Harrison Parker had no family and no ties. She was invisible to be traced. Her job with the government was top secret. So secret that she only reported to two people. Now, she was the target and she had to figure out who wanted her dead. Hurt, and laying low, she reached out to the only man she trusted, an old man she had befriended in the cemetery, Sheppard Marshall.
Sheppard Marshall had been grieving the loss of his Millie for the last fifteen years. He would sit by her grave every day. He was an old man of ninety, and he looked forward to the visits he received from the sassy woman, Harrison Parker. Over time he had grown very fond of her, and when he received the message that she needed his help, Sheppard would help her or die trying.
His grandson, Sheppard or Shep, wasn’t letting the old man go alone. If he got hurt, Shep wouldn’t be able to live with himself. Even though the Marshall men were jaguars, that didn’t mean the old man couldn’t get into a situation that got him hurt or possibly killed.
The bullet had gone clear through, but the poison it had been laced with left Harrison with a high fever and near death. Shep didn’t know what this woman was into, but he knew two things—she was dangerous, and she was his mate. What kind of mess had the old man gotten him into now?
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Sheppard Marshall, with hat in hand, made his way to the front of the church. His ma, dead these three days, was awaiting her place in her Garden of Eden that she had talked about all the time. He hadn’t been home as much as he should have, all because of work. Shep figured he’d held up the pallbearers enough, so decided to get on with it. Kneeling down, he put large rough hands on the smooth oak casket. The beautiful spray of roses was lain over her like one of the quilts that she made every year. He knew that in the last few of them, she’d barely been able to walk to the table, much less sit at her quilter. Wiping at the tears that he’d shed more in the last three days than he had in his life, he started to speak to her as if she were sitting in her little rocker snapping beans for supper. “Ma, I’m surely sorry I didn’t make it like I thought I could. I talked to the other boys. They said you were in a car accident. I’m so sorry that I couldn’t be here for you.” There was plenty for Sheppard to be sorry for, he thought. A longer list than he thought that his ma knew about. He smiled then. For sure, she knew each and every one of his deeds. “I’m sure you and the good Lord know each thing I did, even if I thought to keep them from you.” His ma was gone.
His heart broke every time he thought about her not being there when he called home. He’d tried his best to make sure she had a good ending. Sending her money every payday had helped her, he knew that. Also having her put in one of them homes that she’d get round the clock care had kept her safe. But Shep knew he’d not been able to give her the one thing she wanted—a wife for him and a grandchild for her. When he was ready to face the cemetery, he got up and walked to the back of the big church. In his lifetime he thought he’d polished more of those pews than most people his age. All his fidgeting that had been done in the seats had made them shiny well beyond what polish could have done. Dean and his other brothers were there waiting for him when he stepped into the sunlight. “I thought for sure you weren’t going to make it.” Sheppard told his brother Oakley that he’d had to pull in a few favors to make it home. “Are you home for good this time, Shep? Dad is around. Grandda told me the other day that he was.” “Causing any trouble?” He didn’t answer the question about staying home this time. Shep thought he’d made it clear that he was—his boss was a shit hole and Sheppard wasn’t sure he was keen on working.
Shep had been doing his work and his boss’s for the last several years. Rodney told him that their dad hadn’t caused trouble so far. “I don’t know what I’m doing, to be honest with you.” The funeral director asked them to get into the limo. Shep eyed the machine and wondered if the man had gotten a good look at them. They were big men. The thought of crushing into that thing gave him the willies.
“Mr. Marshall, we have two limos for the family.” Nodding at the man, Trenton, Heath, and Rodney got into one limo. Shep, Dean, and Oakley got into the second one. “There is no one else, correct?” Dean said that it was just the six of them and the door was shut. Asking his brothers about their father, he settled back in the seat, trying his best to straighten his tie. Oakley turned toward him and fixed it for him as he spoke. “Dad has been around the farm a couple of times. Usually when no one is there. But since you had us put that surveillance shit around, we just have to call the cops when the thing goes off. Sure did scare the shit out of me the first time I heard it.” Shep leaned back in the seat when Oakley had the tie looking better. “Since they have an idea who he is and what sort of crap he might be doing, they’re out there before he can do any damage. The last time Dad fell and had to wait for someone to help him up. Drunk as hell and not sure how he ended up on his ass. Kept telling the police that one of them had done it.” “I bet that went over well.” Dean told him that they just stood him up, dusted him off, and warned him not to come around anymore. “Where are you guys staying while in town?” Dean looked at Oakley, and Sheppard had a feeling that he wasn’t going to like the answer. Or they were afraid of telling him. He asked what was going on. Dean spoke first. “About two years ago I had a house put on the back part of the farm. It’s a nice house, fits me well enough. I could have gone all out, but I didn’t want to.” Sheppard looked at Oakley as Dean continued.
“He has a house too, but a mite bigger than mine. Nothing too big, mind you, but like I said, it suits. The other three have been doing the same thing.” “Did you think I’d be pissed off or something? Why didn’t anyone tell me? It’s been two years, you said.” Dean leaned back and just looked at him. “Look. I’m exhausted, dirty, and I’ve not been on the grounds but a few times in the last sixteen years. Tell me or don’t—I don’t have it in me to care what you guys are doing out there.” “Ma signed the land off to the six of us. She did that about a month after she decided that she liked where she was staying. You did good with that, Sheppard. Ma surely did like it there.” He thanked Oakley. “Grandda, he’s not been in a good way since Grandma died. I know that it’s been a while, but you’d think that it was just yesterday. We’ve none of us told him about Ma dying yet. Dad complained that he had to take him out there every day for the last few months so he can sit with Grandma. It’s not doing Grandda a lick of good, but you know how stubborn he can be.” Sheppard did know how stubborn the old man could be. He was chasing the tail of being ninety years old, and having a good time with life—before Grandma had passed away, anyway. Sheppard—Sheppard James Cartwright Marshall the fourth—was named after him. Several other grandfathers farther back, too. All of them stubborn, each of them living to be well past a hundred and having a good long life. Then there was his father. Not so much stubborn, but an ass, a thief, as well as a drunk.
There wasn’t much at all that could be said that was nice about his father. No one tried. Not even their ma had. The cemetery was beautiful this time of year. The people that took care of it did a wonderful job of it. The trees were trimmed back. All the markers were upright and free of moss. Also, if there were plants put on any of the graves, they made sure they didn’t get too big. His ma’s parents had been buried out here, and that was why they’d made sure that she had a space next to them. Sheppard didn’t know where his father was going to end up. None of them wanted him anywhere close to where Ma was. After the service was over, the six of them decided to go into town and have some dinner. Sheppard had booked a hotel to stay in for the next week. He’d also rented a truck to drive around. He’d have to be careful of driving. It had been a while for that as well. Shep, as they called him on the rigger that he worked on, had started out on the lowest rung of the ladder working an oil rig. It paid good now that he was higher up on the ladder, but he’d grown sick of doing the job of two people for the pay of only one. Especially when the other man was like his father in so many ways. Hank Jones had been a drunk when they were on the same level. But through a great many lies being told and a great many asses being kissed, Hank had made it to the top level. That was ten years ago, but for the last several he’d been pushing his work off onto Shep. When the big bosses came around to see what was going on with the rigs, just their usual visits, Shep had heard Hank telling them all the ideas that he’d come up with.
Every last one of them was Shep’s. The call about his ma had come about the time he’d been ready to tear the man a new ass. But he’d only had a couple of days at most to make it home in time for her funeral. Shep had made it without any time to spare. On the plane home he’d put in his resignation. It was that or be fired for throwing his boss off the rig into shark infested waters. He wasn’t even sure that the sharks would have eaten the man. They’d be drunk after just one bite. He spent a good evening with his brothers. The six of them had been on their own for a long time, but they’d taken good care of their ma, sending money to her when she needed it, and even when she didn’t. Even though Shep was far away out in the middle of the ocean, he remembered to send her flowers and chocolates not only on her birthday, but Mother’s Day as well. Even when there wasn’t any sort of holiday he’d send her some, just because he loved her. His phone was ringing as soon as he got out of the elevator. Not answering it, he made his way to his room at the hotel and opened his door. Shep had dropped off his luggage at the front desk, and they’d assured him that they’d take care of it for him. They had. The first order of business was to get a shower. Just standing under the hot water felt like he’d gone to heaven. Washing his hair three times, he even used the little bottle of conditioner too, just because he could. By the time he dried off, Shep didn’t have enough energy to pull the blankets down, but fell onto the bed and was out before he could turn off his phone.
The ringing phone woke him and Shep reached for it. “This had fucking better be important, or so help me, I’ll hunt you down and tear you apart.” He felt his cat roll over him when he heard sobbing at the other end of the phone. “Who is this?” “Sally. You didn’t call me.” He didn’t know any Sally. He started to tell her that when she started talking again. “You got out of prison and you didn’t call me. After all I did for you, you just left me in the dirt.” “I don’t know who you’re calling, but I don’t know you. I’ve never been in prison either.” She asked him who it was. “I just told you I don’t know you. Why don’t you hang up and try again?” “He left me hanging.” Shep wasn’t going to get into this with anyone, especially someone that he didn’t know. “Did you hear me?” “I did. And now that you’ve woken me up from the first good sleep I’ve had in a while, I’m going to hang up. Lady, take my advice. Let him leave you hanging. You don’t want to get mixed up with some guy from prison.” She started cursing at him and he simply hung up. He didn’t have time for this shit. Shep was wide awake now, so he got up and took another shower. He wanted to go to the house and run for a few hours. Being on a rig didn’t afford him much time to run as his jaguar, much less shift when he needed it. Driving out to the farm, he was surprised to see Trenton there. He said that he was working on getting some of the things in the house fixed up. Shep, having nothing but time on his hands now, said that he’d help after he had himself a good run. Trenton decided to join him, and they stripped down and took off.
It had been too many years since he’d felt this free, Shep thought. Much too long, too, since he’d fixed something that didn’t leave oil running in his eyes. He might even ask if any of them cared if he stayed in the family house for a while. He could work on it and figure out what he wanted to do with himself. ~*~ Sheppard heard her coming before she got where he could see her. Harrison Parker. He would never tell anyone, but he was kind of sweet on her—like a man to a daughter, that was. She stopped for a minute and shook her head before speaking to him. It was usually something snide and full of curse words, but he thought he liked that about her. She didn’t care who he was. “You know that your wife has been gone for nearly fifteen years, right?” He said he missed her every day. “Yeah, I can see that. Yet here you sit, pining away for a woman that can no more offer you comfort than the stone that marks her passing. What do you plan to do, Mr. Marshall, sit here until they find your body all crippled up from sitting on that bench? Or a human popsicle that kids eat all day? Doesn’t sound to me like anything that wife of yours would have wanted.” “Now see here. You can’t talk to me that way. I had a good life. One that I miss with her.” Harrison nodded. “I don’t think I want you coming around me anymore. You’re not nice at all. And here I was thinking that I liked you a bit. Well, I’ve changed my mind.”
