Another Chance…Chapter Two @natalieann121 #mgtab

Another Chance

The last teaser of Another Chance!! Catch up on the Prologue and Chapter One.

Here is Chapter Two

Blew Up

“So that was Matt, wasn’t it?”

Dena looked to see Amber standing next to her. Everyone had left but the two of them. They were just waiting for Amber’s husband, Zach, to pick them up and bring them home. Since Celeste hadn’t been drinking she dropped the rest of the girls off.

“How did you guess?” Dena asked, looking around the pub. He was gone now, but she hadn’t seen him leave. Once she’d walked back to her table, she angled her chair so that she didn’t have a view of the bar or the door. No reason to give into temptation.

“I saw you freeze when he walked in the door. I put the two together. At first I didn’t recognize him. Remember, you guys were a few years behind me in school.”

“Yeah,” Dena said softly. She really didn’t want to talk about this, but knew Amber wouldn’t let it drop. She never did.

“I hate to say this, and please don’t think I’m not on your side because you know I am. But damn, he has only gotten better with age.”

“I noticed,” she said dryly. Not that she wanted to, but it was hard to avoid it.

He was still just brushing six foot. Dark hair that was lush and wavy. Big brown eyes that she’d always lost herself in. He’d always taken such care with his appearance, but for some reason he looked a little off tonight. He was gorgeous as ever, his full lips so soft and kissable—she hated that those thoughts popped into her head—but he looked thinner than she’d seen before. His sharp cheekbones were more pronounced and his eyes looked tired, even troubled.

She hadn’t seen him personally since he walked out on her that night before they both left for college, but like the idiot she was, she’d never been able to put him far from her mind.

Social media posts drew her in like a bee to a flower. She didn’t follow him, but others she followed did and it was hard to avoid things about him all the time.

He was some big time lawyer in Manhattan like he always wanted to be at his stepbrother’s father’s firm. She was guessing he’d made it to the partner status he was striving for too, but wasn’t positive. It had always hurt too much looking into him more than necessary. Like holding onto the old dream knowing the outcome still broke her heart.

In the past two years if she saw anything regarding him, she clicked away. It was just too heart wrenching to keep stalking information on him. Between that and running into his mother and stepfather from time to time, she couldn’t seem to move past the shattered remains of her emotions and anger that had built up so high.

“Why was he limping?” Amber asked.

“What?” she said, turning to look at Amber now. She’d been looking off into the distance hoping Amber would change the subject.

“You didn’t notice he was limping?”

“No. I was opening the bathroom door and ran into him, but then I walked away. I didn’t see him leave nor did I watch him walk once he entered the front door.” Why hadn’t she’d paid attention to something like that?

“You had words with him when you went to the bathroom and are just telling me now?” Amber said, holding her by the shoulders. “No wonder you came back shaken. What did the prick have to say?”

Amber had always been blunt and to the point, but supportive as ever. “Not much,” she said. It was only a few words and Dena was positive Matt would be gone from Lake Placid within days. No use hashing it all out, even in her head.

But by the time Zach dropped her off at her apartment, the tears she’d been battling just let loose. Of all the freaking nights for Matt to make an appearance in her life—her thirtieth birthday with her closest friends.

She was supposed to be celebrating and having a great time. Not thinking about the past that blew up in her face like dynamite to an old abandoned warehouse.

Not wondering why she was never enough for him to come back to. Or for him to even stay. Not to even talk to her about it.

If given the chance, maybe she would have moved, but he never gave it to her.

They were both young and they had their whole lives ahead of them. He couldn’t expect her to make a permanent decision at such a time. It had been hard enough just going a few hours away from her father, but promising she’d leave forever? Please…she was only eighteen!

Once she was ready for bed, she shut the light off and climbed in, knuckled a few stray tears away and told herself that she was ready to move on with her life.

All those years ago she’d promised she’d never give him another chance—not like he was asking—but it was time to commit to that promise.

It was time to push Matt Winters from her mind once and for all.

 

***

 

Matt had been back to town for about a week now. He knew at some point he’d seek Dena out; he just didn’t know when or how and hated that it happened the way it had.

That he wasn’t prepared, when he prided himself on always being prepared for everything in life.

He was as good as he was at his job because he planned it all out. Even his life… “Take no chances” had been his motto.

He knew he wanted to be a lawyer when he was fifteen. He knew he was going to work for his stepbrother’s father’s firm too. How did he know? Because his stepbrother Randall told him.

Randall was years older than him and already practicing at that point. Whenever Matt had gone back to visit his father and stepmother, Randall would stop over to see him and take him under his wing. Tell him all about the wonderful and exciting life he had and how it could all be Matt’s one day too. An impressionable teen at that point, he was looking for anyone that would show some interest in him.

What he’d seen in Randall was someone that he could look up to. Someone that had it all together and was going to be successful. Everything Matt had wanted himself.

Sure, his father was smart and successful, but he was an engineer. Nothing exciting in that that Matt had ever seen. But moving to Lake Placid with his mother and stepfather had been the worst thing for a kid to have happen his freshman year in high school.

To go from being a short train ride to one of the most exciting cities in the US to some backwoods mountain where all you could do was ski or play ice hockey in the winter. The summer you could swim in the lake, but other than that, there wasn’t much for Matt to do. Not like he was used to. He’d never been an active outdoorsman and that was what Lake Placid catered to.

But he’d met Dena Hall and everything about Lake Placid didn’t seem so bad.

In the back of his mind he knew he was leaving the first chance he got and he’d told her so. Multiple times. She just never seemed to want to believe him. Or even listen to him when he’d come back from visits with his father and tell her about all the great things he’d done and how fun it’d be to live there.

Not even when he said he was going to Columbia University. That he was going to be a lawyer in the big city. That life was going to go back to the way it was for him before he was forced to this Godforsaken land.

