Family Bonds- Mac & Sidney…Prologue

Prologue

“You’re later than normal.”

Sidney took a deep breath, prepared to put up with more shit tonight. When she decided to study abroad for her senior year of college she never expected the headache of feeling trapped when she should be enjoying her time. Poor choices on her part once again.

“It was busy tonight.”

“Or you were too slow,” Rod said back. Rodney Enfield was older than her by five years. But at just twenty-seven, his law degree and family money were turning him into a colossal douche. She wished she’d realized it months ago before she moved in with him and gave up her spot in her cramped shared apartment. Now she was stuck with him for another month until the semester was up and she could get the hell out of London.

He didn’t seem so bad at first and maybe it was the newness of the relationship, but the longer she was with him, the more she wondered who the hell he was.

“I have no problem keeping up,” she said back and moved to the kitchen. The flat she shared with Rod was three times the size of the one she’d shared with two other people. She’d take those close quarters back if she could. Instead she had to walk on eggshells to see what kind of guy he was going to be tonight. Loving, sweet, funny or downright rude and in your face asshole. Sometimes scary if he’d been drinking, but she’d been able to handle him most times.

And whenever the undesirable attitudes came out and she told him to cut the shit, he’d apologize and give her gifts the next day. After she’d walked away from him, proving he’d pushed too far.

She was pretty much over it now.

“Oh, then maybe someone wanted a bit more action than a drink tonight?” he asked, grabbing her arm when she tried to walk away.

“No.” She said, pulling her arm away. “But you’ve been drinking tonight I see.”

She knew enough to stay away when he had been. Looked like the asshole was out tonight. Long gone was the guy that was trying to romance her back to his place. She fell for his English charm and would always regret it.

The first time he put her down, she just figured it had to do with his upper crust personality. That he was making a joke and she wasn’t getting it. She even called him out on that and he’d confirmed it.

But then she started to realize that, no, he actually enjoyed putting her down. And when she was pissed off enough, he’d apologize and try to make it up to her and tell her she was too sensitive.

She’d never felt she was a sensitive person. That was Anne. Sidney was more pragmatic and realistic. Then why had she fallen for someone telling her she was more like her twin when he didn’t even know she had one?

Knowing she didn’t have much time left, she was trying to keep the peace as best as she could. He seemed to think she was going to stay here when the month was up even though she’d been talking about going back to Montana. Yep, she was the backwoods country girl he’d called her a few times too.

If there was an insult he could throw at her or demean her, he’d done that.

Sidney didn’t care. The simple life was all she ever wanted. Somehow she got sucked into more here and wished she hadn’t. She just thought it was the chance of a lifetime and did it more because Anne couldn’t. She was doing it because her twin never had the chance.

A stupid reason she’d have to live with.

“Nothing more than what you’ve been serving all the blokes that were hitting on you. I know I’m right,” he said, his hand gliding down her cheek.

She turned her head away and went to move, but he gripped her arm harder and held her in place. “Let go of me. It’s been a long night and I’m tired.” He was scaring her but she didn’t want to let on. Lately he almost seemed like multiple people to her.

“Don’t walk away from me, bitch. You should know better than that.”

This was new…and frightening. Talking down to her was one thing. Insulting her too. Threatening was another. She didn’t take shit from anyone. This country girl knew how to fight back.

“Let go of me now,” she said, her voice low, her eyes narrowed.

It was the wrong thing to do. His arm came up and backhanded her.

Stumbling a few feet back, she tasted blood, felt it pooling in her mouth from where her lip cut on her teeth. She turned and swung at him, but he blocked it and wrapped her up in a bear hug. She started to scream and kick, fight with everything she had. She wasn’t going down without leaving some of her own marks.

She was making enough noise that the tenants next door started banging on the wall and wanting to know what was going on.

“That was stupid,” he said low in her ear, releasing her and shoving her away. She caught herself before she hit the wall.

Marching to the bathroom, she slammed the door, locking herself in for now and trying to get control of her shaking.

An hour must have gone by as Sidney sat in there and cleaned up, hoping he’d pass out. There were tears in her eyes and she let them fall while she figured out her next move. First thing in the morning she’d be out of here when he left for work.

When she thought it was safe, she opened the door and saw the lights out in the flat, knowing Rod must have gone to bed.

She grabbed a blanket and curled up on the couch hoping to fall asleep.

When morning came, she pretended to be sleeping as she heard him moving around. He stood over her, looking at her, she knew. She could feel his eyes on her.

His hand came out and touched her arm lightly, and he whispered, “I’m so sorry, Sidney. Please forgive me. I don’t even remember much of last night. I hope you can forgive me. I must have blacked out. I just love you so much and the thought of you working last night while I was here alone sent me to drink more than normal.”

She battled back the snort along with the tears. He liked to make that excuse, but she knew better.

And when the door shut behind him, she jumped up and turned the deadbolt, then packed up her stuff. She would be gone within the hour and he’d never touch her again.

Fierce-Jade…Prologue

Prologue

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Are you and Dylan done?” Miranda asked.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“That’s not what he’s saying.”

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

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

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

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

“Excuse me?”

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

Jade snorted. “I’d hardly say that.”

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

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

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

“I don’t,” Miranda said.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Fine,” she said. “Why do you ask?”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Falling Into Love…Prologue

Prologue

“What do you mean he’s not conscious?” Shannon Wilder asked, her voice higher than when she was screaming out during childbirth.

“Mrs. Wilder,” the nurse said. “Let me see if I can find someone to talk to you. I believe your husband came in with another man.”

“Yes. His best friend, John.”

John had called her over an hour ago to say Tyler grabbed his chest and fell to the floor in their office. They’d called 911 and got him to the hospital right away, but she hadn’t heard a word since.

She’d been home working, like she’d done for years since she’d had her son, Jeffrey. Then when Maddie came along it was decided she might as well continue to work from home. Even Tyler worked from home half the time rather than driving the hour to their headquarters in Seattle.

“Right this way. I believe he’s in the waiting room down the hall,” the nurse said.

She wanted to push the lady to move faster than the calm stroll she was taking with her rubber-soled shoes squeaking on the floor.

