Fierce-Jade…Prologue

Prologue

Jade was in the kitchen of her townhouse that she shared on campus with three other girls. No one was home but her and she was happy for that.

She started to sniffle and pushed it back. There was more rage than anything at this point. Damn Dylan for what he’d said. For what he’d done. She’d bet if she hadn’t confronted him, he’d keep it up too.

“Are you cleaning the kitchen in a skirt and leather shoes?” Miranda asked when she walked in the door. Miranda had a room on the other side of the townhouse with Stephanie. Jade really didn’t care for Miranda much, but you don’t know everything about someone until you’ve lived with them.

“I am. If you guys were cleaner I wouldn’t have to do it all the time.”

Miranda laughed. “You don’t need to pick up after us. We aren’t that messy, but you can’t help being the control freak. So much so you can’t even change into old clothes to do it.”

She’d been too pissed off when she walked in the door and she knew the mindless task of scrubbing the kitchen and counters would help her a little. She didn’t want to lose control and break down in front of anyone, least of all her roommates who were like vultures on a carcass on the side of the road.

“So I heard Dylan ended things with you,” Miranda said in that voice of hers that gloated about everything.

“I think you heard wrong,” she said back completely in control now. Never let them see you sweat or being weak. That was how she felt.

 It was probably the last straw when Dylan started flinging insults at her and she laughed in his face and told him to stop being so childish and act like a man and admit what he did. She was fully aware he was going to trash her now and it looked like he didn’t waste much time.

“Are you and Dylan done?” Miranda asked.

She had no idea how Miranda could know this soon when it only happened an hour ago. Guess snake venom spread fast. She could lie, but there was no point. “We are.”

“He dropped you because you’re too rigid,” Miranda said. “We’ve been telling you that for years.”

Years was an exaggeration since she’d only talked to Miranda for the last two and if she’d had her way they wouldn’t be sharing a townhouse together, but she didn’t.

She’d been dying to be on her own and go to a different college than the rest of her family. Than her twin. If she’d gone to Duke she could have been rooming with her cousin Ella all along. But nope, she’d thought she was ready to do it alone.

Little good that did when it seemed like she had more conflicts with girls here than she did with all her male brothers and cousins.

She’d thought it’d be better to get out from under them and the way they intimidated all the boys she’d dated, but she found that she would welcome their interference today.

No, that was wrong. She handled Dylan on her own even if he was spreading lies. And she was going to be the bigger person and pretend indifference even if she was heartbroken once again and feeling betrayed.

“He didn’t drop me,” she said, turning and crossing her arms.

“That’s not what he’s saying.”

Jade laughed. “Of course he isn’t going to admit I found out he was kissing someone else and confronted him. I don’t care to be with cheaters.”

“Cheaters,” Miranda said. “I didn’t know you guys were that serious. Dylan has been on a handful of dates in the last month with other women. I thought you knew. We all did.”

Miranda was trying to get a rise out of her like she did most girls on campus. She thrived on it. It wasn’t happening with Jade. “Well, I was exclusive when we started dating and he now knows what I will and won’t tolerate. If it makes him feel better that he is telling everyone he broke up with me, fine. But if what you are saying is true, then we had nothing to break up in his eyes.”

Miranda flushed and Jade knew she’d called the bluff. As always Miranda wanted to cause trouble. “Whatever. Doesn’t matter. You always have some excuse as to why relationships don’t last but the truth is you need to look in the mirror.”

“Excuse me?”

“You heard me. It’s not your brothers since they aren’t here. It’s you. You’re rigid. You’re controlling. It’s your way or the highway.”

Jade snorted. “I’d hardly say that.”

“Really?” Miranda asked. “Your boyfriend that you’ve been gaga over for weeks is caught kissing another girl and you’re not even upset over it. Instead you’re in the kitchen cleaning the way you want it done and rearranging everything to what suits you.”

She wasn’t going to acknowledge any of what Miranda was saying. Not even that she did move the silverware into another drawer that she felt it should have been in all along.

“Why do you care so much?” she asked instead.

“I don’t,” Miranda said.

“I think you do,” she said coolly. “I think you like to see other people upset and hurting. That you thrive on it and it’s just driving you insane that I’m indifferent.”

“That’s a good word for you,” Miranda said. “Indifferent. Another reason why you’ll be alone for a long time to come.”

She turned her back and picked the sponge up, Miranda getting bored and leaving now that Jade wasn’t giving her what she wanted.

