Allison Sheppard had come back to town to bury her siblings. Allie’s sister and two brothers had robbed the local bank. Samson Prince had killed two of them to protect the innocent people in the bank, her baby brother was sitting in a jail cell awaiting trial. Allie wanted to wash her hands of all of them.
It didn’t take Allie but a moment to realize that the entire town looked on her as a pariah, like she was responsible for what her siblings did. Not that she could blame them, but the silent accusations did hurt. The sooner she was finished with this mess, the better. She would leave this town and good riddance.
Samson only wanted to make the woman understand that they weren’t monsters, and he had no choice in the bank, but from the moment he was within two feet of her, her scent overwhelmed him. Allie was his mate, and this changed everything.
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Harper Wilson and all her siblings were relieved when they received the notice of their parents’ demise. No one deserved it more, and the only reason Harper agreed to go back to that little town in Ohio was to make sure they were truly dead.
Bryant Prince and his family were immortals and hadn’t aged since they’d reached the age of twenty-eight. He and his family had always lived next door to the Wilsons, but he never knew the Wilson children. The Wilsons had always kept to themselves, so no one had any idea what was going on in the little house of horrors. If they had, the Wilson parents would have been dead a long time ago.
There was nothing left of the Wilson house but one wall. The fire had taken the rest. The garage, however, was still intact, and this was where Harper wound up. Drawn in by dark, morbid memories from her childhood. Bryant watched her, knowing that he’d found his mate.
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Allie loved to ride her bike. It was as old as she was, but she’d put a lot of time and money into it to make it look and ride like it was just off the assembly line. Speeding up to the next light only to sit and wait on it to turn green, she was surprised to find Morgan waiting on her. He did not look happy. “You’re on the outskirts of the town.” Allie nodded and waited for him to tell her what had happened. “The bodies of your brother and sister still have not been claimed. I’ve seen them. They weren’t killed by a police officer. It was a cat—tiger if my senses aren’t rusty.” “Okay? How does it matter how they were killed just so long as no one was hurt?” The light turned green, and she pulled to the side of the road. “Tell me, Morgan, before I have to beat it out of you. You know that I’ll try, too.” “I do. I’m hesitating because I’m trying very hard not to tell you something that you’re not going to like. They’re the Prince black tigers.”
She had to think a moment, and when it hit her, she was glad that Morgan had held onto her bike, or she would have dropped it. “Allie, I have told you this before, but they did not do what you have in your head that they did. I don’t know why you won’t believe me on this.” “Serenity told me that they’re the ones that showed her how to use a gun. Also that she was to murder all that came sniffing around her business. I have every reason not to believe that. But it’s all that I’ve thought about for the last ten years or so.” Morgan just stood there. “Even if they did it to help her out of whatever shit she was in, they started a long line of people being killed by her and Heath. What am I going to do if they were the ones that trained her to kill?” “You will do what you have in your head to do to them, and there will be nothing I can do to change your mind.” She looked away. Morgan was correct on that. She was a ten times kind of stubborn. “They’re a powerful leap, Allie. Much more so than your average kind of shifter. I don’t know who it is that helps them, but whoever the magic holder is, they’ve gifted them with a great deal of power.” “Are you telling me that they’re more powerful than you are?” Morgan told her yes, they were. That they were older than him as well.
“You told me that you were the most powerful in the world, Morgan. If they’re older than you, how is it—?” “I said I was the most powerful vampire there is. But these men aren’t vampire. They’re old, more than likely twice my age. While I was there, I could feel that they’re much more powerful than they were even back when I was first changed. Allie, they’re not people to be messed with.” She looked toward the little town where she was headed. “The tiger that killed Serenity and Heath is not someone that you should mess with. It is said that this shifter never changed his shape but killed Serenity with only a shift of his hand. That alone is something that would deter me from looking for them.” Long after Morgan left her, she sat there on her bike and thought about what he’d just told her. She knew from friends that shifting their body was hard on a shifter. To have changed only one hand would take a strength that she’d never heard of.