Yet she still seemed so shocked when he told her the night before he left for good.

He wanted her to go with him. He all but begged her, but she’d always said, “I won’t leave my father. He’s already had one woman leave him, I won’t be the second. We’re all that the other has right now.”

“What about me?” he’d asked her. “You’d have me.”

She said it wasn’t the same and it hurt. Hurt more than when he found he’d be moving here to begin with. It seemed no one really wanted him the way he needed. No one put him first, except Randall taking him under his wing.

So he wanted her to hurt just as much and broke it off sharp and swift. He’d told himself it was better that way. That there would be no confusion or misunderstanding.

She’d know he wasn’t coming back and that she was the one who’d made that choice by not even giving him a chance, but telling him multiple times she’d never leave Lake Placid.

Well, she was right since she was still here. So then why was he wrong? Why did he come back?

Simple. He’d stared death in the eyes. He woke up in that hospital and knew that by his own stubbornness he’d thrown away what was the best thing in his life.

He’d never been able to find it again and was determined to win her back.

So he was here in this town he hated so much, but looking at it through the eyes of an adult and seeing it wasn’t so bad after all.

That everything he wanted in the big city didn’t happen the way he’d planned on it. That people made him promises they didn’t keep and used him for their own personal gain.

The question was, could he get Dena to break the promise she’d made to him years ago? Because he was determined that she’d take him back.

 

 

Another Chance…Chapter One #mgtab @Natalieann121

Another Chance

If you haven’t read the Prologue yet, you can catch up. Here is Chapter One!

Convinced Him

Twelve years later

“I’m so glad you all could come out with me tonight,” Dena said, looking around the table.

It was her thirtieth birthday and she wanted dinner and drinks with her girls. Everyone was married, or soon to be, but her, not that it mattered. All that mattered was that she wasn’t alone on this night.

“We wouldn’t make you have a solo drink,” Amber Monroe said. Amber and she had worked together for years for Dr. Max Hamilton and became the best of friends. Max’s wife, Quinn, was even sitting at the table with them.

“I needed to get away from Cole and TJ tonight. I’m not sure which one of them was whining more,” Rene said. Rene McGuire got married over the summer to Cole, and TJ was almost a year old. Rene had been working with Amber and her for two years now and fit in so well in their office.

“Cole always did whine when he was tired. They’re probably both sleeping on the couch right now,” Celeste Ryder said. Celeste was Cole’s twin sister and another close friend of the group. More like a co-worker of sorts. Celeste and Max jointly owned and operated a bed and breakfast solely catering to Max’s patients.

“How’s Jocelyn sleeping?” Riley Hamilton asked Quinn. Riley was Max’s sister, and Quinn had Jocelyn last May. Max also had two older kids from his first marriage.

“Sounds like she is sleeping much better than TJ is,” Quinn said, grinning.

“I’ll take Jocelyn anytime you and Max want a date night. I’ll take all three kids,” Riley said. “It will give Trevor and me some practice.”

Everyone at the table laughed. Trevor Miles, Chief of Police of Lake Placid, and Riley were newly engaged. “Come on now, Riley,” Amber said. “Max was telling us all that Trevor has the magic touch with the kids. You need the practice, not him.”

Riley wrinkled her nose. “I need kids in the house to practice though,” she argued.

Dena watched all the women at the table and fought back the envy. She should have been the first one married with kids by now. Not the last.

Twelve years ago she had it all planned out. She and Matt were going to college and when they were both done, they’d marry and have kids. Live happily ever after.

Sure, she knew Matt wanted no part of moving back to Lake Placid, but she’d been positive she could have convinced him otherwise. Except he dropped her like a hot potato straight out of the microwave and never gave her a chance to even decide if she wanted to move or not to be with him.

If she’d been given the choice, she might have. But she never was and it was water under the bridge of the tears she’d shed.

Now what mattered was the waitress who came over and started to take their orders. “Two bottles of wine,” Dena said. “My treat.”

“Shots,” Amber said. “My treat.”

“Just water for me,” Celeste said, looking down.

The waitress walked away and all eyes turned to Celeste. She’d been married well over a year now and had been trying to get pregnant. Since she’d had childhood cancer and extreme treatments, there was the possibility of her not conceiving. It wasn’t something that was talked about often, but right now might be a different story.

“You’re going to say it now?” Rene asked her sister-in-law.

“I really shouldn’t say anything. It’s too soon,” Celeste said, her eyes filling but a bright smile on her face. “I know you know what is going on, Rene.”

“Are you pregnant?” Amber asked, jumping out of her chair and running to Celeste. “Did Caleb’s swimmers hit home?”

Celeste laughed. “Modern medicine might have had a part in it,” she said. “We haven’t wanted anyone to know, but we tried in vitro fertilization and it did confirm I’m pregnant.”

There was a lot of squealing at the table, Dena running over and hugging Celeste too. She was jealous, but she wasn’t a bitch. If anyone deserved this, it was Celeste. “I’m so happy.”

“Please don’t say anything,” Celeste pleaded. “I’ve got to tell Caleb you all know. I mean Rene knew.”

“You kept this secret,” Amber said to Rene.

“Yeah,” Dena said, staring at Rene too.

“Please. We’re family. She had to tell us,” Rene argued.

“Leave Rene alone,” Quinn said. The quietest of the group, and though she was only a few years older than Dena and closer to Celeste’s age, she was more motherly than them all. “You all would have done the same thing, but now we know and we won’t tell a soul, but we will talk about it in this group only. Right, Celeste?”

“Yes,” she said. “But this is Dena’s night, not mine. So, Dena,” Celeste said, “any exciting plans for your birthday?”

“You’re looking at it,” she said. “I’m out with my girls and that’s the best thing to do on your birthday.”

“It sure is,” Riley said.

The waitress brought over the bottles of wine and the shots. Everyone held their shots up and Dena said, “To me. The last of the single ladies. Maybe this is my lucky year.”

