Fierce-Liam…Chapter One

If you missed the PROLOGUE catch up here.

Chapter One 

Talent To Work 

Two years later

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Everyone should get what they want.”

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

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

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

“And you just did.”

“Valentine’s Day is coming up soon.”

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

“I didn’t say I had anyone for you.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

Dodged that bullet.

***

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

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

Nic grinned. “He does that on purpose.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Everyone gets along with Liam,” she argued.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“I worked too,” she said. 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Fierce Liam…Prologue

Prologue

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

He could adjust and did. 

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

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

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

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

“Do what?”

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

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

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

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

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

“Thanks. I’ll try to remember that.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“How long have you been here now?”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Shit…what the hell did he just do?

Fierce Liam

In the kitchen is where Liam O’Malley always knew he’d be. He was good at what he did and was out to prove it to everyone, all the while never letting on he was related to the Fierces. He didn’t want to be judged or compared, rather doing it on his own.

Margo West thought she had a good life. But in the past six months, everything changed. Her boyfriend was leading a double life with another woman, then when she broke it off he became a nuisance and got her fired. She starts a new job at Fierce and thinks things are turning around. Until she finds out her parents had been lying to her her whole life. As if things couldn’t get any more stressful, Jolene Fierce somehow targets her for the next setup in the family. The joke is on Jolene though because Liam was the first and last one-night stand she’d ever had who ghosted from her life years prior. No way they are made for each other. Or are they?

Because Of You

Zoe Milton has always been the life of the party, never taking much seriously. Things would figure themselves out, she’d always told herself. Until she finds herself in her late twenties wondering if it was time to make a plan. To figure it out on her own before it’s taken out of her hands.

Dylan Randal grew up watching his parents’ dysfunctional marriage, always dreaming of what it’d be like to not live in that world. To have someone of his own. Someone he could love and trust and know would be there for him. Too bad he keeps striking out. He is determined and refuses to give up…his one true love will find him, he knows…or hopes. Then he prays he doesn’t blow it.

Family Bonds- Hailey & Rex…Chapter One

If you haven’t read the prologue, check it out now.

Chapter One

Born With The Blood

Two years later

Hailey was almost running into the boardroom at the casino in early September. It was the Island Bond Trust board meeting and as the attorney representing the island trust, she had to be there. 

All she could be thankful for was it was at the casino closer to the Romeo port and not being held at The Retreat on the other end of the island. The meeting places rotated between The Retreat, the casino her cousin Eli owned, and Bond Realty that Scott Bond owned, but Scott’s sons Drew and Bode mainly ran the day-to-day operations.

“Sorry. I’m not late,” she said quickly. She had two minutes to spare and she knew it.

She looked around the room at all the men. Her grandfather, Steven, and her father representing Edward’s side. Scott and Mitchell Bond for James’s side. Bill Bond, the retired chief of police, hated to be here but knew he had to represent his side of the family, William’s. Plus his line worked a lot of the service jobs on the island. Police and fire. Dr. Michael Mills for Catherine’s, Sophia Rauch for Patricia’s side. One woman. She was hoping to change that with her generation.

There were more on the board, but not everyone could make it. And they were men too. Her aunts didn’t want to be here and the only ones on the board that could were Bonds, not ones that married into the family. Born with the blood only.

“You’re not late,” her father said. “We are waiting for one more. You know the big topic of discussion is the investment firm we are going to move to for the island trust.”

“Okay,” she said, putting her head down to check her email on her phone. She didn’t do much at these meetings other than listen and give legal advice. She knew her place and her time wasn’t now.

When the door opened, her jaw dropped to the phone in her hand. What the hell?

 “Everyone, this is Rex Knight. He is president and CEO of the new firm we will be using going forward,” her grandfather said.

This had to be some kind of a joke. 

The guy that bid on her almost a year ago at the annual charity event to raise money for the fund they were meeting on wasn’t sitting in the room with her.

His eyes met hers and he smirked. Yep, it was happening and Rex knew damn well she’d be here and he probably figured, based on her open mouth when he walked in, that she was caught by surprise.

The introductions went around the room, she nodded her head. “We know each other as many of you are aware,” she said, grinning. She’d turn this around like she always did.

There were a few chuckles in the room. “That’s right. Rex had the highest bid at the auction that night for you,” Sophia said. 

She’d figured if anyone was on her side it’d be the only other woman in the room, but since Sophia’s daughter Emily had gotten bid on and was now engaged to Crew Ackley, she might have stars in her eyes.

