Gifts of Love…Chapter One

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

Past the Stress

Fifteen years later

Holly was sitting at her desk trying her darnedest to get two and two to equal four. If it equaled five she’d be thrilled, but currently it seemed like it was a big fat red three.

She wanted to lay her head down on the cold metal contraption of a desk that was older than her and just start to bang it a few times and try again. It didn’t matter. The business was still struggling.

The last few years just weren’t kind to the family tree farm. This past summer had been better for sure, but they were still digging out of the hole of repairs to some of the greenhouses. Equipment that had to be replaced. And then there were her grandmother’s medical bills that had mounted when the family realized her life savings was gone.

Added to that was her brother Ryan’s idea to use fifteen acres for growing hops for local brewers. It was a great investment in their future, but it was an investment and that meant loans they had to take.

This first summer had covered their investment, but they didn’t yield much profit. Next year they would. Now she just hoped to get past the stress on her end to make it all work.

One thing or another always seemed to happen.

But Christmas was around the corner and always a big time of year. At least she hoped so.

She looked up when she heard a knock on the doorframe to see her older brother, Ryan, standing there in old worn jeans, work boots, and a thick flannel shirt open over a T-shirt. She wasn’t dressed much differently. Though she worked in the office, she’d fill in where she was needed and could end up on the grounds getting her feet and clothes dirty.

“Brynn Harper was here earlier.”

“Who?” Holly asked.

Her brother walked in and sat in the chair across from her. “From Harper Construction.”

That perked her up a bit. Harper Construction was one of the biggest construction companies in Saratoga. In all of the Capital Region in Upstate New York.

“What did she want?”

“They had a falling out with their landscaper and are looking for bids for new ones for the spring.”

“Really? And they reached out to us? This could be huge.” Her heart was already moving faster than Thumper’s big fluffy feet over the possibilities and the potential income of this.

“Yep. They are big into family-owned businesses. Her husband and his brother have owned and operated Harper’s for years. They are looking for a few things. They have a lot of rental properties, and they do flips. So they need landscaping for those houses. But the bigger part is the new builds in their developments. Most people want the property already landscaped and so they would pick what they want and Harper’s would contract with someone. Hopefully us,” Ryan said, grinning wide.

She wished she could be as carefree and laid back as Ryan, but she seemed to be born with the stress gene in the family. That was probably why she sat behind the desk while he got to work the land. It suited him better, often the one found whistling while he worked.

“So what do I need to do?” she asked, her pen ready and paper in front of her, dying to dive right in.

“Here’s her card. I told her you’d get in touch for more specifics.”

She reached for the card and placed it right in front of her on the keyboard. “The minute you are out of my office, I’m on it.”

“That’s the smile I’d like to see on your face more often. I’m kind of sick of seeing the frown. You know you’ve got more worry lines than anyone should for twenty-eight.”

She snorted. “What no woman ever wants to hear. That’s why you’re still single at thirty-two.”

“The same as you,” he said back. “But I’ve got one more thing. It’s a day of good news.”

“Good news is always welcome, especially when I keep seeing red and would love to see some black.”

“Better you than me,” he said. “I’m happy dealing with the green all day long.”

“We all have our strengths,” she said. “So put me in an even better mood and tell me the other good news.”

“Brendan St. Nicholas just left here a few minutes ago.”

“Am I supposed to know who that is?”

“Really, Holly? What world do you live in?”

“A world that doesn’t know who Brendan St. Nicholas is.”

He laughed and started to rub his hands together. “Does Force Frontier ring a bell?”

“Huh?” she said. “Should it?”

“It’s one of the best-selling battle royale games out there. Right up there with Apex.”

“No clue,” she said. “That is your thing, not mine.”

Her brother had always been into video games. She couldn’t care less.

“Whatever. You never do anything fun.”

She rolled her eyes. “I do a lot of fun things, but video games aren’t part of it. Anyway, is there a point to your video game nights and this conversation?”

“Force Frontier was created by Brendan St. Nicholas. That and several others. He’s the local good guy turned into more zeroes behind his name than we’d ever have. Anyway, he does this big toy drive every year.”

Now she knew who it was and she didn’t like where this was going. “What did he want with us?” she asked slowly.

“He wants to use Lane Tree Farm as the location for his toy drive this year.”

“Ryan,” she said slowly. “You know how I feel about this.”

“Too bad, Holly. This is a family decision and you know you will be overruled.”

She knew that. “How can you want to be involved in this after everything Granny went through?”

Their granny had always had a soft heart and wanted to help people out. She’d made some bad decisions and got taken advantage of. They all wished they’d known what was going on but they didn’t until it was too late.

