Connor James was having a blast remodeling the old mansion, but he didn’t care for curtains, and his friends’ mates were giving him hell for it. Connor loved every minute of it.
Since acquiring the mansion, Connor was having a time dealing with the ghosts remaining in the home. He was able to see and speak with spirits and made it so anyone who entered his home could do so as well.
Roxanna Hornsby, also known as Rocky, was alone in the world and living in near poverty. Dealing with the dead was her burden to bear and she wasn’t known for being pleasant about it.
Roxanna knew some of her magical heritage, but most of the memory had been blocked from her to keep her safe. And when her grandmother came to her in her dream, the memories came flooding back. Roxanna was so much more than any of them thought.
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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…
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?
House of Wilkshire Series
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Connor knew that it would take Aisling a few weeks to get there. She was moving slowly across the United States. The pull was there for her to pay homage to the new king, but, like he would more than likely do if he didn’t know Devon was a great king, she was dragging her feet. Which, Connor thought, was a good thing. Things needed to be in place for her before she arrived. As yet he didn’t know what was going to happen when she got there. Nothing about her seemed to be out there for him to touch on, not even whether she was a nice person or bad. But being a dragon, he thought it was his duty to make sure that she was all right on her way there. Nothing terrible was going to happen with the dragon. She was—and this was all he knew about her—a dragon who had been hurt long ago. She’d been in a healing sleep for centuries, much too many for her to just be thrown into the modern world that they had now.
He could almost feel sorry for her. Dak, Aisling’s faerie companion, joined him in the house just as the men that were working on it left for the day. After explaining what was going on, they sat at the farmhouse table and Connor asked him a few questions. Dak, like most faeries, usually got things mixed up in his mind, and it rarely made sense when he was nervous. And Dak was very nervous. “I have done as you asked,” Connor asked him what had put him in a tizzy. “Sir. I am not in a tizzy. But I am nervous that we are going to be caught using a magical credit card that no one is getting paid from.” “Ah. Well, the one I gave you is attached to my account. They’re getting paid, Dak. I promise you.” The little creature looked so relieved that Connor nearly laughed at him.
“Did you get an apartment for the two of you? If she comes here, she’ll be expected to stay. Not having to deal with the selling of a house would be better for everyone all the way around.” “We have one. It’s much too big, I think, but she is happy. I don’t understand this, sir. Why not have her just come here now to protect her? She is a good dragon. I mean, she’s had trouble before, but she was younger then.” Connor said that he knew that about her too. But things were not ready for her. “You keep telling me that. I don’t understand.” “I don’t either, to be honest, Dak. But I know that there are pieces to her life that have to be finished before she can come here. Why? I’m not sure yet. I can only see a little of her future. No more than a few weeks in advance. She must come here when the snow is on the ground to stay.” Dak said that might still be a month away. “I know. And again, I don’t know why. Sometimes I do, most of the time I don’t. But I do what my dreams tell me, and in this, she’s not to come here until the snow is on the ground for a while.” “I’ll slow her down a bit, sire. But she’s worried a bit about the king. What should I tell her about that?” Connor told him to tell Aisling that the king was a new father and was not in the office.
“Aye, I like that one. Yes, I’ll tell her that. She already felt the newborn being brought into the world.” “Yes. He’s the king’s firstborn, so he’ll be too focused on that to worry about her right now. Just tell her that you’ve seen the activity around the place, and know it to be true.” Dak said that he could do that. “Remember, Dak, there are beings out there that would wish to kill her. Keep her safe. And if she is in trouble that she cannot get out of, or if you can’t help her, you call to me and I’ll be there.” “I know that. But she’s very careful, so you know. I don’t think she wants to be caught unawares either.” Connor told him to be careful too. “Oh, I am. I been scouting around the towns that we’re in and eating up a storm, I tell you. I surely hope we don’t take all that you have, sire. I’d surely hate if that happened.” “You don’t worry about me, Dak. I have all I need and more. You just keep her well-fed and do what you’ve been doing about other places to eat. That’s the best way to keep people from recognizing her.” Dak told him how she’d taken a liking to pasta with chicken. “That’s good. I like it very much as well.” “You told me before; she’s not your mate. Are you sure?” Connor told him that he was positive. “There are a lot of dragons around.
Is she by chance one of theirs? That would surely save her. Being a white dragon, she could be claimed by a dragon that isn’t her mate. Are you by chance looking to claim her?” “No. I’m sorry, Dak, but I am not. I have one out there. I just have to wait. As for her being one of the others’ mates, I don’t know that yet. I wish I could tell you that, but I just don’t know.” Dak said that was fine. His face was so disappointed looking that Connor nearly laughed at him once again. “You just keep watching over her, Dak, and we’ll know for sure when the time is right.” After the little man flew away, having found the answers to a few things that were bothering him, Connor went back to work. The house was completed, inside and out, but he loved to tinker around with the garden he was planning for the spring. As well as looking online for the perfect comforter and curtains for a few of the bedrooms. The faeries had done a great job on helping him with the house. They’d put it together the way it would have looked back when the original house was built. But since he wasn’t a huge fan of curtains in the first place, he’d not had any certain look in mind. It had taken Devon’s mate, Kelly, to explain to him that anyone staying in the rooms might not be as free with their nudeness as he was. Connor had a laugh about that every time he thought about it. Being caught one time swimming in the nude as a man when she’d come to visit had gotten him labeled as a man who went around naked all the time. Devon came into his home about an hour after Connor had placed an order. The Internet had been the biggest change in how they did things. It was wonderful to order just about anything you wanted under the sun, and have it delivered to you the very next day. Sometimes it would take more than one day, but it was great to have it quickly.
