Josiah McCray Bruin Release Day & Giveaway

Meadow Springs had been locked away in a hospital for several years. At sixteen she was a victim and sole survivor of the mass murder of her family. The ordeal had left her semi-comatose for a long time. Since she was the only survivor and couldn’t talk, the police tried to pin the murders on her, but it didn’t stick.

Josiah McCray was there the day that Meadow was brought to their home to go into hiding. The beautiful blonde in the wheelchair was a shadow of the woman she should be. All Josiah saw was his mate, and he loved her no matter what.

The killer was still out there, and Meadow had his identity locked inside her mind and the killer knew it. Everyone previously in charge of her care was now dead. There was no way that was a coincidence.

Meadow was a loose end, the one that got away. There was no way the killer could let her live….




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….








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Doctor Walker watched the young woman. She’d been in his care for nearly six years now, and there had been no improvement at all in her state of mind. He had to either send her to a nursing home soon or to a home that would keep her as unknown and as safe as he’d done. Judson was sure that someone somewhere would find her here, and that just wouldn’t do—not in a constant catatonic state like she had been in. The poor girl had suffered like no one else ever had. He remembered the day that she’d been brought to his facility. It had been a cold day in December—the day after Christmas, as a matter of fact. Meadow had been in the hospital before coming here, her wounds too great to think that she was even going to live. But she had, defying all odds against her. The police and everyone else that had had anything to do with her trial had said that she’d brutally murdered her entire family, the staff, as well as the family dog.

But Meadow had been found unfit to stand trial, her state of mind making it so that she couldn’t answer their questions or help figure out what exactly had happened that day if she wasn’t the one that had killed them all. According to teachers, as well as neighbors, Meadow had been a fun, loving sixteen-year-old. She’d just gotten her driver’s license the day before. She didn’t have anyone that disliked her, nor did she have any boyfriends. And certainly, no lovers. The police had gone to the home of the Springs, a very prominent family in their hometown, to see where the father was. He’d been scheduled to chair a meeting, one that would start the process of next year’s holiday celebration. When they found the door open, it was called in as a simple breaking and entering. But it was worse. So much worse. “Judson, it’s that newspaperman again. He is asking the delivery people if he can sneak in and get a picture of the young woman. I have had him run off several times, but he just won’t give up.” His nurse of nearly forty years, and his wife of just a little less—Margaret—looked in the direction that he’d been looking. “She’s such a delicate thing, isn’t she? I can’t imagine why anyone in the world would think that she had the ability to do such brutality to someone, especially her own family. Not like they said had happened.” Not everyone knew the entire story. He did. He had been the doctor on call that day for the police. Acting coroner as well. Going into the house, knowing that it was going to be messy, he wasn’t prepared for what he’d seen. No one was, apparently, as there were several hardened police officers in the bushes losing their breakfast. After telling his wife to run the newspaperman off then call the police, Judson headed to his office. There he reached into his lower drawer and pulled out the false bottom. Only his wife knew that it was there, the file that he’d put together just after Meadow had come to his facility. Along with the pictures that he’d taken the day of the murders.

The butler had answered the door, from what they could tell. His body had been mutilated beyond knowing if he was male or female, except for the uniform that he wore. Blood was sprayed from the front door all the way up ten of the stairs in the house. After whoever had killed him with a single bullet to the heart, they had finished up by taking an axe to his face and chest. Then they moved through the house to the kitchen. The rest of the staff was there, as it was still early yet. Both the upstairs maids, as well as the cook and gardener, had been murdered in the kitchen. Their bodies not as unrecognizable as the butler’s, but almost as bad. The murderer had taken his time with the butler but seemed rushed with the other staff. The dog, a new puppy for Meadow’s brother, had been found with his neck broken, and his head had been split by tearing his mouth open until bones were shattered. Flipping through the pictures of the man and his wife, he went to the ones of the children. Mostly he was focused on Meadow and her brother. She had tried to save the little boy.

