Abbotts · AtoZ Challenge

Zane #AtoZChallenge

I hate this part.

The fake smiles and obligatory laughs and handshakes supposedly promising something. How many of these people actually believe in my father? Believe in what he says he stands for? How many of them are just here for potential future favors?

But this is why I’m here, I remind myself. This is why I came home. These are the people I need. Or at least some of these people will be the people I need. Some of them, hidden in this mob, are sincere people who are actually open to making a difference. People open to using their money in ways that will help others and not just make more money for themselves.

Somewhere at this party are the people I need. I just have to find them.

So I smile at everyone. I suffer the jokes of my ‘return to the fold’. I remind everyone that my father has another son. One who left years ago and is now back. His first son.

His disappointment.

In the few hours I’ve been back, it’s obvious that my brother Ethan has become our father the Senator’s, right hand. Even if my little sister’s messages over the years hadn’t hinted at this dynamic, it would be impossible to miss. They speak quietly on the edges and then move through the guests, communicating wordlessly across the lawn. It’s well choreographed, subtle. But I remember the drill. I remember when he thought I would be the one following in his footsteps. In some ways those lessons help me now.

I grab a beer from one of the coolers strategically placed around our property and migrate to the fringe of the crowd. Our family’s July Fourth barbecue has grown in size and scale the years I’ve been abroad. Some of the faces I remember. Old friends and supporters of my family, my father. Others are new, joining his circle as his influence has grown. My siblings and cousins are also all here, the only people I am truly happy to see again. But we also know today isn’t for the family to reconnect. We’ll do that after the donors have all gone home.

Our neighbors, the Nichols’, approach and welcome me home, asking questions about my travels and my future plans giving me the perfect opportunity to tell them about my idea. Joan seems particularly intrigued, even suggesting some of her friends to speak with. We set up a time to meet later this week.

Yes. This is why I’m here. I’m riding high on this first success and not paying attention to the bodies milling around me. Entering our appointment into my cell calendar I walk right into a petite brunette, crushing her foot under my much larger one and causing her to drop her drink.

“Oh, shit. My bad. I’m so sorry,” I rush to apologize.

I shove my phone into my back pocket and look up to assess the damage.

Oh, shit. Words leave my head as I stare at her, stunned. She’s hopping on one foot, eyes closed in a slight grimace. One hand is resting over her heart, the other slightly outstretched as if protecting her personal space as she catches her breath.

She’s not ridiculously gorgeous or stunning but I find I still can’t form a full sentence. This woman, whoever she is, has wavy chestnut hair hanging just below her shoulders, a smattering of freckles across her lightly tanned skin, and when she finally blinks up at me, brilliant whiskey colored eyes. She’s beautifully ordinary. Or ordinarily beautiful. Whatever it is, I find I don’t want to look away.

“I’m sorry. Are you okay?” My hands hover near her without touching as I try to figure out how to help her.

She winces slightly as she sets her injured foot down and tests her weight. “Yeah, I think so. It’ll shake off.”

“Do you need some ice or anything? Here let me help you find a place to sit.” I straighten to my full height, trying to spot an empty chair.

“No really. I’m fine.”

I glance down and study her tiny sandaled foot. It’s a little pink where I stepped on it but doesn’t seem swollen or anything. And she seems to be standing fine now. Exhaling in relief, I shove a hand through my hair and grimace.

“Sorry. I promise to pay more attention from now on.”

She laughs lightly, but still seems shaken. “As long as you promise, then you’re forgiven.”

“At least let me grab you another drink.” I bend down to pick up the plastic cup she had dropped when I collided with her.

“What were you drinking?”

“Really, it’s fine-”

“Please.”

Her eyes study my face and it looks like she’s about to argue but something changes her mind. Instead she smiles softly and shrugs before saying, “Some of the Chardonnay.”

“Don’t move. I’ll be right back.”

The party planner and catering staff are doing a great job, because despite the crowd there aren’t any lines or waiting at any of the bars or food stations so I’m back, drink in hand in only a few minutes.

“Here you go.”

“Thank you.” Her tone suggests she’s humoring me.

“I’m Zane, by the way,” I introduce myself, extending my hand to shake. Her hand is soft as it fits into mine.

“Zane… Abbott?” she asks, eyes assessing me.

I stiffen, for the first time noticing the camera bag slung over her shoulder. Shit. Is she a reporter? Or worse, a member of my fathers’ PR team? I nod reluctantly, releasing her hand, already making an excuse to leave.

