them on their perches watching over her and the emptied lands they could see.

They were the sole reason she was able to do this. This she knew more than anyone could have guessed. “I shall retire, I think. I have no bed to speak of now, so I will only lie upon the ticking. On the morrow, we shall have a feast. A great amount of food, as well as drink. ‘Tis fitting, I think, to celebrate this new way of life for so many.” Her beautiful phoenix asked her why she seemed so sad. “Sad? Aye, I am that and more. Things are moving at a pace I wish didn’t exist. But it is for the wellbeing of all that have called this place home. In that, I suppose I am sad that we shall never be able to return here in my lifetime.” But they would. All six of them and more will return someday and see the castle as it should have been. A lovely home to her son and his mate, the one that she herself had hand-picked for her beloved child. Oh, to be able to see them grow into love. But it was not to be.

Getting up before she made a fool of herself by crying over something she had no control over, Dante did indeed head to her bed. For tomorrow and the next day would be the hardest of anything she’d ever done before. ~*~ Dante didn’t sleep. She’d not closed her eyes to rest in more years than she could count on both her hands and then her toes. It was all right, she supposed. Dante was able to get more done this way. But she did pace herself. She’d never survive these last days if she were to fall apart now. “Mistress, there are two men here to see you. They wish to know who has carved your turrets. I did not tell him they were as real as he.” Mary shook her head at the folly of some men. “I should have called them down to talk to him about how they were made. I think he might well have soiled his britches.”

“Mary, please tell them that the lady of the castle is busy and does not have time to tell him of the art he is looking at. What manner of person would ask such a thing? As if I didn’t have the sense of that turtle caught in the drain last week. Nay, tell them to move on before I toss them into the sea.” Mary went to tell them just what she said. Dante was smiling when she heard Mary laughing. She’d no doubt take the way she’d told her to move them on to such extravagance. It would serve the men right if she really would call down one of her birds to take care that they didn’t bother her again. Dante made her way to the drying room at the back of the kitchen. She had been brewing a brew for several days now. “You’re not going to be going with us, are you, my lady?” She turned to look at her great phoenix.

“If you do not explain to me what your plan is, I think to tell Mercy what I have figured out. She will not allow you to die. Nor will I be all right with your death.” “I must die, my beautiful friend. For if the king were to actually reach our lands and find this castle and all that was here when he set sail were gone, what do you think he’d say to his men? That it was a good thing I left? That now he didn’t have to kill me? Nay, he would send them to find me. And my people. I do not wish anyone else to be harmed for what he wants from me.” The phoenix, Piper would be her name someday, asked her if she expected them to do the killing. “In a way.

I have this brew here. It is nearly set for me to drink down. The castle and its walls, they must come down, or it will all be for naught. What I have made, it will have me dead before you drop the first stone upon the only home I have ever had. You as well, my dear bird.” “Mercy will not be willing to help.” Dante told her she would because she’d know what she said now was the truth. “Aye, you say that, but I think her to be most upset with the turn of events, my lady. It will break all our hearts to know you have left us behind.” “I shall never leave any of you behind. I will be forever in your hearts and you in mine as I take my last breath.” The phoenix nodded but didn’t say anything more for some time. “He will die before he gets to the land. This king who thinks to murder me in my own bed. And those that he brought with him, they too will perish. ‘Tis a folly on his part to think I’d just do as he wants as if I have no mind of my own. I know Mercy will kill him and all that have been forced to come here with him.

It’s not such a bad thing, these deaths, Phoenix. It will be merciful to all that have ridden the seas to make their way here.” After the bird left her, she pulled the large cauldron off the hot flames and covered it with a lid. Even though there were no children about or anyone working in the kitchens, she would feel terrible if any harm would come to anyone right now. Making her way back to the throne room, or what was left of it, she laid on the floor to look up at the sky. Dante hated heights. While she forever knew she’d never see the time when there would be airplanes in her sky, she knew they were set to come. She was content, for now, to bask in the beautiful view she’d miss more than she’d thought she might. Getting up, Dante made her way to the side of the castle that faced the sea. “Oh, to see the waterways filled with my own ships again. To see them sailing off to find new things to bring back to us.” There were ships out there. She could just make out their flags. None of these were her tormentor, she knew. He would be visible in two days, still out to sea a long way. He would be nothing more than a small speck in the open waters, but she’d still be able to see him. “Why now?

Why have you made your plans to include me at this time? I wish more and more I’d been born a male. Then no one would dare to come here. I might well have been the king of all the lands had it been so.” Her ships had been taken to the coves not far from here. By the time they were remembered, time would go by, and they would be nothing more than rotted wood and material. Dante wouldn’t want them to be seaworthy again. It might well be the thing that got her people killed. Even in the future, the bits and pieces she could see, the ships would only cause people to look harder for her remains and perhaps run into the New Town where her people lived. That, she knew, would be a danger to all. “Mother? Are you here?” She turned to look at her son. Duncan had been coming to her of late to get more lessons, her thoughts on things, as well as how to manage a vast kingdom such as the one she was leaving him. “I thought for sure you’d be here. I have a favor to ask of you.

‘Tis a small one, but one I think you can give me. I should like to spend the night here, within these walls, once with you. I have spoken to Mary about it, and she thinks you will grant me this one wish. It will be the first and last time the two of us will be able to be under the same roof since I was born.” “I should like that. Very much.” He nodded and smiled at her. “There is so much to tell you and so much more I think I have forgotten to pass on to you. But for this night, I shall not speak of the king coming here. Nor of my life ending. You are aware of it, my child. This I know. But to have you here with me this last night? It is more than I could have asked for.” They made their plans to sleep on the same ticking she’d been resting on since her bed had been taken away. As they curled up under a thick blanket, the two of them talked more than they rested. Tears were shed, of course. There was no way to avoid such a thing. But there was laughter, too, much more of it than just tears.

“I shan’t be here tomorrow when you are set. I cannot be of sound mind when I know what is to happen to you. I will tell you, Mother, that there couldn’t have been a better person to raise me. Nor one that has loved me as well as you have.” She kissed him on the forehead as he spoke again. “For as long as I live, Mother dear, I will keep you in my heart, along with the birds that will be mine as well. I love you. Much more than I think any child could their parent. You are the best there is. I shall kill anyone that says differently.”

She had no words to give him after that. Her heart, already tender, was breaking more. It might well have done her better not to have spent the night with her son. But it would have been harder on her, she thought, to not have this time with him with no other around. Finally, when she could speak without tearing up even more, Dante told her son that she loved him. That he’d be a better king than she had been a queen. After saying that, they both settled into their thoughts until the sun came rising from the seas that surrounded them. Today, she knew, would be her last day to breathe in the air, take in food for her belly, and the very last time she’d order her birds to do something she knew they’d hate her for. ~*~

The last of the herbs were drying nicely. Along with the pumpkins and other squashes, Dante had added a little magic to them so that they’d produce quicker. Would also produce more for them to have when they replanted the seeds left from this bounty. The corn stalks had been bundled up too to take along for roofs, as well as fodder for the fires that would need to be lit. As she looked over the ground she’d been working on with the others, she wondered if the future occupants of her home would plant and use the product coming from it as much as she had. Dante knew a great deal about the coming centuries. It had come to her in dreams or just single thoughts. She used this gift of magic to make it so her son and all the people that were going to be living around here would not have to worry about money.

Not when there was so much more that needed to be done. Taking a large basket of still green tomatoes that hadn’t gotten ripe as yet, she was smashing them into pulp to make sure that the seeds, a precious thing, were set aside to dry. Duncan joined her in the drying room with several more fruits that would need to be secured. “I have dug up all the trees you wished to be stored away. I also added some things that seemed to be begging me for a second chance. I’ve a feeling in my heart that their kind might not be long for this time we are in.” She told her son he was more than likely right if that was what he felt. He walked around the room. “There is plenty enough herbs here to fill an entire barrel. Are you leaving them?” “I will some. The rest will go back with all the others when you leave here tonight.” He nodded. “The trees will be stored away until such a time that they’re I have found a way to preserve them so they will not rot and die.

I will let you know when it is time for you to get them. Also, there is—” “Mom, I have a question for you. You do not need to answer it if you would rather not, but I would so like the answer.” She nodded and sat in the only chair in the room with them. “No one will speak to me of my sire, my father. I have asked Mary, and she has told me when the time was right, I’d be able to know all there is to know about him. I believe in my heart that no one can tell me what sort of person he was but you. It’s important to me, you see.

I would like to know why I was hidden from him. Not that I don’t believe you did the right thing. But I cannot imagine the cruelty he had without you telling me.” “It is a horrific telling, my son. One I hoped you’d never hear. But since you have asked, I will tell you of his deeds. Not just to me, but to the very people that work within and out of these walls.” He sat on the floor, and Dante produced a thick ticking for him to sit on while he listened. She did the same for herself and leaned back against the tables used for the sorting of herbs. “When I was first wed to him, by order of the then king, he was cruel even then. I wasn’t a young maiden, but a maiden all the same. Yet his lying with me was like lying with a monster. He hit me, bit me, and then when he’d filled me with his seed, he would have me tied to the bed so I’d not be able to abort any child from him with the taking of herbs or such.

I allowed that to happen to me only the one time. After that, using my magic, I’d be free and wandering around without his knowledge.” “Did you? Abort any other children by him?” She told him she’d never have done that. Not even if she had ten children, all of them girls. “I’m glad to hear that, Mom. It would have been nice to have a sibling, but I understand that it would have been difficult to want to have a child by such a monster.” Duncan sat on her lap then, just there so that she could hold him. While sitting there with his head under her chin, she told him of the things his father had done to her.

What he would have done had he ever found out about her having a son. “There were times, my son, that I would wish for death after he was finished with me. The healers had to work very hard to keep me from throwing myself from the highest peak. The wounds I would carry during my life cut harder than any other thing I have had to endure. Even a spear, which I have had plenty enough of, were nothing compared to his terror.” While not giving him a great many of the details, she did tell him of the whip he’d used. His fist, as large as her head, would slam into her body any time he saw her. Dante told her son some of the things she wished for him to remember. The decision was his mate’s, and hers alone, as to when to have children or not. There were other things too that she imparted to him.

The wisdom of keeping his mouth shut when he was angry. To not make decisions without discussing them with his mate. “Your mate will be smart, Duncan. And stronger than you will ever be. Not just in strength but also in mind. She will have knowledge that comes from being a warrior. Use that. All the birds will be able to protect you in ways I cannot see or even imagine.” He told her he’d treat his mate the opposite way from how Dante had been treated.

“Then that is all that I can ask of you, Duncan. I will die knowing you will be the greatest king that has ever lived.” “I will not disappoint you or my mate, Mom. I promise you on my heart and yours that I will treat her as the queen she will be.” He kissed her on the cheek. “Come with me now. I want to swim with you while the others are finishing up. One hour will make little difference in getting ready for a king that will not see this place.” The two of them played in the water for more than half the day. When they weren’t swimming, the two of them talked about the things she’d seen. The companies, what they were called in the future, would make him the most profit, also about when he was to sell them so as not to lose a great fortune. “There are things called market that are nothing like we have here.

They are to buy and sell stocks—I believe that is what they’re called. The things I have written for you will tell you when to buy such stocks and when to sell them. One minute will make the difference in when you sell them, Duncan. Be on time for that.” He told her he would. “Good. That is all I can ask you to do. It will be able to sustain you for years and years.” As Duncan made his way home, she mixed up her tea and took it with her to the towers. Duncan thought it would be tomorrow morning, but she didn’t know if she could go through with it if she knew he was standing not far from her. As she settled herself into the middle of the room, she looked up at the skies. The birds, all of them, were awaiting her signal. Drinking the brew straight down, she told her birds how much she had come to love them.

“Once I am gone from this world, which will not be long now, you will receive a gift from me that you’ll need to survive under the conditions of the world beyond.” She didn’t tell her birds what she’d done, that she’d poisoned herself with her own brew. Nor did she tell them she’d made it so they’d be humans. Also, they’d be true immortals and not able to be killed. Dante was afraid they’d not take down the castle but leave it for others to take over. There would be no one else to live here but her sons and the birds. Even though he didn’t know it yet, the castle would be ready for them to live in quite nicely. “You are angry. I can feel it. I’d rather you be happy that the other people that were living here are as safe as we could make them.

That without you, I don’t know that I would have been as long for this world as I was. You not only saved the people here, my birds but me as well.” Her vulture asked her why she had to die. They could carry her away. “If there is even a hint of me being not at this castle when it fell, then I will be hunted down for treason. They will not only kill me, but they’ll have their sport with me, as well as torture me to find out where my people have gone. I know I cannot survive the sort of torture they would put upon my body. I am old, and my body wouldn’t sustain as much as they will use against me to go and find them.” Her body was weak already from her magic being depleted as much as it was, but she held onto her mind for as long as she could. Telling her saviors about how she had known to find them. That they were, of all the birds around, the ones she knew would care for her and her lands. Telling them that it was time, well past the time, for the work to be done.

Then she told them one more thing before she succumbed to her death. “I love you all so very much. Had you been children of mine, I would have— You are my children. Created from me so that I could be a good queen to all that lived here. But I would have taken glory in your lives. Been a part of it that would have made me the happiest I have ever been. There has never been a greater friendship than the kind we have here. I do love you. Please, remember me fondly.” She tried to laugh a little, but she was too weak to even do that now. “Let it begin. I shall wish you all the blessings a queen can give to her mates, best friends and children that you are.” Dante was beyond feeling anything when the first stone tore into the building. It narrowly missed her, for which she was disappointed. They were thinking she might change her mind. Even if she wished to do that, it was too late. Her last vision was of her great vulture carrying a large stone up and over her. Dante closed her eyes, letting death take her before the stone could do so.

Delmar Archer’s Dynasty Release Blitz and Giveaway

Merce was a go-getter. She ran a contracting company with her father, and when she saw something that needed to be done, she did it. Archer’s company had a new product that needed to be produced, and Merce knew her company was in a perfect position to fulfill that order. She just didn’t understand why they weren’t on the list for consideration. She’d see about that.
Del was exhausted. The banging on his front door in the middle of the night was beyond infuriating. He didn’t bother getting dressed to answer it. If whoever was at the door didn’t like it, then so be it. That’s what they get for being so rude.
In all his naked glory, Del threw open the front door. Merce didn’t skip a beat in getting right to the point of her visit. The sparks fly as two stubborn souls clash for the first time….
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Chapter 1


“Del, I’m not sure what you think is going to happen with you just staring at your computer, but you’re supposed to be working.” He grinned at his boss and friend, David Soldier. “You’re not nearly as charming as you might think. In fact, I’ve never told you this before, but I think you’re downright ugly.” “Have you once looked in the mirror? I’m sure people would tell you it’s a face that only a mother could love, but you did find a woman to marry you. I can only hope that Apple never has her eyes checked, or you’re going to be in deep trouble when she gets a good look at you.” He turned his screen off when he realized it was getting later than he’d thought. “I got the specs done on the equipment we talked about and made copies of it all for tomorrow.

There are any number of plants around that could do it, but as we talked about before this project, we have to go local.” “We’re doing well, and it would be good to help out someone that is just starting out as we were doing a few years back.” He agreed, and tomorrow he was going to visit three of the local places to see if they could come up with the design that would be used in hospitals across the world. “You think any of them will be large enough to handle the kind of needs we’ll have with this?” “I haven’t any idea. But what I do know is that we won’t know for sure until we ask them.

Also, you’re taking Judy with you. She’s been wanting to branch out in what she does, and she’d rather go with you than me.” He asked him why. “I don’t know. I thought it was because she didn’t like me, but she assured me that she thought I was a great boss. But she’d rather be around you.” Going home wasn’t nearly like it used to be. He’d been living with his mom for the last few years until a few months ago. Now she was out on a cruise and wouldn’t be returning for a few days. She’d taken a job on a cruise line and was working as a cook. Getting to enjoy the cruise life seemed to suit her a great deal. Using his key, he made his way to his room to switch into something much more comfortable than a suit and then pulled out his menus.

