Micah Bentley is a third generation cop and a panther. He always wanted to be a homicide detective like his dad, but kept getting passed up for the job because he was too good at what he currently did working the beat. Micah has a gift, he can read people’s minds. Such a gift could be a help and a hindrance on a job. He could pluck the information he needs right out of someone’s mind, but knowing they’re guilty and proving it are two different things. But when his dad is killed off duty it has him rethinking his career choice.
Regina Webster, Reggie to her friends, is just trying to make ends meet by working three jobs to keep her head above water, and also take care of her invalid brother. She doesn’t have time for socializing with bossy men like Micah Bentley who butt into her life making everything concerning her his business. She doesn’t know anything about this mate thing he keeps spouting off about, she just wants him to leave her alone.
Due to a random act of violence, she finds herself suddenly homeless: no home, no money, no car and suffering from a gunshot wound to boot. Reggie has no choice but to accept a helping hand from the Bentleys at―least until she can get back on her feet.
Trouble has Reggie marked, and this time they take Micah’s mom too. Micah knows they’re in trouble, but when the bad guys don’t go where they’re expected it’s a race against the clock…
Nolan finally had a practice of his own, and soon his brother Burke would be leaving the hospital and joining him. Now, if the rest of the family would mind their own business, Nolan would be much happier…or not. He was sulking over his dilemma when his nurse told him he had a patient, a hurt kid who wasn’t doing much talking.
Rylee nearly collapsed with worry when she found out her nephew had been hurt. She wasn’t sure if she was cut out to be a parent. She loved her nephew, Shane, dearly and had taken on his care when her sister died, but how she’d missed the warning signs was beyond her. He was being bullied at school daily and she knew nothing about it until he’d been cut with a knife.
“I didn’t know.” Her entire body sagged at her confession. “He said he had it handled. And I thought he did. It’s my fault he’s beaten up like this. I should have…I’m not any good at this parenting thing.”
Nolan reached for her just as Shane moved on the bed. He wasn’t sure what the kid could do, banged up the way that he was, but as soon as Nolan touched her, he knew what she was to him. Her body, warm and strong, leaned into his even as he buried his nose into her neck. Christ, his body screamed at him, she was his. Licking her throat, tasting her, he could hear her moan, but when his head was jerked up by his hair, all he could do was stare at her.
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Meet Kathi Barton, author of best selling novels such as the Force of Nature series and Ryland of the Golden Streak series. She lives in Nashport, Ohio with her husband Paul Barton, an amazing and talented potter. Kathi likes to spend time with her eight grandchildren. she writes to relax and have fun. Also, she and Paul can be found at auctions in the summer months.
Coleen signed her name to the last page and closed the thick file that had been handed to her. The man across from her, Harry Mercer, hadn’t been a bastard; he could have been, but he was nice to her. She thought that might have hurt most of all. When he asked her if she had any questions, she wanted to ask him why her, but she knew he’d have no more answers to that than she did. “No. I’m going to go live with my grandma, try to get my life together and get a job. They’re taking most of my money, so I’ll have to live very frugally until I win the lottery.” She meant it as a joke but it failed miserably, much as her life had. “How can I make arrangements to pay you back?” “I told you, I’ve made an arrangement with the firm I work for, and this will be a probono case. You have enough to worry about right now, Ms. Greer. And don’t forget, you have to have whomever you work for contact us so that we can make arrangements for the money to come here. And then we’ll disperse the payments that we’ve lined out for you. You’ll be all right. How about we go and celebrate that this is going to be behind you soon?” She told him she just wanted to get out of town. “When do you leave? Not right away, I hope.” “Today. I’ve had to sell my house and my things, so I don’t have anything left here. Grandma has room for me for the time being, and she’ll need help with my brother’s little girl.” She smiled when she thought of the little tike. “She’s a handful, Grandma said. Sweet, but a little energetic for a seventy-year-old to handle.” “I bet she is.” Coleen realized that she