First Love…Prologue #mgtab @Natalieann121

Firstlove

First Love

Prologue

“You wanted to see me, Dr. Clinton,” Lauren said after she knocked on the open doorframe.

“Yes, Lauren. Come on in and shut the door.” That never sounded good, but Lauren did as she was instructed. “Have a seat.”

Lauren sat down across from her professor. She had a lot of respect for Dr. Clinton. She assumed her professor could be retired by now but showed no signs of wanting to hang up her hat. “Did I do something wrong?”

“I wanted to talk to you about a few things. First, is everything okay with you? Everything all right at home?”

Lauren was trying to figure out why she was asked that. She’d always been very private about her life and talked to very few people at school. She attended class, did her work, and went home.

“Everything is fine.”

She’d never let on once to anyone about her living situation. She wasn’t the only one struggling to get by in life and she wouldn’t be the last person trying to better herself going to college. She was always clean and presentable and on time to class, trying to blend in.

Dr. Clinton nodded. “You failed to hand in an assignment yesterday.”

“It’s due at midnight tonight,” Lauren said, fighting the panic that was creeping up her spine like a spider closing in on a tasty meal. It was her last semester. Just six weeks to go and she’d be graduating with her bachelor’s in accounting. She couldn’t let things fall apart now. Not after holding it all together for the past several years.

“No. It was due at midnight last night. You’ve never missed an assignment in all the years I’ve had you as a student.”

“I’m so sorry. Can I hand it in late? I understand I’ll probably be docked points, but it’s better than a zero.”

She was almost done with the assignment anyway. She’d planned on finishing it before her shift that started at six tonight and she wouldn’t get out until she closed the mini mart at midnight. “I can have it to you by no later than five. I swear.”

“That’s fine, Lauren. And because you’ve never missed an assignment before, I won’t dock you anything. But the other reason I called you in was because of your last test score.”

She knew she didn’t do as well as normal, but she’d been working a ton of hours putting away as much money as she could. Her mother had been dropping a million comments lately about how she shouldn’t be living at home at twenty-one. Between the stress of that and work, she was stretched really thin in her schoolwork.

It didn’t matter that Lauren was commuting to SUNY Albany to get her degree so that she wouldn’t have any loans. Their family income was low enough and her grades high enough that tuition was covered. But dorm rooms, food plans, and books were not. She worked a lot of hours to pay for her books and gas and the car payment because she needed something reliable for the commute.

Pretty much everything she earned went right out the window like a gum wrapper in a convertible, but she was okay with that because there was a light at the end of the tunnel.

“I studied for it, but I was confused over some of the laws.” She hated taxation with a passion and vowed to not take any job where she’d have to deal with that.

“I could tell. You’ve aced pretty much every class you’ve had with me. No one is as detailed as you are when it comes to auditing and budgeting. Most stumble over something, and this seems to be your Achilles heel.”

“I’ll work harder on it.”

“I believe you will, but the thing is, you failed the test by quite a bit. Your grades aren’t as high to begin with this semester for this class, but right now you’re failing the course.”

Lauren felt herself pale. She couldn’t not graduate. One class might keep her from that. “Can I come in for help? Do some extra credit?”

“I know you’ll pass the course, Lauren. We all know D’s make degrees, but you’ve been one of my star students and I just can’t help but wonder if there is more going on.”

“Thanks for the concern. I’ll be fine. I’ll work harder, I promise.”

Dr. Clinton sighed, but didn’t push it. “I know you will. Take care of yourself. If there is anything you need, please let me know.”

“Thanks,” Lauren said, then left the office.

Her palms were damp and her stomach was doing flips faster than a gymnast at the Olympics. She’d never failed a class a day in her life. Just six more weeks. That was all she had to do to pull it together and work enough hours to keep putting money away.

She was pretty sure her mother was going to ask her to move out once she graduated and she wasn’t sure how she was going to make it happen without having a full time job. She had a plan to offer to pay some of the costs to her mother for a short period of time to be able to stay where she was.

She finished up her last class for the day and drove home, having three hours before work. Plenty of time to finish the assignment, but she’d have to find some more time to finish the stuff that was assigned in classes today. Maybe when she got home. A few less hours of sleep wasn’t the end of the world.

She unlocked the apartment door and walked into the cramped dingy two-bedroom apartment she shared with her mother. It was less than a thousand square feet of no privacy for them. But since her mother worked the second shift at a call center and Lauren was in school all day and at work most nights, they didn’t see much of each other.

When she walked into the kitchen, she saw a note on the table. Nothing odd there. That was their main form of communication most days.

Lauren. I’m giving my notice at my job today and moving with Billy to Florida at the end of the month. The lease on the apartment is up in a little over two months. I paid the rent until then, but after that, you’ll have to make your own arrangements.

She pulled the old folding chair out that served as part of the kitchen table and sat down. If she thought her stomach was churning earlier it was nothing to the urge to throw up and pass out.

That little amount of time would get her through graduation, but then she’d be homeless.

First Love #mgtab @Natalieann121

Firstlove

 

Sparks fly when a woman from the wrong side of the tracks catches the eye of the heir apparent to the family empire.

Lauren Towne has had a tough life. A good work ethic and a lot of determination are the keys to changing her lot in life. The last thing she needs to focus on or worry about is her new sexy boss that might just end up making all her hard work vanish in the air when he realizes how attracted she is to him.

Jace Stratton always knew he’d be the heir to his father’s grocery store empire. But before that happened, he was determined to make a name for himself. When his “rule with an iron fist” father falls ill, he finds his timeline pushed up faster than he’d hoped for. Now he’s out to prove that even though he’s falling for an employee, he’s nothing at all like his father and never will be.

Fierce-Ella…Chapter One #mgtab @Natalieann121

 

Ella4

Catch up on the prologue before you read the first chapter!