With his mom gone, he hadn’t had a good homecooked meal in ages—at least it seemed like it to him. Ordering a dinner to be delivered was how he’d been doing it for the last few weeks. Usually, he would order double so that he’d have enough for his dinner the next night and his lunch tomorrow. Tonight he ordered himself a sub and a bag of chips. As usual, there was nothing on television, and he ended up getting on his computer and working more on the plans. It was nearly three in the morning when he finally made his way to his room, so exhausted that he didn’t know if he was going to make it to his bed. Living at home at his age wasn’t something he’d planned, but it had worked out for his mom and him. The pounding at his door startled him. Falling out of his bed, the pounding never stopped. At least until whoever it was found the doorbell, and then it was just one continuous chime as he stomped his way to the door.

Jerking it open, he grabbed the hand that was still pressing on it and pushed it away. “What the fuck do you want?” His mind registered two things at once. This was a woman, and he was naked. “It’s—I have no idea what time it is, but since it’s dark, I can only assume that—” “Can you get some clothes on? Christ, you’re naked as a jaybird.” She looked at his face when he crossed his arms over his chest and stared at her. “Seriously? You’re going to be all macho on me?” “You woke me up from a dead sleep. You take what you get. What do you want?” She told him the time.

“What do you want at five-thirty in the morning?” “You didn’t make an appointment with my firm.” He didn’t even bother asking her what the hell she was talking about but turned his back on her to go back to bed. “Do you have any coffee? I missed my breakfast too.” “Like I give a shit.” He couldn’t sleep after he got back into his bed. His anger was making him antsy. Getting up, he went to see what she was doing, hearing her singing to the radio his mom used when she was cooking. “What the hell are you doing? You’re trespassing.” “No. You didn’t tell me to leave, and you left the door open. That’s entering when you’re still here. Do you have anything to eat other than three eggs and some dried-up bread?”

Going back to his room to get dressed, Del didn’t know why, but he thought he’d be able to deal with her better if he was clothed. “You should take a shower while you’re at it. You kind of smell like old shoes.” “I fucking hate you.” He didn’t care if she heard him. However, he was glad his mom wasn’t there. She would have been disappointed in him for saying something like that, even if the woman was irritating him. Going into the bathroom, he thought he did smell, but nothing like old shoes. Turning on the water, he brushed his teeth twice and then stepped into the warm spray.

By the time he was dressed, he could smell something good coming from his kitchen. Del knew how to cook, but he didn’t enjoy it as much as his mom did. He also knew how to keep a clean house, which he did every day. But with the woman in the house, he could see where he’d left newspapers out on the coffee table, and his shoes were by the fireplace and not at the front door where they should have been. Entering the kitchen, he was surprised to see the table set for two, as well as glasses of orange juice.

“I found some concentrate in your freezer. There were all kinds of things in there we could eat while you tell me why your company skipped over mine when you were looking for project help.” He asked her who the hell she was. “Are you always this snippy in the morning? I know you live here with your mom. The whole town thought you were such a good son for coming home to help her out when she fell. Also, you might find this hard to believe—I know I do—but you’re considered a catch by all the single and not so single women in town. A couple of men too, as a matter of fact.” “Your name?” She told him. “All right, Merce Lowery. I’m assuming you have a high-level production company that can take a design and make it a reality.”

“Yes. Not only that but we’re set up to manufacture the piece in quantity as well as quality.” He dug into his omelet and thought she had taken lessons from his mom. It was that good. “You can be nice and say thank you, can’t you? I’m sure you have that in your vocabulary someplace.” Instead of doing what she asked, Del asked her for more information about her company. “What’s the name of your company, and how long have you been in business?” She answered his questions with a set of her own. He didn’t have a problem telling her the same things she was asking him, so they got a lot accomplished in a short amount of time. “Lowery Construction isn’t on our list, but perhaps it is because we thought it was just that, a construction company. Being in business for forty years, has anyone ever asked you to build them a home?

To put in a driveway or something?” “Yes to both of those. And we do that when asked. My father, Harlin Lowery, took the business from his father, and that’s how they started out. But my dad decided that if we were going to make it in this fast-paced world, we needed to be able to manufacture the things we might need, such as the arm mechanisms you’re looking to have made.” She pulled out her phone and handed it to him after searching on it. “This is the arm design we did for a car manufacturer in Maine six months ago. The next picture shows a video of our product in use on the line it was designed for.

While we did do the work on that and the design, I know your company does all their own specs and measurements for what you need. I was told this piece is for an extra arm in the operating room. To make sure that the patient is being monitored for anesthesia when there isn’t enough staff for one reason or another.” “Yes. We’re not replacing any of the staff. This will be in use when there isn’t anyone to monitor the patient if they’re understaffed. It’s happened enough that they asked us to come up with a design that could fill in when the need arose.” He watched the video twice before handing the phone back to her. “Your design is good, but this is more of a delicate operation.

The arm would need to be able to push buttons and sound an alarm when it’s needed.” Getting up, he brought her his laptop and handed it to her when he found his own mocked-up version of what they were looking for. “I can see the slick designs on this, as well as the need for it to be all stainless rather than exposed harnessing.” She enlarged the photos and looked them over as well. Merce asked him about the design and how it was put together without using things that would attract germs and other items that would cause trouble for an exposed patient. “I can work with this. We have the equipment ready to go with just a few modifications here and there.”

“Hold your horses a bit there. We have to interview the others we’ve already set the appointments with.” She nodded, but he could see the disappointment on her face. Del had no idea why, but he didn’t like that he’d put it there. “My partner, David, is going to two places tomorrow. Well, today, I guess. And I have one or two today that I’m going to hit up. I like your ability to get things moving, but we need to make this fair across the board. You’ll notice that no one else has come pounding on my door at a godawful hour to make me see their specs and ability to get the project going.”

“I did notice that. Yes. They must not be as gung ho as I am about things. I’m thinking that should count for something, don’t you?” He wasn’t sure her upbeat attitude was hiding her real feelings, or she was just like that all the time. He wasn’t sure he could handle her being the latter all the time. “Not to mention, I don’t believe any of them came by to make you something to eat either.” “It’s my food.” She shrugged and got up to start clearing the table. “I’ll do that. You cooked, and I’ll clean. It’s the way my mom taught us all how to do it.” “All of you? I’d not heard there were more than you.” He told her he had six brothers and a sister. “Your mom must be a saint. To have eight kids around all the time must have been bonkers for anyone. Where were the rest of you when you came home to be with her when she fell? Not to mention, how did she fall? Did you happen to shove her down the stairs or something?”

“I’d not do that to my mom.” He looked at her. “Now you? I can see that being tempting where you’re concerned. You do make a man wish he’d been smart enough to have run you off when you came around.” “Yeah, I have that happen a great deal.” He’d touched a nerve. Her voice and her body stance gave her away. “Anyway, you were going to tell me about the rest of your family.” “My older cousins, really their adopted siblings to us, James, who is married with three kids. They live in Japan right now while he’s working. He’s been there for about two years now. Mom used to go there to visit, but she said she’d just wait for him to come back home if it came to her seeing him again.

My stepsister, Mary, is married too. She has just one child, and he’s a little on the rotten side. But then I don’t see them much either. The same situation with them as James. She thinks it would be better to wait on them to come back here. They’re in Texas living on a ranch of some kind.” She asked him about the others. “I’m the youngest of the kids that are my biological brothers. There is Peter, Robert, William—he goes by William, by the way. I can see you calling him Bill to irritate him. Sherman, Darrel—another one that goes by his first name. And then me. Delmar. I was called Del from the first, so there’d be no confusion between me and my granddad. My dad was Del as well, but he passed away before I was born. Grandda is still around but doesn’t get out much anymore. He’s in his late eighties.

Not that he isn’t as brilliant as he’d ever been, but he doesn’t drive much and won’t allow anyone to take time out of their day to go and fetch him, as he calls it. Who do you have in your family?” “Like you, I’m the youngest. But I only have two brothers, older than me, both married with a family. I’m what one might call a late in life child. My dad was in his late forties when I was born, and my mom, who passed away a few years ago, was in her early forties. Not that she hated me or anything, but it was just too much for her to have a child so late in life, and she ended up in a nursing home when I started grade school.” He told her he was sorry. “Me too. I didn’t know her, not at all, but I have my brothers, Anthony and Carl, around to tell me things about her. To me, it sounds like she’d been having mental issues before I came along, but I keep that little tidbit to myself. I also have my grandda, who is now in a nursing home, and my dad.

Who I love with all that I am.” They talked for a little while longer, and when she yawned, causing him to yawn after her, he told her he needed to take a nap. After she told him she’d be back later to see what he’d been able to figure out, he offered her his mom’s room and was surprised when she took him up on it. However, when she was nearly asleep as he told her it was hers to use, Del made his way to his room and turned on his alarm. He still had work to do. ~*~ Merce woke, not knowing for a moment where she was. Stretching when she remembered, she looked around the massive bedroom and wondered at the things that seemed to be sitting on every available space. Getting up, feeling like she’d slept the best sleep she’d ever known, she looked at the pictures scattered around the room like a shotgun blast. Mingled in with the photos, there were things like bottles of sand and a plaster cast of childlike hands. Merce marveled at the things, like a baby blanket behind glass in a frame. There were sad mementos as well as happy ones.

A funeral card from what she assumed was Del’s father. An obituary cut out from a newspaper that told of the death of three members of a household that died together. While she had no idea who they were, she knew that it had touched something deep inside of the woman that used this room as her own. Reading it over, Merce put it back just where she found it after reading about the two children and their mother dying from smoke inhalation, then the fire. Going into the bathroom, she also saw the whimsical part of Mrs. Archer. There were pictures of children in the same bathtub that was in this room. Somehow Merce thought it was Mrs. Archer’s own children, taking a bath at the end of a long day of play and adventure. A beautiful little boy was waving at the camera, his truck taking a bath with him covering his manly parts.

Two little boys about the same age were playing with bubbles on their head and chin, just as she’d done a million times when she’d been younger. The wallpaper was floral, the towel colors an exact match to it. There were rugs on the floor that she curled her toes into. They were that soft. A shower stall was hidden behind a small door that she fell in love with. Scented soaps and shampoo lined the top. Merce found herself wishing she’d gotten to meet the other woman while she was here. She knew she’d like her. Perhaps if they were to get the project job, she’d get to know the woman a little.

Taking a shower felt wonderful. Washing her hair twice with the herbal shampoo, she made a note of the brand so that she could get herself some. After drying off, she pulled one of the huge thirsty towels around her and stepped back into the bedroom. A woman stood there smiling at her with a piece of luggage in both hands. “You must be Merce.” Merce nodded and told her she was. “I’m Del’s mother, Katie Archer. Normally I’d not know who was in the house while I was away, but my son left you a note on the kitchen table. I didn’t read it, so if he had any date with you this evening, you’ll have to find out from him.”

“We’re not. Dating, I mean. I came and woke him up in the middle of the night to ask…well, argue with him about why he’d not asked my company to make his design.” Her face heated up. “That didn’t come out well either.” “I don’t imagine it did. I’m sure he didn’t take the time to cover himself up either.” Again her face heated up, and Merce thought the other woman was enjoying this just a little too much. “Yes, well, I’m going to drop these things off here, and I’ll meet you down in the kitchen. I’m going to have to make arrangements with my kids to come and have dinner with me tonight. I’ve missed them all.” Hurriedly dressing, she made her way downstairs and wondered if the older two were in town.

Somehow she didn’t think so, or Merce was sure Del would have mentioned it. Stepping into the kitchen again, she was startled by the changes that had only just taken place in the few hours she’s been sleeping. “I have a flower garden and an herb garden out back. When I can, I bring them in the house so I can enjoy their scents. I use them to cook as well, but today they’re just for show.” Merce asked about the large boxes on the counter. “Oh, those are from Mr. Carder. He’s been holding things for me while I was away. Nothing too important like mail, but some of the tomatoes he had in his garden that he made into sauces for me.

There is some squash that he put into canning jars as well. I told him we didn’t need that much anymore now that my kids are grown, but he insists that I might sometimes, and he makes sure I have them.” There was a basket of eggs—fresh, she’d bet—and apples, as well as smaller baskets of cherries, blackberries, and fruits she didn’t know. Picking up a pear, Merce inhaled deeply as she asked if she could have it. “Oh, of course. I never turn someone away when there are extras around. When you leave here, I’ll send a few things home with you. After dinner, of course.” Merce asked if she was staying for dinner. “You are. I’ve spoken to Del, and he said he wanted to speak to you about a couple of things. And the others are coming too. I’ll be in heaven.”

“Are James and Mary coming as well?” The knife that Katie was using dropped into the sink, and blood dripped from her hand. “You’re bleeding. I’m so sorry. I didn’t mean to startle you, or whatever I did. Here, let me have a look at it.” Katie allowed her to look at the cut. For whatever reason, she was sure this wasn’t her normal way of dealing with a cut. Having her sit down in a chair, Merce held pressure on the wound while Katie spoke. Merce watched the painful emotions as she told her what had happened. “Several years ago, as if I didn’t have the date burned into my heart, I went out to see James. He and Mary were living in Texas then, and I had gone to visit them. James’s wife had just given birth, and I wanted to see their little baby.

I was technically his grandma.” Merce didn’t need to encourage Katie to continue when she paused in her telling. However, it was on her mind that Katie wasn’t talking to her so much as she was just letting off a little pain. “James and Mary were my sister’s children. The obituary you were reading, that was her. I took them when their father, who had killed the three of them, was taken to prison. They’re older than my kids. In fact, I hadn’t been married yet, and we had no children. When Del and I had our first boy, the two of them seemed to start growing distant from me. But after a time, they seemed to get over it.

Then the others came along. When Del was born, and my husband died, they were nearly out of school. James was living here going to college. Mary was going to a tech school to be a nurse.” “They hurt you, didn’t they?” Katie told her it was far worse than that. “I’m so sorry. I’ve only known you for a few minutes, but I feel like you’re the best person to have in someone’s corner.” “Thank you, my dear. That was very needed and extremely nice of you. When James had his son, as I said, I went out to see him. I was so excited. My Del, the youngest, had already started college. He was very smart and was taking night classes while finishing high school.” She smiled at her. “I’m putting off telling you. I need to, but I don’t want to as well. I was there for a day and a half when James told me that he wished to speak to me. Mary came over, and he sent his wife out to do some shopping. I didn’t understand.

She took the little boy with her when I said I’d watch over him. James told me he didn’t want me to have anything to do with him or his family from now on.” “I’m going to hunt him down and tear his dick out, just so you know.” Katie laughed, but Merce wasn’t kidding. “What was his reason for saying such a thing to you? He’d better have had a damned good one for it.” “He said that when I took them in, it was all right with them to have lived here at first. Since I had no one but them to care for, Mary even agreed that they enjoyed being around me. After I married my Del, James told me it was all right because he had made it so I could devote all my time to them when he was away. Del traveled a great deal as a trucker, and I no longer had to work full time.

Neither of us did, in actuality. We only did it because we got to know people around town. Not to mention, it was a nice way to find out what was needed to help out.” Katie got up and put a kettle with water in it on the stove as she continued. “Mary said I was selfish to have had other children, that I didn’t need them when I had her and her brother. That me not just being their mother was wrong of me, and they wished that instead of their mother dying, it had been me. I didn’t know what to say to them. I actually had a moment of fear that they’d killed her after the twins were born. Anyway. They went on about how I had ruined their lives. How I had stolen a good life from them by being a mother to my own children.

They didn’t care, you see, that my own children were what made me happy. That raising the two of them for my now-dead sister was something I had thought was wonderful as well because they were all the connection I had to her. The two of them wanted things their way, and they were never going to forgive me for doing such a horrid thing as having a family of my own when I should have been there just for them.” “They’re little pricks. You know that, don’t you?” They both turned when someone spoke from the doorway. It was Del. He agreed with her. “She was hurt by those two, and I’m going to hunt them down and take care of their asses. You want to join me?”

