Family Bonds- Ava & Seth…Prologue

Prologue

“Seth, I’m bleeding again.”

Seth Young looked up at his wife, Ellen, in the kitchen of their small home outside of Boston. “A lot?” he asked, looking at his watch. It was after eight and they’d just put their three-year-old daughter, Adele, to bed.

“More than last week,” she said.

Ellen was seven months pregnant with their son and in the past eight weeks had started to bleed slightly on and off. Her doctor said it can happen, but after the second time, Ellen was in the office in a panic where the doctor discovered she had placenta previa and told Ellen to try to take it easy while they monitored things.

Seth felt her doctor wasn’t doing enough to relieve their concerns. “Why don’t you call your doctor’s office now and tell them,” he said. “It can’t hurt to get it on record.”

“It’s after hours. It’ll go to whoever is on call,” she argued.

“If you don’t do it then we are going to the ER. This isn’t something to take a chance with.”

“I know. But I just got Adele down and it’s not that bad.”

“But worse than last time, you said.” He hated arguing with her, but sometimes she could be so stubborn in not wanting to put others out. He suspected it went way back to being the only child of divorced parents as they remarried and started new lives.

“Yeah. Okay, I’ll call now.” He waited while he listened to her talking to the service. “They said someone will call me back within thirty minutes.”

He wanted to grind his teeth over that. Thirty minutes was too long in his head, but then he’d told himself if it was an emergency they’d just go to the ER anyway.

And twenty-five minutes later, Ellen’s doctor called her back, asked a few questions, then Ellen hung up. “She said if it’s not nonstop then to rest and put my feet up and call the office to come in in the morning. If it starts to flow like a period, to go to the ER right away.”

Which Seth could have figured out on his own. “Then go lie down for the night. I’ll take care of the dishes when the dishwasher stops. Better yet, why don’t you get ready for bed? We can watch TV early together.”

“That sounds good,” she said, her voice a little shaky and he wondered if it was worse than she was letting on.

He pulled her into his arms to hold, then reached down and put his arms under her knees and carried her to their room and put her on the bed. “What do you need? Something to sleep in? Don’t do anything else right now until I get back.”

She laughed. “You take such good care of me.”

“That’s a husband’s job,” he said, going to the kitchen. The dishwasher would be done drying any minute and Ellen liked the dishes put away at the end of each night so that the day could start out fresh.

He wasn’t even halfway through when she started to shout his name and he went running to see blood on the bed.

He picked up his phone and called 911. There was no way he could get her there fast enough and he wanted her to have help immediately.

By the time the ambulance arrived, he had a neighbor at the house to stay with Adele. No reason to wake and worry his daughter.

The minute Ellen was loaded in the ambulance, he jumped in his car and followed them racing to the hospital, and prayed his wife and son would be okay.

He didn’t get that prayer answered when he had to return home the next morning in a haze of disbelief and confusion, wondering how he was going to break the news to his daughter that it was just the two of them now.

Fierce-Devin…Chapter One

Chapter One

Not Falling For It

Devin was in his office checking off production schedules when there was a knock at the door. “Hey, Mason,” he said to his cousin, one of the five owners of Fierce-The Brewery. He looked at the clock and saw it was seven. “You’re in early.”

“Couldn’t sleep,” he said. “I’ve got an idea for a new beer and wanted to talk with Ben about it before he got knee deep in other things.”

Ben was one of the brewmasters that worked the closest to Mason. There were plenty of them with the size of the brewery, but Mason seemed to go to Ben the most.

“Checking in on inventory control?” Mason asked. Devin oversaw production and distribution. Not a desk job completely, but a hands-on one too. He liked splitting his time. He worked four twelve-hours shifts and rotated his nights as he saw fit with Mason’s approval to assure everything was working properly on the night shift when the big guys weren’t around.

One could say he was the big guy at night, though he never felt that way. He might be a first cousin to the Fierce Five, but his last name was Andrews.

“How did it turn out?” Mason asked.

“Good. No issues or shortages. I’ll sit down with you at some point about storage and maybe rearranging things, but for now we are good.”

“Glad to know,” Mason said. “It’s one less headache I’ve got knowing everything is under control. I still can’t thank you enough for wanting to work here.”

“I should be thanking you for offering me the job,” he said.

A year ago Devin was living in Georgia working as a distribution manager for a large manufacturing company. He was the middleman getting shit on by those above and below him and he’d had enough. When Mason called and offered him a position he was creating, he’d jumped on it knowing he needed the out. Things were heating up and he was already in the crossfire. Not a good place to be in his position. Union workers weren’t happy and he wasn’t one of them even though they reported to him.

“It’s working out for both of us, and it takes the pressure off of me. Sometimes I look around here and can’t believe how big it’s gotten and I know it’s going to continue to expand. Which we need to talk about.”

Devin started to laugh. “You’re getting more requests from out of state?”

“I am. I’m ready to move into a few more, but we need to work out drivers and shipments and get vendors, figure the trucks out and the list goes on and on.”

“You get me the vendors, I’ll figure out shipping and the drivers, those schedules, you know that.”

“Good. Hope has been getting a lot of calls and putting things together. Maybe I’ll have you meet with her soon and it will give you an idea.”

“Sounds good,” he said. Hope Hall took care of all the orders for the brewery. She was a one-woman show taking calls, tracking down shipments, and dealing with any customer or vendor complaints. He suspected Mason might have to add some more staff on soon, but since that was her only job from a created position not that long ago, he’d already seen the writing on the wall for more expansion.