Up to Something

Fourteen years later

 

“Mom,” Ella said. “I didn’t want to spend all day here. What is it that you’re looking for? Didn’t you buy enough stuff before Christmas?”

“I can’t stop myself from buying clothes for Jake and Jeremy. They look so much like Mason, and Jessica said they’re growing out of everything. Just like your brothers did. Jessica’s still recovering. She told me that the boys needed clothes.”

Ella rolled her eyes. Her twin nephews were five weeks old. Yes, Jessica had a C-section and was still recovering, but she wasn’t so weak that she couldn’t run to the store or order clothes online if the boys needed anything.

Which they didn’t because Ella alone had purchased over ten outfits for each of them for Christmas, all in the next size. Her mother was up to something and she was trying to figure out what it was. Thankfully, Ella was known for an abundance of patience. Something her mother lacked.

“Then why haven’t we gone into one children’s department store? You keep dragging me to women’s departments.”

“I don’t understand, Ella. You always loved to shop before.”

“I love to shop all the time, but I’m busy at work and I don’t really need anything with Christmas only being last week. You bought me a bunch of clothes, along with everyone else.”

“That’s because we all know how much you love clothes,” her mother said, bobbing her head up and down like she had all of Ella’s life. She’d never stop doing that either and Ella wondered if it was possible for someone to suffer a concussion from it with the speed her mother exhibited.

“Let’s go get some lunch and have a seat. Then you can tell me what this trip to the mall is all about before I go back to work.”

“You never take a day off. Why can’t you stay away for one full day?” her mother asked when they sat down in a booth at a restaurant in the mall. “Why can’t we just have a girl’s day to ourselves? One full day?”

She felt the tug of guilt, but since she’d spent several girls’ days with her mother in the past two months, she wasn’t falling for it today. “Because I’ve got too much work to do and no one else can do it but me.”

“Teach someone,” her mother argued.

Ella snorted out a laugh that had no humor in it at all. “It’s not that simple. There are things only the five of us do and know about.”

“There are nine of you now. Show one of the other girls how to do something.”

“Aimee has no desire to learn anything in the office. She runs the bar with Brody and it’s her thing. She’s good at it and she likes working with Cade and Aiden when it comes to food and promotions in the bar.”

“That’s true. What a good fit Aimee was for Brody.”

“You’d know. You found her.” Ella never suspected it until her third brother started dating someone seriously. None of them dated anyone seriously for years, and then they started dropping like flies caught in a web.

Her mother ignored her. “Fine. Then ask Nic.”

“Nic is in the kitchen with Aiden. She has her hands full and she doesn’t like working in an office. Again, she’s with Cade when it comes to taking pictures for the promotions and when she isn’t doing that, she is doing all the paperwork that Aiden can’t stand to do.”

“That’s another good fit too. I’ve been blessed with two wonderful daughters-in-law.”

“Again. You picked out Nic too.” She was just waiting for her mother to finally admit it.

“Speaking of daughters-in-law, I can’t wait until Mason and Jessica get married this summer.”

“You love having all these weddings so close together.”

“Of course I do. What mother doesn’t want to see her kids settled down? Jessica told me that she and Mason are each going to hold one of the twins during the ceremony. How sweet is that going to be?”

“Very sweet,” Ella agreed. Then again, Mason was always the sweet one of the group.

“Now we just need Cade and Alex to pick a date. I hope they don’t wait too long.”

“Just tell me the truth, Mom. You picked out Alex too. Why can’t you admit it to me? Everyone knows except Cade and Alex.”

“You’re not going to tell them, are you?” her mother asked frantically. She never had a poker face as much as she’d thought she did.

That was almost an admission, which Ella wanted to point out, but chose to store it away for another day. “Would it matter? Brody, Aiden, and Mason know they were set up and they aren’t upset over it.”

“Give Cade some more time. Speaking of that…if they aren’t upset over it, then why are you so set against me finding someone for you?”

“Don’t even think about going behind my back and doing that. I’m the only one who was on to you. I’ve got my eye on you right now.”

“Such a smart girl you are, Ella. Which is why I’m not going to go behind your back.” Before Ella could say anything, her mother turned to two men in suits at the table next to them. “Are either of you single? My daughter is. Isn’t she just lovely?”

“Mom,” Ella said, her face turning red. “Ignore her. She hasn’t taken her meds today and just blurts things out without thought if we don’t keep a tight rein on her.”

“Ella Marie,” her mother said, her jaw dropping. “What a horrible thing to say about your mother.”

The two men were laughing at them now. “Sorry, I’m married,” one man said.

The other said, “I’m not, but have a girlfriend. I know a few guys that might be interested though if you’re up for a blind date.”

“Take them up on it, Ella,” her mother urged. “You haven’t been on a date in way too long.”

Talk about mortification. Ella turned to the men, put her best business face on and said, “No, thank you. Sorry to interrupt your lunch.” Then she turned back to her mother. “That’s just rotten and you know it.”

“I said I wouldn’t go behind your back. I might as well do it in front of you now.”

“You’re impossible,” Ella said.

“You wouldn’t have me any other way.”

 

***

 

“Honey, I’m home,” Jolene shouted two hours later. “Gavin, where are you?”

“I’m in the kitchen,” he shouted back. Their house was always filled with yelling. Four big loud sons, her husband the biggest of all the boys in the house, and her and Ella. Everyone was always talking over the other.

“I didn’t have any luck today,” she said, dropping her bags on the floor.

Her husband of thirty-seven years looked down at her loot. “You could have fooled me.”

She waved her hand. “I always have luck shopping. I got the grandkids some clothes and toys.”

“As if they don’t have enough from what you filled under the tree this year. We’re going to have to get a bigger tree and put it in the larger family room next year,” he said.

She smiled at him, then walked over and gave him a loud smacking kiss. “I remember a time you wouldn’t have considered a tree, let alone Christmas decorations in the bar.”

