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.

Fierce- Drake

Drake(1)

Drake Fierce is the most chill dude in his family. Nothing stresses him or ruffles his feathers. So it comes as a massive shock when an employee of his family’s firm makes his blood pressure rise and the snarkiness come out in full force.

Kara Winslow’s life was anything but neat, tidy, or perfect like the Fierce family. Dull, boring, and stable were words often used to describe her. Then why does Drake get under her skin and manage to break her unflappable control so much?

Fierce-Bryce…Chapter One @Natalieann121 #mgtab

Bryce2

If you haven’t had a chance to catch up on the Prologue, you can now.

Lose Yourself

Thirteen years later

Bryce let himself into his parents’ front door. He’d seen both of his parents’ cars in the garage that they’d left open for him to enter. Glancing at his watch, he realized he was late as always. He was sure his mother would have something to say about that.

He couldn’t help it though. He got held up at work. Between lesson plans, grading papers, helping kids and then working on his thesis, he tended to get lost in time. In space. Hmm, maybe that should have been the topic for his thesis…is it possible to lose yourself in space?

He laughed at that thought. Not many thought he was funny, so he kept those bits of information to himself when they popped into his head.

“Bryce,” his mother said when he walked into the kitchen. “You’re twenty minutes late.”

“I know. Sorry. Got held up.”

“I know how it is,” she said. “It’s hard to walk away from the kids when they want help.”

He could let his mother believe that. She was a fourth grade teacher and she’d stay until midnight if she had to help anyone that asked or needed it. “Yeah. Hope dinner isn’t cold.”

“Don’t worry about it. We are just having chili and I let it sit in the crockpot until you show up. I’ve learned my lesson over the years.”

Meaning he’d ruined one too many of the family dinners because he was late.

Now as an adult, he and his brothers came to dinner once a month or so individually. It seemed he came the most though.

His older brother, Sam, a surgical oncologist, worked a ton of hours and when he wasn’t working, he used to have female company or go out to eat. Of course now he was recently engaged to Dani Rhodes and spending more time with her than coming for family dinners.

Then there was his younger brother, Ryder, who was an architect and worked at his father’s firm. Ryder came once or twice a month for the company of his mother rather than for the food.

Ryder was the baby of the group and had the most in common with their mother, the two of them always putting their heads together with recipes. When Ryder came to dinner, it wasn’t for a free meal but to experiment with her.

Bryce…he just wanted food. He’d never really learned how to cook, which was funny considering he was the smartest of the family and knew he could read a recipe just fine and execute it. It’s just he had no interest in it at all.

Why should he when his mother kept him supplied with meals once a week? If he didn’t come for dinner, she dropped him off something that he could heat up as leftovers.

When he wasn’t eating his mother’s food, he was making eggs or sandwiches or getting takeout. Campus food, he was fine with it when many weren’t.

“Chili sounds great,” he said, walking to the fridge and grabbing a beer.

Before he had a chance to take a sip out of the glass he’d just poured, his father came down the stairs and snatched it off the counter. “Thanks, just the thing to go with your mom’s fire hot chili.”

He laughed at the move he’d seen one too many times in his life that he should have known to expect it, then grabbed another bottle out of the fridge for himself. “Do we get bread with chili tonight?” he asked his mother.

She opened the oven and pulled a loaf out that had been warming in there. Hot damn, his lucky night. “I know one of your favorite meals, don’t I?”

The three of them had been sitting there eating quietly, surprising Bryce since his mother was very rarely quiet. “Are you and Dad going on vacation when school is out?” he asked since the silence was starting to make him squirm like they were planning something on him and he had no idea what it could be.

His parents made a habit of taking a week off after school finished for his mother. He thought it was nice they had that routine and didn’t break it in all the years he and his brothers had been out of high school.

“I was just talking to your father about it last night. Not even two months away and I can’t get him to commit to where he wants to go.”

“It’s getting late to get a place, don’t you think, Dad?”

“Don’t be siding with your mother,” his father said, drinking his beer. His father topped Bryce’s six-foot-two-inch frame by two inches easily. The Fierce men were a big lot. “I could have told her I wanted tuna noodle casserole tonight and she would have made it.”

Bryce shivered and fought back the gag. He hated tuna noodle casserole and wondered what sadist came up with that dish that his father loved so much but three kids of the house refused to eat.

