Fierce-Sam Chapter Two…#mgtab @Natalieann121

Sam2

This is the last teaser of Fierce-Sam. You can catch up on the Prologue and Chapter One now.

Supported Her

Dani looked around her shop and smiled. It still amazed her how much it was thriving.

She’d never been book smart. She’d never been one to settle down. She’d never been one to plan on anything in life other than her next adventure.

Yet at one point she knew she had to figure out her future.

She had to decide how she was going to support herself because she wasn’t going to rely on her parents that loved her unconditionally even though she gave them every reason not to.

So several years ago her next adventure ended up being her career. When she’d made a decision, she’d told her parents and they supported her like she hoped they would. Then they helped her make it happen.

Several of her stylists were cleaning up their stations and getting ready to call it a night. She had twelve chairs here that were all rental chairs when they were occupied. Not all worked every day but most came in for part of it. If they weren’t here, then they weren’t making money. That had always been her motto.

Personally, if they didn’t show up, it didn’t change much for her, she still got her rental income, but it made the shop more desirable to have it flowing with clients and she pushed that attitude on them.

The best thing she could have done was to have such a diverse group of stylists. She even had one male and that had been hard to come by. She’d never tell her other stylists, but she gave him a discount on his booth rental to secure him with the hopes he’d get the word out and she could find a few more men to fill her remaining two chairs. She had stylists knocking down her door to work here, but she was holding out for the right ones.

She never in a million years thought she’d be as successful as she was currently.

Well, she looked successful, but her bank account was still pretty bare more times than not.

Everything she had went back into her business: Dee’s.

No one called her Dee. Not anymore.

Her name was Danielle and she went by Dani, but very few asked where the name “Dee’s” came from.

It was better that way. Her parents knew and that was enough. It was the only way she could think to honor her sister at the same time proving that she could make something out of her life. That her parents’ undying support was worth something.

“Dani. Your seven o’clock is up front.” She turned to see Patricia standing there, one of her first stylists when she opened the doors to Dee’s three years ago. “He’s hot. How the hell did you score him?”

“No clue,” Dani said, smirking. “I haven’t seen him myself. How hot is he?”

“Major hot. Like potato out of the microwave and lost my fingerprints hot.”

Dani rolled her eyes. Patricia always used food to make references. “How do you know he’s for me?” she asked, wanting to yank on Patricia’s chain a bit. Patricia was young and naive and fell for the teasing ways of the group more often than not.

“He asked for you,” Patricia said seriously. “I was cashing out my client when he came in the door. I was kind of hoping he was just a walk-in and I could snatch him up like a kid reaching for cotton candy at a carnival.”

“How can you be so skinny when all you do is talk about food?” she asked.

“I’m not any skinnier than you are,” Patricia said.

“True. But my problem is I never sit down to eat even though I love food.”

“You’re going to love the guy up front like I do Ben and Jerry’s on a hot summer night after my last boyfriend told me he found another love.”

Dani laughed and walked past Patricia. “I’ll go get him and see if he holds up to my chocolate chip cookie dough.”

“Screw chocolate chip cookie dough. This one is pecan sticky buns,” Patricia said winking. “If you get my hint.”

“I get it,” Dani said, knowing Patricia managed to pique her interest.

She got to the front and had to stop at the sight of the male specimen in front of her. Holy ever-loving hell he was smoking. Smoking like the grill at her granddad’s on the Fourth of July just waiting for the ribs to be seared. Okay, Patricia was rubbing off on her now.

“Hi, you must be Sam,” she said, holding her hand out to the tall, dark, and luscious man in front of her. Midnight wavy hair that she was dying to run her fingers through. A body that easily towered over her five-foot-seven-inch frame. He wasn’t built with a gym body, but he was slim, trim and oh so delicious to every one of her senses.

“I am,” he said back. His voice was just as deep and rich as the ice cream Patricia and she were comparing him to minutes ago. “And you’re Dani?”

“That’s me. Why don’t you come on back to my chair?”

“I appreciate you getting me in so fast,” he said.

“Not a problem. How did you hear about me, if you don’t mind me asking?”

“My mother gave me your card,” he said, wrinkling his nose adorably. Oh man, a guy who listens to his mama. Could anything be sweeter in her eyes?

“I never got your last name when you set up your appointment. Who’s your mother?”

