Marley Golden and his five brothers were the first of their kind. Born leopards, they were blessed with the magic of being the first leopard shifters. Morgan, their mother by proxy, raised them to blend in with humans and to be good men. Blessed with immortality, they all lived together on Morgan’s Leap, a sanctuary for all nature.
Sin had come into town to rescue her little brother, Cody, from her deadbeat mom. She was ever so grateful to Morgan for helping them out. When a man she’d never met, Marley, entered the room, Sin had the insane need to let him hold her.
When Sin and her little brother, Cody, came into his life, it was at a time when Sin was at her lowest. Marley promised that he’d move mountains to make sure that no harm came to either of them again.
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Carroll Golden and his five brothers were the first of their kind. Born leopards, they were blessed with the magic of being the first leopard shifters. Morgan, their mother by proxy, raised them to blend in with humans and to be good men. Blessed with immortality, they all lived together on Morgan’s Leap, a sanctuary for all nature.
Hanna March worked for the FDA. She had always wanted to visit Morgan’s Leap, but it was closed to the public, so when she was given the opportunity to inspect their orchard on some bogus complaint, she jumped at the chance. The place was beyond anything she ever expected, and Morgan was the perfect host. But when someone took a potshot at Morgan from the field, a huge leopard came out of nowhere and took them both down. Hanna, hitting her head on the way to the ground, was down for the count.
Carroll shifted back to human as soon as the women were out of danger, but finding out the pretty FDA agent was his mate took Carroll by surprise, and boy was she going to be mad when she woke up.
Leslie Golden and his five brothers were the first of their kind. Born leopards, they were blessed with the magic of being the first leopard shifters. Morgan, their mother by proxy, raised them to blend in with humans and to be good men. Blessed with immortality, they all lived together on Morgan’s Leap, a sanctuary for all nature.
Venetia had been thrown from a vehicle and left for dead at the edge of the Golden’s property. When found by the Goldens, she couldn’t remember what had happened to her.
It didn’t take long for Leslie to realize who Venita was to him. Everything was happening so fast to him and all his brothers. Now, a car crash at the edge of their property left them with three kids to raise. Then it hit him all at once. He had a mate, and he was a father… What else would be in store for his new family?
Bailey Golden and his five brothers were the first of their kind. Born leopards, they were blessed with the magic of being the first leopard shifters. Morgan, their mother by proxy, raised them to blend in with humans and to be good men. Blessed with immortality, they all lived together on Morgan’s Leap, a sanctuary for all nature.
Zippy and her sister, Venita, were born witches. Veni, Leslie’s mate, was the grand witch, but Zippy was no slouch when it came to magic. Zippy and their parents came to Morgan’s Leap because they had discovered that Veni was alive, not dead as they’d been led to believe, and they wanted her back in their lives. Although Zippy was thankful to have her sister back in her life, discovering she had a mate was both a shock and a blessing.
Bailey was surprised but not at all unhappy when Zippy appeared in his life. Everything around him was changing so fast. And when Zippy didn’t hesitate to take in the three abandoned infants from the hospital, his heart couldn’t have been fuller….
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Morgan made herself into a tight ball as she hid herself in the tall grasses in the field. She knew that the men chasing her would find her soon enough. But for now, she was going to make them work for it. Closing her eyes, trying her best to calm her breathing, she did the only thing she knew to do to not think about what was going on around her. Morgan counted to fifty in all the languages that she knew. She had awakened out here. All she remembered was having dinner in the kitchen with the staff and then waking out in the middle of the moonless night. She’d not remembered going to bed.
Not putting on her nightgown she had on now. Nor did she remember waking when brought out here in the cool night. Soon after waking, she heard the voices of the men, six she thought she’d counted, saying that the first one that found her could have her. At fourteen, Morgan knew exactly what that meant. They were going to rape her. Then more than likely, kill her. Her parents would be looking for her. She would admit, only to herself, that they’d not be too upset about her being gone. Morgan had a habit of getting up in the middle of the night. To see to one creature or another.
So it might be days before anyone— The hot breath of air on her forehead had her whimper just a little. Lifting her head without opening her eyes, she felt it once again. It was hot but not sour smelling. Opening her eyes, she looked right into the golden eyes of a leopard. Their noses touched. That was how close she was to her. The lick to her face scared her. While she’d seen the wild animals around the compound where she lived, she’d never been this close to one so dangerous. The farmers would kill them when they would take down a cow or something that they raised, but no one could have prepared her for the beauty of them this close.
