Dakota was doing all she could do to keep it together. She was a widow trying to raise her young daughter and between jobs to boot. Helping her granny and her aunt move into the School House Condos, Dakota was reminded again about how much she didn’t have. Her granny’s offer of a handout was too much. She wanted to make it on her own.
Micky had a feeling that Dakota would be Marcus’s mate. Marcus didn’t want any part of Micky’s matchmaking and said he’d be out of town. But Marcus had a change of heart and decided to see for himself if Micky was right.
Dakota was scared to death. She was mated to a black tiger. Everything was happening too fast. The Prince family was great, but they were too big, too loud, and too everything. It was all too much. And when Dakota found out that Queen Aurora had plotted her entire life, that was the last straw.
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Harper Wilson and all her siblings were relieved when they received the notice of their parents’ demise. No one deserved it more, and the only reason Harper agreed to go back to that little town in Ohio was to make sure they were truly dead.
Bryant Prince and his family were immortals and hadn’t aged since they’d reached the age of twenty-eight. He and his family had always lived next door to the Wilsons, but he never knew the Wilson children. The Wilsons had always kept to themselves, so no one had any idea what was going on in the little house of horrors. If they had, the Wilson parents would have been dead a long time ago.
There was nothing left of the Wilson house but one wall. The fire had taken the rest. The garage, however, was still intact, and this was where Harper wound up. Drawn in by dark, morbid memories from her childhood. Bryant watched her, knowing that he’d found his mate.
Allison Sheppard had come back to town to bury her siblings. Allie’s sister and two brothers had robbed the local bank. Samson Prince had killed two of them to protect the innocent people in the bank, her baby brother was sitting in a jail cell awaiting trial. Allie wanted to wash her hands of all of them.
It didn’t take Allie but a moment to realize that the entire town looked on her as a pariah, like she was responsible for what her siblings did. Not that she could blame them, but the silent accusations did hurt. The sooner she was finished with this mess, the better. She would leave this town and good riddance.
Samson only wanted to make the woman understand that they weren’t monsters, and he had no choice in the bank, but from the moment he was within two feet of her, her scent overwhelmed him. Allie was his mate, and this changed everything….
Piper James was at the funeral home doing the hardest thing she’d ever had to do—bury her mother. The last ten years had been difficult, with her dad’s illness then him ultimately dying, and then her mother being diagnosed with cancer. Her siblings, Mary and Louis, had been no help at all, financially or lending a hand with their care. Now that their mother was gone, those two were going to be a handful, Piper just knew it.
Fisher Prince, a rare black tiger shifter, had a gift. He was able to find people and things with little effort. When a judge called him and asked him to find Piper and keep her safe from her siblings, Fisher agreed to help him out, but he wasn’t expecting to find his mate in the process.
The bond between the two was nearly immediate, and when he gave her a ring gifted to him by Aurora, queen of the earth, neither was prepared for what happened next.
Mary and Louis were never going to stop pursuing Piper unless someone intervened. Would the Prince family be in time to stop the inevitable?
Emmie Rankin didn’t trust men. She had been brutally raped at fourteen and now had her daughter, Olivia, as a result. Olivia was now a teen herself. Although an attorney by trade, Emmie had had to give up her practice to stay at home and take care of her father and her child.
Kylan Prince was a black tiger shifter. He had been waiting a long time for his mate to come into his life. Now that she was finally here, he was determined to do everything he could to convince her that he was what she and her daughter needed in their lives.
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“Grannie, are you sure about this? I mean, you’re giving up a great deal of space to live in what amounts to a one-room classroom.” Grannie told her to behave. “I thought I was. I could have said that while it’s nice, it’s certainly not anything you’re used to living in. Not only that, there is no room for you to have anyone serve you. You’re used to the finer things in life, not living in this kind of space with a bunch of strangers.”
“You’re a snob. Which I don’t understand because you won’t take a dime from me and refuse to let me help you out of a squander. You are, you know. I just want to point that out to you again.” Dakota kissed her grannie on the cheek and moved into the next room. “I love this room and the colors that I’m going to put in here. The thought of having as much color as I want boggles my mind. They did say I could have it painted before I moved in, didn’t they, darling?”
