Fierce- Cade… Prologue #mgtab @natalieann121

Cade

It’s that time for a sneak peek at Fierce-Cade!

Prologue

Cade made his way to the meeting place at eleven just as his text instructed. There was an excitement rushing through him, vibrating like the bass turned up to the highest number in the little convertible that he’d bought with his own hard-earned money.

Five kids meant they weren’t each getting their own cars when they got their licenses. Not when they were quintuplets. But since they all worked at the family pub, they all had the means to save or spend.

He’d tended to spend more than save early on, but when he discovered that chicks dug a guy in a hot car, he started to put those paychecks away faster than a pickpocket in New York City.

A nighttime rendezvous. Just what the doctor ordered with finals a week away. There was school, and there was play. Play normally took the lead in his life.

He was rubbing his hands together when he opened the door to the sorority house. In the basement, his text had said to go, so he made his way to the kitchen, then opened the door and walked down.

There were lights on in the house, but not too many people around. The two women he passed in the living room just looked up and smiled at him. They’d seen him here before picking up Sarah.

The stairs creaked under his weight. Not that he was heavy, but he was big. He and his brothers were all over six foot, and though he knew he still had some muscle to build, he was ripped just fine for twenty-one years old. The ladies sure didn’t mind if he could have added a few more to make a six-pack.

“Sarah,” he called out quietly. “Where are you?”

“In the back, Cade,” he’d heard and made his way past the ping pong table and old bar in the dingy room. It looked like a game room out of the seventies with the brown paneling and orange shag carpet, but what college kid cared about the atmosphere when they were drunk and hanging out, even looking to get laid.

It was a little darker in the back room, but there were a couch and some chairs. The door had been shut the few other times he’d been here and he was thinking now it was a sneak away room for a little bit of action without having to go to a shared bedroom on the upper floors. He was game for it.

“You got here faster than I thought,” Sarah said. “Normally you’re late.”

“You told me eleven. I’m good at following directions.” And he’d never be late if there was something in it for him. Something good.

“Are you now?” she asked. There was a look in her eye, one of secret pleasure that he couldn’t wait to explore. She’d sought him out weeks ago and had been extremely eager the few times they’d met up.

“I know that too,” he heard to his right, a higher pitched voice.

“Shit,” he whispered when he saw Lori standing there. He hadn’t seen her in a week or so since she stopped texting him out of the blue. She was all hot and bothered when she walked up to him in class that first time a few weeks ago.

“Me too,” a softer voice said.

He turned to the left, and as luck would have it, there was Allison. All that went through his brain right now was an escape plan. He was good at running from his siblings as a kid, but he had nowhere to go right now. Not only that, his pride made him stand his ground. He’d talked himself out of situations before, he could do it again.

“What are you all doing here?” he asked to no one in particular. Not like he couldn’t figure it out, though part of him was wondering what was really going on.

“We just wanted to see your face when you saw us all in the same room at once,” Sarah said. Now he knew where that pleasure came from. She was ready to twist his balls in a vise that was going to be two sizes too small.

“Let’s see if you can talk your way out of this one, Cade.”

When he heard the fourth voice, he turned and didn’t know what could be worse. Another woman he’d dated on campus, or his sister, Ella. Please, dear Lord, let Ella help get me out of this mess. “Well, Cade? What do you have to say for yourself now?” Ella asked him, just like she had so many times when they were growing up.

Guess not.

Fierce- Cade #mgtab @Natalieann121

Cade

Cade Fierce has spent more time worrying about who he wasn’t than focusing on who he was. The fourth son of quintuplets who always acted out for attention rather than for what counted, but he’s an adult now trying to prove that he’s different. That he’s changed. The only problem—his reputation precedes him…most of all in the lady department.

Alex Marshall knows all about the Cades of the world. She’s spent her life deflecting their advances since she matured much faster than the rest of the girls her age, and avoiding the rumors that came with it. Trust issues, yeah, she has them full force. Now all she wants to do is focus on rebuilding her parents’ business that got left behind the times. Cade Fierce is the last thing she needs in her life. Too bad she can’t convince herself that a need and a want are two different things.

Holiday Love…Chapter One #mgtab

Holidaylove(1)

If you haven’t read the Prologue, now is your chance to catch up. Here is Chapter One.

The Routine

Six Months Later

“How is my favorite return six-month patient doing today?” Jill asked Kathy Wick.

“Doing good as always. Or as good as I can feel coming in here for my screenings every six months for the past five years.”

Jill laughed. Kathy was only thirty, but she had the BRCA gene and had been having preventative screening since she found out about her gene mutation six years ago. Once a year she’d have a mammogram, then six months later have an MRI. Each of those visits she’d have an ultrasound of both breasts too. All three of those tests were providing the best screenings possible for Kathy as a high risk patient. If there was something to be found, they’d find it. Fingers crossed it’d never happen.

“You’re going to hurt my feelings if you act like you don’t want to be here. I look forward to your visits,” Jill said. “You know the routine. Lie back and open up the front of your gown and we’ll start with your right side.”

Kathy giggled and parted her gown, then lay back down and put her right arm over her head. Jill squirted the warm lubricant over Kathy’s small breast and started to move it around, looking over every inch of the tissue she could.

“You aren’t as red today,” Jill said. Kathy had had her mammogram first and her skin was normally bright red afterward from being squeezed between the metal plates. Technology was a great thing, but it came with a price at times.

“No. Your new tech seemed to get a better placement today and it didn’t hurt nearly as much. Though I’ve got to say her hands were pretty cold.”

“Cold hands, warm heart,” Jill said.

“Your hands are always warm,” Kathy said back, smiling. “What’s that on the screen?”

Jill grinned. “I’m an extra sweet person, so my body is warm all over. And those are just your ribs. You ask me every time you come in here.”

“Sorry. It’s always so huge on the screen.”

“Which it’s meant to be so I can see what is going on,” she said.

She didn’t mind the questions during an exam, but she was always careful what she said. After all, she was only a tech.