“Diane Fierce, but I don’t believe she is a client of yours. She said she sees someone else here, but I didn’t get the name. She grabbed your card off the shelf. Said you were the owner and that she’d seen you cutting other men’s hair. Curly hair, and she insists I need someone who can handle it.”

She was thinking of all sorts of ways she could handle Sam Fierce right now. And none of them had to do with hair.

“Well, you can thank your mom for me. I’ll find out who does her hair at some point, but I appreciate her passing my name on.”

She turned and walked back to her chair, knowing he was following and wishing she was behind him so she could get a look at his body in more detail without him knowing. She wondered if he was doing the same to her. She hadn’t missed the way his eyes lit up when she introduced herself to him.

Once he was seated, she grabbed a cape and put it over his shoulders and fought the urge to inhale the mountain fresh scent of him that just impaled her nostrils as he shifted in the chair. Better than cologne in her eyes any day. Nature always won over artificial, but there was definitely a time and place for that bottled scent too.

“So what are we doing with your hair?” she asked, trying to focus on the task at hand.

“Whatever you think can be done to it. I’m pretty busy and finding time to get this done is difficult. If you want to go a bit shorter so it holds me over, you can do that.”

Even better. He was giving her a free hand. “Do you like to just wash and go or do you style it?”

“Wash and go. I don’t have time to style it, or if I do, by the end of the day it’s a mess anyway. I’d grow it long and put it in a ponytail, but my mother would start to call me Sammy or Hagar again and I’m not in the mood for that either.”

She burst out laughing, getting the Van Halen reference. “Sounds like your mother has a pretty awesome sense of humor.” The frown Sam shot her in the mirror almost made her lose it, but she held on, picked up her spray bottle, then stopped. “I should have asked if you want me to wash your hair first. It looks like you just did so I was going to spritz it, but it’s your choice.”

“I just showered, so yeah, wetting it down is fine if you want.”

The thought of him in the shower shouldn’t be filling her mind, but it seemed she had no control over anything.

She picked the clippers up and grabbed a comb, then started to sheer off his waves. She really liked them, but could tell if he didn’t spend time taming them they’d control him rather than the other way around.

“I’m going to go pretty short in the back and sides and maybe leave the top a bit longer.”

“Not too long,” he said. “I don’t want to look like a hipster. I’d never hear the end of it from my brothers if I did.”

She grinned. “I won’t make you look like a hipster. So how many brothers do you have?”

“Two,” he said.

“You’ve got to be the oldest.”

“Why do you say that?” he asked.

“Because you’ve got an air to you that just shouts authority and leadership.”

He snorted, but his grin said he was taking it in stride. “I’ve been told that a time or two.”

She was guessing it was more than a time or to.

They chatted back and forth during the cut about nothing in particular. Nothing personal about each other, other than he had two younger brothers. “So what do you think?” she asked before she put the scissors down. She was done in her mind, but if he wanted it shorter, she’d give him what he wished.

“It looks great. How about dinner?” he asked her suddenly.

“Tonight?” she asked back.

“It’s a bit late tonight. Another night?”

Going on a date with a man that she didn’t know a thing about other than his name? She hadn’t done that in a long time. She hadn’t been reckless in longer than she could remember.

But would it really be reckless? His mother was a client here. She knew his name. She could do an internet search on him. It’s not like she hadn’t been on blind dates in the past.

“Why not,” she said.

“Geez, you don’t have to sound so excited over it.”

She burst out laughing. “And inflate that ego of yours?”

“I like you,” he said. “Most women wouldn’t point my ego out to me.”

“I’ve been told I’m not like most women.” She figured he was just flirting and would blow her off at some point.

“Even better. So what is your last name, Dani?” he asked, pulling his phone out.

“Rhodes.” She took his phone and programmed her number in there. “Give me a call when you aren’t busy and I’ll try to make it work.”

“Oh no,” he said. “I’m not leaving here without having the date set. Let’s check our calendars.”

Guess he wasn’t going to blow her off. She pulled her phone out. “My last appointment this Monday is at five. I should be ready by six if all goes well. How about you? Or we can pick another day, but I work later most of this week.”

“I’ll pick you up at six thirty on Monday. I don’t have anything on my schedule that could hold me back. Not unless there is an emergency and hopefully there won’t be.”

She wanted to ask what type of emergency, but decided that could be a conversation for their first date. “Then I’ll see you on Monday.”

Once Sam was out the door, she walked back to her station to clean up. “Did I hear you just made a date with him?” Patricia asked.

