True Love

Introducing the second novella in the Love Collection!

True Love

TRUE LOVE(3)

Shattered dreams vs. a new beginning. Can a young widow with a two-year-old heal this wounded warrior?

Jared Hawk thought he had it all. Until he didn’t. Until a bomb exploded bringing a building down around him and his unit, leaving him less than the man he was.  Broken and disabled, he needed to figure out a new plan of action hoping to find a glimmer of the happiness he’d had before.

Shelby McDonald wanted a fresh start. A new life. She didn’t expect to be a single mother—a widow—at just twenty-three. She was strong enough to start over once, she could do it again. She had to. She had no choice. It may not have been the life she envisioned, but she’d be damned if anything was going to hold her back…including the sexy Navy SEAL trying to find his way again.

Secret Love…Chapter One

Here is the last teaser of Secret Love that I’m going to post. You can buy the book for just 99 cents on Amazon! If you haven’t read the prologue, you can catch up.

SECRET LOVE(1) Secret Love is also part of the Unforgettable Suspense Boxed set that was just released yesterday! You can get that whole set for only 99 cents too! That’s eight stories from eight different authors!

unforgettablesuspense-box-3d-1

Welcome to the Building

Two Years Later

Vin woke, but didn’t open his eyes, just zeroed in on his surroundings. He was in the apartment he’d lived in for two months now, and there wasn’t a noise to be heard other than his own breathing. But something woke him and something was off. He’d learned to go with his gut long ago.

He waited a second, then heard another noise, not recognizing it. He reached over and grabbed his gun from under the other pillow, then sat up fast and pointed it toward the closed door.

A few more seconds passed and nothing. No noises. No movements, on his part or the most likely imaginary sounds he was hearing.

Easing out of bed, he quietly made his way to the bedroom door, turned the knob and waited, listened, then moved again, into the hallway this time, his back against the wall.

He was popping around the corners looking for enemies, his gun drawn and ready to fire, but there was nothing. No one. Just him. Just his mind playing tricks on him. Again.

He wasn’t having as many nightmares. He wasn’t jumpy twenty-four seven. He’d thought he was improving. He guessed not.

Before he went back to bed, he walked to the front door and opened it to peek out into the hall. There on his doorstep, was a plate of cookies.

He rolled his eyes and picked them up. This was the third time cookies were left at his doorstep. The first time, he’d destroyed them, once he’d convinced himself it was okay to even pick them up to begin with. What an idiot move that’d been. Thankfully there was no one around to see him breaking every one apart until crumbs were spread all over the counter.

After reading the little welcome note on it, he’d realized how ridiculous he was being. He was a civilian now. He didn’t have to look over his shoulder at everything and everyone. Not unless he was working. And even then, he took on the jobs he wanted, when he wanted to. And those jobs had very little risk of life and death to them. Been there, done that and didn’t want to do it again if he could avoid it.

He was sick of being so jumpy. Sick of looking for the bad in everything.

He brought the cookies to his kitchen just now and lightly tossed them on the counter, watching them skid across and hit the backsplash. Then he looked at the clock and saw it was barely four a.m.

His wacko neighbor again. Piper Fielding. Owner and operator of Sweet Eats in town. He knew a lot about her. After she’d left the first batch of “welcome to the building” cookies with her card and handwritten note, he’d searched for everything he could on her.

Twenty-six-year-old single female. Opened her business almost two years ago, and by all indications was thriving. When he got the second batch and actually sampled her goodies, he could understand why.

What he couldn’t understand was why she was leaving him plates of food. He’d yet to talk to her once. He hadn’t even crossed paths with her. He only knew what she looked like from her picture on her website, and from when he was scoping her out coming home one day. It was hard to miss her driving around in a bumblebee yellow hatchback with her logo on the side.

He grabbed a glass and filled it with water, then drained it before he put it in the sink. He needed sleep. He’d been up researching a job until well past midnight. Then something woke him minutes ago, and he was thinking it was Piper sliding the cookies in front of his door. Or so he hoped. Because the other explanation was one he didn’t want to think about. He was getting better. He knew he was.

He hoped.

***

“Well, did you do it?”

Piper looked up when Sam walked into the kitchen thirty minutes before her shift. The store opened at seven, but Piper was here hours earlier baking away. Very few things stayed in her storefront window for longer than two days. And if they did, she got rid of them. Either as donations to the local homeless shelters or giving them to neighbors. She prided herself on fresh.

“I did. Slid them in front of his door before I left this morning.”

“Have you even talked to him yet? Has he thanked you for the other two plates you’ve left?”

Piper pursed her lips. “Nope. Haven’t seen him. I don’t even know what he looks like, for the most part. Just that he’s tall and has dark hair and some pretty impressive shoulders and legs.”

“Huh?” Sam asked, putting her apron on, her blonde ponytail falling over her shoulder.

“I saw him walking down the hall one day. He came out his door and turned so fast that I didn’t get to see his face. But the back of him was pretty darn spectacular.”

Sam giggled. She was just twenty-two, but Piper had known her for years, from a house they both lived in for a short period of time. Sam was a good person who just needed a job. Piper took her on knowing what it felt like to need a chance in life. Now Sam stocked the display cases every morning and waited on all the customers while Piper and Nicole worked the kitchen, baking and filling orders. Pretty soon she was going to have to get some more store help, and try to figure out a way to do it without hurting Sam’s feelings.

It seemed more and more people wanted cookies and cupcakes, pastries and muffins over cakes. Since she wasn’t a huge fan of decorating cakes, it worked in her favor. That was Nicole’s specialty.

