And when he loses his twin sister at seventeen,
he wants to turn his back on life―block his heart so that he never has to feel the sharp pain of loss again…
The small bar Kari Briggs runs is failing fast.
She hasn’t seen the owner in three months, past due notices are piling high, and her last paycheck bounced twice.
And if she doesn’t pay the delivery guy soon, there’ll be no more supplies.
She has trouble enough controlling her cat, so the last thing she needs tonight is trouble.
But those guys at the bar won’t listen and take it outside.
Deciding to take matters into her own hands,
she is shocked when a tall stranger grips her arms from behind and her cat wants to roll over and purr.
From the moment Steele touches her, she knows he’s her mate.
And Steele thinks he can just get her out of his system with sex and a lot of it―he
won’t mark her and she can’t mark him―no permanent attachments.
But that’s not how it works with a shifter, she will die if her cat can’t get what she needs from him.
She will love him because she has no choice―he is her mate―but that is a secret she is willing to take to her grave…
AMAZON USA http://www.amazon.com/Steele-Justice-Kathi-S-Barton-ebook/dp/B00UDNQ3K0/ref=sr_1_5_twi_1_kin?ie=UTF8&qid=1426972664&sr=8-5&keywords=Kathi+S+Barton
AMAZON UK http://www.amazon.co.uk/Steele-Justice-Kathi-S-Barton-ebook/dp/B00UDNQ3K0/ref=sr_1_6_twi_1_kin?ie=UTF8&qid=1426972725&sr=8-6&keywords=kATHI+s+bARTON
SMASH WORD https://www.smashwords.com/books/view/525631
I TUNES https://itunes.apple.com/us/book/steele/id975197870?mt=11
“I really wish you would just leave me alone.” Steele looked at his twin sister and growled low when she laughed at him. “There are times I wish I was an only child. You’re the most irritating thing I’ve never known. Don’t you have anything else to do?”
Her laughter almost made him smile. It was infectious like that. Instead, he turned his back on her. But he should have known it wouldn’t make her go away. When his bed shifted, he turned to see that she’d flopped down on it and had picked up his book. Snatching it away from her before she could see what it was, he watched her face for any clue that she’d be leaving anytime soon. Steele should have known better.
“I wasn’t going to tell.” He knew she wouldn’t. It was one thing to bother him, but she’d never get him into trouble. “Do you still see them all the time?”
“Yes.” He opened the book he’d had mailed to a post office box he’d opened just last month. His parents didn’t need to know that things were still bad for him. Not that either of them would give a crap anyway. In fact, just the opposite. “It says in here that I must have had a brain injury and that I only think I see them.”
Aster snorted. “Yeah, right. Like our parents didn’t think of that one when they were trying to make you not see them. How many doctors have you seen in your lifetime? Fifty? A hundred? You could see them since we were little kids. I don’t think that’s it. What other hogwash does it spout?”
He loved her…most of the time more than he did himself. She was witty and sarcastic, understanding and loving. She irritated him to the point that he wanted to murder her, but he would kill for her too. Instead of answering her, he told her once again to leave him alone. He glanced over in the corner at the woman sitting in his rocker, and she smiled a ghastly smile at him. Steele looked away. It wasn’t that he was afraid of her, but their appearance did frighten him.
Steele had been able to see ghosts since he was a baby, just as his sister had said. But she didn’t know it all. No one did. Not only had he talked to them, and played with the children who’d come to see him, but there was just so much more. They’d never hurt him but only talked to him and asked him to do things, things that helped them.
His mother was the first to figure out he had a “problem,” as she called it. He’d left the house in the middle of the night to help a spirit and she’d found out.
“They are real. And all I need you to do is drive me over to the hospital. I have to find out what this person died of.” She slapped him then, hard enough to throw him back on the floor. He remembered starting to stand and Aster stepping in front of him and daring their mom to hit him again. It wasn’t the first time she’d done that, but it was the first time she’d threatened their mother.
