Monday, January 25, 2016

Christopher By Kathi S Barton Release Day & Winner Announced 1/25/16

Christopher hadn't been with Rembrandt's group long. With their combined efforts there were fewer and fewer monsters to fight. His mate had died a long time ago, so he volunteered to go with Skylar to look for some "newbies". When they arrived at the warehouse the new ones were acting very strange.
Kate had been scouting out the building when a large crate just suddenly appeared out of nowhere. Curiosity had her standing in the shadows when she saw two warriors come up the stairs and approach the crate. When they became aware of her presence, the man shifted into the largest cat she'd ever seen and pinned her to the floor with his large paws.
Kate was more than any of them had bargained for, and Chris soon discovered that Kate was his true mate, that the other woman never was. And when they fought together they were downright scary.
With their enemies Ward and Nolan dead, there was no one left to keep Benton, the huge monster they'd created, in line. Benton had lost his mind a long time ago, but one thought remained constant...he wanted Rembrandt dead....

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Chapter 1  
Christopher sat on the cold concrete and leaned his back against the hard wall behind him. His body temperature had finally leveled out, but not enough that he could go without some sort of fan or other form of cooling agent to keep himself from roasting all the time. He looked over at the woman who sat next to him. She was covered in as much blood and gore as he was. The battle, like most of them, had not been a pretty thing. And they seemed to be getting worse all the time.  Usually he would simply do his job and then go back to his room. He was spending a great deal more time out and about with the rest of the people in the house, but for the most part, he loved being alone. But Chris really enjoyed talking to Vicki…he thought she was a hoot. “The next time the alarm goes off, I’m going to hunt it down and tear it apart.” Chris said nothing as Vicki sat there with her eyes closed and continued. “I swear to you, as soon as this crap is done, I’m out of here and finding a nice warm beach to lay on for about ten years. I’m going to eat ice cream for every meal, and wear a dress with high heels when I fucking want to. Which I might add, I have never wanted to before now; but that’s not the point, is it?” “Do you think it will?” She asked him what he meant without looking in his direction. “End. Do you think this will ever end? Because I have to tell you, it doesn’t feel like it on most days.” Of late he’d been feeling like it was the same shit every day. Get up, fight, shower, eat, and then go to bed, only to have to do it all over again the next day. He knew that there were fewer and fewer of the monsters, but they were no less vicious in their pursuit of trying to kill more people. And that was another thing. There were fewer and fewer humans around as well. “Hector wants us to find some newbies if we can.” Chris looked up at Skylar when she spoke, and wondered not for the first time if any part of her body wasn’t tatted up. He was pretty inked up himself, but most of his had been there before any of this had gone down. Skylar even had them on her face and neck. But for some reason, he still thought she was beautiful. “There is a new project going on across the way. Who wants to go with me?” “I will.” Chris stood and helped Vicki up as he turned to Skylar to ask her how they were going. Her wings spread out and he backed from her. “I’d rather take a car if it’s all the same to you. Nothing against your flying ability, but I would rather just drive.” “And how would that be fun for me?” He nodded and found himself wrapped up in her arms and soaring dizzily into the deep blue of the sky. “Are you getting along any better, Chris? You seem to be less inclined to stay in your room. I’m glad for that. It’s fun having you around more.” He wanted to ask her why she cared, but they were currently several hundred feet in the air if he were to piss her off. Which, he supposed, he’d managed to do more often 

than he liked to think about. But right now, she would more than likely drop him on his head. “I don’t really mind being here. But....” He couldn’t put into words how much he hated what he was doing. He was pretty sure that she got it, but he didn’t know how to convey it to her. “I was famous once. An entertainer, as you know. Women would throw themselves at me. Panties, bras, sometimes even money. Men too, but that wasn’t going to happen. And now look. Not only am I pretty much just a normal person, no one cares much that I was once considered the most sought after male in the world.” “Whine much?” He only winced at her words, still not comfortable enough with the rest of them to be his usual self. His old self would have flashed her his smile, winked at her, and told her that was what made him so irresistible. “Nate and I had a conversation about you the other day. He thinks you’re a blowhard. Whatever did you do to him to make him hate you so much?” “Breathed? I don’t know. Now there is a whiny person. He’s not coming out of his room for anything, is he?”  Before he could ask her what the two of them had talked about—or actually argued about—they were landing. Chris looked at the malefactors and wondered why someone would do this to humans. He’d heard the stories, but he knew that there had to be something more than that. When they entered the building where a small group of them were, Chris thought that they’d made a mistake about them being here. But then he saw the groups as they walked around like.... Chris turned to Skylar when it occurred to him what he was seeing. “Have you ever played one of those first person shooter games?” Skylar said that she had played on her phone a few times, but not lately. “Yeah, no cell service. But when you’re playing and have to leave the game—I don’t know, to take a piss or something—when you return, your guy will be walking straight into a wall, his feet still moving as the monsters or whatever are clawing at him or blowing him to bits with their guns. That’s what they look like, a game version of sleep walking.” They stood watching the dozen or so of the monsters do just that…walk into a wall and continue moving their feet toward some unknown place, but staying where they were. One of the men, walking around rather into things, had a large gash in his head where his head kept hitting the fire alarm signage just where his head was. Over and over the guy would do this until he was dead, Chris supposed.  Chris moved toward them just as a creature moved from between two of the pillars holding up the other floors. Neither he nor Skylar moved as the thing, just as clumsy and stupid as the malefactors, moved about the room. Chris thought he might have been an adherent at one time, but now he’d lost some of his color and he was no longer in charge. As he knocked a desk over and then tripped several times when he tried to stand and keep moving, neither Chris nor Skylar moved to help him. As soon as he got to whatever he’d been working his way toward, he stopped and turned, almost as if he were a solider on a march and he was at the end of his area. “Why didn’t he trip into the desk before? I mean, it’s obvious that he’s been doing this same thing for a while. Why hadn’t he tripped up before?”  

Chris started to tell Skylar that he didn’t know when it occurred to him. “He’s making a circle. See? Judging by the footsteps that he’s made in the dirt on the floor, the circle’s getting smaller with each of his trips around the room. It looks like he started out on the perimeter, then tightened his circle an inch or so with each pass—or I guess square, because of the room—more each time.” They both watched him and the people in the room as a second thing occurred to Chris. “Do you hear that? That small hum, like there is power somewhere?” As they spread out, looking for the power grid like those they’d been destroying every time they heard one, Chris moved to the second floor and paused. He’d learned a great deal over the last couple of weeks working with these people, and one of the things was always to be thinking outside the box. But the one in front of him, as big as a nice sized SUV, had him pausing and wondering what sort of shit was about to go down now. The box was addressed to him and Skylar. Skylar came up behind him and asked him what he was doing. “I don’t have a clue, but all I can think about is that movie that had the big lamp leg in it. Remember that movie?” “Yeah. Christ, I love that movie. We should see if we can find it somewhere while we’re out. I bet Remy hasn’t ever seen it.” Chris said nothing. Remy was one scary mother fucker, and the man seemed to exude strength all over his body. To think of him watching that movie, eating his beloved popcorn, was just too weird. “What should we do?” The handwriting was old world, the script on it something that he’d seen Remy use when he had to make notes on something. The man would take an hour to write out something that Chris would have just scribbled on a piece of paper. Remy told him that to do something right was to take your time with it. You never knew who was going to look at it. Chris supposed Remy was right, but there were times when he just wanted to take the paper from him and write the note himself. This looked like it might be from Bob, another old world guy. “You think this is part of the gifts that Bob said would come to us when we needed them?” Again, Chris had no answers and said that to Skylar. “Well, do we open it? Leave it for another day or what? I’m not all that keen on getting my ass kicked by whatever is in that thing, are you?” The big dragon had left them a letter a while back. Well, not them, but Leo and Jamey. It had said that when they needed it, something would appear. But this thing wasn’t addressed to his workmates, but to him and Skylar. He glanced at Skylar when she asked him again if they should open it. “I don’t fucking know. You’re in charge.” That got him a hard knock to his head that hurt like hell. “I’m all for having enough shit going on. If we open that, and I’m not saying that we should, what’s to say that it’s not filled with some more of these things that plan to eat our faces off?” “You are no longer allowed to come with me on these things. You are one freaked out cat.” He felt the cat stir along his skin and Skylar smiled at him. “What if there is a gorgeous young woman in there that will satisfy your every desire and then some?” 

