All Of Us-Chapter One #mgtab

All of Us

If you haven’t checked out the Prologue you can do that now. Here is Chapter One

Vats of Jealousy

“How are you feeling today?” Kristen asked her boss Olivia Hartman-Abraham.

“Better than I felt earlier this morning,” Olivia said. “I really hope it’s only the first trimester this goes on. Though I’ve heard horror stories of women who are sick the whole pregnancy.”

“I doubt you’d get that unlucky,” Kristen said. As lucky women went, Olivia seemed to have it all. Wealth, looks, a hot new husband, and a baby on the way.

“You never know,” Olivia said, rubbing her flat belly. If Kristen didn’t love her boss of almost a year so much, she’d be the Hulk filled with big green vats of jealousy.

If there was one thing Kristen knew in life, it was that not much went her way.

She didn’t have wealth now any more than she had it growing up with a single mother. She was just average in her eyes in terms of looks. There was no husband, hot or otherwise in her future, and a baby wasn’t anything she was thinking of until she got a ring on her finger. If that ever happened.

“For your sake—and mine since I’ve got to listen to you heaving in the back—it will end soon.”

“Thanks for the concern,” Olivia said, laughing.

“You know I am. Since we’re a bit slow, how about I walk over and get you a large decaf green tea? I could use a shot of caffeine myself this morning.”

“Sounds like a good idea. Maybe you wouldn’t mind picking up a breakfast sandwich for me?”

“And that sounds yummy. I think I’ll get one for myself too.”

Kristen walked out of the front door of Hartman’s and down to the corner coffee shop. She was waiting in line when she noticed an officer walk in. Her pulse picked up a few paces and her fingers started to sizzle every time she saw a tall man in uniform with dark brown hair.

Would it be him? Would she get another glimpse of the guy who taught her how to defend herself in a class one night when Olivia’s husband asked them to attend so that he wouldn’t be worried about them alone at night? Imagine that? Having a guy put you first and be worried about your well-being.

It’d been months since she’d seen Landon. Months that she kept thinking of him resulting in some pretty body-gushing dreams.

The officer turned and it wasn’t Landon. She was disappointed, but since she was often disappointed in life, it was nothing new to her.

With her order in her hand, she turned to leave and in walked another officer. This time it was the man of her dreams.

***

Landon couldn’t get a shot of caffeine fast enough.

He’d had a lot of stress and upheaval in his life growing up but nothing like the past few weeks.

He went from bachelorhood, where his biggest concern was if there was enough bread in the house for a sandwich, to a single father in a heartbeat.

This was his first day back to work on top of it. After bringing Chloe home and realizing that he didn’t even have a spare bed for her, he knew right away he had to take time off of work.

In the past two weeks, he’d turned his spare room into a little princess room. Not that she offered much say in it. She barely spoke at all and he couldn’t really blame her. He wasn’t sure what to say to her half the time…being in her shoes had to be much worse.

But her room was set up. They’d had two counseling appointments and he’d secured daycare for her while he worked. The next thing on his list to do was getting her registered for school. At least he had time for that yet.

Sleepless nights for him as an adult normally consisted of cases he was working on or scheduling classes at his studio.

Now it was nutrition, clothing sizes, babysitters, schedule changes, and watching his language.

“Landon?”

He looked at the woman in front of him. He knew that face, but couldn’t recall from where. He came into contact with a lot of people in his line of work.

“Yes,” he said.

“Kristen Reid. I took your self-defense class several months ago with Olivia Abraham.”

“Oh yeah. With Finn’s wife.” He remembered her now. He’d seen her at Finn and Olivia’s wedding over the winter too. He couldn’t remember who his date was for that night or who this woman was with, but he was decent at putting faces with names…once he was reminded.

She was standing there grinning at him now. A pretty blush on her face. She was a cute girl. Woman, not girl. Nothing about her really stood out, but nothing made him look away either.

Her long brown hair was pulled back at the base of her neck. She had more makeup on than most, but it wasn’t offensive. Her long black pants had to be warm in the August heat, but she had a pretty little flower sweater on with it.

Since when did he notice pretty flowers or floral anything?

Since he had a little girl living in his house and he was trying everything he could to communicate with her. That even meant spending more time than he ever wanted to do in his life looking at clothes online or in the mall and trying to find anything Chloe liked or wanted.

Kristen held her bag up. “I’m picking up breakfast for us. Did you know Olivia was expecting?”

“Expecting what?” he asked.

“A baby?” Kristen said, her eyes dancing a little. Yeah, he put his foot in his mouth there. It seemed he was so out of touch with reality lately.

“No. I hadn’t heard. That’s great. Tell her congrats,” he said, moving forward. He didn’t want to be rude, but small talk wasn’t his thing. Or at least not when he was working. If he was out on the town looking for a woman, he could talk all night long to get a woman in his bed.

“It was nice seeing you again,” she said, sending him a hopeful smile. He caught the sign she was flashing, but the thought of dating was out of reach. Too bad, as he could use a distraction for the moment.

***

“Guess who I just ran into at the coffee shop?” Kristen said as she rushed into the jewelry store.

“Who?” Olivia said. “And hand over the loot. Junior is hungry.”

“Just don’t toss that sandwich up in the bathroom, please. I’d like to keep mine down. I never realized I was a sympathy puker before.”

“Sorry, but I can’t control it. Anyway,” Olivia said, reaching into the bag, “who did you see?”

“Landon Barber.”

“Ohhhhh,” Olivia said, unwrapping her sandwich and taking a monster bite out of it. “Did he talk to you? He’s kind of that broody quiet type. The one with deep thoughts to go with those big hands of his.”

“What are you doing looking at his big hands? You’ve got your own man at home,” she said with her hands on her hips.

“I do. I love my hubby, but I’m not blind either.”

“True. And yes, he sort of talked to me.”

“Sort of? Did he grunt? I bet you he’s a grunter.”

“I don’t even want to know what that means,” she said.

Olivia had dated a lot before she gave up that life and decided she needed to mature. Not that Kristen had ever seen anything like the Olivia she’d often talked about. She’d only known Olivia while she was with Finn, but she’d heard stories that Olivia had told her herself about her wilder younger days.

“It means that some men only grunt when they first get up in the morning before they have their coffee. Or if they don’t want to be bothered to talk, they grunt an answer and look away.”

“Oh. No, he talked, but not a lot. I said hi to him first and then reminded him who I was. I doubt he remembered me and there was no use putting him on the spot and making us both feel bad.”

“Why would you feel bad?” Olivia asked.

“I’m nothing memorable, I know that. Not like you.” She ignored Olivia’s snort while she inhaled her breakfast. “I just said I took his self-defense class with you. Then he said, ‘Finn’s wife.’ So yeah, he remembered you.”

“He’s friends with Finn,” Olivia argued. “And how many men named Finn do you know? It’s pretty easy for him to remember me.”

“I guess. He was looking at my drinks and bag and I just held it up and blurted out you were expecting.” She started to giggle. “He asked me what you were expecting.”

Laughing, Olivia started to cough as she sipped her tea. “Typical man response.”

“Yeah. I could see he was uncomfortable then, so I just said it was nice to see him and left.”

“There is always next time,” Olivia said.

