It’s My Chance…Chapter One

It's My Chance

If you haven’t checked out the Prologue, you can do that now. Here is chapter one!

Nine Lives

Two months later

Monday morning Logan pulled into McGuire’s B&B a little more than five hours after he’d left New York City.

His body was stiff and sore and he needed to get out of the car and walk it off. Stretch. Bend. Anything to get out and just move.

Maybe it was too soon to sit for this long, but he couldn’t stay in his apartment staring at the walls any longer contemplating his future.

He’d left the Army shortly after his buddy Trevor Miles. Trevor got out before anything major happened to him. When Logan barely escaped being blown to pieces with a bomb, he knew it was time to move on—after he lost one of the only women he’d let into his life in that explosion, knowing he’d have a hard time getting past it.

The job at NYPD seemed the logical decision. He went back to where he’d grown up in Manhattan and figured why not?

He’d been stabbed on the force a few years ago and been told he was lucky to be alive. Just a few more inches and he would have bled out like a gutted deer.

Did he leave his job after that? Nope, he went right back at it.

But this time, he was starting to think of the whole three strikes and you’re out. He had his third strike, he wasn’t out, but he wasn’t sure he was ready to try the nine lives theory either.

He had a month left on his medical leave to come to terms with his future.

And why he felt he had to come to terms with anything surprised him since he had more zeroes in the bank than anyone ever knew.

He didn’t flaunt it and never would. Why? Because it wasn’t who he was.

But that wealth was making it easier for him to walk away from the career he loved and not worry about starving. That wealth wasn’t going to make him happy if he couldn’t figure out what to do with his life though.

Thirty-five was just too damn young to do nothing.

He walked up to the front door of the B&B, let himself in and heard a woman call out from the back, “Come on in. I can see you on the camera.”

He looked up in the corner and saw a camera aimed at the door, then walked toward the voice. She was standing there, her hands kneading dough on the counter. “I’m Celeste Ryder. You must be Logan Taylor. Trevor and Riley’s friend.”

“That’s me,” he said. When it came time to escape, he figured why not go up in the mountains and relax in nature. Though he lived in the big city and had loved the action, there was a part of him that just wanted peace and quiet in his surroundings. Water, trees, woods. Anything different than what he was coming from.

Celeste wiped her hands off, then walked forward and shook his hand. “So glad to have you. Can I offer you a drink or a snack after your long drive before I show you the cabin?”

“I’m good,” he said. He really just wanted to get his stuff unpacked and sit down and have a beer from the cooler in his vehicle. He knew he’d have to get some food at the store, but he wanted a cold beer before he did anything else.

“Then let me show you where you’ll be staying.”

“I can find it myself if you’re busy,” he said.

“It can wait,” she said. “I’m just making a few pies for dinner. I serve breakfast at eight, lunch at noon, and dinner at six. On that wall is the menu for each day. If you aren’t here for the meal, there are normally leftovers and snacks around.”

He looked over at the large chalkboard and saw the menu in a neat script. He was both impressed and touched by the hominess of something he’d never experienced growing up. Home cooked meals by a parent. Nah.

His mother never cooked a day in her life. Why would she when she’d grown up with housekeepers and cooks herself? When she married, she wasn’t about to change or learn anything different from what she’d known.

Divorcing his cheating, lying father when Logan was five just padded his mother’s bank account with a lot more than she’d had. Marrying someone twenty years older than her a few years later did the same. Now she was a widow with not a care in the world living in Long Island on the water, being catered to by all sorts of staff.

Cooking for her only son, yeah, nothing she’d ever cared to do.

“Let me just grab your keycard.”

He watched as Celeste walked to what he assumed was an office off the kitchen and that was when he noticed she was pregnant. His best guess was not too far along, but long enough that there was a slight bulge showing with her leggings and fitted shirt to her mid thigh.

He was kind of surprised to see her so covered up even though the windows were open letting in some nice spring air. He was still warm in his shorts and T-shirt though it was barely eighty out now. Eighty in the mountains did feel cooler than eighty in the concrete jungle.

Celeste walked back out and handed him the card. “This will get you into the cabin out back and in here too. Every guest has one for the main house, but that will access both locations.”

He followed her out the back door and saw the little cabin closer to the water along a stone path. “It’s bigger than I thought it’d be,” he said.

“It’s where I used to live before I got married. My husband, Caleb, and I live in the house to your right. The smaller house, or what we really refer to as the cottage, on your left is where Max’s patients stay.”

“Riley’s brother?” he asked.

“Yes,” she said.

Trevor’s wife Riley’s brother was a plastic surgeon that had relocated here years ago from New York City himself. Logan had met Riley when Trevor needed his help trying to find who was stalking Riley on his own home turf almost a year ago.

Once they realized it wasn’t really a stalker, but a woman with disabilities that missed Riley and their friendship, Trevor and Riley came back home, got engaged then married only a few months ago. No long engagement for them. Just a few months.

They’d flown back to New York City so Riley could have Debra in her wedding. The woman who’d missed her and kept sending her flowers and letters. Logan was Trevor’s best man for the small ceremony held in an upscale restaurant.

