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David: The Whitfield Rancher – Erotic Tiger Shapeshifter Romance by Kathi S. Barton (1)


 

Dylan didn’t like this one bit. Rules, she understood them, except the fact that there was no bending of them, even in situations like this one when she felt that her way was the right way. Nor could she fly by the ass of her pants. Rules, she kept telling herself, were a good thing. Of course, she thought that killing the man would have served them all better, but then again, that wouldn’t help. It would be good, but not helpful. But that didn’t mean she couldn’t make the fucker pay, and pay well for his stupidity. Stretching her neck again, she let out a long breath so she’d have control. At least the appearance of it.

“You say that you had to steal from the leap because it was your right as a member. And that it mattered little to you that there is a system set up that allows you to have food so long as you let someone know what you’re doing.” The man in front of her nodded and smiled at her. “Wipe that grin off your face right now, jackass, or I’ll do it for you. Permanently.”

Evan cleared his throat but said nothing. He was, like he had a dozen times already, reminding her that she needed to be a leader and not kill them all. Stupid rule, that one. She supposed it made sense. If she killed all the stupid people, she’d not have a leap to lead. That thought did have some merit, but she didn’t think that others would see it her way. Again, the fucking rules.

“I was hungry. And since, as the leap leader, you’re to provide for us, I took what I needed.” There was a flaw there, and she wasn’t sure why anyone else hadn’t picked up on it. “I’ll be taking a bit more too, the next time I go by it.”

“Well, things will suck for you, I guess. I’ve taken care that it’s all safe and sound.” He just grinned. Choosing to ignore it, she moved on. “Anyway, what do you do for a living? I mean, other than take food that you didn’t purchase for yourself. And basically steal from the hand that helps you.”

“I don’t have a job at the moment. I’m between them.” He laughed, and so did the four men with him. Men she had to deal with too. “Is this going to take much longer? I have some shit I have to do. And of course, I gotta get me something good to eat.”

“The leap larder is empty, as of nine last night. Also, there is a sign-up sheet for those that need something from it. And rules regarding it.” The man—she forgot his name because she’d been calling him dickweed—objected. “I really don’t care what you think is unfair, you idiot. I’m in charge of this, not you. Also, as of this morning, by approval from the council, every able-bodied member of this leap will work. Whether at an outside job, meaning not leap work, or something for the leap. What is it you’re good at, besides stealing and being a lazy fuck?”

“I don’t want to work. It interferes with my nap times.” The men with him laughed again when he turned to look at them. Dylan looked at Evan, who shrugged. She was on her last bit of patience with this group, and he knew it. “Besides, it’s your duty to provide for those who don’t have anything. Like housing and food. And if I can’t afford my bills for power and the like, you’re supposed to pay those too. You can do it. All rich and mighty Whitfields like you could.”

“Yes, it is my job. Or I can cut you loose. That’s one of the rules too. One I like, so you know. You did read that one too when you were looking for loopholes, right? If I can’t pick and choose the ones I want to use or not, you can’t either.” He stared at her, mean, like he was going to hurt her if her words didn’t suit him. Dylan stood up and let him see that she was armed. “You can be pissy all you want, you little fuck. As of right now, you have ten days to get your shit together and get out, or you find you a job that you work at for forty a week. Or I can find you something suitable. And trust me, you don’t want that to happen.”

“You’re not being very nice to me, Dylan. I thought for sure, being a woman and all, you’d be more sympathetic for me.” He grabbed his crotch and shook it, like that was something sexy. When Evan stood up, she moved to the man and grabbed his cock hard. “Christ, lady. That’s too rough. You like it that way?”

Putting pressure on his dick made her feel better. And when he whimpered, she smiled at him. Putting more pressure on his little twig and berries, she watched him pale. It was going her way or he’d be dead. Evan was well within his rights as her mate to kill him. She knew that.

“This is how it’s going to work. Are you listening to me?” He didn’t answer, so she squeezed harder and he begged her to stop. “So, are you listening to me?”

“Yes. Christ, yes, I’m listening.” She told him again what was going to happen. “I don’t want to work. Fuck, bitch, you’re going to pay.”

She let him go and moved back when he puked on the ground in front of her. He looked up at her, his eyes full of hate. When he opened his mouth, she kicked him in the head. He was out before she put her foot back on the ground. Turning to the other idiots that had fucked up her day, she asked who was next.

