AtoZ Challenge · Macy and Hunter · Vanished

Vaughn #AtoZChallenge

I hop onto a stool and watch my sister whip together some heavenly smelling chocolate concoction. I grab a chocolate off the tray and pop it into my mouth, humming appreciatively.

“Hey! Those are for tomorrow.”

I grin at her scolding. My sister is an amazing pastry chef. She recently reopened the bakery our Grandma left her after she passed. She’s doing a great job wooing back all of the old neighborhood customers, which isn’t surprising considering she had made cookies and cakes at Grandma’s side since we were kids. Keeping the place going has always been her dream.

Tonight though we’re in her kitchen as she makes a collection of cakes, cookies and pies for an old high school friends baby shower. She had taken some small catering jobs while waiting for all the permits to reopen and this is a left over commitment from that in between time.

“So, are we going to talk about it?” I ask her.

“Talk about what?” she asks over her shoulder. She sets a timer and swings a tray into her oven. I don’t really cook. I can never follow what she’s doing when she’s in the kitchen. She moves in circles but somehow always manages to coordinate multiple projects at once, a constant elaborate time line in her head.

“The fact that you hooked up with Macy?”

It’s only because I’m watching her so carefully that I see her stiffen, a slight catch in her smooth dance. “What? What are you talking about?”

I roll my eyes. Hunter has always been a bad liar. She was never able to get away with anything when we were kids. I mean, she tried. Our parents always knew.

“Please. You think I didn’t see the tension between you two at the funeral?”

She brushes her hands on a towel and then finally turns to face me. “Really? I thought we were pretty normal.” She’s trying hard not to smile, I can tell.

“I knew it! I can’t believe you didn’t tell me! You finally realize your teenage fantasy and you don’t say anything? We are no longer sisters.”

She laughs, then shrugs. “It just happened. He came over the night he found out about his brother and Christy.”

“And…?” I can’t believe she’s being so vague. Macy is practically a legend in our neighborhood. Back in high school everyone had a crush on him and I mean everyone. Now that he’s on a reality TV show his fan club has only increased. Somehow, all this attention never went to his head. Mace is actually one of the most down to earth, nicest guys I’ve ever known. Hunter deserves a good guy. In my opinion, one I’ve made no secret of, she tends to date guys that aren’t good enough for her. Not awful. They treat her fine. But boring. With a capital B.

I seriously doubt Macy could ever be boring.

She shrugs again. “And… nothing. He’s got a lot going on right now, Vaughn. I don’t think dating is high on his priority list. It was just a night.”

I lean back with a huff. “That is seriously disappointing, Hunter.”

She laughs and one of her timers goes off.

Grabbing a tray of cupcakes from the counter she sets them in front of me. “Here. Make yourself useful.”

She hands me a couple full pastry bags and tips and tells me to start decorating. Grandma taught me some tricks too.

“Have you talked to him since the funeral?”

“Vaughn,” she says, warning in her tone.

I focus on piping various patterns on the cupcakes. “I’m just asking.”

“Don’t go playing matchmaker. Macy and I are fine. We’re friends,” she says firmly.

“Fine, fine. I’ll drop it.”

“I’m serious, Vaughn.”

“I believe you, Hunter.”

She rolls her eyes in exasperation and turns her attention back to her desserts. I continue piping. And start plotting.

No way I’m dropping it. This is so happening.

Read about Hunter and Macy’s night together here and here. And the funeral here.

AtoZ Challenge · Jax and Riley · Vanished

Riley #AtoZChallenge

Oh god. What did I do?

My head is pounding and I cringe squeezing my eyes tight against the light.

Reluctantly, I blink open and realize I am not where I am supposed to be. I don’t recognize the bed I’m in or the industrial style loft it’s located in. I sit up in a rush but have to grab my head when the sudden movement clashes through it painfully.

And it all comes back in a rush.

Daniel. Alcohol. Lots of alcohol. Vanished. Jax.

Oh god.

This is so embarrassing.

I am not a drinker. I hardly ever drink. And I haven’t gotten drunk in years. Not since college.

And now, last night.

And Lucas’s best friend witnessed the whole thing.

I bury my face in my hands and shake my head in denial.

I’m still in my dress from yesterday. My mouth is dry and stale. I can only imagine the state of my hair. But somehow I have to gather what’s left of my dignity and get out of here.

