Category Archives: Contemporary Romance

At Any Cost – Chapter One

It was late, and all Martin Caiber could think about was how much he wanted to go home. Thankfully, he was almost finished with his business and he yawned as he leaned back in his chair to watch his father’s accountant writing figures in his ledger. Stacks of money, carefully banded together, lay on the table around them and the accountant was tallying them up as he moved them from the table to a black duffel bag. Martin didn’t want to look at them, but he couldn’t help it.

He’d grown up seeing stacks of cash on tables just like the one they were sitting at, but had never gotten used to it. Now that his father was gone, all of it belonged to him and every time he saw one, it was surreal.

“That’s all of it,” the accountant said, putting the last stack of money into a duffel bag as he closed the ledger. “Good take tonight. It’ll put you far enough into the black that you can afford that pay raise you want to give the bartenders.”

“Good,” Martin said. “They deserve it. I’ve seen some of the crap they put up with from drunks and tips don’t make up for half of it, even if the drunks do tip well.” He pulled the bag across the table and zipped it up, then handed it to one of the bouncers who was inexplicably wearing sunglasses at night. “Take this with you and make sure it goes into the private account.”

“Sure thing, boss,” the bouncer said, heading for the door. Martin sighed.

“And don’t call me that,” he called after the bouncer. He put his hands over his face and rubbed it as the accountant put his ledger in his briefcase. “Thanks, Bill.”

“You’re always welcome,” Bill said, zipping his bag. “I don’t know that I ever said it, but I’m so sorry about your dad. It was a lovely funeral and I appreciated the invitation.” Martin nodded and his accountant put on his jacket. “Have a good night, sir.”

“Thanks, I will.” Martin yawned again and leaned his head back to look up at the ceiling. The late nights he’d been putting in at the clubs were starting to catch up with him, and he closed his eyes for a second. He was going to have to get used to them if he wanted to take his father’s place but he still wasn’t sure he wanted to.

Martin stood up, ran his hand through the black hair he’d inherited from his father along with his thin frame and put his jacket on. He was starting to zip it up when one of the other bouncers came in. He was still wearing the earpiece he wore when he was working the door, and the black suit he was wearing marked him as one of the men who dealt with clubgoers.

“Sorry to catch you when you’re just about to leave,” the bouncer said. “There’s a woman here asking to see you.”

“A woman?” Martin didn’t want to talk to a woman, he only wanted to go home. Unfortunately there was no other option. His new duties included meeting with new people and directing them to whatever part of the organization could help them. “Does she look like a cop?”

“No, sir. She’s wearing a suit with a flower in it. If she’s a cop, she’s not on duty.”

“Fine, send her in,” Martin sighed. The bouncer nodded, then went back into the club proper. He took his jacket off and sat back down at the table. It was a good thing the money had been removed from it; the last thing he wanted was some strange woman getting ideas about stealing it. There was a glass of whiskey near his hand and he picked it up to take a drink. He was already tired but the buzz he’d gotten from his previous glass had worn off, so he figured he could stand another. Martin was just finishing his drink when the door opened again and a woman walked through it.

She was indeed wearing a suit, and Martin could tell with one look that it was a man’s suit that had been tailored for a woman. It was black and obviously expensive, and she was wearing a peacock blue shirt beneath it. In her buttonhole was a fire-tipped rose, and she wasn’t wearing a tie. The boots she was wearing had a low heel that tapped in an authoritative way as she crossed the floor toward him, and her dark brown hair was twisted into an updo behind her head. The effect of it all was that he was dealing with a woman who knew what she was doing, and exactly what she wanted from him. When her bright blue eyes met his hazel ones, Martin felt warmth spreading through her body. He didn’t just want to talk to her, he wanted to ask her out.

“Hi,” she said as she reached the table. “You must be Mr. Caiber.”

“I am,” Martin said, motioning to the chair. “Have a seat.” The woman nodded and pulled out the chair across from him. “What can I do for you?”

“A significant amount, I hope,” the woman said. “Forgive me for showing up so late, by the way. I’ve been driving for hours.”

“Oh? Where were you driving from?”

“Michigan. I just finished a job there and decided I’d take off as fast as I could.” She smiled and Martin wondered exactly what kind of work she did. “Anyway, it just so happens that I’m looking for someone and I was told that if I wanted to find something out about any underground activity, Barry Caiber was the one to ask.” The woman raked her eyes over him critically. “You’re a lot younger than I expected.”

