First Comes Love #mgtab

Do you remember the first time you fell in love?

How about that smile you didn’t want to fill your face when you saw that special someone, fearing they’d think you were nuts? You know that one. The big toothy one with sparkles in your eyes because everything you see is surrounded by rainbows, puppies, and unicorns.

And let’s not forget the sweaty palms and racing heart. Butterflies swarming in the belly too. Been there and done that.

I was thirteen the first time I fell in love. Seven years later, I walked down the aisle with my high school sweetheart. We’ve been married twenty-four years now.

Whether you were a teen or in your twenties, maybe your thirties, forties, or even seventies, the first time you fell in love, it stays with you. That giddiness that makes you hop out of bed and rush to see that special someone.

That’s why I put together a collection of three of my favorite novels. They also happen to be the first book in each of my three series.

First Comes Love is out for a limited time for $4.99. That’s a big savings when each book sells for $2.99. And if you’ve got Kindle Unlimited, you can read it for free!

Included in this set are the stories of Ben Harper and Presley James of All or Nothing, Nick Buchanan and Mallory Denning of Second Chance and Brody Fierce and Aimee Reed of Fierce-Brody.

If you’re looking for the thrill of love, you’ll enjoy First Comes Love!

Beach Love

If you read Finding Love, then you met Sheldon’s best friend Melissa Mahoney. I loved her character so much, I had to give her a story of her own!

Beach Love(1)

 

A reformed playboy. A woman looking for love. What happens when trust becomes an issue?

If you looked up privileged in the dictionary, you’d see a picture of Dr. Connor Landers, trust fund playboy extraordinaire. He loved having that title, but the real reason he was that way was something very few people knew. Then reality was shoved in his face and he had to make a choice.

Melissa Mahoney was looking for love in all the wrong places. How hard could it be to find someone to trust? Someone to give her what she’d been dreaming of? She takes a risk and puts her heart in Connor’s hands, but will he just end up shattering it like she’d been fearful of all along?

Finding Love…Chapter One #mgtab

finding love

My last little teaser of Finding Love! It will be released on June 5th!! You can read the prologue to catch up.

My Heroes

“Cheers,” Melissa said, holding her beer up to Sheldon, the two of them clinking their glasses together.

“I never thought I’d get it done on time,” Sheldon said, taking a big gulp, relishing the sweet tangy taste of a cold one on a warm spring day. Exactly what she needed.

“Why did this one take so long?”

Sheldon reached for a brownie and took a bite. “It didn’t feel right. I was almost done, actually doing the final read through and then I just changed it. Changed my hero’s characteristics, which then changed the whole dynamics. I’ve never done that before.”

“Why now?” Melissa asked. “What was so different about this one?”

Sheldon shrugged, then flinched when she felt heat in her stomach and put her beer down. Maybe she shouldn’t be drinking alcohol and eating sweets on an empty stomach. She couldn’t remember the last time she ate any real food.

“He was too cynical. Then I couldn’t turn it around enough in my eyes. I needed him sweeter. Nicer. Not a pushover, but not so mean either. He ended up being mean and I don’t like writing my heroes that way.”

Which was surprising because it wasn’t as if she really believed in sweet guys. Caring guys. Lovey-dovey or anything else. Though she wrote them that way.

Actually, most of her life, all she’d ever been was cynical herself. She had no reason to believe in happy ever after. It’s not like she’d ever experienced it, or even seen it in person. Books and movies, sure. Real life? Nope. Not happening.

Maybe that was why she could write it so well. It was all make believe anyway. She’d always had a vivid imagination…might as well make a living off it.

The problem with this last book was, she made the hero too nasty. Too cynical. More like she was. She was smart enough to know not many wanted to read that. Not for the series she was writing. Not unless she could make the hero find his faults, and she couldn’t.

Love and happy ever after sold books.

Sweet, caring, strong men were desired.

Hot muscular men sought after.

Assholes, not so much. Her last hero was an asshole and there was no saving him.

“Well, it’s over with. Now you can relax for a while before you start the next one.”

“A few weeks. I need the break,” Sheldon said. “This one really wrung me out. Next time I won’t try to make my hero so rough to begin with.” Rough was fine. Was even good. Being a dick wasn’t. She wasn’t sure why she even attempted it this time.

Well, that was wrong. She knew why she attempted it. Before she started this book almost two months ago—plenty enough time to meet her deadline—she’d gotten a call from her father. She hadn’t heard from him in months. He wanted to make amends in his life. She’d brushed him off.

Then she felt guilty. But rather than call him back and find out what was going on, she decided to funnel all that pent-up anger and childhood memories into her book. Cynical men. Assholes. Pricks. Yep, her father inspired that one.

Stupid on her part to let him affect anything in her life at this point.

And thinking of her father made her stomach hurt again. Strong enough that she brought her hand down and around her stomach and ground her teeth.

“Hey,” Melissa said. “Are you okay? What’s wrong?”

“I don’t know. I noticed my stomach hurting a few weeks ago. It comes and goes. But this is the worst it’s been. Maybe it’s the alcohol.”

“When was the last time you ate something?” Melissa asked, eying her hard. Melissa was her best friend and knew her better than anyone. They’d lived on the same street for the two years since Sheldon moved to Kent Island. The bottom part of Kent Island. Not that the Island was all that big, but she liked being a little out of the way.

The development she lived in made her feel like she wasn’t so alone, but it was far enough away that she didn’t have to deal with too much interference from the outside world. Everything she needed was less than a twenty-minute drive whether it was on the island or off. Good enough for her.

“I just had a bite of that brownie,” Sheldon said, grinning, then grabbing her side again. Wow, a grin caused it to hurt. Burn. Like fire. Not good.

“Besides the brownie,” Melissa said, putting her own beer down, standing up, and walking away to look in Sheldon’s fridge. She wouldn’t find much there.

“Crackers. Maybe last night. I don’t remember.”

“How much coffee have you been drinking?” Melissa asked, opening and closing cabinets. Yeah, they were pretty bare too. It’d been what, two weeks since she went to the store.

“You want it in cups or pots?”

“Sheldon!”

“Deadlines,” she reminded Melissa.

“Let’s go,” Melissa said.

“Where?”

“Urgent Care.”