Chris felt his heart twist up. He wasn’t going to find his other half. He’d done that already, and she was now dead. Thanks to him. But before he said something that would get him knocked on his ass this time, he moved toward the huge crate. Whatever was in that thing couldn’t be as bad as losing your mate. There was a note attached to the top of it, and he knew immediately that it was indeed from Bob the dragon. The handwriting couldn’t have been from anyone but him. Not that he could read the script there, but he knew it was from him. Pulling one of the bright orange straps off the top of the box, he handed the note to Skylar and put his sword back on his body. Things had gotten shit weird when he’d gotten here. He’d had tats before, but nothing like he’d gotten the day after arriving. He and Remy had been in the sublevels of the compound, sparring. And when Remy had—he wanted to think it was innocent on his part, but he wasn’t sure—but when Remy had put out his hand to help him stand up after being knocked on his ass, the most incredible pain had taken him to the floor again. That was when he discovered the sword at his back and the guns, big ones, on different parts of his body. The lid, like the crate, was made of wood. And when it slid off the opening, he moved back while the dust settled around them. It occurred to him, too late, he realized now, that he more than likely should have thought this through a little better. “Nothing?” He wasn’t sure and told Skylar to stay back while he checked. “In the event you didn’t notice, I’m as strong as you are. And I can fly out of the way if the thing really does try and eat our faces off.” “Yeah, I noticed all that. But if this shit is going to kill one of us, I’d rather it was me so you can go back and warn the others. I really don’t care to have to explain to Remy that I let you fucking get your ass handed to you.” She took a step back and told him she was sorry. Chris turned to look at the crate again, thinking he needed to get a grip on his temper. “So am I. But please, just stay back out of the way in case there is something in here that has bloodletting on his mind.” Moving closer to the crate, he looked inside. It was dark, which he supposed he should have counted on. But that was all he could see. Just an inky blackness that suddenly made him think of his heart. As he peered harder inside, his cat, never very friendly to him anyway, snarled at him.  “Do you suppose he knows something that you don’t?” Very possible, and he told Skylar that. “I see. And do you normally ignore him when he might be trying to tell you something? Or do you feel, like most men, that you know more than your counterpart?” It was right on the tip of his tongue to tell her to fuck off. He knew, somewhere in the back of his mind, that not only would it piss her off more than she seemed to be right now, but that it would also get him in trouble with Remy. The man was very protective of his mate. Just as he was thinking fuck it and started to tell her off, a sound...a low keening sound…came from the depths of the darkness of the crate. ~~~ Kate watched the couple as they stood by the crate. It had arrived...well, arrived might have been the wrong term for how it had gotten there, but it had appeared 

sometime in the last twenty minutes. The thing, like the people downstairs, had just sort of come into the building like it had every right to be there. She’d been hanging out, sort of living here, for a month now when she couldn’t get back to her place before it was too dark out. It was quiet, and the things on the lower levels never ventured up here when they came around. But today this crate had arrived, and then the creatures below, almost at the same time. The sound that had emitted from the box had been there before too. Kate had even gone close enough to the crate to see if someone, a person, was inside, but all she heard was rumblings and an occasional bump on the wall. She had wondered what it was, but not enough to open it and see. The man opening the box made her want to hide deeper in the shadows, just on the off chance that it wasn’t going to be a nice wedding gift for the two of them, and instead something that would most assuredly kill all of them. Kate moved back further when she saw the man stiffen. Then the sides of the crate fell away. “What the fuck?” Kate moved out of the shadows again—not close enough that she thought they could see her just yet, but she, too, was curious about the contents of the box—when the woman yelled and stepped back. What she wasn’t prepared for was the man shifting into a big black cat. He seemed to know she was there even before Kate could think that the cat might come at her. As she turned to run, the cat, bigger than any that Kate had seen in the zoos when they had existed, came after her. Kate knew about paranormals and other shifters being big, but this cat was much larger than even them.  She knew in that moment that he was a different kind of shifter, and she didn’t want him close enough to touch her. But by then, it was too late. When she was pinned to the floor, his big body over hers, she was terrified that he was going to hurt her. He couldn’t kill her, she knew, but pain was pain. She looked up when a shadow moved over her face. The woman was there, and she looked amused for some reason. When she knelt beside her, Kate saw that like the man, she was tatted well beyond what she thought of as a social norm. “I’m Skylar. This lug on you is Chris. And you would be?” Kate said nothing. “Ah, the strong silent type. Okay, I get it. But he’s not going to let you up until we get some answers or whatever is in that box comes out and tears us a new ass. But hey, it’s completely fine with me.” Kate could have gladly gotten up and murdered her. But Skylar only stared at her as she stood over her. The man, the cat really, growled low and Kate looked at him. Even as a cat, he had the most incredible eyes. They weren’t the dark color that she’d seen on cats. Shifters usually had the same color of eyes as their other bodies did. Browns usually, an occasional green or blue if the shifter had been turned. But Chris had blue eyes. Just as blue as the oceans she’d seen over her lifetime. And as she watched them, Kate was sure that she could see large animals, some of them as ancient as she was, moving in them. With a shake of her head, she tried to think how to get out of this mess. “We have movement.”  

Kate was suddenly free. The cat, Chris, had moved off her, but not away. He was close enough that she could touch him, his dark fur touching her arm that he was closest to. Her fingers burned to run all over him for some reason. But when the noise started again, she looked over at the crate as the couple was doing. A bundle of cloth inside the crate moved. She supposed it might have been moving all along, but since she’d been on the floor, the building’s walls below them could have caved in and she’d not know it. Well, she would, but that wasn’t the point right now. When it moved again, the cloth falling away, the first thing she thought of was that it was a tiny paw. The second was that whatever it was, it wasn’t alone in the blanket that fell open. Then it occurred to her what it was. Well, what they were. Puppies. There were about ten or so of them, and they came bouncing out of the cloth on the floor and toward them like they’d been ordered to do so. As soon as they were near her, Kate couldn’t help it…she pulled one of the little creatures to her face and it licked her. “Chris, I’d very much like for you to be a man again.” Kate wondered at the tense sound of Skylar’s voice, but was too excited to have the wiggly puppies coming to sit all over her legs. She could see now there were eleven of them. Eleven roly poly little balls of fur. “Remy is coming. He said to stand down until he and the others get here.” Stand down? They were puppies for heavens sakes. But when one of them went to stand by Skylar, she moved away from it like the thing was going to tear at her leg. Kate wondered if the woman had ever had a dog in her life. Laughing, she called the pup back to her and loved on him to sooth his hurt feelings. “Why would they be in such a big box?” They both looked at her as she stood up. “The box came this morning and I wondered about it, but as it wasn’t addressed to me, I didn’t bother opening it.” “Who are you?” Kate wasn’t going to answer that. She of all people knew enough about magic, and there was little doubt in her head that these two were covered in it, and that names were kept close. “I’d really like for you to tell me what the hell you have to do with all this.” “I had nothing to do with them. Are you afraid of them? Because I’m pretty sure that you can pretty much squash them if they look vicious to you or something.” Kate reached down and picked up the one currently sitting on her foot. “They do look like they might rip your throat out, don’t they? Do you suppose they have something more than just their milk teeth? Perhaps they have five inch long incisors that will tear at you too. I know, you’re afraid of their claws. Let me see…oh yeah, I can see how these little things could tear into your flesh while they chew at your throat.” “I don’t like you very much.” Kate shrugged at Skylar, not really carrying if she did or didn’t. There were a lot of people that didn’t like her, and right now, having this woman not liking her might be a blessing. Kate put the dog down and headed for the stairs.  “Where the hell do you think you’re going?” 

