Sawyer Bishop’s Snow Leap & Giveaway

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.

 

Sheppard: Marshall’s Shadow Release Day & Giveaway

 

 

Harrison Parker had no family and no ties. She was invisible to be traced. Her job with the government was top secret. So secret that she only reported to two people. Now, she was the target and she had to figure out who wanted her dead. Hurt, and laying low, she reached out to the only man she trusted, an old man she had befriended in the cemetery, Sheppard Marshall.

Sheppard Marshall had been grieving the loss of his Millie for the last fifteen years. He would sit by her grave every day. He was an old man of ninety, and he looked forward to the visits he received from the sassy woman, Harrison Parker. Over time he had grown very fond of her, and when he received the message that she needed his help, Sheppard would help her or die trying.

His grandson, Sheppard or Shep, wasn’t letting the old man go alone. If he got hurt, Shep wouldn’t be able to live with himself. Even though the Marshall men were jaguars, that didn’t mean the old man couldn’t get into a situation that got him hurt or possibly killed.

The bullet had gone clear through, but the poison it had been laced with left Harrison with a high fever and near death. Shep didn’t know what this woman was into, but he knew two things—she was dangerous, and she was his mate. What kind of mess had the old man gotten him into now?

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Sheppard Marshall, with hat in hand, made his way to the front of the church. His ma, dead these three days, was awaiting her place in her Garden of Eden that she had talked about all the time. He hadn’t been home as much as he should have, all because of work. Shep figured he’d held up the pallbearers enough, so decided to get on with it. Kneeling down, he put large rough hands on the smooth oak casket. The beautiful spray of roses was lain over her like one of the quilts that she made every year. He knew that in the last few of them, she’d barely been able to walk to the table, much less sit at her quilter. Wiping at the tears that he’d shed more in the last three days than he had in his life, he started to speak to her as if she were sitting in her little rocker snapping beans for supper. “Ma, I’m surely sorry I didn’t make it like I thought I could. I talked to the other boys. They said you were in a car accident. I’m so sorry that I couldn’t be here for you.” There was plenty for Sheppard to be sorry for, he thought. A longer list than he thought that his ma knew about. He smiled then. For sure, she knew each and every one of his deeds. “I’m sure you and the good Lord know each thing I did, even if I thought to keep them from you.” His ma was gone.

His heart broke every time he thought about her not being there when he called home. He’d tried his best to make sure she had a good ending. Sending her money every payday had helped her, he knew that. Also having her put in one of them homes that she’d get round the clock care had kept her safe. But Shep knew he’d not been able to give her the one thing she wanted—a wife for him and a grandchild for her. When he was ready to face the cemetery, he got up and walked to the back of the big church. In his lifetime he thought he’d polished more of those pews than most people his age. All his fidgeting that had been done in the seats had made them shiny well beyond what polish could have done. Dean and his other brothers were there waiting for him when he stepped into the sunlight. “I thought for sure you weren’t going to make it.” Sheppard told his brother Oakley that he’d had to pull in a few favors to make it home. “Are you home for good this time, Shep? Dad is around. Grandda told me the other day that he was.” “Causing any trouble?” He didn’t answer the question about staying home this time. Shep thought he’d made it clear that he was—his boss was a shit hole and Sheppard wasn’t sure he was keen on working.

Shep had been doing his work and his boss’s for the last several years. Rodney told him that their dad hadn’t caused trouble so far. “I don’t know what I’m doing, to be honest with you.” The funeral director asked them to get into the limo. Shep eyed the machine and wondered if the man had gotten a good look at them. They were big men. The thought of crushing into that thing gave him the willies.

“Mr. Marshall, we have two limos for the family.” Nodding at the man, Trenton, Heath, and Rodney got into one limo. Shep, Dean, and Oakley got into the second one. “There is no one else, correct?” Dean said that it was just the six of them and the door was shut. Asking his brothers about their father, he settled back in the seat, trying his best to straighten his tie. Oakley turned toward him and fixed it for him as he spoke. “Dad has been around the farm a couple of times. Usually when no one is there. But since you had us put that surveillance shit around, we just have to call the cops when the thing goes off. Sure did scare the shit out of me the first time I heard it.” Shep leaned back in the seat when Oakley had the tie looking better. “Since they have an idea who he is and what sort of crap he might be doing, they’re out there before he can do any damage. The last time Dad fell and had to wait for someone to help him up. Drunk as hell and not sure how he ended up on his ass. Kept telling the police that one of them had done it.” “I bet that went over well.” Dean told him that they just stood him up, dusted him off, and warned him not to come around anymore. “Where are you guys staying while in town?” Dean looked at Oakley, and Sheppard had a feeling that he wasn’t going to like the answer. Or they were afraid of telling him. He asked what was going on. Dean spoke first. “About two years ago I had a house put on the back part of the farm. It’s a nice house, fits me well enough. I could have gone all out, but I didn’t want to.” Sheppard looked at Oakley as Dean continued.

“He has a house too, but a mite bigger than mine. Nothing too big, mind you, but like I said, it suits. The other three have been doing the same thing.” “Did you think I’d be pissed off or something? Why didn’t anyone tell me? It’s been two years, you said.” Dean leaned back and just looked at him. “Look. I’m exhausted, dirty, and I’ve not been on the grounds but a few times in the last sixteen years. Tell me or don’t—I don’t have it in me to care what you guys are doing out there.” “Ma signed the land off to the six of us. She did that about a month after she decided that she liked where she was staying. You did good with that, Sheppard. Ma surely did like it there.” He thanked Oakley. “Grandda, he’s not been in a good way since Grandma died. I know that it’s been a while, but you’d think that it was just yesterday. We’ve none of us told him about Ma dying yet. Dad complained that he had to take him out there every day for the last few months so he can sit with Grandma. It’s not doing Grandda a lick of good, but you know how stubborn he can be.” Sheppard did know how stubborn the old man could be. He was chasing the tail of being ninety years old, and having a good time with life—before Grandma had passed away, anyway. Sheppard—Sheppard James Cartwright Marshall the fourth—was named after him. Several other grandfathers farther back, too. All of them stubborn, each of them living to be well past a hundred and having a good long life. Then there was his father. Not so much stubborn, but an ass, a thief, as well as a drunk.

There wasn’t much at all that could be said that was nice about his father. No one tried. Not even their ma had. The cemetery was beautiful this time of year. The people that took care of it did a wonderful job of it. The trees were trimmed back. All the markers were upright and free of moss. Also, if there were plants put on any of the graves, they made sure they didn’t get too big. His ma’s parents had been buried out here, and that was why they’d made sure that she had a space next to them. Sheppard didn’t know where his father was going to end up. None of them wanted him anywhere close to where Ma was. After the service was over, the six of them decided to go into town and have some dinner. Sheppard had booked a hotel to stay in for the next week. He’d also rented a truck to drive around. He’d have to be careful of driving. It had been a while for that as well. Shep, as they called him on the rigger that he worked on, had started out on the lowest rung of the ladder working an oil rig. It paid good now that he was higher up on the ladder, but he’d grown sick of doing the job of two people for the pay of only one. Especially when the other man was like his father in so many ways. Hank Jones had been a drunk when they were on the same level. But through a great many lies being told and a great many asses being kissed, Hank had made it to the top level. That was ten years ago, but for the last several he’d been pushing his work off onto Shep. When the big bosses came around to see what was going on with the rigs, just their usual visits, Shep had heard Hank telling them all the ideas that he’d come up with.

Every last one of them was Shep’s. The call about his ma had come about the time he’d been ready to tear the man a new ass. But he’d only had a couple of days at most to make it home in time for her funeral. Shep had made it without any time to spare. On the plane home he’d put in his resignation. It was that or be fired for throwing his boss off the rig into shark infested waters. He wasn’t even sure that the sharks would have eaten the man. They’d be drunk after just one bite. He spent a good evening with his brothers. The six of them had been on their own for a long time, but they’d taken good care of their ma, sending money to her when she needed it, and even when she didn’t. Even though Shep was far away out in the middle of the ocean, he remembered to send her flowers and chocolates not only on her birthday, but Mother’s Day as well. Even when there wasn’t any sort of holiday he’d send her some, just because he loved her. His phone was ringing as soon as he got out of the elevator. Not answering it, he made his way to his room at the hotel and opened his door. Shep had dropped off his luggage at the front desk, and they’d assured him that they’d take care of it for him. They had. The first order of business was to get a shower. Just standing under the hot water felt like he’d gone to heaven. Washing his hair three times, he even used the little bottle of conditioner too, just because he could. By the time he dried off, Shep didn’t have enough energy to pull the blankets down, but fell onto the bed and was out before he could turn off his phone.

