Kelly Roman was good at her job. As a forensic anthropologist, she could help the dead and help the families find closure. The one thing she hated about her job was her boss, Shamus Van. That man was out to sabotage everything she did. And when he brought in the new chief of police, Bancroft Dalton, to make her look bad, that was the last straw. She’d quit before they had a chance to fire her.
When Bancroft showed up at her front door, he asked to be invited in, and when he told her he couldn’t lie to her, it set off all kinds of bells and whistles in Kelly’s suspicions. It wasn’t the fact that he was a vampire that bothered her, it was the part about him not being able to lie to her. She knew shifters couldn’t lie to their mates. There was no way in hell she was letting a man barge into her life and take over….
Elizabeth Strickland, Lizzy, to her friends, found herself in a predicament. The last thing she remembered was attending her own bachelorette party, then waking up in a cave with six other women. They all had wounds, just like hers, only they were dead. Lizzy had awakened as a newborn vampire. She had no idea why they died, and she had lived, but she had wished every day that she had died with them.
Stanley Remy, better known as just Remy, was an old vampire and close friends with Bancroft, their leader. He had his own issues. He was being falsely charged with making baby vamps and leaving them to fend for themselves.
Lizzy just wanted the bodies of the other women found. Once they were, she had every intention of meeting the sun. What she didn’t need were two overbearing old vampires dictating to her what she could and couldn’t do. She had killed her maker, she wouldn’t hesitate to take them out if they didn’t let her be.
But then Remy gifted her with something she never thought she’d have again. To feel the sun without burning. She could have her life back. Maybe this mate thing wouldn’t be so bad after all.
If only it were that simple….
CJ stretched out on the lawn chair and looked up at the sky. It would be snowing before morning, and she, for one, was looking forward to the cold that would end things for a while—bugs and the like. Smiling, she stood up and felt the snap of the cold touch her skin. The way the breeze blew through her hair, making it feel colder when it touched her skin again. Once she made her way into the house, she gathered up the things to make some brewed tea. She’d not had any in so long her mouth was watering for a little sip. “I heard you come in. Have you had enough sunshine today?” Circe Jane Montgomery told her sister, Pfeiffer, that she’d never have enough sunshine. “The rest of us in the world are scrambling for something warmer, and you’re outside without a coat. Or shoes, for that matter.” “I love the cold.” That was an understatement. CJ couldn’t think of a word that would say how much she loved the cold. “I was thinking of having a nice cup of apple tea. Would you like a cup?”
“I would love one. Also, I baked apple scones yesterday.” She told her sister that was more than likely the reason she’d been craving it. “Could be. Before I forget to tell you yet again, there is a schedule opening at the store in the morning for you if you’d like to pick it up.” “I would love to pick it up.” She would love to go to work tomorrow. That would leave her the rest of the day to do her other job. The one that paid their bills and made sure they had money in the bank. Working was one of the many ways she helped her big sister. “Are you and the girls going to be working on cookies tomorrow? I know they are planning the entire day around being with you.” “They’ve told me. I don’t know how much energy I’ll have for it, but I’m going to spend the day with them.” Pfeiffer wasn’t just her big sister, but she was her much older one. There was almost twenty years difference in their ages.
Pfeiffer’s daughters, Sally and Rachel, were about the same age as CJ. “I saw that you picked up the ingredients for snickerdoodles. Don’t you like any other cookie than that?” “I can eat other cookies, but I don’t like them as much as I do those. Sally makes them just right, just enough cinnamon to sugar all over them.” Both her nieces could cook and bake like their mom. CJ was lucky if she could brew a pot of tea without forgetting about the water until it was all gone. Twice that had happened to her.
