Amelia wasn’t too happy with her mother, the grand witch when she told her she had a mate out there, and if she didn’t act fast, the man would die before she could claim him. Amelia was fine with her life just the way it was. Men tended to mess things up. Before she could argue her case, her mother tricked her into taking her powers, making Amilia the new grand witch.
Frazier Cross, along with younger brother Ewing, was giving a tour of one of the park’s caves when chaos erupted. The walls and ceiling were caving in on them. There was nothing he could do. They were all going to die….
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Jamie Kemp was good at her job. Working for the FBI in search and rescue as a dog trainer and handler was fulfilling work. Never laying down many roots, Jamie was ready to head out on assignment with her dogs at a moment’s notice.
Mark Cross and his family had lived in the Smoky Mountains for ten generations, and he loved the land, but of late, he was feeling rather lonely. Mark and his entire family were bears, black bears that blended into the wooded areas better than any wild ones in the park.
Jamie and her dogs were called in to find a missing woman. Instead, Jamie found herself in the crosshairs of a serial killer. Mark showed her pictures of the women this maniac had killed, and she could be their twin. And to complicate things more, Mark was her mate….
Sunny Meadows wasn’t a people person. She had anger management issues, and most of the time, she didn’t even like herself. Working as a government agent, Sunny found herself in the Smoky Mountains tracking down a serial killer. A run-in with a park guest landed Sunny in the hospital and off the killer’s trail.
Dexter Cross and his family were black bears and lived in the Smoky Mountains, where he worked as a ranger for the park where they lived. He was to deliver a gun and a badge to the injured agent. He’d been told she was caustic, but he wasn’t prepared for her being his mate too.
When the killer discovered that Sunny was injured. She was making a move to end Sunny’s life, and anyone else’s that got in her way. Will Dexter and his family be able to protect her?
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Amelia gave the list of things that had been Phil’s to the council. They weren’t happy about the fact that it went to non-witches, but she didn’t give a rat’s ass. Phil, as they had wanted, was dead—which he was—and he wasn’t going to be hurting anyone ever again.
“Once you found out where he was, why didn’t you take care of him later when they weren’t around.” She told them that everything still would have gone to them as they were the ones that had found him. “You could have taken care that it didn’t go to them somehow, couldn’t you? I mean, that’s a great deal of money, and we’ll get no part of it as they’re not witches.”
“Is that what this is about? You couldn’t pad your own money with his? Christ, no wonder it’s getting more and more difficult to keep witches from turning to the dark side. At least they don’t have to pay you guys when they make a little money on the side.” Number two told her to be civil to them as they were her council. “Perhaps you are, but that doesn’t mean I have to agree with you. And as usual, I don’t. The money has been given to them, and they’re the rightful owners of it. It’s done.”
It wasn’t, not really. The money was still in her possession, but the magic had been given to them. Unbeknownst to her, the entire family got the magic. There certainly was more than enough to go around. But she didn’t tell them that nor the fact that she’d been given a boost too. If they had gotten their heads out of their asses and not thought about themselves for a change, they should have noticed it. As it was now, she thought she could take them on and come out on top. Instead, she just let them talk among themselves about the injustice of the magic not coming to them. Then the five of them looked at her.
“We’ve made a decision.” She was just pissed off enough to ask them what it was going to cost her. “Good that you’re on board with us. We’ll take half your monies—there is a great deal of it, we know and have your magic spread out between the six of us. That way, we are compensated for your mistake.”
“What mistake would that be? The fact that you assigned me to make sure that Phil was no longer around, and I did that? Or the mistake I made in coming here to tell you the truth. Either way, you’re not getting shit from me or my magic. Also, and this might surprise you, too, I don’t give a shit if you were compensated or not. Not that you deserve anything, but you’re not going to get anything from me.” All she did was lift her hand, and the five of them disappeared. “Christ, love a duck.” She dropped to the floor.
“Hello, Amelia.” Amelia didn’t move from her position on the floor, not even to look up when she heard the woman speaking above her. It wasn’t that she didn’t know who it was. She just decided that she had better be paying her respects today. “Oh, do get up from there and talk to me. It’s been decades since I’ve had a conversation with you. Come now, get up.”
