Elliot knew the little boy, Cody, was in trouble. When he found the boy hiding out in his greenhouse, he could see that he was starving and battered. The boy’s little dog didn’t look like he was faring any better. When the boy’s father, Duncan, busted down the door of the greenhouse, Elliot had had enough.
Hannah didn’t have much use for her idiot brother, Duncan. And when she heard her brother had murdered his wife, and her nephew Cody was on the run from his father, she wasn’t surprised. She was surprised, however, and elated to find out her sister, Julia, was alive. Julia’s slimy ex-husband, Nathan, had Hannah believing Julia was dead.
Elliot was sent to bring Hannah back. Nathan had learned that Julia had left town and taking Hannah would be his leverage to make Julia do as he wanted. Elliot knew Nathan was on his way, and they had to hurry to keep Nathan from finding her. What he wasn’t expecting to find was his mate.
Hannah had had enough of men telling her what to do and finding out Elliot was a vampire didn’t make the situation any easier. He would take it slow and tread softly, or she would stake him, simple as that.
Finding out Nathan and Duncan had banned together spelled trouble for everyone. Even though Hannah was now immortal, Elliot still worried about her because she could still be hurt, and no one touched his mate if they wanted to live.
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Spencer Graham had been trying to get a hold of Jason Crosby for weeks, but he didn’t seem to answer emails, mail or the telephone. She had an idea that would make them a great deal of money, but she needed him to invest in her project before it was too late. So, barging into his home at 4 a. m. was the only solution as far as she was concerned. She didn’t, however, expect him to answer the door naked and proposition her as soon as she walked in the door. Spencer did the only thing that came natural to her, she knocked him on his ass….
Jason Crosby was nearly two thousand years old, and in all his days as a vampire, he’d never seen anyone quite like her, not that he thought that was a good thing. He didn’t. She was his mate, and he was only going the tolerate her because he had to….
Chase Crosby didn’t know what he wanted right now. He was trying to get a grip on who his new mate was. He was told she was an ice dragon, but that wasn’t right either, she was a protector of the ice dragons. He had so many questions, and all he could do was sit there while she was locked away in his freezer to recover from her injuries.
Emerald was a warrior, and she had no idea what she was going to do with a mate. Even though the vampire appealed to her, she was worried the people chasing her would hurt him or his family to get to her, and she couldn’t allow that.
A Homeland Security Agent had gone rogue and he was after Emerald. He didn’t know exactly who or what she was, but he was going to prove she’d been around for centuries, and it didn’t matter who he had to go through to get to her.
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Cody watched his meal go around and around in the microwave. He didn’t remember the last time he’d had a hot meal before coming here to stay, much less enough to fill his belly. Looking at the little table that Elliot had brought for him to use, he thought of all the times he’d sat at his own table, his mom sneaking bits of meat to him so that he’d have some too. Watching his dad have a full meal while he was made to watch him had made Cody all the hungrier. His mom was dead, and he knew not only who had done it, but also how. Cody tried really hard not to think about that day and the things he’d had to do afterwards. But there were times, like today, that they would come to his head and he’d not be able to think of anything else. The sound of a great crash had him turning off the microwave and grabbing the little phone that had been left for him to use. He had no idea what had caused the sound, but he’d rather be hidden than not. No telling when his dad might think to look in here for him. The greenhouse, he knew, wasn’t all that secure. “Boy, where the fuck are you?” His best friend and dog Buster came to hide with him when he heard his dad’s voice. Buster had been hurt by him too. “I’m talking to you, shit for brains, and you’d better answer me.” Cody opened the phone and looked at the numbers there. He was crying now, and he wasn’t sure he was going to be able to press the right buttons. For some reason, he knew that he’d only have a single chance at calling for help, and he pressed one of the buttons. “What the fuck do you want? Its five in the morning, moron.” He didn’t know the woman’s voice that answered, but he didn’t care. “Did you hear me, fucktard?” “I’m at the greenhouse. He’s here.” The woman changed her voice after that, and he could hear her talking to someone else. Cody was afraid that he had a wrong number and tried again to tell her how scared he was. “He’s here, and I don’t wanna die.” “You’re not. Just stay hidden, Chase and I are coming.” He didn’t know who that was but figured that if the number was in the phone, it was someone that would really help him. So long as it wasn’t put in it wrong, he guessed. “We’ll be there before you know it.” He surely hoped so. As it was right now, his dad was screaming for him to come in and he could hear him breaking stuff. Mr. Elliot was sure going to be mad when he got here. Cody would have to tell him that he could help him clean it up. If he got to live that long. “You’re trespassing, you fucking idiot. Didn’t anyone ever tell you that when you have to break a fucking door to get in, you’re probably not going to be all that welcome?” Cody knew it was the woman on the phone. She sure did cuss a lot. “The police have been called, mother fucker, and you’re going down.” “My kid is in here and somebody is going to pay. I saw that mutt of his yesterday, then he disappeared. I’m guessing that somebody in here is going to jail and not me.”