“When is Rachel coming home?” “Tonight sometime. She said she was going to drive straight through. I begged her not to, but she’s as stubborn as you are.” That, she was sure, her sister didn’t think of as a compliment. “Then we’re all going to get up early and go out for breakfast.” CJ would join them in their baking if she was off, but she didn’t enjoy herself. She did love them all, but they were mother and daughters, and having her there made them have to divide their time with her too. She wanted them to spend time with their mother. CJ would if she still had hers around.
Sipping her tea with her sister, they talked about the cookies they were going to bake. The three of them could have several hundred dozen cookies baked in two days and not eat a single one of them. CJ would be sick after eating a lot of cookie dough and then trying any cookie that came out of the oven. Her weakness was sweets. But her biggest was snickerdoodles. At six, they both sat in the living room to watch the news. Dinner was over, they’d cleaned up the kitchen, and now this was the time they settled into the couch. CJ didn’t much care for sitting idle, so she would work on her laptop to get a fresh start for the morning. The house belonged to her sister now, so she set the rules for the television. Before that, their mother had owned it. Mom had left the house to the two of them. When things got to the point where Pfeiffer needed to take a loan out for college for Sally, Pfeiffer bought her out so she could use the house as collateral. CJ never bothered having it transferred back into her name. It wasn’t something she was worried about. When the news was over, they watched a couple of game shows.
It was a nightly thing they both had been doing before their mom passed away. It was also their time to talk about what was going on around town, which Pfeiffer knew the most about. “Did I tell you that Mr. Rogers got off with no fine and no jail time?” CJ loved that old man and would have taken him to see his wife had she known. “There is a new program getting started to help people out that don’t have much in the way of food or transportation. I hope it works out. There are a lot of people out there that need help most of the time.” They had too before she got a good job. Like when a big bill came due at the same time as the taxes. It didn’t happen as much as it used to, not with them simply not using the credit cards to pay for things. Borrowing from a credit card company to pay the electric bill or whatever was coming due had nearly made them lose their home. They were doing all right now.
Sally had graduated from college to be a teacher at the same time CJ had. Rachel was in her last year. As soon as Rachel graduated, she’d get a good job as a nurse and be able to pave her own life. “I heard from the bank again today.” CJ asked her what he had wanted. “Other than for me to go out with him, he wanted to know if we wanted to refinance this house. I have no idea why we’d want to refinance a house that we own. I told him no again and no to the dating thing too. I’m not ready for that.” “Not that I think you should date Daniel Benson, but you really should be dating again.” Pfeiffer just looked at her. “Okay, we both should be dating, but it’s been almost ten years. Aren’t you ready to get your body waxed up for some sex-starved man?” “He would have to be sex-starved to want to sleep with me.”
CJ told her sister they didn’t usually do much sleeping when they were sex-starved. “Very funny. When are you going to date again? I think it’s been longer than I have since you went out on a— Oh, CJ, I’m so sorry.” “It’s all right.” She looked away so her sister wouldn’t see the hurt. “It’s been a while, I know that. But he hurt me, and I’m afraid. It took me four years to learn it wasn’t my fault, even though he blamed me and to say that he hurt me.
I think it was money well spent.” They didn’t speak for a few minutes, and she was all right with that. She and her sister could go days without really talking about anything serious, and it never really bothered either of them. Sometimes the quiet was better than emptying out one’s brains, as her grannie said. “I was just thinking of Grannie myself.” Pfeiffer was like that. She could latch onto whatever a person was thinking without a second thought. “When was the last time you saw her? I’ve not been in about a week. She doesn’t like me as much as she does you anyway.” “She loves you. And the girls. I went to see her just this morning on my way back from my run. Grannie still asks me why I run if there isn’t anyone chasing me. But we had a nice talk. And she and I had breakfast together.”
