Colin McCullough gets the phone call that all military families dread?his brother Hawkins has been shot. Colin only wants to thank Hawkins’s commanding officer for saving his brother’s life, but he can never seem to get past the guards in the hospital’s hallway to personally thank the man.
Major Lauren Burcher is all Army and head of a special task team usually sent in to clean things up. This time, her team is ambushed by friendlies, and Lauren and her best man Hawkins McCullough barely make it out alive?they were set up. Someone wants them both dead.
Another attempt on Lauren’s life in the hospital fails miserably, and when Colin scoops her up in his arms to place her back in the hospital bed, he finds a gun pointed at his forehead at point blank range. In that moment he realizes this bad-assed scary woman is his mate.
Lauren wants no part of this mate business. Relationships get messy and this jerk is bossy as hell. And Lauren doesn’t take orders…she gives them. But it will take all of them, his family and hers, to keep her and Hawkins alive….
Amazon USA http://www.amazon.com/Colin-McCulloughs-Jamboree-Shapeshifter-Romance-ebook/dp/B01BRVLAWM/ref=sr_1_1_twi_kin_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1455576297&sr=8-1&keywords=Colin+By+kathi+s+barton
Amazon UK http://www.amazon.co.uk/Colin-McCulloughs-Jamboree-Shapeshifter-Romance-ebook/dp/B01BRVLAWM/ref=sr_1_1_twi_kin_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1455565753&sr=8-1&keywords=Colin+by+Kathi+s+barton
Amazon CA http://www.amazon.ca/Colin-McCullough%E2%80%99s-Jamboree-Shapeshifter-McCulloughs-ebook/dp/B01BRVLAWM/ref=sr_1_1_twi_kin_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1456090955&sr=8-1&keywords=colin+by+kathi+s+barton
I Books https://itunes.apple.com/us/book/colin/id1084835778?mt=11
Run. The single word screamed through her mind over and over while she lay hidden in her hiding place under the bed. They were at it again. Her parents never let the setting of the sun go by without hitting and screaming at one another, usually both. Sometimes her as well.
At twelve, RaeAnn just wanted to be safe. And even as young as she was, she knew other families weren’t like hers. She wished every day that she’d not been born…at least not to these people.
The door to her room slammed back against the wall and startled a small whimper from her. Putting her hand over her mouth, she tried her best to not make another sound. Even breathing hard would bring her pain from them. The dark shadow could be either of them. Both her parents had a large build, long hair, and thick, mean hands.
“Girl!” her father screamed. “Come on out here. See to your mother so we can go to bed. You hear me? I said to get your skinny ass out here and fix her face up. It’s bleeding from some kinda cut.”
RaeAnn wouldn’t help either of them by coming out of her hiding place. She’d learned her lesson the hard way about giving aid to one or both of them. Once she’d done what they wanted her to do, they’d find some little flaw with it and would knock her around until she was in worse shape than they had been. When the bed over her was suddenly gone, she held her breath harder, hoping that he’d not come any closer to her hiding place.
RaeAnn had skipped school over the course of several weeks to make this hiding space for herself, working until she was too exhausted to go on most days. Her parents were gone, no doubt to find somewhere that was giving something away, or digging through the dumpster to find a few thrown-away things that they could sell for a quick buck or two. They worked harder at that than they ever had at a job, she thought. But it was long enough for her to have gotten all the work done she needed without them knowing what she was about. Her hidey hole was perfect, so long as they didn’t come too far into her room.
She’d taken up the floorboards. Most were rotted anyway and had been easy to remove. Then she’d dug out the dirt, just enough that she could use old bricks that had been stolen long ago to shore up the floor of the hole. Then she’d taken the dirt and filled old pop and beer cans to make up the rest of the walls around her when the bricks were gone. The place beneath her bed had less wind coming in than the room that she slept in, too.
“Girl, where the fuck are you?” He stomped into the room deeper, holding the dripping knife he had in his hand like he still meant business. Still she didn’t move, even when a drop of whatever was wet on the knife dripped down on her cheek. RaeAnn knew that it was blood, his or her mother’s, but she didn’t move an inch to even wipe it from her. It was simply too dangerous right now.
He was standing on the last solid board before he got to the ones she’d had to makeshift to get her place ready; the first of many that she’d not removed to hide because it had been too solid for her to move without any tools, which she supposed was a good thing. One more, even half a step, and he’d be on top of her. His weight would crash upon her when he broke through to her.
