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By:L.A. Casey

Branna and Ryder lovers—BRANNA is for you guys,

because God knows you’ve wanted it to release more than me.

Having a near-death experience at the hands of a psychopathic lunatic was not something I would ever forget but I was doing a damn good job trying. My family, on the other hand, were not. It was constantly on their minds and wasn’t something they could just sweep under the carpet. I understood that and, while I loved their attentiveness and concern for my mental health, I was a hair away from admitting myself into an asylum to get away from the overbearing freaks.

I hated thinking that because it made me sound ungrateful. I wasn’t ungrateful. I really got it. I got where they were coming from. When I was kidnapped five months ago and put through the wringer by Big Phil—an American arsehole who was now six feet under—my family could only be expected to hover. If they didn’t constantly surround me, I could have possibly dealt with my situation differently. Even though I refused to give the scumbag any power over me, even in death, I appreciated my family being there as a backbone for me in case I did break.

I didn’t, though.

Luckily, I kept my shit together and didn’t let Big Phil in. Sometimes, I had the occasional night terror where I would dream of what happened and wake up in a cold sweat, but it never made me fear falling asleep. The Health Board that oversaw the maternity hospital I worked at appointed me to see a therapist that had to sign off on whether I was mentally stable enough to continue working. I was originally signed on for six sessions with her, but that rolled into twenty before she was convinced I was mentally okay. She signed off on me—thank God—and she admitted to being surprised that I wasn’t more of a wreck after what I had been through. The only reason I could think as to why I wasn’t totally unstable was because my mind and heart had been put through way worse when I spent a year and a half being at my lowest point over Ryder Slater.

He was a unique man with a very unique past. I would usually only read about the things he and his four brothers had been through in books or see on films. Getting involved with him wasn’t scary; I fell in love with him so fast that it made my head spin, but it clouded my senses and judgment. Because of that, I allowed myself to become close to a person who had enemies and instantly became a prime target for those enemies.

My little sister, Bronagh, found her own way to Ryder’s younger brother, Dominic. My best friend, Aideen Collins, got tied up with Ryder’s other brother, Kane. Aideen’s best friend, Keela Daley, got tangled up with Ryder’s other brother, Alec. And Bronagh’s best friend, Alannah Ryan, was briefly involved with the youngest of the Slater brothers—Damien. That association put them all at risk.

Literally all of them.

When my sister was eighteen, she was kidnapped by a disgusting excuse for a human being named Marco Miles who wanted to use her as a bargaining chip to keep the brothers under his thumb—Damien and Alannah were also taken as insurance. Damien remembered everything that happened, but Alannah had no clue other than she “fainted,” and we decided to keep it that way. She was pure, and we weren’t sure if she could handle the brothers’ past, and what she was involved in, without breaking down. Keela was taken by the same arsehole a few years later in a bid to get revenge on the brothers for destroying his empire. Nearly two years ago, Aideen was attacked and almost burned alive while she was pregnant with her son, Jax, because another scumbag named Big Phil wanted revenge on Kane for killing his paedophile son many years ago. That same son of a bitch abducted me a few months ago to draw Kane out so he could finally get the revenge he had always wanted.

All attempts backfired.

You would think after it happening so much that we would kind of get used to the idea of someone in our circle being kidnapped and tortured, but nope, it was hard to digest each time we found ourselves in a situation like that. The only thing we could be thankful for was that everyone from the brothers’ past who had ill will against them were dead, so we didn’t have to worry about anything happening to any of us ever again.

Which, let me tell you, was immensely relieving.

Because of what we had been through, I understood and validated my family’s behaviour. That being said, it was a struggle all the same to deal with because my little sister was possibly the most overbearing out of everyone. She was slowly driving me crazy. Ryder, my newly wedded husband, was bad, but he didn’t have a patch on Bronagh. She had become my shadow since my attack, but she recently stepped up her game and stuck to me like glue after my surprise wedding and pregnancy announcement three weeks ago.