Pfeiffer asked her if that was her second or third breakfast this morning. “I do believe it was only my second this time. Anyway, she was telling me about this blanket I should make. I don’t know where she comes up with this idea that I can quilt, but she always has a rough draft of a pattern when she thinks of one.” “You look so much like Mom. Maybe that’s it. Mom loved to quilt. She wasn’t as good as Grannie, but we stay warm all winter with her quilting. Well, most of us do. Do you have any more than a sheet on your bed in the winter months?” CJ told her she had one quilt on her bed. “Small wonder. I remember Dad being like you are, overheated all the time. However, I don’t think I ever saw him walking around in the snow without shoes on. It’s a miracle you have any feeling in your feet at all.” “I have lots of feelings in my feet, thank you very much.” They both laughed, and CJ asked her why she’d brought up Grannie. “I was just thinking about how she would always have some saying about something you were doing. Like emptying your brains out.”
“Yes, she did at that. I remember thinking she was nuts when I was a kid. She’d say something like that and then just walk away like I was supposed to be able to decipher whatever the heck she was talking about. My least favorite one was, ‘Bachelor’s wives and maid’s children are well taught.’ That is a contradiction all the way around.” “Of course it is. I know the meaning. Do you want me to explain it to you?” Pfeiffer looked at her oddly, and CJ smiled. “I promise you I know what it means. It means that a childless man and a childless woman have no knowledge about maintaining a good idea about things they don’t have. You see? They have these opinions about child-rearing that are wrong because they have nothing to base it on.” “Okay, that does make it sound right. What other tidbits of information do you have about her sayings? Let me think of one.” While her sister thought about what Grannie used to say, CJ read over the email that had just entered her box. It was from her boss. As her emails were coded, she put in the password to open it up. “Something wrong?”
“I’m not sure. I have this email about the last job I did. He’s saying he didn’t get it. However, not only does it have the work order number on it that I assigned, but the attachment is attached to the reply he sent.” Pfeiffer asked her if that made better sense in her head. “Yes. What I mean is, I attached the job to an email that he just replied to me on. On it is the attached job. It’s been opened too. The email and the attachment.” “How do you know he opened them?” She said her email told her that. “You can fix it, so you know if someone opens your email? I’d like to have that on mine. I have people telling me all the time they didn’t get their bill.” “I’ll fix it for you in the morning. Not only will it tell you if someone opened it, but also which computer it was opened on. Like you’d know it was me that opened it because of the IP address that’s there.” She looked at her sister’s expression. “You have no idea what I’m talking about, do you? How can you live here with me and not have a clue what I’m going on about most of the time?” “Because you’re brilliant, and I’m just a homebody that loves you to pieces?” CJ hugged her as she dug into the popcorn bowl. “As for Grannie, I’m not sure I will ever figure her out.
She’s a great deal like you in all ways. I think I remember her being warm all the time too. Must have skipped me. Thankfully.” CJ laughed. They watched television until ten, then CJ went up to her room. She didn’t go to bed but worked from her computer for a while before she’d lay down. Never being one that needed a full eight hours of sleep, CJ could sleep for an hour or two before getting up fresh as a daisy. Not her sister or nieces. If they didn’t get at least eight or nine hours, they were crabby all day. And she’d never get in the way of their first cup of coffee. CJ didn’t have vices like that to get her going. She could even skip eating a meal sometimes. Her phone ringing woke her from a dead sleep. It took her only seconds to realize the person on the other end of the phone had the wrong number. She asked him to slow down and say what he needed once more. “I’ve found a woman on the side of the road.”
Okay, CJ sat up in her bed, pulling on clothing as he continued. “She’s been hurt badly, and I’m helping her along. The last number she called was this one. I don’t know her name, but I was wondering if you could meet me at the hospital.” “Where are you?” He told her which road he was on and the mile marker. “Okay. You said the woman had been beaten up. Can you tell me what she looks like?” Instead of answering her, she got a picture of the woman. It was her niece Rachel, and she did look really bad. Her mind skittered over his comment that he was helping her along, and she refused to think he was helping her along by hurting her more. CJ grabbed her keys and was out the door before she spoke again. “I’m on my way. The hospital closest to you is Mercy. Can you get her there?” He said he was standing outside their emergency room doors now. “What are you? Who are you?” “My name is Brian. Vampire. Are you going to have a hissy fit now about this?” She asked him if that was the usual reaction he got when he saved someone’s life. “Yes. Vampires have a bad rep.”