was taking up this man’s time, and he’d given her a lot over the last few weeks. “Coleen, are you going to be all right? I know that you didn’t cause any of this, but the law is the law. I think we’re lucky that I was handed this information rather than some other firm. They might have taken you to the cleaners. If you have any questions now or later, just call me. No other lawyer is going to be able to answer them like I can.” “I understand. I thought we were divorced. Apparently I should have looked better at the paperwork he sent me back.” The man nodded and smiled. She didn’t think this was funny, but he might have just been thinking how sad she was. “Thank you so much. You’ve been very kind. I’m not…it’s been a long time since someone has gone out of their way to be nice to me.” As she left the big building, she did wonder what she was going to do now. Her car was loaded with her entire life. And she had just enough money in her purse to pay for gas and as little food as she could eat to get to her next landing spot. Micky hadn’t been a bastard when they’d been married, but this had simply come out of nowhere. The man had been a fruitcake, sure, but she’d never have thought him to have had the brains to have pulled this shit. And now that he was dead, she couldn’t go and find out what he’d been thinking. No one had said a word about the divorce paperwork. She hadn’t thought a thing about it until she’d been summoned to the courthouse under the guise of being the only
living relative to one Mick Greer. When she’d produced copies of the divorce papers that she’d filed to show that she had nothing to do with his debt, they had produced the paperwork that had been filed at the courthouse. It had been fake; nothing about it even made sense. It looked as if Micky had rambled on for several pages about a baseball game that he’d bet on, then about the house that he’d wanted to buy with the money had he won. No one had checked it at the courthouse when she’d taken it to be filed, and she was still legally married. For as much as she found that hard to believe, it was the debt that he’d run up in her name that had floored her. She had no cell phone…the service had been cut off days ago. There wasn’t any way for her to call Grandma and let her know she was coming either. Her money would have to last her the week it would take her to drive there. And calling her would be too costly. So Coleen got into her car and started her trip. Why she had married Micky was a mystery to her. She had been working in Vegas at the time as a dealer, trying to save up her money, and had woken up not only married to the man who had bothered her all night, but also in a house that wasn’t hers…as well as naked. When she tried to get away from him, she realized that she was trapped. Quite literally. He’d cuffed her to the bed. His plan, he’d told her, was to marry her—well, any dealer—and have them stack the tables in his favor. When she’d told him she couldn’t and wouldn’t do that, he’d slapped her, and did so repeatedly over the next several days. When she finally was able to get away from him, he’d tracked her down and told her again what she needed to do for him, and when she’d refused this time, he ended up sending her to the emergency room. Coleen spent the next four weeks hiding and being hurt. It wasn’t until she was able to get to the station house and press charges that she was able to get the divorce started. It had taken her another year and a half to get him to sign the papers. Then seven months later he was dead. She had figured out at some point he was a little off. He’d had lists of things that he wanted her to do for him. One of them was to rob a bank, and another had been for her to run in the Miss Universe pageant. It took her an hour to make him understand that by marrying her, he’d fucked that up. She was no longer single. Micky wasn’t a bad man, just not very smart. That’s why this entire thing with the bills had surprised her. Turning up the radio to drown out her thoughts, she tried to think at what point she’d become such an idiot. Coleen had gone to college, graduated with honors with a culinary degree, and had been on her way to making a name for herself. She only worked part time at the casino to make some extra money for herself to buy her first home. Then after she’d gotten that, she’d wanted a newer car. That had never happened, along with a lot of other plans that she’d had. All because she’d been the fancy, as he’d called her, to a man that had no idea what he was up to most of the time. And now he’d ruined her from the grave without giving her any idea why he’d done it. Coleen wasn’t sure if she’d really been his fancy or someone that had been in the wrong place at the wrong time. But it was the only reason she could come up with for him marrying her. She oftentimes wondered if he’d drugged her too. Not even the chapel that she’d supposedly gone to could believe it when she’d been brought in. The man who
