Another Chance…Chapter Two @natalieann121 #mgtab

Another Chance

The last teaser of Another Chance!! Catch up on the Prologue and Chapter One.

Here is Chapter Two

Blew Up

“So that was Matt, wasn’t it?”

Dena looked to see Amber standing next to her. Everyone had left but the two of them. They were just waiting for Amber’s husband, Zach, to pick them up and bring them home. Since Celeste hadn’t been drinking she dropped the rest of the girls off.

“How did you guess?” Dena asked, looking around the pub. He was gone now, but she hadn’t seen him leave. Once she’d walked back to her table, she angled her chair so that she didn’t have a view of the bar or the door. No reason to give into temptation.

“I saw you freeze when he walked in the door. I put the two together. At first I didn’t recognize him. Remember, you guys were a few years behind me in school.”

“Yeah,” Dena said softly. She really didn’t want to talk about this, but knew Amber wouldn’t let it drop. She never did.

“I hate to say this, and please don’t think I’m not on your side because you know I am. But damn, he has only gotten better with age.”

“I noticed,” she said dryly. Not that she wanted to, but it was hard to avoid it.

He was still just brushing six foot. Dark hair that was lush and wavy. Big brown eyes that she’d always lost herself in. He’d always taken such care with his appearance, but for some reason he looked a little off tonight. He was gorgeous as ever, his full lips so soft and kissable—she hated that those thoughts popped into her head—but he looked thinner than she’d seen before. His sharp cheekbones were more pronounced and his eyes looked tired, even troubled.

She hadn’t seen him personally since he walked out on her that night before they both left for college, but like the idiot she was, she’d never been able to put him far from her mind.

Social media posts drew her in like a bee to a flower. She didn’t follow him, but others she followed did and it was hard to avoid things about him all the time.

He was some big time lawyer in Manhattan like he always wanted to be at his stepbrother’s father’s firm. She was guessing he’d made it to the partner status he was striving for too, but wasn’t positive. It had always hurt too much looking into him more than necessary. Like holding onto the old dream knowing the outcome still broke her heart.

In the past two years if she saw anything regarding him, she clicked away. It was just too heart wrenching to keep stalking information on him. Between that and running into his mother and stepfather from time to time, she couldn’t seem to move past the shattered remains of her emotions and anger that had built up so high.

“Why was he limping?” Amber asked.

“What?” she said, turning to look at Amber now. She’d been looking off into the distance hoping Amber would change the subject.

“You didn’t notice he was limping?”

“No. I was opening the bathroom door and ran into him, but then I walked away. I didn’t see him leave nor did I watch him walk once he entered the front door.” Why hadn’t she’d paid attention to something like that?

“You had words with him when you went to the bathroom and are just telling me now?” Amber said, holding her by the shoulders. “No wonder you came back shaken. What did the prick have to say?”

Amber had always been blunt and to the point, but supportive as ever. “Not much,” she said. It was only a few words and Dena was positive Matt would be gone from Lake Placid within days. No use hashing it all out, even in her head.

But by the time Zach dropped her off at her apartment, the tears she’d been battling just let loose. Of all the freaking nights for Matt to make an appearance in her life—her thirtieth birthday with her closest friends.

She was supposed to be celebrating and having a great time. Not thinking about the past that blew up in her face like dynamite to an old abandoned warehouse.

Not wondering why she was never enough for him to come back to. Or for him to even stay. Not to even talk to her about it.

If given the chance, maybe she would have moved, but he never gave it to her.

They were both young and they had their whole lives ahead of them. He couldn’t expect her to make a permanent decision at such a time. It had been hard enough just going a few hours away from her father, but promising she’d leave forever? Please…she was only eighteen!

Once she was ready for bed, she shut the light off and climbed in, knuckled a few stray tears away and told herself that she was ready to move on with her life.

All those years ago she’d promised she’d never give him another chance—not like he was asking—but it was time to commit to that promise.

It was time to push Matt Winters from her mind once and for all.

 

***

 

Matt had been back to town for about a week now. He knew at some point he’d seek Dena out; he just didn’t know when or how and hated that it happened the way it had.

That he wasn’t prepared, when he prided himself on always being prepared for everything in life.

He was as good as he was at his job because he planned it all out. Even his life… “Take no chances” had been his motto.

He knew he wanted to be a lawyer when he was fifteen. He knew he was going to work for his stepbrother’s father’s firm too. How did he know? Because his stepbrother Randall told him.