Not her. They had their one date. It was pleasant enough, but she found Rex to be somewhat dry and dull. Prim and proper. She was anything but.

Besides, she did her duty, went on the date…obligation met. She wasn’t expecting more out of it when it finally happened four months after the auction.

“He put some money in the trust. Now let’s see if he can earn us some more.”

Her father shook his head like he always did when she spoke her mind; others laughed.

She sat there for the remainder of the meeting listening and taking notes calmly when all the while there was agitation in her bones. Her father was going to pay the price for this one. He could have told her.

When the meeting ended, everyone stood and Rex came over to her. “It’s good to see you again,” he said, shaking her hand. 

The heat of his palm in hers had her remembering she’d felt the same thing six months ago when she’d met him in the restaurant.

He sure was a looker and it had to be attraction more than anything. The guy was built. Tall with a tailored suit on that showed he had a lot of muscle. His light brown hair was short, his brown eyes piercing. He was cocky, he knew that, but his personality had been lacking when they were one on one.

“Same,” she said. “Congratulations on your new acquisition. The firm, not the island trust.”

“Thanks. It happened shortly after our date.”

He was from Boston, she knew that much. But he’d been living in Manhattan at the time of the auction. She’d found it odd that he was at the auction, but he’d said his mother had purchased the ticket and couldn’t attend.

The last thing she expected was she’d ever cross paths with him again, let alone have to be working with him at some point.

Everyone was leaving the conference room, the two of them standing there like fools, both of them probably trying to figure out what to say. 

“If you’ll excuse me, I’ve got to catch up with my father before he leaves the building.”

“No problem,” he said, grinning at her. She was positive he knew she might be giving her father hell but wasn’t going to let it bother her.

They walked out together, him going toward the exit to get out of the secure area, her turning down another hallway, hoping to find her father by the offices. They were limited where they could go back here without passes, but she found her father standing with Mitchell by the door to the offices that led to Eli’s wing. Mitchell owned a small part of the casino and could go anywhere. 

“Hailey,” Mitchell said, grinning. “We knew you’d be looking for your father.” He swiped his badge. “Why don’t I find an office you two can use to talk.”

“Thank you,” she said.

Her father sighed and the minute the two of them were behind a closed door he said, “Get it off your chest.”

“Why didn’t you tell me he would be here?”

“I didn’t think it was that big of a deal,” her father said.

“Are you kidding me?”

“You’re getting worked up for no reason. Did something happen on that date that you didn’t tell me?” he asked. “You said it went well.”

“It did. I fulfilled my obligation. He was rather dull, but it’s not like he was going to be my future husband. He bought a date and he got it.”

“Exactly,” her father said, knocking the wind out of her sails.

“You could have forewarned me he’d be here.”

“Again, I’m not sure what the big deal is.”

“How did this even come about?” she asked, pivoting to another tactic.

“You’ll have to explain that,” he said.

Her father was playing her. He said she got it from her mother, but she got plenty from him. “How is this for clarity? Six months ago Rex was working and living in Manhattan. Now he’s in Boston. Did he reach out to you for the business?”

“No,” her father said. “You know we did a thorough background check on him before the date.”

“Griffin told me,” she said. Griffin was Eli’s head of security who did a lot of other work for the Bond family. She’d made sure she got the report before her father did. She wanted to know what everyone else did about the guy before she spent a few hours with a stranger on a so-called date.

On paper he was impressive. In person, he was at first glance. Until he opened his mouth. He barely smiled or laughed. A smirk now and again, but that was it.

And she wasn’t put off by smirks because she’d been known to do it enough too. She was cocky and confident and had no problem with a man being that way.

Her problem was he was boring and she spent more time talking about the food because everything she tried to talk about ran into a dead end. She’d bet he was just too used to staring at numbers and investment reports all day long.

“Then you know how impressive his resume was. You also know we weren’t happy with the services we were getting with our current firm. You left the last meeting early or you would have known we were talking about contacting Rex.”

She narrowed her eyes. “Who brought his name up first?”

Her father held her stare. “Me. I knew the most since he took my daughter out. I didn’t see any reason to not bring it up as an option. Even your disapproval that I’m getting now wouldn’t have stopped me. It’s business. Unless he did something inappropriate that you didn’t mention.”

She wanted to say she wished, but that would only prolong this conversation and get her father’s back up. “No. He’ll probably be a good choice.”

“Then your only issue is that you didn’t know ahead of time?” he asked.

“Yes. I should be informed.”

“So noted,” he said, firmly.

They locked horns a lot, but when they left it was normally over with.

