Family Bonds- Drew & Amanda…Prologue

D&A

Prologue

 

“It hurts,” Amanda said as she gripped her mother’s hand.

“Of course it does. Did you think it wouldn’t?” her mother said back, not a lot of emotion in her voice. Not a lot of caring or sympathy either.

“Why won’t they give me something for the pain?”

There was sweat on her brow and every other part of her body. Her stomach was tight and the pressure was massive. It felt like her midsection was full of rocks. She’d bet a board could be broken across her belly.

“It was too late. You already started to have contractions and were too far along,” her mother said in the same know-it-all voice she’d used on her daughters their whole lives.

“Why do I have to go through this?” she whimpered.

The tears were running down her face. As if she wasn’t in enough pain this was all going to be for nothing.

“You didn’t have to and you know it. You went against our wishes and this is the price you pay. This is why seventeen-year-olds shouldn’t be pregnant.”

She’d been hearing this for months…ever since she’d told her parents she was pregnant. Thankfully she wasn’t showing by the time she graduated and no one really knew in school.

But Randall knew. Of course he did. She’d told him the minute she knew about the baby.

He’d panicked and told his parents who wanted her to end the pregnancy. Her own parents did too. Randall never really said one way or another what he wanted, but she didn’t care. It was her child and she was having it.

Randall wouldn’t stand up to his parents either. Not when there was money involved. He went off to college at Harvard a few months ago and they’d only talked twice. The last time was well over a month ago.

She’d have to assume they were done, though he never actually broke up with her. Must be the hundred-thousand-dollar check that was delivered to her two months ago was enough for him to wipe his hands of her.

She wasn’t going to be bought. They couldn’t make her end her pregnancy either. She didn’t give a shit what anyone said.

That check was going to set her up to raise this baby on her own.

Or that had been the plan.

The plan that wasn’t going to happen now.

“I wanted this baby,” she said, sobbing.

“We don’t always get what we want,” her mother said.

Amanda let out another scream and the nurse came in. “There, there. I know it’s hard. And I know it’s painful. It won’t be much longer. Breathe through your mouth. Slow breaths. The doctor is on the way.”

Her mother shot the nurse a look as if to say, “She deserves this for bringing shame on two families.”

“How much longer?” she asked. “I can’t take much more.”

“Not long. Your contractions are really close and you’re almost ready to push.”

“It doesn’t matter though,” she said. She wasn’t sure what was worse. The pain in her body or the one in her soul.

“I know, sweetie. I wish there was another way.”

The doctor walked in a few minutes later and told her to start pushing. She was pretty positive it sounded like she was being murdered in the room, and it sure the hell felt like it, so why not shout it out.

It wasn’t just her body that was being ripped apart, but her family and her heart.

She’d be leaving this town the minute she could. She was taking her money and she was going far away.

No one supported her. No one cared about her.

Hell, the nurse was showing more compassion than her own mother.

“You’re almost there,” the doctor said. Embarrassment was thrown out the window at this point with her legs spread wide, naked under the gown. Who knew what mess was on the floor from her body and she didn’t even care. She just wanted this over with.

“I can’t do it again.”

“One more,” the doctor said. “Just one more big push. I’ve got the head in my hand.”

Hearing that was enough for her to gather all her strength, grind her teeth, and push with everything she had.

“That’s it, I’ve got it now,” the doctor said. “Just relax for a minute.”

There was silence in the room. Only her breathing could be heard, her mother looking over at the doctors and the nurses at the other side of the room.

“Do you want to see the baby?” the doctor asked her while the nurses cleaned up the newborn.

She was having trouble catching her breath. Not just from the delivery but the pain in her chest. “Yes. I want to name my baby. She’s really gone?” she asked, even though they’d told her hours ago there was no heartbeat when she had her appointment.

She was only seven months pregnant and had pain so she’d called the doctor and drove herself there. The past six hours had flown by in one instant and lasted forever in another.

“There is no heartbeat,” the nurse said coming over and running her hand on Amanda’s sweat-dampened hair. “Do you want to hold your daughter?”

“Yes,” she said, taking in a deep breath. “Please.”

Her mother got up and walked out of the room, not even looking at her daughter or granddaughter.

Three weeks later, Amanda walked out of her parents’ life for good.

Fierce- Wyatt…Chapter One

Wyatt(1)

 

Catch up on the Prologue

Chapter One

Feel The Heat

Seven years later

“I’m Dr. Fierce, your anesthesiologist for your surgery today,” Wyatt said, moving behind the curtain for his next patient while he waited for the OR to open up. Shouldn’t be much longer. “Can you state your name and the reason you are here? I’m sure you know the routine,” he said to the woman with a big smile. She was a cancer patient coming back in for another surgery after her scan showed a spot of concern. This one on her kidney.

“Ashley Brookshire. And another Dr. Fierce is going to go in and remove some tissue from my kidney that with any luck is just some fat and not cancer.”

“That is exactly what we are all hoping for,” he said, rubbing his hand on her foot.

Most of the patients coming in for surgery were scared. They were stressed. They were emotional.

It was his job to not only make sure it was a safe and painless procedure but also to try to calm them. No doctor wanted a hysterical patient on their table.

Of course that was why there were such things as “happy” juice to calm a patient down. But if he didn’t need to do it, he wouldn’t.

Ashley seemed pretty darn calm to him.

“The other Dr. Fierce—a brother by any chance?” she asked.

“Cousin,” he said of his cousin Sam that was the surgeon performing the procedure. He was in another OR right now, just finishing up. When the room was ready, Ashley was the next patient.

“So, good genes in your family,” she said, wiggling her eyebrows. He turned when the curtain opened and saw a man walk in. “Steven, this is Dr. Fierce. Dr. Fierce, my surgeon’s cousin. Wow, it might get confusing in here.”

Wyatt laughed. “It can when we have our masks on. Don’t worry, we don’t often switch positions in the OR. I’m the one who likes to put people to sleep. Guess I’m just boring that way.”

Ashley laughed. “Something tells me you aren’t very boring. But anyway. Here we are. Waiting to find out the results. My oncologist told me since the last tumor that was removed was contained and small that I will only need radiation on my thyroid. I can handle that. Not a problem.”

“Sounds like you’ve got a great attitude.”

“Yeah,” she said. “Thyroid cancer is easily treated, but that stupid CAT scan showed something on my kidney. My other surgeon couldn’t remove it and referred me to Dr. Fierce. Your cousin. Yeah, this is confusing.”

He laughed. He was used to it. “I get it. Sam—we’ll call him that, he’s good with it, even with his patients at times—is the best there is. You’re in great hands.”

“Good to know,” Steven said. “He told us that it could be nothing, but you won’t know until you biopsy it. Just wish she could be awake for it. I hate when she has to go under.”

Wyatt flipped through her history on his computer. He already knew she’d had a few surgeries in her past. “You seem like a pro to me when it comes to being operated on.”

“I don’t know about that. No one wants to be a pro at this, but I’m kind of a klutz. Or I was in school. I seemed to get injured in every sport or activity I did.”

“Which is why she doesn’t do much of those things anymore,” Steven said. “When we were younger it was fine. We’re too old for it now.”

“Now I’m also having surgery for carpal tunnel. I’m only thirty-eight. Come on,” she said, letting out a huff.

“Society spends a lot of time on computers now,” Wyatt said, holding his laptop up. He hated every minute of it too and wished more people were interested in getting out and doing rather than watching. “While we wait for the room to be open, I’ll tell you I’m a proponent of KIS when it comes to surgery.”

“You want a kiss?” she asked. “That’s getting a little personal, but if Steven looks away, I’ll give you one on the cheek.”

“Now I know why you are so laid back.”

If only everyone was like this, but Wyatt knew that wasn’t life. He’d had plenty that he walked in and saw them in tears and it just killed him. The first time that happened he threw all the things he was taught out the window about always being serious and professional at work.

When he was ready to get to work, he could toe the line with all the weight on his shoulders, but this was about the patient. This was about relaxing them and helping them. It was called humanity in his eyes so he’d done what came naturally to him.

“There are too many things to stress about. I’m going to hold out hope it’s nothing, but I need to know. It’s better to know than guess,” Ashley said.

“I agree. And I’m afraid your husband might deck me if you gave me a kiss. KIS. Keep it simple. I’m sure you’ve heard it called happy juice before, but it’s Versed. It relaxes you and makes you forget anything before you go under. Most people are anxious and need it. You don’t seem so. So I’m asking if you want it. I’ll gladly administer it, but if you don’t need it, why take something?”

Many thought he was nuts to give that option, but why inject yourself with a drug if you truly didn’t need it? He’d had plenty of patients wide awake while they were wheeled down, remembering everything, and carrying on normal conversations with him and the team in the OR before they went under.

“I don’t think I need it,” she said. “But what if I do? I mean I normally get it and though I’m not an anxious person, what if I start to panic?”

“It works fast. If you ask you’ll get it immediately.”