“Please. I sent him a flirting smile that most men would pick up and he just shrugged. Trust me, I’m not his type.”

All Of Us…Prologue #mgtab @Natalieann121

All of Us

Prologue

“Barber,” Landon said, looking down at his phone. He didn’t recognize the number, but that wasn’t unheard of.

“Is this Landon Barber?”

“It is,” he said.

“My name is Lynn Collar. I’m calling about your sister, Jennifer.”

The hair rose on the back of his neck. He hadn’t talked to Jennifer in years. Not since she left home at eighteen. Shit, now that he thought about it, might be ten years since he’d talked to her. “What about her?”

“I’m sorry to say she died in a car accident two weeks ago,” Lynn said, her voice cracking on the other end. This person was obviously a friend, but not one that thought to contact family sooner. He kept that opinion to himself. Who was he to judge since he and Jennifer weren’t close?

He looked around for a chair to sit. He was in the squad room and realized maybe he didn’t want this conversation where others could overhear. Where a few were looking at him now.

“What happened?” he asked, walking to an interrogation room he knew was empty. That’s how he felt right now. Empty. It’d been so long since he’d said her name, let alone heard it.

Sure she was his baby sister—half sister—but with the eight years between them and the constant fighting going on in their house, he just kept to himself more often than not.

When it was time for college, he left and rarely went home after. Not to stay permanently if he could avoid it.

“A tractor trailer went off the road on the thruway causing a massive pile up. Jennifer was one of four people to die.”

“Where?” he asked, realizing he had no clue where his sister had been living.

“Just outside of Buffalo.”

He hadn’t even realized she was in New York State. Last he knew she was down south somewhere. Or at least that was what his mother had told him at one point when Jennifer had called looking for money those first few years she’d left home after high school.

“How did you know my sister?” he asked.

There was silence on the other end, then almost a whisper. “She was my girlfriend.”

His sister was gay? He never saw that coming. Then he wondered if his mother knew and that was the cause of so many fights between the two of them. His mother was pretty prejudiced. Another reason he didn’t go home after college. He was sick of hearing about everyone she couldn’t stand.

“I’m glad you called and told me. Is she buried there?” he asked, just thinking of that.

“She wanted to be cremated. I’ve got her remains here.”

“And that is why you’re calling? For me to come get them?”

“No. I mean, yes, they should go to her family. But it’s about your niece. Jennifer’s daughter.”

His sister had a daughter? No way his mother knew that. “What?”

“Chloe. Your niece. It took me so long to call because I’ve been going through Jennifer’s paperwork and finally found her will. She listed you as Chloe’s guardian.”

“Her daughter doesn’t even know me. Does she know of me?” Talk about being knocked on his ass.

“I really don’t know. I haven’t been with Jennifer long. Just six months. I can’t keep her. Chloe. I’ve got no right to her and, like I said, Jennifer had a will. But not only that, I’m just not…mother material.”

Like he was father material? “Who has her now?”

“She’s been with me for a few weeks. I don’t really want to disrupt her life, but I can’t keep her. If you don’t want her, then I’ll have to turn her over to social services. I’ve been in contact with them, because I just didn’t know what to do if I couldn’t locate you.”

He couldn’t do that. He didn’t know this child, but she was his flesh and blood. He’d never let her be a ward of the state. “No, no. I’ll come get her.”

“I’d call your mother, but Jennifer never had anything nice to say about her.”

“No. They had a strained relationship.”

“Your mother didn’t think Jennifer was gay. Told her it was a phase.”

Landon snorted. He could totally see his mother saying that. “What about Chloe’s father?” he asked.

“There is no father listed on Chloe’s birth certificate. I honestly don’t know if Jennifer knew who he was. It was a dark time in her life, she’d said, while she was trying to find her identity.”

“How old is Chloe?” he asked. He was starting to get his wits about him…somewhat.

“She’s eight. She’s a good kid. Really shy. Timid even. But her mother’s death has been hard. I think she’s going to need counseling too. I don’t know. Like I said, I just can’t handle her. I can barely take care of myself,” Lynn said, sobbing on the other end.

“Okay. Yeah,” he said, stumbling over his words. He never stumbled over anything. “I’m at work. And it’s like four to five hours away.” He looked at his watch and saw it was only ten in the morning. “I’ll be there within six hours tops. Can you just text me an address?”

“Sure. Thanks. And I’m sorry I had to make this call and dump this on you.”

“You aren’t dumping anything on me,” he said, only he didn’t believe it.

How the hell was he supposed to raise some eight-year-old girl he’d never met and didn’t even know existed?

All Of Us #mgtab @Natalieann1212

All of Us

Landon Barber thought he had a fairly normal life. Captain at the police department. Owner of his own martial arts studio. A woman when he wanted or needed one. Yeah, life was going the way he wanted it. Until he got an unexpected call informing him he was now the guardian of his eight-year-old niece. A niece he didn’t even know existed.

Kristen Reid always wanted more than she had. It seemed she never learned either. Men… all she attracted were those with complications, commitment issues, or just plain losers. One of these days she’d find someone normal. She set her sights on Landon and realized that normal just didn’t exist anywhere but in her own mind. And now she has to figure out if she can accept that.

Simply Love…Chapter One #Mgtab

SIMPLYLOVE

If you  haven’t read the Prologue you can catch up on that first.

Begin Fresh

Eighteen years later

Gemma pulled down the driveway and parked in front of the small log cabin. She hadn’t been here in years and was looking forward to this.

Looking forward to starting her life over.

To moving on from her last job.

From her family and the friends she thought she had but realized she never did.

To begin fresh.

She got out of her car and started to walk toward the front door of her Aunt Julie’s second home in Lake Placid.

Aunt Julie never married, but then again, she traveled all the time and never sat still. Her job as a pharmaceutical rep had her changing territories and companies all the time. Moving up and moving on to better things.

Once, Gemma had asked her aunt if she was gay and her aunt had almost laughed her out of the room. Then she’d said, “Just because a woman is single doesn’t mean she’s gay. And if I were gay, I’d be proud of it and flaunt my lover in front of your stuck-up mother and my tight-assed brother. But in this case, I just put my career first.” Then her aunt had smiled and said, “But don’t think I lack for companionship. I just keep my affairs discreet. There’s no use getting any more judgment from our family.”

She’d cracked a grin when her aunt said that five years ago. If anyone was used to being judged, it was her Aunt Julie. Maybe that was why her aunt took Gemma under her wing so much growing up. She must have known exactly what Gemma was going through.

And if there was one person who understood Gemma’s need for a change in her life, it was her aunt. Which was why her aunt put a good word in for her when Gemma said she wanted to move away from her hometown of Colonie, just outside of Albany in Upstate New York.

Her aunt had contacts and reached out to the school district here when Gemma saw there was an opening for a middle school English teacher. Gemma interviewed and got the job and here she was, the first week of July ready to start her new life.

Her aunt told her there was no reason to look for a place yet, to stay at her cabin that was hardly ever used. Gemma took the offer gladly. She had enough to do moving and getting used to the area before committing to an apartment right now.

She pulled out the key her aunt had mailed her and opened the front door, then switched on a light. As a kid, she’d loved coming here in the summer and spending a week with her aunt. Amelia and Andy never got to spend a week with their aunt, and Gemma loved it even more for that reason.