“But Brendan isn’t like that. He isn’t asking us for any money. He isn’t asking us for anything other than the space to collect the toys.”

She hoped Ryan was telling the truth. And this could be huge, but she just had a distrust—more like a distaste—for any charity organization or do-gooder. They always wanted something in the long run, at least from her experience.

She wasn’t a sucker like her granny was. She was more practical. More serious, and more in your face. If Holly didn’t like you, you knew it.

“So what does he want?” she asked.

“Just what I said. He’d like to have the drive here at the farm. It’s perfect. Think of the business we would get. People will come here and drop off gifts for a few weeks before Christmas at the same time they will be looking for Christmas trees.”

“I suppose we could decorate the area well with wreaths and Christmas plants and such. Try to make a profit that way. At least more than normal. Mom will be all over that.”

“There you go putting that business mind to work. Maybe set up some decorative trees that people could buy? You know we’ve talked about that before.”

They had. Her mother loved to decorate and did a lot of the plants and displays around the farm. She’d just eat this whole thing up. As much as she wanted to fight this, Holly knew she’d lose, and if it meant a bigger profit, which they needed, she’d give in, as long as she didn’t have to deal with this guy.

“Mom would love that,” she said.

“She would.” Ryan threw another business card on her desk. “We need to make a decision tonight. He gave us twenty-four hours. If we don’t want to do it, he will move on to his second choice.”

“How did we end up as his first choice?” she asked.

“No clue, but when you talk to him, you can ask that.”

And there was the dread. “Why do I have to talk to him?”

“Because you run the business end of things.”

“Then why did he talk to you?”

“Because he walked onto the grounds and I recognized him. I knew it was better that I take the first step. You would have told him off or ticked him off.”

She laughed. “I’m not that bad.”

“I don’t know about that. Anyway, I’m going to go talk to Mom and Dad, then we can bring Granny in on it later tonight, but you know her…”

“No need to ask. She’ll say yes to anything that has to do with giving kids toys.”

“As should you,” Ryan said. “Brendan does good for the area. Look him up. He’s a great guy.”

“You say that because you like his game.”

“Games,” Ryan said. “He’s big. Huge. You wouldn’t understand.”

“No, I wouldn’t,” she said. “But I can be a good family player and suck it up for a few weeks.”

“You’ll be thrilled when you see all those black numbers on those spreadsheets of yours.”

“There is that,” she said, grinning. “So what? I’ve got to call the guy tomorrow or something?”

“I’ll go talk to Mom and Dad, get their take.”

“They will agree,” she said grudgingly and wondered why she was putting up a fight. The business needed it and she’d have to suck it up.

“They will, but I like to cover all my bases. Then I’ll come back and let you know. Give him a call in the morning and go from there. I’m sure he has all sorts of people that will do the work for him. You probably won’t have to talk to him much at all.”

“There is that,” she said, feeling better about that thought.

“I’ve got work to do now. Go back to your numbers, as we know that is the only thing that makes you happy.”

“It’s not the only thing,” she said.

“That’s right, Reese makes you happy.”

“Of course,” she said, looking over at the picture of her chocolate lab puppy on her desk. Normally she brought Reese to work with her, but twice a week she dropped him off at doggie daycare so he could play with his friends.

“Do you have separation anxiety for two days a week?” Ryan asked, grinning.

“Of course not,” she said.


“Get out of here,” she said, waving her hand. “You got your way, now let me get to work.”

Gifts of Love…Prologue @NatalieAnn121 #Mgtab


giftofloveGifts of Love is just 99 cents!



Brendan rolled over on Christmas morning and looked at the clock to see the bright red light showing seven thirty. It was later than he imagined since he was normally up earlier when it came to the holidays.

He guessed he was more tired than he thought he was. He couldn’t wait for the day when he didn’t feel like this. Like his body was fighting for every breath to just get up and move. He was hoping today wouldn’t be one of those days, but it seemed not much in his life was going the way he thought it would.

When he walked out of his room and down the stairs, he saw his parents sitting at the small kitchen table drinking coffee. “Morning,” his mother said.

“Merry Christmas,” he said back, looking around for his sister. “Where’s Kat?”

“Sleeping. You know her, once her head hits the pillow she is out like a light.”

“Yeah, but it’s Christmas morning,” he argued.

His younger sister, Katrina, was the most chill eleven-year-old he knew. When she was a toddler she hardly ever cried. If she didn’t get her way, she just strutted away proud as can be like it was her right to not get what she wanted and decided to do something else. Like a cat—and that was when he decided to shorten her name.

