Isabella Booth was tired of all the sexist crap handed to her on a daily basis. When her father wouldn’t even consider her as an heir to his lawn care business because she wasn’t a man, and left it to her brother Hunter instead, she had done the next logical thing. She opened her own lawn care business, and it thrived.
Dean Marshall was renovating his family home. As far as the landscaping was concerned, he was told to go big or go home. When Shep invited the owner of the landscaping company to his home for dinner, Dean wanted to be there to see about getting some things done for his place. He didn’t mean for his jaguar to knock the woman to the ground.
Bella was thoroughly pissed when the big cat ruined her jeans and favorite shoes, and when he announced that they were mates, Bella was seeing red. No way, no how, was she having another sexist, overbearing man in her life. Not if she could help it….
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Harrison Parker had no family and no ties. She was invisible to be traced. Her job with the government was top secret. So secret that she only reported to two people. Now, she was the target and she had to figure out who wanted her dead. Hurt, and laying low, she reached out to the only man she trusted, an old man she had befriended in the cemetery, Sheppard Marshall.
Sheppard Marshall had been grieving the loss of his Millie for the last fifteen years. He would sit by her grave every day. He was an old man of ninety, and he looked forward to the visits he received from the sassy woman, Harrison Parker. Over time he had grown very fond of her, and when he received the message that she needed his help, Sheppard would help her or die trying.
His grandson, Sheppard or Shep, wasn’t letting the old man go alone. If he got hurt, Shep wouldn’t be able to live with himself. Even though the Marshall men were jaguars, that didn’t mean the old man couldn’t get into a situation that got him hurt or possibly killed.
The bullet had gone clear through, but the poison it had been laced with left Harrison with a high fever and near death. Shep didn’t know what this woman was into, but he knew two things—she was dangerous, and she was his mate. What kind of mess had the old man gotten him into now?
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Dean had most of the bedrooms finished with the exception of furniture. He’d been working on making the rooms a little larger and decided that having three larger bedrooms was much nicer than having six small ones. He wondered at times when working how he and his brother Rodney, like Shep and Oakley, had managed to sleep in the same room and not smother one another. There was barely enough room in the closets for one person’s clothing, much less two of them. Not that Heath or Trenton were any smaller. They just seemed to have been able to work out the room size to suit themselves. Mom had done right by them, though. There might not have been as much room in the bedrooms as they needed, or even wanted, but there was plenty enough food for them to eat, as well as a roof over their heads. Their father hadn’t ever cared about that. At times he’d think about his father.
How he had been in prison for a time then got out, only to screw up again to get himself dead. To have found out that he’d murdered their mom was enough for anyone to turn against him. But for his father to think that it was justified because she’d been mean to him didn’t cut it as far as he was concerned. Just as he was coming down the stairs, he heard his grandda on the front porch. Taking the family home had afforded him plenty of company coming around all the time. All were welcome as far as he was concerned, and he always had fresh tea in the icebox in the event they might show up with a thirst. “Hey, Grandda, how’s it hanging?” He just loved this old man and was surprised to see him blush when he spoke to him like he did. “I’d think that after living with Harris all this time, you’d be used to the dirty comments and bad jokes.” “That girl. I tell you, Dean, I swear she was raised up by heathens. But I love her to pieces, and I can’t find a single thing about her that don’t make me smile. I came over to see if you had a date tonight.” Dean told him that he did, with him. “I know you and your brother Rodney are the babies of the family and all, but you all still need to get out there and date some. How you gonna find Mrs. Right if you’re all holed up in this house working all the time?” “Let me show you what I’ve been up to for a mate, if she ever comes around, to make our home one that can stand on its own.”
He took him to the bedrooms that he’d just left. “I’ve not told anyone, but Harris loaned me the money to get started on the house. She told me that once I got started on it, have a project or two done, then people that sold the equipment that I had would want me to try out their products. She promised me that she’d help me find the right fit for me.” Grandda walked into the bedroom that had been his and Rodney’s. It didn’t look a thing like it had before, because of the interior and exterior project that he had going on here. Grandda turned to him after looking around. “See? That’s the great part of it. It just blends right in with the everyday house. There are several components in this room that will make it more efficient. There aren’t any vents in any of the rooms here because everything is under the flooring. You know
as well as I do that when you get out of bed and put your feet on the cold flooring, it can make you feel about ten times colder than it really is.” Grandda agreed with him. “The water from the floors all goes to the basement to be heated up for the hot water tank. It’s cleaned, too, so that you can drink it.” “Where does this water come from? I mean, eventually, you’re going to run out, right?” Dean told him not if he was smart about it. “Tell me about what you did.” “There is a stream that flows under the house. I had no idea it was there until I had someone come out and show it to me.