“Erik’s brother?”

Erik’s brother. Not the Senator’s son.

Relieved, I relax again. “You know Erik?”

She smiles, her face lighting up and I realize suddenly I was wrong. She is stunning. Once again, I can’t take my eyes off her.
“We went to college together in California. I moved to Chicago a few months ago so he insisted I come to the annual family barbecue.”

“I’m sorry he did that to you.”

Her head tilts to the side, a confused frown on her face. “Did what?”

“Insisted you come here.”

Chuckling she admits, “I wasn’t really expecting,” she gestures to the extravagance around us, “all this.”

“Is that why you’re hanging out on the edges?” I find I want to tease her, want to keep her smiling.

“Guilty. What’s your excuse?”

“That’s where the interesting people lurk.”

Her response is cut off when my brother Erik appears at her side. She visibly relaxes and it’s only then I realize she had been guarded when it was just the two of us. She’d seemed so friendly and at ease but the contrast is real.

“Hey! Zane!” Erik pulls me into a quick hug, slapping me on the back. He hadn’t arrived until after the festivities had begun, so this is the first I’ve seen him since I’ve gotten home. “You met Kyle! Great.”

Kyle. Even her name is unique. In an ordinary way.

Erik is a professor at Northwestern University and he starts entertaining us with stories of clueless undergrads. I watch Kyle as she watches him, eyes sparkling, an easy smile on her face.

Figures the first woman I’ve been remotely interested in for ages would be dating my brother.

See this first meeting from Kyle’s perspective.

And learn more about Zane’s return home here.

Abbotts · AtoZ Challenge

Teagan #AtoZChallenge

“Get fancy. We’re going out.”

My best friend sighs on the other end of the line. “I don’t really feel like it, T. I just want to put some comfy clothes on, curl up and watch a movie.”

I was prepared for this response. “Ilyssa! Riley and Daniel just broke up. She needs us right now.”

“What? What happened?”

“I don’t know. I just know the wedding is off. She told Dad earlier today. But I’m sure she’s pretty devastated. They’ve been together forever. She needs us. We’re taking her out and having a girls night.”

“All right. I get it. I’ll rally.”

“Great! I’ll pick you up in an hour.”

Success. Now to implement the second half of my plan. My cousin Riley picks up on the third ring.

“Teagan? Is everything okay?”

I feel a tiny twinge of guilt I call so infrequently it’s a cause of concern.

“Yep. Get fancy. We’re going out.” I repeat my instructions to my current target.

“What?”

Her confusion is fair. There is that twinge again. Despite the fact we grew up together my cousin and I aren’t close. I don’t know that I’ve ever called her for a spontaneous night out before. I was a child when she came to live with us after her parents died. She was sad and quiet and I didn’t know or fully understand what was happening or how to deal with it. So I mostly just left her alone. Years later, when Ilyssa’s mom died and I was older, a little less self absorbed and mature enough to at least understand how grief works I realized how much Riley could have used a friend back then. But by that time she and Daniel were already inseparable and I had Ilyssa.

I am not going to let her grieve her relationship without my support.

“We’re going out. You, me and Ilyssa. Girls Night.”

Riley is quiet, clearly puzzled. “I – I really can’t. I have so much to do.”

I was also prepared for this response. I sigh dramatically and lower my voice conspiratorially. “Look, I really shouldn’t say anything, it’s not my place but… Ilyssa could really use a night out. Her step-father has a parole hearing next week and they always bring everything back up. She needs a fun distraction.”

“Oh. I didn’t realize. Of course. What time?”

Triumphant, I smile. I refuse to feel guilty about my tiny manipulations. They are both perfectly true. Ilyssa and Riley are both going through a rough time. And neither one is going ask for anything for themselves, but they are two of the kindest people I know. They’ll drag themselves out the door for someone else.

“Ilyssa and I will pick you up in an hour.”

“Okay, see you in a bit.”

I text Ilyssa as the cab turns onto her street and she’s just hitting the sidewalk as we pull up in front of her building.

I grin at her out the window. “You look gorgeous.” She does. Ilyssa has that rare combination of fair skin, light eyes and curly jet black hair. She works at an art gallery and the artists she is constantly surrounded by have influenced her style so she always looks effortless chic. I don’t know how she does it. But I’m constantly raiding her closet and copying her outfits when we go out. Much more fun than the suits and professional gear I have to wear on a daily basis.

She slides into the backseat next to me and gives me a side hug. “How is Riley?”