Jill finished up the right side and then instructed Kathy to switch sides and lift her left arm up and proceeded to examine that side just as diligently. Kathy didn’t ask any questions this time, with Jill trying to distract her as best she could, talking about the weather, of all stupid mundane topics.

“Why don’t you cover up and relax,” Jill said. “I’m just going to go check with the radiologist and see if there is anything else to be looked at before we call it a day.”

“The old cranky woman again?” Kathy asked.

“Dr. Mills is no longer with us. She retired two months ago. Dr. Taylor is her replacement and my guess is he’ll be in shortly. He does like to examine patients the first time he is seeing their charts.”

Kathy nodded and Jill left the room, then walked down the hall and knocked on Dr. Taylor’s open door. “Kathy Wick is in exam room four. She just had her mammo and I uploaded her ultrasound results.”

“I’m looking at the mammo now,” Dr. Taylor said, his deep voice vibrating in the room, like picking at an extra tight guitar string. He’d been nothing but professional and private in the two months he’d been here. No one could get a read on him at all, and many had tried. Herself included.

“Would you like me to wait in the other room until you’re done?” she asked.

Dr. Mills hated the technician standing in her office while she looked over films. Normally Jill could go get another patient and set them up while she waited for Kathy’s films to be looked over, but Kathy was her last patient of the day.

“No, come on in.”

He was zooming in and taking measurements right now on what looked like the right breast. Jill was glad she was able to stay because she wanted to see if anything turned up on the left.

“What’s that?” she asked. “They look like calcifications.”

“That’s exactly what they are. I’m pulling up her mammo from last year and comparing the two. See, these two areas,” he said, pointing them out on the screen.

“Yes,” she said. This was the first time he’d ever talked this much to her. He sure did smell nice when she got closer. Fresh and musky with a hint of being all male.

“They’re the same size, so in the past year, nothing has changed. I’m not concerned with that at the moment and nothing on the MRI showed up six months ago when she was here either, proving nothing worrisome.”

“What about the left side?” Jill asked when he switched over.

She loved that he was letting her look at this with him. Secretly she’d love to go back to school for radiology, but time and money had never been her friend, so that boat sailed right along with her marriage. A radiology and ultrasound tech was what she was and she’d find a way to be content with it.

“I’m not concerned. Like I said, there wasn’t anything on the MRI six months ago and there doesn’t appear to be anything on the mammo.”

“That can’t be right,” Jill said, frowning.

“Why?” Dr. Taylor asked, turning to look at her.

“Can you pull up her ultrasound now?”

He clicked a few buttons and pulled up the left breast. She leaned forward and pointed to what she’d marked and measured.

“Interesting,” he said, then pulled the mammo and zoomed in on the same area on another screen, and did the same with the MRI. “There’s nothing on the mammo or the MRI, but clearly something on the ultrasound.”

He pushed back from his chair and stood next to her. He was a good eight inches taller than her five foot five, she was guessing. “Are you going to examine her?”

“Of course. I had planned on it anyway, but now even more than ever.”

“I hope I didn’t make a mistake.” She didn’t think she did. She was good at what she did and looked over that area multiple times. “Follow me,” she said.

She was trying not to show any anxiety and wanted to ask what he thought, but knew better than to do that. She was guessing a biopsy would be ordered and felt a pang of sympathy for Kathy who was the same age as she was. Jill tried not to picture herself in Kathy’s shoes but it was hard not to.

“I doubt you made a mistake,” he said before he opened the exam room and walked forward, then extended his hand. “Ms. Wick, I’m Dr. Taylor and I’m going to give you a quick look over myself.”

Jill was watching Kathy as Dr. Taylor turned to walk to the sink and wash his hands. Jill bit back the giggle when Kathy mouthed “wow” to her. She knew the feeling well, as all the women were giggling over the new radiologist in the building. Six feet of deliciousness, he’d been described as with dark hair and golden eyes. Too bad his robotic personality hadn’t followed suit with his massive good looks. At least until today.

For Kathy’s sake, she was hoping Dr. Taylor wasn’t so controlled.

The exam was quiet, which was unlike Kathy, and Jill was wondering if Kathy felt the underlying tension in the room. As if she knew something wasn’t right.

When Dr. Taylor got to the spot that Jill had pointed out before, he zoomed in and started marking the measurements. “What’s that?” Kathy asked.

“I’m not quite sure yet,” Dr. Taylor said, softly. It was probably the softest Jill had ever heard him talk. “It’s not showing up on your mammogram, and wasn’t on your MRI when you were here six months ago.”

“Do I need to have another mammogram?”

“I don’t believe so. We have both tests because not everything can be seen individually, but I’m seeing it now.”

“So whatever it is, it’s growing. Was it on the ultrasound six months ago?” Kathy asked with a catch in her voice.

“No, it wasn’t,” he said.

“How big is it?” Kathy asked her, but she wasn’t going to answer. This was Dr. Taylor’s exam now and in the past, Dr. Mills would have ripped any tech’s head off if they spoke during her exams.

“Not very big. Two millimeters by three millimeters. Smaller than a pea, but I’m still going to recommend a biopsy.”

Kathy’s eyes started to fill and before Jill could say anything, Dr. Taylor was placing his hand on hers. “Relax. Whatever it is—if it’s anything—it’s very tiny and very early.”

Kathy was taking a few deep breaths and Jill rushed to the opposite side, then grabbed her other hand. “You just want to come back and visit with me.”

Kathy laughed. “I do like spending time with you, but I was hoping not like this. I don’t even know where to have a biopsy done.”

“I can do it right here,” Dr. Taylor said. “I’m going to recommended another MRI and if it shows up there, I’ll do an MRI guided biopsy since it’s too deep to be felt. Of course, you’re welcome to consult a surgeon of your choice too and all your reports would be sent to them then.”

“Will you be in here with me?” Kathy asked her.

Jill looked at Dr. Taylor. “That’s not my position. If it gets changed to an ultrasound-guided one, then I’ll be right there with you.”

