Monday, April 17, 2017

Evan: The Whitfield Rancher Release Day

Dylan Hutchinson lived and breathed Army, and she’d been under cover so long she’d forgot what it felt like to be a civilian. But the last mission took a turn for the worse and not only was she hurt, but she’s been informed that she could no longer do her job. It’s either a desk job as a recruiter, or she’s out. 

Evan Whitfield didn’t have to work, but he loved his job as a surgeon. And when as his tiger he found an old man wandering in the woods with Alzheimer’s and confused, he wanted to help the family. The family had a daughter in the hospital too, and they were struggling. Evan thought the daughter might be not as sick or hurt as she claimed to be, so he took it upon himself to check her out. Evan was surprised to find that she was not only hurt worse than they claimed, she was also his mate.

For a doctor, Dylan thought Evan was dense. What part of go away didn’t he understand? She wasn’t the mate or marrying kind. Her life was over, not beginning. He needed to just go away….

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Chapter 1  
The hay bailer was working the last two rows when Evan saw his dad riding his big bay horse toward him. Blake and Adrian, two of his brothers, had already been cut loose, and he was fixing to do the same to Joshua and David, his other brothers. He and Adam could handle this last bit, so he told them to head on back to the house before Dad got there. “He looks like he’s got something on his mind. I’m betting it has something to do with that trip he made today. It’s not like him to go to town unless one of us is with him.” Nodding at Adam, Evan watched as Dad dismounted and made his way toward them. “Are you staying for supper tonight, or heading back to town?” “Town. I have to work in the morning.” Dad asked him if they were about done. “Yes, sir. Adam and I are going to see to this before we put the tractor in the barn. Adrian said he’d clean it for me after supper.” “You not staying?” He told him the same thing he’d told Adam. “I don’t know why you don’t just quit that job. I know that you’re good at it and all, but I’d sure like to see you more than once a week, and that has you rushing off again. Come home, son. For good.” There was a bite to his voice, as if he was really pissed at him. Evan let out a long breath, picking up the next bale that had come from the baler. Whatever was bothering his dad, he was sure it had nothing to do with his job. “Dad, I’m thirty minutes away. Less if I need to hurry. And me working was what I went to college for. And I love what I do. It’s rewarding to see how my work is making a difference. You know as well as I do that you have more than enough hands around if you need them.” His dad nodded but didn’t say anything else. “Everything all right?” “Yes. Why wouldn’t it be?” Evan only shrugged. His dad was in a mood, and while it wouldn’t last long, he could be a bear until it was over. “Your grandpa is coming for a visit. I guess he went and talked to your mom and they set it up. I was in town earlier picking him up. He’s staying.” “You don’t want him here?” His dad glared at him. “Maybe this would go better and a good deal faster if you were to tell me what burr you have up your butt. I’m not being disrespectful, but you’re like a bear with his foot in a trap.” “I’m sorry, son. I love my dad. But he’s a hog.” Evan asked him what that was supposed to mean. “He wants to be in the middle of every little thing. He’ll want to plan a big dinner and all the foods for it. Have you boys at his beck and call. I can’t even get you to stay for supper.” “You didn’t ask.” His dad asked him then. He didn’t sound so sour about it, but there was a tone that Evan decided to ignore. “I’d love to. But if I do, then you’re going to tell me the real reason that you’re ticked off. I know that you’re not all that upset about Grandpa coming around. You love him as much as I do you.” 
“He wants to go over his will.” Well, that was something. No one liked to be made to realize that they were as mortal as the next. “I’m not ready for that. I just.... We just buried my mom, and I don’t want to talk about him leaving too. It’s too much. But when I said that to your mother, she got all huffy with me.” “She got huffy or you got huffy?” His dad said he might have started it. “Mom loved Grandma too. I’m betting she no more wants to do this than you do. But I can also understand why Grandpa wants to do this. It was a mess when Grandma died, and she had everything all written out for the funeral director and all.” “No will was properly made out. I know that, I surely do, but it’s just too soon. What am I gonna do if something happens to him too?” Evan hugged his dad and told him he had them. “Yes, but he’s my dad. And…well, I don’t know what I’m going to do. You know? He’s always been there, him and Mom. And to think that he’s making these plans…well, it just breaks my heart. Upsets me so that I get angry about it. I’m sorry, I am, but he’s my dad.” “Maybe if you just let him do this, then he’ll start to get better. You know as well as I that he’s been in a bad way. Not that I blame him. I know that I would be as well. But if he feels like things are settled, then perhaps he’ll start to come out of this depression a little more.” His dad said nothing. “Dad, I don’t know what else to do. He’s going to do it, no matter what we try to say.” “What if he’s doing this because he has plans to join Mom? I mean, like right now, instead of waiting until his time comes along? I’m afraid, Evan, that is just what he’s planning to do. This might be his way of getting things settled, as you called it, before he does something really stupid.” Evan had actually thought of that but didn’t want to mention it to his dad. “I can’t lose another parent. Even as old as I am and knowing that he’s getting up there, I just can’t lose him.” “Neither can we. Neither can any of us.” He hugged his dad, just held him while he got himself under control. Evan didn’t know what he’d do if he lost any more of his family. They were the world to him. Adam had moved away and was sitting in the truck, dealing with his own kind of grief. Losing Grandma had hit them all hard. She’d been the rock of the family. And she was going to be sorely missed. There were still a few rows to go, so Evan asked his dad if he’d help. “Once we get this done, we won’t have to worry about the rain until next season. And I, for one, would love to have this part of the end of season finished up.” “All right.” They worked side by side, putting the bales of straw up on the truck bed as it slid out of the baler. It was hard work, but it felt good to be out in the sunshine. His dad, even as old as he was, did as good a job as Evan was doing keeping up with the baler as it made short work of the hay. And when they hit the last row, both climbed up on the bales and rode home that way. “I think I needed this too. Just to be able to think about nothing else for a time.” “It’s one of the reasons I come home. To get away from the city, run a bit with my brothers, and to see you guys. It clears the mind.” His dad nodded. “We’ll talk to 