Randall was years older than him and already practicing at that point. Whenever Matt had gone back to visit his father and stepmother, Randall would stop over to see him and take him under his wing. Tell him all about the wonderful and exciting life he had and how it could all be Matt’s one day too. An impressionable teen at that point, he was looking for anyone that would show some interest in him.

What he’d seen in Randall was someone that he could look up to. Someone that had it all together and was going to be successful. Everything Matt had wanted himself.

Sure, his father was smart and successful, but he was an engineer. Nothing exciting in that that Matt had ever seen. But moving to Lake Placid with his mother and stepfather had been the worst thing for a kid to have happen his freshman year in high school.

To go from being a short train ride to one of the most exciting cities in the US to some backwoods mountain where all you could do was ski or play ice hockey in the winter. The summer you could swim in the lake, but other than that, there wasn’t much for Matt to do. Not like he was used to. He’d never been an active outdoorsman and that was what Lake Placid catered to.

But he’d met Dena Hall and everything about Lake Placid didn’t seem so bad.

In the back of his mind he knew he was leaving the first chance he got and he’d told her so. Multiple times. She just never seemed to want to believe him. Or even listen to him when he’d come back from visits with his father and tell her about all the great things he’d done and how fun it’d be to live there.

Not even when he said he was going to Columbia University. That he was going to be a lawyer in the big city. That life was going to go back to the way it was for him before he was forced to this Godforsaken land.

Yet she still seemed so shocked when he told her the night before he left for good.

He wanted her to go with him. He all but begged her, but she’d always said, “I won’t leave my father. He’s already had one woman leave him, I won’t be the second. We’re all that the other has right now.”

“What about me?” he’d asked her. “You’d have me.”

She said it wasn’t the same and it hurt. Hurt more than when he found he’d be moving here to begin with. It seemed no one really wanted him the way he needed. No one put him first, except Randall taking him under his wing.

So he wanted her to hurt just as much and broke it off sharp and swift. He’d told himself it was better that way. That there would be no confusion or misunderstanding.

She’d know he wasn’t coming back and that she was the one who’d made that choice by not even giving him a chance, but telling him multiple times she’d never leave Lake Placid.

Well, she was right since she was still here. So then why was he wrong? Why did he come back?

Simple. He’d stared death in the eyes. He woke up in that hospital and knew that by his own stubbornness he’d thrown away what was the best thing in his life.

He’d never been able to find it again and was determined to win her back.

So he was here in this town he hated so much, but looking at it through the eyes of an adult and seeing it wasn’t so bad after all.

That everything he wanted in the big city didn’t happen the way he’d planned on it. That people made him promises they didn’t keep and used him for their own personal gain.

The question was, could he get Dena to break the promise she’d made to him years ago? Because he was determined that she’d take him back.

 

 

Another Chance…Chapter One #mgtab @Natalieann121

Another Chance

If you haven’t read the Prologue yet, you can catch up. Here is Chapter One!

Convinced Him

Twelve years later

“I’m so glad you all could come out with me tonight,” Dena said, looking around the table.

It was her thirtieth birthday and she wanted dinner and drinks with her girls. Everyone was married, or soon to be, but her, not that it mattered. All that mattered was that she wasn’t alone on this night.

“We wouldn’t make you have a solo drink,” Amber Monroe said. Amber and she had worked together for years for Dr. Max Hamilton and became the best of friends. Max’s wife, Quinn, was even sitting at the table with them.

“I needed to get away from Cole and TJ tonight. I’m not sure which one of them was whining more,” Rene said. Rene McGuire got married over the summer to Cole, and TJ was almost a year old. Rene had been working with Amber and her for two years now and fit in so well in their office.

“Cole always did whine when he was tired. They’re probably both sleeping on the couch right now,” Celeste Ryder said. Celeste was Cole’s twin sister and another close friend of the group. More like a co-worker of sorts. Celeste and Max jointly owned and operated a bed and breakfast solely catering to Max’s patients.

“How’s Jocelyn sleeping?” Riley Hamilton asked Quinn. Riley was Max’s sister, and Quinn had Jocelyn last May. Max also had two older kids from his first marriage.

“Sounds like she is sleeping much better than TJ is,” Quinn said, grinning.

“I’ll take Jocelyn anytime you and Max want a date night. I’ll take all three kids,” Riley said. “It will give Trevor and me some practice.”

