Brook Garrett had learned to live by her wits. When she was very young, she lost her father to a car crash. When her mother remarried, her nightmare really began. A few years later, her mother died the same way. She was next.
Ronan Foster was an officer out on medical leave. He was a lion and wasn’t hurt in the least, but the guy responsible for shooting him would go free if he didn’t take the sabbatical. The guy was responsible for much more than shooting him, and justice needed to be served.
Trust was hard for Brook. Her stepparents had seen to that. Now the big lion was telling her that they were mates and she wasn’t sure how she felt about that. She had been doing just fine without a man in her life….
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Ten years ago
Brook woke and sat up in her bed. With no time to think about what was wrong, she rushed to the window nearest to her bed and pushed out the screen as she threw up. Her belly tossed up her dinner several more times as she leaned out, not even caring if she fell out the window or not. Christ, she’d never been sick a day in her life, and right now, she thought that her body was making up for it all in one illness. Rolling over so that she could sit on the floor, she was sure there was nothing else inside her. Brook closed the window and leaned her head back on the wall. She was wide awake now, and other than feeling a little weak, she felt better than she had when she’d woken up, that was for sure. Getting up and brushing her teeth at the window again, she spit the bottled water she’d used out the window as well. Dressing in sweatpants and an old hoodie, she made her way downstairs to the kitchen. Brook had grown up in this house. She knew every creaking step, loose board, and any doors that squeaked. She used to take care of those but now found them to be handy when she thought that no one else was in the house with her. There was no way anyone was sneaking up on her again. The house had belonged to her parents. When her dad was killed when she was five, it was just her and her mom living there. Then one day, when she came home from school—she’d been seven then—a man by the name of Allen Quarter had moved in. Two days after that, her mom married him at the courthouse. Again, she’d been at school when it happened. It had been a horrible five years with Allen there. The man had knocked Brook around, as well as her mother. There was never a time when one or both of them wasn’t covered in bruises or cuts. The house became a place of danger and anger for her, and she would spend a lot of her time at the library. They didn’t even get any kind of reprieve from him going to a job. Allen didn’t work but did expect her mom to. He even made Brook take an after school job of babysitting someone’s children. It was a nightmare of being knocked down, locked in closets for hours at a time, and tending to her mother when Allen would hurt her too badly. When Brook turned twelve and a half, an awful thing happened to her. Her mother died in a horrific car accident—her father had died the same way on the same highway. They had just crashed their cars into a light pole, which no one could explain.
Brook was devastated. She had no one left to go to. No family at all except for Allen. Brook vowed that when she was old enough, she was moving out. Soon, she told herself. It would be soon now. Then Brook found out that she was way smarter than her stepfather, which wasn’t hard to be. But she turned out to be extremely smart. She also had the ability to not just remember things, but she could see the word, the dictionary definition of it, as well as how the word could be used.
As she passed through the kitchen, feeling better all the time, she picked up an apple for herself and a handful of nuts for the squirrel that came around. Taking the knife she’d bought out of its hiding place, Brook checked to make sure that her backpack was where she’d left it. Thankfully, it was untouched.
At almost seventeen, Brook had a lot going on in her life. She had a full-time job that her stepparents didn’t know about, money in a safe deposit box, as well as a car that she had stashed someplace they’d never find it, waiting for the day when the two of them either tried to hurt her again and she had to run, or—and this one scared her the most—they would kill her. Just as, Brook thought, they had killed her mother. Cindy Quarter was her stepmother. Not four days after her mother’s funeral, Cindy and her two kids had moved into her family home. Allen married her at the courthouse too. He even stapled their marriage certificate on the wall so that Brook would always understand who was in charge. The two children that Cindy had were Allen’s. Brook had been looking for her mother’s will when she came across their birth certificates. Not only had they been fathered by Allen, but he’d fathered them while he’d been married to her mom. Sadly, Brook had found her mother’s marriage certificate to Allen while looking around. She had hoped that they weren’t married and that he wasn’t her stepfather.
Brook had a lot of her hopes dashed. It was beginning to seem like she’d never had anything good happen to her. Eating the apple, she threw the core to the squirrel too. He was a fat little guy— thanks, she thought, to her feeding him. She hoped that he was sharing his food with a family someplace, and telling them how thankful they should be for her treats. Brook didn’t get many people thanking her or even saying a kind word to her in this house. The car coming down the street startled her. They were at the end of the road they lived on, and once someone passed the neighbor’s house, about a mile away, there was nowhere else to go. So unless they were lost, they were coming to their home. It was one in the morning. Tensing up when the car turned their lights off to pull into their driveway, she looked around to see where the squirrel was. Sometimes Allen would invite his friends over to shoot at the little animals around the house. Brook didn’t want anyone or anything hurt by them. Hearing Allen coming down the stairs like the hounds of hell were after him, she put the knife in her coat pocket in the event that she might need it. Whatever was going on, it could not bode well for her, as Allen had been trying his best to run her off for months now. The lights were off in the house right now, but if the kitchen lights came on, someone would see her, she realized. Moving to the other side of the window, she knew she would be safe, especially dressed in dark clothing the way she was. Unless, of course, someone came out on the porch and turned on the outside light.