“It’s just a stomachache. I’ll get some food in me and be fine.”

“It’s not just a stomachache because there’s nothing in your stomach to ache. Nothing but caffeine and probably acid.”

Sheldon glanced at the clock. “Urgent care has been closed for two hours. I’ll make some toast and it’ll be fine. If not, then I’ll call my doctor tomorrow.” But when Sheldon stood up to find some bread, she doubled over in pain. “Maybe I’ll just sit here until it passes instead.”

“Nope. We are going to Queenstown.”

“I don’t want to go to the emergency room,” she whined.

“Too bad. Maybe you should have taken better care of yourself instead of playing with your fictional characters.”

“I should teach them to cook for me. Then I’d be fine,” Sheldon said laughing, then grabbed her side again. Yeah, she wasn’t being stupid; she knew something was wrong. Time to listen to Melissa.

“Move, or I’m carrying you. And we both know then I’d need to be seen in the ER too.”

“Are you calling me fat?” Sheldon said laughing. The two of them barely weighed two-fifty combined, with Sheldon being five foot five and Melissa five foot three.

“Please. Don’t be cute. You couldn’t be fat if you wanted to be. It’s not fair you’re lighter than me and taller.”

“Five pounds and two inches. Get over it.”

“It’s probably more than five pounds now. So move it.”

“Geez. Why didn’t I know you could be this pushy,” Sheldon said, but she started walking just the same. Thankfully the burning pain had subsided enough for her to move.

This wasn’t exactly how she planned on spending her night celebrating.

***

“Dr. McMann, there’s an abdominal pain in three.”

“Thanks,” he said, moving away from the nurse’s station with his laptop in his hand. He scanned over the chart before he pushed the curtain aside. “So you’re having abdominal pain today?” He looked up and saw a young woman on the bed, her knees up to her chest, her feet bare. She had a pair of extremely tiny shorts on, not covering much of her toned thin legs.

“Yes,” she said, her face pale and a little sweaty.

“When did it start?”

“A few hours ago.”

The friend sitting next to her snorted. “More like weeks ago, but Sheldon keeps ignoring it.”

“You are?” he asked the woman sitting in a chair next to the bed.

“Melissa Mahoney. I’m Sheldon’s best friend. She lies. Don’t believe anything she says.”

Erik looked at his patient on the bed, frowning at her friend now. “What the heck, Melissa.”

Her friend just laughed. “Sorry, Dr….” She paused and looked at his lab coat. “Dr. McMann. Sheldon likes to play down things. I’ll be honest. Her pain has been on and off for weeks, but tonight she doubled over with it. If I didn’t all but drag her by the hair to get her here, she’d still be at home trying to eat some toast.”

“Toast?” Erik said. “Is that the last thing you ate?” The pain might be passing, because his patient’s face was turning pink rather than ghostly white.

“No,” Sheldon said. “I had a bite of Melissa’s brownie before my stomach started to hurt.” She turned her head and glared at her friend. “Maybe you caused it.”

“Ha. You wish.” Melissa turned to him. “She hasn’t had much more than crackers and coffee by the gallon for the last two weeks.”

“Hmm,” he said. He wasn’t sure what to make of these two. The friend was being honest, which was helpful. Sheldon was glaring at her like she wanted to ring her friend’s neck, yet there was something underlying too. A teasing of sorts. Not his concern right now. “Why aren’t you eating much? Are you under a lot of stress? Other abdominal issues?”

“I had a deadline to meet. It’s my own fault. I wasn’t taking care of myself. I’ll admit it. But I met my deadline and can just relax for a few weeks now. I’m sure it’s nothing. Once I get some food in me, I’ll be fine.”

“Real food,” Melissa said.

“You brought over the brownies and beer. Maybe you should have cooked me dinner.”

“So you were drinking alcohol too?” Erik asked before the two of them could go at it again.

“A sip,” Sheldon said.

“She’s telling the truth,” Melissa said.

“Okay. Lie back and let me examine you.” Sheldon stretched out on the bed as best as she could and he lifted her small T-shirt up a bit, then started to press around on her belly. When she flinched, he held his hands there. “Tender?”

“Yeah.”

He tugged her shirt back down. “Any other symptoms? Heartburn? Vomiting? Diarrhea?” He paused when both women let out a laugh. “Am I missing something here?”

“No,” Sheldon said. “Melissa is like a ten-year-old. She giggles at all bodily functions and words. I knew she would so I did too. It’s a knee jerk. And no to all of your questions. Just pain. Maybe a little bit of an acid taste. I guess that’s heartburn, but I’ve never had it before.”

He nodded his head. “I’m going to have some blood drawn, then send you for an upper GI and some X-rays.”

“What do you think it could be?” Sheldon asked.

He closed the lid on his laptop. “Well, Ms. Case, I’m not sure what type of deadline you had to meet, but my guess is your job is extremely stressful and you’ve got an ulcer. You might need to consider a new career.”

Both girls burst out laughing. What was he missing now?

“I’m self-employed, Dr. McMann. My job isn’t stressful in the least.”

He lifted an eyebrow at her. “I’d say the fact you are sitting in the ER might suggest something else.”

“Well, see what those tests say first,” Sheldon said. “But in this case, my career choice doesn’t have a lot to do with it, I’m positive.”

“And your career is?” He hadn’t seen it on her chart.

“I write romance novels. Love and happy ever after. Not a lot of stress in that.”

He wasn’t expecting her to say that. Not that he knew what a romance writer looked like, but it wasn’t her. Her chart said she was twenty-seven, but she looked younger.

Maybe he expected sophistication with a writer and not someone in jean shorts, flip flops on the floor next to the bed, a tiny T-shirt and her hair in a ponytail. Her friend didn’t look much different.

He was going to dispute her claim about stress, but figured for the moment it wasn’t his concern. He was just going to run his tests and get the results he was expecting to find.

“Well then. The nurse will show you where to go for the tests and I’ll put a rush on the results. We’ll get you as good as new so that you can get back to writing those love stories,” he added, smiling, then winking.

When he walked beyond the curtain he heard them laughing again. Did he really just say that? And wink at her?

What was wrong with him?

Finding Love…Prologue #mgtab

finding love

It’s time for a teaser! Finding Love is available for preorder right now for just 99 cents!