“So long as you’re helping my niece, I’m all right with you being whatever you need to be. I’m leaving my house now. I’m not telling her mom until I’m positive it’s her.” Brian asked her if she was usually so cautious. “You have no idea.” It was the longest drive of her life. Twenty minutes cut down to fifteen wasn’t bad, but she wanted to get there in one piece. As soon as she walked into the ER, she stopped at the desk. Whatever was going on, CJ had a feeling that somehow it was her fault. ~*~ Brian watched the two women. CJ had called her sister when Rachel was taken to surgery. Her voice was calm, and even though she’d not shared the information with him, he knew that CJ was blaming herself for her niece being hurt. Pfeiffer, he assumed when they hugged, came in just as he was going to try and leave them to their family.
The much younger woman hugged her as well. He knew they were all related by the way they looked like clones of one another. “Don’t leave.” He shook his head at CJ and said he couldn’t add anymore than he already had to the police. “I understand. You did save her life. You have no idea how much that means to all of us.” He could have told her more than he had the police. Brian could have told her that he had the scent of the two men that had beaten the young lady. The place where her car had been run off the road, and the woman trying to get away from them. However, he didn’t. Being involved at all was something he didn’t feel comfortable about. But when he got to Bancroft’s, he was going to tell him everything, including who the men were and how he’d killed them both. There was evidence, too, that they had thought they had the woman in front of him. CJ was wanted by a lot of unsavory people.
“I just happened to be in the right place at the right time.” She pointed to her lip and said he had a little spot on him. Licking away the drop of blood, he smiled at her. “You’re taking this very well for not knowing about my kind.” “I know a great deal about your kind. I don’t believe I’ve ever met a vampire before, but….” When she looked around, he did as well. But instead of talking to him about it, she pulled him into the ladies’ room. After checking each stall, she locked the door. “Do you happen to know a person by the name of Bancroft? I’m not sure if that’s his last or first name. Wait, don’t answer that. I doubt you were going to anyway, but don’t answer.
If you happen to come across him at any point soon, you should tell him a task force is being put together that is hoping to kill him off.” “Do you happen to know why? I mean, if I ever run across him in my lifetime, he might well ask me the same question.” She nodded. This time she put out her hand and put a thumb drive into his palm as they shook hands. He nodded. “You just happened to have this on you in the event you found a vampire?” “No. I have that on me all the time. If it were to fall into the wrong hands, I wouldn’t be found.” Brian wondered what was on the drive and why she trusted him with it. “I can see you have thousands of questions. I do, as well. However, I can tell you this much here. I work for different companies by putting security systems in place.
Firewalls if they want them. Sometimes it’s only putting in a program that gets employees to clock in and out. With that, I can walk around in their brains, the ones on their computer. I came across that three days ago when I was working for an office.” “And you trust me with this. Why?” She told him she had no idea why, but she did trust him. “I have your scent now, CJ. If you’re trying to fuck me over, I’ll hunt you down and kill you.” “All right.” She put out her hand again. “Would you please have a connection to me? I know how that works. You’ll be in my head all the time. I would like that, so if I am in trouble or I find out something more, I can give you fair warning. Also, if I’m taken, which I think will happen daily, then perhaps you can save me as well.” “Again, I don’t understand this. For whatever reason, I have the same sort of trust with you.”
