Winter Love…Chapter One…#mgtab @Natalieann121

WINTERLOVE(1)

This is the last little teaser of Winter Love before the release. If you haven’t read the prologue yet, you can catch up.

One For The Books

Seven Months Later

Kendall shut her door and got out, then looked around the parking lot. There was more snow here than in Albany when she’d left this morning.

The wind was brisk and cutting right through to her neck, so she zipped her parka up higher and fought back the shiver.

Going to the back of her SUV, she pulled out one large piece of luggage and set it on the ground, thankful the pavement was clear and it would wheel easily enough to the front door of the lodge. The rest of her luggage could stay put for now.

She opened the front door and was just amazed by her surroundings. She’d been traveling for six months and she was wondering why she went to the tropical warm places in the summer and now, in the middle of the winter, she was in one of the coldest places on earth.

She knew why, but didn’t want to acknowledge it. Not even internally.

Probably not the coldest place on earth either, but Lake Placid sure felt that way. There had to be at least three feet of snow piled in places. She’d spent her six months out of the country like she’d told herself she was going to, and the next six were going to be a road trip.

One for the books.

One in honor of her parents.

This wasn’t really a lodge. Not like she’d thought, even though their website should have prepared her. The front lobby was massive with easily fifteen-foot ceilings. There was a roaring fire going in a fireplace surrounded by multiple pieces of leather furniture that were currently occupied by several people. Some drinking beverages in mugs, others in beer glasses. Both would be welcome right now.

“Can I help you?” the young woman behind the counter Kendall had stopped at asked. She’d just briefly glanced at the entrance of a shop and a restaurant on the other side of the building. She’d check them out soon enough. At least the restaurant since she was starving.

“Kendall Hendricks. I’m checking in.”

“Ah. So glad you made it,” the young clerk said. Shelly, her nametag said.

Check-in was at three, but since she was a day late, she figured they’d have no problem checking her in at noon. She’d left New York City while it was flurrying at nine yesterday morning. By the time she reached Albany, it was coming down harder and her lack of driving ability in anything other than rain made her stop for the day and grab a hotel.

“It seems you got a lot more snow here than in Albany,” she said.

Shelly waved her hand. “We got about ten inches yesterday but that’s nothing. It’s the wind that is the killer at times.”

“I’m glad I stayed back then.”

Ten inches was normal? What the heck was she doing coming here in the middle of the winter and staying for weeks on end? It was bad enough she had to buy an entire wardrobe to come East and start her trip at this end of the US.

“Shelly, I’m running—oh sorry, I’ll wait until you’re done.”

“Not a problem, Zeke. I’ll just be a minute.”

Kendall looked at the guy that had walked out a door behind the counter talking without looking. He was standing there fully dressed in winter bib overalls with an open parka and a helmet in his hand.

Shelly turned back to her. “You’re in Room 210. The elevator is to the left just past the stairs.”

There were only two floors with rooms. Fifteen rooms on each floor. But the property held several single-room cabins with efficiencies and a few multi-room cottages. She would have loved to reserve a cabin, but by the time she decided to come here, there were no vacancies for anything other than a room at the main lodge for her length of stay. She had no desire to move around once she checked in.

All her searches told her this was the place to be for the winter. Not only did they boast a highly rated restaurant and banquet hall, but the grounds were huge, spreading out, filled with cross country ski and snowshoe trails, along with snowmobile trails during the winter. There were horses on the property if someone was brave enough to battle the cold for horseback riding in the winter, but that seemed to be more sought after in the warmer months when the hiking trails opened up too.

She was going to be brave and do it all. She was going to channel her parents’ inner adventure skills.

“If you have any questions or concerns with your room, there is a directory by the phone to call the front desk, room service, housekeeping, or maintenance.”

“Thanks,” she said, looking at the man called Zeke some more. He was tall, but with his bulky winter garb she had no clue of the type of body he had underneath. His light hair was longer, shoulder length, but pushed off his forehead. He didn’t look to be the type to secure it back with anything other than a bandana or a hat.

Hopefully. Man buns never did anything for her. She didn’t care for a guy who styled his hair the same way she could. Call it sexist, but there it was. Long hair was fine on a man, as long as he still looked like a man.

She turned to grab the handle on her suitcase, glancing back at Zeke. He’d been watching her, then he grinned and sent her a wink. She smiled and nodded, then moved past him toward the elevators, hearing him say to Shelly, “I’m heading out on the trails to look for any damage from the wind. I’ll be back in a few hours. You know how to reach me if you need anything.”

“Will do, Zeke.”

Kendall got in the elevator and gave one more sidelong glance at Zeke. His name even fit him. He looked like a ski bum, one that might be a lot of fun to get to know while she was here, if he was single. This was actually the longest she’d planned on staying in one place: three weeks.

She was friendly and had no problem chatting up the locals, employees and businessmen alike. It helped her with her work for the moment.

Or what she was calling work for the past several months. Not like she was getting paid for it, but it was occupying her time and that was the point.

When the elevator dinged, she got out and turned down the hall to her room, slid the keycard through and pushed the door open when the light flashed green.

It was a pretty spacious room. The downstairs looked like a lodge with large light-colored logs making up the walls and ceiling, but the upstairs looked more like a hotel.

Her room had a nice queen-sized bed in the center, a flat screen TV on the wall above a large dresser. She unzipped her parka and took it off, then hung it up in a small closet. Looked big enough for winter clothes and skis to be stored in there. That was a nice bonus. Not that she had any equipment. She’d be renting it when the time came.

