Chasing Love…Chapter One #mgtab @NatalieAnn121

 

chasinglove

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

Damn Lucky

Sixteen years later

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

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

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

“Is your furnace working?”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

And it had high-end clientele.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Chasing Love…Prologue #mgtab @NatalieAnn121

chasinglove

Time for a glimpse into Chasing Love.

Prologue

“Meena, stop following us everywhere.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

How come no one thought like she did?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

HHNatalieAnn (1)

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

So Infrequent

Three years later

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

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

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

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

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

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

“What?” he asked.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“It’s nice. I like it a lot.”

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

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

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

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

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

“I can work with that,” she said.

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

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

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

***

“Isn’t he just so freaking hot?”

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

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

“Oh. I suppose,” she said.

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

“Are you blind?” Wendy said.

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

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

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

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

“Why?”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“No. That might have been better.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

HHNatalieAnn (1)

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

Check out the Prologue

 

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

Meanwhile in Albany, New York…

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Have you talked to Whitney today?”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Why?” Rachel screeched.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

Winter Love…Chapter One…#mgtab @Natalieann121

WINTERLOVE(1)

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

One For The Books

Seven Months Later

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

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

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

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

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

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

One for the books.

One in honor of her parents.

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

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

“Kendall Hendricks. I’m checking in.”

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

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

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

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

“I’m glad I stayed back then.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Will do, Zeke.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Winter Love Prologue @Natalieann121 #mtgab

WINTERLOVE(1)

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

Prologue

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

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

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

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

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

That she’d never see their smiling faces again.

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Kendall?”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“My mother had no idea?” she asked.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“He was. He was the best.”

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

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

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

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

Christmas Love #mgtab

CHRISTMALOVE

What happens when even the strongest are blinded by insecurities?

Former model, Noelle Bennett has decided she wants to be behind the camera instead of in front of it. She is longing for peace and quiet. No more traveling. No more crowds. No more men hitting on her left and right. Or people only wanting one thing from her. Just her and the woods around her little home, snapping pictures of the landscape beyond. A normal life for once…maybe.

Veterinarian Chase Martin has always gotten along better with animals than people. So when a sexy woman who looks like she just walked out of a fashion magazine shows up at his clinic offering to volunteer to take pictures of the dogs for his rescue shelter, he finds what should have been a great idea turning into uncharted territory for them both. Now he is wondering how he got so lucky…or is it more how unlucky he’s always been?

Fierce- Cade Chapter Two #mgtab @natalieann121

Cade

 

Here’s the last little peek into Fierce-Cade. You catch up on the prologue and chapter one too!

Pretend Indifference

Alex put the phone down and went to work. She knew her mother was going to be reaching out to old clients. She’d seen the list of businesses herself. She didn’t expect many to call her though.

She especially didn’t expect to hear from Fierce, the biggest name on the list. The one that could generate a massive amount of future business for her. The one she really wanted a chance at working with. Not that she’d admit that to her mom since she put up such a fit about her mother reaching out to begin with.

Unfortunately for her, she’d have to deal with Cade Fierce now.

Not that she’d ever met him in person. Or any of the Fierce siblings. She remembered their mother, Jolene, and their father, Gavin, from when they came to pick things up from her parents when she was a kid. But she’d never seen their kids.

She knew of Cade though. Or better yet, his reputation at Duke.

Maybe it was all false? Or maybe not. She was painfully familiar with reputations and assumptions about herself and tried to keep that in perspective.

None of that mattered because he was going to be here in a few hours and wanted to see what she had to offer, so she’d be ready for him.

Only she wasn’t ready for him when he walked in the door all full of confidence with a swagger that would rival James Dean.

He had dark hair and darker eyes. Eyes that were smiling at her. No, smirking. Like he had something he wanted to say but was biting his tongue. She’d seen that look from men before and was going to pretend indifference, a look she’d mastered so long ago.

“Hi,” she said, walking forward with her hand out. “You must be Cade.”

“I am,” he said. “I’m looking for Alex Marshall. I’m supposed to be meeting him.”

She snorted. Should have figured he would have expected a man. Not only that…didn’t she just greet him like she knew she was his appointment? Guess he wasn’t as smart as she’d thought. “I’m Alex.”

