The fat, evil little leprechaun was interfering in their
lives again in a way they would never recover from. Rowdy could
It was like a chill chasing up his spine. It was a premonition
of hell. It was a certainty that perhaps they should have just shot
his ass when he interfered the last time.
But that last time hadn’t been with one of the Mackays, just
a friend, and not an old and dear one at that. The brother of an
old and dear friend wasn’t exactly the same.
Standing in the marina offi ce and staring out the heavy glass
door, he wondered what the little bastard was up to this time.
His eyes narrowed against the bright summer sun as the fat little
bastard, a.k.a. Timothy Cranston, stood at the open back passenger
door of the black Ford Excursion, his attention on the
occupants he was obviously speaking to. He was apparently de-
bating something with them, Rowdy thought. The tension in
Cranston’s shoulders was a sure indication that his frustration
level was rising.
There were times Rowdy and his cousins might like the former
Homeland Security agent, but other times he was more
trouble than he was worth.
Rowdy had a feeling he was about to become more trouble
than he was worth again.
“What the fu—hell is he up to?” Natches murmured as he
paced to the door to stand beside Rowdy.
Rowdy didn’t miss the word his cousin had almost used instead.
A grin quirking his lips, he slid Natches an amused, knowing
“Bliss said the F-word the other day.” Natches sighed in
disgust. “Chaya’s of course blaming it on me.”
“I never hear it slipping past her lips, I have to admit,” Dawg
drawled from behind them. “Warned you about that, cuz.”
Rowdy glanced behind him where his cousin Dawg sat back
in the easy chair next to the desk, his long legs stretched out, a
newspaper in hand as he read an article on a story he’d been following
for a few weeks now.
He seemed unusually interested in the reporters far-fetched
evidence that there was some conspiracy brewing in the mountains
of Kentucky, West Virginia, Maryland and Pennsylvania
where homeland militias were concerned. The article was being
written by a reporter that had somehow managed to infi ltrate
one of those militias.
“I’m telling you, it doesn’t slip around Bliss. I don’t want her
to hear me talking like that,” Natches bit out in frustration, his
arms crossing over his chest as he glared at each of his cousins
before turning back to Cranston.
Normally, Rowdy would have agreed, because Natches was
normally not one to slip up once he put his mind to something.
“You say it often enough when you think she’s not around,”
Dawg said, glancing around the side of the newspaper.
Natches just shook his head.
As he caught the tight-lipped scowl on Natches’s face, Rowdy
knew it would do little good to argue with cousin over it. He was
convinced he hadn’t said the word around his daughter, therefore,
as far as he was concerned, he hadn’t said it. Until they
actually managed to catch him and point it out, then he’d continue
to fi ght against the idea that he’d let it drop. Rowdy was
more inclined to think it had happened out of Bliss’s sight, just
not out of her hearing. The three of them usually managed to
hold back the words they didn’t want their daughters to hear,
whether the girls were around or not. They were all too aware of
the fact that their girls were growing up and prone to be present
whether they could be seen or not.
As far as Rowdy knew, he himself hadn’t said that word since
the last time he’d suspected Cranston was up to something.
It never failed that the F-word slipped out whenever that little
bastard was messing in their lives.
Holding his hand up in a “wait” gesture to the driver, Cranston
closed the passenger door to the Excursion and began walking
quickly to the marina offi ces.
He wasn’t as fat as he was the last time they’d seen him,
Rowdy noted to himself. Not that he’d been overly round, but
he had been a bit portly.
His brown hair was still a little thin in the front, though, cut
short everywhere else and standing on end as the wind whipping
off the lake only made it worse.
The tan suit he wore was rumpled and wrinkled, as though
he’d slept in it for more than a few days. Beneath the suit, it appeared
he might have been working out just a little.
Frowning, Rowdy glanced to Natches, wondering whether
Natches wasn’t saying anything if he had.
Giving an irritated snort, Natches turned and paced back
to the desk and the chairs Rowdy had placed behind it for his
cousins. Cranston’s chair sat all by its lonesome in front of the
Stepping back from the door and crossing his arms over
his chest, Rowdy scowled as Cranston pushed into the offi ce,
his hand moving to smooth his hair back rather than running his
fi ngers through the normally disheveled strands.
And he looked more harried than usual.
If Rowdy wasn’t mistaken, the former Homeland Security
Special Agent in Charge of Investigations looked downright worried
and possibly even a little uncertain.
