Meadow Springs had been locked away in a hospital for several years. At sixteen she was a victim and sole survivor of the mass murder of her family. The ordeal had left her semi-comatose for a long time. Since she was the only survivor and couldn’t talk, the police tried to pin the murders on her, but it didn’t stick.
Josiah McCray was there the day that Meadow was brought to their home to go into hiding. The beautiful blonde in the wheelchair was a shadow of the woman she should be. All Josiah saw was his mate, and he loved her no matter what.
The killer was still out there, and Meadow had his identity locked inside her mind and the killer knew it. Everyone previously in charge of her care was now dead. There was no way that was a coincidence.
Meadow was a loose end, the one that got away. There was no way the killer could let her live….
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Demi Morgan was good at keeping her identity hidden, so when an attorney found her at a restaurant she owned, she was more than a little angry. Very few people knew how to find her, and she took her privacy seriously. His news that her mother had passed, several months ago, did nothing for her. Her family had never wanted her, and in turn she didn’t want them either. He knew her family, and he understood her feelings, but the will had to be read.
Reluctantly, Demi made her arrangements to travel back to her hometown in Ohio. Her intentions were to either decide to stay, or to sell the home her grandmother had left her. Living in the same town as her brother and sister didn’t appeal to her at all. When her brother, Nathan, coldcocked her in the elevator, an unlikely savior came to her rescue, Madden McCray.
Demi wanted to hire Madden to be her bodyguard while she was in town. Madden said as much as he could use the money, he told her he already had a job, but his brother, Lucian could use the work.
Lucian wanted to meet Demi before he accepted the job, and when her scent hit him between the eyes, his bear rolled over him—she was his mate. But reality hit him like a freight train. She had money—a lot of money—and he and his family had always been dirt poor. He wanted his mate too—more than anything, but he’d have to get past his pride first….
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Doctor Walker watched the young woman. She’d been in his care for nearly six years now, and there had been no improvement at all in her state of mind. He had to either send her to a nursing home soon or to a home that would keep her as unknown and as safe as he’d done. Judson was sure that someone somewhere would find her here, and that just wouldn’t do—not in a constant catatonic state like she had been in. The poor girl had suffered like no one else ever had. He remembered the day that she’d been brought to his facility. It had been a cold day in December—the day after Christmas, as a matter of fact. Meadow had been in the hospital before coming here, her wounds too great to think that she was even going to live. But she had, defying all odds against her. The police and everyone else that had had anything to do with her trial had said that she’d brutally murdered her entire family, the staff, as well as the family dog.
But Meadow had been found unfit to stand trial, her state of mind making it so that she couldn’t answer their questions or help figure out what exactly had happened that day if she wasn’t the one that had killed them all. According to teachers, as well as neighbors, Meadow had been a fun, loving sixteen-year-old. She’d just gotten her driver’s license the day before. She didn’t have anyone that disliked her, nor did she have any boyfriends. And certainly, no lovers. The police had gone to the home of the Springs, a very prominent family in their hometown, to see where the father was. He’d been scheduled to chair a meeting, one that would start the process of next year’s holiday celebration. When they found the door open, it was called in as a simple breaking and entering. But it was worse. So much worse. “Judson, it’s that newspaperman again. He is asking the delivery people if he can sneak in and get a picture of the young woman. I have had him run off several times, but he just won’t give up.” His nurse of nearly forty years, and his wife of just a little less—Margaret—looked in the direction that he’d been looking. “She’s such a delicate thing, isn’t she? I can’t imagine why anyone in the world would think that she had the ability to do such brutality to someone, especially her own family. Not like they said had happened.” Not everyone knew the entire story. He did. He had been the doctor on call that day for the police. Acting coroner as well. Going into the house, knowing that it was going to be messy, he wasn’t prepared for what he’d seen. No one was, apparently, as there were several hardened police officers in the bushes losing their breakfast. After telling his wife to run the newspaperman off then call the police, Judson headed to his office. There he reached into his lower drawer and pulled out the false bottom. Only his wife knew that it was there, the file that he’d put together just after Meadow had come to his facility. Along with the pictures that he’d taken the day of the murders.