“That’s because I’m not Barry, I’m his son. My father died about a week ago, I’m afraid, and I don’t have his connections just yet. I’ll help you however I can, though.” Martin offered his hand to her. “I’m Martin Caiber.”

“People call me the Hawk,” the woman said with a smile as she took his hand and shook it. “Either that or just Hawk. Nice to meet you.”

“You too,” Martin said, drawing back his hand. “What is it that you do?”

“I find people,” Hawk replied simply. She reached into the breast pocket of her jacket and withdrew a business card, which she handed to Martin. He looked down at it, scanning the plain white card with interest. Written in simple black type were the words The Hawk and a phone number with a Texas area code.

“So you need information. Mind if I ask what for?” He offered the card back to her and she held up a hand.

“Keep it. In case you ever need anything.” She smiled and leaned forward. “There’s a little girl missing from Texas, and her mother has hired me to find her. My information led me to Michigan, but I hit a dead end with a pair of train tickets to Chicago. Which is why I’m here.” Hawk hesitated a moment and Martin raised an eyebrow, indicating she should continue. “Eddie Brighton gave me your father’s name.”

“I see.” Martin looked down at her card again. “Best I can do is give you another name, I’m afraid.” He took out his phone and brought up his list of contacts. “I have an associate that was a friend of my father’s who can probably help you. From what I’ve heard, he can find anyone.” He looked up at Hawk. “I haven’t had a reason to try him out, though.”

“I’m happy to take any help you can offer,” Hawk said. “I don’t like to waste time when I’m looking for children. Finding them is particularly important to me.”

“Glad to hear it,” Martin said. He rummaged through his pockets until he found one of his own business cards. It was much more detailed than Hawk’s, with a colorful logo and a font that had been created for him, and he flipped it over to write a name and phone number on it. “Jimmy Hirakawa. He’s supposed to be the best.”

“That’s just because you hadn’t met me yet,” Hawk said with a wink. She took the card from him and tucked it into her breast pocket. “Thanks for your time.” It looked as if she was going to get up and Martin was struck by the feeling that he was never going to see her again.

“How about having a drink with me?” He was afraid his voice sounded desperate but either Hawk didn’t realize it or didn’t care, as she smiled at him and leaned back in her chair.

“Sure,” she said. “This is a nice club, you’ve probably got some top-notch booze.”

“Damn right I do,” Martin said. “Hey, Jessie, bring us a couple of Rey Sol Anejo,” he called out into the bar, and a woman’s voice replied with something he couldn’t quite hear.

“Rey Sol, huh?” Hawk smirked at him. “You must be trying to impress me.” She crossed her leg over her knee and Martin returned the smile.

“Is it working?” A woman with a ponytail and an undercut came in and set two glasses of crystal clear tequila on the table between them, along with a bottle of what appeared to be the same liquor.

“You know I was about to clock out, right?” Jessie’s tone of voice suggested that she was extremely put out by having to serve him, but she brightened when Hawk took a folded bill out of her inside pocket and held it out to her with two fingers. The number 50 was clearly visible and it was Martin’s turn to be impressed.

“For your trouble,” Hawk said. Jessie gave Martin a withering look, then left them alone with their drinks. “My dad always told me you should try never to piss off your bartender or your hairstylist.”

“Good advice,” Martin said, lifting his glass. “Welcome to town. Here’s to what’s hopefully the start of a new friendship.” Hawk raised her glass and clinked it against his, then tipped it up and drained her tequila in one drink.

“That’s really good,” she said, setting her empty glass on the table. “Definitely worth tipping well. Speaking of money,” she went on, “I suppose you get paid for giving me this information?”

“My dad would have insisted on it, but I’m not going to push the issue. I’d rather not interfere with anything that a kid’s life might depend on.” Martin finished off his own drink and nodded to the bottle. “Want another?”

“Why not? I’m just going to my hotel after this.” She set her glass down and Martin poured her another. “Of course I’m going to pay you, by the way. You’ll get your money when I get mine. How does ten percent of my fee sound?”

“Sounds fine to me.” He poured himself another bottle and raised his glass. Hawk did the same and smiled. “I’m not in any hurry.”

“It shouldn’t be long, once I find the girl.” She smiled at him and downed her tequila. Martin looked at her a little more closely as she did. With the outfit she was wearing, she looked like a stereotypical hitman and he smiled at her.