“Home.” She didn’t stop as she made her way down the stairs. They’d try to follow her, but she doubted very much they’d be able to for long. Kate had powers of her own, and she wasn’t the kind of person that many would fuck with.  As soon as she was on the lower level of the building, she paused when she looked at the creatures. She heard rather than saw the big cat come up behind her. He didn’t move to knock her down, but watched her as she kept an eye on the creatures. “There is something wrong with them. They’re not like the others, are they?” He said nothing, but moved to stand closer to her. Kate moved away and he stayed where he was. “I don’t mean the fact that they’ve been changed into something, but there is something else here. Like they’ve had their brains sucked out for the most part and they aren’t able to function. Just look at them. Someone has hurt them other than just being the creatures they were.” The man that was walking into the wall fell over. His head had a large hole in it, and a part of his brain was still hanging on the sign that had at one time proclaimed there was a fire extinguisher below it. It had long ago been taken by someone, she guessed. Moving to the door, avoiding the creatures, she was just going out the door when a huge man landed in front of her. Remy, she’d bet, and she started to back up enough so that he’d not touch her. But she fell backward, the cat behind her getting caught up in her feet, and she went down. And for the second time that day, he landed on top of her. “Get off me, you moron.” The cat didn’t move, but Remy laughed down at them both. “You think this is funny? I don’t. Call off your animal and let me go. I have places to be.” The movement out of the corner of her eye startled her. Just as the big bird—or whatever the fuck it was…the thing—came swooping down, she reached her hand up and grabbed Remy by the leg. Pulling it out from under him, Kate lifted her other hand and blasted the creature just as it put out his claws to no doubt grab up and kill someone. More than likely her. No one moved as the big bird like thing screamed in pain as it died. His feathers, if that was what they were, burned brightly, the gaping hole in his chest bled badly, and she knew from experience that it wouldn’t last that much longer. Kate looked at Remy when the big cat finally moved off her. “You know what that is?” She told him she’d seen them around as she stood up. “And you have some sort of power that makes it so you can kill them. What are you? Who are you?” “There’ll be one more. They travel in pairs.” The sky darkened over her head and they all looked up when she did. “That’s his mate, I think. The male attacks first. Not sure why…he’s the weaker of the two. Then the female will come in and take whatever is left after he...he kills his prey. Usually humans. They don’t touch the other creatures.” “Malefactors.” She asked him what that was. “The creatures. The ones that are walking around now. These are a little...I’d say slower, but I’m not sure that’s all it is. What do you know about them?”  

Skylar spoke before Kate could. “She said she knows nothing. But they’re being drained again. And here, this is what Bob sent us.”  The little puppies were now in a box that Skylar handed to Remy. They scrambled out and were all over him when Kate decided that she’d had enough cuteness for one day, but before she could move to take off, the big cat stood in front of her. “I don’t want to have to hurt you.” The cat yawned and Remy laughed behind her. Kate turned to him then. “Tell him to leave me alone. I saved your ass. I don’t owe you anything.” “No. You do not, and I thank you for saving me. But for some reason I have a feeling you saved your own butt and not mine. Is that true?” Kate said nothing, but felt her fear of this man double when he stood up. Even having a puppy in his arms did not lessen how much she was afraid of him, nor lessen the fact that she knew that he’d try to kill her and never put the little dog down. “I’d very much like for you to say you’ll come back to the compound with us. I have many questions for you.” “No.” He nodded, and before she could guess what the hell was going to happen next, she felt powerful arms around her and she was soaring up in the sky. Mother fuck, Skylar had her, and she wasn’t going to be happy when she figured out what Kate was. “I won’t stay there. Wherever there is.” “Maybe, but now that I have your scent, you won’t be hard to find again.” Kate didn’t tell her that it wasn’t going to work either, but held on as they made their way across the city. It was different seeing this city with someone carrying you. The only time that Kate had this view was when she was flying herself.  As soon as they landed, Remy and the box of puppies did as well. There were children in the yard, and as soon as the little dogs tumbled out of their temporary home, the children—about a dozen of them—came running. Kids and puppies went together like they were meant to be. As soon as she was let go, Remy took to the sky again to no doubt get Chris. Kate looked at Skylar. “I won’t stay.” Skylar nodded and turned to the building. Kate stood where she was, not really feeling the need to chase after the woman and tell her again that she wasn’t going to stay. Things were...they weren’t out of her hands. She would give them what information they might want about the bird things, but that was all. Nothing else was any of their business. 

Monday, January 11, 2016

Trent: Calhoun Men By Kathi S Barton Release Day & Winner Announced 1/11/16

Calhoun Men 
Elijah (Coming May 2, 2016) 
Scott (Coming Soon) 
Sterling (Coming Soon) 
Randal (Coming Soon) 
Tanner (Coming Soon) 

Johanna, better known as Joe, had been a day walker for her only friend, Noah, for centuries. An immortal with eight hundred years under her belt, she had become proficient in several languages and occupations. When her friend Noah talked about meeting the sun, she had every intention of following in his path. 

Joe had only gone to the Calhoun’s office to catch a ride to the estate. When she entered, it took her breath away to see the younger man on the floor and no one doing a damn thing to help him. 

Trent Calhoun had forgotten how to have fun. Diving into his work was what kept him happy. At 33 he had no life, so when he had a heart attack, his doctor said to change his ways or else. 

When the gorgeous woman stumbled into his hospital room, Trent thought his dad was up to his old tricks again―that was until he caught her scent…. Now, because of his wolf, he’s face to face with an angry vampire…. 

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Winner  of a mystery paperback  is  Donna ______ no last name 
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Happy Reading 
Kathi S Barton 

1224 AD Johanna, Joe to her few friends, moved as quickly as she could to the heap of trash that had been put out only moments ago. It might have been filled with nothing more than a few scraps of food, but it would be enough to fill the hole that seemed to be forever in her belly. And maybe if she was lucky enough, she’d find a pair of shoes with only a few holes in them, or a coat. But before she could get close enough to see, she saw Abraham and another man. It did not look to her as if they were friends. At first she thought they were having relations. It wouldn’t surprise her if they were. Abraham would do most anything for a bit of coin or food. She did not care for the man overly much, but she would help to keep him safe even if the man didn’t seem to think he needed her. But before she could move around the two of them, she saw that Abraham held a man at knife point. The man he held she did not know, but she did know what he was. A vampire. There were plenty of them about now, feeding on ones such as herself and Abraham when they needed food. While she knew very little about his kind, she did know that he would kill the man that held him if he only moved just a little. Looking into his eyes, she spoke to him. “Please do not harm him.” The man stilled in his slight struggle to look at her. “He is only hungry, as are the rest of us, and would otherwise leave you alone.” “He has a bit of coin, Joe. More than we could have a fine meal on. I’ll share it with you should you help me. I promise I will this time.” Joe looked at Abe and shook her head. “You just stand there and I’ll slice his throat and we’ll find us a meal, you and me.” “Abe, this man has done nothing to you save come to this place of death and sadness. Let him go before he hurts you.” To the man, she spoke again. “Please. Do not harm him. He is not a nice person, but he is all that I have here.” Blood moved down the handsome man’s throat, staining the collar of his white silk shirt. Joe knew that just the cost of his shirt would have fed her and Abe for many days. His small nod was all she needed to let out the breath that she’d been holding. Looking at Abe again, she took a step toward him, speaking softly, her hand guiding his away from the throat of the stranger. “You don’t want to kill him, Abe. Should you do that, the food that you eat from this will taste bitter and will make you sick for a long while. You know this.” Abe growled at her, telling her to go away. “I cannot and you know that. Should this man kill you for what you have done, then I will have one less person that I know here, and I have so few now. Please, let him go so that you and I can go to the dump that is still warm from the house.” She didn’t think he was going to do it. He looked determined, his face set. When his belly growled, hers did as well. It was a sound that she was sick of. When Abraham 