“I’d like to try without it. I get nauseous and they already gave me stuff for that. Maybe I’ll wake up faster if I don’t get that.”

“It could help too,” he said. “I like to give patients the choice.”

“Let’s go without it,” she said. “Will you be in there talking to me? It could distract me.”

“She’s flirting with you,” Steven said. “I can’t believe she is doing that.” Ashley’s husband shook his head. “She’s always been a flirt. You aren’t going to steal her away from me, are you? Try to woo her in the OR?”

“I don’t think I could possibly compete with you.”

“Steven is the best husband there is. You might be a treat to look at, but something tells me you break a lot of ladies’ hearts.”

He forced a grin. He’d been told that a lot in life, but he always went in letting everyone know where he stood.

Fun. That was what he wanted. He didn’t take a lot in life seriously other than his job. This took all his focus and outside of the OR he stayed clear of commitments, stress, and headaches like the devil avoided Sunday mass.

When the curtain moved aside, he was thankful that his cousin Sam arrived. “How are you doing today, Ashley?”

“Ready to get this over with. I’ve been picking on your cousin. I just said I bet he breaks a lot of hearts, but the truth is, you probably do too.”

Sam grinned. “I might have broken a few in the past, but I’ve got a fiancée now that has stolen my own heart.”

Wyatt rolled his eyes. Everyone was falling like flies around him. First Sam, then Sam’s brother Bryce, then Wyatt’s brother Drake and over the weekend Drake’s twin, Noah, got engaged at Easter dinner in front of the whole family.

He was starting to feel the heat like never before.

Did he always think he’d want to settle down at some point? Sure.

Was he looking for it? Not really.

But with everyone falling like first-time skiers on the bunny slopes, he felt like all eyes were on him. They were even dropping in birth order too. What were the chances of that happening?

“So, we are all set?” he asked Ashley.

“Yes. I’ll bypass that drug and go with KIS.”

“Is Dr. Fierce trying to get you to kiss him?” Sam asked. “He does that with all the patients.”

Wyatt shook his head at Sam. “What can I tell you, the patients like me better than you. Just like the family. You may be the oldest, but I’m the favorite.”

“You keep telling yourself that,” Sam said.

But he didn’t need to. He knew his family loved him. His family loved everyone equally. It’d always been that way. Even if he did seem to get more attention than most.

Twenty minutes later, he was in the OR talking with Ashley, asking how her Easter went and listening to the stories of how her kids were too old for Easter baskets.

The circulating and scrub nurses were moving around the room preparing lights, setting out instruments, and getting everything ready.

Sam gave him the nod they were good to go, so he said to Ashley, “I’m going to put the oxygen mask on you now and you might feel a burn with this injection. It won’t last long if you do.”

She bobbed her head up and down and was still talking. She was almost babbling a little about her holiday, but he kept it up with her until her eyes started to roll back in her head. She was still awake, not quite ready to go out.

“You almost ready, old man?” Wyatt said to Sam.

Sam laughed behind his mask. “I’m not that much older than you.”

“No,” Wyatt said, “but the big old ball and chain is going on in less than two weeks. That smacks old to me.” He glanced back down at the vitals and his patient. Her eyes popped back open again.

“Don’t be jealous,” Sam said. “You wish you had someone as great as Dani.”

“She is pretty hot,” Wyatt said back. “It was just your luck of the draw you saw her first.”

“Get over yourself. Dani couldn’t stop flirting with me the first time we met. I know how to lay on the charm.”

“You learned it from me,” Wyatt said. “I’ve lost my ride or die partner. This is the final goodbye.” Ashley was fighting it, but she’d be out soon.

“There’s always Ryder,” Sam said back.

“No, thank you. His taste in women is horrendous.” Sam’s youngest brother, Ryder, ended up with all the nut jobs. Or as Sam liked to call them, “life suckers” where they just drain the life out of you.

“You think yours is much better?”

He looked down at Ashley and stopped talking because it was time to be serious. It was time for him to do his job that he was so good at. It was time to focus. And ignore the shot his cousin took at him with lethal precision.

Ashley was out, so he finished up what he had to do, then turned to Sam and said, “The floor is all yours.”

Fierce- Wyatt…Prologue

Wyatt(1)

Prologue

Wyatt Fierce took a seat, ready to listen to Dr. Raymond talk about the field of study he’d been wanting to do for years.

He was made for this, even if others thought he was nuts.

He didn’t care. It was his life, his career, and he was going to prove them all wrong.

He leaned over and grinned at the resident that sat two seats down from him. Monique and he had a few drinks at the bar last night before both going on their way. She was here just like him, but she was tapping her feet almost shaking his own chair.

Nerves? Yep, pretty obvious on Monique. Not him.

Steel rods, that was what his nerves were made of.

“Look around this room,” Dr. Raymond said. Wyatt did what he was told, nodding to a few other residents he’d seen in the halls in the past few years. “Some of you are going to make it; most of you won’t.”

Wyatt had known that coming in. He wasn’t worried.

“I don’t mean make it as a doctor,” Dr. Raymond said. “You might end up in primary care, you might end up riding a desk, or even working in a morgue, but not all of you are going to be an anesthesiologist.”

Wyatt had been hearing this from people for years. He knew the stats and he didn’t care. He was going to be one in this room that made it and didn’t care if the rest failed.

Fierces didn’t fail and he wouldn’t be the first.

He sat back in the chair to get comfortable, his long legs stretched out in front of him, his arms crossed in front of his chest. Might as well relax because that was how he felt when others were sweating around him.

Normally he couldn’t sit still. He was always running, always finding things to do.

Not when it came to this though. Sit in place and listen. He’d get an A every single time.

Dr. Raymond was walking about the room now, looking at each and every one of them, stopping to stare, probably to intimidate. Wyatt didn’t care. He had this covered.

“Dr. Fierce,” Dr. Raymond said. He hadn’t realized the guy knew his name, but of course he could have read it on the lab coat.

“That’s me,” he said.

“With a name like that, I’m sure you’re pretty cocky and full of yourself.”

Wyatt grinned when others in the room snickered. “I like to think of it as confidence.”

“Same thing if it’s not controlled,” Dr. Raymond said. “I know all about you.”

Shit. What did that mean? In the hospital he gave it everything he had. He followed the rules and he did his job. He stayed late and he worked hard.

But outside of the hospital—when it was playtime—he played just as hard. Call it an outlet, he wasn’t sure, but he’d never been serious about anything in life, or so most said.

He was the joker of the family. The one always out to get a laugh.

The one always being a wiseass.

But when it came time to buckle down he had the straps in his hands and was ready to settle in.

“And what is that, Dr. Raymond?”

The pacing around the room started again while Dr. Raymond made him wait. If the doctor thought he’d see Wyatt sweat, he wasn’t going to.

“I think you know what I’m talking about. There are eyes everywhere. You’re always watched in and out of the hospital.”

“Understood,” he said.

“Do you know why this discipline of medicine is so hard?” he asked, looking around the room.

“Because it pays the most,” someone said. Wyatt almost said that but knew enough to keep his mouth shut since all eyes were on him. Not the time to be a smartass, he knew.

“That’s why so many want to do it,” Dr. Raymond said. “But they fail because the money is just a little bit of consolation for the stress and pressure of what you do every day in your job. You are responsible for your patients undergoing surgery safely and comfortably. You put them to sleep. And you wake them up. Or you better damn well make sure you do.”

Textbook explanation that everyone knew.

Wyatt shifted in the chair a bit. “Dr. Fierce, do you think you have the ability to take this seriously?”

“Dead serious,” he said, getting a little sick of the attention on him. Which was funny since he normally loved attention.

“And that is what your patient is going to be if you don’t. Dead.” The silence that greeted him with that statement was almost as bad as the last nail going into a coffin. “If you can’t take it. If anyone can’t, then there is the door. I’m going to get myself a coffee and if there are fewer of you in the room when I come back, then so be it.”

Dr. Raymond left and Wyatt watched as a few let out a breath. Monique from last night stood up. “What are you doing?” he asked her.

“I can’t do this,” she said.

“What? It’s just a speech. You don’t know until you at least try it,” he argued when two more people stood up. What the hell?

“Yep,” someone else said. “And I’m sweating and shaking listening to him talk. If I’m doing it now with words, I won’t be able to handle it in the OR. There are plenty of fields for me to go in and this one isn’t going to be it,” said the guy who’d earlier stated it was for the money.

Wyatt sat there while those three left. There were only five in the room now.

When Dr. Raymond came back, he was carrying a tray with four cups. “Wow. There is one extra than I anticipated to be here. Does someone want to volunteer to go get the fifth cup?”

Wyatt wasn’t leaving his seat. A guy behind him said, “I’ll do it.”

When he was out of the room, Dr. Raymond said, “And he won’t make it either.”

“Why?” someone else asked.

“Dr. Fierce, do you know why?”

“Because you never leave the room until everything is completed and everyone is safe. We’re all safe, but you haven’t finished.”

