Monday, July 25, 2016

Aedan Harrison Ambush Series book three Release Day& Giveaway 7/25/16



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Nikki Neal was damn good at her job. As an undercover cop, she had just about enough information to put the local crime boss away, but she needed more to make it stick. But when someone blew her cover, Nikki found herself on the wrong end of several guns. Aedan Harrison was on the fast track to winning the Governor's seat for the state of Ohio. He had his whole life, or at least his immediate future, planned out. What he didn't need was a mate he hadn't made plans for throwing a monkey wrench into the mix. The last thing Nikki needed was an overbearing jackass ordering her about, and telling her how much he didn't need her in his life right now. Well, she didn't need him either. She had work to do and needed to get herself and her grandda to safety. It didn't take long for Aedan's family to convince him in the error of his ways, and when he saw what he'd done he felt like an ass. All he wanted to do was make it right, but could he grovel enough for her to accept him?

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Chapter 1
Aedan smiled when he saw all the flyers that had his name on them being put into yards. Aedan Harrison for Governor. Who would have thought that only a short three weeks ago he’d been working for his brother’s firm, and now he was not just running for governor, but he was also having a grand time. He saw his dad coming out of his political offices and had to smile when he showed him the new signage.
“I had to give them a little grief ‘bout the picture. You look like a little boy in them, and I thought about having them paint a mustache on you or something; but your mom, she liked them so we went with it.” He nodded at his dad, proud as he could be about what was going on, but also a little overwhelmed. “All you boys really take good pictures. It’s in your blood. I think it’s a trait that I passed down to you, what do you think?”
Four days ago there had been an ad on the television about Aedan running in the upcoming election. He was getting a late start, he knew that, but he was getting a lot of support too. The president had been in the commercial, saying that Aedan was a man of men and that he would do the best job possible for the state. Aedan had sat there for nearly an hour after it had aired just thinking about how fast this was all going down. Then he’d gotten up, done a little dance, and gone to run with his brother Darcy, who had been staying with him for a few weeks. He didn’t mention anything about seeing the ad until they were having beers and pizza at his house later. Then after polishing off two large with every kind of meat on them, they’d talked.
“You think that when the time comes, you’ll be sitting in the big house?” Aedan said nothing. Not that he hadn’t been having the same thoughts, but he was terrified to say the words out loud. Even to his brothers. Darcy laughed as he continued. “You have a sappy look on your face. The same one you get when you’ve figured out what you’re getting for Christmas from Mom and Dad. Just so you know, you’re going to have to be better at the poker look if you’re having thoughts that big.”
“I just want to get this election under my belt, then I can go from there.” Darcy only nodded, but he did have a smile that said a lot. “How are things going with you and the new building? I’m thinking that in no time you’re going to have your own mailbox out front. Not that I’m in any hurry for you to leave here. I love hanging out with you.”
“Storm is having it made up as we speak, believe it or not. She said to consider it a building warming gift. Did I tell you that she’s going to help me with finding furniture for the building? I asked for things that would blend well with the old building, and she had this amazing desk delivered yesterday. I’m going to love being in my own place but still working for the family. Christ, she really does know people who know people.”
They both laughed, and Darcy asked about his first duty in office when he won.
“I’m thinking we need more jobs, don’t you? But as for Storm, she really does know about everyone. And she’s being very pushy about things beyond the governorship. I’m not thinking along those lines yet. I have done some research on my opponent. He’s not very…well, I was going to say very trustworthy, but I think he’s underhanded and a jackass as well.” Darcy said nothing. “You know him?”
“I do, sort of. And this is between the two of us, but if you want to find some true dirt about him, you should look into the people who used to work for him. Both professionally as well as at his home. I understand that they’re the same, they both work for him, but I’m talking about his different staffers.” Aedan wasn’t sure that he wanted to sling mud, and Darcy handed him a file. “I got this in my inbox at work today. It’s a questionnaire. I’m pretty sure that as your brother I wasn’t meant to get it, but there are some pretty in-depth questions there.”
He told his brother that he’d look into the people but didn’t pick up the file just yet. He wasn’t even sure that he wanted to. Darcy took the decision out of his hands after it sat there for several more minutes, and picked up the paperwork and flipped through it to the back. Aedan wasn’t sure what he was doing until he handed it to him. Aedan read the first three questions, then looked at Darcy.
“They asked you what you thought my sexual preferences were?” Darcy nodded. “What the hell does that have to do with anything? I mean, how the hell does he get by with asking those sort of personal questions?”
“Don’t know, but there are a lot more in there. Read on. At one point they ask me if I thought you were going to have affairs while in the seat. I’m thinking that if they get one person to answer yes to that, you’re going to be labeled as a pervert as well as some sort of sexual deviant. Whoever sent this out is fishing, and they don’t care what sort of catch they get. I’m having someone look into it.” Aedan laughed. “No, not Storm. If she gets wind of this there will be hell to pay.”
“Yeah, she’s a little overprotective when it comes to us. But this shit, it’s not the way I want to do things, Darcy. You know me. I’d never want to stoop this low.” He read a few more questions until he got to the last one. “It asks if there are any things that the reader can think of that might be helpful to the people of this town. There’s a number here they can call.”
“Yep. And I called.” Darcy leaned back in the couch that had only been delivered that morning. “They’re asking more questions too. Like how long have you been a drug addict. They’re not asking if you were, but how long you’ve been using. And when was the last time I’d shot up with you, and where that might have been. I assured the person that I’d never even seen you take an aspirin and they laughed. This guy told me that he had enough people calling in to talk to them that they knew that wasn’t true. Whoever is working to smear you, they’re not playing very fairly. Like I said, any of this gets out, lies or not, it’s not going to go well for you or the family. Storm will be the least of their problems when Mom and Dad find out.”
“No shit.” He leaned back as well. “I wonder who it is. I mean, with this kind of work, someone is really out to make me look bad. I’m sure if I asked Ellison he’d say something like ‘well, I don’t know’ in his best you’re a moron voice. Any ideas who I might have to have murdered?”
“Nope. As I said, I’m having someone look. Mason, too, is having a little fun with this. He said to tell you when it hits his inbox, he’s going to answer all the questions in his own language and hopes someone there gets a kick out of it. He’s been in and out of the offices for a couple of days now; I’ve not really found out why, but it’s fun having
him around. Mason said that he’s helping out while Riordan is out of town.” Aedan asked when he’d be back. “Don’t know. Storm has been out of the country for a few days too. But I think she’s coming back tomorrow. The president has them doing something overseas, and I think they’re going to make a little vacation of it too.”
He’d spoken to Darcy, and now it was two days past when they were to have returned home and neither Storm nor Riordan was back yet. Something had come up, they’d been told. He’d never found out what it was, but he knew that it was like them to rest up after they were done working. Even Dad had been saying how he wished he’d had such perks. Then he and Mom had gone to wherever it was to help out.
Aedan was getting things put away in the kitchen when he heard someone in the drive. The house had a very long drive, lined with trees and a big fucking gate at the end, so he knew that whoever was here had made an effort in coming to see him. Going out to the back deck that wrapped around the entire house, he watched. While the car was in front of the garage, he stood there while whoever it was decided to either get out or drive away. The elderly man that finally got out of the car was no one he knew.
He stood with the car door opened and his hands on the door. Both of them. He looked more like he was hanging on rather than just taking in the view. Aedan decided that tomorrow he was going to have someone manning the gate house as Storm had told him to do weeks ago.
“Can I help you?” The man looked around like he was trying to decide if they were alone or not. Just as he was ready to ask again, another car pulled in the drive and he was relieved to see it was Darcy. Neither man spoke, but his brother did come up on the deck with him. “Perhaps you’re at the wrong address.”
“No, I’m where I’m to be. I’m here to meet someone else. It’s important that nobody knows where I am, you see, and I was told that I’d be okay here for a little while.” Aedan nodded. “You’re the boy, the one running for governor. I saw the signs in people’s yards. Congratulations on that. But you need to get yourself someone to man that gate down there. Doesn’t do you squat if anyone can come in here uninvited.”
“I was just thinking the same thing when you pulled up. Who are you?” The man looked worn out. Depressed, and like he wanted to curl into a ball and simply give up. Aedan had no idea where those thoughts had come from, but he had a feeling that they were all true. Making his way off the deck, Darcy was with him but he stayed back, like he was going to be ready should anything happen. When Aedan was nearly to the man he smelled it…blood. Old and fresh. “Are you hurt?”