“Yes.” Katie hugged her son and then hugged him again as she cried on his shoulder. “I’m so sorry, Mom. I didn’t know anything had happened. Do the others know?” “No. I know I should have told you all, but I was so afraid you’d tell me the same thing.” Del asked her if her head had been hurt while she was gone. “No. And I’d appreciate it if you didn’t take the tone with me, young man.” “I love you, Mom.” She kissed him on the cheek. When he handed Merce the bags he’d had in his hands, she took them to the counter so she could help out, not sure what she could do, but she felt like an intruder right now. “Merce, do I have you to thank for this revelation? If I do, then I thank you very much. I think she’s been holding it in for some time now.”

“Del, leave the girl alone. What did you bring home? Everything I told you?” He said he thought he had, but he kept staring at Merce. Merce finally turned and looked at him. His mom kept talking about the food in the bag while the two of them stood there. The phone ringing took Katie out of the room, and Del asked her again if she’d done this. “I only asked her about your stepbrother and sister and if they were coming over when she said she was going to call her kids here.” He nodded and laid a file on the table. “I’m sorry, Del. I didn’t know there was bad water between them. By the way, I want you to know that I like your mom, and right now, I want to go there and beat the shit out of the two of them. How could they do that to her?”

“I don’t know. She’s a wonderful person. But it’s all right. I think I’ve known for a while that she was hurting about them. I hadn’t noticed the missing cards at her birthday and the holidays until I came here to help her out. And no, I didn’t shove her down the stairs.” She told him she was sorry about that. “Don’t be. I owe you for this. I think she’ll be able to talk about it now that the wound is open. I really am grateful to you for having her talk about it.” Merce hadn’t really done anything but talk to the other woman. And she really did like her. But those others, her stepchildren, needed to have their heads knocked around. Not a little bit either. She was beginning to like her grandda’s saying of sparing the rod would spoil the children. Their parents must have been real wieners.

Quinlan Release Blitz & Giveaway

Sometimes, Rogue didn’t much care for her job, but it paid well, and she was damn good at it. As a forensic photographer, Rogue’s job was sometimes a bit more than she could handle. Especially when there were kids involved. But she could always vent to her college buds, Loman and Cass Foster.
Quin had heard all about Rogue from his brothers, and he was anxious to meet her. Loman and Cass said they owed their lives to Rogue, but they wouldn’t give Quin any of the details.
As soon as Rogue arrived, Quin realized she was his mate, but as soon as she met Don’s mate Parker, it was chaos, leaving Parker heartbroken and Rogue hurt. Rogue was steaming mad, and Quin’s lion wanted to protect her, but Parker was family too. Quin was stuck between a rock and a hard place.
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Brook Garrett had learned to live by her wits. When she was very young, she lost her father to a car crash. When her mother remarried, her nightmare really began. A few years later, her mother died the same way. She was next.​Ronan Foster was an officer out on medical leave. He was a lion and wasn’t hurt in the least, but the guy responsible for shooting him would go free if he didn’t take the sabbatical. The guy was for much more than shooting him, and justice needed to be served. Trust was hard for Brook. Her stepparents had seen to that. Now the big lion was telling her that they were mates and she wasn’t sure how she felt about that. She had been doing just fine without a man in her life….

Parker Carter spent eight years in prison for a crime she didn’t commit—murdering her father. Now that the justice system had finally admitted their mistake, Parker was set free. Parker could have left anytime she wanted, she was a powerful witch, but for reasons of her own, she had remained locked up and didn’t use any of her magic.
Donahue Foster, a teacher at the local school, was having a hard time resting. Taking a run and stretching his legs as his lion was something he hadn’t done in a while. He hadn’t gotten far when he noticed two things, he smelled fresh blood, and he felt a presence. Don was dumbfounded when the woman used a mind link to communicate with him. She told him her name was Parker Carter, she didn’t like people, and she was his mate.
Don was so stunned with that news that he was nearly run over by the night hunters Parker chased off.
Now that Parker was back, her past needed to be settled. Half-truths and well-kept secrets needed to be exposed. And the possession of her mother, Meggie, was the most mind-boggling of all. What kind of screwed-up magic was this?




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Prologue


Glancing at the clock, Lily counted down the time she had left to work. Her feet hurt, her back was killing her, and she thought if she were to sit down right now, she’d never get up again. This was the problem with being overeducated, unmarried, with four kids at home wondering where their next meal was coming from. Smiling, she thought of her sister and what she was going to say to her when she arrived tomorrow night. Lily knew the first thing she was going to say to her. She’d want to know where the hell her head had been when she’d taken on three kids that weren’t hers. Lily would tell her what she said to anyone that asked. She loved them. But she also knew Rogue would love them too. If nothing else, her sister would strive to be the best aunt to them and would love them as much as she did. Her sister was one of a kind.

A year and a half ago, Lily had been happy, about to be married and living in a home for the first time in her adult life. Then, as life would sometimes do, it shit on her. Mark was killed in a robbery. She assumed, sadly so, that she and the kids would be taken care of. But that didn’t pan out either. His ex-wife had sued her for the house and insurance before Mark had even been buried. Not only did she win the suit against her—even though everything, from the insurance and house to the cars in the garage, were in her name with Mark’s—in the end, Lily had been left with nothing. Less than nothing because while she’d been earning a nice check each week, the money had been in the checking account she’d shared with Mark. The bitch had gotten her money too. The kids, however, had been nothing Missy, his ex-wife, had wanted.

They were hers, of course, but since Mark had won full custody of them, she saw no reason to take them with her when she robbed them of even a home to live in. The attorney for Missy had told Lily several times how sorry he was and that he wished he’d been on her side. Lily was glad she was there for them when their father had loved them so dearly. Even her own son, Gabe, Mark had treated the same as he had his own children. “Lily, there’s a phone call for you. I think it’s your daughter.” Nodding, she took the call in the boss’s office of the restaurant she worked in. Billy, at fifteen, was in charge of the others when she had to work. “Mom, there is a person here who says she’s your sister. She’s nothing like you, is she? If she is your sister.

I don’t know if I like her or not.” Lily laughed and asked her to put her on the phone. “I’d have to let her in. Are you willing to bet she’s your sister?” “All right. To test your theory, and it is a good one, ask her what her first name is. If she won’t tell you, it’s her. By the way, her middle name is Rogue. She won’t allow anyone to call her by her first one.” She heard Billy asking her what her first name was and the reply she got from Rogue. “You tell your mother that I’m going to kick her ass all the way to my car and back if she so much as gives anyone my fucking first initial. You tell her I didn’t come all this way to—” Billy must have believed her because she was talking to Rogue as she finished talking about the things she was going to do to her when she found her.

“I’m not above kicking your ass, even though you’re older than me.” “I believe you. I’m so glad you’re there. But I thought you weren’t coming until tomorrow. What happened?” Rogue didn’t answer her but asked a question of her own. “Yes, we’re staying in a one-bedroom apartment. It’s all I can afford. There is plenty of room if you discount the fact that I’m rarely home anymore, trying to keep up with the rent and food for the five of us.” “One of them is giving me the evil eye right now. Doesn’t she know I’m her aunt and the one she should be buttering up?” Lily told Rogue they didn’t understand buttering people up, as they didn’t know anyone with anything they would share with them. “You need to get you a good attorney, Lily. If I had been around, she never would have gotten away with this.” “Yes, well, that costs money.

Money I don’t have. I’m so glad you’re here. I’ve missed you. Where are you going to stay?” She asked her if she could move them in with her. “I don’t know, Rogue. Are you still living out of a suitcase?” “Pretty much. But today I’m in a hotel that has three rooms and a kitchenette. I’m going to gather the kids up, hit a pizza place, and meet you after work.” She told her the name of the hotel she was staying at. “If you want, I can come pick you up. The kid in charge here said you walked to work because you have no car. Didn’t I tell you I’d pay for one for you to use until I could make it back here?” “That would be Billy. She’s fifteen.” Rogue asked her how she could keep them all straight. “You can do that when you love them as much as I do. I’ll be getting off here at around eleven. If you could pick me up, I’d love it.

I’m too exhausted to walk much more today.” Lily knew that by the time she got home, not only would Rogue have all their names straight, but she’d know everything there was to know about them. She’d even bet they’d have a few changes of good clothing, a toy or two if they wanted, and Billy and Gabe, the oldest two, would have some kind of handheld game that Rogue knew how to play as well as any teenager. At eleven, Lily clocked out. She’d done well in tips tonight and was still counting them out when her sister pulled up in a gray SUV. All four of her children were in the back seats and buckled in properly. Lily asked her what she was doing with such a big car.

“I rented it while I’m here. By the way, I was told none of them needed to be in a car seat. I’m still thinking smart mouth back there, Donna, needs to have a roll of tape over her mouth. She’s just like me.” With a large grin from Rogue, Lily turned to look at Donna. She gave her a thumbs up. “I’m moving you into a house I rented. I don’t want to hear about how you’re fine in that place you were at. There is only one bathroom and five people sharing it. You know me, can’t stand to share anything.” “You’re a wonderful sharer. Is that a word?” Rogue pulled out of the parking lot and onto the road. It was on the tip of her tongue to ask her how far she was going to be walking now but she didn’t. The kids were talking quietly, the music, something that Rogue had on all the time, was just background noise, and the seat was comfy.

Being awakened by the door opening and the light coming on startled her. Turning in the seat to count the kids, something she did every time they were out, she saw they were pulling things from the back of the car. Getting out, Rogue handed her a heavy bag of what appeared to be food and told her to take it into the house. It was just after one in the morning when the kids finally made it up to the bedrooms. Lily just wanted to lie down and never wake up, but Rogue said she wanted to talk to her about something. Lily had seen how much she’d paid for the food before Rogue had snatched the receipt from her and wanted to say a few things to her as well.

“Okay. Two things. I can afford whatever is running through your mind to say to me about the purchases tonight. More if you need it. The house belongs to a buddy of mine who is out of the country right now. In effect, we’re doing him a favor, he told me, by being here and keeping the lights on. Also, I have another friend that has a brother who is an attorney. I’m going to call him first thing in the morning. There is no reason whatsoever she should have gotten anything at all from Mark’s estate.” Lily felt her eyes fill with tears. “If you start crying, I’m going to cry, and we’re going to be a slobbery mess when the kids get up in a few hours.” “I’ve so missed you.”

They hugged again. They’d been hugging since they got here, and it felt better every time they did. “Missy, the kids’ mom, told the judge right there in the courtroom that the kids were heathens anyway and should be with me. Rogue, the kids were in the room when she said that. How could anyone do that to a child, let alone their own child?” “There are plenty of people out there that would, and who do it daily. She’s shit, and we’re going to take care of her as soon as possible.” Lily told her she hoped so. “I know you’ve not done it yet, so I will. We need to call Dad and make him aware of what is going on. I know you and him parted on bad terms, but this isn’t likely to get resolved soon, and it would be nice if he was in your corner.”

“He was having an affair when Mom was laying there dying.” Rogue didn’t comment, but she knew what she was thinking. “It doesn’t matter that Mom had been in a coma for eight years. He should have been faithful to her. Getting married not a month after she was laid to rest was a terrible thing to do to her memory.” “What sort of memories do you have of Mom, Lily? Want me to tell you about mine? She had a stroke when I was barely two. From that point on, the only time I saw her was when Dad would load us up in the car and take us to see her at the nursing home. I haven’t any idea what her voice sounded like. I don’t know the color of her eyes. She wasn’t ever able to do any of the things for me that she did for you when you were younger. No cookie baking. No PTA meetings. Mom was in a coma when I needed her. How do you think Dad coped when he needed someone?” Lily told her it wasn’t Mom’s fault. “No, it wasn’t anyone’s fault. Mom had a stroke that took her away from both of us, but especially Dad. And he did try. You know that.”

“I know. But only a month. I was just getting used to not going to see her when he married again.” Rogue again said nothing. “I guess we’re still going to agree to disagree about this.” “I suppose so. But I have something I’d like for you to think about. We had each other when Mom was alive. Dad had no one. Did he ever bring her to our home? Did Dad ever once mention to either of us that he was finding love someplace else? No, he didn’t. You want to know why he might have done that? Because he never wanted us to be hurt. I think what he did in sparing us was more loving than anything anyone could have done for us.” Lily hadn’t thought of it that way.

“Another thing he did too. He didn’t ever not visit Mom every day. He took care of her the best he could when she came home from the nursing home in those last days. He did this, all by himself, while we got to live and have a life. Dad did all of that for us. Then after Mom passed, Dad got to live for himself. I think what he did took a great deal of courage. Things could have been a great deal different if he’d not loved and respected Mom the way he did.” When Rogue went to bed, Lily sat there for another hour. Everything Rogue said was true. Some of it was things she’d said to her before, but thinking back on the way they had lived while their mom was alive, Lily could see their dad trying hard to make their lives as normal as possible.

Yes, he’d done that, and more, for both of them. Lily decided to give him a call tomorrow. Lily got up at seven, nearly an hour after she should have been up and moving. The kids were going to be late for school. They didn’t have their lunches made, and she was really thinking about letting them stay home for the day when she made it to the kitchen. The house was empty of any sound. The note on the table had her snatching it up, sure that someone had taken her children from her. “Breathe and calm the hell down.” She let out a long breath when she read the first words that her sister had written on the note. “I gave the kids lunch money and took them to school. Gabe has given me a list of things they’ll need now, and I’m picking it up on the way home.

If you’re reading this, just sit down, calm down, and have whatever you drink in the morning, and I’ll be there soon. Christ, I love these kids.” Lily was brewing a cup of tea that was on the counter when Rogue came back. Her usual brew was a cup of coffee, but there didn’t seem to be a coffee maker in the room. Helping her bring in the things she’d picked up, Lily was positive that a computer wasn’t on the list her son had given his aunt. “It wasn’t. I need it. If they can use it too, that’s fine by me. But I have several shots I need to take care of and get them printed. Your boss called this morning. He said the place has been closed up for the next ten days. Something about a fire inspector. Are you really working at a place that needs to be shut down by the fire marshal?” Lily told her sister what had happened last night. “Okay, having the fire extinguisher go off over the stove is messy. It’ll be more than ten days, I’m betting. They’ll have to inspect it before he’ll be able to reopen. If they find any of that retardant on anything in the kitchen area, he’ll shut you down again.”

Lily didn’t care how messy it was to clean up. All she could focus on was not having money coming in for ten days or more. Rogue shook her shoulders. She must have said something to her several times. There was a look of complete concern on her face just then. “Are you going to listen to me now?” Nodding, she said she would. “Good. As I’ve told you several times, I have enough money to support you and the kids until we get this court thing looked into. If you can hold the fort down while I make a few calls, maybe I can get it resolved before the restaurant reopens, and you won’t have to go back. Just chill out. Together we can keep the kids happy and fed. Don’t freak out about money, Lily. I told you, I make great money at my job, and I don’t have anyone or anything to spend it on but you and the kids. All right? Say it’s all right, Lily.” “It’s all right.” Hugging her sister, something that she was coming to depend on to get her going, she looked at her when they were apart.

“I’m also going to call Dad. You’re right. I was being selfish to him.” “I never said that.” Lily said she knew that too but felt that way. “I have his number. I’ll give it to you. Then I’m going to call my buddy. If he can’t help us, I’m betting he knows someone that can.” Lily got the number and wondered at the area code. It occurred to her that she had no idea where her dad was living nor what he was doing with his life. Picking up the phone to call him, she decided that she needed to get help. There wasn’t anything she could do alone that wouldn’t go much better with help. Lexi answered the phone on the second ring. “Hello, Lexi. It’s Lily. Is there any way I can talk to my dad for a little bit?” Lexi said he’d just gone to the store, but she’d love to talk to her. “I’ve a major problem here….” Telling her everything she had going on, Lily and Lexi were both sobbing by the time her dad was back home and available to talk to her. She wanted her daddy here. After promising Lexi a hug, Lily wanted a hug from her dad too.

