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Carroll By Kathi S Barton Release Blitz & Giveaway

 

 

Carroll Golden and his five brothers were the first of their kind. Born leopards, they were blessed with the magic of being the first leopard shifters. Morgan, their mother by proxy, raised them to blend in with humans and to be good men. Blessed with immortality, they all lived together on Morgan’s Leap, a sanctuary for all nature.

Hanna March worked for the FDA. She had always wanted to visit Morgan’s Leap, but it was closed to the public, so when she was given the opportunity to inspect their orchard on some bogus complaint, she jumped at the chance. The place was beyond anything she ever expected, and Morgan was the perfect host. But when someone took a pot shot at Morgan from the field, a huge leopard came out of nowhere and took them both down. Hanna, hitting her head on the way to the ground, was down for the count.

Carroll shifted back to human as soon as the women were out of danger, but finding out the pretty FDA agent was his mate took Carroll by surprise, and boy was she going to be mad when she woke up.

 

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Prologue

Morgan made herself into a tight ball as she hid herself in the tall grasses in the field. She knew the men chasing her would find her soon enough, but for now, she was going to make them work for it. Closing her eyes, trying her best to calm her breathing, she did the only thing she could to not think about what was going on around her. Morgan counted to fifty in all the languages she knew. She had awakened out here. All she remembered was having dinner in the kitchen with the staff and then waking out in the middle of the moonless night. She did not remember going to bed or putting on the nightgown she had on now. Nor did she remember waking when brought out here in the cool night. Soon after waking, she heard the voices of the men, six she thought she’d counted, saying the first one that found her could have her. At fourteen, Morgan knew exactly what that meant. They were going to rape her, then more than likely kill her. Her parents would be looking for her. She would admit, only to herself, that they’d not be too upset about her being gone. Morgan had a habit of getting up in the middle of the night to see to one creature or another. So it might be days before anyone— The hot breath of air on her forehead had her whimper just a little. Lifting her head without opening her eyes, she felt it once again. It was hot but not sour-smelling. Opening her eyes, she looked right into the golden eyes of a leopard. Their noses touched. They were so close. The lick to her face scared her. While she’d seen the wild animals around the compound where she lived, she’d never been this close to one so dangerous. The farmers would kill them when they would take down a cow or something they raised, but no one could have prepared her for their beauty being this close.

The big cat put her paw on her head and pushed it back down, so it rested on the dirt. When she started to lift it again, the cat pushed her down again. Understanding that she was to stay where she was, Morgan closed her eyes. If she was going to be eaten, she was glad the cat was sparing her from knowing when it was coming. The sound, soft as a coin dropping onto the dusty ground, was all she heard before the large cat screamed. There was gunfire too. Something frighteningly close stirred up some of the dirt she was hiding on. The screaming of men was next. It wasn’t long before it was quiet, and she knew on some level that the cat had killed the men. The paw to her head again had her lifting it up to see if she was next. The cat had been hurt. Blood was pouring from her shoulder at an alarming rate. Sitting up, unmindful of whether it was safe to do so, Morgan tore at her nightgown to staunch the blood as she spoke to the leopard. “I think you saved me.” The cat just let her poke around at her wound, soon lying down when she asked her to do so. “The bullet needs to come out. If it doesn’t, I’m afraid you’ll get sick and die from it. I wish I had my knife here. But I think I can see it enough to get it out with my fingers. I won’t do any more than I have to. All right?”

Morgan worked for fifteen minutes in getting the bullet out. The cat never hurt her. Never tried to get away from her as she worked. Sweat poured off Morgan’s forehead as she finally got it free. When she was finished, she showed it to the cat. “See? Someone got a shot in. I promise you, I’ll make sure you’re all right. Do you have a lair? Someplace you can rest?” The cat stood up, and that was when she noticed she’d had kittens recently. “Oh no. Where are they? You left your den to come to save me? Come on. I’ll help you back.” It wasn’t far, only about a hundred yards from where the cat had come to her. It occurred to her that the cat was more than likely saving her kittens from being found when she killed the men, but Morgan was ever so grateful she’d spared her. Helping the cat into the den, she saw that she had three of the pudgiest little kittens she’d ever seen. “They’re beautiful. Oh, look at them. You are a good momma, Golden Eyes. They’re very fat. I’ll stay with you until you need to eat again. Then I’ll hunt for you.” The cat didn’t seem to mind when Morgan picked one of the kittens up, so she touched each of them in turn. “You’re very lucky those men didn’t find you too. But I guess you knew that.” She stayed with the family overnight. There wasn’t any way she’d be able to make her way back home in the darkness, so it was fine with her to be in the cave for the night. The kittens woke hungry a couple of times in the night. Instead of having Golden go to them, Morgan carried them back and forth to their mother. She seemed to be all right with her helping that way.

When the sun was coming up, Morgan not only made sure the family had water, but she also scavenged as much as she could from the horses the men had come out here on. Hardtack was in abundance, but she was also able to get herself some much-needed flint, as well as some blankets. Taking it to the cave, she put the kittens on one of the blankets and then sat down to watch them fall over each other until they had their spot picked out. It was calming to watch them, she thought. They were just too little to do much more than be roly-poly little kittens. Giving the hardtack to Golden, she made her way to her home. It was further than she’d thought it might have been, and she didn’t arrive there until the sun was nearly down. Going into the house by way of climbing up the back stairs, she heard her parents speaking from their balcony. Sliding out onto her own, she stood deep in the shadows to listen to what they might be saying. Her mother was standing at the railing, her father deeper in the room. “I cannot believe she’s gone.” Morgan started forward, wanting to assure her mother she hadn’t been hurt at all. “This was a brilliant idea you had, Malcomb. To have it look as if she’d been kidnapped, then killed. I have never wanted anything more than that child dead.” Her heart hurt. Her mind didn’t know how this was really what her mother was saying. They weren’t close, but she never thought she’d want her dead. But when her dad came out to the balcony too, she watched the two of them as they stood there in an embrace.

“Well, it wasn’t nearly as hard as I thought it would be to get some men gathered up to take her. As you said, it’s a good thing now that she’s gone. When they find her body, it will be blamed on anything but me.” Mother said it wouldn’t be her fault either. “No. No one will bother with blaming you, my dear. For all they know, you’ve committed suicide because your daughter is gone.” It took her less time than it apparently did her mother to understand what her father was saying. As soon as he nearly pushed her mother over the railing, intending, she was sure, to make it look as if she had fallen to her death by her own hand, Mother grabbed her father’s coat. The two of them hung there for what seemed like forever. Would they both fall? Would they be able to save one another? She didn’t care. So when her mother’s weight took them both over the edge, Morgan stood there for several minutes, thinking about what had just befallen her family. Looking over the edge of her own balcony, she saw them there, tightly embraced as if in a lover’s hug and dead. Blood spread out beneath their heads as if a bucket of it had been poured over the two of them. Making her way to the kitchen area, she staggered twice in her grief. Not that they were dead—no, it was that they had planned her demise in such a cold way. Lincoln was there, the butler of the house when she entered. He took one look at her and sat her in the chair she’d spent more time in than the ones in the formal dining room. Lincoln, she knew, would be her family from now on. “Child, what is it?” She must have been a mess. Or looked on edge. The slap to her cheek stung enough that she was brought out of whatever thoughts she’d been having.

“What’s happened? Your parents, they told the household you’d been kidnapped. Are you hurt?” She told him everything, not leaving out anything, including the cat that had saved her. Also, leaving no doubt to the older man that her parents had planned for her to be killed this night. Lincoln sat down across from her after making her a cup of tea that was mostly bourbon. “You are mistress of the house now. Tomorrow we will find their bodies whilst you are still abed. You will say you were out with the creatures of the field. They will believe that well enough. That is where you are most of the time.” She asked him about the cats. “’ Tis your decision. However, if you were to bring them here, none of the rest of the staff will mind. It is you we stayed for all these years, and not your parents.” “I’ll need help bringing them here.” He said he’d go with her. “They’re far. Much further than I had thought. But I wish them to be safe, Lincoln. She saved my life, and I will do the same for her and her family.” “You have a good heart, child—a very good one. We shall leave now and take lanterns with us. A basket too so we might carry the little beasts.” She asked him if he didn’t want them here. “Nay, I want what you want. We all do. Tomorrow after your parents are found, we’ll be as we should have been. A good home and a safe one. Mark my words on that. I will talk to you, as we go about now that you are mistress of the house, what men will do to get to you.

They’ll want you, but you’re too stubborn to be a good wife to anyone seeking your hand. It might be well that there are cats here to protect you. You have become a very wealthy woman.” As they were making their way to the cave, she wondered if he knew how safe the house would be with leopards in it. Once the kittens grew up, they’d be as big as she was now. Smiling, she thought perhaps she wasn’t all that upset about her parents being dead. They’d been treating her as if she were dead for as long as she could remember. Golden seemed happy to see her. She licked her face and brushed her with her large paws. As Lincoln gathered up the kittens, she helped Golden outside to do her business. It took a great deal out of her, and Morgan had to carry her back into the cave. Once they were all loaded up in the buggy, she sat down with Golden to tell her what had happened. “So I’m motherless except for you. I know you’re a cat, and I’m only a human, but I think we can get along. When the men start to come—and according to Lincoln, they will—I’ll need you to protect me too. I shan’t ever marry. Not only that, but I’m also going to make it my life’s work to make sure animals such as yourself are as safe as I can make them.” Arriving home well after the sun had settled in the sky again, she made sure the mother and kittens were safe in her parents’ big bed. There was a fire in the fireplace for them should the night turn too cold. Morgan also made sure the mother had plenty to eat, having given her one of the steaks her father would treat himself to daily, while she had whatever else he had with his meal. Sleep didn’t take its time capturing her, luring her to a night’s rest. It hit her right between the eyes and had her nearly sick with exhaustion. As she closed her eyes, sleeping in her own bed as if nothing had happened, she knew she’d keep her promises to not just Lincoln and the other staff but to herself as well. The animals here would need her, and she was going to make sure they were as safe as they could be while she was still living. ~*~ Four years later Morgan watched the man as he ran out of her home.

How he’d gotten in was beyond her, but now that he was gone with a little less of his fancy clothing, she sat down on the front veranda and waited for the cats to come to her. Over the last month or so, men had been showing up at the oddest times to tell her she must marry them. They would all come around sooner rather than later. All of her leopards, as well as a plethora of other such creatures, would come to make sure she’d not been harmed or taken away from them. None of the animals would be harmed here, and daily another one or two would come limping into the compound and be welcomed. Golden came to sit at her feet, and she smiled at her when she looked at her. “He had it coming. We both know that. The pompous ass thought if he could tear at my clothing, I’d allow him to marry me so I’d be happy. He said I’d need someone like him to watch over my money and keep me from dying an old spinster.

Apparently, women aren’t meant to think beyond having a man around. I’m much happier without him, I think. What did he think I’d been doing here all alone since my parents died? Waiting on someone to rescue me? Not likely.” Morgan slid to the floor and put Golden’s head on her lap. Running her hand down the length of the cat, she could feel her newest litter wiggling around. “I am worried about you, mistress cat. You’re heavier this time with your brood. Not to mention, I know the wound you suffered for me so long ago bothers you more daily. The babes you brought here that night, they have gone on to have their own children. I cannot believe so much time has passed since that night.” She thought of something and put her forehead to Golden’s. “I just realized you’re a grandmother. Congratulations.” “That would make you an aunt in her eyes.” Morgan reached for her gun, something she’d been carrying since that night, and found it gone. “You cannot kill me, mistress, but I would prefer that you not harm me either. I have come to speak with you about the good works you are doing here. The one you call Golden, she has asked me to come to speak to you about a great many things. In addition, I have some things I need to ask of you.” “Who are you?” The beautiful woman asked if she could tell her in a moment. “So long as you know that whatever it is you’re hawking, I want no part of. We’re doing very well here on our own.” “You are doing better than well, I think. The ground is fertile here, thanks to your way of doing things.

Not all humans would leave an animal to rot on their land without doing something with it.” Morgan told her that other animals took care of it. “They have indeed. Even the things the larger breeds cannot eat or use, the smaller creatures come to salvage what they can. You have a good system here. A system that will not be popular for a great many years.” “I don’t want to have to go into town.” The woman nodded, her smile something she thought more than beautiful. “You said you came here because of Golden. She is a cat. How is it possible that she would call to you?” “Let me start at the beginning, please. The night your parents died, the night you came to help Golden, it was thought that you should have died along with them. Sometimes, with humans, the apple does not fall far from the tree. But you are nothing like them, are you, sweet child? You were not only different from them, but a kinder, gentler person than any of us have ever seen before. We have all been watching you these last years.” Morgan asked her who they were. “Ah, that brings me to your first question. I am Tellus, the terrestrial being that cares for and is wholly a part of the earth. The earth and the land that you have here. Not from my doing but your own, this land is rich beyond anything man has ever seen before.” Morgan didn’t speak, letting all the woman told her to settle into her mind. She’d been alone for most of her life now and had learned not to prattle on when there was no one to talk back to her. Petting Golden, she was glad to hear her purring. The rumbling of her throat was soothing to her for some reason.

“Mother Earth. I’ve read about you. You’re Roman.” She said that was correct. “All right. So you’re here because I have good land. However, I still don’t know why you took time out of your…what I’m sure is a busy day to tell me that.” “You are a jewel among all the stars in the sky, Morgan.” Confused at the words and their meaning, Morgan continued to pet her cat. “We, the other earth creatures, have been watching what you were doing here since that night. We’ve not once had to intervene in helping you care for the animals, all that you protect here. You have lifted a great burden from all of us. Even creatures you may not yet be aware of have found a home here among the others and have been safe from harm. One such creature sits there on your leg. His name is Button.” Morgan looked down at her leg and saw the tiny creature standing there. She put out her free hand, and when he hopped upon it, she brought him closer to her face. Yes, he was a little man, just like the men that had been coming around except for his size. Then while she was watching him closely, he spread out his wings and fluttered above her palm for several seconds before settling down again. “Faerie.” He bowed before her. “I have read of such creatures as this one. They are thought to be a myth. Such as you are, Lady Earth. I have either hit my head, or I’m being visited by creatures as magical as the sun coming up and then resting in the other sky.” “You are seeing magic, my child.” Nodding, she laid her hand back on her leg. Button didn’t sit on her leg again but stayed on her palm. “He wishes to be with you.

To help you in the coming years. For as much as I’d like to say your life will be filled with only riches, we both know it is never that way.” “Nay, it is not. The banker says I owe him great funds for a loan my parents took out before they died. Also, I have a man who is trying his best to catch me unawares, so he might rape me to take my lands. I don’t think he means to keep me around much longer than it takes for me to say, ‘I do.’ They only want what I have.” Tellus said she could help her with those things. “Thank you, my lady. But I’m sure you have enough to do now with the earth as large as it is.” “I do. But helping you is not something I take lightly, my child. We, all the creatures in charge of the parts of the earth you now own, are happy to help you. And in doing so, they will get the help they need as well.” Morgan asked her what they wanted her to do. “You will do it, will you not? Even not knowing what it is we ask of you.” “I will help the earth for as much as it gives back to us here. And that, as you know, is a great deal. We are self-sufficient here. Water is ours to use as we see fit. There is a roof over our heads when necessary. The fields, as you have pointed out, are rich and give us back so much more than we can eat. I share what I cannot have put up or preserved.” Tellus told her she knew that as well. “If you need me to do more, I will do it to the best of my ability.” “Thank you.” Tellus looked at her, then at Golden as she continued. “Golden will stay with you until the kittens are born. Her children will be the first of many creatures that will take on this new magic we wish you to help with.”

“She’s going to die.” Tellus nodded but didn’t look at her. “I thought when I’ve seen her around this time, she wouldn’t make it for long after. You do know she’s the only friend I have besides the people that work here? I’ve thought about, for long hours, how I will make it without her counsel. Without her snuggling up to me when I need it. I don’t know that I want to. But I must, for the others.” “Yes, you will,” Tellus told her of the magic that would be given to her. About the babes Golden would have, and how they would go on to be great men, to help her in ways that Tellus and the others hadn’t thought of yet. “The magic they will get will help them to be a part of the world of men. To breach such places that even now frighten us a little. We will need you to help them blend into such places. To walk, talk, and act like real men. The abilities we will give them will make them a prize should anyone find out. So it is important they do not give themselves away while men. Do you understand?” “Yes. I’m to be their teacher.” Tellus told her that she would also be their mother. “I have questions now, but I know I will have so many more when the time comes. I will teach them everything I can. Give them whatever step up they’ll need so long as I live. I promise you they will be the best of men. Not like the ones that come here sniffing out an easy way to my home.” “You will not die either, Morgan.

You will be around for their children to come into the world, as well as all the shifters that are to be born.” Morgan asked her about the men coming around. “They will not come around again should you wish it. Button will have an army of faeries that will come to your aid in that and anything else you might need them for. Do not be fearful of using them either. Rightly so, they are excited to serve one such as yourself. You have been titled with the name Queen of Shifters.” “You don’t have to do that, my lady. I said I would help you.” Tellus laughed, and it made Morgan smile. “I will do as asked. The rest I will accept as part of my duties, but I don’t see myself using it overly much.” “I foresee you using the magic given to you much more than you think you will.” Tellus laughed again, bringing yet another smile to Morgan’s face. “I will also give you a list of things you will need to invest in. They will fund you better than a bank will, and you will remain self-reliant at the same time. Also, the bank has been taken care of. He will no longer bother you about funds he thinks you owe him.” “Thank you for that.” Morgan looked down at her friend and ally in all this. “What will become of me when you no longer have a use for me, my lady?” “There will always be a use for you, child. A creature such as you will forever bond with the earth and make everything around you a better place. I have such faith in you.” Morgan told her she could only do her best. “And that, my child, is all I could ask for.” The two of them talked throughout the morning and into the evening. Ending up in the living room where there was a fire roaring in the hearth, they were served their tea there, as well as juice. She was told she’d need to be drinking a great deal more of the elixir. And that the fresher it was, the better it would be for her after using magic.

At some point, Tellus took her hand into hers and gave her the magic she’d need. The power of it washed over her in waves. So much so that for several minutes she had to sit still in her seat and wait for it to settle out. Not only did she receive the magic, but the knowledge of how to use it. Also, things she’d been told she must invest in. Things that Tellus told her would be worth a great deal in the future. After Tellus left her to rest, she was told, Morgan sat in the yard at the back of her house. Lincoln came to sit with her a spell, telling her there were faeries in the kitchen now that would make sure the household was safe. Also, he said, he’d been given magic as well. “It is to keep the house in order. To build out, when you need it, my lady.” She said she’d been told she’d need to have a larger house. “I find that hard to believe, but I will do what it takes to have you safe.” “I now have more land as well. Tellus told me there are now five thousand acres here that will be used for the animals in need. No one will be able to enter the land if they wish to harm anything that calls this place home. What am I do to with all this knowledge and wealth, Lincoln?

I know I’m to teach the next generation of cats born to Golden, but how much do you think they’ll need from me? What am I to do when they go out and have their own leap? I shall be an old woman with only you to keep me company.” He asked her if he was immortal as well. “You are. But I was told if at any time you wish to die, I could take it from you. No harm will come to you with it either.” “I think I shall stay with you, my lady. I think we will need each other in the coming years, don’t you think?” She said she needed him every day. “You are so kind to me, Morgan, that I wonder at times why your parents wanted you dead.” “They were in love with themselves.” She knew that to be true as soon as she said it. Looking at the older man, she smiled at him. “You and I will do the best we can and hope it’s right. Someday, I think we’ll look back on this and wonder what all the fuss was about. Don’t you?” “I think I will hold my thoughts on that until such time as it comes to an end.” He laughed a little. “Do you believe it will come to an end, my lady?” “No. I don’t. I don’t have any idea why, but I think we’re going to be having something new and strange happening as a daily routine.” She stood up when he did. “Let us begin this new phase of our life, Lincoln, and hope we make it work better than the thoughts in my head are making it. All right?” “Whatever you wish, my lady. We will do well together, I believe.” She hoped so. It seemed like a great deal was depending on her doing just that, making it work for the safety of all involved. She only hoped she knew enough and was strong enough to make it work for all of them.

Joey By Kathi S Barton Release Blitz&Giveaway

 

Autumn was born the seventh child of the seventh child, and what no one else realized, she was also the seventh generation to be born, making her the seventh of seven. That alone brought her a great deal of magic. But her parents mistreated her as a child because she wouldn’t share her magic. After her mother made an attempt on her life, she grew up living with a kind uncle. As a result of the abuse she received from her parents, Autumn was dying from cancer.

Joey Whitfield wasn’t the biological son of Blake and Shadow, but they loved him just the same. Joey was different. He had always been a loner, but a near-death experience as a teenager had granted him powers and abilities so strong even he didn’t understand. It wasn’t safe to be around others. Rather than hurt those he loved the most, Joey had struck out on his own until he could discover exactly who and what he was. Days turned into weeks, and weeks turned into years. Joey couldn’t bring it upon himself to face his family.

Even from afar, Joey knew what Autumn was to him. But he’d been alone for so long, could he trust himself to be around others? He knew he should and could save her, but that would require getting past his comfort zone to do it.

Joey was at a crossroads in his immortal life. It was do or die. He just needed the courage to do what had to be done or risk living an eternity alone.

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Dylan Hutchinson lived and breathed Army, and she’d been undercover so long she’d forgot what it felt like to be a civilian. But the last mission took a turn for the worse and not only was she hurt, but she’s been informed that she could no longer do her job. It’s either a desk job as a recruiter, or she’s out.

Evan Whitfield didn’t have to work, but he loved his job as a surgeon. And when as his tiger he found an old man wandering in the woods with Alzheimer’s and confused, he wanted to help the family. The family had a daughter in the hospital too, and they were struggling. Evan thought the daughter might be not as sick or hurt as she claimed to be, so he took it upon himself to check her out. Evan was surprised to find that she was not only hurt worse than they claimed, she was also his mate.

For a doctor, Dylan thought Evan was dense. What part of go away didn’t he understand? She wasn’t the mate or marrying kind. Her life was over, not beginning. He needed to just go away….

Sunny, or Sunshine Davis, is a well-known investigative reporter. After her recent article shuts down a drug lab, she just disappears. People everywhere are looking for her. Truth is she’s been shot and left for dead. Tanner, a vampire, has other plans for the feisty reporter. He needs her help, so he saves her. His old friend, Ollie Whitfield, owes him a favor, so he sends her there to lay low for a while.

David Whitfield is on a deadline with his publisher. When he’s writing, he’s in a world of his own. When his grandda, Ollie, asks him to hide out a friend, he’s all for it. He’d do anything for his grandda. What David doesn’t expect is for the woman he’s supposed to be hiding out to be his mate. A very hurt mate that has his tiger in a possessive uproar.

Because Sunny technically died before Tanner could revive her, she has a little difficulty remembering the events just prior to her death, but when she does the revelation rocks her to her core. And her baggage can put all the Whitfields in danger.

Josh had taken a month off from his Realtor job to get the construction finished on his house, but he was leaning toward it being a permanent vacation. He still liked selling houses, but something was missing. It didn’t excite him anymore and he was tired of the rat race.

All Carter wanted was to get a job and start her life over again. She had just spent the last ten years in prison for a crime she didn’t commit, and that made finding a job difficult, if not downright impossible. She didn’t want to go back to the halfway house, but things weren’t looking good.

Ollie Whitfield took an instant liking to the young woman and her sister, Rachel. He’d make sure his grandson gave her a job in the new greenhouse he was opening up. There was no since in her beating the pavement for a dead-end job when he had one for her. He just had to convince her of that. She had some dad-blamed notion in her head that she’d bring danger to the family.

Josh’s grandda had already told him of the scary things the woman could do, and he was worried that Carter and her sister might be taking advantage of an old man. But when Josh walked behind her at the dinner table and caught her scent, he was floored. He had found his mate and neither of them were prepared for it.

Carter knew he was a shifter, but the things she could do would get them all killed, and she wouldn’t allow that. She would somehow convince him that this mate thing was a bad idea.

Ivy Walton loved her job as a surgeon but hated her boss. What part of “I’m on vacation” couldn’t the woman understand? She’d just lost her house to a fire, and she needed this time away with her sister. They’d been on their way to the coast when Ivy’s car broke down, and this little town they’d found for repairs was a breath of fresh air. Ivy found the non-hectic life of a small town to be appealing to her raw nerves.

Adam Whitfield was a farmer and, like his brothers, a Bengal tiger. He had just purchased his grandparents’ home and was putting on the finishing touches. The home was large, too large for a single man, but he liked it. Furniture was still sparse, but he figured he could add to it in time.

When Adam met Ivy at a family dinner, he knew instantly who she was to him. But could a renowned surgeon be happy with a simple farmer? He hoped so. He hadn’t been looking for his mate when he found her, but now that he had, he wasn’t letting her go. If she went back to the city, he’d go too whether she liked it or not.

Mason Jane Barnhart had nothing left to live for. She was dying and there was nothing anyone could do about it. Rather than suffer a long agonizing death, she wanted it to be on her terms. She’d let the icy water claim her, and if she was lucky, she wouldn’t suffer.

Oliver Whitfield had been watching the girl. He couldn’t believe that anything could be so bad as to want to take her own life. But when she jumped from the bridge he had to go in after her. His tiger, bigger and stronger, would have to save her. When they got her to shore, Evan said that changing her was the only thing that would save her. Oliver didn’t want to, but he couldn’t let her die. He had a strange feeling that she was supposed to be the mate to one of his sons.

Adrian wasn’t sure he was ready for a mate. The timing wasn’t right. He still had so much left to do while running for public office, and if word got out that she tried to take her own life, he’d have that scandal to deal with too. But when he caught her scent, he knew, she was his and all thoughts of not being ready for a mate fled his mind.

When Mason opened her eyes, she was fit to be tied. She wasn’t supposed to be here, she was supposed to be dead. That’s what she wanted. What had those meddling Whitfield’s done now?

Shadow Henderson was grateful to the Whitfields for taking them in. She had to keep her mother and grandmother safe from her Uncle Thomas. The man was heavy fisted and had kidnapped her mother and was set to starve her to death just because he was embarrassed by her, he had his sights set on becoming the next president. His sister’s affliction with Altzheimers was an embarrassment to him. Shadow even suspected that he had killed her husband, but she couldn’t prove it.

Blake Whitfield was trying to adopt two boys he had taken into his home to foster, but with being a single parent, the judge went off on him, and Blake wound up taking a bullet for his troubles. Blake was immortal so the bullet wouldn’t kill him, but it still hurt like hell. His parents insisted that he recuperate in their home.

Several of the Whitfields had been pushing Shadow to meet the yet unmated Blake just to see if they were mates. Shadow wanted no part of it. She wasn’t happy in her last marriage and had sworn to never marry again. There was no way she would let anyone push her into anything she didn’t want to do ever again. That included the high and mighty Blake Whitfield.

 

Autumn was born the seventh child of the seventh child, and what no one else realized, she was also the seventh generation to be born, making her the seventh of seven. That alone brought her a great deal of magic. But her parents mistreated her as a child because she wouldn’t share her magic. After her mother made an attempt on her life, she grew up living with a kind uncle. As a result of the abuse she received from her parents, Autumn was dying from cancer.

 

The Whitfield Rancher
1.Evan http://amzn.to/2vCYKM5
2.David http://amzn.to/2fOK6dk
3.Joshua https://amzn.to/2IdH4wT
4.Adam https://amzn.to/2znvmcI
5.Adrian https://amzn.to/2HsBl5k
6.Blake  https://amzn.to/2pzDvZK
7
. Joey  https://amzn.to/3iNEmx8

 


 

 

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Prologue

“Autumn Hunter?” Autumn stood up and made her way to the medical assistant. “Your name is really Autumn? Your parents hate you or something?” The same question, along with a few others she got every time she met someone new. Smiling, she did not tell the assistant they did indeed hate her, but not until later, after she’d been older. Instead, she stepped up on the scale and thought about how much weight she’d lost in the last year and a half. Being terrified of being caught up in shit and on the run, all the time would do that, she supposed. “You’re here about your belly issues and the results of the test, correct?” Autumn told her she was also out of her pain medication, could she get a refill. “We’ll have to clear it through the doctor first. Once he’s told you—” The assistant looked at the folder in her hand, then at Autumn. She knew it was bad, but how bad was something she was about to learn. Reaching over to take the folder from her, Autumn read the words there before the woman asked for it back. Handing it to her, Autumn was at a loss for words. “He’ll be able to explain your options.” It was on the tip of her tongue to tell her she knew what her options were. There was only one. Death. It was just how she chose to do it. “You’ll need those pills. I’ll make sure you have samples before you leave.” Nodding, Autumn wondered if she should even stay. They’d told her— Well, she’d found out she had stomach cancer. She supposed knowing how she got it would be good, but it wouldn’t change the outcome. Standing up, Autumn was ready to leave when the doctor came into the room.