Grandpa, Dad. Maybe if we show him how much we need him around, he’ll rethink whatever it is he’s got going on in his head.” “I’d like that too. I know you have to go back to work tomorrow, but I wish you’d reconsider coming home for good. It’s not like you need to work, Evan. I really miss you. And I know that your brothers and mom do as well.” Evan didn’t say anything. There was nothing for him to say. He had to work or he’d go nuts. “You think on it. Maybe you can take some vacation time out and see what you’re missing here.” “I know what I’m missing. I think about it every day.” They got off the hay and helped the hands put it in the barn. In a few weeks they’d have to go to the other field to do the same thing there, but for now they had enough to keep the few cows they had and the horses fed in the colder months. And to sell to the other ranchers around them when they ran short. Evan loved his family. He enjoyed being with them, talking to his brothers about nothing much at all. And the open fields that he could roam alone or with them. But he needed to be away too. Needed his own space, his own things. If he did quit his job and came home, his mom and dad would expect him to live at home again, as most of his brothers were. Not that it wasn’t nice being all together, but he needed quiet sometimes. Grandpa was at the house when they came out of the barn. He was still looking lost, not that Evan didn’t blame him. Evan saw a lot of death in his job. Being a surgeon was not meeting people in the best of circumstances. His family might drive him nuts at times, but they were his and he loved them.  Hugging Grandpa, he followed him to the mud room to clean up. Grandpa didn’t say anything, but Evan knew he had something on his mind. “You still being a doctor out there in the city?” He said that he was. “I was wondering if you’d do me a favor when you go back. I need something notarized, and I’d like for you to drop me at the bank when you leave here. If you don’t mind.” “Sure, but I know a couple of people that can do that. So can Mom. I think she still has her license up to date.” He said he wanted the banker to do it. “I can take you. But if you don’t mind, what is it?” “I want to turn over my house to your daddy.” Evan was drying his hands when he asked him what he wanted to do that for. “I just don’t think I can live there anymore. It’s got all them memories, and it hurts me.” “Where are you going to live if not there?” He looked away. “Grandpa, if you don’t tell me I’m going to start guessing, and I don’t think I like that any better than you not telling me the truth.” “I can’t go on. I just don’t have it in me anymore to want to. I miss her that much.” It hurt Evan to hear him say that. “I loved her for over sixty years, and now she’s gone. What’s a man supposed to do if he can’t have the one love of his life standing beside him?” Evan hugged him to him again. “Oh, Evan, she was my entire world, she was. And the best thing that ever happened to me.” “Dad thinks you’re going to end your life. Is that the plan? Because I have to tell you, I’m not going to let you. None of us will.” Grandpa told him that he didn’t have 
anything to live for. “You have us. Dad and Mom too. We’d have no one if you were to do this.” “I hurt.” Evan told him he didn’t know the pain he was feeling, but understood. “She kept me in line. Helped me through the day just by loving me. And I tell you right now that she made me feel like I was the king of the world with just her smile. I miss her so very much.” He sobbed then, holding onto Evan as he did so. Evan felt his own eyes fill with tears, and when they fell over his cheeks, he held his grandpa all the tighter. Grandma had been there for all of them. She’d been the one that he could go to, for anything. And now she was gone and Grandpa wanted to join her. Dinner was a somber affair. No one, it seemed, was in their usual jolly mood. Even Blake, who could liven up any seating, was quiet. Evan helped his mom clear the dishes, and the rest of them cleaned up the kitchen. Grandpa joined them just as they were putting the last clean pot on the hanger. “Buy it from me. One of you boys, you should buy my house from me.” They didn’t move, not even to look at one another. “I will make you a good deal. I can’t.... I was thinking of moving in with Oliver here, and I would love for one of you yahoos to have the house.” “You move in with Dad and Mom, and I’ll buy it.” Evan had no idea why he said that. He didn’t need a house any more than he needed to work. “You promise us that you’ll move in here and behave yourself, then I’ll buy your house.” “I don’t want to behave myself. I want to...I want to run in the woods. Have some.... You six should make me a great grandpa. I’d surely have something to do if you were to do that.” Each of them groaned and Grandpa laughed. “You promise me that you’ll be on the outlook for yourself a mate, and I’ll try and keep myself in a better frame of mind.” “Deal.” All of them put out their hands after making the promise. If that was all it took, a promise, then Evan would do it. As for the house? He didn’t have a clue what he was going to do with it, but he’d figure out something. Maybe he’d let his brothers use it for a while. ~~~ Norris put the phone in the cradle and looked at his dad. “She’s coming home. They’ve made arrangements to pick her up and take her to the hospital in New York so that they can evaluate her before she can come here. It’ll be about three more days or so before they release her to the one here in town. We’ll have her close enough that we can go and visit her when we want to.” “Who?” Norris told him that Dylan was coming home. “Your momma is already here, Norris. You go on talking like she isn’t, I’m going to have to ground you. I told you that before.” “Yes, Dad.” Norris sat there, not mentioning to his dad again that his mom had died several years ago. That he’d been living with them for seven years. Nor did he explain, again, that Dylan was his daughter, his dad’s granddaughter, and that she was 