“So what are you going to do when you find them? With the kidnapper, I mean.”

“Let’s just hope for his sake that he comes quietly.” She set aside her glass. “I’d better get going. My legs are cramped after driving so long and my hotel room has a whirlpool.” Hawk stood up and buttoned her jacket. “Thanks for the drink. I don’t know when I’ll get to have Rey Sol again.”

“Anytime you want some, come back here. I’m usually back here dealing with business.” He got up from the table to see her out and she raised an eyebrow.

“Business, huh?” Martin knew what she was implying, and part of him wanted to tell her it wasn’t what she thought but he also knew that he wouldn’t be considering that if he hadn’t been so struck by her. “Whatever you say, Marty.” She walked briskly toward the door, then stopped and looked back at him with a smirk, holding the card up between her first and index fingers. “Maybe I’ll make it twenty percent because you’re so cute.”

At a loss for words, Martin stood and watched her disappear into the front of the club. Once she was gone, he dropped back into his chair and exhaled. The woman was a hurricane in a tailored suit but it didn’t stop him from wanting to talk to her again. It wasn’t just that she was beautiful, she was also obviously intelligent and focused on her goal, which made him think that even if he wanted to see more of her, she would be too busy for it. It was a shame, though. He’d been so focused on trying to keep his life and his father’s separate that he hadn’t let himself have much of a social life, and now that he’d come across someone he liked it seemed as if she wasn’t in the market for one of her own.

The two Reys had given him back his buzz but he didn’t want to stay around the club much longer, so he finished his whiskey and put on his jacket. He didn’t feel like driving home himself, so he stepped outside to catch a cab. Even at this time of night there were plenty driving around and he went to the curb to flag one down. He was looking down at his cell phone, thinking he should put Hawk’s number into it, and didn’t noticed the car headed for him until its headlights splashed over him.

The gray sedan jumped the curb just as Martin dove out of the way into the alley, stumbled, and fell headfirst into a pile of garbage bags. One of the bouncers ran toward him as the sedan pulled back into the street and drove off in a squeal of tires. Martin sat up, surrounded by bottles and things he would rather not think about, and put a hand to his head.

“Are you okay, Mr. Caiber?” The bouncer stood over him and offered a hand, which Martin took gratefully to help him off the ground.

“Yeah, I’m fine,” Martin said. “Just a little shaken up.”

“That car was coming right for you,” the bouncer said, looking down the street in the direction the car had driven. “Any idea who it might have been?”

“Not in the least,” Martin said. He picked a squashed lime wedge off his jacket and tossed it on the ground. “I don’t want to deal with it right now, either. All I want to do is go home and take a shower.”

“Let me drive you then,” the bouncer said. He pulled the earpiece he was wearing out and stuck it in his jacket pocket. “It’s too dangerous for you to stand around out here waiting for a cab.”

“If you say so,” Martin said, glad for the offer. He followed the bouncer around the back of the building where there were a couple of parking spots for employees. His own car was in one of them but he walked past it. If he hadn’t been in any shape to drive after the drinks he’d had with Hawk, he definitely wasn’t now.

The bouncer unlocked the car and Martin got into the back seat and pulled the door shut, then leaned his head back against the leather and closed his eyes. This was getting out of hand. As much as he didn’t want to seem paranoid, there was no getting around the fact that it was the second time in a week that someone had tried to kill him.

Available at all retailers January 15, 2019 – preorder now for $0.99!

Amazon: https://www.amazon.com/gp/product/B07L2J1932

Nook, Kobo, Apple Books: http://books2read.com/BuyAtAnyCost

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At Any Cost – Prologue

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It was late, and Michelle smelled like buttercream. She’d been working with the powerfully sweet frosting for hours, trying to get the texture just right so she could use it to make flowers on a wedding cake. As a result, it was in her hair and under her nails, and she never wanted to eat another bite of it. She walked out to her car, yawning. It was dark but her car was a sporty orange and easy to see, and its lights flashed as she unlocked it from a distance.

She was so tired that even taking off the bandanna that she had tied around her long, dark brown hair felt like it would take too much effort, and she wondered if Fox would be mad at her if she tried to go to bed without showering.

