Piper James was at the funeral home doing the hardest thing she’d ever had to do—bury her mother. The last ten years had been difficult, with her dad’s illness then him ultimately dying, and then her mother being diagnosed with cancer. Her siblings, Mary and Louis, had been no help at all, financially or lending a hand with their care. Now that their mother was gone, those two were going to be a handful, Piper just knew it.
Fisher Prince, a rare black tiger shifter, had a gift. He was able to find people and things with little effort. When a judge called him and asked him to find Piper and keep her safe from her siblings, Fisher agreed to help him out, but he wasn’t expecting to find his mate in the process.
The bond between the two was nearly immediate, and when he gave her a ring gifted to him by Aurora, queen of the earth, neither were prepared for what happened next.
Mary and Louis were never going to stop pursuing Piper unless someone intervened. Would the Prince family be in time to stop the inevitable?
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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.
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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“Ms. James, I’m so sorry, but we’re going to have to proceed. Have you heard from your family?” Smiling at the funeral director, she told him she’d not. “What would you like us to do?” “Let’s start. I should have known they would not be on time.” Standing up to tell her mom goodbye once more, she turned to sit back down as Mr. Edwards was closing the casket. The noise from the back had her temper flare. “I told you to be here yesterday, Louis.” “We’re here now, so shut up. Is he closing the casket already?” Piper told her brother that the service was over. Her sister Mary came in, making enough noise to wake the dead. “She is having him close up Mom’s casket before we even arrived.” “Piper, why do you persist in pissing me off all the time? I don’t know why you were in charge of the arrangements anyway. As the oldest, I should have been the one to have done this.” Mary huffed all the way to the casket. “You didn’t have them dye her hair? Christ, she looks terrible.” “Because she was old and sick and died. I didn’t make the arrangements, Mom did. If you have a problem with it, then I suggest taking it up with her.” Piper smiled. “Oh, that’s right. You didn’t know her plans because when she called to tell you both what she’d done, you were too busy to speak to her.” Piper sat down with her niece and nephew while her brother and sister went to the casket. Mr. Edwards wasn’t at all happy with the two of them. Neither was she. But soon, the funeral would be over, and she’d not have to deal with them anymore. They weren’t bad people. It wasn’t as if they were terrible to her.
They were just indifferent to anyone or anything that didn’t involve them, always wanting people to cater to them—in everything. Today was no different. When they sat in the front row, she stayed where she was. She much preferred the company of their children than her brother and sister any day. The eulogy was up to her according to what her mom had requested. When she was asked to say something about her mom, Mary pushed her out of the way and stood by the podium. When she started speaking, telling the few of them how much her mother had meant to her, Piper just let her. Instead of paying attention to her, Piper thought of the last conversation she’d had with her mom. “You know they’re going to demand you sell the house for the estate, don’t you?” Mom had been in the hospital then, her last time there as it turned out. The cancer was taking her. “Don’t let them bully you, Piper. You’re not that shy child you were when your pop died.” “No, I’m not. But it’s doubtful they’ll ever see me as an adult no matter how old I am.” Mom laughed. “As for the house? Well, they’ll figure that out when the will is read, I suppose. I don’t have to explain anything to them. Nor do you.” “I’m ready to die, baby girl. I’m tired of fighting this war. But you gave me the best ten years an old woman like me could ask for. The camping trips. The vacations we took.
You surely made this as good as I could have ever hoped for.” Piper told her she’d had just as much fun. “You’re going to take off as soon as the will is read, aren’t you? Don’t sit around being a sad mushroom about me dying. I’ll surely come back to haunt you if you do.” “I made you a promise, and I will keep it.” Mom nodded and closed her eyes. Piper knew what it was costing her mom to speak to her. “Mom, I’m ready when you are. I don’t want you to die, but you sticking around here talking to me is costing you more than you have, I think. We’ve had all the fun we could, and now it’s time for you to go tell Pop what you’ve been up to with me.” Mom nodded but didn’t open her eyes. The monitor measuring her heartbeat was slowing. As per her mom’s request, nothing would be done to try and bring her back. Piper let her tears flow unheeded. Her mom was dying, and it hurt her own heart with every pause of her mom’s. “Piper? Did you hear me?” Piper looked at her brother, jerked from her thoughts about mom. “For the love of Christ. Are you on drugs again? This isn’t the time for you to be stoned out of—” “I’ve never taken so much as an aspirin. Why would you even say that to me?” Standing up, Piper straightened up her dress and made her way to the podium. “Mom asked me to read this today. When the doctor told us there wasn’t much time left, she wrote her own eulogy. Mom got sassy in her later years, so laugh if you wish. But don’t be offended, please.” Looking at her mom’s handwriting made her smile. She’d had the most beautiful script Piper had ever seen. Knowing she’d treasure this letter, Piper had made copies of it to read from today, and in case the others wanted a copy. Which Piper doubted. “If Piper is doing her job and not grieving over me, I’m fucking dead.”