“Then some smooth-talking beautiful woman told me to stop being a Bah Humbug and get over myself.”

“Aren’t you so glad you listened to me all those years ago?” she asked, loving that he wrapped her up tight in his arms just now. She’d never grow tired of being held by him and she wanted all her children to experience a love like she’d had for almost four decades.

“I am. So tell me what you aren’t having luck with if it wasn’t shopping?”

“Ella. I tried to introduce her to two very nice men in suits at the restaurant during lunch and asked if they wanted to take her on a date.”

“You didn’t,” he asked, pushing her back a little.

She stepped out of his arms and went to the fridge to get a beer. She needed one right now, then grabbed one for him. “I did. She told me she was going to be watching me now that she figured out I set the four boys up.”

“You actually admitted it to her?” he asked, looking shocked.

“Of course not, but I didn’t deny it. Why bother at this point? Anyway, I told her I wouldn’t go behind her back. I’m just going to do it in front of her face.”

“I can only imagine her reaction to that.”

“She told the two men I hadn’t taken my meds today and to ignore me.”

Gavin burst out laughing. “You should know better than to butt heads with Ella.”

“She learned everything from me. I’m older and wiser and I’ll still find someone for her.”

Gavin shook his head. “Leave Ella alone. Let her figure this out on her own. She’s always had the hardest time finding a man. Harder than the boys finding women.”

“That’s because the boys really did terrorize everyone she was interested in,” she argued.

“She set herself up for a lot of it. Always running around besting them her whole life and rubbing their faces in it. Then when she turned fourteen she stopped being a tomboy overnight and turned into a beauty queen. Those boys didn’t know what hit them and they got scared.”

She remembered the first time Ella asked her to go shopping and they turned her jeans and sneakers into skirts and shoes. She was so proud of her only daughter back then turning into a lady. But her sons all panicked and she’d heard them later that night formulating a plan to make sure no one touched their baby sister. She’d been proud of them too, but would never admit that to Ella.

“Ella has been there for each and every one of those boys through everything. Maybe now that they are all married, or soon to be, and have wives that could and probably will kick their butts, they won’t interfere with Ella finding a mate. That’s why it should be easier.”

“Jolene. Do me a favor and take a breather. Be happy you found someone for the boys, but Ella needs to be handled differently.”

“I know. Which is why I’m going to be right up front with it. I’ll find someone. You just wait,” she said confidently rubbing her hands together. Her husband grabbed his beer, rolled his eyes, and walked out of the room. “I’m telling you, Gavin,” she shouted after him. “I’ll find her the perfect man.”

Fierce-Ella…Prologue #Mgtab @Natalieann121

Ella4

Are you ready for a teaser of Fierce-Ella? Here is the prologue!!

Prologue

Ella heard the knock at the door and lifted her head from the pillow. “Yes?”

“Can I come in, Ella?” her mother asked.

Her mother normally didn’t ask, but she guessed storming out of the living room and slamming the door was enough for everyone to ask permission if she wanted to be bothered. She didn’t usually lose her temper like she had, as she prided herself on being calm, cool, and collected at all times. Even as a teen.

Someone had to be the stable one of the Fierce Five and it was always her.

She had twenty minutes up here to get it out of her system, but it didn’t seem to be enough with her mother knocking on the door ready to barge in even if Ella told her no.

She flopped her head back down and wiped her tears on the pillowcase, then flipped it over and rolled off the bed. “Just a minute,” she said. She knew her mother was impatient, but she would wait when she thought one of her children needed it.

Walking into her bathroom quickly, she blew her nose, knuckled away a few more stray offenders, and splashed her face with cold water.

It wasn’t helping. She still looked like she’d been balling her eyes out in her pillowcase and she wondered why she was trying to hide that fact from anyone.

Because she never cried. Ever. It was a sign of weakness, and being the only girl of the Fierce Five made her want to be even stronger than them. She wanted to be Superwoman and they could be Batman’s sidekicks.

She went back into her room and looked around to make sure nothing was out of place, not that it ever was. She was extremely organized. She’d had no choice. That was how she was able to figure out if one of her brothers tampered with anything in her room.

“Hi, Mom,” she said, opening the door.

She turned her back and walked to her bed, then sat down and picked her pillow up, hugging it to her chest. She didn’t often show a vulnerable side, but she felt the time called for it since they all knew she was throwing a “hissy fit” as Cade shouted to her when she stormed out after his announcement.

She hadn’t realized her mother had her hands behind her back until she sat down and pushed them out in front of her, bearing her gift like the biggest prize in Charlotte, and said, “I brought us chocolate to share.”

There was a king-sized Hershey bar staring at her. She wanted to growl at her mother for tempting her, but instead reached for the whole thing and opened it up, then broke a piece off. “I’m not sharing.”

Her mother patted her hand. “You’re making a bigger deal out of this than it is.”

“I don’t think so,” she argued. “Why can’t I have anything to myself?”

“Ella. I get it. But you knew that one of the boys was going to go to the same college as you. We’ve been talking about this for a good year.”

She sniffled some more. She was hoping she could avoid it. She’d been so good at talking her brothers and parents out of everything, or talking them into something. No one gathered information and planned it out like her.

“Why Cade? Of all of them, why him? I’ll never get a boyfriend now,” she said as more fresh tears rolled down her face.

“First off, Cade is the best choice because, between you and me, I think he’s the one that might need someone to watch out for him, not the other way around. But don’t you dare tell a soul I said that.”

Ella felt her lips twitch. “Probably. But he’s also the worst of them when it comes to me around guys.”

“Well, now. You did that to yourself, Ella.”

She narrowed her eyes at her mother, who just continued to stare at her with a cocky smirk on her lips. “I don’t need them watching out for me or scaring everyone I like away.”

“You’re the youngest of five. Four older, bigger brothers who are going to protect and watch out for you your entire life. If you find a guy and he can’t handle your brothers, then he’s not worth it.”

