Raven Addington was happy with her life the way it was. She and her daughter, Molly, were doing just fine on their own, despite what her mother had to say about it. Merriam, Raven’s mother, never had anything nice to say about anything, so why should now be any different.
Sawyer Bishop had turned in his notice at the police force. No matter how bad he needed the money, he wasn’t about to let a hot-headed partner make him a mark for an early grave. His parents needed his help on the farm, so he was happy to leave the force.
Sawyer was supposed to be on desk duty, but they were shorthanded, so he took the call that came in from the 911 dispatch. It would be his last, and then he would be a poor but free man.
When Sawyer arrived on the scene, it was bad. The poor woman had been beaten until she was unrecognizable and barely breathing. Although he didn’t know her personally, he knew Raven Addington was extremely wealthy, and that bothered him more than he cared to admit. Being a Bengal tiger, he knew from her scent that she was his mate. Her station in life was so far above his, he didn’t think it was going to work. But when she coded in the hospital, he had to make a quick decision and hope it wouldn’t come back to bite him in the ass later.
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“Bishop, you have a phone call on line one.” Sawyer lifted the phone up to connect when the guy at the other desk told him that he thought it was his mom. “She doesn’t sound upset either.” That really was a relief. His mom had been caring for his dad for the past two weeks. Dad had taken a nasty fall and had been found in the creek not far from their home. He was going to be okay, but he was very weak from getting a bad cold, something unusual but not unheard of for a tiger. Shifting didn’t fix a cold, unfortunately. “Mom, everything all right?” She laughed. “Well, that’s a good sign. How’s Dad? You know that I’ll be home this weekend, right?” “Yes, I wanted to tell you that your dad is feeling much better. Today he came into the kitchen and asked for a big breakfast. You know what that is, remember?” He did. Biscuits and gravy, fried eggs, bacon, and fresh sliced tomatoes. “He ate every bite of it too. Right now he’s sitting out on the swing enjoying the afternoon sun.”
“I’m so glad to hear that, Mom. Tell him not to overdo it. I’ll be down this weekend like I said to do the mowing and trimming. I think the rest of them are coming home too, right?” She said that she was fixing a large meal for them all. “That’ll be wonderful. I’m sick of fast food and things from the microwave.” “You’ll be all right once you move home. Have you given your notice yet? I don’t want to push you, son, but we sure could use you around here at times. Just having you here is a balm to my heart.” He said that he’d given it yesterday. “Good. No pressure, you know, but I’m so happy that you’ll be coming back home. Not that you’re far away, but it’s nice to know that you’ll only be a phone call and a short ride from home.”
After hanging up, Sawyer looked over the case notes that he’d taken. Yesterday, if nothing else, had made him want to be at home. He’d been on a domestic call, and the woman had shot her husband four times in the chest before turning the gun on herself. It had happened so quickly that he’d had no time to react. His partner had been shot too, when one of the bullets she fired first had gone astray and hit him. “You heard from Carl yet?” He shook his head at one of the cops in the squad room with him. “I still think he shot himself so that he could be home with the kids these first few weeks of summer vacation. If it had been me, I’d have been right here at work regardless of the wound in my leg. I love my kids, but hell, they can be worse than a call out in the middle of lunch if you ask me.” No one that he worked with, it seemed, liked their families. Well, they certainly didn’t want to be around them very long. One guy he worked with sent his kids to summer camp every year so that his wife could have some peace and quiet, even though he couldn’t afford it. Sawyer had his parents and his brothers. That was all he ever wanted in family. He’d seen too many households ripped apart in his line of work, and there was no way that he was going to have that kind of upset in his life. It was bad enough that he had to work with this crazy shit; there wasn’t any way that he was going to go home to it as well.
He wasn’t totally against marriage and children. Sawyer was just around too much domestic crap to think that every marriage was like his parents’. They had loved each other forever, it seemed to him. And they were kind to each other. Sure they argued, but not with guns or fists. At lunch he went to his favorite place and had his usual meal. He might miss this, people who seemed to know him when he came in, brought him his favorite drink of tea, and then set his lunch in front of him. He wondered if they had it ready before he got there, the service was so fast. But he didn’t care. It was hot, good, and cheap. He didn’t make much money as a cop. Sawyer used to think that was all right—he really loved his job. But lately, just over the last few months, he’d felt as if he could do better. That there was a job out there that would fulfill him in more ways than he could imagine. Finding it might be the issue, he thought. Sometime he’d have to start looking if he wanted to find it. Smiling, he dug into his lunch. Walking back to the station house, he was glad that he was going to be spending his last two weeks on desk duty. He’d never realized it, but when someone gave their notice here, they had to work on the desk. The department apparently didn’t want you killed in action just before you left. Christ, any way to save a buck or two was all anyone ever thought about. His desk was just the way he’d left it, messy with the reports that he’d been going over. He was the speller in the group of men and women, and they would often give him their reports so that he could find the misspelled words.