She looked up when Louis asked her to not curse. “I’m going to read just what she wrote. Word for word. Deal with it.” She looked back at the writing, needing a moment until the tears dried up a little. “I’ve lived a great life. But now I’m going to be worm meat. I don’t care. I’m more excited for this phase of my life anyway. To get to see my only love and tell him of all the adventures I’ve had with Piper. In my final years, we did so much together. Things that would wear me out, but it was so well worth it. Every fucking minute.” “Wait just a minute. Wait right there. What does she mean, adventures with you? We had adventures.” Piper didn’t comment to her sister. Her mom knew they’d not let it go on how much time she and Piper had together. “We did lunch all the time when we were in town. Remember those times, Louis?” Peter, Mary’s son, cleared his throat and stood up. “What are you talking about? Didn’t you just say on the way here that you’d not been here in ten years? That you’d not even recognize Grandma or Piper if they were in a lineup? I think you said you’d not been here since Grandpop died.” Piper could have hugged Peter, Mary’s oldest. “Go on, Aunt Piper. Read her note to us and give us a good laugh.” “Thank you, Peter.” She looked down at the letter again. “Let me see. The camping trips made me laugh so much. Figuring it all out took ten years off my life. However, Piper’s driving put it right back on me.
I’m sorry we couldn’t do more towards the end there, but you of all people know why we couldn’t.” Mom talked about the camper being renovated and how much nicer it was to be able to make coffee and brush her teeth at the same time. The Christmases they had at the shelter. Piper looked up when she got to the part about the house being sold to her. “You took her house from me?” Folding up the letter and putting it away, Piper ignored her sister in favor of telling Mr. Edwards it was time to go. It didn’t matter really what the rest of the letter said. They’d only hear what they wanted anyway. “What did she mean, she sold the house to you? You know it’s going to be mine. I’m the oldest.” “You were notified of the sale nine years ago, Mary. Both you and Louis were. Not that I have to explain anything to you, but she sold it to me first, so I’d be able to use it as collateral to finish my education.” Mary asked her why she thought the house should have been hers. “I’ve spent the last fifteen years of my life, more than half of it, caring for first Pop, then Mom, while the two of you went on with whatever you wanted to do. Without one hour of help from you two. All your promises of coming here to give me some time of my own.
All the money you said you’d send, which again you never sent. She sold the house to me when it was obvious neither of you were going to come to help her. Then when it got to the point where neither of us could afford it, I sold it to use the money for other things.” “That’s not fair at all. We had lives. Families to care for. You don’t know how difficult it was for us to find servants to help us. And don’t get me started on nannies and the like. You just don’t know what it’s like, Piper. Mom should never have singled you out in that letter, either. She did that to be mean.” Piper moved past her brother to the front doors of the chapel. “Piper, this isn’t finished. You’re not going to rip us off now that my parents are both gone.” Piper made her way to the limo that had been hired to take her to the cemetery. She wasn’t surprised at all when Mary got in with her son, then Louis did the same with his daughter, Rachel. When it was obvious there wasn’t enough room, Peter and Rachel said they’d take the cars. That, of course, pissed Mary and Louis off, that she’d not made better arrangements. The graveside service was beautiful. She and Mom had picked out the marker that Mom would share with Pop when she’d been making the arrangements. It was a testimony of their love for each other, with a carved picture of them on their wedding day under their names. Mom had made sure it was also covered with the stickers of each camping spot they’d gone to, so she’d be able to remember them when she told Pop about them. Of course, Mary and Louis thought it was tacky and demanded they be removed. “You touch even one of them, and I’ll have you arrested, Louis. That is what Mom wanted, and that is what she gets.” He asked her when she’d gotten so touchy about things. “The day my mom passed away with her other children too busy to make their way to be with her.”
