Colin McCulloughs Jamboree Release Blitz 2/22/16

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Colin McCullough gets the phone call that all military families dread?his brother Hawkins has been shot. Colin only wants to thank Hawkins’s commanding officer for saving his brother’s life, but he can never seem to get past the guards in the hospital’s hallway to personally thank the man.

Major Lauren Burcher is all Army and head of a special task team usually sent in to clean things up. This time, her team is ambushed by friendlies, and Lauren and her best man Hawkins McCullough barely make it out alive?they were set up. Someone wants them both dead.

Another attempt on Lauren’s life in the hospital fails miserably, and when Colin scoops her up in his arms to place her back in the hospital bed, he finds a gun pointed at his forehead at point blank range. In that moment he realizes this bad-assed scary woman is his mate.

Lauren wants no part of this mate business. Relationships get messy and this jerk is bossy as hell. And Lauren doesn’t take orders…she gives them. But it will take all of them, his family and hers, to keep her and Hawkins alive….

 

 

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All Romance

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Prologue
Run. The single word screamed through her mind over and over while she lay hidden in her hiding place under the bed. They were at it again. Her parents never let the setting of the sun go by without hitting and screaming at one another, usually both. Sometimes her as well.
At twelve, RaeAnn just wanted to be safe. And even as young as she was, she knew other families weren’t like hers. She wished every day that she’d not been born…at least not to these people.
The door to her room slammed back against the wall and startled a small whimper from her. Putting her hand over her mouth, she tried her best to not make another sound. Even breathing hard would bring her pain from them. The dark shadow could be either of them. Both her parents had a large build, long hair, and thick, mean hands.
“Girl!” her father screamed. “Come on out here. See to your mother so we can go to bed. You hear me? I said to get your skinny ass out here and fix her face up. It’s bleeding from some kinda cut.”
RaeAnn wouldn’t help either of them by coming out of her hiding place. She’d learned her lesson the hard way about giving aid to one or both of them. Once she’d done what they wanted her to do, they’d find some little flaw with it and would knock her around until she was in worse shape than they had been. When the bed over her was suddenly gone, she held her breath harder, hoping that he’d not come any closer to her hiding place.
RaeAnn had skipped school over the course of several weeks to make this hiding space for herself, working until she was too exhausted to go on most days. Her parents were gone, no doubt to find somewhere that was giving something away, or digging through the dumpster to find a few thrown-away things that they could sell for a quick buck or two. They worked harder at that than they ever had at a job, she thought. But it was long enough for her to have gotten all the work done she needed without them knowing what she was about. Her hidey hole was perfect, so long as they didn’t come too far into her room.
She’d taken up the floorboards. Most were rotted anyway and had been easy to remove. Then she’d dug out the dirt, just enough that she could use old bricks that had been stolen long ago to shore up the floor of the hole. Then she’d taken the dirt and filled old pop and beer cans to make up the rest of the walls around her when the bricks were gone. The place beneath her bed had less wind coming in than the room that she slept in, too.
“Girl, where the fuck are you?” He stomped into the room deeper, holding the dripping knife he had in his hand like he still meant business. Still she didn’t move, even when a drop of whatever was wet on the knife dripped down on her cheek. RaeAnn knew that it was blood, his or her mother’s, but she didn’t move an inch to even wipe it from her. It was simply too dangerous right now.
He was standing on the last solid board before he got to the ones she’d had to makeshift to get her place ready; the first of many that she’d not removed to hide because it had been too solid for her to move without any tools, which she supposed was a good thing. One more, even half a step, and he’d be on top of her. His weight would crash upon her when he broke through to her.
Run, her mind screamed at her. Run now! But even if she did, there was no safe place for her to go. No neighbors that would offer her help, and certainly no one close enough that she could get to before one or both of her parents caught up with her again. Living in the middle of nowhere as they did, and using a long since abandoned house, there were little to no luxuries for her to use as a source of comfort.
No power and no heat. Water for some reason was plentiful, but it was ice cold even in the dead of summer, and even colder when there was snow on the ground, as there was now. Its source, as far as she could tell, was an underground well. A long hose from it to the house had given them at least some way to clean themselves…if her parents ever tried, that was.
They used lanterns for light mostly, but there was seldom money left over after beer and pop was bought to supply them with much more than a thimbleful of lantern oil. Candles, mostly birthday ones and some scented ones that would stink up the place rather than improve on the odors, would be what she’d do her homework by.
“Where is she?” Her mother stood in the doorway, her hulking frame blocking out the little moonlight that came in through the broken window in the living room. “She run off again?”
“Don’t see her, do you? Fucking moron. What the fuck is wrong with you? Ain’t you done heard me calling out for her to come and help you out? She’s not in here now, is she?” Her mom called her father an asshole and they were at it again. This time in her room.
As they tumbled out, their fists hitting whatever was close enough to them, she heard them grunting in pain. Nothing was safe. RaeAnn cried silently as they continued to fight. Nothing in her room was worth worrying about, nor was there anything that she treasured.
It wasn’t long before the silence became enough that she knew they’d either killed each other, which she prayed would happen nightly, or they’d finally tired themselves out. RaeAnn didn’t move. She wasn’t stupid enough to think that the coast was clear just yet. Another ploy that she’d been caught in. She would wait them out, even if it took all night.
RaeAnn must have dozed off at some point. Her room was deadly silent, the place bright with the sun. There wasn’t any sound coming from the rest of the house, so she moved her body first, trying to work out the sore places before she stood up. If she had to run, she wanted to be as ready as she could be.
They were gone. She could see that now. Lifting herself out of the hole, she could see beyond to the other room. The shack was only the three rooms, not even a bathroom inside the place other than a commode that rarely worked and the hose that was brought in from the well in a curtained off area in the living room to wash-up with
when it was necessary. RaeAnn did a wash up every day, but she knew that her parents did only when it was too much for them to sleep together. Moving out of the house, she kept an eye out for them.
She had no coat or shoes that she could put on despite the cold weather. They were both somewhere in the house, she knew that. But she could only use them when she was going to school, and had to remove them both and turn them in every day to whoever was there when she got home. It was like the library, she thought…only on loan to her until she could no longer wear them. Which was pretty much where she was with both pieces of clothing now.
Not bothering to grab up anything, RaeAnn made her way out of the house and took off at a run toward the woods. She had no idea what was this way. The bus picked her up about a mile from the house in the opposite direction, but she figured that this was her best bet at getting away. This time, RaeAnn thought, she was staying away from them.
Her feet were hurting when she’d gone no more than an hour from the house. But she didn’t stop. Stopping now would get her caught, so she kept her eye on the mountain in front of her—her guiding light, so to speak—and kept going. She’d make it or die, which was a good possibility right now. RaeAnn was cold and starving, but she was freer now than she’d ever been.
It had been dark for some time when she came upon the barn. Cows and a bull had been in a field that she’d gone around, and she’d kept an eye on the massive bull that seemed to move along with her but yet never came at her. When the barn’s light went off, RaeAnn stood by the tree she was nearest as a few deer moved, then the light flickered on again. As she watched, the light went off and on twice more before the deer moved on, and she knew they were the cause of it.
Slipping into the barn had been easy. It was a good deal warmer than it was outside, and the snow had just begun to fall again. Several inches blanketed the ground already, and RaeAnn knew that she was making the perfect path for her parents to find her. But right now, she was too hungry and hurting too badly to care if they found her or not. She moved to the bales of hay and lay down on the parts that were broken off. RaeAnn knew that she should keep moving, but decided that she could do so better if she had a little nap.
~~~
Peter kissed his lovely wife on the cheek as he made his way out to the barn. They had a lot of things to do today, and one of them was to put together the new baby bed that had arrived just yesterday. In three months they’d be parents, and he was as tickled about that as he could be.
As soon as he opened the barn door, he knew something was wrong. A girl was standing at the feed bin to one of his prized cows, talking. And she was eating the feed and telling the poor cow staring at her that she was so sorry, but her belly was too empty for her to not take what she could. Peter cleared his throat as gently as he could, and fell back when she came at him with a pitchfork. As it was, he was pinned tightly against the barn wall as she stared at him with more fear than he had.
“I’m not gonna hurt you.” Nothing, just that…it took him a few seconds to realize that she was fevered. “You need me to call someone for you? I can. My wife is just in the house and I can have her call your parents for—”
“I won’t go back.” He nodded, not sure what she meant, but right now he’d agree with her if she told him he was a woman. “I won’t go back. Please don’t make me.”
“All right.” He reached for his wife and told her what was going on. He also told her to bring her medical bag. He thought the girl was sick and his wife might be able to help her before he called the police. “My wife is coming out now. She’s a doctor and can help you.”
“I don’t want to go back there. Don’t make me, please.” The door opened and he didn’t look to see if it was his wife or not. The girl still had the fork at his chest, and he knew that if something startled her, he’d never see his child being born. “I won’t go back.”
“I won’t make you. You just have to let me go now.” He looked her over, trying to see if there were any other weapons on her that he needed to know about, and saw the blood on her bare feet. “Where are your shoes? And coat?”
“It’s not a school day.” He had no idea what she meant by that, but she continued before he could ask. “I can’t have them unless it’s a school day. Please don’t make me go back.”
“Put that down right now.” Peter closed his eyes when Mary spoke harshly to the girl. “What do you think you’re doing? I said put it down.”
The glazed look turned from him to look at his wife. Peter wanted to knock the fork away, but he knew that being stupid right now would get them both killed. The girl’s hand started to tremble and the fork came closer to his chest.
“I don’t want to go back.” Mary told the girl that she wasn’t going anywhere, that she needed to put the fork down. The girl looked at it like she only just realized that she had it, and it lowered to the floor. “I can just go now. I can just leave and you don’t have to worry about me coming back. I’m not going back there again.”
“Come on now, you just sit right down and let me have a look at those cuts.” Mary spoke softly now as she took the fork from the girl completely and handed it to him. “Peter, go on up to the house and run a bath…well, make that a shower. And find me something that I can soak her poor feet in.”
Nodding, he didn’t want to leave his very pregnant wife with this child, but she seemed to have things under control at the moment. There was something very off about the girl and it frightened him, not just a little. But Mary told him she was just fine and for him to put the kettle on too.
“I don’t think we have time for tea, Mary. This girl tried to kill me.” Mary only patted him on the cheek and told him to go on now. He was in the house filling the kettle before he realized she’d out moved him. Again.
Ever since he’d met her, thinking her well out of his league, she’d been out moving him. He’d say something and she’d sort of agree with him, but he’d end up doing it her way anyway. Usually she was right…well, she was always right. Like them buying this
farm and raising cattle. Some of them big things, others not so much, but she’d bring him around to her way of thinking before he knew what hit him. She was good at that.
When he went back out to the barn, the girl was asleep. Mary told him she’d given her something for pain, and her exhaustion and starvation had taken her under. He looked at the girl now and could see that wherever she’d come from, it had been a long hard way.
“I don’t think she’s eaten a proper meal in a good long time, if ever. And she kept telling me that she’d not go back. I was wondering if you’d do me a favor.” He knew what she wanted and he wasn’t going to do it. “We have to know if they’re in worse shape than she is. What if someone came to wherever it is she was living and killed her whole family, and she got away?”
“That’s pretty farfetched, even for you.” She did that smile thing again, the thing that made him fall in love with her the moment he’d first seen her. Even before he realized she was his mate. “You want me to go and find where she’s been and see if her family is dead. They could be the ones that were abusing the poor thing; you know that, right?”
“I do.” He started peeling off his shirt. “When you get back, I’ll have you a thick stack of pancakes and some bacon all ready for you. And if you run into trouble, you can call me and I’ll come and rescue you.”
“I don’t care for you much right now.” She laughed, and he bent to pick up the girl when Mary started to. “I’ll take her in the house, but I want you to stay away from her until I get back. Promise?”
“I’ll try to keep away from her.” As they made their way into the house, his burden, he just realized, was lighter than most of the animals they had on the property. Peter decided that he didn’t mind so much that Mary was smarter than him. He loved her that much. He asked Mary how the girl had fared this long. “She’s been starved, Peter. And I don’t think this is a recent thing. Look at her feet and hands. She’s been running for a long distance for some reason, and it frightens me to think she was out there all night without anything to keep her warm or fed.”
“I’ll go and see what I can find.” He laid the girl on the bed and then looked at Mary. “Don’t let her hurt you, love. You’re all I have in the world.”
“We’ll be fine, I promise.”
Peter let his cat take him. His jaguar was glad for the change and stretched twice as he made his way to the kitchen to leave. Again he told Mary to be careful, and she promised him she would. Peter had the girl’s scent, but he only had to follow the footpaths in the snow to find where she’d come from. The blood mixed with the wet falling snow was like a calling card for his cat.
He’d gone perhaps five or six miles when he came upon the building. He was sure that the girl had come from there. Her scent had let him right to it. But to call it a home…Peter was sure that his falling down shed at home had fewer holes in the roof, and the wood would hold out a bit more of the cold too.
Peter didn’t get any closer to it than ten feet because there were humans inside, but he knew that he had to eventually. The scent was fresh blood, and he needed to be
assured that no one else inside was hurt. He was sure, as sure as anything he’d ever felt, that the girl at his house had spent if not her whole life there, then the biggest part of it. His heart broke for her.
The loud voices were violent in nature, and he knew that the sounds coming from the house were people fighting, not just verbally but physically as well. As he made his way closer to the house, he kept an eye out for anyone coming out of the falling down building. Peter didn’t want to get in the middle of anything that was going on right now.
The child had come from this house; he knew it when he crossed over the broken steps onto the porch. There was no doubt about it. And the scents also told him that the people living there had had contact with her. They were related, the three of them, and he was pretty sure that the girl was running from them. As they fell out of the house and into the yard, still hitting each other, Peter made his way into the house through the broken door at the back of the wrap-around porch that had seen better days.
Peter nearly left again, thinking that this could not be a place where people were living, a home. Or what was left of one. But he made his way around the bigger room and found that the girl had been in there a great deal. Then he made his way to one of the other rooms that shot off from the larger one in the middle.
It was hers. He knew that from how strong he could smell her. The bed was broken and shattered against the wall and the floorboards had been ripped up at some point, and he knew that was where she’d hidden before leaving. Peter looked around the room and could see that while it was dirty, it was better kept than the room he’d just left.
There were no pictures on the walls, no girly things to indicate that a child lived there. The bed had a threadbare blanket on it, and no pillow to speak of. The mattress was thinner than his overcoat that he wore in the fall, and the neat stack of clothing in the corner was small and pitiful even for a child. Not even a dresser to put things on, much less inside of it. He moved to the deep hole and looked inside.
Haven. That was all he could think of when he saw what she’d done. Because to Peter, there was little doubt that she’d done this to keep herself safe. Looking around again, he tried to imagine living there. Hearing those people still screaming at each other in the yard, he could not fathom how a person could stand this every day of their life. Moving back through the bedroom, he looked into what he thought was used as a living room.
A couch that was held up on one end with a cinder block sagged dangerously in the middle. The person who chanced sitting there would spill out onto the floor if they weren’t careful as to how they sat. No television graced the walls, and that was when he realized there was no hum of power in the house. The heat, too, was off, if there had ever been any, and he was chilled when an errant breeze blew through the open door.
A curtain was hanging across an area in front of him. Moving slowly toward it, testing the floors as he went, Peter was almost afraid to see what was there; the bathroom, or a makeshift one. A commode sat over a too large hole in the floor, with no plumbing to speak of, and that thought made his belly slightly ill. A hose hung from a
hole in the wall with a dirty towel next to it. The dripping water was freezing in a long stream beneath it, and looked as lethal as any knife or tool he had at his home.
Backing out of the room with the toilet and to his right, he moved through the curtain into another bedroom. A mattress on the floor looked as flat as a board, and probably no more comfortable. Several pillows of varying thickness, from paper thin to almost an inch thick, were at the head of it. Against the walls, all the way around, were piles of junk.
Broken games, torn books, heaters that had been torn apart—for parts, he assumed—and tossed aside instead of dealt with were in the trash. Newspapers that were yellowed with age. Boxes of dented canned goods that he knew were bad even from where he stood. Open bags of chips and popcorn were spread everywhere. Candy bar wrappers and junk food galore littered nearly every available surface of the nasty floor, along with dirty stacks of clothing, stiff with dirt and filth.
Cardboard, like in the other two rooms, covered the windows. There was a little plastic on one of them, but it had long since broken free of the push pins that held it there. It flapped in the wind much like the pretty flag that his wife had in the yard that had their last name on it. Burcher.
Peter? I can feel that you’re upset. What did you find? He didn’t want her to know, but knew also that keeping it from her would eat him alive. He told her what he’d found and who the people were the girl was hiding from. Oh, that poor little thing. To live like that. What do you think we should do?
Peter wanted to tell her that he was going to kill them both, tear their throats out and leave them for the rats and buzzards to fill their bellies on. The feeling was something that he’d never had before, not in all his twenty-seven years. But he also knew that he’d regret it, even if he felt good about it now.
Don’t call the police. Don’t tell anyone that she’s there. And if she wakes and tells you that she’s not going back, you assure her that she isn’t. Not so long as I’m alive she won’t. He heard the couple on the lawn again and moved to the window to get a good look at them. These people deserve to die out here. Where no one will know who they are. And they don’t deserve to have that little girl. People like them should be…Mary, I want to kill them both where they are.
Come home to us. He said he was on his way and looked at the kerosene heater that burned in the living room. The heat, what little the heater was giving off, was being whisked away by the cold that blew through the house like it wasn’t even there. He moved the pillow that had fallen to the floor just a little closer to it. To his way of thinking, if they found it, great; if not, what were they out? Nothing as far as he could see. As he left the house, he decided that he hoped they didn’t find it. He thought they should suffer as much as the child had that was in his home.
“Where is that fucking girl? RaeAnn, damn you girl, when I find you, you’re going to hurt for a damned month this time.” Peter paused to listen to the man yelling again. “RaeAnn Richards, I’m going to beat your ass again. See if I don’t.”
You won’t, Peter thought as he moved out of the broken window. The flame started to flare up just as he heard the man outside stomping his way up and onto the porch
before hearing the jingle of keys somewhere. Hiding deep in the trees, Peter watched the man make his way to a part of the yard he’d not noticed to the big car that had been covered with dead branches and trees. As soon as the engine roared to life, Peter knew that by the time they returned, the house or whatever it was would be gone, and so would all traces of the girl he and Mary were going to raise as their own.
Peter made his way back to his house. He was feeling better about what he’d done to the house with every step he took. It wasn’t fit to live in, he thought, and now that it was gone, perhaps the people there would move away and forget they had a little girl. Although he was pretty sure they’d done that already. After shifting to his human side and dressing, Peter kissed his wife and told her what he’d done.
“Good.” He cocked a brow at her, thinking that she’d be at least a little upset with him over it. “Damned people. They should be horsewhipped.”
His wife never cursed, and to hear her to do so now made him realize that something more had happened. He asked her about it and she burst into tears. Taking her to the bedroom where RaeAnn still slept, he watched in horror as she pulled back the blanket that laid over her and showed him what she’d discovered.
“They branded her. Who does something like that? They put a hot iron to her skin and burned it. Just like she was one of our cows.” He ran his finger over the newly burned skin and felt his heart break. “There are scars on her back too. Like they’d beaten her with a whip. And her feet, they’re going to take a long time to heal. The poor thing. I don’t want to let her go, Peter. We have to keep her here and safe.”
“We are. We will.” He heard the sirens screaming by the farm and smiled. He knew it would be a total loss, and he was even more glad he’d done it now. “Her name is RaeAnn Richards. When she wakes up and is feeling better, I’ll have someone fix up the paperwork with her a new name and identity on it.”
“Good. She’ll be a Burcher and we’ll love her as our own.” Peter hoped it would be that way, but for all they knew the girl was just as bad as her parents. Then he thought of the hole she’d made.
“She’ll be a good girl. And we’ll make sure she has what she needs too.” Yes, Peter thought as he held Mary, she’d be a good addition to their family. Now he had to figure out how to tell her that her new parents were jaguars

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Cormac HARRISON AMBUSH book two Release Blitz & Winner Announced 2/8/16

Cormac Harrison, Mac to his family and friends, has a good thing going. He has a brand new home, a successful business, and is truly happy with the direction his life is heading.


Andi Collins can’t seem to catch a break. The last time she’d encountered her father, she’d ended up in the hospital. Now, Stormy Harrison, is giving her a break and helping her get back on her feet. So when this big handsome man tells her that she’s his mate she’s scared to death.


Mate. She’d heard the term before. And what it meant. She would belong to him. Not just him, but whoever he wanted to sell her to. Andi reached for the door handle, thinking that rolling from a moving car would be better than being passed around like a napkin at a banquet hall.


“Don’t do that.” He reached for her hand just as she touched the handle. “Please, just listen to me and I’ll explain.”


“I don’t need you to explain. I know what mate means. My friends at school, they told me what happens when you become a mate to men. And what they didn’t tell me, my father and aunt explained the rest. Mates use you, and then when they’ve had enough, they pass you around to all the other men they know. I won’t have it.”


The car suddenly stopped. Her seatbelt cut into her neck, and she nearly hit her head on the dash it stopped so abruptly.

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Chapter 1  
“It says right here that this is the way we are supposed to do it. Not the way you’re showing us. I need for you to back away from the equipment and let me do it my way. That’s what is going to work,” Elton grumbled. Mac wondered if he found Stormy and asked her to shoot this man, if she would do it. Of course she would, he thought. And would smile while doing it. “You can’t tell me that your way is better when I know better. You’re just trying to mess things up for me.” “Oh, but I can and I am. There is nothing saying that we can’t improve on the way this line is run. And this way, the way that you’ve been doing it up until now, is why this business is losing money. And losing money is the best way for them to close down and for you to be out of a job.” The man only huffed at him, pointing out yet again that the instructions said that his way was the most efficient way. “Yes, it might have been, fourteen years ago when you had this equipment put in. But short of putting in an entire new work line, you’re going to have to trust me on this. I know better.” “So you say, but I’m under the opinion that you don’t know what you’re talking about. I don’t know why you were hired in the first place. You know nothing about this production line, and as soon as I can convince my bosses—and I will—that you have this all screwed up, we’re going to go back to doing it the correct way anyway.” Mac stood up straighter and felt his cat run along his skin. “You can get huffy with me all you want, but I know what is best for this company. I’ve been working here since their father opened the doors, and I’ll be working here long after they’re bored with it and go about their business.” Mac said nothing, but moved away from the man as he pulled out his phone. He had to talk to someone who was reasonable, and dialed the first number on his phone. When Storm answered, he had to smile. From the sound of her voice, she wasn’t having any better of a time than he was.  “Did you know that when you put a box on the line that there are all kinds of infrared lights that can read not only what’s in the box, but even where the fuck it’s supposed to be going? That the system is specifically made to do just that?” He told her he did, as a matter of fact. “Well, smart ass, did you know why it’s not working here at Ship It? The reason why we were called in to fix it?” “The machines aren’t calibrated? The lights are too bright around it to let it be read properly? There are any number of reasons for it not to work.” She snorted at him, something that he’d come to love about her. It conveyed so much, her snort. “Why is it not working at Ship It?” “They turned it off. I mean, like they just went to the line, tore out all the wiring, and then turned it off at the computer system when it kept telling them that it didn’t work. Not only that it wasn’t working, but also exactly where it wasn’t working. And now you have to ask me why they would turn off a multimillion dollar piece of very important equipment when they advertise that that’s what they use to get your packages to you on time?” He started to laugh, telling her he had no idea. “It didn’t 