Riley and Max had come from money. Not as much as him, but again, no one knew that and if he had his way no one would.

Celeste opened the door and he followed in behind her, looking around. There was a small galley kitchen on one wall with a counter and two stools. It opened up into a small living room that more than suited him with a couch and chair, a TV on the wall.

The colors were blues, greens, grays, and extremely calming. Just what he needed in his life.

“The bedroom and bath are behind those doors.”

He walked the few steps and looked into the tiny but efficient bathroom, then popped his head into the bedroom. There looked to be a queen sized bed. Again, enough for him. He’d be fine without his king bed for a month. “Is that a deck off the back?” he asked, looking out the sliding door to the water beyond.

“It is. It’s not big, but enough to sit out and enjoy the view with a cup of coffee.”

“Or a beer,” he said, grinning, knowing he was going to do that the minute Celeste was gone.

“Absolutely. I don’t provide alcohol at the main house. Guests are allowed to bring their own; however most don’t do it unless they drink it that night. Otherwise it’s stored in their room or the kitchen where someone else might drink it.” He smiled at her laugh. “But here, you’ve got more privacy.”

“I’m surprised this was available,” he said.

When he made the last minute decision to come here, he feared he’d be in a hotel the whole time. He wasn’t sure he could handle that, but would have if he needed to.

“I don’t rent it out often. As I said, I used to live here. Caleb is trying to convince me to hire someone full time to care for the B&B and move in here, especially with the baby coming. It’s just so hard to step away from something you love doing though.”

“Yeah, I know,” he said quietly.

She just looked at him, nodded her head and said, “I’ll let you get unpacked and settled. No need to let me know whether you’ll be around for meals. There is always plenty though.”

“Thanks,” he said, then followed her out and back to the parking lot to get his things. His shoulder was aching like a cat in heat, his side not much better, but the sooner he had his belongings in the cabin, the sooner he could have that beer on the deck.

He opened the back of his brand new black SUV. His last car had too many bullet holes in it to repair. He should have gotten another sedan, but something told him to change that too.

After two trips to the cabin, he finally grabbed his little cooler that was filled with a six-pack of his favorite craft beer. Long Island, Brooklyn, the Bronx. Craft breweries were flowing there and he had his pick of more than he could name. Short of filling the back of his SUV up with beer for the month, he hoped he could find a few here he wouldn’t mind.

His clothes could wait to be put away, but the beer really couldn’t.

He pulled the can out, found a glass in the kitchen, poured it, and then made his way to the deck. There were two chairs and one was calling his name.

He’d taken one long sip when his phone rang. He looked down to see Trevor calling him. “Hey,” he answered.

“Did you make it?” Trevor asked.

“Sitting on the deck with a cold one as we speak.”

“Damn. You couldn’t even wait for me?”

“Come on over,” Logan said. “I could use another by the time you get here.”

“Can’t,” he said. “On duty. How about you come to the house tonight and have dinner? We can have a few on my deck while Riley cooks for us.”

“Barely three months of marriage and you have her cooking for you?” Logan asked, grinning.

“Riley is a great cook. She loves taking care of me,” Trevor said.

Logan heard the humor behind the words. The love too. Yeah, he was jealous. “But will she love cooking for someone else?” he asked, taking another long sip of his ice cold brew that hit the spot better than it ever had before.

“We had planned on it. She gets out of work at five. I’ll be out shortly after. How does six thirty sound? Sometimes she can be held up at work with patients.”

Riley Hamilton-Miles was a dentist in town. Trevor, the chief of police of Lake Placid. “Sounds good. Anything I can bring?”

“Just yourself,” Trevor said. “I asked Kennedy to join us, but it’s her late night at the spa.”

Kennedy Miles, Trevor’s sister. Another reason he came here, but he had no intention of letting Trevor know that, at least not tonight. “I’m sure I’ll see her at some point.”

“You two seemed to hit it off at the wedding. Figured it wouldn’t hurt to have a friendly face to show you around besides me.”

Kennedy was more than a friendly face, but he doubted she was going to be all that friendly to him when she saw him again. That was probably why she’d declined the dinner invitation.

“I’ll see you in a few hours,” Logan said, disconnecting the call, thoughts of Kennedy in his mind.

Kennedy had had a little bit too much to drink the night of Trevor’s wedding. The two of them ended up back at her hotel room. Things were getting heated, and if it were anyone else, he wouldn’t have stopped.

But he did. He realized it was his best friend’s sister and told himself it wasn’t right. He couldn’t have a one-night stand with her. Especially since they’d both drunk more than they should have.

He’d stopped when everything within his body told him to push forward and strip her naked like she’d asked him to do.

She hadn’t been happy with him when he stopped and then left. She’d probably been embarrassed though she had no reason to be.

He hadn’t been able to get her out of his mind in the past few months. He’d walked out of her hotel room just two weeks before he’d gotten shot.

And all those times he’d been told he was lucky to be alive…well, he was ready to put some of that luck to use and finish what was started with Kennedy.