“John,” she said, moving into his arms. Tyler and John had lived on the same street growing up and had been inseparable. When she started to date Tyler in high school they’d become the three amigos. When John married last year, the four of them did everything together. “What is going on?”

“I don’t know, Shannon. They think he had a heart attack.”

“We’re twenty-seven years old. How is that possible? He’s in great condition.”

“It doesn’t make sense to me either,” John said. “They started to ask me all these questions about Tyler’s family medical history. I said I thought his parents were in great health.”

“They are,” she said. Her in-laws lived a few hours away and were on their way right now. Thankfully the nanny she never wanted to have was able to stay with the kids.

“I’ll see if I can find a doctor or someone to give us some answers,” he said and left the room.

Shannon didn’t know what to do with herself while she sat there staring at the wall.

This couldn’t be happening right now.

Everything in their life just seemed so perfect.

She had what she’d always wanted. What she and Tyler had talked about all through high school and then in college where they went together for another four years.

Heck, she and Tyler married as soon as they graduated and a family followed shortly after while he and John built their company up from the ground.

No one believed in those two but her. She put everything she could into it right alongside of them when most said they were nuts.

They were all multi-millionaires many times over now and living the dream.

That dream didn’t include her husband unconscious in the hospital.

She looked up when John walked back in and handed her over a can of soda. He had a large coffee in his hand that he was never without.

She opened the can and took a sip. When the doctor came in, she stood up and got one look at his face and knew her world would never be the same.

“Mrs. Wilder. I’m so sorry. We did everything we could.”

The can dropped to the floor, the brown liquid spilling everywhere, then the room just went dark in front of her.

Fierce- Wyatt…Chapter One

Wyatt(1)

 

Catch up on the Prologue

Chapter One

Feel The Heat

Seven years later

“I’m Dr. Fierce, your anesthesiologist for your surgery today,” Wyatt said, moving behind the curtain for his next patient while he waited for the OR to open up. Shouldn’t be much longer. “Can you state your name and the reason you are here? I’m sure you know the routine,” he said to the woman with a big smile. She was a cancer patient coming back in for another surgery after her scan showed a spot of concern. This one on her kidney.

“Ashley Brookshire. And another Dr. Fierce is going to go in and remove some tissue from my kidney that with any luck is just some fat and not cancer.”

“That is exactly what we are all hoping for,” he said, rubbing his hand on her foot.

Most of the patients coming in for surgery were scared. They were stressed. They were emotional.

It was his job to not only make sure it was a safe and painless procedure but also to try to calm them. No doctor wanted a hysterical patient on their table.

Of course that was why there were such things as “happy” juice to calm a patient down. But if he didn’t need to do it, he wouldn’t.

Ashley seemed pretty darn calm to him.

“The other Dr. Fierce—a brother by any chance?” she asked.

“Cousin,” he said of his cousin Sam that was the surgeon performing the procedure. He was in another OR right now, just finishing up. When the room was ready, Ashley was the next patient.

“So, good genes in your family,” she said, wiggling her eyebrows. He turned when the curtain opened and saw a man walk in. “Steven, this is Dr. Fierce. Dr. Fierce, my surgeon’s cousin. Wow, it might get confusing in here.”

Wyatt laughed. “It can when we have our masks on. Don’t worry, we don’t often switch positions in the OR. I’m the one who likes to put people to sleep. Guess I’m just boring that way.”

Ashley laughed. “Something tells me you aren’t very boring. But anyway. Here we are. Waiting to find out the results. My oncologist told me since the last tumor that was removed was contained and small that I will only need radiation on my thyroid. I can handle that. Not a problem.”

“Sounds like you’ve got a great attitude.”

“Yeah,” she said. “Thyroid cancer is easily treated, but that stupid CAT scan showed something on my kidney. My other surgeon couldn’t remove it and referred me to Dr. Fierce. Your cousin. Yeah, this is confusing.”

He laughed. He was used to it. “I get it. Sam—we’ll call him that, he’s good with it, even with his patients at times—is the best there is. You’re in great hands.”

“Good to know,” Steven said. “He told us that it could be nothing, but you won’t know until you biopsy it. Just wish she could be awake for it. I hate when she has to go under.”

Wyatt flipped through her history on his computer. He already knew she’d had a few surgeries in her past. “You seem like a pro to me when it comes to being operated on.”

“I don’t know about that. No one wants to be a pro at this, but I’m kind of a klutz. Or I was in school. I seemed to get injured in every sport or activity I did.”

“Which is why she doesn’t do much of those things anymore,” Steven said. “When we were younger it was fine. We’re too old for it now.”

“Now I’m also having surgery for carpal tunnel. I’m only thirty-eight. Come on,” she said, letting out a huff.

“Society spends a lot of time on computers now,” Wyatt said, holding his laptop up. He hated every minute of it too and wished more people were interested in getting out and doing rather than watching. “While we wait for the room to be open, I’ll tell you I’m a proponent of KIS when it comes to surgery.”

“You want a kiss?” she asked. “That’s getting a little personal, but if Steven looks away, I’ll give you one on the cheek.”

“Now I know why you are so laid back.”

If only everyone was like this, but Wyatt knew that wasn’t life. He’d had plenty that he walked in and saw them in tears and it just killed him. The first time that happened he threw all the things he was taught out the window about always being serious and professional at work.

When he was ready to get to work, he could toe the line with all the weight on his shoulders, but this was about the patient. This was about relaxing them and helping them. It was called humanity in his eyes so he’d done what came naturally to him.

“There are too many things to stress about. I’m going to hold out hope it’s nothing, but I need to know. It’s better to know than guess,” Ashley said.

“I agree. And I’m afraid your husband might deck me if you gave me a kiss. KIS. Keep it simple. I’m sure you’ve heard it called happy juice before, but it’s Versed. It relaxes you and makes you forget anything before you go under. Most people are anxious and need it. You don’t seem so. So I’m asking if you want it. I’ll gladly administer it, but if you don’t need it, why take something?”

Many thought he was nuts to give that option, but why inject yourself with a drug if you truly didn’t need it? He’d had plenty of patients wide awake while they were wheeled down, remembering everything, and carrying on normal conversations with him and the team in the OR before they went under.

