Jackson William hadn’t seen his father in centuries. Now his father was dead, he was now king, and the dragon council wanted to hold him responsible for his father’s crimes? And there had been many. The truth would be his salvation.
Nicole needed a job. A job that would put a roof over her head as well. She hadn’t had a decent meal in a week. But the ad didn’t say there were faeries and witches. Where there were faeries, there were dragons and Nicole was petrified of them. And with good reason.
The poison from the dragon bites flowing through Nicole’s veins left her weak and in a lot of pain. She was a mere human, and her body’s inability to heal from the bites left her vulnerable to new dragon attacks. Now this dragon, Jackson, was claiming to be her mate? Would this nightmare never end?
Kelly Dalton, was packed and ready to go on the trip of a lifetime. She was excited to spend a month in Europe sightseeing. Her budget would be tight, and she’d have to make the trip alone because her sister drained her checking account, but despite the lack of funds, Kelly was ready for the new adventure—anything to get away from her family.
Devon Wakefield was the tenth Marquess to the house of Wilkshire and a dragon shifter. Since the death of his father, he had been lord of the castle since he was ten. His life lacked only one thing—a mate—but he was in no hurry to find one.
Kelly was sorry to see her vacation end. One more stroll around the beautiful countryside then she’d have to go back home—to what she didn’t know. Her sister, Rachel, was so angry that Kelly didn’t pay for her trip that she set fire to Kelly’s apartment. There was nothing really to go back to, but she’d deal with that when she returned. In the meantime, she would enjoy her last couple of days in England. However, Kelly was unprepared for the sudden rain shower, and in the rushing water, she lost her footing. Everything went black…
Distraught because Kelly was missing, the innkeeper called Devon to find her. When Devon found the injured young woman, he realized that he’d found his mate, and in an effort to ease her recovery he wanted to do something nice for her—he brought her family to England….
Noah Farley had been living in the States for a long time, and he was homesick. When Devon invited him to come home for a visit, he packed up everything he had and wasn’t planning on returning to his home in the city anytime soon, if ever. His dragon needed room to roam, and the city left his options too limited.
Bea Frost had made the buy of a lifetime, a castle in the country, and she made plans with her granddaughter Bryce, and daughter-in-law Laura, to move into it. Both Bea and Bryce were witches, and moving away from their current location, away from the Witches Council, would be like a breath of fresh air.
Noah’s family had lost the castle to back taxes before they had died. Its loss didn’t leave him much to go home to, but he was curious as to who had purchased the property. When he met Bryce, he was both surprised and pleased to find out that she was his mate. Bryce, however, didn’t care for dragons and wasn’t shy about letting him know that either.
The Witches Council consisted of three warlocks, Black, White, and Gray. When appointed, the mix was supposed to balance them out, but instead the men had become evil and corrupt. Bryce had become too powerful, more powerful than the council combined, and the WC considered her a threat. Killing her human mother or new mate would be just the ticket to bring her to heal…
“Lord Jackson Le Rouge William, Duke of Willow, Prince of Dragonwyck, you are hereby given the title of king of your castle, owner of all that live there. And in accordance with our laws, you will now be tried for the crimes of your father, now deceased. Where do you stand on this?” “Stand, my lords? I don’t understand any of this. I have not seen my father nor my mother in decades. You call me here to tell me that not only is my father dead, but you cannot locate my mother.
Now you wish to make me responsible for the crimes for which you have beheaded him?” Jackson laughed a little, his heart hurting for this. “You also have made me king of a castle that is no longer anything but a single wall, a burnt out orchard, as well as many sheep and cattle that lay dead in their paddocks. A pond so dried up that it is a wonder that anything at all has grown since you came for him. Nay, I do not understand any of this. What crimes—as I know for a fact there are many—are you trying my deceased father for? Murder? Yes, he had plenty to account for. Filicide? Yes, that as well.
But you will need all the information before you are able to take me to task on those. What is it, man? I have things to care for to bury the worst man that ever took a breath. The only thing that he did do for this world was marry my mother, sire me, and then die.” “He killed off as many as two dozen of his own children. All daughters were given to him as a wife after wife produced him nothing but girls.” Jackson corrected the man. “You knew of this? His killing of his own blood? How can you stand there and condone such a thing?” “I condone nothing. I only heard about this when I arrived after being summoned here by you.” He turned to the room, then back to the four men at the table in front of him. They were there to sentence him, he knew that.
“I should like for you to clear the room of everyone but one, my lords. There is a story for you to hear that will sicken you to the very cores of your life. The reason that at a tender age of only two hundred years, I left my family home, never to return. Also, the very reason that you cannot, nor will you be able to, charge me with any of these crimes when I have finished telling the tale to you.” “You dare tell us what we can and cannot do, Lord Jackson?” He didn’t so much as blink at the men. He knew what he had, they did not. “What do you have, what story can you tell, that will be so horrific that you wish the room cleared?” The woman, his own mother in the front row of the court, stood up. All she did, Jackson knew, was to pull her scarf away from her face and open the hood that covered her head. When each of the men gasped, their faces pale with the site of her, everyone quickly cleared the room except for the six of them.
Harper Wilson and all her siblings were relieved when they received the notice of their parents’ demise. No one deserved it more, and the only reason Harper agreed to go back to that little town in Ohio was to make sure they were truly dead.
Bryant Prince and his family were immortals and hadn’t aged since they’d reached the age of twenty-eight. He and his family had always lived next door to the Wilsons, but he never knew the Wilson children. The Wilsons had always kept to themselves, so no one had any idea what was going on in the little house of horrors. If they had, the Wilson parents would have been dead a long time ago.
There was nothing left of the Wilson house but one wall. The fire had taken the rest. The garage, however, was still intact, and this was where Harper wound up. Drawn in by dark, morbid memories from her childhood. Bryant watched her, knowing that he’d found his mate.
Buck enjoyed hot wings, the hotter the better. But even he had to admit defeat when it came to eating wings with his oldest. Bryant would get them as hot as he could, then add more heat to them. Buck often wondered if the boy could taste a dammed thing after he ate a plate of them suckers. Today he was eating alone. He didn’t get that opportunity much, not since his Sara had been killed all those years ago. But it was her birthday, and while he knew that his boys were remembering her today, he had his own way of thinking about his little mate. When the plate was set in front of him, he looked up at the waitress. Deb had been working here since she was a teenager. He wondered if they’d built the place around her. When she winked at him, he smiled back. Everyone was aware of his way of doing things. The first one always made him tear up—the heat, not his heart, he told himself. But as he was picking up the second one to eat, Bryant came into the diner. Whatever had happened, it had Buck reaching for his pistol that he was never without.
“It’s all right. I just wanted to come to tell you before you left here and found out the hard way.” Bryant then told him how sorry he was for coming here, today of all days. “Pops, there’s been a fire at the Wilson home. The mister is dead, and his wife, she’s on her way to the bigger hospital for treatment. It doesn’t look good for her either.” The Wilsons had the farm right next to theirs. The Wilsons had bought up a lot of lands when they first arrived in this area, putting themselves and their kids in a powerful terrible place. The money had been plentiful when the Wilsons arrived. But planting things that the earth didn’t have the energy to grow made for bad years of bringing crops in. That’s why Buck’s family only had a dozen acres, as well as cattle.
“The kids home?” Bryant shook his head, still not sitting down with him. “No, they’d not be there for any reason, would they? What else, boy? You know I don’t care for things being given out in little bits and pieces.” “Samson and I were wondering if we should take in their crops for them. The mister, he’s not there anymore, and you know as well as I do that the kids wouldn’t come back to help if their very lives depended on it. Not that I blame them any, but the missus, she might pull through, and the money might make the difference in her having medicine or not.” Buck stood up, his meal ruined now. Not by his son, no; the news was what had soured his taste. “I’m assuming that’s a yes.” “Gather up the boys, Bryant, and we’ll get a start on it for sure.” Buck went to pay his bill, and Deb told him that there was no charge. “I have to keep you in business, Deb. If I don’t, where will I get to come for breakfast every day?” “Here, just like you do every day, you old coot. I heard what you’re doing, and I’ve called my sons. They’re going to meet you there to help out. I’ll be bringing by some food about dinner time, and a cooler of drinks too.” She shoved him out the door. “I have work to do, Buck. Now get on out of here so I can get to it.”
By the time he’d gotten on his tractor and made his way to the next farm, there were about fifty men and women out there, all of them ready to work. With the extra hands and the other two tractors, he was sure they could get a lot of the fields picked and plucked in no time. Buck worked with his boys. Men really, all of them as old as sin. It was the way of their kind, the first of their species. Immortality had been given to them when he and his wife had been created to give the earth some of their kind. A lot of their magic. Sara and he had had six children, all of them from one litter. They’d been cats then, black tigers that had come to this earth with no ill will in their hearts. It was a good thing as well as a bad thing for them to be so trusting. The day after his cubs had been born, the lady of the earth, Aurora, had come to see them. She thought them blessed to have so many sons at their only birthing.
That was the downside, he thought—only one birthing to be bestowed to them. It was, she told them, to not overpopulate the world with such a special creature. Before the lady had shown up, they were going to call the boys by number of birth. And they did so until they were a little older and could pick out their own names. “I shall wish for you to roam the earth as men as well as tigers, giving your magic to as many of those as you touch with kindness. I know by creating you that you are already kind and good-hearted, but it is my wish that you spread it to all the humans as well. I fear that they’re going to be much worse as the years go by.” And she’d been right about that. Not that everyone they encountered was bad—no, there were a great many good people too. But the trouble was, he feared that they were slowly being outnumbered by the bad people in this world. It was nearing ten when they finished up the last of the fields. Harley, his son, asked why they’d planted pumpkins. Buck didn’t know, but he figured that they’d sell them in their roadside stand until they heard otherwise.
Every little bit would help, he supposed. Going home, he dusted the earth off his clothing and stripped down. Buck didn’t look his age, he thought with a laugh. He could very well pass as one of his sons and had on occasion. Shifting into his cat, he hit the ground running. He wasn’t the least bit surprised to find Kylan out there running as well. Are you all right, Kylan? He said that he was, just tired. Yeah, so am I. But we did a good turn for those people. And that is what we were put here for. Is that all we were put here for, Pops? He asked him what he meant. I’m lonely. I need more in my life than just farming and raising cattle. I have a degree—I’d like to branch out and start using it. It might, I hope anyway, bring in more money than just selling off cattle to the local farmers. All of them had gone to college. It hadn’t been one of the ivy leagues—they couldn’t swing that. But each of them had gone to the local college and had a nice degree to show for it. Kylan had a degree in advertising, and he could come up with ideas for things that would spin your head, as Sara used to say. Then I’d say go for it. I’m getting a little tired of raising cattle myself. Not much in the way of money in it, not the way we’re going. Kylan said he’d been talking to Marcus, and they wanted to open an advertising business together.
Well, with Marcus doing the art work, you’d sure be good at it, son. Both of you would be. And I know that Harley has a degree in business management. Perhaps that would be the ticket. Not all of you working in the same place. You know as well as I do that is just a fight waiting to happen. Kylan laughed. Yes, I’ve noticed that as we’ve gotten older, the arguing becomes more dangerous. They fought like men who hated each other. But as soon as someone drew blood, the fight was over and they were taking care of the injured one. Kylan left him after their talk. He was going to go and get things started, Buck knew that. Making his way to the little cemetery that his wife was buried in, Buck laid down on the ground next to her and told her about his day, just as he did every night when he could. Those boys, they’re going to leave me soon, Sara. I don’t know what I’m going to do in that house without them arguing all the time and picking at me. He smiled to himself. They sure have grown into men of worth, my darling. I think we did a good job, not even knowing what we were about back then.
He told her about the Wilsons and how they’d brought in their crops. They were going to try and get ahold of one of their children, to see what they wanted to do with it all. Buck had a feeling he knew what they were going to tell them—just to burn it all. Pops, I hate to bother you, but I just heard that the missus, Mrs. Wilson, has passed on. She was pretty well burned all over her body, they said. And the fire marshal, he’s saying that it looks like arson. As soon as it cools down enough, they’ll have a better idea. Buck thanked Fisher. Also, I wanted to tell you that I’m very proud to be your son. I should be saying that more often. All of us should. What we did tonight, even though Bryant was the one that thought of it, you didn’t hesitate for a moment to step in with us. I love you, Pops. For the next ten minutes or so, Buck laid there sobbing about what his son had said to him. It didn’t hurt him, but his heart did burn with love for his sons. Telling his wife about the death and what his son had said, he stood up and made his way back to the house. All the lights were on in the place, but he knew as surely as he was walking home that someone was in each of the rooms. They all knew the meaning of a nickel and leaving the lights on when you left a room was a big deal.
There wasn’t any need for him to get dinner started. True to her word, Deb had not only brought them out food, but it was the kind they could carry along with them as they worked. And there was plenty of her sweet tea and water. While normally Buck wouldn’t care for the sweet stuff, it was mighty nice on a hot evening to have something that gave you a bit of pep. Just as he was ready to go to bed, he glanced at his desk. It had been put up here because it was quieter in their room without the boys running around. Then when they’d gotten older, it had just been too much trouble to mess with. Buck had gotten a card from one of the Wilson boys when his Sara had been killed. Looking for it now, he found it among some of the other things that he’d been meaning to take care of.
It had been a few years, coming up on ten, since she’d passed, but Buck never threw anything away.
There was a return address on it, and Buck laid it right on top of his pants he was wearing tomorrow so he’d remember to do that first thing. He didn’t know if anyone in town would know how to contact the family, so he was going to do it. If they already knew, then that would be fine too. He could pass along his condolences and tell them about the product they’d pulled in for them. Closing his eyes, he thanked the mother of the earth for his day and wished his wife a happy birthday. Rolling to her side of the bed, he spooned her pillow. It was as close to her as he could get nowadays. ~*~ Randy tried to remember Mr. Prince. He knew that it had been a while. He’d left home when he’d turned eighteen and had never looked back. Now he was successful, married, and had two children. And, his parents were both now dead. “The fire was a big one, as you can imagine. They rushed your momma to the hospital by life flight, but she just couldn’t make it. I’m truly sorry, Randy. We did help them out a bit by bringing in the crops that were still out. My sons, they’re selling what we can at the stand we have out every year. We’re keeping the money for you to use for—” “Mr. Prince, while I do appreciate you doing everything you could for them, my sisters, my brother, and I, we don’t want anything to do with them.
I’m sorry that sounds so harsh, but we cut complete ties with them long ago.” Randy sat down at the table. He felt like a shit hole for saying this aloud. “I’ll pay for the funeral and whatever other expenses that they might have, but there isn’t anything that would make me want to go back there again. I’m sorry.” “I know you kids had it bad, I do know that. I wanted to…well, Randy, you don’t know how hard it was for my missus and me not to step in sometimes. Even with all the distance between the houses, we still heard it.” Randy thanked him. He wished he’d known that. He might have run to them when it was really bad. Which wasn’t saying much—it had always been bad. “Well, you tell me what you want done here and I’ll help you out with it. I never cared for your parents, I’ll tell you that. But we do like the land and what it represents to people.” “Yes, I’m sure that there are few people that cared all that much for my parents, Mr. Prince.” Randy looked at the calendar on his desk. There was barely a minute to call his own. “I’ll call my sisters and brother. See what it is they want to do.
I’m sure that none of us will be making the trip for the funeral. So if you could see your way to getting that taken care of, I’ll pay you back. Nothing big, just something quick and done.” “I’ll get on that first thing. I’ll let you know about when it is. I’ll just have them a gravesite and bury them both at the same time. It might help you to know, if there was any insurance, that your father died first. Mrs. Wilson died last night.” Randy thanked him. The man had always had the right amount of information to give someone without overwhelming you. “You let me know what you all decide. We’re going to be working on selling off the crops and such. If it’s enough, you might not be out of pocket anything.”
After getting off the phone with the elderly man, Randy thought about what he’d said. The Prince family would have taken them in, he knew that now. It was too late, but they would have been there for them. Randy thought that had any of them known that, they would have been more well-adjusted adults and not afraid of every little sound—fearful of someone coming after them with a hot poker, or even a gun. Randy called his sister Meggie first, and she reacted just the way he’d thought she would—by doing the happy dance, she told him, right there in her kitchen. He asked her if she wanted to go with him to settle their estate. “Estate? You really think they were able to save any money after we left? We were always told what a terrible burden we were to them. I’m betting that they had no life insurance, no homeowners, nor anything on that property.” She laughed bitterly. “No, I don’t want to go unless I have to. And even then, I don’t want to go. No, Randy, I’m over them. My life is finally on an even keel, and we both know how long that took me. Not to mention what it cost me.” “I know, honey. And I’m so sorry.” Meggie’s husband had divorced her and taken the little girl that they had. But not long after the divorce had been finalized, her ex and the little girl were killed in a plane crash. It had taken her years to get over that. “I’ll take care of everything. Mr. Prince said he’d make the arrangements for us.” “He always was a very generous and nice man. The entire family was. I so wanted a family like that one, didn’t you, Randy?”
He told her that he had, and also what Mr. Prince had told her. “They didn’t have squat, but they would have given us all they had if we needed it. Tell him that I said thanks.” “I will.” Now he had to call Harper, but he thought that he’d call Tyler first. Harper only lived down the street from his family after moving into a small condo about two years ago. It was both a pleasure and a nightmare to have her so close. Harper didn’t suffer fools lightly, nor did she have a filter between her brain and her mouth. Calling Tyler was much easier. “Mom and Pops have both died,” he started off. Tyler, like Meggie, laughed. Then Randy told him about the fire and how things were being done. “Mr. Prince, do you remember his family? He’s taking care of the arrangements for us. And I’m going to take care of anything else that might have to be done. After the funeral. I was wondering if you wanted to go with me.” “No, and fuck no, I do not want to go.” Tyler, a quieter version of Harper, then laughed. “No, if you want some company, I’ll go with you, so long as you’re one hundred percent sure that they’re both gone. I don’t have shit to say to them.” “Neither do I. Meggie isn’t going. I called her first.” Tyler made fun of him for waiting to call Harper last. “You would too if you had to make this call.” “Yes, you’re more than likely right about that. She’s a tad touchy about them.” And she had every reason to be too. Harper, even being the youngest of them all, had endured the most from their parents. To this day she still— “I’m sorry, what did you say?”
“I said that I bet Harper will want to go for the simple reason that she wants to piss on their graves. Not to mention, I’m betting that before the end of the first day there, she has a certified letter stating that they’re not only dead, but buried as well.” Randy didn’t think his brother was far off the mark. “Let me know what she’s going to be doing, Randy. For now, I’ll make sure that my calendar is clear for the next week. I know you’ll have to take your computer, but we’ll be there and back in no time.” “All right.” He put the phone in the cradle, thinking again that he was more than likely the only person in the world with a household phone still. It was for business and the fax machine. As he pressed the buttons for Harper’s home, he wondered if she was in a more reasonable mood than she had been earlier today. Harper answered the phone like she and he had spoken not two seconds ago. “Did you know that there are over nine hundred thousand different kinds of bugs in the world? Which accounts for over eighty percent of the world population.” He told her that he’d not known that. “I’m sorry about earlier today. I tend to get my underwear all twisted up when I drive, you know.” “I do know, and cannot believe that you’ve not been arrested for it.” She told him that she was cute. “You’re not cute, Harper, you’re gorgeous. Everyone but you knows that. Now, the reason that I called is that Mom and Dad are dead.” She was quiet for a few minutes. He gave her time. His sister might be a hot head and about the most beautiful woman in the world, but she didn’t empty her head when there was reflecting to do. “Who told you this?” He explained what Mr. Prince had told him, even about the way they’d not liked them.
“Did I ever tell you that Mrs. Prince took me to the hospital a couple of times? She was the nicest person I ever knew. I was sorry to hear of her passing. What do you want me to do, Randy, other than piss on their graves?” “That’s what Tyler said you’d do. He’s going with me, to settle up on anything that we might need to do. There is a lot of property there. I know that while it didn’t grow shit, it was a good bit.” She told him how many acres, then asked him what would happen to it now. “I haven’t any idea, to be honest with you. I don’t know if there is a will or anything. It would be like them to think that they would live forever.” “Are they really dead, Randy? Please don’t tell me this if it’s not true. You of all people know what they did to me.” He told her again, for like the millionth time, how sorry he was for everything. “It’s not like you could have done anything about it. No one could have. They were out to kill us, or simply maim us in any way they could. I think they did a bang up job of it too.” “They’re dead, honey. I promise you. Mr. Prince was the one that called, as I said, and he’d never lie to us about anything like that.” She said nothing, but he could hear her heavy sigh. “I was going to ask you if you wanted to go there with Tyler and I. But I can understand if you don’t want to go.” “I don’t know.” Again, Randy told her that he understood. “Can I let you know when you leave? You know me, because of my job, I have to be ready at a minute’s notice. If not, then that’s all right as well.”
“I have to make arrangements for Tyler to go. And since we’ll be staying overnight, I’ll see about accommodations.” She told him that she’d pay her part. “I have it this time. If something happens, then you can catch it the next. Or you can buy me dinner. Do you suppose Deb still works at the All Nighter?” “I just bet that she does. I think she and her husband are older than our parents. And they have the best open-faced sammiches I’ve ever eaten. Oh, now I’m hungry for one. And their pork fried sammiches. Holy shit, Randy—if I don’t go, you’ll have to bring those back with you.” He didn’t know how that was going to work, but he’d give it his best shot. None of his sisters or brother ever asked for anything. So when they did, any of them, he went out of his way to get it for them. After telling her he’d wait on her call, he called his wife, who was a teacher at the local high school. She wouldn’t want to go either, only because she was coming up on her due date in a couple of months, but the doctor had already warned her about sitting in one place too long. “I hope Meggie and Harper both go with you. Perhaps I’ll give Meggie a call. You all need this, to finalize things.” Randy told Alice that he didn’t know if there was anything to finalize. “No, silly. I meant to have closure. I think you would sleep better, and I know that Meggie still has nightmares. Harper? Well, I know she’s haunted, but she won’t talk about it. And your brother…well, he has his own demons, doesn’t he?” “Yes. I think you’re right. You talk to Meggie, and I’ll arrange things for the four of us to go. I’ll miss the kids and you.” She said that she’d be right there when he returned. “All right, love, you work your magic and I’ll work on this end of things. I love you, Alice Anne.” “And I love you Randy Panda.” He knew it was silly, the pet names, but he also knew that whenever the chance came up to do it, he was going to call her pet names until they were parted from this earth.
Rachel Spencer, Ray to those that knew her, was barely hanging on. She had called for help, but her father had nearly killed her before help had arrived. Unless Hailey could help her, with the magic given to her by Dane, Ray’s prognosis for a normal life wasn’t good.