And I should probably thank Jax for taking care of me last night. I’m sure it was not on his To Do list.

Gingerly, I move to the edge of the bed, testing the sturdiness of my stomach. I notice a glass of water and some aspirin on the nightstand and I swallow them down gratefully. Then chug the entire glass of water. I am so dehydrated.

Well done, Riley. Way to handle your life like a champ.

Now that I’ve managed to get to my feet I take in a bit more of my surroundings.

The loft is huge, largely unfinished. The concrete floor is polished, exposed brick make up three of the four walls broken up by huge nearly floor to ceiling windows. He’s divided the ‘bedroom’ from the rest of the space with a large screen. Peaking around I see a cluster of couches in the center with a TV and gaming console. The far side is separated by another large screen hiding whatever is behind it.

One of the couches has a pile of blankets, indicating that is where Jax spent the night, but he’s nowhere to be found. I can’t decide if I’m relieved or disappointed he’s not here.

I can never really decide what it is with Jax. Uncertainty shrouds every interaction I have with him.
Except, apparently, when I’m totally intoxicated.

I didn’t even notice the sound of the shower until it turned off. The sudden silence is startling. A moment later Jax emerges from the only door in the loft wearing a pair of jeans and nothing else. His hair is still wet, finger-combed back from his face.

I swallow. He’s wearing jeans and nothing else.

To keep myself from staring at all the muscles and tattoos on display I force myself to step forward.

“Morning.” My voice is hoarse. I feel my cheeks heat.

He tosses me a look over his shoulder. “Hey! Teach! You’re up. Want some coffee?” To the left is the kitchen, appliances lined along the wall with a large island and stools defining the ‘room’.

“Coffee sounds good.” I awkwardly slide on to a stool, trying not to stare at his back as he starts the coffee brewing. “Sorry about last night. I don’t usually-”

He chuckles. “You think I don’t know that isn’t your usual MO?”

Silently, I drop my eyes to the island in front of me.

Jax turns so he’s facing me, crossing his arms and leaning his hip against the counter. “You don’t need to apologize, Riley. It’s not everyday you walk in on your fiancé cheating. You’re allowed to act a little crazy.”

“Still, I disrupted your whole night.”

He grins at me, causing my stomach to flip. I push a hand against my abdomen pretending this is also a reaction to my drinking. “I didn’t have any plans. We had fun, right?”

I nod reluctantly. What I remember, we did have fun. We played pool and danced to the juke box and chatted with friendly strangers.

“Macy must think-”

“Macy doesn’t think anything. Other than you needed a night out. He’s not like that. He’s not going to judge you for something we’ve all done.”

I smile ruefully. “I liked his family’s bar.”

Jax nods and turns back to pour the coffee. “Yeah, it’s a good spot. It’s great for when we’re looking for a place to just chill, you know?”

He sets a mug in front of me.

Gratefully, I take a fortifying sip.

I hear him take a deep breath and then he asks, “So what are you going to do? About the cheating asshole?”

Tears sting my eyes and I blink rapidly to fight them off.

What am I going to do?

Instead of answering I look around suddenly. “Do you know what I did with my phone?”

He walks over to the couches and grabs my purse off the center table. “I shut it off last night. It kept beeping,” he explains, handing it over.

Smiling my thanks, I grab my phone out of my bag and turn it back on. I cringe when I realize it’s nearly 11am. But I have a vague memory of us not retuning to the loft until nearly four last night. This morning. Whatever.

Sure enough, I have dozens of missed calls and unopened texts from Daniel.

I can explain.
Please talk to me.
I’m sorry you saw that.
Riles, I’m getting worried.
Don’t do anything stupid.
Where are you?

And then Please talk to me again.

I shoot him a text, letting him know I’m alive but not ready to talk and turn my phone back off. I force the images of him in bed with someone else from my mind. I wish I could erase them entirely but I know that won’t ever happen.

And if I’m being completely honest with myself, beneath the pain and betrayal and confusion I’m also the tiniest bit… relieved.

I don’t want to marry Daniel. And now, it seems pretty obvious he doesn’t really want to marry me.

So I have no idea what I’m going to do. But I know what I’m not going to do.

I’m not going to get married.

Want to know more about the night before? Catch up here and here.