He went back to work when Mason walked out, would finish up his paperwork, then go down and talk to the guys on first shift once they were settled.

Coming in at ten at night and working until ten in the morning allowed him to communicate with staff on all three shifts. But since Mason and many others were here during the day, he wasn’t needed as much as someone to watch out at night.

When ten rolled around, he’d already had his office locked up and was heading up to remind Mason he’d be off tonight. His four-night weeks were normally Sunday through Wednesday, but he was closing on the house he was buying tomorrow morning and would need the night off to sleep and deal with his move.

“Heading out?” Mason asked him when he popped his head in. Talk about the prime office location. Mason got to look out over the floor of the brewery on a daily basis.

“I am. Just remember, I won’t be in until Wednesday night, so I’ll see you Thursday morning.”

“Oh yeah. Your house closing. Congrats again on that.”

“Thanks. Apartment living was getting to me, though I’m not sure I’m ready to be a homeowner and handle all the work that comes with it.”

“It’s not so bad and well worth the privacy.”

“Living in a development isn’t as private as I would have liked, but since it’s gated and they take care of the lawn maintenance, that was a major selling point.”

Mason laughed. “I enjoy riding the lawnmower on the weekend. It’s my quiet time.”

“Daddy!”

Devin turned to see Jacob and Jeremy come running into the office, followed by Jessica, Mason’s wife. “Mason doesn’t let me mow the lawn,” Jessica said. “I’ve begged him, but he says it’s his first baby and no one touches the tractor.”

“You just want to leave me with these two monkeys,” Mason said, as his twins were climbing in his lap with one reaching for the mouse on the computer, the other pulling at papers. They were a few months shy of three and quite the handful.

“I should have brought some bananas in with me,” Devin said.

“I don’t like bananas,” Jeremy said, jumping down and running toward him for a high five. Not to be outdone, Jacob did the same.

“Are they going to be here all day with you or are you getting stuff to work from home?” Mason asked his wife.

“Your mom is on her way to get them here. She had something to do this morning. I would have come in earlier, but they are wound for sound and I’m not sure I could handle them. She’d said ten.”

“Run,” Mason said to his cousin.

He was ready to turn and leave, but his Aunt Jolene was one foot in the doorway. “Devin,” she said. “How is my favorite nephew? My sister tells me every day how happy she is you are back in town.”

“I’m doing good, Aunt Jolene. Just telling Mason I’d see him Thursday.”

“Your house closing is tomorrow, right?” Aunt Jolene asked.

“It is. I need to sleep tonight and make sure I’m not half awake and signing the wrong papers.”

She laughed at him and then started to dance around in a circle with her grandsons. His aunt never sat still and was always moving fast. Which was why he needed to get out of here before she started to bring up another topic he hadn’t been able to outrun.

“We wouldn’t want that. Maybe once you’re settled, you wouldn’t mind me introducing you to a friend’s daughter. Kaylee is a sweetheart. I know you two would hit it right off.”

He looked at Mason and caught the smirk. “I’m good, Aunt Jolene. I can find my own woman.”

“All my boys said the same thing,” she said, “but we know how that turned out.”

“I’m thankful for Jolene’s interference every day,” Jessica said. “But I’m more thankful when she takes my wild children off my hands so I can get some work done.”

Mason moved toward Jessica and pulled her into his arms, then gave her a kiss. “Work? I was hoping we could play hooky for an hour or so.”

“See how well I did?” his aunt said.

“Yep, you did,” Devin said. “But I’m a big boy.”

“I told you to run,” Mason said. “You’re not fast enough.”

“No one is as fast as me,” Aunt Jolene said. “Just remember that.”

“I don’t need to be fast,” he said. “I need to be aware. And I am. Sorry, but I’m not falling for it.”

She pursed her lips and shook her head. “Ella said that too.”

“And we all know Uncle Gavin was responsible for her.”

“Oh, you better start moving,” Mason said. “Mom hates to be reminded that she didn’t have a hand in Ella’s. That’s why she set Jade up first because she couldn’t not have her finger on the pulse of a girl setup.”

Jade Fierce was Jolene’s niece on the Fierce side of the family. The daughter of one of Gavin’s brothers.

Devin and his brother Ivan and his cousins Liam and Faith O’Malley were Jolene’s kin. And they were all fully aware their parents were now trying to seek the help of Jolene in getting them to settle down.

Not happening.

When his time came, it was going to be of his own choosing. If he wanted it. Because he still wasn’t sure he was hardwired for love. If he was, then why was he almost thirty-five and had never fallen once?

He’d told his mother plenty of times he could find his own woman. He’d told his Aunt Jolene the same.

What he didn’t understand was why no one believed him or would leave him alone.

He decided it was time to escape while he still had some skin on his back after that burn for his aunt. He started to walk down the stairs and toward the offices in the back when he heard his name called.

“Hi, Hope.”

“Sorry to bother you,” she said. “I know you’re on your way out. Mason mentioned that he’d like the two of us to meet at some point to go over expansion into other states.”

“No bother. He talked to me about it this morning. I’m off tonight and will be back Wednesday night, so maybe we can talk Thursday morning? Send me an email of who and where he’s looking to ship to if you can.”

“I will. Thanks. See you in a few days. And congrats on your house closing.”

“Thanks,” he said, not aware she knew. As much as he liked to stop in and talk to her, she always kept it short and sweet no matter how much he lingered.