The ringing phone woke him and Shep reached for it. “This had fucking better be important, or so help me, I’ll hunt you down and tear you apart.” He felt his cat roll over him when he heard sobbing at the other end of the phone. “Who is this?” “Sally. You didn’t call me.” He didn’t know any Sally. He started to tell her that when she started talking again. “You got out of prison and you didn’t call me. After all I did for you, you just left me in the dirt.” “I don’t know who you’re calling, but I don’t know you. I’ve never been in prison either.” She asked him who it was. “I just told you I don’t know you. Why don’t you hang up and try again?” “He left me hanging.” Shep wasn’t going to get into this with anyone, especially someone that he didn’t know. “Did you hear me?” “I did. And now that you’ve woken me up from the first good sleep I’ve had in a while, I’m going to hang up. Lady, take my advice. Let him leave you hanging. You don’t want to get mixed up with some guy from prison.” She started cursing at him and he simply hung up. He didn’t have time for this shit. Shep was wide awake now, so he got up and took another shower. He wanted to go to the house and run for a few hours. Being on a rig didn’t afford him much time to run as his jaguar, much less shift when he needed it. Driving out to the farm, he was surprised to see Trenton there. He said that he was working on getting some of the things in the house fixed up. Shep, having nothing but time on his hands now, said that he’d help after he had himself a good run. Trenton decided to join him, and they stripped down and took off.

It had been too many years since he’d felt this free, Shep thought. Much too long, too, since he’d fixed something that didn’t leave oil running in his eyes. He might even ask if any of them cared if he stayed in the family house for a while. He could work on it and figure out what he wanted to do with himself. ~*~ Sheppard heard her coming before she got where he could see her. Harrison Parker. He would never tell anyone, but he was kind of sweet on her—like a man to a daughter, that was. She stopped for a minute and shook her head before speaking to him. It was usually something snide and full of curse words, but he thought he liked that about her. She didn’t care who he was. “You know that your wife has been gone for nearly fifteen years, right?” He said he missed her every day. “Yeah, I can see that. Yet here you sit, pining away for a woman that can no more offer you comfort than the stone that marks her passing. What do you plan to do, Mr. Marshall, sit here until they find your body all crippled up from sitting on that bench? Or a human popsicle that kids eat all day? Doesn’t sound to me like anything that wife of yours would have wanted.” “Now see here. You can’t talk to me that way. I had a good life. One that I miss with her.” Harrison nodded. “I don’t think I want you coming around me anymore. You’re not nice at all. And here I was thinking that I liked you a bit. Well, I’ve changed my mind.”

“Suit yourself, sir. But you told me that you have a beautiful daughter-in-law that you love like your own child. Six grandsons that you’ve had a part of raising. And a son…well, we won’t go into how you feel about him. I don’t know how you could be here, with the dead, when you have so much life at your fingertips.” He told her to mind her own business. “Yes, I can see that you’re as stubborn as all men are. I have to tell you, Mr. Marshall, you certainly are about the most stubborn man that I’ve ever met.” “I’m doing what I need to do to get by. What about you?” She didn’t answer him. Harrison usually didn’t when it was about her. He’d already figured out she was military, but what she was, he wasn’t sure. “You got you a family at home that you have pining away for you?” “Let me ask you something, Mr. Marshall. What do you want your grandkids to say about you? Is it that Grandda is finally with Grandma? Or do you want them to say ‘Grandda, he sure was a pistol, and I’m glad he knew how to have a good time.’” He looked at her. “Up to you. But I’d think that with six grandsons, you’d be able to find one or two of them to get into trouble with.” “And what about you? You run this path day after day. Who you out having fun with, young lady?” James, his worthless son, came out of the car whining about how long he was taking, and Sheppard waved him off. “You got someone out there who is going to say, ‘Gee, Harrison wasn’t one to hang out with.’” “They’re all dead.” She stretched her legs again, and he knew she was about ready to take off. “Mr. Marshall, I’m going out again in the morning. I don’t know each time I go if I’ll be back. But I swear to Christ, if I come home and you’re still sitting here day after day, I’m going to roll you over into a hole on the other side of your lovely wife and bury you. Understand? Because the way I see it right now, you’re already playing dead.” When she jogged off, he sat there for a few more moments. Sheppard looked at his wife’s marker, and realized that Harrison was right. He was playing dead. And he was going to do something about it right now.

Walking to the car wasn’t difficult, but the ground wasn’t as smooth as a floor. When he leaned against the car, James beeped the horn at him, nearly scaring him right into that grave Harrison was talking to him about. Flipping his son off, he was glad to see that he’d been able to shock him a little. As soon as he got in and buckled up, James started talking at him. Never to him, he just realized, but at him. “I’m going to need this car for a few days.” Sheppard said no, he had plans for it. “What are you going to do, old man? Drive it into a tree? I said I needed it, and you’re going to sit over there and not say shit about it when I drop you off at the nursing home.” “You take my car, James, and I’ll call the police and say that you stole it off me. They’ll believe me too, since you’ve done it before.” The car stopped so suddenly that he was glad for his belt over him. “You trying to kill me?” “Yes, as a matter of fact, I am. I told you not to argue with me. Now, get your skinny ass out of this car and leave me to it.”

Sheppard got out but he didn’t go far. Calling the police gave him the most satisfaction he’d gotten in some time. As soon as his son turned the corner after leaving him beside the road, Sheppard heard the sirens. That felt pretty good too. As soon as the officer brought him back his car, Sheppard showed him that he surely did have a license to drive, and he’d had nary an accident in nearly fifty years. By his estimation, that was about double how long the boy had been around. Getting in his car, he noticed that his boy had left behind his wallet and a few other things. Tossing them to the back seat where his son had been tossing trash for a while, Sheppard smiled. It was time to get with the living. Since he’d checked himself into the nursing home, the quality care place that he was in, he had no trouble checking himself out. Gathering up a big trash bag, he cleaned out his back seat and the floorboard, and put the wallet and notebook that James had under the seat. Not a clue what was in it, he thought he might take it by to him before he left. Then he set to packing his things. It was not that he hated the home he was in. They had all right food. The nurses were young little things that sure made a man smile. And it was a roof over his head. There was big enough yard out back with some trees where he could go out in the middle of the night and have a good run. As a jaguar, he figured that was why he’d been in such good health all these years. Packing was a little harder than he thought it would be. Not that he owned a thing that was heavy, but the memories would flood him so badly that he’d have to sit a spell and think on things. The quilt that laid on the bed when he and his Millie had been married.

There was the blanket that she’d made just for sitting that he used in the rocker in his room. Even the shirts that he had, most of them as checkered as his son’s past, were soft as cotton and warm as toast. His Millie had gotten him one for every birthday and Christmas. He’d teased her once that he had enough to open himself a department store. She didn’t stop buying them, and he didn’t care. It was wonderful to have a new one twice a year, and to know that she’d picked them out just for him. Sheppard missed that too. By the time he was finished packing up, he needed some food. Sheppard loved drive thru shopping, and got himself a big burger and a milk shake to go. Getting on the road, he thought about Harrison. He’d have to figure out how to tell her that he’d moved on, and remembered that she’d given him her number. Just in case. The thing went to voice mail when it connected. “Going to live with my pretty daughter-in-law and them grandboys of mine. Isn’t far from where I was staying, but you can find me. The name of the farm is Marshall’s Shadow. You come out for a visit sometime, and I’ll have my Jill Ann make you a fine meal for visiting me.” The thing beeped that he was done before he could think of anything else to say, so he pulled back onto the road, from the side where he’d stopped to make the call, and drove the few miles to the farmhouse. He was looking forward to staying there with the boys and Jill Ann. Yes, he thought, that was what he’d needed. A good talking to by someone that was strong enough to do it.

