Winter Love…Chapter One…#mgtab @Natalieann121

WINTERLOVE(1)

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

One For The Books

Seven Months Later

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

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

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

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

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

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

One for the books.

One in honor of her parents.

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

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

“Kendall Hendricks. I’m checking in.”

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

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

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

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

“I’m glad I stayed back then.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Will do, Zeke.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Winter Love Prologue @Natalieann121 #mtgab

WINTERLOVE(1)

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

Prologue

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

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

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

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

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

That she’d never see their smiling faces again.

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Kendall?”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“My mother had no idea?” she asked.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“He was. He was the best.”

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

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

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

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

Winter Love #mgtab @Natalieann121

WINTERLOVE(1)

Kendall Hendricks spent the first decade of her life as a modern-day gypsy, until her parents finally planted themselves in Las Vegas. She loved it there. She made a name for herself. She was happy… or so she always thought. Then tragedy struck and her parents were gone, leaving her a note asking her to scratch those itchy feet she’d inherited before she settled down.

Zeke Collins has never known anything other than working at the family lodge his whole life. Now he and his sister own and operate it and he’d have it no other way. Lake Placid is where he wants to be. It’s where his heart is and nothing could make him move. Not even the bewitching stranger with sorrowful eyes and adventure driving her course. The question is…can he change her mind?

Christmas Love #mgtab

CHRISTMALOVE

What happens when even the strongest are blinded by insecurities?

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

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

Holiday Love…Chapter One #mgtab

Holidaylove(1)

If you haven’t read the Prologue, now is your chance to catch up. Here is Chapter One.

The Routine

Six Months Later

“How is my favorite return six-month patient doing today?” Jill asked Kathy Wick.

“Doing good as always. Or as good as I can feel coming in here for my screenings every six months for the past five years.”

Jill laughed. Kathy was only thirty, but she had the BRCA gene and had been having preventative screening since she found out about her gene mutation six years ago. Once a year she’d have a mammogram, then six months later have an MRI. Each of those visits she’d have an ultrasound of both breasts too. All three of those tests were providing the best screenings possible for Kathy as a high risk patient. If there was something to be found, they’d find it. Fingers crossed it’d never happen.

“You’re going to hurt my feelings if you act like you don’t want to be here. I look forward to your visits,” Jill said. “You know the routine. Lie back and open up the front of your gown and we’ll start with your right side.”

Kathy giggled and parted her gown, then lay back down and put her right arm over her head. Jill squirted the warm lubricant over Kathy’s small breast and started to move it around, looking over every inch of the tissue she could.

“You aren’t as red today,” Jill said. Kathy had had her mammogram first and her skin was normally bright red afterward from being squeezed between the metal plates. Technology was a great thing, but it came with a price at times.

“No. Your new tech seemed to get a better placement today and it didn’t hurt nearly as much. Though I’ve got to say her hands were pretty cold.”

“Cold hands, warm heart,” Jill said.

“Your hands are always warm,” Kathy said back, smiling. “What’s that on the screen?”

Jill grinned. “I’m an extra sweet person, so my body is warm all over. And those are just your ribs. You ask me every time you come in here.”

“Sorry. It’s always so huge on the screen.”

“Which it’s meant to be so I can see what is going on,” she said.

She didn’t mind the questions during an exam, but she was always careful what she said. After all, she was only a tech.

Jill finished up the right side and then instructed Kathy to switch sides and lift her left arm up and proceeded to examine that side just as diligently. Kathy didn’t ask any questions this time, with Jill trying to distract her as best she could, talking about the weather, of all stupid mundane topics.

“Why don’t you cover up and relax,” Jill said. “I’m just going to go check with the radiologist and see if there is anything else to be looked at before we call it a day.”

“The old cranky woman again?” Kathy asked.

“Dr. Mills is no longer with us. She retired two months ago. Dr. Taylor is her replacement and my guess is he’ll be in shortly. He does like to examine patients the first time he is seeing their charts.”

Kathy nodded and Jill left the room, then walked down the hall and knocked on Dr. Taylor’s open door. “Kathy Wick is in exam room four. She just had her mammo and I uploaded her ultrasound results.”

“I’m looking at the mammo now,” Dr. Taylor said, his deep voice vibrating in the room, like picking at an extra tight guitar string. He’d been nothing but professional and private in the two months he’d been here. No one could get a read on him at all, and many had tried. Herself included.

“Would you like me to wait in the other room until you’re done?” she asked.

Dr. Mills hated the technician standing in her office while she looked over films. Normally Jill could go get another patient and set them up while she waited for Kathy’s films to be looked over, but Kathy was her last patient of the day.

“No, come on in.”

He was zooming in and taking measurements right now on what looked like the right breast. Jill was glad she was able to stay because she wanted to see if anything turned up on the left.

“What’s that?” she asked. “They look like calcifications.”

“That’s exactly what they are. I’m pulling up her mammo from last year and comparing the two. See, these two areas,” he said, pointing them out on the screen.