She popped her head into the bathroom, standard and good enough for her. There were a small fridge and a coffee maker on a counter against another wall, so that was a side benefit too.

She covered a yawn, sitting on the bed. She’d planned on unpacking, but maybe it wouldn’t hurt to lie down for a bit and rest. It was just nice knowing she’d be in one spot for a few weeks and she could take advantage of actually trying to relax…finally.

Christmas Love #mgtab

CHRISTMALOVE

What happens when even the strongest are blinded by insecurities?

Former model, Noelle Bennett has decided she wants to be behind the camera instead of in front of it. She is longing for peace and quiet. No more traveling. No more crowds. No more men hitting on her left and right. Or people only wanting one thing from her. Just her and the woods around her little home, snapping pictures of the landscape beyond. A normal life for once…maybe.

Veterinarian Chase Martin has always gotten along better with animals than people. So when a sexy woman who looks like she just walked out of a fashion magazine shows up at his clinic offering to volunteer to take pictures of the dogs for his rescue shelter, he finds what should have been a great idea turning into uncharted territory for them both. Now he is wondering how he got so lucky…or is it more how unlucky he’s always been?

Fierce- Cade Chapter Two #mgtab @natalieann121

Cade

 

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

Pretend Indifference

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Good to know.” She had this!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Sorry to disappoint you,” she said.

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

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

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

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

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

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

“I know.”

 

Fierce-Cade Chapter One…#mgtab

Cade

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

Peace and Quiet

Ten Years Later

“Cade, honey. I need a favor.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“The name sounds familiar.”

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

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

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

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

“How do you know this?” he asked.

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

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

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

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

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

“Point taken.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Shhh. Don’t say that so loud.”

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

“How do you know I go to the spa?”

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

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

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

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

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

“I’m nice and you know it.”

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

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

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

“Hmm. That’s odd.”

“Why?”

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

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

“Alex Marshall?” she asked.

“Yeah. I guess. Why?”

“No reason.”

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

***

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Raspberry vinaigrette, right?” Aimee asked.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Fierce- Cade… Prologue #mgtab @natalieann121

Cade

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

Prologue

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Me too,” a softer voice said.

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

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

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

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

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

Guess not.

Holiday Love…Chapter One #mgtab

Holidaylove(1)

If you haven’t read the Prologue, now is your chance to catch up. Here is Chapter One.

The Routine

Six Months Later

“How is my favorite return six-month patient doing today?” Jill asked Kathy Wick.

“Doing good as always. Or as good as I can feel coming in here for my screenings every six months for the past five years.”

Jill laughed. Kathy was only thirty, but she had the BRCA gene and had been having preventative screening since she found out about her gene mutation six years ago. Once a year she’d have a mammogram, then six months later have an MRI. Each of those visits she’d have an ultrasound of both breasts too. All three of those tests were providing the best screenings possible for Kathy as a high risk patient. If there was something to be found, they’d find it. Fingers crossed it’d never happen.

“You’re going to hurt my feelings if you act like you don’t want to be here. I look forward to your visits,” Jill said. “You know the routine. Lie back and open up the front of your gown and we’ll start with your right side.”

Kathy giggled and parted her gown, then lay back down and put her right arm over her head. Jill squirted the warm lubricant over Kathy’s small breast and started to move it around, looking over every inch of the tissue she could.

“You aren’t as red today,” Jill said. Kathy had had her mammogram first and her skin was normally bright red afterward from being squeezed between the metal plates. Technology was a great thing, but it came with a price at times.

“No. Your new tech seemed to get a better placement today and it didn’t hurt nearly as much. Though I’ve got to say her hands were pretty cold.”

“Cold hands, warm heart,” Jill said.

“Your hands are always warm,” Kathy said back, smiling. “What’s that on the screen?”

Jill grinned. “I’m an extra sweet person, so my body is warm all over. And those are just your ribs. You ask me every time you come in here.”

“Sorry. It’s always so huge on the screen.”

“Which it’s meant to be so I can see what is going on,” she said.

She didn’t mind the questions during an exam, but she was always careful what she said. After all, she was only a tech.

Jill finished up the right side and then instructed Kathy to switch sides and lift her left arm up and proceeded to examine that side just as diligently. Kathy didn’t ask any questions this time, with Jill trying to distract her as best she could, talking about the weather, of all stupid mundane topics.

“Why don’t you cover up and relax,” Jill said. “I’m just going to go check with the radiologist and see if there is anything else to be looked at before we call it a day.”

“The old cranky woman again?” Kathy asked.

“Dr. Mills is no longer with us. She retired two months ago. Dr. Taylor is her replacement and my guess is he’ll be in shortly. He does like to examine patients the first time he is seeing their charts.”

Kathy nodded and Jill left the room, then walked down the hall and knocked on Dr. Taylor’s open door. “Kathy Wick is in exam room four. She just had her mammo and I uploaded her ultrasound results.”

“I’m looking at the mammo now,” Dr. Taylor said, his deep voice vibrating in the room, like picking at an extra tight guitar string. He’d been nothing but professional and private in the two months he’d been here. No one could get a read on him at all, and many had tried. Herself included.

“Would you like me to wait in the other room until you’re done?” she asked.

Dr. Mills hated the technician standing in her office while she looked over films. Normally Jill could go get another patient and set them up while she waited for Kathy’s films to be looked over, but Kathy was her last patient of the day.

“No, come on in.”

He was zooming in and taking measurements right now on what looked like the right breast. Jill was glad she was able to stay because she wanted to see if anything turned up on the left.

