First Meeting from Crippled by Love ~ A Love in the City Romance by Dellani Oakes

First Meeting image smallestI am a big fan of first meetings. These often set the tone for the relationship, and tell us a lot about how the couple will interact with one another later in the story. The meeting between Cynthia Marshall and Ian Yarrow doesn’t go well. Cynthia’s new to the society beat, covering for a colleague who’s out on medical leave. She’s been given the assignment of interviewing reclusive billionaire, Ian Yarrow.

The door slammed open and a very angry man, dressed in nothing but a glower and a pair of black silk boxers, frowned up at her from a streamlined wheelchair. Taken aback, Cynthia retreated and nearly fell off the porch. He grabbed her with a powerful hand, tugging her back on the porch.

“What?” he demanded.

“I-I’m Cyn-thia M-Marshall from the C-Clarion P-Post,” she grimaced at her own verbal errors. She’d hammered that stutter into oblivion years ago, but it came back in moments of high stress. Like now, when a gorgeous hunk of muscular, bronzed, hard bodied male in boxers yanked her nearly into his lap.

“The reporter, huh? Might have known you’d be early.”

“N-Not early, Mr. Yarrow. Actually, I’m—I’m a tad late. I had trouble finding the house. My GPS sent me in the opposite direction.”

He glared up at her, mouth a tight line, firm, well chiseled jaw working against his irritation.

“It’s cold out here, Miss Marshall, and I’m very nearly naked.”

He rolled back inside, holding the door partially closed so she had to squeeze past it. Full chested, she had to wriggle around the doorframe without catching her breasts or snagging Fiona’s sweater. He slammed the door behind her, the frown still present as he rolled toward an elevator at the end of the vaulted foyer.

Cynthia followed, unsure of where she was going or what she was supposed to be doing. The glower deepened as she stepped onto the lift with him, but he said nothing. The door of the cage slid shut behind her, tapping her on the rear.

“Why’s the paper so hot to do an article on me?”

His question, like everything else about him, caught her by surprise.

“I-I’m not certain, Mr. Yarrow. I was t-told to come here and interview you.”

“You gonna stutter like that the entire time?”

“S-Sorry. It comes on when I’m n-nervous.”

He leaned back, folding his hands in his lap. She caught the glimmer of a platinum ring on his pinky and another, more ornate one, on his thumb. There was no wedding band, though both rings were on his left hand. Since his hands lay just below the line of his boxers, she caught a good glimpse of the superb musculature of his chest and abs. A dusting of dusky, soft hair emphasized the well chiseled ridges.

A knowing smile twitched his full lips, his dark gray eyes taking in details of her physique. She was about 5’6″, full breasted, slender hipped and well toned. She worked hard at maintaining her figure and every inch of her bust line was real. Dressed in sleek black leggings and dark red turtle neck sweater with a black cashmere wrap, Stuart Weitzman boots and chunky jewelry of her own design, she thought she looked pretty good. Apparently Mr. Yarrow agreed with her. The smile grew—as did something a tad lower down—blatantly obvious given his lack of clothing.

Cynthia blushed, turning away. Yarrow laughed rather loudly. It was frightening in the confined space and Cynthia suddenly wished she’d brought the photographer with her after all. Since she was slated to have several sessions with Ian Yarrow, she’d opted to doing the first interview on her own to get a feel for him. She wasn’t sure she liked what she felt.

He rolled down the hallway toward an open bedroom door. She could see the unmade bed from the stairs only a few feet away. She hadn’t woken him—oh no, he’d had company. Thus the irritation and anger. Concealing a smile, she followed him.

“Gonna come in while I dress?”

“Oh, sorry. Of course not.”

“I mean, I don’t care. But unless you want to see more of me than is generally considered polite, you might want to wait there.”

“I apologize, Mr. Yarrow.” She stepped back from the door.

The tight lips returned. “Just Yarrow is fine. I don’t use my first name much, except with the women I take to bed. Having them scream Yarrow when they cum hasn’t got the same impact as Oh, Ian! You can quote that.” He winked up at her and rolled into the room, shutting the door in her face.

“Don’t we think a lot of ourselves?” she said more loudly than she’d meant to.

© 2020 Dellani Oakes

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Love Takes a Swim Part 67 by Dellani Oakes

Love Takes a Swim cover smallKai’s shift is exhausting, but he cheers up once he gets a call from Paisley.

“Hey, baby.”

Trent got up quietly and left.

“Sorry I didn’t call you, it got crazy here. Then I slept like a dead man.”

“So Trent told me. Are you okay?”

“Yeah, I’m shiny. Just tired. How did you like your first hurricane?”

“Not so much. I spent it at Brill’s.”

“What?” Kai stood, completely shocked.

“TM and Sushi came over. We were pretty well hunkered down, then the rain started. Water came in under the door and partially flooded my living room. We thought about going to TM’s place, but the road was blocked because of a downed line. Instead of risking it, he turned around and went to Brill’s. It’s like a fortress here.”

“You’re—still there?”

“Yes. It’s been a lot of fun. Everyone has been really sweet. Brill promised to teach me how to rap and shoot a pistol like a gangsta, yo.”

It took Kai a minute to realize she was teasing. “Funny. Tease the sleepy, horny boyfriend.”

“Lighten up, Marcelo,” she said with a giggle. “When are you coming home?”

“Soon. I’ve got the next few days off.”

“Great. Swing by and pick me up.”

“Not all of Brill’s guys like me, babe.”

“Brill says it’s cool. They won’t give you a hard time. Besides, he threatened to beat their asses if anyone upset me, so you’re safe.”

