Family Bonds- Hudson & Delaney…Chapter One

Check out the Prologue here

Chapter One

Underlying Cause

Thirteen Years Later

“Dr. Mills, there is a mother and child that came in a few minutes ago. I’ve got them in bay six. The boy looks to have a broken wrist and the mother a bruise on her face.”

He sighed; he knew what this was about. He’d seen it one too many times.

“Did they say what happened?” he asked the nurse. He looked at her nametag. It wasn’t easy to get staff on the island and he knew that many times nurses were sent over from Boston to fill shifts. It was standard but made it hard to keep people straight too.

He’d left Massachusetts General years ago because he saw way too much of this.

It was going to be everywhere—he knew it—but he wanted a more quaint setting. Not as many urgent and hard cases that burned him out. A place that let him spend more time with his patients trying to make a difference rather than slapping Band-Aids on wounds and rushing to the next open gash. 

As his father once told him, “If you wanted to spend time with your patients then you shouldn’t have become an ER doctor.”

He knew that too. The same with his twin, Carson, who was a radiologist. Patients were in and out most times and moved on to the next.

It was a balance. He had to not get too attached. Get just close enough to help but not get drawn in so much that he’d go home stressing.

“The mother is claiming the kid fell off his bike. The kid isn’t talking much.”

Classic signs of abuse. “And the kid. What is he saying? Nothing at all?”

“I asked a few times and he keeps looking at his mother before he answers.”

“I’ll see what I can get out of her. What about her face?” he asked. “Did you question her there?”

“I did. She said she tripped running to him and bumped into the wall.”

“Not very original,” he said.

“Especially since they’ve been here before,” the nurse said. 

He pulled his laptop closer to him that was on the stand he pushed around. “Thanks, Molly.”

She smiled at him, her face blushing some. He pegged her for early thirties. Probably a few years younger than him, but he wasn’t interested.

The ER was busy, as it normally was, but wasn’t slammed. He’d finished up with a patient forty minutes ago that was way too thin for anyone. He knew an eating disorder when he saw it and the husband brought her in for stomach pains.

After multiple tests and labs, he sent her out with a prescription for heartburn. That wouldn’t do much with the damage to the esophagus from all the vomiting the woman had been doing over the years. Her teeth were decaying and he knew his cousin Coy Bond would cringe looking in that patient’s mouth in his dental office.

The nurses discharged her and would give her information to seek help, but chances were it’d get ignored.

Just like this case might too. He was going to try harder and then not beat himself up later if he couldn’t get through to the woman.

He moved down to the bay where his next patients were and pushed the curtain aside. There was a kid that looked to be no older than seven sitting on the bed with his head down whispering to his mother, tears on his face.

“Hello,” he said. “I’m Dr. Mills. It looks as if you’ve got a wrist injury?”

“My son fell off his bike,” the mother said.

“And you are?” He looked at his computer. “Carolyn Murphy?”

“Yes,” Carolyn said. “This is my son, Ronnie.”

“Nice to meet you, Ronnie. Tell me what happened.”

The little boy looked at his mother, who said, “I told you, he fell off his bike.”

“Mrs. Murphy, it’s standard procedure to ask the patient their side of it. I’m trying to understand how fast he might have been going. Did he hit a rock and fly off the front? Did he feel lightheaded and fall off to the side? Maybe there is something more that could have caused the wrist injury that we need to figure out before he gets on a bike again.”

“Oh,” Mrs. Murphy said. 

“Ronnie, did you fall off the front of the bike or to the side?”

Ronnie looked at his mother. “Off the side.”

“Okay,” he said. “Did you hit your head or any other part of your body when you landed?”

He was looking at the kid who was in shorts and a T-shirt and there wasn’t one other scratch on him that he could see. Nothing that would show he fell off a bike. No grass stains on his clothes or skin. No abrasions. 

“No,” Ronnie said quietly. “Just my wrist.”

“Can I see your hand?” He reached for the kid’s hand. “Can you feel me touching your fingers?”

He was only lightly grazing them and getting movement in return, the kid flinching. “Yes.”

“Good.” He looked at the kid’s palm. “Did you land on the grass or pavement?” Ronnie looked at his mother. “It’s an easy question,” he said, smiling.

“Grass,” he said.

The kid’s hand and fingers, even his nails, were extremely clean. No way he was given a shower first, let alone his clothes changed or nails cleaned if he landed on the grass, which to cause a break would have kicked up dirt.

“Okay,” Hudson said. “We need to get you down for some X-rays, but it looks as if you might have broken your wrist in the fall.”

Mrs. Murphy started to cry. “It’s my fault.”

“How is that?” he asked.

“No, Mom,” Ronnie said. “It’s mine. I know better. I won’t do it again.”

It was the first time the kid’s voice was stronger and maybe he could get through that way. “I’m going to have a nurse come in and bring you for X-rays in a minute.” He turned when the curtain opened. “Looks like it’s good timing. Molly, can you take Ronnie for X-rays on his wrist?”

“Sure can,” Molly said. “You get to ride in a wheelchair.”

“I can walk,” Ronnie said.

“I know you can, but this is more fun and then we don’t have to worry about you tripping and falling and hurting your other wrist or banging your head,” Molly said with a smile.

“Protocol,” Hudson said. “And it’s fun.” He leaned down closer and whispered, “Don’t tell anyone, but sometimes when it’s slow here at night the doctors have races in them.”

Ronnie giggled as he was pushed out of the room, leaving him there with Mrs. Murphy. “Thank you,” she said.

“Let me look at your cheek,” he said.

“It’s fine. Just a bruise. I’m clumsy.”

He hummed in his throat. “Maybe there is a reason for that,” he said. “Are you lightheaded at times? There could be an underlying cause for it that shouldn’t go untreated.”

“I’m fine, Dr. Mills,” Mrs. Murphy said.

“I’m going to be frank then,” he said. “Your son has been in my ER three times in the past fifteen months for injuries. Each time you’ve had similar injuries or bruises. You’ve been here six times in the past two years.”

“I’ll repeat,” Mrs. Murphy said, “I’m fine.”

There wasn’t much he could do at this point. Not until he got the results from the X-ray.

He walked out of the room and went to another patient. That was what he did. Moved from one to another.

An hour later, his phone buzzed and he looked down to see it was his brother, Carson. It was late afternoon and Carson had started his shift two hours ago; Hudson would be leaving in a few hours. They tended to cross over a lot rather than working together.

Since they both lived at Hudson’s house, it’s not like he didn’t see his brother, but not often either.

As twins, they were used to being around each other except for the year he was here and Carson was still in Boston.

Hudson had gotten his position first when it opened, Carson a year later. He’d had his house and, rather than Carson trying to find a place to rent or buy one, it was easier to have them splitting the bills.

It was that or Carson staying with his parents who had a house on the island. That was what Hudson did at first since his parents weren’t always around. 

Now his father was a semi-retired surgeon filling in one week on the island and then the same at Mass General where he’d spent more of his career. The other two weeks he was on call or filling in as needed.

Their sister, Ava, was an OBGYN and worked at a satellite office in Plymouth until she relocated to the island permanently too.

Funny how they were all born and raised in Boston and only vacationed here and now resided on the island. The island was different than it had been when they were younger.

It had more to offer. There were plenty of transportation options and it provided a quieter life that he knew he wanted. More like knew he needed.

He texted Carson back that he was available to talk, but he knew what his brother was going to say.

“Hey,” Carson said, coming down to the ER. “Got a room to chat in?”

“Follow me,” he said. “You could have told me the results were ready for me to read. I know it’s a break.”

“It is,” Carson said. “It’s not from a fall but from a twisting motion. What’s going on here?”