She hitched her purse on her shoulder. “Are we done?”

“That was going to be my question to you,” he said.

“Yes,” she said, walking out the door.

She needed to get off this island but had a meeting set in her office in two hours. She was torn between going there now and foraging around for food or grabbing some fast food on the way.

There wasn’t much on the island like in Boston though and Hailey decided if she didn’t take the time to eat lunch now, she’d be starving later tonight with her packed schedule and the rush to catch the ferry for the night.

Rather than leave the casino she detoured to the restaurant. She could get something fast and deal with work while she waited.

What she didn’t expect was to see Rex sitting at a table by himself, his face buried in his phone too.

She could leave or move to a table out of the way.

Or she could be herself and make her way closer to him.

That was exactly what she did.

Family Bonds- Hailey & Rex…Prologue

Prologue

“Thanks for meeting with me, Dad,” Hailey Bond said. “I know you’re busy and getting ready to leave in a few weeks with Mom.”

Her father was semi-retired and had promised her mother for years they’d travel. She needed to catch him before he left. It was now or never.

When her father smirked at her she held her grin back. “Meeting? I wasn’t aware this had to be something official. Must be serious.”

This time she did grin. She’d given her father grief enough in her life. She knew it.

She was outspoken and told it the way it was.

The Bonds were big names, but it was mostly attributed to the men. 

Nope, she was making her mark on the world and everyone was going to know who she was. 

The Bond Retreat could only be handed down to a male. A stupid clause in the long-standing legal documents and wills over the years. If she’d expressed interest in it, she was positive her father would find a way to make it work, to give her a role in running it. He may be stuffy and boring, but he was fair.

She could have worked her magic if she wanted to. The law was her specialty. 

She’d rather have her hand in everyone’s pie than having her own though. That could be Hunter’s job to run The Retreat. She’d be the fixer of the family and get things done on one problem, then move on to the next.

What she needed to make that happen was her father’s approval.

It was killing her she needed it too, but such was life.

“It might not be to you, but it is to me,” she said.

“Tell me what is going on then,” he said, leaning back in his chair. They were in her small office on the island when she’d much rather meet at her Boston office. This little satellite one was profitable and made sense, but it wasn’t for her to be here often.

She came when needed, but it wasn’t her time to make a living here. Boston called her and she could balance them both. She’d been doing it for years and was going to continue.

After taking a deep breath that she never needed to do much of in life, she said, “I need to use my trust to purchase a law firm in Boston. It’s my dream. You know it. I can’t pass this up, but to secure it before he puts it up for sale officially, I need to be able to go in with the cash.”

Her father looked stunned. “What firm?”

He was staying calm, which surprised her. Charlie Bond was actually a calm guy but never when it came to her. She named the firm. “I hadn’t been aware they were selling.”

“I heard through the grapevine and called to ask.”

He laughed. “I could see you doing that to find out if it was true. So it is?”

“Obviously. I can’t let this pass.”

“Your firm is growing that you started from the ground up,” he told her.

“It is. But it’d take me until I was your age to build up to this caliber. Purchasing it makes more sense between their reputation and the one I’ve worked hard for. No one can stand in my way if I acquire this.”

“No one has ever stood in your way before. So you want to manage rather than work the law?” he asked. “Because that is exactly what will happen if you go this route.”

“No. Not now. They’ve got good staff; many will stay that choose to. They never wanted partners. I know I can appeal to them knowing that I feel the same way. This will be my legacy.”

She knew where to hit. Her father closed one eye at her, knowing it was a shot at the fact she didn’t have a penis being the reason she could not get The Retreat. “I don’t want to have you empty your trust,” he said simply.

“I can probably go in with half, which I don’t need your approval for,” she pointed out. “The rest would be a loan. I just figured I had a better shot with the all-cash offer.”

“That trust fund is there for your future. For your future family.” She snorted, but he continued. “Rainy days.”

“Please,” she said. “I don’t worry about a rainy day.” 

There were more millions in her trust fund than most in her family would ever see. She was from one of the wealthiest branches of the family. Her father was worth a billion she was sure. Hunter was worth much more than her. Again…no penis.

“I can’t approve it,” he said. She went to open her mouth and argue, but he held his hand up and she shut her trap when arguing was what she did best. “However, because you don’t have a penis as you’ve said so much in life, I will match your half. That will give you what you need.”

“I don’t want a loan,” she said. 

“Not a loan,” he said softly.

She was stunned. “What? No. I don’t need a partner. I can run this on my own.”

“And you don’t want anyone to tell you what to do. Your mother and I have known that our whole lives.”