“Don’t listen to your father,” his mother said. “I’d never make that for anyone but him. Even I struggle to eat it, but the things you do for love…”

His father smirked and went back to his chili, wiping up the sauce with his bread, then reaching for another helping. Bryce knew he was going in for seconds in a minute too.

“I’m sure wherever you go you’ll have a great time.”

He should be happy his mother wasn’t talking about his personal life anymore. Ever since Sam started dating Dani, and then got engaged, his mother had backed off of setting him and his brother Ryder up.

What was it about his parents that they wanted to get everyone married off?

His Aunt Jolene and Uncle Gavin had set up their five kids and they were all married or engaged in less than a two-year period of time. It was as if the rest of the family took that as an open invitation to start matchmaking.

Thankfully nothing came about from it and Bryce, his brothers, and cousins were all on the lookout and knew they wouldn’t be caught in the web of manipulations their other cousins had been.

“Speaking of a good time,” his mother said, “how is your thesis coming?”

“It’s coming,” he said. These things took time; she knew that, yet she always asked as if it was a paper he had due at the end of the week.

He’d already gotten his doctorate in chemistry and now he wanted it in physics. Why? Because he’d never grow tired of learning.

“Oh,” his mother said, jumping up fast. “I forgot I picked something up for you.”

His father and he both lifted their heads from where they were gobbling up their dinner when she dashed out of the room. He looked over, caught the eye raise and shoulder shrug from his dad and went back to eating.

When his mother came back to the room, she dropped an envelope on the table next to him.

He picked it up and looked inside to see a gift card for a place called Millie’s. “What’s this?”

“I tried out this little place the other day. One of the teachers at work, her daughter just took it over. You know how it is, they want you to try it out and I couldn’t say no. It’s right on your way to work. The food was good and I figured I’d give her a little business and get a gift card for you since you eat out all the time.”

“Sweet,” he said, setting it back down. “What do they have there?”

“It’s not that big,” his mother said. “They are open from six thirty in the morning until six at night. They’ve got seating for about twenty, but it’s more a takeout place. Breakfast is donuts, muffins, egg sandwiches and the like. Lunch and dinner are subs, sandwiches, salads, some burgers. Quick things. Like I said, takeout, which is right up your alley.”

“Sounds perfect,” he said, knowing he’d stop in soon enough. He loved how thoughtful his mother always was.

Speaking of thoughtfulness, over an hour later, he was walking out the door with enough leftovers for a few meals while he sat in his one-bedroom apartment reading and doing research.

 

***

 

“What the hell was that, Diane?”

Diane Fierce looked over at her husband, Grant, to see him narrowing his eyes at her the minute Bryce, her middle son, pulled out of the driveway. “What was what?”

“I’ve got a gift card for you. You know how we support the girls at work, yadda, yadda, yadda.”

She put her hands on her hips. “You know we do. How many times have I come home and caught your eye roll that I had frozen pies and cookie dough I had to find room for in the freezer? Or wrapping paper that fills the spare closet in the hall.”

“This isn’t the same thing and you know it. You’re up to something. You’re setting Bryce up, aren’t you?”

She smiled. “Maybe.”

“I thought we decided we’d talk about it before you did it. Just because you had luck with Dani and Sam doesn’t mean you can take Bryce on by yourself.”

“It’s not by myself,” she argued.

He snorted. “So fill me in then.”

“Fine,” she said, pulling out a chair and sitting down. “You know Rachelle Davies, right?”

“The phys ed teacher at your school?”

“Yes. Her daughter, Payton, owns the place now.”

“Okay. Tell me, because right now I’m trying to figure out how you think someone who owns a cafe is going to have anything in common with our brainy son Bryce. And isn’t Rachelle a widower? Didn’t her husband die years ago or something like that?”

“Yes, he did. When Payton was just a teen. Rachelle never really dated again. Not to be mean or anything, but she’s never been very feminine and well, maybe that stopped her from trying again.” Diane waved her hand. “It doesn’t matter. But Payton was always shy, or so Rachelle said. She wasn’t very good in school and never went to college.”

“This is getting worse and worse.”

“Don’t be snobby,” she said, pointing her finger at her husband.

“I’m not snobby in the least. I’m just saying that Bryce is the brainchild of the entire Fierce clan. Everything he does, says, or enjoys is over our heads half the time.”

