Trudy Justice was good at her job, but that didn’t mean she wasn’t vulnerable. Caught unaware by a fellow FBI agent, the gunshot wound to Tru’s gut nearly did her in. To the world, Tru was dead. Rogan was hiding her out until they could figure out who had marked her to be a target.
Houston Robinson, a tiger shifter, was preparing to shift and take a much-needed run when a strange woman’s voice interrupted him before he could remove his pants to shift. At first, he was irritated, but when he saw the blood, he wanted to help.
Hurting bad and suspicious of everyone, Tru was in no mood to listen to anyone, especially a shapeshifter claiming to be her mate. She didn’t care how nice he pretended to be….
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A fresh start was what Rogan Hall needed. A small town, out of the way, where no one knew her or her brother was where they’d start over. She worked from home, and they kept to themselves. The only thing Rogan couldn’t give up was her early morning run.
Like clockwork, she ran every morning, and again, like clockwork, the same family would pass her on the country road heading to who knew where. The little boy in the back seat would wave at her with such enthusiasm, it made her heart melt. However, that morning, everything would change. Only moments after the car passed her and drove around the bend, she heard a loud commotion. Another car barreled past her, and she found the quaint family’s car overturned and on fire. Rogan did the only thing she could do, she saved them.
Thatcher Robinson was on duty at the hospital when his parents contacted him through their link and told him about the accident and what to expect when the ambulance arrived. Thatch, his dad, told him they had to save the woman by changing her, but her burns were severe, and his dad wasn’t sure that the new tiger would survive.
When Rogan regained consciousness, she was unsure where she was, but she knew she was different. She could feel the tiger move just beneath her skin. Rogan knew very little about shifters, but what she did know had her cringing. Why someone would take it upon themselves to change her, she didn’t know, but when the young doctor, Dawson, said his brother was her mate, she was furious. If the big, bad, Thatcher thought he was going to order her around, he had another thing coming….
Anna didn’t know what to do with the man who acted like he was attached to
her hip. Every time she moved, just to get up and move to the bathroom,
he’d be right there with her, helping her into a panic attack. Not really,
but that was what it felt like to her.
Morgan wasn’t sure what he’d have to do to convince Anna that he wouldn’t
just up and leave her. She was a tiger too, and she knew they were mates
just as well as he did. But for some reason, he couldn’t get her to trust
“I don’t think that I’d offer you my hand. You’d more than likely bite
She growled at him.
“I’m not sure if you feel the same way I do about me growling at you,
but all it does when you do it is making me want to spread you out before
me and lick every square inch of you.”
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Houston looked around his house again. It looked better than it had since he moved in. Dusting and running a vacuum were just too easy to let slide. Thus the reason his home had resembled the haunted house he’d gone to every year since he was a kid. He’d been wanting to hire a cleaning service to come in once a week and clean up after him, but he’d not been able to sit still long enough to do it. Mom had come to the rescue for him once again. Not that he’d asked her to hire someone, but when she’d come over yesterday morning, she’d commented on how much laundry wasn’t done. “I’ve been working on the spring catalog my agent wants. I had this idea, and instead of just letting it stew, I went ahead and worked on it to make sure it was plausible to put together.” Mom looked at the piece he’d been working on. “I know it’s rough right now, but I can see it finished. The way the pieces I threw fit together was what I was having so much trouble getting my head wrapped around.” “You need to take better care of yourself and your home, Houston. What if your mate had to come here? What do you think she’d think of me if you were to have a home looking like this one?” He kissed his mom on the cheek and told her he wasn’t worried. “You’d let her think I raised a slob? Shame on you, Houston Robinson. I would have been mortified if she were to see this house looking like this. Why have I never noticed this before today?” “You’ve been really polite?” She smacked him on the chest. “I’ll get around to it when I have time. Which, as I said, hasn’t been all that much lately. As soon as I can, I’m going to hire someone to come in here and dust and stuff for me.” “I’ll do it.” Houston didn’t even bother arguing with her. It would get done without any effort from him. Not that he was lazy—he was just really busy at the moment. “I’ve also been thinking about something else. The reason I came here.