She’d always thought the same thing, but it was getting annoying. “I had to all but beg someone to go to the prom with me this year. Do you know how humiliating that is?”

“Again,” her mother said, “that’s your own doing. It’s just a date. Your brothers wouldn’t terrorize a boy for one date. At least I don’t think they would. No, they wouldn’t.” Her mother’s head was shaking side to side after it’d been bobbing up and down.

“It’s not my fault that most guys are intimidated by me. If I use the logic of them having to accept my brothers, then they have to accept that I’m a strong woman.”

“Oh, Ella,” her mother said, patting her leg this time. Her mother was always touchy feely…unlike Ella herself. “You have so much to learn. You’re a strong woman and it’s a great trait to have. One I have myself. But when you find the right man, you’ll find you don’t always have to be so strong.”

“I don’t think so. I’m not ever relying on any man for anything.”

Her mother rolled her eyes. “You’re young. You’ll figure it out. Trust me, there’s time to find a guy, and when you do, you’ll find all these things you thought you wanted to be won’t make a difference.”

She didn’t believe a word her mother was saying. “I doubt it.”

“Trust me, Ella. Your time will come and when it does, it’s going to knock you and that pride of yours on your skinny little butt.”

 

Fierce-Ella #mgtab @natalieann121

 

Ella4

Ella Fierce is the lone girl of the Fierce Five. She’s calm. She’s cool. She’s collected. The rock of the quintuplets. Only no one knows she crumbles like a ten-day-old stale cookie left out on the counter unwrapped when it comes to men. And if she has her way, no one ever will.

 

Travis McKinley suffered an unthinkable loss forcing him to reevaluate his life and priorities. All those things that made him who he was—all those things that made him a strong protector—were now floating away in the wind. He’d failed those closest to him and he wasn’t sure he’d ever even want to succeed again. Until Ella Fierce. The only problem? She all but chews him up and spits him out every time she sees him.

Chasing Love…Chapter One #mgtab @NatalieAnn121

 

chasinglove

If you haven’t read the Prologue to Chasing Love, you can catch up now!

Damn Lucky

Sixteen years later

“Brian, I need a favor,” Meena said into the phone. She hated asking anyone for anything, but she was getting desperate and it was too early to call a service. Or if she did, she’d get charged double time when she was hoping it was something Brian could fix.

“Sure, what do you need?” he asked on the other end. It was Monday morning, barely seven. He’d be leaving for work soon and she felt horrible calling, but she had clients that would be showing up at nine. And not just her clients either. Being a business owner was a lot more difficult than she thought.

“I’ve got no hot water for some reason. I don’t know why.”

“Is your furnace working?”

“I think. It was cold when I came in, but then I turned it on and I heard it kick in.” She moved closer to the vent. “Yep, hot air coming out.”

She didn’t know the first thing about furnaces or heating, nothing mechanical. What she did know was hair. And she had close to fifteen of her twenty chairs that would be filled in two hours and she needed hot water and she needed it fast.

“I’ve got a meeting this morning at nine, so I’ve got time to run over quick and look at it. Give me about thirty minutes to get there.”

He was a lifesaver coming to her aid this early in the morning. Not many brothers would do that and she was damn lucky and knew it. Years ago, she wouldn’t have called him. Or she would have, but might have worried he wouldn’t have come. She’d pestered him enough when they were kids, doing what little sisters did.

She hung up and went about getting her salon ready to open. She had plenty of time, but she liked to make sure everything was just right.

Having only owned the business for six months, she was still trying to figure out what she wanted to do with the place.

It was huge, which was part of what she was looking for. It was located conveniently in Albany with easy access to major highways.

And it had high-end clientele.

That had been the biggest piece of the puzzle. Pulse catered to all ages, all styles, and most pocketbooks. But the deep pocketbooks were the ones she was trying to target the most.

If it was the newest rage in style, color, and technique, Pulse was the place people were flocking to. More so than ever.

Her own unique style and creativity had people piling in faster and requesting her. Her biggest problem of late was making time for everyone, which she couldn’t do. So instead, she started to train a few of the girls in the salon how to mix colors the way she did. How to be bold and vibrant and make the color last.

Some of the girls were good, but they just needed to learn a few tricks that she was willing to pass on. The more people in the salon, the more revenue.

Half her twenty chairs were rented out, the other half were her employees. Business was booming.

But that boom was going to crash if she didn’t have hot water for all her appointments this morning.

Less than thirty minutes later, Brian was walking in the door and he wasn’t alone. Troy Walker was behind him and he was carrying a bag of tools. Sexy? Hell yeah!

She hadn’t seen him in almost two years. Not since she’d come home for his father’s funeral. His beautiful girlfriend had been there with him and Meena had felt out of place, so she’d given her condolences and made a fast exit, driving back home to Manhattan where she felt like she belonged. She never felt like she belonged in her hometown just outside of Albany in the suburbs.

Suburbia living wasn’t for her. She wanted downtown and she wanted action. She got it all in the Big Apple.

When Brian let it slip shortly after the funeral that Troy’s girlfriend had decided to move on to someone else, Meena knew it was now or never and put her plan in place to move back home. All those years of excitement and big city living were out the window. Whatever she’d been looking for, she realized she just wasn’t finding it.

Not there but maybe here. Maybe coming back as an adult on her own terms would make the difference.

She hadn’t been able to find a way or a reason to see Troy since she’d been back. Looked like today was the day to make some progress.

“Thanks for rushing over, Brian,” Meena said, walking forward and giving him a kiss on the cheek. “My hero. I’m going to go get you some breakfast while you look it over because I’m guessing you ran out the door as soon as you hung up like the awesome brother you are.”

Brian laughed. “There used to be a time you didn’t think I was so awesome.”

She grew up. “And there used to be a time you wouldn’t have come over if I asked.”

