Strong by Delta James


Chapter 1

Present Day

He rarely got time to himself these days. So much to do and so little time left to do it. Today, however, he’d decided to go out for a ride. The people who’d bought Shuga, his liver leopard

Appaloosa would be coming tomorrow to pick him up. This would be his farewell ride and likely his last chance to experience the grandeur of the Idaho Panhandle from horseback. He was certain he would miss the majestic beauty of it all.

From the corner of his eye, Cyrus Waverly riding Dandy on the open range in the distance caught his interest. He turned toward him, stopped Shuga, and watched. With no other livestock around, what the hell was Cyrus—who hadn’t done an honest day’s work in his life—doing riding hell-bent for leather?

With a shake of his head, he maneuvered his mount back toward his original destination. He wanted to visit her grave. His time was pretty much his own these days, but as he rode away, the question of where and why Cyrus was out riding like the Devil himself was chasing him had made him wonder why. It plucked at the corner strings of his brain, forcing him to twist in his saddle to watch Cyrus once more. Indulging his curiosity would hurt no one. Besides, who was going to know? He doubted anyone had even noted his absence this morning. Well, maybe Serena, the cook at the diner. Nice girl. Hopefully, she and Clay would work things out. Hannah would have liked Serena, and she would have liked Trey as well.

The boys had grown up to be men Hannah would have been proud of. Cole needed to fix whatever he’d done wrong with whoever it was that drew him to Seattle over and over again. It was obvious she had a magnetic pull on him that Cole just couldn’t seem to resist longer than a few months. That boy had his mama’s looks along with her stubborn streak.

He realized that Cyrus appeared to be headed to Himeen Mesa. Was he returning to the scene of the crime? Bastard. There had always been talk about Cyrus’s involvement with Hannah’s death. Lord knew the brothers suspected it, but he’d confirmed it for himself. At the time, there’d been no reason to add to their grief, but Cyrus needed to pay. Maybe this was the opportunity he’d been waiting for. Perhaps, the time had finally come to avenge Hannah’s murder.

He urged Shuga up to an easy canter and followed his target. As he approached the foot of the mesa, he noted that there was no one around. No witnesses, but that didn’t really matter. Reaching into his saddle bag, he removed the antique pistol Hannah had given him. It had been in her family for more than a century and she’d wanted him to have it to remember her by—as if he needed a tangible object. She’d held his heart from the time they were kids; even in death it had remained with her.

He slowed his horse and urged him to ease his way up the slippery slope to where the mesa leveled out. When he stopped, he could hear nothing above the wind and the shrill cry of a hawk overhead. He rode Shuga in the same way he did when they were stalking game. Shuga was the most talented horse he’d ever owned, which made sense since he was one of Clay’s. As he felt the weight of the gun in his hand, he asked himself did he really want to meet Hannah in the afterlife without knowing he’d sent Cyrus to hell?

He made his way around the large rock onto the windward side of the mesa where Dandy was tied to some scrub brush. If the gunshot didn’t spook the big gelding enough to break free, he’d have to make sure to untie him so he wouldn’t be exposed to the elements too long. Shuga flicked his ears toward the distinctive sound of the maraca of a snake close by, probably sunning itself, warming its bones. Dandy heard it too and pawed the ground nervously, his nostrils flaring. But did Cyrus care? Of course not. The only things Cyrus Waverly ever cared about were money and his dick.

Cyrus was standing on the edge of the mesa looking back toward the highway. Was he waiting for someone? Who? And why here? Why did he desecrate her mesa? She’d loved this place. Her three favorite places on Earth had all been on Koyama': the mesa, the homestead cabin, and the place Clay had chosen to bury her. Cyrus had no right to defile any of them with his presence.

“Took you long enough,” said Cyrus as he turned around and his eyes widened in surprise. Obviously, he was expecting someone else. “What the hell are you doing here? You’re trespassing. Get off my land.”

Dismissing him completely and ignoring the threat of the gun in his hand, Cyrus turned back toward the horizon.