“Yes,” she said. This was the first time he’d ever talked this much to her. He sure did smell nice when she got closer. Fresh and musky with a hint of being all male.

“They’re the same size, so in the past year, nothing has changed. I’m not concerned with that at the moment and nothing on the MRI showed up six months ago when she was here either, proving nothing worrisome.”

“What about the left side?” Jill asked when he switched over.

She loved that he was letting her look at this with him. Secretly she’d love to go back to school for radiology, but time and money had never been her friend, so that boat sailed right along with her marriage. A radiology and ultrasound tech was what she was and she’d find a way to be content with it.

“I’m not concerned. Like I said, there wasn’t anything on the MRI six months ago and there doesn’t appear to be anything on the mammo.”

“That can’t be right,” Jill said, frowning.

“Why?” Dr. Taylor asked, turning to look at her.

“Can you pull up her ultrasound now?”

He clicked a few buttons and pulled up the left breast. She leaned forward and pointed to what she’d marked and measured.

“Interesting,” he said, then pulled the mammo and zoomed in on the same area on another screen, and did the same with the MRI. “There’s nothing on the mammo or the MRI, but clearly something on the ultrasound.”

He pushed back from his chair and stood next to her. He was a good eight inches taller than her five foot five, she was guessing. “Are you going to examine her?”

“Of course. I had planned on it anyway, but now even more than ever.”

“I hope I didn’t make a mistake.” She didn’t think she did. She was good at what she did and looked over that area multiple times. “Follow me,” she said.

She was trying not to show any anxiety and wanted to ask what he thought, but knew better than to do that. She was guessing a biopsy would be ordered and felt a pang of sympathy for Kathy who was the same age as she was. Jill tried not to picture herself in Kathy’s shoes but it was hard not to.

“I doubt you made a mistake,” he said before he opened the exam room and walked forward, then extended his hand. “Ms. Wick, I’m Dr. Taylor and I’m going to give you a quick look over myself.”

Jill was watching Kathy as Dr. Taylor turned to walk to the sink and wash his hands. Jill bit back the giggle when Kathy mouthed “wow” to her. She knew the feeling well, as all the women were giggling over the new radiologist in the building. Six feet of deliciousness, he’d been described as with dark hair and golden eyes. Too bad his robotic personality hadn’t followed suit with his massive good looks. At least until today.

For Kathy’s sake, she was hoping Dr. Taylor wasn’t so controlled.

The exam was quiet, which was unlike Kathy, and Jill was wondering if Kathy felt the underlying tension in the room. As if she knew something wasn’t right.

When Dr. Taylor got to the spot that Jill had pointed out before, he zoomed in and started marking the measurements. “What’s that?” Kathy asked.

“I’m not quite sure yet,” Dr. Taylor said, softly. It was probably the softest Jill had ever heard him talk. “It’s not showing up on your mammogram, and wasn’t on your MRI when you were here six months ago.”

“Do I need to have another mammogram?”

“I don’t believe so. We have both tests because not everything can be seen individually, but I’m seeing it now.”

“So whatever it is, it’s growing. Was it on the ultrasound six months ago?” Kathy asked with a catch in her voice.

“No, it wasn’t,” he said.

“How big is it?” Kathy asked her, but she wasn’t going to answer. This was Dr. Taylor’s exam now and in the past, Dr. Mills would have ripped any tech’s head off if they spoke during her exams.

“Not very big. Two millimeters by three millimeters. Smaller than a pea, but I’m still going to recommend a biopsy.”

Kathy’s eyes started to fill and before Jill could say anything, Dr. Taylor was placing his hand on hers. “Relax. Whatever it is—if it’s anything—it’s very tiny and very early.”

Kathy was taking a few deep breaths and Jill rushed to the opposite side, then grabbed her other hand. “You just want to come back and visit with me.”

Kathy laughed. “I do like spending time with you, but I was hoping not like this. I don’t even know where to have a biopsy done.”

“I can do it right here,” Dr. Taylor said. “I’m going to recommended another MRI and if it shows up there, I’ll do an MRI guided biopsy since it’s too deep to be felt. Of course, you’re welcome to consult a surgeon of your choice too and all your reports would be sent to them then.”

“Will you be in here with me?” Kathy asked her.

Jill looked at Dr. Taylor. “That’s not my position. If it gets changed to an ultrasound-guided one, then I’ll be right there with you.”

Dr. Taylor nodded. “Again, I’m going to send my findings to your doctor, who will contact you. Once the two of you have discussed everything, then we’ll move forward.”

“What’s there to discuss?” Kathy asked.

Dr. Taylor pulled over a chair and sat down to get comfortable like he was going to give Kathy all the time she needed to question him.

“It’s your choice to watch and wait because it’s so small, but I don’t recommend that. My recommendation is only that though, a recommendation. You’re young and high risk. I tend to be on the conservative side when I see someone in that situation.”

