Rachel Spencer, Ray to those that knew her, was barely hanging on. She had called for help, but her father had nearly killed her before help had arrived. Unless Hailey could help her, with the magic given to her by Dane, Ray’s prognosis for a normal life wasn’t good.
Levi Stanton had been talking to his sister-in-law, Hailey, through their link. She had told him all about Ray and that Ray might be his mate, or Wyatt’s. Levi hoped she was, he had known Ray’s grandmother and loved the woman, but he was also terrified to find out. It was the fear of the unknown.
Levi was happy to find out that Ray was indeed his mate, but Ray’s decision to get help from Hailey would be Ray’s alone. Hailey, however, was afraid her blood wasn’t strong enough to help Ray, so Dane stepped in. Ray would need all the strength she could get to face her Aunt Caroline.
Caroline Spencer was on her way to town. No one told that woman no and lived to tell about it. And that was exactly what Ray was going to tell her too. There was no way on this earth that Ray was handing her little brother, David, over to that tyrant. She’d die before she let that happen.
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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.
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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Hailey held Ray’s hand and thought about what Denny had told her today. He’d been taking over her care since they’d gotten back to the house, and it had worked out well for her and Ray. Taking her to the doctor every couple of days would have been hard on her. “He destroyed her womb. There isn’t any chance that she’ll be able to carry a child and keep it. There has been much too much damage done for her to even take the chance. When she’s better, and I have to believe that she will get there, she should think about having a sterilization surgery done to prevent it from happening.
” She asked Denny if it would hurt her to get pregnant. “Yes, it could very well kill her.” Now here she sat with her friend, wondering what she was going to do with that information. Reaching out to Levi, who was still in France, she smiled when he laughed before speaking. They had become very close over the last week, and she was glad that he was happy. I took your advice, and I can’t thank you enough for it. I went and found some of the smaller, off the chart galleries, and had a blast. There are so many different things out there to see and create that I found myself buying things just because they were so unique. She laughed at his enthusiasm. Don’t be surprised if a large crate comes your way soon. I thought about waiting and bringing it home with me, but I couldn’t wait for you to see my finds. How is your friend? No change. But your dad told me that she wasn’t going to be able to hold a child of her own.
It breaks my heart how people treat their children. What would possess a man to do this to his own child? Not to mention what my mother did to hers. She felt her heart crumble for the pain of her stepfamily’s deaths. Cheer me up, Levi. Tell me some adventure that you’ve had since I spoke to you last. I’m so sorry, Hailey. She knew that he’d understand if she couldn’t answer him. Yesterday I had an encounter with one of the artists. I tell you, Hailey, I’m glad at that moment that you or the rest of the women weren’t with me. You would surely have cut him down. He was so pissed that I wasn’t buying anything from his booth when I was shopping. What did he sell? He was laughing hard, and it made her laugh too. Oh, I have a feeling this is going to be really good. I swear to you, it looked like he went and got him some wood out of the small parks around here and hot glued—I kid you not—he hot glued shells all over the pieces so that not one bit of the wood was showing. There were places on it that he might have run out of shells, so he drew them on some paper and stuck them there.
I swear to you, it was only beautiful to those like him. I don’t think he sold a single stick. She asked if he was making that up. And as soon as he started laughing again, her phone made a noise telling her that she had a message. See it? I had to sneak that picture. He has several signs in his booth that say no pictures. Why I have no idea, but there you have it.
She laughed even harder after seeing the picture, and she was so glad that Levi had told her about it. After they talked for a bit longer, really him only telling her what he’d been enjoying, Levi told her that he had an appointment and needed to get going. When are you coming home? He said that he was leaving in two days. I can’t wait to see you, Levi. I have a big hug here waiting for you. Hailey squeezed Ray’s hand and was shocked when it felt like she had given her a returning squeeze. Trying it again, she also floated into her head to see if she was awake yet and saw that her mind was going over the day at her office. Ray? She stilled for a moment in her memories. Ray, it’s Hailey. Do you remember me? I’d like to talk to you if you do. Hailey? He’s here, isn’t he? Hailey asked her who, knowing that she remembered her dad trying to kill her but testing her memory. My father. He’s in my office. I think he’s going to kill me. No, he will never bother you again. On this, you can go to the bank. There was a moment of relief, then fear took its place. You have to tell me what it is you’re thinking, Ray.
