Family Bonds- Alex & Jennie…Prologue

Prologue

Jennie Zale was walking home from school like she always did. She was alone at this point, the few neighborhood kids she’d normally walked with home by now.

She knew enough to come straight home or her father would find out and he’d be ticked off. Pissed. Yep, at ten years old, she shouldn’t be using the word pissed, but in her household, that word was mild.

The only good thing was her older brother, Griffin, should be there with her mother. Her father would be at work for a few more hours and maybe when he got home he wouldn’t be so angry.

She turned the corner and saw the police cars, her heart skipping more than one beat. Her brain was frozen, but her legs started to move.

She was on a sprint by the time she got closer and realized it was her house, police tape everywhere, but Griffin intercepted her, picking her up and turning her to not see anything.

“What’s going on, Griffin?” she asked in a panic. “It’s Mom, isn’t it? Dad should be at work. Did someone call the cops on him again?”

“Shh,” Griffin said, moving away from the house and not letting her down. Her brother was big for seventeen and easily carried her away. Or maybe it was the strength of grief that she felt radiating off his body.

“Tell me, Griffin. It’s Mom, isn’t it?”

Griffin set her down at the corner again, far enough away, her back to the direction of their house. “Yes.”

There were tears in Griffin’s eyes, ones she hardly ever saw. Even when he was taking a beating in her or her mother’s place. 

In the past few years, Griffin had put himself in harm’s way to protect them. He fought back plenty enough times to the point their father didn’t walk away unscathed much.

Maybe that was why her father didn’t do much more than yell and throw things when Griffin was around.

But something told her Griffin hadn’t been around this time. He hadn’t been there to step in front of their mother. He was probably in school like her.

“Is Mom going to be okay?” she asked. She’d seen the ambulance along with the police cars. 

“Mom is going to be at peace now,” he said. “Dad can’t hurt her again.”

She let out a sigh. “So Dad is going away for good now? We can really relax? Mom doesn’t have to deal with him anymore?”

Griffin ran his hands over his face and neck. “Dad can never hurt Mom again because Mom is gone.”

“What do you mean she’s gone?” she asked. “She left? Can we find her?”

“Dad killed her, Jennie. I’m sorry.” The tears were running down his face and he was sucking in his breath fast.

“You’re lying,” she said, hitting his arm and crying. Her throat was dry and it wasn’t until Griffin pulled her close and was almost suffocating her that she realized she’d been screaming. “Tell me you are.”

“No,” he said quietly. “I wish I were. I wish I could kill that son of a bitch myself.”

“Don’t say that,” she said. “That’s not you.”

“It feels it now,” he said.

“I need you both to come with us.”

She felt Griffin tense and turned to see two police officers standing there. One female and one male. They both had sympathy in their eyes. She’d seen it enough in her life. From neighbors and teachers, to social workers. Anyone who had tried to help their family but couldn’t seem to get through.

The threat of what their father did had been hanging in the air so long the fear had been choking the family for years.

“I want to stay with Griffin,” she said, holding him tight. She didn’t need to worry; her brother had a strong grip on her.

“We’ll try,” the female officer said. “But it’s out of our control. Why don’t you tell us some of the things you need in the house for a few days and we’ll go in and get them.”

“What?” she asked. “I can’t go in the house?”

“No,” Griffin said. “You don’t need to. You don’t need to go on the property either. Can she stay here?”

“I think that would be smart,” the female officer said.

“I can take you in,” the male officer said to Griffin. “We’ll keep your sister here. She’s safe.”

Griffin let go of her, but she wasn’t letting go of him. “Don’t leave,” she cried.

“I’ll be back,” he said, turning and squatting down to look her in the eye. “I’m just going to get us some things for a few days. I won’t leave you, Jennie. But if we are separated, be strong. I’ll be back for you when I can. It’s my job to protect you and never forget it.”

She was sobbing when Griffin walked away, the female cop taking her hand and walking with her a little in the other direction.

“I’m never going to see my brother again, am I?” she asked.

“I’m sorry, sweetie. I just don’t have any control over this. Everyone will try as hard as they can to make sure you are kept together.”

“It won’t happen,” she sobbed. “No one cares enough about us. If they did, this wouldn’t have ever happened to our family.”

She took off running toward the house and Griffin, almost making it before Griffin turned and intercepted her. “Stop,” he said. “Be strong for Mom. I’ve got you. I’ll always have you. Even if I’m not with you, know that I always will be. We’ll get through this. It’s my promise to you.”

“Mom promised nothing would happen to her and look at how well that worked out,” she screamed and then ran in the other direction away from everyone.

Family Bonds- Alex & Jennie

Alex Bond is the carefree playboy of the family. The sexy fireman who only takes his job seriously and not much else. Not many knew why and he’s sworn never to say. Until he finds someone that made him realize that sometimes in life you have to put the past behind you to move into the future.

Jennie Zale was orphaned at ten. Her older brother Griffin and she were separated in foster care and she never saw him after he graduated again. Years later, she takes the step to find him and bring him back into her life. But she is struggling with those past demons and insecurities and the last thing she needs is for her big brother to step up now. Least of with her choice in men when she finally finds someone that makes her feel like she can have a happy future.

Fierce-Ivan…Chapter One

If you haven’t read the PROLOGUE yet, check it out.

Chapter One

The Matchmaking Bus 

One Year Later

“Ivan,” Ella said to him when he knocked on her open doorframe and walked into her office. “I appreciate your willingness to meet today, but shouldn’t you be at your other job?”

“I took the day off,” he said.

“And yet you’re working here?”

“I’ve got nothing else better to do and I’m only giving the time back at the end of the year if I don’t use it.”

“Maybe you should take a vacation.”