“Do you even know his name?” Sam asked.

“Nope. Not a clue. I’ve asked around too. No one knows and everyone has been keeping an eye out and an ear open.”

Piper lived in a three-story apartment building with four apartments on each floor. She and her mysterious neighbor had the apartments facing the back of the building on the third floor. She liked not having anyone above her since she went to bed and got up so early each day.

“That’s weird. Have you tried to sweet talk the landlords for any information?” Sam asked.

“Tried and failed,” Piper said, frowning. “Brought them cookies and all, but I got nowhere.”

“They laughed at you, didn’t they?”

“Of course. You know how nosy I am. They know how nosy I am. Everyone does.” Piper laughed. “Sweets get people talking. Nothing is working this time, though.”

“I’m sure you’ll find something out soon enough,” Sam said, then wheeled the tray of baked goods Piper had lined up, ready for Sam to put up front.

“Maybe. But for now, we better get to work. I’ve got three orders to get done by this afternoon. Call me if you get busy and need help. Nicole won’t be in until ten today.”

“I’ll be fine. You do your thing and I’ll do mine,” Sam said, smiling and going about her day.

Piper put her head down and started to whistle while she filled a piping bag, preparing to decorate the five dozen cookies for an office party today.

“Piper,” Nicole said a few hours later when she walked in. “I think Sam needs some help.”

Piper wanted to scream since Sam never said a word. She wiped batter off her hands and pushed through the doors to see a line of people waiting to be served and Nicole jumping in to help too.

“Why didn’t you say anything?” Piper asked Sam as she filled a pastry box with one of the brightly decorated cakes Nicole pumped out like an assembly line for her each morning.

“I know you needed to get those orders done. It was fine until about five minutes ago, and then it was like the floodgates just opened right up. The green floodgates. I had it covered though.”

Piper giggled. The green floodgates were the gates of money to Sam. “Next time just call me. You know I love mingling with the customers.”

Sam grinned and filled the orders just as fast and efficiently as Piper. Sam’s problem was she always wanted to prove her worth. Piper got that, understood it even. They came from the same place, both of them just trying to survive. But they were past it now. Sam needed to loosen up a little.

Twenty-five minutes later, the line had thinned out. Several people were sitting at the little tables taking a break and eating their treats, chatting with friends. Sweet Treats wasn’t a restaurant by any means, but there was seating for easily twenty to mill around and talk if they wanted. She even had open Wi-Fi, trying to turn this into a coffee house for the generation that liked to get out and work outside of four tiny walls.

Piper went back to the kitchen and finished baking the second order of cakes she’d been working on. Before she started assembling her third and final order, she detoured out to the storefront one more time. It was relatively quiet right now, so she walked out and started to clean up the tables, talking to those that were sitting there while Sam and Nicole restocked the almost empty showcase.

“You’ve outdone yourself once again, Piper.”

She smiled at Quinton, one of her regulars. A few times a week he’d open his laptop up on a table, eat a scone or muffin, have a cup of coffee with it, and silently type away. She always wanted to know what he was working on, but found she couldn’t ask for some reason. It never stopped her before, but with him, she hesitated.

“What did you have this time?” she asked, wiping down an empty table next to him.

“The fig-filled matcha muffin. Sam talked me into trying it. I’m glad she did.”

She loved coming up with new and different recipes, finding people were more adventurous than she’d thought. She noticed more than half of those muffins left, when by now the bulk of the muffins were gone this late in the morning. “I’m not sure everyone feels the way you do about them. Maybe it’s the green coloring,” she said, winking at him.

He blushed, just like she figured he would. Then she pushed the empty chairs in and made her way back behind the counter. She was just pushing the swinging door to the kitchen when she heard Sam ask the next customer what they wanted.

“Large coffee. Two blueberry muffins.”

She’d know that voice anywhere. The male voice that gave her nightmares for a long time.

The voice that made her stop believing when people told her they were there to help her.

The voice that laughed at her when she tried to play dumb. Tried to get away.

She wanted to turn around and blast him, tell him what a horrible person he was. That he might have fooled everyone around them, but not her.

Instead, she put her sweaty hand on the door and shoved it open with more force than necessary and took a couple of deep breaths while she leaned against the door.

The air in her lungs wasn’t helping. Maybe a glass of water would. After she downed one, then a second, she knew it was useless at this point to drink a third. She’d calm down in enough time. She always did. And she’d never have enough courage to face him the way she wanted. Instead she ran and hid like she did so long ago.

Sam popped her head in a few minutes later. “What did the creep want today? Gush about your Hulk-inspired muffins?”

For a minute Piper thought Sam was talking about Karl. One of her old foster fathers. The one that thought he could be more than a father to her. That thought she was in the house for his enjoyment. He learned otherwise, and he’d learned it fast.

But Sam mentioned the green muffins, so Piper knew who she was talking about. She forced a laugh. Sam was good about nicknaming anything she thought Piper made that was odd. “You shouldn’t call Quinton a creep. It’s not nice. He said he loved it. I think he might be alone in those thoughts.”

“It was pretty good, at least the first few bites, but too big for me.”

“It’s an acquired taste,” Piper said, pulling up a last-minute order she had to fill. Four dozen assorted pastries and muffins. She needed to get her mind off of the fact Karl was in her shop. She didn’t know if he saw her. He didn’t call her name and he always did when he saw her around town. Always put on a show for everyone that he was this great fill-in father for the short time she was there. Until she did the only thing she could to get out. “Do you think I should slip a few in this order for the fun of it?”

