Parker Carter spent eight years in prison for a crime she didn’t commit—murdering her father. Now that the justice system had finally admitted their mistake, Parker was set free. Parker could have left anytime she wanted, she was a powerful witch, but for reasons of her own, she had remained locked up and didn’t use any of her magic.
Donahue Foster, a teacher at the local school, was having a hard time resting. Taking a run and stretching his legs as his lion was something he hadn’t done in a while. He hadn’t gotten far when he noticed two things, he smelled fresh blood, and he felt a presence. Don was dumbfounded when the woman used a mind link to communicate with him. She told him her name was Parker Carter, she didn’t like people, and she was his mate.
Don was so stunned with that news that he was nearly run over by the night hunters Parker chased off.
Now that Parker was back, her past needed to be settled. Half-truths and well-kept secrets needed to be exposed. And the possession of her mother, Meggie, was the most mind-boggling of all. What kind of screwed up magic was this?
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Brook Garrett had learned to live by her wits. When she was very young, she lost her father to a car crash. When her mother remarried, her nightmare really began. A few years later, her mother died the same way. She was next.
Ronan Foster was an officer out on medical leave. He was a lion and wasn’t hurt in the least, but the guy responsible for shooting him would go free if he didn’t take the sabbatical. The guy was responsible for much more than shooting him, and justice needed to be served.
Trust was hard for Brook. Her stepparents had seen to that. Now the big lion was telling her that they were mates and she wasn’t sure how she felt about that. She had been doing just fine without a man in her life….
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Parker didn’t move when the warden came to stand in front of her cell. She’d learned a few things while being incarcerated. One of them—and it hadn’t taken her long to figure this one out—was that she was never in the right. Also, in this case, she wasn’t to talk or move toward the cell door until they said she could. “Miss Carter?” She turned and looked at the speaker from her position on the floor. Carter had been doing push-ups when she heard the footsteps coming toward her cell. “I’m to tell you that you’re going to be set free today. They proved you didn’t kill your father.” She was sure it was a joke. For the last eight years, she’d been saying she’d not killed him. It had been tempting, on a daily basis, to get rid of him. However, she’d not been the one who murdered him. Standing up, she saw Warden Peck back away, as if she could reach him through the bars she’d come to call her front door. She could, actually, not just reach him, but leave the jail without anyone knowing. However, Parker didn’t. Without a word from her, she was handed a bag as well as a checklist. Inside the bag was the bloodied clothing she’d come here in, as well as her possessions. Not much of it would do her any good now, but she stripped down right there and pulled the jeans and shirt on while the men turned their backs to her. “You could at least have waited until we were gone to do that.” Standing back when they asked her if she was finished, she waited as they unlocked the cell door. “There is some paperwork we have to have you sign. Also, because you were wrongly accused, there will be some money coming to you.
Do you have any questions so far?” “No.” She followed the three men, two of them guards she’d had extraordinarily little to do with since arriving here eight years ago, and was taken into a smallish room where her attorney was waiting, as well as two people she’d never thought to see again—her aunt and uncle on her father’s side of the family. “They have it in their heads that you didn’t kill my brother. I still don’t believe it, but then they never asked me for permission to let you out of here, where you belong. But I told them that you’d be back. Soon too, if I know you well enough.” Parker said neither of them knew her. “I know you well enough to know that even though they said you didn’t kill him, you were a part of his death. I’ll always believe that of you.” As they said their piece, however incorrect they were, Parker kept her mouth shut. She wasn’t what they thought she was—a person with very few morals and no sense of the laws of the land. Instead, she was an immensely powerful being—mostly, she reasoned, because of her mom. Few people, including the few she’d shared a cell with over her time here, had any idea what she and her parents were. As she waited for the paperwork, Parker thought of the things she was going to have to do when she was out. First and foremost, she had to figure out how she’d ended up in here.
