#darkfantasy #erotica #romance #pharnormal #doubledeuceseries #comingsoon #aug21st #preorder #booktwo
Emma McBride loves working in the law firm, and hopes someday to hang out a sign that has her on name on it. But for now, she has some proving to do. By the time she is caught up for the day, it’s nearly ten o’clock. If this doesn’t help her make partner, she has no idea what will. Emma is going to her car when she hears someone coming down the lane she was in. Instead of getting in, being trapped in her car, she pulls out her gun….
Landon McBride owns the ranch next door to the Double Deuce. It is the largest ranch in the state. His health is failing and he figures it’s time to sell. Lord knows, his son Dirk isn’t fit to run the ranch, and Landon can’t think of any person better to buy it than Mason Douglas. Mason is a good man and could manage the large spread better than he could.
Mason is interested, sure, but knows he can’t afford a spread that large, and tells Landon that. Landon jokes and tells him to marry his daughter and he can have it for free. Mason isn’t amused. Although he’s never met Emma, he knows Dirk, and if the siblings are anything alike it’s not no, but Hell no.
Emma is more embarrassed than she is hurting, but the entanglement with those men did a number on her body―she hurts everywhere. Recuperating at her parent’s ranch seems like the logical thing to do, but with her brother showing his ass and getting kicked out, she’s wondering if she’s not better off in her apartment in the city. But when the man next door shows up and shifts into an angry cougar, all bets are off.
The scent, the fear, and the smell of Emma is making Mason’s cat wild. He knows that he is scaring her—hell, he is scared himself…. He growls low, “She’s my mate. And hurt.”
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Mason moved along the fence line looking for breaks. He was out here because he needed to be alone, not because of any report that the fence was down. Instead he had made up a story about the line and needing to check it early this morning, and was enjoying the quiet of the afternoon now. Things at home were…too much, he supposed. He’d never been one to party it up. It wasn’t his style to go to bars. Not that he drank at all, but he was a loner and he enjoyed the quiet, like he was finding here on the open area.
When a noise broke his silent reprise, he looked at the big horse coming toward his and frowned. The McBrides were having a hard time of the quiet at their home in the opposite way he was. Three months ago, their son had decided that he didn’t want to be a rancher. Their second child, a girl, had moved out long ago for greener pastures. Mason had a feeling that there wasn’t much in the way of brother/sisterly love between the two children, but no one had ever confirmed or denied it, so he never asked. Dirk McBride, the son, was an ass anyway, and he’d never met the girl. But he liked Landon and Katie McBride a great deal.
“Mason.” He nodded at the older gentleman. “I thought I saw you going by the house this morning. Missus sent you out some lunch. She said you’d more than likely not have eaten.”
“I forgot to get anything when I left the house.” He took the large paper bag and put it on his lap. “You out looking at fences too? I’ve hit the ones behind me from your line on the property if you wanted to go this way. It’s clean behind us.”
Mason hoped that the man would say that he’d only brought him some food and go back, but he turned his horse in the same direction that his was going and said he’d ride along. Mason only nodded and gave his horse a little nudge to get him going. He reached into the bag and pulled out a large piece of angel food cake, and unwrapped it as he rode forward.
“My daughter comes home in a few weeks. She said she was coming to see us about something. I’m sure she’s not happy about anything that might be happening between us and Dirk.” Mason nodded as he took another bite of the soft moist cake. “She’s a mite on the stubborn side. Not in the way that Dirk is, but a good deal more sassy. Dirk is just…he’s got some strange ideas about what he wants and where he’s headed.”
“Dirk move out yet?” Landon said that he was still there. “I heard that he was having some problems finding him a place. I could help him find something if you want.”
“Nah, he’s going to do what he’s going to do on his own. And we’re not giving him any more money.” Mason knew that was a sore point for the McBrides. “I have it and I want to keep it. Someday I might want to take the missus on a long vacation, and if Dirk had his way, he’d rather we spent it on him. Or take him along. I’ve done that kid wrong and now I’m paying for it.”
“I don’t know what you think you did, but you and Katie aren’t to blame for what he is. Not by a long shot.” Landon snorted and spit tobacco onto the ground before he looked at Mason. “Okay, I’ve heard things. And he never was one to be overly friendly when we were growing up. He has it in his head that his money—though I was never sure why it was his and not yours—but that his money was what made him special.”