“What’s that?” she asked. “They look like calcifications.”

“That’s exactly what they are. I’m pulling up her mammo from last year and comparing the two. See, these two areas,” he said, pointing them out on the screen.

“Yes,” she said. This was the first time he’d ever talked this much to her. He sure did smell nice when she got closer. Fresh and musky with a hint of being all male.

“They’re the same size, so in the past year, nothing has changed. I’m not concerned with that at the moment and nothing on the MRI showed up six months ago when she was here either, proving nothing worrisome.”

“What about the left side?” Jill asked when he switched over.

She loved that he was letting her look at this with him. Secretly she’d love to go back to school for radiology, but time and money had never been her friend, so that boat sailed right along with her marriage. A radiology and ultrasound tech was what she was and she’d find a way to be content with it.

“I’m not concerned. Like I said, there wasn’t anything on the MRI six months ago and there doesn’t appear to be anything on the mammo.”

“That can’t be right,” Jill said, frowning.

“Why?” Dr. Taylor asked, turning to look at her.

“Can you pull up her ultrasound now?”

He clicked a few buttons and pulled up the left breast. She leaned forward and pointed to what she’d marked and measured.

“Interesting,” he said, then pulled the mammo and zoomed in on the same area on another screen, and did the same with the MRI. “There’s nothing on the mammo or the MRI, but clearly something on the ultrasound.”

He pushed back from his chair and stood next to her. He was a good eight inches taller than her five foot five, she was guessing. “Are you going to examine her?”

“Of course. I had planned on it anyway, but now even more than ever.”

“I hope I didn’t make a mistake.” She didn’t think she did. She was good at what she did and looked over that area multiple times. “Follow me,” she said.

She was trying not to show any anxiety and wanted to ask what he thought, but knew better than to do that. She was guessing a biopsy would be ordered and felt a pang of sympathy for Kathy who was the same age as she was. Jill tried not to picture herself in Kathy’s shoes but it was hard not to.

“I doubt you made a mistake,” he said before he opened the exam room and walked forward, then extended his hand. “Ms. Wick, I’m Dr. Taylor and I’m going to give you a quick look over myself.”

Jill was watching Kathy as Dr. Taylor turned to walk to the sink and wash his hands. Jill bit back the giggle when Kathy mouthed “wow” to her. She knew the feeling well, as all the women were giggling over the new radiologist in the building. Six feet of deliciousness, he’d been described as with dark hair and golden eyes. Too bad his robotic personality hadn’t followed suit with his massive good looks. At least until today.

For Kathy’s sake, she was hoping Dr. Taylor wasn’t so controlled.

The exam was quiet, which was unlike Kathy, and Jill was wondering if Kathy felt the underlying tension in the room. As if she knew something wasn’t right.

When Dr. Taylor got to the spot that Jill had pointed out before, he zoomed in and started marking the measurements. “What’s that?” Kathy asked.

“I’m not quite sure yet,” Dr. Taylor said, softly. It was probably the softest Jill had ever heard him talk. “It’s not showing up on your mammogram, and wasn’t on your MRI when you were here six months ago.”

“Do I need to have another mammogram?”

“I don’t believe so. We have both tests because not everything can be seen individually, but I’m seeing it now.”

“So whatever it is, it’s growing. Was it on the ultrasound six months ago?” Kathy asked with a catch in her voice.

“No, it wasn’t,” he said.

“How big is it?” Kathy asked her, but she wasn’t going to answer. This was Dr. Taylor’s exam now and in the past, Dr. Mills would have ripped any tech’s head off if they spoke during her exams.

“Not very big. Two millimeters by three millimeters. Smaller than a pea, but I’m still going to recommend a biopsy.”

Kathy’s eyes started to fill and before Jill could say anything, Dr. Taylor was placing his hand on hers. “Relax. Whatever it is—if it’s anything—it’s very tiny and very early.”

Kathy was taking a few deep breaths and Jill rushed to the opposite side, then grabbed her other hand. “You just want to come back and visit with me.”

Kathy laughed. “I do like spending time with you, but I was hoping not like this. I don’t even know where to have a biopsy done.”

“I can do it right here,” Dr. Taylor said. “I’m going to recommended another MRI and if it shows up there, I’ll do an MRI guided biopsy since it’s too deep to be felt. Of course, you’re welcome to consult a surgeon of your choice too and all your reports would be sent to them then.”

“Will you be in here with me?” Kathy asked her.

Jill looked at Dr. Taylor. “That’s not my position. If it gets changed to an ultrasound-guided one, then I’ll be right there with you.”

Dr. Taylor nodded. “Again, I’m going to send my findings to your doctor, who will contact you. Once the two of you have discussed everything, then we’ll move forward.”

“What’s there to discuss?” Kathy asked.

Dr. Taylor pulled over a chair and sat down to get comfortable like he was going to give Kathy all the time she needed to question him.

“It’s your choice to watch and wait because it’s so small, but I don’t recommend that. My recommendation is only that though, a recommendation. You’re young and high risk. I tend to be on the conservative side when I see someone in that situation.”

“No. I knew at some point in my life I would need something looked at closer. If this is growing inside of me, I want to know. I want it done right away too. I need to know what it is.”

Dr. Taylor patted her hand. “Then I’ll get these sent to your doctor’s office before I leave today. By Monday someone will contact you and we’ll get you scheduled.”

“Can I schedule it right now? I don’t want to wait for my doctor to see it.”