She turned and he watched her walk away. Her petite frame that barely came up to his shoulders with her brown hair resting against the middle of her back. He figured her to be about five foot two. He was six foot even and fine with it. He wasn’t as tall as his four male Fierce cousins, but being a few inches shorter wasn’t a big deal. Nor was he as big as Brody or Mason. He was built more like Cade, even though he didn’t sit behind a desk full time like Cade did. And he wasn’t as pretty or high fashion as Cade and that was fine with him too.

He was a regular old blue collar worker that put a lot of time in to get where he was.

He’d never be able to compete with his cousins and didn’t want to. Not like so many thought.

He wouldn’t begrudge them all their wealth and success. He wasn’t a jealous person.

He was happy with what he had in life and reminded himself daily.

If he was wishing he wasn’t going home alone at times, he wasn’t admitting it to anyone, least of all his Aunt Jolene.

He said he could get his own woman and he planned on it when he was ready.

Too bad the woman he wanted to get to know better just walked away from him and didn’t seem to be interested in anything other than a work meeting.

Challenging Colt- Enemies to Lovers…Prologue

Prologue

“Have you talked to Stan Brewster yet?”

Colt Baxter looked up at Janet Steele standing in his doorway. She was a partner in the firm he’d been employed with since he’d passed the bar. He had high hopes of moving up and becoming a partner here and in the past few years they’d been squashed more than a kid’s fist hitting their first birthday cake.

Dangling the carrot in front of his face? Yep, been going on for longer than he cared to admit. If he could work up the nerve, he’d leave this all behind him, but starting over was daunting too.

“No. It’s on my list of things to do this week.”

“You need to do it today. Put some pressure on them.”

He put the pen down that was in his hand and stared at Janet. She was probably in her fifties and attractive. Hard not to be with the amount of work she’d had done over the years.

She’d gotten to the top by being ruthless, heartless, and finding a lot of bedmates.

She’d wanted Colt to be in that bed of hers at one point and it’d been a tricky situation to get out of, with her casually hinting his partnership was on the horizon.

That was almost two years ago and he’d managed to slip away without ruffling too many feathers.

Or so he thought until he started to get handed what he felt were some cases challenging his morals. It was one thing he’d never wanted to do in his career and lately it seemed like it was all he did.

“This is getting out of hand,” he said. “Did it ever occur to you that there was a reason Stan was representing himself?”

“Partnerships are offered to those that bring in the money. This was an easy cash cow in your name,” she said, smirking at him.

So she thought she was doing him a favor? Hardly. More like she knew he hated frivolous lawsuits and this was one that was killing him inside. Was it a punishment for not warming her sheets? He had no clue and didn’t want to even think of it now.

“It’s not easy when it’s the guy’s livelihood. He’s representing himself because he can’t afford a lawyer.”

“Colt,” she said in that condescending voice of hers, then moved into his office and took a seat across from him. “There is no reason to go to court for this. That is what his insurance is for. Easy peasy and move onto the next.”

“He doesn’t want his rates to go up or to go bankrupt trying to pay this out,” Colt said. “He’s barely holding it together with the bad press now.”

“And he wouldn’t have had the bad press if he’d just settled months ago when this happened. You knew our client was going to leak this if Stan held out too long.”

He narrowed his eyes. “At your suggestion.”

“If it gets the case closed then it does. You should have been the one to do that. He’s our client and yet you sound like you are working for the Brewsters.”

“I know who I’m working for,” he said. “Now, let me get it done.”

Janet got up and walked out of his office with a shit-eating grin on her face, knowing she got her way. Like she always did.

But unless he wanted to walk out on his job, he had to do it. When had he become such a coward afraid to take that risk? Had he gotten so comfortable here? Or was it the thought of losing everything he’d worked for, all the progress he’d made toward that partnership where he’d be able to choose his own cases?

He picked the phone up and placed the call to the man he dreaded talking to because the truth was, he wished he were working for the Brewsters and could nail his own firm’s ass to the wall for this bullshit. He wondered how much longer he could go on like this when he hated everything this place seemed to stand for.

Believe In Me…Prologue

Prologue

“This is going to be a record year for you, Caden,” Mike Chambers, one of the partners at their firm, said slapping him on the back as he took a seat at the table.

“It seems that way,” Caden said. He’d blown by last year’s earnings last quarter. With most of the month of December to go, he was closing in on the top earner.

“You’ve got the magic touch it seems. Knowing what to buy and when. What’s you’re secret?” Kyle Roberts asked, another partner at the firm. The two men he looked up to the most. The two that took him under their wing when he started.

He knew he was asked here to this dinner with the big guys because he was pulling in major revenue at just thirty-five years old. “Lack of sleep,” he said, grinning.

Mike and Kyle laughed and Caden decided to not tell them it was the truth.

He was working himself into the ground just like he’d done most of his life from the day his mother brought him to a modeling agency. He hadn’t really thought much of it back then even though he knew he was good looking. It wasn’t as if he’d never looked in the mirror.

It hadn’t taken long for him to get signed, and the need to make more money and keep going to be the best filled his blood with adrenaline.

But he’d also been in the running for valedictorian and couldn’t let that slide. Protein, energy drinks, and exercise kept his body in good shape for the modeling, and his brain awake and alert for school.

Bad habits started young and they just carried over into adulthood, only worse. He hadn’t slowed down once.

“Keep up the good work, but don’t burn yourself out,” Mike said. “I’ve seen it happen to one too many.”

