Caitlynn was beginning to regret getting out of bed that morning. This day had too many surprises, and she didn’t know if she could handle any more. Her da’s night terrors started a chain of events that had her head spinning.
Dawson was intrigued with the Irish waitress from the moment she greeted them at the table. Dawson did not realize at first that she was his mate. But when she was mortally wounded, he had to think fast: change her to a tiger or let her die. Letting her die wasn’t an option.
Caitlynn had had little experience with shifters, but she did understand the concept of being told she was Dawson’s mate. However, that didn’t mean she was going to just roll over and accept it. But…there was something extremely appealing about the man….
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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….
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….
Jonas Robinson had his hands full but was loving every minute of it. Those four children needed him, and he had to admit he needed them as well. If no other family came out of the woodwork wanting them, he had his heart set on adopting them.
Ginger Morgan, a talented photographer, worked undercover for the Government. She was good at her job, but it often put her off the radar for weeks at a time. She had just heard of her sister Sissy’s recent hospital stay when she returned to town.
Sissy had it in her mind that she wanted a ready-made family and wanted to take in her nieces and nephews, whom she had never met. When Ginger found out who had the kids, she called her college buddy, Dawson Robinson, to find out more. What happened next had all their heads spinning.
Ginger was swept into a world of intrigue as Rogan Robinson brought her team in and hid them from the world. Those children’s identities had to be kept secret at all costs. Now that Ginger and her family were involved, they would be targets as well.
Ginger knew a little about shifters, but being mated to one was something she’d have to give some thought to. And being a mother was something she’d never wanted to be—until now….
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Thatcher was exhausted. He knew Dawson was as well. The two of them had been called to another center like theirs to work. Nineteen agents had been shot. Four of those had died at the scene. While they’d not told them what had happened, Rogen told them what she was aware of. So earlier in the day, he’d asked her what the hell had gone down. “A man they’re calling John Doe was apprehended. He had an arsenal at his disposal, and it looks like he used every bit of what he had to keep from being arrested.” Thatcher told her what he had on his end.
“I would imagine there are even more than that someplace else. Thirty agents to go in isn’t nearly what I’d be taking in.” “Three of the ones that were brought here are dead. One more isn’t going to make it. There are no name tags on these men and women. How will they know who is who when it’s all finished, and they have to contact their loved ones?” She had told him. “I guess I thought they all had families like you and Tru do. Is that why she only goes out on clean-ups that are relatively safe?” “I would imagine she goes out on assignments that none of us know about.
You have to remember that she’s clean up, and there are none better than her. Just like me and my computers.” She told him whatever she found out throughout the day, and he relayed the information to Dawson. The two of them worked well side by side. Dawson had been in ER for so long he was very good at making quick decisions about what he needed to do. Thatcher wasn’t that quick, but he was learning to work on the fly, as Dawson was so fond of saying. Now here they were, in the middle of the night, driving back home. He’d wanted to take a flight back—it would have been easier—but Dawson told him that he just needed to unwind for a little while, and driving the two hours was just what he would need. When they pulled into an all-night diner, he looked at his brother.
“I’m starving. I’m sure you are, too, if your stomach noises are any indication.” He said he could eat. “Thatcher, I don’t know if anyone has ever pointed this out to you before, but you say that all the time. Like, is there ever a time when you aren’t hungry?” “Never.” They got out of the car and walked up to the quaint little place. “I didn’t know this place was open again. I mean, after the previous owner passed on about five years ago, I just thought it would never reopen. Remember coming here after a football game?” “I didn’t play ball. But I do remember coming here with Mom and Dad for breakfast a few times a month. Best grits in the state, I think Dad used to say.” The waitress told them to have a seat wherever they wanted, and they opted for the one close to the long bar that had neat little red stools lined up in front of it. “Cad a oíche. What can I get the two of you?” Thatcher understood her saying that she’d had a night but didn’t comment. Dawson looked at the woman.
“Irish.” She shook her head and told him she was Caitlynn, just as her nametag said. “No. I meant you’re Irish.” “Aye, that I am. And you be a scholar, aren’t you?” She winked at Dawson with a sassy grin. “I’ve some fresh tea brewing if you’ve a mind to try it. Also, there is coffee for the heathens that wish that nasty brew.” “Tea. I’m sorry if I insulted you.” She said she was having a wee bit of fun with him, and Dawson nodded. They both ordered the tea. “Also, if you have some lemon, I’d like that as well.” “You’ll not be messing with my tea with a drip of lemon, I’ll have you know. Are you daft, man?” They both were smiling when she walked away, laughing lyrical laughter that had him wishing she’d sing to them. “I’m sappy again.” Dawson asked him what it was now, and Thatcher told him about her laughter. “Doesn’t it sound like a song we should listen to?”
“You are sappy. What does Rogen do with you when you get like this? I’m betting you run and hide from her so she doesn’t slap you upside the head.” Dawson shook his head as he continued. “I feel out of sorts myself. Like something is terribly wrong with—” The man came out of nowhere. He pulled Dawson from the seat he’d been in and had a gun to his head. Thatcher didn’t move, but he did talk to the man, asking him what was wrong and not to kill his brother. Then Caitlynn was there too. “Da. Stop this. Stop ag gortu’ an fhir seo, Da?” Caitlynn telling her dad to stop hurting Dawson wasn’t working until she shoved her way between them. “Da. It’s me. Caitlynn.