The butler had answered the door, from what they could tell. His body had been mutilated beyond knowing if he was male or female, except for the uniform that he wore. Blood was sprayed from the front door all the way up ten of the stairs in the house. After whoever had killed him with a single bullet to the heart, they had finished up by taking an axe to his face and chest. Then they moved through the house to the kitchen. The rest of the staff was there, as it was still early yet. Both the upstairs maids, as well as the cook and gardener, had been murdered in the kitchen. Their bodies not as unrecognizable as the butler’s, but almost as bad. The murderer had taken his time with the butler but seemed rushed with the other staff. The dog, a new puppy for Meadow’s brother, had been found with his neck broken, and his head had been split by tearing his mouth open until bones were shattered. Flipping through the pictures of the man and his wife, he went to the ones of the children. Mostly he was focused on Meadow and her brother. She had tried to save the little boy.
To him, it was as obvious as the nose on his face. They were found in his bed. The six-year-old had been murdered too, his small body not large enough for the damage that had been done to it. There was nothing left of his face, nothing of his chest. And in her effort to save him, Meadow had been cut badly, almost fatally. Covered in her brother’s blood, the ax had nearly taken her hand off; her blood loss was what had nearly killed her. Her head had been cut like the others, but to this day, Judson believed that the murderer had been nearly caught. By someone coming to the door? The police, perhaps? It would be unknown until Meadow was able to tell them. Nothing was final until she was able to point her finger at someone and say they had done this horrific crime. For as long as he lived, Judson would never believe that a child-like Meadow had been would ever have been able to do such a thing. Right now, he had to work on getting Meadow to a facility to hide her away again. With that idiot news reporter coming around now, he would eventually find a way in. Or worse yet, take her out of here to question her himself. It had happened before. When Meadow had been in the hospital, a person came in saying that he was her uncle—some distant one that only had just heard about the deaths. He hadn’t been there—Judson might have been a little more on his toes by asking for identification. But as it was, the man got all the way to the front of the hospital, with her unconscious, before someone thought that he might not have been who he said he was.
They had transferred her to his facility almost a week later when Meadow could be moved without causing any wounds to open again. “Judson, come here please.” His wife’s voice sounded strained. He hurriedly put his things away and rushed to see what was happening. Margaret pointed in the direction of where Meadow was sitting. “See it?” “No, I’m sorry love, I don’t—” Then it hit him. She was sitting there with her head tilted back, smiling. “She is enjoying the sunlight. Have you ever seen her do that before?”
“No. I stared at her just like you did and knew there was something different about her, but not what it was until I saw the smile. She’s smiling, Judson.” For the last two years, they’d been keeping her progress unknown to anyone but the two of them. They had nursing staff, of course. But since they owned several of this sort of home for people, they continued to rotate them in and out so that no one knew too much about any one patient. That was the way the people who had hired them liked it. Privacy was a huge thing. But they had stopped giving information even to her attorney. Margaret was the first person to have grown a dislike to the man. She called him oily. He hadn’t had any feelings for him one way or the other. But then once, when he’d come to see them about some other matter, he asked if they had any naked pictures of Meadow. “Why would we have those? She wears clothing while she’s here.” He asked if she took a shower or not. “Of course she does. We don’t allow our patients to be unclean. What sort of question is that?” “I just asked. You don’t have to get your binders in a knot. Christ.” After that the attorney, Lee Shiloh, didn’t come by anymore. The checks that they were getting came in the mail now. But he did want progress reports, every week. And they’d been saying the same thing all along—no change. And would continue to say that even after today. “We’ll have to get her moved, and soon,” Margaret said that she agreed. “I’ll look around for an out of the way nursing home and arrange to have her sent there. The only person we have to contact is her doctor.”
Doctor of Behavioral Health Max Little had been by to see the young woman regularly. He also brought her a birthday card and gift each year, and made sure that she had chocolate, something they had discovered, soon after he started bringing the confection, that Meadow didn’t care for. Doctor Little had said to give it to the staff or other patients, as his wife was the one that had picked it out year after year. And even after Mrs. Little passed away, Doctor Little still brought the candy. It was a habit now, he supposed. Making a call to the doctor, he asked about the sunlight in her face. Then he questioned how she might make a trip so that no one knew it was her or even noticed a person leaving the building. Judson told him about both the newspaperman and the attorney. “I think she’d be all right with it. So long as she’s not tied down on a bed. That frightens her something terrible.” They both knew why. She’d been tied up when they’d brought her into the hospital, and she had only wanted her brother with her. “Also, if you know of a nice place that she could go, that would be good too. My wife and I will certainly miss her, but I think that in light of recent events, we have to get her out of here.” “Yes, I agree. And as a matter of fact, I do know of a place. It’s in Ohio where all this began, as you know. I just made a trip that way a couple of weeks ago for their grand reopening of their facility. Nice place, Judson. You might even travel with Meadow so that you can have a look around.