“Yes. I got shot up a couple of days ago. I thought for sure that I was a goner, but I managed to get myself free. I’ve been on the run since, not able to stop the hole in me other than to press me a towel or two on it. Hurts like someone has been doing a jig on my insides. You’re not human.” Aedan shook his head and looked the man over. “I can manage to move in a bit, but I have to rest up if you’re planning to kick me to the curb.”
“All right, I won’t kick you anywhere so long as you don’t give me a reason to. Besides, I don’t think you’d make it if I did. I can help you, if you’d allow it.” He just shook his head and continued to hold onto the door that he was near. “Who are you meeting? Maybe I can call them for you.”
“It’s me, Aedan.” He looked at Mason as he made his way to the elderly man. “He’s a stubborn old coot, but I owe someone to keep him safe. Otherwise I would have left his sorry ass on the side of the road.” The older man laughed and then coughed hard enough to make Aedan think he was in a great deal more pain than he was letting on.
Aedan had no idea why he thought that Mason was lying about his feelings toward the stranger. But Mason picked him up in his arms and asked Aedan if he could use his house. Before he could figure out why the man was here or who he was, Mason had taken him to one of the spare bedrooms on the second floor and laid the now unconscious man on the bed.
“I’ll call Ennis.”
Darcy left the room when it was apparent that the man was really hurt. Mason pulled up his shirt and they both looked at the wounds. He had indeed been shot; twice, as a matter of fact. And both wounds were seeping enough to make Aedan realize that he might have used more than a couple of towels to try and stop the bleeding.
“His name is Neal. Paddy Neal. He’s an old friend of a friend that…Browning asked me to bring him here as they’re not home yet. I would have taken him to my place, but it’s too out in the open as yet. He needs a place to hide out until I can get him somewhere safe.” Aedan asked him why here. “Because, my dear friend, your house is built like a fortress and I have been here before, so had you not been home, I could have entered and put him up. It really is important that he is safe.”
“I don’t understand why he isn’t in a hospital, or at the very least a clinic somewhere.” Mason wasn’t one to explain himself, and this time was no different. As they both waited on Ennis to arrive with his black bag, they stripped Paddy’s clothing off. Mason told Aedan what he knew…or in this case, what he wanted Aedan to know.
“Just over a week ago there was a shooting. Nothing you would have heard about here, but an undercover agent was shot several times in the chest at close range. She was about the best there was, but the bad guys didn’t care for her. This is her grandda. Paddy was on the phone with her when she was taken out and presumed killed. She wasn’t, but not for lack of them trying. Just as they were ready to put one in her head, I arrived and took her away to someplace else.” Aedan felt like he was in one of those carnival rides that spun you about so quickly that you couldn’t figure out up or down. “She’s critical, in grave condition actually, but she is going to pull through. But as far as the world is concerned, the world that she works in, she’s dead. And we need to keep it that way for a little while longer. I also have her phone.”
“Her phone.” Mason nodded as he sat down on the other chair in the room. Aedan had already taken the other. “And this is making sense to me how? In the event you didn’t notice, this is not a hospital. I have no staff here that can help out, and I’m pretty sure that since you said you’d been here before, you know that this house isn’t equipped to have guests just yet. The only reason I have this room is because I got a great deal on this set at an auction.”
“This house is very old, and at one time, many decades even before your father was a glint in anyone’s eye, this house was owned by a very dear and close friend of mine. We had many…well, let’s just say that if these walls could talk, you’d be out of here in a
minute.” This wasn’t funny and Aedan said that to him. “No, it’s not. But as I was saying, when Nikki was shot and presumably killed, they went after her grandda when her body and the phone that she used came up missing. I took her someplace safe, as I said, to make sure she would get the care that she needed. Also, I have taken care that the phone isn’t found. She has some pretty determined enemies because of what she’s found out about one of the drug dealers in her city. And trust me when I tell you, his little Nikki is one hell of an investigator.”
“Okay, let me get this straight. This undercover agent was murdered but not. Her grandda was shot to hell and you brought him here. And now, for whatever reason, you think he needs to stay here while he either recuperates or dies, and I’m supposed to keep quiet about it.” Mason grinned and nodded. “You do know that I’m running for governor, right? And this is just the kind of shit that my opponent is looking for to bury me in, correct?”
“You will be fine, young Aedan. And I’d not worry about the questionnaires either. I’ve taken care that none of those questions ever get out in the public.” Aedan asked Mason how he knew that. “Let’s just say that I know more people than Browning does, and mine are a bit more ruthless than she is. And as for Paddy being here, it’s because the president and Browning asked me to bring him here for you to keep safe. They have a great deal more confidence in you than you appear to have in yourself.”
That wasn’t quite true, but Aedan was nervous about having a bleeding stranger in his house. He knew that his family would cover for him in the event someone found out. And if the shit hit the fan, like Mason was suggesting, then they’d be there for him as well.
When Ennis came in a few minutes later, Darcy asked to speak to Aedan. As soon as they entered the hallway, leaving Mason and his other brother to deal with Paddy, Darcy started pacing the long hall. Darcy was a thinker, one who did not blurt out whatever was on his mind until he was sure of his facts.
“I think this is my fault.” Aedan asked him how when Mason had told the man to come here. “I helped him. In a way. You know how I love the news? And especially ones that have to do with syndicates and shit like that? Well, Mason knew as well.”
“Go on.” His brother really did have a fixation on things in the news. He had an app on his computer both here and at home that would tell him every major thing going down. Even his phone and car were rigged up with it. “If you tell me that you called Mason when this went down, I’m going to brain you.”
“I didn’t. Mason called me. About a week before. He said that he had an idea that something was going to go down with a friend that was working undercover. And that he wanted me to keep an ear out for something, anything, that might have to do with this certain city…Chicago. So when the call came in that an officer was down, I contacted him right away and told him what I knew. I think he went to get him or something.” He told him it was apparently a woman. “Okay, that makes sense. He probably had some affair with her and now he’s protecting her or something. Whatever it is, I think this man had something to do with it. Because a couple of hours later, I hear the name again, this time
they say it’s at a residence and shots are being fired. I let Mason know and now the man shows up here. What do you suppose this is about?”
“I don’t know. He just told me that the president and Storm told him to bring the undercover person’s grandda here.” Darcy just nodded, but looked as confused as Aedan felt. “I’m guessing they have something to do with him then. All I know is that I have a wounded man in my house that I know nothing about, as well as some woman out there that may or may not be dead. And I’m to keep quiet about it so that they’ll be safe. I have no problem with that, but I wish I had more information.”
The door opened behind them and Mason stood there. He looked injured, and that was when Aedan realized it was daylight and he was out in the sunlight. When he leaned back against the wall, seemingly exhausted, he and Darcy helped him to the lower levels and away from most of the sunlight. He took a seat but refused their offer of blood.
“She is not my lover, though once I had a look at the little morsel, I had thoughts of changing her and taking her to my bed. But alas, I cannot. She is off limits to me.” Aedan asked why. “She is the niece and goddaughter of the president. The man presently in your bedroom is his uncle. They’re keeping their identities quiet because of what they do and did for a living.”
Aedan nodded then shook his head. Goddaughter and uncle of the president? What else would he find out, that they were also aliens from another planet? Shaking his head to try and clear some of it up only made it worse. He was beginning to have a headache right between his eyes. And he never got headaches.
“Why here? Why not in some other house, closer to him? Or for that matter, why not in a hospital? And what do you mean, did and do? This is like being on a loop de loop ride and you can’t get off; you know that, don’t you?” Mason said nothing but leaned back on the couch. Aedan started to demand answers, but he sat down too and thought about things. “It’s because of this woman being undercover, isn’t it? Something about that is why they have to be protected. She knows something or has.... The phone…you mentioned the phone. You’re thinking that whatever is on it might be something someone would need to bring them in. And those people, the ones on the phone, need to think them dead. For now, like you said, they need to be safe to heal and to be able to bring this to light later. And if the people after them knew differently, then shit would hit the fan.”
“I would say that you’re onto it, at least I think. As I said before, I don’t know a great many of the details. Other than I was asked by Browning to keep an eye out for her. It was most difficult since this cop mostly worked during the daylight hours. But I knew that young Darcy here had an ear for this, so I asked him to have a listen for me.” Aedan looked at his brother then back at Mason. “I only had to give him a name and the city. The rest, it was up to him. He might well have saved her life by being diligent in this. And most assuredly her grandfather. I’m sorry to say that I was too weak to bring him to you quickly. Taking Nikki away the way that I did drained me badly. Driving here was the only way he could have made it. Thankfully he had taken precautions, and had another car with money and clothing it in for them both.”