Too late, he wanted to say. The waiter came over and poured them all a glass of wine. He hadn’t eaten much more than a protein bar around noon and several cups of coffee that he’d exchanged for those energy drinks years ago. He reached for the glass and took a sip hoping it’d ease the burning he was feeling in his stomach from hunger.

When the wine didn’t work, he went for the water and hoped some bread was brought out soon. The lightheadedness was getting to him too.

“That’s why I do research when I’m working out,” he said. “Live and breathe it.” The TV was always playing tech news and trends when he was home. He never shut it off and never really tried either.

He was still grinning and his two bosses were shaking their heads at him, but continued to smile too. They probably didn’t care too much about his habits if he brought in the clients and kept them all flush.

“As long as you’re still breathing,” Mike said. “I’m starving. I’ve had a big steak on my mind all day.”

Caden picked the menu up. Steak sounded good. Protein always helped him. But when he was looking over the menu, his eyes started to glaze over and his heart was pounding so hard it was almost as if he could hear every beat. Not good at all.

He picked up his ice water and took another sip and realized his hand was shaking.

“Are you all right?” Kyle asked him. “Your face is flush.”

“Just a little warm,” he said. “I haven’t eaten much today.”

Mike lifted his arm and pointed to the breadbasket the waitress was bringing to another table. “Can we get one here too?”

“Sure can,” the waitress said, moving over to grab one and bring it back. She knew she’d get tipped well in a place like this with big spenders. Not only that, Mike and Kyle were regulars.

“Here,” Kyle said. “Get some food in you, then we can talk shop.”

He picked up a piece of bread and took a bite, chewed and swallowed. It tasted good. Almost too good for just bread, telling him he had to stop doing this to himself. There was no reason he couldn’t take fifteen minutes a few times a day to eat a damn meal.

When the bread was gone, he drank some more water. “So, what did you two want to talk to me about?” he asked, hoping for a big promotion.

That’s what all this work was for. He kept telling himself that once he got that corner office he could slow down.

Of course he’d been doing that his whole life. Saying once he’d met his goal he’d cut back. But another goal would pop up and another.

Infinite achiever was a good description of him.

“Let’s get dinner out of the way first,” Kyle said. “We’ve got plenty of time.”

“Sure,” Caden said, resisting the urge to look at his watch. He could be researching stocks right now and reading up on trends. Then he reminded himself this was still work and all part of it.

He picked his water up again, deciding to forgo the wine when his stomach started to burn. Guess the bread didn’t help much and he wished he had his bottle of antacids with him that he went through like candy at his desk like little kids did on Halloween night—only for him it was daily.

By the time the waitress came over, he was ready to order his dinner, but when he opened his mouth, nothing came out and all he saw was blackness.

Believe In Me

Caden Finley has been the success story that dreams were made of. A model in his teens, valedictorian of his class, graduated the top five from Carnegie Mellon and landed a job right on Wall Street where he continued to make a name for himself. Too bad all that work landed him in the hospital. Embarrassment over his health leads him to relocate to upstate New York and a slower lifestyle. He’s out of his element and frustrated with it, but determined to keep his past mistakes where they belong…hidden.

Sarah Walker has always been second behind her professional baseball player brother Harris. She was totally fine with it too. Until she realized that was the only reason half the men she dated wanted to be with her. Fed up with never being first in someone’s life, she’s decided it was time for a change. Time to put herself first and foremost and if she ended up single, then so be it. If she was happy, that is all that mattered…or so she tried to convince herself and her insecurities.

One More Chance…Prologue

Prologue

Taryn Miles was rubbing her hands together. She wasn’t sure if it was anticipation, excitement, or fear. Probably a combination of them all.

Here she was ready to tell her family she was moving to Florida a few short months after graduating from college.

She hadn’t been able to find a job and it was driving her insane. It shouldn’t be this hard, but it’s not like many jobs were flowing around her unless it was in tourism and she was going for accounting. Boring, just like everyone said she was.

But she’d gone to Tampa with a few friends for two weeks and got back to town three days ago. She’d had so much fun there, more than she’d ever had here. She’d looked at her life and realized it was pretty quiet and dull and maybe it was time for a change. An adventure of sorts.

She was young yet. Now or never, she’d been telling herself.

She squared her shoulders and marched out of her bedroom that she’d shared with her sister, Kennedy, growing up. Kennedy was living with friends in an apartment in town and working as a massage therapist. Kennedy had always known what she wanted and had no problem lining up a job when she was ready. She’d own her own place someday because Kennedy said she would and she always followed through.

Her brother, Trevor, was home for another week and then would be going back to God only knows where in the Army where he was a Ranger. At twenty-two years old, Taryn really didn’t want to live home with her father, the chief of police, and her mother who was a nurse.

Being the baby of the group, she always had them hovering over her more than the others. It was time to move onto something better. Something more exciting.

Anything other than Lake Placid where everyone knew and questioned her.

She saw her family was relaxing out back on the deck, and decided to join them. A Sunday dinner like she’d had so much growing up.

“Are you ready to tell us what is going on?” her mother asked. She should have known there was no hiding this, so she just decided to jump right in.

“I got a job.”

“You did?” her father said. “That’s great. I know you’ve been dying to get out there to work, but you’re going to be working your whole life.”

“I know. I just hate sitting around doing nothing. It’s driving me crazy.”

“Why sit around when there is a ton to do here,” Kennedy said. “But you don’t care to be outdoors that much and never did.”