“To Dena,” they all said, downing their drinks.

The minute Dena put her glass down, she turned to see the man that walked in the door, felt her face pale and had to fight the urge to not regurgitate the fireball they all downed.

“What is it?” Rene asked, looking over.

“Nothing,” Dena said, reaching for the wine, knowing she’d need it.

Amber and Celeste both made eye contact with her, but she shook her head. They’d been a few years ahead of her in school and she doubted they’d remember what Matt looked like, but she knew she’d never forget, and looking at him just now walking through the door made her heart stop as much as it did the first time she saw him in high school.

 

***

 

Matt opened the door to the bar, saw his mother and stepfather to his right, and headed in that direction without looking anywhere else. He really wasn’t in the mood to be out tonight, but hadn’t felt like going back to his childhood home for a meal either. He was avoiding the place that caused so much of his misery as a teen.

“Matt,” his mother said, standing up. “You look great. How do you feel?”

“Fine,” he said, trying not to snap. He was sick and tired of everyone asking him that question but knew he needed to get over it, as it wasn’t going to stop anytime soon.

“I’m so glad you could make time for dinner out tonight,” she said.

“It’s better than cooking for myself,” he said back.

“Don’t get sarcastic with your mother,” Bob said to him. He and Bob never got along all that well. They didn’t have a dislike for each other as much as a distaste.

Bob made his mother happy and that was all that mattered. But Bob was the reason they moved here to begin with and Matt would always cast that blame on his stepfather’s shoulders.

“I’m not,” Matt said, having no energy to argue. “I was just speaking the truth.”

“Now isn’t the time, you two,” his mother said, always the peacemaker. He knew his mother was thrilled he was here. “Have you made any decision yet on your future?”

“No. I just need to get my head on straight and then I’ll decide,” he said.

“Lake Placid could always use another lawyer,” she said.

“I don’t know.” He didn’t know what he wanted to do or where he wanted to be. Now he just needed to recover physically and mentally. He just wasn’t sure which one was going to take the longest.

“I’m just glad you’re back here.”

He hadn’t decided if he was glad or not. He didn’t know what he was feeling, but after the past six months there was one thing he knew. He wasn’t going to be able to move on until he made amends to the woman he loved and somehow won her back.

When dinner was done, he got up to use the bathroom and headed back to his table when the women’s room door opened next to him. Hot damn, the woman of his dreams was standing right there.

But she wasn’t smiling and he didn’t expect her to.

No, there was a fire in her eyes, and as much as it shouldn’t turn him on, it sure the hell did. Just like all those years ago when he had his first taste of her. A young filly that was as eager as him.

Her dirty blonde hair hung loose and flowing around her shoulders like it always did. Her light brown eyes were staring him down with emotional clouds building and making him want to jump back from the twister forming that would suck him up and toss him through the sky like a piece of useless metal.

He didn’t. He stood his ground. “Dena.”

“What are you doing here?” she asked, crossing her arms.

“Here in the restaurant? Or here in Lake Placid?”

“Both,” she said.

“Dinner with my mother and Bob. Why I’m here in Lake Placid is yet to be determined.”

He wasn’t about to lay his cards on the table at this moment. He had an uphill battle and he wasn’t sure he could even climb the stairs in his rental house half the time let alone this mountain that was going to be standing in his way.

A chisel couldn’t break her stare while she seemed to be trying to figure out her words. She never did that before—hesitated on her words—but the stare was familiar. He’d expected the frigid January temperatures of the outside to be aimed at him and he wasn’t wrong.

“I’m sure I won’t run into you again before you leave since you never planned on coming back.”

“Things change,” he said softly.

“Maybe in your mind, but not mine.”

He was afraid of that.

She didn’t bother to wait around and moved past him, but he still said, “Happy Birthday, Dena.”

Her shoulders stiffened, but other than that, there was nothing else to acknowledge she heard him.

Mount Olympus, here I come.

 

Fierce-Ella…Chapter One #mgtab @Natalieann121

 

Ella4

Catch up on the prologue before you read the first chapter!

Up to Something

Fourteen years later

 

“Mom,” Ella said. “I didn’t want to spend all day here. What is it that you’re looking for? Didn’t you buy enough stuff before Christmas?”

“I can’t stop myself from buying clothes for Jake and Jeremy. They look so much like Mason, and Jessica said they’re growing out of everything. Just like your brothers did. Jessica’s still recovering. She told me that the boys needed clothes.”

Ella rolled her eyes. Her twin nephews were five weeks old. Yes, Jessica had a C-section and was still recovering, but she wasn’t so weak that she couldn’t run to the store or order clothes online if the boys needed anything.

Which they didn’t because Ella alone had purchased over ten outfits for each of them for Christmas, all in the next size. Her mother was up to something and she was trying to figure out what it was. Thankfully, Ella was known for an abundance of patience. Something her mother lacked.

“Then why haven’t we gone into one children’s department store? You keep dragging me to women’s departments.”

“I don’t understand, Ella. You always loved to shop before.”

“I love to shop all the time, but I’m busy at work and I don’t really need anything with Christmas only being last week. You bought me a bunch of clothes, along with everyone else.”

“That’s because we all know how much you love clothes,” her mother said, bobbing her head up and down like she had all of Ella’s life. She’d never stop doing that either and Ella wondered if it was possible for someone to suffer a concussion from it with the speed her mother exhibited.

“Let’s go get some lunch and have a seat. Then you can tell me what this trip to the mall is all about before I go back to work.”

“You never take a day off. Why can’t you stay away for one full day?” her mother asked when they sat down in a booth at a restaurant in the mall. “Why can’t we just have a girl’s day to ourselves? One full day?”

She felt the tug of guilt, but since she’d spent several girls’ days with her mother in the past two months, she wasn’t falling for it today. “Because I’ve got too much work to do and no one else can do it but me.”