AtoZ Challenge · Macy and Hunter · Vanished

Macy #AtoZChallenge

I feel a tug on my hand and I look down into the face of my five year old niece Lana. Her big brown eyes blink at me and she holds up her other arm, indicating she wants me to lift her up. Her tiny frame weighs next to nothing as I heft her up against my side. She rests her head against my shoulder, playing with my tie. She’s probably never seen me in a tie before. I don’t make a habit of wearing them.

But they seem required attire at the funeral of your older brother.

I still can’t believe he’s gone. He and his wife both, suddenly. Permanently. Leaving behind two little kids who don’t even understand what is happening.

Her little brother Eason is next to us, sitting on my mother’s lap. He’s got his own tie on, in a pint-sized suit my mother had purchased two days ago. My parents are functioning but grief etches their faces, their normally cheerful smiles and welcoming personalities dulled with the weight of it. I don’t know what to say to them. I don’t know what to say to Lana and Eason, or my sister Brandi.

For years my family and I feared for Brandi’s life. She’s two years cancer free now, but she was the one we all braced ourselves to lose. Never accepted, never that. But she was the one we worried about, focused on. And now, out of nowhere a car accident steals my brother.

The priest closes his sermon, everyone bows their heads in silence.

The next voice to break the silence is Hunter, announcing the family has invited everyone back to her cafe for refreshments. Although I suspect it won’t be long before people migrate from her bakery and the food, two blocks down to my family’s bar and the alcohol. We are half Irish after all.

I haven’t seen Hunter all week. Not since I showed up unannounced on her doorstep, still numb with the news.

Lana snuffles against my neck. “Tutu is sad,” she says softly, referring to my mother.

I rub her back and agree, “Tutu is sad.”

“Mommy and Daddy are in heaven now?”

I have to clear my throat before I can respond. “Yes, pretty girl.”

Mourners come up to my parents, offering condolences, before turning to me and my sister. People are slowly dispersing from the grave site. I know many of them will be waiting for us at the cafe, my parents are well loved in our Chicago neighborhood. I’ve moved to a different part of the city, but am still a frequent face in the neighborhood. And now that I’m on television on a regular basis I’m almost as popular as my folks.

Lucas, Jax, Logan, my Vanished family all approach and take turns hugging me, squeezing my shoulder in sympathy. They hardly knew my brother. He’d left Chicago before I’d met any of them. Their support reminds me how lucky I am.

Finally it’s just the family left. We say our goodbyes. More goodbyes. Constant goodbyes. Ones none of us are prepared for. My mother starts crying and Brandi scoops Eason out of her arms, allowing my father to hold her, his own eyes watery.

When we reach the cafe, Hunter has closed for the day in order to accommodate the crowd of people, the air seems less oppressive. Women have switched into more comfortable shoes, men have loosened their ties, ditched their suit jackets.

There’s forced laughter, people trying to remember funny stories from the past. Children are allowed to run and play and sneak the tiny cakes Hunter and her assistant have made.

Slowly, I make my way through the crowd finally finding myself across one of the buffet tables from Hunter.

“Hey.” I’m awkward, which is, frankly, unheard of for me.

“Hi, Mace.” She smiles, briefly meeting my eyes before returning them to the food she’s plating. “How are you handling everything?”

I open my mouth to respond, but nothing comes out. I don’t know what to say to her. Before my silence becomes painfully obvious, Logan interrupts.

“Here he is!” she says cheerfully, bouncing Eason on her hip. “This little guy was looking for his ‘Unkie’ Macy.”

I ignore my stab of disappointment at the interruption and lift him out of her arms. “What’s up buddy?”

“Jus.”

“Jus?” I’m still learning to decipher his three year old language.

“Jus,” he says again.

Hunter looks up, I think recognizing my confusion, and turns her smile to my nephew. “Do you want some juice?”

Eason nods.

“Do you like apple juice?”

He nods again.

“I’ve got some juice boxes in the back,” she tells me and disappears into her kitchen.

“Son, your mom and I need to talk to you.”

“Sure, Da.” I glance at Logan and she nods, grabbing Eason back until Hunter can return with his juice. “Thanks.”

“I’ve got him. Best date I’ve had in ages,” Logan grins at me.

My parents have settled into a table in the back corner and I kiss my mom on the cheek before taking an empty chair.