He turned to see Cade, who’d asked that question, standing in the doorway now. “Please,” he said. “It’s no fun on your own.”

“It’s more like you don’t want to spend the money,” Cade said, snickering and moving on.

“Ignore him,” Ella said. “He has his life and you’ve got yours.”

He’d heard before he was cheap and he never denied it. He couldn’t help it.

Ivan had a degree in economics and worked full time doing risk management for an insurance company. He’d recently been promoted to overseeing the department. He was thrilled with the money but not so thrilled with managing the people.

He was getting better with the staff after adapting his job and keeping to himself. He had no problem managing the work, but petty shit got under his skin. His staff was starting to realize he was fair as long as they did their job. That was all he cared about.

“I don’t need a flashy car or big house like Cade. It’s transportation that gets me from point A to B the same as his.”

“That’s right,” Ella said. “And your house is lovely, if plain. You did a spectacular job with it and Travis still wishes that he’d been around to help knock walls down.”

Ivan grinned. He lived in a development and had a house bigger than he needed. Renting threw money away, but he wasn’t going to buy something he couldn’t put some sweat equity into. His father worked in construction for years and Ivan was handy. Just because he didn’t want to swing a hammer his whole life didn’t mean he couldn’t do the work.

His goal had been to find the ugliest most rundown house in a decent area and bring its value up. He’d done just that and was thrilled.

“I’m not all about bright colors and decorations either,” he said.

“Travis complains all the time about it, but he knows better. He has his space and I’ve got the rest of the house.”

He’d been in Ella’s massive house. It looked as if a designer had staged it, but it was homey too. Ella and Travis’s daughter, Madison, had a bedroom all little girls dreamed of, and now with baby number two on the way in four months, he was sure their son was going to have a room to match.

“What is it you need me to do?” he asked.

For the past two years or so, he’d been working for Fierce doing what he loved to do. Risk assessment. Money management. Trends and forecasting in their industry.

Things Ella did when Fierce started to expand. She just didn’t or couldn’t do it the way he did. 

Fierce had gotten so big, even without having a family to care for, Ella couldn’t possibly do it all alone.

There were some things they only wanted family to be part of and he’d been thrilled when they asked him to help out.

They’d offered him a job full time, but he liked where he was. He liked the security of it and the work he did. He wasn’t positive there was enough work for him at Fierce full time and didn’t want to take advantage of the family connection.

This worked out better. He got to keep his hand in the pie. To him it was a hobby he loved that paid him well for his time. He didn’t have to work weekly but found he was always reading articles and looking for information when there wasn’t data for him to analyze and trend out.

“Mason is thinking of branching out into liquor. The brewery, as you know, is our largest percentage of revenue. Like Aiden selling his spices and sauces, this is another avenue we need to look into before we decide the scope of it. Do we start small? Do we add onto the brewery and buy the equipment needed?”

“Devin mentioned something to me about it a few months ago,” he said. 

His brother, Devin, was Mason’s right-hand man at the brewery. He worked nights and managed the distribution part of the business, allowing Mason to focus more on the actual brewing.

“It has merit with a shift in drinking trends,” Ella said, “but I don’t want to jump on the bandwagon just yet. No one does. Look what happened with spiked seltzer. Everyone jumped and businesses are losing money left and right on it. It is a fad and the market is so diluted that product is sitting on the shelves.”

“Let me do my research and see what I can find. Are you looking high end or more affordable? Whiskey or vodka, maybe gin? Tequila? Devin didn’t say.”

“Mason would prefer bourbon or whiskey. You know he has a few brews that are aged in bourbon barrels. He’s thinking that makes more sense. Produce our own bourbon to mix with the brews.”

“And we know your father loves a good bourbon,” he said of his uncle Gavin.

Ella grinned. “I believe this is part of it. My father is excited over the possibility, but you know as well as I do, he would want to do what is right for the business. He can buy his bourbon anywhere.”

“But there isn’t as much enjoyment as saying your son made it,” he said.

“Very true.” There was a knock at the door. “Kendra, perfect timing. Ivan, I thought you and Kendra would work on this together while I’m out on maternity leave. She’s been doing some research too for me. Broader than anything else.”

“Hi, Ivan,” Kendra said, pushing her glasses up on her nose a bit. 

Ella’s assistant had been employed since his cousin returned from her maternity leave with Madison. She was a quiet woman, a little on the plain side. Long brown hair pulled back and held with a clip at the base of her neck, her black rimmed glasses a little big on her face.

Her pants and shoes were black, her shirt was gray. 

She was simple and polite and right up Ivan’s alley.

He didn’t like anyone flashy. No one that looked like they were high maintenance.

Not even loud or bold. He got that enough in his family.

“Kendra,” he said. He didn’t see her often but had a handful of times. They didn’t talk much and had never worked together. He might have been trying to figure out in his mind how to get to know Kendra more but had kept it to himself.

“I’ve got the reports you asked for,” Kendra said with the binder in her hand. “They are color coded too.”

“Of course they are,” Ella said, laughing. “It’s the only color you enjoy seeing.”

Kendra laughed and he felt his blood rush through his veins. It was the first time he’d heard it and had no idea he’d react this way. 

“Solid neutral colors make life easier,” Kendra said.

“And faster to get dressed in the morning,” Ivan said.

“See,” Kendra said. “Your cousin gets it.”

Ella shook her head. “I’m filling Ivan in on what we are looking for and what you two are going to be working on together. Kendra has printed out potential costs for you. Machinery we might need, manpower, building upgrades. Things like that if we expand. There are costs there to start small, and costs to go big.”

“Perfect,” he said, reaching his hand for the binder. “Can you email me that information too?”