When Butch Salmon got out of his car, she could see that his brothers were there with him. The four of them together didn’t have a brain cell between them, not to mention a full set of teeth. Every time she saw them, Brook would have a fear in her heart so deep that nothing but getting away would make her feel better. They were not just bad news but were horrific people. They were drunken assholes that would steal pennies from their own mother’s eyes if she were dead. Butch was the worst of the four of them, and he’d been trying to corner her for the last several months. Even to have him breathe in her direction made her ill with fear. Butch had a streak of evil in him that was wider than he was. Of course, Allen and Cindy loved the man and told her that she was nuts, that no one would want her skinny ass, and to let him kiss her, and he’d be done. No, he would not. She didn’t know how she was so sure of that, but she was so sure that he’d rape her then toss her to his brothers that she’d started carrying a knife around. A switchblade that was longer than her hand. When Butch and Allen were standing on the front porch, Brook turned on her phone to record them. She’d been getting really good at figuring out her phone without looking at it, and tonight was no different. Brook had also begun saving any and all conversations that she happened upon in case she came up missing—or worse yet, dead. “I’m here to get Brook.” Brook felt her body freeze when Butch said that. “You doped her up, right? I don’t want no fighting her for some of that pussy, Allen. You said that we could have our fun so long as we killed her afterward. Then her body could be found for the insurance money you got coming to you.” “I did it.
I’ve only just put the kids to bed now. They’re locked up in their rooms. I even gave them a little of that fentanyl shit that Cindy brought home from the hospital for Brook so that they’d not hear a single thing.” They both laughed, and she wanted to throw up again. “I think I got it right this time. I know the last time you came for her, I’d not given her enough. Christ, even Cindy was surprised that it didn’t knock her on her ass like it should have. She was telling me that a man three times her size would have been out for days. She’s out now, I tell you, Butch. Out like a stone. I went by her room and knocked to see if she’d answer me, and got nothing.” Before? She tried to think when the last time might have been and couldn’t remember. When the other three Salmon brothers got out of the car and went into the house, Brook stood up and thought about how safe she’d be to walk by the window to get her things just as the light in the kitchen came on. She checked her phone to see that it was still recording, and left it by the window as she moved to the door. “I’m going to be so glad to have that bitch out of my life. Who knew that her mother would be leaving this house and the insurance to her daughter? I never would have killed off her husband and her if I thought I’d have to take the brat in too.
You have no idea what it’s been like here with her, Butch. She’s nothing but a pain in my ass the way she just walks around, not speaking to any of us unless we talk to her. She won’t even go out to dinner when we do. Like she’s embarrassed about us. Damned fucking girl. All I want to do every time I see her is stab her in the head. This is going to be working too. That money, double on account of her momma dying the way she did, will set us up for life.
Then there is the policy we took out on her. We’re going to be sitting pretty, I tell you, just as pretty as a picture.” Butch asked if they were going to be living in this house.
“Nah, you and your brothers should move in. It won’t be no sweat off my balls if you do. Tear it up, I don’t care. I hate this fucking house anyway. Well, we should get her out of here before Cindy comes home. She don’t want to be here when she disappears. That way, she has herself an ally-by so that we don’t look like we did it.” Brook thought that Allen would spell it just like he said it too. Ally-by, like that, as the way it was pronounced. Moron. As soon as the light in the kitchen was off, she made her way to the back door to the house. She hadn’t counted on Raymond, one of the Salmon brothers, staying behind, and was startled to see him standing in the kitchen. Reaching blindly for the backpack, never taking her eyes off him as he stared out the window over the sink, Brook had her bag and boots before he saw her. Her heart was pounding so hard she wondered why no one had found her from the sound. As soon as she stepped off the porch into the yard, she heard Allen yelling for her. Butch even shouted out for her like she was going to come running because he told her to.
Turning off her phone, she made her way to the orchard that the neighbors had behind their home. Brook had helped them two summers ago to hang up security cameras as well as lighting when the Quarter family started stealing the fruit and throwing it at passing cars. It would have been different if they were eating it, but they were wasting it, as they did everything they had. After he caught the Quarters stealing from him, they no longer went there. They bitched about it like Mr. Shirley had done them wrong. After the police were called on them and they were told that the next time they did it, they’d be arrested, they just bitched, which she was glad for.