Levi Stanton had been talking to his sister-in-law, Hailey, through their link. She had told him all about Ray and that Ray might be his mate, or Wyatt’s. Levi hoped she was, he had known Ray’s grandmother and loved the woman, but he was also terrified to find out. It was the fear of the unknown.
Levi was happy to find out that Ray was indeed his mate, but Ray’s decision to get help from Hailey would be Ray’s alone. Hailey, however, was afraid her blood wasn’t strong enough to help Ray, so Dane stepped in. Ray would need all the strength she could get to face her Aunt Caroline.
Caroline Spencer was on her way to town. No one told that woman no and lived to tell about it. And that was exactly what Ray was going to tell her too. There was no way on this earth that Ray was handing her little brother, David, over to that tyrant. She’d die before she let that happen.
Dane had no idea who she was. She’d been shot and couldn’t even remember who she was hiding from. All she did know was she needed help, and when Julian Stanton found her, he took her to his family.
Brayden Stanton was just tired of everything. It was time to leave Africa and go home to family. He called his dad to tell him that he was fed up with the job and he was on his way home, and he was bringing a fiancée with him. She wasn’t his mate, but he was going to make it work. He realized his mistake the moment he proposed.
Danger comes at every turn. The women in Brayden’s life are surrounded with it. Both are lethal, but one has Braden’s heart from the beginning. The question is, can the family survive it?
Being a country lawyer was something Christian Stanton had always wanted to do. Taking a client he really didn’t want to represent was not what he had in mind.
Allie had been hired to teach the Stanton men hand to hand self-defense. She loved her job and was quite good at it. She knew about shifters but had never really worked with them before. And when the big cat shifted into a very naked man proclaiming to be her mate, Allie wanted nothing to do with him.
When it came to Allie, Christian was in big trouble. She was no pushover and the sooner he figured that out the better off he’d be….
Julian Stanton was eating breakfast and rethinking his life as a PI when a stranger walked into the diner looking for Tess O’Rourke. Julian felt the hackles rise on his neck. He wanted to take his gun out and blow this guy’s head off for no apparent reason other than he didn’t like him. He’d never had an instant dislike for a person before. He didn’t know who Tess was, but he was going to make sure this stranger didn’t find her.
Tess was at her wit’s end. Dexter had once been her best friend, now she couldn’t get far enough away from him. He was everywhere, attacking her at every corner, emptying her bank account, and now he was after her baby daughter, Ruby. Only the Lord knew what he’d do to the baby if he got his hands on her.
Sent by his parents to help, Julian was to be Tess’s escort to the family home for dinner. The hotel was no longer safe since Dexter had found her there too. When she opened the door, she shoved the most precious squalling baby girl into his arms that Julian had ever seen. And when the woman walked by him, her scent hit him like a brick.
The job went from a favor to personal in the blink of an eye, and Julian would protect the girls in his life with his own if necessary.
Hailey Whitehead was on the trip back home and everything was going as planned until a brief stop for lunch changed everything. The guy came into the diner waiving a gun and shouting orders and Hailey shot him.
Hailey knew what would come next, so when the cops arrived, she was on her knees with her pistol dangling from one finger and her permit to carry in the other hand. What she hadn’t counted on was an overzealous cop cuffing her too tight and leaving her on her own for far too long. By the time Jules Stanton discovered her predicament, she had nearly bled out.
Wyatt had performed the surgery on her wrist and he was worried that she would lose the use of her hand. He asked Dane to help her out with a few drops of her blood, but that didn’t go as planned either. Haylie had an unexpected reaction to Dane’s blood, and when she woke up, not only was she healed, she was no longer entirely human.
She was having the worst week of her life, and the Stantons “helping” her was only making things worse. She just wanted them to leave her alone. Now Colton, another Stanton, was telling her that she was his mate? The last thing she needed was a man ordering her around. Not no, but hell no!
Hailey held Ray’s hand and thought about what Denny had told her today. He’d been taking over her care since they’d gotten back to the house, and it had worked out well for her and Ray. Taking her to the doctor every couple of days would have been hard on her. “He destroyed her womb. There isn’t any chance that she’ll be able to carry a child and keep it. There has been much too much damage done for her to even take the chance. When she’s better, and I have to believe that she will get there, she should think about having a sterilization surgery done to prevent it from happening.
” She asked Denny if it would hurt her to get pregnant. “Yes, it could very well kill her.” Now here she sat with her friend, wondering what she was going to do with that information. Reaching out to Levi, who was still in France, she smiled when he laughed before speaking. They had become very close over the last week, and she was glad that he was happy. I took your advice, and I can’t thank you enough for it. I went and found some of the smaller, off the chart galleries, and had a blast. There are so many different things out there to see and create that I found myself buying things just because they were so unique. She laughed at his enthusiasm. Don’t be surprised if a large crate comes your way soon. I thought about waiting and bringing it home with me, but I couldn’t wait for you to see my finds. How is your friend? No change. But your dad told me that she wasn’t going to be able to hold a child of her own.
It breaks my heart how people treat their children. What would possess a man to do this to his own child? Not to mention what my mother did to hers. She felt her heart crumble for the pain of her stepfamily’s deaths. Cheer me up, Levi. Tell me some adventure that you’ve had since I spoke to you last. I’m so sorry, Hailey. She knew that he’d understand if she couldn’t answer him. Yesterday I had an encounter with one of the artists. I tell you, Hailey, I’m glad at that moment that you or the rest of the women weren’t with me. You would surely have cut him down. He was so pissed that I wasn’t buying anything from his booth when I was shopping. What did he sell? He was laughing hard, and it made her laugh too. Oh, I have a feeling this is going to be really good. I swear to you, it looked like he went and got him some wood out of the small parks around here and hot glued—I kid you not—he hot glued shells all over the pieces so that not one bit of the wood was showing. There were places on it that he might have run out of shells, so he drew them on some paper and stuck them there.
I swear to you, it was only beautiful to those like him. I don’t think he sold a single stick. She asked if he was making that up. And as soon as he started laughing again, her phone made a noise telling her that she had a message. See it? I had to sneak that picture. He has several signs in his booth that say no pictures. Why I have no idea, but there you have it.
She laughed even harder after seeing the picture, and she was so glad that Levi had told her about it. After they talked for a bit longer, really him only telling her what he’d been enjoying, Levi told her that he had an appointment and needed to get going. When are you coming home? He said that he was leaving in two days. I can’t wait to see you, Levi. I have a big hug here waiting for you. Hailey squeezed Ray’s hand and was shocked when it felt like she had given her a returning squeeze. Trying it again, she also floated into her head to see if she was awake yet and saw that her mind was going over the day at her office. Ray? She stilled for a moment in her memories. Ray, it’s Hailey. Do you remember me? I’d like to talk to you if you do. Hailey? He’s here, isn’t he? Hailey asked her who, knowing that she remembered her dad trying to kill her but testing her memory. My father. He’s in my office. I think he’s going to kill me. No, he will never bother you again. On this, you can go to the bank. There was a moment of relief, then fear took its place. You have to tell me what it is you’re thinking, Ray.
Your mind is going too fast for me to figure out. He hurt me, didn’t he? Hailey told her that he’d hurt her badly before anyone could save her. Yes, you told me that I had to scream, loudly, so that someone could come and save me. They did, didn’t they? Yes. Danny, the local pack alpha, came with his men, but Alan had already hurt you badly. Danny killed your father to keep him from hurting you more. Denny had told her that if she spoke to Ray in any way, she was to make sure she knew that she’d been hurt badly. And to be honest with her when she asked how badly. Hailey didn’t want to be responsible for telling her friend that she was more than likely going to be disfigured for the rest of her life, but she didn’t want to lie to her either. Ray, two things I want you to know right now. We have been keeping an eye on your places—home and business and even here. David is also with the local pack here. He’s as safe as you are. And the second thing? I’m calmer now, Hailey. I think I can take whatever it is you’ve been trying very hard for me to get on my own. How badly am I hurt?
Hailey felt tears roll down her cheeks and knew that it was now that she was going to have to be the one to hurt her friend. Hailey? Tell me, please. Alan used a knife on your face. He cut you from cheek to ear. The doctors had to reattach it to your head, but Denny told me that you’ve not lost your hearing. Your lips have been busted up, as well as your eyes. The socket was busted all to fuck on the left, and your other eye is swollen too badly for them to know the damage there. She paused when Ray asked her to. I want you to know that I love you very much, Ray. And think of you as my only sister. I love you too, Hailey. I felt that way the moment that you stood beside me that day. She could feel the sorrow in her voice, even if it was only in her head. The rest, please. My arm feels heavy, so I’m assuming that it was broken. Yes, in two places. They’re waiting for you to be stronger before they go in and repair it with metal rods. Also, your left hand was shattered when your father— Ray said not to call him that. All right.
I can do that. When Alan crushed your hand in the floor with his heel. They don’t know at this point, even if they go in and repair it if you’re going to have full use of it. There’s more, isn’t there? Wait for that, please. I know that you’ve been saving the worst for last. You have no idea how much I appreciate that but just wait. How is married life? Getting any better? Hailey told her that it was. I’m so happy for you. After everything that you’ve told me, I was hoping that I’d be one of their mates. But I’m supposing that they’d not want a freak like me in their life. Stop that right now, damn it. And you still might be. I’m hoping as much as you are for it to happen. Hailey let out a slow breath. The only thing keeping us from being true sisters is blood. And that matters very little to me. I love you just as if you were my sister. I’ve told you this before. Now, I’ll hear no more talk about that. All right? Yes, Momma. They both laughed. Hailey, fix me. I want you to do for me what Dane did for you. I know that you can do it. No, I don’t think that’s a good idea. Ray asked her why not. I don’t know. But this shit that I have, it’s scary stuff, Ray. I’m only just getting used to some of it. The things that I can do are— I don’t want to be a freak of nature, Hailey. She could feel her sorrow and her pain. The timer on the meds she was getting automatically said she had about a minute to go before she’d be medicated again. Never mind. You’re right. Having all that juice, as you called it once, it could get me into more trouble than I usually am. The laughter from Ray was harsh and almost bitter.
Before she could talk to her more, the meds kicked into her system and Ray was gone from her touch. Hailey could still read and feel her memories and pain level, which was lower now, but there wouldn’t be any more conversation for a little while. Getting up, Hailey went to the window. They’d brought Ray home as soon as she was cleared to go. She’d have to go to the hearing sometime soon—her father was still going to be charged with attempted murder. Hailey watched the gardener fussing with the little herb garden that the cook had asked to have put in. It was just after Saint Paddy’s Day, and things were starting to warm up. Just last week while out running with Colton, she’d seen crocus and daffodils coming up. Today there were blooms on the strawberries that Ken, the nice man that worked for Levi, had planted for the households. The man was doing great after his brain surgery. It was little things, she knew, that would make her smile. In the last few weeks, things in her life had begun to shape up and be happy. At the beginning of her stay here with Colton, and then her recent marriage to the man, Hailey was trying to find one thing every day that she had to be grateful for. Life, she knew, had a way of changing when you least expected it to. Sitting down again, she started reading some of the homework she should be grading. Hailey, unlike a lot of teachers where she worked, loved her job a great deal. And the kids seemed to be having a good time in her classes, too. ~*~
Levi looked around the room again. He’d been staying at a lovely bed and breakfast for the last two weeks, wanting to try things that he’d never done before after a show. While he knew that he’d done well at the show, he wouldn’t know how well until he was home. He didn’t want to think about anything but having fun, as Hailey had asked him to do. Smiling, he thought of her asking him to have fun and knew that it had been a direct order from her. She was adorable when she got all mother hen like, and he loved that she was a part of the family. Hailey could be all soft and mushy seeing a puppy on the television, but she’d also be the one that could cut a person to ribbons if anyone dared fuck with her family. Which, thankfully, he was a part of.
Going to the limo that was to take him to the airport, he thought of the conversation that he’d had with his brother last night. The woman, Ray Spencer, was healing well, but the outlook for her life wasn’t good. She was depressed. Levi knew this from talking to Hailey. He also knew that Ray had asked for Hailey to change her into what she was. Hailey wanted to—she’d told Levi that—but she was also afraid. What if she didn’t get enough, or got too much of her blood and died? Levi thought about the question she’d asked him. “If she turns out to be your mate—and I haven’t any idea if she is or not—would you want me to change her?” He’d thought about that hard, but before he could come up with an answer, if he ever was to reach one, she spoke again. “As it stands right now, she will have to walk with a cane for the rest of her life. Her left hand will never hold another pencil or camera, nor will she be able to carry a child within her womb without it killing Ray or both of them. I just don’t know what to do.” “I don’t either, Hail. I mean, I guess I’d have to know for sure that is something that she could live with. The consequences. As for me telling you that you should do it, even if she turns out to be my mate that answer doesn’t lay at my feet. It’s her body, her life, and even her choice. You know that too.” She said that she did, but was confused about it. “I am as well. I don’t know what to tell you, love.
You and her, you’ll have to work that out. Or you could ask Dane.” She huffed at him. “You know as well as I do that Dane would have done it permission or not. She did the same damned thing to me.” They both laughed. “I think I will talk to Dane, however. Maybe this is all for nothing, and I can’t change her into anything. I’m a copy of someone, not the original.” Now that he was headed home—he’d be there tomorrow afternoon—he thought of nothing else. Not of her injuries—he knew them to be extensive—but of the woman being his mate. Levi already knew a great deal about Ray and thought that she was a great deal like Hailey. But he knew too that it could only be him hoping that she was a cuddly as her, and she might be an absolute terror. Not likely, but he didn’t know. He landed in New York as a stopover. All of a sudden, he didn’t want to go home. Not that he was afraid of her—no, it wasn’t that. But the unknown, about her being his mate, frightened him more than he wanted to admit. Levi knew just what sort of person he was—a slob that liked this his way.
“Dr. Stanton?” He looked up when someone said his name. His title wasn’t something that a great many people knew about, and fewer knew that he was an artist. Nodding at the man, he said that was his name. “I’m Lucas Young. I work with Young and Young Attorneys. May I have a few minutes of your time?” “No, I’m getting ready to catch a flight.” He didn’t tell him which one, nor where he was going when he asked. “What do you want? We can talk here.” Lucas looked around then back at him. Levi looked too but kept his eye on the man. Backing up a little, he knew that he was in trouble when someone put their hands on his shoulders and held him tightly. “You just had to make this more difficult, didn’t you? I said that you’d be hard, but no, the boss, he told me that you’d be a pussy.” Levi reached for his family, every one of them, to tell them what was going on. Lucas, or whatever his name was, kept talking about his boss when Dane answered him. I’m close to you, Levi. In the same store. Don’t look for me. I’ve got your back. He was never so happy to hear that she was close to him in his life. I’ve been following this fucking shit for two days. You have Hailey to thank for this, by the way.
She and that thread thing, that’s— Dane, I don’t suppose we can talk about this later, can we? This shithole has a gun in my belly. And the one behind me is trying his best to tear my shoulders from my body. She laughed, and he could have gladly strangled her. He wouldn’t, of course—she’d hurt him—but her laughter did ease his mind a great deal. When I tell you to move, I want you to do it. Just tuck your head into the chest of the man behind you. I’ll take care of the rest. She laughed again. You do have something else to wear home, don’t you? He asked her why just as she told him to tuck. And when he did, he felt the warmth of blood splatter down his neck to his chin. Lucas fell back but had a knife in his hand that scared Levi as well. Levi just stood there until someone touched his arm. It was Dane. “Come on, you’re okay.” She had to drag him away from the crime scene. When he looked back as they hid behind a magazine rack, she could see that the shorter man, Lucas, was sitting up with a blade in his hand now, and Shoulder Man’s head was lying in his lap. Levi looked at Dane. “You killed him.” She said that was what the plan had been. “And what about me? Why did you drag me away?” “So you don’t have to miss your flight home, dummy.” He would gladly have hit her if she wasn’t dragging him to the back of the store they were in. “I have you something else to put on. It’s not as fancy as your suit, but it’ll get you home. There is— ” “I’m going to be sick.” She paused in her dialogue to let him throw up several times in the trash can that was suddenly there. As she stood there, she pulled out a phone and started talking, like the person had been waiting for her to call. He supposed, in a way, they had been once he heard her end of the conversation.
“It’s done. And you will have to pick up the tab for a suit for my brother.” A pause in the conversation had him standing up and glaring at her. “I have to go. My brother has puke on his chin, and I have to get him home to his mommy.” “That wasn’t nice.” She grinned. “You’re not nice. I know you’ve been told that before, but I think, after what just happened, that I should be able to tell you that again. You are not a nice person.” “I saved your ass. And I’ll tell you all about it once you change and we get on the other flight home. By the way, you do have puke on your chin.” He wiped it off on his sleeve and saw that there was a great deal of blood there. “Don’t. Just don’t ask me now, all right? You’re safe, and now that we’re headed home, the rest of us can keep an eye on you as well.” He didn’t ask her, even though he was burning with the need to know. This person, whoever it was, they were going to kill him. He didn’t know that for sure, but he could feel it all the way to his bones. Sitting in his seat in first class, which he knew for sure his ticket hadn’t been for, he glared at Dane when she asked the stewardess if she could have something to drink almost as soon as they were in the air. “Here, you’re to take these.” He asked her what they are. “I want you to be able to listen to me with a clear head. Right now, I can tell that you’re pissed off and that you’re in need to ask the million and one questions that are going on in your head.
” Levi took them, then settled back in his seat. He should have made her tell him what he was taking, but honestly, he was so freaked out that he might have drank an entire bottle of liquor if she had handed it to him. “They weren’t after you.” He’d never thought of that. All of his brothers had PhDs so it could have been any one of them. “They thought they were getting Brayden. Because of me. But mostly because of the things that had been going on in Africa before he left.” “The thing with the donations and the houses.” She nodded and smiled at him. “I don’t understand. I thought that was taken care of months ago. Didn’t someone go to jail over that? Not to mention, I think that they even told Brayden he was in the clear.” “They did. And he is. But that doesn’t mean that the people who had to pay out the ass for stealing in the first place were happy.” He asked her why they had to wait until now to tell him. “Because that’s not all of it. And I need you to think very hard about what I’m about to tell you. Do you remember a man by the name of Roberto Perez? He would have talked to you at the show two weeks ago.” He closed his eyes, and he wasn’t at all surprised to feel Hailey there. After telling him to wait for her, she moved through his mind gently and found the man for him. He allowed it—he told himself it was because he was just too overwhelmed by this entire thing. “Perez wanted me to paint his wife, or something like that, in the nude at his home. I told him that I didn’t do that, not with a model and that I had a timeline of things that I was working on anyway. He didn’t seem too happy about it, but he did walk away.” Before he could open his eyes, Hailey showed him the rest of the man’s movement through the showing.
“This is freaky, isn’t it? I mean, it’s like having a behind the scenes sort of camera following you around.” “She’s good, and she has your back. But when she pauses, you listen to the conversation he has with this other man.” Hailey followed the man through the rest of the time he was at the showing. Then when the man was leaving, he pulled out his phone and called someone. “Hailey has that number, so don’t worry with it.” It hadn’t even occurred to him to do that when the other man spoke. “Did you get him to do it?” Perez said that he hadn’t. “Why the fuck not? My money not good enough for the fucker? You know what it is. He’s a fucking gay, isn’t he? That’s why he’s turning you down.” “I don’t know, sir, but I couldn’t get him to do it. He said something about having enough work on his timeline or something. I can try again.” The man on the other end said that he’d take care of the little fucker—meaning him, Levi was sure. “All right then. There is no reason for me to come to the rest of the showing. I’ll be home in two days, sir. After I arrive, we can work on something else to get him to your home.
” “What does he want?” Hailey said that she didn’t know. Even Dane, who could find a mole in a valley of tunnels, said she didn’t know either. Without knowledge of the man on the other end, she hadn’t any clue. “But you do think that it’s more than just me painting his wife? And just so we’re clear, whose wife is he talking about?” “That is what threw us both at the start, too. Lucas said his wife, and then the other man says his wife. I’m not sure. Perhaps they’re both lying, or they could really want you to paint their wives. Maybe together or some shit like that.” Levi didn’t comment. He had to think about whether Perez had come to the show on the second day. When he was sure that he’s not, he wondered what the hell was going on, and why him. Sure, he could paint, but who would go to that much trouble for him to paint their spouse in the nude? And for that matter, why did he have to go to their home? Most painters he knew would say no to that. It was going to be a short flight, but Levi had a great deal on his mind to sort through. And most importantly, to see if Miss Spencer was his mate.
Mason Jane Barnhart had nothing left to live for. She was dying and there was nothing anyone could do about it. Rather than suffer a long agonizing death, she wanted it to be on her terms. She’d let the icy water claim her, and if she was lucky, she wouldn’t suffer.
Oliver Whitfield had been watching the girl. He couldn’t believe that anything could be so bad as to want to take her own life. But when she jumped from the bridge he had to go in after her. His tiger, bigger and stronger, would have to save her. When they got her to shore, Evan said that changing her was the only thing that would save her. Oliver didn’t want to, but he couldn’t let her die. He had a strange feeling that she was supposed to be the mate to one of his sons.
Adrian wasn’t sure he was ready for a mate. The timing wasn’t right. He still had so much left to do while running for public office, and if word got out that she tried to take her own life, he’d have that scandal to deal with too. But when he caught her scent, he knew, she was his and all thoughts of not being ready for a mate fled his mind.
When Mason opened her eyes, she was fit to be tied. She wasn’t supposed to be here, she was supposed to be dead. That’s what she wanted. What had those meddling Whitfields done now?
Dylan Hutchinson lived and breathed Army, and she’d been under cover so long she’d forgot what it felt like to be a civilian. But the last mission took a turn for the worse and not only was she hurt, but she’s been informed that she could no longer do her job. It’s either a desk job as a recruiter, or she’s out.
Evan Whitfield didn’t have to work, but he loved his job as a surgeon. And when as his tiger he found an old man wandering in the woods with Alzheimer’s and confused, he wanted to help the family. The family had a daughter in the hospital too, and they were struggling. Evan thought the daughter might be not as sick or hurt as she claimed to be, so he took it upon himself to check her out. Evan was surprised to find that she was not only hurt worse than they claimed, she was also his mate.
For a doctor, Dylan thought Evan was dense. What part of go away didn’t he understand? She wasn’t the mate or marrying kind. Her life was over, not beginning. He needed to just go away….