Prologue

Sheldon laid her head against the window in her bedroom. She used to love sitting on this loveseat, but now it was just another reminder of the chaos in her house. Chaos, nah, not a good word. Turmoil. Angst. Anger. Yeah. Anger, that’s the word. At least between her parents. Well, more like her mom.

For Sheldon, it was just distressing. More like stressful.

“I’m over it,” Miranda Case said, making no attempt to lower her voice. “I’m sick and tired of your attitude.”

“My attitude,” her father said. “You’re the one that’s always nagging.”

Her mother snorted. “I nag because you don’t do anything, Rich. Nothing. You come home late, you eat, you go to your office and then you go to bed.”

“What do you want me to do?” her father asked, his voice not loud, because he never raised his voice. Ever. Never got mad. Never did much of anything, just like her mother accused him of.

“Something. Anything. Take out the trash. Wash a dish. Talk to Sheldon or me. See that we exist.”

Her mother was stalking about the yard now, her arms flailing about, having no care that Sheldon could see and hear the whole conversation, or that the neighbors could for that matter. Her father, on the other hand, was calmly sitting in a chair reading a newspaper ignoring everything around him.

“I know you exist. You never let me forget it.” Still not looking up from his paper. Not even when her mother walked over and snatched it out of his hand.

“What do you want from me?” he asked. “I never wanted this. You know that.”

“What?” her mother asked.

“Marriage. A family. Nothing. I did the right thing and married you when you found out you were pregnant. I held up my end of the deal.”

Even from the second floor Sheldon could see her mother’s eyes fill with tears, mirroring her own.

“Deal?” her mother asked. “That’s what this has been for the last twelve years? A deal?”

“What more do you want?” he asked.

“Nothing. No, you know what? I do want one thing. You to leave this house. Go live with your girlfriend. You’ve been wanting to anyway and now you can.”

Sheldon inched closer to the window, waiting to see her father’s reaction. Did he really have a girlfriend? Was that what this was about? How could he do that to her mother? Sure her mother nagged a lot, but she just wanted someone to pay attention to her. Maybe even love her.

Not much different than what Sheldon wanted from her father.

“Seriously?” her father asked. “I have no clue what you’re talking about.”

“Don’t lie to me, Rich. Don’t lie to us anymore,” she shouted. “I’m not stupid and don’t play me off as such.”

Her father stood up and stalked closer to her mother, the first she’d seen them get within a few feet of each other in longer than she cared to remember. “You want me to leave, then fine. I won’t fight it.”

Her mother started to cry. “Admit it. Just admit it to me. That you’ve got someone else.”

“Seems I don’t need to admit a thing when you’ve got your mind made up,” he said, then walked away. “I’ll pack up now and be gone within the hour. We’ll figure the rest out after you calm down.”

“Where are you going?” she asked, running after him.

Sheldon couldn’t see them now, but she still heard her father say, “Exactly where you told me to go.”

She could hear her mother sobbing on the back porch and her father opening and closing drawers in the room next to hers. She waited to see if he’d come and say anything to her. Say goodbye. Give her a hug. A kiss. Tell her he’d talk to her later. Maybe call.

But all she heard was his car starting, then watched it pull out of the driveway.

A Chance at a $15 Amazon CG #mgtab

I want to know what books you’d like to read next! I just finished the draft of Fierce-Cade (the 4th book in the Fierce Five Series) and will start the draft of Fierce-Ella soon. Fierce-Aiden was released and you can purchase it on Amazon.

But in the meantime, I’m trying to plan out where to go next. Many of you have sent me emails, comments, and reviews that you’d like to see more of the All Series and the Lake Placid Series along with the Fierce Five. Don’t worry, I do plan on adding to those other series as well.

So where does the Amazon gift card come into play? Hop over to my FB page by clicking on the picture below. Just comment : All Series, Lake Placid, or Fierce Five. On Friday the 18th, I’ll randomly draw and name for the gift card. Pretty easy and then I can get an idea of what you, as my readers, would like to see more of.

All Series

Fierce- Aiden Chapter Two #mgtab

Aiden(1)

Here is the last teaser I’m going to provide for Fierce- Aiden. You can catch up on the Prologue and Chapter One.

More Nervous

Nic Moretti cupped her hands on the frosted window of Fierce’s big wooden door, then peeked inside. The lights were on, but the door was locked tighter than the gates of heaven trying to keep out the devil.

She tapped on the glass and waited, not wanting to be late for the interview. As it was, she was shocked she’d been called in for one. She hadn’t even known about the opening at Fierce, and probably never would have if a regular hadn’t come into the cafe she worked at and asked to speak with the person who’d made her lunch.

Seemed that regular was the mother of the owners of Fierce. Jolene Fierce had introduced herself last week after Nic was asked by the owner to go talk with a customer. Here Nic was all nervous something was wrong, only to be praised left and right. “I’ve been coming to this cafe for years, and I’ve never tasted bread and pasta as wonderful as the past few months. I just had to see who the master was behind it.”

Jolene had seemed sweet and made Nic’s day, but once her boss walked away, Jolene pulled out her card and said, “I hope you don’t think I’m too forward, but I’d like to see if you’re interested in applying to work at my son’s restaurant.”

Nic had looked around quickly, hoping no one was listening to their conversation. She’d only been working at the cafe for about six months, and even then, moved from pastries to some specialty dishes. As much as it wasn’t the life she envisioned, she really couldn’t blow this job. “I don’t know. I like it here and I haven’t been employed that long.”

“Please,” Jolene had said, and slid the card forward. “Just think about it.”

Nic nodded her head, picked the card up, and walked away before looking at it. Once she did, she knew she had no choice but to at least submit her resume.

Fierce was the hottest place around. Not just the brewery, but the pub and restaurant as well. Two different types of fare out of the main building. The pub had more casual, laid-back everyday food with a flare of the unexpected, with the Fierce brew making its way into most dishes.

The restaurant in the back had the same options available as the pub, but a broader menu. A more elaborate one. Not even a set menu, but one that changed weekly with only a few items that remained constant.