match their uniform shirts that they’re required to wear when they work. The red—and this is no fucking lie—the red clashed so badly with the orange shirts that the owner’s daughter complained. Because she picked the color and hated the way it looked when the boxes went by. How fucking stupid do you have to be? I’m not kidding you. It’s a good thing you made me leave my gun at my house when you sent me here. Otherwise, we’d be calling in the big time lawyers that I’d need for a lawsuit. Someone would have been dead about ten minutes ago. What’s up with you? Did you tell them what they have to do to improve their work situation?” “Pretty much the same thing you’re running into there. This guy in charge while the family is still learning the ropes said that his way is right because that’s the way they’ve been doing it for years. I’m pretty sure that this guy doesn’t even own a computer or a smart phone. It wasn’t the way he was raised or some shit.” Mac moved to his temporary office at the plant and began gathering his things. Time to meet up with the family soon, and he had to get back home anyway. “I’m going to take the next flight out after I get finished with the family. If they want us to come here again, it’s going to be when that guy is gone. Or they’re fucked.” “Good luck. And don’t forget about tomorrow. I have that meeting with my attorneys and you have to sign the paperwork on the building we’re buying there.” He nodded, then told her he’d be there. “Also, my friend is going to start working tomorrow, too, full-time. If you have a minute, go by the Home Cooking and see if she’s settling in all right for me. Riordan and I won’t be home until day after tomorrow, as we have to swing by the White House for a minute.” He thought of that. Swing by the White House like it was right on the way home from the grocery. Stormy would even be able to go on up to the family residence once she was there, and hell, more than likely she and Riordan would be having dinner there with the president, and maybe even a drink or two.  “I’ll take care of it for you on this end. Where am I meeting the attorneys for the building? And I can’t tell you again how much I hate that you’ve done this. I could have just gotten a loan for it on my own. You didn’t have to buy it for the shop I have in mind.” She snorted again and he smiled. “I wonder if when you have children that’ll be their answer to everything you ask them, too.” “More than likely. But since your mom and dad are telling me now that they’re going to be baby-sitting every chance they get, I’m pretty sure that your mom will get them out of the habit. But that doesn’t mean I’m going to not tell them to do it around her as much as they can. You know, just for fun.” Mac didn’t doubt that for a single minute.  Mac had to meet with the new owners of one of the oldest toy firms in the downtown area of Atlanta. They’d been shipping out retro toys for the last several decades, getting them cheaply and helping fill a lot of stores opening up with their new line. But they were behind in their shipment dates, so much so that they’d called him to see what was wrong with their line. It only took him ten minutes of working the line to know what the problem was. But Mac had worked for the two weeks he said he would. The bottle neck in the entire operations was due to one man.  
He was shown to the office of Byron and Noreen Stokes as soon as he entered the building. “We were hoping to see you before you left. I understand that you’ve been working on getting our lines right. I hope it wasn’t too much trouble for you.” Byron smiled at him. “Elton Coltrane called a few minutes ago. He said that you’d left there in a huff and that he didn’t think you’d figured out anything. I’m pretty sure that you’d be a little more professional than just leaving when you couldn’t find what was wrong. I’m sure you tried.” “Is that what Elton told you? That I didn’t find anything wrong?” Bryon looked at his sister and then back at him, nodding. “I see. Well, I am a professional, as you said, but if you have some time, I’d like to go over my findings with you.” “Of course.”  Mac was led to a large conference room with a table big enough for his family to have dinner at. Noreen was the younger of the two siblings, but Mac knew that she was the one with the business sense while her brother was the one with the big ideas. Which blended well with the two of them. She’d also been the one to talk to him all those weeks ago. He handed them both the printouts that he’d brought with him. “I want you to know that I’m impressed with your line of product and your pricing system. The receiving department is top-notch as well. The way you bring in the goods and catalog them means that anyone coming into this building can pull up a number for the product and go right to the warehouse to find where it is. You have a good team of inventory control as well.” Noreen said that her father had always been a stickler for keeping things organized. “It shows in your work here. The line is good. A little outdated, but will run you for a few more years before I would recommend that you replace it. I would suggest that you put in a labeling system that also runs your lines. That way when you have a box go to the store, you can be assured that that’s where it went.” “Why do I think that the ‘but’ you’re about to tell us is going to be costly?” Mac told him not at all. “The way that Elton talked, you were disappointed in the way things were going here and that he thought you were going to tell us it was a lost cause. He seemed to think that you were under the impression that we should just close up and be done with the entire thing. We can’t do that, if that’s what you’re going to say. Our father built this company on nothing but a handshake. If we can make it work, that’s what we’ll do.”  “I see. You paid me to give you the truth. And I think, in detail, you were told that I’m a man that seldom beats around the bush about things. And if you can’t handle that, we won’t be able to work together, correct?” Again the two of them looked at each other before nodding. “All right then…you want this company to prosper and continue to be a viable company, then fire Elton. I mean, not tomorrow or next week, but today, this minute.” “Really? Elton? I mean, I know that he’s sort of set in his ways, but he’s been working with us since Dad died. Seriously, I don’t think we could have gotten this far without him. And I know that my dad thought a great deal of him. I mean, he did have 
his issues with him, but he’s been working here for all of our lives.” Mac nodded. “I don’t even know if we can fire him. I mean, he and Dad were good friends, and he’s been at all our birthday parties since…. I’m sorry, Mr. Harrison, but I think you should reconsider that suggestion. He’s a good man and works very hard.” “Fine.” Mac stood up and gathered his things, including the paperwork that he’d given them. As he was putting everything back into his briefcase, he told them what he was going to do. “There won’t be any charge for me coming here other than expenses, and my secretary will see that you’re given a full accounting of—” “Wait. I mean…you’re just going to stop there? You’re not going to suggest anything else for us? You were there for two weeks. Surely you had to have found the real reason for our production lines to go so slowly.” Mac told them he had, it was Elton. “You mean to tell me that one man, a single man, is responsible for us losing sixty-four percent of our production time line?” “No.” Mac pulled on his jacket and picked up his things. He could tell that they were relieved, but it was going to be short lived as soon as he spoke again. He almost hated to tell them. “Elton is responsible for eighty-six percent of your slow down. And if he’s not taken off the line and forced into retirement, then you will lose more every day until you fail. And you will, at the rate you’re going.” Mac was nearly to the door outside when he heard someone call his name. It was Elton. Mac had had enough of the man for one day, so went out to get in the car and go home, but Elton followed him. And the man looked like he had received his Christmas bonus as well as a tax refund all in the last ten minutes. Elton walked up to him as he waited for his car and put out his hand to shake it. Mac just looked at it, then at the man he’d left hanging. “I could have told you that they’d not do anything about me. I’m sure that you told them that it was me that was hurting things. I’m their go-to man when they need answers. And they don’t know shit about what I do or what goes on down on the line, and that’s the way I want it. I’m not going to let them change a damned thing, just so you know. When they fail—and I’ve no doubt that it’ll be sooner rather than later—I will own a nice business.” Mac didn’t look at the couple that walked up behind Elton, nor did they speak. He did, however, ask Elton what he was talking about. “The will. I know for a fact that it states that once the business closes down that all the original members of the staff will be able to purchase the company for what the fair market value is. And when this is done, the fair market will be considerably less than what it is today, don’t you think?” “So you want this company to fail. After all the work that Mr. Stokes put into making this a valuable firm for his children, you’re going to let it fail so you can take it from them.” Elton smiled and nodded. “And what are you going to do with it once you own it? Call in some help and get it up and going again? That’s not very fair of you, now is it?” “Their daddy left them all the money. All of it. He didn’t even consider us people who did all the work for him.” Elton laughed as he continued. “There was a time I might have been willing to get things going in the right direction, but they called in 
professional help instead of asking me what the fuck was wrong with things. I could have told them that, don’t you think?” “You mean that you shut down the lines four times a day when you want to take a nap? That you have been known to sabotage the boxes before they were loaded on the truck so that the customers would be pissed enough to cancel orders?” Elton nodded. “I guess you have a hard heart there, Elton. Whatever will you do now?” “Do? I won’t have to do anything. They kicked your ass out, didn’t they?” Mac said nothing, but he knew that Noreen was pissed off. Byron moved back, heading to the building. “What are you going to do, Mr. Harrison? I’m sure that this is a blow to your little company too, isn’t it? Not being able to make this work for them. But I’m glad to see you leaving with your tail between your legs. It does my heart good to see another firm fail. It’s what I live for.” “I think I did all right here, if you want to know the truth, Elton. Just fine indeed.” His limo pulled up just as security was coming out of the building. “You, however…I don’t think you’re going to be cashing in on anything. You have a good day, Elton. I’m sure that things are about to look…well, differently for you.” Security was talking to Elton as his car pulled away. Mac could have gone back in, he supposed, talked to the Stokes about the rest of his findings, small things that he was sure that they would find once Elton was gone. But he wanted to go home. Now. He had a new home he was having fun in, a new sister in Riordan’s wife that was working with him, and he wanted to go and see his mom and dad. ~~~ “You find her yet?” George Collins looked up at his son, Jim, and felt a twist that touched his heart. How a man could have such an idiot for a kid, he thought. A moron that didn’t know shit from anything. He wished now after all these years that he’d taken his sister Hester’s advice and just left him somewhere. Now he was too old for that shit and he was stuck with him. “That bitch that called the law on me, thinking that I had no rights to my own daughter, will be next. I don’t cotton to being treated that way by nobody. You hear me?” “Yes, sir, I’ve been looking. If they stowed her away, they sure ain’t saying much. Aunt Hester, she’s about to have ten kinds of fits over this. She said you should have taken better care not to get caught.” George nodded. He sure should have. “When she comes down here, I’m telling you right now heads are going to be split if she don’t get her way. She said for you to get home.” His sister, Hester Casey, was a force, she was. He loved her to the end of time, but she was a mite on the scary side when she was upset. Even when she was in a fairly good mood, he tried his best to keep away from her. George was afraid of her, plain and simple. Not just a little either; she’d beaten him so badly he almost couldn’t lift up his beer when the mood struck her. “You tell her that you got this. Tell her that I’m okay and that once we get Andi back home, we’re gonna chain her to the floor like she done told us we should have months ago. She might not have any money coming in, but we’ll have food cooked for 
us.” Jim asked him how they was gonna have food if Andi didn’t work. “You just let me worry on that, fool. I don’t rightly know just yet, but I’ll get it figured out.” Six months ago they’d had their welfare cut. Not just him, but Hester and Jim too. The government got it in their head that they had to work some for the money. Hell, if he wanted to work, he’d find him a job. But so far as he was concerned, when you start paying somebody for not working, you can’t just up and take that from them. It just wasn’t the way that things were done in his family. None of them had found gainful employment yet, whatever the fuck that was, and he wasn’t about to go look for it either. Not that Jim could. He was as stupid as they came. But George’s family was on a protest. They weren’t gonna find them a job until the government got their shit together and put things back the way they were. George had been stuck in jail for three days now. He was getting food regular like. Not nearly as much as he wanted, but he was getting it. No beers either. They had some fool rule about that. Why a man couldn’t be enjoying his leisure was beyond him. He looked up at his son and wondered if it was too late to do something about getting rid of him. Probably.  “Dad, they said you might be going back to jail, the one real far away. That having that gun was against the rules. I thought you said to me that rules don’t work on us. That we was special or something.” He told Jim he wasn’t gonna go nowheres so long as he was breathing. “But if you do, what’s gonna happen to me? I can’t be living with Aunt Hester. She don’t like me none. I was thinking when we find Andi I might go see if she’ll let me stay with her. She’s gotta be nicer to me than Aunt Hester is, don’t you think?” “Nobody likes you, son. You’re stupid and you ain’t worth the sex that we had to make your ass. Your momma, God rest her lazy-assed soul, she done should have known better than to birth you and that ignorant daughter. Now look at me, stuck here and nobody to help me out.” George stood up and glared at his son, who backed away. “You find Andi, tell her to get her ass down here and tell them folks that she fell again. And that the gun was hers. I ain’t going back to jail. I ain’t, you hear me?” After Jim left him to have another look for his sister, George thought of his lot in life. He wasn’t stupid, but he was lazy. He’d admit that to anyone who asked him. And he didn’t care much for his daughter or his son, but he’d been given them and he had to suffer with having them. His wife, he’d tolerated her some, but she’d given him Jim and then a useless daughter, then up and left him with them like he wanted to be taking care of them for the rest of his life. Hester…well, Hester was his big sister, and he knew better than to mess with her. “Mr. Collins?” He nearly missed hearing his name and stood up in his cell to see who might be thinking he was a mister anything. “Are you Mr. Collins? George Collins?” “I am. What you want? In case you missed it, if you’re selling something, I ain’t got me no money. If you’re lawyering up for somebody, can’t help you there. I don’t rat out my buddies.” The man said nothing. There was something about him that just told you 
that he was untouchable, and that had George moving back when the man walked up to the bars. “What is it you want of me?” “I’m here to tell you that Andi Collins is off-limits to you and your family. She’s in a good place, and you’re to stop harassing her from now on.” George just stared at the man. “And if you’re caught within one foot of her, I’m going to bring a hell down on you so hard you won’t be able to lift a hand to bring whatever shit food you eat to your mouth.” “You can’t tell me what to do with my own kid. I know my rights. I brought her into this fucking world, and she’ll do as she’s told.” The man said nothing. “Who the fuck do you think you are, anyways? I know she ain’t bringing the law down on me. ‘Cause if she can afford you, in your expensive suit, then she’d better be getting her ass down here and bailing me out. I’m her daddy, damn it.” The man only stared at him. George wanted to flip him off, his favorite pastime when things didn’t go his way, but he had a feeling that if he even lifted his hand to do so, then he’d be hurting bad. Worster than he was right now. “Stay away from her or pay the price.” As the man walked away, George could feel his bravery coming back to him. But before he could open his mouth to curse at the man, he was standing in front of George with his hand around his throat, lifting him up off the floor. The man changed. Not just his body but his face, and even his fingernails at his throat seemed to bite deep into his neck. George looked into his eyes then; they sort of captured him. The man’s eyes had darkened to an almost black, and George felt his bladder just let go when he saw the fangs there on his lip. “Stormy said that if I wanted, I could play. I might just yet anyway. Would you like that?” George shook his head. “Too bad. Go near Andi again and I will kill you. Not a threat, you dumb fucking idiot, but a promise. You know that I’m telling you the truth too, don’t you, moron?” “Yes.” George wanted to cry. He knew something, a feeling of fear like he’d never felt before. “I won’t bother her no more.” “Good. See that you don’t.” As he was dropped to the floor, the man straightened his suit sleeves and then his tie. “You might want to tell your son and that sister of yours to behave too. I’m not in the mood to have to come back out in the sunlight to wipe this family out of their miserable existence. And you’d do well to remember that if I have to come back, you will be dead. Understand me?” George nodded. Long after the man had left him, George stayed on the floor. Lots of things were going through his mind as he lay there. The man had had fangs. He wanted to think that was just a figment of his addled head, but he had a feeling that they were as real as rain. And the man had lifted him up like he was nothing more than a bothersome flea. George knew that he was big. Not muscled—those had never been a part of his body in any way—but just plain fat. When he was younger, he’d been heavy. As he grew, so did not only his waistline but his entire body. George figured he weighed a good four hundred pounds. And the man had lifted him up with a single hand. But the 
longer he lay here, just thinking and letting his mind wander, the less and less of the man he could remember. “I gotta stay away from my daughter. I don’t know why, but I gotta.” Nodding to himself, he stood up. He’d pissed himself…not the first time. But this time he could almost smell the fear in his urine. “Couldn’t get off the floor, that’s all. Happened before, when that chair of mine wouldn’t lift me right. Can’t be nothing more than that.”  He knew that there was something there that he had to remember besides not bothering Andi again. Fangs? Nobody had fangs except them people faking it, like he’d seen on television. He also had a feeling that he’d been flying too. But that wasn’t right either, was it? Sitting on the bed, unmindful of his wet pants, he frowned. When he thought of Andi again, he felt a little pain in his head when he thought of making her ass pay, but it went away after a minute or two. “She’s gonna pay. That she is.” Nodding, stretched out on the bed, he felt sticky. And when he moved around, the bed groaned. It was scary there for a minute. The bed he was using creaked a bit more than he liked. Sitting on the side of the bed, he pulled off his pants and underwear and took them to the sink. He’d get more later, but these were just stinky. Laying them on the sink, he went back to his bed. He had some thinking to do. 

Christopher By Kathi S Barton Release Day & Winner Announced 1/25/16

Christopher hadn’t been with Rembrandt’s group long. With their combined efforts there were fewer and fewer monsters to fight. His mate had died a long time ago, so he volunteered to go with Skylar to look for some “newbies”. When they arrived at the warehouse the new ones were acting very strange.
Kate had been scouting out the building when a large crate just suddenly appeared out of nowhere. Curiosity had her standing in the shadows when she saw two warriors come up the stairs and approach the crate. When they became aware of her presence, the man shifted into the largest cat she’d ever seen and pinned her to the floor with his large paws.
Kate was more than any of them had bargained for, and Chris soon discovered that Kate was his true mate, that the other woman never was. And when they fought together they were downright scary.
With their enemies Ward and Nolan dead, there was no one left to keep Benton, the huge monster they’d created, in line. Benton had lost his mind a long time ago, but one thought remained constant…he wanted Rembrandt dead….

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Chapter 1  
Christopher sat on the cold concrete and leaned his back against the hard wall behind him. His body temperature had finally leveled out, but not enough that he could go without some sort of fan or other form of cooling agent to keep himself from roasting all the time. He looked over at the woman who sat next to him. She was covered in as much blood and gore as he was. The battle, like most of them, had not been a pretty thing. And they seemed to be getting worse all the time.  Usually he would simply do his job and then go back to his room. He was spending a great deal more time out and about with the rest of the people in the house, but for the most part, he loved being alone. But Chris really enjoyed talking to Vicki…he thought she was a hoot. “The next time the alarm goes off, I’m going to hunt it down and tear it apart.” Chris said nothing as Vicki sat there with her eyes closed and continued. “I swear to you, as soon as this crap is done, I’m out of here and finding a nice warm beach to lay on for about ten years. I’m going to eat ice cream for every meal, and wear a dress with high heels when I fucking want to. Which I might add, I have never wanted to before now; but that’s not the point, is it?” “Do you think it will?” She asked him what he meant without looking in his direction. “End. Do you think this will ever end? Because I have to tell you, it doesn’t feel like it on most days.” Of late he’d been feeling like it was the same shit every day. Get up, fight, shower, eat, and then go to bed, only to have to do it all over again the next day. He knew that there were fewer and fewer of the monsters, but they were no less vicious in their pursuit of trying to kill more people. And that was another thing. There were fewer and fewer humans around as well. “Hector wants us to find some newbies if we can.” Chris looked up at Skylar when she spoke, and wondered not for the first time if any part of her body wasn’t tatted up. He was pretty inked up himself, but most of his had been there before any of this had gone down. Skylar even had them on her face and neck. But for some reason, he still thought she was beautiful. “There is a new project going on across the way. Who wants to go with me?” “I will.” Chris stood and helped Vicki up as he turned to Skylar to ask her how they were going. Her wings spread out and he backed from her. “I’d rather take a car if it’s all the same to you. Nothing against your flying ability, but I would rather just drive.” “And how would that be fun for me?” He nodded and found himself wrapped up in her arms and soaring dizzily into the deep blue of the sky. “Are you getting along any better, Chris? You seem to be less inclined to stay in your room. I’m glad for that. It’s fun having you around more.” He wanted to ask her why she cared, but they were currently several hundred feet in the air if he were to piss her off. Which, he supposed, he’d managed to do more often 
than he liked to think about. But right now, she would more than likely drop him on his head. “I don’t really mind being here. But….” He couldn’t put into words how much he hated what he was doing. He was pretty sure that she got it, but he didn’t know how to convey it to her. “I was famous once. An entertainer, as you know. Women would throw themselves at me. Panties, bras, sometimes even money. Men too, but that wasn’t going to happen. And now look. Not only am I pretty much just a normal person, no one cares much that I was once considered the most sought after male in the world.” “Whine much?” He only winced at her words, still not comfortable enough with the rest of them to be his usual self. His old self would have flashed her his smile, winked at her, and told her that was what made him so irresistible. “Nate and I had a conversation about you the other day. He thinks you’re a blowhard. Whatever did you do to him to make him hate you so much?” “Breathed? I don’t know. Now there is a whiny person. He’s not coming out of his room for anything, is he?”  Before he could ask her what the two of them had talked about—or actually argued about—they were landing. Chris looked at the malefactors and wondered why someone would do this to humans. He’d heard the stories, but he knew that there had to be something more than that. When they entered the building where a small group of them were, Chris thought that they’d made a mistake about them being here. But then he saw the groups as they walked around like…. Chris turned to Skylar when it occurred to him what he was seeing. “Have you ever played one of those first person shooter games?” Skylar said that she had played on her phone a few times, but not lately. “Yeah, no cell service. But when you’re playing and have to leave the game—I don’t know, to take a piss or something—when you return, your guy will be walking straight into a wall, his feet still moving as the monsters or whatever are clawing at him or blowing him to bits with their guns. That’s what they look like, a game version of sleep walking.” They stood watching the dozen or so of the monsters do just that…walk into a wall and continue moving their feet toward some unknown place, but staying where they were. One of the men, walking around rather into things, had a large gash in his head where his head kept hitting the fire alarm signage just where his head was. Over and over the guy would do this until he was dead, Chris supposed.  Chris moved toward them just as a creature moved from between two of the pillars holding up the other floors. Neither he nor Skylar moved as the thing, just as clumsy and stupid as the malefactors, moved about the room. Chris thought he might have been an adherent at one time, but now he’d lost some of his color and he was no longer in charge. As he knocked a desk over and then tripped several times when he tried to stand and keep moving, neither Chris nor Skylar moved to help him. As soon as he got to whatever he’d been working his way toward, he stopped and turned, almost as if he were a solider on a march and he was at the end of his area. “Why didn’t he trip into the desk before? I mean, it’s obvious that he’s been doing this same thing for a while. Why hadn’t he tripped up before?”  