Donald Dalton Kiss Release Blitz&Giveaway

Donald had been in the room with the women for a while. He knew one of them was his mate, but their scents were so similar he couldn’t tell which one it was. He took the women home one at a time. CJ and Rachel were the last to leave. It was then that Donald knew which one was his mate. He didn’t know which one of them was taking it harder, either.
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Kelly Roman was good at her job. As a forensic anthropologist, she could help the dead and help the families find closure. The one thing she hated about her job was her boss, Shamus Van. That man was out to sabotage everything she did. And when he brought in the new chief of police, Bancroft Dalton, to make her look bad, that was the last straw. She’d quit before they had a chance to fire her.

When Bancroft showed up at her front door, he asked to be invited in, and when he told her he couldn’t lie to her, it set off all kinds of bells and whistles in Kelly’s suspicions. It wasn’t the fact that he was a vampire that bothered her, it was the part about him not being able to lie to her. She knew shifters couldn’t lie to their mates. There was no way in hell she was letting a man barge into her life and take over….

Elizabeth Strickland, Lizzy, to her friends, found herself in a predicament. The last thing she remembered was attending her own bachelorette party, then waking up in a cave with six other women. They all had wounds, just like hers, only they were dead. Lizzy had awakened as a newborn vampire. She had no idea why they died, and she had lived, but she had wished every day that she had died with them.

Stanley Remy, better known as just Remy, was an old vampire and close friends with Bancroft, their leader. He had his own issues. He was being falsely charged with making baby vamps and leaving them to fend for themselves.

Lizzy just wanted the bodies of the other women found. Once they were, she had every intention of meeting the sun. What she didn’t need were two overbearing old vampires dictating to her what she could and couldn’t do. She had killed her maker, she wouldn’t hesitate to take them out if they didn’t let her be.

But then Remy gifted her with something she never thought she’d have again. To feel the sun without burning. She could have her life back. Maybe this mate thing wouldn’t be so bad after all.

If only it were that simple….

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Prologue


CJ stretched out on the lawn chair and looked up at the sky. It would be snowing before morning, and she, for one, was looking forward to the cold that would end things for a while—bugs and the like. Smiling, she stood up and felt the snap of the cold touch her skin. The way the breeze blew through her hair, making it feel colder when it touched her skin again. Once she made her way into the house, she gathered up the things to make some brewed tea. She’d not had any in so long her mouth was watering for a little sip. “I heard you come in. Have you had enough sunshine today?” Circe Jane Montgomery told her sister, Pfeiffer, that she’d never have enough sunshine. “The rest of us in the world are scrambling for something warmer, and you’re outside without a coat. Or shoes, for that matter.” “I love the cold.” That was an understatement. CJ couldn’t think of a word that would say how much she loved the cold. “I was thinking of having a nice cup of apple tea. Would you like a cup?”

“I would love one. Also, I baked apple scones yesterday.” She told her sister that was more than likely the reason she’d been craving it. “Could be. Before I forget to tell you yet again, there is a schedule opening at the store in the morning for you if you’d like to pick it up.” “I would love to pick it up.” She would love to go to work tomorrow. That would leave her the rest of the day to do her other job. The one that paid their bills and made sure they had money in the bank. Working was one of the many ways she helped her big sister. “Are you and the girls going to be working on cookies tomorrow? I know they are planning the entire day around being with you.” “They’ve told me. I don’t know how much energy I’ll have for it, but I’m going to spend the day with them.” Pfeiffer wasn’t just her big sister, but she was her much older one. There was almost twenty years difference in their ages.

Pfeiffer’s daughters, Sally and Rachel, were about the same age as CJ. “I saw that you picked up the ingredients for snickerdoodles. Don’t you like any other cookie than that?” “I can eat other cookies, but I don’t like them as much as I do those. Sally makes them just right, just enough cinnamon to sugar all over them.” Both her nieces could cook and bake like their mom. CJ was lucky if she could brew a pot of tea without forgetting about the water until it was all gone. Twice that had happened to her.

“When is Rachel coming home?” “Tonight sometime. She said she was going to drive straight through. I begged her not to, but she’s as stubborn as you are.” That, she was sure, her sister didn’t think of as a compliment. “Then we’re all going to get up early and go out for breakfast.” CJ would join them in their baking if she was off, but she didn’t enjoy herself. She did love them all, but they were mother and daughters, and having her there made them have to divide their time with her too. She wanted them to spend time with their mother. CJ would if she still had hers around.

Sipping her tea with her sister, they talked about the cookies they were going to bake. The three of them could have several hundred dozen cookies baked in two days and not eat a single one of them. CJ would be sick after eating a lot of cookie dough and then trying any cookie that came out of the oven. Her weakness was sweets. But her biggest was snickerdoodles. At six, they both sat in the living room to watch the news. Dinner was over, they’d cleaned up the kitchen, and now this was the time they settled into the couch. CJ didn’t much care for sitting idle, so she would work on her laptop to get a fresh start for the morning. The house belonged to her sister now, so she set the rules for the television. Before that, their mother had owned it. Mom had left the house to the two of them. When things got to the point where Pfeiffer needed to take a loan out for college for Sally, Pfeiffer bought her out so she could use the house as collateral. CJ never bothered having it transferred back into her name. It wasn’t something she was worried about. When the news was over, they watched a couple of game shows.

It was a nightly thing they both had been doing before their mom passed away. It was also their time to talk about what was going on around town, which Pfeiffer knew the most about. “Did I tell you that Mr. Rogers got off with no fine and no jail time?” CJ loved that old man and would have taken him to see his wife had she known. “There is a new program getting started to help people out that don’t have much in the way of food or transportation. I hope it works out. There are a lot of people out there that need help most of the time.” They had too before she got a good job. Like when a big bill came due at the same time as the taxes. It didn’t happen as much as it used to, not with them simply not using the credit cards to pay for things. Borrowing from a credit card company to pay the electric bill or whatever was coming due had nearly made them lose their home. They were doing all right now.

Sally had graduated from college to be a teacher at the same time CJ had. Rachel was in her last year. As soon as Rachel graduated, she’d get a good job as a nurse and be able to pave her own life. “I heard from the bank again today.” CJ asked her what he had wanted. “Other than for me to go out with him, he wanted to know if we wanted to refinance this house. I have no idea why we’d want to refinance a house that we own. I told him no again and no to the dating thing too. I’m not ready for that.” “Not that I think you should date Daniel Benson, but you really should be dating again.” Pfeiffer just looked at her. “Okay, we both should be dating, but it’s been almost ten years. Aren’t you ready to get your body waxed up for some sex-starved man?” “He would have to be sex-starved to want to sleep with me.”

CJ told her sister they didn’t usually do much sleeping when they were sex-starved. “Very funny. When are you going to date again? I think it’s been longer than I have since you went out on a— Oh, CJ, I’m so sorry.” “It’s all right.” She looked away so her sister wouldn’t see the hurt. “It’s been a while, I know that. But he hurt me, and I’m afraid. It took me four years to learn it wasn’t my fault, even though he blamed me and to say that he hurt me.

I think it was money well spent.” They didn’t speak for a few minutes, and she was all right with that. She and her sister could go days without really talking about anything serious, and it never really bothered either of them. Sometimes the quiet was better than emptying out one’s brains, as her grannie said. “I was just thinking of Grannie myself.” Pfeiffer was like that. She could latch onto whatever a person was thinking without a second thought. “When was the last time you saw her? I’ve not been in about a week. She doesn’t like me as much as she does you anyway.” “She loves you. And the girls. I went to see her just this morning on my way back from my run. Grannie still asks me why I run if there isn’t anyone chasing me. But we had a nice talk. And she and I had breakfast together.”

Pfeiffer asked her if that was her second or third breakfast this morning. “I do believe it was only my second this time. Anyway, she was telling me about this blanket I should make. I don’t know where she comes up with this idea that I can quilt, but she always has a rough draft of a pattern when she thinks of one.” “You look so much like Mom. Maybe that’s it. Mom loved to quilt. She wasn’t as good as Grannie, but we stay warm all winter with her quilting. Well, most of us do. Do you have any more than a sheet on your bed in the winter months?” CJ told her she had one quilt on her bed. “Small wonder. I remember Dad being like you are, overheated all the time. However, I don’t think I ever saw him walking around in the snow without shoes on. It’s a miracle you have any feeling in your feet at all.” “I have lots of feelings in my feet, thank you very much.” They both laughed, and CJ asked her why she’d brought up Grannie. “I was just thinking about how she would always have some saying about something you were doing. Like emptying your brains out.”

“Yes, she did at that. I remember thinking she was nuts when I was a kid. She’d say something like that and then just walk away like I was supposed to be able to decipher whatever the heck she was talking about. My least favorite one was, ‘Bachelor’s wives and maid’s children are well taught.’ That is a contradiction all the way around.” “Of course it is. I know the meaning. Do you want me to explain it to you?” Pfeiffer looked at her oddly, and CJ smiled. “I promise you I know what it means. It means that a childless man and a childless woman have no knowledge about maintaining a good idea about things they don’t have. You see? They have these opinions about child-rearing that are wrong because they have nothing to base it on.” “Okay, that does make it sound right. What other tidbits of information do you have about her sayings? Let me think of one.” While her sister thought about what Grannie used to say, CJ read over the email that had just entered her box. It was from her boss. As her emails were coded, she put in the password to open it up. “Something wrong?”

“I’m not sure. I have this email about the last job I did. He’s saying he didn’t get it. However, not only does it have the work order number on it that I assigned, but the attachment is attached to the reply he sent.” Pfeiffer asked her if that made better sense in her head. “Yes. What I mean is, I attached the job to an email that he just replied to me on. On it is the attached job. It’s been opened too. The email and the attachment.” “How do you know he opened them?” She said her email told her that. “You can fix it, so you know if someone opens your email? I’d like to have that on mine. I have people telling me all the time they didn’t get their bill.” “I’ll fix it for you in the morning. Not only will it tell you if someone opened it, but also which computer it was opened on. Like you’d know it was me that opened it because of the IP address that’s there.” She looked at her sister’s expression. “You have no idea what I’m talking about, do you? How can you live here with me and not have a clue what I’m going on about most of the time?” “Because you’re brilliant, and I’m just a homebody that loves you to pieces?” CJ hugged her as she dug into the popcorn bowl. “As for Grannie, I’m not sure I will ever figure her out.

She’s a great deal like you in all ways. I think I remember her being warm all the time too. Must have skipped me. Thankfully.” CJ laughed. They watched television until ten, then CJ went up to her room. She didn’t go to bed but worked from her computer for a while before she’d lay down. Never being one that needed a full eight hours of sleep, CJ could sleep for an hour or two before getting up fresh as a daisy. Not her sister or nieces. If they didn’t get at least eight or nine hours, they were crabby all day. And she’d never get in the way of their first cup of coffee. CJ didn’t have vices like that to get her going. She could even skip eating a meal sometimes. Her phone ringing woke her from a dead sleep. It took her only seconds to realize the person on the other end of the phone had the wrong number. She asked him to slow down and say what he needed once more. “I’ve found a woman on the side of the road.”

Okay, CJ sat up in her bed, pulling on clothing as he continued. “She’s been hurt badly, and I’m helping her along. The last number she called was this one. I don’t know her name, but I was wondering if you could meet me at the hospital.” “Where are you?” He told her which road he was on and the mile marker. “Okay. You said the woman had been beaten up. Can you tell me what she looks like?” Instead of answering her, she got a picture of the woman. It was her niece Rachel, and she did look really bad. Her mind skittered over his comment that he was helping her along, and she refused to think he was helping her along by hurting her more. CJ grabbed her keys and was out the door before she spoke again. “I’m on my way. The hospital closest to you is Mercy. Can you get her there?” He said he was standing outside their emergency room doors now. “What are you? Who are you?” “My name is Brian. Vampire. Are you going to have a hissy fit now about this?” She asked him if that was the usual reaction he got when he saved someone’s life. “Yes. Vampires have a bad rep.”

“So long as you’re helping my niece, I’m all right with you being whatever you need to be. I’m leaving my house now. I’m not telling her mom until I’m positive it’s her.” Brian asked her if she was usually so cautious. “You have no idea.” It was the longest drive of her life. Twenty minutes cut down to fifteen wasn’t bad, but she wanted to get there in one piece. As soon as she walked into the ER, she stopped at the desk. Whatever was going on, CJ had a feeling that somehow it was her fault. ~*~ Brian watched the two women. CJ had called her sister when Rachel was taken to surgery. Her voice was calm, and even though she’d not shared the information with him, he knew that CJ was blaming herself for her niece being hurt. Pfeiffer, he assumed when they hugged, came in just as he was going to try and leave them to their family.

The much younger woman hugged her as well. He knew they were all related by the way they looked like clones of one another. “Don’t leave.” He shook his head at CJ and said he couldn’t add anymore than he already had to the police. “I understand. You did save her life. You have no idea how much that means to all of us.” He could have told her more than he had the police. Brian could have told her that he had the scent of the two men that had beaten the young lady. The place where her car had been run off the road, and the woman trying to get away from them. However, he didn’t. Being involved at all was something he didn’t feel comfortable about. But when he got to Bancroft’s, he was going to tell him everything, including who the men were and how he’d killed them both. There was evidence, too, that they had thought they had the woman in front of him. CJ was wanted by a lot of unsavory people.

“I just happened to be in the right place at the right time.” She pointed to her lip and said he had a little spot on him. Licking away the drop of blood, he smiled at her. “You’re taking this very well for not knowing about my kind.” “I know a great deal about your kind. I don’t believe I’ve ever met a vampire before, but….” When she looked around, he did as well. But instead of talking to him about it, she pulled him into the ladies’ room. After checking each stall, she locked the door. “Do you happen to know a person by the name of Bancroft? I’m not sure if that’s his last or first name. Wait, don’t answer that. I doubt you were going to anyway, but don’t answer.

If you happen to come across him at any point soon, you should tell him a task force is being put together that is hoping to kill him off.” “Do you happen to know why? I mean, if I ever run across him in my lifetime, he might well ask me the same question.” She nodded. This time she put out her hand and put a thumb drive into his palm as they shook hands. He nodded. “You just happened to have this on you in the event you found a vampire?” “No. I have that on me all the time. If it were to fall into the wrong hands, I wouldn’t be found.” Brian wondered what was on the drive and why she trusted him with it. “I can see you have thousands of questions. I do, as well. However, I can tell you this much here. I work for different companies by putting security systems in place.

Firewalls if they want them. Sometimes it’s only putting in a program that gets employees to clock in and out. With that, I can walk around in their brains, the ones on their computer. I came across that three days ago when I was working for an office.” “And you trust me with this. Why?” She told him she had no idea why, but she did trust him. “I have your scent now, CJ. If you’re trying to fuck me over, I’ll hunt you down and kill you.” “All right.” She put out her hand again. “Would you please have a connection to me? I know how that works. You’ll be in my head all the time. I would like that, so if I am in trouble or I find out something more, I can give you fair warning. Also, if I’m taken, which I think will happen daily, then perhaps you can save me as well.” “Again, I don’t understand this. For whatever reason, I have the same sort of trust with you.”

She nodded and stood there. “All right, CJ, I’ll take your blood, but you must take mine as well. That will give us a tighter connection so that I will also know where you are if you’re taken.” “I’m all right with that. However, if it comes to a choice for you to save me or my family, they’re to be at the top of your list. I won’t have anything happen to them because I’m good with computers.” He said he would do that for her. “Promise me, Brian. I can’t stand the thought of someone harming them. But they will to get to me. Promise me.” “I promise that if there is a time I can either save you or your family, I will save them.” He grinned, not even bothering to hide his fangs. “However, I will do my damndest to make sure you’re safe as well.” She left the bathroom before he did after they exchanged blood drops. Pulling shadows around him, he waited until someone came in and left when the door was still open.