But she was there only to see her brother, claim the bodies of the other two, and bury them. Not where her parents were buried. She’d see them in Hell before letting them lie next to them. She would have to find a place as far from her parents as she could possibly go without leaving the state. Riding into the town where Howie was, she parked her bike outside of the small diner that looked like every booth and bar stool was filled. Looking at her watch, she wondered what was going on to have this place hopping at two-thirty in the afternoon. Going inside, Allie knew immediately what it was that had the place with standing room only. The All-Nighter had a great cook, and the smells brought back so many memories that she had to pause at the door and hold onto the closest thing she could touch. It was roast beef and mashed potatoes. There was lemon pie, she’d bet, as well as bread baking. Taking a seat that had only just come open at the long bar, she thanked the man who had gotten up and looked at the menu that was in front of her. It was limited in what was on it, but she’d bet her last buck that it would be the best food that had ever crossed her lips. “Whatcha having?” She asked Deb, her name tag said, for the open-faced beef and a glass of water. “The water is for shit. We have to boil it, so we make some tea with it. You can drink that and not keel over after puking your guts out. Sweet or not?” “Not sweet then.”
Deb walked away, shouting her order to the open window that led to the kitchen, Allie would bet. As she waited on her order, Allie looked around the room and saw that everyone was looking at her. “Just here to take care of some business. Not here to stay.” She’d never been one to suffer fools lightly. Not that she was assuming that these people were fools, but she didn’t care for being stared at. Turning back to the counter when something hit the worn tile, she looked up at Deb. “Nobody here is gonna hurt you. You’re related to that boy they arrested about the bank.” She nodded, not sure who would have told her. “I can smell you. It’s old, your contact with the kid, but it’s the look that makes us all know you’re related to him. You his sister?” “I am. I guess I should have figured that with the Prince tigers about, someone else would be around that can smell me. What else do you smell?” Deb told her that she worked in a bar, more than likely owned it. She had contact with a vampire and a bear. “The vampire is a buddy, and I do own a bar. The bear? I haven’t any idea. I’m not in the habit of asking what someone is when I encounter them.” “You know what your brother was a part of?” Allie said that she knew what he’d been a part of and who he’d been with, but she had nothing to do with them.
“No. You don’t look the robber type. I was in the bank that day. We were lucky that Sampson was there. They were hell-bent on killing us all when they pulled out their guns. Never seen a more mouthy…well, until then, I’d not seen a more mouthy woman. But you being mouthy, you’re just honest, I’m thinking. That right?”
“I cut ties with my brothers and sister when they killed my parents and left them to rot in their beds,” Deb said she’d heard that. When she looked up and past her, Allie didn’t move. “Howdy, Buck. I got your order all ready to go for you. Even put you in some pie for you and the others to have afterward.” Buck thanked her. “Oh, this here is sister to that boy in jail. Don’t know her name as we’d not gotten that far before we started exchanging smarts, but there she is. Pretty little thing if you ask me.” She turned then and knew right away that she was talking to one of the Prince men. When she started to stand up quickly, the stool she had been sitting on nearly fell over with her on it and would have had he not caught her. Standing, Allie wasn’t sure if she should run or pull out her gun. “The gun will do you no good at all. I had Deb pack up your meal for you. I don’t know what has you pissy with my family. I talked to that buddy of yours, Morgan. He said you have a misconception of us that I’d like to be able to clear up.” Allie found herself out the door and on her bike in minutes. Starting it up, she wondered what the hell was wrong with her.