“Do you know this woman that is staying with us?” Connor said that he only knew her name, nothing more. “She’s a liar. And we’re pretty sure that she killed Davidson, Grandma’s friend.” “What’s his name? Full, if you have it?” Devon looked confused, then smiled. “Yes, I can send someone to look, as you well know.” “I forgot. Honestly, when I came over here it was just to bitch about her. Now that I remember you talk to ghosts, perhaps you can figure this out for me.” After hearing Davidson’s full name, Connor called for Newt. Newt was the oldest of the ghosts. He’d been there since the house was nothing more than a few timbers leaning together to form a wall. He’d been beaten to death one day when his master’s wife had gotten mud on the heel of her boot. It hadn’t been Newt’s fault, but as he’d been the closest to the man and his wife, he’d been the fall guy. Newt had been all of nine years old at the time. “I need for you to go to the ghost world and see if you can find me a man by the name of Richard Marion Davidson. He’s a warlock, and the grand lady at the king’s house is his friend.” Newt asked if he could have a go at the book again. “Yes, we’ll work on that tonight. I want you to read as much as you want to, Newt. Find out what you can about the man. Even if he’s not dead if someone knows anything about him.” Newt simply disappeared, and Connor turned to talk to Devon again. The smile on his face made Connor a little nervous. Then the woman upstairs, April, started wailing again. As Connor stood up, so did Devon. “You can hear her, of course, but you have no idea what it’s like for those of us that live here with her all the time. She is screaming and telling anyone that will listen that she’s been done wrong.
While I’m not certain what her crime was that had her ending up dead, she’s surely pissed off about it.” Devon asked what had happened to her. “Best I can tell? Burnt, then beaten. Duncan, the man that lived here for a while, said that she was caught doing something while watching her master’s children. The missus back then, she burnt April to show him that she’d fallen asleep while caring for the children. Which I don’t think is the entire story. I have yet to be able to get anything from her other than that she’s been done wrong.” “You made it so that anyone that comes here can see the people living here with you, didn’t you?” Connor said he thought that was easier than having to explain to people why he was talking to himself. “Yes, I can see that. Why don’t you let me try? I mean, it couldn’t hurt, could it?” “No. Go right ahead. I’m done dealing with her, and about ready to send her on her way.” Devon was the only one of his friends that knew he could do that. Sending ghosts on their way was something that he’d learned before he realized that he could use them if necessary. Or, like in this case, figure out why they’d not gone on when their time here was up. “Just be careful with her. She’s angry. And angry ghost have the power to shove things when they’re really pissed off.” “All right.” When Devon paused outside the door where she’d been staying, Connor thought that he was bothered by her screams. But all he did was straighten himself up a little more.
Then he yanked the door open so hard it was pulled from the frame. Connor stood back and let him have his way with the young dead woman. “What the hell is wrong with you? You’ll stop that caterwauling right now and answer me.” Caterwauling? Connor had to step back more from the door opening. His laughter would not help the situation one bit. But he was going to tease the big king by asking him who the hell he’d been hanging out with. ~*~ Devon was surprised when the noise simply cut off. Not only did the silence around them sound loud in the otherwise empty room, but the woman came out of the wall like she’d been hiding from him. When she came closer, he could understand why. “You’ve been burnt.” She bowed her head and brought what was left of her hair to cover the entire left side of her face. “Don’t do that. I wasn’t meaning to harm you with my words, but to see the destruction on one so pretty.” “They called me a liar and then burned me.” Devon just glanced at Connor, but didn’t point out that he was there. “I didn’t fall asleep and let the candle burn me. I was awake when the mistress came in to check on me.” “Did she usually check up on you at night?” April told him that she and the master had been out, and April had been surprised by the late visit.
“Tell me what happened that would cause your face to be burnt so badly. And you must know that the man here, the owner of this home, could have helped you in any way had you simply asked him to do so.” “I am ashamed of myself. I might well have asked him, but he is a big man, like you. But so was my master.” Devon asked her what else had kept her hidden away. “My master, his name was Connor as well.” “I see.” Devon could understand that. He lumped all teas, hot or cold, as nasty, simply because he didn’t care for the drink. But Kelly had shown him just recently that not all teas were the same. “Connor, Lord Connor James, Prince to the Castle Hillcrest, Dragon of Hillcrest Castle, would never harm anyone without just cause.” Devon pulled Connor forward and moved around the opening to show her who he was. Not that she would have missed him each time he came up to scream at her to stop what she was doing. Bowing to her, Connor stood up. It was then that Devon noticed her body movements. She was terrified of them both. “Neither of us wants to harm you, April. But you aren’t making things easy on us when you scream and wail about your unjust treatment all the time. I have been up here several dozen times. Had you only spoken to me, perhaps I could have gotten you the answers that you wish.” She told Devon that she wanted her life back. “You know as well as I do that you’re never going to have that. And making yourself a pain in the ass about it will not allow you to live here with the rest of the household. Tell us what happened, and we can figure it out to give you some peace.” “I know what happened.” He didn’t comment on her shouting at them, but she seemed to understand that she was screeching at them. “The lady came in and found me reading a book. I was told that I could do as I wished so long as the child was well taken care of.