To him, it was as obvious as the nose on his face. They were found in his bed. The six-year-old had been murdered too, his small body not large enough for the damage that had been done to it. There was nothing left of his face, nothing of his chest. And in her effort to save him, Meadow had been cut badly, almost fatally. Covered in her brother’s blood, the ax had nearly taken her hand off; her blood loss was what had nearly killed her. Her head had been cut like the others, but to this day, Judson believed that the murderer had been nearly caught. By someone coming to the door? The police, perhaps? It would be unknown until Meadow was able to tell them. Nothing was final until she was able to point her finger at someone and say they had done this horrific crime. For as long as he lived, Judson would never believe that a child-like Meadow had been would ever have been able to do such a thing. Right now, he had to work on getting Meadow to a facility to hide her away again. With that idiot news reporter coming around now, he would eventually find a way in. Or worse yet, take her out of here to question her himself. It had happened before. When Meadow had been in the hospital, a person came in saying that he was her uncle—some distant one that only had just heard about the deaths. He hadn’t been there—Judson might have been a little more on his toes by asking for identification. But as it was, the man got all the way to the front of the hospital, with her unconscious, before someone thought that he might not have been who he said he was.

They had transferred her to his facility almost a week later when Meadow could be moved without causing any wounds to open again. “Judson, come here please.” His wife’s voice sounded strained. He hurriedly put his things away and rushed to see what was happening. Margaret pointed in the direction of where Meadow was sitting. “See it?” “No, I’m sorry love, I don’t—” Then it hit him. She was sitting there with her head tilted back, smiling. “She is enjoying the sunlight. Have you ever seen her do that before?”

“No. I stared at her just like you did and knew there was something different about her, but not what it was until I saw the smile. She’s smiling, Judson.” For the last two years, they’d been keeping her progress unknown to anyone but the two of them. They had nursing staff, of course. But since they owned several of this sort of home for people, they continued to rotate them in and out so that no one knew too much about any one patient. That was the way the people who had hired them liked it. Privacy was a huge thing. But they had stopped giving information even to her attorney. Margaret was the first person to have grown a dislike to the man. She called him oily. He hadn’t had any feelings for him one way or the other. But then once, when he’d come to see them about some other matter, he asked if they had any naked pictures of Meadow. “Why would we have those? She wears clothing while she’s here.” He asked if she took a shower or not. “Of course she does. We don’t allow our patients to be unclean. What sort of question is that?” “I just asked. You don’t have to get your binders in a knot. Christ.” After that the attorney, Lee Shiloh, didn’t come by anymore. The checks that they were getting came in the mail now. But he did want progress reports, every week. And they’d been saying the same thing all along—no change. And would continue to say that even after today. “We’ll have to get her moved, and soon,” Margaret said that she agreed. “I’ll look around for an out of the way nursing home and arrange to have her sent there. The only person we have to contact is her doctor.”

Doctor of Behavioral Health Max Little had been by to see the young woman regularly. He also brought her a birthday card and gift each year, and made sure that she had chocolate, something they had discovered, soon after he started bringing the confection, that Meadow didn’t care for. Doctor Little had said to give it to the staff or other patients, as his wife was the one that had picked it out year after year. And even after Mrs. Little passed away, Doctor Little still brought the candy. It was a habit now, he supposed. Making a call to the doctor, he asked about the sunlight in her face. Then he questioned how she might make a trip so that no one knew it was her or even noticed a person leaving the building. Judson told him about both the newspaperman and the attorney. “I think she’d be all right with it. So long as she’s not tied down on a bed. That frightens her something terrible.” They both knew why. She’d been tied up when they’d brought her into the hospital, and she had only wanted her brother with her. “Also, if you know of a nice place that she could go, that would be good too. My wife and I will certainly miss her, but I think that in light of recent events, we have to get her out of here.” “Yes, I agree. And as a matter of fact, I do know of a place. It’s in Ohio where all this began, as you know. I just made a trip that way a couple of weeks ago for their grand reopening of their facility. Nice place, Judson. You might even travel with Meadow so that you can have a look around.