“They did.” Dakota looked out the window that had a lovely view of the gardens beneath. “I do love that you’ll be close to us again. However, I want you to understand, again, that I’m not going to side with either you or Aunt Lisa. If you get into another fight that has you moving to the other side of the country, I won’t speak to either of you. Nor will you be able to have Loren over.
Not that I know where you’d put her in here.” “I’m getting one of those magic beds that she goes on about all the time. I’m to understand that is all you sleep in. A pull-out bed, Dakota, isn’t a place to take a man when you’re in the mood.” To equally embarrass her grannie, she explained how she knew perfectly well how to take care of her own needs. “My goodness. Do you have one of those battery-operated boyfriends that Lisa is going on about?
Dakota. How could you?” “It’s easy, really. I just make sure the batteries are new or have enough life in them to make sure I can get my own batteries charged. You should try it sometimes, Grannie. It might make it, so you’re less tense all the time.” Aunt Lisa came into the room before Grannie could say anything. It was just as well. Aunt Lisa would have surely embarrassed them both.
After kissing her great aunt, she asked her what she thought of Grannie’s new digs. The two of them were twins, but only by birthdate would anyone ever know that. They were as different as night was day. “I’m moving into the one on the third floor. Did you know for a bit more money, you can have two apartments here? I did that. I even put in so that you could have two as well, Vicky. You might need the room if Dakota ever decides to get married again. And Loren can come and stay with us both this way.” Grannie thanked her sister, but Dakota could tell she was miffed that she’d not thought of it first. She asked her great aunt how it worked. “They take the second apartment and make it into three bedrooms. The first apartment then has a larger living room, as well as a dining area outside the kitchen.
I’m going to use one of the bedrooms as my closet. I so love to have all my clothing spread out so I can get to it. What will you do with it, Vicky?” “Well, since I’ve only just discovered I have the extra room, I’ve not made any plans. I don’t know if you realize this or not, but people do not have plans all the time about what they’re going to do at any given moment. Perhaps I’ll have Dakota come and live with me.
Wouldn’t that be a hoot?” Dakota told them both that she wasn’t old enough to live here. The youngest that a person could be was sixty. “Oh yes. But I can have Loren here whenever I wish so long as she’s a good girl. I think they thought of her when the Webster people defined a good girl. She is such a darling.” It would be a nice place for her and Loren to live in, Dakota thought as they sat in the large dining room. She also thought that no one would ever guess this place used to be a school with children eating in this very room. Sometimes, she’d bet, it would be the only hot meal they would get that day.
She and her daughter did struggle, as her grannie had pointed out. Dakota had been married once, and it had been a wonderful marriage. Michael had been a good man, a better friend, and the best father. But his life had been cut short when he’d gone overseas to fight in a war that had not only ravaged the country there but her own life and that of her daughter. “I saw your uncle the other day. He was looking much better than I’ve seen him in a while. I had no idea he was out of the nursing home.” She told her aunt what she knew. “I see. Why do you suppose he didn’t come to us when he needed a little help? I suppose he’s more like you than he is your father.
Is Loren all right with the two of you barely making ends meet?” “She is, actually. We are having a bit of a time with it, but we’ll come out ahead someday, I think.” Grannie and Aunt Lisa told her that they could get her ahead now. “I know you can. And I do appreciate you wanting to help us. But I swear to you, we’re all right. I don’t want to have to take from you all the time. I love that you want to, but you’ll need your money for when you get old.” “Honey, if we get any older, we’re going to be like dried-up old apples.” Grannie sat down at the table while they waited on the people in charge of the apartments that her aunt and Grannie were going to be living in. “I’m finished asking, Dakota. You’re my only grandchild.
You have my only great-grandchild. I’m not going to allow you to put me off any longer.” The people came in, but Grannie wasn’t finished with her just yet. Pulling out her pocketbook, what she forever called her wallet, she pulled out four credit cards and handed them out to her. Dakota didn’t want to take them, but she knew her grannie well enough to know that she’d sit there with them out until she took them. Grannie was all kinds of stubborn.