coming home because she’d been hurt badly and had to leave the service. He could tell him, but Dad wouldn’t remember it. “I’d like to have fish for dinner tonight. You go ask your momma if she can whip me some up.” Norris nodded. “Then we should go for ice cream. You got those good grades, so we should celebrate. Didn’t you, boy?” “I’d like that. We’ll go after supper, if you still want.” Dad got up and made his way to his room. In a few minutes, he’d come back out and ask Norris where his bed was, and he’d have to show him. Alzheimer’s sucked. Several years ago his dad had been a little forgetful. Slightly disoriented at times too. Nothing that worried them much. His dad was brilliant, and had always had trouble remembering simple tasks unless he wrote them down. After his wife passed, he became worse…his inability to remember to put on shoes or wear a coat had gotten him put in the hospital with a cold that had turned into pneumonia. Then they started noticing him being forgetful of who they were, and most of the time he would remember things that were well in the past. Then he’d begun to wander off. It was then that Norris had found out that his dad was slowly losing his ability to do a great many things. Like living alone and keeping his own house. Meals were skipped because he couldn’t remember if he’d eaten. Bedtimes were overlooked because he didn’t remember where his bed was. Things like that and more had gotten the doctor to declare him unfit to live on his own. He’d been living with them since then. Not that he didn’t enjoy having his dad around. But lately, just over the last few months, he’d been getting away from them. Running off without telling anyone where he was going. And sometimes the police had to help them find him. His dad was having more and more bad days all the time. It was putting a strain not just on Norris’s health, but his finances as well. When Norris’s wife Stella returned from grocery shopping, he checked on his dad before he went to help bring things in and saw that he was napping. They used to do all kinds of things together before his dad came to stay, now they had to do things in stages. But he was glad that he had his dad and that he could be there for him. He told Stella about the phone call he’d gotten. “Dylan will spend a few weeks in the hospital here, then they’ll let her come home. I don’t think she’s going to be too terribly happy about that.” Stella said that she could bet on that. “I’m so worried about her. We were lucky, they told me again. I’d have been a lot happier if she’d not gone over there at all.” “You couldn’t have stopped her. She has her own mind, and once she gets something in it, she’s not going to stop. Not even when it’s that dangerous.” Norris nodded. “To have her home will be wonderful. I know that she’s going to need a lot of rehabilitation, but I’m so glad that she’s coming home for good.” Dylan, Hutch to her men and friends, had been hurt badly about six months back. She and her men had been on a mission, something that she did a great deal while in the army, and she had gotten hurt. Three of her men had been killed, and another had died right after he’d gotten to the hospital. Dylan had nearly been one of them. Norris 
didn’t know where it had happened or how she’d been injured, nor did he know to what extent her injuries were. But he knew that she was lucky to be alive, and that was all that mattered to him. For now, anyway. “When did they say they’d be here with her? You probably told me, but my mind is a little fuzzy. I’m so tired, Norris. I shouldn’t have stayed up so late watching that movie.” He laughed and told his wife that it was supposed to be Friday. “Good. We’ll be there when they land. Then we’ll go to the hospital with her. I miss her so much.” He did as well, and had for a long time. Dylan was their only child, and she’d been a delightful little girl who grew up into a wonderful grown up. At seventeen she’d joined the army, and soon after she made it through boot camp, she’d been picked to be trained for special jobs. He knew that she was covert, but anything else had been kept from them, to keep them, and especially her, safe. Over the next ten years they’d seen very little of their daughter. She was forever rushing off for one thing or another, her job keeping her away for longer periods of time. Then about six months ago, a few days before they’d been notified that there had been an accident, she’d called him. With the call coming in the middle of the night, he knew something was wrong. “Dad?” He said it was him and glanced at the clock. He’d never forget the time. It was one twenty-four in the morning. “Dad, I’m going to be coming home soon, I’ve arranged it. I’ll have a month off. I’d like for you to do something for me.” “Anything. You name it and it’ll be yours.” She laughed and he could hear the tension in it. “What is it, baby? Are you all right?” “No. I’ve been...I don’t think I can do this anymore. So much death and pain here now.” He asked her what it was. “I can’t tell you. But I’m done. I want to come home and make a life. After my R&R, I’m going to muster out. I want a house. A yard of my own. I want things to be normal.” “Normal? Honey, do you even know what that means?” She laughed again, and he could hear the little hiccup of a sob then. “Dylan, what is it? Tell me? I want to help you.” “There’s this house, about two doors down from yours and Mom’s. Buy it for me. I have the money. I’m sending you money that I have here to the account that you set up for me, and that we now use for Grandda.” He heard her tell someone to fuck off and started to ask her what was going on, but she started talking again. “If you can, get it cheaper so I can have it retro fitted for Grandda. I want him to live with me.” “Honey, he’s a lot to take on. Even for the two of us.” It tore at his heart when she told him she wanted to come home, for a normal life. “Dylan, what is going on?” “I can’t tell you. I can’t...I’ll come home for good, then we can talk. All right?” He said that he would look forward to it. “Buy the house. Like I said, the money is in the account that you opened for me when I was a little girl. I want you to use it to buy the house. The rest of it…you do with whatever you need to do to get you and Mom something nice.” He told her he would buy the house and she said she had to go. The line went dead then, and it had been the last time he’d spoken to her. Not even when they’d gone to see 