“It’s not your land. It never was and never will be. It was always hers and she left it to her sons. She married you to save Koyama' so that she could have children to pass it onto. She never loved you. Nothing mattered more to her than her children and the land her family carved out of the wilderness. It was her heritage and her legacy. Had it not been for Koyama', she never would have been with you.”

Cyrus snorted without ever turning around. “We’ll see. When I’m done, they may not even want it. Go away.”

Without another word, he raised the elegant revolver and fired. It was as if time slowed to a crawl and he could see the bullet heading straight for Cyrus, entering through his back, and going through the dark place Cyrus’s heart should have been. The result had Cyrus spinning around from the concussive inertia of the shot. Cyrus glanced down at the hole in his chest. Cyrus’s killer was enjoying the fact that the old bastard knew he was a dead man and who had killed him.

“For Hannah,” he answered the unasked question, watching as Cyrus toppled backward over the edge, flailing his arms without ever making another sound.

He heard a snap and twisted in his saddle to see Dandy had broken free and was hightailing it down the mesa’s path, headed, he suspected, back to the ranch compound. He’d done it. He’d done what he should have done all those years ago. How much pain might he have saved? He tried to tell himself he’d taken no pleasure in what he’d done, but that was a lie. There was a primitive, feral satisfaction that came from having served justice so completely.

He rode Shuga close enough to the edge that he could see over to confirm Cyrus was dead. Looking at the canyon floor, he could see the man who’d murdered Hannah lying sprawled on his back, his lifeless eyes staring into nothing.

Well, that certainly made my life easier.The female rattler slithered out from her hiding spot and looked at the pureblood sunning himself on the rock. He shook his rattles at her, declaring the rock as his.

“Fool,” she hissed as she rose and fixed him with an icy, reptilian stare.

One good look and the pureblood knew he was overmatched. He skittered away and left her in peace. She moved down the rock and slid along her belly to the edge of the cliff. After shifting, she peered down at the valley floor below. Her target lay unmoving. His eyes were open and glassy. Even from this distance, it was obvious he was dead. Her plan had gone better than expected. No fuss, no muss, and at the end, she’d collect a hefty paycheck.

She shifted back to her snake self and moved down the mesa toward her rented car. Crossing the road had an extra degree of difficulty when some asshole swerved intentionally to try to run her over. Fortunately, she was able to get out of the way and only had gravel sprayed in her face. After making note of the license plate, she thought about tracking him down, luring him into a nice hotel, and having him go down on her. She loved watching a man’s head between her legs as he worked to pleasure her. Once she was sated, she’d stretch him out on his back and crawl on top to ride his cock like there was no tomorrow. For the final performance, she’d shift and slither around his dick before sinking her venomous fangs into his balls, then his jugular. She’d coil up on his chest and watch the life fade from his eyes.

Yes, that would be a pleasant way to spend her afternoon. Those boys at Merrick Development paid well;Puerto Vallarta was nice this time of year.

Nine Hours Previously

Cole Waverly despised his father… on so many levels. He despised him for the hell he’d put their mother through. He despised him for having killed her, despite what the official report had said. He despised him for how he’d treated him and his brothers their entire lives. But maybe most of all, he despised him for what he was trying to do now.

He'd seen Cyrus storming up from the barn, headed into the office. He needed to have a word or two or three with the old bastard, and it might as well be now. Getting a rein on his own temper, Cole entered the office as Cyrus was pouring himself a double shot of good whiskey.

“Your little brother is a sonofabitch. I ought to kick his ass.”

“If you’re really inclined to try, let me know. I’d like to sell tickets. It’ll be a short fight, but I think people would pay good money to see him beat the shit out of you.”

Cyrus slammed the heavy, crystal tumbler onto the antique sideboard. It, like a great many of the furnishings in the house, had been with the family for close to two centuries. Koyama' was a heritage ranch and had been in his mother’s family since starting as a homestead, slowly expanding over the years. The Waverly brothers’ roots ran deep in this land.

“I don’t know why I put up with any of you. None of you show me the respect I’m due.”

“Respect?” Cole felt his temper starting to simmer. “For what? For being an altogether rotten father? For abusing our mother? Or how about for marrying a girl closer to your youngest son’s age within three months of our mother’s convenient death? A convenient death we’re all quite sure you had a hand in.”