Given a few minutes alone with her only living relatives, Parker wondered why they had been called. Or, for that matter, why they’d even bothered with her at all. It wasn’t until she was given the first thing to sign that she knew. They were supposed to be helping her acclimate herself to the outside world. Signing her name to the places marked, she didn’t bother asking questions. She might get some of them answered, but not to her satisfaction, that she could count on. Standing up, she was asked to sign the list stating that she’d received all her belongings from when she was arrested. Parker had a feeling she was going to have to figure out her own way home. Aunt Mae and Uncle Raymond left her standing by the open gates to her freedom. “You can press charges if you want. They’re supposed to keep you in their home for a few weeks.” Parker told the guard, Mary, she didn’t want to be around them. “Yes, I guess I can understand that. They were at your hearing, the one where it was figured out you couldn’t have killed your dad. I never heard such language from anyone in my life as I did when your aunt started screaming at the lawyers how you had to be guilty. She’s a piece of cake, isn’t she?” She and Mary had gone to school at the same time. It was funny to her that Mary had gone into law enforcement and been on the opposite side of the cells. Mary and her brother Thomas had gotten into more trouble before breakfast than a hardened criminal would in all his life. After Thomas had been killed, gunned down by a man who thought he had been having an affair with his wife, Mary had taken a good look at her life and changed.
Not once in the ten years he’d been gone, had Mary ever slipped back into her dangerous role. Parker had been with her when the news came that Thomas was gone. It had hurt the two of them more than it had when her father’s life was taken. “Do you know what you’re going to do now, Parker?” Shrugging was answer enough for her friend. “I’m going to miss having you around. Honestly, it’s what made me want to come to work every day. And I’ve been making some money off the investments you’ve been having me do for you. Do you have a way to get to the halfway house, or do you need a ride?” “I’ll walk.” Mary told her it was a good ten miles. “I’ll walk. It’s not that far.” It wouldn’t feel like it either. Parker had been into fitness as well as self-defense since before they’d arrested her and had been able to keep up with it after being put in prison. There was a nice treadmill she thought no one but her used in the fitness room. Weights too. Even in the time allotted to her for being out of doors, Parker had walked the fence line every day she could. It was the only reprieve she’d ever had from being locked up. Mary had been taking care of little things for her since she’d been assigned to a cell. She’d also been helping her out with her investments, as well as a few other things. Nothing to do with the crime she’d not committed, but things like her home, her car, as well as money she got each month from her stocks. Without her helping, Parker would have been in serious trouble. No money, no home, and especially nothing to support herself while trying to find gainful employment—something she’d been told she had to do before she’d left the prison.
Walking to town was soothing to her body and mind. There were things she kept thinking about, like the list of shit she had to take care of because she’d been locked up for so long. Mostly little things, but there were other things too. Her craft, her father had called it, didn’t have to be hidden away any longer. A lot of the magic she’d been gifted when her father was killed had grown with each day, it seemed to her. Witchcraft had been in her family since well before even her father was born. Dad had told her it had been dwindling out, their magic because a lot of the older generations had married nonmagical people—just as his sister had done. But Parker seemed to have gotten the lion’s share and then some, Dad had told her. Aunt Mae neither believed there was any magic to use nor that anyone in their family had ever practiced it. Aunt Mae was an idiot. Her mother, a witch with hardly any magic, had been married off to her dad just so they could have her. It had never been a secret that her mother didn’t love her dad. Parker thought she made up for it by loving her so much. Since she’d been born at home, everyone present knew Parker had more magic than her mother would ever have. As it turned out, more than her father did as well.
“Need a ride?” Shaking her head at the car moving along with her, the man laughed. “Come on, honey. You know you’ll have a good time. I’ve been told you were just let out of prison. You have to be hard up for a real man between your legs.” She didn’t have to ask him if it was her aunt who had told him to find her. Parker knew it for a fact that one or both of them had paid the man to come for her. The two men in the car smelled like her relatives. As she continued to walk, she snapped her fingers, and the man and his passenger swerved off the road and into a ditch. They’d not be killed, not if they stayed with their car. Lucky for them, the fresh air and the nice walk had put her in a wonderful and forgiving mood. Parker left them to their new dilemma as she reached out to her aunt and snapped her fingers again. Having her aunt and uncle embarrassed was the best she could do without them being in front of her. Not that she couldn’t do something from a distance, but she wanted to see them suffer—at least a little. When Parker dealt with her relatives, she wanted them to know who was turning their life upside down. Besides, having her dress split up the back was no less than Aunt Mae deserved for wearing a dress two sizes too small. Her uncle was embarrassed too, but all she’d done to him was make sure he was present when Aunt Mae’s dress fell to the floor. People shouldn’t have to see that much flesh without it being a porn movie.