Pulling up in front of the big farmhouse, he could see that someone was doing some work on the place. There were roofing supplies there on the ground, some other things in boxes that he’d have to check out, as well as a ladder leaning against the house by the upper floor. Getting out, two men came around the side of the house, and Sheppard was embarrassed to say that it took him too long to recognize that it was his grandboys. If he didn’t miss his bet, it was Shep and Heath. Both of them hugged him up like he’d been gone forever. “Grandda, you still have that old caddy, I see.” He hugged Shep again when he commented on his car. “You staying? I’ve only just got the kitchen fixed up, and it’ll be nice having some company.” “Where is that momma of yours? Her cherry pie is all I could think about all the way here. We should make some homemade ice cream too.” When they didn’t laugh with him, Sheppard just knew that she’d gone and left him. “No. Please tell me that she’s not gone too. Why didn’t anyone tell me?” “You didn’t seem to be in a place that made us feel like you’d take it well.” That was true enough, he thought, but they still should have said something. “She didn’t want much, Grandda. Just a little service and no one there but family.

We didn’t even put it in the paper for fear of Dad coming along and making a scene.” He was taken into the house. Sheppard wasn’t sure if he’d been carried or he’d walked on his own, but there he was sitting in the parlor with a blanket over his legs. He’d forgotten how chilly this room could be. “She go fast, or did she have herself some trouble with it? I didn’t even know she was sick, to tell you the truth.” Heath said that she’d had a car accident, and that she’d died on the scene. “That woman never could drive. I loved her, you know. More than your daddy.” “She knew that too, Grandda. Ma talked to us about you daily. Even when you moved out there to that home, she thought of you daily.” He nodded at Heath, telling him that was nice of him to say. “When we were cleaning out the freezer, we found some of her pies. If you’re staying here tonight, we can thaw one out and have it with some steaks. Shep is living here for now. Maybe forever. He’s not decided.” “You home for good, boy?” Shep nodded. “Good. A man should be where his roots are. I never cottoned to you being so far away, but I do know that you needed to stretch your wings a bit. Being out there on the water all the time, I’m betting you had to get your earth legs back under you.”

“I did.” They all three laughed and Heath said that he had to go into town for a bit, but he’d bring back some steaks. Shep looked at him when he asked him if he was all right. “I’m not sure, Grandda. I’ve missed so much here. Not just the family, but everything. When I left here all those years ago, I had it in my head that it would only be for a little while. Then before I could think about it, nearly all my life was gone.” “Don’t say that, Shep. You got a long life ahead of you.” He nodded. “Something else is bothering you. You tell me what it is, and I’ll tell you it isn’t worth a hill of beans to be worrying over.”

“I couldn’t give Ma what she wanted.” Sheppard didn’t know what to say to that, so waited for his grandson to explain. “All she talked about was having a daughter-inlaw to go shopping and such with. She said she needed to have a balance in some way. And a grandbaby. I didn’t do any of those things.” “You think that is all she wanted out of you boys? To make you into breeding machines? Darn it, boy, she was as happy as a lark having you six around her all the time. I know for a fact that you protected her from that son of mine on more than one occasion. And it wasn’t you having a wife and a child that would have made her happy; it was having you happy to have a family of your own.” Shep said that they had all loved her. “Well, of course you did. She was a woman that you’d be hard pressed not to love. Jill Ann, she might have said she wanted those things from you, but you can be sure as rain making mud in the dirt that she was just as happy with you six being here with her and loving her.” “I did. We all did.” Sheppard stood up and asked where he would be staying. “You’re here for good? You’re not going to be cramping my love life, are you, Grandda?” “Just so long as you won’t be cramping mine, you whippersnapper.” Shep helped him bring his things into the house. He started to put him in the master bedroom, but Sheppard didn’t want it. He didn’t think it would be right for some reason. But he was just down the hall, and that suited him just fine and dandy.

 

Bryant Prince Of Tigers


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.

 

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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.

 

Thatcher Robinson Destruction Release Day& Giveaway

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….

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Paperback https://www.amazon.com/Thatcher-Robinson-Destruction-Paranormal-Shifter/dp/194981260X/ref=sr_1_fkmrnull_1?keywords=thatcher+paperback+by+kathi+s+barton&qid=1548104854&sr=8-1-fkmrnull

 

 

 

 

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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 Queen’s Birds of Prey Release Day & Giveaway

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….

 

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Prologue

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
alive.

“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
harmed.”
To be continued in book two, Hawk

 

 

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.

Dare To Fall In Love Boxset Release Day

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Recommended for 18+ Check out the first books in 6 separate series by Kathi S. Barton. Each of these full-length novels can stand alone.

Rembrandt – Blood Brotherhood Series
Sapphire – Rare Gems Series
Force of Nature – Force of Nature Series
Nickolas – The Grant Brothers Series
Cain – The Waite Family Series
Royce – The Hunter Series

Rembrandt

Skylar Manning was just trying to be nice. The mysterious man dressed in black was hanging around after closing…again. It was the third time this week. Only this time he grabbed her arm. Her world changed forever.
Suddenly she found herself hunted by shadowy figures with razor sharp teeth, and into the arms of a warrior who craved her as much as she did him…

Sapphire

Blair tries to convince himself that he’s chasing after Sapphire because he feels an overwhelming need to protect her and she just won’t follow orders. When he comes across as a complete jerk, Sapphire really wants no part of him. Of course, leaving him isn’t going to work…she’s his mate. Now, if only he can get his head out of his ass, learn to treat Sapphire the way she should be treated, maybe, just maybe, there is a chance for them…that is unless Jeffery Benetton finds her first…

Force of Nature

Austin didn’t want to be impressed by her. He didn’t want to like her. He wanted her to obey him, whelp a few pups so she wouldn’t be bored and run his house for him. CJ wanted to do as she please which included maybe murdering the Alpha in his sleep. The two of them coming together is wonderfully steamy and sarcastic wit. Austin and CJ will make great alpha’s…or will they?

Nickolas

Nickolas Grant doesn’t know what to do when he finally realizes that he needs Morgan Becky for more than just his secretary. He doesn’t trust her… not with his love not even his friendship.
Morgan has not had an easy life and finds it difficult to trust others. She needs to get her life in order, not fall for her handsome boss with a stiff spine and foul temper.
When they come together in fiery passion and biting words, no one is safe, not even them.

Cain

The girl went by many names. Julie was the one the nurse called her, Shade and also Miss Rocky was just a few more. But it was her real name that she held to her. No one must know who she was or they’d try and kill her. And the good doctor was someone she decided that

Royce

Royce and Kasey have a love that extends over time and could make them very happy…if they don’t kill each other first.

 

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Jason: The Sons of Crosby Release Blitz & Giveaway

Spencer Graham had been trying to get a hold of Jason Crosby for weeks, but he didn’t seem to answer emails, mail or the telephone. She had an idea that would make them a great deal of money, but she needed him to invest in her project before it was too late. So, barging into his home at 4 a. m. was the only solution as far as she was concerned. She didn’t, however, expect him to answer the door naked and proposition her as soon as she walked in the door. Spencer did the only thing that came natural to her, she knocked him on his ass….


Jason Crosby was nearly two thousand years old, and in all his days as a vampire, he’d never seen anyone quite like her, not that he thought that was a good thing. He didn’t. She was his mate, and he was only going the tolerate her because he had to….