After Dakota took them from her, Grannie took her arm. “Use them, Dakota. Please. I’ve been carrying those around for months now just to give them to you, and today is the day. I’m going to be coming around more, and I won’t live like I am now when you don’t have two pennies to rub together.” Nodding, she noted that the three people had moved to the other side of the room. “I love you, darling. I will now and forever have you and Loren in my heart and prayers.
Please, I need to help you now while I’m alive. I need to do this for the two of you.” Taking the credit cards that had her name on them, Dakota left her aunt and Grannie to deal with the apartment on their own. Walking to her apartment that she and Loren shared, she was just entering when Loren came home from school. All smiles and hugs, Loren asked if the other two women were settled up yet. “Yes. They’re both going to be living in the School House.
They both are getting two places, so they can have a place for you to spend the night. I’m so happy for them both but also worried that they’ll be fighting again in no time. You know how they can be.” Loren said they were like her. “What is that supposed to mean, young lady? I am not stubborn.” “Sure you’re not. Is it because you’re not stubborn that we could have been paying the bills when they come due instead of eenie meenie miney moe-ing them on which gets paid each month?”
Dakota wanted to cry. She told Loren she was trying to be independent. “Mom, if you got any more independent, we could set up our own country. What is it you’re afraid of? Money? I think it would be nice to have a little once in a while. Don’t you?” “You do realize that I’m the adult, and you’re the ten-year-old?” Loren just smiled at her. “I think your grannie has had enough of my being independent as well. Look what she gave me. Or I should say what she made me take from her today. I don’t want to use them. But as you so delicately pointed out, we’re broke.” “Not broken, Mom, just short.”
Loren laughed and went to her room—the only other room in the tiny apartment besides the bathroom. While she was doing her homework, Dakota sat there thinking about how she’d gotten to the place she was in now. It was a great many things, things she was sure—or at least hopeful—that her older relatives didn’t know about. Dakota wondered what she would have done had Michael not been killed by friendly fire when he pulled out his own gun on a room full of officers after having a mental breakdown. Everyone in the world knew what Michael had done—who he had killed, even.
It was why she couldn’t get a well-paying job. Her husband, and through him, she and Loren was considered a traitor to his country. After dinner was finished and things were cleaned up, Dakota pulled out her bed when Loren declared she was exhausted and got into bed. All evening since she’d been home, Dakota had thought of nothing else but the credit cards. Just to be able to catch up on her rent would have been a wonderful thing. But to use them would make her feel like she was no longer her own woman.
No longer able to afford things for herself and her little girl. The knock at the door startled her, and she stood back from it when she asked who it was. Glancing at the clock, she was surprised by the lateness of the hour as well as the light that shone under the door. Asking again who was there, the person on the other side simply laughed. It was a woman. “My name is Micky Prince. Your grandmother, who I absolutely love, by the way, sent me over here to talk to you. She said I was to tell you that her middle name is the same as your daughter’s and that she’s the most brilliant ten-year-old ever born.
Besides you, she said.” Dakota didn’t say anything. “All right. List two in having you trust me enough to allow me in. Your last electric bill was twenty-seven dollars because you don’t have any lights on unless you’re in the room. Then it’s only long enough to find whatever it is you’re looking for. You dress and undress in the dark. There is only fifty-seven cents in your account until you get another job, which I’m here to offer you. You—” Dakota opened the door. “I have a dollar and twelve cents in my account, thank you very much.”
Micky looked like a model. She had the most beautiful red hair Dakota had ever seen. “What does Grannie want now? I think she’s humiliated me enough, don’t you?” “She said you were beautiful and prideful. Both, to me, aren’t things that are bad things. May I come in? Your landlord is on the steps eavesdropping on us.” The thundering down the stairs made Dakota realize she’d been right about Mr. White. “I’m sure you’re aware of this, but this place is a dump. It should have been torn down decades ago.”