They look at each other soberly before my mom nods, some unspoken communication happening between them. They turn their attention back to me and my dad hands me an envelope.

“The last time your brother and Christy came home they talked to us about their wishes if something were to happen to them.” His voice cracks on the last and my mom grips his hand, giving him strength. “They asked us to give you this letter.”

Confused I look between my folks and the envelope on the table in front of me. “Is this their will?” Is this how wills work? I don’t even know.

“It’s about Lana and Eason,” my mom says gently, placing her other hand over mine.

I don’t know if it’s grief or exhaustion that’s making me slow, but I still can’t quite grasp what’s going on.

“They chose you, Macy. They wanted you to raise Lana and Eason.”

“They gave custody to you.”

Want more of Macy and Hunter? Click here, here, and here. Enjoy!

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.

AtoZ Challenge · Jax and Riley · Vanished

Jax #AtoZChallenge

What the hell is she doing here?

And why does she keep showing up unannounced at my door?

Granted last time, I was lying in a hospital bed. And this is where I work. So not exactly my private space or anything. But still. This can’t mean anything good.

I glance at Macy, still holding open the door Riley had just busted through and who seems just as confused as I am.

Understandably confused. One, because we’re closed, just locking up. And two, because Riley is an Abbott and they aren’t exactly on the guest list.

“Uh. Hi, Riley.”

“Jax.” She’s unsteady on her feet but lifts her little chin as if lecturing in one of her classrooms. “I would like to speak with Lucas.”

I stare at her dumbly, just blinking as I try to figure out what is happening.

When I don’t respond Macy informs her Luke isn’t here. She spins at the sound of his voice and falls into him. Macy is chuckling as he reaches out to steady her and I shoot him a look. He clears his throat, trying to disguise his amusement.

Riley is demanding we go hunt down Lucas so she can talk to him.

That is so not happening.

I hear Mace mutter something about Riley being feisty and I am quick to deny it. “Not usually.” Something is obviously wrong and not just the fact that she’s clearly drunk off her ass.

I cross the room to her side and lead her to the couch. “Mace, can you grab some water for her?” I toss over my shoulder.

“On it.”

Riley is glancing around the room, taking in all the artwork. She’s never been here before. Never visited our tattoo shop Vanished. Lucas isn’t exactly a fan of his family. Although I think Riley is starting to chip away some of his walls. I’d like to see him give them a chance. At least give her a chance. But I’d never tell him that. Not my place. My place is behind him, supporting him, having his back.

That’s the way it’s always been.

I crouch down in front of her. Despite her drunken determination when she stormed in, now she looks uncertain and avoids my eyes.

“Haven’t seen you for a while,” I offer, giving her a half smile. It’s been about three months actually. I haven’t seen her since I got out of the hospital. She visited pretty regularly when I was there, carefully avoiding Luke after one marginally brutal interaction. But she would come by and keep me company and smuggle me my favorite foods.

She finally looks directly at me, her eyes red and blurry. Shit. She’s been crying.

“You look good,” she whispers. “Better.”

“Good as new.”

Macy reappears with a bottle of water that he hands over and then leaves us alone again. My leg is starting to cramp so I move to sit next to her on the couch. Making sure to keep a respectable distance. Luke may not like his family but she’s still my best friend’s cousin.

Even if she is cute.

I don’t normally do cute. Or sweet. And Riley, with her retro style dresses and giant gray eyes and genuine smile and enormous purse with KitKats, is both. She’s a teacher. At a Chicago public school. If that doesn’t tell you everything you need to know about her character I don’t know what will.

And I’d be lying if I said I hadn’t thought about those gray eyes over the last few months.

But she’s also an Abbott. So I keep my distance. Literally and figuratively.

Or at least I had been. But I’m not an asshole. I’m not going to turn her out on the street when she’s drunk and obviously upset.

“So,” I say, settling back into the leather couch. “What’s new with you?”
Sniffling, she stares at her shoes.

“I finished work early tonight. One of my after school meetings was canceled so I thought I would bring Daniel some dinner. Surprise him. But when I got there… he was… he-”

I glance at the rock on her finger.

“Wasn’t alone?” I finish gently.

She shakes her head, silently starting to cry again.

Dammit.

Now what am I supposed to do?

