My Brother's Keeper (Bewitched and Bewildered #5) by Alanea Alder

PROLOGUE

Three weeks ago

She always looks so sad.

Kendrick watched the pale, blonde woman tenderly wipe the soup from the stubbled chin of an elderly man. Though she smiled, her eyes told a different story. With infinite patience, she managed to get the older man to eat an entire bowl of soup.

"That was wonderful, Dad. You finished the whole bowl! Before you know it, you'll be harassing Ethel down at the Duck In," she teased.

"Never mind me, girlie. When are you going to move on with your life? You can't babysit an old man forever," the man grumbled.

"Don't be silly; I love spending time with you." She rose and walked into the kitchen. Kendrick heard her putting the dishes in the dishwasher, and after a few minutes, she returned carrying a stack of books.

"Do you want me to turn your shows on?"

"That'd be nice."

She picked up the remote and switched the television on. They sat in silence as he watched his shows and she studied from her books.

During a commercial break, Kendrick noticed that, at some point, the old man had stopped watching his shows and was watching the beautiful woman.

"You should have gone to college, met a fine young man, and had babies of your own by now," he said quietly.

She looked up, a surprised expression on her face. "I couldn't just leave you to take care of Mama on your own. Besides, I'm still going to college." She held up her nursing textbook.

"You'll be my age before you finish, taking one class at a time like you are. Sometimes, I wish I would hurry up and join my Lucy in heaven so you won't be tied to this house anymore."

The young woman flew off the sofa and dropped to her knees next to the old man's recliner. With tears in her eyes, she laid her head on his leg. "Don't say that! Don't leave me alone, Daddy; you're all I have."

The old man gently ran a gnarled hand over her soft blonde curls. "You're stronger than you think. My time is coming, girlie. When it's time to say goodbye, I want you to smile for me. I want you to be happy."

She shook her head. "I'm not strong."

"Yes, you are. You've sacrificed so much taking care of first your mother and then me; now, it's our turn to set you free. After I'm gone, sell everything--the house, the land, everything. Keep a few keepsakes, like your mother's jewelry, but sell the rest. Take the money, and you go to the best nursing school in the country, don't let anything tie you down."

The woman looked up, her eyes wide. Kendrick watched as she realized that her father was dying. He saw the exact moment the knowledge hit her.

"No!" She reached for the phone, and a wrinkled hand stopped her.

"Go to school... live your dream." The words were coming more slowly now.

"Daddy, please..." she begged.

"This isn't goodbye, not really. Your mother and I will be watching over you... so you won't be alone. Live every day to it's fullest so you have a lot to tell us when we see each other again." He smiled and took a deep breath. "You're the best thing I've ever done in life, girlie. I'm so proud of you." With a shaking hand, he brought her face close to his and kissed her forehead. When he slumped back against the recliner, Kendrick knew he was gone.

"No!" The woman buried her face in her hands and wept.

Darkness swept him away and carried him to another scene. The beautiful woman looked paler now, and her teal-colored eyes were rimmed red and she stared down at a headstone.

"I did it, Mama, Daddy. I graduated, and I'm a nurse now. I'm back home and working at the Duck In until I can find a permanent position." She blushed. "I've met a nice man, he's gentle and kind, I know you'd have liked him, Daddy. He's so easy to be around, I'm never awkward when I'm with him. It's nice to finally have a real friend." She knelt down and placed a bouquet of sunflowers on the double grave. "Maybe it's time to start thinking about having a family, I'm thirty-six already. It'd be nice to not be alone anymore." She stood and stepped back. "I'll visit more often now that I'm home. Please keep watching over me." She kissed her fingers and blew kisses to each name.

When the darkness returned, Kendrick fought against the pulling tide of inky blackness. He wanted to stay with her; he wanted to make sure she was okay. When the shadows disappeared, his heart began to hammer in his chest. A familiar nightmare began to take shape.

"No," he whispered harshly.

His younger brother Keelan lay broken, lifeless in the warrior's arms. Kendrick growled low. He knew these men; they were the Alpha Unit. The dream began to collapse around him.