Nick Stark had known Addison West for quite some time. Although they’d never met in person they shared the same nightmare?both were unwilling participants. However, through these dreams they had formed a bond between them. And a telepathic connection. So when out of the blue, Addie contacted Nick and told him she had seen some things that she shouldn’t have and she was next on the killer’s list, Nick didn’t hesitate to come to her rescue.
Nick had known for some time that Addie was to be his?why else would they share the same dream? But he was in no hurry to form emotional attachments. Never having much in the way of a decent family life, he didn’t know much about love. And with the deep emotional scars he bore from an abusive childhood, he didn’t want to bring that burden onto another soul?especially Addie.
Addie had her own baggage. Her father had been forcing her to marry an abusive man?he told her it was her duty as his daughter to obey him. Addie wasn’t having any part of it, so she ran…. She had been hiding for the last five years.
Nick may not have wanted any attachments but he couldn’t ignore the beauty he’d rescued. But there were things he had to tell her…about all of them…about Steele Bennett’s group. He wasn’t sure how she fit into all this….
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“I swear to you if you say that to me one more time, not only am I going to break your face, but I might just put you someplace deep and dark and forget about you.” Joel Delaney stretched his neck and felt it pop several times before he looked at the man in front of him. “Now. We’re going to try this again. Where the fuck is Addison West? And if you say one word about her being lost to me, I swear to Christ, I will kill you.”
“Last time anybody ever saw her was when she went to the dress shop and then the bank. There she cleaned out her account. And that was five years ago, or thereabouts. There wasn’t much in there, but she was in there for a while. I had me a look and so far as I can tell, she made one phone call to her grandmother. Then she just seemed to be gone. Nobody’s heard from her since. If she did any more, nobody is saying.” Joel knew about her account. Her parents had set her up a checking account when Addison turned sixteen. It had been their way of saying to the world that they trusted their daughter with money. But so far as her father and he knew, there had never been any more than about a grand in the account at any given time. “I tried to get in to see Mrs. Simon-English, but she’s not having it. Stubborn old broad if you ask me.”
Joel knew the stubborn old broad too. Evangeline Simon-English was the most annoying, pain in the ass woman he’d ever had the displeasure of meeting. But he treated her like the queen that she thought she was to try to keep on her good side. She was frighteningly rich, and he wanted her to at least respect him enough to have a party in his name. He supposed with as much money as she had, she could be whatever she wanted. Evie to her close friends, she was the grande dame of all the world. But he’d had to call her Mrs. Simon-English since he met her, and made the mistake of calling her Evie when it was announced that he was going to marry Addison. That hadn’t gone over any better than him trying to kiss her hand. She’d slapped him right on the face for touching her.
“You will have respect for me, Joel Delaney. I’m not one of those women that you are frequently chasing around your desk.” He started to deny it, but she held up her hand and told him not to even try. “I know a great deal about you and your family. And I don’t like you one bit. If my granddaughter loves you, which I doubt, then I will have to tolerate you. But she doesn’t, so that will be the extent of our relationship. None whatsoever. You are not welcome in my homes, nor—and I daresay it will never come to this—will you be welcome into my family.”
“She doesn’t have to love me, Mrs. Simon-English, but she will obey me.” The old bitch, the fucking bat as he called her when referring to her, just huffed at him. “My influence and money will be enough to keep her in the style that she’s grown up with, but I will not tolerate you interfering in our lives once the wedding has taken place. And she won’t be coming to you for anything. I’ll cut that off as well.”
“You can dream a big dream, can’t you?” She moved away from him, but not before turning to stare at him. “You’d do well to remember who I am, Mr. Delaney.
While you may have some money, I have a great deal more. And I’m not afraid to use it to get anything and everything I want.”
That had been nearly five years ago. The next day his fiancée was gone and no one had seen her since. Her parents, about as useless as some of the shits that worked for him, had no idea where their daughter had gone. And as far as he could see, they didn’t care either. Once she’d left, they’d cut her off without a dime and had written her out of their lives as if she’d never been there. But he had a feeling that the fucking old bat not only knew where she was, but was funding her as well. No way could Addison be without money. She was a rich woman and would want money all the time.
Joel knew next to nothing about Addison. Not that he cared, other than for what she brought to his home in the form of money. Other than he wanted her as his wife, and her money. He knew that she’d been twenty-one when she’d left him, and that she was beautiful beyond measure.
Not that he really needed her money, but the point was there was never enough of it. He had made good investments, owned a business that made money, and he had a lovely house that she’d be taking care of. He had plenty of money of his own, yes that was true. But having more, like her parents did, was something that he wanted and would have. And having the prestige of having the name West attached to his was going to open doors like he’d never realized before.