Chris started to tell Skylar that he didn’t know when it occurred to him. “He’s making a circle. See? Judging by the footsteps that he’s made in the dirt on the floor, the circle’s getting smaller with each of his trips around the room. It looks like he started out on the perimeter, then tightened his circle an inch or so with each pass—or I guess square, because of the room—more each time.” They both watched him and the people in the room as a second thing occurred to Chris. “Do you hear that? That small hum, like there is power somewhere?” As they spread out, looking for the power grid like those they’d been destroying every time they heard one, Chris moved to the second floor and paused. He’d learned a great deal over the last couple of weeks working with these people, and one of the things was always to be thinking outside the box. But the one in front of him, as big as a nice sized SUV, had him pausing and wondering what sort of shit was about to go down now. The box was addressed to him and Skylar. Skylar came up behind him and asked him what he was doing. “I don’t have a clue, but all I can think about is that movie that had the big lamp leg in it. Remember that movie?” “Yeah. Christ, I love that movie. We should see if we can find it somewhere while we’re out. I bet Remy hasn’t ever seen it.” Chris said nothing. Remy was one scary mother fucker, and the man seemed to exude strength all over his body. To think of him watching that movie, eating his beloved popcorn, was just too weird. “What should we do?” The handwriting was old world, the script on it something that he’d seen Remy use when he had to make notes on something. The man would take an hour to write out something that Chris would have just scribbled on a piece of paper. Remy told him that to do something right was to take your time with it. You never knew who was going to look at it. Chris supposed Remy was right, but there were times when he just wanted to take the paper from him and write the note himself. This looked like it might be from Bob, another old world guy. “You think this is part of the gifts that Bob said would come to us when we needed them?” Again, Chris had no answers and said that to Skylar. “Well, do we open it? Leave it for another day or what? I’m not all that keen on getting my ass kicked by whatever is in that thing, are you?” The big dragon had left them a letter a while back. Well, not them, but Leo and Jamey. It had said that when they needed it, something would appear. But this thing wasn’t addressed to his workmates, but to him and Skylar. He glanced at Skylar when she asked him again if they should open it. “I don’t fucking know. You’re in charge.” That got him a hard knock to his head that hurt like hell. “I’m all for having enough shit going on. If we open that, and I’m not saying that we should, what’s to say that it’s not filled with some more of these things that plan to eat our faces off?” “You are no longer allowed to come with me on these things. You are one freaked out cat.” He felt the cat stir along his skin and Skylar smiled at him. “What if there is a gorgeous young woman in there that will satisfy your every desire and then some?” 
Chris felt his heart twist up. He wasn’t going to find his other half. He’d done that already, and she was now dead. Thanks to him. But before he said something that would get him knocked on his ass this time, he moved toward the huge crate. Whatever was in that thing couldn’t be as bad as losing your mate. There was a note attached to the top of it, and he knew immediately that it was indeed from Bob the dragon. The handwriting couldn’t have been from anyone but him. Not that he could read the script there, but he knew it was from him. Pulling one of the bright orange straps off the top of the box, he handed the note to Skylar and put his sword back on his body. Things had gotten shit weird when he’d gotten here. He’d had tats before, but nothing like he’d gotten the day after arriving. He and Remy had been in the sublevels of the compound, sparring. And when Remy had—he wanted to think it was innocent on his part, but he wasn’t sure—but when Remy had put out his hand to help him stand up after being knocked on his ass, the most incredible pain had taken him to the floor again. That was when he discovered the sword at his back and the guns, big ones, on different parts of his body. The lid, like the crate, was made of wood. And when it slid off the opening, he moved back while the dust settled around them. It occurred to him, too late, he realized now, that he more than likely should have thought this through a little better. “Nothing?” He wasn’t sure and told Skylar to stay back while he checked. “In the event you didn’t notice, I’m as strong as you are. And I can fly out of the way if the thing really does try and eat our faces off.” “Yeah, I noticed all that. But if this shit is going to kill one of us, I’d rather it was me so you can go back and warn the others. I really don’t care to have to explain to Remy that I let you fucking get your ass handed to you.” She took a step back and told him she was sorry. Chris turned to look at the crate again, thinking he needed to get a grip on his temper. “So am I. But please, just stay back out of the way in case there is something in here that has bloodletting on his mind.” Moving closer to the crate, he looked inside. It was dark, which he supposed he should have counted on. But that was all he could see. Just an inky blackness that suddenly made him think of his heart. As he peered harder inside, his cat, never very friendly to him anyway, snarled at him.  “Do you suppose he knows something that you don’t?” Very possible, and he told Skylar that. “I see. And do you normally ignore him when he might be trying to tell you something? Or do you feel, like most men, that you know more than your counterpart?” It was right on the tip of his tongue to tell her to fuck off. He knew, somewhere in the back of his mind, that not only would it piss her off more than she seemed to be right now, but that it would also get him in trouble with Remy. The man was very protective of his mate. Just as he was thinking fuck it and started to tell her off, a sound…a low keening sound…came from the depths of the darkness of the crate. ~~~ Kate watched the couple as they stood by the crate. It had arrived…well, arrived might have been the wrong term for how it had gotten there, but it had appeared 
sometime in the last twenty minutes. The thing, like the people downstairs, had just sort of come into the building like it had every right to be there. She’d been hanging out, sort of living here, for a month now when she couldn’t get back to her place before it was too dark out. It was quiet, and the things on the lower levels never ventured up here when they came around. But today this crate had arrived, and then the creatures below, almost at the same time. The sound that had emitted from the box had been there before too. Kate had even gone close enough to the crate to see if someone, a person, was inside, but all she heard was rumblings and an occasional bump on the wall. She had wondered what it was, but not enough to open it and see. The man opening the box made her want to hide deeper in the shadows, just on the off chance that it wasn’t going to be a nice wedding gift for the two of them, and instead something that would most assuredly kill all of them. Kate moved back further when she saw the man stiffen. Then the sides of the crate fell away. “What the fuck?” Kate moved out of the shadows again—not close enough that she thought they could see her just yet, but she, too, was curious about the contents of the box—when the woman yelled and stepped back. What she wasn’t prepared for was the man shifting into a big black cat. He seemed to know she was there even before Kate could think that the cat might come at her. As she turned to run, the cat, bigger than any that Kate had seen in the zoos when they had existed, came after her. Kate knew about paranormals and other shifters being big, but this cat was much larger than even them.  She knew in that moment that he was a different kind of shifter, and she didn’t want him close enough to touch her. But by then, it was too late. When she was pinned to the floor, his big body over hers, she was terrified that he was going to hurt her. He couldn’t kill her, she knew, but pain was pain. She looked up when a shadow moved over her face. The woman was there, and she looked amused for some reason. When she knelt beside her, Kate saw that like the man, she was tatted well beyond what she thought of as a social norm. “I’m Skylar. This lug on you is Chris. And you would be?” Kate said nothing. “Ah, the strong silent type. Okay, I get it. But he’s not going to let you up until we get some answers or whatever is in that box comes out and tears us a new ass. But hey, it’s completely fine with me.” Kate could have gladly gotten up and murdered her. But Skylar only stared at her as she stood over her. The man, the cat really, growled low and Kate looked at him. Even as a cat, he had the most incredible eyes. They weren’t the dark color that she’d seen on cats. Shifters usually had the same color of eyes as their other bodies did. Browns usually, an occasional green or blue if the shifter had been turned. But Chris had blue eyes. Just as blue as the oceans she’d seen over her lifetime. And as she watched them, Kate was sure that she could see large animals, some of them as ancient as she was, moving in them. With a shake of her head, she tried to think how to get out of this mess. “We have movement.”  
Kate was suddenly free. The cat, Chris, had moved off her, but not away. He was close enough that she could touch him, his dark fur touching her arm that he was closest to. Her fingers burned to run all over him for some reason. But when the noise started again, she looked over at the crate as the couple was doing. A bundle of cloth inside the crate moved. She supposed it might have been moving all along, but since she’d been on the floor, the building’s walls below them could have caved in and she’d not know it. Well, she would, but that wasn’t the point right now. When it moved again, the cloth falling away, the first thing she thought of was that it was a tiny paw. The second was that whatever it was, it wasn’t alone in the blanket that fell open. Then it occurred to her what it was. Well, what they were. Puppies. There were about ten or so of them, and they came bouncing out of the cloth on the floor and toward them like they’d been ordered to do so. As soon as they were near her, Kate couldn’t help it…she pulled one of the little creatures to her face and it licked her. “Chris, I’d very much like for you to be a man again.” Kate wondered at the tense sound of Skylar’s voice, but was too excited to have the wiggly puppies coming to sit all over her legs. She could see now there were eleven of them. Eleven roly poly little balls of fur. “Remy is coming. He said to stand down until he and the others get here.” Stand down? They were puppies for heavens sakes. But when one of them went to stand by Skylar, she moved away from it like the thing was going to tear at her leg. Kate wondered if the woman had ever had a dog in her life. Laughing, she called the pup back to her and loved on him to sooth his hurt feelings. “Why would they be in such a big box?” They both looked at her as she stood up. “The box came this morning and I wondered about it, but as it wasn’t addressed to me, I didn’t bother opening it.” “Who are you?” Kate wasn’t going to answer that. She of all people knew enough about magic, and there was little doubt in her head that these two were covered in it, and that names were kept close. “I’d really like for you to tell me what the hell you have to do with all this.” “I had nothing to do with them. Are you afraid of them? Because I’m pretty sure that you can pretty much squash them if they look vicious to you or something.” Kate reached down and picked up the one currently sitting on her foot. “They do look like they might rip your throat out, don’t they? Do you suppose they have something more than just their milk teeth? Perhaps they have five inch long incisors that will tear at you too. I know, you’re afraid of their claws. Let me see…oh yeah, I can see how these little things could tear into your flesh while they chew at your throat.” “I don’t like you very much.” Kate shrugged at Skylar, not really carrying if she did or didn’t. There were a lot of people that didn’t like her, and right now, having this woman not liking her might be a blessing. Kate put the dog down and headed for the stairs.  “Where the hell do you think you’re going?” 
“Home.” She didn’t stop as she made her way down the stairs. They’d try to follow her, but she doubted very much they’d be able to for long. Kate had powers of her own, and she wasn’t the kind of person that many would fuck with.  As soon as she was on the lower level of the building, she paused when she looked at the creatures. She heard rather than saw the big cat come up behind her. He didn’t move to knock her down, but watched her as she kept an eye on the creatures. “There is something wrong with them. They’re not like the others, are they?” He said nothing, but moved to stand closer to her. Kate moved away and he stayed where he was. “I don’t mean the fact that they’ve been changed into something, but there is something else here. Like they’ve had their brains sucked out for the most part and they aren’t able to function. Just look at them. Someone has hurt them other than just being the creatures they were.” The man that was walking into the wall fell over. His head had a large hole in it, and a part of his brain was still hanging on the sign that had at one time proclaimed there was a fire extinguisher below it. It had long ago been taken by someone, she guessed. Moving to the door, avoiding the creatures, she was just going out the door when a huge man landed in front of her. Remy, she’d bet, and she started to back up enough so that he’d not touch her. But she fell backward, the cat behind her getting caught up in her feet, and she went down. And for the second time that day, he landed on top of her. “Get off me, you moron.” The cat didn’t move, but Remy laughed down at them both. “You think this is funny? I don’t. Call off your animal and let me go. I have places to be.” The movement out of the corner of her eye startled her. Just as the big bird—or whatever the fuck it was…the thing—came swooping down, she reached her hand up and grabbed Remy by the leg. Pulling it out from under him, Kate lifted her other hand and blasted the creature just as it put out his claws to no doubt grab up and kill someone. More than likely her. No one moved as the big bird like thing screamed in pain as it died. His feathers, if that was what they were, burned brightly, the gaping hole in his chest bled badly, and she knew from experience that it wouldn’t last that much longer. Kate looked at Remy when the big cat finally moved off her. “You know what that is?” She told him she’d seen them around as she stood up. “And you have some sort of power that makes it so you can kill them. What are you? Who are you?” “There’ll be one more. They travel in pairs.” The sky darkened over her head and they all looked up when she did. “That’s his mate, I think. The male attacks first. Not sure why…he’s the weaker of the two. Then the female will come in and take whatever is left after he…he kills his prey. Usually humans. They don’t touch the other creatures.” “Malefactors.” She asked him what that was. “The creatures. The ones that are walking around now. These are a little…I’d say slower, but I’m not sure that’s all it is. What do you know about them?”  
Skylar spoke before Kate could. “She said she knows nothing. But they’re being drained again. And here, this is what Bob sent us.”  The little puppies were now in a box that Skylar handed to Remy. They scrambled out and were all over him when Kate decided that she’d had enough cuteness for one day, but before she could move to take off, the big cat stood in front of her. “I don’t want to have to hurt you.” The cat yawned and Remy laughed behind her. Kate turned to him then. “Tell him to leave me alone. I saved your ass. I don’t owe you anything.” “No. You do not, and I thank you for saving me. But for some reason I have a feeling you saved your own butt and not mine. Is that true?” Kate said nothing, but felt her fear of this man double when he stood up. Even having a puppy in his arms did not lessen how much she was afraid of him, nor lessen the fact that she knew that he’d try to kill her and never put the little dog down. “I’d very much like for you to say you’ll come back to the compound with us. I have many questions for you.” “No.” He nodded, and before she could guess what the hell was going to happen next, she felt powerful arms around her and she was soaring up in the sky. Mother fuck, Skylar had her, and she wasn’t going to be happy when she figured out what Kate was. “I won’t stay there. Wherever there is.” “Maybe, but now that I have your scent, you won’t be hard to find again.” Kate didn’t tell her that it wasn’t going to work either, but held on as they made their way across the city. It was different seeing this city with someone carrying you. The only time that Kate had this view was when she was flying herself.  As soon as they landed, Remy and the box of puppies did as well. There were children in the yard, and as soon as the little dogs tumbled out of their temporary home, the children—about a dozen of them—came running. Kids and puppies went together like they were meant to be. As soon as she was let go, Remy took to the sky again to no doubt get Chris. Kate looked at Skylar. “I won’t stay.” Skylar nodded and turned to the building. Kate stood where she was, not really feeling the need to chase after the woman and tell her again that she wasn’t going to stay. Things were…they weren’t out of her hands. She would give them what information they might want about the bird things, but that was all. Nothing else was any of their business. 

Trent: Calhoun Men By Kathi S Barton Release Day & Winner Announced 1/11/16

Calhoun Men 

Trent 
Elijah (Coming May 2, 2016) 
Scott (Coming Soon) 
Sterling (Coming Soon) 
Randal (Coming Soon) 
Tanner (Coming Soon) 


Johanna, better known as Joe, had been a day walker for her only friend, Noah, for centuries. An immortal with eight hundred years under her belt, she had become proficient in several languages and occupations. When her friend Noah talked about meeting the sun, she had every intention of following in his path. 


Joe had only gone to the Calhoun’s office to catch a ride to the estate. When she entered, it took her breath away to see the younger man on the floor and no one doing a damn thing to help him. 


Trent Calhoun had forgotten how to have fun. Diving into his work was what kept him happy. At 33 he had no life, so when he had a heart attack, his doctor said to change his ways or else. 


When the gorgeous woman stumbled into his hospital room, Trent thought his dad was up to his old tricks again―that was until he caught her scent…. Now, because of his wolf, he’s face to face with an angry vampire…. 

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Happy Reading 
Kathi S Barton 
Prologue  
1224 AD Johanna, Joe to her few friends, moved as quickly as she could to the heap of trash that had been put out only moments ago. It might have been filled with nothing more than a few scraps of food, but it would be enough to fill the hole that seemed to be forever in her belly. And maybe if she was lucky enough, she’d find a pair of shoes with only a few holes in them, or a coat. But before she could get close enough to see, she saw Abraham and another man. It did not look to her as if they were friends. At first she thought they were having relations. It wouldn’t surprise her if they were. Abraham would do most anything for a bit of coin or food. She did not care for the man overly much, but she would help to keep him safe even if the man didn’t seem to think he needed her. But before she could move around the two of them, she saw that Abraham held a man at knife point. The man he held she did not know, but she did know what he was. A vampire. There were plenty of them about now, feeding on ones such as herself and Abraham when they needed food. While she knew very little about his kind, she did know that he would kill the man that held him if he only moved just a little. Looking into his eyes, she spoke to him. “Please do not harm him.” The man stilled in his slight struggle to look at her. “He is only hungry, as are the rest of us, and would otherwise leave you alone.” “He has a bit of coin, Joe. More than we could have a fine meal on. I’ll share it with you should you help me. I promise I will this time.” Joe looked at Abe and shook her head. “You just stand there and I’ll slice his throat and we’ll find us a meal, you and me.” “Abe, this man has done nothing to you save come to this place of death and sadness. Let him go before he hurts you.” To the man, she spoke again. “Please. Do not harm him. He is not a nice person, but he is all that I have here.” Blood moved down the handsome man’s throat, staining the collar of his white silk shirt. Joe knew that just the cost of his shirt would have fed her and Abe for many days. His small nod was all she needed to let out the breath that she’d been holding. Looking at Abe again, she took a step toward him, speaking softly, her hand guiding his away from the throat of the stranger. “You don’t want to kill him, Abe. Should you do that, the food that you eat from this will taste bitter and will make you sick for a long while. You know this.” Abe growled at her, telling her to go away. “I cannot and you know that. Should this man kill you for what you have done, then I will have one less person that I know here, and I have so few now. Please, let him go so that you and I can go to the dump that is still warm from the house.” She didn’t think he was going to do it. He looked determined, his face set. When his belly growled, hers did as well. It was a sound that she was sick of. When Abraham 
stomped his foot at her, she wanted to remind him that he was a grown man and that he should act like one. “I need a fine meal, Joe. I was never meant to be like this. I am a great man.” She’d heard the stories before. He’d come from a grand house, the servant to a great man. But it was, like other stories she’d heard in her life, a lie. A fabrication of something that was a dream to him, a way to make him seem more important than he really was. But his lies, like his stories, had long since given her a headache. Joe had given up on dreams. They were useless without any way of making them a reality. “I will make his death quick if that would make you feel better.” “Nay, it will not and you will know it.” Joe glanced at the man, who watched her carefully. “Allow this man to go about his business. Perhaps he will give you a coin or two for your troubles. Would you let him go for that?” “I should have it all.” Joe shook her head and told him to be reasonable. “I am not going to let him go without all his coin, Joe. You cannot ask me to do such a thing. It has been years since—” “Then I will quit you.” He looked at her then. “I will no longer come to your aid should you become ill again. I will not give you a part of my blanket when I have none to share with even myself. You will be on your own. And you know that no one else will help you either, Abe. You have made many enemies here.” Taking the last two steps to the two of them, she put her hand on Abe’s hand again. When he didn’t fight her, she moved the handmade silver blade from the man’s throat, but did not look at him. As soon as he was free he leapt from them, then fell to the ground. Joe stood in front of Abe. “Please don’t harm him. He is starved.” The man held his neck and nodded while blood poured from between his fingers. She knew that he would die soon. No matter what he was he should get himself healed or he would bleed out and die there as the sun came up to take him. “I will trade myself for him.” “Send him away.” The voice was cultured, hard, and full of hate. Her fear of the man, now that he was free, doubled. “Send him away, Joe, and come to me.” Nodding, she turned to Abe and then back to the man. “Coin. Do you have a coin or two that you can spare to give to him? I should hate to have lied to him.” He reached into his pocket and pulled out a very beautiful change purse. She could tell that it had been made with a fine hand, and that the beading work alone was done by someone who loved their job. If only she could have such a job. Shutting down that thought, she reached for the three coins in his palm and took only the two that she’d promised Abe he could have. The man grabbed her hand before she could move away. “Give them all to him.” She shook her head and turned to Abe. Giving him the two gold coins, she turned back to the man when he said her name. “Why did you not take the three of them, if only to have one for yourself?” “I did not say that I would take one for myself. I do not lie. No matter how hungry I am.” He nodded, his face pale now. “What do I need to do to help you?” “You would still come to me, even with your friend safe?” She told him that Abe was not her friend. “Then pray, why did you save him?” 
“I did not want him dead by your hand. I do not want anyone dead by your hand. Your kind have been killing us off for years, and I should like to be able to think I have saved one. Even if it was just Abe the thief.” He nodded but said nothing more. “What do you need of me?” “You know what I am, so you know what I need.” She nodded and moved closer to him. “Come to me. I should like to have you drink from my wound if only to draw some of the poison that Abe has put inside of me. The silver of it even now is racing in my veins to kill me.”  He was weaker than she’d thought. But she knew that even in his weakened state, he could still kill her. Once, not long ago, she’d seen one of his kind tear a man’s head off even with a stick protruding from his belly. And then he’d stood and pulled it from him as he drank greedily from another that stood too close. Moving to sit on the ground near him, Joe leaned into his neck and could smell his soap. Not that she’d had any chance to have such a thing. She tried her best to make her way to the river at least once a week, no matter what the weather was, to clean herself and her clothing as best she could.  As soon as she put her mouth over the large cut, he curled his hand in the back of her head and pulled her tightly against him. His blood didn’t taste as she’d thought it might. There was a coppery tang to it, but it was warm and filled her belly nicely. Trying not to think of what she was doing, she lifted her head from his neck when he lifted her and fitted her over his lap. Her legs on either side of his hips, she was in a position that she was sure was going to get her raped if not killed. “I shall not take what is not freely given to me.” Nodding, she watched his eyes as they darkened. “If you are coming when I drink from you, I will not need as much to fill me to heal. Do you know what I am asking you to do?” “You wish to have sex with me?” He nodded, then shook his head. “I do not understand you. Should you not like to have sex with me? I am free of diseases. Not that I wish to have it with you, but I did give myself to you in Abe’s place.” “I only wish for you to come for me. Have your pleasure as if we were having sex.” Joe still had no idea how that worked. “And I am aware of your body. Not only are you free of anything that would kill you, but you are a virgin as well. I would guess you have had to work very hard to keep yourself in such a state.” “There are not a lot of men that wish to touch someone such as me.” He asked her why. “I’m not what is considered a very well-endowed woman. I am…too skinny, and most think me a boy.” “You are not a boy, and that would not stop most men that I know should you have happened to be one.” He watched her face and she felt herself heat in embarrassment. “You are very strange, Joe. A human that would help a vampire even though you know that it could cost you your life.” “I have not much of one anyway, my lord. This is all that I have.” He pulled her body to his again; this time she could feel his hardness. “You wish me to come, but as you have said, I have no knowledge of how this will work.” 
“I will do the work, little one. You will be my savior and I will give you pleasure.” His laughter made her hurt with anger, but he only pulled her to him again. “I should like nothing more than to show you the delights of having me inside of you, but if I do not feed from you soon, I will still be here when the sun rises. Tilt your head for me and I shall bring you to peak. Your blood will be much stronger and tastier for it.” Tilting her head as he had directed her to, Joe felt the heat of his breath on her. When his tongue lapped at her pounding pulse, she put her hands on his shoulders to hold on for the pain of what he was going to do. As surely as she was sitting atop the man, she knew that he was going to kill her. The bite was gentle, almost like a deep kiss. And when he drew deeply on her throat, taking her blood into his mouth, she moaned before she could think that he’d hear her. As he pulled her to him again, she could feel his hardness getting thicker, his manhood touching something deep within her even though she was as dressed as he was. When he commanded her to come, Joe found herself rolling her hips up to his body, riding him, she supposed. The feeling that he was giving her, the way that his hardness kept pressing against her womanhood, made her hold tighter to him. She knew that something was going to happen and it was going to tear her apart. As soon as she felt it take her, the feeling that she’d been reaching for, her scream of release—for that was all she could think of it being—nearly had her sobbing. ~~~ Noah drank deeply of her. She tasted like a fine wine to him, her blood spiked with her release as well as the virginity of her body, something he’d not had in more years than he could remember. As she rode him faster, coming again and again, he knew that he could take her, slam his cock deep within her and she’d let him. But, like her, he’d made a promise, and Noah prided himself on his word. But to have her, all of her, was making him greedy for more. When she went limp in his arms, he knew that he’d taken too much from her weak and starved body. And the numerous releases had taken their toll on her. He had to save her, even if it was from herself. Sealing the wound at her throat, he looked at her. She was pretty in a too thin sort of way. And the fact that she believed that men thought her a boy had him thinking that she had something inside of her that kept her from harm. But someday, and he’d bet soon, she would run out of whatever it was and she would be as dead as most of the humans in this part of town. Laying her beside him on the ground, Noah stood up and took to the skies to free himself of the stench of the man who had held him. He should have killed the man, and it had been his intention. But he’d heard her coming toward them and had paused to see if she’d be a tastier meal. When she pleaded so prettily for the man’s life, not only had Noah been impressed, but he’d been curious as well. Especially when she’d told him that the man was not her friend. Going back to the place he’d left her, Noah did the only thing he could do…he picked her up in his arms and took her to his home. 