“Exactly,” she said, crossing her arms. She saw her chances going up in smoke and wasn’t sure what to do. It might be worth it to give in, but she’d fight first.

“Your brother is going to get The Retreat,” he said. “Let me do this for you.”

“To absolve your guilt?” she asked.

He frowned. “No. Maybe. I know it’s archaic and I’ve hated it. I know what is said to you stays with you. My father settled with both of my sisters. They didn’t have any desire to work for The Retreat either and did their own thing.”

Her aunts, Melissa French and Melanie Stone, never had any interest in working with or for any family member. She wondered though if it was because they felt they couldn’t get it in their name anyway. Wasn’t her problem. Grace Stone was the only one that worked at The Retreat as the executive chef. As far as she knew, Grace never felt like she should have had a stake in The Retreat. She stayed out of it.

Besides, there was room in the family for those that wanted to work together. Her cousin Roark French was a defense attorney for the firm she wanted to buy. They were about the same age and got along well. She had plans for him already if she could wrap this up.

“So is this a family tradition then?” she asked.

“No. As far as I know, my father was the first generation to do it. I’m going to carry it on. Hunter can do his own thing if he ever finds anyone and settles down.”

Her older brother always knew The Retreat would go to him and had no issues with it. His bigger issue was their father rode his only son’s ass hard and Hunter never stood up for himself. Hailey…she had no problem.

She wasn’t sure how she felt about what her father was telling her though. “So, it’s going to be in my name only?” she asked. “Even with your half?”

He tilted his head. “How about a small percentage in mine and your mother’s name? Silent investors.”

“I don’t need an investor. I know what I’m doing,” she said, lifting her chin. 

He let out a sigh. “Two votes on the board. One for your mother and one for me.”

The fact he wasn’t negotiating that hard told her how much he really wanted to do this for her. Part of her was extremely touched, the other part knew she had to keep up their game. He’d expect that of her.

“Mom has no interest in this,” she said.

“You don’t know that. You’d have to ask her.”

He had a point. “She might enjoy it. Fine. Two seats on the board. You’re going to do this? I’m not dreaming?”

“No. Because every dream you’ve ever had has come true. Go get your firm and make the name you want for yourself,” her father said. “But anyone that knows you, knows you already have.”

She laughed and moved closer to her father. He stood up and she hugged him. He could be a hard man, but he showed this soft side at times and it reminded her how lucky she was in life.

“Thanks, Dad. You’re making the right decision.”

He laughed. “I know. If I said no, I’m pretty sure you would have filed suit against me to get the money released from your trust, delaying your mother’s trip. Trust me, nothing is going to stand in her way to go.”

Hailey grinned. “Remember that. I’m just like her.”

“Don’t I know it,” he said, shaking his head. “Go do what you need to do and let me know when you need the funds if it goes through.”

She smirked. “It already did. I just need the money to close.”

His shoulders dropped and he shook his head. “I should have figured. You’re going to give some guy fits in the future.”

She laughed this time. “I don’t need a man, Dad. Please.”

“You won’t always say that.”

Yes, she would, but she was in too good of a mood to argue.

Family Bonds- Hailey & Rex

Hailey Bond has it all. She’s worked hard to make her mark in a man’s world. Even in the Bond’s world. “I don’t need a man,” has come from her lips many times over. Only with all her cousins falling in love left and right, the chimes of her biological clock are almost shaking the island her family founded. The problem is…it seems no man she finds wants to live by her rules.

Rex Knight has worked hard for his wealth. It wasn’t handed to him and he takes nothing for granted. His ex playing games for years didn’t turn him sour. But finding someone who can understand his demanding career has been difficult. His charity date with Hailey Bond was a flop and he knew it. A chance to manage the Amore Island Trust puts him back in front of Hailey and this time he’s going to show her that compromise is the name of the game.

River’s Mystic Crush…Prologue

Prologue

“Emma. We’re going out to dinner tonight and you need to do something with your appearance.”

She looked at her mother and wanted to growl, then glanced down at her jean shorts, black Adidas slides on her feet with her multi-colored mismatching socks and Nike T-shirt with a swimmer on it. “What’s wrong with my appearance?”

She thought she looked the same as everyone else her age. Especially those that played sports. If she wasn’t swimming, then she was playing field hockey in the fall and running track in the spring. She was going into high school next year and working her butt off to get on the competitive teams to make her mother proud of her.

Thankfully her father had been paying for all the camps she’d been in. She’d wanted to do them for the past few summers, but her stepfather insisted they spend July and some of August in Mystic, Connecticut, where his sailboat was in the marina close to a house that his family owned.