Reaching town at a reasonable hour, Parker found a restaurant and asked for a seat in the back. Her credit cards were still good, her credit rating better than it had been before she’d been put behind bars. Ordering herself a large diet cola as well as a large pizza, she looked around the room and the people there having dinner. Much had changed while she’d been away, but most of it wasn’t new to her. Mary had helped her keep up by bringing her magazines monthly, as well as a newspaper daily. It wasn’t forbidden for her to do that for her, but it was sort of frowned upon.
Parker owed Mary a great deal for her help. And she’d pay her back too. As her pizza was set in front of her, a police officer sat too. He didn’t take her pizza, which surprised her, but he did introduce himself by telling her his name. Captain Donny Franklin told her he’d heard she was headed this way. “Do you have any plans of sticking around?” Parker told him she was only eating her dinner. “I’m not going to ask you to keep moving. I’m not even going to point out you should be with your aunt and uncle. If they were related to me, I’d have kept my distance from them too. Mary Cunningham is my cousin. She said you were an all right person.” “I have a home here. One that I owned before I was arrested.” He said he knew that. That just today, he noticed it was being cleaned up and aired out. “I wasn’t the one that killed my father.” “I know that. I knew that before you were taken away. But they don’t ask cops what their opinion is before they arrest someone. I’m sorry you had to go through that. I knew your dad. He was a terrible man. I’m sorry if you think differently, but for some reason, I don’t think you do.” She nodded, putting down her slice of pizza. “Don’t let me ruin your meal, Parker. I only came to sit with you because I’m aware of you and why you’re here. There are a few things I want to talk to you about. But it’s fine if we wait.” “I don’t need a job. “ Donny said he was all right with that, and he knew that she had some money. “Yes. Not as much as I’d like, but I can live off it for a while. Until I can get myself some income.” “There is a construction company here in town.
It’s been here for some time, but it’s owned and operated by Brook and Ronan Foster. I think you know Ronan.” Nodding, she told him that he was a year older than her. “I thought so. Mary said you should go and apply to work for them. Not that you’re considered an ex-con, but Brook has a habit of hiring those sorts of people to help them get a foot into the working world. She’s a good person too. We’ve never had any kind of trouble with their employees for as long as I’ve been an officer.” “Brook Garrett?” Donny said that was her. “I knew her parents. Not so much her. They were killed.” “Yes, both of them were by the same couple. The Quarters.” Parker knew who they were as well. “They’re both in prison and will be for a long time. Bethy is married now, with the cutest little boys I’ve ever seen. Twins. Married to a man whose name I can’t remember right now. He’s not been around here much so far as I know.” Parker didn’t know why he was taking her down memory lane but let him talk. When offered a piece of her pizza, he took a slice. Parker ate with him. As he told her other tidbits she couldn’t understand why he was sharing with her, she didn’t pay much in the way of attention until he mentioned Carmilla Foster. Carmilla had helped her out a couple of times when she’d been hiding from her parents. “She’s living with her mother-in-law over by where Brook used to live with her family. All the Fosters live right around there. Do you remember them?” Telling him no seemed to make him have to tell her everything about them too.
“Ronan has retired from the police force. He was going to be a part of our crew, but he’s now the king of all lions. Pretty nice set up for them if you ask me. Don still teaches. He’s really good at it too. My kids have been in his classes. They liked him. Quin is the town vet. It was a little touch and go there for a while whether or not he was going to find a place to open his practice, but he’s got it going now. Cass is the attorney for the family. A good one too that you can depend on. Keegan, he’s running some of the businesses for Brook and Ronan. I guess she’s pretty wealthy. Then there is Loman. He’s always been a loner and hasn’t changed all that much. He’s living here too when he’s not out taking pictures of endangered animals or just things in general. What are you going to be doing, Parker?” “I’ll have to report to you because my relatives aren’t going to help me.” He said he’d figured that. It was another reason he’d come to sit with her. “You said you knew my dad. So you know about what I am.” “Yes. It’s not common knowledge just so you’re aware. I know, and a couple of the other cops know. Mary told me. The others? I don’t know how they found out. Your aunt and uncle, they don’t know, do they?” Parker said she thought they didn’t believe what she was. “Figures. They never mentioned it when they came by the office yesterday to tell me you were getting out. Since I already knew from Mary, I tuned them out when they were talking to the boss. I think they would have said something about you being a powerful witch. Don’t you?” “Yes. Anything to make me stand out.”
