Kenton The McCade Dragon Release Day & Winner Announced 3/7/16

Emma Gentry felt like she was losing her mind. From the time she had picked up the pretty ring to examine it, she’d been hearing a voice in her head. When she ran from the demolished building, she’d slipped the ring on her finger so that she wouldn’t drop it, now she couldn’t get it off. She was in dire need of medical attention, but the voice wouldn’t let her stop to get help. There were others looking for the ring and would kill her for it. Emma was on the run.


Kenton McCade was the doctor in the family. When found Emma in his office treating a badly infected wound on her leg, he had to help her. The infection had spread and she was near death.


Kenton and his brothers were dragon shifters born without the ability to shift into their other half. The magic, it seemed, lay dormant in a sleeping dragon that was tied to six pieces of jewelry. When the ring found its way to Emma, her touch had woken the sleeping beast. When Emma touched Kenton’s sigil on his chest, he shifted to his beast for the first time. But the beast from the ring would not be complete until all the jewelry found its way to their rightful dragons….


Emma was still on the run…they need her to survive…but Emma trusted no one…
Winner of a mystery paperback is  L Smith please check your email  on how to claim the paperback and make sure you check your spam folder and congrats 

Chapter 1
“I need you to tell me what this is worth.” Emma looked up at the man that held out a little box to her. If it was in her power, Emma would gladly have punched him in the nose. But she also knew that he’d hit her back, and it would be ten times more painful than anything she could do to him. “Now, Emma. And he said for you not to dally. He needs it now.”
“So, you do it. I’m in the middle of something else you told me to do.” She knew as well as he did that Bart could tell the worth of an item almost as well as she could. Not quite as good as she could; practice had made her better and faster at it. But they’d both been trained to know how to do it. “I’m in the middle of—”
She should have known better. Whenever she pointed something obvious out to her brother, he would resort to violence if he didn’t care for her answer. Which was usually all the time. Emma wondered if she’d ever learn and doubted it. Now she found herself on the floor with her mouth bloodied and her head hurting. Not the first time for that either.
He put the box on the desk, then pulled out his gun and laid it on her desk with it as if that was all he needed to make her comply. The punch to her face had done that pretty good, she thought. Emma wished she could pick the gun up and blow his fucking head off. Instead, she lifted her hurting body up and got back to her desk. Emma didn’t even bother wiping the blood off. He’d just hit her again to show he could.
Picking up the small box, she opened it. Inside was a small blue bag, tied at the top with an equally blue string. There were no markings on the bag or the box, but she knew quality when she felt it. And this bag wasn’t it. She started to ask Bart what kind of joke this was when she realized that he’d not answer her. He’d more than likely do what she’d wanted to do to him and shoot her. She’d be dead and he’d be standing over her demanding that she get up and do what he’d told her to do. There was no love lost between the two of them, and hadn’t been for a very long time.
Dumping the contents out into her hand, she was first surprised at the weight of the ring, then at how big it was. But the ring itself was what had her holding her breath. It was simply the most beautiful thing she’d ever seen. The work on it—and there was a great deal of it—had been done with a steady hand and an even better eye, for the art looked to her like the person who had made this loved the person who was to receive it. For a second she wondered if she would ever have someone love her that much. She looked up at Bart when he snorted at her. He looked pissed.
“It’s just a band. Nothing but a damned gold band that is worth less than my fucking shoes. I wonder if it’s even gold plated. Fuckers.” She looked at the ring, then back at him as he continued. “Fucking bastard said it was worth millions. It’s not even worth the box it came in. Why the hell do I even bother with robbing people if they’re going to lie to me about what I’m taking? Huh? And then to have fought so hard to
keep it? As if it was worth his own life? Dumbass probably believed that it was worth the money I was told it was.”
“Are you kidding me? This isn’t just a band, dumbass. This is a work of art.” She started to show him, but Bart picked up his gun and slid it back into his holster before slamming his hands down on the table, his face level with her. She leapt back from him. Which, she supposed, was what he had wanted her to do anyway. Then he laughed at her. “Don’t hurt me, Bart. Please? I’ll tell Daddy.”
“Like he gives a shit about you. I mean, look where he has you working. In the basement of a piece of shit building that has nothing to go for it but a toilet that is ten feet away.” He snorted again. “Go to him, Emma, see if I’m not right. And when he tells you to go away, I’m going to come back down here and blow your fucking brains out for bothering him. We have more important things to do than to listen to you whine about how badly you’re being treated.”
After he left her, she put the ring back in the little bag and started working on the chains that had been tangled up when Bart had simply tossed them into a bank bag. He’d told her when she asked him that it wasn’t his job to make sure that things were neat and tidy, that she would be out of a fucking job if he did. She estimated that she had about ten hours in untangling the chains so far and she wasn’t any closer to getting them straight than she had been before. Emma was pretty sure that he’d done it on purpose. It was something he loved doing, making her job more difficult.
Her father and brother had dumped her down here six years ago, pulling her from college and telling her that she had to earn her keep. Of course Emma hadn’t seen her father in all this time. Words, harsh and mean, had come from him via her brother. She was going to have to find another job soon. This one just wasn’t making it for her any longer. Of course, she blamed that on Bart too. He took money from her cash envelope every week, and he was taking more and more all the time. He called it a living tax. If he didn’t get it, she didn’t live. And she believed him too.
The ring called to her. She knew that was silly. Rings or other things didn’t talk, but she could almost hear it telling her that it didn’t belong to her and that she needed to return it to the owner. She would love to do that, but she wasn’t going to. Not that she’d have the chance to get out of this place with the thing. Being patted down and wanded every time she left would have made it impossible, but she knew that if found out, she’d be dead. Emma looked over at the desk next to hers.
Sebastian Logan had been her friend and co-worker, and the nicest man she’d ever known. Polite, hardworking, and a man who had loved his family more than he did his own life. And it was what had gotten him killed.