“I’m well aware of my situation, Ms. Prince. But you said my grannie sent you here. Tell me what it is and leave. It’s late, and I have things to do tomorrow.” She repeated that she had a job for her. “I’m not going to take a job that my grannie bullied you into making up for me. And don’t tell me she didn’t do it. She’s very good at making people do what she wants when she sees something she thinks she needs doing. I love her very much, but I’m just fine and dandy.”
“I saw you today when she handed you the credit cards. I told her after you left that I thought she was a rude bitch for doing that in front of us. I wasn’t going to allow her to live in the School House, but she made me realize she needed to be close to you to help. Help you what, I found out later. How long have you been living like this, Dakota?”
Opening the door wider, she found her daughter on the made-up couch. Smiling at the two of them, Loren went to make them both some tea. “She’s as lovely as you are. And I’m betting as stubborn too.” “I am, thanks,” Loren said that they only had two cups and no sugar, then asked Micky if she drank hot tea without lemon or sugar. “I can make two teas, but they’ll be cloudy because the water filter, if there ever was one, was broken before Mom and I moved in. The landlord is a jerk.
He told Mom if she wanted things fixed, she’d have to go out with him. I’m thinking he wants more than that, but then I’m only ten, and my mom thinks I know nothing about sex yet.” “Loren Sullivan. Hush telling this lady thing like that.” But Micky laughed and told Loren she loved an honest kid. “Then you’ll worship her. She has no filter at all and just says whatever she thinks of. Not that she just empties her head, but she can be too blunt.” Dakota looked at Micky. “You’re not human, are you? Did you make me say that to you?”
“No, I’m not human. My husband is a black tiger. I’m…well, magical. I guess it would be safe to call me. And no, I didn’t make you say anything. I did make up the part about knowing the landlord was there.
I was as surprised as you were when he ran down the stairs. He is, as Loren said, a jerk.” ~*~ Micky showed Dakota around. There was a great deal of speculation between the family members on whether or not Dakota was Marcus’s mate. However, in order not to find out, Marcus had taken off for parts unknown until he could get things settled with his home. Not that anyone understood that, as he had a nice home already, but it wasn’t up to her. Dakota seemed overwhelmed by the number of perks she was getting to work at the School House as a manager. “Are you giving me this job because of my grannie and aunt?” Micky told her that was part of it.
“I don’t need charity, Mrs. Prince. I’m doing all right on my own.” “We both know that’s bullshit.” Opening the door to the house she’d be living in until they could find her something closer—if she turned out not to be Marcus’s mate— she showed her the things that were magical that she’d have both here and where she lived when they found something. “The local school is a good one. There is the packed school as well that Loren can attend.
I would suggest sending her there. They’re advanced in the way they teach, and I believe she’ll like it better.” “You know I’m considered a traitor to my country, right? I mean, I want to make that clear right upfront. If I take the job.” Micky said nothing. She knew Dakota was tempted. “What’s really going on here? There is something you’re not telling me. Isn’t there?” “Two things, really. But I want to point something out to you first.
Magic doesn’t come to those that haven’t been accepted into this family. Not that I don’t like you and enjoy being around you—I do. But when we entered this house, you commented on how nice and warm it was. Where is your coat?” She looked around, and Micky continued. “Secondly, the house allowed you in. Not because I’m with you, Dakota, but because I believe it has an idea of who you are to us. All of the Prince family. Mate to Marcus and mistress of this house.” “Mate. To a black tiger.” Micky watched as her mind worked out what she’d just been told. She would never play any games with her like poker or a lying contest. Dakota’s expression never changed. “I was married once. I have a daughter. Whatever this person wants from me, I’m not going to give up my child.” “I should hope not.
Besides, Marcus is in the process of adopting a little girl of his own. She’s four and has been dealt some horrific blows in her short life.” Dakota said she’d read about her in the paper. “Yes, I’m sure you have. But what it didn’t tell you was that she was kidnapped from a hospital when she was about three hours old. Not by the woman currently in jail, but Ronnie became a bargaining chip for Sharon.