Not moving from the floor, she noticed that the five men that made up the witches’ council were gone. Not even the large elaborate desk they’d been sitting in was there any longer. Lying her head back on the floor, she spoke to the voice of the woman in the room with her.
“I didn’t kill them, did I?” She still hadn’t moved from the floor but raised her head just enough to look at the woman standing before her. “Mom, you look amazing. What have you been doing with yourself?”
“Thinking. Get up, Amelia. You’re going to make me get a crick in my neck like this, and I do need to speak to you.” She stood up, and a table and two chairs appeared beside her. “We’re having tea. Well, I am. You’re having some juice. In answer to your question, yes, they’re all five dead. You killed them, so when you leave here, I’d expect to take yourself someplace where you can rest. You won’t need to hide, darling. They’ve been causing trouble for far too long, anyway. Their magic, pitiful as it was, will come to you as well. You need to be prepared for it.”
“I told you before, I’m fine with what I have now.” They sat, and two under witches came to serve them. Not only were there several kinds of juice that she could choose from but there were fresh sandwiches and tea for her mother. “Why didn’t you do something about the five of them before today? I told you they were taking money that didn’t belong to them. Why today?”
“You were here to make sure that I can’t be blamed for their demise. You won’t either. I think that everyone will be thrilled to know that they’re dead. But with me being the grand witch, there would have had to be an investigation as well as an inquiry about shit. I’m not in the mood to go through all that. The way you took care of them will suffice the others more than adequately, I think. How have you been, darling?” She told her that she’d been great. “I’m so happy to hear that. I’ve been looking ahead—I know that you hate when I do that, but I’ve seen that you’re to have a mate soon.”
“You’ve said that to me before, mom. And my answer hasn’t changed in all this time. I don’t want a mate, and I have no need for one.
I’ve seen how mates can destroy each other enough for several lifetimes of meanness and pettiness. I’m not going to allow anyone to treat me less than I deserve to be treated. Like a person, not a dishrag.” She told her that this man would never do that to her. “I’m sure you’d like to think that, but all men are dirtballs, and we both know it. Remember my father? He was jealous of everything you did. Even though he could have been better himself, he had too much fun making us feel bad for our ambition and worth.”
Her father had been gone so long that she couldn’t remember his voice, much less his face anymore. Amelia couldn’t even remember the last time she’d been to his garden to talk to him, either. The faeries took care of it all the time, and since she and her father had never been close, she just stopped going to talk to him. It would have been the same way when he’d been alive, she thought with a little laugh. All one-sided. Though it would have been hers this time.
“I will agree that he was a terrible role model for you, but not all men are like him. It took me a few hundred years to figure that out on my own as well.” She said
that most were. “Perhaps you would know that better than me as I rarely have contact with anyone but you. However, you’ve met his brothers. And their wives.” She had to think about what she was saying and stood up twice before sitting back down on the chair.
“Mom, you don’t mean that I’m going to be mated to one of the Cross bears, do you?” Her mom smiled and nodded. Telling her that she was brilliant in the way she’d figured that out on her own. “I don’t think you understand how powerful they are in their own right. Not to mention the whole thing about me not wanting a mate. I’m sure I’ve explained that to you before, correct?” Her mother never listened to her when it came to what she wanted for her. She was as…well, as stubborn as she was at times.
“Sure you do. You just need to meet the right man. His name is Frazier. Such a good strong name, don’t you think? And he works with the elements of the earth when he works with his artistry. I’m not sure that he understands that he and the earth are a great deal alike, but you should see some of his work. Amelia, he’s a brilliant man, and he loves the earth as much as you do.” She didn’t bother speaking to her mom about it. She knew her feelings about having a mate. “He and his family will need you in the very near future, child. He, along with one of his brothers, will be dreadfully murdered if you don’t accept my word on this. As soon as you do, he’ll have all the power he needs to survive what is coming his way.”
“Just fix it, so he’s all right without me being his mate. You can do that, can’t you? For your only child? Mom, do you have any idea how much I’ve worked at being single.” She nodded at her. “Then you understand why I won’t do this. Just fix it up for them, and I’ll go about my merry little way. You and I will pretend that this conversation never happened. What do you think about that?”
