Check out the PROLOGUE if you haven’t read it yet.
Wanted A Breather
Cody McMillan looked around Fierce Engineering on New Year’s Eve and wondered again what he was doing here.
He wasn’t even comfortably moved into his one-bedroom apartment in Durham and he was starting his new job on Monday in a city he was trying to find his way around.
If anyone told him last New Year when he was at his buddy’s house, throwing back a beer with some friends and then crashing on the couch, that he’d be living in Durham and starting a new life close to his sister’s, he would have dumped his beer on their head to a round of laughter.
But times change. Marissa was now married to his nephew Tommy’s father. The guy no one knew the name of last year.
Everyone was happy. Or so they said.
No, that was wrong. He knew Marissa was the happiest he’d ever seen her. Tommy too. But he had a hard time letting go and being almost five hours away was going to be difficult to handle for a guy that had been the “man” in his sister’s life until now.
What started as a joke that he was going to look for a job in Durham turned into reality. That he had a better job than the one back in Greenville was icing on the next stage of his life cake.
His sister was now part of the Fierce family and that meant Grant and Diane, Ryder’s parents, seemed to have taken him under their wing. Not only did they convince him to come to the firm’s party tonight, but dinner at their house tomorrow.
“Cody.” He turned his head to see Diane coming toward him. She reached up and kissed him on the cheek like she greeted her sons. His own mother didn’t do that. “I’m so glad you’re here.”
“Thanks for asking me,” he said.
He was learning fast there was no telling a Fierce no when they made a request, but he wouldn’t voice those words.
He didn’t have to when Diane let out a little giggle. “I know we put you on the spot. But it will do you good to meet some people.”
He didn’t need another mother at this point in his life. “I’m sure I’ll meet plenty at work.”
“You will. And if you need anything, you make sure that my boys and the rest of the family show you around.”
He sighed. He didn’t need special treatment, but he knew having an in with the Fierces might have been one of the reasons he got the interview in the first place.
Diane’s son, Sam, was an oncology surgeon at Duke. Her nephew Wyatt was an anesthesiologist. Wyatt’s wife was an OR nurse. Then there was Brock James who was married to Wyatt’s twin, Jade. He was the Director of Security for the entire Duke campus.
And let’s not forget Diane’s middle son, Bryce, was a professor at Duke and the Fierces were big donors. So yeah, if their name was tied to anything, you were at least getting an interview.
“I’m sure I’ll be fine,” he said. “But if I have any questions, I know who to reach out to.”
“You do that,” Diane said. “Oh, here comes your sister.”
“Hey, little bro,” Marissa said, moving next to him. “Diane isn’t trying to match you up with someone, is she?”
“Please, Marissa,” Diane said. “I had nothing to do with you and Ryder and you know it.”
Cody had heard the story. How could he not? Diane and her sister-in-law Carolyn had set up six of the seven kids. Ryder was the last one standing. He’d bet Diane would have found someone for Ryder if Marissa hadn’t been in the picture.
Nah, it was meant for his sister to be with Ryder. Everyone has said it. That Ryder wasn’t settling down and didn’t want any part of being set up. He’d like to believe it was because Ryder never got over his sister and now he didn’t have to worry about that.
Which still didn’t explain why Cody picked up his life and moved here knowing how happy Marissa and Tommy were.
Maybe it had more to do with the fact that watching over his older sister gave him a purpose, and with her gone, he felt lost. He’d spent most of his life watching over or looking out for people. There was no one else close to him.
Moving here, he could still do it. Or try to if he found someone else that needed his help.
No, not going there. He’d been told a few times to stop doing that.
To put himself first.
Two of the women who’d said it were standing in front of him. Marissa and Diane Fierce.
At least he’d still be able to see his nephew as much living here and that made it worth it too.
“I don’t need anyone to set me up,” he said, turning to Diane. “I’m fully capable of finding my own woman.”
“Every man says that,” Diane said, shaking her head and moving off.
“She really won’t do that, will she?” he asked Marissa.
“I wouldn’t put anything past her. But you know how to say no. You’ve said it enough in your life.”
“I have and I can. Yet I still ended up here tonight.”
“It will be fun. Trust me.”
“I’m sure. It’s hard not to have fun around Ryder’s family. There are a lot more people than I thought though.”
“They come and go from the sounds of it. And here comes Ryder ready to pull me away and make more introductions. Sorry. I’ll be back, I promise.”
“I’m fine,” he said. He didn’t have a problem making small talk with people. He’d stay until midnight and then take his leave. Only a few more hours.
An hour later though, he was still nursing his first beer and looking around. He’d been talking with several people who recognized him from Ryder’s wedding. Ryder had been introducing him around too. But right now he just wanted a breather.
He looked over and saw Raina, Grant’s assistant, trying to inch away from some dude crowding her space. She was one of the first people he met. Ryder brought him over and made the introduction, then to a few more people on his team.
He knew when someone didn’t want to be here and it helped he wasn’t alone in that thought.
There was something about her in her black pants and a gray sweater that told him she wanted to blend into the room and make a fast exit.