She nodded and stood there. “All right, CJ, I’ll take your blood, but you must take mine as well. That will give us a tighter connection so that I will also know where you are if you’re taken.” “I’m all right with that. However, if it comes to a choice for you to save me or my family, they’re to be at the top of your list. I won’t have anything happen to them because I’m good with computers.” He said he would do that for her. “Promise me, Brian. I can’t stand the thought of someone harming them. But they will to get to me. Promise me.” “I promise that if there is a time I can either save you or your family, I will save them.” He grinned, not even bothering to hide his fangs. “However, I will do my damndest to make sure you’re safe as well.” She left the bathroom before he did after they exchanged blood drops. Pulling shadows around him, he waited until someone came in and left when the door was still open.
Brian didn’t know what to do now. If he stayed here, CJ and her family would be safe. If he went to talk to Bancroft, he’d be able to figure out what was going on with the drive. Smiling to himself, he thought of the perfect plan. Hello, Bancroft. I’m in serious need of you to send someone here to Mercy Hospital. I have something for you. He asked him why he couldn’t come. I don’t know precisely, but your name has come up attached to someone wanting to kill you. I see. Do you happen to know who this person is? He explained to his oldest and dearest friend what had happened in the last few hours. Okay. This woman, do you know her name? Anything about her?
Her name is Circe Jane Montgomery. She goes by CJ. I do know that she works on computers. However, we have exchanged blood, and she is someone that I instinctively trust. I have no idea why, but I know she’s not lying to me and that she’s scared of being killed. Bancroft told him that Kelly wanted to go get whatever it was he had. Thumb drive. And make sure Kelly isn’t alone. I don’t know what’s on this drive, but they might have some knowledge of her as well. Brian, you’re scaring me a little. He told him he was sorry, but he thought this was important. I agree with you, but it doesn’t make me any less afraid. I’m an old vampire, and to think that someone out there thinks they can kill me makes me wonder what sort of lengths they’re willing to go to.
By the time Kelly and Donald showed up, Rachel was out of surgery and in recovery. The other women were with her. CJ told him she was going to make a full recovery, but it was going to be a long road. “I have someone that is going to take the drive with them. I’m going to stay here to make sure the four of you are safe. I don’t know who might be coming to get you, but you’re vulnerable here. Too many people coming and going all the time.” “Thank you.” She didn’t say anything for a few seconds, and he decided this woman knew a great deal more than she was letting on. I was just thinking about something. Something that I got back from one of my clients last night. He said he didn’t get the program I sent him. However, it was opened, as was the email. I wonder if his computer has been compromised.
It can’t be mine. I’m too good to let that happen. But what if someone is trying to get to me through some of the people I work for? Then, in turn to Bancroft? I know squat about computers at the level you seem to have. But I’d say if they were trying to get to Bancroft—who I do know, by the way—then they’d do whatever they can to make you a target. She told him that was what she was just thinking. I know you love your family, CJ, but you shouldn’t stay around them. The farther you are away from them, the safer they can be. Also, I’m going to send someone to your home when your family leaves. My Grannie. I forgot about her. Can you make sure she’s safe as well? He said he would. CJ told him where she was and the code word to give to her if she had to leave with someone other than her. I’ve left nothing to chance, I thought, but right now, I feel my life unraveling at a high rate of speed. I’m going to do my best at keeping you all safe. Even Bancroft will if it comes to that.
Can you tell me, through our link, what is the reason they want to kill my friend? She was thinking. It was tempting to look into her mind to see what all she knew, but he also knew to do that would put a wedge between them and their trust for each other. You don’t have to if you don’t think— Bancroft is a lord of a kiss. I’m not sure what that is. A kiss, I understand, but not what him being a lord is. Several hundred years ago, Bancroft purchased a large chunk of land that is now worth billions. His wife is human and corrupted. Their words, not mine. Their plan is to kill him and take his wife. I know that doesn’t sound like much of a reason to kill him, but that’s only one part of the information on the drive. That drive holds information about six different companies and their mentioning of Bancroft.