 

It’s My Chance…Prologue

It's My Chance

Here is the Prologue for It’s My Chance!

Detective Logan Taylor was on his way home after a twelve-hour stakeout. An all-nighter which he hated with a passion. And one thing Logan didn’t do was hate much.

A good guy. The good cop, he was always told. Even his buddies in the Army said he was too happy to be a Ranger, smiling more than anyone should for a man that was an elite sniper.

Was he always happy though? Partially.

The other times the smile was just in place out of habit. Some to throw people off. Some to just mask what was going on in his mind.

That his job was getting to him, that it had in the service too. But this was what he was good at and why not do what he excelled at?

What he excelled at right now was keeping his eyes open when he’d been up for more than twenty-four hours. He’d worked a case all day, gathering what he needed for the drug bust that would be coming soon. He volunteered to stake out the suburbia house hoping to catch the stay at home mom making a mistake.

Where had the days gone when drugs were run through gangs? Now it was June Cleaver while her kids were at school. It still made his head spin.

It was just after eight when a call came in over the radio of a robbery in progress not more than a block from him. Other patrols were called in, but he knew he was closer.

Go in that direction, or go home and get some much-needed sleep?

It was an easy decision in his mind. He picked up the radio and called it in, knowing he’d be the first on the scene.

When he pulled in front of the jewelry store in his plain black sedan, he hopped out with his weapon drawn just as the assailant came running out of the store, saw him and grabbed a woman who was paying more attention to her phone than her surroundings.

“NYPD,” Logan shouted, his gun aimed. “Drop your weapon and release the woman.”

“Let me go and no one gets hurt,” the masked man said, his voice shaking, his eyes darting all over the street.

“Let her go. You hear the sirens. Backup is on the way. We can do this the easy way and let me get you cuffed, or the hard way.”

The woman started to shake, cry, and plead. “Please let me go.”

The masked man tossed the woman aside and rather than drop his assault rifle, he lifted it the same time as Logan took final aim, both of them firing, Logan diving for cover. He felt the bullets rip through at least two parts of his body, then lost consciousness before he could see if his bullet hit the target he was aiming for.

 

 

Holiday Hunks- Jake’s Christmas Decision

HolidayHunksTemplate(1)

Prologue

 

“What do we have?” Jake Baxter asked as he stumbled into the room. Being woken up from a dead sleep was never fun, more so in a war torn country.

“A convoy was just attacked out in the desert. We believe two are dead, four taken.”

Another reason why he wasn’t sleeping. He was here on base; his best friend from childhood was in the desert miles away. “Do they have names?”

His commander looked at him, shook his head, and said, “No. Here are the images from the satellite.”

Jake watched the muddy green clips of the convoy moving at a fast pace, then a bright light as the explosion flipped it on its side. Within minutes, gunfire erupted, two bodies were left and four taken prisoner. If they didn’t get to them soon, they’d be tortured like the civilians Jake and the rest of his squad were sent here to protect…then most likely killed.

“When do we leave?” he asked, looking around the room at the Night Stalkers that would be going up in the AH-6M that he’d be piloting.

“We are waiting on word. Suit up. This is a rescue mission. The sooner we can get in, the sooner we can catch them unaware.”

Ten minutes later they had their coordinates, instructions, and were in the air.

It didn’t take long to get to the village where their men were brought. They were ready to provide group support to the other men on their way, while having the ability to fire Hellfire missiles several miles away.

Jake knew he had to focus on the mission at hand, but his mind, and his heart, were with Rob. Rob, the buddy he’d grown up with and talked into joining the army with him. He knew damn well Rob was down there somewhere on the front line trying to get his men back too.

Minutes from their location, they were taking on enemy fire while Jake tried to maneuver the chopper away. It was a balancing act—get to the men on the ground, save the men with him in the air, protect the others with the same objective as him…the prisoners returning safely.

The more fire they took on, the more he had to move away from where they’d thought the men were being held and circle back.

The gunfire on the ground was increasing. Jake locked in on his target and fired, blowing up a building and giving the men relief to make their move.

As he moved closer to provide more coverage, alarms started to go off, he was taking on heavy damage and knew if he didn’t pull back, he could be brought down.

He didn’t want to leave. He didn’t want to pull back. He wanted to know Rob was safe.

His choices were narrowing when smoke started coming out of the engines and his orders were to abort. He didn’t. He stayed and he fired, and he continued, until he had no other option but to choose between the men in the chopper with him, or the men on the ground that were retreating.

He did what he was told. He provided cover to get the men out of there and they’d go back for the hostages another day.

Another day didn’t come, when the bodies of the four soldiers showed up hours later— beaten, broken, bloodied, and beheaded. One of them was Rob.

Fierce-Bryce…Chapter One @Natalieann121 #mgtab

Bryce2

If you haven’t had a chance to catch up on the Prologue, you can now.

Lose Yourself

Thirteen years later

Bryce let himself into his parents’ front door. He’d seen both of his parents’ cars in the garage that they’d left open for him to enter. Glancing at his watch, he realized he was late as always. He was sure his mother would have something to say about that.