“It’s not that,” she said. “I’m just not so much into nature and hikes or hunting. You like that stuff. I don’t mind swimming and being on the lake, but there is only so much I can do of that too.” She’d always found it calming to sit on the dock and stare at the lake.

“If you want to meet a guy you’ve got to get out of the house,” Kennedy said, winking.

That was another problem here. Slim pickings for men. Not that she dated much, but she wanted to. Most guys in this area had issues dating the chief of police’s daughter.

“Leave your sister alone,” Trevor said. “If she wants to date that’s fine, but he has to pass my test.”

She narrowed her eyes at Trevor. “No, thank you. It’s bad enough being the daughter of the chief of police. I don’t tell many my brother is in the Army.” And very few he was an elite Ranger. And almost no one but family knew he was a sniper.

“So where did you get a job?” her mother asked.

Here goes nothing. “Tampa.”

“There’s a company called Tampa around here?” her father asked, with an odd look. He’d never think she’d leave, she knew that.

“No. In Tampa,” she said. There was dead silence. “One night I was just looking online when we were in the hotel and I decided to apply for kicks and giggles. I never expected to get called in for an interview the next day. Then a second one after that. They called me on my last day and offered me the job.”

“You’re moving to Florida?” Kennedy asked her with a big grin on her face.

“Yes. What’s so funny?”

“Nothing. Good for you. It’s no secret you don’t like being here. I guess I just didn’t think you’d do this. It’s kind of sudden.”

Her mother had tears in her eyes. “It is sudden. Are you sure you’ve decided?”

“You’re not going to try to talk me out of it?” she asked, shocked.

“You’ve always been pretty independent and determined once you set your mind on something,” her mom said. “I’m not sure there is much I can say if this is what you want. Nor do I want you to have regrets if you don’t go, even if you’re my baby and it’d kill me to watch you drive away.”

She didn’t think they’d take this so well. But she looked at her father and saw he was struggling. She was a bit of a Daddy’s girl. “When do you start?”

“In three weeks.”

“Where are you going to live?” her mother asked. “Or did you find a place already?”

“I want to know that it’s safe,” her father said. “I want to know the name of the place to check out myself.”

She expected as much and wouldn’t fight them on it. “I don’t have my own place yet. Jami’s cousin that we were visiting offered to let me stay with her until I got settled and found a place. She’s in a two-bedroom apartment and said she could use the money.”

Her parents were looking at each other. “How much do you know about this person? What’s her name again?”

“Ellen, and you’ve known Jami my whole life. You know her parents. You like Jami and her parents. Ellen is nice. She’s a year older and been on her own about six months. She’s making ends meet but would like some breathing room. It’d be cheaper for me to just split the rent with her too now.”

“Tell us about this job,” Kennedy said.

She was happy Kennedy was changing the subject for the moment. “It’s a staff accountant at a law office. The pay is really good. It might be more than I would have made here and the cost of living isn’t as high there either.”

Her mother started to cry and came forward to hug her. “I know there is no talking you out of something when your mind is set on it, but we’ll support you and help you get set up. If you want, your father and I can help move you.”

She nodded her head. “Thank you. I’d appreciate that. I don’t have much and just figured I’d take a few days to drive my car down there.”

“Your car isn’t in that great of shape,” her father said. “We’ll help you get set up like your mother said, but let me look the car over first.”

“Thanks, guys,” she said, going to her father and hugging him too. “This means the world to me.”

“Just remember,” her mother said. “You can always come home with no questions asked.”

She nodded again and wiped at her tears. She knew that but had no plans on returning. She was getting out of here and couldn’t wait.

One More Chance

Taryn Miles decided to give Lake Placid one more chance after leaving home after college. Greener pastures were in her future. Or so she thought. What should have been a better life turned out to not be much different than what she had.

Justin Cambridge and his father’s relationship changed the moment he said he had no interest in taking over the family golf resort in little old Lake Placid. What he wanted was an exciting career in emergency medicine in a big city. But when his father falls ill, he decides to bury the hatchet and return home to help care for him and maybe mend the relationship before it’s too late. Staying there long term wasn’t an option…only he should know by now that saying of the best laid plans…

Family Bonds- Emily & Crew…Chapter One

Check out the Prologue first.

Chapter One

A Wakeup Call

“Crew, sweetie, I’m so glad you could make it.”

Crew smiled at his grandmother when he walked into the retirement home’s large common room where she was playing cards with her friends. “I wouldn’t miss it. You know that. This is easier for me than Christmas. Maybe I should fly you to me for Christmas.”

“Heavens, no,” she said. “Did you hear that, Ethel? My grandson wants to fly me to some remote island in the East.”

“Go,” Ethel said. “Take a bikini with you. You can borrow mine.”

His eyes went wide and then he heard his grandmother laugh. “I don’t need to borrow yours when I’ve got plenty of my own. How’s the ocean this time of year? It’d be just like taking the Polar Plunge.”

Thoughts of his grandmother in a bikini running into the freezing ocean were causing his heart to hurt in more ways than one. “How about we save the ocean until it’s warmer? Maybe you could visit in the summer?”

“We’ll talk about it another day,” his grandmother said. Which probably meant no. He’d been trying to get her to move with him for the six months that he’d lived on Amore Island.

Nope, she was content to stay in the retirement facility that he paid for back in Boulder, Colorado. She understood his need to leave and he just wished she would have come with him.

He only came back to visit one or two times a year and never the same time. He didn’t want his remaining family to know when he might be in town and he knew his grandmother would keep that secret.