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Happy Reading ,
Prologue
The woman in his arms was weak. Crosby wasn’t sure that she was going to make it, not the way she’d been burned. As soon as he laid her on the soft earth, she opened her eyes and looked up at him. Crosby felt his heart skip several beats. My goodness, she sure was a pretty little thing. “The others?” He told her that his sons were getting out as many as they could. “Thank you. The house, it just exploded into flames. We had no time to get out.” “We caught him.” She frowned but let her eyes flitter to a close. Asking her if she was all right enough for him to leave her for a moment, she nodded. Crosby went to the house to help his boys. They had no way of knowing how many faeries were in the house. A few of them had died, whether from smoke inhalation or fire. They pulled out as many as they could, dead or alive, and laid them on the ground. Soon there’d be nothing left of the building, but he didn’t want to leave anyone behind if he could help it. The faeries, even the smaller ones, were worth any kind of pain they might get from the hot flames to save them. “They’re all out, so far as we can tell. We’ve made an area over there for the dead. The ones that can be saved are being helped by the others.” Jason, his oldest, dropped to his knees. “I don’t think we missed anyone, but it’s burning too hot for us to go back in. I’m sorry, Dad.” “We did the best we could, son. You have to believe that. That house, it went up fast. I’m thinking that the man who did this, he knew what he was about.” He glanced over at the woman he’d brought out. She was resting, which he was glad for. And her body seemed to be healing slowly. “I think she’d be the one in charge. If she’s awake, ask her how many were in the place, please.” Jason stood up just as the rest of them were coming out of the falling down building. Just as the last of his boys came out, the entire thing fell down behind them. Grayson jumped back when his shirt caught on one of the embers. Luckily, Elliot was able to help him out.  Crosby dropped to the ground and counted his blessings after counting his sons. He didn’t want them hurt either. This had been a hell of a night so far. They’d been simply walking along the path, none of them in any kind of hurry, but they’d heard the blast and then the screams. Even as far away as they’d been, nearly two miles, he’d heard them in pain. The man, running from the scene and smelling like death, was caught and taken back. His confession was also his death warrant. Jason had snapped his neck and left him where he lay. Jason returned with the woman walking slowly next to him. She looked a good deal better than she had when he’d found her, and she was wearing Jason’s shirt. Sitting down between the two of them, she thanked him again for his service. He told her it was his pleasure and waved away her offer of a reward. “It wasn’t anything for us to come to your aid, my lady. We were just out and about when we smelled the smoke. The explosion brought us from our business. The house,
well, it was over almost as soon as we got here.” She nodded. “I’m sorry about your family, miss. There was no cause for this.” “You said that he’d been caught. Is he…did you kill him?” Crosby told her that he was dead, yes. “Thank you for that. Had he been able to get away, I fear that he would do more of the same to my kind. I wish to repay you.” “No, that won’t be necessary. I know what you are and what they were, but we’ve no desire to take anything else from you. You have lost enough, my lady.” She nodded and Crosby introduced her to his sons. “This is Jason, my oldest. Then in order of birth to youngest, it’s Chase, Elliot, Grayson, Ryan, and the youngest is Sean. This is the Lady Kilian, the faerie queen.” He was proud of his boys, all of them men now but still his little boys. As they shook her hand he spoke of them, just little things that he was happy to share with her. How they’d been taking lessons from the neighbor lady to learn how to sew and knit. Things that men should know how to do in the event of an emergency. How Sean could do some doctoring if necessary, even on a human. All notes of the pride that Crosby felt for his sons. When she turned to him, he could see that she had completely healed and was feeling like herself again. She looked at the dead and injured. “The man who did this, he was out to kill all of us.” Crosby said that was about right. “Had you not come here when you did, he would have succeeded. By killing me, without someone to take the place of the queen, all faeries would have perished. And you know as well as I, that would be the death of a great deal of magic.”  “We only came to help out the people living here, miss. We would have done the same for anyone.” She smiled at him. “You’re very beautiful, my lady. I’m glad that we could save you and the others. I’m sorry that there wasn’t more time for us. We’ll help with the dead, should you wish. As I said, it won’t be any trouble at all.” “You have given the world around us a great gift, Crosby. As well as your sons. Because of your bravery, only a few died rather than all of us.” Crosby nodded but felt embarrassed. “I have given a gift to your sons, and now I shall do the same for you. ‘Tis only a touch to give to you, but I should like more.” He didn’t know what to expect from her. But when she wrapped her arms around him, Crosby felt his entire body shake with it. She was giving him something, something that he did not deserve but was going to get anyway. And when his sons fell to the ground when he was released, he watched as she staggered to the boys then dropped herself. Christ, whatever she’d done to them, they’d be lucky to make it home before the sun rose. It would be just about his luck to save faeries from a fire only to be burned up by the sun rising. “You will be fine, Crosby. All of you will.” He was still too sick to wonder what she was talking about as he laid back on the grass. His head was still spinning, and he was slightly sick to his belly. “I will leave you to rest now so that I might take care of the wounded and our dead.” Crosby looked at his sons, each of them laying there as if they were dead. He knew that they weren’t, he could hear each of their hearts beating. As the sun crested over the mountain, he tried to stand. Getting to his boys was much harder than he thought it
should be after a simple thank you gift. Every inch he crawled toward them, it felt as if he was taken several feet back. Christ, he was going to die right there. “Dad?” He nodded at Jason as he got to his knees too. “I’m sick. I mean, I feel like I need to puke and my legs are weak. What did she do to us?” “She said it was a gift. For saving her and the others. Doesn’t feel that way, but that’s what she told me.” Jason cursed as he stood up on his wobbly legs. “We have to get to shelter. Can you get the others going?” “I’m not hurt.” He looked at Sean, who was standing with his arms wide. He wanted to tell him to grab up one of the others and go, but he looked at him, with the sunlight streaming behind him, and didn’t see any blisters. His skin wasn’t peeling back. And he looked…. Well, he looked happy. “The sun isn’t hurting me. I bet it’s not going to hurt any of us. And it feels fantastic.” Crosby looked at his own hands. They were covered in soot but not from his own flesh. Wiping them on his pants, he noticed that he wasn’t blistered either. His skin was just like it was when he was indoors, hiding from the very thing that would end their lives. Looking at the sun, he felt the warmth of it on his face and none of the terror that usually came with being outside. He’d not felt this good, this warm, for as long as he could remember. “She gave us the gift of sunlight.” Crosby nodded at Jason. “Do you think that it’s only for today? I mean, if it is, then I want to stay out here all through it. I have never felt the sun before.” No, neither had he. Once, long ago, he’d felt it for a fleeting moment when his wife had died. It had been in his heart to join her, but the boys had needed him. And the promise that he’d made to her before her passing had made him go into hiding again. He missed Rena every day. He’d lost his wife to man. Not a human, but just as bad. There were a few good humans—he wasn’t stupid enough to think that they’d all come from the same mold— but when they were bad, they were murderous. The creature had torn her throat out, for no other reason than that he could. Crosby had felt her death like his own heart had stopped beating along with her. They did stay in the sun all day. He’d been worried for a bit when Elliot had started to burn. But it turned out to be nothing more than too much sun. A strange feeling for a vampire, even as old as he was. Crosby was able to get them to rest a bit, knowing deep in his heart that this was going to make it harder for them to go back to the darkness. But it was so much fun for them. They’d even made their way to the little pond behind their lair. Swimming with the sun beating down on them burned their tender skin a little more. He’d been sore for about a minute, then it wore off. He was going to tan, he thought, the funniest thing he’d ever thought of. But relaxing in the sun-warmed water was a heavenly feeling, one that he’d never forget. By nightfall they were all exhausted. There hadn’t been any need for them to rest during the day, and he thought they’d have to pay for it later, but he could have no more
told them no than he could have told himself. Being in the sunlight, while fleeting, was the most fun he’d had in a very long time. Crosby loved his children. All six of them. They had kept him going these last decades without their mother. He was tired, however. Not just today and how special it had been for them all, but he was tired of living. They no longer needed him, they had proven that to him over and over. Tomorrow night, he decided, he’d talk to them and tell him of his plans. It was well past time for him to join their beloved mother.

Cooper: The Manning Dragons Release Day & Giveaway

Cooper Manning and his five brothers were true dragons. Centuries ago, when the humans had turned on their kind, their father sacrificed himself to save his sons by casting a powerful spell which allowed them to walk among the humans. Even centuries later, Cooper couldn’t seem to let go of the past and despised most humans.

Carson Langley was exhausted. After being forced to work thirty-six hours straight, she unwittingly complained to the new plant owner, now she knew she was fired. There was nothing left to do but go home and cry about it later.

Cooper was sent by his brother to retrieve the helpful woman and bring her back to the plant, and he wasn’t happy about it either. It didn’t help that when she answered the door she shared his sour mood, and when he touched her hand, the magic that surged between them meant only one thing–she was his other half, and she was human…. Cooper was seeing red.
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One of my fellow dragon sisters has a upcoming release
Coming May 23rd 2017
Domlen the dragon that will have you begging for more! 
*****Can be read as a Standalone!*****
Mature Audience Only! Explicit sex scenes and language.

Domlen Draglen does not follow any rules except his own. He does not want to be like his brothers, but his need to find the lady his mother predicts to be his mate has become his focus. He wants to find her and prove his mother wrong so he can go back to his normal life. The only problem is the mouthy, curvy she-wolf interests him, but she’s not his type or is she?