A diamond ring had been brought in a month ago. Bart, of course, had deemed it unworthy and had told her and Sebastian they could have it. She’d thought it was pretty but thought that Sebastian could sell it for a few dollars, and knew that it would help out in their situation. His only child was sick and that money would have gone a long way in helping him. So he’d taken the ring home to sell.
He’d come in the next day, saying that he’d gotten enough to buy a prescription that was much needed, and they had both sat down to work. An hour later, Bart and his
friend, Mark Whitaker, had come in to question Sebastian about it. Apparently a fence that they knew had mentioned that Sebastian had brought it in.
“You said I could have it. You told us it was worthless and that we could have it. Tell him, Emma. Tell him he said that.” Bart, of course, denied that, and even told Emma that their father wanted to make an example of Sebastian. Bart had pulled his gun free and had killed her friend right there in front of her, despite her begging him to let it go.
Blood had sprayed over her face and clothing. Bart had set Mark in front of her for the rest of the day while Sebastian was lying in his own blood, and told her that if she wiped her face he would put the blood back. But this time it would be her own.
All Emma wanted to do was get out of there and be her own person. Live her life as she wanted on her own terms. As soon as she could save enough money to get away, anyway. Looking at the ring again, she wondered what would happen if she were to get it to its owner. What sort of reward would there be? Because at the rate she was saving money, she’d be too old to run when she did manage to get enough to go on.
At ten after twelve, she pulled out her lunch. It was only a jelly sandwich; the peanut butter had run out a few days ago. Emma wanted to cry about what her life had become, and knew that it was as set in stone as the sword was that she’d read about so long ago.
“Put that shit away. I want you to look this over.” She only glanced at the paperwork that Bart had tossed in front of her. Her lunch time was her time, not his. She’d told him that before. Not that it mattered, but she had told him. “Now, Emma. I want to get it to Dad before the end of the day, and you fucking around is gonna make me late.”
“I’m eating. And in the event that you missed that part, I’m entitled to have one hour for my lunch. So come back when I’m done.” He drew his fist back and she tilted out her chin. “Hit me, and see if I don’t go home because of it. Go ahead, Bart, knock me around and you’ll never get this.”
“He wants it now.” Emma took a bite of her sandwich and said nothing. “You fucking cunt. You think this is going to win you any points with me? Who do you think is going to run this place when Dad finally kicks the bucket? You? Not fucking likely.”
He slammed his fists on the table again, a thing he did when he wasn’t winning an argument. Well, she’d had a shitty day so far, and right now she really did want him to hit her. She would go to her father this time.
Sweeping everything off her desk in his fit of anger, he stood over her, watching. Emma reached for the little box and the ring that had fallen out of it by bending over and leaning under her desk. Just at that moment an explosion rocked the room. There wasn’t time to think, not even to wonder what Bart had done now.
Emma felt it singe her arms and legs even as the ring slipped over the tip of her finger. She and the desk went flying back; she felt it hit her several times as heat poured into the room with her. Screams filled the air…not just hers, but her brother’s as well. Then everything went black.
Wake up. She felt rather than heard someone telling her to wake. The pain over her body told her that she’d be better off just letting things fade out again, but the voice in her head…it felt like it told her again to wake up.
“I hurt.” The voice, calmer now, told her that she’d be better if she got up and moved. “I don’t think so. I think I’m broken.”
You are not broken. Not too badly, that is. Come on now, get out of this place before the others come to find you. She had no idea why that would be a bad thing when the voice spoke again. Should they find you, then all will be lost. Come on now, Emma, you must get moving. Moving will be good for us both. No one must find you here with me.
“Both? Who is here with me? Hello?” No answer. But then she thought there shouldn’t be because as far as she knew, there was only one of her. Giggling hurt a little, so she tried to tell herself that she really did need to move.
Every time she moved something off her, there seemed to be tons more atop her. Wood and bricks. Glass surrounded her, and it seemed to be in her as well. The desk, she knew, had more than likely saved her life. Had she been sitting at it instead of nearly under it, she would have been killed. She did pause a moment to wonder if Bart had made it, but found that she really didn’t care. Bart was on his own for now.
The debris was thick around her too. Papers were everywhere, most of them still smoldering. The chair that she’d been in was a broken mess imbedded in the wall above her head.
Once she cleared herself of what she could to move, Emma could see the street beyond. Whatever had blown up had taken out the five floors above her sublevel work station. Gingerly, she made her way to the opening, only to be stopped by the voice again
No, no, not that way. Go to the back of the ruin. I’ll guide you. She turned then, not even sure why she was listening to the voice instead of common sense, but she was hurting too badly to argue with herself right now. There were people out there in front of her. She had no idea what she’d find behind her. But she made her way out the way the voice told her.
It seemed to take her too long to get out. Falling twice, she bumped her head again and had to lay there for a long time to let the dizziness stop. Emma was sick too, her belly not liking the way her vision kept going in and out all the time. And she knew that the long gash in her leg wasn’t good. The blood pouring from it was thick with dirt.
As soon as she was out of the building, she lay back against the one across from it and looked at where she’d been. There was no way she should have survived that, and she was sure that anyone else in the building hadn’t. Emma wondered who besides her brother and her were there, if anyone. And again, she wondered how the hell she had survived.
The building had been one of the oldest downtown. At five stories, it had once been the home to a textile company that had gone under in the twenties. Her father had acquired the building, along with several more, a few years ago, and had taken this one to use as an office of sorts. It was a front, like most of her father’s businesses, Bart had told her.
Emma didn’t know. Her brother never put her dad in the best picture when he talked about him. He was ruthless, a murderer, and even a thug when necessary. If he was as Bart said, he had changed a great deal since her mother had died a few years back.
