Letting Go…Prologue

Prologue

Cash Fielding stood between his mother and sixteen-year-old sister at the cemetery as the priest spoke words about his father he didn’t hear.

There were sounds all around him, people too, but his eyes were glued to the casket of the man he’d idolized his entire nineteen years.

Roc Fielding was too young to have a heart attack. The big man worked his ass off doing hard labor running the family landscaping business.

The one Cash was now going to have to manage in his father’s place.

He’d always known he’d work alongside his father. It’d been his plan most of his life. He just didn’t think he’d be running the show so young.

Addison was sniffling next to him. He moved his hand to the side to touch hers and she grabbed it and held on. His mother was holding it together just like he was. They’d grieve in private. He was a private person and always had been.

“Would the family like to come up and say a few words?” the priest asked.

Cash looked at his mother. She’d had a few things prepared but was going to keep it short and sweet. 

Madeline Fielding moved to where the priest was and said, “Listen. We all know Roc. We know what he’d want us to do and it’s not to stand here gabbing about him. If I talk too long he’d make some crack about needing a few more holes dug for people standing in this heat.” There were some chuckles around over that and he felt his lips curve slightly. His father was one for bold statements. “Roc was a good man. A great husband and a wonderful father. He’s going to be missed, but he wouldn’t want us to mourn too long so I’m telling you all you better not.”

He lifted his eyes and met his mother’s. She was saying it to him. He knew it. 

His mother said a few more words, then asked if he wanted to talk. He’d been on the fence about it but decided to end the way his father had joked about for years.

“Like my mother I’ll keep this short. Dad told me once when we were at one of these…he said, ‘Don’t give me a long speech or anything. Just throw the dirt on me and get a beer in my honor.’”

There were a lot of grins after that letting him know he’d said the right thing. Many heads nodded too, telling him his father must have made that comment to several before. 

“We’ll be having a gathering at the house if you’d all like to attend,” his mother said.

There were probably close to a hundred people here today. Their house wouldn’t fit them all, but they had a massive barn in the back and his mother paid to have it catered. His father would want that too. A big old party in his honor on the property he’d beautified over the years.

An hour later, he was getting a soda when Ryan Butler came up to him. They’d been friends all through school. They had similar personalities too. Both of them not giving a shit about material things and parties but rather being more basic.

“Sorry about your dad,” Ryan said.

“Thanks.”

Ryan was in college but home for the summer working for Butler Construction. Since Fielding Landscaping’s biggest contract was with Butler Construction, he’d known and been around Ryan and his cousins for years while they all worked summers. But for Cash, he wasn’t going to college. No reason to. He just went right to work.

“If you need to just hang out or something, you know where to find me.”

“I do. I’ll let you know,” he said. 

Ryan was good that way. They’d spent a lot of Friday or Saturday nights chilling at one of their homes in the basement just watching TV or playing video games. Neither talked much and didn’t need to. There had always been a silent understanding.

Throughout the day Michael and Matthew Butler came up to him with condolences but he’d seen them talking to his mother. He wanted to know what was going on but decided to wait until later.

Later came after seven when his mother was cleaning up in the garage. He and Addison were helping. His sister was holding it together as best as she could. His sister and he were like night and day. Her friends were there all hugging her and almost babying her. She needed it and he wasn’t equipped to give it to her.

“Come here, you two,” his mother said. “Have a seat.”

“Are we going to lose the house?” Addison asked, crying.

He felt his heart thump in his chest. He wouldn’t let that happen. He’d find a way to make it all work.

“No,” his mother said. “I wanted to tell you that I’m still running the business from the office like I always did. Matthew and Michael both assured me the contracts were still in place. They’d help me find some men to help with the work if I needed it. Your father did the work of more than one man.”

“I’ll get it covered,” Cash said.

“Cash, you’re nineteen.”

“Dad would want me to step up. I can do it.”

His mother sighed. “He would and he’d be proud of you, but you’re still learning. Other men have been here longer and you can learn from them.”

He didn’t want to hear that but knew he didn’t have much of a choice either. 

“We aren’t losing anything,” he said firmly. “I won’t let it happen.”

His mother walked over and put her hand on his shoulder. “Neither will I. Your father is going to continue to watch over us. We are going to be just fine and you know it.”

He wasn’t so sure of that deep down, but he’d never let his mother know he felt that way. He was the man of the house now and he’d do anything it took to keep them together.

Letting Go

Hannah Shepard had never been a risk taker. But with some newfound confidence and a little encouragement from the girls in her salon, she ventures out to strike up a conversation with the hottie working on her building. Total fail, making her wonder why she bothered to try. Failure has always been her fear and here she was striking out in her personal life almost as much as her professional one.

At nineteen, Cash Fielding lost his father. His idol. The man that ran their landscaping business and kept their family as one unit. He stepped up as his father would want, growing up faster than he should have had to. Along the way, he realized his personal life took a major hit. Now he feels like he’s lost in space when he’s around women. It was better to stay alone, or so he thought, until a cute blonde came out to offer him a bottle of water one day and he messes up more than once.

A Playboy For Poppy…Chapter One

Here is the Prologue if you missed it!

Chapter One

Good Fun 

Twelve Years Later

“How was Vegas?” Lily asked when Poppy showed up for work on Tuesday morning. Rose came in the exact second the question was asked.

“It was great,” Poppy said. “It would have been better if Rose wanted to let loose some more.”

Lily laughed. “She’s not you.”

“That’s right, Poppy,” Rose said. “Excuse me if two glasses of wine are my limit and I don’t care to attract that many men at the bar.”

“It was all in good fun,” she said. Geez, you’d think she was out there having threesomes with the way her baby sister by one year was talking. 

“Did you have to pull her off the bar?” Lily asked.

“No, she didn’t,” Poppy said. “I had four glasses of wine in a three-hour period. I just drink faster than Rose. I wasn’t drunk, as Rose will tell you. And since we shared a room and went there at the same time each night, she knows I didn’t hook up with anyone.”

“It was your choice not to do it,” Rose said. “You had enough men coming onto you.”

“That doesn’t mean I accept it,” she said. 

Sure, she liked sex. She had ever since her first experience with Reese McGill so many years ago and he left, breaking her heart.

But that didn’t mean she slept with every man she came in contact with. She didn’t sleep with strangers either and that was what all those men were to her in Vegas.

Did she have some friends with benefits situations over the years? Yep, she did. She was a modern day professional getting a business off the ground. She was busting her butt to prove to her older sister that she could hold down the fort too. That she wasn’t the silly girl that was emotional and cried every month when she got her period because she hated the cramps.

Well, maybe she still did that during that time, but not because of the cramps. It was more her hormones. But now it was in the privacy of her condo.

The one she bought with her money from the hard work she’d been doing for years. She could buckle down when she needed to.

“We know you aren’t loose,” Lily said, rubbing her hand on her arm. “We are only picking on you.”

She did know that deep down. “What can I say? Maybe I’m jealous of what you’ve got going with Zane.”

Lily started to date Zane Wolfe last spring. Now the hot construction owner and his daughter were living in the house the three girls had moved to after Lily married Carl Blossoms who died of a heart attack, leaving Lily a widow in her early twenties.

She was happy for her sister, but she was being honest in that she was jealous too.

“If you weren’t always out for fun maybe you’d find that with someone too,” Rose said.

“Please,” she said. “Like you are one to talk. The only person who dated less than you was Lily. She’s making up for it now though.”

“I’m not dating anyone,” Lily argued. “I’m in love.”

“Real love,” she said to Lily. “And don’t argue anymore. You sacrificed everything for the two of us and you can deny all you want. Rose and I aren’t stupid. Hell, nothing would surprise me about the marriage you had with Carl. I still don’t know how you married him when he was old enough to be our father. Let alone slept with him. Or maybe you didn’t?”

“Leave Lily alone,” Rose said. “Her marriage to Carl is old news and we know it. She’s happy with Zane and she deserves it. We should all be happy with what we worked for too. And back to the convention because I know Lily is dying to hear about it.”

She should have figured Rose would stop Lily from answering the questions she’d had for her older sister for years. But she supposed it wasn’t her business either. What was done was done. 

Carl had been more a father to her and Rose. Well, not a father, but more like an uncle. He put a roof over their heads—a nice one—they all went to college. They were left money and the business when Carl died. Though by then, the three girls had started their own branch of Blossoms.