Usually, there weren’t that many, but Carl, his partner, had the worst kind of spelling ability. Like none. Carl was forever spelling aloud for allowed. Sawyer didn’t have any idea why he couldn’t get that one word right. Not that there weren’t a lot more that he’d misspell. Like thanks was tanks. Friends was forever fiends. Sawyer was glad that Carl would be out for a month—he’d not miss his work. At five he made his way home. It was just a small place, but he’d lived there for the last six years. Sawyer had spent a lot of time in his little home, and had made it look as homey as he could. His mom had crocheted him a blanket for the back of his couch, and he had pictures of all his family—five brothers and his parents—in frames all over the place. Sitting on the couch to relax before microwaving him something to eat, he closed his eyes for just a moment. The knock at the door startled him awake, and he went to see who it was. Not fully awake, he had to stare at Gunner a great deal before he knew who he was. His brother had lost some weight, it looked like, and he had on his greens. “You look as bad as I feel.” Telling his brother that he was sorry, he invited him in. When Gunner walked by him to go the couch, he smelled the fresh blood. “Are you all right? Why are you bleeding?” “I’ve been knifed. And before you run out the door and try to figure out who did it, it was completely my fault. I shouldn’t have stepped in where I wasn’t needed.” He asked him what had happened as he retrieved his first aid kit. “Two women fighting.
Like fists and hair pulling fighting. I thought I should help before someone got hurt. Well, it turned out they weren’t fighting. I have no idea what they thought they were doing when one of them had a bloody nose and the other looked like a rat had taken up a home in their hair.” “That doesn’t explain how you were knifed.” Sawyer hissed when he saw the long cut in his back. “You’re not stabbed, little brother, but you do have a nice slice across your back. You want me to stitch it, or do you want to shift to heal up?” “Shift. By the way, congratulations on moving home. I wish you the best of luck.” Sawyer asked him why he’d say that. “I don’t know if I could stay caged up in one place. It sounds too boring to me.” When Gunner went into the bathroom to shift and shower, Sawyer thought about what he was saying. Caged up would be a complaint from Gunner. He’d been in the service since he’d been eighteen. Ten years. Rarely did he seem to be home anymore. None of them knew what he did for a living in the service, but it must have been pretty dangerous. Every few months or so he’d be hurt somehow, and would be sent home to recuperate. Not that he needed it, being a tiger, but Gunner took it where he could, he’d told him once. “What is that smell?” He told Gunner it was his dinner. “That smells worse than the shit they give us in the mess hall. Let’s go get a steak. My treat. Oh, before I forget to tell you, I’ve got six more weeks and I’m finished.” “Seriously? What brought this on?” Gunner told him that he didn’t want to talk about it. “Okay, but you do know that I’m here if you ever want to. I bet Mom will be thrilled.” “No doubt, but don’t tell her I’m home. I have a mission that I have to get back to, and I don’t have a great deal of time to see her this trip.
You know how she is. She can be pretty persuasive when she needs to be.” Sawyer asked him if she’d try to keep him home. “No, but she will try and give me lots of food to take back with me. I don’t have anywhere to store it anymore. I’m on the ground more than I am anywhere else, and never in one place for all that long.” “I won’t tell her. I’m going home this weekend to help out around the house. Dad is feeling a lot better, Mom told me this morning.” Gunner told him that he’d forgotten to ask. “It’s all right. I know you’ve been busy. You’ve bled all over my couch.” He hadn’t, but it was funny to see his brother jump up and check the seat. He and Gunner hadn’t ever been close as children, but now that they were both older, they had really started to have fun together. Sawyer and Dwayne had always been close. Dinner was fun. True to his word, Gunner paid and Sawyer left the tip. Their service was really good—he supposed that had a lot to do with Gunner being in uniform. Also, he could flirt better than anyone he knew. Gunner left him about midnight. They had talked about everything, but really nothing at all. He was glad that he was leaving the service. Sawyer was worried that he had something bad to tell, and hoped that he’d let it go soon enough that it didn’t fester. Gunner wasn’t one to be vengeful, but he was harsh when he had to be.