“I’m sure it couldn’t hurt. Someone might eat it.”

Piper laughed at Sam’s funny face, glad that her heart rate was back to normal and she could pretend nothing happened. Just like she’d been doing for years. “I’ll throw them in as two extras. Then I won’t feel bad if they aren’t eaten.” Sam was just standing there staring at her. “What’s on your mind?”

“Don’t you find him a little creepy at all?”

“Who?” Piper asked, walking around the kitchen and trying to figure out what she was going to fill the box with. She wanted clarification so she didn’t slip and say the wrong thing. Guess she was shakier than she realized.

“Quinton. I mean, he’s in here more and more. Just sits there for hours. Doesn’t he have a job? Once you go out and say a few words to him, he finally leaves. If you go out five minutes after he gets here, then he’ll leave. If you wait two hours, he stays until he talks to you. And he left another note on a napkin. I put it on your wall.”

The first time someone left her a note of thanks, she posted it on her wall behind the counter. Now it seemed to have caught on and she got several left a week. It was nice to feel loved like that. To know she was touching so many people in such a simple way.

“Really?” Piper asked. She’d never realized that before. “He’s sweet. Harmless. Just wants a friendly face to say hi. We know what it’s like not having many people to talk to. And whether he has a job or not is of no concern to me, because he’s paying for his food.”

“But it’s not the same. He’s an adult.”

“It’s always the same when you’re lonely, Sam. Like I said, harmless.”

“You think everyone is harmless,” Sam said.

No, she didn’t. But she wanted everyone to believe that, because deep down she tried to believe it herself. “After the lives we’ve had, you have to look for the positive. It will get you through. I give everyone the benefit of the doubt.”

Sam shook her head, her ponytail whipping around. “You’re one of a kind.”

“Could you imagine if there were more of me?” she asked, giggling and crossing her eyes. The crisis had passed, just like she’d been forcing it to her whole life.

“Never,” Sam said, laughing and walking back to the front.

 

Secret Love…Prologue

I’ve mentioned before that I’m writing a new collection of stand alone novellas that will be available for just 99 cents! I’m super excited over this collection and the first one is available for pre-order now with a release date on April 3rd.

Secret Love is my first romantic suspense and I had more fun writing it than I thought I would. Yeah, I know, sounds odd, but I’m an odd duck at times.

SECRET LOVE(1)

Here is the prologue to give you a taste of the my newest book.

Prologue

Vin Steele looked over at the newest member of his squad. He hated them young like this. Like they didn’t know what end of a razor to hold, let alone how to use it. But they were down men and a lot of patrolling needed to be done. Too much chatter on the radio and not enough hours in the day, let alone manpower.

He made sure his earpiece was set, looked around at everyone else, and said, “Testing. Lift your right hand if you hear me.”

No one made a sound; everyone lifted their hand. Good, they could follow orders.

First Class Tim Roseman, the newest member, looked up and smiled. There was no reason to be smiling right now. Not when they were getting ready to leave base. “You’re with me,” he said to Tim. They’d have a little one-on-one chat about staying focused. About staying sharp.

How this was serious.

This was war.

Vin climbed into the Humvee and nodded his head to Tim to get in the passenger seat. The rest knew to climb in the back, gear all in place, ammo strapped on, M4 carbines in hand.

“Listen to instructions. Don’t go off on your own,” Vin said.

“Yes, sir.”

Vin looked over and saw the smile Tim was trying to hide. He’d give him credit for trying at least. “What’s so funny?”

“Nothing, sir.”

“Then why are you so happy?” Vin asked, trying to figure out what was going on. Yeah, he could be happy, but not now. Not when leaving the camp. Not even when preparing to leave camp.

“Just excited to be working with you, sir.”

Vin rolled his eyes. He didn’t get it. He didn’t understand that, and didn’t want to ask. Did he know his name had been thrown around as an up-and-coming commander? Sure, he did. But he didn’t let it go to his head any more than he was letting this frustrating conversation with Tim get to him. If he was one thing, it was focused when he needed to be.

“Keep sharp at all times.”

“Yes, sir.”

Vin stopped talking at that point and concentrated on driving down the dirt road. It was hotter than the gates of hell right now. Dust blowing around like snow in a Chicago winter storm. Everything was brown and just dismal here, though, not white and pure.

The sooner they got this over with, the sooner they could get back to camp and the sooner it’d be tomorrow. The faster the tomorrows came, the faster they could all get home safe and sound.

That was the end game to him. Home. Safe and sound.

They pulled into the town they were instructed to canvas. Ordered to patrol, even try to find out any information. Look for anything suspicious.

Chatter was just that. Chatter. Nothing concrete, and everything to make his skin crawl like the nasty bugs he’d never seen before he showed up here a year ago.

When he shut the vehicle off, his squad got out of the back, he and Tim out of the front. “Stay alert and scope out the area. Keep your distance and look for anything cagey.” He lifted his hands and pointed his team into groups of two, then waved them in the directions he wanted them to go.

“You’re still with me,” he said to the newcomer. At least his smile was gone, replaced by a bit of nervousness. Nerves could be good if they kept you on your toes. Bad if they made you careless.

“What are we looking for?” Tim asked.

“Anything out of the ordinary,” Vin said quickly. He glanced around, didn’t see anything that stood out. “Stay here. I’m going to cross the street and check in the buildings. You keep an eye on the civilians.”