He had only just had his nappy changed when she found me with a candle burning, and the book.” “Where did the book come from?” Devon didn’t know what good knowing that would do, but Connor explained it to both him and April. “Perhaps she was upset that you’d taken a book from the master’s library? Or that you’d stolen the book?” “I never stole anything. The book was my grandma’s. She’s the one that taught me to read and write. No, sir. She was mad because I could read. When she snatched the book from me, she told me not to try and be better than I was. It would get me tossed out if I did that. I told her that I could read well and that I could do some numbers too when I had the time to figure them out. No, she didn’t like me being able to read.” Devon was aware that this had happened a great many times over the centuries. His own sire had done the same thing when it came to his darkies, as he called them. Educating them, his sire would say, was the same as giving them a gun to kill you with. Devon had never been that sort of person. April was light-skinned, he knew, but she’d still have trouble from the master if she could read. “What happened that night?” April looked at them both but looked at Connor when he spoke the second time. “We’re not here to harm you, April. But we can certainly fix some parts of what might have happened to you. Not giving you your life back, however.” “I miss my family. I miss my husband and my own children. They didn’t even bury me when the master had the foreman kill me. They wrapped me in an old sheet with more holes in it than not and tossed me to the river. All I ever wanted was to work in the big house and have me some money for my kids. I didn’t even take any of their old things when I was told to toss them out. Never once.” Devon said that he was sorry. “Me too. I couldn’t see them anymore, because once I was killed off, they sent my family packing. I can’t see them anymore.” “I can maybe find them for you.” They both turned to look at Newt. “You just tell me their names, and I can do what I can to find them for you.
And if you ask Master Connor nice, and no more making him mad at you, maybe he’ll let you go to them too.” Hope. He could see it in her eyes and on her face. Hope was such a fragile thing, and this girl, this young woman, was placing all of hers on the word of a little boy who looked like he’d been nothing more than a servant at the house in a different time than April had been. “I’ll do that for you, but you must be more a part of this house than you have been. As Newt said, no more waking the household when you’ve got a mind to be depressed about your lot in life.” She said that she would behave. “Even if he can’t find anyone for you, you’ll have to abide by what he tells you. He’s good at what he does, April. So if you don’t care for his answer and revert to what you’ve been doing to all of us, then I will send you along. With or without him finding your family.” “I promise.” Newt took their names but didn’t leave right away. Devon had almost forgotten that he’d been doing him a favor first. Connor told him that he’d talk to him in the living room. After telling April that she could stay wherever she wished, the three of them went back to the living room.
The fire there was warm after spending time with the ghosts. Their bodies were like ice to be around, and their breath was often chilling too. “Mr. Davidson ain’t anywhere around that I can see him. Ain’t nobody seen him around either. If’n he was dead, someone would have seen the warlock, sir.” Devon asked him if he’d found his house. “I did. Right where you said it was. There was a scuffle there. Lots of broken stuff. Looked like someone was a looking for something too. The books are all over the floor and most of the drawers—the dresser kind, not the pants kind—was all pulled out.” “Thank you, Newt. You have taken a great deal of worry from me.” Newt didn’t leave like he thought he would, but looked at Connor. “Is there something else?” “Yes, sir. There be a bit more. There was a woman of the female kind that was bleeding there. I can tell that. She’s got her some magic too, but not like the man does.
Somebody’s been in the house since then too.” Connor asked Newt if he’d seen the man there. “No, I didn’t, but he’s been there. And just today, if my smeller ain’t broke. But he’s powerful hurt, he is. I can smell that on him too.” “But he’s not in the house. Do you think he’s close?” Newt said that he had a living friend that he could find to see that part. “You do that. And this living friend of yours— you contact him or her, and let me know what they want in exchange for doing this for me.” “I don’t know rightly if she’ll do much of anything, sir. She’s a bit on the stubborn side. And old to boot. My daddy would have called her a mule, but I don’t say such things like that to her. Roxanna, she’s a bit touchy about being called that.” Devon asked him who had started calling her that. “I think she told me once that the dummy wasn’t around to do it again, and that’s all I need to remember. I do. Every time I see her having a fit about something or somebody, I come back at a different time. She’s nasty mean.” Asking him to please ask her was about all that Devon could do. He was holding onto his laughter as hard as he could at the expression on the face of Newt. This elderly woman was someone that he might like to meet. But only on her good day.
After Newt left again to look for the family of April and to talk to his friend, Devon invited Connor to his home for dinner. The guy was too much of a recluse lately. Of course, he was just getting his house set up. “Nah. I think I’ll stay here tonight. The house is quiet for the first time since I moved in, and I think I might enjoy that for a while.” Devon laughed. “How’s Kelly? I meant to ask you that earlier.” “She’s wonderful.” Devon could feel his face warming. Just thinking about his wife made him feel all kinds of silly. Like a schoolboy’s first crush. “She’s taking the entire thing of waiting on the egg to open like she’s done it a million times. Jackson sent over a couple of the babies so she could watch the baby dragons interact. With the one that we kept and the other newborn, she’s learning a great deal. So am I, as a matter of fact.” They talked for a little while longer, mostly about the house and the ghosts that Connor had spoken to since coming back to town. They’d been friends for a great many years. And of all of his friends, he thought that Connor had had the least stable life in growing up.
His mother had lost her mind about the time that he and his sister had been born. Being an immortal and living so long could take its toll on a person. And since Lannie had been one of those proper wives to her dragon husband, she stayed quiet, out of his business, and kept his home perfect. Lannie had no contact with the outside world other than her husband. It had happened a great deal when someone didn’t go with the changes. Lannie hadn’t been able to. Then after the egg opened and Connor and his sister had been born, of the same egg, it had taken her over the edge of sanity quickly. Connor and Connie, Connor’s sister, had to raise themselves. Their father wouldn’t have a thing to do with them until they were old enough to have families of their own. But it had been much too late for making a family after that. Devon had always thought that was why Connor had enjoyed being around ghosts rather than people, even dragons. He’d been alone with them for far too long when he’d been younger. Devon asked about Connie then. “She’s doing well. Happiness seems to surround her all the time. She and her mate have two children now. All of them over the age of being called children, I guess. But I see Connie a few times a year. We keep in touch.