Going to bed that night, he marked off his calendar that counted down how many more days he had to work. This weekend with his parents was going to be hard, because he knew that he’d only have a week to go. Some things, he told himself, were worth waiting for. And this was something that he’d waited for for a very long time. Being home all the time. ~*~ Raven counted to ten before she spoke to the woman across from her. Then she counted again. Her mother was going to drive her to drink, she knew it. When she felt like she could answer her without cursing, something that Raven did well and her mother hated, she finally spoke. “Look. We’ve been over this time and time again. I’m not going to marry anyone that you pick out for me. I’m not going to marry the first man that comes along, either. I’m happy with the way things are for me—single and a mom. If you don’t care for that, then we can stop having these combative lunches where you talk at me and not to me.” Her mom, Merriam, huffed and said she was getting too old not to have a husband. “I don’t need one. Molly and I are doing just fine.” “I’ll cut you off then. How well will you live when I do that?” Raven just laughed. “What is it you find so funny?” “I find you funny if you think that your money, which I haven’t gotten from you in ten years, will make squat of a difference to us.” She picked at her salad, and wished now that she’d ordered the hamburger that she’d wanted. “I have money. A good deal of it. If you’ll remember, Grandfather and Grandmother left me their estates and their holdings. Molly is in a good school that she loves.
The house, Grandmother’s, is perfect for us. We don’t need you cutting off something that we’ve never had.” “Why are you so obstinate? You have been since before you were born.” Here we go, Raven thought. The story of her birth. “I was in labor for two days with you. And you were six days late. Always stubborn. Then, if that wasn’t enough, you had to be the biggest baby the doctor had ever seen.” “You know, I looked that up. An eight pound baby is not all that big, Mother. Your story gets larger than life every time you tell it. Molly weighed in at nine pounds ten ounces, and I don’t ever plan to hold that over her head. Why don’t you come up with something different?” Mother huffed again. “Look, I’ve told you this before. I’m happy. Why do you think that having a husband will make me any more so? Is it because I have Molly? You don’t still think I should have married her father, do you? Christ Mother, he was married already. When I had the affair with him, I didn’t know, besides, you know as well as I do that he died before he even knew I was pregnant. I got Molly out of it, so it wasn’t all terrible.” “My friends at the club talk about you being an unwed mother. I just don’t care for it.” Raven ate two bites of her salad and shoved it away. She called for their waiter. “What are you doing? That is good for you. You need to eat better before you end up looking like the side of a cow.” “Thank you so much, Mother.” When the waiter nearly smiled, she winked at him. “I’ll have a cheeseburger with everything on it, well done. Fries, and please bring me a chocolate malt.
If I’m going to be a cow or the side of one, I should have more dairy.” “You’re embarrassing me, Raven Addington. I will not have it.” Raven told her mother that she didn’t care at the moment. “I’m going to tell your father what you did to me.” “I didn’t do anything to you, and I’m twenty-nine years old. The last time I looked, I was too old for my dad to care if I was eating a burger or not. In fact, I think he’d want to join me.” Her mother’s mouth looked pinched. Raven wanted to comment on it, but her grandma on her dad’s side sat down in the empty chair next to her. “I didn’t know you were coming, Grandma Holly. What brings you here?” “I saw you two in the window and thought that you might need rescuing from your mother. But I can see by the look on her face that you’re winning this round. Hello, Merriam. How’s life treating you? Still on that blasted diet?” Raven’s malt was set in front of her. “Oh my, I’d love one of those too. And if I know my granddaughter, she’s having something wonderful to go with it. Whatever she’s having, bring me one too.”
“She’s eating fatty foods, and it’s going to make her fat again, Holly. You mustn’t encourage her.” Grandma Holly waved Mother off. “Why do you equate me being pregnant with being fat? I bet you didn’t gain an ounce when you were pregnant, did you?” Mother told her that was a vulgar conversation. “Vulgar? Mother, just what century were you born in?” Mother got up and left her and Grandma Holly there. It was all right with Raven; she was tired of trying to appease her anyway. Grandma Holly asked about Molly. “She’s doing well. Today is her last day of school, so she’s home tomorrow. Margo is going to drop her off here when they’re finished up for the day. So if you stay with me, you’ll get to see her yourself.” She said that she was having lunch with her favorite people today. “Thank you. I haven’t any idea why Mother insists that we have these luncheons weekly. She never is satisfied with my life. Mother said I should be married. That I was embarrassing her at the club. I also am going to be cut off from her money if I don’t marry soon. I had to tell her once again that I don’t want a husband.” “Of course you don’t. I loved your grandda more than I did anyone. But after he died, I started having fun again. I didn’t realize what a fuddy-duddy he was.” They both laughed. Grandma had grieved hard for Grandda when he passed away. It took Molly being born to bring her out of it. “I would like to ask you a favor. I’m going on a trip next month, and I’d like to take you and Molly with me.” “I can’t, not next month. I have a lot of meetings about the merger that I’m doing. It’ll make you and I a great deal of money once it goes through.” Grandmother said that she had plenty. “Yes, I’m sure you do, but this will help a great many people. The company that I’m acquiring is coming apart at the seams. Last month they had to lay off about two hundred people. I’m hoping that we’ll be able to hire those people back and hire more before I’m finished. With the building and the people, I’ll have more people for sorting and sizing. It will make our clothing business larger than we had anticipated.”