“Domestic abuse,” he said. “I know it and the mother knows I know it. The kid isn’t talking.”

“I had him talking,” Carson said. “We were talking baseball to relax him.”

“Did he tell you he fell off his bike?”

“He did,” Carson said. “But I knew it was a lie when he wouldn’t look me in the eye.”

“Not to mention there isn’t another mark on him,” he said.

“No,” Carson said. “What are you going to do?”

 “I’ve tried to be subtle, but it’s not working. Got a minute to go in with me to give the results?”

 “I do,” Carson said.

The two of them walked into the room where Ronnie and his mother were. “I told you, Mom, there are two of them.”

Hudson grinned. “That’s right,” he said. “This is my brother, the other Dr. Mills. He took your X-rays.”

“I’m sorry to say that you’ve got a compound fracture,” Carson said. “Sometimes a simple break can be put in a cast, but due to the nature of this injury and how it occurred, Ronnie is going to need surgery to put a pin in it.”

Mrs. Murphy started to cry some more, Ronnie too. “But I only fell,” Ronnie said.

“Ronnie, we are doctors and can tell how an injury occurs most times from an X-ray,” Carson said. “Your wrist was twisted, you didn’t land on it.”

Ronnie started to cry louder.

Hudson leaned toward the mother. “Is there somewhere we can talk privately, Mrs. Murphy?”

“Yes,” she said, sniffling.

“Follow me,” he said, Carson staying with Ronnie.

“We have a few options here. I can call the police and have you charged with endangering the welfare of a child. I’m not sure if you broke his wrist—”

“No!”

“Then someone else did. Maybe the same person who put the bruise on your face?”

“I can handle it,” she said.

“You clearly can’t. We are here to help you. I can’t do that if you aren’t being honest with me.”

“It’s not that simple.”

“It never is, but there are resources for you. We have someone here at the hospital to help. Just give me the word and we can make it happen. We can get you safe and secure now.”

Mrs. Murphy looked unsure, but he felt he was getting through to her. “I don’t know.”

He opened the door and found another nurse and waved her in. “Can you please reach out to Delaney to come in here ASAP?”

“Delaney?” the nurse said.

“She’s the new patient services coordinator. I read the memo a few weeks ago. Her number should be at the desk.”

“Sure,” the nurse said.

“Someone is going to come in and talk to you and give you some options. I can still have you charged. I can have whoever did this charged too. Whether charges are dropped or not is your choice and a headache regardless. Or you can take a step and get you and Ronnie out.”

“I’ll talk to her,” Mrs. Murphy said. “It’s the best I can do.”

He nodded and then led Mrs. Murphy back to Ronnie. “We need to schedule surgery for your son,” he said. “We can do it here tomorrow, or get you to Boston via a chopper and into a safe place now.”

“Really?”

“Yes,” he said. He’d make it happen somehow, even if he had to call his cousin Egan and ask for a personal favor. He needed to get a good outcome today. He needed to feel like he was finally making a difference.

“Thank you,” Mrs. Murphy said.

Family Bonds- Hudson & Delaney…Prologue

Prologue

“Hey, Delaney.”

Delaney Hawkins turned her head from where she was walking out of the high school. It was the end of her freshman year and she just wanted to get the hell off the grounds.

It was bad enough being from a small town in Wisconsin where everyone knew her mother was the middle school art teacher and had Mrs. Hawkins at some point. Her mother was also the head of the PTA and there seemed to be nowhere she could run from being Terri Hawkins’s daughter.

Her father owned and operated his own garage and many in this area frequented that too rather than driving further out of town to a dealership.

Small towns and everyone knew your name. For a kid trying to blend in, it made an already awkward teenage life more miserable.

Now add to the mix that her brother was arrested for the rape of a minor, and yeah, there was nowhere to hide.

“I’m busy, David, what do you want?”

“Just wanted to talk to you,” David said.

Which was a complete lie. David was two years older than her. He played football and thought he should have been the captain, but he sucked. He didn’t even start, which was funny since the team barely had enough players on the roster.

But David had a big mouth and ran it more than he revved the engine of his beat-up old Camaro that he thought would land him some chicks. Both gave him a reputation of not only the girls thinking he was a dick, but the guys too.

“You never just want to talk. You want to lecture,” she said, moving faster. “Or rather make a point. Maybe a statement. You think you’re funny and smart, but I don’t. I’m late now.”

David ran up beside her. “How is your brother doing? It’s got to be hard living under his shadow like that. I thought I’d try to be a friend to you.”

She turned and looked at the smirk on David’s face. “I don’t need friends like you.”

“Because you all think he is so innocent,” David said with a snarl.

No, she didn’t think her brother was innocent at all. Her mother was investing all her time and energy into making sure Kyle didn’t spend any time in jail. Her father barely looked at her brother and was not willing to put a cent in for the lawyers.

Her mother was working an extra job and Delaney was the one that was being left behind. She was used to it for most of her life, but this was different. It was worse in so many ways.

Kyle had always been the kid in the family that got all the attention. A mama’s boy that could do no wrong and he knew it and played off of their mother’s emotions.

The fact her mother was trying to say he had some learning disability or mental illness when everyone knew that wasn’t the case was an embarrassment and a lesson in ignorance that everyone talked about behind her mother’s back.

Kyle knew exactly what he was doing. He didn’t think he’d get caught.

Or he was stupid and thought saying, “Raine came onto me. She was always sitting on my lap and flirting with me,” was his defense.

Raine was twelve. Kyle was nineteen. Yeah, stupid to be alone with her, let alone be sending sexy and flirty text messages back and forth. Messages Delaney had seen with her own eyes before he deleted them on his phone. 

He could deny it all he wanted, but she knew what she saw and read, but it’d be her word against his and she wanted to be left alone.

“My brother’s life isn’t mine,” she said to David. She’d been saying that for months now. In her mind, this trial was going to go on forever with the way her mother was stalling the lawyers. 

“He’s not going to get away with it,” David said.

She’d been walking faster with David on her heels, but she turned and stood her ground. “Listen. I don’t give you shit that your mother is sleeping with Mr. Henderson behind your father’s back so don’t give me shit over the fact that my brother did something bad that has nothing to do with me.”

David stopped in his tracks. “What?”

“You heard me. Maybe you should stop and think that every family has some skeletons in their closet that people are talking about in this town but aren’t mean enough to say it to the kids’ faces.”

“Yet you just did,” David said. “And you’re lying.”

“Guess you know what it’s like to be blamed or pulled into someone else’s actions now, don’t you?”

She turned and continued to walk away. She knew she shouldn’t have said that. It was something her mother had been bitching about. That everyone was talking about their family when teachers were having affairs right under spouses’ noses.

Yeah, nothing was ever quiet in this small town and that was why she wanted out and wanted it now.

But something told her she wasn’t going to get that wish any time soon, not until she could stand on her own two feet.

Family Bonds- Hudson & Delaney

Delaney Hawkins couldn’t wait to put her small town in Wisconsin behind her. Thanks to her brother’s actions, people didn’t just talk behind her family’s back, but right to their faces. She was innocent of his crime but no one seemed to care. Years of trying to stay there and move on with her life weren’t working, so she lit out across the country to an island off the coast of Boston hoping to put her past drama behind her. She soon realized that wasn’t as easy as she’d hoped.

Dr. Hudson Mills was only biding his time as an ER doctor in Boston until the position opened up full time on Amore Island. He was over the violence and crimes against the innocent. The irresponsibility and selfishness of most people. The small tourist island his family founded was where he wanted to be and he was finally content helping people and not being subjected to as much sensory overload as he’d been in Boston. His professional life was right on track…too bad his personal one was taking a hit trying to find someone he felt a real connection to.