Candles, soaps and lotions, with her accessories and Rose’s jewelry in the works.

Man, if she never had to make a bar of soap or candle again, she’d be one happy girl. 

She’d always been more into fashion than her sisters, but money was tight and she didn’t get to buy half of what she wanted.

So she learned to make it. She had a good hand at sewing and when she got sick of the products to their original business, she broached her plan with Lily. Scarves, purses, handbags, belts. Any accessory she could think of and they stuck to the floral theme.

She was in her glory and more so when she got a booth at the craft fair and sold out in two hours.

When Rose saw the results, she said she wanted her own line too. Jewelry was born and now all three of them could say they were equally contributing with Lily running the business as a whole.

Lily was born to lead. She’d been more a mother than their own mother at times. That guilt Poppy felt, she was trying to push it off as much as she could. She might like to have fun, but she’d caused enough grief for her sister over the years. 

Which was why she’d never told Lily or Rose anything about Reese when she’d snuck out to be with him each night that week. The only week she had with him.

And she had to stop thinking of the man too. 

She’d pushed him from her mind for years, but in moments of weakness, she’d do an internet search and see what he might be up to.

A professional poker player. She’d never imagined that in a million years. But the fact she’d spent a week in Vegas with Rose, her eyes looking around for any chance he might be there, could be why he was entering her mind now.

“I’ve got a bunch of fabric samples from different vendors. I love the way they look and I’ve got them in the car to bring in and try out. I’m more concerned about the sustainability of them. If I can only use them for scarves, then so be it. But I did get a list of contacts for possible placement of my products too.”

“Wonderful,” Lily said. “If you want to give me the list, I’ll look into them.”

“I can do it,” she argued. “I know you are used to doing it all, but let me reach out first. I’m fussy about the way my products are displayed. How they will be placed and represented in shops and boutiques.”

Poppy might be flighty about a lot of things in life, but this was her livelihood and she took it seriously. Maybe the only thing she took seriously in life in years, some would say.

“Okay,” Lily said. “If you need help let me know. I’m so excited and happy for you.”

“Thanks,” she said. She knew Lily meant it too. 

“Now your turn, Rose,” Lily said. “What do you have to report?”

“I got a few lists of contacts too. I saw some great processes that I want to try out. Some of the contacts I got are the same as Poppy’s. They seemed to want all the products we have.”

“You didn’t tell me that,” Poppy said. She hated when they didn’t tell her things. “How come?”

“Because you were too busy flirting the last day there and I was by myself at my booth. Then we packed up and caught our flight home,” Rose said. “I just figured I’d talk to both of you together.”

“This is all exciting,” Lily said. “Why don’t you let me know who those are and we can all meet to work it out. It’s best to reach out to them as a business unit, and not individually. Agreed?”

“Yes,” Poppy said. She’d been so proud of herself for getting those names and now it seemed like it wasn’t just for her but for them all.

She had to get over it. They were a unit and it wasn’t all about her.

“Now if you’ll excuse me,” Lily said. “I need to check out the flower shop and make sure Jasmine and Violet are all set along with the rest of the girls. Valentine’s Day is Monday and we know how busy they are going to be.”

“The shop too,” Rose said. “We’ve been running specials all week. I feel bad we were gone for most of it.”

“That is what we’ve got other employees for,” Poppy said. She and Rose ran the storefront while they created in the back. All her products were produced at the manufacturing plant too. The same with some of Rose’s jewelry. 

“I know,” Rose said. “And of the three of us, I hate working the store the most but will do it. I’m dying to get back to my shop and start working on new designs, but we should check in the store before we do anything else.”

Poppy hated that both her sisters always felt like they had to tell her what to do. That she wasn’t smart enough to figure it out. Or maybe they thought she was still flighty like she’d been accused of as a kid.

It seemed like she was forever trying to prove her worth to everyone even if they didn’t mean to make her feel this way.

“I planned to do that,” Poppy said. She looked at her watch. “We’ve got an hour before the store opens anyway.”

Lily was in her office before eight each day. Poppy and Rose normally came in around the same time too to get to work and then would fill in at the store if they had to. In the past several months, they didn’t have to much at all, but rather had to keep inventory to their specialties and schedule the staff more than anything.

It was nice being the boss, but sometimes it’d be nicer to not worry about those things.

“Then let’s get to work,” Lily said. “You two know where I am if you need me. Maybe we can plan on meeting at the end of the week once you’re both settled to figure out what contacts you’ve got and what we want to put together to send them?”

“That works for me,” Rose said.

“Me too,” she said. She and her younger sister left Lily’s office above the flower shop. “Thanks for throwing me under the bus.”

“What?” Rose asked. “What did I do?”

“Talking about me drinking and flirting.”

Rose looked at her, her eyes a little wide. “I didn’t say anything that wasn’t true or what we’ve picked on you about for years. Let me guess, you’re going to get your period again and are just hormonal?”

She let out a sigh. “No,” she said. “I just feel like I’m always trying to prove that I can handle my end of the business.”

When they got to the back where both of them had offices that were more workrooms, Rose stopped and looked at her. “I’m sorry. I’m the one with more self-doubt than you. You’re killing it right now and you know it. Maybe I’m jealous that my branch isn’t taking off like yours.”

Rose was the quietest of the three of them and Poppy knew it took a lot for that confession to come out of her sister’s lips. “There is no reason to be jealous of me. You’re doing great. Hence, getting the contacts like me. Remember, we are stronger together than apart.”

She’d been told that so much by Lily over the years that she finally started to believe it. “We are,” Rose said, hugging her. “And I’m sorry if I hurt your feelings.” Her baby sister must really feel bad but she normally ran at the first sign of any affection.

She laughed. “You didn’t. I’m emotional and we all know it.”

“One of us has to be. You got all my genes for that. I’m the stone cold one.”

“You’re not cold, Rose. Don’t let anyone tell you that.” She hated when Rose put herself down. 

“I know. We all have our faults. But we all have our strengths too. And we better get to work before Lily comes down and cracks the whip.”

She grinned and bumped hips with Rose. “That’s her strength. Keeping us in line.”

“Even if we don’t want to admit, we need it.”

“We do,” she agreed.

A Playboy For Poppy…Prologue

Prologue

“Come on, Poppy,” Lily said. “The faster we get everything set up, the faster we can get back to the shop.”

Poppy looked out at the beautiful grounds of the McGill estate where she and her sisters, Lily and Rose, were delivering flowers.

At seventeen years old it was the last thing she wanted to be doing on a sunny summer day. But nothing that she wanted in life had ever been hers.

Their mother died from a hit-and-run accident last summer, and Lily, who was eighteen at the time, said she’d keep the three girls together. Little did Poppy know that meant her sister would marry the man who owned the flower shop where they and their mom worked.

Lily hadn’t even told her and Rose she was married for months, letting them continue to live above the shop—Blossoms—until school started.

Then Lily spilled the beans and said they were moving to Carl Blossoms’ house.

Sure, it was the nicest place they’d ever lived and she was happy the three girls were all together. Carl was nice enough to them, but they were on their own, working more often than not.

Lily continued with her plan to go to college last year and commuted while she worked at the flower shop, cared for the home they lived in, and took care of her new, much older husband. Poppy and Rose’s lives hadn’t changed all that much to the outside eye.

But inside it was hard. 

Starting her senior year of high school next month would be just another year of the looks, the laughs, and the teasing of what she was and how her sister married an older man for his money.

She’d never said those words to Lily and wouldn’t. Carl might have had more money than they’d ever seen, but it was nothing like the grounds she was standing on now.

“I’m working as fast as I can,” she said. Lily was always in a rush to get it all done. Poppy, she just wanted to enjoy her surroundings. The carefree one. The happy one—at least to those on the outside—the party girl.

Middle child syndrome. Yeah, she had it. She liked attention because she didn’t think she got much of it growing up.

Their mother tried to raise the three girls alone, but as horrible as it sounded, Holly Bloom was on the flighty side. And Poppy knew she took after her and had it pointed out enough.

 “We’ve got a lot of deliveries today,” Lily said. “The three of us move faster than the other staff.”

Poppy let out a sigh and then went back to the van to get the bouquets that Carl had been putting together for the past few days.

The McGills were a big deal in Mystic. This was their summer home. She was sure they had homes all over the world. She wasn’t even sure where their money was from, but it was millions. Probably billions. If anyone made that much. She’d have no clue what that kind of money would feel like.