It comes from the mountains behind the houses and flows into this stream year-round. Even if there is a drought, there is always plenty of water coming down to the stream.” He showed Grandda the windows next. “These are double-paned windows. Much better than the ones that we had in here before. The seals around them are better than anything I’ve ever worked with before. Even better, Harris told me, than what she has in her home. I did a lot of research on it.” There were other things in the room, too, things that he was happy to show his grandda. And like he had hoped he would, Dean got enough praise from him to make all the depression he’d been fighting lately just vanish. “Shep and Harris’s property. They have enough stuff on it that they don’t have to go beyond for things like meat and vegetables. You getting that done up too?” Dean was glad that he’d gotten his garden in. It had been late, but he’d been amazed at how many late crops he could still grow. “This is really amazing, son. I’m very proud of you.” “Thanks, Grandda. Some of the men that work with the Marshall House have been coming over here when they have time and showing me how to get my orchard in order. I have to admit, I was going to start out slow on that—just get me a few trees to start with. But Joe—he works for Shep—he told me to go big or just go home. So now I have two hundred fruit trees all planted, as well as a watering system that is much like the one in the house that keeps them watered. The garden that I’ve got in, it’ll be much too large for just me this year to harvest. Even with help, I think I’m going to have to learn how to cook so that I can use as much of it as I can.” Grandda asked him about meat. “I’m working on that.
I have to have young animals so they can get used to me, but I’ve already bought them—again, with help from a farmer not far from here. Next spring, I’m going to have fifty head of cattle brought in, and fifty pigs. There will be a hen house too, as well as ducks. I had no idea how helpful ducks were to a farm.” Taking his grandda out to the barn, he told him about the tradeoff he’d had with Marshall House. “So they can store things here in this barn for free if they let you use it when you need to. I like that. Bartering has been around forever, I’m betting. What are those things out there in that field?” He told him they were solar panels that would supply electricity, and thus heat, to the house. “No electric bill? I’m betting that the electric company don’t like that none too much.” “I don’t have to justify anything to them. And the extra that I have, which is a great deal since I live here alone, is being sold to a company that the Marshall House sells theirs to for a profit. It’s not as much as Shep is making, but I’ll get there.”
“You did this all in a month? My goodness boy, what will you have done in a year or two? This is wonderful.” Dean hugged his grandda. “You might be having yourself a grand house before this here thing is done. My goodness.” “Doing most of it by myself has helped me a great deal. If anything goes wrong or I have to extend things, then I’ll know how to do that without having to call in the professionals. I’m having a good time too.” Showing his grandda what else he’d been doing, it wasn’t hard for Dean to admit when he’d made mistakes here and there. There had been plenty of them at first, but he was getting better all the time. “I’m adding onto the back of the house. The kitchen is much too small for this house with all the improvements I’ve made. Plus, I wanted to be able to have an eat-in kitchen like Mom always had. Plus, a dining room to hold a few people if I wanted to have anyone over to watch the game or whatever.” Getting cleaned up to have dinner with his grandda, he thought of all the work he had to do today. But he wasn’t going to let it stress him out. The one thing that he’d learned from his mom—just one of the million and one things he’d learned from her— was to take time for your loved ones. You had no idea if they were going to be there when you woke up the next morning. She’d not been, as it turned out, and he was sorry for that daily. They made their way to the local steak house. It was a nice little drive. The trees were starting to turn colors—he could make them out now, knowing which colors were made by which trees. He’d been thrilled to learn that he had plenty of maple trees on his land, and was planning, again with the help of Joe, to get as much syrup from them as he could come late winter.
He started to tell his grandda that as he drove them in, but decided that if he didn’t have enough to give everyone, he’d just give it to him. Grandda was his hero. “I’ve been working at the grocery store for a while now. I just love seeing all the people around town. And I will admit that I’m a talker. But the things that you hear there, it would curl your tail if you let it. I’ve been thinking on getting some way to get some baskets ready for the holiday coming up. With what I’ve heard around, I’m betting that there is plenty I can do to get a few extra vegetables on a few tables.” Dean told him that he’d help if he wanted. “I might take you up on it. But I’m still in the planning stages right now. I mean, I know I can tell you about something, and you’d not blab it all over town. Some of these people are downright broke. Not even enough coming in for them to see to their bills, much less food on the table.” “Mom used to do stuff like that. Not give people the feeling that she knew they were broke—she’d be slick at it. Like she’d hear something, and one of us and her would gather up some things to share. Not so much they’d be suspicious about her showing up with a lot of stuff, but enough that they’d think she was doing just what she said she was doing—cleaning out the closets or something. Mom would bake up a few pies too. She’d say it was because whatever tree that the pie was made of had been especially fruitful that year.”