Fierce-Flynn…Chapter One

Read the Prologue here

Chapter One

Great Relationship

Twelve Years Later

“Thanks for going with me to Carolyn’s Christmas Eve party,” Julia McNamara said. She’d lived in Durham now for a few months having moved this summer to start a teaching job. She loved the kids in her new elementary school and loved even more being close to her brother, Mick.

Julia’s life, that had always been stressful and lonely, seemed to finally be coming together for her.

Mick was married and had a baby girl, Ava, who was four months old. Julia was living in the townhouse Mick had bought when he moved here over a year ago and she had an awesome roommate along with a great relationship with her older brother that she’d been missing for years.

“No problem,” Stella said. “I was just going to be alone tonight anyway.”

Stella White was Mick’s sister-in-law. Stella’s older sister, Lindsey, was married to Mick and Julia couldn’t have asked for a better roommate when Stella decided to move closer after Ava’s birth and was looking for a place to stay.

“Why aren’t you spending the time with Walker tonight?”

Stella had been dating her boss, attorney Walker Olson, for a few months. Things had been going well, so Julia was shocked they weren’t together tonight.

“It’s still early and he’s got his daughter tonight because she is spending tomorrow with her mother. If it were only the two of them I’d do it, but I’m not sure I’m ready for a big family dinner just yet.”

“They all know you are dating. You know Walker’s father and sister,” she said, grinning. Walker’s father and sister were lawyers too at the firm where Stella worked.

She grabbed a red sweater to change into while Lindsey was going through her closet looking for something. Since Julia had the day off she could have gone alone earlier to the Christmas Eve open house at Carolyn’s, but she’d rather wait for Stella to get out of work and go with her.

“I know. Walker didn’t ask and I didn’t bring it up. He’s bringing Kaylee home in the morning and then going straight to his parents like he always does. I’ll go see him later in the day. We’ll have fun at my mom’s anyway.”

“Then I get to have the place to myself,” Julia said.

“Sorry about that,” Stella said.

“Don’t be sorry. You know my history. That is my norm. I’ll be looking forward to it. Especially after having screaming kids the past few days. The only thing that gets kids worked up worse than a bag of sugar is the thought of having a week off and getting gifts on top of it.”

“I remember those days,” Stella said. “Found my boots. Ready to go?”

“Let’s hit the road.”

“I’ll drive if you want,” Stella said. 

“Works for me. I’m still trying to figure out my way around this town.”

They arrived at Carolyn Fierce’s house shortly after. Carolyn had taken Julia in like one of her own since she’d always considered Mick a fifth child.

It was nice to be wanted but such an unfamiliar feeling on top of it. Maybe there was some jealousy there that Mick got a chance with another family while she was by herself. She’d never say anything though because she was happy one of them got it in their life.

She had her career to give her the family she never had. She got to think of those kids as hers and to help mold them and give them a life away from what they might be experiencing at home. Something she would have wanted as a kid.

“There you two lovely ladies are,” Carolyn said when they were greeted at the door. “Mick and Lindsey will be here soon. Mick had the day off. They are just waiting for Ava to wake up.”

She knew that. Mick, like her, didn’t have the best holiday memories either. He said he was doing things differently with his own family. The right way.

Julia wasn’t sure what was right, wrong, or indifferent. She was just used to getting by. She didn’t even like that Mick helped her out a few times over the years, but she was grateful just the same.

“Thanks for having me,” Julia said.

“Nonsense,” Carolyn said, taking her jacket. “I expected you to be here.”

Since she spent Thanksgiving with the Fierce family she was pretty sure she was expected to be with them for everything. She’d take it as it came since she was making new friends here and doing other things with singles now too.

Just not dating, which was a bummer when everyone around her was hitched it seemed.

“I still appreciate the invitation,” she said.

“Help yourself to food and drink,” Carolyn said. “Stella, Walker couldn’t make it?”

“He’s at his parents’ with Kaylee today. He’s got to bring her back to Tiffany’s in the morning,” Stella said.

“I understand. Well, you two know most that are here now since it’s family. We’ll introduce you to more as they come in or they will introduce themselves. It’s just casual. Stay as long as you want.”

“We aren’t staying that long, are we?” she said quietly to Stella when Carolyn was called away.

“No. They eavesdrop too much. I’ve learned my lesson.”

Julia laughed over the comment. On Thanksgiving, Stella and she were caught talking quietly about Stella’s relationship with Walker. Guess the Fierce women had Stella and Walker paired up in their mind to start on their matchmaking again. 

Stella was open to being set up. Julia thought that was funny, but considering Carolyn had a hand in Mick and Lindsey and that turned out so well, maybe she should give it a chance when they brought it up to her.

Nah. Not happening. 

She could find her own man when she was damn good and ready. So far her luck had sucked the big sour lemon in the romance department.

An hour later, they were moving around and she was sticking close to those she knew. Mostly the Fierces. She’d walked away to get a bottle of water and was stopped. “Hi. I’m Bryan. I work at Fierce Engineering. I don’t think we’ve met.”

He was probably in his mid to late thirties she was guessing. Older than her but not out of reach. She knew she was fussy even though she told herself not to be.

Most likely serious PTSD from watching her mother change out her men and complain about them so much. The last thing she wanted was to be compared to Laura McNamara, but she might have gone just a little too far in the opposite direction.

“Julia McNamara.”

“Nice to meet you,” Bryan said. His eyes were taking her in a bit more than she felt comfortable with. Maybe she shouldn’t have worn such a fitted bright sweater, but she wanted to be festive. It was a V-neck and it was possible the guy thought she was being sexy with the way his eyes were on her tiny B-sized boobs. “And how do you know the Fierces?”

“She’s my sister,” Mick said, coming over and standing next to her. “You know, family and all.”

“Got it,” Bryan said, moving away.

“That was rude,” she said, looking at her brother. He had a smirk on his face. His size and presence were enough that he didn’t need to be mean. Not that Mick was ever mean that she could remember. 

“Not as rude as his eyes on your chest. If I weren’t holding my daughter right now I might have said a bit more than what I had.”

“You said enough,” she said. “It was in your eyes that he knew to walk away. Maybe I wanted to know more about him.”

“No, you don’t,” Carolyn said. “He’s not for you. You wouldn’t get along.”

“And why is that?” Julia asked. The grin was still on her face that was close to her brother’s. She really didn’t want to talk to Bryan anymore but was curious why Carolyn thought that.

“As Mick said, his eyes were way too low. You don’t need someone looking there. You need someone looking in your eyes. Someone that will treat you well and with respect, not merely looking for a good time. That’s all Bryan ever wants.”

Which was what she’d figured out herself. “And how do you know that?” she asked, figuring Garrett, Carolyn’s husband, probably mentioned it.

“Just a guess,” Carolyn said. “He’s new. Hasn’t been employed with Fierce Engineering all that long, but I don’t care for the way he looks at women in general. So yeah, no respect and not good for you. Now if you want me to put my magic to work…”

“I’m good, Carolyn. But thanks for the heads up with Bryan.”

Carolyn patted her arm. “I figured you knew it anyway and was just yanking your big brother’s arm.”

“Was she right?” Mick asked when Carolyn moved away. He was running the tip of his nose on Ava’s now and it warmed her heart to see her brother so open and loving to his daughter. Didn’t look like he was damaged much by their upbringing. Or not permanently at least. 

She reached for Ava. “Of course I knew what Bryan was about. I’m not that naïve, Mick. But I’m learning those women don’t ever seem to be wrong.”

She remembered Carolyn’s words the next afternoon when she was home alone and her phone rang. It was her mother.