“You are not a nice person. He’s trying to help them. And if you hit him again, I’ll never do a thing for you again. No more dances; no more parties either.” His mother had asked him if Aster saw them too. “We’re not talking about me right now. This is about Steele and his need to get you to help him with this. Are you going to help him or not?”
“I most certainly am not. And if you mention this to me again, either of you, you will not have to worry about parties, young lady. I’ll take care that you never see the light of day again.”
They’d both been sent to their room, and when their father returned two days later they were beaten…him harder than Aster, but she’d been hurt more by the fact that no one believed him. So at the tender age of ten, they both decided to keep everything from their parents. And now, now they were seventeen and things had gotten…harder, he supposed.
“Where is he?” He looked at Aster sharply. “I know you’re helping someone. Where is he? Tell me where he is, or where she is, and I’ll leave you alone. I promise.”
“You’ll leave me alone now.” He stood up and shoved her off the bed. “Go away, Aster. I mean it. I’ve had enough of you driving me crazy. Don’t you think I have enough to deal with? I don’t need you pestering me to death too. Just fucking go away.”
He’d never cursed at her before…never had a reason to. But his client, as he’d begun to call them, had needed him for several days to do something and was keeping him up at night to get it done. When Aster stood up, he could see the tears in her eyes. She cried so seldom that he wanted to tell her that it was all right, that he needed her. But he was afraid. Not that she’d tell, never that, but that on this job, she’d get hurt. Doing what he was for this woman was going to be dangerous. He had no idea why he thought that, but he had a feeling deep in his body.
He thought for sure she was going to tell him off. One thing about Aster, she could peel your skin right off your body with just her words. Instead, she turned on her heel and left him standing there. His door slammed shut and vibrated one of his pictures off the wall, and he heard her stomping for several steps down the hall. Then she giggled and he knew she was skipping the rest of the way to her room. Steele looked over at the woman who still sat in his chair.
“Where are you taking me? I’ll go, but I want some answers first.” She stood up and pointed out the window. He knew that going with her was going to get him into trouble, but he wanted to finish this up so he could find Aster and tell her how sorry he was. “I’m doing this for you and you’ll leave me alone?”
Her nod scared him. Everything about her scared him. Whoever had killed her had really done a good job of it. Not a good choice of words, but they really worked her over. Her body was a mess, her face—he supposed she might have been a beauty—was nearly unrecognizable as it was beaten in on one side. Blood and brain matter seeped from the large hole just above her ear. Her jaw was broken, which was the reason she didn’t speak, and it hung limply at her neck. It, too, had been ravaged. Shivering once, Steele looked at the door his sister had gone out and wanted to go to her. But the client stepped in front of him.
Gathering up his pack, he climbed out the window just as she moved through it. It didn’t bother him any longer when they walked through doors or windows. It did, however, give him the willies when they walked through people. It was one of his rules. They were never to walk through him. If it happened, even accidently, he was finished. They left behind a scent and a creepy feeling when they did that.
The place where she was taking him was pretty far; they’d been walking for a good twenty minutes now, and she didn’t look as if she was going to slow. He was going to take his bike, an old motorcycle that he’d gotten really cheap last year when he’d turned sixteen. But he didn’t want his mother to hear him leave. Instead, he ran after her, trying his best to keep Aster out of his mind.
Aster was his best friend, best ally, and she was also the most beautiful woman he’d ever seen. She was special in that she didn’t care what she looked like either. Not like their mother, who thought it was a sin to not have your face on, whatever the hell that meant, before anyone saw you. And heaven forbid you went out into the yard with something less than a designer outfit on. Aster hated that about her as much as he did. And more often than not, Aster would be dressed in some of his toss offs rather than the things Mother picked out for her. He supposed she rebelled more than he did. Mother was forever telling them that with money came responsibilities. Neither Steele nor his sister seemed to be able to figure out what those were exactly.