He asked if that was the worst. Not even close. They want to take him to a lab and drain his blood to give to the highest bidder. They believe by draining him and selling his blood, they’ll have humans all over the world wanting some of it to live forever. I’m not sure, but I don’t think that’ll work. But then, that’s one of the other plots. The worst one I came across was a satanic group that wishes to use him to call forth the devil, so they can be one with their god. Christ. CJ told him that she thought so as well. All right. I’ve given the drive to Kelly, and Donald, the man that came with her, is going to pop her home. I’m not leaving here until you decide what you wish to do. I guess you’re right. I have to leave. He said he was sorry. As am I. They’re all I have, and I don’t want to leave them. He didn’t tell her it might not do any good to leave them. If they knew about her family, they’d used them no matter where she was. Thinking along those lines, he thought he was going to need more help than he’d first thought.
They needed to just disappear, the entire family. He looked at Kelly when she sat down next to him. Telling her everything through the link they had because of her being mated to Bancroft, he also told her what he wanted to do. Hide them. All of them. All right. Let me make a couple of calls, not to my work. As yet, we don’t know how these people are affiliated with other people. We can put them in our home, and they’d be safe for a while, but I think they need to be hidden deeper than that. Brian thanked her for going to so much trouble for him. You would have done the same for us. Yes. Without a second thought. She smiled at him, and he felt his face heat with embarrassment. I walked right into that one, didn’t I? I won’t hold it against you.
But I’m glad to know that, even though we’ve only just met, you’d take care of me. Okay. You and Donald stay here, and I’ll see what I can do from home. For now, we’ll just have them as guests at our home. I think that it will be safer than at their home. By the way, did you kill the men that beat up her sister? Yes. She said she thought so. They’d found their bodies an hour ago. I was pissed off that they’d hurt someone. They really did a number on her too. Without my blood, she would have surely died before I could get her to the hospital. I’m assuming neither of them are your mate. He explained to her the feelings he had concerning CJ. Is that something important? What I mean is, is she one of the others’ mates? I’m still learning things here. I never thought of that, but she could very well be. He thought of how the other vampires he knew were protective of women. It could also be that we’ve been ingrained with the need to protect all females.
I know I was sort of beaten over the head with how to protect the women of any species. We can test that theory when Donald gets back. It certainly would make her safer if she was one of their mates. She stood up and hugged him. Donald is going to pop me home, then come back. I’ll let you know what we find on the drive. We’re going to only open it with a laptop without any access to other computers. Perhaps we should send someone to their home to clean it out. Good idea. She hugged him again, and Donald appeared behind her. Don’t forget to let me know. I like this woman, and I don’t want anything to happen to her family. I’ve sent someone after Grannie too. After Kelly left and Donald returned, the two of them sat in the lobby of the ER and watched people. It was somewhat fun. They made up a game together where they would guess why they were there before looking.
CJ reached out to him to let him know that her niece was in her room now. After getting that from her, Donald and he walked up the stairs to the second floor and waited for them there. In less time than he thought it should have taken them, the Montgomery family was sitting with them. Looking over at Donald, he asked him what was wrong. Nothing. He asked him a second time but asked if one of the women was his mate. Yes. I’m thinking it’s the one walking around. But they’re all so close together I’m having a hard time figuring it out. They smell the same.
I’d not mention that if I were you. I don’t know how a woman’s mind works, but if you tell her she smells like other women, I’m sure you might lose your head. He nodded but kept watching the four of them. This is good, right? I mean, whatever one you are mated to, you can be happy in knowing that they’re all right as humans. Laugh it up, Brian. This only means you might be next. Teasing his friend was fun. Brian thought he might be the only one to welcome a mate into his heart. He was looking forward to it more than he had anything for a long time. Convincing the women wasn’t nearly as difficult as they thought it would be. They knew that CJ wouldn’t have told them it was dangerous if it wasn’t. The fact that one of them had been hurt badly helped to persuade them as well. Taking them home one at a time. CJ and Rachel were the last to leave. It was then that Donald knew which one was his mate. He didn’t know which one of them was taking it harder, either.