“My lord.” His butler and friend Michael looked at the woman, then backed away from her. She did smell, but not as badly as he’d smelled many times before. “You have killed her? And why, pray tell, have you brought her body here?” “Nay. I have brought her here because…well, I’m not sure why I have. But I should like to have her fed and well bathed. She saved my life tonight.” Michael looked at him, then at the girl with a new kind of interest. “Had she not taken my blood into hers to drain the poison of silver from my body, then fed me, you would have been without a master and I would be like the dust that is now on my boots.” He carried her up to the second floor. Michael was asking him what had happened, and he told him everything. The man had been in his service for many years and there was nothing that the man did not know about him. He was, in a word, his friend. His only one, he supposed. Noah didn’t know why he’d never been into nests of his kind. But as soon as he was able, he’d left his home, the one his father was the lord of, and set out to find his own way. Never once had it occurred to him to gather his own bunch of vampires to live and be with him, preferring to be in his own home with servants that he trusted. That had been nearly five centuries ago, and in all that time he’d lived alone but for the five people in his household. Each of them humans at one time, and as loyal to him as he was them. “I shall have someone come and bring her something clean to wear. Perhaps we can borrow a few things from the cook in the meantime.” Noah nodded as he lay her on the large bed, looking bigger for the fact that she was so tiny.  “She is very tall, is she not?” Yes, Noah thought, she was very tall, but still very small in that she was thin. Much too thin. “I will have the cook make her something to eat. It will be strange, my lord, having her here.” “It will be.” Pulling the blanket up and over her body, it occurred to Noah that he’d never said she was going to live there, but now that it was said, he realized that had been his intention all along. To help her as she had him. “Michael, what do you suppose we should do with her? She is…she is very protective of anyone, even me.” “I should think she’d make a wonderful day walker for you, my lord. You know that the household would do anything for you, but it would lessen our burden a little should we have her to do that job for us.” Noah only looked at his friend with a cocked brow. “I am not saying that we do not love doing it, but she needs to have a job and this would be a good one for her. I have not met her, but I would be willing to bet that she will need a purpose or she will not stay.” It was funny that Michael would know that about her. She would, too, need a job to keep her busy, or she’d think she was taking advantage of him. Or him her. And he might need her again, just to replenish himself. But he’d never spoil her. That was not his to take, and he would never do that to her. Tempting as she was, he was a man of honor. 

Nolan Bentley Legacy Book Three By Kathi S Barton Release Day & Winner Announced 12/14/15

Nolan finally had a practice of his own, and soon his brother Burke would be leaving the hospital and joining him. Now, if the rest of the family would mind their own business, Nolan would be much happier…or not. He was sulking over his dilemma when his nurse told him he had a patient, a hurt kid who wasn’t doing much talking.


Rylee nearly collapsed with worry when she found out her nephew had been hurt. She wasn’t sure if she was cut out to be a parent. She loved her nephew, Shane, dearly and had taken on his care when her sister died, but how she’d missed the warning signs was beyond her. He was being bullied at school daily and she knew nothing about it until he’d been cut with a knife.


“I didn’t know.” Her entire body sagged at her confession. “He said he had it handled. And I thought he did. It’s my fault he’s beaten up like this. I should have…I’m not any good at this parenting thing.”


Nolan reached for her just as Shane moved on the bed. He wasn’t sure what the kid could do, banged up the way that he was, but as soon as Nolan touched her, he knew what she was to him. Her body, warm and strong, leaned into his even as he buried his nose into her neck. Christ, his body screamed at him, she was his. Licking her throat, tasting her, he could hear her moan, but when his head was jerked up by his hair, all he could do was stare at her.

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Chapter 1
Nolan looked around his new office. He’d never had one of his own before. The
other practice that he’d been working for had a community one they’d all
shared…several doctors using the same computer in the same small ten-by-ten room.
This was his and his alone. Burke, too, would have his own office when his notice was
up at the hospital. For now he was working just a couple of hours a week to help Nolan
out. And his office was going to wait, he told Nolan, until he could really devote his
time to it.
The walls were decorated with just Nolan’s things. It was a small thing to be happy
about, he supposed. His diplomas were there, along with his awards…and there were
plenty of those, as he’d always been a hard worker. Plus, he’d been able to bring in
pictures of his family…his mom and grandparents. The photo of his father in his
uniform about a month before he’d been killed had a prominent place on his wall, along
with some of the things that he treasured above all else, such as smaller pictures of just
him and his father. And his brothers too, the ones that were currently pissed at him.
He supposed if he was honest with himself, he was the one that was pissed. He’d
needed their help, yes, and their support on the project that he’d been trying to get up
off the ground for months now. Nolan knew that he’d of gotten it there, but the fact was
he was too broke to go on and would have lost it all if they hadn’t sat him down and
told him they were going to help him, in any way they could.
“But I can do this.” Even Garth, the money maker in the family, shook his head.
“You just don’t understand. This is something that I want to do, and I don’t want you
taking over.”
His mom, the best mom in the entire world, had given him the most disappointed
look he’d ever seen. His heart broke then, and that had made his temper lash out at the
entire family. But his pride had won out on making things up to his mom.
“Fine. Go ahead and take over. Like you do everything else. It wouldn’t be the
Bentley clan thing if you guys didn’t have your two cents in it too, now would it? And
that’s what bothered you so much.” He started to get up and leave them to their
“intervention,” but his mother stood up and ordered him to sit. “I’m not ten. You can’t
treat me this way.”
“You are my son and I will treat you how you act. Sit down.” He sat, but he’d been
a little more than pissed. Holding his temper had always served him well, but right
now he wasn’t trying all that hard. “How much money have you spent on this amazing
project?”
“Everything.” There was no point in lying to them. They all knew, he was sure.
“But it was worth every penny, and I’m going to put more into it when I have it.”
“Good.” Her answer surprised him. “You think that I’m not proud of what you’ve
done? Do you think…well you do, don’t you? You’ve proven that, haven’t you? Do you
think that any of us would want you to not be able to make this dream of yours work?
That we’d just let you fail at something that you’ve worked so hard at?”
“I don’t want your help. I can do this on my own.” His mother only sat down and
pushed an envelope at him. “I’m not taking your money, Mom. It’s what we all worked
for so that you’d be set for the rest of your life.”
“I am set. I have my sons here. And their families. And this isn’t only from me. We
all put money in here.” The envelope was pushed at him until it was right at his
fingertips. “Take it or not. It’s entirely up to you. But if you fail at this—and you will,
because you’re not letting us help you when you need it—then I do not want to hear a
single word from you. And your father’s name on this place will be a terrible legacy to
him should you not let your family support you as he did us.”
She’d gotten up and moved to the door, her last sentence stinging him the hardest.
When they’d all left him, even his two nieces, he sat there for ten more minutes before
he got up and snatched the envelope up before going to his car. He’d not been back
home since.
“Doctor Nolan?” Nolan looked up at Loraine Bean, the nurse that had worked for
him at his old practice and had begged to come and work for him here. “There’s a
patient here that needs some attention. He didn’t have an appointment, and I can’t get
anything from him. I think he’s been hurt pretty badly.”
Nolan stood up and told her to take him to the examining room, that he’d be right
there. She nodded but didn’t move.
“I don’t think…he’s just a kid, not much bigger than my own son. About thirteen or
so. He won’t even tell me his name.” Nolan paused in pulling on his lab coat to ask her
what the boy had said to her. “Nothing other than to show me his arm, and I came to
get you.”
“Show him in and I’ll be there in a moment.” She nodded again and left. He wasn’t
sure what was going on, but he would help the child. Going down the hall, he tried to
think what would have happened, and realized he was probably making it a great deal
worse than it was.
Entering the room, he looked at his patient. The kid turned to him, and two things
struck Nolan at once. The kid was afraid of him, and he was human. The scent of blood,
strong and fresh, made Nolan’s cat make himself known. Nolan decided to go slowly.
“My name is Nolan Bentley. I’m the doctor who is going to look at you.” The kid
nodded, and Nolan sat on the stool while the kid sat on the big exam table. “What is it
you’re here to see me about?”
The kid peeled the dishtowel from his forearm. Nolan could see that it had been
bleeding a great deal. The towel, like his sleeve, was soaked through, and he was
wincing as the skin was exposed. Someone had cut him, badly and deeply.
“Can you tell me what happened?” The boy said nothing, but stared at him. “I can’t
help you unless you help me. If you were cut by a fence or something like that, you’d
need to have a tetanus shot first. Then I’d have to make sure there was no rust or
anything in the cut. If it was a knife, I’d have to know what sort of knife. Were you
cutting chicken and the blade slipped? Maybe you got hit by a piece of falling glass. Or
you—”
“Knife. A switchblade.” Nolan nodded and pulled on some gloves. “I’m…he tried
to take my money. Not that I have much, but I worked for it. He’s bigger, so it’s not like
I didn’t try to protect myself, but…he’s bigger.”
“I don’t blame you.” Nolan rolled a table with all the things he’d need to stitch him
up toward them and had the kid put his arm over it so he could look at it better. “It’s
going to need about twenty-five or so stitches. But it will need to be cleaned out first.
What does the other kid look like? The one that hurt you. Other than big, I mean. Did
you get some good licks in yourself?”
“He just left me there. I don’t think he’s hurting though. He’s a known bully and
has a gang that hangs with him. I might have hit him a few times, but it was just luck,
not anything more.” Nolan told him what he was going to do, and the kid just watched.
Opening the wound up, he could see that while it was very deep, it had cut no major
veins or tendons. But it was going to be sore for a while.
“Do you have a parent or guardian you can have my nurse call?” When the boy
didn’t answer him, Nolan stopped looking at the wound and looked at him. “I have to
make a call to her or the police. If she’s the one that did this to you, then I can get you
some—”
“No. She’d never do that…it’s not her. It’s the man that thinks he can boss her
around a lot that I worry about.” Nolan frowned, wondering what sort of life this kid
had. “He’s a real douche canoe. And no matter how many times she tells him to back
off, he’s right up in our face. And she’s not my mom, but my aunt.”
“All right. We’ll still have to call her. This guy, does he live with you two?” The kid
shook his head hard. “Then I don’t understand how it’s going to be an issue with her
being called.”
“They took the car last week because money is so short. We knew they were going
to. It’s been hard on us since my mom passed away a few months ago.” Nolan felt his
heart break for the kid. “Aunt Rylee has been working hard, but not having a car, she
won’t be able to get here now. Plus, the buses don’t run that late on her second job.
Walking home at night is dangerous, but she is trying really hard.”
“And what is your name? For the records. And if you give me her address, I can
have someone go and pick her up and bring her here.” The kid was shaking his head.
“No one will hurt her or you now that you’re here. I swear that to you.”
“I know that. But she’s…she’s not very…she’s been under a lot of stress. And she
freaks out really easy. Not badly, but…last night she cried for two hours because she
didn’t have the money for me to go on this class thing. I told her it was okay, but she
is…she’s weird about that sort of stuff. She’s this really…she was in the army when
Mom called her, and she was so…Mom said it was army life, but she was so hard. But
now she’s sort of…I guess squishy. Cries about stuff that’s okay, and then gets all
blown up when things are an injustice, as she calls them. I really love her, but she’s
weird, like I said.”
“I see. Let me get her address and I’ll have my mom go and get her. She’s
understanding about this sort of thing.” The kid still didn’t seem convinced, and Nolan
had to admire him for protecting his family. “She’s going to have to find out sooner or
later, I’m afraid. You can’t just hide something like this from her. She’ll be more hurt if
you do, I bet. My mom would be.”
“All right, but don’t say that I didn’t warn you. Her name is really Rylee McClure.”
He also gave him the address. “My name is Shane. Shane Cole.”
The phone in the examining room was there for him to use, but for the life of him he
had no idea how to contact his mother on it. She had a cell phone, he supposed, but
whenever he needed her he would just reach out to contact her through their link. He
did that now.
I need your cell number. She laughed and gave it to him. Okay. I need to call you. Will
you be able to answer me?
Yes. I’m assuming this is for someone else’s benefit? He told her it was and why. I see. Go
ahead and call me then. I’m with Reggie and Chris. The three of us were going to go to the
grocery, but this will be fun too.
He called her and explained again what he needed. Giving her both their names
and the address, he could hear his sister-in-law in the background laughing. Reggie was
talking to one of the babies, he knew from the sound of her voice, and was telling them
how Uncle Nolan was a doctor woctor. Whatever the hell that meant. Hanging up a few
minutes later, he sat back down on the chair and started cleaning the wound out while
talking with young Shane.
~~~
The doorbell nearly scared ten years off her life. Rylee had had her head in the
dryer, trying to find the last sock that had been there when she’d put it in the stupid
thing, but now was missing. She not only bumped her head, but was pretty sure that
the sock was eaten, again by the stupid machine. She was still rubbing her head when
she went to the door and peeked out the side glass.
It wasn’t Mike, thank goodness. But whatever the two women were selling, she had
no money for, nor did she have time for their spiel. Opening the door, she could see
Mike coming out of his townhouse next door and staring at them like he wasn’t going
anywhere until he had all the information she did. The nosey prick was driving her
nuts. Just as the elder woman opened her mouth to speak, Mike cut her off.
“You said you weren’t going to be home tonight. You never told me about no
company.” She ignored him for the two women. “I don’t think you should be letting
them in. They look shifty to me. And if you got no plans, then you can go with me to
the movies like I told you we could. That boy of yours, he can stay home. I don’t like
him either.”
Her temper nearly got the better of her. Rylee hated Mike Packer and wanted to
murder him daily, but lately, since her sister had died, he’d been making a total ass of
himself, bugging her and telling her what she should and shouldn’t be doing. And
when her car had gotten repossessed, he’d been all over that like white on rice. He
insisted that he be the one to drive her all over town, going so far as to send cabs that
she’d call for away when they arrived at her house.
The younger woman spoke before she could. “Fuck off, buddy. We’re not here to
see you, so go the fuck back in your house.” Well, that took religious zealots off the list
of who they might be, Rylee thought with a grin. The older woman tisked at the
younger one, who did not look the least bit repentant when she said she was sorry.
Mike made his way back into his house, but his door, forever opening and closing like a
damned revolving door lately, stood open just a little.
“Are you Rylee McClure?” Rylee told her she was, a finger of fear going down her
back. “I’m sorry, my dear, do you think we could go inside? Your neighbor seems to
think this has something to do with him.”
Mike’s door slammed shut and the older woman smiled at her. For reasons she
could not understand, she liked them both. And when she invited them in, she knew
that she’d be as safe with them as she would with her gun pointed to whoever might be
coming for her. A strange thought, but lately a lot of things had been strange.
“Do you have a child…nephew…by the name of Shane…I don’t remember what
Nolan told us his last name was, do you, Chris?” She told her. “Yes, that’s right. Shane
Cole. Do you know him?”
Her vision began to blur and her heart…she actually looked down at her chest to
see if it had fallen out of her chest. She could not lose him too. He was all she had in the
world now that…when the room began to tilt, she heard the younger women cursing
and thought perhaps she’d like to learn a few of those words soon. Before she knew it,
she was on the floor with her head between her upright knees.
“Just breathe, young lady. It’s not that bad. Or so he said.” Rylee asked her who.
“My son. He’s a doctor. A very good one. And your nephew came to his office a little
while ago and had to be looked at. I don’t know a great many of the details, but I do
know that if anyone can keep him safe, it will be my son.” Rylee wondered if she
thought this was helping, because it wasn’t.
“Gracie, you’re not helping her. She’s scared to death that he’s hurt really badly.”
Gracie, the older woman, Rylee assumed, asked her to talk to Nolan and find out. “I
have a better idea. Why don’t we just take her to him? Like he wanted us to. She might
feel better to see him even if we were to tell her he’s just fine.”
“Oh. Yes. That’s a good idea. I think the man next door…did you smell him?” Chris
must have answered because Gracie continued as if she had. “And what was he
wearing? No man should be out looking like…well, he just rolled out of the barn after
mucking it all day.”
Rylee laughed. As she pushed gently against the hand holding her down, she was
freed. Looking up from her position on the floor, she smiled at the two of them. Then
the door opened again and a woman holding two babies came in too. One of them was
screaming her head off.
“Here.” A baby was handed to Chris, and then the screaming one was shoved in
her arms. “Where is your bathroom? I have to go now. I thought you said you’d only
be…where?”
Rylee told her down the hall, but kept her eyes on the little girl in her arms. Christ,
she was beautiful, and the way her little lips puckered up like she was going to let go of
another healthy scream made Rylee’s heart melt.
“Hey there, little one. Don’t cry. Mommy will be back in a second.” The little girl
just stared at her. Her cheeks looked so downy soft that Rylee had to touch them.
Adjusting her in her hands, she ran her finger down her cheek and marveled at not just
the softness of it, but also how warm she was.
“Her name is Alexis. And this is Anna. They’re my granddaughters.” Rylee looked
at the baby that was now in Gracie’s hands and could see that they were twins. “She
likes you.”
“I never held a baby this tiny before. When Shane was born, I was away and…. Oh
my God, Shane. Can you take me to him?” The baby started to cry again but hushed
once Rylee started talking to the adults again in a calm and quiet voice. “I don’t have a
car anymore. And if I call a cab, I think that Mike will intercept it again and I’ll end up
in his car. I’ll give you some gas money. I don’t…well, not a lot of gas money, but I
managed to find ten dollars in the dryer today. I was going to take Shane out for a treat,
but….” She closed her mouth when she realized she was babbling. Not a habit she’d
developed until recently. Gracie just smiled at her and stood up.
“We were actually sent to get you.” Handing the baby back to her mom when she
returned, Rylee asked for a minute to get something on. She ran to her bedroom and
changed in record time, and put on her jacket as she made her way to the living room
again. When Gracie asked her if she was set, they left with Rylee making sure the doors
were locked three times before she walked down the sidewalk.
“You need a safer place to stay.” She looked over at Chris, who was sitting in the
front with Gracie as she drove. “That man next door, he’s going to hurt you if you
don’t.”
“I don’t think he’ll hurt me now. A couple of weeks ago he tried that crap on me
and I put him in his place. He had been backing off until today. I think he might need
another show of force.” Gracie laughed, but Chris didn’t look convinced. “He’s
harmless for the most part. And when he gets out of line, I put him back in his place. I
have…I can carry and I do now. I don’t care for it, but I have to protect us.”
She asked what they knew about Shane. Chris answered her, but Rylee had a
feeling that she was still worried about the neighbor. He really wasn’t that bad, but she
knew how to handle him when he was.
“Nolan said that he’s been cut on his arm with a knife. I don’t know the extent of
the wound other than without someone there that can authorize him to work on it, he
has to wait. Shane told him that you no longer had a car.” She waited for someone to
tell her she should work harder to keep her things, but none of them said a word about
that as Chris continued. “He isn’t much of a talker, is he?”
“No.” Rylee wanted to tell them that was her fault too. He’d been so depressed
since his mom had died, but she was having so much trouble shaking her own
depression about Shelby dying that it was hard for her to talk to him about his own. She
also knew that there had been some trouble at school, but again, he’d not shared much
in the way of information, only to tell her that he had it handled. Obviously not.
As they drove her to the nicer part of town, she realized that they knew her name,
but other than first names, she had no idea who they were. She started to ask them
when the car turned into a nice office building parking lot and the engine was turned
off. They all turned to her.
“I’m a little scared.” Gracie told her that was understandable. “I’m not…it’s been
hard on us. For the last few months, it’s been really hard on us. We can’t seem to get a
break. To be telling you this…sharing…I’m not sure why I feel I can, but I’ve not had a
great deal of friends over, and those that do come over are more interested in why
we’re so broke. I really hate people.”
“Not all people are like your so-called friends. And so you know, we trust you as
well. But you need help. We can help you.” Rylee shook her head at Chris as she
nodded. “We can and we will. You will need us as much as we do you. Go inside and
we’ll be in soon. Nolan is on the phone right now with his brother about something,
and Shane is with the nurse. Nolan will help you too…he’ll need to. His nurse is
waiting on you to fill out the paperwork.”
The sharp intake of breath from Gracie had Rylee looking at her. But she was
staring at Chris, smiling. There was something there, something that she felt like she
needed to know but wasn’t sure she actually wanted to know it. Before they could tell
her that something else had happened, she got out of the car and made her way to the
front door alone. The nurse was standing at the door like she’d been waiting on her and
let her in.
“Hello, I’m Nurse Loraine Bean. Your nephew is in the office right now. I’ve given
him something to settle his stomach…nothing more than a little soda. Nolan Bentley,
the doctor, is on the phone.” Rylee nodded. “Can you please fill out this paperwork? All
it’s staying is that you give him permission to put stitches in his arm.”
“Can I see him first? I’d feel so much better if you’d let me just make sure that it’s
him. I know it is, but I have to see him.” The nurse smiled and nodded. “Thank you.”
“No problem. He’s a good boy once he starts to talk to you. It took Nolan a little bit
to get him to open up. I think they’ve been talking manly things, because when I come
into the room, they quiet up again.” The room where she was taking her had the door
closed. “As I said, Nolan had to step out for a moment. But you should just go on in and
talk to Shane to help him relax. Then we can get the paperwork finished up. Nolan can
work on him when he gets back.”
Nodding and taking a deep breath, Rylee opened the door and moved into the
room. Shane was sitting there with his head leaning against the wall and his arm
wrapped up in a gauze-like material. There was a kit nearby him. She was sure it was
the sterile dressing and equipment used to work on him, so she was careful not to touch
it. He started sobbing as soon as he saw her.
“I’m so sorry they had to come and get you like that.” She told him it was fine. “I
thought I could take care of it on my own, but I messed up. He had a knife and I didn’t.
Not that I’d use one, but Nolan said I’d need to learn how or I’d just cut myself more.
And he cut me up before I could even think that was what he was going to do…the boy
did, not Nolan. I’m really sorry, Aunt Rylee.”
“Oh, honey, it’s all right. I’m just glad that you’re all right. But who did this? This
kid that’s been giving you problems, he took a knife to school?” He nodded, still crying.
“You should have told me, Shane. We’ll work this out. The doctor, is he taking care of
you all right? He’s not hurt you?”
“No. He’s really cool. He never told me I was stupid for taking him on when I did.
Said that I should have told you so you could have done something smarter. I like him.”
Rylee nodded and hugged him again. “Aunt Rylee, I know we don’t have the money
for this and I told him that. He said that I was his practice patient.”
“Practice? How long as he been a doctor? Surely he’s not just out of med school?”
The door opened just as she asked, and she turned to see a very tall, extremely
handsome man in a lab coat come in the room. “You’re the doctor?”
“Yes, but not Nolan. He had to leave. I’m his brother, Burke. I’m a doctor too, as a
matter of fact. And we’ve both been at it for some time, I assure you.” She felt her face
heat up, but she sat on the edge of the bed near Shane when he asked her to. “Nolan
said that you’ve been cut with a switchblade?”
“Yes. This older boy at the school, he said that he wanted my money, and since I
don’t have a lot, he got a lot of blood on him for nothing. And I think I might have hurt
him a little too.” She was surprised to hear the man say good, but before she could say
anything to him, Shane continued. “Nolan said that I should have told my aunt the
truth from the start and it might not have gotten this far.”
“More than likely not. When my brothers and I fight, we are usually pretty rough
about it. One time when my brother Micah and I had this huge fight, my mom hosed us
down with the kitchen sink thing. It sure made us pay attention when she told us to
take it outside next time.” Shane laughed, and Rylee could see the woman she’d met
doing something like that. “Okay, young man. How about we get you put back
together? Ms. Cole, you can stay or not, but the nurse is going to give him something to
relax him a bit.”
As soon as she nodded to Shane that it was okay, the nurse wiped a swab over his
arm and stuck him. In minutes, he was closing his eyes and was asleep in no time. She
looked at the doctor, worried, when he stood up. She stood as well.
“Nolan seems to think there is more to this than a cut arm. He asked me to have a
look when you got here so that…he didn’t want you to think that we had done this to
him when he came in this way. I assure you, we’d never harm him. May I?” Nodding
again, she moved back out of his way when he stood over her nephew and watched the
doctor lift Shane’s shirt up. “Just as he said it might be. I’m afraid he’s going to need
more than some stitches, Ms. Cole. He’s going to need the hospital.”
She could only stare at the bruising on his ribs and the blood from several other
cuts that seemed to stretch up to his throat and shoulders. When Burke pulled up
Shane’s pant legs too, she could see where he’d been kicked, his legs scraped and
bruised a great deal. Sitting down again, she had started to cry when someone was
suddenly holding her. Sobbing into the shoulder of Mrs. Bentley was the best thing that
had happened to her in months. Being held like this made her cry harder.