She grabbed one of the vases and was carrying it across the grounds when she saw a boy coming out of a shed with a hammer in his hand. Probably help too.

“Hi,” she said. He was hot. Really hot. Brown hair, dark eyes, much taller than her and she was figuring about her age. 

He smiled and made his way closer. “Those sure are pretty,” he said of the flowers in the vase.

“Thanks. Just getting everything set up for the party tonight. You?”

“Trying to fix a nail sticking out of the window sill. I’m Reese.”

“As in peanut butter cups?” she asked, tilting her head.

“Yes. And you are?”

“Poppy,” she said.

“As in a flower?” he asked back with a huge grin on his face.

“Very much so.”

“Poppy,” she heard Rose yell, then turned. “Come on.”

“Sorry,” she said. “My older sister, Lily, is a little bit of a tyrant when it comes to schedules and she’s got my younger sister, Rose, following behind.”

“So you all have flower names?” he asked, his grin never leaving his face.

“We do. Does anyone else in your family have candy bar names?”

“You’re funny. And cute. I don’t suppose you could maybe catch a movie or something tonight?”

“I’d love to,” she said. Maybe this day wasn’t going to be a total waste.

“Why don’t you give me your address and I can pick you up when it works for you?”

“How about seven?” she said. She could sneak out and say she was meeting friends. “But I’ll meet you.”

She’d just take Lily’s car. It was their mother’s old car and Lily would be home by then anyway. Or could get a ride home with Carl. 

Reese hesitated a minute and then said, “Sure. How about Mystic Pizza?”

This time she hesitated. If she was lying and saying she was meeting one of her friends, someone would see her on Main Street. They all knew her since the flower shop was there too. “Mystic Seaport?” she said. She could blend in more there.

“That works,” he said. “I’ll see you at seven tonight.”

She nodded her head and then turned when she saw Lily moving back toward the van. “I’ve got to get back to work. See you tonight.”

She went about her job now faster than normal. She had to make up the time she’d spent talking with Reese.

An hour later they were in the van returning to the shop. “Can I have the car tonight?” she asked Lily. “I’m going out with friends.”

“Sure,” Lily said. “Remember your curfew.”

“I’ll be back by nine, I promise.” Maybe she should have had Reese pick her up because then she could stay out until eleven. But if she had the car, at seventeen that meant nine. Damn it, why didn’t she think of that? Because she didn’t think things through. 

Hours later, she was pulling into the Seaport and wondering how she was going to find Reese. She’d changed into a pair of jean shorts that she knew showed off her long legs. She’d put a plain black T-shirt on, but the minute she was out of sight of their home, she pulled over and swapped it for a bright red halter top, grabbed her makeup bag and touched up what she could, then tousled her hair. 

She drove around looking for a place to park in the family sedan and then noticed Reese standing next to a new BMW. What the heck?

She parked and walked closer to him. “Hi,” she said. “Nice car.”

“Thanks.”

“Is it your father’s?”

He frowned at her. “No. It’s mine.”

Hmmm, maybe she figured his age wrong. “How old are you?”

“Eighteen, almost nineteen,” he said. “You?”

“Seventeen.”

He let out a sigh. “You don’t know who I am, do you?”

“Is your name not Reese?” she asked. She was wondering how fast she could run back to her car. She was always impulsive, but this might be an idiot move.

“Reese McGill,” he said. 

“Oh,” she said. Guess another idiotic thing. Thinking he was hired help. “So that was your family’s house I was working at?”

“My grandparents,” he said. “I figured you thought I was working with the hammer in my hand.”

“You could have corrected me,” she said. She had no business being here with him. She’d been looking forward to this all day and now she felt out of place. Just like she did most of her life.

“You were busy. What’s the big deal?”

She snorted. “I think you know the big deal.”

“I don’t live my life like my family wants me to,” he said firmly. “But if you’d rather not be seen with me, that’s fine too.”

Now she felt bad that she might have hurt his feelings. “It’s not that. It’s more I’m sure your family wouldn’t want you seen with someone like me.”

“Someone nice,” he said. “Cute. Funny. Is that what you mean?”

She grinned. “Yeah, that.”

“Then let’s go where no one can see us. We can take my father’s sailboat out. What do you say?”

She thought for all of five seconds and realized that it might be one of the crazier things she’d done in her life, but what was one more?

“Sure. If you don’t laugh that I need to get home by nine. Curfew and all driving.”

“We’ll get back in time for that and then maybe I can pick you up next time if that means I don’t have to have you back by nine?”

“Let’s get through tonight first,” she said.

“Let’s,” he said. “Follow me to Fort Rachel Marina where the boat is.”

She went back to her car and pulled out to follow Reese. Her giddiness was returning like never before. Maybe it was time she went back to having fun and not worrying about everything so much.

Except at the end of the week, Reese was gone from her life, along with her virginity. So yep, stupid on her part when she should have known better. 

A Playboy For Poppy!

As the middle child, Poppy Bloom has always sought out attention. She is the wild one, the happy one, the emotional one. The biggest flirt. Not many took her seriously, even when she tried. But now as an adult, she’s ready to prove to her sisters—her only remaining family—that she can pull her weight in the family business. And when the man who broke her heart returns to town, her biggest mission is to not let it happen again.

During his travels around the world, Reese McGill accumulated a lot of wealth and women. He’s never been a rule follower. Many said he wasn’t ready or didn’t want to settle down. He knew the truth—he was waiting for his time and the right woman. Now he’s back in Mystic to claim that prize and if he risks being disowned, then so be it. He isn’t a professional gambler for nothing.

Family Bonds- Penelope & Griffin…Chapter One

If you have read the PROLOGUE you can catch up here.

Chapter One

Life Altering 

Seven years later

Griffin let himself into Eli’s apartment at eight in the morning. He’d been up for a few hours like always, but the two of them started their days like this.

Even with Bella in Eli’s place, it didn’t stop him from going over and getting his breakfast and the two of them meeting before Eli went to his office for the day. Griffin would do his own thing on the penthouse floor until he moved down to his other office with the rest of the security.

Very few knew he lived in an apartment next to Eli other than the owners of the casino, Eli, his father, Mitchell, and his brothers, Egan and Ethan. There were some other family members that were aware because it seemed like his job wasn’t just watching over the casino, but also doing things for anyone else that needed it. 

Since he worked for Eli, he did what was asked of him.

It was no hardship. He was compensated multiple times better than he’d ever thought he’d be. He lived for free on top of it. Shit, he had no expenses. No food costs, nothing other than his own personal needs. And he’d never needed or wanted much in life.

Almost seven years ago when he was trying to figure out where to go after Monte Carlo, if he could handle the Army again or it was time to move on, Eli offered him a job as his Director of Security. 

The bond he’d felt with the guy was enough for him to put his military career behind him and take Eli up on the opportunity. He’d been a drifter for years, so why not give this a try?

The truth was, he wouldn’t be alive if he went back to the Army and he knew it. He was on a path of destruction that only Eli was privy to in part. And that was only because things slipped out with Eli in moments of weakness. Griffin was a guy who never shared much.

He had few weak moments in his life because when they happened they were always life altering. Like his childhood and when he was in the service. Things he’d kept buried for a long time.

“Where is your lady?” he asked Eli as he made his way to the drawer where the bagels were kept. 

“The gym,” Eli said of Bella. Just last week, they’d solved the mystery of why Bella was sent to Amore Island by her uncle. It’d been a long few months but nothing that Griffin hadn’t been up for.

What irked him more than anything was the ass he couldn’t stand was now going to be a permanent part of his best friend’s life, he was sure.

Bella and Eli were in love and he could see the ring in the future.

Griffin popped the bagel in the toaster and went for the jar of peanut butter that he always spread on them. “She doesn’t have to leave when I come over,” he said. “Do I make her uncomfortable?”

He never thought he did, but he figured he should put it out there.

“Pop one of them in there for me,” Eli said. “Talk about rude not asking if I was hungry in my own home.” 

He laughed. “I’m not your maid.” But he put one in the toaster anyway. “And you didn’t answer my question about Bella.”

“God, no. She loves you. Not like she loves me because we know I’m at the top of her list.”

He rolled his eyes. Griffin never let his guard down around many other than Eli and those closest to him. For the most part, he kept to himself and was happy that way.

“Not positive what she sees in you, but I wasn’t sure why she leaves so early. This is her home now.”