He couldn’t help it though. He got held up at work. Between lesson plans, grading papers, helping kids and then working on his thesis, he tended to get lost in time. In space. Hmm, maybe that should have been the topic for his thesis…is it possible to lose yourself in space?

He laughed at that thought. Not many thought he was funny, so he kept those bits of information to himself when they popped into his head.

“Bryce,” his mother said when he walked into the kitchen. “You’re twenty minutes late.”

“I know. Sorry. Got held up.”

“I know how it is,” she said. “It’s hard to walk away from the kids when they want help.”

He could let his mother believe that. She was a fourth grade teacher and she’d stay until midnight if she had to help anyone that asked or needed it. “Yeah. Hope dinner isn’t cold.”

“Don’t worry about it. We are just having chili and I let it sit in the crockpot until you show up. I’ve learned my lesson over the years.”

Meaning he’d ruined one too many of the family dinners because he was late.

Now as an adult, he and his brothers came to dinner once a month or so individually. It seemed he came the most though.

His older brother, Sam, a surgical oncologist, worked a ton of hours and when he wasn’t working, he used to have female company or go out to eat. Of course now he was recently engaged to Dani Rhodes and spending more time with her than coming for family dinners.

Then there was his younger brother, Ryder, who was an architect and worked at his father’s firm. Ryder came once or twice a month for the company of his mother rather than for the food.

Ryder was the baby of the group and had the most in common with their mother, the two of them always putting their heads together with recipes. When Ryder came to dinner, it wasn’t for a free meal but to experiment with her.

Bryce…he just wanted food. He’d never really learned how to cook, which was funny considering he was the smartest of the family and knew he could read a recipe just fine and execute it. It’s just he had no interest in it at all.

Why should he when his mother kept him supplied with meals once a week? If he didn’t come for dinner, she dropped him off something that he could heat up as leftovers.

When he wasn’t eating his mother’s food, he was making eggs or sandwiches or getting takeout. Campus food, he was fine with it when many weren’t.

“Chili sounds great,” he said, walking to the fridge and grabbing a beer.

Before he had a chance to take a sip out of the glass he’d just poured, his father came down the stairs and snatched it off the counter. “Thanks, just the thing to go with your mom’s fire hot chili.”

He laughed at the move he’d seen one too many times in his life that he should have known to expect it, then grabbed another bottle out of the fridge for himself. “Do we get bread with chili tonight?” he asked his mother.

She opened the oven and pulled a loaf out that had been warming in there. Hot damn, his lucky night. “I know one of your favorite meals, don’t I?”

The three of them had been sitting there eating quietly, surprising Bryce since his mother was very rarely quiet. “Are you and Dad going on vacation when school is out?” he asked since the silence was starting to make him squirm like they were planning something on him and he had no idea what it could be.

His parents made a habit of taking a week off after school finished for his mother. He thought it was nice they had that routine and didn’t break it in all the years he and his brothers had been out of high school.

“I was just talking to your father about it last night. Not even two months away and I can’t get him to commit to where he wants to go.”

“It’s getting late to get a place, don’t you think, Dad?”

“Don’t be siding with your mother,” his father said, drinking his beer. His father topped Bryce’s six-foot-two-inch frame by two inches easily. The Fierce men were a big lot. “I could have told her I wanted tuna noodle casserole tonight and she would have made it.”

Bryce shivered and fought back the gag. He hated tuna noodle casserole and wondered what sadist came up with that dish that his father loved so much but three kids of the house refused to eat.

“Don’t listen to your father,” his mother said. “I’d never make that for anyone but him. Even I struggle to eat it, but the things you do for love…”

His father smirked and went back to his chili, wiping up the sauce with his bread, then reaching for another helping. Bryce knew he was going in for seconds in a minute too.

“I’m sure wherever you go you’ll have a great time.”

He should be happy his mother wasn’t talking about his personal life anymore. Ever since Sam started dating Dani, and then got engaged, his mother had backed off of setting him and his brother Ryder up.

What was it about his parents that they wanted to get everyone married off?

His Aunt Jolene and Uncle Gavin had set up their five kids and they were all married or engaged in less than a two-year period of time. It was as if the rest of the family took that as an open invitation to start matchmaking.

Thankfully nothing came about from it and Bryce, his brothers, and cousins were all on the lookout and knew they wouldn’t be caught in the web of manipulations their other cousins had been.

“Speaking of a good time,” his mother said, “how is your thesis coming?”

“It’s coming,” he said. These things took time; she knew that, yet she always asked as if it was a paper he had due at the end of the week.

He’d already gotten his doctorate in chemistry and now he wanted it in physics. Why? Because he’d never grow tired of learning.

“Oh,” his mother said, jumping up fast. “I forgot I picked something up for you.”

His father and he both lifted their heads from where they were gobbling up their dinner when she dashed out of the room. He looked over, caught the eye raise and shoulder shrug from his dad and went back to eating.

When his mother came back to the room, she dropped an envelope on the table next to him.

He picked it up and looked inside to see a gift card for a place called Millie’s. “What’s this?”

