Allie Langley was upset about losing her job. It wasn’t the teaching job she wanted, but it helped pay the bills. It was just how her luck had been running since she’d moved to that town: first, she’d been kidnapped and tortured, now the job. What next?
Becket Robinson’s car had broken down, and he needed to use the phone. He hadn’t expected to find his mate when he knocked on the door, but now that he had, he couldn’t wipe the grin off his face. It didn’t matter how much she ranted and raved about it either. She would fit right in with the rest of the family.
But when Becket discovered her injuries and how infected they were, he called in Thatcher, one of his brothers, to help.
Allie collapsed in Beckett’s arms when her fever spiked. Allie’s brother begged Beckett to change Allie into a tiger to save her. Thatcher agreed that converting her would be the only way to save her. Beckett knew he was damned if he did and damned if he didn’t. But, he couldn’t let her die…. He knew he was going to have one pissed off mate when she finally woke up. If she woke up….
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A fresh start was what Rogan Hall needed. A small town, out of the way, where no one knew her or her brother was where they’d start over. She worked from home, and they kept to themselves. The only thing Rogan couldn’t give up was her early morning run.
Like clockwork, she ran every morning, and again, like clockwork, the same family would pass her on the country road heading to who knew where. The little boy in the back seat would wave at her with such enthusiasm, it made her heart melt. However, that morning, everything would change. Only moments after the car passed her and drove around the bend, she heard a loud commotion. Another car barreled past her, and she found the quaint family’s car overturned and on fire. Rogan did the only thing she could do, she saved them.
Thatcher Robinson was on duty at the hospital when his parents contacted him through their link and told him about the accident and what to expect when the ambulance arrived. Thatch, his dad, told him they had to save the woman by changing her, but her burns were severe, and his dad wasn’t sure that the new tiger would survive.
When Rogan regained consciousness, she was unsure where she was, but she knew she was different. She could feel the tiger move just beneath her skin. Rogan knew very little about shifters, but what she did know had her cringing. Why someone would take it upon themselves to change her, she didn’t know, but when the young doctor, Dawson, said his brother was her mate, she was furious. If the big, bad, Thatcher thought he was going to order her around, he had another thing coming….
Anna didn’t know what to do with the man who acted like he was attached to
her hip. Every time she moved, just to get up and move to the bathroom,
he’d be right there with her, helping her into a panic attack. Not really,
but that was what it felt like to her.
Morgan wasn’t sure what he’d have to do to convince Anna that he wouldn’t
just up and leave her. She was a tiger too, and she knew they were mates
just as well as he did. But for some reason, he couldn’t get her to trust
“I don’t think that I’d offer you my hand. You’d more than likely bite
She growled at him.
“I’m not sure if you feel the same way I do about me growling at you,
but all it does when you do it is making me want to spread you out before
me and lick every square inch of you.”
Trudy Justice was good at her job, but that didn’t mean she wasn’t vulnerable. Caught unaware by a fellow FBI agent, the gunshot wound to Tru’s gut nearly did her in. To the world, Tru was dead. Rogan was hiding her out until they could figure out who had marked her to be a target.
Houston Robinson, a tiger shifter, was preparing to shift and take a much-needed run when a strange woman’s voice interrupted him before he could remove his pants to shift. At first, he was irritated, but when he saw the blood, he wanted to help.
Hurting bad and suspicious of everyone, Tru was in no mood to listen to anyone, especially a shapeshifter claiming to be her mate. She didn’t care how nice he pretended to be….
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Houston finished up the paperwork that had been piling up on his desk while they’d been gone. Three of the most fabulous weeks skipping around the world, and he’d not wanted to come home. He didn’t think he could have stayed forever, but a few more weeks wouldn’t have been too bad. Looking up when he heard a noise, he smiled at Sam when he came into his office and flopped down on the chair. Looking up at him again, he nearly had a massive heart attack when he saw his face. Taking a deep breath before speaking, he asked him what had happened. “The school nurse said it was my fault. It wasn’t. I have to have a meeting with her and my grandpa tomorrow.” Houston asked him why he was stitched up. “This kid, he’s in a higher grade than I am. He said I was stupid. I’m not. But when I tried to prove to him that I was smart, that ticked him off something terrible, and he used his notebook to beat me up. Why? Why does everyone have to think that beating someone up is a good way to solve something?” “I don’t know. But I’d say you’re going to have to talk to your aunt about those bruises too. Did you know she’s here today?” He looked around like his aunt was going to jump out of the woodwork at any second.
