Things hadn’t been going very well for Lucy and her two sisters. When their parents died, their uncle had moved in and took over. The girls, apparently, were too much trouble to worry about, so he’d dumped them onto the streets to fend for themselves.
It was just luck that Ian McCray and his family had found Lucy that day. Both Lucy and her sister, Jilly, were in bad need of medical attention. Ian was just thrilled to have found his mate alive. In their situation, it could have been much worse.
Lucy was thankful for the help, but she was just going from one man to another lording over her and dictating what she could and couldn’t do. It was marry Ian or lose her sisters for good. Ian was a nice man, but she was tired of everyone telling her what to do.
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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….
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….
Melody Austin was afraid of nearly everything, but like it or not, she was a survivor. When she was seventeen, she had survived a harrowing attack that left her mentally and physically scarred. Now, ten years later, her brother, Daniel, repeatedly asked her to talk about the disturbing events, to tell him what happened so that he could understand, but she remained silent. She knew he meant well, but telling him a bear was behind the attack at the school would get her locked up in a mental institution. No one would believe that story, and she couldn’t blame them.
Daniel had taken a job working for the McCrays. He made Mel promise that she’d join him in just a few days, but instead, Daniel received a call that his house was on fire, and Mel had been burned in the process. Daniel took Gannon with him to check on his sister.
Daniel had told Gannon that Mel was a bit skittish before they arrived on the scene. But the moment Gannon caught her scent; he knew she was his mate. He meant to reassure her by telling her that she was his mate and that everything would be all right, but the instant she heard that he was a bear shifter, she went wild, running back into the fire to get away from him.
When Gannon discovered that a bear was the cause of all her fears, he didn’t know how he could get past this. He couldn’t change what he was…. Was this doomed from the start?
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Ian waited in the lobby for Lucy to be brought back to the ER department. She’d been gone for about an hour when his dad had brought her sisters in, just to have them looked over too, he told him. Jilly sat across from him while Cybill glared at him from several seats away. It was his nature to laugh at someone disliking him. He thought, however, if he did that now, even the hospital wouldn’t be able to save him. They’d kill him that quickly. “What are you?” Ian asked Jilly what she meant. “You’re not human. I don’t think you are. So, tell me if I’m wrong or what you are. I don’t want to be waking up some time with you looming over me like some sort of monster. Not that we’re going to be staying with you or anyone else.” “First of all, take it down a notch. I’ve given you no reason whatsoever to be nasty to me. Also, I’m not going to loom over any of you. I’m a black bear. My entire family is.” She glared at him harder. “Look, why don’t you just say what you’re thinking and we’ll go on from there? We’ve done everything we said we would without once trying to loom or any of the other things going on in your mind.” “What’s going to happen to my sister and I when you force Lucy to come and be your slave?” Ian stood up and walked away from her. He wasn’t going to lose his temper with a kid. Not today. “Where the hell are you going? I’m speaking to you.” “No, you’re not. Speaking to me would mean you’re having a conversation with me. All you’ve done since you were brought here was snip and snap at me like I was the one that left you at the side of the road. I’d never do that.
Not even with the way you’re treating me right now.” His mom and dad came back from the cafeteria with a bag of things. When Mom gave the girls an apple apiece, he declined to have one. Mom asked him what was going on. “This one, Cybill, hasn’t spoken to me since she got here. But I think Jilly here is making up for it by being nasty and accusatory at me. Like I’d hurt any of them. Oh, and she’s accused me of planning to dump her someplace when I take their older sister as my slave.” “What a thing to say to my son.” Mom sat down by Jilly and asked Cybill to come closer. Of course, she just sat there. “When I tell you to come to me, you’ll do it. I’m going to be your grandma, and I do expect you to respect me as an elder. You don’t have to like me, but I’d like you to. Otherwise, you’re going to find yourself at the wrong end of my heart. Now, come here so I can tell you what is going on with your sister. And what I would like to see happen to the two of you.” Cybill came to sit next to his mom, and Dad sat with him across from them. Mom told them that Lucy had a bad sprain on her wrist, and they were going to set it with a cast. Cybill told Mom they didn’t have the money for that. Ian spoke up. “I spoke to the bursar’s office before you got here. All the bills are going to be sent to me. There won’t be many of them, since as a family we’ve donated a great deal of money to this hospital in order to have the best of the best here. Lucy is in good hands.” Jilly asked him where he lived. “About a twenty-minute drive from here.
