Wesley Bishop was helping out a friend by letting Emmie stay with him. He knew she wasn’t his mate, but she was good company. Emmie was hiding from her abusive brothers. When she asked Wesley to take her to the bank, she was meeting her best friend Penny and Penny’s grandfather, Joe, to go over their accounts, Wesley readily agreed.
Wesley thought Penny was about the prettiest woman he’d ever seen—feisty too, and when her scent hit him like a freight train, he was the happiest tiger shifter on the planet.
Penny, not so much. Like Emmie, Penny’s family had a way of getting their point across with a heavy fist. Trusting a man wasn’t easy for her.
Wesley was no quitter; he’d convince his new mate to trust him if it was the last thing he did. And keeping her safe was proving to be more difficult by the day.
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Raven Addington was happy with her life the way it was. She and her daughter, Molly, were doing just fine on their own, despite what her mother had to say about it. Merriam, Raven’s mother, never had anything nice to say about anything, so why should now be any different.
Sawyer Bishop had turned in his notice at the police force. No matter how bad he needed the money, he wasn’t about to let a hot-headed partner make him a mark for an early grave. His parents needed his help on the farm, so he was happy to leave the force.
Sawyer was supposed to be on desk duty, but they were shorthanded, so he took the call that came in from the 911 dispatch. It would be his last, and then he would be a poor but free man.
When Sawyer arrived on the scene, it was bad. The poor woman had been beaten until she was unrecognizable and barely breathing. Although he didn’t know her personally, he knew Raven Addington was extremely wealthy, and that bothered him more than he cared to admit. Being a Bengal tiger, he knew from her scent that she was his mate. Her station in life was so far above his, he didn’t think it was going to work. But when she coded in the hospital, he had to make a quick decision and hope it wouldn’t come back to bite him in the ass later.
Sasha Harvard had returned to the small town in Ohio because Hailey Riddle, a ghost, had led her there. Sasha had been speaking to the dead for as long as she could remember. In working with the police, Sasha had been in the field, helping to look for Melinda’s spirit when Melinda Havard had found her. Melinda told her that they were sisters, and the man that had killed her thought that she was Sasha. Melinda had done the best she could to deliver the child she was carrying before she succumbed to her wounds. The child was marked like Sasha, and the dead would find her when she was older. Melinda wanted Sasha to raise her child, and she warned Sasha that the man who had killed her would come after both her and the child because of what they could do. Sasha pulled out the business card of Sawyer Bishop, the officer in charge on the field, and told him that she’d like to meet him at his house and to send someone to pick her up.
Chandler Bishop knocked on Sasha’s door to pick her up. He heard a scuffle inside and broke down the door. A man was standing over Sasha with a baseball bat, and she had been beaten. When Chandler yelled at the man, he just disappeared. Sasha was shocked that he’d seen the man. Chandler thought the man was a vampire, Sasha told him the man was dead.
Chandler had found his mate and could see the dead now too apparently. And the little girl, Pip, her niece, would be theirs as well. A readymade family and he couldn’t be happier. But would he and his tiger be able to keep them safe from both the living and the dead?
the living and the dead?
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The equipment was larger than life. It didn’t so much scare her, but it did intimidate her something terrible. Emmie waited at the end of the row that Wesley was putting in for pea planting. He’d told her just this morning he’d never realized what real anticipation was until he had to wait months and months for something so simple as peas. Waving at him when he looked in her direction, she wondered how hard it would be to run over one of her brothers with the sucker. “You all right?” She nodded at him and thanked him again for allowing her to hide out in his house while her brothers were around. “It’s not a problem. You keep cooking for me like you are, and I might just keep you around.” “You’d not like having me beaten up all the time if anyone of my brothers shows up. You’re a good man, Wesley.” He was embarrassed, and she had to laugh. “I’ve been called into the bank for a little bit. While I know Dutch is in jail, I’m still afraid to head into town. I don’t suppose you can call one of your brothers to take me in, can you?” “I can do you one better. Raven, I think you know her?” She said she knew of her. “She’s scarier than your brothers. Smarter too. But then that’s not all that hard. Anyway, she’s on her way here to get some information on the tractors I’ve been using for her grandma. I know you might not be too thrilled to have your brothers arrested, but they’ve been—” “If anyone can get them off the streets and out of my life, I’m all for it. Penny and her grandda are going to meet me at the bank. They have some clothing for me from Mr. Joe’s house.” He said that was good.