“Who did the work, Sam? Was it the school nurse?” “Yes. She said it was too distracting for her to fill out paperwork on me while I had this gaping hole in my face. I wanted her to call Uncle Thatcher or Uncle Dawson, but she told me they more than likely had better things to do than to come down there and mess with me.” Sam looked upset. “They’d not think that, would they, Uncle Houston?” “Never. I’m going to contact them now and tell them they need to have a look at you. Are you hurt anywhere else?” When Sam stood up, Houston had a very difficult time holding onto his tiger. The kid looked like he’d been run over a couple of times, then once more just for the fun of it. “Did the school nurse see these as well, son?” “She didn’t let me show her. I told her I was hurting, but she said that since I’d started the fight, I’d have to deal with a little pain. Nurse Calendar sent me back to class after she fixed my face. Uncle Houston, do you think the aunts will have a hissy fit and kill her?” It was tempting for Houston to run out and do just that himself. “They sure do get powerful mad when they figure someone is getting the shaft, don’t they?” “They do at that. I’m assuming they didn’t notify your grandparents either, did they?”
Sam started to shake his head and put his hands to his temples. “Right. All right, we’re going to the hospital. And I’m calling the police as well as the family. There are some important laws being broken right now, and I want someone’s ass to be roasted for it.” Sam started to laugh but stopped. Houston was so pissed off right now he had to take in and let out several long breaths before he could speak. Yelling for Tru because it gave him a way to let off a little of the steam, he was glad to see her almost as soon as he finished saying her name.
While she fussed over Sam with him telling her what he’d told Houston, he reached out to his family. I’m going to take Sam to the hospital. Would someone please take his grandparents? I don’t want them thinking the worst. It is bad but not life-threatening. At least not his life. He told them what he’d heard from Sam. She didn’t notify anyone and put the worst looking stitches in his cheek and forehead that I’ve— She didn’t have permission to do that, did she? Houston told Thatcher that, as he was saying, he didn’t believe she’d even called anyone. I’ll meet you at the emergency room. I’d say bring him here to the clinic, but I think this needs to be done with the police involved. The police are going to have to question Sam. Is he going to be all right with that? I would think so. He didn’t have any trouble telling me. I think that with him having Tru there, he’s going to be a little better. She will also be able to make sure he’s not bullied. Thatch thought that was a great idea. He’s pretty beat up, guys. And the longer he sits here, the more the bruises are showing up. And his back. Christ, it looks to me like he was dragged through gravel. Or was beaten with a whip. I’ve not asked him which. I’m barely holding on here as it is. Tru sat in the back seat with Sam and Jacob. He could tell that Jacob was upset, but he was trying very hard to be brave for his brother and aunt. Every time Houston got a spare second, he would turn and speak to the younger one. Jacob was the most tender little guy he knew. Something occurred to him while he was sitting at a light, and he turned to ask him about it. “You’ve not had any trouble with the school, have you, buddy?” When he didn’t answer right away, Houston glanced at Tru. “Jacob, is there trouble with your teachers as well? We don’t want to have you suffering if you don’t have to.” “Tell them, Jake. You have to tell them too.” So, his brother knew as well. This was beginning to be serious now. Pulling over into the grocery store lot, he waited on Jacob to see what he had to say. “I told them. Now you have to do it. It’s not right like he said.”