“And this man, he is involved how? I mean, other than being her grandfather, how is it he has been shot? Being in the wrong place at the wrong time?” Mason said he only knew a few details. “Do I need to know them? Or better yet, do I want to know them?”
“I would say not.” Mason stood up. “There will be staff coming here to care for him and your household. Not from me but the president. He doesn’t want you to have to worry about things, so he has asked a butler to come in and take care of things here should you want. He said to call it a thank you gift. I know Basford; he and his wife are good people.”
“All right, but to be honest, I’m not sure what I need at this point. I’ve only been here for a few months. I mean, Howard is a good friend of the family, but I don’t really need someone to take over my house.” Mason said he figured he’d say that. “How do I give him updates on his uncle?”
“That won’t be necessary at this point. He said that he will contact you when the time is right. But for now, it is safer for his uncle to not be associated with him. Not because he’s done anything wrong, nothing like that, but he should like to keep him safe. And he knows he will be here.” Aedan had a thought, not a good one. Mason laughed. “You have many things running through that head of yours, my friend. I would suggest that you not read anything into this other than a good friend needed your help. You know as well as I that Howard is a good man. If he had not been Browning would have ended him long ago.”
Aedan was still sitting on his couch when someone came into the room with him. He only stared at the man, not having any idea if he should have been frightened, taken cover, or put out his hand in friendship. His head was going in so many directions he wasn’t sure which way was up.
“My name is Basford, my lord. You were told that I was coming?” He nodded. “Mason sent us to help out around the house. Cook and clean for you should you need it, and hire a staff should you want that as well. I’m to understand from him that you have a large household and may need more than just me in residence.”
“To be honest with you Basford, I have no idea what I need.” The man only nodded. “Do you know what’s going on here, with the man upstairs then?”
“I do. I have been informed that should he need something more than he has at the moment, I’m to make a few calls.” More than Aedan knew, and he said as much. “Mason, he said that you were slightly overwhelmed and that you may need a little guidance until you are settled.”
“That might not ever happen.” Basford nodded. “I’d really like to have some breakfast, then while I’m eating, perhaps you and I can figure out what I do with a butler and cook. While I know the duties of both, I’m not sure how to go about getting things done. Does that make sense?”
“It does. I have met the new cook at your parents’ house, as well as their butler there. Mr. Shaw has been a good friend of mine for many years.” That was helpful. Shaw had been working for his family for decades. “Shall we go to the kitchen and see where we stand there? My wife, she’s here as well and has asked to do a bit of cooking for you.
She’s not up to the standards of the young new Mrs. Harrison, but she said she can fill your belly.”
He was talking about Andi, Mac’s wife. Nodding once, he got up to follow the man. Whatever was going on right now, he thought it best if he just played along. For now, anyway.
As they entered the kitchen, he thought again about why the president would have sent the man here. Aedan wondered if he thought that just because he had endorsed him for the governorship that he could take advantage of him. Not that it was a huge hardship having Paddy in his home, but it was odd that the man had been shot and needed to hide out. Then there was the undercover cop thing too. Why was she presumed to be dead? And who wanted her that way? As he sat down to wait for his breakfast, a notebook and pen was set before him. He looked up at the woman, who also handed him a large glass of orange juice.
“To make notes with. Winnie said that you were going to figure things out.” He asked her who Winnie was. “My husband. His name is Winfred, but I call him Winnie. My name is Rose, Rose Basford. Would you like for me to call him Basford as well?”
“No. I like Winnie too. It sounds less…I don’t know. Less stiff. I’m new to this having a staff thing.” She smiled at him and he felt comforted by it. “My parents, you know them as well?”
“Oh yes. Well, not personally, but I know of them. It’s Browning that we know better. Her family would hire us when the staff was in flux. Happened a great deal at the beginning of their tenure in the mansion. But Winnie and I were never up to snuff for them. Only good enough…I should not be speaking of her parents so poorly. Forgive me.” He told her it was fine. He’d heard they were a little cold. “Browning—it was what we called her for so long after they passed—she wasn’t what they wanted in a child. Daring and full of spit and vinegar. Once, when she was about four, we’d been there for a couple of days when she came into the house with not just a snake in her hand, but a turtle as well. Told us right off if we dared cook them for her supper, she’d have us put before a firing squad. I have never laughed so hard in my life.”
When Winnie cleared his throat, his wife moved to the stove. But before pulling out things from the fridge, she kissed Winnie on the cheek and made him blush. Aedan thought he’d enjoy having them around as much as he did his parents.
It took them two hours to get things squared away. And when Ennis came to join them, he was fed as well. Darcy had gone to work, saying that he’d be back late because he had to find him a place to live, and had his eye on a building or two in the downtown area. He’d been saying that for nearly the three weeks that he’d been sleeping over here.
“Your guest is resting right now. I took out the bullets and gave them to Mason when he came back for them. He said he’d take care that they got into the right hands. Mr. Neal is going to be down for a few more days, so I’ve made arrangements to have him a nurse brought in. Also through Mason. He’ll just need help getting up and down and his dressing changed. I’ll come see him a couple of times a day if you don’t mind. Just to make sure he’s healing all right.”
“You don’t want to do this.” Ennis said that he really didn’t mind. That he owed Mason. “Everyone seems to owe him. How is it he’s indebted to you?”
“The new building that I’m moving into? It has a lair in the sublevels. I mean, really, it’s an apartment with all the things that you’d find anywhere, except no windows. I’ve given him permission to live there for as long as I own the building. It’s safer for him, he said, than the aunts’ house.” Lynn and Sally, aunts of Stormy, had been letting Mason stay in their basement while he was in the area. And he’d been having repairs done on the house in return. “He said that he’d take care of the taxes for me, but I said I just felt better with him living there. Sort of a safety net should I need it in the event the place is robbed. I’ll have a lot of drugs in the place when I’m done moving in. Oh yeah, that reminds me, I have to talk to an attorney about something. I got this letter in the mail about something to do with drugs on the premises. Did you ever hear of a vault for drugs in a business like mine? Huge sucker, too, if I’m reading this right.”
“No. I mean, I guess that makes sense, but it’s not like you’re going to be selling them, right? We’re talking just things like samples and such.” Ennis said that was it, but he had to get one. “I’d check into it like you are. Probably just a precautionary letter they sent to all doctors.”
After his brother left, Aedan went to check up on his new guest and wasn’t surprised to find him resting comfortably. Getting ready to go into the office himself, Aedan thought about all the things that could go wrong with this. First and foremost, he could be out of the running for a job that he’d come to want very badly.




Monday, July 11, 2016

Richard Blood BrotherHood Book Five Release Blitz 7/11/16



Richard James is a very old vampire and was already an immortal when he joined Rembrandt's team. Old grievances and heartaches, committed decades ago, still haunt him today. The murders of his mate and brother can be placed on a single culprit--Lucia Alverez.

Ryiah isn't happy. It's do as her sister says or suffer the consequences. She can handle the beatings, but being locked up in a cell again with no sunshine or earth is more than she can bear. Ryiah is fae and needs these things to survive. So when her sister says to bring her her mate, Richard James, the second lord of the Highlands castle of Ireland, that's what Ryiah sets out to do.

Vampires and fae are mortal enemies. The blood of the fae is like an intoxicating drug to a vampire, turning the vampire feral. Rick knows immediately that the beautiful woman is fae, but that's not the problem, there are other fae at Rembrandt's compound and Rick has no problems being around them. But this one...there is something different about her....

From the moment he touches her, he knows that she's his mate...the mate he didn't want...and to make matters worse, she is the sister to his mortal enemy--Lucia Alverez....












                                                                Happy Reading 







Prologue
1816
“You will go to the home, and you will kill them both. If I so much as get wind that either of them live, I will hunt you and your family down and kill them all, making you watch as I do so.” The faerie before her nodded, his wings moving so quickly that he appeared to be floating in the air without aid. Lucia knocked him out of the air and wanted to ask him to repeat what she’d said to him, but he just lay before her, his face nearly buried in the dirt. “What are you waiting for? Do you think I should go and hold them for you whilst you remove their heads? Or perhaps you wish for me to drive the wood into their chests and reward you for my work?”