“Want me to have Mace go over and scare the shit out of him?” Macy is the largest of all of us, built like a warrior. Luckily he usually has a smile on his face or he’d be one scary dude. Now, he’s just scary when he wants to be which isn’t very often. But I imagine would terrify her skinny tax attorney fiance. Or ex-fiance. Cheating fiance.

Thankfully, this causes her to laugh, sniffling through her tears. She takes a sip of the water. Suddenly she jumps to her feet, swiping at her cheeks and the tears under her eyes. “Let’s go dancing!”

My eyes widen in surprise. “You want to go dancing?”

“Yes! Let’s go? Where should we go?”

“I don’t think that’s a good idea, Teach.”

She crosses her arms and glares at me. “And why not?”

I open my mouth to explain, or at least try to explain without pointing out she’s drunk, but before I can her face falls. “Oh. Because of Lucas.”

Surprisingly, I hadn’t been thinking of him. Luke is suspicious of Riley, thinks she’s often acting as an emissary for his cousin Ethan and his uncle but she’s growing on him. And he would definitely want her taken care of in this situation.

“That’s not why,” I tell her. “But if you go out to a club with me and Macy there’s a good chance some paparazzi is going to find us and take your picture. I can’t imagine the school board would be excited about that.”

“Oh.”

She looks so disappointed I can’t help but feel like I let her down somehow. I should just make sure she gets home okay. But I also suspect that’s one of the last places she wants to go right now. And showing up at her uncle’s house will lead to questions, I’m sure.

I shove a hand through my hair in frustration. I know what I’m about to do and I know it’s a bad idea.

I keep my distance from Riley. That’s what I do. What I should do.

Instead I find myself saying, “You want to go somewhere for a drink? I’ve got an idea.”

The kick in my chest at her smile is further evidence I’m making a mistake.

Too late now.

See this interaction from Macy’s perspective here.

And if you’re curious about Jax and Riley’s first meeting you can find that here and here.

AtoZ Challenge · Macy and Hunter · Vanished

Hunter #AtoZChallenge

Lighting flashes across the sky, illuminating the clouds outside my window. Seconds later the crash of thunder vibrates through the room. I love a good thunderstorm. And it’s newly spring in Chicago so this is the first one in months, the first of the season. I smile watching the streaks of light scatter through the sky. The sound of the rain is soothing as it pelts against my windows, falling in tiny rivers down the glass.

My storm gazing is interrupted by the sound of water bubbling in my electric kettle. It hisses lightly before clicking off. I pour the hot water into my waiting mug and tea strainer. Grabbing my mug, I move into the living room and settle into my favorite chair, perfectly positioned to continue watching the storm rage while reading. I can hear my sister Vaughn’s voice mocking me, teasing me that I’m acting like an old lady. But this is exactly what I want to do with my Saturday night. At least this Saturday night. I grab my giant cable knit blanket and get all cozy, tucking myself into my chair with a happy sigh.

I’m not sure how much time passes, roughly four chapters worth, when I hear a tapping that isn’t related to the thunder outside. Straining to listen, I’m still startled when I hear the knocking again.

I contemplate ignoring it, but someone wants to talk to me badly enough to be out in this weather, so I put down my book and patter over to my front door. I peek out the window to see who it is at my door.

Macy.

Confused and excited, there’s no denying that fluttery drop in my stomach, I flip the lock and open the door.

“Macy. Hey.” I’m sure my questions echo in my greeting. He’s never shown up at my place before. Usually we just flirtatiously chat at his dad’s bar or, more recently, my bakery and cafe.

He grins, his eyes crinkling adorably. “Hey. Busy?”

I glance down at my gray yoga pants and bare feet laughing, “Not really, no. Just enjoying the storm.”

Stepping aside, I usher him in. Immediately my little house is filled with Macy, his massive presence. Mace is a big guy both physically and in sheer personality. I’m tall, nearly 5’10” but even I feel almost tiny next to him. And if his height wasn’t enough, he’s also built like a sexy muscular tank, covered in tattoos. With a mass of dark hair, he typically wears pulled back in a causal man-bun and twinkling dark eyes.

I’m not lying. Or exaggerating. They twinkle. He’s like a dark, tan Santa Claus with six-pack abs.

He crosses the threshold, dripping water on the floor.

“You’re soaked! How long have you been out there?”

I rush down the hallway before he can answer and grab a towel out of the bathroom closet.