“Teach someone,” her mother argued.

Ella snorted out a laugh that had no humor in it at all. “It’s not that simple. There are things only the five of us do and know about.”

“There are nine of you now. Show one of the other girls how to do something.”

“Aimee has no desire to learn anything in the office. She runs the bar with Brody and it’s her thing. She’s good at it and she likes working with Cade and Aiden when it comes to food and promotions in the bar.”

“That’s true. What a good fit Aimee was for Brody.”

“You’d know. You found her.” Ella never suspected it until her third brother started dating someone seriously. None of them dated anyone seriously for years, and then they started dropping like flies caught in a web.

Her mother ignored her. “Fine. Then ask Nic.”

“Nic is in the kitchen with Aiden. She has her hands full and she doesn’t like working in an office. Again, she’s with Cade when it comes to taking pictures for the promotions and when she isn’t doing that, she is doing all the paperwork that Aiden can’t stand to do.”

“That’s another good fit too. I’ve been blessed with two wonderful daughters-in-law.”

“Again. You picked out Nic too.” She was just waiting for her mother to finally admit it.

“Speaking of daughters-in-law, I can’t wait until Mason and Jessica get married this summer.”

“You love having all these weddings so close together.”

“Of course I do. What mother doesn’t want to see her kids settled down? Jessica told me that she and Mason are each going to hold one of the twins during the ceremony. How sweet is that going to be?”

“Very sweet,” Ella agreed. Then again, Mason was always the sweet one of the group.

“Now we just need Cade and Alex to pick a date. I hope they don’t wait too long.”

“Just tell me the truth, Mom. You picked out Alex too. Why can’t you admit it to me? Everyone knows except Cade and Alex.”

“You’re not going to tell them, are you?” her mother asked frantically. She never had a poker face as much as she’d thought she did.

That was almost an admission, which Ella wanted to point out, but chose to store it away for another day. “Would it matter? Brody, Aiden, and Mason know they were set up and they aren’t upset over it.”

“Give Cade some more time. Speaking of that…if they aren’t upset over it, then why are you so set against me finding someone for you?”

“Don’t even think about going behind my back and doing that. I’m the only one who was on to you. I’ve got my eye on you right now.”

“Such a smart girl you are, Ella. Which is why I’m not going to go behind your back.” Before Ella could say anything, her mother turned to two men in suits at the table next to them. “Are either of you single? My daughter is. Isn’t she just lovely?”

“Mom,” Ella said, her face turning red. “Ignore her. She hasn’t taken her meds today and just blurts things out without thought if we don’t keep a tight rein on her.”

“Ella Marie,” her mother said, her jaw dropping. “What a horrible thing to say about your mother.”

The two men were laughing at them now. “Sorry, I’m married,” one man said.

The other said, “I’m not, but have a girlfriend. I know a few guys that might be interested though if you’re up for a blind date.”

“Take them up on it, Ella,” her mother urged. “You haven’t been on a date in way too long.”

Talk about mortification. Ella turned to the men, put her best business face on and said, “No, thank you. Sorry to interrupt your lunch.” Then she turned back to her mother. “That’s just rotten and you know it.”

“I said I wouldn’t go behind your back. I might as well do it in front of you now.”

“You’re impossible,” Ella said.

“You wouldn’t have me any other way.”

 

***

 

“Honey, I’m home,” Jolene shouted two hours later. “Gavin, where are you?”

“I’m in the kitchen,” he shouted back. Their house was always filled with yelling. Four big loud sons, her husband the biggest of all the boys in the house, and her and Ella. Everyone was always talking over the other.

“I didn’t have any luck today,” she said, dropping her bags on the floor.

Her husband of thirty-seven years looked down at her loot. “You could have fooled me.”

She waved her hand. “I always have luck shopping. I got the grandkids some clothes and toys.”

“As if they don’t have enough from what you filled under the tree this year. We’re going to have to get a bigger tree and put it in the larger family room next year,” he said.

She smiled at him, then walked over and gave him a loud smacking kiss. “I remember a time you wouldn’t have considered a tree, let alone Christmas decorations in the bar.”

“Then some smooth-talking beautiful woman told me to stop being a Bah Humbug and get over myself.”

“Aren’t you so glad you listened to me all those years ago?” she asked, loving that he wrapped her up tight in his arms just now. She’d never grow tired of being held by him and she wanted all her children to experience a love like she’d had for almost four decades.

“I am. So tell me what you aren’t having luck with if it wasn’t shopping?”

“Ella. I tried to introduce her to two very nice men in suits at the restaurant during lunch and asked if they wanted to take her on a date.”

“You didn’t,” he asked, pushing her back a little.

She stepped out of his arms and went to the fridge to get a beer. She needed one right now, then grabbed one for him. “I did. She told me she was going to be watching me now that she figured out I set the four boys up.”

“You actually admitted it to her?” he asked, looking shocked.

“Of course not, but I didn’t deny it. Why bother at this point? Anyway, I told her I wouldn’t go behind her back. I’m just going to do it in front of her face.”

“I can only imagine her reaction to that.”

“She told the two men I hadn’t taken my meds today and to ignore me.”

Gavin burst out laughing. “You should know better than to butt heads with Ella.”

“She learned everything from me. I’m older and wiser and I’ll still find someone for her.”

Gavin shook his head. “Leave Ella alone. Let her figure this out on her own. She’s always had the hardest time finding a man. Harder than the boys finding women.”

“That’s because the boys really did terrorize everyone she was interested in,” she argued.

“She set herself up for a lot of it. Always running around besting them her whole life and rubbing their faces in it. Then when she turned fourteen she stopped being a tomboy overnight and turned into a beauty queen. Those boys didn’t know what hit them and they got scared.”