Each of the other men dropped to the ground and rolled to their backs. She had read about this in one of the books Evan had given her. Something about exposing their most vulnerable part to her. But she wasn’t entirely sure why they were doing it to her. Turning to Evan, he smiled and gave her a thumbs up. Well, if he said it was okay, she would go on.

“This is how it’s going to work with the rest of you. Either straighten your asses up or you’ll be gone before you can say shit. Understand?” They each said they understood and called her master. “A job has been found for each of you. You work it, you’ll get help when you need it. Otherwise, you’ll be gone, just as dickweed here is going to be when he wakes up.”

“Mistress?” She told the man on the end to stand up. “He’s got a mate and a couple of kids. You gonna kill them? If so, well then, I can’t be here no more. She and them kids, they didn’t do nothing to you but be his mate.”

“I’ll look into that. And I’m not a monster. I’m just a leap leader that wants everyone to be treated fairly. And dickweed here wasn’t allowing that. I give what I get, in circumstances like this. It’s up to you guys if you want to stay or not, but I won’t put up with bullshit. Not one bit of it.” He nodded and she released them. As they slunk off, she turned to Evan when he sat by her. “They’re going to fuck up, you know that, don’t you?”

“Yes. But not for a week or so yet. Are you kicking him out? His name is Jared, by the way, not dickweed.” She snorted. “Right. Anyway, I have to go into town. My last time this week, I promise. Then I’ll be off call and we can have some fun.”

“We have fun a lot now, dork.” He took her hand in his as they made their way back to the house. “It’s almost done, isn’t it? I mean, we only have the yard to finish up and then it’ll be complete.”

“Yes, and that can’t be worked on entirely until the spring. Adam is waiting to see what comes up. Whether it’s all weeds or some flowers too. Are you all right? You’ve seemed sort of off all morning. Are you still bothered about what the counsel did?” She looked up at him as he continued speaking. “They made the right choice, baby. You’re very good at this, and things have already improved in the few weeks you’ve been doing it.”

“Yeah, well, if they let me do it my way, I’d have it whipped into shape already.” He laughed. “I’m only joking. But it does seem to be going so slow.”

“You’ll get it turned around. I know it. In the meantime, we have that meeting with David on the book. Then the dinner with Mom and Dad and Grandda. By the way, making him your second counsel was fantastic. He’s loving every minute of it.” She told him he was teaching her a lot too. “He’d be the one to do that. I’ve never seen him so excited. Thank you for that.”

“It was really for selfish reasons. I miss my own grandda more than I thought I would, and Ollie is a good man. Funny, and he doesn’t cringe every time I open my mouth.” She laughed. “I love your mom, but I tell you, she’s a prude. Every time I mention sex or cuss, she gets all kinds of red in the face. To tell the truth, sometimes I just do it to hear her fuss at me.”

“I think she’s figured that out too. Just the other day she asked me the meaning of a couple of those words. And let me tell you, I don’t know which of us was more embarrassed, her or me. So from now on, when you do that, make sure it’s something I’m not going to have to explain to her later.” Dylan laughed. “Or I can make you tell her. I think that would be better.”

“No thanks. You think she gets red when you talk to her, I’m sure that if I have to explain them to her, she’s going to flare up like a flame. No, she’s better for it with you.” Dylan thought of a couple more words she could use around the elder Whitfield, and decided to add them to her vocabulary the next time they were together.

After Evan left for town, she sat down at her desk. The sucker was bigger than their bed and filled with more electronic equipment than their kitchen. Not that she ventured in there much, but she did get her a glass of tea and hurried out. The room gave her the willies.