He grinned at her. Didn’t apologize. Didn’t do much more than say, “Well, then I’m just on time when normally I’m late. Make sure you tell my mother that if you see her.”

She frowned, not understanding that comment at all. “Why would I tell your mother that? Or why would I see her?”

“I just figured you knew her since she asked me to give you a call and see if we could work something out on a business front. As for telling her I’m on time, I never am. Or so my siblings always tell me.”

He was sending her a smile that would melt even the strictest of nuns’ hearts. The one that stood over you with a scowl on her face and a ruler in her hand. Only that nun would look at Cade Fierce and politely hand over the ruler and apologize to him. That was dangerous.

She turned and glanced at the clock. “You’re two minutes early, actually.”

“I’m on time when it counts,” he said, winking at her. Smooth. Definitely smooth.

She wasn’t sure what to expect from him, but not someone this friendly. This nice. This charming. He wasn’t flirting when she kind of thought he might, was he? She couldn’t tell, which was odd for her. She wasn’t annoyed over that, not really. Guess all those rumors about him really weren’t true. Or he changed. Or she lost her edge, which was possible with her dry spell.

Nah, if what she’d heard was true, guys like that, they didn’t change. Like she said, he was smooth as silk.

Or like the soft buttery leather shoes she’d noticed he had on his feet with jeans that probably cost more than all the pants in her closet. At least his shirt wasn’t too flashy. A light pink button-down with the sleeves rolled up. It took one confident man to wear pink, even as pale as the one he had on.

“I’m a little short staffed right now, so if you don’t mind meeting here, that’d be great.”

“Where is everyone?” he asked, looking around at the front reception area they were standing in. It wasn’t anything modern or sparkly like she’d bet his office was, but it did the job.

“I’ve got two people in the office beyond that window, but one is out on maternity leave and another called in sick. I’m kind of manning the front and the back at the same time.”

“Are you the only one that does the work out back?” he asked, frowning.

“Hardly. I’m not sure what you’ve heard about our business, but it’s growing pretty fast. I’ve got about fifteen employees out back that rotate between all of the machines. Most of the work is set up once it’s designed, then it’s just making sure the machines do what they need to do, boxing up orders, shipping and such. With any luck, I’ll bring on more staff soon, but we’re pretty busy right now.”

It sounded good to her ears when she said it. He didn’t need to know that she just hired half that staff in the past six months when things started to jump. She was hoping it continued to flow and some of those part-timers could become full time. But for the moment she’d be happy to not lay anyone off.

“So show me what you’ve got,” he said.

She’d produced a bunch of sample items already with the Fierce logo on them that she had stored in a box to show him one by one. A slow tease of sorts. She was still thinking about the items, right? Yeah, she was. She shook her head.

“I still had access to the old Fierce logo from when my parents ran the business. I thought you might get a kick out of that.”

He did by the grin he was sporting. “That’s great. It actually gives me an idea for some throwback items. I’ll have to talk it over with my family. But you’ve nailed the red and that’s hard to do,” he said, holding a coffee cup in his hand. Not a small cheap one, but a nice big oversized one that required two hands. Like his two large hands wrapped around it.

Damn, she needed to stop being so distracted when she never was before.

“We can do just about anything when it comes to printing in terms of what we print on. I know that is not hard to find. Where I’ve grown the business from my parents’ days is with the range of designs and techniques.”

She pulled out a beer glass from a box and handed it over. “This is sweet.” He ran his long finger around the etching in the glass. “Can you get other glass styles? Who are your vendors for that?”

“I can give you all that information if we end up working together.”

He glanced up, his eyes staring at her while she held her breath to see if he’d call her out on that. He didn’t. “Sounds reasonable. What else do you have there?”

“My new baby is the embroidery equipment. Once I create the design and program it in, the machine does the rest. Personally, I like this better on clothing than the old school ink printing, but not everyone does.”

She handed over three red T-shirts with the Fierce logo on them. One for the brewery with a beer glass, one for the pub with a bar and stools, and one for the restaurant with a plate and silverware all embroidered under the name.

“My brothers are going to wet themselves over these.”