“That’s not a threat, babe. That’s a promise. He’d do it.”

“Brill’s a sweetheart.”

“Under an unbelievably hard exterior, yeah. I like him, don’t get me wrong—”

“Don’t worry. Get your unbelievably buff exterior over here. The guys are going to help me clean up at the apartment.”

“Okay. Let me get some more liquid sunshine in my veins, and I’ll be there.”

“Have I told you how hot and sexy you are?”

“Not today—not ever?” Kai was puzzled by her words. She’d never spoken to him like that. “I’ll see you soon, babe.”

“I miss you, Kai. I love you.”

“I love you too, Paisley. Bye.” He hung up. Putting his phone down, he clunked his head on the table.

Trent came in. He moved quietly around the kitchen. Kai heard a mug click beside him. He sat up. Trent had placed a fresh cup of coffee next to his cold one.

“Thanks. So, she rode out the storm with Brill Williams and his gang,” Kai said in a sunny tone before slurping his steaming coffee.

“No kidding? Wow. Isn’t he the head of the worst gang in the area?”

“He is. But he’s taken Paisley under his wing, so I have to be grateful for that. She baked him cookies.”

Trent rolled his eyes, trying hard not to laugh. He couldn’t help it. It burst from him like a damn breaking.

“That man has a rap sheet longer than the ladder truck, and she made him cookies?” He giggled and choked. “I’m picturing Brill dressed like Beaver Cleaver. Oh, my god.” Trent wiped his eyes. “Oh, my god.”

Kai left Trent gasping and sobbing with laughter. He got dressed and gathered his things together, said goodbye to Trent, who was still laughing, and left.

Brill’s place was rather like a fortress. He and his gang had taken over an old mattress factory, converting it to a massive complex. Though the exterior was shabby, the interior was luxurious. Kai had to give it to Brill, he had good taste, and spent his money where it counted. It was rumored that his girlfriend was an interior designer. Seeing the inside of the building, Kai had to admit that was probably true.

He wasn’t sure what he’d expected, but it wasn’t what he saw. It was all very modern—lots of stainless steel and glass. There wasn’t loud rap booming. Instead, it was a Mozart symphony fluttering from hidden speakers. The floors were Mexican tile, the walls painted in subtle earth tones. Artwork, spotlighted by concealed lights, graced the walls. It put Kai in mind of a doctor’s house he’d visited once on a Christmas homes tour.

Kai mounted an open, concrete slab staircase. The banisters were painted a silky dove gray. The stair treads were covered in swatches of colorful carpet.

Brill and his girlfriend sat in the living room on butter soft leather furniture. Paisley sat next to them, admiring a picture on Brill’s phone. She jumped up when she saw Kai, rushing to him. She flung her arms around his neck, kissing him deeply.

“I missed you so much! Come see Brill and Lianna’s baby. He’s so adorable.”

“I didn’t know you had a baby,” Kai said. “Congratulations.”

“And she made an honest man of me,” Brill said, flashing a tasteful platinum wedding band. “Just shows what a man can do for the right woman, right baby?” He kissed his wife.

Kai’s expectations were further shattered when one of Brill’s homeboys came in carrying a tray with an insulated coffee carafe and delicate demitasse cups.

“I have to say, Brill, this isn’t what I expected.”

Lianna laughed. “Brill’s reputation has been well earned. Up until a couple years ago, every one of your expectations would have been right on the money.”

“I was a thug,” Brill admitted. “A hard assed criminal. Now, my boys and I are legit. We have an import/ export business that isn’t a front for drug running. The only weapons we ship are antiques, or reproductions, that are made in our factory downstairs.”

© 2019 Dellani Oakes

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Love Takes a Swim Part 66 by Dellani Oakes

Love Takes a Swim cover smallKai is called to the scene of an accident where an old lady in a Smart Car has been blown off the road.

“What’s your name, sweetheart?” Kai called.

“Gladys Finster.”

“Well, Gladys, are you ready to come down? My friends would like to help you.”

“Yes. It’s not nearly as much fun now,” she admitted, frowning worriedly.

“They’re almost ready. Can you see the truck? A buddy of mine is going to come up with a cherry picker and help you out.”

“Why didn’t you come up like that?” Gladys asked after a glance at Trent in the cherry picker.

“Cause this way’s more fun. We gotta get our fun where we can take it, right?”

“Of course.” She managed a faint smile.

“You think Mitzi would come to me? I can carry her down.”

“She’s in her traveling bag. I imagine she’s a little testy at the moment.”

“She’s not gonna bite me, is she?”

“Well, she’s not usually a biter, but we aren’t usually up in the trees, either.”

Kai chuckled. “Can you reach her?”

“She’s right next to me on the seat.” She reached over and the car swayed dangerously.

“Hold up,” Kai warned. “Tell you what, you hold still. Let me tell my buddy that you’ve got Mitzi with you. He’ll get you both out.”

“Okay, dear. What’s your name?”

“My name is Kai, Gladys. It’s Hawaiian for water.”

Gladys smiled. “What a wonderful name. Do you have any pets?”

He shook his head. “Mom’s allergic. But I’m a big fan of dogs.” He radioed Trent, telling him about Gladys and Mitzi. “I’m gonna stay right here until Trent gets here. He’s gonna take Mitzi and then we’re gonna get you out of there.”

“Okay. Please hurry. This isn’t fun anymore.”

“We’re doing our best.”

Kai continued to talk to Gladys as the cherry picker maneuvered into position. Mitzi was safely extracted, then they began the slow process of getting Gladys out. Fortunately, she wasn’t badly hurt, merely shaken up. She was able to crawl across the seat into Trent’s arms. He lifted her free, hauling her carefully into the cherry picker.