“I’m sorry, Miss Hunter.” She nodded, sure that he knew she’d read the notes on her chart. “There are things we can do to make things easier on you. A great many more than we had even ten years ago. We’ll make you as—” “How long do I have? I mean, you know that, don’t you?” He nodded. “I don’t know if you remember my first visit with you, but I don’t care for bullshit answers. Just tell me how long I have and whatever pertinent information I need right now. The rest of whatever you tell me is going to go in one ear and out the other otherwise.” “Yes, I remember. You have just about a month. I don’t know how far you got to read, but it’s spread all through your body. Had someone bothered to give you good care when you were ill the first time, you would have had better chances of survival than you do now, two years later.” She asked him what he thought caused it. “Someone tried to poison you, as you know. And that weakened your immune system, which was ripe ground for cancer to dig in. I’m really sorry, Autumn.” “I need to go.” He nodded and told her to come back in a week. “Do you think I’ll be around then?” “I hope so. You’re going to hurt a good deal more than you are now. I’ll make sure you have what you need to deal with it. Autumn, whoever did this to you, it’s the same as if they’d used a gun to kill you.

In fact, as you like it right to the truth, a bullet would have been much faster and far less painful for you.” “I know, but there is nothing I can do about that now.” Autumn got off the table and started to pull on her jacket. “I don’t know what I’m going to do right now, so I’ll call you soon and set something up.” “Autumn, please don’t end your life.” She looked at him and realized he had every right to think that would be something she’d do. “I promise you, when the time comes, you’ll not feel a thing. I’ll be there with you to make sure of it.” “I promised someone once that I’d not do that. And even though she’s gone, I won’t break my promise to her.” She could feel the tears building up in her eyes. “I need to go and think. Your assistant said she had some samples I could have, maybe.” The woman came in and handed her a white bag. It was heavy, but Autumn didn’t bother looking inside. She had enough to think about instead of whether or not she had been given a bag of rocks. Once out in the sunshine—the rain had stopped for now—she pulled on her sunglasses and made her way to her car. Crying without anyone seeing was an easy way to avoid the strange looks that she got. Getting inside her car, she drove to her home. There had been a plan to pick up a few things at the grocery store, but Autumn didn’t feel like that now. As she pulled into the driveway, she saw a car there that she recognized and decided she wasn’t in the mood for her sister either. Moving up to the porch, she saw April sitting there with an angry look on her face. “You locked the door. And my key doesn’t work anymore.”

Pulling out her keys, Autumn unlocked the door and slipped them in her pocket rather than her purse. “Why would you change the locks? I’ve been coming and going out of this house since before you were born.” “Only because someone carried you in and out. You’re only eighteen months older than me. I changed the locks because it’s my house now, and not everyone’s drop in whenever you’re in town place. What do you want, April? I’ve had a shitty day, and you’re not going to make it any better.” “Well, aren’t you in a shitty mood?” She didn’t point out that she’d just told her that. When April opened the refrigerator door, Autumn pushed her own body against it and shut the door. “I want some juice. You always have the best kind.” “I have the best kind because I like the best kind. I don’t care for sharing it today. What. Do. You. Want?” April sat down. Flopped would have been a better word for it, she supposed. “This is getting you no closer to leaving me alone. I want to think.” “Grant is kicking me out of the house,” Autumn asked her why she thought she’d care. “I know you never liked him, but he was my husband. We have a child together.” “First of all, I like Grant. It’s you I don’t care for. And it’s debatable if the child is his or not. I told you he wasn’t as stupid as you seemed to hope he was. For Christ’s sake, April, the man is a doctor. It’s doubtful to me that they allow you to practice medicine when you’re stupid.” April asked her why she was taking his side in this.

“Because, and this should be no surprise to you, you’re a bitch. You cheated on him several times in his own bed. The kid you shove aside for some other rabble isn’t his, and he’s a nice man. I said I like him.” “Uncle Ross should never have left you this house. There are seven of us girls from his sister, and it should have been divided between all of us and not just you.” Autumn explained to her, yet again, that he didn’t like her either. “You’re very obtuse today. What’s up with you?” “I have cancer from the poison Mom and Dad gave me, and it’s spread throughout my body.” April just stared at her for a moment, then asked her who she was leaving the house to. “Get out, April. Now, before I hurt you. You’re wondering why Grant kicked you to the curb? Perhaps you should record yourself having a conversation with someone and listen to it. Maybe that will give you a clue. You certainly don’t have any compassion anywhere in you. And the word you meant to use isn’t obtuse. It’s fucking rude. Get your insults correct. Get out and don’t come back. Ever.” Shoving her sister out the door, she locked it after checking to make sure she had the keys. Then she bolted the door, going to the back and side doors to do the same. If anyone came around now and thought to get in, she was going to blow them away with her uncle’s shotgun in the cupboard.

“He left me the house because I stayed with him for four years while the rest of you acted like he was nothing more than a bank account for yourself.” She was glad he’d pulled his money from the bank after having a wall safe put in the house. There were no credit cards for them to steal. No checks to write out for cash. And everything he owned had been changed to her as the owner with him so no one could take whatever they wished from a dying old man. The house wasn’t much—two bedrooms, a living room, kitchen, and a single bathroom. What it did have going for it was the three hundred acres surrounding it, as well as the rigging that pumped out oil, the wide creek that supplied water to several towns below it, as well as a mine. The mine alone produced coal and gems, such as gold and diamonds, at a nice rate. No one, just her and Uncle Ross’s attorney, knew the amount of land she’d been left, nor the other operations supplying her with a good amount of income yearly. Autumn sat down on the couch and thought about her day. She had had so much planned for the afternoon after her appointment, but all that had gone to shit. Knowing you didn’t have long to live sure put a damper on things, she thought. The seven of them that April had been talking about were her sisters, all but one older than her—April was the closest to her in age—and all named for a month in the year. Autumn had always wondered if they’d planned to have twelve children. The sisters were named January, February, and April. There was May, June, and July, September, and then her, Autumn. The reason she was the odd one out was because she’d been born in September too—the thirtieth, as a matter of fact. Her name would have been October had she been born just twelve hours later. That was only one of the reasons her parents had hated her.

Autumn was also the seventh child of a seventh son. It might not have made a lick of difference that she’d been born in September if she’d been a boy, what they’d been told they were to have. But being a daughter, the seventh one, it caused all kinds of shit to happen. Her father had a long line of sevenths born to his side of the family. It would only be skipped over when there was a different sex born to that line as the seventh child, such as her being a boy. Autumn was the seventh of a long line of seventh same-sex children. Autumn was magical. “But not magical enough to keep from getting cancer.” Trying not to think about what her parents had done to her so they could, she supposed, cut off her magic, she looked at the things from her mailbox. Credit offers were nothing new to her, and she made sure they were shredded. With those applications in the wrong hands, her sisters would cause a disaster. She had a cell phone bill, as well as a bill for something called Dispatchers. Opening it up, she knew just who had put her name on the billing. It was really too bad on January’s part. Autumn had made it perfectly clear that any bills not okayed in writing by her would not be paid. She would have thought all her sisters would have figured this out by now. Pulling out her phone and making the call come from a restricted number, she didn’t think January would answer. When she did, Autumn asked her about Dispatchers. “Oh, they’re this amazing company that will pick up anything you order from anywhere in the state and bring it to you within twenty-four hours. That way, with me, just having a baby, I don’t have to bundle her up and take her out. It’s so she won’t get sick.” Autumn pointed out that it was eighty-five degrees where she lived. “I know that, silly.

But she could still get germs. Why do you ask?” “I’m not paying this bill. Not one dime of it, January. I made that clear to you guys when Uncle Ross died.” January tried telling her about germs and the baby. “Since I didn’t knock you up, nor did I have her for you, she is not my responsibility. Not now, not ever.” “You got the house, Autumn. The least you can do is pay for a few things extra for the rest of us. What’s it going to take for you to realize you’re not all that special?” Autumn thought about her sister’s house and tossed an expensive glass vase to the floor. “Did you do that? Damn it, Autumn, that was a wedding present from his parents. You’ll pay for that.” “Yeah, good luck on trying to prove I did it from Ohio when you live in California. I’m not paying this bill. And I have no idea how many things you’ve had delivered, but for six grand, I would have thought it would have been cheaper to let the baby have a cold instead of paying this bill.” January called her a bitch. “Perhaps, but you’ll be hearing from my attorney.” Hanging up on her felt wonderful. When the phone rang again, her sister’s number, she turned the phone off and put it back in the coffee table drawer. It was only used to call them anyway. Feeling better about herself and what had happened, Autumn decided to have a salad for dinner. ~~~

“It’s been two years. How do you feel now?” Joey told Tanner he felt like he could hold his own with his magic now. “Good. I’m sorry to spring this on you, but you don’t have a lot of time to get to your mate. She’s having issues.” “What sort of issues?” When Tanner didn’t tell him, it left him to guess or rape his mind again. “Tell me, Tanner, so I can tell if I really do need to hurry along to get to her.” “She’s dying. And soon, from what I’ve found out.” Joey asked him what she was dying from. “I don’t have all the details just yet, but some form of cancer. She’ll need you to heal her before the big guns, as Ollie used to say, come for her.” “How long will it take us to get to her?” Tanner pointed to the tiny looking house that sat back from the road a good way. “We’ve been here the entire time?” “Yes. I didn’t know she was so bad when we came here. But I thought it could do us no harm by being as close as we could in the event she needed you. I should have told you, I suppose, but I don’t like having things changed around when I have no say over them.” Joey just cocked a brow at him. “Saving you from the flames is not the same thing. We needed to make sure of your abilities, and in the end, we were so wrong about that.” “Yes, no shit.” Joey had been sleeping in his tent for the entire time they’d been here. With the magic he had, he’d been warm and toasty when the cold came in. Now it was summer again, and he was starting to feel the heat at night. He also wanted a meal he didn’t cook over the grill and a long hot shower. As he packed up his gear, he realized Tanner was gone again. It was just as well. They had worked hard in the two years, and he wanted to move on as well. Gathering up his gear, he started toward the house. Might as well get this over with. Meeting his mate might be good or bad, but he’d not know until he got there. The screaming had him dropping everything he had and taking off at a run. His tiger took him over before they got too far, and the screaming was cut off. Whatever was going on, he knew it was pain and not just someone letting off some steam.

Beckett By Kathi S Barton Release Blitz & Giveaway

 

Allie Langley was upset about losing her job. It wasn’t the teaching job she wanted, but it helped pay the bills. It was just how her luck had been running since she’d moved to that town: first, she’d been kidnapped and tortured, now the job. What next?

Becket Robinson’s car had broken down, and he needed to use the phone. He hadn’t expected to find his mate when he knocked on the door, but now that he had, he couldn’t wipe the grin off his face. It didn’t matter how much she ranted and raved about it either. She would fit right in with the rest of the family.

But when Becket discovered her injuries and how infected they were, he called in Thatcher, one of his brothers, to help.

Allie collapsed in Beckett’s arms when her fever spiked. Allie’s brother begged Beckett to change Allie into a tiger to save her. Thatcher agreed that converting her would be the only way to save her. Beckett knew he was damned if he did and damned if he didn’t. But, he couldn’t let her die…. He knew he was going to have one pissed off mate when she finally woke up. If she woke up….

 


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GOOGLE PLAY https://play.google.com/store/books/details/Kathi_S_Barton_Beckett?id=T_cPEAAAQBAJ
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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….

 

 

Anna didn’t know what to do with the man who acted like he was attached to
her hip. Every time she moved, just to get up and move to the bathroom,
he’d be right there with her, helping her into a panic attack. Not really,
but that was what it felt like to her.

Morgan wasn’t sure what he’d have to do to convince Anna that he wouldn’t
just up and leave her. She was a tiger too, and she knew they were mates
just as well as he did. But for some reason, he couldn’t get her to trust
him.

“I don’t think that I’d offer you my hand. You’d more than likely bite
it off.”

She growled at him.

“I’m not sure if you feel the same way I do about me growling at you,
but all it does when you do it is making me want to spread you out before
me and lick every square inch of you.”

 

Trudy Justice was good at her job, but that didn’t mean she wasn’t vulnerable. Caught unaware by a fellow FBI agent, the gunshot wound to Tru’s gut nearly did her in. To the world, Tru was dead. Rogan was hiding her out until they could figure out who had marked her to be a target.

Houston Robinson, a tiger shifter, was preparing to shift and take a much-needed run when a strange woman’s voice interrupted him before he could remove his pants to shift. At first, he was irritated, but when he saw the blood, he wanted to help.

Hurting bad and suspicious of everyone, Tru was in no mood to listen to anyone, especially a shapeshifter claiming to be her mate. She didn’t care how nice he pretended to be….

 

Thatcher  https://amzn.to/2sxdJmK
Morgan  https://amzn.to/2kCfxKI
HOUSTON https://amzn.to/2Z6v0ob

 


 

 

 

 

 

 

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Houston finished up the paperwork that had been piling up on his desk while they’d been gone. Three of the most fabulous weeks skipping around the world, and he’d not wanted to come home. He didn’t think he could have stayed forever, but a few more weeks wouldn’t have been too bad. Looking up when he heard a noise, he smiled at Sam when he came into his office and flopped down on the chair. Looking up at him again, he nearly had a massive heart attack when he saw his face. Taking a deep breath before speaking, he asked him what had happened. “The school nurse said it was my fault. It wasn’t. I have to have a meeting with her and my grandpa tomorrow.” Houston asked him why he was stitched up. “This kid, he’s in a higher grade than I am. He said I was stupid. I’m not. But when I tried to prove to him that I was smart, that ticked him off something terrible, and he used his notebook to beat me up. Why? Why does everyone have to think that beating someone up is a good way to solve something?” “I don’t know. But I’d say you’re going to have to talk to your aunt about those bruises too. Did you know she’s here today?” He looked around like his aunt was going to jump out of the woodwork at any second.

“Who did the work, Sam? Was it the school nurse?” “Yes. She said it was too distracting for her to fill out paperwork on me while I had this gaping hole in my face. I wanted her to call Uncle Thatcher or Uncle Dawson, but she told me they more than likely had better things to do than to come down there and mess with me.” Sam looked upset. “They’d not think that, would they, Uncle Houston?” “Never. I’m going to contact them now and tell them they need to have a look at you. Are you hurt anywhere else?” When Sam stood up, Houston had a very difficult time holding onto his tiger. The kid looked like he’d been run over a couple of times, then once more just for the fun of it. “Did the school nurse see these as well, son?” “She didn’t let me show her. I told her I was hurting, but she said that since I’d started the fight, I’d have to deal with a little pain. Nurse Calendar sent me back to class after she fixed my face. Uncle Houston, do you think the aunts will have a hissy fit and kill her?” It was tempting for Houston to run out and do just that himself. “They sure do get powerful mad when they figure someone is getting the shaft, don’t they?” “They do at that. I’m assuming they didn’t notify your grandparents either, did they?”

Sam started to shake his head and put his hands to his temples. “Right. All right, we’re going to the hospital. And I’m calling the police as well as the family. There are some important laws being broken right now, and I want someone’s ass to be roasted for it.” Sam started to laugh but stopped. Houston was so pissed off right now he had to take in and let out several long breaths before he could speak. Yelling for Tru because it gave him a way to let off a little of the steam, he was glad to see her almost as soon as he finished saying her name.

While she fussed over Sam with him telling her what he’d told Houston, he reached out to his family. I’m going to take Sam to the hospital. Would someone please take his grandparents? I don’t want them thinking the worst. It is bad but not life-threatening. At least not his life. He told them what he’d heard from Sam. She didn’t notify anyone and put the worst looking stitches in his cheek and forehead that I’ve— She didn’t have permission to do that, did she? Houston told Thatcher that, as he was saying, he didn’t believe she’d even called anyone. I’ll meet you at the emergency room. I’d say bring him here to the clinic, but I think this needs to be done with the police involved. The police are going to have to question Sam. Is he going to be all right with that? I would think so. He didn’t have any trouble telling me. I think that with him having Tru there, he’s going to be a little better. She will also be able to make sure he’s not bullied. Thatch thought that was a great idea. He’s pretty beat up, guys. And the longer he sits here, the more the bruises are showing up. And his back. Christ, it looks to me like he was dragged through gravel. Or was beaten with a whip. I’ve not asked him which. I’m barely holding on here as it is. Tru sat in the back seat with Sam and Jacob. He could tell that Jacob was upset, but he was trying very hard to be brave for his brother and aunt. Every time Houston got a spare second, he would turn and speak to the younger one. Jacob was the most tender little guy he knew. Something occurred to him while he was sitting at a light, and he turned to ask him about it. “You’ve not had any trouble with the school, have you, buddy?” When he didn’t answer right away, Houston glanced at Tru. “Jacob, is there trouble with your teachers as well? We don’t want to have you suffering if you don’t have to.” “Tell them, Jake. You have to tell them too.” So, his brother knew as well. This was beginning to be serious now. Pulling over into the grocery store lot, he waited on Jacob to see what he had to say. “I told them. Now you have to do it. It’s not right like he said.”

“Some of the other kids knock me around when I’m going to my lunchroom or class.” Houston knew it was more than that, so he waited for him to get things in his head organized so he could tell him. “I don’t tell the teachers anymore. They said I’m lucky anyone wants to have me around them. That my dad is a womanizer and that my mom didn’t even want us. They were going to sell us off, so we’re nothing to anyone. I don’t know what that is, but I think it’s a bad word.” “It is the way they’re using it. Houston, please take us to the hospital. Please.” Tru touched his mind, and he could almost feel her anger. I’m not going to go to the school. I’m not going to go to the school and kill every last one of those fucking bitches. I know just what you mean. He pulled out into traffic again and told her what he’d done. I didn’t want your parents to freak out, so Beckett is going to pick them up so they don’t drive. It’s bad enough that they’ve hurt Sam, but Jacob is about the sweetest kid in the world. Why would anyone want to hurt him too? I’m so pissed right now. I don’t know how you’re driving so calmly. I’d be driving too fast and running every red light. He told her he was having a hard time of it as well, but he was concentrating hard on driving safely. Not me.

Those fuckers are going to pay for this. You wait and see. Both his brothers were at the hospital when they arrived. Thatcher took one look at Sam and ordered an entire set of X-rays, as well as a CAT scan. Dawson had to keep breathing deeply in and out to keep his cat under control. The Justices showed up just as his parents did. Hell was going to be paid if the looks on their faces were any indication. Then Andrew, chief of police, showed up with two deputies. “Don’t say a word.” He smiled at Tru when she got up in his face. “I want to do this by the books, and if I have to arrest you to keep you from telling my men what to do, you know I’ll do it. You have to lay low because everyone is going to say you’ve forced my hand in this. All right?” “Yes. I understand. I don’t have to like it, but I do understand. Wait until you see them, Andrew. They’re a fucking mess.” He said he’d sent two of his men to pick up not only the nurse at the grade school but also the principal and the lady that ran the desk in the office. “Thank you. I do appreciate you doing this.” When the other two women showed up, Andrew told them the same thing. Houston thought he was lucky to have been the one to tell them. He’d have not wanted to be anywhere near any of them right now. They were as pissed off as he’d ever seen them. A message came from Jacob to have him come and see him. “Hey, buddy. What’s wrong?”

He’d been crying, and it hurt Houston in ways he couldn’t explain to anyone if asked. “Your grandparents are out there. Do you want them to come and see you too?” “I’m not going to prison, am I? I don’t want to be there where the other parents are that gave birth to us.” They’d decided that even though Trudy and Blake had adopted their grandsons, they’d continue to call them their grandparents. “That kid that hits me all the time, he told me that if I told on him, I’d go to prison just like the other parents did. And the nurse, she told me I’d better be keeping my mouth zipped, or I’d be just another name in a book. I don’t know what that means, but I don’t think she meant it in a good way, do you? Don’t tell my grandparents. I don’t want them to have a stroke or something and leave us behind. We do worry about them all the time, Sam and me.” “That’s very good of you, but I think you need to keep them in the loop from now on. But no, I don’t think she meant that as anything but a bad word. But you’re not going anywhere except home when they release you. The police are here too. They’re going to ask you some questions about what happened. Jacob, you tell them the truth about all this, even if it embarrasses you or makes you feel bad. I swear to you, nothing is going to happen to you or Sam.” He asked if his aunt could be there with him. “Yes. She’ll like that. But don’t let her yell at the police too much. You and I both know she’s a little protective of the two of you.” “She sure is.” They both smiled. While he was telling him about the work he was doing at home, Tru and Andrew showed up. Houston stood up to leave. “Uncle Houston, can you make sure that my brother is all right? And tell Grandma and Grandpa that I’m all right?

I don’t want them to worry too much. They’ve been really good to me and Sam.” Houston said he would and had to leave the little area quickly. He was so close to sobbing about how much he loved these kids that he was sure he’d be a soggy mess before talking to the Justices. Finding them in one of the private rooms in the emergency room, Houston told them what he knew and what had been done about it. “Thatch was in here a few seconds ago. He’s going to find out what he can about Sam. I didn’t know any of this was going on.” Houston assured Blake that he’d not known either. “It does explain a lot, though. The last week or so, the two of them have been spending a lot of time in their rooms. I was thinking they were regretting that we took them. But now, I think they were nursing their wounds. Don’t you?” “Someone told Jacob that he’d end up in the same prison as his parents if he were to tell anyone.” Trudy started crying softly when he told them that. “Did Sam come and ask you if he could come to our house?” “We weren’t home when he got there. We told him so long as he gets his homework finished up, he could always go to one of your homes. I found his bookbag outside of the house like he’d never even gone in when your brother showed up to bring us here. I think he’d had enough and decided to get you and Tru involved. I hate to ask you this, but why didn’t the two of them come to us?”

Houston told him what the boys, both of them, had said to them. “They think that we’ll have a heart attack and leave them? I guess I can understand that. I went to the doctor the other day, and neither of them believes I got a clean bill of health. I’ve been sort of acting my age lately. You know, moaning and groaning about every little thing. I was doing it just to be funny. I won’t do that anymore.” “No, I don’t think you should. Not until the two of them are a little more secure with you and themselves.” Houston looked up when the elevator dinged for this floor. “When you see Sam, just know that he’s getting the best of care. Thatcher and Dawson are working together to make sure of that.” Sam was laying back on the gurney when he was brought out of the elevator. He thought that every time he saw him, he looked a little worse for wear. Neither Blake nor Trudy moved to follow him back to a room. He thought they were just as upset as Sam was right now. In pain too—a different sort of pain, but still hurting. Houston followed Dawson when he went by him. He didn’t pepper him with questions like he wanted to but just stayed with him. As soon as he entered the little room with Sam, he got word that Jacob was going up for X-rays as well. Dawson sat down on one of the little stools that he moved closer to Sam’s bed when he was ready to speak.

“Do you want this like a man, or do you want me to sugar coat it a little for you?” Sam looked at Houston, and he told him that Dawson was good at both ways. “I’m a sight better than your aunts would have been. You tell me, and I’ll tell you what I’ve found out. Thatcher is working with your brother if you’re going to ask me.” “I was. He’s hurt too.” Dawson said he’d found that out. “I want to be a man about it, but I’m still afraid. I didn’t start this fight, Uncle Dawson. I swear I didn’t.”
“I know that, son. We all know that. All right?” Sam nodded. “You have a fractured wrist and a couple of cracked ribs.” Houston had to sit or lean onto something, or he might well have fallen over. “Also, this is going to suck, but I’m going to have to redo the stitches that were put in. Do you know if she washed them out before she did it, Sam?” “No. She told me I was making a mess and distracting her, so she laid me down on the bed and put them in. It hurt too.” Dawson looked at him before Sam spoke again. “I don’t want to have to go back to that school. I don’t care if I have to be a deadbeat. I just don’t want to hurt anymore.” A nurse came in and gave Sam something to relax him. It was enough that it also knocked him out. Dawson had to leave the little room before he could work on Sam— he was that angry. Houston was close to hunting down the woman who had done this and tearing her apart. That wouldn’t be a figure of speech either.

~*~ Tru sat with the boys after they’d been admitted. They were both in the same bed in Sam’s room. She was glad for it. The two of them needed each other now more than ever. Sam was still out from earlier, and Jacob had been given something as well. The two of them were so stressed out having to deal with this on their own, Dawson said he didn’t think that either of them had gotten a good night’s sleep lately. She was still sitting there with the boys when her mom came into the room. “I feel like the worst kind of parent to these two,” Tru told her it had nothing at all to do with her and Dad. “I know that in my head, but my heart isn’t having any of it. Do you suppose this has been going on from the very beginning? Them being bullied, I mean?” “I don’t think so. They’ve been going there for a month and a half. What I think happened is that the kids were having their fun with them, and when the teachers didn’t say anything, they went for the big time. The kid that hurt Sam is going to be put in jail. I don’t know for how long, but long enough that he sees the error of his ways. Five boys had been hurting them, with the encouragement of their parents. I’m taking care of them.” She expected her mom to tell her not to kill them, but all she said was good.

“Mom, they didn’t want you and Dad to worry. They have it in their head that if anything happens to the two of you, they’re going to be taken to prison to live with their parents. I don’t know who told them that bunch of bullshit, but you can bet that I’m going to find out.” “I hope you make them see the error of their ways as well.” She put her hand on Jacob’s head as it rested on his brother’s pillow. “They look so tiny right now. I thought they were beginning to come out of their shells around us. Not that they’ve been terrible to us. In fact, they’ve been as good as gold. We couldn’t have asked for better children. But I always felt that they were holding back some part of themselves. I wish it had only been that they were not trusting us in some way. Holding back on being hurt like they have been makes me feel like I failed them.” “There is no telling what Shasta told them about the two of you. Or me, for that matter. She wouldn’t have been happy with anything that we supposedly did to her by not giving her money or anything else.”

Mom said she’d not thought of that. “Also, they would have heard her bitching with Mike about all of us, and you know as well as I do that kids hear more than anyone thinks they do. I can’t imagine how much shit we’re going to have to fix because of them.” “I should have thought of that myself. I used to tell Shasta that she shouldn’t say things like she did in front of them. That they’d hear her and take it to heart. When I think of all the things they heard about you when you were away, I could just scream. I’m so sorry, honey.” Tru told her she didn’t care that she had made her peace with Shasta hating her. “When you told me she said that she hated you, I could have just sobbed. My goodness, when I think of all the things I’m finding out now about her and Mike and what they did, I want to bury my head in the sand. You were right about telling us to never lie to the boys about anything that we find out. It’s difficult at times, but we do it. Simply because we want them to be able to handle anything that comes along.” There was a very timid knock at the door, and a little boy came into the room. He looked lost for a second, then saw the boys. Clark, she thought his name was, and she asked him if he was there to see the boys. “Yes, ma’am. I am. I didn’t know they was having trouble. I’m going to a different school now, and we don’t see each other as much. I’m doing my homework.” Tru told him that was wonderful and moved so he could sit next to the bed to see them. “I surely wish I’d known what was going on. I would have been in trouble for them. They’re my best friends, you know.”