The woman who took her had said she was going to call the police on Sharon. I’m not sure of all the details on the deal or how Ronnie became a commodity. But we will find out.” “The little boy, he died, the paper said.” Micky hurt whenever she thought of young Shane. “The paper said his parents had given up on him being found, and it had taken a toll on not only their marriage but their lives as well. They’re both dead. The police are calling it a murder-suicide, but I think it was profound grief that took both their lives.
I don’t know what I’d do if my child were to be taken from me.” “I don’t either, to be honest. His funeral was a few days ago. Ronnie has been staying with Marcus after Tyler, my brother-in-law through marriage, wasn’t able to take her. Something about him not having enough stable time in his life. Which, I suppose, was good for him. Tyler is just now getting his career on track, and he’ll still be able to visit Ronnie whenever he wishes.” Dakota walked around the house without saying much of anything. Micky pointed out some of the things that were magical in the living room.
The large screened television was on a football game, and she was glad to see that Dakota knew who was playing and cheered quietly for the Browns. She wondered who had turned it on when Marcus came out of the kitchen with a sandwich halfway to his mouth. “Marcus, I thought you were going to be out of town.” He just stared at Dakota as Micky asked him why he was there. “You said I could show her around while you weren’t here.” “I thought I’d just come here and meet her. I thought you were coming by tomorrow, or I would have cleaned up.” Micky wanted to laugh at the way the two of them were staring at each other. “I’m Marcus Prince. You must be Victoria.”
“My name is Victoria too. But everyone calls me Ronnie. You’re very pretty.” All three of them turned to Ronnie, who she’d not noticed before now. She was sitting backward on the couch, facing the three of them. “We’re just hanging out here. I’ve never hung out before, have you?” “Yes. With my daughter. She’s ten, and her name is Loren Victoria. She’s named after my grannie.” Ronnie asked if she was going to be coming over soon. “I don’t know. She’s with my grannie helping her move some of her things around in her new place.” While the three of them seemed to be getting to know each other, Micky reached out to Marcus to ask him if she was his mate.
After a glare at her, she knew she had her answer and was excited about it. You knew she was going to be when it was first mentioned to you that she was single. Micky told him she’d only hoped so. She is. When will I meet her daughter? I’m assuming you have that planned out as well. I don’t, actually. But I can have her brought here. I think this would be a good time too, don’t you? Marcus sat down on the couch with Ronnie as Dakota stood where she’d been when he’d joined them in the living room. She’s terrified.
I don’t know about what, but she is. Can you tell? No. Her mind is chaotic like she has a million things going on at one time. Micky thought it was time that she left and started for the door. Wait. She’s worse now that you’re leaving. Just give me a few minutes to figure out what has her so afraid. Micky sat down on the other couch and invited Dakota to do the same. When she sat by her, Ronnie came to sit with her. When she reached for Dakota’s hand, Micky could see that it mellowed her to the point where she could see a little into her mind.
She’s afraid because of what she’s been called. Dakota can’t take another hit to her heart. She’s been hurt by a great deal by people, hasn’t she? Marcus said she had, but no one here in this town. Good. I’d hate to have to kill someone for hurting either of them. I’m going to contact someone to bring Loren here. Perhaps her grannie too. It’ll be strange for you, I’m thinking, to know that you’re older by far than her grannie is. Thanks. Why don’t you have everyone come over here for dinner tonight?
She might as well get used to all of us right off the bat. She asked him if he thought that was a good idea. I do. She’s starved for family and has it in her head that she’ll never have that. More importantly, that she’ll never have that for her daughter. When she said she was going to go get her daughter and Grannie, Dakota seemed to be all right with her leaving this time. Getting into her car, she squeaked when Bubble appeared on her steering wheel. “They’ll need faeries. You should also be aware that Ms. Lisa is aware of us and that we’re around. When Colors showed up to see what she was doing to the rooms, Ms. Lisa began talking to him the moment he arrived.