The building now looked like it had never been there. A deep hole—a crater, she figured it would be called—was where it had once been. Nothing had survived on either side of it either. The two buildings that were used as storage units for whatever her father had acquired were leveled. Even the one across from the building had suffered some major damage. Emma watched as the first firetruck pulled up in front of the mess.
Your father is dead, I’m afraid. She nodded at the voice, then regretted that immediately. Your brother is alive, but he is badly burned. He and another man, his bodyguard, will be pulled from the wreckage soon, but they will not mention you are here. But they will come for you now. The others will come.
“Who will? Why?” The voice told her that it was because of him. “Him who? I don’t know anyone. I don’t date, I’m not allowed. I don’t even know why I have this voice talking to me. Do you? Am I…I don’t know, am I dead too?”
You are not dead, Emma, but they come for me. And the rest of us now that I’m awake. There will be more coming now that I’ve been found. She stood up then, determined to go and see if someone could patch her up. You do and they’ll kill you where you stand.
“Why? What did I do? This was…it was more than likely a gas explosion.” The voice told her she knew better. “No, I don’t. I don’t know a damned thing. For all I know, I could be lying there dead in that thing and this is all a dream.”
I’m not a dream, Emma Gentry. I am part of the dragon in the ring. Emma stopped moving and looked down at her hand. There it was, the ring. Just on the tip of her finger. When you slipped it upon your finger, I knew then that you were the one to carry me. The one that would take me to my owner. You will, won’t you? Take me home to the one that awaits me? The rest of me will follow now that I have found you.
“No. In the event you didn’t notice, I’m out of work, no money, and I don’t even know what is wrong with me that I can hear you talking to me. I’m hurting, injured, and you won’t let me go and find someone to fix me up.” He told her that she was the one, and that he would see that she had such riches if she did this for him. “The one what? I’m just a woman trying to get along in this world my family brought me into. Can’t you just leave me alone? Please?”
I can keep you safe. And if you promise to take me to my owner, I will help you in ways that you will need. I will, as I have said, make you a queen that will never have to worry for money again. I am but a part of the whole. A dragon that must be brought together with the other pieces of my set. Emma just wanted to take a nap. Forever. No, you will need to keep moving. The man that your brother stole me from, he will come for you because of the ring. He will want you dead because of the ring.
“Why?” He didn’t answer her and she realized that she’d been asking that a lot to the unknown. “Fine. I’m going to do this for you, but you’re going to have to do something for me. I want you to not do a damned thing for me unless it’s to guide me. I
know better than most that nothing in this world comes without consequences. So tell me where to go and nothing else.”
Nothing? She told him again that she didn’t want to owe him anything when this was done. All right. But I think that you will come to regret that soon enough.
She already did. Moving in the direction that he told her, she felt like she’d broken more bones than she knew she had. While he told her that she needed to go north, Emma told him that she needed to go to her home. There she’d get cleaned up and retrieve the last of her funds. She had no idea where she was going, but wherever it was, it wasn’t going to be a free ride. Emma thought that whoever was coming for her would think she was dead long enough for her to get out of her apartment to rid herself of the voice.
Emma knew on some level that the voice was her own. There simply wasn’t any way for her to be talking to the dragon of the ring. She wanted out and this was her subconscious getting her there. So what if the world thought her dead? She was fine with that as well. Emma Gentry was dead as far as she was concerned too, and she’d have to come up with a name that would work. As she showered and changed, cleaning up as much of the wounds on her body that she could, Emma thought of what her life would be now.
“Anything I want.” She smiled at herself and winced. The cuts on her face made even doing the simplest things hard. She did worry over the wound in her leg, but at least it was clean, and the bleeding had stopped as well…for now. As she moved out of her home, she looked around. There was nothing there, not one thing she would miss. This Emma was dead.
~~~
“Twenty-four dead and several dozen more injured in the blast that is still under investigation. There was some talk of gas leaks, but that was ruled out when it was said that the building called Shipley Textile was the epicenter of the explosion, and there were no gas lines to that building.”
Baldwin Franks wanted to throw something at the television but refrained. He was a man that prided himself on control. But the newsperson was not giving him the answers that he craved. He wanted to know if Bartholomew Gentry and his son had survived, not the dozens of nameless fucks that meant nothing to him. When the news anchor paused, pushing her finger to her ear, he wanted to scream at her that no one believed that she was listening to a fucking thing, but then she turned to the scene behind her.
“There is news just in that Mr. Bart Gentry, Junior has been pulled from the wreckage, along with another man by the name of Whitaker. That is all that we know right now. Mr. Gentry is the son of Bartholomew Gentry, Senior, a man who owned a great many of the buildings in the downtown area. Mr. Gentry and his son have been under a great deal of scrutiny for the last several years, starting with the death of the senior Mr. Gentry’s wife, Anderson Franks Gentry, some years ago. Mr. Gentry, Senior’s body, along with five more, was pulled from the building about an hour ago, I’m told.”
Baldwin leaned back in his chair as the anchor continued about the things she had little to no real information about. Gentry Senior was dead. Baldwin thought that they both should have been dead, but was sure that the man who’d survived, a man he’d come to hate more than anything, would land on his feet. Or in this case, flat on his back. The sooner the entire family was dead, the happier he’d be. They’d killed his little girl.
He looked over at his man, Steward Jefferies, and told him to get someone on it. Steward’s phone rang before he could answer Baldwin.
As the other man listened to his call, Baldwin thought of all the ways he’d wanted to make both Gentry men suffer. There had been times when he’d had Bart in his sights, but something would always come up. This time he knew he’d taken drastic measures, but the man was just where he wanted him. It was way past time to kill Bart, and he was going to be the one to do it, even if he had to do it in front of a bunch of cops.
When Steward hung up, he looked pale as he leaned back in his chair. Baldwin was almost afraid to ask him what it was, but wasn’t going to seem as if he cared. He not only was in control of things around him, he also never gave the appearance of caring much about it.