“No. I knew at some point in my life I would need something looked at closer. If this is growing inside of me, I want to know. I want it done right away too. I need to know what it is.”

Dr. Taylor patted her hand. “Then I’ll get these sent to your doctor’s office before I leave today. By Monday someone will contact you and we’ll get you scheduled.”

“Can I schedule it right now? I don’t want to wait for my doctor to see it.”

Dr. Taylor looked at her. “We can do that too. I’ll get someone on the phone with the insurance company now to get the process started for the MRI approval. I’ll be seeing you soon, so try to relax this weekend. There’s nothing you can do right now other than work yourself up. I always tell my patients to not waste their time stressing when you’ve got no control. One step at a time.”

“Thank you, Dr. Taylor,” Kathy said. Jill watched him leave and told Kathy she was all set, then gave her a brief hug when she was standing. She walked Kathy back to the changing room and then left to go to Dr. Taylor’s office.

“Thank you,” she told him.

He turned in his chair where he was typing up notes. “No reason to thank me. She was scared and I’m afraid she may have reason to be.”

“Do you really think it’s cancer?”

She never wanted to guess, but she could read the doctors well and they always seemed to know more often than not.

“We won’t know anything until the biopsy is completed, but I’ve seen this a few times and it has all the characteristics of a carcinoma. My guess is you had a hunch too. You seem to have a good eye.”

Jill nodded and kept her smile back. It wasn’t the time or place to be thrilled he had confidence in her. “That’s what I was afraid of.”

She turned to leave, but he stopped her. “Jill. Nice catch.”

She didn’t even know he knew her name. “That’s my job.”

“And you’re good at it,” he said. Then she walked away. She wasn’t sure what to think of Dr. Taylor now. Not only was it the first time he’d really spoken more than a few words to her, but his whole demeanor was different.

There was definitely more to Dr. Taylor than met the eye.

Holiday Love…Prologue #mgtab

Holidaylove(1)

Prologue

“Dr. Taylor.”

Owen turned to see the young tech in the doorway. “Yes.”

“The results of the MRI have been loaded. I’ve got the patient waiting to see if anything needs to be retaken or if more tests are required.”

“Thanks,” Owen said, turning back to the multiple screens on his desk. He was getting ready to bring up the results of the MRI when his cell phone rang.

Pulling it out of his lab coat, he saw it was his ex calling him again. At least once a week, if he was lucky, because other times it was more.

Ashley was always calling and trying to start something. And by something…that meant trouble. Since it was his weekend with Luke, he figured she was at it again.

There was no way he was answering. He was working and it would only annoy him if it was some frivolous reason or excuse.

Ashley and he had never married no matter how much she hinted in the beginning; then she’d purposely gotten pregnant hoping for that proposal.

How did he know she had purposely gotten pregnant? Because she’d told him. Her hints for marriage weren’t giving her the results she was looking for so she’d taken matters into her own hands.

He even remembered when she’d told him she was pregnant and then immediately had said, “So we can get married now, right?”

He’d explained that having a child wasn’t reason enough to marry. At that point, he’d actually been pulling away, telling her they needed space. She decided his space was a sign for a drastic measure.

It would be the first and only time he’d take a woman’s word for being protected against pregnancy.

They’d stayed together through the pregnancy as a couple, he tried to make it work, but all the things that weren’t working for him before were just magnified. Her insecurity and mood swings were difficult to handle. He gave her the benefit of the doubt that it was hormones, but she’d flat out given him an ultimatum when Luke was born. Get married or go their separate ways.

She guessed he wouldn’t have gone his separate way. She was wrong.

From that point on, she made his life hell, then tried to play Luke against him. She was forever putting ideas in Luke’s head about the three of them doing things as a family when Owen just wanted to spend quality time with his son.

This was his weekend with Luke and he had big plans. He didn’t get to spend nearly as much time as he wanted with his son, and he’d be damned if he was going to give that up. If that was what her phone call was about right now, it could go to voicemail.

She’d fought him over the custody arrangements because of his job. He got visitations rather than joint custody. Ashley had been convincing with the flowing tears and explanations in court that Owen would have a nanny for his half of the time and that was worse than if Luke was with her.

The female judge agreed and granted Owen a few nights a week—where Luke had to be returned to his mother for the day while Owen worked—and every other weekend. For the past several years it was working…when Ashley wasn’t trying to make them a “family” again.

His phone dinged that there was a message, which he’d check in a minute. Right now he had a patient waiting and he’d push his ex from his mind. No reason to make the guy wait in the MRI machine if he didn’t need to.

Once he was finished looking everything over, he told the tech that the patient was set. Then he listened to the voicemail message.

“This is Officer Smithson from the Houston Police Department. Your name and number were listed as the ICE contact in Ms. Bailey’s phone. She’s been in an accident, if you could please return our call—”

He hung up and called Ashley’s number back, not wanting to call some police department number and talk to someone who wasn’t even at the scene. With any luck, she’d answer or at least someone next to her would.