“Some of the other kids knock me around when I’m going to my lunchroom or class.” Houston knew it was more than that, so he waited for him to get things in his head organized so he could tell him. “I don’t tell the teachers anymore. They said I’m lucky anyone wants to have me around them. That my dad is a womanizer and that my mom didn’t even want us. They were going to sell us off, so we’re nothing to anyone. I don’t know what that is, but I think it’s a bad word.” “It is the way they’re using it. Houston, please take us to the hospital. Please.” Tru touched his mind, and he could almost feel her anger. I’m not going to go to the school. I’m not going to go to the school and kill every last one of those fucking bitches. I know just what you mean. He pulled out into traffic again and told her what he’d done. I didn’t want your parents to freak out, so Beckett is going to pick them up so they don’t drive. It’s bad enough that they’ve hurt Sam, but Jacob is about the sweetest kid in the world. Why would anyone want to hurt him too? I’m so pissed right now. I don’t know how you’re driving so calmly. I’d be driving too fast and running every red light. He told her he was having a hard time of it as well, but he was concentrating hard on driving safely. Not me.
Those fuckers are going to pay for this. You wait and see. Both his brothers were at the hospital when they arrived. Thatcher took one look at Sam and ordered an entire set of X-rays, as well as a CAT scan. Dawson had to keep breathing deeply in and out to keep his cat under control. The Justices showed up just as his parents did. Hell was going to be paid if the looks on their faces were any indication. Then Andrew, chief of police, showed up with two deputies. “Don’t say a word.” He smiled at Tru when she got up in his face. “I want to do this by the books, and if I have to arrest you to keep you from telling my men what to do, you know I’ll do it. You have to lay low because everyone is going to say you’ve forced my hand in this. All right?” “Yes. I understand. I don’t have to like it, but I do understand. Wait until you see them, Andrew. They’re a fucking mess.” He said he’d sent two of his men to pick up not only the nurse at the grade school but also the principal and the lady that ran the desk in the office. “Thank you. I do appreciate you doing this.” When the other two women showed up, Andrew told them the same thing. Houston thought he was lucky to have been the one to tell them. He’d have not wanted to be anywhere near any of them right now. They were as pissed off as he’d ever seen them. A message came from Jacob to have him come and see him. “Hey, buddy. What’s wrong?”
He’d been crying, and it hurt Houston in ways he couldn’t explain to anyone if asked. “Your grandparents are out there. Do you want them to come and see you too?” “I’m not going to prison, am I? I don’t want to be there where the other parents are that gave birth to us.” They’d decided that even though Trudy and Blake had adopted their grandsons, they’d continue to call them their grandparents. “That kid that hits me all the time, he told me that if I told on him, I’d go to prison just like the other parents did. And the nurse, she told me I’d better be keeping my mouth zipped, or I’d be just another name in a book. I don’t know what that means, but I don’t think she meant it in a good way, do you? Don’t tell my grandparents. I don’t want them to have a stroke or something and leave us behind. We do worry about them all the time, Sam and me.” “That’s very good of you, but I think you need to keep them in the loop from now on. But no, I don’t think she meant that as anything but a bad word. But you’re not going anywhere except home when they release you. The police are here too. They’re going to ask you some questions about what happened. Jacob, you tell them the truth about all this, even if it embarrasses you or makes you feel bad. I swear to you, nothing is going to happen to you or Sam.” He asked if his aunt could be there with him. “Yes. She’ll like that. But don’t let her yell at the police too much. You and I both know she’s a little protective of the two of you.” “She sure is.” They both smiled. While he was telling him about the work he was doing at home, Tru and Andrew showed up. Houston stood up to leave. “Uncle Houston, can you make sure that my brother is all right? And tell Grandma and Grandpa that I’m all right?
I don’t want them to worry too much. They’ve been really good to me and Sam.” Houston said he would and had to leave the little area quickly. He was so close to sobbing about how much he loved these kids that he was sure he’d be a soggy mess before talking to the Justices. Finding them in one of the private rooms in the emergency room, Houston told them what he knew and what had been done about it. “Thatch was in here a few seconds ago. He’s going to find out what he can about Sam. I didn’t know any of this was going on.” Houston assured Blake that he’d not known either. “It does explain a lot, though. The last week or so, the two of them have been spending a lot of time in their rooms. I was thinking they were regretting that we took them. But now, I think they were nursing their wounds. Don’t you?” “Someone told Jacob that he’d end up in the same prison as his parents if he were to tell anyone.” Trudy started crying softly when he told them that. “Did Sam come and ask you if he could come to our house?” “We weren’t home when he got there. We told him so long as he gets his homework finished up, he could always go to one of your homes. I found his bookbag outside of the house like he’d never even gone in when your brother showed up to bring us here. I think he’d had enough and decided to get you and Tru involved. I hate to ask you this, but why didn’t the two of them come to us?”