Take the missus and make a vacation of it for a few days. I’m sure that we can figure out a billing so that it’s all taken from the estate. Plus, she might need someone there that she knows. You never know about patients like Meadow, and what their reactions might be.” “Yes, I remember when she was brought here. It was a mess until we found her little stuffed dog.” She had outgrown the dog now, but he’d kept it. If she remembered something, it might help her to have something of her brother’s. That’s who they figured it belonged to. “I’ll start packing up her things now. If you could see if they have the room and if they can accommodate her things, that would be wonderful.” “You just pack her up. I’ll call them right now to see what sort of arrangements I can make with them. It’s a very lovely place. From my understanding, the entire town is getting a makeover.” They closed the connection and he went to see who was left on staff. Meadow would be moved in the darkness of night. Her things would be packed up by him and Margaret, and by the next shift change, there would be no trace of the young woman. That was the way it had to be done. There was still a great deal of— “Margaret, what’s the date?” She had to look on her cell phone. “Oh my. That’s why we’re having that reporter around. The anniversary is coming up soon. They’ll want to get pictures of her and make up some sort of story like they have spoken to her. I’ll have to remind Max of that when he calls us later.” He did call back later, and after talking about the home in Ohio, he said that tonight would be the best time. As much as he hated to sedate her, after her progress from today, they knew that would be the only way to slip her into a body bag—to look as if someone had died—and ship her out. It was the only way and the safest way for her to be moved. “Margaret, we’re going to go out tonight too. Head to Ohio to be with Meadow when she wakes up.

” She thought that was a good idea. “We don’t have anyone here but her at the moment, and all the staff is on to other places as of the end of the shift tonight at eleven. We won’t even be missed for a few days. The cleaning crew comes in tomorrow, and by then, the place will be empty. Of everything.” “All right. I’ll pack us up an overnight bag. Also, we should act a little teary for her leaving us if we want that newspaper jerk to believe that she has passed away.” He thought that a splendid idea. “I have them on occasion. We’ll take the flight out then?” “Yes, it’s being arranged for us.” She nodded, and after she left him to go pack, he started gathering everything up that was related to Meadow. There wouldn’t even be a scrap of paper left behind, and Max was going to see to Meadow being loaded himself. Judson just hoped that things went well for her—that she’d continue to want to have the sun on her face, and that she smiled once in a while. At this point in her life, it was more than they could have hoped for. ~*~ Josiah nearly fell back when he saw the woman getting out of the car. She was beautiful. Long blonde hair that was braided and hung down her back. Her hands and face, from what he could see, were as delicate looking as she looked. And when they started helping her into the house, carrying her up the stairs, he stared at her for several minutes before someone hit him in the face.

“We can’t get her in the house if you’re going to stand there with your tongue hanging out.” Demi glared harder when he didn’t move. “Did you hear me? Get the fuck out of my way.” “She’s afraid,” Demi told him that they all were. “No, of you. Not afraid really but scared all the same, and she’s my mate.” “No fucking shit?” He didn’t know how to answer that in an affirmative way, so just moved out of the way and then knelt in front of her wheelchair after the door was closed behind her. “Josiah, are you sure? I mean, I don’t know the how of it, but could this be just that you’re worried for her?” “No, she’s my mate.” He put his hand on hers and pulled his back when she did. “She doesn’t like to be touched, does she? Gonna make it kind of hard for us, don’t you think?” He was nervous too, and making jokes was his way of dealing with it. Or talking too much too fast. Putting out his hand, he wanted to tell her who she was to him, but he only waited, telling her what was going on instead of what was on his mind. “He told my brother that you saw him. Saw his face.” She turned and looked at him, and Josiah was startled speechless by the color of her eyes. “You’re very beautiful, and the color of your eyes reminds me of the coldest ice on the pond by our home.

They’re not blue, but not gray either. Just beautiful.” He wondered if she could understand him. No one had told him the extent of her injuries, only that she didn’t talk and that she wouldn’t walk, even though the muscles in her legs were worked every day. When she finally put her hand into his, Josiah felt like he’d won the grand prize at work. She didn’t smile or look at him, but Josiah was all right with this for now. “We’re going to protect you here. This is my brother and his wife’s home.” Demi said that she’d been here before. “Really? When? I mean, surely that will help, won’t it?” “I don’t know, Josiah. It was a long time ago. She came here for Christmas a few times with her parents. I wouldn’t have remembered her except for seeing the color of her eyes. I think her fathers were the same color.” Meadow looked at Demi and then back at him. It was the first time that he felt like they’d made a connection, their eyes locking in some sort of understanding of each other. Josiah told Meadow everything that he could remember from Lucian, and he didn’t try and sugar coat it. She was his mate, and while he couldn’t lie to her, he wasn’t going to have her not be aware of what was going on. Wheeling her into the living room, he sat on the floor in front of her, needing to be as close to her as he could. When Moses said that dinner was ready, he sat with Meadow in the living room. None of them knew what she ate or how she ate it. Was she able to get a shower alone? Dress herself? The only persons they could ask were dead.