“Nay, my lady. Both of them will die this day. This I promise you.” She waited for him to leave her, but he lay there. Before she could ask him what he was waiting for, he lifted his head to glance at her. “He is said to be very powerful, my lady. Much stronger than even I am, being a lowly faerie and all. All I have to help me in this task is my magic, puny as it is.”
“You are asking for something? Perhaps you think you should have some of what I have?” He told her no and whimpered when she stood up. “You have it in your head to go there, to have some of me within yourself to kill this man? You wish a part of my magic? Do you think he will not know, should you fail, that it was me? That he will not smell me upon you?”
“Nay, my lady. I was thinking that you could give me a weapon to use. A sword to defend myself should he arise whilst I’m there.” She’d not thought of that, giving him a weapon. But there wasn’t any reason he should know that. “I should like to be able to come back here and report that I have done as you asked. I fear that should I only be able to kill one of them first, it will be doubly hard to kill the other with my magic drained so much.”
“There are ample things for you to take with you at the door. I am not stupid enough to think you could do this without my help. But bring them back to me if you please. I have a fondness for those things.” There wasn’t anything there, and when he returned to her to ask after them, she blamed it on someone else. Anyone but herself.
After he left her the second time, she sat in her chair. It was nothing more than a simple chair, not even made wholly of wood, but it served. For now. Someday, soon she hoped, she’d get her something worth sitting in. But for now she would use some of her magic, very little of it, to make it appear that it was as grand as she was.
A knock at her door had her tensing up. Surely he could not have done what she’d asked so soon. But when the Council of Magic and the Gathering entered her chambers, Lucia had a fear so deep that she felt her magic curl around her. When they both visited a person—both the ones that made the rules and those that punished when rules were not followed—you knew that something was wrong.
“Lucia Alvarez, it has been brought to our attention that you have been using magic to better your own station in life. Using it in ways that are against the rules of our kind. Of all kinds, as a matter of fact.” She wanted to point out that bettering her own station in life should always come first, but he continued before she could. Probably a good thing when she thought on it. “And as such, after looking into the matter, we have deemed the accusation to be true. You have murdered others for their magic, lesser beings that would have added nothing to your own base. You’ve stolen from higher faeries; not just their magic, but things that you have used to make yourself richer and your magic darker. You have also not paid your dues to us, something that you were to do every year on the day of your birth. These rules, and a great many others that you have dismissed for some reason, are to be followed to the letter, and this you know. You will come with us, and be heard before the Gathering.”
It was on the tip of her tongue to tell them to go away. That she had more important things going on right now that didn’t have anything to do with them. Of course, that would be a mistake. One thing that she had learned over the decades she’d been alive was that she wasn’t to mess with the Council. And never ever the Gathering, which was known to be harsh in their judgment, as well as quick.
She found herself transported before the Gathering and her hands bound in magic so that she couldn’t use her magic against them. It thrilled her to no end that they were afraid of her. But when they began to speak, each of them naming a law she had broken or a deed that she had done against humans and her kind, she knew that someone had turned her in. Someone who was going to be dead, and very soon.
When the list seemed to be coming to an end, Lucia wasn’t sure if she was supposed to be excited that her list of grievances was so long or pretend that she was saddened by it. Either way, she was pretty sure that she was in trouble. When asked what she had to say about her list of crimes, she pouted prettily at them.
“I don’t know what you’re speaking of. I have been a model faerie. I have.... As you might not know, I have been a volunteer at the local branches of the hospital, as well as working in other places that I cannot name at the moment.” There weren’t any places that she’d been working, nor had she ever volunteered. It was Ryiah who had done all of this and put her name to it, so if questioned, she would look like she had. “I have several letters of acclaim that tells of my work at the hospital. I am also on the board of directors at the library.” She tried to think what else was on that list, but came up blank. “This was all just a mistake,” she told them. “Whoever has turned me in for these crimes, they must have some sort of grudge against me.”
“Can you produce these letters?” She nodded and snapped her fingers. Nothing happened, of course, but she asked them for this one bit of magic to do as they asked. She needed to return to her home to get them and to bring them back to them. Just as soon as she was finished with the project she was working on. “No, that won’t be necessary. We shall send someone to your home to retrieve them. Where do you have them filed?”
Again, Lucia had no idea. There had been a list on her desk, but where was it now? She wasn’t sure where she’d put the paperwork that had been given to her over the last few months. She was positive that she’d not tossed it away, but she’d not filed it either.
Instead of telling them this, she asked to have her assistant brought to them so that she could go with them. In seconds, less really, Ryiah was standing by the dais with the Gathering.
Ryiah wasn’t happy…that much was obvious. But Lucia didn’t care what she was upset about now. It was more than likely something that she’d done, but so long as Ryiah did as she was told when she was told to do it, she could be as pissed as she wanted.
After the Gathering told her what they needed, Ryiah glared at her. It would have been her greatest pleasure to kill her. Every second of every day she wished the woman dead. But she couldn’t kill her. Few knew the reason why, but Lucia wasn’t able to even prick Ryiah’s fingers without great pain to herself. But that didn’t stop her from making her the scapegoat of every one of her deeds. Or at the very least the one that got her out of trouble.
The paperwork was brought to the Gathering, and once it was verified that it was real, Lucia was sent to a cell. It was better than having her head removed any day, but she didn’t want to be here at all. The next ten days, very little in the long run, was to be her punishment. It would keep her from her tasks and information. Information that she needed.
But alas, she would do her time for now, because it was better than the alternative. This was nothing, not for the deaths of the hordes of people that she had murdered. Not for the beheading of several heads of their government. She was in this cell for ten days because she had not reported the fact that she was now living in a nest of vampires. Who, she might have pointed out to them—but didn’t—were all dead. Also by her hand.
Ryiah came to see her on the last day of her sentence. She’d been calling to her since she’d been locked up, but today was the first time she showed. There was and would always be bad blood between these two, but to leave her without one bit of information, or even a few new clothes to put on, was cruel. And Lucia knew her sister was about as cruel as it came when she needed something from her.
“I’m only here to inform you that I have moved my things to the family home. I will no longer work for you.” Lucia only smiled at her. “You have no hold over me. I owe you nothing. And should you try and kill me, as you have done to so many others that I cannot fathom why you’ve not been killed by the Gathering, know that I have a list of not only where you have put the bodies, but also magic that can be used to watch you do the deeds.”
“I don’t care what you think you have over me, Ryiah. You’re nothing, and will never be anything more than a pawn in my plans. So you will move your things back to the house where I am. I have more need of you than before. The Council will keep a closer eye on me and my magic now, and I have no desire to be brought here again. And since you have decided, for whatever reasons that you have in that small mind of yours, to not come here when I call to you, I will punish you. Not as badly as I would like, but you will suffer.” Ryiah told her that she didn’t care. “Oh, but you should, Ryiah. You really should. Being my sister will not only open doors for you, it can shut them as well. When the Council finds out that you have lied to them to save me, what do you think they’ll do to you?”
“No more than you have tried over the centuries, Lucia. In fact, I think death would be better than living with you for the rest of my days.” Lucia stood up and came to the bars to scare her sister. But Ryiah held her ground, even went so far as to lift her chin in an act of defiance. “I despise you, Lucia. I truly do.”
“I care not for your feelings, Ryiah. Should it be possible, I would gladly kill you myself. But our blood relationship prevents it.” Ryiah just stood there, and Lucia wouldn’t have believed it possible, but she hated her sister even more in that moment because she truly looked as if she did not care what Lucia did to her. “You’ll do as I say because you know the consequences should you not. I own you. And will until I say differently.”
Ryiah didn’t move. Didn’t so much as blink at her. Lucia was fearful of her sister, if the truth was known. No one but her knew Ryiah for what she was…a powerful faerie in her own right. But Lucia had always made sure that she was close by to control it. And if Ryiah ever found her mate, then Lucia would pay, and pay dearly.
“I loathe you, Lucia.” Lucia smiled. She’d won. Again. And after waiting for her to tell her she was moving back, Lucia said nothing. So apparently she was going to be denied her begging, a pleasure that she tried to get from her sister as much as she could. “The woman is dead. The man you tried to have murdered? He is alive, but saddened because of you. And I do hope you know that when the other comes to claim you as his mate, you will no longer have a hold over me. A mate to you means my freedom. I’m going to do everything in my power to make sure that he finds you, too.”