“Hello,” the same male voice said.

“This is Owen Taylor. Am I speaking with Officer Smithson?”

“Yes, Mr. Taylor. I’m sorry to inform you that Ms. Bailey has been in an accident—”

“Was she alone?” he asked, his heart beating fast enough to make him wonder if he’d pass out. It was the middle of the day. Luke didn’t have pre-school on Fridays. Chances are he was with Ashley just now.

“No. There was a male passenger with her.”

“A child,” he barely croaked out. “Was it a child?”

“No. There were no children. Two adults and I’m sorry, but both are being transferred to the morgue.”

 

Autumn Love…Chapter One #mgtab

AUTUMNLOVE

Here is the last sneak peek to Autumn Love! Grab it now. If you haven’t read the prologue yet, you can catch up on that first.

Lucky Day

Thirteen Years Later

“Argh,” Ali said, wanting to bang her head against the marker board. “I always run out of ink in the middle of writing down the homework.” Budget cuts meant she was going to have to go buy her own markers rather than use the ones left over from last year. As if she didn’t have enough things to spend her money on.

“I guess that means there’s no homework tonight, Ms. Rogers,” one of her fourth graders said.

“Think again, kiddo. Let’s see how well you listen. I want everyone to read chapter three in your history books and complete questions five through twenty on page nineteen for math.

“It’s only the third week of school,” another kid complained. She remembered those days but didn’t care. She was the teacher now and she got to assign the work, not do it. It felt wonderful to be an adult.

“That’s why you’re only getting two subjects for the weekend. You should be happy you didn’t get any homework that first week.”

The bell rang and everyone jumped up as fast as they could and ran for the door. She remembered those days too and couldn’t really blame the kids. When she was their age, this time of year she was waiting to get off the bus and start working at the orchard. It never felt like work to her back then, climbing the trees and picking apples to put in the store.

Since it was Friday afternoon, she had no plans to stay late. She would have if any of her students needed some extra help, but they lit out of the room like Wile E. Coyote was chasing the Road Runner.

“Any plans this weekend?”

Ali turned to see Corrie, another fourth grade teacher, enter the room ten minutes later. Corrie was about five years older and had been here since she graduated from college. Lucky duck got a job right away, unlike Ali who had to spend the past three years subbing while she worked on her master’s at night.

“I’m going to run to the outlets in a few minutes and then go to my mother’s for dinner. She sounded anxious on the phone, so I’m thinking she’s getting overwhelmed this year. I probably shouldn’t have started to talk to her about the haunted house yet with it still being mid-September.”

It was Ali’s responsibility to design and set up the orchard’s Halloween haunted house, but she always talked it over with her mother. She wondered if maybe she should have waited since her mother had been preoccupied lately.

“I can’t wait to see it,” Corrie said. “I remember going through it when I was growing up. I had my first kiss behind the barn there after I ran screaming from the place and my date thought that would be the only way to get me to stop.”

Ali laughed. “Did it work?”

“I stopped screaming, but the kiss wasn’t all that memorable.”

“Yet you’re telling me about it right now?”

“Only because it was the first, not because it was any good.”

“Well, I’ve got a few things up my sleeve this year. My mother never does much with it other than make all the gory bloody things. I’m not sure what is going on with her, but I’ll figure it out.”

“The retail therapy beforehand will help,” Corrie said.

“It will. I’m in desperate need of clothes, but I was waiting to see what was left of my first paycheck.”

It felt nice to know she’d have a steady check now, not just to be relying on when she was called in to sub. Then again, the orchard was packed on the weekends this time of year so that was always a nice income she could put away.

“Let me know if you find any deals.”

“Will do,” Ali said, grabbing her bag and purse and rushing out.

She walked out to her old beat-up and abused car that had barely gotten her through college, let alone the past few years, but there was no way she could afford a car payment prior to this year.

Even now, she was waiting until her old Honda died before she’d sign her name on any dotted line. Her student loans were bad enough and made her want to burst into tears when she saw that money vanish each month.

She made the short drive from Glens Falls to Lake George to get some shopping done. She would have loved to land a job in her hometown, but anything under a thirty-minute commute was gravy to her, so half that time was like a full turkey dinner that she stuffed herself silly with every Thanksgiving.

Today happened to be her lucky day and she was loaded down with bags, thrilled with all the sales she’d hit, when she looked down trying to juggle them in her hands. She must have drifted a bit on the sidewalk because the next thing she knew she was running into a wall and landing flat on her butt with her bags flying everywhere.

Her face turned red, her butt probably matched the color, but when she looked up she saw it wasn’t an actual wall she hit, but rather a man. A tall built man. Woohoo, lucky day indeed.

“You should watch where you’re going,” he said, a ton of humor in his voice.

“Sorry. I was adjusting my loot and my feet just had a mind of their own.”