His father shrugged. “You can go wake her if you want. I’m sure she’s excited…at least she will be once she stretches and rubs the sleep from her eyes.”

He grinned, turned, and went back up the stairs. When he pushed Kat’s door open he saw that she was almost curled into a ball with the comforter half hanging on the floor. “Wake up, Kat. Santa came.”

She did exactly as his father said, lifted her arms over her head, stretched, her legs straightening, her toes pointing, her mouth twisting in a yawn. “Did Santa really come or are you making it up?”

He figured she probably didn’t believe anymore, but he wasn’t about to ask that and give up the secret if she did.

She stood up and stretched one more time, then followed him down the stairs. They were both wearing their new Christmas pajamas that they opened the night before, a tradition his parents had done for as long as he could remember.

“You know I wouldn’t tell you something that wasn’t true. There are gifts under the tree from Santa.”

“I believe you,” she said, running past him and down the stairs. There were the energy and excitement she showed when she wanted to.

Brendan jogged down after her. Trying to fight back how tired he’d just gotten, he sucked in a bit of air, his heart racing, then sat down on the floor while his sister looked around at the boxes.

“Are you okay?” his mother asked.

“I’m fine. Just got winded a bit. You know how it gets. It will pass.”

“I’m sure it will,” his mother said, always one to humor him. He’d like it to pass permanently. Soon, he knew. Not much longer before he had surgery to fix his heart.

Was he scared? Shit yeah. No fifteen-year-old wanted to have their chest cracked open and their heart exposed, but he knew he’d be fine after, so it was best to get it over with.

He looked around under the tree hoping to see some new video games. It seemed like that was all he did with his time since it was discovered he had aortic stenosis a few years ago. He was most likely born with it, though he never showed symptoms.

Then all of a sudden he got active in sports and found he was tired more than he should be. A routine physical showed a heart murmur. He was watched and continued to play sports, but everything got worse. That was when all the tests were done, the procedures and such.

Nothing was working and as a last resort he was having valve replacement surgery in two months.

It wasn’t what he wanted to think about right now. Instead he was looking forward to what was on his wish list.

What he wanted was a gaming computer. He had a Playstation and an Xbox. He had no care for a Wii, but his big wish was the computer.

The problem with that…a good one was thousands of dollars and his parents already spent enough money on his medical bills. He couldn’t ask them for something as expensive as that.

His hope was that he could get a job when he turned sixteen to add to the money he was putting away from all the holidays. Then he could buy one himself.

Kat was now ripping into her gifts. New clothes, jewelry, a few board games, and books. She was easy to please and all girl. Princesses and frilly things were right up her alley.

Once the living room resembled a war zone of red, green, and Santa paper, his father handed him another small box. “One more thing.”

“Who is this from?” he asked, not seeing a name on it.

“Just open it and you will see.”

Kat turned to watch while he opened it up and saw the letter from Make A Wish Foundation. No way. It couldn’t be. He’d applied a while ago, never thinking he’d get it.

He read the letter, felt his eyes fill up with tears and wasn’t even the least bit embarrassed over it.

“Are you getting your computer?” Kat asked.

“No,” he said, looking at her, then his parents. “We’re going to Disney.”

Kat screeched and started to jump around the room. Disney wasn’t his first choice, though he enjoyed a good ride like the next person. He was all about Epcot and special effects at the movie studios. But this trip wasn’t for him, it was for his family.

So much time, energy, money, and emotions were spent on him and it was time to give back for all that everyone sacrificed. He was getting a new lease on life, and with it, he was going to pay back his family.

So he did the one thing he could. He was giving his parents a vacation and his sister a chance to spend some time with princesses.

The joy on everyone’s face made up for not asking for his gaming computer. And when they went in a few months and he saw them all smiling, it would be the best trip of his life.

Simply Love…Chapter One #Mgtab


If you  haven’t read the Prologue you can catch up on that first.

Begin Fresh

Eighteen years later

Gemma pulled down the driveway and parked in front of the small log cabin. She hadn’t been here in years and was looking forward to this.

Looking forward to starting her life over.

To moving on from her last job.

From her family and the friends she thought she had but realized she never did.

To begin fresh.

She got out of her car and started to walk toward the front door of her Aunt Julie’s second home in Lake Placid.

Aunt Julie never married, but then again, she traveled all the time and never sat still. Her job as a pharmaceutical rep had her changing territories and companies all the time. Moving up and moving on to better things.

Once, Gemma had asked her aunt if she was gay and her aunt had almost laughed her out of the room. Then she’d said, “Just because a woman is single doesn’t mean she’s gay. And if I were gay, I’d be proud of it and flaunt my lover in front of your stuck-up mother and my tight-assed brother. But in this case, I just put my career first.” Then her aunt had smiled and said, “But don’t think I lack for companionship. I just keep my affairs discreet. There’s no use getting any more judgment from our family.”

