Maggie O'Malley Cassidy has a problem. Well, actually several problems. She's a widow, raising three children and trying to make ends meet. Well, if the ends didn’t exactly meet, at least they got close enough to wave to each other. She has the unfortunate habit of skirting the truth now and then, not really a problem unless she got caught, but still a very tiny character flaw that she planned to work on just as soon as she got a free minute. But by far, her biggest problem was Nicholas Kord who has just found out that her oldest son, Jason, is also his only son. I mean really, who would have thought he'd show up after fifteen years and go all paternal on a child he hadn't even known existed. What were the odds of that coming back to bite her in the ass?
Nicholas Kord has his life on track; he is an accomplished attorney, and considered his trip home to be Best Man at his brother's wedding a long-overdue opportunity to reconnect with family and have a good time as well. He is still single and in all honesty, the man oozes sex appeal.
Nick was crazy about Maggie, always had been and always would be. When he saw his son for the very first time, he knew exactly who Jason belonged to and what Maggie had done. He was furious at first, but came to realize that a good portion of the blame fell on him. If he hadn't been so stubborn years ago, things might have turned out differently, but Nick is also a realist. The past cannot be relived; it's the present and future that matter. He still loves Maggie and he means to have her, one way or another, and he intends to cure her of her bad habits along the way. As far as he's concerned, Maggie had gotten her way for far too long, and it hadn't served her well. Her children need a father and whether she knows it or not, she needs a husband who will provide guidance and love; he can be all that and more. Nick has no problem applying a firm hand or taking a wooden spoon to Maggie's adorable butt when she misbehaves, which seems to be quite frequently. Who would have thought one knock on her door would change everything forever?
I know I promote this book shamelessly, but there's a good reason for that. It's my favorite, and it is in this book the reader gets to meet The O'Malleys. This is also where I met them for the first time. Where did they come from? I have no idea, but I was mesmerized as they appeared one by one, until I had an entire family who made me laugh, cry and sweat it out when one of the men approached their woman with that certain gleam in their eye.
Each time I write a new book, I wait for the feeling I got when I wrote this one. That "I don't care if I sell one copy, this is who I am and I'm proud of what I've written" feeling. I got it again when I wrote 'The O'Malley Brides'. For me, it's all about family. It's what matters to me on a personal level. A book has to touch my heart in some way and all the sex and spanking, no matter how hot it is, won't make up for that emotional connection if it's missing.
Besides, I got another 5* review on this yesterday. (grin)
So here's the first chapter and if you've read this far, I hope you enjoy it.
Nicholas Kord leaned lazily against the pickup truck. He never flinched when Maggie Cassidy’s hard hat went whizzing past his ear. His long legs were crossed as his strong arm deflected the missile, his eyes never leaving the petite auburn-haired beauty. Nods and elbows passed around the work site, and Maggie knew the attention of every man there was focused on her. She had been foreman at Kord Contracting for a long time. Smart and hardworking, she demanded the best from her crew. Those traits had earned her the respect of her coworkers, but she never had been hot-headed or lost her temper on the job. Her professional attitude had kept more than one of the crew from pursuing her after her husband died. Maggie was a beautiful woman, but she made it crystal clear that she was not interested in a personal relationship. Now here she was, hurling her hard hat at the boss’s brother. Her clipboard hit the dirt as she stomped over to face him.
Most of the men had met Nick at one time or another, but lately he’d been hanging around a lot. Most often, Maggie nodded icily and ignored him, but not today.
Several hats were shoved back, and all work slowed as ears strained to hear their conversation. Maggie never noticed, but Nick did. When she came closer, his hand shot out with whipcord strength, and Maggie found herself hauled around to the other side of the truck before she could get a word out.
Pinned effectively against the dusty pickup, Maggie shoved at the strong arms on either side of her, but Nick just grinned and leaned down to speak into her ear.
“Maggie, Maggie, you’re making a spectacle of yourself.”
Struggling for breath, she brought up both her hands and shoved so hard against the muscular chest in front of her that she lost her balance.
Nick was not one to miss an opportunity. Quickly moving in closer, he brought his hard body into contact with hers from knee to shoulder and trapped her hands between them.
If Maggie had been out of breath before, her head was swimming now. Heat penetrated every pore. The feel of his hips pressed against her belly stole every rational thought, and her struggles ceased. Her hands unconsciously gripped his shirt and hung on for dear life as her knees turned to jelly. In desperation, she tipped her head back, amber eyes pleading with icy blue ones.
“Please,” she whispered hoarsely.
Nick froze. He stared down at the woman before him. A pulse beat rapidly at the hollow of her slender throat. Her body quivered against his, and while he could sense the desire flowing through her, he could almost taste the fear.
Shoving away from her with a curse, Nick raked a hand through his glossy, black hair. He paced several yards away, bent down, picked up a handful of rocks, and began throwing them one at a time. Muscles bunched and rippled as again and again the rocks sailed far into the empty lot.