The big cat put her paw on her head and pushed it back down so that it rested on the dirt. When she started to lift it again, the cat pushed her down again. Understanding that she was to stay where she was, Morgan closed her eyes. If she was going to be eaten, she was glad that the cat was sparing her from knowing when it was coming. The sound, soft as a coin dropping onto the dusty ground, was all she heard before the large cat screamed. There was gunfire too.
Something frighteningly close stirred up some of the dirt she was hiding by. The screaming of men was next. It wasn’t long before it was all cut off, and she knew on some level that the cat had killed the men. The paw to her head again had her lifting it up to see if she was next. The cat had been hurt. Blood was pouring from her shoulder at an alarming rate. Sitting up, unmindful of whether it was safe to do so, Morgan tore at her nightgown to stanch the blood as she spoke to the leopard. “I think you saved me.” The cat just let her poke around at her wound, soon lying down when she asked her to do so. “The bullet needs to come out. If it doesn’t, I’m afraid that you’ll get sick and die from it. I wish I had my knife here. But I think I can see it enough to get it out with my fingers.
I won’t do any more than I have to. All right?” Morgan worked for fifteen minutes on getting the bullet out. The cat never hurt her. Never tried to get away from her as she worked either. Sweat poured off her forehead as she finally got it free. When she was finished, she showed it to the cat. “See? Someone got a shot in. I promise you; I’ll make sure that you’re all right. Do you have a lair? Someplace that you can rest?” The cat stood up, and that was when she noticed that she’d had kittens recently. “Oh no. Where are they? You left your den to come to save me? Come on. I’ll help you back.” It wasn’t far.
About a hundred yards from where the cat had come to her. It occurred to her that the cat was more than likely saving her kittens from being found when she killed the men, but Morgan was ever so grateful that she’d spared her as well. Helping the cat into the den, she saw that she had three of the puggiest little kittens she’d ever seen. “They’re beautiful. Oh, look at them. You are a good momma, Golden Eyes. They’re very fat. I’ll stay with you until you need to eat again. Then I’ll hunt for you.” The cat didn’t seem to mind when she picked one of them up, so she touched each of them in turn.
“You’re very lucky those men didn’t find you too. But I guess you knew that.” She stayed with the family overnight. There wasn’t any way she’d be able to make her way back home in the darkness, so it was fine with her to be in the cave for the night. The kittens woke hungry a couple of times in the night. Instead of having Golden go to them, Morgan carried them back and forth to their mother. She seemed to be all right with her helping that way as well. When the sun was coming up, Morgan made sure that not only did the family have water, but she also scavenged as much as she could from the horses that the men had come out here in.
There was hard tack that was in abundance, but she was also able to get herself some much-needed flint as well as some blankets. Taking it to the cave, she put the kittens on one of the blankets and then sat down to watch them fall over each other until they had their spot picked out. It was calming to watch them, she thought. They were just too little to do much more than be rolly Polly little kittens. Giving the hardtack to Golden, she made her way to her home. It was further than she’d thought it might have been, and she didn’t arrive there until the sun was nearly down. Going into the house by way of climbing up the back stairs, she heard her parents speaking out their balcony from her own window. Sliding out onto her own, she stood deeply in the shadows to listen to what they might be saying.
Her mother was standing at the railing, her father deeper in the room. “I cannot believe that she’s gone.” Morgan started forward, wanting to assure her mother that she hadn’t been hurt at all. “This was a brilliant idea that you had, Malcomb. To have it look as if she’d been kidnapped and then killed. I have never wanted anything more than that child dead.”
Her heart hurt. Her mind didn’t know how this was really what her mother was saying. They weren’t close, but she never thought she’d want her dead. But even as her dad came out to the balcony, too, she watched the two of them as they stood there in an embrace. “Well, it wasn’t nearly as hard as I thought it would be to get some men gathered up to take her. As you said, it’s a good thing now that she’s gone. When they find her body, it will be blamed on anything but me.” Mother said that it wouldn’t be her fault either.
“No. No one will bother with blaming you, my dear. For all they know, you’ve committed suicide because your daughter is gone.” It took her less time than it apparently did her mother for what her father was saying. As soon as he pushed her mother nearly over the railing, intending she was sure to make it look as if she had fallen to her death by her own hand, mother grabbed her father’s coat. The two of them hung there for what seemed like forever. Would they both fall? Would they be able to save one another? She didn’t care.