Houston told him what the boys, both of them, had said to them. “They think that we’ll have a heart attack and leave them? I guess I can understand that. I went to the doctor the other day, and neither of them believes I got a clean bill of health. I’ve been sort of acting my age lately. You know, moaning and groaning about every little thing. I was doing it just to be funny. I won’t do that anymore.” “No, I don’t think you should. Not until the two of them are a little more secure with you and themselves.” Houston looked up when the elevator dinged for this floor. “When you see Sam, just know that he’s getting the best of care. Thatcher and Dawson are working together to make sure of that.” Sam was laying back on the gurney when he was brought out of the elevator. He thought that every time he saw him, he looked a little worse for wear. Neither Blake nor Trudy moved to follow him back to a room. He thought they were just as upset as Sam was right now. In pain too—a different sort of pain, but still hurting. Houston followed Dawson when he went by him. He didn’t pepper him with questions like he wanted to but just stayed with him. As soon as he entered the little room with Sam, he got word that Jacob was going up for X-rays as well. Dawson sat down on one of the little stools that he moved closer to Sam’s bed when he was ready to speak.
“Do you want this like a man, or do you want me to sugar coat it a little for you?” Sam looked at Houston, and he told him that Dawson was good at both ways. “I’m a sight better than your aunts would have been. You tell me, and I’ll tell you what I’ve found out. Thatcher is working with your brother if you’re going to ask me.” “I was. He’s hurt too.” Dawson said he’d found that out. “I want to be a man about it, but I’m still afraid. I didn’t start this fight, Uncle Dawson. I swear I didn’t.”
“I know that, son. We all know that. All right?” Sam nodded. “You have a fractured wrist and a couple of cracked ribs.” Houston had to sit or lean onto something, or he might well have fallen over. “Also, this is going to suck, but I’m going to have to redo the stitches that were put in. Do you know if she washed them out before she did it, Sam?” “No. She told me I was making a mess and distracting her, so she laid me down on the bed and put them in. It hurt too.” Dawson looked at him before Sam spoke again. “I don’t want to have to go back to that school. I don’t care if I have to be a deadbeat. I just don’t want to hurt anymore.” A nurse came in and gave Sam something to relax him. It was enough that it also knocked him out. Dawson had to leave the little room before he could work on Sam— he was that angry. Houston was close to hunting down the woman who had done this and tearing her apart. That wouldn’t be a figure of speech either.
~*~ Tru sat with the boys after they’d been admitted. They were both in the same bed in Sam’s room. She was glad for it. The two of them needed each other now more than ever. Sam was still out from earlier, and Jacob had been given something as well. The two of them were so stressed out having to deal with this on their own, Dawson said he didn’t think that either of them had gotten a good night’s sleep lately. She was still sitting there with the boys when her mom came into the room. “I feel like the worst kind of parent to these two,” Tru told her it had nothing at all to do with her and Dad. “I know that in my head, but my heart isn’t having any of it. Do you suppose this has been going on from the very beginning? Them being bullied, I mean?” “I don’t think so. They’ve been going there for a month and a half. What I think happened is that the kids were having their fun with them, and when the teachers didn’t say anything, they went for the big time. The kid that hurt Sam is going to be put in jail. I don’t know for how long, but long enough that he sees the error of his ways. Five boys had been hurting them, with the encouragement of their parents. I’m taking care of them.” She expected her mom to tell her not to kill them, but all she said was good.