Dean smiled when he thought of the conversation he’d had with her once about having a cherry tree. “We didn’t even have most of what she’d bake the pies from. Like she would tell them that we boys had been out in the woods and come across some blackberries. She decided to share our good find with these people.
Then there was the cherry tree that she’d say was so pretty in the spring she just knew she was going to get a lot of pies from it. And there she was with a dozen of them.” “There ain’t no cherry tree on that property, is there?” Dean told him that there was now, but no, not when Mom had been baking there hadn’t been. “My Jill Ann. She was a good-hearted soul, she was. I miss her every day. I’m betting you do too.” “Every time I tear out a wall or put in a new electrical outlet, I think of her. She’d be all over helping me with this project, telling me what my mate someday would think of all this. Every time I pull out a wall and replace something on it, I write her name and the day that she passed on. So that someday someone will know that a great woman lived there.” Grandda told him that was a special thing he was doing. “It’s what any of us would do for her, I think. Our mom, she was something special.”
After they were finished with their meal and Grandda had a nice slice of pie with his, Dean told him of the things that he was working on outside the house. Grandda told him of all the things that he’d been up to, and by the time they parted ways, him dropping Grandda off at Shep’s house, Dean decided that they needed to do that once a week from now on. That way, they could catch each other up on their weeks. He might even suggest it to the others. ~*~ Hunter didn’t want his sister there, but there was little he could do about it. Talking Dad down and telling her that he demanded to see her had her coming, not running off so he had to fill Dad with stuff she’d told him. Well, stuff that he had in his head that she’d told him, none of it very good. He also mentioned to her that Dad had said that she was too old for birthday celebrations. He’d almost forgotten what today was. Of course, of all days, his dad was running behind. The man was never late for anything. Isabella Booth, his sister, was a pretty thing. He supposed she would almost have to be. He was handsome and well built, and their parents were both good looking, even for their age, Hunter thought. There was very little reason to have ever thought that she’d be ugly. Hunter wanted to think that he had something to do with it, but really, he was just her brother, not her parent. It hadn’t ever bothered him what she looked like so long as she wasn’t a boy.
Hunter knew his father well enough to know that he would never have left the family business to his sister. Hunter had made sure that Dad thought that Bella was just a greedy airhead that didn’t know a hoe from a whore. That was the way he’d been able to slant things in his favor. Hunter didn’t care how stupid or smart Bella or Dad was, so long as, now that he’d left the business to him, they stayed the fuck out of his business. While he didn’t know what this meeting was going to entail, he knew that it might be something he didn’t want his sister in on. “I’ve had enough.” When Bella stood up and walked to the door, he actually stared at her with his mouth open. No one ever walked out on Dad when he wanted to talk to them. Especially not his children. “If he comes in, you tell him I said to fuck off. I’m a fucking grown woman, and I’m not taking this shit anymore.”
Like he’d say that to his dad. He would, of course, but he’d be much nastier about it than she’d been. When she walked out of the house, Hunter just sat there, where he’d been when the butler told them that Dad was running behind. As soon as he heard her car startup, Hunter smiled. One more thing to dig the hole that would bury Bella when it came to anything that Dad left them in the will. He’d get it all, which was all he ever wanted in the first place. To be the man on top of everything. Getting up, he’d started for the bar when he heard their dad coming back. “What the hell are you doing, Hunter? It’s only nine in the morning.” Hunter said that he’d been trying to catch Bella. “What do you mean, catch her? I thought she’d stay and talk to me. Doesn’t she know what today is? It’s her birthday. I thought of all days she’d want to talk to me.” “I don’t think she wants to be around us anymore. She said that she was sick of waiting and that she was a grown woman.” Hunter didn’t think he’d ever be able to say a curse word to his dad. His mouth would never form them in front of him. But he had no such trouble lying to him. “She said that you aren’t ever going to demand anything of her again, Dad. She even told me that I shouldn’t be here either.”