So when her mother’s weight took them both over the edge, Morgan stood there for several minutes thinking about what had just befallen her family. Looking over the edge of her own balcony, she saw them there, tightly embarrassed as if in a lover’s hug and dead. Blood spread out beneath their heads as if a bucket of it had been poured over the two of them. Making her way to the kitchen area, she staggered twice in her grief. Not that they were dead, no, it was that they had planned her demise in such a cold way. Lincoln was there, the butler of the house when she entered. He took one look at her and sat her in the chair she’d spent more time in than the ones in the formal dining room. Lincoln, she knew, would be her family from now on. “Child, what is it?” She must have been a mess. Or looked on edge.
The slap to her cheek stung enough that she was brought out of whatever thoughts she’d been having. “What’s happened? Your parents, they told the household that you’d been kidnapped. Are you hurt?” She told him everything. Not leaving out anything, including the cat that had saved her. Also, leaving no doubt to the older man that her parents had planned for her to be killed this night. Lincoln sat down across from her after making her a cup of tea that was mostly bourbon. “You are mistress of the house now. Tomorrow we will find their bodies whilst you are still abed. You will say that you were out with the creatures of the field.
They will believe that well enough. That is where you are most of the time.” She asked him about the cats. “‘Tis your decision. However, if you were to bring them here, none of the rest of the staff will mind. It is you we stayed for all these years and not your parents.” “I’ll need help bringing them here.” He said that he’d go with her. “They’re far. Much further than I had thought. But I wish them to be safe, Lincoln. She saved my life, and I will do the same for her and her family.” “You have a good heart, child. A very good one. We shall leave now and take lanterns with us. A basket, too, so that we might carry the little beasts.” She asked him if he didn’t want them here.
“Nay, I want what you want. We all do. Tomorrow after your parents are found, we’ll be as we should have been. A good home and a safe one. Mark my words on that. I will talk to you as we go about now that you are mistress of the house what men will do to get to you. They’ll want you, but you’re too stubborn to be a good wife to anyone seeking your hand. It might be well that there are cats here to protect you. You have become a very wealthy woman.”
As they were making their way to the cave, she wondered if he knew how safe the house would be with leopards in it once. Once the kittens grew up, they’d be as big as she was now. Smiling, she thought perhaps she wasn’t all that upset about her parents being dead. They’d been treating her as if she had for as long as she could remember. Golden seemed happy to see her. She licked her face and brushed her with her large paws. As Lincoln gathered up the kittens, she helped Golden outside to do her business.
It took a great deal out of her, and Morgan had to carry her back into the cave. Once they were all loaded up in the buggy, she sat down with Golden to tell her what had happened. “So I’m motherless except for you. I know that you’re a cat and I’m only a human, but I think we can get along. When the men start to come, and according to Lincoln, they will, I’ll need you to protect me too. I shant ever marry. Not only that, but I’m also going to make it my life’s work to make sure that animals such as yourself are as safe as I can make them.”
Arriving home well after the sun had settled in the sky again, she made sure that the mother and kittens were safe in her parent’s big bed. There was a fire in the fireplace for them should the night turn too cold. Morgan also made sure too that the mother had plenty to eat, having given her one of the steaks that her father would treat himself to daily while she had whatever else he had with his meal. Sleep didn’t take its time capturing her, luring her to a night’s rest. It hit her right between the eyes and had her nearly sick with exhaustion.
As she closed her eyes, sleeping in her own bed as if nothing had happened, she knew that she’d keep her promises to not just Lincoln and the other staff but to herself as well. The animals here would need her, and she was going to make sure they were as safe as they could be while she was still living.
~*~ Four years later Morgan watched the man as he ran out of her home. How he’d gotten in was beyond her, but now that he was gone with a little less of his fancy clothing, she sat down on the front veranda and waited for the cats to come to her. Over the last month or so, men had been showing up at the oddest times to tell her that she must marry them.
They would all come around sooner rather than later. All of her leopards, as well as a plethora of other such creatures, would come to make sure that she’d not been harmed or taken away from them. None of them would be harmed here, and daily another one or two would come limping into the compound and be welcomed. Golden came to sit at her feet, and she smiled at her when she looked at her. “He had it coming.