Tim stayed where he was instructed, his rifle in front of him at attention, his eyes shifting around, taking in everything and anything, Vin noticed as he crossed over.

He looked into two buildings, all the while keeping his eyes on Tim, ears open to the rest of his team. Not many were talking, and that was the way he liked it. They’d say something if there was something to say.

He came out of the last building and saw Tim moving toward a child crying on the side of the road. “Halt, Roseman. Don’t approach the subject.”

“He’s just a kid and he’s hurt. He’s harmless.”

The gap was closing now, just two feet away when Vin saw the kid’s hand go under his torn and ragged shirt. “No!” Vin shouted, but it was too late—the explosion knocked him off his feet and out cold.

 

Last Chance…Chapter One

The last little teaser before the release of Last Chance. If you haven’t read the prologue yet, you can catch up on the post last week.

Last Chance

In the Way

“Are you sure it’s okay?”

“Riley,” her brother, Max, said, his ever-present patience missing at the moment. “My door is always open. There is more than enough room and you know it.”

She looked over at Lily, Max’s sister-in-law, as she came strolling in. “I don’t want to be a burden.”

He followed her gaze and then laughed. “You aren’t.” Lily walked back out with a bottle of water in her hand, giving them both a little wave. “Lily is only here a few more weeks, then she’s heading back on campus to work and take some classes for the summer.”

“But I’m in the way with Quinn and the baby,” she said. Max’s wife had given birth to their daughter just three weeks prior.

“You aren’t in the way at all. Quinn is going crazy right now. Having another adult in the house—a female adult—is helping to keep her sanity.”

Riley was about to argue that statement until her niece, Lara, and nephew, Davy, came rushing in arguing with each other about some TV show they’d watched last night, then started banging around in cabinets.

Unlike Quinn, Riley wasn’t used to the noise. She was used to the peace and quiet of her own little apartment. She’d actually enjoyed the solitude the last few months before she moved. Until she didn’t feel safe anymore. Until the quiet felt like spiders crawling over her skin…even in her sleep, waking her up, forcing her to sit up straight, her heart pounding. The city had been getting to her and she’d waited long enough.

Max laughed. “Kids. Enough arguing and slamming things around. I don’t want you to wake up Jocelyn.”

“Too late,” Quinn said, walking into the room with the baby squirming in her arms. “She was up.”

“Sorry, Dad,” Lara said, rushing over and stopping in front of her baby sister. “Sorry, Joce. Can I hold her, Quinn?”

Quinn handed the baby off to Lara. “You didn’t wake her. This child wants to eat nonstop,” Quinn said, walking to the refrigerator and pulling out a bottle to start to heat up. “Speaking of food, what does everyone want for breakfast?”

Riley stood up fast. “I’ll fix it. You just relax and take care of my new niece.”

She hated adding to the chaos of the house and was trying to help as much as she could, when she could. If only they’d let her do something.

“Sit, Riley,” Quinn said, testing the temperature of the formula on her hand now. “You’re a guest in the house. I can’t just lie around doing nothing. I feel fine. Women used to squat in the fields, drop their kids, and finish working. I can handle breakfast for this rowdy bunch.”

Max winked and Lara said, unfazed, “I want pancakes. Can we have them if I feed the baby for you?”

Riley was going to offer to do that, loving the feel of that tiny baby in her hands. The soft smell of freshly cleaned skin. The contented sigh when the bottle was put in Jocelyn’s mouth and the only thing that mattered was immediate satisfaction. It was a peaceful feeling that Riley hadn’t felt in a long time. But Lara looked as though she wasn’t going to release her baby sister without a stick of dynamite in front of her.

“Pancakes coming up. Max, are you staying?” Quinn asked.

“If I wasn’t, I would be now. But you keep forgetting I’ve got to take the kids to school.”

“I can do that,” Riley said.

“And give up pancakes?” Max said, looking slightly outraged. “No way. Just sit and relax, Riley. What’s going on with you?”

Every time she offered to do anything, they shot her down. “Nothing,” she said, letting it drop. The more she talked right now, the more Max would be looking closer for the truth she wasn’t ready to share. “I really appreciate you letting me stay here until my house is ready.”

“Think nothing of it,” Quinn said. “I like having someone here at night who isn’t crying and asking for food.”

“We don’t cry,” Davy said, smirking at Quinn. Riley was glad to see Davy finally out of his shell. He’d been such a quiet kid the past few years. His parents’ divorce had hit him hard and it seemed no one had been able to reach him. She was guessing Quinn did.

“I’m talking about your father,” Quinn said, walking over and filling his coffee cup for him.

Riley saw Max smile at his wife. Yeah, she was jealous. But Max deserved it after his last marriage. They all did.

Still, she’d had dreams and hopes of having this family dynamic at some point in her life. But not now. The last thing she wanted was a man until she got her life in order.

“I’ll clean up when you’re done then,” Riley said.

“That I’ll let you do,” Quinn said.

After everyone was finished eating, with the kids and Quinn upstairs getting ready for the day, Max walked up to Riley at the sink and pulled a bowl out of her hands to dry. “I really am glad you’re here. I don’t want you to feel like you’re in the way. You’re not at all.”

She turned and looked at her older brother. The person she’d looked up to so much in her life. The person she always thought she’d be. The person her father wanted her to be…but she didn’t have it in her to follow in their footsteps. It wasn’t what she wanted, and if her father taught her anything in life, it was to stand on her feet and be her own person. She was trying to find that teenager from so long ago again to do just that.

“I don’t want to be another person Quinn has to take care of.”