When Burt left him a few minutes later, Joel made his way to his play room. He’d been summoned away from his fun and when he returned, he was going to go on as if nothing had happened. The woman he had tied to his bed was lying just as he’d left her.
Her legs were spread wide and her breasts were still covered in his cum. Dried now, it held little appeal to him, but he knew he’d be spreading some over her again before long and called to Fred to come and help him. The man never looked at the woman, but helped him undress and then fisted his cock for him until he was hard again.
“Clean her up too. And with your tongue.” The “yes sir” had Joel holding his own cock now as the manservant moved to the bed. He did just as he was told and lapped the dried cum off her breasts, then moved down her belly. Joel could see that she was wet, that whatever Fred was doing to her had her excited, but Joel let them play. It was almost as much fun to him as fucking was.
When she moaned, Joel took his place between her thighs. He wasn’t ready to fuck her just yet, and was content to watch her being eaten by Fred. The man had a wonderful tongue, as Joel knew first hand. And when he freed his own cock, Joel watched him.
“You want to fuck her?” Fred said that he did. “You know what you’ll have to do if I let you. You know how to repay me for letting you.”
“I do, my lord.” Fred had a lovely cock too. It was thick and hard, glistening at the end so that Joel was hard pressed not to take him into his mouth instead of letting him fuck the woman. “What would you like for me to do?”
Joel wanted it all. He wanted to be fucked by Fred, fuck the woman, and have his cock sucked too. He was a greedy man, but also knew that the drugs to keep him this hard were soon to wear off, and he wasn’t going to be able to take any more until tomorrow. So he told Fred to have the woman, and he moved up behind the man to take him as well.
It was over quickly…at least his part was. He came almost as soon as he entered the tight hole on his manservant, but lingered long after Fred fucked the woman. Fred had the woman coming four times before he finally released, and Joel watched him as he pulled his clothing back on and left him with the woman.
She was nearly purring with her sexual releases. Joel only watched her as she laid there, her body still spread out before him like a feast; a feast that he was sick of looking at. He pulled out the knife that was in the nightstand and cut her lose. Then he told her to get out. Joel left the room a few minutes later to enter his own.
Joel took a shower, scrubbing off all the sex he’d had with them as hard as he could. Not that he was trying to wash away the enjoyment, but the smell of sex made him ill. It was why he never had it in his bedroom. And only with his servants. The woman, of course, would be gone tomorrow, her pocket full of cash and a reference in her hand. That was why he only hired women to service him and not clean his home. They were only useful for that one thing as far as he was concerned. And once his little pill wore off, he was finished with them all together.
“Oh Addison, where the fuck are you?” He was pissed every time he thought of her. She’d left him. And as much as he wanted to say good riddance to her, it was the fact that she’d left him without his permission that pissed him off the most. He didn’t care for her any more than, he supposed, she did him, but he’d been promised her as his wife and, by God, she was going to be his wife. Even if in name only.
For five years she’d been gone. He had not a clue as to where she’d gone and not a hint of where she was staying, and even less of an idea as to how she was living. Joel had strongly believed that she was living in the mansion that her grandmother lived in. But his spies, people that he’d paid off to search, had never found so much as a note from her. And they had looked too, or so they’d told him just after they’d been found out by Mrs. Simon-English.
He had to find Addison. Now it was no longer a marriage that he wanted from her, a marriage that he didn’t really care for, but he needed her to inherit his mother’s money. No wife, no money, she’d told him. Where she’d gotten the idea that she could make the rules had surprised him, but he found out through a servant of his mother’s that she’d been having visitors. Another reason to hate the fucking old bat.
Mrs. Simon-English had told his mother that requiring him to get married was the only way to ensure that she became a grandmother before her death. He had to talk to that fucking old bat too about staying out of his business. His mother wouldn’t be making any more demands either, once he had Addison bowing before him. He’d see to that quick enough. But for now…well, for now he was sort of between a rock and a hard place.
“Like I want a child.” Shuddering, he dressed with care, not waiting for Fred to come and assist him. “A sniffling, nasty, dirty child is not anything I want near me.”
As he left his home, he told Fred that he’d be back in a week. It was time he did his own search of the Simon-English home, and there had better be some answers around for him to find. Then he was going to visit some of his mother’s estates. She had several that he used on occasion, and he needed to relax before tackling Mrs. Simon-English, the old bitch herself. He wanted his mother’s money almost as much as he wanted the West fortune. Joel Delaney was going to have it all.