“Suit yourself, sir. But you told me that you have a beautiful daughter-in-law that you love like your own child. Six grandsons that you’ve had a part of raising. And a son…well, we won’t go into how you feel about him. I don’t know how you could be here, with the dead, when you have so much life at your fingertips.” He told her to mind her own business. “Yes, I can see that you’re as stubborn as all men are. I have to tell you, Mr. Marshall, you certainly are about the most stubborn man that I’ve ever met.” “I’m doing what I need to do to get by. What about you?” She didn’t answer him. Harrison usually didn’t when it was about her. He’d already figured out she was military, but what she was, he wasn’t sure. “You got you a family at home that you have pining away for you?” “Let me ask you something, Mr. Marshall. What do you want your grandkids to say about you? Is it that Grandda is finally with Grandma? Or do you want them to say ‘Grandda, he sure was a pistol, and I’m glad he knew how to have a good time.’” He looked at her. “Up to you. But I’d think that with six grandsons, you’d be able to find one or two of them to get into trouble with.” “And what about you? You run this path day after day. Who you out having fun with, young lady?” James, his worthless son, came out of the car whining about how long he was taking, and Sheppard waved him off. “You got someone out there who is going to say, ‘Gee, Harrison wasn’t one to hang out with.’” “They’re all dead.” She stretched her legs again, and he knew she was about ready to take off. “Mr. Marshall, I’m going out again in the morning. I don’t know each time I go if I’ll be back. But I swear to Christ, if I come home and you’re still sitting here day after day, I’m going to roll you over into a hole on the other side of your lovely wife and bury you. Understand? Because the way I see it right now, you’re already playing dead.” When she jogged off, he sat there for a few more moments. Sheppard looked at his wife’s marker, and realized that Harrison was right. He was playing dead. And he was going to do something about it right now.
Walking to the car wasn’t difficult, but the ground wasn’t as smooth as a floor. When he leaned against the car, James beeped the horn at him, nearly scaring him right into that grave Harrison was talking to him about. Flipping his son off, he was glad to see that he’d been able to shock him a little. As soon as he got in and buckled up, James started talking at him. Never to him, he just realized, but at him. “I’m going to need this car for a few days.” Sheppard said no, he had plans for it. “What are you going to do, old man? Drive it into a tree? I said I needed it, and you’re going to sit over there and not say shit about it when I drop you off at the nursing home.” “You take my car, James, and I’ll call the police and say that you stole it off me. They’ll believe me too, since you’ve done it before.” The car stopped so suddenly that he was glad for his belt over him. “You trying to kill me?” “Yes, as a matter of fact, I am. I told you not to argue with me. Now, get your skinny ass out of this car and leave me to it.”
Sheppard got out but he didn’t go far. Calling the police gave him the most satisfaction he’d gotten in some time. As soon as his son turned the corner after leaving him beside the road, Sheppard heard the sirens. That felt pretty good too. As soon as the officer brought him back his car, Sheppard showed him that he surely did have a license to drive, and he’d had nary an accident in nearly fifty years. By his estimation, that was about double how long the boy had been around. Getting in his car, he noticed that his boy had left behind his wallet and a few other things. Tossing them to the back seat where his son had been tossing trash for a while, Sheppard smiled. It was time to get with the living. Since he’d checked himself into the nursing home, the quality care place that he was in, he had no trouble checking himself out. Gathering up a big trash bag, he cleaned out his back seat and the floorboard, and put the wallet and notebook that James had under the seat. Not a clue what was in it, he thought he might take it by to him before he left. Then he set to packing his things. It was not that he hated the home he was in. They had all right food. The nurses were young little things that sure made a man smile. And it was a roof over his head. There was big enough yard out back with some trees where he could go out in the middle of the night and have a good run. As a jaguar, he figured that was why he’d been in such good health all these years. Packing was a little harder than he thought it would be. Not that he owned a thing that was heavy, but the memories would flood him so badly that he’d have to sit a spell and think on things. The quilt that laid on the bed when he and his Millie had been married.
There was the blanket that she’d made just for sitting that he used in the rocker in his room. Even the shirts that he had, most of them as checkered as his son’s past, were soft as cotton and warm as toast. His Millie had gotten him one for every birthday and Christmas. He’d teased her once that he had enough to open himself a department store. She didn’t stop buying them, and he didn’t care. It was wonderful to have a new one twice a year, and to know that she’d picked them out just for him. Sheppard missed that too. By the time he was finished packing up, he needed some food. Sheppard loved drive thru shopping, and got himself a big burger and a milk shake to go. Getting on the road, he thought about Harrison. He’d have to figure out how to tell her that he’d moved on, and remembered that she’d given him her number. Just in case. The thing went to voice mail when it connected. “Going to live with my pretty daughter-in-law and them grandboys of mine. Isn’t far from where I was staying, but you can find me. The name of the farm is Marshall’s Shadow. You come out for a visit sometime, and I’ll have my Jill Ann make you a fine meal for visiting me.” The thing beeped that he was done before he could think of anything else to say, so he pulled back onto the road, from the side where he’d stopped to make the call, and drove the few miles to the farmhouse. He was looking forward to staying there with the boys and Jill Ann. Yes, he thought, that was what he’d needed. A good talking to by someone that was strong enough to do it.
Pulling up in front of the big farmhouse, he could see that someone was doing some work on the place. There were roofing supplies there on the ground, some other things in boxes that he’d have to check out, as well as a ladder leaning against the house by the upper floor. Getting out, two men came around the side of the house, and Sheppard was embarrassed to say that it took him too long to recognize that it was his grandboys. If he didn’t miss his bet, it was Shep and Heath. Both of them hugged him up like he’d been gone forever. “Grandda, you still have that old caddy, I see.” He hugged Shep again when he commented on his car. “You staying? I’ve only just got the kitchen fixed up, and it’ll be nice having some company.” “Where is that momma of yours? Her cherry pie is all I could think about all the way here. We should make some homemade ice cream too.” When they didn’t laugh with him, Sheppard just knew that she’d gone and left him. “No. Please tell me that she’s not gone too. Why didn’t anyone tell me?” “You didn’t seem to be in a place that made us feel like you’d take it well.” That was true enough, he thought, but they still should have said something. “She didn’t want much, Grandda. Just a little service and no one there but family.
We didn’t even put it in the paper for fear of Dad coming along and making a scene.” He was taken into the house. Sheppard wasn’t sure if he’d been carried or he’d walked on his own, but there he was sitting in the parlor with a blanket over his legs. He’d forgotten how chilly this room could be. “She go fast, or did she have herself some trouble with it? I didn’t even know she was sick, to tell you the truth.” Heath said that she’d had a car accident, and that she’d died on the scene. “That woman never could drive. I loved her, you know. More than your daddy.” “She knew that too, Grandda. Ma talked to us about you daily. Even when you moved out there to that home, she thought of you daily.” He nodded at Heath, telling him that was nice of him to say. “When we were cleaning out the freezer, we found some of her pies. If you’re staying here tonight, we can thaw one out and have it with some steaks. Shep is living here for now. Maybe forever. He’s not decided.” “You home for good, boy?” Shep nodded. “Good. A man should be where his roots are. I never cottoned to you being so far away, but I do know that you needed to stretch your wings a bit. Being out there on the water all the time, I’m betting you had to get your earth legs back under you.”
“I did.” They all three laughed and Heath said that he had to go into town for a bit, but he’d bring back some steaks. Shep looked at him when he asked him if he was all right. “I’m not sure, Grandda. I’ve missed so much here. Not just the family, but everything. When I left here all those years ago, I had it in my head that it would only be for a little while. Then before I could think about it, nearly all my life was gone.” “Don’t say that, Shep. You got a long life ahead of you.” He nodded. “Something else is bothering you. You tell me what it is, and I’ll tell you it isn’t worth a hill of beans to be worrying over.”
“I couldn’t give Ma what she wanted.” Sheppard didn’t know what to say to that, so waited for his grandson to explain. “All she talked about was having a daughter-inlaw to go shopping and such with. She said she needed to have a balance in some way. And a grandbaby. I didn’t do any of those things.” “You think that is all she wanted out of you boys? To make you into breeding machines? Darn it, boy, she was as happy as a lark having you six around her all the time. I know for a fact that you protected her from that son of mine on more than one occasion. And it wasn’t you having a wife and a child that would have made her happy; it was having you happy to have a family of your own.” Shep said that they had all loved her. “Well, of course you did. She was a woman that you’d be hard pressed not to love. Jill Ann, she might have said she wanted those things from you, but you can be sure as rain making mud in the dirt that she was just as happy with you six being here with her and loving her.” “I did. We all did.” Sheppard stood up and asked where he would be staying. “You’re here for good? You’re not going to be cramping my love life, are you, Grandda?” “Just so long as you won’t be cramping mine, you whippersnapper.” Shep helped him bring his things into the house. He started to put him in the master bedroom, but Sheppard didn’t want it. He didn’t think it would be right for some reason. But he was just down the hall, and that suited him just fine and dandy.
Dalton had barely survived the ambush. Her sister, Luann, had taken out a life insurance policy on her and had decided it was time to collect. Luann hadn’t counted on Dalton surviving the hitman’s attack.
Lord Kipling Newton, Duke of Winehammer Castle, watched his mate, Dalton, breathing from the hospital bed. He had just given her his blood to help her heal when the monitors started screaming. He thought his dragon’s blood had killed her for sure. Now she was resting and would recover.
Dalton wasn’t happy that all her choices had been taken from her. It wasn’t that she didn’t like Kip, it’s that she wasn’t asked, she’d told her grandmother. But Dalton was soon to discover that a few choices were the least of her worries. Her sister and brother were out for her blood.
Kip had his own issues to deal with. The only way to protect Dalton from his family was to marry her as soon as possible. Once she took the title of Duchess of Winehammer Castle, his parents couldn’t harm her, or could they?
Trouble had a way of finding them. Was the new love they now shared strong enough to survive the rough roads ahead? Find out in the final installment of the English Dragon Series—Kip.
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Danburn English is the ninth earl of the English castle. He and his dragon alter ego have been on this earth for a very long time. Danburn is accustom to his orders being followed to the letter, no questions asked, so when this feisty young woman bucks his authority he is beyond angry.
Kendrick Barrera can’t seem to get caught up. Every time she turns around, her sister is in trouble again. Now, because of her sister’s new mess, she’s being evicted and has nowhere to go.
Danburn’s intentions were to defend her honor, but when Kendrick intervenes, she steps in front of a punch intended for her mouthy landlord. Now Danburn has to step back and take a good long look at himself, and he doesn’t much like what he sees.
Kendrick doesn’t care for the overbearing lord of the manor and makes no bones about telling him so either. No one, especially him, is going to tell her what to do or how to act or dress.
There is something about the feisty woman that has touched Danburn’s heart. She has a rare honesty and bravery that has him take notice. A woman like that is hard to find and should be protected and cherished. The chemistry is there, they’ve both felt it, but controlling his mouth just might get in the way of winning Kendrick’s heart….
Cassie had just arrived in Danburn’s territory and she knew as a dragon she had to report to him. Whether she liked it or not, she’d gone from one ruling male, her father, to another. Being a female dragon, and unmated, she felt cursed for her lot.