“Mom, they didn’t want you and Dad to worry. They have it in their head that if anything happens to the two of you, they’re going to be taken to prison to live with their parents. I don’t know who told them that bunch of bullshit, but you can bet that I’m going to find out.” “I hope you make them see the error of their ways as well.” She put her hand on Jacob’s head as it rested on his brother’s pillow. “They look so tiny right now. I thought they were beginning to come out of their shells around us. Not that they’ve been terrible to us. In fact, they’ve been as good as gold. We couldn’t have asked for better children. But I always felt that they were holding back some part of themselves. I wish it had only been that they were not trusting us in some way. Holding back on being hurt like they have been makes me feel like I failed them.” “There is no telling what Shasta told them about the two of you. Or me, for that matter. She wouldn’t have been happy with anything that we supposedly did to her by not giving her money or anything else.”
Mom said she’d not thought of that. “Also, they would have heard her bitching with Mike about all of us, and you know as well as I do that kids hear more than anyone thinks they do. I can’t imagine how much shit we’re going to have to fix because of them.” “I should have thought of that myself. I used to tell Shasta that she shouldn’t say things like she did in front of them. That they’d hear her and take it to heart. When I think of all the things they heard about you when you were away, I could just scream. I’m so sorry, honey.” Tru told her she didn’t care that she had made her peace with Shasta hating her. “When you told me she said that she hated you, I could have just sobbed. My goodness, when I think of all the things I’m finding out now about her and Mike and what they did, I want to bury my head in the sand. You were right about telling us to never lie to the boys about anything that we find out. It’s difficult at times, but we do it. Simply because we want them to be able to handle anything that comes along.” There was a very timid knock at the door, and a little boy came into the room. He looked lost for a second, then saw the boys. Clark, she thought his name was, and she asked him if he was there to see the boys. “Yes, ma’am. I am. I didn’t know they was having trouble. I’m going to a different school now, and we don’t see each other as much. I’m doing my homework.” Tru told him that was wonderful and moved so he could sit next to the bed to see them. “I surely wish I’d known what was going on. I would have been in trouble for them. They’re my best friends, you know.”
Overnight, after one night of staying with the boys, Clark really had become a different child. He started studying his homework, paying attention in class, and was no longer a bully. In fact, Tru had heard that he was making a name for himself, telling others to straighten up their act. Tru stepped into the hallway while Clark talked quietly to her mom. She’d been missing the little boy too. Rogen was coming down the hallway, almost as if she knew she’d be standing there. “I have some news. Want to go and get something to drink with me so I can talk to you?” Tru asked her if she could tell her mom. “Yes. If she wants to come too, that’s fine with me.” Mom didn’t want to leave the boys. Plus, she and Clark were talking about his new school. Tru would bet anything that by the end of the day, not only would Sam and Jacob be pulled from the other school, but they’d be joining their best friend at his. “I’ve found the video of the nurse putting the stitches in his head. Christ, she didn’t even give him anything for the fucking pain. You can see him gripping the side of the bed hard enough to leave an impression on it. Fucker is going to pay.” She asked her if she’d been picked up yet. “Yes. Thankfully, or not so much, without any incident. The principal was telling the officers that picked her up that she had nothing to do with the failure to report. I didn’t know that was a state rule until then. Did you?” “Yes. I did a stint as a teacher once. They have all kinds of rules like that. Also, that a nurse cannot administer pain medications to any child unless an adult that is related to them is there. She gave Jacob an aspirin yesterday when he was in the office for his injuries.” Rogen asked her if she’d heard about what had happened to Jacob.
“Houston told me that he has a sprained wrist as well as some deep bruises. His back is torn up like his brother’s as well. Apparently, the teachers are using flyswatters and a smallish whip on them when they’re called upon in class. Not to answer questions, but to have them stand up and tell them about their parents. The boys wouldn’t do that, and it would make the teacher pissy enough that she took her frustrations out on them.” “I have had them arrested too. The entire school is closed down for a few weeks. Long enough for me to get the lowdown on all of them. I did hear from one of the kids that the custodian would hide the boys in his closet so they’d not have to go out on the playground. That is where most of this shit happened. I’m so sorry, Tru. I know you well enough by now to know that this is killing you inside.” “It is. But more than that, I want to hunt them down and take them out. Not even say a word to them, just kill and move on.” She looked around when she realized they weren’t alone in the cafeteria. “What have you figured out so far? I’m sure you didn’t bring me down here for a glass of the nastiest tea I’ve ever drank.” “No—not only that, anyway. And I’m sort of glad your mom decided not to come. I have two things to tell you that are going to make you madder than you already are. Jacob’s teacher is an ex-con—for child abuse. How she got by the background test is something else that I’m looking into. You can bet that heads are going to roll with that one.” Tru asked if she could take care of her. “Seriously, it might well come to that. I’m looking into things. The second thing I have to tell you is that your nephews aren’t the first to get treated this way. Not nearly as bad, but almost so. I have six grown men coming to me about the treatment they got while in school there.