“Oh yeah? I wonder why she’d say something like that. I mean, I’m trying to make amends here, for whatever I’ve done to her to make her so upset with me. Do you know what it might have been?” Hunter shook his head. “Well, I’ll try and call her later. But you and I need to talk about the business that you’re running. I’ve been hearing things that I just don’t care for, son. Are you having troubles? Do you need for me to step in and help you out? I can. It would be—” “No. I’m doing just fine, Dad. I swear. It’s running almost like you never left. You said that you’d give me the business to run, and that’s what I’m doing. You’ve not changed your mind, have you?” Dad told him that he’d not. “I don’t think you have to worry about Bella’s business like you did before. She will fail soon enough. You can count on that. A woman like her, growing up in this house, and she goes out and opens her own place. Bella did that so that she could act like she’s smarter than you. I don’t believe that, but she sure does.” “You go and get her and tell her that I’d like to talk to her as soon as she has time. Tell her…I don’t know. Tell her that I’d really like to see her. I miss her. If you weren’t around to tell me what she’s up to, I’d never know except for what little I can read in the papers.” Hunter didn’t think that Bella would come back here ever again with all the things he’d been telling her about Dad. None of it was true, but she didn’t know that, any more than Dad knew what Bella was really saying about him. “Also, you tell her that I’d very much like for her to come and have a few dinners with me every week. Now that your mother has left for her European vacation, it gets a little lonely around here. You tell her that, will you, Hunter?” “I will. And I have to say, Dad, that’s a wonderful idea.” Dad puffed his scrawny chest out like he was king of the world. Hunter was just barely able to catch himself from rolling his eyes when he turned away to leave, wondering where Dad had gotten the idea that their mom was on vacation. Turning back to his dad, he tried to act all humble. “She took my last cash, Dad.
Just demanded that I hand it over before she left. If she has all that money, why did she need mine too?” “I’m not sure of a lot of things of late to be honest with you, Hunter. Sometimes I have these memory spells, and I have to just rest a bit. By the way, I’ve been meaning to ask you. How are things going down at the lawn care service? I’ve been hearing things around town and such that things aren’t going as well as I’d hoped they would with you in charge. What are you doing?” Hunter told him it was just that, rumors, and that he had a handle on things. He told him not to worry. “It has my name on it, Hunter—of course, I’m going to worry. But you make sure you tell Bella everything I told you, Hunter. I’m not getting any younger here, and I miss her. I just can’t believe some of the things she does according to you. Like robbing her only brother. But then, from some of the things you’ve told me, I guess it’s no less than I could expect. Correct?” As he left the house, Hunter thought that his dad was wrong on that score. Bella was only good for one thing, and that was to be the scapegoat when he needed her to be. But he also knew that his dad had gotten stupider. The fact that he believed every word that came out of Hunter’s mouth just went to show just how dumb his father was. Hunter had been playing his father and sister against one another since he’d been old enough to figure some things out
First and foremost, Bella was very intelligent. Not just that, but she could make money. Easily. When she’d been just a kid, she’d figured out a way to make money by mowing lawns. At thirteen, she’d been able to get her own mower, as well as a weed eater and other yard equipment to carry along with her mower and little trailer. By the time she was fifteen, she’d been able to pay for a nice used truck that she’d never let him drive. She wasn’t even able to drive it until a year later. Stupid to pay for something that she’d not been able to use, Hunter had always thought. Bella had gotten out of school earlier too. At sixteen, she’d graduated an entire year before he’d been able to. It didn’t help that Hunter had had to repeat a few grades and didn’t graduate until he was almost twenty. But there she was, taking college classes on how to run her own business on a computer that she locked up every time she walked away from it. It just occurred to Hunter that Bella had always been selfish about her things. Not that he ever wanted to share with her. But she had nicer things and didn’t allow anyone to mess with them.
The day she turned eighteen, not only did she move out of the house Hunter still called home, but she moved not into a shabby apartment, but a house that she’d been able to purchase with her own money. That, too, was someplace he could never go to. While he had an idea where she lived, the actual address was something that she’d never share with him. He supposed she was smart on that score. He would have fucked that up for her if given the chance. Now, at twenty-three, not only did she have her own car, a home, as well as a fat bank account, Bella also had a multimillion-dollar business. Hunter would see the little signs in all kinds of yards and businesses, stating that Booth Landscaping was caring for this property. The only reason he knew about her bank account was because he would read about her being one of the wealthiest women in the entire state.