Brian rolled his eyes. “I’d always come over, but I would have been grouchy about it.”

She gave Brian a little playful shove, then made her way toward Troy and opened her arms. He seemed to hesitate and she didn’t care. She was going to give her brother’s best friend a hug. “It’s so good to see you, Troy.”

He wrapped his arms around her and held on tighter than she thought he would have, then let go much sooner than she would have preferred. He still topped her five-foot-six-inch frame by half a foot, but he’d filled out plenty. “You too, Meena. You look good.”

She ran her hand through her long bright red hair. “Thanks. I decided I needed a change.”

“Her hair was silver a few weeks ago,” Brian said.

“Titanium. And though it’s popular right now, I kept thinking it was too close to Mom’s natural color and it freaked me out.”

“Nothing has ever freaked you out before, but whatever works,” Brian said. “Though I know a few things about a furnace or water heater, thanks to Troy, I figured I might as well bring him along since he was my nine o’clock appointment anyway.”

“Whatever gets me hot water, I don’t care. Just don’t make it hurt too much,” she joked to Troy. He actually blushed. Holy cow. She didn’t see that coming.

Troy now owned his father’s heating and cooling business that had fleets of vans covering a good hundred-mile radius of the Capital Region in all directions. Last she knew he didn’t do much hands-on work himself. Not after his father passed away.

Her brother, on the other hand, spent most of his time in a stuffy suit and tie riding a desk at his legal firm. Neither one of them really wanted to work for anyone else.

“Did you check all the faucets or just one?” Troy asked her.

Dang it, what an idiot she was. “Ah, just one. Maybe it’s the faucet and an easy fix.”

“Could be,” he said, turning a few on. “But you’re out of luck because there’s no hot water coming through any of them.”

Her shoulders dropped. “I’m more concerned about canceling all the appointments than I am the cost to fix what is wrong. Though I still hope I’m not hit too hard.”

Revenue was high, expenses were actually decent. Her business was thriving, but she’d always been frugal when it came to money. Her only splurges were clothing, and even then, she still bought discount. Who needed brand names when half the time she was going for color and texture. She wasn’t one to follow the current trends or fashion. Jeans were jeans in her book. Especially if she decided to take a pair of scissors to them herself. Best to do that with ten-dollar jeans and not hundred-dollar ones.

“I’ll try,” Troy said, sending her one of those rare smiles he often did when she was a kid pestering him and Brian. It’d been way too long since she’d seen his smile in person. Just her dreams for the past several years.

“While we’re being your little slaves, how about some breakfast?” Brian reminded her.

“Can do,” she said. “There’s a bakery a street over. I’ll just run there now and grab a few things. How do you take your coffee, Troy?” she asked.

“He likes it black and strong enough to grow hair on his chest,” Brian said.

She smiled when Troy rolled his eyes. “Hairy chests aren’t really in, you know?” she told Troy.

Troy ran his hand over his jaw as if he was thinking. She’d never seen him with much more than a goatee now and again. Never hair on his cheeks. She wondered if he was one of those men that couldn’t grow a full beard, but she liked him clean-shaven just like now.

Brian snorted, then said, “His chest is as bare as a baby’s bottom. That’s why he drinks his coffee that way.”

“Ass,” Troy said, following Brian to the cellar door.

She let the two of them go and got the hell out of there, thankful it was February and the blast of cold air that hit her cooled down her body that overheated at the thought of seeing any part of Troy naked.

Chasing Love…Prologue #mgtab @NatalieAnn121

chasinglove

Time for a glimpse into Chasing Love.

Prologue

“Meena, stop following us everywhere.”

Meena squinted her eyes at her older brother. She was bored and there was nothing to do. “Why can’t I play with you and Troy?”

“Because you’re ten and we’re fifteen and we don’t play anymore,” Brian said.

“Meena,” her mother said from the kitchen where she was baking cookies. The smell of ginger was awesome and she couldn’t wait to eat some, but she didn’t want to help make them. Baking wasn’t her thing. Neither was cooking or doing arts and crafts, coloring or playing with dolls. All the things her mother wanted her to do. “Leave your brother and Troy alone.”

“But I want to go outside with them,” she argued.

Her mother’s sigh could be heard loud and clear. “You can go outside but don’t go chasing them around. Let them be.”

Meena would take it as a win and rushed out the side door her brother and his best friend Troy just exited. Brian was lucky that his best friend lived in the same development as them, even if it was a few streets over. He was old enough to ride his bike around on his own with his friends, but she had to stay in the cul de sac where she could be seen.

When she was adventurous—which was often if her mother could be believed—she pushed her boundaries by going to the end of the street. Her mom could still see her if she craned her neck out the kitchen window more and that had been Meena’s answer.

Brian turned when Meena ran into the garage and got on her bike next to the older boys. “What are you doing out here, clown?”

“I’m not a clown,” Meena said, looking down at her rainbow tutu that she’d had on over neon green leggings. “You just wish you had my fashion sense.”

“She has you there,” Troy said to Brian. “I’d like to see you pull off that look.”

Meena giggled. If she was always chasing them around it was because she wanted to be by Troy and not Brian. Troy was always nice to her and made her giggle more than normal. He made all these funny feelings erupt in her belly a lot too.

“At least I can match my socks,” Brian said, laughing.

“It’s the style,” Meena argued. “You’ve got none, that’s why you can’t pull it off.”

“The style is to make sure you wear the brightest, boldest colors and nothing matches?” Brian asked, smirking. “I’ll stay out of style if you don’t mind.”

Meena shrugged. She was used to the comments that she received. Not just from her brother or her parents—who were too dull and boring in her eyes. Her parents were probably closer to most grandparents’ age and they looked it. Except when her mother went to work at the hospital. She was thinking those ugly black scrubs would always be around for the nurses.