“If it wasn’t for the long hair, most would think you were a boy,” her mother said with disdain in her voice. “You are going to high school next year and you need to start looking more like a woman.”

“I’m not a woman,” she said, getting sick of being told what she had to do or how she had to look. Especially from her mother who was on her second husband, but had a few boyfriends in between. Nothing was ever good enough for Janice Miller-Ellis-Cox.

With the amount of fighting that had been going on between her mother and husband number two, she figured that wasn’t going to last either. She was surprised they’d lasted three years.

“You’re going to be and no man wants to be with a woman that looks and acts like a man,” her mother said, lifting her nose in the air.

“Leave her alone, Mom,” her brother, James, said coming onto the boat. Richard’s family home wasn’t too far away, easy enough to walk back and forth to his boat. Every year now for three years, pulling her and James away from their friends, they had to spend time here.

“You’re no better,” her mother said to James. He looked fine to Emma. The two of them dressed about the same. They were on vacation during the summer and running around acting like kids. She didn’t get the big deal.

But everything was a big deal for her mother lately.

 “Whatever,” James said. “Richard wanted me to tell you that he’s making reservations for seven tonight for dinner. He’s finishing a call and will be here within the hour to go on the water.”

“He was supposed to be here an hour ago,” her mother snapped. “He’s never on time for anything.”

“He’s working,” James said. “I’m the messenger and I’m going back.”

“You’re not going to go on the water with us?” her mother asked her brother.

 “Nope. I don’t like it and you know it. I’m going to chill at the house,” James said.

Her older brother by two years walked off the bow of the boat and onto the dock, making his way back to the house where they’d be for another week. She couldn’t wait to get back home to Loudonville, New York, and see her friends again.

“I suppose you want to get out of going now too,” her mother said with her hands on her hips.

“Yep. If James doesn’t have to go, then neither do I,” she said, lifting her chin, some of it wobbling a little. She always found it hard to put her foot down with her mother.

The past few weeks had been short of hell in her mind. If her mother wasn’t complaining about the way she looked, then she was screaming at Richard in another room. She almost felt bad for the guy that she had no attachment to other than he was footing the bill for this vacation she hated.

“Fine,” her mother said. “This will give Richard and me time to talk.”

“Good for you,” Emma said, following the path her brother had taken.

She was at the end of the dock when she saw River Scarsdale. He worked at that marina and had last summer too. He was James’s age and they did hang out some. She’d tagged along because she had a wicked crush on the kid and thought he’d felt the same.

“Hi, River,” she said.

He dropped the rag into the bucket. He was cleaning a boat; that was part of his job. She knew his father was a mechanic here, working on the boats as needed.

“Hey, Emma. How are you today? Just saw James walk by.”

“I’m good. He went back to the house where I’m going too. Or I said I was.”

“You don’t look good to me,” River said, moving closer. “You look a combination of sad and annoyed.”

It was funny how he was always able to see that. Even when she tagged along with James when River was around, River would spend time with her.

She’d never told anyone that she’d sneak down here and talked to him while he worked either. She didn’t want him to get in trouble, so she’d hide where she wasn’t seen and keep him company.

It might be the only thing she didn’t hate about being forced on this summer vacation.

“Probably because I’m both,” she said, laughing.

He picked his bucket up and brought it back to the building where he got most of his supplies. She followed along. “Your mother again?” he asked.

She’d confided in him more than she probably should. She wasn’t one for airing out dirty laundry, but there was something about River that drew her young teen mind in and made her feel safe and comfortable.

“Of course. She says I need to start looking like a woman or no man would want me.”

She wasn’t about to tell River that she’d said she wasn’t a woman. She might be more on the athletic side, but she didn’t want him to think that of her. She wanted him to think of her more as a girl than a boy.

“That’s crazy,” River said. “You’re pretty. Who cares if someone wants you wearing a skirt and shoes over shorts and slides? Comfort means more.”

“See,” she said. “You get it.”

She moved closer to the wall where he was getting more cleaners. “I do,” he said. He walked over to her and stepped into her personal space. He’d done it a few times and it’d gotten her heart pumping and juices flowing in her body like she’d never experienced before.

A lot of her friends talked about kissing and who their first kiss was, but she’d yet to have that. 

Maybe her mother was right. Boys didn’t look at her like anything other than one of them.

But as River said, who cares?

Only she did care. She cared what River thought.

“Would it bother you if your girlfriend dressed like me?” she asked.