Dr. Taylor nodded. “Again, I’m going to send my findings to your doctor, who will contact you. Once the two of you have discussed everything, then we’ll move forward.”

“What’s there to discuss?” Kathy asked.

Dr. Taylor pulled over a chair and sat down to get comfortable like he was going to give Kathy all the time she needed to question him.

“It’s your choice to watch and wait because it’s so small, but I don’t recommend that. My recommendation is only that though, a recommendation. You’re young and high risk. I tend to be on the conservative side when I see someone in that situation.”

“No. I knew at some point in my life I would need something looked at closer. If this is growing inside of me, I want to know. I want it done right away too. I need to know what it is.”

Dr. Taylor patted her hand. “Then I’ll get these sent to your doctor’s office before I leave today. By Monday someone will contact you and we’ll get you scheduled.”

“Can I schedule it right now? I don’t want to wait for my doctor to see it.”

Dr. Taylor looked at her. “We can do that too. I’ll get someone on the phone with the insurance company now to get the process started for the MRI approval. I’ll be seeing you soon, so try to relax this weekend. There’s nothing you can do right now other than work yourself up. I always tell my patients to not waste their time stressing when you’ve got no control. One step at a time.”

“Thank you, Dr. Taylor,” Kathy said. Jill watched him leave and told Kathy she was all set, then gave her a brief hug when she was standing. She walked Kathy back to the changing room and then left to go to Dr. Taylor’s office.

“Thank you,” she told him.

He turned in his chair where he was typing up notes. “No reason to thank me. She was scared and I’m afraid she may have reason to be.”

“Do you really think it’s cancer?”

She never wanted to guess, but she could read the doctors well and they always seemed to know more often than not.

“We won’t know anything until the biopsy is completed, but I’ve seen this a few times and it has all the characteristics of a carcinoma. My guess is you had a hunch too. You seem to have a good eye.”

Jill nodded and kept her smile back. It wasn’t the time or place to be thrilled he had confidence in her. “That’s what I was afraid of.”

She turned to leave, but he stopped her. “Jill. Nice catch.”

She didn’t even know he knew her name. “That’s my job.”

“And you’re good at it,” he said. Then she walked away. She wasn’t sure what to think of Dr. Taylor now. Not only was it the first time he’d really spoken more than a few words to her, but his whole demeanor was different.

There was definitely more to Dr. Taylor than met the eye.

Holiday Love…Prologue #mgtab

Holidaylove(1)

Prologue

“Dr. Taylor.”

Owen turned to see the young tech in the doorway. “Yes.”

“The results of the MRI have been loaded. I’ve got the patient waiting to see if anything needs to be retaken or if more tests are required.”

“Thanks,” Owen said, turning back to the multiple screens on his desk. He was getting ready to bring up the results of the MRI when his cell phone rang.

Pulling it out of his lab coat, he saw it was his ex calling him again. At least once a week, if he was lucky, because other times it was more.

Ashley was always calling and trying to start something. And by something…that meant trouble. Since it was his weekend with Luke, he figured she was at it again.

There was no way he was answering. He was working and it would only annoy him if it was some frivolous reason or excuse.

Ashley and he had never married no matter how much she hinted in the beginning; then she’d purposely gotten pregnant hoping for that proposal.

How did he know she had purposely gotten pregnant? Because she’d told him. Her hints for marriage weren’t giving her the results she was looking for so she’d taken matters into her own hands.

He even remembered when she’d told him she was pregnant and then immediately had said, “So we can get married now, right?”

He’d explained that having a child wasn’t reason enough to marry. At that point, he’d actually been pulling away, telling her they needed space. She decided his space was a sign for a drastic measure.

It would be the first and only time he’d take a woman’s word for being protected against pregnancy.

They’d stayed together through the pregnancy as a couple, he tried to make it work, but all the things that weren’t working for him before were just magnified. Her insecurity and mood swings were difficult to handle. He gave her the benefit of the doubt that it was hormones, but she’d flat out given him an ultimatum when Luke was born. Get married or go their separate ways.

She guessed he wouldn’t have gone his separate way. She was wrong.

From that point on, she made his life hell, then tried to play Luke against him. She was forever putting ideas in Luke’s head about the three of them doing things as a family when Owen just wanted to spend quality time with his son.

This was his weekend with Luke and he had big plans. He didn’t get to spend nearly as much time as he wanted with his son, and he’d be damned if he was going to give that up. If that was what her phone call was about right now, it could go to voicemail.

She’d fought him over the custody arrangements because of his job. He got visitations rather than joint custody. Ashley had been convincing with the flowing tears and explanations in court that Owen would have a nanny for his half of the time and that was worse than if Luke was with her.

The female judge agreed and granted Owen a few nights a week—where Luke had to be returned to his mother for the day while Owen worked—and every other weekend. For the past several years it was working…when Ashley wasn’t trying to make them a “family” again.

His phone dinged that there was a message, which he’d check in a minute. Right now he had a patient waiting and he’d push his ex from his mind. No reason to make the guy wait in the MRI machine if he didn’t need to.

Once he was finished looking everything over, he told the tech that the patient was set. Then he listened to the voicemail message.

“This is Officer Smithson from the Houston Police Department. Your name and number were listed as the ICE contact in Ms. Bailey’s phone. She’s been in an accident, if you could please return our call—”

He hung up and called Ashley’s number back, not wanting to call some police department number and talk to someone who wasn’t even at the scene. With any luck, she’d answer or at least someone next to her would.

“Hello,” the same male voice said.

“This is Owen Taylor. Am I speaking with Officer Smithson?”

“Yes, Mr. Taylor. I’m sorry to inform you that Ms. Bailey has been in an accident—”

“Was she alone?” he asked, his heart beating fast enough to make him wonder if he’d pass out. It was the middle of the day. Luke didn’t have pre-school on Fridays. Chances are he was with Ashley just now.

“No. There was a male passenger with her.”

“A child,” he barely croaked out. “Was it a child?”

“No. There were no children. Two adults and I’m sorry, but both are being transferred to the morgue.”