Do we know why?” Micky said she’d only spoken to the other woman once. “Colors has been changing the room to suit the elderly woman. She has a way with bright colors like Lady Grannie does.” Pulling up in front of the school, Micky noticed two moving trucks out front. They’d rented all but two of the fifty-three rooms, and she was happy for that. It turned out well for those staying there. However, she thought she’d have to find someone else to manage it, as she thought Dakota would be busy from now on. Her cell phone was ringing when she put in the code to enter the building.
“This is Dakota Sullivan. I didn’t have a cell phone before this, and I found one in my pocket when I was thinking of calling you. Not only that but your number and picture appeared there like I would call you. More magic?” Micky said it was. “All right. I want you to know I’m terrified out of my mind right now. The phone isn’t the only thing freaking me out. The house is moving.” “I’m sorry. I should have explained more of what was going on. Is Marcus helping you?” She said he was being really nice. “He is a nice guy.
I’m here at your grannie’s place now. Is there anything I need to tell Loren to have her come with me?” The pause had her thinking she didn’t quite trust any of this yet. Her either. “We’re not going to hurt you, Dakota. I promise you. We’ll do everything within our power to make sure you’re safe and secure.” “That’s what Marcus said. You guys can do whatever you want to me, but don’t hurt my family. They’re all I have in the world.” Micky told her they had them as well. “I’m not going down that rabbit hole just yet.
Loren will come with you if Grannie does. Are you bringing Aunt Lisa as well?” “If you think she’ll come.” Dakota just laughed, then seemed to catch herself. “I’m sorry this is too much for you, Dakota. I don’t know if it will be any better for you after tonight, but I can assure you that you’re in good hands now.” “Thank you,” Micky asked her why she was going to call her. “Oh. I’ll take the job. I’ve been told no less than ten times that I won’t have to work, but I want to. I want to make a difference in myself. So if you’re sure, I’ll take the job.”
“Good. I’m going to bring your family over to the house, and we’ll have the family over for dinner. Did Marcus tell you that they’re all tigers?” She said he had and that they were very loud. “They are. However, my family has them beat. You’ll love us all. Just as much as we’ll love you, Dakota.” Grannie, as she was asked to call her, was more than willing to go and meet her family. She didn’t tell her much about what Dakota was to them, but she did tell the woman that Dakota was taking the job. When Loren came out of the second apartment that was just bedrooms for the place, Micky was blown away by how much she looked like her great-grandma.
Being side by side like they were now, they could have been twins if they’d been the same age. Then she saw the picture of Grannie when she’d been twelve. “My goodness. You look so much alike. I’d think you were the same person. You’re both so beautiful.” Loren thanked her, but she was embarrassed at the praise. She was sure Dakota would have been, too, if she had said the same to her. “I’m taking you both to Marcus’s home for dinner.
Do you think Ms. Bishop will come as well?” “She’d be very upset if we didn’t invite her even if she were to turn us down. By the way, I’m thinking this place has some kind of magical spell around it. I swear to you, my walls changed colors the moment I thought of it.” Micky asked her when that had happened. “About an hour ago. Nothing changed before that.” “About the time that Marcus and Dakota met.” Grannie didn’t say anything, but she did look at her hard. “I’ll explain once we’re on the way.” Loren said she’d go get her aunt, and that was when Micky told Grannie about Marcus and Dakota.
About how the magic came to both her and Lisa and, more than likely, Loren the moment they acknowledged one another. Grannie had no questions or comments, so they loaded up in the car and made their way back to where Dakota and Marcus were. Micky could see that some of the family had shown up already. This was going to be epic. She didn’t know why, but she thought that Dakota laying low as she seemed to be, wasn’t her usual way of doing things. Nope, she was going to set things to right sooner or later.
Harley loved the other woman, and Lisa and Grannie were fun to watch. The two of them bickered like two people that loved each other very much but still didn’t find each other to be very much fun to be around. Dinner was steaks on the grill, one of his favorite meals, as well as all the trimmings. Loren was getting along well with the other kids, and Ronnie didn’t leave Loren’s side once. He was impressed that the older girl didn’t get irritated with Ronnie but allowed her to hold her hand whenever she needed it. Both of them seemed to need it a great deal. “I was wondering something.