Sunny, or Sunshine Davis, is a well-known investigative reporter. After her recent article shuts down a drug lab, she just disappears. People everywhere are looking for her. Truth is she’s been shot and left for dead. Tanner, a vampire, has other plans for the feisty reporter. He needs her help, so he saves her. His old friend, Ollie Whitfield, owes him a favor, so he sends her there to lay low for a while.
David Whitfield is on a deadline with his publisher. When he’s writing, he’s in a world of his own. When his grandda, Ollie, asks him to hide out a friend, he’s all for it. He’d do anything for his grandda. What David doesn’t expect is for the woman he’s supposed to be hiding out to be his mate. A very hurt mate that has his tiger in a possessive uproar.
Because Sunny technically died before Tanner could revive her, she has a little difficulty remembering the events just prior to her death, but when she does the revelation rocks her to her core. And her baggage can put all the Whitfields in danger.
Josh had taken a month off from his Realtor job to get the construction finished on his house, but he was leaning toward it being a permanent vacation. He still liked selling houses, but something was missing. It didn’t excite him anymore and he was tired of the rat race.
All Carter wanted was to get a job and start her life over again. She had just spent the last ten years in prison for a crime she didn’t commit, and that made finding a job difficult, if not down right impossible. She didn’t want to go back to the halfway house, but things weren’t looking good.
Ollie Whitfield took an instant liking to the young woman and her sister, Rachel. He’d make sure his grandson gave her a job in the new greenhouse he was opening up. There was no since in her beating the pavement for a dead-end job when he had one for her. He just had to convince her of that. She had some dad-blamed notion in her head that she’d bring danger to the family.
Josh’s grandda had already told him of the scary things the woman could do, and he was worried that Carter and her sister might be taking advantage of an old man. But when Josh walked behind her at the dinner table and caught her scent, he was floored. He had found his mate and neither of them were prepared for it.
Carter knew he was a shifter, but the things she could do would get them all killed, and she wouldn’t allow that. She would somehow convince him that this mate thing was a bad idea.
Ivy Walton loved her job as a surgeon but hated her boss. What part of “I’m on vacation” couldn’t the woman understand? She’d just lost her house to a fire, and she needed this time away with her sister. They’d been on their way to the coast when Ivy’s car broke down, and this little town they’d found for repairs was a breath of fresh air. Ivy found the non-hectic life of a small town to be appealing to her raw nerves.
Adam Whitfield was a farmer and, like his brothers, a Bengal tiger. He had just purchased his grandparents’ home and was putting on the finishing touches. The home was large, too large for a single man, but he liked it. Furniture was still sparse, but he figured he could add to it in time.
When Adam met Ivy at a family dinner, he knew instantly who she was to him. But could a renowned surgeon be happy with a simple farmer? He hoped so. He hadn’t been looking for his mate when he found her, but now that he had, he wasn’t letting her go. If she went back to the city, he’d go too whether she liked it or not.
Angus came to her with every little thing, Mason thought. So much so that she wanted to brain him. But she supposed that was a good idea until he was more comfortable with his new position as the front man for a place they were going to work with. Mason loved him, and that was all she needed to let things roll off her with this transfer of power. At least for the time being, it would be good for him to get answers before making a commitment. He’d make a good replacement for her at Mason Tile and Paper. Her brother was doing much better than she’d thought he would in so little time.
Mason was getting closer and closer to her time to run away. Not that it was really what she was doing, but her dad and brother thought that she was. And while they weren’t wrong about her leaving the firm, they weren’t right either. Mason Jane Barnhart had had enough of things in general. She also knew what no one else did—that she didn’t have long to live. For two days now, she’d been out walking about the tiny town. It was small compared to where she’d lived most of her life. Chicago was a nice town, one that she loved, but that too had been too much for her in dealing with everything. Everyone, even in a town as big as hers, had heard something about what had happened to her. Not all of it, but enough to ask her if she was doing all right. And at least daily, someone asked her about her health and wellbeing. No, she thought to herself. She was not doing all right. But she would only smile at them and nod.
Yes, Mason would say, I’m doing just fine. I’m over it. And that had to be the biggest lie she’d ever told anyone, especially her family. Not that either of them knew much of what had happened to her. Nor did they know the extent of her injuries that she carried to this day. Not just the emotional ones, but the ones that were on her flesh, so that each day she was sure it was going to be her last. And hiding it from her family and friends was taking its toll on her. She was going to die. A long and painful death that would not only drain her father’s business but also his health by staying at her side. Mason stopped by the little bridge she’d walked by a dozen times over the last few weeks. The first day she’d been by it had been a dry and sunny day. The water, not all that deep, was babbling around the low hanging trees, as well as the large stones in the waterway. The fallen trees that no doubt came from upstream formed cascading water sounds that had made her smile despite the circumstances surrounding her interest in the water. Then it started to rain, a deluge of water that seemed to have been an open spigot on the town and all the now swollen creeks. This was just what she was looking for in a way to end her life by falling to her death. Mason knew that drowning wasn’t a sure thing when it came to jumping into the fast running creek. But she’d been coming by here at its lower point, and saw that there was a great big stone in the middle of the waterway. And if her estimations were
correct, the fast-moving water was just about freezing.
There were icy formations along both sides where the water didn’t move as fast. Sitting on the railing, her feet dangling over the water, she wondered what the impact would be for her to fall directly on the large stone that had made its way above the moving water. It was a creek, she’d been told, that fed into the Muskingum River downstream from where they were. A long way to go, she thought, before anyone would realize that she’d jumped. “Hello.” She didn’t bother to look at the man. She’d seen him around town too. Actually, it was difficult to go into any place on the main drag without seeing Mr. Whitfield—Oliver, he’d asked Angus to call him. “Are you going to jump?” “I’ve not decided just yet. I was calculating in my head how hard the water would be, and the stone beneath it.” She looked at him then. “I have a lot on my mind, Mr. Whitfield. I thank you for your concern. However, this is nothing that I’d like to share with a stranger.
It’s a place I come to think, and I’d like to do that alone if you’d not mind.” “Yes, I can understand that. I’m Oliver Whitfield. If I’m not mistaken, you’re one of the workers that is with Angus. Good fella, by the way. I think he has a brother hereabouts, but I’ve not had the pleasure of meeting him just yet. Honey, is there anything I can do to help you?” It was on the tip of her tongue to ask him if he would push her into certain death, but she didn’t. Instead, she just looked out over the muddy, icy water. “I have a couple of doctors in my family. They’d be more than happy to talk to you, child.” “Do you have a gun, Mr. Whitfield?” He said that he didn’t. Realizing her mistake, she had to think fast about telling him why she’d needed a gun. “Then no, I don’t think there is a thing you can do for me. I was…there are a few snakes here and about in the water. I was going to practice on them. I have a permit to carry, but I don’t. Not anymore.” “I don’t mean to be rude, and my lovely wife would box my ears for this, but I don’t believe that you want a gun for that at all. Can you tell me about it?
I promise you on my wife’s heart that I’d never tell anyone else.” Mason shook her head. “I need for you to tell me what’s bothering you, child. I’m not leaving here until you do.” “At the moment, you’re the only thing bothering me, Mr. Whitfield. As I said, I have a few things I need to work out on my own.” He sat on the side of the bridge with her, his jean covered legs and high boots looking ridiculous next to her fancy worthless boots and lightweight pants. “Mr. Whitfield, I’d very much like for you to go away and leave me alone. I’m not going to share anything with you. There isn’t anything you can do, and even if there was, I don’t want anyone to be a part of this.” “This here creek, did you know that it’s called Narrows Creek? Been here since the man over there decided to widen his fields so that he didn’t have to cross a little bitty bridge in the spring when the creek flooded. And boy oh boy, it sure could flood.” She looked at the house that was on the other side of the field but said nothing. “That’s his home if you’re thinking that. He’s not lost anything since he had some people come in and widen and deepen this place for him. Don’t jump.”
Tears filled her eyes. The man was too smart for her own good. He was much too observant as well. Instead of answering him, even though she wouldn’t, she thought of what he’d said about Angus having a brother. “Angus doesn’t have a brother, Mr. Whitfield. I’m his sister, Mason.” She looked at him. “Mas Barnhart is our father. Not really Angus’s, but he is mine. Dad bought me off my mother so that she’d not abort me when she found out that she was knocked up. Not a good term, I guess, but those were her words, not his. Then a few months after I was born, no more than an infant, she was killed in an automobile accident.” She hadn’t expected him to say anything, so when he didn’t, she continued. “Angus’s mother thought that she’d get a great deal of money from my dad by claiming that my dad was the father of him. He wasn’t, of course, but that didn’t stop him from paying her off, and he still does when she shows up making a stink about shit that isn’t true, nor any of her business. Mostly, lately anyway, the shit has been about me.”
“You seem like a good girl. What on earth could she have on a child like you?” She just stared at the creek, watching it roar along the sides of the banks, pulling limbs and leaves along with it to make pretty colored swirls in the waterway as it flowed downstream. Trees, too, had been moved, probably a great distance, and were starting to pile up at the posts that held the bridge she and Mr. Whitfield were sitting on. “Mason, what happened to you?” “A man did. Not that you’d have to believe me or not. Frankly, I don’t have any proof at all that he even touched me that week. But he kidnapped me from campus where I was teaching, drugged me, and raped me, repeatedly, over an entire week and then some. There were others too. All men, who I found out later had paid a great deal of money to have their way with me.” She laughed bitterly, not even sure why she was sharing this with him. A last confession, she thought, because she was going to jump today. “I was the great Mas Barnhart’s daughter, his princess that was so untouchable. I haven’t any idea where that had come from, but there it was. And lucky for me, or not so lucky for me, I was able to escape with my life. Or so I thought.” She looked at Mr. Whitfield.
He had a kind face, one that she thought reminded her a great deal of her own father. She knew this man had sons, six of them. And he had grandchildren and a nice wife. Carefully she reached out her hand, meaning only to touch his cheek to see if it felt as soft and warm as she thought it might. But curling her fingers into her palm at the last minute, she thanked him for being there. The jump was easy. Mason just stood and leaped. But she wasn’t getting to the water as she had hoped—something was keeping her there. Turning her head to look at Mr. Whitfield, she saw that he was holding her back by her coat, and his grip was too powerful for her to shake loose. Mason did try to make him release her so that she’d not have to come back another day to try again. This was her last chance, she thought, and she needed it to work. “Don’t do it, child. We can work something out.” She reached for the zipper on her coat, pulling it down slowly as Mr. Whitfield strained to hold her back. She wanted to just rip it off, let him have the coat that he was holding so that she could die. But the strain on it and her body were making it go slowly.
“Please, I’m begging of you, child, don’t do this. There has to be another way.” “There isn’t.” The coat was undone and she let it slip from her arms. The water came up fast, and Mason closed her eyes for the impact. Hoping that it would kill her right away, she let out a breath that she’d been holding, and hit the water hard. She had missed the stone except for her arm. The water was so cold that it made her inhale sharply. The pain of it, like icy needles, felt as if it were tearing her flesh from her body. Mason didn’t care. She was going to be free soon, and that was all that mattered. Not fighting the current or the trees that banged into her, she let it take her under several times as she tried to get her bearings on where she was in the water. The water was rough, tumbling and turning her all around so that she didn’t know which way was up. Bashing her body off one thing to the next, she knew that her arm and leg were broken, useless to her in trying to hold herself under. And when she knocked her shoulder, the pain of it making her cry out, she swallowed more water, then nothing. The pain in her head took it all away.
~*~ Oliver had put out an emergency call for help when Mason stood up. He’d been talking to Evan since seeing her there, but he never dreamed in a million years that she’d do it right in front of him. Shifting to his tiger, he dove into the water after her, knowing that his cat would stand the cold a bit better than he would as a man. He had a difficult time finding her in the murky water. He’d see her for a second, but then she was gone. Oliver knew that they were farther down the creek than he’d told his family, but there wasn’t any time for him to get his bearings and find the girl. As soon as he had a good hold on her leg, he bit down hard, knowing that if he lost her this time, he’d never have a second chance of finding her again. The bones, already broken, shattered more under his powerful bite. “Dad, can you see me? Dad, I’m here.” He popped his head above the water in time to hear Evan yelling for him.
“Christ, bring her to me and I’ll see what I can do. They’re all coming, Dad. We’ll save her if we can.” Oliver swam as hard as he could to get to the other side, but he was an old man, worn out by hard work and age. Oliver wasn’t giving up, but he knew that he wasn’t going to make it to his son. Then he felt his burden become lighter and looked to his other son. Josh had come into the water as his cat to help him. It was a struggle, even for the two of them, to get her to Evan. As soon as his son was able to reach into the water and pull her out, Josh got out as well and helped him out of the freezing cold water. Oliver didn’t have the strength to shift—he wasn’t even sure that he had the energy to breathe. But his lovely wife, the woman of his heart, Eve, yelled at him through their link. While he’d never tell her this, she sounded like a choir of angels talking to him. You die there on the side of that nasty creek, Oliver Whitfield, and I will never forgive you. I won’t visit your grave, nor will I put any pretties there for you. Get up, you old coot, and move around before you freeze to death. He told her that he loved her.
I love you too. And you were so brave to save her. Now, you’d better be up and around before I get there. Or so help me I’ll— I’m up. Now hush, woman, I can’t hear what Evan is saying about her. It might have been for nothing. Evan was looking grave as he worked. Then he looked at him. She’s got some kind of sickness, Evan. I tasted it in her blood when I bit her. “You’re going to have to finish the job, Dad, or she will be dead before I can do a thing.” He asked him what he was talking about. “Change her. You’ve bitten her several times, it looks like. And she’s dying. Change her and she’ll live. And it’ll take care of whatever illness brought her to this point. As it is right now, she’s got so many broken bones, and with the loss of blood, I don’t know if she’d make it even if this were to have happened with a team of doctors around her. Change her, please.” He didn’t want to. Oliver wasn’t sure why, but he had a feeling that this little girl was going to be one of his sons’ mate.
Evan told him it was now or she’d be dead to someone. He bit down in her bruised and battered belly, and felt her scream that came up from her gut. She was poisoned with something nasty, the poor thing, and he had a feeling that she’d been right. Mason had been about as close to death as it came. It was another twenty minutes before he could move away from her tiny body. Ivy was there with them now, and so was his Eve, who had brought him some clothing. When Mason started to shake hard, they covered her with as many blankets and coats as they could find. All it did, he thought, was make her shake harder. It wasn’t until Carter showed up that he could see some improvement in her skin. But she gave her a couple of drops of her powerful blood to be sure. They all knew that Carter was a fae, and that she had shared her magic with Josh. But what it would do to a human, one that was just on this side of dying, no one knew. It might well be a moot point if she died right now. It was decided, however, that they’d take her up to the bridge and lay her down there, so that when the ambulance came, they’d just say that she had slipped on the icy bridge. It was plausible, he supposed. She was soaking wet and badly battered. Carter said she’d make it, so the authorities saw only what they needed to see, and he was grateful for that. “Her brother and dad, they don’t need to know that she was trying to kill herself.”
Eve agreed, but Evan wasn’t so sure. “If he needs to know, then we’ll tell him. But I think, for now, we should just let it go as a fall rather than her jumping. I think this is something that she’ll need to tell them. On her terms, I think, too. I’d want to hear it from one of you if you were thinking there wasn’t any other way.” “What about changing her?” Oliver told Evan he didn’t know about that yet as he pulled off his second coat to lay on Mason, to make it look as if he’d been the only one there. “All right. But think on an answer or something before we get in too deep with this. Her dad, he might even know that she’s been down of late. But I doubt very much that he knew that she was dying with what she had. That is more than likely what drove her here in the first place.”
He had to agree. But he’d not tell any of them what she’d said to him before she’d jumped. It tore at his heart when he thought of the sadness and pain that he’d seen there just before she slipped out of her coat. The ambulance was called, and he waited for them. The rest of them left him there so that the story was plausible. He held her hand while he sat there with her, telling her that it mattered little to him if she was one of his boys’ mate, he already loved her to pieces. When the ambulance pulled up, Ivy was on it with them. With a wink at him, she asked him what was going on. He told her the story that they’d agreed on. He’d found her there, lying on the bridge, and had covered her up with his coat. He didn’t have to explain why she was wet, no one asked, but once she was bundled up and taken away, Oliver sat there for a few more minutes, thinking of his part in this woman’s life now. He’d not changed anyone in his life.
Not even when he’d been younger had he had the occasion to do something so terrifying. His lady wife, Eve, had been a full-blooded tiger when they’d come together. And now, he’d just changed the life of someone, a stranger, so profoundly that he doubted very much she’d ever be able to forgive him. Oliver wasn’t sure that he’d ever forgive himself if it came to that. But she was alive, and she’d be all right. Oliver thought that was the best he could be happy for right now. “Are you finished feeling sorry for yourself?” He turned to look at Tanner when he spoke. “You saved her life, at great risk to yourself. And while she might have wanted to die, by her own hand, you have done something wonderful for her family. As you thought, she might not forgive you right away.
But Oliver, I have known you all my life, and no one can be upset with you for long.” “I’m not like my father.” He looked around and saw that it had turned rainy again, the clouds thick and heavy. “He could charm the pants off a nun, I’ve been told. By him, mostly, but I have heard it. I’m not the type of person that can make anyone do anything.” “Let me see your arm.” Oliver had hurt himself holding the girl so she’d not fall. It had just begun to hurt him when Tanner sat beside him on the cold, wet bridge. “You strained it badly, I’m afraid. You will need to be in more pain before you will be better. I would have thought that shifting to catch her would have helped.” “My cat was hurt. The current that had us, it was much stronger than I’d thought when I went in for her.”
He looked at Tanner. “She was dying. I just couldn’t let her do that to herself. Or her family. She is better now, I’m hoping. Do you think you can do that magical thing you do and tell me if I did a worse thing by doing this to her?” “I shan’t do that, Oliver. You know as well as I that she will live for a good long time now, and have no worries that she had before.” Oliver nodded, but wasn’t convinced that she’d not try again. “She will not. I shall tell you something, my friend. She is the mate to one of your sons, but I know not which one. And that alone will give her immortality, regardless of her being the wonderful tiger that I know she will be.” “Do you know this man? The one that she was talking about before she jumped?” He said that he didn’t. “I wish I did. I’d hunt him down and give him a good showing of my cat. Even as old as I am, I think I could make him wet himself.”
“Don’t do it, my friend. While I have no doubt that you could make him wet his pants, I think you should leave that for your son, her mate. But as I have said, you will need to see Ivy or Evan about your arm. I believe that you have dislocated your shoulder. Quite painful, I have heard, so you will, as I said, be in a great deal more pain.” Tanner stood up. “I wish to ask you something, Oliver, and you do not need to form an answer. And though I am quite aware of what you are going to say, I wish for you to think on it. Her father, I have heard, is a good man. What would you feel should this have been your despondent child, and a man—you, in this case—had the chance to save her from certain death, so changed her into something more? How would you feel?” Tanner disappeared, not waiting to see if Oliver had an answer or not. The sun was coming out and the rain was gone. The roads, he knew, would be slicker before dinner tonight.
Walking home, enjoying the chill of the day, he thought about the question that had been put before him. “I’d want her to be alive more than anything.” He knew that to be true, but he also didn’t know the other man, her father. His dad did, of course. Dad knew everyone. But Oliver didn’t. Making his way to the diner, Oliver decided to have a talk with his dad about it. “So you saved her life.” Dad was talking to him between customers. Oliver had an idea that he needed something to do like his dad had, if only to make him feel better about life. Dad sure did look better than he had a few months ago. “I know Mas. He’s a good man, and a better businessman than I’ve come across. If he has his little girl, then you can bet that he wouldn’t care if she was a donkey braying out her love for him.” “Dad, where do you come up with this stuff? There has to be a place that has a list of them. Every day you come up with something new, and just as goofy.” Dad laughed when he did. “I heard that the boys are going to be helping him out so that no one takes his company. It’s good to see someone still doing business within the family.”
“It is, I agree. And if’n you want me to, I’ll be there when you tell him what you did to his little girl. I didn’t know that— Say, you thinking what I’m thinking?” Oliver told him that he was still thinking about that girl braying like a jackass. “I never said jackass, you dummy. I said a donkey. But what if she’s one of the boys’ mates? Wouldn’t that be a hoot?” “It might be if I wasn’t so afraid that she isn’t,” Dad asked him why. “Because she’s a tiger, Dad. She’s no longer a human.” He didn’t tell him what Tanner had said. For some reason, he wanted to keep that to himself for now. “Oh, don’t go on about that. Whoever she’s mated to, you can bet your bottom pocket lint that this other person is going to be a darn sight happier with her being alive, don’t you think?” Amazed at his father’s sayings, Oliver just nodded. “There you go. And if she happens to be one of them boys’ mates, well, you had it right on to make her something that could be running with him. Don’t go looking for trouble, Oliver. You don’t need to. Trust me when I tell you, when it comes around, this here trouble that’s in your head, it’ll find you without you worrying yourself sick over it. Now, have some pie, then go on over and get that bum arm looked at. I can see that it hurts you.”
He walked over to the clinic after having a slice of pie with his dad. Oliver was glad to see that one of the other doctors was there today. Oliver knew that Evan was on call and Ivy had taken Mason in, so he’d not be embarrassed when someone set his arm for him. The man told him the same thing that Tanner had—it was going to be more painful before it started to get better. Once they strapped him to the table, really making him more nervous than before, he laid there just thinking about the woman, trying his best not to think of her as a girl. Calling her one when he could see that she wasn’t, Oliver hoped that she’d be all right. “I came by when I heard from Tanner. Oh, Oliver, I wish you could have said something. I would have picked you up.” Oliver was happy to see Eve—so happy, in fact, that he held her hand when the doctor came into the room. “You just lay there and let him fix you up. Then I’ll take you home and pamper you for a bit. I think there is even a little pie left over from dinner last night.” There wasn’t any pie—he’d had it before leaving the house this morning. But he’d not tell her. She’s been fussy with him again. And right now, he wanted her to be loving and comforting. The doctor grabbed his arm at the elbow, and all Oliver remembered after that was screaming his fool head off.
Dr. Brody Downs was ready for a fresh start for him and Jordan both. Filing for a divorce from Rachel was the most prudent thing to do under the circumstances. He had known Jordan wasn’t his son when he was born, but he couldn’t love the little guy more if he had been. Rachel wasn’t fit to raise the boy, and he’d fight her for custody if it came to that. Until that time, he was offered a new job in a small town in Ohio, he and Jordan would settle there and try to start anew.
Aaron Wright was aware of the kind doctor at the airport that helped his sister. Emmi had been at the airport to pick him up from his flight when security tackled her to the ground for being with the little boy. It was all a mistake, she was just trying to help the boy find his dad, but they discovered how severely beaten Emmi truly was. Now that Emmi was safe, Aaron was very aware of Dr. Downs, and that had him worried. Aaron wouldn’t consider himself gay. That thought had never crossed his mind—until now.