Nic had never realized that before, but one day she heard another coworker talking about the meal they’d eaten at the restaurant and how it was completely different than the last time they’d been there. She’d asked what was different and was told, “They change the menu each week. You can get the pub menu back there if you want, or you can get a meal as if you were traveling to a different part of the world.”

“Meaning they have different cuisines?” she asked, not really following. It wasn’t like she had an abundance of time or money to go out to eat often.

“Yeah. I guess. But they change their menu. No reservations, either. You go and maybe you get an all-Italian supplemental menu to choose from that night, or maybe French, Indian, or German. It could be anything.”

“And people like that?” Nic had asked.

“Are you kidding me? That’s the best part of it. It keeps people going back all the time, trying to land on their favorite. There’s no rhyme or reason to it either. Well, they post the style of cuisine on all their social media outlets on Sunday for the following week, but that’s it. No other notice than that.”

Nic had shrugged and thought that was nuts, but since Fierce was so popular, it had to work. During her research for this interview, she found that Aiden Fierce was the recipient of a James Beard Award at just twenty-five years old. He obviously knew what he was doing.

That Jolene Fierce thought she was worthy of an interview was kind of laughable.

Aiden had attended the Culinary Institute of America. He’d interned at the Food Network, then spent a few years traveling all over the world honing his skill. She’d worked beside her grandmother and aunts, cooking and baking since she was a child. Now she worked in a cafe making a little over minimum wage. It just didn’t seem like this was possible.

“I’m so sorry,” an employee said as she opened the door quickly. “I completely forgot that Aiden had an interview scheduled and didn’t unlock the front door. I hope you haven’t been waiting long.”

“No. Just a minute or so,” Nic said, looking at the mass of wild black curly hair that was pulled back from the employee’s face.

“I’m Aimee, by the way.” She held her hand out and Nic shook it quickly. “I’m the day manager at the bar. Come on in and have a seat. You’re a little early. I think Aiden is out back, but he’ll pop his head in when he’s ready.”

Nic looked at her watch. She still had ten minutes to spare. “Thanks.” She pulled a chair out and sat at a table out of the way.

“You don’t have to sit way over there,” Aimee said. “Come on over and sit at the bar. Normally interviewees do and then start peppering me with questions.”

Nic stood up and moved closer, not wanting to be rude. “Is it okay to do that?”

“What, ask me questions? Sure, go right ahead.”

“I read there is a new supplemental menu for the restaurant weekly. Are there sous chefs for each specialty for the week? Chefs with their own recipes?”

“That’s a really good question,” Aimee said, smiling. “Most of the time I’m asked what Aiden is like. If he is really strict, words of advice to say, or anything that could give them an edge during the interview.”

Nic flushed. It never occurred to her to ask that, and was glad she didn’t by the look on Aimee’s face. “I guess I’m just focused on the food.”

Aimee smiled and patted her hand, in reassurance, she hoped. “As far as I know, all the recipes ultimately come from Aiden. He takes his employees’ input for sure, but he is the one who puts it all together. There are some chefs back there that specialize in a specific cuisine, but everyone has to be well rounded too.”

That was good to know and something to store away if it came up. Best not to talk too much about her Italian roots.

“Aimee.” She turned to see someone walking in the room. “Oh sorry, I didn’t know you were with someone.”

“Hey, Ella. This is Aiden’s first interview today. I’m so sorry, I didn’t even ask your name. So rude of me. I have to say I was just so excited to see a woman that everything flew out of my head.”

“Nic Moretti. No worries. There are no other women in the restaurant?” What was she getting herself into? Yes, it was a male-dominated field, but normally there were a few women around.

“Of course there are. I’m Ella Fierce.” She stuck her hand out. “Sorry about Aimee. She’s surrounded by the Fierce men and still isn’t used to being part of the family now, so she gets giddy when she sees another woman. She forgets I’m right upstairs too. But then again, I’m used to this.”

Nic’s head was bouncing back and forth as she tried to figure out the inside joke the two of them were smiling about, but was afraid to ask.

Aimee grinned. “I’m newly engaged to Brody. Brody Fierce. He runs the bar.”

“How many siblings are there?” Nic asked. Maybe she should have studied more about the business as a whole.

Ella laughed at her. “Do you know anything about our business?”

“The restaurant. I mean, I know about the brewery too,” Nic stumbled, wishing she hadn’t said anything. Her face was turning red; she knew it was. “I researched the restaurant and Aiden. That’s the position I’m applying for and felt it was best to focus on that for now.”

“She’s already asking actual questions about the menu,” Aimee said. “Not personal ones about Aiden.”

“Nice,” Ella said. “Keep thinking that way and you’ll do fine. Don’t let him intimidate you either.”

“Are you two trying to make me more nervous than I already am?” Nic asked. Seriously! She already didn’t think she had a shot after reading his intimidating biography posted on their website.

“Not at all. Just giving you some advice. Aiden is pretty harmless. Don’t believe everything you hear about him,” Aimee said.

“He’s very passionate about his food and the restaurant,” Ella said. “Nothing more than that. Moretti? I remember my mother used to bring me to this little Italian-owned shop as a kid. Best cannoli I’ve ever had, with chocolate shavings rather than chips in the filling. They had all these homemade pastas there and fresh bread daily that was to die for.”

“That was my grandparents’ shop.” She felt the same tinge of guilt at those words today that she did a year ago.

“Was?” Ella asked.

“It burned down over a year ago.” Nic would never forgive herself for it. Her grandparents—her whole family—entrusted the legacy of Moretti’s in her hands. And she’d failed them.

“They didn’t rebuild?” Ella asked. “What a shame.”

“Not enough insurance money for it,” Nic said simply.

There was no reason to say how money was tight and how her grandparents had taken several loans out to keep the business afloat. Or that they’d never increased the coverage on the policy in over twenty years. Once all debt had been paid, there was barely enough for her grandparents to live out the rest of their lives without scraping by with their social security alone now.

Before either of them could ask her another question, Aiden Fierce appeared in the doorway between the bar and what she assumed was the restaurant. The picture of him on their website didn’t do him justice. “Sorry to interrupt, but I’ve got an interview scheduled right now, if you want to let me know when he gets here.”

Ella and Aimee both burst out laughing. “She’s right here,” Ella said.