He reached down and offered her a hand to pull her up, then grabbed some of her bags. “Guess you hit it big today.”

“I did. Again, I’m sorry.” He had the kindest brown eyes she’d seen in a while and they were staring right at her.

“No worries,” he said and there was a lengthy pause. Was he going to ask her name? Her number? She glanced at his hand and didn’t see a ring, not that that meant anything. “Are you sure you’re okay?”

“I’m fine. Thanks again for helping me up.” He handed her back her bags he was holding and when their hands touched she felt a spark strong enough to make her fingertips sizzle.

“Okay. Well, have a nice day,” he said. She was positive he’d felt the spark too, but he just nodded and walked away.

She sighed deeply and started to walk back to her car, turning her head to see where he was going. Into the Reebok store. Did she need some workout clothes? Not really, and she wasn’t in a position to even consider it. Bummer. Oh well, he’d probably think she was stalking him.

She shrugged it off and continued on her way.

Ten minutes later she was pulling into the orchard and shutting her car off. She made her way to the bakery, assuming her mother would be working. “Hey, Mandy, is my mom around?”

“She’s at the main house right now. I think she’s done for the day.”

Mandy had been employed at the bakery for as long as Ali could remember. “Have you noticed anything odd about her lately?”

“Not that I can tell. Why?” Mandy asked, cleaning up now. The bakery would be open another hour and then closed along with the store for the day. Most people came out earlier on, not around dinner or after. Both her mother and Mandy would be at it bright and early baking in the morning for the weekend crowd.

“No reason. She wanted to see me tonight.”

“She probably just wants to talk about the fall season. You know as well as I do how crazy it is.”

“It is. I’ll see you tomorrow.” Ali turned and walked out, then made her way to the main house where her mother now lived.

Her mother and father had split shortly after Ali’s thirteenth birthday and her mother and she ended up moving in and living with her grandfather. The best years of Ali’s life were when she lived on this farm.

Ali could have come back here to live with her mother when she graduated from college, but she wanted her own space. It was probably a stupid decision on her part when money was scarce, but she’d had a taste of independence at college and wasn’t ready to give it up.

Not to mention her grandfather was no longer there, and it was hard for her to be in his house when he wasn’t, though she’d never admitted that to her mother.

“Mom,” Ali yelled when she walked in the back door of the old farmhouse. It needed some work, but neither of them was equipped enough to do more than paint or change a light bulb most of the time.

“In the living room, Ali.”

She walked in and saw her mother sitting in her grandfather’s old recliner. She couldn’t remember the last time anyone sat in that chair. But after her grandfather had died five years ago, her mother hadn’t had it in her to get rid of it. Secretly Ali was okay with that decision.

“Are you okay?”

“Come sit, Ali.”

“How come you’re in Grandpa’s chair?”

Her mother looked sad right now. “I need his strength.”

“Are you ill?” she asked quickly.

“No, no. Nothing like that.” Her mother took a deep breath. “I decided to sell the farm.”

“What? You can’t do that. It has to stay in our family. It’s supposed to come to me.” Was her mother losing her mind?

“Unless you’ve got one hundred and twenty-seven thousand and ninety-four dollars, it’s going to go to the bank if I don’t sell it.”

Ali didn’t know what to say. Her mother hadn’t been much better than her with money. “I don’t understand. We do well.”

“We do well for several months a year, but the business needs upkeep and money to run it year round. And I’m tired, Ali. I really can’t do it alone anymore.”

Ali felt her eyes fill. “I don’t want to let it go. It was Grandpa’s. I’ll work more.” It was her legacy, all she had left of the man that she’d looked up to so much in her life, but she didn’t want to say that and put any more of a burden on her mother’s shoulders.

Why hadn’t she noticed how tired her mother had been before now?

“I don’t want to either. I didn’t even consider selling it, though it’s been on my mind for years. But I’m struggling to make the loan payments and last year wasn’t a great year. You know how it is, crops can go bad and we can’t predict it. I’m terrified of another year like that. I was approached with an offer today. One I can’t refuse.”

“So it’s over with? Just like that. No time to have a final season? No time to try to find the money?”

This couldn’t be happening. She had high hopes for the haunted house this year. She knew she shouldn’t be having selfish thoughts like that, but it was the first thing that popped into her head. It was something she’d started with her grandfather and she held that close to her chest. Something she looked forward to every year.

“This will be our last season. The guy who approached me is kind enough to let us stay on as the owners until the end of the year because he wants to work alongside of us. He wants to learn the ins and outs of the farm.”

“So it’s someone who doesn’t even know anything about running a farm or an orchard?” That’s not a way to keep the farm alive!

“He’s a contractor. He wants the land and the house and the bakery. The orchard is a bonus, but he promised he’d keep the integrity of the business. He seemed genuine.”

Ali started to sniffle. “But it’s your bakery. What are you going to do?”

