First Love…Prologue #mgtab @Natalieann121

Firstlove

First Love

Prologue

“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

Firstlove

 

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

 

chasinglove

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

Damn Lucky

Sixteen years later

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

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

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

“Is your furnace working?”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

And it had high-end clientele.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Chasing Love…Prologue #mgtab @NatalieAnn121

chasinglove

Time for a glimpse into Chasing Love.

Prologue

“Meena, stop following us everywhere.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

How come no one thought like she did?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Chasing Love #Mgtab @NatalieAnn121

chasinglove

Her childhood crush. His best friend’s little sister. There’s nothing wrong with that, right?

Meena Dawson has always been loud. Always been wild. Always been bold. And she always thought she loved her brother’s best friend. She’s an adult now. Not so loud. Not so wild, but still bold and definitely in love with Troy Walker. It’s time to make her move now with the hopes of not scaring him away or ruining the family connection they’ve always had.

Troy Walker has always been serious. Dull and even boring. He knew that because he’d been told it enough in his life, especially by all his exes. At least that was the reason they’d given him for leaving every time. But now that Meena Dawson is back in town, he’s wondering if he could find a way to not be all those things and maybe catch her eye. Only he has to find a way to make sure his best friend—Meena’s brother—doesn’t find out.

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.