“It is,” Eli said. “Does that bother you?”

“I don’t live here,” he said.

“Nope. Just next door. And she leaves because this is work for us. She knows this is how we start our day. She goes to the gym or the spa, then she comes back and gets ready for work. She told me she considers it no different than if we were meeting in my office.”

“I hate your office,” he said. 

He wasn’t one to sit behind a desk but found he did it a lot more lately. The same with wearing a suit. The first time Eli took him to the tailors he thought it was a joke but then learned, nope, it wasn’t. Eli wanted him to blend in like he was a big spender daily, so that meant looking the part.

Now those suits were a part of him, but he drew the line at a tie. He wasn’t putting a noose on his neck when he’d had enough of them in his past.

“Bella knows you hate it there. She’s being considerate. You know that. I guess I should ask if you are okay with things.”

“Why does it matter if I am?” he asked.

“Because this casino has always been about you and me,” Eli said.

“It’s you,” he said, holding back his snort. “I just watch your fancy ass.”

“And we know you like to do that.” Eli stood up and turned. “I’ve been working out more with squats. How’s it coming?”

He laughed. “Ask your lady that, not me.”

Eli grinned. “I’ll never forget back in Monte Carlo when I told you to follow me to my room. You thought I wanted you in my bed.”

“I’d dominate your skinny little ass if I ran that way.”

Eli laughed loudly like he always did when Griffin made that statement. “You would. So what is on the agenda today?”

The bagels popped up, he put peanut butter on his and the same for Eli even though he knew his boss and best friend liked cream cheese. One of these days he was hoping Eli would tell him he didn’t want the peanut butter.

Eli reached for his bagel and took a massive bite, sending him a grin that he was onto Griffin’s games. He supposed that was why the two of them got along so well.

“Not much,” he said in answer to the agenda. “Same as always. Watching over your legacy and then following up on anything I can with Ava’s situation. I’m waiting for the security at the grocery store to return my call from yesterday. Unless you’ve got another family member or situation I need to deal with?”

“Not for the moment,” Eli said, grinning. “But we know something will come up because it always does.”

The two of them finished their breakfast and went about their day, but hours later he’d gotten a call from the grocery store chain that he’d been dealing with concerning Ava’s stolen identity.

There was a hit on the gift cards that were purchased with the credit cards opened in her name and they might actually be able to put this situation behind them.

That’s what he did. He was a fixer for the Bond family because he couldn’t fix a damn thing in his own life.

After he got what he needed, he called Eli’s cousin Ava and left her a message.

It didn’t take long for her to return his call and he happened to be walking around the casino with Eli at the moment. He figured Ava was with a patient prior.

“Did you find out who it was?” Ava asked when he answered right away.

“I’m not sure. Maybe,” he said. “When can you come in to talk?”

“It’s that bad you can’t say it over the phone?” Ava said.

“We don’t have a name, but we’ve got a face on camera.”

“What?” Ava asked. “How?”

“Part of why it’s easier to explain in person, not while you are working.”

“Right,” Ava said. “Damn it. I’ll be out of here at five. I’m sure Seth will want to be with me and will have to make arrangements for Adele.”

Griffin laughed. “Bring her here and Eli can babysit again. He was bummed he didn’t get to show her everything. He hasn’t shut up about it.”

He looked over and saw Eli nodding his head yes. He knew his best friend had fun with Seth’s daughter. Eli would make a good father himself someday, Griffin was sure. The Bonds were tight and family oriented. The Zales not so much. Thankfully he felt more like he was part of the Bond family at this point in his life.

“I can’t do that to Eli,” Ava said. “What if he’s busy?”

“He’s not. He’s standing right here laughing.” 

“Bring Adele to me to hang out,” Eli shouted loud enough for Ava to hear. 

“Let me reach out to Seth and I’ll text you to verify. I’m not sure if I can focus on my job now knowing that you got the person.”

“We don’t know yet. I’ll explain it all when you get here.”

He ended the call and got back to work with Eli knowing he didn’t have much time before Ava showed up.

A few hours later, he was in his private apartment in the penthouse when he saw Ava and Seth get off the elevator that Eli had sent them up on and went to greet them.

“You have no idea how hard it’s been to pay attention to my job today,” Ava said. “Thankfully I didn’t have any surgeries planned this afternoon.”

“You didn’t have to call me right back,” he said. “I said no rush.”

“Please,” Seth said. “You had to know she’d rush if she thought you knew who did this.”

“True,” Griffin said, grinning at them. He’d had a lot of dealings with Seth since the guy was the president of the bank where all the casino’s money was held. Or the money off site, that is. There was plenty in the vault in the basement and up here on the penthouse floor. “So let me explain first. After we analyzed all the charges, there were a lot of gift card purchases at the grocery store and the big box stores. I happened to get in contact with the grocery store where many of the purchases had been made. We got card numbers, but those for restaurants and other stores are hard to track without their cooperation.”

“And most aren’t going to get in the middle of this, right?” Seth asked. “It’s not worth their time?”

“Right,” he said. “Every gift card was purchased in either fifty- or hundred-dollar increments. Not enough to stand out. Even if they were around a thousand dollars with each set of cards.”

“So being smart to use later on?” Ava asked.

“I’m sure that was it,” he said. “Anyway, the grocery store gift cards that were purchased were flagged as fraudulent. They were willing to cooperate at all their locations and put the information in at their corporate level. The fact that so many of the purchases were made at their store with a stolen credit card didn’t sit well with them.”

“So when the person tried to use them, you’d get notified?”

“Yes,” he said. “Right here on the island no less. Yesterday afternoon there were attempts to use two cards and both were flagged as inactive. The person was forced to pay with cash so we didn’t get a name, but we got a face.”

“The person is on the island?” Ava said.

“We aren’t sure yet. We aren’t going to assume anything at this point. Do you know who this person is?” he asked and pulled the screen up.

“Oh God. That’s Colleen Crowder. She’s a nurse that works with me.”

“Didn’t she just transfer here to the island?” Seth asked. “Could she be following you?”

“I don’t know. I don’t know what to think. I’ve always gotten along with her. I never thought for a minute she could do something like this or why she would.”

“You said her husband lost his job though, right?” Seth asked. 

“It makes me feel ill that I’m that bad of a judge of character.”

“We are going to have to bring the State Police in on this,” he said. “It’s a felony and purchases were made outside of Amore Island.”

“Can you call Jarrett?” she asked. “I’d rather try to keep this with family if I could.”

He nodded. They’d been trying to keep this whole thing quiet and calling Jarrett Bond was probably the smart thing to do until they knew the full facts. “Let me see if he’s working and can bring her in. I’ll try to find where she is living.”

“Her husband works at Atlantic Rise,” Ava said. “They are staying there until they can get into their apartment. I just saw her at work. I’ve been working with her for weeks. I can’t believe she could have done this to me and I had no idea.”

Seth pulled her into his arms. “Relax. We’ll get the answers. Hopefully soon and can put this all behind us.”

Griffin picked his phone up and called Atlantic Rise Hotel and asked to speak to either Emily or Penelope Rauch. Secretly he was hoping for Emily.

He didn’t get that wish. “Hey, Griffin. Got a camera you need to replace here for me or just wanted to say hi? Nah, couldn’t be saying hi, you barely nod when you see me.”

She was always cracking jokes with him and he wasn’t sure if she was serious or not. “No,” he said. “You’re aware of Ava’s situation and we’ve tracked some fraudulent cards to the spouse of one of your employees. They are staying there and we’d like to see if we could meet with them privately before we get the authorities involved.”

“Absolutely,” Penelope said more seriously. “We’ll do whatever we need to.”

Before he could say another thing, Ava was snatching his phone out of his hand. “Penelope, I’m so sorry. I don’t want to believe this of her. Can you do this discreetly?”

He heard the two of them talking, then Ava handed the phone back to Griffin. “Want to tell me what she just said?” he asked Penelope while Ava moved away.

“We’re going to keep it discreet. Let me know when you are here. Emily is off site today, so call me directly.”

“I need your number,” Griffin said. He grabbed a pen and wrote Penelope’s private number down and then disconnected the call.

He watched Seth trying to comfort Ava and placed a quick call to Jarrett and made arrangements, then hung up and waited until Ava noticed him.

“Jarrett is working and is calling Penelope now. They will get Colleen in the room and question her on it.”

“I want to go there,” Ava said. “I need to.”