Not too far. I’m thinking they more than likely will keep her overnight simply because she’ll need more in the way of pain medication than they can send her home with. I’d very much like it if you two were checked out. I know you said you didn’t want to be but think of this. If you have a cold or some other sort of illness, you might make your sister weaker. They’ll keep her longer if that happens. I’m not blackmailing you into anything, but I’m not too keen on either of you being sick either.” Cybill stood up, and so did Ian. She was so stiff it worried him. Was she hurt? Did something happen to the three of them to make them like this, other than being abandoned like they were? Ian wondered how soon his sisters would be able to track down the uncle. “I’d like to make sure we don’t have anything that would make Lucy sicker. She’s all we have.” Ian didn’t point out that they had him too. He was working hard at making them believe in him before he tried to convince them he was going to be there for them. “But I’m not going to allow you in the room with me.” “Of course, I won’t go into the room with you. Christ, kid, I’m not sure where your mind is all the time, but if you give me half a chance, you’re going to see that I’m nothing like whoever shit in your oatmeal.” Mom told him to behave. “Tell her that. I’ve done nothing to either of them, but try my best to show them I’m not the bad guy in this.” “Be that as it may, son. They’re terrified and untrusting. We have to work on one thing at a time here.” He nodded and went to the desk. Jilly came with him. Instead of asking her what she wanted, he asked the nurse if there was someone who could look the girls over to make sure nothing was hurting them. Ian turned to Jilly.
“I’d very much like for my mom to go back with the two of you. She can keep in contact with me through our link. Just in case the nurses or doctors ask you for something that you might not understand.” Jilly looked at her sister, then nodded to him. “Thank you for that. I know how hard it is for you to trust us. But I swear to you, we only have your best interests at heart.” “I don’t trust you,” Ian told her that was fine. Hopefully, she would someday. “What are your plans for us? Sending us away won’t get you in good with my sister.” “I don’t have any plans for you and your sister, other than wanting you safe and healthy. I want to take care that your uncle, wherever he is, knows he’s messed up badly by treating you the way he has. Also, and this is true for my entire family, I’d very much like for you not to jump to the wrong conclusions about everything we say to you.” Jilly’s cheeks brightened up a little, and she turned away from him. “Is there anything wrong with you, Jilly? I mean, are you hurt in any way that the doctors are going to find? I’d really like to know.” She turned to him then. While she looked at him with such intensity, he let her. Whatever she was thinking, he was sure it wouldn’t bode well for him to try and read her mind. He was determined to allow her to make this call on her own. “Three weeks ago, we were sleeping in a van. It wasn’t nearly as bad as the one we’ve been in lately, but that’s not saying much. It was all we could find at the time.”
He nodded. “There were no bathrooms, of course, so we had to go outside and do our business. Someone hit me from behind. I didn’t lose consciousness, but I did get hit hard enough to draw blood. I still have trouble seeing things clearly, and I seem to have a headache all the time.”
“Did you tell your sisters?” She shook her head gently. “All right. I’m going to go back with you to tell them what you’ve just told me. Also, I’d like to get my sisters-in-law involved. One of them is freaky scary magically powerful. However, she’d never harm either of you. She can find someone just by touching something. I don’t know if she can with a head wound or not, but it’s worth a try. Okay?” “Why are you really doing this? Lucy won’t care how much you say you’re going to keep us safe. The first time something happens, you’ll not find us.” He told her he would now. “Because of you being a bear? I don’t believe you.” “Believe me or not, Jilly, I’m a man of my word. If I tell you something I’ll do or have done for you, I’ll do it. I can find you because I have your scent. It won’t be as easy as it would be if I had a taste of your blood, but you don’t trust me enough for that. Not yet.” She said she doubted she ever would. “I’m sorry for that. I truly am.” The nurse came to get the two girls, and he went back with them to wait for the doctor to come in the little room they were in. He’d asked the doctor, a woman he’d known for a while, Hallie Jamison if the girls could be in the same area, as they’re still frightened of him. He knew her from helping set up some of the computers they now had. Hallie laughed. “You go on with you, Ian. I’ve got them here. They’ll not be bothered.” Ian told her what had happened to Jilly and how he was worried about her. “Head wound, huh? Well, you let me have a look-see at it, honey, and I’ll see what I can get going for you right away.” Hallie had a gentle touch, but he could tell it was still painful for Jilly.