When Jade knew the coast was clear, she went into her room and grabbed her pillow, then sat down on the bed, burying her face and letting the tears fall.  No one was around and if they returned they wouldn’t hear her.

Never let them see you vulnerable. People like Miranda just ate it up.

She should be used to this by now. Used to men not understanding her. Not liking her for who she was or the person she wanted to be.

They saw a pretty face and a name that carried some clout but then got bored.

When her tears were done falling, she glanced over at the clock and noticed it’d been almost thirty minutes. She picked up some clothes and went into the bathroom to shower and scrub her face clean, then put a cold washcloth over her eyes.

By the time her other two roommates returned ninety minutes later, she was cool and composed cooking dinner.

“Hey, Jade,” Kaylee said. Kaylee shared the same half of the townhouse with her. “How are you doing?”

“Fine,” she said. “Why do you ask?”

“Miranda delighted in texting me that Dylan broke up with you.”

Bitch, Jade wanted to say, but didn’t. “I see she still wants to say her own version of it.”

Kaylee grinned. “You know her. But you look fine to me. I guess I shouldn’t expect any differently. Nothing seems to bother you. I’d be all red-eyed and sitting on the couch in a blanket with a gallon of ice cream on my lap right now.”

Jade wouldn’t admit she’d had a bowl earlier. No one was around to see her. “I’m not like you.”

“You’re not like a lot of women,” Kaylee said. “You’re much stronger and you’ll be better off for it in the end.”

“Not per Miranda. She thinks strong women are alone most of their lives.”

“But if you’re strong then who cares? You don’t need anyone. That’s what I think.”

Jade just smiled. Why couldn’t she be strong and want someone by her side at the same time? That possibility had to exist, right?

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.”

Fierce- Wyatt

Wyatt(1)

Dr. Wyatt Fierce has one of the more stressful and nerve wracking careers in the medical profession. He takes that job seriously but that’s all he takes in life seriously. Out for fun…that’s his motto. Looking to settle down like his parents want? Someday…if he could only find the person who understands him the best.

Adriana Lopez doesn’t mess around. She’s serious. She’s upfront and in your face. And the last thing she has time for is anyone who isn’t like her. Why? Because the one time she tried to let her guard down and fell in love it was the wrong man…making her look like a fool. Love and relationships have no part in her life now. Not even dating. She’s in a new town and is going to make a fresh start. Simple as that. Only she knew nothing is ever simple in life.

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.”

Fierce-Noah…Prologue

Noah

Prologue

 

“Well, hello there, hot stuff. I’m Kaylee. What’s your name?”

“Noah,” he said, moving over on the couch at the frat party he and his twin, Drake, were attending. He made room for her, her island scent hitting him hard in the nostrils, and he wondered if she’d dumped the body spray over her head like so many chicks seemed to be doing.

His younger brother, Wyatt, was upstairs with some freshman in his class. His cousin Cade was here somewhere with a girl too, but his cousin Bryce, who was in his junior year like Noah and Drake, was probably in his room studying.

“Noah is a nice strong name,” she said, running her long nail down his bicep.

“It goes with the last name,” he said, letting out a laugh as his twin, Drake, walked into the room and sat in a chair across from them. Drake ran his hand under his nose letting him know that he was thinking the same thing about Kaylee’s scent.

“And what is your last name?” Kaylee asked, her hair flipping over her shoulder. It was hard for him to not start coughing with the smell of coconut smacking him in the face. He hated coconut.

“Fierce.”

She giggled and snuggled closer to him. “Sounds perfect for you.”

“We like to think so,” Drake said, his grin growing wider.

Kaylee looked up. “Are you guys related?”

“Drake Fierce, Noah’s twin.”

“Oh, there are two of you.”

“Actually there are five of us here,” Drake said.

“All brothers?” Kaylee asked. Drake took a sip out of the red solo cup in his hand.

“No. Drake and I are juniors. Our younger brother, Wyatt, is a freshman. Our cousin Bryce is a junior; our other two cousins, Cade and Ella, are freshmen. So really six here, now that I think of it.”

“Fierce?” she said. “Like the engineering firm in town?”

“That would be our father and uncle,” Noah said back, surprised she’d recognize that. “How do you know?”

“My friend is going for engineering and she talks about the firm and how everyone wants to get their internship there. So let me guess, you are all going into the family business?” she asked, inching closer. He had the sudden urge to ask if she planned on going to the beach since she smelled so much like sunscreen.

Then he realized it didn’t matter. Kaylee wasn’t out for a relationship; she was out for fun. He knew her type.