I give the driver the next address before answering her question. “She sounds okay. I still don’t know what happened though.”

“I can’t believe they called off the wedding. They’ve been together since we were kids.”

“I know.”

Fifteen minutes later, Riley hops in on the other side of me and I direct the cab to our first stop, Fizz. She doesn’t say much after her quick greeting but when Ilyssa isn’t looking, Riley makes a questioning face and tilts her head. I interpret this as an inquiry into how Ilyssa is doing and shrug slightly with a small smile.

Fizz is one of my favorite bars but I don’t come here very often. It’s a special occasion kind of place, only serving champagne and champagne cocktails. It’s delightfully decadent and ridiculous and I love it. It seems the perfect place for an impromptu girls night. The hostess seats us at a high table near the front window, the lights of downtown Chicago all around us.

Ilyssa and Riley are making awkward small talk, neither one wanting to bring up ‘the thing‘ they think has brought us together tonight. I was kind of counting on that, neither of them wanting to pry. And frankly, although I suspect they could both probably use an opportunity to unburden themselves I’m not very good with intense emotions. I’m more the ‘lash out at the object of my pain’ type and when that isn’t possible I’m the ‘jump headlong into fun as a distraction’ type.

So, that is what I do. When the waitress approaches to take our order, some stroke of brilliance causes me to inform her that it is Riley’s birthday. The faux-birthday girl looks at me with a puzzled expression but doesn’t deny it. Ilyssa, more used to my antics, hardly blinks and claps excitedly. We order a round of drinks and a dessert to share.

When our order arrives, they’ve put a candle in our cheesecake and I start singing happy birthday. Several of the patrons at the nearby tables join in and soon everyone is clapping in celebration.

For a second Riley blinks, her eyes wide as she glances around us but quickly a wide smile splits her face as she laughs and blows out the candle. Because you know what’s awesome? Strangers cheering for you. And it’s great when you’re out celebrating and having fun and people cheer for you. But you know what’s even more great? When you are sad and feeling shitty and people cheer for you.

People cheer for birthdays. They don’t usually cheer for break ups. Or when you have an evil step-father. But that’s when you need the cheers. When you can’t do it for yourself.

“Don’t worry,” I whisper going in for a ‘birthday hug’, “It’ll be Ilyssa’s birthday at the next bar.”

Meet a younger Teagan here.

And click to learn more about Ilyssa and Riley.

Abbotts · AtoZ Challenge · Lucas and Ash · Vanished

Lucas #AtoZChallenge

Damn it.

I crumple the drawing I just finished in my fist and toss it into the basket at my feet. I’m working on a pinup style tattoo for a regular client which should be a relatively easy and fun assignment. Unfortunately all I can think about is Ash. Which means the sketch I just did looked disturbingly like a certain doctor I know.

Like hell I’m tattooing her face on some other guy’s bicep. Even if I’m the only one who would probably ever know.

I’m man enough to admit she’s got me totally twisted up. Two weeks now we’ve been dancing around each other and I can’t figure her out. That kiss we’d shared, brief as it was, was one of the hottest experiences of my life. I’ll also admit that memory has been the jumping off point to some seriously sexy fantasies. More times than is probably healthy.

Jax is coming home tomorrow. And while I’m relieved my best friend is healed enough to leave the hospital it’s like a glaring countdown clock is now hovering above my head. Because when he gets discharged, I’ll have no reason to see Ash again, let alone every day.

Movement in the corner of my eye catches my attention and I look up, expecting to see Logan entering my space. She’s the only other one working right now and usually alerts me to any clients before sending them back. But I’m wrong. It’s not Logan.
Instead, it’s like I’ve conjured my beautiful tormentor, because Ash is the one poised in the doorway.

Looking gorgeous, as usual. Her hair is down around her shoulders like that first night. At the hospital she always wears it pulled back in various styles. She’s wearing a simple white sun dress with an uneven hem, giving teasing glimpses of bare leg between her knees and ankles. Tiny straps show off her shoulders and peaks of cleavage.

The cave man in me is howling. It’s like she’s waving a red flag in front of a caged bull. And yet, she obviously has no idea how sexy she is.

“What are you doing here?” My voice is harsher than I intended, my thoughts annoyingly raw. And now I’m turned on.

The sparkle in her eyes dims a bit at my tone and she glances behind her towards the exit. I half expect her to bolt but instead she squares her shoulders and steps farther into the room. Having her get closer to me may not be the best idea right now.

“Ash, what are you doing here?”

This time my bearing does give her pause.