Brody was too focused on the woman and her injuries to notice the man with her. But now that things were settled, he noticed, and he was confused. Brody wasn’t gay or he didn’t think he was. But when Aaron took his hand, he didn’t want to let go….
Jake Winslow’s marriage to the money-grubbing shrew is over. Cutting off her funds, and the simple use of the word “no” sends her packing. When he comes home from work and finds his house empty of everything, including food, he feels—liberated.
Jake’s grandmother, Jenna, calls her friend and attorney, Forrest Stout, to handle Jake’s messy divorce. She can’t stand Jake’s soon-to-be ex-wife and is leaving nothing to chance. Only the best for her grandson and the best is Forrest.
Forrest is a Were-Tiger, and he knows “who” he is. He is an oddity in his paranormal world because he is gay. His kind mate for life, and after a recent disastrous attempt to find companionship, he has given up hope of ever finding his life mate.
From the moment Forrest meets Jake for the first time, he knows that Jake is his life mate, and he wants to run in the opposite direction because Jake isn’t gay. To claim and lose a mate would spell disaster for him. How can he ask a straight man—that he wants with every fiber of his being—to conform to his way of life? He can’t….
Ex-lovers and ex-wives can be a dangerous combination. Especially when neither are right in the head…
Henry Myers never kept his gender preferences a secret. His mother supported his choices and stood by his side even when his acting career tanked because of it. Now she was gone, and so was his career. Henry was at a loss.
Patrick Garrett, Paddy, was now in a bad place. He had worked at the precinct since he was in his early twenties, and now he could trust no one. Not his captain nor his partner it seemed. He was shot and bleeding, and it seemed the whole precinct was on the take.
Henry had been able to talk to ghosts since a near death experience he had as a child. They had been following him around ever since. Now it seemed Paddy could see them as well. But when Wally, Henry’s ghostly companion referred to Paddy as Henry’s mate. Neither man was sure how to take that news.
Henry couldn’t deny the attraction to the rugged cop, and if the man didn’t put back on his shirt, he wasn’t so sure he’d be able to control himself.
Cameron knew it was a setup before he and his sister Caitlynn got there. It was supposed to be a hit to take Cattie out. Cam being there was just a bonus. Had they been entirely human, the explosion would have killed them both. With them both being critically injured, they were taken to a private clinic owned by Jake and Forrest. To the world they would appear to be dead, at least until Cattie could put together who was out to get them.
Rick wasn’t sure what he was supposed to be doing here. He’d been asked by his buddy and longtime friend, Forrest, to come by his house—he had a gig for him. Rick hadn’t had a gig of any kind for years now and getting a call from Forrest out of the blue, like it had been, couldn’t have come at a better time.
Cam had many abilities. One he felt was somewhat of a curse. He was so in tune to everyone else, like an empath he felt what they felt, so much so that he couldn’t separate his own feelings from theirs. Because of this, he avoided ever having a relationship.
Being an elite shifter, Rick wasn’t confused. As soon as his fingers brushed Cam’s at the kitchen table, he knew they were mates, and he was about the rock Cam’s world.
Brody was ready for his own bed. Well, one where a five-year-old wasn’t sleeping with him. Jordan, he’d come to realize, was a bed hog. Looking over at him, Brody fell deeper in love with the little boy. He was going to be his. On the third day of their vacation, he’d realized that Jordan had never asked about his mom. Not once did he wake in the middle of the night calling for her. And he’d never, when buying gifts for Grandma and Howie, as his butler liked to be called now, did he even suggest that he get anything for his mom. That, to Brody, was just sad. Jordan would answer questions about her when asked, mostly by strangers, but nothing about her otherwise. This was their last day, and he needed to talk to his son. Jordan, as usual, beat him to the draw. Like he knew. “Dad, are we going home today? I sure miss my bed. And you not sleeping in it.” They both laughed. “I can’t wait to give my gifts to Grandma and Howie.
But…Dad, will Mom be there?” His question was quite like he was almost afraid to ask it. Or, Brody thought, it could have just been him thinking that’s what Jordan was doing. Sitting down at the small table they had in their room, he handed Jordan his glass of orange juice. “No. She won’t be there. But I told you, we’re not going home.” He nodded. “Jordan, would you be upset if she didn’t come with us to the new house?” “No.” He looked at his dad, then back at his now empty glass. “She’s not nice. And she yells at me all the time. She says awful things about you and Grandma. And when she has her friends over, I have to stay in the kitchen with Howie all the time.” More and more things were coming out about his wife. Rachel had made Jordan take swimming lessons, the beginner classes so she could be in the pool with the younger mothers. Jordan was an advanced swimmer and had hated the way his mom acted. He never got to go out to eat with her—it was drive through or nothing. And then he wasn’t allowed to eat in the car. Little things, yes, but they’d mounted up heavily on the little boy. “I’m sorry about that. I’m glad that you’ve told me all these things, but I’m very sorry that she treated you this way, Jordan. You believe me, don’t you?”
He nodded and Brody took a deep breath before speaking again. “We’re getting a divorce, your mom and I. We’re not going to be living together anymore.” The hopeful look in Jordan’s eyes was there and gone so quickly, Brody was sure that he had mistaken it again. When Jordan started playing with his bowl of cereal, Brody decided it was time to tell him the truth about everything. But Jordan spoke before he could. “Dad, will I have to go and live with her? I don’t want to. I don’t even like her.” Brody didn’t know what to say, so said nothing. “I know you’re not my daddy. I wish you were all the time. But if you keep me and not give me to Mom, I will be the best boy in the entire world.”
“Oh, Jordan.” He held him tightly, tears filling his eyes even as Jordan sobbed on his chest. But what broke Brody’s heart more was how Jordan kept begging him not to make him go back to his mom. Never. “You won’t. I promise. And Jordan, you are a good boy. So good that I’m jealous I wasn’t that good when I was small. Grandma is going to be living with us in our new place, as well as Howie.” “You promise I won’t have to go to her?” He said that he did, on his life. Brody only hoped that Jake was a good enough attorney to make it happen. “I love you, Dad. Forever.” The rest of the morning was spent packing up their things. They didn’t have to leave until later today, but they could take their luggage to the airport and then not have to mess with it later. They had taken two bags each, and now had four bags each. Most of it was things that Jordan wanted for his new room. The walk around the city was nice. Brody knew that as soon as he was with Jake and the rest of his group that he’d have to settle down and get busy on this divorce. Talking to his mom nightly had helped—both he and Jordan, as a matter of fact.
So he was up-to-date on things that were going on at home. Brody knew that Rachel hadn’t shown up for her court date. And he knew why. She’d been in a jail cell—for not paying her bill to the hotel—since the morning she was to appear. He had to laugh every time he thought about her being taken out in handcuffs while trying her very best to sell off some of the things in the room. Rachel’s mother, Becky Sharp, had cooperated with the police. What with her husband David being in jail too, Becky had no choice except to get out of the house nicely. And when searched, she’d not taken anything. So Brody, even though he didn’t care for her husband or her daughter, paid for two weeks in a hotel for her, with food and room service included—as long as she didn’t try and steal anything or harbor her daughter. “You should have seen it, Brody. I tell you, Howie and I laughed for nearly two hours watching Rachel being pulled from the hotel. And there she was, screaming that she was going to get you. I don’t know how she figured that was going to happen, but she was. Then I think she saw the television crew.” He asked his mom why they were there. “Not for her, though I think they did film her. That boy we hired, Jake, and his partner Forrest, they’re making a name for themselves. I think you got the best of the best. But they were there for the unveiling of the plans for the new library addition.
It’s going to be nice. I think your boys had something to do with that too.” He hoped they were doing a good job. He would hate like hell to have to turn his son over to that monster. Brody hadn’t realized how much he’d had riding on this. There was his practice, his homes, money. Of course, she’d signed a prenup, but he knew that she was slick and would do just about anything for some money. But today was for Jordan. The phone was ringing as soon as they entered the hotel room. Jake was on the line, and he sounded like a man who was either really pissed off or holding back on something. When he finally burst out laughing, Brody couldn’t help but smile.
“Your soon to be ex-wife is on the line. Not with us at the moment, but as soon as I tell you a couple of things.” Jake laughed again. “My God, Brody, I think she’s more of a bitch than my ex-wife was. Does she by chance have any decorating skill?” He had heard about Jake’s wife.
“I was afraid to give her the chance. The house decorating was off limits to her at all times. What does she want, do you know?” “Smart man. She said that she wasn’t going to tell me, so I hung up on her. The second time she called, an officer was on the line. He asked me, politely, to let her talk to you so they could have some peace and quiet. I guess she’s putting up a great big hullaballoo. I love that word. I might have to use it more often.” Brody hadn’t heard that word in a while either, and laughed. “Yeah, my grandma would say that a great deal. Anyway, I’ll be on the line with the two of you. And since she’s calling you from the police station, there will be someone listening in on that end and recording it. So, keep your cool and don’t tell her anything that you’d not normally tell her if she didn’t ask you. For instance, you can tell her about the tests, but only if she asks.” When the line opened up, the police officer said what Jake had told him. Apparently, Rachel was listening as well, but her end was muted. They told him they were recording the conversation, and that Brody’s attorney was on the line as well. “This is bullshit.” The phone was muted when Rachel spoke; the small humming sound was all the notice that they got to clue them in on that. Then when she came back on the line, she wasn’t any happier about having to behave, Brody would bet. “Brody, honey, I want you to get your rectum down here and bail me out. Give me a key to the house and stop this nonsense with our son. You know as well as I do that you’re not going to go through with this. You need me.”
“No.” She asked him what that meant. “No, I’m not going to go and bail you out. No, I’m not going to give you a key to my home, and I’m certainly not going to stop with the proceedings. I’m divorcing you, Rachel.” “And you think that just because you have all the money, you can do as you please? I’m your wife, you fucking dick shit—” The line went dead again, and Brody laughed. He wondered if Jake was laughing too when Rachel came back on the line. “I’m supposed to stop cursing. But I want you to know, Brody, that I’m calling you every name in the book in my head. Where is my son? I want you to make sure that when you go to court, or whatever the he…heck you think you’re doing, you know that you’re not going to raise him. He’s our son, and as his mother, I’m the one that should raise him. Everyone knows that the mother wins in this sort of thing. I’m thinking now about how much me having our son in my possession is going to cost you.” “He is your son. You have that right, Rachel. And you know as well as I do that he’s not my biological child. In fact, I found the list that you wrote on who could be his father.” Brody looked at Jordan as he continued. “But I could care less who he was fathered by. He’s my son, and I love him with all my heart.
And as for you raising him, that’s not going to happen either. You’re neither a good role model nor mother.” “You have never had a heart, and you’re abysmal in bed. Why is it you think I found other men to screw me? Because you might have a nice dick, but you hadn’t a clue how to use it.” Brody started to say that it might have been her, but he wasn’t lowering himself to her level.
“Don’t you have anything to say? I have plenty, but I have to be nice. You have no idea what you’re stepping into here by treating me this way. And tossing my parents out on their butts with nothing at all to fall back on.” “Perhaps you should have read the prenup better, Rachel. It stated that so long as we were married, I would provide your parents with a home to live in, as well as a car. The money allowance that I helped them out with was because, believe it or not, I’m a nice person.” She snorted. “Regardless. I’ve had enough. And since you’ve been stepping out on me since the day we married, I’m going to take back control of my life.” “Have you any idea how many men have fucked me in that big house of yours? Hundreds. Some days I’d take on two or three at the same time. It was so much fun, having men right under your nose.” Again, he could have said more, but he didn’t. “And with you all alone sleeping down the hall in your lonely little bed. Did you cry yourself to sleep, Brody? You pussy.” The line went dead, and Brody closed his phone when he heard a dial tone. It took everything that he had just to sit here and not hunt her down and strangle her. Then Jordan came to him and put his small arms around his neck. “Dad, she’s not worth it.” Brody told him he knew that. “She’s a mean person. And you are my dad. Can I tell you something?” “Yes, Jordan, anything.” Jordan walked to the little cabinet that held snacks. He’d never taken anything out, but he knew that Jordan had a small sweet tooth. When he took out a candy bar, Brody smiled at him as he ate it.
“I found my birth certificate in Mom’s purse when she took me to register for school a long time ago. I read it on the back too.” Brody asked him if he knew what it meant. “I didn’t. But I asked Clare, the girl next door. Dad, she has boobs and stuff. Anyway, she told me that my mom had been sleeping with other men, and you weren’t on the list. I had to ask Grandma what sleeping around meant. She told me. I don’t know why Mom would do that, do you? I just want you to know that I love you very much, Dad. And we’re going to be all right.” “I agree. Any reason you didn’t come to me with the question?” Jordan’s face turned red. “Are you afraid to talk to me about sex?” “Gosh no. I know you know about sex. Geeze, Dad.” They both laughed. “I wanted to ask someone that would tell me how it is. And boy oh boy, does Clare tell me like it is. But she said that I should ask you about it. I put my birth certificate in my baby book the day that we left the house. I wanted you to find it. I don’t know who those guys are, but Mom wrote their names on the back of it.” Brody thought of the things that his son was figuring out. Sex. Stepping out. He was going to have to talk to him about other things, he knew—and soon. But what he really wanted to do was let him know that he could come to him about anything. Even if it might embarrass them both. “Thank you.” Jordan threw the rest of the candy in the trash. Looking at his phone again when it rang, Brody realized that they had to get to the airport. It was Jake.
“We’re headed to the airport now, Jake. Do you think we can talk when I get there? I’m beat after that. And Jordan is as well.” “Yes, that’s a wonderful idea, Brody. I’m so sorry about all this. I know just what you’re going through.” He thanked him. “All right. I’ll see you, I guess, around seven tonight. Enjoy your flight, and remember, there will be a car at the airport for you when you arrive.” ~*~ Emmi watched the planes land and take off. Damn it, she wanted to go home and curl up on the couch, take some pain pills, and forget the world. Why Aaron had to come home right now was driving her nuts. But then, everything drove her nuts lately. Aaron had a good job, one that would take him all over the world one week then he’d be off for a while. And when he was off, if he could, he’d stay with her. Usually it wasn’t any trouble. But she knew as soon as he saw her body—because she knew that she wasn’t going to be able to hide her pain from him—he’d have a major shit fit, and then she’d have to explain things that she didn’t know. She saw that her brother’s plane was on time and would be landing in twenty minutes. Emmi sat back down in the chair, extremely careful of how she sat, and then leaned back. Then she began to think and wait again. Closing her eyes, she tried not to think of anything, to make the pain go away. Drawing—or painting, it mattered little to her. But she enjoyed it so much that sometimes she could forget about the world and the way that it had been shitting on her lately. Emmi remembered to check the flight times again and the gate where he’d be coming in. When she opened her eyes, however, a small boy was standing nearby. “Can you help me?” She was leery of the kid. Not just him, but all kids.
This was some sort of scam, she knew it. Looking around, she asked him where his parents were. “My mom is in jail and my dad and I are coming here to live.” Too real to be a lie, Emmi thought. But that didn’t mean she wholly trusted him yet. “Okay. And why are you not with him? I mean, you don’t look old enough to drive or anything yet. What gives?” He cocked his head and stared at her. “Kid, I don’t know what your deal is, but I don’t want to have to be dragged off to some sort of chamber and have someone kill me. Tell me what’s going on. And no lies. Okay? I’ve had a shitty day—well, month—and really, I just want to go home.” “My dad said that the car was going to be here to get us, but I had to go to the bathroom. Dad said that he did too, so we went inside.” He pointed to the men’s room right behind them. “Then when I was all done, I washed up my hands and came out to stand by the door. But he never came out. I think that my mom escaped and she’s killed him.” “Kid, you have a great imagination.” He told her his name. “All right, Jordan Downs.Let’s go see what we can find out. To be honest,Let’s go see what we can find out.
I got trapped in that bathroom crap too. It opens up on both ends. I came out on the wrong side and was lost for a bit. Come on, we’ll get this figured out.”
He took her hand into his and she froze up. Emmi didn’t care to be touched, especially when she was hurting as badly as she was at the moment. People terrified her, especially men. She supposed it was because of her husband when he found her. But knowing why she didn’t care for it didn’t make her any less unhappy about being touched. Emmi was married—or so she’d been led to believe. She didn’t remember the wedding, the man, or for that matter, what he looked like. But she was getting these summons—bills—that were apparently made by her husband that she had to pay. Not to mention, someone had changed her name on not just her mail box, but also her monthly bills, like rent and her utilities. No matter how much Emmi searched for some clue, she— “Are you all right, lady?” She told him she was fine and her name. “That’s a pretty name. I’m betting it’s short for something pretty too. Dad said he didn’t want me to have a nickname. He thought them to be confusing to little kids. People think sometimes I’m a girl. I’m not.”
“Yes, I can see that. There are all kinds of names that are gender neutral. You said that your dad had a car waiting for you? Do you know if it was a rental or a bigger car?” He told her. “I see. So, the person coming to get him might be at the gates with a sign for this limo. And if your dad is there, problem solved. If not, we’ll try out plan B, where we have to involve the airport security. And just between the two of us, I don’t think we’ll get too much help from them either.” She was hurting; trying to find the little boy’s dad was pulling on stitches and bruises that she had all over her body. The airport wasn’t that long, but there were a lot of people walking into them. Pay attention to your surroundings, she wanted to scream at people. But she— “You sure do walk fast.” Emmi slowed down. She had very long legs, and she’d forgotten for a few minutes that she was with a kid. “Thanks. Look over there. See those big signs?” “I do.” She was near to them when she was thrown to the floor and someone had her arms too far up her back. Airport security was screaming at her to get away from the boy. Emmi hadn’t a clue how that was to happen, as she had an elephant of a guard on her aching back. It was all she could do not to pass out. Not to puke where she lay. The man on her, because there was no doubt to her that it was a brute of a man, was telling her to not move, not to say a word. She was sick with the pain, and Jordan was screaming at them to let her go, that she was helping him. Before she could beg anyone for help, any kind of help, she was let go and yanked up to her feet. Emmi had to lean over until she not only caught her breath, but the pain was gone—which by her estimations, would be never. No longer able to hold onto the bile in her empty belly, she turned her head and dry heaved for a few minutes. The shoes in her view were expensive and polished. There was only one person that she knew who had shoes that shiny.
“Hello, Aaron. Don’t touch me yet.” Laughter had her peeking up at her brother. “I was only trying to help the kid. Now I have to go home. You’re on your own to get there. In fact, you should maybe go back to where you were for about ten years.” “I heard the kid. Christ, I think the entire place heard him telling them that you hadn’t done anything wrong. However, I did not know that you were in so much pain that you should have told your big brother.” She wanted to wipe at her nose and tears, but she hurt too much. “I’m going to find out what happened—you know that, don’t you? In the meantime, do you need something for the pain, Emmi?” “I’ll be all right. Just give me a minute. Could you help Jordan find his dad? He said he was getting a car.” Emmi couldn’t move, but she had to sit down. Trying to lower herself to a better position was making her sicker. “Aaron, I’m not going to be able to move without help. Can you sit me on the ground? There is a better place for me to die, I think.” “No dying, Emmi. I mean it. And so you know…. Well, that’s for later. Where can I touch you?”
Aaron’s voice was so strong that she wanted to lean into it, much like she had as a child when she’d be taken to task about something made up by her parents that she’d done. But Aaron’s shoes didn’t move when she felt someone at her waist. “Don’t touch her until she tells us where we can.” “She’s bleeding.” She heard Aaron cursing and the man behind her breathing hard. “Emmi, is it? I’m going to help you down to the floor. But you have to tell me where I can touch you. I think your brother is pissed.” “He’s always pissed.” Sobbing now, the pain was getting the better of her. “Find a gun. Shoot me between the eyes and I’ll feel much better.” She heard Jordan tell them no. “I was kidding, Jordan. I just hurt too much right now to think of anything other than not being in pain. Just leave me here. I’ll move when I’m able.” There was a pinch at her arm. Before she could turn, if she could have, to see what had happened, the man behind her came into focus. He was rubbing a place where she was sure that he’d drugged her. Then, amazingly, she started to float away. Emmi was never one to be able to just take a pain pill or shot and be able to be pain-free. She was a redhead and all that came with it—freckles, pale and sensitive skin. If she was out on a beach for ten minutes, she’d be burnt to a crisp. Like she’d ever been to a beach, she thought with a smile. Then she heard Aaron tell whoever had shot her up that she was indeed a redhead, and she felt another pinch to her skin, then absolutely nothing. There were glitches in the things that she saw when she woke.
A giant cat—a tiger, she realized. Then there was a man, telling her she was all right. Over and over Emmi thought that she’d died only to wake a little to more pain. When she was finally able to focus on her surroundings, there was a man in the room with her doing a crossword puzzle. As she watched him, he cursed at the clues. “What the hell is a steam engine scoop? You’d think a man my age would have heard it all. Stupid puzzle.” Clearing her throat twice, she told him the answer. “Bucket, huh? Let me look. Yes, that’s it. Thank you. I would have given up had I not been assigned to watch over you. Though I must tell you, it’s not a bit of hardship on my part.”
“You’re babbling, and I hurt. Where am I?” The man stood and stretched. Her mouth went dry as the shirt he had on pulled up from his pants. Looking away, Emmi saw that she had an IV, as well as that her body was layered in gauze. She was in the hospital someplace. “Where is Aaron? I’d like to go home now.” “If you mean your brother—who is very scary by the way, even for me—he and a couple of other guys went to the cafeteria for something to eat. Do you need for me to get you something for pain?” Shaking her head, she closed her eyes. “Yes, well, you might want to talk to the doctor before you start moving around too much. Brody said you were a bitch to put back together. Who did this to you?” His voice had gone hard, and she turned to look at him again. There was something about him, something that made her think she knew him, but her head hurt too much to be able to remember. “You never said where I was. And who the hell is Brody?” He sat down, picking up the puzzle that he’d been working on. “Okay. Be a shit. I’m getting out of here.” When she sat up, costing her everything that she had in her, he growled low. It took her a moment to realize that he was growling at her. But for some reason, she wasn’t afraid of him—more like pissed off. So Emmi did what she wished she’d done to her dad every time he’d drawn back to hit her. She doubled up her fist and socked him right in the nose.
A fresh start was what Rogan Hall needed. A small town, out of the way, where no one knew her or her brother was where they’d start over. She worked from home, and they kept to themselves. The only thing Rogan couldn’t give up was her early morning run.