“Sorry,” Aiden said, grinning at her, not looking the least bit embarrassed over his faux pas. “I just assumed a guy by the name, my mistake. I’m Aiden Fierce.”

He walked forward and held his hand out to her. His overly large hand that definitely held more than a pen in his lifetime, attached to an equally tall, spectacular body. Strong and toned, and not one of a man that made his living around food, or at least consuming huge amounts of it. If she felt a spark when their hands touched, she wasn’t admitting it.

“Nic Moretti. Nicolette Moretti, but only my grandmother is allowed to call me that,” she said. When he grinned at her, she wished she’d kept her mouth quiet on that last part. She always babbled when she was nervous, and hoped she could find some control now. But darn it all, she didn’t think he’d be even more handsome in person.

 

 

Fierce- Aiden Chapter One! #mgtab

Aiden(1)

If you haven’t had a chance to read the prologue of Fierce-Aiden yet, you can check it out here!

I won’t keep you waiting for chapter one though!

High Expectations

Twelve Years Later

“Really, Shawn?” Aiden snarled. He wasn’t known to lose his temper in the kitchen, or in life in general. Not unless it was major…and this to him was sort of major. His kitchen and his staff were everything, but he still only curled his lip rather than shouting.

Something had to hit Aiden hard for him to slip up and show even that much emotion, though. Normally his staff knew his passion was mixed in with high expectations and they performed to his level, never wanting to receive anything other than his praise.

Yes, he was cocky, and he didn’t care. He’d worked hard for it. He earned it.

But now, right now, there was no controlling his frustration that someone was letting him down. That someone wasn’t living up to his standards, or at least his requirements.

“I’m sorry, Aiden. I love it here. You know I do.” Shawn held Aiden’s brown-eyed stare. He’d taught them all to look him in the eye. He didn’t care if they were right, wrong, scared, or nervous, eye contact was always the best way to show confidence—forced or not. But even with the eye contact, Shawn was shuffling his feet around.

“You aren’t even giving me any notice,” Aiden said, the heat rising up his neck. Shawn was good. One of his better line cooks. Fast, efficient, and driven to learn as much as he could. He’d had high hopes of moving Shawn from the pub to the restaurant soon. This loss was going to hurt bad, but worse yet were the shifts he had to fill on such short notice.

“I’m giving you three days,” Shawn said, quieter now.

“Again, really? Two weeks minimum is what I’ve always required. You know that.”

Shawn took a deep breath. “I know. I know we make more here than anywhere else and there are requirements and expectations. But I don’t have a choice.”

Aiden sighed and tried to gather himself. He walked forward and shut his office door, even though there wasn’t anyone else around in the kitchen this early, then turned and said, “Have a seat and tell me about this choice you don’t have.”

Shawn sat in the chair opposite Aiden’s desk, where he planted himself after he’d shut the door. A glance at his computer didn’t help his mood any—where he was planning this weekend’s specials and had hoped to get Shawn’s input when he came in. That was out of the question now.

“You know Lauren is home on leave. She has to go back on Sunday.”

Lauren was Shawn’s girlfriend, who served in the Army. A nice girl, from the few times Aiden had seen her around.

“Yeah. I gave you last week off to be with her too. That was a last-minute request I accommodated.”

“And I really appreciated it. Lauren did too. But we were talking…and we don’t want to be away from each other again.” Shawn inhaled a huge breath, looking like his chest was going to explode, then rushed out with, “We’re getting married on Saturday and I’m leaving with her.”

Aiden stopped the roll from escaping his eyes…barely. Love. That’s what this was about? Talk about bat-shit crazy. “How long have you two been dating?”

“A year,” Shawn said. “But I’ve known her a long time. We went to school together.”

“How old are you?” Aiden asked, not thinking Shawn was even close to twenty-five.

“Twenty-two,” Shawn said, lifting his whisker-free face higher.

“You’re a baby,” Aiden said before he could stop himself.

“I’m really sorry, Aiden, but I’ve got to do this. I’ve got to follow my heart. Haven’t you ever just wanted to do that?”

Aiden ground his teeth. “It’s not about me. It’s about you. It’s about Fierce. Look, I’m sorry if I overreacted. I’m sorry if you think I’m not happy for you. It’s sudden, but I get it. I just wish I had more notice.”

“I know, I know. I was afraid to tell you. I look up to you so much and I really didn’t want to let you down. But I need to do this.”

Aiden grudgingly stood up and reached his hand out to Shawn’s. He could see there was no use wasting his breath trying to convince Shawn otherwise. “I wish you luck. I really do. If you need anything, let me know.”

“Do you mean that?” Shawn asked, a little wide-eyed.

“Yeah.” Aiden pulled his business card out of a drawer, then flipped it over and wrote on the back of it. “My cell is on the back. If you need help finding a job, or a reference, let me know where you end up living. I know a lot of people and I’ll do what I can for you.”

Shawn took the card and then pumped Aiden’s hand fast and furious. “Can I have a hug?”

“No,” Aiden said, laughing. “Get out of here before I get angry. And Shawn,” he said when the door was opened, “good luck.”

“I don’t need luck. I’m in love.”

This time Aiden rolled his eyes. Love, yeah right. He’d take luck any day over that.

***

“What has you looking so grouchy?” his brother Brody asked him when he walked into the upstairs conference room an hour later for their weekly meeting. Aiden had come in early today hoping to get some work done, before Shawn showed up unannounced hours before his shift. Instead, Aiden spent the past thirty minutes looking through old resumes.

“I only want to say it once, so let’s wait until everyone gets here.”

The two of them sat there quietly for ten minutes, Brody grinning at him, like Brody always did when he knew something was bothering one of his brothers and was trying to get under their skin.

Brody, as the oldest—by all of five minutes over Aiden—was looked to as the leader. A title that Aiden was glad someone else in the family inherited. He had his hands full running the restaurant when he’d much rather just be in there cooking and not worrying about the little things…like staffing.

Mason and Ella walked in together, Cade rushing in at exactly ten like he always did. That was actually early for him.

“Now that we’re all here…” Ella started. Ella always started all the meetings. She ran the numbers end of the business, the personnel end from a higher level too…and what Aiden and his brothers always said behind Ella’s back was that she ran them too. “Anything we need to focus on today other than the normal around-the-room reporting?”