Perhaps you’re the one to ask. This thing that’s between my grandniece and Marcus—is it permanent, or will he break it off with her once he finds out he doesn’t want a child from another man? Or some bullshit like that.” Harley explained to Lisa that Ronnie wasn’t his child, but he loved her. “Yes, I can see that he does. The family does as well, don’t they? But Dakota has had enough pain for several lifetimes.
The town where my sister and I lived, they treated her and my Loren like they’d sold off secrets that the world needed. If they had taken care of Michael when he first got sick over there, he might well have had a better time of it. The way it turned out, he shot up a bunch of people that should very well have taken care of him rather than patch him up and send him back out to kill. He wasn’t cut out to murder, poor man. Not much of a husband either, but he loved Loren and Victoria with all he had. I could forget most anything if he loved her like that.” “He’ll love her more. Marcus will also make sure they never have to do without again.
Nor will anyone, and I mean no one, make her feel bad for something ever again. We all will make sure of that. You can bank on my word on that.” She eyed him. “Lisa, we’re all very old and very powerful black tigers. On my oath that I promised Lady Aurora of the Earth and Faeries, we will take care of the four of you as if you were born to us, and you are as much a blood relative as my parents are to us.” “All right. I will trust you with her heart. And that of Loren. She seems to like you all, so I’ll trust her decision on this.”
Harley knew there was more to her not trusting them, but he wouldn’t look for now. “Young man, you said you were old. I’m thinking you’re a few years older than my sister and I. Am I correct?” “No.” She nodded as if she had thought they weren’t that old. “I’m thousands of thousands of years older than you and your sister combined. We were born in a time when there were few people around. This world was only just being discovered. My family is the first of the black tigers, made magical so that we could go around and slowly populate the world with our kind. We were here when your entire lineage wasn’t even a speck in anyone’s universe. With our age comes great magic. More powerful than any other creature born, made, or created other than the lady of the earth.” “Oh my goodness.”
The magic touched his back, and he knew that Aurora had arrived. Without turning, he introduced the beautiful queen to the newest family members, including Ronnie, who stood just behind Marcus. “You’re real, aren’t you? You’re here and alive.” “I am, Lady Lisa. I am happy to see that you and your sister have done so well. I’m equally happy that you’re a part of my family of kittens.
It is very good to see you both again.” Dakota asked her aunt how she knew the queen. “We met a very long time ago, child.’ Before your father was born, even before your grannie met and married her Duke.” ~*~ Marcus watched the two older women while they spoke of the time they met Aurora. He’d not ever heard the story before, and apparently, neither had Dakota and her daughter. As they told the tale, he watched his mate. She was the most beautiful woman and had the most straight face of anyone he’d ever encountered.
“The two of us had escaped our nanny. Back then, we were always in and out of trouble.” Lisa pointed out that they were still in and out of trouble. “Very true. Less now that we can’t run off when we’re about to be caught, but we still have a good deal of fun.”
“You had a nanny, Grannie?” Vicky laughed and told Loren that was the thing back when there was money to be wasted. “My goodness. I never thought of you being a little girl. I don’t mean to sound stupid, but you’ve always been old to me.” “Thank you, darling. We’ll talk about how you shouldn’t say things like that to older people later. Anyway, we’d escaped and were in the yard playing. It was much too close to dark for us to have been out, but there we were, enjoying our freedom as if it would be the last.”
Lisa added that it was the last too. “Yes, we were both so terrified after that it was seldom that we ever wished to visit the yard again.” “The two of them were near the woods that surrounded their home. There were all sorts of creatures that kept an eye on the two of them, but one of the faeries that had been sent to watch them had been…well, she’d been murdered before she could warn anyone to come and help her. There was a great bear out there. He was old and cranky, but there wasn’t any reason for him to have done what he did to them.” Dakota asked Aurora what he’d done. It was Grannie that said he’d killed them both. “Yes. He had killed them both by breaking Lisa’s neck, then tearing out the throat of Vicky.”