“I tried out this little place the other day. One of the teachers at work, her daughter just took it over. You know how it is, they want you to try it out and I couldn’t say no. It’s right on your way to work. The food was good and I figured I’d give her a little business and get a gift card for you since you eat out all the time.”

“Sweet,” he said, setting it back down. “What do they have there?”

“It’s not that big,” his mother said. “They are open from six thirty in the morning until six at night. They’ve got seating for about twenty, but it’s more a takeout place. Breakfast is donuts, muffins, egg sandwiches and the like. Lunch and dinner are subs, sandwiches, salads, some burgers. Quick things. Like I said, takeout, which is right up your alley.”

“Sounds perfect,” he said, knowing he’d stop in soon enough. He loved how thoughtful his mother always was.

Speaking of thoughtfulness, over an hour later, he was walking out the door with enough leftovers for a few meals while he sat in his one-bedroom apartment reading and doing research.

 

***

 

“What the hell was that, Diane?”

Diane Fierce looked over at her husband, Grant, to see him narrowing his eyes at her the minute Bryce, her middle son, pulled out of the driveway. “What was what?”

“I’ve got a gift card for you. You know how we support the girls at work, yadda, yadda, yadda.”

She put her hands on her hips. “You know we do. How many times have I come home and caught your eye roll that I had frozen pies and cookie dough I had to find room for in the freezer? Or wrapping paper that fills the spare closet in the hall.”

“This isn’t the same thing and you know it. You’re up to something. You’re setting Bryce up, aren’t you?”

She smiled. “Maybe.”

“I thought we decided we’d talk about it before you did it. Just because you had luck with Dani and Sam doesn’t mean you can take Bryce on by yourself.”

“It’s not by myself,” she argued.

He snorted. “So fill me in then.”

“Fine,” she said, pulling out a chair and sitting down. “You know Rachelle Davies, right?”

“The phys ed teacher at your school?”

“Yes. Her daughter, Payton, owns the place now.”

“Okay. Tell me, because right now I’m trying to figure out how you think someone who owns a cafe is going to have anything in common with our brainy son Bryce. And isn’t Rachelle a widower? Didn’t her husband die years ago or something like that?”

“Yes, he did. When Payton was just a teen. Rachelle never really dated again. Not to be mean or anything, but she’s never been very feminine and well, maybe that stopped her from trying again.” Diane waved her hand. “It doesn’t matter. But Payton was always shy, or so Rachelle said. She wasn’t very good in school and never went to college.”

“This is getting worse and worse.”

“Don’t be snobby,” she said, pointing her finger at her husband.

“I’m not snobby in the least. I’m just saying that Bryce is the brainchild of the entire Fierce clan. Everything he does, says, or enjoys is over our heads half the time.”

“Except food,” she said.

“Okay, I’ll give you that. But that still doesn’t mean anything. You know how he is. He likes women he can talk to and have intelligent conversations with. You just said she wasn’t very good in school and never went to college.”

“She has a learning disability. She is plenty smart, but it was years before Rachelle realized that Payton was dyslexic. She struggles to read and write, but she can. It doesn’t mean she isn’t smart and I’m embarrassed that you are even thinking that.”

Grant frowned at her and she held back the laugh, knowing she put him in his place. “I think you are way off base.”

“You said the same thing with Dani and Sam and look at how well that is working out.”

Her husband’s shoulders dropped. “Fine. We’ll see how it goes, but this one could really be stretching it.”

“If I’m wrong, I’ll admit it. I promise. But I don’t think I will be.”

“You’ve never admitted you were wrong a day in your life,” he said, getting up and walking over to give her a kiss on the cheek.

“Because I never am and I won’t be this time either.”

Fierce-Bryce…Prologue #mgtab @Natalieann121

Bryce2

Prologue

“Hey there.” Bryce Fierce turned his head when he felt a finger trail down his arm. Not just a finger, but a fingernail, sharp and teasing. No pain, but with enough force for him to know who it belonged to. Then again, the scent of her minty gum mixed in with whatever fruity body spray she’d spritzed on let him know too.

“Hey, Marcella.”

“I was wondering,” she said, leaning into him. She had the lean perfected. She had everything perfected to get the attention she wanted. “If you were going to be working on your lab later tonight?”

“I planned on it after dinner.”

She snapped her gum and giggled, her blonde hair floating around her shoulders. “I could work on it with you? Professor Lang said that I’d have a better understanding of the class if I did my labs with classmates.”

She’d never have an understanding of it, in his opinion. “And you want to do it with me over your friends?” he asked.

Her friends that she walked around campus with, her posse. Always laughing, flirting, bouncing around with her arm on one guy or another. He wasn’t sure if she dated anyone, or at least exclusively, but she was sure seen with enough guys.

“My friends aren’t working on it tonight,” she said, her long nails playing a tap on his bicep now.

He might be a nerd in some people’s eyes, but he was still a Fierce and looked like one. Tall, dark, and built. If he had his face in books more than women or sports, that was his prerogative, but his looks still had women coming on to him, saving him from ever having to make the first move.

He liked it that way too.