The phone on her desk rang at lunch time, and she answered it without looking. There was only one person that used it—the president—and he wanted her to do something. She loved when it rang; it meant that she could have something to do rather than just clean-up work in the yard.

~~~

Sunny moved through the crowded restaurant with only one thought in mind…a glass of tea. Her tea maker had died a few hundred miles back, and she’d not had the chance to get another one. And the guy that came by and had saved her life, whoever he was, had done enough for her, and she didn’t want him finding her another one. Besides, she was pretty sure that he’d stopped coming by.

He’d left her drugs when she was first hurt. As well as changed her bandage when she wasn’t able to. Sunny didn’t know who he was or why he was doing it, but she was grateful to him. She had no idea where she’d be if he hadn’t. Other than six feet underground.

When her turn came to order, she told the guy what she wanted. The man behind the counter didn’t bat an eye when she asked for the largest tea he had. He simply turned around, pulled a gallon of the nectar from the icebox beneath the counter, and put it in front of her. The urge to pick it up and drain it made her mouth water. Paying for the tea, she made her way back to the camper.

She pulled a glass from the cabinet and poured her one while standing there. If it was as good as it looked, she’d get another one. Otherwise this one, like the other glasses she’d gotten in the last two hours, would be dumped only to try another place. Thankfully it was as good as she’d ever been able to make herself, and she enjoyed another glass of it while thinking about her life so far.

She had figured out who she was by the newspaper article that she’d found on the countertop a few days after waking up in this thing. The paper had run an article about how she was missing, with a picture of her. Things started to fall into place after that. Not everything, but enough to know that she owned the camper, and she’d been able to piece together some of what had happened. She’d been shot. By who, she didn’t know yet. But it was for something that she was working on. What that was remained fuzzy, but she was alive now and could find this person and take care of whatever had happened. Or so she hoped.

Sunny, or Sunshine Davis, was an investigative reporter. Freelance, and apparently pretty well known. People everywhere were looking for her. Not all good, she supposed, not with her being shot up, but she was well thought of in some places. She also knew that she had a sister and brother who were looking for her.

“Not that I’m reaching out to them.” That much had been a revelation too. That while she had family, they hated her. Funny, she thought, she didn’t like them either. “Money grubbing shits.”

Standing up to make her way to the icebox—not fridge, but an actual icebox—she put the tea inside it and made room for more. Since she’d cleared out most of the food in it a few weeks back, she’d not done much to replenish it. Not that she couldn’t, but with travelling, things tended to get too warm, and she wasn’t up to being sick on top of everything else. Tonight she was staying at a campground, and then tomorrow she was going to find this leap.

There wasn’t anyone to ask about them. She’d looked them up on the computer that she’d unearthed a few weeks ago. There was a lot there if you cared, but she’d not found that much personal information. They were wealthy, that much was obvious, but there wasn’t much on them really, until recently. The fact that it was a large article about one of them getting a new home and how lavish it was made her think that either these people were a big deal or it was a slow news day. Both probably.

Getting around was much easier than it had been even a couple of days ago. Today she hadn’t taken any of the pain medication that had been left for her. And she could eat a little better. Things, to her at least, were looking up.

She glanced at the closet where her personal items had been stored. She had money, a great deal of it. Not that there wasn’t some in her bank accounts, but the closet was filled with the green stuff. Sunny was sort of afraid to count it, fearing it would be more than her head had thought. And that was a large number.

It’s not that she had lost her memory about the money. With the exception of the last few minutes before she’d been shot and the few days after, she remembered it all. But the money had never been there, not that much anyway.

Sipping her tea, she decided to try and have a little dinner. Sunny hadn’t ever been a big eater, but lately she’d been having a great deal more than her usual salad and crackers with cheese. Yesterday she’d eaten three hot dogs and French fries, plus a malted milk.

The man appeared before her just as she stood. Reaching for a gun that wasn’t on her, she braced herself. Sitting down, she waited to see what he wanted. It was the one from before, a tall very slender man that wore dark clothing. Sunny was sure that he was a vampire, and if not, something like that. Not that she’d ask him, but she was curious.

“Vampire. My name is Tanner. I don’t remember now if it’s my first or last, but it’s all I go by nowadays.” He asked if he could have a seat, and when she nodded he did sit, but he was very prim about it. “I’m here this time. The last few times, I’ve only been here in shadows. I think you remember that. I have the ability to come and go as I please as well. But that is neither here nor there. I have a few things to tell you. You’re not going to be thrilled about a few…the rest, well, I suppose we shall see.”

“All right. But I’ve figured out a few things. Mostly, if you mean that you’ve given me your blood, I’m okay with that.” He thanked her. “Why me? I mean, not that I’m not thrilled shitless that you saved my life, but why?”