“I’m going to retire. I told you, I’m tired. I’ll find some nice part-time job if I need to, or maybe I can stay on here part-time in the bakery. We haven’t gotten that far yet. But I’ll make an extremely nice profit on the sale of the farm and it will give me a lot of breathing room to make those decisions.”

“There is no talking you out of this?”

“No. My mind is made up. This is our last hoorah. Let’s make the best of it.”

Ali moved toward her mother’s outstretched hand and sat next to her on the chair.

“It’s what Grandpa would want. He wouldn’t be happy to see it the way it is right now, you know that. I can’t do it anymore.”

She looked at her mother’s tired eyes and knew she was right, but her heart was just breaking. “I understand. I just need time to adjust.”

“You’ve got your own life and career, Ali. It’s time to make peace with this. It was never going to be your life and you know it. You just wanted to hold onto it because it was Grandpa’s. I understand, but we can’t always hold onto something just because we want to.”

She knew, but a part of her was having a hard time letting go.

 

 

Autumn Love…Prologue #mgtab

AUTUMNLOVE

Here is a sneak peek at Autumn Love!

Prologue

“What’s your favorite kind of apple, Grandpa?” Ali asked.

She was sitting next to him on the tractor that he’d just shut off, looking around the orchard that she loved so much. Most of the orchard was filled with McIntosh, but there were plenty of Cortland, Macoun, Crispin, and Honeycrisp, not to mention other fruits and vegetables on the farm, but to Ali, the apples were the star.

“My favorite is the one I’m eating at that moment,” he said, laughing. He was like jolly old Saint Nick to her. White hair, white beard, and a big belly. At twelve she didn’t believe in Santa anymore, but she believed in her grandfather and that was good enough.

“But if you had a choice?” she asked again. She was always asking a million questions, or so her father always annoyingly said.

Her grandfather hopped off the tractor and reached his long arm up to grab a small Mac off the tree and tossed it to her. Another week or so and they’d be ready for people to line up and start picking.

“Right now, this is my favorite. Tart on the first bite, then followed up by a juicy sweetness. Can’t get any better than this, can you?”

She bit into the apple and realized he was right when a dribble of juice rolled down her chin. It was her favorite at the moment. “I’m so excited about the hayrides and haunted house this year.”

“I don’t know how I let you talk me into that, but I feel like a kid myself planning it all out. Your mother has all sorts of ideas for the bakery too, to have snacks ready for the night to sell.”

“I’m going to help her in there too. I can’t wait until this is all mine someday,” she said.

As the only grandchild, she figured it’d come to her. Why wouldn’t it? Her mother was an only child too and worked on the farm her whole life. She ran the bakery on site that was open all year round.

“You’ve got a lot of years ahead of you to make that decision,” her grandfather said. “There is a great big world out there for you. Running this farm is a lot of work and takes its toll on the body and sometimes the soul. It’s not meant for everyone.”

“You’re as strong as an ox,” she told her grandfather as he grabbed a ladder and started to climb up one tree to inspect the apples. He’d been teaching her what to look for for years now.

“I’m as big as one, that’s for sure,” he said, laughing loudly.

Ali paused, climbed off the tractor and looked up at her grandfather, then finally said, “Mom and Dad are fighting a lot about the farm. Is that why you said what you did?”

Her grandfather climbed down the ladder and took her by the shoulders. “I said it’s a lot of work because it is. Your mother loves it here, or so she has always said. That’s why we opened the bakery for her all those years ago.”

“She does,” Ali insisted. “That’s why Dad is mad. He says she pays more attention to the farm and the store than him.”

Her grandfather snorted. “I’ll keep my lips sealed on that comment. Here’s the deal, Ali. You’ve got options for your future. You don’t have to be tied here in Lake George. You don’t have to be tied to the Adirondacks at all. There’s a big world out there and I want to make sure you’ve thought it all through before you commit to staying here or working this farm.”

“I know what I want,” she said stubbornly. “I’m never leaving. This is my legacy.” She giggled and her grandfather pulled her into his arms.

“You’re a good kid, Ali. Just remember this conversation one day. A legacy doesn’t mean a lot if you’re all by yourself trying to pull it together. It takes teamwork. A family of sorts.”

“We’ve got a family. It’s you and Mom and me. That’s all we need. And you’ve got all those employees too.”

He kissed her on the forehead, like he always did, then pulled her into his arms. She’d never grow tired of her grandfather’s hugs. It wasn’t as if she got them much from her father. She was guessing her mother didn’t either. “Someday you’ll understand.”

Autumn Love

AUTUMNLOVE

What happens when Ali’s grandfather’s ghost decides to make an appearance and meddle in her life?

Liam Sullivan is a well-respected businessman in the community. He sees a beloved apple orchard falling into disrepair and offers to buy it, making a dream come true for his mother. When he discovers the woman he’s interested in is the daughter of the current owner, he’s stuck with a choice between work and pleasure. Or could he have both?