Overnight, after one night of staying with the boys, Clark really had become a different child. He started studying his homework, paying attention in class, and was no longer a bully. In fact, Tru had heard that he was making a name for himself, telling others to straighten up their act. Tru stepped into the hallway while Clark talked quietly to her mom. She’d been missing the little boy too. Rogen was coming down the hallway, almost as if she knew she’d be standing there. “I have some news. Want to go and get something to drink with me so I can talk to you?” Tru asked her if she could tell her mom. “Yes. If she wants to come too, that’s fine with me.” Mom didn’t want to leave the boys. Plus, she and Clark were talking about his new school. Tru would bet anything that by the end of the day, not only would Sam and Jacob be pulled from the other school, but they’d be joining their best friend at his. “I’ve found the video of the nurse putting the stitches in his head. Christ, she didn’t even give him anything for the fucking pain. You can see him gripping the side of the bed hard enough to leave an impression on it. Fucker is going to pay.” She asked her if she’d been picked up yet. “Yes. Thankfully, or not so much, without any incident. The principal was telling the officers that picked her up that she had nothing to do with the failure to report. I didn’t know that was a state rule until then. Did you?” “Yes. I did a stint as a teacher once. They have all kinds of rules like that. Also, that a nurse cannot administer pain medications to any child unless an adult that is related to them is there. She gave Jacob an aspirin yesterday when he was in the office for his injuries.” Rogen asked her if she’d heard about what had happened to Jacob.

“Houston told me that he has a sprained wrist as well as some deep bruises. His back is torn up like his brother’s as well. Apparently, the teachers are using flyswatters and a smallish whip on them when they’re called upon in class. Not to answer questions, but to have them stand up and tell them about their parents. The boys wouldn’t do that, and it would make the teacher pissy enough that she took her frustrations out on them.” “I have had them arrested too. The entire school is closed down for a few weeks. Long enough for me to get the lowdown on all of them. I did hear from one of the kids that the custodian would hide the boys in his closet so they’d not have to go out on the playground. That is where most of this shit happened. I’m so sorry, Tru. I know you well enough by now to know that this is killing you inside.” “It is. But more than that, I want to hunt them down and take them out. Not even say a word to them, just kill and move on.” She looked around when she realized they weren’t alone in the cafeteria. “What have you figured out so far? I’m sure you didn’t bring me down here for a glass of the nastiest tea I’ve ever drank.” “No—not only that, anyway. And I’m sort of glad your mom decided not to come. I have two things to tell you that are going to make you madder than you already are. Jacob’s teacher is an ex-con—for child abuse. How she got by the background test is something else that I’m looking into. You can bet that heads are going to roll with that one.” Tru asked if she could take care of her. “Seriously, it might well come to that. I’m looking into things. The second thing I have to tell you is that your nephews aren’t the first to get treated this way. Not nearly as bad, but almost so. I have six grown men coming to me about the treatment they got while in school there.

It’s going to close this school up faster than anything when it gets out that they covered things up. Same principal, same nurse.” “What else?” Rogen told her she was working up to it. When Anna joined them, she turned a file that she had in her hand over to Tru. Tru opened the file and stared at the pictures she saw there before looking up at her friend. “Is this who I think it is?” “It is if you think that’s the president of these here United States. He was a child in one of the earlier schools that these two worked at early in their career of harming children. I put in a call to him about it, and I’m waiting for a callback. He’s running the country, I was told, and couldn’t be bothered. I’d like to hear what he has to say about that when he finds out what has happened here.” They both laughed, and Anna came back from getting a bag of chips and some juice. “I was bringing her up to date on the names of some of their victims. Especially our president. He still has a hard-on about having us work personally with him. I believe that’s just too much power to give to one person. If he keeps hounding me about it, I’m going to up and quit. See how he likes that. The fucking bastard isn’t taking no for an answer.” “Word has it that these two change their name and move on when things start to get hot. Someone warns them that there is going to be a police call, and they both skip town. They’re roomies, not lovers that I can find, but they do live in the same household most of the time. Not this time, for some reason that I’m looking into, but they do spend a great deal of time together. Anyway, have you tried this new brand of chips? They taste like horse hay.”

Tru was getting used to Anna’s way of drifting in a conversation if she had things that she didn’t think you’d be happy with. “I have seventeen people that are going to be given their summons to appear in the morning. Everyone at the school, including the cooks, is going to have to appear at some point when this hits the court system.” “Do you think they were all involved?” Anna told her they were and why. “So just knowing about the abuse is going to get them shit canned. Good. I’m betting that in a few weeks, there are going to be a lot of people demanding their money back. I think my parents are wishing they’d not put them in this private school now. I know I didn’t even look at anything about it when I should have. I take some of the blame for that.” “As I said, the school will close down, and then maybe—and that’s a big maybe—it will reopen when they have a new set of teachers. I was going to ask Morgan if he’d mind helping us with that for a few months. Not teaching, but just interviews.” Tru asked if she thought he’d do it. “I do now. Perhaps not before this happened, but he will now.” Nodding, the three of them were still talking when Houston joined them. Her dad was with him, and they seemed to be having a very serious conversation.

However, when they sat down, they talked about how the boys were holding up well and would more than likely be going home in the morning. “My parents are going to help with some of the care they’re both going to need. Not a great deal, but Thatcher wants them to have a good bit of fun for the next couple of weeks. After they heal up a little. Then they’re going to go to the pack school with their buddy Clark.” Tru had forgotten about that and was glad that Houston mentioned it. She knew that Clark was going to a different school and that his mom worked for the packhouse. Tru had simply forgotten. “There will be a lot of arrests over the next few days. Even some parents are going to be taken in concerning this. The two main people are in jail now. I’ve never been so glad of someone being arrested as I am the two of them.” Everyone agreed. When Tru made her way back to the room, she thought about what other things had been in the file. There were pictures of other abused children, each picture accompanied by all the information of the now adults. The one that bothered her the most was the one of the young boy that looked to be about seven. His death certificate said he’d committed suicide when he couldn’t handle what they were doing to him anymore. Tru was going to make sure that no matter what happened, the boys were going to be all right mentally. She might talk to her parents about having them see someone now before they got in any deeper. Making herself a note on it, she was happy to find the boys both awake and talking to Clark. Kids could bounce back from just about anything, she thought.

 

Piper Queen’s Birds Of Prey By Kathi S Barton Release Blitz & Giveaway

 

Piper and her warrior sisters had been around for several millennia. Their time of fighting wars and conquering kingdoms was now a distant memory. Before Queen Dante passed, she’d graced her prized warriors—the falcon, hawk, eagle, phoenix, vulture, and owl—with humanity as well as immortality.

Piper wasn’t really happy with the way her job was going and how much travel that would be required of her in the near future. She liked the art that she made, but she wanted to do whatever she wanted, not fill specific orders. She wasn’t feeling the inspiration for that.

Grant had lived in Queen Dante’s kingdom since before the old king had died. He and his mother were fae and, therefore, immortal. He had done many things over his lifetime. Being fae and their unity with the earth, Grant and his mother were the healers for their community.

When Grant and his mother were invited to King Dante’s new castle for dinner, he was excited to see what the new king had done with the place. What he didn’t expect was the charge of magic he’d receive when he met Piper. It knocked them both on their asses. Neither knew what to expect from the other, nor what magic they had exchanged. Although Piper was wary, Grant couldn’t wait to find out.

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Mercy and her warrior sisters had been around for several millennia, their time of fighting in wars and conquering kingdoms now a distant memory. Before Queen Dante passed, she’d graced her prized warriors—the falcon, hawk, eagle, phoenix, vulture, and owl—with humanity as well as immortality. A gift that Mercy, to this day, was having difficulty coming to terms with. Living as a human was not what she was born to do, nor what she wanted to do. Being an immortal in a life she didn’t want left Mercy feeling angry at the world and turned her into a workaholic.

As an intervention, Blaze arranged an extended vacation and guilted her into taking it. She made all the arrangements and wouldn’t tell Mercy where she was going, just to be at the airport and do as she was told.

Joel Oliver needed this job. Finances were tight, and Blaze said all he had to do was chauffer a rich woman around town. What he would receive would catch him up on the mound of bills piling up and keep the roof over his—and his thirteen-year-old daughter, Miley’s—head for a few months longer. Miley was in a wheelchair—and as a result, had a lot of medical bills—but he loved her more than his own life. However, Joel was about to bite off more than he could chew.

The woman was gorgeous, and he found her snarky, hateful, attitude amusing until she interfered with how he was raising his daughter. Now, all bets were off.

Mercy would normally laugh in the man’s face for his hurtful remarks, but for some reason, her heart shattered instead. After a night of the most mind-blowing sex she could’ve imagined, he was treating her like it all meant nothing…. She had just realized he was her mate, and he hated her….

 

Blaze and her warrior sisters had been around for several millennia, their time of fighting in wars and conquering kingdoms now a distant memory. Before Queen Dante passed, she’d graced her prized warriors—the falcon, hawk, eagle, phoenix, vulture, and owl—with humanity as well as immortality.

Blaze, a hawk, had done many things in her immortal life. Now, making toys was a pastime she enjoyed. However, the owner of the print shop that made the blueprints for her designs had not only ripped her off but several other companies by giving them faulty blueprints and keeping the correct ones for himself to profit from. Blaze had caught the defect before she had put her project into production, the other firms hadn’t been so lucky and had lost millions. Given the opportunity, Blaze purchased the print shop.

Bryson had worked for the print shop for ten years. However, he had no knowledge of the owner’s dirty dealings. When the new owner stepped in, he was happy to still have a job and was eager to help in any way he could. What he hadn’t expected was the jolt he received when he shook the new owner’s hand. In that moment he knew two things, she wasn’t human, and she was his mate.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Judith and her warrior sisters had been around for several millennia, their time of fighting in wars and conquering kingdoms now a distant memory. Before Queen Dante passed, she graced her prized warriors—the falcon, hawk, eagle, phoenix, vulture, and owl—with humanity as well as immortality.

With two of their sisters mated, Jude and Piper were finding themselves a little envious of the large homes they had. Jude and Piper both were on the hunt for nicer accommodations. Christmas was just around the corner, and neither was sure if they wanted to attend the big gala that had been arranged this year in the old castle where they had all once lived.

Duncan was his mother’s son, thru and thru. He had inherited the gift of foresight as well as immortality and a few other magical traits. Jude being his mate, had been foreseen by his mother, Queen Dante, several millennia ago, and Queen Dante had kept Duncan’s identity a secret from them all.

When Duncan approached her, Jude didn’t know whether to stay put or flee. Being a warrior, she wasn’t afraid of any man, it’s what being with him represented, being a queen, Jude wasn’t sure she was ready for that. She wasn’t sure she would ever be ready for that.

 

 

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Prologue

 

 

The castle was going down, thanks wholly to her birds. Queen Dante sat upon her horse and watched as stone after stone crumbled to the ground. In a matter of moments, not only were the walls to the fort destroyed, but the king inside his castle was dead. Turning her mount, she headed back to the encampment to ready herself for the long ride home. The birds joined her not half an hour later, their large bodies covered in dust and blood. “You have done well, my darlings.” They could understand her and she them, but no one else could. She had made them what they were, and she would be the only one to control them. “Have you fed well on his dying cattle? How does it serve a man to have his food dying? His people, they were fed no better, I saw.” The falcon—she had never named them—told her the people were headed west. In a few months, probably less, they would all be dead too. It bothered them when the people suffered because of the king or queen of the castle, but it was to be. Dante could not care for any more people in her own keep. No one would attack her keep. If they tried, she knew them to be stupid or drunk on their own mead. She had her birds, all of them bigger than life, made large by the magic that she gave them. Looking at them as they landed around her, forever keeping her safe, she wondered why she had not thought of it sooner when her king was still alive.

“I would have set you upon him. You could have eaten him for your dinner. Though I suspect it would have given you a great deal of belly pains.” The hawk told her she was lucky he had died the way he had. No one would come for her if she had killed him. “Yes, that is very true. But I suffered greatly when he was living. No children either to give me comfort in my olden age. Though they might have been just like him, and that would have been too much to bear.” She would never marry again. Love wasn’t anything she searched for. Not that she didn’t have someone to warm her bed on occasion. But it was nice to be able to send them on their way when she had finished with them. Her heart belonged to no one, and she would not have another man take her to bed by force. All would be well—no one would threaten to come and take over her home. That was a certainty. The hawk used her beak to put delicate things upon the backs of the others. There was aplenty this time. Barrels and smoked meats. Pottery that they would use like it wasn’t worth a king’s gold. They raided the castle each time they conquered. Hawk was the best at getting in and out before they took the place to the grounds. The eagle took off toward home. She would let the people know Dante was returning simply by showing up. They would have a feast this night. The food upon her back would feed them for many days. The barrels of spices, hoarded in the lower levels of the castle, would go a long way toward helping them trade for what they did not grow.

The phoenix, by far the most deadly of her birds, shed her feathers in anticipation of getting new ones. After a battle, she would become anew, each time getting stronger, her feathers, brilliant now, would be brighter still. She could flame a fire so hot that stone would crumble under a man’s feet. The ground would no longer hold a seed within its belly to produce food, and she could kill a man with a single breath so there would be nothing left of his body. She loaded the last of her things onto the back of the owl. She might be small, Dante had always thought, but she could carry more than her own weight. And she would pick up her horse, used to flying through the sky like a bird himself, and take him back to the castle. He would be fed and groomed before she ever landed on the ground. The vulture squawked at her, and she turned to look at the two men there. They looked as if they might have been about to kill her, but the sight of such large birds threw them off their duty. In no time at all, the vulture snapped both of them up and swallowed them down. A gruesome sight, but one that filled her heart with joy. She was safe again. The vulture took off once she was loaded up. “Well, my falcon, it is just you and I left.” She told her she was still armed. “Yes, well, probably not too bad of an idea seeing that they nearly shot us.” The falcon laid her body to the ground. She was the only one fitted with a seat, one that Dante rode on. Scouring the area, Dante always made sure the places she camped were as neat and clean as she’d found them—sometimes in better shape.

As she climbed on the back of her bird, she held her breath. “I do hate the height. I should have thought this through when I turned you into my warriors.” Her laughter, should there have been someone around to hear it, might have given the impression that she was insane. “Homeward, my love, and we shall eat well tonight.” She took no one with her on her fights, except the birds. That was why she believed, her people were so loyal to her. She protected them, fed them better than herself, and made sure there was plenty for them to trade for things she did not provide for them. The soil was rich and would give forth a bounty like no other gardens. Flowers woven into pretty things were traded as well. There was a smithy as well as a doctor, who doubled as a dentist. They had even acquired a gravedigger, who also doubled as a man who made markers. A single merchant came by on occasion. His wagon, filled when he arrived, would be near empty when he left. He brought the latest news with him and any posts he had been asked to bring. He would also, for a small coin, take outposts for the next time he was in the keep of a relative or friend. And today, there was such a missive. But it was for her, from someone she had hoped never to hear from again—the king of the land, the only man she answered to, though it wasn’t with any kind of happiness on her part. After the others were settled down, the food that had been brought put into storage, she sat down and wasn’t surprised that the falcon came to see her. The room she was in—the throne room, for lack of a better term—had no roof and six perches for the birds when they wished to see her.

Otherwise, they sat upon the top of the castle turrets, watching for anything that might befall them. “I am to wed. The king of the land, he has decided my castle is the best there is, and he will marry me himself.” The falcon asked about his castle. “He says it will be his son’s, which he has none of as yet. His last five wives only gave him daughters, from what I have heard, and they did not last long afterwards.” The falcon asked her what she would do. Dante knew what would happen to her should he come here. He would kill her. Being in her fortieth summer, she was much too old to bear any children now, and he would be better with a younger bride. One that could birth him the sons he wanted. “He will kill me; we both know that. And you six will kill him or be killed. I worry so much for the people here too.” She thought of several plans and threw them out. It was in her head that if she were to die, then she would do so on her own terms. “I will need a day to think on this. In the meantime, he says he will be here in the new year. That will give us a month to provide for the people and make sure they are not harmed.” ~*~ Dante worked as hard as the rest of her people. With her hair up in a rag, she didn’t look any different than any of the men and women that toiled with her. There was much to be done in the little time they’d been allotted. Today they were drying all the beef and goat meat they had.

It would last them for several months, and where she was sending them for safety, they’d need that extra time. Long enough for them to breed more of their cattle and goats so there would always be food for them to eat. “What of the dried herbs that are left, my lady? There are barrels of it packed away for the trip and already on its way to the new home. Shall we put what is left in a bag to go tonight?” She shook her head. “There are no more barrels until the morn. The copper is working as fast as he can, making more. What shall we do?” “Leave them. There is very little, correct?” The man said that there wasn’t enough for a good strong stew. “Good. They will think you all died off from lack of planning, and that will keep you safe for a longer time. Leave it for them, so when the keep and castle are in ruin, the king will understand why.” Not that anyone was going to be coming to the castle to live, she thought. Things were in motion that would make sure that everything here was gone well before the lands were walked upon again. Dante looked to the sky when a dark shadow fell over her. Her hawk was making her way to the village Dante had set up. Long ago, Dante had purchased the lands far from where she was now and put them in the name of Mercy Dante. She knew so much about all their futures that it made her so sad to know she’d not be there to see it happen. “My lady?” She looked at her man of arms, a man that had very little work to do but was brave and true to her. “We have plenty of things to go on the next load if you have a desire to send it on. Do you still wish for some of the armed men to go with them this time? I’m to understand we’re to fell trees for homes.”

“Yes, that would be good. How many men can you spare today?” He told her all that she had. “Then send them on. I know some of you are frightened to ride the birds, but you should have no fear. They would no more harm you than they would me.” He nodded and looked at her hawk. “I shall send you all on her. She is the gentlest of the six of them.” The carrier had been fashioned a week ago. It had upset her that it had taken so long to get right, but it was safe now, and that was all she wanted. There were only a few short weeks left to get the people gone from here with all that would keep them safe. Now all she had to do was make sure the birds didn’t know the last of her plans. The platform had been made from several drawbridges from castles they’d taken over. She had known that saving them would be helpful, but it had taken a great deal more work than she’d thought to put them together and have her fishermen weave a netting to carry it with. After several tries and failures, the carrier worked. Loading up the men on the first run of people, she noticed they had put the several men that were afraid of the ride in the middle. One of them, a hardy man otherwise, had been knocked out with much wine. It had been funny to all around that it took so little of the wine to do that to him. But they didn’t know she’d given him a bit of magic to help him travel. All was well when her hawk took off with the several dozen men to start on the homes that would be needed. Barrels would be next. They had been sealed by magic that would keep them well preserved.

The other birds, her warriors for all time, had been taking jewels and other items to a cave she had also covered in magic. It would help the people of the new village for as long as they lived, well beyond her body being nothing but dust. Dante watched as several more people were taken to the new village. She would allow them to name their new place so long as it would never be attached to the name of the castle. That would be bad for them and would bring much trouble onto their heads. When her hawk landed, she went to ask how things were progressing. “Well, my lady. They were no more off the platform for seconds when they started to work. I believe you were good to get them started on this. ‘Tis only early winter, so they should be able to have a few of the buildings up before the rest are moved.” Dante agreed with her. No one else could understand the birds but her and the other birds. It had, she knew, kept everyone safe all these years. “I can only make two trips there and back, my lady. ‘Tis not a long way by the way we fly, but the pack is heavy. Please forgive me for that.” “You have nothing to be sorry for, my bird of prey. You have done one more than I had hoped for this day. And when the others have finished their tasks for me in carrying away the riches and other things they will need, it will take no time at all to move the rest. Nay, you have done well this day in taking the men, and then the food to feed them while there.” Her hawk, who would someday be called Blaze, bowed before her. Stacking up the loads that would be going on the platforms, she could see that they’d be taking away the last of it only the day before the king was to arrive. Dante

was glad now that she’d had such good people working for her. They asked nothing as to why they were doing this but just did it. When in reality, it was all for them and her birds. Dante knew the king would never make it here. His ship and all his bounty would be deep in the waters he crossed to kill her and take her castle. The man was a fool to think she would easily do what he wanted. It would not be her that killed him—it would be her bird. But in the event that it didn’t go the way she’d seen it, the plan to move her people was the best way to keep them safe. Wiping at a tear, she looked around the keep she’d worked so hard to keep everyone safe in. It was then she saw her son. Duncan was everything she was and more. Each time she saw her son, she would give him a little more of herself, teach him something of running a castle. He knew what he was to her and that Mary was doing her a great favor in keeping him safe. Duncan would be a greater king than she ever was a queen, just the way it should be. She was glad now that she’d told him he was to be mated to one of her birds. Leaving him to his work, she entered the castle to see what else was there that she could easily live without. There was very little left as it was, but she moved from room to room to make sure nothing of any value was left behind. The only thing she could see in the great room was the painting of herself. Dante wished so many times that she could have put her son there with her, but it was not to be. It would have been foolhardy to think she’d be able to keep him safe if she was to put out there that he’d been born.

Other kingdoms would have done a great many things to capture him to bring her to heel. Dante would do anything to keep him safe, including submitting to a man again. A thing that she would never do again in her lifetime. “I shall give this to our falcon.” She turned her head enough to find Duncan behind her, and the doors closed to anyone walking around. “She will be a great person, I think. Sour to many except the one she will love.” “You have seen this?” Duncan said he’d seen a great many things. “Well, you know as well as I that it might not turn out the way we see it. There can be changes, you know.” “This I am aware of. As well as you not living past the last person being taken from here.” She turned to look at him then, trying to see just what he was seeing. “I shall forever miss you, Mother.” It was the first time he’d called her that. Her heart was so tender of late that she would burst into tears at all that would be gone in so short of time. Hugging him to her, she felt the strength in his body, which was getting stronger daily. He knew how to work and did it without complaint. “I have been writing a book. It is just for you, my son. You will know things I have known for some time. It will replenish the riches I have put aside for you. Also, tell you how to keep the birds safe should they need it.” He nodded. “I will give it to Mary on the day you travel. I do not want the others to know you are my son, even after all is finished here.”

“They will only know me as a man you trusted. But I will need to tell them at some point. This you know as well as I. I will be their king when they need me.” She nodded, tears flowing quickly now. “Mother, you do know I will take care that they are as safe as you made them here, don’t you?” “I do, my son. I know that better than you could. You are not anything like your father, a cruel and terrible man. When you marry, and you will, I want you to know she will only love you if you give her your heart. It’s important you do that for her.” He said he would. “Let her strength help you when you know you are not armed to do it on your own. She will love you more and respect you forever for that.” “Will she be stronger than me, Mother?” Dante told him she was sure of it. “Then I will be for her what you have been for these people. A person of worth. I promise you I will also protect her forever.” “That is all anyone can do for their mate, my child.” He hugged her, something that neither of them was able to do often. “I shall miss you, Duncan. Much more than I could ever explain to you. Go forth, protect all the people of your kingdom, and do what I say. Love your mate more than anyone, including yourself, and the two of you will be able to move mountains.” ~*~ New Town, what they had begun to call the new place they were living, looked like any other town in the country. The only difference was, this one was only several weeks old.

To Dante, it looked as if it had been established long ago. She was pleased with the work her people had given the place she’d moved them to. “My lady? There is a problem in one of the homes we’ve put up. I know how to fix it, but the man living in it, he said he will be fine with it. To have his own home was more than he could have hoped for.” The queen of the people asked Barron what was the issue. “He has five daughters, my lady, and we’ve somehow put him in a house with only one bedroom. There are ones he could use, but he insists it be used for the other families.” “I shall speak to him. Is it Donald, the mule man?” Barron nodded, his face nearly touching the ground; he was bent so low. “Stand up, man. I believe I have pointed out this is not a time for formality. We must all work together for the greater good of the people. I shall speak to him now. Then I must, as you know, return to the castle for the final loading.” Along the way to speak to Donald, she was stopped no less than twenty times to be thanked for the things she’d provided for the people here. Without making the great move, Dante knew all of them would be killed. Because of their loyalty to her as queen of the castle, the king of these realms, a tyrant of a man, would have ordered them all butchered as soon as he killed her on their wedding night. Not that she was assured of him coming here. This was her plan, a way to keep them safe if she had read her dreams incorrectly. “My lady? I have yet to put on a pot for tea, but you must join us in it.” Dante was not one to hold back when she had something to say. She told Donald she wanted him to take a larger home. “Oh, my lady.

Barron should never have bothered you with this. We are quite happy with where we are.” “But you have six people in a single man’s home, Donald. What, I ask you, will the man who was supposed to be in this house do with a home with many bedrooms? He will be overwhelmed, trying to keep them clean while you are smashed up in this one-bedroom chamber with your little girls.” Donald looked at his daughters, beautiful little ones that were his pride and joy. “There is a home just over the road that you shall be moved to. I insist. Your daughters will share two bedrooms, and you will have your own. I know for a fact, sir, that your snore is legendary. For your daughters to have a good sleep, you will need to be far from them. Do you not agree?” “Yes, my lady.” He moved just a little closer, and in a low voice, spoke to her. “I did not wish to cause you any undue trouble. You have given all of us a chance to survive this, and I wanted to be sure you knew I was ever so grateful for it. I’m as happy here with you and yours as I ever was in the castle keep, my lady. Incredibly happy.” “I’m glad you’re happy here, Donald. You are a good man and a man that cares well for his daughters. I shall have the men move you to the new home. It will give me a good feeling knowing you have plenty of room for yourself and your family.” He thanked her. “Your daughters, sir, they will be safe here. You need anything, you make sure you contact Barron.” “Thank you, my lady. If there is ever anything I can do for you, you need only to ask. I am and will be indebted to you for the rest of my days.” Dante felt her eyes water up with the man’s word. Her life, she knew, was only a short time away from ending. “Thank you very much.”

The little girls curtsied at her, and she had to move on. It broke her heart every time she saw small children. She so wanted to hold her own. Telling Donald she’d have the men move him once again, she moved toward the long house that would serve as a church for the people and a meeting place for them to gather should they need to. Her eagle was awaiting her when she returned to the now all but abandoned castle. “You have done well, my heart. You of all the birds I have are the one I worry most about.” The eagle asked her why. “You are so much like me. Hard when you’re needed to be, too soft when it comes to our people. I fear someday it will harm you in ways that not even I could fix.” Her eagle, like the other birds, had been a huge part of getting the people moved. If not for them, there would be no way she could have done this. It would have meant certain death for all of them, including her own son. Going to the throne room, she sat upon the floor. Dante had moved her chair to the caves for the others to sell off should no one want it. But because she could see into the future, just bits and pieces, she knew at least one of them would want such a monstrosity. “When this is finished, soon now, I will give you and the others magic to keep you safe from others who would try and capture you.” Her eagle asked what sort of magic. “You will be able to blend into situations you wouldn’t normally consider a problem.

There will be those situations, too. For the things I have seen, you all will have trouble from those around you.” She laid back on the cold stone. The castle had been forged so long ago, Dante could not remember who had been the person who erected it. Now, as she looked up into the night sky, the roof here long since removed, she thought of what was going to happen in the coming days. “He has set sail and is nearly here. The king of all the lands is coming to claim not just my castle and my wealth, but my birds as well. There are many people on the vessel that carts his bottom here who have no desire to be his servants. If only I could have saved them as well.” The eagle, standing upon her perch built just for her, reminded Dante she could not save them all. “In this, I wish it was wrong to have thought that. They will suffer these people. They are suffering, for there is nothing to do to appease the king to find favor with him. There are so few that he has not made suffer by lashing them on their backsides. Too many of them have died in his foolishness to make me his wife for such a short time.” Listening to her eagle squawk at her about the king and idiocy, Dante thought of her impending death. It would be a sad affair to her son and the birds he would one day claim as his own. However, just knowing all would be safe from the king’s tyranny made all the other things so worthwhile. “If I had to do again, I would do nothing differently. I would still do what I am doing now so that all would live and live on. Even with you birds, I would do just what I have done to keep my kingdom here.”

The eagle asked her if she’d been happy. “Happy? I don’t know that I have had that much in my lifetime. I have been content. Not the same, I suppose, but I have been content with my lot in life. If only I could have kept living the way we have, I do believe I could have made such a difference in things here and in the future. Before I forget this again, I have taken the time to write out the things t’will keep the new town with coin in their coffers. I know it will be aplenty, but I will worry until my last breath if it will be enough.” Her last breath—it was only a few days away. Much too soon for her, but Dante knew it would be well worth the pain of dying. Sitting up, she looked at the birds, all six of them on their perches watching over her and the emptied lands they could see. They were the sole reason she was able to do this. This she knew more than anyone could have guessed. “I shall retire, I think. I have no bed to speak of now, so I will only lie upon the ticking. On the morrow, we shall have a feast. A great amount of food, as well as drink. ‘Tis fitting, I think, to celebrate this new way of life for so many.” Her beautiful phoenix asked her why she seemed so sad. “Sad? Aye, I am that and more. Things are moving at a pace I wish didn’t exist. But it is for the wellbeing of all that have called this place home. In that, I suppose I am sad that we shall never be able to return here in my lifetime.” But they would. All six of them and more would return someday and see the castle as it should have been, a lovely home to her son and his mate. The one, she herself, had hand-picked for her beloved child. Oh, to be able to see them grow into love.