She laughed over his statement, amused all his smoothness flew out the window in his excitement. She’d take that as a compliment.

He grimaced. “Sorry. Completely unprofessional and it slipped. Words tend to fly out of my mouth when I’m excited about something.”

“Good to know.” She had this!

“So you said you design and program everything in?” he asked.

“Yes. I can do just about everything in terms of graphic design, but I like some stuff better than others.”

“Do you do web design?” he asked, his eyes looking hopeful.

“I can, but it’s not my specialty. For cost purposes, I’ve created and continued to update our webpage, but I’m sourcing out for the meat behind the basic pages.”

She’d have liked to save the cost of that, but there were only so many hours in a day and she was lucky to get five hours of sleep on a good day.

“Can you order from your website?” he asked.

“That’s why I source out. I upload pictures and descriptions for the items, but someone else makes it all work properly for ordering and processing.”

“That’s good to know. I’d love nothing more than to offer more items soon on our website too.”

“Great, but if you don’t mind me saying, you looked like you might have been interested if I did that also. Are you dissatisfied with who you have now?”

“Not at all. I was just hoping it would be a negotiating tool to put everything in one spot.”

“Sorry to disappoint you,” she said.

“Not disappointed at all. What else do you have in that magic box right there?”

Back to his smoothness again, throwing out accolades. “I’m not sure it’s magic, but if it gets me a job, then you can call it anything you want.”

She put the box on the counter for him to dig into himself. He was pretty much ignoring her at this point while he looked over everything she’d printed on, from pens, to shot glasses, to Christmas ornaments.

“Are you self-taught?” he asked, not even looking at her but still digging through the box.

“No. I went to Duke and majored in graphic design.”

His head snapped up fast, he hesitated, and then grinned. “So did Ella and I.”

“I know.”

 

Fierce-Cade Chapter One…#mgtab

Cade

Here is Chapter one of Fierce-Cade. You can catch up on the Prologue here if you want.

Peace and Quiet

Ten Years Later

“Cade, honey. I need a favor.”

He turned and saw his mother standing in the doorway to his office. He hated being in the office above Fierce because he never got any peace. For as much as he talked and liked to socialize, when it came down to work, he wanted peace and quiet for that.

If his family wasn’t bugging him, then his intern was, or another staff member. Everyone got mad when he worked from home so much, but it seemed it was the only way he could get anything done.

“Hi, Mom. A favor, huh?” he asked, smiling. He knew better than to say he was busy or push her off. It never worked when he was a kid and worked even less as an adult.

Jolene Fierce walked into the room and sat by him on the couch. He worked better with his laptop on his lap on the couch with his feet stretched out in front of him on the coffee table than sitting at his desk on the other side of the room. When people walked by and saw his desk empty, they assumed he wasn’t in. The couch was his favorite place to be.

“It’s not a big favor. Just a little one.”

Nothing was little when it came to his mother. “What’s in it for me?”

He sent her the charming smile he’d perfected when growing up. She’d been his test subject where he learned to master what looks to use when he wanted or needed something.

She reached her hand over and patted his cheek. “Always looking out for yourself, aren’t you? You’ll get something out of it.”

He didn’t like the look in her eye right now. He wanted to say sneaky, but she never was. She was always upfront. In your face more than upfront, but still, there’d never been any secrets with her. She’d never had the ability to keep her lips sealed, much like him. “So what do I get?” he asked, humoring her.

She squinted one eye at him. “Your siblings loving what you’ll show them.”

“They already love everything I do,” he said. He was laughing, but it was true. Everyone had their niche at Fierce. Just because no one understood his or wanted any part of it, they still loved what he did. Too bad they didn’t realize the amount of work it took for him to do it.

Brody, the oldest, ran the bar. He was the loudest and the leader of them all. He had a way with people and had always been a night owl.

Aiden was next by just five minutes. They all were born just five minutes apart. Or as his mother often told them growing up, “pried out of her five minutes apart.” Aiden was the most confident, the most skilled, and a master behind the food at Fierce that had people coming from all over to sample his creations.

Mason was the quiet one. The shy one. The smart one. Science ran through his brain like food was cut from Aiden’s knife. Mason created and brewed all the beer for Fierce. His brewery was listed as one of the up and coming in the US, with beer distributed all over the East Coast, more than quadrupling revenue for Fierce in the past two years alone.