The woman laughed, and then he heard the strong voice of a man. Cody wasn’t sure what he was saying, but he wasn’t any happier with his dad than the woman was. “I don’t give two shits about this being private property. My fucking shit for brains kid is in here, and I want his fucking ass home. Now get him before I have to hurt you two while I’m at it.” This time he heard the man. “Yes, you go ahead and try that, then we’ll see who gets hurt. Besides, aside from the fact that you’re an idiot, what the hell do you think gives you the right to assume that you can break in here to have a look around? As you’ve been told, several times, this is private property.” If his dad spoke, Cody didn’t hear him. Just then, Elliot appeared and put his hand over Cody’s mouth. “We have a plan.” Cody nodded and stood up when Elliot asked him to. “I promise you with all that I am, he will never harm you. But I want you to go out there and show yourself. My brother and sister-in-law will be out there to help you.” “He’ll kill me.” Elliot reminded him that his dad was only human, and they were all vampires. “Okay, I can see that. But if you guys kill him, and I would if I was one, then I got nobody at all. I mean, he’s a terrible man and the worse father of all, but he’s all I got now. Maybe I should just—” “Don’t say that, all right? You’ll have me. And my family. Do you have any other relatives?” He told him about an aunt that lived in New York. “Good. We’ll contact her when your dad is in jail. Then when he’s there, we can help your mom out of being wrapped up under your porch.” Cody thought he’d rather stay under the bed for the rest of his life than go out there where his father was. His dad was a mean person, and Cody hadn’t had to do much wrong to have his dad wallop him but good. But he did trust this man. The week that he’d been here, with Elliot’s knowledge, he’d got to meet a nice woman, had food all the time, and he was clean. Brandy had seen to that for him too. She took him to her house for the afternoon so that he could get a shower and something that didn’t come from a zapper, as she called the microwave. Also, she did his laundry and gave him cookies and fruit so that he could eat that instead of the things that were bad for him. And she gave him the best hugs a little boy like him could have ever needed. Getting up, he took a long breath in and let it out slowly. He had very little reason to trust anyone. There were people, he knew, that were nice, but in his small experience, they were all mean and hit hard. But not Elliot. He was the nicest man he knew. Cody also knew that his dad would call him a pussy, or some other bad name, just because he could. And he also knew that Elliot or any of Elliot’s family could kill his dad without much effort. “He will never touch you. I promise you, Cody. Never.” He believed that Elliot would try to make that happen, but he also knew his dad. Nodding once to the man who meant the world to him, Cody made his way out into the greenhouse and looked at the damage that his dad had done to get to him.