Going blindly to someone’s house wasn’t something that she would normally do. But she did glide her big bike into the little bit of traffic and follow the man. She might as well get this part over with, she thought. Then getting the shit taken care of with the rest of the family would be easier. Well, not easier, but it would be done. The town didn’t look like most small towns that she’d ever been through. Most of the time, they were run down and on the verge of being wiped off the map. But this little town not only looked like it had been doing well for itself but the house that she followed Mr. Prince to looked like it had recently been upgraded. Also, the fields behind it looked recently plowed, a job that she had done when she was making money for herself. “My name is Buck. My missus is Sara. I know you’re upset with things, but I’ll not have you upsetting my wife. You understand?” She said yes, sir. “Good. Now, I have a couple of my boys here, not to do anything more than have a nice lunch with us. You’ll have your answers, and then we’ll be all right. Deal?” “Yes, sir. But I have a few things I’d like to get to the bottom of first and foremost. It’s about my sister, Serendipity. She said…says…said that she knows your family. Is that true?”
Without a single answer, Buck went into the house. When she stood there for a minute or two longer, debating whether or not to just do her business, a woman came to the door and told her to get her ass in the house. Allie went, but not because she was told to. “Yeah, you keep telling yourself that I didn’t make you.” Allie laughed and went back out to her bike and sat on it. Just as she started it up, the woman came back outside and told her again to come in. Allie simply flipped her off, then drove away. Compulsion didn’t work on her, thanks in great part to Morgan. He’d given her enough of his magic to be able to withstand the most powerful of most magics. However, it was high time that this family understood that she wasn’t as stupid as the rest of her family had been.
Riding to her room that she’d rented for the week, she left her bike in the parking lot behind the building and walked to the funeral home. Her appointment wasn’t until later, but since there didn’t seem to be any services today, she figured the man could perhaps help her now. Allie didn’t want to stay here any longer than she had to now. ~~~ Sara was about as mad at her family as she’d been in a long while. To think that they had forced that young woman to come here, and then tried to make her stay, obviously against her will. She looked at Harper when she sat beside her. “What’s it going to take to make you less pissy with me?” Sara glared at her. “You might think that works on me. But all it does is make me want to hunt the other woman down and beat her for running off like she did.” “Oh, because you being your usual bully self has worked so well so far. Well, I have news for you. She’s no more like those other three than she is like me. She did just what I’d do if someone not only kidnapped my lunch right out from under me but also tried to force me into staying where I obviously wasn’t wanted. Now, I’ll ask you, what are you and that husband of mine going to do to make this right with her?” “Why do we need to do anything?” Sara growled low, and she noticed that her sons knew enough to back away from her. “Look. I don’t know what her beef is. All we wanted was to tell her that we were sorry for killing off her family.”
“I don’t know if you noticed this or not, or it could be only me, but your way of apologizing isn’t working.” Harper said she was sorry. “I’m sorry too. But not to you. I’m sorry that you made that poor girl run off on that monster bike. Now I’ve no doubt that she’s handling all this alone. Something that we all agreed to help her with, as she lost all of her family members in one afternoon. Because you know as well as I do that that little boy is going to prison for a very long time as well. Even if she didn’t care for them, as Morgan told us, they’re still family. As I’m sure you can understand more than most.” “I was showing off.” Sara said that she got that. “It’s my fault. I’m truly sorry, and I’ll go and talk to her. I promise to be nicer this time and not a fucking jackass. You can go with me.” When her son stood up, she looked at Sampson. Sara had a hard time thinking of him or any of the others as her little boys anymore. They were grown men. “Something you want to add, Sampson? I’ve got a busy day in front of me, and I’ve no time for things to be messed up any more than they are.” Harper gave him one of her certified looks. “She’s at the funeral home with Mr. Baker. He called to tell me that she was early and that he was going to work with her. I’ll go. I know you have things to do today, and I’m between jobs at the moment.” Sara asked him if he was going to tell her that he’d been responsible for her family’s death. “I wasn’t responsible, they were. But yes, I’m going to tell her. It’s only fitting, don’t you think?” “I don’t know, son.” Sampson had always been the quiet one in the family. He was also the one that wore his feelings deep inside of his heart. She never knew if he was upset about something until he came to talk about it. Then, usually, he’d have things worked out and was only, in passing usually, telling someone how it had been upsetting to him.