“I already did before I walked in here,” Kendra said. “I know you’ll want to play with those numbers, but if you’re anything like me, it’s easy to flip through and see it in front of you on paper while you are playing with numbers on the computer.”

“Very much so,” he said.

“I’ll let you two talk some more,” Kendra said. “I’ve got a call in a few minutes. Ivan, you’ve got my email and extension here if you need anything. At some point we can figure out a time to meet, but I know you’ve got another job. I can be flexible.”

 “Thanks,” he said. “I won’t make you work nights or weekends. I’ll take time off of work like I did today. We’ll figure it out.”

“No worries,” Kendra said and she walked back to the door, his eyes still on her until she left the room.

“This is going to be fun,” he said. “How long has Mason been playing with this?” he asked

Ivan knew his cousin wouldn’t attempt anything unless he’d perfected it.

“We got the distilling license years ago because he’s been playing with it on his own time at home. In the past few years he’s made several batches and has been aging them for different periods of time. He thinks he has it down to what he is looking for. Definitely to use in his brews. The question is if it will sell. Kendra has the costs of the supplies and timelines too. She’s been working on that for the past several months and getting the information from Jessica. I know we would start small. Just selling it in the store at the brewery and go from there. Have it here at the bar too, and Aiden using it for cooking. Again, that information on the savings from purchasing other bourbon and whiskey and sales here needs to be factored in. Kendra should have some of that for you in that binder.”

He was rubbing his hands together. “Right up my alley,” he said. This was totally a hobby to him that paid well. Money he didn’t need that he invested carefully.

He made sure he could live comfortably on his full-time job and the rest was bonus.

“There is my nephew.”

Ivan turned to see his Aunt Jolene standing in the doorway. “Why is it you always know when I’m here even when I’m not often?”

“Don’t look at me,” Ella said. “I’d never throw my cousins under the matchmaking bus.”

“Oh, please,” his aunt said, waving her hand. “You watch me like a hawk. It’s as much fun for you to catch me as it is for me to set someone up, Ella.” His aunt turned to him. “Your brother is married, your cousin Liam engaged. Lots of babies everywhere. What is your hold up, Ivan? You’re not getting any younger.”

“Did you just call me old?” he asked his aunt.

“I did. If you don’t get a move on, your little swimmers might dry up and then how are you going to give your mother and father a child to carry on the name?”

Ella burst out laughing. “You’re in rare form today, Mom. What’s the matter? Did Devin and Hope not give you the answer you wanted on when they were having a baby and now you need to pick on Ivan?”

He appreciated Ella going to bat for him. “I’m going to tell you what Devin did. Probably what everyone has said to you, Aunt Jolene. I’m onto you.”

His aunt laughed. “You all think you are, but you fall for it anyway. Just ask my girl here. The one with the second baby in her belly.”

“Dad set me up, not you,” Ella said. 

His aunt scrunched her nose. Ivan knew it was a sore subject that his uncle started this all years ago without his aunt knowing. No one got anything past Aunt Jolene…except her husband.

Sometimes her kids.

He was going to make sure his name was added to that group and that was why he hadn’t made a move toward Kendra yet.

He’d bet anything his aunt had it all figured out and he’d be damned if he was going to let someone else call all the shots in his life.

Boring or not, it was his.

***

“Seriously, Mom,” Ella said. “How is it you know when Ivan is here all the time?”

Jolene walked to the door to look around and make sure that Ivan was gone, then shut her daughter’s door. “It’s my sixth sense.”

“Bullcrap,” Ella said with a massive grin on her face. Her hand dropped to her belly to rub. 

“Is my grandson active?” she asked. “He hears my voice.”

“Yeah and he’s learning to run in the other direction like everyone else does,” Ella said.

“Wiseass.”

“You didn’t answer me on how you knew Ivan was here. For all you know he could have been at his other job.”

Jolene didn’t want to give away all her secrets, but she’d learned a long time ago if she gave a little it got her daughter off her back.

“I was talking to Shay earlier today. It just so happened that she mentioned Ivan was coming to dinner tonight.”

“And that made you think he’d be here?” Ella asked.

“No. He works late. He’s never out on time to go to dinner. Not unless he isn’t at work. Following the logic, I decided to come to the pub and get lunch and check in on things. Imagine my surprise when I heard his voice upstairs.”

Ella snorted. “Yeah. Imagine that.”

“You’ve got him working on numbers for Mason and his bourbons?”

“I do,” Ella said. “You know all the business that is going on here. There isn’t much that gets by you nor would we keep those things from you and Dad.”

“You five have done a wonderful job running and expanding this business for years. We trust you.”

“We know you do. But you still like to stick your finger into the pie and pull it out for a taste.”

“I do love my desserts,” she said. “I might have to see what is on the special today too and bring something home for your father.”

“Is there anything else you needed from me?” Ella asked.

“Is Kendra working on this with Ivan?”

“You’re barking up the wrong tree there, Mom.”

“I asked a simple question,” she said. “What are you talking about?”

“Kendra and Ivan. That is your plan. I know it. Admit it. You’ve had it in your mind for a year and you see it’s not going anywhere.”

There was no reason to lie about this. Again, some things were better to be out in the open. “I don’t understand what is taking so long.”

Ella lowered her voice. “I’m not sure if Kendra is into dating.”

“She’s not gay,” she said. “No way. I’d know. I can sense that.”

Ella laughed again and put her hand over her mouth to stop the noise. “I didn’t say that. I said I’m not sure she is into the dating scene. I’ve never heard her mention a man before and she’s been here over a year.”

“She’s very private about her life,” she said. “She has a lot on her shoulders caring for her mother.”