“Except food,” she said.

“Okay, I’ll give you that. But that still doesn’t mean anything. You know how he is. He likes women he can talk to and have intelligent conversations with. You just said she wasn’t very good in school and never went to college.”

“She has a learning disability. She is plenty smart, but it was years before Rachelle realized that Payton was dyslexic. She struggles to read and write, but she can. It doesn’t mean she isn’t smart and I’m embarrassed that you are even thinking that.”

Grant frowned at her and she held back the laugh, knowing she put him in his place. “I think you are way off base.”

“You said the same thing with Dani and Sam and look at how well that is working out.”

Her husband’s shoulders dropped. “Fine. We’ll see how it goes, but this one could really be stretching it.”

“If I’m wrong, I’ll admit it. I promise. But I don’t think I will be.”

“You’ve never admitted you were wrong a day in your life,” he said, getting up and walking over to give her a kiss on the cheek.

“Because I never am and I won’t be this time either.”

Fierce-Bryce…Prologue #mgtab @Natalieann121

Bryce2

Prologue

“Hey there.” Bryce Fierce turned his head when he felt a finger trail down his arm. Not just a finger, but a fingernail, sharp and teasing. No pain, but with enough force for him to know who it belonged to. Then again, the scent of her minty gum mixed in with whatever fruity body spray she’d spritzed on let him know too.

“Hey, Marcella.”

“I was wondering,” she said, leaning into him. She had the lean perfected. She had everything perfected to get the attention she wanted. “If you were going to be working on your lab later tonight?”

“I planned on it after dinner.”

She snapped her gum and giggled, her blonde hair floating around her shoulders. “I could work on it with you? Professor Lang said that I’d have a better understanding of the class if I did my labs with classmates.”

She’d never have an understanding of it, in his opinion. “And you want to do it with me over your friends?” he asked.

Her friends that she walked around campus with, her posse. Always laughing, flirting, bouncing around with her arm on one guy or another. He wasn’t sure if she dated anyone, or at least exclusively, but she was sure seen with enough guys.

“My friends aren’t working on it tonight,” she said, her long nails playing a tap on his bicep now.

He might be a nerd in some people’s eyes, but he was still a Fierce and looked like one. Tall, dark, and built. If he had his face in books more than women or sports, that was his prerogative, but his looks still had women coming on to him, saving him from ever having to make the first move.

He liked it that way too.

“I’ll be around working on it if you find your way into the lab, but I’m not waiting for you,” he said. She frowned and he didn’t care. He wasn’t stupid; he wasn’t going to be used.

“What time are you going to start?” she asked, pushing her bottom lip out. “I’m meeting friends for dinner at six.”

“I’ll be in the lab around six thirty,” he said, adding another thirty minutes to when he’d planned to show up. No reason to be a complete jerk.

“I’ll see you then,” she said, turning, her hair hitting his neck as she strutted back over to her little crew at the other end of the room.

“What was that?” his buddy Kyle asked him, coming over to whisper. “Marcella was totally into you.”

Bryce snorted. “She’s into someone doing her work for her.”

“And?” Kyle asked. “Who cares if you get to spend some time with her.”

Kyle wouldn’t understand. He was smart like Bryce, but he looked like the brain that he was. He’d never dated and was just dying to get his first girlfriend. Maybe if he’d focus on girls that he had more in common with instead of those that wanted to use him, he’d find some success.

Bryce had been there and done that. He’d dated in high school. He’d dated in college. But school always came first and he was sick of girls that only wanted to spend time with him so he’d help them out. Especially if they were dishonest about it.

“I don’t need to waste my time with her when I’ve got work to do. She’s going to come over and ask me a million questions or just copy what I’m doing anyway.” He wasn’t an idiot. He’d been around the block enough. This was an old hat to him.

“Yeah, but everyone knows she puts out when she gets help. Like a payment of sorts.”

Bryce stared at Kyle to see if he was joking, which of course he wasn’t because everyone knew the games Marcella played. “I don’t need that kind of payment.”

“Says no guy ever,” Kyle said, his eyes drifting over to Marcella and her friends. Bryce looked across the room to see Marcella wave at him. He didn’t wave back, but he did nod his head. “Dude, guys like us need chicks like that to bump us up.”

“This guy doesn’t,” Bryce said. “I think more of myself than that.”