“I’m dying, Amelia. I want to die, but it’s coming to me faster than I had thought when I made plans with the earth to bring the two of you together. You must listen to me when I tell you that Frazier will be a great man to you and not a better mate to have around either.” She asked her what she was talking about, fearful of what her mom might say to her. “I’ve been around longer than most of the earth, and its creatures, child. You know this. I am exhausted. More so than I’ve ever been. My magic, while strong, is boring to me too. Without a mate here, I have no one I can depend on. I know I can depend on you, but even that is becoming too much for me. I’m lonely and bored to pieces, child.”
“As you said, you can depend on me. I come to you every time you call for me, don’t I? I’ll always be here for you, Mom. I’ve said that to you before. Just call, and I’ll be right here for you.” She said that it wasn’t the same. She had no one to share with. “Of course you do. You can share with me.”
As soon as the words left her mouth, Amelia realized her mistake. Giving her mom the opening she’d been waiting for, Amelia knew she was going to be in big trouble. Her mom took her hand into hers, and the magic poured over her. Even as she was overpowered with her mom’s considerable magic, she could see the trouble that a man she thought was Frazier was going to be killed in. As soon as it occurred to her who he was, the magic pulled him to safety along with his brother.
Christ, she was going to have to sleep for years at the rate that the magic was coming to her. The magic and the knowledge that came with it made her head spin around. She was, at one point, sick with it. Just as she was thinking that it might be coming to an end, where the magic was all shared with her, another wave of it hit her, taking her under and out.
Waking up, she was in her old bedroom in her mother’s home. Sitting up, she sat there for several seconds until her head or the room, she wasn’t sure which it was, stopped spinning. Her body ached as well. Painfully in places that she’d forgotten existed on a person.
Finally thinking that she could move without falling over, she made her way into the hall to find her mom. Damn it, there was going to be hell to pay when she found her. She’d tricked her, plain and simple. Instead of finding her mom, Amelia found one of the under witches that worked for her.
“Where is she?” She bowed before her and told her she’d been lain to rest. “No, I mean…what do you mean she’s been laid to rest? She wasn’t to leave me right now. Where is my mom?”
“Your mother left you a message, my lady. Shall I bring it to you?” Amelia asked her to take her to her mother and bring her the note there. “She is in the faerie garden not far from here. As per her magic, once she had transferred the magic to you, she was magically put into the garden where she could rest until eternity. Also, per her wishes, she is not near your father. He is on the outer rim of the castle here so that he’d not disturb her during her resting time.”
The garden was just where she’d been told it would be. There were fresh flowers, most of them bachelor buttons, her mom’s favorite flower, around the small stone that marked her passing. The note she’d left for her only said that she loved her dearly and that she hoped that she’d be as happy as she was at this moment.
The stone was cold. However, she didn’t take her hand away once she touched it. Asking her what she’d done to her, Amelia cried. Her heart was broken. Her mother was gone, and she’d been given the magic that had all been hers. Also, her title of the grand witch. Another thing that she hadn’t wanted but was now in charge of.
Amelia decided it was time for her to go and see her mate. There was very little she could do but take him on now. Simply because she didn’t want a man in her life didn’t negate the fact that she had one. Her mother had always been tricky, but Amelia thought this was her biggest slick trick of all time.
Frazier didn’t speak to anyone as they made sure that Ewing, his youngest brother, was all right. He was still having trouble wrapping his mind about what he’d seen as well as felt when they’d been in the cave that—Frazier didn’t let his mind go there for now. He was outside of what had been a cave, and he was alive. As was his little brother.
There were other people with them. A large group who had needed the two of them to help on the walk. They were visiting the mountaintop where the first settlers had been. Their mark of time they’d spent up here was about his favorite part of tours in the summer. Frazier had been glad for the extra hands of his brother, too, when
everything went to shit because of two men that wanted to cause some trouble below them.
“Other than a few scratches, you both seem to be all right. The people, for the most part, are all right too. Scared, as you can well imagine, but it could have been a good deal worse, I’m thinking.” Nodding at Mark, afraid to open his mouth for fear of what would spew out, he didn’t even look up when he said his name. “Something more happened than the mountainside falling in on your group, I’m assuming. Do you want to talk about it?”
A bubble of laughter spilled from his mouth, and he closed his lips tightly, so he didn’t appear insane. At this point, he was starting to doubt his sanity. Mark didn’t leave him but sat there on the ground with him while he tried to gather a sense of what had happened and what he’d seen when everything went to shit. He did ask about the people that had been above them on the hillside.