“I’ll be around working on it if you find your way into the lab, but I’m not waiting for you,” he said. She frowned and he didn’t care. He wasn’t stupid; he wasn’t going to be used.

“What time are you going to start?” she asked, pushing her bottom lip out. “I’m meeting friends for dinner at six.”

“I’ll be in the lab around six thirty,” he said, adding another thirty minutes to when he’d planned to show up. No reason to be a complete jerk.

“I’ll see you then,” she said, turning, her hair hitting his neck as she strutted back over to her little crew at the other end of the room.

“What was that?” his buddy Kyle asked him, coming over to whisper. “Marcella was totally into you.”

Bryce snorted. “She’s into someone doing her work for her.”

“And?” Kyle asked. “Who cares if you get to spend some time with her.”

Kyle wouldn’t understand. He was smart like Bryce, but he looked like the brain that he was. He’d never dated and was just dying to get his first girlfriend. Maybe if he’d focus on girls that he had more in common with instead of those that wanted to use him, he’d find some success.

Bryce had been there and done that. He’d dated in high school. He’d dated in college. But school always came first and he was sick of girls that only wanted to spend time with him so he’d help them out. Especially if they were dishonest about it.

“I don’t need to waste my time with her when I’ve got work to do. She’s going to come over and ask me a million questions or just copy what I’m doing anyway.” He wasn’t an idiot. He’d been around the block enough. This was an old hat to him.

“Yeah, but everyone knows she puts out when she gets help. Like a payment of sorts.”

Bryce stared at Kyle to see if he was joking, which of course he wasn’t because everyone knew the games Marcella played. “I don’t need that kind of payment.”

“Says no guy ever,” Kyle said, his eyes drifting over to Marcella and her friends. Bryce looked across the room to see Marcella wave at him. He didn’t wave back, but he did nod his head. “Dude, guys like us need chicks like that to bump us up.”

“This guy doesn’t,” Bryce said. “I think more of myself than that.”

He walked away from Kyle and took a seat before class started, knowing Marcella and her friends were talking about him and giggling.

He wasn’t going to be used by anyone. If some woman didn’t want him for who he was, then he had no time for her. No energy. And no desire.

All Of Us-Chapter One #mgtab

All of Us

If you haven’t checked out the Prologue you can do that now. Here is Chapter One

Vats of Jealousy

“How are you feeling today?” Kristen asked her boss Olivia Hartman-Abraham.

“Better than I felt earlier this morning,” Olivia said. “I really hope it’s only the first trimester this goes on. Though I’ve heard horror stories of women who are sick the whole pregnancy.”

“I doubt you’d get that unlucky,” Kristen said. As lucky women went, Olivia seemed to have it all. Wealth, looks, a hot new husband, and a baby on the way.

“You never know,” Olivia said, rubbing her flat belly. If Kristen didn’t love her boss of almost a year so much, she’d be the Hulk filled with big green vats of jealousy.

If there was one thing Kristen knew in life, it was that not much went her way.

She didn’t have wealth now any more than she had it growing up with a single mother. She was just average in her eyes in terms of looks. There was no husband, hot or otherwise in her future, and a baby wasn’t anything she was thinking of until she got a ring on her finger. If that ever happened.

“For your sake—and mine since I’ve got to listen to you heaving in the back—it will end soon.”

“Thanks for the concern,” Olivia said, laughing.

“You know I am. Since we’re a bit slow, how about I walk over and get you a large decaf green tea? I could use a shot of caffeine myself this morning.”

“Sounds like a good idea. Maybe you wouldn’t mind picking up a breakfast sandwich for me?”

“And that sounds yummy. I think I’ll get one for myself too.”

Kristen walked out of the front door of Hartman’s and down to the corner coffee shop. She was waiting in line when she noticed an officer walk in. Her pulse picked up a few paces and her fingers started to sizzle every time she saw a tall man in uniform with dark brown hair.

Would it be him? Would she get another glimpse of the guy who taught her how to defend herself in a class one night when Olivia’s husband asked them to attend so that he wouldn’t be worried about them alone at night? Imagine that? Having a guy put you first and be worried about your well-being.

It’d been months since she’d seen Landon. Months that she kept thinking of him resulting in some pretty body-gushing dreams.

The officer turned and it wasn’t Landon. She was disappointed, but since she was often disappointed in life, it was nothing new to her.

With her order in her hand, she turned to leave and in walked another officer. This time it was the man of her dreams.

***

Landon couldn’t get a shot of caffeine fast enough.

He’d had a lot of stress and upheaval in his life growing up but nothing like the past few weeks.

He went from bachelorhood, where his biggest concern was if there was enough bread in the house for a sandwich, to a single father in a heartbeat.

This was his first day back to work on top of it. After bringing Chloe home and realizing that he didn’t even have a spare bed for her, he knew right away he had to take time off of work.

In the past two weeks, he’d turned his spare room into a little princess room. Not that she offered much say in it. She barely spoke at all and he couldn’t really blame her. He wasn’t sure what to say to her half the time…being in her shoes had to be much worse.