“He’s a prick.” Mason didn’t say anything but stuffed the paper that the cake had been in back in the bag. Reaching for the sandwich that was there, also wrapped in waxed paper, he peeled it back to reveal a nice thick roast beef sandwich. “We should have made him finish college, or at least get a job. You’d think that he was too good to work the way he talks about it. Never even raised a finger to help out around the ranch. And to be truthful about it, I should have guessed he didn’t want the ranch long before now.”
Mason thought that if Dirk did take the ranch from his parents, it would be over almost as soon as he had to go out to the first chore. Dirk, as he’d always told them as kids, wasn’t a rancher. He was more of the baron to one, and had shitheads to do the work for him. Good luck with that one, he’d thought even back then.
“You should just buy me out, Mason. I’d cut you a real good deal on the ranch and the steer.” Mason stopped his horse and waited for Landon to stop and notice that he was no longer with him. “You want it, don’t you? I mean, you do most of the work there anyway since I’ve got this cancer thing. I want to sell to you ‘cause I know you will do right by it.”
“I know nothing about steer, Landon. I can milk a cow and even farm a little, but nothing about raising steer to sell on the hoof.” Landon laughed and Mason felt his face heat up. “Yeah, I’d love to buy you out, but I’d have no idea what to do with it.”
“It’s all cattle, Mason. And you sell the milk your cattle gives up now. Steer ain’t no different. You’re just selling the whole cow and not just a byproduct of it.” Mason started to shake his head. “The barn is new with a heater in it. The house is up to date on all the appliances. We even put in new carpets last month with the idea of selling to somebody. You’re the right person to buy it.”
“How big?” He didn’t have to explain to Landon what he wanted to know. The man could talk farm and ranches as well as he could. And when Landon looked out over the fence, the one that separated his ranch from the McBrides, he was almost afraid of the answer.
“Fifty acres of it belongs to my daughter. She wanted it and we gifted it to her some time ago. I’ll talk to her about it when she comes in. Emma might not even want it anymore.” Mason nodded, still waiting. “Dirk won’t want any of it when it comes down to it. The money, sure, but not the land. He made that perfectly clear when I told him we might be selling. He don’t know that it’s you, of course, but he said that he…he told me he’d like his money in the form of cash. Little shit. I think he might think he’s gonna get to stay on. I’ve yet to break that to him—”
“Landon, how big is the ranch? I’ve heard but I just don’t…how big is it?” Mason had heard that it was the biggest ranch in the state. Other times he’d heard it was the
biggest on this side of the United States. Either way, it was going to be a great many acres.
“Just over forty thousand acres.” Mason heard the buzzing in his head and tried his best to ignore it so he could hear the man in front of him talking. “Covers three states, it does. Don’t know why on earth we thought to have that much, but when we started out, we were young and thought more was better. Turned out that we didn’t need nearly close to what we had, and started renting it out to other farmers and ranchers for the income. Not that we needed it, but the extra money was nice to have. Mason, you’re turning green.”
“Holy Christ, Landon. Three states? Mother fuck. I don’t have that kind of money. Not even…I can’t afford to buy you out.” Landon nodded and turned his horse around to lead them. Mason caught up with him and felt badly that he couldn’t help the man out. “I’m really sorry.”
“It’s not over. I’ll think of something.” Mason thought the man would have to think for a good long time for him to buy that much in the way of land. “The rent on the other parts would make a huge dent in the payments a month. Hell, one of them alone is damned near all of it. And they all have contracts should they decide they don’t want to use it any more. I don’t think that’ll be a problem. You’re a good man and most everyone knows that.”
“The bank will require me to have a good deal more than I have right now.” Which, Mason thought, was about a grand in his account. In the few weeks that he and Jace had been running the Rancher Association, he’d been paid well, but he had a lot of catching up to do. And buying a ranch, especially the size of the McBride ranch, wasn’t even close to being on that list.