“I’ll be there,” he said. “If it’s not her, I need to know what she knows and how she got the cards.”

The three of them left, taking two separate cars. Atlantic Rise was less than a five-minute drive away.

By the time they got to the hotel, they were being shown into a room. Colleen was in there with another man he assumed was her husband, along with Jarrett Bond in uniform.

“I didn’t do it,” Colleen said. “I don’t know what is going on.” There were tears running down Colleen’s face. “They are questioning me for fraudulent purchases and said it’s a felony. That I spent over forty thousand dollars. I don’t have that kind of money. Tell them I don’t, Ava.”

“Someone stole my identity. They took out over forty thousand in credit card debt in my name. They got my social security number and all my personal information to do that.”

“It’s not me,” Colleen said, pleading. She looked at Penelope. “Please don’t fire my husband over this. We didn’t do anything. How could I even get that information? Those cards were a gift to me. I was annoyed they didn’t work and was lucky I had the cash to pay for my groceries.”

Ava turned to look at Jarrett and then Griffin. He’d learned a long time ago to not make too many judgments without the facts. This was turning into one of those situations.

“Who gave those cards to you?” her husband asked.

“Tracy. I mean they weren’t a gift. I bought them from her.” Griffin jotted down the name, but it was the first he’d heard it.

“Why would you buy gift cards from her?” Ava asked.

“Because she was moving. She said she had a bunch of them and there wasn’t a grocery store she could use them at. She said someone gave them to her and she offered to sell them to me for half price. I thought it was a good deal.”

“Tracy who?” Jarrett asked, his pen ready to go too.

“Tracy Rogers,” Colleen said. “She worked with us. She was fired months ago and then got another job out of the area finally.”

“Fired?” Ava asked. “I didn’t know that.”

“That’s why I gave you that funny look when we saw you months ago out at the restaurant and you told Tracy that the office was going to miss her. She’d been gone at that point for months.”

“Why was she fired?” Jarrett asked. “Do you know?” Griffin wanted to ask more questions, but at this point, he was most likely going to have to turn it all over to Jarrett. He’d done his job and if they caught the person, he’d be happy to have helped.

“She never said. I think she just wasn’t doing her job,” Colleen said, wiping her hand under her nose. Penelope handed her a tissue. For as much as Penelope liked to pick on people, she was being calm and professional in this setting. “Thank you.”

“Do you know where she lives?” Griffin asked. “Or how she would even have access to personal information?”

“She worked in patient services,” Ava said. “I’m a patient at the practice too. She’d have access to that.”

“Do you know where she lives now?” Jarrett asked. “We need to question her and we ask you don’t tip her off. You aren’t being charged now, but until we speak with her, you are still a potential suspect.”

“She’s on Cape Cod,” Colleen said. “I’ve got her address in my room. I have it written down. I won’t tell her anything. I can’t believe she did this, but it wasn’t me. I swear to God it wasn’t me.”

“Do you think she did it to more than me?” Ava asked Jarrett.

“We’ll find out,” Jarrett said. “Don’t leave the island,” he told Colleen.

“I won’t,” Colleen said. “I just don’t want anyone to know about this.”

“We’ll keep it quiet,” Ava said. “Right now only family is aware and if you are innocent, no one will know you were ever involved.”

Seth, Ava, and Jarrett left shortly after once the game plan was set and it left Griffin in the room with Penelope Rauch.

The woman that was invading the dreams he never used to have. 

She was standing there grinning at him like she knew she made him uncomfortable on top of it.

Why the hell didn’t he leave with the other three?

Family Bonds-Penelope & Griffin…Prologue

Prologue

Griffin Zale was nursing one hell of a hangover as he sat on the bench of the Monte Carlo casino. It was the afternoon, but since he hadn’t gotten to bed until six that morning, his internal clock wasn’t working right.

Never one to need a lot of sleep, he’d found liquor was the one thing that let him drift off into wonderland.

Only wonderland was never what he’d see when he closed his eyes. 

Not in his childhood, nor the past several years.

In the past few months, his life was pretty much a walking nightmare that he couldn’t control. And for a man that needed to have control in his life, that was another nightmare in itself.

And that stupid bottle of whiskey he started to drink yesterday brought him right back to the tables. He’d been trying his hand at anything to win back what he lost and he was thirty grand in the hole now, wondering how the fuck he was going to come up with that money on his Army Ranger salary. More so when he was on leave trying to figure out what his next step would be.

“Hey,” another one of the rich dudes he seemed to be surrounded by said to the cute blonde hostess. Griffin had been watching the foot traffic and trying to wake his ass up and come up with a game plan. “Can you answer a few questions for me?”

“Sure,” she said. “I’ll try. I’m not normally doing this but just filling in. More like getting my feet wet.”

She looked a little young to him. Soft spoken too with a gentle French accent. He hoped this dude wasn’t going to hit on her too like a few others had been doing. That would be stupid with the guards all over the place. Anyone with half an eye could see she was being watched carefully for some reason.

“Great place to dip a toe in,” the dude said. The guy had on fancy clothes and an expensive watch. Probably about his age and any jealousy that Griffin felt he pushed aside just like the demons of his past he was struggling with.

“It is. What can I help you with?” she asked, brushing her hair behind her ear. Her hand wasn’t steady and he wondered if it was nerves since she’d more or less admitted she was new. Or maybe it was the fact she was watched so closely. Something more was going on with this chick that he’d noticed while he sat here.

“Just tell me about the shows and how they are set up. How do you seat and manage the crowd? Things like that. Who arranges what form of entertainment if you know that.”

“Oh,” she said. “I thought you wanted to know about the show tonight. I can help you with that. I don’t think I’m at liberty to tell you much more.”

The dude sent her a smile, glanced at her nametag and said, “Bella, right? What a pretty name. I’m trying to see how different casinos manage their entertainment.” 

Bella turned her head to some men in another doorway. More security, he knew. They were in suits and probably hiding their weapons. Hopefully the dude could figure that out on his own. Didn’t look like he was going to hit on her unless it was some crazy pickup line he’d never heard of before.

“I don’t understand your need to know that,” Bella said.

“I’m opening my own casino in America. It’s in the works now. I’m traveling around the world checking places out for ideas.”

Bella frowned like she doubted him. Not Griffin. The guy had the look of wealth and privilege to him. One of a leader on top of it, even if he was being nice and not condescending. “Really? You seem kind of young to be building a casino.”

“Age means nothing,” the guy said. “Again, just looking for ideas. So why don’t you tell me about the show tonight? I purchased my ticket for the second show, but do you take walk-ins? If so, do you limit the amount?”

Bella looked over to the side again then back to the dude. At least he wasn’t being pushy and seemed to understand some of her hesitation. Must be he was more aware than Griffin was giving him credit for.

“We do leave some seats open for walk-ins, but I’m not positive the number. I guess it depends on the show.”

“And this show tonight? Is it one booked for a few weeks only or longer?” 

“I think this one is for a few weeks. Excuse me a second,” Bella said as she moved to speak with another guest.

When Bella was alone again, the guy stepped back to her. “So back to my questions.”

“Is he bothering you?” one of the suited security men asked, coming over.

“I’m just asking questions about the show,” the guy said, smiling. “Got my ticket right here for later.” He pulled it out and held it up.

Didn’t seem to make a difference though. “Then you know when it starts and can leave our employees alone to do their jobs,” the security guard said.

“He’s fine,” Bella said. “It’s okay.”

“It’s not okay,” the big burly man said. “He’s been asking more questions than he should for a simple show. Maybe we need to bring you down for some questioning to find out the reason why.”

“Leave him alone,” Griffin said from his spot on the bench. “He’s doing exactly what he said.” He’d seen one too many rent-a-cops take their jobs too far and this looked to be one of those situations. He couldn’t let anyone get run over in life and made it his vow a long time ago when his world caved in on him.

“Two of you, huh?” the security guy replied and nodded his head to his partner against the wall.

“It’s all good,” the fancy dude said. “I’ll take my leave now.”

“Not quite,” the first security guy said. “We can do this the hard way or the easy way. Why don’t you follow us for a few more questions anyway.”

“The easy way of course,” the dude said with a smile still on his face. He was going to back up and move away and it was smart. But it was also too late.

Griffin was ready to get up and leave, but the second security officer moved to him and said, “Same with you. Easy or hard?”