What do you think of me getting a job?” “Do you need one?” She said not for the money, but she’d like something to do every day. “Okay, I guess I can understand that. What about the kids? Are you tired of babysitting already?” “No. Never that. I was just thinking if I were to babysit them all the time, I might become a little adult starved. Like needing adult company. I know the girls and I are hanging out more, but to be honest with you, son, they sort of scare me to death at times.” Houston told her they scared him as well. “Yes, well, I’ve seen the lot of you around them. You’re like putty in their hands. I suppose when you have someone pull a gun on you a couple of times to get people to listen to you, that will do it. I don’t want to have to do that.” He got it as soon as she turned away from him. “You think we don’t respect you, Mom?” She didn’t turn back around. Nor did she tell him that wasn’t it. And to Houston, that was very telling. “Mom, you do know we’re all terrified of you much more than we are of them. I mean, with them, it’s just a matter of choosing to do what they tell us. With you, it’s a need to do what you tell us.”
She looked at him oddly, and he smiled. Telling her it came out wrong, he started to tell her what he meant. But she put her hand over his mouth then and looked up at him. Houston in that moment realized how much older his mother looked. How there were wrinkles around her eyes. Her hair was graying. Houston hugged her tightly to him until she begged to be let go. “I can live without them coming around here every day. But my day isn’t complete unless I see and speak to you at least twice. I want to seek you out when I need a good slap on the butt to get my bottom in gear. I love seeing you smile at me when you think I’m doing something wonderful. Mom, when you come into my studio and look around, it makes me feel proud—not just of myself, but of you. To have a mother take such an interest in what I’m up to, what I’ve been doing, even how my home looks, makes me feel loved and cherished. And that is how I feel about you, Mother dear. Like I couldn’t love you anymore. I couldn’t cherish your love more without a bigger heart. You give me that. Every time I see you, you make me want to be the best man there is.” He grinned at her. “I don’t think I said that quite right.” “You did it very well.” She hugged him again. “Oh, Houston. You are the sloppiest of all my sons, not even counting that mess of mud you work in, but you are also by far the most romantic.” “Thank you. I think seeing the way Dad would simply bring you flowers, whether he messed up or not, showed me you could show your love for someone all the time, not just when the other person is upset with you.
He even brought you candy when he heard you were trying to diet. I realized when he did that, he was telling you, in his own way, that he loved you just the way you were. Dad, for all his faults and crazy sayings, made us want to be the most romantic men in the world. But I think I’m the only one that paid attention.” Mom said she thought he was right. “I love you so much, Mom.” “You’ve made this old woman feel very special today, Houston.” He told her he didn’t know any old ladies. “I cannot wait to see you with a mate. I have to tell you, it’s you I’ve been waiting to find her. I only hope she sees all this goodness in you and doesn’t try and beat it out of you because she doesn’t like it.” “If she does, then I’ll have to use my charms on you. Just so I don’t lose any of it.” They were both laughing by then, and he knew his mom was feeling better. He thought about the job she’d been asking him about. “What is it you’d like to do? Anything at all comes to mind?” “Nothing really. But then everything does. The one thing I was thinking the hardest on was flipping. I know I can get things cheaper than they sell them for in those big fancy stores. And I so love going to auctions. What if I were to open a place for second-hand goods? Not an antique store, though I would have a few antiques in there. Just a place where someone could browse around and pick up something they might need for a much better price than brand new.” He told her she’d be perfect at it. “I don’t know about perfect, but it would give me a chance to go every day. Not every day. I don’t know. But a place all my own where I could just talk to people. I’m not as social as your father, but it would be nice.”
“Mom, no one is as social as Dad.” They’d had had a good laugh about it, and he’d taken her to lunch. Now, two days later, his home was looking good, he had food in the fridge, and clean clothing hung in his room. The area rugs in his living room looked so good he found himself eating in the kitchen more so as not to mess it up. Stepping out onto his back deck after having a couple of sandwiches for lunch, he took off his shirt. Houston didn’t usually allow himself a good run until he was finished with a project. But today, and yesterday for that matter had been really productive days. Treating himself felt kind of good as he put his hands into his pants to remove them. He might even call one of— “Hey there, Tarzan. Don’t do that just yet.” He looked to his right and saw the woman, dressed in a shirt about four sizes too big for her and a pair of tennis shoes. If she had on anything more, he couldn’t tell. “I’m just passing through, and I’d like to not have to witness any kind of that shit going on.” “What is it you think I was going to do?” She told him. “I don’t usually masturbate out on my deck at one in the afternoon. I hold off until twilight, so I can sleep better.” He grinned at her. “Well, whatever floats your boat, I guess. I’m only passing by but still have no desire to witness anything you might be doing. I was told I could cut across the lawns back here and no one would bother me.” He watched her make her way through his yard until she was standing near the pool and him. “You’re one of the brothers. Did your mom by chance take any kind of enhancement drugs to have you guys? You’re bigger than fuck, aren’t you?” “I have no idea what that might even mean. I’m tall, yes. Wide? I suppose so. I’m also a tiger.