“I don’t think I need it,” she said. “But what if I do? I mean I normally get it and though I’m not an anxious person, what if I start to panic?”

“It works fast. If you ask you’ll get it immediately.”

“I’d like to try without it. I get nauseous and they already gave me stuff for that. Maybe I’ll wake up faster if I don’t get that.”

“It could help too,” he said. “I like to give patients the choice.”

“Let’s go without it,” she said. “Will you be in there talking to me? It could distract me.”

“She’s flirting with you,” Steven said. “I can’t believe she is doing that.” Ashley’s husband shook his head. “She’s always been a flirt. You aren’t going to steal her away from me, are you? Try to woo her in the OR?”

“I don’t think I could possibly compete with you.”

“Steven is the best husband there is. You might be a treat to look at, but something tells me you break a lot of ladies’ hearts.”

He forced a grin. He’d been told that a lot in life, but he always went in letting everyone know where he stood.

Fun. That was what he wanted. He didn’t take a lot in life seriously other than his job. This took all his focus and outside of the OR he stayed clear of commitments, stress, and headaches like the devil avoided Sunday mass.

When the curtain moved aside, he was thankful that his cousin Sam arrived. “How are you doing today, Ashley?”

“Ready to get this over with. I’ve been picking on your cousin. I just said I bet he breaks a lot of hearts, but the truth is, you probably do too.”

Sam grinned. “I might have broken a few in the past, but I’ve got a fiancée now that has stolen my own heart.”

Wyatt rolled his eyes. Everyone was falling like flies around him. First Sam, then Sam’s brother Bryce, then Wyatt’s brother Drake and over the weekend Drake’s twin, Noah, got engaged at Easter dinner in front of the whole family.

He was starting to feel the heat like never before.

Did he always think he’d want to settle down at some point? Sure.

Was he looking for it? Not really.

But with everyone falling like first-time skiers on the bunny slopes, he felt like all eyes were on him. They were even dropping in birth order too. What were the chances of that happening?

“So, we are all set?” he asked Ashley.

“Yes. I’ll bypass that drug and go with KIS.”

“Is Dr. Fierce trying to get you to kiss him?” Sam asked. “He does that with all the patients.”

Wyatt shook his head at Sam. “What can I tell you, the patients like me better than you. Just like the family. You may be the oldest, but I’m the favorite.”

“You keep telling yourself that,” Sam said.

But he didn’t need to. He knew his family loved him. His family loved everyone equally. It’d always been that way. Even if he did seem to get more attention than most.

Twenty minutes later, he was in the OR talking with Ashley, asking how her Easter went and listening to the stories of how her kids were too old for Easter baskets.

The circulating and scrub nurses were moving around the room preparing lights, setting out instruments, and getting everything ready.

Sam gave him the nod they were good to go, so he said to Ashley, “I’m going to put the oxygen mask on you now and you might feel a burn with this injection. It won’t last long if you do.”

She bobbed her head up and down and was still talking. She was almost babbling a little about her holiday, but he kept it up with her until her eyes started to roll back in her head. She was still awake, not quite ready to go out.

“You almost ready, old man?” Wyatt said to Sam.

Sam laughed behind his mask. “I’m not that much older than you.”

“No,” Wyatt said, “but the big old ball and chain is going on in less than two weeks. That smacks old to me.” He glanced back down at the vitals and his patient. Her eyes popped back open again.

“Don’t be jealous,” Sam said. “You wish you had someone as great as Dani.”

“She is pretty hot,” Wyatt said back. “It was just your luck of the draw you saw her first.”

“Get over yourself. Dani couldn’t stop flirting with me the first time we met. I know how to lay on the charm.”

“You learned it from me,” Wyatt said. “I’ve lost my ride or die partner. This is the final goodbye.” Ashley was fighting it, but she’d be out soon.

“There’s always Ryder,” Sam said back.

“No, thank you. His taste in women is horrendous.” Sam’s youngest brother, Ryder, ended up with all the nut jobs. Or as Sam liked to call them, “life suckers” where they just drain the life out of you.

“You think yours is much better?”

He looked down at Ashley and stopped talking because it was time to be serious. It was time for him to do his job that he was so good at. It was time to focus. And ignore the shot his cousin took at him with lethal precision.

Ashley was out, so he finished up what he had to do, then turned to Sam and said, “The floor is all yours.”

Fierce- Wyatt…Prologue

Wyatt(1)

Prologue

Wyatt Fierce took a seat, ready to listen to Dr. Raymond talk about the field of study he’d been wanting to do for years.

He was made for this, even if others thought he was nuts.

He didn’t care. It was his life, his career, and he was going to prove them all wrong.

He leaned over and grinned at the resident that sat two seats down from him. Monique and he had a few drinks at the bar last night before both going on their way. She was here just like him, but she was tapping her feet almost shaking his own chair.

Nerves? Yep, pretty obvious on Monique. Not him.

Steel rods, that was what his nerves were made of.

“Look around this room,” Dr. Raymond said. Wyatt did what he was told, nodding to a few other residents he’d seen in the halls in the past few years. “Some of you are going to make it; most of you won’t.”

Wyatt had known that coming in. He wasn’t worried.

“I don’t mean make it as a doctor,” Dr. Raymond said. “You might end up in primary care, you might end up riding a desk, or even working in a morgue, but not all of you are going to be an anesthesiologist.”

Wyatt had been hearing this from people for years. He knew the stats and he didn’t care. He was going to be one in this room that made it and didn’t care if the rest failed.

Fierces didn’t fail and he wouldn’t be the first.

He sat back in the chair to get comfortable, his long legs stretched out in front of him, his arms crossed in front of his chest. Might as well relax because that was how he felt when others were sweating around him.

Normally he couldn’t sit still. He was always running, always finding things to do.

Not when it came to this though. Sit in place and listen. He’d get an A every single time.

Dr. Raymond was walking about the room now, looking at each and every one of them, stopping to stare, probably to intimidate. Wyatt didn’t care. He had this covered.

“Dr. Fierce,” Dr. Raymond said. He hadn’t realized the guy knew his name, but of course he could have read it on the lab coat.