“You’ve been a real hero for me, Wesley. I don’t think anyone else would have just taken in a stranger like you did. I can’t thank you enough.” “It wasn’t anything. As I told you this morning, you’ve been really nice having around. Stems off some of the loneliness I didn’t realize I was having.” When he got down off the tractor, Emmie was again surprised by his height. She wasn’t a little person at five-eleven, but he seemed to tower over her. “Am I making you uncomfortable?” “At first, you did. But for whatever reason, I feel safe around you. Since we both know we’re not mates or whatever white tigers call their other half, I’m assuming you’re just a nice guy.” He threw back his head and laughed, and Emmie couldn’t help it, she joined him. “I’ve only been here for three days, and I don’t think I’ve had this much fun in all my life.” “The same with me. All right. I’m finished helping the neighbors with their fields, and I have about an hour before I have to meet my dad and his cronies over at Mom’s again with the tractor, so how about I just run you in? You’ve been great for helping me get my stuff packed up to move, so I’m going to treat you to something you don’t have to cook.” She thought she could fix something the house, but being waited on sounded too good to pass up. “I just need to take a quick shower and change. Even with air in that sucker, it still gets mighty hot when I’m working.” He did take a quick shower and was ready to go in less than twenty minutes. By the time they’d pulled into the bank parking lot, she was just nervous enough that she felt slightly ill. Wesley didn’t say anything to her or even tease her as she sat there.
When she told him she was ready, he still hadn’t made fun of her, nor had he hit her. Emmie thought she could get used to this. Mr. Joe was sitting on one of the many benches in the bank. After he shook hands with Wesley and thanked him, Mr. Joe hugged her like he’d not seen her in years. Letting him hold her while he seemed to gather himself, she took him into her office so they could wait for Penny to return from the store across the street, Mr. Joe told her. “I think being thirsty all the time is making me a little nervous. Penny too. She’s taking me by the doc’s office after we leave here. I’m not even gonna argue with her about it. I think she gets enough of that from our stupid family.” Mr. Joe was sitting in one of the most comfortable chairs in her office, which wasn’t really saying much. They were all about as comfortable as sitting on a slab of concrete. “You’d think for as much business as you’re bringing into this little bank, they’d be happy to spring for new chairs. This one is worse than my old mattress at home.” Penny entered the room and kissed them both. She sat down beside Mr. Joe. While she didn’t have any idea what they were going to need, Emmie closed her office door and locked it, a habit she’d gotten into when she lived at home. Locking her door always afforded her just enough time to know someone was about to enter her room. “You doing all right out there with Wesley, child?” She told him she was doing great. He was a wonderful man. “He is at that. All them Bishop boys are as good as gold. Their parents, they did a great job of passing down their kindness to them. I’m here to fix some things that I’ve been meaning to do for some time now. First and foremost, honey, I’d like for you to make sure the account Wendy had is closed up from her kids.” “It is. As soon as I heard about her death, I locked hers and your accounts. I hope I didn’t cause you any trouble with that.” He said he’d not noticed.
“Good. I figured you’d have your hands full with the other two around, and I didn’t want them coming in and trying to cash out your account. Also, I did put a reminder out to the people who work here that your account could be touched by you and only you, Penny. I figured that would save you a great deal of heartache as well.” “Thank you so much. I would never have thought of that.” Emmie told her she’d do the same for her if they were in the same situation. “I owe you so much, Emmie. Had you not talked to me about your brothers, I might well have been six feet under by now. They’re already pissed because I’m not allowing them to sponge off Grandpa Joe. The police have been really good about having someone watch his house. They had to run in my dad and his brother earlier today. They were in Grandma’s house, moving their crap in. She’s not even in the ground, and they’re already shoving her things to the side of the road.” After they were finished with all the changes Mr. Joe wanted, they set up a reading of the will with an attorney. A friend of the family, Mr. Brooks Hall, wasn’t the attorney that had handled Wendy’s will in the first place, but he said he’d be happy to come to them anytime to read the will. Apparently, everyone mentioned in the will was right there in the room. Her sons weren’t even named in it.