Your wee bonny lass. Come on now. Don’t hurt him. You’ve been woke up too soon, I can see that.” “What can I do?” Caitlynn told Thatcher there was nothing. That her dad suffered from night terrors and sleepwalking. She cautioned them not to wake him suddenly. “I can’t let him hurt either of you, Caitlynn. Get him to stop, or I’m going to have to take him down to the floor.” “Did ya hear that, Da? This man is going to hurt you if you don’t wake up and let his poor brother go. Is that what you be hoping for? Come on now, Da. Let the man go and—” The gun went off, and Thatcher jerked the man off the woman and to the floor. It wasn’t until he searched the man for any wounds that he turned to ask Dawson if he was all right.
It was Caitlynn that had been shot. Her blood was staining her white shirt like it was going to stain it red before she fell to the floor. “Oh my God, baby girl. What have I done?” The man moved out of the way when Dawson told him to. After laying the woman on the floor, Dawson went to work on her. The man, they’d never gotten his name, started sobbing that he’d killed his little girl. “Go get my bag, Thatcher.” He nodded and went to the trunk to pull out both their bags. He was thankful now that they’d been able to get some good supplies while
at the other clinic and rushed back into the restaurant. “She’s not going to make it. Christ, this is a nightmare. I’m going to change her. It’s the only way to save her.”
“Are you sure you want to do that?” Dawson looked up at him, and he saw it. “She’s your mate.” “Yes. I didn’t know until she was standing between me and her father. I have to save her, Thatcher. She’s not going to be happy, but I have to do something.” The sound of the gun going off in the kitchen had them both pausing. “Go and see what that old fool is up to. I swear to you, Thatcher, I wish now the two of us had taken the plane.” Dawson was shifting to his cat just as Thatcher opened the swinging door to the kitchen. There on the floor, with the gun lying beside him, was the man. He had just finished slitting his right wrist when Thatcher got to him. Making a decision that would change the course of two people’s lives, Thatcher let his cat take him too. Licking the wounds closed at his wrists, he knew he’d have to work fast. There had been a lot of blood loss. The first wrist he’d cut had been too long, and the old man was probably losing his grip on life even as he shot his gun off, Thatcher thought.
Biting into the soft part of the man’s belly, Thatcher tore at his flesh so the change would hopefully be quicker. Praying that he could save the man’s life, he tasted the chemicals that the man had been taking. Antidepressants. Large doses of caffeine. A cocktail of all kinds of over-the-counter drugs mixed with the ones that had been prescribed was what was poisoning the man, causing his nightmares, as well as a great many other things Thatcher could taste. After the man’s heart started beating better, his breathing evening out too, Thatcher sat back on his haunches and watched him. Exhaustion like he’d never felt rolled over him in ways he was sure no one on this earth could have been prepared for. Dawson joined him in the kitchen with Caitlynn in his arms. He laid her on the floor beside her father and sat down next to him. Putting his hand in his fur, Dawson started talking.
“We’re going to need some help here. I don’t mean with getting the two of them home, but there is a lot of blood out there that someone is going to notice. In here, too, it seems. Can you call Rogen?” Nodding, he pulled out his cell phone to call her after shifting to his other self. He was glad to see the blood was gone and that his clothing was intact. “Will you start off with the fact that I found my mate? That might make her less pissed off at me if you do that.” “She won’t be mad, Dawson. We did what we had to do.” Rogen answered on the first ring. She asked him where the hell he was. “I’m in a sort of a bit of trouble here. Nothing major, but we have a great deal of blood that needs to be cleaned up, as well as two people we’ve had to change.” “Where are you?” After giving her the name of the place, he told her what had happened. “Well, of course, I’m not going to be mad at him. What a thing to say to me.
All right, Thatcher, I’m at the computers. Tell me again the name of the place the two of you are in. By the way, why did you call me on the phone? Usually, you just reach out to me.” “My dad taught us that.
When you reach out to someone in the middle of the night, they might not wake fully and incorporate whatever you’re saying to them into their dreams. They may or may not remember it in the morning or even wake enough to help you if you need them. So we call first.” Rogen said that was a wonderful idea.
“Dad has them on occasion. Sometimes they’re off the wall, but he is the greatest.” “All right. I have the place. Boy, there is nothing around it for miles. I can have a clean-up crew there in about twenty minutes.” He told her he didn’t need Tru. They’d only just saved the people. “A clean-up crew to make sure there isn’t a trace of blood behind, moron. Christ, I love you. Also, I’ll call in some fill-in people to work the place. According to the things I’m reading, for being out in the middle of nowhere, they serve up a really hardy breakfast. Do you think the two of you can muddle through until someone gets there?” “Do you mean cook? Then yes. We can just make sure no one is seated in the middle of the place until you have people here. We’re also going to need something to transport the people to our homes. I don’t know what Dawson is planning.”
His brother told him what he wanted to do. “All right. He wants to take both the woman and her dad to his place to care for them. I’ll help out when I can. But that’s the plan.” “I like that plan. Don’t you just love it when the stars line up or some shit like that? Anyway, there will be a cleanup crew there in about twenty minutes. They’ll say there was a buckled floorboard, and that will keep people from wandering where they’d be best not to. Also, the staff will arrive one at a time over the next thirty.” He thanked her. “Hang on a second. I’m looking into something. My oh my.” Thatcher put his phone on speakerphone when Rogen asked him to. “If this is about my mate or her dad, I don’t want to know. Not yet, at any rate.” She told him it might be important. “All right. But just the important parts. Nothing personal.” “Caitlynn Leary is a grad from law school. Gave it all up to come to the States to be with her dad when he needed her about six months ago.