her was she able to speak. Her body was too broken to do much more than just heal. Norris made his way out to the back of the house and sat on the deck. His baby was coming home, and he doubted very much anything was going to be normal for her again. “Norris?” He looked up at his wife when she said his name. “Norris, I can’t find your father. He was resting not ten minutes ago, and now he’s gone.”  His body tensed up and he stood. Dad could have gone anywhere in that little time. The man was like a magician when it came to escaping their notice and getting into trouble. Calling the police to tell them what had happened, he began walking the streets. His dad would only be able to tell someone where he lived if he was having a good day. And his dad’s good days had been few and far between in the last several weeks. Most everyone knew him, but there were a few that didn’t.  “Did you find your dad, Mr. Hutchinson?” He told the officer that he’d not about an hour later when he drove up behind him. “I have all our men out looking for him. You should go and talk to Mr. Whitfield like I suggested. Him and his boys, they’d sure be able to find him a good deal faster.” “I know. I’ve been meaning to, but my daughter…she’s coming home soon.” Officer Petty told him that was wonderful as he stopped the cruiser and got out. “She’s going to be spending a few weeks in the hospital, but she’ll be home soon enough.” “You’ve had a rough few months, Mr. Hutchinson. But having Hutch home, that’ll take some of the burden off you and your family. She was always one to depend on.” He only nodded, knowing that she’d be depending on them a great deal now. He’d not been able to tell anyone anything because, frankly, he didn’t know anything. “I’ve got my men out looking for him, sir, like I said. We’ll find him for you.” He hoped so. While it wasn’t cold out, still summer yet, he did worry about his dad taking a tumble into something and not getting out. Or wandering into someone’s home. He’d done that before as well. Norris walked the streets while calling out his name, hoping to find him soon. Norris was exhausted when they finally found him three streets over and lost. Not just exhausted from looking for his dad, but that was a part of it. He was just tired of all the adulting he’d had to do of late. Smiling, he thought of what Dylan would say to him if he whined to her about it. She’d tell him to buck up and to fucking let it go. She had gotten a mouth on her since she’d gone away. And while it did embarrass him at times, he thought it was funny when she’d get on a roll with it. Like the time she’d come home for Christmas about five years ago. “I have to go into town and pick up your mother’s gift. Want to hang out with your old man?” She nodded and grinned at him. “Please promise me that we’re not going to get arrested. You will behave yourself, won’t you?” “Ah, Pop, why would I do that? I’m here to have fun.” He groaned and she’d laughed at him. “Besides, what sort of trouble can I get into at the mall? I mean, they still have those mall cops running around, don’t they?” 
“Yes. And Bennie is still one of them. I swear to you, if you make him wet his pants again, I’ll...I’ll....” She laughed hard at his lack of a threat. “He’s a good kid, Dylan. Why do you dislike him so much?” “He’s not a good kid, Dad. He’s a bully and a fucking prick. But I’ll be good if he does. Now, what did you get Mom?” By the time they’d gotten to the mall, both had been having a good time. When they went into the jeweler’s, she’d offered to pay the difference on the watch he’d gotten for her mom.  “I got it. What did you get her?” She only shook her head and told him not to guess. “You did get her something, didn’t you?” “I got you both something.” Norris had seen her stiffen up and turned to see Bennie behind him. “Hello, Bennie.” “Well, well, well. If it’s not the terror of Washington street. Home for good, this time, Dylan? Or are you headed back to out of country?” Bennie made those quotation signs with his fingers when he asked her about the country. “Me and the boys, we think you’re just in prison. A girl like you, that’s where you belong.” “Dad?” He hadn’t wanted trouble, not then or now, but there really was something simply mean about Bennie today. And after that, he’d noticed it a great deal more. “Dad, I’m doing what you asked, but it’s not easy.” “You shoplifting, Dylan? Is that what you learned in prison? Or, I’m sorry, in the army?” Bennie reached for her, and even standing there beside her, Norris hadn’t seen her move. Before he could tell her to go for it, Bennie was on the floor screaming to be released. “You’ve fucking broke my hand.” She laughed and told him she’d not. “You have. I can feel it.” “No, I didn’t. I only stopped you from touching me. However, I can break it if you want.” Norris told her not to just yet. “All right. But I did try to be good, Dad. He started it.” “He did. I saw it.”  The police were called and she was asked to let the mall cop go. After several witnesses said that she’d not done anything but defend herself, she was released. Norris had heard a few days later that not only had Bennie lost his job, but other women had come forward about his behavior in the mall. Bennie hadn’t faired all that well after that. Norris made his way out to the driveway to get his car. Stella had forgotten to get fish, and since Dad would eat if he had something he requested, they’d accommodate him when they could. Climbing into his car, he vowed that as soon as he was home again he was going to make a call to the Whitfields. Norris knew that they were tigers, but not much more than that. The Whitfields were money and didn’t travel the same circles as he and his family did. 