“That’s me,” he said.

“With a name like that, I’m sure you’re pretty cocky and full of yourself.”

Wyatt grinned when others in the room snickered. “I like to think of it as confidence.”

“Same thing if it’s not controlled,” Dr. Raymond said. “I know all about you.”

Shit. What did that mean? In the hospital he gave it everything he had. He followed the rules and he did his job. He stayed late and he worked hard.

But outside of the hospital—when it was playtime—he played just as hard. Call it an outlet, he wasn’t sure, but he’d never been serious about anything in life, or so most said.

He was the joker of the family. The one always out to get a laugh.

The one always being a wiseass.

But when it came time to buckle down he had the straps in his hands and was ready to settle in.

“And what is that, Dr. Raymond?”

The pacing around the room started again while Dr. Raymond made him wait. If the doctor thought he’d see Wyatt sweat, he wasn’t going to.

“I think you know what I’m talking about. There are eyes everywhere. You’re always watched in and out of the hospital.”

“Understood,” he said.

“Do you know why this discipline of medicine is so hard?” he asked, looking around the room.

“Because it pays the most,” someone said. Wyatt almost said that but knew enough to keep his mouth shut since all eyes were on him. Not the time to be a smartass, he knew.

“That’s why so many want to do it,” Dr. Raymond said. “But they fail because the money is just a little bit of consolation for the stress and pressure of what you do every day in your job. You are responsible for your patients undergoing surgery safely and comfortably. You put them to sleep. And you wake them up. Or you better damn well make sure you do.”

Textbook explanation that everyone knew.

Wyatt shifted in the chair a bit. “Dr. Fierce, do you think you have the ability to take this seriously?”

“Dead serious,” he said, getting a little sick of the attention on him. Which was funny since he normally loved attention.

“And that is what your patient is going to be if you don’t. Dead.” The silence that greeted him with that statement was almost as bad as the last nail going into a coffin. “If you can’t take it. If anyone can’t, then there is the door. I’m going to get myself a coffee and if there are fewer of you in the room when I come back, then so be it.”

Dr. Raymond left and Wyatt watched as a few let out a breath. Monique from last night stood up. “What are you doing?” he asked her.

“I can’t do this,” she said.

“What? It’s just a speech. You don’t know until you at least try it,” he argued when two more people stood up. What the hell?

“Yep,” someone else said. “And I’m sweating and shaking listening to him talk. If I’m doing it now with words, I won’t be able to handle it in the OR. There are plenty of fields for me to go in and this one isn’t going to be it,” said the guy who’d earlier stated it was for the money.

Wyatt sat there while those three left. There were only five in the room now.

When Dr. Raymond came back, he was carrying a tray with four cups. “Wow. There is one extra than I anticipated to be here. Does someone want to volunteer to go get the fifth cup?”

Wyatt wasn’t leaving his seat. A guy behind him said, “I’ll do it.”

When he was out of the room, Dr. Raymond said, “And he won’t make it either.”

“Why?” someone else asked.

“Dr. Fierce, do you know why?”

“Because you never leave the room until everything is completed and everyone is safe. We’re all safe, but you haven’t finished.”

“Correct,” Dr. Raymond said. “Maybe I’m wrong about you, but we’ll see. I’m usually never wrong.”

Family Bonds-Hunter & Kayla…Chapter One

H&K (1)

 

Catch up on the Prologue here.

Chapter One

To Hell And Back

 

Ten years later

“Are you kidding me, Marcy?” Hunter said to his secretary.

“Sorry. I wish I were. Patrice called when you were on the phone and she said she’d be here if she could, but her son has been throwing up since four this morning. She doesn’t want to cancel the interview because it’s the only applicant she received for the front desk position.”

“And she thinks I’d be a good fit for doing the interview in her place?” he asked. “I run this hotel and have for three years. I don’t interview lower level staff. That’s what I’ve got staff for.”

He wasn’t trying to come off like an ass, just be firm though it didn’t always come across that way. Ever since his father finally handed the reins over full time, Hunter had been making all sorts of changes to the hundred-plus-year-old hotel that his Great-great-grandfather James started and he was stretched a little thin on time.

Bond Retreat was the first hotel on Amore Island. Many more had been erected since that time, yet only Bonds owned them. But the first one was special and had been turned into a retreat and destination wedding hotel and resort while the other hotels on the island were more for family vacationers. After all, it was the island for love—amore—so why not cash in on it?

“I understand, but Carol is off today.” Carol was the assistant manager and also oversaw the front line staff.

“What about Pete?”

“Pete in accounting? No one in finance would know what to ask. It’s a completely different job than what they do.”

Hunter ran his hand through his thick black hair. “How about you?” he asked Marcy.

“I’m your assistant. I don’t interview and you know it. I don’t want Patrice on my case if I hire the person and she doesn’t work out. She wouldn’t dare say anything to you.”

“I wouldn’t bet on that,” Hunter said. Patrice had been in her position for ten years and was five years older than him. Sometimes she let him know that too, in a polite way. He didn’t consider himself a hard employer—even when he was trying to be—but he was driven and wanted everyone to work the same as him.

Some of it was because of his name. The rest was his stubbornness to maintain the family reputation that had been built up again after Great-great-grandpa James blew their line all to hell and back.

“Don’t even think of bringing up any of the other managers at the resort. None of them will want a hand in this. If you can’t do it, I’ll call Patrice back and tell her that you said to reschedule it. It might be weeks before we get someone filled at the front desk though and we are paying overtime to the current staff. They are really pressed.”

His staff knew how to pile the guilt on his shoulders and he wondered how he could be so weak.

Or maybe he knew when to cave and when to fight. Just because he hated interviewing and didn’t have the time didn’t mean it wasn’t one of those days to help Patrice out of a bind.

He let out a breath. “Fine. What time is it scheduled for?”

“Eleven. Here is her resume. I’ll have the front desk send her here when she arrives.”

“You can wipe that smirk off your face now that you and Patrice got your way. I think you two put your heads together and decided to pin this on me.” He started to flip papers around on his desk. “I’ve got to meet with the people at the conference at ten. I might be late.”