Her momentary courage crumbles. “Sorry. This is probably a bad time. I didn’t mean to interrupt.”

She starts to back away. Shit. I’m being such an asshole. It’s not her fault I want her more than she wants me. Or that I freaked her out when I lost my temper at Ethan. She saved Jax’s life and has been nothing but good to me, confusing maybe but kind.
I sigh roughly and shake myself out of my dark mood.

“Wait.” I reach out, gently tugging on her hand to stop her backward retreat. “I’m sorry. You’re not interrupting anything. I’m just sketching while I wait for my next appointment.”

She’s stopped moving, which was my goal. Seemingly mesmerized by my hand holding hers. Which is when I realize not only haven’t I released her but I’ve moved closer and my thumb is now tracing soft circles against her wrist. Her breath hitches in her chest, causing her breasts to jiggle. She’s killing me.

“What are you doing here?” I ask again, this time much softer, smoother.

She tears her eyes away from our entangled fingers and finally looks up at me. I watch her throat flex as she swallows. She licks her lips nervously.

“I – ah – I just -” she takes a deep breath, it takes every ounce of discipline I have to keep my eyes on hers and not sneak another peek at her boobs. “I didn’t want this morning to be the last time I saw you.”

My inner cave man is now beating his chest in victory. I want to throw her over my shoulder, find the nearest bed, and show her how much I appreciate those words.

But what I do is take our entwined hands and move them to her lower back, using them to pull her snugly against me. My other hand raises to her shoulder and caresses down the length of her arm. Her shiver reassures me she’s equally affected.

“Yeah?” I whisper.

She nods, her chocolate eyes dilated with arousal.

Keeping my impulses tightly leashed, I press a soft kiss to her lips. Exploring. Asking. Wanting.

Over and over again I brush my lips across hers, deliberately never taking it farther. She makes a small sound in the back of her throat and lifts to her tip toes, trying to deepen the kiss. Her free hand fists my t-shirt as she strains against me.

I lift my head up, out of her reach and wait until her eyes slowly blink open.

“I’m really glad to hear that, Ash.”

She smiles softly and arches one eyebrow. “Yeah?” she repeats back to me.

Chuckling, I confess, “Hated that idea.”

We just stare at each other for a minute, silly grins on our faces.

“God, you’re beautiful.”

Her smile widens and she tugs that hand still gripping my shirt playfully, pulling my lips back to hers.

This time I increase the pressure and use my tongue to tease her lips apart so I can deepen our kiss. She responds immediately tangling her tongue with mine. I groan into the caress.

This woman. She goes right to my head.

Recently I’ve started doing my drawings in one of the empty stations we have in back, the ones waiting for our expansion plans to take place, and I am thankful for the extra bit of privacy this affords us. Because unless she pulls back there is no way I’m stopping.

Want more of Lucas and Ash? Here is their first meeting.

Learn more of Lucas’s history with his family here.

Abbotts · AtoZ Challenge

Kyle #AtoZChallenge

Sharp pain shoots through my foot and I instinctively cry out before I can stifle it.

“Oh, shit. My bad. I’m so sorry.”

I hear a deep baritone voice apologizing, but my eyes are squeezed shut as I balance on one foot, trying to will the pain away in the other. I focus on taking a deep breath in through my nose and feel my heartbeat, calming myself. I sense a presence next to me, the man who had apologized for crushing my foot. He’s close but hasn’t tried to grab me or steady me, which I appreciate.

Although this guy has no way of knowing that.

I’ve been jumpy ever since the funeral and seeing him again.

It’s like I’ve regressed. I cringe when people touch me unexpectedly. Even little things like bumping in to me in the subway or if my hand accidentally touches the barista when he hands me my morning chai. Opening that door again, letting those memories back in, it’s messing with my head and I can’t get a handle on it. I’ve done such a good job for so long pushing that whole chapter way down deep but now it’s back with a vengeance, right under my skin just waiting for the slightest sensation to send me reeling.

I’d already been on edge today, ending up at a massive party for my friend’s family and not the small, intimate, family barbecue I had imagined. The last thing I need is to freak out and cause a scene here.

I hate feeling like this. So on edge and jittery. The sting of my injured foot is almost a welcome distraction.

I gingerly set my foot back on the grass and open my eyes, exhaling slowly.

“I’m sorry. Are you okay?”

“Yeah, I think so. It’ll shake off.” I limp a bit as I feel it out. Now that the pain is fading I’m feeling embarrassed and hope no one else has noticed. I finally glance at the man still hovering at my side.