“I guess I’ve been walking for a while,” he admits, taking the towel I offer and drying his face and neck.

I frown in concern. “Everything okay?”

He takes a finger and gently massages the tension V between my eyebrows. He shrugs but doesn’t really answer.

“What are you up to?”

I decide to let him deflect the question for now. But I’m coming back to it.

“Just reading.”

“Anything good?”

This is so surreal I can’t help the little laugh that escapes. “Yeah actually.”

He nods, then asks, “Got a book for me?”

My head tilts to the side as I study him, not even hiding my confusion. “Macy. You can’t really want to sit and read a book with me in soaking wet clothes.”

He shrugs. “I kinda do actually. Is that okay?”

Something is definitely going on. But if he needs a friend right now, I guess I can be that.

“You have to get out of those wet clothes.”

He’s wrapped the towel around his neck now, holding the ends. He grins at me. “You could at least buy me dinner before trying to get me naked.”

I laugh. “Seriously. I doubt I have anything that will fit you but I’ll check. Why don’t you use the bathroom to get undressed and dry off. I can throw your clothes in the dryer.”

He grabs my wrist as I turn to attempt to find something for him to wear. My breath catches as I turn back to meet his gaze.

“Thanks, Hunter.”

“No problem.”

I can’t actually concentrate on my book with Macy sitting a few feet away, somehow managing to look both ridiculous and delicious in a pair of my old sweatpants. They are far too small, fitting more like tights as they stretch across his muscled thighs.

I thought he’d balk when I handed them through the bathroom door but in typical Macy fashion he’d just laughed and tried them on. I’d found an old mystery novel for him to read and so now he sat on my couch, also drinking a mug of tea, silently reading in pants that didn’t fit and no shirt.

How was I supposed to concentrate on anything other than that?

I’m not.

Eventually I slam my book shut, a little more forcefully than I intended. Macy looks up at me and grins.

“I’m hungry,” I lie. “How about some cookies?” I’m still trying to figure out what is going on, why he’s here. I’ve found desserts are a great way to loosen people’s tongues.

His eyes widen comically. “You got some of those spicy chocolate ones?”

I grin as I stand up. Based on his purchasing habits at the bakery, I know those are his favorites. “I do.”

He vaults to his feet, eagerly following me into the kitchen.

I warm up some cookies and we stand at the kitchen island, relishing the gooey chocolate cookies with a hint of cayenne. He’s reaching for his third one when he finally admits why he’s here.

“My brother died,” he says softly.

“Oh, Mace. I’m so sorry.” I go to him, wrapping my arms around his waist, trying to offer some comfort.

I barely remember Macy’s older brother. Unlike Macy and his sister, his brother left Chicago right out of high school. I know he comes home to visit, bringing his wife and kids on all the holidays but I’ve rarely seen him. But their family is close, this must be a massive blow to all of them.

His arms come around me, returning my embrace, his chin resting against my temple.

“There was a car accident,” his voice cracks.

I tighten my arms around him, my hands smoothing over the muscles of his back. I’m not sure how long we stand there holding each other, the pounding rain muffling any other external sounds.

Eventually I step back and meet his eyes. My breath catches at the intensity in his gaze as it moves across my face.

And suddenly, before I even realize it’s happening, we’re kissing.

Macy kisses me. And maybe I shouldn’t, but I kiss back.

We first meet Macy and Hunter here and 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.

AtoZ Challenge · Vanished

Bodhi #AtoZChallenge

Another wasted trip. Another lead that was nothing. Another tip that went nowhere. Another disappointment.

Another stab of hopelessness.

What am I doing?

The lights of downtown Chicago quickly approach through the windshield and I exit onto Division driving into the west side neighborhoods. I drive with muscle memory, knowing exactly where I’m headed and not paying much attention. It’s after 10pm on a Tuesday so even in Chicago traffic is minimal.

I’m late enough the shop’s lights are off, all locked up for the night. I half expected that to be the case so I make a right at the corner knowing the route she’ll take home. I catch up to her a few blocks later, spotting her white blond hair easily even in the dark.

I pull up to the curb and honk, startling the blond walking down the sidewalk. For a heartbeat she tenses, then relaxes, recognizing my car even before I lower the passenger window to call out to her.

Smiling now, she walks over and climbs into the front seat next to me.