He’d probably make some stupid joke about ants, she thought with a roll of her eyes as she turned on the engine. Fox had the unfortunate tendency to think he was hilarious when he mostly just cracked corny jokes, but he was so earnest that Michelle couldn’t help loving him. She was backing out of her parking space when her phone rang and she frowned, glancing over at the display on the console to see it was her father.

“Hi, Dad,” she said, answering the call with a push of the button on the steering wheel. “What are you up to?”

“Nothing much,” Eddie replied, his voice rough from years of smoking. “I was calling to see if you and Fox wanted to get together for dinner on Saturday. Charlotte too, of course. I haven’t seen that cutie in a week and I don’t want her to forget her grandad.”

“Like she ever could,” Michelle said with a smirk. “With all the stuff you buy her, every time she comes back from seeing you all she can talk about is her grandad.” She pulled out into the street and started for home with another yawn. “I’ll talk to Fox when I get home and see which day is best for him, then I’ll call you tomorrow.”

“What do you mean when you get home? Are you still at work?”

“I just left,” Michelle said. “I’m ready to take a shower, kiss the sprout goodnight, and stuff my face before I go to sleep myself. I finally figured out the flowers on the wedding cake.”

“You’re going to work yourself to death,” Eddie sighed, and Michelle wondered if this was what having a mother would be like. “Next you’re going to tell me you have to put in all these hours so you can buy the owner out of the shop.”

“Maybe one day,” Michelle said with a smile. “Right now I’m happy just to learn everything I can. Whatever else happens, happens.”

“All right, all right,” Eddie said. “You talk to your husband and I’ll talk to you tomorrow. Don’t forget to send me the pictures from Charlotte’s birthday party.”

“I will, Dad, I promise. I’m just tired right now, and starving.” Thankfully, Michelle didn’t live very far from the bakery where she worked, so she was still on the phone with her father when she turned off the main street and onto the one that led to her neighborhood. “Whenever we get the time worked out, can we go to an all-you-can-eat place? A Chinese buffet or something?”

“You always did like that cheap Chinese food, now you’re passing it on to Charlotte,” he laughed. “How many times did I try to take you to nicer places?”

“Obviously not enough, otherwise I wouldn’t still love the cheap stuff. And of course Charlotte likes it, she’s three. She can get sweet and sour chicken and mac and cheese at the same time, what kid wouldn’t love—” Her voice trailed away as she turned the corner and saw a riot of flickering lights on her street. There were fire trucks, police cars, and even an ambulance. Michelle frowned and slowed to a crawl. “What the hell?” As she got closer a horrifying sight became visible around the fire trucks.

The flickering she had seen wasn’t all coming from the vehicles. One of the houses was on fire, and so consumed by flames that she was surprised she hadn’t seen the smoke. Hoping that it wouldn’t spread to her house and that the emergency vehicles would let her get home for the night, she continued her slow progression down the street. The closer she got to the burning house, the more familiar it looked and her stomach turned when she saw why.

“No,” she said, her voice no more than a whisper before building to a shout. “No, no, no!”

“Misha, what’s the matter? What’s going on?”

Not wanting to take the time to explain, Michelle threw open the car door and ran for the house without bothering to take her phone or bag, leaving the door open and the engine running as she did.  Barricades were set up in front of her house and she ducked under them smoothly. Fire lit up every window in the house and the firemen were unrolling several large hoses. They were all shouting at one another, but there was a ringing in Michelle’s ears that muffled everything they were saying.

“Ma’am,” a police officer said, hurrying up to her. “You can’t be here. We need you to get back behind the barricades where it’s safe.”

“This is my house,” Michelle said, trying to push past him only to be stopped by a very broad fireman. “My husband and daughter are in there, I have to get to them!”

“We’re doing all we can,” the fireman said, holding her arms tightly. “You have to get back right now and let us do our job.” Shaking her head, Michelle continued to try to get around both the policeman and fireman, who were determined not to let her pass.

“Calm down, ma’am,” the officer said. “We can’t let you put yourself in danger.”

“You have to—” A sudden, sharp pain stabbed into Michelle’s abdomen and she paused to press a hand to it. A second pain caused her knees to buckle and she stumbled to the ground. The pain was constant now, aching and sharp by turns, and it felt as if something was building inside her. Michelle struggled to get to her feet and there was a stab of pain as she did, followed by the feeling of a rubber band breaking after being stretched too far.

