A fresh start was what Rogan Hall needed. A small town, out of the way, where no one knew her or her brother was where they’d start over. She worked from home, and they kept to themselves. The only thing Rogan couldn’t give up was her early morning run.
Like clockwork, she ran every morning, and again, like clockwork, the same family would pass her on the country road heading to who knew where. The little boy in the back seat would wave at her with such enthusiasm, it made her heart melt. However, that morning, everything would change. Only moments after the car passed her and drove around the bend, she heard a loud commotion. Another car barreled past her, and she found the quaint family’s car overturned and on fire. Rogan did the only thing she could do, she saved them.
Thatcher Robinson was on duty at the hospital when his parents contacted him through their link and told him about the accident and what to expect when the ambulance arrived. Thatch, his dad, told him they had to save the woman by changing her, but her burns were severe, and his dad wasn’t sure that the new tiger would survive.
When Rogan regained consciousness, she was unsure where she was, but she knew she was different. She could feel the tiger move just beneath her skin. Rogan knew very little about shifters, but what she did know had her cringing. Why someone would take it upon themselves to change her, she didn’t know, but when the young doctor, Dawson, said his brother was her mate, she was furious. If the big, bad, Thatcher thought he was going to order her around, he had another thing coming….
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An early morning run was her favorite thing. Rogen felt like she was free when she was out in the time between darkness and when the sun crested over the hills in her new town. Whatever happened here, it was going to be because that was what she wanted, and not what she had no control over. She and her brother Jamie were here for a fresh start, where no one cared where they came from. At least that was their hope. A familiar car drove by her and she waved. Every morning about this time she’d see the family go by her on her weekday runs. She liked to imagine that they were taking the children to school and to daycare as the parents made their way to their jobs. There were two car seats in the back seat with babies in them. They were tiny, snuggled up in the seats every morning. The child, she didn’t know the sex, was the most enthusiastic waver she’d ever seen. As they passed her by, she continued her run. Ten miles out, ten back.
Then she’d shower, eat, and get on with her job. The running not only kept her in shape but got her out of the house at least once a day. Rogen not only worked from home, but she seldom left it either. She thought that was why this meant so much to her. The sound of metal against metal ripped through the silence of the morning. Before she could get her bearings on where it might have come from, a different car sped by her. Rogen took note of the license plate number and the state. The driver was laughing hard as he or she nearly took Rogen out by swerving to try and hit her. She didn’t know the person, but she would find out who it was when she got home. Continuing on her run after texting the number to herself, she put her phone back in her pocket. She knew that if she didn’t do it right away, make a note of the plate number, she’d never remember it when she got home. Just as she rounded the bend toward the long stretch of nothing but fields, she saw the overturned car with the family inside. Hurrying to the car, she could see that the man was hurt badly. Rogen made a mental note that he’d been shot in the left shoulder. Not wasting any time, she pulled her knife out of her sock pocket and cut him free of the belt that had him strapped upside down in the car. The smell of gasoline was making itself known to her, and she knew that she had to hurry. Dragging his body to the other side of the road from where the accident was, she rushed back for the woman. Rogen thought that if she could get the adults out, it would be easier for her to save the kids, as the big front window was gone. The woman was alive but that’s about all she knew. Cutting her free of the seat belts, Rogen also grabbed her purse.
She then scolded herself all the way, while taking her to her husband, that it wasn’t like she was going shopping or anything. But it seemed right, somehow, that she had her purse, so she let it go. The children in the seats were screaming. And just as she was starting to cut the first one loose from the seat, she saw the other car coming back. This time the person paused long enough to throw something at the car. The explosion knocked her forward
when whatever was tossed at the car ignited the gas. The power of the blast from it had her landing on the middle child. Rogen must have blacked out for a moment or two. When she woke, she knew that she’d been burnt, and badly, judging by how it hurt her to the point of nearly being sick every time she moved. But she had to save the kids before the gas tank blew too. The car seats were somehow strapped to the car. She tried and tried to get one of them loose, but it was too much for her with her back and arms hurting so badly. Taking her knife out again, cutting the things over the child’s shoulders and lap, she took the baby from the seat and set it right outside the car, and reached for the other one. It went faster this time, getting the baby out and at least in her arms. Rogen was on fire now, literally. Her clothing was sticking to her back so badly that she knew that she’d be in trouble with this. Taking the babies to where their parents were, she laid them down and put the sucker things—binkies, she thought they were called—into their mouths. Thankfully they’d been pinned to their blankets.