stomped his foot at her, she wanted to remind him that he was a grown man and that he should act like one. “I need a fine meal, Joe. I was never meant to be like this. I am a great man.” She’d heard the stories before. He’d come from a grand house, the servant to a great man. But it was, like other stories she’d heard in her life, a lie. A fabrication of something that was a dream to him, a way to make him seem more important than he really was. But his lies, like his stories, had long since given her a headache. Joe had given up on dreams. They were useless without any way of making them a reality. “I will make his death quick if that would make you feel better.” “Nay, it will not and you will know it.” Joe glanced at the man, who watched her carefully. “Allow this man to go about his business. Perhaps he will give you a coin or two for your troubles. Would you let him go for that?” “I should have it all.” Joe shook her head and told him to be reasonable. “I am not going to let him go without all his coin, Joe. You cannot ask me to do such a thing. It has been years since—” “Then I will quit you.” He looked at her then. “I will no longer come to your aid should you become ill again. I will not give you a part of my blanket when I have none to share with even myself. You will be on your own. And you know that no one else will help you either, Abe. You have made many enemies here.” Taking the last two steps to the two of them, she put her hand on Abe’s hand again. When he didn’t fight her, she moved the handmade silver blade from the man’s throat, but did not look at him. As soon as he was free he leapt from them, then fell to the ground. Joe stood in front of Abe. “Please don’t harm him. He is starved.” The man held his neck and nodded while blood poured from between his fingers. She knew that he would die soon. No matter what he was he should get himself healed or he would bleed out and die there as the sun came up to take him. “I will trade myself for him.” “Send him away.” The voice was cultured, hard, and full of hate. Her fear of the man, now that he was free, doubled. “Send him away, Joe, and come to me.” Nodding, she turned to Abe and then back to the man. “Coin. Do you have a coin or two that you can spare to give to him? I should hate to have lied to him.” He reached into his pocket and pulled out a very beautiful change purse. She could tell that it had been made with a fine hand, and that the beading work alone was done by someone who loved their job. If only she could have such a job. Shutting down that thought, she reached for the three coins in his palm and took only the two that she’d promised Abe he could have. The man grabbed her hand before she could move away. “Give them all to him.” She shook her head and turned to Abe. Giving him the two gold coins, she turned back to the man when he said her name. “Why did you not take the three of them, if only to have one for yourself?” “I did not say that I would take one for myself. I do not lie. No matter how hungry I am.” He nodded, his face pale now. “What do I need to do to help you?” “You would still come to me, even with your friend safe?” She told him that Abe was not her friend. “Then pray, why did you save him?” 

“I did not want him dead by your hand. I do not want anyone dead by your hand. Your kind have been killing us off for years, and I should like to be able to think I have saved one. Even if it was just Abe the thief.” He nodded but said nothing more. “What do you need of me?” “You know what I am, so you know what I need.” She nodded and moved closer to him. “Come to me. I should like to have you drink from my wound if only to draw some of the poison that Abe has put inside of me. The silver of it even now is racing in my veins to kill me.”  He was weaker than she’d thought. But she knew that even in his weakened state, he could still kill her. Once, not long ago, she’d seen one of his kind tear a man’s head off even with a stick protruding from his belly. And then he’d stood and pulled it from him as he drank greedily from another that stood too close. Moving to sit on the ground near him, Joe leaned into his neck and could smell his soap. Not that she’d had any chance to have such a thing. She tried her best to make her way to the river at least once a week, no matter what the weather was, to clean herself and her clothing as best she could.  As soon as she put her mouth over the large cut, he curled his hand in the back of her head and pulled her tightly against him. His blood didn’t taste as she’d thought it might. There was a coppery tang to it, but it was warm and filled her belly nicely. Trying not to think of what she was doing, she lifted her head from his neck when he lifted her and fitted her over his lap. Her legs on either side of his hips, she was in a position that she was sure was going to get her raped if not killed. “I shall not take what is not freely given to me.” Nodding, she watched his eyes as they darkened. “If you are coming when I drink from you, I will not need as much to fill me to heal. Do you know what I am asking you to do?” “You wish to have sex with me?” He nodded, then shook his head. “I do not understand you. Should you not like to have sex with me? I am free of diseases. Not that I wish to have it with you, but I did give myself to you in Abe’s place.” “I only wish for you to come for me. Have your pleasure as if we were having sex.” Joe still had no idea how that worked. “And I am aware of your body. Not only are you free of anything that would kill you, but you are a virgin as well. I would guess you have had to work very hard to keep yourself in such a state.” “There are not a lot of men that wish to touch someone such as me.” He asked her why. “I’m not what is considered a very well-endowed woman. I am…too skinny, and most think me a boy.” “You are not a boy, and that would not stop most men that I know should you have happened to be one.” He watched her face and she felt herself heat in embarrassment. “You are very strange, Joe. A human that would help a vampire even though you know that it could cost you your life.” “I have not much of one anyway, my lord. This is all that I have.” He pulled her body to his again; this time she could feel his hardness. “You wish me to come, but as you have said, I have no knowledge of how this will work.” 

“I will do the work, little one. You will be my savior and I will give you pleasure.” His laughter made her hurt with anger, but he only pulled her to him again. “I should like nothing more than to show you the delights of having me inside of you, but if I do not feed from you soon, I will still be here when the sun rises. Tilt your head for me and I shall bring you to peak. Your blood will be much stronger and tastier for it.” Tilting her head as he had directed her to, Joe felt the heat of his breath on her. When his tongue lapped at her pounding pulse, she put her hands on his shoulders to hold on for the pain of what he was going to do. As surely as she was sitting atop the man, she knew that he was going to kill her. The bite was gentle, almost like a deep kiss. And when he drew deeply on her throat, taking her blood into his mouth, she moaned before she could think that he’d hear her. As he pulled her to him again, she could feel his hardness getting thicker, his manhood touching something deep within her even though she was as dressed as he was. When he commanded her to come, Joe found herself rolling her hips up to his body, riding him, she supposed. The feeling that he was giving her, the way that his hardness kept pressing against her womanhood, made her hold tighter to him. She knew that something was going to happen and it was going to tear her apart. As soon as she felt it take her, the feeling that she’d been reaching for, her scream of release—for that was all she could think of it being—nearly had her sobbing. ~~~ Noah drank deeply of her. She tasted like a fine wine to him, her blood spiked with her release as well as the virginity of her body, something he’d not had in more years than he could remember. As she rode him faster, coming again and again, he knew that he could take her, slam his cock deep within her and she’d let him. But, like her, he’d made a promise, and Noah prided himself on his word. But to have her, all of her, was making him greedy for more. When she went limp in his arms, he knew that he’d taken too much from her weak and starved body. And the numerous releases had taken their toll on her. He had to save her, even if it was from herself. Sealing the wound at her throat, he looked at her. She was pretty in a too thin sort of way. And the fact that she believed that men thought her a boy had him thinking that she had something inside of her that kept her from harm. But someday, and he’d bet soon, she would run out of whatever it was and she would be as dead as most of the humans in this part of town. Laying her beside him on the ground, Noah stood up and took to the skies to free himself of the stench of the man who had held him. He should have killed the man, and it had been his intention. But he’d heard her coming toward them and had paused to see if she’d be a tastier meal. When she pleaded so prettily for the man’s life, not only had Noah been impressed, but he’d been curious as well. Especially when she’d told him that the man was not her friend. Going back to the place he’d left her, Noah did the only thing he could do…he picked her up in his arms and took her to his home. 