ran the place, an Elvis impersonator, had told her she had seemed intoxicated and not really into her new husband. There were no recordings of the nuptials, and the marriage had been filed correctly. Coleen wondered, not for the first time, if things would ever go her way. “I’ll never trust another man, that’s for sure.” She looked at the radio when it just popped twice and went out. “See? Can’t even trust a fucking car.” Coleen drove until she was simply too tired to go on. Pulling into a rest area, she made her way to the bathroom with her things and cleaned up. It was the best she could do, she knew that; but she still would love to have had a nice deep tub with a million bubbles. After brushing her teeth, she made her way back to her car to sleep for a few hours. At the rate she was going, she was going to need to be hosed off outside when she got to Ohio before her grandma would allow her into the house. As soon as she closed her eyes, the tears started. They were useless, she knew that. As much as she hated to shed them, there was just no stopping them these days. She wasn’t depressed, but really sad. How had things come to this? It was a question that she had no answer for. Coleen wasn’t even sure there was one. For the next fifteen years, more if she didn’t get a job soon, the law firm would be taking more than half of what she made. It didn’t matter if there were tips involved; she’d have to declare a percentage of whatever the check would be even if she didn’t make that much in tips to cover it. Micky had put her in debt for over a hundred and fifty-three thousand dollars. Lucky for her, or them, they only wanted to collect half. Like she had twenty-six thousand dollars just laying around. “And let’s not forget the funeral costs. The fucking bastard even stuck me for that.” Why he’d needed the best of everything was beyond her, but Harry had shown her what the bill had come to, as well as a prearrangement form that he’d filled out at some point. That was another thing that surprised her. Micky had seemed to live in the now, not ever thinking of the future. Who was going to give a shit if he was in an oak casket with silk trim when he was in the dirt? That was another twenty-three thousand dollars, because he’d decided that instead of just calling hours like a normal person would have, he wanted a wake, with steak and lobster served to his mourners. Had Coleen had any idea she would have put a stop to it. But at the time she thought she wasn’t his wife and was not responsible for his bill. Selling her home and cashing in all her money had only paid a few bills. The rest, every charge card that he’d forged her name to, every charge that he’d put to every store along the strip, was now something that she’d be paying forever, it would seem. All because she was pretty, he’d said. As the sun was coming up on yet another fucked up day, she gathered her things and went to the bathroom to clean up again. Coleen got a soda from the vending machine, and looked longingly at the overpriced candy bars there. Turning her back on them, she went to her car and started out again. Her plan was to eat only at lunch, and then at a buffet. It was cheating, she knew, taking carry out at those kinds of restaurants, but it might be the only way she could eat decently for the next week.
It was going to be a very long week too. And she’d be on the road for Christmas, which was only a few days away. Crying again as she started out, she realized that she needed to get a grip on herself. She wasn’t a whiney person, had never been one to let people walk all over her, but she was as stressed as she’d ever been, and felt like the weight of the world was around her neck. Coleen just wanted one or two things to go her way. She thought even that was too much to ask. ~~~ “Christmas is in three days. Are you ready for it?” Tony wasn’t sure how he was supposed to be ready when all he had to do was show up with some gifts and be cheerful, but he nodded at Micah. “Did you even decorate your house?” “I just moved in about an hour ago, so no, I’ve not decorated. And since it’s just me living there, I don’t really care to go to the trouble of putting up a tree by myself and then having the job of taking it down again.” Micah nodded and Tony realized he was distracted. “Did you get the elephant that I sent you? I also managed to snag a snake or two. They should arrive by courier sometime on Christmas morning. I think Reggie will love it, don’t you?” “Yes, yes. What did