Oh wow. He’s handsome. Really handsome. Gorgeous, even. Short dark blond hair, a little spiky and a close cropped beard frame his face. He’s got a great face, a sharp jaw line, straight nose and piercing gray-green eyes. Immediately I want to take his photograph.

Not in a creepy way. I’m a photographer.

“Do you need some ice or anything? Here let me help you find a place to sit.” He straightens, his height allowing him to glance across the yard and the crowd.

“No really. I’m fine,” I try to assure him. I just want to forget this embarrassing interaction and blend back into the edges of the crowd.

He turns back to me, studying my foot critically. At this point it’s just a gentle throb and I’m confident there isn’t any permanent damage. Seemingly satisfied, he sighs in relief and rakes a hand through his dark blond hair.

“Sorry. I promise to pay more attention from now on.”

I force a small laugh and tell him, “As long as you promise, then you’re forgiven.”

“At least let me grab you another drink.” He bends down to pick up the plastic cup I dropped when we collided. “What were you drinking?”

“Really, it’s fine-”

“Please.”

He makes a face, as if he’d be wounded if I didn’t let him do this and I relent. Why not? He seems genuinely concerned. And I can get more wine without entering the throng of people.

Smiling at my thoughts, I answer his question. “Some of the Chardonnay.”

“Don’t move. I’ll be right back.” He rushes away, a soft whiff of his cologne lingering briefly.

I glance at my phone to check the time. Erik disappeared ten minutes ago, his sister pulling him away for some family related task. When he’d invited me to his family’s annual barbecue I hadn’t realized the scale they celebrated on. I wasn’t expecting the size of this crowd. I guess it makes sense, his father is a Senator. Going all out on the Fourth of July is probably part of the job description. A couple months ago it wouldn’t have been so bad. But a couple of months ago I was still blissfully ignoring the fact that he still existed. Now I’m constantly afraid I’ll run into him again.

I try to spot Erik in the sea of people but have no luck and in no time at all the handsome stranger with giant feet is back, my chardonnay in one hand and a beer in his other.

“Here you go.”

“Thank you.”

“I’m Zane, by the way,” he says, shaking my hand. His hands are also large but he seems to be very conscious and careful with his size around me now.

His name triggers some memory buried in my mind, past conversations with Erik.

“Zane…Abbott?” I study him more carefully, looking for any resemblance.

His face falls as he nods, losing the easy smiled he’d had since returning with our drinks.

“Erik’s brother?” I ask, delighted.

“You know Erik?” He’s smiling again.

“We went to college together in California. I moved to Chicago a few months ago so he insisted I come to the annual family barbecue.”

A mock serious expression falls across his face. “I’m sorry he did that to you.”

“Did what?” I half smile, unsure what he’s getting at.

“Insisted you come here.”

I laugh and admit, “I wasn’t really expecting all this.” I take in the elaborate celebration before us.

“Is that why you’re hanging out on the edges?” he asks.

“Guilty. What’s your excuse?”

“That’s where the interesting people lurk.”

My cheeks heat with awareness.

Before I can respond Erik finally reappears. I breath a sigh of relief at his comforting presence.

“Hey! Zane!” Erik pulls his brother into a quick bear hug. “You met Kyle! Great.”

“Yeah, we ran into each other,” Zane meets my eyes, a small smile at his inside joke.

“She’s new to Chicago so we have to show her around.”

Zane makes a face I can’t quite interpret. “I’m not sure how good of a tour guide I’ll be considering how little I’ve been here the last few years.”

“Good point. Guess it’s on me, Kyle.”

I laugh, assuring him I’m fine with that.

Although I can’t ignore the small stab of disappointment Zane won’t be introducing me to my new city.

Read the first part of Kyle’s story here and Zane’s return here.

Abbotts · AtoZ Challenge · Logan and Connor · Vanished

Connor #AtoZChallenge

I can’t get in to the book I’m reading. I catch myself, realizing I have no idea what has happened on the last three pages. Instead of going back, again, and re-reading them I give up and toss it on to the couch next to me. Checking the time I realize I still have forty minutes before the rest of my teammates are going to arrive.

I’ve got too much adrenaline to sit still, ready to get started. My team has decided to get tattoos, commemorating the end of our season, our Division Championship. It doesn’t help I’m on my own, early for our appointment due to travel schedules and thunderstorms. It didn’t make sense to go home when I landed so I came right to Vanished. Luckily, Lucas Abbott was here early and able to let me in, otherwise I would be sitting in my car right now watching the storm rage.

