Shade Cornwall did her best to help her mother and siblings escape that maniac known as her father, but she’d never acknowledge that. Their run ended abruptly when he tossed a Molotov cocktail into their moving vehicle. Her mother was burning, and it was all she could do to help save her and her siblings from the burning vehicle. As it ended up, her mother’s prognosis for survival didn’t look too good. Cliff Tate had just returned from a long stint out of the country. It felt good to be home. He didn’t hesitate to take in the kids from the burning vehicle while the driver and their mother were rushed to the hospital. Shade had no trust in men. Her father had seen to that. Cliff seemed to be a good man, but she’d had enough of men to last her a lifetime….
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Caitlynne’s job was difficult. Doing what she did for the government not only put herself at risk but any friends or family she had could become a target. When her sister was hurt, she blamed herself even though it had nothing to do with her directly. It didn’t matter. It was time for her to quit before someone she cared about ended up dead.
Cody Martin was a good attorney. Never appreciated at her job, she still never wavered in her loyalty. And when she was suddenly fired for no reason, she found it would be the perfect opportunity to start a business with her brother Matt.
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Cliff was glad to be home. He’d been out of the country for the last several months, and
he needed his own bed and was looking forward to meeting the family’s newest
members. As soon as he was able to get out of the jet and onto the ground, he wanted to
lay down and kiss the earth. Home. He was home.
“Son, you all right?” He hugged his dad, having only been able to do video chats
through an app since he’d left in order to see him. And he’d talked to him through their
link when he had a question about work. Cliff really missed his dad. Dad hugged him
just as tightly. “I’m assuming you’re happy to be here. As much as I’m glad you are.”
“You’ve no idea. I’m so ready for a home-cooked meal with all the trimmings
and the rest of the family shouting to be heard over everyone else. How are you, Dad?”
He told him he was better now that all his boys were home. “I bet you are. I’ve missed
you so much, Dad. All of you. Tell me about the others. Caitlynne and Cody.”
As he and Dad went to get his luggage from the baggage return, Dad filled him
in on everything. Not in a timely manner, but he enjoyed his dad jumping from one
story to the next.
“Joel is going to be a daddy. And then there are Cody’s brothers. Well, it’s only
Matt that is her true brother, but I sure do like Donald too. They’re raising Cody’s
sister’s children. Paige, I told you about her.” He said it was in the papers where he’d
been too. “My goodness, really? Well, she’s being taken up to one of those criminally
insane places. I have a feeling she’ll never make it there. Not just staying there, but I
don’t think the family means for her to live out her life. She’s a nasty sort of person, son.
About the nastiest, I’ve ever heard of.”
They decided to get a sandwich on the way home. He was starving, and Dad
said he could eat. That meant he was going to have a few burgers and a milkshake.
Dad’s “I could eat” was like he’d not eaten in ten days. Still, Cliff enjoyed himself just
hanging out with his dad.
By the time they were pulling up in front of a house he didn’t recognize, he was
starving again. Dad told him they were eating at Matt and Donald’s home because
Donald, a chef, wanted them to try some dishes he wanted to put on his menu. It would
be frou-frou food. Cliff just knew it.
But the smells coming from the back of the house told him Donald was cooking
like his mom had, with bacon grease in the fried potatoes and ham chunks in the green
beans, which had been simmering all day in the fat. Going into the beautifully
appointed kitchen, he was hugged by the rest of his family. Then he was introduced to
“You’ve been the topic of conversation for the last couple of days. I think that
any one of the single women, no matter the age, would snatch you up in a heartbeat if
you were single for too much longer.” He told Caitlynne that women loved him. “Sure
they do. You’ll keep your pants zipped up and your mouth virginal while I’m around,
buddy. I won’t have you putting notches on bedposts on my watch.”
They both laughed, as did his family. He was introduced to Matt and Donald
and then Kelly and Dani. Dad had told him about them, so he had a gift for them both
to welcome them to the family. Pulling out a suitcase he’d brought in with him, he
handed them each a large basket of things he’d picked up just for them.
“I went to this little coffee shop daily to get their hot chocolate and sweet rolls.
They made you both up a batch of it, so you can have some here when I visit. I have my
own stash, so you won’t have to share.” The little girl was very shy and hid behind her
brother. Cliff winked at her. “I also have you a doll. One, I had no idea when I got her
that she’d be just as pretty as you are. My goodness, you could be the model they used.”
The doll was a huge hit, and she went off to play with it. He asked Kelly if he
would like his special gift. The little man looked up at Donald, asking permission, and
Cliff thought he should have asked first before giving them gifts.