“Rowdy, damned good to see you.” Cranston frowned as he
stepped into the offi ce and extended his hand. “You ignored my
invitation to the party last week, by the way.”
Shaking his hand, Rowdy raised his brows in surprise. “That
was really from you? I couldn’t believe it. I was afraid it was a
trick to get us all in one place to kill us at once.”
Cranston’s frown turned suspicious, and evidently the innocent
smile Rowdy gave him did nothing to alleviate the suspicion.
Cranston’s jaw tightened.
Turning to Dawg and Rowdy, he sighed deeply.
Dawg was still engrossed in his newspaper, and now Natches
had a part of it—the comics, no less—and appeared just as involved
“So that’s how it’s going to be?” Cranston muttered, sounding
The look he shot Rowdy had a curl of shame rearing its head
that only managed to piss Rowdy off. Hell, he had no reason to
“What did you expect?” Rowdy asked as he walked to the
desk and took his seat behind it. “Come on, Cranston; we know
you. When you make one of your infamous requests that we all
meet you together, it means you’re going to pull us into one of
your schemes, get us shot at, and piss our wives off. We’re not
playing this time.”
“Yet here you all are.” Timothy waved his hands out to encompass
the room, that glimmer of somber disappointment still
gleaming in his eyes.
“Out of curiosity,” Rowdy assured him as both Dawg and
Natches lowered their papers with a snap.
The other man sighed –tiredly?— before moving to the desk,
though he didn’t sit down.
“There’s no scheme,” he assured them, his voice matching the
resignation in his brown eyes.
“Sure there’s not,” Dawg expressed doubtfully. “You’re still
breathing; that means there’s a scheme.”
“The party was thrown, Dawg”—he singled Dawg out, and
it wasn’t missed by any of them, especially Dawg—“to allow you
to meet four young women and their mother.”
“We’re not bodyguards; nor are we in the market for a
woman,” Dawg snapped.
At this point, Cranston sat down. Slowly.
His brows lowered, his brown eyes darker and fl ickering with
what Rowdy had always said were the fi res of hell. It was actually
the green coming out in the dark hazel of his eyes.
They just appeared brown until he was pissed.
He was pissed now.
He watched the three of them silently, his jaw clenched and
“At what point have you failed to miss the fact that I am
completely besotted by your wives and children? And since you
acquired those wives and children, at what time have I asked
you to do anything dangerous?” he asked them then, and Rowdy
had to admit he hadn’t expected to hear that edge of some emotion
akin to hurt, in the agent’s tone.
Dawg and Natches both put their papers aside as Rowdy
tensed. They’d seen Cranston in a lot of different moods, but
they rarely saw him pissed off at them. And they had certainly
never seen him give the impression that his feelings were hurt.
They had seen him pissed at others, often— But he’d never
seemed to care enough about anyone that they could actually
prick emotions they’d never known he had.
“That doesn’t mean you’re not trying to draw us into one of
your damned operations,” Natches growled, clearly missing the
fact that Cranston didn’t get pissed at them for saying no to a
“Natches.” Rowdy said his name softly, warningly, his gaze
locked on the former agent. “Let’s see what he has to say.”
“Why?” Dawg grunted. “He’s obviously out to cause trouble.”
“Or to alleviate some,” Cranston stated softly, the cool smile
that crossed his lips sending that chill racing up Rowdy’s spine
Cranston stood slowly, the expression on his face hinting at
not just anger, but also that inner disappointment that had
Rowdy confused as hell. “Had I known this would be my reception,
I would have just told you over the phone,” he stated.
“Rather than believing we had been friends for the past four
Rowdy’s shoulders tightened as Cranston focused his complete
attention on Dawg.
Natches and Dawg had stiffened as well, the undercurrents
suddenly whipping through the room fi nally piercing their suspicious
“Told us what?” Rowdy growled.
He knew Cranston. It was too late to repair whatever insult
he’d perceived. Better to just get this meeting over with and fi nd
out what the hell was going on.
“Three months ago, Homeland Security received an alert
from the Louisville Offi ce of Vital Statistics,” he stated coolly.
“Someone was requesting information on Chandler Mackay’s
Dawg stiffened further as Rowdy shot him a warning look.
They needed to hear what he had to say.
“I thought you resigned from Homeland Security,” Natches
reminded him mockingly.
Timothy shook his head, his expression pitying. “Son, you
never offi cially retire from Homeland Security. One of these days
you’ll fi gure that out.”