Shifting forward, I rest my elbows on my knees and grab my phone to scroll through my unanswered texts. I respond to the ones from my brother and my mom but ignore several from my ex. I wish Therese would let it go. We’ve been over for months. During the season the travel was too much for her and she found some other guy to spend her nights with. But now that I’m home and have a winning record she wants to ‘work things out’.

I don’t.

My thoughts are interrupted when I hear someone yelling “I’m here! I’m here!” the voice getting closer before the door crashes open and a rain-drenched blond blur rushes in. Slightly stunned, I watch as she crosses to the lockers on the far wall, stripping off her soaked t-shirt as she goes, revealing a navy bra.

“Uh – Don’t mind me.”

She whirls at my voice gripping her vintage band, I can’t quite make out which one, shirt to her chest. “What the hell, perv?!”

I raise my hands as if surrendering. “I’m just here waiting for my appointment. Minding my own business. You’re the one who ran in and started to get naked.”

She glares at me – and it takes all my self discipline to keep my eyes on her face and not allow them to slip to her hastily covered breasts. She’s a mess, soaked to the skin, eye make up running and smeared, hair clinging to her cheeks and neck. But she’s still gorgeous. I know from the few times I’ve watched this crew’s reality show that this is Logan, currently the only female member of the team although there are constant rumors that Lucas is looking to add new staff. So far though, it’s remained the core four.

“People usually wait out front. In the waiting area.”

I shrug. “Luke told me to wait back here until the rest of the guys arrived.”

She rolls her eyes but seems to loosen up a little with this information.

“You mind?” she raises her eyebrows at me and spins one finger in the air.

Belatedly I realize she’s telling me to turn around and I stand to face the wall, my back to her, giving her a tiny bit of privacy. I can’t seem to help the grin on my face.

“Crazy storm, huh?” I toss out, then cringe. Am I seriously talking about the weather right now? I clearly need to work on my conversation skills and less on my fielding. But to be fair, most the women I meet during the season aren’t that interested in what I have to say which is probably why I’ve been in a bit of a dry spell since Therese.

Logan doesn’t respond to my witty repartee and I shift awkwardly from foot to foot, listening to clothing rustle and things clang against the metal lockers. I’m about to make another effort to break the silence but I hear the locker slam shut and almost as quickly as she entered, Logan is rushing back out the door.

Well, that was… interesting.

I manage to wait five minutes before following after her.

I find Logan sitting on a high stool behind the front counter, her knees tucked against the edge and a notepad balanced on her thighs as she sketches away. I lean against the opposite side of the counter, arms resting on the top and try to engage her in conversation.

“What are you working on?”

“Some designs for a client,” she responds without looking up.

“I’m Connor, by the way.”

“Welcome to Vanished, Connor. Lucas should be with you in a minute.”

Apparently Logan isn’t much for small talk.

Her absorption in her work gives me a chance to study her. She’s piled her blond hair into a messy bun on top of her head, the ends still damp. Streaks of blue, her signature look intermingle with the silver blond strands. After her quick change in the break room, she is now wearing a black Vanished tank top showing off long toned arms and a pair of faded jeans with black chuck’s. She had also managed to do some repair work on her eye makeup, wiping off the streaks. She looks both punk and artsy.

Before I can think of something else to ask her, the door behind me dings as it’s pulled open and three of my teammates and friends walk in and yell hellos. I lift my chin, acknowledging them but stay with Logan.

“Hey, man. About ready?” Lucas comes out of the back and slaps me on the shoulder.

“Just about. Last couple should be here soon.”

He grins and then heads over to greet the rest of the guys.

“Friends of yours?”

She raises her eyebrows again. I’m beginning to get she does this right before she says something snarky. Surprisingly on her I’m finding I like snark.

I glance over my shoulder taking in the others joking around and giving each other a hard time. Turning back I tell her, “My teammates.”

She hums noncommittally and returns to drawing in her sketch book.

I grin. “You…really have no idea who we are do you?”

Her frustrated sigh is a sure sign I’m annoying her. And that I’m right.

She shakes her head dismissively and shrugs. “Sorry. Should I?”

I tap on the schedule on the screen in front of her. Then I click the mouse so it’s on the correct date.

She rolls her eyes at me before glancing back at the appointment list. I grin at the grimace on her face as she realizes her mistake.

“Well, that explains why Lucas was pissed I was running late,” she mutters. I watch as she presses her lips together.