He laughed. “I don’t have a girlfriend, but the answer to that is no. It wouldn’t bother me. I’m not so superficial that I care as much about those things.”

She figured as much. He talked about not coming from the right side of the area. He and his family worked for the rich, they didn’t mingle with them. She hated that he said it let alone felt that way.

He was mingling now though and she was fine with it.

She’d never considered herself rich. Her father had a good job as an engineer, but it wasn’t enough for her mother who was married to an investment broker now. Every boyfriend seemed to have more than the last and her mother stopped working when she married Richard.

“That’s why I like you,” she said, trying to get her flirt on. She hoped the heat in her face was from the sun and not embarrassment.

“I like you too,” River said, inching closer. His hand came up and she was wondering what he was planning on doing. She was frozen in time, their eyes locked. His hand came to her cheek and ran down it. “You’ve got some dirt there.”

She let out a little laugh. Figures. That’s probably part of what her mother was complaining about in saying she looked like a boy. “Thanks.”

So much for thinking he was going to kiss her. 

She was ready to turn and get out of his way for him to go back to the boat, but this time he looked around. She followed his gaze. There was no one she could see, and his mouth landed on hers. It started out soft and sweet and then she opened her mouth hoping he’d get the hint she wanted a real kiss.

He did. His tongue sliding in. She wasn’t sure what to do and followed his lead. When they heard voices, he jumped back. “Sorry about that.”

“Don’t be sorry,” she said, smiling.

“River,” she heard shouted. “Are you in the shed?”

“I’ve got to go. I’ll talk to you later or tomorrow?” he asked.

 “I’ll be here.”

Only she wasn’t. Her mother and Richard got into a huge fight and they all packed up and left the next morning, Emma never getting to say goodbye to the boy who gave her her first kiss.

River’s Mystic Crush

Dr. River Scarsdale was born on the wrong side of the watery banks and many never let him forget it in the small town of Mystic. He busted his butt and proved that where you come from doesn’t stop you from where you are going. And that crush he’d had when he was a teen, the one for the wealthy stepdaughter of the man whose boat he cleaned? Yeah, he always wondered what happened to her.

Emma Ellis has watched her mother marry and divorce more than any teen should. Each husband brought more wealth and higher expectations of her children to follow in her footsteps. The minute she could move out and make her own choices she did. They were nothing like her mother’s and never would be. And if her mother didn’t like she was vacationing in the town they’d stayed in when she was a teen to revisit old memories, then that was just too darn bad too. If only she had more of a backbone to get her point across.

In the quaint seaside town of Mystic, Connecticut, love is in the air—and who knows where you might encounter a look, a smile, a kiss… that moment when you know your whole life is about to change. It could happen at the Seaport Museum, the Mystic Aquarium, at famous Mystic Pizza, or on a romantic sailboat cruise. Maybe even a Sunday outing at the Elm Grove Cemetery like they did in the late 1900’s, strolling in the salt-kissed breeze.

Eight hunky guys, each on his own path through life, navigate their way through the rich history of Mystic, discovering steamy romance along the way.

River’s Mystic Crush- Natalie Ann
Luke’s Mystic Romance – Suzanne Jenkins
Malachi’s Mystic Assignment- Jen Talty
Matt’s Mystic Connection – Katie O’Sullivan
Liam’s Mystic Passion- Alicia Street
Cael’s Mystic Reunion- Stephanie Morris
Ridley’s Mystic Roots- Reina Torres
Max’s Mystic Magic- Tamara Ferguson

Fierce-Cody…Chapter One

Check out the PROLOGUE if you haven’t read it yet.

Chapter One

Wanted A Breather 

Cody McMillan looked around Fierce Engineering on New Year’s Eve and wondered again what he was doing here.

He wasn’t even comfortably moved into his one-bedroom apartment in Durham and he was starting his new job on Monday in a city he was trying to find his way around.

 If anyone told him last New Year when he was at his buddy’s house, throwing back a beer with some friends and then crashing on the couch, that he’d be living in Durham and starting a new life close to his sister’s, he would have dumped his beer on their head to a round of laughter.

But times change. Marissa was now married to his nephew Tommy’s father. The guy no one knew the name of last year.

Everyone was happy. Or so they said.

No, that was wrong. He knew Marissa was the happiest he’d ever seen her. Tommy too. But he had a hard time letting go and being almost five hours away was going to be difficult to handle for a guy that had been the “man” in his sister’s life until now.

What started as a joke that he was going to look for a job in Durham turned into reality. That he had a better job than the one back in Greenville was icing on the next stage of his life cake.