 

Holiday Love #mgtab @NatalieAnn121

Holidaylove(1)

Sometimes failed relationships are needed to make the next one count.

Dr. Owen Taylor is on the fast track to running the Radiology Department at one of the top ranking cancer centers in the US. Plans of a family are in his future, just not his immediate future. That is until he finds himself a single father and failing miserably at juggling it all, forcing him to return home to Upstate New York needing help.

Jill Duncan had plans of her own. But time, money, and a failed marriage squashed her hopes like a soldier’s boot on a cockroach during an apocalypse. When a new doctor shows up at her job, she starts to think that old saying “better late than never” just might apply to her, if only she could get over her own insecurities.

Autumn Love…Chapter One #mgtab

AUTUMNLOVE

Here is the last sneak peek to Autumn Love! Grab it now. If you haven’t read the prologue yet, you can catch up on that first.

Lucky Day

Thirteen Years Later

“Argh,” Ali said, wanting to bang her head against the marker board. “I always run out of ink in the middle of writing down the homework.” Budget cuts meant she was going to have to go buy her own markers rather than use the ones left over from last year. As if she didn’t have enough things to spend her money on.

“I guess that means there’s no homework tonight, Ms. Rogers,” one of her fourth graders said.

“Think again, kiddo. Let’s see how well you listen. I want everyone to read chapter three in your history books and complete questions five through twenty on page nineteen for math.

“It’s only the third week of school,” another kid complained. She remembered those days but didn’t care. She was the teacher now and she got to assign the work, not do it. It felt wonderful to be an adult.

“That’s why you’re only getting two subjects for the weekend. You should be happy you didn’t get any homework that first week.”

The bell rang and everyone jumped up as fast as they could and ran for the door. She remembered those days too and couldn’t really blame the kids. When she was their age, this time of year she was waiting to get off the bus and start working at the orchard. It never felt like work to her back then, climbing the trees and picking apples to put in the store.

Since it was Friday afternoon, she had no plans to stay late. She would have if any of her students needed some extra help, but they lit out of the room like Wile E. Coyote was chasing the Road Runner.

“Any plans this weekend?”

Ali turned to see Corrie, another fourth grade teacher, enter the room ten minutes later. Corrie was about five years older and had been here since she graduated from college. Lucky duck got a job right away, unlike Ali who had to spend the past three years subbing while she worked on her master’s at night.

“I’m going to run to the outlets in a few minutes and then go to my mother’s for dinner. She sounded anxious on the phone, so I’m thinking she’s getting overwhelmed this year. I probably shouldn’t have started to talk to her about the haunted house yet with it still being mid-September.”

It was Ali’s responsibility to design and set up the orchard’s Halloween haunted house, but she always talked it over with her mother. She wondered if maybe she should have waited since her mother had been preoccupied lately.

“I can’t wait to see it,” Corrie said. “I remember going through it when I was growing up. I had my first kiss behind the barn there after I ran screaming from the place and my date thought that would be the only way to get me to stop.”

Ali laughed. “Did it work?”

“I stopped screaming, but the kiss wasn’t all that memorable.”

“Yet you’re telling me about it right now?”

“Only because it was the first, not because it was any good.”

“Well, I’ve got a few things up my sleeve this year. My mother never does much with it other than make all the gory bloody things. I’m not sure what is going on with her, but I’ll figure it out.”

“The retail therapy beforehand will help,” Corrie said.

“It will. I’m in desperate need of clothes, but I was waiting to see what was left of my first paycheck.”

It felt nice to know she’d have a steady check now, not just to be relying on when she was called in to sub. Then again, the orchard was packed on the weekends this time of year so that was always a nice income she could put away.

“Let me know if you find any deals.”

“Will do,” Ali said, grabbing her bag and purse and rushing out.

She walked out to her old beat-up and abused car that had barely gotten her through college, let alone the past few years, but there was no way she could afford a car payment prior to this year.

Even now, she was waiting until her old Honda died before she’d sign her name on any dotted line. Her student loans were bad enough and made her want to burst into tears when she saw that money vanish each month.

She made the short drive from Glens Falls to Lake George to get some shopping done. She would have loved to land a job in her hometown, but anything under a thirty-minute commute was gravy to her, so half that time was like a full turkey dinner that she stuffed herself silly with every Thanksgiving.

Today happened to be her lucky day and she was loaded down with bags, thrilled with all the sales she’d hit, when she looked down trying to juggle them in her hands. She must have drifted a bit on the sidewalk because the next thing she knew she was running into a wall and landing flat on her butt with her bags flying everywhere.

Her face turned red, her butt probably matched the color, but when she looked up she saw it wasn’t an actual wall she hit, but rather a man. A tall built man. Woohoo, lucky day indeed.

“You should watch where you’re going,” he said, a ton of humor in his voice.

“Sorry. I was adjusting my loot and my feet just had a mind of their own.”

He reached down and offered her a hand to pull her up, then grabbed some of her bags. “Guess you hit it big today.”

“I did. Again, I’m sorry.” He had the kindest brown eyes she’d seen in a while and they were staring right at her.

“No worries,” he said and there was a lengthy pause. Was he going to ask her name? Her number? She glanced at his hand and didn’t see a ring, not that that meant anything. “Are you sure you’re okay?”

“I’m fine. Thanks again for helping me up.” He handed her back her bags he was holding and when their hands touched she felt a spark strong enough to make her fingertips sizzle.

“Okay. Well, have a nice day,” he said. She was positive he’d felt the spark too, but he just nodded and walked away.

She sighed deeply and started to walk back to her car, turning her head to see where he was going. Into the Reebok store. Did she need some workout clothes? Not really, and she wasn’t in a position to even consider it. Bummer. Oh well, he’d probably think she was stalking him.

She shrugged it off and continued on her way.

Ten minutes later she was pulling into the orchard and shutting her car off. She made her way to the bakery, assuming her mother would be working. “Hey, Mandy, is my mom around?”

“She’s at the main house right now. I think she’s done for the day.”