Him. He didn’t have any special skill other than running his mouth and being the entertainment for the family. Someone had to liven the rest of them up and he decided it was going to be him. Everyone was way too serious. Or as he liked to say, “tight asses.”

Ella. The business mind. The CPA and numbers behind the business. The only girl. The baby that they all had to protect. Or so they thought. She could protect herself, and at times, had protected him. Not that he shared that with anyone, least of all his mother.

“You’re so cocky at times,” his mother said.

“So I’ve been told. I guess it comes with my line of work.” He ran all the marketing and promotions for Fierce and was the family lawyer to boot. No one seemed to take him seriously as the lawyer, at least not until the last few years. “So why are they going to love what I do even more?”

“Several years ago, your father and I used Marshall Printing for all our ads. Do you remember them? You were probably too young?”

“The name sounds familiar.”

He remembered the old fliers around the pub when he was younger. Even though he’d always felt like he didn’t have his place in the family business, deep down he really did. He liked to come up with slogans and ads. It was a good thing because he and his siblings knew they were going to make his parents’ business huge one day and they needed all the bases covered.

“Well, they kind of fell behind the times and just couldn’t meet our needs when we were growing so much. Then you started taking over even when you were in college and your father and I let you run with it.” She put her hand on his arm, patting it, just like she did his face. Humoring him again. Guess he got that charm from her. “You did such a good job that we didn’t interfere.”

“Like you want to do right now?” he asked, lifting his chin.

She laughed back at him. “Of course. Anyway, you’ve got a lot of vendors. I know you do. But you see, Marshall Printing is back in business. Or I should say they’re overhauled now. They can do just about anything and everything that you’re getting from multiple sources. Probably some things you haven’t even seen before.”

“How do you know this?” he asked.

“I still see Paula Marshall now and again. Anyway. I was wondering if you could go over and just talk with Alex. Hear them out and discuss what they’ve got, what we need, and see what the cost is. Wouldn’t it be nice to get it all in one place? Assuring it’s the same shade of red for everything?”

This time he narrowed his eyes. His mother liked to play the card of “I’m not sure what you kids all do” but everyone knew that was a big whopping lie. She had her finger on every pulse and nothing got by her. Ever. “You know as well as I do it drives me insane when I can’t get the reds to match.”

“Exactly. When your father decided on red, years ago when he opened this pub, it was Marshall’s that printed the very first shirts.”

He sighed. She had him and she knew it. He was a closet sentimentalist. “Fine. I’ll give them a call and see if we can work something out. No promises though. I’m happy with some of my vendors.”

“But not all,” she pointed out. Again, she knew more than she let on.

“Point taken.”

“You’re a good boy, Cade, despite what everyone else says about you.”

He shook his head when she left and went back to work.

A few minutes later Ella appeared in his office. “What did Mom want?”

“Why?” he asked. “I don’t bug you every time Mom stops into your office and asks for something.”

She smirked at him just like his mother was doing minutes ago. “That’s because Mom only stops in my office to ask if I want to go shopping. She never comes and talks to me about work like she does the rest of you guys.”

“Then go shopping with her. Maybe she’ll talk about work then.”

“I go shopping with her every other month. Don’t get me wrong, I love to shop, but even I have my limit.”

“There’s never a limit to shopping, Ella. She’s just bonding with you. She’s outnumbered and so are you. It’s that girl thing you two do that the rest of us don’t get. That and the spa.”

“You go to the spa just as much as I do,” she pointed out. At least she didn’t rub his face in the fact he probably shopped more than her. He had an appearance to keep up since he was out in the public more than the rest of them.

“Shhh. Don’t say that so loud.”

She shut his door. “You think you can hide everything, but you’re not very good at it.”

“How do you know I go to the spa?”

There were no secrets in his family. Or he should say very few of them between his siblings. He should be used to it by now, but probably never would be.

“You go to the same place I do. Don’t you think they’d mention it?”

“Shit. No. I thought that was one of those confidential things.”

“Cade,” she said, shaking her head. “That’s a doctor’s office, not a spa. Especially when they all brag about how charming you are to them.”