” Devon asked him where she was living now. “Her mate, Barron Spencer, was left a castle from an aunt or something. They’re very happy in England, and I’m very happy for them all.” “Maybe since you have a home now, you could invite them here for Christmas. I would love to see her again. I know Spencer. He’s a good man too. Someone that I might well have chosen for her.” Connor said that he’d ask, but not to expect too much. “They’re settled then.” “Yes. You have no idea. They have about the most picture-perfect life of anyone I have ever met.” Connor laughed. “Whenever I talk to her, she’s forever telling me how lucky she is, and that I need to find myself a mate too. I tease her by telling her that there are no women around that treat me as well as she did.” When Devon was on his way home, he wondered what to do about Sara. She was going to have to be dealt with, and soon. But Bryce wanted him to hold off. To find out what sort of things she was going to have to pay for. Knowing that Davidson was still alive would thrill his grandma.
Wynter Dawn had been in the wrong place at the wrong time. She had gone to the mall to get a well-deserved birthday present for her mother when all hell broke loose. She had taken four bullets herself, but too many others had died. Now, the police were trying to say she was an accomplice and pin the blame for the others’ deaths on her. They were going for the death penalty.
Tristan Manning had never met Wynter before, but when Xavier rescued her from the courthouse, Tristan was called to Cooper’s home. When he arrived, the dragon tattoo, the one he’d had since birth, came alive and was clawing his way forward. The pain was excruciating. When he entered the room, Wynter was screaming in pain as her dragon tattoo was doing the same. When the dragons came forth in a burst of magic, both Tristan and Wynter passed out.
Eric had been tasked centuries ago with killing any and all newborn dragons before the eggs could hatch. But somehow he’d missed one and he needed to rectify that there would be hell to pay….
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Cooper Manning and his five brothers were true dragons. Centuries ago, when the humans had turned on their kind, their father sacrificed himself to save his sons by casting a powerful spell which allowed them to walk among the humans. Even centuries later, Cooper couldn’t seem to let go of the past and despised most humans.
Carson Langley was exhausted. After being forced to work thirty-six hours straight, she unwittingly complained to the new plant owner, now she knew she was fired. There was nothing left to do but go home and cry about it later.
Cooper was sent by his brother to retrieve the helpful woman and bring her back to the plant, and he wasn’t happy about it either. It didn’t help that when she answered the door she shared his sour mood, and when he touched her hand, the magic that surged between them meant only one thing—she was his other half, and she was human…. Cooper was seeing red.
Winnie wasn’t happy with Cooper at all. She had only done as ordered and had spent five years in prison because of it. Cooper was supposed to protect her, but he didn’t. Now the dragon king wanted her to protect them all from the new slayers in town? How was that fair? The sooner she completed her mission, the sooner she could move on and leave it all behind her.
Hudson had been told that Cooper had hired a man by the name of Wendall. He just wanted to meet him so he could measure his worth, but when the door opened, the woman behind it was writhing in pain. He only meant to help her, but the moment he touched her, her pain became his as well.
Winnie had been appointed by the Dragon Board to be their protector long before last names were given. She had hunted her first, expecting to be paid by coin, but was rewarded instead with magic and a title. She didn’t have time to take a mate, much less a Manning. She had too much work to do.
The word “no” wasn’t in Hudson’s vocabulary. Winnie was his mate and he’d do whatever he had to claim her.
With slayers lurking in the shadows, Winnie has her hands full, and can’t let a new mate distract her. She had to remain on her toes or all would be lost….
Lincoln figured the new artist in town would be one of their mates. He’d heard she was a real ball buster and thought that maybe she would be Tristan’s mate because Tristan said he couldn’t handle that. But when Ginger introduced him to her sister, Grace, he knew from the moment he touched her she was meant for him.
Grace was in shock. Garrett had taken her into his office when the show was still going on and told her that she had all but one of her paintings sold, including the twelve that she’d given him permission to sell. Twice now she’d had to put her head between her knees, which wasn’t easy with the dress she had on, in order to not pass out. Sold all but one? How was that even possible?
Lincoln sat at her feet on the hem of her dress. His attempt to calm her shaky nerves had her about addled, and when Grace suddenly stood, the dress ripped from shoulder to hip. Standing there trying to get herself covered, she felt her temper snap. Now, what was she supposed to do? Grace didn’t know whether to kick him or beg him to help her.
Micky had been alone since her fiancé had taken his own life, just days before they were to be married. The note he’d left had put all the blame on her. It was in his handwriting, but she wasn’t so sure that it was a suicide. She had her suspicions that it was staged to look that way, but the police were in a hurry to close the case and that was the end of it. So, Micky had packed up and moved to a small town in Ohio, took employment as a cashier in a grocery store, and kept to herself. She liked it better that way. No one else would die because of her.
Lucas Manning hated hospitals. His dragon hated hospitals even more. Only days after becoming an immortal, during a bank robbery, he took a bullet to the chest. By all rights, he should have died. His doctor told him he was under too much stress as well and if he didn’t do something about it, immortal or not, he could be in some serious trouble.
Taking the doctor’s advice to heart, Lucas decided to make some serious changes in his life. Eating healthier was a smart change, so he went shopping.
When the man put his things on the line she was in, Micky told herself that she was going to quit at the end of her shift. There wasn’t any point in working much longer. And the sooner she got moved, the sooner— She realized that the man was staring at her oddly.
“I’m sorry. Did you say something to me?” He shook his head and she started ringing up his things. A health nut came to mind when she rang up salad makings, coconut milk, and vitamins. When she was finished and told him how much it came to, he stared at her as if he’d never seen a woman before. “Are you all right?”
“I am now. What’s your name?” She pointed to her name badge, thinking that he was off his noodle. “My name is Lucas Manning, and you’re my mate.”
Micky could have gone her entire life without those words.