Tempest Shellin wants to prove that she can be essential to her pack. When the drop dead sexy dragon shows up for her, she didn’t know if she should laugh or cry. To save her pack she agrees to his rules, but soon finds out Domlen doesn’t play fair. 

Will this Domineering dragon and mouthy she-wolf find love or will they allow traditions to keep the apart.






A time when all creatures roamed the earth as only their true selves. Where magic was celebrated. And where dragons darkened the skies every day.
“I’m afraid there is no hope for us.” No one made a sound as their leader continued. “Since the humans found out about us and what we can do, we have been doomed. I’m so terribly sorry.” Coop looked around the room. There were so few of them now that he could easily count them. When he’d been younger, thousands of years ago, there wouldn’t have been enough space for all of them to share this room. Now they were down to a quarter of them sharing the space because so many, his own wife included, had been murdered so needlessly. Coop was saddened by it all. Turning to leave the large cave, he was stopped by his brother, Xavier.  “The boys, they are well?” He nodded and smiled. Coop felt it all the way to his heart, a place that had been dead for so long, it seemed. “You have the spell? You are going to use it on them? I so wish I had thought of this before my own family was taken from me, Coop. You are a brave man and a good father.” “Thank you. And I shall use it tonight. It is the only way to save them.” Xavier nodded, his own heart heavy with the losses they’d suffered. “You know that I would have shared should I have had it sooner. I’m so sorry, brother. All of my heart, it’s sorry for you.” “I know that. I do. But they’re all gone now. My other half, my children. Killed for things that are not fair to our kind.” Coop knew that all too well. “Aria was a good woman, Coop. A good woman and mother to your sons. She will be missed forever.” “Aye, in my heart and those of my sons.” Xavier stood there for several seconds and Coop told him he must go. “They’re awaiting word on what is to happen with us all.” “One more thing, if you please. It won’t take but a second. I have left them all that I have. It is where you keep them hidden away, the boys. Deep within the cave, it’s all there.” Coop asked him what he meant. “I cannot go on, brother. I cannot. There is too much grief in my heart for me to live. I have left my things for your children there. They might survive this, with the magic that you’ve given them. And if so, they’ll need more than you have to help them.” “Xavier, please, you mustn’t do this. They’ll miss you as much as I.” Xavier nodded and said that it had begun. “You can come and stay with us. You’ll live with us in the caves.” “Nay. I cannot. I must go. Just tell them that I love them. With all of my heart.” There would be no stopping him once his heart was made up, Coop knew this, but it made his heart no less full for it. “Goodbye, my brother. Take care that you are not caught by the humans.” Coop made his way back to his hidden cave and sat before the fire. The boys, he knew, were resting, their bodies getting stronger daily with their age. Soon they would be as big as him, dragons of worth and size.
When his eldest son came to him, his eyes full of fear, Coop knew that it was well past time that he did what he’d been practicing. The magic that would keep them safe. Gathering his sons, six of them in varying shades of blues and greens, he asked them to have a seat, that he had a story to tell them. It wasn’t a story, not truly, but a tale that would hopefully keep them safe. “A witch told me once of a great magic that only few can do. It takes a loving heart and a strong dragon to make it work. I have asked her and she has told me how to make it so. This magic, it will keep you all safe from the humans.” They nodded, each of them knowing that it was a human blade that had taken the life of their dear mother. “I will perform this upon you, each of you at the same time, and give you some magic that you will use when you need it. This magic, strong and powerful, will let you roam with the humans, and they’ll not know that your true self is just below your flesh.” “You mean we’ll be humans as well?” He nodded, then shook his head at Cooper, his oldest. “I don’t understand, Father. Will you explain?” “Yes. The magic that I will give you will let you change into your true self when you are alone. But when you are out in the world, you will need to be a human. A man.” Cooper looked at his brothers, then back at him as he continued. “With this magic, I will also give you a gift. Something that you will need to keep yourself safe should they find out. A stronger armor than any other dragon before you, as well as the same immortality that you have now, as man or dragon.” Hudson stared at him for long moments. He was the thinker, and if he could think of a reason for this not to work, he would voice it loudly. He was much like his mother in that. She would be the first to say when she did or did not like something. And the first to say that the plan was perfect. He only hoped that she would have approved of this. “I think you are very smart, Father. To try and keep us safe. But I can only think that this will not work on you. Or is that your plan?” The boy was much too smart, Coop thought. “If you change us, who will change you?” “There will be no one to change me, son. I will…. It is my wish to join your mother in this earth.” He watched them, seeing if they understood the love that he’d lost when she’d been murdered. “Giving you this magic, it will be something I can tell her that I’ve done for her sons. You know as well as I that she loved you more than anything on this earth, including herself.” “She died saving us.” Coop nodded at Lincoln. “I’m not happy that you’re going to die, Father, but I understand wanting to be with Mother. I miss her more every day.” “As do I.” He looked at his sons, all of them growing into dragons of worth. “I must have an agreement from you all. If even one of you does not want this, then it will not work. I would say that you should think on this hard. For once I have given this to you, there will be no going back.” “I wish to have it.” He knew that Cooper would be the first. Not that he didn’t love his father, but Cooper would see things in a way that most would not. To not have this done would mean a certain death for them all. Dragons were too valuable dead not to be hunted for all time. “I will do whatever it takes to make sure that you are proud of me as well.”
“I am already, Cooper. Forever.”  The others nodded too. They were ready for this, as much as he was dreading it. Because once he started the process to change his sons into men, then he would begin to die. It would take all that he was to change them. Standing up, spreading his wings out behind him, Coop told them about the things that their uncle had left them. They knew where the family jewels were, the things that their mother had left them as well. Once they were standing, their bodies strong and healthy, he felt his heart swell and break for what he was about to do. “I, Cooper Manning, of the Manning Dragons of the earth, give to my sons, Cooper, Hudson, Lincoln, Lucas, Tristan, and Xavier, all that I am. Each of you will take a part of the earth with you when you are converted. The part of you that is unique in all ways will be strengthened and enhanced. You will be immortal, forever, and those that you take to your heart will be as well.” His sons bowed before him when he told them to. He said the words over them that would change them to men. Coop could feel his body shutting down, his heart beating a little less. But he had one more thing he wished to bless them with, and held himself upright to give it from his own dying heart. “One day, true love will come to you. And you will have more than you’ve ever known. It will fill you in ways that you cannot ever imagine. Love will be yours for all times. For only then will you become a true dragon, a Manning dragon.” ~~~ Cooper sat with his brothers while their father lay dying. Coop’s heart was weak from what he’d done, and it was tearing him apart. Father was weak, yes, but he continued to tell them tales of their mother, of their adventures when they were only small dragons. They were going to be alone soon…their father was so close to joining their mother that it hurt Cooper in ways that he hadn’t expected.  “What shall we do with his body?” Cooper looked at Tristan and asked him what he meant. “He will not be able to lie here. If the humans were to find him, they’ll surely cut him up into pieces. I don’t want that for him. We were never able to bury Mother in the proper way after what they did to her.” “We could burn his body.” Cooper wondered how that would work when Hudson continued. “His scales will be worthless to them should they come upon his body. The magic that he held within him also will be useless to them. He will be nothing more than a carcass that they’ll leave alone.” Burn his body. It was something to think about. But he didn’t want to, not while he was still breathing, his body still alive. When he laid his head upon his father’s chest, hearing his heart beating slower and slower, Cooper wondered what his father would think if he knew that the magic that he’d given them hadn’t worked. That they were all still dragons. “He gave his life to keep us safe. But it did not work.” No one said anything to him as they each watched their father. “Dragons such as we are, we’ll be hunted and killed by the humans. There is nothing we can do but wait for them.”
“We will survive if we stay here.” Cooper told Xavier that they’d have to leave here eventually. “To feed and to fly, yes. But perhaps we could do that only at night. To keep to the skies and not let them see us.” “They know we are about and will have spies out looking for our lairs. We will have to kill any man that comes for us, and still we will not be safe. We are, after all, dragons that have a great deal of magic.”  Coop stopped breathing. Cooper didn’t hear his father’s heart, and knew that it was at an end. He was quiet for a bit longer, waiting, hoping for just one more beat, one more sound that would mean he was still alive. But there was nothing. Their father was dead. Sitting up, he told his brothers that Coop had passed from this world into the next. None of them had ever seen a dragon die before. Their mother had been dead when they found her. Each dragon that they’d come upon when they were out had been dead long before they found them, their bodies stripped of every part of them so that they resembled less of a dragon and more like a pile of bones that had been cut up.  Dragon’s scales were used for roofs for humans’ homes, and for shields. The very meat of them was roasted and stored away so that it could be used for medicines and potions. Their hearts were cut up and dried, then ground into a powder for the humans to use to keep them from sickness, as well as magic to have a grand garden and trees heavy with fruit. The only part that would be left was the bones, and sometimes even those were carried off and used for something. Cooper hated all humans. “We will do as suggested by Hudson. It is the only assured way that we can—”  Before he could finish, he felt the stirring of the earth. It shook so hard that it knocked each of them off their feet. As they lay there, terrified that someone was coming for them, their father appeared before them.  His body was still aground. But instead of dark in death, he was brilliant in light. Faeries, thousands upon thousands of faeries, seemed to be covering him. Before Cooper could tell them to stop, to leave him alone, Father spoke. “I love you, my sons.” Each of them nodded, and their fear was almost something Cooper could touch. “I will now and forever join my true love, your mother. I must warn you, when you find your other half, and you will, you’ll have to be careful of the Slayers. They’ll know what you’ve found by the magic you both will share. My sons, you will leave this place and take your place among men. Becoming someone that I will be proud of.” “Father, the magic didn’t work. We’re still dragons.” Cooper felt shameful to say a thing to his father. To tell him that his sacrifice had not worked. “We will be hunted and killed.” “Nay, you only need to think of being your other half. Becoming a man is that simple. The same when you wish to be your true self.” Cooper wasn’t sure what that meant, but his father continued before he could ask. “Go now, before men come here. The magic to hide me will draw them here. Be safe, my sons, and know that I love you more than I do any other creature on this earth.” Cooper stood then. The faeries were still working, taking the body of his father apart. But as he watched, he could see that they weren’t doing that at all, but preserving his
body. Faerie ropes were all around him…strings of magic wrapped around him like a cocoon that made him invisible to all. As Cooper stood there, his brothers beside him, he knew that, like him, they mourned the loss of yet another parent. “You are the eldest?” He nodded to the faerie when she asked. “We have a gift for you. For all of you, but you will receive the most. Your father was a great man, your mother a queen among her people. We wish to bestow upon you all that your father had.” “My brothers, they will need it as well. I should like to share.” She smiled at him and bowed. “What have you done with his body?” “He is being prepared to be moved. We will make a grand garden upon him. Flowers will be there for all to see, but only few will know that a dragon is there with his other half, his love.” He nodded. It was as it should be. “You will take this gift? You will share, but as I said, you will get more than the others.” “I don’t care. Please, just do what you must so that we can hide.” She nodded again and touched her fingers, small tiny ones, to his forehead. Then she did the same to the others before coming back to him. “It is done? You have shared it with us?” “I have, Lord Cooper. But you must leave here now. There are humans coming. The magic that we used to do this thing has given them cause to come here.” He nodded and looked at the ground where their father had been. “He is safe. Just as your mother is now. Go, before they find you here and murder you as well.” He thanked her for her help and left. The exit from this part of the cave was hidden so well that only they knew about it. As they made their way into the night, he thought of the human inside of him, and the pain of it took his breath away. In seconds he was down on his knees. Whatever was happening, he was surely going to die. “You’re a man.” He looked up at his brothers as they began to change into men themselves. “We’ll be safe now, all of us. We’ll be humans for them until we can find a place where we can be ourselves.” “I don’t think that’s ever going to happen again.” Hudson nodded and held his head tightly as he did so. “We will need to train ourselves in their ways. Become what they are. But never monsters.” “No, never that.” They made their way to a building…any would do for now. Hudson, like Cooper, was staggering a little, but they were getting stronger as they moved. He turned to look at Cooper as they were settling in the empty shell of a house. “We will need to buy things, houses and such.” “Yes. But tomorrow. I am too tired to think beyond how much we have lost.” Hudson and the others agreed. “When the humans are gone from our cave, we’ll go and find what Father was telling us about earlier, about the wealth that will keep us safe.” “I only hope there is a great deal of it. I don’t know how to work, nor to become a part of their world, do you?” Cooper told Xavier, the youngest brother, that they’d soon learn. “I hope so. I hope so.” He did as well. It was going to be hard enough for them to learn to eat and dress like them, much less get around. Cooper hoped that this worked. For he was as afraid as he’d ever been in his life.