But her room was set up. They’d had two counseling appointments and he’d secured daycare for her while he worked. The next thing on his list to do was getting her registered for school. At least he had time for that yet.

Sleepless nights for him as an adult normally consisted of cases he was working on or scheduling classes at his studio.

Now it was nutrition, clothing sizes, babysitters, schedule changes, and watching his language.

“Landon?”

He looked at the woman in front of him. He knew that face, but couldn’t recall from where. He came into contact with a lot of people in his line of work.

“Yes,” he said.

“Kristen Reid. I took your self-defense class several months ago with Olivia Abraham.”

“Oh yeah. With Finn’s wife.” He remembered her now. He’d seen her at Finn and Olivia’s wedding over the winter too. He couldn’t remember who his date was for that night or who this woman was with, but he was decent at putting faces with names…once he was reminded.

She was standing there grinning at him now. A pretty blush on her face. She was a cute girl. Woman, not girl. Nothing about her really stood out, but nothing made him look away either.

Her long brown hair was pulled back at the base of her neck. She had more makeup on than most, but it wasn’t offensive. Her long black pants had to be warm in the August heat, but she had a pretty little flower sweater on with it.

Since when did he notice pretty flowers or floral anything?

Since he had a little girl living in his house and he was trying everything he could to communicate with her. That even meant spending more time than he ever wanted to do in his life looking at clothes online or in the mall and trying to find anything Chloe liked or wanted.

Kristen held her bag up. “I’m picking up breakfast for us. Did you know Olivia was expecting?”

“Expecting what?” he asked.

“A baby?” Kristen said, her eyes dancing a little. Yeah, he put his foot in his mouth there. It seemed he was so out of touch with reality lately.

“No. I hadn’t heard. That’s great. Tell her congrats,” he said, moving forward. He didn’t want to be rude, but small talk wasn’t his thing. Or at least not when he was working. If he was out on the town looking for a woman, he could talk all night long to get a woman in his bed.

“It was nice seeing you again,” she said, sending him a hopeful smile. He caught the sign she was flashing, but the thought of dating was out of reach. Too bad, as he could use a distraction for the moment.

***

“Guess who I just ran into at the coffee shop?” Kristen said as she rushed into the jewelry store.

“Who?” Olivia said. “And hand over the loot. Junior is hungry.”

“Just don’t toss that sandwich up in the bathroom, please. I’d like to keep mine down. I never realized I was a sympathy puker before.”

“Sorry, but I can’t control it. Anyway,” Olivia said, reaching into the bag, “who did you see?”

“Landon Barber.”

“Ohhhhh,” Olivia said, unwrapping her sandwich and taking a monster bite out of it. “Did he talk to you? He’s kind of that broody quiet type. The one with deep thoughts to go with those big hands of his.”

“What are you doing looking at his big hands? You’ve got your own man at home,” she said with her hands on her hips.

“I do. I love my hubby, but I’m not blind either.”

“True. And yes, he sort of talked to me.”

“Sort of? Did he grunt? I bet you he’s a grunter.”

“I don’t even want to know what that means,” she said.

Olivia had dated a lot before she gave up that life and decided she needed to mature. Not that Kristen had ever seen anything like the Olivia she’d often talked about. She’d only known Olivia while she was with Finn, but she’d heard stories that Olivia had told her herself about her wilder younger days.

“It means that some men only grunt when they first get up in the morning before they have their coffee. Or if they don’t want to be bothered to talk, they grunt an answer and look away.”

“Oh. No, he talked, but not a lot. I said hi to him first and then reminded him who I was. I doubt he remembered me and there was no use putting him on the spot and making us both feel bad.”

“Why would you feel bad?” Olivia asked.

“I’m nothing memorable, I know that. Not like you.” She ignored Olivia’s snort while she inhaled her breakfast. “I just said I took his self-defense class with you. Then he said, ‘Finn’s wife.’ So yeah, he remembered you.”

“He’s friends with Finn,” Olivia argued. “And how many men named Finn do you know? It’s pretty easy for him to remember me.”

“I guess. He was looking at my drinks and bag and I just held it up and blurted out you were expecting.” She started to giggle. “He asked me what you were expecting.”

Laughing, Olivia started to cough as she sipped her tea. “Typical man response.”

“Yeah. I could see he was uncomfortable then, so I just said it was nice to see him and left.”

“There is always next time,” Olivia said.

“Please. I sent him a flirting smile that most men would pick up and he just shrugged. Trust me, I’m not his type.”

All Of Us…Prologue #mgtab @Natalieann121

All of Us

Prologue

“Barber,” Landon said, looking down at his phone. He didn’t recognize the number, but that wasn’t unheard of.

“Is this Landon Barber?”

“It is,” he said.

“My name is Lynn Collar. I’m calling about your sister, Jennifer.”

The hair rose on the back of his neck. He hadn’t talked to Jennifer in years. Not since she left home at eighteen. Shit, now that he thought about it, might be ten years since he’d talked to her. “What about her?”