“Like I said, I’ll have me a look into things. We’ll figure something out.” Landon stretched and looked over at him with a smile. “Maybe you could just take my daughter as your wife, and it’ll all be yours free and clear. And we’d keep it all in the family. I wouldn’t even care should you want to change it to the Double Deuce. Like that name just fine.”
Mason laughed with him. There was no way he’d be marrying his daughter, and he was pretty sure Landon knew it. The man was making a joke, a poor one, as it felt for Mason, but a joke all the same. Mason had a mate out there somewhere, and Emma McBride wasn’t it. He was sure of it. She was…well, she was a McBride, and he’d had his fill of the McBride children a long time ago in Dirk.
They rode along for another hour. It was getting close to dinner time, and Mason knew that he had to head home. He’d been hiding out long enough. But he also knew that should his family need him, someone would have gotten in touch with him and he’d have been right there. Mason needed this solitude, or what he’d had of it, more than he could have explained to his family.
Holly was going to have a baby in about eight months or so. She and Jace were so happy setting up their home and getting ready for it. The ranches, both of them, were doing better than they’d dreamed they would, and they’d even had to hire on some extra hands just to keep up.
Their dairy was going out all over the state now, and they’d been approached more than once by a few of the Mennonites around the area to sell them any extra they might have at the end of the day. So far it had been working out well for all of them. Very well.
“You and your family, you’re doing well now. I gotta tell you, never thought of Jace as being a man like he is.” Mason asked Landon what he meant. “Nothing bad. But to see him in a suit around town when he’s at that big building…well, your momma, she’d be tickled pink, she would. Her boys working in a big corporations like that. And Jace and you seem to be doing a bang up job on the RA too. That Ranchers Association is helping a lot of people. And them dues we pay sure doesn’t hurt nearly as bad as that banker was trying to do.”
“Rogers.” Landon nodded. “Yeah, he’s not been heard from for a while now. People say he’s taken off with their money. But that’s dying down now too, since the bank is paying back what was ripped off from them.”
Rogers was dead. Few people knew about it, but he was. Jace had worked with a couple of wolves he knew, and the man was fertilizer in some field somewhere with no part of him even big enough to search for. Some things like this were much better kept quiet. Landon might think it was a good thing, but Mason would never tell.
When they were near the ranch house, Landon shook his hand. “Thank you for the ride. Needed to get out more than I thought I did. Nice talking with a man who doesn’t jabber all the time.”
Mason thanked him and headed in the direction of his own ranch. Aunt Georgie was coming out on the porch when he got off his horse. She looked at him with her hand over her eyes to shield out the sun, and then smiled.
“I see you’ve been with Landon again. I swear to you that the man sits on his porch looking for one of you boys to ride by. He’s a mite on the lonely side.” Mason nodded as he tied his horse up. “You hungry? I can make you something before dinner.”
“Nah. He brought me out a sandwich and some of Katie’s cake.” She asked him if it was her angel food. “Yeah. Man, that woman can bake like nobody’s business.”
“I hear that Emma can cook that well too. She don’t much, I guess, but she can. Katie said she’s coming home soon. Something about a sale.” Mason only nodded. No sense in telling her of Landon’s pipedream. “Did he ask you?”
Mason only nodded his head at her. Damn, but she could tell what was on a person’s mind faster than they might know. Instead of answering her, he sat on the porch and let the swing rock him back and forth. When Aunt Georgie sat beside him, he just tilted his hat over his eyes for a moment.
“I can’t swing it. As much as I’d like to, there is no way for me to do it.” She only hummed her noncommittal answer. “Did you know that his land covers three states?”
“I did. I’ve lived here all my life too, you know.” He eyed her under the brim of her hat. She was up to something, he just knew it. “That son of theirs, what do you know about him?”
“Dirk? Nothing much. He’s a prick. We called him Dirk the Dick in school. I think he’s closer to Jace’s age. Told his daddy that he didn’t want the ranch. I’m not sure, but
I think Landon is sort of relieved that he doesn’t.” Aunt Georgie nodded. “I think he’d sell it off and walk away without a backward glance. Landon said that he wants money, not ground. Even told him when he sold out to give him cash for it. Like that man deserves even a dime off his dad’s hard work.”