As soon as the light came on, Gemma knew something was off. Instead of everything being nice and neat and orderly like her aunt kept things, it looked like someone had been staying in the place.

There was a blanket on the couch all crumpled up and some newspapers on the coffee table.

“Hello,” she called out. Should she leave right now? She wasn’t sure what to do. “Is anyone here?”

There was no answer, so she took a chance and walked into the kitchen. When she saw wrappers in the garbage along with some paper plates and napkins she knew she wasn’t imagining things.

She pulled her phone out and called her aunt right away. Thankfully she answered on the first ring. “Hi, Gemma. Did you get to the cabin already?”

“I’m here, Aunt Julie. You said you were going to have someone have it all set up, right?”

“Yes. Is it all dusty and musty smelling? They were supposed to be there last week to clean it up for you.”

That’s what she was afraid of. “It looks like someone has been here. Not cleaning either.”

“What do you mean?” her aunt asked.

“A blanket was left on the couch along with some newspapers and there is trash in the garbage. Like someone was staying here and ate and left it.”

“What are you doing in the cabin then?” her aunt shrieked. “Get out and call the police.”

“There’s no one here,” Gemma said. “And the food smells rank so I’m thinking no one has been here in a few days.”

“It doesn’t matter. Go back in your car and lock the doors and call the police. Let me know right away what is going on. I’m so sorry, Gemma. It’s the last thing you needed to deal with moving there. Here you are making all these great changes in your life and don’t need to be concerned about a safe place to stay.”

She hadn’t been thinking of that. Great. “You aren’t helping matters any, Aunt Julie. I’m in my car now. I’ll call nine-one-one and let you know what I find out. Don’t worry. I’m sure it’s nothing.”

At least she hoped so. It’s not like the place was trashed or anything looked to be missing. Then again she hadn’t really looked, as she got out of there as fast as she could when her aunt yelled at her.

 

***

 

Blake Wilson pulled up behind the State Trooper vehicle in front of the small log cabin. The place was set back from the road a bit, but not completely remote. There were other houses on the street, but it was not unheard of for a hiker to stumble across a place that looked empty and camp for a night or two.

It’s the only reason he was called to investigate. It seemed to be happening a lot lately. No damage was ever done, but it looked as if someone stayed a night or two for free.

“What do we have here?” he asked Matt, one of the young troopers.

“Not much. Looks like someone got into the place a few nights ago. I talked to Gemma and she said she didn’t walk through the whole place. From the smell of the food I’d say they are long gone. Probably stayed a night or so, same as before.”

“Gemma?” he asked.

Matt pointed to the woman leaning against her car looking at her phone.

What a sight she was. Probably five foot five and nice and curvy. Not some toothpick woman, but someone toned in all the right places. Someone who obviously took very good care of herself in the process.

Long brown hair with hints of red in it as the sun was beating down on her. It was pushing eighty-five at the moment and she didn’t look to even be sweating. Calm women happened to be his thing.

He walked over to the lovely lady. “I’m Investigator Wilson. Is this your property?”

She looked up fast, her green eyes bright and clear as an emerald on the Queen’s finger. Not a nerve out of place, which was surprising considering she called 911 for a break-in.

“It’s my aunt’s cabin. I’ll be living here though.”

“And you are?” he asked. “Your aunt’s name too.” He’d pulled out his notebook, ready to write.

“Gemma Anderson. My aunt is Julie Anderson. I called her when I got here. She had sent someone over to clean and I could tell right away that cleaning wasn’t the only thing that had been done.”

“Did you walk through to see if anything was missing?” he asked. He’d get the rest of the information from the trooper before he left.

“No. My aunt told me to leave and call nine-one-one, so that is what I did. I sat in my car until someone arrived.”

“If you’ve got time, why don’t you walk through with me?”

She nodded and put her phone in the back pocket of her shorts, then moved toward the cabin with him following behind. He shouldn’t be looking at her nice tight ass…unfortunately, his eyes seemed to have a mind of their own.

When she hesitated at the front door, he almost bumped into her. “Can we go in?” she asked.

“Of course,” he said, his lips twitching. “You don’t seem like you’re all that upset, so why the hesitation now with two armed police here?”

She dipped her head down, a shy move, an adorable one. He had a weakness for adorable too. Fast and loose had never been his type of woman. Probably because he’d seen his mother go through men like water gushing over a fall. His father went through just as many women. If anyone knew a slut at first glance, it was Blake.

Gemma Anderson was anything but fast, loose, or a slut. He knew right away without knowing anything else about her and he’d always been a good judge of character.

“I’m not sure. I guess it’s starting to feel a bit more real now that I’ve got to go in and look around. I’m not going to really know if anything is missing. I haven’t been here in years.”

“But you’re going to be staying here now?” he asked as they moved forward. He looked around at the open living and dining area. The kitchen was off to the side and partially closed in. The place was modern enough and neat. Cozy was a better word for it.

“Like I said, it’s my aunt’s place. She comes here a few times a year to relax. I’m starting a new job here and she told me to stay while I try to find a place.”

“Makes sense,” he said. “What do you think just looking around?”

“It doesn’t seem to me like much was touched other than someone slept on the couch and used the kitchen. They didn’t even make much of a mess other than leaving their trash behind.”

He opened the fridge and saw it was empty, so nothing in there to have been taken, he didn’t think. “Did she leave it stocked full of food for you?”

“No. She wouldn’t have. She just had someone come clean it.” Gemma started to open and close cabinets. “My aunt is meticulous about organization and it looks like nothing has been touched that I can see.”

He had to admit everything was lined up like soldiers going to war. He’d know; he’d been in the Army. He did his two tours and left the minute he could.

“Let’s check out the bathroom. My guess is they made use of that too.”

He followed her out of the kitchen and down a little hall into an average-sized bathroom. Nothing fancy by any means, but updated. This place looked like a vacation home even though it wasn’t on the water. Not that it was unheard of for someone to have a vacation home on a residential street, but there wasn’t much here on this road just outside of town.

“There’s a dirty towel that I’ll be throwing out,” she said, wrinkling her nose.

“We’ll take it in for evidence,” he said. “Don’t touch it. But aside from that, it doesn’t look like they did anything else other than clean up.”

“I’ll check the rooms now. I hope to heck they didn’t sleep in the beds.”

He saw her shiver, but had a feeling the bedrooms would be fine. It was probably some hiker on the paths not that far from the backyard of the cabin that wandered down. By the mud on the tiles in the foyer that looked to have been partially wiped up, he’d bet that hiker got caught in the downpours they had last week and was looking for cover.

Gemma opened the first door, which looked to be a guest room. There wasn’t much in it but a dresser and a bed. He walked forward and glanced around, opened the closet, saw it was bare, then realized the bed was neat and tightly made.

“Looks like this room wasn’t disturbed.”

“This is the master. Well, the bigger of the two rooms,” she said, opening another door.

He looked around and saw more of the same. Nothing seemed out of place. “If I was to hazard a guess, a hiker probably made his way out of the woods during the last storm we had a few days ago. Maybe he’s good at picking locks and stayed for the night. He, or she, even tried to wipe up the mud on the floor. They probably ate and then left and forgot to fold the blanket, but otherwise they didn’t do much more.”