She remembered the first time Ella asked her to go shopping and they turned her jeans and sneakers into skirts and shoes. She was so proud of her only daughter back then turning into a lady. But her sons all panicked and she’d heard them later that night formulating a plan to make sure no one touched their baby sister. She’d been proud of them too, but would never admit that to Ella.

“Ella has been there for each and every one of those boys through everything. Maybe now that they are all married, or soon to be, and have wives that could and probably will kick their butts, they won’t interfere with Ella finding a mate. That’s why it should be easier.”

“Jolene. Do me a favor and take a breather. Be happy you found someone for the boys, but Ella needs to be handled differently.”

“I know. Which is why I’m going to be right up front with it. I’ll find someone. You just wait,” she said confidently rubbing her hands together. Her husband grabbed his beer, rolled his eyes, and walked out of the room. “I’m telling you, Gavin,” she shouted after him. “I’ll find her the perfect man.”

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.”

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.

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?

Fierce- Cade Chapter Two #mgtab @natalieann121

Cade

 

Here’s the last little peek into Fierce-Cade. You catch up on the prologue and chapter one too!

Pretend Indifference

Alex put the phone down and went to work. She knew her mother was going to be reaching out to old clients. She’d seen the list of businesses herself. She didn’t expect many to call her though.

She especially didn’t expect to hear from Fierce, the biggest name on the list. The one that could generate a massive amount of future business for her. The one she really wanted a chance at working with. Not that she’d admit that to her mom since she put up such a fit about her mother reaching out to begin with.

Unfortunately for her, she’d have to deal with Cade Fierce now.

Not that she’d ever met him in person. Or any of the Fierce siblings. She remembered their mother, Jolene, and their father, Gavin, from when they came to pick things up from her parents when she was a kid. But she’d never seen their kids.

She knew of Cade though. Or better yet, his reputation at Duke.

Maybe it was all false? Or maybe not. She was painfully familiar with reputations and assumptions about herself and tried to keep that in perspective.

None of that mattered because he was going to be here in a few hours and wanted to see what she had to offer, so she’d be ready for him.

Only she wasn’t ready for him when he walked in the door all full of confidence with a swagger that would rival James Dean.

He had dark hair and darker eyes. Eyes that were smiling at her. No, smirking. Like he had something he wanted to say but was biting his tongue. She’d seen that look from men before and was going to pretend indifference, a look she’d mastered so long ago.

“Hi,” she said, walking forward with her hand out. “You must be Cade.”

“I am,” he said. “I’m looking for Alex Marshall. I’m supposed to be meeting him.”

She snorted. Should have figured he would have expected a man. Not only that…didn’t she just greet him like she knew she was his appointment? Guess he wasn’t as smart as she’d thought. “I’m Alex.”

He grinned at her. Didn’t apologize. Didn’t do much more than say, “Well, then I’m just on time when normally I’m late. Make sure you tell my mother that if you see her.”

She frowned, not understanding that comment at all. “Why would I tell your mother that? Or why would I see her?”

“I just figured you knew her since she asked me to give you a call and see if we could work something out on a business front. As for telling her I’m on time, I never am. Or so my siblings always tell me.”

He was sending her a smile that would melt even the strictest of nuns’ hearts. The one that stood over you with a scowl on her face and a ruler in her hand. Only that nun would look at Cade Fierce and politely hand over the ruler and apologize to him. That was dangerous.

She turned and glanced at the clock. “You’re two minutes early, actually.”

“I’m on time when it counts,” he said, winking at her. Smooth. Definitely smooth.

She wasn’t sure what to expect from him, but not someone this friendly. This nice. This charming. He wasn’t flirting when she kind of thought he might, was he? She couldn’t tell, which was odd for her. She wasn’t annoyed over that, not really. Guess all those rumors about him really weren’t true. Or he changed. Or she lost her edge, which was possible with her dry spell.

Nah, if what she’d heard was true, guys like that, they didn’t change. Like she said, he was smooth as silk.

Or like the soft buttery leather shoes she’d noticed he had on his feet with jeans that probably cost more than all the pants in her closet. At least his shirt wasn’t too flashy. A light pink button-down with the sleeves rolled up. It took one confident man to wear pink, even as pale as the one he had on.

“I’m a little short staffed right now, so if you don’t mind meeting here, that’d be great.”

“Where is everyone?” he asked, looking around at the front reception area they were standing in. It wasn’t anything modern or sparkly like she’d bet his office was, but it did the job.

“I’ve got two people in the office beyond that window, but one is out on maternity leave and another called in sick. I’m kind of manning the front and the back at the same time.”

“Are you the only one that does the work out back?” he asked, frowning.

“Hardly. I’m not sure what you’ve heard about our business, but it’s growing pretty fast. I’ve got about fifteen employees out back that rotate between all of the machines. Most of the work is set up once it’s designed, then it’s just making sure the machines do what they need to do, boxing up orders, shipping and such. With any luck, I’ll bring on more staff soon, but we’re pretty busy right now.”

It sounded good to her ears when she said it. He didn’t need to know that she just hired half that staff in the past six months when things started to jump. She was hoping it continued to flow and some of those part-timers could become full time. But for the moment she’d be happy to not lay anyone off.

“So show me what you’ve got,” he said.

She’d produced a bunch of sample items already with the Fierce logo on them that she had stored in a box to show him one by one. A slow tease of sorts. She was still thinking about the items, right? Yeah, she was. She shook her head.

“I still had access to the old Fierce logo from when my parents ran the business. I thought you might get a kick out of that.”

He did by the grin he was sporting. “That’s great. It actually gives me an idea for some throwback items. I’ll have to talk it over with my family. But you’ve nailed the red and that’s hard to do,” he said, holding a coffee cup in his hand. Not a small cheap one, but a nice big oversized one that required two hands. Like his two large hands wrapped around it.

Damn, she needed to stop being so distracted when she never was before.