Ali Rogers’s life is falling down around her. She’s in debt up to her ears. Her mother is selling the family business that should have gone to her and the sexy new owner has his eye on her. Only, there is nothing she can do about it because she is losing her mind. How else does she explain all the conversations she’s having with her deceased grandfather?

Intense Love…Chapter One #mgtab

Here is the last of my teasers for Intense Love! Catch up on the Prologue first. You can buy it now for just 99 cents! Or read it free on Kindle Unlimited.

INTENSELOVE(1)

Great Relationship

Ian Price opened the door to the waiting room and saw he was the only one there. Good. That was better than sitting with a bunch of strangers that were in need of Dr. Cameron Mason’s services.

He didn’t need them.

He was fine.

It was mandated. He’d get his release signed, and he’d wait until the investigation was done, then he’d return to normal. Return to work. As if nothing happened a few weeks ago.

No concussion. No partner that was home trying to recover and no dead teen haunting his dreams.

He’d be back to the way things were. He’d make sure of it.

There were magazines on the oak table in front of him. Time. Vanity Fair. Sports Illustrated. He didn’t pick up one of them.

He wasn’t here to stay. He didn’t want to get cozy with a read; he just wanted this over with.

Dr. Mason was probably some old balding fat man that was going to talk to him in a quiet voice, ask him about his inner feelings. If his parents ever raised their voices to him or swatted him on the ass. The answer would be yes. And he turned out just fine because of it. Matter of fact he and his parents had a mighty fine relationship to this day.

Another ten minutes went by while he looked around the quiet office. If the watercolors hanging and the flowers in the crystal vase were supposed to be calming, they weren’t cutting it. Not that he’d let anyone know he was anything but calm, cool and collected even in the Sahara Desert at midday.

Nerves of steel. That was him. Always.

The door he’d entered beeped, then opened and he glanced back, only to see the receptionist still standing there, annoyingly popping her cherry-scented gum like she’d been doing when he walked in the front door. Either she put a fresh piece in or that stuff had some extract in it because it made him want to gag thinking of sugary sweetness at a carnival.

“Dr. Mason will be just another minute. Is there anything I can get you before I leave for the day?”

The twenty-something was eying him more than he cared for. Not trying to figure out who he was. More like she was hungry. Looking for a mate. Or looking for a plaything. He wasn’t either.

He brushed off her flirting. He’d never see her again. He was going to have his one visit and be done. How hard would it be to get his release signed?

“I’m good,” he said, then watched as she wiggled her eyebrows at him one more time, grinned and left.

A minute, maybe two tops, and the office door opened and Dr. Mason came out.

No old fat balding man.

Not old. Not fat. Not a man.

A woman. A smoking hot one in a black pencil skirt hitting her knees, a white shirt buttoned to her neck and tucked in, but not hiding a thing from his imagination. Neither were the simple but still sexy black heels.

Dark straight hair falling over her shoulders, brown eyes assessing his, but not like her secretary. Unfortunately.

“Mr. Price?” she said, her voice cool and maybe a bit raspy. Nah, that was just in his imagination. She was holding her hand out and walking forward. “I’m Dr. Mason. Why don’t you come into my office?”

He shook her hand, brushing off the heat from contact, and followed her in, noting a leather couch on one wall and two chairs across from it. He sat down in one of the chairs. No way he was lying down. No reason.

She laughed, a low sound that shot more heat in places it had no business being.

“So why don’t you tell me why you’re here?” she asked.

“Don’t you know that?” Dr. Mason was contracted as the city’s head shrink.

“I do. I’m asking why you think you’re here.”

“So you can sign my release papers and send me back to work.” Might as well be honest. No use lying or prolonging anything. “I took all your tests the other day. I’m betting I did just fine on them.”

She pursed her lips. Full lips, minus any color or gloss. “I’ll do that in time. Until then, let’s just chat.”

Great. Chat. He hated chatting. Hated it even more when it was idle and that was all he was going to do. No mention of the test results, but he wasn’t worried.

“What do you want to know?” he asked.

She sat back in her chair, the pen she was holding now resting on her pad. “What would you like to tell me?”

“Not much,” he said, stretching his long legs out in front of him, then resting his hands on his belly.

She grinned at him, not easily put off. “How are you feeling?”

“I feel just fine,” he said.

“And your partner?”

“Mick is good. Lucky to be alive, but he’ll make it. He’ll make it to his retirement too.”

“Thanks to you,” she said. “How do you feel about the events that unfolded that day?”

Here we go. She wanted to talk about his feelings. “I feel just fine,” he repeated. “I did what needed to be done.”

She nodded, then picked up her pen and wrote something down. Wonderful. Just wonderful. She was taking notes now. “Aren’t you going to ask me about my childhood?”

“Do you want to talk about your childhood?” she asked, frowning at him.

What was wrong with him? He just didn’t want to talk about the night of the incident. Anything but. “Not really.”

“Then why did you bring it up?”