Mandy had been employed at the bakery for as long as Ali could remember. “Have you noticed anything odd about her lately?”

“Not that I can tell. Why?” Mandy asked, cleaning up now. The bakery would be open another hour and then closed along with the store for the day. Most people came out earlier on, not around dinner or after. Both her mother and Mandy would be at it bright and early baking in the morning for the weekend crowd.

“No reason. She wanted to see me tonight.”

“She probably just wants to talk about the fall season. You know as well as I do how crazy it is.”

“It is. I’ll see you tomorrow.” Ali turned and walked out, then made her way to the main house where her mother now lived.

Her mother and father had split shortly after Ali’s thirteenth birthday and her mother and she ended up moving in and living with her grandfather. The best years of Ali’s life were when she lived on this farm.

Ali could have come back here to live with her mother when she graduated from college, but she wanted her own space. It was probably a stupid decision on her part when money was scarce, but she’d had a taste of independence at college and wasn’t ready to give it up.

Not to mention her grandfather was no longer there, and it was hard for her to be in his house when he wasn’t, though she’d never admitted that to her mother.

“Mom,” Ali yelled when she walked in the back door of the old farmhouse. It needed some work, but neither of them was equipped enough to do more than paint or change a light bulb most of the time.

“In the living room, Ali.”

She walked in and saw her mother sitting in her grandfather’s old recliner. She couldn’t remember the last time anyone sat in that chair. But after her grandfather had died five years ago, her mother hadn’t had it in her to get rid of it. Secretly Ali was okay with that decision.

“Are you okay?”

“Come sit, Ali.”

“How come you’re in Grandpa’s chair?”

Her mother looked sad right now. “I need his strength.”

“Are you ill?” she asked quickly.

“No, no. Nothing like that.” Her mother took a deep breath. “I decided to sell the farm.”

“What? You can’t do that. It has to stay in our family. It’s supposed to come to me.” Was her mother losing her mind?

“Unless you’ve got one hundred and twenty-seven thousand and ninety-four dollars, it’s going to go to the bank if I don’t sell it.”

Ali didn’t know what to say. Her mother hadn’t been much better than her with money. “I don’t understand. We do well.”

“We do well for several months a year, but the business needs upkeep and money to run it year round. And I’m tired, Ali. I really can’t do it alone anymore.”

Ali felt her eyes fill. “I don’t want to let it go. It was Grandpa’s. I’ll work more.” It was her legacy, all she had left of the man that she’d looked up to so much in her life, but she didn’t want to say that and put any more of a burden on her mother’s shoulders.

Why hadn’t she noticed how tired her mother had been before now?

“I don’t want to either. I didn’t even consider selling it, though it’s been on my mind for years. But I’m struggling to make the loan payments and last year wasn’t a great year. You know how it is, crops can go bad and we can’t predict it. I’m terrified of another year like that. I was approached with an offer today. One I can’t refuse.”

“So it’s over with? Just like that. No time to have a final season? No time to try to find the money?”

This couldn’t be happening. She had high hopes for the haunted house this year. She knew she shouldn’t be having selfish thoughts like that, but it was the first thing that popped into her head. It was something she’d started with her grandfather and she held that close to her chest. Something she looked forward to every year.

“This will be our last season. The guy who approached me is kind enough to let us stay on as the owners until the end of the year because he wants to work alongside of us. He wants to learn the ins and outs of the farm.”

“So it’s someone who doesn’t even know anything about running a farm or an orchard?” That’s not a way to keep the farm alive!

“He’s a contractor. He wants the land and the house and the bakery. The orchard is a bonus, but he promised he’d keep the integrity of the business. He seemed genuine.”

Ali started to sniffle. “But it’s your bakery. What are you going to do?”

“I’m going to retire. I told you, I’m tired. I’ll find some nice part-time job if I need to, or maybe I can stay on here part-time in the bakery. We haven’t gotten that far yet. But I’ll make an extremely nice profit on the sale of the farm and it will give me a lot of breathing room to make those decisions.”

“There is no talking you out of this?”

“No. My mind is made up. This is our last hoorah. Let’s make the best of it.”

Ali moved toward her mother’s outstretched hand and sat next to her on the chair.

“It’s what Grandpa would want. He wouldn’t be happy to see it the way it is right now, you know that. I can’t do it anymore.”

She looked at her mother’s tired eyes and knew she was right, but her heart was just breaking. “I understand. I just need time to adjust.”

“You’ve got your own life and career, Ali. It’s time to make peace with this. It was never going to be your life and you know it. You just wanted to hold onto it because it was Grandpa’s. I understand, but we can’t always hold onto something just because we want to.”

She knew, but a part of her was having a hard time letting go.

 

 

Autumn Love…Prologue #mgtab

AUTUMNLOVE

Here is a sneak peek at Autumn Love!

Prologue

“What’s your favorite kind of apple, Grandpa?” Ali asked.

She was sitting next to him on the tractor that he’d just shut off, looking around the orchard that she loved so much. Most of the orchard was filled with McIntosh, but there were plenty of Cortland, Macoun, Crispin, and Honeycrisp, not to mention other fruits and vegetables on the farm, but to Ali, the apples were the star.

“My favorite is the one I’m eating at that moment,” he said, laughing. He was like jolly old Saint Nick to her. White hair, white beard, and a big belly. At twelve she didn’t believe in Santa anymore, but she believed in her grandfather and that was good enough.

“But if you had a choice?” she asked again. She was always asking a million questions, or so her father always annoyingly said.

Her grandfather hopped off the tractor and reached his long arm up to grab a small Mac off the tree and tossed it to her. Another week or so and they’d be ready for people to line up and start picking.

“Right now, this is my favorite. Tart on the first bite, then followed up by a juicy sweetness. Can’t get any better than this, can you?”

She bit into the apple and realized he was right when a dribble of juice rolled down her chin. It was her favorite at the moment. “I’m so excited about the hayrides and haunted house this year.”

“I don’t know how I let you talk me into that, but I feel like a kid myself planning it all out. Your mother has all sorts of ideas for the bakery too, to have snacks ready for the night to sell.”

