Nauti Temptress

The Nauti Girls Book 1

The Mackay cousins- Natches, Rowdy and Dawg- would do anything for family, so when former federal agent Timothy Cranston drops off four sisters that Dawg never knew he had, there is no question: The cousins will protect and care for the girls and their mother, because they’re family.

Five years later, Eve Mackay, the eldest sister, has graduated from college and settled in to life as a Mackay in Pulaski County, Kentucky. She workd hard as a cocktail waitress and helps out at the bed-and breakfast that Dawg bought for her mother. If she keeps herself busy enough, maybe she’ll be able to stay away from the man she promised Dawg she wouldn’t date, the man who has awakened her most ravenous fantasies……

He’s Brogan Campbell, a biker rumored to be a traitor and a thief. But he’s just playing a part; he came to Kentucky for a mission that no one, except Cranston, is supposed to know about. Eve is the key to the whole operation, and his orders are to get her participation. But his need for Eve has nothing to do with stolen secrets and the safety of the country.

When Dawg took in Eve and her sisters, he warned them that if they ever lied, cheated, or betrayed the family, they risked losing everything. But desire and danger are locked in an inescapable embrace, and Eve has to make her choice between family or Brogan, for better or worse.

Read an Excerpt »


The fat, evil little leprechaun was interfering in their lives again in a way they would never recover from. Rowdy could feel it.

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 office 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 debating 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 look.

“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 reporter’s 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 infiltrate 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 his 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 fight 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 offices.

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 he’d noticed.

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 desk.

Stepping back from the door and crossing his arms over his chest, Rowdy scowled as Cranston pushed into the office, his hand moving to smooth his hair back rather than running his fingers 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 office 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 all 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 in it.

“So that’s how it’s going to be?” Cranston muttered, sounding strangely disappointed.

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 feel ashamed.

“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 flickering with what Rowdy had always said were the fires 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 granite hard.

“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 mission.

“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 again.

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 years.”

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 finally piercing their suspicious anger.

“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 find out what the hell was going on.

“Three months ago, Homeland Security received an alert from the Louisville Office of Vital Statistics,” he stated coolly. “Someone was requesting information on Chandler Mackay’s heirs.”

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 officially retire from Homeland Security. One of these days you’ll figure 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 fuck, remember?”

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 had 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, were 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 come begging.”

There was something in Cranston’s tone that Rowdy had never heard before: an edge of bafflement as well as respect.

There weren’t many people Timothy Cranston respected.

From the corner of his eye Rowdy watched a muscle jump in Dawg’s jaw.

“How old are the girls?” Dawg finally 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 first child. She would have had five 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 filled 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 imagined.

“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 three 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 find 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 child.

“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 officers there that day. The woman called me immediately. She knew I’d worked the Mackay case here, and that I was still in the area. They 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 definitely 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 Mercedes 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 than anything.

“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 hated Chandler.”

“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 facing.

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 fire, Zoey Mackay, burst into the office.

“They don’t want us, do they?” Pain radiated in her face, her voice.

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 filled with tears, her face sculpted into lines of such beauty it made a grown man want to weep.

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 finished,” 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 away.

Dawg rose slowly to his feet, causing her to flinch as she followed the movement.

“If they wanted us, it wouldn’t take this long,” she accused him, her voice rough, big tears filling 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 fire that burned in her soul.

“What kind of questions can’t we answer?” Zoey propped her little fists 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 filled her eyes suddenly spilled down her cheeks as fear and anger filled her expression. “He’ll either help us or he won’t. Either way, Momma’s sick again—”

Timothy moved.

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 office 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 fine,” Mercedes promised weakly. “You know how frightened they get.”

But she wouldn’t be fine, 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 office; 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 office, all the girls at his heels.

“What’s wrong with her?” Rowdy questioned the older man as he laid her on the office 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 them out.”

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 trip’s over,” he announced, nodding toward their wives as they moved purposefully for the office.

“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 manners?”

“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 back.”

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 office was pushed inward and three concerned, though borderline furious Mackay wives were moving into the room.

Kelly, whose gentle features had matured in the past five 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 fill 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 her head.

“This is all Timothy’s fault.” He glared at Timothy before pointing his finger 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,” she whispered.

“Then what’s wrong?” he demanded. “You’re as white as a damned sheet.”

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 from you.”

“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 Mackay wives.

“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 Christa 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’s 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’s 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 Cranston “Tim.”

“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 on family.”

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 first almost unnoticed. But the slight flinch of his facial muscles wasn’t missed by Dawg.

“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 expensive—”

“Timothy, no.” Pride was evident in Mercedes’s 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 filled with emotion. “Not anymore.”

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 office.”

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.”

“One 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 rudeness.

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 flared before she finally 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 first,” 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 first 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.