“That’s really too bad. There won’t be any more dirt made in this world, but money will be the death of a lot of things.” Mason said nothing. He’d heard her say that a great many times over the years. “If he can’t find a buyer, do you know what he’ll do with the land?”
“No. I didn’t even ask him what he wanted for it. Forty thousand acres is more than I can handle even if he was selling it for a nickel an acre.” She stopped swaying her feet and looked at him. “Yeah, that’s what I said, forty thousand.”
“Good heavens. I knew it was big, but…wow. You’d never know he had that much to look at him. I’d have thought…damn.” Mason laughed when she cursed. It was something that she never did and rarely tolerated. “I’m guessing whoever gets it won’t be ranching it. Probably turn it into a dude ranch or something.”
When she left him there to tend to supper, he thought about the land. He was happy here. Not as happy as he’d be with all that extra land, but he could live without it. When Jace walked into the yard from his house, he wondered what the hell the man had been doing. He was covered from head to toe in mud.
“Can you help me out?” Mason stood and nodded. “There’s a leak in the greenhouse and I need to get it fixed before Holly finds out I made it worse by not calling a plumber. I had no idea what the hell I was doing and should have….”
Mason walked back to Jace’s house while he listened to him. This was what he needed. His family. And they were all nearby him too. When he got to the other ranch, he let his brother fiddle with the problem before he called in help. The plumber said he’d be there within the hour.
“Dirk, I don’t have time for you right now.” Not that she ever did, but right now Emma was too busy to even remember to eat the dinner she’d ordered. “Just get to the point so I can go home and put my feet up.”
“He’s kicking me out.” Emma pulled the notepad to her and started making notes. Not on what her brother was saying, but on the case she’d had this afternoon. “Dad said he was selling out and that I’d have to find other digs.”
“Dad’s been saying he’s selling out for years now.” She nearly missed some of the wording on the computer when her brother started whining again. “Dirk, can this wait? I’m really swamped here, and I need to—”
“I think he’s going to give it to the man next door. He’s been sniffing around him for months now, and I think Dad is just going to give it to him.” That got her attention. “His name is Douglas. They own the land that is close to ours. That guy has been up Dad’s ass for a long time just waiting for him to turn the keys over to him. He’ll take your land too, the part where you wanted to settle when you were ready. Like that’s ever going to happen. You’re a career woman.”
Dirk had made career sound like it was some kind of disease or something. She loved working in the law firm, and hoped someday to hang out a sign that had her on name on it. But for now, she had some proving to do. Apparently even to her own brother.
“He can’t sell my land. Dad gave me that.” Dirk snorted. “He would have given you some too, Dirk, if he wasn’t forever bailing your ass out of one thing or another. And me too. I’m not going to do this for you anymore. I’ve told you that.”
“You’ll help me. I’m Dirk McBride. And I don’t know why he doesn’t just give me what I want now. It’s not like he needs all that money he has in the bank. Why do I have to wait until he’s dead to get my half? He’s being selfish.” Emma could have told him he wasn’t getting half, not even a third of the ranch or the money because of his antics, but she kept her mouth shut as he continued talking. Finally she cut him off.
“I’m coming home in a few weeks. Sooner if I can get this case finished. I’ll look into it. I swear.” He said something about taking care of it himself, but she told him to stay out of it. “Dad isn’t going to sell the ranch today or tomorrow. Just give me some time to look into this, and for Christ’s sake, stay out of it. Dad said if you did one more thing to piss him off, he’d cut you out without a dime. And you’d be living on the streets. I’d believe him if I was you, Dirk. He’s pretty pissed off at you.”
“So? Like I care what he thinks about doing to me. I’m his only son. He’ll have to take me back into our house. Even if he doesn’t, you will.” Emma didn’t tell him she could and would leave him to his own devices in a heartbeat if he fucked with her. “Mom and Dad are not young anymore and if they die, I’ll be all right and as rich as I’d ever want to be. I just want him to acknowledge that I’m a grown man and should have my money now. I’ve got things I want to do with it now, not later. Being a McBride comes with a certain price, and Dad is cramping it all up for me.”
Dad was cramping it up? Just last week she’d had to go to court with Dirk to get him out of much more trouble than a man his age should be in. At thirty-five, Dirk acted more like a ten-year-old than his age, and his run-ins with the law were starting to get harder and harder to get him out of. But no more. She’d told him that when they’d left the courthouse then.