Marcy laughed. “We’d never do that. And if you’re a few minutes late, she can wait, it’s not a big deal. After all, you’re the CEO and you’re busy. We know.”

When she walked out the door still laughing he knew they did plan it exactly the way it happened.

He lifted up the resume of Kayla Rivers and looked it over. The only hotel experience she had was in housekeeping eight years ago. Looked like she was there for a year and then moved on.

She moved on with a lot of jobs by the looks of it. Lots of customer service positions, but not much more. Some labor positions too. Nothing steady either.

There wasn’t much he could do other than give Kayla an interview and hope it wasn’t a complete waste of his time.

 

***

 

Nothing ever seemed to go according to plan, Kayla thought as she sat in the waiting room outside of Hunter Bond’s office.

She was supposed to be interviewing with the manager, Patrice Martin, but when she showed up she’d been told Patrice was out with a sick kid. As if that wasn’t bad enough, Kayla had almost missed her ferry.

Time had never been her friend. She wasn’t late often, but she was always there right on the dot, normally from running the last distance to get in the door on time…just like today.

The short run and fresh air at least added some color to her face and took her mind off the bumpy ferry ride that turned her stomach and face to match the color of seaweed. Having never been on a ferry before she had no idea she’d react that way.

The minute she was in the building Kayla realized she had five minutes to spare and asked the front desk where the bathroom was so she could check over her appearance.

She’d turned down a hall, figuring she was lost, and bumped into someone, stumbled and he had to reach out to steady her so she didn’t do a face plant and have to show up for her interview with a black eye. When she looked up it was a man. A hot man. One that was staring down at her with a grin on his face, his big hands on her shoulders and then dropping away faster than she’d hoped. Talk about a crazy thought.

“I’m so sorry,” she said, rambling on. “I’m here for an interview and I’m nervous and excited because this island is so beautiful, but I look like Cinderella after the coach turned back into a pumpkin thanks to that ferry ride. I thought I was going to get sick it was so windy. I asked where the bathroom was and now I think I’m lost. But I suppose I should thank you for stopping my fall or I might look like the pumpkin guts smashed into me when the coach changed over.”

The man was laughing now. Since he was dressed up and there were a lot of people walking around in business attire, she assumed he was there for the conference and here she was babbling like a fool to him. Typical.

“You’re not lost. Keep going down this hall and turn left. And don’t worry, you look fine.”
“Thank you,” she said. She took a deep breath, wrapped her hand around the star pendant on her necklace, grinned at him and dashed away.

A few minutes later on the tenth floor, the woman named Marcy said to her, “Kayla, Hunter is ready now, if you’ll follow me.”

Kayla stood up and followed Hunter’s secretary to his office. She felt so out of place with her cheap—but clean—black pants and a white shirt with a blue cardigan over it. She suspected all the executives were housed here on the tenth floor.

“Hi, Kayla,” Hunter said with his hand out, then motioning her to a chair over in a sitting area.

Yep, that black cloud that always floated over her head from the day she was born to a teenage mother that would rather party than raise her seemed to cover the island, too. Here it was again as she faced the man she’d bumped into in the hall, looking like a train wreck while she was lost in his hotel.

“Nice to meet you,” she said as calmly as she could. There wasn’t much she could do other than acknowledge what happened. “Or we meet again. I’m kind of embarrassed.”

“No reason to be. We’ve all had rough ferry rides. And I’m sure Marcy explained to you why I’m doing the interview. Normally I don’t have a hand in positions like this.”

Meaning positions that were completely beneath him, she was sure, but wasn’t stupid enough to voice that, especially after the first crazy impression she gave him. “Not a problem. This place is even nicer than it looks online.”

“You’ve never been to the island before, I take it?” he asked.

“No.”

“Well, you got here okay,” he said. “I guess the first thing I should bring up is not everyone that works on the island lives on the island, but it is much easier to reside here. The ferry almost always runs on time, though the weather does play a part. There are three different ferries that you can grab. Two from the south port and one on the north end that comes in from Boston.”

“That’s the other end of the island,” she said. “How many miles away is it?”

“The Romeo Port on the north end is about sixteen miles away. Juliet Port is the south port that I’m assuming you came in on.” She nodded her head. “You can get a ferry from Plymouth or Provincetown off of Cape Cod.”

She’d done her research on the resort and the ferry she was taking to get here and how to get from the ferry to the resort, but that was all she’d done since she’d been working, trying to make up the time for being off for this interview so she didn’t go unpaid.

“I wasn’t aware of the two different ports, just how to get here today.” She caught herself reaching for her necklace to fidget and pushed her hands back down. She should have known that information and hoped it wasn’t held against her. This morning was going from bad to worse. She should just get up and walk out. It’s not like she’d ever see him again once she got on the ferry.

“Not a problem,” he said. “And you didn’t find the ferry ride that wonderful?”

“It was bumpier than I thought. I’d had an Uber waiting for me and then had trouble finding them.” Always something, but she’d finally found the driver and then got to the resort in the nick of time and ran through the parking lots to get to the entrance.

“It can be worse. It’s a windy day out there today. If you get the job, like I said, there are three different ferries that arrive at multiple times throughout the day. The first comes in around seven in the morning; the last to depart is nine at night. The last arriving here at eight.”

“So if I missed the last one, I’m here for the night?” she asked. “What are the hours of this job?”

He grinned at her, his straight white teeth flashing like a beacon calling her forth. His blue eyes were as clear as the sky had been outside when she ran in the door and had a humorous glint to them as he gazed at her. “We would never schedule anyone where they might miss a ferry. This position would start at seven at night and end at six a.m. An hour lunch and it’s four ten-hour days. This gives you time to catch the first ferry after work and not worry about missing it if you get held up at work.”

“Does that happen often? Being held up?” she asked and wondered why she was because she knew she’d be living here if she got the position. Which was pretty much a pipe dream with the way things were going. Yet he wasn’t acting like she didn’t have a shot. Probably just being nice.

Sometimes she just didn’t think before speaking and had to shut her trap so she didn’t blow this interview.

“It can if your replacement is late or you are dealing with a guest. Though on the night shift you aren’t quite that busy.”