“We’ll just have to learn this as we go, I guess. I’ve never taken care of anyone in a wheelchair before, so this will be a first for all of us.” She looked away from him, and his heart hurt a bit. But she was looking at his mom, who had a tray in her hands. “Are you hungry? I am too. Let’s see what my mom brought us.” “She’s a lovely little thing, isn’t she, Josiah? My goodness, and to have gone through too much to get to you.” He’d not thought of it that way and told his mom that. “Well, she has to be strong. I mean, someone tried to kill her, and did her entire family. She might need you to help her, but I’d stay out of her way if she has it in her head to take care of business.” Meadow watched him as he put the tray over her lap. He started to stand and help her get up in the chair better, but she did it on her own. That was when he saw the scars on her arm, the ones on her wrist as well. She was looking at him when he turned to look at her face. “I’m sorry that you were hurt like this.” She didn’t say anything but did continue to stare at him. “When I find this guy, I’m going to rip his head off and feed it to him. Just so we’re clear on that. Unless, of course, you want to do it. I’m all for that as well. You’ll see that our parents raised us to think that if someone involved can do the job, male or female, then they should be the ones put in charge.” She ate her mashed potatoes first.

The gravy she scooped off and set it aside. There were green beans, which she ate too, but not the broccoli nor the carrots. The sliced ham was eaten, but not with her fork. Instead, she picked it up with her fingers and ate it that way. Josiah was laughing when she pushed the corn onto her spoon and ate it with the gravy that she’d set aside. “I’ll have to remember that. No broccoli or carrots and you like gravy over your vegetables, not the potatoes.” Josiah handed her his ham sandwich to see if she would eat it too. It took her a moment to figure it out—her hand, the left one, didn’t work nearly as well as the right. Dad bought them in pie later, and a glass of juice for Meadow. She had to use a straw—again, her hand did not work well enough to hold up a heavy glass. Josiah thought about holding it for her but knew that she’d tell him to fuck off if she could. Josiah had a feeling that she’d been doing for herself for a long time now. He also figured out that she didn’t care for sweets, at least what was brought to them. No apple nor cherry pie, but she did eat the whipped cream off one of the slices. And when he set an orange on her tray, Meadow looked at it as if she hadn’t any idea what it was. “When we were little, there wasn’t much money at home. All our gifts were hand made by my mom, and we did the same for the two of them.” He started to peel the orange for her, just to give her a taste if he could. “At Christmas we each got an orange, a rare treat for us, and an apple in our stocking. Mom still does that to this day, an apple and an orange at Christmas. Can you smell it?” She didn’t answer him, of course, but she did take a small bite of the fruit. When she opened her mouth again, he put small pieces up for her to take from him. He didn’t want her to get it all over her. Sharing the fruit with her, he told her about himself, what he was doing, and the house that he’d just gotten.

“It’s being renovated now. I have to think if I want an elevator in it or not. If we don’t have one yet, we’ll have one put in. I’ll have to ask Demi and Lucian, of course— they’re helping us out with the work being done on the house.” He thought about his car too, and that it was much too small for a wheelchair. “We’ll go shopping for a bigger car when this is over. That guy, he’s going to get his ass kicked all over the place when he gets around to coming here.” “I’d like to show her a picture, Josiah. There are six pictures in her file, all of them men that were talked to after the murders. And since she couldn’t be asked, no one ever pointed the finger at anyone else but her.” Demi handed it to him. “She’s doing things with you that she hadn’t before. She would never let anyone help her, and she wasn’t to be touched. You’ve done both in the few minutes that you’ve been together. If you’d show her the picture, we’ll see who we might be dealing with. I’m only going to show her one at a time, however.” He looked at his mate. She was staring at Demi in a familiar way. Josiah had a feeling that’s what she did to everyone she first met, trying to place them in her mind until she either trusted them or didn’t. “This is a picture of one of the men that might be coming here, Meadow.” She looked at him. “I’m going to show you a picture of someone. I don’t know what you’ll do if this is the man you saw in your home that night, but it would help us to know who we’re dealing with, all right?”