“She isn’t taking care of you. You’re almost invisible here. You’re staying in her old suite that was just collecting dust anyway. It’s helping her since it’s one less room she feels she has to clean, because we’ve always known how much of a neat freak you are.”

The old nanny suite was nice and private, with a separate entrance from the rest of the house. It allowed Riley to come and go as she pleased, but it didn’t change anything. The two weeks she’d been here already felt like two years. She was ready to be gone. Almost as ready as she’d been to move out of her parents’ house and head to college eleven years ago.

Max sighed, sensing her mood, like he had so much when they were growing up. “When is your house going to be done?”

She’d bought a house sight unseen. A townhouse, really. Something closer to town for her, not so far out on the lake. Not that she didn’t enjoy it here, but after living in New York City, this was too quiet for her. She wanted to look out her window and at least see a streetlight now and again. Not pitch-blackness. Things could hide easier in the dark. Fears crept up in the dark. Nightmares happened in the dark.

Dreams got lost in the dark.

Courage sometimes needed to be found in light places, at least for her.

“The floors are finally finished, so the countertops are going in tomorrow and then I think just retiling both tubs in the bathrooms. That should be all that’s left.”

She had a little germ phobia—or as Max just said, she was a “neat freak”—which was odd considering her job. She had her hands in people’s mouths all day long. Nothing was hygienic about someone’s teeth no matter how much they brushed them. The mouth was a breeding ground for nasty things that would cause most people to gag if they knew.

But when she was working, she was in a zone, taking all the precautions she needed. At home, she wanted certain things fresh and clean. And since she didn’t know the previous owners, or how clean they might have been, replacing all the counters, toilets, and showers, and refinishing the hardwood floors satisfied her slight neurosis.

“So you’ve got one, maybe two weeks left with me?” Max asked.

“Pretty much. I didn’t even want it to be this long, but they said close to a month.”

“Then let’s take advantage of it. We never got to spend a lot of time together growing up.” He pulled her forward into his arms, and settling against his larger frame, she felt safe and secure. Kind of like what she thought Jocelyn might feel when she was held. Riley hadn’t felt safe and secure much lately. Not even mentally.

“Deal,” she said. “Since I know you won’t let me cook…” He gave her a funny look, but she continued on, “I know you’ve got a thing for your wife’s cooking and I can’t blame you in the least. I couldn’t compete even if I wanted to. But my point is, if you won’t let me cook, can I bring pizza home for dinner now and again? Or something. Just name it.”

“I think Quinn would like that. She loves to cook, but it is nice to have a break from it. I’ll let you know a good time to do it.”

“Thanks,” Riley said, hoping he kept his word. She may still be his baby sister, but she was an adult now. One who had lived on her own for a long time. One who had just picked up her entire life in less than three months and kept the whole thing a secret from most of the outside world until it was finalized.

She didn’t need to be babied by anyone.

Last Chance…Prologue

Last Chance

 

It’s that time again. Time for a teaser of Last Chance.

Prologue

Riley Hamilton sat on her couch looking around her living room at all the boxes neatly stacked and labeled. Time to move on. Time to leave this place that never felt like a home to begin with.

The movers would be arriving in a few hours with exact instructions, just like the packers had yesterday. The plan was set in motion.

She took a deep breath, stood up, and walked over to her kitchen counter, sliding her new cell phone into her purse and putting her old one in the pocket of her blazer. She knew precisely where that was going to end up.

No doubt, she’d rather be in a T-shirt, jeans, and sneakers today, but instead she was dressed like she was going to work. Gray trousers, cream and gray shirt, a teal blazer, and gray and teal flats. She couldn’t raise any suspicions. She had to look like she did every morning, five days a week. She didn’t want questions or comments. Nothing. She’d made up her mind.

One more deep breath. She hitched her new purse on her shoulder, grabbed her briefcase filled with her laptop and all her important legal documents, then made her way out the door and toward the subway at exactly eight a.m., just like every other day of the workweek.

But today was Friday and today was different, and no one was supposed to know.

Arrangements with a friend had her SUV parked for the night in a secure location one stop earlier than her regular exit. The routine of leaving the subway, then hailing a taxi to her office was going to be interrupted today.

It’s not like she was hiding. Not like she was escaping to a faraway land where no one could ever find her. But she was leaving. She was starting fresh. Looking for the life she always wanted. The life she was going to finally have.

With her earbuds in her ears, she listened to seventies rock during her twenty-minute commute. When Stevie Nicks’s “Landslide” came on, she knew she was making the right choice. Not that she doubted herself, not really. But that song said it all. Time made her bolder and time made her stronger. She was her father’s daughter and she was moving on. He understood she needed to leave; so did her mother. They supported her, but they didn’t understand it all. She couldn’t tell them. Not everything.

The truth of what had pushed this decision so fast—and so out of left field in their eyes—had to remain a secret.

But it wasn’t abrupt in her eyes. She’d seen this for years. Seen this change and knew it was time. Time to grab the dream and make it hers.

So lost in the raspy voice of Stevie, she almost missed her stop. Jumping up fast, she turned sideways and slid through the doors before they could shut on her. Then she made the two-minute walk to her vehicle, climbed in, and proceeded on with her plans.

Ten minutes later, she was pulling in behind her office complex next to the dumpster. She hit the button and waited for her window to roll down, then tossed her old cell phone in. Throwing away everything she could at this point. It was better this way. Out with the old.