He walked away from Kyle and took a seat before class started, knowing Marcella and her friends were talking about him and giggling.

He wasn’t going to be used by anyone. If some woman didn’t want him for who he was, then he had no time for her. No energy. And no desire.

Fierce-Bryce @Natalieann121 #mgtab

 

Bryce2

Bryce Fierce seems to have everything a woman wants. Brains—he’s a certified genius after all—good looks, a successful career, and a family name many wanted to lay claim to. But what he really wanted was someone who was interested in him and not what he could offer. So he came up with a type and that is what he was going after…too bad for someone who was always right, he found out how wrong he really was.

Payton Davies was the girl many envied from a distance. Blonde hair, blue eyes, a killer body. Men wanted her on their arm for show. Even her parents told her to use what God gave her to get ahead in life because her intelligence—or lack of it—wasn’t benefiting her. What she wanted though was someone to be there for her. To appreciate her for who she was inside, not what she looked like, or judge her on any inadequacy she possessed.

 

Fierce-Sam Chapter Two…#mgtab @Natalieann121

Sam2

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

Supported Her

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

No one called her Dee. Not anymore.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Two,” he said.

“You’ve got to be the oldest.”

“Why do you say that?” he asked.

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

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

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

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

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

“Tonight?” she asked back.

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

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

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

“Why not,” she said.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

 

Fierce-Sam Chapter One…#mgtab @natalieann121

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

Joy to Be Around

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

“As ready as I’m going to be.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Nothing holding him back. Nothing tying him down.

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

His job was stressful enough, thank you very much.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“We’ll do the same to you,” Sam said.

***

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“How’s work going, Dad?” Sam asked.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

***

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

“What?” Diane said.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

Fierce-Sam…Prologue #mgtab @Natalieann121

Sam2

Fierce-Sam

Prologue

“All right, Fierce, get over here. You want to see what it’s all about, it’s time to watch the master.”

Sam Fierce’s heart was racing faster than a woodpecker on crack. He was scrubbed and ready to go. He knew he wouldn’t be assisting in this surgery, just observing, but he had to start somewhere. All residents did at different points.

He’d assisted on plenty of surgeries in the ER, but now he was ready to focus more on a specialty field. Surgical oncology. Removing masses from organs, more specifically. Tricky, tough, and not for the faint of heart.

He didn’t want to go into general surgery. Not orthopedics either. He wanted something more detailed. Something not everyone could or wanted to do.

He wanted to be different. He wanted to thrive. In a family as big as his—being the oldest of all his siblings and cousins—he wanted to stand out. That’s what he was going to do. He was going to make a name for himself among all the Fierces.

The fact that he was in the OR with Dr. Salamone was enough to make him feel like he was rushing down the stairs on Christmas morning hoping Santa left him everything on his list. But this was his first scrub in and it was just an honor to be in the room.

They were removing a small mass attached to the kidney from a thirty-two-year-old male. It should be cut and dry. Pretty simple, if having a mass removed from an organ was simple. The biopsy had already confirmed cancer two weeks ago, but if it was localized like everyone was hoping, the patient might be good to go with just removal. Lucky dude that could go live the rest of his life with his young wife in the waiting room.

The anesthesiologist was monitoring vitals, the nurses were setting everything up and Sam was standing to the side while Dr. Salamone did what he did best. “Want to make the first incision?” he asked Sam, who stood there wide-eyed. Thankfully the mask was on his face covering the fact his jaw had just dropped. Holy shit, yeah. “It’s all marked and ready to go. Come make the first cut, then step back to give me room. This is a teaching opportunity for you. I’ve heard nothing but good things, and I want to see how steady you are when you’re put on the spot.”

All his nerves were pushed to the side and his confidence was ready to make sure his ego put his money where his mouth was. “Oh, I’m steady, no worries there.”

Sam stepped up, took the blade and made the cut exactly where it was marked, then stepped back and handed it off.

“Nice and straight. Ask any questions that come to your mind.”

“Will do,” Sam said, but so far he knew what was going on. And he still was quiet as could be, observing everything, until forty minutes later the machines started going nuts. The patient’s heart rate was dropping fast.

Sam stepped further back to give everyone room before he was asked. He was smart enough to know when to help and when to move aside.

“What’s going on?” Dr. Salamone asked. “There’s no excessive bleeding here.”

The anesthesiologist answered, “His oxygen levels are dropping too.”