Why were you given permission to cross my yard? You’d better have a good answer before I call the police.” She asked him if he was one to call the police on someone crossing his yard. “I am if I don’t know you. There are children that play in these yards. Not to mention, my parents.” “I’ve not met your parents, but by the looks of you and Thatcher, I’d say they were big enough to take care of themselves. Rogen could kick some major ass too if she— I was going to say if she had to, but I think she enjoys it too much to limit it to when she has to.” Naming names of his family wasn’t endearing her to him. Houston told her that. “I’m not going to tell you my name because I don’t know you either. I will tell you I’ve been staying with Rogen and Thatcher for the last week. They have a son named Jimmy, and Rogen is going to have another child. I don’t know when, and frankly, I don’t care, but that’s what I feel comfortable telling you.” “You’re hurt.” She nodded at him and put her hand to her belly. The blood seeped through. “Christ, why didn’t you say something? Come here.” Houston reached for her only to come up short when she put a knife at his balls. He didn’t move but looked at her face. She was beautiful, but he could also see that she wasn’t at all trusting. Fine by him, he didn’t trust her either. Not yet. “I’m going to pick you up and take you into my house. I’m also going to reach out to Thatcher and let him know his patient is here and bleeding.” She didn’t so much as blink at him.
“You’re getting weaker by the moment here. In a few seconds, I’ll be able to pick you up without your permission, but I’d rather have it before I do.” “I fucking hurt.” He nodded and moved slowly to pick her up in his arms. When he had her there, he told her what he was doing with each step he took. “Look, fucktard, I’m not addled, just hurting. I shouldn’t have gone on a walk at all, much less one that wore me out. Just fucking put me on your floor and let me die right here. I’m in fucking pain. If you ever see my dog, Charlie, tell him I’ve missed him and love him to pieces.” Thatcher. Come here quick. I have a pretty redhead in my arms who is bleeding and in pain. Thatcher said he was on his way and asked him what her name was. I have no idea. She said she doesn’t trust me with that. But she knew you. Her name is Tru Justice. You can’t tell anyone who she is. He asked if that was really her name. It’s Trudy, but that’s what she goes by. She, Rogen, and now Anna all work together. They had an argument, and that one took off. I think she was ready to kill the other two. Seriously? She really must be addled. Thatcher was still laughing as he came up on Houston’s deck and into his home. “She said she was told she could cross the lawns back here and not be bothered. Someone might have told me. Oh, and she must have a dog named Charlie someplace.” “He’s at her parents, I guess. And when are you ever out of your cave over there this time of day? I thought it would be easy sailing for her since no one is in their homes until dark. Especially you. What happened? Did you have a need to come out during the daylight hours?” Thatcher was so funny at times. Right now wasn’t one of the times. “Tru, I’m going to give you something for pain. Then I’m going to check out your wounds. What happened that you started bleeding again?” “I thought while I was out, I’d join a gymnastics team.
The issue was, instead of me getting to work up to being on their team, I was running hurdles. Those fuckers are hard to jump over when there are stitches in a belly.” Houston laughed, and Thatcher growled. “Oh, grow the fuck up, you moron. I was walking, and I leaned over to pick up a rock to skip it over the pond, or whatever that is back there. What the hell happened to your sense of humor? Or does the rod in your ass make it so you can’t find a joke funny?” “He’s been like that since he was a child,” Thatcher told Houston he wasn’t helping. “Oh, I don’t know, I seem to be having fun. And she is smiling now and working through the pain. You really are a stick in the mud at times. Me? I’m always up for a good laugh.” “I know. Just look at your hair.” He didn’t trust Thatcher to tell him if his hair really did look bad. But looking at Tru, she only had to nod to have him turning to his reflection in the glass door out to the deck. “Made you look.” Houston started to reach for Thatcher to put him in a headlock when he got a look at Tru’s belly. Christ, she’d been walking around with that? He moved around his brother and got a little closer to her. Houston didn’t know what he was going to do, but comforting her came to mind. As soon as he was close enough to smell more than her blood, it hit him hard who she was to him. ~~~
Tru watched the other man closely. Something had changed in him in the last few minutes, and she wasn’t sure she wanted to know what it was. Thatcher was so intense all the time in showing Rogen he loved her, or when he talked about his parents and brothers. This one, Houston, seemed to be the fun one in the family. Right up until he touched his fingers to her belly wound. “You’ll have to lay low here for a couple of days, I’m afraid.” She told Thatcher no. “I wasn’t putting that up for debate, Tru. You’ve pulled a few too many stitches for me to think taking you back to our home is going to make things any better for you.” “I was fucking taking a walk. It can’t possibly have done anything that bad. I mean, fuck, I just needed to get out of the house for a little while. You have to know what that feels like.” Thatcher nodded and told her he did. However, she needed to stay here. “Mother fuck. Why does everything have to backfire on me? I needed a walk, not a whole new set of four walls to fucking look at.” “I’ll take you out onto the deck when you want. That’ll be something different.” She eyed Houston and asked him what his problem was. “Problem? I don’t have any problems. I was just trying to make your stay here more comfortable. If it helps you decide, I don’t spend a lot of time in the house lately. I have a deadline.” “You’re the potter.” Houston nodded. “You’ll have to be briefed on me staying here, I would imagine. It seems someone is out to kill my ass, and we haven’t figured out who it is yet. I mean, I know who shot me—I just don’t know who told her to do it. And contrary to popular belief, I know a man from a woman.” “I’m sorry?” She told him how the person who shot her was a woman. That at some point, it was thought a man had done it when his body was found. “I still don’t get your reference on that, but that’s all right. So long as you’re safe now.