“Apparently Emma Gentry isn’t dead, as we’d been told, and was in the building when it blew.” Baldwin nearly screamed out his frustrations. Would this family never fucking end? “So far they’ve not found a trace of her in the number of dead, and she’s not on the injury list, either, that they can find. I don’t…someone saw her climbing out of the sublevel of the basement just as the police arrived. I have a man on it.”
“How do you know it was my granddaughter and not some rat climbing out of her hole after a night of fucking whatever had a dick?” Steward stood up and went to his briefcase. Pulling out the file that was on top, he handed it to him. “What is this?”
“I told you several days ago that there was rumor that Emma was alive and hiding out somewhere. We could never confirm nor deny that information, so you told me to keep on it. I had someone follow her and she lives…lived in a poor neighborhood that catered more to the people that her father worked with than his type of wealth. There wasn’t any reason to believe that she was this person, due to her living conditions, and I nearly tossed it away as just that, rumors. But then we got a picture of her just this morning. I forgot until just this minute that I had it.” Baldwin looked at the picture and felt his heart twist up in his chest. “They have some of her DNA that I’m running, but so far I’ve not heard back. But the girl in this picture looks like your daughter Anderson, doesn’t she? I don’t know why she’s been hiding out the way she has, but I intend to find out.”
“Yes.” Baldwin looked at the blurred picture of the woman. Even with the poor quality of the picture, he knew that it was her. “Call them up, rush it. I want to know now.”
He looked at Steward when he said nothing. There was more, he just knew it, and when he got the information, his well-controlled temper was going to detonate. He told him to tell him.
“The ring was in the building.” The fucking ring. The motherfucking ring was there and not where it was supposed to be. Which was with him. “Bart, the younger, took it from the courier this morning. Killed him and three other men while they were en route to us. He took not just the ring, which was the most valuable piece, but he also took the money they were bringing here. I’m guessing that it, as well as the cash, was in the building when it went up. I’m going to have his home searched, of course, but I’d not hold out much hope. The kid, for all his stupidity, seemed to know just when to lay low.”
“Why wasn’t I told about this before now?” Steward told him that he’d only just found out too. “And how do we know that it’s him? And not some random fuck that is going to die too?”
“He left you a note. Well, not you, but the person he was robbing.” Baldwin asked him what it said. “It says thank you for the money, that he really did appreciate it, and that when you sent some more this way for him, to make sure that you made the pick-up easier, as in boxes and not suitcases.”
Baldwin was happy to know that Bart had no idea what he’d found in the ring. Few ever would, and when he had all the pieces, he’d be the wealthiest and the strongest man in the world. He had only to find all six pieces to make that happen.
The legend, one as old as the earth, had fallen in his lap some time ago and he’d been searching for the pieces since. He and two other people, enemies of his, were the only ones that had an inkling as to what the jewels were really for.
“Kill him.” Steward nodded and asked about the girl. “Her too. If she is Gentry’s daughter, then she’s just as guilty for killing my daughter as the rest of them.” No witnesses were the only way to ensure that he got what he wanted in this.
It hurt him to say that, almost as much as it had when he’d been told that his lovely little girl, Anderson, had been killed when they’d thought she was her husband in the car. But the entire family needed to be purged from the earth, and if he had to murder his own flesh and blood to do so, then he would. When Steward left him, Baldwin picked up the picture again and looked at it. It was as if he were looking at his little girl again before she’d been pulled into the life of crime with her husband.
Anderson had been…well, willful didn’t begin to cover what his little girl had been. She had a mind of her own, and damn the person that had any other opinion than hers. Even he had butted heads with her from time to time, and had, in the end, decided that it was easier to give in than to fight with her. That was how she’d ended up married to his worst enemy. Bartholomew had been a thorn in his side then, and had been placed on his list of ones who needed to die when his daughter had called him from the accident she’d been in that night so long ago.
“Someone hit me. I think…I’m hurt badly.” He asked her who’d done it, his mind not fully awake when the call had come to his home in the middle of the night. “Bartholomew. Help me. I don’t know yet what’s going on, but I don’t want to die.”
Baldwin could hear the sirens then, the men coming to rescue his little girl, knowing that it was going to be too late for her. She told him that she was sorry that she
couldn’t hang on for him. Then the line had gone dead; his little girl was gone from him forever.

Willow The James Children Chapter Four 2/2/16

Pageflex Persona [document: PRS0000039_00072]

 

~Chapter 4~
Willow avoided him completely on Tuesday and Wednesday. On Thursday, she had to take the morning off to have the stitches removed and didn’t get to work until after eleven. By the time she’d caught up on her mail and fielding calls from vendors, she was nearly five hours behind. At six o’clock, the last truck left the lot and she was on the first floor covering seams with mud on the newly hung drywall. She’d thought about Robert all week and wondered for the hundredth time what he’d been about to do. Kiss her? She certainly would have let him at that moment and gotten angry with herself all over. No matter how appealing it was, kissing her employees was out of the question. If it ever was a possibility. She snorted to herself and turned the volume up on her book. It was nearly eleven when she got to her house. Exhausted and dirty, she stripped down to her boxer briefs and bra in the kitchen and tossed the whole load in the washer. One more day, she thought. Then she’d have two days off in a row. Then she remembered her dinner date with her parents. “Fuck, fuck fuck.” Standing in the kitchen listening to the washer fill, Willow wondered if she could get out of it. She was running ideas through her head when her phone rang. It was one of her parents, as they were the only ones with this number. “Hello, parental unit. How’s it hanging?” She smiled when her father sputtered on the other end. “You ever check your messages, young lady? Your mother has been frantic.” Willow smiled bigger. Her mother didn’t get frantic, her dad did. “I’ve been having a torrid affair with the milk man and he keeps strange hours. He had to keep me a secret from his wife and eight kids.” Willow burst out laughing at her dad’s “smart ass,” but he went on without any more comments about her mom. “This dinner thing tomorrow night, I’ll expect you here on time and without a stitch of flannel on. Ghastly attire you’ve gotten into the habit of wearing.” There went her hopes of getting out of it. “I had a dress made of just that material too. Now what will I wear? Maybe if you’re really nice to me and tell me the name of the man mom and you have set me up with this time, I’ll know what to wear.” She had a number of clothes that would deter even the quickest hands. Her dad snorted, a nice habit she’d taught him to do. “Your mother has two set up. Well, one from each of us. Miscommunication or some other stupid reason. I distinctly remember her telling me to invite young Nathan, but now she swears that she didn’t. That ugly boy Taylor is coming too.” Willow laughed. “He’s not ugly, Dad. He’s unique.” Boy was he ever. “Willow, the man has the biggest ears I’ve ever seen. Why, in a good storm, a wind would pick him up and he’d be on the space station in a matter of minutes. And that laughter…sounds like a bull horn going off.” Willow did agree about the laughter, but could only laugh more. She loved her parents very much and was a daddy’s girl too. She and her mom had been best friends since she’d discovered, at age ten, that her mother hid a wicked sense of humor and a sharp wit. They had never had the usual problems most families had. Willow even enjoyed the company of her older brother Alexander.