Evan: The Whitfield Rancher Release Day

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….


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Chapter 1
The hay bailer was working the last two rows when Evan saw his dad riding his big bay horse toward him. Blake and Adrian, two of his brothers, had already been cut loose, and he was fixing to do the same to Joshua and David, his other brothers. He and Adam could handle this last bit, so he told them to head on back to the house before Dad got there. “He looks like he’s got something on his mind. I’m betting it has something to do with that trip he made today. It’s not like him to go to town unless one of us is with him.” Nodding at Adam, Evan watched as Dad dismounted and made his way toward them. “Are you staying for supper tonight, or heading back to town?” “Town. I have to work in the morning.” Dad asked him if they were about done. “Yes, sir. Adam and I are going to see to this before we put the tractor in the barn. Adrian said he’d clean it for me after supper.” “You not staying?” He told him the same thing he’d told Adam. “I don’t know why you don’t just quit that job. I know that you’re good at it and all, but I’d sure like to see you more than once a week, and that has you rushing off again. Come home, son. For good.” There was a bite to his voice, as if he was really pissed at him. Evan let out a long breath, picking up the next bale that had come from the baler. Whatever was bothering his dad, he was sure it had nothing to do with his job. “Dad, I’m thirty minutes away. Less if I need to hurry. And me working was what I went to college for. And I love what I do. It’s rewarding to see how my work is making a difference. You know as well as I do that you have more than enough hands around if you need them.” His dad nodded but didn’t say anything else. “Everything all right?” “Yes. Why wouldn’t it be?” Evan only shrugged. His dad was in a mood, and while it wouldn’t last long, he could be a bear until it was over. “Your grandpa is coming for a visit. I guess he went and talked to your mom and they set it up. I was in town earlier picking him up. He’s staying.” “You don’t want him here?” His dad glared at him. “Maybe this would go better and a good deal faster if you were to tell me what burr you have up your butt. I’m not being disrespectful, but you’re like a bear with his foot in a trap.” “I’m sorry, son. I love my dad. But he’s a hog.” Evan asked him what that was supposed to mean. “He wants to be in the middle of every little thing. He’ll want to plan a big dinner and all the foods for it. Have you boys at his beck and call. I can’t even get you to stay for supper.” “You didn’t ask.” His dad asked him then. He didn’t sound so sour about it, but there was a tone that Evan decided to ignore. “I’d love to. But if I do, then you’re going to tell me the real reason that you’re ticked off. I know that you’re not all that upset about Grandpa coming around. You love him as much as I do you.”
“He wants to go over his will.” Well, that was something. No one liked to be made to realize that they were as mortal as the next. “I’m not ready for that. I just…. We just buried my mom, and I don’t want to talk about him leaving too. It’s too much. But when I said that to your mother, she got all huffy with me.” “She got huffy or you got huffy?” His dad said he might have started it. “Mom loved Grandma too. I’m betting she no more wants to do this than you do. But I can also understand why Grandpa wants to do this. It was a mess when Grandma died, and she had everything all written out for the funeral director and all.” “No will was properly made out. I know that, I surely do, but it’s just too soon. What am I gonna do if something happens to him too?” Evan hugged his dad and told him he had them. “Yes, but he’s my dad. And…well, I don’t know what I’m going to do. You know? He’s always been there, him and Mom. And to think that he’s making these plans…well, it just breaks my heart. Upsets me so that I get angry about it. I’m sorry, I am, but he’s my dad.” “Maybe if you just let him do this, then he’ll start to get better. You know as well as I that he’s been in a bad way. Not that I blame him. I know that I would be as well. But if he feels like things are settled, then perhaps he’ll start to come out of this depression a little more.” His dad said nothing. “Dad, I don’t know what else to do. He’s going to do it, no matter what we try to say.” “What if he’s doing this because he has plans to join Mom? I mean, like right now, instead of waiting until his time comes along? I’m afraid, Evan, that is just what he’s planning to do. This might be his way of getting things settled, as you called it, before he does something really stupid.” Evan had actually thought of that but didn’t want to mention it to his dad. “I can’t lose another parent. Even as old as I am and knowing that he’s getting up there, I just can’t lose him.” “Neither can we. Neither can any of us.” He hugged his dad, just held him while he got himself under control. Evan didn’t know what he’d do if he lost any more of his family. They were the world to him. Adam had moved away and was sitting in the truck, dealing with his own kind of grief. Losing Grandma had hit them all hard. She’d been the rock of the family. And she was going to be sorely missed. There were still a few rows to go, so Evan asked his dad if he’d help. “Once we get this done, we won’t have to worry about the rain until next season. And I, for one, would love to have this part of the end of season finished up.” “All right.” They worked side by side, putting the bales of straw up on the truck bed as it slid out of the baler. It was hard work, but it felt good to be out in the sunshine. His dad, even as old as he was, did as good a job as Evan was doing keeping up with the baler as it made short work of the hay. And when they hit the last row, both climbed up on the bales and rode home that way. “I think I needed this too. Just to be able to think about nothing else for a time.” “It’s one of the reasons I come home. To get away from the city, run a bit with my brothers, and to see you guys. It clears the mind.” His dad nodded. “We’ll talk to
Grandpa, Dad. Maybe if we show him how much we need him around, he’ll rethink whatever it is he’s got going on in his head.” “I’d like that too. I know you have to go back to work tomorrow, but I wish you’d reconsider coming home for good. It’s not like you need to work, Evan. I really miss you. And I know that your brothers and mom do as well.” Evan didn’t say anything. There was nothing for him to say. He had to work or he’d go nuts. “You think on it. Maybe you can take some vacation time out and see what you’re missing here.” “I know what I’m missing. I think about it every day.” They got off the hay and helped the hands put it in the barn. In a few weeks they’d have to go to the other field to do the same thing there, but for now they had enough to keep the few cows they had and the horses fed in the colder months. And to sell to the other ranchers around them when they ran short. Evan loved his family. He enjoyed being with them, talking to his brothers about nothing much at all. And the open fields that he could roam alone or with them. But he needed to be away too. Needed his own space, his own things. If he did quit his job and came home, his mom and dad would expect him to live at home again, as most of his brothers were. Not that it wasn’t nice being all together, but he needed quiet sometimes. Grandpa was at the house when they came out of the barn. He was still looking lost, not that Evan didn’t blame him. Evan saw a lot of death in his job. Being a surgeon was not meeting people in the best of circumstances. His family might drive him nuts at times, but they were his and he loved them.  Hugging Grandpa, he followed him to the mud room to clean up. Grandpa didn’t say anything, but Evan knew he had something on his mind. “You still being a doctor out there in the city?” He said that he was. “I was wondering if you’d do me a favor when you go back. I need something notarized, and I’d like for you to drop me at the bank when you leave here. If you don’t mind.” “Sure, but I know a couple of people that can do that. So can Mom. I think she still has her license up to date.” He said he wanted the banker to do it. “I can take you. But if you don’t mind, what is it?” “I want to turn over my house to your daddy.” Evan was drying his hands when he asked him what he wanted to do that for. “I just don’t think I can live there anymore. It’s got all them memories, and it hurts me.” “Where are you going to live if not there?” He looked away. “Grandpa, if you don’t tell me I’m going to start guessing, and I don’t think I like that any better than you not telling me the truth.” “I can’t go on. I just don’t have it in me anymore to want to. I miss her that much.” It hurt Evan to hear him say that. “I loved her for over sixty years, and now she’s gone. What’s a man supposed to do if he can’t have the one love of his life standing beside him?” Evan hugged him to him again. “Oh, Evan, she was my entire world, she was. And the best thing that ever happened to me.” “Dad thinks you’re going to end your life. Is that the plan? Because I have to tell you, I’m not going to let you. None of us will.” Grandpa told him that he didn’t have
anything to live for. “You have us. Dad and Mom too. We’d have no one if you were to do this.” “I hurt.” Evan told him he didn’t know the pain he was feeling, but understood. “She kept me in line. Helped me through the day just by loving me. And I tell you right now that she made me feel like I was the king of the world with just her smile. I miss her so very much.” He sobbed then, holding onto Evan as he did so. Evan felt his own eyes fill with tears, and when they fell over his cheeks, he held his grandpa all the tighter. Grandma had been there for all of them. She’d been the one that he could go to, for anything. And now she was gone and Grandpa wanted to join her. Dinner was a somber affair. No one, it seemed, was in their usual jolly mood. Even Blake, who could liven up any seating, was quiet. Evan helped his mom clear the dishes, and the rest of them cleaned up the kitchen. Grandpa joined them just as they were putting the last clean pot on the hanger. “Buy it from me. One of you boys, you should buy my house from me.” They didn’t move, not even to look at one another. “I will make you a good deal. I can’t…. I was thinking of moving in with Oliver here, and I would love for one of you yahoos to have the house.” “You move in with Dad and Mom, and I’ll buy it.” Evan had no idea why he said that. He didn’t need a house any more than he needed to work. “You promise us that you’ll move in here and behave yourself, then I’ll buy your house.” “I don’t want to behave myself. I want to…I want to run in the woods. Have some…. You six should make me a great grandpa. I’d surely have something to do if you were to do that.” Each of them groaned and Grandpa laughed. “You promise me that you’ll be on the outlook for yourself a mate, and I’ll try and keep myself in a better frame of mind.” “Deal.” All of them put out their hands after making the promise. If that was all it took, a promise, then Evan would do it. As for the house? He didn’t have a clue what he was going to do with it, but he’d figure out something. Maybe he’d let his brothers use it for a while. ~~~ Norris put the phone in the cradle and looked at his dad. “She’s coming home. They’ve made arrangements to pick her up and take her to the hospital in New York so that they can evaluate her before she can come here. It’ll be about three more days or so before they release her to the one here in town. We’ll have her close enough that we can go and visit her when we want to.” “Who?” Norris told him that Dylan was coming home. “Your momma is already here, Norris. You go on talking like she isn’t, I’m going to have to ground you. I told you that before.” “Yes, Dad.” Norris sat there, not mentioning to his dad again that his mom had died several years ago. That he’d been living with them for seven years. Nor did he explain, again, that Dylan was his daughter, his dad’s granddaughter, and that she was