Also, if you work with Rogen, I guess I can understand that someone might be out to get you. They are her too sometimes.” She still didn’t like this version of Houston. He was as uptight as Thatcher was most of the time. “Or you might like this better. I could heal you, and then you’d be about as good as new. I’m betting you’d like that. I know I would.” “Houston?” He just looked at his brother and nodded. “All right then. This might work out better for both of you. You can let him heal you, and he’s right—you’ll be about as good as new—” “What the ever-loving fuck just happened here?” Houston asked her what she meant. “That little nod. I’m paid to pay attention, and something just transpired between the two of you. You either tell me, or I blow your fucking brains out all over this nice soft sofa.” She was armed, as she was when she was out working. Only today, she was only carrying a gun and not a lot of other things to kill with. Putting the gun to Houston’s head, simply because he was closer, she watched him smile, and her heart did a little flip in her chest. “You’re my mate. While I know anyone of us could have healed you, even Thatcher, he didn’t because you’d smell like him, and my cat, a tiger, would be really pissed off.” She asked him why the hell that should matter to her. “That my cat would be pissed off? I guess nothing to you. But I would have had to hurt my brother.”
“Because you would possess me, and he would have his scent all over me. You know that makes absolutely no sense at all. Who the fuck cares who heals who, and why the hell wasn’t I given that option the first time you operated on me?” Houston told her for the reasons he’d just said to her. “I don’t give two fucking figs who does this, but I don’t want either of you to do it now. Find another one to heal me. Another brother to come here and fix me.” “I’ll have to kill them if they do. Or at least try.” Tru rolled her eyes. She wasn’t hurting right now, but the thought that she could not be hurting was very appealing. All these rules, however, were just pissing her off. “I can do it.
I would gladly do it for you. But it will be me only because I have no desire to lose one of my brothers over this. I hate to do this to you. You have no idea how much it hurts me too. But it’ll have to be me, or you wait this out like a human.” “I see.” She pulled her shirt down over her wounds and looked at Thatcher. “I’m finished here. I want you to take me back to your place. If you can’t do it, then I’ll find someone who can so dumbass here won’t get his underwear in a cinch. Your mother? Father?” “I’ve called Rogen.” She nodded and then looked at Houston, who was just staring at her. “Mate or not, you come near me again, and I will not ask questions as to why you’re there. I’ll blow your fucking dick off, then your brains. If you have any.” “Houston?” She could hear the voice but didn’t know it. “Houston, why is there a woman on your couch bleeding?” He didn’t take his eyes off her as he spoke to the woman behind her. “Mom, this is my mate, Tru. Tru, this is my mom, Meggie Robinson.” Meggie came to the side of the couch where she could see her. “She’s pissed off right now and wants to go back over to Thatcher’s home. I don’t know what is going on, but I plan to find out.” When he stood up, she could see the anger all over his body. Stiff as a rod didn’t cover how angry he seemed to be. She waited for him to—well, she didn’t know what he might do to her, so when he turned on his heel and went out onto the deck he’d been on earlier, she laid back and closed her eyes. Tru had no idea why, but she felt like she’d just lost a major battle. And she was going to wear the scars for the rest of her days. “Houston said he’d stay at our home and have someone come here and take care that you’re all right,” Tru told her she didn’t want to push him out of his own house.