“Cade and Ella are business students and going back to work for their family business in Charlotte. Bryce is studying chemistry or something. Who knows if it changed, but not engineering. He might just save the world one day with something he discovers,” he said laughing. His genius cousin would probably go to school his whole life.

“And what about you and your brothers?”

“I’m going for engineering,” Drake said. “Our youngest brother is following in our other cousin’s footsteps going into medicine.”

“Oh, doctors,” she said. Kaylee was almost on his lap. He was going to need a shower when he left if she rubbed against him anymore. “So engineering, pre med or, let me guess, a lawyer for you?”

Drake started to laugh. “He’s too bossy for those fields,” Drake said.

Noah just grinned. Not only didn’t he want any part of those professions, he didn’t think he was smart enough for them.

Sure, he could get by, but it wasn’t what he wanted. He wasn’t strong in math and science and business was boring to him. Nor did he want to wear a suit, so law was out.

“Bossy?” Kaylee asked. “I like men who take control. So what are you studying?”

“I’m a history major. I’m going into teaching,” he said.

“You want to be a teacher?” she asked, wrinkling her nose like someone pissed in her solo cup full of beer. “Why? There is no money in that.”

He snorted. “Why does it have to be about money?” Not only was she not plastered to his side now, she was scooting over like he had a stench to him.

“Micki,” Kaylee shouted across the room and waved her arm. “I’m coming, hang on. Sorry, my friend is calling me over.”

“No problem,” Noah said, shaking his head. Drake rolled his eyes and handed his drink over.

“Looks like you need this more than me. Want to get out of here?”

“Yeah,” he said, taking his brother’s drink and walking out of the door. They’d go back to their dorm now. They’d stayed in the same room since their first year. They had two other roommates too, but they’d never been apart.

“Don’t let her get to you. Those superficial chicks will go hook up with someone else.”

“Probably Wyatt,” Noah said, letting out a much-needed laugh. “Oh, I hope so, then I can bust on his ass that she came to me first.”

“That’s the spirit. Seriously, Noah, do what makes you happy, not what other people judge you by.”

His twin always knew what to say. Of course Drake was the one that floated with the wind and nothing ever bothered him or got under his skin. It was annoying but he’d gotten used to it.

“I don’t give a shit what she thinks. I know what I want to do with my life and I’d rather not have someone want to be with me for my name and how much money I make.”

“But we are so strong,” Drake said in a high pitched girly voice, taking the cup back and downing the rest of it.

“What the hell? It’s kind of sick, isn’t it?” Noah said, remembering how many times silly girls made that comment. His brother would know what he meant without explaining.

“It’s been like this for us forever. I don’t have a problem with it, why do you?”

“No problem at all,” Noah said. “It’s just the first time I’ve had a woman do that.”

His entire life everyone asked if he was going to work for the family business. Even his sister, Jade, was going for engineering at the University of North Carolina and his younger cousin Ryder planned on going for architecture. But he’d never had anyone react quite like that over his field of study.

“They aren’t worth your time,” Drake said.

“Nope.”

“Besides, we all know you want to teach because you want to spend the whole day bossing someone around just like Mom.” He shoved his twin off the sidewalk and kept walking. Drake caught up fast, laughing. “You know I’m right.”

Noah was the closest to his mother, who also happened to be a teacher. The same with his Aunt Diane. He wouldn’t consider himself a Mama’s Boy like his brothers and cousins always said, but he just found he had the most in common with her.

“Whatever. You’ll be busting your ass fifty–sixty hours a week and I’ll be working ten months a year and out at three. You tell me who the idiot is?”

“You won’t stay teaching for long and you know it. You probably have it all planned out on your way to superintendent.”

He wiggled his eyebrows at Drake, then turned to the door of their dorm building. Yeah, his twin knew him well, but it wasn’t anything he’d shared with family. His goal was to teach for a few years, then move up to a principal, then superintendent. He planned on being there by the time he was forty. No later.

“Guess you’ll have to wait and see,” he said. “I’m hungry. The food was shit there.”

“There’s nothing in our room and the cafeteria is closed. Pizza?” Drake asked.

“Sure. Call Bryce and see if he wants to join us. He’s always up for takeout and it’d get his nose out of the books.”

As they walked into their room, Drake pulled his phone out and called their cousin Bryce to get his ass over. Noah heard the arguing that ten wasn’t that late. The minute Drake mentioned pizza, he assumed Bryce was on the way when Drake said, “See you in ten minutes.”