“Are you ready to get some dinner?”

“I am. No one came to visit with you today?” he asked.

Lucy Hanson was his maternal grandmother. The only one he wanted to be around after his parents died tragically. He’d been in college burning through their money and partying the same way they were. It was a wakeup call to find out the small plane his father had just purchased and was flying crashed during a storm one night and there were no survivors. Pilot error had been the final call.

“Your Uncle Richard only comes around if he thinks you will be here. The same with his greedy kids.”

“You mean your other grandkids,” he said, smirking. Dina and Derek Hanson weren’t that close to him growing up even though they were around the same age.

Crew’s parents were just blue collar workers living paycheck to paycheck their whole lives until they struck it big on the lotto.

His mother’s brother decided that maybe his younger sister was worth something now. Like a handout when he’d never helped his parents when they needed it. After it was all left to Crew, his uncle and cousins thought they could squeeze some green out of him. Not happening.

“It doesn’t matter what their names are, they rarely come around. They are too busy with their lives.”

“Good for them,” he said sarcastically. He’d never abandon the one person to take him in and love him unconditionally. His grandmother loved everyone the same. Or she used to. She had little tolerance for her son and other grandkids now. “Let’s go back to your rooms and get your jacket.”

He offered his hand and helped her up even though she didn’t need it. She might be seventy-five, but she’d give most fifty-year-olds a run for their money in many things in life.

Once they were in her two-room suite on the first floor of the complex, he looked around the open area. There was a decent-sized living room with a four-person table near the galley kitchen. Her bedroom and bathroom were off to the side. She loved it here and he knew if he couldn’t get her to go with him, she was at least being looked after.

She came out of her bedroom with her jacket on over her black pants and UGG boots and he couldn’t hold back the laughter. “What?” she said. “You bought them for me.”

“I did,” he said back. He’d been stunned when she said she wanted a pair but figured they would be nice and warm on the grounds, not that she’d go out in public in them. Even her black pants were stretchy with a longer sweater. She looked pretty modern to him too.

“Then don’t laugh at me,” she said.

“I wouldn’t think of it,” he said back. “Even if I did.”

She slid her arm through his and they went to his rental, then drove to the restaurant for a Thanksgiving dinner.

“How long are you staying?” she asked after they’d placed their order.

“I’m flying out tomorrow,” he said. “I need to work this weekend.”

“You couldn’t take one extra day off?” she asked. “You flew in last night late and then tomorrow you’ll be gone again. It’s like you’re barely here.”

Which was the way he wanted it. The less chance of running into not only his mother’s family, but his father’s as well. Leeches were everywhere.

“Packages need to be delivered. I was lucky to get tomorrow off to travel and I managed to get out early yesterday.” Which hadn’t been easy either. It’s not like he could just drive to the airport. He had to get on the ferry, then go to Boston International. He got the earliest flight he could tomorrow so he wouldn’t have to worry about missing the ferry back to the island as it was.

“You’re a busy man, I know. If I haven’t said it enough, I’ll say it now. I’m proud of you for settling down.”

He wasn’t so sure he was settled. At thirty-two years old, he’d been traveling around for five years. After the death of his parents, he’d dropped out of college. It wasn’t like the degree in business he was getting was going to do much for him. He was barely passing as it was.

But he had to do something with his time and, for the hell of it, he applied to the post office. Good benefits and a nice federal job, what the heck. He only applied for part time and stayed that way for years allowing him the time to hang out with friends and party all he wanted. Even travel when he wanted most times.

Five years ago he’d had enough though and put in for a transfer to Phoenix for a full-time position, then later to Houston which he’d left to come here about six months ago. The cold was getting to him and it was time for warmer weather. Until he realized the heat wasn’t much better when he was walking around in it all day.

That started his journey to different places until he landed on Amore Island and felt like he might have found his home.

“I’ve got a good job and a nice house. If that’s considered settled, then yay for me.”

“I’d love to see you with someone special,” his grandmother said. “Have you been dating anyone?”

“I haven’t really dated anyone in years and you know it. You know why too.”

“One person, Crew. She was a piece of shit.”

He started to cough on the drink he’d just taken. “Good point.”

Lisa knew about his money and she liked to have fun. He was fine with that. Then his parents died and she was there for him. Until she told the biggest lie imaginable and cost him a shitload of stress and another major wakeup call. That had been the final straw for him to begin making plans to get out of Dodge.

“It was years ago, Crew. How many?”

“Almost ten,” he said. “And yes I’ve dated in that time. Of course I have. I just haven’t found anyone as wonderful as you.”

She laughed and he was glad of it. “And you never will. But you shouldn’t be comparing. Do you at least have your eye on anyone?”

“Yes,” he said before he could stop the word from tumbling out like snow during an avalanche. What the hell was wrong with him?

“Tell me about her,” his grandmother said.

“Not much to say. I paid three thousand dollars to have a date with her. I’m still waiting to set it up.”

“Crew! I hope you’re lying to me. Good Lord, that is one high-priced call girl.”

This time he couldn’t stop the laughter and decided not to correct her.

***

“Have you called the guy you owe a date to?”

Emily looked at her mother as she set the table for Thanksgiving. It was just her parents and her sister, Penelope, for Thanksgiving. She was fine with that as she was exhausted from traveling this past week.

“No, Mom. You know I’ve been out of town and we’ve had one issue after another at the hotel.”

“Which your sister and I have dealt with,” her father said.