Brian didn’t know what to do now. If he stayed here, CJ and her family would be safe. If he went to talk to Bancroft, he’d be able to figure out what was going on with the drive. Smiling to himself, he thought of the perfect plan. Hello, Bancroft. I’m in serious need of you to send someone here to Mercy Hospital. I have something for you. He asked him why he couldn’t come. I don’t know precisely, but your name has come up attached to someone wanting to kill you. I see. Do you happen to know who this person is? He explained to his oldest and dearest friend what had happened in the last few hours. Okay. This woman, do you know her name? Anything about her?

Her name is Circe Jane Montgomery. She goes by CJ. I do know that she works on computers. However, we have exchanged blood, and she is someone that I instinctively trust. I have no idea why, but I know she’s not lying to me and that she’s scared of being killed. Bancroft told him that Kelly wanted to go get whatever it was he had. Thumb drive. And make sure Kelly isn’t alone. I don’t know what’s on this drive, but they might have some knowledge of her as well. Brian, you’re scaring me a little. He told him he was sorry, but he thought this was important. I agree with you, but it doesn’t make me any less afraid. I’m an old vampire, and to think that someone out there thinks they can kill me makes me wonder what sort of lengths they’re willing to go to.

By the time Kelly and Donald showed up, Rachel was out of surgery and in recovery. The other women were with her. CJ told him she was going to make a full recovery, but it was going to be a long road. “I have someone that is going to take the drive with them. I’m going to stay here to make sure the four of you are safe. I don’t know who might be coming to get you, but you’re vulnerable here. Too many people coming and going all the time.” “Thank you.” She didn’t say anything for a few seconds, and he decided this woman knew a great deal more than she was letting on. I was just thinking about something. Something that I got back from one of my clients last night. He said he didn’t get the program I sent him. However, it was opened, as was the email. I wonder if his computer has been compromised.

It can’t be mine. I’m too good to let that happen. But what if someone is trying to get to me through some of the people I work for? Then, in turn to Bancroft? I know squat about computers at the level you seem to have. But I’d say if they were trying to get to Bancroft—who I do know, by the way—then they’d do whatever they can to make you a target. She told him that was what she was just thinking. I know you love your family, CJ, but you shouldn’t stay around them. The farther you are away from them, the safer they can be. Also, I’m going to send someone to your home when your family leaves. My Grannie. I forgot about her. Can you make sure she’s safe as well? He said he would. CJ told him where she was and the code word to give to her if she had to leave with someone other than her. I’ve left nothing to chance, I thought, but right now, I feel my life unraveling at a high rate of speed. I’m going to do my best at keeping you all safe. Even Bancroft will if it comes to that.

Can you tell me, through our link, what is the reason they want to kill my friend? She was thinking. It was tempting to look into her mind to see what all she knew, but he also knew to do that would put a wedge between them and their trust for each other. You don’t have to if you don’t think— Bancroft is a lord of a kiss. I’m not sure what that is. A kiss, I understand, but not what him being a lord is. Several hundred years ago, Bancroft purchased a large chunk of land that is now worth billions. His wife is human and corrupted. Their words, not mine. Their plan is to kill him and take his wife. I know that doesn’t sound like much of a reason to kill him, but that’s only one part of the information on the drive. That drive holds information about six different companies and their mentioning of Bancroft.

He asked if that was the worst. Not even close. They want to take him to a lab and drain his blood to give to the highest bidder. They believe by draining him and selling his blood, they’ll have humans all over the world wanting some of it to live forever. I’m not sure, but I don’t think that’ll work. But then, that’s one of the other plots. The worst one I came across was a satanic group that wishes to use him to call forth the devil, so they can be one with their god. Christ. CJ told him that she thought so as well. All right. I’ve given the drive to Kelly, and Donald, the man that came with her, is going to pop her home. I’m not leaving here until you decide what you wish to do. I guess you’re right. I have to leave. He said he was sorry. As am I. They’re all I have, and I don’t want to leave them. He didn’t tell her it might not do any good to leave them. If they knew about her family, they’d used them no matter where she was. Thinking along those lines, he thought he was going to need more help than he’d first thought.

They needed to just disappear, the entire family. He looked at Kelly when she sat down next to him. Telling her everything through the link they had because of her being mated to Bancroft, he also told her what he wanted to do. Hide them. All of them. All right. Let me make a couple of calls, not to my work. As yet, we don’t know how these people are affiliated with other people. We can put them in our home, and they’d be safe for a while, but I think they need to be hidden deeper than that. Brian thanked her for going to so much trouble for him. You would have done the same for us. Yes. Without a second thought. She smiled at him, and he felt his face heat with embarrassment. I walked right into that one, didn’t I? I won’t hold it against you.

But I’m glad to know that, even though we’ve only just met, you’d take care of me. Okay. You and Donald stay here, and I’ll see what I can do from home. For now, we’ll just have them as guests at our home. I think that it will be safer than at their home. By the way, did you kill the men that beat up her sister? Yes. She said she thought so. They’d found their bodies an hour ago. I was pissed off that they’d hurt someone. They really did a number on her too. Without my blood, she would have surely died before I could get her to the hospital. I’m assuming neither of them are your mate. He explained to her the feelings he had concerning CJ. Is that something important? What I mean is, is she one of the others’ mates? I’m still learning things here. I never thought of that, but she could very well be. He thought of how the other vampires he knew were protective of women. It could also be that we’ve been ingrained with the need to protect all females.

I know I was sort of beaten over the head with how to protect the women of any species. We can test that theory when Donald gets back. It certainly would make her safer if she was one of their mates. She stood up and hugged him. Donald is going to pop me home, then come back. I’ll let you know what we find on the drive. We’re going to only open it with a laptop without any access to other computers. Perhaps we should send someone to their home to clean it out. Good idea. She hugged him again, and Donald appeared behind her. Don’t forget to let me know. I like this woman, and I don’t want anything to happen to her family. I’ve sent someone after Grannie too. After Kelly left and Donald returned, the two of them sat in the lobby of the ER and watched people. It was somewhat fun. They made up a game together where they would guess why they were there before looking.

CJ reached out to him to let him know that her niece was in her room now. After getting that from her, Donald and he walked up the stairs to the second floor and waited for them there. In less time than he thought it should have taken them, the Montgomery family was sitting with them. Looking over at Donald, he asked him what was wrong. Nothing. He asked him a second time but asked if one of the women was his mate. Yes. I’m thinking it’s the one walking around. But they’re all so close together I’m having a hard time figuring it out. They smell the same.

I’d not mention that if I were you. I don’t know how a woman’s mind works, but if you tell her she smells like other women, I’m sure you might lose your head. He nodded but kept watching the four of them. This is good, right? I mean, whatever one you are mated to, you can be happy in knowing that they’re all right as humans. Laugh it up, Brian. This only means you might be next. Teasing his friend was fun. Brian thought he might be the only one to welcome a mate into his heart. He was looking forward to it more than he had anything for a long time. Convincing the women wasn’t nearly as difficult as they thought it would be. They knew that CJ wouldn’t have told them it was dangerous if it wasn’t. The fact that one of them had been hurt badly helped to persuade them as well. Taking them home one at a time. CJ and Rachel were the last to leave. It was then that Donald knew which one was his mate. He didn’t know which one of them was taking it harder, either.

Watson Wilkerson Dynasty Release Blitz&Giveaway

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Rayne just wanted to finish nursing school and take care of her grandda. He was all she had left. She had only left the house for a short time, and when she returned, he was gone, and there was blood everywhere. She panicked. She called the number her grandda had written down for emergencies.
When Watson answered his phone, he had trouble understanding the hysterical young woman on the other end. And when he got her to calm down enough to find out what was going on, being a doctor, he was ready to help where needed. When he arrived at Mr. Oliver’s house, he was met with the most captivating woman he’d ever seen. She was perfect. Wats was so smitten, he was afraid he’d screw up before he even had a chance to ask her out.
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When Marsden Wilkerson received the phone call that his mother had been in a car accident, he wasn’t letting anything get in his way to get to her. Not a pushy boss, and especially not his Aunt Eita. Then his world crumbled when the doctors told him that his mother, Holly, didn’t make it.
Gabriella Farley, Abby, could hold her own, and she wasn’t about to take any flack from a rich bitch like Penelope Wilkerson.

All the Wilkerson women, with the exception of Holly, could fit that description. Abby stood up for Mars at the funeral home even though she really didn’t know him. What she did know was his mother, Holly, was a fine woman, and the family had given them both the shaft Mars’s entire life.

Mars wanted to apologize for his Aunt’s actions, but there was something about Abby that sparked a flame in his heart. From the first kiss, they knew they had something special, but going against the Wilkerson family could be very dangerous. Will this new love be doomed from the start?

Amy Hamilton never had much of a home life growing up. Her sister Phoenix and her mother demanded all the attention, so much so that she and her father didn’t have a relationship at all. Now that her father was filing for a divorce, he felt guilty for not being a part of her life and wanted to make up for it, but Amy wasn’t sure she was ready for that.

North Wilkerson had a similar upbringing. Although his mother was dead now, before her death, she was an awful person and an even worse mother. After having sworn off family ties to his parents, he was just now allowing his father back into his life.

Amy and Booker Wilkerson were close friends in college. Amy was only supposed to be in town for a few days, and when Booker called inviting her to dinner, she couldn’t pass up the opportunity to catch up on old times. When Booker’s cousin North and his uncle joined them for dinner, they all had a blast.

But when North just showed up at her father’s house and took over, Amy wasn’t sure what to think of him. What did he think he was doing? She barely knew him. Amy needed to nip this in the bud before it went much further. She was perfectly capable of taking care of herself. She didn’t need a man now, or would she ever need a man, any man….

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Prologue


Wats leaned back in his chair and closed his eyes. He loved being able to work for himself, but he’d been working much too hard. The family alone was keeping him hopping. Thinking of the conversation he’d had with his cousin Shawn today, he wondered what was going to happen to him when he figured out that life could throw you a curveball without any notice. “I’m going to take some time off.” Wats asked him what he was going to do that for. “I’m thinking if I don’t get my home in order now, I’m going to be sitting here with an empty house when I’m sixty years old. Not that it’s old, but the house is so empty, it’s like living in a tomb.” “All right. Not that I think you’d need time off to buy some furniture, but I hope you get it done the way you want it.” Shawn told him he was going to fill it with things he loved that he picked up at estate auctions. “Why? I mean, great, but why?”

“When was the last time you were at my parents’ home?” Wats said he didn’t remember. “Yeah, well, it’s all steel and glass. I don’t know if Dad even likes it. Anyway, I’m going to get things that speak to me. Dad is going to go on this trip with me. He’s thinking he is going to love living in the condo. At least his brothers are close by, and he can walk to town if he wants. We’re going to have some fun getting to know each other.” “Now, that I can get behind. What is your dad doing with his home?” Uncle Hank hadn’t been in his house since Penny had been arrested. They all called her that now, and it was fun. “My dad is going to sell his as soon as he gets it emptied out. It seems none of them were very thrilled about returning to their homes.”

“Dad is donating the house to the city. I haven’t any idea what they’re going to do with it—it’s really run-down—but he gave them the property there too. That’s about fifty acres. I’m thinking they’re going to tear the house down then put in something equally ugly.” No doubt. Wats told him about North’s dad running for mayor. “He’d be really good at that. With as long as this family has lived here, he’d know just about anything and everything about the town.” Wats sat up when his phone rang. He thought he’d put it on the service, but he might not have gotten it right.

There was a learning curve on just about everything he did lately. Saying his name, Wats waited while the person at the other end calmed down enough to speak. “My grandfather is gone.” Wats didn’t know what she meant—gone as in missing or gone that he’d died. “He’s not here. I came in this morning to stay with him while I finished up my classes, and we had a nice breakfast. Then when I went to the university to see about the classes I would need, I came home, and someone had been in here. There is blood all over the place too.” “Did you call the police?” There was a long pause, and Wats asked her again. “I don’t even know who this is or what your grandfather’s name is.”

“My grandda is James Oliver. My name is Rayne Oliver. Why do you think he had your phone number in his phone marked as police?” Wats said that he didn’t have any idea. “I’m going to call the police now. I’m so sorry to have bothered you.” “It’s no trouble. I’m on my way there with my medical bag. When we find him, I’ll be able to see how he’s faring.” He didn’t want to say anything about him maybe being dead. Lots of blood could be scary enough. “I’m going to call my cousins in too. All of us can look for him.” Wats called the others and told them what was going on. He also mentioned how his number was listed as the emergency number. He called North last, as his number had been busy when he’d called him the first time.

“He’s with me at my house.” Wats turned his car around and headed toward North’s home. “As for the blood, I don’t know. There wasn’t any there when the two of us left there a few hours ago.” “She said there was a great deal of it.” Wats parked in the parking lot of the store he was nearby and tried to catch his breath. “What should I do? Go there and find out what is happening or just go back to my offices?” “Why don’t you go and see if you can talk to Rayne in person? Then perhaps bring her to my house. I don’t think she should be driving if she’s that upset.” Wats told him he’d go out there now. “Be careful, Wats. Since we have no idea what the blood is from, someone might still be in the house.” “Well, thank you very much for that thought.” He made his way to the house carefully. There didn’t seem to be any cars along the way that were parked without anyone in them.

Nor did he see any indication of trouble. By the time he was pulling up in front of the house, there were two cruisers there, and a young woman on the front porch rocking in the rocker set out there. “Your cousin called here. He told me that my grandda was with him.” Wats told her he’d take her there if she wanted to go. “I do. I hope you don’t mind, but I have to wait on the police. They’re doing their thing in there now. I was terrified.” Wats checked her over. He told her he didn’t want anything to be wrong with her and checked not just her blood pressure, which was just a little high, but her temperature too. When he was able to give her a clean bill of health, he sat down on the porch in front of her. “I’ve known your grandda for a while. When I was in med school, he was one of the free patients that, as students, we were to work with. He’s a very healthy man for his age.”

Rayne told him he didn’t sit around on his duff like a lot of people his age. “I think I remember him being about eighty? I could be wrong.” “He’ll be ninety-three on his next birthday. Which is coming up. He’s all I care about in the world now. My parents are both gone. I don’t have any sisters or brothers. No aunts that I want to be around either.” She laughed. “The last time I was here, he and his sister, my aunt Carol, had this big to do about him living alone. Christ, he’s a few years older than her and looks like he could be her kid. Not really, but Grandda is in really wonderful shape.”

Wats told her about the house that was going to be built for him and how his cousin, North, was going to make sure he was going to be all right living out here alone. Rayne told him she had planned on living with him until she graduated next year, then she was hoping she could get him to move in with her. “I’ve had a little house since my parents died. It’s not much, but it’s a damned sight better than this is. I guess North, as you called him, saw what he was living in here.” Wats told her how he’d only just bought the house a few weeks ago. “The banker that was holding the place didn’t want to do anything for him. Told my grandda he’d be better off in a nursing home if he didn’t like this place. Grandda lost Grannie here. He doesn’t want to leave without going to her, he told me.” By the time the police were finished up with the house, they’d discovered that a raccoon had made its way into the house when it had been attacked by something larger. The blood was all animal blood.

It was confirmed it was a raccoon when they found his body in the bedroom that Grandda used. “I think he’s been feeding the poor thing. Grandda is allergic to cats and doesn’t care for dogs. They’re too big for him to handle, he told me. But this little raccoon made his way into his heart, and he’s been taking care of him. I think it was making the loneliness more tolerable.” Wats thought that was the nicest thing he’d heard in a while. “I don’t know if we’ll be able to stay here now. At least not tonight.” “I have a condo you can stay in. I mean by yourself. With your grandda. I’ll be someplace else.” Wats let out a long breath. “I have a furnished condo the two of you can stay in. I’ll bunk with my dad. He’s close to where you two can stay.” “I don’t want to put you out.” Wats assured her she wouldn’t be. He was enjoying spending time with his dad.