“My lord.” His butler and friend Michael looked at the woman, then backed away from her. She did smell, but not as badly as he’d smelled many times before. “You have killed her? And why, pray tell, have you brought her body here?” “Nay. I have brought her here because…well, I’m not sure why I have. But I should like to have her fed and well bathed. She saved my life tonight.” Michael looked at him, then at the girl with a new kind of interest. “Had she not taken my blood into hers to drain the poison of silver from my body, then fed me, you would have been without a master and I would be like the dust that is now on my boots.” He carried her up to the second floor. Michael was asking him what had happened, and he told him everything. The man had been in his service for many years and there was nothing that the man did not know about him. He was, in a word, his friend. His only one, he supposed. Noah didn’t know why he’d never been into nests of his kind. But as soon as he was able, he’d left his home, the one his father was the lord of, and set out to find his own way. Never once had it occurred to him to gather his own bunch of vampires to live and be with him, preferring to be in his own home with servants that he trusted. That had been nearly five centuries ago, and in all that time he’d lived alone but for the five people in his household. Each of them humans at one time, and as loyal to him as he was them. “I shall have someone come and bring her something clean to wear. Perhaps we can borrow a few things from the cook in the meantime.” Noah nodded as he lay her on the large bed, looking bigger for the fact that she was so tiny.  “She is very tall, is she not?” Yes, Noah thought, she was very tall, but still very small in that she was thin. Much too thin. “I will have the cook make her something to eat. It will be strange, my lord, having her here.” “It will be.” Pulling the blanket up and over her body, it occurred to Noah that he’d never said she was going to live there, but now that it was said, he realized that had been his intention all along. To help her as she had him. “Michael, what do you suppose we should do with her? She is…she is very protective of anyone, even me.” “I should think she’d make a wonderful day walker for you, my lord. You know that the household would do anything for you, but it would lessen our burden a little should we have her to do that job for us.” Noah only looked at his friend with a cocked brow. “I am not saying that we do not love doing it, but she needs to have a job and this would be a good one for her. I have not met her, but I would be willing to bet that she will need a purpose or she will not stay.” It was funny that Michael would know that about her. She would, too, need a job to keep her busy, or she’d think she was taking advantage of him. Or him her. And he might need her again, just to replenish himself. But he’d never spoil her. That was not his to take, and he would never do that to her. Tempting as she was, he was a man of honor. 

Monday, December 28, 2015

Mitch Justice Series By Kathi S Barton Release Day & Winner Announced 12/28/15

Mitch Riley was a haunted man, and being a necromancer didn't have much to do with what haunted him. A troubled childhood left him withdrawn and short tempered, so when he received a summons that he was being sued by the foster parents who had abused him, he didn't take it well at all. And their attorney? None other than a vamp. There was nothing much worse than a vamp in Mitch's opinion.

Victoria Graham, or Vinnie her mother had nicknamed her, wasn't expecting the man her clients were suing to be her mate, and a necromancer. She would have refused the case had she known she'd be walking into a den of necromancers. She had grown up on horror stories that necromancers were the one thing that could kill her kind, and it was clear the man hated her very existence.... But when he touched her, she'd lost control of her magic...and her mind too apparently.

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Kathi S Barton 

Vinnie watched his face. She could see that he was pissed off. About what, she had a good idea at the moment, but the way he had come into the room like he owned it made her think it was less about the lawsuit and more about her—a vampire. She’d heard from Gilda, her secretary, that Mr. Riley did not play well with others, and not at all with vampires. Vinnie hoped that that part might have been wrong. Apparently not. “You’re very beautiful.” Both of them flushed, and he looked away from her. “But be that as it may, Miss Graham, I will not need your services now or in the future.” “They’re not going to go away. And neither will I. There are more than just you in this suit, Mr. Riley. They’ve named nineteen people in this stupidity. And if only one of you lose to them, they will go after more stupid claims.” He turned and looked at her, and Vinnie could see that he was getting madder by the second. “I can go away, leave you to whatever it is you do, but they’re going to come at you. And if they can’t get it from you, they’ll sue Mr. Bennett here.” “They’re working on that now.” Vinnie glanced at Steele when he spoke, but she watched Mitch. “They contacted my firm this morning, saying that I’m harboring you and they want their money. I’m not entirely sure what they think that means, but I’m sure that their lawyer will explain. I have a meeting with them next week.” “You can’t be serious. Why are they going after you?” Vinnie started to tell Mitch why, but he answered his own question. “I see. You’re the rich and powerful Steele Bennett, right? Will they go after Addie next? Or her grandmother?” “I’m sure that they have.” Mitch looked at her again. “This isn’t going to go away. Newspapers have picked it up. A television crew was at their home just last week, and was showing how much they’ve suffered because of the way you and the others as children have done them wrong.” “We did them wrong? Do you have any idea what we had to suffer living there? The things that we had to do for a single meal a day?” She said nothing, and Mitch started pacing. The man could say more in one step than most people said in a whole conversation. “I ran away. I was only there for less than a year. And in that time…in that time I was treated with atrocities that would…it was not a safe place for a child, much less a bunch of us.” When Gilda stood up, Vinnie shook her head at her. She knew things too. Things that had happened to this young man that should never have happened to an adult, much less a child. When Gilda sat down, Vinnie looked at Hugo. He nodded once and picked up her briefcase, as well as her coat. If Mitch wouldn’t help her, then there was nothing much more she could do to make him. As they made their way to the door, Hugo stepped in front of her when someone or something moved beside her. “She wants to know if you’re related to Mr. Horatio Graham.” Vinnie grabbed the back of the chair she was standing next to and nodded at Mitch. “She said that she’s glad that you’re no longer with him, but she wants to know if you killed him or did he get caught at something?” 

“He was staked. About ten years ago.” Vinnie looked around and saw no one, but she could feel it. A presence that she’d felt before since coming into this house. “Who’s there?” “She said that it’s not important right now. And you should know that you brought her here with you.” Mitch sat in the chair across from her and stared at something to her immediate left. “The woman is older, about sixtyish, I’d say. Dark hair and wearing a dress from about the turn of the century. I’d say she’s been gone for about fifty years.” Vinnie moved around the chair then and sat down. She could feel Hugo there. He would never leave her, but Gilda was standing back. If this was who she thought it was, then Gilda would be in danger. All of them would be. “Her name…ask her if she’s Millicent. I don’t know if I ever knew her last name.” Mitch nodded. “I see. And you can speak to her? See her even?” “I can. You can’t, I take it.” Vinnie said she couldn’t see the dead. “I can. Did you know that before coming here?” Vinnie stood up. She was slightly dizzy and terrified, but she stood straight now. “I’m sorry to have bothered you, Mr. Riley. I’m sure that without your help, the Bruces will win a suit or two, and that might satisfy them for a while.” “I asked you a question, Miss Graham. Did you know that we were a house of necromancers when you came here?”  She hadn’t, and she doubted that she would have come had she known. But as she made her way to the door, nearly running now, she could only think to get away, get her little family away. But Mitch stepped in front of her just as she reached for the door. Backing away from him, she didn’t even look at him as she answered. “I didn’t, as a matter of fact. I wish I had known, but I’m guessing that there really isn’t any way that you could advertise such a thing and expect people to believe you. I’d very much like to go.” “She’s not here right now. Steele sent her away. For now.” The relief was profound. And before she realized what was happening, she felt herself being lifted up. Hugo had her. But when she looked into his face, it wasn’t that of her bodyguard, but of Mitch Riley. “Let me down.” He held her still, taking her to what she thought was the kitchen. “There is nothing in here that I can use to make me feel better. I’d very much like to be left to go please.” “Hush.” Vinnie started to snap at him, but she was sat down on a table and a wet cloth was slapped in her hand. “What does she have over you? It must be big for a badassed vamp like you to get yourself all worked up about.” Vinnie laid the dishtowel on the table and stood up. She was stronger now, more than likely due to being so angry. But when she started to leave the room, Mitch grabbed her by the arm. Vinnie felt her temper snap, and she let her power go. 