We both know that. The pompous ass thought that if he could tear at my clothing, I’d allow him to marry me so that I’d be happy. He said that I’d need someone like him to watch over my money and keep me from dying an old spinster. Apparently, women aren’t meant to think beyond having a man around. I’m much happier without him, I think. What did he think I’d been doing here all alone since my parents were dead? Waiting on someone to recuse me? Not likely.” Morgan slid to the floor and put Goldens head on her lap. Running her hand down the length of the cat, she could feel her newest litter wiggling around.
“I am worried about you, mistress cat. You’re heavier this time with your brood. Not to mention, I know that the wound you suffered for me so long ago bothers you more daily. The babes that you brought here that night, they have gone on to have their own children. I cannot believe that so much time has passed since that night.” She thought of something and put her forehead to Goldens. “I just realized that you’re a grandmother. Congratulations.” “That would make you an Aunt in her eyes.” Morgan reached for her gun, something she’d been carrying since that night, and found it gone. “You cannot kill me, mistress, but I would prefer that you not harm me either. I have come to speak with you about the good work you are doing here.
The one you call Golden; she has asked me to come to speak to you about a great many things. In addition, I have some things I need to ask of you too.” “Who are you?” The beautiful woman asked if she could tell her in a moment. “So long as you know that whatever it is you’re hawking, I want no part of. We’re doing very well here on our own.” “You are doing better than well, I think. The ground is fertile here, thanks to your way of doing things. Not all humans would leave an animal to rot on their land without doing something with it.” Morgan told her that other animals took care of it.
“They have indeed. Even the things that the larger breeds cannot eat or use, the smaller creatures come to salvage what they can use. You have a good system here. A system that will not be something popular for a great many years.” “I don’t want to have to go into town.” The woman nodded her smile something that she thought was more than beautiful. “You said that you came here because of Golden. She is a cat. How is that possible that she would call to you?”
“Let me start at the beginning, please. The night that your parents died, the night that you came to help Golden, it was thought that you should have died along with them. Sometimes, with humans, the apple does not fall far from the tree. But you are nothing like them, are you, sweet child. You were not only different than them, but a kinder, gentler person than any of us have ever seen before. We have all been watching you these last years.” Morgan asked her who they were. “Ah, that brings me to your first question. I am Tellus, the terrestrial being that cares for and is wholly a part of the earth. The earth and the land that you have here. Not for my doing but your own. This land is rich beyond anything man has ever seen before.”
Morgan didn’t speak, letting all that the woman told her to settle into her mind. She’d been alone for most of her life now and had learned not to prattle on when there was no one to talk back to her. Petting Golden, she was glad to hear her purring. The rumbling of her throat was soothing to her for some reason. “Mother earth. I’ve read about you. You’re Roman.” She said that was correct. “All right. So you’re here because I have good land. However, I still don’t know why you took time out of your what I’m sure is a busy day to tell me that.” “You are a jewel among all the stars in the sky, Morgan.”
Confused at the words and their meaning, Morgan continued to pet her cat. “We, the other earth creatures, have been watching what you were doing here since that night. We’ve not had to once intervene in helping you care for the animals, all that you protect here. You have lifted a great burden from all of us. Even creatures that you may not be yet aware of have found a home here among the others and have been safe from harm. One such creature sits there on your leg. His name is Button.” Morgan looked down at her leg and saw the tiny creature standing there. She put out her free hand, and when he hopped upon it, she brought him closer to her face.
Yes, he was a little man, just like the men that had been coming around but for his size. Then while she was watching him closely, he spread out his wings and fluttered above her palm for several seconds before settling down again. “Faerie.” He bowed before her. “I have read of such creatures as this one. They are thought to be a myth. Such as you are, Lady Earth. I have either hit my head, or I’m being visited by creatures that are as magical as the sun coming up and then resting in the other sky.” “You are seeing magic, my child.” Nodding, she laid her hand back on her leg. Button didn’t sit on her leg again but stayed on her palm. “He wishes to be with you.
To help you in the coming years. For as much as I’d like to say your life will be filled with only riches, we both know it is never that way.” “Nay, it is not. The banker says I owe him great funds for a loan that my parents took out before they died. Also, I have a man who is trying his best to catch me unawares so that he might rape me to take my lands. I don’t think he means to keep me around much longer than it is for me to say, ‘I do.’ They only want what I have.” Tellus said that she could help her with those things. “Thank you, my lady. But I’m sure you have enough to do now with the earth as large as it is.” “I do. But helping you is not something that I take lightly, my child. We all, all the creatures in charge of the parts of the earth you now own, are happy to help you. And in doing so, they will get the help they need as well.” Morgan asked her what they wanted her to do.