“That’s going to cause a fuss, I think. Well, it’ll be more than a fuss, but you understand.” Mr. Joe laughed and said he’d been the one to write out what the will was to say, and since Wendy couldn’t read all that well, she was more than happy to have him take care of things. “I figured what little money she had should go to the one that helped her the most. Them boys of hers, they were jerks all their life to their mother. And it’s doubtful to me that her brother or sister will come around. They didn’t have too much to do with her after she moved into that house. Not that she ever noticed it.” Grandpa shook his head. “I’m telling you right now that my will is simple. What I have goes to the two of you.” “I’m not really your granddaughter, Mr. Joe. I mean, I love that you think of me that way, but all I’ve ever been is a very close friend to Penny.” Mr. Joe said that was good enough for him. “Thank you so much. I don’t know what to say. Only that you’d better not be thinking of leaving us anytime soon. I need you as much as your flesh and blood does.” “And I need you, two girls, around too. Why, just the other day, I was thinking that a parent shouldn’t have to outlive a child. But then I got to thinking about how much drama I was going to be out of. I loved my Wendy—more than I should have, I think—but she gave me you, Penny, then, in turn, Emmie here. A great-granddaughter and a little girl that I’ve loved more than anything.” Emmie was just finishing up when one of the tellers knocked and was let in. She looked upset, and it took her five minutes to let her know that James Harold was in the bank demanding to have his mother’s money. “He threatened me with harm, Miss Emmie. I mean, he said that not only would he ruin my body so not even dental records would be helpful in identifying me, but that he’d kill my entire family. I can’t work that way.” Emmie told her to have a seat, and she’d take care of him.
“You should know I’ve buzzed the police too. I never would have thought we’d use those security buttons until today.” The police plus Sawyer came in just as she was headed to the slot Shelly had been at. She asked James what she could do for him. After a short round of cursing, he finally told her what he’d been trying to do. “I want all my mom’s money in my hand right now.” She told him no and asked if he needed anything else. “What the hell do you mean, no? It’s not your money, it’s mine now that she’s dead. Give it over, Emmie, or so help me, I’m going to kill you. I need it.” “I’m sure you do since you’ve not had a job in— I was going to say in a long time, but I don’t think I’ve never known you to have one. But you’re not getting anything from the account because the will hasn’t been read.” James told her to fuck the will. “While that is tempting, I don’t think it’s physically possible. Now, you go about your day and try very hard not to piss anyone else off, or so help me, James, I will have these nice men behind you keep you in the cell right beside Dutch. You’re not going to get into her account.” He turned when Sawyer laughed and asked him what the fuck he was doing there. James told him he thought he’d been fired. “Nah. I’m still a cop. I help the police out when they ask, especially when they have to go collect an idiot from the banks. You should really leave here now, James. Because if she has to tell you again, you’re not getting the money, I’m going to have one of these fine officers blow your head off”.
It was then Emmie noticed that every other customer in the bank was leaving. This might not end well, and the home office was going to be pissy about it, but she didn’t want anyone harmed by James. Or anyone for that matter. Sawyer put his hand on James’s shoulder, and it was over before James was able to pull the trigger on his gun. While James lay screaming on the floor about his right to the money, with the other man’s boot at his neck, Sawyer asked her if she was all right. Emmie didn’t think she’d been all right in a long time, but told him she was fine. Then he asked her if she wanted to press charges. “I do, as does Shelly Crabapple, one of the tellers that works here. She told me he threatened her as well. I know you’re more than likely aware of it, but James here isn’t supposed to have a weapon. He’s been convicted of a crime, and only just got out of prison a month ago.” Sawyer told her he’d not known but thanked her. “Anytime. Wesley is outside. Would you mind asking him if he’d escort us home? I have Penny as well as Mr. Joe in my office right now.” “Good idea. Wesley might look all relaxed like he’d not hurt a fly, but we all know better.” She thanked him. “It’s fine, Emmie. Also, Raven, my wife, she might come by the house later to talk to you about some of the other things she has on her list from yours and Penny’s family.” “I don’t know where we’re going to be after today. I don’t want to wear out my welcome with Wesley. You should also know, my brothers are on the same warpath as this one is. I’ve been staying at Wesley’s home for a couple of days now.”