Everyone at the table laughed. Trevor Miles, Chief of Police of Lake Placid, and Riley were newly engaged. “Come on now, Riley,” Amber said. “Max was telling us all that Trevor has the magic touch with the kids. You need the practice, not him.”

Riley wrinkled her nose. “I need kids in the house to practice though,” she argued.

Dena watched all the women at the table and fought back the envy. She should have been the first one married with kids by now. Not the last.

Twelve years ago she had it all planned out. She and Matt were going to college and when they were both done, they’d marry and have kids. Live happily ever after.

Sure, she knew Matt wanted no part of moving back to Lake Placid, but she’d been positive she could have convinced him otherwise. Except he dropped her like a hot potato straight out of the microwave and never gave her a chance to even decide if she wanted to move or not to be with him.

If she’d been given the choice, she might have. But she never was and it was water under the bridge of the tears she’d shed.

Now what mattered was the waitress who came over and started to take their orders. “Two bottles of wine,” Dena said. “My treat.”

“Shots,” Amber said. “My treat.”

“Just water for me,” Celeste said, looking down.

The waitress walked away and all eyes turned to Celeste. She’d been married well over a year now and had been trying to get pregnant. Since she’d had childhood cancer and extreme treatments, there was the possibility of her not conceiving. It wasn’t something that was talked about often, but right now might be a different story.

“You’re going to say it now?” Rene asked her sister-in-law.

“I really shouldn’t say anything. It’s too soon,” Celeste said, her eyes filling but a bright smile on her face. “I know you know what is going on, Rene.”

“Are you pregnant?” Amber asked, jumping out of her chair and running to Celeste. “Did Caleb’s swimmers hit home?”

Celeste laughed. “Modern medicine might have had a part in it,” she said. “We haven’t wanted anyone to know, but we tried in vitro fertilization and it did confirm I’m pregnant.”

There was a lot of squealing at the table, Dena running over and hugging Celeste too. She was jealous, but she wasn’t a bitch. If anyone deserved this, it was Celeste. “I’m so happy.”

“Please don’t say anything,” Celeste pleaded. “I’ve got to tell Caleb you all know. I mean Rene knew.”

“You kept this secret,” Amber said to Rene.

“Yeah,” Dena said, staring at Rene too.

“Please. We’re family. She had to tell us,” Rene argued.

“Leave Rene alone,” Quinn said. The quietest of the group, and though she was only a few years older than Dena and closer to Celeste’s age, she was more motherly than them all. “You all would have done the same thing, but now we know and we won’t tell a soul, but we will talk about it in this group only. Right, Celeste?”

“Yes,” she said. “But this is Dena’s night, not mine. So, Dena,” Celeste said, “any exciting plans for your birthday?”

“You’re looking at it,” she said. “I’m out with my girls and that’s the best thing to do on your birthday.”

“It sure is,” Riley said.

The waitress brought over the bottles of wine and the shots. Everyone held their shots up and Dena said, “To me. The last of the single ladies. Maybe this is my lucky year.”

“To Dena,” they all said, downing their drinks.

The minute Dena put her glass down, she turned to see the man that walked in the door, felt her face pale and had to fight the urge to not regurgitate the fireball they all downed.

“What is it?” Rene asked, looking over.

“Nothing,” Dena said, reaching for the wine, knowing she’d need it.

Amber and Celeste both made eye contact with her, but she shook her head. They’d been a few years ahead of her in school and she doubted they’d remember what Matt looked like, but she knew she’d never forget, and looking at him just now walking through the door made her heart stop as much as it did the first time she saw him in high school.

 

***

 

Matt opened the door to the bar, saw his mother and stepfather to his right, and headed in that direction without looking anywhere else. He really wasn’t in the mood to be out tonight, but hadn’t felt like going back to his childhood home for a meal either. He was avoiding the place that caused so much of his misery as a teen.

“Matt,” his mother said, standing up. “You look great. How do you feel?”

“Fine,” he said, trying not to snap. He was sick and tired of everyone asking him that question but knew he needed to get over it, as it wasn’t going to stop anytime soon.

“I’m so glad you could make time for dinner out tonight,” she said.

“It’s better than cooking for myself,” he said back.

“Don’t get sarcastic with your mother,” Bob said to him. He and Bob never got along all that well. They didn’t have a dislike for each other as much as a distaste.

Bob made his mother happy and that was all that mattered. But Bob was the reason they moved here to begin with and Matt would always cast that blame on his stepfather’s shoulders.