“You will die when he finds me. I will make sure that I’m there when your head is removed from your body. No one will be there to save you, least of all me.” Ryiah said nothing, but did smile. A frightening sort of not giving a crap sort of smile. “Or perhaps I will bind you to him, to be his sex slave whilst I have my fun.”
“I will have no ties to him but through your magic. I will murder him before he even touches me.” She could do that, Lucia thought. Murder a man that was nothing to her. “Think well on your next move, Lucia. I will be your downfall if you make me move back to your home.”
Of course, she had to live with her. How else was she to keep an eye on her sister? Keep her away from all men that she did not deem to be safe and not her mate? Ryiah wasn’t going anywhere, and if she had to make her hurt to stay, then she would. Murdering her would be better, but again she wasn’t able to do that. At least not by her own hand. And she wasn’t worried about her having a mate. Lucia had taken precautions on that score, and he would soon be dead too. Or he’d better be. But Ryiah would not know that.
“I care not what you think you will or won’t do to me, Ryiah. I am your master and I will expect you there when I return.” She sat on the bed and glared at her sister. “Malcomb will be my mate, but not for many, many decades if he lives through this. I hope that he ends his own life. It will save me so much trouble. But if he does not by then, I have a plan that will make you heel, much better than you are now. Go to the house, have it cleaned from top to bottom. Then I want six...nay, seven men in my bed awaiting me. They will fuck me until I am sated. Then I will deal with you.”
After she left, Lucia sat there thinking. If her sister ever found out, ever even had an idea what she’d done to her, Lucia would be dead, by Ryiah’s hand. In this, her death would be justified. The bond that held them safe from each other would be broken, and her sister would be well within her rights to murder her. No harm to one that is blood. The rule, like so many others, had been one of the first ones that she’d broken. And there would be little that Lucia could do to stop her.
“So long as she never finds her mate, I will be safe.” It was her only fear…to be found out by Ryiah when she came into her power with her other half. Her magic, the very part of her that Lucia had stolen from her, would come to her sister then, and Lucia would be left with nothing. Not one single bit of magic to even call her sister to her. “Her magic is safe for me, and I will never let her go to find him. Whoever he might be.”
~~~
Rick moved among the ruins of his brother’s home. The pain in his own body was only secondary to the one in his heart. His wounds would heal when he next fed. He knew this, but the death of one that he loved as much as he did his brother would haunt him for the rest of his life. The death of his sister-in-law hurt them all.
Rick had been staying with his brother and his family last night or he might not have been able to pull his brother from the burning shell. He had no idea if a stray ember from the fires from the night before had started the blaze, or if someone had dropped a candle. As it was, his brother’s lovely wife had been killed by a stake through the heart, more than likely from falling timber, before he could get to her. Rick didn’t know why; if it was set, who would do this to his brother and his wife? But he was going to find out.
Turning when someone said his name, he looked at his only friend.
“You must go to ground, my friend. Should you stay out here longer, you will join your sister-in-law in the afterlife, and she will be most upset with you should you not avenge her death.” Janell looked around, then back at him. “I will find she who has done this. And when I do, I will make sure that she suffers greatly for it.”
“You know that it was set then?” She nodded at him. “Then I have no wish for you to get into trouble either. Nay, do not do this for me. I shall take care of it. Besides, you know as well as I that it was Lucia.” Janell said nothing, not even to acknowledge what they both knew. “She meant to destroy him for a reason that I cannot know.”
“It is said that Mary was to die in childbirth and Lucia was to be Malcomb’s second mate. I do know that the earth says this, but I cannot believe that such a match would have been correct. Your brother is a good man, kind and full of life. While Lucia is—”
“She’s a bitch and a murderer. And should she find out that I am the one that turned her in for her crimes all those weeks ago, I will be next on her list. I don’t even know why she bothered with poor Malcomb. He leads such a quiet life, not even bothering to be involved in family much. He is so timid and afraid of things.” Janell smiled at him. “You find this funny?”
“Nay, my lord, I do not. But she is with the Council as we speak. She sits in a cell awaiting her fate. The Council has found her guilty of the charge and she will be punished. I know not which charge, but it is said to have her behind bars until such time as things can be carried out.” He asked her how long that would be. “I do not know that
either, my lord. The Council has their own rules and secrets, and my kind, or any kind of being, is not privy to them. I only know that she was taken before them and that she was found guilty.”
Rick felt somewhat better, even relieved, but his brother and his family had suffered at her hands and he wanted revenge. But it had been taken out of his hands now. She would die quickly and not suffer in ways that he was…or his brother.
When he felt something akin to a blade into his heart, he fell to his knees. He knew what it was immediately. Malcomb was no more.
“My lord?” He waved Janell away, his heart tearing apart, because as surely as he was standing here, he knew that his brother had met the sun. His pain for the death of his wife was just too much. “My lord, you’re frightening me. Come away from there and tell me....” When she paused, he knew that she was as aware, if not more so, of what happened as he was.
“He’s dead.” Janell put her arms around him and helped him to an area in the yard that had not been a part of the devastation. “Malcomb hurt terribly. Even when I tried to help him out of the burning house, he begged me to leave him behind. Now…now he is gone from me.”
“It is the way of your kind.” He sat there thinking of his kind. The way that they took mates to make them stronger, yet it killed a part of them when their mates were gone. “Your own mate, she is coming too. Her love will mend you. I know this.”
“I’ve no wish to meet her.” Janell said nothing. “What should happen to her? When I cannot care for her the way that I did my brother?”
“I cannot tell you of that future. You know this. I only know that she comes to you. That is more than you should know of this.” He did know it, but it wasn’t something that he liked. “I have given you a part of me, my lord. You can now be in the sunlight because of our bond. This will keep you safe. And once you have taken your bride, she too will enjoy the benefits that come with you being her other half.”
As he sat there, Janell fussing with him about what he was doing, he looked down and saw the faerie garden that he had sat on. When he looked at her, he could see her shock and tried to stand up to move. He felt the pain almost as soon as he opened his mouth to ask her where he was, on whose garden he had lain.
His back and neck burned as if someone was setting hot stones to his skin. Even as he cried out that he wanted help with it, he knew that Janell couldn’t help him. Wouldn’t be able to, because she knew, just as he did, what was happening to him. Someone was killing him.
As he cried out over and over with the pain of it, he saw the blood as it ran down his body and covered his chest and arms, as whatever was going on with his body was diminishing. When it was over, the pain was less and he could feel that whatever had happened had created a marking on his body that would never leave him.
“She is a great and powerful being, the woman you have brought awake.” He looked up, seeing Janell bowing before a being that was as pure white as his blood was red. “You must stand and thank her, my lord. She has given you a great gift.”
“I hurt too badly for me to consider this a gift.” The laughter had him looking up again. He felt himself being pulled to the woman—for he had no doubt that was what the being was—his feet not touching the ground that neither of them stood upon, his pain gone. “Thank you, my lady. But since I think you hurt me, I think you owe me as well.”
“I have given you all that I can, Lord Richard James.” He felt his heart pound in his chest and wondered at it. “You will face many things in your life. A great many deaths yet, some that will bring you yet again to your knees. But know that as you stand before me, you will survive. Nothing will kill you.”
“The sun, it cannot, but a sword can remove my head.” She told him no longer. “I am but a mere vampire, my lady. Subject to the ways of my kind.”
“I have chosen you, with the help of your friend here, to help me with a great project. It will be many years from now. Decades will pass…centuries before she comes to you.” He asked her who. “A being so strong that she will give you more than you have ever seen. A power that will dominate all that bow before you. And a love that will know no bounds. A love that will last you both until the end of all time.”
“I’m not deserving. I think you...perhaps you meant my brother, Malcomb. He was a man to deserve such a gift. Not I.” She smiled at him and turned to look at Janell. It was then that he saw the jagged scar on the woman’s face. It marred her from hairline to chin. “Who would dare do such a thing to you?”
“It is of no consequence now that I have found you, Lord James. She will suffer greatly for hurting me thusly. When you meet a woman of great humility, you will save her for me. She will give you her heart, but not easily. Her body will be the greatest gift that a man can receive. Yet before she comes, there will be much death; you will witness many lives being taken in the name of greed. This woman and those that you are with will gain all that I have given you this day.”
He closed his eyes when she asked him to. When he opened them again Rick could see it then, markings all around his neck and down his back. He knew that magic had put them there. Because of what he was, there should have been no magic to mark him so. Magic, very strong and powerful magic, had done what nothing else could. He looked at her when she said his name.