“You’ll be able to tell if she’s the type of person that will be all right with you saving a bunch of people. Just go easy on her. Whether they hurt her or not, they’re still her family.” “I understand.” Sampson moved toward the door, then paused. “Should I invite her back here for dinner? Or just take her someplace? I don’t want to cause anyone any trouble, Mom.” “If she’ll come back here, you bring her on back. If not, then I don’t think it’ll hurt you any if you have a meal with her. She might have something to get off her chest.” Sara glared at both Harper and her husband. “We’ve been rude to her enough, I’m thinking. You just play it the way you see it, Sampson.” When he left, Sara went to the kitchen to brew herself some tea. Sitting down at the table after she made her a nice cup, she looked around the new kitchen. She didn’t think she’d ever get used to the way it looked now. But she had to admit, it was prettier and much nicer than it had been before. Looking at the jars of jelly and jam that she’d made, Sara wondered if she would be able to make a few more jars before winter set in. It was still some weeks away, of course, but the trees and vines were hanging full thanks to the little faeries that had helped the land along. To be able to freeze up some apple and cherry pies enough so that they could have plenty when the snow was deep was going to be a rare treat for them all come Thanksgiving. While she sipped her tea, she made a list of things that she wanted to get from town. Her mind, however, kept drifting from her task to the poor woman in town. She didn’t know a great deal about the family, and less about the killing sprees and robberies that had been committed by them. What little she did know made her heartbreak for the sister.
“I can help you with that.” She was still upset with Harper, but wouldn’t hold a grudge against her any longer. “I’m sorry about what I did. I swear to you it was the magic I got going to my head. I should have known better. Bryant told me I was lucky that she wasn’t stronger than me, or I might have gotten my ass handed to me. In a way, she sort of did that. I’m truly sorry again. I’ll behave in the future.” “Good. I’m not really sure that I didn’t do the same things when I first married Buck.” Harper smiled at her. “That doesn’t excuse your behavior, but I won’t hold it against you if you behave from now on.” “I will. What are you doing there?” Sara told her that she was making a list of things that were needed to make jam for the colder months. “I don’t mean to be rude, but why are you going to all this trouble? I mean, you can pretty much buy any flavor you want at the store. I have the biggest downfall when it comes to cherry jam.” “I have some. Let me open you some of mine, and you tell me if it’s worth it or not.” Sara wasn’t being nasty about her jams, but she’d had store-bought and had never gone back to it after she’d tasted that nasty stuff. Not to mention, it had been too sweet for even Buck, a man who had the sweetest tooth she knew. “There is some bread there in the bread box, love. Can you pull it out so I can slice up a few pieces? I’ll also cut some for Buck.
I swear, that man can hear a jar of something open a mile away. But when I ask him to take out the trash, he’s suddenly as deaf as that old mule we used to have. About as stubborn too.” “But, you love him.” Sara nodded, feeling her entire face smile at the thought of how much she loved him. “Yeah, I feel that way about Bryant too. He can irritate me to no end to the point where I want to strangle him. Then the next second, he does something really sweet, and I fall in love with him all over.” As if he’d been summoned, Buck came into the kitchen. He even volunteered to slice the bread while Sara opened up the jars of her cherry and red raspberry jam. By the time she’d spread the berries over a couple of slices of bread for her and Harper to enjoy, Buck had already reheated her tea, made himself and Harper one, and was on his second slice of both kinds of jam. Sara thought it was a good thing she loved the old man. “Holy crap monkeys, Sara, this is some good shit.” Sara smiled at Harper and handed her the other jar of jam. “I don’t think I’ve ever had red raspberry before. But if it’s anything like the cherry, I’m going home right now and taking all the stuff we have in the cabinets and donating it to someplace that hasn’t ever eaten yours. Man, this is really good.” Harper moaned as soon as she bit down on the bread. At the rate they were going, Sara would not only not have to make much in the way of dinner, but she’d also have to bake more bread tomorrow.