you get for Grandma and Grandda? Did you get the luggage set that I told you about?” Tony thought this was just too much fun. He told him he’d gotten them four sets. And that he’d made sure they were the ugliest colors that the store had had. “And did you wrap them or have them wrapped? I want this to be perfect.” “It’s going to fail. All of it is going down the tubes with you right at the end of it. They’re going to be calling the holiday fucked up day rather than Christmas after this, all because you failed.” Micah looked at him as if he’d just found out he was there. “Are you back now? If you’re going to berate me about something, the least you can do is pay attention to me.” “It’s the girls’ first Christmas, and we just heard that the little boy that we were going to take for the holidays might come to us permanently. His parents just don’t want him.” Tony told him congratulations, but he still wasn’t sure that Micah was paying attention to him. “How can someone just say, ‘I don’t want a part of my body’ like that? I mean, it’s their child. Created by them with passion. I just don’t understand how anyone can do that. She was leaving the hospital and said she wasn’t going to take him at all.” “The child will be better off with you guys anyway…you know that as well as I do. And he’ll be loved, not just by you but all of us.” Micah nodded. “What’s really eating at you? You’re acting like a man who is going to the gallows, not getting ready for the best time of the year.” Micah didn’t look as if he was going to answer, but Tony could wait him out. Something was bothering him, and until he got some help with it, he was going to stew himself into being sick. Tony had been doing that a lot himself lately…worrying about shit he had no control over. “Before I forget to tell you, Bethany and Amanda said to tell you that they’re going to join us for Christmas Eve dinner. That was really great of Reggie to invite them.” Micah nodded and said he liked them both. “Did you get her anything? Amanda, I mean?”
“I did. I’m sure all of us did. She’s come right into our hearts like she belonged there. Her dad is going to get to come back early too. Hardship discharge. Reggie is swinging it for him. And he’s going to be honorably discharged too. Don’t tell them, it’s a surprise to them all.” Tony knew that it was hard on the elderly woman raising a little girl. He’d been talking to Bethany a lot lately. The woman was really worried about her granddaughter too, the one coming home soon. “Did you get the cell phone delivered to Coleen, her granddaughter, like you said you were going to?” “Yes. We have no idea where she might be, but I had one sent to each of the bigger cities along the route she told Bethany she was taking. They’ll use them for something if they don’t find her, but they’re watching for her. I have a friend that is supposed to give her some cash, and I’ve reimbursed him for taking it to all the places where the phones are. I don’t know if the police will find her, but hopefully she’ll hook up with them and not break down on some secondary road. I can’t imagine going on a trip that far without some sort of way to contact people.” Micah said had he known, they could have sent the plane for her. “Yeah, I thought of that too. Hopefully she’ll be able to contact Bethany soon and she’ll feel better. Now tell me what has you all twisted up. It’s not just this little boy either.” Bethany had shared with him how broke her granddaughter was. And why. Her exhusband had done a number on her. She’d had to sell her home and everything of value that she’d owned, and it still hadn’t been enough. Even the cell phone had cost much more than Coleen could handle at the moment. But when she arrived, if she did, there was not just a place for her to live, but a job too if she wanted it. The news that she had some cooking experience had made Elroy Baker jump right on hiring her, sight unseen. He just hoped the man wasn’t taking on more than he could handle with this girl. Tony didn’t much care for the new chef, and thought him a lush. “I’ve been worried over Mom.” Tony asked him what had been going on with Mom. “She’s doing too much. I think she might be spreading herself too thin, and I’m worried that she’ll get sick.” “I think she’s happy working at Faerie Tales and Dreams, don’t you?” Micah said she was but that was not what he meant. “Then I don’t understand why you’d think she’s overworking herself.” “She also works at the shelter, at the school, as well as helping us out with the girls when she’s here. Did you know that she and Grandma had a fight the other day?” Tony said that he’d been unpacking and not heard. “Grandma wanted Mom to slow down and to take it easy. I guess they were working on the Christmas thing for the pack when Mom just keeled over. Grandma said it scared her to death. Mom insisted she was fine, but Grandma was too worried to let it go and made a big deal out of it, and Mom blew up at her. I asked Mom about it and she got angry with me too.” “You have Chris or one of the others look?” Micah shook his head. “I’d be talking to someone who can have a look without Mom knowing. I know that it’s underhanded, but it worries me too that she fell over. Was she hurt or anything?” “No, she just said she was tired and got a little dizzy. I know that we’re all immortal, but that doesn’t lessen the fact that she’s our mom and not well.” Tony agreed. “I was