Monday, April 3, 2017

Sterling: Calhoun Men Release Day & Giveaway

Marty liked her life just fine. She was alone in the world, and waiting on tables would get her by until she finished college, but the girl she was training wasn't working out. And the girl got her fired--now what was she supposed to do? She needed that job to survive.

Sterling Calhoun's encounter with the she-devil was over, but the nightmares still lingered. The only thing that helped him deal with the nightmarish pain were his paintings. And through is Grandda he met Marty, his mate, but Sterling hadn't been himself for a very long time.... 

Marty knew a few shifters, so she knew what it meant when Sterling told her she was his mate. Oh, hell no, this guy had to be nuts, the "mates" she knew were a strange lot, and she didn't want any part of it....

I BOOKS  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….

Noelle was in somewhat of a pickle. She had researched the Calhoun firm―Elijah Calhoun in particular―before she made the appointment, but she was having second and third thoughts about hiring the firm after she got there. All her research indicated she could trust them, but big men scared the hell out of her, and the place was full of them.

Elijah had been running a tad late for work, so his brother Trent took his first appointment. Elijah never dreamed that the woman he had an appointment with was his future mate…and she needed his protection.

Noelle’s stepfather wasn’t their only problem. Elijah’s brother Sterling’s nightmares had gotten worse and somehow the creature that had marked him was controlling his actions as well…no one was safe….

Chloe Davis was giving up. She thought for sure the owners of the computer shop she worked for were responsible for her father’s death, but in all the time she’d worked there she’d not been able to find enough evidence to prove it, so as far as she was concerned she was out of there. Her boss, George, on the other hand had other ideas. As far as he was concerned she wasn’t going anywhere…by force if necessary.

Scott Calhoun was just trying to help his grandfather get the young woman to safety, the last thing he expected was for her to be his mate. And he wasn’t happy about it either. Scott was a Dom, and he liked his sex hard and rough and his women submissive…this woman was a spitfire, and he was pretty sure he’d scare her off with his demands…. As far as he was concerned he was a deviant, not mate material. 

But when Chloe and Scott come together, they both find more than they expected…Scott has finally met his match. Now, if everyone would stop trying to kill them, they might live long enough to enjoy each other.