But it was not to be. Getting up before she made a fool of herself by crying over something she had no control over, Dante did indeed head to her bed. For tomorrow and the next day would be the hardest of anything she’d ever done. ~*~ Dante didn’t sleep. She’d not closed her eyes to rest in more years than she could count on both her hands and then her toes. It was all right, she supposed. Dante was able to get more done this way. But she did pace herself. She’d never survive these last days if she were to fall apart now. “Mistress, there are two men here to see you. They wish to know who has carved your turrets. I did not tell him the birds atop the castle are as real as he.” Mary shook her head at the folly of some men. “I should have called them down to talk to him about how they were made. I think he might well have soiled his britches.” “Mary, please tell them the lady of the castle is busy and does not have time to tell him of the art he is looking at. What manner of person would ask such a thing? As if I didn’t have the sense of that turtle caught in the drain last week. Nay, tell them to move on before I toss them into the sea.” Mary went to tell them just what she had said. Dante was smiling when she heard Mary laughing. She’d no doubt make the way she’d told her to move them on to extremes. It would serve the men right if she really would call down one of her birds to take care they didn’t bother her again. Dante made her way to the drying room at the back of the kitchen. She had been brewing a brew for several days now. “You’re not going to be going with us, are you, my lady?”

She turned to look at her great phoenix. “If you do not explain to me what your plan is, I think to tell your falcon what I have figured out. She will not allow you to die. Nor will I be all right with your death.” “I must die, my beautiful friend. For if the king were to find that this castle and all that was here when he set sail were gone, what do you think he’d say to his men? That it was a good thing she left? That now he didn’t have to kill her? Nay, he would send them to find me and my people. I do not wish anyone else to be harmed for what he wants from me.” The phoenix, Piper, would be her name someday, asked her if she expected her birds to do the killing of Dante. “In a way. I have this brew here. It is nearly set for me to drink down. The castle and its walls, they must come down, or it will be all for naught. I might have misjudged something in my dream, so I wish to make sure that all is taken care of, including my people. This, what I have made—it will have me dead before you drop the first stone upon the only home I have ever had. You as well, my dear bird, must be gone should he arrive.” “Mercy will not be willing to help,” Dante told her she would because she’d know what Dante said now was the truth. “Aye, you say that, but I think her to be most upset with the turn of events, my lady. It will break all our hearts to know you have left us behind.”

“I shall never leave any of you behind. I will be forever in your hearts, and you in mine as I take my last breath.” The phoenix nodded but didn’t say anything more for some time. “He will die before he gets to the land. This king who thinks to murder me in my own bed. And those that he brought with him, they too will perish. ‘Tis a folly on his part to think I’d just do as he wants as if I have no mind of my own. I know Mercy will kill him and all that have been forced to come here with him. It’s not such a bad thing, these deaths, Phoenix. It will be merciful to all that have ridden the seas to make their way here.” After the bird left her, she pulled the large cauldron off the hot flames and covered it with a lid. Even though there were no children about nor anyone working in the kitchens, she would feel terrible if any harm would come to anything right now. Making her way back to the throne room, or what was left of it, she laid on the floor to look up at the sky. Dante hated heights. While she forever knew she’d never see the time when there would be airplanes in her sky, she knew they were set to come. She was content, for now, to bask in the beautiful view she’d miss more than she thought she might. Getting up, Dante made her way to the side of the castle that faced the sea. “Oh, to see the waterways filled with my own ships again. To see them sailing off to find new things to bring back to us.” There were ships out there—she could just make out their flags. None of these were her tormentor, she knew. He would be visible in two days. Still a long way out to sea. He would be nothing more than a small speck in the open waters, but she’d still be able to see him. “Why now? Why have you made your plans to include me at this time?

I wish more and more I’d been born a male. Then no one would dare to come here. I might well have been the king of all the lands had it been so.” Her ships had been taken to the coves not far from here. By the time they were remembered, they would be nothing more than rotted wood and material. Dante wouldn’t want them to be seaworthy again. It might well be the thing that got her people killed. Even in the future, the bits and pieces she could see, the ships would only cause people to look harder for her remains and perhaps run into New Town, where her people lived. That, she knew, would be a danger to all. “Mother? Are you here?” She turned to look at her son. Duncan had been coming to her of late to get more lessons and her thoughts on things, as well as how to manage a vast kingdom such as the one she was leaving him. “I thought for sure you’d be here. I have a favor to ask of you. ‘Tis a small one, but one I think you can give me. I should like to spend the night here, within these walls, once with you. I have spoken to Mary about it, and she thinks you will grant me this one wish. It will be the first and last time the two of us will be able to be under the same roof since I was born.” “I should like that. Very much.” He nodded and smiled at her. “There is so much to tell you, and so much more, I think I have forgotten to pass on to you. But for this night, I shall not speak of the king coming here. Nor of my life-ending. You are aware of it, my child. This, I know. But to have you here with me this last night? It is more than I could have asked for.”

They made their plans to sleep on the same ticking she’d been resting on since her bed had been taken away. As they curled up under a thick blanket, the two of them talked more than they rested. Tears were shed, of course. There was no way to avoid such a thing. But there was laughter too, much more of it than tears. “I shan’t be here tomorrow when you are set. I cannot be of sound mind when I know what is to happen to you. I will tell you, Mother, that there couldn’t have been a better person to raise me. Nor one that has loved me as well as you have.” She kissed him on the forehead as he spoke again. “For so long as I live, Mother dear, I will keep you in my heart, along with the birds that will be mine as well. I love you—much more than I think any child could their parent. You are the best there is. I shall kill anyone that says differently.” She had no words to give him after that. Her heart, already tender, was breaking more. It might well have done her better not to have spent the night with her son. But it would have been harder on her, she thought, to not have this time with him with no others around. Finally, when she could speak without tearing up, even more, Dante told her son that she loved him. That he’d be a better king than she had been a queen. After saying that, they both settled into their thoughts until the sun came rising up from the seas that surrounded them. Today, she knew, would be her last day to breathe in the air and take in food for her belly, and the very last time she’d order her birds to do something she knew they’d hate her for.

 

 

 

 

Wesley Bishop’s Snowy Leap by Kathi S Barton Release Blitz & Giveaway

Wesley Bishop was helping out a friend by letting Emmie stay with him. He knew she wasn’t his mate, but she was good company. Emmie was hiding from her abusive brothers. When she asked Wesley to take her to the bank, she was meeting her best friend Penny and Penny’s grandfather, Joe, to go over their accounts, Wesley readily agreed.

Wesley thought Penny was about the prettiest woman he’d ever seen—feisty too, and when her scent hit him like a freight train, he was the happiest tiger shifter on the planet.

Penny, not so much. Like Emmie, Penny’s family had a way of getting their point across with a heavy fist. Trusting a man wasn’t easy for her.

Wesley was no quitter; he’d convince his new mate to trust him if it was the last thing he did. And keeping her safe was proving to be more difficult by the day.

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Raven Addington was happy with her life the way it was. She and her daughter, Molly, were doing just fine on their own, despite what her mother had to say about it. Merriam, Raven’s mother, never had anything nice to say about anything, so why should now be any different.

Sawyer Bishop had turned in his notice at the police force. No matter how bad he needed the money, he wasn’t about to let a hot-headed partner make him a mark for an early grave. His parents needed his help on the farm, so he was happy to leave the force.

Sawyer was supposed to be on desk duty, but they were shorthanded, so he took the call that came in from the 911 dispatch. It would be his last, and then he would be a poor but free man.

When Sawyer arrived on the scene, it was bad. The poor woman had been beaten until she was unrecognizable and barely breathing. Although he didn’t know her personally, he knew Raven Addington was extremely wealthy, and that bothered him more than he cared to admit. Being a Bengal tiger, he knew from her scent that she was his mate. Her station in life was so far above his, he didn’t think it was going to work. But when she coded in the hospital, he had to make a quick decision and hope it wouldn’t come back to bite him in the ass later.


Sasha Harvard had returned to the small town in Ohio because Hailey Riddle, a ghost, had led her there. Sasha had been speaking to the dead for as long as she could remember. In working with the police, Sasha had been in the field, helping to look for Melinda’s spirit when Melinda Havard had found her. Melinda told her that they were sisters, and the man that had killed her thought that she was Sasha. Melinda had done the best she could to deliver the child she was carrying before she succumbed to her wounds. The child was marked like Sasha, and the dead would find her when she was older. Melinda wanted Sasha to raise her child, and she warned Sasha that the man who had killed her would come after both her and the child because of what they could do. Sasha pulled out the business card of Sawyer Bishop, the officer in charge on the field, and told him that she’d like to meet him at his house and to send someone to pick her up.

Chandler Bishop knocked on Sasha’s door to pick her up. He heard a scuffle inside and broke down the door. A man was standing over Sasha with a baseball bat, and she had been beaten. When Chandler yelled at the man, he just disappeared. Sasha was shocked that he’d seen the man. Chandler thought the man was a vampire, Sasha told him the man was dead.

Chandler had found his mate and could see the dead now too apparently. And the little girl, Pip, her niece, would be theirs as well. A readymade family and he couldn’t be happier. But would he and his tiger be able to keep them safe from both the living and the dead?

the living and the dead?

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The equipment was larger than life. It didn’t so much scare her, but it did intimidate her something terrible. Emmie waited at the end of the row that Wesley was putting in for pea planting. He’d told her just this morning he’d never realized what real anticipation was until he had to wait months and months for something so simple as peas. Waving at him when he looked in her direction, she wondered how hard it would be to run over one of her brothers with the sucker. “You all right?” She nodded at him and thanked him again for allowing her to hide out in his house while her brothers were around. “It’s not a problem. You keep cooking for me like you are, and I might just keep you around.” “You’d not like having me beaten up all the time if anyone of my brothers shows up. You’re a good man, Wesley.” He was embarrassed, and she had to laugh. “I’ve been called into the bank for a little bit. While I know Dutch is in jail, I’m still afraid to head into town. I don’t suppose you can call one of your brothers to take me in, can you?” “I can do you one better. Raven, I think you know her?” She said she knew of her. “She’s scarier than your brothers. Smarter too. But then that’s not all that hard. Anyway, she’s on her way here to get some information on the tractors I’ve been using for her grandma. I know you might not be too thrilled to have your brothers arrested, but they’ve been—” “If anyone can get them off the streets and out of my life, I’m all for it. Penny and her grandda are going to meet me at the bank. They have some clothing for me from Mr. Joe’s house.” He said that was good.

“You’ve been a real hero for me, Wesley. I don’t think anyone else would have just taken in a stranger like you did. I can’t thank you enough.” “It wasn’t anything. As I told you this morning, you’ve been really nice having around. Stems off some of the loneliness I didn’t realize I was having.” When he got down off the tractor, Emmie was again surprised by his height. She wasn’t a little person at five-eleven, but he seemed to tower over her. “Am I making you uncomfortable?” “At first, you did. But for whatever reason, I feel safe around you. Since we both know we’re not mates or whatever white tigers call their other half, I’m assuming you’re just a nice guy.” He threw back his head and laughed, and Emmie couldn’t help it, she joined him. “I’ve only been here for three days, and I don’t think I’ve had this much fun in all my life.” “The same with me. All right. I’m finished helping the neighbors with their fields, and I have about an hour before I have to meet my dad and his cronies over at Mom’s again with the tractor, so how about I just run you in? You’ve been great for helping me get my stuff packed up to move, so I’m going to treat you to something you don’t have to cook.” She thought she could fix something the house, but being waited on sounded too good to pass up. “I just need to take a quick shower and change. Even with air in that sucker, it still gets mighty hot when I’m working.” He did take a quick shower and was ready to go in less than twenty minutes. By the time they’d pulled into the bank parking lot, she was just nervous enough that she felt slightly ill. Wesley didn’t say anything to her or even tease her as she sat there.

When she told him she was ready, he still hadn’t made fun of her, nor had he hit her. Emmie thought she could get used to this. Mr. Joe was sitting on one of the many benches in the bank. After he shook hands with Wesley and thanked him, Mr. Joe hugged her like he’d not seen her in years. Letting him hold her while he seemed to gather himself, she took him into her office so they could wait for Penny to return from the store across the street, Mr. Joe told her. “I think being thirsty all the time is making me a little nervous. Penny too. She’s taking me by the doc’s office after we leave here. I’m not even gonna argue with her about it. I think she gets enough of that from our stupid family.” Mr. Joe was sitting in one of the most comfortable chairs in her office, which wasn’t really saying much. They were all about as comfortable as sitting on a slab of concrete. “You’d think for as much business as you’re bringing into this little bank, they’d be happy to spring for new chairs. This one is worse than my old mattress at home.” Penny entered the room and kissed them both. She sat down beside Mr. Joe. While she didn’t have any idea what they were going to need, Emmie closed her office door and locked it, a habit she’d gotten into when she lived at home. Locking her door always afforded her just enough time to know someone was about to enter her room. “You doing all right out there with Wesley, child?” She told him she was doing great. He was a wonderful man. “He is at that. All them Bishop boys are as good as gold. Their parents, they did a great job of passing down their kindness to them. I’m here to fix some things that I’ve been meaning to do for some time now. First and foremost, honey, I’d like for you to make sure the account Wendy had is closed up from her kids.” “It is. As soon as I heard about her death, I locked hers and your accounts. I hope I didn’t cause you any trouble with that.” He said he’d not noticed.

“Good. I figured you’d have your hands full with the other two around, and I didn’t want them coming in and trying to cash out your account. Also, I did put a reminder out to the people who work here that your account could be touched by you and only you, Penny. I figured that would save you a great deal of heartache as well.” “Thank you so much. I would never have thought of that.” Emmie told her she’d do the same for her if they were in the same situation. “I owe you so much, Emmie. Had you not talked to me about your brothers, I might well have been six feet under by now. They’re already pissed because I’m not allowing them to sponge off Grandpa Joe. The police have been really good about having someone watch his house. They had to run in my dad and his brother earlier today. They were in Grandma’s house, moving their crap in. She’s not even in the ground, and they’re already shoving her things to the side of the road.” After they were finished with all the changes Mr. Joe wanted, they set up a reading of the will with an attorney. A friend of the family, Mr. Brooks Hall, wasn’t the attorney that had handled Wendy’s will in the first place, but he said he’d be happy to come to them anytime to read the will. Apparently, everyone mentioned in the will was right there in the room. Her sons weren’t even named in it.

“That’s going to cause a fuss, I think. Well, it’ll be more than a fuss, but you understand.” Mr. Joe laughed and said he’d been the one to write out what the will was to say, and since Wendy couldn’t read all that well, she was more than happy to have him take care of things. “I figured what little money she had should go to the one that helped her the most. Them boys of hers, they were jerks all their life to their mother. And it’s doubtful to me that her brother or sister will come around. They didn’t have too much to do with her after she moved into that house. Not that she ever noticed it.” Grandpa shook his head. “I’m telling you right now that my will is simple. What I have goes to the two of you.” “I’m not really your granddaughter, Mr. Joe. I mean, I love that you think of me that way, but all I’ve ever been is a very close friend to Penny.” Mr. Joe said that was good enough for him. “Thank you so much. I don’t know what to say. Only that you’d better not be thinking of leaving us anytime soon. I need you as much as your flesh and blood does.” “And I need you, two girls, around too. Why, just the other day, I was thinking that a parent shouldn’t have to outlive a child. But then I got to thinking about how much drama I was going to be out of. I loved my Wendy—more than I should have, I think—but she gave me you, Penny, then, in turn, Emmie here. A great-granddaughter and a little girl that I’ve loved more than anything.” Emmie was just finishing up when one of the tellers knocked and was let in. She looked upset, and it took her five minutes to let her know that James Harold was in the bank demanding to have his mother’s money. “He threatened me with harm, Miss Emmie. I mean, he said that not only would he ruin my body so not even dental records would be helpful in identifying me, but that he’d kill my entire family. I can’t work that way.” Emmie told her to have a seat, and she’d take care of him.

“You should know I’ve buzzed the police too. I never would have thought we’d use those security buttons until today.” The police plus Sawyer came in just as she was headed to the slot Shelly had been at. She asked James what she could do for him. After a short round of cursing, he finally told her what he’d been trying to do. “I want all my mom’s money in my hand right now.” She told him no and asked if he needed anything else. “What the hell do you mean, no? It’s not your money, it’s mine now that she’s dead. Give it over, Emmie, or so help me, I’m going to kill you. I need it.” “I’m sure you do since you’ve not had a job in— I was going to say in a long time, but I don’t think I’ve never known you to have one. But you’re not getting anything from the account because the will hasn’t been read.” James told her to fuck the will. “While that is tempting, I don’t think it’s physically possible. Now, you go about your day and try very hard not to piss anyone else off, or so help me, James, I will have these nice men behind you keep you in the cell right beside Dutch. You’re not going to get into her account.” He turned when Sawyer laughed and asked him what the fuck he was doing there. James told him he thought he’d been fired. “Nah. I’m still a cop. I help the police out when they ask, especially when they have to go collect an idiot from the banks. You should really leave here now, James. Because if she has to tell you again, you’re not getting the money, I’m going to have one of these fine officers blow your head off”.

It was then Emmie noticed that every other customer in the bank was leaving. This might not end well, and the home office was going to be pissy about it, but she didn’t want anyone harmed by James. Or anyone for that matter. Sawyer put his hand on James’s shoulder, and it was over before James was able to pull the trigger on his gun. While James lay screaming on the floor about his right to the money, with the other man’s boot at his neck, Sawyer asked her if she was all right. Emmie didn’t think she’d been all right in a long time, but told him she was fine. Then he asked her if she wanted to press charges. “I do, as does Shelly Crabapple, one of the tellers that works here. She told me he threatened her as well. I know you’re more than likely aware of it, but James here isn’t supposed to have a weapon. He’s been convicted of a crime, and only just got out of prison a month ago.” Sawyer told her he’d not known but thanked her. “Anytime. Wesley is outside. Would you mind asking him if he’d escort us home? I have Penny as well as Mr. Joe in my office right now.” “Good idea. Wesley might look all relaxed like he’d not hurt a fly, but we all know better.” She thanked him. “It’s fine, Emmie. Also, Raven, my wife, she might come by the house later to talk to you about some of the other things she has on her list from yours and Penny’s family.” “I don’t know where we’re going to be after today. I don’t want to wear out my welcome with Wesley. You should also know, my brothers are on the same warpath as this one is. I’ve been staying at Wesley’s home for a couple of days now.”

He said he knew that. “I figured as much. Thanks for keeping an eye on them for us.” “Mr. Joe is a good friend to our family. And by extension, you are as well.” Again, she thanked him. Wesley came in and told her he was going to lock up and sit out there to wait for her to be finished. For her to take her time. “I’m going to keep an eye out for those brothers of yours too, Emmie. They’ll regret any kind of move they make to hurt any of you.” James was still under Sawyer’s foot, and his threats were becoming more violent and creative. Emmie had to think that when he was let go, he’d be up and trying something stupid with Sawyer. As soon as she thought that, one of the officers with Sawyer cuffed James by his wrists. “You’re fucking going to pay for this, bitch.” She pointed out she’d done nothing more than tell him no. “You think that’s all? Well, I got news for you. You’re not going to be telling me no again.” “That doesn’t even make sense.” He lunged at her, and she was glad she didn’t even flinch when he did it. “Get out of here, James, before I think of another thing to bring up about you. Stupidity, sadly, isn’t cause for an arrest, or you’d have been jailed a long time before now.” Wesley joined her in the office as soon as she locked down the bank. The police would take the footage of today, and she’d send a copy of it to the home office. Today was turning out better than she could have planned it to be.

~*~ Wesley tried his best not to stare at the other woman. He knew he was making her uncomfortable, but he just couldn’t believe she was the granddaughter of Wendy Harold. Not only that, but her uncle was one of the worst kinds of people in the world. Tony wasn’t too bad, not really, but he was an odd noodle at times. “Are you going to take a picture or something?” Wesley just smiled at her when Mr. Joe laughed. “The way you’re eyeing me, I feel like I have something in my hair. I know for a fact I don’t.” “You don’t. I’m sorry for staring, but I was just thinking about your relatives. I can’t believe you are part of the same gene pool.” Her face told him she didn’t believe a word he’d just said to her. “Honestly. First, there is Wendy. I’ve known her all my life. You? I didn’t even know Tony was married, much less had a daughter that looks like a goddess. I’m assuming you look like your mother. You certainly don’t look like your dad.” “You look just like your father. You could almost be his twin.” He thanked her. “I don’t know who my mother is. I never knew, as a matter of fact. So I think you might be right on that. I’m sorry for giving you a hard time. Things just haven’t been going right for the last few days. Well, that’s not true. Not going right for most of my life.” “I know your uncle and dad as well. You and Emmie are the opposite of your family in just about any way you wish to compare yourself to them.” She thanked him for this time. “No worries. I was coming into town anyway. Emmie and I are having lunch together.” He could tell she was disappointed, but when Emmie invited her friend and Mr. Joe to come with them, he was glad for it. It would be fun to get to know this woman a lot better. He picked up the book he’d gotten at the library earlier today and started reading it. Wesley realized he’d read the same page six times or more while he was waiting on the group to be finished up. It wasn’t normal for him to do that, not be able to tune things out around him while he read. But today, with this group and especially Penny, he just couldn’t concentrate.

He stood up when they said they were finished, and they headed to the pizza shop across the street. Going to the door first, he held it open for the other three, who went in ahead of him. Penny’s scent nearly took him to his knees. Standing in the doorway so that his mind could catch up with what his nose just told him, it was Mr. Joe that came to get him. “Are you all right, son?” He nodded at him, and couldn’t have stopped the smile on his face with a gun to his head. “Son, you’re scaring this old man. What’s wrong? You can tell me anything, and I’d not say a word to anyone.” “Penny is your great-granddaughter.” It wasn’t a question, but he nodded anyway. “She’s my mate, Mr. Joe. I didn’t expect to find her at all, much less in a pizza joint.” Mr. Joe laughed. “Well, I guess this is about the best news I’ve heard in a while. Congratulations. But I think you should close the door there. People are beginning to wonder if you have all your marbles. It’s chilly out.” Wesley laughed and let the door swing shut. “You going to tell her? I’d like to be right there when you do. I don’t rightly know how she’ll take it, but you have to tell her. She’ll be safer with you than anywhere else she can hideout.”

They both sat down, and he picked up the menu to think. He was never so glad to have a big house to go to than he was right now. Putting the menu in the middle of the table when the waitstaff came to take their order, he looked at Mr. Joe first. “Raven purchased all of us brothers of Sawyer a home. Mom and Dad are having one built that they’re excited about. I’m moving into mine tomorrow. It’s been repainted, as well as the carpets cleaned. There are about ten bedrooms in the place.” Mr. Joe told him he was lucky to have such a generous person in his family. “Yes, I think so too. I was wondering if the three of you would like to come and live there with me. It’ll have plenty of room for us all. Not to mention, it has an indoor pool I’m excited about playing around in. My mate will be there too, so it wouldn’t be anything but family around.” “That’s a very nice thing, both the house and inviting us to stay. However, I can’t imagine your mate would be all that keen on you having an elderly man and two single women in your home.” He told Penny that only one of them was single. “I don’t understand. You said your mate will be there too.” “She will be. If she wishes. I just think you guys will be safer in a big house that your other family doesn’t know about than the ones you live in now.” Penny looked at Emmie, then back at him. Then she asked him if Emmie was his mate. “No.” It took her several seconds to figure out what he was saying. She stood up and sat down a total of three times before she glared at him. He thought her adorable when she told him he wasn’t funny but wisely kept that to himself. “You could have just said that when we were at the bank.” He said he’d not figured it out until they came in here.

“Why the roundabout way of telling me? Is this your way of doing everything? I will tell you right now, I don’t think you’re the least bit funny.” “You’d not be the first person to tell me that. However, I was working up to telling you. I didn’t want to just blurt it out and have you toss your salad in my face.” Penny glared harder. “You really should stop that now, Penny. You’re even more beautiful when you’re pissed at me. Not that I don’t blame you, but you are my mate, and the offer of you three staying with me stands. Things are going to get nastier as the next few days go by.” “I, for one, would love to live with you, Wesley.” He thanked Mr. Joe without taking his eyes off Penny. “Those boys of Wendy’s aren’t going to take too kindly to the reading of the will. Scratch that. I think the only one that will care is James. And you know as well as I do, Penny, that when James is pissed off, so are the Donnelly boys. They feed off each other.” “I don’t want to. I will, but I really don’t want to.” Wesley nodded at Penny. “I mean, I really don’t want to live with you, but I’m thinking you’re right. We’d all be safer in a house rather than an apartment, or even Grandpa Joe’s home. It’s not very big either, and we’d be falling all over each other in no time. I’ll live there, but I’m not going to sleep with you.” “All right. I can understand that. We barely know one another, and I won’t take advantage of you. I have some furniture in the house. Holly, Raven’s grandma, sold her house to my brother, and she had a great many things still in storage.

After Chandler got what he wanted, the rest of us took what was left. I gladly took the other bedroom suites to be in my home. The others, my brothers, took the things for the living room, feeling they’d be in there more than they would in any of the other rooms.” Their subs were brought to the table, and he dug into his as he continued. “I have a live-in cook as well. Her name is Caroline. She’s a member of my brother Sawyer’s leap and needed to have a place she could call her own. Her family was all gone, moving away to have better-paying jobs. I was lucky enough to have a place for her to live in on the property.” Wesley answered all the questions put to him. Most of them were from Mr. Joe, about his planting in the spring, as well as his helping the others around town. He told them about the tractor and the attachments he had been trying out and loved. “They just gave you a tractor worth more than a house for nothing?” He told Penny what had happened that he ended up owning it. “Okay, I guess I can see a company doing that. Having a farmer that no one knows trying it out and then telling others would make for a good cover. Congratulations on that. I have to admit, I do miss having fresh vegetables all the time. Grandma always had fresh food from her little garden. What she didn’t eat, she’d put up. Do people still do that?” “My mom does. Jellies and jams mostly. Here in the last couple of years, she’s been donating what she can’t put up to different people around the town. You’d be surprised how far a couple of rows of green beans can go when you’re as good as we are about taking care of our gardens.” He realized then that just the other day, he’d been bitching about having a mate to his brothers and him only being a lowly farmer.

However, right now, he thought he had the best job of all. His mate was into fresh things as much as he was. “Today I was going to put the tractor and the implements away until early spring. I was even able to put in a garden for my mom this year, and decided to grow some fresh peas in the early spring.” They talked all through their meal. When they brought the check, he was more than happy to pick it up and pay. He noticed that all three of his lunch guests put down money for a tip. Being glad they’d not put too little on the table, he still added more to the bill when he paid. “Where is your home? I have a feeling it’s close to your parents’ place.” He told Penny it was, but it also had a large barn and a place for him to play around in. “I’m not sleeping with you, Wesley. I’m not easy, and I won’t put out just because you’re keeping my family safe.” “I wouldn’t have it any other way, Penny.” She cocked a brow at him. “I’m serious. I don’t know you anymore than you do me. I’d like to take our time, get to know each other before we go right to the making love part.” She said she might not ever want to have sex with him. “So long as you’re happy, then I will be too.” She snorted at him when she walked away. They walked to the new home, his first time seeing it in the daylight, and he was glad now that he carried around the keys to the place. Wesley handed the second set to Penny, so she could come and go when she wanted while here, he told her. Wesley was thrilled when she didn’t toss them back in his face.