Monday, December 14, 2015

Nolan Bentley Legacy Book Three By Kathi S Barton Release Day & Winner Announced 12/14/15

Nolan finally had a practice of his own, and soon his brother Burke would be leaving the hospital and joining him. Now, if the rest of the family would mind their own business, Nolan would be much happier...or not. He was sulking over his dilemma when his nurse told him he had a patient, a hurt kid who wasn't doing much talking.

Rylee nearly collapsed with worry when she found out her nephew had been hurt. She wasn't sure if she was cut out to be a parent. She loved her nephew, Shane, dearly and had taken on his care when her sister died, but how she'd missed the warning signs was beyond her. He was being bullied at school daily and she knew nothing about it until he'd been cut with a knife.

"I didn't know." Her entire body sagged at her confession. "He said he had it handled. And I thought he did. It's my fault he's beaten up like this. I should have...I'm not any good at this parenting thing."

Nolan reached for her just as Shane moved on the bed. He wasn't sure what the kid could do, banged up the way that he was, but as soon as Nolan touched her, he knew what she was to him. Her body, warm and strong, leaned into his even as he buried his nose into her neck. Christ, his body screamed at him, she was his. Licking her throat, tasting her, he could hear her moan, but when his head was jerked up by his hair, all he could do was stare at her.