They had money, or at least their parents did. His father was a surgeon of some renown. Mother was a chemist and had come up with several drugs that cured a great many things. He had no idea what they were, or even what sort of surgery his father did. It wasn’t that he didn’t care, he supposed, but they’d never had much to do with he or Aster, and they had grown used to them living their lives and he and Aster living theirs. They saw the staff more than they did their parents. But lately things had changed in that regard. He wasn’t sure what he thought about his mother retiring and his father taking less and less work at the hospital. Just the day before, their mother had started in on Aster about some things that neither of them had ever thought of.
“It’s high time you started finding a suitable husband.” He’d nearly choked on his soup when mother told Aster that. “And you, young man, will start to find a suitable wife too. One that your father and I will approve of, and not one of those people that you hang around with at that school of yours. We aren’t going to live forever, and we’re not leaving our money to the two of you and some deadbeat you find to shack up with.”
In her usual fashion, Aster snorted at her. “I don’t plan to ever marry, thanks. Having a man tell me what to do every ten seconds is for the birds.” Aster winked at him. “I think I’ll find me a lover and simply live off his money. Or find a job flipping burgers.”
Mother had hit Aster so hard she’d hit her head on the table as she fell from the chair. Blood poured from the wound and he was sure Mother had killed her. Instead of helping her up, or even seeing to her daughter, his mother stood over him with her hand drawn back. He’d never seen that particular look on her face before. It was something scary and insane.
“You have something flippant to say?” He shook his head. “See that you don’t. And starting on your eighteenth birthday, you’ll start doing what I tell you and not what you want. Don’t think I don’t know you sneak out of here every night. That, too, will stop.”
That had been three days ago, and here he was sneaking out again. When his client stopped by the fence that surrounded their property, he thought he was to jump over it. Instead, she pointed to the ground near him. Looking at the freshly turned soil then back at her, he shook his head.
“You can’t be buried here.” She nodded and pointed again. “I don’t believe it. There are security cameras everywhere. Had you been buried here, someone would have seen you when this happened.”
She pointed up behind him and he turned. There was a camera right there, but even he could tell that it had been disabled a long time ago. The thing was hanging limply on its holder, and the wires had been cut. Pulling out his camp shovel from his pack, he started to dig, but she stepped in front of him again. He asked her now what.
Moving over to something a little smaller, he noticed that the soil there was raw too. Taking a step back, he stared at it. He knew, just as surely as he was standing there, it was a child. When she pointed to it, then at her, Steele sat down on the hot grass and stared at her.
“Your child?” She nodded but didn’t move again. “Whoever killed you, they killed your child too? And then buried you both here? Am I going to regret this? Am I going to hate what I find here?”
Her nod had him looking at both graves. He had a feeling he knew who she was, and what terrified him the most was that he was pretty sure who had buried them both here as well. Steele felt a chill go over him, and he actually pulled his jacket tighter around him. Even with the sun beating down on him, he was cold.
A woman had come by the house several days ago with a little baby. He’d never actually spoken to her, but he’d gotten a glimpse of her when she asked to see his father. He’d looked at the little boy and wondered why she’d bring him to see his dad. Now he knew why her car had been parked in the back of the horse barn until today.
“Did he kill you?” He didn’t look at the client, not sure he wanted to really know the answer. “The baby, is it my father’s? And you came here to talk to him and he killed you both and buried you here?” This time he looked, and she was nodding. Every part of him wanted to run and hide. He wanted to find his father and demand that he tell him it wasn’t true. But Steele also knew, way down in his heart, that it was true. And not only that, but he had a feeling it had happened before. Was nearly certain of it.
“I think he’s…my father isn’t a nice man. He might have hurt someone before this. Murdered them, I mean. Another woman, but no child. My mother…she left him for a time before that and when she returned, they were very…I guess very secretive. He never…I think that he murdered this woman and has been searching for the child for a long time. I know that there was an investigator that came to the house nearly weekly for a while.” He looked up at the woman. “I’m so sorry. I know that doesn’t help you much, but I am.”
Her nod had him looking around the large yard. There were more here, more women that had come to see his father over the years. He didn’t want to think about what he might have done to put them there, how he had killed them, but Steele knew as surely as he was sitting there that there were dead bodies buried in that spot.