She’d cracked a grin when her aunt said that five years ago. If anyone was used to being judged, it was her Aunt Julie. Maybe that was why her aunt took Gemma under her wing so much growing up. She must have known exactly what Gemma was going through.

And if there was one person who understood Gemma’s need for a change in her life, it was her aunt. Which was why her aunt put a good word in for her when Gemma said she wanted to move away from her hometown of Colonie, just outside of Albany in Upstate New York.

Her aunt had contacts and reached out to the school district here when Gemma saw there was an opening for a middle school English teacher. Gemma interviewed and got the job and here she was, the first week of July ready to start her new life.

Her aunt told her there was no reason to look for a place yet, to stay at her cabin that was hardly ever used. Gemma took the offer gladly. She had enough to do moving and getting used to the area before committing to an apartment right now.

She pulled out the key her aunt had mailed her and opened the front door, then switched on a light. As a kid, she’d loved coming here in the summer and spending a week with her aunt. Amelia and Andy never got to spend a week with their aunt, and Gemma loved it even more for that reason.

As soon as the light came on, Gemma knew something was off. Instead of everything being nice and neat and orderly like her aunt kept things, it looked like someone had been staying in the place.

There was a blanket on the couch all crumpled up and some newspapers on the coffee table.

“Hello,” she called out. Should she leave right now? She wasn’t sure what to do. “Is anyone here?”

There was no answer, so she took a chance and walked into the kitchen. When she saw wrappers in the garbage along with some paper plates and napkins she knew she wasn’t imagining things.

She pulled her phone out and called her aunt right away. Thankfully she answered on the first ring. “Hi, Gemma. Did you get to the cabin already?”

“I’m here, Aunt Julie. You said you were going to have someone have it all set up, right?”

“Yes. Is it all dusty and musty smelling? They were supposed to be there last week to clean it up for you.”

That’s what she was afraid of. “It looks like someone has been here. Not cleaning either.”

“What do you mean?” her aunt asked.

“A blanket was left on the couch along with some newspapers and there is trash in the garbage. Like someone was staying here and ate and left it.”

“What are you doing in the cabin then?” her aunt shrieked. “Get out and call the police.”

“There’s no one here,” Gemma said. “And the food smells rank so I’m thinking no one has been here in a few days.”

“It doesn’t matter. Go back in your car and lock the doors and call the police. Let me know right away what is going on. I’m so sorry, Gemma. It’s the last thing you needed to deal with moving there. Here you are making all these great changes in your life and don’t need to be concerned about a safe place to stay.”

She hadn’t been thinking of that. Great. “You aren’t helping matters any, Aunt Julie. I’m in my car now. I’ll call nine-one-one and let you know what I find out. Don’t worry. I’m sure it’s nothing.”

At least she hoped so. It’s not like the place was trashed or anything looked to be missing. Then again she hadn’t really looked, as she got out of there as fast as she could when her aunt yelled at her.




Blake Wilson pulled up behind the State Trooper vehicle in front of the small log cabin. The place was set back from the road a bit, but not completely remote. There were other houses on the street, but it was not unheard of for a hiker to stumble across a place that looked empty and camp for a night or two.

It’s the only reason he was called to investigate. It seemed to be happening a lot lately. No damage was ever done, but it looked as if someone stayed a night or two for free.

“What do we have here?” he asked Matt, one of the young troopers.

“Not much. Looks like someone got into the place a few nights ago. I talked to Gemma and she said she didn’t walk through the whole place. From the smell of the food I’d say they are long gone. Probably stayed a night or so, same as before.”

“Gemma?” he asked.

Matt pointed to the woman leaning against her car looking at her phone.

What a sight she was. Probably five foot five and nice and curvy. Not some toothpick woman, but someone toned in all the right places. Someone who obviously took very good care of herself in the process.

Long brown hair with hints of red in it as the sun was beating down on her. It was pushing eighty-five at the moment and she didn’t look to even be sweating. Calm women happened to be his thing.

He walked over to the lovely lady. “I’m Investigator Wilson. Is this your property?”

She looked up fast, her green eyes bright and clear as an emerald on the Queen’s finger. Not a nerve out of place, which was surprising considering she called 911 for a break-in.

“It’s my aunt’s cabin. I’ll be living here though.”

“And you are?” he asked. “Your aunt’s name too.” He’d pulled out his notebook, ready to write.