“Both dead. Not because of the landslide they caused but because the TNT they were using to make the mountain come down exploded before they could get away. They wanted to split the mountain in two to get to the treasures they were sure were in there. The police are handling notifying their next of kin as well as the things that they left behind. When they’re satisfied with what they could get out of their bodies, they’ll turn them over to us. Not that I think it will—” Another burble of laughter before Mark spoke again. He then asked about the others in their party, the families that had been with him and Ewing on the trail that they’d been walking with them. “If you’re going to keep asking me the same questions over and over, this is going to take a lot longer than I thought. All are fine. One has a broken arm. They said that you tossed the man out of the cave when he seemed to freeze up. Also, cuts and bruises that will fade. I doubt their memories of this will fade, so—”
“There was a woman there. Not with us, but I saw her when I suddenly had this extra strength. Magic too. I could feel it even as I was feeling my last breath leave my body.” He looked at Mark. “I should be dead. All of us should have been dead the way that happened so quickly. To be honest, I’m not entirely sure why I’m not. That big assed bolder hit me on the head, and I could feel my life slipping away then I saw her.” Mark didn’t say anything. Over the last several days, they’d all gotten some magic from the kid Phil. He’d been hoarding black magic and money since well before their grandparents were born. Playing around with the magic couldn’t have prepared Frazier for the surge he’d gotten about an hour ago. “She’s my mate. I don’t know why I know that, but she’s my other half. And she’s a witch.”
“Amelia? I don’t know her last name, but she was just over at the house the other day. She’s very beautiful. Earthy too. I’m not sure why that word popped into my head when thinking about her, but that’s what I’m thinking.” He said that was her. Frazier then told him what he knew about her. “Grand witch? I didn’t know they were real. I mean, I would guess now that I have time to think about it that it makes sense. There would need to be someone in charge of their group.”
“It’s called a Coven. And her mother passed away, leaving all her magic to the two of us. Amelia is very old too. Several thousand years old. Much older than grannie
and grandda are. Again, I don’t know why I know this, but the information is simply right there for me to pick up.” Mark nodded. “Is that all you have to say about what I just told you? I’m only here because her mother decided to give her daughter all she was, and it saved me, and Ewing, along with those other people, is to nod at me? You do know that this isn’t anything that happens every day, don’t you? Shouldn’t you be, I don’t know, Christ, happy that we’re still here? I’m barely hanging on here, Mark.”
“Honestly, Frazier, you don’t look like you’re hanging on at all but over the deep edge of shit. What do you want?
Do you want me to be upset that you’re still here and not dead? Or that Ewing is all right? I’m sorry, but I can’t do that. I’m thrilled to death about all of this. If she had turned you into a toadstool to save you, I’d be just fine with that as well. Damn it, Frazier. Calm down and tell me when will we all get to welcome her to the family?” Frazier simply looked over his brother’s shoulder, and there she was. It was almost as if he could feel her coming near him. Mark turned to look as well and stood up when he did. “Hello again, Amelia. I’m so glad to welcome you to the family.”
“My mother is dead. She died so that I could save my mate. I’m not very thrilled about shit right now.” Mark laughed, and they both turned to look at him. “You think this is funny? That my mother is dead? I have news for you right now, buster. I’d gladly kill any one of you to bring her back.”
“I’m so profoundly sorry for your loss, Amelia. But I will be forever thankful that you were able to save my brothers from certain death.” He got down on his knees and put out his hands. “I pledge to you my undying gratitude. I am forever yours in anything that you wish from me. Except for harming my family.”
“I don’t want a mate. I don’t…Christ, I told her I didn’t want one, so I could go on with my life.” Frazier cocked his head and tried to figure out what she meant by that. “I will not be ruled by you, Frazier. I swear I’ll die before I give up any part of my life you demand of me.”
“You think I’m going to make you do something that you don’t wish? Or to ask you to do things that will make your life miserable? I’d never do that. You have it on the word of my grandparents’ hearts that I’d never do anything to harm you in any way. And I do believe that it would harm you terribly if I were to even suggest that you were to give up your magic.” Amelia told him that she didn’t believe him. “That’s all right too. Painful, I will admit, I won’t lie to you, but I can understand you’re not trusting me. We were thrust together by magic, strong magic, too, if I don’t miss my bet, and it’ll take us both time to get used to it. But as far as you being able to go on with your life, Amelia, I have no intentions of taking that away from you. I might well enjoy hanging out with you, too, if you were to allow it.”