Everette Welsh, Rett to his friends, was having a hard time making ends meet. He was a good attorney, but it seemed to do him little good. His good friend, Danburn, insisted he quit his job and come work for him. Rett had no intentions of taking Danburn up on his offer, but when his boss called him into his office and was demanding that he apologize for threatening a man who blackmailing him, the words “I quit” spilled from his mouth without thinking. However, once said, he felt better for it.
Rett found himself on the wrong end of a shotgun blast, and Cassie gave a bit of herself to save him. There were only three conditions of taking dragon’s blood that a human would survive, and the other two didn’t apply to him. Rett and Cassie were mates.
Only two things stood in their way: Rett’s obnoxious mother, and Cassie’s father, a lethal combination…
Quinn Langley knew her mother didn’t have long to live. Soon it would just be her and her little sister, Carmine. Nearly recuperated from her own injuries, Quinn knew the first order of business would be to find a job and get out of Danburn and Kendrick’s hair.
Danburn had invited his friends to his home to spend the holidays, and that included his good friend, Hanson McClain. Hanson’s parents had run off and left the estate in a shamble and near financial ruin. It had taken Hanson months to repair the damage, and he was ready for a break.
Quinn had no idea that her cousin, Kendrick, was mated to a dragon, and that she and her sister were the only humans in the house. And now, the handsome stranger, Hanson, also a dragon, had claimed that she was his mate. It was time to leave. The ever practical, Quinn didn’t want solutions just handed to her on a silver platter. She’d make it on her own. But in life things don’t always go as planned. Like it or not, Hanson’s parents were a problem she’d be forced to deal with, and she discovered her sister, Carmine, had abilities Quinn didn’t quite understand.
Thrust head first into a world of immortals, Quinn found she had a whole new set of problems. Now, the first order of business would be to protect her little sister and hopefully not die in the process.
The injured women in the bed, Emerald, had been poisoned with lead. Dana could smell it on her and he wondered why Danburn hadn’t. With Danburn being the king of the dragons he should have been able to smell it right off, or at least Dana thought so anyway. With the woman’s surly temper Dana should have left her there to suffer alone, but he could smell his mate on her. Since Em was an emerald dragon he deduced that his mate must be another gem to compliment his diamond.
Sapphire had been summoned with the rest of her sisters, Ruby and Opal, to Em’s side. The young girl, Carmine had powerful magic that could extract the lead from Em, but she wasn’t strong enough to get it all out on her own. The sisters would have to combine their magic with Carmine’s or Em wouldn’t survive.
Sapphire knew instantly that Dana was her mate and she wasn’t thrilled about it either. She and her sisters had been around for thousands of years, why did a mate have to muddy the waters now?
Dana wanted to take it slow. They had the rest of their lives to get to know each other. He wanted to court her and ease into the relationship. They were both immortal, so time was on their side, right? Melville James had other ideas. If he couldn’t have the emerald dragon he’d just take the sapphire. After all, her mate hadn’t claimed her yet, and by dragon law that made her easy pickings.
Griffith was a very old and powerful dragon and just the opposite of his twin James. The only thing they had in common was their looks, they were identical. James, although first born and immortal, didn’t inherit the dragon gene and had held that over Griff’s head their entire lives. Anything Griff got, James felt it should be his instead.
Griff found his mate, Lilac, by chance. She had just barely escaped James’s evil clutches, and the moment she saw Griff she was terrified that they were one and the same.
Lilac was a water faerie and daughter to the queen of faeries which made her queen of the water, but that was a secret she would have to keep to herself. That knowledge in the wrong hands could spell disaster, especially if James found out. Lilac was slow to trust, but Griff made it difficult not to love him. And when Griff suddenly disappeared, would he be able to forgive her for holding such a secret? Trust worked both ways and that was one huge secret.
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Kip watched Dalton breathing. She was hooked up to a lot of monitors still, but she was doing very well now. Just seconds after he’d given her his blood, he thought for sure he’d been too late. Every single thing in the room had gone off like a testing zone for sound. Not only had he been afraid, but the nurse that had brought him in the room had shoved him back, then called for the crash cart. It was over as quickly as it had started. Not only was the heart monitor going again, it was going at a steady beep, as well as a little faster. But her doctor assured everyone that it was normal, and they happily went back to their jobs. Christ, he was sure that he’d aged a hundred years in those few seconds. Dalton still had the heart monitor on, and a few times over the last ten days it had gone off. Not because it had stopped, but because it had sped up in a way that had startled all of them. However, in between the fast and the really fast, she was doing well. “Mr. Newton, I was wondering something.” He’d gotten to know her uncle Eric very well over the last few days. But it was her grandparents that he’d fallen in love with more. Charley, her grandda, was who he was sitting with today. “When you shift, what happens to yourself?
I mean, you’re still there, aren’t you? Please don’t think I’m being nosey. I just have never had the opportunity to have a straight forward conversation with a dragon before.” “I don’t think that at all. And Charley, you’ve talked to a great many dragons over the last week.” The man grinned hugely, and that made Kip smile too. “I’m still there. I can talk to my dragon, but I can’t make him do anything if he feels his way will keep me, or anyone I love, safer. I want you to know that as soon as I gave Dalton my blood, you three became my family as well.” “Thank you for that. I started to call you young man, but I’m thinking that you’re a great deal older than myself and my wife.” Kip told them that he was, a great deal so, and left it at that. “Yes. My granddaughter, she means the world to us. Even before she was born, we didn’t want to have much to do with the other two. I’m sure you’ll meet them soon enough. I don’t want to color your opinion of them, but I think we might have done that already.” “I have a few friends. You’ve met Kendrick and her husband Danburn. They have contacts in very high places.” Charley nodded and said government. “No. Higher than even that. The queen of faeries, Kassian. She can keep tabs on people all over the world if need be. She’s been keeping us updated on not only where the other two are, but also how close they’re getting to us. Cassie and the others too. They have connections beyond what the government will ever be able to top.
” “I’m glad to hear that.” Charley looked over at Dalton and continued. “When she was no more than about four, her brother locked her in a closet. I found out about it later, when she was already out of it. He had it in his head that no one would miss her if he starved her to death. I suppose in a way he might have been right in relation to those at the house.
No one cared for her there. I digress. She was locked in there for over a week. When Louis went to check on her, to see how weak she’d gotten, not only was she just fine, but she also knocked him on his butt with a ball bat that had been stored in there. You see, unbeknownst to her family, after the first time he’d done this to her, she began storing food in different areas of the house. Not only that, but water and something to use as a bathroom. Dalton, she learns fast. A hard lesson to be sure, but I think—I hope—it’s what made her be able to survive what happened to her the other day.” Charley excused himself when he started sobbing again. He had been doing that a great deal, also saying he wished that he’d been there more for her when she’d needed someone. Kip looked at the young woman that he’d be spending the rest of his life with and moved his chair closer to her bed. Taking her hand into his, he kissed the back of it, careful of the IV, and told her what he knew so far about her family “We have a good lead on this James person. I’ve not told your family as yet. I don’t want them to feel like they’ve failed you more than they already think they have. He was hired by Luann. Cassie believes that she’s taken out an insurance policy on you, and that they’ll be able to collect as soon as you’re dead.” Kip wasn’t alarmed when her hand squeezed his; she’d done this before. But he looked at her hand as he continued to speak to her.
“We think that they’ll be showing up any day now to see what happened in that you’re not dead.” “I’m a good deal stronger than they think.” He looked at Dalton when she spoke. It was only just above a whisper, but he could hear her fine. “Where am I?” “Ohio State Hospital. You’ve been here for a little over a week.” She nodded, but still hadn’t opened her eyes. “I’m supposed to let the staff know when you’re awake. Do you want me to do that?” “Not yet. I have a few questions of my own. Is Uncle Eric here?” He told her that he was, as well as her grandparents. “Do I know you? The reason I ask is, you’re holding my hand like I do, and I feel strangely attracted to you.” He laughed. “You don’t know me as yet. I’m Kip Newton. I gave you a little—well, a lot of my blood to save you.” She said he wasn’t human. “No, I’m not. Dragon.” She must have drifted off for a few minutes, but he had time to wait for her to wake again. When he was sure that she was out for a little while longer, he contacted Griff, his best friend of all the dragons that he loved. Have you found out anything else about her family? Griff told him that the grandparents were broke more than he’d been told in the first place. You mean they’re more than just behind on a few payments on their credit cards? They’re set to lose their home. Or were. Danburn took care of that for them today. I tried to do it myself, but he said that he didn’t want them to stress any more than they already are. Kip said that he’d thank him later. Also, this hotel is not something that they can afford. If I were you, I’d put them up in your house.
Everything has been taken care of—and so you know, you don’t want to ask. But the house is completely furnished, and all of Dalton’s things have been moved in as well. The faeries needed something to do, and you were top on their list.
I’ll make sure that I put them out something sweet for this. If you could take care of the hotel for me, as well as take their things to my home, I’d be grateful. Anything else? He knew that there was. Griff would tell him too, but in his own way. They’re on their way. I kind of figured that out on my own. But what aren’t you wanting to tell me? About fifteen years ago, your mate was in a car accident. No one has been able to put the blame on her siblings, but that is what the police are saying—off the record, of course. He asked him what had happened that made him mention it now. Someone saved her. She shouldn’t have been able to survive it—the accident had her running up under a semi’s rear. By all rights, she should have lost her head. Not only was she all right, but she was awake and coherent. We were all wondering if you’ve had a taste of her. Just a little would tell you what sort of creature saved her. Hang on and I’ll do that now. He didn’t want to. Kip wanted to make sure she was going to be all right with him doing such a thing to her. But he also knew that if someone had saved her before this, he would need to not just thank them, but also find out why they’d done it. Closing his eyes, he licked the back of her hand that he was holding. Kip, are you all right? He wasn’t sure, and told Griff that. I lost you there for a moment. It was almost as if you’d died or something. I’m processing. He was too.
It was too much of her. Whatever had saved her had been very powerful, and had put a spell over her to keep her safe. They’d also shared a little of themselves with her, so Dalton had a great deal of magic. But only in the sense that it gave her a boost in protection and safety. The best I can tell is it’s either a faerie, a vampire, or both of them. I have no way of figuring out which. Christ. Kip felt the same way. When Dalton squeezed his hand, he looked at her, then to the bottom of the bed where she was looking. I have to go. We have company. I’m betting that I’ll have more information when I get back to you. Griff told him to make sure that he did. Later. “Hello.” The being, he wasn’t sure what she was, seemed to be transparent. He wasn’t sure that she was able to answer him when he spoke again. “You saved her. Both times, I would imagine. I wish to thank—” “There is no need for that. I am only happy that she is with you now.” Dalton asked the creature if it was safe to be around. “I am. I have no form except one that makes you comfortable to look at me. This, I thought, would be fine in that I showed you my true self. I am a—I guess you would call me friend. Dalton, you saved me once, a very long time ago.” He looked at Dalton, but he could see that she was confused.