“Gemma Anderson. My aunt is Julie Anderson. I called her when I got here. She had sent someone over to clean and I could tell right away that cleaning wasn’t the only thing that had been done.”

“Did you walk through to see if anything was missing?” he asked. He’d get the rest of the information from the trooper before he left.

“No. My aunt told me to leave and call nine-one-one, so that is what I did. I sat in my car until someone arrived.”

“If you’ve got time, why don’t you walk through with me?”

She nodded and put her phone in the back pocket of her shorts, then moved toward the cabin with him following behind. He shouldn’t be looking at her nice tight ass…unfortunately, his eyes seemed to have a mind of their own.

When she hesitated at the front door, he almost bumped into her. “Can we go in?” she asked.

“Of course,” he said, his lips twitching. “You don’t seem like you’re all that upset, so why the hesitation now with two armed police here?”

She dipped her head down, a shy move, an adorable one. He had a weakness for adorable too. Fast and loose had never been his type of woman. Probably because he’d seen his mother go through men like water gushing over a fall. His father went through just as many women. If anyone knew a slut at first glance, it was Blake.

Gemma Anderson was anything but fast, loose, or a slut. He knew right away without knowing anything else about her and he’d always been a good judge of character.

“I’m not sure. I guess it’s starting to feel a bit more real now that I’ve got to go in and look around. I’m not going to really know if anything is missing. I haven’t been here in years.”

“But you’re going to be staying here now?” he asked as they moved forward. He looked around at the open living and dining area. The kitchen was off to the side and partially closed in. The place was modern enough and neat. Cozy was a better word for it.

“Like I said, it’s my aunt’s place. She comes here a few times a year to relax. I’m starting a new job here and she told me to stay while I try to find a place.”

“Makes sense,” he said. “What do you think just looking around?”

“It doesn’t seem to me like much was touched other than someone slept on the couch and used the kitchen. They didn’t even make much of a mess other than leaving their trash behind.”

He opened the fridge and saw it was empty, so nothing in there to have been taken, he didn’t think. “Did she leave it stocked full of food for you?”

“No. She wouldn’t have. She just had someone come clean it.” Gemma started to open and close cabinets. “My aunt is meticulous about organization and it looks like nothing has been touched that I can see.”

He had to admit everything was lined up like soldiers going to war. He’d know; he’d been in the Army. He did his two tours and left the minute he could.

“Let’s check out the bathroom. My guess is they made use of that too.”

He followed her out of the kitchen and down a little hall into an average-sized bathroom. Nothing fancy by any means, but updated. This place looked like a vacation home even though it wasn’t on the water. Not that it was unheard of for someone to have a vacation home on a residential street, but there wasn’t much here on this road just outside of town.

“There’s a dirty towel that I’ll be throwing out,” she said, wrinkling her nose.

“We’ll take it in for evidence,” he said. “Don’t touch it. But aside from that, it doesn’t look like they did anything else other than clean up.”

“I’ll check the rooms now. I hope to heck they didn’t sleep in the beds.”

He saw her shiver, but had a feeling the bedrooms would be fine. It was probably some hiker on the paths not that far from the backyard of the cabin that wandered down. By the mud on the tiles in the foyer that looked to have been partially wiped up, he’d bet that hiker got caught in the downpours they had last week and was looking for cover.

Gemma opened the first door, which looked to be a guest room. There wasn’t much in it but a dresser and a bed. He walked forward and glanced around, opened the closet, saw it was bare, then realized the bed was neat and tightly made.

“Looks like this room wasn’t disturbed.”

“This is the master. Well, the bigger of the two rooms,” she said, opening another door.

He looked around and saw more of the same. Nothing seemed out of place. “If I was to hazard a guess, a hiker probably made his way out of the woods during the last storm we had a few days ago. Maybe he’s good at picking locks and stayed for the night. He, or she, even tried to wipe up the mud on the floor. They probably ate and then left and forgot to fold the blanket, but otherwise they didn’t do much more.”

“Yeah, I kind of got that impression myself. Now I’m worried these locks are easy to break into though.”

He walked back out and looked at the lock. He could see where it was scratched and easy enough for someone to pick it. “I’d get these locks changed out fast if you can. Get some nice deadbolts and you should be fine.”

“Do you know of a locksmith I can call? I wonder if I could get someone out here today though,” she said, biting on her lower lip.

Oh man, he was toast with that move and was pretty sure she had no idea what she was doing to him. “You know what? I’m off duty in a few hours. I can swing by and grab a few locks and come change them for you if you want. I doubt you’d get someone out here today and I suspect you won’t sleep tonight if it’s not changed. There’s no way you’ll get a hotel room this short notice this time of year either.”