“That all sounds good,” she said. “But if I get the job I’ve got a place to stay on the island.”

“Good,” he said. “Then let’s talk about your experience. I see though you’ve never worked the front desk at a hotel you’ve got a lot of customer service experience. A nice well-rounded resume.”

Which was probably his polite way of saying she’d bopped around from job to job lately. “I don’t want you to think I can’t hold down a job. Some of them I was laid off when the work slowed down. Some just didn’t work out, and others I found a better job.”

“So you are always looking for a better job?” he asked.

“No,” she said. “Not really. I started working at a young age and I’ve got experience in a lot of fields as you can see. Some of it just wasn’t to my liking, but I’ve never left before a year at any of my jobs. Sometimes I have jobs that overlap if you look closely.”

He lowered his head and focused on her resume. “I see that.”

“I’m a hard worker,” she said earnestly. She didn’t want to beg, but now was the time to sell herself if she had any shot in hell at this job. “I like to learn new things. I’m trying to find a career over a job. I guess that is the best explanation.”

“And you think this would be a career for you?” he asked.

“I’d like it to be. I just want to settle down and have a normal life.”

He laughed. “Life on Amore Island is hardly normal, some would say.”

She grinned. “Is it true what they say? That most come here to find love or are hoping for it?”

“That’s what they say. An island started by lovers that even one of the biggest storms of that time couldn’t prevent them from meeting. But I’ve been on this island my whole life and it’s just home to me.”

“You’ve lived here your whole life?” she asked, surprised to hear that.

“Not entirely. I grew up in Boston but spent my weekends here working or hanging out. Later I traveled by ferry back and forth to Boston for a few years, then decided it was best to just stay here. I can go into the city anytime I want and do, but I live here now.”

“I always wanted to live on an island,” she said without thought. She couldn’t stop her lips from flapping like the wind on the ferry ride and getting off topic. He didn’t seem to mind though so that was good.

“Then I guess you’ll get your chance,” Hunter said.

“What? I’m hired?” Woohoo—wishing on her necklace worked when it never had before. Imagine that.

“You are. When can you start?”

“I have to give two week’s notice at my job and move my stuff over here. It shouldn’t be too hard.”

She didn’t think so. She was just going to pack what she had in her car and bring it over in a few trips. It’s not like she needed much since she was going to be renting a bedroom and wouldn’t need furniture. She’d sell the used stuff she had and get some extra money for it.

Hunter stood up so she did the same, noticed that he had to be at least seven inches taller than her five-foot-five-inch frame easily. She figured he was a busy man and this twenty-minute interview was probably enough for him.

Not only that, she got the job and needed to get out of there before she did or said anything else stupid and he rescinded the offer.

“If you have any questions or concerns about the job or the move, Patrice can help you. You’ve got her number, correct?”

“I do,” she said.

“I’ll let her know that I’ve hired you and she’ll be in touch.” He held his hand out for her to proceed to the door and she did so, turning to shake his hand one more time. She must be more messed up in the head because she felt a spark and heat like she had when his hands stopped her from falling.

“Thank you so much. I’m excited to start my new career.”

“That’s what sold me, you know,” he said.

“What?”

“I don’t care what the rest of your resume says. I see you’re a hard worker by the jobs you’ve held. But you don’t want a job, you want something meaningful and that means more to me than any work experience. You can be taught the rest.”

Kayla nodded her head, and when she was out the door, she reached up and clasped the silver star on her neck that she always thought was a good luck charm. The only frivolous gift she’d ever been given with words that she’d kept close to her heart. On her way here she had made a wish on it while she’d held her breath in an attempt to not toss her cookies on the ferry ride over.

As good days went in her life, this one was right up there.

 

 

 

Cupid’s Quest- Prologue

CupidQuest

Prologue

Ruby got out of the car and pulled her backpack from the backseat that had been sitting next to her, flung it over her shoulder and put her head down while she waited for the social worker to open the trunk for her larger duffel bag. That was it, all her possessions were portable and had been for the past ten years.

“You’ll like it here,” Missy said. Missy Carter was her eighth caseworker. Seemed no one stayed at this job for long.

“Whatever,” Ruby said. Missy was young, she was eager, and she was clueless. Give her a year or so—maybe even six months—and she wouldn’t be so peppy dealing with her clients.

The two of them walked up the creaky stairs to a chipped white front porch that had seen better days. Out of place in the corner was one spray-painted black rocking chair. There was room for plenty more, but that solo one told her all she needed to know about this house.

While they waited for the front door to be answered, Ruby looked around the neighborhood. It was pretty much like most of the other ones she’d lived in. Not completely run down, but not nice pretty suburbia. Yeah, wouldn’t that be sweet? If ever!

When the door was opened, Ruby got a look at her new foster mother. She was probably in her fifties, tall, stocky and rough around the edges. That had to be her chair that no one was allowed to sit in while she escaped from the wards under her roof.

“Mrs. Wilson, this is Ruby Gentile. I’m Missy Carter,” she said, putting her hand out. “We spoke on the phone. I’m so glad you’ve got room for Ruby.”

“Always room for kids,” Mrs. Wilson said. “Call me Candy. Everyone else does.”

“Thanks, Candy,” Missy said.

“Come on in. Shoes off,” Candy said to Ruby. “You walk in the door, you take your shoes off. We’ve got rules here and I expect them to be followed. If you do that, we’ll all get along just fine. If not…”

Yeah, Ruby knew what the “if not” meant. It meant she’d be moving once again. All she wanted to do was find a place where she could stay long enough to make it through her last two years of school, which was starting in three weeks. Another school district she was changing to.

Ruby slid her old sneakers off and left them by the door where a few other pairs were taking up residence. Four that she suspected belonged to other kids by the range of sizes. She continued to stand there in the doorway, not making a move until she was told. Been there and done that and wasn’t about to assume a damn thing.

“Would you like to show Ruby around before we talk and fill out paperwork?” Missy asked Candy.

“Sheri!” Candy yelled at the bottom of the stairs that they were facing as they stood in the foyer of the older home.

Ruby remained until she was told otherwise, heard a door open above them, and a teenage girl close to her age came to the top of the stairs. “Yes?”