Not that she cared. Baking bread was one of her favorite things to do nowadays. After the three of them turned to four when Bryant joined them, they sat at the kitchen table and talked about their upcoming plans. Bryant had hired three kids from the high school to help out with the trees, and Harper told them that she was going on a quick trip to the zoo to take pictures of the polar bear that had recently been born. They were so tiny, she told them, that you had to be careful not to make the momma nervous or she’d hurt the cub. Getting up to get the phone when it rang, Sara wondered if they really needed the dumb thing. It only rang about once a week, and they all had cell phones now. “Mrs. Prince?” She said that she was one of them. “I’m looking for Harper Prince. I was told that if she wasn’t home or in her studio, she’d be at this number. Is she there?” “Well, I’d have to check. Tell me your name and why you’d want Harper, and I’ll go out and see if she’s still here.” Harper shook her head when she spoke to her and the man on the phone. “I want you to know right now that should she tell me that she doesn’t want to speak to you, you’d best be losing this number. In this family, no means no.” “Yes, I fully understand. This is her attorney, Elwood Fitzpatrick. Harp calls me Fitz—that is if she’s in a good mood. Can you please find her for me? It’s about the pictures that she took of the poachers earlier this summer.” After putting the man on hold, a thing that she was just now falling in love with, she told Harper and the rest of them what the man had said.
“Yes, that’s him. Will you tell him please that…? You know what? Never mind, I’ll talk to him. But first I’m going to have another cup of this tea. We can’t just have him thinking I was right here all this time.” Sara enjoyed this girl more than she had thought that she would. Additionally, she loved her wit and the way she told it like it was. After she drank her tea and ate another slice of bread, she picked up the phone. “Fitz, if you’re telling me that these fuckers got off, I’m going to come to your office and beat you with your fake assed leg.” Okay, Sara thought, not so much her wit right now. Why on earth would she threaten a one legged man like that? But when she heard Fitz laughing, she figured it was a long standing joke between them as they got down to business. Harper put it on speakerphone when she had to keep telling everyone what was going on. “I said that there is a substantial reward for catching those poachers. The government has cleaned out the police station there and put their version of the national guard in place like you suggested to them years ago. The pictures were very helpful, and your friend knowing just where they were hanging out helped a good deal more.” Harper explained how Aurora had helped with their exact location.
“I’ve already put your money in the slush fund that we set up when you first started winning awards. However, as I said to you before, you’re going to have to start using that money for something. The taxes that you’re paying on that money are eating away at the balance. Don’t you have a charity that you can donate some of it to? I know you’re married now—congratulations on that, by the way. But perhaps they know of something you can help out.” Sara had several places that she volunteered at and told her about those. When Harper asked the man on the phone how much it was, she nodded and said to divide up the total amount and send a part of it to each charity organization. He must have asked her whose name to put it under, and Buck spoke up when Harper asked them. “The Prince family. That should do it, don’t you think? I don’t want any one person taking the credit in this, do you, honey?” Harper said she didn’t care, and settled up the call. When she sat down, Buck laughed. “If you’re dividing it up between the five charities, I’m assuming that it’ll make a nice little nest egg for them.” “I think so.” He asked how much if she didn’t mind telling him. “There was just over three hundred thousand in the fund. With what was added with this last thing, it’ll be a hundred thousand to each charity.
Bryant and I were just talking about the fund today, so you guys made the decision easy for us. So I’m thinking that much money should make a difference, don’t you think? Can I take some of this jelly and jam home with me? I think I’d like to have it every morning for breakfast from now on.” After Harper and Bryant left them, Sara looked over at Buck. She reached over and closed his mouth when he looked at her with it hanging open. Shaking her head, she started to clean up their mess. “I guess we’ll have to learn how to be rich too. I mean, she just donated an amount of money that I’ve never in all my life thought about having.” Buck just continued to stare at her. “But it will be used wisely, don’t you think?” He just got up and left her there. Sara had to laugh. She’d never known him to be caught speechless before. She might have to think of ways to render him that way more often. It made for a very quiet evening.