Steele was sitting at the table enjoying some much needed down time and a nice hot cup of tea when someone came into the room. Ignoring him would have been easy, he supposed. He wasn’t really there, but this man looked as confused as any ghost he’d ever met. And the man had been hurt…tortured badly before he’d been killed. Steele could see that as well. When the ghost wandered around the kitchen for the second time, Steele sighed. Then he looked at Nick when he entered the room and sat at the table. He, of course, could not see the ghost just yet.
“I was thinking about taking a drive around the city for a few days. Do you think you can spare me? I need…I just need to be gone for a while.” Steele nodded to the ghost, and Nick looked in that direction. “Someone need you?”
“I would think he needs us both by the looks of him. Someone has taken a knife to his entire body and then shot him.” The ghost looked at him and then looked at his body. “I don’t think he knows just yet.”
Ghosts, for the most part, were harmless. Especially the ones that came to see him. He had rules and, as he was very well known in the spectra world, those rules were seldom not followed. This man was here on his own, but Steele would bet from the look of this guy there would be more just like him.
“I think something happened to me.” Steele told him he was sure of it. “I was…am I dead? I mean, how can I be walking around like this and not be?”
“I’m sorry to tell you, but you are. What is the last thing you remember?” The man sobbed and Steele waited. He knew that in a few minutes he’d have to tell the man he was dead again. It was as hard for them to realize that part of their demise as it was for someone being told they had a terminal disease.
“We were…there was a woman. She took us out of our home and…my wife? Have you found her yet?” Steele said that he’d not. “We were there with our family. In our house for the holidays. I think she might have killed us all. My wife and I were in the kitchen having a late…what happened to me?”
“You were murdered. What year was this, do you remember?” The man cried again but told him the year. Steele noticed that Nick was taking notes. “You’ve not been gone long, sir. Just about five months. Do you know what your name is?”
“My lovely wife. She was just sitting there and bam, that thing hit her in the head. The woman was with my oldest son. I told my wife that he didn’t look like he was sure about them, but you know how the young are.” Steele nodded and repeated everything to Nick. “She said—the woman, not my lovely wife—she said that she wanted to talk to
us. Then she hit my wife. Margaret was her name. My Maggie. The woman’s name was…. I’m sorry. I can’t remember right now.”
“That’s fine. You’re doing just fine. We’re going to find you. And your family.” Nick nodded and left them, only to return a few seconds later with a laptop. “Your name is…?”
“Charlie. Charles and Margaret Hicks.” Nick was clicking away on the keyboard as Charlie continued. “My son is Charles too, but he never liked it. So he went by Sam, our middle name.”
“Did you live in Ohio, Mr. Hicks?” Nick couldn’t see the man, but he could ask him questions. “I have a missing report on Charles…I have a missing report.”
When Steele looked at the computer as Nick turned it to him, he felt his heart twist. There was a list of names on the missing report that would keep them busy for a while. Charlie said he did live there and asked again what had happened to him.
“You’ve been killed by a woman who entered your home. What can you tell me about her? Anything? Like, do you remember what she looked like? What she sounded like?” Charlie said he couldn’t remember and cried softly. “We’ll find you, Charlie. If you can take me to where you woke up now, I’ll have someone find the rest of your family too.”
“She was his date. Sam had been single for a few years, his wife passing and leaving him with our granddaughter. Meggie, too, after her grandmother.” Charlie cried harder. “She’s dead too, isn’t she? My little granddaughter, who never hurt nobody, is dead too.”
Steele looked at the list and nodded, telling him that she was missing as well. He waited until Charlie could talk again before he asked him where he had come from. By the time he had some information to go on, the rest of the men in the house were up as well and joining them. Kari was helping to get breakfast on the table with their cook Izzy and her husband Jake.
Ray was making arrangements to go by van. They would all load into it, but Steele and Kari would go by car. Not that they would normally be separated from the group, but Charlie knew where he had been but not the address. He would have to follow the man by car as he made his way back to where his body had been tossed, no doubt. It was going to be a long day if the list that was on the missing report was any kind of indication.
It took them nearly an hour to find the gravesite. And by the time they’d called in the local police, the news vans had started to show up. It took Steele having to call in a favor to keep their names out of the paper, and no one was happy when the Feds showed up. It was a missing person’s case up until the first body was discovered. Ray Hancock stood near him as the second, then the third body was found.
“You know how many are here?” Steele told him there might be as many as eleven. “Christ. Children too?”
“Yes.” Ray hated it when children were involved. Well, to be honest, they all did. But when Aster came to stand next to him, he told her to go to Kari. She was taking this very hard. The little girl, Meggie, had found his wife, and Kari had never had to help with a child before this. Steele continued speaking with Ray as his sister went to his wife. “They were at his home for Christmas. The woman who killed them was with the son. He seemed confused, his dad said.”