“Don’t be jealous that they like me more. They probably thought complimenting me would get you to be nicer.”

“I’m nice and you know it.”

“You could have fooled me right now standing there with your arms crossed.”

She dropped her arms but laughed at him. “Anyway. Seriously, what did Mom want? I heard her talking about the vendors. Are you changing them? Do I need to change any projections?”

“Calm down. You know, I used to think it was Mom that had her finger on every pulse, but it’s you. You get that from her. Geez, I’ll let you know if you need to change anything. She asked me to go talk to Marshall Printing. I guess they used to do all of the pub’s stuff years ago. Now they can do everything that I’m sourcing out through multiple vendors. She asked as a favor that I listen to what they’ve got to say.”

“Hmm. That’s odd.”

“Why?”

“Just that she’s never taken an interest like that before. Not to the point of asking you to work with someone.”

“She isn’t asking me to. She just wanted me to see what they have to offer. I’m supposed to ask for someone named Alex. I’ll give them a call later.”

“Alex Marshall?” she asked.

“Yeah. I guess. Why?”

“No reason.”

It sure didn’t look it to him though when Ella stormed out of his office.

***

“Ella, darling,” her mother said. “You just caught me grabbing some lunch. Do you want to join me?”

She’d run downstairs fast to see if her mother was still in the building, ignoring the looks she got when her heels made a racket on the stairs. Her mother was in the bar talking with her new daughter-in-law, Aimee. Brody and Aimee had gotten married just a few weeks ago. She’d watched her mother crying at the wedding, going on and on about how her oldest was finally getting married.

Then she listened to her mother talk about Aiden’s engagement and his wedding to Nic four months from now in December. Not to mention Mason’s engagement to Jessica and going on and on about future grandchildren.

The three brothers were all engaged or married to employees that worked for them.

All women that her mother had a hand in finding for them when she never used to take an interest in the business after the daily operations were handed over to Ella and her brothers six years ago.

Brody and Aimee, she let that one go. Nic and Aiden made her suspicious. Mason and Jessica blew her radar up. Now she was positive Cade was the next on the agenda.

“Sure, Mom. I’m hungry. What are you in the mood for?”

“I think I’m going to have a cannoli for lunch. Do you want one?”

Ella fought from grinding her teeth. She had such a weakness for sweets and her mother knew it. “No, thank you. I’ll just have a grilled chicken salad, Aimee,” she said before Aimee went to hand her a menu.

“Raspberry vinaigrette, right?” Aimee asked.

“You know me well,” Ella said. She often ordered something down here or came and visited Aimee when she needed a break.

“I’ll take the fish tacos with fries,” Jolene said. “And can you tell them to give me a container of the cheese dipping sauce that goes with the pretzels? And don’t forget the cannoli. You really should have one, Ella. You could use a few pounds on you.”

“What no woman believes ever,” Ella said, frowning. She was thin, but not skinny. If she let herself go, she’d put weight on and not in muscle, but in boobs. It always went there first and she hated it.

Aimee laughed. “I know. You like to dip your fries, Jolene. They know in the kitchen too.”

“How’s work going, Ella?” her mom asked. “You look like there’s something on your mind. What is it?”

“Nothing,” Ella said. “Well, not really. I just heard you telling Cade about Marshall Printing.”

“Always were my smart girl,” her mother said. “You’re trying to adjust your budgets or whatnot, aren’t you?”

Ella snorted. Her mother acted like she didn’t know the first thing about the books, but she knew everything. “You know me. I want to stay ahead of the game.”

“All you kids have something special that makes you unique. Well, no one is as unique as Cade.” Her mother waved her hand. “Never mind. Anyway. Yes, Paula told me her daughter, Alex, took over the business. Guess she went to Duke like you and Cade. Imagine that. She majored in graphic design and has given the business new life. She said Alex would be annoyed if Paula reached out to us, but she’d told Alex to get over it, that she was reaching out to all her old clients.”

“Hmmm,” Ella said. “Have you met Alex before?”

“A long time ago. She’s about five years younger than you guys. I remember her being around when I’d pick things up for the pub. Cute kid, always keeping to herself or helping out, just like you kids did.”