He said he knew that. “I figured as much. Thanks for keeping an eye on them for us.” “Mr. Joe is a good friend to our family. And by extension, you are as well.” Again, she thanked him. Wesley came in and told her he was going to lock up and sit out there to wait for her to be finished. For her to take her time. “I’m going to keep an eye out for those brothers of yours too, Emmie. They’ll regret any kind of move they make to hurt any of you.” James was still under Sawyer’s foot, and his threats were becoming more violent and creative. Emmie had to think that when he was let go, he’d be up and trying something stupid with Sawyer. As soon as she thought that, one of the officers with Sawyer cuffed James by his wrists. “You’re fucking going to pay for this, bitch.” She pointed out she’d done nothing more than tell him no. “You think that’s all? Well, I got news for you. You’re not going to be telling me no again.” “That doesn’t even make sense.” He lunged at her, and she was glad she didn’t even flinch when he did it. “Get out of here, James, before I think of another thing to bring up about you. Stupidity, sadly, isn’t cause for an arrest, or you’d have been jailed a long time before now.” Wesley joined her in the office as soon as she locked down the bank. The police would take the footage of today, and she’d send a copy of it to the home office. Today was turning out better than she could have planned it to be.
~*~ Wesley tried his best not to stare at the other woman. He knew he was making her uncomfortable, but he just couldn’t believe she was the granddaughter of Wendy Harold. Not only that, but her uncle was one of the worst kinds of people in the world. Tony wasn’t too bad, not really, but he was an odd noodle at times. “Are you going to take a picture or something?” Wesley just smiled at her when Mr. Joe laughed. “The way you’re eyeing me, I feel like I have something in my hair. I know for a fact I don’t.” “You don’t. I’m sorry for staring, but I was just thinking about your relatives. I can’t believe you are part of the same gene pool.” Her face told him she didn’t believe a word he’d just said to her. “Honestly. First, there is Wendy. I’ve known her all my life. You? I didn’t even know Tony was married, much less had a daughter that looks like a goddess. I’m assuming you look like your mother. You certainly don’t look like your dad.” “You look just like your father. You could almost be his twin.” He thanked her. “I don’t know who my mother is. I never knew, as a matter of fact. So I think you might be right on that. I’m sorry for giving you a hard time. Things just haven’t been going right for the last few days. Well, that’s not true. Not going right for most of my life.” “I know your uncle and dad as well. You and Emmie are the opposite of your family in just about any way you wish to compare yourself to them.” She thanked him for this time. “No worries. I was coming into town anyway. Emmie and I are having lunch together.” He could tell she was disappointed, but when Emmie invited her friend and Mr. Joe to come with them, he was glad for it. It would be fun to get to know this woman a lot better. He picked up the book he’d gotten at the library earlier today and started reading it. Wesley realized he’d read the same page six times or more while he was waiting on the group to be finished up. It wasn’t normal for him to do that, not be able to tune things out around him while he read. But today, with this group and especially Penny, he just couldn’t concentrate.
He stood up when they said they were finished, and they headed to the pizza shop across the street. Going to the door first, he held it open for the other three, who went in ahead of him. Penny’s scent nearly took him to his knees. Standing in the doorway so that his mind could catch up with what his nose just told him, it was Mr. Joe that came to get him. “Are you all right, son?” He nodded at him, and couldn’t have stopped the smile on his face with a gun to his head. “Son, you’re scaring this old man. What’s wrong? You can tell me anything, and I’d not say a word to anyone.” “Penny is your great-granddaughter.” It wasn’t a question, but he nodded anyway. “She’s my mate, Mr. Joe. I didn’t expect to find her at all, much less in a pizza joint.” Mr. Joe laughed. “Well, I guess this is about the best news I’ve heard in a while. Congratulations. But I think you should close the door there. People are beginning to wonder if you have all your marbles. It’s chilly out.” Wesley laughed and let the door swing shut. “You going to tell her? I’d like to be right there when you do. I don’t rightly know how she’ll take it, but you have to tell her. She’ll be safer with you than anywhere else she can hideout.”