The house looked beautiful with the new walls and the hardwood floors all shiny from their treatment. Every room they explored, he was just as pleased with it as they seemed to be. The kitchen, where Ms. Caroline was making a list, had been updated recently, and a pantry had been put in. Penny seemed to be more impressed with the kitchen area than she had been about the indoor pool. “I love to bake. Would that be a problem for you, Ms. Caroline?” When the older woman looked at him, Penny answered her unspoken concern. “He claims I’m his mate and that we’ll be living here with him. No hanky panky, but we’ll be safer here, I think.” “If Wesley says you’re his mate, then you can count on it being true. You couldn’t find you a better family to be getting into either.” Penny thanked her. “Now then. Yes, you come on in here and bake all you want, mistress. I’ve never been known to bake all that much, but I’d surely like to have the smells coming from here. You just give me a list of what you need, and I’ll order it with the rest of the kitchen stock-up.” While they worked on the list, he moved into the living room and looked around. There was a great deal of open space in this area, and he hadn’t a clue how to fill it. While he didn’t watch all that much television, he would like to have a nice sized one for this room. He thought it might be necessary for the sheer size of the room so you could see it. “I don’t have to move in here with you, Wesley.” He turned to look at Emmie and asked her why not. “Well, you have a new mate, for which I’m so happy for you both, and Grandpa Joe living here. I’m not related to either of them, as you know. Also, I have been hiding out on my own for a very long time.” “There isn’t a single reason I can think of that would make me want to have you not move in here with us. And you are family. I know Mr. Joe thinks of you as his great-granddaughter as much as he does Penny.” He smiled at her then.

“You know my parents. If they found out I was shoving you out to live someplace in the woods as you wanted that first day, Mom would take me to the woodshed in a minute and make me change my mind about being too old for that particular punishment.” “I don’t want to be a bother to any of you.” He assured her she wouldn’t be. “All right then. You will tell me if I’ve overstayed my welcome. Right?” “I promise you, Emmie, I don’t have a doubt in the world that you’re going to be as much a part of my family as you are to Mr. Joe and Penny. Besides, I think with you here, Penny will feel more comfortable. And believe it or not, I want her happy no matter what.” She mentioned her brothers. “Don’t you worry about any of them. I’m going to have the police, as well as my family, making sure you’re all safe and sound. I just ask that when you do go out, don’t do it alone. Nor to go out without telling us where you’re going and when you’ll be back. I don’t want to have to worry that they might have hurt you when you’re in my care.” “You’re a good man, Wesley. And a good friend. I hope you can make sure they’re not going to harm any of us. I have a feeling they won’t just hurt us the next time but will try and kill us. Especially Grandpa Joe.” He asked her why. “Because Grandpa Joe is a very wealthy man. More so than anyone in this world gives him credit for.” “I’ll keep that in mind when we’re out.” He hugged her back when she hugged him. “Thank you, Emmie. Without you being the bank manager, it might have been years before I met Penny. I owe you a great deal.” “Pay me back by making sure she’s safe. And happy. I know you will, so I’m not worried about it, but I don’t want her to be hurt or sad.” He said he could do that. “See that you do. I love both those people more than I do anyone else.”

Oakley By Kathi S Barton Release Blitz&Giveaway

Lachlan Russell had been rushed into emergency surgery. Her boss’s daughter took exception to Lach, telling her no, and went ballistic, throwing anything and everything she could at Lach until Lach finally collapsed from her injuries. Lach was also pregnant at the time, tricked into being a surrogate to carry her sister’s child.

Harris Marshall, Shep’s wife, was called in on the case. Lach’s boss and daughter were now both in jail, but Lach’s family was another matter—they were worse. Harris would make sure this woman pulled through if she had to kill Lach’s family to see to it. Calling in reinforcements, her brother-in-law, Oakley, was the first to arrive at the hospital.

Oakley was thrilled to have found his mate. As far as he was concerned, Lach was perfect. But her sister and brother-in-law were both insane. Would he and his family be enough to protect her from their madness?

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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?

 

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….

 

Marshall’s Shadow

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Harris walked the hallway while she waited on someone from the police department to come and give her a hand. The locals had their hands full with this one and were more than happy to let her not only take over but to make sure that things were done correctly. So far, all Harris had been able to figure out was that Allison Gray had hit the cook, Lachlan Russell. It had taken her only a minute after finding a nurse by the name of Dutch Jasper. He and Harris had known each other for a while. A couple of times when she’d been in this very hospital taking care of someone, she’d been able to depend on him to make sure she’d gotten out of the hospital without being seen. Harris didn’t know why she trusted the man, but she did. With her life, as it turned out. “I have copies of all the recordings of the conversation with her boss, a jerk by the name of Lance Gray. He’s currently sitting his pretty butt in jail, right alongside his daughter, Allie.” Harris asked him for a recap of what had gone down. “Her boss was pissy that Lach had his daughter arrested. He told her—point-blank, mind you—that he wasn’t paying any of her bills.

I have the name of the cop that arrested him. Officer Hamilton heard what he said as well.” “Is there anything else?” Dutch told her about the baby Lach was carrying and that it was her sister’s child. “That was very generous of her. Or was it?” “Not from what I’ve heard. They bullied Lach into it. You have to meet them only once to know they’re not the kind of people who tolerate those they think are lower than them. To me, that isn’t a far drop, but then I don’t give two hoots about them.” Harris laughed. “Lach told me right before they took her into surgery that her sister had told her she wasn’t able to carry a baby to term. That’s not right. I went to talk to someone about it, on the sly, and they’re saying that Rita—that’s her sister—didn’t want to have to carry a child, but she really wanted one. They’re paying half of Lach’s medical for her carrying the baby. Half? Like she wanted to carry it. I’m telling you now, Harris, if you were still working, I’d hire you.” She thought about that for the rest of the morning. Dutch was one of the nicest people she had ever encountered on her jobs.

For him to want to make these people gone was very telling. Pacing the long hallway on the surgery floor, Harris thought about everything she’d found out about Lach. All of it good news until she found out about the rest of her family. Her parents were divorced. Frank Russell had taken off about the time Lach had turned four. He’d had enough, apparently, and didn’t care to be around people he just couldn’t make himself love. Harris didn’t know the family as yet, but even hearing about them made her think she didn’t blame him. Frank had also tried to get custody of Lach, but Rebecca, his ex-wife, had hired a shark of an attorney and had won the case. Harris wondered if she’d thought she could make Lach into someone like her and Rita. Apparently, it hadn’t stuck, because Lach was her own woman and didn’t hang around her sister and mother unless necessary.

“Mrs. Marshall? There’s a phone call for you. He said it was urgent.” She nodded and followed the nurse to the front desk. “I think it’s Dutch. He didn’t tell me his name, but I think it’s him.” “Hello?” It was Dutch, and she had to tell him to calm down three times before she was able to get a word out. “Just take a deep breath and let it out slowly. In and out, Dutch, so I can figure out what the fuck is wrong.” “Did you see today’s paper?” She reached for it as it laid on the nurse’s station counter. “Frontpage too. I have to tell you, Harris, I never in all my wildest dreams would have thought someone could do this to one of the sweetest people I know. I love you too, girl, but you’re not sweet. You’re hard.” “Thank you.” She asked him to hold on while she opened the paper. “Mother fuck. How the hell did they get this out so quickly? Not to mention, how did the person putting this in the paper get this printed without all the facts? Or any, from what I’m seeing.” Harris told Dutch she’d talk to him later as she stood there reading the article. It was about Lach and her having to be in the hospital.

It said she’d tried to kill Allie Gray by throwing a hot dinner at her, and when she’d retaliated, Lach had faked an injury in order to get out of going to jail. It went on to say she’d been feeding the entire staff dinners every night instead of the patrons of the restaurant. There were accusations about her stealing money from the cash drawer, taking money from the waitstaff in the form of tips, as well as taking home some of the products that the restaurant had ordered. Taking out her cell phone, Harris called her office. She had three people working on this for her. A lot of shit was going on, and since the locals had turned it over to her, she was free to do whatever was needed. Turned out, when she called her office, she found there were more than the three she had assigned to this, as the things they were finding out were too much for the first men to work on. “I have a man going to the newspaper office as we speak. He’s taking one of the local jurisdictions with him. The article was out before we knew about it. Sorry about that, sir.” She told him it wasn’t his fault, as she’d been blindsided by it as well.

“You should also be aware that we’ve found Frank Russell. He’s remarried. A background on him didn’t show anything other than one parking ticket. How would you like us to work this?” “Call him. Tell him his daughter has been hurt. Don’t give him any details until he asks for them. I’m not keeping them from him, but if he’s broken all contact with them, he might not care.” Agent Gunn told her he could do that. She could hear the pen scratching across the paper. “I want you to do a complete background on Lachlan Russell. I have some personal information, but not much more. I want to know the last time she had a shit; that’s how thorough I want it. Also, on her mother, Rebecca Russell, and her sister and brother-in-law, Rita and Roger Underwood. Make sure you find out what you can about her ability to have children.” “Got it.” He paused a moment. “I know Rita Underwood.” She asked him how. “We were upperclassmen together. I didn’t realize that when I started helping you with this. To say she’s a bitch doesn’t even come close to painting a picture of this woman.

I think she’d murder her own family if she would be able to make some cash off it.” “Do you know Dutch Jasper?” He said he did, but only by name. He was younger than him. “He’s a good friend and ally of Lach. Also, the one that called me. See what you can find out about him, too, while we’re looking. Also, what his debt to income ratio is.” She didn’t have to explain herself to this man, but she told him he’d helped Lach out and had helped Harris a few times as well. Harris just wanted to know if he was being paid off to make the family look bad. But really, she was going to help the nurse out if he needed it. Harris owed the man a great deal. “Sir, did you know what Lachlan means? It means warlike. The Vikings called their land of lakes Lachlan too.” Harris told him she’d not known, but was glad for the information. “I hope this girl is warlike. Having a sister like Rita, she’d need it.” The more she found out about this family, the more she wanted to bundle up Lach and take her home with her. She wasn’t prone to taking adults home with her, but in this, she thought her and the other woman could be tight as in friends. Harris didn’t know why, but she thought this Lach might be more badass than she was. Not by much, though.

When Lach came out of surgery, Harris was able to go and see her. The doctor told her what had happened in the operating room, and the concerns he had about what he’d had to do to remove the large shard of glass from her head. “It was deep and pierced her skull. I could see the damage to her brain—it has a deep cut in it. The brain surgeon with me said she thought that having it cut in her frontal lobe might cause her some memory issues, as well as a change to her personality.” Harris asked the doctor how they’d figure it out. “We’ll have to wait until she’s awake. Which isn’t going to be for a few more hours. I’d like her to remain still for at least that long.” Pulling out her cell phone, Harris looked up what she could about frontal lobe injuries. There was a lot, she could see, that was all speculation about the brain. It would be difficult, she supposed, to have someone test your working brain before you were finished with it. In her field, Harris was sure there were a lot of people out there that didn’t have a brain. Or, in fact, they didn’t use it all that much. She was smiling when she made her way to recovery to sit with Lach for some quiet time. Opening her laptop, she pulled up the information she had been sent from her office.

It was about the recording that had been generated from here, as well as from the restaurant. Allie was going to be in deep shit when this thing went to trial. Having admitted that she wanted to kill the other woman was right there for anyone to hear. Harris looked at the other recording and cringed when she saw the mother and sister. Typical rich women that wouldn’t do a thing for anyone in need, she thought. The fact that the mom was more concerned about her shower and going home told her a great deal. Closing those down, she pulled up the first report. Allison Gray had been in trouble like this before. As she read over the three counts of abuse and battery from the police, Harris had to wonder how she’d even been able to be out and around others.

Her violent nature was one that should have been recognized and monitored before now. Then she got to the records that told the outcome of each of the crimes. Daddy was paying the people off. Charges were brought against his daughter, but after Lance paid the people a great sum of money, Allison was set free. The amounts were staggering too. Two of them were upwards of a million dollars. The last one was nearly two mill. Harris read the reports on what had happened and noticed that with each arrest, Allison was getting more and more violent. Harris did wonder how much he’d pay Lach to shut her up. She also wondered if she’d take it. Hoping she wouldn’t, Harris looked at the woman laying in the bed next to her. She knew from the report that her left arm had been burnt badly. She could see that it had been wrapped up but was seeping. The one at her back had been the worst the doctor had seen on someone. It was about two feet wide and almost that long. The pain while it healed would be horrendous. Harris couldn’t see much of her face. From the top of her head to her nose, just peeking out of the bandage, she could see that there were bloodstains on the gauze. She was being monitored and had several IV’s running to keep her quiet, as the doctor had said.

When a nurse came in to take Lach’s blood pressure, she told Harris what she knew. “They had to remove nineteen pieces of glass from her head. Some of them were so tiny, I was told that they had to be found with a microscope.” She asked about the one that had caused the skull injury. “Doctor Sampson is the best brain surgeon around. She’s a ballbuster, but good at her job. She was telling us the piece that had done the most damage was about an inch wide, and sharp like a razor on the end that hit her. She’s lucky that none of the flying glass hit her in the eye.” “I’m sure she’s just glad to be alive. Did anyone mention the baby?” The nurse told her the OBGyn would be in later to examine her. “But they didn’t say anything about it? I mean, to even tell if the meds might hurt it?” “No.” The nurse came closer to her. “She’ll be lucky to keep the baby once she’s awake. I’ve seen what this sort of stress can do to a mother. Lach is going to be in a great deal of pain when she wakes up. Being with child, she won’t be able to take the good medication that will keep the pain at bay.

I feel sorry for her. And for the unborn child. This will be hard for her to handle on top of being hurt like this.” After the nurse left, Harris watched Lach breathing. Her thoughts were centered on a single thing right now, but executing them might cause more trouble than Lach might want. Harris didn’t want her to lose the child. Even if it weren’t hers, she thought that the pain of that would put her into a deep depression. She’d seen enough of that for several lifetimes and wanted to keep Lach from having that weight on her as well. Harris nodded at her thoughts and put out an all-call to her new family. I need Rodney and the other three unmated Marshalls to come to the hospital for me. I have a woman here that is going to be in a great deal of pain, and I don’t want her to suffer. There is also an unborn child that I’m thinking of. She told them what was going on with the baby, as well as her reasons for asking them to come here. Harris also warned them about her mother and sister’s troubles.

She might well be one of your mates. In fact, I’m hoping she is. You could make her life a great deal better than it is at the present time. Harris smiled when Grandpa spoke first. I’m coming too. If she ain’t one of these knuckleheads’ mate, I might can heal her myself. Poor things. To think that— Hey, is this the girl I was reading about in the paper here? Where she tried to kill off the owner’s daughter? Harris told him she was having that retracted. I don’t blame you. It sure didn’t paint her in a good light for all the things they were saying about her. I’ll be riding up with the others—no point in me sitting here waiting on someone to tell me what’s going on with her. I’m going to drive up. Anyone want to ride with me? The other three and Grandpa said they would ride up with Oakley. Just so you know, I’m not going to be happy if she is my mate. It’s not fair that you get to meet her before I do. What things could you be telling her, I wonder? She’s in a coma right now, medical. They want her to remain stable for as long as she can. Oakley said he was kidding. I know that. I just wanted to give you all a rundown on what we might be dealing with. I’ll keep you updated as I find out more about her. Oh, if you hear about someone being murdered, don’t worry about it. I might have saved you the trouble of meeting your in-laws. They were still laughing when she closed the connection. Harris was glad now that she’d contacted them.

If nothing else, they’d keep her entertained. Pulling out her computer again, she read the other reports that had come in with the first one. This was a family that needed to be beaten, Harris thought. ~*~ Frank made his way up to the fourth floor of the imposing hospital. It wasn’t as if he’d not been in a hospital before, but this one was much larger than he’d thought, even with different buildings attached to one another with complicated walkways and bridges. He finally made it to the correct floor twenty minutes after arriving. Frank made his way to the nurse’s station to ask where he needed to go. “Mr. Russell, my name is Harris Marshall with the FBI.” He took the younger woman’s hand while his mind pinged all over the place about what his ex-wife had done now. “They’re setting your daughter up in a room right now. My family is in there helping. I’ll take you to see your daughter in a moment. If you don’t mind, I have a few questions for you.” “Of course. But if you don’t mind me asking, what has Rebecca done now? Or is it Rita again?” Agent Marshall told him they were still looking into that. “They’re not the brightest tools in the shed if you want my opinion. Not only that, but they think they’re better than anyone. Not most, but anyone they come in contact with. How’s my daughter doing?” “Lach is doing as well as can be expected. She was burnt badly. But that’s nothing to what was done to her brain when a plate was thrown at her. They’re waiting to make any kind of prognosis until she’s in less pain. The medication she’s on is making sure she’s not hurting, but is also not harming the baby.”

“Baby? Lach is pregnant? No one told me— Well, I guess I never expected anyone to call me on that, but it would have been nice.” Agent Marshall told him what she knew. “That’s not true. When I was still living with them, Rita had gotten pregnant three times by the time she was seventeen. She carried one to term without any issues. That one was put up for adoption. I suppose there could have been problems starting after I left there, but I’m not aware of any issues she had.” “I’ve done some research on the family, and you’re right. There are no issues for Rita not to have been able to carry a child. Someone on my team thinks it’s because she doesn’t want to be pregnant.” Frank told the agent he didn’t believe that either. That Rita thrived on having all the attention focused on her. “Could it be that she is trying to hurt her sister in some way?” “I wouldn’t know. I do know Lach wasn’t anything like her sister or mother. I tried to have her come to live with me after the divorce, but Rebecca wouldn’t have it. I think, and this is just me, she thought she could turn her into a person like her and my other daughter. I never thought it would stick. Even as a child, Lach was more boy-like than any boy I knew at her age. And stubborn.” Frank thought about that.

“I guess things could have changed, as I said, but I don’t think it would have been easy on my wife or daughter. Lach is very stubborn.” He was talking with Harris, as he’d been asked to call her when a man came out of the room he thought his daughter was in. After kissing Harris on the mouth, the big man introduced himself to him as her husband. Good lord, he’d never seen a pair so perfectly matched before. Tall and muscled. It made him wish he’d used the gym membership he had more. Shep seemed like a good man. He had a dry wit and was so in love with his wife Frank could almost taste it. Other men came out of the room one at a time, all of them introducing themselves to him as a brother to the one before. Then an older man, who said he was their grandda, Sheppard, introduced himself to him.

This man he thought he could enjoy talking to. “My family here is trying to make sure nothing more happens to your little girl. Harris here, she’s told us what is going on, and who we should be looking out for. I don’t think there is much going on right now, but we got your back.” Frank thanked Sheppard. “You’re welcome. I do want to ask you something before much longer here. Do you believe in shifters? I mean, people having another self?” “My wife was a wolf,” Sheppard told him they were jaguars. “Jaguars are beautiful cats. I’m happy to meet all of you. You must have an enormous food bill to feed all these boys, as you call them. I’d hate to have to feed them all at one time.” “They’re good boys, Mr. Russell. The reason I said anything at all right now is that your little girl is the mate to one of my grandsons.” Frank wasn’t sure how to take that, so he said nothing. “My boys here, any one of them would save her from hurting so badly, as she’s gonna. But Harris here, she wanted them to come along and see if any of them were her mate before we doctored her up with a little of our blood.”

“You’re not going to help her now?” Sheppard told him they couldn’t, but Oakley could. “I don’t understand. How is he going to help her? And what does her being this man’s mate have to do with it?” “Cats are a jealous lot. Wolves too. Had any one of them tried to save her, Oakley would have killed them. He’d not want to, but it’s in his DNA to protect what he would consider his own.” Sheppard asked him if he was understanding. Frank told him to go on. “Oakley, he’s staying with her right now on account of you being here. He wants your permission, you see, to take care that she’s not hurt anymore.” The monitors went off down the hall. They were loud and scary. It occurred to him that they were saying that the room his daughter was in was the one the staff was rushing to. Standing up, he was asked to wait as all the staff gathered in the room. A tall, good looking man came out just as the door was closing. No one said anything for a long time. Then the man he assumed was Oakley came toward him with his hand out. After introductions were made, Frank found himself sizing the younger man up.

Whatever had happened in Lach’s room, it had affected the young man quite badly. “She was awake for about a minute before she said anything. As you can imagine, I was shocked to see her awake when they told us it would be a few more days before they started weaning her off the meds.” Sheppard asked him why the staff was in the room. “She told me to call them. That she thought she was losing the baby.” Frank sat down. He’d not seen his daughter in twenty years and knew he’d missed a great deal. But the child he remembered was now losing her child. It hurt him deeply that she was going through this. Especially, he thought, with so much going on right now in her life. “How about you and me, we go and get us some dinner, Frank?” He started to tell Sheppard no, that he wanted to stay close to see his daughter when Sheppard continued.

“You don’t want to go and see her like you’re looking right now. You’re hurting, I can see that. I am too, and I’ve not met her yet. But a good cup of tea or coffee with a piece of pie might do wonders for you. It’ll also give you time to figure out what to say to her when it’s time to talk.” “I suppose you might be right. I was wondering why the FBI was in on this. Seems like it would be a local thing.” As Sheppard explained it to him, Frank found himself not only going with Sheppard to the cafeteria but also ordering himself two pieces of pie and a cup of coffee. When he sat down with the other man, Harris and her husband joined them. He had a feeling he was going to learn a great deal about his other family. “All right, Frank. How do you want this? Rip the sucker right off, or do you want it in bits and pieces? I’m more of a rip it off sort of teller, but I’ll do what you need.” He said he wasn’t sure what he wanted, as he’d not been around for twenty years. “I’m here because a friend of mine called me in. Dutch Jasper, he’s not only a friend of mine but also your daughter. Do you remember him?” “Yes. I mean, I remember the name and a little about him. Dutch would come over when they were little and hang out with the family when his mom had to work late. My then-wife didn’t like him. I haven’t any idea why, but it didn’t stop him and Lach from being friends. He called you because she’d been hurt?”

Harris told him that was part of it. “Why then? I mean, if you can tell me.” “Have you seen the papers?” He said not since he left home last night. The paper was handed to him. After reading it, he looked at Harris. “None of that is true. Well, some of it is. Lach was burnt, but not how they describe it. We’re having a retraction put out tomorrow. Fact-checking is a biggy for me. Also, we’ve arrested Allison and her father, as well as a med student, for taking pictures and sending them to the father and daughter duo.” Harris told him of the other attempts of murder by Allison, as well as her father buying the victims off. His head was spinning when he thought of all the things going on surrounding this other family. Asking for a moment, Harris didn’t say anything more other than she was sorry. “Don’t be. I’m just thinking how very little I knew before coming here. So this, all this with my daughter being hurt, was over a fake order so Allison could have a steak dinner? What is this world coming to?” Harris said she asked the same question every day. “I bet you do. You more than likely see very little good come out of your job.” “I see the good when I have someone in jail for something. But this, it should never have been allowed to happen. Someone’s head is going to roll for this. Allison is a danger to people and has been for some time. I’m going to make sure justice is served for Lach.” Frank asked about the baby. “When I came down here, the staff was still in the room. Oakley went back in too. He’ll let me know when he knows anything.”

They told him what they knew, which wasn’t a small amount. Harris and her family not only knew what Rita had done to her sister to make her carry her unborn child but also how Rita was making sure she only paid half of what it was costing Lach to do this for her. “The contract I saw wasn’t signed by Lach. There is a signature in the line where she was supposed to sign, but your ex-wife signed it. Then she wrote that Lach wasn’t of sound mind. I find that hard to believe, but that’s what happened. Rita and her husband have been spending money like they’re drinking it, and they’re not planning to pay Lach for any of this. You’ll have to trust me on that one, Frank. I can’t tell you who told me that, but it’s straight from Rita’s mind.” Frank could believe that. Rebecca and Rita both hated when they were told no on something. “I can believe that too. The two of them are like two she-devils fighting over a tiny pea. I don’t think either of them are aware of what sort of shit is going to rain down on them now that I’ve had a look into their lives.” “Explain to me how it is you’re involved. You might say you came here for a friend to make sure my daughter wasn’t screwed, but I think it’s more than that. Something you’re not telling me.” Harris nodded. “Is it bad? Is it something I’m going to regret knowing?” “I doubt that last part. However, I am here for a friend. Once I got here, things changed a great deal, but that is why I came. So I could see that someone wasn’t getting shafted.” He said he still thought there was more. “There is. The fact that this girl tried to kill Lach pisses me off.

Then to find out she could have killed the mate to one of my brothers makes me want to see bloodshed.” “I have a feeling you’re good at making bloodshed anyway.” They all laughed, and Harris patted him on the back. “I want you to know this, Harris—I’m not going to piss you off in any way. I don’t want to be on the receiving end of your wrath.” “Smart man.” She pulled out a gun and laid it on the table. He didn’t think she was showing off but had put it there because, as she said, it was digging into her hip. For whatever reason, Frank didn’t think Harris had to show off. She was that good at what she did.

Fisher By Kathi S Barton Release Blitz&Giveaway

Piper James was at the funeral home doing the hardest thing she’d ever had to do—bury her mother. The last ten years had been difficult, with her dad’s illness then him ultimately dying, and then her mother being diagnosed with cancer. Her siblings, Mary and Louis, had been no help at all, financially or lending a hand with their care. Now that their mother was gone, those two were going to be a handful, Piper just knew it.
Fisher Prince, a rare black tiger shifter, had a gift. He was able to find people and things with little effort. When a judge called him and asked him to find Piper and keep her safe from her siblings, Fisher agreed to help him out, but he wasn’t expecting to find his mate in the process.
The bond between the two was nearly immediate, and when he gave her a ring gifted to him by Aurora, queen of the earth, neither were prepared for what happened next.
Mary and Louis were never going to stop pursuing Piper unless someone intervened. Would the Prince family be in time to stop the inevitable?

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Harper Wilson and all her siblings were relieved when they received the notice of their parents’ demise. No one deserved it more, and the only reason Harper agreed to go back to that little town in Ohio was to make sure they were truly dead.

Bryant Prince and his family were immortals and hadn’t aged since they’d reached the age of twenty-eight. He and his family had always lived next door to the Wilsons, but he never knew the Wilson children. The Wilsons had always kept to themselves, so no one had any idea what was going on in the little house of horrors. If they had, the Wilson parents would have been dead a long time ago.

There was nothing left of the Wilson house but one wall. The fire had taken the rest. The garage, however, was still intact, and this was where Harper wound up. Drawn in by dark, morbid memories from her childhood. Bryant watched her, knowing that he’d found his mate.

 

Allison Sheppard had come back to town to bury her siblings. Allie’s sister and two brothers had robbed the local bank. Samson Prince had killed two of them to protect the innocent people in the bank, her baby brother was sitting in a jail cell awaiting trial. Allie wanted to wash her hands of all of them.

It didn’t take Allie but a moment to realize that the entire town looked on her as a pariah, like she was responsible for what her siblings did. Not that she could blame them, but the silent accusations did hurt. The sooner she was finished with this mess, the better. She would leave this town and good riddance.

Samson only wanted to make the woman understand that they weren’t monsters, and he had no choice in the bank, but from the moment he was within two feet of her, her scent overwhelmed him. Allie was his mate, and this changed everything….

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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“Ms. James, I’m so sorry, but we’re going to have to proceed. Have you heard from your family?” Smiling at the funeral director, she told him she’d not. “What would you like us to do?” “Let’s start. I should have known they would not be on time.” Standing up to tell her mom goodbye once more, she turned to sit back down as Mr. Edwards was closing the casket. The noise from the back had her temper flare. “I told you to be here yesterday, Louis.” “We’re here now, so shut up. Is he closing the casket already?” Piper told her brother that the service was over. Her sister Mary came in, making enough noise to wake the dead. “She is having him close up Mom’s casket before we even arrived.” “Piper, why do you persist in pissing me off all the time? I don’t know why you were in charge of the arrangements anyway. As the oldest, I should have been the one to have done this.” Mary huffed all the way to the casket. “You didn’t have them dye her hair? Christ, she looks terrible.” “Because she was old and sick and died. I didn’t make the arrangements, Mom did. If you have a problem with it, then I suggest taking it up with her.” Piper smiled. “Oh, that’s right. You didn’t know her plans because when she called to tell you both what she’d done, you were too busy to speak to her.” Piper sat down with her niece and nephew while her brother and sister went to the casket. Mr. Edwards wasn’t at all happy with the two of them. Neither was she. But soon, the funeral would be over, and she’d not have to deal with them anymore. They weren’t bad people. It wasn’t as if they were terrible to her.