wondering, since you’re almost the baby and all, if you’d go and talk to her. She likes you a great deal more than she does me right now.” “Oh, so you want me thrown under the Mom bus. I see how you are.” Micah said he was worried. “I am too, but what if she takes all my gifts back? I saw my name on a lot of those packages under that tree. I’d love to be strong enough to open them.” “I’ll make sure you get them.” They both laughed. “So you’ll do it? You’ll talk to her and find out what’s going on for us?” “Yes, I will…but you owe me.” Micah told him anything. “You might not think that’s such a good idea when I figure out what it might be.” “To know that Mom is only tired and not sick, I’ll do it. Even dance naked in the streets if that is what you want.” Tony thought that had some merit to it, but only smiled. “Christ, you have no idea how much better this has made me feel already.” “She might just tell me to fuck off too.” Micah said he didn’t think she would. “Why? Because you think she has some sort of different love for me? I’m pretty sure that she loves us all equally.” “She does, but you’re her baby boy. Well, second baby boy. She has special feelings for you on that score.” Tony told him he was full of shit. “That too.” When he left for his new home, he thought about his mom. She was the best, always there for them, and kept them straight. Any of them could go to her for anything and she’d tell them not what they wanted to hear, but what they needed to hear about whatever problem they had. Tony decided to go and see her, just to see if she was really doing all right. He pulled up in front of Faeries Tales and Dreams, where he knew she’d be; or would be soon enough. The nursery/greenhouse was busy. He’d known it would be even before it had opened. Being the week before Christmas and a new place in town, people were coming in to see what sort of things they might be able to get last minute. His mom was at the cash register ringing out a woman who had two carts full of things. He kissed his mom on the cheek and started to wrap the pretty little ornaments in the tissue paper on the counter. “Maybeth, you remember my boy, Tony. Tony, this is Sarah’s mom. She just came in to see if we had any more of the furniture for the gardens.” Tony thought it looked like she might have cleaned them out, she had so many of them. “I was just telling her about the summer items we have coming in. You going to put any pots on your porch?” “I don’t know right now.” He started to tell her just what he’d told Micah, he’d just moved in, but he looked at her face. She was making a sale and he was fucking it up for her. “Yes. I want to get them, but I’m not sure how many right now. I’ve got a big wrap around porch that I think can hold about two dozen; don’t you think, Mom?” “Oh yes, and around your back deck too.” He nodded, not sure what went on a back deck that didn’t go on the front, but she smiled at him. “You should see his home, Maybeth. It’s a beautiful sight to behold. I’m hoping that he’ll have some decorations up for next Christmas; we have so many here to choose from.” He looked around. The place looked like a grocery store when a big storm was going to hit. The shelves were a little bare; the trees that had been decorated were devoid of
much more than a few items. The shelves for the faerie items, a huge hit for the nursery, were mostly empty as well; even the displays had been picked clean. He looked again at the cart that his mom had yet to empty. The woman had spent a great deal of money here, and his mom had been responsible for it, he knew it. After Maybeth left with a promise of being called when the new shipments came in, he hugged his mom. “You came here just to give me a hug?” He told her of course. “Yes, well, pull the other leg. I’m not buying it. Which one sent you, Micah or Reggie? Or was it your grandma? I’m sort of upset with her too.” He sat on the counter and smiled at her. “Spill it, young man, I’m too busy to mess with you.” “You have no idea what my house looks like, because every time I want