“Yeah, I kind of got that impression myself. Now I’m worried these locks are easy to break into though.”

He walked back out and looked at the lock. He could see where it was scratched and easy enough for someone to pick it. “I’d get these locks changed out fast if you can. Get some nice deadbolts and you should be fine.”

“Do you know of a locksmith I can call? I wonder if I could get someone out here today though,” she said, biting on her lower lip.

Oh man, he was toast with that move and was pretty sure she had no idea what she was doing to him. “You know what? I’m off duty in a few hours. I can swing by and grab a few locks and come change them for you if you want. I doubt you’d get someone out here today and I suspect you won’t sleep tonight if it’s not changed. There’s no way you’ll get a hotel room this short notice this time of year either.”

“I could sleep in my car,” she said.

“Which is crazy. What, are you going to sleep in the driveway here? How is that any different than inside with the doors locked?”

“It probably isn’t. I need to go into town to get some food anyway, I could get the locks if you told me what I needed. I might be able to switch them out. How hard could it be?”

She seemed like the type of person who could do just about anything. “Do you have tools?”

“I don’t. I’m not sure my aunt does either. Guess I could buy them too.”

“Or you can let me do this for you,” he said again. He hoped he wasn’t coming off as pushy.

“Do you do this for all the new people in town?”

“Only those that have had Goldilocks staying in their cabin.”

She laughed and those green eyes of hers started to almost glow. “Cute. If you insist, I’d appreciate it. Like I said, I have to go to get some food in town. I could cook you dinner as payment.” She stopped and looked down at his left hand suddenly. “I mean that is if you don’t have dinner waiting for you at home.”

“Nothing is waiting for me at home but some leftover pizza from last night,” he said.

“Then, yes. If you don’t mind doing it, I’d really appreciate it. When can I start bringing my stuff in to unpack? It’s really just clothes at the moment.”

“Why don’t you give us another twenty minutes or so. I’m sure by now the trooper that was here first has taken fingerprints and has been talking to neighbors for any signs of other activity.”

“Okay. I’ll just go outside and call my aunt back, then make a list of things I need to buy when I go into town.”

He nodded his head and tried to avert his eyes from her lovely backside as she walked out the front door, but damn it was hard.

Simply Love…Prologue #Mgtab

SIMPLYLOVE

Simple Love

Prologue

“Gemma, dinner will be ready in an hour. Go finish up your homework now, if you want.”

“I’m almost done. Can I stay in the kitchen and help you, Mom?” she asked, eying the food on the counter. She was hungry, but it seemed like she was always craving something. Sometimes it wasn’t only food she was craving, but that was all she ever got.

Besides, maybe she could find a way to convince her mother to let her have a snack to satisfy her. She’d learned to show those puppy dog eyes enough to get what she wanted.

“No, I don’t need any help with dinner tonight. It’s easy, but I’d like to have space in the kitchen. If you’re done with your work, then go play in your room.”

“But, Mom,” she said.

“No whining. And you aren’t going to convince me to give you anything to eat. You don’t need it and I don’t need to hear any grief from your father tonight either. Your room if you’re done with your work.”

Gemma sighed and closed her math book. She was done. She’d been done for ten minutes but was just trying to find a way to stay in the kitchen in hopes for some food. But hearing her mother mention her father made her want to leave.

She knew she’d never be good enough in her father’s eyes. In anyone’s eyes.

At just ten years old she was the only sibling with red hair. Auburn, her mother called it, but in her eyes it was red when her sister and brother were blondes. Blondes just like her parents were.

But no. Gemma had to get her hair and green eyes from her father’s sister. The sister that everyone said was the black sheep of the family because she chose to never get married. Gemma had been told plenty of times to never bring that subject up and she hadn’t. Though she had no idea why she couldn’t.

She loved her Aunt Julie. She didn’t care if Aunt Julie was married or not. But what she did care about was that her aunt paid more attention to her than her parents did at times.

Aunt Julie never judged her. Never told her to stop eating and go out and play more. Never told her that she was too shy and weird. Or that she had no friends and never would.

No. Her Aunt Julie was her best friend and she didn’t care if her sister Amelia told her that was wrong. Not everyone could be tall and thin and athletic like Amelia was. At just twelve Amelia was a star in every sport she played. And she played everything she could.

Then there was her younger brother, Andy. At eight he was the apple of their father’s eye. Even named after him. Andrew Jr. Andy could do nothing wrong in her parents’ eyes either. That, and he was the baby too…just another mark in his favor.

She’d always wondered how she ended up in the family the way she did, but it’s not like she could change it.

“Fine,” Gemma said, gathering up her books and stalking out of the room. She had Twinkies in there anyway under her bed and would have one.

She grabbed her Barbie dolls out of their house and started to change their clothing. She really didn’t like playing with them and often wondered why they never made a Barbie that wasn’t skinny with long beautiful hair. Why couldn’t one be normal? Have shorter legs, maybe a little thicker. Even shorter hair that was hard to style. Not even fashionable clothing.

Nope. All these Barbies looked just like what she expected Amelia would resemble when she was older. Nothing at all like Gemma figured she’d look like as an adult.

It’s not like there was anything she could do about the way her dolls looked, so she set about playing with them as usual. Playing house the way she thought a home should be.

She must have lost track of time because she heard her sister’s and brother’s voices now. Must be her father picked them up from their practices and dinner would be soon.

Pushing her dolls back in their house, she looked around for the two Twinkie wrappers and stuffed them under her bed with the other wrappers she’d hidden there too, then made her way down for dinner.

“Figures you’d come running like always,” Amelia said to her, smirking as she pushed the chair back to sit at the table. “Someone actually beat you to their seat.”

Gemma just shot her sister a dirty look. “I knew it was time for dinner with all the noise you were making.” What she wanted to add was how they couldn’t do anything until the prince and princess arrived, but she’d never been bold enough to say that.

“She’s probably just hungry like always,” Andy said, pulling his chair out.

She sat down next to her sister while her mother brought over a big bowl of spaghetti and her father carried over the bowl of meatballs. Garlic bread and salad were already on the table. She wanted to reach for the bread but learned a long time ago that she’d get her hand slapped if she tried to reach for food before it was time to pass it around.

So she sat there patiently, then filled her plate with spaghetti, two meatballs and a slice of garlic bread. She passed on the salad knowing that Amelia would fill her plate with that. Amelia ate like a rabbit half the time anyway. Where was the enjoyment in that?

“Are you trying to hibernate for the winter or something?” Andy asked, laughing. “It’s still a few months away.”

Gemma already had a mouthful of food and turned to look at her brother, wondering what he was talking about now.

“She doesn’t get it,” Amelia said to Andy, laughing. “Good thing we aren’t having sausage tonight. Gemma might mistake one of her fingers for the meat.”

Gemma felt her face start to fill with heat. With shame. Everyone always picked on her. No one understood her.

She ignored them, pushed the tears from her eyes and continued to eat. Crying didn’t do anything but make her father start in with her siblings.

If she thought her parents would come to her defense and tell Amelia and Andy to stop…well, she’d learned that never happened either.

No one ever stuck up for her.

No one ever seemed to care one way or another about anything other than making her the joke of the family.

 

Simply Love

SIMPLYLOVE

Being strong doesn’t make you a hero, but doing what is right does.