Dr. Taylor looked at her. “We can do that too. I’ll get someone on the phone with the insurance company now to get the process started for the MRI approval. I’ll be seeing you soon, so try to relax this weekend. There’s nothing you can do right now other than work yourself up. I always tell my patients to not waste their time stressing when you’ve got no control. One step at a time.”

“Thank you, Dr. Taylor,” Kathy said. Jill watched him leave and told Kathy she was all set, then gave her a brief hug when she was standing. She walked Kathy back to the changing room and then left to go to Dr. Taylor’s office.

“Thank you,” she told him.

He turned in his chair where he was typing up notes. “No reason to thank me. She was scared and I’m afraid she may have reason to be.”

“Do you really think it’s cancer?”

She never wanted to guess, but she could read the doctors well and they always seemed to know more often than not.

“We won’t know anything until the biopsy is completed, but I’ve seen this a few times and it has all the characteristics of a carcinoma. My guess is you had a hunch too. You seem to have a good eye.”

Jill nodded and kept her smile back. It wasn’t the time or place to be thrilled he had confidence in her. “That’s what I was afraid of.”

She turned to leave, but he stopped her. “Jill. Nice catch.”

She didn’t even know he knew her name. “That’s my job.”

“And you’re good at it,” he said. Then she walked away. She wasn’t sure what to think of Dr. Taylor now. Not only was it the first time he’d really spoken more than a few words to her, but his whole demeanor was different.

There was definitely more to Dr. Taylor than met the eye.

Holiday Love…Prologue #mgtab

Holidaylove(1)

Prologue

“Dr. Taylor.”

Owen turned to see the young tech in the doorway. “Yes.”

“The results of the MRI have been loaded. I’ve got the patient waiting to see if anything needs to be retaken or if more tests are required.”

“Thanks,” Owen said, turning back to the multiple screens on his desk. He was getting ready to bring up the results of the MRI when his cell phone rang.

Pulling it out of his lab coat, he saw it was his ex calling him again. At least once a week, if he was lucky, because other times it was more.

Ashley was always calling and trying to start something. And by something…that meant trouble. Since it was his weekend with Luke, he figured she was at it again.

There was no way he was answering. He was working and it would only annoy him if it was some frivolous reason or excuse.

Ashley and he had never married no matter how much she hinted in the beginning; then she’d purposely gotten pregnant hoping for that proposal.

How did he know she had purposely gotten pregnant? Because she’d told him. Her hints for marriage weren’t giving her the results she was looking for so she’d taken matters into her own hands.

He even remembered when she’d told him she was pregnant and then immediately had said, “So we can get married now, right?”

He’d explained that having a child wasn’t reason enough to marry. At that point, he’d actually been pulling away, telling her they needed space. She decided his space was a sign for a drastic measure.

It would be the first and only time he’d take a woman’s word for being protected against pregnancy.

They’d stayed together through the pregnancy as a couple, he tried to make it work, but all the things that weren’t working for him before were just magnified. Her insecurity and mood swings were difficult to handle. He gave her the benefit of the doubt that it was hormones, but she’d flat out given him an ultimatum when Luke was born. Get married or go their separate ways.

She guessed he wouldn’t have gone his separate way. She was wrong.

From that point on, she made his life hell, then tried to play Luke against him. She was forever putting ideas in Luke’s head about the three of them doing things as a family when Owen just wanted to spend quality time with his son.

This was his weekend with Luke and he had big plans. He didn’t get to spend nearly as much time as he wanted with his son, and he’d be damned if he was going to give that up. If that was what her phone call was about right now, it could go to voicemail.

She’d fought him over the custody arrangements because of his job. He got visitations rather than joint custody. Ashley had been convincing with the flowing tears and explanations in court that Owen would have a nanny for his half of the time and that was worse than if Luke was with her.

The female judge agreed and granted Owen a few nights a week—where Luke had to be returned to his mother for the day while Owen worked—and every other weekend. For the past several years it was working…when Ashley wasn’t trying to make them a “family” again.

His phone dinged that there was a message, which he’d check in a minute. Right now he had a patient waiting and he’d push his ex from his mind. No reason to make the guy wait in the MRI machine if he didn’t need to.

Once he was finished looking everything over, he told the tech that the patient was set. Then he listened to the voicemail message.

“This is Officer Smithson from the Houston Police Department. Your name and number were listed as the ICE contact in Ms. Bailey’s phone. She’s been in an accident, if you could please return our call—”

He hung up and called Ashley’s number back, not wanting to call some police department number and talk to someone who wasn’t even at the scene. With any luck, she’d answer or at least someone next to her would.

“Hello,” the same male voice said.

“This is Owen Taylor. Am I speaking with Officer Smithson?”

“Yes, Mr. Taylor. I’m sorry to inform you that Ms. Bailey has been in an accident—”

“Was she alone?” he asked, his heart beating fast enough to make him wonder if he’d pass out. It was the middle of the day. Luke didn’t have pre-school on Fridays. Chances are he was with Ashley just now.

“No. There was a male passenger with her.”

“A child,” he barely croaked out. “Was it a child?”

“No. There were no children. Two adults and I’m sorry, but both are being transferred to the morgue.”

 

Autumn Love…Chapter One #mgtab

AUTUMNLOVE

Here is the last sneak peek to Autumn Love! Grab it now. If you haven’t read the prologue yet, you can catch up on that first.

Lucky Day

Thirteen Years Later

“Argh,” Ali said, wanting to bang her head against the marker board. “I always run out of ink in the middle of writing down the homework.” Budget cuts meant she was going to have to go buy her own markers rather than use the ones left over from last year. As if she didn’t have enough things to spend her money on.