you to come out, you’re off on some project. And when I invited you to lunch yesterday, you didn’t show.” She told him she’d forgotten, but had been busy. “Yes, I’m beginning to see that you’re really busy. With other people.” “Don’t try that guilt on me. I have a life too. Or I’m trying to make me one. So what if I fell over? It’s not that big of a deal. I’m sure you have as well at some point lately.” He told her that he’d not fallen since he was a baby, and she knew it. “I’m just trying to be helpful to Pip and her new venture.” “Micah wanted me to come and see what’s up. I think he thought I’d come here, talk to you a bit, and you’d just tell me. You won’t, so I’m not even going to try that way. But I am going to find out what’s going on. And you are not trying to help Pip. You’re avoiding things, and I want to know why.” He could see her temper rising, but he didn’t let it get to him. She was his mom and like the rest, he was worried about her. “Mom, that’s not going to work with me and you know it. You can bluster and be pissy all you want, but I’m going to know why you’re avoiding us and getting sicker by the day for overworking yourself.” “Micah and Joey have their families all set. Nolan and Rylee get along so well that I’m not sure that they even finish a sentence when they’re together. Burke loves his new job and his mate, as it should be. He takes such good care that she’s happy and not depressed all the time, and I love him all the more for it. Garth is out making money hand over fist. You have a new home that is all complete and not in need of a mother’s touch. Even your grandparents have their own things going on. Howie has his own business ventures going on. Since the nursery opened Katie has been in more flower clubs than I knew existed. And here I stand, all by myself, feeling like I’ve missed the boat somewhere along the line.” He told her he loved her very much. “And I love all of you, but I miss your father.” That surprised him. His dad had been gone almost twenty-two years, and she was now missing him? Tony knew there was more, a lot more, but he stood up and hugged her to him. “My home needs you very much. I have the things I want in it, but it feels cold and lonely. It’s why I wanted you to come out. I have boxes everywhere, but I don’t want to unpack. I feel lonely too.” He lifted his mom’s chin up and looked at her. “Why are you missing Dad so much right now, Mom?”
“He would be so happy with all that you boys are doing. He’d be helping with decorations in the yard like he used to do. There would be menus going around, things that you boys like the most, and how we were going to incorporate them into the meal. The grandchildren would be spoiled with gifts; not that I haven’t done that, but I find myself thinking of him with each purchase and it saddens me.” Tony felt his own sadness take him a little. “I’m trying to keep busy so that it doesn’t hurt so much that I feel like a fifth wheel right now.” “Oh, Mom, you are anything but a fifth wheel. You hold us together; you have always held us together. Dad would be so proud of you.” She wiped at his tears and hers. “Mom, I love you so much. I don’t know what I’d do without you in my life. And that being said, I need for you to take a break, come to my house, and show me how to put a lap blanket on the back of my couch so that it looks homey, not staged. How to put my canisters on the counter so that they don’t look like I stood across the room and tossed them there. And for the love of all that is holy, can you please tell me what I’m supposed to do with five bedrooms, and a living room that looks like I could host a thousand people in it?” “Oh, my dear boy, you are the very best.” He told her that he knew that. “I’m sorry. I guess I should tell everyone else that I’m sorry too.” “Nah, let them stew around about it for a while. But I really think you should take it easy. Not quit working, because I know how much fun you’re having, but come back to us. We need you to.” She nodded. “And since I know there is someone here that can take over for you, why don’t you come out to my house, have some dinner, and help me out? I hate the way my house feels so cold.” “You just need a woman’s touch.” He nodded. “I’m sorry, baby. I truly am. But I’ll help you out. No telling when you might find the right girl.” He had to tell her, soon he knew, that his own mate had died. As she went back to find someone to take over for her, he looked around again and had to smile. The trees were already redecorated and the shelves looked as full as they’d been on opening day. Magic could really make a place look good, he thought. He wondered what it would look like when spring rolled around. Christ, this place would be beautiful.