Mr. Shirley and his wife were good people. Trying to decide where to go with the information she had, not to mention someplace they couldn’t hurt her, Brook made her way to the police station. She had been good friends with a lot of the men there. Two of them had helped her get her emancipation paperwork so that she didn’t have to depend on the Quarters for anything. Officer Harland Sheppard was in house this morning, and he was more than glad to see her. Taking her to the chief’s office after she told him what she knew, they listened to the entire conversation while she was given time to calm down. She’d almost been caught twice more when she left the house and would have without the help of a little man named Bert. Butch and his brothers had been out looking for her, using a light like the police did to find missing criminals. Lucky for her, she’d been warned about them coming, and had been able to hide behind another car. “He drugged you up?” She nodded and told Chief Donald Shoe about being sick and how she had thrown up out her window. “All right, honey. You just stay right here, and we’ll run over there. Better yet, I’m going to send you over to the hospital to get you checked out. I’ll send an officer with you.”
He looked at Harland. “We’re going to need to take children’s services to make sure them kids are all right.” In less than two hours, she had tested positive for fentanyl. The nurse who had examined her was really upset about it too. Apparently, even with her getting sick from the drug, she had enough left in her body to have killed her. Not, she told Brook and the officer, that it would take all that much. They put her on an IV drip to run it out of her system and put her in a private ER room to keep her safe. The officer said he’d not leave her door until they had everything taken care of. She had no idea what that meant or how long that would be, but Brook only laid on the bed and thought about what would happen if they didn’t arrest the Quarters. She’d be in deeper shit than she was now. ~*~ Cindy made her way home so excited that she could nearly bust with it. Being let off early had been a real treat. She just hoped that things were finished up by the time she got home. It was difficult for her at times while working because she didn’t want to give away any information about the little bitch Brook. Being a registered nurse was a good job and had helped them out with this thing so much. However, if she lost her job, they’d have nothing until the insurance money was paid.
And for her, that couldn’t come fast enough. Pulling in the driveway had her confused. Several things popped into her head as she sat there in the car. The police were inside her home, and several cruisers were sitting there with their lights still on. The second thing was, she just knew that Allen had killed Brook before the Salmon boys could take her away. If he’d fucked up, then he was on his own with this. Not that it mattered really how Brook was dead, because gone was gone, but for some reason, she didn’t think that was it. Just as she opened the door to her car, a gurney came out of the house with her babies on it. Junior was ten, of course, and Bethy was eight, but they were hers, and she rushed to them to see what had happened. Unable to wake them, she asked the man pushing the gurney what they’d done to them. Instead of answering her, the officer with them told her to get out of the way and shoved them into a waiting ambulance. The police wouldn’t even allow her to go with them. Cindy went to find out what the hell was going on. “Mrs. Quarter. It’s nice of you to join us.” She sat down where Chief Shoe told her. “I was just having a conversation with your husband here about your children. Did you know that all three of them had been drugged?”
“I only have two children. Brook isn’t either of ours. We—I guess you could say inherited her. What do you mean, my babies have been drugged?” She looked at Allen. “What did you do?” “I didn’t do shit, Cindy. I think that Brook did it.” She realized her mistake when Allen glared at her. “They all have something in their bloodstream, and it’s made them be knocked out. The officer here was telling me that someone complained about it. I was just asking him how anyone would complain about shit since the kids are right here.”
“Yes, he was telling me that. But he doesn’t seem to be able to account for Brook Garrett. He said that she was here at nine, but now he doesn’t know where she might be.” She didn’t know either, so kept her mouth shut. “And believe it or not, he’s got no explanation at all as to why there is vomit outside her window with enough fentanyl in it to fell a black bear. Then there are the vials of fentanyl in his sock drawer with not just his, but your fingerprints on them as well. Do you know why there are nine vials of that nasty drug in yours and your husband’s room that are property of the nearby hospital?” “I don’t know, no.” She had to think. Whatever happened next was going to be quite literally life or death for the two of them. “I work there as a registered nurse and have for eleven years. I’ve never had a problem before.” Shoe nodded and pulled something toward him. Cindy could see that it was a report from the hospital about her being written up several times for missing drugs, missing gloves, as well as a plethora of other things that she’d brought home.