“What are you still doing here?” Dani asked back. Patricia normally left after her last appointment. Right now there were only four girls in the salon finishing up.

“I wasn’t leaving until I knew for sure what was going on with the hottie in your chair. His last name is Fierce, right?”

“Yes. Wow, Patricia, I didn’t realize you eavesdropped so much.”

“I wouldn’t except Sheryl heard his name and said she does his mother’s hair. I think he’s a doctor.”

Dani spit the water she’d been drinking out of her mouth. Doctors didn’t hit on her. “Why does she say that?”

“Because she said Diane is always bragging about her three boys. One is a doctor, one a professor, and one an architect for the family firm.”

“Family firm. Guess he’s got some moolahs behind his name, then?”

“It seems it. Let’s just find out,” Patricia said, pulling her phone out of her pocket. “Oh man. Not just a doctor but a surgeon. Look at that shot of him.”

Dani grabbed Patricia’s phone out of her hand and looked closer at the picture of Sam in a suit and tie, his hair longer and slightly messy in the picture. Now she understood why he said it’d get out of control by the end of the day. Probably from caps during surgery.

“Hot damn. I’m going on a date with a doctor.” Who would have thought it?!

 

 

Fierce-Sam Chapter One…#mgtab @natalieann121

Sam2If you haven’t had a chance to read the Prologue you can catch up on that first.

Joy to Be Around

“Are you ready for this, Scott?” Sam asked when he walked into the patient’s room in preop to mark him up for his surgery.

“As ready as I’m going to be.”

“Okay, then stand up. I’ve got my trusty sharpie here to mark where we are cutting. Don’t want to remove the wrong part of your body,” Sam said. “State your name, date of birth, and what I’m doing today so we are all on the same page.”

“Scott Tress, March tenth, nineteen eighty-six. You’re removing a lumpy piece of fat from my liver that doesn’t belong there.”

“You’ve said this a few times already, I’m guessing,” Sam said, his eyes squinting at the humorous tone Scott had just supplied. Some of his patients were just a joy to be around, even in the worst of situations.

“It’s a rehearsed speech at this point.”

Sam used the purple sharpie to circle where he was cutting and then initialed it. “Like I said, we don’t want any errors.”

“I’d like to have kids someday,” Linda, Scott’s wife, said. “So please, only remove that ball of lump and not another…ball.”

Sam burst out laughing. These two were a riot. Scott was lucky. His tumor wasn’t cancerous. It was just a lipoma, but it still needed to come out since it showed no signs of the growth diminishing.

His wife and he were taking it all in stride and living life to the fullest. That’s the way they should. The way he was living his life.

Nothing holding him back. Nothing tying him down.

Fun with no strings, no commitments, and no stress.

His job was stressful enough, thank you very much.

When the curtain opened, Sam turned to see his cousin Wyatt standing there. “Hi, I’m Dr. Fierce and I’m going to put you to sleep today,” Wyatt said.

“Oh man,” Linda said. “Are you guys brothers? There are two of you?”

Wyatt looked at him and grinned. “Nope. We’re cousins though. I’m the other Dr. Fierce since Sam is the OG. He’s the oldest of the whole clan of us.”

“Clan?” Scott asked. “How many is that?”

“Well now,” Sam said, scratching his chin. “I’ve got two younger brothers. Wyatt has twin older brothers and a twin sister. Then we’ve got the quintuplets of the family. Four boys and another girl.”

“Wow,” Linda said. “How many of you are single? I’ve got two sisters and, damn, they’d be drooling right now.”

“Don’t do it,” Scott said earnestly. “Her sisters are psycho. Run while you can.”

“The quints, or the Fierce Five as they’ve always been called, are all taken. The rest of us though, we’re enjoying the single life. Work calls,” Wyatt said, holding his laptop up. Sam couldn’t agree more with those thoughts.

“Are you all doctors?” Linda asked. She was rubbing her hands together and Sam had a feeling this wasn’t going to drop anytime soon.

“No. Just Wyatt and I. He puts them to sleep, and I do all the magic.”

Wyatt snorted. “Magic. He couldn’t do what he does if it wasn’t for me sending everyone into the dreamland.”

“So what do the rest of you do?” Scott asked.

“Let’s see. Since we’ve got time to kill,” Sam said. “In my family, there’s me, then Bryce, he’s a Chemistry professor at Duke, and the baby is Ryder who is an architect for our fathers’ firm.”