“I was never part of it,” Natches reminded him.
“No, but Dawg was.” He nodded to Dawg. “And because
you’ll stand with him, no matter the danger, that means you’ll be
there to realize it as well.”
“Whatever,” Dawg growled. “But DHS and Chandler Mackay
are not one and the same. He’s dead, and his heir doesn’t give a
Rowdy’s head whipped to Dawg. Hell, Dawg hadn’t said the
word “fuck” since his daughter was still crawling.
“I remember.” Cranston nodded. “But tell me, Dawg, would
you turn your back on Janey if she needed you?”
“Janey is family.” Dawg came out of his chair, causing Rowdy
and Natches both to stand with him, as Timothy had always said
they would do.
“So are the four young girls sitting in that vehicle outside,”
Cranston stated. “They’re your younger sisters. Four girls, Dawg,
still in their teens with no place to go because DHS found the
property your father bought for them, and because he hadn’t
changed the title over to the mother, they seized the property as
well as the bank accounts their mother was using to help support
the girls. They’re homeless, without resources, and Mercedes
never allowed the girls to work. She wants them to get an education.
Now, are you going to turn your back on them as well? Let
me know if you are, so I can have DHS drive them to the nearest
corner and put them and their few belongings out. There might
be some room left under a bridge somewhere.”
Dawg sat down slowly, at the same time Rowdy and Natches
found themselves sitting as well. Rowdy’s knees felt damned
weak, and his senses in chaos. God only knew what Natches, and
even more so, Dawg, was feeling themselves.
Rowdy stared at Cranston, shock warring with the resurging
shame. Hell, they should have known that invitation to dinner
that they had ignored a few days before—Cranston never invited
a soul to dinner—was more than some ruse.
“Chandler Mackay has been dead for thirteen years.” Dawg
shook his head, obviously trying to reject the information. “That
can’t be possible.”
“The youngest girl is sixteen.” Cranston nodded. “Not one of
them is more than one year younger than the sister born before
her. When their mother lost the little boy she’d been carrying,
the year your father was killed, he never returned to the Texas
home he’d bought, though payments on it were sent from a Cayman
account until DHS was able to shut the account down and
trace the payments. Now, what do I do with them?”
Dawg shook his head.
“Fine.” Cranston nodded his head. “I’ll tell the driver to take
them to Somerset and drop them off.”
He turned to leave.
“Wait.” Rowdy stepped forward, desperation and surging
disbelief making it hard to think. “The Nauti Buoy is empty right
now. Put them there.”
Cranston turned back, his lip curling in a disapproving sneer.
“Son, their mother, Mercedes, is as proud as they come. She’s not
going to just unload her daughters on a bachelor barge and consider
herself lucky. If she had been that sort of mother, then I
would have handled this far differently. She wants to meet you.
She wants to be accepted, not pushed to the side until forced to
There was something in Cranston’s tone that Rowdy had
never heard before: an edge of baffl ement as well as respect.
There weren’t many people Timothy Cranston respected.
From the corner of his eye Rowdy watched a muscle jump in
“How old are the girls?” Dawg fi nally snapped.
“The eldest girl, Eve, turned nineteen on New Year’s Day.
Piper turned eighteen in February. Lyrica turned seventeen in
March, and little Zoey just turned sixteen this month.” Timothy
gave them all a hard look. “Hell of an age to live under a bridge,
don’t you think? Ever been there, Dawg? Ever seen what it was
like? What it’s going to be like for four teenage girls that I’m betting
my pensions are still virgins?”
They all had. They’d had nightmares for weeks.
Timothy sighed heavily. “Their mother, Mercedes, was only
fourteen when she gave birth to her fi rst child. She would have
had fi ve children if she hadn’t lost the boy she conceived only
weeks after Zoey was born. Her body was just too weak for
another child. She developed an infection that forced the doctors
to do a hysterectomy. She’s thirty-three years old with four
girls to raise, and she’s not lazy any day of the week, but neither
does she have family and only very few friends. Those friends
are not in a position to help her. The only education she’s had
since she was fourteen was what she’s taught herself. How do
you go to college with four babies?”
Dawg was slowly shaking his head. “She was a baby herself,”
he whispered hoarsely, his eyes fi lled with horror. “She was just
a baby. Fuck me. God, she’s younger than I am.”
She was almost seven years younger than Dawg, and she had
four children by his father. It was unthinkable, even knowing the
depraved bastard Chandler Mackay had been.