Take the missus and make a vacation of it for a few days. I’m sure that we can figure out a billing so that it’s all taken from the estate. Plus, she might need someone there that she knows. You never know about patients like Meadow, and what their reactions might be.” “Yes, I remember when she was brought here. It was a mess until we found her little stuffed dog.” She had outgrown the dog now, but he’d kept it. If she remembered something, it might help her to have something of her brother’s. That’s who they figured it belonged to. “I’ll start packing up her things now. If you could see if they have the room and if they can accommodate her things, that would be wonderful.” “You just pack her up. I’ll call them right now to see what sort of arrangements I can make with them. It’s a very lovely place. From my understanding, the entire town is getting a makeover.” They closed the connection and he went to see who was left on staff. Meadow would be moved in the darkness of night. Her things would be packed up by him and Margaret, and by the next shift change, there would be no trace of the young woman. That was the way it had to be done. There was still a great deal of— “Margaret, what’s the date?” She had to look on her cell phone. “Oh my. That’s why we’re having that reporter around. The anniversary is coming up soon. They’ll want to get pictures of her and make up some sort of story like they have spoken to her. I’ll have to remind Max of that when he calls us later.” He did call back later, and after talking about the home in Ohio, he said that tonight would be the best time. As much as he hated to sedate her, after her progress from today, they knew that would be the only way to slip her into a body bag—to look as if someone had died—and ship her out. It was the only way and the safest way for her to be moved. “Margaret, we’re going to go out tonight too. Head to Ohio to be with Meadow when she wakes up.
” She thought that was a good idea. “We don’t have anyone here but her at the moment, and all the staff is on to other places as of the end of the shift tonight at eleven. We won’t even be missed for a few days. The cleaning crew comes in tomorrow, and by then, the place will be empty. Of everything.” “All right. I’ll pack us up an overnight bag. Also, we should act a little teary for her leaving us if we want that newspaper jerk to believe that she has passed away.” He thought that a splendid idea. “I have them on occasion. We’ll take the flight out then?” “Yes, it’s being arranged for us.” She nodded, and after she left him to go pack, he started gathering everything up that was related to Meadow. There wouldn’t even be a scrap of paper left behind, and Max was going to see to Meadow being loaded himself. Judson just hoped that things went well for her—that she’d continue to want to have the sun on her face, and that she smiled once in a while. At this point in her life, it was more than they could have hoped for. ~*~ Josiah nearly fell back when he saw the woman getting out of the car. She was beautiful. Long blonde hair that was braided and hung down her back. Her hands and face, from what he could see, were as delicate looking as she looked. And when they started helping her into the house, carrying her up the stairs, he stared at her for several minutes before someone hit him in the face.
“We can’t get her in the house if you’re going to stand there with your tongue hanging out.” Demi glared harder when he didn’t move. “Did you hear me? Get the fuck out of my way.” “She’s afraid,” Demi told him that they all were. “No, of you. Not afraid really but scared all the same, and she’s my mate.” “No fucking shit?” He didn’t know how to answer that in an affirmative way, so just moved out of the way and then knelt in front of her wheelchair after the door was closed behind her. “Josiah, are you sure? I mean, I don’t know the how of it, but could this be just that you’re worried for her?” “No, she’s my mate.” He put his hand on hers and pulled his back when she did. “She doesn’t like to be touched, does she? Gonna make it kind of hard for us, don’t you think?” He was nervous too, and making jokes was his way of dealing with it. Or talking too much too fast. Putting out his hand, he wanted to tell her who she was to him, but he only waited, telling her what was going on instead of what was on his mind. “He told my brother that you saw him. Saw his face.” She turned and looked at him, and Josiah was startled speechless by the color of her eyes. “You’re very beautiful, and the color of your eyes reminds me of the coldest ice on the pond by our home.
They’re not blue, but not gray either. Just beautiful.” He wondered if she could understand him. No one had told him the extent of her injuries, only that she didn’t talk and that she wouldn’t walk, even though the muscles in her legs were worked every day. When she finally put her hand into his, Josiah felt like he’d won the grand prize at work. She didn’t smile or look at him, but Josiah was all right with this for now. “We’re going to protect you here. This is my brother and his wife’s home.” Demi said that she’d been here before. “Really? When? I mean, surely that will help, won’t it?” “I don’t know, Josiah. It was a long time ago. She came here for Christmas a few times with her parents. I wouldn’t have remembered her except for seeing the color of her eyes. I think her fathers were the same color.” Meadow looked at Demi and then back at him. It was the first time that he felt like they’d made a connection, their eyes locking in some sort of understanding of each other. Josiah told Meadow everything that he could remember from Lucian, and he didn’t try and sugar coat it. She was his mate, and while he couldn’t lie to her, he wasn’t going to have her not be aware of what was going on. Wheeling her into the living room, he sat on the floor in front of her, needing to be as close to her as he could. When Moses said that dinner was ready, he sat with Meadow in the living room. None of them knew what she ate or how she ate it. Was she able to get a shower alone? Dress herself? The only persons they could ask were dead.
