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It's set in Gabriel Mills, Texas, a small town that was located in Williamson County, many years ago. Gabriel Mills was a thriving community in the 1850s that all but disappeared by 1988. All that remains is the cemetery.
After drawing out a map of my fictional city, I've decided to set many of my future works in this made-up location. I hope you enjoy the charm and quaintness of the small town as much as I and my characters have.
Kidnapping is the last thing on his mind.
But even a former Seal can't fight a tranquilizer gun.
Grant never expects his escape to lead him to the one woman he could learn to love.
Nor did he expect to put her in danger.
Grant Helms, CEO of Helms Security, Inc., tugged on the cuff of his tailored suit and studied the fit in the mirror. “I’m not a fan of pinstripes, but this isn’t too bad.”
His older brother, Kiel, CFO for the company, sat in the visitor’s chair in front of Grant’s desk, watching Grant turn one way, then the other to see the fit of the suit he wore. “You need a new suit for a business meeting?”
Blowing out a loud breath, Grant shrugged. “Collin Dray is exceptionally conservative. I thought maybe a more traditional suit would be best for the meeting.”
“I’d just wear my jeans and a t-shirt.”
“Hence the reason I have to make this trip instead of you. You can’t wear casual when you’re buying a company like Dray Electronics.”
“Maybe, but spending a couple thousand dollars on a suit you won’t wear again is a little much, isn’t it?” Kiel sipped his imported coffee. When Grant shrugged, Kiel grinned. “Couldn’t get Jax to go, huh?”
Grant struggled to keep annoyance off his face. Their oldest brother, Jax, left for Arkansas before lunch. Technically, Jax was the CIO, but all three of the brothers had multiple roles. Until recently, they all took shifts with security details, too. “Jax is on assignment. All the guys were booked, so he took the job in Fayetteville.”
A frown settled on Kiel’s forehead. “I thought we agreed the three of us wouldn’t be involved in the ops, anymore.”
Grant sighed. “Yeah, well, she’s blonde. And we all renewed our PPO licenses, so . . ..”
The frown went away, and Kiel laughed. “Petite and cute?”
“Yeah.” Grant took another look in the mirror, decided the suit would do, and headed toward the restroom to change back into his jeans. “He left me a voicemail. Said if we needed him to call his personal cell. Otherwise, he plans to be out of touch for a few days until he figures out who is stalking her.”
“Hmm. When do you leave?”
“The meeting is tomorrow afternoon. Jax took the jet, so I’m flying the corporate chopper this evening. If you need me, I’ll be staying at Shoal Creek Suites, since they have a helipad on the roof. I’ve already made reservations and arranged to use the roof hanger for a couple of days.”
Kiel’s muffled voice came through the closed door. “Anything I need to take care of while you’re gone?”
Grant carefully returned the suit, shirt, and tie to the garment bag. Kiel was probably right. It was a bit extravagant to buy a suit he wouldn’t wear again, but he wanted to make the right impression on Collin Dray. Finding another source for the part they needed would wreck their production schedule. Grant shook his head. Dray Electronics was the best company for their needs. Learning it was for sale was a stroke of luck.
After pulling on his jeans, he slipped his navy-blue t-shirt over his head. Running his fingers through his short, dark hair instead of bothering with a comb, Grant opened the door and walked into his office.
“You have enough to do with accounting, Kiel. R&D have tested the prototype six ways to Sunday. If Dray agrees to our buy-out, we can make the parts to our specifications. The drone will do exactly what it’s designed to do.”
Kiel raised an eyebrow and gave Grant’s left wrist a pointed stare. “Grandad’s Timex watch doesn’t go too well with the suit, though.”
Grant glanced at the watch he wore. It was the watch Grandad wore through the first years of building up the company. He shook his head. “I’ll just keep the shirt cuff pulled down over it.”
“You could borrow my Jagger LeCoultre if you want to.”
Kiel had expensive tastes. While Grant was more down-to-earth and wore Levi and Wrangler jeans, Kiel shuddered at the thought. Grant grinned and gave Kiel’s Gucci jeans a pointed look. “A twenty-thousand dollar watch to go with a two-thousand-dollar suit? That makes about as much sense as wearing it with jeans and a t-shirt.” Grant preferred to wear their grandfather’s watch. It helped him remember the values the company was built upon. “Nah. I’ll just wear this one.”
“Suit yourself.” Kiel took the last sip of his coffee, set the cup on Grant’s desk, stood and stretched. “I guess I’ll check in with Ms. Miller and see how the Christmas extravaganza plans are going.”
Grant shuddered. “Better you than me.”
Kiel sighed. “Grant . . ..”
“I don’t want to talk about it.”
“Dad and Grandad wouldn’t want you . . ..”
Jaw clenched, Grant glared at Kiel. “Not talking about it.” After his father and grandfather died in the same accident on Christmas Day, fifteen years ago, Grant wanted nothing to do with the holiday.