She looked over at her office, said a tiny goodbye to the place that gave her the experience she needed. Told herself she’d call and say goodbye to all the staff, keep in touch with all her friends, but knew in her heart she wouldn’t. Time to leave. Time to run.

Even if it was only from herself and the only life she’d ever known.

Last Chance…Music

As many of you know, I love listening to a song over and over while writing. I’m a HUGE Stevie Nicks fan!! I can listen to her nonstop and never tire of it. And nothing describes Riley and Trevor as much as Stevie’s Leather and Lace! Though I’ve got to say there are several Stevie songs that I listened to while writing this story.

Please enjoy and grab a copy of Last Chance!

Winter Blues & Some Romance

I know those that are reading this could be from all over the world, but here in Upstate New York, winter is in full force.

And mid February is the worst for me. This is the time of year I start to feel the winter blues! I’m watching the calendar and counting down the days, just waiting for March 1st. Even though it can snow in March, it’s still almost spring in my eyes and that’s good enough.

In order to pass the time, I try to curl up with a good book. Anything to take my mind off the blustery snow outside the window in my sunroom. It’s not really a sunroom this time of year though. The first view is what I’m waiting for again! All the lush green out of my window with birds chirping everywhere. The second is some of the deer in my backyard trying to get cozy too.

If you’re like me and trying to wish some of the days in the calendar away and are looking for a good book to curl up with, go no further than three of the newest Valentine Day boxed sets just released by the authors of Authors’ Billboard.

There is a little bit of everything here and each set is only 99 cents! That’s 26 stories for $2.98!! Now where could you get a deal like that?

So grab a set or two…or three and snuggle in with some wonderful stories of love and romance.

Fierce- Brody…Chapter One

If you haven’t read the prologue for Fierce-Brody yet, hurry up, because here is chapter one!

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Doesn’t Know

Aimee Reed walked into Fierce on Monday at ten. She was here to meet Ella Fierce, one of the three Fierce siblings who’d interviewed her last week. At the time, she didn’t know they were quintuplets, but after some research on her new employers she’d found a backstory on their business.

Fierce, started by Gavin and Jolene Fierce thirty-five years ago, had grown from a small pub-style restaurant to one of the hottest spots in Charlotte.

Brody ran the bar and ran it well. It was named one of the top five hot spots for two years running.

Aiden, the head chef, had culinary skills straight from abroad that made people’s mouths salivate when they walked in the door.

Mason, the chemist, ran the brewery that popped up four years ago around the corner from the pub.

Cade handled all the marketing and branding for the company that’d grown by leaps and bounds in the last five years.

And Ella ran everything and everyone else, it seemed.

Their parents—well, it was said that when the kids turned twenty-five, they handed the keys over and decided to enjoy their retirement. Good for them.

“Aimee,” Ella said, extending her hand out. “It’s good to see you again. Let’s get your paperwork started and I’ll walk you around. For the next two days, I’m going to have you shadow Mason in the brewery, studying the brews and what their makeup is, then spend a day with Aiden in the kitchen. It’s best to know the menu well so you can make suggestions for those at the bar during the day.”

“I noticed that most of the menu I saw online had your beer in it.”

“It does. Aiden is a whiz in the kitchen. Every time I blink, he has a new special featuring Mason’s latest experiment. The two of them have gotten extremely close in the last few years and their work complements each other well.”

“Ratings are very high for Fierce.”

Aimee was still stunned she got the job. Waitresses, bartenders, and sous chefs battled for a spot here. Yet she got offered the job and wasn’t sure why. Not a great way to exhibit confidence, she mentally scolded herself. But sometimes who you knew was better than what you knew…and there was no way she was going to blow this.

“They are,” Ella said, nodding, sending Aimee a glance that clearly stated she should feel lucky to have gotten the job. The Fierce Five, as they were referred to in everything Aimee had read, were a cocky group of five siblings running the show in downtown Charlotte. They didn’t just set the bar for their competitors, they blew it up with dynamite.

Aimee followed Ella through the closed bar, past the formal seating of the restaurant, into the kitchen where prep work was underway for the lunch shift, and up a set of stairs to the offices. Several offices, mainly looking empty at the moment.

She took a seat at the conference table where she’d interviewed just a short five days ago. In front of her were a laptop and a few sheets of paper.

“Let’s get started on the boring part, and then we can move on to the fun stuff. Mason knows we’re coming.”

“When will I start working with Brody?”

Aimee thought it was odd that the person who was going to be her immediate supervisor not only wasn’t there to meet her, but his name hadn’t been mentioned.

Ella laughed lightly, a sound that didn’t match the look in her eyes. “We’re going to try to push that off until Wednesday. Maybe Thursday, if we’re lucky.”

“Ah, okay.”

Ella reached a hand over and patted hers, then grinned. “You see. He doesn’t know about you yet.”

***

“You did what when I was gone?” Brody shouted at his siblings Wednesday morning during their weekly meeting.

“You should have filled that position six months ago when Felix left and you know it,” Ella said.

Brody looked around the room at everyone. No one was making eye contact with him right now and that just burned his ass even more.

“I had it covered,” he argued. “We don’t need another manager at the bar. I run the bar.” He turned to Aiden. “You run the restaurant, so you hire your own staff, right?”

“Yeah,” Aiden mumbled.

Next, Brody turned to Mason. “Do you hire your own staff in the brewery?”

Mason looked at Ella, then back to him. “Of course.”

“I won’t bother to ask you, Cade. It’s just you and your assistant. But we know you hire for yourself. So the question is, why wasn’t I given the same courtesy?”