He didn’t dig at the grave like he normally would, but sat there until the cold seeped into his bones. Then before he could change his mind, he pulled out his cell phone and stared at it. It was time to make things right. Time to make his father—and more than likely his mother—pay. But who to call first? Dialing his father, he waited for his service to pick up. But as usual, all he got was his father’s voice mail, which really didn’t surprise him. His father hadn’t answered one of his calls since he’d gotten a phone.
“I found her. The woman and her child that are buried in the yard, I found them just now. And as much as you hate to hear this, she led me to where she was. I’m going to call the police as soon as I hang up from this call.” Steele took a deep breath and let it out slowly before continuing. “You killed them. I know you did. And it’s not the first time either.” Ending the call, he sat there for several seconds. Then he took a deep breath and dialed the police.
Within ten minutes, he was letting them in the gate. Steele knew his family well enough to know that they’d work very hard at covering this up. So while he’d been waiting on the locals to show up, he also called several news stations to let them know as well. Then he’d called the FBI.
The police were everywhere. His father wasn’t around and they had sent someone to the hospital to find him. His cell and his office phone were not being answered. One of the officers, a man who had been to their house several times, kept glaring at Steele, but he really didn’t care. It was done now and he would do it all over again if he had to. Steele was just leaving his sister another message when the FBI showed up. Then after that, things got really scary.
His mother was having a hysterical fit, screaming at the top of her lungs. And not at their father, oh no. At him, for calling the Feds. Apparently it was none of their business what happened on their property. The Feds, a man by the name of Ray Hancock in particular, was very interested in what happened on their property.
“Did you look in the grave before you called any of us in?” He told him he hadn’t. “And what led you out there? I’m going to tell you what I’ve heard before I let you answer that. Your mother said that you’ve been treated for mental illness, and that you more than likely killed her and will blame your father.”Even at seventeen, Steele knew that he was being given too much information. Instead of telling him anything, all he did was stare at the wall just behind the Federal agent. The man laughed a little and Steele finally looked at him.
“I didn’t kill her.” He nodded his head and said he hadn’t thought so. “I think you might find one more body out there. Another woman. Maybe two, but I don’t think there are any other children.”
Ray nodded but said nothing more as he wrote in his notebook. When he clicked his pen closed, he looked at Steele and leaned back in his chair. Steele braced himself for being told he was being arrested or worse yet, taken to the clinic again. The one where he’d spent a great deal of time after telling his parents what he could do.
“I know about you.” Steele started to stand. If this was going to be it, he had to at least try to get away. But Ray asked him to please stay. “I’m not going to hurt you. Or do whatever it is that is running through your head right now. But I heard that you talk to the dead. Help them. Was she someone that came to you for help?”
He didn’t answer him but apparently Ray didn’t require him to. As he sat there, he named two more people that Steele had helped. Steele never acknowledged him but knew both names. Fear made him squirm. Ray just nodded as if he knew the answer all along. That in and of itself made him think that things were about to get seriously bad.
“I have a deal for you when you’re old enough. A job.” Steele took the business card when Ray held it out to him before he could think he shouldn’t. “Call me when you hit eighteen and we’ll talk. But you have to know, this is not going to go well, for either of your parents. You know that, don’t you? I’m thinking your mother knew about this, and I’m willing to think you knew she did as well.”
“I’m sure she did. I never thought…it wasn’t anything I might have been able to ask them about.” Ray nodded and told him he’d get back to him in a few days. As he moved away, he turned back and looked at him when Steele said his name. “Will you find more, you think?”
“We’ve already found three more women and a child. The dogs are still looking as we speak.” With that, he walked away.
Steele made his way to his room. His sister was sitting on his bed. He was so relieved to see her that he nearly wept from it.