“If you’re sure?” “I am sure. You gather up some things for him to wear, and tomorrow we’ll come back here to see what we can salvage out of the bedroom. After that, North is going to take care of getting something more livable in here for the two of you.” Wats hoped his dad didn’t mind him staying with him a few days. “You get some things, like I said, and I’ll make a couple of calls. That way, by the time you’re finished here, I can have my arrangements made as well.” As he figured, Dad was happy to have him. North said he was his hero for doing this. All Wats had wanted to do was go to bed and not wake up anytime soon. It was stressful being the worrier of the family. Taking Rayne to his brother’s house, then to the condo, was about all he could handle this evening. Going to his dad’s condo, Wats was thrilled that he didn’t seem to mind him rushing off to bed and let Wats go without bombarding him with questions. As soon as his head hit the pillow, Wats knew he wasn’t far from sleep. When a phone rang somewhere in the place, he had to catch himself from getting up and answering it. Being dead tired as he was, he didn’t think he could make a sound decision on whether or not he liked chocolate ice cream or vanilla. Or even both, for that matter.

Thinking briefly of the list he’d brought from his office, Wats wondered if any of the others would help him out with it. He needed someone to work for him to answer phones. To clean up after him and his patients. Also, Wats needed to get laid. Laughing a little, he rolled to his side and smiled. Tomorrow was going to be a brand new day, and he was going to try his best not to be running all over town again. Yes, he thought as slumber took him under, tomorrow was a brand new day.

Rodney Marshall’s Shadow Release Blitz &Giveaway

Rebel had been called to the US when she’d been informed that her brother was dying, but she arrived too late. He left behind a devastated wife, two small children, and a load of debt. Rebel stayed to help out as best she could, taking a job at the local hospital, but working conditions there were unbearable, and she had no choice but to quit or kill someone—namely the head nurse. And as a doctor, she had taken an oath to save lives, not take them.

Rodney ran a small practice. He handled the medical care for the local schools and worked at the hospital when needed for emergencies. And when a little boy came into his office to get stitched up from being ambushed by bullies, Rodney knew he had to get to the bottom of the problem. When the boy’s Aunt Rebel shows up and takes over, Rodney instantly knows who she is to him—his mate. Having to approach her with the subject had his cat curling up inside him. He had watched his brothers flounder around with their new mates, and he didn’t want to start off on the wrong foot.

It didn’t take but a minute for Rebel to assess the new situation, and she wasn’t sure how she felt about it. She also needed a job, not a handout. She was a doctor, damn it, and a good one. No man, especially one she didn’t know, was going to order her around. If he thought he could, she’d let him know fast that she was no pushover.

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Harrison Parker had no family and no ties. She was invisible to be traced. Her job with the government was top secret. So secret that she only reported to two people. Now, she was the target and she had to figure out who wanted her dead. Hurt, and laying low, she reached out to the only man she trusted, an old man she had befriended in the cemetery, Sheppard Marshall.

Sheppard Marshall had been grieving the loss of his Millie for the last fifteen years. He would sit by her grave every day. He was an old man of ninety, and he looked forward to the visits he received from the sassy woman, Harrison Parker. Over time he had grown very fond of her, and when he received the message that she needed his help, Sheppard would help her or die trying.

His grandson, Sheppard or Shep, wasn’t letting the old man go alone. If he got hurt, Shep wouldn’t be able to live with himself. Even though the Marshall men were jaguars, that didn’t mean the old man couldn’t get into a situation that got him hurt or possibly killed.

The bullet had gone clear through, but the poison it had been laced with left Harrison with a high fever and near death. Shep didn’t know what this woman was into, but he knew two things—she was dangerous, and she was his mate. What kind of mess had the old man gotten him into now?

Isabella Booth was tired of all the sexist crap handed to her on a daily basis.  When her father wouldn’t even consider her as an heir to his lawn care business because she wasn’t a man, and left it to her brother Hunter instead, she had done the next logical thing. She opened her own lawn care business, and it thrived.

Dean Marshall was renovating his family home. As far as the landscaping was concerned, he was told to go big or go home. When Shep invited the owner of the landscaping company to his home for dinner, Dean wanted to be there to see about getting some things done for his place. He didn’t mean for his jaguar to knock the woman to the ground.

Bella was thoroughly pissed when the big cat ruined her jeans and favorite shoes, and when he announced that they were mates, Bella was seeing red. No way, no how, was she having another sexist, overbearing man in her life. Not if she could help it….

Lachlan Russell had been rushed into emergency surgery. Her boss’s daughter took exception to Lach, telling her no, and went ballistic, throwing anything and everything she could at Lach until Lach finally collapsed from her injuries. Lach was also pregnant at the time, tricked into being a surrogate to carry her sister’s child.

Harris Marshall, Shep’s wife, was called in on the case. Lach’s boss and daughter were now both in jail, but Lach’s family was another matter—they were worse. Harris would make sure this woman pulled through if she had to kill Lach’s family to see to it. Calling in reinforcements, her brother-in-law, Oakley, was the first to arrive at the hospital.

Oakley was thrilled to have found his mate. As far as he was concerned, Lach was perfect. But her sister and brother-in-law were both insane. Would he and his family be enough to protect her from their madness?

Marshall’s Shadow
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Rodney was ready to close up the office for the day when a little boy came in with blood all over his face and hands. Calmly, so as not to freak him out any more than he seemed to be already, he asked him if it was his blood or someone else’s. “Mine. Most of it anyhow. I was wondering if you could maybe fix me up before my aunt wakes up. She’s going to have a cow when she figures this out. Man, is she going to brain me.” Rodney took him into the exam room and asked him if he could call his mom. “Yeah, call her. That’s a good idea. Mom won’t freak out until after I’m fixed up. I fell out of the tree and hit my head too.” After cleaning most of the blood off the kid, he could see that he was going to need some stitches. Also, his head was going to need to be X-rayed. Aaron, he told him his name was, said he’d been in the tree hiding from a bully at school. His sister Angie, he said, had run home when he distracted the bully. “All right. We’ll need someone here that can okay you getting sewn up. Tell me your mom’s name.” He did. Sheila Walsh was working, but she’d come home for him. “I would imagine she would. And this aunt of yours—I don’t suppose you can tell me why she’s sleeping when you’re out with bullies? You don’t have to, but you do seem to be afraid of her.”

“Nah, I’m not afraid of her. But she told me she’s so stressed out that if she was to fart, she’d have a heart attack. She quit her job. We really need the money, Mom said, but we need Rebel more. She’s my best friend. When she’s not freaking out.” He heard the door open and his nurse talking to someone. When she laughed, Rodney relaxed a little. “Oh no. That’s my aunt. Tell her I’m not going to die as soon as she comes in here, or she’ll have me naked in a minute and her poking and prodding at me.” “Aaron James Walsh, what the hell were you thinking sending your sister home all by herself? I canna believe you would have— What happened to you?” Aaron told his aunt what he’d told Rodney. “Let me have a look at you.” Aaron had been right. She had him stripped of everything but his underwear in seconds.

She looked him over, commenting in a language he didn’t know about something she’d find. Rodney stood back, waiting for her to notice that he was still in the room. He knew who she was. The other night he’d spoken to her at the meeting at the school. Rodney had a feeling then that she was his mate but hadn’t pursued getting close enough to her to find out because of the things he had going on here and at the school. But with her so near him today, he knew that not only was she his mate, but she was much prettier than he remembered. “Whatcha doing with that thing?” Rodney noticed that his nurse, Adaline, had brought in a kit to clean up the wounds and stitch them up. Rebel told him what she was going to do with the scissors. “No way are you going to cut my hair away from anything. I’ve seen you hack at your own hair. You leave my hair alone and let Doc Rodney do the cutting.

You’ll have me as bald as Grandpa Walsh was before he passed on.” “It’ll only be a wee bit.” Shaking his head, Aaron looked at him. So did Rebel. It seemed to occur to her that she was in his offices taking over. “I’m sorry. I kinda get myself in Dutch when I’m worried. He’s my nephew.” “I gathered that. I can cut away the hair. In fact, it would be my pleasure.” Rebel handed him the pair of shears. “We were about to call his mom. He was telling me that you freak out about blood.” “Nay, not blood on others, but on my family does bother me. Especially this one. He’s somewhat of a daredevil at times. You’d not be able to call his mom either. She’d lose her job if she had to leave work.” He asked her what she did. “I was an emergency room doctor until last night. I couldn’t take it anymore. They don’t seem to like foreigners for some reason.” “You’re Rebel Walsh.” She nodded.

“Yes, I’ve heard that the nurses are giving you grief. Harris, my sister-in-law, is looking into that. There have been complaints from the patients that they’re being pitted against you. For some reason, she thinks you’re a much better doctor than most of the staff that works there. Are you?” “I donna know about that. I work hard. It’s hard to do when the staff is forever making it difficult for me. They wouldn’t believe I was a physician. Or they did but kept telling the patients in my care that I was in over me head and only a nurse. Not that I have anything against being a nurse. But I worked very hard to be a doctor the same as anyone has.” He finished up with the hair trimming, then moved back. “I should have sent him someplace to get X-rays. I just wanted him to be better and not bleeding. I should have been careful about watching them.” “I was going to suggest an X-ray. I have the equipment here to do that.” Aaron didn’t say much, but he did tell them that not only did he have a headache, but his ribs hurt too. “We’ll get all that taken care of, young man.” A little girl joined them in the examining room and sat quietly on one of the chairs. When asked if she’d been hurt, she burst into tears. Adaline comforted her while he went down the hall with Aaron to get some pictures of not just his head but his chest and arm too. “This gonna cost very much, Doc Rodney?”

He said he had been on his way home when Aaron came in, so after hours was free. “Oh good. I’ll remember that from now on. We don’t have a lot of money. Mom doesn’t get insurance where she works yet, but Aunt Rebel had some that didn’t cover me and Angie. Life sucks, doesn’t it?” “Sometimes.” He reached out to Harris and told her what was going on. I don’t know the whole story about what’s going on, but if you could check into this little family, I’d appreciate it. They’re really down and out, it looks like. I have some information on Rebel. Hell of a doctor. She graduated at the top of her class, like number one. She took her exams here to be able to practice right after her brother died, leaving his wife and two children. Rebel came to the States to help her out. I don’t know what the issue is at the hospital yet, but I’m working on it. She quit, did you know that? He told her that she’d told him. Good. Perhaps you can work with her. I don’t know. There is some insurance that should have been paid by now, and I’m looking into that as well.

It would put them in the black for a long time. Aaron has been hurt. I’m still getting details on that. But apparently, they’re being bullied. He climbed a tree to give his sister time to get away. She’s here too, sobbing in one of my exam rooms. She said she’d heard about the kids being hurt as well. Why haven’t we done anything about it then? I mean, we need to stop this before I have to step in as my cat and take care of it the wrong way. Harris was quiet for several seconds before she spoke again. Rebel is your mate, isn’t she? He said even if she wasn’t, he’d want the kids safe. How about we do this, then? It’s a long shot because I don’t know everything yet, but we put them up in one of the houses we own. No rent for the time being, or ever, and hire the mom to work for us. She was a secretary before her husband passed away, and right now, she’s barely making enough money to afford food and rent at the same time. Also, it looks like at one time, she was an LPN. Licensed practical nurses are someone you can work with, correct? You take Rebel in as a partner, or whatever you call it, and I’ll see about the kids being able to go to the pack school.

That would keep them out of harm’s way with the bullies until I can figure out what the fuck is going on there. And just how do you propose I make that work? In the event that it might have slipped your mind, Rebel is my mate, and I don’t want to start this relationship with her being pissed off at me. Harris told him that all of them had pissed off their mates at one time or another. That doesn’t mean I want to go that way first off. Invite them over for dinner tonight. He asked her how that was going to work. Just charm the shit out of her or something. The mother will be home from her job at about six or so. Did I tell you that she’s working as a dishwasher at one of the restaurants we own? Anyway, you invite Rebel. I’ll take care of the mom. Tell her you were coming over anyway and would like to get to know her better. Yeah, that’ll work. He said he’d do it. If this bites me in the ass, I’m going to take it out on Shep. Why Shep? I’m the one making you do this? He told her.

Ah, you’re so sweet. I didn’t know you were that afraid of me. I love you too, Rodney. But get to work. Before I have to go there and do it for you. He had no doubt that she would, too. After looking at the X-rays, he took them to the exam room with Aaron. Angie was calmer now and coloring in one of the books he’d purchased for the kids that came in. Rebel wasn’t anywhere to be seen, but Angie said that she’d had a phone call and had gone outside. Nodding, he waited for her to return to tell her what he’d found on the X-rays. When Rebel came back inside, she spoke before he could. “I don’t suppose you need an assistant, do you?” He smiled at her. “I need a job. One that I can work in and not be told I’m overqualified or even underqualified for. This shite stinks.” “I was going to ask you if you’d like to work with me. I have the schools and this office. I’m also part of the hospital team when necessary. It would help me in keeping up with those different things.” She asked him in what capacity she’d be working. “Doctor. I don’t need an assistant, really. Adaline is working with me. If you know of a nurse or someone that will be helpful to you, then, by all means, hire them.”

“My sister-in-law is a licensed practical nurse, but there isn’t much in the way of jobs for her either.” This was working out much better than he thought it would. “I can have her come by, and you can meet her if you’d like.” “I tell you what. I’m having dinner at my brother and Harris’s house tonight. How about you join us there? It’s nothing fancy. I think we’re having grilled foods. I’m not sure what that means, but it’s always good.” She asked him what the catch was. “Catch? I’m not sure what you mean by that.” “I’m not stupid, you know. And I would appreciate it if you’re going to be treating me that way if you just keep your mouth shut. In fact, just shut up.” Rodney told her he’d never thought that. “We’ll see. You’re something to me. Mate, I’m thinking. I didn’t know what it was until I came here today. The other day, you didn’t say anything when we touched. You’ve known for a while.”

“I didn’t really. I thought as much, but your scent was covered by all the others in the room. And your touch, really, was very brief.” He looked at the X-rays, then back at her. “I don’t know what you have against being my mate, but you can already—at least I hope so—tell that I’m not going to pressure you into anything you don’t want. It looks like Aaron has two broken ribs, as well as a clean break in his arm. There is a little bruising on his head that is concerning, but nothing I don’t think a little rest will take care of. I’d like your permission to give him something for the pain now.” He didn’t wait for her to reply. Instead, he stepped out of the room, closed the door, and leaned against the wall for a minute. Rodney felt like he’d been running a marathon. It hadn’t been but a couple of minutes, but he was sure he wasn’t going to be able to be in the same room with her if she was forever going to be taking shots at him. Standing up, he went to ask Adaline to fix him up a shot for pain for Aaron. “You all right?” Rodney told her he was fine, just a little overwhelmed.

“I know she’s your mate. But I’m telling you right now, if she’s going to talk to me like she did you, I’m going to take her down a few notches. I’m just putting that out there.” “I’ll have a talk with her.” Adaline told him she’d do it if it came down to it. “Just, for me, go easy. I know you will, but I’m working through some shit here, and I don’t care for it.” When he had the syringe ready to give to Aaron, he went back into the room. Rebel was missing again, but he didn’t ask this time. After giving Aaron the shot, he watched him as he seemed to mellow out and close his eyes. Well, he thought, at least I’ve made one of the Walsh family happy. ~*~ Rebel hated herself. She wasn’t usually so snappish to people, especially people she didn’t know that well. But there was something about his calmness in the face of all this stuff that was going on that irritated her to no end. When she’d come out here for a few seconds of relief from her own mouth, she called and left a message on her sister’s phone. “We’ve been invited to have dinner with the Marshall family tonight. If we play our cards right, perhaps we can have leftovers.” She thought about that and told Sheila she was sorry.