Like clockwork, she ran every morning, and again, like clockwork, the same family would pass her on the country road heading to who knew where. The little boy in the back seat would wave at her with such enthusiasm, it made her heart melt. However, that morning, everything would change. Only moments after the car passed her and drove around the bend, she heard a loud commotion. Another car barreled past her, and she found the quaint family’s car overturned and on fire. Rogan did the only thing she could do, she saved them.
Thatcher Robinson was on duty at the hospital when his parents contacted him through their link and told him about the accident and what to expect when the ambulance arrived. Thatch, his dad, told him they had to save the woman by changing her, but her burns were severe, and his dad wasn’t sure that the new tiger would survive.
When Rogan regained consciousness, she was unsure where she was, but she knew she was different. She could feel the tiger move just beneath her skin. Rogan knew very little about shifters, but what she did know had her cringing. Why someone would take it upon themselves to change her, she didn’t know, but when the young doctor, Dawson, said his brother was her mate, she was furious. If the big, bad, Thatcher thought he was going to order her around, he had another thing coming….
An early morning run was her favorite thing. Rogen felt like she was free when she was out in the time between darkness and when the sun crested over the hills in her new town. Whatever happened here, it was going to be because that was what she wanted, and not what she had no control over. She and her brother Jamie were here for a fresh start, where no one cared where they came from. At least that was their hope. A familiar car drove by her and she waved. Every morning about this time she’d see the family go by her on her weekday runs. She liked to imagine that they were taking the children to school and to daycare as the parents made their way to their jobs. There were two car seats in the back seat with babies in them. They were tiny, snuggled up in the seats every morning. The child, she didn’t know the sex, was the most enthusiastic waver she’d ever seen. As they passed her by, she continued her run. Ten miles out, ten back.
Then she’d shower, eat, and get on with her job. The running not only kept her in shape but got her out of the house at least once a day. Rogen not only worked from home, but she seldom left it either. She thought that was why this meant so much to her. The sound of metal against metal ripped through the silence of the morning. Before she could get her bearings on where it might have come from, a different car sped by her. Rogen took note of the license plate number and the state. The driver was laughing hard as he or she nearly took Rogen out by swerving to try and hit her. She didn’t know the person, but she would find out who it was when she got home. Continuing on her run after texting the number to herself, she put her phone back in her pocket. She knew that if she didn’t do it right away, make a note of the plate number, she’d never remember it when she got home. Just as she rounded the bend toward the long stretch of nothing but fields, she saw the overturned car with the family inside. Hurrying to the car, she could see that the man was hurt badly. Rogen made a mental note that he’d been shot in the left shoulder. Not wasting any time, she pulled her knife out of her sock pocket and cut him free of the belt that had him strapped upside down in the car. The smell of gasoline was making itself known to her, and she knew that she had to hurry. Dragging his body to the other side of the road from where the accident was, she rushed back for the woman. Rogen thought that if she could get the adults out, it would be easier for her to save the kids, as the big front window was gone. The woman was alive but that’s about all she knew. Cutting her free of the seat belts, Rogen also grabbed her purse.
She then scolded herself all the way, while taking her to her husband, that it wasn’t like she was going shopping or anything. But it seemed right, somehow, that she had her purse, so she let it go. The children in the seats were screaming. And just as she was starting to cut the first one loose from the seat, she saw the other car coming back. This time the person paused long enough to throw something at the car. The explosion knocked her forward
when whatever was tossed at the car ignited the gas. The power of the blast from it had her landing on the middle child. Rogen must have blacked out for a moment or two. When she woke, she knew that she’d been burnt, and badly, judging by how it hurt her to the point of nearly being sick every time she moved. But she had to save the kids before the gas tank blew too. The car seats were somehow strapped to the car. She tried and tried to get one of them loose, but it was too much for her with her back and arms hurting so badly. Taking her knife out again, cutting the things over the child’s shoulders and lap, she took the baby from the seat and set it right outside the car, and reached for the other one. It went faster this time, getting the baby out and at least in her arms. Rogen was on fire now, literally. Her clothing was sticking to her back so badly that she knew that she’d be in trouble with this. Taking the babies to where their parents were, she laid them down and put the sucker things—binkies, she thought they were called—into their mouths. Thankfully they’d been pinned to their blankets.
The silence was golden for a few minutes, then Rogen went back for the other child. The gasoline was a huge puddle under the car and trailing down the street. If the flames from the rubber on the tire got to it, everything, including her and the boy, would go up with it. Rogen hurried as best she could. Limping badly now, she made her way back to the little boy. He was still unconscious, and Rogen could see that he had a few burn marks on his hands. Cutting him loose, she tried to pick him up but she hurt too badly. Crying now, she tried to drag him from the car using her one hand. The other, she noticed, was red and full of dark blisters. The ticking of something was all the notice that she got before the back end of the car exploded. She knew that she’d been lifted up and tossed away with the young boy in her arms, and all she could think about was that she’d failed him. He’d not wave at her anymore.
Waking up the second time, she realized that she’d been tossed from the car. Lucky for her and the little boy, he’d been in her arms. Moving cautiously, she tried to stand but her legs were no longer working, it seemed. He was burnt now. The back of his arms and legs were red like hers, but he didn’t seem to be blistered. Rogen sobbed for the family. She felt like she’d failed them all by getting the little boy hurt. In the back of her mind, she knew that was stupid, that she’d gotten them all out, but she didn’t like to fail. Failure meant that someone always got the shaft, usually her. Standing up as best she could, she dragged him by his leg to his family. The babies were still crying but not nearly as badly as before. Had they been in the car when it blew the second time, they would have died. The blast would have hit them full in the face, as they had been turned facing the explosion. Thankful that she’d been able to save them from dying, Rogen started to feel every single burn on her body. The car was on fire, just a shell of what it had been. Rogen had lost her cell phone and couldn’t call for help. With the remote area that it had happened in, no one would
see it for hours, she thought. Dropping to her knees on the road, she could see that there was nothing left for her to try and get out for them. Just as she was ready to go back to them, a car came down the road and she thought perhaps she’d not hurt as badly if they just ran over her. Rogen stayed where she was, propped up only by exhaustion. “My goodness, what happened here?” The man looked slightly familiar, but she couldn’t think beyond the pain. “Honey, I’m going to lay you down on the grass over— ” “Thatch, they’re here. The Conrads are here together. Oh, Thatch, I think she saved them all.” The man looked at her and asked her what her name was. She didn’t know. “She’s Rogen something. I don’t know her last name. She’s not well, Thatch.” “No, I can see that.” She was picked up, the scream from her mouth so painful to her that she just let it go. The man was still talking, but Rogen was beyond understanding him.
She just hoped that someone would please forgive her for not getting them out sooner. Rogen woke twice more, once to hear the man saying her name and asking her if she had any relatives to call. Just her brother, she wanted to say, but faded out again. The next time she woke it was to find a large tiger standing over her. Rogen was sure that she was dead—the pain in her body was gone. Closing her eyes, Rogen knew that she was dead for sure. The big tiger was going to eat her up. She just hoped that he didn’t mind his meal being well done. ~*~ “What in blue blazes are you doing, Maggie? She’s hurt enough.” She told him that she was going to save her. “Save her? Holy pin cushions, woman, she’s nearly dead now. You’ll only make it worse for her. Leave her to die in peace. She did a good thing here and should be able to die without more pain.” His mate was the prettiest tiger he’d ever seen, and he was amazed by her every time he saw her. But this wasn’t going to work, he just knew it. Thatch could hear the poor woman’s heart getting slower with every breath she took. The poor girl would never stand a chance if bitten by a tiger too. The first bite that Maggie gave the young woman didn’t even make her scream. He knew that it had to be painful to her, but the poor thing was so far gone now that it didn’t faze her. As he kept watch over the two babies, his wife moved down to Rogen’s leg and bit her there. Maggie would have to work fast now, or she’d lose her. But when the woman started to breathe a little better, her heart just a bit stronger, Maggie looked at him.
He knew what she was going to ask him, even before she reached out through their link. Help me. You used to be a leader, Thatch. Your help would make her stronger. Help me save her. Putting down the little girl he’d been holding, Thatch took off his shirt. You’re a good man, have I told you that lately? “Don’t be trying to butter me up now. You know as well as I do that someday she’s going to meet her mate, and he won’t have a thing to do with her because she’s a tiger. The things I do for you.” He let his cat take him. Move over, love. Let me have a go at it too.
Thatch bit the young woman in the belly, on the opposite side of where Maggie had. He could taste the difference in her blood. She was changing. But that didn’t mean a hill of beans toward whether she lived or not. That was a different can of worms altogether. They both stayed with her, dressed now until the ambulance came that he’d called. The girl was better, but her burns would be there until she had a chance to shift. Thatch knew that she could still die—her wounds were horrific and extensive—but they’d helped her and that was all he could do right now. Thinking of his oldest, he reached out to him to tell him what they’d done for her. She saved all the Conrads, son. Every last one of them. And you should know that it was at great risk to her life. Had we not changed her when we did, she’d have died, and that would have been a terrible shame. Thatcher told him that they were on standby at the hospital, waiting for the first of them to come in. I can tell you now what’s what. The man—someone shot him in the shoulder, and it isn’t too far from his heart. A couple of more inches and he’d be a goner. The missus, she has a broken leg, a lot of cuts and such, but is fine as rain other than that. And the children? Are they all right? He told his son that the boy had a broken leg and a lot of burns, but not nearly as bad as it could have been. And the babies? Dad, I delivered those two.
I don’t want anything to happen to any of them, but those little girls are special. Yes, they’re good. A little upset with all the hoopla, but fine. Got one of them sucker things in their mouths, but they’re not hurt at all. The woman, she’s in bad shape, Thatcher. I don’t believe she’s gonna make it even with what your mom and I did for her. And it was your momma that did it. She was bound and determined that Rogen—that’s her name, by the way—wouldn’t die. He asked him why someone would do what Rogen had done. I don’t know, but she surely saved those people. And the only way we’re going to find out about it is if she lives. I hope she does. I really do, son. When she gets here, I promise you that I’ll do everything I can to make that happen. I want answers too. Like why would someone, a stranger to the town even, risk their lives on a family that she more than likely didn’t know? Thatch said he didn’t know, but he was glad that she had. I am as well. All right, Dad. I’ll talk to you in a bit. You and Mom coming in? Yes. We’re going to come in the ambulance with the babies. Help the drivers out a little. They sure are cute little things. Oh, I should contact the alpha. He’ll be happy for his pack too. The Conrads, they’re good people. Thatch called the pack leader next. Shane Picket was a good leader—had him a nice sized pack, too. He was a little busy but said that if he’d hold on a bit, he’d talk to him. Thatch waited on hold while the first group was put into the ambulance. The young woman was first. “I’m sorry, Thatch. I have a bit of an issue here. I have a family missing.” He asked him if it was the Conrads. “Yes. What’s happened? You know where they are?” “Yes, they’re on their way to the hospital. A car accident is all I can tell you right now. A young woman, a human, pulled them from the car, it looks like before it blew. She’s in bad shape, the girl is.” He asked if he could do anything. “Maggie and I changed her to save her. Right now, Shane, I don’t have anything to tell you other than the man had been shot. The woman and the children—thanks, as I said, to the woman— they’re all fine.” “Mark was supposed to meet me this morning for a monthly meeting. He’s never late. We went by their home and it’s been torn apart. Like someone was looking for something. And I’m thinking that they didn’t find it from the mess they made leaving.” Thatch told him what he knew about the accident and the woman, Rogen. “Rogen Hall?
She has a brother too. I can’t think of his name right now. They’re renting the Parker farm from us. Never seen it look so good. I’ll be going to see him. Jamie, that’s this name, Jamie Hall. I’ll go by their place and see if I can get him to come with me. They’re a very shy couple of kids if you ask me.” The ambulance was back and they loaded up the man and his wife. She was awake now and asking after her children. Watching her with the kids just made his eyes fill with tears. They were all together now, and it was because of the kindness of a single person. Thatch turned away, blowing his nose, and saw something shiny near the accident. Asking the police who were all over the scene if he could have that, it more than likely belonged to the girl, Thatch was told he could have it but not to turn it on or anything else right now. “Surely you don’t think that she might have done this.” Chief of Police Andrew Keen said he wasn’t sure of anything at the moment. “Yes, well, I can see that. It is a mess here.” Andrew asked him again what he’d seen when he came upon the accident.
After telling him for the third time, he was allowed to go to the hospital with his wife. They weren’t hurt, but perhaps they could help out with the children until the mother was released. Thatch thought about asking his son if she was going to make it but didn’t want to bother him right now. Thatcher was a surgeon, a very good one if anyone asked him. Thatch was proud as a peacock of all his boys, and he’d hurt the man who said anything bad about them. They had raised them on a dime between them, he liked telling people. Then one day his missus, always the luckiest person he’d ever known, had won the lottery. One of the big ones, as a matter of fact. And they’d been set up for life. They’d even been able to send all the boys to college, as well as put some money away for a rainy day. Jonas, his second to last son, had gone into banking, and had turned that into a nice little investment firm. Not only did he take their money and make a great deal more for them, but he’d been able to make it so the little town profited by it as well. The hospital was busy, of course. When an accident like this one happened, they all came together to make sure that everyone got the best of care. And their little hospital had been winning awards because of their good work up until a few years ago. Now they’d be lucky if they were able to stay open the way things were going. Most of it still being open was due to his boys; both Thatcher and Dawson worked there and kept it up.
Dawson was his youngest and was an emergency room doctor that specialized in trauma. Thatch wasn’t sure what that meant—all the things that brought you to the hospital, he thought, were considered trauma—but he kept that to himself. He didn’t want to sound foolish to anyone with such smart children. Dawson was working on the woman. She was giving him a hard time about keeping her from the children, and he laughed when Dawson did. Mrs. Conrad had been Dawson’s teacher’s aide in grade school when she’d been fresh out of college. “I’m going to have to keep you all overnight. You know that, don’t you, Mrs. Conrad? I can’t let you go home and find out you might have gotten a little more bumped around than it looks like. And the police want to talk to you.” She asked about her husband. “He’s in surgery to remove the bullet, but he should be fine too.” “I haven’t any idea what might have happened, Dawson. We were driving along and then there was something popping around us. Then Mark fell forward. After that, it was a blur of things going on.” Dawson didn’t say anything about the woman who rescued them, he noticed and wondered at that. More than likely the staff had been told not to say anything until the family remembered.
He was still playing with the baby when Thatcher spoke to him. Dad, she’s out of surgery, but I’m going to pop in and see how Dan is doing in the other room. He won’t need me, but I’m going to check anyway. He asked about the woman. I don’t know. I’ve done about all I could for her. She’s going to need skin grafts as well as lots of care. You were right to warn me about how bad it was. It was the only thing that kept me upright when I saw her. Damn, I hurt for her. She more than likely would have done it again too, I’m betting. They’re all safe, the Conrads. And Shane, he knows her brother, and he was going to go by there and talk to him. I don’t know the situation there, but they’re renting the old Parker farm. You remember that place, don’t you, son? Thatcher said that he did. It was a sore spot for a long time. I surely hope they’re not paying that much. I haven’t been by there in twenty years. But I’ll be down in a few minutes. I want to check on my patient. Dan has finished up with Mr. Conrad, and he’s going to recovery now. Thatch told Mrs. Conrad and she seemed so relieved that he hugged her when she started crying. Taking the baby out to the lobby, he was told that someone from the pack was coming for the children. Levi, their brother, was going to have to stay overnight. His burns weren’t that bad, but he had broken his leg. Thatcher came down about an hour after the babies left, and he looked a little worse for wear. “Son?” Thatcher waved him off, and he wondered what had happened. Thatch just knew that Rogen had died, and he was having a hard time thinking of how to tell him. “It’s all right, son. She did a good thing, and she surely helped a lot of people. I’ll tell her brother for her so that—” “She’s not dead, Dad. I told you, she’s in recovery.” He looked around like he was afraid of being overheard. In a harsh whisper, he told him what he’d discovered. “She’s my mate. You and Mom, you saved my mate for me.”
Thatch was still standing there when Maggie came to get him. He was sure that he’d heard his son wrong. Or he’d heard what he wanted to hear. Maggie was forever telling him that’s how he heard things. “What’s the matter, you old fool? You look like you’ve seen a ghost.” Thatch wondered if he should tell her when he realized that he needed to tell her. “Thatch, something happen to that young woman? Please tell me she’s going to be all right.” “She is now, I’d say. I think I heard Thatcher say she was his mate.” She did the same thing he had—stood there with her mouth gaping open like a fish ready for a fat worm. After closing her mouth, he took her hand so that they could have a seat. And just then, he saw Shane. “Where is my sister?” The young man with him was screaming about his sister, and that’s when Thatch realized this was Rogen’s brother. “Someone tell me where I can find my sister! They said she’s been hurt.” He made his way to the younger man and got his attention. Before he could ask again where Rogen was, Thatch took him to where he had left Maggie. Jamie, he’d heard his name was, just asked again where she was. “Recovery. My son, he works here, he worked on her. She’s been burned badly.” Jamie started crying, and he looked over at Maggie. He didn’t know what else to say to Jamie, but Maggie thankfully did. “She’s doing all right now, son. And as soon as they let us, we’ll go up and see her. She saved the lives of an entire family.” The police were coming toward them when Maggie spoke again. “Now, you help these nice policemen out, and when they’re done with their questions, I’ll take you up to the surgery floor myself. All right then?” “Rogen is all I got in the world. We only have each other now.” Thatch wanted to tell him that wasn’t true anymore but didn’t. He wanted to wait on Thatcher to tell them. “Our parents are gone. Dead. We came here for a fresh start. To keep the newspaper people from hounding us again.” Thatch didn’t know what that meant but didn’t get a chance to ask. Andrew, the chief of police, was asking him about Rogen and her habits. As much as Thatch wanted to stay and listen, he needed to find his son. Thatch needed to confirm what he’d heard from his boy. And if she really was his mate, then he was surely glad that Maggie had started what she’d done for Rogen.
Mercy and her warrior sisters had been around for several millennia, their time of fighting in wars and conquering kingdoms now a distant memory. Before Queen Dante passed, she’d graced her prized warriors—the falcon, hawk, eagle, phoenix, vulture, and owl—with humanity as well as immortality. A gift that Mercy, to this day, was having difficulty coming to terms with. Living as a human was not what she was born to do, nor what she wanted to do. Being an immortal in a life she didn’t want left Mercy feeling angry at the world and turned her into a workaholic.
As an intervention, Blaze arranged an extended vacation and guilted her into taking it. She made all the arrangements and wouldn’t tell Mercy where she was going, just to be at the airport and do as she was told.
Joel Oliver needed this job. Finances were tight, and Blaze said all he had to do was chauffer a rich woman around town. What he would receive would catch him up on the mound of bills piling up and keep the roof over his—and his thirteen-year-old daughter, Miley’s—head for a few months longer. Miley was in a wheelchair—and as a result, had a lot of medical bills—but he loved her more than his own life. However, Joel was about to bite off more than he could chew.
The woman was gorgeous, and he found her snarky, hateful, attitude amusing until she interfered with how he was raising his daughter. Now, all bets were off.
Mercy would normally laugh in the man’s face for his hurtful remarks, but for some reason, her heart shattered instead. After a night of the most mind-blowing sex she could’ve imagined, he was treating her like it all meant nothing…. She had just realized he was her mate, and he hated her….
The castle was going down, thanks wholly to her birds. Queen Dante sat upon her
horse and watched as stone after stone crumbled to the ground. In a matter of moments,
not only were the walls to the fort destroyed, but the king inside his castle was dead as
well. Turning her mount, she headed back to the encampment to ready herself for the
long ride home. The birds joined her not half an hour later, their large bodies covered in
dust and blood.
“You have done well, my darlings.” They could understand her and she them, but
no one else could. She had made them what they were, and she would be the only one
to control them. “Have you fed well on his dying cattle? How does it serve a man to
have his food dying? His people, they were fed no better, I saw.”
The birds—she had never named them—told her that the people were headed west.
In a few months, maybe less, they would all be dead too. It bothered them when the
people suffered because of the king or queen of the castle. But it was to be. Dante could
not care for any more in her own keep.
No one would attack her keep. If they tried, she knew them to be too stupid or too
drunk on their own mead. She had her birds, all of them bigger than life, made large by
magic that she gave them. Looking at them as they landed around her, forever keeping
her safe, she wondered why she had not thought of it sooner, when her king was still
“I would have set you upon him. You could have eaten him for your dinner.
Though I suspect that it would have given you a great deal of belly pains.” The hawk
told her that she was lucky that he had died the way he had. No one would come for
her if she had killed him. “Yes, that is very true. But I suffered greatly when he was
living. No children with me to give me comfort in my olden age. Though they might
have been just like him, and that would have been too much to bear.”
She would never marry again. Love wasn’t something that she searched for. Not
that she didn’t have someone to warm her bed on occasion, but it was nice to be able to
send them on their way when she was finished with them. Her heart belonged to no
one, and she would not take another man to her bed by force.
All would be well, and no
one would threaten to come and take over her home, she hoped. The birds’ as well.
The hawk used her beak to put delicate things upon the backs of the others. There
was aplenty this time. Barrels and smoked meats. Pottery that they would use like it
wasn’t worth a king’s gold. They raided the castle each time they conquered. Hawk was
the best at getting in and out before they took the places to the ground.
The eagle took off toward home. She would let the people know that the queen was
returning simply by her showing up. They would have a feast this night. The food upon
her back would feed them for many days, and the barrels of spices that had been
hoarded in the lower levels of the king’s castle would go a long way toward trading
what they did not grow.
The phoenix, by far the most deadly of her birds, shed her feathers in anticipation of
getting new ones. After a battle she would become anew, each time getting stronger,
and her feathers, brilliant now, would be brighter still. She could flame a fire so hot that
stone would crumble under a man’s feet. The ground would no longer hold a seed
within its belly to produce food, and she could kill a man with a single breath so that
there would be nothing left of his body.
Dante loaded the last of her things onto the back of the owl. She might be small, she
had always thought, but she could carry more than her own weight. And she would
pick up her horse, used to flying through the sky like a bird himself, and take him back
to the castle. He would be fed and groomed before Dante ever landed on the ground.
The vulture squawked at her, and she turned to look at the two men there. They
looked as if they might have been about to kill her, but the sight of such large birds
threw them off their duty. In no time at all the vulture snapped both of them up and ate
them. A gruesome sight, but one that filled her heart with joy too. She was safe again.
The vulture took off once she was loaded up.
“Well, my falcon, it is just you and I left.” She told her that she was still armed.
“Yes, well, probably not too bad of an idea seeing that they nearly shot us.”