Now I’m starting to feel bad about giving her a hard time. This is her job after all. And she’s clearly had a rough morning considering her arrival.

Then she just shrugs again. “Sorry. Baseball isn’t really my thing.”

“Fair enough.” I chuckle.

She goes back to ignoring me.

I should leave her alone. Go talk shit with the guys while we wait the last few minutes. But there’s something about her that both intrigues and amuses me. She’s so prickly for no obvious reason. I want to find out why.

“So am I scheduled with you for the tattoo? I’ll have to take my shirt off so we’ll be even.”

She rolls her eyes and glances at the computer screen. “You’re with Lucas.”

“What if I want you to do it?”

“Sorry. Lucas is the boss.” Then she hops off the stool and walks away.

I laugh out loud and turn to join the guys.

Abbotts · AtoZ Challenge · Lucas and Ash · Vanished

Ash #AtoZChallenge

Immediately I know something is very wrong.

Lucas is just ending a call as I enter the kitchen. Years together, and I’ve never seen this particular expression on his face. Something like disbelief and rage and agony.

My stomach drops.

“Luke? What is it?”

“We have to go see Ethan.” His response is distracted. He has yet to look up from the phone in his hand.

“Okay,” I assure him. “Okay, we’ll go see Ethan.”

He nods, his only acknowledgment I’m there. Increasingly concerned I cross the distance between us and cup his cheeks in my hands, bringing him back to me. Where he needs to be. Where we’re strongest. His eyes meet mine, holding torture I haven’t seen there in years. Not since he started making peace with his family.

“Hey, whatever it is, I’m here. We’ll figure it out.”

His tense posture relaxes somewhat and he presses a swift kiss against my lips before pulling me close, arms around my waist. He buries his face in the curve of my neck, another sure sign he’s upset about something.

Dread is settling in my already roiling stomach. “Babe, what is it?” I whisper. I run my hands through his hair, trying to soothe him.

He takes a deep breath before stepping back, his hands still on my waist keeping us connected. “I – I have a sister. She’s waiting in Ethan’s office.”

What?

I bite back a million questions, knowing that’s not what he needs right now. And that he is probably battling the same list in his own head.

“I’ll call Gabby and Riley. I’m sure one of them can stay with the kids.”

We drop the kids off at Gabby’s on the way. As I predicted she was happy to spend the afternoon with them. I know I’ll have questions to answer later – when I hopefully have answers – but my best friend never turns down an opportunity to spoil my children for a few hours.

I insist on driving, Lucas is still too distracted. He’s sitting beside me, fingers drumming on his knees as he silently, broodingly stares out the window. I’ve learned, with time, that sometimes he falls into these dark moods. Jax told me once when they were kids and things got bad that Lucas would turn it in. Back then he would channel it into his art and while that is still his pattern he also has us now.

He isn’t a foster kid being shuffled house to house. He isn’t a poor, angry kid that no one believes in or has any time for. Now he knows he is loved. And when he goes to this place I am there to constantly remind him of that fact so he never stays there for long.

But this.

A sister?

I have no idea how this will affect him.

I turn on to the street where Ethan’s office is located and breath a sigh of relief when someone leaves a parking spot right out front I can pull into.

Lucas is jumping out of the car before I can even finish parallel parking, his patience at an end.

I scramble to catch up with him. He’s half way through the lobby before I do. He presses the up elevator button much harder, and more often, than is required but I don’t say anything.

He turns to me abruptly and busts out, “I love you. Thank you. For being here.”

My eyes sting with tears and uncaring of the people walking by us I wrap my arms around his waist, resting my head against his chest and wait for the elevator to arrive.

“I love you too. I will always be here when you need me.”

He’s stiff in my arms and I squeeze him, listening to his heart beat.

It’s taken time and a lot of missteps but Lucas has slowly made peace with his family, the Abbotts. Some of them, like Riley and Zane, have even become good friends. But for so many reasons, his relationship with Ethan has remained… tense. I’m worried this news is even harder to stomach from this particular messenger.

Finally, the elevator doors slide open, I pull away and we step inside pressing the button for the forty-first floor. It takes an agonizing amount of time to get there, Lucas holds my hand the entire ride. This is when I start to really feel my nerves. Now, when there isn’t anything to do but wait for the elevator to make it’s journey, I realize my stomach is churning.

What does this mean? How is this possible? A sister? Does that mean they found his father? If I’m spinning like this I can only imagine what Lucas is going through. My heart hurts just remembering the anguish on his face when I found him in the kitchen.