The silence was golden for a few minutes, then Rogen went back for the other child. The gasoline was a huge puddle under the car and trailing down the street. If the flames from the rubber on the tire got to it, everything, including her and the boy, would go up with it. Rogen hurried as best she could. Limping badly now, she made her way back to the little boy. He was still unconscious, and Rogen could see that he had a few burn marks on his hands. Cutting him loose, she tried to pick him up but she hurt too badly. Crying now, she tried to drag him from the car using her one hand. The other, she noticed, was red and full of dark blisters. The ticking of something was all the notice that she got before the back end of the car exploded. She knew that she’d been lifted up and tossed away with the young boy in her arms, and all she could think about was that she’d failed him. He’d not wave at her anymore.
Waking up the second time, she realized that she’d been tossed from the car. Lucky for her and the little boy, he’d been in her arms. Moving cautiously, she tried to stand but her legs were no longer working, it seemed. He was burnt now. The back of his arms and legs were red like hers, but he didn’t seem to be blistered. Rogen sobbed for the family. She felt like she’d failed them all by getting the little boy hurt. In the back of her mind, she knew that was stupid, that she’d gotten them all out, but she didn’t like to fail. Failure meant that someone always got the shaft, usually her. Standing up as best she could, she dragged him by his leg to his family. The babies were still crying but not nearly as badly as before. Had they been in the car when it blew the second time, they would have died. The blast would have hit them full in the face, as they had been turned facing the explosion. Thankful that she’d been able to save them from dying, Rogen started to feel every single burn on her body. The car was on fire, just a shell of what it had been. Rogen had lost her cell phone and couldn’t call for help. With the remote area that it had happened in, no one would
see it for hours, she thought. Dropping to her knees on the road, she could see that there was nothing left for her to try and get out for them. Just as she was ready to go back to them, a car came down the road and she thought perhaps she’d not hurt as badly if they just ran over her. Rogen stayed where she was, propped up only by exhaustion. “My goodness, what happened here?” The man looked slightly familiar, but she couldn’t think beyond the pain. “Honey, I’m going to lay you down on the grass over— ” “Thatch, they’re here. The Conrads are here together. Oh, Thatch, I think she saved them all.” The man looked at her and asked her what her name was. She didn’t know. “She’s Rogen something. I don’t know her last name. She’s not well, Thatch.” “No, I can see that.” She was picked up, the scream from her mouth so painful to her that she just let it go. The man was still talking, but Rogen was beyond understanding him.
She just hoped that someone would please forgive her for not getting them out sooner. Rogen woke twice more, once to hear the man saying her name and asking her if she had any relatives to call. Just her brother, she wanted to say, but faded out again. The next time she woke it was to find a large tiger standing over her. Rogen was sure that she was dead—the pain in her body was gone. Closing her eyes, Rogen knew that she was dead for sure. The big tiger was going to eat her up. She just hoped that he didn’t mind his meal being well done. ~*~ “What in blue blazes are you doing, Maggie? She’s hurt enough.” She told him that she was going to save her. “Save her? Holy pin cushions, woman, she’s nearly dead now. You’ll only make it worse for her. Leave her to die in peace. She did a good thing here and should be able to die without more pain.” His mate was the prettiest tiger he’d ever seen, and he was amazed by her every time he saw her. But this wasn’t going to work, he just knew it. Thatch could hear the poor woman’s heart getting slower with every breath she took. The poor girl would never stand a chance if bitten by a tiger too. The first bite that Maggie gave the young woman didn’t even make her scream. He knew that it had to be painful to her, but the poor thing was so far gone now that it didn’t faze her. As he kept watch over the two babies, his wife moved down to Rogen’s leg and bit her there. Maggie would have to work fast now, or she’d lose her. But when the woman started to breathe a little better, her heart just a bit stronger, Maggie looked at him.
He knew what she was going to ask him, even before she reached out through their link. Help me. You used to be a leader, Thatch. Your help would make her stronger. Help me save her. Putting down the little girl he’d been holding, Thatch took off his shirt. You’re a good man, have I told you that lately? “Don’t be trying to butter me up now. You know as well as I do that someday she’s going to meet her mate, and he won’t have a thing to do with her because she’s a tiger. The things I do for you.” He let his cat take him. Move over, love. Let me have a go at it too.
Thatch bit the young woman in the belly, on the opposite side of where Maggie had. He could taste the difference in her blood. She was changing. But that didn’t mean a hill of beans toward whether she lived or not. That was a different can of worms altogether. They both stayed with her, dressed now until the ambulance came that he’d called. The girl was better, but her burns would be there until she had a chance to shift. Thatch knew that she could still die—her wounds were horrific and extensive—but they’d helped her and that was all he could do right now. Thinking of his oldest, he reached out to him to tell him what they’d done for her. She saved all the Conrads, son. Every last one of them. And you should know that it was at great risk to her life. Had we not changed her when we did, she’d have died, and that would have been a terrible shame. Thatcher told him that they were on standby at the hospital, waiting for the first of them to come in. I can tell you now what’s what. The man—someone shot him in the shoulder, and it isn’t too far from his heart. A couple of more inches and he’d be a goner. The missus, she has a broken leg, a lot of cuts and such, but is fine as rain other than that. And the children? Are they all right? He told his son that the boy had a broken leg and a lot of burns, but not nearly as bad as it could have been. And the babies? Dad, I delivered those two.