Kiel huffed and frowned. When Grant opened his mouth, Kiel held his hands up, palms out. “Alright. Alright. We won’t talk about it.” With a sigh, he walked to the office door. “I need to get back to Accounting, anyway. See you later!”
Grant closed his eyes and concentrated on calming his breathing. He didn’t understand how Kiel and Jax could want to celebrate the holiday that took the two most important men in their lives from them. Forcing himself to take deep, even breaths, his shoulders slowly relaxed, but the tight muscles in his neck remained.
Maisy Reid glanced in the rear-view mirror at the busload of kids behind her and stopped humming Frosty the Snowman. Two boys, both elementary students, were punching each other. Rather than shout at them to settle down, again, she flipped the lever for the right blinker, slowed, and stopped at the edge of the road. “Jared, you and Willy get up here.”
Still scuffling, the two boys walked to the front of the bus. Almost to the driver, Jared pushed Willy. Willy retaliated with a shove that dropped Jared on his behind. As Jared jumped to his feet, Maisy made sure the brake was set, then stood and stepped between the two.
“That’s enough, both of you!”
Still glaring at each other, the two boys stood still. “Willy, Jared, I’ve had enough. You can’t be fighting on the bus like that. Trying to keep you two apart, I could have an accident and kill someone. Maybe you!”
When they said nothing and still glared at each other, Maisy frowned. “I don’t understand what’s going on. You’ve been best friends for years. I want you two to shake hands and make up.”
The two boys rolled their eyes at her, then glared at each other. Maisy sighed. “Okay. I didn’t want to have to do this, but I can give you one more choice before I report you and you can’t ride the bus again.”
For the first time, the two looked worried. Willy’s mother was a single mom who couldn’t take off work to pick up her son. Jared’s father was the Williamson County Sheriff. If his dad had to swing by the school to pick him up, Jared would be grounded forever. They waited for her to tell them what the alternative was.
Maisy sighed. “If you won’t shake and make up, the only option left is you have to kiss and make up.” Wide-eyes of two little boys hit her. “I mean it. Either shake and make up or kiss and make up. I don’t care which.”
Behind her, the other kids on the bus started hooting and hollering, the older boys making kissing sounds. She almost laughed at the sudden way the two shoved their hands at each other, shaking hands while looking to see if she was satisfied.
She managed to contain her laugh and keep her expression fierce. “Now, for the rest of the year, you two will sit together. Since you can’t keep from causing trouble, at least you won’t be getting anyone else in trouble, too.” She pointed at the front seat just behind the safety wall by the stairs. A seat that was usually empty. “Sit there where I can see what you’re up to.”
Two hours later, Maisy pulled Gabriel Mills ISD school bus number eight into the bus barn parking area and expertly backed the seventy-eight-passenger bus into its designated parking slot. Foot on the brake, she shifted into park, then turned off the key. Bowing her head for a few minutes, she sighed, eyes closed, trying to settle her nerves. Jared was stomping on her last nerve this week. And it really, really irked that he was the last student off the bus. Taking deep, slow breaths, she rolled her head on her shoulders, trying to further ease the stress in her shoulders.
“That Jared. One of these days,” she muttered, “I’m gonna throw him off the bus without stopping first.”
Knuckles rapped on the glass of the accordion-style bus door. Maisy jumped, her hand pressing against her chest, then let out an exasperated breath when her best friend, Sally Marks, tapped on the door again. Putting out her bottom lip and blowing hard enough to make the wisps of hair that escaped her ponytail flutter, she gave Sally a frown. Rotating the door-open lever, she popped the door open.
“Girl, you scared me half to death!”
Sally put one foot on the bottom step of the bus stairwell. “Uh huh. I heard you mumbling. Having trouble with your delinquent second cousin, again?”
Maisy rolled her eyes. “When am I not having trouble with Jared?”
“At least you don’t have to bring him with you to the bus barn, anymore, now his dad remarried.”
“Yeah. I’m happy Lisa and Wayne found each other. It takes a lot of the pressure off where Jared’s concerned. I just wish the kid would . . ..” Maisy stood, shook her head, and reached between the driver’s seat and the window to retrieve her broom.
“If you’re coming in, come on. You’re letting in the cold.” As soon as Sally climbed in and cleared the door, Maisy closed it. She walked to the back of the bus and started sweeping the dirt and papers toward the front of the bus. Sally sat sideways in the driver’s seat.
Maisy glanced back at Sally. “You been waiting for me?”
“Yeah. Thought we might try out the new coffee shop in town if you don’t have to get home soon.”
Maisy bent to get an elusive gum wrapper under one of the seats. She eyed the seat to make sure the gum wasn’t left for someone to sit on, then glanced at the back of the one in front of it. Mentally, she worked through the seating chart and frowned. Jared sat in that seat earlier. At least he didn’t leave the gum stuck on something. Where it could be seen, anyway. There was no way she was reaching underneath the seat to check for gum. Sighing, she finished sweeping the bus and motioned her friend to leave first. She put the broom away. Outside the bus, she yanked the door closed.
“Okay, let’s get that coffee.