She wanted to let it go to voicemail but figured if she didn’t answer it, her mother would just continue to blow her phone up.

Here she thought it was the best Christmas she’d had since she was a teen but knew it was about to be ruined.

“Merry Christmas, Mom.”

“Julia,” Laura McNamara said into the phone. “I didn’t think you would answer. Your brother didn’t.”

Figures her mother wouldn’t even come back with a nice greeting but started out bitching like normal. It’s not like they didn’t just see her last weekend. “I’m sure he’s busy right now.”

“Too busy to talk to his mother?”

“That’s not a question for me,” she said. “No one said you couldn’t have asked to come to town to see us.”

“I shouldn’t have to ask to come to town,” her mother said. “Mick should be asking me, but he’s too busy being with his new family.”

She let out a sigh and wished she hadn’t said what she did. “We were there last weekend because you said it was better for you. Now all of a sudden you are saying today would be better. What did you do today?”

“I spent it with Don.”

“Who is Don?” she asked. She lost track of the men in her mother’s life, as they changed more than Mick did Ava’s diaper throughout the day.

“He’s my new boyfriend. I’m moving in with him on the first of the year. I told you about him, didn’t I?”

“Obviously not since it’s the first I’ve heard his name. You called on Thanksgiving complaining about your bills again. Just like you were last weekend.”

That was the norm with their mom. She was always trying to hit one of them up for money. Normally Mick since he had a lot more, but Mick had put his foot down years ago and only did things to shut their mother up. 

Julia couldn’t remember the last time she helped her mother out with anything since her teacher’s salary didn’t stretch that far and when she wasn’t working over the summer things were tighter. She normally got a job then but this past summer she had moved and was getting settled. She’d figure out next summer as it got closer.

Because even though her rent with Stella was manageable, she had a feeling she might be looking for another roommate at some point. She could handle the rent on her own, but it’d be tighter than her fitting into her skinny jeans after Thanksgiving dinner and she liked to have some breathing room without popping a button.

Worries for another day. Now she just wanted to get her mother off the phone.

“It doesn’t matter. Don and me, we had a nice lunch in. He had to work last night and didn’t get up until two hours ago. He didn’t want to go anywhere today.”

Which was just another contradiction with her mother like always. She wasn’t even going to ask what Don did because in a few months Don would be replaced. Either the guy would move out because he got sick of her mother, or her mother would find someone better.

When Carolyn made the comment about Bryan having no respect for women and being out for fun, she thought of her mother. Those were the men her mother attracted, but she was at fault too because she did the same thing.

No one was ever good enough. There always had to be someone out there better in her mother’s mind.

Her head fell back on the couch. Was she like her mother? Was she so fussy with men because she felt like there was more out there than she was attracting?

She hated to think that. The main difference was the fact that she normally only went on a few dates with a man before she made her decision to move on. She never moved in with them. Hell, she barely slept with a fraction of them.

“It sounds like you had a nice holiday then,” she said. Julia tried to keep the peace if she could. Must be because she spent enough time doing that in her job too.

“I did,” her mother said. “I’m sure you spent it with the Fierces.”

“Actually, no,” she said. Just to be ornery though, she added, “I did go to Carolyn’s yesterday, but today I was with Lindsey’s family.”

“Same thing,” her mother said. 

“If you say so. Did the sweater I give you fit?”

“I haven’t tried it on,” her mother said. “You could have just given me a gift card or money like Mick does. Then I could buy my own things.”

“That’s impersonal,” she said.

“No, it’s not,” her mother said. “I gave you gift cards.”

She rolled her eyes. She guessed that about summed up this call. “I can send you the receipt if you want to return it,” she said.

“No. I like it. It’s a pretty color and texture. I didn’t try it on yet.”

“Then why did you have to make the comment about just giving you money?”

“Money or gift cards are always nice and easy,” her mother said.

Again, no surprise out of her mother’s mouth. “I try to put a little effort into gifts for people.”

“So you’re saying I don’t?” her mother snapped. “I should have known better than to try to call either of you today. Neither of you can be bothered with me.”

Her mother hung up before she could say another word. That was about as lovely as she thought it’d be. She tossed her phone down on the counter and got up to get a glass of wine. 

That was her life now. Alone on Christmas day. Her and her wine because she was too picky to find a man. She was surprised her mother didn’t find time to slip that statement into the conversation like she normally did.

Thinking about that made her realize it wasn’t that bad of a conversation after all.

Fierce-Flynn…Prologue

Prologue

“Do you have everything packed?” 

“Yes, Mom,” Flynn Slater said. He was on his way to med school at the University of Maryland. He would have loved to go to Duke since he lived close by in Raleigh, but it didn’t happen. This was his second choice and he’d take it. With any luck, he could get back to the area for his residency if not a fellowship.

He hated to leave his mother, but in order for him to give them both a better life, he had to do what needed to be done today. 

That was what his mother did her whole life. Focused on today, worked for tomorrow and planned for nothing. It seemed like planning didn’t get her too far in life, she’d said often.

He didn’t believe that but had long since given up trying to tell her otherwise.

“I’m going to miss you,” she said. She never showed a ton of emotions. Not the sad kind. Humor, yeah, he was pretty sure he got his joking personality from her.

Probably because she was so bone tired from working multiple jobs that if she gave in to the sadness it’d suck her in. It was better to laugh at yourself she’d told him. Her low-paying jobs were the only ones she was able to get with her high school diploma after getting pregnant at nineteen and dropping out of college.

His father hadn’t been around much that he could remember. His mother worked her ass off putting the father of her child through college for his degree, then when he got a good job, rather than put a ring on her finger, he split for a better life and never paid support after the first few years.

Where Allen Martin was now was anyone’s guess. At least Flynn didn’t have the guy’s last name. He never asked his mother why that was either. He supposed it didn’t matter much at this point.

“You know I’ll miss you too. But I’ve only been home a few months. You were used to me being gone more often than not the past four years.”

He’d wanted to stay close to home for his bachelor’s, but he went where it was the cheapest. His brains and lack of family income got him a full ride in Ohio so that was his destination. 

He lived on campus because it was paid for, but he worked more than part time to have some money. He didn’t want his mother sending him money from another job she’d have to take on. He’d rather she could start to relax some in life.

He hated her working nights now, but she said it was easier and allowed her to get some more cleaning jobs during the day but not have it fill too much of her time.

Again, working herself to the bone and killing him to see it. 

“But you’ve been home for the summer,” she said. “I know I haven’t been home at night, but you’re sleeping. And during the day you’ve been working. We had dinners together and that I will miss.”

“Not as much as me,” he said. “Thanks again for teaching me to cook.”

College food wasn’t always the best and he ate what came with his meal plan. He’d do the same in med school, but he wanted to learn to take care of himself better. 

Or maybe he just wanted his mother to know he could. That she did right by him.

Too many times in his life he’d been embarrassed by what she did for money. By the little they had. He thought he hid it well, but he was sure she noticed. His mother saw everything.

It was his problem he had to outgrow. He couldn’t change where he came from, but he was damn well going to make sure the hard work stopped soon for his mother.

“You need to know how to do it. You can’t expect a woman to always take care of you.”

He grinned. “No one will ever be able to take as good care of me as you.”

“That’s a mother’s job,” she said, patting his hand. “Now finish packing and hit the road.”

He leaned down and gave her a kiss, then went back to putting his clothes in boxes that he’d stuff into his secondhand car, praying it got him to Maryland. 

He looked around his small room in the cramped two-bedroom apartment. They’d never lived in a house. Not even a rented one. Small apartments his entire life. They didn’t move often like a lot of people that rented, but enough.