It was all Rowdy could think. All any of them could think,
“He raped a baby,” Dawg’s voice sounded like a wheeze.
“Not much more than.” Timothy sighed, the compassion he
felt in this moment making his shoulders droop as he watched
the four men, wishing he could hide this part from them. “Chandler
bought her from her parents in Guatemala. She was pregnant
with his child when he slipped her into Texas and procured
papers for her. She knew no English, had no way of supporting
herself, and she didn’t have the option of running. If she ran, he
told her the police would fi nd her, and they would then send her
back to Guatemala without her babies.”
“The babies of a rapist?” Dawg whispered as he stared back
at Timothy in shock. “And she stayed?”
“She loves those girls, Dawg,” Timothy assured him, the sorrow
he felt at this moment more than he wanted to deal with.
“She’s given everything to her daughters, and survived at less
than poverty level with the funds Chandler had arranged for
her to receive along with the few jobs she had working under the
table. He didn’t provide her a car; he didn’t provide her a means
of supporting herself. And he paid others to ensure she didn’t
date, have lovers, or dare to marry. If she attempted to have a
lover, he promised her, then he would take the children, have
them split up and placed in foster homes, and have Mercedes
sent back to Guatemala. Then he proceeded to describe to her in
graphic detail a horror story of what American foster families
did to the little girls given to them.” He said the last with a sneer.
“You can imagine the nightmares he gave her. The one time she
dared to assert her independence and attempt to acquire her
GED to enable her to acquire a better job, he had her babies
stolen as she slept. She was a month getting them back and they
all still have nightmares of those weeks.”
“He was a monster,” Rowdy whispered, his stomach roiling
at the thought of what his uncle had done to another innocent
“Exactly.” Timothy agreed. “Hell is what she has lived in for
quite a while. Then the money that paid the bills was suddenly
cut off, the house taken, and with it the vehicle she busted her
ass for years to buy because she’d been forced to forge Chandler’s
name to it to acquire it. She was thrown on the streets and
taken in by one of the Texas-based Homeland Security offi cers
there that that day. The woman called me immediately. She knew
9780425245644_NautiTemptress_TX_p1-328.indd 11 9/7/12 7:09 AM
12 LORA LEIGH
I’d worked the Mackay case here, and that I was still in the area.
They’re were ready to fucking deport her, Dawg, and do just as
Chandler warned her, take her children and put them in foster
homes. I went after them, had them set up in a safe house until I
could verify everything and run DNA tests on the girls.” He
wouldn’t give any of them a chance to deny the girls or their
mother. “They’re defi nitely Chandler’s daughters,” he told them.
“And considering the fact that I made damn certain the majority
of what Chandler had, that I knew of, was very illegally placed
in your name and backdated far enough that it couldn’t be taken,
I thought perhaps you could help Mercedes and her daughters.
Because if you don’t, then she doesn’t have a chance of remaining
in the states with those girls.”
The fact that he wasn’t so certain that Dawg would help
wasn’t lost on Rowdy.
“You said she worked.” Natches looked as dazed as Timothy
had felt as Gillian told him what her life had been.
“She did, at a restaurant. She worked cleaning homes, or
whatever she could do and still take her kids, until Eve was old
enough to help with them, allowing her to take on additional
house cleaning jobs to provide a little more for her children.”“
“She couldn’t have made much,” Rowdy whispered. “Not
with four girls to care for.”
“She had to have made friends.” Dawg seemed more in shock
“Would you have, if it meant your children would be placed
in foster care if your so called friends or employers ever learned
the truth of your presence in America, or the life you were being
forced to live?” Timothy asked.
“Why keep the kids?” Natches questioned. “She had to have
“Her daughters are her heart and soul. Never doubt that.”
Timothy sighed, wondering whether he had been wrong all these
years about the honor and integrity of the three men he was
As he opened his lips to say something more, Rowdy’s gaze
jerked to the door.
Timothy felt his stomach drop as the door was pushed open,
and the tiny, delicate little bundle of fi re Zoey Mackay burst into
the offi ce.
“They don’t want us, do they?” Pain radiated in her face, her
She could have been Dawg’s daughter, so much did the kid
look like his own kid, Laken: delicate and fragile, long black
hair falling down her back, celadon eyes fi lled with tears, her face
sculpted into lines of such beauty it made a grown man want to
Timothy rushed to her, bending to one knee as he placed his
hands lightly on her fragile shoulders and stared into her eyes.