“Correct,” Dr. Raymond said. “Maybe I’m wrong about you, but we’ll see. I’m usually never wrong.”

Eternal…Prologue

eternal

Prologue

 

Brina Shepard looked in the side view mirror, saw it was clear, put her blinker on and passed the car. She glanced down at the number on her dash. She was going twelve miles over the speed limit. On this stretch of Central Avenue people went even faster so she’d be fine.

And if she wasn’t fine, too damn bad. She needed to be in court in twenty minutes. It was going to take her fifteen minutes to get there. That didn’t count traffic or finding a parking spot.

Damn her for being caught up meeting her client. She should have put it off until after court, knowing she’d be sucked in like she always was. She had a bleeding heart at times and couldn’t walk away.

She was just getting ready to turn off onto Wolf Road to get to the Town of Colonie courthouse when she noticed the red lights flashing behind her. No!

Maybe they weren’t for her. She hoped. She prayed.

It didn’t help when the state trooper car got on her rear bumper and turned the siren on.

She put her blinker on again and turned on Wolf, and then pulled into the first parking lot, the trooper right behind her.

Her head dropped back against the seat. Since she was in a hurry she opened the glove box up and was pulling out her registration, while she hit the button to roll down the window.

She waited for the trooper to come to the window, knowing she was definitely going to be late now. The judge hated when people were late in his courtroom and she knew that.

“Do you know why I pulled you over?” the trooper asked. She hadn’t even heard him walk up to the car and almost jumped out of her seat.

“Sorry,” she said. “I’m in a hurry to get to court. The judge doesn’t like to be kept waiting.”

“You’re a lawyer?” he asked, lifting an eyebrow.

She put a smile on her face. “I am,” she said back. She had her registration in her hand along with her license now but was hoping she wouldn’t need it.

“Then you won’t have any problem getting out of a ticket,” he said, his hand held out.

Her smile dropped when she placed the documents in his palm.

Shit, shit, shit. When would she learn? Instead of being most likely to succeed in her senior year of high school she should have been voted most likely to be late to her own funeral.

The trooper came back faster than she expected. She looked up and couldn’t really see much of his face with his sunglasses on. He was tall, at least she thought he was since she was in an SUV and he was bent over to talk to her.

He smelled good. What the heck? How could she tell that when she was in a parking lot on a summer day?

“Here you go,” he said, handing her back her registration and license and another piece of paper.

“My ticket?” she asked.

He tilted his head and, damn, if he wasn’t extremely hot too. She should be completely annoyed right now, not noticing how good-looking he was. If it weren’t against every principle she had, she’d flirt with him.

Nah, she’d said she was going to the courthouse and he didn’t care. Not that she said it to get out of the ticket because she didn’t really want to do that either.

“You broke the law,” he said. “Lawyers know all about that.”

“Yes, I do,” she said, tossing it all on the passenger seat. “Have a great day.” She wanted to add, “jerk” to it but wouldn’t. Like he’d said, she’d broken the law. She may be a lawyer but she was an honest one.

“You too,” he said, smiling…no, it was a smirk.

She rolled her window up, put the car in drive, and pulled back into traffic.

She was running into the courthouse eight minutes later and through the doors. At this point she was just shy of being ten minutes late. She supposed it could be worse.

“Counsel Shepard,” the judge said. “You’re late.”

“I am. I’m sorry. I was rushing to get here and, well, I was pulled over by a trooper. I was trying, I really was, to get here on time, but traffic is crazy today.”

The judge smirked at her like the trooper did. “Did you get a ticket?”

“Yes, sir, he gave me one.”

“Did you tell him you were an attorney?”

“I mentioned I was on the way to the courthouse and the judge didn’t like me to be late.”

“And you still got a ticket?” the judge asked, laughing this time.

“I did.”

“Can I see your ticket or is it in your car?”

She pulled it out of her briefcase where she stuffed it when she grabbed everything moments ago. “Sure,” she said, wondering what was going on. Was he going to take care of it for her? Not that she’d ask that.

“What’s the name of the officer?” he asked when she moved closer to the bench. She felt like she was the main act at the circus right now with all eyes on her.

“Trooper N. Randal.”

The judge took his pen out and wrote something down. “Good to know for future reference if he’s ever in my courtroom.”

“Why is that, Judge?”

“Because he isn’t swayed or doesn’t back down. I like men like that. It reminds me of a younger me. Now, can we please get on with your case and client?”

“Yes, sir,” she said, walking back to the desk where her client was waiting. She hoped she didn’t chip her tooth with as hard as she was grinding her teeth. The only way this day could get worse would be if she lost her case.

Family Bonds-Hunter & Kayla…Chapter One

H&K (1)

 

Catch up on the Prologue here.

Chapter One

To Hell And Back

 

Ten years later

“Are you kidding me, Marcy?” Hunter said to his secretary.

“Sorry. I wish I were. Patrice called when you were on the phone and she said she’d be here if she could, but her son has been throwing up since four this morning. She doesn’t want to cancel the interview because it’s the only applicant she received for the front desk position.”

“And she thinks I’d be a good fit for doing the interview in her place?” he asked. “I run this hotel and have for three years. I don’t interview lower level staff. That’s what I’ve got staff for.”

He wasn’t trying to come off like an ass, just be firm though it didn’t always come across that way. Ever since his father finally handed the reins over full time, Hunter had been making all sorts of changes to the hundred-plus-year-old hotel that his Great-great-grandfather James started and he was stretched a little thin on time.

Bond Retreat was the first hotel on Amore Island. Many more had been erected since that time, yet only Bonds owned them. But the first one was special and had been turned into a retreat and destination wedding hotel and resort while the other hotels on the island were more for family vacationers. After all, it was the island for love—amore—so why not cash in on it?

“I understand, but Carol is off today.” Carol was the assistant manager and also oversaw the front line staff.

“What about Pete?”

“Pete in accounting? No one in finance would know what to ask. It’s a completely different job than what they do.”

Hunter ran his hand through his thick black hair. “How about you?” he asked Marcy.

“I’m your assistant. I don’t interview and you know it. I don’t want Patrice on my case if I hire the person and she doesn’t work out. She wouldn’t dare say anything to you.”

“I wouldn’t bet on that,” Hunter said. Patrice had been in her position for ten years and was five years older than him. Sometimes she let him know that too, in a polite way. He didn’t consider himself a hard employer—even when he was trying to be—but he was driven and wanted everyone to work the same as him.

Some of it was because of his name. The rest was his stubbornness to maintain the family reputation that had been built up again after Great-great-grandpa James blew their line all to hell and back.

“Don’t even think of bringing up any of the other managers at the resort. None of them will want a hand in this. If you can’t do it, I’ll call Patrice back and tell her that you said to reschedule it. It might be weeks before we get someone filled at the front desk though and we are paying overtime to the current staff. They are really pressed.”

His staff knew how to pile the guilt on his shoulders and he wondered how he could be so weak.

Or maybe he knew when to cave and when to fight. Just because he hated interviewing and didn’t have the time didn’t mean it wasn’t one of those days to help Patrice out of a bind.

He let out a breath. “Fine. What time is it scheduled for?”

“Eleven. Here is her resume. I’ll have the front desk send her here when she arrives.”

“You can wipe that smirk off your face now that you and Patrice got your way. I think you two put your heads together and decided to pin this on me.” He started to flip papers around on his desk. “I’ve got to meet with the people at the conference at ten. I might be late.”

Marcy laughed. “We’d never do that. And if you’re a few minutes late, she can wait, it’s not a big deal. After all, you’re the CEO and you’re busy. We know.”

When she walked out the door still laughing he knew they did plan it exactly the way it happened.

He lifted up the resume of Kayla Rivers and looked it over. The only hotel experience she had was in housekeeping eight years ago. Looked like she was there for a year and then moved on.

She moved on with a lot of jobs by the looks of it. Lots of customer service positions, but not much more. Some labor positions too. Nothing steady either.

There wasn’t much he could do other than give Kayla an interview and hope it wasn’t a complete waste of his time.

 

***

 

Nothing ever seemed to go according to plan, Kayla thought as she sat in the waiting room outside of Hunter Bond’s office.

She was supposed to be interviewing with the manager, Patrice Martin, but when she showed up she’d been told Patrice was out with a sick kid. As if that wasn’t bad enough, Kayla had almost missed her ferry.

Time had never been her friend. She wasn’t late often, but she was always there right on the dot, normally from running the last distance to get in the door on time…just like today.

The short run and fresh air at least added some color to her face and took her mind off the bumpy ferry ride that turned her stomach and face to match the color of seaweed. Having never been on a ferry before she had no idea she’d react that way.

The minute she was in the building Kayla realized she had five minutes to spare and asked the front desk where the bathroom was so she could check over her appearance.