It always bothered him to tell friends he was moving too, let alone have them at his place to hang out.

Growing up, he didn’t want to hang out with other kids in the complexes where he lived. Not those in the same situation as him. Many weren’t going to college and were going to work right out of high school, if they didn’t find some illegal way to make their money.

When they’d heard he was going to be a doctor, they shunned him and told him he thought he was better than the rest of them.

Well, he kind of did. 

But then those that were better than him in school shunned him for his upbringing too. So he found that he ended up being more of a loner growing up than he wanted.

He was able to recreate himself in college. No one knew where he came from or how his life was. They weren’t privy to his full ride because he didn’t share.

Having a job gave him money and allowed him to go out and do normal things that other kids did. To not be looked at as the one who didn’t have a lot.

He liked the feeling and he was going to keep it up at the University of Maryland. 

He was going to be Dr. Flynn Slater soon, not poor Flynn whose mother was a house cleaner people felt sorry for and gave her hand me downs when he was younger so she wouldn’t have to worry about buying clothes he was outgrowing so fast.

Thirty minutes later, he had everything packed up and the last box in his car. He knew his mother hadn’t been to bed yet and the sooner he left, the sooner she could get some sleep.

“I’ll call you later when I’m there,” he said.

She pulled an envelope out of her pocket and he shook his head.

“Don’t tell me no. It’s not a lot, but it’s more than you’ve got without it.” She said that a lot to him in life. She was right.

“I don’t want your money,” he said. “I’ve been putting money away all summer and even paying you rent.”

“Which I didn’t want. So here it is back.”

His shoulders dropped. He should have figured she’d do that. He was trying to give her a cushion so she didn’t have to work so many jobs. His full-time job this summer doing landscaping paid well, even if he busted his ass and got a shitload of blisters along with sunburn.

“Why take it then?” he asked.

She grabbed his hand and put the envelope in it. “Because I didn’t want to argue with you. Consider it an extra savings account for you. Run to the bank and deposit it now if you want.”

He was going to. It was a few thousand dollars he didn’t want to be carrying around and he knew if he left it in the apartment and she found it, she’d drive it to him.

“Thanks for everything, Mom. I’m going to get us out of this situation soon. You’re going to have your own place and you are going to stop being a slave to everyone else.”

She laughed like she always did. “It’s nice to have goals, but I just want you to be happy. That’s good enough for me.”

But to Flynn it wasn’t good enough for the woman who never dated again and dedicated her life to caring for him. He’d make her proud and he’d give her a better life because there was no one else who cared enough to do it for them.

Fierce-Flynn

Dr. Flynn Slater has had to work hard to get where he is in life. Looked down on as a child for not having much, he was out to make a better life for him and his mother. She’s always been there for him and he is determined to be there for her. Too bad the women he dates can’t seem to understand why he is that way and, until he finds someone that does, he is better off being single, despite his mother’s attempts to find him a mate.

Julia McNamara sure knows what it’s like to be embarrassed by her parents. Her mother goes through men like she changes her socks. Her father…he is in jail once again. Now she’s moved closer to her brother that she hasn’t had much of a relationship with for years either and they are starting over. Until he decides to be a big brother and fill-in father in her personal life. Nope. Never had it before and didn’t need his interference now. And speaking of interference…the Fierces are right there trying to meddle in her love life too. Maybe she wouldn’t mind her brother listening to them though.

No More Hiding…Prologue

Prologue

“Don’t torture yourself by watching this. We know how it’s going to end.”

She turned to look at her grandfather in his living room in Chicago. She’d been staying with them for the summer months while investigations were going on in Los Angeles preparing for this trial. Best to get out of the spotlight, where she hated to be to begin with.

“I have to know the verdict,” she said. 

“You know what it’s going to be,” her grandmother said. “We all know. There is way too much evidence.”

She was aware of that, but her sixteen-year-old mind couldn’t process that her life had changed forever only six months ago. That the life she knew had all been a sham and there would be no going back. 

Not now.

Not ever.

“I need to see it for myself. Mom doesn’t think it’s true. She thinks it’s all a lie.”

The camera zoomed in on her mother in the courtroom, a used-up tissue in her hand, Christian Dior sunglasses on her face. No, Amelia Carmichael would never believe her husband could do something like this.

“Your mother has been naive since the day she spoke her first word,” her grandmother said. “She’s always had her head in the clouds and you know it.”

She didn’t think she was anything like either of her parents. She wasn’t flighty and naive like her mother. She wasn’t a bullshitter and cutthroat like her father.

She just…was. 

It was probably best she was with her grandparents now and would fight to stay if she could. Chicago was still a big city and she’d fit in, but with any luck no one would know who she was.

“I don’t understand how she couldn’t see what is right there,” she argued. “I know everyone is shielding me from it, but it’s not possible.”

There was no way she could avoid it. When her father was arrested around the first of the year and charged, he’d been released shortly after on bond, but once he tried to leave the country, he’d been locked up and the trial pushed forward.

It was difficult to go to school daily at the all-girls academy she attended. Everyone knew what was going on and plenty had no problem voicing their opinions.

She’d left the school shortly after and was home-schooled for the remainder of the year.

All those friends she had, they left her in a heartbeat. Just like her parents were trying to do when they were going to flee the country.

No, her mother wasn’t going with her father when he was caught. Or so she said. But she wouldn’t have been surprised if her mother ditched her soon after for them to escape together, leaving her anyway.

Those tears at night in her mother’s room, where she talked to herself and the words carried through the walls…yeah, she knew her mother planned on meeting up with her father again.

Her grandparents had been her rock, swooping in and pulling her back to their home. Her mother never fought it and she didn’t think her mother would if she asked to stay here permanently.

“There is no shielding her with it being such a high-profile case,” her grandfather said, shaking his head. 

“They are coming in now,” her grandmother said.

The three of them held their breath as the judge was reading the verdict.

All she heard was the word “guilty” and she picked up the remote and shut it off. There were multiple counts against her father, but she knew enough. He’d be found guilty of them all. There was no way he couldn’t be.

She looked at her grandparents, the tears all dried up months ago.

“What am I going to do?” she asked.

“You’re staying with us. Your mother won’t fight it,” her grandfather said. “You know that.”

“Thank you,” she said.

“We can get you a new identity if you really want it?” Her grandfather looked at her grandmother. She’d brought it up before in passing. “We’ve talked to a few lawyers. Changing your name will help you move forward and you can start a fresh life here.”

She nodded her head yes. She wasn’t Alexa Violet Carmichael anymore. Today had to be the last day.

“I want to be Vivian Getman,” she said.

Her grandmother had always told her she looked exactly like her great-grandmother, Vivian, and she’d loved the name. Why not? Getman was her grandmother’s maiden name. It was a change but not something pulled out of the sky for her to try to remember either.

“Then that is who you’ll be,” her grandmother said, standing up and pulling her in for a hug. “And we’ll start calling you by that now. It’s a new life starting today, Vivian. Make the most of it.”

No More Hiding

Vivian Getman is not the person she used to be. With her father in jail and the death of her mother, her grandparents helped her recreate herself and start over. Thirteen years later she is all alone in the world and moves to a small development called Paradise Place, in Upstate New York, across the country from where her life began. She is ready to live for today and hope for tomorrow until the threat of her secret gets in the way.

Brent Elliot is exactly who he says he is. A grouchy hermit that is anti-social. The death of his twin sister as a teen, then his best friend in the line of duty a year ago, sends him into isolation in a town in Upstate New York. When he meets Vivian Getman he is torn between the love he has for her and the secrets he thinks she carries. Crossing the line to find out those secrets just might mean the end of what he’d thought he’d never have.