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Chapter 1 Nolan looked around his new office. He’d never had one of his own before. The other practice that he’d been working for had a community one they’d all shared…several doctors using the same computer in the same small ten-by-ten room. This was his and his alone. Burke, too, would have his own office when his notice was up at the hospital. For now he was working just a couple of hours a week to help Nolan out. And his office was going to wait, he told Nolan, until he could really devote his time to it. The walls were decorated with just Nolan’s things. It was a small thing to be happy about, he supposed. His diplomas were there, along with his awards…and there were plenty of those, as he’d always been a hard worker. Plus, he’d been able to bring in pictures of his family…his mom and grandparents. The photo of his father in his uniform about a month before he’d been killed had a prominent place on his wall, along with some of the things that he treasured above all else, such as smaller pictures of just him and his father. And his brothers too, the ones that were currently pissed at him. He supposed if he was honest with himself, he was the one that was pissed. He’d needed their help, yes, and their support on the project that he’d been trying to get up off the ground for months now. Nolan knew that he’d of gotten it there, but the fact was he was too broke to go on and would have lost it all if they hadn’t sat him down and told him they were going to help him, in any way they could. “But I can do this.” Even Garth, the money maker in the family, shook his head. “You just don’t understand. This is something that I want to do, and I don’t want you taking over.” His mom, the best mom in the entire world, had given him the most disappointed look he’d ever seen. His heart broke then, and that had made his temper lash out at the entire family. But his pride had won out on making things up to his mom. “Fine. Go ahead and take over. Like you do everything else. It wouldn’t be the Bentley clan thing if you guys didn’t have your two cents in it too, now would it? And that’s what bothered you so much.” He started to get up and leave them to their “intervention,” but his mother stood up and ordered him to sit. “I’m not ten. You can’t treat me this way.” “You are my son and I will treat you how you act. Sit down.” He sat, but he’d been a little more than pissed. Holding his temper had always served him well, but right now he wasn’t trying all that hard. “How much money have you spent on this amazing project?” “Everything.” There was no point in lying to them. They all knew, he was sure. “But it was worth every penny, and I’m going to put more into it when I have it.” “Good.” Her answer surprised him. “You think that I’m not proud of what you’ve done? Do you think…well you do, don’t you? You’ve proven that, haven’t you? Do you think that any of us would want you to not be able to make this dream of yours work? That we’d just let you fail at something that you’ve worked so hard at?” “I don’t want your help. I can do this on my own.” His mother only sat down and pushed an envelope at him. “I’m not taking your money, Mom. It’s what we all worked for so that you’d be set for the rest of your life.” “I am set. I have my sons here. And their families. And this isn’t only from me. We all put money in here.” The envelope was pushed at him until it was right at his fingertips. “Take it or not. It’s entirely up to you. But if you fail at this—and you will, because you’re not letting us help you when you need it—then I do not want to hear a single word from you. And your father’s name on this place will be a terrible legacy to him should you not let your family support you as he did us.” She’d gotten up and moved to the door, her last sentence stinging him the hardest. When they’d all left him, even his two nieces, he sat there for ten more minutes before he got up and snatched the envelope up before going to his car. He’d not been back home since. “Doctor Nolan?” Nolan looked up at Loraine Bean, the nurse that had worked for him at his old practice and had begged to come and work for him here. “There’s a patient here that needs some attention. He didn’t have an appointment, and I can’t get anything from him. I think he’s been hurt pretty badly.” Nolan stood up and told her to take him to the examining room, that he’d be right there. She nodded but didn’t move. “I don’t think…he’s just a kid, not much bigger than my own son. About thirteen or so. He won’t even tell me his name.” Nolan paused in pulling on his lab coat to ask her what the boy had said to her. “Nothing other than to show me his arm, and I came to get you.” “Show him in and I’ll be there in a moment.” She nodded again and left. He wasn’t sure what was going on, but he would help the child. Going down the hall, he tried to think what would have happened, and realized he was probably making it a great deal worse than it was. Entering the room, he looked at his patient. The kid turned to him, and two things struck Nolan at once. The kid was afraid of him, and he was human. The scent of blood, strong and fresh, made Nolan’s cat make himself known. Nolan decided to go slowly. “My name is Nolan Bentley. I’m the doctor who is going to look at you.” The kid nodded, and Nolan sat on the stool while the kid sat on the big exam table. “What is it you’re here to see me about?” The kid peeled the dishtowel from his forearm. Nolan could see that it had been bleeding a great deal. The towel, like his sleeve, was soaked through, and he was wincing as the skin was exposed. Someone had cut him, badly and deeply. “Can you tell me what happened?” The boy said nothing, but stared at him. “I can’t help you unless you help me. If you were cut by a fence or something like that, you’d need to have a tetanus shot first. Then I’d have to make sure there was no rust or anything in the cut. If it was a knife, I’d have to know what sort of knife. Were you cutting chicken and the blade slipped? Maybe you got hit by a piece of falling glass. Or you—” “Knife. A switchblade.” Nolan nodded and pulled on some gloves. “I’m…he tried to take my money. Not that I have much, but I worked for it. He’s bigger, so it’s not like I didn’t try to protect myself, but…he’s bigger.” “I don’t blame you.” Nolan rolled a table with all the things he’d need to stitch him up toward them and had the kid put his arm over it so he could look at it better. “It’s going to need about twenty-five or so stitches. But it will need to be cleaned out first. What does the other kid look like? The one that hurt you. Other than big, I mean. Did you get some good licks in yourself?” “He just left me there. I don’t think he’s hurting though. He’s a known bully and has a gang that hangs with him. I might have hit him a few times, but it was just luck, not anything more.” Nolan told him what he was going to do, and the kid just watched. Opening the wound up, he could see that while it was very deep, it had cut no major veins or tendons. But it was going to be sore for a while. “Do you have a parent or guardian you can have my nurse call?” When the boy didn’t answer him, Nolan stopped looking at the wound and looked at him. “I have to make a call to her or the police. If she’s the one that did this to you, then I can get you some—” “No. She’d never do that…it’s not her. It’s the man that thinks he can boss her around a lot that I worry about.” Nolan frowned, wondering what sort of life this kid had. “He’s a real douche canoe. And no matter how many times she tells him to back off, he’s right up in our face. And she’s not my mom, but my aunt.” “All right. We’ll still have to call her. This guy, does he live with you two?” The kid shook his head hard. “Then I don’t understand how it’s going to be an issue with her being called.” “They took the car last week because money is so short. We knew they were going to. It’s been hard on us since my mom passed away a few months ago.” Nolan felt his heart break for the kid. “Aunt Rylee has been working hard, but not having a car, she won’t be able to get here now. Plus, the buses don’t run that late on her second job. Walking home at night is dangerous, but she is trying really hard.” “And what is your name? For the records. And if you give me her address, I can have someone go and pick her up and bring her here.” The kid was shaking his head. “No one will hurt her or you now that you’re here. I swear that to you.” “I know that. But she’s…she’s not very…she’s been under a lot of stress. And she freaks out really easy. Not badly, but…last night she cried for two hours because she didn’t have the money for me to go on this class thing. I told her it was okay, but she is…she’s weird about that sort of stuff. She’s this really…she was in the army when Mom called her, and she was so…Mom said it was army life, but she was so hard. But now she’s sort of…I guess squishy. Cries about stuff that’s okay, and then gets all blown up when things are an injustice, as she calls them. I really love her, but she’s weird, like I said.” “I see. Let me get her address and I’ll have my mom go and get her. She’s understanding about this sort of thing.” The kid still didn’t seem convinced, and Nolan had to admire him for protecting his family. “She’s going to have to find out sooner or later, I’m afraid. You can’t just hide something like this from her. She’ll be more hurt if you do, I bet. My mom would be.” “All right, but don’t say that I didn’t warn you. Her name is really Rylee McClure.” He also gave him the address. “My name is Shane. Shane Cole.” The phone in the examining room was there for him to use, but for the life of him he had no idea how to contact his mother on it. She had a cell phone, he supposed, but whenever he needed her he would just reach out to contact her through their link. He did that now. I need your cell number. She laughed and gave it to him. Okay. I need to call you. Will you be able to answer me? Yes. I’m assuming this is for someone else’s benefit? He told her it was and why. I see. Go ahead and call me then. I’m with Reggie and Chris. The three of us were going to go to the grocery, but this will be fun too. He called her and explained again what he needed. Giving her both their names and the address, he could hear his sister-in-law in the background laughing. Reggie was talking to one of the babies, he knew from the sound of her voice, and was telling them how Uncle Nolan was a doctor woctor. Whatever the hell that meant. Hanging up a few minutes later, he sat back down on the chair and started cleaning the wound out while talking with young Shane. ~~~ The doorbell nearly scared ten years off her life. Rylee had had her head in the dryer, trying to find the last sock that had been there when she’d put it in the stupid thing, but now was missing. She not only bumped her head, but was pretty sure that the sock was eaten, again by the stupid machine. She was still rubbing her head when she went to the door and peeked out the side glass. It wasn’t Mike, thank goodness. But whatever the two women were selling, she had no money for, nor did she have time for their spiel. Opening the door, she could see Mike coming out of his townhouse next door and staring at them like he wasn’t going anywhere until he had all the information she did. The nosey prick was driving her nuts. Just as the elder woman opened her mouth to speak, Mike cut her off. “You said you weren’t going to be home tonight. You never told me about no company.” She ignored him for the two women. “I don’t think you should be letting them in. They look shifty to me. And if you got no plans, then you can go with me to the movies like I told you we could. That boy of yours, he can stay home. I don’t like him either.” Her temper nearly got the better of her. Rylee hated Mike Packer and wanted to murder him daily, but lately, since her sister had died, he’d been making a total ass of himself, bugging her and telling her what she should and shouldn’t be doing. And when her car had gotten repossessed, he’d been all over that like white on rice. He insisted that he be the one to drive her all over town, going so far as to send cabs that she’d call for away when they arrived at her house. The younger woman spoke before she could. “Fuck off, buddy. We’re not here to see you, so go the fuck back in your house.” Well, that took religious zealots off the list of who they might be, Rylee thought with a grin. The older woman tisked at the younger one, who did not look the least bit