She’d turned down a hall, figuring she was lost, and bumped into someone, stumbled and he had to reach out to steady her so she didn’t do a face plant and have to show up for her interview with a black eye. When she looked up it was a man. A hot man. One that was staring down at her with a grin on his face, his big hands on her shoulders and then dropping away faster than she’d hoped. Talk about a crazy thought.

“I’m so sorry,” she said, rambling on. “I’m here for an interview and I’m nervous and excited because this island is so beautiful, but I look like Cinderella after the coach turned back into a pumpkin thanks to that ferry ride. I thought I was going to get sick it was so windy. I asked where the bathroom was and now I think I’m lost. But I suppose I should thank you for stopping my fall or I might look like the pumpkin guts smashed into me when the coach changed over.”

The man was laughing now. Since he was dressed up and there were a lot of people walking around in business attire, she assumed he was there for the conference and here she was babbling like a fool to him. Typical.

“You’re not lost. Keep going down this hall and turn left. And don’t worry, you look fine.”
“Thank you,” she said. She took a deep breath, wrapped her hand around the star pendant on her necklace, grinned at him and dashed away.

A few minutes later on the tenth floor, the woman named Marcy said to her, “Kayla, Hunter is ready now, if you’ll follow me.”

Kayla stood up and followed Hunter’s secretary to his office. She felt so out of place with her cheap—but clean—black pants and a white shirt with a blue cardigan over it. She suspected all the executives were housed here on the tenth floor.

“Hi, Kayla,” Hunter said with his hand out, then motioning her to a chair over in a sitting area.

Yep, that black cloud that always floated over her head from the day she was born to a teenage mother that would rather party than raise her seemed to cover the island, too. Here it was again as she faced the man she’d bumped into in the hall, looking like a train wreck while she was lost in his hotel.

“Nice to meet you,” she said as calmly as she could. There wasn’t much she could do other than acknowledge what happened. “Or we meet again. I’m kind of embarrassed.”

“No reason to be. We’ve all had rough ferry rides. And I’m sure Marcy explained to you why I’m doing the interview. Normally I don’t have a hand in positions like this.”

Meaning positions that were completely beneath him, she was sure, but wasn’t stupid enough to voice that, especially after the first crazy impression she gave him. “Not a problem. This place is even nicer than it looks online.”

“You’ve never been to the island before, I take it?” he asked.

“No.”

“Well, you got here okay,” he said. “I guess the first thing I should bring up is not everyone that works on the island lives on the island, but it is much easier to reside here. The ferry almost always runs on time, though the weather does play a part. There are three different ferries that you can grab. Two from the south port and one on the north end that comes in from Boston.”

“That’s the other end of the island,” she said. “How many miles away is it?”

“The Romeo Port on the north end is about sixteen miles away. Juliet Port is the south port that I’m assuming you came in on.” She nodded her head. “You can get a ferry from Plymouth or Provincetown off of Cape Cod.”

She’d done her research on the resort and the ferry she was taking to get here and how to get from the ferry to the resort, but that was all she’d done since she’d been working, trying to make up the time for being off for this interview so she didn’t go unpaid.

“I wasn’t aware of the two different ports, just how to get here today.” She caught herself reaching for her necklace to fidget and pushed her hands back down. She should have known that information and hoped it wasn’t held against her. This morning was going from bad to worse. She should just get up and walk out. It’s not like she’d ever see him again once she got on the ferry.

“Not a problem,” he said. “And you didn’t find the ferry ride that wonderful?”

“It was bumpier than I thought. I’d had an Uber waiting for me and then had trouble finding them.” Always something, but she’d finally found the driver and then got to the resort in the nick of time and ran through the parking lots to get to the entrance.

“It can be worse. It’s a windy day out there today. If you get the job, like I said, there are three different ferries that arrive at multiple times throughout the day. The first comes in around seven in the morning; the last to depart is nine at night. The last arriving here at eight.”

“So if I missed the last one, I’m here for the night?” she asked. “What are the hours of this job?”

He grinned at her, his straight white teeth flashing like a beacon calling her forth. His blue eyes were as clear as the sky had been outside when she ran in the door and had a humorous glint to them as he gazed at her. “We would never schedule anyone where they might miss a ferry. This position would start at seven at night and end at six a.m. An hour lunch and it’s four ten-hour days. This gives you time to catch the first ferry after work and not worry about missing it if you get held up at work.”

“Does that happen often? Being held up?” she asked and wondered why she was because she knew she’d be living here if she got the position. Which was pretty much a pipe dream with the way things were going. Yet he wasn’t acting like she didn’t have a shot. Probably just being nice.

Sometimes she just didn’t think before speaking and had to shut her trap so she didn’t blow this interview.

“It can if your replacement is late or you are dealing with a guest. Though on the night shift you aren’t quite that busy.”

“That all sounds good,” she said. “But if I get the job I’ve got a place to stay on the island.”

“Good,” he said. “Then let’s talk about your experience. I see though you’ve never worked the front desk at a hotel you’ve got a lot of customer service experience. A nice well-rounded resume.”

Which was probably his polite way of saying she’d bopped around from job to job lately. “I don’t want you to think I can’t hold down a job. Some of them I was laid off when the work slowed down. Some just didn’t work out, and others I found a better job.”

“So you are always looking for a better job?” he asked.

“No,” she said. “Not really. I started working at a young age and I’ve got experience in a lot of fields as you can see. Some of it just wasn’t to my liking, but I’ve never left before a year at any of my jobs. Sometimes I have jobs that overlap if you look closely.”

He lowered his head and focused on her resume. “I see that.”

“I’m a hard worker,” she said earnestly. She didn’t want to beg, but now was the time to sell herself if she had any shot in hell at this job. “I like to learn new things. I’m trying to find a career over a job. I guess that is the best explanation.”

“And you think this would be a career for you?” he asked.

“I’d like it to be. I just want to settle down and have a normal life.”

He laughed. “Life on Amore Island is hardly normal, some would say.”

She grinned. “Is it true what they say? That most come here to find love or are hoping for it?”

“That’s what they say. An island started by lovers that even one of the biggest storms of that time couldn’t prevent them from meeting. But I’ve been on this island my whole life and it’s just home to me.”

“You’ve lived here your whole life?” she asked, surprised to hear that.

“Not entirely. I grew up in Boston but spent my weekends here working or hanging out. Later I traveled by ferry back and forth to Boston for a few years, then decided it was best to just stay here. I can go into the city anytime I want and do, but I live here now.”

“I always wanted to live on an island,” she said without thought. She couldn’t stop her lips from flapping like the wind on the ferry ride and getting off topic. He didn’t seem to mind though so that was good.

“Then I guess you’ll get your chance,” Hunter said.

“What? I’m hired?” Woohoo—wishing on her necklace worked when it never had before. Imagine that.

“You are. When can you start?”

“I have to give two week’s notice at my job and move my stuff over here. It shouldn’t be too hard.”

She didn’t think so. She was just going to pack what she had in her car and bring it over in a few trips. It’s not like she needed much since she was going to be renting a bedroom and wouldn’t need furniture. She’d sell the used stuff she had and get some extra money for it.

Hunter stood up so she did the same, noticed that he had to be at least seven inches taller than her five-foot-five-inch frame easily. She figured he was a busy man and this twenty-minute interview was probably enough for him.

Not only that, she got the job and needed to get out of there before she did or said anything else stupid and he rescinded the offer.

“If you have any questions or concerns about the job or the move, Patrice can help you. You’ve got her number, correct?”

“I do,” she said.

“I’ll let her know that I’ve hired you and she’ll be in touch.” He held his hand out for her to proceed to the door and she did so, turning to shake his hand one more time. She must be more messed up in the head because she felt a spark and heat like she had when his hands stopped her from falling.

“Thank you so much. I’m excited to start my new career.”

“That’s what sold me, you know,” he said.

“What?”

“I don’t care what the rest of your resume says. I see you’re a hard worker by the jobs you’ve held. But you don’t want a job, you want something meaningful and that means more to me than any work experience. You can be taught the rest.”

Kayla nodded her head, and when she was out the door, she reached up and clasped the silver star on her neck that she always thought was a good luck charm. The only frivolous gift she’d ever been given with words that she’d kept close to her heart. On her way here she had made a wish on it while she’d held her breath in an attempt to not toss her cookies on the ferry ride over.

As good days went in her life, this one was right up there.

 

 

 

Fierce-Noah…Chapter One

Noah

If you haven’t read the Prologue, you catch up now.

Red Sheep

 

“I’m glad we could meet for lunch,” his mother said on Columbus Day. You should be off, but I know you’re at the school working. At least this pulled you out of the office.”

“You know how it goes,” he said. “Once school starts it’s nonstop. A month in and I’m still playing catch up on paperwork and grants. I swear this group of freshmen is nothing but trouble. Every year the new class is one of two things, they all get along for the most part with the exception of a few, or they cause more headaches than I’ve got bottles of aspirin for.”

His mother grinned at him. “You will have your hands full with this class. There are a group of troublemakers and a bunch of followers. The followers just feed off the troublemakers rather than standing up on their own. Not enough leaders in this generation I fear.”