It’s going to close this school up faster than anything when it gets out that they covered things up. Same principal, same nurse.” “What else?” Rogen told her she was working up to it. When Anna joined them, she turned a file that she had in her hand over to Tru. Tru opened the file and stared at the pictures she saw there before looking up at her friend. “Is this who I think it is?” “It is if you think that’s the president of these here United States. He was a child in one of the earlier schools that these two worked at early in their career of harming children. I put in a call to him about it, and I’m waiting for a callback. He’s running the country, I was told, and couldn’t be bothered. I’d like to hear what he has to say about that when he finds out what has happened here.” They both laughed, and Anna came back from getting a bag of chips and some juice. “I was bringing her up to date on the names of some of their victims. Especially our president. He still has a hard-on about having us work personally with him. I believe that’s just too much power to give to one person. If he keeps hounding me about it, I’m going to up and quit. See how he likes that. The fucking bastard isn’t taking no for an answer.” “Word has it that these two change their name and move on when things start to get hot. Someone warns them that there is going to be a police call, and they both skip town. They’re roomies, not lovers that I can find, but they do live in the same household most of the time. Not this time, for some reason that I’m looking into, but they do spend a great deal of time together. Anyway, have you tried this new brand of chips? They taste like horse hay.”
Tru was getting used to Anna’s way of drifting in a conversation if she had things that she didn’t think you’d be happy with. “I have seventeen people that are going to be given their summons to appear in the morning. Everyone at the school, including the cooks, is going to have to appear at some point when this hits the court system.” “Do you think they were all involved?” Anna told her they were and why. “So just knowing about the abuse is going to get them shit canned. Good. I’m betting that in a few weeks, there are going to be a lot of people demanding their money back. I think my parents are wishing they’d not put them in this private school now. I know I didn’t even look at anything about it when I should have. I take some of the blame for that.” “As I said, the school will close down, and then maybe—and that’s a big maybe—it will reopen when they have a new set of teachers. I was going to ask Morgan if he’d mind helping us with that for a few months. Not teaching, but just interviews.” Tru asked if she thought he’d do it. “I do now. Perhaps not before this happened, but he will now.” Nodding, the three of them were still talking when Houston joined them. Her dad was with him, and they seemed to be having a very serious conversation.
However, when they sat down, they talked about how the boys were holding up well and would more than likely be going home in the morning. “My parents are going to help with some of the care they’re both going to need. Not a great deal, but Thatcher wants them to have a good bit of fun for the next couple of weeks. After they heal up a little. Then they’re going to go to the pack school with their buddy Clark.” Tru had forgotten about that and was glad that Houston mentioned it. She knew that Clark was going to a different school and that his mom worked for the packhouse. Tru had simply forgotten. “There will be a lot of arrests over the next few days. Even some parents are going to be taken in concerning this. The two main people are in jail now. I’ve never been so glad of someone being arrested as I am the two of them.” Everyone agreed. When Tru made her way back to the room, she thought about what other things had been in the file. There were pictures of other abused children, each picture accompanied by all the information of the now adults. The one that bothered her the most was the one of the young boy that looked to be about seven. His death certificate said he’d committed suicide when he couldn’t handle what they were doing to him anymore. Tru was going to make sure that no matter what happened, the boys were going to be all right mentally. She might talk to her parents about having them see someone now before they got in any deeper. Making herself a note on it, she was happy to find the boys both awake and talking to Clark. Kids could bounce back from just about anything, she thought.