“Never be afraid to bring the kids something special from your travels, Cliff.
Later the four of us will go over the gifts you gave them and talk about where they
came from. It’s wonderful of you to think of them in this way.” He nodded at Donald
but felt bad. “I’m serious, Cliff. I’m so happy you’ve included them as part of your
family. The others have, and it’s been so much easier on them. What did he get you,
“Dad told me he was enjoying learning to carve animals in the wood. I did, too,
as a child. So, I got him something he’ll need to use for the rest of his days. It’s an entire
set of cutting tools. Dad told me he was a very responsible little guy and that he’d take
good care of them when I told him what I’d gotten him.” The knives were beautiful.
“You will be careful, won’t you, Kelly?”
“Yes, sir. Oh my goodness, they are really nice, aren’t they? Look, Uncle Matt,
they have my initials in them.” He’d thought that would be a good thing to do since
they were so expensive. “I love them, Uncle Cliff. You’re my uncle, right?”
He glanced at Matt, who nodded. “Yes, I guess I am since your aunt is married to
my brother. We’ll have some good times, kiddo. I’m going to be the fun uncle when we
hang out.” He would, too, since he had no plans of getting a mate until he was in his
nineties. Perhaps not even that soon. He was going to be forever known as the fun guy
to hang out with. “Why don’t we go out in the yard before dinner and find you a good
starting stick? I’ve been playing with carving since I was a kid, but I might need some
The three of them spent a few hours out on the deck playing with their toys. The
carving tools had been carved out of stone and bonded with an alloy that kept them
forever sharp. Dani played with her doll, making up stories to go along with the things
they were doing. She even went into the house and got her tea set that she’d gotten the
other day, and he shared a nice cup of green grass cuttings and water with her.
“I’m not allowed to have sugar in my tea cups. Uncle Donald said it’s messy and
unhealthy. He wants us to be healthy little buggers.” Cliff didn’t laugh, though he
wanted to badly. “I’m not sure I like being called a bugger, but whatever floats his boat,
as Grannie Lou says. Did you know I’m calling your daddy Grandpa too? He’s funny.”
“He is at that.”
When they were called into dinner, he was surprised to see that the kids were
going to eat in the kitchen. “I mean, I know it’s not my home or kids, but you don’t
allow them to eat with you?”
“It’s not that. Don’t get your underwear twisted up around your balls. As you
can tell, I’m betting right now that they perhaps didn’t want them subjected to the way
we talk when together.” He asked what they were having. “Us? We’re taste testing. The
kids are having pizza. Make their own pizzas, I guess.”
The talk around the table was loud, just as he was used to, and fun. Dad told
them about the day he’d had, and Cliff explained to them that he was never going to be
gone that long again. Joel called him a pussy, and all was right with the world.
When they entered the living room to talk, he pulled out the paperwork to give
to his brothers. They’d not look at it until tomorrow, as this was family time, and he
was all right with that. Cliff had a lot of unpacking to do, as well as the few things he’d
sent home before leaving.
It was well after midnight when he arrived home. The apartment he was renting
wasn’t all that large, nor was it very filled out. He had a bed, a table, and a chair. Then
he had two sofas he’d never sat in but had taken a few naps on. Smiling to himself as he
readied himself for bed, he thought he was asleep before his head hit the pillow.
The pounding at the door had him jumping out of bed and nearly shifting as he
woke. Going to the front of his place, he jerked the door open just in time to see a fire
truck and two ambulances parked outside. Glad now that he’d pulled on his pants, he
went into the early morning hour and watched what was going on.
A car had been set to flames. There were bundled-up people around it, but he
couldn’t make out who they were. Making his way to the car and the police, he was
stopped by no less than five people telling him they were glad he was back home.
“Cliff, do you think you could take the children into your home? I know it’s a lot
to ask, but I think it’s about to rain, and they’ve been through enough today without
getting soaked through too.” He said it would be fine. “Thank you. The mother isn’t
going to make it, I’m afraid. The oldest daughter, she pulled her out of the burning car
when their father, the fucking bastard, tossed a flaming cocktail at the car with his
After getting as much information as he could, Cliff took the four children to his
apartment. Shade was the oldest child at twenty-four—not really a child, he
supposed—but she’d been taken to the hospital with her mom. The others ranged from
the age of eighteen to ten. He got them bowls of cereal to eat, glad he’d ordered
groceries to be at his place when he arrived and set them on the couches to rest. Most of
them fell asleep before he was able to get blankets out for them.