“We’ll just have to learn this as we go, I guess. I’ve never taken care of anyone in a wheelchair before, so this will be a first for all of us.” She looked away from him, and his heart hurt a bit. But she was looking at his mom, who had a tray in her hands. “Are you hungry? I am too. Let’s see what my mom brought us.” “She’s a lovely little thing, isn’t she, Josiah? My goodness, and to have gone through too much to get to you.” He’d not thought of it that way and told his mom that. “Well, she has to be strong. I mean, someone tried to kill her, and did her entire family. She might need you to help her, but I’d stay out of her way if she has it in her head to take care of business.” Meadow watched him as he put the tray over her lap. He started to stand and help her get up in the chair better, but she did it on her own. That was when he saw the scars on her arm, the ones on her wrist as well. She was looking at him when he turned to look at her face. “I’m sorry that you were hurt like this.” She didn’t say anything but did continue to stare at him. “When I find this guy, I’m going to rip his head off and feed it to him. Just so we’re clear on that. Unless, of course, you want to do it. I’m all for that as well. You’ll see that our parents raised us to think that if someone involved can do the job, male or female, then they should be the ones put in charge.” She ate her mashed potatoes first.
The gravy she scooped off and set it aside. There were green beans, which she ate too, but not the broccoli nor the carrots. The sliced ham was eaten, but not with her fork. Instead, she picked it up with her fingers and ate it that way. Josiah was laughing when she pushed the corn onto her spoon and ate it with the gravy that she’d set aside. “I’ll have to remember that. No broccoli or carrots and you like gravy over your vegetables, not the potatoes.” Josiah handed her his ham sandwich to see if she would eat it too. It took her a moment to figure it out—her hand, the left one, didn’t work nearly as well as the right. Dad bought them in pie later, and a glass of juice for Meadow. She had to use a straw—again, her hand did not work well enough to hold up a heavy glass. Josiah thought about holding it for her but knew that she’d tell him to fuck off if she could. Josiah had a feeling that she’d been doing for herself for a long time now. He also figured out that she didn’t care for sweets, at least what was brought to them. No apple nor cherry pie, but she did eat the whipped cream off one of the slices. And when he set an orange on her tray, Meadow looked at it as if she hadn’t any idea what it was. “When we were little, there wasn’t much money at home. All our gifts were hand made by my mom, and we did the same for the two of them.” He started to peel the orange for her, just to give her a taste if he could. “At Christmas we each got an orange, a rare treat for us, and an apple in our stocking. Mom still does that to this day, an apple and an orange at Christmas. Can you smell it?” She didn’t answer him, of course, but she did take a small bite of the fruit. When she opened her mouth again, he put small pieces up for her to take from him. He didn’t want her to get it all over her. Sharing the fruit with her, he told her about himself, what he was doing, and the house that he’d just gotten.
“It’s being renovated now. I have to think if I want an elevator in it or not. If we don’t have one yet, we’ll have one put in. I’ll have to ask Demi and Lucian, of course— they’re helping us out with the work being done on the house.” He thought about his car too, and that it was much too small for a wheelchair. “We’ll go shopping for a bigger car when this is over. That guy, he’s going to get his ass kicked all over the place when he gets around to coming here.” “I’d like to show her a picture, Josiah. There are six pictures in her file, all of them men that were talked to after the murders. And since she couldn’t be asked, no one ever pointed the finger at anyone else but her.” Demi handed it to him. “She’s doing things with you that she hadn’t before. She would never let anyone help her, and she wasn’t to be touched. You’ve done both in the few minutes that you’ve been together. If you’d show her the picture, we’ll see who we might be dealing with. I’m only going to show her one at a time, however.” He looked at his mate. She was staring at Demi in a familiar way. Josiah had a feeling that’s what she did to everyone she first met, trying to place them in her mind until she either trusted them or didn’t. “This is a picture of one of the men that might be coming here, Meadow.” She looked at him. “I’m going to show you a picture of someone. I don’t know what you’ll do if this is the man you saw in your home that night, but it would help us to know who we’re dealing with, all right?”