“Take it up with Mom,” Ella said boldly, then crossed her arms, smirking the way Brody hated. The same smirk she sent him and his brothers when they were younger and they knew they’d never win. The same smirk he and his brothers learned to master—a trait of their mom’s.

“Shit,” he mumbled.

“That’s right,” Cade said, regaining his voice. “It was Mom’s idea.”

“Do you want a matching shiner?” Brody snarled.

Ella stood up. “Enough. Do you both need another timeout?”

“We aren’t five, Ella,” Cade said, snapping back. Good. Someone else was losing their temper, Brody thought.

“Then don’t act it,” she said.

“How many barf bags did you fill on Dad’s boat?” Brody asked Cade.

“Screw you,” Cade said, standing up.

“That’s enough,” Aiden said, in the same voice that controlled his kitchen—like a nun holding a ruler above your knuckles just waiting for a chance to snap it down. “The order came from Mom. That’s the end of it, Brody. The same order that decided you got a solo timeout and Cade got to go fishing.”

Brody snorted. His mother knew everyone’s weakness and she played it well. Brody hated being alone, hated any type of solitude. That was why he did so well managing the bar. He could talk to strangers day in and day out. The louder the better. Cade had the weakest stomach of them all and could never stand the smell of fish, let alone being on their father’s boat deep-sea fishing.

“So you all knew about this?” Brody asked, looking around.

His eyes landed on Aiden, then Mason, seeing the guilt and the looks that the two of them were sending each other. There was a time his brothers didn’t keep secrets from him. A time they banded together against any foe.

“I found out on Monday when I got back,” Cade said. “So don’t get pissy with me. It was done when I was gone.”

That didn’t make him feel any better since that was two days ago. “So when does he start?”

“She,” Ella said. “Her name is Aimee Reed and she started on Monday.”

From bad to worse. The person was already working and he’d never seen her. Where the hell was she?

“How is that possible?” Was he really losing his mind and his focus like his family thought?

Ella took her seat again. “Aimee and I met early Monday before you came in and we did her paperwork. She spent Monday with Mason in the brewery. Yesterday, she spent the day with Aiden in the kitchen.”

“And today?” he asked. “Am I going to get to meet this person that you thought should be my day manager? Or do I need to get permission from Mom first?”

“Cut the sarcasm,” Aiden said. “And don’t be a jerk to Aimee. She knows her stuff and you need the help.”

He didn’t need his siblings telling him how to run his end of the business. “I’ll determine what she knows and doesn’t know.”

“What bug crawled up your butt?” Mason asked.

Of his brothers, Mason was the quietest, Aiden the most talented, Cade the most outgoing, and he was the loudest. That Cade was keeping his lips sealed meant he was trying not to get on anyone’s bad side.

“I don’t know,” Brody said. “Maybe it’s the fact you’ve all been on my case for months. I took my punishment like Cade, but came back to find that you all thought I couldn’t do my job. That you all think I need some kind of a babysitter.”

“No one needs a babysitter,” Ella said softly.

“That’s funny coming from the person who seems to be making all the decisions right now.”

Ella laughed. “I’ve always been the one to make the final decisions. You guys all have your branches and you just run with it and never worry about the messes you create or the work it takes to make things happen behind the scenes. That has always fallen on me.”

“You love it,” Cade said.

“Believe what you want,” Ella said calmly. “But in this case, I’m cleaning up the mess you’ve made, Brody.”

“There’s no mess. The bar’s revenue has increased steadily at ten percent for the last six months. Explain that mess to me.”

Ella sighed. “Yes, the bar is profitable. Yes, Cade is bringing in more attractions and live music to help that. Yes, Mason is making more brews to help sell at the bar. And yes, Aiden’s food is sought after, also helping the bar. See, you all need to work together to make it work the best. The problem is, you aren’t working with anyone, Brody.”

It hurt to hear Ella say that. That he wasn’t being a team player. He’d always been the leader of the group and now he was being told he couldn’t lead anymore. That part of his identity was being stripped away.

He wanted to shout at Ella, at everyone, but he didn’t. The last time he started shouting, fists went flying and he found himself spending a week in a hotel room alone. This time he tried to find some restraint, the one thing he had the least of among all his siblings. Being a hothead went hand in hand with being the loudest and the biggest.

“So you think hiring me a new day manager is going to allow me to play nice with everyone?”

Aiden laughed. “You’ve never played nice with us, so we don’t expect it now. We just want to get back to working as a team.”

He wanted to grind his teeth. “I’ve always worked as part of the team.”

“Brody,” Mason said. “You haven’t been the same for a good year now and you know it. The last six months, you’ve been downright ornery. More than normal.”

Again, they weren’t telling him anything he hadn’t known or felt deep inside.

Cade stood up and walked toward him, then stopped and seemed to hesitate. Very unlike Cade to hesitate over anything. “We’ve given you time to get over what happened a year ago. Rather than get better, you’re getting worse. What can we do to help?”

He closed his eyes and took a deep breath. “There’s nothing to do. It’s in the past and it’s over with. I’ve moved on. Everyone else should, too.”

“If this is moving on,” Aiden said, “then we’re in trouble.”

 

Fierce – Brody…Prologue

The first in The Fierce Five Series will be live next week. Brody. Though the covers on these books are branded a little differently, it’s still the same style of books I write. Family dynamics mixed with hot romance and a little twist in the way of meddling parents.

Brody_2

I thought I’d give you a little taste for a few days, starting with the Prologue.