“Father’s, as in both of your fathers?” Linda asked. Normally Sam wasn’t this talkative, but he was really taken with this couple and Wyatt was always one to sit and chat. Besides, they were still waiting on the OR to be prepped.

“My and Wyatt’s dads are twins and engineers. It’s the family business. Though Wyatt and I didn’t go into that business.”

“So what about your family?” Scott asked Wyatt, getting more comfortable on the bed. If that was possible. These temporary rooms did have TVs to pass the time, but the curtains didn’t provide much privacy for people lying in a bed with a gown on and nothing else.

“My older brother, Drake, is an engineer, Noah, his twin, is a high school principal. Then there’s me, and my sister, Jade, is also an engineer.”

“Where did the teaching positions come from?” Linda asked, scrunching her nose like she didn’t approve for some reason. That was odd.

“Our mothers are teachers. So really everyone followed in our parents’ footsteps but Wyatt and I,” Sam said. “We’re the rebels.”

“Any relation to the Fierce beer?” Scott asked.

“Funny you should ask that,” Wyatt said. “That would be the Fierce Five. Our cousins.”

“That is so cool,” Scott said. “Bet you guys have some serious family get-togethers.”

“It’s been known to happen,” Wyatt said. “So I know Sam made you state your name and date of birth, but I need to do it too. Why don’t we get this squared away and then one of my assistants is going to come in and give you the happy juice once the room is ready. Shouldn’t be much longer.”

“Guess we should get back on track now and get this thing out of me. But when it’s all done, I’m going to toast both of you with a bottle of my favorite Fierce brew.”

“We’ll do the same to you,” Sam said.

***

Several hours later, Sam let himself into his parents’ home for dinner. Once a month or so he came home for dinner. So did his brothers. It just didn’t seem to be the same day and that was fine.

His parents preferred having one-on-one time with each of the kids their whole life. They’d always worried someone would feel slighted for some reason.

Deep down as the oldest, he was kind of glad he got the attention. Once his brothers came along, he didn’t get as much. He wasn’t jealous by any means, but in a family as big as theirs, people tended to get pushed aside if they didn’t find a way to stand out.

Then throw in the fact he didn’t follow in his parents’ footsteps with academia or engineering and he felt he’d let them down at some point.

They’d never given any indication they were disappointed in him. Just the opposite.

But he always wondered if his father was upset that the oldest of the family wasn’t going to work for the firm.

“Sweetie,” his mother said when he walked in the door. “You’re earlier than I thought you’d be.”

“Surgery went pretty smoothly today. I like days like that,” he said back. “Did I beat Dad home?”

“He’ll be here in a few minutes. Why don’t you go get yourself a beer and go sit on the back deck? It’s a beautiful fall day.”

“That sounds just like what the doctor ordered,” he said and smiled over his mother’s giggle. She’d always been one to giggle and he found it humorous. She was the glue that kept them all together in the house. She barely topped his father’s chest, but she had the biggest heart and the strongest presence and nature.

He’d didn’t even have time to pour his beer before his father opened up the sliding glass doors and walked out to sit next to him.

All the Fierce men were big. His uncle Gavin was the oldest and the biggest at six foot five, but his father and Uncle Garrett weren’t far behind at six foot three. Sam was thankful he had his father’s height. All the boys did, which was funny since their mother was only five foot five.

“How’s work going, Dad?” Sam asked.

“Work is work. Just like it is for you too. No need to talk about that tonight,” his father said. He wasn’t sarcastic by any means, but Sam still wondered if something was going on that he should be paying more attention to. Maybe he needed to talk to his brothers and see if he was missing something. His father was normally more outgoing, talkative, or even happy.

He didn’t have a chance to say anything else before his mother came out with a glass of ice tea and sat next to them. “Sam, you need a haircut,” she said.

He ran his hand through his dark wavy hair. “I know. It’s just finding the time.”

“I’ve got a place you can go. They’re open until eight some nights. Better than the barbershop that closes early on you. Then you can see the same person all the time.”

He looked at his mother’s stylish bob. “I don’t need a hairdresser.”

“Sure you do. Every time you go to the barbershop someone different cuts it and it’s never the same.”

“Does it really matter?” he asked, wondering where this conversation was coming from. He couldn’t remember the last time his mother commented on his hair. Maybe high school when he wanted to grow it long. His wavy locks looked more like a wild perm from a nineties hair band than what he’d been trying to accomplish.