A soft ding indicates we’ve finally reached our destination. Releasing my hand, Lucas rushes through the doors and storms passed Ethan’s assistant into his office. Once again I’m running to keep up with his much longer legs.

I enter Ethan’s office just far enough behind Lucas to see him rearing back and punching Ethan square in the face. I rush to his side and grip his arm tightly, before he can decide to hit Ethan again.

“Lucas, let’s hear him out. You need answers right now,” I say softly. He meets my gaze, eyes in turmoil. “Whatever this is,” I remind him, “we’ll deal with it. I love you.”

His chest expands with a deep inhale as he visible relaxes, nodding at my words.

We turn to Ethan who is rubbing his cheek, working his jaw, and eying my husband warily.

“Nice to see you too, Cousin,” Ethan deadpans.

“How long? How long have you known?” Lucas barks.

Ethan sighs, his expression grim.

Suddenly I realize we are not the only ones in the room. Looking over my shoulder a see another couple standing near Ethan’s couch. Lucas had been so focused when we entered he had rushed right by them.

“Years,” Ethan finally admits. “I’ve known for years.”

Oh my god.

I hear a gasp and realize it’s me. Unconsciously, I move closer to Lucas, my hand tightening on his arm. He is visibly shaken by this news, staggering a few steps back.

“How – how could you do that? How could you know this whole time-”

“I wouldn’t let him tell you.”

We both turn abruptly as the woman I had noticed before steps forward.

“He kept the secret because I made him.”

Lucas looks at me in disbelief then back to her.

“You?” He’s clearly stunned, as surprised as I am. “It’s you?”

Click here if you’d like to read about the beginning of Ash and Lucas.

Abbotts · Lucas and Ash · Sunday Snippet · Vanished

Sunday Snippet

“You were worried? About the tape and my reaction. You thought I might end this?”

Lucas stiffens and nods reluctantly. “I was afraid you might, yeah.

“I’m sorry you were worried.”

“I’m sorry you were hurt.”

She smiles at him, hooking her fingers in his belt loops and pulling him closer to her. “I know you would never hurt me.”

Brushing her hair back from her face, he searches her brown eyes intently. “You do?”

Nodding, Ash presses a kiss to the center of his chest, above his heart. “Let’s see what I can do to convince you, I’m not going anywhere.”

Abbotts · Lucas and Ash · Sunday Snippet · Vanished

Sunday Snippet

An obnoxious clanging sound permeates the tense silence of the waiting room as Luke’s cell starts vibrating across the coffee table.

He snatches it up, notes Krista calling and quickly sends it to voicemail and shoves it in his pocket. It pauses for a beat and then starts vibrating again. Then again.

Finally, he puts it to his ear. “Not really a great time, Krista,” he snaps.

“Luke, I just heard. How is he? How are you?

“How did you hear already? Logan hasn’t even gotten to the hospital yet.”

He hears his producer sigh on the other end of the line and can almost picture her grimace. “Paparazzi listen to police scanners.”

This was the last thing he wanted to deal with right now.

Abbotts · Lucas and Ash · Sunday Snippet · Vanished

Sunday Snippet

“You’re a doctor,” Lucas states quietly, his eyes focused on his hands and the bloody towel he held against Jax’s chest hopefully preventing his best friend from bleeding to death.

“I’m a trauma surgeon.”

“Is he going to make it? He can’t die.”

Ash is silent for a moment, knowing professionally she can’t make that promise. But the raw emotion in his whispered plea is affecting her more than usual. She looks at him, waiting for Lucas to meet her gaze.

“We’re not going to let him die.”

He stares into her eyes for a moment, resolve banking the fear, and nods slightly.

Abbotts · Lucas and Ash · Sunday Snippet · Vanished

Sunday Snippet

“Ash!”

Immediately Ash turns her attention to Gabby, who was frantically scrambling across the tiled floor of the lobby.

Across the floor to an immobile Jax and the pool of blood slowly growing around him.

Lucas paled and sprinted to his side.

“Gabby assess his leg. I’ll work on his chest wound. Lucas call 911 and find us some towels.” Ash began barking orders, shouldering him out of her way so she could kneel at Jax’s side.

Cold dread spread through Luke’s muscles holding him in place. Jax couldn’t die. He’d lost too many people. He couldn’t lose Jax.

“Lucas!” Ash’s sharp call jarred him out of his stupor. He met her brown eyes something unspoken passing between them, reassuring him. “Towels. 911.”