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“Okay. I don’t understand, but I guess that’s all right too.” Winnie told her that her mom would be there soon. “You couldn’t just pop there and pop back here like you did for me? Nice that, but scary as fuck too.” “No, she’s in the car with Xavier. If I were to pop in, they’d have an accident. Not that it would hurt Hudson—he’s an immortal—but your mom might be hurt. Probably. I’d say that there is a ninety-nine percent chance—” “Shut up.” Winnie was having a blast. This was the third time that Wynter had told her to shut up. Winnie didn’t even mind. “Christ, of all the people I have to get tangled up with— Did they tell you that this sucker came up off my leg? Like it was begging to be petted? Who the fuck in their right mind would want to pet a fucking dragon?” “You sure do have a potty mouth. Do you kiss your mother with that?” Wynter just glared. “You’re also very good at that. Glaring, I mean. You might even be better at it than Carson.
She’s not as good as me, but she’s close to you.” “What are you?” Winnie sat down on the bed and touched the device that Wynter had on her ankle. When it fell off, while Winnie had hoped to distract the other woman, she just thanked her. “Now, again, what the hell are you? Something, I’m betting, that has you popping in and out of trouble all the time.” “Actually, I rarely pop in and out of shit. I usually just face it head-on. Something like you do.” Wynter said that she didn’t face anything. “Really? Okay then, tell me what happened on the night that you were arrested. Not the night, I guess, but when all those people were shot at the mall.” “No.” Winnie knew, but she thought that if Wynter told her, she might be able to find out why she’d been arrested. Something, though not likely, that she’d missed. “Don’t think that I didn’t notice that you didn’t tell me what you are.” “I am all.” Wynter nodded. “That’s it? You’re satisfied with me just telling you that I’m all? I have a feeling that you have about ten million questions right now.” “You say that you’re all. That guy, the attorney, he told me he was a dragon.
Okay, I’m a little stressed out right now, so let me ask you this. Will you prove to me that you’re all bad assed?” Winnie stood up. She could almost taste the other woman’s fear. Asking her not to run, she shifted to her true form. “Holy shit. You’re beautiful. And I’m betting that’s the point too—beauty to distract someone before you…. What? Blow them out of the water?” “You’re stressed out, I can feel it, yet you sound as calm as I am right now. Why?” Wynter laid down on the bed, careful to cover up the dragon. “We all know that he’s there. We might not know why he’s there or what he is right now, but we know about him.” “I have known all my life, so good for you. I didn’t know that he could come up off me.” She didn’t move, and Winnie felt a little sorry for her. “When I was a small child, about the time I started school, the other kids, they’d make fun of me. Even when I wore long pants to cover him up, it had gotten around that I was a freak. So, Mom, she homeschooled me until I was old enough to get out on my own.
I was going to be an attorney.” “I’m sorry about that too. There isn’t any reason that you couldn’t finish your education now. People will just think you’ve gotten a really amazing tattoo.” Wynter looked at her. “Well, whatever they want to think, you can tell them to shut up. You’ve been really good at that with me.” “I’m a convict, in the event you didn’t remember that. I’m going to be in so much trouble when they find out where I am.” She heard someone coming up the stairs. “Is that my—? Oh my God, it’s fucking moving. Up my leg and over my body.” Winnie tore the cover off Wynter’s leg and watched it climb up her ribs. It was digging its nails into her skin like it was using her flesh to help it move. And when the door flew open and hit the wall behind it, Tristan cried out too, falling to his knees, tearing off his shirt. Winnie watched as Tristan crawled to the bed, his hand stretched out and his dragon, which had been on his back, moving down his arm. Glancing at Wynter, Winnie saw that she was doing the same; her dragon was at her hand, his nose over her fingertips like he had consumed a part of her. As soon as they touched fingers the room exploded, and suddenly the two dragons left their bodies and were standing in the room. No one moved. Winnie had stayed when she’d been asked to by Wynter, and the dragons, a pair of them, turned and looked at her. After bowing before them, she saw them glance down at her sword. Putting it away, she apologized to them. “I hadn’t realized that I had pulled it, my lord and lady dragon.” Tristan and Wynter both were passed out. “Will they be all right?”
“Yes.” Their voices were the same too, blending together like only one of them was speaking. “They are our masters. We are their dragons. We have waited a great many years for her to be born and to survive life. They will rule us.” Cooper entered the room and they bowed before him. He looked clueless and terrified at the same time. When he sat in one of the chairs, Winnie wanted to laugh at him. But if she was honest with herself, she was just as clueless and terrified as he was. “They’re here.” She nodded, not sure what else to say to him. “I’ve read over the book. Sadie said that there had been a girl dragon born, but she was put under a spell that would keep her safe until a time when she could be ready to receive her mate. I’m assuming from the looks of things that Tristan is her mate.” “It would appear so. At least, the dragons came from them.” Kicking Tristan in the foot, Cooper told him to get up. “Shall I wake the young miss? I’d not kick her if I were you. She’s a tad on the stressed the fuck outside.” “So am I.” Tristan sat up and looked at the woman on the bed. “I had no idea what was going to happen when I got here. My dragon, he spoke to me. Freaked me out for a little bit, then I felt the need to come here. I’ll pay for the door.” Cooper looked at Winnie before speaking. “Winnie, the dragons—can you speak to them?” The dragons, again as one being, told him that they could speak well. He wasn’t sure if they were one being or two. Then the female spoke to him.
“We have been awaiting a great king and for the female to be born. We knew that you had been created, Lord Cooper, but the female, we had to wait for her to be born and for her to live. This is the seventh time that we have had a female born so that we could come to you.” She looked at Tristan then. “You are a great man, Tristan Manning. A good man for your mate too. You will, unlike others, have children that will repopulate the world with dragons. But sadly, they will never be as great or as large as the six of you.” Wynter woke up and moved back off the bed away from all of them. The female dragon moved to sit on the bed with her, but Wynter wasn’t having it. Standing up on her knees in the bed, she pointed her finger at them. “You just stay the fuck away from me. I don’t fucking know why you’re suddenly here— I’m fucking stressed out. I’m going to prison and I didn’t do anything, and now I have…there are two of you now, and I don’t know what the hell I’m supposed to do. You came from my body, damn it. Does anyone else find that to be fucking weird?” Tristan stood up off the floor and put his hand out to Wynter. “No. I don’t need any more shit going on. I could almost think that I’d rather be in prison right now than all this. Where is my mom?”