“Zoey, I told you to stay in the vehicle until I fi nished,” Timothy
reminded her, his tone gentling.
Hell, he couldn’t yell at her; he couldn’t get mad at her. She
knew the hell her mother and sisters faced if Dawg turned them
Dawg rose slowly to his feet, causing her to fl inch as she followed
“If they wanted us, it wouldn’t take this long,” she accused
him, her voice rough, big tears fi lling her eyes as she turned back
to Timothy. “They would have wanted to meet us by now.”
“I was just asking some questions.” Dawg could feel something
inside his soul bleeding.
He hadn’t thought Chandler Mackay could do more to make
him hate him. That it was possible for the bastard to make him
despise him more than he already did.
Until he stared at the girl glaring back at him.
She looked like an older version of his precious Laken.
His baby was only three, and already, her delicate, too fragile
body was forced to keep up with the fi re that burned in her
“What kind of questions can’t we answer?” Zoey propped
her little fi sts on her hips angrily, demanding that he take her into
consideration, that he make a choice and he make it now.
“Zoey, Mr. Mackay and his cousins might have liked a few
minutes to process everything,” Timothy chastised her gently as
he straightened and stared down at her.
“And what makes you think Momma has time for him to
process anything,” she cried out, her voice trembling as the tears
that fi lled her eyes suddenly spilled down her cheeks as fear and
anger fi lled her expression. “He’ll either help us or he won’t.
Either way, Momma’s sick again—”
Rushing past the little girl, aware Dawg, Rowdy, and Natches
were moving quickly to follow behind him, Timothy ran for the
Excursion at a run.
Racing to the passenger-side door opposite the offi ce he saw
the young Homeland Security agent standing next to Mercedes
Mackay, his expression concerned.
“Agent Rickers,” he snapped. “What’s going on?”
“Mr. Cranston.” Agent Rickers straightened quickly and
moved back, his young face pale. “She’s weak again, sir. I was
trying to make her more comfortable.”
The other girls had moved farther back to the third row of
seats, watching their mother fearfully as she breathed heavily,
her pale face reddened, perspiration pouring from it.
“Timothy, I’ll be fi ne,” Gillian promised weakly. “You know
how frightened they get.”
But she wouldn’t be fi ne, and Timothy knew it. Not if she
didn’t get the help she needed.
“My dear, you should have sent one of the girls for me before
you became so ill,” he chastised her as he took the damp cloth
the other agent had been using to wipe the perspiration from her.
It did little to cool her skin. Few things did when such attacks
occurred. They came with a suddenness that couldn’t be predicted,
and often left just as quickly.
“Timothy, get her in the offi ce; we’ll call for Doc,” Rowdy
ordered from the other side of the vehicle.
“Come on, Mercedes.” The gentleness in the leprechaun’s
voice shocked not just Rowdy, but his cousins as well, though the
young women in the vehicle didn’t seem surprised at all.
Cranston picked her up as though she weighed nothing, and
she had to be three inches taller, at least, than the former agent.
Pick her up he did, though, and carried her quickly into the
offi ce, all the girls at his heels.
“What’s wrong with her?” Rowdy questioned the older man
as he laid her on the offi ce couch, the girls hovering around her.
Cranston sighed heavily. “The doctors aren’t certain, but she’s
refused to see the specialists she’s been referred to.”
Cranston’s jaw tightened, a muscle ticking at the side furiously.
“No insurance and no money, Rowdy. I told you, once
Homeland Security found that Cayman account two years ago,
they’ve had to live on what she had saved and the money she
made working three jobs. She refused to let the girls work.
The girls weren’t even aware Mercedes was no longer receiving
the money until DHS showed up at the house and threw
Rowdy started to say more, but the sight of three concerned
women moving quickly across the parking lot had a grimace
pulling at his lips before he turned to his cousins. “Shopping trips
over,” he announced, nodding toward their wives as they moved
purposefully for the offi ce.
“Where the hell were they?” Natches rubbed his jaw in confusion.
“My guess, close enough to see why the hell we tried to push
them into going shopping this morning.” Rowdy sighed. “We’re
getting out of practice, boys.”
“I thought someone was calling a doctor.” The little powerhouse
who had interrupted the meeting earlier stood from where
she had been kneeling next to her mother.