They both sat down, and he picked up the menu to think. He was never so glad to have a big house to go to than he was right now. Putting the menu in the middle of the table when the waitstaff came to take their order, he looked at Mr. Joe first. “Raven purchased all of us brothers of Sawyer a home. Mom and Dad are having one built that they’re excited about. I’m moving into mine tomorrow. It’s been repainted, as well as the carpets cleaned. There are about ten bedrooms in the place.” Mr. Joe told him he was lucky to have such a generous person in his family. “Yes, I think so too. I was wondering if the three of you would like to come and live there with me. It’ll have plenty of room for us all. Not to mention, it has an indoor pool I’m excited about playing around in. My mate will be there too, so it wouldn’t be anything but family around.” “That’s a very nice thing, both the house and inviting us to stay. However, I can’t imagine your mate would be all that keen on you having an elderly man and two single women in your home.” He told Penny that only one of them was single. “I don’t understand. You said your mate will be there too.” “She will be. If she wishes. I just think you guys will be safer in a big house that your other family doesn’t know about than the ones you live in now.” Penny looked at Emmie, then back at him. Then she asked him if Emmie was his mate. “No.” It took her several seconds to figure out what he was saying. She stood up and sat down a total of three times before she glared at him. He thought her adorable when she told him he wasn’t funny but wisely kept that to himself. “You could have just said that when we were at the bank.” He said he’d not figured it out until they came in here.
“Why the roundabout way of telling me? Is this your way of doing everything? I will tell you right now, I don’t think you’re the least bit funny.” “You’d not be the first person to tell me that. However, I was working up to telling you. I didn’t want to just blurt it out and have you toss your salad in my face.” Penny glared harder. “You really should stop that now, Penny. You’re even more beautiful when you’re pissed at me. Not that I don’t blame you, but you are my mate, and the offer of you three staying with me stands. Things are going to get nastier as the next few days go by.” “I, for one, would love to live with you, Wesley.” He thanked Mr. Joe without taking his eyes off Penny. “Those boys of Wendy’s aren’t going to take too kindly to the reading of the will. Scratch that. I think the only one that will care is James. And you know as well as I do, Penny, that when James is pissed off, so are the Donnelly boys. They feed off each other.” “I don’t want to. I will, but I really don’t want to.” Wesley nodded at Penny. “I mean, I really don’t want to live with you, but I’m thinking you’re right. We’d all be safer in a house rather than an apartment, or even Grandpa Joe’s home. It’s not very big either, and we’d be falling all over each other in no time. I’ll live there, but I’m not going to sleep with you.” “All right. I can understand that. We barely know one another, and I won’t take advantage of you. I have some furniture in the house. Holly, Raven’s grandma, sold her house to my brother, and she had a great many things still in storage.
After Chandler got what he wanted, the rest of us took what was left. I gladly took the other bedroom suites to be in my home. The others, my brothers, took the things for the living room, feeling they’d be in there more than they would in any of the other rooms.” Their subs were brought to the table, and he dug into his as he continued. “I have a live-in cook as well. Her name is Caroline. She’s a member of my brother Sawyer’s leap and needed to have a place she could call her own. Her family was all gone, moving away to have better-paying jobs. I was lucky enough to have a place for her to live in on the property.” Wesley answered all the questions put to him. Most of them were from Mr. Joe, about his planting in the spring, as well as his helping the others around town. He told them about the tractor and the attachments he had been trying out and loved. “They just gave you a tractor worth more than a house for nothing?” He told Penny what had happened that he ended up owning it. “Okay, I guess I can see a company doing that. Having a farmer that no one knows trying it out and then telling others would make for a good cover. Congratulations on that. I have to admit, I do miss having fresh vegetables all the time. Grandma always had fresh food from her little garden. What she didn’t eat, she’d put up. Do people still do that?” “My mom does. Jellies and jams mostly. Here in the last couple of years, she’s been donating what she can’t put up to different people around the town. You’d be surprised how far a couple of rows of green beans can go when you’re as good as we are about taking care of our gardens.” He realized then that just the other day, he’d been bitching about having a mate to his brothers and him only being a lowly farmer.