“I’m here, honey,” Winnie asked if they’d give her some time. While Carla held her daughter, Tristan looked as out of it as Wynter did. Instead of leaving when she told him to, he sat in the chair that Cooper had been in. “I have to stay. I don’t know what’s going on either, but I need to be here.” The dragons nodded at him. “They seem to think so too. I promise, if I freak out again, which I’m still wondering if I’m over the first time, I’ll yell for you. Also, if any more dragons come from us, I’m going to have a fucking stroke.” “We are the only two, my lord.” Winnie laughed when Tristan just stared at them. “They will be safe with us, Wendell the dragon protector.” Leaving them wasn’t as hard as she thought it would be. They were safe; she knew that for some reason, and her staying there, it wouldn’t make them any safer. Instead, she went to get answers. And she was sure that at some point, she’d have to hurt one of the dragons to get them to tell it all. Smiling, she thought that she might just hurt one of them for the fun of it. She so loved this family. Carson was pacing and Cooper was bent over the book that Sadie had given them. Xavier was the only one of them that looked relaxed and like he was having fun. She asked him what he was thinking about. “She’s not my mate. I have a feeling from just speaking to her once that she’s going to be hard on Tristan. Not that Tristan couldn’t handle her if she’s like the others—I’m sure that he could. But I can’t.” She cocked a brow at him and asked him why he thought that. “I’m delicate.” She smacked him on the shoulder and sat at the table.
The book and the pad of paper were shoved at her. Winnie shoved it right back at Cooper. She asked him what he’d figured out. “Nothing more than that she’s like us. Sort of like us, I mean. She was born a dragon and changed into a human, but she’s much more powerful than she looks. Her mother gave up her life for her by changing her into what she is now.
Her dad died sometime before she took Wynter to the safe home.” Winnie said that explained the footsteps disappearing in the snow. “I would guess that too. But that’s it. We’ve not found any more about her. There is nothing about her uniting with one of us and making two dragons, either. Can Wynter shift? I don’t know, because she’s denying having any kind of dragon in her. Can she do anything other than scream at us? I don’t know that either. There is nothing more here.” “We should have asked the dragons.” Everyone turned to Xavier. “I’m just saying they should know why they’re here. Also, they did say that they’ve tried this several times, to have Tristan and a mate to come together. I’m betting that they know just why they’re here and what they can do for us as a family.” “He’s right.” They started forward, to no doubt talk to the dragons, and Carson stopped them. Cooper asked her what she was doing. They needed answers. “Do you need them so badly at this very moment that you’re willing to scare that poor woman more? She had a lot of shit handed to her today. I doubt very much if she could handle much more without her having a stroke. Just let them settle, and then we’ll bombard them later.” She glared at Cooper when he started to push her aside. “Did that at all sound like it was a request? Did you think that I was kidding when I said, ‘let’s do it later’? I was not if you’re wondering. Sit your ass down and enjoy your family, before I make it so that you all are never able to have sex again.” They sat. Carson smiled at her. “Winnie, could you do me a favor and make sure these idiots don’t leave the table? I’m going to see about my baby and dinner. I’m guessing we’ll all be hungry in a little while.” Pulling out her sword, Winnie grinned at them all.
“Anyone want to try and get past me? Come on. It’ll be fun.” No one took her up on her offer. “Spoilsports.” ~*~ Tristan watched the dragons. They would answer his questions, which weren’t all that helpful to anyone, but he had to do something. Finally, after Wynter and Carla talked to each other for a while, Carla looked at him and smiled. Tristan smiled back. “We’ve been having some issues, I guess you could say,” Tristan told her that he could see that. “Oh no, the dragons are the least of our worries. I mean, it’s not to say that we’re not worried but…oh bother. I’m mucking this up.” “What she’s trying to say is that I’ve been trouble for her for a while now,” Carla told Wynter that she had not. “Well, I seem to have this dark cloud over me since I turned eighteen, and I can’t seem to get enough umbrellas to keep the black shit off my head.” “Wynter, there is no reason to be rude to the man. He looks as confused as we are.” Tristan smiled. “What is your name, young man? If you don’t mind me asking you that—I don’t mean to be rude.” So they were going to ignore the large dragons in the room. For now, he supposed, it was the best course of action. Clearing his throat, he put out his hand to Carla. She took it into her smaller and calloused one.
“I’m Tristan Manning. This is my brother Cooper and his wife Carson’s home. I have four other brothers, all of whom I believe you’ve met.” Carla told him that they had. “Good. And they told you, I’m assuming, that we’re dragons. The men are anyway. I’m so sorry about this.” “What do you have to be sorry for? About me being tossed out of college? Or about me being arrested for the murder of eight people at a mall? Could it because a dragon that has been on my flesh since I was born rose up off my leg? That it let your other brother pet him? Or could it—?” Carla told Wynter to behave. “Yes, ma’am, but you have to realize that I’m in over my head here. I’m a good person. Or I try to be. Why is all this crap going on?” “I would imagine that it has a great deal to do with what you are.” He looked at the dragons. “They’re a matched pair. And from what I’ve been told from my brothers, when yours was on your leg, it looked just like the one on my back. We, I guess you could say, were meant to be together.” “That is right, my lord. Since the beginning of the end of dragons, you were meant to be with a female that would be your match and mate in all things.” The female dragon laid her head down on the floor and the male joined her. “We have been waiting for generations for you, Wynter Snow. I think we were ready to give up hope that you’d ever be born.” “Great, I was born to be a screw up.”
