Hailey Whitehead was on the trip back home and everything was going as planned until a brief stop for lunch changed everything. The guy came into the diner waiving a gun and shouting orders and Hailey shot him.
Hailey knew what would come next, so when the cops arrived, she was on her knees with her pistol dangling from one finger and her permit to carry in the other hand. What she hadn’t counted on was an overzealous cop cuffing her too tight and leaving her on her own for far too long. By the time Jules Stanton discovered her predicament, she had nearly bled out.
Wyatt had performed the surgery on her wrist and he was worried that she would lose the use of her hand. He asked Dane to help her out with a few drops of her blood, but that didn’t go as planned either. Haylie had an unexpected reaction to Dane’s blood, and when she woke up, not only was she healed, she was no longer entirely human.
She was having the worst week of her life, and the Stantons “helping” her was only making things worse. She just wanted them to leave her alone. Now Colton, another Stanton, was telling her that she was his mate? The last thing she needed was a man ordering her around. Not no, but hell no!
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Dane had no idea who she was. She’d been shot and couldn’t even remember who she was hiding from. All she did know was she needed help, and when Julian Stanton found her, he took her to his family.
Brayden Stanton was just tired of everything. It was time to leave Africa and go home to family. He called his dad to tell him that he was fed up with the job and he was on his way home, and he was bringing a fiancée with him. She wasn’t his mate, but he was going to make it work. He realized his mistake the moment he proposed.
Danger comes at every turn. The women in Brayden’s life are surrounded with it. Both are lethal, but one has Braden’s heart from the beginning. The question is, can the family survive it?
Being a country lawyer was something Christian Stanton had always wanted to do. Taking a client he really didn’t want to represent was not what he had in mind.
Allie had been hired to teach the Stanton men hand to hand self-defense. She loved her job and was quite good at it. She knew about shifters, but had never really worked with them before. And when the big cat shifted into a very naked man proclaiming to be her mate, Allie wanted nothing to do with him.
When it came to Allie, Christian was in big trouble. She was no pushover and the sooner he figured that out the better off he’d be….
Julian Stanton was eating breakfast and rethinking his life as a PI when a stranger walked into the diner looking for Tess O’Rourke. Julian felt the hackles rise on his neck. He wanted to take his gun out and blow this guy’s head off for no apparent reason other than he didn’t like him. He’d never had an instant dislike for a person before. He didn’t know who Tess was, but he was going to make sure this stranger didn’t find her.
Tess was at her wit’s end. Dexter had once been her best friend, now she couldn’t get far enough away from him. He was everywhere, attacking her at every corner, emptying her bank account, and now he was after her baby daughter, Ruby. Only the Lord knew what he’d do to the baby if he got his hands on her.
Sent by his parents to help, Julian was to be Tess’s escort to the family home for dinner. The hotel was no longer safe since Dexter had found her there too. When she opened the door, she shoved the most precious squalling baby girl into his arms that Julian had ever seen. And when the woman walked by him, her scent hit him like a brick.
The job went from a favor to personal in the blink of an eye, and Julian would protect the girls in his life with his own if necessary.
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Hailey had a hundred and fifty or so miles to go today, but she had to rest. Even having help, loading the furniture had exhausted her. But she’d be home after lunch tomorrow. Or at least to the Stanton house. She looked over at David when he yawned. “Not such a glamourous thing, helping people out, is it?” He grinned at her. She had come to like the kid after the four days they’d spent together.
“I’m not sure about you, but I need a nice nap and some food. Not necessarily in that order either. How about you?” “I could eat. You were telling me about the wolf pack that is going to take me in. Do you think they’ll accept me?” She said sure—if not, they’d eat him. When he laughed, she did too. “They won’t, right? Eat me, I mean.” “Not if you don’t act stupid. And you don’t strike me as being nearly as stupid as your father.
” He nodded but didn’t laugh like she’d thought he might. “I’m sorry. I didn’t mean to make fun of your father like that.” “No, It’s all right. I think he’s stupid too. I was just thinking about how much he hates my sister, Ray. Her name is Rachel, but no one calls her that but Grandma.” He looked out the window, and she knew that he might be hurting. “The last time I saw my dad, he held me to his body with a knife to my throat to make Ray give him money. She did, and then had him arrested. The courts said that I could be with her and not my dad. My mom—she’s dead now—she was a lush—Grandma called her that. She was drunk too much to care if I was hurt or not. As you can imagine, I’ve not had a good childhood. And don’t get me started on my aunt—she’s my dad’s sister.