Sam watched as everyone was calm and doing what they needed to. But twenty minutes later that calm had evaporated in the room like a sun shower in Hawaii. Come and gone just as fast. The patient now lay on the table with Dr. Salamone calling the time of death.

It seemed as if it was nothing Dr. Salamone had done, but rather a reaction to the anesthesia. At least that was the best guess at the moment, but it reminded Sam that anything could happen even if it wasn’t in his hands.

“Come on, Sam, time to tell the wife.”

“Am I doing it?” he asked. This would be the first time he’d have to do this, and though he knew it was part of the job, he wasn’t sure he was quite ready just yet. Mentally he was trying to prepare himself and think of what the hell he was going to say.

“No. I’ll do it. You’re still observing.”

Sam nodded his head and pulled his gloves and mask off and tossed them away in the labeled red box while the nurses picked up the OR for the maintenance team to come in and clean it before the next patient. There would be no cleaning these memories from his mind for a long time though.

Once they were out in the hall, Dr. Salamone turned to him and said, “Sorry you’re having to do this on your first time with me, but like I said, you have to be prepared for everything.”

Sam couldn’t believe how calm Dr. Salamone was. He was the best Duke Cancer Center had when it came to surgical oncology. Hell, he was the best in North Carolina in Sam’s eyes. In his late forties and still improving every day. All this had been said about Dr. Salamone time and again. He hoped one day those words would be attached to his name.

“I see that,” Sam said back, not sure what else he was supposed to say, just glad he wasn’t the one breaking the news to the family.

They made their way to the waiting room where the patient’s wife was sitting. She looked up from where she’d been staring at the TV on the wall. When she saw them, she stood up. “How’s Paul? How did he do?”

“Come into another room with me,” Dr. Salamone said without any emotion in his voice. It wasn’t cold, it wasn’t sympathetic, it was just…stale. Businesslike. Controlled.

“What’s going on?” she asked, the tears already forming in her eyes, Sam could see.

“Let’s go where it’s more private,” Dr. Salamone said.

The three of them found a smaller room and Dr. Salamone said, “Cindy, I’m afraid that Paul didn’t make it. It appears he had a reaction to the anesthesia administered and he stopped breathing shortly after the procedure started. We did everything we could.”

“You’re joking, right? This can’t be happening.”

Sam looked at Cindy. She was young, probably younger than her husband, maybe closer to his age of mid to late twenties. It just made him feel as if a blade was cutting through his own chest right now with nothing to numb the pain.

“I’m afraid not. An autopsy will be conducted, with your approval of course, for the exact cause. There is always a small percentage of patients this happens to and since he’d never been under before, we just didn’t know how he would have reacted.” Dr. Salamone reached his hand out to steady Cindy and helped her to a chair. “I’m deeply sorry. Is there someone we can call for you?”

This was the first time Sam had seen Dr. Salamone show any emotion. It wasn’t pretend; he was truly empathetic to the situation. It was almost as if he had to get the words out first and make sure they were nice and clear and understood. Now he was the person that Sam could look up to even more.

“My mother. Paul’s parents. I don’t know what to say to them,” Cindy said, crying now.

“We can take care of getting someone here for you if you give us the numbers,” Dr. Salamone said softly.

Cindy pulled out her phone and Dr. Salamone handed it to Sam. “Can you make the calls please?” he asked, nodding his head to leave the room to do it.

“Don’t tell them Paul died over the phone,” Cindy said. The tears were running down her face. She was staring at him, desperation mixed in with grief. “I don’t want them driving here knowing that. Try not to make it sound horrible for them.”

“Not a problem,” Sam said, walking into the hall to call the names she’d pointed to on her phone. He heard her sobbing uncontrollably on Dr. Salamone’s shoulder asking how she was going to go on without her husband. She’d never been alone. They’d just bought a house. How could she do it on her own? So many things he’d never thought of when he was dealing with the patients and not their actual lives outside of the hospital.

He learned something today, something that modern medicine could never teach him.

He learned that he’d never be able to put a wife through that. He was a Fierce and Fierce men took care of their significant others. If he didn’t have one, he wouldn’t have that added stress in his life. That added pressure that he wasn’t sure he could deal with when he was trying so hard to do everything right.

The perfect son.

The perfect surgeon.

The perfect husband was never going to happen.