Her father still wore a suit and tie to work every day to the insurance firm he owned. A black or blue suit with a white shirt and a solid-color tie. Usually red or blue. Lame! She hadn’t once seen him wear one of the ties she’d picked out for him. Her father didn’t believe her when she said pink and purple stripes looked good on him.

“That’s because you boys are boring,” she said back. Both of them were just wearing athletic shorts and some T-shirt with a logo on it. Neither Brian nor Troy ever wanted to really stand out and she didn’t understand that. Standing out from the crowd was fun and exciting.

How come no one thought like she did?

Troy laughed at her. “I like boring just fine, Meena. But you look cute dressed the way you are. Don’t let anyone tell you otherwise.”

Her smile lifted even more. Troy never picked on her. He never made fun of her. He said she looked cute. She wondered if he felt all those warm fuzzy bunnies hopping around in his belly like she did too.

“Thanks, Troy. You’re a lot nicer to me than my brother.”

“That’s because you’re not bugging him twenty-four seven like you do me.” But Brian brought his bike closer to her and tugged on her ponytail playfully. She wanted to be annoyed at him but found she couldn’t be. He’d never been really mean to her. He just wanted space that she didn’t feel like giving him.

“Can I go with you two, please?” she asked, trying one last time.

“No, Meena,” Brian said. “You’re too young and we’re going to hang out with our friends at the park.”

“Maybe another time,” Troy said, and the two of them started to pedal away.

“Why would you say that to her?” she heard her brother say to Troy. “Don’t encourage her to hang around us even more.”

“She’s just a kid looking for attention,” Troy said. “She only wants a friend to play with.”

Meena narrowed her eyes at the boy’s retreating back, then whispered to herself, “A friend, Troy? I don’t think so.” She giggled to herself. “You’re going to be my husband someday.”

Chasing Love #Mgtab @NatalieAnn121

chasinglove

Her childhood crush. His best friend’s little sister. There’s nothing wrong with that, right?

Meena Dawson has always been loud. Always been wild. Always been bold. And she always thought she loved her brother’s best friend. She’s an adult now. Not so loud. Not so wild, but still bold and definitely in love with Troy Walker. It’s time to make her move now with the hopes of not scaring him away or ruining the family connection they’ve always had.

Troy Walker has always been serious. Dull and even boring. He knew that because he’d been told it enough in his life, especially by all his exes. At least that was the reason they’d given him for leaving every time. But now that Meena Dawson is back in town, he’s wondering if he could find a way to not be all those things and maybe catch her eye. Only he has to find a way to make sure his best friend—Meena’s brother—doesn’t find out.

After Hurricane Nina, Reed’s Resolution…Chapter One #mgtab @NatalieAnn121

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If you haven’t read the prologue, you can do that now to catch up. Here is the first paragraph! Grab the book while you can for just 99 cents, then it’s going to $2.99!

So Infrequent

Three years later

Reed walked through the front door of the family construction firm that would be all his responsibility one day, past the receptionist who always waved and winked at him. She’d been there since his father started the business and was old enough to be his mother. Hell, she was there when he was born.

He grinned and nodded his head, then made his way down the hall to the accounting department.

He hated dealing with the paperwork on the builds, even the vendors, but he needed to know the cost of a generator that had been purchased and installed in a new build last month since the owners were complaining about it. He’d like to push the complaints off to someone else too, but the truth was, as big as their firm was and as wealthy as they’d all become, his father taught him to always deal with the customers one on one. It was that little something extra that allowed them to grow as they had.

“Taylor,” he said to the newest member of his team. “Do you have a second to look something up for me?”

Her head popped up from behind her computer monitor, she took her reading glasses off her face, and he had to stop the saliva from dribbling out of his mouth.

Clear blue eyes were now staring at him, a few freckles on her nose and high cheekbones. Her dirty blonde hair was falling over her shoulders and she was saying something to him.

“What?” he asked.

“I asked what you needed me to look up for you.”

“Oh,” he said, smiling. He’d been flirting with her for weeks, but she never gave him the time of day. Once in a while she’d grin or laugh, but it was so infrequent he didn’t really count it in his mind. “Can you pull up the cost of the generator for the Minkton build we did a few months ago? The owners are questioning the cost because they don’t like the generator.”

“Sure,” she said, “just give me a second.”

Her voice was soft, a caress that just washed over his body more times than it should. He’d look at her and heat would build in places his body loved to feel it. Too bad he couldn’t get her to feel it too.

Reed walked over and sat in the chair in front of her desk while she looked it up. He took that time to glance over the items on the desk and pinned to the wall. Nothing of a personal nature at all, giving him no clue to her life.

There was no ring on her left hand, so he suspected she was single but hadn’t asked yet. He wouldn’t until she showed some sign of being interested in him. Or even talking to him for anything other than work-related questions.

She’d only been employed here two months, so time yet to get to know her better. Until then there was no shortage of women he could entertain himself with for the night when the time arose. It arose often, but he didn’t give in to it much anymore. He found he didn’t enjoy the headache that came along with it now. Of course heartache was all he seemed to experience in the past few years.

“Here it is,” she said after she’d been clicking around on the computer, and now she swiveled away and opened up the filing cabinet. It gave him time to appreciate the view of her curvy backside in some nicely fitted jeans. He’d keep those thoughts to himself though. Then remember them when he was in bed later tonight.

She handed the invoice to him. He looked it over and said, “I’m just going to make a copy of this and then I’ll give it back to you.”

“I can do that if you’d like,” she offered.

“I’ve got it. Thanks.” He stood up and went to the copy room, ran it through the machine, and then returned the original to her.

She reached an elegant hand toward him, void of any polish or jewelry. Now that he thought of it, she was pretty simple at the heart of it.

