Another Chance…Chapter Two @natalieann121 #mgtab

Another Chance

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

Here is Chapter Two

Blew Up

“So that was Matt, wasn’t it?”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Why was he limping?” Amber asked.

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

“You didn’t notice he was limping?”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

***

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

 

Another Chance…Chapter One #mgtab @Natalieann121

Another Chance

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

Convinced Him

Twelve years later

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Shots,” Amber said. “My treat.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“It sure is,” Riley said.

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

***

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“I’m just glad you’re back here.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Both,” she said.

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

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

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

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

“Things change,” he said softly.

“Maybe in your mind, but not mine.”

He was afraid of that.

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

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

Mount Olympus, here I come.

 

Another Chance…Prologue #mgtab @Natalieann121

Another Chance

Prologue

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“I’ll be back by curfew. I promise.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

They were in love.

They were voted class couple.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

First Love…Prologue #mgtab @Natalieann121

Firstlove

First Love

Prologue

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

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

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

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

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

“Everything is fine.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“I’ll work harder on it.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Chasing Love…Chapter One #mgtab @NatalieAnn121

 

chasinglove

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

Damn Lucky

Sixteen years later

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

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

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

“Is your furnace working?”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

And it had high-end clientele.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Chasing Love…Prologue #mgtab @NatalieAnn121

chasinglove

Time for a glimpse into Chasing Love.

Prologue

“Meena, stop following us everywhere.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

How come no one thought like she did?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

HHNatalieAnn (1)

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

So Infrequent

Three years later

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

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

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

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

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

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

“What?” he asked.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“It’s nice. I like it a lot.”

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

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

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

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

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

“I can work with that,” she said.

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

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

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

***

“Isn’t he just so freaking hot?”

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

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

“Oh. I suppose,” she said.

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

“Are you blind?” Wendy said.

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

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

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

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

“Why?”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“No. That might have been better.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

HHNatalieAnn (1)

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

Check out the Prologue

 

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

Meanwhile in Albany, New York…

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Have you talked to Whitney today?”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Why?” Rachel screeched.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

Winter Love…Chapter One…#mgtab @Natalieann121

WINTERLOVE(1)

This is the last little teaser of Winter Love before the release. If you haven’t read the prologue yet, you can catch up.

One For The Books

Seven Months Later

Kendall shut her door and got out, then looked around the parking lot. There was more snow here than in Albany when she’d left this morning.

The wind was brisk and cutting right through to her neck, so she zipped her parka up higher and fought back the shiver.

Going to the back of her SUV, she pulled out one large piece of luggage and set it on the ground, thankful the pavement was clear and it would wheel easily enough to the front door of the lodge. The rest of her luggage could stay put for now.

She opened the front door and was just amazed by her surroundings. She’d been traveling for six months and she was wondering why she went to the tropical warm places in the summer and now, in the middle of the winter, she was in one of the coldest places on earth.

She knew why, but didn’t want to acknowledge it. Not even internally.

Probably not the coldest place on earth either, but Lake Placid sure felt that way. There had to be at least three feet of snow piled in places. She’d spent her six months out of the country like she’d told herself she was going to, and the next six were going to be a road trip.

One for the books.

One in honor of her parents.

This wasn’t really a lodge. Not like she’d thought, even though their website should have prepared her. The front lobby was massive with easily fifteen-foot ceilings. There was a roaring fire going in a fireplace surrounded by multiple pieces of leather furniture that were currently occupied by several people. Some drinking beverages in mugs, others in beer glasses. Both would be welcome right now.

“Can I help you?” the young woman behind the counter Kendall had stopped at asked. She’d just briefly glanced at the entrance of a shop and a restaurant on the other side of the building. She’d check them out soon enough. At least the restaurant since she was starving.

“Kendall Hendricks. I’m checking in.”

“Ah. So glad you made it,” the young clerk said. Shelly, her nametag said.

Check-in was at three, but since she was a day late, she figured they’d have no problem checking her in at noon. She’d left New York City while it was flurrying at nine yesterday morning. By the time she reached Albany, it was coming down harder and her lack of driving ability in anything other than rain made her stop for the day and grab a hotel.

“It seems you got a lot more snow here than in Albany,” she said.

Shelly waved her hand. “We got about ten inches yesterday but that’s nothing. It’s the wind that is the killer at times.”

“I’m glad I stayed back then.”

Ten inches was normal? What the heck was she doing coming here in the middle of the winter and staying for weeks on end? It was bad enough she had to buy an entire wardrobe to come East and start her trip at this end of the US.

“Shelly, I’m running—oh sorry, I’ll wait until you’re done.”