No one said anything and Aiden wasn’t going to either. It wasn’t that big of a deal for the group as a whole. His problem was solely his problem and responsibility.

“All right then,” Ella continued on. “Revenue is nice and steady in the bar, restaurant, and brewery. Here are the reports.” She passed them around the room. He’d look his over in more depth later today. Ella was always thorough and he wished he had an ounce of that trait outside of his culinary skills. “Cade, here is your budget for the upcoming events on the docket. Let me know if it’s too much or too little, and we’ll negotiate.”

Cade picked it up and looked it over, never batting an eye. At one point in time they all argued over whether Ella had the right to give them budgets, but then realized, she really did. She was the only one with her finger on every pulse and they trusted her judgment. Aiden knew he sure the hell didn’t want to deal with that, either.

“That’s all I’ve got for the moment. Who wants to go next?”

“I think Aiden should go next,” Brody said. “He’s sitting over there percolating like leftover chili on an already upset stomach.”

Aiden flipped a single digit at his brother, which only resulted in a laugh. After the year Brody had, Aiden was hard pressed to be annoyed over Brody’s little digs. He was just glad Brody was back to the brother he’d always known and loved.

“Fine,” Aiden said. “I didn’t have anything to report until Shawn showed up early this morning. He gave me his notice.”

“Ouch,” Mason said. Mason and he were the closest to each other in the group, and he knew he’d get sympathy from that end. “Now we know why your eye is twitching and you’re fidgeting in your chair. You know, if you ever let off a little steam then you wouldn’t look like you’re having a stroke when you’re annoyed.” So much for Mason always being in his corner.

“I’ll be happy to help place ads and sort through resumes for you, Aiden,” Ella said, obviously trying not to laugh.

“I’d appreciate that,” he said, ignoring them as a whole.

“You’ve got two weeks to find someone. People are knocking down the door to work with you,” Cade said. “Shouldn’t be too hard.”

Aiden snorted. “Nope. He’s done on Friday.”

“Why?” Ella said. “Two weeks—that’s what we expect.”

“Expecting and getting are two different things,” Brody said. “In this business, Aiden and I know what it’s like. It’s not the same as working in an office, Ella.”

Brody was the last person he’d expected to back him up. “Thanks.”

“No thanks needed, but now I know to keep away from you. If I thought you looked pissy before, it’s only going to get worse. Remember the last time he had to interview?” Brody asked everyone else in the room.

“I hid for those two weeks,” Cade said, “and relied on feedback. I think you all exaggerated, but I didn’t want to be around to find out if it was true.”

“Come on, guys,” Mason said. “He’s not that bad. He just has high expectations.”

“We all do,” Brody said, “but we don’t all snarl during the process. Of course, I appreciated all the food he was mass producing to work off steam.”

“Speak for yourself,” Ella said. “Last time he decided to work on his dessert creations. I’m still trying to lose those three pounds.”

Ella was skinny as a rail, and just teasing, but he’d done it on purpose knowing she had that weakness. His form of revenge on her back then for some reason or another that was eluding his memory.

“So says the guy who needed us to hire his new manager because he wouldn’t do it himself,” Aiden said back.

Brody went six months with an open day manager position until their mother stepped in and told the rest of them to get it taken care of while Brody and Cade were sent to their respective corners to lick their wounds after another fight.

“You don’t hear me complaining,” Brody said. “Best thing you guys did was find Aimee for me.”

Cade snorted. “You didn’t think so back then. I remember a day or so of ranting.”

“And some jealousy over her success in the bar,” Aiden pointed out.

“All a thing of the past,” Brody said, still sporting a big grin. Guess there was no getting under Brody’s skin today.

“He’s in love, guys,” Ella said. “Aimee was the best thing to happen to him. I’m just glad he finally realized he’s not the know-it-all he always thought he was.”

“Cute, Ella,” Brody said. “But since Aimee likes you so much, I’ll let it pass.”

Aiden watched the interaction between his siblings around the table. They always bickered and laughed, smiled and yelled. Emotions could run hot and cold between them all, but they always stood together and always would.

“Yeah, well,” Aiden said, “love is what got me in this mess with Shawn.”

“Is he leaving with Lauren?” Ella asked.

Aiden turned sharply. “How did you guess?”

“Because I pay attention to the staff in the building more than you. Lauren has been around often since she’s been on leave. Shawn talks about her all the time. I’m not really surprised by it and I’m shocked you are.”

“I don’t have time to think about my staff’s personal lives. I’ve got a restaurant to run.”

Brody and Ella laughed, Cade snorted, and Mason just looked at him sympathetically.

No one knew why he felt the way he did about love and couples and personal relationships. All they knew was that he couldn’t be bothered. There was no place for it in his restaurant and no time for it in his life. Not that he’d have it in him to even try at this point.

“Anything else to report?” Ella asked him. “If not, we’ll move on before you get even testier with your personal views of people having a life outside of work.”

He wasn’t testy and didn’t know why she said that, but if he argued it’d be more fuel, so he bit his tongue no matter how much he wanted to defend himself.

He had a life outside of work. Well, he could have one if he wanted to. But he didn’t and he was fine with that.

Another fifteen minutes went by while Mason talked about his new fall brews in the works and Cade talked about future promotions which Aiden was only half listening at best.

It was wrong, he knew; he should pay more attention. The five of them ran everything at Fierce now and had for the past five years. They’d turned their parents’ pub into a company that had its branding recognized all over the United States, thanks to Mason’s brewery that popped up six years ago, and Cade’s and Ella’s skills setting up distribution.

His parents retained ownership long enough for the brewery to get up and running, and the restaurant in back to be expanded, then overhauled. Brody ran the bar, just like he had after high school—the only one of them not to go on to college. Ella became a CPA, Cade, a lawyer, and then they were well on their way to making Fierce what they’d dreamed of.

His life was exactly where he’d always thought it’d be.

He wasn’t testy. Not at all.

 

Fierce- Aiden Prologue #mgtab

Aiden(1)

 

What many of you have been waiting for…teasers for Fierce- Aiden!! Isn’t he just smoking hot?!

Prologue

The alarm clock buzzed loudly throughout the room, sounding like a bullhorn going off, though the volume was only set at two.