Your mind is going too fast for me to figure out. He hurt me, didn’t he? Hailey told her that he’d hurt her badly before anyone could save her. Yes, you told me that I had to scream, loudly, so that someone could come and save me. They did, didn’t they? Yes. Danny, the local pack alpha, came with his men, but Alan had already hurt you badly. Danny killed your father to keep him from hurting you more. Denny had told her that if she spoke to Ray in any way, she was to make sure she knew that she’d been hurt badly. And to be honest with her when she asked how badly. Hailey didn’t want to be responsible for telling her friend that she was more than likely going to be disfigured for the rest of her life, but she didn’t want to lie to her either. Ray, two things I want you to know right now. We have been keeping an eye on your places—home and business and even here. David is also with the local pack here. He’s as safe as you are. And the second thing? I’m calmer now, Hailey. I think I can take whatever it is you’ve been trying very hard for me to get on my own. How badly am I hurt?
Hailey felt tears roll down her cheeks and knew that it was now that she was going to have to be the one to hurt her friend. Hailey? Tell me, please. Alan used a knife on your face. He cut you from cheek to ear. The doctors had to reattach it to your head, but Denny told me that you’ve not lost your hearing. Your lips have been busted up, as well as your eyes. The socket was busted all to fuck on the left, and your other eye is swollen too badly for them to know the damage there. She paused when Ray asked her to. I want you to know that I love you very much, Ray. And think of you as my only sister. I love you too, Hailey. I felt that way the moment that you stood beside me that day. She could feel the sorrow in her voice, even if it was only in her head. The rest, please. My arm feels heavy, so I’m assuming that it was broken. Yes, in two places. They’re waiting for you to be stronger before they go in and repair it with metal rods. Also, your left hand was shattered when your father— Ray said not to call him that. All right.
I can do that. When Alan crushed your hand in the floor with his heel. They don’t know at this point, even if they go in and repair it if you’re going to have full use of it. There’s more, isn’t there? Wait for that, please. I know that you’ve been saving the worst for last. You have no idea how much I appreciate that but just wait. How is married life? Getting any better? Hailey told her that it was. I’m so happy for you. After everything that you’ve told me, I was hoping that I’d be one of their mates. But I’m supposing that they’d not want a freak like me in their life. Stop that right now, damn it. And you still might be. I’m hoping as much as you are for it to happen. Hailey let out a slow breath. The only thing keeping us from being true sisters is blood. And that matters very little to me. I love you just as if you were my sister. I’ve told you this before. Now, I’ll hear no more talk about that. All right? Yes, Momma. They both laughed. Hailey, fix me. I want you to do for me what Dane did for you. I know that you can do it. No, I don’t think that’s a good idea. Ray asked her why not. I don’t know. But this shit that I have, it’s scary stuff, Ray. I’m only just getting used to some of it. The things that I can do are— I don’t want to be a freak of nature, Hailey. She could feel her sorrow and her pain. The timer on the meds she was getting automatically said she had about a minute to go before she’d be medicated again. Never mind. You’re right. Having all that juice, as you called it once, it could get me into more trouble than I usually am. The laughter from Ray was harsh and almost bitter.
Before she could talk to her more, the meds kicked into her system and Ray was gone from her touch. Hailey could still read and feel her memories and pain level, which was lower now, but there wouldn’t be any more conversation for a little while. Getting up, Hailey went to the window. They’d brought Ray home as soon as she was cleared to go. She’d have to go to the hearing sometime soon—her father was still going to be charged with attempted murder. Hailey watched the gardener fussing with the little herb garden that the cook had asked to have put in. It was just after Saint Paddy’s Day, and things were starting to warm up. Just last week while out running with Colton, she’d seen crocus and daffodils coming up. Today there were blooms on the strawberries that Ken, the nice man that worked for Levi, had planted for the households. The man was doing great after his brain surgery. It was little things, she knew, that would make her smile. In the last few weeks, things in her life had begun to shape up and be happy. At the beginning of her stay here with Colton, and then her recent marriage to the man, Hailey was trying to find one thing every day that she had to be grateful for. Life, she knew, had a way of changing when you least expected it to. Sitting down again, she started reading some of the homework she should be grading. Hailey, unlike a lot of teachers where she worked, loved her job a great deal. And the kids seemed to be having a good time in her classes, too. ~*~
Levi looked around the room again. He’d been staying at a lovely bed and breakfast for the last two weeks, wanting to try things that he’d never done before after a show. While he knew that he’d done well at the show, he wouldn’t know how well until he was home. He didn’t want to think about anything but having fun, as Hailey had asked him to do. Smiling, he thought of her asking him to have fun and knew that it had been a direct order from her. She was adorable when she got all mother hen like, and he loved that she was a part of the family. Hailey could be all soft and mushy seeing a puppy on the television, but she’d also be the one that could cut a person to ribbons if anyone dared fuck with her family. Which, thankfully, he was a part of.