“You think she went there just to murder them?” Steele nodded. “Why? I mean, maybe she had a breakdown and just killed them on a whim.”
“She tortured them. Charlie looks like she cut him up over a long period of time. I’m betting that the autopsy will show that they were all done the same way. She brought them here, but I don’t think this is where they were killed. Charlie said he lived in this area, but this isn’t his land.”
“So we have to figure out where that is as well, unless it was his house. You think that’s where she killed them?” Steele just stared at him. “You know, don’t you? You know either who she is or where she is.”
“I know who she is, but you’re not going to like it.” Ray started cursing, and Steele just smiled. “Yeah, I know what you mean. We tried to tell them when they released her that this would happen again.”
Ellen Wooten had been in an institute for the criminally insane since she’d been eight. Ellie, as everyone had called her, had murdered not just her family, but the neighbors on both sides of them, as well as all the animals that had been in the houses. There were nineteen people killed and torn up by the child, and she’d been put away. Not her face, her name…nothing about her had hit the papers for over fifteen years, until about a year ago when her time served had been up and she’d been labeled as fit to return to society. A mistake by the system that was now coming back to haunt them in the worst kind of way.
“‘Model patient,’ they said. ‘Never even raises her voice,’ they said to me. I told them this would happen. I told them every day that fucking meeting was going on this would happen. Once those kind get a taste for it, there isn’t a damned thing going to stop them.” Steele let Ray go on. At least his voice was down so that the papers and news crews weren’t getting any of it. “What the fuck are they going to do now? I ask you this.” “We find her, or help to find her, and have her put away again.” They looked at the dogs going over the property, and Steele watched as they pulled out another body, this one wrapped in what looked to him like wrapping paper. “I know that it won’t help these people, but we can hopefully save a few more.”
It took them nearly nine hours to find them all. All the people on the missing list had been accounted for, and even the dog and cat that had been in the family had been found with the bodies, as if she’d wanted to keep them together for some reason. Steele was thinking how she would have needed plenty of time to dig these graves for them, not to mention bringing them all to this site. He wondered if she’d had any help, and decided to go and ask the group of ghosts that were gathered around each other.
“No. Not that we remember seeing.” The little girl was standing next to who Steele assumed was her mom when Charlie answered him. “Suppose she could have when she…after she was done, but didn’t see nobody that night.” “If you’d let me touch one of you, the way you are now, maybe I can get something more. Perhaps she left behind something on you that will let me see more of what happened to you all.” Charlie put out his hand, but Steele shook his head. “I’m sorry, but not you. You’ve been…you’ve been dealing with this for too long. I need someone who is still unsure what has happened.”
It had to be the child. He could see that she was still not understanding what had happened to her. Yes, she could see that her family was all hurt, but it hadn’t occurred to her that all of them were as dead as she was. Steele knelt before her, careful not to frighten her.
When she shied behind her mom, Aster told him to let her do it. He watched his sister, someone that had been gone longer than this little girl had been alive, and let her take over for him. Her smile was as beautiful now as it had been the morning she’d left him and been killed.
“My name is Aster Bennett. Your name is Meggie, right?” The little girl nodded but didn’t move from her mom. “I’m sure this is all very scary to you. It was when it happened to me, so I know all about being afraid. But my brother can help you all. Would you let him?”
“She hurt me. I didn’t do anything wrong, but she still hurt me.” Aster nodded and Steele knew that this was costing his sister. She loved children as much as she had life. Her love of them had been what had gotten her killed that day. A simple act of kindness had led her into the path of a semi, and she’d been killed just like that. “I don’t want anybody to hurt me again.”
“And they never will, honey. Not ever again.” Steele felt a hand on his shoulder and looked up at Kari. She could see as much as he could, but not the injuries. His wife was a necro as well, but not as strong as him. No one was as strong as he was. “My brother is going to help find that bad woman and make sure that she never hurts anyone again. But you have to let him touch just a part of you. I swear to you, it won’t hurt you one bit.” The little girl stared at him, then looked up at her mom. The woman had suffered greatly at the hands of Ellen; not just her body, but her face as well. It was the same for the other family members that Ellen had killed. The women of the household had suffered the most.
“He won’t hurt me?” Aster assured her that he wouldn’t, not for anything. “And he’ll catch her? She hurt my doggie too. I love Shep, and he needs to be taken to the hospital soon.”
Steele only moved forward when little Meggie did. She was terrified, he could see that, but she was brave too, and he told her that. His touch to her cheek was just to assure her that he’d not hurt her, but he got more than he’d bargained for. The little girl had seen it all, her entire family being killed, before she was murdered too.