“What is this?” She only smiled at him. “You’ve marked me as belonging to you. What if I...? What would you do should I try and end my life?”
The sword was in her hand before he could blink. She swung it around, cutting into his throat as soon as she lifted it to her shoulder. He felt it slice through him. Grabbing his neck to try and stop the flow of blood or his head from falling, he felt nothing. Not a drop of his blood, nor even a small tear to his flesh. And there was no pain. He asked her if she’d missed.
“Nay, I do not miss when I wield the sword of my kind.” Again, he asked her what she was. “You will live as I have decreed. And this favor I ask of you, you will carry it out for me and things will...the earth and the inhabitants of it will thank you for it.”
“Why me?” She only smiled at him again. Rick had a feeling that even if he were to ask her a million times, he’d not get an answer from her. “My lady, I just want to live my life as a vampire. I have no desire to find a mate. I don’t want anyone in my life that....
Well, I should like to join my brother. And there is a woman who will wish me dead soon enough. I would rather not subject a mate to such—”
“The matter is closed.” He felt his anger take him, burn over him like acid. But when she laughed, he knew a new kind of pain, consuming him in ways that had him thinking the marking of his body had been mere child’s play, his body stiff with it. “’Twill do you not one bit of good to try and harm me, Lord Richard James. Should you try, even thinking that I will end this between us, it will not work. You belong to me. And until you have completed this favor, you will be alive and healthy no matter what things come your way. Even during what you think of as your blackest times.”
When he was dropped to the ground, he stayed where he was. He knew her to be gone. The magic that had brought her to him was gone as well. But not the feeling that he’d been had. That he’d been tricked. He looked at Janell then.
“Nay, whatever goes into your head, I had nothing to do with it. When I sat you there, the ground was clear of any garden. It was not until I saw what you were about that I realized that it was someone’s magic.” He knew that. She could no more lie to him than he could her. “You have been chosen, my lord. A great gift was given to you as well.”
“I don’t think of it as a gift, Janell. Did you not hear her say that a great many people would die? That I would have my heart broken many times while I waited for my mate to come to me?” She nodded. “Will you remain with me? Not leave my side while I have to go on living?”
“I must take to the ground for a time.” He asked her why. “I need to rest. I have been, as were many other beings here, drained so that you might speak to the lady as you have. To hold her image for you is very taxing to my kind.”
“What was she? And why did she pick me?” Janell said nothing. He wasn’t sure if she was trying to keep from telling him the truth or if she didn’t know. “How long will you leave me? When will you return?”
“I know not.” He nodded and stood up. “You are lord now. You are aware of this, are you not? When your brother died, his lands and monies, they came to you.”
“I’ve no wish of it.” He didn’t need it, either. What use could he have for lands and monies? “Take it for yourself.”
“I shall protect it from others. I will rest on the land where he has died. The connection to the rest will be there for me.” He didn’t care and said as much to her. “You will someday, my lord. If for no other reason than when you take a mate.”
“I won’t. Not ever.” He knew it for the lie that it was. “The lady, she said I was to have pain, pain that would bring me to my knees again. I won’t have it, Janell. I can’t stand pain like this again.”
He wondered if his own mate would die before he could convert her, and decided that he wasn’t going to worry over something that was never going to happen. As he gathered what he could from the house, he made his way to talk with his parents. They would know that Malcomb was gone, as well as Mary, but he wanted to be with them. He would not talk of the lady that had come to him. Nor the magic that she’d given him.
He would mourn the loss of his brother and then move on. Life was going to be on his terms, not that of a woman who had no name.





Monday, June 27, 2016

Lee The Emerson Wolves Release Blitz 6/27/16


synopsis


No matter how hard she tried, Kimber Gray always seemed to manage to get knocked back down a peg or two. She was a top rate chef and graduated at the top of her class, but no matter how hard she tried no one would acknowledge it. Now, blackballed in the only profession she knew, she was a failure to the one that mattered most--her daughter, Hannah. With no recourse left to her, she'd have to grovel and beg her aunt for help.

Lee Emerson was glad to be back home for a while. He loved what he did, being a food critic and helping failing restaurants was a dream job come true. But he was tired of the traveling and just wanted to take care of things around the house and relax for a change.

Slone, Hunter's mate, wanted to open a fancy restaurant and have Lee run it. He wasn't so sure about that, but he'd love nothing better than to hire that chef that had prepared the last meal he'd had in France before he left. It was the best meal he'd ever eaten, and he had been disappointed when he found out the man had left before he could tell him so. The slush claiming to cook the meal, wasn't the cook and he'd bet his last dollar on it.

Kimber had had it. Her aunt had gone too far this time, and there was no way she'd expose her little girl to such meanness again. They'd live on the street first, and she was trying to tell Slone that she wasn't a charity case. That she could provide for her daughter somehow, when the most gorgeous man she'd ever seen cornered her, snarling that he'd protect her with his life.

Ah, hell no. Who in the hell did he think he was?

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Chapter One 


Chapter 1  
“He’s in his cups again.” Kimber only nodded. The woman standing in front of her started to tap her foot. “Well? Are you going to take over or not? Wendell has said that he’d rather die than to have to work in his place again, and Mark said that he is sick of working hard for him and getting no credit. It is up to you to take over for this evening’s dinner.” “I’m only the fourth cook, not the chef by any means.” Kimber knew she could do it, but it would be bad for her if she did. “He’ll fire me.” “No, he won’t. Who would he get to take over for him should he do this again? No one, I’m telling you. He’s done this too much, and no one wants to cover for him. There are no others that can or will do this. You are all we have.” Kimber glanced at the clock above Mrs. Stanton’s head. “You have plenty of time, yes?” “I’ll need help. And I won’t clean up after.” Mrs. Stanton looked pissed, but finally nodded. “And I want to have my own menu. Not his.” “You are going to make him upset, but I need a cook. Do what you must. But you had better be ready in time if you don’t want to have to worry about him firing you.”  Kimber nodded and moved to change her jacket. As the fourth chef in a restaurant this size, and always busy, all she ever got to really do was the garnish on the plates, make the salads when they were different than the regular salad, and occasionally she’d be allowed to do the side dish. Not often, but enough for her to feel good about still working here. Kimber Gray was a first-rate cordon bleu chef and had worked in one of the most prestigious restaurants in Europe. Someday it was going to look good for her to have that on her resume when she applied to work as first chef somewhere. At ten minutes until the dinner hour, she stepped back from her counter. The dinners would be perfect…the steaks were cut, and the fish—trout that had been earmarked for a trout almandine—had been changed to a stuffed trout with wrapped grilled asparagus, with a baby-laced Swiss sauce. Everything was as ready as she could make it. And when the first order came in, Kimber let out a long breath and began working on it.  The night wasn’t really busy, but she kept on top of everything. Appetizers were inspected to make sure that they fit with what the customer was ordering. Plates were spotless when she put her food on them, and looked like works of art when they left to be served. Kimber even made sure that two of the staff had clean jackets just before they left to work.  Things were just as perfect as she could make them. After all, she wanted this to be perfect, her solo night as head chef. She was pleased when very little came back on the plates that had been sent out, and even less of the small desserts that she’d made up when she’d realized there wasn’t any to be had.  The strawberries had been fresh and the cream would have gone bad by tomorrow, so she used them both to create a lovely dessert. The fresh blueberries had been sitting in their juices since yesterday, but they were usable and she wanted some color on the plate. 