“I’m sorry to say she died in a car accident two weeks ago,” Lynn said, her voice cracking on the other end. This person was obviously a friend, but not one that thought to contact family sooner. He kept that opinion to himself. Who was he to judge since he and Jennifer weren’t close?

He looked around for a chair to sit. He was in the squad room and realized maybe he didn’t want this conversation where others could overhear. Where a few were looking at him now.

“What happened?” he asked, walking to an interrogation room he knew was empty. That’s how he felt right now. Empty. It’d been so long since he’d said her name, let alone heard it.

Sure she was his baby sister—half sister—but with the eight years between them and the constant fighting going on in their house, he just kept to himself more often than not.

When it was time for college, he left and rarely went home after. Not to stay permanently if he could avoid it.

“A tractor trailer went off the road on the thruway causing a massive pile up. Jennifer was one of four people to die.”

“Where?” he asked, realizing he had no clue where his sister had been living.

“Just outside of Buffalo.”

He hadn’t even realized she was in New York State. Last he knew she was down south somewhere. Or at least that was what his mother had told him at one point when Jennifer had called looking for money those first few years she’d left home after high school.

“How did you know my sister?” he asked.

There was silence on the other end, then almost a whisper. “She was my girlfriend.”

His sister was gay? He never saw that coming. Then he wondered if his mother knew and that was the cause of so many fights between the two of them. His mother was pretty prejudiced. Another reason he didn’t go home after college. He was sick of hearing about everyone she couldn’t stand.

“I’m glad you called and told me. Is she buried there?” he asked, just thinking of that.

“She wanted to be cremated. I’ve got her remains here.”

“And that is why you’re calling? For me to come get them?”

“No. I mean, yes, they should go to her family. But it’s about your niece. Jennifer’s daughter.”

His sister had a daughter? No way his mother knew that. “What?”

“Chloe. Your niece. It took me so long to call because I’ve been going through Jennifer’s paperwork and finally found her will. She listed you as Chloe’s guardian.”

“Her daughter doesn’t even know me. Does she know of me?” Talk about being knocked on his ass.

“I really don’t know. I haven’t been with Jennifer long. Just six months. I can’t keep her. Chloe. I’ve got no right to her and, like I said, Jennifer had a will. But not only that, I’m just not…mother material.”

Like he was father material? “Who has her now?”

“She’s been with me for a few weeks. I don’t really want to disrupt her life, but I can’t keep her. If you don’t want her, then I’ll have to turn her over to social services. I’ve been in contact with them, because I just didn’t know what to do if I couldn’t locate you.”

He couldn’t do that. He didn’t know this child, but she was his flesh and blood. He’d never let her be a ward of the state. “No, no. I’ll come get her.”

“I’d call your mother, but Jennifer never had anything nice to say about her.”

“No. They had a strained relationship.”

“Your mother didn’t think Jennifer was gay. Told her it was a phase.”

Landon snorted. He could totally see his mother saying that. “What about Chloe’s father?” he asked.

“There is no father listed on Chloe’s birth certificate. I honestly don’t know if Jennifer knew who he was. It was a dark time in her life, she’d said, while she was trying to find her identity.”

“How old is Chloe?” he asked. He was starting to get his wits about him…somewhat.

“She’s eight. She’s a good kid. Really shy. Timid even. But her mother’s death has been hard. I think she’s going to need counseling too. I don’t know. Like I said, I just can’t handle her. I can barely take care of myself,” Lynn said, sobbing on the other end.

“Okay. Yeah,” he said, stumbling over his words. He never stumbled over anything. “I’m at work. And it’s like four to five hours away.” He looked at his watch and saw it was only ten in the morning. “I’ll be there within six hours tops. Can you just text me an address?”

“Sure. Thanks. And I’m sorry I had to make this call and dump this on you.”

“You aren’t dumping anything on me,” he said, only he didn’t believe it.

How the hell was he supposed to raise some eight-year-old girl he’d never met and didn’t even know existed?

All Of Us #mgtab @Natalieann1212

All of Us

Landon Barber thought he had a fairly normal life. Captain at the police department. Owner of his own martial arts studio. A woman when he wanted or needed one. Yeah, life was going the way he wanted it. Until he got an unexpected call informing him he was now the guardian of his eight-year-old niece. A niece he didn’t even know existed.

Kristen Reid always wanted more than she had. It seemed she never learned either. Men… all she attracted were those with complications, commitment issues, or just plain losers. One of these days she’d find someone normal. She set her sights on Landon and realized that normal just didn’t exist anywhere but in her own mind. And now she has to figure out if she can accept that.

Simply Love…Chapter One #Mgtab

SIMPLYLOVE

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

Begin Fresh

Eighteen years later

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

Looking forward to starting her life over.

To moving on from her last job.

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

To begin fresh.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“What do you mean?” her aunt asked.

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

***

 

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

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

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

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

“Gemma?” he asked.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Looks like this room wasn’t disturbed.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

“I could sleep in my car,” she said.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Simply Love…Prologue #Mgtab

SIMPLYLOVE

Simple Love

Prologue

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

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

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

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

“But, Mom,” she said.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

No one ever stuck up for her.

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