“So,” she stretched out the word. “I suppose you’d probably prefer it if I didn’t marry Taylor. And since Nathan won’t have me, then I guess I’m safe for the night.” Willow waited for the explosion and wasn’t disappointed. “What do you mean he ‘won’t have you?’ Why that man would be damned lucky if you gave him the time of day. Won’t have you—why, men would be lining up if you’d pay them the slightest attention. Why won’t he have you? I’ll tear him apart for saying such a thing.” “Because, my dearest defender, I don’t have the equipment he prefers in a sexual partner. And I’m pretty sure he has one. A partner, I mean.” The silence at the other end was profound. She opened the icebox and waited while she tried to remember the last time Marta, her housekeeper, friend, and cook, had bought groceries. Marta Priest was due back tomorrow, thank goodness. Willow had missed her while she’d been on vacation. But putting up with Willow, she figured the woman needed a break. The house seemed incredibly empty and not just of food, but also Marta’s sage advice and her smart-assed answers. Marta was the daughter of Willow’s parents’ cook, Shasta. Her dad, she knew, was sorting thought the information no doubt trying to figure out a way to still marry her off. She knew he wouldn’t care about Nathan being gay. That had nothing to do with either their friendship, or hers to him for that matter. But he would try to salvage something out of this. “Willow, honey, where do you get—never mind. I’m sure as your father I just don’t want to know.” The heavy sigh made her smile. “All right then, we’ll just be a bunch of friends and family getting together. Your brother is going to try and make it in, but he said he couldn’t guarantee anything at this point. And you stay away from that Taylor boy. I won’t have you getting with child by him. Birthing one of his children with those ears could kill you.” Willow hung up a little while later after her dad went on then about her brother and how her mother despaired of the day he’d have a baby. She didn’t even tell him that Alex having a child would be harder than her birthing Taylor’s kid, but let it go. She was too tired to even open a can of soup, had there been one in the house to do so. She was trudging up the stairs to her bedroom when she decided she’d go to the store Saturday on her way home if Marta didn’t. Pulling a small pad of paper and a pen to her as she laid down, she made a note of things to get. She hated shopping for food almost as much as she hated to do laundry. Which was why, she thought with a huge yawn, she had about seventy pairs of underwear and that many t-shirts too. She fell asleep with the pen still in her hand along with the pad of sticky notes. When she woke the next morning at four, she was covered in sticky notes and ink blotches. As she stripped off her sheets, she made herself a mental note to buy pencils and then discarded that idea almost immediately. It would be just her luck she’d end up with lead poisoning if she slept with a pencil. After taking a long shower, she made her way to the closet. Willow had purchased the house at an estate auction. Her parents had helped her get the loan. Even with all her money and a job, the bank didn’t want to loan money to a then seventeenyear-old kid. But she had paid the loan back on time and had also been able to get a second loan on her own since then. The house for the most part had been in great shape. The lawns were the worst she’d ever seen, but she’d enjoyed bringing them back to life. All the bushes had to be pulled up and instead of replacing them as the local nursery had suggested, Willow planted bulbs and perennials and flowering fruit trees. She had made the cover of Architectural Digest last fall for her grounds alone.