She always had jeans on like every other employee in the building, but she didn’t wear a lot of makeup and the only jewelry he’d seen on her was a small pair of gold hoops in her ears when she pushed her hair behind her ears like she was doing now. He wondered if he made her nervous, but doubted it. Nothing seemed to ruffle her feathers, and though he’d hated that trait with Whitney—and most women—he found it kind of sexy on Taylor.

“So how do you like it here?” he asked. Anything to find a reason to stay a little longer and maybe find out something about her. Why? He had no clue, when he never really wanted to know more about a woman other than directions to her house after he picked her up in the bar.

“It’s nice. I like it a lot.”

“That’s good,” he said. “Are you getting used to the area?” He knew she’d moved here in February, just a few weeks before she started. At the time he’d interviewed her she’d relocated to the area, but he didn’t ask why, nor could he really during the interview.

“It’s a little cooler than what I’m used to, but I might enjoy the changing seasons.”

“There probably weren’t that many seasons in Florida other than warm, hot, and holy blazing hell,” he said, smiling at her. He at least saw that was where her last job was located on her resume.

“That about sums it up. But so far I’m enjoying spring. The tail end of winter wasn’t to my liking though. How hot will it get here in the summer?” Taylor asked.

He wanted to sit back down but didn’t as that might be pushing it. “Upstate New York averages in the mid-eighties, but it can get in the high nineties or low seventies. Nothing is really consistent.”

“I can work with that,” she said.

He nodded. “That’s good. I think you’ll appreciate it here.”

“I’ve got no plans of moving even if I don’t appreciate it,” she said dryly. He wasn’t sure what that meant and didn’t feel right asking just yet. Damn, there were so many things he wanted to ask her.

“Have a good day,” he said, saluting her and walking out.

***

“Isn’t he just so freaking hot?”

Taylor looked over at Wendy who shared the office with her. “Who?” she asked.

“Reed, silly. The guy that was just in here smiling and chatting with you.”

“Oh. I suppose,” she said.

The last thing she was planning on doing was looking at any man right now. She was firmly set against men in general. Damn Jack for making her life miserable.

“Are you blind?” Wendy said.

“So he’s good looking,” Taylor said. “If you like the rough around the edges type of guy. He strikes me as a player anyway.”

Wendy laughed. “He never used to be that way, but you hit it right on the head just now.”

Despite her best intentions, she asked, “What changed?” Wendy always wanted to talk or gossip and Taylor felt bad she never gave into it. She never spoke much about her own life and wanted to keep it that way. But maybe it wouldn’t hurt to find out more about the owner since he always seemed to be popping up around her when she least expected it.

Wendy got up and walked into the hallway, looked up and down, and then came back. “I wanted to make sure he was gone,” she said with her voice lower than normal as she sat in front of Taylor’s desk now.

“Why?”

“Because no one wants to be caught talking about it if they can prevent it, but it’s not a secret at all. It’s just you weren’t here when it happened.”

“When what happened?” Taylor asked, her interest piqued. She knew Reed was in line to inherit the business from his father. A huge construction firm that built and sold hundreds of houses a year—and they weren’t small houses, but more like grandiose higher income houses—not to mention remodels. There were a lot of employees and Reed’s father worked out of an office rather than in the field, when he showed up to work at all.

She wasn’t surprised to learn Reed was in the field every day, as he didn’t fit the image of a man to sit behind a desk.

He was tall, just over six foot, dark hair, bright blue eyes that were often smiling, but cloudy at the same time. Like there were hidden emotions that he’d never want anyone to see or even ask about.

Guess she was paying more attention to her boss than she was letting on.

“Reed was engaged. Her name was Whitney Rhodes. A big time ladder-climbing attorney at McKafrey’s.”

“Really?” Taylor asked, not picturing someone like that with Reed. She could see him with airheads and bimbos. Maybe because that was what everyone said he spent his time with. Just because she wanted to stay off the gossip train didn’t mean it didn’t stop around her desk now and again.

“Yeah. Total opposites. Whitney didn’t come around here often. I think they might have been friends in high school or something and when Whitney came back to the area after law school the two of them hooked up and then ended up engaged. Something like that. Not sure the whole story there.”

Which was surprising because Wendy seemed to know the whole story about everything in this building even though she’d only been employed five years herself. “So what happened? Did they have a bad breakup?” She knew Reed wasn’t married.

“No. That might have been better.”

“I can’t believe a bad breakup is better than anything,” Taylor said, having known from experience. Damn Jack again for turning her world upside down. Not only her world but Angie’s too. Not that anyone here knew about her ex or her daughter because she didn’t want them to and had no plans of bringing it up.

“Whitney died a little over three years ago in Bali. She’d told Reed she was there for work and a hurricane hit. The devastation was horrendous. One of the largest death tolls they’d seen in years.”

“That’s horrible.” Taylor paused. “What do you mean she told Reed she was there for work? She wasn’t?”

“No,” Wendy said. “She was there on vacation with the man she was having an affair with. Both of them died when the hotel they were staying in suffered damage. The roof had been ripped off and the water damage and wind caused the structure to collapse. I think it was days before they found her body and that of the man she was with.”

“Okay, that beats a bad breakup,” Taylor mumbled and wondered how Reed could even smile now let alone be so friendly with everyone.

“Yeah. Reed was pretty dark and hard to be around for a good year. Then he slowly went back to the way he used to be, with one exception.”

“What’s that?” Taylor asked, but she had a feeling she knew the answer.

“Women. All he cares about is a good time. He makes it very clear and is upfront, but he doesn’t trust women, he doesn’t want anything to do with any woman who wants a relationship, and if you talk about relationships around him, he walks away. He doesn’t care or want to be around anyone who has what he thought he was going to get and never did.”

“More than sour then?” Taylor asked, surprised she and Reed had that in common.

“More sour than a mouthful of freshly squeezed lemon juice.”

 

After Hurricane Nina, Reed’s Resolution @natalieann121 #mgtab

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The long awaited Hot Hunks-Steamy Romance Collection is going to start with my book! Reed’s Resolution.