“We can do just about anything when it comes to printing in terms of what we print on. I know that is not hard to find. Where I’ve grown the business from my parents’ days is with the range of designs and techniques.”

She pulled out a beer glass from a box and handed it over. “This is sweet.” He ran his long finger around the etching in the glass. “Can you get other glass styles? Who are your vendors for that?”

“I can give you all that information if we end up working together.”

He glanced up, his eyes staring at her while she held her breath to see if he’d call her out on that. He didn’t. “Sounds reasonable. What else do you have there?”

“My new baby is the embroidery equipment. Once I create the design and program it in, the machine does the rest. Personally, I like this better on clothing than the old school ink printing, but not everyone does.”

She handed over three red T-shirts with the Fierce logo on them. One for the brewery with a beer glass, one for the pub with a bar and stools, and one for the restaurant with a plate and silverware all embroidered under the name.

“My brothers are going to wet themselves over these.”

She laughed over his statement, amused all his smoothness flew out the window in his excitement. She’d take that as a compliment.

He grimaced. “Sorry. Completely unprofessional and it slipped. Words tend to fly out of my mouth when I’m excited about something.”

“Good to know.” She had this!

“So you said you design and program everything in?” he asked.

“Yes. I can do just about everything in terms of graphic design, but I like some stuff better than others.”

“Do you do web design?” he asked, his eyes looking hopeful.

“I can, but it’s not my specialty. For cost purposes, I’ve created and continued to update our webpage, but I’m sourcing out for the meat behind the basic pages.”

She’d have liked to save the cost of that, but there were only so many hours in a day and she was lucky to get five hours of sleep on a good day.

“Can you order from your website?” he asked.

“That’s why I source out. I upload pictures and descriptions for the items, but someone else makes it all work properly for ordering and processing.”

“That’s good to know. I’d love nothing more than to offer more items soon on our website too.”

“Great, but if you don’t mind me saying, you looked like you might have been interested if I did that also. Are you dissatisfied with who you have now?”

“Not at all. I was just hoping it would be a negotiating tool to put everything in one spot.”

“Sorry to disappoint you,” she said.

“Not disappointed at all. What else do you have in that magic box right there?”

Back to his smoothness again, throwing out accolades. “I’m not sure it’s magic, but if it gets me a job, then you can call it anything you want.”

She put the box on the counter for him to dig into himself. He was pretty much ignoring her at this point while he looked over everything she’d printed on, from pens, to shot glasses, to Christmas ornaments.

“Are you self-taught?” he asked, not even looking at her but still digging through the box.

“No. I went to Duke and majored in graphic design.”

His head snapped up fast, he hesitated, and then grinned. “So did Ella and I.”

“I know.”

 

Fierce-Cade Chapter One…#mgtab

Cade

Here is Chapter one of Fierce-Cade. You can catch up on the Prologue here if you want.

Peace and Quiet

Ten Years Later

“Cade, honey. I need a favor.”

He turned and saw his mother standing in the doorway to his office. He hated being in the office above Fierce because he never got any peace. For as much as he talked and liked to socialize, when it came down to work, he wanted peace and quiet for that.

If his family wasn’t bugging him, then his intern was, or another staff member. Everyone got mad when he worked from home so much, but it seemed it was the only way he could get anything done.

“Hi, Mom. A favor, huh?” he asked, smiling. He knew better than to say he was busy or push her off. It never worked when he was a kid and worked even less as an adult.

Jolene Fierce walked into the room and sat by him on the couch. He worked better with his laptop on his lap on the couch with his feet stretched out in front of him on the coffee table than sitting at his desk on the other side of the room. When people walked by and saw his desk empty, they assumed he wasn’t in. The couch was his favorite place to be.

“It’s not a big favor. Just a little one.”

Nothing was little when it came to his mother. “What’s in it for me?”

He sent her the charming smile he’d perfected when growing up. She’d been his test subject where he learned to master what looks to use when he wanted or needed something.

She reached her hand over and patted his cheek. “Always looking out for yourself, aren’t you? You’ll get something out of it.”

He didn’t like the look in her eye right now. He wanted to say sneaky, but she never was. She was always upfront. In your face more than upfront, but still, there’d never been any secrets with her. She’d never had the ability to keep her lips sealed, much like him. “So what do I get?” he asked, humoring her.

She squinted one eye at him. “Your siblings loving what you’ll show them.”

“They already love everything I do,” he said. He was laughing, but it was true. Everyone had their niche at Fierce. Just because no one understood his or wanted any part of it, they still loved what he did. Too bad they didn’t realize the amount of work it took for him to do it.

Brody, the oldest, ran the bar. He was the loudest and the leader of them all. He had a way with people and had always been a night owl.

Aiden was next by just five minutes. They all were born just five minutes apart. Or as his mother often told them growing up, “pried out of her five minutes apart.” Aiden was the most confident, the most skilled, and a master behind the food at Fierce that had people coming from all over to sample his creations.

Mason was the quiet one. The shy one. The smart one. Science ran through his brain like food was cut from Aiden’s knife. Mason created and brewed all the beer for Fierce. His brewery was listed as one of the up and coming in the US, with beer distributed all over the East Coast, more than quadrupling revenue for Fierce in the past two years alone.

Him. He didn’t have any special skill other than running his mouth and being the entertainment for the family. Someone had to liven the rest of them up and he decided it was going to be him. Everyone was way too serious. Or as he liked to say, “tight asses.”

Ella. The business mind. The CPA and numbers behind the business. The only girl. The baby that they all had to protect. Or so they thought. She could protect herself, and at times, had protected him. Not that he shared that with anyone, least of all his mother.

“You’re so cocky at times,” his mother said.

“So I’ve been told. I guess it comes with my line of work.” He ran all the marketing and promotions for Fierce and was the family lawyer to boot. No one seemed to take him seriously as the lawyer, at least not until the last few years. “So why are they going to love what I do even more?”