“I’m going to go into practice with Rodney Marshall, and I’d like you to give your notice there and be my nurse. We’ll work out the rest of the details later.” The Marshalls were very wealthy. She didn’t know how much they were worth, but she was positive it was a great deal more than she and her sister had made in their entire lifetime—probably several hundred lifetimes. Sitting on the little bench right outside the offices, Rebel looked around the little town. She’d only been in this country for about two years total. Once when her brother had married, she’d stayed for about six months. Then when her brother had died, she’d packed up everything she owned and came here. He’d been living here with their father since the divorce from their mom, whom she’d been living with. It had been several years since she’d seen Thomas since his marriage, and she was heartbroken when she’d come home for his funeral.

“Doctor Walsh, there is a phone call for you.” She looked at Adaline and told her she was sorry. “I am too. I was ready to bite your head off for talking to Rodney that way, but he told me you were stressed out. It’s been hard on him, trying to make all this work on his own. He loves it, don’t get me wrong, but the schools are in worse shape than anyone wanted to believe.” “I’ve been volunteering there one day a week, and I canna believe no one has done anything before now.” She followed the older woman into the building and picked up the phone. It was her sister. She was crying and screaming at someone else, and Rebel waited on her. “Can you see what I need for Sheila Walsh to be able to come here as my nurse?” “Rebel? Where are the kids?” She told her what had happened and that she was at the doctor with them. “I came home to find someone here shutting off our power and no kids. I was worried more than I could—” She was cut off.

More than likely, the power had been cut. They’d been expecting it for several days now, and apparently, their time had been up. Putting the phone back in the cradle, Rebel wanted to find a nice dark room and sob. Things couldn’t get any worse, she told herself, then amended that to say it could and more than likely would. While she was standing there, Rodney came out of the exam room and asked her if she was all right. “Not particularly, no.” She told him, starting with the power being cut off, what she’d been dealing with in the last twenty-four hours. “The water is next. Though I have explained to the company that we haven’t gotten a bill so I donna know what to pay on it. Not that we have the cash for that either. Angie needs money for a class trip. Aaron is hurt. His mom is at her wit’s end, and I’m right there along with her. I haven’t any income, and the fucking insurance company won’t get off their collective arse and pay up on the insurance that Thomas had when he died suddenly at home. Not suddenly, but he did die, and they should have to help out his family when he made the payments every frigging month.” “Come with me.” She didn’t have much in the way of a choice when Rodney took her hand into his and dragged her down the hall to another exam room. There he pulled her into his arms and held her.

Nothing sexual about it, but it felt wonderful to have a pair of very strong arms holding her. Even if it was only for a little while. “Harris is looking into the insurance money for you. When she did a search on the two of you, she said it came up.” Rebel looked at him. “She did this before today, and if I know her, she’s going to have answers for you by the time we have dinner there tonight. Now. There is something you can do for me that will help you in ways you can’t imagine. As a family, we own several homes. One of them is being cleaned up and filled out for you right now. I’ve spoken to the others, and they’re going to move you and your little family into it today. In fact, Shep and two of my other brothers are at your home right now with your sister-in-law, Sheila. I have a home as well. If you’d like to move in there, for the time being, I’ll move in with one of my brothers so you can have the entire house to yourself.”

“The landlord is a creep.” Rodney asked her what he’d done. “Nothing much other than he just comes into the house when he wants, using his own key. If we were to change the locks, he said he’d sue us. That as our landlord, he has the right to come and go as he pleases. Twice now, he’s been in my room when I’ve been sleeping, Aaron told me. I’ve not an idea what else he’s been up to when we’re asleep or not around.” “I’ll take care of him.” She told him not to kill him. “I’m not making any promises on that score. However, if you’d like to go home and help out with the moving, that would be all right with me. The kids can stay here until I go to see my brother. Aaron is resting now, the best thing for him, and I’ve put a cast on his arm. Angie is taking a nap. She said she did it after school every day.” “You’re serious.” Rodney pointed out that he wasn’t very good at jokes, and he was rarely, if ever, not serious. “What am I going—?” “Don’t. Don’t ask me what the catch is. Or how much I’m going to take from you for this. There is no catch. I promise you that I have nothing untoward in my head about you having a place to stay that is safe, as well as something you can afford.” He grinned at her.

“Your family is now my family, and I need to do this for them. To make you happy. I swear to you on my mom’s heart that I’d never ask you or trick you into anything you don’t want to do.” “I was wrong to say that to you. I’m sorry.” He said he was all right with her being upset. Taking it out on him was better than her killing someone. “That was going to be the next thing on my list of things to do today. The landlord again. He’s been…. Perhaps I should tell Harris about it. She’d be less prone to kill him.” “Doubtful. She’d just find a way so it would look like an accident.” Rebel didn’t know if he was serious or not but let it go. “All right. You head back to the house. Shep said that Sheila is helping a great deal, but she’s upset. Something about a call from someone. I’m betting insurance company, but I don’t know yet.” After handing her his cell phone and telling her to call when they were about done, he said he’d take care of the kids and make sure they were both all right. For some reason, Rebel thought they’d be in better care with him than they would be with anyone else she knew. As she drove back to the home she was sharing with Sheila and the kids, she thought about what it would be like to have someone love her. It had been a while since she’d even dated anyone that she liked.

The last relationship she had recently had been with a control freak. Even after that, she scolded herself. Here she was planning a wedding with a man she barely knew. As soon as she pulled up in front of the house, she knew something had happened, and it wasn’t going to bode well for their ex-landlord. Getting out of her car, she made her way past the police cruiser and the large SUV that was parked in the driveway. Mr. Cort was sitting on the ground with his hands behind his back, with one of the police standing over him. The officer tipped his hat at her and said that Harris and the others were inside.

She nodded and went into the house, noticing that there was blood on the front stoop as well as the front door. Mr. Cort was screaming at someone, her she thought, about getting off his property and that he was suing her. Oh well, she was no longer worried about him. “You must be Rebel.” She said she was. “Rodney said you were on your way. That piece of shit out there is lucky that Sheila found him in the house before I did. I would have killed him where he stood.” “You must be Harris.” She grinned like it was wonderful that she’d made such an impression. “Rodney said you’d find a way to kill Cort without it looking like anything but an accident.” “I have before. Tell me what is yours in here, and we’ll get it on the truck. Wait, the truck isn’t back yet. I knew we should have rented a trailer. Oh well. Are we taking your things to the new home or to Rodney’s?” She stared at the other woman. “Okay, I’ll take that as a new home. Though I can tell you, we’ll just be moving you again soon. I’m pushy like that, just in the event you don’t know that yet.” “To Rodney’s home.” Harris stared at her for several minutes before nodding once and told her she was a smart girl.

“I don’t know about that, but he’s promised me I’m not going to be pushed into anything, and I believe him. You? Not so much. But I also know you’ll stay out of whatever is going on with us if asked. You will, won’t you?” “To a point, yes.” She turned away to go into the next room but stopped just short of being out of her sight. “I don’t have to tell you not to hurt him, do I?” “I have no intentions of hurting anyone. But, as I told him, I’m not going to be pushed into shit I don’t want either.” She nodded and left her there. Going into the kitchen where she could hear Sheila, she was nearly taken to the floor when she leapt at her, laughing. “They came through. Look at this. It’s the full amount. Harris said they’d had it ready to go for weeks but were lazy.” Sheila whispered in her ear, “I’m not sure, but I think she made them pay me. Oh, Rebel, I can afford to pay our bills now. And with giving my notice, I don’t have to fret as much about having to wait for my first check with you. I can still work for you, correct?” “Yes. I need you there.” The check was for ten grand. It wasn’t much of a policy, she supposed, but it was enough to get her some cushion in the bank. “What happened with Cort? Did he hurt you?”

“No, that’s his blood. He used his key to come into the house, and I’d just gotten this check. Instead of begging him, like I think he wanted me to do, I offered to pay him everything we owed him. He grabbed me and tried to shove me against the wall before I could get away. I hit him and then kicked him in the nuts while he was down. Harris is the one that made him bleed. She’s kinda scary, isn’t she? But I’m happy now. So we’ll have to forget the little shitter and move into a better home.” Harris was making notes when she caught up with her again. She asked her what she was doing, and when she told her, Rebel told her she could add to her list. The house was in poor repair, and the roof leaked like a sieve when it rained. “I don’t think the furnace works either. The air doesn’t work at all, even though he told us it did. Also, if you’ve not made it to the upstairs bathroom, let me warn you now, don’t go in. It won’t hold your weight. The kids’ either, for that matter. I’m terrified that one night the tub is going to come down onto us while the kids are bathing.”

Harris wrote it down. “Why are you doing this? I mean, we’re moving out— thank you for that, by the way—and he can’t bother us again.” “He needs to have his ass kicked, is what he needs. These are terrible conditions here, and no one should have to put up with this. Sheila told me he just barges in when he wants to. That’s not right either. The fucker is on my shit list, and I’m going to take care of him.” Rebel didn’t tell her about her waking up with him standing over her. She figured the man wouldn’t make it to the hospital if she did. Harris was one intense person. “I hope you don’t mind, but I’ve made sure that there is food and supplies at the new house for your family. I had no idea that things were that bad for you guys. The insurance company is going to have to pay for that. There isn’t any reason for them to have held up the check for that long.” “I was going to call them today, but then I had to go and see to my nephew.” She asked about the bully. “I don’t know a great deal about him as yet, but I will before too long. I think the kids have been keeping things from us because they know how bad things are here. Or how bad they were.

I was really worried about what we were going to do when I didn’t have any more time coming to me from work.” “I want to talk to you about that as well. Soon. There is no reason for that either. We’ve had some issues there for a little while, and I’ve had enough.” Rebel asked her if she took on problems like this often. “Yes. We work on things as a family usually, but I’ve decided I need to step up some work with the hospital. If I have to go there for anything, I want to know I don’t have to worry about petty shit going on that will upset me more.” “Good point. I didn’t think of it that way.” Harris and she went through each of the rooms that were nearly devoid of their things. They’d not just been loaded up, but it looked as if someone was going into the rooms after they left and cleaning up. “When I came here for my brother’s funeral, I thought for sure that Sheila was joking about paying nearly nine hundred a month for this place. It’s not worth nine hundred dollars to purchase if you ask me. But she was grieving, and I didn’t want to upset her any more than she already was. Now, with the things taken out, I can see that it was much worse than I thought. It’s small wonder the kids didn’t get sick more than they were.”

“He’ll have to either pay for this place to be brought up to standards or sell it off. I’m hoping he sells. The Marshalls own the houses on either side of this place, and I’d love to be able to tear the three of them down and put in a nice place for kids to go after school.” Rebel liked that idea and told Harris so. “Also, you might not realize this yet, but you have the same input that all of us do on things the family does. Any ideas you have or even suggestions will be welcome.” “I’m not ready for that just yet.” Harris said she understood, and they finished up the house inspection. “I’m wondering if I should have told Rodney I was having my things brought to his house. He must think I’m off my rocker a little. We had a little spat before I came here. I might have given him the impression I was a bitch.”

“I’m sure you are when you need to be. But I’ve told him already. You’ll have to share your blood with us so we can talk to you through a link. Also, in the event that something happens and we need to find you. But that’s not anything we have to be in a hurry for now.” Too much, Rebel thought. There was just too much right now. Harris seemed to understand and changed the subject to something less personal. She told her of the babies coming, as well as a vampire friend of hers that was coming to see Harris to tell her of the vampire line she was a part of. Jason, she told her, had been looking into it for her since he’d tasted her blood. It was going to be hard to keep up with this family without a notepad. Rebel decided she’d get one when she was out next. It might help her to keep all this stuff straight. Or not. She had no idea right now. But she was thinking it would be fun.

Carroll Morgan’s Leap Release Blitz & Giveaway

Carroll Golden and his five brothers were the first of their kind. Born leopards, they were blessed with the magic of being the first leopard shifters. Morgan, their mother by proxy, raised them to blend in with humans and to be good men. Blessed with immortality, they all lived together on Morgan’s Leap, a sanctuary for all nature.

Hanna March worked for the FDA. She had always wanted to visit Morgan’s Leap, but it was closed to the public, so when she was given the opportunity to inspect their orchard on some bogus complaint, she jumped at the chance. The place was beyond anything she ever expected, and Morgan was the perfect host. But when someone took a pot shot at Morgan from the field, a huge leopard came out of nowhere and took them both down. Hanna, hitting her head on the way to the ground, was down for the count.

Carroll shifted back to human as soon as the women were out of danger, but finding out the pretty FDA agent was his mate took Carroll by surprise, and boy was she going to be mad when she woke up.

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Prologue

Morgan made herself into a tight ball as she hid herself in the tall grasses in the field. She knew the men chasing her would find her soon enough, but for now, she was going to make them work for it. Closing her eyes, trying her best to calm her breathing, she did the only thing she could to not think about what was going on around her. Morgan counted to fifty in all the languages she knew. She had awakened out here. All she remembered was having dinner in the kitchen with the staff and then waking out in the middle of the moonless night. She did not remember going to bed or putting on the nightgown she had on now. Nor did she remember waking when brought out here in the cool night. Soon after waking, she heard the voices of the men, six she thought she’d counted, saying the first one that found her could have her. At fourteen, Morgan knew exactly what that meant. They were going to rape her, then more than likely kill her. Her parents would be looking for her. She would admit, only to herself, that they’d not be too upset about her being gone. Morgan had a habit of getting up in the middle of the night to see to one creature or another. So it might be days before anyone— The hot breath of air on her forehead had her whimper just a little. Lifting her head without opening her eyes, she felt it once again. It was hot but not sour-smelling. Opening her eyes, she looked right into the golden eyes of a leopard. Their noses touched. They were so close. The lick to her face scared her. While she’d seen the wild animals around the compound where she lived, she’d never been this close to one so dangerous. The farmers would kill them when they would take down a cow or something they raised, but no one could have prepared her for their beauty being this close.

The big cat put her paw on her head and pushed it back down, so it rested on the dirt. When she started to lift it again, the cat pushed her down again. Understanding that she was to stay where she was, Morgan closed her eyes. If she was going to be eaten, she was glad the cat was sparing her from knowing when it was coming. The sound, soft as a coin dropping onto the dusty ground, was all she heard before the large cat screamed. There was gunfire too. Something frighteningly close stirred up some of the dirt she was hiding on. The screaming of men was next. It wasn’t long before it was quiet, and she knew on some level that the cat had killed the men. The paw to her head again had her lifting it up to see if she was next. The cat had been hurt. Blood was pouring from her shoulder at an alarming rate. Sitting up, unmindful of whether it was safe to do so, Morgan tore at her nightgown to staunch the blood as she spoke to the leopard. “I think you saved me.” The cat just let her poke around at her wound, soon lying down when she asked her to do so. “The bullet needs to come out. If it doesn’t, I’m afraid you’ll get sick and die from it. I wish I had my knife here. But I think I can see it enough to get it out with my fingers. I won’t do any more than I have to. All right?”

Morgan worked for fifteen minutes in getting the bullet out. The cat never hurt her. Never tried to get away from her as she worked. Sweat poured off Morgan’s forehead as she finally got it free. When she was finished, she showed it to the cat. “See? Someone got a shot in. I promise you, I’ll make sure you’re all right. Do you have a lair? Someplace you can rest?” The cat stood up, and that was when she noticed she’d had kittens recently. “Oh no. Where are they? You left your den to come to save me? Come on. I’ll help you back.” It wasn’t far, only about a hundred yards from where the cat had come to her. It occurred to her that the cat was more than likely saving her kittens from being found when she killed the men, but Morgan was ever so grateful she’d spared her. Helping the cat into the den, she saw that she had three of the pudgiest little kittens she’d ever seen. “They’re beautiful. Oh, look at them. You are a good momma, Golden Eyes. They’re very fat. I’ll stay with you until you need to eat again. Then I’ll hunt for you.” The cat didn’t seem to mind when Morgan picked one of the kittens up, so she touched each of them in turn. “You’re very lucky those men didn’t find you too. But I guess you knew that.” She stayed with the family overnight. There wasn’t any way she’d be able to make her way back home in the darkness, so it was fine with her to be in the cave for the night. The kittens woke hungry a couple of times in the night. Instead of having Golden go to them, Morgan carried them back and forth to their mother. She seemed to be all right with her helping that way.