Run, her mind screamed at her. Run now! But even if she did, there was no safe place for her to go. No neighbors that would offer her help, and certainly no one close enough that she could get to before one or both of her parents caught up with her again. Living in the middle of nowhere as they did, and using a long since abandoned house, there were little to no luxuries for her to use as a source of comfort.
No power and no heat. Water for some reason was plentiful, but it was ice cold even in the dead of summer, and even colder when there was snow on the ground, as there was now. Its source, as far as she could tell, was an underground well. A long hose from it to the house had given them at least some way to clean themselves…if her parents ever tried, that was.
They used lanterns for light mostly, but there was seldom money left over after beer and pop was bought to supply them with much more than a thimbleful of lantern oil. Candles, mostly birthday ones and some scented ones that would stink up the place rather than improve on the odors, would be what she’d do her homework by.
“Where is she?” Her mother stood in the doorway, her hulking frame blocking out the little moonlight that came in through the broken window in the living room. “She run off again?”
“Don’t see her, do you? Fucking moron. What the fuck is wrong with you? Ain’t you done heard me calling out for her to come and help you out? She’s not in here now, is she?” Her mom called her father an asshole and they were at it again. This time in her room.
As they tumbled out, their fists hitting whatever was close enough to them, she heard them grunting in pain. Nothing was safe. RaeAnn cried silently as they continued to fight. Nothing in her room was worth worrying about, nor was there anything that she treasured.
It wasn’t long before the silence became enough that she knew they’d either killed each other, which she prayed would happen nightly, or they’d finally tired themselves out. RaeAnn didn’t move. She wasn’t stupid enough to think that the coast was clear just yet. Another ploy that she’d been caught in. She would wait them out, even if it took all night.
RaeAnn must have dozed off at some point. Her room was deadly silent, the place bright with the sun. There wasn’t any sound coming from the rest of the house, so she moved her body first, trying to work out the sore places before she stood up. If she had to run, she wanted to be as ready as she could be.
They were gone. She could see that now. Lifting herself out of the hole, she could see beyond to the other room. The shack was only the three rooms, not even a bathroom inside the place other than a commode that rarely worked and the hose that was brought in from the well in a curtained off area in the living room to wash-up with
when it was necessary. RaeAnn did a wash up every day, but she knew that her parents did only when it was too much for them to sleep together. Moving out of the house, she kept an eye out for them.
She had no coat or shoes that she could put on despite the cold weather. They were both somewhere in the house, she knew that. But she could only use them when she was going to school, and had to remove them both and turn them in every day to whoever was there when she got home. It was like the library, she thought…only on loan to her until she could no longer wear them. Which was pretty much where she was with both pieces of clothing now.
Not bothering to grab up anything, RaeAnn made her way out of the house and took off at a run toward the woods. She had no idea what was this way. The bus picked her up about a mile from the house in the opposite direction, but she figured that this was her best bet at getting away. This time, RaeAnn thought, she was staying away from them.
Her feet were hurting when she’d gone no more than an hour from the house. But she didn’t stop. Stopping now would get her caught, so she kept her eye on the mountain in front of her—her guiding light, so to speak—and kept going. She’d make it or die, which was a good possibility right now. RaeAnn was cold and starving, but she was freer now than she’d ever been.
It had been dark for some time when she came upon the barn. Cows and a bull had been in a field that she’d gone around, and she’d kept an eye on the massive bull that seemed to move along with her but yet never came at her. When the barn’s light went off, RaeAnn stood by the tree she was nearest as a few deer moved, then the light flickered on again. As she watched, the light went off and on twice more before the deer moved on, and she knew they were the cause of it.
Slipping into the barn had been easy. It was a good deal warmer than it was outside, and the snow had just begun to fall again. Several inches blanketed the ground already, and RaeAnn knew that she was making the perfect path for her parents to find her. But right now, she was too hungry and hurting too badly to care if they found her or not. She moved to the bales of hay and lay down on the parts that were broken off. RaeAnn knew that she should keep moving, but decided that she could do so better if she had a little nap.
Peter kissed his lovely wife on the cheek as he made his way out to the barn. They had a lot of things to do today, and one of them was to put together the new baby bed that had arrived just yesterday. In three months they’d be parents, and he was as tickled about that as he could be.