His mother taught middle school English so she’d know since she had most of these kids. “You should have warned me.”

“And ruin all the fun? You know I like you to make your own decisions and opinions on the kids.”

She did. He did bounce ideas off of her earlier in his career as a high school history teacher, then when he was promoted to vice principal and finally principal three years ago just before his thirtieth birthday. Yep, his plan was going well. At this rate he should be superintendent well before he was forty, but the current one in the district was only in his late fifties so only time would tell how long he lasted.

Though the assistant superintendent was rumored to be retiring in two years, so if Noah could wiggle in there he’d have a better shot than moving to another district. He’d move but would rather stay in his hometown of Durham where the rest of his family lived and worked.

“It’s going to be an interesting year, I can see it now. I’ve got a handful of new teachers I’m trying to get set up and accustomed to. Then the older teachers who are set in their ways. The kids, the paperwork. Why did I want to do this?”

“Because you liked being in charge,” she said, patting his hand. Their food was brought out and placed down forcing her to move her hand. He wouldn’t admit he needed that little bit of reassurance, which was sad for being thirty-three. But sometimes you just needed your mother in life.

Not that he’d ever admit that to anyone, least of all to her or his siblings. They’d never let him live it down.

“I believe the word used to describe me was bossy,” he reminded her. “Drake is the chill one, I’m the bossy one, Wyatt the joker, and Jade is the baby.”

She picked up her fork to stab at a piece of chicken in her salad. “You all have your labels, though we know Jade hates being called the baby.”

“She hates it worse when we say she is the only girl.”

His younger sister was only two years behind him, but her three older brothers—especially her twin, Wyatt—watched her like a hawk and made sure no one messed with her. Of course after years with her brothers, Jade knew how to handle herself at this point in her life.

“It’s hard not to say that about her when she looks like a little princess all the time,” he said.

“She does like her clothes and accessories.”

“The pretty girl with the sharp tongue,” he said of his sister.

“She gets that from me.”

“Please,” Noah said, waving his hand. “You hardly ever swear or yell.”

She started to laugh. “I yelled plenty at you kids growing up and you know it. So what else is going on with work?”

“Not much. I’m just keeping an eye on a group I can see that is going to cause problems. Nothing has happened yet, but it’s brewing like a witch’s cauldron months before Halloween.

“Just nip it in the bud first, or try to.”

He always did at some point. “I’m doing more patrolling than normal on lunch breaks and when I think these kids are in study halls. I want them to know I’m there along with security.”

“Most are intimidated by you. They aren’t so much by the security.”

“I don’t think they see the security guards as an authority like they do me.” Being six foot three and built had something to do with it, he knew that. The other part was that for as much as he was firm, he was also friendly. He wanted to earn the kids’ trust.

“You have a way about you with the kids. You always did. You’re doing what you love. We sure the heck know you aren’t doing it for the money.”

He snorted. “So I’ve been told before.”

He started to eat his burger hoping that the conversation would stall. There had been plenty of women in his life that he’d dated that wondered why he chose his career over working for the family business or going into medicine like the rest of his family.

Only his cousin Bryce was in academics like him, but he was a professor at Duke working on his second doctorate. Then there was his cousin Sam who was a surgical oncologist at Duke Cancer Center, his twin Drake, an engineer at the family firm, his brother Wyatt, an anesthesiologist, sister Jade, an engineer at the family firm, and his youngest cousin, Ryder, an architect at the firm. A history teacher turned high school principal was the red sheep in the group.

Not black because he didn’t cause trouble, but red because he stood out like the stepchild that didn’t belong. At least in some of the women’s eyes he’d dated.

He’d once told his brother money wasn’t everything and he believed it. He wasn’t poor by any means. Hell, he just tipped six figures with his job this year so that wasn’t anything to sneeze at, but it wasn’t the kind of money the rest of his family made either.

“People need to get over it,” his mother said. “Society is so obsessed with what everyone has rather than who they are.”

“I try to tell the kids that too. They don’t listen.”

“You do a lot of good with those programs in school, Noah. Don’t let anyone tell you differently. For as many upper income families as there are here, there are more lower income. Everyone should be treated equally, but it doesn’t happen. You try your hardest to bring those kids together to be seen for what they contribute rather than what their parents give them.”

“Thanks. I do try. You and Dad never let the money change or mold us. We were given a lot of privileges; we all got out of college debt free and that is huge. We didn’t want for anything, but we appreciated what we had. I just want to pass that on to the next generation. I want them to see the person in front of them, not where they come from.”

Which was funny since he was a history major and it always annoyed him that people forgot how everyone got to where they were today. It was a tightrope he walked a lot in his profession. Teaching the subject, or making the person. He chose to make the person while he taught the subject.

“And you will,” she said. “So any kids in particular standing out this year to you? All grades?”

“Nothing really. I’m getting to know the underclassmen, but with so many faces it’s hard to remember them all. It seems the smart ones, the jocks, and the troublemakers stand out the most. Those in the middle—which are the majority—get lost in the shuffle.”

“No one gets lost, just remember that. I had this kid last year. Sebastian. Good kid if you could get past the tough exterior. He was new to the school. Smart, you could see it, but didn’t apply himself or didn’t want people to know he was smart. He definitely wanted to be lost in the shuffle and it made me sad. But I could see what a great personality he had through his work.”

“That’s the problem with kids. Sometimes they are afraid to put themselves out there for fear of being knocked down.”

“You’d know that, wouldn’t you?” his mother asked.

He’d never been knocked down a day in his life. He and his brother Drake were two of the biggest kids in his class. They played sports, they hung out in the popular cliques, and they had a lot of friends. But he had gotten more comments than he cared for about his field of choice.

“It’s not the same. I didn’t care if someone judged me. None of us do.”

“That’s because we raised you kids right. Other kids, like Sebastian, who knows what goes on in his house? I read his papers and I knew the type of kid he should be, but his actions didn’t show that. Anyway, keep doing what you’re doing and you’ll be just fine. Let’s finish up lunch, as I know you want to get back to the school and do more work while it’s quiet.”

“I’ll probably grab some paperwork to bring home. I was going to see if Drake wanted to get some dinner, but I’m sure he’s got plans with Kara.”

He was expecting his twin to pop the question to Kara Winslow at some point in the near future, but it hadn’t happened yet. They were just starting to move in together slowly and he wondered if he was going to lose all the time he and Drake spent together.

He was used to being with his twin once or twice a week, talking daily, but now, they just talked or texted more than hung out. Being the third wheel on a unicycle was pretty uncomfortable.

“So, invite yourself to dinner with them. Kara loves having you around and you know it.”

“I won’t do that. I don’t feel right just walking in their house anymore unannounced. It’s not just Drake most times.”

“No, but Kara is like family. Hopefully she will be soon. Those two are wonderful together.”

“They are,” he said, trying to squash the jealousy he felt for his older brother’s relationship. He’d always felt like he had to measure up to him and never could.

“You’ll find someone soon,” she said and then went back to eating.

He wasn’t so sure of that. It seemed like he swung and missed more times than a fifth grader trying to hit a professional pitcher’s fastball.

 

***

 

“Did you get anywhere?” Garrett asked her when she walked into his office after her lunch with Noah.

“Shhh,” Carolyn Fierce said as she shut his door. “We can’t be quiet if you ask me those things where people can hear. What is wrong with you?”

Her husband laughed at her. “Nothing. I’m just curious. Drake is falling into our plan just like we thought. Seeing him and Kara together makes me smile daily. Sam and Bryce are engaged, we are still one kid down from Grant and Diane.”

“I didn’t get far. Give me time. This one is hard. Just because I had a student whose aunt would be perfect for Noah doesn’t mean I can get them together. That would be too obvious. He was talking about how this class has a bunch of troublemakers. I slipped Sebastian’s name in there to see if he’s had any interaction with the kid.”

“Did he react?” Grant asked.

“No. Not even a flicker of his eyelids. I liked the kid a lot, I felt a connection to him through his writing, but he never acted as he wrote. Trust me, I know he’ll be in Noah’s office soon enough. It’s bound to happen. He’s smart and talented, but he wants to fade away and the kids don’t want to let him. It’s sad, it is, and my hope is Noah will recognize that and take him under his wing. But to do that he’d end up having to talk with Paige.”

“What do you know about Paige?” he asked.

“Not a lot. She has guardianship of Sebastian and I don’t know the whole story, and she was nice and sweet but very concerned. I could see she was focused on doing right by her nephew, but she might be in over her head too.”

“Noah will see that and step in to help. It’s in his nature to do that,” Grant said, rubbing his hands together.

“Exactly. So though I don’t want Sebastian to get in trouble, I’m sure it’s going to happen. We just have to wait this one out.”

“I hate the waiting game. Maybe we should start thinking about Wyatt in the meantime.”