“Didn’t I hear you say something about an Alex Marshall winning some teen beauty pageant years ago? Bragging on how you knew that little girl and how beautiful she was. Such a talented dancer and so sweet.”

“You don’t forget anything, do you, Ella?” her mother said proudly. “Yep, that’s Alex. I guess her grandmother coaxed her into those pageants so she could get scholarship money for school. The business was barely holding together for a long time.”

“I’m glad to hear they’re turning it around. Or that Alex is,” Ella said smiling.

She was on to her mother, but for now she’d keep it to herself. If there was one thing she learned from her mother, it was to be sneaky.

Maybe her other brothers would enjoy seeing Cade set up. That had merit for all the times Cade got on their nerves. The question was, how would they feel if they knew they’d been set up themselves, and could they keep it from Cade?

Fierce- Cade… Prologue #mgtab @natalieann121

Cade

It’s that time for a sneak peek at Fierce-Cade!

Prologue

Cade made his way to the meeting place at eleven just as his text instructed. There was an excitement rushing through him, vibrating like the bass turned up to the highest number in the little convertible that he’d bought with his own hard-earned money.

Five kids meant they weren’t each getting their own cars when they got their licenses. Not when they were quintuplets. But since they all worked at the family pub, they all had the means to save or spend.

He’d tended to spend more than save early on, but when he discovered that chicks dug a guy in a hot car, he started to put those paychecks away faster than a pickpocket in New York City.

A nighttime rendezvous. Just what the doctor ordered with finals a week away. There was school, and there was play. Play normally took the lead in his life.

He was rubbing his hands together when he opened the door to the sorority house. In the basement, his text had said to go, so he made his way to the kitchen, then opened the door and walked down.

There were lights on in the house, but not too many people around. The two women he passed in the living room just looked up and smiled at him. They’d seen him here before picking up Sarah.

The stairs creaked under his weight. Not that he was heavy, but he was big. He and his brothers were all over six foot, and though he knew he still had some muscle to build, he was ripped just fine for twenty-one years old. The ladies sure didn’t mind if he could have added a few more to make a six-pack.

“Sarah,” he called out quietly. “Where are you?”

“In the back, Cade,” he’d heard and made his way past the ping pong table and old bar in the dingy room. It looked like a game room out of the seventies with the brown paneling and orange shag carpet, but what college kid cared about the atmosphere when they were drunk and hanging out, even looking to get laid.

It was a little darker in the back room, but there were a couch and some chairs. The door had been shut the few other times he’d been here and he was thinking now it was a sneak away room for a little bit of action without having to go to a shared bedroom on the upper floors. He was game for it.

“You got here faster than I thought,” Sarah said. “Normally you’re late.”

“You told me eleven. I’m good at following directions.” And he’d never be late if there was something in it for him. Something good.

“Are you now?” she asked. There was a look in her eye, one of secret pleasure that he couldn’t wait to explore. She’d sought him out weeks ago and had been extremely eager the few times they’d met up.

“I know that too,” he heard to his right, a higher pitched voice.

“Shit,” he whispered when he saw Lori standing there. He hadn’t seen her in a week or so since she stopped texting him out of the blue. She was all hot and bothered when she walked up to him in class that first time a few weeks ago.

“Me too,” a softer voice said.

He turned to the left, and as luck would have it, there was Allison. All that went through his brain right now was an escape plan. He was good at running from his siblings as a kid, but he had nowhere to go right now. Not only that, his pride made him stand his ground. He’d talked himself out of situations before, he could do it again.

“What are you all doing here?” he asked to no one in particular. Not like he couldn’t figure it out, though part of him was wondering what was really going on.

“We just wanted to see your face when you saw us all in the same room at once,” Sarah said. Now he knew where that pleasure came from. She was ready to twist his balls in a vise that was going to be two sizes too small.

“Let’s see if you can talk your way out of this one, Cade.”

When he heard the fourth voice, he turned and didn’t know what could be worse. Another woman he’d dated on campus, or his sister, Ella. Please, dear Lord, let Ella help get me out of this mess. “Well, Cade? What do you have to say for yourself now?” Ella asked him, just like she had so many times when they were growing up.

Guess not.