Nothing. But it was no less than he expected. Slowly he raised the picture up from in front of him to let her see a little of it at a time. When he had it upright, she only stared at it then turned away again. Josiah thought that could mean anything. He looked at Demi, asking her about what sort of reaction she was expecting. “I have no idea. But I guess I thought that if it was him, she’d be afraid. Or at the very least show fear on her face.” Josiah said that might not happen either, even after showing her all of them. “No. It might not, but we have to try. With a name, we can certainly figure out what sort of person we’re dealing with. If he has a record or not. What his MO might be like on other murders. He was just too good at the murders. It was too planned for him to have never done this before. Right?” “I guess.” Meadow put out her hand and Demi handed her the picture again. But she looked at it and put it down before putting out her hand again. Demi put the next picture in her hand. Neither of them said a word. “I don’t think that’s him either. And I think that she understands us more than that doctor told us she did. He seemed to think she was sort of brain-damaged. I don’t think so.” “I think you’re right.” The third picture got a reaction, but not what they had expected. Demi told him that it was of the doctor, Doctor Judson Little. Meadow had smiled. Then the fourth and fifth picture got no reaction. “Last one. It doesn’t mean that it’s the last one I’ll show her, but the last one in her file. A Doctor Little gathered these up, the file said when the trial was over.”

Meadow screamed. It brought his entire family running when she did that. Her tears tore at Josiah, and he tried to hold her. But she wasn’t having any of it. He was ready to give up on trying when his dad said that he had to hold her, to show her that they would never harm her. So, fighting his way past her fists and hands, he put his arms around her, lifted her from the chair, and held her in his arms. Sitting with her on the couch, he held her until she calmed down. It hurt him to have done this to her, but at least it was over. Demi said that they had a name now, one that they could work with, and it would go a long way in catching the bastard. When he wrapped a coverlet over them both, Josiah talked softly to Meadow, telling her how sorry he was that he’d done that. He stopped when he heard her whisper. “Don’t move, you fucking cunt. I will kill you like the rest of them if you do.” Josiah called for Lucian via their link and told him what she was saying.

Demi and he came in with a recorder and handed it to Josiah. “You should have seen them bleeding. The blood will be on the walls for the rest of your very short life, do you hear me? When I’m finished here, I’m going to rob this house of everything here. Then set it on fire. You never know what sort of DNA I might have left behind.” “She’s talking about the murderer. He talked to her.” Demi said that it appeared so. “Do you think that he talked to the rest of the victims? That he didn’t care if he talked to them because he knew they were all going to die?” “He didn’t burn down the house.” He looked at Meadow when she spoke to him. “He didn’t burn down the house because someone knocked on the door. He was frightened off. Someone scared him into leaving me there to die. I wish that he’d killed me.” Meadow started crying, and he held her tightly in his arms. She was aware, his mind told him. Not only that, but she was remembering things since she was shown the picture. Or, she remembered all along and now trusted that she was going to get help. Either way, he wasn’t sure this was a good thing. Now she would be able to point the finger, as everyone had wanted her to do from the beginning. “I don’t want you to die, Meadow.

You’re my mate. Do you know what that means?” She shook her head and he smiled. “I’ll tell you, but you have to look at me.” She did, and he was slightly afraid. Meadow didn’t like to be told what to do. Laughing, he told her that he was only joking, but he did like looking at her. She laid her head back on his shoulder then and said nothing more. “You’re my other half. My wife, by our laws. I won’t make you do anything, ever, that you don’t want to do, but I will protect you with my life. All my family will.” She looked at him then and told him that her family hadn’t been able to protect her and her little brother. “No, and I’m profoundly sorry about that. But we’re bears, and we protect what is our family.” “I lost them all that night. Everyone that meant anything to me. But Danny, he was only six years old. He’d be fourteen now if that man hadn’t killed him.” Josiah said he wouldn’t wish for her to die. “I’m alone. No matter what you say, I’m all alone, and everyone believes that I killed them all.”

“I don’t.” Meadow looked at him, and Josiah could see that she wasn’t sure to believe him or not. “I know that you didn’t kill them, Meadow. My family believes that as well. And we’re going to make sure that the world knows it too.” “How?” Josiah told her that he didn’t know, hadn’t a clue, but he’d do it. “I don’t know why he did that to us. Why? Why would he kill my family? They were good to everyone.” “I don’t know, honey. But I will promise you this. When we find him, and we will, I’ll straight up ask him. Not that it matters.” She asked him why. “Because the fucker is going to die anyway. You’ll see.”



Lucian McCray Bruin Release Day & GiveAway


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….


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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.