Aiden Fierce pried his tired eyes open, slapped around until he found the right button, then looked at the flashing red numbers lighting up the room: 3:00 a.m.

He was driven.

He was determined.

He was nuts.

None of his other classmates were getting up at the crack of butt-ugly dawn. And he’d bet none of his professors were either.

But he was in Long Island at the Culinary Institute of America and he was taking advantage of this opportunity.

It didn’t matter that it was demoralizing he wasn’t the head of his class like he felt he should be. That he wasn’t a standout here like back home. Or that he had so much more to learn than he’d ever imagined.

All that mattered was that he was going to prove himself. He wasn’t going to be looked at like the Southern boy whose parents owned and operated a pub. A guy who’d never make more of himself than frying up burgers and wings.

Nope. He and his siblings—the Fierce Five as they were dubbed—were going to transform the pub their parents had started into the hot spot of Charlotte. They were going to put Fierce on the map. And it was going to start with him. The food.

Just because things weren’t going as smoothly as he’d thought—hoped—didn’t mean he was going to let his family down. Just meant he had to work harder.

The five of them had made this plan. They all picked a path that suited their skill levels and personalities, and they were ready to do their part. They were going to give their parents the retirement they deserved.

Did he miss his three brothers and his sister? Absolutely. Like his soul was ripped from his body. In some ways, it felt exactly like that.

Quintuplets. Never separated at all. Now they were all on their own, though he was the farthest away. They talked when their schedules allowed, but it wasn’t enough. It never could be. It was as if his heart was missing a few beats almost daily.

But it’d only been a few months and it would get better, his mother assured him. She’d never been wrong before and he hoped she wasn’t this time.

He pushed the thoughts of family aside and crawled out of bed, then made his way to the shower. Time to get to work.

He didn’t need the money. He needed the experience. He felt he was behind the eight ball and he wasn’t going to continue to let that happen. Instead, he’d sought out the best he could find in New York and bartered free labor for mentoring. So far he was on his second place. A local bakery. They started baking at three every morning, but told him to be in at four. Lucky him for the extra hour of sleep.

At the end of his three-hour shift, he went back to his room and crashed face down on the bed, thrilled his classes wouldn’t start for another two hours.

When he finally made it to class—fifteen minutes early and not even the first one there, but at least not the last—he took his seat and waited for the instructor to arrive. Finals were being handed back early. Last day of class and then they were on their way for the holiday break.

He’d prepared and recreated his dish so many times he could do it in his sleep. Since he’d been dreaming of it for weeks, he practically had. He was banking on an A.

He had this.

He was going to move into that top spot before his first full year was over. He knew it!

When his paper was placed in front of him on the desk, all he saw was a note to go to the back page. He looked around the room and saw everyone’s grades were on the front.

Flipping to the back he didn’t see a grade but another note. One that said, “Forged/Copy, see me after class.”

He started to sweat. No way this was happening. His recipe was original. Everything was. No one had access to it. No one.

Now what? He couldn’t fail this class. He couldn’t fail period. But worse yet, with the strict rules on cheating, he could be expelled.

What would he tell his family? He couldn’t let them down.

He couldn’t be the one to crush the dreams of making Fierce what it was destined to be.

 

 

True Love…Chapter One #mgtab @natalieann121

TRUE LOVE(3)

Here’s the last little teaser I’m going to give you before the release of True Love next week! If you haven’t read the prologue yet, check it out here.

A Friend

Eighteen Months Later

“Kayla,” Shelby said to her two-year-old daughter. “Are you hungry?”

“Food,” Kayla said, her little legs tugging her mother along. “Hungry.”

Shelby laughed. If it weren’t for Kayla she wondered how she would have gotten through the past few years. But her daughter needed her and Shelby needed Kayla to remind her of her husband and to remember to put one foot in front of the other and do what needed to be done. It wasn’t just her anymore. She had to be the strong one.

“Let’s go get you some food then,” Shelby said, holding Kayla’s hand to pull her away from the sidewalk and into a little cafe while they waited for the oil to be changed in her car. It was the perfect little outing for the two of them on her day off. A splurge of sorts.

“Hey there, sweetie pie,” the hostess said when Shelby opened the door. “A table for two?”

“Yes. That’d be great and a booster seat too.”

“Follow me,” the hostess said.

“Daddy!”

Shelby turned, horrified when Kayla let go of her hand and ran to a table where two men in uniform sat. Navy. Probably just off base at the moment.

“No, no, Kayla,” Shelby said, rushing over. “Not Daddy.” She picked her daughter up to prevent another jailbreak. “I’m so sorry.”

“Is your husband in the Navy?” One of them asked. The older one. Old enough to be her father and the one that was in a fancy uniform similar to what Ethan wore on their wedding day. Their wedding picture was in Kayla’s room. The younger one—the handsome one—was looking at her with curiosity. The one Kayla had run to, surprisingly.

“He was. He passed away. I was pregnant at the time, and Kayla has only seen his picture. I’m afraid she saw your uniform and got confused,” she said to the older man, still not sure why Kayla ran to the younger man. Though he wasn’t in a formal uniform, he shouted soldier, not sailor.

“No worries,” the younger one said. “I have to say it’s the first time I’ve been mistaken for someone’s father, but hey, nothing wrong with that, especially with someone as adorable as your daughter.”

“Thanks,” Shelby said, dipping her head and turning back toward the hostess waiting to seat them across the restaurant. “Come on, sweetie, let’s go get you some mac and cheese.”

“Not Daddy?” Kayla asked, her eyes starting to fill.

“No, Kayla. I’m sorry. It’s not Daddy,” she said, hugging her tight and then kissing her cheek. “I wish. It’s just the two of us and it’s our fun day. Food, right?”

“I want mac and cheese,” Kayla said, easily distracted. Oh, to be two again and just forget about the past.

***

“Awkward?”

“Nah,” Jared said to Admiral Kevin Anderson. Jared had a break between classes and the admiral wanted to get off base to have this talk. Jared wasn’t looking forward to it, even if the admiral was a friend.

Because he was a friend, Jared wasn’t looking forward to it.

“How are you doing?” Kevin asked.

“Fine. Why?”

Kevin sighed, like Jared expected. “I know this isn’t what you wanted in your life. You’re into your second semester now. Are you settling in?”