Her parents and Mitchell Bond together owned thirty percent of Atlantic Rise Hotel. They’d fronted the cash for her and Penelope to get their start and then the two of them split the remaining seventy percentage and maintained majority shares. Not that her father or Mitchell did much more than offer suggestions or help when they needed it.

Her mother, Sophia, had introduced Mitchell to his wife, Janet; then Mitchell had returned the favor introducing Sophia to Mason Rauch. Mason, her father, was semi-retired now, just working remotely as Mitchell Bond’s Vice President of Marketing. Mason’s family was in the tourism business most of his life so he came by it naturally. Marrying her mother just added to his portfolio that would be handed down. Lots of rental properties and other investments more than anything, but the girls had no shortage of things they could do when they were older.

They went the hard route though and wanted to start from scratch.

No, neither she nor her parents were as wealthy as Mitchell or Scott Bond, or some of the other Bonds in the family, but they held their own.

“But it’s Emily’s baby,” Penelope said. “You know she can’t disconnect for one minute.”

“You’re no better,” Emily said back to her sister. “You’re just as much of a control freak as me.”

“I wouldn’t go that far,” Penelope said. “You bring freak to a whole new level. I just like to be organized. You want things your way or it’s the highway. I’m the nice one the employees like to talk to. You, you’re the one that they run from.”

“Your sister has you there,” her mother said.

“I can’t help it if I’m serious and determined. Penelope is just as much and you know it.”

“But I’ve got a softer approach than you.”

“Which is why we make a great team,” she told her younger sister.

“We do,” Penelope said coming over and putting her arm around her shoulder. “See. Soft approach.”

She rolled her eyes at her sister. “To answer your question, Mom. No. I haven’t reached out to Crew, but I plan on it next week.”

“What do we know about this guy?” her father said. “You said he’s your mailman? That’s a lot of money to pay to have a date with someone when he could just ask you. Do you even talk?”

“We talk all the time,” she admitted. “I mean when I’m home and he delivers a package. He normally rings the bell so I know it’s there. I’ve asked him to so it doesn’t sit on the porch.”

“So he drops a package off and leaves after he rings the bell?” Penelope said. “Maybe he has a crush on you to do that.”

“I doubt it,” she said. “Men like him want nothing to do with someone like me.”

“Uptight and a control freak?” Penelope said.

Emily didn’t think she was that uptight but understood many thought otherwise. Including her ex, Simon. He didn’t think she was so uptight when he was riding on her coattails. Maybe she shouldn’t have voiced that to him during one of their fights.

Oh well, in the past.

“Whatever. He’s nice. He’s always smiling and has a joke to say or something funny. I’ve given him cookies and drinks. Sometimes it’s really hot out and since he does go out of his way to ring the bell, it’s the least I could do. You know others just toss things and run off the porch.”

“You’re feeding the mailman,” her mother said. “That’s so sweet.”

She wanted to grind her teeth. This was why she didn’t tell her family things. But over the summer it could get hot out and there had been a few days Crew was carrying up some of her packages. They were big and heavy and he was sweating, his biceps and forearms were flexing, even his thighs and calves when he squatted down.

She’d actually been almost embarrassed to be staring and more so when he’d caught her. She immediately offered him a bottle of water that day and then a few more times when she saw him.

Most times he dropped her mail in the box by the end of the driveway, but if she was home and had a package, she’d almost always go to the door to get it and offer him something and talk for a minute. It’s not like she had packages sent daily, and she did track them to know the day they’d be delivered and worked her schedule around to be there for them.

Sometimes she wondered if she was just lonely that she was looking forward to seeing him.

But the last thing she expected was that he’d buy a date with her.

“That’s me. Sweet. Maybe he just wanted to pay me back for being nice to him. See, Penelope? Soft approach here too.”

“By upping the bid a thousand?” his father said. “No. There has to be more to it. I’m waiting for Helena to get more information on him to do a check.”

“Dad, he works for the federal government. Don’t you think they’d do a background?”

“No clue and don’t care. Mitchell will run the check once Helena gets the information. We just want to make sure there is no criminal background,” her father said.

“Which I’m sure Mac can do for you easily enough too,” she said of the chief of police. Mac Bond was family, he knew about the auction and though he said there was no way in hell he was getting on stage when he was asked, he still understood why the event was done. Though this was the first year Helena got the hair-brained idea to auction people off.

“Maybe I’ll have Mac deal with it then,” Mason said. “Especially if you are calling him next week to set up this date. Remember, stay in a public place.”

“Dad,” she said. “I’m thirty years old. I’m a big girl and know the dating rules. It’s a few hours and we’ll stay on the island. The date is his choice, he bought it.”

“I wonder what he has planned,” her mother said.

“Maybe he wants to take the time to tell Emily to cut back her shopping so he isn’t breaking his back,” Penelope said.

“You buy just as much as I do,” she complained.

“I do. But I don’t have a hot mailman delivering mine. Maybe I need to move to your neighborhood. Hmm, maybe that is why you are buying more and more lately. What do you think of that, Mom?”

She wasn’t going to agree with her sister that Crew was hot. It was bad enough they already knew she was giving him food and drink while he worked. And right now everyone was eying her funny too.

She was done talking about this. “So did you find out what it would cost to add more selections to the room service menu?”

“Emily has spoken,” Penelope said. “Back to work mode. It was fun while it lasted.”

Her mother sighed and looked at her watch. “One hour until the turkey is on the table. That means no more shop talk after. Understood, everyone?”