Why? What reason did he have to break up so many things that didn’t belong to him? He knew why—because he could. That’s what he told Cody all the time. He said that if people didn’t want their shit broken, they should take better care about putting it out where he could break it. Like it was their fault or something. “There you are, you shit for brains. You’re going to get your ass blistered for this.” It wasn’t just a threat either. His dad had burned him before on his butt by sitting him on a hot pan he’d heated up on the stove. “You got chores that I expect you to do, too. I don’t care how bad you’re going to be hurting. Your mom, she ran off, and you’re going to take up her slack when I—” Cody wasn’t sure what made him feel so brave. It could have been the two people that were in front of him with his dad, or the man behind him that put his hand on his shoulder when his dad started to speak. But he knew, for now, this might be his only chance to get his mom some peace. “She ain’t run off and you know it.” His dad turned a dark red, like he was planning to explode or something. “You tied us to the chair and you put tape over my mouth. Then you put a big plastic bag over her head and made it real tight. I could see her face, I could hear her screams. Then you made me wrap her up in a tarp and put her under the front porch when you killed her. You said she’d be there until you could have me dig a hole to put her in when the dirt was unfrozen. Why would you do that to my mom? What right do you have to just kill someone like that? Huh?” The woman, she told him her name was Emerald, knelt down in front of him. He didn’t want her to turn her back on his dad and told her that. She only smiled at him, and Cody had a feeling that he should warn his dad not to mess with her. She was scary even with her pretty smile. “Is your mom truly under your porch?” Wiping at the tears that he shed when he thought of how much he missed her, Cody nodded. “And you know for a fact that your dad is the one that killed her? And that he made you witness it?” “He tied us both up and told us that he was going to teach us a lesson.” His dad growled, like he did right before he came after Cody for something. But Emerald told him to just look at her. “Dad killed her, and he was gonna kill me too, but I run off with Buster. After I had to wrap her up. It hurt me so hard to have to of done that to my own mom. You know?” Cody watched as the woman stood up in front of him. He’d never in all his life felt like he wasn’t going to be hurt by anyone until then. Mr. Elliot was behind him, the woman stood in front. And for some reason, he thought that he’d be more afraid of her than the men if he was his dad. But he was beyond stupid, Cody only just realized, and he’d get himself killed if he didn’t smarten up. Cody also knew that his dad thought he was smart already, and that would be the end of him. The sirens started blaring about the time his dad was backing away from Chase. He was a big man too, and Cody was sure that he worked out all the time. Not like his dad said he did, working out by beating him and his mom, but in a real job. Chase seemed to grow bigger when his dad told him to get out of his way.
“I wouldn’t leave here if I were you.” His dad asked Chase why not, he’d done nothing wrong. “You see, that’s where you’re wrong. We’ve had someone watching your home since young Cody showed up cold and hungry here. If not for the quick thinking of my brother, I’m sure that you would have had him joining his mom under the porch, too. Wouldn’t you have?” “I don’t know what you’re talking about. And if you want him, he’s yours. Got no use for him anyway. All he does is whine about shit and don’t carry his weight around the house.” Chase just looked at his dad and laughed. “You got no reason to be acting like you’re better than I am. I just came here for my boy. Whatever he’s told you, it’s a lie. He’s a liar and a thief too. I changed my mind. I’ll take him now and we’ll forget the whole thing. That way I don’t have to hurt you too.” Two police officers came into the greenhouse and asked Elliot if they still needed them. Cody wasn’t sure what that meant, but Elliot told them that he was going to let them take care of this. He thought that Cody had had enough death in one lifetime. The officers nodded and walked up to his dad. “Mr. Wayne, you’re under arrest for attempted murder as well as child endangerment. Those are all we can hold you on for now, at least until we can get out to your house and have a look around.” Cody’s dad said he’d not tried to murder anyone, yet. The officer nodded and pulled out his handcuffs. “You’ll come along easily, Mr. Wayne, or I swear to you I’m going to leave you here for the Crosbys to deal with. And trust me when I tell you, I’d not screw around with any of them. They’re the sort that takes care of their own, and protects them in ways a human can’t. They deal with threats quickly and without any kind of fanfare.” Cody looked up at Elliot when the hand on his shoulder tightened. His eyes were all bloody looking, and he could see his teeth—fangs, Cody guessed they were called— showing on his lower lip. Then when he shook himself, like Buster did when he came in out of the cold, he looked down at him with a wink and a smile. “My stepmom, Brandy, is here. You know her, she’s come to get you sometimes.” He nodded. “I want you to go with her to her and my dad’s house. You can trust them as much as you do me; you know that, don’t you?” “Yes, she’s a nice lady. I like her. But you’re not going to be hurt, are you, Mr. Elliot? You’re a nice man, but my dad, he’s not so nice, and he is mean when he doesn’t get his way.” Elliot knelt down to his level, and Cody had the overwhelming urge to hug the man. And when he did, wrapping his arms around his neck, Cody cried. “Don’t get hurt. Please? You’re my only friend in the whole wide world but for Buster. And he don’t count much—he’s a dog.” Cody was carried to the door and handed to Ms. Brandy. She bundled him up in a blanket and took him right to the car. Mr. Franklin was in there too, and he asked him if he’d gotten any breakfast with this boloney going on. “No, sir. I was heating me up one of them breakfast logs that Elliot calls them when I heard my dad.” He nodded and said they’d gotten none either, but they was up for it. “I don’t have any money to go out with you. I’m sorry. Mr. Elliot said he’d pay me today, and I guess he forgot.”