Brody swung his bare, size thirteen feet over the side of the bed, lifted his arms above his head and turned to the right, then left. The accompaniment of snap, crackle, pop filled the room.

Naked and feeling gloriously free, he walked into the bathroom for a quick shower. With his head much clearer, he wiped the steam off the mirror and eyed the slight red mark on his temple from the ridiculously low showerhead.

The foreign two-day-old growth of beard staring back at him managed to look neat enough for him to keep. Why not, he thought. Being uncomfortable was the least of his problems right now.

Grabbing his phone, wallet, and key card, he walked out of the hotel room in search of some food.

In the elevator, he finally looked at his phone and noted the time. Guess it was going to be lunch, so he headed toward the bar.

“What can I get you?” the bartender asked. She was well past her prime, trying hard to hide it and failing miserably.

A quick glance at what was on tap had him changing his mind from his normal drink of choice. But when his eyes landed on the stock of liquor reflecting against the mirrored wall, he resigned himself to the cheap stuff. “Vodka and tonic.”

“Coming right up,” she said, her voice a bit raspy, her eyes sending more his way than he wanted to acknowledge. “You want some food with that, sugar?”

“Sure,” he said as he watched her pull a stained sheet of paper out that he supposed passed as a menu.

“What are you in the mood for?” she asked, placing the drink down in front of him. A cheap glass that wasn’t cleaned to his taste either, but not dirty. Spending as much time as he did in a bar, he took note of everything that wasn’t up to his standards.

“A burger and fries,” he said, finding that the least offensive thing at the moment.

When the greasy concoction was slid in front of him, he wished he was back home and could just walk into the kitchen and get his brother Aiden’s specialty fish tacos, made with a slaw marinated in one of his brother Mason’s summer IPAs. As pissed off as he was at everyone right now, he couldn’t get them out of his head.

After washing down the last of his fries with his drink, he threw cash on the bar and walked out to the ocean breeze awaiting him.

Spring on the Outer Banks was busy, and the beach was filling up rapidly with tourists and kids, blankets and umbrellas.

Toeing his shoes off, he picked them up and carried them as he made the lone walk along the shore. Breathing in the salty air mixed with the sweet smell of artificial coconut cleared his head. Doing all the things his siblings told him to do. Too bad he didn’t agree with them.

An hour later, covered in sweat, he undressed and climbed in the shower once again, trying to cool off.

The ringing of his phone had him cursing as he hit his head on the showerhead for a second time stepping out of the tub.

With a towel wrapped around his waist and water dripping on the sterile white bath mat, he pressed the answer button and heard his sister Ella’s voice echoing off the walls on speaker.

“Did I wake you?” she asked.

“No, I was in the shower,” he said, grabbing another towel and running it over his short dark hair and neck.

“So you did just get up? Good, you need some sleep.”

“I’ve been up for hours,” he said, his tone grouchier than normal. “Just got back from a walk on the beach.”

“Even better.” When he snorted, she laughed. “Brody, we’re worried about you. You’re working too hard and too long. This was for your own good.”

“Whatever,” he said, still not happy about being here.

“You’re the only person on the face of this earth who complains about being told to take a week off. What’s wrong with you?”

“When was the last vacation you had?” he asked. “That any of you had?”

“Not the point,” she answered, her voice light but firm. “We aren’t biting each other’s heads off like you.”

“I’m always like that,” he said.

“Not this bad and you know it.”

Sometimes the truth did hurt. “I’m coming home tonight. I can’t stay here another day. I don’t know what to do with myself.”

“We figured you’d say that, so I was elected to make this call. If you step foot in Charlotte before Sunday afternoon, you can’t come to the bar, the restaurant, or the brewery.”

His jaw tightened. “Who’s going to stop me?”

“The staff have instructions to block you from entering. Without you firing them, too. I’ll change the locks if I have to, Brody.”

“What the hell, Ella? Is this some kind of a joke?” He whipped the towel off and started to briskly wipe the steam off the mirror. He needed to do something other than stand here, shell-shocked. How could his family betray him this way?

“Nope. Orders from Mom. Take it up with her if you want.”

His shoulders dropped. Yeah, that wasn’t going to happen. Ella and his mom were outnumbered, five testosterone-bearing behemoths in the house to two estrogen-toting pipsqueaks. Somehow, though, estrogen always seemed to win in the Fierce household.

“See you Sunday,” he said, wondering what the hell he was going to do with himself for the next three days.

“We love you, Brody. Even Cade, but next time you need to keep your fists to yourself. You’d been warned before.”

Brody cracked the barest of grins. “How’s his eye?”

“Not as bruised as his ego.”

“Where was he sent to cool off?” Brody asked.

“He’s fishing with Dad for two more days. Consider yourself lucky you got a solo timeout. He’s getting the lecture.”

Lucky, sure. There was no luck in being the leader of the Fierce Five.

 

 

Last Chance

Last Chance

You can run but you can’t hide.

Dr. Riley Hamilton found that out the hard way. When she’d had enough. When she felt uneasy and was scared, when no one believed her, she left town. Picked up the life she knew and made a new one. She let her guard down in Lake Placid, she got comfortable, and that was her mistake.

Trevor Miles, Lake Placid Chief of Police, always wanted to know what was going on in his town. Just because it usually had no more than small town nuisances, didn’t mean he couldn’t handle anything thrown his way. He’d seen the nastiness in the world and was ready for life in the slow lane. What he wasn’t ready for was the sexy new dentist in town who wanted to pull out his tooth. Did he mention he’s hated going to the dentist since he was a child?