She’s fucking scary, pardon my language.” “That’s rough. My parents split up when I was just a kid. Back then it was just me and my brother, Pete. His real name is Peter, after my dad, but he hates when I call him that.” She laughed. “But I have two half-brothers and a half-sister from my mom. When it got to be too much with me living there too, I went to stay with Dad. Pete had already moved out by then.” None of that was true, she thought. Yes, she had a stepfather and the siblings, but she didn’t care for any of them at all. And she’d not left, she’d been kicked to the curb. But telling people the truth made them act funny around her. “My sister, Ray, she’s really super nice. And she takes good care of me. And Grandma when she was alive.
There was always money in the bank for us to use for food, bills, and stuff. I don’t know what we would have done without her.” Hailey asked him if he was ready to go eat. “I sure am. I think I could about eat a horse.” She was still laughing with him when they entered the restaurant. Her rig was parked in the lot and locked up tight. Also, and she’d not realized this when they started out, some of the pack was with them at all times. While she didn’t mind the extra security, she wondered if it was necessary. Hailey asked them if they wanted to join her and David.
“No, ma’am. We’re just fine. It might be better if we don’t let people know that we’re together. Might keep you and the boy safer.” She didn’t know what that meant about being safer, but nodded when he looked at David. “Thank you, though. It was nice of you.”
David was hungry. But then, even when he wasn’t that hungry, as he said, he could still out eat her. When he polished off the third hamburger and slurped the rest of his shake down, she asked him if he had hollow legs. His grin had her thinking that in a few years, women were going to be all over him. Even now, at sixteen, she thought he might be having some fun with it. “My grandma used to say the same thing about me having hollow legs. I loved her so much. She was kind and knew all sorts of stories that made me laugh.” She could see that he was still hurting from her passing. Hailey let him mourn her. She had no idea how to comfort someone when their relatives passed away. She didn’t have any other than her dad and brother that she’d even shed a tear for. “What do you do? Or are you a trucker all the time?” “I was when I was going to college—grad school. It was a way for me to make some money and pay for school too. Sometimes I’d miss a class or two, but I’d make it up. My mom didn’t have any money for that, after she had her own kids to raise, as she called my step family.” She was the one that looked out the window this time, thinking of the last time she and her mom had spoken. “I kept up my license in the event I’d have to do it again for some money. And so I have it. I work with my dad mostly, in the shop. We’re outfitting a Mustang, the two of us.”
“That’s cool. My grandma had this Model T. She gave it to Colton too. I guess he’s going to drive it back with him when they return. He let me drive it around the yard, then on the road for a little ways. It was amazing. And we laughed so hard. How much more do you have to go and get for them?” The change in subject was something that she was getting used to. He could change it quickly too. Hailey told him that this was the last pickup as far as she understood. “Your grandma’s house is probably torn down by now. The farmer that bought it, he wanted to get it planted soon. Your sister, Ray, what’s the beef between her and your dad?” He said that he didn’t know. That they were forever fighting. “Yeah, he doesn’t strike me as the friendly type.” “Ray told me that you hit him in the face. I wish I could have seen that.” She laughed with him. “He hurts me when he finds me. Then he makes me call Ray-Ray and tell her what he’s done. I don’t know why he’d do that. My sister would come and get me, take me to the hospital, then to a hotel for the night. After a while she got to keep me. My grandma said I could stay with her, she’d enjoy the company. And that she’d never tell Dad that I was there. Don’t you think that’s about the saddest thing in the world? To have to hide from your own dad?” “Yes, but now you’re safe, and that’s all that matters, right?” He said that he guessed so. “All right. Do you want anything else? Or have you filled both legs up now?” He was still laughing when they were headed to the cash register.
Just before they were paying, Hailey looked up to see a man in a hoodie as well as a face mask entering the restaurant. It was fucking the last couple of weeks in June and hotter than hell, she thought. Hailey told David to get behind the counter. As soon as he and the cashier were down and out of sight, the man in the mask started shooting up the ceiling. Hailey stayed by the counter. She wasn’t going to move until David was safe and the man either dead or gone. Whatever he did, she had a feeling he was going to die unless he killed her first, which with her luck was a good possibility. When the robber looked at her, because she was sure that the cash was what he was there for, she smiled at him. He cocked his head and told her to go to the back of the restaurant with the rest of them. “Nah, I don’t think so. I just want to pay my bill here and leave. If you have a problem with that, we can discuss it, but I don’t listen to people just because they say so.” He pointed the gun at her head and she smiled at him again. “Killing me won’t get you fuck, buddy, but a world of hurt.” “You think so? And what makes you so powerful that you can argue with a man with a gun?” She told him. “You want me to believe that you have some wolves in here? Right, lady. Get the fuck to the back of this place with the rest of the fuckers, and then you can go about your fucking way.” “You like that word, don’t you? I met another man that liked to use it. It didn’t do him much good either. I hit him in the face when he tried to give me shit.” He frowned harder, and she smiled at him again. Hailey didn’t so much as look at the two men behind him. But something must have spooked him because he turned. That was all that she needed, a moment to take action. Hailey reached for her own gun and fired three times when he shot at one of the men who had changed to a wolf.