“You will do it, will you not. Even not knowing what it is that we ask of you.” “I will help the earth for as much as it gives back to us here. And that, as you know, is a great deal. We are self-sufficient here. Water is ours to use as we see fit. There is a roof over our heads when necessary. The fields, as you have pointed out, are rich and give us back so much more than we can eat. I share what I cannot have put up or preserved.” Tellus told her that she knew that as well.
“If you need for me to do more, I will do it to the best of my ability.” “Thank you.” Tellus looked at her, then at Golden as she continued. “Golden will stay with you until the kittens are born. Her children will be the first of many creatures that will take on this new magic that we wish you to help with.” “She’s going to die.” Tellus nodded but didn’t look at her. “I thought when I’ve seen her around this time, she wouldn’t make it for long after. You do know that she’s the only friend that I have besides the people that work here? I’ve spent long hours thinking about how I will make it without her counsel.
Without her snuggling up to me when I need it. I don’t know that I want to. But I must, for the others.” “Yes, you will,” Tellus told her of the magic that would be given to her. About the babes that Golden would have and how they would go on to be great men. To help her in ways that Tellus and the others hadn’t thought of yet. “The magic they will get will help them to be a part of the world of men. To breach such places that, even now, frightens us a little. We will need you to help them blend into such places. To walk, talk, and to act like real men. The abilities that we will give to them will make them a prize should anyone find out. So it is important that they do not give themselves away while men. Do you understand?”
“Yes. I’m to be their teacher.” Tellus told her, too, that she would be their mother. “I have questions now, but I know that I will have so many more when the time comes. I will teach them everything that I can. Give them whatever step up they’ll need so long as I live. I promise you they will be the best of men too. Not like the ones that come here sniffing out an easy way to my home.” “You will not die either, Morgan. You will be around for their children to come into the world, as well as all the shifters that are to be born.” Morgan asked her about the men coming around. “They will not come around again should you wish it. Button will have for himself to use an army of faeries that will come to your aid in that and anything else you might need them for.
Do not be fearful of using them either. Rightly so, they are excited to serve one such as yourself. You have been titled with the name Queen of Shifters.” “You don’t have to do that, my lady. I said that I would help you.” Tellus laughed, and it made Morgan smile. “I will do as asked. The rest, I will accept it as part of my duties, but I don’t see myself using it overly much.” “I foresee you using the magic given to you much more than you think you will.” Tellus laughed again, bringing yet another smile to her face. “I will also give you a list of things that you will need to invest in. They will fund you better than a bank will, and you will remain self-reliant at the same time.
Also, the bank has been taken care of. He will no longer bother you about funds he thinks you owe him.” “Thank you for that.” Morgan looked down at her friend and ally in all this. “What will become of me when you no longer have a use for me, my lady?” “There will always be a use for you, child. A creature such as you will forever bond with the earth and make everything around you a better place. I have such faith in you.” Morgan told her that she could only do her best. “And that, my child, is all that I could ask for.”
The two of them talked throughout the morning and into the evening. Ending up in the living room where there was a fire roaring in the hearth, they were served their tea there as well as juice too. She was told, too, that she’d need to be drinking a great deal more of the elixir. And that the fresher it was, the better it would be for her after using magic. At some point, Tellus took her hand into hers and gave her the magic she’d need. The power of it washed over her in waves. So much so that for several minutes she had to sit still in her seat and wait for it to settle out. Not only did she receive the magic, but the knowledge of how to use it. Also, things, as she’d been told that she must invest in. Things that Tellus told her that would be worth a great deal in the future. After Tellus left her to rest, she was told, Morgan sat in the yard at the back of her house.
Lincoln came to sit with her a spell, telling her that there were faeries in the kitchen now that would make sure that the household was safe. Also, he said, he’d been given magic as well. “It is to keep the house in order. To build out when you need it, my lady.” She said that she’d been told she’d need to have a larger house. “I find that hard to believe, but I will do what it takes to have you safe.” “I now have more land as well. Tellus told me that there are now five thousand acres here that will be used for the animals in need. No one will be able to enter the land if they wish to harm anything that calls this place home. What am I to do with all this knowledge and wealth, Lincoln?