“He’ll get around to it, you can bet on that. But you don’t have to worry none about paying, son. We got you covered. Any man that can stand up to a bully like you did your dad, then he deserves a big man breakfast too. Took guts to do what you did, and now they’re going to be able to find your poor momma and help her too.” He didn’t think they’d be able to save his mom, but he nodded at him. Ms. Brandy told him that they’d get her to a place she could be buried. Cody understood that. He surely wouldn’t want to have these people mad at him, he realized. They were good as a family, as best as he’d ever seen, but they sure could be mean when they thought someone was hurting someone. And Cody was sure that they would fight for him too. For the first time in his young life, he felt loved and safe. His mom had loved him, but she was gone now. ~~~ Elliot was barely holding onto his beast right now. The woman, Rose Wayne, was just where Cody had said she’d be—wrapped up in a tarp that wasn’t even in that good of shape, and still with the plastic bag over her head. He wondered what sort of monster could do that to his wife. Not to mention, make his son watch. Elliot sat on the back of his truck and waited for the police to finish up. It was that or go to the jail and kill the man responsible for this. “You going inside with me?” He nodded at Joey Williams, the chief of police. “All right. But you keep your hands to yourself until I say you can touch. I know what you’re going in there for, and I have to tell you, Elliot, I’d not do it again if I didn’t have to. The place is a mess.” “He might want some pictures of his mom. Wherever Cody goes after this, he’ll still remember her.” Joey told him again not to touch anything. He looked at his friend, and thought it was odd that he was being so firm about this no touching thing. “Is there something that you’re trying hard not to tell me?” “The boy, how long has he been hiding out in the greenhouse?” Elliot didn’t answer him. That would be considered kidnapping if his dad had a good attorney, and it was common knowledge that he’d known he was there. “The reason I ask is, there is another body under the porch. It’s pretty far back under there, and we might not have seen it had it not been for the tarp being shiny. I don’t think we want Cody’s dad to know we found him for now. He’s not related to this family, but a little fella all the same. He looks like he might have been killed in the last couple of weeks.” “If he was put there in the last week or so, Cody might not have seen him. He has been with me, as you know. And the only reason that he came out of hiding even then was he was starving. I’m betting that he’s been gone for some time, at least a couple of weeks or more.” Joey nodded and sat beside him on the truck. “Who is it?” “One of mine. Pack. He’s been missing for a couple of weeks too. I’m not sure what happened to have him ending up under the porch, but I’m thinking that Duncan might have thought he was killing his son. And it was too late when he figured it out once he’d already started on the— Just don’t touch anything, all right?” He asked him why he’d think that about the death of the boy. “Emerald did some looking around in Duncan’s head for me. He’s got some nasty shit up there, she told me, and he might not
make it to the cell I have all planned out for him. She wasn’t all that nice about her search either.” “She is rarely nice, so you know. I love her to pieces, but she scares the living shit out of me most of the time.” Joey laughed when he did. “He has to stand trial for this, Joey. You know that as well as I do. If he comes up missing and people find out that I’d been harboring his son, it might not go over well for either of us.” “I told her that. She’s got them little dragons of hers watching him. I’m to understand from your dad that they’re not all cute and cuddly at all either.” He said that they weren’t. “I don’t suppose, while I’m thinking about it, your family had anything to do with the baby vamps out on Sixty, did they? If you won’t answer me I understand, but thanks if you did.” Elliot nodded. He still had trouble thinking about how the young vampires had been dealt with. The little dragons weren’t all that cute and cuddly, not by long shot. They were big and dangerous. Deadly too. When Joey asked him if he was ready, he nodded and made his way to the little house. As soon as he was on the porch, where the bodies had been