When the gunman fell to the floor, she stood there for several seconds while her heart started to calm. Then she leaned over the counter and told the woman back there to call the police. “Tell them that there was an attempted robbery and that the robber is dead. Shot by one of the patrons.” She said that they wanted her name. “I don’t know. A good citizen? See if they buy that.” Looking at the two wolves, she told them to get the hell out. When they were gone, she went to the back of the restaurant to see if the people there were all right too. None of them had been hurt, but they did thank her many times. Hailey wondered why there seemed to be so few when she’d thought the place was busy, but was too hyped up to care. David came to her then and hugged her tightly. Hailey hadn’t realized how much she needed that. The police arrived with a lot of noise and lights. When they came in the door, she was already on her knees with her gun out on one finger. In her other hand she had her license to carry. But that didn’t stop them from cuffing her and sitting her on the curb in front of the small restaurant. David was allowed to sit by her, but he wasn’t to touch her. She was fine with that, and told him that he needed to call his sister.
“She might see this on the news, and we
don’t want her to worry when there is no reason for it. Use the phone in my truck, and make sure you tell her that you’re fine about a dozen times, all right?” When he left her, with a police escort to her rig, she didn’t move when the ambulance showed up to take the body. She had shot him three times, point blank; Hailey didn’t think he was going to suddenly rise up and shoot anyone else. So taking him to the hospital seemed sort of dumb. But she wasn’t in charge, so she sat there until they came to talk to her. “The other people in the place, they said that you kept him busy so that he’d not notice them leaving the back way.” She said that she’d not known that they were leaving, but had noticed that there had seemed to be more people when they’d entered. “You saved their lives. You know that, don’t you?” “Nah, he was just here to rob the place.” She looked up at the cop who had come out to talk to her.
“He was, right? Only there to rob the place? Come to think of it, he never mentioned the cash register like I thought he would have.” “No, that wasn’t his motive. We found a note on his person that said that he wanted to go out with a bang, and that he was going to out-kill—if you can believe that—what his own father had done to put him in prison. I think he missed his daddy.” That sort of news did nothing to help her hold on to her lunch. “You all right? You’re looking sort of green.” “Such a charmer you are. Fuck no, I’m not all right. I just killed a man.” Another man came to stand by the first cop, and she wondered what fucking branch he was from, dressed in a pair of jeans and a shirt that had seen better days. She frowned when he smiled at her. She wasn’t charmed by him either. So far there had been DEA, FBI, as well as the locals. She had no idea what the fuck was going on. The second man stood over her when the cop left. “My name is Jules Stanton. I was hanging around here with a buddy of mine when he got the call. I’d like to ask you a few more questions if you don’t mind. Just to help out.” She asked him to repeat his name. “My name is Julian Stanton, but I go by Jules. Why?” She peered up at him and laughed. “I don’t suppose you’re a doctor, are you? Never mind—why wouldn’t you be? Are you perhaps related to—let me think of their names. Oh, right—Colton Stanton, Levi Stanton, and a Wyatt Stanton? And there was a woman…Tess. She helped me find the homes that I was dropping stuff off to when I was around there.” “They’re my brothers.” He was quiet for a moment, and she figured that he was checking with them. Hailey knew that they were cougars, but she didn’t know if they were all in the same pride or pack. For all she knew, he might not live in the same area and this man had a different pride all together. “They said that you should have a young boy with you, David Spencer.” “I had him call his sister so that if this got to the news, she’d not freak out. Brother, huh? I’ve never met the other three, but I did your parents.
I had dinner with them three nights ago. I’m Hailey Whitehead. My dad runs the auto repair place in Trinway.” He told her that he’d only just gotten married and they’d been on their honeymoon
until recently. “Figures. I don’t suppose you could have them take this plastic shit off, could you? They’re cutting into my wrists and it fucking hurts.” When he cut her loose, taking a knife from his boot to do it, she saw that she was bleeding pretty good. One of the straps that held her had cut deep into her skin. She was wondering if she should have it looked at when the man noticed it and freaked out. “Holy fuck.