Taking her hand into his, Ian held it tightly as Jilly tried her best not to cry. Cybill held her other hand. When Hallie stepped back, she looked at him. He could tell the news wasn’t going to be good. “She’s got herself a piece of something under the skin. I don’t know what it is right now. Not unless she can tell me what it was that hit her.” Jilly told them she didn’t know. There hadn’t been anyone around. “I’m thinking you did lose consciousness for a little bit, honey. Not long, but long enough for whoever hit you to hit you a second time there. I found two places where the skin was broken. Whoever it was, they left you to die.” “But she’ll be all right, won’t she? Whatever it takes for her to be better, you do it, Hallie. I don’t want anything to hurt them again.” Jilly looked at him when he spoke to the doctor. “Just tell me what you’re going to need to do to remove whatever is in her head.” “Nothing, Ian. You did good just getting this sort of information from her. She’ll be right as rain.” Hallie looked at Jilly. “I’m going to have them X-ray your head, honey. After we have a look at the films that come back, we’ll be in a better position to figure
out where we’ll go from here. In the meantime, I’m going to give you a little something to make you relax a little. Being tense is not helping your head, I’m betting.” As soon as she left to get whatever was going to be needed for Jilly, Ian asked Cybill the same thing he’d asked Jilly. She told him she was always being babied by the other two, and she was never alone. Ian thought while she resented it a little, Cybill was glad not to be hurting like her sister.
“I’m going to check on Lucy while you’re getting X-rays, all right?” Cybill said she didn’t want to leave her sister. “I don’t think they’ll allow you in the room when they do that. However, they’re going to bring her back to this area, and you and I will be here waiting for her. My mom will be, as well.” “I don’t want either of them hurting,” Ian told her he didn’t either. “What will happen to me if they have to stay here? I can’t go home with you. Not without my sisters.” “I know that. I never thought to make you leave them. I’ll make a few calls, and we’ll make sure, if we can, that all three of you are in the same room. If not, then you can move back and forth between their rooms to make sure they’re all right. Would that be all right?” Cybill nodded, her big blue eyes dark with fear. “Good. Now, I’m going to reach out to my family with my link to them. You won’t know I’m talking to them, but I promise you I’ll tell you everything I find out, even about your uncle. I won’t keep things from you guys. Ever, if I can help it.” Ian reached out to Demi first, telling her what he knew about the girls. She told him she was looking into the uncle for them and was looking for someone that might have a copy of the original will. I don’t for a minute think anyone would have left their children in his care if what they’re saying is true. We have to assume this could be just a case of the girls not wanting to be around him. I’m not going to jump to conclusions. He told her that was a good idea. Meadow is here with me. She’s doing her thing too to find out what she can about the accident that killed their parents.
Also, you should be aware that Melody is clothing shopping. They’re going to need more than what they currently have even if they take off again. I don’t think they will, but with kids, you never know. Thank you for that. I would like for Meadow to figure out what happened to Jilly that gave her the wound she has. Demi said she’d have her look. Another thing—is there any way you can have someone go to my house and fill up the cabinets and fridge? I wasn’t expecting anyone, and now I have three mouths to feed. I’m thrilled to death about it, but I also don’t want them to think I’m planning to starve them. Closing the connection when Demi said she’d take care of it, he watched as a young aide took the bed out of the room to take Jilly to X-ray. Mom and Dad both joined them in the room while they waited. “Do you think she’ll die?” Mom told Cybill she didn’t think either of her sisters would die. “I don’t want them to. They’re all I have left as my family.” “You have all of us now, Cybill. I want you to know that right off.” Dad took the child’s hand into his much larger one. “Yes, ma’am, you’ve got all of us now, and we’re
not going to let anyone hurt you again. Nor will you ever have to sleep in some old van. Unless it’s a camping trip—then that’ll be fine. You ever camp?” Dad and Cybill spoke quietly while Mom peppered Ian with questions. Nothing he could answer for her, but it didn’t stop her from asking. Mom went with Cybill to get her checkup while he and his dad waited. They didn’t speak much. Ian was worried for his new family, and Dad seemed to be content with watching whatever was on the television while they waited. When Lucy was finished with her arm being set, he went to see her in the room right next door. Telling her everything that was going on, he could see she was in a great deal of pain. When the nurse came in to give her something more for it, Ian stayed with her.