Apparently, Shawn Leary has been having some kind of nightmare episodes for some time now. He fought in a couple of skirmishes back in Ireland and came to the States to start fresh when his wife was killed in an automobile accident about three years ago.” Dawson asked her if this was considered important. “It is. Shawn is said to have murdered his wife and their unborn child and fled here to not just get a fresh start but to avoid prison. I’ll look into that too. Also, you should know, Dawson, that the restaurant is about a week from closing down. Not that there isn’t enough money—there is, but only barely—but a corporation has decided that the land would be better suited to their needs than the needs of having a hardy meal. Shawn apparently gives meals to anyone that comes in that needs one. They pay it off by doing dishes or something along those lines. It’s made him a very popular person in that little town.
I think I’m going to like this man.” “Me too.” The bell at the front of the place dinged, and Dawson went to answer it. Thatcher got up to start cooking after dragging Shawn to the other side of the kitchen. Rogen asked him to talk to her through their link. All right.
Two things you should know about Shawn and Caitlynn. First of all, Caitlynn is a hell of an attorney. She is currently taking some classes here to update her on Ohio laws. She’s an international attorney and could fit well within our little circle. Also, Shawn was a surgeon while in Ireland. After his wife was killed, he just couldn’t do it anymore. I think he might need his ass kicked back into gear. Shawn also speaks four languages, including Gaelic. Caitlynn speaks six. He asked her why she’d not been able to tell him that on the phone. I thought when I heard the door ding that you might be needing both your hands.
I forgot that your mom made sure you guys could cook. Dawson said he had a two-top that wanted to look over the menu. He handed him one of them so he’d know what to cook with each meal. Making sure he had all the things he might need for breakfast, he was surprised and charmed that there was a large pot of Irish oatmeal on a low burner. She wanted to make sure we could survive on more than just fast food. There is something very nice about this menu, Rogen. Like Shawn decided he would cook the things he loved and fuck the rest of the norm. Irish oatmeal. There is quick toast here too. Mom used to make that when she had stale bread. Butter it up and put it in a skillet to warm it up. She said she thought she made that for the grandkids. More than likely. Did you know that Mom is making sure that the grandkids can cook things? I love it.
When Dawson brought back his order, he told him that the crew was there to clean up. Telling Rogen, he also told her that he had to go. Cooking required concentration. Enjoying himself for the first time since being called out yesterday, Thatcher decided he might just figure out a way to get this sort of cooking in town. He thought that if no one else would enjoy it, he certainly would. Thatcher thought his dad might as well. Whistling as he worked the grill, he was shocked to his very core when Caitlynn spoke behind him. “What the bloody hell is going on here?”
~~ Caitlynn didn’t know what to think about the two men working with her, but she decided they were much too busy to worry over it now. Thatcher was doing a good job of keeping up with things, and Dawson was making sure the cash register was covered, as well as the breakfast bar that the regulars came in to be seated at. He was also having a wonderful time. Her da was still lying on the floor in the kitchen. She was sure there was something going on with that, but for now, she didn’t want to know. The amount of blood in front of the sinks was scary to her, and she decided she didn’t want to look into it too deeply right now. “Do you know what bubble and squeak is?” She stared at Thatcher when he asked her. “I could look it up, but I have a feeling your dad didn’t go by any kind of recipe when it came to cooking back here.
There are all kinds of things in his walk-in that make me think that he got what was on sale and made up his menu from that.” “You Americans call it fried potatoes. Cut the ones leftover in the icebox into small bits and fry them up.” He thanked her. “There is fresh marmalade in the icebox too. What the hell is going on here? You’re not a cook, are you?” “I am right now. And there is a great deal going on that will take some time to tell you about. I will. And so will Dawson. But for now, I think we need to get this place fixed up so the people aren’t too suspicious about things.” She didn’t move, wondering if she should press the matter more. “I promise you, Caitlynn, we’re going to tell you everything. I’m sure you have a great many questions. We’ll get to those as well.” The blood on her shirt was something she kept coming back to.
A large apron that her da usually wore was covering it up. Dawson had put ketchup on it too to make it look more like that sort of stain than blood. Caitlynn remembered being shot and wondered why she wasn’t in more pain. Or dead, for that matter. The breakfast crowd was served up faster than ever with the extra hands. Thatcher was doing a great job of putting out the food. Dawson was amazing at waiting tables, making coffee, and making sure that everyone had what they needed. While there was a couple of seconds between customers, he was making sure all the salt and pepper shakers were filled, as well as the little bowls of sugar packets. It was like having three extra people with him around, rather than just him.
Other people began to show up as they dealt with the crowd. Two of them went to the kitchen to help Thatcher with not just cleaning the pots and pans but to clear up the blood on the floor. Three more of them began taking tables to wait on and worked like they’d been doing it here for years. Caitlynn had a chance to sit down with a hot cup of tea when she was shoved into a seat. Dawson sat across from her. “I don’t know if I like you overly much. You’re not only a better waitstaff than me, but you seem to be enjoying yourself too much.” He grinned, and she felt her heart do a little flip flop. “You here to tell me what is happening?” “I will answer anything you wish to know. Your accent is not as pronounced as it was when we first arrived.” She told him the reason for that was that when she was upset, it came out stronger.