Willow The James Children Chapter One

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~CHAPTER 1~
Jared Stone pulled up in front of the bar simply named “Jim’s” at a quarter till one in the morning. He’d sat in his hotel room for over an hour and just wanted a beer and a few hours around people who spoke English for a change. The hotel staff, while very nice, just didn’t cut it. He got out of his truck and went inside. He loved the place at first glance. There were several televisions on, all to a game on Monday night football. The stools around the bar were evenly spaced and a little worn. Most of them were filled with butts that kept hopping up and down with the announcer on the television over the bar. The bar itself was a work of art, inlaid with different woods both light and dark to form a scene of the different highlights around Ohio, including the famous horseshoe stadium and a few buckeyes. There were several booths as well as half dozen or so tables with chairs scattered around the room. Jared could see a sectioned off area in the back and from the sounds, he thought it might be a pool room. He heard some shouting too, but ignored it as best he could as he sat up at the bar. A young woman walked toward him while she rubbed down the bar. She looked barely old enough to be there and all Jared could think was he really needed to get out more. “What’ll you have? Got draft and menu’s short tonight while the game is on.” A crash and loud voices punctuated the cheers around the bar. The girl turned. “When your boss gets here, I hope you all get canned.” Then under her breath, “Fucking construction workers.” Jared started to stand and go see the men in the back when the front door exploded open. In walked a blur of jeans, flannel, and dark hair. He looked back to the bartender when she yelled, “Catch.” He watched as a Louisville Slugger sailed through the air and land in Flannel’s hand. Jared was impressed. She hadn’t even broken stride. Then he realized she was headed to the back room and he got up to follow her. He watched as the woman slapped the bat under her arm and pulled a handful of her rich, dark hair up and off her neck. By the time she was steamrolling through the doorway, the bat was back in her hand and her hair was in a haphazard knot at the back of her head. Jared got a nice view of what he considered a fine ass and shapely long legs before he lost her. By the time he got to the doorjamb where she had gone, he could see a dozen or so men standing around two pool tables. He could also see that most of them were wearing J.R. Stone Construction t-shirts. Jared stepped into the room to listen to her talk to his men. “…nothing better to do at,” she jerked her sleeve up and looked at the watch on her wrist, “one fucking o’clock in the morning than to come down here and babysit a bunch of overgrown idiots.” Jared nearly burst out laughing when every man dropped their heads and mumbled something to her. “Donaldson, get Sherman and take him to the ER,” she snapped. The sea of men parted to show a man sitting in one of the few booths with a bloodied towel at his head. Jared wondered how she’d seen the men. Even with her height, most of the men in front of the injured one were a good five to six inches taller. “I’m okay, boss. Nothing more than—” “Did you think I was requesting you to go? I was not. Donaldson, now. And tell the doc to send the bill to me. Understand?”
A burly man broke from the standing pack and helped the injured Sherman up and out the door. Jared got a good look at the cut as they went by him and was surprised that the man was standing. The men shuffled again. He would bet she wasn’t finished. “Conley, tell me what happened. And you aren’t reciting War and Peace. Short informative sentences will do.” “Well now,” Conley started, and moved to the front of the pack. “Sherman there was playing a game of pool with Talbor, Denny, and me. He was winning. Sank the eight in—” A sharp look from Miss Flannel had him straighten up. “Sherman was winning and Talbor there got pissy. Said we was cheating.” “He fucking was. I seen him—” The bat raised so quickly that Jared was sure it had been spring loaded. The man speaking, Talbor, Jared assumed, snarled at her. “When it’s your turn you can wow me with your side.” Her voice was low and calm but full of venom. “I’m listening to Conley and you will shut the fuck up. Conley?” “Talbor started yelling about suing. Sherman ignored him. You know how he can do that. Can talk to the man all day and it’s like he ain’t heard a word. But he’s listening, he can—” This time, she slapped the bat in her hand. “Sorry, Will. Anyway, when Sherman didn’t fight back, Talbor hit him with his stick.” The woman turned toward Talbor now. “I’ve had about all you I can take, Talbor. Tomorrow morning, you stay off my site. I don’t want—” Her head snapped back from the blow. Talbor’s fist shot out so fast no one could have prevented it. Jared was two steps in when Miss Flannel leapt forward and hit Talbor back. Her fist hit him in the nose and blood spurted forward. Then in a move that Jared was both impressed and startled by, she had the bat around the man’s throat and him on the floor in front of her. Talbor held it from his neck with both hands as blood stained the front of his shirt. The muscles in his forearms were bunched and corded trying to push it away, showing the girl was as strong as she was gutsy. “You’re going to pay for this, bitch,” he snarled at her. “When my daddy finds out, he’ll yank your permits so quick that that fucker Stone won’t have no choice but to fire your tight fucking ass. I’ve been talking to him you know? Stone. He ain’t no happier about you than anybody else is.” Jared stopped his forward motion. This was why he was here. His father had called him home from the job site in Paris to come here to fire his foreman. Jared had a sneaky suspicion that Will James was the woman before him and not the man his father thought she was. She let Talbor go and he fell forward. She stepped around him and Jared got his first look at Miss Flannel. Her eye was swollen shut and her lip was bleeding. Blood stained her shirt front too. One of the men standing there stopped her from falling or Jared wasn’t sure what she would have done. When she turned back to him again, he took a breath. Even bloodied and beat up, she was beautiful. Jared was suddenly glad that he had been sent to Ohio. ~o0o~ Willow looked at her men. She was exhausted and hurting. All she wanted to do was sit down on one of the numerous stools and bawl, bawl like a little baby. But it wouldn’t solve the problems she was now dealing with. “You all have ten minutes to clean this mess up and set the room to rights. I want this floor cleaned and chairs put back where they were.” She leaned against the pool table, careful not to
get her blood in the green felt. “If you aren’t on time tomorrow, I will dock you an hour’s pay. You don’t show…then I suggest you use your day off wisely and find another gig.” She turned away and noticed the man standing there, but ignored him. A patron of the bar had come to see the show, she figured. When Talbor started in again on suing her and Stone Construction, she stood up, left the room, and went to the bar where Lindsey was. Willow handed her the bat back, took the bag of ice, and put it on her eye. “Bastard outta be locked up. His daddy’s been bailing his ass out for more’n ten years.” Willow nodded. “You hurt much?” Lindsey asked her. “Enough.” Willow pulled her credit card out of her back pocket and slid it across the bar. “Run this for damages. Don’t worry your insurance company. They’ll just raise your rates anyway. I’m sorry about this, Lins.” Willow noticed the man from the doorway slide back onto a stool about midway down the bar. Willow couldn’t see much of him because of the shadows. She could only see that he was tall and dark-haired. “Sorry about this, Will, but you know Durk the Jerk. If I don’t get some money, he’ll make me pay it outta my own pocket.” Lindsey gave her back the card. Willow knew that and also that Lindsey would only charge what she thought was fair. Her boss, Durk Josephs, would double whatever he thought he could get out of Willow. Willow looked down at her credit card. Willow D. James, it said, and she wondered every time she used it who that girl was. She was a long way from that rich girl who was named there. Moving toward the door, Willow followed her men out the door. Some of them would follow her home. She knew they would no matter what she told them to do. She didn’t bother. She was tired and her head was pounding. Sliding under the steering wheel of her truck, she started up and headed home. Willow loved her house. She’d bought it ten years ago just after she started working for Stone. She’d only been a gopher then. Fetching coffee and nails, bringing equipment to the other men, whatever they needed. Tony Ranch had been the foreman then and had been a bastard and treated her like shit. It wasn’t until a year later that he’d been promoted and Tommy Patel had been promoted into his position. That’s when she had started working on the site as a worker and not some slave to Ranch. Willow had been going to school then. At nineteen, she was in her last year of a business degree with one more year of architectural design. She already had a landscaping degree from attending college while in high school. Her parents loved her so they indulged what they thought of as a whim. She smiled when she thought about the day she’d gotten her first site job and how they had tried to hide their disappointment. Her brother Alexander had been the one to tell them that she would be brilliant at it. She secretly thought they had hoped she would grow bored with it and move on to more feminine projects. She hadn’t. And now, if one asked them, they would tell people it had been their idea all along. Her smile reminded her of her split lip. Turning on the lights in her bedroom, she heard the vehicle that had followed her home drive away. She was in the bathroom a few minutes later. She looked at her watch and discovered it was just shy of two-thirty. Fuck, she was tired. Debating whether to shower and stay up or go have her lip stitched, she turned on the water. No reason she couldn’t do both. By three, she was sitting on a gurney waiting for the nurse to come in and sew her up. “Want to explain how a woman I know never took a drink in her life gets her lip split in a bar fight? Or do you have some extra sideline work going on that I’m not aware of?”
Willow rolled to her back when Shannon Weiss came in with a small arsenal of medical supplies. “Nope. Just building buildings. Talbor did it.” “Ah. Say no more.” Shannon shook her head. “Punk-assed bastard. Why don’t you fire him? He’s gotta have a file a mile wide by now. And what’s he worked for you now…six, seven months?” “Five. But I can’t. The last time I tried, our permits were yanked for nine days. Stone was pissed. Said I either make it work or else he’d find someone who would.” Willow shrugged. “So I’m making it work.” She didn’t say anything while her mouth was being stitched. The Novocain made it difficult anyway. So she just closed her eyes. She used to like coming to work. At least until Stone moved away to the warmer climates during the colder months—not that she’d ever met him. All their conversations had been through emails. Willow supposed that the Carolinas weren’t all that far, but it wasn’t like the big boss was all that close either. She felt herself drifting off and with a raised hand to stall Shannon, she asked her to wake her when she was finished.

 

Willow Teaser 2

 

Willow Teaser 3

 

Willow Teaser

 

Gerard By Kathi S Barton Release Blitz & Winner Announced 11/30/15

Susie Benjamin had been denied nine jobs in three days. She had served five years for a crime she didn’t commit, and it didn’t seem to matter to these jerks that she’d been exonerated and wasn’t an ex-con at all, just a victim of circumstance. If she didn’t find a job soon what little money she had left would be gone.


Susie was a panther shifter and no one had ever told her the rules of her kind. Mason Douglas was quick to bring her to task for her not reporting that she was in town to him, the local Alpha. She’d work her sentence off on the ranch, but then she’d be gone. She wanted to be as far away as she could get before her father could find her again.


Gerard Douglas knew his brother had a new panther on the ranch, but wasn’t in any hurry to meet her. Heck, he barely had time to sleep as it was he was so busy. But when he caught sight of her at the river it was all he could do to keep his distance. She wanted him too, he could tell, but he’d never seen anyone so skittish.


Susie knew from his scent they were mates. But he’d be better off without her because if her father found out he’d kill them both….