The tiny car shuddered. The trees around it finally tired of supporting its weight, dropped it unceremoniously into the muddy puddle below. Kai was splashed, but he was already wet from the rain. The Smartcar made a sick, crunching noise when it landed.

Kai climbed down, returning to the truck. Gladys was pale, but her eyes were bright and alert. She held out her hand to him.

“Thank you,” she gasped. “Is my Mitzi all right?”

“I don’t know, Gladys, but I’ll find out. Meanwhile, we need to get you to the hospital.”

“Will you take me?”

“My pal is gonna drive. Is it okay if I sit back here with you?”

“I’d like that.”

“Cool. The police will see that the car is towed.”

The doors slammed on the ambulance and it lurched into motion. There was no need to run the siren, but the lights flashed as it lumbered onto the highway.

Kai chatted with Gladys as they road to the hospital. She was clear and lucid the entire way. He gave report as they wheeled her into the emergency room entrance. She smiled, kissed Kai’s cheek, bidding farewell as they took her to an examination room.

“How’s Mitzi?” Kai asked as he climbed back in the ambulance.

Trent wouldn’t look at him.

“No. She didn’t make it?”

“What’s left in that bag can’t even be identified as a dog anymore,” Trent said. “We’re dropping it at the vet like we promised. I’m not telling that sweet old lady that her precious dog is dead. Could you?”

“No, of course not. Makes me sad, though.”

“At least Gladys is okay. We can feel happy about that.”

“Yeah,” Kai agreed, but he didn’t really mean it. He knew how much that little dog meant to Gladys.

The rest of the shift was a blur of accidents and emergencies caused by the storm. Kai was bleary eyed when it was all over. He flopped on his bed, falling immediately asleep. Not even a siren, sounding on the next shift, woke him. Six hours later, he woke and bathed, wishing he’d taken time to do so before falling asleep. He’d slept in his clothing, but some considerate soul had removed his shoes and socks. Probably Cherise, that wasn’t the kind of thing any of the men would have thought to do.

“Feeling better?” Trent asked as Kai stumbled into the kitchen.

“Kinda. What time is it?”

“Nine a.m. You okay?”

“Yeah. No. I don’t know. Point me to coffee.”

Laughing, Trent handed him a cup. “Your girlfriend called a couple times to see how you were. I tried to wake you, but you were out cold.”

“Thanks. I’ll give her a call—in a minute.” Kai held the warm coffee mug to his forehead.

His phone rang. Surprised it still had a charge, he answered.

“Hi, handsome.” It was Paisley.

© 2019 Dellani Oakes

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First Meeting from Blacksmith’s Heart ~ A Love Under the Sun Romance by Dellani Oakes

First Meeting image smallestI am a big fan of first meetings. These often set the tone for the relationship, and tell us a lot about how the couple will interact with one another later in the story. Hana Sutherland wasn’t expecting to find love when she accompanied Great-Aunt Enid to the Lazy J Dude Ranch, but she hadn’t counted on meeting Jasper, either. With her new friend, Marnie, she is sitting on the rails of the corral as some of the young men put on an improvised rodeo.

Jasper rode a different horse from the others. It was black with a white blaze on the forehead. It bucked like a demon, spinning to the right as it jumped into the air. Howling like a banshee, Jasper hung on for eight and a half seconds before falling off.

The horse bucked a few seconds longer, then two of the young men grabbed him and calmed him down. Whickering and tossing his mane, he trotted from the corral.

Jasper dusted himself off, but instead of walking back to join the others, he came over to where Marnie and Hana were sitting. Grinning happily, he stopped and looked up at them. His eyes were an astonishing dark green, almost the color of his shirt. Hana’s heart fluttered again and she felt a blush rise up her throat as Jasper casually looked her over, eyes lingering on hers. An emerald sparkle lurked at the depths.

“Who’s your little friend, Mar?” He asked. His voice was a sweet, deep tenor that caressed Hana’s ears like luscious, warm honey.

“This is Hana, she’s new today. She came with her aunt.”

“Oh, Mrs. Parker’s great-niece, right?”

“That’s right. You know Auntie?”

Jasper chuckled, rubbing the back of his neck as if remembering a rather unpleasant experience. “Well, she’s been coming here since before I was born. Yeah, I know her. I know what it feels like to get rapped upside the head by her too.” He chuckled softly.

“Aunt Enid knows how to cuff a kid, that’s for sure!” Hana rubbed her own neck with the memory. “She grew up in the spare the rod and spoil the child era.”

Jasper tossed his dark hair out of his eyes, laughing happily. He had white, even teeth and full lips. Hana had to stop herself from staring until she realized he probably was used to being closely inspected by women. He carried himself with confidence and an air of nonchalance as if he hadn’t a care in the world.

“You two eating at the big house tonight?”

It was phrased offhandedly, but Hana suspected there was more to the question than he wanted to let on. Maybe he had a thing for Marnie? In which case, it sucked to be Hana, because of the available men, he was the one she was most attracted to.

Marnie looked at Hana. “So, you want to?”

“I’ll have to see what Auntie wants to do first, but I’d like to. Do I have to dress up?”

“Casual is great,” Marnie told her. “Some of the guests go all out with the cowboy theme. One guy dresses as Roy Rogers and his wife does the whole Dale Evans thing. It’s cute when they get up and sing their old songs with the karaoke. But you don’t have to do that much. You can show me what you’ve got, we’ll get you set.”

“Cool, thanks!” Hana turned to Jasper. “If my aunt hasn’t got other plans, I’ll be there.”