Going to the limo that was to take him to the airport, he thought of the conversation that he’d had with his brother last night. The woman, Ray Spencer, was healing well, but the outlook for her life wasn’t good. She was depressed. Levi knew this from talking to Hailey. He also knew that Ray had asked for Hailey to change her into what she was. Hailey wanted to—she’d told Levi that—but she was also afraid. What if she didn’t get enough, or got too much of her blood and died? Levi thought about the question she’d asked him. “If she turns out to be your mate—and I haven’t any idea if she is or not—would you want me to change her?” He’d thought about that hard, but before he could come up with an answer, if he ever was to reach one, she spoke again. “As it stands right now, she will have to walk with a cane for the rest of her life. Her left hand will never hold another pencil or camera, nor will she be able to carry a child within her womb without it killing Ray or both of them. I just don’t know what to do.” “I don’t either, Hail. I mean, I guess I’d have to know for sure that is something that she could live with. The consequences. As for me telling you that you should do it, even if she turns out to be my mate that answer doesn’t lay at my feet. It’s her body, her life, and even her choice. You know that too.” She said that she did, but was confused about it. “I am as well. I don’t know what to tell you, love.
You and her, you’ll have to work that out. Or you could ask Dane.” She huffed at him. “You know as well as I do that Dane would have done it permission or not. She did the same damned thing to me.” They both laughed. “I think I will talk to Dane, however. Maybe this is all for nothing, and I can’t change her into anything. I’m a copy of someone, not the original.” Now that he was headed home—he’d be there tomorrow afternoon—he thought of nothing else. Not of her injuries—he knew them to be extensive—but of the woman being his mate. Levi already knew a great deal about Ray and thought that she was a great deal like Hailey. But he knew too that it could only be him hoping that she was a cuddly as her, and she might be an absolute terror. Not likely, but he didn’t know. He landed in New York as a stopover. All of a sudden, he didn’t want to go home. Not that he was afraid of her—no, it wasn’t that. But the unknown, about her being his mate, frightened him more than he wanted to admit. Levi knew just what sort of person he was—a slob that liked this his way.
“Dr. Stanton?” He looked up when someone said his name. His title wasn’t something that a great many people knew about, and fewer knew that he was an artist. Nodding at the man, he said that was his name. “I’m Lucas Young. I work with Young and Young Attorneys. May I have a few minutes of your time?” “No, I’m getting ready to catch a flight.” He didn’t tell him which one, nor where he was going when he asked. “What do you want? We can talk here.” Lucas looked around then back at him. Levi looked too but kept his eye on the man. Backing up a little, he knew that he was in trouble when someone put their hands on his shoulders and held him tightly. “You just had to make this more difficult, didn’t you? I said that you’d be hard, but no, the boss, he told me that you’d be a pussy.” Levi reached for his family, every one of them, to tell them what was going on. Lucas, or whatever his name was, kept talking about his boss when Dane answered him. I’m close to you, Levi. In the same store. Don’t look for me. I’ve got your back. He was never so happy to hear that she was close to him in his life. I’ve been following this fucking shit for two days. You have Hailey to thank for this, by the way.
She and that thread thing, that’s— Dane, I don’t suppose we can talk about this later, can we? This shithole has a gun in my belly. And the one behind me is trying his best to tear my shoulders from my body. She laughed, and he could have gladly strangled her. He wouldn’t, of course—she’d hurt him—but her laughter did ease his mind a great deal. When I tell you to move, I want you to do it. Just tuck your head into the chest of the man behind you. I’ll take care of the rest. She laughed again. You do have something else to wear home, don’t you? He asked her why just as she told him to tuck. And when he did, he felt the warmth of blood splatter down his neck to his chin. Lucas fell back but had a knife in his hand that scared Levi as well. Levi just stood there until someone touched his arm. It was Dane. “Come on, you’re okay.” She had to drag him away from the crime scene. When he looked back as they hid behind a magazine rack, she could see that the shorter man, Lucas, was sitting up with a blade in his hand now, and Shoulder Man’s head was lying in his lap. Levi looked at Dane. “You killed him.” She said that was what the plan had been. “And what about me? Why did you drag me away?” “So you don’t have to miss your flight home, dummy.” He would gladly have hit her if she wasn’t dragging him to the back of the store they were in. “I have you something else to put on. It’s not as fancy as your suit, but it’ll get you home. There is— ” “I’m going to be sick.” She paused in her dialogue to let him throw up several times in the trash can that was suddenly there. As she stood there, she pulled out a phone and started talking, like the person had been waiting for her to call. He supposed, in a way, they had been once he heard her end of the conversation.