“Well, you did, didn’t you? I’m not sure I like you overly much right now, young lady. To think I was excited for him to find someone to love. Then in less time than it took for him to figure this out with you, you crushed him.” “I didn’t ask to be his fucking mate.” Meggie just glared at her. “That won’t work with me, Mrs. Robinson. I’m made of sterner stuff than most people. I’m a hired killer, and nothing much bothers me.” “Well then, I wish you luck with this. Because I believe you’re going to need it. I was asked to come here and take care of you by my son. I’ll do that. But you, you’re on my list.” Tru didn’t know why, but that hurt her heart more than she’d ever been hurt by any of her family members. “All right, Ms. Justice. Can I get you anything right now?” “No. I’m fine.” Meggie nodded and left the room. Tru looked at Thatcher. “Do you have something to say to me? If you do, then say it and leave me alone. I didn’t ask for this bullshit, and I don’t need someone else telling me I’m fucking up.” Thatcher stood up.
“No. Nothing to say to you about this. Your wounds were looking better until today. If I were you, I’d try very hard to stick to resting rather than running around in the yard. Otherwise, you might have to spend more time with this family than you obviously want to.” He laid a cell phone on her lap. “That’s from Rogen. She said she’d get in touch with you if she needed something.” When he left her too, Tru laid there on the couch, fighting tears. It had been a very long time since she’d been so upset and hurt she wanted to cry. Forever since anyone had spoken to her as Meggie had. When she heard Meggie speaking again behind her, it took her a few moments to realize she was more than likely talking to Houston. He was there, Tru figured out, to get some clothing. She laid there for a while before she tried to figure out if she could sit up or not. When the pain took her breath away, she laid back down. The remote to the large television was within her reach, but she didn’t want to see what she could find to occupy her mind. Not yet at any rate. This was just bullshit. Why was she the bad guy in all of this? She’d been a bitch, she told herself. And she’d hurt someone who was only doing what they’d been trained to do. Well, that’s what she’d done as well. Done what she’d been trained to do. Pushing people away, so they didn’t get too close, was something she’d been doing since she was in the service. Having a family or even friends could get both of you killed.
Tru had seen it happen time and time again. Even children were nothing more than a pawn in her line of work. That was why she’d been so surprised when she heard Rogen had not only married but had children. Not me, she told herself. Looking out the doorway to the back yard, she wondered what it would be like to be free enough to take off your clothing and run. How it would make her feel not to have to put her gun on her person before she did her clothing. To know the next time her phone rang, it wasn’t going to be someone needing a clean-up. Tru figured she’d never know that sort of companionship with anyone. When the phone did ring, she declined to answer it. There was no point in talking to Rogen right now. She had a feeling she was going to chew her out about how she’d treated her brother. When it rang a second time, she nearly answered it but declined it as well. It wasn’t until it rang for the third time in as many seconds that she finally answered it. “What the fuck do you want? Another pound of flesh?” Rogen laughed. “What the fuck do you find so funny? Is it that I was put in my place by your mother-in-law, or the fact that I’m stuck here and can’t get out?” “You’re stuck there until you’re released by my husband. First, the fact you did what you did is all on you. Secondly—and this is very important. You’re very lucky no one wants to kill you right now. Hurting the sweetest woman I know will get your ass plugged. Thirdly, you fucked up.
Badly. Either fix it now, or I call your boss and have him come and get your ass. Just so you know, he’s not been cleared as not being your killer either.” She told her to call him then. “You have a death wish? Well, I’ll be happy to help you out with that. Straighten your ass out or so help me, Trudy Justice, I will bury you in the back yard alive.” The line went dead, and Tru was tempted to toss the fucking phone across the room. But she only laid it down on her lap and counted. It was the only way she knew that worked to bring her temper down. When she got to five hundred, Tru stretched and tried again. Nothing was working right now, and she had a feeling that was her fucking fault as well. Screaming made her feel better, but Tru was startled when Mrs. Robinson came into the room with a gun in her hand. Staring at each other, Tru nodded when Meggie asked her if she was all right. Then she simply turned and left her there. Tru had no idea why, but she thought that was the funniest thing she’d seen in a long time. The mild-mannered Mrs. Robinson standing in the living room, with a flower in her hair and wearing a huge apron—obviously meant for a man—pointing a gun at the outside door. Tru thought that image alone would get her through the worst of times for the rest of her life. Suddenly exhausted, she pulled the pretty afghan over her body and closed her eyes. Perhaps when she woke up, she’d feel well enough to go back to Rogen’s home— if she’d be welcome there. Tru knew she’d fucked up big time, but right now, she didn’t care if she fixed it.
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