“Super!” He grinned happily, his green eyes sparkling. “I hope to see you there then. Seven o’clock,” He added as an afterthought. He swaggered off, dusting the seat of his pants with the brim of his hat.

“Oh, my God!” Hana couldn’t control herself another second. “Is he gorgeous or what?” She whispered excitedly to Marnie, hoping Jasper wouldn’t hear her.

“He’s a sweetheart too,” Marnie told her. “If I weren’t so wild about Jeff, I’d think about taking him for a spin. But I saw Jeff first and the brat stole my heart completely! I’m probably just attracted to him because he’s the only man who ever turned me down. Who knows?” She threw up her hands, rolling her eyes heavenward.

“Are those eyes for real? I mean he doesn’t wear colored contacts or something?”

“No! Totally, all Jasper! Come one, let’s go talk to your aunt and find something for you to wear.”

© 2020 Dellani Oakes

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Love Takes a Swim Part 65 by Dellani Oakes

Love Takes a Swim cover smallKai drops Paisley at her apartment, before going to work. He’s uneasy about leaving her alone, and asks TM to check up on her.

“You got it. I’ll take Sushi with me. He wanted to give her an update on what he’s found. She’s right when she says that guy has linkage—his dad is so connected, it’s like a mega octopus. And shady? Wow, that old man’s an umbrella.”

“I’m really worried, TM.”

“Already on my way, brotha. I was on my way to Brill’s when you called.” Kai heard knuckles on wood. “Hey, babe. It’s me, TM. My man Kai’s on the phone. Wants to make sure you’re okay.”

Kai heard Paisley’s voice respond, but not her words. The door opened and closed.

“I’m gonna give Brill a call. We’re good, man. You worry about the job. We got this.”

“Thanks, TM. I feel better knowing you guys are there.” He paused, wanting to give a message to Paisley, but not sure he wanted to do it through an intermediary.

“Hold up a second. Lady wants to speak.” The phone exchanged hands.

“Hi,” Paisley said. “Thanks for sending TM over. I was starting to feel a little creeped out, even with Jarret and Eli outside. I saw you stop and chat, so I went out to see what cookies they like.”

Kai laughed. So like Paisley to do something like that.

“I miss you,” he said softly. “Hasn’t even been five minutes, and all I can think about is coming home to you.”

“You be safe. The weather channel is predicting flooding and high winds.”

“You should go back to the house. It’s a whole lot safer.”

A deep, male voice rumbled in the background.

“TM says if it gets bad, he’ll take me to his place. Sushi is on his way over, and Brill’s going to drop by for his cookies. TM’s gonna help me bake them.”

“Does he know that?”

“He’s whisking eggs as we speak. I love you.”

“I love you too. Be safe.”

“I’m safe and snug. You be safe.”

“Will do.” Reluctantly, he said goodbye and hung up as he pulled into the fire station parking lot.

Trent met him at the door, his face grave. “It’s gonna be worse than we thought. They predict high wind gusts, and massive amounts of rain. The entire county is preparing for the weather. We’re sandbagging the station and the recreation facility next door. Is the health club secure?”

“It’s as secure as we can make it with no windows on the pool house. We fenced it off and boarded things up. All the lounge chairs and such are locked up.”

“Good. One less worry.”

Kai stowed his gear and headed to the kitchen. He found Cherise there, slathering buns with mayonnaise.

“It’s subs tonight. I got all the stuff on my way in. I didn’t want us to be caught up short if a call came in. They’ve already got high water in DeBarry and the wind’s picking up in Deland. Should hit us in the next hour or so. They’ve got road advisories out. Wind gusts are bad.”

“Sounds like a fun night coming.”

“We’ve got everyone on standby. A bunch of the off duty personnel are here, or camping in the rec facility, preparing it as a shelter for families. Your folks okay?”

“Yeah. Brad made sure the house had a hurricane room built in. His family got caught in Andrew in Homestead. He hasn’t forgotten having the house come apart around them.”

“I bet not! And Paisley?”

“She’s at her place, but TM’s with her. He said he’d take her to his place if it got bad enough.”

“They should probably go right away. You contact them now. Don’t wait. If it gets bad, it could be too late.”

Kai made a quick call and told TM what Cherise had said.

“We’ll finish this batch up and head out. I don’t like what we’re seeing on the news. It’s already flooding—”

The alarm blared. Kai hung up without saying goodbye. Grabbing his sandwich, he raced to the vehicle with Cherise in his wake. He gobbled down the rest of his meal as they road to the scene of an accident on I-95. Wind gusts had caught a subcompact car, carrying it from the south bound lanes to the median. It lodged in a stand of huge pine trees, clutched ten feet off the ground in their unyielding embrace.

Kai volunteered to climb the nearest tree and check on the driver of the tiny Smartcar. He grabbed a pair of climbing cleats and a safety belt. Thus armed, he headed to a substantial tree, going slowly, until he was even with the windshield. Rain hammered against him, making him shiver. Water dripped from his rain gear, but had found the one gap in his coverings. Chilly droplets scurried down his spine and into the waist of his pants.

An elderly face smiled at him. He couldn’t tell if it was a man or woman, but the driver seemed fairly animated after such an experience. He gingerly made his way closer. The driver’s window rolled open smoothly.

“Are you all right?” Kai yelled. “Is anyone with you?”

“Just Mitzi, my Shih Tzu,” the woman replied. “My, that was exhilarating!”

Kai laughed, shaking his head. The wind guested again and the tiny car swayed precariously. The amused glee left the lady’s face.