The falcon laid her body to the ground. She was the only one that was fitted with a
seat, one that Dante rode on. Scouring the area, Dante always made sure that she left
the places that she camped as neat and clean as she’d found them. Sometimes in better
shape. As she climbed onto the back of her bird, she held her breath.
“I do hate the height. I should have thought this through when I turned you into
my warriors.” Her laughter, should there have been someone around to hear it, might
have sounded insane. “Homeward, my love, and we shall eat well tonight.”
She took no one with her on her fights, except the birds.
That was why she
believed, her people were so loyal to her—she protected them. Fed them better than
herself and made sure that there was plenty for them to trade and share for things that
she did not provide for them.
The soil was rich and would give forth a bounty like no other gardens. Flowers that
were woven into pretty things and traded. There was a smithy, as well as a doctor who
doubled as a dentist. They had even acquired a gravedigger, who doubled as a man
who made markers.
A single merchant that came by, his wagon filled when he arrived, would leave
with the wagon near empty. He would bring the latest news with him, and any posts
that he had been asked to bring to them. He would also, for a small coin, take outposts
for the next time he was in the keep of a relative or friend.
And today there was such a missive, but it was for her, from someone that she had
hoped never to hear from again. The king of the land—the only man that she answered
to, though it wasn’t with any kind of happiness on her part.
After the others were settled down and the food that had been brought put into
storage, she sat down and wasn’t surprised that the falcon came to see her. The room
that she was in—the throne room, for lack of a better term—had no roof, and six perches for the birds when they wished to see her.
Otherwise, they sat upon the top of
the castle turrets, watching for anything that might befall them.
“I am to wed. The king of the land, he has decided that my castle, Duncan Castle, is
the best there is, and he will marry me himself.” They asked about his castle. “He says
that it will be his son’s, which he has none as yet. His last five wives only gave him
daughters, from what I have heard, and they did not last long afterwards.”
The falcon asked her what she would do. Dante knew what would happen to her
should he come here. He would kill her. Being in her fortieth summer, she was much
too old to bear children now, and he would be better with a younger bride. One that
could birth him the sons that he wanted.
“He will kill me, we all know that. And you six will kill him or be killed. I worry so
much for the people here too.” She thought of several plans and threw them out. It was
in her head that if she should die, then she would do so on her own terms. “I will need a
day to think on this. In the meantime, he says that he will be here in the new year. That
will give us a month to provide for the people and make sure that they are not
To be continued in book two, Hawk
Demi Morgan was good at keeping her identity hidden, so when an attorney found her at a restaurant she owned, she was more than a little angry. Very few people knew how to find her, and she took her privacy seriously. His news that her mother had passed, several months ago, did nothing for her. Her family had never wanted her, and in turn she didn’t want them either. He knew her family, and he understood her feelings, but the will had to be read.
Reluctantly, Demi made her arrangements to travel back to her hometown in Ohio. Her intentions were to either decide to stay, or to sell the home her grandmother had left her. Living in the same town as her brother and sister didn’t appeal to her at all. When her brother, Nathan, coldcocked her in the elevator, an unlikely savior came to her rescue, Madden McCray.
Demi wanted to hire Madden to be her bodyguard while she was in town. Madden said as much as he could use the money, he told her he already had a job, but his brother, Lucian could use the work.
Lucian wanted to meet Demi before he accepted the job, and when her scent hit him between the eyes, his bear rolled over him—she was his mate. But reality hit him like a freight train. She had money—a lot of money—and he and his family had always been dirt poor. He wanted his mate too—more than anything, but he’d have to get past his pride first….
Demi didn’t care for the job she was doing. Not that she hated it, but she didn’t like having to sneak in to keep an eye on her employees. They were an all right bunch, she supposed—for the most part anyway. But the shrink rate here was really high, and that meant someone was walking out the door with a great deal of food nightly. She was going to catch them, fire whoever it was, and have them arrested. She heard the phone ringing in the distance and ignored it. No one knew who she was, neither here nor where she lived. They thought her name was Cassie Jones—best she could come up with—when she was really Demetrius Morgan. No one here called her Demi, however, which she’d gone by for nearly twelve years now. Spraying off the dishes that had come back from the dining room, she noticed that the people seemed to be eating all their food. What was left over wasn’t enough to make a twenty-seven percent shrink rate. Someone whistling had her turning toward the doorway to where she was working. “Your name Demetrius Morgan?” Before she could think to say no, he nodded when she told him it was.
“Okay, didn’t know that, but you have a phone call. Said it’s important.” Going to the very public phone, she tried to think who might have been calling her. No one. No one other than a couple of people knew her real name and knew where she was, and no one had called her by her first name since she’d left home. “Who the fuck is this?” She kept her voice down but let the fury that she had right now show though. The voice on the other end sputtered and stammered. “Who the fuck is calling me here and knows anything about me?” “Ms. Morgan? I’m so sorry to have bothered you there, but you’re very difficult to find. My name is Daxton Peyton.” She asked him what reason he could have for trying to find her. “Your mother, miss. She’s passed away.” “And? You want me to do a jig? I will if necessary. But right now, I want answers. Why are you contacting me?” He repeated that her mother had passed away, three months ago as a matter of fact. “Again, that gave you no right to contact me. It’s not like we were even on the worst of terms. I hated her as much as she did me. And the same for my sister and brother.
Why are you looking for me anyway? I’m sure that she had no more use for me than I did her.” “She was buried three months ago, and I’ve been trying to locate you since. As I said, you’ve proven to be very difficult to find. There is a will. You’re named in it, as are your sister, Ms. Astrid Morgan Chase, and your brother, Mr. Nathan—” “I fucking know who they are. What did you hope to gain by contacting me? And if you tell me again how hard it was to find me, then think on that for a moment. Perhaps that was because I had no desire to be found, you moron.” She looked around the kitchen and realized that they’d stopped working to stare at her. She decided it was time to come clean on a few things. “Look, I’ll contact you in a couple of days, no sooner.
If you pester me, I’ll simply get lost again. Just give me your contact information and I’ll call you when I have a few minutes.” “All right. But your family is getting upset that you can’t be found so the will can be read.” Rolling her eyes, she thought of all the things she could tell this man, but only asked again for his phone number. “Thank you.” “I don’t want your thanks, Mr. Peyton, I want you to leave me the fuck alone.” He said again that he was sorry, but that this was important. “Not as important as my privacy. Goodbye.” She hung up the phone and stood there, leaning her head against the wall the phone was on. Demi wanted to go home, call this man, and give him a piece of her mind. Or sue him. She didn’t know what for, but she wanted him to pay for making her name a public format. Before she could say anything to those around her, she was touched on the arm and then dragged into the offices. The chef, Daniel Westbrook, told her to sit down. She did. Demi was much too exhausted right now to think that she was his boss. “Demetrius Morgan. That’s you.” She said it was. “You sign our checks. I’m assuming that you have a good reason for doing a shit job when you own this place. Probably more than this place.” “I do. On both points. The restaurant is losing money. I think that someone is stealing food. I was seeing if I could find out who was doing it before the police were brought in.”
He nodded and asked if she had ruled him out. “I’ve not ruled anyone out just yet. I think that someone in your kitchen and a waitstaff person is doing it. But I can’t tell how.” “I guess I’ll have to take that as a good sign. But they’re not taking shit while I’m here. And I have noticed someone going out of here with a bag full of stuff. I’m assuming that you’ve not checked your email in a couple of days.” She said she’d been busy. “I bet you have. I was letting you know that a big portion of the meat we had delivered is missing. Steaks, roasts. A lot of meat, and some vegetables.” “Seven hundred pounds of beef, two hundred of pork, and a few hundred chickens. If vegetables are missing, I haven’t found that yet.” He pulled out the inventory that she’d gotten three days ago. “I have this.” “Yes, but I’m been keeping a daily tab on things. Also, I’ve been taking pictures of the locker room when I leave at night and when I come in. I asked you, in the email, if I could install a camera.” She flushed and said she was sorry. There was really no need for the camera, she thought. Demi sort of had an idea who was doing it. “No need to be. You had no way of knowing who you could trust, and I’m glad that you didn’t come in here and start accusing anyone. Or making me responsible for what’s going on.” “I’m not like that.” He handed her the second sheet. This one had daily columns with a total each day. Then he told her the highlighted areas were trucks coming in. “So, whoever they are, they’re hitting us right after the truck comes in.” “Pretty much. And since I have to be here for the truck, the things coming out of it are dead on. Nothing shady with them.” She grinned at him. “Something else I should know?”
“I own them too—at least the shipping company. I had a shake down a few months ago with them about missing inventory. They’re very good now with making sure customers get what they should have.” He laughed. “I might have to go out of town for a few days. I have personal business that I have to deal with.” “I heard. No one else would have—I kept them away. But I’m not human, as I’m sure you know.” She nodded, still going over the inventory. “Ms. Morgan, I’m sorry about your loss.” “Don’t be. We were never close. And since she passed away, I have to be there now.” She looked up at him. “I’m extremely private, Daniel. Any of this gets circulated around, and I will make your life not worth living. I can promise you that.” “I believe you.” She handed him the paperwork and asked him if he’d keep an eye on things until she returned. She told him that she’d call him in a couple of days with a burner phone. “All right. Is there anything I can do in the meantime?” “Stay out of it. You’re not to engage, even if you find out. And I’ll have cameras installed at the back door and the locker room. If something happens that I can catch, you’ll never know—not until a few employees stop showing up.” He asked her why she thought it was more than one person. “It would take a lot of muscle to carry out that much meat. One of the female employees could probably do it, but none of them drive a car big enough to carry it away.
There are four trucks on the lot, yours and mine not included. One of your chop help might be doing it, but he’s too frail to have me believe that he’s doing this alone. At this point, I’m not ruling anyone out but you.” Demi went to her home and packed some things that she might need for the next week. She wasn’t naïve enough to think that this would only take a day or two. Her family never did anything quickly, nor like she wanted them to. She made arrangements to fly out in the morning and called the man who was going to replace her in the restaurant to let him know he needed to show up. “I was going to ask you. I liked being at home all the time at first, but now I’m bored.” Demi told him that she’d gotten the other job, the ploy that she’d used to get him to take a few days off. “Thanks so much for this. My wife sure did enjoy having me home a bit more. But she, too, is ready for me to go back.” After squaring away the rest of the house, she went to her office. Demi pulled up her mother’s name to see if she really was dead. The headline said all she needed to know—Abrielle Morgan had passed away after a bout with the flu. It went on to mention that she had two daughters and one son. No names were mentioned, not even her beloved Astrid and Nathan’s, but she had been buried next to Demi’s father a few days after she’d passed away. Demi tried very hard not to think about her family. They hadn’t ever thought of her, she was sure. When she’d left home, she’d been just shy of her seventeenth birthday—seven days after graduating at the top of her class in high school, and only mere hours away from graduating at the top of her class in college. Not only did she speak several languages, but she also had a degree in business management and a minor in accounting. When she had left home, Demi had set herself up in a house with the money she’d horded, as well as finished her education to become the best that she could be.
Now years later she had a doctorate in business management, and also one in history. Education had always been a priority for her—never to her family. Demi remembered well the argument that she’d had and the physical fight that ensued the day she’d left. “You’re not going.” Her mother didn’t answer her. Her graduation from college, much more important than high school, was coming up and her mother was still in her pajama’s. Abrielle, as she’d been told to call her mother, had only told her that she didn’t feel inclined to go to anything she was doing. “I see. So, if this had been Nate or Astrid, you’d be right there with them.” “Of course. You were never any kind of favorite of mine, and I can’t believe that since you’ve managed to fuck your way to a diploma, you’d think things would change for you. I want you out of this house as soon as I can manage it. You’re what, four years from turning eighteen? I’ll have you out the door so fast when you turn that magic number that you’ll not even touch the grass that is my front yard.” “I’m seventeen now. I’ll be eighteen in two months.” Her mother said that was wonderful news. “You’ve never cared for me, have you, Abrielle? Not one bit.” “Never. Had I found out that I was carrying you sooner, you wouldn’t be anything but a drop in some quack’s bucket. As it was, I couldn’t very well send you to some ass hold that would buy you from me either, since that old bat knew you were around.” Her grandmother; her father’s mother, Milly Morgan. “She’s the only reason that I’ve not had you killed off.” Grandma Morgan had been the one to tell her to leave the house. Demi had lived with her until she was fully recovered. The beating that she’d taken from first Nathan, then Astrid, had hospitalized her for several days, followed by bed rest for several weeks. No one had known she was there, and as far as she understood, they’d never asked about her either. It was just as well, Demi thought.
It was the beginning of the end for her little family, and contact between them. Grandma had died several weeks ago, and Demi had been the only family at the service. Grandma had given her so much over the years—money to help pay for college, money for a car when she needed one, and leaving her a house and her money when she passed away. Grandma Morgan had been the only one that had loved her, and now she too was gone. Getting up the next morning, her head splitting from staying up too late. Demi boarded the plane and put her overnight in the overhead storage bin, taking her laptop to her seat with her. Settling in, Demi was happy that she’d purchased the seat next to her so that she could sit alone. People, she knew, would want to pass the time, and she had enough going on without making small talk with a stranger. The plane took off on time, and she calculated how long it would take her to get to Ohio. She was going to stay in Grandma’s house that she’d left her, and make sure that she had everything up to date in it. The house wasn’t on the market yet—she wasn’t even sure she wanted to sell it—but it would be nice when she decided what to do with it.
Renting a car at the airport, she drove to the house and parked in the massive garage. Grandma’s staff had been informed that she was coming, so the house would be aired out and everything ready for her. The only staff that had stayed on after Grandma passed were her butler and cook. Demi figured that would be all she needed, since a cleaning crew came in once a week to do the dusting and such. Moses met her at the door with a list. After a tight hug, he told her what he’d done for her concerning her mother’s funeral. “I made arrangements with the attorney that contacted you. I’m so sorry, Demi. I had no idea it would take so long. I sent flowers to the funeral home, no name attached, and paid cash for it. I have also made sure that the bills were paid for the funeral. They had not been.” Demi thanked Moses, an old sounding name for a man younger than her. “Additionally, there has been some talk about the children trying to sell off the family furniture. I think they were getting desperate for you to come home.” “Do you have any idea why I was named in the will?” Moses speculated that she was telling her off once and for all. “Could be. I don’t think that she had a pot to piss in other than the insurance money that Dad left her, and the other two spent money like it was their job.” “The taxes haven’t been paid on the estate or any of the credit cards that they managed to get. Which, by my estimation, is about five thousand dollars. Not much, but it is getting them hounded by the creditors. I have been able to purchase the controlling stock for you in the last few days of your grandmother’s company, as you asked me to do.
If you want to go over that, it’s there on your desk.” They were sitting at the kitchen table, a place where she and her grandma had eaten more than in the big dining room. “I’ve contacted your attorney, Mr. Shoe, and he is well aware that you’re going to the reading of the will. He said that he’d be there with you. He believes that you’ll need him.” “I guess I might.” She ate some of the cupcakes that were on a tray before speaking again. “Now that Abrielle is gone, I might stick around here. Astrid and Nathan mean nothing to me, and even if they want something, I’m very good at telling people no. What do you think would happen should I move here?” “I’d be happy, and I know that your grandma would as well. It’s been too long since a Morgan has been living here.” She nodded. “Demi, they’re broke, and…and well, you’re not. They’re going to cause you some trouble wanting money from you.” “As I said, I’m really good at saying no. And I’m not that seventeen-year-old kid anymore. I’ve done a lot of growing up being on my own. Also, I’ve taken enough selfdefense classes that I can hold my own now.” He laughed and said that all she’d need to do was be able to walk fast. “I don’t understand.” “They’ve gotten fat. I don’t mean slightly overweight, but fat. I bet that Nathan weighs as much as four hundred pounds now. Not a good look on his short frame. And Astrid drinks too much and is as lazy as always. She more than likely weighs in at about three fifty.” Demi laughed. “I saw them a few weeks ago, when they were here looking for you. Astrid still dresses like she’s a teeny bopper, and Nathan wears stretchy shorts.
Year round. He blames it on the stress of keeping the family together, but he hasn’t done a day’s work in all his life. Nor has Astrid for that matter.” They talked about this and that, mostly concerning the house, and once in a while they’d come back to her brother and sister. She hadn’t known about them being heavy, but the rest she knew. Astrid had been married six times—divorced that many times too. She would marry up, as Grandma had called it, trying to find a man that would die soon and leave her everything. The only thing she’d been left was bills. No one would marry her without a prenup. That, Demi thought, had a great deal to do with her putting a little information on the table about her dear sister. Nathan had been married twice, and both times the women had left him high and dry. He had a daughter that Demi made sure was safe from her father. Nathan also had more bills than his ass could cover. There were two houses that he was paying on, both left to his wives, as well as a car, credit cards, and a shit load of attorney fees for when he got himself into one kind of trouble after the other. Her appointment had been moved from tomorrow, which she’d been planning on, to this evening. It was only one in the afternoon now, so she drove herself to the cemetery where Grandma was buried. Grandda was there too—his death had occurred before she was born. Putting the flowers on their graves as she sat on the bench she’d had put in, she told them of her trip here. “I’m going to see them tonight. I’m not sure that I’m ready for that. I mean, I’m not stupid—I know that they’re going to try and blame me for their lot in life—but I also know something that they don’t.
I have more money than they’ll ever have.” Demi told them both about her new business venture, as well as the problems she was having at the restaurant. Nothing she couldn’t figure out, she assured them, but it was annoying. She told them too that her mother had passed away. But since they more than likely already knew that, she moved on. Demi looked out over the beautiful cemetery and wondered for a moment if she should visit her mother’s grave. “I won’t, just so you know. There was nothing between us in life, and there is less now that she’s dead. “I’ve been watching the stock market, as you taught me to do, Grandma. I have bought and sold more businesses than I think you and I did when you were around. I miss you, by the way. Bouncing ideas off of you while we talked was something that I looked forward to every time, and I miss that now.” Kneeling down, she pulled a small weed out of the otherwise pristine flower garden that had been planted by her.
“I have to see the attorney tonight. I’m not sure how he found me, but I intend to find out. I don’t know what Abrielle wanted of me or why she would mention me in her will, but I’m guessing this is her way of letting Astrid and Nathan try and beat the crap out of me one more time.” It wouldn’t work this time. Not only had she learned to defend herself, but she also had learned to carry and shoot a gun. There would be no more taking her to the floor and beating her to shit. No more stitches from them using their boots on her body. She was her own woman, and she would defend herself no matter what.
When it was time for her to leave, she kissed both headstones and told them she’d see them later. As she was leaving the cemetery, she wondered about the car parked just down from hers. But since no one had bothered her, she never paid it much mind. Demi hated to be late and disliked it when other people were late too. She always made it so that she was early, so that she didn’t have to worry about something befalling her to make her behind. And when she got to the offices of the attorney, she was told that Ms. Chase was running late and picking up Mr. Morgan. But Mr. Peyton popped his head out of an office and smiled at her. “If you’d like to come on in, Demi, I’m sure you have questions.” She nodded and stood up. “Your attorney called me today, just to make sure that you were represented should you need it. I assured him that you’d not need him this evening, as this was just a meeting, but that tomorrow he should be here.” “I want to know, first of all, how did you find me?” She was asked to have a seat. “Mr. Peyton, I don’t want my name out there in the public. I’m sure that, if you’ve had any dealings with my family, you can understand why.” “I do. And they haven’t any idea of anything about you other than that I found you. They’ve asked, I will admit to that, but I never told them anything. Not one thing.” She nodded. “I put a search out to find you from some of my trusted friends in this business. It was difficult, I will say that for you. Even when I heard from Mr. Shoe, he wasn’t easily willing to give me any contact information. He only gave me that number when the timing of the will was getting close.” “What does that mean?” He said that part would be explained tomorrow. “No, tonight, or I walk.”
“I’d rather you didn’t force my hand, Demi. And I know that I should ask to use such an informal name, but to think of you being associated with Astrid and Nathan makes my skin crawl.” Mr. Peyton shivered. “How on earth are you from the same family? I shouldn’t say that, but goodness, they are a pair, aren’t they?” “Yes, well, Abrielle wasn’t any better.” The noise out in the hall made her aware that the pair in question had shown up, and with them all the noise, cursing, and even bodies being pounded against the walls. They walked in—waddled in was more like it—and she stood up. It was a defense thing—sitting down around these two would always get her hurt. But when Nathan smiled at her and Astrid sucked in her cheeks in an effort to make herself look thinner, she supposed, Demi knew that they had no idea who she was. Good, this might be more fun than she’d thought. “Well, hello there, gorgeous. Had I known you were going to be here, I would have arrived on time.” He winked at her as he turned to look at Peyton. “You didn’t tell me that you hired someone to work for you, Dax. She sure is a looker.” “Sit down, you idiot. She’s your sister. Demetrius arrived on time. Now we can get started. Your mother left each of you an envelope. You’re not to open it until tomorrow when you come back here at one. She was very serious about this. If you bring the envelope back to me opened or tampered with, you forfeit some of the estate.” He handed them all an envelope, and Demi put hers in her bag with all the other paperwork that she had to take care of in the morning.
“All right. That’s all for this evening. I will see you all tomorrow at one. Do not be late.” Mr. Peyton showed them out. Neither of her siblings spoke to her in the hall or the elevator ride down. It wasn’t until they were in the lobby that Nathan drew back his fist and slammed her in the face. It had been too fast for her to do anything more than fall to the floor. That was the last thing she remembered except for the face of a man standing over her.
Noah Farley had been living in the States for a long time, and he was homesick. When Devon invited him to come home for a visit, he packed up everything he had and wasn’t planning on returning to his home in the city anytime soon, if ever. His dragon needed room to roam, and the city left his options too limited.
Bea Frost had made the buy of a lifetime, a castle in the country, and she made plans with her granddaughter Bryce, and daughter-in-law Laura, to move into it. Both Bea and Bryce were witches, and moving away from their current location, away from the Witches Council, would be like a breath of fresh air.
Noah’s family had lost the castle to back taxes before they had died. Its loss didn’t leave him much to go home to, but he was curious as to who had purchased the property. When he met Bryce, he was both surprised and pleased to find out that she was his mate. Bryce, however, didn’t care for dragons and wasn’t shy about letting him know that either.
The Witches Council consisted of three warlocks, Black, White, and Gray. When appointed, the mix was supposed to balance them out, but instead the men had become evil and corrupt. Bryce had become too powerful, more powerful than the council combined, and the WC considered her a threat. Killing her human mother or new mate would be just the ticket to bring her to heal…
Kelly Dalton, was packed and ready to go on the trip of a lifetime. She was excited to spend a month in Europe sightseeing. Her budget would be tight, and she’d have to make the trip alone because her sister drained her checking account, but despite the lack of funds, Kelly was ready for the new adventure—anything to get away from her family.