“I guess that means there’s no homework tonight, Ms. Rogers,” one of her fourth graders said.

“Think again, kiddo. Let’s see how well you listen. I want everyone to read chapter three in your history books and complete questions five through twenty on page nineteen for math.

“It’s only the third week of school,” another kid complained. She remembered those days but didn’t care. She was the teacher now and she got to assign the work, not do it. It felt wonderful to be an adult.

“That’s why you’re only getting two subjects for the weekend. You should be happy you didn’t get any homework that first week.”

The bell rang and everyone jumped up as fast as they could and ran for the door. She remembered those days too and couldn’t really blame the kids. When she was their age, this time of year she was waiting to get off the bus and start working at the orchard. It never felt like work to her back then, climbing the trees and picking apples to put in the store.

Since it was Friday afternoon, she had no plans to stay late. She would have if any of her students needed some extra help, but they lit out of the room like Wile E. Coyote was chasing the Road Runner.

“Any plans this weekend?”

Ali turned to see Corrie, another fourth grade teacher, enter the room ten minutes later. Corrie was about five years older and had been here since she graduated from college. Lucky duck got a job right away, unlike Ali who had to spend the past three years subbing while she worked on her master’s at night.

“I’m going to run to the outlets in a few minutes and then go to my mother’s for dinner. She sounded anxious on the phone, so I’m thinking she’s getting overwhelmed this year. I probably shouldn’t have started to talk to her about the haunted house yet with it still being mid-September.”

It was Ali’s responsibility to design and set up the orchard’s Halloween haunted house, but she always talked it over with her mother. She wondered if maybe she should have waited since her mother had been preoccupied lately.

“I can’t wait to see it,” Corrie said. “I remember going through it when I was growing up. I had my first kiss behind the barn there after I ran screaming from the place and my date thought that would be the only way to get me to stop.”

Ali laughed. “Did it work?”

“I stopped screaming, but the kiss wasn’t all that memorable.”

“Yet you’re telling me about it right now?”

“Only because it was the first, not because it was any good.”

“Well, I’ve got a few things up my sleeve this year. My mother never does much with it other than make all the gory bloody things. I’m not sure what is going on with her, but I’ll figure it out.”

“The retail therapy beforehand will help,” Corrie said.

“It will. I’m in desperate need of clothes, but I was waiting to see what was left of my first paycheck.”

It felt nice to know she’d have a steady check now, not just to be relying on when she was called in to sub. Then again, the orchard was packed on the weekends this time of year so that was always a nice income she could put away.

“Let me know if you find any deals.”

“Will do,” Ali said, grabbing her bag and purse and rushing out.

She walked out to her old beat-up and abused car that had barely gotten her through college, let alone the past few years, but there was no way she could afford a car payment prior to this year.

Even now, she was waiting until her old Honda died before she’d sign her name on any dotted line. Her student loans were bad enough and made her want to burst into tears when she saw that money vanish each month.

She made the short drive from Glens Falls to Lake George to get some shopping done. She would have loved to land a job in her hometown, but anything under a thirty-minute commute was gravy to her, so half that time was like a full turkey dinner that she stuffed herself silly with every Thanksgiving.

Today happened to be her lucky day and she was loaded down with bags, thrilled with all the sales she’d hit, when she looked down trying to juggle them in her hands. She must have drifted a bit on the sidewalk because the next thing she knew she was running into a wall and landing flat on her butt with her bags flying everywhere.

Her face turned red, her butt probably matched the color, but when she looked up she saw it wasn’t an actual wall she hit, but rather a man. A tall built man. Woohoo, lucky day indeed.

“You should watch where you’re going,” he said, a ton of humor in his voice.

“Sorry. I was adjusting my loot and my feet just had a mind of their own.”

He reached down and offered her a hand to pull her up, then grabbed some of her bags. “Guess you hit it big today.”

“I did. Again, I’m sorry.” He had the kindest brown eyes she’d seen in a while and they were staring right at her.

“No worries,” he said and there was a lengthy pause. Was he going to ask her name? Her number? She glanced at his hand and didn’t see a ring, not that that meant anything. “Are you sure you’re okay?”

“I’m fine. Thanks again for helping me up.” He handed her back her bags he was holding and when their hands touched she felt a spark strong enough to make her fingertips sizzle.

“Okay. Well, have a nice day,” he said. She was positive he’d felt the spark too, but he just nodded and walked away.

She sighed deeply and started to walk back to her car, turning her head to see where he was going. Into the Reebok store. Did she need some workout clothes? Not really, and she wasn’t in a position to even consider it. Bummer. Oh well, he’d probably think she was stalking him.

She shrugged it off and continued on her way.

Ten minutes later she was pulling into the orchard and shutting her car off. She made her way to the bakery, assuming her mother would be working. “Hey, Mandy, is my mom around?”

“She’s at the main house right now. I think she’s done for the day.”

Mandy had been employed at the bakery for as long as Ali could remember. “Have you noticed anything odd about her lately?”

“Not that I can tell. Why?” Mandy asked, cleaning up now. The bakery would be open another hour and then closed along with the store for the day. Most people came out earlier on, not around dinner or after. Both her mother and Mandy would be at it bright and early baking in the morning for the weekend crowd.

“No reason. She wanted to see me tonight.”

“She probably just wants to talk about the fall season. You know as well as I do how crazy it is.”