And people expected her to have an accent when she was waiting on them. “Oh, well, that’s sad. I like it. It suits you to have a fiery temper along with all that red hair. And the freckles are about the cutest thing I’ve seen.” “Behave, you idiot, before I smack you.” He laughed, and she grinned in response. “I was shot. What happened that I’m not hurting at all? And so you know, I’ve looked—there isn’t a wound or anything to be found either.” “Do you want this right upfront or working up to it? I can do either way.” She said she liked her information like she liked her whiskey, straight up. “Good. When you were shot, it didn’t look like you were going to make it. So I changed you into a cat. A tiger, to be exact. Thatcher changed your father into one too when he went into the kitchen and slit his wrists. It was touch and go there for a while for—” “Back up.
What do you mean, you’ve changed me into a cat? I’m not a cat.” He only stared at her as he sipped his own tea. “Let me think on that a moment. So, you saved my life by changing me into a tiger. And my da too. Okay, I guess I don’t mind that so much. So you’re a shifter. I don’t know many of them, to be honest.” “You were in contact with a bear, as well as a fox at some point recently. I can smell them on you.” Nodding, she let what he was saying to her roll around in her mind. “I don’t mean to spring this on you now, but you’re also my mate. Do you understand what that means?” “Yes. Somewhat. I’m an attorney or was one in Ireland. I did a couple of cases with a mate who had supposedly killed his mate or children. I got a book on shifters from the pack leader that helped me win the case. Also, a bear case. Bruin, I think they’re called.” “Yes. We know a few bears. The pack leader in our town is a good friend of the family as well.” She thought about what he was telling her when Thatcher sat down with them. He had brought them a large platter of food and three forks.
“This looks amazing, Thatcher. Did you make this?” “Yes. It’s an Irish breakfast. I’m not sure about the black pudding, but I put it in here to try. I had to look it up. It’s not legal to sell or even to have in the States.” Caitlynn explained why her da served it. “Okay, I didn’t know that. Good idea to take regular sausage, and dying it black is a good way to get around that. And it’s doubtful that anyone here would know the difference. Your dad is a smart man.” “He is. Will he be all right?” Dawson told her he would be better than he had been before. So would she be. “Why are all these people coming into work? I’m sure you had something to do with that too.” “Yes. I can’t tell you any more than that until we get to know you better. But I will tell you that nothing we’re doing is illegal, nor will it come back to bite you in the ass.” Thatcher looked at her with a sort of cocky grin.
“I can tell you that my wife, as well as the wives of my other brothers, works for some very important people. And that they’ll make sure things are done in such a way that nothing will be able to hurt you or your father again.” “They accused him of killing my ma and unborn sister. Da would never do anything like that.” Neither of them so much as blinked. “Do you believe me or not? Now would be the time to tell me that so I can take care of him.” “I don’t know anything about that. Nothing other than what my wife told us.” Caitlynn nodded and looked around her da’s restaurant to give herself time. “Rogen, my wife, told us that this place is going to be torn down in a couple of weeks. I’m sorry about that. You seem to be doing really well here.” “We were. I came home to help my da move to someplace else.
He loves being in the kitchen. He told me it makes him not have to think about things much. I think he just likes tasting the food as he cooks it.” She looked back at Dawson. “My da, he’s all I have in the world, and I’d move the earth to make sure he’s safe and cared for. He didn’t mean to shoot me. He gets these night terrors that make it so he sleepwalks.” “Thatcher told me he’s taking a lot of drugs, both prescribed and over the counter. I think he might be making himself ill by taking a couple of combinations of drugs that he shouldn’t be taking. Did you know that?” She said she hadn’t. “Also, I can set him up with someone to talk to about his nightmares. There are things that might be contributing to him having them that he’s not being treated for.”
“He doesn’t see a psychiatrist. I tried to get him into one, but he’s not a citizen yet, so they won’t set him up. It’s been hard on him, too, with getting his medications. No insurance or any kind of help from anyone for the same reasons.” Dawson said he’d take care of that for her. “You’re just willing to jump right in with both feet and help out without knowing a thing about us? Why is that? Not to mention, I know nothing about you.” “You’re my mate, as I told you. And I’d do anything, including taking a bullet for you should that be necessary. I wish I’d been in a position to do that for you earlier, but I think this works so much better for us.” She asked him what his version of us meant. “Whatever you wish it to be. I have no intentions of rushing you into anything. And I’d never tell you to do something you wouldn’t want to do on your own. I’m very laid back and easygoing. I’m a doctor that works with my brother. I have a few charities I work on as well. I have money, or I should say we have money. Everything I have is now yours. And whatever you have is also yours. I have five brothers, one of them being Thatcher.
Five sisters-in-law that are married to them. Parents that I love deeply and profoundly. Nieces and nephews as well.” “What is it you’re not telling me?” Dawson asked her what she meant when Thatcher got up to guide the men that were cleaning up into the back room for something to eat. “I don’t know, Dawson. What sort of skeletons do you have hidden in your closet? Is there another wife? Never mind, that doesn’t work with shifters. I feel like that rabbit going down the hole, and I’ve no idea what I’m going to fall into next.” “I don’t know that I have any skeletons in my closet. But I can and will have Rogen look for you. As for the rabbit hole? I’m feeling the same thing.
I’ve never had a mate before. Hadn’t even thought of having one with the way things are going right now. I am happy about it. Excited to see what the rest of our lives turn out to be.” She asked him about children. “I don’t have any, as you might well know. However, if and when we have any, that would be entirely up to you, as it is your body.” “You’re too nice. No one is this nice.” He told her he thought she was looking for trouble. “More than likely, you’re right on that. I’m working last night, and two men show up at the door. My da shoots me. You and your brother turn us into tigers, and now I find out I’m a cat. I think under the circumstances, I’m allowed to be looking for the other shoe to drop.” “I suppose you’re right.” A young man dressed in jeans and a tee came to sit with them for only a few seconds before he left a note behind and left them. She asked Dawson what it said when he put it back on the table. “Your father is loaded up and on his way to my home to recover.