“I don’t remember you. Perhaps, as you said, you were in a different form?” The being nodded and changed. “The lady down the street. The one that my brother terrorized a great deal. I was only at the right place at the right time, Miss Haggard. You were in trouble, and I was there to help you.” “Yes, but you were injured yourself, and did not let that stop you.” She looked at him then. “Lord Newton, you should be aware that I have also made it so that your parents are delayed in coming here. A little magic here, a little there, and I have slowed them widows to not arrive until you have death the problem with the young lady’s family.”
“We’re keeping tabs on them. They’re on their way.” She nodded and touched her fingers to Dalton’s toe. He felt the magic that she’d given her, and could see a vast improvement in Dalton’s health. “You enhanced her, and in turn, did the same to me.” “Yes. You are her mate, and in that, you would have received it as well even not touching her. I have no way of helping you any more, my dear friends. You will be as safe as you can be from now on. With the added magic that I have given you, and you being a dragon, Lord Newton, there is very little that will be able to defeat you. That being said, you still must take care. The world needs you both.” With that, she was gone. Kip looked at Dalton, who was staring at the place where Miss Haggard had been. When he said her name, she looked at him finally. Asking if she was all right, she nodded, then shook her head. “I would imagine that I could say the same for myself. When she said that you were hurt when you saved her, what happened?” She just stared at him, then laid her head back on the pillow. When she let out a long sigh, he thought that he could have gladly kissed her right then and there. “You’re my mate. Now, while I have no problem whatsoever with you being that, there are a few things that I should point out to you first. None of them are going to be anything that you can change, but you should know them all the same.”
He said that he could live with that. “Okay, first and foremost, you cannot make me do anything that I don’t want to. Secondly, I don’t know how to be a lady. I noticed that she called you lord. I’m assuming that means you have money and a title, correct?” “Yes. So do you.” She nodded and closed her eyes. “That’s all? I mean, you only have two points. I can live with both of them, by the way. I want to point out that you have money because I do. Also, I’ve had some friends take care of your grandparents.” “What’s wrong with them?” He told her when she sat up and glared at him. “I didn’t know. I mean, I knew they were having a little bit of trouble—their words, not mine—but I didn’t know they were that broke.” “They aren’t. Not anymore.” She nodded, lying back down. “You want more, or are you wanting to rest a little?” “I want to rest. While I do feel better than I did, I’m still feeling off my feed.” He didn’t say anything as her eyes stayed closed longer each time she closed them. “Don’t get too cozy in thinking that I’m always this laid back. I’m not.” “I never thought that you were.” When he was sure that she was resting again, he decided to find something to eat. Just as he was pulling on his jacket to leave her, Charley and Fern showed up with sandwiches and drinks. Kip figured it was time that he talked to them anyway. ~*~ Fern was glad for the new lease on life. Having things taken care of by the big man had been more than she’d ever thought to happen. Today he’d brought in a rocking chair so that she could sit with Dalton. It was the little things, she knew, that made her feel much better about Dalton and Kip.
“Did you know that I can hear you breathing hard? What is it, Grandma, that has you so worked up that you’re about to rock a hole in the floor?” Fern got up and sat on the side of the bed with Dalton. “You look amazing.” “I feel that way too. Kipling, he helped us out, did you know that?” Dalton nodded. She didn’t seem to be fighting off the drugs when she had a conversation as much as she had been before.
“Your grandda, he’s having lunch with the rest of the dragons to figure out what to do about Luann and Louis.” “You’d think they were twins, wouldn’t you? I mean, who names their children such alike names?” They both laughed. “I talked to Kip last night when he was here. He told me that you were going to be living with us. Since I’m sure that I have no idea what that might entail, I’m very happy that he’s taking care of you guys. You and Uncle Eric are all I have in the world right now.” “Luann took out a policy on you. What a thing to do. And now she’s all up in arms because she wasn’t able to collect.” Dalton asked her if she’d spoken to her. “No. But Kipling’s friends, they’re very informed. Louis was in jail. Did you know that? I didn’t. but I guess he’s going to be set free soon. I guess that the witness that they had somehow ended up getting killed. That is being looked into as well. These two…. I swear to you, Dalton, I have no idea how they are related to you.” “Me either. I guess they think that since I’m the black sheep of the family, they can do just about anything they wish to me.” Fern told her about the family that she was mated to. “We’re still working out the details about that, too. I’m not sure that I want someone in my life that can do the same to me as the other two are.” “I don’t think you need to worry about him, honey. Kipling seems to me like a very nice man. I’m sure that as a dragon— Just listen to me. Talking about a dragon like it’s nothing but a hound that came to wet on the front stoop.” “Where on earth did that comparison come from? Grandma, you’ve been hanging out with Grandda a lot since he retired, haven’t you?” Fern told her that she wanted the man to get a job. “He’s in his late seventies, and I’m pretty sure that he’s sick of working.” “Yes, well, he could be a greeter or something. I need my peace and quiet sometimes.” They laughed again, and Fern knew that she was only kidding. Charley had been her rock since the day she’d met him. “Enough about that. Tell me how you’re really feeling.” “Like I need to get up out of this bed and run. I have been feeling like I’m only here for some kind of newspaper shit. I would really like something to do.” Fern didn’t point out that she’d been napping a great deal and must have needed the rest. But she also thought that she understood Dalton better than most would. She didn’t need to run so much as she needed to be needed. “I’m to understand that you have a job picking out the living room furniture for your new home.” She made a sound that Fern was sure she’d gotten from some wild animal. “Didn’t Kip ask you to have some input on the house that he purchased? I’m enjoying the hotel, but I have to tell you, Dalton, having a home is so much better. It’s roots you can put down.”
“I had roots, Grandma, and some dickweed came and fucked it all up for me.” Fern didn’t bother asking her to watch her language. She would, if asked, but it wouldn’t last very long. Besides, Fern wasn’t too happy with the events that had brought Dalton here either. “Where are my things? Hopefully someone had enough sense to put in a new door.” “I heard Kip talking to someone yesterday, and all your things have been packed up and taken to the new house.” She started to complain, but Fern cut her off. “You have been hiding from Luann and Louis for years. Now that they’ve found you, I thought it was best that you moved again. I’m sure that they’ll never get to you where you’ll be living.” “That’s another thing I don’t like about any of this. I’ve had no say in what I wanted in anything.” Fern watched her pout, something that Dalton rarely did. “I’m sorry. I was out, so that was just mean of me to say. But I’m out of sorts, Grandma. I need to do something productive.” Taking the little computer that Kip had brought in for Dalton, Fern brought up the pictures of the house that he’d taken them to see yesterday. It was a huge home, lovely too, with all the decorations for Christmas. Although Kip had explained how it had come to be his home, neither she nor Charley had objected to the way things looked— inside or out, as a matter of fact. “Here. He said that if you don’t cook then to skip the kitchen. It’s lovely, by the way. I love all the new tile on the floor and the beautifully decorated back splash. Kip said that the faeries made it so you’d always feel like you were out of doors.” Fern handed the tablet to Dalton. “I’d start with the dining area if I were you. There is a table in the room that was left behind, I believe he told me. As well as a desk that they couldn’t remove from the home.” “There are built in china cabinets—did you see that?” Fern had, but looked at the pictures with her granddaughter. “Hardwood floors too. And the large doors leading out to the deck are great. Very open looking.” “The chairs are still being redone, he told us. I haven’t anything to tell you about those.” Dalton nodded and said she’d not change a thing in that room. Then she asked what the view might be out the doors. “There is a garden back there with bulbs, he thought. Also, there is a small pond that doesn’t have any fish in it, but could should you want them. Not a koi pond, but a real pond to fish in. Your grandda is happy about that.”
The next room that was in the grouping of pictures was the living room. Fern thought that Dalton’s little couch looked out of place in the huge room, but she did enjoy the colors in it. There was also a fireplace in the room that took up nearly an entire wall. “I would do this room in earth tones. It would be something to cozy up on the couch and watch a football game there.” Fern could see that too. A fire going, a group of people over enjoying the game with you. “I was thinking that the room could use two couches, but I could be mistaking the size of the room.”
“I was thinking that you could do one of those corner things. Do you know what I mean?” Dalton looked confused. “I have since changed my mind anyway. But if you’re going to go with only two couches, you should be aware that his friends come to each other’s house often. And they’re all big men. Like Kip.” “Would three couches fit in there, you think?” Fern nodded, and told her that she’d have room for a couple of recliners as well. “Yes, I think you might be right. I haven’t any idea how wide the fireplace is, but if those bricks around the sucker are standard, it has to be a least ten feet wide.” “I do believe that is what he told us.” She looked for the picture that Kip had had her ask Dalton about. “He wondered if you’d be all right with a large television here, over the mantle. He said that he has paintings in storage if you’d like to go that way, I guess. He said that he could put a TV in any room to watch games on.” “He watches football?” There was excitement there. Then Dalton looked at the pictures again. “I’m betting he watches things like a bunch of grass faeries, doesn’t he?” “No, I watch football. I played too, when— Well, I played it before too.” Kip kissed her on the cheek then sat down, pulling out food from the large bag he’d carried in.
“They said that if you’d like, we can go home tomorrow. That way you can have a nice look around the house before you decide on anything. However, because of all the to do about your being shot, we’re going to have to make sure that no one knows that you’re healed. Dalton, your grandda is coming up with drinks, and he said that you loved hot and spicy, so that’s what I got you.” Fern loved this man. She wanted to think of him as her grandson, but knew that he was a great deal older than her. And Charley had been going to hang out with the men of the family more and more all the time. It was good for both of them for Charley to spend time with someone he could talk to. Fern kept an eye on Dalton. She enjoyed the spicy sandwich, and like Kip, kept adding sriracha sauce to each bite. The smell of the dark red substance smelled too hot for her, but they were having fun outdoing each other, Fern thought. After Charley asked her for the third time if she was ready to go, they left the couple there to deal with the clean-up. As soon as they were in the elevator, she asked him what was going on.
“He needs to talk to her about Luann and Louis. The morons are on their way here.” She said that she knew that. “Yes, but they’ve purchased guns this time. It seems they’re thinking about taking care of Dalton all on their own. Also, Eric has decided to retire from his job. He’s looking for houses to be close to all of us.” “What does he have to say to her that he couldn’t say when we’re around?” Charley told her. “Oh. Well, I guess she would need to know some of that. The magic that he has, do you know how powerful he is? I mean, we both know with age comes more of it.” “He’s very powerful. Danburn, the man we had dinner with last night? He’s the king of all dragons, so he’s like super powerful.” There were faeries too that Fern had met. One of them, named Dot, had been with her every time she left the house. It was both nice and a little disconcerting to have someone right there that very few could see.
“Fern, we—you and I—we should go out and have us a nice meal tonight. Celebrate, I guess. Dalton is in good hands. We’re all paid up on our bills and house. I’d just like, this one time, to go out to eat and not have to look at the prices first. What do you say?” She wanted to point out that they’d not been the ones that had paid off everything, but he was right too. They did need a time to have a little fun like that. The two of them had been pinching their pennies until they about screamed at them. If she never ate another peanut butter and jelly sandwich again, she’d be fine with that. “All right. Let’s do it. But no more, Charley. I don’t want us to get like this again.” Charley said he didn’t either. “Good. Let’s go. I’m starved for someone to wait on me like I’m the queen of Sheba.” They were both laughing as they got into the long limo that had been there for their use. Whatever this man did for a living or had do
Jackson William hadn’t seen his father in centuries. Now his father was dead, he was now king, and the dragon council wanted to hold him responsible for his father’s crimes? And there had been many. The truth would be his salvation.