“It is. I’ll see you tomorrow.” Ali turned and walked out, then made her way to the main house where her mother now lived.

Her mother and father had split shortly after Ali’s thirteenth birthday and her mother and she ended up moving in and living with her grandfather. The best years of Ali’s life were when she lived on this farm.

Ali could have come back here to live with her mother when she graduated from college, but she wanted her own space. It was probably a stupid decision on her part when money was scarce, but she’d had a taste of independence at college and wasn’t ready to give it up.

Not to mention her grandfather was no longer there, and it was hard for her to be in his house when he wasn’t, though she’d never admitted that to her mother.

“Mom,” Ali yelled when she walked in the back door of the old farmhouse. It needed some work, but neither of them was equipped enough to do more than paint or change a light bulb most of the time.

“In the living room, Ali.”

She walked in and saw her mother sitting in her grandfather’s old recliner. She couldn’t remember the last time anyone sat in that chair. But after her grandfather had died five years ago, her mother hadn’t had it in her to get rid of it. Secretly Ali was okay with that decision.

“Are you okay?”

“Come sit, Ali.”

“How come you’re in Grandpa’s chair?”

Her mother looked sad right now. “I need his strength.”

“Are you ill?” she asked quickly.

“No, no. Nothing like that.” Her mother took a deep breath. “I decided to sell the farm.”

“What? You can’t do that. It has to stay in our family. It’s supposed to come to me.” Was her mother losing her mind?

“Unless you’ve got one hundred and twenty-seven thousand and ninety-four dollars, it’s going to go to the bank if I don’t sell it.”

Ali didn’t know what to say. Her mother hadn’t been much better than her with money. “I don’t understand. We do well.”

“We do well for several months a year, but the business needs upkeep and money to run it year round. And I’m tired, Ali. I really can’t do it alone anymore.”

Ali felt her eyes fill. “I don’t want to let it go. It was Grandpa’s. I’ll work more.” It was her legacy, all she had left of the man that she’d looked up to so much in her life, but she didn’t want to say that and put any more of a burden on her mother’s shoulders.

Why hadn’t she noticed how tired her mother had been before now?

“I don’t want to either. I didn’t even consider selling it, though it’s been on my mind for years. But I’m struggling to make the loan payments and last year wasn’t a great year. You know how it is, crops can go bad and we can’t predict it. I’m terrified of another year like that. I was approached with an offer today. One I can’t refuse.”

“So it’s over with? Just like that. No time to have a final season? No time to try to find the money?”

This couldn’t be happening. She had high hopes for the haunted house this year. She knew she shouldn’t be having selfish thoughts like that, but it was the first thing that popped into her head. It was something she’d started with her grandfather and she held that close to her chest. Something she looked forward to every year.

“This will be our last season. The guy who approached me is kind enough to let us stay on as the owners until the end of the year because he wants to work alongside of us. He wants to learn the ins and outs of the farm.”

“So it’s someone who doesn’t even know anything about running a farm or an orchard?” That’s not a way to keep the farm alive!

“He’s a contractor. He wants the land and the house and the bakery. The orchard is a bonus, but he promised he’d keep the integrity of the business. He seemed genuine.”

Ali started to sniffle. “But it’s your bakery. What are you going to do?”

“I’m going to retire. I told you, I’m tired. I’ll find some nice part-time job if I need to, or maybe I can stay on here part-time in the bakery. We haven’t gotten that far yet. But I’ll make an extremely nice profit on the sale of the farm and it will give me a lot of breathing room to make those decisions.”

“There is no talking you out of this?”

“No. My mind is made up. This is our last hoorah. Let’s make the best of it.”

Ali moved toward her mother’s outstretched hand and sat next to her on the chair.

“It’s what Grandpa would want. He wouldn’t be happy to see it the way it is right now, you know that. I can’t do it anymore.”

She looked at her mother’s tired eyes and knew she was right, but her heart was just breaking. “I understand. I just need time to adjust.”

“You’ve got your own life and career, Ali. It’s time to make peace with this. It was never going to be your life and you know it. You just wanted to hold onto it because it was Grandpa’s. I understand, but we can’t always hold onto something just because we want to.”

She knew, but a part of her was having a hard time letting go.

 

 

Autumn Love…Prologue #mgtab

AUTUMNLOVE

Here is a sneak peek at Autumn Love!

Prologue

“What’s your favorite kind of apple, Grandpa?” Ali asked.

She was sitting next to him on the tractor that he’d just shut off, looking around the orchard that she loved so much. Most of the orchard was filled with McIntosh, but there were plenty of Cortland, Macoun, Crispin, and Honeycrisp, not to mention other fruits and vegetables on the farm, but to Ali, the apples were the star.

“My favorite is the one I’m eating at that moment,” he said, laughing. He was like jolly old Saint Nick to her. White hair, white beard, and a big belly. At twelve she didn’t believe in Santa anymore, but she believed in her grandfather and that was good enough.

“But if you had a choice?” she asked again. She was always asking a million questions, or so her father always annoyingly said.

Her grandfather hopped off the tractor and reached his long arm up to grab a small Mac off the tree and tossed it to her. Another week or so and they’d be ready for people to line up and start picking.

“Right now, this is my favorite. Tart on the first bite, then followed up by a juicy sweetness. Can’t get any better than this, can you?”

She bit into the apple and realized he was right when a dribble of juice rolled down her chin. It was her favorite at the moment. “I’m so excited about the hayrides and haunted house this year.”

“I don’t know how I let you talk me into that, but I feel like a kid myself planning it all out. Your mother has all sorts of ideas for the bakery too, to have snacks ready for the night to sell.”