found, he could smell it. He looked at Joey when they both stopped before entering the house. “I’m going to ask you again not to touch anything.” Elliot nodded. “I have to preserve the crime scene with this one. By the books. If your fingerprints show up here, I’m going to have to have you arrested as well, just so we don’t fuck this one up. We’re even recording everything from the time we got here. I sure hope to Christ that we got it all. And as much as you scare me, being a vamp and all, I don’t want to have to explain to Emerald that your arrest is only temporary, until we get it sorted out.” “What am I walking in on, Joey?” Joey looked out beyond the house to the tree line. Elliot did the same. “The family?” “Yes. They’ve been here since I called them to let them know that we’d found Tim, their son. The child did not go easy, so you know, and it happened in the house.” Elliot nodded. “Is there anyone else that this kid has to go to? I mean, he’s going into the system if there isn’t anyone to take care of him.” “He mentioned an aunt in New York.” Elliot looked back at the house before continuing. “Joey, are you all right? I promise I won’t touch anything if you’d rather not go in again.” “I have to. That’s the only reason I am. And with you there—well, I feel like I need someone else to witness this. Just to say that it’s as bad as I thought it was the first time. And Elliot, it’s as bad as it gets in there.” Elliot nodded. “I’m truly sorry about this.” The scent of blood hit him. It wasn’t fresh either. As soon as his eyes adjusted to the darkness of the house, he looked around. For the first time in his entire life, something sickened him to the point that he thought he was going to throw up. Christ, the kid had fought hard, he realized. He had no idea how the young pup had died, but he surely did try his best to come out the winner in his fight for life. The furniture around the first room was broken and shattered against the wall. Blood was splattered all over the walls and curtains, as well as anything around the room that was out in the open. Elliot looked at the place where
he was sure that the boy had been murdered, and stood there for several seconds just looking at the wide dark brown stain. He looked at Joey when he said his name. “You all right?” He nodded, then shook his head. “Yeah, just the way I felt the first time, and now too. What sort of sick fuck is this man? To do this not just to a kid that turned out to not be his, but to his wife too. I cannot wait to see him go down for this.” The rest of the house was the same. Blood marred every surface in each of the four rooms. The bathroom, where they both thought that Duncan had cleaned himself up after the deed, had been left to look like a massacre had taken place. The shower stall was stained in blood. The soap that lay on the small shelf looked like a block of red blood. Two towels were lying on the floor. They looked as if he’d not used much water to clean himself up, but just used dry towels instead of using water first. He could see him doing that—thinking that he’d just wipe it off, then seeing that it hadn’t worked, cursing as he got into the shower. Duncan’s torn and bloodied clothing lay in a heap on the floor next to the tub. Even it, Elliot thought, looked as if someone had bled all over the surface of the tiles on the floor and walls. “He realized about halfway through that it wasn’t his son, I would guess by the looks of things. He was violent at first, as you can see, but he got more so as it went on. I don’t know how he got Tim in here—drugs, I’m thinking. Or he hit him on the head and wrapped him up to bring him in the house. But once he realized that he had the wrong boy, he tried to cover his tracks by killing him. The kid didn’t give up either. At least that’s what I’m seeing. How about you?” Elliot said he could see that. “I didn’t know why he didn’t call out to his parents in this. They would have gladly come for him. But when I talked to them about finding Tim, they told me that he’d only been seven years old, and he wasn’t old enough to call on his wolf yet. It’s a real shame I can’t let them take care of this for us all.” They wandered through the house. It was sitting on a slab, so there wasn’t a basement that would have held more blood and secrets. Secrets that Elliot had decided he wasn’t keen on seeing, if there were any. As it was, Elliot wasn’t sure that he’d sleep well tonight. Not