“I could sleep in my car,” she said.

“Which is crazy. What, are you going to sleep in the driveway here? How is that any different than inside with the doors locked?”

“It probably isn’t. I need to go into town to get some food anyway, I could get the locks if you told me what I needed. I might be able to switch them out. How hard could it be?”

She seemed like the type of person who could do just about anything. “Do you have tools?”

“I don’t. I’m not sure my aunt does either. Guess I could buy them too.”

“Or you can let me do this for you,” he said again. He hoped he wasn’t coming off as pushy.

“Do you do this for all the new people in town?”

“Only those that have had Goldilocks staying in their cabin.”

She laughed and those green eyes of hers started to almost glow. “Cute. If you insist, I’d appreciate it. Like I said, I have to go to get some food in town. I could cook you dinner as payment.” She stopped and looked down at his left hand suddenly. “I mean that is if you don’t have dinner waiting for you at home.”

“Nothing is waiting for me at home but some leftover pizza from last night,” he said.

“Then, yes. If you don’t mind doing it, I’d really appreciate it. When can I start bringing my stuff in to unpack? It’s really just clothes at the moment.”

“Why don’t you give us another twenty minutes or so. I’m sure by now the trooper that was here first has taken fingerprints and has been talking to neighbors for any signs of other activity.”

“Okay. I’ll just go outside and call my aunt back, then make a list of things I need to buy when I go into town.”

He nodded his head and tried to avert his eyes from her lovely backside as she walked out the front door, but damn it was hard.

Simply Love…Prologue #Mgtab


Simple Love


“Gemma, dinner will be ready in an hour. Go finish up your homework now, if you want.”

“I’m almost done. Can I stay in the kitchen and help you, Mom?” she asked, eying the food on the counter. She was hungry, but it seemed like she was always craving something. Sometimes it wasn’t only food she was craving, but that was all she ever got.

Besides, maybe she could find a way to convince her mother to let her have a snack to satisfy her. She’d learned to show those puppy dog eyes enough to get what she wanted.

“No, I don’t need any help with dinner tonight. It’s easy, but I’d like to have space in the kitchen. If you’re done with your work, then go play in your room.”

“But, Mom,” she said.

“No whining. And you aren’t going to convince me to give you anything to eat. You don’t need it and I don’t need to hear any grief from your father tonight either. Your room if you’re done with your work.”

Gemma sighed and closed her math book. She was done. She’d been done for ten minutes but was just trying to find a way to stay in the kitchen in hopes for some food. But hearing her mother mention her father made her want to leave.

She knew she’d never be good enough in her father’s eyes. In anyone’s eyes.

At just ten years old she was the only sibling with red hair. Auburn, her mother called it, but in her eyes it was red when her sister and brother were blondes. Blondes just like her parents were.

But no. Gemma had to get her hair and green eyes from her father’s sister. The sister that everyone said was the black sheep of the family because she chose to never get married. Gemma had been told plenty of times to never bring that subject up and she hadn’t. Though she had no idea why she couldn’t.

She loved her Aunt Julie. She didn’t care if Aunt Julie was married or not. But what she did care about was that her aunt paid more attention to her than her parents did at times.

Aunt Julie never judged her. Never told her to stop eating and go out and play more. Never told her that she was too shy and weird. Or that she had no friends and never would.

No. Her Aunt Julie was her best friend and she didn’t care if her sister Amelia told her that was wrong. Not everyone could be tall and thin and athletic like Amelia was. At just twelve Amelia was a star in every sport she played. And she played everything she could.

Then there was her younger brother, Andy. At eight he was the apple of their father’s eye. Even named after him. Andrew Jr. Andy could do nothing wrong in her parents’ eyes either. That, and he was the baby too…just another mark in his favor.

She’d always wondered how she ended up in the family the way she did, but it’s not like she could change it.

“Fine,” Gemma said, gathering up her books and stalking out of the room. She had Twinkies in there anyway under her bed and would have one.

She grabbed her Barbie dolls out of their house and started to change their clothing. She really didn’t like playing with them and often wondered why they never made a Barbie that wasn’t skinny with long beautiful hair. Why couldn’t one be normal? Have shorter legs, maybe a little thicker. Even shorter hair that was hard to style. Not even fashionable clothing.

Nope. All these Barbies looked just like what she expected Amelia would resemble when she was older. Nothing at all like Gemma figured she’d look like as an adult.

It’s not like there was anything she could do about the way her dolls looked, so she set about playing with them as usual. Playing house the way she thought a home should be.

She must have lost track of time because she heard her sister’s and brother’s voices now. Must be her father picked them up from their practices and dinner would be soon.