I know I’m to teach the next generation of cats born to Golden, but how much do you think they’ll need from me? What am I to do when they go out and have their own leap? I shall be an old woman with only you to keep me company.” He asked her if he was immortal as well. “You are. But I was told that at any time you wished to die, I could take it from you. No harm will come to you with it either.” “I think I shall stay with you, my lady. I think we will need each other in the coming years, don’t you think?” She said that she needed him every day. “You are so kind to me, Morgan, that I wonder at times why your parents wanted you dead.” “They were in love with themselves.” She knew that to be true as soon as she said it. Looking at the older man, she smiled at him. “You and I will do the best we can and hope that it’s right. Someday, I think we’ll look back on this and wonder what all the fuss was about. Don’t you?”
“I think I will hold my thoughts on that until such time as it comes to an end.” He laughed a little. “Do you believe it will come to an end, my lady?” “No. I don’t. I don’t have any idea why but I think we’re going to be having something new and something strange happening as a daily routine.” She stood up when he did. “Let us begin this new phase of our life, Lincoln, and hope that we make it work better than the thoughts in my head are making it. All right?” “Whatever you wish, my lady. We will do well together, I believe.” She hoped so. It seemed like a great deal was depending on her doing just that. Making it work for the safety of all involved.
She only hoped that she knew enough and was strong enough to make it work for all of them. ~*~ Many, many centuries later Sin fell in love with the little town again. She’d loved it here as a child, growing up in a place that hadn’t been updated since before her mother had been born. The place looked the same, but it was also different, she realized. There were more people walking around than she remembered ever seeing before and a group of kids playing on the swing set in the middle of town. Sin had wanted a swing in the worst sort of way when she’d been a child.
The place where she’d been told to meet Morgan was just outside of town. The large shop was doing a good business, and it looked like everyone was coming out of the place as happy as she’d ever seen them. Once she had pulled into a parking spot in the back of the shop, Sin made her way to the front door, stopping to look at the well maintained gardens and flowers around it. “You must be Sin.” She nodded at the man standing there with the door open. “My wife is Zippy. I’m Bailey. We spoke on the phone.”
She couldn’t help herself. Sin hugged Bailey. She’d been thinking about how these people, without thought to themselves, had saved her from driving into a truck and keeping her little brother out of harm’s way. When he invited her into the place, she was introduced to the women behind the counter. “Hello, Morgan. I’m so happy to see that you’re doing well.” Sin hugged Morgan, too, knowing this woman was the sole reason she was still alive. “I’ve thought of nothing else for the last few hours except how you would keep me fed and warm when I was a child. I don’t have any idea how you knew I needed you, but you were always there. For me.” “Yes. And you’ve turned out all right yourself, haven’t you? Good for you.
Your brother, Cody, reminds me a great deal of you when you were his age. While he’s not as outspoken as you could be, he certainly makes his point well enough. How are you really, Sin?” Nodding, she followed her to the back of the store and sat at the table there. “I’ve been in contact, so to speak, with your mother. There are a couple of things you need to know before Cody gets here. She’s not going to be coming back here to get him. She had managed to get herself in some deep trouble yesterday, and she’s in jail. They found several playing cards on her when they arrested her. She’d been cheating.” “That sounds like something she’d do. How much is she down in gambling? I’m sure it’s not a paltry sum.” Morgan told her.
“How the hell did she manage to talk someone into letting her bid that much on a game?” “I might have had something to do with that. Melody has harmed you and Cody enough, and I don’t want her around anymore. This way was better than what Bailey wanted to do with her. He wanted to hang her out to dry.” Sin told her she’d tried that once before, getting dry. “Yes, I heard about that. But this way, you can say you tried, and no one will think any less of you. Not that I believe you care what people think about you and your relationship with her, but you never know about people.”
“That’s very true. What else is there? You said a couple of things.” She told her about the house and how it had been condemned. “That should have happened when I was living there. I’m sure it’s not improved with age.” “No, it hadn’t. Also, you should be aware that Cody has a little magic. I would imagine you do as well since you’ve arrived. He can and is glad to be able to have any kind of clothing he wants to wear. He’s been playing around with it and has discovered he doesn’t want to go back to wearing anything that isn’t his in the first place.” They both laughed. “He has missed you.