She sat down on the ground and then stood up. A table and four chairs appeared beside them, and she told them to get up off the ground. In a matter of seconds, not only did another chair appear, but Jamie and Sunny joined them at the table. Neither of which seemed the least bit put out that they’d been brought here.
They were in the middle of the woods with the nicest table and chairs sitting atop a lovely floral rug he’d ever seen. With tea and, if he didn’t miss his bet, scones too
being served up by who, for some reason, he knew to be lesser witches. Amelia told him there was no reason for them to be uncivilized when he asked if this was normal for her.
While she answered questions from the women as they ate and drank their treats, Mark took him to the medics that had been dropped in by helicopter. There was going to be a big fucking mess to clean up—Well, perhaps not that big. Only the road would be cleared up so that travel could be made through here. The rest would be left where it had stopped.
Several hundred tons of rocks and other debris had traveled down the mountainside, and it hadn’t cared what it took with it on its way down to the waterway below. Frazier knew that in a few years, it wouldn’t be noticed that it was a newer landslide than the hundreds that had happened before today. The land would move on around it as if it had been put there for the sole purpose of making new growth.
Frazier was sitting where he’d been told even after he was given a healthy check-up from the team. They were still keeping an eye on him when Amelia joined him when he was just thinking about how he would be taking the next couple of days off to rest up. He’d already been told that by Mark. The department head at the park told him that was what he was going to be doing as well. Resting.
“You’re all right then?” Frazier nodded at Amelia, and she sat down on the stone that he’d been on. “I’m sorry for the way that I spoke to you before. I’m not nearly as bitchy as I was then. Most of the time, but I didn’t need to take my shitty mood out on you. But with losing my mom today and knowing that you’d been in the cave when it went down, I didn’t feel like I was supposed to be nice. Not that I am usually, but today has been a shitty day all around. I ask you for your forgiveness and tell you that I’ll try very hard not to take it out on you from now on. I said I’d try because I usually take my moods out on anyone around me when I’m pissed off.” They both laughed a little.
“I’m still reeling from the cave incident too. I can’t call it a near-death thing, as that’s just too much for my mind to take in. If you’d not received her magic and passed it on to me, I’m not sure…I am sure that we’d not have survived in there. None of us would have. So I have to be thankful for that. However, I am sorry about your mother. I’ve never met her, but if she raised you, then she couldn’t have been all that bad, right?” She laughed and said her mother had given up on her decades ago to be anything but what you see today. “Yes, well, my grannie is still trying to get me to behave all the time. All of us, as a matter of fact.”
“Mom passed her magic to me, well, the two of us. I’m not entirely sure what all that entails at the moment. Because, like you, it’s been a lot to go over in the last twenty-four hours. However, you and your family are immortals that much I did want you to know about in the event you didn’t get it through our connection. Your grandparents are elderly, I’m to understand, so they don’t have to be. But they’ll never be hurt or sick again. Even their bodies will be given a boost, and they won’t hurt at all, even from the most severe aches they might have.” He thanked her for that. “My skin feels like it’s crawling over me I’m getting so much magic right now. How do you feel?”
“I’ve been trying my best not to think about it. However, the strangest part is that I know about the magic I’ve been given and how to use it. Rules, too, on what I can and can’t do with it. Is that something you gave me?” She thought it had been her mind as she didn’t know some of the things that her mother had. “I guess I can see that. I have the next couple of days off to rest up. I’d like to use that time to get to know you better. Nothing sexual or untoward, but just getting general information on you. There is a great deal of it in my mind, but it’s all in bits and pieces right now. Besides, I think I’d like to get to know you through you. If that’s all right.”
“I’d like that. However, there is a huge list of things I have to do with the witchcraft that my mother passed to me. Also, I killed the council just before I was to meet up with my mom. I need to figure out what I’m to do about that as well.” He asked if he could help. “I’d like that. But we won’t be around here while working, at least for now. Mom has…had several homes, and one of them, where she did most of her work, is where I need to be. I’d like it if you were to come along with me.”