You’ll stay there too, should you wish. I’m not there often, as I’m working a great deal nowadays. But I won’t share a room or a bed with you until you say so. That doesn’t mean I don’t want to—I do, very much so—but I won’t. The note also says that anytime you’re ready to go, we can leave the restaurant in good hands.” She stood up and felt something run over her. Dawson put his hand out to steady her, but he didn’t touch her. She had a feeling it was the cat in her but didn’t comment. There was just too much other shit going on for her to worry about being a tiger right now. Getting into the back seat of the car, she was surprised when Thatcher sat in the passenger seat and Dawson drove. Looking out the window at the restaurant as it grew smaller and smaller, the lights dimmer too, Caitlynn wondered what the next phase of her life would be. And decided that she wasn’t going to let some overgrown housecat ruin her life. She had it just the way she liked it. The trouble was, she liked Dawson too. Very much. She didn’t think she’d ever met a man like him and likely wouldn’t again. Lying back on the seat, she let herself fall asleep. It was her superpower, her dad had told her.
To be able to fall asleep no matter where she was or how she was positioned. Sleep was the best way to deal with things, she thought. ~~ Brooke didn’t care for this. Not that she knew how to do it differently, but she didn’t like people taking chances, huge ones, in this case, that might get them killed. Or if it turned out to be nothing. It couldn’t be nothing, her mind told her. There were body parts all over the place. Brooke looked at Rogen when she said her name. “It’ll be fine. You’ll see. Tru is there on-site, and there are about two dozen people that work for me that are going to be there in the event that shit hits the fan. It won’t, but they’re there in case it does.” She supposed that being in the computer room with Rogen was about the safest place she could have been. But she still worried.
“The building is right there where you said it would be. All kinds of people are interested in seeing what the fuck is going on. Once we breach the door, it’ll be a piece of cake to see what is going on and putting an end to it.” “To it or the people in there?” Rogen told her it would be both if it turned out they were working on their own. “Otherwise, you’ll keep them until they give up whatever information they have, then kill them?” “No. They’ll end up in prison. Killing them for helping won’t get us anywhere. I like to give people a second chance.” Brooke just cocked a brow at her. “Okay, I’m not into second chances, but I’m working to improve myself. A kid will do that to you, I guess.” A voice echoed around the room when the speaker clicked. “I’m to tell you that we have a hit on the owner of the land and building. He’s been dead for nearly thirteen years.” Rogen asked who was in charge, then. “His son, the best we can tell.
He’s been using the land as well as the property for some time now. There is a field of pot-growing not ten minutes walking distance from where your men are.” “That was Winnie Donaldson. She’s a good friend of mine, and also the person I report to. You will, too, when you get your head out of your ass and help us.” Brooke told her she thought she was helping. “Nah, this is old shit you had. I mean full-time. The perks are great, and you get to see the world. With your ability to blend into any situation with your camera, it makes it nice for us. And the fact that you have a press license makes it all the better getting in and out of shit.” Rolling her eyes at the other woman, she looked at the screen when she did. Rogen was hard to get to know. All the women were hard-assed and hard to know.
But she was beginning to see a side of them that she was sure few saw.
They were mush when it came to the children in this place. Thatcher came down with some glasses of tea, as well as two gallons of the stuff he put in the fridge. As Rogen guided the men into position, she listened to Thatcher talking to her in low tones about what she was doing. When she saw something on the screen, she stood up and said for them to wait. The order was put out there that no one was to move as a family of four walked by some of the people hidden on the ground. They moved within two inches of one of the men she could see the outline of on the monitor. “Christ, that was close.” She agreed with the man on the monitor when he began to move toward the building when the all-clear was given. “We’re leaving two behind to make sure there aren’t any more visitors. Thanks for catching that.” Rogen winked at her, and she kept her eyes on the things that were surrounding the red outlines of people on the ground. Then the door was opened—such a mild word for the door exploding inward—and the windows broken in by the men entering the place.
There was a great deal of noise, along with the flash of lights that could be seen from the windows. “Three Caucasian men inside working on what appears to be human remains.” She nodded when Rogen looked at her. “There is a bandsaw in here that was being used when we entered, as well as a shit ton of large trash bags.” The man in charge on the ground said nothing for several minutes. “They’re stashing the clothing of the victims in them, it looks like. I have identification on the men here.” As he took pictures of the IDs of the men, he sent them from his phone to Rogen. As she looked them over, so did Brooke. “Do the faces of the people match the men in there?” Rogen asked them what she had. “Okay, the man named Fletcher Parker, can you let me see his face? Or something along those lines?”
His face suddenly appeared in front of her. The face, as clear as day, took up four of the monitors in front of her. She stared at the face for several seconds, then asked for the faces of the other two men. Rogen asked her what she saw. “I don’t know yet. I need to think on it.” The other two men’s faces seemed to ring a bell with her, and the work being done in the building resumed. It wasn’t until Rogen was clearing the men to burn the building that she remembered something. “Wait. The first man, Parker. I remember him now. I’ve seen him in the town a couple of times when I was there working on getting into the country. He was known for having a hidey-hole in his business. It would contain things like money, credit cards, as well as passports. The other man, Liston, the second person you showed me, that’s not his name either. He went by Morgenstern or something like that. He owned a butcher shop in town. Christ, now that I think on that and finding this, I’m so glad I didn’t get anything from there. I don’t remember the third man, but I have a feeling he has something to do with them in the food industry. Perhaps a restaurant or something.”