“Several years ago, your father and I used Marshall Printing for all our ads. Do you remember them? You were probably too young?”

“The name sounds familiar.”

He remembered the old fliers around the pub when he was younger. Even though he’d always felt like he didn’t have his place in the family business, deep down he really did. He liked to come up with slogans and ads. It was a good thing because he and his siblings knew they were going to make his parents’ business huge one day and they needed all the bases covered.

“Well, they kind of fell behind the times and just couldn’t meet our needs when we were growing so much. Then you started taking over even when you were in college and your father and I let you run with it.” She put her hand on his arm, patting it, just like she did his face. Humoring him again. Guess he got that charm from her. “You did such a good job that we didn’t interfere.”

“Like you want to do right now?” he asked, lifting his chin.

She laughed back at him. “Of course. Anyway, you’ve got a lot of vendors. I know you do. But you see, Marshall Printing is back in business. Or I should say they’re overhauled now. They can do just about anything and everything that you’re getting from multiple sources. Probably some things you haven’t even seen before.”

“How do you know this?” he asked.

“I still see Paula Marshall now and again. Anyway. I was wondering if you could go over and just talk with Alex. Hear them out and discuss what they’ve got, what we need, and see what the cost is. Wouldn’t it be nice to get it all in one place? Assuring it’s the same shade of red for everything?”

This time he narrowed his eyes. His mother liked to play the card of “I’m not sure what you kids all do” but everyone knew that was a big whopping lie. She had her finger on every pulse and nothing got by her. Ever. “You know as well as I do it drives me insane when I can’t get the reds to match.”

“Exactly. When your father decided on red, years ago when he opened this pub, it was Marshall’s that printed the very first shirts.”

He sighed. She had him and she knew it. He was a closet sentimentalist. “Fine. I’ll give them a call and see if we can work something out. No promises though. I’m happy with some of my vendors.”

“But not all,” she pointed out. Again, she knew more than she let on.

“Point taken.”

“You’re a good boy, Cade, despite what everyone else says about you.”

He shook his head when she left and went back to work.

A few minutes later Ella appeared in his office. “What did Mom want?”

“Why?” he asked. “I don’t bug you every time Mom stops into your office and asks for something.”

She smirked at him just like his mother was doing minutes ago. “That’s because Mom only stops in my office to ask if I want to go shopping. She never comes and talks to me about work like she does the rest of you guys.”

“Then go shopping with her. Maybe she’ll talk about work then.”

“I go shopping with her every other month. Don’t get me wrong, I love to shop, but even I have my limit.”

“There’s never a limit to shopping, Ella. She’s just bonding with you. She’s outnumbered and so are you. It’s that girl thing you two do that the rest of us don’t get. That and the spa.”

“You go to the spa just as much as I do,” she pointed out. At least she didn’t rub his face in the fact he probably shopped more than her. He had an appearance to keep up since he was out in the public more than the rest of them.

“Shhh. Don’t say that so loud.”

She shut his door. “You think you can hide everything, but you’re not very good at it.”

“How do you know I go to the spa?”

There were no secrets in his family. Or he should say very few of them between his siblings. He should be used to it by now, but probably never would be.

“You go to the same place I do. Don’t you think they’d mention it?”

“Shit. No. I thought that was one of those confidential things.”

“Cade,” she said, shaking her head. “That’s a doctor’s office, not a spa. Especially when they all brag about how charming you are to them.”

“Don’t be jealous that they like me more. They probably thought complimenting me would get you to be nicer.”

“I’m nice and you know it.”

“You could have fooled me right now standing there with your arms crossed.”

She dropped her arms but laughed at him. “Anyway. Seriously, what did Mom want? I heard her talking about the vendors. Are you changing them? Do I need to change any projections?”

“Calm down. You know, I used to think it was Mom that had her finger on every pulse, but it’s you. You get that from her. Geez, I’ll let you know if you need to change anything. She asked me to go talk to Marshall Printing. I guess they used to do all of the pub’s stuff years ago. Now they can do everything that I’m sourcing out through multiple vendors. She asked as a favor that I listen to what they’ve got to say.”

“Hmm. That’s odd.”

“Why?”

“Just that she’s never taken an interest like that before. Not to the point of asking you to work with someone.”

“She isn’t asking me to. She just wanted me to see what they have to offer. I’m supposed to ask for someone named Alex. I’ll give them a call later.”

“Alex Marshall?” she asked.

“Yeah. I guess. Why?”

“No reason.”

It sure didn’t look it to him though when Ella stormed out of his office.

***

“Ella, darling,” her mother said. “You just caught me grabbing some lunch. Do you want to join me?”

She’d run downstairs fast to see if her mother was still in the building, ignoring the looks she got when her heels made a racket on the stairs. Her mother was in the bar talking with her new daughter-in-law, Aimee. Brody and Aimee had gotten married just a few weeks ago. She’d watched her mother crying at the wedding, going on and on about how her oldest was finally getting married.

Then she listened to her mother talk about Aiden’s engagement and his wedding to Nic four months from now in December. Not to mention Mason’s engagement to Jessica and going on and on about future grandchildren.

The three brothers were all engaged or married to employees that worked for them.

All women that her mother had a hand in finding for them when she never used to take an interest in the business after the daily operations were handed over to Ella and her brothers six years ago.

Brody and Aimee, she let that one go. Nic and Aiden made her suspicious. Mason and Jessica blew her radar up. Now she was positive Cade was the next on the agenda.

“Sure, Mom. I’m hungry. What are you in the mood for?”

“I think I’m going to have a cannoli for lunch. Do you want one?”

Ella fought from grinding her teeth. She had such a weakness for sweets and her mother knew it. “No, thank you. I’ll just have a grilled chicken salad, Aimee,” she said before Aimee went to hand her a menu.

“Raspberry vinaigrette, right?” Aimee asked.