“Understood,” everyone said back.

If anyone wanted to know where she got her personality from, it was her mother. She speaks and everyone listens.

Family Bonds- Emily & Crew-Prologue

Prologue

“Next up is Emily Rauch, co-owner of the Atlantic Rise Hotel,” Helena Bond said. “As many of you know, she is from Patricia’s side of the family. Come on up here, sweetie.”

Emily squared her shoulders. The last thing she wanted to do was be put up for auction for the Bond family fundraiser, but it was for a good cause bringing in a lot of money that went to various much-needed and underfunded causes on the island. This year it was for the health clinic that many of her cousins worked at too.

“Here goes nothing,” she said to her younger sister, Penelope. Irish twins they were. Her mother having them just under one year apart. For one week a year, they were both the same age. This past summer, late August, they were both in their twenties. Then she turned the big three oh.

“You’ll be fine. I’m just glad she asked you and not me,” Penelope said.

“She didn’t ask you because she heard you were out on a date a few weeks ago and thought you were taken. I should have said it was a blind date and didn’t work out so you’d be stuck too.”

Penelope laughed and pushed her toward the stage where Helena was waiting with a big grin on her face.

Not her aunt, but close enough to one. Her mother, Sophia, was actually best friends with Janet Bond, Helena’s sister-in-law. Janet and Helena ran this fundraiser, but Helena was more the voice of it. Or at least the voice of the auction since it was her idea.

“I’m coming,” Emily said to Helena, who held her hand out, then grabbed Emily’s and patted it.

She did have a fear that she wouldn’t get that many bids. Or none at all. Her cousin Bode’s went well and she was afraid that might be a hard one to follow. Hailey Bond was after her and she knew damn well that would be high. Anyone with the last name Bond did well in life.

But she liked that she could hide behind being part of the family without really announcing it to the world.

“The bidding can begin,” Helena said to the auctioneer. Thankfully, it wasn’t one of the fast-talking kind and it was more in fun.

After she got an opening bid at a thousand, she felt a little bit better. When it started to go up in hundred-dollar increments by men she didn’t know, she was worrying a little, but everyone would be vetted before the date occurred through security measures.

The bidding was still going and she was standing there stiff in her fitted black dress and Valentino Garavani studded nude pumps. They made her feel powerful and feminine at the same time. She’d learned to master that in her life if she wanted to get ahead.

She had no problem getting noticed for her looks, but she was damn well going to make sure that wasn’t all someone saw.

Tough. Businesslike. Get out of my way if I’m in the zone.

Yep, that was what people thought of when they saw her.

Not sexy and laid back.

Not standing on stage with a big smile on her face waiting for some guy to pay a few thousand dollars to spend a couple of hours with her.

For the life of her she had no idea why anyone would want to.

But it was for charity, and on the island, the Bonds put that first.

When the bidding stopped, the auctioneer said, “Going once, going twice—”

“Three thousand,” she heard in the back. Damn, that just jumped up a thousand. There were some chuckles in the crowd and she was trying to see who belonged to the paddle that was just raised but couldn’t make out his face.

“Someone is interested in winning a date with Emily,” the auctioneer said. “Going once. Going twice. Three thousand it is to number sixty-one in the back.”

She nodded her head and walked off the stage, then caught sight of who it was and started to laugh. “Wow. Guess that might be the only way to get a date with me.”

Crew Ackley, her mailman, grinned and winked at her and she wondered how the heck he was able to drop three thousand dollars on this and why he would.

And at the end of the night, she made her way over to him. “That was nice of you. It will go for a good cause.”

“I’m sure it will,” he said.

“I’m not sure how this is going to work. You obviously know where to find me to set this up, but why don’t I get your number? I’ve got to go out of town next week and then with Thanksgiving, it might be a few weeks if that works for you?”

Crew pulled his phone out and she tried hard not to stare at his large hands. Everything about him was big and intimidating and she almost had to do a double take to realize it was him in the dark suit and black tie rather than the government-issued blue-and-white one with a bag over his shoulder as he hopped in and out of the truck driving around her neighborhood.

His dark eyes were laughing at her and she was trying her hardest not to flush like she always wanted to when he smiled at her. She’d never been attracted to big men before or ones that were rougher looking, but Crew got her salivating more than juice from an orange being squeezed in a press.

“That works for me,” he said, reading off his number. “Do I get yours so I don’t think it’s some cold call and send you to voicemail?”

“I guess you do,” she said. She sent him a quick text, heard his phone go off. “There you go. We’ll be in touch with each other.”

“We will,” Crew said, walking away. She tried her damnedest not to follow his movements, but when she heard Penelope laughing she knew she was caught.

Family Bonds- Emily & Crew

Emily Rauch was proving to be a powerhouse in the hotel business at a very young age. She and her sister had a vision and she was making it come true come hell or high water. She had to be tough in a man’s world and had no problem with it. Even in her family’s world…the Bonds. But she was determined to come out on top. If it meant staying single because men were intimidated by her, then so be it.

Crew Ackley was just a middle class kid until his parents hit the lotto and left it all to him when they died tragically. Then he learned that everyone wanted to be with him for a handout only. Fed up with not being able to figure out who was real and who wasn’t, he left the area and was starting over on a small island off the coast of Massachusetts. He thought that’d make him happy until he found a woman he wanted to get to know better who didn’t see him as anyone other than the man delivering her mail. But if he told her his worth, would she only see that?