Gemma Anderson has always been the ugly duckling of the family. Overweight, shy, and picked on…not just by friends, but by family. She turned to food for comfort, which only compounded her misery. As an adult, she’d had enough of her lonesome life and decided in order to break out of her horrible habits and routine, she had to move away, or risk being alone forever.

Blake Wilson had one of the most dysfunctional lives of anyone he’d ever known. He grew up just wanting a stable family home life and knew if he ever got it, he’d have to avoid the drama of his current family. He enlisted in the service, then went into law enforcement. He’d always wanted to do right by people and prove he was nothing like his family. Now if he could only find the right woman.

Fierce-Sam Chapter Two…#mgtab @Natalieann121

Sam2

This is the last teaser of Fierce-Sam. You can catch up on the Prologue and Chapter One now.

Supported Her

Dani looked around her shop and smiled. It still amazed her how much it was thriving.

She’d never been book smart. She’d never been one to settle down. She’d never been one to plan on anything in life other than her next adventure.

Yet at one point she knew she had to figure out her future.

She had to decide how she was going to support herself because she wasn’t going to rely on her parents that loved her unconditionally even though she gave them every reason not to.

So several years ago her next adventure ended up being her career. When she’d made a decision, she’d told her parents and they supported her like she hoped they would. Then they helped her make it happen.

Several of her stylists were cleaning up their stations and getting ready to call it a night. She had twelve chairs here that were all rental chairs when they were occupied. Not all worked every day but most came in for part of it. If they weren’t here, then they weren’t making money. That had always been her motto.

Personally, if they didn’t show up, it didn’t change much for her, she still got her rental income, but it made the shop more desirable to have it flowing with clients and she pushed that attitude on them.

The best thing she could have done was to have such a diverse group of stylists. She even had one male and that had been hard to come by. She’d never tell her other stylists, but she gave him a discount on his booth rental to secure him with the hopes he’d get the word out and she could find a few more men to fill her remaining two chairs. She had stylists knocking down her door to work here, but she was holding out for the right ones.

She never in a million years thought she’d be as successful as she was currently.

Well, she looked successful, but her bank account was still pretty bare more times than not.

Everything she had went back into her business: Dee’s.

No one called her Dee. Not anymore.

Her name was Danielle and she went by Dani, but very few asked where the name “Dee’s” came from.

It was better that way. Her parents knew and that was enough. It was the only way she could think to honor her sister at the same time proving that she could make something out of her life. That her parents’ undying support was worth something.

“Dani. Your seven o’clock is up front.” She turned to see Patricia standing there, one of her first stylists when she opened the doors to Dee’s three years ago. “He’s hot. How the hell did you score him?”

“No clue,” Dani said, smirking. “I haven’t seen him myself. How hot is he?”

“Major hot. Like potato out of the microwave and lost my fingerprints hot.”

Dani rolled her eyes. Patricia always used food to make references. “How do you know he’s for me?” she asked, wanting to yank on Patricia’s chain a bit. Patricia was young and naive and fell for the teasing ways of the group more often than not.

“He asked for you,” Patricia said seriously. “I was cashing out my client when he came in the door. I was kind of hoping he was just a walk-in and I could snatch him up like a kid reaching for cotton candy at a carnival.”

“How can you be so skinny when all you do is talk about food?” she asked.

“I’m not any skinnier than you are,” Patricia said.

“True. But my problem is I never sit down to eat even though I love food.”

“You’re going to love the guy up front like I do Ben and Jerry’s on a hot summer night after my last boyfriend told me he found another love.”

Dani laughed and walked past Patricia. “I’ll go get him and see if he holds up to my chocolate chip cookie dough.”

“Screw chocolate chip cookie dough. This one is pecan sticky buns,” Patricia said winking. “If you get my hint.”

“I get it,” Dani said, knowing Patricia managed to pique her interest.

She got to the front and had to stop at the sight of the male specimen in front of her. Holy ever-loving hell he was smoking. Smoking like the grill at her granddad’s on the Fourth of July just waiting for the ribs to be seared. Okay, Patricia was rubbing off on her now.

“Hi, you must be Sam,” she said, holding her hand out to the tall, dark, and luscious man in front of her. Midnight wavy hair that she was dying to run her fingers through. A body that easily towered over her five-foot-seven-inch frame. He wasn’t built with a gym body, but he was slim, trim and oh so delicious to every one of her senses.

“I am,” he said back. His voice was just as deep and rich as the ice cream Patricia and she were comparing him to minutes ago. “And you’re Dani?”

“That’s me. Why don’t you come on back to my chair?”

“I appreciate you getting me in so fast,” he said.

“Not a problem. How did you hear about me, if you don’t mind me asking?”

“My mother gave me your card,” he said, wrinkling his nose adorably. Oh man, a guy who listens to his mama. Could anything be sweeter in her eyes?

“I never got your last name when you set up your appointment. Who’s your mother?”

“Diane Fierce, but I don’t believe she is a client of yours. She said she sees someone else here, but I didn’t get the name. She grabbed your card off the shelf. Said you were the owner and that she’d seen you cutting other men’s hair. Curly hair, and she insists I need someone who can handle it.”

She was thinking of all sorts of ways she could handle Sam Fierce right now. And none of them had to do with hair.

“Well, you can thank your mom for me. I’ll find out who does her hair at some point, but I appreciate her passing my name on.”

She turned and walked back to her chair, knowing he was following and wishing she was behind him so she could get a look at his body in more detail without him knowing. She wondered if he was doing the same to her. She hadn’t missed the way his eyes lit up when she introduced herself to him.

Once he was seated, she grabbed a cape and put it over his shoulders and fought the urge to inhale the mountain fresh scent of him that just impaled her nostrils as he shifted in the chair. Better than cologne in her eyes any day. Nature always won over artificial, but there was definitely a time and place for that bottled scent too.

“So what are we doing with your hair?” she asked, trying to focus on the task at hand.

“Whatever you think can be done to it. I’m pretty busy and finding time to get this done is difficult. If you want to go a bit shorter so it holds me over, you can do that.”

Even better. He was giving her a free hand. “Do you like to just wash and go or do you style it?”

“Wash and go. I don’t have time to style it, or if I do, by the end of the day it’s a mess anyway. I’d grow it long and put it in a ponytail, but my mother would start to call me Sammy or Hagar again and I’m not in the mood for that either.”

She burst out laughing, getting the Van Halen reference. “Sounds like your mother has a pretty awesome sense of humor.” The frown Sam shot her in the mirror almost made her lose it, but she held on, picked up her spray bottle, then stopped. “I should have asked if you want me to wash your hair first. It looks like you just did so I was going to spritz it, but it’s your choice.”

“I just showered, so yeah, wetting it down is fine if you want.”

The thought of him in the shower shouldn’t be filling her mind, but it seemed she had no control over anything.

She picked the clippers up and grabbed a comb, then started to sheer off his waves. She really liked them, but could tell if he didn’t spend time taming them they’d control him rather than the other way around.

“I’m going to go pretty short in the back and sides and maybe leave the top a bit longer.”

“Not too long,” he said. “I don’t want to look like a hipster. I’d never hear the end of it from my brothers if I did.”

She grinned. “I won’t make you look like a hipster. So how many brothers do you have?”

