Fierce- Drake…Chapter Two

Drake(1)

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

Losing Control

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Fine,” he said.

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

 

***

 

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

It didn’t help.

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

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

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

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

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

“Nothing,” Drake said.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

***

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Wyatt?” Grant said.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“You’ll be the first to know.”

Fierce-Drake…Prologue

Drake(1)

Prologue

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“I’ll take a Sam Adams,” Drake said.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Gifts of Love…Prologue @NatalieAnn121 #Mgtab

 

giftofloveGifts of Love is just 99 cents!

Prologue

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Are you okay?” his mother asked.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Just open it and you will see.”

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

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

“Are you getting your computer?” Kat asked.

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

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

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

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

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

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?