Driving her Dodge Journey, she followed Sally to the main street that ran through Gabriel Mills, then pulled into the Cuppa Brew parking lot. Holiday decorations fluttered from each streetlight. In the dusk, lights outlining each building on the street gleamed, waiting for full night to shine their best. For a second, she let her gaze move across the decorations. Old man Crow had a seven-foot Christmas tree in his store window. Beneath the tree, dozens of gifts children would love to find under their family trees on Christmas morning displayed what the store had to offer.
When Sally tapped on her window, Maisy grinned at her. A few moments later, she trailed behind Sally as they walked into the coffee shop. Maisy stopped just inside the door and took a deep breath. The rich smell of dark roasted coffee with a touch of peppermint and chocolate made her moan.
“Yum. That’s what I want. Christmas Peppermint Mocha Latte!”
Sally laughed and nodded. “I figured. You are always in the mood for something Christmasy.”
Maisy grinned. Hooking her arm inside Sally’s, she dragged her friend to the counter. “And don’t you forget it!”
“Afternoon, Maisy, Sally.” Jenna Franks, the barista behind the counter waited for their order, her red hair tucked back in a brown cap with Cuppa Brew embroidered in purple thread on it. A full-length apron with matching embroidery covered her t-shirt and jeans. “Mrs. Banks delivered her famous Christmas cookies and gingerbread, today. They’re great with the holiday lattes.”
Maisy sighed. After watching her calories all week, she bit her lip, undecided. Sally laughed at the face Maisy made, then said, “We’ll have two large sugar-free peppermint lattes with low-fat milk.” Amusement danced in her eyes as she glanced at Maisy. “And two large slices of gingerbread.”
“What? I went sugar-free on the lattes, so we can splurge on a few calories!”
“You’re derailing my diet. Again!”
“Girl, you don’t need a diet. Who wants to be a teeny-weeny size four, anyway?”
Sally shook her head. “You don’t have the bone structure. If you get that little, you’ll look like a skeleton.”
Jenna laughed. “She’s right, Maisy. Too skinny looks worse than a few extra pounds. Besides, I would love to fit into your clothes!”
Maisy glanced at Jenna’s size sixteen curves. They looked good on her. “As tall as you are, Jenna, my jeans would be hip-huggers and capri length on you!” Not that Jenna could get into Maisy’s size twelve jeans, anyway.
“So?” Jenna shrugged. “I like capris.”
The bell at the door jingled. Maisy glanced around, then nodded and smiled at Mrs. Westland, the mayor’s wife. Turning back to the counter, she accepted the latte Jenna handed her, then snatched the dessert plate just as Jenna picked up a can of whipped topping.
“You don’t want whipped cream on that, Maisy?”
“Jenna, you and Sally both are trying to undermine my efforts!”
“Well, I want whipped cream!”
Jenna just laughed at Sally. “I’ll give you Maisy’s share, too.”
Grinning, Maisy shook her head and walked to a table by the window, stepping aside for a moment while Mrs. Westland and the two ladies with her got in line for the counter. Maisy moved to the chair at the back of the table, leaving Sally the chair closer to the door.
Humming her favorite Christmas song, she glanced at a television in the corner. A news program was running with no sound. An image of one of the most expensive hotels in Austin displayed. Flicking her gaze to the closed caption, she read the headline. “Billionaire Grant Helms, CEO of Helms Security, Inc. in talks to purchase Dray Electronics.” Grant Helms’ smiling face filled the screen, while the closed caption continued with the story.
Sally snapped her fingers in front of Maisy’s face, catching her attention. Maisy blinked and refocused on her friend. “What?”
“Did you hear what I asked?”
Heat climbed Maisy’s cheeks. “I’m sorry. I was thinking. What is it?”
“Are you going to watch the Christmas parade with Lisa, Wayne and Jared, this year, or are you going to be in it again this year?”
Maisy shook her head. “Nope. Neither. I’m staying home this year.”
“What? Why?” Sally bit her lip. “Just because Dalton . . ..”
“I don’t want to talk about Dalton, Sally.” Dalton or his secretary. Ugh! At the hurt on Sally’s face, Maisy sighed. “I just don’t want to go, this year. I’m going to spend the time making some last-minute presents.”
“For who? You finished your Christmas shopping a month ago!”
Hesitating, Maisy finally admitted, “I’m knitting caps for the hospital for all the babies born in December.” Maisy fidgeted beneath Sally’s somber gaze.
Sally picked up her fork and took a bite of gingerbread. With whipped cream on it. Sally enjoyed life and food. Fortunately, she was one of the lucky ones. Somehow, she never gained an ounce, no matter what she ate. Maisy loved food, too, but she had to watch every bite or the rolls she ate muffined above the waistband of her jeans.
Swallowing the bread, Sally took a sip of her latte. “Doing good is great, but Maisy, he’s not worth putting your life on hold. Live your life to the fullest. Show him he means nothing to you.”
Thank you for reading. If you want to read more, you can find the book on Amazon.
Please let me know what you think below! Have a great week!