This time the pain was too much for her, and she slid out of the fireman’s arms onto the ground. Something hot and damp was spreading from her jeans and Michelle cried out as she clutched her abdomen. She heard someone shouting for EMS but it hardly registered.  She laid on the grass, tears streaming down her face as she watched her home slowly getting consumed by fire, until the paramedics converged on her and she finally passed out.

Available at all retailers January 15, 2019 – preorder now for $0.99!

Amazon: https://www.amazon.com/gp/product/B07L2J1932

Nook, Kobo, Apple Books: http://books2read.com/BuyAtAnyCost

Cover Reveal and Preorder – At Any Cost

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Surprise! Well, two surprises. Take a look at the hot off the press cover for my first contemporary romance, At Any Cost. It was done as always by the fantastic Victoria Miller and perfectly captures Michelle (also known as The Hawk) and her personality. She’s Martin’s bodyguard and definitely the alpha in this story. I absolutely love it and am looking forward to seeing the full cover wrap. Yep, there will be paperbacks!

So what’s it about? Glad you asked…

Martin Caiber has a problem. As the son of a high-ranking member of Chicago’s underworld, he knows his family has enemies, but he never expected to have someone trying to kill him. Unwilling to inherit his father’s legacy, he wants to keep his nightclubs on the legal side of things but after nearly being run down in front of his club, Martin decides that it’s time to enlist outside help.

Michelle “The Hawk” Andress is a woman with a past. A private investigator who specializes in finding lost children, she has talents she is glad she rarely has to use. It is these talents that put her on Martin’s radar, and after an attempt on his life she agrees to become his bodyguard.

The attraction between the two is undeniable, but when Michelle becomes the target of hitmen too, her past comes back to haunt her and puts their future in jeopardy. If they’re going to make it out alive, they’ll have to use Martin’s contacts and Michelle’s deadly aim to put an end to the threat for good, and find out if love makes the ends justify the means.

If this sounds like something that’s up your alley, the release is January 15th – my first release of 2019!

The second surprise is that it is now available for preorder! Right now it’s up on Amazon, but it will (hopefully) be on all retailers by the end of the week. I’ll drop the link here once it is so Nook, Kobo, and Apple Books can pick it up for the sale price of $0.99 during preorder and the first week of release.

Amazon:

Everywhere: http://books2read.com/BuyAtAnyCost

This is a super-short preorder period, mainly because I didn’t intend to release this as a full novel. Turn the Page will still be coming out in March, this is just a lil bonus.

Stay tuned for the first of six FULL chapters of At Any Cost, releasing here every Wednesday!

Update on At Any Cost

img_4419I have some fun news regarding At Any Cost, the story that was planned to be a novella on the blog. In writing it for NaNoWriMo (or trying to, anyway), it looks like this is going to be a full-length novel!

So what does that mean? For starters, it’ll mean editing, formatting, and getting a spiffy cover that I didn’t slap together in Canva. There will also be an ultra-short preorder period where it will be $0.99 and I’ll be sure and let you know then.

Because y’all have stuck with me and put up with the fact that half the time I don’t talk about writing on here, I still plan on putting chapters up on the blog starting December 5th! There will be one chapter a week on Wednesdays right up until the book releases, but you’ll have to be sure and grab it at the sale price to read the ending. Like I said, fun! This is partially because the chapters are longer than the ones from Absence of Intellect, so by the time the book releases, you’ll have gotten to read a pretty good chunk of it and have an idea if you’re going to like it or not.

I hope you’ll enjoy the book and my weird little plan. This book has turned out to be a lot more interesting than I expected and my characters have a mind of their own, so I’m excited to have it out in the world as a full-length book.

Check back on December 5th for the first chapter!

Amazon is a Jerk

img_3861-1The Absence of Intellect is actually out today! Unfortunately Amazon is a jerk and won’t let me set the price as free for more than a couple of days at a time. Huge eyeroll happening right now. If you’re one of my blog friends and would like a free copy, hit me up at beccalovebooks@gmail.com and I’ll hook you up. I’m sorry if this causes any confusion!

It’s still free if you have Kindle Unlimited, or if you just want to give me money (always appreciated!), here’s the link.

https://www.amazon.com/dp/B07K1SQJ98/

Thank you for your continued patience and support!

Absence of Intellect Release Delayed

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I absolutely hate giving people bad news, and today I’m here with some bad news. Thanks to a week of being sick and being way behind on the draft of the novel I just finished, The Absence of Intellect will be released on Thursday, November 1st instead of today.