“I’m going to help her in there too. I can’t wait until this is all mine someday,” she said.

As the only grandchild, she figured it’d come to her. Why wouldn’t it? Her mother was an only child too and worked on the farm her whole life. She ran the bakery on site that was open all year round.

“You’ve got a lot of years ahead of you to make that decision,” her grandfather said. “There is a great big world out there for you. Running this farm is a lot of work and takes its toll on the body and sometimes the soul. It’s not meant for everyone.”

“You’re as strong as an ox,” she told her grandfather as he grabbed a ladder and started to climb up one tree to inspect the apples. He’d been teaching her what to look for for years now.

“I’m as big as one, that’s for sure,” he said, laughing loudly.

Ali paused, climbed off the tractor and looked up at her grandfather, then finally said, “Mom and Dad are fighting a lot about the farm. Is that why you said what you did?”

Her grandfather climbed down the ladder and took her by the shoulders. “I said it’s a lot of work because it is. Your mother loves it here, or so she has always said. That’s why we opened the bakery for her all those years ago.”

“She does,” Ali insisted. “That’s why Dad is mad. He says she pays more attention to the farm and the store than him.”

Her grandfather snorted. “I’ll keep my lips sealed on that comment. Here’s the deal, Ali. You’ve got options for your future. You don’t have to be tied here in Lake George. You don’t have to be tied to the Adirondacks at all. There’s a big world out there and I want to make sure you’ve thought it all through before you commit to staying here or working this farm.”

“I know what I want,” she said stubbornly. “I’m never leaving. This is my legacy.” She giggled and her grandfather pulled her into his arms.

“You’re a good kid, Ali. Just remember this conversation one day. A legacy doesn’t mean a lot if you’re all by yourself trying to pull it together. It takes teamwork. A family of sorts.”

“We’ve got a family. It’s you and Mom and me. That’s all we need. And you’ve got all those employees too.”

He kissed her on the forehead, like he always did, then pulled her into his arms. She’d never grow tired of her grandfather’s hugs. It wasn’t as if she got them much from her father. She was guessing her mother didn’t either. “Someday you’ll understand.”

Autumn Love

AUTUMNLOVE

What happens when Ali’s grandfather’s ghost decides to make an appearance and meddle in her life?

Liam Sullivan is a well-respected businessman in the community. He sees a beloved apple orchard falling into disrepair and offers to buy it, making a dream come true for his mother. When he discovers the woman he’s interested in is the daughter of the current owner, he’s stuck with a choice between work and pleasure. Or could he have both?

Ali Rogers’s life is falling down around her. She’s in debt up to her ears. Her mother is selling the family business that should have gone to her and the sexy new owner has his eye on her. Only, there is nothing she can do about it because she is losing her mind. How else does she explain all the conversations she’s having with her deceased grandfather?

Fierce-Mason…Chapter One #mgtab

Mason_3

If you haven’t read the Prologue yet, now is your time to catch up on it.

Rubbed Off

Thirteen Years Later

“Damn, bro, I’ve never seen you in action before. Even Brody would be scared.”

Mason turned and saw Aiden had walked into his home gym. The music was playing and he hadn’t realized he wasn’t alone. All his siblings had keys to each other’s houses. His parents’ too.

He picked up a towel and wiped his forehead. He wasn’t used to anyone seeing him while he worked out. He’d purposely done it when he knew no one would be around, dragging his butt out of bed while telling himself he hated every minute of it but knowing, as his mother told him so many years ago, the illusion was what worked. She was right.

And in order to maintain it, he had to stick to the routine. All those years ago, and even now, he thought of it like homework for a class. That allowed him to excel like he did in school.

“I doubt it,” Mason said, grabbing a drink and fighting the urge to put his shirt on, covering his sweaty chest and arms. He normally hid under clothing. He wasn’t as muscular as Brody by any means—no one was—but he was built. His body was by far the leanest of the group, probably the strongest, but no one said much about it when he was shirtless…which he very rarely was for that reason. No use tempting fate with conversations he’d rather not have.

All this training had improved his confidence. Or maybe it just improved his overall façade. He still never fought anyone. Years of classes and training and the most he’d ever done was some hand to hand with instructors for lessons. It was monitored and no one got hurt. No one actually fought. Just the way he liked it.

“So why are you going at it so hard right now?” Aiden asked, walking over to the mini fridge Mason kept in the room and getting his own bottle of water.

“Just my daily workout. No special reason.” No one needed to know it was dreaded as much as one of his mother’s lectures.

“Well then, thanks for making the rest of us look like pikers. When Nic sees you at the pool I’ll never hear the end of it.”

Mason laughed. Nic was Aiden’s fiancée of just a few weeks. Aiden had proposed on Christmas morning in front of the whole family. That was two of them engaged now. Brody had been first in the fall. His brothers seemed to be dropping like dominoes right now.

“She only has eyes for you. She’d have nothing in common with me other than you and I are brothers.”

“You supply the brew for our food in the kitchen,” Aiden said, laughing.

“There is that. What brings you by? Why aren’t you at work right now? Or at home in bed with Nic. Got to be something wrong with you.”

Aiden laughed. “Nic went in early. Her grandmother is there with some other staff and they’re showing them how to bake the bread for the restaurant.”

Nic’s grandparents used to own an Italian bakery, but it burned down years ago. Now Nic worked in the kitchen with Aiden, more like filling in. She was in charge of some of the changes going on, but basically she was now photographing everything for all of Fierce’s branches for marketing purposes. When she wasn’t doing that, she was teaching others in the kitchen her grandparents’ recipes for Italian pastries and bread.

“And you had nothing else better to do, after probably getting home at midnight, than to come here at seven in the morning?” Mason asked.

“Since when don’t you want to see me?” Aiden asked.

The two of them were the closest of the group. Quintuplets. And though they were all close, he and Aiden seemed to have the strongest bond. Which was funny because Aiden was the most confident of the group, Mason the least. The least confident in life in general. In school or work, Mason had more than all of them together.