Molly joined them, hugging her like she’d not just seen her this morning. Grandmother got extra hugs because it had been three days since Molly had seen her. Grandmother asked if Molly could go with her. “It’s up to her. What do you say, Molly, my dear? Do you want to go with your old great grandmother on a trip? Where are you going anyway?” She told her. “Oh well, Paris and Scotland sounds very good. I can’t think that you’d want to go on a trip like that.” “Yes, of course I would.” Molly was the oldest eleven-year-old that Raven had ever seen. She worried like an old person, studied like she was never going to learn anything, and could speak four languages, thanks mostly to Raven having to travel all the time. “How long will we be gone? Misha is having a birthday party, and I’d very much like to miss it. Her mom is friends with Grandma Addington.” “Why do you want to miss that?” Molly just rolled her eyes at Raven. “I see. I should have known it merited eye rolling when you said that she was friends with Mother.” Molly laughed. “You’re going to still have to get her a gift. So don’t forget to go shopping with me.” “I’ll take her. She’s going to need new things for our trip. We’ll be gone for two weeks. I have some business deals that I have to take care of there, which won’t take that long, then you and I can have a bit of fun.” Molly, of course, was all for going with GGMa, she called her.
“Also, don’t worry about a thing, Raven. I don’t get her all to myself often, and I want to have a lot of fun.” After they left the restaurant, she went back to work and Molly and her GGMa went shopping. Raven did wish that she could go with them, but things were getting too heated up around her buying out this company, and she wanted to make sure that it went through for a great many people. Raven did miss male company. She’d not been on a date since before Molly had been born. And now that she could leave her daughter alone for a few hours, she didn’t remember how to find a date to go out with. She wasn’t into a long term or even a permanent relationship. In fact, she’d rather never have anything that was even semi long term. When seven o’clock rolled around, she was still at her desk going over paperwork. She wanted to go home, put her feet up, and enjoy a free night. It had been so long since she’d had one of those, Raven wasn’t sure that she remembered how it worked. At nine, she called it a day and gathered up her purse and her briefcase to go home. Of course she was the only one in the parking lot at that hour, and the lights were on half-light by then. It was to save money, she knew, but it was creepy in the garage when all the corners were dark. The flash of movement had her falling to the concrete flooring. Raven hit her head on the car door as she went down. Something hit her again, and Raven curled into a ball to try and keep from being hurt more. But whoever it was, they were determined to beat her to death, she thought. After what seemed like hours of someone hurting her with something hard, they began kicking her in the ribs and in the head. Raven was sick with pain—her body had to be broken.
When it stopped, Raven laid there waiting for it to start again. Hoping that it was finished, Raven pulled her cell phone. She knew that she only had to press three buttons to get help, but for the life of her, she didn’t remember which buttons it was. Her hand that was holding the cell phone was covered in blood. The use of her fingers was difficult too. Finally remembering what she needed to do, she got a dispatcher on the phone. “My name is Raven Addington. I work at the Addington Building on Tenth. I’ve been attacked. I’m bleeding.” The dispatcher asked her if the assailant was gone. “I think so. I can’t see very well either. I’m by my car. My car is blue. I hurt so badly. Can you please send someone to help me?” “Help is on the way, Miss Addington. Just stay on the line with me, all right?” Raven started crying. “We’ll help you, honey. You just hang on for a little while. I have four cars in the area, and they’ll be able to help you. An ambulance is on its way. Do you need me to call anyone?” Did she? Raven couldn’t think beyond how hard it was for her to breathe, how her head hurt so badly that even blinking hurt. She must have said this aloud, because the dispatcher told her she was sorry, and that she would be in a hospital soon. “My grandmother. She has my daughter. I can’t remember the number.” She asked if it was in her phone. “Yes, but I can’t see anything. I have been hurt in my head.”
“Raven, you should be able to hear the ambulance and police now. Can you?” She said she thought that she did. “Good girl. When they get there, ask one of the officers to call your grandma for you, all right? I’ll tell him as well, but you remind him when he gets there. His name is Sawyer. He’s one of the good guys.” “I hurt.” She said that she knew she did. Raven must have passed out for a bit, because when she woke up this time, she could hear the voices of three men talking over her. She could hear their different voices. Screaming and knocking out at them, she heard a calming voice from behind her saying they were there to help her. “I need someone to call my grandma. Please, will someone do— The dispatcher said that someone named Sawyer would do it.” “I’ve called her for you. She is going to meet you at the hospital. Mrs. Addington said to make sure that I told you that she’s not calling your mother until you’re there.” Thanking him, she heard someone ask her if she was allergic to anything. Almost the second that she said no, she felt the pinch of a needle, then nothing more.