© 2019 Dellani Oakes

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Love Takes a Swim Part 64 by Dellani Oakes

Love Takes a Swim cover smallAfter a long day cleaning up and meeting with the insurance adjuster, everyone is tired and turns in early. Paisley bids goodnight to Cody.

She smiled. “Thanks, Cody. He’s everything right about mine too. It’s going to be weird heading back to my place tomorrow.”

“Mom and Dad wouldn’t mind if you stayed,” he said. “You’re like family, you know. We all love you.”

“I love you guys too. It would be hard on Kai having me so close—and no privacy.”

“True. No alone time would suck a lot. Invite him to stay with you,” he murmured, leaning over conspiratorially. “Night, Pais.” He gave her a hug and a kiss on the cheek.

Paisley said goodnight and shut her door, leaning against it. Asking Kai to move in with her had appeal. However, it would raise certain expectations she wasn’t quite ready for. She cared deeply for him, even loved him, but she wasn’t sure she could make the physical commitment he wanted. Not yet.

Once she was ready for bed, Paisley lay in the dark, staring at the ceiling. Her mind eventually dove into the deep, fearsome chasm she had tried so hard to cover up. Finding out about TJ’s mother upset her. She hated to think that anyone had endured that kind of abuse for so many years. She hoped that they could help, and soon.

Troubled, she rolled to her side, but couldn’t get comfortable. She wanted Kai’s arms around her to keep the monsters at bay. She couldn’t keep waking him to watch over her like a little girl. Eventually, he’d get fed up with her being such a nuisance. She couldn’t bear the idea that he’d reject her. It didn’t occur to her that Kai would never treat her like that. Years of enduring Ralph’s jealous rages had blinded her to some of Kai’s best qualities. Eventually, she slept, but not well. Someone tapped on her door around 7:00. Tempest stuck her head around the door.

“Sorry to bother you, but Dad wondered if you’d be willing to step in for Mom today. He knows you can’t be on your feet for another day or so. And it’s easier to find someone to take classes than it is to find someone smart enough to do the office work.”

“Sure. Nina’s shown me some things already. Without the pool, it will be easier for me. Yeah.”

“Great! We’ll all be around, so we’ll all pitch in.”

“Thanks, Tempy. Let me get a quick shower and I’ll be down.”

“No problem. Take your time. We’re opening a little later today. We won’t start regular hours until Monday.”

“Okay.”

It was strange being in charge. Paisley wasn’t sure if she liked it or not, but found she was good at it. Brad dropped in around noon, bringing them lunch. He headed back to the house to be with Nina, promising a nice dinner when they got home.

The day went well. It was blissfully uneventful and went smoothly. Tired, but happy, the young people headed home. Brad had a good meal ready, so they sat down to dinner together.

Kai was a bit disappointed that he had to go to work with the EVAC that night. He’d wanted to spend time with Paisley, but didn’t feel right about asking for time off, when it wasn’t urgent. More bad weather was expected, as the storm made landfall on the northwest coast. They might not take a direct hit, but bad weather seemed to come on the lea side of the storm.

He’d wanted her to spend the night at his parents’ house, but Paisley felt they’d been more than generous. Reluctantly, Kai kissed her goodbye.

“I’ll call you before I go to bed,” he promised. “If it’s not too late, that is. I wish you were staying at Mom’s.”

“I’ll be fine. I have Brill and the guys watching over me. I’ll be okay.”

“Call if you need me. No matter what time it is.”

“Will do. You’d better get going.” She kissed him again, before closing the door.

Kai didn’t move until he heard the deadbolts and the chain. Slowly, he walked to his Jeep. He glimpsed a couple of Brill’s guys in a vintage GTO about halfway down the block. He stopped as he drove down the street. The driver lowered his window.

“Yo, Kai. We got your lady’s back,” the man assured him.

“Seen anyone around?”

“Thought we saw that freaky dude around again, the one from the picture, but he turned out to be the boyfriend of the building manager. Not seen her ex, though. Brill even put in a couple security cameras.”

“Really? He didn’t need to do all that.”

“He takes family seriously,” the man replied. “And to TM, you’re like family—so’s Paisley. We got this, dude. You get on to work.”

“How did you know?”

The young man chuckled. “Dude. White shirt, shiny name tag…. I’d have to be a moron not to figure it out.”

“I could be going home,” Kai said with a chuckle.

“No, man. Lady that pretty, if you weren’t working, you’d be all up in that.” He winked. “Go. We got this.”

Kai thanked them and left. He felt uneasy. Something didn’t sit right. Even with Brill and his men, he didn’t like how it felt. Trying to pass it off as paranoia, he called TM.

“Yeah, Kai. Sup?”

“Can you drop by and check on Paisley? Brill’s guys are watching, but I’d feel better if someone was there.”

“Yeah, sure. You think her ex is around?”

“I doubt he’d do anything himself. But he’s rich, connected. He could easily send someone to do it for him.”

© 2019 Dellani Oakes

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First Meeting from Only Time by Dellani Oakes

First Meeting image smallestWhen I start looking for a new couple, I try to mix it up some. It’s easy to bring people who work in the same place, together. It’s also easy if they travel in the same social circles. I like to introduce couples who are unlikely to meet under regular circumstances. I also like to switch up their jobs, so they’re unique and unexpected. So it is with Zander and Gretchen. He’s a fashion designer and she’s the head carpenter for the company who’s building his catwalk. They meet at Zander’s studio.

Inside, chaos had returned. Garry took a crema to Rose, leaving Zander to look over the catwalk set up. A woman with black hair, approached. She was dressed in well worn jeans, a black, sleeveless top, and thick soled boots. She was about 5’7”, with a lean muscled build.