She laughed. “Please. I can’t do two at once. Why don’t you start thinking of Jade? Maybe someone at work like Kara and Drake worked out?”

“Jade would never date someone from work, you know that,” Grant said. “She’s going to be a tough one, so let’s just hold off a bit.”

“You’re right. Girls are just much more difficult. Gavin had Ella ‘set up’ for years before it actually fell into place. He didn’t even let Jolene know what he’d done.”

Her sister-in-law had set up her four boys one by one and then when it came time for their daughter, Ella, she’d had no luck. Little did anyone know Gavin had started the ball rolling on the matchmaking long before Jolene got it in her head.

Now Carolyn and her husband, her husband’s twin, Grant, and his wife, Diane, were all trying their hands at matchmaking. They were three for three in the family and wanted to keep it going.

“Maybe we should think about Jade though if it takes that long,” he said.

“I can’t. We agreed we’d take them in order. Let’s focus on Noah, maybe think of Wyatt. I can’t do much more than that. What do you think I’m some miracle worker?” she asked.

“You whined you had no part of Drake and I did it all, so now that I’m suggesting Jade you want to back off. I can’t win with you.”

She moved into his arms and gave him a hug. “You win every day of your life with me and you know it.”

He kissed her on the forehead. “I do. And that is all we want for our kids.”

Change Up…Prologue

change up

Prologue

Harris Walker jogged out to the mound of Citi Field in the bottom of the ninth. His blood was pumping; the fatigue that should have set in was nowhere to be found.

He was in a pitcher’s dream right now. What everyone hoped for. What they wanted to achieve and very few would.

Three more outs and he’d have his no hitter.

At thirty years old he knew he wouldn’t have too many more years in his pitching career.

A top prospect at just seventeen, he didn’t really develop until about five years ago. He didn’t get to show what he was made of and many started to write him off.

But, bam, out of nowhere, two years ago he grabbed control of his fastball, he mastered his changeup, and his curveball seemed to throw everyone off.

He was the pitcher players didn’t want to face. He signed one hell of a five-year contract to stay with the Mets when plenty were willing to pay him more.

Why? Because he was born and raised in Upstate New York and he’d been a Mets fan his whole life. Talk about a dream come true.

They drafted him, they put their faith in him, they gave him what he wanted in his contract. He was staying loyal because that’s who Harris Walker was.

And now he was going to prove to the owners he was everything they thought he was. He was going to show his pitching coaches they had every reason to believe in him.

Ace Reynolds got up to bat for the Atlanta Braves. He was seventh in the lineup and Harris couldn’t have planned this any better.

First pitch straight down the middle, ninety-eight miles an hour. Ace swung, missed, the crowd went nuts. Harris was like a squirrel going after those nuts himself, but he’d always been in control internally and he wasn’t letting anyone see the excitement he was feeling.

Second pitch, curveball, a little wide, called ball. One and one.

Third pitch, fastball down the middle, swing and—shit. Ace connected. Harris watched as the ball sailed into center field, but there was Johnny Reed, racing, diving, and catching it. One out. Two more to go.

Second batter only took three pitches too, pop fly that the catcher nabbed, and they were down to the last out.

The Braves put in a pinch hitter. Miller Smith who was on a hot streak. Bastards. They were already down three to one. Come on.

Harris didn’t care. Well, he did, but he wasn’t showing it.

He wiped his sweaty hand on his pant leg, he took a deep breath, and then wound up and threw a slider. Way out of the strike zone, but Miller swung, strike one.

The crowd was in a frenzy. The stadium felt like it was rocking.

He was going for speed. He wanted to prove he still had it with a hundred and five pitches down tonight.

Fastball, here it comes.

Miller connected, line drive, right at Harris, but not close enough for him to dive and catch it. He didn’t need to worry, because the second baseman had his back, plucking it right up over his head and bringing it in.

His teammates raced him on the mound, everyone slapping him on the back. The tears were rolling down his face and he didn’t give one shit about it.

He was man enough to cry over throwing the best game of his life.

And three hours later when he and Johnny and a few others were tossing back shots in a bar in downtown Manhattan, he was living the dream.

Women were hanging out around them, many rubbing against him…whispering in his ear. Yeah, he could go home with any of them, but he didn’t have plans on it.

He wanted to celebrate with his buddies. They had a game tomorrow and though he wasn’t playing, the rest of the team was.

Matt Greene, the Mets’ babysitter as they called him, walked over between him and Johnny. “Time to pack it up, boys. There’s a game tomorrow.”

“I’m not playing,” Harris said.

Johnny laughed. “Lucky shit. You play once every five games, get all the money, and more than half the chicks.”

Harris slapped Johnny on the back. “You like being my wingman, admit it.” The “half the chicks” was a running joke since many knew Harris barely took a woman up on an offer.

“Some wingman you are. We are both going home to empty beds tonight.”

The two of them laughed and followed Matt out of the bar and to his SUV. Matt was a good guy, just doing his job, making sure the players stayed out of trouble.

“Shotgun,” Harris called. “Since I’m the man of the hour.”

“You’re the man, all right,” Johnny said. “Ride in the front. I’ll just stretch out back here behind Matt anyway. You always push the seat back so far that the rest of us are squished. You aren’t the only one over six foot, you know.”

“Ah, but I’ve still got four inches on you,” Harris said, climbing in and putting his seatbelt on.

They were driving back to the building that he and Johnny both lived in. Not only were they teammates but darn close to best friends as well, always riding back and forth to Citi Field and the airport together.

Just blocks from their place, they were sitting at a red light when Harris caught a flash out the right corner of his eye. Headlights coming fast and nowhere to go, then the pain as it slammed into his door.

Nothing else after that. The rest was just darkness.

 

 

Cupid’s Quest- Prologue

CupidQuest

Prologue

Ruby got out of the car and pulled her backpack from the backseat that had been sitting next to her, flung it over her shoulder and put her head down while she waited for the social worker to open the trunk for her larger duffel bag. That was it, all her possessions were portable and had been for the past ten years.

“You’ll like it here,” Missy said. Missy Carter was her eighth caseworker. Seemed no one stayed at this job for long.

“Whatever,” Ruby said. Missy was young, she was eager, and she was clueless. Give her a year or so—maybe even six months—and she wouldn’t be so peppy dealing with her clients.

The two of them walked up the creaky stairs to a chipped white front porch that had seen better days. Out of place in the corner was one spray-painted black rocking chair. There was room for plenty more, but that solo one told her all she needed to know about this house.

While they waited for the front door to be answered, Ruby looked around the neighborhood. It was pretty much like most of the other ones she’d lived in. Not completely run down, but not nice pretty suburbia. Yeah, wouldn’t that be sweet? If ever!

When the door was opened, Ruby got a look at her new foster mother. She was probably in her fifties, tall, stocky and rough around the edges. That had to be her chair that no one was allowed to sit in while she escaped from the wards under her roof.

“Mrs. Wilson, this is Ruby Gentile. I’m Missy Carter,” she said, putting her hand out. “We spoke on the phone. I’m so glad you’ve got room for Ruby.”

“Always room for kids,” Mrs. Wilson said. “Call me Candy. Everyone else does.”

“Thanks, Candy,” Missy said.

“Come on in. Shoes off,” Candy said to Ruby. “You walk in the door, you take your shoes off. We’ve got rules here and I expect them to be followed. If you do that, we’ll all get along just fine. If not…”

Yeah, Ruby knew what the “if not” meant. It meant she’d be moving once again. All she wanted to do was find a place where she could stay long enough to make it through her last two years of school, which was starting in three weeks. Another school district she was changing to.

Ruby slid her old sneakers off and left them by the door where a few other pairs were taking up residence. Four that she suspected belonged to other kids by the range of sizes. She continued to stand there in the doorway, not making a move until she was told. Been there and done that and wasn’t about to assume a damn thing.

“Would you like to show Ruby around before we talk and fill out paperwork?” Missy asked Candy.

“Sheri!” Candy yelled at the bottom of the stairs that they were facing as they stood in the foyer of the older home.

Ruby remained until she was told otherwise, heard a door open above them, and a teenage girl close to her age came to the top of the stairs. “Yes?”

“Ruby is in with you. Show her your room and explain how we do things here while I meet with the caseworker.”

She couldn’t even call Missy by her name. Yep, Ruby knew how it was going to be here for sure.

“Come on up,” Sheri said, a smile on her face. Not even a forced one. Maybe Ruby was wrong. Most kids didn’t smile in foster homes. They just wanted to get by.

Ruby turned to Missy. “Thank you.”

Missy put her hand on Ruby’s shoulder. “You’re welcome, sweetie. I’ll be in touch.”

She nodded her head and went up the stairs and to her new bedroom. It was small, had bunk beds and one single in the corner. She’d never had her own room anywhere and didn’t expect that here either.

“I’m on the top bunk,” Sheri said. “I like it there. Suzie is in the single. She is out in the backyard playing. She’s ten. That leaves you under me.”