What the hell? This is what he gets for trying to help the dude out. “Hard,” Griffin said. “I’ve done nothing but sit here and watch the scene. I have no idea who this guy is.”

“Why don’t we just go along peacefully?” the dude offered. “I’ll take care of any of your troubles or time.”

“No troubles because I’m not going anywhere,” he said. 

The security guard reached to secure him and years of training kicked in. More so because of the fact he knew he wasn’t a hundred percent with his raging whiskey headache.

In one move he had the security guy’s arm behind his back and on the ground on his stomach, Griffin’s knees into his spine to keep him in place. These rent-a-cops sure the hell didn’t know shit if they could be brought down that fast, that quickly with a guy that couldn’t pass a sobriety test.

That’s when a gun was pulled, the fancy guy’s hands going up in the air and Bella gasping. “Dude. Move back. I don’t need any blood on my conscience.” 

Too late, Griffin wanted to say. He had plenty of blood on his conscience and when the other security showed up with a gun pointed too, both he and the fancy guy had their hands in the air and were manhandled more than he appreciated and escorted into holding. 

He could have taken them all down, but without a gun and too many innocent bystanders, it wasn’t worth it.

They were both put in a holding cell in the basement after their names were given for their backgrounds to be checked.

“I’m Eli Bond,” the fancy man said, holding his hand out. “Sorry about this. Griffin, right?”

“Yeah,” he said. “What the hell is wrong with you? Couldn’t you see how closely she was being watched?”

Eli snorted. “Yeah. But I didn’t think I’d end up here for asking questions. You can’t run a business like that.”

“You’re seriously opening a casino in America?” he asked.

“On Amore Island. You heard me tell them that. They can find my family and the island easily enough. They can search me and come up with my name and verify who I am.”

Griffin shook his head. Wealthy privileged he’d pegged the guy and he was right. “They will find out who I am too just as easily in government databases. They’ll also find out I’m thirty grand in the hole here.”

“You’re in the military?” Eli asked. “I shouldn’t be surprised, with the way you reacted just now.”

“Army,” he said. “And what does that mean?”

“It means something tells me none of them had a chance against you even looking like the bottom of a moonshine barrel.”

He cracked the barest of grins. “I’ve been drinking.”

“For days by the looks of it,” Eli said.

He was talking more than he normally did so he just lay back on the cot in the cell and put his hands under his head to stare at the ceiling. 

An hour went by and another guard dressed a hell of a lot nicer came down. “Eli Bond?”

“That’s me.”

“Come with me. The owner would like to talk with you.”

He glanced over to see Eli looking unsure, but Griffin supposed the guy checked out and all was going to be dandy in his life now.

Eli turned to him. “Thanks. I appreciate it.”

“Appreciate what? Me getting you down here?”

“Well, you showed me one thing. What not to do in my own place. Or more like how to handle something like this.”

“You’re welcome, I guess,” he said sarcastically and went back to staring at the ceiling.

Another hour turned to two and he wondered if he’d be here all night while he tried to figure out a way to square up his debt.

“Zale,” one of the first guards from earlier said. The one he’d had kissing the marble floors. “You’re being let out.”

“Really?” he asked, finding this hard to believe and thinking he might be set up.

The guy unlocked the cell and he walked out, followed the guard down the hall and saw Eli standing there with a big grin on his face.

“What’s going on?” he asked.

“Let’s get some dinner,” Eli said. “I think you can use it and the only way you are staying in this place is with me.”

“I’m not into men,” he said sharply.

Eli laughed. “What makes you think I am?”

He followed Eli out of the basement and up to his room. One much nicer than Griffin could afford to be in. “Then what are we doing here?”

“Having dinner,” Eli said and tossed the menu at him. “I want privacy for this.”

He could take the guy out in two seconds but was curious as to what was going on. “And what do we need privacy for and why am I only allowed here with you?”

“Because I just squared up your debt and I’m here another week while I meet with the owner and his niece, Bella.”

“The blonde you were talking with that got us into this mess?”

“You got us into this mess. Not me. I was talking. And I could have talked my way out of it or walked away. But this works out better.”

“What does?” he asked, looking at the menu. He was starving, but he hated being in debt to anyone and the fact the guy just squared up his thirty G’s wasn’t sitting well with him. He’d find a way to pay him back.

“I need a bodyguard here. I don’t trust Oliver—the owner—or his security. So you’re hired for that thirty grand to travel with me until you’re off leave. Or is that not a good deal for you? I suppose I should ask if you’ve got family or someone to get back to.”

“I’ve got nothing,” he said. “And you’ve got a deal.”

“Perfect. Let’s eat and I’ll fill you in.”

“How do you know you can trust me?” he asked, feeling better about the steak he was going to order.

Eli laughed. “You just got guns pointed at you and thrown into a cell trying to stand up for a stranger. I owe you regardless. I think I’m a fairly good judge of character that you won’t slit my throat and steal my money while I’m here, but if you do, then I’m a bigger fool than I thought.”

“I don’t think you’re much of a fool at all,” he said. “Unless a blonde is involved.”

Eli laughed. “They do tend to be my weakness. Just a fair warning.”

“So noted.”

“Then let’s eat and get you some hair of the dog. Maybe you’ll be a little more personable without the hangover.”

Griffin smiled for the first time in months. “This is as good as I get.”

“Well then,” Eli said. “Maybe I need the liquor to get through this, but something tells me, it’s going to be a fun ride.”

Family Bonds- Penelope & Griffin

Penelope Rauch always felt like she was in the shadow of her older sister Emily. With her sunny disposition and great personality, she decided to be the fun one that was always cracking jokes. Sure she could be serious but no one ever seemed to realize that she just wanted others to be more like her. Especially Griffin Zale who she’d fallen for the minute she’d met him seven years prior. Only he wanted nothing to do with her and she didn’t know why.

Griffin Zale had an upbringing that very few knew about. Only his best friend and his employer and some of the Bond family. He didn’t think he was good enough to be much more than an employee even though the Bonds made him feel like one of their own. He had demons and a past he couldn’t outrun no matter how hard he tried and because of that, there was no room for a woman. Even one as tempting as Penelope Rauch…a Bond by blood. Royalty in his eyes when he often felt like more of a servant.

Fierce-Liam…Chapter One

If you missed the PROLOGUE catch up here.

Chapter One 

Talent To Work 

Two years later

“I see you survived just fine with me being gone for the week,” Liam said to his cousin Aiden Fierce on the first Wednesday of February.

He and Aiden had flown to Las Vegas last week for a food expo. Aiden was putting his line of spices and sauces out in stores now as well as their website and knew this would help more than just his online presence. Everything his cousins did for their pub and brewery seemed to have the Midas touch. They’d worked hard for it too.

“Always,” Aiden said. “And you look nice and refreshed. Glad you stayed longer?”

The expo ran all last week, but Aiden was only there Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday, leaving Liam to run it for the last two days. Since he normally had Monday and Tuesday off each week, Aiden paid for the hotel room until Monday morning and told Liam to enjoy his time there and have some fun.

He had. He even came home with more money in his pocket than he left with.

Now he was back and ready to get to work. “Yes. Thanks again for taking care of the room for those extra days. I could have done it.”

“You could do a lot of things, but you wouldn’t have if I didn’t force it. You always were cheap with your money. Knowing it was paid for, you’d damn well not let the room go to waste.”

He didn’t think he was that cheap. Not like his cousin Ivan Andrews was. He spent money but was careful where it went.

It’s not like he was rolling in it like his cousins, but he was doing so much better than he ever had before.

When he’d lost his temper, which rarely happened, and walked out on his job two years ago, he’d started making calls and sending out resumes the next day. In the restaurant industry, chef positions were filled fast and normally within days of the resume being received, if not from a phone call asking if there were openings. Contacts helped tremendously.

More than a week went by and no one was returning his calls and he started to realize the huge mistake he’d made. He was good at his job, but you don’t do what he did to the boss.

He shouldn’t have worried though. He’d told not one family member what had happened, yet Aiden was the first call he got telling him to get his ass to the pub ten days after he’d quit. He’d been hesitant to take it when he didn’t want anyone to think it was a charity job—even if most didn’t even know they were related.

He’d never told a soul in the restaurant world Aiden Fierce was his cousin. Then they’d want to know why he wasn’t working for Fierce. And if he never had, then they might wonder if he wasn’t good enough. Or worse yet, if he did work for them he might get exactly what he never wanted people to think…family pity.