coming home because she’d been hurt badly and had to leave the service. He could tell him, but Dad wouldn’t remember it. “I’d like to have fish for dinner tonight. You go ask your momma if she can whip me some up.” Norris nodded. “Then we should go for ice cream. You got those good grades, so we should celebrate. Didn’t you, boy?” “I’d like that. We’ll go after supper, if you still want.” Dad got up and made his way to his room. In a few minutes, he’d come back out and ask Norris where his bed was, and he’d have to show him. Alzheimer’s sucked. Several years ago his dad had been a little forgetful. Slightly disoriented at times too. Nothing that worried them much. His dad was brilliant, and had always had trouble remembering simple tasks unless he wrote them down. After his wife passed, he became worse…his inability to remember to put on shoes or wear a coat had gotten him put in the hospital with a cold that had turned into pneumonia. Then they started noticing him being forgetful of who they were, and most of the time he would remember things that were well in the past. Then he’d begun to wander off. It was then that Norris had found out that his dad was slowly losing his ability to do a great many things. Like living alone and keeping his own house. Meals were skipped because he couldn’t remember if he’d eaten. Bedtimes were overlooked because he didn’t remember where his bed was. Things like that and more had gotten the doctor to declare him unfit to live on his own. He’d been living with them since then. Not that he didn’t enjoy having his dad around. But lately, just over the last few months, he’d been getting away from them. Running off without telling anyone where he was going. And sometimes the police had to help them find him. His dad was having more and more bad days all the time. It was putting a strain not just on Norris’s health, but his finances as well. When Norris’s wife Stella returned from grocery shopping, he checked on his dad before he went to help bring things in and saw that he was napping. They used to do all kinds of things together before his dad came to stay, now they had to do things in stages. But he was glad that he had his dad and that he could be there for him. He told Stella about the phone call he’d gotten. “Dylan will spend a few weeks in the hospital here, then they’ll let her come home. I don’t think she’s going to be too terribly happy about that.” Stella said that she could bet on that. “I’m so worried about her. We were lucky, they told me again. I’d have been a lot happier if she’d not gone over there at all.” “You couldn’t have stopped her. She has her own mind, and once she gets something in it, she’s not going to stop. Not even when it’s that dangerous.” Norris nodded. “To have her home will be wonderful. I know that she’s going to need a lot of rehabilitation, but I’m so glad that she’s coming home for good.” Dylan, Hutch to her men and friends, had been hurt badly about six months back. She and her men had been on a mission, something that she did a great deal while in the army, and she had gotten hurt. Three of her men had been killed, and another had died right after he’d gotten to the hospital. Dylan had nearly been one of them. Norris
didn’t know where it had happened or how she’d been injured, nor did he know to what extent her injuries were. But he knew that she was lucky to be alive, and that was all that mattered to him. For now, anyway. “When did they say they’d be here with her? You probably told me, but my mind is a little fuzzy. I’m so tired, Norris. I shouldn’t have stayed up so late watching that movie.” He laughed and told his wife that it was supposed to be Friday. “Good. We’ll be there when they land. Then we’ll go to the hospital with her. I miss her so much.” He did as well, and had for a long time. Dylan was their only child, and she’d been a delightful little girl who grew up into a wonderful grown up. At seventeen she’d joined the army, and soon after she made it through boot camp, she’d been picked to be trained for special jobs. He knew that she was covert, but anything else had been kept from them, to keep them, and especially her, safe. Over the next ten years they’d seen very little of their daughter. She was forever rushing off for one thing or another, her job keeping her away for longer periods of time. Then about six months ago, a few days before they’d been notified that there had been an accident, she’d called him. With the call coming in the middle of the night, he knew something was wrong. “Dad?” He said it was him and glanced at the clock. He’d never forget the time. It was one twenty-four in the morning. “Dad, I’m going to be coming home soon, I’ve arranged it. I’ll have a month off. I’d like for you to do something for me.” “Anything. You name it and it’ll be yours.” She laughed and he could hear the tension in it. “What is it, baby? Are you all right?” “No. I’ve been…I don’t think I can do this anymore. So much death and pain here now.” He asked her what it was. “I can’t tell you. But I’m done. I want to come home and make a life. After my R&R, I’m going to muster out. I want a house. A yard of my own. I want things to be normal.” “Normal? Honey, do you even know what that means?” She laughed again, and he could hear the little hiccup of a sob then. “Dylan, what is it? Tell me? I want to help you.” “There’s this house, about two doors down from yours and Mom’s. Buy it for me. I have the money. I’m sending you money that I have here to the account that you set up for me, and that we now use for Grandda.” He heard her tell someone to fuck off and started to ask her what was going on, but she started talking again. “If you can, get it cheaper so I can have it retro fitted for Grandda. I want him to live with me.” “Honey, he’s a lot to take on. Even for the two of us.” It tore at his heart when she told him she wanted to come home, for a normal life. “Dylan, what is going on?” “I can’t tell you. I can’t…I’ll come home for good, then we can talk. All right?” He said that he would look forward to it. “Buy the house. Like I said, the money is in the account that you opened for me when I was a little girl. I want you to use it to buy the house. The rest of it…you do with whatever you need to do to get you and Mom something nice.” He told her he would buy the house and she said she had to go. The line went dead then, and it had been the last time he’d spoken to her. Not even when they’d gone to see
her was she able to speak. Her body was too broken to do much more than just heal. Norris made his way out to the back of the house and sat on the deck. His baby was coming home, and he doubted very much anything was going to be normal for her again. “Norris?” He looked up at his wife when she said his name. “Norris, I can’t find your father. He was resting not ten minutes ago, and now he’s gone.”  His body tensed up and he stood. Dad could have gone anywhere in that little time. The man was like a magician when it came to escaping their notice and getting into trouble. Calling the police to tell them what had happened, he began walking the streets. His dad would only be able to tell someone where he lived if he was having a good day. And his dad’s good days had been few and far between in the last several weeks. Most everyone knew him, but there were a few that didn’t.  “Did you find your dad, Mr. Hutchinson?” He told the officer that he’d not about an hour later when he drove up behind him. “I have all our men out looking for him. You should go and talk to Mr. Whitfield like I suggested. Him and his boys, they’d sure be able to find him a good deal faster.” “I know. I’ve been meaning to, but my daughter…she’s coming home soon.” Officer Petty told him that was wonderful as he stopped the cruiser and got out. “She’s going to be spending a few weeks in the hospital, but she’ll be home soon enough.” “You’ve had a rough few months, Mr. Hutchinson. But having Hutch home, that’ll take some of the burden off you and your family. She was always one to depend on.” He only nodded, knowing that she’d be depending on them a great deal now. He’d not been able to tell anyone anything because, frankly, he didn’t know anything. “I’ve got my men out looking for him, sir, like I said. We’ll find him for you.” He hoped so. While it wasn’t cold out, still summer yet, he did worry about his dad taking a tumble into something and not getting out. Or wandering into someone’s home. He’d done that before as well. Norris walked the streets while calling out his name, hoping to find him soon. Norris was exhausted when they finally found him three streets over and lost. Not just exhausted from looking for his dad, but that was a part of it. He was just tired of all the adulting he’d had to do of late. Smiling, he thought of what Dylan would say to him if he whined to her about it. She’d tell him to buck up and to fucking let it go. She had gotten a mouth on her since she’d gone away. And while it did embarrass him at times, he thought it was funny when she’d get on a roll with it. Like the time she’d come home for Christmas about five years ago. “I have to go into town and pick up your mother’s gift. Want to hang out with your old man?” She nodded and grinned at him. “Please promise me that we’re not going to get arrested. You will behave yourself, won’t you?” “Ah, Pop, why would I do that? I’m here to have fun.” He groaned and she’d laughed at him. “Besides, what sort of trouble can I get into at the mall? I mean, they still have those mall cops running around, don’t they?”
“Yes. And Bennie is still one of them. I swear to you, if you make him wet his pants again, I’ll…I’ll….” She laughed hard at his lack of a threat. “He’s a good kid, Dylan. Why do you dislike him so much?” “He’s not a good kid, Dad. He’s a bully and a fucking prick. But I’ll be good if he does. Now, what did you get Mom?” By the time they’d gotten to the mall, both had been having a good time. When they went into the jeweler’s, she’d offered to pay the difference on the watch he’d gotten for her mom.  “I got it. What did you get her?” She only shook her head and told him not to guess. “You did get her something, didn’t you?” “I got you both something.” Norris had seen her stiffen up and turned to see Bennie behind him. “Hello, Bennie.” “Well, well, well. If it’s not the terror of Washington street. Home for good, this time, Dylan? Or are you headed back to out of country?” Bennie made those quotation signs with his fingers when he asked her about the country. “Me and the boys, we think you’re just in prison. A girl like you, that’s where you belong.” “Dad?” He hadn’t wanted trouble, not then or now, but there really was something simply mean about Bennie today. And after that, he’d noticed it a great deal more. “Dad, I’m doing what you asked, but it’s not easy.” “You shoplifting, Dylan? Is that what you learned in prison? Or, I’m sorry, in the army?” Bennie reached for her, and even standing there beside her, Norris hadn’t seen her move. Before he could tell her to go for it, Bennie was on the floor screaming to be released. “You’ve fucking broke my hand.” She laughed and told him she’d not. “You have. I can feel it.” “No, I didn’t. I only stopped you from touching me. However, I can break it if you want.” Norris told her not to just yet. “All right. But I did try to be good, Dad. He started it.” “He did. I saw it.”  The police were called and she was asked to let the mall cop go. After several witnesses said that she’d not done anything but defend herself, she was released. Norris had heard a few days later that not only had Bennie lost his job, but other women had come forward about his behavior in the mall. Bennie hadn’t faired all that well after that. Norris made his way out to the driveway to get his car. Stella had forgotten to get fish, and since Dad would eat if he had something he requested, they’d accommodate him when they could. Climbing into his car, he vowed that as soon as he was home again he was going to make a call to the Whitfields. Norris knew that they were tigers, but not much more than that. The Whitfields were money and didn’t travel the same circles as he and his family did.