Mr. Wilkes?”

Yes?”

Gretchen Sanderson.” She held out her hand.

Zander didn’t know whether to shake it, or kiss it. She was beautiful. Breathtaking, really. Her black hair had a blue undertone that looked completely natural. Her light complexion set off her amber eyes.

How do you do?” He held her hand several seconds longer than necessary, while he stared at her face. “You are—perfection. Have you been back to see Rose about what outfit you’re wearing?”

The woman looked at her clothing, then back at him. “Am I not dressed all right?”

You need to get back there for your fitting. The ensembles are roughed in, but have to be fitted before you can go on stage.”

Tossing back her head, the woman laughed. Seeing his puzzled expression, she sobered a little.

I’m not a model, Mr. Wilkes. I’m the head carpenter. I had a few questions about the catwalk design. I don’t know who did the plans, but—I don’t think they’re completely safe.”

Broken from his appreciative reverie, he dropped her hand. “Not safe? How?”

I’ll show you. This way.” Tipping her head, she led him toward the stage area.

What’s wrong?”

The platforms are made with half inch plywood. We didn’t build these,” she gestured to her co-workers. “They’re going to buckle and bend when more than one person stands on them. I can either redo the tops, or reinforce with more supports underneath.”

Which do you recommend?”

Retopping them with one inch ply.”

How behind schedule will that put you?”

Pressing her lips together, she tipped her head to the left. “No more than a couple hours. The superstructure is fine. We just have to retop them. My guys are good and quick. There are only six of them, it won’t be that much trouble. We’re building the rest to my specs. I hope that’s all right.”

That’s fine. I want this done right. The fashion industry may be cut throat, but it’s not usually lethal.”

She smiled, dark eyes twinkling. “Good point. Thank you. We’ll get right on that.” Whistling sharply, she gestured to a couple men who were about ten feet away.

Retop those,” she ordered.

Yes, Boss,” they chorused.

They walked over, uncoupling the platforms quickly.

Zander chuckled. “My crew calls me that, too.”

I insisted. I’m not in the military, so I don’t really like being called ma’am.”

I can understand that. Are there any other problems you needed to discuss?”

Let me check.” She pulled out a small notepad from her back pocket. “Yes.” She went on to point out a few things that needed to be changed. “Again, I don’t know who did these plans, but they kinda had their head up their ass.”

There should be a name on the floor plan.”

She shook her head.

Check with my business manager, if you need to know. She handles those details. I just sign the checks.”

Not that important, except you don’t want to use them again.”

Then we’d better find out. Got a minute? We’ll find her together. I need to tell her that I fired a seamstress, and have her find another one.”

Sure. The guys are good, they can work without me breathing down their necks. In fact, they do better if I leave them alone.”

He chuckled, nodding. “My crew, too. I learned a long time ago, to let them do their jobs, since they sew way better than I do.”

I thought designers had to be able to sew, and stuff.”

Oh, I can, they’re just better.” He escorted her up the steps and through to the back. “Does the backstage need to be redone, too?”

No. My crew did that work. It’s just the ones up front.”

You didn’t do that assembly?”

No. Your manager fired the others, for some reason. But she was specific that the plan had to be followed.”

Hmmm…. Okay. Anyone seen Pamela?” he asked the room.

Office,” Melodie replied. She was wearing a different outfit now. Rose was pinning it into place.

Thanks.”

Allowing Gretchen to precede him, he guided her to Pamela’s office. As he opened the door for her, he touched the small of her back. A spark hit the tips of his fingers. Hissing a little, he pulled his hand away. Gretchen jumped.

Are you all right?” Zander asked, deeply concerned.

Yes, fine. I must have picked up some static.”

©2020 Dellani Oakes

Love Takes a Swim Part 63 by Dellani Oakes

Love Takes a Swim cover smallCody has shared with Paisley and Kai that TJ and JT’s dad is abusive, and hits their mother. She offers to talk to them about her own abuse.

Cody absorbed all this quietly, nodding while he thought. “Okay. Yes. I want you to talk to them. But Kai, you have to keep TJ from hitting me.”

His older brother chuckled. “No problem, Cody. I’ll run interference while Paisley talks.”

“Thank you,” Cody said quietly as the Jeep pulled into their driveway. He scurried off before the others could respond.

Kai helped Paisley out of the Jeep and held her close a moment. “Thank you.”

“I hope we can help. No one should be in that sort of situation. You can’t believe how helpless you feel.”

“No, I can’t. I never understood how a woman could stay with someone who beat them.”

Paisley stiffened, her chin rising defiantly. “Do you think we’re weak? Or that we love them so much we can’t see their faults?”

“No. I think you get in over your heads. You’re so afraid of doing or saying the wrong thing, you do nothing because, you can’t see an escape. But you escaped, Paisley. You got away and the twins’ mom needs to know that.”

“I agree.”

“We’ll talk to them as soon as we can,” he said softly.

Conversation stopped while he kissed her.

Since it was late, Paisley spent the night once more. Nina was asleep, but Brad was still up. He wanted to hear about Cody and Marianna’s first date.

“Sounds like you did okay,” he told his son, ruffling his hair. “You keep being polite and gentlemanly, you’ll go far.”

“Ed’s a good guy,” Kai explained. “He just wants his sister to be treated right.”

“That’s what I want to do,” Cody said, rather exasperated. “Why won’t anyone believe me?”

“I believe you,” Paisley said, giving him a hug. “You’re a great guy,” she said, kissing his cheek. “Marianna is very lucky to have you.”