“Not much to really settle into.”

No, he didn’t want to be a college professor. When he got his masters in engineering while in the Navy he fully expected to be in the field. Analyzing or creating weapons. Looking at blueprints while going on a mission. Action mixed with his brains. That was what he wanted and that was why he became a SEAL.

Not to teach.

“You’re not wearing your hearing aid,” Kevin said. “Or your glasses.”

Jared wanted to grind his teeth but didn’t. Instead he shrugged. “And yet I can hear you just fine. See you too.”

Kevin laughed and he heard that sound loud and clear. He also knew Kevin brushed the sarcasm off when maybe he wouldn’t with someone else. Of course, Jared wouldn’t have used that tone if they were on base.

“That’s only because I’m sitting on your right. If I sat on your left you’d barely hear or see me without significantly turning your head.”

“The glasses don’t change my vision enough. It’s still blurry in that eye, so why bother wearing them if I’m this close to someone?”

“It’s not for your left eye but your right eye. You’re seeing fine out of it?”

“Yes,” Jared said, picking up the menu. “Would you like me to read something for you?”

“We both know that isn’t the problem with your vision.”

“Exactly. So no reason I need them on here.”

“What did they say about contacts?” Kevin asked.

Jared didn’t want to talk about this. He didn’t want to remember that the career he strived for was gone because of a blast. Because a bomb exploded in a building that his unit was in. Half died that day. Those that lived weren’t the same as when they walked in.

Many would say he was one of the lucky ones. They were probably right, though he didn’t often feel that way. Not until it was shoved in his face that he could have died. Some days he kind of wished he had. That he didn’t have nightmares and concerns, fears. That he was still the boy that entered the service at eighteen and turned into a strong man. A born leader, many had said.

He had no problem when the lovely young woman was standing in front of him smiling and apologizing because her daughter mistook him for the father she’d never meet. It was times like that when he realized he was fortunate and had to stop feeling sorry for himself.

“They said they’d consider contacts in another six months.” The muscles were getting stronger in his right eye. Just a bit longer, he was hoping.

“That’s good,” Kevin said. They paused when the waitress came over to take their order. He took that moment to look around the restaurant, his eyes landing on the young woman and her daughter. The vision wasn’t as clear, but he knew it was them. “Do you wear them when you’re in class?”

“You know the answer to that since you popped in during a lecture last week,” Jared said, dryly.

“Very true. So you are wearing them.”

He wasn’t so vain that he wouldn’t, not if he knew he needed them, and in the lecture hall, he needed them. The students were too far away for him to know who was who. He couldn’t be a leader and teach them if he was afraid of anything in his life. Or at least showing that fear.

Wearing glasses or wearing his hearing aid wasn’t about fear. He wore that during class too and no one even noticed half the time. Hearing aids were so small now; unless someone was looking, they wouldn’t notice. Especially with Jared being six foot four. Not many were his height so most were looking up at him anyway, not down or behind.

He just hated wearing them because it reminded him of what he lost. Of his dreams and goals. And maybe that he wasn’t whole again.

Not just his sight or hearing, but mentally. Internally. PTSD. Yeah, he had it. He had nightmares. He had visions. He woke up in a sweat. And he had pain on the left side of his body. Scars that would never be gone. Skin that was torn and put back together. It could have been worse, he knew, but it was bad enough.

“Was this lunch just to parent me?” Jared asked, laughing this time. No use taking his grouchiness out on Kevin. Kevin would only ignore it for so long. His own parents didn’t nag him this much. He may have a high level of respect for Kevin, one where he only addressed him by his first name when the two of them were alone, but he still wasn’t going to sit here and be treated like a child. Not completely.

“Actually, no. The spring semester is coming to an end in a few weeks. You’ll have some time on your hands.”

“Yeah. They scheduled me for two classes over the summer.”

“And you’re wondering what you’re going to do with all that free time?” Kevin asked.

He had been. He was thinking of taking a vacation during the time he didn’t have classes at all. Then he wondered where he’d go. Not back home to see family so they could question him like Kevin.

Or worse yet, coddle him.

Going on a vacation alone didn’t sound all that pleasing either.

“I’ve got a few thoughts,” Jared said. He didn’t have to admit they weren’t things he really wanted to do.

“Oh, well then never mind.”

“Nothing is set in stone,” Jared said quickly.

Kevin laughed. “I figured. I could use you on a few things this summer. Just some projects I’m working on.”

“What projects?” Jared asked.

“Ones that would require you to mostly work in an office.”

Jared grimaced. He took the teaching post because that was a better option than riding a desk. At least until he could convince someone to let him back in the field. He didn’t need to be on the front line, but he wanted something more than sitting in an office away from everyone and everything analyzing data and plans and passing it all along other channels.

He wanted to be the channel things were passed to.

“I don’t know,” Jared said.

“Just part-time. A few projects. I could use your help. I’d say another set of eyes, but that’d be insensitive.”

“Just one eye then,” Jared said, laughing. He could joke about it if he needed to. He knew Kevin’s heart was in the right place.

“One of yours is better than two of most people. Still. Think about it and let me know next week.”

Jared heard a giggle—a child’s giggle—and his heart fluttered. His lips curved and he glanced up to see the little girl waving at him, laughing. Her mother looked to be trying to distract the child.

“Yeah. I’ll let you know.”

 

Fierce- Aiden

Aiden(1)

Fierce—The Restaurant—where there is more than food heating up the kitchen.

Aiden Fierce is the cockiest of the Fierce Five, and with reason. He has culinary talent like no one has ever seen. Skill that many work their whole lives to achieve and can’t even skim the surface. But with cockiness comes trouble. Comes expectations so high that they threaten to crumble down the mountain before he can reach his peak.

Nic Moretti knows about family pressure. She knows about trying to hold it all together and what it means to fail. Guilt—that’s what failure feels like. The charred smell that remained after her family business burned to the ground. A sense of loyalty and responsibility is the only thing she can focus on, pushing all her own dreams aside until…Aiden Fierce enters her life. 

Chi si volta, e chi si gira, sempre a casa va finire. –Italian saying.
Translation: No matter where you go or turn, you will always end up at home.

Available on Amazon!