As much as I wanted to release it today, it just wasn’t where I wanted it to be format-wise and I chose to delay the release a couple of days rather than put out a substandard book.

I know some of you who were following Absence were looking forward to downloading the full story, and I’m truly sorry for letting y’all down.

The new story on the blog will still start the first week of December, and as it’s being written for NaNoWriMo you’ll be getting it hot off the press. I hope you enjoy it as much as this one, and that you’ll support Absence on Thursday when it releases. It’s still going to be free to download, so if you’ve been thinking of buying one of my books but wanted to check my writing out first, this is your chance! The other blog books are going to be $0.99 permanently, which is still a bargain, so keep an eye out for those too.

Thank you for your patience! Y’all are the best!

 

The Absence of Intellect – Eighteen

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“I can’t believe you fried your computer before you left,” Robin said, laughing as she lifted her wine glass to her lips. “I am so glad I decided to stay the weekend.”

“I’d like to say I don’t know what came over me,” Emily said, swirling her own wine around her glass, “but it was a long time in the making. Besides, I can always blame it on a misguided attempt to fill my big sister’s shoes.”

“As far as I’m concerned, you did just that,” Hunter said. “Destroying company property and giving your two weeks on the way out the door, then getting a new job the next day? She’d definitely be proud of you. I know I am.” He took a drink of the wine he’d ordered in spite of the way Robin was glaring at him. “It’s a shame I never got to meet her.”

“She would have liked you,” Emily said as the waitress put their bill on the table. “Missy had a talent for figuring people out; she would have known you were a winner from the start.” She reached for the bill at the same time Robin and Hunter both reached for it, but the combination of his longer arms and the fact that the waitress automatically put the bill closer to him meant he got to it first.

“Sorry, ladies, tonight is my treat.” He put his card in the folio without looking at the bill, ignoring the protests of Emily and Robin on either side of him, and handed it to the waitress. “If you two can see your way to forgiving me, I’d like to take you on an adventure.”

“Adventure?” Emily looked interested and Robin rolled her eyes.

“Don’t fall for it,” she said. “Every time he said that when I was a kid we ended up doing some boring educational thing or picking up trash on the beach.”

“You enjoyed yourself every time, too,” Hunter said. “I still remember that much.”

“I’m game,” Emily said, finishing her wine. “You’re going to have to give me directions, though. Unless you want Robin to drive us, she probably knows where you’re taking us.”

“She doesn’t,” Hunter said as the waitress returned with his card and receipt. “I’m driving tonight.” He signed his receipt while the two women offered a number of reasons why he should just let one of them drive, but he simply smiled and shook his head all the way out the door. Emily stopped arguing first, resigning herself to her fate and slipping her hand into his while Robin decided to go at him from another angle.

“You’ve already been drinking tonight, Dad,” she said. “Why don’t you just let me drive? You and Emily can sit in the back together and, I don’t know, make out or something.”

“Can’t do it,” Emily said apologetically. “I get carsick in the back seat. If anyone should drive it should be me.”

“We’ve all been drinking,” Hunter said, unlocking his car. “Besides, I drove us to the restaurant. I can drive us where we’re going. After we’re done, you two can fight over who gets to drive us home. I promise.” He smiled at his daughter, who flung herself into the backseat like a petulant child and folded her arms over her chest. Emily stifled a laugh as she got into the passenger seat.

“When do you have to be back in Denver, Robin?” She buckled her seat belt and looked back at Robin, who shot her father a dirty look before smiling at Emily.

“I’ll be flying out Sunday night,” she replied. “I have to be back in the lab first thing Monday morning to present everything from the meetings to my team.”

“Yeah, I’ve been there before. What is it that you do, anyway? Your dad hasn’t told me much about your line of work.” Still wearing her seat belt, Emily turned as far around as she could and Robin smiled and took out her phone.

“I’m working for a company called FuturaChem,” she said. “Putting my degrees to good use trying to find renewable energy sources. Right now my team is working on using waste gases as a secondary fuel source for electric cars to offset the amount of electrical energy that has to be generated to charge the batteries.”

“How interesting,” Emily said with a smile. “So you have advanced degrees too?”