after this. There were no pictures of Cody’s mom. Nor were there any of the young boy. No things hanging on the refrigerator that Cody might have made. There wasn’t a single thing in the house that made him think that a kid lived there except for the blankets in the corner of a room and a small pile of dirty clothes. Elliot felt his beast stir under his skin at the monstrous acts of some people. Emerald contacted him just as he was coming out of the house. There are two things that you should know, one of which is going to piss you off more than you are now. The second—well, let’s just say that I’m not sure I’ll want any kids I have to go to the local school after this. He asked her if the school had known about the abuse. Not only did they know about it, but also that he’d not been eating well. Something about not being able to talk to the parents. I don’t know what their policy is on such things, but you can bet they know mine right now.
Honey, I don’t know if you are aware of this or not, but everyone knows what you’re thinking because you have no trouble putting it out there. She thanked him. You’re welcome. And what is the second bit of news? So far, so you know, I don’t know if this was the really bad or the really-really bad news. The first one is the bad. I thought I’d start with that. The second one is, I’ve been able to locate the aunt. She’s one of two of Duncan’s sisters, by the way. I did some looking into soon-tobe-dead Duncan’s head, and found out enough information about them to know that he hated them both, so they must be nice. Elliot laughed. The one is not able to come here and see about the boy, nor to make arrangements for her sister-in-law’s funeral. She said that she thought her sister was dead. I think Duncan has been playing them both against each other. I’ve given her the information to contact her. Also, all arrangements have been made, including sending the plane for her and help with her children. Her name is Julia Harney, and she said that she won’t see her brother. She’ll arrive here in a couple of days. So, the bad news—or perhaps good, if you want to take him for your own son—is that she’s coming to see Cody, but she’s not taking him in. Told me right off that she had four kids of her own and didn’t need one more mouth to feed. Not mean like—she just sounded like she was overwhelmed with life and just can’t take any more. Single mom and all, she’s barely making it on her own. What happens to him if he’s not taken in by family? Emerald told him she was looking to see if there was a grandmother or such, but she didn’t hold out much hope of anyone taking him. So, he’s going to be a ward of the state. After all he’s been through, now he’ll have to be in the system. That fucking sucks. You could adopt him. He had actually thought about it, in an offhanded sort of way. I’m sure that you won’t have any trouble taking him in. And once he’s there, it’s just a matter of getting the right paperwork done and filed. And you know as well as I do, he’s better off with a vampire than he would be some of the bloodsucking fucks that are out there waiting on someone else to abuse. And I’m referring to some of the foster care homes that, you know as well as I do, only make it worse for a kid. Yes. Over the years I’ve come to realize that there are few that can be counted on to do what they’re supposed to do with a child. But I’ll look into having him come live with me. Even if it’s only temporary for now. She told him where he was, that he was being examined by the hospital. He’s not hurting as much as he was. And he’s had a few good meals in him, so that’s going to be good for him as well. It’s going to make a big difference to a lot of people, this kid being safe, and his fucktard of a dad put away. By the way, have you thought about your mate? He asked her what she meant. I don’t know, but it’s been my experience that a mate will come out of nowhere for you guys. What if this woman with her children is the one for you? She was still laughing when he closed the connection. Some days he thought about strangling her. But he knew, just as soon as he was close enough to do something like that, he’d not have to worry about his brother hurting him. Emerald would hurt him in ways that he’d never thought of. No, he’d not hurt her, but he could think about it. Smiling for the first time since coming to this house, he felt better knowing that Cody was going to be safe for a while.