Jolene knew Kendra’s story now. She didn’t when they interviewed the young woman last year. She didn’t know much more other than her gut, which told her Kendra would be a great asset to the team, her daughter, and potentially her nephew Ivan.

But again, damn Ivan was giving her fits and dragging his feet and she wasn’t sure what the problem or issue was.

“You’re making more out of it without knowing all the facts,” Ella said. “Any facts, for that matter. I talk with Kendra more than anyone. She’s private and quiet, but she doesn’t spend as much time caring for her mother as much as you think. Or as much as maybe she used to.”

“She’s probably cheap just like Ivan and that is why she doesn’t go out and date. You know it and I know it. You can see it by her limited wardrobe and the car she drives.”

“Kendra is very practical. There isn’t anything wrong with that. It’s her life.”

“She’s boring. Come on. You know it. You pick on her clothing colors all the time.”

“I don’t pick on her,” Ella said. “Not in a mean way. She always compliments me on my clothing and I asked her once why she doesn’t wear more colors.”

“What did she say?” Jolene asked, crossing her arms.

“She said she gets more usage out of plain solid colors.”

“Exactly something Ivan would say. See, perfect for each other.”

“Or so much alike they’d put each other to sleep. As I said, you might be barking up the wrong tree on this one. Let it go and move on to someone else.”

“Nope,” she said. “I love a challenge.”

Fierce-Ivan…Prologue

Prologue

“Kendra, is that you?”

“Yes, Mom,” Kendra Key said when she shut the front door to the first-floor apartment her mother lived in. She was on the third floor, renters on the second.

To some it might not be ideal or the best location outside of downtown Charlotte, but owning the multiple-level home gave her some financial freedom and let her care for her mother.

“Don’t you look pretty,” her mother said. Kendra walked into the little room off the living room that her mother used as her office. It was more like a large closet than an actual room. She supposed someone could use it as a nursery, but with it facing the road, it wasn’t that quiet. It had some good light and that was what her mother needed.

“Like you can tell,” she said, letting out a laugh.

“I can sense your excitement and happiness,” her mother said. “And you aren’t boxy like normal so I think you’ve got a skirt on.”

She let out a sigh. Her mother couldn’t see details. She couldn’t recognize colors either other than lighter and darker shades, but she could piece together shapes more than anything if someone was close enough. 

“I do have a skirt on. I wanted to make a good impression on my third interview with Ella Fierce McKinley. Jolene Fierce was in this interview too along with a few other members of the family and office staff.” Six people total and she’d been sweating more than she did when she got her drivers’ license and had to start carting her mother everywhere.

Most kids would be excited to have that mobile freedom, but Kendra knew deep down it was the start of her world changing forever. Maybe that was why she dragged her feet taking the test. She saw the writing on the wall.

“I’m going to assume it went well,” her mother said. “Your energy is almost infectious. You are all but dancing in your spot.”

“They offered me the job. I didn’t even make it to the driveway when the call came in.”

“You answered it while you were driving?” her mother asked.

Kendra knew that tone. “Hands free, Mom. I’ve told you that before. It’s hitting a button on the steering wheel. I was almost home. I wasn’t distracted.”

Her mother smiled. She wished her mother could see her own reflection when she did that. 

Karen Key was an attractive woman at fifty years old. Kendra was an only child, her mother having her at the young age of twenty-one.

Back when things were better in her mother’s life. Just not for long.

“So you’ve got the job,” her mother said. “That’s wonderful. Is it what you want? You know how I feel about you changing jobs all the time. I’ve had mine for fifteen years.”

Her mother was fortunate that way. That she worked for a company that would create a job for her as her vision started to deteriorate so badly that she couldn’t read letters on a screen. She couldn’t drive anymore or do most daily functions as she had years ago. Or the same as she had years ago.

Kendra cared for her mother but not to the point she felt strapped to her.

Her mother was able to move around her apartment well. Feed herself, cook a few things without Kendra worrying about the house burning down. More like Kendra and her mother cooked meals together a few times a week and enough for her mother to warm up when Kendra wasn’t around.

It wasn’t as hard or bad as she’d thought it would be when she was sixteen and looking into the future with fearful eyes. And right now they had their own spaces.

“You’re lucky that way. But you know why I wanted to leave my current job.”

“You need to be happy with your career and not so much worrying about me.”

“I hate my job,” she said. “That is why I’m leaving it. There is no growth there.”

She was an executive assistant for a wealth management firm. She had a bachelor’s in business administration but no concentration in any area.

She didn’t like accounting enough to focus on that. She didn’t see herself doing sales or marketing. She didn’t find she was strong enough to be a manager.

She liked to keep to herself, do her job and organize. 

Give her a task and she’d finish it before it was due. She liked to manage projects not people. She liked to analyze data and assist. 

In her eyes she was a problem solver. She was a team player.

The only issue with that—there weren’t many jobs out there that fit her skill level.

She’d thought being the executive assistant for one of the vice presidents would give her more responsibility from her previous job. 

Nope. For three years she’d been here and they hadn’t given her much more to do than what she was hired for. 

No, that was wrong. She was making lunch orders and picking them up. Getting coffee for clients. 

Definitely not what she signed up for and wasn’t going to continue much longer.

Not only that, they were asking her to stay later and later for what she considered stupid shit. She had no problem working late when needed, but she had to plan at times too or let her mother know. Her mother didn’t complain, but she still felt bad.

Or maybe it was more an excuse because she was hating on her job so much lately.

Either way, she started to look and was shocked when she came across an ad for Fierce. She figured she wouldn’t have a shot at it and was stunned by the first interview and flabbergasted by how well the second one went. The third one today had her shaking in her boots, but she must have killed it to get the offer.

“I only want you to be happy here. So they offered and you accepted?” her mother asked. 