When the sun was coming up, Morgan not only made sure the family had water, but she also scavenged as much as she could from the horses the men had come out here on. Hardtack was in abundance, but she was also able to get herself some much-needed flint, as well as some blankets. Taking it to the cave, she put the kittens on one of the blankets and then sat down to watch them fall over each other until they had their spot picked out. It was calming to watch them, she thought. They were just too little to do much more than be roly-poly little kittens. Giving the hardtack to Golden, she made her way to her home. It was further than she’d thought it might have been, and she didn’t arrive there until the sun was nearly down. Going into the house by way of climbing up the back stairs, she heard her parents speaking from their balcony. Sliding out onto her own, she stood deep in the shadows to listen to what they might be saying. Her mother was standing at the railing, her father deeper in the room. “I cannot believe she’s gone.” Morgan started forward, wanting to assure her mother she hadn’t been hurt at all. “This was a brilliant idea you had, Malcomb. To have it look as if she’d been kidnapped, then killed. I have never wanted anything more than that child dead.” Her heart hurt. Her mind didn’t know how this was really what her mother was saying. They weren’t close, but she never thought she’d want her dead. But when her dad came out to the balcony too, she watched the two of them as they stood there in an embrace.

“Well, it wasn’t nearly as hard as I thought it would be to get some men gathered up to take her. As you said, it’s a good thing now that she’s gone. When they find her body, it will be blamed on anything but me.” Mother said it wouldn’t be her fault either. “No. No one will bother with blaming you, my dear. For all they know, you’ve committed suicide because your daughter is gone.” It took her less time than it apparently did her mother to understand what her father was saying. As soon as he nearly pushed her mother over the railing, intending, she was sure, to make it look as if she had fallen to her death by her own hand, Mother grabbed her father’s coat. The two of them hung there for what seemed like forever. Would they both fall? Would they be able to save one another? She didn’t care. So when her mother’s weight took them both over the edge, Morgan stood there for several minutes, thinking about what had just befallen her family. Looking over the edge of her own balcony, she saw them there, tightly embraced as if in a lover’s hug and dead. Blood spread out beneath their heads as if a bucket of it had been poured over the two of them. Making her way to the kitchen area, she staggered twice in her grief. Not that they were dead—no, it was that they had planned her demise in such a cold way. Lincoln was there, the butler of the house when she entered. He took one look at her and sat her in the chair she’d spent more time in than the ones in the formal dining room. Lincoln, she knew, would be her family from now on. “Child, what is it?” She must have been a mess. Or looked on edge. The slap to her cheek stung enough that she was brought out of whatever thoughts she’d been having.

“What’s happened? Your parents, they told the household you’d been kidnapped. Are you hurt?” She told him everything, not leaving out anything, including the cat that had saved her. Also, leaving no doubt to the older man that her parents had planned for her to be killed this night. Lincoln sat down across from her after making her a cup of tea that was mostly bourbon. “You are mistress of the house now. Tomorrow we will find their bodies whilst you are still abed. You will say you were out with the creatures of the field. They will believe that well enough. That is where you are most of the time.” She asked him about the cats. “’ Tis your decision. However, if you were to bring them here, none of the rest of the staff will mind. It is you we stayed for all these years, and not your parents.” “I’ll need help bringing them here.” He said he’d go with her. “They’re far. Much further than I had thought. But I wish them to be safe, Lincoln. She saved my life, and I will do the same for her and her family.” “You have a good heart, child—a very good one. We shall leave now and take lanterns with us. A basket too so we might carry the little beasts.” She asked him if he didn’t want them here. “Nay, I want what you want. We all do. Tomorrow after your parents are found, we’ll be as we should have been. A good home and a safe one. Mark my words on that. I will talk to you, as we go about now that you are mistress of the house, what men will do to get to you.

They’ll want you, but you’re too stubborn to be a good wife to anyone seeking your hand. It might be well that there are cats here to protect you. You have become a very wealthy woman.” As they were making their way to the cave, she wondered if he knew how safe the house would be with leopards in it. Once the kittens grew up, they’d be as big as she was now. Smiling, she thought perhaps she wasn’t all that upset about her parents being dead. They’d been treating her as if she were dead for as long as she could remember. Golden seemed happy to see her. She licked her face and brushed her with her large paws. As Lincoln gathered up the kittens, she helped Golden outside to do her business. It took a great deal out of her, and Morgan had to carry her back into the cave. Once they were all loaded up in the buggy, she sat down with Golden to tell her what had happened. “So I’m motherless except for you. I know you’re a cat, and I’m only a human, but I think we can get along. When the men start to come—and according to Lincoln, they will—I’ll need you to protect me too. I shan’t ever marry. Not only that, but I’m also going to make it my life’s work to make sure animals such as yourself are as safe as I can make them.” Arriving home well after the sun had settled in the sky again, she made sure the mother and kittens were safe in her parents’ big bed. There was a fire in the fireplace for them should the night turn too cold. Morgan also made sure the mother had plenty to eat, having given her one of the steaks her father would treat himself to daily, while she had whatever else he had with his meal. Sleep didn’t take its time capturing her, luring her to a night’s rest. It hit her right between the eyes and had her nearly sick with exhaustion. As she closed her eyes, sleeping in her own bed as if nothing had happened, she knew she’d keep her promises to not just Lincoln and the other staff but to herself as well. The animals here would need her, and she was going to make sure they were as safe as they could be while she was still living. ~*~ Four years later Morgan watched the man as he ran out of her home.

How he’d gotten in was beyond her, but now that he was gone with a little less of his fancy clothing, she sat down on the front veranda and waited for the cats to come to her. Over the last month or so, men had been showing up at the oddest times to tell her she must marry them. They would all come around sooner rather than later. All of her leopards, as well as a plethora of other such creatures, would come to make sure she’d not been harmed or taken away from them. None of the animals would be harmed here, and daily another one or two would come limping into the compound and be welcomed. Golden came to sit at her feet, and she smiled at her when she looked at her. “He had it coming. We both know that. The pompous ass thought if he could tear at my clothing, I’d allow him to marry me so I’d be happy. He said I’d need someone like him to watch over my money and keep me from dying an old spinster.

Apparently, women aren’t meant to think beyond having a man around. I’m much happier without him, I think. What did he think I’d been doing here all alone since my parents died? Waiting on someone to rescue me? Not likely.” Morgan slid to the floor and put Golden’s head on her lap. Running her hand down the length of the cat, she could feel her newest litter wiggling around. “I am worried about you, mistress cat. You’re heavier this time with your brood. Not to mention, I know the wound you suffered for me so long ago bothers you more daily. The babes you brought here that night, they have gone on to have their own children. I cannot believe so much time has passed since that night.” She thought of something and put her forehead to Golden’s. “I just realized you’re a grandmother. Congratulations.” “That would make you an aunt in her eyes.” Morgan reached for her gun, something she’d been carrying since that night, and found it gone. “You cannot kill me, mistress, but I would prefer that you not harm me either. I have come to speak with you about the good works you are doing here. The one you call Golden, she has asked me to come to speak to you about a great many things. In addition, I have some things I need to ask of you.” “Who are you?” The beautiful woman asked if she could tell her in a moment. “So long as you know that whatever it is you’re hawking, I want no part of. We’re doing very well here on our own.” “You are doing better than well, I think. The ground is fertile here, thanks to your way of doing things.

Not all humans would leave an animal to rot on their land without doing something with it.” Morgan told her that other animals took care of it. “They have indeed. Even the things the larger breeds cannot eat or use, the smaller creatures come to salvage what they can. You have a good system here. A system that will not be popular for a great many years.” “I don’t want to have to go into town.” The woman nodded, her smile something she thought more than beautiful. “You said you came here because of Golden. She is a cat. How is it possible that she would call to you?” “Let me start at the beginning, please. The night your parents died, the night you came to help Golden, it was thought that you should have died along with them. Sometimes, with humans, the apple does not fall far from the tree. But you are nothing like them, are you, sweet child? You were not only different from them, but a kinder, gentler person than any of us have ever seen before. We have all been watching you these last years.” Morgan asked her who they were. “Ah, that brings me to your first question. I am Tellus, the terrestrial being that cares for and is wholly a part of the earth. The earth and the land that you have here. Not from my doing but your own, this land is rich beyond anything man has ever seen before.” Morgan didn’t speak, letting all the woman told her to settle into her mind. She’d been alone for most of her life now and had learned not to prattle on when there was no one to talk back to her. Petting Golden, she was glad to hear her purring. The rumbling of her throat was soothing to her for some reason.

“Mother Earth. I’ve read about you. You’re Roman.” She said that was correct. “All right. So you’re here because I have good land. However, I still don’t know why you took time out of your…what I’m sure is a busy day to tell me that.” “You are a jewel among all the stars in the sky, Morgan.” Confused at the words and their meaning, Morgan continued to pet her cat. “We, the other earth creatures, have been watching what you were doing here since that night. We’ve not once had to intervene in helping you care for the animals, all that you protect here. You have lifted a great burden from all of us. Even creatures you may not yet be aware of have found a home here among the others and have been safe from harm. One such creature sits there on your leg. His name is Button.” Morgan looked down at her leg and saw the tiny creature standing there. She put out her free hand, and when he hopped upon it, she brought him closer to her face. Yes, he was a little man, just like the men that had been coming around except for his size. Then while she was watching him closely, he spread out his wings and fluttered above her palm for several seconds before settling down again. “Faerie.” He bowed before her. “I have read of such creatures as this one. They are thought to be a myth. Such as you are, Lady Earth. I have either hit my head, or I’m being visited by creatures as magical as the sun coming up and then resting in the other sky.” “You are seeing magic, my child.” Nodding, she laid her hand back on her leg. Button didn’t sit on her leg again but stayed on her palm. “He wishes to be with you.

To help you in the coming years. For as much as I’d like to say your life will be filled with only riches, we both know it is never that way.” “Nay, it is not. The banker says I owe him great funds for a loan my parents took out before they died. Also, I have a man who is trying his best to catch me unawares, so he might rape me to take my lands. I don’t think he means to keep me around much longer than it takes for me to say, ‘I do.’ They only want what I have.” Tellus said she could help her with those things. “Thank you, my lady. But I’m sure you have enough to do now with the earth as large as it is.” “I do. But helping you is not something I take lightly, my child. We, all the creatures in charge of the parts of the earth you now own, are happy to help you. And in doing so, they will get the help they need as well.” Morgan asked her what they wanted her to do. “You will do it, will you not? Even not knowing what it is we ask of you.” “I will help the earth for as much as it gives back to us here. And that, as you know, is a great deal. We are self-sufficient here. Water is ours to use as we see fit. There is a roof over our heads when necessary. The fields, as you have pointed out, are rich and give us back so much more than we can eat. I share what I cannot have put up or preserved.” Tellus told her she knew that as well. “If you need me to do more, I will do it to the best of my ability.” “Thank you.” Tellus looked at her, then at Golden as she continued. “Golden will stay with you until the kittens are born. Her children will be the first of many creatures that will take on this new magic we wish you to help with.”

“She’s going to die.” Tellus nodded but didn’t look at her. “I thought when I’ve seen her around this time, she wouldn’t make it for long after. You do know she’s the only friend I have besides the people that work here? I’ve thought about, for long hours, how I will make it without her counsel. Without her snuggling up to me when I need it. I don’t know that I want to. But I must, for the others.” “Yes, you will,” Tellus told her of the magic that would be given to her. About the babes Golden would have, and how they would go on to be great men, to help her in ways that Tellus and the others hadn’t thought of yet. “The magic they will get will help them to be a part of the world of men. To breach such places that even now frighten us a little. We will need you to help them blend into such places. To walk, talk, and act like real men. The abilities we will give them will make them a prize should anyone find out. So it is important they do not give themselves away while men. Do you understand?” “Yes. I’m to be their teacher.” Tellus told her that she would also be their mother. “I have questions now, but I know I will have so many more when the time comes. I will teach them everything I can. Give them whatever step up they’ll need so long as I live. I promise you they will be the best of men. Not like the ones that come here sniffing out an easy way to my home.” “You will not die either, Morgan.

You will be around for their children to come into the world, as well as all the shifters that are to be born.” Morgan asked her about the men coming around. “They will not come around again should you wish it. Button will have an army of faeries that will come to your aid in that and anything else you might need them for. Do not be fearful of using them either. Rightly so, they are excited to serve one such as yourself. You have been titled with the name Queen of Shifters.” “You don’t have to do that, my lady. I said I would help you.” Tellus laughed, and it made Morgan smile. “I will do as asked. The rest I will accept as part of my duties, but I don’t see myself using it overly much.” “I foresee you using the magic given to you much more than you think you will.” Tellus laughed again, bringing yet another smile to Morgan’s face. “I will also give you a list of things you will need to invest in. They will fund you better than a bank will, and you will remain self-reliant at the same time. Also, the bank has been taken care of. He will no longer bother you about funds he thinks you owe him.” “Thank you for that.” Morgan looked down at her friend and ally in all this. “What will become of me when you no longer have a use for me, my lady?” “There will always be a use for you, child. A creature such as you will forever bond with the earth and make everything around you a better place. I have such faith in you.” Morgan told her she could only do her best. “And that, my child, is all I could ask for.” The two of them talked throughout the morning and into the evening. Ending up in the living room where there was a fire roaring in the hearth, they were served their tea there, as well as juice. She was told she’d need to be drinking a great deal more of the elixir. And that the fresher it was, the better it would be for her after using magic.

At some point, Tellus took her hand into hers and gave her the magic she’d need. The power of it washed over her in waves. So much so that for several minutes she had to sit still in her seat and wait for it to settle out. Not only did she receive the magic, but the knowledge of how to use it. Also, things she’d been told she must invest in. Things that Tellus told her would be worth a great deal in the future. After Tellus left her to rest, she was told, Morgan sat in the yard at the back of her house. Lincoln came to sit with her a spell, telling her there were faeries in the kitchen now that would make sure the household was safe. Also, he said, he’d been given magic as well. “It is to keep the house in order. To build out, when you need it, my lady.” She said she’d been told she’d need to have a larger house. “I find that hard to believe, but I will do what it takes to have you safe.” “I now have more land as well. Tellus told me there are now five thousand acres here that will be used for the animals in need. No one will be able to enter the land if they wish to harm anything that calls this place home. What am I do to with all this knowledge and wealth, Lincoln?

I know I’m to teach the next generation of cats born to Golden, but how much do you think they’ll need from me? What am I to do when they go out and have their own leap? I shall be an old woman with only you to keep me company.” He asked her if he was immortal as well. “You are. But I was told if at any time you wish to die, I could take it from you. No harm will come to you with it either.” “I think I shall stay with you, my lady. I think we will need each other in the coming years, don’t you think?” She said she needed him every day. “You are so kind to me, Morgan, that I wonder at times why your parents wanted you dead.” “They were in love with themselves.” She knew that to be true as soon as she said it. Looking at the older man, she smiled at him. “You and I will do the best we can and hope it’s right. Someday, I think we’ll look back on this and wonder what all the fuss was about. Don’t you?” “I think I will hold my thoughts on that until such time as it comes to an end.” He laughed a little. “Do you believe it will come to an end, my lady?” “No. I don’t. I don’t have any idea why, but I think we’re going to be having something new and strange happening as a daily routine.” She stood up when he did. “Let us begin this new phase of our life, Lincoln, and hope we make it work better than the thoughts in my head are making it. All right?” “Whatever you wish, my lady. We will do well together, I believe.” She hoped so. It seemed like a great deal was depending on her doing just that, making it work for the safety of all involved. She only hoped she knew enough and was strong enough to make it work for all of them.