“Thanks.” His dark eyes glittered happily. Touching his cheek, he went upstairs whistling.

The following day, cleanup began at the pool. The insurance adjuster managed to find time to come see them.

“Could have been worse,” he said as he eyed the damage to the pool house. “Thank God no one was hurt. This is messy, but it’s just stuff.”

“Agreed,” Brad said. He’d taken the day off to deal with the adjuster and other details. “More bad weather is coming,” he said, eyeing the sky. “Have you heard a report?”

“They said on the news the storm makes landfall tomorrow night. They expected it to hit at Gulf Shores, Alabama, but it’s turned east. They think it will make landfall between Panama City and Port St. Joe,” the adjuster replied. “I’m gonna get some pictures, then you can get on with the cleanup. The processing could take some time, what with all the damage around the county. I’ll do my best.”

“That’s all we can expect,” Brad replied. “Thank you.”

After the adjuster left, they worked a while longer on cleaning up the rest of the glass in the pool house. Kai’s tower was unsalvageable, so they took it apart and put it in the dumpster along with the other trash.

Damage to the main building was minimal. With luck, they would be able to open it the following day. Brad, Cody and Kai erected a fence between the building and the pool. The area was unsafe and they didn’t want any children wandering in there accidentally. That accomplished, they headed home.

Paisley had spent the day cleaning the house. Nina was better, but felt traumatized by her experience. Tempest had stayed close to her all day. For some reason, her daughter’s presence calmed her more than anything. The two young women had fixed a nice meal, but it wasn’t quite ready.

The men went to clean up, arriving in the dining room as the timer went off in the kitchen. The boys helped serve while Brad helped Nina get settled. The meal was a bit more subdued than some. Nina didn’t feel much like laughing. She was so deep into her sullen mood, it was hard to shake her free. They tried, but it was obvious she wasn’t interested in leaving her sorrows behind.

“It’s just something she’ll have to snap out of,” Brad said. “I set up an appointment with a counselor. I think she needs to speak to someone. The idea that she could have been in the pool house—that freaked her out.”

“I’d never let that happen,” Kai said.

“I know. But she’s caught up in the what if scenario. She’s second guessed her actions and is over thinking it.” He shook his head. “It’s going to take some time for her to get past this.”

“Meanwhile, she’ll go back to work, won’t she?” Kai asked, alarmed.

“I don’t know. I hope so.” Brad sighed. “We’ll figure something out.” He said goodnight and went to bed.

Everyone opted for an early night. Kai’s sleep schedule had been so bizarre lately, he was exhausted. He gave Paisley a goodnight kiss, yawned and went to his room. She watched him with concern, which Cody didn’t miss.

“He’s okay,” Cody assured her. “Things aren’t usually this hectic.”

“I feel like it’s my fault everything is falling apart. Since I came into your lives, it’s been nothing but chaos.”

Cody chuckled. “That’s coincidence, Paisley. For my brother, you’re everything that’s right with his life.”

© 2019 Dellani Oakes

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Love Takes a Swim Part 62 by Dellani Oakes

Love Takes a Swim cover smallMarianna didn’t want to leave, but she and Cody made plans to spend the day at the beach. That seemed to satisfy her. They said good night and drove off in opposite directions.

“Thanks for coming along,” Cody said in the back seat. “Takes the heat off a little. I thought Ed was gonna kill me.”

“He’s a good man,” Paisley said. “He’s like you two, he worries about his little sister. Treat her right, you’ll get along with him fine.”

“Yeah, but what’ll he do if we break up?”

“Depends on if you dump her, or she dumps you,” Kai said. “And timing. If you sex up his sister and ditch her, you’re a dead man. Pure and simple. If Ed didn’t kill you, I’d do it on general principle.”

Cody shivered. “I’d never do that. You know me better than that.”

“I do. You’re a good man, Cody.”

There was a prolonged silence in the back seat while Cody digested that compliment.

“Thank you. I’ve tried hard to be like you….”

Kai cleared his throat. Paisley could tell that his brother’s pronouncement had touched him.

“I guess we both chose well, then, cause I’ve tried to be like Brad. He’s the best man I know.”

Cody didn’t speak for a moment. “Not your dad?”

“My dad’s cool, but he’s not the man who raised me. Brad is. He’s done more for me than my father ever has. He’s the one who taught me to drive, told me the facts of life, and made sure I used my manners at the dinner table. He also set a great example for how to treat a lady, by the way he’s always treated our mom. There were nights I lay awake wishing he was really my father—then it hit me once—he is. He might not have given me life, but he’s my father. You won’t find a better example—not even me.”

“I didn’t know that,” Cody said quietly. “Thanks, Kai. That means a lot to me.”

Kai stopped for a light and grinned at his brother in the rear view mirror. “You’re not so bad, for a kid brother,” he remarked speculatively. “You’re pretty okay. Now TJ….” He blew a disgusted breath as the light changed.

“What’s wrong with him?” Cody went immediately on the defensive. “You’ve never liked him.”

“That’s because he’s a dumb ass, and he doesn’t think before he acts. One day he’s going to get you into serious trouble. I may not be around to pick up the pieces.”

“He’d never get me in trouble. He’s my best friend.”

“Who would throw you under a bus to save himself.”

“He wouldn’t!”

“Okay,” Kai said in a disbelieving tone. “Who broke the windshield on Old Man Curry’s classic Pontiac Gran Prix?”

“TJ.”

“Who got blamed, and had to work off the cost doing Curry’s yard work for two months?”

“Me.”

“Who pulled the fire alarm at the school, because he didn’t want to take the science test?”