A Romantic For Rose…Chapter One

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If you haven’t read the PROLOGUE catch up here

Chapter One

She Was Feisty 

Seven Years Later

Thomas had just been told to walk to the backroom of the Blossoms storefront. That all three sisters were there. He’d been looking for Lily, but it was best to get them all together. More so, he’d get to see Rose.

Rose Bloom was a tough nut to crack. Something he’d been trying to do for years with little to no success. Whenever he crossed paths with her she was always polite but never warm. Never rude, but not friendly either. Or overly friendly.

If he’d been secretly hoping to ask her out for years, he didn’t tell a soul. It’s not that he hadn’t dated in all that time. He had. But they weren’t Rose. Or maybe his mind just kept going back to Rose so much that he couldn’t give anyone else a chance.

Her light brown hair was pulled back now like it always seemed to be. She had tan pants on and a blue shirt. She was never as feminine as her sisters in her attire, but she wasn’t boyish either. 

Poppy was doing some version of a dance in place and he felt his lips start to tug. “Talk about a great day for the Bloom sisters,” Poppy said.

“It is,” Lily said, then turned her head to see him standing there.

“What are you doing here, Thomas?” Rose asked before he could even say hi.

“Don’t be nasty,” Poppy said. “I know you’re not here for the new contract, Thomas. Lily just told us. It has to do with Taylor, doesn’t it?”

He held back his sigh over the words out of Rose’s mouth. He hadn’t thought she was purposely being nasty to him as much as Rose must have sensed the reason for his visit.

Not long ago the girls’ long lost father who had abandoned them reached out saying his other daughter from another woman was dying from cancer. The guy wanted money from the Bloom sisters. Thomas knew it right away and was going to do his best to protect them.

It might not be exactly what he was hired for as their attorney, but he felt he had to do it personally for the three girls who’d had a rough start in their life.

It wasn’t the first time either that he’d stepped up and gone above and beyond for them. Last year Mary Blossoms, Carl’s sister that no one knew existed, did the same thing. She came looking to start trouble and try to blackmail Lily in regards to her marriage to Carl. He wasn’t going to let that happen and not only dug up any dirt he could on Mary, but he’d also subtly threatened her with a countersuit of defamation. The older woman left town fast, but he’d kept that little bit to himself.

One thing he learned about the Bloom sisters was they only had each other. When he’d come back to work with his father, Carl had passed away, leaving the three sisters alone again. They were adults, but they were still alone in his eyes. His father had filled him in on the history of the situation and the will. And that the will to leave everything to the girl’s mother, Holly Bloom, had been in place before Holly had died.

It seemed to him Carl might have been the only family they’d had. And that meant knowing Logan Price was back in town trying to take advantage of Rose—no, the Bloom sisters—then he was going to put a stop to it.

If he’d thought the marriage between Carl and Lily was odd, it wasn’t his place to judge.

His parents didn’t have the best marriage. He’d witnessed it for years and listened to it long after it’d ended when his mother bitched about his father nonstop. He was in middle school and would have preferred to stay in Mystic and not move to Greenwich where his mother’s family was from.

He didn’t have a choice. His father wasn’t the best husband or father at times. He was detached and Thomas knew that, but he would have still preferred to live here.

He was looking at the three girls now. “New contract?” he asked to them all.

“I’ll fill you in later,” Lily said. “But does your visit have to do with Taylor?”

“It does,” Thomas said. “Can we go to your office to talk? Jasmine sent me back here. Sorry I didn’t call ahead of time, but I was in the area and took a chance at stopping in.”

It was a white lie. He wasn’t in the area until he hopped in his car and drove over. News like this, he wanted to deliver in person. Not just to see Rose again, but to see how she’d react. These girls had been through enough in his eyes.

“I’ve got work to do,” Rose said and went to turn. So much for seeing Rose, he thought, but Lily grabbed her younger sister’s arm. 

“No, Rose. You’re going to hear this,” Lily said.

He’d never seen Lily use that tone and he could see Rose was pissed.

He wanted to try to smooth things over if he could. “I won’t take up too much of your time,” Thomas said, his eyes never leaving Rose. His voice was softer too. He figured Rose knew he was always trying to extend himself more around her and though she’d never tried to get away or brush him off, she didn’t move forward either.

Rose nodded at him after she’d held his stare and the four of them went to Lily’s office.

“Tell us what you found out,” Poppy said.

“First off, Logan Price does appear to be your father short of the DNA test. All my checking verified a lot of what he said, timelines and so on. There doesn’t seem to be any other Logan Prices in Vermont around his age.”

“He’s not our father,” Rose said firmly. “He’s just the man who shot sperm into our mother.”

“Rose,” Lily said. “That’s crude even for you.”

“It’s the truth,” Rose said, crossing her arms.

Damn, she was feisty. And hot. Well, she was always hot to him, but like this, he just wanted to yank her in and plant his mouth on hers. He couldn’t keep the grin from his face. “Taylor, on the other hand, doesn’t appear to be your half-sister. I’m not sure Logan even knew her twenty years ago.”

“Really?” Poppy asked.

“Yes. Taylor Michaels, age twenty, was born in Harrisburg, Virginia, to Patricia Michaels. The father listed on the birth certificate is Anthony Michaels and he’s in jail for armed robbery. He’s been there about five years. Patty and Taylor didn’t move to Vermont until about two years ago.”

He wasn’t going to come back to these girls until he had answers. He wasn’t surprised with the answers he found and hated to deliver the news, but someone had to and he’d rather it be him.

“Great. Lies on top of lies. That is what we come from,” Poppy said.

“We don’t come from that,” Lily said. “Continue, Thomas. I’m almost afraid to hear the rest, but I’m sure I know where this is going.”

This was the part that chapped his skin raw and made him thankful he was a lawyer on the right side. “Taylor isn’t dying of cancer. As far as I can tell, she isn’t even sick.”

“What?” Poppy asked. “We saw her.”

“We saw what they wanted us to see,” Lily said.

“I told you not to go,” Rose said. “You never listen to me.” He wanted to wink at Rose but knew she might not appreciate it so held it back. As always, she was saying the least of the three when he was around.

“How were you able to get medical records?” Lily asked, ignoring Rose.

“I didn’t. I couldn’t get that. But I was able to make some calls and if you call enough and get the right person they give you information innocently. Logan’s biggest mistake was giving you so much information that you could check into it. Not one oncology office in Vermont has a Taylor Michaels as a patient. I called as an attorney to the billing department that she incurred so much debt at and said we’d like to settle and they had no record of anything.”

“Shit,” Poppy said. “So it was a scam?”

“Seems it. Patty works for a bank. Their donation campaign is going into an account there labeled for Taylor Michaels Donations and Medical Expenses. Which of course works against them,” he said.

“How is that?” Poppy asked.

“You can’t defraud the public to solicit donations. There are a few things we can do. If we let the site know what we found, they will shut the campaign down.” To him that was the easy way, but he had to give them all the options.

“Do it,” Rose said.

“Agreed,” both Poppy and Lily said.

“The other thing you can do is turn this information over to the Vermont State Police. They will investigate and press charges. It will be out of your hands. They will contact the site to keep it tidy.”

“Do it,” Rose said again. “Dear old Dad can go to jail as far as I’m concerned.”

“Yes,” Poppy said, looking at Lily.

Before Lily could say anything else, Rose said, “It’s two to one. Majority rules. That is how we operate.” Rose stood up and walked out of the room. She lasted in his presence longer than he figured she might. He turned his head to watch her go. He’d love to follow after her and see if she was okay, but he couldn’t. She’d probably bite his head off on top of it for doing it in front of her sisters.