“Two,” he said.

“You’ve got to be the oldest.”

“Why do you say that?” he asked.

“Because you’ve got an air to you that just shouts authority and leadership.”

He snorted, but his grin said he was taking it in stride. “I’ve been told that a time or two.”

She was guessing it was more than a time or to.

They chatted back and forth during the cut about nothing in particular. Nothing personal about each other, other than he had two younger brothers. “So what do you think?” she asked before she put the scissors down. She was done in her mind, but if he wanted it shorter, she’d give him what he wished.

“It looks great. How about dinner?” he asked her suddenly.

“Tonight?” she asked back.

“It’s a bit late tonight. Another night?”

Going on a date with a man that she didn’t know a thing about other than his name? She hadn’t done that in a long time. She hadn’t been reckless in longer than she could remember.

But would it really be reckless? His mother was a client here. She knew his name. She could do an internet search on him. It’s not like she hadn’t been on blind dates in the past.

“Why not,” she said.

“Geez, you don’t have to sound so excited over it.”

She burst out laughing. “And inflate that ego of yours?”

“I like you,” he said. “Most women wouldn’t point my ego out to me.”

“I’ve been told I’m not like most women.” She figured he was just flirting and would blow her off at some point.

“Even better. So what is your last name, Dani?” he asked, pulling his phone out.

“Rhodes.” She took his phone and programmed her number in there. “Give me a call when you aren’t busy and I’ll try to make it work.”

“Oh no,” he said. “I’m not leaving here without having the date set. Let’s check our calendars.”

Guess he wasn’t going to blow her off. She pulled her phone out. “My last appointment this Monday is at five. I should be ready by six if all goes well. How about you? Or we can pick another day, but I work later most of this week.”

“I’ll pick you up at six thirty on Monday. I don’t have anything on my schedule that could hold me back. Not unless there is an emergency and hopefully there won’t be.”

She wanted to ask what type of emergency, but decided that could be a conversation for their first date. “Then I’ll see you on Monday.”

Once Sam was out the door, she walked back to her station to clean up. “Did I hear you just made a date with him?” Patricia asked.

“What are you still doing here?” Dani asked back. Patricia normally left after her last appointment. Right now there were only four girls in the salon finishing up.

“I wasn’t leaving until I knew for sure what was going on with the hottie in your chair. His last name is Fierce, right?”

“Yes. Wow, Patricia, I didn’t realize you eavesdropped so much.”

“I wouldn’t except Sheryl heard his name and said she does his mother’s hair. I think he’s a doctor.”

Dani spit the water she’d been drinking out of her mouth. Doctors didn’t hit on her. “Why does she say that?”

“Because she said Diane is always bragging about her three boys. One is a doctor, one a professor, and one an architect for the family firm.”

“Family firm. Guess he’s got some moolahs behind his name, then?”

“It seems it. Let’s just find out,” Patricia said, pulling her phone out of her pocket. “Oh man. Not just a doctor but a surgeon. Look at that shot of him.”

Dani grabbed Patricia’s phone out of her hand and looked closer at the picture of Sam in a suit and tie, his hair longer and slightly messy in the picture. Now she understood why he said it’d get out of control by the end of the day. Probably from caps during surgery.

“Hot damn. I’m going on a date with a doctor.” Who would have thought it?!

 

 

Fierce-Sam Chapter One…#mgtab @natalieann121

Sam2If you haven’t had a chance to read the Prologue you can catch up on that first.

Joy to Be Around

“Are you ready for this, Scott?” Sam asked when he walked into the patient’s room in preop to mark him up for his surgery.

“As ready as I’m going to be.”

“Okay, then stand up. I’ve got my trusty sharpie here to mark where we are cutting. Don’t want to remove the wrong part of your body,” Sam said. “State your name, date of birth, and what I’m doing today so we are all on the same page.”

“Scott Tress, March tenth, nineteen eighty-six. You’re removing a lumpy piece of fat from my liver that doesn’t belong there.”

“You’ve said this a few times already, I’m guessing,” Sam said, his eyes squinting at the humorous tone Scott had just supplied. Some of his patients were just a joy to be around, even in the worst of situations.

“It’s a rehearsed speech at this point.”

Sam used the purple sharpie to circle where he was cutting and then initialed it. “Like I said, we don’t want any errors.”

“I’d like to have kids someday,” Linda, Scott’s wife, said. “So please, only remove that ball of lump and not another…ball.”

Sam burst out laughing. These two were a riot. Scott was lucky. His tumor wasn’t cancerous. It was just a lipoma, but it still needed to come out since it showed no signs of the growth diminishing.

His wife and he were taking it all in stride and living life to the fullest. That’s the way they should. The way he was living his life.

Nothing holding him back. Nothing tying him down.

Fun with no strings, no commitments, and no stress.

His job was stressful enough, thank you very much.

When the curtain opened, Sam turned to see his cousin Wyatt standing there. “Hi, I’m Dr. Fierce and I’m going to put you to sleep today,” Wyatt said.

“Oh man,” Linda said. “Are you guys brothers? There are two of you?”

Wyatt looked at him and grinned. “Nope. We’re cousins though. I’m the other Dr. Fierce since Sam is the OG. He’s the oldest of the whole clan of us.”

“Clan?” Scott asked. “How many is that?”

“Well now,” Sam said, scratching his chin. “I’ve got two younger brothers. Wyatt has twin older brothers and a twin sister. Then we’ve got the quintuplets of the family. Four boys and another girl.”

“Wow,” Linda said. “How many of you are single? I’ve got two sisters and, damn, they’d be drooling right now.”

“Don’t do it,” Scott said earnestly. “Her sisters are psycho. Run while you can.”

“The quints, or the Fierce Five as they’ve always been called, are all taken. The rest of us though, we’re enjoying the single life. Work calls,” Wyatt said, holding his laptop up. Sam couldn’t agree more with those thoughts.

“Are you all doctors?” Linda asked. She was rubbing her hands together and Sam had a feeling this wasn’t going to drop anytime soon.

“No. Just Wyatt and I. He puts them to sleep, and I do all the magic.”

Wyatt snorted. “Magic. He couldn’t do what he does if it wasn’t for me sending everyone into the dreamland.”

“So what do the rest of you do?” Scott asked.

“Let’s see. Since we’ve got time to kill,” Sam said. “In my family, there’s me, then Bryce, he’s a Chemistry professor at Duke, and the baby is Ryder who is an architect for our fathers’ firm.”

“Father’s, as in both of your fathers?” Linda asked. Normally Sam wasn’t this talkative, but he was really taken with this couple and Wyatt was always one to sit and chat. Besides, they were still waiting on the OR to be prepped.

“My and Wyatt’s dads are twins and engineers. It’s the family business. Though Wyatt and I didn’t go into that business.”

“So what about your family?” Scott asked Wyatt, getting more comfortable on the bed. If that was possible. These temporary rooms did have TVs to pass the time, but the curtains didn’t provide much privacy for people lying in a bed with a gown on and nothing else.

“My older brother, Drake, is an engineer, Noah, his twin, is a high school principal. Then there’s me, and my sister, Jade, is also an engineer.”

“Where did the teaching positions come from?” Linda asked, scrunching her nose like she didn’t approve for some reason. That was odd.