“I’m going to help her in there too. I can’t wait until this is all mine someday,” she said.

As the only grandchild, she figured it’d come to her. Why wouldn’t it? Her mother was an only child too and worked on the farm her whole life. She ran the bakery on site that was open all year round.

“You’ve got a lot of years ahead of you to make that decision,” her grandfather said. “There is a great big world out there for you. Running this farm is a lot of work and takes its toll on the body and sometimes the soul. It’s not meant for everyone.”

“You’re as strong as an ox,” she told her grandfather as he grabbed a ladder and started to climb up one tree to inspect the apples. He’d been teaching her what to look for for years now.

“I’m as big as one, that’s for sure,” he said, laughing loudly.

Ali paused, climbed off the tractor and looked up at her grandfather, then finally said, “Mom and Dad are fighting a lot about the farm. Is that why you said what you did?”

Her grandfather climbed down the ladder and took her by the shoulders. “I said it’s a lot of work because it is. Your mother loves it here, or so she has always said. That’s why we opened the bakery for her all those years ago.”

“She does,” Ali insisted. “That’s why Dad is mad. He says she pays more attention to the farm and the store than him.”

Her grandfather snorted. “I’ll keep my lips sealed on that comment. Here’s the deal, Ali. You’ve got options for your future. You don’t have to be tied here in Lake George. You don’t have to be tied to the Adirondacks at all. There’s a big world out there and I want to make sure you’ve thought it all through before you commit to staying here or working this farm.”

“I know what I want,” she said stubbornly. “I’m never leaving. This is my legacy.” She giggled and her grandfather pulled her into his arms.

“You’re a good kid, Ali. Just remember this conversation one day. A legacy doesn’t mean a lot if you’re all by yourself trying to pull it together. It takes teamwork. A family of sorts.”

“We’ve got a family. It’s you and Mom and me. That’s all we need. And you’ve got all those employees too.”

He kissed her on the forehead, like he always did, then pulled her into his arms. She’d never grow tired of her grandfather’s hugs. It wasn’t as if she got them much from her father. She was guessing her mother didn’t either. “Someday you’ll understand.”

Fierce-Mason…Chapter One #mgtab

Mason_3

If you haven’t read the Prologue yet, now is your time to catch up on it.

Rubbed Off

Thirteen Years Later

“Damn, bro, I’ve never seen you in action before. Even Brody would be scared.”

Mason turned and saw Aiden had walked into his home gym. The music was playing and he hadn’t realized he wasn’t alone. All his siblings had keys to each other’s houses. His parents’ too.

He picked up a towel and wiped his forehead. He wasn’t used to anyone seeing him while he worked out. He’d purposely done it when he knew no one would be around, dragging his butt out of bed while telling himself he hated every minute of it but knowing, as his mother told him so many years ago, the illusion was what worked. She was right.

And in order to maintain it, he had to stick to the routine. All those years ago, and even now, he thought of it like homework for a class. That allowed him to excel like he did in school.

“I doubt it,” Mason said, grabbing a drink and fighting the urge to put his shirt on, covering his sweaty chest and arms. He normally hid under clothing. He wasn’t as muscular as Brody by any means—no one was—but he was built. His body was by far the leanest of the group, probably the strongest, but no one said much about it when he was shirtless…which he very rarely was for that reason. No use tempting fate with conversations he’d rather not have.

All this training had improved his confidence. Or maybe it just improved his overall façade. He still never fought anyone. Years of classes and training and the most he’d ever done was some hand to hand with instructors for lessons. It was monitored and no one got hurt. No one actually fought. Just the way he liked it.

“So why are you going at it so hard right now?” Aiden asked, walking over to the mini fridge Mason kept in the room and getting his own bottle of water.

“Just my daily workout. No special reason.” No one needed to know it was dreaded as much as one of his mother’s lectures.

“Well then, thanks for making the rest of us look like pikers. When Nic sees you at the pool I’ll never hear the end of it.”

Mason laughed. Nic was Aiden’s fiancée of just a few weeks. Aiden had proposed on Christmas morning in front of the whole family. That was two of them engaged now. Brody had been first in the fall. His brothers seemed to be dropping like dominoes right now.

“She only has eyes for you. She’d have nothing in common with me other than you and I are brothers.”

“You supply the brew for our food in the kitchen,” Aiden said, laughing.

“There is that. What brings you by? Why aren’t you at work right now? Or at home in bed with Nic. Got to be something wrong with you.”

Aiden laughed. “Nic went in early. Her grandmother is there with some other staff and they’re showing them how to bake the bread for the restaurant.”

Nic’s grandparents used to own an Italian bakery, but it burned down years ago. Now Nic worked in the kitchen with Aiden, more like filling in. She was in charge of some of the changes going on, but basically she was now photographing everything for all of Fierce’s branches for marketing purposes. When she wasn’t doing that, she was teaching others in the kitchen her grandparents’ recipes for Italian pastries and bread.

“And you had nothing else better to do, after probably getting home at midnight, than to come here at seven in the morning?” Mason asked.

“Since when don’t you want to see me?” Aiden asked.

The two of them were the closest of the group. Quintuplets. And though they were all close, he and Aiden seemed to have the strongest bond. Which was funny because Aiden was the most confident of the group, Mason the least. The least confident in life in general. In school or work, Mason had more than all of them together.