Lily sighed. “I’m sorry for Rose’s behavior. She is struggling with this.”

“No reason to apologize,” he said. It was exactly what he figured. He’d known all along Rose wanted no part of Logan being in town. He’d gotten to know the sisters fairly well over the past few years when he took over the practice after his father semi-retired. Lily was practical. Poppy was emotional. Rose was withdrawn. “I didn’t want to tell you this over the phone.”

“I’m glad you didn’t,” Poppy said.

“I agree with my sisters though. I can’t believe this is the second time in a year someone is trying to scam us out of money,” Lily said.

“The price of success,” he said.

“I know,” Poppy said. She started to sniffle.

“Thank you, Thomas,” Lily said. “You always seem to go above and beyond for us and I appreciate it. I’ll be in touch tomorrow if you’re around to talk about the new contracts we got.”

 “I’m always around,” he said. 

He left after that and went back to his office. He would have liked to say goodbye to Rose. Or at least see how she was doing, but she was nowhere to be found.

He finished up work, figured he’d go home and spend an exciting night looking for something to cook and doing his laundry.

Which reminded him he ran out of laundry pods and that was why it was building up so much.

He swung by the drugstore on the way home and was turning out of the aisle with the detergent in his hands when he noticed Rose standing in the women’s aisle. Oh crap. He wanted to talk to her, but would she be embarrassed?

Before he could turn around, she lifted her head, saw him and laughed when he felt the heat fill his face. “You don’t have to pretend you don’t see me here because of what is in my hands.”

Always upfront and to the point. “How are you doing?” he asked, moving forward. “I know today wasn’t the best day.”

“Actually, it was,” she said.

“How is that?”

“We got a lucrative contract that Lily will tell you about. One that I worked on and got for us. Or it’s my first big major contract. The news of Logan didn’t surprise me. I knew it all along. So all he did was sprinkle on my parade. The sun is out and he can go rot for all I care.”

Thomas grinned. “I’m glad,” he said. “And congrats. How about a celebration dinner then? On me?”

Her smile dropped and she stared at him. Here he’d been waiting for his chance and he threw it out there like a rotten fish in a bakery and now the whole store full of items had to be replaced.

“I suppose I should,” she said. “Then I can apologize for my behavior.”

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

Her grin was back in place. “See, that made me happy that I said yes.”

“What’s that?” he asked. He wanted to take note of it so he knew for future reference.

“That you can be sarcastic like me. That you aren’t always this nice guy.”

“Trust me, I’m not always nice.”

“I’m not so sure about that,” she said. “But at least I know you’ve got some sarcasm in your little toe.”

“And I think you’ve got some niceness in your little toe,” he said.

“Again, straight shooter too. Another thing I like.”

Now they were finally getting somewhere. He probably shouldn’t have been holding back for years, but there wasn’t much he could do about it now.

“Do you need to go home first or anything?” His eyes drifted back to the box of tampons in her hand.

She grinned. “Nope. These are for the office. Lots of women working there, you know, and someone was complaining that someone else took the last one.”

“Okay then,” he said. “Maybe more information than I needed to know.”

“Men,” she said. It really did seem to him she was in a much better place than she was when she stalked out of the backroom today. “Do you need to go home first and wash some clothes? Maybe change out of your suit. Bet it’s hot in that thing.”

“It is,” he said. “How about give me thirty minutes and we can meet somewhere if you want. I’d offer to pick you up, but I’m sure you’re going to say no.”

She smirked at him. “We can meet.”

“You pick,” he said. “As long as I’m not cooking, I don’t care where the food comes from.”

“Imagine that,” she said. “You took the words right out of my mouth.”

They decided on a restaurant on the water. Both of them paying for their things and then leaving. He had enough time to run home and put on jeans and a shirt, maybe shorts. She was putting shorts on, he was positive. They weren’t going anywhere fancy.

He drove faster than normal, was undressing as he was walking through the house and dropping clothes as he went in his rush. He wanted a fast shower and needed to get a move on to not be late.

Ten minutes later he was rushing back out the door and driving to the restaurant, pulling in the same time as Rose.

And just as he thought, she had on jean shorts and flip flops and he was all but drooling over her long thin legs that he hadn’t seen before. Damn it, he needed to get some brain cells back in his head or this night was going to be a massive flop for someone that had been waiting for the opportunity for years.

A Romantic For Rose…Prologue

Prologue

“Are you sure that you’re good going alone?” 

Rose Bloom turned and gave her older sister the look that she’d perfected years ago. The one that said, “Don’t ask me again or I’m going to walk away.” 

Lily sighed and reached her hand toward Rose, but Rose stepped back. “I know you mean well, Lily,” she said. “But this is my line. Tom knows I’m coming. You told him everything. He’s going to talk to me and we are going to add it to the business and draw everything up. You went through this with Poppy.”

Lily had started selling candles and soaps years ago at craft fairs after she’d married Carl Blossoms, their boss. Their mother’s boss too. But their mother died suddenly, leaving the three girls orphans. Lily being eighteen stepped up to be the mother she was most times in their life and ended up marrying Carl, a man old enough to be their father.

It was an odd marriage Rose never understood. She tried not to question Lily’s motives either seven years ago. And when Carl passed away a few months ago, though she never really believed her sister had a traditional marriage, the three girls were all devastated.

Carl was about as close as a man had ever gotten to being a father to her in the past several years when they’d lived under his roof. He didn’t interfere too much, letting Lily care for and raise them. But at eighteen, sixteen and fifteen, the three girls had lived through more than most double their age.

“I had to go with Poppy though,” Lily said.

“Because you didn’t want her to mess it up. I’m not flighty like Poppy.”

The middle sister of the three of them, Poppy was known to be somewhat of an airhead and dramatic most times. They were used to her behavior and personality, but their lawyer, Tom Klein, normally only dealt with Lily personally. Or when Lily was with them.

But Rose was her own person. She didn’t need someone to hold her hand or guide her way. She knew what she wanted. The business that Lily started was thriving. It wasn’t just candles and soaps but lotions too. Poppy started her line of purses and accessories over a year ago and that was taking off.

Rose wanted something of her own. She’d known all along it’d be jewelry and now she just had to master her craft more. But having it in writing that she had her own line, she’d push herself more. It forced her to take that step and leave the area for a short period to get her specialized training.

“I know,” Lily said. “Call me if you need anything.”

“I’ll be fine. It’s not like I’m driving out of state. Just going ten minutes away. I’ll still be in Mystic. I could send up a flare and you’d see it.”

“And I’d come get you,” Lily said.

“I know. But you’re needed here. I’ll be back in an hour or less, I’m sure.”

Lily nodded her head. They were upstairs from the flower shop that Lily had inherited when Carl had passed. They’d lived here when their mother was alive, but when their business took off, they needed office space and Carl suggested they take the upstairs for storage and a place to work.

After a few years of hustling and getting massive wholesale orders, it was apparent that space wasn’t going to cut it and Lily took out a loan for a manufacturing plant. They weren’t utilizing nearly the space they had, but Lily had a vision and she was sure they’d grow into it. Already Poppy had an area there with two employees added to the other ten that ran the machines and packaged up the products.

“Okay,” Lily said. “Good luck.”

She rolled her eyes at her sister. Rose didn’t need luck. “I’ll be fine.”

She left and drove to Tom’s office. She’d been here before. There were two other attorneys that worked here and a few staff that she’d seen moving around when she’d been here. 

“Can I help you?” the woman at the front desk asked.

“Rose Bloom here to see Tom Klein.”

“Just take a seat and I’ll let him know you’re here.”