“Not a problem, Zeke. I’ll just be a minute.”

Kendall looked at the guy that had walked out a door behind the counter talking without looking. He was standing there fully dressed in winter bib overalls with an open parka and a helmet in his hand.

Shelly turned back to her. “You’re in Room 210. The elevator is to the left just past the stairs.”

There were only two floors with rooms. Fifteen rooms on each floor. But the property held several single-room cabins with efficiencies and a few multi-room cottages. She would have loved to reserve a cabin, but by the time she decided to come here, there were no vacancies for anything other than a room at the main lodge for her length of stay. She had no desire to move around once she checked in.

All her searches told her this was the place to be for the winter. Not only did they boast a highly rated restaurant and banquet hall, but the grounds were huge, spreading out, filled with cross country ski and snowshoe trails, along with snowmobile trails during the winter. There were horses on the property if someone was brave enough to battle the cold for horseback riding in the winter, but that seemed to be more sought after in the warmer months when the hiking trails opened up too.

She was going to be brave and do it all. She was going to channel her parents’ inner adventure skills.

“If you have any questions or concerns with your room, there is a directory by the phone to call the front desk, room service, housekeeping, or maintenance.”

“Thanks,” she said, looking at the man called Zeke some more. He was tall, but with his bulky winter garb she had no clue of the type of body he had underneath. His light hair was longer, shoulder length, but pushed off his forehead. He didn’t look to be the type to secure it back with anything other than a bandana or a hat.

Hopefully. Man buns never did anything for her. She didn’t care for a guy who styled his hair the same way she could. Call it sexist, but there it was. Long hair was fine on a man, as long as he still looked like a man.

She turned to grab the handle on her suitcase, glancing back at Zeke. He’d been watching her, then he grinned and sent her a wink. She smiled and nodded, then moved past him toward the elevators, hearing him say to Shelly, “I’m heading out on the trails to look for any damage from the wind. I’ll be back in a few hours. You know how to reach me if you need anything.”

“Will do, Zeke.”

Kendall got in the elevator and gave one more sidelong glance at Zeke. His name even fit him. He looked like a ski bum, one that might be a lot of fun to get to know while she was here, if he was single. This was actually the longest she’d planned on staying in one place: three weeks.

She was friendly and had no problem chatting up the locals, employees and businessmen alike. It helped her with her work for the moment.

Or what she was calling work for the past several months. Not like she was getting paid for it, but it was occupying her time and that was the point.

When the elevator dinged, she got out and turned down the hall to her room, slid the keycard through and pushed the door open when the light flashed green.

It was a pretty spacious room. The downstairs looked like a lodge with large light-colored logs making up the walls and ceiling, but the upstairs looked more like a hotel.

Her room had a nice queen-sized bed in the center, a flat screen TV on the wall above a large dresser. She unzipped her parka and took it off, then hung it up in a small closet. Looked big enough for winter clothes and skis to be stored in there. That was a nice bonus. Not that she had any equipment. She’d be renting it when the time came.

She popped her head into the bathroom, standard and good enough for her. There were a small fridge and a coffee maker on a counter against another wall, so that was a side benefit too.

She covered a yawn, sitting on the bed. She’d planned on unpacking, but maybe it wouldn’t hurt to lie down for a bit and rest. It was just nice knowing she’d be in one spot for a few weeks and she could take advantage of actually trying to relax…finally.

Winter Love Prologue @Natalieann121 #mtgab

WINTERLOVE(1)

Are you ready for a look into my newest story Winter Love?

Prologue

Kendall took a deep breath and tried to steady her shaky legs and racing pulse.

In the past two weeks, her world had been tilted on its axis like a mugger with a stolen purse shaking all of the contents loose trying to salvage anything of value.

Squaring her shoulders, she put on the bravest face she could muster and wondered why she was even trying. She was in mourning right now, as she should be. Her parents would be livid if they knew she couldn’t let herself grieve.

But grieving meant giving in to the ache she didn’t want to feel. It meant acknowledging they were never going to return.

The struggle to accept that was greater than the depths of the ocean.

That she’d never see their smiling faces again.

Never feel her father’s slim arms around her body hugging her tight when he’d gotten lucky in the casino or her mother’s beefy arms as she sampled a new dish at the restaurant where Kendall worked.

Being an only child was fun for her as a kid. Her parents were gypsies for years until they settled in Vegas. Now it was a lonely feeling knowing she was all by herself in the world.

“Kendall Hendricks to see Harold Fitzgerald,” she told the toothy receptionist behind the tall desk.

“He’ll be with you in a minute. He’s on a call right now. Just have a seat.”