“Yes,” Robin replied, turning her phone to show it to Emily. “That’s my lab. And I’m the proud owner of my very own Ph.D in organic chemistry. The world has been blessed with two separate Drs. Chambers.” She dropped her phone into her purse. “I’m not a real doctor like you, though.”

“It’s not all it’s cracked up to be,” Emily said. “You’re better off taking after your father, and your mother too, I’m sure.”

“Ellen was a teacher,” Hunter said. “She taught ballet, and Robin absolutely took after her. My darling daughter was the cutest little…” His mind was suddenly blank and he frowned, trying to remember exactly what part Robin had played in the Nutcracker. He could see her cheeks painted to look rosy and her gray costume, but he couldn’t find the word to describe her. The silence stretched out and Hunter was acutely aware that both women were looking at him, so he laughed. “Whatever she was, she was adorable and she did it every year.”

“A mouse, Dad,” Robin said quietly. “I was a mouse.”

“Hopefully you only had one head,” Emily supplied with a grin that put Hunter a little more at ease. He knew what she was doing and had never been more grateful. “I had this Nutcracker book when I was a kid and the illustration of the rat king gave me nightmares. That reminds me,” Emily said, facing front again. “I need to clear my stuff out of the lab at BioGen. No need for me to culture lung tissue now that Melissa’s gone, right?”

“You should hang on to whatever’s viable,” Hunter said. “Take it with you to the university and see what you can do with it there. I’m sure your new bosses would be thrilled to see something else you brought to the table.”

“I would be,” Robin said. “You’re the total package. It’s no wonder they snapped you up the second you walked through the door.” She looked at Hunter in the rearview mirror. “Dad, where are we going? Are you sure you don’t need one of us to drive?”

“I know where we’re going,” Hunter said, putting on his turn signal. “It’s someplace you loved visiting when you were a kid.” Robin leaned forward and he raised an eyebrow at her. “Shouldn’t you be wearing your seatbelt?”

“Are we going out to the museum campus?”

“You’ll have to wait and see,” Hunter replied, then looked at Emily. “I think you’re going to really like this place.”

“I’m excited,” Emily said. “I love surprises.”

“That’s good to hear.” Hunter pulled into the large parking lot that several buildings shared and turned off the car. “We’re here.”

“Really? Here?” He could hear the excitement in Robin’s voice and nodded. “Oh my god, I did love this place! But I haven’t been here in years.” She opened the door and hopped out of the car, leaving Emily and Hunter sitting in the front seat.

“Butterfly Pavilion?” Emily looked at the sign curiously. “I’ve never been here. Every time I’ve come out to the museum campus I’ve been coming for a reason so I never really explored. It looks like it’s closed, though.”

“Hey, Dad,” Robin called from the sidewalk in front of the Butterfly Pavilion. “I think it’s closed!”

“Is it?” Hunter got out of the car and twirled his keys on his finger, feeling like a young man for the first time in years. He locked the car and strode up to the doors of the round building with Emily and his daughter on his heels.

The front hallway of the building was indeed dark, and a small sign in the door informed them that the pavilion had closed early that day. Emily sighed with disappointment but Hunter walked up to the door and pressed a small button that was nearly hidden on the wall. He hummed while he waited, fully enjoying knowing that he was driving Emily and Robin crazy. No doubt they were trying to come up with a tactful way to tell him that he needed to go home and go to bed. Before one of them could find the words, a chubby woman in a business suit came walking down the hallway with a smile. She unlocked the door and held it open for them.

“Good evening, Dr. Chambers,” she said with a smile. “Right on time, I see.”

“As often as I can manage it,” he said, then motioned to his companions. “Allow me to introduce Dr. Robin Chambers and Dr. Emily Ashton.”

“Pleased to meet you both, Doctors,” the woman said, beaming as she relocked the door behind them. “I’m Kari Satonaka, the director of the Butterfly Pavilion’s educational programs. If you’ll follow me, I’ll take you to the butterflies.” She turned and led them down a long hall and around a corner to a glass box that was attached to a large door. A sign on the door with a photo of a butterfly on a baseball cap warned them to ‘Watch Out for Hitchhikers!’ and Kari tapped it. “We have very few rules here, but they’re very important ones. There are nectar cups available to feed the butterflies but please don’t give them any outside food. Don’t touch the butterflies or other animals, allow them to make contact instead. Above all, forget your problems and just enjoy the wonders of nature for a little while. I’ll be here until you’re ready to leave, so please just knock on the office door when you’re ready to go.”