“Will my family still be able to get in touch with me?” She said that so long as they had a link to him, then there wouldn’t be a problem. “Good. I’d hate that they might need me and couldn’t find me. Also, you should exchange blood with them so they can contact you as well. If you don’t mind.”
“No, I wouldn’t mind that, but if I need them, or you need someone you don’t already have a connection with, you only need to reach out to them. As a familiar to my grand witch, you’re as powerful as I am. Perhaps more so with you being a shifter bear.” He could only nod at that. It was becoming overwhelming to him again. “How about we just go to the house and work from there? It’ll be much more relaxing there than here with all this going on, and we’ll spend our time getting things squared away between us.”
It was settled then. The two of them would work with the things they’d inherited and get to know each other as well. While he didn’t know where they were going to be staying, just that it was home while working, he decided to ask her about packing himself a bag.
“You won’t need anything you can’t pull out of the air. However, whatever you want to have, it can’t be extravagant. Just the necessaries. You already have the ability to change your clothing at will, correct?” He said that he did. “The house that we’re going to will be prepared for us both. In that, it will accommodate itself to things we’ll need. Toothbrushes, linens, and such. There will be under-witches there, too, that will strive to make food for you that we wish to eat as well. But if you need anything else, just ask. I’m sure you’ve enough knowledge about magic to know the rule in making your life better and about returning to whatever you borrowed from back three times.” Frazier told her that he did know that rule.
Having a few days off didn’t mean he wouldn’t rest with Amelia. Getting the extra magic had zapped both of them badly. Not in pain, not really, but the magic that was working through his body was making him exhausted all the time. Amelia suggested that he drink a great deal of juice and eat fresh fruits and vegetables to battle the fatigue they were both having. Once they were where they were headed, he thought
that a good nap would help him out. It was that, or he was going to be falling asleep in his soup.
Laughing, he wondered if he asked for potato cheese soup, would someone make it for him. It was Frazier’s go-to quick comfort food. And if there was a loaf of homemade bread to go with it, he’d be as happy as he’d ever been with that. While having no idea why that had popped into his head, now it was all he could think about having.
Telling his family where he was headed, he went with Amelia to the home. They had the power to make themselves come and go as they pleased, but he was thrilled when she suggested that they take his truck to the opening of the house. Like him, he thought that she was overwhelmed too.
He didn’t know what he had expected when she said they’d be working from a house that a grand witch owned. It was like a large hotel setting with the most beautiful gardens he’d ever seen. Not picking any of the flowers, he did stop at some of them to smell their strong scents before moving on. Even the trees, full of blooms and fruit, were beautifully maintained and healthy.
As with the witches in the household, plenty were working in the gardens as well. Some of them weren’t as young as others, but they all worked well together. He asked her if there was any kind of prison, not having any idea where that thought had come from.
“No. I remember there might have been one centuries ago, but it has long since been abandoned. Even with taking their craft from them when they’d be put behind bars, most of them would be able to escape. Or harm those that were caring for them. After a time of losing more than we were imprisoning, mom did away with it and dealt with their crimes in a quicker way.” He asked her if that meant death. “It does. I think because of that, there was less crime. If you have it in your head when you start some shit that if you’re caught, you’re most assuredly going to die, it keeps most people on the good side of the rules. Not that we don’t get an occasional bad witch, but we deal with them the same way.”
He was shown around the house by one of the witches. Amelia had to take care of some personal business before she could sit down and talk to him. Frazier was fine with that. Walking about her ancestral home was as much fun as he’d had in a while. Then he came across one of his pieces of art. Amelia joined him near the work just as he was looking for the year on the painting.
“Mom loved to collect art made with natural things. I hadn’t any idea this was yours until just now. She was right in saying that you were brilliant. The way you’ve used what you found in the world to create such a piece makes me think she was also right that you’re as one with nature as I am. I pull from the elements as I’m sure you will be able to do now too.” He said he used sticks he found in the woods to paint with. And the colors from other things like flowers, moss, and leaves when he needed a certain color. “You’ll have to set you up a studio here too. I’m sure you can find yourself plenty of colors here that you might not have on the mountain where you lived.”
Frazier was glad that he was shown a bedroom when supper was over for the two of them. He was positive that his head hadn’t hit the pillow before he was out. Exhaustion had never taken him under so quickly before in his life.