“Zoey, enough,” Mercedes chastised her. “Where are your
“They promised, Momma.” Pleading with her eyes, clearly
afraid for her mother’s health.
“I sent the text,” Rowdy promised her. “His nurse just texted
He handed the girl the phone.
“Half an hour.” She murmured the nurse’s reply before handing
the phone back to him and staring up at him with eyes the
same pale, intense green of Dawg’s, yet in this child’s eyes lurked
a deep, haunting fear he knew he’d see in his nightmares.
Her celadon eyes were surrounded by a wealth of long, heavy
black lashes, he noticed. She was a beauty already, and keeping
the wild hearts and even wilder men away from her for the rest
of her life wouldn’t be easy, Rowdy thought in resignation.
And there was no doubt she was a Mackay.
If he had seen any of the four girls on the street at any time,
he would have known he was looking at the daughter of a
Mackay. The dark looks were simply unmistakable.
As Rowdy pushed the phone back into the holster at his side,
the door to the offi ce was pushed inward and three concerned,
though borderline furious Mackay wives were moving into the
Kelly, whose gentle features had matured in the past fi ve years
since her daughter’s birth, though she still looked far too young
for her husband Rowdy’s experienced features.
Chaya, Natches’s wife, whose brows were drawn into a
frown, her brown eyes going between Eve, Piper, Lyrica, and
Zoey in suspicion before dropping to Mercedes Mackay.
But Dawg’s wife, Christa, was stark pale, so white faced
Dawg moved for her instantly.
“No, no, no, no.” He shook his head desperately as her eyes
began to fi ll with tears. “Oh, hell, no, baby. Sisters. They’re my
sisters, not my kids. I swear. Sisters, Christa.”
Her gaze moved to him slowly, reluctantly. She frowned
deeply, though her face was still stark white as she slowly shook
“This is all Timothy’s fault.” He glared at Timothy before
pointing his fi nger at the not-so-fat little bastard as Timothy
stared back at him in confusion.
“What’s my fault?” Timothy glared back at him, obviously
offended by the accusation.
The four girls and their mother were staring at him as though
he had dropped into the room from outer space, while Rowdy
and Natches simply watched him warily.
Christa swallowed tightly. “I don’t think they’re your daughters,”
“Then what’s wrong?” he demanded. “You’re as white as a
She shook her head and turned back to the four girls again.
“Oh, my God, Dawg what did Chandler Mackay do? They could
be, your twins,” she whispered. “As though they were cloned
“Oh, God, just shoot me now,” Zoey spat in disgust.
“Momma, I don’t think I can ever forgive you.” Eve sighed.
“At least it’s him we looked cloned from and not one of the
other two,” Lyrica said with a grunt. “That would have sucked.”
“It still sucks,” Piper assured her younger sister.
“Brats,” Rowdy murmured, though there was no heat in his
tone; he actually seemed rather amused.
“Brats? Try bitches.” Natches grunted, his gaze carefully shuttered,
though Dawg could detect the amusement. “And that little
one works at it, too.”
“But not very hard.” Zoey slid him an arch, cool look. “If I
had, trust me, you’d know it.”
The girl’s comment had Kelly’s, Christa’s, and Chaya’s gazes
moving then to Timothy. Then they shifted instantly to the
woman stretched out on the couch.
Hell, Dawg thought, this woman didn’t look old enough to
be the mother of the four obvious hellions staring back at the
“Natches, sweetheart, what’s Cranston doing here?” Chaya,
one of Cranston’s former agents, stepped to her husband and let
him pull her close to his side.
As she did so, Kelly stepped to Rowdy, while Christa moved
to Dawg’s side and gave him a gentle kiss on the cheek. It was
the look on his face, Rowdy thought, that look of blank devastation
in his gaze that had Crista bestowing a kiss to assure
him there was nothing for him to worry about.
“It would appear we’ve added to the family,” Natches told his
wife softly. “Meet Dawg’s sisters. I’m certain they’ll introduce
themselves as soon as Doc gets here to check out their mother.”
Timothy wiped Mercedes face again. Rowdy could have
sworn the leprechaun’s hand was shaking.
“What did you do, Mercedes?” he asked her gently. “Didn’t
you rest last night?”
Mercedes lush lips almost tilted into a smile. “What do you
think, Tim?” she asked, forcing her eyes open.
No one, but no one, had ever been allowed to call Timothy
“I think you were up all night pacing and worrying.” He
sighed. “I told you there was nothing to worry about.”