“Where have you been? I’ve been worried to death about you. Why didn’t you let me know you’d been back?” She smiled at him and he sat down on the rocker that had been occupied this morning by his client. “I’m really sorry about today. But did you see what’s going on downstairs? I think Mother and Father are going to jail for a very long time.” “I did. But I have to tell you something.” He started to tell her what Ray had said, but she continued. “I don’t want you to feel bad. It was all my fault. I wasn’t paying attention to what I was doing.”
“What do you mean?” He started to stand up, but something held him back. “Aster? What’s going on? What was your fault?”
“I love you. Very much.” He nodded, suddenly afraid. “I don’t want you to think this was your fault. It wasn’t. I wasn’t even thinking of it when it happened.” Steele started to stand again, but he sat very still. His heart was pumping so hard he was sure anyone walking down the hall could have heard it.
“Aster? Please tell me what’s going on. I’m worried and scared.” But he knew. As surely as he was sitting there, he knew. But he couldn’t say it, couldn’t admit, not even to himself, what he knew. “Aster, this isn’t funny. What’s going on?”“I was watching the little baby in the stroller. And you know how much I love babies. But she and her mother were crossing the street and the baby had dropped her dolly. I didn’t think before I acted.” He told her she never did and she smiled at him again. “No, I rarely did. I just stepped off the sidewalk and it was over as soon as I did.”
Dead. Dead. Dead. His sister was dead. Steele felt the tears fall. His heart that had been pounding so hard before suddenly stopped. Dead. Dead. Dead. His wonderful sister, so full of life, was dead.
“No. Please no.” She moved to stand in front of him and he could see it then. Everything that had happened to her. All of it. “Aster. I’m so sorry. I should have let you go with me. I shouldn’t have told you to go away. Please forgive me. Please?”
Her body was bloodied; some of the wounds still seeped blood. Her face, so lovely when she’d left him, now bore the marks of being dragged over concrete. The entire left side of Aster’s face was smashed, her mouth nearly ripped open to her ear. Her left arm was broken and hung limply at her side. Her shorts and shirt were torn as well, and showed more abrasions to her delicate skin. He looked down her legs, so long and muscled before, but now she was missing her left leg from the knee down; her other leg was broken and twisted in a manner that hurt him to see.
“Don’t blame yourself, Steele. It was my fault. I only came back to tell you that it was all me and to beg you not to take on the blame. You will, I know you will, no matter what I say to you, but I had to come back and try. You’ll think that I was hurt and was too distracted to see what was going on. But that’s not what happened. I was happy. I wasn’t paying attention.” The tears streamed down his face. “Don’t cry. Please don’t cry. I don’t hurt. I swear it. It’s over and I don’t hurt.”
“I need you. I need you in my life. You’re all I have. You’re all I will ever have.” She moved to the bed and when she sat down, he could see that she’d made no dent in his covers, no shift in his book still lying there, because as much as he wanted her there, she was gone from the body that had held her for her entire life. There was nothing of her here. Nothing. Because she wasn’t really here. “Aster. What am I supposed to do now?”
“What you’ve been doing all along. Help people like us.” He shook his head. “You have to, Steele. You have to…I can see them now. All of them. There are so many needing you. And there are others like you. A great many of them. You have to help them too. You’re so much stronger than anyone out there trying to help the dead.”
“No. Without you…you can’t leave me.” She smiled sadly at him, and he felt as if his entire being wanted to find a way to join her. His mind seemed to simply shut down. “I don’t want you to go. Please, don’t leave me.” “Steele.” She sat there for a long time, simply staring at him. He took in everything about her…all her wounds and her pain as they faded from her so that she looked so much like the girl from this morning. His little sister. Steele wanted to join her; go out into the garage, pull down the gun he knew was there, and simply join her. But he knew that he couldn’t. Not like that.
“Don’t leave me. Father killed someone. Mother is mad because I called the police. And when he’s gone, I’ll be here with her all by myself.” Still she sat there and he continued trying to convince her. “The guy, Ray Hancock, he said that she might have known about the death. They found four more bodies. If she goes to prison with him, then I’ll be all alone.”
It was selfish. He knew it, and he was pretty sure she knew it too. But when she stood up, he could see her resolve, see that she’d come to a decision and he wasn’t going to like it. So he stood as well, stood as close to her as he could without touching her.