“Found them. Six passports with different names on them, as well as money.” The man showed them what he’d found and where it had been found. “You might also be interested in knowing there is paperwork that is used to put on meat when it leaves the country. Kinda sickening if you ask me, but I’m not a meat-eater.”
The men worked the room over again, finding not only things that had been stashed but a great deal more money than they’d thought. It was Tru, going into the building after them, that found the letters. There were six in total. “They’re addressed from the two of you. I can open them if you wish, but I’d rather bring them back to you.” Rogen agreed. “I’m bringing the cash with me, as well as the other stuff that was found. The men, I believe, were working for themselves. It looks as if, from the identifications that we found, they were killing tourists that were in town on vacation. Hell of a way to end your free time. Also, and I find this particularly funny, they have a diagram on the wall where the bandsaw is, telling how to cut the bodies up to look like what might be considered steaks or loins. Just around the back of this place is a large cast-iron cauldron that seems to be used for rendering fat. I don’t even want to think about what that might have been used for.” “Are they saying anything?”
Tru said she hadn’t heard them but did ask the man behind her. He told her that since they’d broken the door down, all the men had done was get on their knees with their hands laced up on their heads. “Why are they smiling? I mean, would you be smiling if someone broke down your door and pointed guns to your face? They look so happy.” “You’re right. Let me do something here and see what I can snap out of them.” Whatever she did, there was no camera on them. When Tru came back online, she was showing her face, and Brooke could just make out the men on the floor behind her. One of them looked to be dead. His neck was broken. “Their father runs the town. They think they’ll be out before we can process them. I’m thinking they don’t understand what the hell they’re up against with us. I’m having them taken to the plane now to bring back to a base that can deal with them. Good call, Brooke. You more than likely saved us a great deal of paperwork on this one. Thanks.” Rogen thanked her too.
Thatcher handed her a candy bar, and she peeled it open while she thought about what she’d just done. She’d been helping her sisters-in-law out was how she was going to think about what had just happened. There was no way she’d been instrumental in any of the shit that had gone down. Brooke just happened to be in the right place at the right time. She looked up when Jonas said her name. “I must have zoned out for a minute. Where did everyone go?” He told her they were celebrating upstairs by ordering Chinese food.
“I could eat that. Are we invited?” “Yes.” Jonas laughed. “I brought the kids with me when they called to tell me that you work for them now.” “I don’t. I was helpful to them, but I don’t work with them. I’d like to think that way for the time being.” He nodded. “What else did I miss? I’m assuming there was more if they’re celebrating.” “Yes. The government in the town where they were working has been arrested. Not just the father of the three you helped get, but several others that had a hand in what was going on. The restaurant, as well as the butcher shop, has been closed down.
Rogen made sure the reason for the shutdown is printed in the local paper, as well as a sign put on each of the doors stating that they were using human remains as their products. I think that will be very telling in a couple of days. The third man, he was only there to help them get the stuff processed. Just as guilty, but he wasn’t related to the other two.” “I saw him in the places the other two were in. I didn’t connect him to them as he was wearing different hats, literally, at the time. What will happen to them?” He didn’t say anything. “I guess I don’t want to know. What do you know about Caitlynn?” “She’s taking care of her dad right now at Dawson’s house. I’ve not met her, but Thatcher said she’s a good person.” Brooke nodded. “What’s wrong? Something is there, and I’d gladly help you with it. Tell me so I can be your knight in shining armor.”
“Your dad says that all the time to your mother. I don’t know what’s going on with me today. I should be thrilled, but I feel like I’m sort of the oddball out. The others work with Rogen. She’s begged me to work too, but I don’t know. She’s very intense, and I thought I’d just as soon not get into a fight with her over anything. I don’t think Rogen plays fair, do you?” He told her he wasn’t going to answer that. “Yes, I can understand that too. She’s very good at breaking into homes without leaving this office. Anyway, I was hoping Caitlynn and I could sort of make our own group of helpers. Not on the scale that the others are on, but more local things.” “I can get behind that. What is it you had in mind?” Brooke told him she didn’t know right now. “There are a number of charities I have going on right now. So does Dawson. Maybe you and Caitlynn can work with us on a few of them.”
“I’d like that anyway. I was thinking of trying to bring more businesses to the area. There are a great deal of unemployed families around that could use a boost. I know your family has the food drives, as well as helping the schools with supplies. But I think having a job would go a long way in making sure their kids know there is more to life than just handouts. Does that make sense?” He told her it did. Very much so. “Anyway. I have a lot of contacts I worked with. Mostly they’re businesses that are expanding to other areas that aren’t here. I can talk to them. I’d have to learn what is here for them to use, but I don’t think that would be an issue.” “I can get you a list of properties we own, as well as a few tracks of land that are up for sale that we can purchase as a group and let companies know about. I know a great deal of things behind the scenes, so to speak, that the others might not know about. Being the accountant/investment person for the family affords me a great deal of information that I keep notes on.” She smiled at him, thinking of all the things they could do with just that knowledge.
“You look beautiful when you smile like that. You’re beautiful anyway, but when you smile, you light up a room and my heart.” “You’re very romantic. I hope you know that. And that you teach our sons that as well. Women swoon over that crap.” He laughed and picked her up out of the chair. “I guess we need to get up there before they eat all the dumplings. I love those suckers.” The food was being delivered just as they entered the dining room. She was amazed at the amount of food and asked if there would be a lot of leftovers. No one moved—a pin could have been heard falling to the floor. Then they all burst out laughing as if she’d made a grand joke.