“I don’t understand. If he killed them, how are they here now?” Aurora looked at Dakota and smiled. Marcus had a feeling he knew the answer to the question, but he wasn’t sure he should say. “Do you know? Why are they both here, unharmed, if the bear killed them? Please, tell me.” “Aurora saved them because your grannie was meant to have a son, so you would be born to come to me.” Aurora nodded. “And in that, you were to have a daughter that we could both raise with Ronnie. I don’t think Ronnie being a Victoria is a coincidence either, is it? “ Aurora shook her head. “This is all too strange.” Vicky looked at Aurora as she continued. “You never told us that part.
For the longest time, I thought we’d just dreamed it. A horrific dream, but that it wasn’t real.” Marcus asked Vicky what had made her realize it was true. “When Lisa had the same dream I had. Even the feeling of having died. We ended up back in our bedroom that very night. Our gowns had been changed, and we were just in our beds. I never wanted to believe any of it until just this moment.” “I needed you both, you see. You for Dakota, as Marcus said. And Lisa to keep you going. I know there were many times when you wished to give up.
To not go on after your husband died. Then your son dying the way he did nearly did you both in.” Aurora laughed. “Did you ever notice that Lisa would come around when you were at your lowest? That she’d bully you into an argument, and you’d feel better afterwards? I gave her the nudge to be there.”
“So my life has been manipulated since birth,” Aurora told Dakota it was more than that. “I don’t see how. You’ve already told me that you’ve kept my grandmother and her sister alive for me to be born. For what reason? So I could be mated to one of your kittens? If that’s not manipulation, I have no idea what it would be called.” “There are four children that need the two of you. If you had not been alive, Dakota, your daughter would not have come to you. And these four children would surely die.” Dakota looked at Marcus, asking if he knew about this. He told her he didn’t. “No one knew, my child. But I assure you, it was for the betterment of all of you.
You have a purpose in Marcus’s life, and he in yours. Not just the children but other children as well. They will not survive without you.” “Don’t blackmail me,” Aurora said that hadn’t been what she meant. “I don’t like any of this. I’ll help with the children, but I want you to know I’m not at all happy with you right now. I’m happy that you saved my grannie and aunt, but the rest of this? I don’t know what to think. Nor do I have anything else to say to you at the moment.”
“I understand. But the children, they are going to need you more than I can explain to you, Dakota. Also Loren. They’re coming soon. I do hope you’re going to take them on with an open mind and heart and not hold what I’ve made you feel against them.” She said she’d never do that to a child. “No, you wouldn’t. All right. I must return to the castle. I’m so very sorry I’ve wounded you, Dakota.
I do hope in time that you can forgive me for the intrusion into your life.” After she left, Marcus asked Dakota if she was all right. Without an answer, she left the room. Marcus looked at his mom and asked her what he was supposed to do now. “Nothing. Just let her think on this. However, you will need to be more than honest with her about things. I’m not sure why that thought has come to me, son, but answer her questions as directly as you would any of your family. She will not tolerate half-truths.”
He nodded. “Also, I think you should spend some time with Loren. When her mother left, she followed her, but I have a feeling she’s not going to be as easy to talk to as her mom. She, too, has been hurt by things we don’t know about.” After his family left, Marcus thought about the things that had happened to bring him his mate. He wasn’t sure, but he thought he would be pissed as well if he were in Dakota’s shoes. He wasn’t.
Marcus had his mate and two children, with four more on the way. Whatever came around about this, he was going to be the best husband and father he could be. If she’d let him. “My mom wants me to leave her alone for a little while. She told me to come in here.” Marcus asked if she was all right. “No. Would you be?” He said he’d not.
“I don’t know what to think about this. But when she’s not happy, neither am I.” “That’s as it should be.” He turned the football game up when she asked him to, and Ronnie sat down between the two of them. He had no idea what was going to happen next, but he was going to be there for them even if they didn’t want him to be. Marcus already loved his little family, and he was going to do his best to make sure they were happy.