“You know that I can’t stay here. You know that as well as any one of the people you help.” He nodded and sobbed. His sister, his wonderfully amazing sister, was going to leave him. “I want to give you something. I need to tell you something as well. It’s…I could see them too. The people. I could see them too but never helped. I couldn’t help them like you did. I was too afraid of what Mother and Father would do to me. But the others, the dead, they’ve asked me to give you a gift and to tell you why you can see them. All right?”
“Yes. No. Please, I don’t want anything from them. I want you to…I know you can’t. I know that, but I will miss you so much.” She nodded and put out her hand. “I love you, Aster. I will love you for the rest of my life.”
“I will you as well, brother dear.” Her fingers moved over his chest and then into his heart. As soon as she touched him there, he felt so much move from her to him. It was almost too much, and when he put out his hand to pull her away, he touched her and looked into her face.
Everything became clear. All his life he had wondered what had happened, and now he knew. He also knew that his sister was right. She had been able to see the dead, had been able to talk to them as well. But unlike him, she’d been able to ignore it, something he wished now he’d worked harder at. When she started to fade, her body the shape of perfection again, he touched her again and closed his eyes. Steele saw in her eyes things he’d never seen there before.
“You’ll be so happy someday.” He shook his head at her whispered words. “You will. And when you are, I’ll rest easy. I’ll even come to see you again if I can. But you have to promise to help them. All right?”
“I wish you would stay with me.” He watched her fade more. “I love you, Aster, and always will.”
“I love you as well. I need for you to close your eyes now. Dream of all that will come to pass. Dream of the things that you will be able to do now, so much more than before.” He nodded, his body becoming heavier with her words. “You will dream of them now, Steele, all of the hurt ones, you’ll dream of them.”
Then she was gone. Steele dropped to the floor and leaned forward. Blood pooled beneath him, and it was all he could do not to fall face first into it. When someone knocked at his door, it took him three tries before he could get his mouth to work around the words to have them come in. As soon as the door opened, he was lifted up and laid on his bed. Steele looked up into the eyes of Ray and knew he was like him. As he lay there on his bed, sobbing for all that he’d lost in so short of a time, Ray sat beside him quietly and watched over him. When he felt as if he could function again, even if it was without a heart, he turned to look at the big man who had been more compassionate to him in the last hour than either of his parents had been to him his entire life.
“You contacted your father? Left him a message on what you did?” Steele started to nod, but the movement made his belly sick. “He got the message. I’m sorry to tell you this, son, but he’s dead. Killed himself not long after the call, we’re thinking. It’s just as well. I’m thinking he wouldn’t have lasted long in prison.” Steele nodded. His father, a great man to all that knew him outside the family, was dead. And all Steele could think about was good riddance.
“My mother know?” Ray nodded, then shook his head. “I don’t understand. Does she know or not?”
“She does. About the bodies as well as your father being dead. And there’s more. I’m sorry, but—”
“Aster is dead too.” He didn’t look surprised but only nodded. “She told me not to worry about her. That it was her fault. She stepped in front of a car or something and she was killed. There was a baby that she was with when it happened. She told me she was happy at the time.”
It was the first time he’d admitted to anyone but family what he could do. Ray didn’t tell him he was nuts, didn’t tell him he was lying. What would be the point in that? The man probably knew more about clients than he did.
“A semi. And she didn’t suffer any.” He nodded. She’d told him that as well. “I’m sorry, son. I’m sorrier than I can ever tell you.”
Steele nodded and rolled to his side away from the man. His entire life was ruined. Everything, all the people in his life, were going to leave him because of this curse. When someone stepped in front of him, another ghost, he closed his eyes. He was never going to help them again. Not ever.
Steele Bennett was going to go on with his life as if none of them existed. As of right now, he was out of the ghost helping business. He knew as surely as he was laying there that the chances of this really happening were slim to none. He’d made a promise and for his sister, he would have to keep it.