“Don’t all shrinks want to dig into their patient’s past? See if maybe they were abused. If something set them off. I’ll tell you right now there’s nothing. My mother spanked me a few times, then cried harder than I did. My father yelled at me too, then I yelled back and we laughed about it then and still do now. I’ve got a great relationship with them and they’d tell you the same.”

“Did you practice that speech before you came here?”

He had, but he wouldn’t admit it. “It’s the truth.”

“I actually believe you.”

“So we’re good then. You can sign my release and I’ll be set once the investigation is done?”

“I was told the investigation could take up to another week or longer. They’ll have my full evaluation by then. No worries.”

He wanted to grind his teeth but decided that would probably be a mark against him. Something more she’d want to talk about.

“Well then, if we’re done today,” he said, moving to stand up.

“That’s fine. I was running late and have had a long day myself. We can walk out together if you’d like,” she said.

He wanted to say no, but that’d be rude and he was probably rude enough as it was. No reason to get her on his bad side. Not until she signed that stupid release. “You’re going to make me come back, aren’t you?”

She smiled at him. “Of course.”

He wanted to leave but didn’t. She walked behind her desk and typed a few things on her computer. “Since my secretary has left for the day, I’ll just schedule your next appointment. How about two days from now, same time? Last appointment of the day?”

“That’s fine,” he said. Not like he had much going on. The sooner he could get this over with the sooner he could move on.

“Well then, you can walk me to my car,” she said, grabbing her purse, walking out the door and flashing her keycard to open the inner waiting room to get to the receptionist area. She liked the security here and how she could lock herself and clients in from the front waiting room for privacy if needed.

***

Cam was trying not to laugh. Detective Price absolutely did not want to be in her office. It was not the first time she’d dealt with a stubborn officer. One that thought he was fine. That figured she’d just sign his release and he’d be done.

Sometimes she’d meet with them a few times, make her recommendation based on their work history and current mental state, and they’d be done. Others took longer.

She was thinking Ian’s would be pretty simple. He’d passed all his tests with flying colors. But no one got a release on one visit from her. Especially when they didn’t want to talk about what actually happened. So until he at least acknowledged more than his partner was lucky to be alive that night, he’d have to come back.

“Do you always leave alone?” he asked her when she turned to lock up the office door.

“Normally. My secretary never wants to stay a minute past five. Guess she has an active social life that is more important than work. Tonight it’s a softball league she’s in. Said she was the starting pitcher and had to get there early to warm up. Something along those lines.”

Good staff was hard to come by. Tiffany had been employed for a few months now. She did her job well when she was there and there wasn’t much more Cam could ask for at this point. It was better than the last three secretaries she’d had.

Ian snorted. “I got that impression.”

“Did she hit on you?” Cam asked, trying to hide her annoyance. She’d outgrown the days of rebelling against any authority by the time she was twenty. Tiffany was years behind, it seemed.

“Does it matter? I’m not interested either way.”

“It wouldn’t be the first time she’s hit on one of my patients. Most are either in situations like yourself, short-term looking for a release, court-appointed assessments for trial, or…high end.”

“Not a lot of privacy for high end in here.”

“Actually you’re wrong. Because there are so many businesses in this complex, it’s hard for anyone to know why someone would be entering unless they were followed to their destination.”

Which was exactly why she’d chosen this location. She was on the third floor with five other businesses. There were two floors above her too. Clients could easily find another reason why they were in the building if they wanted to and most did. Most doubled up on appointments and saw someone before or after her, covering their tracks.

“Whatever makes people feel good.”

She turned and looked at him in the elevator. Really looked at his features. Dark hair, dark eyes, a few days’ growth of beard. Not messy, not lazy, just…manly. It seemed to fit his personality.

“That is part of my job. To help people. To make them feel better.”

“Does everyone feel better when they leave your office?”

“Not always. Not everyone can be helped. I understand that. Do you?”

“What? Feel better? I thought our session was over with?” he said, lifting an eyebrow.

He was good. “It is. Just having a conversation.”

“Elevator conversation is normally things like ‘What do you think about this weather? Did you catch the game last night?’”

She liked his personality. Keeping just enough of himself back, but not so much that you wondered what was going on. A secret bad boy. Nothing wrong with that and though she was annoyed with Tiffany, she could appreciate the need to take a risk and see where she’d end up. “I can catch the weather on the news like most people. And I don’t have time for sports.”

He laughed at her. “Good point.”

They rode down in silence now, then headed out to the parking lot. “I’ll see you in a couple of days,” she said. He nodded and walked in the other direction. She turned toward her car. “Shit!”

He was back at her side fast. “Well now, Doctor, is that any way to talk?”

It was wrong, she knew it, but she couldn’t stop it. All of those years of control flew out the window just now. Right in front of her. Her brand new Mercedes that she’d had all of three weeks had two tires slit.

“Sorry. I think that warranted it,” she said with a nod toward the tires.

“Guess you don’t make everyone feel good after all.”