“Hang on,” his mother said and jumped up fast to leave the deck. He looked at his father only to get the normal shake that silently said not to argue with the lone estrogen-bearing human in the household. She returned and handed over a card. “Here. Ask for Dani. She owns the place.”

“I don’t need to see the same person as you,” he said, laughing, and could only imagine what his hair would look like when he left. A bowl being placed on his head came to mind.

“No. I wouldn’t do that to you. Dani is younger. I just see one of her employees. Someone closer to my age. Every time I go in there Dani has younger people in the chairs. Not just women either,” she said before he could make another comment.

He learned you picked your battles and this wasn’t worth arguing, so he said, “Fine. I’ll think about it.”

“Don’t think about it. Do it. Otherwise I’m going to start calling you Sammy.”

“Please don’t,” he said, knowing he’d call and ask for Dani as soon as he left. That stupid long hair stage had his mom calling him Sammy Hagar.

“Then do as your mother says and make the call.”

“Fine,” he said, putting the card in his pocket.

***

“Could you be any more obvious?” Grant asked his wife, Diane, the minute Sam was out the door.

“What?” Diane said.

“Giving him a card and telling him to get his hair cut. I can’t believe you.”

“I’m not waiting around. Even Ella got engaged a few months ago. Come on. We shouldn’t be this far behind Gavin and Jolene. We’ve got two of the oldest kids in the family.”

“That doesn’t mean you need to be so in Sam’s face about this. And I thought you and I were going to talk about it together. You just decided this Dani woman was good enough to set your son up with. Why?”

“I listened to what Jolene said. She said that I should go with my gut. I’ve seen Dani in the salon. She’s a hard worker. She’s cute, she’s funny, and she doesn’t seem to take much seriously other than her work. Her staff talk highly of her and she’s not so loud that she’d be obnoxious. She seems to just enjoy life in general.”

“That’s the last person you want to set Sam up with. That’s exactly how he is,” Grant argued. What was wrong with his wife? This was going to blow up in their faces before it even started.

“You’re missing the point. If you put two of them together that think alike, one of them may want something serious and work hard to get it.”

“Are you sure that tea of yours isn’t spiked? Like you said, the big word is may.”

Diane laughed. “Of course not. You were so bent about me bringing this up tonight and it went just fine. Trust me on this. Jolene would never steer us wrong.”

“Just because Jolene had success setting up her boys doesn’t mean we are going to.”

“We’re going to be just as successful. We just have to work a little harder. Jolene had it made finding employees for the business. We can’t do that with two of our boys. So when Ryder’s time comes, you’ll have to put more effort into that one. This one is on me. Let’s just see how it goes,” she said, standing up and walking over to sit on his lap in the living room.

“I hope it doesn’t backfire on us. Our boys aren’t stupid. They probably know we are up to something at this point. And they know their five cousins were all set up. Everyone knows it. Do you really think they’re not going to realize we’re doing the same thing?”

“Let them think it,” she said. “I don’t care if it’s a secret or not. I just want them to settle down. It has to start with Sam. He’s the most serious of them.”

“Bryce is the most serious, not Sam. Sam is just a playboy,” he argued.

“Sam is too serious about life in general. Everything but women. It’s time he got serious about a woman and I think Dani is the one for him.”

“Why is that?” he asked. “Because you feel it in your gut?”

“I felt it with you and I feel it for Sam.”

 

Forever Love…Prologue #mgtab @Natalieann121

FOREVER LOVE

Here’s a peek into Forever Love

Prologue

“Yes, Ginger.” Leah sighed and glanced in her rearview mirror before she put her blinker on and moved into the left-hand lane. “I understand you’re stressed, but there is plenty of time.” She was a master at calming bride’s nerves.

The loud moan and screeching of, “But I want the right shade of pink for my flowers,” made Leah roll her eyes. There was no getting through to some brides…hence the name bridezilla.

“I’ll speak with the florist again. I promise,” she said as calmly as she could while watching the traffic around her.

“I want a new florist,” Ginger snapped back, her voice echoing on the Bluetooth in Leah’s car.

Leah held back the sigh this time. She was already on her third florist and was running out of options from her go-to vendor list. Smoothing over ruffled vendors was almost as bad as calming down nervous brides.

“Let me see what I can do. I’d like to give this last one another chance to match your girls’ dresses. The dye wasn’t off by much.”