The yard in the back had been useless so Willow had had a large in-ground pool put in along with a pool house and a little cottage for Marta to live in. Willow spent a great deal of time in the back yard in the warmer months and even the cooler ones since she’d had the pool heated. Willow simply loved the outdoors. The third floor of the house was finished, as it was where her room was. The original house had had four bedrooms on the third floor and six on the second with a single bathroom per floor. Now after three years, there was a master suite complete with fireplace, sitting area, and an office. Both bedrooms had massive bathrooms as well. The master bath had a large shower stall, as well as a sunken tub. She loved its jets and when she was able to use it, lit candles to set all around the glass block shelves that formed the outside wall. The toilet and sink were separated from the tub by another wall of glass blocks. She’d had to order the porcelain in the room, as it was a dark cobalt blue, so that the sink, toilet, counter top, and tub all were dark against the blue and white tile of the floor. The shower stall was surrounded in the glass and some had been filled with a blue gas that seemingly moved inside. As one stepped back toward the bedroom, there was a closet complete with dresser that sat back to back to each other. They split the room in half and divided the closet perfectly. She hadn’t wanted to put in two dressers, but her mother pointed out that if she ever sold the house to buy something bigger or something to play with, she would have a better chance of selling it for a couple. Willow loved her bedroom with its twelve foot ceilings and top to bottom windows. The two outside walls both had two each. Since there was no need for a closet in this room, Willow built the headboard into the wall and made sure it had all the comforts she wanted, including the size of the custom mattress at one and a half the size of a regular king. The small end tables pulled out and there was a gun safe behind one and a fire proof safe behind the other. She had them both filled with her things. Most nights when she came home from work, it was all she could do to put the gun back in the safe because she never left the site until well after dark. There was a gas fireplace in the wall directly across from the bed and a sofa and two wing backed chairs as well. There was also a work area, though Willow never used it, but it had been a suggestion from her dad and since she let her mom talk her into the double dressers, she went with the workstation to appease the man. He had blustered for days about it. The other bedroom, only marginally smaller than the one she slept in, had the same type of headboard, but there was no bed. She used that room strictly for storage and nothing more. After she was dressed, Willow went to her office. The second floor had taken her the most time. It had been her plan to reduce the number of bedrooms down to two as well, but had taken out two of the rooms and added baths that each set of bedrooms shared. She’d taken out the smallish closets and replaced them with large walk-ins that were well-lit and spacious. The bedrooms were finished for the most part. Carpet had been taken up and the floor sanded and finished. But the woodwork, wide ceiling molding, and overhead fans needed to be hung, and the furniture, all antiques, had to be put back in place. Most of it was in storage in the garage. The first floor had a grand entrance with wide double doors and stained glass windows down either side of it. The parquet floors replaced the worn tile and Willow had talked her parents into the beautiful chandelier she’d wanted for the ceiling last Christmas. There was a huge living room that was devoid of anything—not even pictures on the wall. She didn’t spend any time in there so was in no rush to furnish it.
The dining room was big enough to hold the cherry and walnut table she’d bought with its fourteen chairs and the massive hutch that held some of her collection of snowmen. She didn’t use this room much either. There was her office, which had been the first room finished, and she thought it reflected her tastes perfectly. A hodgepodge, her mother had called it, but Willow loved it. This room was as big if not bigger than some living rooms, though smaller than the two bedrooms in the house. The computer desk had been custom built by her and stained and polished by her dad. The desk was a rich cherry and shone brightly in the sunny room. The wall over the desk and down both sides held shelves and a filing cabinet each. The shelves were overflowing with books of all kinds, styles, and genres. Willow was an eclectic reader and her books reflected that. Alongside signed first editions were dog-eared paperbacks as well as comic books and magazines. She simply loved the written word. The kitchen was mostly complete and would be as soon as Marta told her what else it needed. Willow didn’t cook, hated the task so much so that she would gladly live off pizza and take out before she’d ever try her hand at it. She and her dogs spent most of their time when she was home in the family room off from the kitchen. By just after seven, she was just finishing up with her last email when someone knocked at her door. Not expecting anyone or anything, she went to the door and opened it, ready to blast anyone who dared bother her on a Friday morning. With a squeal of delight, she launched herself into her brother’s chest. ~o0o~ Jared wandered through the house the realtor was showing him. This one, like the other four he’d been through, wasn’t what he wanted. He wasn’t sure what that was, but this wasn’t it. He came down the stairs no longer listening to the man…something Jones was clattering on about the houses charms. Jared had a mental list. Number one on the list was a large kitchen—a large, working kitchen. One he could move around in, entertain if he wanted, and to make love on the counter if Willow was in the mood. The realtor, William, Jared suddenly remembered, bumped into him when he suddenly stopped. Willow in the mood? Where the hell had that come from? “You all right, Mr. Stone?” Was he? No and hell no he wasn’t all right. He tried to shake off the uncomfortable shaft of desire that had him burning with a sudden need for the prickly woman. He’d had the most incredible vision of her wrapped around him as he pounded into her heat on the top of dark green counters. Jared turned and looked at the man. “This is nothing like what I gave you to find for me and we both know it. If you take me to one more overpriced house you are trying to get rid of then I will find another realtor. Go over the list again and contact me when you have some that I will consider. I have neither the time nor the patience for this. Understand?” This was not how Jared wanted to spend his Friday night. “Yes, sir. I’m sorry, sir. But the market has been—” Jared cut him off with a raised brow. “Of course,” William went on. “I’ll set you up for more of what you had in mind next week.” “This weekend if possible.” Jared walked out the front door and got into his car. He’d had enough. Monday morning he was going to confront the woman and tell her she was fired and to fire that Talbor. It was the surest way of getting her out of his system. And his dreams. That made
him think of the dream he’d had of her last night, the one where he’d done all sorts of decadent things to the lovely Miss James. Slamming his hand against the steering wheel, he growled in frustration. And when he got home, he was calling every woman on his phone and exorcising Willow from his mind. He was frustrated, that was all. He needed to get laid. Somehow, as he pulled into his driveway, he knew that wasn’t it at all.