Nothing. But it was no less than he expected. Slowly he raised the picture up from in front of him to let her see a little of it at a time. When he had it upright, she only stared at it then turned away again. Josiah thought that could mean anything. He looked at Demi, asking her about what sort of reaction she was expecting. “I have no idea. But I guess I thought that if it was him, she’d be afraid. Or at the very least show fear on her face.” Josiah said that might not happen either, even after showing her all of them. “No. It might not, but we have to try. With a name, we can certainly figure out what sort of person we’re dealing with. If he has a record or not. What his MO might be like on other murders. He was just too good at the murders. It was too planned for him to have never done this before. Right?” “I guess.” Meadow put out her hand and Demi handed her the picture again. But she looked at it and put it down before putting out her hand again. Demi put the next picture in her hand. Neither of them said a word. “I don’t think that’s him either. And I think that she understands us more than that doctor told us she did. He seemed to think she was sort of brain-damaged. I don’t think so.” “I think you’re right.” The third picture got a reaction, but not what they had expected. Demi told him that it was of the doctor, Doctor Judson Little. Meadow had smiled. Then the fourth and fifth picture got no reaction. “Last one. It doesn’t mean that it’s the last one I’ll show her, but the last one in her file. A Doctor Little gathered these up, the file said when the trial was over.”
Meadow screamed. It brought his entire family running when she did that. Her tears tore at Josiah, and he tried to hold her. But she wasn’t having any of it. He was ready to give up on trying when his dad said that he had to hold her, to show her that they would never harm her. So, fighting his way past her fists and hands, he put his arms around her, lifted her from the chair, and held her in his arms. Sitting with her on the couch, he held her until she calmed down. It hurt him to have done this to her, but at least it was over. Demi said that they had a name now, one that they could work with, and it would go a long way in catching the bastard. When he wrapped a coverlet over them both, Josiah talked softly to Meadow, telling her how sorry he was that he’d done that. He stopped when he heard her whisper. “Don’t move, you fucking cunt. I will kill you like the rest of them if you do.” Josiah called for Lucian via their link and told him what she was saying.
Demi and he came in with a recorder and handed it to Josiah. “You should have seen them bleeding. The blood will be on the walls for the rest of your very short life, do you hear me? When I’m finished here, I’m going to rob this house of everything here. Then set it on fire. You never know what sort of DNA I might have left behind.” “She’s talking about the murderer. He talked to her.” Demi said that it appeared so. “Do you think that he talked to the rest of the victims? That he didn’t care if he talked to them because he knew they were all going to die?” “He didn’t burn down the house.” He looked at Meadow when she spoke to him. “He didn’t burn down the house because someone knocked on the door. He was frightened off. Someone scared him into leaving me there to die. I wish that he’d killed me.” Meadow started crying, and he held her tightly in his arms. She was aware, his mind told him. Not only that, but she was remembering things since she was shown the picture. Or, she remembered all along and now trusted that she was going to get help. Either way, he wasn’t sure this was a good thing. Now she would be able to point the finger, as everyone had wanted her to do from the beginning. “I don’t want you to die, Meadow.
You’re my mate. Do you know what that means?” She shook her head and he smiled. “I’ll tell you, but you have to look at me.” She did, and he was slightly afraid. Meadow didn’t like to be told what to do. Laughing, he told her that he was only joking, but he did like looking at her. She laid her head back on his shoulder then and said nothing more. “You’re my other half. My wife, by our laws. I won’t make you do anything, ever, that you don’t want to do, but I will protect you with my life. All my family will.” She looked at him then and told him that her family hadn’t been able to protect her and her little brother. “No, and I’m profoundly sorry about that. But we’re bears, and we protect what is our family.” “I lost them all that night. Everyone that meant anything to me. But Danny, he was only six years old. He’d be fourteen now if that man hadn’t killed him.” Josiah said he wouldn’t wish for her to die. “I’m alone. No matter what you say, I’m all alone, and everyone believes that I killed them all.”
“I don’t.” Meadow looked at him, and Josiah could see that she wasn’t sure to believe him or not. “I know that you didn’t kill them, Meadow. My family believes that as well. And we’re going to make sure that the world knows it too.” “How?” Josiah told her that he didn’t know, hadn’t a clue, but he’d do it. “I don’t know why he did that to us. Why? Why would he kill my family? They were good to everyone.” “I don’t know, honey. But I will promise you this. When we find him, and we will, I’ll straight up ask him. Not that it matters.” She asked him why. “Because the fucker is going to die anyway. You’ll see.”