Tristan laughed. “What do you find so funny? If they’re right, and at the moment I can’t see anything wrong with their logic, then we’re together. But I’m going to be spending the rest of my life behind bars, if they don’t put me to death instead.” “There will be no sentencing for any of those. I’ve spoken to my brother, and he said that you’re going to be exonerated for the mall incident, as well as what happened at the hospital.” She asked him what had gone on there. “You disappeared.” “Oh, yes, well, your brother freaked us all out with the dragon. Did they tell you that he rose up from my flesh so that he could pet him? What sort of fucked up shit is that?” She looked at her mom. “I’m sorry, Mom, but you have to agree—it’s messed up.” “I do agree. But what happens now? I mean, other than that the dragon is no longer a part of her.” The male dragon stood up. “Do you know what happens now? I don’t even know what to call you.” “We have no names as yet, my lady. We are just male and female dragon.” Wynter asked if they were to name them. “If you wish to name us that would be fine. But it does not matter to us. We both belong to the two of you. We are mates as well.” “Does this mean that I can’t shift into my dragon anymore?” That had only just occurred to him. And it would piss him off if he weren’t able to fly anymore. Male told him that he could. So could the young miss. “She’s able to be a dragon?” “Wait, wait, and wait. I don’t want to be a dragon. No offense to you guys, but I’m happy being the plain old human that I am.” Tristan told her that she wasn’t human, never had been. “Oh, but you’re wrong about that. I’m a human, damn it, and you’d better not be fucking around with me to make me anything else.”
“You’re immortal too.” He had no idea—insanity, he supposed—why he was aggravating Wynter like he was. She sure had a fine temper, and she was very expressive with her hands. Like the way she doubled up her fist at him. “You can’t hurt me.” “Why not?” He told her. “I’m not going to be your mate. It has nothing to do with this shit…stuff going on with the dragons, but I’m bad luck. I don’t even like to be around my mom so much—I don’t want her to be dragged into my trouble.” “I’m sure that it was all because you were going to meet me this way.” He didn’t even glance at the dragons, fearful that they’d tell him that that wasn’t it. “We’re going to get this all cleared up, and once we do, then you and I will live happily ever after.” “You’re certifiable; you know that, don’t you?” He grinned at her. “You’re not charming either. No matter how many other women have told you that. As a matter of fact, why don’t you go out and find one of them now? I’m sure they’ll be thrilled to see you.” “I’m not leaving you. We have a lot to talk about.” She said that she was done talking to him.
“I’m sorry that you feel that way, Wynter. But there are a great many things going on that we have to figure out. Like, why were you created with a dragon on your leg and not your back? Who were you parents? Where were they for all those decades before you were born? There are a great many things that we have to figure out. Plus, keeping you safe needs to be a priority—I don’t want anything to happen to you. For some reason, and I don’t know why we’ve never thought of this before, someone wants you to be in prison. To get you alone, perhaps? I don’t know. But it bears talking about.” Clara stood and so did Tristan. “I need to use the restroom. I don’t know that I’ll return here, because I think that Lord Manning is correct. You both need to talk things out. In the meantime, I’ll be making arrangements for a hotel or someplace that we can stay until we get those answers.” “I have a large house that we can all live in together.” Clara told him that was all right, but she could find something. “I insist. I can keep an eye on you both, and if Wynter wants, she can become her dragon. There is plenty of room for that too.” Clara left and Tristan stayed where he was. Wynter was jumpy enough without him lying on the bed with her like he wanted. Instead of talking to her about anything serious, he started telling her about himself. “I’ve been around for a very long time. When we were born, we were dragons; the world was a much different place than it is now. We, the dragons, blackened the skies when we were around. Helping out our human friends was easy for us.
Then they realized that we were worth much more dead than alive.” Wynter told him she was sorry. “Thank you. My mother, she’d been killed some months before my father gave his life for us to be human. And since then, we’ve been trying our best to blend in with humanity so they’d not kill us.” “I don’t understand any of this.” He said that he understood. They both looked at the dragons. “Do you really think it’s possible that I could turn into a dragon? Being that size would make people back off from me a little, don’t you think?”
“You’ll be much larger than them.” She looked at him. “Wynter, I know this is a great deal to throw at you, but we really do need some answers. Mostly it has to do with why you’re a dragon that no one told us about. Why are we paired with matching dragons? My head is overwhelmed with all this. I can’t imagine what is going through yours right now.” “My wound is healed. I’m betting if they remove this cast that I’ll be all right there as well. Is that part of the magic?” He nodded. “I’m terrified out of my mind right now. And all I can think about is you wrapping me up in your arms and holding me. Not that I’m asking you to do that, but I just need one thing to go normally. I really could use a dose of normal about now.” “I’m afraid that went out the door with yesterday’s wash.” They both laughed. “Come on downstairs and we’ll have something to eat, and talk. I’m sure that Winnie or Carson has the others tied to a chair or something to keep them away.” “I don’t have anything to wear but this gown from the hospital.” She looked down at herself.
“What I wouldn’t give for a nice thick pair of socks and some warm pants and a too large sweatshirt.” Before he could tell her to watch what she wished for, she was dressed in what she’d said. He had to admit, he thought, she certainly looked more comfy. When he started to tell her that she could do that, to change out of her outfit too, Wynter put her hand up. “I don’t want to talk about it. Nothing happened, all right? Please?” He nodded at her. “Good. I got dressed, and now I’m going to eat. I’m sure nothing will pop out of the kitchen in front of me, will it?” “I have no idea anymore.” She nodded and took his hand. The dragons said that they’d see them downstairs, as they needed to stretch their wings. “Do you want to watch them fly? It’s beautiful, and perhaps—” “No. There are no dragons. I’m visiting an old friend and I had a frightful dream, that’s all.” Tristan laughed and she grabbed his balls in her hand. “Don’t make me have to test that theory of yours about hurting you, buster. I’m fucking stressed out.” “Yes, ma’am.” Tristan walked behind her, thinking that he might just be as nutty as she was feeling. But Christ, she was beautiful, and her temper made her cheeks flush pink. He wondered if her nipples did the same. But he was smart enough to know not to say a word. Not until later, of course.