As soon as he opened the barn door, he knew something was wrong. A girl was standing at the feed bin to one of his prized cows, talking. And she was eating the feed and telling the poor cow staring at her that she was so sorry, but her belly was too empty for her to not take what she could. Peter cleared his throat as gently as he could, and fell back when she came at him with a pitchfork. As it was, he was pinned tightly against the barn wall as she stared at him with more fear than he had.
“I’m not gonna hurt you.” Nothing, just that…it took him a few seconds to realize that she was fevered. “You need me to call someone for you? I can. My wife is just in the house and I can have her call your parents for—”
“I won’t go back.” He nodded, not sure what she meant, but right now he’d agree with her if she told him he was a woman. “I won’t go back. Please don’t make me.”
“All right.” He reached for his wife and told her what was going on. He also told her to bring her medical bag. He thought the girl was sick and his wife might be able to help her before he called the police. “My wife is coming out now. She’s a doctor and can help you.”
“I don’t want to go back there. Don’t make me, please.” The door opened and he didn’t look to see if it was his wife or not. The girl still had the fork at his chest, and he knew that if something startled her, he’d never see his child being born. “I won’t go back.”
“I won’t make you. You just have to let me go now.” He looked her over, trying to see if there were any other weapons on her that he needed to know about, and saw the blood on her bare feet. “Where are your shoes? And coat?”
“It’s not a school day.” He had no idea what she meant by that, but she continued before he could ask. “I can’t have them unless it’s a school day. Please don’t make me go back.”
“Put that down right now.” Peter closed his eyes when Mary spoke harshly to the girl. “What do you think you’re doing? I said put it down.”
The glazed look turned from him to look at his wife. Peter wanted to knock the fork away, but he knew that being stupid right now would get them both killed. The girl’s hand started to tremble and the fork came closer to his chest.
“I don’t want to go back.” Mary told the girl that she wasn’t going anywhere, that she needed to put the fork down. The girl looked at it like she only just realized that she had it, and it lowered to the floor. “I can just go now. I can just leave and you don’t have to worry about me coming back. I’m not going back there again.”
“Come on now, you just sit right down and let me have a look at those cuts.” Mary spoke softly now as she took the fork from the girl completely and handed it to him. “Peter, go on up to the house and run a bath…well, make that a shower. And find me something that I can soak her poor feet in.”
Nodding, he didn’t want to leave his very pregnant wife with this child, but she seemed to have things under control at the moment. There was something very off about the girl and it frightened him, not just a little. But Mary told him she was just fine and for him to put the kettle on too.
“I don’t think we have time for tea, Mary. This girl tried to kill me.” Mary only patted him on the cheek and told him to go on now. He was in the house filling the kettle before he realized she’d out moved him. Again.
Ever since he’d met her, thinking her well out of his league, she’d been out moving him. He’d say something and she’d sort of agree with him, but he’d end up doing it her way anyway. Usually she was right…well, she was always right. Like them buying this
farm and raising cattle. Some of them big things, others not so much, but she’d bring him around to her way of thinking before he knew what hit him. She was good at that.
When he went back out to the barn, the girl was asleep. Mary told him she’d given her something for pain, and her exhaustion and starvation had taken her under. He looked at the girl now and could see that wherever she’d come from, it had been a long hard way.
“I don’t think she’s eaten a proper meal in a good long time, if ever. And she kept telling me that she’d not go back. I was wondering if you’d do me a favor.” He knew what she wanted and he wasn’t going to do it. “We have to know if they’re in worse shape than she is. What if someone came to wherever it is she was living and killed her whole family, and she got away?”
“That’s pretty farfetched, even for you.” She did that smile thing again, the thing that made him fall in love with her the moment he’d first seen her. Even before he realized she was his mate. “You want me to go and find where she’s been and see if her family is dead. They could be the ones that were abusing the poor thing; you know that, right?”
“I do.” He started peeling off his shirt. “When you get back, I’ll have you a thick stack of pancakes and some bacon all ready for you. And if you run into trouble, you can call me and I’ll come and rescue you.”
“I don’t care for you much right now.” She laughed, and he bent to pick up the girl when Mary started to. “I’ll take her in the house, but I want you to stay away from her until I get back. Promise?”