He ordered the pizza and hung up. “It will be about thirty minutes.”

Drake grabbed the remote and turned the TV on in the living room they shared with their quad. Their two other roommates were nowhere to be found. It was just as well for him and Drake.

The minute Bryce walked in the door, he said, “I thought you guys were at that party. The one you wanted to drag me to. Couldn’t have been that great if you are back this early.”

Noah snorted. “It was fine, but we left.”

“What happened?” Bryce asked.

Noah looked at Drake and saw that he wasn’t going to say anything, so Noah fessed up. “Some chick was coming onto me, then found out what I was studying and took off.”

“Been there,” Bryce said. “Not your type so move on. If they don’t want you, they aren’t worth your time.”

“That’s what I said,” Drake said. “Enough gabbing about women. The food will be here soon and there is no reason to spoil our appetite.”

The three of them started talking about anything but women. He appreciated what they were doing, but they didn’t need to. It wasn’t that big of a deal.

But later that night when he was lying in bed, it still bothered him. Would it always be like this? Would a woman always see his name and assume he was going to have some big paycheck with his career and walk away if he didn’t?

Or worse yet, how would he know if they really liked him or not?

He shook his head and turned over. This stupid shit shouldn’t be keeping him up at night.

Fierce- Noah

Noah

Noah Fierce has always been called bossy or the leader in the Fierce family. But to the women he dated, he just didn’t measure up enough. He wasn’t going to change who he was or what he loved to please anyone, keeping him single longer than desired.

Paige Parker found herself the guardian of her nephew when her sister was convicted of murder. She was determined to devote everything she had to give him a normal life, even if it meant putting her own life on hold. After all, what man wanted to get mixed up in her drama?

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.

Fierce-Drake…Prologue

Drake(1)

Prologue

 

“It’s going to be great,” Drake said to Tami when he went to pull open the door to walk into Fierce on a Friday night in late May.

He and Tami had graduated from Duke just last week. It was the only college he’d planned on attending since his father and uncle went there for their engineering degrees…just like he got.

Next week he was starting at the family-owned firm and wanted to spend some time having fun with his girlfriend first. In his eyes, that meant going to Charlotte to catch some concerts and chill out. Tonight he was having a few drinks at his oldest uncle’s bar.

“Whatever you want to do,” Tami said, looking off into the distance. That was her lately. Distant. He had no clue what her problem was and every time he asked her, she said it was nothing.

He pulled her aside before they entered. “You’ve had very little input on this trip. It’s just a long weekend until we both start our new jobs.”

“You are starting your new job. I’m still waiting tables trying to get a job,” she said, her tone more sarcastic than normal. That had been happening a lot lately too. It was almost like she was pissed off that he didn’t have to bust his ass to find a job like so many other people.

What most didn’t realize was that he had to work twice as hard to prove he was worthy of the family business. His family didn’t give anyone a handout regardless of what many thought.

His father, Garrett, and his dad’s twin brother, Grant, worked hard to get scholarships into Duke years ago while their older brother, Gavin, paid as much of the difference as he could. They’d lost their father when they were young, but they remained solid as a family.

That’s what his family was…solid. And he was going to damn well prove that he had what it took to represent what they worked so hard to build.

“You’ll find something soon. You know it,” Drake said, always positive. Always cheerful. Laid back even. It was often said he was the most chill of the family and not much got under his skin.

Considering how big his family was, he’d had plenty of time to learn patience.

“Whatever,” Tami said. “I just want to drink tonight. I don’t know why we couldn’t get a hotel instead of staying with your cousin Brody.”

“Brody works until midnight tonight and then two tomorrow. He won’t even be around much. What’s the big deal?” Drake asked. He got along with his cousins and Brody was the only one who didn’t go to college, opting to work alongside his father in the bar.

At just twenty-one, Brody was the first of the family to get his own place. A two-bedroom apartment less than a mile from the bar.

“A hotel would be more fun. We could have gotten room service or eaten out every meal. Now it’s like you think I’m going to cook for you.”

“What’s going on with you?” Drake asked. “I never said anything about you cooking for me. You haven’t done that once.”

“You said you didn’t want to waste money on a hotel. I just assumed,” she said crossing her arms.

That was her again. Assuming things for no reason. They’d been dating over a year and he had no clue what the hell was going on with her.

“Why spend money on a hotel when I’ve got family here in town I can stay with? It gives us more money to do things.”

Not that Tami ever spent one dime of her money on anything. It didn’t bother him much in the beginning. But now after almost a year, it was getting on his nerves she never offered to pay for anything.