None of Aiden’s had rubbed off on Mason in the past when maybe it should have though. He supposed that was why his parents put them in the same room. Maybe they should have put him in with Cade. At least Cade was good at running his mouth and Mason could have used a bit of that back then. Some smooth talking might have saved him a black eye a time or two. Or maybe one less time shoved against lockers.

“Let me just go grab a quick shower. You can go make us some breakfast and we can talk over what’s coming up on tap next and what I’m brewing for the spring and summer.”

“Sounds like a plan,” Aiden said, walking into Mason’s kitchen.

It wasn’t anything like the kitchen Aiden was used to, but Mason liked his house in the country away from everyone. He had a lot of lawn that he barely had the time to mow, but found he enjoyed it when he could. If he couldn’t, he’d call in a service. But the two acres gave him time to sit on a tractor and think of his end of the business.

The five of them all had their own specialty and they all ran it well.

Brody ran the bar. He was the loudest and the most personable. The most at ease in a group of people.

Aiden could cook like a dream. The things he thought of only made Mason’s head spin.

Cade, he was the family lawyer and in control of all the marketing and branding.

Ella ran everything and anything the rest of them didn’t want to do. All the behind the scenes work with money and paperwork.

Then there was Mason. It was all on him at times…or so it seemed.

He ran the brewery. The biggest moneymaker of the business and the newest part of it.

Four of them went away to college with dreams and plans to expand the family business and it was all falling into place. The most substantial addition was the brewery. The largest cost and biggest risk. His parents believed in him and they made it happen. Now it was the largest percentage of income with the most on the line.

His brews weren’t just sold in the bar but also bottled and shipped all over the East Coast. With any luck, they’d make their way out West at some point too. But right now he had his hands full just managing it as it was.

When he was done with his shower, he opened his door to the smell of bacon, eggs, and coffee. He didn’t even know he had bacon in his house.

“Where did that come from?” he asked Aiden, as two omelets were slid on plates, next to a huge mound of bacon.

“I brought it with me. You never have anything here. I was shocked you even had eggs. Now you’ve got more since I’ll leave the rest.”

He didn’t spend a lot of time at home, and when he did, he didn’t waste it cooking. Most of the time he grabbed a cup of coffee and a protein bar and ran out the door in the morning. At some point during the day, he’d go around the corner to the restaurant and get a good-sized lunch. His only real meal for the day. Dinner was whatever he found in his house that didn’t require a lot of effort.

“I appreciate it,” he said, sitting down and picking up his coffee. Everything Aiden touched tasted better than he could ever imagine. He’d long since given up asking how it was done.

“So tell me the plans? What are you starting now?”

It was only January, but most beers took weeks to months or even years before they were ready to tap. He was planning spring and summer brews now and would be starting the process soon. “I haven’t officially settled on anything. I’ll definitely bring back a few of the summer brews from last year.”

“Jolene for sure,” Aiden said. “Brody said that was a big hit and I was able to use it in a lot of recipes.”

Fiercely Jolene was a beer named after his mother. Sweet on the first sip, then the tartness just slapped you in the face. He thought it was funny to name it after her, so did his siblings. His mother, not so much…though she wasn’t laughing when she saw the sales.

“First on the list. I’ll make more and have Cade push the marketing on it.”

“You know Mom is going to frown over it. Cade wants to use her as part of the promotion.”

“Really?” Mason asked, laughing. “Serves her right.”

Mason remembered all the times his mother started out all nice and sweet with the five of them and then when they least expected it, she went in for the kill, making them all feel about two inches tall. She had some wicked ways with her punishments too and knowing all the kids’ weaknesses.

“Speaking of Mom, I heard you have her finding staff for you? Why?”

Mason stopped shoveling food into his mouth. “She’s been bugging me lately. Not sure what is going on, but every time I turn around she’s in the brewery just following me around, asking a million questions.”

Aiden burst out laughing. “Has to be getting on your nerves since she knows how much you hate to talk.”

Mason snorted. He swore his mother got bored and just picked a kid to torment. He was wondering what he’d done wrong to be the chosen one now. “I tried being nice and telling her I was busy.”

“Being nice has never worked with her before.”

“It didn’t this time either. She started lecturing me that I needed more women in the brewery. I know that. We try to make it as equal as possible, but I can’t help it if no women apply.”

Aiden rolled his eyes. “I’ve heard it all before.”

“Then she went on and on that the brewery is getting so much attention that the least we could do was get a woman to do the tours. Mix it up a little. I told her she could find that person if she wanted it so bad.”

His mother just wouldn’t stop nagging him about it and he was starting to think he was being punished, only he couldn’t figure out what would have warranted it.

“You’re letting Mom do that? Find someone to give brewery tours when she can’t even remember the name of half the beers, let alone the ingredients to go in it? You think that’s wise?”

“This is Mom we’re talking about. She’d never let anyone set foot in the business that wasn’t qualified or if she didn’t look under every rock to find out what she could about them. I’m not worried and I’m surprised to hear you are.”

“True. Still, this is one part of the business she is really clueless about.”

“It’s just part-time and whoever she hires, I’ll walk through with the person. If they’ve got a good enough memory, it’s easy. It’s more a rehearsed speech than anything.”

“Good luck to you then,” Aiden said. “I’d rather hire my own staff.”

“And we all know how much you love doing that,” Mason said.

Aiden was the worst of them all when it came to interviewing. He ran every potential candidate through the paces as if he were a drill sergeant during basic training. He had high expectations and it was hard for him to find what he was looking for.

“Just the same. Have fun dealing with Mom during this process,” Aiden said.

“How bad could it be?”