She moved to one of the chairs and sat. It wasn’t even two minutes before Tom came out to see her. He was probably around sixty or so she was guessing. She wasn’t good at ages and never really cared all that much.

“Rose,” Tom said. “Come on back to my office. It’s so good to see you. And I’m sorry about Carl.”

“Thanks,” she said. “You knew him longer than me.”

“I did,” Tom said. “I’ve been his lawyer since he opened his flower shop years and years ago. Probably before you were born.”

She smiled. “Yes.”

“Lily told me why you’re here. I must say, you girls are just thriving.”

“It’s Lily,” she said.

“Poppy has a line and now you want one,” Tom said. “I think it’s wonderful. Carl was very proud of you three girls.”

“That’s nice to hear.” 

She’d never had anyone tell her that before in her life. If Carl said it to Lily, it was never shared and Lily would have shared that, she was sure.

“Why don’t you tell me a little bit about what you are looking to do,” Tom said. “Jewelry, right?”

“Yes,” she said. The two of them talked for a few minutes. She knew none of this had to do with the legal documents but more with having a conversation. Tom did like to know everything he could, but he wasn’t warm and fuzzy with it. Not mean or businesslike either. Somewhere in the middle.

Rose would probably be considered rude by some. Short and to the point. There wasn’t a warm or fuzzy bone in her body, but she was definitely businesslike. She was polite too, at least during working hours.

With family and friends…she said it like it was or just left the room. Most were used to her being that way. She didn’t like to talk and didn’t feel like she needed to open her heart up to people. Why, when it hurt way too much? It was better to keep it locked up so she didn’t feel anything.

There was a knock at the door and as she turned to look, Tom said, “Thomas, come in and meet Rose Bloom. Rose, this is my son, Thomas. He decided to return to the area and work with me.”

She reached her hand out to the tall man that was older than her, but she’d be shocked if he was thirty yet. No way. 

“Nice to meet you,” Thomas said. “And sorry to interrupt, but can I steal you away for one minute, Dad? I’ve got Judge Williams on the phone.”

“Of course,” Tom said, standing up. “I’ll be right back, Rose.”

She nodded and pulled her phone out. Just like she figured, there was a text from Lily asking how she was doing. She wasn’t going to answer it. There was no reason to.

A minute turned to two and then Tom returned. “I’m sorry about that. I’m thrilled my son is back where I think he belongs. I’m sure you’ll see more of him. It was always my hope he’d take over the practice.”

“But he wasn’t working around here before?”

“No,” Tom said. “He was in California where he went to college. He’s been practicing there about four years, but I’m glad he’s back.”

Four years. So that would put him about six years older than her, making him around twenty-eight. “Then I’m sure we’ll cross paths again,” she said.

“Definitely. Now let’s get down to business.”

She was walking into Lily’s office thirty minutes later. “Well?” Lily asked. “How did it go?”

“Fine,” she said. “We talked for a few minutes. His son interrupted us and then we got back to work. He said he’d get you the papers in a week for us all to sign.”

“Great,” Lily said. “I didn’t know he had a son. I like Tom and all, but he never talks about anything personal. Of course I never did much either.”

Poppy was the only one that was an open book between the three of them.

“His name is Thomas. Very original,” she said, grinning. “Tom said he’s been in California practicing for four years. I peg him at late twenties. Tom said he was hoping Thomas would take over the practice when he retires.”

“I hope he doesn’t retire soon. Geez,” Lily said.

“If he does then he does. There are other lawyers out there. And now his son.”

“What was he like?” Lily said. “Tom is so professional and businesslike.”

“I only saw the guy for a minute when he popped his head in. He had a shirt and tie on if that helps any.” 

She wasn’t about to tell her sister that Thomas had brown hair nice and trim. That he looked to be at least six feet with a sweet body to match. His clothes were fitted well to his body showing that he might have some muscle hidden there and his handshake was firm. Like he wasn’t going to go light because she was a woman.

Nor did her sister need to know that Thomas had a nice smile. A warm one. Something that she never got from Tom. Not that their current attorney needed to smile at her, but Thomas did. And it made her heart skip a beat and take notice of the man.

“I’m sure it’s fine,” Lily said. “Poppy is in the other room and I want to take you two out to dinner before we go home. We should celebrate.”

The three of them still lived in the house that Carl left to Lily. Poppy had graduated college last year and though they were all getting a decent paycheck for their work with the business, they tended to be frugal.

Not to mention with Carl’s passing not that long ago, she and Poppy didn’t want to leave Lily alone just yet.

“There isn’t anything to celebrate,” Rose said. “The paperwork isn’t done yet and it’s not like I’m ready to produce much. Just the few pieces I’ve been making and nothing that I want to put online yet. I’ll be gone about eight months to train and then I’ll be ready to roll.”

She’d had a few pieces listed. Sterling silver pieces with dried flowers under glass for earrings and necklaces, a few rings. But she was ready to start designing more. More than the few pieces in her collection in her room. She didn’t think she was quite ready yet no matter how much she wanted to run when she was still learning to crawl.

“But you’re getting there. You’ve got a talent and you will refine it when you’re training. We’re going to miss you, but you can come home at any time. Poppy says she’s going to go visit with you too. And there is a reason I want to celebrate. I have an idea.”

“I want to know the idea now,” Poppy yelled from the other room.

“She always did listen in on other people’s conversations,” Rose said.

“Get in here, Poppy,” Lily said.

Poppy was there in a flash. “What’s your idea?”

“I think we need a storefront. We’ve been using the flower shop for candles and lotions and putting some of Poppy’s things there, but people aren’t looking for that when they come in here.”

“No,” she said. “They aren’t going to look for rings in a flower shop either.”

“Exactly,” Lily said. “So I ran the numbers and think we should take the risk. The shop will be filled with our products. Lotions, soaps and candles, Poppy’s line and a line for you, Rose. You want to design unique pieces. People need to see them and try them on. You can still sell online, but a jeweler needs a jewelry store. You can have a section just for you.”

She’d been the least emotional of the three of them. The one that held it in even when Lily tried to get her to open up.

For once she felt her eyes fill up. “Really? You’d do that?”

Poppy moved over and hugged her and she wanted to wiggle out of her sister’s arms, but didn’t. Lily stood up and hugged her too. They didn’t do a group hug often but now seemed to call for it.

“We’ll always be there for each other,” Poppy said. And of course, Poppy was sniffling.

“Poppy is right. The business is in our three names. We’ve got our branches that we specialize in, but it’s one unit. Let’s go for it. What do you say?” Lily asked.

“I say yes. And I know you’re the business one of us though we all have a business degree, but we should each put cash in. Maybe the money Carl left us?”

Lily was left the most. The house, the flower shop, a decent life insurance policy. But Poppy and Rose each had a life insurance policy of fifty thousand left to them. They’d had no clue and when the cash was deposited in her account she’d felt rich beyond means.

“That is your money,” Lily said. “I figured you’d want to pay off your student loans.”

“I can do that easily enough,” Rose said. “None of us have that much. Maybe if we each put twenty-five thousand in? Unless Poppy spent all her money.”

“I didn’t,” Poppy said. “I haven’t decided what to do yet. But I think we should do it. It’d be less of a loan and feel more like ours individually. Or does that sound silly?”

“Not silly,” Rose said. “In an odd way I think Carl would love us doing this.”

“It’d make him feel like he was part of it too,” Lily said. “Then yes, we can do that if you want. Here’s to us expanding again.”

“To us,” she said. 

“Rose has a tear in her eye,” Poppy said. “Look at that. For once she is showing some emotion without us badgering her. Miracles can happen.”

She squirmed out of their arms and walked out of the room to their laughter. Damn it, how had she let that tear fall?