“TJ.”

“And who got blamed and suspended for a week?”

“Okay, you’ve made your point. TJ’s an ass, but he needs me.”

“Why?”

Because he’s an ass. No one else even likes him much. If it weren’t for me and JT, he wouldn’t have anyone. TJ’s really shy and he can’t talk to people like JT can. I know he doesn’t act like it, Kai. But he’s a good friend. He’s pulled me out of some scrapes.”

“That he got you into?”

Cody laughed harshly. “Yeah, sometimes. Usually…. It hasn’t been easy for him, though. You know their dad has a bad drinking problem, right? And he sometimes….”

“Sometimes what?”

“He sometimes hits their mom. So JT and TJ take turns goading him so he’ll leave her be. One time, he got hit so hard, he lost the sight in his eye for awhile. He still doesn’t see quite right.”

“Do Mom and Dad know this?”

“No,” Cody said softly, hanging his head. “The guys told me not to tell. TJ will get really pissed if he finds out I said anything—even to you.”

“Cody, if his dad is that bad, he could hurt someone—including you, if you’re over there. Mom and Dad need to know. I’ll tell them, if you don’t want to.”

“I can. I just don’t know what to say.”

“We’ll figure it out.”

Paisley turned to Cody, putting her hand on his arm. “We all will, Cody. We’ll talk to them together.”

“You’d do that for me?” His dark eyes were wide, tears hovering in the corners.

Paisley nodded. “I’ve had some experience with abusive pricks, who drink, and take out their anger on women. It gives me a clear perspective. I’ll even talk to the twins, if you think it will help.”

“I dunno, TJ’s gonna be mad….”

“He lost his eyesight to protect his mother. I wish I’d had someone to protect me. Ultimately, though, she has to save herself. Her boys can’t do it for her, and neither can you.”

© 2019 Dellani Oakes

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First Meeting from The Great Mandrake ~ A Florida Families Romantic Suspense by Dellani Oakes

First Meeting image smallestDrake Mann, also known by this stage name, The Great Mandrake, works part time as a comic magician. A young father, he also takes care of his older sister’s son, Davy. He goes to school to pick up his nephew, only to have him not walk out the door. Worried, he talks to the teacher, Amalia Capo.

Drake looked for Davy, but he wasn’t out yet. Poking his head in the room, he saw his nephew at his desk, hands folded in front of him.

“Is he in trouble?” Drake asked the teacher. He recognized her as the redhead he’d seen in the office that morning.

“No, he knew I needed to speak to you. He assured me this was the best way to get your attention.”

Drake chuckled, grinning at the young woman as he ruffled Davy’s hair. “I’m all yours. What do you need?”

“As you may know, the winter carnival is tonight.”

“I didn’t know.”

“Well, I was put in charge of organizing it and the main entertainment canceled on me this morning. Davy tells me you’re a magician?”

“Yeah.” He frowned at his nephew. “What did he volunteer me for?”

“Nothing. He said I should ask if you could fill in?” She opened big blue eyes, giving him the best sad puppy look in the world. She had to have practiced, it was too slick.

“Umm….”

“Please? It’s a paying position. Most things are voluntary, but I’d booked a clown for tonight and he insisted on payment. Then he called and canceled.”

“Did you pay him anything in advance?”

“No, thank God. The school won’t pay in advance.”

“Good thing. I’ll have to see if anyone can watch the kids.”

“Oh, bring them. It’s very kid friendly. I will personally watch your daughter while you perform. Then our class is singing some Christmas songs with the other second grades. He didn’t tell you?”

“He could have. I’ve been real busy. Sure. I’d be happy to.”

“Thank you! You’re wonderful!” She flung her arms around his neck, kissing his cheek.

Shelby hugged Miss Capo, kissing her cheek too. They stood in a little cluster, arms around one another, until Miss Capo blushed. She stepped away from Drake.

“I’m so sorry. You don’t know how much I’ve been sweating this. If you hadn’t said yes, I don’t know what I would have done. Probably gotten out my baton and twirled it for twenty minutes. Can you be here ready to go on at seven?”

“Yeah. No problem. I’m happy to help out. See you at six thirty.”

“Thank you again, Mr. Mann. You’re a lifesaver.”

“Call me Drake. You’re very welcome, Miss Capo. What flavor am I?”

“Flavor?”

“Lifesaver.”

She giggled, blushing. “What flavor do you want to be?”

“I dunno, what’s your favorite?”

“I was always partial to butterscotch.”

He nodded. “I like Wint-O-green. They spark in the dark.” He winked, giving her a crooked smile as he walked out the door.

Davy followed closely as they walked back to the car. “Were you flirting with my teacher?”

“What makes you say that?”

“The silly banter and the wink.”

“Banter? Where’d you hear that?”

“On television. Were you?”

“Was I what?”

“Flirting?”

“No, kid, we were just talking. Not every conversation between a man and woman is flirting.”

“I also heard on Discovery Channel, that flirting is a precursor to sexual relations.”

“Dear God! What show was this?”

“Something on human behavior.”

“Davy, that’s a tad mature for you to be watching. No more of that, okay? And don’t ask anyone else these questions.”

“Miss Capo said it’s good to ask questions. That’s how we learn.”

“Yes, but not about that. Don’t even ask Miss Capo.”

“Can I ask her about flirting?”

“No. She’ll think I was hitting on her. Please, don’t mention it.”

“You didn’t hit her.”

“Not gonna explain. When you’re older, I’ll tell you all about it. Not today.”

“Okay.” That seemed to satisfy his nephew.

© 2019 Dellani Oakes

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