Donny asked her if she’d like to help him out when he needed it. “For solving crimes? I suppose. So long as you don’t make a habit of it.” “I won’t. I know you’re a loner.” When they polished off the rest of her pizza, he took the bill when it was laid on the table. “This was sort of a business meeting, so I’ll pick up the tab. My wife, so you know, has been hired to work at your home. She’s looking forward to getting to know you.” “I’m not good with people.” Donny simply nodded. When Mary came in and joined them at the table, Parker had to breathe slowly so as not to overwhelm herself. She wasn’t kidding when she told him she wasn’t good with people. Parker didn’t particularly like them at all. Especially when there were too many of them around her. “I have to go.” Neither of them stood when she did. Mary would know, and more than likely Donny too, that she’d been in confinement for six of the eight years she’d been locked up. Parker had to save Mary and a lot of other guards once, and that got her special treatment from a lot of the guards inside. She never had to share her space with anyone. Nor did she have to be outside when anyone else was. It would have been dangerous to the others. Not her—she was too strong to be caught off guard—but from anyone gunning for her to take what her father had wanted from her that day. That was what made her a danger to herself. People would get themselves dead if they tried anything with her. Parker made her way to her home. There didn’t seem to be anyone there, as all the lights were off, so she let herself in via the back door and made her way up to what had always been her bedroom.
The master suite was the perfect size for her to spread out should she need to when casting spells or practicing. There was a note on the bathroom vanity. Picking it up, she read who was going to be working in the house with her as well as what her job was. She supposed Mary had made sure she had this note. Parker could only hope that Judith Franklin was going to be all right with a witch in the house. The name would also keep her from having to fumble around for a name when she met her. Parker couldn’t make herself relax enough to sleep. Pulling the sheet off the bed, she dragged it and her pillow out to the wrap around second story deck and laid out there on a lounger. The slight breeze and the sounds that only living in the country could bring a person helped her to fall asleep. ~~~ Don was happy for the summer months. Not that he changed up his schedule all that much when he didn’t have classes. He still rose at the same time and went to bed when it was barely dark out. However, tonight he was having some trouble relaxing enough to make himself sleep. Shifting into his lion, he roamed around in the fields behind the houses along the area he lived in. He knew if one of his brothers were out and about, they’d join him. Don would be just as happy if they were all cozy in their beds and left him to his own. Not that he didn’t love his family, but today had been a particularly long day, one that had him spending too much time behind four walls and doing things he wished he’d just done at home. Shopping for furniture wasn’t exactly how he wanted to spend a lovely June day. The worst part about the day from hell, he’d dubbed it, was that he’d not found a single stick of furniture to go in his home.
Nothing suited him—it was all chrome and glass, nothing wooden or smooth. That was another thing he couldn’t understand. Why did everything have to have texture to it? Why not just leave wood alone? Of course, he’d not put that question to anyone. He didn’t want to seem stupid, and he thought if word got around of his query and his mother and grandma found out, they would murder him. Smiling to himself, Don lifted his overly sensitive nose to the air and inhaled deeply. Someone was close. Not only that, but he could smell blood. Lying down in the soft grass with his head only inches above the highest reeds, he looked around for the source of the scent. It wasn’t until he saw her, the woman standing in the moonlight, that he realized someone besides his family had access to the wooded area behind their homes. Don didn’t want anyone around that he didn’t know. Nor did he want someone around that would harm one of the kids that might be hanging around. His plan, if he really wanted to call it that, was to sneak up to her and scare her—just a little. But almost as soon as he moved again, she turned around and looked directly at him. Don’t move.
