Brook Garrett had learned to live by her wits. When she was very young, she lost her father to a car crash. When her mother remarried, her nightmare really began. A few years later, her mother died the same way. She was next.Ronan Foster was an officer out on medical leave. He was a lion and wasn’t hurt in the least, but the guy responsible for shooting him would go free if he didn’t take the sabbatical. The guy was for much more than shooting him, and justice needed to be served. Trust was hard for Brook. Her stepparents had seen to that. Now the big lion was telling her that they were mates and she wasn’t sure how she felt about that. She had been doing just fine without a man in her life….
Parker Carter spent eight years in prison for a crime she didn’t commit—murdering her father. Now that the justice system had finally admitted their mistake, Parker was set free. Parker could have left anytime she wanted, she was a powerful witch, but for reasons of her own, she had remained locked up and didn’t use any of her magic.
Donahue Foster, a teacher at the local school, was having a hard time resting. Taking a run and stretching his legs as his lion was something he hadn’t done in a while. He hadn’t gotten far when he noticed two things, he smelled fresh blood, and he felt a presence. Don was dumbfounded when the woman used a mind link to communicate with him. She told him her name was Parker Carter, she didn’t like people, and she was his mate.
Don was so stunned with that news that he was nearly run over by the night hunters Parker chased off.
Now that Parker was back, her past needed to be settled. Half-truths and well-kept secrets needed to be exposed. And the possession of her mother, Meggie, was the most mind-boggling of all. What kind of screwed-up magic was this?
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Glancing at the clock, Lily counted down the time she had left to work. Her feet hurt, her back was killing her, and she thought if she were to sit down right now, she’d never get up again. This was the problem with being overeducated, unmarried, with four kids at home wondering where their next meal was coming from. Smiling, she thought of her sister and what she was going to say to her when she arrived tomorrow night. Lily knew the first thing she was going to say to her. She’d want to know where the hell her head had been when she’d taken on three kids that weren’t hers. Lily would tell her what she said to anyone that asked. She loved them. But she also knew Rogue would love them too. If nothing else, her sister would strive to be the best aunt to them and would love them as much as she did. Her sister was one of a kind.
A year and a half ago, Lily had been happy, about to be married and living in a home for the first time in her adult life. Then, as life would sometimes do, it shit on her. Mark was killed in a robbery. She assumed, sadly so, that she and the kids would be taken care of. But that didn’t pan out either. His ex-wife had sued her for the house and insurance before Mark had even been buried. Not only did she win the suit against her—even though everything, from the insurance and house to the cars in the garage, were in her name with Mark’s—in the end, Lily had been left with nothing. Less than nothing because while she’d been earning a nice check each week, the money had been in the checking account she’d shared with Mark. The bitch had gotten her money too. The kids, however, had been nothing Missy, his ex-wife, had wanted.
They were hers, of course, but since Mark had won full custody of them, she saw no reason to take them with her when she robbed them of even a home to live in. The attorney for Missy had told Lily several times how sorry he was and that he wished he’d been on her side. Lily was glad she was there for them when their father had loved them so dearly. Even her own son, Gabe, Mark had treated the same as he had his own children. “Lily, there’s a phone call for you. I think it’s your daughter.” Nodding, she took the call in the boss’s office of the restaurant she worked in. Billy, at fifteen, was in charge of the others when she had to work. “Mom, there is a person here who says she’s your sister. She’s nothing like you, is she? If she is your sister.
I don’t know if I like her or not.” Lily laughed and asked her to put her on the phone. “I’d have to let her in. Are you willing to bet she’s your sister?” “All right. To test your theory, and it is a good one, ask her what her first name is. If she won’t tell you, it’s her. By the way, her middle name is Rogue. She won’t allow anyone to call her by her first one.” She heard Billy asking her what her first name was and the reply she got from Rogue. “You tell your mother that I’m going to kick her ass all the way to my car and back if she so much as gives anyone my fucking first initial. You tell her I didn’t come all this way to—” Billy must have believed her because she was talking to Rogue as she finished talking about the things she was going to do to her when she found her.
“I’m not above kicking your ass, even though you’re older than me.” “I believe you. I’m so glad you’re there. But I thought you weren’t coming until tomorrow. What happened?” Rogue didn’t answer her but asked a question of her own. “Yes, we’re staying in a one-bedroom apartment. It’s all I can afford. There is plenty of room if you discount the fact that I’m rarely home anymore, trying to keep up with the rent and food for the five of us.” “One of them is giving me the evil eye right now. Doesn’t she know I’m her aunt and the one she should be buttering up?” Lily told Rogue they didn’t understand buttering people up, as they didn’t know anyone with anything they would share with them. “You need to get you a good attorney, Lily. If I had been around, she never would have gotten away with this.” “Yes, well, that costs money.