“Our mothers are teachers. So really everyone followed in our parents’ footsteps but Wyatt and I,” Sam said. “We’re the rebels.”

“Any relation to the Fierce beer?” Scott asked.

“Funny you should ask that,” Wyatt said. “That would be the Fierce Five. Our cousins.”

“That is so cool,” Scott said. “Bet you guys have some serious family get-togethers.”

“It’s been known to happen,” Wyatt said. “So I know Sam made you state your name and date of birth, but I need to do it too. Why don’t we get this squared away and then one of my assistants is going to come in and give you the happy juice once the room is ready. Shouldn’t be much longer.”

“Guess we should get back on track now and get this thing out of me. But when it’s all done, I’m going to toast both of you with a bottle of my favorite Fierce brew.”

“We’ll do the same to you,” Sam said.

***

Several hours later, Sam let himself into his parents’ home for dinner. Once a month or so he came home for dinner. So did his brothers. It just didn’t seem to be the same day and that was fine.

His parents preferred having one-on-one time with each of the kids their whole life. They’d always worried someone would feel slighted for some reason.

Deep down as the oldest, he was kind of glad he got the attention. Once his brothers came along, he didn’t get as much. He wasn’t jealous by any means, but in a family as big as theirs, people tended to get pushed aside if they didn’t find a way to stand out.

Then throw in the fact he didn’t follow in his parents’ footsteps with academia or engineering and he felt he’d let them down at some point.

They’d never given any indication they were disappointed in him. Just the opposite.

But he always wondered if his father was upset that the oldest of the family wasn’t going to work for the firm.

“Sweetie,” his mother said when he walked in the door. “You’re earlier than I thought you’d be.”

“Surgery went pretty smoothly today. I like days like that,” he said back. “Did I beat Dad home?”

“He’ll be here in a few minutes. Why don’t you go get yourself a beer and go sit on the back deck? It’s a beautiful fall day.”

“That sounds just like what the doctor ordered,” he said and smiled over his mother’s giggle. She’d always been one to giggle and he found it humorous. She was the glue that kept them all together in the house. She barely topped his father’s chest, but she had the biggest heart and the strongest presence and nature.

He’d didn’t even have time to pour his beer before his father opened up the sliding glass doors and walked out to sit next to him.

All the Fierce men were big. His uncle Gavin was the oldest and the biggest at six foot five, but his father and Uncle Garrett weren’t far behind at six foot three. Sam was thankful he had his father’s height. All the boys did, which was funny since their mother was only five foot five.

“How’s work going, Dad?” Sam asked.

“Work is work. Just like it is for you too. No need to talk about that tonight,” his father said. He wasn’t sarcastic by any means, but Sam still wondered if something was going on that he should be paying more attention to. Maybe he needed to talk to his brothers and see if he was missing something. His father was normally more outgoing, talkative, or even happy.

He didn’t have a chance to say anything else before his mother came out with a glass of ice tea and sat next to them. “Sam, you need a haircut,” she said.

He ran his hand through his dark wavy hair. “I know. It’s just finding the time.”

“I’ve got a place you can go. They’re open until eight some nights. Better than the barbershop that closes early on you. Then you can see the same person all the time.”

He looked at his mother’s stylish bob. “I don’t need a hairdresser.”

“Sure you do. Every time you go to the barbershop someone different cuts it and it’s never the same.”

“Does it really matter?” he asked, wondering where this conversation was coming from. He couldn’t remember the last time his mother commented on his hair. Maybe high school when he wanted to grow it long. His wavy locks looked more like a wild perm from a nineties hair band than what he’d been trying to accomplish.

“Hang on,” his mother said and jumped up fast to leave the deck. He looked at his father only to get the normal shake that silently said not to argue with the lone estrogen-bearing human in the household. She returned and handed over a card. “Here. Ask for Dani. She owns the place.”

“I don’t need to see the same person as you,” he said, laughing, and could only imagine what his hair would look like when he left. A bowl being placed on his head came to mind.

“No. I wouldn’t do that to you. Dani is younger. I just see one of her employees. Someone closer to my age. Every time I go in there Dani has younger people in the chairs. Not just women either,” she said before he could make another comment.

He learned you picked your battles and this wasn’t worth arguing, so he said, “Fine. I’ll think about it.”

“Don’t think about it. Do it. Otherwise I’m going to start calling you Sammy.”

“Please don’t,” he said, knowing he’d call and ask for Dani as soon as he left. That stupid long hair stage had his mom calling him Sammy Hagar.

“Then do as your mother says and make the call.”

“Fine,” he said, putting the card in his pocket.

***

“Could you be any more obvious?” Grant asked his wife, Diane, the minute Sam was out the door.

“What?” Diane said.

“Giving him a card and telling him to get his hair cut. I can’t believe you.”

“I’m not waiting around. Even Ella got engaged a few months ago. Come on. We shouldn’t be this far behind Gavin and Jolene. We’ve got two of the oldest kids in the family.”

“That doesn’t mean you need to be so in Sam’s face about this. And I thought you and I were going to talk about it together. You just decided this Dani woman was good enough to set your son up with. Why?”

“I listened to what Jolene said. She said that I should go with my gut. I’ve seen Dani in the salon. She’s a hard worker. She’s cute, she’s funny, and she doesn’t seem to take much seriously other than her work. Her staff talk highly of her and she’s not so loud that she’d be obnoxious. She seems to just enjoy life in general.”

“That’s the last person you want to set Sam up with. That’s exactly how he is,” Grant argued. What was wrong with his wife? This was going to blow up in their faces before it even started.

“You’re missing the point. If you put two of them together that think alike, one of them may want something serious and work hard to get it.”

“Are you sure that tea of yours isn’t spiked? Like you said, the big word is may.”

Diane laughed. “Of course not. You were so bent about me bringing this up tonight and it went just fine. Trust me on this. Jolene would never steer us wrong.”

“Just because Jolene had success setting up her boys doesn’t mean we are going to.”

“We’re going to be just as successful. We just have to work a little harder. Jolene had it made finding employees for the business. We can’t do that with two of our boys. So when Ryder’s time comes, you’ll have to put more effort into that one. This one is on me. Let’s just see how it goes,” she said, standing up and walking over to sit on his lap in the living room.

“I hope it doesn’t backfire on us. Our boys aren’t stupid. They probably know we are up to something at this point. And they know their five cousins were all set up. Everyone knows it. Do you really think they’re not going to realize we’re doing the same thing?”

“Let them think it,” she said. “I don’t care if it’s a secret or not. I just want them to settle down. It has to start with Sam. He’s the most serious of them.”

“Bryce is the most serious, not Sam. Sam is just a playboy,” he argued.

“Sam is too serious about life in general. Everything but women. It’s time he got serious about a woman and I think Dani is the one for him.”

“Why is that?” he asked. “Because you feel it in your gut?”

“I felt it with you and I feel it for Sam.”

 

Fierce-Sam…Prologue #mgtab @Natalieann121

Sam2

Fierce-Sam

Prologue

“All right, Fierce, get over here. You want to see what it’s all about, it’s time to watch the master.”

Sam Fierce’s heart was racing faster than a woodpecker on crack. He was scrubbed and ready to go. He knew he wouldn’t be assisting in this surgery, just observing, but he had to start somewhere. All residents did at different points.