They were just indifferent to anyone or anything that didn’t involve them, always wanting people to cater to them—in everything. Today was no different. When they sat in the front row, she stayed where she was. She much preferred the company of their children than her brother and sister any day. The eulogy was up to her according to what her mom had requested. When she was asked to say something about her mom, Mary pushed her out of the way and stood by the podium. When she started speaking, telling the few of them how much her mother had meant to her, Piper just let her. Instead of paying attention to her, Piper thought of the last conversation she’d had with her mom. “You know they’re going to demand you sell the house for the estate, don’t you?” Mom had been in the hospital then, her last time there as it turned out. The cancer was taking her. “Don’t let them bully you, Piper. You’re not that shy child you were when your pop died.” “No, I’m not. But it’s doubtful they’ll ever see me as an adult no matter how old I am.” Mom laughed. “As for the house? Well, they’ll figure that out when the will is read, I suppose. I don’t have to explain anything to them. Nor do you.” “I’m ready to die, baby girl. I’m tired of fighting this war. But you gave me the best ten years an old woman like me could ask for. The camping trips. The vacations we took.

You surely made this as good as I could have ever hoped for.” Piper told her she’d had just as much fun. “You’re going to take off as soon as the will is read, aren’t you? Don’t sit around being a sad mushroom about me dying. I’ll surely come back to haunt you if you do.” “I made you a promise, and I will keep it.” Mom nodded and closed her eyes. Piper knew what it was costing her mom to speak to her. “Mom, I’m ready when you are. I don’t want you to die, but you sticking around here talking to me is costing you more than you have, I think. We’ve had all the fun we could, and now it’s time for you to go tell Pop what you’ve been up to with me.” Mom nodded but didn’t open her eyes. The monitor measuring her heartbeat was slowing. As per her mom’s request, nothing would be done to try and bring her back. Piper let her tears flow unheeded. Her mom was dying, and it hurt her own heart with every pause of her mom’s. “Piper? Did you hear me?” Piper looked at her brother, jerked from her thoughts about mom. “For the love of Christ. Are you on drugs again? This isn’t the time for you to be stoned out of—” “I’ve never taken so much as an aspirin. Why would you even say that to me?” Standing up, Piper straightened up her dress and made her way to the podium. “Mom asked me to read this today. When the doctor told us there wasn’t much time left, she wrote her own eulogy. Mom got sassy in her later years, so laugh if you wish. But don’t be offended, please.” Looking at her mom’s handwriting made her smile. She’d had the most beautiful script Piper had ever seen. Knowing she’d treasure this letter, Piper had made copies of it to read from today, and in case the others wanted a copy. Which Piper doubted. “If Piper is doing her job and not grieving over me, I’m fucking dead.”

She looked up when Louis asked her to not curse. “I’m going to read just what she wrote. Word for word. Deal with it.” She looked back at the writing, needing a moment until the tears dried up a little. “I’ve lived a great life. But now I’m going to be worm meat. I don’t care. I’m more excited for this phase of my life anyway. To get to see my only love and tell him of all the adventures I’ve had with Piper. In my final years, we did so much together. Things that would wear me out, but it was so well worth it. Every fucking minute.” “Wait just a minute. Wait right there. What does she mean, adventures with you? We had adventures.” Piper didn’t comment to her sister. Her mom knew they’d not let it go on how much time she and Piper had together. “We did lunch all the time when we were in town. Remember those times, Louis?” Peter, Mary’s son, cleared his throat and stood up. “What are you talking about? Didn’t you just say on the way here that you’d not been here in ten years? That you’d not even recognize Grandma or Piper if they were in a lineup? I think you said you’d not been here since Grandpop died.” Piper could have hugged Peter, Mary’s oldest. “Go on, Aunt Piper. Read her note to us and give us a good laugh.” “Thank you, Peter.” She looked down at the letter again. “Let me see. The camping trips made me laugh so much. Figuring it all out took ten years off my life. However, Piper’s driving put it right back on me.

I’m sorry we couldn’t do more towards the end there, but you of all people know why we couldn’t.” Mom talked about the camper being renovated and how much nicer it was to be able to make coffee and brush her teeth at the same time. The Christmases they had at the shelter. Piper looked up when she got to the part about the house being sold to her. “You took her house from me?” Folding up the letter and putting it away, Piper ignored her sister in favor of telling Mr. Edwards it was time to go. It didn’t matter really what the rest of the letter said. They’d only hear what they wanted anyway. “What did she mean, she sold the house to you? You know it’s going to be mine. I’m the oldest.” “You were notified of the sale nine years ago, Mary. Both you and Louis were. Not that I have to explain anything to you, but she sold it to me first, so I’d be able to use it as collateral to finish my education.” Mary asked her why she thought the house should have been hers. “I’ve spent the last fifteen years of my life, more than half of it, caring for first Pop, then Mom, while the two of you went on with whatever you wanted to do. Without one hour of help from you two. All your promises of coming here to give me some time of my own.

All the money you said you’d send, which again you never sent. She sold the house to me when it was obvious neither of you were going to come to help her. Then when it got to the point where neither of us could afford it, I sold it to use the money for other things.” “That’s not fair at all. We had lives. Families to care for. You don’t know how difficult it was for us to find servants to help us. And don’t get me started on nannies and the like. You just don’t know what it’s like, Piper. Mom should never have singled you out in that letter, either. She did that to be mean.” Piper moved past her brother to the front doors of the chapel. “Piper, this isn’t finished. You’re not going to rip us off now that my parents are both gone.” Piper made her way to the limo that had been hired to take her to the cemetery. She wasn’t surprised at all when Mary got in with her son, then Louis did the same with his daughter, Rachel. When it was obvious there wasn’t enough room, Peter and Rachel said they’d take the cars. That, of course, pissed Mary and Louis off, that she’d not made better arrangements. The graveside service was beautiful. She and Mom had picked out the marker that Mom would share with Pop when she’d been making the arrangements. It was a testimony of their love for each other, with a carved picture of them on their wedding day under their names. Mom had made sure it was also covered with the stickers of each camping spot they’d gone to, so she’d be able to remember them when she told Pop about them. Of course, Mary and Louis thought it was tacky and demanded they be removed. “You touch even one of them, and I’ll have you arrested, Louis. That is what Mom wanted, and that is what she gets.” He asked her when she’d gotten so touchy about things. “The day my mom passed away with her other children too busy to make their way to be with her.”

The service was quick. They were headed to their cars within minutes afterward. Piper had brought her car here yesterday so that she could leave when she wanted too. The limo was gone, with her sister and brother arguing about how they wanted to be alone when she sat on the ground to watch the deep hole being filled in. Piper told both her parents that she loved them and would think of them often. “I’m leaving tomorrow morning. Or tonight if Mary or Louis stick around too long.” Piper thought about talking about the letter Mom had written. She knew that Mom had known what the reactions would be. It was why she’d written it, after all. “Give Pop a hug for me. Pop, I love you so much. Take care of Mom.” The drive back to the funeral home was her time to grieve. Being strong for her mom had been difficult. But the ride gave her a much-needed outlet. She’d not get much of quiet time once she arrived to take care of the last few things at the funeral home. Getting out of the car, she made her way inside just in time to hear Louis arguing with Mr. Edwards. Putting her fingers in her mouth, she whistled loud and long. Everyone turned to her, and she smiled. “While I have an idea what this is about, you will not harass Mr. Edwards about it. He’s just the person who was nice enough to allow Mom and I to make payments on the billing until some money came in.” Louis asked her for the bill. “For what?”

“The bill to this second rate funeral. Mary and I are going to pay for it. As soon as we have the billing turned over to us.” Mr. Edwards moved away while she waited on Louis to continue. “We’ve decided to take the burden off you on this. This way, you can pay us back from the proceeds from when you sold the house. I don’t think you should have gotten a thing from the estate of either of them. It’s not like you paid rent or had any other bills while you were living the life of a freeloader with first Dad, then Mom. We’ve decided we’ll split the money five ways. You’ll get one fifth, and as we’re married and you’re not, it’s only fair that we get a portion for our spouses, as we have to support them as well. It’s the least we can do for you.” “Yes, I’m sure this is the least you can do. However, the house was sold too long ago for you to be coming back on me to get anything from it. There were bills that we had that had to be covered.” Louis asked her what she was talking about. “I sold the house and the contents several years ago when the bills were too much for Mom to handle after Pop died. You do know she had cancer, don’t you? I mean, that was what eventually killed her. Then, just before she died, the doctor explained that this was the end and that the hospital would be a good place for her to be comfortable. So that’s where she was when she passed.” “You had no right to do that. None at all.” She said that since she owned the house, she could do what she wanted. “We’ll just see about that.” When he walked away, Piper found Mr. Edwards. Apologizing to the man for her family, he smiled at her.

When he told her he’d not worry about it if she didn’t, Piper assured him that she wouldn’t. The two of them finished up the paperwork, then made arrangements for the flowers. They were going to be donated to the local nursing homes. There were quite a few of them from her clients, so it didn’t bother her that she was able to make the decision about them. Most had sent small arrangements and donated to the charity that Mom had helped when they’d been able to donate. “The donations were ample, Ms. James, well over ten thousand dollars. The children at the hospital will have nice things for their stay now.” Mom had wanted to have readers with games on them for the kids in the cancer ward. “I’ve made sure the attorney for the estate is aware of it.” “Thank you. Mom would have been incredibly pleased.” Signing off on the bill that had been paid over the years, Piper stood up to leave. “I’m not sure what happens next with my sister and brother, but don’t hesitate to call the police if they become too much of a nuisance to you.” “They don’t bother me. It’s you I worry about. You aren’t sticking around for the reading of the will, are you?” She told him she had what Mom had given her. “Well, child, you have—” The knock at the door had her turning toward it. The officer standing there seemed as confused as she felt. He told her he was sorry about this. Rocky and her had dated a couple of times before he’d found and married Janine.

“The man out there said you had stolen from him. He said you took his inheritance. Then that woman—please tell me she’s not really your sister—said the same thing.” She told him, sadly, that they were both related to her. “I’m sorry, Piper, I’m gonna have to take you in until in the morning. Judge Parkerson is having a look at all the paperwork you gave to Mr. Jackson. I guess you figured this would happen.” “I did. I had hoped it would be after I left town.” She put out her wrists to be cuffed, and he told her to just go with him. “They want the works, Rocky. Also, for me to be humiliated. You’d better cuff me up. Otherwise, they’ll say you didn’t do your job.” She was walked past her family. Peter was pissed at his dad, and his cousin Rachel walked away when she saw what was happening. Piper would bet there was going to be trouble tonight. Winking at Peter, she got in the back of the cruiser. ~*~ Judge Homer Parkerson looked at the paperwork, and his heart broke once again for Mrs. James and Piper. Up until Piper had gotten out of college, they’d been living in a very tight way. Little Piper had started working from home, and just like that, things started turning around. Then Mrs. James had been diagnosed with cancer. It was all over her body by the time they’d found it.

“Need some help?” Homer looked at his wife of forty-four years, Penny, who was sitting at the dining room table with him. “I’m assuming this has to do with that hullabaloo at the funeral home today.” “It does. The brother and sister of Piper had her arrested, telling the police she took their inheritance. What a crock of shit, pardon my language. But where were they when the two of them, one being their mother, had to decide whether to buy food or make a house payment? Why, if I had my way, I’d make a list of every bill Piper and her mother paid, including the funerals of both of their parents, and have them pay her back.”
“Why don’t you?” Homer asked her what she meant. “Add up all the cost the two of them had to pay, and then divide it by the three of them. I’m sure Piper could use the money. Even selling off their home didn’t pay off as much as they had hoped. Mary Margaret told me if it hadn’t been for Piper having a good job, they might well have been homeless.” They both worked most of the night. Homer was sure that had Piper not kept meticulous records all along, they’d never have gotten it figured out in time. As it was, he’d gone up to take a nap when Penny made copies of it.

There had been more red than black balances. Even with the total income from Piper’s job, they’d still end up in the red at the end of the month, mostly because of hospital stays and medication for Mary Margaret. Piper paid every bill incurred by her mom without any complaints. Nor had she ever left her mom to deal with things herself, as Louis and Mary had done. He was looking forward to this, perhaps a little more than he should have. But he’d liked Mary Margaret, and thought of Piper as one of his girls. He thought Piper would have been a better daughter than the three he had. Closing his eyes, working hard at making his body relax, Homer finally gave up and went to the kitchen. Penny was there waiting on him with scrambled eggs and bacon. Homer called the jail at six-thirty to tell them to have Piper at the courthouse at eight. He even told them to take her by her trailer so she could clean up and get fresh clothes on. Homer felt so good about what he was about to do that he said he’d spring for breakfast for the officer and Piper. Leaving word at the little hotel, the only working hotel in town, for the family to be at the courthouse at eight, Homer said to tell them if they were late, he’d find them in contempt and put their asses in jail. Mentally rubbing his hands together, he was as excited as he’d been in decades. Homer had everything ready to go at seven forty-five. Piper arrived at ten till the hour. Her family showed up at eight right on the dot. Homer made a point of looking at the clock when they started bickering about the time. “You’re the ones that had Piper arrested. When I’m involved in such a thing, you can bet I’m going to make things convenient for myself instead of the fools that waste my time.”

He banged his gavel on his dais and told them to sit down and shut up. “Now, do the two of you have an attorney?” “I wasn’t aware that we’d need one,” Homer asked them if they thought they knew what they were doing, suing their sister for the inheritance from their mom. “She took our mother’s home right out from under us. Then she told us she’d already sold it. We weren’t informed of any of that. Not to mention, she sold all the household items. Where does she get off doing something like that?’ Homer asked Piper if she’d notified them. “I did, Your Honor. If you have all my receipts, you’ll find where I sent them each a certified letter two weeks before I put it on the market. Also, three months prior to Mom signing the house over to me, I sent them another certified letter telling them not only why she’d done it, but also offering them the opportunity to purchase the house from her for us.”

“See? She just took it from us.” Homer pulled up the receipts he’d found in the file that held all the receipts. “I didn’t sign for anything from her either.” “According to the receipts here in my hand, you both signed the attached receipts. The courier not only wrote on here who had scrawled their names, but also what you were wearing when you did.” He looked at the two siblings. “Are you still going to tell me you didn’t get notified? It also says he has a recording of the two of you if there is still any question about you not receiving it. Shall I call the company and have them bring us over the video of you?” “That won’t be necessary.” Louis glared at his little sister. “This doesn’t negate the fact that she took our home from us. My sister Mary and I had plans for our two fifths each of that money.” Homer asked Piper why they were thinking they got two fifths. “Their thinking is that, as they’re married and I’m not, they should get a larger portion than I do.” Homer burst out laughing before he could stop himself. “I’m not entirely sure about their math myself, but that’s what I was told.” “I see.” He didn’t really, but looked at his notes and laughed a little while recalculating the totals to reflect their two-fifths. “Give me one moment here, if you please. I’m going to figure out how much things should have come to. Piper, did you also care for your dad when he fell ill? I believe you did. Didn’t you, child?” “Yes, sir. I was fourteen when he had a stroke. My sister and brother had already left home by then. I had to finish high school online, as I couldn’t leave them alone.

Dad was a handful on his best days. After the stroke, he was meaner than a rattlesnake.” The little bit of laughter was sad coming from Piper. “Your Honor, I only asked for help from them when Dad was sick. Mom wouldn’t allow me to bother them anymore when they didn’t help with Dad.” “She was already living there, Your Honor. It would have been a waste of our time and money to have a nursemaid come in our home when she was already there. Don’t you agree?” Homer told Mary he did not agree. “Well, it’s too late now. They’re both dead and gone, so it’s nothing we can worry about now. We just want our share of what she got.” “Oh, but there is something you can worry about, young lady. I’m going to give you a running total of where the money went from Piper working, the social security that your parents received, as well as the sale of the house.” He had his deputy hand the three of them what he and his wife had come up with last night. “Now, let me go over these numbers for the three of you.” Homer had all the income written on the first page he’d given them. At first look, it seemed that there should have been more than enough money for a small family to live on. Piper did make good money. There was also the addition of the sale of not just the home, but the sale of the family car and the furniture that had filled the home. The car that the two of them, Piper and Mary Margaret, had depended on was forty years old and ran like it. He was glad to know that at some point, Piper had purchased a truck and paid it off to pull the camper they’d been living in for the last several years. Homer put the old car in the assets column as valued at twenty-five dollars.

He was probably padding it too much, but in the end, it wouldn’t matter. “You see right here, Your Honor? She no more needed to sell the house than she did the furniture. She is going to owe us a great deal more than I thought.” Homer told Louis to hold his water. “Hey, I don’t mind at all now that I know she’s going to have to pay us more than we thought. This is so worth the extra night in the hotel for her bullshit. Hell, I won’t even charge her for what that cost us now.” Almost giddy now, Homer had the debt part given to them. Once they were looking at it, he started telling them the numbers he’d come up with. He’d made a call last night to find the going rate for full-time live-in care for someone. He knew that Piper would never have calculated that as something to charge her family for, but damn it, they’d started this. “Now, the way I see it, this young lady here is entitled to reimbursement for her time, as well as the nursemaid service she did for the two of you. And since you’ve decided you wish for two-fifths of the estate….” He laughed at their expressions. “The way I have it figured out, you—you and your spouses, I mean—owe Piper nearly a hundred thousand each. Now we can take care of that here, or I can put you in a cell until such time you can pay—” “What the hell are you talking about? I am not paying her shit.” Homer told Mary to watch her mouth. “You old fool. She’s supposed to be paying us, not the other way around. It’s her that stole our mother’s house and sold it.” “Yes, she sold it because there was no other choice but to do so. It was that or your mother wouldn’t have lived as long as she did. Part of that money paid for her to have the medicine to help her day to day. The money from the sale paid for her to have treatments when it was needed.

” He looked at Piper, realizing he’d hurt her in doing this. “I’m sorry it’s come to this, child. I truly am.” “I did the best I could under the circumstances. Mom and I had each other. I was able to be at her side when she took her last breath. We got to laugh and cry. If I had to do it all over again the same way, I’d do it. Simply because I was there when she needed me.” Homer hurt because Piper was sobbing now. “She was my world and I hers. We had to do what we needed and never let it take us apart.” “What would you like to do about the rest, honey?” She said that if the other two wanted to pay her, she’d not take it. It would be too little too late. Homer looked at the other two. “What do you have to say for yourself? I think you should be ashamed of yourself for the way you’ve treated your sister. “Nothing. She’s lucky she lives here in this little town, or we’d be the ones in the right.” Telling Rocky to get Piper out of here, he was happy that she hugged her niece and nephew before leaving. “So, she gets off scot-free, does she?” Homer dismissed the case and left the two idiots there to figure out their own crap. Once in his office, he sat down and shook his head. No one would believe what he’d just witnessed. He didn’t much either.

Ian McCray Bruin Release Blitz &Giveaway

 

 

Things hadn’t been going very well for Lucy and her two sisters. When their parents died, their uncle had moved in and took over. The girls, apparently, were too much trouble to worry about, so he’d dumped them onto the streets to fend for themselves.

It was just luck that Ian McCray and his family had found Lucy that day. Both Lucy and her sister, Jilly, were in bad need of medical attention. Ian was just thrilled to have found his mate alive. In their situation, it could have been much worse.

Lucy was thankful for the help, but she was just going from one man to another lording over her and dictating what she could and couldn’t do. It was marry Ian or lose her sisters for good. Ian was a nice man, but she was tired of everyone telling her what to do.

 

 

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Demi Morgan was good at keeping her identity hidden, so when an attorney found her at a restaurant she owned, she was more than a little angry. Very few people knew how to find her, and she took her privacy seriously. His news that her mother had passed, several months ago, did nothing for her. Her family had never wanted her, and in turn, she didn’t want them either. He knew her family, and he understood her feelings, but the will had to be read.

Reluctantly, Demi made her arrangements to travel back to her hometown in Ohio. Her intentions were to either decide to stay, or to sell the home her grandmother had left her. Living in the same town as her brother and sister didn’t appeal to her at all. When her brother, Nathan, cold-cocked her in the elevator, an unlikely savior came to her rescue, Madden McCray.

Demi wanted to hire Madden to be her bodyguard while she was in town. Madden said as much as he could use the money, he told her he already had a job, but his brother, Lucian could use the work.

Lucian wanted to meet Demi before he accepted the job, and when her scent hit him between the eyes, his bear rolled over him—she was his mate. But reality hit him like a freight train. She had money—a lot of money—and he and his family had always been dirt poor. He wanted his mate too—more than anything, but he’d have to get past his pride first….

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Meadow Springs had been locked away in a hospital for several years. At sixteen she was a victim and sole survivor of the mass murder of her family. The ordeal had left her semi-comatose for a long time. Since she was the only survivor and couldn’t talk, the police tried to pin the murders on her, but it didn’t stick.

Josiah McCray was there the day that Meadow was brought to their home to go into hiding. The beautiful blonde in the wheelchair was a shadow of the woman she should be. All Josiah saw was his mate, and he loved her no matter what.

The killer was still out there, and Meadow had his identity locked inside her mind and the killer knew it. Everyone previously in charge of her care was now dead. There was no way that was a coincidence.

Meadow was a loose end, the one that got away. There was no way the killer could let her live….

Melody Austin was afraid of nearly everything, but like it or not, she was a survivor. When she was seventeen, she had survived a harrowing attack that left her mentally and physically scarred. Now, ten years later, her brother, Daniel, repeatedly asked her to talk about the disturbing events, to tell him what happened so that he could understand, but she remained silent.  She knew he meant well, but telling him a bear was behind the attack at the school would get her locked up in a mental institution. No one would believe that story, and she couldn’t blame them.

Daniel had taken a job working for the McCrays. He made Mel promise that she’d join him in just a few days, but instead, Daniel received a call that his house was on fire, and Mel had been burned in the process. Daniel took Gannon with him to check on his sister.

Daniel had told Gannon that Mel was a bit skittish before they arrived on the scene. But the moment Gannon caught her scent; he knew she was his mate. He meant to reassure her by telling her that she was his mate and that everything would be all right, but the instant she heard that he was a bear shifter, she went wild, running back into the fire to get away from him.

When Gannon discovered that a bear was the cause of all her fears, he didn’t know how he could get past this. He couldn’t change what he was…. Was this doomed from the start?

 

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Ian waited in the lobby for Lucy to be brought back to the ER department. She’d been gone for about an hour when his dad had brought her sisters in, just to have them looked over too, he told him. Jilly sat across from him while Cybill glared at him from several seats away. It was his nature to laugh at someone disliking him. He thought, however, if he did that now, even the hospital wouldn’t be able to save him. They’d kill him that quickly. “What are you?” Ian asked Jilly what she meant. “You’re not human. I don’t think you are. So, tell me if I’m wrong or what you are. I don’t want to be waking up some time with you looming over me like some sort of monster. Not that we’re going to be staying with you or anyone else.” “First of all, take it down a notch. I’ve given you no reason whatsoever to be nasty to me. Also, I’m not going to loom over any of you. I’m a black bear. My entire family is.” She glared at him harder. “Look, why don’t you just say what you’re thinking and we’ll go on from there? We’ve done everything we said we would without once trying to loom or any of the other things going on in your mind.” “What’s going to happen to my sister and I when you force Lucy to come and be your slave?” Ian stood up and walked away from her. He wasn’t going to lose his temper with a kid. Not today. “Where the hell are you going? I’m speaking to you.” “No, you’re not. Speaking to me would mean you’re having a conversation with me. All you’ve done since you were brought here was snip and snap at me like I was the one that left you at the side of the road. I’d never do that.

Not even with the way you’re treating me right now.” His mom and dad came back from the cafeteria with a bag of things. When Mom gave the girls an apple apiece, he declined to have one. Mom asked him what was going on. “This one, Cybill, hasn’t spoken to me since she got here. But I think Jilly here is making up for it by being nasty and accusatory at me. Like I’d hurt any of them. Oh, and she’s accused me of planning to dump her someplace when I take their older sister as my slave.” “What a thing to say to my son.” Mom sat down by Jilly and asked Cybill to come closer. Of course, she just sat there. “When I tell you to come to me, you’ll do it. I’m going to be your grandma, and I do expect you to respect me as an elder. You don’t have to like me, but I’d like you to. Otherwise, you’re going to find yourself at the wrong end of my heart. Now, come here so I can tell you what is going on with your sister. And what I would like to see happen to the two of you.” Cybill came to sit next to his mom, and Dad sat with him across from them. Mom told them that Lucy had a bad sprain on her wrist, and they were going to set it with a cast. Cybill told Mom they didn’t have the money for that. Ian spoke up. “I spoke to the bursar’s office before you got here. All the bills are going to be sent to me. There won’t be many of them, since as a family we’ve donated a great deal of money to this hospital in order to have the best of the best here. Lucy is in good hands.” Jilly asked him where he lived. “About a twenty-minute drive from here.

Not too far. I’m thinking they more than likely will keep her overnight simply because she’ll need more in the way of pain medication than they can send her home with. I’d very much like it if you two were checked out. I know you said you didn’t want to be but think of this. If you have a cold or some other sort of illness, you might make your sister weaker. They’ll keep her longer if that happens. I’m not blackmailing you into anything, but I’m not too keen on either of you being sick either.” Cybill stood up, and so did Ian. She was so stiff it worried him. Was she hurt? Did something happen to the three of them to make them like this, other than being abandoned like they were? Ian wondered how soon his sisters would be able to track down the uncle. “I’d like to make sure we don’t have anything that would make Lucy sicker. She’s all we have.” Ian didn’t point out that they had him too. He was working hard at making them believe in him before he tried to convince them he was going to be there for them. “But I’m not going to allow you in the room with me.” “Of course, I won’t go into the room with you. Christ, kid, I’m not sure where your mind is all the time, but if you give me half a chance, you’re going to see that I’m nothing like whoever shit in your oatmeal.” Mom told him to behave. “Tell her that. I’ve done nothing to either of them, but try my best to show them I’m not the bad guy in this.” “Be that as it may, son. They’re terrified and untrusting. We have to work on one thing at a time here.” He nodded and went to the desk. Jilly came with him. Instead of asking her what she wanted, he asked the nurse if there was someone who could look the girls over to make sure nothing was hurting them. Ian turned to Jilly.

“I’d very much like for my mom to go back with the two of you. She can keep in contact with me through our link. Just in case the nurses or doctors ask you for something that you might not understand.” Jilly looked at her sister, then nodded to him. “Thank you for that. I know how hard it is for you to trust us. But I swear to you, we only have your best interests at heart.” “I don’t trust you,” Ian told her that was fine. Hopefully, she would someday. “What are your plans for us? Sending us away won’t get you in good with my sister.” “I don’t have any plans for you and your sister, other than wanting you safe and healthy. I want to take care that your uncle, wherever he is, knows he’s messed up badly by treating you the way he has. Also, and this is true for my entire family, I’d very much like for you not to jump to the wrong conclusions about everything we say to you.” Jilly’s cheeks brightened up a little, and she turned away from him. “Is there anything wrong with you, Jilly? I mean, are you hurt in any way that the doctors are going to find? I’d really like to know.” She turned to him then. While she looked at him with such intensity, he let her. Whatever she was thinking, he was sure it wouldn’t bode well for him to try and read her mind. He was determined to allow her to make this call on her own. “Three weeks ago, we were sleeping in a van. It wasn’t nearly as bad as the one we’ve been in lately, but that’s not saying much. It was all we could find at the time.”
He nodded. “There were no bathrooms, of course, so we had to go outside and do our business. Someone hit me from behind. I didn’t lose consciousness, but I did get hit hard enough to draw blood. I still have trouble seeing things clearly, and I seem to have a headache all the time.”

“Did you tell your sisters?” She shook her head gently. “All right. I’m going to go back with you to tell them what you’ve just told me. Also, I’d like to get my sisters-in-law involved. One of them is freaky scary magically powerful. However, she’d never harm either of you. She can find someone just by touching something. I don’t know if she can with a head wound or not, but it’s worth a try. Okay?” “Why are you really doing this? Lucy won’t care how much you say you’re going to keep us safe. The first time something happens, you’ll not find us.” He told her he would now. “Because of you being a bear? I don’t believe you.” “Believe me or not, Jilly, I’m a man of my word. If I tell you something I’ll do or have done for you, I’ll do it. I can find you because I have your scent. It won’t be as easy as it would be if I had a taste of your blood, but you don’t trust me enough for that. Not yet.” She said she doubted she ever would. “I’m sorry for that. I truly am.” The nurse came to get the two girls, and he went back with them to wait for the doctor to come in the little room they were in. He’d asked the doctor, a woman he’d known for a while, Hallie Jamison if the girls could be in the same area, as they’re still frightened of him. He knew her from helping set up some of the computers they now had. Hallie laughed. “You go on with you, Ian. I’ve got them here. They’ll not be bothered.” Ian told her what had happened to Jilly and how he was worried about her. “Head wound, huh? Well, you let me have a look-see at it, honey, and I’ll see what I can get going for you right away.” Hallie had a gentle touch, but he could tell it was still painful for Jilly.