“Ruby is in with you. Show her your room and explain how we do things here while I meet with the caseworker.”

She couldn’t even call Missy by her name. Yep, Ruby knew how it was going to be here for sure.

“Come on up,” Sheri said, a smile on her face. Not even a forced one. Maybe Ruby was wrong. Most kids didn’t smile in foster homes. They just wanted to get by.

Ruby turned to Missy. “Thank you.”

Missy put her hand on Ruby’s shoulder. “You’re welcome, sweetie. I’ll be in touch.”

She nodded her head and went up the stairs and to her new bedroom. It was small, had bunk beds and one single in the corner. She’d never had her own room anywhere and didn’t expect that here either.

“I’m on the top bunk,” Sheri said. “I like it there. Suzie is in the single. She is out in the backyard playing. She’s ten. That leaves you under me.”

“No problem,” Ruby said, walking over and putting her backpack on the plain tan bedspread. They had different colored bedspreads, but they were definitely simple and cheap. At least the second-story room had an air conditioning unit in the window, even if it wasn’t on, though it would be nice if it were.

Sheri must have caught her gaze. “We are allowed to put it on for four hours a day when we go to bed. So we turn it on at eight and off at midnight. I’ve found that it cools the room down enough to fall asleep and then stays decent most of the nights.”

“It’s better than I’ve had at other homes.”

“They are strict here, but if you follow the rules it’s not so bad,” Sheri said.

“Who lives here?”

“Candy and her husband, Colin. He works construction and is gone a lot. He’s nice enough, keeps to himself for the most part. We are just people in and out of his house in his eyes.”

“How many kids?”

“You are the fifth. There are two boys in another room. They are set up for six and try to keep it three boys and three girls. The house is big, but they keep us in these two rooms.”

“It’s fine,” Ruby said. “Are you always this happy or told to be this way with the caseworker here?”

“I normally am. I’ve been in some bad places,” Sheri said, sitting on Ruby’s new bed. “This is one of the better.”

“So tell me the rules other than shoes by the door.”

“Meals are always the same time. She makes one thing and if you don’t like it, well, then you pick around it, but she won’t make you something different. If you miss a meal, then you are on your own.”

“We are allowed to get our own food if we miss it?” she asked.

“No. If you want to play a sport and miss dinner, then what you get is the nightly snack we all have around seven thirty.”

“Everyone gets the same thing there too?” she asked.

“Yep,” Sheri said. “But it’s food and I’ve been hungry before so I’m not complaining.”

Ruby had been too. Plenty enough times. “How long have you been here?”

“A year. I’m sixteen. I’m hoping I get to stay until I’m done with school.”

“Me too,” Ruby said. “I just turned sixteen. Two more years.”

“You’re lucky your birthday is over the summer. Mine is in April. Wherever I am, I pray they let me stay to finish school when I turn eighteen.”

The magic number when the payments stop and foster families normally want the bed opened up.

“Are we allowed to get jobs?” Ruby asked, knowing that was the first thing she planned on doing. There was a bus stop around the corner, perfect in her eyes.

“Yep. But you have to find your own transportation and still follow the curfews.”

“I’ll make it work,” Ruby said. She had to. She’d been doing that since her mother overdosed ten years ago and she started to get shuffled around.

All she wanted to do was have a home of her own someday. A family who was there for her or cared about her would be nice, but a home was her number one priority.

Fierce- Drake…Chapter Two

Drake(1)

If you haven’t read the Prologue or Chapter One, you can catch up before the last except!

Losing Control

Two weeks later, Kara walked down the hall and rapped her knuckles on Drake’s open door. “Got a minute?”

His brown eyes lifted from his computer. “Sure. Come on in.”

She took a few steps in. “I just received a copy of the credit card statements and there are a lot of charges with no receipts to them. The girls in accounting asked if I had them since the policy is to turn them in to me so I can make copies.”

He grinned at her. No, not a grin. A smirk. That’s exactly what it was. “What receipts are you looking for?” He opened a drawer and pulled out a handful of white sheets and spread them on his desk.

Her eye started to tick over that move. The smirk that wouldn’t drop from his lips wasn’t helping any. “I’ll take them all,” she said.

She walked a few steps to his desk and held her hand out. He placed them all in there, his fingers touching her palm. She almost pulled back from the heat of that innocent touch.

When she found the one she was really looking for she wanted to scream. “I can’t believe you spent over three hundred dollars on dinner for five people.”

It just appalled her how much money Drake spent on dinners with clients. It wasn’t just dinners, but lunches, events, office supplies. The best of everything for Drake.

She could imagine how much he spent on his personal clothes. His car was over six figures. She knew because she had to look it up one day to come up with an auto allowance for him since he did so much traveling.

Disgusting. His sister, Jade, and cousin Ryder didn’t spend money like Drake did when it came to work. Their personal lives, she had no idea and that was their business. But work was hers.

Of course he was older than them and had more responsibility. And Drake did seem to bring in more business than anyone else.

Didn’t matter. In her mind, a budget was a budget and she was hired to make sure everyone followed one. She’d even given him a bigger budget than the rest of the staff.

“That included drinks and tip,” he said. “That place wasn’t cheap. Nor would I take them anywhere cheap. That’s a massive contract. One that is funding a good part of your job, I might add.”

She narrowed her eyes at him. He wasn’t being sarcastic. He was even smiling still. “I was hired long before you got that contract.”

His smile dropped. “You know what I’m saying.”

“No, I don’t know what you are saying. Why don’t you explain? Your father and uncle hired me to get control of the spending and set up budgets. To analyze costs per project and so on. Just in case you weren’t aware, I’m doing this so we can build the costs back into bids.”

“I’m fully aware of why you were hired. What I don’t understand is what the big deal is if we are building it into bids anyway.”

“It’s just frivolous,” she said. “I understand there are expectations, but do you plan on doing this every time you meet with the officials in Charlotte? This is the third time you’ve come back with large dinner or lunch charges.”

“I didn’t know I was being monitored so much,” he said, leaning back in his chair.

“Everyone is. That is my job. And I’m not monitoring you like you think. I just know what you spend. You’ve got the highest cost ratio in the firm.”