Check out the Prologue

 

On November 30, 2016, Hurricane Nina hit Bali, Indonesia. In the aftermath of death and destruction, eight strong sexy men will realize it’s time for a change in their lives. A resolution of sorts. A contractor, personal trainer, a millionaire, a stuntman, a rock star, a thrill-seeker, an army veteran, and a trust fund prodigal will all find a way to conquer their loss and learn to love. This is Reed’s story.

Meanwhile in Albany, New York…

Reed spread the blueprints out on the makeshift sawhorse. “Josh, let’s just double-check things before we start cutting out for the windows.”

“You got it, Boss,” Josh said, smirking as he made his way closer.

Josh and he had been the best of friends since the second grade. Just because Reed was his boss now, it hadn’t changed their friendship. All it did was make Josh bust on him about the fact that his paycheck from Chapman Construction had Reed’s name on the bottom of it.

“I’m not sure why the Wilsons needed to have different sized windows in almost every room,” Reed said, shaking his head. “Some rooms, I get it, but it seems like they are doing it haphazardly.”

Josh scratched his chin like he always did when he was trying to figure out a diplomatic way to say something. Since Josh loved to gossip, there should be a raw spot on his face by now. “There is no accounting for people’s tastes, but as long as their money is green, then we’ll do what they say.”

Reed snorted. “We’ll see. So far I’ve been flexible with things, but at some point I’m sure I’m going to have to tell them no on something.”

“Just be happy they don’t want this house in the development.”

“They wouldn’t be able to. Even though my developments are more lenient than others, they know the guidelines, which is why they came to us to build out of the city limits.”

“I’m still surprised you agreed since we’ve got so many houses lined up for the development,” Josh said. “It’s not like you to take someone on when you’ve got such a big project in the works.”

Reed laughed. “Like you said, their money is green.”

And the Wilsons had a shitload more than most, allowing him to take a detour on filling up the development. He had enough crews to do all the work, but he was overseeing this one more closely.

His cell phone vibrated in his pocket, so he pulled it out, saw it was his sister, Rachel, then with no qualms at all, sent her to voicemail. He didn’t have time for her today.

After a few minutes, the two men verified everything and Josh went off to instruct the crew, so Reed pulled his phone out of his pocket to check Rachel’s message. “Call me now.”

Everything was always life or death in his sister’s eyes. He hit the button to call her back. “What’s up this time, Rachel?” he asked, preparing himself to hear the earth was falling out of orbit.

“Have you talked to Whitney today?”

“No. It’s hard with the time difference,” Reed said.

His fiancée, Whitney, was in Bali for work right now closing some business deal for the law firm she was trying to work her way up to partner with before she hit thirty-five. The eleven-hour time difference made it hard to talk.

Though you’d think they’d talk each morning since it was after dinner for her there. Then again, Whitney always put her job first and her personal life second. He was used to it now and it didn’t bother him as much as it once had. Not really.

“Reed,” Rachel said, her voice rising to a level that resembled nails scraping down a chalkboard. “A hurricane has been beating on Bali for hours. It’s been building for days. Don’t you watch the news? She hasn’t said anything to you at all? I just read on the internet that the streets are flooding, buildings are destroyed and the loss of life is mounting. They are talking about rain there for days on top of it.”

His heart started to pound so hard he thought it might burst out of his chest. “I haven’t talked to her since she landed there three days ago. She never said a word.”

“Why don’t you ever pay attention to those things when she is traveling?” Rachel asked.

“Because she is always traveling. I’m lucky I know where she is half the time.”

“I’ll never understand your relationship,” Rachel said. “Reed. You need to call her. Something isn’t right. I feel it deep down. You know how I get when I have these feelings.”

Drama was Rachel’s middle name so Reed wasn’t feeling quite as anxious as his sister, but he was starting to get nervous. “I’ll call her. I doubt she’ll answer.”

“Do you know what hotel she’s staying at? I found a news outlet that is listing areas the hardest hit in the city right now.”

“No, I don’t know. She never shares those details.”

“Why?” Rachel screeched.

“Because it’s details that she says mean nothing. We’ve got cell phones and computers,” he argued, but deep down he agreed with his sister. It always bothered him that Whitney never shared or talked about things when she traveled. She always argued she was busy and could be reached by her cell phone. The only problem was, Whitney never answered her phone when he called.

“Well, keep me posted on what you find out and I’ll keep following the news.”

“I’ll call her office right now,” Reed said. He hung up with his sister and then dialed Whitney’s law firm to see if they’d heard anything. If they had any news to share with him.

“McKafrey and Sons,” he heard. “This is Linda, how may I help you?”

“Linda, it’s Reed Chapman. Can you let me know the name of the hotel that Whitney is staying at in Bali?”

There was some silence and then, “I’ll see if I can find out, but I’m not sure anyone would know that here.”

“Why not?” he asked. This time his stomach was filling with dread. He’d felt something had been wrong for months and he couldn’t get Whitney to open up to him. Had she lost her job and didn’t want to tell him? No, it couldn’t be that. She’d been working an ungodly number of hours lately and the two of them had barely seen each other.

“She’s on vacation this week,” Linda said.

“What?” Reed asked, staring off into the distance. He knew he was busy, but that wouldn’t have slipped his mind.

“She said she was going to Bali with a friend. We’re all worried about her here. Someone was going to call you later today to see if you’d heard anything. The death toll has been rising for hours.”

“Thanks,” Reed said softly and disconnected the phone, then tried to call Whitney’s cell. He got a message that service was out.

He turned and walked back to his truck and left without a word, making his way to Whitney’s apartment that they didn’t share. She hadn’t even moved in with him officially, just stayed with him when she wasn’t traveling, if she had time. Lately that time was less and less.

He’d find answers there—he had to. The question was, would he really want to see what he found?