Money I don’t have. I’m so glad you’re here. I’ve missed you. Where are you going to stay?” She asked her if she could move them in with her. “I don’t know, Rogue. Are you still living out of a suitcase?” “Pretty much. But today I’m in a hotel that has three rooms and a kitchenette. I’m going to gather the kids up, hit a pizza place, and meet you after work.” She told her the name of the hotel she was staying at. “If you want, I can come pick you up. The kid in charge here said you walked to work because you have no car. Didn’t I tell you I’d pay for one for you to use until I could make it back here?” “That would be Billy. She’s fifteen.” Rogue asked her how she could keep them all straight. “You can do that when you love them as much as I do. I’ll be getting off here at around eleven. If you could pick me up, I’d love it.
I’m too exhausted to walk much more today.” Lily knew that by the time she got home, not only would Rogue have all their names straight, but she’d know everything there was to know about them. She’d even bet they’d have a few changes of good clothing, a toy or two if they wanted, and Billy and Gabe, the oldest two, would have some kind of handheld game that Rogue knew how to play as well as any teenager. At eleven, Lily clocked out. She’d done well in tips tonight and was still counting them out when her sister pulled up in a gray SUV. All four of her children were in the back seats and buckled in properly. Lily asked her what she was doing with such a big car.
“I rented it while I’m here. By the way, I was told none of them needed to be in a car seat. I’m still thinking smart mouth back there, Donna, needs to have a roll of tape over her mouth. She’s just like me.” With a large grin from Rogue, Lily turned to look at Donna. She gave her a thumbs up. “I’m moving you into a house I rented. I don’t want to hear about how you’re fine in that place you were at. There is only one bathroom and five people sharing it. You know me, can’t stand to share anything.” “You’re a wonderful sharer. Is that a word?” Rogue pulled out of the parking lot and onto the road. It was on the tip of her tongue to ask her how far she was going to be walking now but she didn’t. The kids were talking quietly, the music, something that Rogue had on all the time, was just background noise, and the seat was comfy.
Being awakened by the door opening and the light coming on startled her. Turning in the seat to count the kids, something she did every time they were out, she saw they were pulling things from the back of the car. Getting out, Rogue handed her a heavy bag of what appeared to be food and told her to take it into the house. It was just after one in the morning when the kids finally made it up to the bedrooms. Lily just wanted to lie down and never wake up, but Rogue said she wanted to talk to her about something. Lily had seen how much she’d paid for the food before Rogue had snatched the receipt from her and wanted to say a few things to her as well.
“Okay. Two things. I can afford whatever is running through your mind to say to me about the purchases tonight. More if you need it. The house belongs to a buddy of mine who is out of the country right now. In effect, we’re doing him a favor, he told me, by being here and keeping the lights on. Also, I have another friend that has a brother who is an attorney. I’m going to call him first thing in the morning. There is no reason whatsoever she should have gotten anything at all from Mark’s estate.” Lily felt her eyes fill with tears. “If you start crying, I’m going to cry, and we’re going to be a slobbery mess when the kids get up in a few hours.” “I’ve so missed you.”
They hugged again. They’d been hugging since they got here, and it felt better every time they did. “Missy, the kids’ mom, told the judge right there in the courtroom that the kids were heathens anyway and should be with me. Rogue, the kids were in the room when she said that. How could anyone do that to a child, let alone their own child?” “There are plenty of people out there that would, and who do it daily. She’s shit, and we’re going to take care of her as soon as possible.” Lily told her she hoped so. “I know you’ve not done it yet, so I will. We need to call Dad and make him aware of what is going on. I know you and him parted on bad terms, but this isn’t likely to get resolved soon, and it would be nice if he was in your corner.”
“He was having an affair when Mom was laying there dying.” Rogue didn’t comment, but she knew what she was thinking. “It doesn’t matter that Mom had been in a coma for eight years. He should have been faithful to her. Getting married not a month after she was laid to rest was a terrible thing to do to her memory.” “What sort of memories do you have of Mom, Lily? Want me to tell you about mine? She had a stroke when I was barely two. From that point on, the only time I saw her was when Dad would load us up in the car and take us to see her at the nursing home. I haven’t any idea what her voice sounded like. I don’t know the color of her eyes. She wasn’t ever able to do any of the things for me that she did for you when you were younger. No cookie baking. No PTA meetings. Mom was in a coma when I needed her. How do you think Dad coped when he needed someone?” Lily told her it wasn’t Mom’s fault. “No, it wasn’t anyone’s fault. Mom had a stroke that took her away from both of us, but especially Dad. And he did try. You know that.”