None of Aiden’s had rubbed off on Mason in the past when maybe it should have though. He supposed that was why his parents put them in the same room. Maybe they should have put him in with Cade. At least Cade was good at running his mouth and Mason could have used a bit of that back then. Some smooth talking might have saved him a black eye a time or two. Or maybe one less time shoved against lockers.

“Let me just go grab a quick shower. You can go make us some breakfast and we can talk over what’s coming up on tap next and what I’m brewing for the spring and summer.”

“Sounds like a plan,” Aiden said, walking into Mason’s kitchen.

It wasn’t anything like the kitchen Aiden was used to, but Mason liked his house in the country away from everyone. He had a lot of lawn that he barely had the time to mow, but found he enjoyed it when he could. If he couldn’t, he’d call in a service. But the two acres gave him time to sit on a tractor and think of his end of the business.

The five of them all had their own specialty and they all ran it well.

Brody ran the bar. He was the loudest and the most personable. The most at ease in a group of people.

Aiden could cook like a dream. The things he thought of only made Mason’s head spin.

Cade, he was the family lawyer and in control of all the marketing and branding.

Ella ran everything and anything the rest of them didn’t want to do. All the behind the scenes work with money and paperwork.

Then there was Mason. It was all on him at times…or so it seemed.

He ran the brewery. The biggest moneymaker of the business and the newest part of it.

Four of them went away to college with dreams and plans to expand the family business and it was all falling into place. The most substantial addition was the brewery. The largest cost and biggest risk. His parents believed in him and they made it happen. Now it was the largest percentage of income with the most on the line.

His brews weren’t just sold in the bar but also bottled and shipped all over the East Coast. With any luck, they’d make their way out West at some point too. But right now he had his hands full just managing it as it was.

When he was done with his shower, he opened his door to the smell of bacon, eggs, and coffee. He didn’t even know he had bacon in his house.

“Where did that come from?” he asked Aiden, as two omelets were slid on plates, next to a huge mound of bacon.

“I brought it with me. You never have anything here. I was shocked you even had eggs. Now you’ve got more since I’ll leave the rest.”

He didn’t spend a lot of time at home, and when he did, he didn’t waste it cooking. Most of the time he grabbed a cup of coffee and a protein bar and ran out the door in the morning. At some point during the day, he’d go around the corner to the restaurant and get a good-sized lunch. His only real meal for the day. Dinner was whatever he found in his house that didn’t require a lot of effort.

“I appreciate it,” he said, sitting down and picking up his coffee. Everything Aiden touched tasted better than he could ever imagine. He’d long since given up asking how it was done.

“So tell me the plans? What are you starting now?”

It was only January, but most beers took weeks to months or even years before they were ready to tap. He was planning spring and summer brews now and would be starting the process soon. “I haven’t officially settled on anything. I’ll definitely bring back a few of the summer brews from last year.”

“Jolene for sure,” Aiden said. “Brody said that was a big hit and I was able to use it in a lot of recipes.”

Fiercely Jolene was a beer named after his mother. Sweet on the first sip, then the tartness just slapped you in the face. He thought it was funny to name it after her, so did his siblings. His mother, not so much…though she wasn’t laughing when she saw the sales.

“First on the list. I’ll make more and have Cade push the marketing on it.”

“You know Mom is going to frown over it. Cade wants to use her as part of the promotion.”

“Really?” Mason asked, laughing. “Serves her right.”

Mason remembered all the times his mother started out all nice and sweet with the five of them and then when they least expected it, she went in for the kill, making them all feel about two inches tall. She had some wicked ways with her punishments too and knowing all the kids’ weaknesses.

“Speaking of Mom, I heard you have her finding staff for you? Why?”

Mason stopped shoveling food into his mouth. “She’s been bugging me lately. Not sure what is going on, but every time I turn around she’s in the brewery just following me around, asking a million questions.”

Aiden burst out laughing. “Has to be getting on your nerves since she knows how much you hate to talk.”

Mason snorted. He swore his mother got bored and just picked a kid to torment. He was wondering what he’d done wrong to be the chosen one now. “I tried being nice and telling her I was busy.”

“Being nice has never worked with her before.”

“It didn’t this time either. She started lecturing me that I needed more women in the brewery. I know that. We try to make it as equal as possible, but I can’t help it if no women apply.”

Aiden rolled his eyes. “I’ve heard it all before.”

“Then she went on and on that the brewery is getting so much attention that the least we could do was get a woman to do the tours. Mix it up a little. I told her she could find that person if she wanted it so bad.”

His mother just wouldn’t stop nagging him about it and he was starting to think he was being punished, only he couldn’t figure out what would have warranted it.

“You’re letting Mom do that? Find someone to give brewery tours when she can’t even remember the name of half the beers, let alone the ingredients to go in it? You think that’s wise?”

“This is Mom we’re talking about. She’d never let anyone set foot in the business that wasn’t qualified or if she didn’t look under every rock to find out what she could about them. I’m not worried and I’m surprised to hear you are.”

“True. Still, this is one part of the business she is really clueless about.”

“It’s just part-time and whoever she hires, I’ll walk through with the person. If they’ve got a good enough memory, it’s easy. It’s more a rehearsed speech than anything.”

“Good luck to you then,” Aiden said. “I’d rather hire my own staff.”

“And we all know how much you love doing that,” Mason said.

Aiden was the worst of them all when it came to interviewing. He ran every potential candidate through the paces as if he were a drill sergeant during basic training. He had high expectations and it was hard for him to find what he was looking for.

“Just the same. Have fun dealing with Mom during this process,” Aiden said.

“How bad could it be?”

Fierce-Mason Prologue #mgtab

Mason_3

It’s time to start giving you a little look into Mason! Less than a week until the release!

Prologue

Mason Fierce looked around at the sterile white walls of the clinic taking inventory of every ache and pain in his body.

This was so embarrassing. Frustrating. Demoralizing.

This never happened back home, at least to this extent. Pushes, shoves, and petty words… those were easily hidden from others. But here at college, it was much worse.