Cody has been telling us about how you would call him every day after he’d gone to bed to make sure he was all right. That was, I think, the only thing that kept him going while living with your mom.” “I wanted to bring him with me when I left the last time. I was even going to just take him. But she said I’d never make it out of town with him before I was arrested. Then she told me she’d make it, so I never saw him again. In a permanent way. I was afraid for Cody, but I left him.” Morgan told her that was probably the best she could have done. “I don’t know. Even now, I hate that I had to leave him behind.” Sin heard a man’s voice in the shop and had to laugh when he was taken to task by one of the other women out there.
“Your son, I’m guessing?” “Yes, Marley. He’s just closed up his practice today, and he’s feeling a little wild. You should meet him.” Everything in her froze. “Sin? What is it?” “I don’t know. I mean, until you suggested meeting him, I had no desire at all to meet anyone new. Now I have this insane need to go out there and let him hold me.” Marley came to the doorway where they were sitting. “Hello?” “Hello to you too. Mom, Cody is with me. I didn’t tell him that his sister was here until I made sure she was. He’s been hanging out with me while the kittens were being born.” Marley kept looking at her, then at his mom.
“Why do I feel like I’ve just interrupted something?” “You didn’t. Come here, Marley. Tell me if Sin is your mate.” Before he could move to do that, even if that had been his plan, Cody came rushing into the room and grabbed her. Morgan left her there with her brother when Marley sat where his mom had been sitting. “Sin, I’m so glad you’re here.” Cody went on about how he’d watched kittens being born. How he could change his clothing and now had his own bed in the big house. Sin didn’t pay any attention to him and was shocked when he snapped his fingers in front of her face. “You’re zoned out. Are you all right?” “Yes. I’m just fine. And I heard you. Sort of.”
She hugged him again, tickling him until he called for mercy. When he left them to go help out front, she looked at Marley. “You’re him. My mate, aren’t you?” “I am yours, yes.” She asked him what that meant. “It means that I belong to you forever. You’re very beautiful, aren’t you?” “I don’t know about that, but I don’t look like a hag.” He laughed, and Sin joined him. “I’m not sure why I feel all right with this. I’ve been keeping men at a distance my entire life. However, with you here, I feel as if I’m settled. That my life has a purpose again. Or something like that. Am I making any sense?”
“Yes. I feel that way as well. Like I’ve been waiting for this moment all my life, and now that you’ve found me, I can rest easy.” He took her hand into his, and she felt a strange and powerful connection. “You’ve got magic now. And you’re an immortal. So is Cody. He’s a wonderful little boy. I’m sure you had a great deal to do with that.” “He’s going to need me.” Marley nodded and said he’d do whatever was necessary to keep them both safe. “It’s more than that.
I don’t want him to be pushed aside ever again. I need to make sure he’s better off than I ever was.” “Of course you do. And I’ll help you with that. The two of you are my priority from now on. I will bend mountains to make sure no harm comes to either of you again.” It was too easy, this thing between them. But she really couldn’t find any fault with it. Like she wanted to be mad at him for being so nice about this, but she was happy. “You’re thinking very hard. Is there anything I can help you with?” “I have so many thoughts in my head right now that I’m not sure how to make any sense of it all.” Marley didn’t tell her he understood but continued to hold her hand.
“Are you always going to be this…I don’t know, giving of yourself? While I can use it on occasion, I might need for you to get a little upset at me sometimes.” He laughed, and it brought a smile to her face. As they sat there, not really talking about much of anything, Sin realized that just that quickly, she’d fallen in love with the big man. She couldn’t find anything wrong with falling so quickly, but it did frighten her just a little. When the shop closed up, they all walked to the house. She was able to leave her car in the parking lot behind the place and enjoyed the freedom of walking in the cool crisp evening. Once they were at the house, she was shown around. The place was much larger than it looked like from the outside.
“Magic.” Sin asked Hanna if they all had magic. “We do. I’ve been able to get a great deal from a family of unicorns. Veni and Zippy are witches, Veni being the grand witch. Morgan, as you know, has been gifted more than anyone with her magic. Just so she could help the creatures she cares for.” “What about the others? Allison?” She told her what had transpired recently. “A phoenix? I don’t know that I ever thought they were real. I’m assuming there are a great many things that people think aren’t real that are living here.”