She was asleep in a matter of minutes. ~*~ “I’ve removed the bullet without any trouble, but I still want to keep her for a couple more days just to make sure there is nothing more with the wounds. It’s a small wonder she was having trouble seeing and a massive headache.” Lucy didn’t have any idea who would have shot her sister. Fearful of whoever it was coming for her again had her reaching out and grabbing the closest thing to her. It just happened to be Ian’s warm hand. The doctor continued. “She’s quite the trooper, I have to say. Not only was she fantastic at following instructions on what I needed her to do while I removed the bullet, she asked me questions about the procedure while it was happening to her.” “You mean she was awake?” Her voice squeaked, but she didn’t care. They’d made her suffer through this without putting her out? “Isn’t that sort of cruel?” “Oh, no, Ms. Jackson. She didn’t feel anything until I was ready for her to. When working with the brain or the skull, we want patients to be able to tell us if there is a change in their vision or speech. This way, if something were to have changed for her, Jilly was still in the operating room, and we could fix it immediately. She didn’t have any trouble at all.
Jilly even told me while we were working that she could see a little better.” “I don’t understand.” Ian turned to her, asking her what it was she needed clarification on. “Who would have shot her? Why? We weren’t hurting anyone where we were. Why didn’t she tell me she’d been hurt? I’m supposed to be taking care of them.” When the doctor left them, Ian sat in the chair next to her bed. Lucy wasn’t sure what he was doing there, but it did occur to her that having him close was making her feel safer than she had at any time in the last year. “I’m having my sister-in-law look into the shooting. The police have allowed her to touch the bullet. I did tell you she has some kind of thing going on with her mind, didn’t I?” Lucy said he’d not explained that either. “All right. Do you remember the Spring murders? When the entire family was murdered except for one daughter?” “Yes. They thought for a long time that it was her that killed them all. Even the dog, I believe.” Ian told her that was it. “Are you telling me Meadow is that woman?” “I am. When she was cut up like she was, her body sort of woke up some kind of mental ability. She can do all sorts of things we’re still learning about. She was hoping that with her touching the bullet, she could backtrace the reason for it being shot at your sister and who might have done it.
” Lucy’s head was spinning, and Ian seemed to understand she was overwhelmed. “When she has information, she said she’d tell me or come by, and I’ll tell you without holding anything back. I’m going to be as honest and as straight up with you as I can. All right?” “Yes. Do you know why she told you she’d been shot and not me?” He nodded. “I don’t know why, but I have a feeling I’m not going to like the answer, am I?” “I don’t know if you will or not. But I do understand her motive for it. She thought you had enough on your plate, she told my dad, and she thought having a headache all the time was minor compared to what was going on in your lives. She would have told you, Jilly said, when you were safe, but it never seemed to be a good time to speak about it. Also, she had no idea she’d been shot. Jilly thought she’d been hit in the head with something.” “What about my other sister? What has Cybill been holding back from me?” Lucy hated the way she sounded as soon as she spoke. Ian had been nothing but nice to her, and here she was snipping and snapping at him. “I’m sorry. I’m trying to deal with this. I don’t know you or what you are going to want from me. What you’re going to do with my sisters, either. It’s too much, but I know I have to deal with it. Deal with you.” “Dealing with me is going to be easy. I don’t want anything from you or your sisters that you’re not willing to give. I’m going to care for the three of you. As for what I’m going to do with them? I don’t have any plans to do anything with them. I’ve provided them with rooms at our house. They have clothing now that my sisters-in-law got for them.
As soon as you’re up and around, we’ll take them to get more. It’s only fall now, so we’ll have to look for winter things too, I guess. I don’t know a great deal about teenage girls, to be honest with you. But I’m so very proud of you for keeping them safe and together.” “The doctor said we are all undernourished. I thought he was going to take them from me when he said that. But all he said was that with the cook you have at your house now, we’ll be fattened up soon enough. I don’t even know what that means.” Ian laughed, and she felt a smile pull at her mouth. “You have money, don’t you?” “I do. I also have a home, a great job, and insurance that you and the girls have been added to as of this afternoon. I don’t know a great deal about any of you, but I’m assuming you drive.” She nodded and told him she had a license, but it had been taken from her at her uncle’s. “They’ve found him, by the way. Demi isn’t going to contact him until she figures out a few things about him. I’m not sure what those are, but she said she’d have you some information soon.” “They’re very resourceful, aren’t they?” Ian laughed and told her that was an understatement. “What will they do with my uncle now that they know where he is? I mean, it’s not like my sisters and I have any recourse. I’ve been so worried he was going to come after us and ditch me in order to keep them around. I suppose he could. I’m an adult, and they’re not.” “I did mention that to the others. Mr. Shoe is an attorney for the family right now. Mostly Demi, but he’s looking into what can and can’t be done. You told me you didna know where the will was.