I don’t want anything to happen to any of them, but those little girls are special. Yes, they’re good. A little upset with all the hoopla, but fine. Got one of them sucker things in their mouths, but they’re not hurt at all. The woman, she’s in bad shape, Thatcher. I don’t believe she’s gonna make it even with what your mom and I did for her. And it was your momma that did it. She was bound and determined that Rogen—that’s her name, by the way—wouldn’t die. He asked him why someone would do what Rogen had done. I don’t know, but she surely saved those people. And the only way we’re going to find out about it is if she lives. I hope she does. I really do, son. When she gets here, I promise you that I’ll do everything I can to make that happen. I want answers too. Like why would someone, a stranger to the town even, risk their lives on a family that she more than likely didn’t know? Thatch said he didn’t know, but he was glad that she had. I am as well. All right, Dad. I’ll talk to you in a bit. You and Mom coming in? Yes. We’re going to come in the ambulance with the babies. Help the drivers out a little. They sure are cute little things. Oh, I should contact the alpha. He’ll be happy for his pack too. The Conrads, they’re good people. Thatch called the pack leader next. Shane Picket was a good leader—had him a nice sized pack, too. He was a little busy but said that if he’d hold on a bit, he’d talk to him. Thatch waited on hold while the first group was put into the ambulance. The young woman was first. “I’m sorry, Thatch. I have a bit of an issue here. I have a family missing.” He asked him if it was the Conrads. “Yes. What’s happened? You know where they are?” “Yes, they’re on their way to the hospital. A car accident is all I can tell you right now. A young woman, a human, pulled them from the car, it looks like before it blew. She’s in bad shape, the girl is.” He asked if he could do anything. “Maggie and I changed her to save her. Right now, Shane, I don’t have anything to tell you other than the man had been shot. The woman and the children—thanks, as I said, to the woman— they’re all fine.” “Mark was supposed to meet me this morning for a monthly meeting. He’s never late. We went by their home and it’s been torn apart. Like someone was looking for something. And I’m thinking that they didn’t find it from the mess they made leaving.” Thatch told him what he knew about the accident and the woman, Rogen. “Rogen Hall?
She has a brother too. I can’t think of his name right now. They’re renting the Parker farm from us. Never seen it look so good. I’ll be going to see him. Jamie, that’s this name, Jamie Hall. I’ll go by their place and see if I can get him to come with me. They’re a very shy couple of kids if you ask me.” The ambulance was back and they loaded up the man and his wife. She was awake now and asking after her children. Watching her with the kids just made his eyes fill with tears. They were all together now, and it was because of the kindness of a single person. Thatch turned away, blowing his nose, and saw something shiny near the accident. Asking the police who were all over the scene if he could have that, it more than likely belonged to the girl, Thatch was told he could have it but not to turn it on or anything else right now. “Surely you don’t think that she might have done this.” Chief of Police Andrew Keen said he wasn’t sure of anything at the moment. “Yes, well, I can see that. It is a mess here.” Andrew asked him again what he’d seen when he came upon the accident.
After telling him for the third time, he was allowed to go to the hospital with his wife. They weren’t hurt, but perhaps they could help out with the children until the mother was released. Thatch thought about asking his son if she was going to make it but didn’t want to bother him right now. Thatcher was a surgeon, a very good one if anyone asked him. Thatch was proud as a peacock of all his boys, and he’d hurt the man who said anything bad about them. They had raised them on a dime between them, he liked telling people. Then one day his missus, always the luckiest person he’d ever known, had won the lottery. One of the big ones, as a matter of fact. And they’d been set up for life. They’d even been able to send all the boys to college, as well as put some money away for a rainy day. Jonas, his second to last son, had gone into banking, and had turned that into a nice little investment firm. Not only did he take their money and make a great deal more for them, but he’d been able to make it so the little town profited by it as well. The hospital was busy, of course. When an accident like this one happened, they all came together to make sure that everyone got the best of care. And their little hospital had been winning awards because of their good work up until a few years ago. Now they’d be lucky if they were able to stay open the way things were going. Most of it still being open was due to his boys; both Thatcher and Dawson worked there and kept it up.