“You’d be right on that.” They were called to dinner then, and she followed the others into the largest dining room she’d ever seen. “You’ll need a faerie too. Cody has one already, but you’ll need one to help you out with the magic. After you get it, you’ll be able to hang out with him and have him do errands for you.” “A faerie.” They all laughed, and she wasn’t sure if they were telling her the truth or not.
Then, just as she was picking up her fork to have a bite of her dinner, a little person, no bigger than a lighter, sat on the end of her fork. “You’re real.” “I am, mistress. My goodness, but you’re glowing with happiness.” She thanked him and then looked around. “You’re going to be very happy here, I’m thinking. You and Marley are a good pairing. I’m glad to see that he’s going to be all right after what the other women did to him.”
As he explained what had happened with Piper and her mother, Sin was beginning to see that this family was one to be with. They cared for each other, and they loved with all their hearts. Marley asked her if she was all right. “Yes. I do think I am. I’m actually better than all right, to be honest with you.” He took her hand into his and kissed the back of it. “You’re a nice man, aren’t you, Marley? All of you are nice.” “Thank you. We had a good role model in our mom. She’s worked hard all her life to make us the men we have become.
And any one of us would die for her if it ever came to that.” Sin told him she could see that. “Thank you again. I’m thinking we’re going to get along just fine, aren’t you?” “I am. I might even manage to not make you pissy with me just to see your temper.” He said he didn’t have one. He was the most laid-back person in the family. “Good to know. You’ve just challenged me to see what I can do to get your self-control out of whack.”
It was perhaps the easiest evening she’d ever spent with strangers. Not that they were that for long, but it was nice to be able to sit around and talk about anything under the sun and not have to worry about impressing anyone. Not that she did that all that much. Sin liked to think she was her own woman. But this, being with this family, was something she’d never had as a child nor as an adult. She must have dozed off because when she woke up, she was in a large bed. The room was huge, with a large fireplace across the room. Getting up, not even sure what time it was, she headed to the bathroom en suite.
Taking a long and warm shower, she felt as if she could face the day a good deal better. Going to the kitchen, Sin realized she had slept past her normal time, and it was coming up on lunchtime. Morgan was playing with one of the kids while she made pies. “My name is Sammy. You must be Sin.” She said she was. “Cody is in my room getting a couple of books he wants to read. I’m going to help him with his homework when we get him to school. You want him to go to the school we go to, don’t you?”
“I don’t know anything about that school. Nor do I know what I’m doing right now.” He said he’d help her figure it out. While she was drinking a glass of juice, a gnome, an honest-to-goodness gnome, peeked his head out of Sammy’s pocket. “Is that for real?” “Yes. His name is Thad. He’s the king of all gnomes. He’s my best friend in the whole world.” Sammy took the little man out of his pocket and put him on the table beside her. “He’s going to retire, and he wants me to take over his job. I’m not sure how good I’ll be at it, but I’m going to give it my best shot.”
“I see.” She looked at Morgan, wondering if she was still asleep and dreaming this. Sammy took her hand and put a crystal on her palm. “Oh my, that’s beautiful. Where did you get it?” “These are all over the place around here. I got that one when I had my birthday last week. It’s for college if I want to go. Grandma Morgan said I could buy a college if I wanted to with that. I don’t know that I’d want an entire college, but it’s good to know I have options.” She laughed, then covered it with a cough when Sammy looked at her oddly.
“You’re overwhelmed, aren’t you?” “Yes. By a great deal, as a matter of fact. I don’t suppose I could ask you to tell me things like that a little at a time, could you?” He said he could do that. Cody joined them with several books that looked like first editions of ones she’d read as a child. “I used to love these stories when the teacher read them to us in school. I’ve not thought of the Stinky Cheeseman in years.” As Cody read the story to her, she enjoyed her lunch. Morgan had made nine pies by the time the boys were ready to go out of doors, and she helped her pack them up to give away. She asked her about that. “Oh, we have fruit here year-round.
So when I have a little extra, I try to make sure I give them to people who might enjoy them as much as I do making them. You should take a walk around to see what you can get into. I’m going to be going over to the seedlings here when these are finished. If you’d like, you can hang out with me.” “I’d love that.” And Sin knew she would, too. Marley had been called away, she’d been told, to see to a patient that fell at their home. While hanging out with Morgan, she learned a great deal more about where she would be living. Sin had no illusions that she’d not be living here with the rest of the family. It was the way it was meant to be, she thought.