 

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

Calhoun Men 

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


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


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


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


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

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

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~Chapter 3~
Jared was ready to begin work by Monday. Actually, he’d decided to head out when he returned to Ohio on Sunday afternoon. He was surprised when he got there that there was a truck in the parking lot. He could see someone in the site trailer, but didn’t know who so he parked on the street and walked around the yard and building shell. The walls were in, but only some of the interior wiring was finished on the third floor office building. Jared knew from the weekly reports that the electricians were due to bring in extra crew to finish the job by the end of the week. Bricking off the outside of the façade was nearly done with just one more wall nearly to completion. Going in through one of the boarded up doors, he stepped into a large, open area. The building was slated for a single company and the drywall was being put up to make the individual rooms on the lower floors. Most of the first floor wasn’t finished so he walked to the stairs to go to the top floors and make his way down. He smiled when he got to the second level. Stone prided itself on the way they finished a building. The crews would finish the top floors first then work down and out. He noticed that the upper floor, the topmost level, was just awaiting mud work on the seams of the hung drywall. In the four rooms up here, two of them had been painted and of those, one had the ceiling completed. Jared was touring the second floor when he was stopped by a deep, hard voice. “You got a reason to be hanging around a closed construction site? ‘Cause if not, then I suggest you get the fuck outta here.” Jared turned around slowly. He didn’t know the man behind him and didn’t know what the man might have pointed at him, like another bat or a gun. Jared was surprised to see two people standing there. One was the man from the bar; Conley, if he remembered correctly. The other was Willow. His first thought was that she looked exhausted, then he noticed her face. Christ, she was bruised. He caught himself before he went to her. Then he really took a better look. She was taller than he remembered at about five-foot, ten inches. She was also very beautiful. Even with her bruised eye and lip, she still looked like every man’s dream, both sexy and innocent at the same time. Her eyes were clear, a shade of blue so light that he knew they were as unique as the woman was. A small patrician nose and high cheekbones gave the impression of a model, but for some reason, Jared knew she’d scoff at the notion. Willow’s hair was pulled back again; its rich, dark color looked blue-black under the harshness of the bulbs hanging from unfinished fixtures. Today she had on just a t-shirt and jeans; the flannel, he realized now, had hidden a great deal of the woman. Full breasts strained the shirt and her muscled arms looked like she was a working foreman rather than an office one. Her jeans hung low on her full hips and curved over her thighs like a second skin. Tears at the knees and one at the thigh were not from some manufacturer’s idea of what worn jeans looked like, but from actual work. Jared found himself wanting to ask her to turn around so that he could see if her ass looked as good as he remembered. Conley clearing his throat had Jared look back at him. He knew in that moment that the other man knew just where Jared’s thought had been. “I start working here tomorrow. I’m Jared Robert.” He reached for his wallet, suddenly glad he’d had new identities made with his partial name on them. “Miss Kensal set it up. I was just seeing where I’d be working.”
Conley took his driver’s license and with a quick glance, handed it to Willow. She looked, but made no comment as she handed it back to Jared. “I’m Will James, the foreman here. This is my second in command, Thomas Conley.” She cocked her head at him. “You were at the bar last weekend…Monday, in the back room when…” She looked up at Conley. “Yeah. I’d just come home from another job. I’m here to fill in work until the job is complete. You should have been notified sometime last week that I was coming.” At least he hoped so. “Yeah, got it Friday. Work begins here at eight on Monday, Robert, not Sunday afternoon. You’re lucky no one shot you. Conley, show Robert the lay of the land then both of you get the hell off my job site. I got shit to do and I don’t need a babysitter.” Willow looked pointedly at Conley and he smiled back at her. “Okay, boss. But you’ll call if you…you know.” She nodded at Conley and left them standing there. Jared and Conley stood watching each other until they heard the board move back over the opening again. It was quiet for a full minute before Conley spoke. “She ain’t gonna like that you lied to her. She’s real big on honesty.” Jared didn’t say anything, but was shocked. “You and I met about five years ago at a company function. You here to fire her or to congratulate her?” A man that got to the heart of things. Jared liked him instantly. “Neither, for now. I’m here to work, like I said, and to see what’s going on. We’ve gotten a few…quite a few complaints about her.” Jared studied the man standing before him. “Are you going to tell her?” Conley looked down the stairs before answering. “Nope. Not my place. But I won’t help you either. Don’t come to me about information on her. I won’t help you either way. But know this, if she asks me, I will tell her.” Conley looked down the stairs again. “If you want my opinion, I think sending in a spy for your old man is about as low as it comes. I’m sure you know your way around your own site, Robert.” And with that, he left. The same dirty truck was in the lot the next morning. There were any number of others there, a car and two motorcycles as well. Jared wasn’t sure which vehicle was Willow’s or Conley’s, but he parked next to a truck that made him wonder if the driver lived it in. There were enough fast food wrappers and cola cans that he was sure they could fill a large land fill. With a shake of his head, he went to the trailer where several men and Willow were standing. It was just past seven-thirty. “…Sherman on floor two. I want those walls primed for Wednesday A.M. when the painters get here. Viktor and Jacobs, you’re to get the ceilings done on the top floor. There are…” Willow looked down at the clip board in her hand before she continued. “Seven on the second and the entire entrance this week. If you have time, I want you to begin the second floor as well. There are some more lights that go in there that the owner had decided to add. This is Robert, Jared Robert, and he’ll be with Thomason and Ruby on the set of the stone in the main entrance and office of the president. The rest of you get the drywall hung. Anything else?” “You didn’t assign me nothing, boss.” The voice was heavy with scorn and he had sneered her title like it was a dirty word. Jared turned to see the man behind him. He knew who he was, Talbor. The man had both his eyes still blackened, but probably not as bad as it had been. Jared wanted to laugh at the squat man, but didn’t want to get off on the wrong foot this early in the job.