  
By the time the restaurant was ready to close, she was more than ready to go home. But the last minute order had her staying just a little longer to complete it. The special had gone over well. And with this order, a single person had gotten the last of it. The wrapped asparagus was perfect even though it had been made up in advance, and there was leftover sauce that she put in one of the small cups and sent out with the meal. By the time the dinner was out the door, she had nothing left but a slice of cheese and a single dessert with some smashed blueberries on the side. Pulling on her coat, she watched as the rest of the staff scrambled to clean up. As per her arrangement with Mrs. Stanton, she wasn’t going to be joining them. Kimber did notice that the work station that she normally worked at wasn’t even touched as yet, but it wasn’t her problem. Home was awaiting her. She was so excited when she got to go back in the employee area to clock out for the night. She was nearly home when her phone rang. “One of the last patrons would like a word with you. I think he wishes to complain.”  It was Chef Hayes. His voice was slurred and he sounded very pissed. But Kimber knew that she’d done just what had been asked of her. Had he been sober, she would not have had to do his job. “I’m sorry, but if he wishes to complain, that would be to you or to Mrs. Stanton. I’m nearly home.” He started cursing and she felt her anger rise. “What is his complaint?” “Get your skinny little ass back here and find out. And you left your station in a mess. How many times have I told you to make sure that your area is cleaned when you are finished?” He huffed. “You will never be more than a grill cook for so long as you live. Why I took you on is beyond me. And I might not have if things had been different.” “Different how? And I had an arrangement with Mrs. Stanton.” He started laughing and Kimber felt the hair on her arms dance with her anger. “She said so long as I did the cooking, that others would clean my area. Also, had you not been in your cups, as she calls it, none of this would have mattered. Someone had to do your job, and I think I did a fine job of it.” “Fine job, is it? I’ll say what is a fine job and not. It was shit. It’s always shit when you’re working. And since when is she in charge of my kitchen?” Kimber felt her own anger take on a new level when he laughed again. “You will be here in the morning first thing. I will take care of this posthaste. Do not be late, Gray, or you will rue the day that you came to think you were a chef.” She was a chef. And for the rest of her walk home in the rain, she let her tears fall. She was a chef, damn it, and she wanted to someday work in the finest restaurant as one. But there had been stumbling blocks along her journey, and she had had to work harder at her life choices. It seemed to her that for every step forward she had made, there had been four to take her back. Kimber was sick of it. As she entered her tiny apartment, she looked at the woman who cared for her home and daughter while she was away. Fern Blue had been with her since Hannah had been born. And now, eight years later, they were more like mother and daughter than sitter to employer. Fern had needed her as much as Kimber needed Fern, so it had worked out well for them both. She woke when Kimber opened the door to hang her coat. 
  
“All tuckered out, she was. I had her take a lovely bath at around six and she fell asleep on my lap. We had us a good bowl of popcorn before.” Kimber nodded and sent Fern to her room. Going to her daughter’s room, she paused in the doorway to watch her. Kimber would bet anything that Hannah had been up since she’d been in this room. “What are you doing up so late, young lady?” Hannah turned and grinned at her, the book she’d been reading still in her hands. “What is it you’re reading now?” “Moby Dick.” Kimber moved into her daughter’s room and looked at the worn book. “Mr. Fillmore gave it to me. He said it was a classic. I think Mr. Fillmore is a classic.” “I’m sure he is too. But you should be sleeping. Don’t you have school tomorrow?” Hannah nodded and wrapped her body around Kimber’s when she picked her up. “You’re almost too heavy for me to carry anymore. When will you be carrying me?” Hannah laughed as she put her in bed. As her daughter closed her eyes, sleep taking her almost immediately, Kimber looked around the room. She felt tears fill her eyes when she thought of all the ways she’d failed her only child. The furniture in the room was second hand. Some of it was third or fourth hand, even. Her clothing was all things that she’d picked up here and there…a friend’s child had outgrown them, a tag sale that she’d found out about. Her books were new. Not the writers that her daughter adored, but her work books and other subject books for her classes, and the extra classes that she’d been taking.  Hannah was brilliant, read well beyond her years, and was a whiz at math. While her age had her listed as a third grader, the teachers at her school had been giving her work well beyond her grade level for months now, and it had improved Hannah’s wellbeing by not being bored in her classroom.  Dozing slightly, Kimber got up and went to the kitchen. There was just enough food in the cupboards to last until her next check. Instead of eating anything, Kimber made herself a cup of tea, her only luxury, and sat down to drink it. Something was going to happen tomorrow, and Kimber knew that with her luck, it wouldn’t be good. ~~~ Lee watched as the women worked the line. He’d arrived early this morning, just as the sun was coming up, and he wanted to make sure that everything he’d put in place before he left was where it should be. Then he was going to take a long, well-deserved nap. For about three days, if he was lucky.  The smack to the back of his head had him turning to his father. “You should have called when you were coming in. Someone would have picked you up at the airport. Now we have to figure out how to have a welcome home party on such short notice.” Lee hugged his dad and told him he loved him. “I love you too, boy. But you should have called. What are you doing here this early?” “I wanted to make sure that Dawn’s lines were working well before she went into production next week.” The two of them watched the line of women, three at the first part of the line and two more at each station after. The line, nothing more than a long set of burners that had been strung together, was going to make it so that Dawn could make ten to twelve batches of jams and jellies at each place, rather than just three or four as she’d been doing at her single stove. When he was satisfied that the work table was close 
  
enough to the stove so as not to be a bother, he moved to the other part of the building. His dad asked him if he’d gotten things set up for Sloan. “Yes. I made sure she had good people in the kitchen and that they know what she wants done each day. I think that if I ever open my own business, I’m going to make sure that there is a kitchen with staff on duty like she has. It’s a nice place to eat. The food is healthy without being stale, and it’s a great place for them to go and relax. I do think that she’s going to need to expand in a few years, but she said that would be something that she’d have to look into. I think she said she was landlocked.” “Yeah, I heard her telling Hunter that when the time was right, she’d have to go over there and see to it. I’m thinking that they might be making a trip when that baby is here. She’s looking ready to pop.” Lee nodded. He knew that Sloan only had a month to go, and he was excited about holding his niece soon. “You hear about the little one that Luke and Jack got? He’s a pistol, all right. And he’s looking forward to having a fishing day with me soon. Mike and his boy have come down and they showed us what we need. When you gonna make me a granddaddy?” “I’m thinking that I should find a mate first, don’t you?” His dad snorted at him. “I’ve been sort of busy. And so you know, I’m not in all that big of a hurry to find her right now. I have a house, but it’s being worked on. I have a job, but I’m all over the world trying to make it work, and in the event that you didn’t notice, I’m working more than I am socializing.” “Yeah, I’ve seen that too. What do I have to do, go out and find her for you like I did the rest of them?” Lee just lifted his brow at his dad. “You know that I had to get Sloan and Hunter together. Luke would still be dangling at the end of his sticks had I not charmed my way into Jack’s heart first. And then there is Ellis and Jarrett. I’m about worn out keeping the women coming in just to find your mates for you all.” “I think you should just let the women find us. Graham has finished school, but he’s got things going on, and I have to find my own niche in life before I can even think of settling down.” Lee thought of his brother Graham. “Has he…you know, has he moved on yet?” “Not that I can see. Finding that body nearly done him in. I know that the police never thought he’d done it, but I think he still has him a few dreams about it. Can you imagine working on a log jam and finding a woman all wrapped up in them limbs? She’d been there for some time, too, those people said.” His dad watched the line as it moved in the right direction. “You thinking that he’ll stay holed up in that house of his for the next fifty years?” “I don’t know, Dad. When I talked to him last week, he told me that he’s doing fine, but he sounded like he wasn’t. I’m going to try and see him while I’m here. Sloan said that his house is coming along well.” His dad nodded. “But as for my mate, I think I can wait her out, don’t you?” “You mean wait until she falls in your lap before you figure out she’s the best thing that could have happened to you.” Lee had changed the subject on purpose, just to bring his dad around from thinking about it too much. His dad seemed to have gotten the hint for now, and asked about what he was looking at now in Dawn’s building. 