“We don’t have leftovers in this house.” Dawson kissed her on the cheek as he walked by her. Caitlynn was in the room already, handing out plates as people walked by her. Picking up the napkins, she placed one on each of the plates as they went by her. Dawson laughed, and she noticed that Caitlynn watched his every move. “Does it get any easier? Being around so many large men?” Brooke told her she didn’t even notice them anymore. “I would suppose it would be something to get used to. I’m Caitlynn. You must be Brooke, Jonas’s mate.” “I am. I’m glad to meet you.” They worked together like they were for another three minutes before they both realized they were missing the food. “How’s your dad doing? Jonas told me you hopped right up after being changed. That’s amazing.” “Dawson said it was because I was mortally wounded. I don’t know how I feel about being a cat yet. You’re not.” She said she wasn’t yet.
“It’s sort of strange, having this other half of me that’s right there. I can feel her when I’m close to Dawson. Like she wants me to rub all over him. I’m not going to. Not yet, at any rate, but she’s right there.” “Rogen told me once that it’s strange having something there too. She was changed like you were in an effort to save her life.” They had piled up their plates and were sitting down by then. Dawson was talking to Jonas when he turned and winked at her. “What is it you do for a living? I mean, before coming here?” “Attorney. Then when my da came here and opened a restaurant, I missed him a great deal. After a while, he asked me to come to help him out with it, and I jumped at the opportunity. I think he’ll miss that a great deal. Cooking for others.”
Brooke told her they could find him a place here to open a restaurant. “Really? He’d love that. I’m not sure how much he enjoyed cooking so much as talking to people. He’s a talker when he has someone to listen.” “Then he’ll love Thatch, their father. He’ll talk a person’s arm off.” They were laughing when she told her what she had in mind for them to work together. “I don’t know much just yet, but I know that helping out families isn’t enough. We need some businesses to come in and hire a few hundred people.” They talked for hours about different things. Jonas brought her a pad of paper and a pen so she could keep up. Dawson joined them a few minutes after that and told them what he had in mind for the town. ~*~ Jonas played with Marie, Morgan’s little girl until she yawned for the third time. He was joining her in her exhaustion too.
He and Brooke had been up late the night before making love and then again earlier this morning. Yawning when she did, this time, the little girl let her eyes drift closed and stayed there. He looked up when his dad sat down across from him on the floor. “I got something I want to talk to you about.” Jonas felt his spine stiffen for whatever he’d done wrong for his dad to be upset with him. “I have me an idea about
somethings them girls have their heads together about. Improving things around here.” “Did you talk to them about it?” He said he wanted to run it by him first. “They’re working on the town, Dad. I honestly don’t know what they’re planning.” “I know that. But this idea I have it’s a little off the path of getting any kind of improvements. I want to start me up one of them after-school things.
Where kids can come in and mentor some of the younger kids on how to do stuff.” He asked him what sort of stuff. “You know. Basketball. Maybe help with some homework. I don’t know, son. I was just thinking on it. Might be able to get a ball game or two out of them if they want to. Also, a pool. Not one of ours, but one the city can put in. For swimming lessons and the like.” “I love the idea. However, you should be aware that putting in a pool is costly. Not the putting it in part, but insurance and hiring people to be there to watch over things. I mean, it’s a good way to get some of the kids working in the summer, but I doubt it’s in the budget for them to pay for the insurance. We could help out the first few years, but that sort of defeats the purpose of it being a city thing.” Dad said he’d not thought of that. “I think it’s something we can look into.
I really like the idea of a community pool. And the fact that it will have to hire some kids around the town too. I just had a thought. Shawn, Caitlynn’s father, loves to cook. Maybe he can make a concession stand work for the pool too.” “Now there we go. I like that idea.” Dad told him of the places where he thought a pool might work. “I don’t think putting it near the schools would be such a good idea. I don’t know if I could live with myself if one of them kiddies got themselves hurt going there when they’re not supposed to. But there are a couple of places that might work out.” He and his dad talked for an hour on the different spots he’d thought of. Jonas pulled out his cell after putting Marie on her blanket to sleep. Telling Dad of the couple of places that he knew were for sale that might work, they decided to get with someone to see about purchasing it. That was about the time that Caitlynn and Brooke joined them.
“What a lovely house this is. I’m betting it cost a pretty penny too.” Dad laughed. “What do you have to think is so funny, dear sir? It’s a good deal more than I have. You can bet your ass about that.” “I’m sure it is. But since I don’t care so long as we can all get together like this, it could be worth billions, and I’d not care. I’m these here boys daddy. You’re Dawson’s mate.” She said that remained to be seen yet. “Well, if you’re knowledgeable to any of our kind, you know that’s a done deal.” “Dad. You’re not making any friends here.” He asked him what he meant, and Jonas nodded at Caitlynn. “You’re pissing her off. Back off on telling her, it’s a done deal or she’ll hit you.” “They already met, so it’s done as far as I’m concerned. I’m just telling her the truth of it.” Dad looked at Caitlynn and smiled. “You’re not mad at this old man, are you?”