He knew the answer why. He’d known all along, but just never wanted to consider that possibility.

It was because of his brothers.

No one messed with Brody or Cade. Even with Aiden. They may all look alike, all be around the same size, with the exception of Brody, who’d always been an inch taller at six foot two and covered with more muscles.

Mason was actually the same height as Brody, but he always hunched just a little bit. Always been the quiet one of the group. The smart one. The one that stayed in the shadows. He’d leave his brothers to all the action, thank you very much.

Even Ella walked with more confidence than him. The lone girl of the Fierce Five. Everyone was fierce. Everyone but him, it seemed.

Without his brothers in the picture at college, people weren’t so afraid to do more than push.

“Looks like you’ve got one hell of a shiner there.”

He turned his head and watched his mother walk into the room. What the hell was she doing here? Just what he needed. No one messed with her.

Pathetic, his mother was more confident than him, it seemed, when she strode in like she was ready to knock the biggest person out of her way with the flick of her fingertip.

“You didn’t think the clinic would call me when you ended up in here?” she asked, smirking at him. He’d only been in here for three hours. They must have called his mother the moment he entered, or she broke some records on the drive over.

He was in pain and there she was sending him that damn Fierce smirk that they all inherited. Only he hardly ever used it.  Why bother? It wasn’t as if he felt he could back it up, nor had he ever wanted to.

He happened to be the peaceful one of the group. Or as he’d been called one too many times by others when his brothers weren’t around: “a pussy.”

“What did they tell you?”

“That you’d been in a fight. Since I know you, I know you didn’t start it. You can’t stand to fight or fight back. I figured I’d better come in and see how much damage you incurred. Though you’re used to wrestling with your brothers, we know they took it easy on you when maybe they should have roughed you up a bit. One of you four had to be my gentle one and it happened to be you, Mason.”

He narrowed his eyes. So much for thinking he’d get sympathy; instead she was insulting him. He’d heard it enough in life about being the soft one, the kind one, the gentle one. It made him look more like a wuss than anything else.

He could be thankful his siblings never really used extremely insulting words to him. Oftentimes, he thought they were trying to toughen him up. He just didn’t want any part of being that way.

“Did you tell anyone?”

“Of course not, but you know they can feel when something is wrong. Aiden and Cade are probably busy right now partying in the dorms. Brody was working and stopped, then asked me if I’d heard from you. My guess is he felt something was off.”

Mason was the closest to Aiden and fully expected to hear from him. Not from Brody. But like his mother said, they were all probably doing something else. Brody was the only one that didn’t go to college, deciding to run the bar at the family business.

“What did you tell him?”

“I told Brody and your father that the school called and said you didn’t feel good. That it could be a nasty cold, but I was just going to come down and check. Since everyone knows how much of a helicopter mother I am, it wasn’t questioned. If Brody thought it was something else, he would have been here with me taking care of it.”

He wanted to snort at the nickname he’d given her so many years ago for always hovering over them all. “Thanks, Mom. I don’t need my brothers fighting my battles for me.”

She walked over and sat on the bed next to him, the jarring motion causing his aching ribs to intensify. That guy had one nasty club of a fist and he didn’t hesitate to lay it into Mason’s sides a few times.

“Mason, you four have always stuck together. It’s what family does. But I understand that it causes more problems than if you kept it all to yourself. Like with the dickhead Chuck all through school.”

“What are you talking about?” he asked nervously.

“Please, Mason. Every mother knows when their child has something going on in their life. Chuck bullied you for years. You took it and never said a word. I’m guessing because you knew Brody and Cade would be all over him like tape on lint.”

“Yeah,” he said. Then instead of being bullied for being the smart, quiet one, he’d be labeled the one that needed his brothers to take care of him.

“So what caused this today?” she asked.

“Nothing,” he said, glad she was moving out of the past and into the present.

“Your swollen eye says differently.” She reached her hand over and put it on his. “You didn’t want to do someone’s work for them?”

“No. It’s not that.” He’d had others hint that it would benefit him to do their work, but he’d walked away. Most left him alone and moved to another target. He might not have liked to fight, but he knew if he ignored it and didn’t give the satisfaction of being bothered, he’d usually be left alone.

“Then what?”

He turned his head and looked away from her, but she took ahold of his hand and held it. Something she hadn’t done in years. It was enough for him to say, “I’ve been tutoring someone. Guess her boyfriend took exception to the amount of time we’ve been spending together, even though it was only for schoolwork.”

“Maybe that girl didn’t think so?”

He snorted. “I’ve given her no reason to think otherwise. Her boyfriend is on the football team with a full scholarship. She likes having him on her arm. It’s all she ever talks about. Annoyingly so.” He was thinking back to all the times he’d have to tell her to just focus on the work, not her boyfriend, until they were done.

“Then maybe she likes to make him jealous or get a little extra loving from him? Some more attention that you’re saying she seems to crave.”

“Could be,” he said, shrugging. “You didn’t need to come here. I’ll be fine. I don’t want to press charges or anything. I’m not filing reports, whatever they told you.”

“I figured you wouldn’t. He’d lose his scholarship, probably be expelled too.”

“He’d just get all his buddies to say I started it, that it was self-defense. It’d only get worse, or I’d be the one expelled.”

She laughed. “You have so much to learn, Mason. Starting with this.”

She dropped a brochure on his lap. He picked it up and looked at it. “You want me to join a gym?”

“Nope,” she said, taking it out of his hand and turning it over. “I think you need to do this. If you aren’t going to fight back, then at least give the illusion that you can. Or make sure you can if you ever need to again. You’ve got the size; you just need to work on your confidence. This will help.”

“Boxing? You want me to learn to box?” Was she nuts? She’d just admitted he didn’t like to fight and she was dropping a brochure of the sport that epitomized fighting in his lap.

“Kickboxing too. Both of them. I just paid for a year’s membership. Once you’re healed, get your butt there.” She leaned over and kissed him on the forehead. “Trust me, Mason. No one will mess with you again.”