Taking her hand into his, Ian held it tightly as Jilly tried her best not to cry. Cybill held her other hand. When Hallie stepped back, she looked at him. He could tell the news wasn’t going to be good. “She’s got herself a piece of something under the skin. I don’t know what it is right now. Not unless she can tell me what it was that hit her.” Jilly told them she didn’t know. There hadn’t been anyone around. “I’m thinking you did lose consciousness for a little bit, honey. Not long, but long enough for whoever hit you to hit you a second time there. I found two places where the skin was broken. Whoever it was, they left you to die.” “But she’ll be all right, won’t she? Whatever it takes for her to be better, you do it, Hallie. I don’t want anything to hurt them again.” Jilly looked at him when he spoke to the doctor. “Just tell me what you’re going to need to do to remove whatever is in her head.” “Nothing, Ian. You did good just getting this sort of information from her. She’ll be right as rain.” Hallie looked at Jilly. “I’m going to have them X-ray your head, honey. After we have a look at the films that come back, we’ll be in a better position to figure
out where we’ll go from here. In the meantime, I’m going to give you a little something to make you relax a little. Being tense is not helping your head, I’m betting.” As soon as she left to get whatever was going to be needed for Jilly, Ian asked Cybill the same thing he’d asked Jilly. She told him she was always being babied by the other two, and she was never alone. Ian thought while she resented it a little, Cybill was glad not to be hurting like her sister.

“I’m going to check on Lucy while you’re getting X-rays, all right?” Cybill said she didn’t want to leave her sister. “I don’t think they’ll allow you in the room when they do that. However, they’re going to bring her back to this area, and you and I will be here waiting for her. My mom will be, as well.” “I don’t want either of them hurting,” Ian told her he didn’t either. “What will happen to me if they have to stay here? I can’t go home with you. Not without my sisters.” “I know that. I never thought to make you leave them. I’ll make a few calls, and we’ll make sure if we can, that all three of you are in the same room. If not, then you can move back and forth between their rooms to make sure they’re all right. Would that be all right?” Cybill nodded, her big blue eyes dark with fear. “Good. Now, I’m going to reach out to my family with my link to them. You won’t know I’m talking to them, but I promise you I’ll tell you everything I find out, even about your uncle. I won’t keep things from you guys. Ever, if I can help it.” Ian reached out to Demi first, telling her what he knew about the girls. She told him she was looking into the uncle for them and was looking for someone that might have a copy of the original will. I don’t for a minute think anyone would have left their children in his care if what they’re saying is true. We have to assume this could be just a case of the girls not wanting to be around him. I’m not going to jump to conclusions. He told her that was a good idea. Meadow is here with me. She’s doing her thing too to find out what she can about the accident that killed their parents.

Also, you should be aware that Melody is clothing shopping. They’re going to need more than what they currently have even if they take off again. I don’t think they will, but with kids, you never know. Thank you for that. I would like for Meadow to figure out what happened to Jilly that gave her the wound she has. Demi said she’d have her look. Another thing—is there any way you can have someone go to my house and fill up the cabinets and fridge? I wasn’t expecting anyone, and now I have three mouths to feed. I’m thrilled to death about it, but I also don’t want them to think I’m planning to starve them. Closing the connection when Demi said she’d take care of it, he watched as a young aide took the bed out of the room to take Jilly to X-ray. Mom and Dad both joined them in the room while they waited. “Do you think she’ll die?” Mom told Cybill she didn’t think either of her sisters would die. “I don’t want them to. They’re all I have left as my family.” “You have all of us now, Cybill. I want you to know that right off.” Dad took the child’s hand into his much larger one. “Yes, ma’am, you’ve got all of us now, and we’re
not going to let anyone hurt you again. Nor will you ever have to sleep in some old van. Unless it’s a camping trip—then that’ll be fine. You ever camp?” Dad and Cybill spoke quietly while Mom peppered Ian with questions. Nothing he could answer for her, but it didn’t stop her from asking. Mom went with Cybill to get her checkup while he and his dad waited. They didn’t speak much. Ian was worried for his new family, and Dad seemed to be content with watching whatever was on the television while they waited. When Lucy was finished with her arm being set, he went to see her in the room right next door. Telling her everything that was going on, he could see she was in a great deal of pain. When the nurse came in to give her something more for it, Ian stayed with her.

She was asleep in a matter of minutes. ~*~ “I’ve removed the bullet without any trouble, but I still want to keep her for a couple more days just to make sure there is nothing more with the wounds. It’s a small wonder she was having trouble seeing and a massive headache.” Lucy didn’t have any idea who would have shot her sister. Fearful of whoever it was coming for her again had her reaching out and grabbing the closest thing to her. It just happened to be Ian’s warm hand. The doctor continued. “She’s quite the trooper, I have to say. Not only was she fantastic at following instructions on what I needed her to do while I removed the bullet, she asked me questions about the procedure while it was happening to her.” “You mean she was awake?” Her voice squeaked, but she didn’t care. They’d made her suffer through this without putting her out? “Isn’t that sort of cruel?” “Oh, no, Ms. Jackson. She didn’t feel anything until I was ready for her to. When working with the brain or the skull, we want patients to be able to tell us if there is a change in their vision or speech. This way, if something were to have changed for her, Jilly was still in the operating room, and we could fix it immediately. She didn’t have any trouble at all.

Jilly even told me while we were working that she could see a little better.” “I don’t understand.” Ian turned to her, asking her what it was she needed clarification on. “Who would have shot her? Why? We weren’t hurting anyone where we were. Why didn’t she tell me she’d been hurt? I’m supposed to be taking care of them.” When the doctor left them, Ian sat in the chair next to her bed. Lucy wasn’t sure what he was doing there, but it did occur to her that having him close was making her feel safer than she had at any time in the last year. “I’m having my sister-in-law look into the shooting. The police have allowed her to touch the bullet. I did tell you she has some kind of thing going on with her mind, didn’t I?” Lucy said he’d not explained that either. “All right. Do you remember the Spring murders? When the entire family was murdered except for one daughter?” “Yes. They thought for a long time that it was her that killed them all. Even the dog, I believe.” Ian told her that was it. “Are you telling me Meadow is that woman?” “I am. When she was cut up like she was, her body sort of woke up some kind of mental ability. She can do all sorts of things we’re still learning about. She was hoping that with her touching the bullet, she could backtrace the reason for it being shot at your sister and who might have done it.

” Lucy’s head was spinning, and Ian seemed to understand she was overwhelmed. “When she has information, she said she’d tell me or come by, and I’ll tell you without holding anything back. I’m going to be as honest and as straight up with you as I can. All right?” “Yes. Do you know why she told you she’d been shot and not me?” He nodded. “I don’t know why, but I have a feeling I’m not going to like the answer, am I?” “I don’t know if you will or not. But I do understand her motive for it. She thought you had enough on your plate, she told my dad, and she thought having a headache all the time was minor compared to what was going on in your lives. She would have told you, Jilly said, when you were safe, but it never seemed to be a good time to speak about it. Also, she had no idea she’d been shot. Jilly thought she’d been hit in the head with something.” “What about my other sister? What has Cybill been holding back from me?” Lucy hated the way she sounded as soon as she spoke. Ian had been nothing but nice to her, and here she was snipping and snapping at him. “I’m sorry. I’m trying to deal with this. I don’t know you or what you are going to want from me. What you’re going to do with my sisters, either. It’s too much, but I know I have to deal with it. Deal with you.” “Dealing with me is going to be easy. I don’t want anything from you or your sisters that you’re not willing to give. I’m going to care for the three of you. As for what I’m going to do with them? I don’t have any plans to do anything with them. I’ve provided them with rooms at our house. They have clothing now that my sisters-in-law got for them.

As soon as you’re up and around, we’ll take them to get more. It’s only fall now, so we’ll have to look for winter things too, I guess. I don’t know a great deal about teenage girls, to be honest with you. But I’m so very proud of you for keeping them safe and together.” “The doctor said we are all undernourished. I thought he was going to take them from me when he said that. But all he said was that with the cook you have at your house now, we’ll be fattened up soon enough. I don’t even know what that means.” Ian laughed, and she felt a smile pull at her mouth. “You have money, don’t you?” “I do. I also have a home, a great job, and insurance that you and the girls have been added to as of this afternoon. I don’t know a great deal about any of you, but I’m assuming you drive.” She nodded and told him she had a license, but it had been taken from her at her uncle’s. “They’ve found him, by the way. Demi isn’t going to contact him until she figures out a few things about him. I’m not sure what those are, but she said she’d have you some information soon.” “They’re very resourceful, aren’t they?” Ian laughed and told her that was an understatement. “What will they do with my uncle now that they know where he is? I mean, it’s not like my sisters and I have any recourse. I’ve been so worried he was going to come after us and ditch me in order to keep them around. I suppose he could. I’m an adult, and they’re not.” “I did mention that to the others. Mr. Shoe is an attorney for the family right now. Mostly Demi, but he’s looking into what can and can’t be done. You told me you didna know where the will was.

If you can tell me where your parents died, then we can go there and find their death certificates and work backward from there.” She told him everything she knew, which, after saying it aloud, she thought was a pitiful amount of information. “Once they know where to look, finding it will be easy. I mean, they would have filed it in order for it to be legal and binding.” “I have some questions for you. I know you’re telling me I’m your mate, but how do I know you’re not trying to scam me into your home and bed? For all I know, you could be a murderer or a rapist. I don’t want to go from the pot to the fire without knowing what I’m getting into.” He told her that was fair, then to ask him whatever she wanted. “I don’t know what to ask you. I don’t know you at all.” “Nor do I know you, Lucy. But I’m a college graduate of the local college. I have a computer science degree that is helping me while I learn what Demi and Meadow have me do. I can, and do most of the time, build computers for the elite. All the family is now the owner of a great many properties all over the world, and I keep the computers working so Demi’s cameraman, my brother, can install cameras and keep them as well as anything else in the homes up and running.” She asked him about his house. “Ah, there is a funny story to that. Demi and Meadow purchased the houses for all of us a while back. All I’ve done to it since moving in was throw a mattress on the floor and look for things to fill it a little at a time. It has nine bedrooms. Also, I’ve managed to find a couple of ponies I’m working with so they’re not afraid of me.

I’m not a rancher by any stretch of the imagination, but I’m having fun just hanging around the place when I’m not working.” “Nine bedrooms is a huge house.” He told her about the kitchen and how it was supposed to be a cook’s dream. “You don’t cook.” “No. I mean, I know how, but I don’t unless I’m too hungry to wait until I can hang out at my mom’s house for a meal.” He grinned at her. “When I first figured out the three of you would need a place to stay, I had my mom and sisters go and fill the place up with food. While I don’t have any idea what they purchased, I’m sure it’s going to be a good mixture of good for you things as well as fun food. My mom is a wonderful cook. I’m to understand that you love to bake.” “I do. I’m good at it too. Not tooting my own horn, but I used to have people come from everywhere to have some of the bread and cakes I make.” Ian had the most generous smile. When he smiled, it was like he was telling her he was as happy as he could be. “I don’t know what I’m supposed to do with you.” “With me? I don’t know either. As I said, I’m not going to rush you. I’ll take whatever you wish to give me. However, I plan to pamper you so much, you’ll wish to bash my head in.” This time she laughed. Laying her head back on the pillow, she watched as he explained to her what sort of pampering he was planning to do. When the door to her room opened, she was so happy to see Cybill that she had her climb into the bed with her, simply so she could make sure she was all right. Ian didn’t make fun of her, nor did he scold her sister for climbing over her and causing her pain. Lucy thought he would have for some reason.

“I’m going to go and check on Jilly if you two will be all right.” Lucy thanked him. “You can have anything you want to eat. Would you like me to pick you two up something and bring it to you? The sky’s the limit.” “I would love a hamburger. With everything.” Ian told Cybill he could get her that, then asked her about fries. “No, I don’t care for potatoes. But if they have onion rings, I’d really enjoy that. Are you sure you don’t mind getting it for me?” “I’m positive. I’m hoping we can be a family. But I’ll settle for good terms for now.” Lucy told him she’d like the same, but she liked fries. None of them liked soda, so he was going to bring them back bottled waters. “I’ll be back. If there is anything I find out about Jilly, I’ll let you know that too.” When he was gone, Cybill told her she liked the McCray family. “You’ve been getting to know them, I guess,” Cybill said mostly she’d been with Grandpa McCray, but Grandma was nice too. “You’re already calling them your grandparents? Cybill, do you think that’s a good idea? We shouldn’t get too attached to them right now. Don’t you think?” “I don’t think that at all. We’re warm and getting taken care of, Lucy. I’ve been checked out and given a vitamin D shot so I could be better. You’ve had your arm looked at and fixed. Jilly is getting taken care of, and tonight, when I go to bed, I’ll have a roof over my head, a bed to sleep in, and a bathroom all my own.” She asked her where she was staying. “I’ve been taken by the grandparents to Ian’s house. You’re going to love it, Lucy. It’s so beautiful, and I can’t wait to live there for the rest of my life.” Lucy was worried that something was going to happen to take all these plans away from them. A roof over their head was a good thing, but at what cost? When she thought of all the things that Ian or the rest of them could demand of them, Lucy had a feeling they’d not want anything in return. They were, she hoped, just what they looked like—a good family with no ulterior motive of any kind.

North By Kathi S Barton Release Blitz & Giveaway

Amy Hamilton never had much of a home life growing up. Her sister Phoenix and her mother demanded all the attention, so much so that she and her father didn’t have a relationship at all. Now that her father was filing for a divorce, he felt guilty for not being a part of her life and wanted to make up for it, but Amy wasn’t sure she was ready for that.

North Wilkerson had a similar upbringing. Although his mother was dead now, before her death, she was an awful person and an even worse mother. After having sworn off family ties to his parents, he was just now allowing his father back into his life.

Amy and Booker Wilkerson were close friends in college. Amy was only supposed to be in town for a few days, and when Booker called inviting her to dinner, she couldn’t pass up the opportunity to catch up on old times. When Booker’s cousin North and his uncle joined them for dinner, they all had a blast.

But when North just showed up at her father’s house and took over, Amy wasn’t sure what to think of him. What did he think he was doing? She barely knew him. Amy needed to nip this in the bud before it went much further. She was perfectly capable of taking care of herself. She didn’t need a man now, or would she ever need a man, any man….

 

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When Marsden Wilkerson received the phone call that his mother had been in a car accident, he wasn’t letting anything get in his way to get to her. Not a pushy boss, and especially not his Aunt Eita. Then his world crumbled when the doctors told him that his mother, Holly, didn’t make it.

Gabriella Farley, Abby, could hold her own, and she wasn’t about to take any flack from a rich bitch like Penelope Wilkerson. All the Wilkerson women, with the exception of Holly, could fit that description. Abby stood up for Mars at the funeral home even though she really didn’t know him. What she did know was his mother, Holly, was a fine woman, and the family had given them both the shaft Mars’s entire life.

Mars wanted to apologize for his Aunt’s actions, but there was something about Abby that sparked a flame in his heart. From the first kiss, they knew they had something special, but going against the Wilkerson family could be very dangerous. Will this new love be doomed from the start?

 

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North was ready to call it quits. Moving around the house he hadn’t liked even before he walked through the front door, he decided he’d just live in the condo for his entire lifetime. It was better than trying to decide what sort of house he was going to buy. “Sir, if you don’t mind me saying so, you’re going about this all wrong.” He cocked a brow at Libby, the woman showing him the home. “Don’t get me wrong. I’d love to sell you the biggest house on the market around here. But you’re not thinking of this as a house to warm up to a home. You’re looking for your home.” “There’s a difference?” Libby smiled and told him there was a huge difference. “All right. I’m game for it. Tell me what it is I need to do to get myself done for the day.” Her laughter made him smile. He was glad that Abby had told him about this particular realtor. She was much like Abby, though older, and seemed to have taken him under her wing in an odd sort of way. Smiling again, he did as she asked and went out to the front porch with her. “Close your eyes and think of this doorway you’ve just gone out of. Tell me what you remember.” He looked at her. “Trust me. It’s going to help you out with this. Tell me what you thought about when you first came up the steps to enter here.” “The door looks like it’s from some kind of institution. The windows on either side of it are not right for a house this large. They look cheap and out of step somehow for the wooden doors.” He looked at her. “I hate it. The door. It was the first thing I looked at, and it’s soured the rest of the house for me. I guess you’d say the first impression was off.” “All right. That’s good. Remember that the door and the windows can be changed by you. Now, what about the house? First impressions on it, and what you saw when you walked inside. You have to remember; the front of the house can be changed if you want to live here.”

He was liking this. North had no idea why, but it was helping him to see what his feelings were for the house rather than just hating it and not moving beyond that. They re-entered the house to the front entrance hall. “Now, the door is fixed. The glass on the side has been updated. What would you like to see in here that you didn’t before?” He didn’t close his eyes this time, but looked around, changing things as he went, such as the wallpaper in the room next to where he was. Then he changed the flooring. His mind skittered over the staircase twice before he came back to it. That was the issue. “The stairs are off-center. What I mean is, it looks like they’ve been put in as an afterthought. I suppose I could change them too, but then the room would look off balance because of the way everything is centered squarely around the staircase.” She told him they’d move on to the next house. “This really is helping me. Thank you so much.”

The next house was just as bad for him. As an attorney, he wanted balance in his home. North had never considered himself to be obsessive compulsive, but he did like things in straight lines where they were needed, and curves that would be well blended in the flow. Things just where they were supposed to be. He was ready to call it a day, perhaps a week when they pulled up in front of the next house. Christ, it called to him. North got out of the car and stood staring at the way the house looked with the backdrop of the sky behind it. “I saved this one for last because when you told me what you were looking for, that there should not be a long pretentious drive, I didn’t think it would be something you’d like.” Nodding at her, barely paying attention to what she was saying, he made his way to the front door. “This house had eleven bedrooms. Each of the bedrooms on this floor has a half bath inside. There is a shower/bathtub between each set of two bedrooms that would be shared. The master bedroom not only has its own bathroom, but it also has its own deck that has a two-person hot tub on it. Also, there is a place to bring firewood up to be used in this room.” “Are the turrets from the original build?” Libby told him that according to the paperwork, not only were the turrets built with the home, but there was extra shaped glass stored away in the basement of the utility building out back. “Several years ago, the entire house was sandblasted to remove all the paint from it. I have no idea why someone would have painted it, but it’s better now.” There was a turret at each corner of the massive building, both front and back. He loved the way each of the three floors had a window looking out over the lands. How the very top of each of them had ivy growing from the top down.

The way the house spread out from each of the sides showed him that someone had gone to a great deal of trouble to use a great many of the stones around the area. The walls between each window on the main floor were tall, stone, load-bearing walls. Going into the house, he decided that the front of the place just screamed at him to live here. Libby laughed when he handed her back what he thought was the specs on the house. “I’m sorry. Did I miss something? I’ve fallen in love with this house. I’m sure you know that without me telling you.” Libby told him she could see that he had. “I’m not very good at poker either. Tell me this place isn’t going to cost me more than the purchase price to have it brought up to this decade.” “The kitchen was redone just last year. The roofing gets a good power wash every other year. It’s made wholly of slate with a tin seal under it. There is a new furnace and air conditioner on each floor. The house, only about ten years old, is about as modern as one could be, I’ve been told. There are no carpets in the home. I believe the homeowners didn’t care for the way carpet had to be replaced every several years and opted to have area rugs put into the rooms. That way, they could change them out when the room needed to be redecorated.” He asked her why the house was being sold. “The previous owner designed the house himself. You’ll find large pieces of furniture in some of the rooms that cannot be removed without tearing out walls. As soon as the house was finished and set to be moved into, the man died.

Not here, I assure you, but when he was visiting his parents in another country. That’s all I know about that.” Nodding, she unlocked the door for him. Stepping in first, he turned to Libby and told her he wanted to buy it. The house seemed to wrap around him and make him feel like he’d just found the perfect house. Nodding, she handed him the paperwork. “I know you want it, but I’d like you to go through the house once. That way, if you get up on the third floor, you can change your mind.” He asked her if there was something wrong with the third floor. “Not that I’ve been made aware of. But the house has been sitting for eight years now, the first two in probate, without a single person wanting to go through it after seeing the front of it. Also, the drive to the house. The driveway is longer than some people want to travel, I guess.” North had started to leave Libby in the largest dining room he’d ever been in when he asked her if he could bring in someone to be objective. Nodding, Libby told him to do whatever he needed to make sure he was making a good choice. North decided if he ever needed any kind of land, he was going to ask for Libby. He was even going to recommend her to his cousins. Calling Mars to ask him if he could come by hooked him up with Abby. She said her mom was out shopping and she was bored. Asking him if she’d be good as a standin for Mars, he readily agreed.

Abby had become the go-to person, since Holly had been murdered, for just about everything they did. He couldn’t have been more happy than to have her in his corner, as well as the rest of his cousins. When she got there, he was in the kitchen. While he knew how to cook, due to Holly, Mars’s mom, taking the time to show all of them how to make a few dishes to survive on, Abby had been expanding his skills. “Holy shit, North. This is a fucking wonderful kitchen. You have to buy this for that alone.” Libby was laughing when she showed him the other features of the kitchen. Such as a large pantry for extra storage, a huge freezer, as well as a restaurant size refrigerator that would be good to hold food for parties. The three of them walked the rest of the house. There were rooms that had large furniture in them, but he found that he loved them as well. The master suite had a bed in it that was larger than a queen in both length and width. It was the gas fireplace in the room that made him as happy as he’d ever been about a home. “There are some things I am required by law to tell you. Nothing bad, but it does need to be disclosed. The bank has been trying to sell this home for several years now. Just recently, a company was set to purchase it, but there was a death in the family, and the deal was closed. In the back acreage of the lot is a family cemetery that—”“What was the name of the company that was set to buy this house?”

North wondered why Abby would care when Libby said she’d check. “Just wait a second, and I’ll tell you why I care. It’s important for all sorts of reasons.” “Abode Well.” It took North a few seconds to catch up with Abby when she started to dance around the room. “Did I miss something?” “Holly was going to buy it. If for no other reason than that, North, you must purchase this home.” Abby looked around, then back at him. He was going to buy it,
but knowing that Holly had approved in some way made it all the more special for him. “If you don’t buy it, I certainly will.” He turned to Libby and told her he’d buy the house. “Also, you mentioned when we pulled in that there was an empty lot next to this one. I’ll take that as well.” Libby said there was a rental on that property that was currently being rented. “Who are they?” “Mr. Oliver lives there. He used to teach here at the local school. He’s retired now, and his wife passed on a few years ago. Lately, he’s been late on his rent. That’s something else I was going to tell you that you might have to deal with him sometime soon.” North told her he’d deal with it later if that was all right. “It is. Once you purchase the house, all of that will no longer be a concern to anyone at the bank, nor my offices.” It took him nearly two hours to get to sign his name on the deed. With the help of Mars and his dad, he was able to get a very low-interest rate, as well as some extra from the equity from the house to fix the barn out back. It needed a new roof. North took out a loan, even though he had enough money to pay cash for the house. His dad told him that the loan would help him establish a line of credit, as well as help the town. Always, he’d been told by Dad, help the town more than he had ever done.

North, with his new outlook on life, told his dad he would do that. Anything to help the town, after all, it had muscled through when his mom and aunts had gone on a rampage recently that ended not just in the death of his mother, but in all the other women being in jail. The five of them had done enough harm to the town and the people living here, North was still surprised the townspeople were nice to him and his cousins. ~*~ Amy had been summoned home from college a couple of times since she’d made a hasty exit. This time, however, had been different. She not only had her own place, but she was also making her own money. Not sure where to enter the house, she opted for where she knew she’d be welcome. The timing couldn’t have been better, she thought. While in town, she was supposed to look at some paintings for a person by the name of Wilkerson to evaluate them. Then she’d be in charge of cleaning them, bringing them back to their natural state. It was a hobby she did when she wasn’t on a job taking pictures of animals. Going to the back door of the house had been her way to escape all the drama in the front rooms. As soon as she walked into the big warm kitchen, Amy felt the stress of the last few days roll over her. The big hug from Lulu and her husband Hank was just what she needed. Sitting down when they asked her to, a large plate of not just her favorite fruits were given to her, but scones warm from the oven as well. A cup of tea, her preferred flavor, was also there. Just like when she’d been living here, they never discussed the household, neither the people living in it nor her family. It was just the three of them enjoying a nice little break from whatever else was going on.

“I’ve been working out of the country since January. It’s been fun having a new job waiting for me every time I finish one. Did you get the pictures I sent you?” Lulu told her how she’d been putting them in a big album. “I’m going to have the ones that weren’t picked by the company I work for put into an album someday. They paid me for fifty pictures and ended up buying an additional fifty. I have no idea what they’re going to do with that many shots. I’ve made it so they have to get approval from me for whatever they want to use them in. That way, they’re not all over the Internet used as book covers. Not that I’d mind that, but I have to have some say over them.” “The one you took of the elephants playing in the water is my favorite of them all. And the monkeys throwing around leaves. They’re all wonderful.” She hugged Hank when he blushed brightly. “When are you leaving again? I’m sure someone is good as you isn’t going to be idle for very long.” “No. I have two more shots this year for the same magazine, then I’m taking a month off. I don’t have any idea what I’m going to do with so much free time, but I think I’ll manage it.” Lulu asked her if she enjoyed taking the water photos. “I did, as a matter of fact. The ones I was able to take of the polar bears was heartbreaking. They’re having a rough time of it.” She turned when her dad walked into the room. He glanced at her, then looked at Lulu. “I’m sorry. I didn’t know you had company.” Then he looked at her again. “Amy? Is that you? My goodness, you’re beautiful.” “Thanks, Dad.” Unsure if she was supposed to hug him, she waited for him to make the first move. When he just kissed her on the cheek, she didn’t let the disappointment hurt her too badly. “I had some extra time before I was to meet with you, then later the job I have. So I came to see what Lulu and Hank were up to.” “I can see that. Things have been very quiet around here.” She figured with Phoenix gone on her honeymoon, things would be considerably quieter. Amy didn’t ask about her or her mother but laughed when Dad asked for the same thing she was having— and was denied.

“Just this one time, Lulu. You know how I’ve been keeping close to my diet.” He was eventually given two cookies and half a scone. Again, Amy didn’t ask him what was going on. She’d learned the hard way that she wasn’t a true part of this family. Phoenix and Mom had been louder and stronger than her since she figured out she wasn’t welcome here. Amy was never sure what she’d done other than to be born that had pissed them off. But since she didn’t care much about parties and socially mandated appearances, she kept to herself and entertained herself when necessary. “I’ve been meaning to get in touch with you for some time now. I wasn’t even sure how to do that until I asked Hank. I’m glad you had them here for you, or I might not have been able to call you home.” She nodded at her dad, wondering what she was going to be forced to do for a “family function” again. “If you don’t mind, we can just talk in here.

I’ve been confiding in these two much more than I think they wanted.” “No, sir. I’m just glad you finally got that big head of yours out of your ass and saw what was going on right under your nose.” Amy laughed at Hank. He’d always been one to say what he thought. It had helped her be what she was too.

“Now, you go on and tell this little thing why you called her here. She’s a right to know.” “Have you always been this pushy? If so, why am I only just now noticing it?” Hank told him he had that ass thing going on. Dad laughed, then looked at her. “I’ve filed for divorce from your mom. It’ll be final in a few weeks. Phoenix isn’t married either.” Amy wished she’d not been taking a sip of tea when he said that. It burned her lip and her nose as it spewed from her mouth. As she coughed her way to breathing again, she watched the rest of them try and mop up the mess she’d made while pumping her on the back to help her breathe. When she was finally able to inhale again, she looked at her dad.