“It’s done. And you will have to pick up the tab for a suit for my brother.” A pause in the conversation had him standing up and glaring at her. “I have to go. My brother has puke on his chin, and I have to get him home to his mommy.” “That wasn’t nice.” She grinned. “You’re not nice. I know you’ve been told that before, but I think, after what just happened, that I should be able to tell you that again. You are not a nice person.” “I saved your ass. And I’ll tell you all about it once you change and we get on the other flight home. By the way, you do have puke on your chin.” He wiped it off on his sleeve and saw that there was a great deal of blood there. “Don’t. Just don’t ask me now, all right? You’re safe, and now that we’re headed home, the rest of us can keep an eye on you as well.” He didn’t ask her, even though he was burning with the need to know. This person, whoever it was, they were going to kill him. He didn’t know that for sure, but he could feel it all the way to his bones. Sitting in his seat in first class, which he knew for sure his ticket hadn’t been for, he glared at Dane when she asked the stewardess if she could have something to drink almost as soon as they were in the air. “Here, you’re to take these.” He asked her what they are. “I want you to be able to listen to me with a clear head. Right now, I can tell that you’re pissed off and that you’re in need to ask the million and one questions that are going on in your head.
” Levi took them, then settled back in his seat. He should have made her tell him what he was taking, but honestly, he was so freaked out that he might have drank an entire bottle of liquor if she had handed it to him. “They weren’t after you.” He’d never thought of that. All of his brothers had PhDs so it could have been any one of them. “They thought they were getting Brayden. Because of me. But mostly because of the things that had been going on in Africa before he left.” “The thing with the donations and the houses.” She nodded and smiled at him. “I don’t understand. I thought that was taken care of months ago. Didn’t someone go to jail over that? Not to mention, I think that they even told Brayden he was in the clear.” “They did. And he is. But that doesn’t mean that the people who had to pay out the ass for stealing in the first place were happy.” He asked her why they had to wait until now to tell him. “Because that’s not all of it. And I need you to think very hard about what I’m about to tell you. Do you remember a man by the name of Roberto Perez? He would have talked to you at the show two weeks ago.” He closed his eyes, and he wasn’t at all surprised to feel Hailey there. After telling him to wait for her, she moved through his mind gently and found the man for him. He allowed it—he told himself it was because he was just too overwhelmed by this entire thing. “Perez wanted me to paint his wife, or something like that, in the nude at his home. I told him that I didn’t do that, not with a model and that I had a timeline of things that I was working on anyway. He didn’t seem too happy about it, but he did walk away.” Before he could open his eyes, Hailey showed him the rest of the man’s movement through the showing.
“This is freaky, isn’t it? I mean, it’s like having a behind the scenes sort of camera following you around.” “She’s good, and she has your back. But when she pauses, you listen to the conversation he has with this other man.” Hailey followed the man through the rest of the time he was at the showing. Then when the man was leaving, he pulled out his phone and called someone. “Hailey has that number, so don’t worry with it.” It hadn’t even occurred to him to do that when the other man spoke. “Did you get him to do it?” Perez said that he hadn’t. “Why the fuck not? My money not good enough for the fucker? You know what it is. He’s a fucking gay, isn’t he? That’s why he’s turning you down.” “I don’t know, sir, but I couldn’t get him to do it. He said something about having enough work on his timeline or something. I can try again.” The man on the other end said that he’d take care of the little fucker—meaning him, Levi was sure. “All right then. There is no reason for me to come to the rest of the showing. I’ll be home in two days, sir. After I arrive, we can work on something else to get him to your home.
” “What does he want?” Hailey said that she didn’t know. Even Dane, who could find a mole in a valley of tunnels, said she didn’t know either. Without knowledge of the man on the other end, she hadn’t any clue. “But you do think that it’s more than just me painting his wife? And just so we’re clear, whose wife is he talking about?” “That is what threw us both at the start, too. Lucas said his wife, and then the other man says his wife. I’m not sure. Perhaps they’re both lying, or they could really want you to paint their wives. Maybe together or some shit like that.” Levi didn’t comment. He had to think about whether Perez had come to the show on the second day. When he was sure that he’s not, he wondered what the hell was going on, and why him. Sure, he could paint, but who would go to that much trouble for him to paint their spouse in the nude? And for that matter, why did he have to go to their home? Most painters he knew would say no to that. It was going to be a short flight, but Levi had a great deal on his mind to sort through. And most importantly, to see if