The service was quick. They were headed to their cars within minutes afterward. Piper had brought her car here yesterday so that she could leave when she wanted too. The limo was gone, with her sister and brother arguing about how they wanted to be alone when she sat on the ground to watch the deep hole being filled in. Piper told both her parents that she loved them and would think of them often. “I’m leaving tomorrow morning. Or tonight if Mary or Louis stick around too long.” Piper thought about talking about the letter Mom had written. She knew that Mom had known what the reactions would be. It was why she’d written it, after all. “Give Pop a hug for me. Pop, I love you so much. Take care of Mom.” The drive back to the funeral home was her time to grieve. Being strong for her mom had been difficult. But the ride gave her a much-needed outlet. She’d not get much of quiet time once she arrived to take care of the last few things at the funeral home. Getting out of the car, she made her way inside just in time to hear Louis arguing with Mr. Edwards. Putting her fingers in her mouth, she whistled loud and long. Everyone turned to her, and she smiled. “While I have an idea what this is about, you will not harass Mr. Edwards about it. He’s just the person who was nice enough to allow Mom and I to make payments on the billing until some money came in.” Louis asked her for the bill. “For what?”
“The bill to this second rate funeral. Mary and I are going to pay for it. As soon as we have the billing turned over to us.” Mr. Edwards moved away while she waited on Louis to continue. “We’ve decided to take the burden off you on this. This way, you can pay us back from the proceeds from when you sold the house. I don’t think you should have gotten a thing from the estate of either of them. It’s not like you paid rent or had any other bills while you were living the life of a freeloader with first Dad, then Mom. We’ve decided we’ll split the money five ways. You’ll get one fifth, and as we’re married and you’re not, it’s only fair that we get a portion for our spouses, as we have to support them as well. It’s the least we can do for you.” “Yes, I’m sure this is the least you can do. However, the house was sold too long ago for you to be coming back on me to get anything from it. There were bills that we had that had to be covered.” Louis asked her what she was talking about. “I sold the house and the contents several years ago when the bills were too much for Mom to handle after Pop died. You do know she had cancer, don’t you? I mean, that was what eventually killed her. Then, just before she died, the doctor explained that this was the end and that the hospital would be a good place for her to be comfortable. So that’s where she was when she passed.” “You had no right to do that. None at all.” She said that since she owned the house, she could do what she wanted. “We’ll just see about that.” When he walked away, Piper found Mr. Edwards. Apologizing to the man for her family, he smiled at her.
When he told her he’d not worry about it if she didn’t, Piper assured him that she wouldn’t. The two of them finished up the paperwork, then made arrangements for the flowers. They were going to be donated to the local nursing homes. There were quite a few of them from her clients, so it didn’t bother her that she was able to make the decision about them. Most had sent small arrangements and donated to the charity that Mom had helped when they’d been able to donate. “The donations were ample, Ms. James, well over ten thousand dollars. The children at the hospital will have nice things for their stay now.” Mom had wanted to have readers with games on them for the kids in the cancer ward. “I’ve made sure the attorney for the estate is aware of it.” “Thank you. Mom would have been incredibly pleased.” Signing off on the bill that had been paid over the years, Piper stood up to leave. “I’m not sure what happens next with my sister and brother, but don’t hesitate to call the police if they become too much of a nuisance to you.” “They don’t bother me. It’s you I worry about. You aren’t sticking around for the reading of the will, are you?” She told him she had what Mom had given her. “Well, child, you have—” The knock at the door had her turning toward it. The officer standing there seemed as confused as she felt. He told her he was sorry about this. Rocky and her had dated a couple of times before he’d found and married Janine.
“The man out there said you had stolen from him. He said you took his inheritance. Then that woman—please tell me she’s not really your sister—said the same thing.” She told him, sadly, that they were both related to her. “I’m sorry, Piper, I’m gonna have to take you in until in the morning. Judge Parkerson is having a look at all the paperwork you gave to Mr. Jackson. I guess you figured this would happen.” “I did. I had hoped it would be after I left town.” She put out her wrists to be cuffed, and he told her to just go with him. “They want the works, Rocky. Also, for me to be humiliated. You’d better cuff me up. Otherwise, they’ll say you didn’t do your job.” She was walked past her family. Peter was pissed at his dad, and his cousin Rachel walked away when she saw what was happening. Piper would bet there was going to be trouble tonight. Winking at Peter, she got in the back of the cruiser. ~*~ Judge Homer Parkerson looked at the paperwork, and his heart broke once again for Mrs. James and Piper. Up until Piper had gotten out of college, they’d been living in a very tight way. Little Piper had started working from home, and just like that, things started turning around. Then Mrs. James had been diagnosed with cancer. It was all over her body by the time they’d found it.