“Have you finished the clean up?” Willow didn’t look at her list for him. “I told you on Tuesday and then Wednesday that was your job until it was complete. I was told I had to work you. Doesn’t mean I have to find you something constructive you can fuck up. Now you—” “I ain’t no fucking maid service. You put me to work inside, out of the sun, or I’ll tell my daddy that you ain’t complying to the arrangement.” Jared, as did everyone else, turned back to the man. “You ain’t fucking gonna get away with this soon as Stone finds out what I have to tell him.” Willow laughed at the man’s threat. “You ever get tired of that same litany every time you don’t get your way, Talbor? Your daddy bailing your ass out all the time? Clean up or I’ll cite you for failure to do your job.” She walked away even as he kept the insults up. The men didn’t say anything either, but simply went to their assigned jobs. Jared wasn’t sure if she had told them not to speak or they just didn’t care. At this point, he wasn’t sure what to think either. He followed the two men who went into the building to the main hall. Laying stone was usually left for a mason on a building site. Jared had been taught how to lay the stone when he’d still been in high school and knew that it was on his application that Willow had received from Sarah. He was really good at it too. He knew from the file on the men working here that both the men he was working with were masons and they wasted no time getting set up and to work. The sub flooring had already been sectioned off into four even squares with a snap chalk line. It started at the middle of each of the four walls and met in the center of the room to form a large X. It would be the starting point for them to work with. Ruby set Jared to work spreading the mortar after he asked Jared if he’d ever done it before. Jared had the thin-set mortar spread over about a four foot square area. The mortar needed to be in a combed pattern so they could follow the lines in the floor to keep the lines straight. As the men began laying the design of colored stone tile, putting spacers between each one to keep an even grout line, they began to talk. “You gonna be replacing one of us or you just here to fill in? Got my hopes on the first part so long as it ain’t me, you understand.” Ruby sounded like he hailed from the Deep South. There was a soft cadence about his voice that was soothing and funny at the same time. Jared knew he was from Atlanta and that Thomason, the other man, was from California. “Nah. Just helping out. I’ve been out of town for a while and this gig came up so I jumped on it.” his cover story was as close to the truth as he could give without giving away who he was. “I was missing home so I thought what the hell.” The men worked in silence for the most part after that. Twice he heard Willow’s voice and once he’d caught a glimpse of her as she strode by the room, but she never stopped to speak to them. He was impressed that she didn’t micromanage her people, but for a reason he didn’t want to think about, was aggravated that she didn’t. They were breaking for lunch when he saw her again. She was directing a delivery truck to one of the many site storage units. It was a tractor trailer loaded with drywall and buckets of what he assumed was plaster. He watched her as she walked over to a forklift and strapped in when the truck was parked. As she began to unload the heavy pallets, Jared felt someone come up behind him and wasn’t surprised that it was Shawn Talbor.
“She’s a fucking bitch, you know. Thinks her shit don’t stink. I fucking hate her.” his voice was low but full of hatred. Without turning around, Jared asked him, “Then why do you work here? Seems to me there are plenty of other construction companies around you could sign on with. Most or all of them would welcome someone from Stone Construction.” Which wasn’t true. Word was that Stone was difficult to get hired on to, but if you left on your own, you were either stupid or retiring. Jared knew that they paid top dollar and treated their employees with respect. The answering laugh sent a chill down Jared’s spine. “’Cause it would make her day. I’ll stick around. ‘Sides, Daddy said if I play my cards right, I’ll have her job before much longer. But she’s been fucking that old man Stone for years and got herself buried in like a tick. Only reason she got this far is ‘cause she gives good head.” Jared didn’t turn now because had he done so, he would have killed the man. His parents were the most faithful people he knew and his father had never had an affair. He knew this because his mother told him that as long as he was alive, then she knew this for a fact. She claimed, and Jared didn’t doubt her, that no one would ever find his body if he even thought about having one. “Course you can ask any man here about that too. ‘Specially Conley. Them two been going at it for months. Heard tell she prefers married men to the single ones. Why I don’t stand a chance with her, not that I’d touch some man’s seconds.” With that and his maniacal laughter, he left Jared to go to the lunch wagon. Jared ate with the other men. Willow emptied the flatbed while they did. Most watched her; a couple of them wandered over then came back. Jared wondered if they set up duties or offered to help. He wasn’t sure why what Talbor said bothered him so much. It wasn’t as if he was dating her or anything. After lunch, he went to the upper floors before going back to work on the tile. The second floor had been less than a quarter finished with hanging the drywall last night. Today all but one wall was hung and it was being done now. Willow was setting a screw to the last one as he stood watching her. ~o0o~ Willow had a set of headphones on and was listening to a book. She didn’t particularly care for music, but needed something to drown out the constant hammering and other things going on. It really was too bad the book wasn’t working. When she got the last sheet into place and the last screw set, she turned to get her pail and trowel. She was startled to see the new guy there. She pulled off the headphones. “Something I can help you with, Robert?” She looked around and found they, for the most part, were coming along. “You just looking around again?” He’d been leaning against the doorjamb, but straightened now. There was something about the man that made her nervous. It wasn’t his height, though that was impressive at about sixfoot-six. It was something…manly, she thought, that made her feel weird. He looked like one of those guys on the cover of one of the books, Shasta, her mother’s cook, read. She called them bodice rippers and the men looked like they could take on the world. “No,” he said as he moved closer. “I was just wondering what you’re doing. Didn’t see you at lunch and thought maybe you had a picnic or something up here.” Willow wanted desperately to back away, but stood her ground. “No, just me. I don’t usually stop for…shouldn’t you be on the tile job?” Anywhere but here, she thought.
He reached up and plucked at her hair and showed her the plaster he’d removed. “We’re waiting on the stone to be delivered. Supposed to be on the way.” Willow nodded as she watched his fingers roll the plaster between them. His fingers were incredibly long and so slender. She couldn’t help but think about them touching her. And her skin heated. This man worked for her. She looked up at his face when his fingers stopped moving. It was a beautiful face, strong jaw line, straight, narrow nose. The stubble on his face was dark and begged to be touched to see if it was soft or hard. His eyes were a dark brown, like hot cocoa made with melted dark chocolate rather than with cocoa. His hair was a warm brown and curly at the ends. He wore it long and he had it pulled to the nape of his neck in a pony tail that was probably six inches long. His voice, when he spoke to her now, was dark, low, and made her body tingle. “How’s your mouth, Willow?” He ran his thumb over her lower lip and asked her again. “Fine. Sore. I’ve had worse.” She took a step back then another when he stepped toward her. “You should go back to work.” Her own voice was like nothing she’d ever heard before. She didn’t know what he might have said, but a shout from the lower level had them both back apart. Willow had never been so glad for the noise in her life.

 

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Kathi S. Barton Author
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