“Thank you,” Emily and Robin said at the same time, then looked at one another while Kari walked back down the hall. Hunter went first, leading them into the glass room and holding the door open for them.

As soon as Emily stepped into the butterfly pavilion, she gasped softly. The lights in the conservatory-like room were low, almost matching the darkness outside the mostly glass building, and the trees were draped with strands of white Christmas lights. Even in the soft light there were butterflies fluttering through the air, and the combination of the trickling of a man-made stream and chirping frogs made it seem like they were in a different, more relaxing world.

“This place is gorgeous,” Emily said, looking around. There were halves of an apple and a pear sitting on logs, and a few butterflies were sampling them and gently opening and closing their wings. Robin nodded and went to one of the trees.

“There weren’t lights like this whenever we used to come,” she said. “We also never came this late at night, though.” Robin turned to her father. “Did you have them do this, Dad?”

“Yes,” Hunter said with a smile. “I wanted it to be special. We can come back another time to see the spiders and lizards but tonight I didn’t want to share it with anyone but you.”

“You’re sweet,” Emily said, taking Hunter’s hand. He laced his fingers through hers and squeezed gently.

“It won’t be tomorrow, but there’s going to come a time when I won’t be able to remember what a butterfly is. As much as I want to remember how you look tonight, that will be gone too. I’ll hold onto it as long as I can, but there are no guarantees with this disease. Whatever time I have left, though, I want to spend it with you.” He took Emily’s other hand and looked into her eyes. “I know it’s selfish of me to ask you to commit to someone who’s sick, but I can’t imagine the rest of my life without you.”

“It’s not selfish. You know I’m with you because I want to be,” Emily said. “Alzheimer’s is a part of you, it’s not all you are.”

“Not everyone sees it that way,” Hunter said. “That’s one of the reasons you’re so special, and just one of the reasons I love you.” Taking a deep breath, he let go of her hands and reached into his pocket. The box didn’t seem to want to come out and he struggled with it, aware that both Emily and Robin were watching him. When he finally freed it, he held it out to Emily with a smile.

“Is this what I think it is?” She took the box and opened it to reveal a ring with a beautifully cut champagne diamond set in white gold with pale gold filigree. The stone caught the Christmas lights and sparkled, and Hunter nodded.

“Whatever time I have left, I want to spend with you, Emily.” Hunter heard a small noise behind him and looked over his shoulder to see Robin standing on her tiptoes, her eyes wide. He turned his attention back to Emily, who was looking into the box as if stunned.

“I told you I don’t have any regrets about Melissa, and it’s true. If there’s anything I learned from her death it’s that you can’t play it safe all your life, sometimes you have to take chances. Nothing is certain, you know that better than anyone. You can be the happiest woman in the world but it can all be gone in seconds.” She smiled up at Hunter, her eyes shining. “Melissa was always the brave one, but I’d like to think that she rubbed off on me just a little.”

“You’ve always been the brave one,” Hunter said. “It just took you longer to realize it.”

“You’re just trying to get me to marry you,” Emily said with a smirk, and Hunter gave her what he hoped was a suave smile.

“Is it working?” Rather than reply, Emily threw her arms around him and kissed him. Hunter put his arms around her waist and lifted her off the ground. Robin squealed with delight and clapped her hands as they kissed, and Hunter found himself wishing that he’d remember this moment forever. As soon as he set Emily back down, he took the box out of her hand and slipped the ring onto her finger. While she was admiring it, Robin ran over to them and hugged her tightly.

“Do I get to call you Mom now?”

“Only if I get to send you to your room,” Emily said, wiping tears out of her eyes. Hunter laughed out loud and put an arm around each of the women.

“Come on,” he said. “Let’s see if the chrysalis rack is still over on the other side of the trees. Robin used to love it when we caught one hatching.” Robin hurried ahead of them and Hunter turned to see Emily looking down at her hand. “No regrets?”

“None at all,” Emily said, taking the empty box from him and tucking it into her purse. Hunter kissed her again, then pulled away when he felt something land on his hand. A butterfly had alighted on his finger and as he watched it open and close its wings, more joined them, fluttering around the couple as if curious. Hunter lifted his hand and the butterfly flew away, but Emily stayed by his side and even though he didn’t know what the next day, week, or year would bring, this time he believed she always would.