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Alta set a plate full of food in front of him, and Sterling stared at it before looking up at her. She’d been with him for nearly four months now, and he was sure that he was about as fattened up as he was going to get. She smiled at him and told him to eat. “I’m thinking you’re either fattening me up for a huge dinner, or you think I’m still skinny. First, I’m not Santa, and second.... Well, second, I’m not that hungry anymore.” She patted him on the cheek and walked away as he started putting butter on his pancakes. “Did I tell you that I’m supposed to host Christmas this year? I haven’t any idea why I got volunteered. I guess I should pay more attention when they’re all talking.” “They do love to talk, your family.” He nodded as she handed him a platter of bacon and sausage. “Randal is coming. I think he should be here any second.” The back door opened and there stood his brother covered in snow. He was brushing it off his head as he was telling Alta that he could eat again. When he sat across from him, stealing one of his pieces of bacon, Alta gave him pancakes as well. “Mom sent me over. And Grandma wants to know if you have enough decorations for Christmas.” He said he had some. “I’m also supposed to tell you that once you’re ready to start with the decorations, you’re to call Mom. She said don’t forget. Wanna go shopping with me?” “No. I have work to do, and Noelle has a list of things she needs me to pick up as well. I guess she’s been making some pretty good deals with a few vampires that Noah knows.” Randal finished his breakfast before he did, which didn’t surprise Sterl. He didn’t have live-in help and no one cooked for him. “Why did Mom send you here?” “Mostly to make sure that you’re eating well and that you’re not lazing around the house. I haven’t any idea why she thinks that, but she told me to see about you. And I think she’s still pissed at Grandda. He should have known better than to be late for dinner on Friday.” They both laughed. “Did I tell you that I’m interviewing for help at the house?” “I’ve got someone coming to your house this afternoon, Mr. Randal. You can hire him or not, but you should know that he’s a better cook than I am.” Sterl didn’t ask, but was glad that Randal did about what the person was. “Witch, and Myra said for you to call her when you have a moment. She wants to talk to you about something.” “I can do that.” While they discussed how to get in touch with the witch, Sterl zoned out. He really did have a list of things to do today, and most of it had nothing to do with the things he had to pick up for Noelle. They were business partners. Mostly he worked upstairs in her antique shop, but when she wanted someone to come along with her on buying trips, or to lift heavy things, he went to take care that she didn’t lift much. Noelle was having twins in the early spring and everyone watched over her.  The thing on his list that he had tried to avoid for several weeks now was the meeting with his grandma. She told him if he bailed on her today that she’d tell everyone his 
secret. He was sure that most of them knew that he painted, but the rest of his secret was something he was afraid of them finding out.  He was afraid that Joe knew already, and that she was in on this whole thing with him having a gallery opening. Sterl wasn’t ready for that. He had been working a great deal, painting whatever popped into his head, but he’d not shown anyone his work except his grandma. And only then because she’d barged in and simply pulled out his canvases and looked for herself. “You need this as much as I do.” He told Grandma that he didn’t need it. “Yes, you do. You need for people to sit up and take notice of you. You’re very talented, and I for one cannot wait to see what others say about you.” “They’re not going to care. And if they do, I can’t imagine that their words would be kind.” She smacked him on the back of his head. “Grandma, you know that I’m telling you the truth. I’ve had no formal training other than a few classes at the YMCA when I was a kid. I like painting because it’s relaxing to me. I don’t want someone to tell me it’s crap.” “No one had better tell you it’s crap.” He laughed at her tone. “All right, I did walk right into that one, but they’re going to love you as much as I do. And if you find yourself a mate, I’m sure she’ll love it as well.” And now, today as a matter of fact, he was going with Grandma to talk to a person who owned a gallery willing to show his work. This man, Sullivan, was a friend of the family, she’d told him, so he was sure this was happening because of that and not his talent. Or the lack of it. Sterl wasn’t looking forward to this any more than he was decorating his house for Christmas. His heart, he thought, just wasn’t into it. After Randal left, he went up to change. He was wearing a suit for this meeting, but bringing some jeans to wear afterwards when he went to pick up some furniture. He was going out the door when Myra was suddenly standing in front of him. “It’s today.” He nodded, then realized that he had no idea what she was talking about. “Remember when I told you that someone was coming, a male?”  “Yes. You said they were going to come to mean a great deal to me. I’ve been thinking about what you said, and I’m not sure about this.” She asked him why not. “I have no idea, but I’m still a little skittish around people, and I’m not sure that I could handle someone else in my life right now when I don’t even have my own set.” “Sometimes life gives you little bumps to keep you on your toes.” He told her that he wasn’t ready for bumps, little or large. “You’ll be fine. Also, I wanted to tell you about the gallery opening that you’re going to have. It’s going to be epic, and the Bentleys want to go to it when you’re all set up.” He started to ask her how she’d found out, but decided that he didn’t want to know. Instead, he grabbed his coat and made his way to his car. Sterl was slightly afraid of Myra and the Bentleys, but didn’t say anything. When Myra was seated in his car when he started it up, he looked over at her. “I don’t know what’s going to happen with the gallery.” She said that she did. “Well, don’t tell me. I’m not sure I want any disappointment right now.” 
“Why do you believe you’ll be disappointed? Never mind. I can see it in your heart. You’re very talented, young man. And as your grandmother says, it’s time you let the world know it.” He backed out of the garage and pulled into the busy street in front of his house. “Will you at least promise me that when you have it set up you’ll let me know?” “Since I’m sure that you know the answer to that, I’m not going to say. I’m supposed to meet my grandma in an hour. Are you going as well?” She told him that she was too busy today, but would sometime soon. “Good. And if you have a few minutes, my house could use some decorations for Christmas.” He regretted it the moment it left his mouth, but she disappeared with a grin. He was sure his house would be as outlandish as Myra was. She was the brightest and most colorful woman he knew. And she even changed the color of her hair and shoes to match whatever she had on her body. He was going to come home to a house in plaid, he knew it. His grandma was waiting for him at the diner, and as he made his way there, he thought about what he was about to do, which was be publicly humiliated. His grandma would tell him that he was being silly—or worse, selfish—if he wasn’t willing to give it a shot, but Sterl had taken a good hard look at his work and knew people were going to be disturbed by it. He’d been hurt. Badly. Not just from the accident that had killed some of his friends, but the she-devil that had done it to them all. This thing, a true she-devil, had decided that, for whatever reason, he was going to father the monsters she was going to use to take over the world. She had invaded his dreams, his mind, as well as his health to get what she wanted. It had taken his family all working together with a pair of witches, Chris Bentley and Myra, as well as a demon, to set him free of her and get her out of his life. And painting had helped him do that. He joined his grandma at the table and she laughed at him. Sterl loved his grandma, all of his family really, but this woman could make him feel like he was king of the world with just a smile. But today, he wasn’t sure that he had it in him.  “I’m not really thrilled about this. First of all, they’re going to laugh at us, and secondly, I’m not sure this is going to get me anywhere but in a loony bin.” She told him he was going to be fine. “You keep saying that, and I’m not any closer to believing you than I was before you got this idea in your head.” “Darling, have I ever steered you wrong before?” He shook his head. “Then you just have to believe me that this is going to be good for you. You might even have to give me credit with your family over this. Especially your grandda. He’s been an old poop lately.” “I’ll give you credit either way. And Grandda is always a poop when he wants to be. He’s never going to believe that he’s wrong about anything.” She slapped her hand gently on his. “When do we have to meet this person?” “In two hours. I thought we’d leave now and then have plenty of time. You have your work in the car?” He assured her that he’d wrapped up what she’d told him to bring. “Good. You’ll see, Sterling, this will be just perfect. Why, I’d bet by the end of this meeting, he’ll be begging for more of your work. And I’d not be surprised if he wants to 