“I’m not,” Matt said, having no energy to argue. “I was just speaking the truth.”

“Now isn’t the time, you two,” his mother said, always the peacemaker. He knew his mother was thrilled he was here. “Have you made any decision yet on your future?”

“No. I just need to get my head on straight and then I’ll decide,” he said.

“Lake Placid could always use another lawyer,” she said.

“I don’t know.” He didn’t know what he wanted to do or where he wanted to be. Now he just needed to recover physically and mentally. He just wasn’t sure which one was going to take the longest.

“I’m just glad you’re back here.”

He hadn’t decided if he was glad or not. He didn’t know what he was feeling, but after the past six months there was one thing he knew. He wasn’t going to be able to move on until he made amends to the woman he loved and somehow won her back.

When dinner was done, he got up to use the bathroom and headed back to his table when the women’s room door opened next to him. Hot damn, the woman of his dreams was standing right there.

But she wasn’t smiling and he didn’t expect her to.

No, there was a fire in her eyes, and as much as it shouldn’t turn him on, it sure the hell did. Just like all those years ago when he had his first taste of her. A young filly that was as eager as him.

Her dirty blonde hair hung loose and flowing around her shoulders like it always did. Her light brown eyes were staring him down with emotional clouds building and making him want to jump back from the twister forming that would suck him up and toss him through the sky like a piece of useless metal.

He didn’t. He stood his ground. “Dena.”

“What are you doing here?” she asked, crossing her arms.

“Here in the restaurant? Or here in Lake Placid?”

“Both,” she said.

“Dinner with my mother and Bob. Why I’m here in Lake Placid is yet to be determined.”

He wasn’t about to lay his cards on the table at this moment. He had an uphill battle and he wasn’t sure he could even climb the stairs in his rental house half the time let alone this mountain that was going to be standing in his way.

A chisel couldn’t break her stare while she seemed to be trying to figure out her words. She never did that before—hesitated on her words—but the stare was familiar. He’d expected the frigid January temperatures of the outside to be aimed at him and he wasn’t wrong.

“I’m sure I won’t run into you again before you leave since you never planned on coming back.”

“Things change,” he said softly.

“Maybe in your mind, but not mine.”

He was afraid of that.

She didn’t bother to wait around and moved past him, but he still said, “Happy Birthday, Dena.”

Her shoulders stiffened, but other than that, there was nothing else to acknowledge she heard him.

Mount Olympus, here I come.

 

Another Chance…Prologue #mgtab @Natalieann121

Another Chance

Prologue

“Dad, I’m going out,” Dena yelled as she made her way down the stairs at the front of the house.

She was just ready to open the door when he shouted back, “We have to leave early in the morning. Don’t stay out too late. I don’t want to be dealing with all those other parents dropping their kids off this weekend.”

She giggled. “But you are one of those parents bringing their kid to college,” she said, turning to look at him in the living room. “Are you going to miss me?”

“Of course not. It will be nice to have more bathroom time.”

She rolled her eyes. It had been just her and her father in the house since she was ten. Her mother had enough of the small town living. Or the cold weather. Maybe it was her and her father.

At this stage, Dena didn’t care anymore. Her mother left one day and never returned. Didn’t even leave a letter. They would have wondered what had happened if her mother didn’t call from another state and say she was gone and not coming back.

Since then, she and her father had been on their own and it suited them both just fine.

“I’ll be back by curfew. I promise.”

“See that you are. You’ll see Matt again in a few months. It will do you two good to have a little time apart.”

“Whatever,” she said, closing the door and walking to her car.

She was in love with Matt Winters and had been since they were freshman and he moved here with his mother for his stepfather’s job. They’d dated for over three years and now they were going to college apart from each other.

It was going to be hard, but she was sure they could make it work long distance. It wasn’t that long before Christmas break when they’d see each other again. They were only a few hours apart and could visit for weekends if they’d planned it well. She had it all worked out in her head.

She pulled into the picnic area of the elementary school and got the basket out with the dinner she’d put together. She wanted something romantic for their last night together.

For ten minutes she sat on the wooden bench waiting for him and wondering what was taking him so long. He’d never been late to meet her before. She hoped something hadn’t come up. Or that he still wasn’t mad at her that they weren’t going to the same college together.

For one, she couldn’t afford where he was going, and second, the big city wasn’t for her.