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Chapter 1  
“I don’t understand this.” Susie looked at the paperwork in front of him, then at the man who was questioning her application. “It says here that you’ve spent some time in jail and that you’ve been…what does this word mean? Exonated?” “Exonerated. It means that the charge of murder had been wrong and I was let out because they figured out that I didn’t do it. I should never have been in jail at all, and that’s what they’re saying now.” He nodded but still looked confused. “The next paper is a copy of my release. It tells you right there that I was—” “Yeah, you said that.” He stacked the papers up, including her application, and then handed them to her. “I don’t think this will work out with us. We have customers coming in all the time and they don’t want to be waited on by an ex-con. You’ll have to go someplace else. Just don’t expect anyone else to be as nice about you and your paperwork as I was.” Standing up, Susie wanted to scream at him that she wasn’t an ex-con but a real person, and more than that, she’d not done a damned thing but be in the wrong place at the wrong time. Instead, she picked up her bag and coat and moved out of the office. Now what, her mind screamed at her. She had to find something soon or things were going to get really bad for her. This was the ninth job that she’d applied for in the last three days. Her money, what she’d gotten as a compensation for being wrongly accused, was going out faster than she had anything coming in…which was not a single dollar. Even living as cheaply as she was, she’d be broke in another month. Less if she had to move out of the hotel she was staying in, because they had a two-week limit on how long someone could stay there. Every place else was double what she was paying now. Nothing, it seemed, was going her way. Making her way back to the hotel, she bypassed the front office and just unlocked her door and entered. She didn’t owe any money for the room just yet, but the guy at the counter this time of day made her feel dirty, like she’d been bathing in slime for an hour. Putting her things on the bed after locking the door, she sat in the chair and closed her eyes.  Five years she’d been in prison. Not a long time by some standards, and less than she had been sentenced to by a long shot. Her life sentence had been overturned, and she’d been let out a month after someone on the outside had admitted to the murder of the three people in a house she’d never been in, as well as a few others things the man had, up until then, gotten away with. He’d apparently had details that were never made public, and when he’d admitted to it, saying how proud he was to not get caught, she’d been told there had been a mistake. “A fucking big one if you ask me.” Susie Benjamin had never done a thing wrong in her entire life that would have gotten her into trouble. And certainly nothing like what she’d been accused of. She’d always been careful of what she did, what she said, and even what she’d written down. Having parents that were less than stellar had made her 
into a very cautious woman and extremely terrified of the cops. She supposed she might have been a little too cautious at times, but there was little she could do about it now. Her mother had been in and out of jail most of Susie’s young life. Then when Susie had turned ten, her mom, along with three other people, had robbed a convenience store and had killed the young man behind the counter as well as a few other customers. It had been planned, they said, and since they’d brought guns with them that were loaded with extra casings, it was considered premeditated. She’d been found guilty and sentenced to twenty-five to life in prison. Which, when it came down to it, had been a life sentence, because she’d died there. And because Susie had been a minor, the courts had called in her father to care for her. It had been like going from the pan to the oven for her. Ernest Benjamin, Ernie to those few who were stupid enough to call him a friend, had been no better in caring for her than her mother, and he’d been meaner about it. The third time he’d hit her with his belt, she left. It had only taken them a week to find her and bring her back to his loving arms and his leather belt. And it never got any better after that. In fact, she’d say it was a good deal worse. Over the next five years, Susie would run away monthly. Sometimes she’d be gone for a couple of weeks, but mostly she’d be found and taken back for a more severe beating, as well as being locked in her room without food or water. Not that it caused her many problems. Getting out was easy since she was small and strong, but he’d hurt her enough on her sixteenth birthday that someone finally took notice of her situation. He’d broken her arm, beaten her so badly that she’d had hundreds of stitches as well as the concussion that made her sick when she blinked. But being put into foster care wasn’t that much of an improvement. The home she’d been sent to first had been all right. She had to help around the house a lot, but that didn’t bother her much. Then one day the man of the house had been hurt at work, and the wife had no more use for watching kids that would never be hers. She was dumped—no other word for what had happened after that—back into the system and into many homes with mean bastards or drug users for foster parents. Then there was the freaky little thing that she could do that made her a target for bullies. Being a cougar was hard to hide when she got pissed. She had learned to control her, but it wasn’t done overnight. That, unfortunately, wasn’t all that she could do, but no one had found out about that. But her father knew, and that was bad enough. Her ability to read animals and some people had gotten her into some major issues with her father. For some reason, he was under the impression he owned her, which, she supposed, he did as the leader of their leap, and she thought that he should simply go fuck himself and die. Her plan didn’t work out so well. The foster care, or the lack of it, lasted just until she was eighteen and able to move out on her own. And in that time she’d gotten her education—something that she wanted more than anything—and a job. It wasn’t a good job, and the people she rented the house with took most of her checks, but the tips were all hers. Sometimes they 
amounted to more than her checks. Then when she’d turned nineteen, they came to her hovel and arrested her for murder.  The knock at the door, firm but not loud, startled her from her morbid thoughts. “Susan, there’s a call for you.” Susie didn’t move from her position on the chair, but did glance over at the phone that had not rung since she’d been there. It was the only number she’d given out when she applied for jobs. Really, it was the only one she knew. “It’s about the job at that bar down on Seventy-Nine.” Susie still didn’t move. She’d not been anywhere near the state route, nor had she applied at a bar. She didn’t drink and certainly didn’t want to have anything to do with serving up drinks for men who got mean when they were drunk. When the guy at the door pounded on the door again, she moved to the bed to pick up the first thing she’d bought when she’d gotten out. The bat was her only defense now, and she wasn’t afraid to use it.  The pounding got harder then, and she was sure the door was going to break under his fists. “Open the fucking door, Susan. I know that you’re in there. I saw you go in.” The voice sounded familiar, but she didn’t know who it might be, as fear was making her too nervous to think beyond what he’d do when he got inside. As the pounding on the door got harder and louder, she moved to the back of the room and away from the room’s only window, and near the bathroom door should she need to escape there. “You fucking cunt, open this goddamned door and let me in. I know that you have some cash, and I want it.” Then just like that, she knew who it was. Her father, Ernie. Still not going to the door, she reached for the phone just as he moved to the window and started beating it to shit. The service at the front desk answered right away. The window wasn’t going to stand up to his abuse any better than the door had.  “You need to let him in so I don’t have to call the cops. I don’t need nothing like this going on here. This is a good family hotel and we don’t cotton to having domestic fights between families. Get him to shut up.” Nice, was all Susie could think about. And calling the cops would be less than preferable than her being beat to shit? No thanks.  “Call them. He’s not coming in here. At least not unless he breaks down your door to do so. Or…fuck.” The window burst inward, and he tore the curtains down just as she was putting the bat on her shoulder to use. “Come in here and they’ll be taking you away in a body bag, you motherfucker.” “That’s no way to talk to me, bitch. I’m your boss and you’ll fucking do as I say, or so help me, Susan, you’re gonna regret me having to make you.” She wanted to laugh at him but didn’t. Prison hadn’t been good to him either, apparently. He was bruised on his face, nothing that had improved his looks, and his mouth had sores on it, like he’d had a blister and he’d worried it to death. When he started into the room again, screaming at her about what he wanted, she pointed the bat at him and made him pause. “I want what’s coming to me. And I know you got it. That there paper said you were given completion or some shit like that. Ten grand will go a long way to making me a happy daddy.” 
“I’m not giving you shit. And it’s compensation, you dumbass, not completion.” He grinned at her, and she felt her skin crawl. His mouth was full of rotted teeth. And if that wasn’t bad enough, his lips were dry and peeling and there were sores, big ones, on his cheeks and forehead she could see now that he was closer to her. “What the fuck is wrong with you now?” “Nothing. But there will be with you when I get in there. You’ve been a disappointment to me since I squirted you in your mother. Where is she anyways?” He put his foot out to step into the room and then was gone. Not in that he fell back, or even into the room, but simply gone. Not trusting him or what he might be up to, she stood there with the bat ready in the event he returned. Then a woman was standing there messing with her hair. Her smile reminded Susie of the grandmother in those dumb card commercials. Like she was as happy as a lark. “You all right?” Nodding slowly, she watched the woman carefully. There wasn’t anything about her that was threatening, but Susie knew better than to trust anyone that she’d not touched at least once. “I won’t hurt you. I was going by and saw him trying to get in, and couldn’t let that happen. My name is Georgie Douglas.” “Yeah, and why should you care if he got in here or not?” The woman only nodded and moved away from the broken window. Then she knocked on the door. “You come in here without being invited and I’m going to knock you into next month. I don’t need your help.” Going back to the broken window, the woman turned to her right before looking back at her. There was something very calming about the woman, as if she was just as nice as she looked. But again, Susie wasn’t trusting her and stood her ground. “My nephew’s wife said that she’s on her way. Normally she doesn’t go out on calls because the mayor doesn’t do that sort of thing, I guess, but she was riding with one of the cops that have been called. Your landlord called in that you were making a disturbance.” Great, the mayor was coming, but Susie only watched her. “You’re not very trusting, are you?” “No shit.” The woman looked pained for a second but said nothing. “What did you do to Ernie? And you should really watch out in case he comes back. Because he will now that he knows where I am. And if you hurt him, which I applaud by the way, you will be in as deep as shit as I am.” “He’s going to be arrested. But he won’t be coming back here. Come out of there and let me see if he hurt you, please. I feel just horrible that he was able to break this window before I could come to your rescue. Not that you need it. Which reminds me, why didn’t you just take care of him yourself? You could have.” Susie wanted to move…felt like it was the only thing in the world she wanted to do, but she shook her head and felt better. “You’re very strong, aren’t you? I mean…well, you shouldn’t have been able to toss off my compulsion like that. You’re a cougar, aren’t you?” “So?” She felt her cat move along her skin but didn’t let her out. She had a great deal of control over her now, not like the little she’d had when she was younger. “So are you. But that doesn’t mean that we’re going to be the best of friends.” 
Georgie only smiled at her, and that was when Susie heard the sirens. Her body tensed up to the point where she wanted to run. It was as ingrained in her as much as breathing. Cops meant trouble, and trouble meant jail. Not necessarily, but it seemed that way to her and her cat. When the cops came to the door, it exploded open with no more than someone pushing against it hard. A man entered, his gun drawn and his face hard, and she knew that he, too, was a shifter, but not a cat. Wolf. When he pointed the gun at her and told her to drop her weapon, she did so without having to be asked twice.  The woman who came in behind him told him to back down. “Did you hear a word I told you on the way here? That the woman in the room was not to be…put that fucking gun down before I hit you.”  The gun was lowered, but he didn’t put it in his holster. Instead, he turned and looked at the woman with a sneer on his face. “You should know that I don’t take direct orders from you.” The woman nodded and then did the most amazing thing. She punched the man in the face, and he fell to his knees. As he was getting up, to no doubt hit the woman, she spoke, her words as soft as a gentle rain. “You do and you’ll be dead before you take your next piss.” He paused, fear only a little evident on his face. “You know who I am, and let me tell you that I’ve already contacted your alpha and told him what you’ve done.” “He’s on his way out too. I’m telling you that you’re just a little speck on my way to the top of the heap.” She asked him if he really believed that. “I do. He’s done nothing but coddle the pack for years now, and it is time for someone with a backbone to bring it around. He’s happier to hang around with you cats than he is to see to our needs. He has to go, and I’m going to be the one to take him out.” “I’ll be sure to tell him your opinion.” Two more cops came into the room with them, and the woman turned to them after taking a step back from the cop on the floor. “I want him arrested. I’ll give you the charges in—” The wolf lunged at the woman, and before Susie could think what a horribly terrible idea it was, she let her cat take her and leapt at the cop. He was dead before she finished shifting, her claws raking across his throat even as she took him to the floor. His head rolled toward the woman as Susie’s cat backed them into a corner. She was in deep shit, she just knew it. ~~~ Mason entered the station as calmly as he could. When Aunt Georgie had reached out to him a little while ago, she’d told him to come to the station but not to make a big deal out of things. He’d felt Emma’s anger and then her fear, then nothing. It wasn’t until Aunt Georgie had told him that she’d bumped her head but was all right now that he could reach out to his wife. Emma had some explaining to do. Don’t make me have to explain why my big bad husband had to come in here and make it all better. If you do, everything I’ve worked for will be for nothing. He asked her calmly, or as calmly as he could, what had happened. I was stupid. I turned my back on someone when I knew better. But I’m fine. 
That does not leave me with a warm and fuzzy feeling, Emma. I felt your terror and it nearly took me to my knees. Please, I beg of you. What happened? She told him she’d explain it to him when he got there, but not to make a scene.  The first person he saw when he came into the front of the station house was his aunt. Her smiling at him had him thinking that someone needed to be punched. Not her, of course, but someone, and soon. She was entirely too mean to hit and not expect to be hit back. “She’s fine. Shook up a bit but fine. She’s back there talking to the woman who saved her butt. That man…oh my Mason, he was going to kill our little Emma, and if that…if that other woman had not changed and took him, I’m not sure how it would have ended.” This wasn’t helping him or his cat. Mason had been out on the range with ten men when he’d nearly cut his hand off because the knife he’d been using slipped. They’d been putting up a fence that had been knocked over by a fallen tree and he’d been in charge of cutting the old wire off. Had Gerard or Jace not been there, he wasn’t sure what he’d have done. “Can I see her now?” Aunt Georgie told him she was calming the other cat…the one that had saved her. “What other cat? You mean another cougar is here?” “Two actually. Her father and this young woman. I saved her first, so you know. I’m telling you that so you don’t find out later and get upset with me. I was there visiting a friend of mine who has only just moved to this area, and I heard the commotion. She and her family have been wanting to move to this area for some time, and they’ve put a bid on a house close to the ranches. But there was this man, as I was saying. He was going to go and hurt the girl. I just had to act. Good thing too. I think he was going to kill her.”  Mason only stared at his aunt. He was getting more and more confused by the second. Two cougars were here? And who was the woman and man? He started to ask her what the hell she was talking about when she smiled at him.  “You’re confused. I’m sorry. To be honest with you, I’m a little shook up myself. But let me explain. There was this man who was trying to hurt who I found out later was his daughter. She wasn’t having him in her room, so he busted out the front window. Then he—” “Aunt Georgie.” She smiled at him. “I love you very much, but you’re driving me insane with this roundabout story. Either get to some point so my cat will be happy or…you know what? Never mind. Am I going to get to see Emma any time soon?” Then Mason felt her. She was coming through the door just as his aunt started again about her friend. As he moved around his aunt to see his wife, Emma nearly fell into his arms. Mason held her for several minutes before she lifted her chin up to look at him. There was a small stain of blood on her cheek, but he knew that it wasn’t hers. Mason asked her if she was all right. “Yes, I am, thanks to the…I want you to know that this girl is the most stubborn woman I have…I thought you said that I could make people talk to me when they didn’t want to. And especially other cougars.” He said that was true. “Well, not with 
this woman. She’s as tight lipped as I’ve ever seen anyone be. And she just shakes off the compulsion like it’s nothing. I think she’s a half breed…is that what you call people who aren’t all cat? But I really don’t know. She could be a mountain goat for all I can get from her.” “I’m sure you’d know if she was a goat or not. Now, who is she?” Emma said she was still trying to work that out, but she did ask him to talk to her. “Talk to her about what? I’m assuming that you’ve arrested her or had her arrested?” “No. She did nothing wrong as far as I’m concerned. She’s free to go, but she just sits there staring at her lap like it’s got all the answers. The most I’ve gotten out of her is that the man that Aunt George knocked out is her father, and that didn’t come from her but from him. And let me tell you, he’s not shut up since he woke up. I have never met two people that are more ill-suited to be related in my life. She just calmly sits there while he spouts off about suing us and having your aunt arrested for poor treatment of him. Bastard. But I can feel her fear, Mason. She’s terrified of something or someone.” He asked her if she thought it was her. “I didn’t do anything to her. And if that were the case, why save me?” “I’ll talk to her, but I don’t know if I’ll have any more luck than you did. If she throws off the compulsion, she might belong to another alpha. Or has pledged to one. Whatever the reason, she should have let us know she was here and how long she was staying. It’s the law of our kind and she should have known that.” He was shown to the room she was in and turned to Emma when she started to go in with him. “This might be better if you let me handle her. I’m not sure what might happen, and if she shifts again she’s going to pull both our cats, and that won’t be good.” “Don’t hurt her.” Mason turned to look at her before he opened the door. “Just…trust me on this when I tell you that she’ll drive you to want to hurt her, but don’t. There is something profoundly sad about her that I don’t think she’s handling as well as she’d like to think she is.” “Even though you don’t know her, you can feel this from her.” Emma nodded. “Are you thinking that this man, her father, should be brought in as well? I mean for me to talk to?” “Oh yeah, that’s a given. But for now, I think you should just go easy on her. And you should know that your aunt is looking into some things. She said that she could smell Calendar on her, the guy at the restaurant that you had words with the other night. I think she might have had a run-in with him too.” He grinned. The man had been making passes at his staff and then taking away some of their checks for no good reason other than they’d not have sex with him. Mason had fun showing him the error of his ways. Zach had even helped him. “This is no time to tell me how proud you are of yourself. You could have hurt that man.” “But I didn’t, and I’m pretty sure that when he finds out who my aunt is related to, he’s going to be falling all over himself to help her.” Emma only sighed heavily. “What is it, Emma? This girl, what is it that has you so worked up?” “I have no idea. For all I know she could be this terrible person who runs over small dogs in her free time. But there is something about her that makes me want to protect 
her.” He moved away from the door and took her into his arms. “Just don’t let her get hurt, Mason. By you or anyone else. For all her stubbornness, I think I like her. And she saved me from having to explain to you why I got hurt.” Kissing her again, he went to the door and let out a long breath. He was sort of nervous if he was honest with himself, but he opened the door and moved into the room.  A man was standing behind her, another cop…a wolf that he knew from the local pack. She didn’t look up when he came into the room, but he could see by the stiffness of her body that she knew just who he was. Either that or she was bracing herself for pain. Either way, he had to take charge right now. “Do you know what I am?” She nodded but didn’t lift her head. “Look at me when I talk to you.” As her head lifted, he could see the blood on her face. He didn’t see a cut, but there was enough blood there to tell him she’d been hurt. Walking to her, he lifted her chin up and saw that her nose had been bleeding recently, and wondered if it was from when Emma had been in here. Fighting compulsions, especially from a leader, was hard on a person. Telling the cop to go and get her a wash cloth, Mason sat down in front of her. “Tell me who you are.” He could see her fighting him. Christ, she was strong, and when she shivered he knew that she’d won this round. “Tell me who you are now. And what that man at the hotel wanted from you.” She lost, but at great cost to herself. The blood at her nose from the pain of what she was doing wasn’t all that happened to her. When she looked at him, he could see the anger too. She’d also bitten her lip through, and the swelling was making his heart pull. “Susan Benjamin.” He didn’t think she was going to answer all of his questions, but she put her hands on the table and glared at him. Instead of pissing him off, Mason found himself liking her. “I’m not an ex-con, and that man, my father, will kill me as soon as I’m set free. If he doesn’t do the deed himself, I will do it for him because I’m not going to do what he wants.” Reaching for Emma, he let her know what she’d said about not being an ex-con and asked her to look into it. He looked at the girl. “What are you doing in this town without telling me who you are and why you are here?” He could see the confusion on her face, so he explained. “I’m the leader of this leap, and by law you have to report to me, or whoever is in charge, of your presence.” “Why?” He really didn’t know for sure why, but he knew it was law. “Not that it matters. I’m going to move on as soon as I’m sure that Ernie is going to be under lock and key for a while.” “Ernie would be your father?” She nodded and wiped the blood off her upper lip. “You’d not hurt if you’d just answer the questions instead of being stubborn. You know that, don’t you?” “Fuck off.” He nearly laughed at her but only just caught himself. “Am I in trouble? Can I leave? Or are you going to keep me here under some trumped-up charges for killing that fuck?” 
“The other cop?” She didn’t even blink in his direction. “I have no control of what happens to you about the wolf you killed. His alpha is coming in here to talk to you as well. If he has any kind of punishment in mind, I can take care of that for—” “No. You stay out of it. That would be between the two of us, nothing to do with you.” He nodded, but knew as surely as he was sitting there with her that he’d intercede on her part. “What happens to Ernie?” “I don’t know. I’m not a cop, nor do I try and interfere with their laws.” The snort coming from Susan had him covering his mouth. She really was about as stubborn a person as he’d ever met. “What were you doing there? I mean, why are you here?” “Didn’t she tell you yet?” He leaned back in his chair and asked her who. “Your wife. The mayor. I’m assuming that as soon as you told her that I’m not an ex-con and what my name is, she got right on that. But let me tell you now. I’m moving on as soon as I find out where Ernie is and how long he’s going to be there.” “I’m afraid I can’t let you do that.” She glared harder. He had no idea why he’d said that she couldn’t leave just yet, and was afraid she’d ask him. “You broke the law, and even if you weren’t aware of it, you still did it. There will be repercussions for your actions, and as soon as you’re free from here, you’ll report to me.”  Mason stood up, and so did she. She was tall, nearly as tall as him. And he had a feeling that her cat was going to be big as well. He was going to have to ask Emma. When she did nothing more than stare at him, Mason had a sudden thought. She was terrified. “What will you have me do? Be tied to a post while you beat me? I won’t take it again. Or do you plan to put me in a cell, lock me away for another five years? If that’s your plan, then I’d prefer that you fight me and kill me.” Mason was so shocked by her words that he did not do or say anything. “I won’t be treated that way again. Do you hear me? I’m not going to live if you do that.” When she leapt at him, it was all he could do to keep her from hurting him. When he flipped her to her back and held her down with his weight, he thought for sure she was going to shift. He stopped her with a single command. And when she stilled, he watched her.  “You thought that if you attacked me, I’d kill you. Was that your grand plan? To have me kill you so that whatever kind of thoughts are going on in your head wouldn’t happen?” She only stared up at him. “Answer me, damn it. I’ve had a shitty morning so far, and you’re so not helping it.” Nothing. Not a single word passed her lips, and he could see what it was costing her. When he commanded her again, just to see how far he could push her, she passed out, and Mason felt that this was only the beginning of the feud between them. For some reason, he was looking forward to it. Calling to the guard to have her taken to his home, he hoped to Christ he wasn’t making the biggest mistake of his life. Or that of his family if she decided to take some of her anger out on them. But he had a feeling that once tamed, she was going to be a hell of an ally. 

Phillip By Kathi S Barton Release Blitz & Winner Announced 11/16/15

Phillip Lanning is beyond tired. The jobs they’ve been doing with their search and rescue company are just draining him. He needs a break and isn’t sure how to tell his brothers that he’s burnt out. When Nic appears in his apartment to tell him of another mission, this one happens to be his mate, and she’s sick to boot, Nic tells him that the only way she’ll live is if he converts her into a leopard. She doesn’t have much time left. Phillip doesn’t know what to think.
Charleston Grant, better known as Charlie, knows her days are numbered. The tumor’s pressing on her optic nerve and the doctors aren’t giving her long. And when she fell into possession of a coded book, she and her mom became a target. Charlie just wants to get her mom to safety before she dies. Nic tells her he can help her with that, to go with the Lannings and everything will work out.
When Charlie wakes, she knows something is off. She was supposed to die, but instead she can see. And the story she gets about shifters and immortality has her head spinning. Not to mention finding out that her mother isn’t really her mother and her life to this point has been one big lie. And the woman she’s been protecting has sold her out…Charlie is at her wits end. Now a surprise visitor, a fate, shows up and says that Charlie and Phillip were never supposed to meet…she had gone to great lengths to make sure of it…now both Charlie and Phillip are pissed. Who does this woman thinks she is?