He was sent to guard her body… he didn’t expect her to steal his heart.
Her sister’s wedding was hardly the place to find a hook up, but after one look at friend-of-the-groom and special operative Josiah Grant, small-town Texas beauty Magnolia West immediately fell in lust. After a stunningly sensual night together, Maggie is prepared for the two of them to go their separate ways. After all, she’s not a happily-ever-after kind of girl. But Josiah—and danger—change her plans.
Josiah isn’t looking for love…but Maggie rouses his body and stirs his heart like no other woman. She’s got a rocky romantic past, and a smart man would steer clear. But when the murder quotient in Kendall County rises and all signs point to a mysterious group nearby who have been harassing Maggie’s family, he can’t leave her unprotected—especially when he realizes he’s fallen hard for her.
As tension mounts and the menace closes in, Josiah will do anything to prove to Maggie that their love is real…but can they stay alive long enough to share it?
Shayla Black is the New York Times and USA Today bestselling author of more than sixty novels. For nearly twenty years, she’s written contemporary, erotic, paranormal, and historical romances via traditional, independent, foreign, and audio publishers. Her books have sold millions of copies and been published in a dozen languages.
Raised an only child, Shayla occupied herself with lots of daydreaming, much to the chagrin of her teachers. In college, she found her love for reading and realized that she could have a career publishing the stories spinning in her imagination. Though she graduated with a degree in Marketing/Advertising and embarked on a stint in corporate America to pay the bills, her heart has always been with her characters. She’s thrilled that she’s been living her dream as a full-time author for the past eight years.
Shayla currently lives in North Texas with her wonderfully supportive husband, her daughter, and two spoiled tabbies. In her “free” time, she enjoys reality TV, reading, and listening to an eclectic blend of music.
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They’re both back in Red River for good, and the chemistry is stronger than ever. But will her secret tear them apart all over again?
Dylan McCoy is restless to take over Red River’s favorite watering hole—Cotton Eyed Joe’s—when his Uncle Joe retires. First, he’s got to prove he has what it takes to carry on Joe’s legacy. Finally able to put the painful scars from his days working in L.A.’s trendy music scene behind him, he sets out to host a weekend workshop for songwriters. He calls in a favor and lines up some of the biggest musicians in the biz to attend. Life is good. Until the business owners who occupy the commercial space next door threaten to ruin his establishment right before the rock star lineup of attendees are scheduled to blow into town.
Hailey Hicks left Red River six years ago with a secret. Now—as a seasoned hairstylist who’s made her own way in the world—she’s back in town to help her cousin expand her salon. Unfortunately, the renovations aren’t going as planned and draw fire from the saloon next door. When she comes face to face with her ex, Dylan McCoy, sparks fly. Can they mend the damage done because of how they parted ways? Or will her secret cause them both to get burned again?
Be sure to check out the rest of the series.
It’s in His Heart – Coop & Ella’s story
It’s in His Touch – Blake & Angelique’s story
It’s in His Smile – Talmadge & Miranda’s story
It’s in His Arms – Mitchell & Lorenda’s story
If you loved Shelly’s IT’S IN HIS… series, you’ll love her DARE ME series even more!
Dare Me Once – Trace & Lily’s Story
Dare Me Again – Elliott & Rebel’s Story
If you like a lot of steamy chemistry, try her sizzling series of romantic comedy STANDALONES in the Checkmate Inc. Series.
Foreplay – Leo & Chloe’s Story
Rookie Moves – Dex & Ava’s Story
Get Wilde – Ethan & Adeline’s Story
Sinful Games – Oz & Kendall’s Story (A 2019 RITA Finalist in the Erotic Romance category!)
More to come soon!
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Shelly Alexander’s first published novel was a 2014 Golden Heart® finalist. She is an Amazon #1 bestselling author in numerous categories, including contemporary romance, contemporary women’s fiction, and romantic comedy.
Shelly grew up traveling the world, earned a bachelor’s degree in marketing, and worked in business for twenty-five years. With four older brothers and three sons of her own, she decided to escape her male-dominated world by reading romance novels…and has been hooked ever since. Now, Shelly spends her days writing novels that are sometimes sweet, sometimes sizzling, and always sassy. She lives in the beautiful Southwest with her husband and toy poodle named Mozart. Visit her at www.shellyalexander.net
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Harrison Parker had no family and no ties. She was invisible to be traced. Her job with the government was top secret. So secret that she only reported to two people. Now, she was the target and she had to figure out who wanted her dead. Hurt, and laying low, she reached out to the only man she trusted, an old man she had befriended in the cemetery, Sheppard Marshall.
Sheppard Marshall had been grieving the loss of his Millie for the last fifteen years. He would sit by her grave every day. He was an old man of ninety, and he looked forward to the visits he received from the sassy woman, Harrison Parker. Over time he had grown very fond of her, and when he received the message that she needed his help, Sheppard would help her or die trying.
His grandson, Sheppard or Shep, wasn’t letting the old man go alone. If he got hurt, Shep wouldn’t be able to live with himself. Even though the Marshall men were jaguars, that didn’t mean the old man couldn’t get into a situation that got him hurt or possibly killed.
The bullet had gone clear through, but the poison it had been laced with left Harrison with a high fever and near death. Shep didn’t know what this woman was into, but he knew two things—she was dangerous, and she was his mate. What kind of mess had the old man gotten him into now?
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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.