“Thanks,” Kendall said, turning toward the chairs. It looked more like a posh parlor than a legal firm. How the heck had her parents been able to afford someone like this and why was she asked to appear here one week after their burials?

She took a seat, and rather than pick up a magazine that she had no interest in, she pulled out her phone and started to scroll through food blogs that she followed. How much fun would it be to just travel the world tasting and creating different cuisines and writing about it?

“Kendall?”

She turned and saw an older man standing in the doorway that probably led down the hall to offices. She remembered him now from the funeral. Or remembered his face, but hadn’t known his name.

Her father had a lot of friends he’d met in the casinos and from school where he’d been a math teacher. Her mother had worked as a bookkeeper for an insurance firm. They were well known and well liked, but every face was a blur to Kendall two weeks ago.

“Yes,” she said, standing up. “You’re Harold? I saw you at my parents’ funeral. I didn’t realize you were friends.”

He held his hand out to her and smiled sweetly. “Your father and I share a few good stories that might not be appropriate to retell.” A gambling buddy, she was realizing now. “I’m so sorry for your loss. What a sudden and tragic thing to deal with by yourself. So young too.”

“Thanks,” she said. She’d heard the same sentence in various forms for weeks and the best she could do was say thanks. She had no family locally and never had.

“Come on back to my office and we’ll get the reading of the will taken care of.”

“I didn’t know they’d even had an official will.”

Her parents were just middle class. Nothing major. She knew there were life insurance policies and she’d managed to find them in a safe and made the calls that were needed.

Talk about something she never wanted to ever do again. In that safe, she’d found all the deeds to the house and cars, anything she’d need. Her mother was meticulous that way.

“Your father set it up a few years ago when he had a big win.”

She followed Harold into his office, stunned to hear the words “big win.” As far as she knew her father lost more than he won, which was why her mother put him on a budget. He was allocated a certain amount of money he could gamble each month and if he won anything, it was his to do with what he wanted. If he lost, he was out of luck until the next month. Her father often joked about it being his allowance.

Since her father had no other vices and didn’t spend money on much of anything else, she assumed it worked for her parents. Otherwise, her mother controlled the household funds, which she suspected was so her father didn’t gamble them away.

“I’m a little confused,” she said taking a seat. “I’ve got the paperwork ready for their life insurance policies, but I’m not aware of any other money.”

Harold smiled at her kindly. If she were fanciful she’d say there was a twinkle in his eyes, but right now she was having a hard time finding anything cute, funny, or light in her life.

“Your father was a very smart man. He’d only had the one big win, but had some smaller ones in the past several years. He was wise with his money.”

She snorted. “I find that hard to believe.”

“I know all about his allowance. But you see, he wanted to make sure you and your mother were cared for if something ever happened to him.”

“I bet he didn’t expect it to happen to them both or this soon.”

“No one can control the future, Kendall. Accidents happen and this was one of them. It’s sad and you hope it’s never to anyone you know.”

“Tell me about it,” she said, not wanting to think about the phone ringing in the middle of the night telling her her parents had been involved in a pile-up on the freeway.

“I won’t keep you too long,” Harold said. “Here is a copy of the will for you to read at length on your own, but I wanted to explain some things to you.”

She looked down at the two pages in front of her but set them on her lap. “Okay.”

“Your father opened this savings account with your mother as a primary and you as a secondary beneficiary. Right now there is just over seven hundred and fifty thousand dollars in it.”

“You’re joking,” she said, knowing her face just paled and whatever food was in her stomach was threatening to make a reappearance.

“No. Johnny’s first big win was a little over three hundred thousand dollars. He invested it and then pulled it out to save it once it doubled. After that, he had some smaller wins.”

“My mother had no idea?” she asked.

“I don’t think so. He and I often joked that she’d be so proud of him when they retired and he could tell her they could go travel the world again in an RV.”

Kendall smiled for the first time. “I remember those days.”

“Your father told me how you guys ended up here.”

“‘The life of gypsies’ he’d often said when I was younger. We only stayed in a place long enough for a school year.”

“Then when you were ten,” Harold said, “you ended up in Vegas and your father fell in love here.”

“Once a gambler, always a gambler,” Kendall replied softly.

“Your father was a good man,” Harold said.

“He was. He was the best.”

“He wanted the best for you and your mother. He talked so lovingly about the two of you. But the money is yours with this letter.”

She reached for the sealed envelope. “What does it say?”

“I have no idea. He’d written one letter addressed to both of you. If you have any questions or concerns, please don’t hesitate to call me. I’m going to miss Johnny.”

“Me too,” she said, tears rolling down her cheeks. “I miss them both so much.”