“Is there not?” she asked him sorrowfully. “Chandler’s son is
suddenly besieged by four young females he knew nothing of,
and a sick mother to boot? Ah, Tim, do you not know human
nature far better than this?”
“I know the Mackays far better than this,” he assured her,
praying he was right. “And the Mackays do not turn their backs
The look he slid them assured the Mackays that they’d better
not start now.
“Is Doc on his way, then?” Christa asked Dawg as his hand
tightened on her hip, his need to draw her closer evident.
“Half hour, his nurse said.”
“Twenty minutes then.” She nodded.
Dawg watched the young woman; hell, she had four grown
daughters and she was younger than he was. He watched her,
watched her daughters, and in their eyes he saw pure, raw fear.
“Cranston, what do the doctors who have suggested a specialist
say could be wrong with her?” Dawg asked; the low rasp
of the tone wasn’t lost on the former agent.
Cranston swallowed tightly, the action at fi rst almost unnoticed.
But the slight fl inch of his facial muscles wasn’t missed by
“They think she could have an advanced form of chemical
poisoning that’s slowly weakening her lungs. One of the jobs she
had was at an industrial chemical processing plant that’s since
been shut down for its unsafe working conditions.” Clearing his
throat of obvious emotion, he lifted his gaze to Dawg’s, and no
one missed the plea in his eyes. “The treatments she needs are
“Timothy, no.” Pride was evident in Mercedess weak voice as
she laid her hand on his arm. “Let’s not talk of this. Let the girls
and their brother talk.”
“Mercedes, I won’t let you lie here and suffer,” he snarled, his
voice hoarse and fi lled with emotion. “Not any more.”
Timothy Cranston was in love.
Dawg lifted his gaze from Cranston, only to realize the four
girls were watching him suspiciously, fearfully. There wasn’t one
of them who didn’t expect him to turn them away.
“Doc’s here,” Christa stated as a vehicle pulled up in front of
the door. “He’s early. He must have already left the offi ce.”
Dawg nodded. “Let’s get your mother taken care of,” he told
the girls. “Once we have her checked out, we’ll talk.” His gaze
dropped to Cranston’s again before lifting back to the girls. “But
have no doubt: You’re family. And we stick by family.”
“On of you killed your cousin,” the eldest stated. “I heard one
of the agents talking about it after we arrived at Tim’s. Is that
how you take care of family?”
She might have resembled Dawg enough to be his kid, but it
was Natches’s emerald eyes she stared at him from.
“Eve.” Her mother gasped, obviously shocked by her daughter’s
Dawg just gave Eve a mocking smile as his hand tightened at
Christa’s hip once again. “Only those who betray us and have a
gun trained on the someone we love,” he assured her. “Then, Eve,
trust me, it didn’t matter who he was then; Johnny was dead.”
Eve’s nostrils fl ared before she fi nally relaxed enough to simply
nod her head.
“Mackays don’t betray one another.” Cranston tore his gaze
from their mother long enough to stare back at each girl with a
glint of steel in his eyes. “Remember that, girls. You stand for
who you are, what you are, and for family. That’s what your
mother’s taught you, and that’s what you live by.”
“Only if you stand for us fi rst,” Lyrica spoke up warily.
Dawg nodded. “Understandable. And we’ll show you our
good faith.” He glanced to Natches and Rowdy. Each of his cousins
nodded in turn. “We’ll take care of you and your mother,
because you’re family, and that’s what families do. Whatever
treatments your mother needs, whatever care, she’ll have it. Just
as you’ll return to school and do your part.”
“In return for what?” the other girl asked suspiciously.
“In return for being part of the family,” Dawg growled back
at her. “I just told you that. Loyalty begins somewhere, and I’ll
make that fi rst step. From here on out it’s up to you. But betray
us or yourselves, hurt us, yourselves or another of the family, and
you’ll risk all of it. Come to us, talk to us, and we’ll help you the
best way we can. But you don’t lie to us, you don’t cheat us, and
you don’t dare betray one of us.”
What the hell was he supposed to do with four sisters?
Each girl nodded before the door opened, heralding the doctor
and his nurse. Within an hour an ambulance arrived and,
with Cranston riding with her, whisked Mercedes Mackay to the
hospital and left four clearly suspicious, frightened, and exhausted
young women in his keeping.
And Dawg would soon learn, along with Rowdy and Natches,
just what they might have to face in another decade or so.
With their own daughters.