“I know. But only a month. I was just getting used to not going to see her when he married again.” Rogue again said nothing. “I guess we’re still going to agree to disagree about this.” “I suppose so. But I have something I’d like for you to think about. We had each other when Mom was alive. Dad had no one. Did he ever bring her to our home? Did Dad ever once mention to either of us that he was finding love someplace else? No, he didn’t. You want to know why he might have done that? Because he never wanted us to be hurt. I think what he did in sparing us was more loving than anything anyone could have done for us.” Lily hadn’t thought of it that way.
“Another thing he did too. He didn’t ever not visit Mom every day. He took care of her the best he could when she came home from the nursing home in those last days. He did this, all by himself, while we got to live and have a life. Dad did all of that for us. Then after Mom passed, Dad got to live for himself. I think what he did took a great deal of courage. Things could have been a great deal different if he’d not loved and respected Mom the way he did.” When Rogue went to bed, Lily sat there for another hour. Everything Rogue said was true. Some of it was things she’d said to her before, but thinking back on the way they had lived while their mom was alive, Lily could see their dad trying hard to make their lives as normal as possible.
Yes, he’d done that, and more, for both of them. Lily decided to give him a call tomorrow. Lily got up at seven, nearly an hour after she should have been up and moving. The kids were going to be late for school. They didn’t have their lunches made, and she was really thinking about letting them stay home for the day when she made it to the kitchen. The house was empty of any sound. The note on the table had her snatching it up, sure that someone had taken her children from her. “Breathe and calm the hell down.” She let out a long breath when she read the first words that her sister had written on the note. “I gave the kids lunch money and took them to school. Gabe has given me a list of things they’ll need now, and I’m picking it up on the way home.
If you’re reading this, just sit down, calm down, and have whatever you drink in the morning, and I’ll be there soon. Christ, I love these kids.” Lily was brewing a cup of tea that was on the counter when Rogue came back. Her usual brew was a cup of coffee, but there didn’t seem to be a coffee maker in the room. Helping her bring in the things she’d picked up, Lily was positive that a computer wasn’t on the list her son had given his aunt. “It wasn’t. I need it. If they can use it too, that’s fine by me. But I have several shots I need to take care of and get them printed. Your boss called this morning. He said the place has been closed up for the next ten days. Something about a fire inspector. Are you really working at a place that needs to be shut down by the fire marshal?” Lily told her sister what had happened last night. “Okay, having the fire extinguisher go off over the stove is messy. It’ll be more than ten days, I’m betting. They’ll have to inspect it before he’ll be able to reopen. If they find any of that retardant on anything in the kitchen area, he’ll shut you down again.”
Lily didn’t care how messy it was to clean up. All she could focus on was not having money coming in for ten days or more. Rogue shook her shoulders. She must have said something to her several times. There was a look of complete concern on her face just then. “Are you going to listen to me now?” Nodding, she said she would. “Good. As I’ve told you several times, I have enough money to support you and the kids until we get this court thing looked into. If you can hold the fort down while I make a few calls, maybe I can get it resolved before the restaurant reopens, and you won’t have to go back. Just chill out. Together we can keep the kids happy and fed. Don’t freak out about money, Lily. I told you, I make great money at my job, and I don’t have anyone or anything to spend it on but you and the kids. All right? Say it’s all right, Lily.” “It’s all right.” Hugging her sister, something that she was coming to depend on to get her going, she looked at her when they were apart.
“I’m also going to call Dad. You’re right. I was being selfish to him.” “I never said that.” Lily said she knew that too but felt that way. “I have his number. I’ll give it to you. Then I’m going to call my buddy. If he can’t help us, I’m betting he knows someone that can.” Lily got the number and wondered at the area code. It occurred to her that she had no idea where her dad was living nor what he was doing with his life. Picking up the phone to call him, she decided that she needed to get help. There wasn’t anything she could do alone that wouldn’t go much better with help. Lexi answered the phone on the second ring. “Hello, Lexi. It’s Lily. Is there any way I can talk to my dad for a little bit?” Lexi said he’d just gone to the store, but she’d love to talk to her. “I’ve a major problem here….” Telling her everything she had going on, Lily and Lexi were both sobbing by the time her dad was back home and available to talk to her. She wanted her daddy here. After promising Lexi a hug, Lily wanted a hug from her dad too.