In the end he did take the job and was put in charge of the pub and hadn’t looked back and took nothing for granted.

He’d set out to do it on his own and he did. Aiden told him to get his head out of his ass and put his talent to work. At Fierce he was thriving more than ever before, having the creative freedom he’d always dreamed of but never thought he’d get. Especially not here.

“It didn’t go to waste and I came back flush. Even better.”

“Good for you. I bet you invested it rather than splurging on something fun.”

He had. No use saying it though. “So anything I missed while I was out pulling the arm on slot machines?”

Aiden laughed. “See. Cheap. Slot machines because you could entertain yourself longer than craps or blackjack.”

Again, the truth. But one of those pulls netted him five G’s.

“To each their own. Brody and Cade would have been tossing hundreds on the table. Mason and you would have been more conservative but still played the same games.”

“Ella wouldn’t be caught dead in a casino,” Aiden said, laughing, talking about the only girl of the quintuplets. Liam was the same age as them, but on their mother’s side. His father, Connor O’Malley, was Jolene Fierce’s brother.

“Never,” Aiden said. “Neither would Ivan. Hell, he wouldn’t even pay the money to go to Vegas.”

“Devin would have forced him on the plane,” he said of his other cousins on Jolene’s side. Devin worked for Mason at the brewery and he would have been one to go out and have fun in Vegas too. Devin’s younger brother, Ivan, might be forced to go, but he wouldn’t spend a dime if he could avoid it.

“Very true,” Aiden said. “So onto the good and bad news. What do you want first?”

“Bad,” he said. “Then it gives me something to look forward to.”

“Dean left when we were in Vegas last week.”

“Shit,” Liam said of one of his best line cooks in the pub. “Worse though because we know how much you hate interviewing.”

It’d been common knowledge that Aiden didn’t like to interview. He did it because he was picky about who worked in his restaurant or pub, but if he could push it off to his wife, Nic, at times. He did.

His wife, that was hand-selected by Aunt Jolene years ago for Aiden personally with no one knowing.

“I do. And the good news is I didn’t have to. My lovely wife took care of it before I came home.”

“Sweet,” he said. “When do they start?”

“She started last week and she’s good. She’ll be in later today and I’ll introduce you. Want to know about her?”

“Nope,” he said. “I’ll learn everything I need to when we are working side by side. I’ll form my own opinion then.”

He never wanted to hear other’s opinions but rather would figure it out on his own. 

“I figured you’d say that.” Aiden glanced up to look out of the glass window in his office. Liam turned his head and saw his Aunt Jolene talking with Aiden’s wife, Nic. Both of them turned and waved. “I wonder what my mother is doing here. You better run.”

“What?” he asked. “No. She isn’t pulling one over on me. We all know she set up Devin and Hope. She thinks she’s being cute and moving onto me. Not happening.”

“We all say that,” Aiden said. “Or said it. Yet everyone falls for it somehow. Most times we don’t even know how it happens.”

“It’s not happening to me,” he said firmly.

“You know your calm demeanor always drives her insane.”

“Which is why I overact it with her too,” he said, laughing. 

Aiden shook his head. “I’m glad you’re back.”

“Me too,” he said, turning and getting to work.

He didn’t get very far before his Aunt Jolene came running over to him. That woman never moved slow. Liam continued on his path to the pub kitchen but slowed his steps down more. It’d drive his aunt nuts that she’d have to almost crawl beside him.

“Liam,” Aunt Jolene said. “Welcome back.”

“Thanks, Aunt Jolene. What brings you here today?”

His aunt and uncle retired years ago, leaving the day-to-day operations of the pub and restaurant—the whole franchise—in their children’s hands. “I was talking to Nic. I’m going to have Evan for the day tomorrow and asked if I could take Anthony too. The two boys always have fun together.”

Aiden’s son, Anthony, had turned two not that long ago, Brody’s son, Evan, a few months prior to that. The toddlers got together and ran around like Tom and Jerry getting into everything and anything. Liam got tired just from watching them, but his aunt loved every minute of it.

“I’m sure,” he said, still walking slowly. 

His aunt would take a few steps faster and get ahead of him and then have to stop and wait. He loved doing this to her. She shot him a look that she knew what he was up to. 

“So you’ve got new staff. I bet you’re thrilled you didn’t have to interview her.”

“Interviewing doesn’t bother me that much,” he said. “I’m not like your son. I just hate to lose anyone and Dean was a good worker.”

“He was ready to leave,” Aunt Jolene said. “His passion is pastry and cake design and there isn’t much of a need for that here above what Aiden has on hand. I keep telling Aiden to expand and he tells me he knows what he is doing.”

He laughed. “Aiden sure does. I’m happy for Dean getting what he wants though.”

“Everyone should get what they want.”

They finally got to the kitchen, him pulling up the special menu on the computer. The pub would be opening in twenty minutes. The prep staff would have gotten everything out that needed to be. The specials didn’t always fall under him running the grill. He had moved around and could, but he stayed there the most and kept the pace smooth and the flow for what Aiden expected.

“They should,” he said, looking everything over. “Anything else you needed from me today?”

“No. Just wanted to welcome you back,” his aunt said, sighing. There was more going on, he knew it.

“And you just did.”

“Valentine’s Day is coming up soon.”

“Yes, it is. I’ll be working like I do most holidays. No, I don’t need you to introduce me to anyone.”

“I didn’t say I had anyone for you.”

“You always have someone for me,” he said. This had been going on for over a year. It’d just increased in the past few months. He could get his own woman when he was damn good and ready. 

He wasn’t ready. He worked a crazy amount of hours and they were all nights and weekends. He’d found most women didn’t care for that.

“I don’t think so this time. I’ve decided to give up on you. I don’t have the patience that you do. You’re too slow for my liking.”

He laughed. “It’s the perfect pace for me.”

She squinted one eye at him. “Fine. I get the hint. You have a good day.”

She turned and all but ran out of the pub kitchen toward Nic’s office in the back.

Dodged that bullet.

***

“You didn’t get anywhere, did you?” Nic asked.

“No,” she said to her daughter-in-law. “I can’t stand there and wait him out. I thought I could, but he made me almost crawl to keep his pace to get to the kitchen.”

Nic grinned. “He does that on purpose.”

“I know he does. He wanted to know who I was trying to set him up with and I said I was giving up. He’s too slow.”

“You don’t think he believed that, do you?” Nic asked.

“No clue. I can never figure him out as much as I wish. I’m going to count on you to tell me how it goes when he meets Margo later. When does her shift start?”

“She’ll be here at three. I might be gone by then. You’re going to have to ask Aiden if you want to know. And you owe me for this. I hate not being completely honest with my husband.”

She put her hands on her hips and stared at Nic. “I didn’t ask you to lie to my son. What did you lie about?”

“I didn’t lie about anything. He was thrilled I interviewed and hired Margo. He never asked if you picked her or not and I didn’t volunteer it.”

“Then that isn’t lying,” she said, sitting down in the chair across from Nic.

“You’re right. And the only reason I was willing to let it go is because you always put the business’s interest first.”

“That’s right. I do. I recommended you and it worked out wonderfully.”

Nic smiled. “It did. And I’ll always be thankful for that. Margo had a good strong resume and great references. She got a hard knock being terminated for the reason she was, but we can deal with that here. It won’t happen again.”

“No,” Jolene said. “We’ve got security to take care of that. Not to mention most people won’t mess with my boys.”

“I felt bad for her but so far she is working out. I’m sure she’ll get along with Liam well.”

“Everyone gets along with Liam,” she argued.

“They do. He’s easy to be around. But you and I both know you want something. That might not happen.”

“I know. It’s a chance I’m willing to take. I know my family well.” 

Liam was the calm in a storm, but when his fuse was lit, if he couldn’t extinguish it before the end, all hell could break out. She was thinking it was time a storm sucked her nephew up.

“You do,” Nic said. “I’ve no words on what you are doing. But if my husband gets wind of this—and you know he will—I’m not saying I don’t know your intentions.”

“I’m hurt you think I would ask you to lie to my own flesh and blood.”

Nic smirked at her. “Talk about a lie and a guilt trip there.”

She narrowed her eyes. “You fit in too well in this family. Speaking of that, I think it’s time Anthony had a sibling. Don’t you?”

“I’m not falling for it, Jolene. If or when Aiden and I want another child, we’ll do it on our time.”