“I’m not doing this again. You will have to find someone else to represent you. I’m not doing it.” He’d only told her to be serious. “I am being serious, Dirk. I’m finished bailing you out as much as Dad and Mom are. You fuck up again and I want you to forget my number.”
Even when he left her to go and celebrate, she knew that in short order he was going to be in more trouble. But she’d already talked to her parents and they had agreed with her. It was time to cut the ties and make him suffer for what he’d been doing.
By the time she was caught up for the day, it was nearly ten o’clock. Christ, if this didn’t help her make partner, she had no idea what would. Emma was going to her car when she heard someone coming down the lane she was in. Instead of getting in, being trapped in her car, she pulled out her gun and turned to look at the person as she put her hand down beside her coat.
“Hello.” She didn’t say anything to the man but nodded. “I’m new here. And I think I forgot where I parked my car.”
“I can’t help you.” He nodded and took a step toward her. Emma brought the gun up. “I’m registered to use and carry this. You come one step closer and I will put a bullet between your eyes.”
Lifting her camera up, she started pushing the button on it to take pictures. She knew that there was a camera right behind her, but she didn’t want to take any chances that it missed his face. The man backed up but didn’t leave.
“You’re not at all friendly, are you?” Emma listened hard to his voice, the way he spoke and any movements that might give the police some information later. Emma only hoped she’d be around to tell them. “I’m here to talk to you, nothing more. Put the camera down and we’ll go somewhere and talk.”
“Yeah, that’s so not going to happen.” He looked to his left and she didn’t. It was something that she had read in a transcript once as how they’d gotten the victim by misdirection. When he looked back at her, she had an eerie feeling that she was in more trouble than she’d first thought. The footsteps coming toward them had her shifting on her feet.
“Miss, are you all right?” She didn’t know this man either. “Want me to call the police? Is this man bothering you?”
Emma didn’t take her eyes off either man but did glance at her phone once. She was pressing the button to call the police herself when the first man leapt at her. She fired her gun just as the phone call was answered.
“Parker Building garage. Shots fired. Man down.” She felt her head explode in pain when she hit something hard behind her. “Emma McBride, two men are attacking me on the fifth level b-side.”
Emma fired her gun twice more. She knew that she’d hit one of the men but was not sure which. Someone started to drag her across the floor and she kicked out, hitting something hard enough to have the person let her go. Backing up again, she tried to see where they were, but her vision was blurred and her head was making her sick. Holding out her gun, she fired again and thought that someone had hit the ground from the sound of it. Then the sound of sirens started and she heard more running feet. Emma crawled backwards to the wall and cradled her gun and phone in her hands.
It was perhaps ten minutes before she heard a car come to a screeching halt close by. Emma was beginning to feel sick now, her body hurt, and she thought for sure her arm was broken, if not badly sprained. When someone said her name, she didn’t move, didn’t speak, but waited.
“Miss McBride, it’s Officer James O’Donnell. I’m with the police department. Tell me where you are and I’ll come to you.” She didn’t move yet. This could be another ploy. But he was suddenly standing in front of her, his shadows moving in a way that made her sick. Emma lifted her gun. “I’m not going to hurt you. I’m going to hand you my badge. You can’t see, can you?”
“I hurt.” He said he could tell that. “I don’t know if I should trust you. Those men, they were going to…I don’t know what, but I shot at them.” “You did at that.” His radio started talking, and she heard him talking to it. “Found Miss McBride; two down, one dead and it doesn’t look good for the other guy either. We’ll need an ambulance and a coroner.”
“I’m not dead.” He laughed and told her that it wasn’t for her. “I don’t know what they wanted with me. I don’t…I was working late.”
“I’m going to ask you to put down your gun, miss. The medics won’t help you unless you do. And I can’t let them.” Emma curled the gun closer to her chest. “I’m sorry, Miss McBride, but you’re going to have to let it go.”
“Don’t hurt me, please?” He assured her that he wouldn’t. Giving him her weapon was the hardest thing she’d ever done, and as soon as it was out of her hand, everything faded out. Christ, I really am hurt, she thought.