Nicole needed a job. A job that would put a roof over her head as well. She hadn’t had a decent meal in a week. But the ad didn’t say there were faeries and witches. Where there were faeries, there were dragons and Nicole was petrified of them. And with good reason.
The poison from the dragon bites flowing through Nicole’s veins left her weak and in a lot of pain. She was a mere human, and her body’s inability to heal from the bites left her vulnerable to new dragon attacks. Now this dragon, Jackson, was claiming to be her mate? Would this nightmare never end?
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Kelly Dalton, was packed and ready to go on the trip of a lifetime. She was excited to spend a month in Europe sightseeing. Her budget would be tight, and she’d have to make the trip alone because her sister drained her checking account, but despite the lack of funds, Kelly was ready for the new adventure—anything to get away from her family.
Devon Wakefield was the tenth Marquess to the house of Wilkshire and a dragon shifter. Since the death of his father, he had been lord of the castle since he was ten. His life lacked only one thing—a mate—but he was in no hurry to find one.
Kelly was sorry to see her vacation end. One more stroll around the beautiful countryside then she’d have to go back home—to what she didn’t know. Her sister, Rachel, was so angry that Kelly didn’t pay for her trip that she set fire to Kelly’s apartment. There was nothing really to go back to, but she’d deal with that when she returned. In the meantime, she would enjoy her last couple of days in England. However, Kelly was unprepared for the sudden rain shower, and in the rushing water, she lost her footing. Everything went black…
Distraught because Kelly was missing, the innkeeper called Devon to find her. When Devon found the injured young woman, he realized that he’d found his mate, and in an effort to ease her recovery he wanted to do something nice for her—he brought her family to England….
Noah Farley had been living in the States for a long time, and he was homesick. When Devon invited him to come home for a visit, he packed up everything he had and wasn’t planning on returning to his home in the city anytime soon, if ever. His dragon needed room to roam, and the city left his options too limited.
Bea Frost had made the buy of a lifetime, a castle in the country, and she made plans with her granddaughter Bryce, and daughter-in-law Laura, to move into it. Both Bea and Bryce were witches, and moving away from their current location, away from the Witches Council, would be like a breath of fresh air.
Noah’s family had lost the castle to back taxes before they had died. Its loss didn’t leave him much to go home to, but he was curious as to who had purchased the property. When he met Bryce, he was both surprised and pleased to find out that she was his mate. Bryce, however, didn’t care for dragons and wasn’t shy about letting him know that either.
The Witches Council consisted of three warlocks, Black, White, and Gray. When appointed, the mix was supposed to balance them out, but instead the men had become evil and corrupt. Bryce had become too powerful, more powerful than the council combined, and the WC considered her a threat. Killing her human mother or new mate would be just the ticket to bring her to heal…
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“Lord Jackson Le Rouge William, Duke of Willow, Prince of Dragonwyck, you are hereby given the title of king of your castle, owner of all that live there. And in accordance with our laws, you will now be tried for the crimes of your father, now deceased. Where do you stand on this?” “Stand, my lords? I don’t understand any of this. I have not seen my father nor my mother in decades. You call me here to tell me that not only is my father dead, but you cannot locate my mother.
Now you wish to make me responsible for the crimes for which you have beheaded him?” Jackson laughed a little, his heart hurting for this. “You also have made me king of a castle that is no longer anything but a single wall, a burnt out orchard, as well as many sheep and cattle that lay dead in their paddocks. A pond so dried up that it is a wonder that anything at all has grown since you came for him. Nay, I do not understand any of this. What crimes—as I know for a fact there are many—are you trying my deceased father for? Murder? Yes, he had plenty to account for. Filicide? Yes, that as well.
But you will need all the information before you are able to take me to task on those. What is it, man? I have things to care for to bury the worst man that ever took a breath. The only thing that he did do for this world was marry my mother, sire me, and then die.” “He killed off as many as two dozen of his own children. All daughters were given to him as a wife after wife produced him nothing but girls.” Jackson corrected the man. “You knew of this? His killing of his own blood? How can you stand there and condone such a thing?” “I condone nothing. I only heard about this when I arrived after being summoned here by you.” He turned to the room, then back to the four men at the table in front of him. They were there to sentence him, he knew that.
“I should like for you to clear the room of everyone but one, my lords. There is a story for you to hear that will sicken you to the very cores of your life. The reason that at a tender age of only two hundred years, I left my family home, never to return. Also, the very reason that you cannot, nor will you be able to, charge me with any of these crimes when I have finished telling the tale to you.” “You dare tell us what we can and cannot do, Lord Jackson?” He didn’t so much as blink at the men. He knew what he had, they did not. “What do you have, what story can you tell, that will be so horrific that you wish the room cleared?” The woman, his own mother in the front row of the court, stood up. All she did, Jackson knew, was to pull her scarf away from her face and open the hood that covered her head. When each of the men gasped, their faces pale with the site of her, everyone quickly cleared the room except for the six of them.
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Delve into six stories from the paranormal realm…
In story one, Mark buys a house for half the market value. He’s thrilled with the deal, but he has no idea he’s about to discover the full cost. As they say, “Let the buyer beware.”
In story two, Eric obsesses over discovering the meaning of life. Given how thick-headed and self-absorbed he is, it will take someone else to spell it out for him in big, bold letters.
In story three, Carly has just about given up on life, but she’ll learn Fate isn’t finished with her and is shuffling the cards to deal her new hand.
In story four, Arthur teeters between two places at once. Reality has split his existence into two parallel realities, and he doesn’t even know it. Unfortunately, life will only offer one solution to his problem.
In story five, Senja and Petre make the scientific discovery of a lifetime—a planet teeming with life. Among the ruins of a lost civilization, a new discovery will make them rethink everything they know about their own history.
In story six, Samantha works hard and makes just enough money to get by with little to spare. When her company has a big celebration and she needs to buy a gift for her boss, she’ll get a taste of buyer’s remorse when she ignores her instincts and buys a gift from a strange little shop that hadn’t been there only yesterday.
What you can’t see can hurt you.
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Jim Proctor has worked as a research engineer and scientist for more than 36 years. An avid reader of science-fiction and fantasy since high school, he began writing his first novel around 2009. He also enjoys writing short stories, and loves a good plot twist.
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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.
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Buck enjoyed hot wings, the hotter the better. But even he had to admit defeat when it came to eating wings with his oldest. Bryant would get them as hot as he could, then add more heat to them. Buck often wondered if the boy could taste a dammed thing after he ate a plate of them suckers. Today he was eating alone. He didn’t get that opportunity much, not since his Sara had been killed all those years ago. But it was her birthday, and while he knew that his boys were remembering her today, he had his own way of thinking about his little mate. When the plate was set in front of him, he looked up at the waitress. Deb had been working here since she was a teenager. He wondered if they’d built the place around her. When she winked at him, he smiled back. Everyone was aware of his way of doing things. The first one always made him tear up—the heat, not his heart, he told himself. But as he was picking up the second one to eat, Bryant came into the diner. Whatever had happened, it had Buck reaching for his pistol that he was never without.
“It’s all right. I just wanted to come to tell you before you left here and found out the hard way.” Bryant then told him how sorry he was for coming here, today of all days. “Pops, there’s been a fire at the Wilson home. The mister is dead, and his wife, she’s on her way to the bigger hospital for treatment. It doesn’t look good for her either.” The Wilsons had the farm right next to theirs. The Wilsons had bought up a lot of lands when they first arrived in this area, putting themselves and their kids in a powerful terrible place. The money had been plentiful when the Wilsons arrived. But planting things that the earth didn’t have the energy to grow made for bad years of bringing crops in. That’s why Buck’s family only had a dozen acres, as well as cattle.
“The kids home?” Bryant shook his head, still not sitting down with him. “No, they’d not be there for any reason, would they? What else, boy? You know I don’t care for things being given out in little bits and pieces.” “Samson and I were wondering if we should take in their crops for them. The mister, he’s not there anymore, and you know as well as I do that the kids wouldn’t come back to help if their very lives depended on it. Not that I blame them any, but the missus, she might pull through, and the money might make the difference in her having medicine or not.” Buck stood up, his meal ruined now. Not by his son, no; the news was what had soured his taste. “I’m assuming that’s a yes.” “Gather up the boys, Bryant, and we’ll get a start on it for sure.” Buck went to pay his bill, and Deb told him that there was no charge. “I have to keep you in business, Deb. If I don’t, where will I get to come for breakfast every day?” “Here, just like you do every day, you old coot. I heard what you’re doing, and I’ve called my sons. They’re going to meet you there to help out. I’ll be bringing by some food about dinner time, and a cooler of drinks too.” She shoved him out the door. “I have work to do, Buck. Now get on out of here so I can get to it.”
By the time he’d gotten on his tractor and made his way to the next farm, there were about fifty men and women out there, all of them ready to work. With the extra hands and the other two tractors, he was sure they could get a lot of the fields picked and plucked in no time. Buck worked with his boys. Men really, all of them as old as sin. It was the way of their kind, the first of their species. Immortality had been given to them when he and his wife had been created to give the earth some of their kind. A lot of their magic. Sara and he had had six children, all of them from one litter. They’d been cats then, black tigers that had come to this earth with no ill will in their hearts. It was a good thing as well as a bad thing for them to be so trusting. The day after his cubs had been born, the lady of the earth, Aurora, had come to see them. She thought them blessed to have so many sons at their only birthing.
That was the downside, he thought—only one birthing to be bestowed to them. It was, she told them, to not overpopulate the world with such a special creature. Before the lady had shown up, they were going to call the boys by number of birth. And they did so until they were a little older and could pick out their own names. “I shall wish for you to roam the earth as men as well as tigers, giving your magic to as many of those as you touch with kindness. I know by creating you that you are already kind and good-hearted, but it is my wish that you spread it to all the humans as well. I fear that they’re going to be much worse as the years go by.” And she’d been right about that. Not that everyone they encountered was bad—no, there were a great many good people too. But the trouble was, he feared that they were slowly being outnumbered by the bad people in this world. It was nearing ten when they finished up the last of the fields. Harley, his son, asked why they’d planted pumpkins. Buck didn’t know, but he figured that they’d sell them in their roadside stand until they heard otherwise.
Every little bit would help, he supposed. Going home, he dusted the earth off his clothing and stripped down. Buck didn’t look his age, he thought with a laugh. He could very well pass as one of his sons and had on occasion. Shifting into his cat, he hit the ground running. He wasn’t the least bit surprised to find Kylan out there running as well. Are you all right, Kylan? He said that he was, just tired. Yeah, so am I. But we did a good turn for those people. And that is what we were put here for. Is that all we were put here for, Pops? He asked him what he meant. I’m lonely. I need more in my life than just farming and raising cattle. I have a degree—I’d like to branch out and start using it. It might, I hope anyway, bring in more money than just selling off cattle to the local farmers. All of them had gone to college. It hadn’t been one of the ivy leagues—they couldn’t swing that. But each of them had gone to the local college and had a nice degree to show for it. Kylan had a degree in advertising, and he could come up with ideas for things that would spin your head, as Sara used to say. Then I’d say go for it. I’m getting a little tired of raising cattle myself. Not much in the way of money in it, not the way we’re going. Kylan said he’d been talking to Marcus, and they wanted to open an advertising business together.