“Hey, babe.”

She pulls the door shut and responds automatically. “Don’t call me babe.” Then leans over to give me a slow kiss hello.

“Nothing?” she asks softly, searching my eyes. I shake my head but she already knows the answer. I would have called if I’d had any luck, discovered anything helpful. Settling back into the passenger seat, her hand grips mine and squeezes.

“Have you eaten?”

She shakes her head, “I was going to grab a slice of pizza on the corner.” Logan lives two houses down from a great pizza place. It’s incredibly convenient.

“Sounds good.” I put the car back in gear and head to her place.

A few minutes later I’m turning on to her street and find a parking spot. With the car stopped, she digs through her bag searching for something.

“Here. Before I forget.”

She hands me an envelope thick with cash.

“I’m taking a new job. I should be making more money soon.”

I smile briefly. “That’s great, Lolo.” I glance at the bills she’s handed me. “You sure you want to keep doing this?”

I feel her surprise. I get it. I’ve been single minded about this quest for four years now. I’m not sure why this last trip has made everything seem so futile.

I shift enough to stuff the envelope in my pocket but make no move to get out of the car. Instead I stare blindly at the dashboard, eventually focusing on my key chain still in the ignition. I flick my finger, setting the keys swinging. The street lights glint off the copper of the elongated penny that acts as my key chain as it sways back and forth. Light dark light dark light dark.

I’ve had this stupid memento even longer than my fruitless quest. Since we were kids and used to skip school to go places like the Navy Pier. Places we wouldn’t be caught dead now.

“Are you coming?”

I continue watching the penny. Back forth back forth back forth.

“Bodhi?”

Inhaling deeply I finally tear my attention away and look at her. Fierce, stubborn, exquisite Logan. I probably shouldn’t, but I know I will. Selfishly, I’ll take her comfort.

She’s the only one who gets it.

“You okay?”

“No. Not really.”

We sit in silence a few minutes and she shifts, resting her head on my shoulder. Then she voices what has me feeling so destroyed.

“Her birthday is tomorrow.”

I nod a sudden, invisible fist squeezing my lungs.

Another car drives down her street, the headlights momentarily blindingly bright. Logan pulls away and gets out of the car. I hesitate only a moment before grabbing my keys and doing the same.

We walk to the corner to grab some slices to go. I try to shake myself loose from this mood and change the subject.

“So, what’s the new gig?”

She brightens and I’m glad I made this small effort. We grab our food and she responds as we walk out the door, heading to her place.

“Have you heard of Lucas Abbott?”

I struggle with some glimmer of recognition. “Yeah, he just won that tattoo show, right?”

She nods, not quite meeting my eyes. Interesting. “He’s starting his own shop. Asked me to join his team.”

“That’s great, Lolo,” I repeat. “He’s a good guy then?”

Unlocking her door she steps inside and flips the light switch, illuminating the stairwell to her second floor apartment. I follow her inside, locking the door behind me.

Shrugging her coat off, she answers, “Seems like it. But I can take care of myself if he tries any shit.”

She can, I know that. She’s tough. She’s making a name for herself in an incredibly male dominated field and I know that isn’t always easy for her. But she’s got a thick skin and can be a cutting bitch when required. Watching her take down jerks with her sharp tongue is one of my favorite pastimes.

I’m glad she hasn’t had to survive some of the things I’ve seen the last few years though. It takes more than tough to endure the crap that exists in the world.

Shit I worry Wren is neck deep in. Drowning in. My darkest moments I fear she’s already fully submerged.

But I don’t say any of that. Instead we eat our pizza and talk about Logan’s new job and watch a movie before going to bed and pretending we’re doing more than just comforting each other.

Hours later I lie awake staring at the ceiling. I glance at Logan asleep next to me, eyes tracing the pale skin and colorful designs of her naked back. Silently I slip out of bed and back to the kitchen. I grab a shot glass from the cupboard and a bottle of fireball from my bag. I hate the stuff, but it’s a tradition Wren started when we weren’t legally allowed to drink and didn’t know what good alcohol was. So on this day every year, I buy a bottle. I fill my glass and cross to the window. It’s the middle of the night, well into the beginnings of the next day.

“Happy Birthday,” I toast the moon and down the spicy cinnamon flavored liquid.

I will find out what happened to you, little sister. I promise.

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.”