“I’ll try to keep away from her.” As they made their way into the house, his burden, he just realized, was lighter than most of the animals they had on the property. Peter decided that he didn’t mind so much that Mary was smarter than him. He loved her that much. He asked Mary how the girl had fared this long. “She’s been starved, Peter. And I don’t think this is a recent thing. Look at her feet and hands. She’s been running for a long distance for some reason, and it frightens me to think she was out there all night without anything to keep her warm or fed.”
“I’ll go and see what I can find.” He laid the girl on the bed and then looked at Mary. “Don’t let her hurt you, love. You’re all I have in the world.”
“We’ll be fine, I promise.”
Peter let his cat take him. His jaguar was glad for the change and stretched twice as he made his way to the kitchen to leave. Again he told Mary to be careful, and she promised him she would. Peter had the girl’s scent, but he only had to follow the footpaths in the snow to find where she’d come from. The blood mixed with the wet falling snow was like a calling card for his cat.
He’d gone perhaps five or six miles when he came upon the building. He was sure that the girl had come from there. Her scent had let him right to it. But to call it a home…Peter was sure that his falling down shed at home had fewer holes in the roof, and the wood would hold out a bit more of the cold too.
Peter didn’t get any closer to it than ten feet because there were humans inside, but he knew that he had to eventually. The scent was fresh blood, and he needed to be
assured that no one else inside was hurt. He was sure, as sure as anything he’d ever felt, that the girl at his house had spent if not her whole life there, then the biggest part of it. His heart broke for her.
The loud voices were violent in nature, and he knew that the sounds coming from the house were people fighting, not just verbally but physically as well. As he made his way closer to the house, he kept an eye out for anyone coming out of the falling down building. Peter didn’t want to get in the middle of anything that was going on right now.
The child had come from this house; he knew it when he crossed over the broken steps onto the porch. There was no doubt about it. And the scents also told him that the people living there had had contact with her. They were related, the three of them, and he was pretty sure that the girl was running from them. As they fell out of the house and into the yard, still hitting each other, Peter made his way into the house through the broken door at the back of the wrap-around porch that had seen better days.
Peter nearly left again, thinking that this could not be a place where people were living, a home. Or what was left of one. But he made his way around the bigger room and found that the girl had been in there a great deal. Then he made his way to one of the other rooms that shot off from the larger one in the middle.
It was hers. He knew that from how strong he could smell her. The bed was broken and shattered against the wall and the floorboards had been ripped up at some point, and he knew that was where she’d hidden before leaving. Peter looked around the room and could see that while it was dirty, it was better kept than the room he’d just left.
There were no pictures on the walls, no girly things to indicate that a child lived there. The bed had a threadbare blanket on it, and no pillow to speak of. The mattress was thinner than his overcoat that he wore in the fall, and the neat stack of clothing in the corner was small and pitiful even for a child. Not even a dresser to put things on, much less inside of it. He moved to the deep hole and looked inside.
Haven. That was all he could think of when he saw what she’d done. Because to Peter, there was little doubt that she’d done this to keep herself safe. Looking around again, he tried to imagine living there. Hearing those people still screaming at each other in the yard, he could not fathom how a person could stand this every day of their life. Moving back through the bedroom, he looked into what he thought was used as a living room.
A couch that was held up on one end with a cinder block sagged dangerously in the middle. The person who chanced sitting there would spill out onto the floor if they weren’t careful as to how they sat. No television graced the walls, and that was when he realized there was no hum of power in the house. The heat, too, was off, if there had ever been any, and he was chilled when an errant breeze blew through the open door.
A curtain was hanging across an area in front of him. Moving slowly toward it, testing the floors as he went, Peter was almost afraid to see what was there; the bathroom, or a makeshift one. A commode sat over a too large hole in the floor, with no plumbing to speak of, and that thought made his belly slightly ill. A hose hung from a
hole in the wall with a dirty towel next to it. The dripping water was freezing in a long stream beneath it, and looked as lethal as any knife or tool he had at his home.
Backing out of the room with the toilet and to his right, he moved through the curtain into another bedroom. A mattress on the floor looked as flat as a board, and probably no more comfortable. Several pillows of varying thickness, from paper thin to almost an inch thick, were at the head of it. Against the walls, all the way around, were piles of junk.