His sister was now part of the Fierce family and that meant Grant and Diane, Ryder’s parents, seemed to have taken him under their wing. Not only did they convince him to come to the firm’s party tonight, but dinner at their house tomorrow.

“Cody.” He turned his head to see Diane coming toward him. She reached up and kissed him on the cheek like she greeted her sons. His own mother didn’t do that. “I’m so glad you’re here.”

“Thanks for asking me,” he said. 

He was learning fast there was no telling a Fierce no when they made a request, but he wouldn’t voice those words.

He didn’t have to when Diane let out a little giggle. “I know we put you on the spot. But it will do you good to meet some people.”

He didn’t need another mother at this point in his life. “I’m sure I’ll meet plenty at work.”

“You will. And if you need anything, you make sure that my boys and the rest of the family show you around.”

He sighed. He didn’t need special treatment, but he knew having an in with the Fierces might have been one of the reasons he got the interview in the first place.

Diane’s son, Sam, was an oncology surgeon at Duke. Her nephew Wyatt was an anesthesiologist. Wyatt’s wife was an OR nurse. Then there was Brock James who was married to Wyatt’s twin, Jade. He was the Director of Security for the entire Duke campus. 

And let’s not forget Diane’s middle son, Bryce, was a professor at Duke and the Fierces were big donors. So yeah, if their name was tied to anything, you were at least getting an interview.

“I’m sure I’ll be fine,” he said. “But if I have any questions, I know who to reach out to.”

“You do that,” Diane said. “Oh, here comes your sister.”

“Hey, little bro,” Marissa said, moving next to him. “Diane isn’t trying to match you up with someone, is she?”

“Please, Marissa,” Diane said. “I had nothing to do with you and Ryder and you know it.”

Cody had heard the story. How could he not? Diane and her sister-in-law Carolyn had set up six of the seven kids. Ryder was the last one standing. He’d bet Diane would have found someone for Ryder if Marissa hadn’t been in the picture.

Nah, it was meant for his sister to be with Ryder. Everyone has said it. That Ryder wasn’t settling down and didn’t want any part of being set up. He’d like to believe it was because Ryder never got over his sister and now he didn’t have to worry about that.

Which still didn’t explain why Cody picked up his life and moved here knowing how happy Marissa and Tommy were.

Maybe it had more to do with the fact that watching over his older sister gave him a purpose, and with her gone, he felt lost. He’d spent most of his life watching over or looking out for people. There was no one else close to him.

Moving here, he could still do it. Or try to if he found someone else that needed his help. 

No, not going there. He’d been told a few times to stop doing that. 

To put himself first. 

Two of the women who’d said it were standing in front of him. Marissa and Diane Fierce.

At least he’d still be able to see his nephew as much living here and that made it worth it too.

“I don’t need anyone to set me up,” he said, turning to Diane. “I’m fully capable of finding my own woman.”

“Every man says that,” Diane said, shaking her head and moving off.

“She really won’t do that, will she?” he asked Marissa.

“I wouldn’t put anything past her. But you know how to say no. You’ve said it enough in your life.”

“I have and I can. Yet I still ended up here tonight.”

“It will be fun. Trust me.”

“I’m sure. It’s hard not to have fun around Ryder’s family. There are a lot more people than I thought though.”

“They come and go from the sounds of it. And here comes Ryder ready to pull me away and make more introductions. Sorry. I’ll be back, I promise.”

“I’m fine,” he said. He didn’t have a problem making small talk with people. He’d stay until midnight and then take his leave. Only a few more hours.

An hour later though, he was still nursing his first beer and looking around. He’d been talking with several people who recognized him from Ryder’s wedding. Ryder had been introducing him around too. But right now he just wanted a breather.

He looked over and saw Raina, Grant’s assistant, trying to inch away from some dude crowding her space. She was one of the first people he met. Ryder brought him over and made the introduction, then to a few more people on his team.

He knew when someone didn’t want to be here and it helped he wasn’t alone in that thought. 

There was something about her in her black pants and a gray sweater that told him she wanted to blend into the room and make a fast exit.

His eyes kept searching her out. She was a tiny thing and right up his alley in terms of attraction with her dark hair, wide innocent eyes, and shy smile.

He saw her shake her head and then move a step back, but the guy followed. Yeah, not happening.

Being protective was in his nature; he was going over to save her. 

“Sorry. I’m good. I don’t need another drink,” Raina said, backing up and hitting the wall.

“It’s not that long before midnight. If you need a ride home, I can take you,” the guy said.