Well, with Marcus doing the art work, you’d sure be good at it, son. Both of you would be. And I know that Harley has a degree in business management. Perhaps that would be the ticket. Not all of you working in the same place. You know as well as I do that is just a fight waiting to happen. Kylan laughed. Yes, I’ve noticed that as we’ve gotten older, the arguing becomes more dangerous. They fought like men who hated each other. But as soon as someone drew blood, the fight was over and they were taking care of the injured one. Kylan left him after their talk. He was going to go and get things started, Buck knew that. Making his way to the little cemetery that his wife was buried in, Buck laid down on the ground next to her and told her about his day, just as he did every night when he could. Those boys, they’re going to leave me soon, Sara. I don’t know what I’m going to do in that house without them arguing all the time and picking at me. He smiled to himself. They sure have grown into men of worth, my darling. I think we did a good job, not even knowing what we were about back then.
He told her about the Wilsons and how they’d brought in their crops. They were going to try and get ahold of one of their children, to see what they wanted to do with it all. Buck had a feeling he knew what they were going to tell them—just to burn it all. Pops, I hate to bother you, but I just heard that the missus, Mrs. Wilson, has passed on. She was pretty well burned all over her body, they said. And the fire marshal, he’s saying that it looks like arson. As soon as it cools down enough, they’ll have a better idea. Buck thanked Fisher. Also, I wanted to tell you that I’m very proud to be your son. I should be saying that more often. All of us should. What we did tonight, even though Bryant was the one that thought of it, you didn’t hesitate for a moment to step in with us. I love you, Pops. For the next ten minutes or so, Buck laid there sobbing about what his son had said to him. It didn’t hurt him, but his heart did burn with love for his sons. Telling his wife about the death and what his son had said, he stood up and made his way back to the house. All the lights were on in the place, but he knew as surely as he was walking home that someone was in each of the rooms. They all knew the meaning of a nickel and leaving the lights on when you left a room was a big deal.
There wasn’t any need for him to get dinner started. True to her word, Deb had not only brought them out food, but it was the kind they could carry along with them as they worked. And there was plenty of her sweet tea and water. While normally Buck wouldn’t care for the sweet stuff, it was mighty nice on a hot evening to have something that gave you a bit of pep. Just as he was ready to go to bed, he glanced at his desk. It had been put up here because it was quieter in their room without the boys running around. Then when they’d gotten older, it had just been too much trouble to mess with. Buck had gotten a card from one of the Wilson boys when his Sara had been killed. Looking for it now, he found it among some of the other things that he’d been meaning to take care of.
It had been a few years, coming up on ten, since she’d passed, but Buck never threw anything away.
There was a return address on it, and Buck laid it right on top of his pants he was wearing tomorrow so he’d remember to do that first thing. He didn’t know if anyone in town would know how to contact the family, so he was going to do it. If they already knew, then that would be fine too. He could pass along his condolences and tell them about the product they’d pulled in for them. Closing his eyes, he thanked the mother of the earth for his day and wished his wife a happy birthday. Rolling to her side of the bed, he spooned her pillow. It was as close to her as he could get nowadays. ~*~ Randy tried to remember Mr. Prince. He knew that it had been a while. He’d left home when he’d turned eighteen and had never looked back. Now he was successful, married, and had two children. And, his parents were both now dead. “The fire was a big one, as you can imagine. They rushed your momma to the hospital by life flight, but she just couldn’t make it. I’m truly sorry, Randy. We did help them out a bit by bringing in the crops that were still out. My sons, they’re selling what we can at the stand we have out every year. We’re keeping the money for you to use for—” “Mr. Prince, while I do appreciate you doing everything you could for them, my sisters, my brother, and I, we don’t want anything to do with them.
I’m sorry that sounds so harsh, but we cut complete ties with them long ago.” Randy sat down at the table. He felt like a shit hole for saying this aloud. “I’ll pay for the funeral and whatever other expenses that they might have, but there isn’t anything that would make me want to go back there again. I’m sorry.” “I know you kids had it bad, I do know that. I wanted to…well, Randy, you don’t know how hard it was for my missus and me not to step in sometimes. Even with all the distance between the houses, we still heard it.” Randy thanked him. He wished he’d known that. He might have run to them when it was really bad. Which wasn’t saying much—it had always been bad. “Well, you tell me what you want done here and I’ll help you out with it. I never cared for your parents, I’ll tell you that. But we do like the land and what it represents to people.” “Yes, I’m sure that there are few people that cared all that much for my parents, Mr. Prince.” Randy looked at the calendar on his desk. There was barely a minute to call his own. “I’ll call my sisters and brother. See what it is they want to do.
I’m sure that none of us will be making the trip for the funeral. So if you could see your way to getting that taken care of, I’ll pay you back. Nothing big, just something quick and done.” “I’ll get on that first thing. I’ll let you know about when it is. I’ll just have them a gravesite and bury them both at the same time. It might help you to know, if there was any insurance, that your father died first. Mrs. Wilson died last night.” Randy thanked him. The man had always had the right amount of information to give someone without overwhelming you. “You let me know what you all decide. We’re going to be working on selling off the crops and such. If it’s enough, you might not be out of pocket anything.”
After getting off the phone with the elderly man, Randy thought about what he’d said. The Prince family would have taken them in, he knew that now. It was too late, but they would have been there for them. Randy thought that had any of them known that, they would have been more well-adjusted adults and not afraid of every little sound—fearful of someone coming after them with a hot poker, or even a gun. Randy called his sister Meggie first, and she reacted just the way he’d thought she would—by doing the happy dance, she told him, right there in her kitchen. He asked her if she wanted to go with him to settle their estate. “Estate? You really think they were able to save any money after we left? We were always told what a terrible burden we were to them. I’m betting that they had no life insurance, no homeowners, nor anything on that property.” She laughed bitterly. “No, I don’t want to go unless I have to. And even then, I don’t want to go. No, Randy, I’m over them. My life is finally on an even keel, and we both know how long that took me. Not to mention what it cost me.” “I know, honey. And I’m so sorry.” Meggie’s husband had divorced her and taken the little girl that they had. But not long after the divorce had been finalized, her ex and the little girl were killed in a plane crash. It had taken her years to get over that. “I’ll take care of everything. Mr. Prince said he’d make the arrangements for us.” “He always was a very generous and nice man. The entire family was. I so wanted a family like that one, didn’t you, Randy?”
He told her that he had, and also what Mr. Prince had told her. “They didn’t have squat, but they would have given us all they had if we needed it. Tell him that I said thanks.” “I will.” Now he had to call Harper, but he thought that he’d call Tyler first. Harper only lived down the street from his family after moving into a small condo about two years ago. It was both a pleasure and a nightmare to have her so close. Harper didn’t suffer fools lightly, nor did she have a filter between her brain and her mouth. Calling Tyler was much easier. “Mom and Pops have both died,” he started off. Tyler, like Meggie, laughed. Then Randy told him about the fire and how things were being done. “Mr. Prince, do you remember his family? He’s taking care of the arrangements for us. And I’m going to take care of anything else that might have to be done. After the funeral. I was wondering if you wanted to go with me.” “No, and fuck no, I do not want to go.” Tyler, a quieter version of Harper, then laughed. “No, if you want some company, I’ll go with you, so long as you’re one hundred percent sure that they’re both gone. I don’t have shit to say to them.” “Neither do I. Meggie isn’t going. I called her first.” Tyler made fun of him for waiting to call Harper last. “You would too if you had to make this call.” “Yes, you’re more than likely right about that. She’s a tad touchy about them.” And she had every reason to be too. Harper, even being the youngest of them all, had endured the most from their parents. To this day she still— “I’m sorry, what did you say?”
“I said that I bet Harper will want to go for the simple reason that she wants to piss on their graves. Not to mention, I’m betting that before the end of the first day there, she has a certified letter stating that they’re not only dead, but buried as well.” Randy didn’t think his brother was far off the mark. “Let me know what she’s going to be doing, Randy. For now, I’ll make sure that my calendar is clear for the next week. I know you’ll have to take your computer, but we’ll be there and back in no time.” “All right.” He put the phone in the cradle, thinking again that he was more than likely the only person in the world with a household phone still. It was for business and the fax machine. As he pressed the buttons for Harper’s home, he wondered if she was in a more reasonable mood than she had been earlier today. Harper answered the phone like she and he had spoken not two seconds ago. “Did you know that there are over nine hundred thousand different kinds of bugs in the world? Which accounts for over eighty percent of the world population.” He told her that he’d not known that. “I’m sorry about earlier today. I tend to get my underwear all twisted up when I drive, you know.” “I do know, and cannot believe that you’ve not been arrested for it.” She told him that she was cute. “You’re not cute, Harper, you’re gorgeous. Everyone but you knows that. Now, the reason that I called is that Mom and Dad are dead.” She was quiet for a few minutes. He gave her time. His sister might be a hot head and about the most beautiful woman in the world, but she didn’t empty her head when there was reflecting to do. “Who told you this?” He explained what Mr. Prince had told him, even about the way they’d not liked them.
“Did I ever tell you that Mrs. Prince took me to the hospital a couple of times? She was the nicest person I ever knew. I was sorry to hear of her passing. What do you want me to do, Randy, other than piss on their graves?” “That’s what Tyler said you’d do. He’s going with me, to settle up on anything that we might need to do. There is a lot of property there. I know that while it didn’t grow shit, it was a good bit.” She told him how many acres, then asked him what would happen to it now. “I haven’t any idea, to be honest with you. I don’t know if there is a will or anything. It would be like them to think that they would live forever.” “Are they really dead, Randy? Please don’t tell me this if it’s not true. You of all people know what they did to me.” He told her again, for like the millionth time, how sorry he was for everything. “It’s not like you could have done anything about it. No one could have. They were out to kill us, or simply maim us in any way they could. I think they did a bang up job of it too.” “They’re dead, honey. I promise you. Mr. Prince was the one that called, as I said, and he’d never lie to us about anything like that.” She said nothing, but he could hear her heavy sigh. “I was going to ask you if you wanted to go there with Tyler and I. But I can understand if you don’t want to go.” “I don’t know.” Again, Randy told her that he understood. “Can I let you know when you leave? You know me, because of my job, I have to be ready at a minute’s notice. If not, then that’s all right as well.”