“No problem,” Ruby said, walking over and putting her backpack on the plain tan bedspread. They had different colored bedspreads, but they were definitely simple and cheap. At least the second-story room had an air conditioning unit in the window, even if it wasn’t on, though it would be nice if it were.

Sheri must have caught her gaze. “We are allowed to put it on for four hours a day when we go to bed. So we turn it on at eight and off at midnight. I’ve found that it cools the room down enough to fall asleep and then stays decent most of the nights.”

“It’s better than I’ve had at other homes.”

“They are strict here, but if you follow the rules it’s not so bad,” Sheri said.

“Who lives here?”

“Candy and her husband, Colin. He works construction and is gone a lot. He’s nice enough, keeps to himself for the most part. We are just people in and out of his house in his eyes.”

“How many kids?”

“You are the fifth. There are two boys in another room. They are set up for six and try to keep it three boys and three girls. The house is big, but they keep us in these two rooms.”

“It’s fine,” Ruby said. “Are you always this happy or told to be this way with the caseworker here?”

“I normally am. I’ve been in some bad places,” Sheri said, sitting on Ruby’s new bed. “This is one of the better.”

“So tell me the rules other than shoes by the door.”

“Meals are always the same time. She makes one thing and if you don’t like it, well, then you pick around it, but she won’t make you something different. If you miss a meal, then you are on your own.”

“We are allowed to get our own food if we miss it?” she asked.

“No. If you want to play a sport and miss dinner, then what you get is the nightly snack we all have around seven thirty.”

“Everyone gets the same thing there too?” she asked.

“Yep,” Sheri said. “But it’s food and I’ve been hungry before so I’m not complaining.”

Ruby had been too. Plenty enough times. “How long have you been here?”

“A year. I’m sixteen. I’m hoping I get to stay until I’m done with school.”

“Me too,” Ruby said. “I just turned sixteen. Two more years.”

“You’re lucky your birthday is over the summer. Mine is in April. Wherever I am, I pray they let me stay to finish school when I turn eighteen.”

The magic number when the payments stop and foster families normally want the bed opened up.

“Are we allowed to get jobs?” Ruby asked, knowing that was the first thing she planned on doing. There was a bus stop around the corner, perfect in her eyes.

“Yep. But you have to find your own transportation and still follow the curfews.”

“I’ll make it work,” Ruby said. She had to. She’d been doing that since her mother overdosed ten years ago and she started to get shuffled around.

All she wanted to do was have a home of her own someday. A family who was there for her or cared about her would be nice, but a home was her number one priority.

Fierce- Drake…Chapter Two

Drake(1)

If you haven’t read the Prologue or Chapter One, you can catch up before the last except!

Losing Control

Two weeks later, Kara walked down the hall and rapped her knuckles on Drake’s open door. “Got a minute?”

His brown eyes lifted from his computer. “Sure. Come on in.”

She took a few steps in. “I just received a copy of the credit card statements and there are a lot of charges with no receipts to them. The girls in accounting asked if I had them since the policy is to turn them in to me so I can make copies.”

He grinned at her. No, not a grin. A smirk. That’s exactly what it was. “What receipts are you looking for?” He opened a drawer and pulled out a handful of white sheets and spread them on his desk.

Her eye started to tick over that move. The smirk that wouldn’t drop from his lips wasn’t helping any. “I’ll take them all,” she said.

She walked a few steps to his desk and held her hand out. He placed them all in there, his fingers touching her palm. She almost pulled back from the heat of that innocent touch.

When she found the one she was really looking for she wanted to scream. “I can’t believe you spent over three hundred dollars on dinner for five people.”

It just appalled her how much money Drake spent on dinners with clients. It wasn’t just dinners, but lunches, events, office supplies. The best of everything for Drake.

She could imagine how much he spent on his personal clothes. His car was over six figures. She knew because she had to look it up one day to come up with an auto allowance for him since he did so much traveling.

Disgusting. His sister, Jade, and cousin Ryder didn’t spend money like Drake did when it came to work. Their personal lives, she had no idea and that was their business. But work was hers.

Of course he was older than them and had more responsibility. And Drake did seem to bring in more business than anyone else.

Didn’t matter. In her mind, a budget was a budget and she was hired to make sure everyone followed one. She’d even given him a bigger budget than the rest of the staff.

“That included drinks and tip,” he said. “That place wasn’t cheap. Nor would I take them anywhere cheap. That’s a massive contract. One that is funding a good part of your job, I might add.”

She narrowed her eyes at him. He wasn’t being sarcastic. He was even smiling still. “I was hired long before you got that contract.”

His smile dropped. “You know what I’m saying.”

“No, I don’t know what you are saying. Why don’t you explain? Your father and uncle hired me to get control of the spending and set up budgets. To analyze costs per project and so on. Just in case you weren’t aware, I’m doing this so we can build the costs back into bids.”

“I’m fully aware of why you were hired. What I don’t understand is what the big deal is if we are building it into bids anyway.”

“It’s just frivolous,” she said. “I understand there are expectations, but do you plan on doing this every time you meet with the officials in Charlotte? This is the third time you’ve come back with large dinner or lunch charges.”

“I didn’t know I was being monitored so much,” he said, leaning back in his chair.

“Everyone is. That is my job. And I’m not monitoring you like you think. I just know what you spend. You’ve got the highest cost ratio in the firm.”

“Sweet,” he said. “Not bad considering I bring in the most money.”

She took a deep breath. She wouldn’t lose her temper. She never did. Not anymore. Those days of losing control were long gone. She put that life behind her once she was able to get in a position that she could support herself.

She’d never be poor again. She’d never be needy. She’d never rely on anyone.

“I understand it’s a good honor to have. To be able to bring in the kind of revenue that you do. In the future, if you could please bring me the receipts as you get them, it would save me from bugging you. Or the accounting department to come in looking for them.”

“Fine,” he said.

She nodded her head and walked out the door to go do the job she was hired for. She needed to get out of Drake’s presence before she said something she’d regret.

 

***

 

The minute Kara was out of his door, Drake leaned back in his chair and closed his eyes, counted to ten and took a few deep breaths.

It didn’t help.

He even tried to focus on what she was wearing today. Tan pants that fit her long thin legs. A simple light green top with a white cardigan over it. It wasn’t really green. More like moss colored. She wasn’t flashy, she never was, but she was always put together.

He laughed out loud thinking that she actually fit the image of a bean counter in his mind even though she was young. Probably a few years younger than him.

He wondered why she never smiled. Why she was so serious all the time. Why she couldn’t have fun at work when so many others did.

He got up and made his way to his father’s office, hoping to blow off some steam. Before he got there, he noticed his father in his Uncle Grant’s office with his Aunt Diane and went there instead. He could kill two birds with one stone.

“What’s going on?” his father asked him.

“Nothing,” Drake said.

“It didn’t seem that way to me,” his Uncle Grant said. “Are you having issues with Kara?”

“That woman drives me insane,” Drake said. No one ever seemed to get on his nerves like she did.

“What is the problem this time?” his father asked. “I like her. She’s on the ball.”

“She was complaining about my credit card statement. Said there were receipts missing.”

Uncle Grant laughed. “That’s her job. She is just making sure the charges are legit.”

“No,” Drake argued. “She was making comments about how often I take clients out to lunch and the places I take them.”

His father laughed this time. “I tell you all the time you overdo it and spend too much. We hired her to analyze costs and expenses. No one escapes it.”

“Whatever,” Drake said, knowing it was useless. He should have kept his mouth shut. He knew why Kara was hired. They all did and they all agreed it was a good move. Little did he know he’d be the one that got the most grief in the end. “Hey, what’s in there?” he asked his Aunt Diane.

“Donuts and muffins,” Diane said, moving the box toward him.

“Thanks.” He grabbed a donut and left, not wanting to stand there any longer. He had work to do, deadlines to meet, and people to call. All the things he’d been doing before Kara interrupted his thoughts.

The worst part was, he wouldn’t be able to get her out of his thoughts the rest of the day.

 

***

 

“So, is that who you’re thinking of for Drake?” Garrett’s sister-in-law asked him.

“It crossed my mind. It’s funny watching Drake get so flustered. What do you think?” he asked.

“I think you and Carolyn need to work on it while we figure out what is going on with Bryce and Payton this weekend,” Diane said.

“Are we horrible people doing this?” Grant asked his brother, then looked at his wife.

“No way. We’re good parents just trying to see our kids happy,” Diane said, then leaned up and kissed her husband on the cheek. “Enjoy, boys, I’m going shopping with Carolyn today.”

Grant sighed. “Talk about needing someone to look over credit card receipts.”

“Tell me about it,” Garrett said. “Maybe we should have Kara analyze our wives’ expenses.”

His twin laughed. “Imagine how well that would go over.”

“About as well as it’s going over with Drake. I don’t get it. He was all for this position last year.”

“Until he was getting targeted,” Grant said. “Of course we all knew that would happen. Drake does spend more than the rest of us.”