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 Winner of the mystery paperback is  Jamie Boring 
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Chapter 1
 Phillip moved through the apartment without seeing anything. He was exhausted
and he hurt. Going up the stairs to his bed seemed like too much effort, so he just
stripped down to his boxers and sat on the couch. He felt the man in the room before he
closed his eyes.
“You should take better care when you are home alone, young Phillip.” Phillip
didn’t even bother answering Nic. “I could have killed you and been gone before you
even sat down.”
“I’m too tired to fuck around right now, Nic. Go away.” The room brightened with
light from the fireplace and he glared at the man. “Are you really going to make me pay
attention to you? Have you any idea how tired I am right now?”
“I do, and yes. You must pay attention to me. It is very important.” Phillip got up
and moved to the kitchen, snagging a pair of pants from the laundry basket as he
moved by it. He had no idea if the stuff was clean or not, but he didn’t want to talk to
Nic half-naked. “Trouble is brewing. And I fear that you are going to be hurt most of
anyone.”
“What else is new? I’m so tired right now all I want to do is sleep. I’m beginning to
hate this job, if you want to know the truth.” He opened his refrigerator and closed it
quickly. “I think I forgot to dump stuff before we left this time.”
“It is fine now.” Nic sat at Phillip’s table and a glass of something appeared in front
of him. Phillip opened his refrigerator again and wasn’t surprised to find it not just fully
stocked, but cleaned of all the old stuff as well. He took out the tray of luncheon meats
and went to find a loaf of bread. “We have been searching for Grant for you. There is
something that you should know. Plenty…but for now, this will be very important to
you and your family.”
“I’m sure, but right now unless it’s a matter of life or death, just give me the
highlights.” Nic nodded and watched him as he put together four thick sandwiches. It
was really too much for him, but he knew that Nic would help him out. After getting a
large glass of water, he sat down and handed one of the sandwiches to Nic. “Tell me
while I eat.”
“Charleston Grant is not dead as we have assumed. Hiding, but not dead. There are
others still searching for…Mr. Murphy was not the only one that has been looking.
Charlie is human, and as far as I can tell, never had any encounters with non-humans.”
“What do you mean, as far as you can tell? Have you seen him?” Nic smiled and
shook his head. “What does that mean? You don’t smile like that unless you know
something very creepy. Not that much of what you do isn’t sort of on the creepy side,
but right now I’m too tired to figure it out.”
“I do not know what you mean about being this creepy person. As for what I know
about Charlie, as she tells people to call her, it is very little. Not by that name anyway.”
Phillip nodded and had taken a large bite of his sandwich when what Nic had said
occurred to him. Choking on the bread and meat, he had to take several deep breaths
before he was able to dislodge it from his throat before he looked at Nic again.
“She?” Nic nodded and smiled again. “Charleston Grant is a female? You’re sure
about that?”
“I do know the difference between a female and male, young Phillip.” Phillip
nodded, not sure he wanted to know anything else about this woman. “She will need to
come here, and soon. It is…it will be important to all that she is here and safe.”
He wasn’t going to ask. Phillip didn’t want to know. Not really. She was someone’s
mate, he just knew it. When Nic got up and poured him more water from the sink,
Phillip wanted to ask him for something stronger but didn’t. He wanted a clear head.
“Daniel let it be known that she had his book. And those men are after her. Her
business was quite successful. She has a great deal of money on hand, all of it cash, and
she can hide for as long as she wishes. However, she’s not very good at it and someone
has let them know where she is. They are closing in on her now and she will be out of
options soon. Not just from the men who are hunting her, but other things as well.”
Phillip asked him what they had to do with it and regretted the question as soon as it
left his mouth. “She cannot die. You need her.”
“She’s my mate then.” It wasn’t a question, but Nic confirmed it anyway. “I didn’t
think you’d be able to tell me that. I mean, I guess I just thought you’d let me find out
on my own. Fumble around a little until we fall into the bed and then in love.”
“It will not work that way with you.” Phillip got up to put his dinner on the sink
and turned to stare at his friend as he continued. “Charlie will need special care from
you. A great deal of it from everyone. She does not see.”
“You mean she’s blind.” Nic shook his head no, then yes. “I don’t understand. How
can she not see?”
“I’m not sure how to explain it. I’ve never run into this kind of problem before.”
Phillip didn’t know either, and if Nic didn’t, then it was going to be something he
wasn’t sure he was going to understand. “She is ill. Very much so. Not from the
running, but an illness. I have helped her a little, but she will need you to convert her so
that she might live. Her mother is with her now.”
“You think that will save her? And make her see?” Again, he said he didn’t know.
“This is not the least bit helpful, you know that, right?”
Nic stood up and stretched. “I did not want you not to have the opportunity to
fumble around some. But I must go to her now. She is in danger as we speak. You and
Misha, you will need to go and get them. Bring them here as soon as possible.”
When he disappeared, Phillip cleaned up his kitchen. He was currently house
hunting, having decided that after seeing how much fun his brothers were having in
their homes. Living in an apartment wasn’t really something that he was enjoying. His
neighbors could be heard at all times, and that was driving him nutty. Phillip wondered
if he should wait until his mate came to….
“Well, fuck.”
Sitting down, he stared off into the living room, which was darkened now that the
gas fireplace was off, and thought about what Nic had told him. His mate was the
elusive Charleston Grant, and she was sick. He knew nothing more about her other
than…well, even that was an unknown to him. How she was ill. His cell phone ringing
in the living room had him go to where he’d dropped his pants and answer it on the
third ring.
Misha didn’t sound all that happy either. “Nic was just here. Motherfucker scared
the shit out of me showing up like he did.” Phillip told him he’d been there as well.
“Did he tell you about this Charleston person and the mom? That they were in trouble?
And that we’re going to have to help them?”
Phillip wondered if he’d told his brother about her being his mate and decided to
wait and see. “He said that Grant would have to come to the compound to be safe. You
suppose that he might be wrong?”
He was hoping but knew that Nic was right. “No. He told me that you and I would
have to go and get them. That they’re in some deep shit. I don’t mind telling you that I
want something to go normal for a change. Normal would be good.”
“I agree.” Phillip knew then that Misha didn’t know anything but what the rest of
them knew. “When does he think we should go?”
“In the morning. He’ll be here at nine to pick us up. I guess that Thomas is going to
go too, to help with bringing him here. I guess he’s sick or something. Did he tell you
what from?” Phillip told him that he’d not said. “I guess you should stay here then, for
a little while anyway. Just to help keep this guy safe.”
Phillip didn’t think that once he saw the woman that he’d be able to go anywhere,
but said nothing like that to Misha. After a little more conversation about what time he
was going to be there, they hung up. Phillip turned on all the lights in his small
apartment and looked around.
This place was much like his other brothers’ homes. Not the married ones, but the
single ones. Andrew prided himself on the fact that he only had a bed in his place, and
nothing more than a stool that he ate at the counter with. There was a fridge, but he was
pretty sure that he’d never even plugged it in since it had been delivered a few weeks
ago. Phillip knew that if he went out on the deck at Andrew’s place, he would see that
the only thing that was out there was a big box with his grill inside, and nothing else.
He’d not even bothered putting that together.
Rider might have had a little more stuff fixed up, as he actually lived in a house and
not an apartment. It was being built now and as rooms were finished, Rider was living
in them. Phillip thought it was crazy, but then it was Rider.
Rider would have hated living in boxes because it was something that he could
control by emptying them, but he’d be no more set up in anything other than a bachelor
pad than Phillip or Andrew. There would be nothing on the back of the couch, no throw
blanket like those that were forever on the backs of Misha’s and the other two married
brother’s couches. And he’d bet anything that even though Rider had a house, there
wouldn’t have been any kind of decorations left over from Christmas. He would have
put that crap away the day after. Much like Phillip had done.
Phillip decided to go online while he was already awake and make a better effort
toward getting him a house. Or a mate a house. He wondered if he should get one on a
single level or…Christ, he didn’t have any idea, but looked anyway.
Just as the sun was coming up, he’d marked four of them. Two he really liked, one
he was so-so about, but the fourth one was the one he really wanted. It wasn’t too far
from his family’s homes, and he thought the acreage was perfect for him and the rest of
them should they come over to run. There was even a lovely lake on the property that
had a boat house as well as a boat should he want to purchase it. Leaving a note for the
realtor, he made his way to the bedroom to shower and change. Wondering what one
should wear to meet their mate for the first time, he pulled out a pair of jeans, his usual
mode of dress, as well as a Lanning tee-shirt. Going back to his closet, he changed it out
for a nice button down and turned on the water in his bathroom.
While the water heated up, he looked in the mirror. He’d been beaten around this
time, more than the rest, when he’d gone into the water to catch the body that had been
floating down the fast moving water. The cuts and burses on his body would heal as his
broken rib had already. He was alive, and thanks to a little extra magic from his brother
and his wife, Phillip would live for a very long time. But Phillip was, like he was pretty
sure Carter was, sick of the depressing assed job all together.
The accident up the river had dumped several bodies into it, and there had still
been three missing when he pulled the older man out. It was better than the twenty-six
that had been missing before they’d gotten there. But Misha had told the people they
were done in and had to leave. It wasn’t like them to leave before all were accounted for
and Phillip, like the rest, had been surprised by the move. Until they got on the plane.
“I talked to Linyah and she said it was done. There would be no finding the bodies
simply because they weren’t there. It was a scam.” Rider had asked him what he meant.
“Two men are claiming their spouses were on the bridge when it collapsed. They’re
hoping to get in on the money that is going to be flowing when the attorneys get started
on this.”
Phillip had been shocked. Not as much as Murph had been, but then she was new
to this kind of search and rescue. And being a former cop, she’d wanted to go and find
the men and have them brought to justice. Thomas assured her that it was being taken
care of, and Phillip was sure that it was.
Phillip was nearly to his brother’s house an hour later when he heard from his
realtor on the house that he wanted. He could afford it, no problems. But he would not
pay the asking price if he didn’t have to. The realtor agreed with him, pointing out that
rarely did anyone ask what they really wanted for a house.
“Let me do some talking and I’ll get back to you sometime today. I have some
insider information on the house and it’s been on the market for some time. I will tell
you that the owners are very motivated to sell, and perhaps we can get a much better
price.” He told her to do what she could. Pulling in the drive, he assured her that he’d
be available if she needed him.
Before he left Misha’s with Nic and Thomas, he asked Hannah to look into the
address of the house he was interested in. He wanted some first-hand knowledge on the
place, and even some reassurances that the place wasn’t a total mess. She assured him
that she would, and Max said that he would as well. The little guy was going to hang
out with them today, as Murph and Carter had some things to look into about her dad’s
estate. Phillip wasn’t looking forward to this.
~~~
Charlie felt the air around her move gently and tilted her head back to feel the sun
on her face. It wasn’t like her to be idle, but she knew that she was being watched right
now and let herself relax. Her mom would never do anything to hurt her. Nor would
she let anyone hurt her. But they’d been on the run for a while now, and she just knew
when they were being observed now.
“You should know that men…four of them…are coming toward us.” Sitting up, she
tilted her head. “To your left, love. Just beyond us about twenty feet or so. I have my
gun out, so you know.”
“Don’t shoot them yet, all right?” Her mother would shoot them, too, if they made a
false move. “It might be that guy I was telling you about. He’s really tall and his hair is
fairly long.”
“I think it’s him. He’s with three other men. One of them is big, like strong big. The
other two are as well, but younger. Those three are related. They look too much alike
not to be.”
Charlie knew that the two of them were safe. For now. But in a few days, less more
than likely, they’d have to move again. Nic had assured her that they were being cared
for and that no one would bother them. She didn’t have any idea why she trusted him,
but he’d helped her with a few things and she had it in her head and heart that he was
one of the good guys. And he’d promised her that he’d watch over her mom when
things were settled in a couple of days too. Charlie had had enough of the pain in her
head and wanted it to end now.
Charlie knew that she only had weeks to live, more than likely less than that if the
way she was feeling was any indication. It had been coming on for a while now and she
knew, as did her mom, that it wasn’t going to be long. Mom just had no idea how soon
it was going to be.
The tumor in her head had gone too long without anyone knowing it was there for
much to be done about it. And now it was too late. It had taken over the part of her
brain that would eventually shut down all her body, and she’d die. Nic had promised
her, after the second time he’d come to see her, that he’d make sure that she did not
suffer when the time came. Nor would her mom have to see her in that condition. It was
the only reason she was willing to meet with these people today. They were going to
take her mom to someplace safe.
“Mrs. Grant? We’re here to help your son.” The voice was very cultured, and
Charlie waited for her mom to correct the speaker. When she didn’t, Charlie started to
speak when the man did again. “We’re here to see Charleston Grant. We’ve been told
that he’s in some serious trouble that we can help him with.”
“It’s a her, Misha.” The other voice, the other brother she assumed, sounded pissed.
She wasn’t sure why, but Charlie thought that she didn’t care for the man. “It’s Charlie
Grant, and she’s the younger woman, aren’t you?”
“I am.” She’d answered him before she could think that she shouldn’t. “And you
would be Mr. Lanning? The one that is going to take care of my mom?”
“I’m here to see you, yes, and if this is your mom, then she’s welcome to come with
us too.” Charlie stood up and felt the shadow of the man tower over her. She was tall,
almost six foot, but he felt bigger than her. “I’m Phillip. This is my brother Misha and
my other brother Thomas. And I’m to understand that you know Nic.”
Nic touched her shoulder, and she heard a soft growl. Charlie felt the hair on her
arm dance at the sound and wondered what the hell that was. Before she could ask, Nic
was laughing and letting her go.
“Charlie? What do you mean, he’s to take care of me? I do not need taking care of,
young lady. I’m very capable of taking care of myself.” Charlie felt her eyes, useless
now that the tumor was pressing against her optic nerves, fill with tears. She was going
to miss her mom so much when she died. “Charlie?”
“They’re going to keep you safe from Mr. Murphy and his goons. They can do it
better than I can now.” Her mother touched her, warm and comforting. “Mom, you
know that they’re coming. And when they do—”
“He’s dead. Daniel Murphy is long gone, but you’re right that more than just him
are after you both.” Charlie hadn’t heard that the bastard had died, but was too busy
trying to think how to convince her mom she’d be safer with these men to think about
it. When the man spoke again, she knew that he was closer to her, and she felt her body
wanting to sway to touch him. “I’m going to…we’re going to take you back to our
house and keep you safe.”
“I’m not going anywhere but back to the apartment and hide out.” She had more
plans, but her mom didn’t have to know that. “So if you’ll take her now, she’ll be fine
and safe for me. Nic and I have an—”
“I can no longer keep you safe.” She turned to the sound of Nic’s voice. “You will
need to go with these men now. Both of you. He will…Phillip will need to care for you
both now.”
The other man—Misha, Charlie thought the man’s name was—laughed. It wasn’t
like he was making fun of her or the situation, but that he’d found something incredibly
funny. And for some reason she was pissed about that too.
“I will not be going anywhere without you, young lady. I have spoken to you
this….”
The sound, very distant yet sharp, had Charlie turning her head toward it. She
knew the sound…a gunfire report, and something that had been hit. “Mom, where are
you?”
“Here.” Taking her mom’s hand after fumbling for a precious second, she backed
away from the men. “Where is he, Charlie? Can you hear him?”
Close was all she knew. The sound—a gun being readied to fire again—made her
skin crawl up around her ears. Backing up, she hit something solid behind her and cried
out. The arms at her elbows had her pausing. The whispered voice at her ear made her
shiver.
“Where did you hear it from?” She told Phillip to the north. “All right. I’m going to
wrap my arms around your waist and we’re going to move. As one. Your mom is with
Misha, and Nic and Thomas have gone to see to whatever it is you heard.”
“I can’t go with you. Nic said he’d help me.” The arm at her waist was firm, and she
put her hand over it. “Don’t let anything happen to her. She is all I have in the world.”
“Not anymore.” She had no more idea what that meant than she did a great many
things lately. But before she could ask him what he meant, she felt movement, fast and
very dizzying. Holding tighter to the man that held her, she closed her eyes. It didn’t
make much difference, but she did feel better for it. When the movement stopped, she
held onto the man just a little longer simply because it felt good. He moved his mouth
near her ear, and she could have sworn he nibbled on her. Then the heat of his body
was gone from hers.
The smells were different. She knew that the dump that they were hiding in, her
mom and her, was in horrible shape. The smells alone made her think of old abandoned
buildings, and even if her mom had not described it to her, she would have known it
wasn’t in the best of neighborhoods. But this place did not smell anything like that.
Pine, like a Christmas tree, was strong in the air. She could smell vanilla and sugar
too, and wood burning in a fireplace. Charlie reached out her fingers to move and
touched the man again, and had no idea why she knew it was him. When he curled his
fingers into hers, it felt as right as anything she’d ever done before. She pulled her hand
from his, and he didn’t fight.
“Where is my mom?” He laughed a little, and Charlie felt embarrassed. She’d been
sharp and harsh and that wasn’t like her. “Can you please tell me where my mom is?
And for that matter, where I am?”
“You’re in my brother’s home…Misha’s house. Your mom is here, too, but in a
different part of the house. I think she’s with my sister-in-law, Hannah. That would be
Misha’s wife.” Reaching out again, she took his elbow when he offered it to her. “We’re
in the living room. Right in front of you is a sofa. It’s about three inches to your left.”
The warmth of the fire had her moving toward it a little, and he told her to be
careful, it was huge. As her toes touched the hearth, she knew he was right…the fire
blazing from the area was enormous, and she put out her hands to get warm. It seemed
that lately she was never warm enough…or for that matter, rested enough.
“Why am I here and not with her?” Phillip said that he wanted to talk to her.
“About what? I want to go and see her to make sure that she’s all right before I go.”
“And where do you think you’ll be able to go? You can’t see to drive, not that I
think your blindness would stop you. I bet given enough time, you’d do just about
anything. And since I’m pretty sure that you have no idea where you are, you’re not
going to be safe out there once you go. How am I doing so far?” She wanted to hit him,
and she was pretty sure he knew it. “Also, as I said, I wanted to talk to you. About what
you are to me and what sort of things you might know about my kind.”
“Your kind? You mean men?” He told her no, he was more than that. “How did I
get here without you driving me here? And I want to see my mom.”
Charlie felt weak all of a sudden. It was coming on her more and more often of late,
and she reached blindly for something to sit on. The man put his arms around her again
and she had no choice but to lean heavily on him. Blood—she knew what it was
without being told—poured from her nose.
He picked her up suddenly. Charlie might have protested, but she knew she wasn’t
getting over it this time. That was another thing, it was taking her too long to recover.
Letting her body go, having no choice on that either, she felt herself being swallowed
up. She heard the man saying her name, shouting it really, but there was little to
nothing that she could do about it as darkness took her away.

Jedidiah by Kathi S Barton Release Day 11/2/15

Lindsey Decker is hiding in the woods when the dragon shifter, Casdon, finds her on their property. She’s tired, hungry, in a lot of pain, and absolutely determined not to ask for any help. She just needs to stay hidden before that idiot Cox finds her and probably kills her this time. The cave she found will provide some protection if she doesn’t freeze to death first.


Jedidiah Benson and his dragon shifter Zak are at odds. When Casdon tells the family of the injured woman hiding in the caves, Zak knows immediately upon finding her that the girl is his and Jedidiah’s mate, but Jedidiah refuses to even look at the girl proclaiming he wouldn’t know what to do with a mate. Zak has no reservations and knows if they don’t do something fast she’ll die.


Lindsey wakes between two gorgeous men and isn’t sure if she’s dreaming or still in a fevered state. The things she wants to do with these men, both of them, should feel wrong, but instead feels it’s her destiny.


Lindsey is destined for more than two mates. Lindsey is a beacon for the lost dragons. It’s time for their return, but it’s still dangerous for them to do so. They’re being hunted, and no one is safe….

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Prologue  
Eve moved back and forth between the small room and the larger one where her children lay nestled in their protective shells. The kingdom was being ripped apart; her mate, father to her children, was being murdered even as she made preparations for the children she’d never see born. Making one more trip, the one that would give them the key to get to what she had worked so hard to make sure they had, Eve lay down and spoke to her sons. “You will each, someday, come to be in love. It is the most wondrous feeling of all you will ever feel. If only I could see you then…the grown men that you will be, with the loves of your lives with you carrying on our names and the dragon line. And sons of my good friend Sally…she will help you in ways that I could never do. If only….” Shifting into a more comfortable position, her heart nearly as dead as her body, she touched her fingers to each of them, then picked up her second born. He was meant for things that would bring much to others…happiness mostly, but some sadness too. But he would be great in his life, bringing magic to those that he loved. Touching her fingers over the crown of his shell, Eve smiled. “Zak, you will love like none other. Your mate will come to you terrified and full of hate. Not of you but of another, one you will see die by the hand of another, but she will need you no less for it. You and your other half will bring her to love you back.” Setting him down, Eve spoke to the others before laying her head down on the warmed stone. “When I was born, so many centuries ago that I have long since forgotten the year, there were so many of us. Dragons were plentiful, mates and families grew, and more came yearly. Then one year in my youth, a woman—a witch—came to us, warning us all that things were going to change. That soon, all of us would be killed by men, humans. Caroline was not just correct in her telling, but she even went with us when we traveled.” She put her hand around Kiaran and held him to her as she spoke. “No one believed her but my father. He packed us up that night, and we left as the skies were turning pink for the new day. As we flew away, another family, this one of greater magic than ours, came with us. That was the family of your grandparents, the sire of your father and his mate.” Her body was dying, slowly but without pain now. As she lay there thinking of them still, her family and how much they had endured to keep her safe, she thought of the couple who would care for her children, Sally and Jacob. “I knew her family long ago. And that of Jacob. His family was a part of the humans that we had lived with, as was hers. Sally you will come to love as a mother, for which I should be jealous of her but am not. Her grandmother, like her granddaughter, was one of the kindest women I ever met, human or otherwise. She would bring me sweets when she had any to spare, and I would, in kind, take her meat when I was out hunting. It was fair trade for what we gave to each other. Her granddaughter is no different in her love and understanding of us dragons.” Closing her eyes, Eve felt Anthony’s pain and his urgency to have the young couple understand what he needed 