Maggie failed to see the humor in a grown man reduced to throwing stones to relieve his frustration, but more than one of her crew smiled as though they understood completely. Several breathed a sigh of relief and went quietly back to work.
When he had exhausted his supply of stones, Nick wiped his hands on his jeans and stuffed them deep into his pockets before he approached her. His jaw ached from clenching his teeth, and Maggie saw the tic in his cheek.
Dear God, she thought, this isn’t fair. The closer he got to her, the more her heart rate increased. The few minutes she had to compose herself might never have been, now that he was in front of her again. Her eyes searched the rugged planes of his face, looking for, if not sympathy, at least understanding. All she saw was determination and anger.
“God damn it, Maggie. It doesn’t have to be like this,” he ground out, mere inches from her now.
Maggie swallowed. This wasn’t the first time Nick had confronted her. Ever since Christmas, when he first set eyes on Jason, he dogged her every move. Endlessly calling, pleading, and threatening. It had to stop. She couldn’t go on like this. Her home life was affected, the children sensed her turmoil, and now she couldn’t even do her job.
“Nick,” she began softly. “I don’t know what you want from me—”
“The hell you don’t,” he growled. “I want the truth, Maggie. The truth you denied me fifteen years ago. Do you know that truth Maggie, or have you lied for so long that you don’t remember? Have you forgotten how it was for us? Have you forgotten the passion, the fire, the love? I sure as hell haven’t. We had a son, and damn you, Maggie, you kept him from me.”
The hands pushed so deeply in his pockets were now somehow fastened on her shoulders. It was all he could do not to shake her, so great was his pain. The fact that they’d spent New Year’s Eve locked in each other’s arms was the only thing that kept him from throwing her over his shoulder right now and carting her off somewhere more private. She hadn’t told him fifteen years ago that she was pregnant; how could he trust her to tell him if she were in the same condition now? They hadn’t used any protection—they hadn’t had time. He’d stopped in to give her a message from his brother, and before he knew it they were on the couch like a couple of teenagers. Well, he knew one thing. The passion was still there, even if they were at war.
“I had a son. Me! Jason is my son,” she shouted, not caring who overheard them, fury in every line of her body. “How dare you stroll into my life like you never left, demanding and accusing? I gave Jason something you never did—a father, and if he were still alive none of this would be happening.”
Maggie was crying; tears streamed down her face, and her small body trembled.
Her words tore at Nick’s heart, and for a moment he almost surrendered. Maybe she had done what she thought was right at the time. He couldn’t deny that Jim Cassidy had been a good man, but as far as he was concerned they’d built their marriage on a lie, a lie that had cost Nick dearly.
“You never gave me a chance, Maggie,” he roared in frustration. “I never even suspected. One minute we were going to be married, and the next you up and married Jim.”
“I wrote you,” she shot back, wiping the back of her hand across her damp cheeks. “I wrote you more than once. You sent every damn letter back.”
“I know, and I was wrong, but I saw you and Jim together. You were crying in his arms, telling him you didn’t know how to tell me something. What the hell was I supposed to think?”
“You weren’t supposed to think anything. You were supposed to love me, trust me,” she cried, turning her back to him as she struggled for control.
Nick let her go. She was right. He hadn’t trusted her, but damn it he had been twenty-one years old, and to find her in another man’s arms had almost killed him.
“Maggie, we’ve both made mistakes, but that doesn’t mean we have to go on making them,” he said gently, laying a hand on her shoulder. “Can’t we start over? The feelings are still there, you can’t deny that.”
“Nick,” she began, twisting her hands in agitation. “About New Year’s Eve—that was a mistake, and—”
Nick spun her around to face him before she could finish.
“No, Maggie, that wasn’t a mistake. As a matter of fact, it was the first thing we’ve done right in fifteen years. I won’t let you get away with denying it. You wanted me too.”
Memories of that night flooded Maggie’s senses, threatening to weaken her resolve. For some reason, Nick had more power over her now than he had back then. Toughen up, lady, before you blow it, she told herself. Before it was just you, now your whole family is at stake.
“We had some fun together, Nick, but that doesn’t mean—”
“Fun! Fun? Is that what you call it?” he asked in amazement. “Maggie, we made love; but you can call it anything that’ll make you feel better about it,” he drawled sarcastically.
Fire flamed in Maggie’s face. Her hand shot up with surprising strength to slap him, but he caught it sharply and used it to pull her against him. His arm swung back behind her effectively pinning her against his tall frame.
“No, you listen. It seems to me you’ve made all the decisions here, and while I won’t hold the past against you, from now on Jason has a mother and a father. I won’t be shut out any longer. Do I make myself clear?” he ground down at her, blue eyes blazing.
Maggie struggled to get out of his grasp and failed.
“You don’t have any right to tell me how it’s going to be,” she snapped, flinging her head back. “I’ve done just fine without you.”
“That’s where you’re wrong, honey; I do have rights. I’m a lawyer, a very tough, successful lawyer. Don’t let these clothes fool you. I’m just as comfortable in a three piece suit, and I’ll haul your ass into court so fast your head will spin.”