Who put these on you that tight?” Hailey told him to keep his pants on, the first cops on sight were shook up a little. “They should have paid attention to what they were doing and not hurt the person that kept them from having a major clean up here.” “Nothing to it.” Hailey looked at her wrist and was dizzy all of a sudden. It really was bleeding badly, but she just wrapped it up in her shirt tail. “How much longer am I going to be? I have to get some sleep, and then drive out tomorrow on the last leg of the journey to your brothers’ houses.” She was getting dizzier by the second and felt the blood soaking her shirt. Looking down at it, she realized that she might just be in trouble here. When she heard her name being said, she didn’t have the strength to even open her eyes. ~*~ Dane and the rest of the family stood up when Wyatt and his dad came from the operating room. The woman had been rushed here by helicopter, and Jules had asked that they come and care for her. When Wyatt said that she was going to make it, they all let out a breath. Dane hadn’t been this nervous in a long time.
“The strap that they had tied her with cut deeply into her skin. The poor thing was cuffed well after they had cleared her, from my understanding. But it was the clip that did the most damage to her and opened her up to nearly bleed to death. Even after her skin opened up, the clip dug in deeper and cut not just her artery, but also some muscles. She’ll be fine, but I’m worried that she’ll be unable to use her hand as well as I’d like.” Dane asked Wyatt if she could help her. She had all kinds of freaky abilities, but what she was thinking of to help the young woman was just a few drops of her blood. “I wish you would. But not a lot, okay? I don’t want her to be sprouting wings or something when all she had was a very bad cut.” “I’m not making any promises.” Dane walked down the hall with him as they went to recovery. “She saved all those people in the diner, they said, by killing the man that had come in to murder all of them. And look what was done to her. This is not right, on so many levels; you know that, don’t you?” “That’s what Julian told me too. She’s a pistol. When she was being prepped for surgery, she kept telling us that she was going to murder any mother fucker that messed up her tat. It wasn’t until we were almost done that I saw it. She’s going to be pissed off.” Dane laughed and looked at the young woman lying on the hospital bed. “David is safe, isn’t he? She asked about him several times before we got her under.” “I was going to have them take him to the pack house until we can figure out where he’ll stay. Colton said that he’d take him in as long as it was needed. That way the kid can make some extra money by helping him with the new furniture. Have you seen it
yet?” Wyatt told her that he’d not.
“Christ, it looks like the stuff was made just for that house. I mean, it’s really gorgeous.” Stepping closer to the bed, Dane looked at the woman. She was pale, but it didn’t diminish the fact that she was beautiful too. Her hair was as flaming red as she had ever seen, and her freckles—and there were a great many of them—stood out better with her being so washed out. Taking a knife from her boot, Dane made a small cut in her own finger and put it on Hailey’s lips. It was the only bit of color on her except for her hair. Nothing seemed to change about her, and Dane was worried. With the others, as soon as she gave them even a drop, they were different. Dane cut a deeper cut this time and let several drops of her rich blood drip into Hailey’s open mouth as she held it open with her other hand. Wyatt asked her what she was doing. “I don’t think it’s going to work on her.” He asked her why and she told him. “Maybe she’s not human after all. That’s the only reason I can think of that would make her immune to what I am.” “She is. When we were working on her we could smell her better than we could if she wasn’t bleeding out. She’s wholly human.” When nothing else happened, she asked Wyatt if she should give her any more of her blood. “I have no idea what she might do with what you’ve given her now. So go ahead, I guess. What can it hurt? Right?” After giving her about a dozen more drops of her blood, the monitors over Hailey’s bed started screaming.
Dane was shoved out of the way as the crash cart was brought in and they started working on her. She had flatlined. Dane wasn’t sure what she should do now. She had met the girl and liked her a great deal. Tess loved her too, as well as the rest of the family. Dane did not want her to die. When they were readying the paddles to stabilize her, the machines suddenly stopped making any noise, but her heart rate however didn’t seem to level out. She watched the monitors with everyone else. Whatever had happened, it had scared the shit out of all of them. “Is she all right?” Wyatt said that she was for now and put his fingers on her wrist to take her pulse. “Do you think that I did it? Christ, I hope that I didn’t make it worse rather than better.” “Look at her heart rate, Dane.” She did, but didn’t have a clue what she was looking for. “A normal heart rate for a female is sixty to one hundred beats per minute. But since she’s in very good shape and probably lifts weights and runs, it should be about seventy or below at a rested state. Lower if she were training.” Dane understood now and saw that her heart rate was well over two hundred. She looked at Wyatt when he turned the monitor off. Backing away from the bed with him, she was almost afraid to ask him what the fuck was going on with her. She was glad then that no one else had noticed her heartrate or that Wyatt had turned off the machine. He did explain to them that the machine wasn’t working right, and that seemed to satisfy them all. But not her. She was afraid. “She’s changed.” Dane asked him into what.