“I have to make arrangements for Tyler to go. And since we’ll be staying overnight, I’ll see about accommodations.” She told him that she’d pay her part. “I have it this time. If something happens, then you can catch it the next. Or you can buy me dinner. Do you suppose Deb still works at the All Nighter?” “I just bet that she does. I think she and her husband are older than our parents. And they have the best open-faced sammiches I’ve ever eaten. Oh, now I’m hungry for one. And their pork fried sammiches. Holy shit, Randy—if I don’t go, you’ll have to bring those back with you.” He didn’t know how that was going to work, but he’d give it his best shot. None of his sisters or brother ever asked for anything. So when they did, any of them, he went out of his way to get it for them. After telling her he’d wait on her call, he called his wife, who was a teacher at the local high school. She wouldn’t want to go either, only because she was coming up on her due date in a couple of months, but the doctor had already warned her about sitting in one place too long. “I hope Meggie and Harper both go with you. Perhaps I’ll give Meggie a call. You all need this, to finalize things.” Randy told Alice that he didn’t know if there was anything to finalize. “No, silly. I meant to have closure. I think you would sleep better, and I know that Meggie still has nightmares. Harper? Well, I know she’s haunted, but she won’t talk about it. And your brother…well, he has his own demons, doesn’t he?” “Yes. I think you’re right. You talk to Meggie, and I’ll arrange things for the four of us to go. I’ll miss the kids and you.” She said that she’d be right there when he returned. “All right, love, you work your magic and I’ll work on this end of things. I love you, Alice Anne.” “And I love you Randy Panda.” He knew it was silly, the pet names, but he also knew that whenever the chance came up to do it, he was going to call her pet names until they were parted from this earth.
Rachel Spencer, Ray to those that knew her, was barely hanging on. She had called for help, but her father had nearly killed her before help had arrived. Unless Hailey could help her, with the magic given to her by Dane, Ray’s prognosis for a normal life wasn’t good.
Levi Stanton had been talking to his sister-in-law, Hailey, through their link. She had told him all about Ray and that Ray might be his mate, or Wyatt’s. Levi hoped she was, he had known Ray’s grandmother and loved the woman, but he was also terrified to find out. It was the fear of the unknown.
Levi was happy to find out that Ray was indeed his mate, but Ray’s decision to get help from Hailey would be Ray’s alone. Hailey, however, was afraid her blood wasn’t strong enough to help Ray, so Dane stepped in. Ray would need all the strength she could get to face her Aunt Caroline.
Caroline Spencer was on her way to town. No one told that woman no and lived to tell about it. And that was exactly what Ray was going to tell her too. There was no way on this earth that Ray was handing her little brother, David, over to that tyrant. She’d die before she let that happen.
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Dane had no idea who she was. She’d been shot and couldn’t even remember who she was hiding from. All she did know was she needed help, and when Julian Stanton found her, he took her to his family.
Brayden Stanton was just tired of everything. It was time to leave Africa and go home to family. He called his dad to tell him that he was fed up with the job and he was on his way home, and he was bringing a fiancée with him. She wasn’t his mate, but he was going to make it work. He realized his mistake the moment he proposed.
Danger comes at every turn. The women in Brayden’s life are surrounded with it. Both are lethal, but one has Braden’s heart from the beginning. The question is, can the family survive it?
Being a country lawyer was something Christian Stanton had always wanted to do. Taking a client he really didn’t want to represent was not what he had in mind.
Allie had been hired to teach the Stanton men hand to hand self-defense. She loved her job and was quite good at it. She knew about shifters but had never really worked with them before. And when the big cat shifted into a very naked man proclaiming to be her mate, Allie wanted nothing to do with him.
When it came to Allie, Christian was in big trouble. She was no pushover and the sooner he figured that out the better off he’d be….
Julian Stanton was eating breakfast and rethinking his life as a PI when a stranger walked into the diner looking for Tess O’Rourke. Julian felt the hackles rise on his neck. He wanted to take his gun out and blow this guy’s head off for no apparent reason other than he didn’t like him. He’d never had an instant dislike for a person before. He didn’t know who Tess was, but he was going to make sure this stranger didn’t find her.
Tess was at her wit’s end. Dexter had once been her best friend, now she couldn’t get far enough away from him. He was everywhere, attacking her at every corner, emptying her bank account, and now he was after her baby daughter, Ruby. Only the Lord knew what he’d do to the baby if he got his hands on her.
Sent by his parents to help, Julian was to be Tess’s escort to the family home for dinner. The hotel was no longer safe since Dexter had found her there too. When she opened the door, she shoved the most precious squalling baby girl into his arms that Julian had ever seen. And when the woman walked by him, her scent hit him like a brick.
The job went from a favor to personal in the blink of an eye, and Julian would protect the girls in his life with his own if necessary.
Hailey Whitehead was on the trip back home and everything was going as planned until a brief stop for lunch changed everything. The guy came into the diner waiving a gun and shouting orders and Hailey shot him.
Hailey knew what would come next, so when the cops arrived, she was on her knees with her pistol dangling from one finger and her permit to carry in the other hand. What she hadn’t counted on was an overzealous cop cuffing her too tight and leaving her on her own for far too long. By the time Jules Stanton discovered her predicament, she had nearly bled out.
Wyatt had performed the surgery on her wrist and he was worried that she would lose the use of her hand. He asked Dane to help her out with a few drops of her blood, but that didn’t go as planned either. Haylie had an unexpected reaction to Dane’s blood, and when she woke up, not only was she healed, she was no longer entirely human.
She was having the worst week of her life, and the Stantons “helping” her was only making things worse. She just wanted them to leave her alone. Now Colton, another Stanton, was telling her that she was his mate? The last thing she needed was a man ordering her around. Not no, but hell no!
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Hailey held Ray’s hand and thought about what Denny had told her today. He’d been taking over her care since they’d gotten back to the house, and it had worked out well for her and Ray. Taking her to the doctor every couple of days would have been hard on her. “He destroyed her womb. There isn’t any chance that she’ll be able to carry a child and keep it. There has been much too much damage done for her to even take the chance. When she’s better, and I have to believe that she will get there, she should think about having a sterilization surgery done to prevent it from happening.
” She asked Denny if it would hurt her to get pregnant. “Yes, it could very well kill her.” Now here she sat with her friend, wondering what she was going to do with that information. Reaching out to Levi, who was still in France, she smiled when he laughed before speaking. They had become very close over the last week, and she was glad that he was happy. I took your advice, and I can’t thank you enough for it. I went and found some of the smaller, off the chart galleries, and had a blast. There are so many different things out there to see and create that I found myself buying things just because they were so unique. She laughed at his enthusiasm. Don’t be surprised if a large crate comes your way soon. I thought about waiting and bringing it home with me, but I couldn’t wait for you to see my finds. How is your friend? No change. But your dad told me that she wasn’t going to be able to hold a child of her own.
It breaks my heart how people treat their children. What would possess a man to do this to his own child? Not to mention what my mother did to hers. She felt her heart crumble for the pain of her stepfamily’s deaths. Cheer me up, Levi. Tell me some adventure that you’ve had since I spoke to you last. I’m so sorry, Hailey. She knew that he’d understand if she couldn’t answer him. Yesterday I had an encounter with one of the artists. I tell you, Hailey, I’m glad at that moment that you or the rest of the women weren’t with me. You would surely have cut him down. He was so pissed that I wasn’t buying anything from his booth when I was shopping. What did he sell? He was laughing hard, and it made her laugh too. Oh, I have a feeling this is going to be really good. I swear to you, it looked like he went and got him some wood out of the small parks around here and hot glued—I kid you not—he hot glued shells all over the pieces so that not one bit of the wood was showing. There were places on it that he might have run out of shells, so he drew them on some paper and stuck them there.
I swear to you, it was only beautiful to those like him. I don’t think he sold a single stick. She asked if he was making that up. And as soon as he started laughing again, her phone made a noise telling her that she had a message. See it? I had to sneak that picture. He has several signs in his booth that say no pictures. Why I have no idea, but there you have it.
She laughed even harder after seeing the picture, and she was so glad that Levi had told her about it. After they talked for a bit longer, really him only telling her what he’d been enjoying, Levi told her that he had an appointment and needed to get going. When are you coming home? He said that he was leaving in two days. I can’t wait to see you, Levi. I have a big hug here waiting for you. Hailey squeezed Ray’s hand and was shocked when it felt like she had given her a returning squeeze. Trying it again, she also floated into her head to see if she was awake yet and saw that her mind was going over the day at her office. Ray? She stilled for a moment in her memories. Ray, it’s Hailey. Do you remember me? I’d like to talk to you if you do. Hailey? He’s here, isn’t he? Hailey asked her who, knowing that she remembered her dad trying to kill her but testing her memory. My father. He’s in my office. I think he’s going to kill me. No, he will never bother you again. On this, you can go to the bank. There was a moment of relief, then fear took its place. You have to tell me what it is you’re thinking, Ray.
Your mind is going too fast for me to figure out. He hurt me, didn’t he? Hailey told her that he’d hurt her badly before anyone could save her. Yes, you told me that I had to scream, loudly, so that someone could come and save me. They did, didn’t they? Yes. Danny, the local pack alpha, came with his men, but Alan had already hurt you badly. Danny killed your father to keep him from hurting you more. Denny had told her that if she spoke to Ray in any way, she was to make sure she knew that she’d been hurt badly. And to be honest with her when she asked how badly. Hailey didn’t want to be responsible for telling her friend that she was more than likely going to be disfigured for the rest of her life, but she didn’t want to lie to her either. Ray, two things I want you to know right now. We have been keeping an eye on your places—home and business and even here. David is also with the local pack here. He’s as safe as you are. And the second thing? I’m calmer now, Hailey. I think I can take whatever it is you’ve been trying very hard for me to get on my own. How badly am I hurt?
Hailey felt tears roll down her cheeks and knew that it was now that she was going to have to be the one to hurt her friend. Hailey? Tell me, please. Alan used a knife on your face. He cut you from cheek to ear. The doctors had to reattach it to your head, but Denny told me that you’ve not lost your hearing. Your lips have been busted up, as well as your eyes. The socket was busted all to fuck on the left, and your other eye is swollen too badly for them to know the damage there. She paused when Ray asked her to. I want you to know that I love you very much, Ray. And think of you as my only sister. I love you too, Hailey. I felt that way the moment that you stood beside me that day. She could feel the sorrow in her voice, even if it was only in her head. The rest, please. My arm feels heavy, so I’m assuming that it was broken. Yes, in two places. They’re waiting for you to be stronger before they go in and repair it with metal rods. Also, your left hand was shattered when your father— Ray said not to call him that. All right.
I can do that. When Alan crushed your hand in the floor with his heel. They don’t know at this point, even if they go in and repair it if you’re going to have full use of it. There’s more, isn’t there? Wait for that, please. I know that you’ve been saving the worst for last. You have no idea how much I appreciate that but just wait. How is married life? Getting any better? Hailey told her that it was. I’m so happy for you. After everything that you’ve told me, I was hoping that I’d be one of their mates. But I’m supposing that they’d not want a freak like me in their life. Stop that right now, damn it. And you still might be. I’m hoping as much as you are for it to happen. Hailey let out a slow breath. The only thing keeping us from being true sisters is blood. And that matters very little to me. I love you just as if you were my sister. I’ve told you this before. Now, I’ll hear no more talk about that. All right? Yes, Momma. They both laughed. Hailey, fix me. I want you to do for me what Dane did for you. I know that you can do it. No, I don’t think that’s a good idea. Ray asked her why not. I don’t know. But this shit that I have, it’s scary stuff, Ray. I’m only just getting used to some of it. The things that I can do are— I don’t want to be a freak of nature, Hailey. She could feel her sorrow and her pain. The timer on the meds she was getting automatically said she had about a minute to go before she’d be medicated again. Never mind. You’re right. Having all that juice, as you called it once, it could get me into more trouble than I usually am. The laughter from Ray was harsh and almost bitter.