“I want it perfect! My mother told me of someone a few cities away. I want you to contact them and see what they can do.”

Since Leah was running late and had a raging headache on top of it, she gave in and said, “I’m driving right now, can I call you back when I get to the office to get the information? Or better yet, can you just text me the name?”

“I’m paying you a lot of money,” Ginger said firmly, “and I want your undivided attention.”

Leah knew she shouldn’t have hit the button on her steering wheel to answer the call when she saw who it was. But as Ginger said, she charged a high premium for her wedding planning business. Her reputation in the Capital Region let her get away with it with all the high-profile clients under her belt. But it was the spoiled rich brats that got on her nerves. Not that she’d ever let anyone see that.

“Give me a second, Ginger,” Leah said, reaching for the pad on the seat next to her. She unhooked the pen that was attached to the top and clicked it. “What’s the name?” The minute Ginger started to speak, Leah realized the pen was out of ink. “I need a new pen. You’re going to have to text me when I hang up. I’m sorry, Ginger.”

“Leah,” Ginger screeched again. It was worse than being in a room full of two-year-olds that wanted milk when there was only water around.

She closed her eyes for one brief second praying she could shove the throbbing in her head back. The next thing she knew she was jerked back by her seatbelt and the airbag went off in her face.

She took a few minutes to orient herself, Ginger still yelling through the Bluetooth, wanting to know what happened. Leah shut her car off, hoping the call dropped at the same time.

The traffic wasn’t bad on Central Avenue. She’d been paying attention to cars all around her like she always did. All she’d seen was a BMW several car lengths ahead of her, but now it looked like she was kissing its back end.

There was knocking at her window, causing her to turn her head. “Are you all right?”

She shook her head, took inventory of her body and opened the door, glad the airbag was deflating.

“Yeah. What the heck happened? Did you stop in the middle of the road?” Leah asked. How the heck had she hit him when she was so far back?

The tall man was narrowing his eyes at her. “If you were paying attention you would have seen that asshole cut in front of me and if I didn’t slam on my brakes I was going to T-bone him.”

“So instead you took the risk I wouldn’t ram into you, which I did,” she said, feeling her anger rising when it rarely did before. This was going to end up being her fault, she knew it.

“You wouldn’t have hit me as hard if you’d had time to press on the brakes.”

“I was only going forty,” she said. “That’s the speed limit.”

He ran his hand through his thick wavy hair. Wow, he was good looking, not that now was the time to be thinking of that. “Doesn’t matter. You still rear-ended me.”

“I did. And I’m sorry,” she said, pulling out all of her diplomacy skills she had from dealing with annoying clients. She unbuckled her seatbelt and stepped out. Thankfully she wasn’t more than just shaken up and hoped to hell she didn’t get two shiners from this.

“Yeah,” he said, “I get it. Sorry. I’m running late for a meeting and this is putting me behind even more. Really, are you okay?”

“Shit,” she said, looking at her watch. Her hand went to her mouth. She never swore. “I’ve got a client that will be in my office in ten minutes.”

“I guess you are okay if that is the first thought on your mind. Looks like we’re both going to be missing our meetings. I’m Gabe, by the way.”

“Leah,” she said. “I guess one of us should call the police and I’m probably going to need a tow truck. I thought BMWs were made tougher than this.”

She was looking at her white BMW’s front end all crumpled up against the rear end of Gabe’s black one.

“At least we’ve got great taste in cars,” he said, but he didn’t laugh and neither did she.

She took another deep breath in since she’d mastered the breathing technique to get through the day at times, then she walked around to the passenger door and grabbed all her information for when the police showed up.

She wasn’t in the mood to chat with him, instead calling Madeline, her client that she was going to have to cancel, and then checking her text and email while trying to kill time. She was swamped and needed a full time assistant in the worst way but wasn’t quite ready to afford one yet.

There were so many things she wanted to do to expand her business. So many ideas, but for the moment, her methods of drumming up clients and vendors were working, so she had to stick with it unless she wanted to cut other expenses. Since she was bare bones in most areas, it wasn’t an option.

An hour later, the pleasantries of the police and sexy Gabe were done, they’d exchanged business cards in case there were any insurance issues, and she climbed into the tow truck to be brought to the BMW dealership for a rental while Gabe drove away.

She ran smack dab into a sexy guy and rather than getting her number for a date, she hoped she didn’t get a lawsuit.

Just another day in her life it seemed.

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.”