“You know me well,” Ella said. She often ordered something down here or came and visited Aimee when she needed a break.

“I’ll take the fish tacos with fries,” Jolene said. “And can you tell them to give me a container of the cheese dipping sauce that goes with the pretzels? And don’t forget the cannoli. You really should have one, Ella. You could use a few pounds on you.”

“What no woman believes ever,” Ella said, frowning. She was thin, but not skinny. If she let herself go, she’d put weight on and not in muscle, but in boobs. It always went there first and she hated it.

Aimee laughed. “I know. You like to dip your fries, Jolene. They know in the kitchen too.”

“How’s work going, Ella?” her mom asked. “You look like there’s something on your mind. What is it?”

“Nothing,” Ella said. “Well, not really. I just heard you telling Cade about Marshall Printing.”

“Always were my smart girl,” her mother said. “You’re trying to adjust your budgets or whatnot, aren’t you?”

Ella snorted. Her mother acted like she didn’t know the first thing about the books, but she knew everything. “You know me. I want to stay ahead of the game.”

“All you kids have something special that makes you unique. Well, no one is as unique as Cade.” Her mother waved her hand. “Never mind. Anyway. Yes, Paula told me her daughter, Alex, took over the business. Guess she went to Duke like you and Cade. Imagine that. She majored in graphic design and has given the business new life. She said Alex would be annoyed if Paula reached out to us, but she’d told Alex to get over it, that she was reaching out to all her old clients.”

“Hmmm,” Ella said. “Have you met Alex before?”

“A long time ago. She’s about five years younger than you guys. I remember her being around when I’d pick things up for the pub. Cute kid, always keeping to herself or helping out, just like you kids did.”

“Didn’t I hear you say something about an Alex Marshall winning some teen beauty pageant years ago? Bragging on how you knew that little girl and how beautiful she was. Such a talented dancer and so sweet.”

“You don’t forget anything, do you, Ella?” her mother said proudly. “Yep, that’s Alex. I guess her grandmother coaxed her into those pageants so she could get scholarship money for school. The business was barely holding together for a long time.”

“I’m glad to hear they’re turning it around. Or that Alex is,” Ella said smiling.

She was on to her mother, but for now she’d keep it to herself. If there was one thing she learned from her mother, it was to be sneaky.

Maybe her other brothers would enjoy seeing Cade set up. That had merit for all the times Cade got on their nerves. The question was, how would they feel if they knew they’d been set up themselves, and could they keep it from Cade?

Fierce- Cade… Prologue #mgtab @natalieann121

Cade

It’s that time for a sneak peek at Fierce-Cade!

Prologue

Cade made his way to the meeting place at eleven just as his text instructed. There was an excitement rushing through him, vibrating like the bass turned up to the highest number in the little convertible that he’d bought with his own hard-earned money.

Five kids meant they weren’t each getting their own cars when they got their licenses. Not when they were quintuplets. But since they all worked at the family pub, they all had the means to save or spend.

He’d tended to spend more than save early on, but when he discovered that chicks dug a guy in a hot car, he started to put those paychecks away faster than a pickpocket in New York City.

A nighttime rendezvous. Just what the doctor ordered with finals a week away. There was school, and there was play. Play normally took the lead in his life.

He was rubbing his hands together when he opened the door to the sorority house. In the basement, his text had said to go, so he made his way to the kitchen, then opened the door and walked down.

There were lights on in the house, but not too many people around. The two women he passed in the living room just looked up and smiled at him. They’d seen him here before picking up Sarah.

The stairs creaked under his weight. Not that he was heavy, but he was big. He and his brothers were all over six foot, and though he knew he still had some muscle to build, he was ripped just fine for twenty-one years old. The ladies sure didn’t mind if he could have added a few more to make a six-pack.

“Sarah,” he called out quietly. “Where are you?”

“In the back, Cade,” he’d heard and made his way past the ping pong table and old bar in the dingy room. It looked like a game room out of the seventies with the brown paneling and orange shag carpet, but what college kid cared about the atmosphere when they were drunk and hanging out, even looking to get laid.

It was a little darker in the back room, but there were a couch and some chairs. The door had been shut the few other times he’d been here and he was thinking now it was a sneak away room for a little bit of action without having to go to a shared bedroom on the upper floors. He was game for it.

“You got here faster than I thought,” Sarah said. “Normally you’re late.”

“You told me eleven. I’m good at following directions.” And he’d never be late if there was something in it for him. Something good.

“Are you now?” she asked. There was a look in her eye, one of secret pleasure that he couldn’t wait to explore. She’d sought him out weeks ago and had been extremely eager the few times they’d met up.

“I know that too,” he heard to his right, a higher pitched voice.

“Shit,” he whispered when he saw Lori standing there. He hadn’t seen her in a week or so since she stopped texting him out of the blue. She was all hot and bothered when she walked up to him in class that first time a few weeks ago.

“Me too,” a softer voice said.

He turned to the left, and as luck would have it, there was Allison. All that went through his brain right now was an escape plan. He was good at running from his siblings as a kid, but he had nowhere to go right now. Not only that, his pride made him stand his ground. He’d talked himself out of situations before, he could do it again.

“What are you all doing here?” he asked to no one in particular. Not like he couldn’t figure it out, though part of him was wondering what was really going on.

“We just wanted to see your face when you saw us all in the same room at once,” Sarah said. Now he knew where that pleasure came from. She was ready to twist his balls in a vise that was going to be two sizes too small.

“Let’s see if you can talk your way out of this one, Cade.”

When he heard the fourth voice, he turned and didn’t know what could be worse. Another woman he’d dated on campus, or his sister, Ella. Please, dear Lord, let Ella help get me out of this mess. “Well, Cade? What do you have to say for yourself now?” Ella asked him, just like she had so many times when they were growing up.

Guess not.

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.