He didn’t. Don’s paw was up, his tail curled next to his body. It took him a full minute to realize she’d just told him not to move. Him? A lion? Wasn’t she scared of him? Or at least impressed or something? When she put her finger to her lips then pointed, he looked in that direction. There are two men beyond here that have no right to be on the land back here. I can smell the fresh blood. I’m assuming that’s what brought you to me. Don kept an eye on the men he could see now and spoke to the woman in the same way she’d done for him. Is it a human that is bleeding? She told him it was a deer. They had been night hunting with goggles on. This is private land. Did you know that when you came out here? Yes. Nothing more. Nothing to say she was sorry, nor did she make excuses for why she was out here too. I’m going to give them a scare. You could, I suppose, but if you show yourself, everyone in the territory will be out looking for a large cat. It won’t even matter to them if they happen to kill a house cat. Don watched her move. She wasn’t touching the earth. Not a single blade of grass bent under her feet. The branches surrounding her didn’t snap or make a sound when she moved over them. So caught up on watching her, he nearly leapt up to take the men down when they began to scream bloody murder about something hurting them. The two men nearly ran over him in their haste to get away. Moving quickly, Don barely managed to get out of the way of their feet when they kept knocking each other over. Every time one of them would fall, they’d scream about something grabbing their legs.
Don didn’t see anything that looked as if it was touching them. However, they were running through the brambles. After they were out of sight, Don looked for the woman again. She was far enough away from him now that he knew he’d have to run to catch up to her. Not knowing a thing about her, not her name or even her scent, he only just realized he was going to be at a loss to ask her what she’d done to the men. As he hunted for her scent in the area where he’d seen her, he noted to himself that there was nothing of her anywhere. Looking for her again, he noticed that she’d disappeared as if she’d never been with him at all. Perplexed, he made his way back to his home. The waterway that ran directly behind his home was the first place he stopped by as he walked. The night moon was bright with light, but he couldn’t see where the woman had gone. Moving his now exhausted body up onto his deck, Don reached out for her. She’d spoken to him, so he thought he should be able to speak to her too. I’m not much of a people person. He thought that was an odd way of answering his call. I’m also not human. Neither am I, as you well know. Where do you live? After asking, he knew it was a long shot if she told him that kind of personal information. I live in this cul-de-sac with the rest of my family. Why are you roaming around here in the middle of the night? Another dumb question, but he was glad he asked when she laughed. I was having trouble sleeping. The same as you. Why do any of these things you’re asking me matter to you? I’ve not intruded on your personal life. How about you do the same for me? He didn’t have an answer to that. Don thought that telling her he wanted to meet her face to face would get him killed. I don’t murder people for being curious, Mr. Foster.
I’m a better person than that. He’d hurt her. Don wasn’t sure how he’d done it, but he knew he had. I’m sorry. I didn’t mean to come across— You know my name. Her laughter again. You have a lovely laugh. It reminds me of summer. How that connection was made, I haven’t any idea. But that’s what I feel when you do it. Also, I have no idea why, but I don’t think you’ve had much of an occasion to laugh as late. That is about as close to the truth as you could ever be. However, you’re inevitably going to hear about me, so believe what you wish of whatever you hear. I was only just released from prison today. My name is Parker Carter. I was wrongly accused of killing my father. I live on the next street over from where you are now. He wondered why she’d been in prison and for how long. If you have questions, Mr. Foster, ask them. I’m not in the mood to sugarcoat the answers. Actually, I’m rarely in the mood to do that.
I know your mother. She saved me a few times when my father was out looking for me. I’d rather hear information from you if you don’t mind. I don’t know why, but it seems important to me that I hear the truth, and not someone else’s version of what they think has happened. She thanked him. For whatever reason, Don thought she didn’t quite believe him. Why do I have the feeling that the two of us are going to be good friends, Parker? Because, Lionheart, I’m your mate. When the connection between them closed, he didn’t move off the deck until the sun was coming up over the forest of trees behind his home. If asked, Don wasn’t sure he could have put his finger on a single thought that had been roaming around in his head. Parker was his mate? She knew his mother. Don shifted back to his other side and went into the house. It was time, he thought, for him to speak to his mom. Other than Parker, he knew she might be the only one that would make sure he had the truth as much as Parker would have told him. She was his mate?