Just because his family had money and he was starting a job next week that would pay damn good for a twenty-two-year-old didn’t mean he was throwing his cash away on stupid shit.

“You never spend your money on anything unless it’s what you want.” He held her stare, waiting for her to say something else. Like how he pretty much gave her everything she ever asked for and now he was wondering why that was. Why he’d been seeing a future life with her when she was copping an attitude he hadn’t seen before. “Forget it,” she said, putting a smile on her face and moving in to kiss his cheek. “I’m sorry. I guess I’m feeling sorry for myself that I haven’t found a job yet when so many of our friends had positions lined up before they even graduated.”

That was more like it in his eyes. A reason for her behavior. “You’ll find something. Don’t worry.”

He walked back to the door and pulled it open, saw the place was packed but pushed their way to the back where Brody nodded them over to two chairs he’d pulled from the side and now moved to the bar. “I saved these just for you. Thought you would have been here before now,” Brody said.

“We got a late start out of Durham,” Drake said. Tami couldn’t make up her mind on what she wanted to pack. Rather than getting annoyed because he was used to her doing that, Drake had sat in the apartment she shared with two of their classmates for over an hour just flipping through channels on the TV.

“You’re here now. What can I get you to drink?” Brody asked, moving back behind the bar.

“White wine for me,” Tami said. “Whatever is good.” She had a thing for wine when they went out. Never beer, never a mixed drink. Just wine. Not many college students only drank wine. And not wine coolers either.

“I’ll take a Sam Adams,” Drake said.

“Drake, it’s so good to see you again,” his Uncle Gavin said, approaching them. “Not that we didn’t just see you at graduation last weekend. You and Noah made my heart proud watching you walk down that stage with Bryce. Who would have thought four more of the family would have graduated from Duke already?”

“It’s where I always knew I’d be,” Drake said. His cousins Ella and Cade were students now and his cousin Sam graduated two years ago, but the rest of the family went elsewhere.

“Try to stay out of trouble while you’re in town. You know your Aunt Jolene would like to see you before you leave. She’s off tonight.”

“I’ll make sure we stop over tomorrow,” he said.

“See that you do,” his uncle said, then laid down two menus for them to look over.

A few hours later Drake was having a good time at the bar. Music was playing, the place was crowded. Tami was on her third wine while he was nursing his second beer. She’d been quietly looking around at people. She did that a lot. People watched.

He got up to go to the bathroom and when he returned Tami was smiling big and chatting it up with some guy. Someone he’d caught her looking at earlier.

“Who’s this?” he asked, coming back over and putting his arm around her shoulder, pulling her close.

Tami stiffened under his arm and moved it off of her. Whenever she had more than two glasses of wine she acted differently and he could never figure out what character would appear. Sometimes overly friendly, sometimes cold, other times flirty. Tonight looked like a combination of cold with him and flirty…with someone else.

“Ryan,” the guy said. “And who are you?”

“Tami’s boyfriend. So if you want to move on with your night,” Drake said. Even though he was standing he could tell he would tower over the guy that was making moves on his girl. At six foot four, Drake was the tallest of all his siblings and cousins. The same height as his father.

“She seems to think otherwise,” Ryan said, standing up. He was a little wobbly on his feet and gave Drake a shove for good measure.

Yeah, all that calm everyone said he had, that was out the window when he threw a punch and knocked the guy back into the bar. Brody pretty much jumped over the bar and wrapped him up from behind; his uncle grabbed the other guy and moved him to the back.

“What the hell is wrong with you?” Brody said in his ear.

“You can let me go. I’m not going to fight you.” It was a bit mortifying that his younger cousin by almost two years, who was a few inches shorter, was much stronger. Then again, Brody had more muscle than them all.

“Damn straight you’re not. Go cool down in the back too.”

“That asshole is back there,” Drake said, knowing he wasn’t going anywhere near the man. “And what is wrong with you, Tami?”

She was grinning at him, her nails trailing down his arm. “Wow, Drake. I didn’t know you had it in you for that. I can’t wait to get back to Brody’s place now.”

Brody snorted next to him and whispered in his ear. “Dude. That’s wrong and not what I’d expect of someone dating you.”

Drake shook his head and took a step away from Brody. His cousin was right. “Tami, get your purse and let’s go.”

Only he was sleeping on Brody’s couch and they’d be leaving in the morning. His family had tried to warn him about her but he didn’t listen. He wouldn’t make that mistake again.