If they were to have walked into any room in this house, they’d see a lot of shit with the hospital label on it. “Well, someone better be telling me something, or there will be some repercussions. You don’t want anything coming back on you that will have an effect on the rest of your lives, now would you?” Allen asked why they were responsible for Brook and where she was. “Because she’s sixteen, and even though she’s been caring for herself for some time, you still were responsible for her.” “What do you mean, she’s been taking care of herself? She lives here. Eats the food we bring in here. We pay for her overhead and things that she needs.” Shoe asked if they were sure about that. “Of course, I’m sure. We’ve made sure that she gets to school and that she has a coat to wear in the winter. All the stuff that comes with having a kid in the house.” “When was the last time you saw her eat at the table with you? Or better yet, what grade is Brook in? Do you have any idea when the last time was that you bought her a coat for the winter months?” Cindy said that she’d gotten her one last fall. “Did you now? What about school? Can you tell me where she goes or what her grades are?” She had no idea. It just occurred to her that she didn’t have any idea when the last time was she’d even signed a report card for the bitch. As for the coat, Cindy wasn’t sure that it had been this previous fall that a coat had been bought for her, or anything at all now that she’d thought about it. Cindy didn’t even know when her fucking birthday was. “I don’t remember that much about her like that because she’s older and does for herself.”
Shoe nodded. “What I mean is, she keeps her room clean, and she does her chores when she’s told. As for her grades, I’m assuming that she’s doing well, or they would have let us know by now.” “Would you be surprised to know that Brook is a senior in college?” She couldn’t be that old, Cindy thought. “How about that she graduated from high school with honors two years ago at the age of fourteen? At that time me and a couple of other men at the department took her before the judge and had her declared an adult so she could take college classes that would help her finish up her chosen career when she had that all mapped out.
Which, I might add, she had paid for by the state because of her being an orphan and all.” “No, that can’t be right. She’s as dumb as a post.” She just laughed. “What does this have to do with anything? What is wrong with my children? My children. Where is she? Because I’m sure as I’m sitting here that this is all her fault.” He pulled out a recorder, and before she could protest about him recording this conversation without her say so, he pushed a button, and she heard her husband and Butch Salmon’s voices. While it played, Cindy just stared at Allen. “I’m here to get Brook. You doped her up, right? I don’t want no fighting her for some of that pussy, Allen. You said that we could have our fun so long as we killed her afterward.
Then her body could be found for the insurance money.” “I’ve only just put the kids to bed now. They’re locked up in their rooms. I even gave them a little of that fentanyl shit that Cindy brought home from the hospital for Brook so that they’d not hear a single thing.” As their voices continued to drone on, Cindy tried to think what she was to do now. This crap just got real, and she didn’t want to go to prison for that bitch. Then there were her babies that would be left behind. When Shoe stepped away from the table to answer his phone, Cindy eyed the door. She could make it, she told herself. As she started to rise, one of the officers moved to stand in front of it with his gun out as another one stood next to the table. He was close enough that Cindy could tell what cologne he was wearing. When Shoe came back, the officer near them moved away, but the one at the door stayed where he was. Whatever Shoe had to say, she had a feeling that it was going to be the end of her trying to distance herself from her husband. The moron had told them that she was bringing home the drug to dope up Brook to have her killed. “Well, now. That was the hospital. Your kids were tested for fentanyl, and you’re not going to believe what they found.” Oh, Cindy had a good idea about what they found. But what it was going to mean for them, now that was the real question.
“They found that not only was that drug in their system but that it wasn’t the first time they’d been doped up with it. Seems that it was in their water bottles. Brook had one in her room too. Testing it was how we knew how much could have been in her system. Not a good thing going on here, I have to tell you.” “She did it.” That wasn’t going to fly anymore either, and she wanted to tell Allen that. They had the smoking gun, so to speak. “Brook made it look like she doped herself and then drugged the kids. I want her arrested. No. I want her right here to tell me what the hell she was thinking.” “She’s in the hospital, right along with your children. All three of the children are in my care now.” Shoe stood up. “I’m arresting the two of you under suspicion of three counts of attempted murder. Also under suspicion of the murder of Brook’s parents, Brock and Lynn Garrett. Insurance fraud….” They were cuffed while Shoe went on about what they were being arrested for. Cindy didn’t even question where that information had come from. She had no doubt that Allen had been talking too much, and now they were going to prison.
Then something occurred to her. “What about my babies? What’s going to happen to them?” Shoe said that they’d be put in foster care. “No. You can’t do that to them. They’re just kids. I want you to let me go, and Allen will take the blame for this all. I need to be with my babies.” “Perhaps you should have thought of that when you were plotting to have Brook raped and murdered for the insurance money.” Richard laughed again, and Cindy could have gladly murdered him too. “I’m thinking you two will have a lot of time to think about what you’ve done. Not to mention where your children might be living from now on.”