Devon Wakefield was the tenth Marquess to the house of Wilkshire and a dragon shifter. Since the death of his father, he had been lord of the castle since he was ten. His life lacked only one thing—a mate—but he was in no hurry to find one.
Kelly was sorry to see her vacation end. One more stroll around the beautiful countryside then she’d have to go back home—to what she didn’t know. Her sister, Rachel, was so angry that Kelly didn’t pay for her trip that she set fire to Kelly’s apartment. There was nothing really to go back to, but she’d deal with that when she returned. In the meantime, she would enjoy her last couple of days in England. However, Kelly was unprepared for the sudden rain shower, and in the rushing water she lost her footing. Everything went black…
Distraught because Kelly was missing, the innkeeper called Devon to find her. When Devon found the injured young woman, he realized that he’d found his mate, and in an effort to ease her recovery he wanted to do something nice for her—he brought her family to England….
Noah Farley stood as still as he could. Bringing attention to himself right now would get a great many people in trouble, especially him. Not that they wouldn’t be anyway. Having him on site was just as bad to the police as having a taro reader, or even a magician, there with them when a crime needed to be solved. Not many believed in him. Nor did they believe he wasn’t the person they were after nine times out of ten. But Noah got results, and that was important to a lot of people who did believe in him. The man in charge of this investigation was someone that Noah not only didn’t respect, but someone that he thought of as a lazy fuck. He thought that of a great many people, but this guy, Detective Peter Boseman, was the dictionary definition of the phrase—at least the word lazy, anyway.
And the men that hung out with him—Noah called them his crew—were one step away from long prison terms or death by the state. Either way, he’d be glad to be rid of them. Boseman looked up at him. “I’m supposing you can see something that we can’t? You look like you just know it all, and think that you’re the best of the best, don’t you? What is it, Farley? You seeing the ghosts of these here dead? What are they telling you about how they were killed?” Noah said nothing, again not moving. “Well, what I find here is this. The man murdered the woman, then killed himself. Over money. She was spending it—just look at them nails and shoes—and he wasn’t having it. He’s wearing old shoes that have been patched up and a dirty coat. Murder/suicide, end of case. Tell me, Farley, am I dead on?” “No, not even close.”
He waited for someone, this man in front of him, to give him permission to speak again. He didn’t need it. Just last week he’d been asked to become a part of the police force as a full-time consultant to the department. And he would have higher ranking than any man there, including Agent Boseman. But he’d not taken the job—wasn’t even sure that he wanted it. He might take it just to put this man out to pasture…. No, he’d more than likely turn it down. He did this for the department because it gave him something to do. If it were a job, he knew he’d begin to hate it, and that wouldn’t be good for anyone, especially the dead that needed justice—at least their families did. No, so long as he could come and go as he pleased, that was better for everyone—including Boseman again. He would be a dead detective if Noah had to work with him full-time. “Not even close, am I now? Well, why don’t you enlighten us about your powers of observation?” He snickered, and the men with him did the same.
Noah thought that there was some sort of button that Boseman pushed to get reactions from the morons that were with him. “Go on. Tell me what you see that a thirty-year veteran of homicide can’t see. And so’s you know, I don’t care what you see or observe, I know which one of us the captain is going to believe. And it ain’t you.” “I’d not count on that if I were you. First of all, they didn’t know each other to care enough about what kind of money either of them had. The man is someone that I’ve seen over on Welsher from time to time. I believe that he’s homeless and pushes that
cart that’s right over there.
You can see it—it has all his worldly goods in it. The woman is an office worker. The badge that is hanging from her purse there says that she works in finance. She had money to burn because she has no one else in her life. The reason I can see that is, there is no wedding band and her watch is worth more than you make in a year’s time. The shoes are about four hundred, dress and coat another grand. I’d say she was a woman with good taste and liked to look nice. Her name is Shelby Kiddom, by the way. Again, it’s on her name badge.” The faerie that had been with him for decades, William, was in human form and recording the conversation for him for later use. Noah bent down to look at the things around the bodies. He spotted the police department issued gloves used at a crime scene, covered in blood, just under her left breast, and knew that only a cop would have those. Looking up, he knew who the killer was right away. The smirk gave him away. “I’m assuming that some big shot guy like yourself would know all about women’s fashion and such. You wear it, Farley, when you’re not wasting the taxpayers’ money? Or do you have a personal knowledge with this man? You know…?” Boseman did the international sign, one Noah had seen used a million times, for fucking. “Are you a homo, Farley?”
Ignoring his crude comments, Noah continued. “The male, I would say in his mid to late sixties, came upon the woman to offer aid. She was already dead by then, and the man that had killed her, not a husband, was just waiting for a flow of traffic of people so he could blend in. There is no blood splatter on this man, and there would be if he’d been the one to cut her throat. The male just happened upon him as Shelby was bleeding out. She had her throat slit from behind, but the killer would have had blood all over him. The homeless man has a single gunshot to the head—from behind as well.” “And you got all that from looking at two dead bodies? I won’t believe it. Nobody will.” He looked around at his crew, the only thing that Noah would call the cops with him. “He must be one of them there clara-boinks. You know, the ones that can see the dead?” The button must have been pushed again, because they all laughed like they had before. Short and loud. One of them even sounded like a jackass braying. All in a day’s work for Noah, he thought, putting up with idiots. Stretching his neck as he stood up, he smiled at Boseman. “It’s clairvoyant, and that’s not primarily what I am. I’m a profiler, for lack of a better term.” Boseman laughed harder. “Yes, well, if you ever get off your fat fucking ass and look into this, you’ll find that the man who killed them both is standing with you right now. It’s a cop.”
Noah and William walked away. When he heard the shots being fired, he didn’t turn back, but did pull out his cell phone. Telling dispatch that there was an officer down and giving them the address, he kept walking to his car. William, a faerie, changed into his other self and landed on his shoulder. “We can only hope that the man killed Boseman too.” William said that he’d not. “Figures. I need to get away for a while. I know that I was only just asked to take a full
time position at the station, but I can’t do this right now. I need time to grieve. I know that my family has been gone for some time, but I still ache from their passing. I understand why they did it, but my heart still hurts from it.” “As I have said to you many times, your lordship.” William was the only person who knew that not only was Noah a dragon and someone who could solve a crime quickly, but he was also—he had also been—the king of a castle. “If you remember, sir, his lordship Devon invited you to his home for the summer months. He has taken a wife, and she is breeding his child now.”
“Yes, I remember.” As they got into the car, William sitting on his own perch on the next seat, Noah continued. “I hate this city. Well, not the city so much as the people here. And I think they get more violent and more stupid with each passing year. I just need to get away from this. I need to be with friends who care not what I can do or what I am.” “The city and the people it consists of are the same thing, as I have pointed out to you before.” Noah nodded and laughed. “You do need a vacation, if you don’t mind me saying so. But you also need to be your dragon for longer periods than a few minutes when the rain is coming down. Sir, he needs to be himself as badly as, if not more than, you.” He thought about the vacation for the rest of the drive to his home. He was going to do it, but the amount of work that he had to do and to delegate before leaving was going to be a great deal. But still, he thought that everyone would enjoy it, getting away for a time. Noah pulled into the driveway and looked at the home that he shared with about fifty other beings. The house looked like one of the hundreds of other houses in the city and was a cookie cutter of the ones on his street. At least on the outside. Once you were inside, that was where you really saw the difference. It was about ten times larger than the other houses and filled with things that he’d collected over the years. Magic and the beings that lived with him, all faeries, had given him that and more. Companionship for the most part, and that he treasured more than anything else. There were three floors to the home, but it only showed that there was one from the outside. The kitchen was big enough for several of the finest chefs to make a meal and never touch one another. A dining room that was wasted on him could easily feed over a hundred guests. Even his bedroom—about twice the size of the entire house next to his, which was a couple of acres away—was something that his magic had done for them when he and William took up residence. The others, faeries that had been at his castle home, had come to live with him when he lost it due to taxes not being paid on time. When he’d purchased the home, there had been nothing around the area but fields of tobacco and corn. Then as the houses started to pop up, so did the fence that he had around his property. And now it was electrified too. He knew that people thought him to be something of a recluse, which he supposed he was. Noah preferred his own company over anyone else’s, save William.
His staff, the faeries, were there waiting for him as soon as he entered. “There is a call from a Lady Wakefield. She said that she is the marchioness to the House of Wilkshire.” He paused in going up the staircase when Rose cleared her throat. “She giggled, sir. Giggled and said that I was just to call her Kelly, not the mouthful that is her title from being married to Lord Devon. I don’t understand.” He turned to look at his staff and realized that they were just as curious. He thought about what he’d heard about Kelly, as Lady Susanna had called her, and knew that she was just as delightful as she’d told him. Noah sat down on the stairs and laughed. “I’ve been thinking that we’d all go for a visit to the Marquess Devon and his new family. Please, I would like for you all to close up the house. Donate all the foodstuff to the shelter, and pack us whatever we might need to travel to England.” He looked at William as he continued. “I want you to gather up the seeds and other things that you’ve been hoarding, and we’ll take them someplace where they can thrive. We will all leave as soon as arrangements can be made.” “Sir, what about your job?” He didn’t care and told William that. Noah didn’t need the money, not really, and he had to get away. “Shall I tell them that there has been an emergency and that you must travel today?” “Yes, that would be splendid. Also, do me a favor and find me Devon’s number.”
Rose handed him the small sheet of paper with not only the phone number, but also how many times Kelly had called. “It seems, my dear family, that we’re headed home. I only hope that we’ll receive a better welcome than we have before.” The cheer went up and Noah stood up. He never said this, not anymore, but he wondered if things could get any worse. They could and would, he knew, but for now, he’d take it as it came. By nightfall he’d gotten a call from his boss at the station. Noah had told him everything that he’d told Boseman, and that the man in his little posse was the murderer. Noah told him that Boseman had been an ass. Also, he wasn’t one hundred percent sure, but he thought that Boseman had known about it. “Yes, well, that’s the way he operates. Or I should say, the way that he did. I was hoping that with you in charge of him, he’d either quit or he’d have to be fired. I got the recording of the events, and I’m going to ask him, quite firmly, to retire before I have to fire him. I have three men dead because of his stupidity, as well as two more injured. And all because he wouldn’t listen to you when you spoke to him last week. This couple, the ones that were killed needlessly, they’re going to be added to that list. And Roberts, the murderer, he’s dead. You didn’t ask, but I wanted you to know that Roberts been taken off the streets.” Noah had told Boseman, as well as Detective Captain Lin Ming, that there were two dirty cops on the force. Boseman told him he was wrong, Captain Ming told him to look into it. “I’ll talk to you when you return. If there is anything you need, just let me know, Noah. I don’t want to lose a good man like you.” By mid-morning the next day, not only were they on their way, but he’d been able to bring everyone on his staff, all faeries, on his body. It was something else that he’d been given, the ability to bring with him and use as many faeries as he could put upon
his body. They not only were able to travel with him without anyone seeing them, but they lent him a great deal of power, power that was much different than that of his parents. Noah smiled when he thought of when he’d called Devon.
“I’m so glad that you’re coming. Grandmother will be back by the time you arrive, if not at the same time.” He looked over at the marchioness, who had hitched a ride with him on his plane—the last of his inheritance from the castle. “Also, we have been making some improvements here. Some that I’m betting that you will be pleased with. We’re going to be working very hard here to make sure that you never leave us again.” It wouldn’t take much, not with the way he was feeling. It all depended on the welcome he received when he arrived. Would they greet him with open arms, or would they simply turn their backs on him as they had done before? Not Devon, but the town in general. “How is that lovely wife or yours, Devon? She must be sick of you by now. Perhaps I can persuade her to come back with me, and we’ll have a bunch of little dragons.” He was only joking, and he knew that Devon knew it. “I talked to your grandmother while she was visiting my area. She is quite taken with the little slip of a woman.” “She has my mom’s dragon, Noah. Had I not been standing there when it happened, I think I would never have believed it. And, I think that we’re all in a better place too. Knowing that my mom was killed by my father gave us some peace that I didn’t think I’d have after he was dead. It gave me some closure that I didn’t have before.” He knew that from talking to his plane mate. It had given Lady Susanna closure as well. “When you arrive, I’ll have someone meet you at the airport. I’m having one put in for us here, now that I have a wife, so that it will be much easier for us to travel without the world knowing.” Noah knew what he meant—so that someone wouldn’t be able to take Kelly. It had happened before. Someone had gotten it in their head to take one of Devon’s stepmothers. That had ended badly when Devon’s father had refused to pay the ransom, saying that she was unfit as a wife to a marquess anyway. They had taken their anger out on the young woman, and she’d suffered brutally from the beating and the resulting wounds. “I should be there in a couple of days. These days the only thing that I have left is the plane, and that will be gone soon too. Also, I have a great many faeries with me, and they’d like to see if they can work with yours. I have also had William gather some of his seeds from the homestead that you can plant there. If you don’t mind.”
He told him that was fine, and that they’d been looking at places for him to stay when he decided to stay for good. “You and that little wife of yours, you’re plotting? My goodness, Devon, you surely have become a changed man. I think I might stay, for a time anyway. As for homes, I’m not sure about that right now. I’m a little short on funds that I can readily put my hands on at the moment, as you well know.” “I do. And I understand. Whatever you want to do, my home is always open to you.” And he knew that as well. For as many times as people had said that to him over the decades, Noah knew that Devon meant it. “Once you get here, you will never want
to leave again. I am so positive about it that I’m going to throw a dinner party to welcome you. I’ve missed you, Noah. I’m so glad that you’re finally coming for a visit.” “I’ve missed you as well, my friend. I’ll see you soon.” As they flew to their destination, Noah and Susanna talked about the new Devon. Yes, he thought to himself, this was going to be a very good visit. And who knew, perhaps he’d end up staying, as Devon wanted.
~*~ Laura watched her daughter struggle with her temper. The fact that she was trying to hold onto it said that she was trying to change, and not just go from zero to overboard when people made her pissy. However, if Laura had been talking to the man, she would have murdered him by now. The man was as dense as a cinderblock. He’d come to the front door about twenty minutes ago, screaming and accusing almost as soon as the door opened an inch. And when he’d been told that the police were going to be called, he yelled louder, making sure, Laura thought, that the world knew he was upset. She listened to Bryce as she tried in vain to convince the man she didn’t have his daughter. “I said, six times now, that I can’t help you find your daughter. If she told you that she was coming here, then you can bet that I’d tell you if she was. Emma and I are not friendly enough to be going to one another’s homes.” He asked why not. “Because I don’t like her. Not one bit. And you can bank on that too. If she was hoping I’d cover for her, then she’s just as shit out of luck as you are.” “I have it written down right here on this note she left for me two days ago. I want you to read it.” Bryce snatched it from Emma’s father and read the note as one might to a child. “You are a nasty, rude person.” “Precisely. Now, call the police, call the national guard. They’ll have better luck finding her than you will here at my home.”
Bryce started to close the door in Mr. Sharp’s face. He put his foot in the way so that Bryce couldn’t close it. “Look. I’ve tried very hard, several times, not to punch you in the face. But if you don’t remove your foot from the doorway, I’m going to pull out a knife and cut the part off that is preventing me from closing my door and close it. I’m tired and out of sorts, and you’re not helping one bit.” He jerked his foot back and Bryce slammed the door. As she leaned her back against it, Mr. Sharp started pounding on the door’s other side. The man had a death wish, that was all Laura could think about him. “Do you know where she is?” Bryce nodded and walked away from the door into the kitchen. Laura followed her. Her mother-in-law, Bea, was sitting at the table, a cup of tea stirring in front of her. “Bea, I thought that as long as there was the possibility of someone seeing you, you’d not use your magic in this house.” “Yes. But he wasn’t going to get in. We both know that. Bryce would have cut him to ribbons. Or if he got this far, I would have changed him into a toad. Nasty man that.” Bea picked up her cup of tea and the spoon disappeared. “You know where she is, Bryce, honey?”
“Dead.” No one said anything. If Bryce said she was dead, then she was dead. “I was wondering if we could have chicken and dumplings for dinner. We could use the roasted chicken from last night, since we’d be getting a late start.” Laura looked at Bea, who simply shook her head. Sometimes she was jealous of the two of them, the things that they could share. But on this, Laura was glad for the fact that she wasn’t anymore a witch than the dog was next door. Her daughter was very powerful, and her mother-in-law was a close second. They talked about dinner for a little while more, none of them very hungry, it seemed. As they plotted and planned for tomorrow, Bryce ate some grapes, a bowl of them on the table that hadn’t been there before. Tomorrow Bryce was going into the police station to turn down the job that they’d asked her to take. “I can’t be working around people all the time and not have one of them notice that I’m off my noddle.” Bea smacked Bryce’s hand. “Well, I don’t think that, but you know that they will once I use my magic. And I will. Even if I only have to turn one of them into something that is silent.” “I don’t blame you there. While our kind isn’t burned at the stake anymore, I do think that they’d put you away and never find the key if they knew just how powerful you are. Not that a cell would hold you, but then they’d try something else. Oh, by the way, that man next door thinks that his doggy is dead. I’ve taken care that his little doggy is safe. Poor thing. He was hurting it again and letting it stand in the snow all night.”
Laura asked Bea where he was. “Under the table, now that you’re aware of him. He’s a good dog. I might train him to be my animal. I’ve been sort of lonely without Pet around.” It was a startling revelation that witches had familiars. It was even more surprising that they didn’t necessarily have to be a cat—any animal would do. Case in point, Bryce had a bird. It was a pretty cockatoo that spoke four languages and could curse better than a sailor on leave. His name was Fred. Pet, Bea’s animal, had died. He’d been a pretty little lizard that would chase Laura around the kitchen when he was being playful. It could do more than snap out his tongue at her when she spoke to him, as he too was as powerful as his mistress. They were sure that he’d been poisoned by someone, but who had done it was a mystery. She thought it was a neighbor, but she didn’t ask anymore what they’d do to him if it had been him. Some things were better left unknown, Laura had figured out. Few knew that they were a house of witches. Laura could do some magic, gifted to her by Bea first, then Bryce had given her more. Laura couldn’t do spells, nor could she cast, gathering ingredients like she would for a cake and putting them together for some use. Laura could help with spells, but she wasn’t able to cast them on someone or something. That was fine by her as well. “I was thinking about that trip. The one where we headed back to your old country.” Laura got up and started throwing together a salad. That was something that she knew would be eaten, even if it wasn’t right now. She wouldn’t be going on the trip—that was something that Bea and Bryce did twice a year. “I’ve heard about some
herbs that we can gather and bring back with us. It would be nice to have a fully functioning garden.”
“It would at that. I have that castle too. The one that was up on the market for nonpayment of taxes. We could all stay there.” Laura wanted to see the castle in person—it was supposed to be grand. But she’d stay here, hold down the fort, so to speak, and they’d bring her back all manner of things as gifts. Laura tuned them out. There was nothing she could have added to the conversation other than to find out when they were leaving and when they’d return. As she was putting the bowl filled with the best greens she could find in the fridge, Bryce asked her if she was paying attention. “I was. You two will be leaving and I’ll make sure that the animals are safe here. I’ll need to have someone help me with the mail. I can’t travel all that far without having my hip hurt me a great deal.” She’d fallen two years ago, and her hip hadn’t been the same since. And the doctors told her that it wasn’t broken, just badly bruised. Quacks. “I know you won’t have to pack anything, so tell me what you need for me to do.” “Pack for yourself.” Laura started shaking her head. “Yes, you’re going with us this time. No excuses. I told you the last time you were going with us the next time. So, you pack you what you think you might want to take, and I’ll close up the house. Grandma said she’d take care of everything else. This will be an adventure for all of us, I think.” “Bryce, I’m too much trouble.” Her daughter crossed her arms over her chest and tapped her foot.
“You are not using my way of getting you to mind me. You just go with Bea and I’ll be here when you return. I’m too hurt to want to sit on a plane for hours.” “We’re not. Returning, I mean.” She asked her what she meant. “Grandma said that it’s time that we move on. People are beginning to notice that she’s not aging. Neither am I. And you look like we could be sisters and not mother and daughter. It’s time, Mom. We’ve done it before, and we need to do it again. And even if we weren’t, you’re still going.” The hand on her shoulder buzzed like electric through a cord all the way through her body. Laura stood there for several seconds, the warm feeling of good health still making her slightly light headed. She knew that when she moved around, she’d be not only as good as new, but also not in any more pain. Sitting in the chair that was still warm from when Bea had been sitting in it, she looked at Bryce. “I told you not to ever do that. I’ll not have you wasting your talents on an old woman like me. I do feel better, but you shouldn’t have done that. Honey, I knew that you’d have to move on soon. I just thought that you’d just make me old and leave me behind. I mean, that’s what I’d do.” “You would not. If you don’t pack, I will, and you know that I’ll accidently leave something behind. You can’t think that I’d leave you here, do you?” She shook her head. “Good. Pack only what you can’t replace. Then when we get to this castle, we’ll buy what you need. And if you pack up a box of things too big for your suitcase, tell me and I’ll send it along too.”
“What about Emma’s body? You have to give that man some closure. Not that he deserves it, but you should at least let someone find her.” Bryce said that she couldn’t and got up from the table. Laura sat there for several more minutes. Bryce couldn’t help the ones that had killed themselves. It was a vow that she’d taken when she’d taken her first lesson at the school for witchcraft. Everyone had to give up something, some kind of thing, that they couldn’t help humans with, and she’d said that she’d never help the suicide victims’ bodies to be found. It was something that she didn’t run into often, but this time she knew that it hurt her little girl. It was the only thing that Bryce could think of to give up that wouldn’t be her. Those were the only choices that she’d been given—give up her mother or the victims of suicide. Getting up, Laura started a mental list of things that she was going to take. Most of it was pictures, but there were a few things that she had been given by her late husband. Austin had been a good man, but he was also one that didn’t hide his magic. It was what had gotten him killed by the witch council.
The dragon king, Anthony, entrusted Brynhilde with a quest. He had foreseen his demise and needed a reason for Bryn to find his and Jacob’s sons. A glimpse in the future had shown him that Bryn would be mated to his son Akassa, and Jacob’s son, Simeon, so he entrusted her with an ancient book. Her mission was to seek out the new dragon king when the old castle was nearly complete.
Bryn was a protector of dragons and a fierce faerie warrior. She had one weakness. If she was claimed, she had to follow the orders of whoever claimed her—even if it went against what she knew to be right and just. Over the centuries, she had been owned by many warriors and kings. But as time passed, few knew of these ancient laws and Bryn had managed to reman unclaimed—until now. Bryn had been ordered to kill the dragons.