set things up right away. His family has been in this business for a very long time, and they know quality work when they see it.” He was driving them there slowly, even though the snow had stopped now, it was still slick. He hated to drive in this type of weather, or any for that matter, but they were going to get this over with. Then there was the fact that several times along the way he thought about pulling over and throwing up. This was a bad idea, and he wasn’t sure that anyone would think his work was anything but crap. But he gripped his steering wheel and drove to what he was considering the last stand.  ~~~ Isaac was excited to have his meeting. He knew that he was supposed to be doing a favor for a very nice person. Jasmine Calhoun had been a friend of his mother and grandmother for a very long time. And was now becoming one of his. He looked at his watch again and saw that the meeting was just over an hour away, and decided to go and find his brother.  Robert, even as his twin, was as different from him as they could get. While Isaac was tall and thin, Rob was five or so inches shorter and heavier. Not fat, not yet anyway, but not slim either. Laziness attributed to most of his weight gain, and drugs the rest of it. Isaac thought his divorce was making him drink more. Their mother had always thought it was Isaac’s fault because he’d been successful and Rob hadn’t. The logic of his mom had been out there, but he’d hired Rob to help when pressed by his parents just before they both were killed a few months ago in an accident. Robert had been born second. And his birth, according to his parents, had just about ended his mom’s life. Not true. Isaac had done some investigating and found that neither delivery had been that bad, and that their mom had sailed through both like a trooper. The only thing that had happened was their father, Robert also, had passed out when told there was a second child. Robert, his brother, was sleeping on the floor behind his desk, naked, when Isaac went into his office. He’d been there when Isaac had left last night and covered him up with a blanket from his office. Shaking his head, he woke his brother with a kick to his feet. It was nearing one o’clock, and it looked as if he’d not moved since he left him on the floor last night at six. “What the fuck, Isaac? Can’t a person take a little breather without you waking them up? Go away and leave me alone. I have a pounding headache and you’re not helping.” He told him no, that when at work he expected him to do just that, work. “Well, I’ve gotten a lot done if you want to know the truth. I’ve been really busy until about ten minutes ago.” “Oh yeah? Well, then you’re better than most. You’ve been there on the floor since last night. Might have been longer, but I went home and you were there. What the hell have you been doing if not sleeping?” Robert only glared at him as he sat up. There were two empty bottles under him, large ones of some sort of liquor. “Robert, I told you no drinking while here. You can do whatever you want at home, but no alcohol here at work. Damn it, this is a job, not a playroom for you to enjoy yourself in.” 
“You have no idea what I’m suffering with, Isaac. You should cut me some slack. Mary left me and took my children.” He told him to get up and clean himself up. “I will. Christ, you’re a hard ass. Why I ever thought working for you would be a piece of cake I have no idea.” Isaac didn’t say what was right on the tip of his tongue. He could have pointed out that if he’d been less of a drunk, or perhaps gotten a paying job instead of stealing, she might have stayed. Or that his children never saw him because he was either too drunk to move or at a bar. The fact that he was unhappy at not seeing them now was senseless. Then there was the added fact that the divorce had been finalized almost a year and a half ago, not recently as Robert tended to let people think. “I have a meeting at two, so you need to get cleaned up and sober before they arrive. I want you to be in it with me so that you can see how it works.” Robert said he didn’t think he wanted to. “Rob, I gave you a job against my better judgement. And so far, you’ve done nothing toward making me think I’ve made even a reasonable investment. Either start working or I will fire you.” “Yeah? And what do you think Mom would say to that? You hired me because she told you to. You won’t be able to fire me for the same reason. You owe me. I’ve not had as easy a life as you have. And my family left me. Mom is gone now, but you know as well as I that a death promise is the worst kind to break.” He laid back down as he continued. “I’m going to take a nap then go to lunch. I don’t even know if I’ll return.”  Isaac Sullivan wasn’t a violent man. He rarely lost his temper even a little, but right now he thought he could have easily beaten the living shit out of Robert and not felt a single bit of regret. As he stood up, he snatched the blanket off his brother and smiled when he started cursing at him. Going to his own office, he sat at his desk and pulled up the camera that he had installed in Rob’s office right before hiring him. At the advice of his attorney, he’d done what he’d been told to keep his brother in line. It hadn’t worked so far, and for whatever reason, Isaac was sure that it never would. The camera, Blake had told him, would go a long way in making sure that when he did end up firing Robert, not if but when, that he’d have enough evidence on him to make it stick. Just as he was ready to turn it off, he saw the rewind button and went back to noon yesterday. More than twenty-four hours before. Rob was at his desk, but he wasn’t alone. He had two women in the room with him, one of them naked on his desk, the other down on her knees in front of him. It was sickening to see Robert naked, but he watched as not only did the sex get violent, but one of the women had been hurt when Rob hit her hard enough to have her lying still nearly an hour later. Isaac thought he had to watch it then, if for no other reason than to make sure that Robert hadn’t dragged the dead woman off somewhere and left her to rot. He didn’t watch his brother, but the woman. She wasn’t moving, and it wasn’t until Robert had finished that the other woman had gone to help her up. Both women staggered out of the room and into the elevator. He wondered why no one had commented on it, and was surprised to watch the guards turn their backs on the two as they left the building.  