Before she could talk to her more, the meds kicked into her system and Ray was gone from her touch. Hailey could still read and feel her memories and pain level, which was lower now, but there wouldn’t be any more conversation for a little while. Getting up, Hailey went to the window. They’d brought Ray home as soon as she was cleared to go. She’d have to go to the hearing sometime soon—her father was still going to be charged with attempted murder. Hailey watched the gardener fussing with the little herb garden that the cook had asked to have put in. It was just after Saint Paddy’s Day, and things were starting to warm up. Just last week while out running with Colton, she’d seen crocus and daffodils coming up. Today there were blooms on the strawberries that Ken, the nice man that worked for Levi, had planted for the households. The man was doing great after his brain surgery. It was little things, she knew, that would make her smile. In the last few weeks, things in her life had begun to shape up and be happy. At the beginning of her stay here with Colton, and then her recent marriage to the man, Hailey was trying to find one thing every day that she had to be grateful for. Life, she knew, had a way of changing when you least expected it to. Sitting down again, she started reading some of the homework she should be grading. Hailey, unlike a lot of teachers where she worked, loved her job a great deal. And the kids seemed to be having a good time in her classes, too. ~*~
Levi looked around the room again. He’d been staying at a lovely bed and breakfast for the last two weeks, wanting to try things that he’d never done before after a show. While he knew that he’d done well at the show, he wouldn’t know how well until he was home. He didn’t want to think about anything but having fun, as Hailey had asked him to do. Smiling, he thought of her asking him to have fun and knew that it had been a direct order from her. She was adorable when she got all mother hen like, and he loved that she was a part of the family. Hailey could be all soft and mushy seeing a puppy on the television, but she’d also be the one that could cut a person to ribbons if anyone dared fuck with her family. Which, thankfully, he was a part of.
Going to the limo that was to take him to the airport, he thought of the conversation that he’d had with his brother last night. The woman, Ray Spencer, was healing well, but the outlook for her life wasn’t good. She was depressed. Levi knew this from talking to Hailey. He also knew that Ray had asked for Hailey to change her into what she was. Hailey wanted to—she’d told Levi that—but she was also afraid. What if she didn’t get enough, or got too much of her blood and died? Levi thought about the question she’d asked him. “If she turns out to be your mate—and I haven’t any idea if she is or not—would you want me to change her?” He’d thought about that hard, but before he could come up with an answer, if he ever was to reach one, she spoke again. “As it stands right now, she will have to walk with a cane for the rest of her life. Her left hand will never hold another pencil or camera, nor will she be able to carry a child within her womb without it killing Ray or both of them. I just don’t know what to do.” “I don’t either, Hail. I mean, I guess I’d have to know for sure that is something that she could live with. The consequences. As for me telling you that you should do it, even if she turns out to be my mate that answer doesn’t lay at my feet. It’s her body, her life, and even her choice. You know that too.” She said that she did, but was confused about it. “I am as well. I don’t know what to tell you, love.
You and her, you’ll have to work that out. Or you could ask Dane.” She huffed at him. “You know as well as I do that Dane would have done it permission or not. She did the same damned thing to me.” They both laughed. “I think I will talk to Dane, however. Maybe this is all for nothing, and I can’t change her into anything. I’m a copy of someone, not the original.” Now that he was headed home—he’d be there tomorrow afternoon—he thought of nothing else. Not of her injuries—he knew them to be extensive—but of the woman being his mate. Levi already knew a great deal about Ray and thought that she was a great deal like Hailey. But he knew too that it could only be him hoping that she was a cuddly as her, and she might be an absolute terror. Not likely, but he didn’t know. He landed in New York as a stopover. All of a sudden, he didn’t want to go home. Not that he was afraid of her—no, it wasn’t that. But the unknown, about her being his mate, frightened him more than he wanted to admit. Levi knew just what sort of person he was—a slob that liked this his way.
“Dr. Stanton?” He looked up when someone said his name. His title wasn’t something that a great many people knew about, and fewer knew that he was an artist. Nodding at the man, he said that was his name. “I’m Lucas Young. I work with Young and Young Attorneys. May I have a few minutes of your time?” “No, I’m getting ready to catch a flight.” He didn’t tell him which one, nor where he was going when he asked. “What do you want? We can talk here.” Lucas looked around then back at him. Levi looked too but kept his eye on the man. Backing up a little, he knew that he was in trouble when someone put their hands on his shoulders and held him tightly. “You just had to make this more difficult, didn’t you? I said that you’d be hard, but no, the boss, he told me that you’d be a pussy.” Levi reached for his family, every one of them, to tell them what was going on. Lucas, or whatever his name was, kept talking about his boss when Dane answered him. I’m close to you, Levi. In the same store. Don’t look for me. I’ve got your back. He was never so happy to hear that she was close to him in his life. I’ve been following this fucking shit for two days. You have Hailey to thank for this, by the way.
She and that thread thing, that’s— Dane, I don’t suppose we can talk about this later, can we? This shithole has a gun in my belly. And the one behind me is trying his best to tear my shoulders from my body. She laughed, and he could have gladly strangled her. He wouldn’t, of course—she’d hurt him—but her laughter did ease his mind a great deal. When I tell you to move, I want you to do it. Just tuck your head into the chest of the man behind you. I’ll take care of the rest. She laughed again. You do have something else to wear home, don’t you? He asked her why just as she told him to tuck. And when he did, he felt the warmth of blood splatter down his neck to his chin. Lucas fell back but had a knife in his hand that scared Levi as well. Levi just stood there until someone touched his arm. It was Dane. “Come on, you’re okay.” She had to drag him away from the crime scene. When he looked back as they hid behind a magazine rack, she could see that the shorter man, Lucas, was sitting up with a blade in his hand now, and Shoulder Man’s head was lying in his lap. Levi looked at Dane. “You killed him.” She said that was what the plan had been. “And what about me? Why did you drag me away?” “So you don’t have to miss your flight home, dummy.” He would gladly have hit her if she wasn’t dragging him to the back of the store they were in. “I have you something else to put on. It’s not as fancy as your suit, but it’ll get you home. There is— ” “I’m going to be sick.” She paused in her dialogue to let him throw up several times in the trash can that was suddenly there. As she stood there, she pulled out a phone and started talking, like the person had been waiting for her to call. He supposed, in a way, they had been once he heard her end of the conversation.
“It’s done. And you will have to pick up the tab for a suit for my brother.” A pause in the conversation had him standing up and glaring at her. “I have to go. My brother has puke on his chin, and I have to get him home to his mommy.” “That wasn’t nice.” She grinned. “You’re not nice. I know you’ve been told that before, but I think, after what just happened, that I should be able to tell you that again. You are not a nice person.” “I saved your ass. And I’ll tell you all about it once you change and we get on the other flight home. By the way, you do have puke on your chin.” He wiped it off on his sleeve and saw that there was a great deal of blood there. “Don’t. Just don’t ask me now, all right? You’re safe, and now that we’re headed home, the rest of us can keep an eye on you as well.” He didn’t ask her, even though he was burning with the need to know. This person, whoever it was, they were going to kill him. He didn’t know that for sure, but he could feel it all the way to his bones. Sitting in his seat in first class, which he knew for sure his ticket hadn’t been for, he glared at Dane when she asked the stewardess if she could have something to drink almost as soon as they were in the air. “Here, you’re to take these.” He asked her what they are. “I want you to be able to listen to me with a clear head. Right now, I can tell that you’re pissed off and that you’re in need to ask the million and one questions that are going on in your head.
” Levi took them, then settled back in his seat. He should have made her tell him what he was taking, but honestly, he was so freaked out that he might have drank an entire bottle of liquor if she had handed it to him. “They weren’t after you.” He’d never thought of that. All of his brothers had PhDs so it could have been any one of them. “They thought they were getting Brayden. Because of me. But mostly because of the things that had been going on in Africa before he left.” “The thing with the donations and the houses.” She nodded and smiled at him. “I don’t understand. I thought that was taken care of months ago. Didn’t someone go to jail over that? Not to mention, I think that they even told Brayden he was in the clear.” “They did. And he is. But that doesn’t mean that the people who had to pay out the ass for stealing in the first place were happy.” He asked her why they had to wait until now to tell him. “Because that’s not all of it. And I need you to think very hard about what I’m about to tell you. Do you remember a man by the name of Roberto Perez? He would have talked to you at the show two weeks ago.” He closed his eyes, and he wasn’t at all surprised to feel Hailey there. After telling him to wait for her, she moved through his mind gently and found the man for him. He allowed it—he told himself it was because he was just too overwhelmed by this entire thing. “Perez wanted me to paint his wife, or something like that, in the nude at his home. I told him that I didn’t do that, not with a model and that I had a timeline of things that I was working on anyway. He didn’t seem too happy about it, but he did walk away.” Before he could open his eyes, Hailey showed him the rest of the man’s movement through the showing.
“This is freaky, isn’t it? I mean, it’s like having a behind the scenes sort of camera following you around.” “She’s good, and she has your back. But when she pauses, you listen to the conversation he has with this other man.” Hailey followed the man through the rest of the time he was at the showing. Then when the man was leaving, he pulled out his phone and called someone. “Hailey has that number, so don’t worry with it.” It hadn’t even occurred to him to do that when the other man spoke. “Did you get him to do it?” Perez said that he hadn’t. “Why the fuck not? My money not good enough for the fucker? You know what it is. He’s a fucking gay, isn’t he? That’s why he’s turning you down.” “I don’t know, sir, but I couldn’t get him to do it. He said something about having enough work on his timeline or something. I can try again.” The man on the other end said that he’d take care of the little fucker—meaning him, Levi was sure. “All right then. There is no reason for me to come to the rest of the showing. I’ll be home in two days, sir. After I arrive, we can work on something else to get him to your home.
” “What does he want?” Hailey said that she didn’t know. Even Dane, who could find a mole in a valley of tunnels, said she didn’t know either. Without knowledge of the man on the other end, she hadn’t any clue. “But you do think that it’s more than just me painting his wife? And just so we’re clear, whose wife is he talking about?” “That is what threw us both at the start, too. Lucas said his wife, and then the other man says his wife. I’m not sure. Perhaps they’re both lying, or they could really want you to paint their wives. Maybe together or some shit like that.” Levi didn’t comment. He had to think about whether Perez had come to the show on the second day. When he was sure that he’s not, he wondered what the hell was going on, and why him. Sure, he could paint, but who would go to that much trouble for him to paint their spouse in the nude? And for that matter, why did he have to go to their home? Most painters he knew would say no to that. It was going to be a short flight, but Levi had a great deal on his mind to sort through. And most importantly, to see if
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