Broken games, torn books, heaters that had been torn apart—for parts, he assumed—and tossed aside instead of dealt with were in the trash. Newspapers that were yellowed with age. Boxes of dented canned goods that he knew were bad even from where he stood. Open bags of chips and popcorn were spread everywhere. Candy bar wrappers and junk food galore littered nearly every available surface of the nasty floor, along with dirty stacks of clothing, stiff with dirt and filth.
Cardboard, like in the other two rooms, covered the windows. There was a little plastic on one of them, but it had long since broken free of the push pins that held it there. It flapped in the wind much like the pretty flag that his wife had in the yard that had their last name on it. Burcher.
Peter? I can feel that you’re upset. What did you find? He didn’t want her to know, but knew also that keeping it from her would eat him alive. He told her what he’d found and who the people were the girl was hiding from. Oh, that poor little thing. To live like that. What do you think we should do?
Peter wanted to tell her that he was going to kill them both, tear their throats out and leave them for the rats and buzzards to fill their bellies on. The feeling was something that he’d never had before, not in all his twenty-seven years. But he also knew that he’d regret it, even if he felt good about it now.
Don’t call the police. Don’t tell anyone that she’s there. And if she wakes and tells you that she’s not going back, you assure her that she isn’t. Not so long as I’m alive she won’t. He heard the couple on the lawn again and moved to the window to get a good look at them. These people deserve to die out here. Where no one will know who they are. And they don’t deserve to have that little girl. People like them should be…Mary, I want to kill them both where they are.
Come home to us. He said he was on his way and looked at the kerosene heater that burned in the living room. The heat, what little the heater was giving off, was being whisked away by the cold that blew through the house like it wasn’t even there. He moved the pillow that had fallen to the floor just a little closer to it. To his way of thinking, if they found it, great; if not, what were they out? Nothing as far as he could see. As he left the house, he decided that he hoped they didn’t find it. He thought they should suffer as much as the child had that was in his home.
“Where is that fucking girl? RaeAnn, damn you girl, when I find you, you’re going to hurt for a damned month this time.” Peter paused to listen to the man yelling again. “RaeAnn Richards, I’m going to beat your ass again. See if I don’t.”
You won’t, Peter thought as he moved out of the broken window. The flame started to flare up just as he heard the man outside stomping his way up and onto the porch
before hearing the jingle of keys somewhere. Hiding deep in the trees, Peter watched the man make his way to a part of the yard he’d not noticed to the big car that had been covered with dead branches and trees. As soon as the engine roared to life, Peter knew that by the time they returned, the house or whatever it was would be gone, and so would all traces of the girl he and Mary were going to raise as their own.
Peter made his way back to his house. He was feeling better about what he’d done to the house with every step he took. It wasn’t fit to live in, he thought, and now that it was gone, perhaps the people there would move away and forget they had a little girl. Although he was pretty sure they’d done that already. After shifting to his human side and dressing, Peter kissed his wife and told her what he’d done.
“Good.” He cocked a brow at her, thinking that she’d be at least a little upset with him over it. “Damned people. They should be horsewhipped.”
His wife never cursed, and to hear her to do so now made him realize that something more had happened. He asked her about it and she burst into tears. Taking her to the bedroom where RaeAnn still slept, he watched in horror as she pulled back the blanket that laid over her and showed him what she’d discovered.
“They branded her. Who does something like that? They put a hot iron to her skin and burned it. Just like she was one of our cows.” He ran his finger over the newly burned skin and felt his heart break. “There are scars on her back too. Like they’d beaten her with a whip. And her feet, they’re going to take a long time to heal. The poor thing. I don’t want to let her go, Peter. We have to keep her here and safe.”
“We are. We will.” He heard the sirens screaming by the farm and smiled. He knew it would be a total loss, and he was even more glad he’d done it now. “Her name is RaeAnn Richards. When she wakes up and is feeling better, I’ll have someone fix up the paperwork with her a new name and identity on it.”
“Good. She’ll be a Burcher and we’ll love her as our own.” Peter hoped it would be that way, but for all they knew the girl was just as bad as her parents. Then he thought of the hole she’d made.
“She’ll be a good girl. And we’ll make sure she has what she needs too.” Yes, Peter thought as he held Mary, she’d be a good addition to their family. Now he had to figure out how to tell her that her new parents were jaguars