“I am, as a matter of fact. Nothing is a done deal, as you put it, unless I say it is. Your son is a good deal smarter than you are if you think just because he’s my mate, I’m going to lie down with my legs spread out and tell him to come and get it.” Dad’s face turned a nice shade of purple. He was so embarrassed. Caitlynn stood up. “Don’t ye be saying things like that to me again, old man or I’ll make you regret you opened your eyes this morn. Done deal. I’ll tell you what’s a done deal—it’s me dealing with men like you. I’m a grown fucking woman, and I decide when I want someone to come to my bed. You just remember I’m not a broodmare that needs a man to order me around.” When she left, Dad looked at him. “I didn’t mean it like that. I was just meaning that she was his mate, and they’d have to be together, or he’d go insane.” Jonas told him he should have started with that.
“Do you think she’s a might touchy? I didn’t mean it.” “Dad, you’re going to have to learn that the women of this family aren’t like the women you grew up with. They marry who they want when they want. Or not at all. No one needs another person telling them what they should be doing at any time. Otherwise, the entire female population is going to come gunning for you.” They both heard Rogen say, “He said what to you?” and Jonas shook his head. “Take my advice, Dad. Just keep saying you’re sorry, or you’re never going to get out of the doghouse.” Getting up, taking Marie with him, he left his dad to deal with the women. They were all headed to the living room when he walked out. He didn’t envy his dad right now.
Either he’d be in trouble for the rest of his very short life if they had anything to say about it, or he’d be buying out the florist in pretty flowers to make up for it for the rest of his days. “Your dad is in trouble.” Jonas kissed Brooke on the mouth and told her he knew. “I thought about rescuing him, but he’s said the same thing to me. He really is in the dark ages if he thinks that what he can say and not say won’t ruffle some feathers. It didn’t bother me because I’ve gotten used to him, but Caitlynn is new.” She reached for the baby Jonas was holding. “Let me hold her.” Marie was awake now and clung to Brooke like she’d wanted a break from him too. The two of them sat there talking about nothing at all, but Marie seemed to be hanging onto her aunt’s every word. When she sat her on the table to give her some of the little pieces of rice left on her plate, Brooke spoke to him. “I decided that I’d like to have a child with you.
Soon. Not right away, but whenever we can get around to it.” He laughed and told her how it worked. “Okay, when I go into heat. There is another archaic-sounding statement. Heat. I suppose you call it breeding too.” “We do, as a matter of fact. Not to any of the women, but that’s what we say when we’re trying to keep our nuts where they are. What changed your mind?” She told him. “Yes, I can see where being around babies a great deal can make you want one of your own. But you must remember that we can’t just leave them with their parents when we leave this place. We will be taking them with us.”
She laughed at him. “Your mom, she was telling me about some of the ornaments you boys made her when you were children. And you are the only one that has kept that tradition up of giving her one every Christmas.” Jonas told her how he had already picked one out for her for this year but now wanted to change it. “Because of us, you mean?” “Yes. I find an ornament that goes with an event that happened in the year. Last year I got her a beautiful cruise ship. She and Dad had gone on a cruise that they loved.
The year before that, I got her an apple tree with bright yellow apples on it. Mom discovered fuji apples at the market and went on about them for weeks after.” She asked him what he’d get for the two of them from her. “I don’t know. I have to find something to do with the two of us. Something that shows we’re a couple.” “Why not get her one that shows all her sons mated to women? Perhaps one that names the children. No, that wouldn’t work. That would have to be redone all the time. But the couples, that would be nice. I would love it.” He said he knew just the place to get it. “It would also be really great if we could gather everyone up and get their picture taken. I could do that. And then one of your parents. It would be simple enough to put them in with their family. Make it a large photo that would hang over their fireplace.” “I wonder if Houston would want to paint it.” She said that would be epic for them. “I’m liking this more and more all the time. And no dressing up for it. We will take the picture as we are daily.
My dad said he didn’t like family portraits that showed off this well-dressed family when people don’t look like that all the time.” “I like that too. Oh, this will be wonderful. We’ll have to get on it soon. In order for Houston to get to paint it, I have to take the pictures and then put them together. For everyone else, we should take individual pictures of them as well with their kids this year. Make it a family tradition to get together for their families.” Jonas kissed her again—this was going to be wonderful. “You contact your brothers and find out what time would be best. My hands are itching to get started on this.”
By the time they were ready to leave, he’d gotten all of them to agree to come by his place to get the pictures of all of them together tomorrow at noon. Brooke thought the fall colors would be perfect as a background, and he was as excited as she was. Houston came to them right away after they asked him if he wanted to paint it and hugged Brooke tightly. Dad came into the dining room looking like a beaten man. Brooke asked if he was all right, and Dad told her he wasn’t sure. Patting him on the hand then kissing his cheek, he told her that certainly helped. “Jonas and I were just talking about children.” That perked his dad right up.
“The next time I go into heat, something I’d not mention to Caitlynn if I were you, we’re going to try for a baby.” “I’m not going to say a word from now on. I never in my life thought I’d be insulting someone by just talking. I’ll show them. They’ll have to beg me to speak to them from now on.” Dad took Marie off the table and cuddled her. “You’ll love your old grandda, won’t you, honey? Me and your sister will be having a blast soon as the weather gets warmer again.”
When dad walked away, still talking to the little girl in his arms, Jonas looked at Brooke when she laughed. “He might just do it too. I hope he does. I think, myself, that he didn’t mean any harm, but that’s just me. She’ll blend in or not. If not, we’ll never find her body. Are you ready to go home?” He was laughing as they made their way to the car. Brooke was a pistol and would keep him on his toes for some time. Driving to his home, he wondered what it would be like to have a bunch of his own kids running around. Well, he thought, soon enough. Soon enough, he’d know.