Pushing her dolls back in their house, she looked around for the two Twinkie wrappers and stuffed them under her bed with the other wrappers she’d hidden there too, then made her way down for dinner.

“Figures you’d come running like always,” Amelia said to her, smirking as she pushed the chair back to sit at the table. “Someone actually beat you to their seat.”

Gemma just shot her sister a dirty look. “I knew it was time for dinner with all the noise you were making.” What she wanted to add was how they couldn’t do anything until the prince and princess arrived, but she’d never been bold enough to say that.

“She’s probably just hungry like always,” Andy said, pulling his chair out.

She sat down next to her sister while her mother brought over a big bowl of spaghetti and her father carried over the bowl of meatballs. Garlic bread and salad were already on the table. She wanted to reach for the bread but learned a long time ago that she’d get her hand slapped if she tried to reach for food before it was time to pass it around.

So she sat there patiently, then filled her plate with spaghetti, two meatballs and a slice of garlic bread. She passed on the salad knowing that Amelia would fill her plate with that. Amelia ate like a rabbit half the time anyway. Where was the enjoyment in that?

“Are you trying to hibernate for the winter or something?” Andy asked, laughing. “It’s still a few months away.”

Gemma already had a mouthful of food and turned to look at her brother, wondering what he was talking about now.

“She doesn’t get it,” Amelia said to Andy, laughing. “Good thing we aren’t having sausage tonight. Gemma might mistake one of her fingers for the meat.”

Gemma felt her face start to fill with heat. With shame. Everyone always picked on her. No one understood her.

She ignored them, pushed the tears from her eyes and continued to eat. Crying didn’t do anything but make her father start in with her siblings.

If she thought her parents would come to her defense and tell Amelia and Andy to stop…well, she’d learned that never happened either.

No one ever stuck up for her.

No one ever seemed to care one way or another about anything other than making her the joke of the family.


Simply Love


Being strong doesn’t make you a hero, but doing what is right does.

Gemma Anderson has always been the ugly duckling of the family. Overweight, shy, and picked on…not just by friends, but by family. She turned to food for comfort, which only compounded her misery. As an adult, she’d had enough of her lonesome life and decided in order to break out of her horrible habits and routine, she had to move away, or risk being alone forever.

Blake Wilson had one of the most dysfunctional lives of anyone he’d ever known. He grew up just wanting a stable family home life and knew if he ever got it, he’d have to avoid the drama of his current family. He enlisted in the service, then went into law enforcement. He’d always wanted to do right by people and prove he was nothing like his family. Now if he could only find the right woman.

Forever Love…Prologue #mgtab @Natalieann121


Here’s a peek into Forever Love


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Just another day in her life it seemed.

Forever Love @mgtab @natalieann121



Leah Morrison used to believe in happily ever after. That is until her wedding planning business started planning more divorce parities than bridal showers. Now she’s jaded enough to focus on her business and growing it the way she knows it can, pretty much giving up on finding her forever love.

Gabe Richards is more focused on the fast track and proving to his parents that he can run the family manufacturing business. But their meddling ways are getting on his nerves with wanting him to settle down. He comes up with a plan…a temporary marriage to get them off his back for good so that he can dedicate everything he has to the company. But when he starts to develop feelings for his fake wife, he needs to figure out how to get her to stay after their one-year agreement rather than taking the money to expand her business and running.

First Love…Prologue #mgtab @Natalieann121


First Love


“You wanted to see me, Dr. Clinton,” Lauren said after she knocked on the open doorframe.

“Yes, Lauren. Come on in and shut the door.” That never sounded good, but Lauren did as she was instructed. “Have a seat.”

Lauren sat down across from her professor. She had a lot of respect for Dr. Clinton. She assumed her professor could be retired by now but showed no signs of wanting to hang up her hat. “Did I do something wrong?”

“I wanted to talk to you about a few things. First, is everything okay with you? Everything all right at home?”

Lauren was trying to figure out why she was asked that. She’d always been very private about her life and talked to very few people at school. She attended class, did her work, and went home.

“Everything is fine.”

She’d never let on once to anyone about her living situation. She wasn’t the only one struggling to get by in life and she wouldn’t be the last person trying to better herself going to college. She was always clean and presentable and on time to class, trying to blend in.

Dr. Clinton nodded. “You failed to hand in an assignment yesterday.”

“It’s due at midnight tonight,” Lauren said, fighting the panic that was creeping up her spine like a spider closing in on a tasty meal. It was her last semester. Just six weeks to go and she’d be graduating with her bachelor’s in accounting. She couldn’t let things fall apart now. Not after holding it all together for the past several years.