More than likely, the article had said, the country. Pulling into the front lot of her business, he was detained. He was forever detained there. Really, what it meant was, they were asking his sister how badly she wanted to make him gone. He’d never been on this lot, and he was reasonably sure he never would be. Bella actually had wild dogs roaming the place after it closed down. He knew that because he’d tried to get in at that time, and had nearly had his ass torn off by them. “She said to tell you that you need to go back and suck up more to your father. She’s busy.” He hated that the entire company seemed to know that Hunter didn’t care for him. “Miss Booth also said to tell you that you’re not getting money or a job, nor are you going to get in to steal from her.” “What a thing to say to her own brother. You tell her that I have a message from our dad.” The man not only went into the booth to talk on the phone to Bella, but he closed the door. Hunter could see him laughing like it was a huge joke on their part to have a good time with him. Being her older brother had counted for nothing to her, and he was frankly sick to death of it. Before he could pound on the door and tell the man he wanted the fuck in, he came out with his hand on his gun. Fucking shit.
Had she ordered him to shoot her only brother? “Miss Booth said for you—” “I know who the fuck she is. You don’t have to keep saying her name as if I haven’t any idea that my sister is here. What the hell could she say to me that has you ready to blow my head off?” “Miss Booth said that if you don’t leave here now, she’s going to have me drag your dead body into the lot and let the police know that I had to kill you for trespassing.” The man leaned down to the window. “You go on and try to run the gates, Hunter, and I’ll have you dead before you cross your front tires over the electric eye that will lock you down.” Terrified that he’d do just that, he slammed the car into reverse and hit the gas. He got no more than three inches before his entire body was slammed forward, then back. Whatever he’d hit, he was sure that it had killed him. Getting out of his car, he held his head where blood was making it impossible to see what it was that had rammed him from the rear. Looking at the large truck, one of the kind that he was sure could pull a house down the road, Hunter was satisfied that he’d at least done some damage to it. “What the hell? You hit me.” The man, a huge monster of a guy, got out of the car, and Hunter revised his thought about the truck and the house. This man would need this type of truck to pull him around. “Did you even look in your rearview mirror before you backed up like you did?” “You hit me. I was trying to see my sister, who owns this business, and you rammed me.” Hunter loved the way the lies just slipped from his mouth like piss did from his dick.
“What did you think was going to happen to your truck when you came up on me so fast? My sister isn’t going to be happy about this.” “Your sister doesn’t give two shits about you.” The guard again. That mother fucker needed to keep to his own business. “Hello, Mr. Marshall. Miss Booth is expecting you. If you’d like to go on ahead there, the man on the other side will take you to her now. I’ve already called the police, and I’m making a recording of the entire incident as we speak to hand over to them. Obviously, it was this man’s fault for being too afraid to even drive properly.” “You have no idea what you’re talking about. I wasn’t the least bit afraid of you.” Hunter tried to shut his mouth, but again, things were flowing faster than he could stop them. “I was sitting still when he drove his excuse to compensate for his tiny dick into my car.” The man didn’t even pause as he made his way into the gate to the waiting golf buggy, leaving him there as if he was going to be the one that took the blame on this. Hunter looked at the guard that was standing there with his hand still on his gun.
The sirens sounded just as he was trying to figure out how he was going to get home. As soon as the two cruisers pulled up, the cops came out of the cars, hiding behind their car doors with their guns drawn and yelling at him to drop to the ground. Hunter put his hands up but refused to drop like he was some sort of animal. “Are you insane? Do you have any idea how much it cost me to clean this suit? More than I want to spend again.” He put his hands down. “Now listen here, you have no right to arrest me. That other man, he hit me.” “Moron.” The guard walked by him and handed the police something. “He backed into Mr. Marshall’s truck after arguing with me about going inside. It’s all on that recording for you.” Hunter found himself arrested and getting in the back of the cruiser before he could think how to lie himself out of this mess. Just as his neck was being bent so that his head wouldn’t get hurt on the doorframe, he looked at the building and saw his sister standing there. His tongue was so tied up when he saw her that he couldn’t speak—not to yell at her to come to help him or anything else.
Standing there, with the sun behind her and leaning against one of the many trucks, the vision that she was made him realize just how gorgeous Bella had become. He supposed that she was when she’d been at the house earlier. But then she’d been dressed in a pair of sweats and a dirty T-shirt. One that had her name on it. Looking at her now, he could see that she’d not only cleaned up, but she’d dressed up too. The skirt hung just mid-thigh, slick tight and black. The blouse she was wearing was a bright white. The slimness of it made her look curvy and grown up. When the hell had that happened? Hunter never got a chance to ask her that, or any of the other million questions that were going through his head. Almost as soon as the door was shut, he found himself being taken to jail. Unfairly too, he thought.