“He earns it,” Garrett said of his oldest son, the pride shining through.

“Of course he does. It’s a good thing he likes meeting with the clients so much. He took a lot of that off of our shoulders. You know how much I hated it. That was more your thing.”

“Yeah. You didn’t care about playing nice as much as I did,” Garrett said.

“You’ve never played nice a day in your life. That’s why we got into so much trouble growing up.”

Garrett laughed. “Good thing our kids aren’t like us.”

“Wyatt?” Grant said.

Yeah, Wyatt was a prankster. Just like their nephew Cade. “How about Ryder?” he asked of Grant’s youngest and another employee in the building.

“Yeah, well, Ryder is just more a pain and a headache to his brothers and cousins than he is to us at work.”

Ryder was actually the ideal employee, which was funny since he wasn’t always the ideal son when it came to listening. His youngest nephew was the one that turned Grant’s hair gray.

“That’s true. So, what do you think of Kara and Drake? Match or not? I know Gavin thinks it’s perfect from what we’ve told him, but they don’t seem to even like each other. Drake never loses his temper. He never gets annoyed or frustrated, and Kara seems to bring the worst out of him just breathing the same air.”

Grant laughed. “I’m with Gavin. I think it’s perfect. Love and hate are so close. Let’s just see how it turns out.”

“So what do you suggest? Bring them together on a few projects?”

“I think that is the perfect idea,” Grant said.

“Let’s brainstorm this weekend and figure it out. It’s got to seem legit. We don’t want to raise any flags. Sam and Dani worked out flawlessly. Bryce and Payton seem to be working from what Diane said.”

“Diane has high hopes for Bryce and Payton, but I’m still not sure. I’m reserving judgment. I guess there is no reason you can’t work on Drake now and see how it goes,” Grant said.

“I’ll talk to Carolyn tonight and get her take too. She’s been out of sorts that you’ve got one son down and are working on the second. Might as well give Drake the push and see where it takes us.”

“Let me know what you come up with,” Grant said.

“You’ll be the first to know.”

Fierce-Drake…Chapter One

Drake(1)

If you haven’t read the Prologue yet you can catch up.

Stuck Like Glue

Eleven Years Later

Drake yawned as he pulled into the parking lot at the family firm, parked his Audi A8 and got out, stretching his long legs.

All the men were tall in the Fierce family. His father and his Uncle Grant at six foot four. Just like Drake. His Uncle Gavin was the tallest at six foot five. Drake’s twin, Noah, was six foot three and Drake held that extra inch over his brother’s head like the Stanley Cup Trophy. The rest of the men in the family were anywhere from six foot one to six foot three.

Big, strong…fierce. Like their name.

Though Drake never considered himself that fierce. He was probably the most laid back of the group. He went with the flow like water over a dam. Whichever way the wind blew, he could float along with it like the white fluff from a dandelion.

He’d only lost his temper a few times in life and those times, he’d learned his lessons.

Physical violence never sat well with him unless he was wrestling with his brothers as a kid and even then he’d done it the least. He was more a lover than a hater.

It wasn’t worth losing his temper in the past and it was not now. Too much on the line.

He’d taken his suit jacket off when he got in his car and hung it up. He really didn’t even need to have it on today but got into the habit of dressing more when he was going to meetings like this. It’s not like he had a tie on, just a light gray shirt, almost white, his jacket and charcoal gray pants.

He decided to leave the jacket there for now; he’d be going home soon anyway. He should have just gone home after the meeting, but he had too much to do and had wanted to take a few of the men to dinner after. Which was why he was back at eight rather than six like most thought he’d be.

The two-hour drive from Charlotte allowed his mind time to work out a few kinks in his blueprints once the clients made changes and suggestions. Overall, the city was pleased with everything. And since it was a multi-year contract to repave roads, fix some bridges, and hopefully work on the water drainage if everything stayed in budget, he’d considered it a big win to get this contract. One he’d spent a lot of hours on. Hours of work and schmoozing officials. Come to find out, one of the officials knew his father, went to school with him back in Charlotte and reached out.

He snorted now, thinking he’d scored that big win, only to have his father and uncle laugh at him and say, “We like you kids to think those things, but they reached out to us first.”

That was his father and Uncle Grant, always busting on everyone’s ass. In a good way though. As family, they were stuck like glue.

He walked into the lobby of the four-story building his father and uncle owned, went to the elevator and punched the fourth floor where his office was located. Three fourths of the staff were on the fourth floor, the rest on the third with storage and conference rooms, the kitchens, and other miscellaneous rooms. The first two floors were renters.

When he got to the fourth floor, the lights were on, the cleaning people doing their thing, but most staff were gone. He would be soon, but wanted to finish up something first.

As he passed by the finance department on his way to his office at the other end of the hall, he saw a light on and popped his head in. Just as he expected, there was Kara Winslow working away at her desk. Probably planning spreadsheets full of meetings that she’d want him to attend first thing in the morning. “Late night?” he asked.

Her head shifted up fast, her dark eyes focusing on him behind her glasses. She didn’t always wear them, sometimes she had contacts in, he assumed. Her long brown hair was pulled back like it always was. Now that he thought of it, he didn’t think he’d ever seen it down.

Why he was even thinking that was beyond him. He tried not to think of her too much because, whenever he did, he’d grind his teeth.

She was always nice to him. Always friendly in a businesslike sort of way. It’s just she was so straight and narrow when he was so…not.

In her eyes it was black and white. One plus one always equaled two and she wasn’t happy if he went one penny over a budget she imposed on him. His last name was Fierce. Hers wasn’t. If he wanted to go over budget to land clients, no one could tell him no.

Well, his father and uncle could, but that was it. Not Kara, Financial Analyst—or whatever her title was—or not.

“I thought you were gone for the day,” she said. “You left at noon.”

He didn’t realize she kept such close tabs on him. Of course it was probably because she knew he was meeting with clients today and didn’t want him to exceed her budget. Too damn bad. He probably did. Not that he looked at her budgets half the time.

“I had a meeting at two thirty, then took a few guys out to dinner. I just got back into town and need to finish a few things up, then I’ll be out of here. Are you the only one here?”

“I’m sure,” she said.

There was a hint of sarcasm to her answer and he wanted to laugh. Most of the staff left at five each day. Some left at four. His father and uncle were flexible with hours if the work was done. Those that left early were normally here by seven or earlier in the morning. Not that he showed up that early, probably because he tended to work later.

His father and uncle were the ones here first thing. He, his sister Jade, and cousin Ryder tended to come around eight.

Kara was always here before him, and he wouldn’t put it past her to get here first and leave last.

“Not everyone puts as much time into their job as you and I.”

“Nope,” she said. “Was there something you wanted? I’m just finishing up now.”

“No,” he said, smiling just to annoy her. He knew a dismissal when he got one. “I saw the light on and didn’t know if it was just the cleaning people or not.”

“They will be done by eight thirty, so I try to leave before them.”

So there was a limit to how long she worked. That is, if she didn’t bring work home with her, which he suspected she did because she’d send him meeting requests over the weekend all the time.

“I’ll be out by then too,” he said, looking at his watch. Twenty minutes now. Guess he should have just gone home. “See you tomorrow.”

He turned to leave when Kara called his name. “Do you have your receipts for today?”

He rolled his eyes. “They are in my car. I’ll give them to you tomorrow.”

She laughed. “Okay.”

He walked back to his office knowing that laugh. The one that said she didn’t believe him. She had every right to think that too since he purposely wouldn’t give them to her now.

 

***

 

Kara watched Drake swagger out the door of her office and let out a breath she didn’t even know she was holding until she heard the gush of air.

Why did he have to get her so worked up all the time?

She swore he did on purpose. That he didn’t bring his receipts in and wanted her to chase him around for them. He probably found it some sort of game.

She didn’t chase anyone though. No man, that was for sure.

Men—she didn’t need them in her life. She didn’t need anyone and she was darn happy to be going home alone tonight.

Alone every night to the apartment she shared with her cat that didn’t mind she wasn’t there often.

She’d never thought she’d have a cat, but she’d found the kitten in the back of the apartment complex that she lived in and couldn’t let it starve. Couldn’t let it die. She’d fed it a few times, hoping it would get its strength or find a home.

It found a home, all right. With her.

That kitten was a fighter, just like her. They shared that trait and she felt a bond with the pet she never thought she’d own.

Tyson was strong with a soft meow that he only graced her with every time he saw her. He’d even slipped into the door one night and got into the building. She’d caved when she never thought she was someone to cave for anything and adopted the pet.

Speaking of caving, it was time to leave before Drake so she wouldn’t run into him again. She tried to limit their communication as much as possible. Heck, she thought it was him avoiding her more, which didn’t explain why he stopped into her office tonight.

Either way, she put her computer to sleep, grabbed her purse and walked to the door, then shut the light, and put Drake out of her mind as best as she could.

Too bad no matter how much she tried, he always found a way back in.