  
“Jack told Dawn that she’d save big bucks if she printed her own labels. Jarrett set her up with the right kind of printer and the perfect paper, and all Dawn has to do is make what she needs. This will save her from having tons of inventory around just waiting to be used. Jack also told her that if she wanted to add something to them, like sugar-free if she went that far, then it would be easy to print up a few labels instead of a million or so that might not work out.” The machines were still now, the labels having been printed up a few days ago, but he liked the way it had been streamlined to not take up too much of her upper level. “I didn’t have anything to do with this part, but I can see that they had Jarrett up here. It’s nice.” As they made their way around the large building, Lee noticed that the kitchen area that he’d suggested be set up was well underway. Sandwiches were in the coolers right now, but he knew that in a few days, when people started to show up to work, there would be hot food as well as some cold for the employees. All of it was a perk to working here. He had also suggested to Dawn that she open a little shop one day and have some of her jams for sale in it, along with her scones and breads.  His dad moved to the large desk at the front of the building when they were nearly finished with their self-guided tour. Martha Brooks was running the phones today. Lee had heard from Hunter that Mary Peacock and Claribel Sharp had been taking turns working the desk for Dawn. The women had come from Hunter’s pack, but he knew that they loved working for his brother and his wife.  He was startled when the phone call that had just come in was for him. “I just found out that you’re in town.” He could hear the hurt in Sloan’s voice. “You go and see your brother before me? How could you?” “I haven’t seen Ellis or Dawn at all since I got here. I thought they were down there.” She told him she didn’t know anything anymore. “I’m sorry, honey. I just got in a few hours ago and had the plane bring me here instead of home so that I wouldn’t have to worry about this the entire time I’m home with you guys.” “Good save.” He laughed with her. “I’m just bored, if you want to know the truth. Your dad and I have put in as much garden as we dare already, but I want to get out there and dig the places up for my tomatoes. Did your dad tell you that we have first leaves already? They’re beautiful.” “No. He’s been hounding me about a grandbaby.” His dad popped him in the back of the head. “And he’s abusing me too. I tell you, I’d be better off just staying away sometimes.” “Oh no, don’t do that. What would I do without my family around me?” He didn’t answer her but smiled. “I’ve been thinking about some things that I’d like for you to look into. I have this place here in town that I want to convert into something…I don’t know, bigger. Like a steakhouse, but not.”  “You mean something more than the diner in your town, and with bigger ticket items.” She told him that was about right. “I ate a late dinner last night at this place where I was staying called simply Parfaitement Fait, or Perfectly Made in English. I had a stuffed trout that was so good I tried to go back and hire the chef. They told me that the chef had 
  
gone for the night, and all I got for my troubles was some drunk blowing his drunk-assed breath on me.” Her laughter made him smile. “And what would you have hired him for? You’re not thinking of being my competition, are you? I’m hoping so. Because I have to tell you that sounds delicious. Actually, everything sounds good to me. I’m always starved.” “You’re eating for two, so small wonder. And no, I’m not going to be competing with you in anything. I like to keep my own little corner of this world pissed off Sloan free. And the guy I talked to last night, I had a feeling…well, he didn’t strike me as the one who had made the meal. There was something…I don’t know. I knew that he was lying and he had no idea what I was talking about. He said I was to have had trout almandine and that I had it wrong. Like I said, he smelled of liquor too.” “Let me make a few phone calls. I know the restaurant. I don’t know what I can do, but I can find out for you. Perhaps we can persuade him to come here and open our venture.” Lee said nothing. He had thought when he went to school that he wanted to be this great cook. And now that he’d been working for Sloan and Hunter, he’d discovered that while he loved to cook, he was more into making the place work than being the chef. He enjoyed what he did more than anything he’d ever done before. Being a food critic for some really important newspapers was a dream he’d never even considered, but he loved it as much as he did figuring out problems at some really nice restaurants.  “Just let me know. Dad and I will be there by tonight. I’m telling you now so you won’t be disappointed that I will be there for dinner, but I need to go to bed. I think I’ve been up for three days straight.” She told him that they’d expect him for dinner, and that maybe Ellis and Dawn could make it back as well, and that he should ask them. “I’ll see what I can do.” After hanging up, he told Dad what they’d talked about as they made their way to Ellis’s house. The building that Dawn was in was close to the house, so they opted to walk. As soon as they were in the yard, Lee stood back and stared.  “Yeah, nice, huh?” He glanced over at Ellis as he came out of the barn just behind him. His brother looked very relaxed and happy as he continued. “We weren’t sure that we wanted it this big, but the more we thought about it, the bigger the house got. There’s room if you want to stay tonight. I know that Dawn would love it.” “Sloan and the rest of them are expecting all of us for dinner.” Ellis nodded and took him to the house. “Christ, this is gorgeous. What the hell? Did you win the lottery?” “No. We ran into some unexpected money.” Lee nodded. He’d heard about the inheritance from Dawn’s family, and that they had accepted her into their family with open arms. “When we showed them the house we were building before we left for our honeymoon, they were happy. But when we got back, there were more rooms on the framing, as well as a whole upper level that we’d had no idea about. Her grandparents said that when they come to visit they want to burden us with their presence.” Lee laughed and so did Ellis. He was taking them in the front of the house just as Dawn came from the back of it. He hugged her tightly, ignoring the growls coming from Ellis. Dawn looked wonderfully happy too. 
  
“You’ll stay for dinner?” He told her what he’d told Ellis. “Oh. I guess we should go. The family has been excited for you to come home for weeks now. I’m so glad that you’ve made it home safely. How long will you be here?” “I’m hoping a couple of months. I have some projects here that I can take care of, and two on the burner for Sloan. But I’m hoping everything can be worked on from here.” She asked him about his house. “I’m hoping to get it done too. Mostly it’s just moving stuff in that I’ve already ordered. There are some decisions that I need to make. Most of them are things that I could probably have taken care of over the phone, but I wanted to be there too. I miss you guys.” “We missed you too. I guess you’ve been to the plant?” He nodded. “I’m so nervous. Not about the lines that you helped me get set up, but all of it. I’m so worried that I won’t be very good at this.” Ellis laughed before talking. “Yeah, those nearly two million dollars in orders mean that she’s going to fail big time. I mean, who would want to buy her things anyway?”  “You have that much in pre-orders?” Ellis told him that was just on her website. She had nearly double that for stores wanting to carry her line. “Holy shit, Dawn, that’s wonderful. I’m very proud of you.” “I’m nearly sick with it.” Lee looked at Ellis over her head when he hugged her again. He mouthed the word Basil and he nodded.  Her uncle, a man by the name of Basil Combs, had been found criminally insane by the courts. Other charges were pending: kidnapping, murder, as well as abuse to a corpse. But those were on the back burner until they could figure out the names of all the women, some dead and others still coming forward, that had in some way been harmed by the man. Basil’s mother had been murdered as well, and they were still trying to pin that on his list. The man had been taking women or children from their homes for decades. His “wife,” Neva, had been one of many that had been brought into the house as a play-thing, and had ended up living out the rest of her life with him. He’d also kidnapped Dawn’s mother, and had made her daughter’s life a living hell when she’d told him off. Life, as far as Lee could see it, was a never-ending line of people shitting on one another to get to where they wanted. Thank goodness his family wasn’t like that. As they boarded the plane a few hours later, Lee was dozing in the seat when his dad touched his arm. He had to stare at him for several seconds before he realized that he was talking to him about the phone.  “You okay, son?” He nodded and took the phone from his dad. “You look like you’ve not slept in about a month. You sure you should be going to dinner tonight?” “Yeah, I’m fine. Just really tired.” He put the phone to his ear just as the pilot was telling them they were ten minutes from landing. Lee said his name in the phone as he started to pull on his seat buckle. “Mr. Emerson? Is this Lee Emerson, the food critic? I’ve heard so many things about you.” Lee told him that he was in flight, and that he needed him to tell him why he’d called. “Sir, there is a problem with the request that I have in for Mrs. Emerson. She called my restaurant just today requesting the information on the chef that had cooked the night 
  
you were there. I’m sorry, sir, but the chef said that the person you were asking for is no longer with the restaurant.” “I see. Can you tell me why?” He said that he wasn’t sure. That as the owner of the restaurant, he had given full control over the kitchen to his chef. “And so you have no idea that the man you left in charge was drunk when I saw him just before leaving? Nor that the meal that I had that night was one of the best that I’ve ever eaten?” “Drunk? Oh no, sir. That couldn’t have been our chef. He no longer drinks.” Lee looked at Ellis when he touched his arm. They were at the airport, but he wanted him to take his time with the call. “He said that when he spoke to you, you were confused about the food that you were served. Are you sure you had the right restaurant?” “I’m sure. And you can be sure of this…if he fired this person that cooked for me, then you have made the stupidest decision you have ever made when it comes to running a restaurant. And I’m going to write up an article on it and say that, too. Not only did the staff look relaxed and happy, but the food, all of it, was outstanding. I noticed that when I was speaking to him that the entire kitchen staff looked like they were ready for him to explode. And he did, twice, while I was there.” “I assure you, sir, that I’ve never heard of anything like this from this restaurant. You can be assured that I will look into this. There are some…well, I won’t bore you with the details, but I’ve noticed some issues on the paperwork on that particular place. I’ll take care of it.” Lee told him he’d better if he wanted to remain in business for long. “If I do find that you are correct, I will get back with you.” “You do that. But I have a feeling that the next time I talk to you, you’re going to be telling me that you’re going out of business and that it was all because of the chef you have now. If I were you, and you know my reputation if you’ve heard my name, I’d be looking into the chef you have now and start asking questions. You’re about to get a rude awakening.”