Matt was going to Columbia in New York City. His father lived in Rye, New York, just outside the city with his wife and stepkids. Matt had been going back once a month to visit for years and every time he returned to Lake Placid he moaned and groaned, wishing he could have stayed with his father.

She’d tried to put all those hurt feelings aside when he’d say that, thinking he didn’t want to be with her. That she wasn’t enough for him to come home to.

After another ten minutes, he finally pulled his old Honda Civic next to her beat-up old Chevy Malibu. She stood up and walked toward him with her arms out to hug him. “Everything okay? You’re never late. I don’t want to lose a minute of the time we have left together.”

“Everything is fine. Let’s go sit down. We’ve got to talk.”

“Ah, okay,” she said, not sure what was going on. He didn’t look like everything was fine.

“Listen, Dena,” he said, taking a deep breath. “I think it’s best we take a break while we’re at college.”

“What?” she asked, wondering where this was coming from.

They were in love.

They were voted class couple.

They never fought. They’d never even talked about breaking up or splitting or anything. Ever.

“Don’t make me say it again. This is hard enough. You’re going to God only knows what small town and I’m going to Columbia.”

Not the first time he threw that in her face. Like he was better than her. That she was some stupid redneck because she wanted to go to a smaller college that was more remote. More like home. She’d brushed it off though since most of it was said in jest. She was thinking it wasn’t so much a joke now.

“And because of that you think we should break up?” she asked, her eyes filling, her heart racing and her breath lodged in her chest like she was choking on a whole loaf of bread with no water in sight.

He inhaled deeply. “I have no desire to come back here and you don’t want to leave. I’m not meant for this life and have hated every bit of it.”

“You’re right—I don’t want to leave. My father is here,” she said, swallowing past the lump.

“That’s another thing. I always feel like I’ve got to fight for time with you. I don’t get it.”

“There isn’t anything for you to get. I’ve told you. You know the story. We are all we’ve got in this world. I’d never leave my father.”

“So you’ve decided to choose him over me. That’s why it’s better to end things now. No reason to drag it out. We don’t want the same things in life.”

She was crying now. Her body was shaking and she wanted to just grab him by the shoulders and shake these crazy thoughts and words from his head. This couldn’t be the same person she’d been in love with for years.

“Why are you telling me this now? Why the night before we both leave? Why spend the whole summer with me acting like everything was fine and hit me with it now?”

“It’s the right thing to do,” he said firmly. His lawyer voice again. He was going for pre-law. She’d seen him talk like this before. Detached. Like he was holding everything in and no one could reach him. She’d tried before without much success.

“Right for you. You didn’t ask what I wanted.”

“It doesn’t matter what you want,” he said, his eyes showing no emotion at all. “You can’t have a relationship with someone if the other person is ready to move on.”

“So that’s it. We’re done? Just like that?” It actually felt like her heart was being pried from her chest by a sloth’s nails…slow and painful.

“Yes,” he said. “I’m sorry. I shouldn’t have done it like this. I should have done it sooner.”

“But you didn’t because you’re a coward,” she shouted at him. “You can do it now and know you’ll never see me again. But you couldn’t do it months ago knowing you’d run into me.”

“Believe what you want,” he said. “I never meant to hurt you.”

“But you are. I can see there is no talking to you about this either,” she said, running her hand under her nose. The flood of tears was more than she’d shed when she found out her mother was gone. That hadn’t been a surprise. Not like this.

“No. I hope you have a good life, Dena, but I can’t stay here another day. Good-bye,” he said, turning and walking away from her.

“I’ll never take you back,” she yelled at his retreating form. “I’ll never forgive you for this!”

He never turned around once as she sat on the grass rocking herself while a faucet of tears poured from her eyes.

Another Chance #mgtab @Natalieann121

Another Chance

Dena Hall had her life all planned out. She was already making wedding plans with her high school sweetheart and thinking of the number of kids she wanted. He’d said he wanted the same thing, only he didn’t want it in Lake Placid. But she wasn’t leaving her hometown. Rather than talk it out, he broke it off out of the blue, swift and harsh. She swore never to forgive him or take him back.

Matt Winters had everything charted out exactly as he wanted it in life. He was going to be a high profile attorney in a big city. Lake Placid couldn’t give him what he wanted, so he left his true love behind when she wouldn’t agree to move. Then life changed drastically years later, his world was turned upside down, and he realized that having it all meant nothing if he couldn’t have Dena. But she swore she’d never give him another chance and he was determined to win her over…somehow.

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 #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.”