If you can tell me where your parents died, then we can go there and find their death certificates and work backward from there.” She told him everything she knew, which, after saying it aloud, she thought was a pitiful amount of information. “Once they know where to look, finding it will be easy. I mean, they would have filed it in order for it to be legal and binding.” “I have some questions for you. I know you’re telling me I’m your mate, but how do I know you’re not trying to scam me into your home and bed? For all I know, you could be a murderer or a rapist. I don’t want to go from the pot to the fire without knowing what I’m getting into.” He told her that was fair, then to ask him whatever she wanted. “I don’t know what to ask you. I don’t know you at all.” “Nor do I know you, Lucy. But I’m a college graduate of the local college. I have a computer science degree that is helping me while I learn what Demi and Meadow have me do. I can, and do most of the time, build computers for the elite. All the family is now the owner of a great many properties all over the world, and I keep the computers working so Demi’s cameraman, my brother, can install cameras and keep them as well as anything else in the homes up and running.” She asked him about his house. “Ah, there is a funny story to that. Demi and Meadow purchased the houses for all of us a while back. All I’ve done to it since moving in was throw a mattress on the floor and look for things to fill it a little at a time. It has nine bedrooms. Also, I’ve managed to find a couple of ponies I’m working with so they’re not afraid of me.
I’m not a rancher by any stretch of the imagination, but I’m having fun just hanging around the place when I’m not working.” “Nine bedrooms is a huge house.” He told her about the kitchen and how it was supposed to be a cook’s dream. “You don’t cook.” “No. I mean, I know how, but I don’t unless I’m too hungry to wait until I can hang out at my mom’s house for a meal.” He grinned at her. “When I first figured out the three of you would need a place to stay, I had my mom and sisters go and fill the place up with food. While I don’t have any idea what they purchased, I’m sure it’s going to be a good mixture of good for you things as well as fun food. My mom is a wonderful cook. I’m to understand that you love to bake.” “I do. I’m good at it too. Not tooting my own horn, but I used to have people come from everywhere to have some of the bread and cakes I make.” Ian had the most generous smile. When he smiled, it was like he was telling her he was as happy as he could be. “I don’t know what I’m supposed to do with you.” “With me? I don’t know either. As I said, I’m not going to rush you. I’ll take whatever you wish to give me. However, I plan to pamper you so much, you’ll wish to bash my head in.” This time she laughed. Laying her head back on the pillow, she watched as he explained to her what sort of pampering he was planning to do. When the door to her room opened, she was so happy to see Cybill that she had her climb into the bed with her, simply so she could make sure she was all right. Ian didn’t make fun of her, nor did he scold her sister for climbing over her and causing her pain. Lucy thought he would have for some reason.
“I’m going to go and check on Jilly if you two will be all right.” Lucy thanked him. “You can have anything you want to eat. Would you like me to pick you two up something and bring it to you? The sky’s the limit.” “I would love a hamburger. With everything.” Ian told Cybill he could get her that, then asked her about fries. “No, I don’t care for potatoes. But if they have onion rings, I’d really enjoy that. Are you sure you don’t mind getting it for me?” “I’m positive. I’m hoping we can be a family. But I’ll settle for good terms for now.” Lucy told him she’d like the same, but she liked fries. None of them liked soda, so he was going to bring them back bottled waters. “I’ll be back. If there is anything I find out about Jilly, I’ll let you know that too.” When he was gone, Cybill told her she liked the McCray family. “You’ve been getting to know them, I guess,” Cybill said mostly she’d been with Grandpa McCray, but Grandma was nice too. “You’re already calling them your grandparents? Cybill, do you think that’s a good idea? We shouldn’t get too attached to them right now. Don’t you think?” “I don’t think that at all. We’re warm and getting taken care of, Lucy. I’ve been checked out and given a vitamin D shot so I could be better. You’ve had your arm looked at and fixed. Jilly is getting taken care of, and tonight, when I go to bed, I’ll have a roof over my head, a bed to sleep in, and a bathroom all my own.” She asked her where she was staying. “I’ve been taken by the grandparents to Ian’s house. You’re going to love it, Lucy. It’s so beautiful, and I can’t wait to live there for the rest of my life.” Lucy was worried that something was going to happen to take all these plans away from them. A roof over their head was a good thing, but at what cost? When she thought of all the things that Ian or the rest of them could demand of them, Lucy had a feeling they’d not want anything in return. They were, she hoped, just what they looked like—a good family with no ulterior motive of any kind.