“Phoenix isn’t married? So Doug Schmidt is dead? I mean, that’s the only reason I can think of that would make it so Phoenix didn’t get her way. It would be death or— Oh no. She was caught with her panties down. Wasn’t she?” Dad just nodded with a huge smile on his face. “Did Doug leave her at the altar? I do hope someone took pictures of it. That will do me— I’m sorry, Dad. I truly am. After spending all that money on her day, it was all for nothing. I’m really sorry.” “Only you would think of me in this. Thank you for that. But if I’m honest with you, and I plan to be from now on, I’d tell you it was well worth it. But Doug and his dad, they’re thrilled so much that they paid me back in full for the wedding, as well as the tickets for the honeymoon. I’m not planning on telling your mother or sister. I’d like to let them think that I’m still out the money. It’ll be good for them, I think. I guess the Schmidts were more thrilled that the wedding of the century didn’t go on after finding out that not only was Phoenix a piece of trash, but she was an expensive piece too.” Dad laughed, but even to her, it sounded bitter. “Fran, your mom, she was in the pictures I had taken of them with several of the groomsmen.” “You knew what was going on.” Dad looked at Hank and Lulu. She did too. “You told him what was going on. Thank you for that. I don’t care for Phoenix or Mom, but it must have been hard on you to have gone to Dad with this information.” “I hired a man to take the pictures. It was easy. The only issue I ran into was finding a night to pick from. Since the invitations went out, there had been an orgy of sorts going on here nightly.” Hank handed her another scone, which she declined. “I didn’t want another family hurt by them. What it came down to was them or us. We’re too old to be cleaning up a room four times a day after the two of them had their friends over. Here, you’ve lost some weight you can ill afford, young lady. Eat.”

“I have lost some weight, but I’m not worried about putting it back on, thanks. At least while I’m here.” She winked at Lulu when she huffed at her. “I’m headed out again soon, so getting the weight on right now isn’t a priority. I need to be able to get in and out of places, and being the size of one of the elephants I’m working with won’t be a good thing.” “What do you do?” She looked at her dad. “I know so very little about you that I’m ashamed of myself. I don’t even remember the last time you and I had a conversation.

It’s totally my fault, I’m aware of that. But I just realized there is no relationship between the two of us.” “It is your fault, but it’s all water under the bridge now. I mean, it’s much too late for us to have you come to my art exhibits, or any of the other million and one things I was in while living here, with Phoenix and Mom always taking up your time.” Amy knew she’d hurt him, but it wasn’t in her to be lovey-dovey with him anymore. “I’m a photographer. I’ve been one since I graduated from college a few years ago. In the event you tell me you don’t remember paying for it, you didn’t. I paid my way—” “That’s enough, Amy. You’ve proven your point quite well, I think.” She looked at Hank when he spoke to her. “I know you’re hurt, but there is no reason whatsoever for your father to be made a target. You know it isn’t entirely his fault that you stayed away.” “What do you mean?” She just looked at the plate in front of her without answering her dad. “Amy? What’s Hank talking about? Tell me, please, why you stayed away for so long. I’m begging you.” “The missus and your other daughter made her life a living hell while here.” Lulu took her hand into hers as she continued. “If she wasn’t being ambushed and beaten by one or both of them while living here, it became a nightmare for Amy to even be in the same room with them. Several times I had to care for Amy when they poisoned her food. Food that I cooked, mind you. There were credit cards taken out in her name that she had to go to court over. Clothing of Amy’s was torn to shreds, shoes filled with unspeakable things.

Once there was a scorpion put in Amy’s bed. If not for her spending the night in the hospital that night, she would have been killed, I think.” “Why wasn’t I informed of any of this?” He looked at her, and Amy saw the exact moment he understood. “You did come to me, didn’t you? You tried several times to tell me what was going on, and I shoved you away.” Dad stood up, and so did she. When he hugged her, then left the room, she sat back down. Not saying a word to either of the two people that had practically raised her when her mom and dad didn’t, Amy got up and left the same way she’d come in. Once she was in her car, she drove out the front drive and onto the main street. Once there, with nowhere to go, she decided to take a little time for herself. Finding herself a hotel with a pool, Amy opted for two nights and pulled her luggage from the trunk, full of clothing that was going to need to be washed before she could wear any of it. But instead of doing any of those things, she laid out on the bed and cried. Cried until her heart felt like it would never mend. Waking when her phone rang, she didn’t bother picking it up to see who it was. Instead, she staggered to the bathroom and turned on the water to take a bath. It had been literally years since she’d been able to soak in a tub. The phone rang several more times while she lay there in the too-warm water. Amy tried to think of anything other than what was going on with her family for a while. Just as she was thinking there would be nothing to take her pain away, she remembered her good friend Booker Wilkerson. It only then occurred to her that he was more than likely related to whoever had asked for their paintings to be cleaned.

They’d been in a couple of classes together. Hitting it off as well as they did, they would go on shoots together during her assignments or when she was helping him study for this or that. Afterward, they’d go out to someplace fancy, always his treat as she was dead broke all the time, and then hang out at his place. Unable to recall even a short conversation with him, Amy did wonder how welcome a call from her would be. Finding his phone number proved to be a tad more difficult than she thought it should have been. But once she found it, calling him was easy. Getting a busy signal, Amy opted for not leaving a message. It was silly anyway, wanting to get in touch with someone from years ago. Putting her phone back on the nightstand, Amy pulled out her clothes to sort out. When her phone rang again, she saw the face of Booker. Wondering how much the man had changed over the years, she answered the phone with a smile. “Amy Hamilton, how the fuck are you?” Amy laughed and cried as she told him she’d just gotten to town. “I’m going to pick you up, take you to dinner, then we’ll go over all the shit that has happened since I spoke to you last. It’s been far too long if you ask me.” “For me as well. I’m only home for a couple of days. I’m thinking I’m here to assess your family pictures. I’m staying in a hotel.” After giving him the name of the place she was staying, he told her he was leaving now. He also told her that Mars, one of the cousins she never met, was the one with the paintings. “I’m going to talk to him soon, just not today. I spoke to my dad earlier today.

I don’t think I’m any more a family member than I was before. How is your family?” “Too much to tell you over the phone. I’ll be there in about ten minutes. I’ve missed you so much.” Amy said she’d missed him too. Very much so. “All right, dear. You wait for me in the lobby, and I’ll come in and get you. Remember what I’ve always told you, love.” “I remember. You told me that you are the only man in the world I needed. I don’t know how true that is anymore. Do you?” He said he didn’t know, but would be there soon. “I’ll be in the lobby. I can’t wait to see you.” When he came in the front doors of the hotel a few minutes later, Amy went to him, sobbing about how much she’d missed him. As they hugged, talking over one another, she knew she’d made a good decision in calling him. If nothing else, she knew she’d feel better just hanging out with him for a while.

Bancroft Kathi S Barton Release Blitz & Giveaway

 

Dalton’s Kiss Series

  1. Bancroft
  2. Stanley
  3. Donald
  4. Clyde
  5. Ramon
  6. Brian

Kelly Roman was good at her job. As a forensic anthropologist, she could help the dead and help the families find closure. The one thing she hated about her job was her boss, Shamus Van. That man was out to sabotage everything she did. And when he brought in the new chief of police, Bancroft Dalton, to make her look bad, that was the last straw. She’d quit before they had a chance to fire her.

When Bancroft showed up at her front door, he asked to be invited in, and when he told her he couldn’t lie to her, it set off all kinds of bells and whistles in Kelly’s suspicions. It wasn’t the fact that he was a vampire that bothered her, it was the part about him not being able to lie to her. She knew shifters couldn’t lie to their mates. There was no way in hell she was letting a man barge into her life and take over….

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Kelly played with the clay in her hand and thought about the work she still needed to do. The bust was coming along nicely, she supposed. But she had a feeling that the information she’d been given two days ago wasn’t correct. The skull, or what was left of it, wasn’t that of an older white woman at all, but that of a young child—a male. And he hadn’t been dead nearly as long as she’d been led to believe, the fifteen years that her boss had told her. She had also found other things that were wrong. “Well, Kelly, you’re not going to finish if you stand around staring at it while having a one-sided conversation. You know what you have to do. It’s start over or stare at this sucker until it fixes itself.” She made sure that she was at least reasonably alone before she tore everything off the partial skull to start over. She’d been talking to herself for years, and the dead didn’t mind it at all, she thought with a giggle. “Now, this is where it will start getting me sacked.” Kelly Roman worked as a forensic anthropologist, as well as working with the police in forensic clues in one of the most deadly cities in the nation. Always, someone that liked to be on top of things in the medical field, Kelly was a medical doctor, a coroner, as well as a registered police officer when she needed to wear that hat. Also, when they needed some specialized work, she would go to work with the FBI. And she hated it. Not what she did—Kelly loved working on the remains of the dead and solving their deaths, putting them together so their families could lay them to rest. It was her boss, Lord Shamus Van, that she disliked with a double side of passion. No one knew if he was a real lord or not. She personally didn’t think so, nor did she really care. She thought perhaps he’d been an overseer for someone when he was younger and the job had gone to his head. Shamus treated everyone like he was used to cracking the whip and people doing what he said. At two-thirty in the morning, just a little over six hours after she’d started over, she knew that she’d been correct. Not only was it a male, but he’d been younger than she’d first thought.

Only having the skull, and only part of that, made guessing harder if the information she’d been given was wrong in the first place. Instead of being ten to twelve, she was sure that his age was closer to five or six. Thinking of the other things that she’d been told, Kelly decided it was time that she stood up to stretch and look over those notes for a moment. She’d forget to do that at times and would stiffen up terribly if she sat for too long. “What are you doing here, Miss Roman?” Nearly screaming when his lordship spoke behind her, she dropped her glass of water and it went everywhere. “You were told there would be no overtime paid to you if you worked past midnight again. What are you doing here at this hour anyway? I want you out of here right this moment. And you’ll be here on time in the morning as well. Don’t think you can slack off on my—the work you’ve been assigned.”

Something about the way he kept looking around seemed like he was either thinking that they weren’t alone, or that she wasn’t. Or he was expecting someone and didn’t want her to know about the meeting—or whatever they were doing here. Instead of answering him, she asked him what he was doing there. “I mean, as far as I understand it, the overtime rule didn’t just apply to me. It applied to you as well. But now that I think about it, you rarely work forty hours a week as it is.” She glared at him. “That didn’t answer my question, by the way. What are you doing here?” “I come and go as I please, young lady. And I certainly do not answer to a second rate pathologist like you.” She watched as he looked at the clock that was behind him for the second time in as many minutes. “I want you to leave here this moment. I will not say it again.” “Good. I thought it was boring the first time you said it.” Kelly turned her back on him, shocked that she’d said that to him. “I’m working on that skull you had me working on this morning. Or I guess, yesterday morning. Nothing you told me was correct, by the way. What’s up with that mess?” Leaving him there, she decided that it felt pretty good to be able to say what she wanted. Not that she wanted to make a habit of talking back to someone. Kelly was exhausted yet happy, and that was what she was going to say if someone brought her to task about it. “I said for you to— What have you done? Why have you changed the specs on what you were given? Damn it. You’re going to ruin everything.” When he reached for the skull, she stepped in front of the table to block him from touching it. “You will tear up that monstrosity right now and do what you were told. This minute. You are going to regret this.

I’m telling you right now that—” “Is there something going on here? Something that I need to be aware of? Shamus, you asked me to come here at this ungodly hour. What did you want?” She didn’t know the voice, nor the man when she peeked at him around Shamus. “Shamus, leave that young woman alone and answer me.” “Well, I was hoping to do this without her here, but since she has broken the rules—again, I might add—then this will be as good a time as ever. This is Miss Kelly Roman, the bane of my existence. I wanted you to see the work she’s been doing.” Shamus put his hands on her shoulders as if to move her. “Just let me show you what she’s been doing. Oh my, Kelly, what are you doing with my bust?” “What? Your bust? I’ve been working on this all evening. We just had a conversation about it not ten seconds ago. Did you hit your head again when you fell? You’re forever falling on the floor in those ridiculous shoes you wear.” He didn’t have to move her—she turned herself to see what he’d been talking about. “This is my head. You’ve only just arrived here, as I said.” “No. No, you don’t have that right at all. I’ve been here all night. You just came and told me that you were taking my work.” Shamus looked at the stranger. “I was working on this head when she came in here yelling at me to give her the head. I was bent over it working to make sure that we had the correct head. I wanted you to see the notes that she has. They’re nothing like the ones we were given at the meeting, sir.”

Kelly knew she was going to be in deep trouble here. What bothered her most was the way that the stranger was watching her, like she was something he’d caught in a trap. Turning back to Shamus, she tried to salvage her job. “What meeting? I didn’t write those notes. You handed them to me at nine o’clock this morning and told me that what the chief of police was saying the skull was supposed to be was written there. It’s not right, as I’m sure anyone above second rate can see.” Kelly looked at the man again and dawning became clear. “You’re the new chief of police, I’m assuming. You’re here to look at…I’m assuming he told you that I wasn’t playing ball with the new department head, and brought you in here to see the original skull that I’d been working on. The one that wasn’t right from the start.” “Mr. Van was at the meeting this morning when I called everyone in to tell them about the case that was sitting on my desk for six months before I was hired.” He looked her up and down before continuing. “Mr. Van told me that you were out the night before with your boyfriend, and refused to get up and come into a mandatory meeting. Is that correct?” She looked at Shamus, then at her bust. As much as she hated to admit it, she was finished. Not because he told her that she was fired, but because she didn’t have it in her to try and salvage her job every day she had to work here. Not only that, but she just couldn’t bring herself to defend herself to a stranger who was looking at her like he was. Shamus was forever putting her on the spot about this or that.

Whatever was said by her now would only make her look worse than the picture that Shamus had painted of her. It was a clear case of the boss said this and his employee didn’t say what he wanted to hear. Nodding once, she picked up her bust and crushed it against the table. It was her work, and she wasn’t going to leave it behind to be used by either of these pricks. Going out the door, making sure that she knocked against the table enough that the bust fell to the floor, she left the room. There was cursing and laughter, but she didn’t turn to see who was doing what. Kelly was just too pissed off to care anymore. Gathering up her things, she emptied her locker—there wasn’t much in it anyway—then grabbed her jacket and went to the timeclock. It was hard to see through her tears, but she refused to let them fall where anyone here could see them. Clocking out, no one tried to stop her. When she was checked for anything she shouldn’t be taking with her at the front door, she handed her badge to Joe, the security officer on duty. “Kelly? What’s going on?” Shaking her head, she told Joe, the nicest security guard she’d worked within the eight years she’d been here, that she’d had enough. “This have anything to do with his lordship?” “I have to go now. All right? I’ll come over later, when I can, and tell you about what happened.” He nodded at her this time and she left. Kelly was nearly to her car when her cell phone started ringing. Taking it out of her pocket, she turned it off and took it back to Joe, as it was a company phone. He handed her a receipt not only for the phone but also the lock that she’d turned in and her badge.

It would be just like his lordship to sue her for not turning her crap in. Both of them, she and Joe, knew it. She was halfway home when her personal cell phone rang. Turning it off—she was too distraught to talk to anyone at the moment—Kelly made her way home. Pulling into the drive to the apartment complex she was living in, she had a moment of fear. Two cruisers with their lights on were near her front door. Then she realized they were there for the couple that lived next door to her in the apartment she rented. Domestic call, one of the officers told her when she asked if she could go into her home. Giving her permission, he asked her to look in her front room for any kind of bullet holes, as the couple had been trying to kill one another. After checking and finding nothing, she told him and then locked herself into her place. The tears were coming almost as soon as the lock engaged. Kelly was good at what she did. She’d been doing sculpting for the police force for several years before she started working with the bureau. She wasn’t employed by the Feds, but she did do work for them when they had bones that they couldn’t identify. The extra money was good, and she had banked every penny of it for her first house. Shamus had hated that she did theirs over the work that he wanted her to do. Actually, Shamus hated everything that she did. Tonight had been the last straw. It was him or her, and she knew enough to know that she’d never be able to work with someone like him again. Changing into her soft jammies, she sat on the couch and turned on the television. If there had been a murder going on in front of her, she wouldn’t have noticed. Her mind kept going back to the skull she’d been working on, as well as Shamus trying to take credit for her work.

When someone knocked on her door, she thought about ignoring it but got up when the pounding became harder. Pulling the door open, she glared at the person standing there. “What the heck do you want? I think I’ve had enough crapola happen to me for one day, how about you?” The man, the chief of police, asked if he could come in. She moved back from the door. Kelly waved her hand to show him he could enter, but he just stared at her. “You have to invite me in, Kelly.” It took her a full minute to figure out what he was saying to her. “Yes, I’m a vampire. And if you’d allow me to come in, I’ll explain things to you. I also want to talk to you about Shamus Van. I have some questions about his work ethic, as well as some of the things that he—” “No.” He cocked a brow at her. “No, that’s what I said. No. I’m not inviting you in so that you can do whatever you want in here. I’d like to think that I’m strong enough to fight you off, but we both know that since you’re more than likely older than my parents, you have shit going on that I can’t even understand right now. What do you want?” “I came to see you about the remains that had been found. I swear to you, that’s all I need for the moment.” She just stood there, tapping her foot. “All right—that’s the truth. I can’t lie to you anyway, but I did go there to see what you’d come up with on it. I had no idea that Shamus had sabotaged your working there. But in the three weeks, I’ve been working as chief, I’ve heard more about your bad work habits than I have about all the other men that are working for me.

He’s a little bastard if you ask me.” “I didn’t. But that’s not a bad description of him. Why did you allow him to go on telling you that he’d done my work? Or for that matter, why did you have to go there with him? He hates me, you know.” The chief, she thought his name was Bancroft Dalton, told her that Shamus did hate her. “Well, that was harsh. Couldn’t you have just said you didn’t know? Not that it matters. I’m not going to work for him or you anymore. I have had enough of being treated as a— What did you just say to me?” “Which time?” She glared at him. “Well, we have had quite an extensive conversation while I’m standing out here where people can see me. Perhaps you could narrow it down just a little.” “You said that you can’t lie to me.” He said that he couldn’t. “I don’t know that many vampires—just two of them—but I do know a great many shifters. When they say crapola like that it means that they’re mated or something. Please tell me that isn’t what it means to you as a vamp.” “I’m afraid it does.” She slammed the door in his face, and she heard him laughing. That ticked her off enough that she opened the door again to yell at him. Mrs. Miller, the woman across the hall from her, was speaking to Bancroft. “Yes, ma’am. We’ve had a little spat, and I’m trying my best to make it up to her. She’s very stubborn.” “A woman needs to be stubborn nowadays. If they’re not, then men will think they’re nothing more than the rug under their stinky feet. You should have come on your knees with flowers, young man. It never hurts to be bringing her pretties, even when you’ve not screwed up enough to have you on the other side of the door.” Mrs. Miller looked at her. “You’re home late, honey.

You might want to let this man in to keep you safe. There are all kinds of monsters out there that can hurt you.” “I would never hurt her.” Mrs. Miller told him to see that he didn’t. “Yes, ma’am. I wouldn’t hurt her for any reason. I just want to speak to her for a little while here. She’s stubborn, as I said.” “Get in here, you fool.” He stepped over the threshold, and Kelly had the wind knocked out of her when his magic or whatever hit her. “You did something. What did you do? I’m telling you right now, I’m not going to be putting up with any shenanigans. I have enough crapola going on in my life without you interfering.” “Shenanigans? Crapola? How old are you?” He laughed, then sat down where she’d been on the couch. “Since I’m assuming you don’t want to talk about us, then I’m going to talk to you about the skull you were working on. You were told that it wasn’t a small child, I’m assuming.” “He said that it was that of a small adult female. When I started on it, having that in mind, it wouldn’t work at all. And there is never going to be an us, you idiot. I don’t want anyone in my life that is going to be there at the end of the day to tell me what a lousy job I’m doing.” He asked her who had done that to her. “No one that you’d know. I’m not going to work for Shamus anyway. The Feds have offered me a full-time position, and I’m going to take it. I’ll have my own office.

I’ll work only on cases for them, and I’ll not have to put up with Shamus.” “I don’t want to burst your bubble or anything, Kelly, but there are Shamuses everywhere you look.” She knew that but didn’t bother answering him. “I would like for you to come back and work for the city in this case. If at the end of the case, you still don’t want to work for us, then I will give you a glowing recommendation and help you move to whatever station they put you in. However, you have to keep in mind that as of the moment we met, where you go, I go. I won’t keep you from your work, but I can’t live without you now that I’ve found you.” Kelly sat down on the chair and thought about what he was saying. She needed a job. While she had been offered the job at the federal level, she wasn’t sure she wanted to take that either. It would mean a move, one that she would have to make if she wanted the job. There were just too many things that were depending on her being local. The most important thing was the little house she’d been dreaming of since she’d been about ten. “I’ll work on the remains, but if Shamus so much as breathes in my direction, I’ll walk out, and you’ll never find me. I know enough to know that since you’ve not touched me, finding me would be difficult. I’m not saying impossible, but it wouldn’t be easy. And I won’t be. Easy, I mean. I don’t want this at all.” He told her that he understood.

“When I tell you to back the heck off, you’d better do it too.” “I will. I won’t rush you.” He stood up when she did. “I need this done as soon as you can get to it. There are a great many people that need to know if it’s their child or not. I have made sure that you have everything you need, including the correct paperwork. Please, could you come back with me today and work on it? Shamus Van is no longer working for the city.” ~*~ Bancroft looked over the paperwork in front of him without seeing it. She was only a few floors below him, and he wasn’t allowed to go and talk to her. Not even to see if she had everything she needed. Kelly had told him, in no uncertain terms, that she didn’t want him breathing on her. Bancroft thought that she was the most beautiful, refreshing woman he’d ever met. “Sir? You asked me to tell you when Dr. Roman needed something. She’s asking for the key. Since I don’t know what that might mean in her department, I thought you might know.” He didn’t but got up to go see what sort of key hadn’t been turned in by Van. “Something about supplies. I know that she’d need them, but as for what it might be, I’m clueless. Did you know that she can carry a gun, but won’t?” “No, I didn’t. Why would—? Did you say that she was Doctor Roman?” He said that it was on her new name badge. Bancroft made a mental note to find her file and look it over. “I had no idea. I need to get to know all the people that work for me a little better. Do you have a good idea about the men and women here?” “Yes, sir. I’ve been the mailman here for nearly twelve years. I know them all.” They were in the elevator when he turned to him. “My name is Roger Dodger. I know what you’re going to ask—did my parents hate me or something?

I believe that they might have. Everyone just calls me Dodge.” “I’d like for you to work with me for a while. Perhaps forever. I need someone that can keep track of me. Do you think you can do that? You’ll be working with me at my home. As I said, I need someone that can keep track of me and my day.” Dodge’s chest looked as if it expanded three times as he started nodding. “Good. I’d like that. I’ll find you an office someplace where I live, and we can work on your duties while we get acquainted. Ask for Jamison when you get there, and he’ll introduce you to the staff. It’s important that you get to know all of them as well. All right?” “An office too? My goodness.” The elevator opened. Bancroft heard the cursing, at least Kelly’s version of it before Dodge did, and while Dodge was afraid, Bancroft thought it funny. Whatever had happened since he left her, she wasn’t the least bit shy about venting about it. “Doc, I asked, and he said he didn’t know. He’s come down to help you.” “He took the key. Not only that, but he must have changed out the frigging lock so that I couldn’t get to the items that I need. I hate that man.” She glared at Bancroft. “I thought I told you to go away. You’re a pain in the bottom.” “I would love to hear where you’ve picked up the colorful way you were cursing before I got here. What’s in there that you need? I’m not saying that you don’t need it, but I have a way of getting into the room when no one else can.” She said she needed calipers, as well as depth markers. “I’m not sure what the second one is, but I can get in there without a key.”

He looked at Dodge. “I would appreciate it if you said nothing about what you’re about to see or hear. I’m a very old vampire.” “I knew that already, sir.” When Bancroft only shook his head, he disappeared from the room they were in into the locker room. Kelly wasn’t going to be any happier about the state of the room than she was about being locked out, he was afraid. Turning the lock, he stood in front of the doorway before she could enter. As soon as she looked around him, he could tell that not only was she royally pissed off, but hurt too. He could only stand there and watch her as she dealt with the emotions on her own. Bancroft had promised not to touch her until she was ready. “Do you have any idea how long I’ve been gathering these things up so that we’d have a good working station? Years of hitting garage sales and auctions. Now, look at it. It’s all but ruined. Why would he do this?” She started picking things up and putting salvageable things into the boxes that were there. He asked her if he could help. “I need all the glasses put into a box if you don’t mind. I guess it doesn’t matter if the lenses are in them. But I do need the glasses.” As he picked them up, tossing out the lenses on the ones that were shattered, Dodge started separating the depth markers, or landmarks, she’d called them—little dots of dowel that would not just measure the thickness of the skin, but also keep it all evened out. He was a little disconcerted when he noticed that there were hundreds of eyeballs looking at him from all over the room when he finished with the glasses.

It took them nearly two hours to get the place back in shape. There had been a great deal of destruction of the equipment. He made himself a mental note to figure out the cost of each thing and charge Van for it. Bancroft was also going to make sure that Kelly had a cash allowance to spend on things that she picked up where she could. She was more than likely saving the city a great deal of money by picking up things like glasses and wigs that didn’t come from a wholesaler. He had security look for the key to the room, and it wasn’t found, so he called someone in to fix that. Calling a locksmith to have the locks changed seemed to cheer Kelly up. When he walked into the room where he’d first met her, he couldn’t believe the skull work that she’d gotten done already. “It would have been a great deal better had I had all the skull, as well as more bones,” Bancroft said that he had them. “Van told me that the police had only found the partial skull. Why wasn’t—? Never mind. I can answer that one on my own. He didn’t want me to have them. May I have them please?” She was upset again, and he didn’t know what to do to comfort her. His beast wanted to find Van and tear him up. But that would only piss her off more, he thought. Bancroft went to the storage room and picked up the box of bones. He did have a moment of fear that Van had gotten to them as well, but they were still in the evidence bag that had been in his office up until yesterday morning. “I’m going to reconstruct the body, then I can have a better idea of what I’m working with. Did anyone try and do any kind of DNA off the bones?” He pulled out the paperwork that had been with the evidence bags and handed it to her. “Seven months ago?

And you’ve not heard back from them? What the heck, Chief Dalton. Are you slacking on your job as well?” He nearly laughed again, thinking that she was so adorable, but thought better of it. She was in a mood. While he didn’t know all her moods yet, he was sure that laughing at her might get him hurt. “I’ve only been here for three weeks. I did mention that, didn’t I?” She growled at him, and he let go of a burst of laughter. “How about I go and call someone to find out what is going on with the results? That will give you plenty of time to work on that growl you have. You need to have it come from the belly. That way, it doesn’t sound so wimpy.” He left before she built up the nice head of steam that he could see coming. Christ, she was beautiful. The fact that she didn’t hold back in speaking to him made him feel like he could spend the day pissing her off just to be delighted by her reactions. Bancroft had a feeling that mate or not, she’d murder him in his sleep, so he would hold back on that fun for a while. Bancroft had to call three different places before he was able to run down the tests that he wanted. The first company hung up on him, telling him that they’d never work for the city again so long as Shamus Van was there. He didn’t get a chance to tell them that he didn’t work there anymore, but he did make himself a note to email them, as well as pay the overdue balance that the city had with them.

The second testing office that he called had been out of business for a year. If he was going to make this work, he was going to have to update the phone numbers that were in the old fashioned Rolodex that was on his desk. By the time he got the right place, several hours had passed, and he was exhausted. Going to the sublevels again, it occurred to him that he could have called Kelly to let her know, but he was glad that he hadn’t when he found her. She’d fallen asleep at the messiest desk he’d ever seen and was snoring slightly. Turning around when Dodge said his name softly, he was astonished at how much work she’d gotten done while he’d been gone. The bones were laid out to form a body. He could see that she’d even marked a couple of places where bones were missing as to what they were. Walking around the table that she’d used, Bancroft could see things that he’d bet no other human could have. This wasn’t just a case of a missing child, as he’d been told. This was murder.