“Need some help?” Homer looked at his wife of forty-four years, Penny, who was sitting at the dining room table with him. “I’m assuming this has to do with that hullabaloo at the funeral home today.” “It does. The brother and sister of Piper had her arrested, telling the police she took their inheritance. What a crock of shit, pardon my language. But where were they when the two of them, one being their mother, had to decide whether to buy food or make a house payment? Why, if I had my way, I’d make a list of every bill Piper and her mother paid, including the funerals of both of their parents, and have them pay her back.”
“Why don’t you?” Homer asked her what she meant. “Add up all the cost the two of them had to pay, and then divide it by the three of them. I’m sure Piper could use the money. Even selling off their home didn’t pay off as much as they had hoped. Mary Margaret told me if it hadn’t been for Piper having a good job, they might well have been homeless.” They both worked most of the night. Homer was sure that had Piper not kept meticulous records all along, they’d never have gotten it figured out in time. As it was, he’d gone up to take a nap when Penny made copies of it.
There had been more red than black balances. Even with the total income from Piper’s job, they’d still end up in the red at the end of the month, mostly because of hospital stays and medication for Mary Margaret. Piper paid every bill incurred by her mom without any complaints. Nor had she ever left her mom to deal with things herself, as Louis and Mary had done. He was looking forward to this, perhaps a little more than he should have. But he’d liked Mary Margaret, and thought of Piper as one of his girls. He thought Piper would have been a better daughter than the three he had. Closing his eyes, working hard at making his body relax, Homer finally gave up and went to the kitchen. Penny was there waiting on him with scrambled eggs and bacon. Homer called the jail at six-thirty to tell them to have Piper at the courthouse at eight. He even told them to take her by her trailer so she could clean up and get fresh clothes on. Homer felt so good about what he was about to do that he said he’d spring for breakfast for the officer and Piper. Leaving word at the little hotel, the only working hotel in town, for the family to be at the courthouse at eight, Homer said to tell them if they were late, he’d find them in contempt and put their asses in jail. Mentally rubbing his hands together, he was as excited as he’d been in decades. Homer had everything ready to go at seven forty-five. Piper arrived at ten till the hour. Her family showed up at eight right on the dot. Homer made a point of looking at the clock when they started bickering about the time. “You’re the ones that had Piper arrested. When I’m involved in such a thing, you can bet I’m going to make things convenient for myself instead of the fools that waste my time.”
He banged his gavel on his dais and told them to sit down and shut up. “Now, do the two of you have an attorney?” “I wasn’t aware that we’d need one,” Homer asked them if they thought they knew what they were doing, suing their sister for the inheritance from their mom. “She took our mother’s home right out from under us. Then she told us she’d already sold it. We weren’t informed of any of that. Not to mention, she sold all the household items. Where does she get off doing something like that?’ Homer asked Piper if she’d notified them. “I did, Your Honor. If you have all my receipts, you’ll find where I sent them each a certified letter two weeks before I put it on the market. Also, three months prior to Mom signing the house over to me, I sent them another certified letter telling them not only why she’d done it, but also offering them the opportunity to purchase the house from her for us.”
“See? She just took it from us.” Homer pulled up the receipts he’d found in the file that held all the receipts. “I didn’t sign for anything from her either.” “According to the receipts here in my hand, you both signed the attached receipts. The courier not only wrote on here who had scrawled their names, but also what you were wearing when you did.” He looked at the two siblings. “Are you still going to tell me you didn’t get notified? It also says he has a recording of the two of you if there is still any question about you not receiving it. Shall I call the company and have them bring us over the video of you?” “That won’t be necessary.” Louis glared at his little sister. “This doesn’t negate the fact that she took our home from us. My sister Mary and I had plans for our two fifths each of that money.” Homer asked Piper why they were thinking they got two fifths. “Their thinking is that, as they’re married and I’m not, they should get a larger portion than I do.” Homer burst out laughing before he could stop himself. “I’m not entirely sure about their math myself, but that’s what I was told.” “I see.” He didn’t really, but looked at his notes and laughed a little while recalculating the totals to reflect their two-fifths. “Give me one moment here, if you please. I’m going to figure out how much things should have come to. Piper, did you also care for your dad when he fell ill? I believe you did. Didn’t you, child?” “Yes, sir. I was fourteen when he had a stroke. My sister and brother had already left home by then. I had to finish high school online, as I couldn’t leave them alone.