“I did. Ella is so nice but businesslike.” 

The first interview Kendra had shown up in brown pants and a button-down collared shirt with flats on her feet. The main office was above the bar and pub, the restaurant in the back. She hadn’t expected it to be formal but made sure she was dressed appropriately. A person from HR and Jolene Fierce had interviewed her and she’d felt she was presenting professionally for the environment.

The second interview was with Ella and a few office staff. She’d worn black pants and a light gray button-down shirt this time. A similar outfit as the first time.

She’d been shocked to see Ella in a navy pencil skirt, a printed silk top and nude pumps on her feet. She’d felt completely out of place and figured she’d blown it. 

When she got the call for the third interview she wasn’t going to make the same mistake twice.

“Is that what you’re looking for?” her mother asked. “I thought you wanted something not as stuffy.”

“It’s not stuffy. Trust me. Today Jolene and Cade Fierce were in the interview along with a few other office staff I’d be working with that I didn’t meet last time. They were all dressed more casually and Cade was a riot. So was Jolene.”

“That’s good to know. You normally keep to yourself anyway. Tell me what you’ll be doing.”

“Ella is returning to work full time after having her daughter six months ago. She needs someone to be a right-hand person to help her out. Ella pretty much runs the operations as a whole for all three businesses and the office staff.”

“That’s a lot of people and businesses,” her mother said. “The brewery and restaurants too?”

“Yes and no. Mason runs the brewery, Aiden the restaurant, Brody the pub and bar. Those three run the day-to-day operations. Ella is at a higher level behind the scenes. Overseeing finances is a big part of it. It’s funny. They are all married and their spouses work in those parts with them. Cade is the attorney and does the marketing and has an office by Ella. Anyway, I’ll be doing so much stuff. I’ll have my hands in all pies. Everything Ella does, I’ll have some tiny piece of it.”

“It all sounds great,” her mother said. “As long as you don’t end up as a gopher again.”

“I don’t see it happening,” she said. She wasn’t sure why, but in her gut, she knew this was where she had to be. Maybe it was the kindness of Jolene. The motherly voice when Jolene was stern with her kids during the interview but equally funny.

It reminded her of her mother and their relationship. Anyone like that couldn’t be a bad boss in her eyes. Or raise her kids to be that way.

At least she hoped. 

She’d had a lot of blind faith in life. Pun intended. And this was going to be one of those times too.

Fierce- Ivan

Kendra Key’s life was flipped upside down when her parents divorced leaving her to care for her mother who was slowly going blind. Her trust and faith in men were shattered when she was forced to be an adult all the while attending high school and college. Life is stable…finally. Now her mother wants her to find some happiness and live her life like a normal twenty-eight-year-old, but she isn’t so sure she can find someone who will understand that she’s a package deal and has no intention of changing that.

Ivan Andrews is his Aunt Jolene’s next target in her matchmaking scheme. She is batting a thousand and he knows there is only so long he can avoid her attempts. He set his sights on Kendra from the minute she was hired at Fierce but told himself to sit tight and look at all the angles. He’s never been one to rush into anything in life. Over a year later, it’s confirmed in his mind, his aunt has Kendra picked out for him, but he decides he’s doing it on his terms and hopes to hell he isn’t the first failure of the group.

Made For Me…Prologue

Prologue

Addison Fielding stood next to her brother at the cemetery as the priest spoke words about her father. The words weren’t registering anything other than ambient noises. She didn’t see the people or hear the sounds they were making.

All she could think of was her father being too young to drop dead of a heart attack. Or her mother being the one to find him at home when he didn’t return from his lunch break.

Roc Fielding was too healthy to have a heart attack. He was big and strong and hard like his name, Roc. Well, that was short for Rocco, but to her, her father was the rock of the family.

Now he was gone and it didn’t seem real.

Her brother, Cash, was standing like a statue, not moving, not flinching, until his hand touched hers. She wasn’t sure if it was an accident or not, but she grabbed it and held on. She didn’t know how her mother was holding it together when Addison had all she could not to sob loudly and fall to her knees that were knocking and shaking loud enough in her ears to be a drum solo.

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

Cash looked at her mother. Addison knew her mother 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, but Addison just cried louder rather than smiling. Her father was one for bold statements to make her laugh, but it wasn’t happening now. “Roc was a good man,” her mother continued. “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.”

Her mother said a few more things, but she couldn’t hear it over her own sniffling and gasping for breaths. She felt Cash remove his fingers from her grasp and go stand next to her mother.

“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 and head nods and Addison wondered if she’d be allowed to have one of those beers to dull this pain inside of her. Then she realized there couldn’t be anything to dull it, she was sure.

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

When they were back at her house, several of her friends were there by her side being her shadows. Many tried to make her laugh and she wasn’t sure why. A few of her close ones just held her hand or hugged her when they felt she needed it the most.

Maybe they were babying her, but she couldn’t be like Cash and hold it in. She wasn’t sure her brother shed a tear today, but she knew he did at night. She’d heard him last night in his room and got up to knock on the door and then stopped. If he saw her, he’d stop and she didn’t want to be selfish. He needed his time to grieve like she did.

Hours later, everyone had left and they were cleaning up the massive garage in the back where all the food and drink had been.

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

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

She’d heard people talking today when they didn’t think she was around. Talks about the landscaping business and how it’d probably fall apart without Roc there to run it.

And if the business failed, then would they be homeless too?

“No,” her mother said. “I wanted to tell you that I’m running the business from the office like I always did. Matthew and Michael Butler both assured me the contracts were still in place. They’d help me find some men to complete 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.”

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

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

Her 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.”

Addison started to cry harder and her mother pulled her into her arms. “It’s okay, Addison. It’s going to be okay.”