“I never laid a hand on your mother...”

“Not after I beat the shit out of you when I found out about it. By the way, you should thank Cash for pulling me off you. I don’t think I’ve ever wanted to kill anyone even half as much as I wanted to kill you at that moment.”

“Is that what you did for those government types who came around to the hospital and persuaded me not to press charges?”

“Among other things, but my work on behalf of the interests of our country wasn’t what I wanted to talk to you about.”

“Then what the hell did you want?” asked Cyrus.

“It won’t work.” Cole’s tone was neutral, but strong.

“What won’t work?”

“Your plan to destroy Koyama'.” Cyrus looked at him, and Cole noticed that his skin was flush. Well at least he had the good sense to seem guilty and embarrassed at the same time. “I know about Merrick Development.”

“How the hell did you find out about that?” The old man shook his head.

“Does it really matter?”

“It does to me. If Lorna opened her big mouth...”

Cole whistled. “So, Lorna knows too. That’s a surprise. That must be the most intimate thing you two have shared in the last year.”

“Watch your mouth, boy.”

“Or what, old man? What’ll you do if I don’t?”

“I’ve still got some fight left in me.”

“Maybe. But the problem is that you’ve never been willing to take on those in your own weight class, only those of us who couldn’t swat you down like the naggy little pest you are.”

Cole knew one of the quickest ways to get Cyrus to come at him was to dismiss him as a threat. He wasn’t sure why, but he really wanted to bust his father in the mouth for this latest act of trying to piss on everything his mother had held dear.

“Someday, boy, I’ll have enough money…”

“To do what? Buy another trophy wife? You’d best make sure the next one knows how to not only keep her mouth shut, but her legs as well.”

“You been sniffing around my mate’s tail?” growled Cyrus.

Oh, that got him.

“Have you lost whatever little of your mind hasn’t been eaten up by greed and disease? No one with half a lick of sense wants anything to do with Lorna. Oh, Cade might have fucked her that one time in the barn, but that was before you married her, and he’s regretted it ever since. Anyways, why do you care? You’ll fuck anything with the right parts. Human or shifter, doesn’t seem to matter much to you. Although, I must say that dominatrix in Denver seemed a bit outside your wheelhouse, but you were with Adams of the Flying Aces, which means all bets are off where class is concerned.”

“How the fuck do you know about—do you have someone following me?”

“No. I don’t need to go to that much trouble. You leave an electronic paper trail a blind man could find. And sending surveyors out here who readily admitted they worked for Merrick Development, and you gave them permission to be on Koyama' wasn’t your, or their, smartest move. Just so you know, you have no authority to allow anyone on Koyama' unless it’s this center parcel.”

“They need to know the boundaries. They need to be able to survey those from outside the property lines.”

“Then I guess you’re shit out of luck. We made sure they understood that if we caught them on Koyama' land again, we wouldn’t be nearly as polite escorting them outside those boundaries you mentioned. You don’t seem to get that mom made sure you couldn’t sell any part of her heritage.”

“No, but I can raze these buildings and lease the land to Merrick so they can develop a casino and resort. Their income projections are off the charts and my percentage makes what you boys have to pay me look like chump change.”

“You’d knock down a house and barns that have stood more than a century so Lorna and her family could build a casino? Wait, they don’t have that kind of money…” Realization dawned. “But Bruce Adams does. Thus, the reason you met with him in Denver. You truly have no shame. Flying Aces has been trying to put Koyama' out of business for years. You bastard. Whatever you’ve done, I’ll find a way to undo. Call your dogs off, Cyrus. If you don’t, I’ll show you how much of your bad blood and murderous intent I did inherit.”

“Don’t you threaten me. I’ve checked and there’s nothing you can do about it. Checked with a real lawyer, and not that one in town you boys have in your pocket.”

“I don’t need a lawyer to stop you, Cyrus. Killing you would be so much easier and would solve so many problems. As you pointed out, I’m quite capable of doing that myself without anyone’s help. Don’t pursue this, old man. I’ll stop you one way or another.”