repentant when she said she was sorry. Mike made his way back into his house, but his door, forever opening and closing like a damned revolving door lately, stood open just a little. “Are you Rylee McClure?” Rylee told her she was, a finger of fear going down her back. “I’m sorry, my dear, do you think we could go inside? Your neighbor seems to think this has something to do with him.” Mike’s door slammed shut and the older woman smiled at her. For reasons she could not understand, she liked them both. And when she invited them in, she knew that she’d be as safe with them as she would with her gun pointed to whoever might be coming for her. A strange thought, but lately a lot of things had been strange. “Do you have a child...nephew…by the name of Shane…I don’t remember what Nolan told us his last name was, do you, Chris?” She told her. “Yes, that’s right. Shane Cole. Do you know him?” Her vision began to blur and her heart…she actually looked down at her chest to see if it had fallen out of her chest. She could not lose him too. He was all she had in the world now that…when the room began to tilt, she heard the younger women cursing and thought perhaps she’d like to learn a few of those words soon. Before she knew it, she was on the floor with her head between her upright knees. “Just breathe, young lady. It’s not that bad. Or so he said.” Rylee asked her who. “My son. He’s a doctor. A very good one. And your nephew came to his office a little while ago and had to be looked at. I don’t know a great many of the details, but I do know that if anyone can keep him safe, it will be my son.” Rylee wondered if she thought this was helping, because it wasn’t. “Gracie, you’re not helping her. She’s scared to death that he’s hurt really badly.” Gracie, the older woman, Rylee assumed, asked her to talk to Nolan and find out. “I have a better idea. Why don’t we just take her to him? Like he wanted us to. She might feel better to see him even if we were to tell her he’s just fine.” “Oh. Yes. That’s a good idea. I think the man next door…did you smell him?” Chris must have answered because Gracie continued as if she had. “And what was he wearing? No man should be out looking like…well, he just rolled out of the barn after mucking it all day.” Rylee laughed. As she pushed gently against the hand holding her down, she was freed. Looking up from her position on the floor, she smiled at the two of them. Then the door opened again and a woman holding two babies came in too. One of them was screaming her head off. “Here.” A baby was handed to Chris, and then the screaming one was shoved in her arms. “Where is your bathroom? I have to go now. I thought you said you’d only be…where?” Rylee told her down the hall, but kept her eyes on the little girl in her arms. Christ, she was beautiful, and the way her little lips puckered up like she was going to let go of another healthy scream made Rylee’s heart melt. “Hey there, little one. Don’t cry. Mommy will be back in a second.” The little girl just stared at her. Her cheeks looked so downy soft that Rylee had to touch them. Adjusting her in her hands, she ran her finger down her cheek and marveled at not just the softness of it, but also how warm she was. “Her name is Alexis. And this is Anna. They’re my granddaughters.” Rylee looked at the baby that was now in Gracie’s hands and could see that they were twins. “She likes you.” “I never held a baby this tiny before. When Shane was born, I was away and…. Oh my God, Shane. Can you take me to him?” The baby started to cry again but hushed once Rylee started talking to the adults again in a calm and quiet voice. “I don’t have a car anymore. And if I call a cab, I think that Mike will intercept it again and I’ll end up in his car. I’ll give you some gas money. I don’t…well, not a lot of gas money, but I managed to find ten dollars in the dryer today. I was going to take Shane out for a treat, but….” She closed her mouth when she realized she was babbling. Not a habit she’d developed until recently. Gracie just smiled at her and stood up. “We were actually sent to get you.” Handing the baby back to her mom when she returned, Rylee asked for a minute to get something on. She ran to her bedroom and changed in record time, and put on her jacket as she made her way to the living room again. When Gracie asked her if she was set, they left with Rylee making sure the doors were locked three times before she walked down the sidewalk. “You need a safer place to stay.” She looked over at Chris, who was sitting in the front with Gracie as she drove. “That man next door, he’s going to hurt you if you don’t.” “I don’t think he’ll hurt me now. A couple of weeks ago he tried that crap on me and I put him in his place. He had been backing off until today. I think he might need another show of force.” Gracie laughed, but Chris didn’t look convinced. “He’s harmless for the most part. And when he gets out of line, I put him back in his place. I have…I can carry and I do now. I don’t care for it, but I have to protect us.” She asked what they knew about Shane. Chris answered her, but Rylee had a feeling that she was still worried about the neighbor. He really wasn’t that bad, but she knew how to handle him when he was. “Nolan said that he’s been cut on his arm with a knife. I don’t know the extent of the wound other than without someone there that can authorize him to work on it, he has to wait. Shane told him that you no longer had a car.” She waited for someone to tell her she should work harder to keep her things, but none of them said a word about that as Chris continued. “He isn’t much of a talker, is he?” “No.” Rylee wanted to tell them that was her fault too. He’d been so depressed since his mom had died, but she was having so much trouble shaking her own depression about Shelby dying that it was hard for her to talk to him about his own. She also knew that there had been some trouble at school, but again, he’d not shared much in the way of information, only to tell her that he had it handled. Obviously not. As they drove her to the nicer part of town, she realized that they knew her name, but other than first names, she had no idea who they were. She started to ask them when the car turned into a nice office building parking lot and the engine was turned off. They all turned to her. “I’m a little scared.” Gracie told her that was understandable. “I’m not…it’s been hard on us. For the last few months, it’s been really hard on us. We can’t seem to get a break. To be telling you this…sharing…I’m not sure why I feel I can, but I’ve not had a great deal of friends over, and those that do come over are more interested in why we’re so broke. I really hate people.” “Not all people are like your so-called friends. And so you know, we trust you as well. But you need help. We can help you.” Rylee shook her head at Chris as she nodded. “We can and we will. You will need us as much as we do you. Go inside and we’ll be in soon. Nolan is on the phone right now with his brother about something, and Shane is with the nurse. Nolan will help you too…he’ll need to. His nurse is waiting on you to fill out the paperwork.” The sharp intake of breath from Gracie had Rylee looking at her. But she was staring at Chris, smiling. There was something there, something that she felt like she needed to know but wasn’t sure she actually wanted to know it. Before they could tell her that something else had happened, she got out of the car and made her way to the front door alone. The nurse was standing at the door like she’d been waiting on her and let her in. “Hello, I’m Nurse Loraine Bean. Your nephew is in the office right now. I’ve given him something to settle his stomach…nothing more than a little soda. Nolan Bentley, the doctor, is on the phone.” Rylee nodded. “Can you please fill out this paperwork? All it’s staying is that you give him permission to put stitches in his arm.” “Can I see him first? I’d feel so much better if you’d let me just make sure that it’s him. I know it is, but I have to see him.” The nurse smiled and nodded. “Thank you.” “No problem. He’s a good boy once he starts to talk to you. It took Nolan a little bit to get him to open up. I think they’ve been talking manly things, because when I come into the room, they quiet up again.” The room where she was taking her had the door closed. “As I said, Nolan had to step out for a moment. But you should just go on in and talk to Shane to help him relax. Then we can get the paperwork finished up. Nolan can work on him when he gets back.” Nodding and taking a deep breath, Rylee opened the door and moved into the room. Shane was sitting there with his head leaning against the wall and his arm wrapped up in a gauze-like material. There was a kit nearby him. She was sure it was the sterile dressing and equipment used to work on him, so she was careful not to touch it. He started sobbing as soon as he saw her. “I’m so sorry they had to come and get you like that.” She told him it was fine. “I thought I could take care of it on my own, but I messed up. He had a knife and I didn’t. Not that I’d use one, but Nolan said I’d need to learn how or I’d just cut myself more. And he cut me up before I could even think that was what he was going to do…the boy did, not Nolan. I’m really sorry, Aunt Rylee.” “Oh, honey, it’s all right. I’m just glad that you’re all right. But who did this? This kid that’s been giving you problems, he took a knife to school?” He nodded, still crying. “You should have told me, Shane. We’ll work this out. The doctor, is he taking care of you all right? He’s not hurt you?” “No. He’s really cool. He never told me I was stupid for taking him on when I did. Said that I should have told you so you could have done something smarter. I like him.” Rylee nodded and hugged him again. “Aunt Rylee, I know we don’t have the money for this and I told him that. He said that I was his practice patient.” “Practice? How long as he been a doctor? Surely he’s not just out of med school?” The door opened just as she asked, and she turned to see a very tall, extremely handsome man in a lab coat come in the room. “You’re the doctor?” “Yes, but not Nolan. He had to leave. I’m his brother, Burke. I’m a doctor too, as a matter of fact. And we’ve both been at it for some time, I assure you.” She felt her face heat up, but she sat on the edge of the bed near Shane when he asked her to. “Nolan said that you’ve been cut with a switchblade?” “Yes. This older boy at the school, he said that he wanted my money, and since I don’t have a lot, he got a lot of blood on him for nothing. And I think I might have hurt him a little too.” She was surprised to hear the man say good, but before she could say anything to him, Shane continued. “Nolan said that I should have told my aunt the truth from the start and it might not have gotten this far.” “More than likely not. When my brothers and I fight, we are usually pretty rough about it. One time when my brother Micah and I had this huge fight, my mom hosed us down with the kitchen sink thing. It sure made us pay attention when she told us to take it outside next time.” Shane laughed, and Rylee could see the woman she’d met doing something like that. “Okay, young man. How about we get you put back together? Ms. Cole, you can stay or not, but the nurse is going to give him something to relax him a bit.” As soon as she nodded to Shane that it was okay, the nurse wiped a swab over his arm and stuck him. In minutes, he was closing his eyes and was asleep in no time. She looked at the doctor, worried, when he stood up. She stood as well. “Nolan seems to think there is more to this than a cut arm. He asked me to have a look when you got here so that…he didn’t want you to think that we had done this to him when he came in this way. I assure you, we’d never harm him. May I?” Nodding again, she moved back out of his way when he stood over her nephew and watched the doctor lift Shane’s shirt up. “Just as he said it might be. I’m afraid he’s going to need more than some stitches, Ms. Cole. He’s going to need the hospital.” She could only stare at the bruising on his ribs and the blood from several other cuts that seemed to stretch up to his throat and shoulders. When Burke pulled up Shane’s pant legs too, she could see where he’d been kicked, his legs scraped and bruised a great deal. Sitting down again, she had started to cry when someone was suddenly holding her. Sobbing into the shoulder of Mrs. Bentley was the best thing that had happened to her in months. Being held like this made her cry harder.