“No. It was due at midnight last night. You’ve never missed an assignment in all the years I’ve had you as a student.”

“I’m so sorry. Can I hand it in late? I understand I’ll probably be docked points, but it’s better than a zero.”

She was almost done with the assignment anyway. She’d planned on finishing it before her shift that started at six tonight and she wouldn’t get out until she closed the mini mart at midnight. “I can have it to you by no later than five. I swear.”

“That’s fine, Lauren. And because you’ve never missed an assignment before, I won’t dock you anything. But the other reason I called you in was because of your last test score.”

She knew she didn’t do as well as normal, but she’d been working a ton of hours putting away as much money as she could. Her mother had been dropping a million comments lately about how she shouldn’t be living at home at twenty-one. Between the stress of that and work, she was stretched really thin in her schoolwork.

It didn’t matter that Lauren was commuting to SUNY Albany to get her degree so that she wouldn’t have any loans. Their family income was low enough and her grades high enough that tuition was covered. But dorm rooms, food plans, and books were not. She worked a lot of hours to pay for her books and gas and the car payment because she needed something reliable for the commute.

Pretty much everything she earned went right out the window like a gum wrapper in a convertible, but she was okay with that because there was a light at the end of the tunnel.

“I studied for it, but I was confused over some of the laws.” She hated taxation with a passion and vowed to not take any job where she’d have to deal with that.

“I could tell. You’ve aced pretty much every class you’ve had with me. No one is as detailed as you are when it comes to auditing and budgeting. Most stumble over something, and this seems to be your Achilles heel.”

“I’ll work harder on it.”

“I believe you will, but the thing is, you failed the test by quite a bit. Your grades aren’t as high to begin with this semester for this class, but right now you’re failing the course.”

Lauren felt herself pale. She couldn’t not graduate. One class might keep her from that. “Can I come in for help? Do some extra credit?”

“I know you’ll pass the course, Lauren. We all know D’s make degrees, but you’ve been one of my star students and I just can’t help but wonder if there is more going on.”

“Thanks for the concern. I’ll be fine. I’ll work harder, I promise.”

Dr. Clinton sighed, but didn’t push it. “I know you will. Take care of yourself. If there is anything you need, please let me know.”

“Thanks,” Lauren said, then left the office.

Her palms were damp and her stomach was doing flips faster than a gymnast at the Olympics. She’d never failed a class a day in her life. Just six more weeks. That was all she had to do to pull it together and work enough hours to keep putting money away.

She was pretty sure her mother was going to ask her to move out once she graduated and she wasn’t sure how she was going to make it happen without having a full time job. She had a plan to offer to pay some of the costs to her mother for a short period of time to be able to stay where she was.

She finished up her last class for the day and drove home, having three hours before work. Plenty of time to finish the assignment, but she’d have to find some more time to finish the stuff that was assigned in classes today. Maybe when she got home. A few less hours of sleep wasn’t the end of the world.

She unlocked the apartment door and walked into the cramped dingy two-bedroom apartment she shared with her mother. It was less than a thousand square feet of no privacy for them. But since her mother worked the second shift at a call center and Lauren was in school all day and at work most nights, they didn’t see much of each other.

When she walked into the kitchen, she saw a note on the table. Nothing odd there. That was their main form of communication most days.

Lauren. I’m giving my notice at my job today and moving with Billy to Florida at the end of the month. The lease on the apartment is up in a little over two months. I paid the rent until then, but after that, you’ll have to make your own arrangements.

She pulled the old folding chair out that served as part of the kitchen table and sat down. If she thought her stomach was churning earlier it was nothing to the urge to throw up and pass out.

That little amount of time would get her through graduation, but then she’d be homeless.

First Love #mgtab @Natalieann121



Sparks fly when a woman from the wrong side of the tracks catches the eye of the heir apparent to the family empire.

Lauren Towne has had a tough life. A good work ethic and a lot of determination are the keys to changing her lot in life. The last thing she needs to focus on or worry about is her new sexy boss that might just end up making all her hard work vanish in the air when he realizes how attracted she is to him.

Jace Stratton always knew he’d be the heir to his father’s grocery store empire. But before that happened, he was determined to make a name for himself. When his “rule with an iron fist” father falls ill, he finds his timeline pushed up faster than he’d hoped for. Now he’s out to prove that even though he’s falling for an employee, he’s nothing at all like his father and never will be.

Chasing Love…Chapter One #mgtab @NatalieAnn121



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

Damn Lucky

Sixteen years later

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

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

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

“Is your furnace working?”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

And it had high-end clientele.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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