“I believe she told you no,” Cody told the man who was dressed in jeans and a button-down shirt. He wasn’t dressed up like others here so that made him think it was a coworker who stayed at the end of the day rather than going home to change.

“Excuse me?” he said.

“Brian, I’m good,” Raina said. “I don’t need another drink. Thanks.”

The dude…Brian…gave Cody the once over and moved away. He wasn’t here to start trouble, but he was bigger and no doubt meaner than Brian. Not that he had to be bigger because Cody knew parts of the body that would cause someone an extreme amount of pain with little effort on his part.

No, no. He shouldn’t be thinking that way either.

“Sorry,” he said to Raina. “You looked uncomfortable.”

“Thanks. I’m not sure why I came. I mean I was here and it was hard to say I had plans when I didn’t. I’m fully capable of getting myself another drink if I need it.”

He smiled. “I’m sure you are. Does he bother you a lot?” 

“No. He’s never talked to me until tonight.” 

Trying to score was probably the guy’s motivation. “Hopefully he’ll leave you alone now.”

“I’m sure with the look you gave him from across the room,” she said, smiling.

“What look was that?” he asked.

“Oh, I don’t know. One that said you wanted to wipe the floor with him.”

***

“It’s great that all our kids are hooked up,” Diane said to her sister-in-law Carolyn.

“It is. And Mick and Lindsey are on their way. Jolene had to brag about how Devin proposed to Hope at Christmas. You know it’s all on your shoulders now. You said you were going to get to work on Cody.”

She laughed. “I shouldn’t be thinking much since he is going to be starting work this week and is barely unpacked. Tell me I’m nuts, but look over at Raina.”

Carolyn turned her head to look at Grant’s assistant. Raina had been employed with Fierce Engineering about eight months, was young and quiet. Almost reserved but very friendly and respectful. She was raised well, it was noticeable.

“Now that is interesting. Why do you think the two of them?”

“First off, Cody needs someone to look after and protect. He’s been that way with Marissa even though he’s younger. He moved here because he’s not ready to let her go,” Diane said. “My son doesn’t need the interference when he’s starting the life he lost nine years ago with Marissa.”

Carolyn laughed. “Ryder isn’t going to let Cody get in his way and you know it.”

“True. But my point is, Cody needs that in his life. He’s at loose ends and it’s noticeable. Raina, she’s shy. She’s quiet. And she’s been watched over by older brothers her whole life. She’s used to it,” she said.

“How do you know that?”

“Grant told me. He talked to her and she has mentioned she has two older brothers. I guess she’s brought it up in passing when Grant and Garrett talk about our kids and how close they are. She has that relationship too.”

“Okay. I see where you’re going with this,” Carolyn said. “If she doesn’t get annoyed over her brothers being that way…”

“I don’t know that. But look at Cody,” she said.

Carolyn turned her head and saw what Diane did. A coworker was talking to Raina and maybe leaning in closer than he should be. Raina moved a step back and the guy got closer. Cody was frowning and then moved away from the wall and walked toward them.

“Oh my,” Carolyn said. “We need to get closer and hear what might be said. Diane, the ball is in your court. Good catch.”

She walked away from Carolyn and made her way to Cody and Raina to see if she could find out what was going on. “Raina, sweetie. Sorry I’m just making my way over here.”

“You’re busy, Diane,” Raina said. “This is a lovely event.”

“Thank you. Grant, Garrett, Carolyn and I do enjoy throwing this celebration every year. I had to almost twist Cody’s arm to attend tonight.”

She watched Cody squint one eye at her. “Not quite that much.”

“I’m sure you’ve heard from Ryder that Cody relocated to this area to be by his sister. Isn’t that the sweetest thing? You know about brothers being close to their sister, don’t you?”

“More than most,” Raina said. “Sounds like something my brothers would do.”

“It’s a nice trait to have. Caring for your family and being there for them.”

“It is,” Raina agreed. “Until they get on your nerves with it.”

Cody laughed. “Been there myself a few times.”

Diane saw Jade waving her over, so she nodded and said, “I’m being called. You two have a great night.”

Once she got to the other end of the room where her niece was, she asked, “What’s wrong?”

Jade started to laugh. “You. Good lord, Cody probably isn’t even unpacked and you’re getting right to work. You’re almost as bad as my mother with Mick and Lindsey.”

“I don’t know what you’re talking about, Jade,” she said. “Oh look, the punch is almost gone. I better get that taken care of.” She made a fast exit before her niece could give her any more grief.

Yep, Raina was her target for Cody. This was going to be fun.