The Dragon Slayers had all but given up on their quest to slay the dragons and the new dragon king, but when Hudson sought them out, he breathed new life into the ancient organization. Their thirst to spill blood was great.
Asher knew what Bryn had been ordered to do, and that she was mated to his brother Simeon and Akassa. The question was if Bryn could follow her heart and ignore her sworn duty. Would they all perish by the sword of this powerful faerie? Find out in the final episode of The Dragon Savior Series—Simeon.
# SPECIAL NOTE CURRENTLY FROM STOKING THE FLAME 2 BOXSET
Asher and Kiaran were joined at birth by the dying decree of the Dragon King―literally. Asher had his own bit of magic as a 3,000 year old immortal, and Kiaran was his dragon shifter. Out in society Kiaran was a part of Asher―absorbed into Asher’s body―only being able to separate in dragon form. At their birth home, the two men could exist apart from each other as men. They protected each other, and would until their dying breath if it ever came to that. They shared everything…that is until Essie came along….
Essie was doing her best to hide from a mother that didn’t even recognize her own daughter. The witch had poisoned her with a scratch and if Essie wasn’t healed soon she’d die…. Sick or not she didn’t want anything to do with that handsome, overbearing barbarian, Asher, nor that rude dragon that protected him. She was doing just fine on her own.
But Asher had other things on his mind and after a while brings Essie around to his way of thinking and makes her his wife, but Kiaran brought up a valid point―Essie was his mate too….
Could Essie find it in her heart to love both men equally? To share the bed of both―together?
Asher’s five brothers and their dragons watched the scenario unfold with bated breaths. The subject had never been broached, and all their futures hung on the outcome…
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…
Ariannona has but one simple task to complete and the long journey she began 3000 years ago will be ended. Her reward? She was promised that she would see the king and queen again.
Elam’s not sure what to think about the beautiful woman coming back to the house with his counterpart Casdon. She has a message for Casdon alone, and the message itself makes no sense to Casdon. One thing is clear though, she is Elam and Casdon’s mate.
Ariannona expects to die once her message is delivered, and isn’t happy to learn that the former king and queen tricked her to get her there.
A dragon hunter is still loose on nearby lands and none of the dragons are safe, especially Casdon. He’s taking shots at anything he sees moving.
Lelani Wayne trusted no one but her familiar, Roger. And even he, at times, got on her last nerve. She didn’t like being around people. People made her nervous, and when a witch as powerful as she was got nervous, it could be disastrous for anyone in the vicinity.
A powerful witch, Erin Wayne, knew she was going to die, and reached out to the closest being she could find to take her powers and memories. She connected with Kiaran, Asher’s dragon counterpart. The jolt of the transfer took all the Benson’s to their knees.
The Benson’s were on a mission to finish the reconstruction of the castle. Shane, and his dragon counterpart, Keion, were doing their share to make it happen. But when Shane saw his very pregnant sister-in-law, Essie, bringing lunch, and a stranger approaching her fast, he couldn’t get to Essie fast enough. The baby was coming—now.
Lelani was looking for Kiaran to get her sister’s memories and warn him that the Herald, a group of witch hunting zealots, might have traced the memories and be after Kiaran as well. What she didn’t expect to find was Shane and Keion, two very big, handsome, virile men, invading her personal space claiming to be her mate. That made her nervous….
Gracie couldn’t believe it, she’d been attacked by a griffin. The pain was so horrible that she’d have to get better to die. Maybe it was better this way. Maybe death would end the tremendous grief in her heart. At least in death she wouldn’t have to listen to her sister Cora’s constant harping.
Gideon and his dragon counterpart Ominia weren’t sure how to handle Gracie. She was their mate and they were happy to have found her, but her intense grief over the loss of her family had them stumped on how to proceed.
The encounter with the griffin had more effect on Gracie than she knew. His magic now flowed within her. Gracie could now see and speak with the dead, and the former king, Anthony had a message for the new King of Dragons, Asher.
Now thrust in a world of dragons and magic, Gracie’s head was spinning. And how was she to handle two very handsome and amorous mates? Things like that just didn’t happen to her.
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Anthony rubbed his head. If this kept up, he was going to need a powder for his pain. He looked at Eve when she sighed heavily. They were getting nowhere fast in this conversation, and he wasn’t sure what to do about it. Looking at the woman before him, he tried once more to get her to stand up and come closer. Sometimes being king made things unbearably difficult. “Brynhilde, I would wish to talk to you secretly. If you stay there, plastered to the floor for the entire time, I’m not going to be able to speak to you properly. Come. Let us speak.” She didn’t move, not even to look up at him. “Damn it, woman. I’m needing something from you.” “You wish to claim me.” He didn’t want to. It hadn’t been in their plans to do anything like that. To claim her, to make her his servant, would be wrong on so many levels.
“My lord, you know what I am and what I do. I cannot, without going against my laws, the ones that you put into place, speak to you where my head is higher than your own. I am but a warrior, not an equal to you or anyone.” “Show yourself.” Anthony looked at Eve when she spoke. It was unlike her to be so hard, her voice full of command. “Stand and show yourself, all of yourself, to us. Now, Brynhilde. That way we can judge your worth to us.
” The woman stood, and Anthony realized how young she looked. He knew her to be old and powerful, but the appearance of her youth startled him speechless. Not so his lovely mate. She was rarely speechless, not when it mattered the most. And this did, more than anything they’d done thus far. “You will show us your warrior. Then we’ll talk about claiming. If need be we will, but for now, I wish to see what you have to offer.” The woman raised her brow but said nothing. Brynhilde wasn’t one to fuck with, he knew this. She was as powerful as she was hateful. He was glad that he’d not have to be mated to her.
“Where is this supposed warrior that we have heard so much about?” Her arms stretched above her head. He knew it was for show…or perhaps she had been taught to bring her magic that way and it had stuck with her. But he could see the magic gather around her and stepped back. This was going to be epic, and he was excited for it, but also, if he was honest with himself, a little frightened. Light danced along her body…sparkled, he supposed. Her hair, dark before, turned a bright red, fiery he thought. And as it lengthened, tangling with her body, wrapping her up, her armor began to show itself. Anthony knew now this was for them, a show of power and force. As her armor strengthened and wrapped around her, wings appeared behind her, as brilliant a green as her eyes, of which nothing of her body showed but that. She would and could fight an army now, and come out on the other side as the victor. The woman oozed strength, confidence, and magic. He would only want to be on her side. To be on the other would mean that all was lost. Brynhilde was epic.
When her show of force was complete, she flittered above the floor before raising her sword and sticking it deep into the stone floor as she came down in her stance. He would never go by that spot without thinking of her, however little time he had left. Her chest plate was silver, a hue so bright that it was nearly blinding. There was no crest upon it, and there wouldn’t be until she was claimed by another force. As she stood there, her wings spread wide and high, her hair, the massive amount that hadn’t become her armor, ever flowing behind her head, Anthony was struck by her beauty. And the scar that went from her left eye to her chin did nothing to take away from that. He stepped forward enough to touch her, but stopped when she raised her sword.
“Do ye claim me as your own?” Anthony had a moment where he was slightly afraid, not of her personally, but of what she’d do to his son once she went to him. His son, and that of Jacob, would know a real kind of devotion should she fall in love with the boys. Or she would slaughter them. “Brynhilde, where is your family?” He saw the pain there, the flicker of it as it passed over her face. He wanted to tell his Eve to stop, but before he could, she spoke again. “You have no one claiming you…you could have a family. Where are your parents? Sisters and brothers?” “Dead, my lady.
” Anthony felt compelled to hold her, to wrap her up in his arms so that the pain would be his as well. To lessen it for her. “They were killed when I was at war. My master then…my master did not care for me and my rules, so he had them all murdered. I have found all but one of them, the ones that killed my family, and when I find him, he’ll suffer like no other for his orders to murder them. He committed a cowardly act by not being there himself, and now he will pay as well.” “I am sorry.” Brynhilde looked at him when he spoke softly. “I am truly sorry for all that you have lost.
It would hurt me beyond words to have lost all that I love.” He would, and soon, if things were to go as they were foretold to them. As he moved to his seat beside Eve, he took her hand into his. It was well past time they asked of her the favor that would put her with their son and Jacob’s. “There is a book that needs to go to the future king.” The wings flittered again, not enough to lift her up this time, but they moved all the same. Anthony continued just as Tinsel, Brynhilde’s brownie and companion, came into the room. “There will be a great war, one where you will be hidden away so that you will not have to pledge allegiance against this kingdom. I do this for you so that you can avenge your family when all is done. And it will be over someday, just not in our lifetime.” “You are an immortal, same as me.” She dropped her head, asking for forgiveness for pointing out what he already knew. Anthony walked to her then and lifted her face up to his. She was tall, and he could see the fear there in her eyes. “You cannot die, my lord king. I will fight with you.”
“‘Tis too late for that, I fear.” She watched his face, seeing what no other, save his mate, could see there…the future, and what would happen to them. “I need for you to take him this book. His name is Asher, called that from the ash of this castle when it has fallen. Someday the castle will be repaired…the magic that we leave behind will help
him rebuild, to make things right again for all who would dwell here. The book and all that it represents will be in your hands.” “And this son…what will he demand from me in return for this favor?” Anthony told her nothing, but that he was going to be as good a king, if not better than him. “I do not believe that, my lord. You are a good and kind man. Your wife too. How can this be?” “He is part of me. Of us. And his mate is as strong as he will be.” Anthony had her attention now, and thought he had to do it now or it would be all for nothing.
“This thing I ask of you, it is the final key, the last stone that will be placed in the castle. If you do not wish to help me without me claiming you, then I will understand. I will be disappointed, child, but I will understand.” Eve moved to stand behind the warrior. Her armor was as strong as his own scales, her blood as cold as his. But she could use more, would need more in the coming years, and he did not want her harmed in any way. While he touched her, Eve did the same from behind. The sharing of their magic only took a second or two, but the transformation to the warrior was profound. She stood there before him, and he knew that she was in a great deal of pain. But as he watched her, nothing moved on her; her eyes did not blink to show that she hurt.
“You have given me too much.” He shook his head. Her voice was rough, like even that was in pain. “You have. I can feel it through my body, like blood rushing from an open wound. Why would you do such a thing to me?” “You will need it, this I promise you. Once you have given the book to Asher, when the castle he rebuilds is nearly complete, you will never have to be claimed again by a man that wishes only for your sword.” She nodded and then staggered slightly. “Careful now. You are going to need to hibernate for a while at least.” Touching her armor now, the chest plate that protected her heart, he put his mark upon it. Not that she’d see it, not yet, but it would be there for Simeon and his own child, her mates, to see.
To know that she came to them with his blessings. The other women, some of them already on their path, others not yet born, would come to the men that would be family to him. They’d make them stronger still, love them beyond words, and give them a part of their magic and love that would sustain them forever. But this one, this warrior of the fairies, had been the hardest one to convince. Her heart would be hardened by the time they came together, his children and her, and sadly, she would hurt more than the others when she came to them. Not with her sword, but it would cut just as deeply and painfully. Stepping back when she seemed to be able to stand on her own two feet, he watched her stretch again, this time trying out her newfound power. After she left them, the book in her hand—to rest, she told him— he sat in his chair and thought of this woman. “She will be furious in her fighting.
And so loving when that is called for too. Of all the women that will come to our yet born children, I think she will be the best of them all.” Anthony nodded but said nothing yet to his queen. “You worry overly much.
What’s done is done for them. There is nothing else we can do but to ready things here for them. We have done more than we should have, love, but they’ll be safe now.” “I so wish I could see them.” Eve said that she did as well. “There will be children of them. Grandchildren of ours that we will not spoil or touch. It is the saddest thing next to losing you, I think. Not being able to see them grow and become men. Having their own young and playing with them.” “Someday, we’ll look down on them and smile. Our children will live. That is all we’ve ever wanted for them.
” He agreed; it was all they had thought of since seeing visions of their own deaths. “Anthony, what will become of her? You know, do you not?” “I do. I am saddened by the things she must do and will do to survive. But she will. And while she’ll be stronger for it, it will harden her heart too.” He looked at his one true love. “Let us talk of more pleasant things. Take a lunch to the lake and make love there. The babes will be safe for an hour or two.” “Yes, I’d like that very much.” He nodded, standing up. “You have talked to Tinsel? He will know what is going on and help her?” “I will when we return. He will do this, I know, but it will hurt them both that we need him to do this one more thing for us.” Eve nodded as they made their way to the kitchen to get some food. “We have gained so much from this, but are losing so much more.” “Yes, but the safety of our children and those of Sally and Jacob will be more than we could have hoped for during this time, don’t you think?” He did and told her that. “I love you, my love. More than I could ever be able to tell you. You are my heart, my soul.”
~~~ Tinsel came back just as she was burrowing into the ground. Bryn watched him fly around making things right for her before she told him to sit down and be quiet. He did so, but he pouted about it. She asked him where he’d gone. “I will be here until you have awakened. I wished to gather me some things up. They’re in my pocket.” He had a magical pocket. He could carry a man in it should it be necessary. Or her, which he had once before. “Do you wish for me to sing to you?” “No.” Clearing her throat, fearful that he would sing anyway, she tried again. “I’m ready to rest now. And your singing might keep me awake. I think the king gave me a bit of something to pull me under faster.” He nodded and looked around them. She wanted him to rest as well, but he would not. And he’d more than likely sing too, once she was asleep. Bryn felt sorry for the creatures around them, ones that could not get away from his noise. Tinsel could not sing.
Words he didn’t know he made up, sometimes making the song he sang seem more silly than heartfelt. And he had no tone. Nor could he carry a tune. The man was as deaf to the music he sang as she wished she was when he did it. Closing her eyes, she smiled.
“My lady, when you wake, what is our plan then? Did you have an idea to stay here?” Yawning, she told him that she thought she’d be better off here than anywhere else. “Mayhap. But should you like to travel a bit, that would be good too. We could keep ahead of the men who would want you to fight for them.” “You could be right. I’ll speak of it with you when I rise.” Yawning again, she adjusted the rocks that covered her, disturbing the small creatures that had bedded down before her. “Tinsel, you are my one and only friend…you know that, do you not? I have no need for others in my life, save you.”
“I thank you for that, my lady. But you have no one else in your life because you have a sword at the ready when anyone gets close. Think of the friends we might have should you not be in competition all the time.” She laughed, as did he. “We are good for each other, neither of us needing much. We have all that we can carry because I was gifted a pocket, and when we are fighting, we are stronger than the others and can live for another day.” Living another day did not have as much appeal to her as it did him. When she’d had her family around, a place she could go and be loved, it had been her greatest joy. Now…well, now there wasn’t much for her to be happy about. She did her job, and did it well, then rested until someone else found her. There would never be death for her.
Bryn could weaken to the point where she would need to hibernate, but not die. It was what made her so sought after. Wounds that she received in the line of duty—for one king or another—had been so horrendous that she would be down for several months…once a whole year. But death, as had claimed her family, her sisters, and brother, hadn’t been her right. “Is the king aware of what you did to your last master?” Bryn told Tinsel that he more than likely knew. “Yes, you could be right on that. Your…. My lady, if you don’t mind me saying so, you were very violent toward him and his men. Not that I blame you…I loved your family as well. But if he had seen only a bit of what I did in the end, he might not have you coming around to…. He might not have wanted your help.”
“Nay. Like everyone, he only wants me for my sword, so I will do this. He thinks that I will not; it was there, in his head, that I’d not do this for him. So, I will, just because of that. But a book? How does he think it will be needed to rebuild a castle? I think he only jests me.” Sleep was getting harder to fight, so she stopped. “Tinsel, when I wake, we’ll go on a grand adventure, you and me. We’ll go and see the world.” “Yes, I should like that.” His voice sounded so sad that she wanted to ask him what the matter was. But sleep took her, as profoundly as the magic had from the king and queen. When she woke, Bryn lay very still. She didn’t know where she was, what time of the day it was, or what she’d find when she moved out of her hiding place. There were voices…she could hear them, but didn’t understand what they were saying. It wasn’t until Tinsel spoke that she calmed a little. “You have been asleep, my lady, for more than a few days.” She asked him how long in the same whispered voice that he had used. “A decade. No more than that, I think.”
“A decade? You are sure?” He said that he was, very much so. “I don’t understand. How was I to rest for that long of time? I was not wounded.” “I know not, my lady warrior, but I was beginning to worry some.” He appeared in front of her, his voice still very low. “There are others above us. They fight even now. Should you rise up, there is a chance that one of them will claim you. I think you should not join them. Both of them will want you, and nothing will be solved as they fight for your sword.” “I shall stay here then.” He thought that was a good idea. “Tinsel, I have been here for a decade. Yet I feel as if I have only rested but a moment. What did the king do to me?” “As I have said, I know not. But I have some sad news, my lady. He is dead. As is his lady wife.” Her heart broke for the couple. While she didn’t understand them, she had liked them a little. “The castle is in ruin. The townspeople still fight over the lands left unattended. There is much fighting between neighbors, and even families. It is not a time that we should be in. After all this time, there is no one to rule, and I fear for all.”
“The child of the king, has someone saved it?” He said that he hadn’t heard of anyone that claimed the child, or any word if it had lived through the fire. “This might be all for naught, Tinsel. Their child might not have lived for me to give this book to. Whatever will happen to him should he be out there?” “He will come, this I know. The king said that he could see into the future, and he would have seen that his child lived.” She nodded and asked about the ability to move out of her place. “Let me check for you. I am glad to have you awake now. I have seen so much. I have even worked on my singing for you. I know a great many tunes now to lull you to rest.” When she was finally free from her sleeping place, she knew that she’d been not just hibernating, but she had been becoming more. She was stronger than ever. Her armor was thicker on her body, and she could hide it with just a thought. Changing her appearance had been easy for her before, but now she only had to think of something and it was changed. There wasn’t even a drain on her magic to hold herself in another form.
Looking at Tinsel, she asked him what she needed to know. Anything that would keep them from being claimed right away. “Everything, my lady. The castle is indeed fallen. There was much fighting and deaths. I have seen so much while you lay in your slumber.” She told him she was sorry. “No need for that. You have become more than before, haven’t you? And I think that good, for not just you, but for all mankind, should they survive this. It is terrible. But you are well?” “Yes. The magic of the king and queen together has made me able to rest less, I think. Even my sword is stronger. I can feel my blood rushing over me, making me stronger still. But they are dead. I thought…well, I assumed that when they were killed my magic would go with them.” He flew up to her shoulder and sat down. “We should leave this place, Tinsel. I do not want to be caught up in a battle that I know nothing about.”
As they made their way through the woods and beyond, all she could think about was the child that had not lived. Just as she was moving toward a home of some worth, she saw the children in the yard and watched them for a bit. They were big boys, all three of them, and she wondered who they belonged to. Turning away to make her way to the next town over, she was seen by another of the boys, this one smaller than the others. He didn’t speak to her, just stared. Realizing that he could only see what she wanted him to—a woman, not the warrior that she was—Bryn moved away from him and the house to find a safer place. But his face, the one that looked up at her with such innocence, made her heart twist up in pain. Her brother had such a look when he’d been alive. Paul had been her friend and her brother. She’d loved her sisters as well, but they were such little girls, all of them worried for their hair or some such thing. But Paul had been someone that she could talk to, come to when she needed a hug. One that didn’t care if she mussed him up with mud or more. Bryn thought that she’d miss him the most. He was the best little boy she’d ever known. It took them four days to travel to the next village over. There was great strife all over, people wanting to come to the lands and take them over. No one could…there was magic all around the place. But she knew that someday, someone would come and break it down, and she wanted nothing to do with it but handing him the book. If he still lived. “My lady, how about here?”
They were far away from the ruined castle, yet could still see smoke curling from the smaller fires that had been homes of the villagers. Even after all this time, the fires that burnt there had not stopped burning. “I can get us some dinner and we can see about a home for us. Temporary, of course, but it will be nice to rest for a bit. And to have a roof over our heads. It will be better than the stone you laid upon, don’t you think?” Bryn had forgotten that he’d been awake when she wasn’t, watching over her so that no one would bother her. He could have awoken her, she knew this, but he hadn’t so that she could be ready. Ready for what, she didn’t know, but Bryn knew that something or someone would come soon. “This is fine.” He nodded and set to work finding dinner. While he was gone she thought of a little house, just big enough for the two of them, and was surprised when it started to build for them. The ground moved, the trees felled themselves for the walls. Furniture was built for them, as well as a bed and a table. And when Tinsel returned, she told him what she’d done.
“The magic of the king and queen. It was said that they could work the elements when they needed. They must have passed some along to you. This is good. We’ll be safe here for a while.” He took the berries into the home and came out smiling. “You might have thought of your empty belly too. There is much in the way of foodstuffs. You have done well, my lady. And I, for one, will enjoy the fresh flowers that are set upon the table for me.”
Bryn helped him with the house, moving things around to the way they wanted. She put magic around the place too, to keep others from finding them. She thought she could live here forever when they settled in the bed that night, but knew that she’d not be able to. Bryn needed to keep moving or else she would be captured. And as much as she wanted to use her new powers, her new sword too, she wasn’t ready to shed any more blood just yet. There had been enough of it for years to come, she thought. The next morning, she was in the kitchen having some tea when her little friend came by to see her. He was commenting on the lovely home when she remembered something. Turning to him, she asked. “Tinsel, you have the book still.
He patted his pocket. “Good. We’ll set up a plan, a pack to grab when we need to move, and we’ll keep atop it too, so that we never lose it. Should we do that, I don’t know what will happen to the world ahead. I think we should load your pocket too. With foodstuff that cannot spoil. A few wraps for bandages as well. Not too heavy for you, but enough to get us started if we have to go quickly.” “I will hold it all, my lady. And keep it safe. This is a good plan. I shall work on some meat to dry, as well as some herbs for our sup should we run.” He sounded so sure that she wanted to ask him why he was. Tinsel wasn’t ever sure about anything. Even if rain was falling upon his head while he stood there, he would doubt his own mind. “Shall I make us a meal?” As before, she let it go. Bryn might well talk to him later about it, but for now her belly was growling at its emptiness, and she wanted to look around. With so much going on, there was a quiet that made her nervous. She did wonder, too, when the castle would be rebuilt. She wanted to get this over with for the king. They talked for a long while, him telling her what he’d seen, how he’d kept her safe. She was sure that some of it was less than what he said, but she didn’t mind. Bryn doubted greatly that he’d slayed an army of men in her absence, as well as caught large fish with his bare hands. But she loved this little man, and he had kept her safe. She just hoped that she could keep him equally as safe in the coming years.