Dawson was his youngest and was an emergency room doctor that specialized in trauma. Thatch wasn’t sure what that meant—all the things that brought you to the hospital, he thought, were considered trauma—but he kept that to himself. He didn’t want to sound foolish to anyone with such smart children. Dawson was working on the woman. She was giving him a hard time about keeping her from the children, and he laughed when Dawson did. Mrs. Conrad had been Dawson’s teacher’s aide in grade school when she’d been fresh out of college. “I’m going to have to keep you all overnight. You know that, don’t you, Mrs. Conrad? I can’t let you go home and find out you might have gotten a little more bumped around than it looks like. And the police want to talk to you.” She asked about her husband. “He’s in surgery to remove the bullet, but he should be fine too.” “I haven’t any idea what might have happened, Dawson. We were driving along and then there was something popping around us. Then Mark fell forward. After that, it was a blur of things going on.” Dawson didn’t say anything about the woman who rescued them, he noticed and wondered at that. More than likely the staff had been told not to say anything until the family remembered.
He was still playing with the baby when Thatcher spoke to him. Dad, she’s out of surgery, but I’m going to pop in and see how Dan is doing in the other room. He won’t need me, but I’m going to check anyway. He asked about the woman. I don’t know. I’ve done about all I could for her. She’s going to need skin grafts as well as lots of care. You were right to warn me about how bad it was. It was the only thing that kept me upright when I saw her. Damn, I hurt for her. She more than likely would have done it again too, I’m betting. They’re all safe, the Conrads. And Shane, he knows her brother, and he was going to go by there and talk to him. I don’t know the situation there, but they’re renting the old Parker farm. You remember that place, don’t you, son? Thatcher said that he did. It was a sore spot for a long time. I surely hope they’re not paying that much. I haven’t been by there in twenty years. But I’ll be down in a few minutes. I want to check on my patient. Dan has finished up with Mr. Conrad, and he’s going to recovery now. Thatch told Mrs. Conrad and she seemed so relieved that he hugged her when she started crying. Taking the baby out to the lobby, he was told that someone from the pack was coming for the children. Levi, their brother, was going to have to stay overnight. His burns weren’t that bad, but he had broken his leg. Thatcher came down about an hour after the babies left, and he looked a little worse for wear. “Son?” Thatcher waved him off, and he wondered what had happened. Thatch just knew that Rogen had died, and he was having a hard time thinking of how to tell him. “It’s all right, son. She did a good thing, and she surely helped a lot of people. I’ll tell her brother for her so that—” “She’s not dead, Dad. I told you, she’s in recovery.” He looked around like he was afraid of being overheard. In a harsh whisper, he told him what he’d discovered. “She’s my mate. You and Mom, you saved my mate for me.”
Thatch was still standing there when Maggie came to get him. He was sure that he’d heard his son wrong. Or he’d heard what he wanted to hear. Maggie was forever telling him that’s how he heard things. “What’s the matter, you old fool? You look like you’ve seen a ghost.” Thatch wondered if he should tell her when he realized that he needed to tell her. “Thatch, something happen to that young woman? Please tell me she’s going to be all right.” “She is now, I’d say. I think I heard Thatcher say she was his mate.” She did the same thing he had—stood there with her mouth gaping open like a fish ready for a fat worm. After closing her mouth, he took her hand so that they could have a seat. And just then, he saw Shane. “Where is my sister?” The young man with him was screaming about his sister, and that’s when Thatch realized this was Rogen’s brother. “Someone tell me where I can find my sister! They said she’s been hurt.” He made his way to the younger man and got his attention. Before he could ask again where Rogen was, Thatch took him to where he had left Maggie. Jamie, he’d heard his name was, just asked again where she was. “Recovery. My son, he works here, he worked on her. She’s been burned badly.” Jamie started crying, and he looked over at Maggie. He didn’t know what else to say to Jamie, but Maggie thankfully did. “She’s doing all right now, son. And as soon as they let us, we’ll go up and see her. She saved the lives of an entire family.” The police were coming toward them when Maggie spoke again. “Now, you help these nice policemen out, and when they’re done with their questions, I’ll take you up to the surgery floor myself. All right then?” “Rogen is all I got in the world. We only have each other now.” Thatch wanted to tell him that wasn’t true anymore but didn’t. He wanted to wait on Thatcher to tell them. “Our parents are gone. Dead. We came here for a fresh start. To keep the newspaper people from hounding us again.” Thatch didn’t know what that meant but didn’t get a chance to ask. Andrew, the chief of police, was asking him about Rogen and her habits. As much as Thatch wanted to stay and listen, he needed to find his son. Thatch needed to confirm what he’d heard from his boy. And if she really was his mate, then he was surely glad that Maggie had started what she’d done for Rogen.