“The man that shot you—and killed you, by the way—was someone that I know. I cannot tell you anything about him until you remember. That’s the rule.” She nodded. “Why you? Much more complicated than you might wish to be a part of.”

“Doubtful I’d turn you down. As I said, you saved my life.” She watched him get up and make her sandwich for her. It was thick with roast beef, tomatoes, and other things she knew were not in the ice box this morning. “You fixed that from what stuff?”

“I should have thought about the ice box and it not working when you were traveling. I don’t have any use for such a thing, nor does my staff. I have taken care of that now. This no longer requires ice to keep it cold, and it will stay this way for you. It is cold and stocked. And will be until you reach the Whitfield ranch. You must go there.” She asked him why. “There is a man there—his name is Oliver, but he goes by Ollie—an older gentleman that can help you. You’ll need it with this man coming for you. And he will…you’ve ruined his business with your exposé. Do you remember him?”

“Alfred James. He’s been doing some testing on animals for a long time, and usually just paid the fine. But I found out that he was testing on some humans, ones that didn’t sign on to his sort of work.” Tanner nodded. “He also had some disposal issues that came up when I was doing some research. Mostly with the bodies of the people that he used.”

“Yes. And had you had this uncanny power that you seem to have developed lately, you would have known that few of them were actually human.” She was afraid of that power, but didn’t say anything to him. “You should use it more, Sunshine. Should you do that then you’ll get better at it. I must admit, I was startled by it, but after looking into a few things, I’ve concluded that it was a combination of your death, my blood, and the drugs that you were taking. Again, that is part of what I needed to tell you.”

She could touch things. Well, duh, she thought to herself. Everyone could, she supposed. But when she touched them, freaky things happened. Stories came to her. She could not just see the person that had held it, but their life history too. Not all, but enough for her to know how the person was feeling when they held it. The vampire had been her first, and she was sure she knew things about him that no one else did.

Finishing the sandwich, she regarded the man in front of her. He only looked to be in his mid to late thirties, but she knew he had to be much older. He dressed well, but not overly lavish. He was educated, highly so, and he was also street smart. She liked him. And for whatever reason, trusted him.

“This thing that I can do, I’ve figured out that no matter what it is, if I touch it for long enough, I can read, or whatever it is I do, all about it. Like the last owner. Names, addresses, as well as tell if they’re dead or not. Kind of creepy, but in my line of work, it could also be very useful.”

“Yes, I would say so. But back to Ollie. He is a good man, one you can trust with your life. He has some...let’s just call them connections to the paranormal world that will keep you hidden away until you’re at full strength. His oldest grandson took a mate, and she has become a leap leader that you will need as well. Very strong as well as mouthy. Much like you.” Sunny smiled. “I don’t know if you realize this, but that wasn’t a compliment.”

“Sure it was. Being mouthy is what keeps me around. I mean, other than bullets, I can worm my way out of most anything.” He laughed when she did. “And this man, Ollie, he will help me hide out, then what?”

“You’ll be able to do your research for me. James has another plant, one that I’ve not been able to find. My hope is that he has this other lab, and there is where you’ll find my family. My kiss. But most importantly, my mate.” She nodded and asked him how many were in it. “My kiss is of about twenty vampires varying in age. One of them being my mate, as I said.”

“She’s still alive then?” He said that he was, as far as he knew. “I’m sorry. Yes, then. He. Can’t you connect with him or something? I don’t know a great deal about how that will work. But you connect with me, correct?”

“I cannot connect with him because he’s somewhere that is blocked from me. I know him to be alive because I have not felt his death. And I would, as I would yours should you meet with another killer. He is still alive, but for how long, I know not.” She nodded as she began to take notes. “I will help you as much as I can, but I cannot show myself as easily as you would be able to. You’ll be safe, as safe as they can make you, with the Whitfields. Ollie, he is aware that you’re coming.”

“What sort of cats are they?” He told her and Sunny looked at him as a chill washed over her. “I don’t like tigers. I knew one once.”

“Yes. I know.” He didn’t say anything else but watched her. “Ollie is a good man. And his family are the best people you’d ever want to meet.”

“If you say so.”

She sat there long after he was gone, but wasn’t sure about this now. Tigers? She was more than a little terrified of the fuckers.

Once, when she’d been working in a warehouse to find out what sort of shit they had going on, there had been a couple of them, big fuckers that roamed the place when it was in lockdown. The larger of the two had played with her for a while before he pounced. She’d spent three hours with him letting her go then chasing her down to cut her up again. Sunny had never been so glad to see the police as she was that next morning. Then she was off to the hospital to get several hundred wounds stitched closed, as well as her broken arm set. Fuckers were a nasty group.

Not only had she gotten a great story on the crap that they’d been doing, but the story about the illegal use and poor care of the tigers had gotten her praise. If she’d been honest with the newspaper, she would have asked for a gun to blow the things out of existence. She hated them that much.