“It doesn’t feel like anything will ever be okay again,” she said, holding onto her mother as tightly as she could.

“It’s just going to take time,” her mother said, running her hand over her hair.

She looked up at her mother’s face and saw the tears mirroring her own. Pulling away, she shouted, “There isn’t enough time to ever make this okay,” then ran to her room and slammed the door.

How could anyone say that when her world had come crashing down on her?

She’d no longer be Daddy’s little girl.

She wouldn’t be able to pick on him about being stricter with her than Cash.

She wouldn’t be able to hug him and hold him and tell him she loved him.

Her rose-colored glasses were now covered in dirt.

Made For Me

Pharmacist, Addison Fielding has a great career, but not so wonderful of a job. She still lives at home and appears content to the outside world but her internal battle has consumed her since she was a teen. At thirty-one she is wondering if maybe it’s time to take a step out of the battle zone of her mind and think about her future. If she could only get past leaving the home her father died in when she was a teen and not worry about losing that connection to him.

Dr. Marcus Reid knows what grief is. He knows guilt too. He will forever wonder if he did enough to save his sister. He struggles to get past those feelings and move on. But he’s had his sights on the sexy pharmacist at the hospital and soon learns that they share more than a mutual attraction for each other. And just maybe it’s what they both need to heal.

A Return For Ren…Chapter One

Check out the Prologue here…

Chapter One

Clean Cut 

Fifteen Years Later

Ren parked his SUV in the driveway of his childhood home. Man, he hated this place.

No matter how much his mother had tried to get him and his father to get along, he couldn’t get away fast enough. That summer before he left for college was both the best and worst of his life.

The best because of what he had with Zara Wolfe. The worst because he broke her heart with his need to escape the man that he’d never be good enough for.

He’d left for college and came home for the first summer because he had to see Zara again. But he’d worked his ass off at the marina and listened to his father give him shit about wasting his time on computers. If he thought the time away would change things, he’d been wrong.

It’d been a slim hope he had. That he could have the best of it all. Zara and a career he wanted.

Nope. It didn’t happen and he didn’t see it ever getting better, only worse. Like a festering wound that no amount of care could ever get the pus out of.

He swore it was his last summer there after that. He’d told Zara that and she hadn’t believed him.

They’d made their relationship work that first year of college and he’d been so thrilled to be able to do it. He’d only been two hours away from home, her an hour from him. It was easy enough to see each other on the weekends when they could.

She still talked about returning to Mystic and didn’t understand he wasn’t going to. He’d told her enough, but she either had clouds in her eyes or thought his father would change. She knew the man. Nothing would ever change with him.

Yet something seemed to because when he was younger there were some good memories.

Ones that filled his brain in the past month and choked him, making him wonder what the hell went wrong or shifted in his father’s eyes.

A week before he and Zara were getting ready to return to college, Ren broke it off with her. A clean cut was what he said he needed. He couldn’t do it again; he couldn’t come home and be treated the way he was. He couldn’t work his ass off and stress over trying to be someone he wasn’t.

He was a man of his word and it killed him to say what he had to her. 

They’d had no communication since.

All that was going to change. There was no way around it.

His life was in a tailspin out of control and he needed to regain his footing on the ice after a dizzying spin.

That meant being in Mystic for a few months…if not more.

He took a deep breath, turned his head to look in the backseat to see it all quiet and then got out. Shit was going to hit the fan, he knew, but he had to man up and do it.

He opened the back door and unbuckled his sleeping son. Six-month-old Max and he were fumbling this father-son thing together as best they could.

He released the seatbelt and picked the carrier up, his son passed out cold. He’d planned the trip around Max’s naptime after he’d eaten and was thankful for the quiet drive.

The fact his SUV was loaded up for not just him but also his son for a few months hadn’t been fun. He knew he’d forgotten things, but figured it might be easier to buy it here anyway. He’d make a few trips home at some point he was sure too.

His mother opened the front door for him and stood there shocked.

“Ren,” she said. “Who is that?”

“This is my son, Max,” he said.

His mother moved back and let him in. Her mouth opened and closed a few times and then she finally said, “You were here last month and never said a word. I’ve got so many questions and don’t know where to start.”

“I’m sure you do,” he said.

Last month, he’d gotten the call from his mother that his father had had a stroke and they were in the ER. He’d asked her to keep him up to date but wouldn’t come to town unless she asked. She hadn’t. He would have come for her and her only at that point. He figured he hadn’t seen his father in years so there was no reason to work the guy up.

He’d visited his mother once a year but avoided his father. He talked to his mother every few months too, but their communications were more emails and texts between those phone calls.

He supposed that was how it made it easier for him to hide the existence of his son.

Not that he knew of Max until four months ago himself.

“Come in. Take your jacket off and start talking. I’ll ask when you’re done.”

He appreciated that at least one of his parents gave him a chance to express himself. To tell his side of things. To be heard.

He removed his jacket and picked up the carrier to bring Max into the living room. Nothing had changed in here in the month since he came for his father’s funeral. He wasn’t sure why he thought it would.

His mother had said his father was fine after the stroke and there was nothing to worry about. Getting a call four days later to say he had a brain aneurysm and collapsed in the bedroom and didn’t make it had been more of a shock than Rachelle showing up on his doorstep with Max almost a year after he’d seen her last.

“This is Max,” he said. “He’s six months old. I didn’t know about him until four months ago. I’d been dating someone, nothing serious, and we went our separate ways.”

“How can you not know you have a child?” his mother asked.

He sighed. “I think she wasn’t positive whose it was,” he said. “I’m not sure of her reasons.” He wasn’t going to go into all the details now. It wasn’t the time. 