“Sweet,” he said. “Not bad considering I bring in the most money.”

She took a deep breath. She wouldn’t lose her temper. She never did. Not anymore. Those days of losing control were long gone. She put that life behind her once she was able to get in a position that she could support herself.

She’d never be poor again. She’d never be needy. She’d never rely on anyone.

“I understand it’s a good honor to have. To be able to bring in the kind of revenue that you do. In the future, if you could please bring me the receipts as you get them, it would save me from bugging you. Or the accounting department to come in looking for them.”

“Fine,” he said.

She nodded her head and walked out the door to go do the job she was hired for. She needed to get out of Drake’s presence before she said something she’d regret.

 

***

 

The minute Kara was out of his door, Drake leaned back in his chair and closed his eyes, counted to ten and took a few deep breaths.

It didn’t help.

He even tried to focus on what she was wearing today. Tan pants that fit her long thin legs. A simple light green top with a white cardigan over it. It wasn’t really green. More like moss colored. She wasn’t flashy, she never was, but she was always put together.

He laughed out loud thinking that she actually fit the image of a bean counter in his mind even though she was young. Probably a few years younger than him.

He wondered why she never smiled. Why she was so serious all the time. Why she couldn’t have fun at work when so many others did.

He got up and made his way to his father’s office, hoping to blow off some steam. Before he got there, he noticed his father in his Uncle Grant’s office with his Aunt Diane and went there instead. He could kill two birds with one stone.

“What’s going on?” his father asked him.

“Nothing,” Drake said.

“It didn’t seem that way to me,” his Uncle Grant said. “Are you having issues with Kara?”

“That woman drives me insane,” Drake said. No one ever seemed to get on his nerves like she did.

“What is the problem this time?” his father asked. “I like her. She’s on the ball.”

“She was complaining about my credit card statement. Said there were receipts missing.”

Uncle Grant laughed. “That’s her job. She is just making sure the charges are legit.”

“No,” Drake argued. “She was making comments about how often I take clients out to lunch and the places I take them.”

His father laughed this time. “I tell you all the time you overdo it and spend too much. We hired her to analyze costs and expenses. No one escapes it.”

“Whatever,” Drake said, knowing it was useless. He should have kept his mouth shut. He knew why Kara was hired. They all did and they all agreed it was a good move. Little did he know he’d be the one that got the most grief in the end. “Hey, what’s in there?” he asked his Aunt Diane.

“Donuts and muffins,” Diane said, moving the box toward him.

“Thanks.” He grabbed a donut and left, not wanting to stand there any longer. He had work to do, deadlines to meet, and people to call. All the things he’d been doing before Kara interrupted his thoughts.

The worst part was, he wouldn’t be able to get her out of his thoughts the rest of the day.

 

***

 

“So, is that who you’re thinking of for Drake?” Garrett’s sister-in-law asked him.

“It crossed my mind. It’s funny watching Drake get so flustered. What do you think?” he asked.

“I think you and Carolyn need to work on it while we figure out what is going on with Bryce and Payton this weekend,” Diane said.

“Are we horrible people doing this?” Grant asked his brother, then looked at his wife.

“No way. We’re good parents just trying to see our kids happy,” Diane said, then leaned up and kissed her husband on the cheek. “Enjoy, boys, I’m going shopping with Carolyn today.”

Grant sighed. “Talk about needing someone to look over credit card receipts.”

“Tell me about it,” Garrett said. “Maybe we should have Kara analyze our wives’ expenses.”

His twin laughed. “Imagine how well that would go over.”

“About as well as it’s going over with Drake. I don’t get it. He was all for this position last year.”

“Until he was getting targeted,” Grant said. “Of course we all knew that would happen. Drake does spend more than the rest of us.”

“He earns it,” Garrett said of his oldest son, the pride shining through.

“Of course he does. It’s a good thing he likes meeting with the clients so much. He took a lot of that off of our shoulders. You know how much I hated it. That was more your thing.”

“Yeah. You didn’t care about playing nice as much as I did,” Garrett said.

“You’ve never played nice a day in your life. That’s why we got into so much trouble growing up.”

Garrett laughed. “Good thing our kids aren’t like us.”

“Wyatt?” Grant said.

Yeah, Wyatt was a prankster. Just like their nephew Cade. “How about Ryder?” he asked of Grant’s youngest and another employee in the building.

“Yeah, well, Ryder is just more a pain and a headache to his brothers and cousins than he is to us at work.”

Ryder was actually the ideal employee, which was funny since he wasn’t always the ideal son when it came to listening. His youngest nephew was the one that turned Grant’s hair gray.

“That’s true. So, what do you think of Kara and Drake? Match or not? I know Gavin thinks it’s perfect from what we’ve told him, but they don’t seem to even like each other. Drake never loses his temper. He never gets annoyed or frustrated, and Kara seems to bring the worst out of him just breathing the same air.”

Grant laughed. “I’m with Gavin. I think it’s perfect. Love and hate are so close. Let’s just see how it turns out.”

“So what do you suggest? Bring them together on a few projects?”

“I think that is the perfect idea,” Grant said.

“Let’s brainstorm this weekend and figure it out. It’s got to seem legit. We don’t want to raise any flags. Sam and Dani worked out flawlessly. Bryce and Payton seem to be working from what Diane said.”

“Diane has high hopes for Bryce and Payton, but I’m still not sure. I’m reserving judgment. I guess there is no reason you can’t work on Drake now and see how it goes,” Grant said.

“I’ll talk to Carolyn tonight and get her take too. She’s been out of sorts that you’ve got one son down and are working on the second. Might as well give Drake the push and see where it takes us.”

“Let me know what you come up with,” Grant said.

“You’ll be the first to know.”

Fierce-Drake…Prologue

Drake(1)

Prologue

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“I’ll take a Sam Adams,” Drake said.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Gifts of Love…Prologue @NatalieAnn121 #Mgtab

 

giftofloveGifts of Love is just 99 cents!

Prologue

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Are you okay?” his mother asked.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Just open it and you will see.”

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

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

“Are you getting your computer?” Kat asked.

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

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

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

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

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