“I have no idea, but it concerns me a good bit. I’ve never met her, but I have a feeling that she is going to be very fucking pissed off. And I have no idea what to tell her when she asks, either.” Wyatt looked like
he was concerned, and she was as well. None of the others, not any of them, had reacted like Hailey had. “I’m going to sit with her for a while and send the staff away to get a break. While they’re gone I’m going to check her wrist. I have a feeling that it’s healed.” She didn’t want to stay but Dane had to know. If she had done something to this woman, she was going to be the one to tell her. Watching as the staff left the recovery room, she wondered what her own heart rate was, and nearly screamed when Brayden asked her if she was all right. Yeah, I’m fine, but this woman might want to kill me when she wakes up. After she told him what she’d done, he was quiet for a few moments. I’d feel so fucking much better if you tell me what you’re thinking. I haven’t any idea what to think, to be honest with you. I mean, she could be just about anything, right? Dane told him that she could be everything too. We all are, aren’t we? No, none of you are everything like me. You don’t have the ability to change into something without a heartbeat. You also can’t blend into the colors around you, like become invisible. There are a few other things, too, that none of you can do that I can. I’m afraid I’ve made her exactly like me. Brayden said that he still wasn’t sure what to think, and she told him that she’d talk to him in a little while. Wyatt is going to check her wound out to see if she’s healed now that his staff is gone. Brayden, I know this woman. She is going to be very pissed off when she finds out. We’ll deal with it like we do everything else. By the way, the police came by and they’re picking up her hospital tab. And the man who put the cuff like straps on her has been put on administrative leave without pay.
He nearly killed her, and they aren’t taking that too well. She told him that was what she’d do too. I understand but he can’t afford to be off work for very long. Dad is going to see if he can help out while they investigate and see if Hailey is going to press charges. If she does, then he’s done. Dane couldn’t feel sorry for the man. He had hurt Hailey badly. And even if he had put them on her when everything was going down, that was no excuse. While admitting that he might have put them on her too tightly, it didn’t negate the fact that she’d been hurt badly enough to have almost died. The man should have been paying more attention to his captive. When Wyatt was finally able to cut away the gauze and cast that was holding her arm still, she knew by the look on his face that she was healed. Taking the necessary steps forward to look, she wasn’t surprised to see that not only was she healed, but her tat, a small butterfly, was perfect as well. “Now what?” Wyatt said that he’d make arrangements to get her out of the hospital. No one needed to know about this. “She can come to our house. I’ll take care of her.” “I’d rather she went with my parents. Just because Dad can help her if something goes wrong with this. I haven’t any idea what it might be, but he’s got all that equipment in the lower levels of his house, so he could take care of her if she codes again.” Dane said that she could see that. “All right. I’m going to make arrangements here. You go out and tell them what we’re going to do. If you don’t want to mention the
blood that you gave her to them, tell me now and I’ll not mention it to the family.
Nor to the hospital staff.” “I think we’re going to have to, don’t you?” Wyatt nodded and grinned. “Christ, what the fuck are you finding so funny about this?” “She’s not my mate.” It took Dane a minute to figure out what he was saying. “If she’s one of the others’ mates, I cannot wait for them to tangle with her. The few minutes we did when she was brought in, she sounded just like you.” “Well, that’s a good thing, right?” He burst out laughing as he put on fresh gauze and the cast. She watched him as he methodically put it around her wrist and then taped it. “You think that she’ll be one of the others’ mate, Wyatt? I mean, that would be awesome, but scary too.” “I have no idea, but she’s going to be a handful. Just hearing her barking orders in here when they brought her to us, I could have sworn that she was already a part of our family.” He looked at her with panic in his eyes. “Christ, you don’t think that my mate will be a ball buster, do you?” “I hope so.” When she left him there with terror in his eyes, she was laughing until she got to the others. David was there now, and it looked as if he might have been crying. When Allie hugged him, she knew that the kid was going to be all right. Dane told them everything, including what she’d done to bring her to this point.