“Max was with his mother when you came last month?”

“No,” he said. “Rachelle passed away three months ago.”

“I’m so sorry,” his mother said. “What happened? So you’ve got custody of Max? You’re doing this on your own? Who watched him while you were here last month?”

He knew it wouldn’t be long before the questions started to fly. “She overdosed,” he said. “She brought Max to my place four months ago and said she was in a bad place and couldn’t care for him.”

“She just left her child with you?” his mother asked. “You said she didn’t know if he was your son?”

“I don’t want to get into it all,” he said. “At least not right now. Max is mine. I had a paternity test done the minute she left him. I also retained a lawyer to get custody drawn up. Aside from her admitting she was in a bad place, she never told me. She dropped him off and left. When I tell you I was clueless, you have no idea.”

He’d never changed a diaper or fed a kid before. Everything was new and foreign to him. Thankfully he had some good friends.

“How do you know she died?” his mother asked.

“She was found in her apartment. She had my name as her emergency contact. I suppose it was one smart thing she did. I’m still going through all the legal channels to change his last name to mine. He has Rachelle’s, but I’ve got custody.” He waved his hand. That was another battle he was dealing with but nothing he was stressing over at this point.

“I don’t understand why you couldn’t have said something to me four months ago. Or even last month?” his mother said. There were tears in her eyes and he hated that.

“Mom. I’m flying by the seat of my pants. When it happened I didn’t know what to do. When Rachelle died, things got more out of hand. Max and I were finally settling into things as best as we could and then Dad had his stroke and passed last month. You’ve had enough to deal with.”

“That doesn’t mean I wouldn’t have wanted to know I had a grandchild, Ren. I can’t believe you would be so cold and callous like that.”

The words sliced through him. He hated to think he was like his father, but it was not the first time he’d been accused of being that way. That he was the one that had to be right and could be cold to others.

He was with Zara too at the end. It was what he did to survive and it took everything he could not to beg her forgiveness afterward.

His mother didn’t deserve it though. She’d been the one person who had been in his corner in life.

“I planned on telling you,” he said. “Then everything with Dad happened and it didn’t seem the right time. But I’m here now.”

“You’re here because I need help to sell the marina. If I’d asked you to come to help me run it, you wouldn’t have.”

“No,” he said. “That isn’t a secret and you know it. I would have tried to talk you into selling it anyway. It’s too much for you. It was too much for Dad, but he didn’t want to admit it.”

“He didn’t,” his mother said. “Thankfully we’ve got enough good staff that are doing most of the work. Everyone has been great and hopefully they get to keep their jobs. I’m doing the best I can alone.”

“I know you are,” he said. “I’ve taken two weeks off of work to help get things set that you need. I’ll continue to help as best as I can, but I’ve got a job to do. I can do it remotely. I’ve been working remotely for years, as you know, so where I live isn’t a concern.”

“How are you going to do it all with Max though?” his mother asked.

“I’ve got daycare lined up. He starts tomorrow. I was hoping you could spend some time with Max today while I go get our rental set.”

“Of course,” his mother said. “I couldn’t understand why you wouldn’t stay with me while you’re here. Now more so with Max. I could help you.”

His mother’s eyes shifted to her grandson still napping away. He figured those baby blue eyes would pop open soon. His son was on a schedule and seemed to stick to it, but nothing was in a routine for either of them no matter how much he was going to try to keep it that way.

He looked around the living room of his childhood home. He tried to think of the good times, telling himself he wouldn’t want his son to ever feel the way he did growing up or even returning home.

Right now he just couldn’t summon the energy to do much more than explain to his mother why he was causing her pain. Why he didn’t tell her and knew she was hurt.

“It’s better this way,” he said. “You can spend time with him, but there is too much to do. He’ll go to daycare while I’m working during the day or I can help you if you need it. Then I’ll work at night when he’s sleeping.”

He was used to living his life that way and not getting a lot of sleep. He remembered one of the many fights he’d had with his father calling him lazy. Telling him all he did was sleep. A real man got up and did what was asked of him whether he was tired or not.

“I want to argue with you, but I’ve learned once you make a decision there is no changing your mind.”

“No,” he said. A flaw of his, he was sure. Something he had in common with his father and hated to even think that thought. One he was trying to change at times.

“How are you getting along being on your own with him?” his mother asked, staring at Max. 

He knew she was itching to get her hands on Max, but if he woke his son up he’d regret it. Max would be out of sorts and hard to calm down. And the last thing he wanted was his son waking up in a stranger’s arms. The kid had been through enough in his short life.

“It’s been interesting,” he said. Ren wasn’t one to admit when he was in over his head. At least to family. His friends knew and helped, but he hadn’t ever wanted his mother to know for fear his father would. He didn’t need more shit thrown in his face.

“I can only imagine,” she said.

Max started to move in his car seat. His fingers first, then his arms stretching. His legs were shifting and then his eyes popped open.

Ren made sure he got into Max’s view so his son knew he was there and safe. That he wasn’t being left in a strange place with a person he didn’t know.

“Hey there, buddy,” he said, unbuckling Max. He picked his son up and started to take his fleece jacket off knowing he was probably getting hot. “It’s okay.”

Max’s face started to scrunch up as if he was going to cry. Ren moved toward the diaper bag that he’d brought in with him and found his son’s stuffed monkey to hand over. It was one of the few toys that were with Max when he was dropped off and proved to be a major comfort for his son in the past few months.

“He looks just like you,” his mother said.

“Does he?” he asked. “I don’t really see it.”

“I’ll find some baby pictures of you. He’s the spitting image of you at that age except for the color of his hair.”

“Rachelle had light brown hair.”

Max was currently a blonde, but he wondered if it’d stay that way.