However, right now, he thought he had the best job of all. His mate was into fresh things as much as he was. “Today I was going to put the tractor and the implements away until early spring. I was even able to put in a garden for my mom this year, and decided to grow some fresh peas in the early spring.” They talked all through their meal. When they brought the check, he was more than happy to pick it up and pay. He noticed that all three of his lunch guests put down money for a tip. Being glad they’d not put too little on the table, he still added more to the bill when he paid. “Where is your home? I have a feeling it’s close to your parents’ place.” He told Penny it was, but it also had a large barn and a place for him to play around in. “I’m not sleeping with you, Wesley. I’m not easy, and I won’t put out just because you’re keeping my family safe.” “I wouldn’t have it any other way, Penny.” She cocked a brow at him. “I’m serious. I don’t know you anymore than you do me. I’d like to take our time, get to know each other before we go right to the making love part.” She said she might not ever want to have sex with him. “So long as you’re happy, then I will be too.” She snorted at him when she walked away. They walked to the new home, his first time seeing it in the daylight, and he was glad now that he carried around the keys to the place. Wesley handed the second set to Penny, so she could come and go when she wanted while here, he told her. Wesley was thrilled when she didn’t toss them back in his face.
The house looked beautiful with the new walls and the hardwood floors all shiny from their treatment. Every room they explored, he was just as pleased with it as they seemed to be. The kitchen, where Ms. Caroline was making a list, had been updated recently, and a pantry had been put in. Penny seemed to be more impressed with the kitchen area than she had been about the indoor pool. “I love to bake. Would that be a problem for you, Ms. Caroline?” When the older woman looked at him, Penny answered her unspoken concern. “He claims I’m his mate and that we’ll be living here with him. No hanky panky, but we’ll be safer here, I think.” “If Wesley says you’re his mate, then you can count on it being true. You couldn’t find you a better family to be getting into either.” Penny thanked her. “Now then. Yes, you come on in here and bake all you want, mistress. I’ve never been known to bake all that much, but I’d surely like to have the smells coming from here. You just give me a list of what you need, and I’ll order it with the rest of the kitchen stock-up.” While they worked on the list, he moved into the living room and looked around. There was a great deal of open space in this area, and he hadn’t a clue how to fill it. While he didn’t watch all that much television, he would like to have a nice sized one for this room. He thought it might be necessary for the sheer size of the room so you could see it. “I don’t have to move in here with you, Wesley.” He turned to look at Emmie and asked her why not. “Well, you have a new mate, for which I’m so happy for you both, and Grandpa Joe living here. I’m not related to either of them, as you know. Also, I have been hiding out on my own for a very long time.” “There isn’t a single reason I can think of that would make me want to have you not move in here with us. And you are family. I know Mr. Joe thinks of you as his great-granddaughter as much as he does Penny.” He smiled at her then.
“You know my parents. If they found out I was shoving you out to live someplace in the woods as you wanted that first day, Mom would take me to the woodshed in a minute and make me change my mind about being too old for that particular punishment.” “I don’t want to be a bother to any of you.” He assured her she wouldn’t be. “All right then. You will tell me if I’ve overstayed my welcome. Right?” “I promise you, Emmie, I don’t have a doubt in the world that you’re going to be as much a part of my family as you are to Mr. Joe and Penny. Besides, I think with you here, Penny will feel more comfortable. And believe it or not, I want her happy no matter what.” She mentioned her brothers. “Don’t you worry about any of them. I’m going to have the police, as well as my family, making sure you’re all safe and sound. I just ask that when you do go out, don’t do it alone. Nor to go out without telling us where you’re going and when you’ll be back. I don’t want to have to worry that they might have hurt you when you’re in my care.” “You’re a good man, Wesley. And a good friend. I hope you can make sure they’re not going to harm any of us. I have a feeling they won’t just hurt us the next time but will try and kill us. Especially Grandpa Joe.” He asked her why. “Because Grandpa Joe is a very wealthy man. More so than anyone in this world gives him credit for.” “I’ll keep that in mind when we’re out.” He hugged her back when she hugged him. “Thank you, Emmie. Without you being the bank manager, it might have been years before I met Penny. I owe you a great deal.” “Pay me back by making sure she’s safe. And happy. I know you will, so I’m not worried about it, but I don’t want her to be hurt or sad.” He said he could do that. “See that you do. I love both those people more than I do anyone else.”