It took him nearly ten minutes to figure out what was going on. It wasn’t that they were covering for Rob, but more than likely figured since he was his brother there would be nothing done about it. Isaac decided that he was going to have a little talk with his security team and end this shit once and for all. Going down in the elevator, he also decided to fire his brother today. To hell with his mom and the death promises she’d made him agree to. If Robert wasn’t such an ass, he might have glossed over everything. But Robert was, and was going to cause them a great deal of trouble at the rate he was going.  After five minutes of talking with his team, Isaac knew that what he had guessed was correct. Nor was it the first time that his brother had done this. He’d been bringing in not just women, but all sorts of people during and after hours at his own pleasure. After assuring the security team that they’d not lose their jobs, he asked if they had all the records of when he’d brought women in. It had occurred a total of seven times in the five weeks that Robert had been employed there. And that wasn’t counting the night shift, which was supposed to do the same thing. Fuck. “All right. This is what I want you to do. He’s in his office. I’d like for you to go up there and help him leave.” Bill, his top guard, just quirked a brow at him. “I don’t care if you have to drag him out by his feet, I want him out of here now. And I’ll call my attorney to tell him what I’ve done. Oh, you should take precautions when touching him. He’s naked. Christ, why did I ever do this? Anyway, get him out of here now.” “He’s not going to be happy. From what I’ve observed, he’s pretty much made this place his play house.” Isaac nodded and told him he was sorry. “No need for you to be sorry, sir. It’s us that should be. He told us when he started here that you’d given him the keys to the place, and that if he didn’t get his way, we’d be fired. We all have families, and this is a good job despite having to deal with him. I’m just sorry that we believed him.” “I didn’t know. I want you to know that, I didn’t know.” Bill told him again that he should have told him from the start. “It’s fine. We’ll get him out of here and moved on. I don’t think it’ll be as easy as that, but I want him gone.” After talking to his attorney, he decided that he was going to be all right. That nothing could come back and bite him in the ass. However, the moment that the elevators opened, Isaac could hear his brother cursing, and the men helping him laughing.  “Isaac, I certainly hope you have a good reason for this. This is no way to treat your brother and your partner. Tell them to let me go.” He said that he did have a good reason, and that they were not partners in anything. “Well, I can’t imagine what it would be. And I told you that we should sign off on us being fifty-fifty in this place. Now I’m not so sure that I want to. Tell these men to unhand me and I’ll not call my attorney. You know as well as I do that this isn’t going to look good in the papers. You’re supposed to have this great reputation, right? How do you think this is going to look?” “I do have one. But you do not. And I don’t care for the way you’ve mistreated me and this gallery, so I think, in that regard, I can finally do something about it. You’re fired, Rob. And it’s no less than you deserve after all the things that you’ve done, not to mention 
not done since you’ve been here.” Robert asked him if he was talking about the missing cash. “No. I was talking about the hookers that you brought in. What missing money?” “What did you expect me to do? Live off what you were paying me? Fuck that shit. I sold a few of the paintings that were here, as well as got into the safe. It wasn’t like you would miss anything. And I was right, you didn’t.” Robert laughed and jerked from the guard. “I’m willing to forget this whole thing if you just give me a little more each week, say about another grand, and I’ll think about not calling the police or my attorney. You know I will, Isaac. I’m not kidding around this time. This is just stupid.” “I don’t care. And you don’t have an attorney, Robert. The one that I have, I pay. What will you do for money if you do find one to sue me? They require you to shell out some cash when you’re asking them to do something for you.” He looked at the men standing with Robert. “Take him out, please, and don’t forget to get his badge as well as any company keys he has on him. Bill, will you please inform the parking garage that Robert no longer works here, and not to allow him to park on the premises? Thank you. And good luck, Robert. I have a feeling that you’re going to need it.”  He was handed the badge as well as Rob’s parking permit and a key ring that had more keys on it than he’d given him. Such as one to the front door, as well as the conference rooms. When asked, Rob said he’d stolen his keys and made copies of them. Isaac asked him where he’d gotten them. “I’m your brother. Surely you didn’t think I should be begging to be let in and out of this place. For Christ’s sake, Isaac, you should treat me better than you do.” He asked him why. “I’m telling you right now, Isaac, if you do this, you’re going to regret it for a very long time. I’m not one to fuck with. I have friends in very high places, you know.” “You’re fired, Robert. And I’m not frightened of you. I’m also going to inform you that you’ll have to find yourself transportation, as the limo service will no longer be there for you. Also, any and all paintings that you’ve taken from here and sold will have to be paid for, by you.” Robert said he wasn’t paying. “We’ll see about that.” As he was taken out the door, three men dragging him across the floor, Isaac leaned back against the wall and tried to think why his brother was like this. He knew that it was his mom for the most part, but Dad hadn’t helped either. When Bill told him it was done, he thanked him again. “No need for that. But if you think this is done, then you’d be mistaken.” Isaac said he was aware of that and wanted him to take precautions. “I can do that. I’ll have some extra guards at the parking garage as well as in the lobby. Also, if you don’t mind, I’ll have the locks changed out. I have no doubt that he would have made more than one copy.” “You’re more than likely right. Also, I’d like for you to detain anyone that comes here looking for Robert. I have a feeling that we’ve not heard the last of them either.” Bill asked him if his brother really told on him like he was five. “Yes. And has done it our entire life, even when it wasn’t possible for me to have done whatever misdeed he blamed on me. But promising my mom that I’d make sure that Robert had a job when I knew that I shouldn’t was one of the biggest mistakes I’ve ever made.”  
Looking at his watch, he realized that his appointment was in twenty minutes. Isaac wasn’t nearly as excited as he had been, but also, he was relieved that his brother wasn’t going to be there to fuck things up. He’d known it was a mistake taking Robert on, but he thought that at thirty-seven, he might have grown up a bit.  The Calhouns arrived right on time. He liked Mrs. Calhoun anyway, and found that he truly enjoyed the company of the younger man. As he showed them around the gallery, he had only one thought in his head. This man was going to be famous if his work was half as good as his grandmother had told Isaac. He pointed out places where he thought his work would be best displayed. Isaac also mentioned the preopening that he wanted to have, as well as the fliers to be printed, and who was catering the event. Sterling said nothing, but he could see the gleam of excitement in his eyes. The man was as shy about his work as Jasmine had told him. “Now, you’ve seen the place. I’d very much like to see some of your work. When can we arrange it?” Sterling, Sterl he said to call him, told him that he had a few of his pieces in his car. Sending out the security team to bring them in, Isaac was impressed. “I have seen a few pictures of your work. Your grandmother was most accommodating. And if it’s half as good as I think it’ll be, you’re going to have a wonderful gallery presence.” “Grandma told me that there was no point in waiting, that I should just show you from the start. And while I’m happy for the opportunity to do this, please don’t feel obligated in taking it because you’re friends with her.” Isaac assured him that he wouldn’t do that. “You most likely won’t care for them. I started painting again at a low point in my life, and I think that my work shows it. It’s very dark. A lot of it is nightmarish in the way I’ve painted it, and a great many people might be upset by it.” As soon as the first painting was uncovered, Isaac could see the pain. Almost feel it in his own heart. The paintings were dark, haunting, and revealed a great deal about the artist. He hadn’t had an easy time in his life, and he was good. Very good.  Isaac walked around the six paintings four times. Each time he looked at each of them, he saw a little more. Felt a little harder the pain of the man. There was a great deal of feeling in them, none of it good. But the work on them, the art, was outstanding. More than that, it was perfection. As he stood in front of the last one again, he asked Sterl if he had any more. “Yes. Ten more. All with the same darkness. I’m not there any longer, but I still feel the need to put it to canvas. I don’t know that I’ll ever feel a need to paint landscapes.” Isaac told him that he hoped he never painted those. “You don’t care for them, do you? It’s all right. I understand that—” “Sterl, I think you’re amazing. I’d like to run a gallery opening with all your work.” Sterl was shaking his head. “I’m serious. These are...words fail me on how good these are. And the darkness of them will appeal to a great many people on all kinds of levels. Yes, we’re going to do well, you and I.”