He’d assisted on plenty of surgeries in the ER, but now he was ready to focus more on a specialty field. Surgical oncology. Removing masses from organs, more specifically. Tricky, tough, and not for the faint of heart.

He didn’t want to go into general surgery. Not orthopedics either. He wanted something more detailed. Something not everyone could or wanted to do.

He wanted to be different. He wanted to thrive. In a family as big as his—being the oldest of all his siblings and cousins—he wanted to stand out. That’s what he was going to do. He was going to make a name for himself among all the Fierces.

The fact that he was in the OR with Dr. Salamone was enough to make him feel like he was rushing down the stairs on Christmas morning hoping Santa left him everything on his list. But this was his first scrub in and it was just an honor to be in the room.

They were removing a small mass attached to the kidney from a thirty-two-year-old male. It should be cut and dry. Pretty simple, if having a mass removed from an organ was simple. The biopsy had already confirmed cancer two weeks ago, but if it was localized like everyone was hoping, the patient might be good to go with just removal. Lucky dude that could go live the rest of his life with his young wife in the waiting room.

The anesthesiologist was monitoring vitals, the nurses were setting everything up and Sam was standing to the side while Dr. Salamone did what he did best. “Want to make the first incision?” he asked Sam, who stood there wide-eyed. Thankfully the mask was on his face covering the fact his jaw had just dropped. Holy shit, yeah. “It’s all marked and ready to go. Come make the first cut, then step back to give me room. This is a teaching opportunity for you. I’ve heard nothing but good things, and I want to see how steady you are when you’re put on the spot.”

All his nerves were pushed to the side and his confidence was ready to make sure his ego put his money where his mouth was. “Oh, I’m steady, no worries there.”

Sam stepped up, took the blade and made the cut exactly where it was marked, then stepped back and handed it off.

“Nice and straight. Ask any questions that come to your mind.”

“Will do,” Sam said, but so far he knew what was going on. And he still was quiet as could be, observing everything, until forty minutes later the machines started going nuts. The patient’s heart rate was dropping fast.

Sam stepped further back to give everyone room before he was asked. He was smart enough to know when to help and when to move aside.

“What’s going on?” Dr. Salamone asked. “There’s no excessive bleeding here.”

The anesthesiologist answered, “His oxygen levels are dropping too.”

Sam watched as everyone was calm and doing what they needed to. But twenty minutes later that calm had evaporated in the room like a sun shower in Hawaii. Come and gone just as fast. The patient now lay on the table with Dr. Salamone calling the time of death.

It seemed as if it was nothing Dr. Salamone had done, but rather a reaction to the anesthesia. At least that was the best guess at the moment, but it reminded Sam that anything could happen even if it wasn’t in his hands.

“Come on, Sam, time to tell the wife.”

“Am I doing it?” he asked. This would be the first time he’d have to do this, and though he knew it was part of the job, he wasn’t sure he was quite ready just yet. Mentally he was trying to prepare himself and think of what the hell he was going to say.

“No. I’ll do it. You’re still observing.”

Sam nodded his head and pulled his gloves and mask off and tossed them away in the labeled red box while the nurses picked up the OR for the maintenance team to come in and clean it before the next patient. There would be no cleaning these memories from his mind for a long time though.

Once they were out in the hall, Dr. Salamone turned to him and said, “Sorry you’re having to do this on your first time with me, but like I said, you have to be prepared for everything.”

Sam couldn’t believe how calm Dr. Salamone was. He was the best Duke Cancer Center had when it came to surgical oncology. Hell, he was the best in North Carolina in Sam’s eyes. In his late forties and still improving every day. All this had been said about Dr. Salamone time and again. He hoped one day those words would be attached to his name.

“I see that,” Sam said back, not sure what else he was supposed to say, just glad he wasn’t the one breaking the news to the family.

They made their way to the waiting room where the patient’s wife was sitting. She looked up from where she’d been staring at the TV on the wall. When she saw them, she stood up. “How’s Paul? How did he do?”

“Come into another room with me,” Dr. Salamone said without any emotion in his voice. It wasn’t cold, it wasn’t sympathetic, it was just…stale. Businesslike. Controlled.

“What’s going on?” she asked, the tears already forming in her eyes, Sam could see.

“Let’s go where it’s more private,” Dr. Salamone said.

The three of them found a smaller room and Dr. Salamone said, “Cindy, I’m afraid that Paul didn’t make it. It appears he had a reaction to the anesthesia administered and he stopped breathing shortly after the procedure started. We did everything we could.”

“You’re joking, right? This can’t be happening.”

Sam looked at Cindy. She was young, probably younger than her husband, maybe closer to his age of mid to late twenties. It just made him feel as if a blade was cutting through his own chest right now with nothing to numb the pain.

“I’m afraid not. An autopsy will be conducted, with your approval of course, for the exact cause. There is always a small percentage of patients this happens to and since he’d never been under before, we just didn’t know how he would have reacted.” Dr. Salamone reached his hand out to steady Cindy and helped her to a chair. “I’m deeply sorry. Is there someone we can call for you?”

This was the first time Sam had seen Dr. Salamone show any emotion. It wasn’t pretend; he was truly empathetic to the situation. It was almost as if he had to get the words out first and make sure they were nice and clear and understood. Now he was the person that Sam could look up to even more.

“My mother. Paul’s parents. I don’t know what to say to them,” Cindy said, crying now.

“We can take care of getting someone here for you if you give us the numbers,” Dr. Salamone said softly.

Cindy pulled out her phone and Dr. Salamone handed it to Sam. “Can you make the calls please?” he asked, nodding his head to leave the room to do it.

“Don’t tell them Paul died over the phone,” Cindy said. The tears were running down her face. She was staring at him, desperation mixed in with grief. “I don’t want them driving here knowing that. Try not to make it sound horrible for them.”

“Not a problem,” Sam said, walking into the hall to call the names she’d pointed to on her phone. He heard her sobbing uncontrollably on Dr. Salamone’s shoulder asking how she was going to go on without her husband. She’d never been alone. They’d just bought a house. How could she do it on her own? So many things he’d never thought of when he was dealing with the patients and not their actual lives outside of the hospital.

He learned something today, something that modern medicine could never teach him.

He learned that he’d never be able to put a wife through that. He was a Fierce and Fierce men took care of their significant others. If he didn’t have one, he wouldn’t have that added stress in his life. That added pressure that he wasn’t sure he could deal with when he was trying so hard to do everything right.

The perfect son.

The perfect surgeon.

The perfect husband was never going to happen.

Fierce-Sam #Mgtab @Natalieann121

Sam2

Dr. Sam Fierce is intelligent, sexy, and charming with a personality and carefree nature that has women flocking to him left and right. He’s still single though and has no plans on changing that any time soon. He’s seen things in his line of work that has scarred him emotionally, but he’d never let anyone know that either. So for now, he’s happy with his life…sort of.

Dani Rhodes spent her teenage years trying to find a place in the ground next to her younger sister that she felt she failed. She blamed herself and couldn’t understand why no one else did. With her parents standing by her, she pulled her life together and made something of herself. But a decade later she is still single because her rotten taste in men just can’t seem to escape her. After all, she doesn’t deserve anything better in her mind.