from them. “He is a good and wonderful man, your father. So much like his own sire that it takes my breath away to know that he is all mine.” She looked at her children, and then at Zak. Smiling, she touched him again, giving him a little more than she had the rest. “You will survive more than most. Love harder than anyone, and be hurt for it in a way that no one will ever be able to see. Zak, my second born, child of my heart, I will give you a gift. A gift that only a woman of your heart will understand and be able to touch. You will have a child like none other. A child born of magic from all dragons.” Touching him now, she knew that she had only moments to live. Tears burned her cheeks as she thought of all that she would miss. Holding Kiaran to her heart, her body slipped away into death, and she knew. Her last thoughts were that her children would be safe.  Just before her last breath left her body, her heart burned in pain. Not because of the arrow that had pierced it, but because her one and only love was dead as well. Anthony had protected them with all that he had, and she was more in love with him then than she’d thought possible. “Anthony, my love. I will miss you. Until we are together again.” Eve let her body go. Her heart stopped beating, and she did not move again. It was done. Everything was set, and she was done. 
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Riordan: Harrison Ambush Release Day & Winner Announced 10/19/15

Recommended for 18+ Erotic Shapeshifter Romance. Book 1 of the Harrison Ambush Tiger Shifter Series. This full length novel can be read as a stand-alone. 


Harrison Ambush 
1. Riordan 
2. Cormack – Release date 2/8/2016 
3. Aedan (Coming Soon) 
4. Darcy (Coming Soon) 
5. Liam (Coming Soon) 
6. Ennis (Coming Soon) 


Riordan Harrison can’t believe it. Everyone is pissed at him and he doesn’t see what the fuss is all about. All he did was tell the woman that she was his mate. He couldn’t help it that his tiger caused him to pin the woman to the counter and she proceeded to throw him to the ground and cover him with sticky pastries. Now, no one will talk to him, including his secretary. He hasn’t claimed the woman yet, and it is all seeming like it’s more trouble than it’s worth. 


Storm Browning, Stormy to her friends, is a wounded war hero. She’s done her duty and just wants to live a quiet life―run her little bakery without any hitches. The majority of the men she commanded in the war had been shifters so she wasn’t surprised when the big oaf sniffed her out claiming that she was his mate. But that doesn’t mean she has to agree with it. What else could she do? He had to go. He’d hightail it and run anyway when he saw her scars―they all did. She couldn’t emotionally handle that, not again at any rate. 


But if Riordan is going to get back on everyone’s good side, he’ll have to make peace with the woman. Even though he thinks he’s innocent, he’ll go for a visit and maybe apologize, but after he gets there things go from bad to worse. Stormy is targeted for assassination and he’s in the line of fire…. 




Buy Link:


Amazon USA  https://www.amazon.com/Riordan-Harrison-Ambush-Shapeshifter-Romance-ebook/dp/B01672STBQ/ref=sr_1_3_twi_kin_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1444941466&sr=8-3&keywords=kathi+s+barton


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Amazon CA http://www.amazon.ca/Riordan-Harrison-Ambush-Shapeshifter-Romance-ebook/dp/B01672STBQ/ref=sr_1_2_twi_kin_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1444941795&sr=8-2&keywords=kathi+s+barton

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I tunes https://itunes.apple.com/us/book/riordan/id1046682136?mt=11

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Winner of a mystery paperback is Neena Martain  Please check your email for info on how to claim your prizes 
Happy Reading !!!!!!!!!!!!
Chapter 1  
He’d wanted to get to his office and change into a clean shirt, but his mom had been waiting for him. And when she’d ordered—yes, she’d ordered—him to sit, he did. This day could not get any worse. He was sure now, however, that it was about to. “Your dad told me that you got into a fight with the local baker. And when you tried to molest her, she fought back. Would you mind telling me why you thought it was a good idea in the first place to have a public and very…well, colorful, fight in my favorite place to get bread?” “It’s nothing. Just a misunderstanding on her part. Her temper was out of control for no reason and she started throwing a fit. I’ll take care of it tomorrow. Can I go now?” She told him to sit again. “I needed something from her, and she got mad at me. It’s nothing, I assure you.” “Yet here you sit covered in jelly and custard, and all you have to say for yourself is it wasn’t your fault.”  Riordan wanted to point out again that he hadn’t done that much to her that warranted her having a temper tantrum, but his mom did not look like she was going to listen. It was women, he decided, that had the foul moods all the time. Men were not prone to acting like the world was coming to an—  “Riordan, if you don’t answer me, I’m going to use my favorite rolling pin on your thick head, and then I’m going to be even madder at you. Because I’m sure rather than knocking sense into your head, all it’s going to do is crack this wood.” “She’s my mate.” Her foot started tapping, and he tried to think. But his dad came in then and sat down and started laughing. “Ask him. He was right there when she got it into her head to start hurling Danishes at me.” “I was there, love. And she did. But I’m thinking it might have been due to what he said to her and the way that he was pressing her against the wall with his big body. That’s not what she called him…let me see, what was it? Ah yes. I believe she called him a hulking monster that had no more brains than…well, love, you get the idea. I will say that her mouth and language are a little on the rough side, and she made her point quite…loudly. But she did toss him around like he was nothing more than the child he was acting like. I would have kicked his butt, too, but her friends, two elderly women who would have made me think…well, they had it under control, sadly.” His mother huffed at him, and her foot took on a speed that had him thinking he was as good as dead. His dad cleared his throat, and he looked at him. “Son, you have a bit of jelly hanging off your ear that looks like one of them dangling earrings your mother likes to wear.” “She won’t let me clean up.” He knew that he’d spoken loudly when his dad cocked a brow at him. “I’m a grown man. Not some teenager that has gotten caught with a girl in the back seat.” “No, you’re a grown man, or so you keep telling me, that has made your own mate so angry with you that she’s thrown her hard-earned product at you and has threatened to have you arrested if you come near her again.” Riordan looked at his mother as his dad continued. “And if you want us to treat you like you’re all grown up, I would suggest that you begin to act like it. This is no behavior for a man who is in charge of a large corporation, as well as one that hits the papers more often than not because he’s such a humanitarian and a calm and level-headed man. You were not very level-headed, nor calm, today. What do you think they’d put there now if they were to see you like this?” He knew just what they’d say. He’d fallen off his rocker. But as his parents continued to talk, he thought about the woman. She’d been…she’d been perfect, except for her temper. And if 
she was going to be his mate, that thing was going to have to be simmered down a bit. There was no way he could have her flying off the handle like a harpy when she got her panties all in a bunch. He’d only gone in with his dad because he’d heard him go on about the place. All he’d talked about for the last month was the way this bakery made cheese Danish, and how they were flaky enough to make you beg for more. He’d even gone on to say that he wanted to invest in the place. And that was another reason Riordan had gone with him. No one was going to take his family for a ride. As far as space was concerned, the shop had it. The wraparound counter seemed to scream at you to come and look what delights were there. It was well lit, the glass sparkling clean, and the baskets were overflowing with an array of pastries and breads that made his mouth water. Even from the doorway he could smell the yeast and jellies, blackberry and strawberry. A coffee station sat on one side to the room with a carafe of water for tea, it said, and baskets of tea flavors that had him wanting to check them out. The two women behind the counter seemed to be working to their own music. They moved and slid around each other as if they’d been doing it for years, and not just the month that the shop had been open. They laughed with their customers, handed out samples big enough to look like a serving, and gave small ones cookies hand over fist. Whoever their marketing manager was had it right. The only way to make money was to spend a little.  A woman had come from the back with a tray of the most beautiful loaves of bread he’d ever seen. Then he’d gotten her scent. And Christ, it had been all he could do not to— “Riordan.” Riordan looked at his mother. She had been talking to him, and he had missed it all. “I asked you three times now what are you going to do to repair this. Because you will, or so help me, I’ll make you wish that you had.” “Repair what?” She bounced the rolling pin—her favorite—in her left hand like she was thinking it was his head. He had to think what he had to do to make her soften her glare. A glance at his dad was no help, as he was laughing again. “I don’t know what I did wrong that you think I need to fix. You should talk to her about what she’s going to do about telling me she’s sorry.” Riordan thought he heard his dad say, oh brother, but he wasn’t sure, because at that moment his mother slammed the pin down on the table so near to his arm he thought that she had cut that pretty close. But then…maybe she’d been trying to hit him. When she went to the door and opened it, he sat there, not sure what to do. It was Sunday after all. “Get out.” He looked at his dad, who was not only no longer laughing, but looked a little scared himself. “Get out of my house right now and don’t return until…until…get out of here right now.” “Mom?” She pointed out, and he had no choice but to move out or something was going to befall him that was going to be talked about in this family for the next couple of generations, if not forever.  Riordan moved out the door and turned to ask her what he’d done. But the door slamming in his face made him feel stupid…and a little pissed off. He was thirty-five years old, not some kid.  As he made his way to the truck, his brother, Mac, pulled in the drive. Riordan didn’t even bother stopping to warn him, but got in his own truck and left. “They’re all nuts.” Riordan turned the radio up as loud as he could to drown out his thoughts, then turned it down. He was pissed, but blaring his music wasn’t going to make it go 
away. Instead, he lightened his foot on the accelerator and tried not to drive angry. That was all he needed to do, have an accident that would make his mom really mad at him. Riordan liked to think of himself as a cool and very rational man. He thought things through before speaking, his plans were flawless when he put them out for people to see, and he never did anything on the spur of the moment. He liked order, planning, and a calendar. Doing things off the cuff or sly, as his brother, Ennis, called it, was not his way of working, not in business or his personal life. The calendar on his phone was as filled as the one on his secretary’s. The ones on his computer in his office as well as his house were updated daily. And if there was something that had to be canceled or moved, he’d go over the entire month to make sure that it didn’t conflict with something else. Riordan was a man who did not like surprises. And finding out that the woman in the shop was his mate had messed up his entire schedule for the day. “What did she think she was doing throwing me out?” Riordan wasn’t sure if he meant his mom or the woman, but they both had done it. “It’s Sunday, after all, and we have dinner as a family. Was this worth Mom getting all upset and telling me to leave? No, it was not. This is her fault, too. The bakery woman’s.”  As he drove to his apartment downtown, he thought about the way she’d felt pressed against his body, and wondered not for the first time what she would feel like wrapped around him naked. He had to adjust his cock for the third time since getting in his truck. She’d been coming from the back room, her arms loaded with loaves of bread, when she’d taken a short stumble. His only thought was to keep her from falling when he caught her scent. Then she’d told him to let her go, and he’d had to taste her. And just like that, her temper flared, and he could only stare at her. Who knew that being pissed off could be so sexy? As he reached for her again, having put the bread on the counter, she’d backed up quickly. Putting up her hands to warn him off, he thought, did nothing to slake his need, and he backed her up more until she was pressed against the wall. Burying his nose into her neck had made him hard as stone, and he could think of nothing else but taking her to the floor and coming deep inside of her. Except that she’d unmanned him with her knee, and that had him dropping like a stone. Then the projectiles had started flying. He’d been hit in the head with several of them before he could stand up. When he reached for her again, this time her hand was filled with more Danish, and he felt rather than saw her move. He was on his back and looking up at her before he could catch his breath. Then one of the older women was standing over him with a large knife in her hands. “I think you have overstayed your welcome, young man.” He nodded but was afraid to move. “You can crawl out on your belly or get up and walk out. Either way, she wants you gone. And I’m thinking that she might be right. I don’t want to have to stab you to get you going. Unless you want me to.” “I need to talk to her.” The woman told him he’d be better off talking to the door, which he’d better be going through rather than talking to her right now. “Can I at least have her name? I can call her later so she can tell me what she thought she was doing by this mess. Don’t you think she overreacted, even just a little?” “No, I don’t think so.” She pointed to the door again, and he got the idea that he was going to get nowhere with her. As he made his way to the door, his dad was paying for his purchases as if nothing at all had happened. He was going to have a talk to him as well. The man would surely have his side on this. 
Only he hadn’t. Not only had he laughed at him the entire way home, but he’d not agreed with him at all. Not about the woman being nuts, or about her blowing things out of proportion, nor did he think that she’d done a thing wrong. Riordan was going to go down there first thing Monday, which would mess up his entire morning, just so she could apologize to him. This was no way to start a relationship. ~~~ Storm washed down the wall where blueberry jam had stained it. She’d have to find the paint can in the basement to touch this up. The strawberry had washed off a good deal easier, but it was fresher. She thought that she’d grabbed that tray last when he’d— “You scrub much harder and the wall will fall over. You thinking about that man?” Storm nodded at her aunt. “Yeah, he was a big guy. Pushy as hell, but a big one all the same. Can’t seem to understand why you’re all pissy with him. You’re hurting now, aren’t you, child?” “Just a little, nothing I can’t handle. He mentioned that I was his mate.” She looked at Aunt Lynn when she huffed. Storm wasn’t sure if it was because she knew she was lying about the pain or about the man. Either way, it was a moot point. “I don’t have…he can’t be my mate. I don’t want him. And he won’t want me once he sees what is under my clothing.” “No one is more concerned with that than you are.” Storm knew that her aunt had never seen her body since she’d come home, so said nothing. “You still seeing that doctor? The one that says you need to have those drugs to help you sleep? You gotta see someone about that pain, too. We both know you’re hurting.” “You know that I’m not seeing him.” Aunt Lynn nodded. “I know that the VA pays for it, but it’s stupid to take them when all they do is make me weirded out. I was sleeping no better with them than I was without. But I do go and talk to that lady shrink. She’s not too bad.” The doc had been all right until about a week ago, right after Storm had told her that she wasn’t going to be able to see her again due to her having a job now. It was as if she’d taken it personally. Storm knew that she had to see someone or be back in the hospital again, but she was trying to stand on her own two feet instead of depending so much on her family. It wasn’t like she had to work for the money, but she needed to work to keep her body from tightening up. “That man, do you suppose he’ll come back here?” Storm didn’t turn around as she spoke to look at her aunt, but heard her huff again. “The man that he came here with is a nice man. I like him. But as far as I’m concerned, I really could care less if that fucking bastard darkened my doorstep again.” “Sally and I will keep him in line now that we know about him. I’m thinking he will be back. He didn’t strike me as a man that would give up too easily.”  Storm had thought the same thing. But before either of them could say anything else, the bell over the front door sounded and Aunt Lynn went to answer it. Storm Browning was a woman that few people knew well. She preferred it that way, more now than before she’d joined the army. She supposed her upbringing had had a lot to do with that…at least the first ten years of her life. Now her memories were nearly too much for her to deal with, and she had a shitload of them. Few of them nice ones. Her men, nine of them when she’d gone in country—overseas—had been her friends, but they were all dead now. All but her. As she made her way to the oven again when the timer went off, she tried her best not to think of that day and what had happened. Instead, she thought about how many cookies she had left to bake. The board that Aunt Lynn had put up for her was filled. It felt good to see so many orders there, but it made her a little nervous too. If she was in too much pain, she knew that either of her 
aunts could bake for her, but she wanted to keep them from having to lift so much. They were in their late seventies, both of them, and they were actually her great aunts. All the family that she had in the world. The cookies were put onto the cooling rack, then she put more on the parchment paper to bake as the first batch cooled. She had a system. It wasn’t a great one, but it worked for her. Stretching her arm above her head to hear it pop, she had to hold onto the table when the pain took her breath away. Storm made her way to the cabinet where she kept her medications. It was time for the next round of drugs anyway, and she thought that having a pain pill was in order this time. Moving slower now that it was getting later in the day, she sat down on the seat she used when she decorated if anything needed her attention. Since the man had left her, her back had been throbbing and her legs felt like rubber. Her body hurt now, and not just a little. There was more baking to do, and then there were the dishes to wash, but Storm wasn’t sure she could do either without lying down for a bit.  Going to the front of the shop, she saw that her aunts were busy and went to talk to the man at the counter. He grinned at her when she welcomed him to The Bakery. “Nice name. Simple and right to the point.” Nodding, she waited for him to order or tell her what he wanted. He was dressed well, expensively, and he had a face that made her think she’d seen him before. “I need to get three loaves of rye and two of sourdough. And I’m supposed to ask you if there are any…let me see what Mom called them before I make a fool of myself.” She got his bread for him and put them into the long loaf bags she’d just gotten in. They were generic, but they served the purpose. He was still talking on his phone when the next man came to the counter. Storm wanted to ask him to wait for her aunts, but he looked like he needed more than what was on display. “You Sergeant Major Browning?” Storm nodded, but looked around to see if anyone else had heard him. “I was told to come on down here and see if you could use some help. The lady at the VA, she said you were looking for someone to help wash up.” Taking him to the back room, she sat him on the chair she’d been in and asked him when he’d last eaten. He told her that it had been a couple of days, because the shelter wasn’t open on the weekends. And he hadn’t cared for the meal they had on Fridays either. “It’s Monday. What’s your name, soldier, and don’t lie to me again.”  He straightened up in the chair and nodded to her. “I’m PFC Daniel Gunning, but I go by Danny. I don’t have no problems with drugs or nothing. Just nightmares and so on. I get to where I can’t leave my place. And when that happens, I lose my place in line at the food pantry. It’s been a couple of days since I’ve…leaving the apartment kind of gives me the willies.” She knew that feeling. “I heard from Nurse Mason that you were looking to find someone to come in some days and help out by washing up. You mean dishes, I’m suspecting.” “Yes.” He looked around the room, then stood up…much easier than she could have today. She sort of envied his ease. “You can start today, but I’m feeding you first. And if you object then you can think of it as an order.” He nodded and moved to the table in the back of the kitchen. Storm went to the front to get a loaf of bread, and the man from earlier was still standing there. When she told him she was sorry, he winked at her. “I saw you were busy. You going to hire him, Sarge?” Nodding, she told him not to call her that. “All right. But what were you, if you don’t mind my asking? Air force? Army?” 
“Special Forces. Did you ever find out what your mom wanted?” He told her that he needed a dozen filled donuts, he didn’t care what flavors. As she filled his order, all she could think about was the man in the back.  He’d be a great help should he be able to show up to work daily. She knew how hard it was for her just to get out of the bed some days, the pain was so bad. When she had the thirteen donuts for the man, she let Lynn ring him out. But he stopped her before she could go to the back again. “Are you sure it’s a good idea for you to hire him? You don’t seem to know anything about him other than someone sent him to you.” She pulled away from his touch on her arm. “I’m sorry. I just—” “I can take care of myself. I have been for a very long time. While I appreciate your concern, trust me when I tell you that he should be more afraid of me than I am of him.” He nodded and then looked over her shoulder. She didn’t have to look to know who stood there. He might have just been hired, but Danny was a soldier first and foremost. “Now, if you don’t mind, I’ve had a bang-up day so far, and I’d really like to be left to my own council.” “I’m sorry.” Storm nodded and moved to the back room. The man left a few minutes later, and Storm made Danny a sandwich. She also cautioned him about helping her out when he thought she was in trouble.  “I’m hurting, like you, but I can handle myself. There is no reason for us both to get into trouble with some over protective shit that thinks because I don’t have a dick between my legs that I’m one of them fainting hearts.” Danny grinned at her. “Next time, you just let me handle it. But if someone fucks with my aunts, you have my full permission to kick some ass, all right? And don’t call me by my rank here. It’s Storm, or Stormy if you wish. I left that all behind a while back.” “Yes, sir.” He bit into his sandwich and finished chewing before he spoke again. “You’re that CO that got all those guys out, aren’t you? I heard about it when it happened. I’m really sorry.” “I don’t talk about it. And if you want to continue working here, you won’t either.” He nodded again. “I’m not trying to be a bitch—well, I am, but I don’t want to think about it anymore. The nightmares plague me as well.” “Yes, sir, I’m betting that they do. If you, you know, need to talk, I can listen to you. Won’t say a word, just be here for you.” He took another healthy bite, then continued. “I might need you, too. I won’t mean to, but I might just need to…I get them willies I was telling you about, and you might have to talk to me. About nothing if you want, but I get myself scared to death sometimes. I won’t hurt you, but I do get scared.” “I’m here.” He nodded, and she walked to the board. She had no idea what it said at that moment; her eyes were filled with tears. Storm wasn’t the whiney kind of woman. She wasn’t even one to lean on people, even if she was falling over on her face with the need to. But there were times that hot tears could make her feel more alive than anything. After a bit, she heard the water at the sinks turn on and Danny start to hum to the music that was playing in the front of the shop…soft country music that her aunts both loved to hear, and sometimes even sang to. Storm pulled the first of the orders down just as Aunt Lynn came into the back room. She had the nightly list of things that they were running low on up front.  “We’re taking what is left to the shelter.” Nodding, Storm made a mental note to save some food for Danny to take home with him when he left. But her aunt handed her a sack that she could smell the bread in. “How’s your back, sweetie? Want me to stay and help?” 
“I’m going to go up in a bit and take a little nap.” Storm was pretty sure her aunt knew it was a lie. “Then I’ll work on some of this and the front stuff.” “Don’t work too much, honey. We’ll make do with what we have, and tomorrow is a half day too, so we might be able to make it.” Storm nodded and locked up after her aunts left. Going to the back room, she started measuring things into the big mixer. It was going to be a very long night.