“Will I be able to hold him?” his mother asked. “Especially if you want to leave to set your place up? Where is it?”

“It’s only a mile from here,” he said. “I was lucky to find a house to rent until the end of January with the option of longer if need be.” He figured it’d give his mother time to bond with her grandson and maybe help with the loss of her husband. 

It would also give him the time he needed to see if he could win back the woman he’d loved and thrown away.

A Return For Ren…Prologue

Prologue

“Get your butt out of bed and to the marina,” Ryan Whitney said in his normal sarcastic tone.

Ren turned his head to look at his father. He was exhausted, as he’d just gotten to sleep a few hours ago. “I was doing my homework all night,” he said firmly, then flopped his head back down.

“You’ve got all weekend to do it so I don’t know why you have to stay up on Fridays. I think you were just playing games on the computer like you always do. I need your help today. There is a lot going on,” his father said with his hands on his hips.

Ren turned to look and saw it was barely seven. Jesus. He’d only been sleeping four hours tops.

“Ryan,” his mother said, coming to stand in the doorway of Ren’s bedroom. “Ren needs to do his schoolwork first. We’ve always said that. If he was up all night doing it then it was so he could help you at the marina without worrying about assignments. But he needs his sleep. Go to the marina and he’ll come down later. How many times have we talked about this?”

“Thanks, Mom. I just need a few more hours,” Ren said, his eyes on his mother who always came to bat for him.

“All you ever do is sit in front of that damn computer and tinker. You always say you are working on a program, but I think you’re playing games. And now you’re complaining you’re tired. When I was your age I was up every weekend at six and pulling my weight and staying until closing. Then I’d go out with my friends and get a few hours of sleep and still be ready to go the next day. Your generation is nothing but lazy.”

Ren ground his teeth. He wasn’t playing games. He was writing code. He was developing software and designs. It was an advanced class he was taking through the local community college that his mother encouraged. His father would never understand.

“It’s not games,” he said between his clenched teeth, and threw the covers back. He’d never get back to sleep at this point anyway. “Just because you can barely figure out how to open your email doesn’t mean I sit in here to avoid going to work. I know what I need to do. As Mom said I was trying to get it out of the way so you didn’t bitch to me for not paying attention at work because my mind was on school.”

“Don’t get wise with me,” his father said. “That job you work at is what is paying for all these classes you’re taking. A complete waste of time if you ask me. I need you at the marina.”

“It’s only a waste of time because it’s not what you want,” he snapped back. “The sooner you get out of my room, the sooner I can shower and get to work.”

“Ren,” his mother said. “Don’t be nasty.”

“Dad is,” he said back.

His mother sighed. “Ryan, go. Get to work. Ren will be there as soon as he’s ready. We’ll talk about this tonight like we have so many other times.”

His father turned and left, his mother staying. They heard the door slam. “Why doesn’t he understand I don’t want to be there?”

“I’m trying to get through to him,” his mother said. “It’s a family business. He took it over from his father. He thought you would do the same.”

“It’s not what I want,” he said. He could barely step foot on a boat without feeling as if his stomach was going to roll around and spit out his mouth. That wasn’t the worst of it though. His father and he were like oil and water. They didn’t mix at all and never would. Why would he want to work with a guy that didn’t understand him and belittled him with every other word?

“I know,” his mother said. “Continue doing what you are. You’ve got time yet.”

“Really?” Ren asked. “I’m graduating next month and going to college and he still thinks I’m going to come back and run the marina?”

“I got him to agree to let you get your education. You need it. He understands.”

It’s only because he knew his mother was paying for it. He’d overheard the conversations. No. The arguments. His mother standing up for him. Trying to tell his father the talent and potential he had. It’d come down to his mother saying she’d work more to cut costs if she had to, but her son was getting the college degree she never had.

 “But he thinks I’m going to throw away MIT to come back and run the marina and restaurant like him? Does he not realize that makes no sense?” Ren asked. He ran his hands through his hair. At seventeen he couldn’t figure out why his father was so bullheaded about things that were right in front of his face.

“That is where the time comes into play. You’re both so damn stubborn and have to have the last word at all times. Go shower and then go help your father. I’m leaving in a few minutes myself. I’ll talk to him again.”

“It won’t make a difference,” he said. “It never does.”

“We’ll see you there,” his mother said and left his room.

 He rushed through his shower because he wasn’t in the mood to put up with any more shit from his father, then he went to the kitchen and had a large glass of orange juice and a blueberry muffin. His mother would feed him again in a few hours. She was always the one watching out for him. 

He knew what he wanted out of life and he was going to get it. Then he was getting the hell out of Mystic and away from the Whitney Marina. Away from the man that didn’t understand him and made him feel like shit because of it.

It seemed like the past ten years of his life it’d been progressing and he wasn’t sure he could take much more.

If you didn’t agree with Ryan Whitney, then you were wrong. End of story.

But he was going to rewrite his own damn story and if his father didn’t like it, too damn bad.             Maybe they were alike, but it was time for him to take his own stand.

A Return For Ren

Zara Wolfe had her heart broken when her high school sweetheart said she wasn’t the one for him. They wanted different things in their lives and Mystic couldn’t be the place he’d live his life. She’d tried to move on but wondered if every guy she’d dated was being measured on the stick of her first love. Now he has returned and wants a second chance and she has to decide if she’s strong enough to go down that path again.

Ren Whitney had no intention of staying in Mystic and taking over the family marina. His father and he butted heads enough that at nineteen he waved his middle finger in the air and vowed never to return, which of course meant breaking the ties with Zara. With his father gone and his life being thrown an unexpected curveball, he realizes home and family are what he needs and prays he can get Zara to forgive him and find what they once had again.