Dad was a handful on his best days. After the stroke, he was meaner than a rattlesnake.” The little bit of laughter was sad coming from Piper. “Your Honor, I only asked for help from them when Dad was sick. Mom wouldn’t allow me to bother them anymore when they didn’t help with Dad.” “She was already living there, Your Honor. It would have been a waste of our time and money to have a nursemaid come in our home when she was already there. Don’t you agree?” Homer told Mary he did not agree. “Well, it’s too late now. They’re both dead and gone, so it’s nothing we can worry about now. We just want our share of what she got.” “Oh, but there is something you can worry about, young lady. I’m going to give you a running total of where the money went from Piper working, the social security that your parents received, as well as the sale of the house.” He had his deputy hand the three of them what he and his wife had come up with last night. “Now, let me go over these numbers for the three of you.” Homer had all the income written on the first page he’d given them. At first look, it seemed that there should have been more than enough money for a small family to live on. Piper did make good money. There was also the addition of the sale of not just the home, but the sale of the family car and the furniture that had filled the home. The car that the two of them, Piper and Mary Margaret, had depended on was forty years old and ran like it. He was glad to know that at some point, Piper had purchased a truck and paid it off to pull the camper they’d been living in for the last several years. Homer put the old car in the assets column as valued at twenty-five dollars.
He was probably padding it too much, but in the end, it wouldn’t matter. “You see right here, Your Honor? She no more needed to sell the house than she did the furniture. She is going to owe us a great deal more than I thought.” Homer told Louis to hold his water. “Hey, I don’t mind at all now that I know she’s going to have to pay us more than we thought. This is so worth the extra night in the hotel for her bullshit. Hell, I won’t even charge her for what that cost us now.” Almost giddy now, Homer had the debt part given to them. Once they were looking at it, he started telling them the numbers he’d come up with. He’d made a call last night to find the going rate for full-time live-in care for someone. He knew that Piper would never have calculated that as something to charge her family for, but damn it, they’d started this. “Now, the way I see it, this young lady here is entitled to reimbursement for her time, as well as the nursemaid service she did for the two of you. And since you’ve decided you wish for two-fifths of the estate….” He laughed at their expressions. “The way I have it figured out, you—you and your spouses, I mean—owe Piper nearly a hundred thousand each. Now we can take care of that here, or I can put you in a cell until such time you can pay—” “What the hell are you talking about? I am not paying her shit.” Homer told Mary to watch her mouth. “You old fool. She’s supposed to be paying us, not the other way around. It’s her that stole our mother’s house and sold it.” “Yes, she sold it because there was no other choice but to do so. It was that or your mother wouldn’t have lived as long as she did. Part of that money paid for her to have the medicine to help her day to day. The money from the sale paid for her to have treatments when it was needed.
” He looked at Piper, realizing he’d hurt her in doing this. “I’m sorry it’s come to this, child. I truly am.” “I did the best I could under the circumstances. Mom and I had each other. I was able to be at her side when she took her last breath. We got to laugh and cry. If I had to do it all over again the same way, I’d do it. Simply because I was there when she needed me.” Homer hurt because Piper was sobbing now. “She was my world and I hers. We had to do what we needed and never let it take us apart.” “What would you like to do about the rest, honey?” She said that if the other two wanted to pay her, she’d not take it. It would be too little too late. Homer looked at the other two. “What do you have to say for yourself? I think you should be ashamed of yourself for the way you’ve treated your sister. “Nothing. She’s lucky she lives here in this little town, or we’d be the ones in the right.” Telling Rocky to get Piper out of here, he was happy that she hugged her niece and nephew before leaving. “So, she gets off scot-free, does she?” Homer dismissed the case and left the two idiots there to figure out their own crap. Once in his office, he sat down and shook his head. No one would believe what he’d just witnessed. He didn’t much either.