“It was worth a shot,” she said, smiling. “Anthony loves being around other kids.”

“And there are plenty in this family for him to play with. Go bug one of your other daughters-in-law.”

Her shoulders dropped. “I can’t. Alex says she is done. Cade wants more, but Alex said unless he can figure out a way to carry them, the twins knocked everything out of her. She isn’t doing it again.”

“Cade can’t change a diaper without gagging and Alex is sick of watching it. She has double duty going there. Pun intended.”

“I know. Cade never did outgrow that. Aimee has two already and said Evan is more than a handful and she isn’t sure she is ready just yet.”

“That’s right,” Nic said. “We all work.”

“I worked too,” she said. 

“Not until the kids were in school,” Nic said.

“Daycare is hard to find for five kids. And it’s expensive,” she argued. 

She’d wanted to go back to work earlier than she had, but it was easier to just talk things through with Gavin back then on the pub. If she needed to fill in, she could normally get one of her siblings to watch the kids for a few hours but knew it was hard on everyone.

“It is,” Nic said. “What about Jessica and Ella?”

“Jessica said she isn’t sure she wants more. The twins are three. Now is the time to try for another. They are out of diapers and self-sufficient.”

“I’ll take your word for it,” Nic said.

“Ella wants another. Madison will be one in a few months. Hopefully she is next. Or you?” she said. “You’re younger than Ella.”

“Which means I’ve got more time. And speaking of time, I’ve got work to do.”

“Fine. I know when I’m being dismissed.”

Jolene got up and walked out. She saw Aiden in his office and popped her head in. He lifted up from his phone and said, “No. We aren’t working on another baby, but I sure do enjoy trying to make one.”

Her shoulders dropped. “You’re wife sucks telling you what we talked about.”

Aiden laughed at her as she turned and left. Her plan was in motion and now it was time to wait and see what her slow nephew did next. That would have to be good enough.

Fierce Liam…Prologue

Prologue

“Work faster!” Bobby yelled to the line cooks at the pub where Liam O’Malley was working. He’d been here for three years. He knew the order wasn’t sent his way. He was the best the owner, Bobby Ferrell, had. That didn’t stop the guy from being a dick to everyone else though.

“The fryer keeps dropping temps,” Monte said. He was just twenty-two and hadn’t been here long. It seemed Bobby wasn’t letting up on him though.

“Then make sure it doesn’t,” Bobby screamed again. He was wiping the sweat from his head with his forearm as he plated the orders to go out.

Liam was manning the grill as he normally did. He had a knack for getting everything the perfect temperature. Most times it was by touch or sight. He wasn’t one for being a big name or doing fancy cuisine like his cousin Aiden. There was no competition there and he’d never be able to keep up anyway.

“Is he always like this on a Friday night?” Monte asked him quickly when Bobby moved away to take his anger out on someone else.

“Pretty much,” Liam said. “Not sure where you came from before, but this is how it is in most restaurants from my experience.”

He hadn’t moved around much as he didn’t like to but knew that was part of the industry. 

Aiden had offered him a job years ago, but he’d turned it down. 

Sure, family took care of their own, but he wanted to make it his way. 

“Yeah. I’d heard Bobby was like this, but I’ve been here over a month and this is the first I’ve seen it so bad.”

“That’s because he has a few new people and he tries to go light on them in the beginning.”

Monte snorted. “Great. Shit. The temperature dropped again. What is going on with this thing?”

Liam moved over quickly and adjusted the dial. “Every time you overfill it or crowd it, you are lowering the temp. Try not to put so much in.”

“Thanks. I’m just trying to keep up,” Monte said.

“I know. Trust me, but it’s better to fall a little behind than send out undercooked food or overcooked food. Then all hell will break loose.”

He’d seen it happen before and normally minded his own business. Tonight Bobby was on a warpath currently screaming at one of the line cooks assembling the salads. The dude really needed to get a grip or he was going to burst a blood vessel in his face.

Monte went back to his station and kept doing his job. Liam the same. He was getting everything on his end out on time but noticed Monte and now Stephanie on the sides were falling behind. He’d slow down to match them so the meals went out the same temp.

He could adjust and did. 

“Why is everyone so slow tonight?” Bobby snapped when he walked back into the kitchen.

“We are all keeping pace to get the orders out hot and cooked well,” Liam told his boss. “It’s better being a minute or two slower than having them sent back.”

Bobby narrowed his eyes at Liam’s calm words, then moved off, this time not screaming quite as loudly.

“Wow,” Monte said. “How did you do that?”

“Do what?”

“Talk back to him and not have him throw something at you. I’d heard he does that too.”

Liam snorted. No one threw anything at him. He’d walk if that happened. And when he saw it, he normally intervened to calm everyone down.

There was no reason things had to get this heated in a kitchen. He’d learned that you got more with honey than vinegar most of his life.

His cousin ran a tight ship like that and that was why he kept his staff as long as he did. 

“I just do my job and don’t get ruffled. That is the key.” 

“Thanks. I’ll try to remember that.”

Hours later though, they were closing the kitchen down. Bobby had only cut his shit for an hour and then was back at it. It seemed no one was left off the list of being talked down to.

“Everyone in the back now!” Bobby yelled to the front end staff. This didn’t happen often either and Liam’s ever-present patience was at its end.

“This ought to be fun,” he said to a few in the back. He’d been cleaning up after the last order was sent out from the grill. He was tired and had sweated through his clothes. It was hotter than hell in the kitchen and Bobby was cheap enough to not get the air conditioning fixed to at least take the edge off for his staff.

“Does he do this much?” Monte asked him, looking nervous.

“No. So it means something happened up front too. Guess we’ll find out.”

It wasn’t long before Bobby was ripping everyone a new asshole, degrading them, insulting them, and making them feel like shit.

Bobby turned to one of the servers and pointed his finger. “And you. What’s your name again?”

“Connie,” the young girl said. She looked a little worse for wear. He hadn’t seen her before, but that didn’t mean anything. He didn’t mingle too much with the servers and they didn’t always come in the back.

“How long have you been here now?”

“Six weeks,” she said. There were tears in her eyes.

“That’s right. Six weeks. You should know better. I had to comp an entire meal because you knocked over a glass of water on the table.”

“I didn’t mean it. I was reaching to hand them their food. No one got wet. I caught it fast.”

“I don’t care that no one got wet. I don’t even care that the patrons were good with it. I don’t like mistakes like that,” Bobby was screaming. “That meal is coming out of your pay.”

Connie dropped her head down, the tears flowing, and his stomach twisted thinking he wouldn’t let anyone talk to his sister, Faith, this way.

“That’s harsh,” Liam said. He normally didn’t say anything. “You don’t dock our pay when meals come back under or overcooked. Or is someone’s dick just out of joint tonight?”

He had his arms crossed and Bobby stopped and stared at him as if he couldn’t believe Liam had the nerve to speak up and defend someone.

The problem was, he’d seen this one too many times out of Bobby. His boss wondered why he couldn’t keep staff and this was the reason.

“I can do what I want in my restaurant,” Bobby said.

Liam lifted an eyebrow. “You can. But people don’t need to stay if they don’t like it.”

“Everyone is free to go if they want,” Bobby said.

“Which is why you can’t keep your staff,” Liam repeated.

Bobby turned away from him and lit into Stephanie, getting right in her face, and had her backed against the wall. “How hard is it to make a fucking salad on time? Everyone seemed to have bugs up their asses. How stupid are you? Maybe your parents never had you tested?”

That was enough. He couldn’t take it anymore. The girl was shaking and crying. 

Liam walked up and grabbed Bobby’s shoulder and yanked him back. “Cut the shit. You got your point across. You’re not their parent, which is a good thing or you’d be a shitty one on top of it.”

Bobby shoved Liam, which was a colossal mistake. “Just because you’ve been here the longest doesn’t mean you can speak your mind.”

“Really?” Liam said, picking him up and pushing him against the wall in three steps. “How does this feel when someone gets in your face? This is America and not only can I speak my mind, but I can tell you to go fuck yourself and your job along with it.”

Liam tossed his boss of three years away and stormed out the door.

It was a mistake, he knew, but he’d had enough.

Now he’d have to figure out how to get another job after doing that. Rumors would be swirling faster than flies falling from an electric trap…which was exactly how he felt. Trapped, knowing he might get blacklisted in this town.

Shit…what the hell did he just do?