His eyes kept searching her out. She was a tiny thing and right up his alley in terms of attraction with her dark hair, wide innocent eyes, and shy smile.
He saw her shake her head and then move a step back, but the guy followed. Yeah, not happening.
Being protective was in his nature; he was going over to save her.
“Sorry. I’m good. I don’t need another drink,” Raina said, backing up and hitting the wall.
“It’s not that long before midnight. If you need a ride home, I can take you,” the guy said.
“I believe she told you no,” Cody told the man who was dressed in jeans and a button-down shirt. He wasn’t dressed up like others here so that made him think it was a coworker who stayed at the end of the day rather than going home to change.
“Excuse me?” he said.
“Brian, I’m good,” Raina said. “I don’t need another drink. Thanks.”
The dude…Brian…gave Cody the once over and moved away. He wasn’t here to start trouble, but he was bigger and no doubt meaner than Brian. Not that he had to be bigger because Cody knew parts of the body that would cause someone an extreme amount of pain with little effort on his part.
No, no. He shouldn’t be thinking that way either.
“Sorry,” he said to Raina. “You looked uncomfortable.”
“Thanks. I’m not sure why I came. I mean I was here and it was hard to say I had plans when I didn’t. I’m fully capable of getting myself another drink if I need it.”
He smiled. “I’m sure you are. Does he bother you a lot?”
“No. He’s never talked to me until tonight.”
Trying to score was probably the guy’s motivation. “Hopefully he’ll leave you alone now.”
“I’m sure with the look you gave him from across the room,” she said, smiling.
“What look was that?” he asked.
“Oh, I don’t know. One that said you wanted to wipe the floor with him.”
“It’s great that all our kids are hooked up,” Diane said to her sister-in-law Carolyn.
“It is. And Mick and Lindsey are on their way. Jolene had to brag about how Devin proposed to Hope at Christmas. You know it’s all on your shoulders now. You said you were going to get to work on Cody.”
She laughed. “I shouldn’t be thinking much since he is going to be starting work this week and is barely unpacked. Tell me I’m nuts, but look over at Raina.”
Carolyn turned her head to look at Grant’s assistant. Raina had been employed with Fierce Engineering about eight months, was young and quiet. Almost reserved but very friendly and respectful. She was raised well, it was noticeable.
“Now that is interesting. Why do you think the two of them?”
“First off, Cody needs someone to look after and protect. He’s been that way with Marissa even though he’s younger. He moved here because he’s not ready to let her go,” Diane said. “My son doesn’t need the interference when he’s starting the life he lost nine years ago with Marissa.”
Carolyn laughed. “Ryder isn’t going to let Cody get in his way and you know it.”
“True. But my point is, Cody needs that in his life. He’s at loose ends and it’s noticeable. Raina, she’s shy. She’s quiet. And she’s been watched over by older brothers her whole life. She’s used to it,” she said.
“How do you know that?”
“Grant told me. He talked to her and she has mentioned she has two older brothers. I guess she’s brought it up in passing when Grant and Garrett talk about our kids and how close they are. She has that relationship too.”
“Okay. I see where you’re going with this,” Carolyn said. “If she doesn’t get annoyed over her brothers being that way…”
“I don’t know that. But look at Cody,” she said.
Carolyn turned her head and saw what Diane did. A coworker was talking to Raina and maybe leaning in closer than he should be. Raina moved a step back and the guy got closer. Cody was frowning and then moved away from the wall and walked toward them.
“Oh my,” Carolyn said. “We need to get closer and hear what might be said. Diane, the ball is in your court. Good catch.”
She walked away from Carolyn and made her way to Cody and Raina to see if she could find out what was going on. “Raina, sweetie. Sorry I’m just making my way over here.”
“You’re busy, Diane,” Raina said. “This is a lovely event.”
“Thank you. Grant, Garrett, Carolyn and I do enjoy throwing this celebration every year. I had to almost twist Cody’s arm to attend tonight.”
She watched Cody squint one eye at her. “Not quite that much.”
“I’m sure you’ve heard from Ryder that Cody relocated to this area to be by his sister. Isn’t that the sweetest thing? You know about brothers being close to their sister, don’t you?”
“More than most,” Raina said. “Sounds like something my brothers would do.”
“It’s a nice trait to have. Caring for your family and being there for them.”
“It is,” Raina agreed. “Until they get on your nerves with it.”
Cody laughed. “Been there myself a few times.”
Diane saw Jade waving her over, so she nodded and said, “I’m being called. You two have a great night.”
Once she got to the other end of the room where her niece was, she asked, “What’s wrong?”
Jade started to laugh. “You. Good lord, Cody probably isn’t even unpacked and you’re getting right to work. You’re almost as bad as my mother with Mick and Lindsey.”
“I don’t know what you’re talking about, Jade,” she said. “Oh look, the punch is almost gone. I better get that taken care of.” She made a fast exit before her niece could give her any more grief.
Yep, Raina was her target for Cody. This was going to be fun.