“For what?” she demanded, really feeling threatened now.
“Blood tests, DNA matching, whatever it takes to prove Jason is mine. There’s not a court in this country that will deny me. I didn’t abandon my son. I was denied him, and I’ll do whatever I have to do to make it right.”
Maggie could feel the rage in Nick even if his words were deceptively soft. Panic kept her silent, pure panic, but a surge of adrenalin followed right on its heels. The woman Nick held suddenly became a wildcat, hands and feet flying. Before he could get a better hold she delivered a sharp smack to the side of his head, and it was all he could do to block another one.
“Don’t you dare threaten me,” she screamed furiously as she delivered a kick with her steel-toed boots that barely missed.
“Settle down,” he commanded sharply, amazed at the strength of her diminutive form. Nick was well over six feet tall, and while he was incredibly strong for someone whose job wasn’t exactly physically demanding, Maggie was small and quick.
“Stop it, Maggie,” he thundered, just about at the end of his patience.
The tone of his voice succeeded in halting her for a moment but not long enough for Nick to get a grip on this bundle of fury.
“Maggie,” he panted, yelping when her foot finally did connect with his shin. “Damn it woman,” he warned. “Stop it right now, or I swear I’ll blister you right here in front of God and everybody!”
“Go ahead,” she screamed in outrage, “and I’ll have you arrested Mr. Hot Shot Lawyer!”
“Ah, but I have bail money,” he grunted when he finally managed to get her into a position where she couldn’t do any more damage—her back to his chest, arms pinned, and one long leg wrapped around both of hers. “I’m sure the boys down at the station would love to take a few pictures of that delectable behind of yours. Maybe I’d even have to come down and match up my hand to the prints I’m going to leave there,” he told her, grinning as he kissed the top of her head. “Go ahead and have me arrested sweetheart, but don’t plan on sitting down for a month.”
Maggie’s eyes were shut as she tried to catch her breath. Unable to move a muscle, the clearing of a throat made her eyes snap open. Jesus, she moaned under her breath.
“You want me to get the boss man, Maggie?” Charlie Brooks asked, twisting his hat in his hands, not sure how to handle the situation. Maggie was her own woman. She didn’t like interference, but all the same, if it had been anyone but the boss’s brother, Charlie would have jumped in first and asked questions later.
“Thanks, Charlie, that won’t be necessary,” Mason’s deep voice boomed from behind Nick. “I’m right here.”
Mason Kord surveyed the scene before him without betraying a single thought. Eye to eye with his older brother, a silent communication passed between them, and his big shoulders relaxed.
“Let her go, Nick,” he ordered softly, patting his brother on the back in understanding. I can’t begin to comprehend what’s going on here, but you cannot come on my job site and assault my foreman, who also happens to be a very good friend.”
Surprisingly, Nick released her, nodding to Mason.
Maggie jumped away and stumbled. Mason’s arm shot out to catch her, sliding consolingly around her shoulders.
“Are you all right?” he bent to inquire, looking straight into her eyes.
“Yes,” she huffed, brushing the dust off her and trying to pull her hair into some semblance of order, “but I want him arrested,” she told the big man beside her.
Mason stepped back slightly in surprise.
“Arrested? Just what the hell has been going on out here?” he demanded of Nick.
“Ask the lady,” Nick responded, turning his head away to hide his grin.
“He threatened me!”
“Threatened you with what?” Mason asked, wondering at the high color of Maggie’s face.
“Threatened to—” Maggie’s furious eyes met Nick’s, his raised eyebrow daring her to go on.
“He was going to—”
Nick was openly grinning now, arms folded across his massive chest, rocking back on his heels. He was the picture of the superior male, and Maggie choked on the words.
“Never mind. Just keep him off my work site from now on,” she shouted. Storming away she bent down to retrieve her hat. If she hadn’t glanced behind her to catch him openly admiring her backside, she might have kept on walking, but the smug man so infuriated her that she marched right back to him. That he topped her by at least a foot didn’t intimidate her in the least, especially now that Mason is here, a little voice whispered.
“Don’t think you’re going to get away with this,” she informed him, a slim finger poking his chest. “You can just get on a plane, and go right back where you came from. There’s nothing here that belongs to you.”
“You’re wrong, honey,” he whispered, his eyes a penetrating blue now. “There’s plenty here that’s mine, and I won’t walk away from it ever again.”
Maggie’s throat went dry. How could one look from him, a softly spoken word, affect her so? Turning, she stumbled away from him before he saw the response in her eyes. Damn you, Nick, damn you.
* * *
Mason steered Nick to the truck and climbed into the driver’s seat. For a moment he watched the crew listening attentively to what Maggie was saying. He hoped today’s display hadn’t cost her any authority with the men. Maggie was thought of as an equal on the job, and having Nick reduce her to a screaming, flailing bundle of femininity wasn’t going to reinforce that.
Glancing at Nick’s hard profile, Mason sighed and started the truck.
“Care to talk about it?” he inquired, not wanting to intrude but prodding nonetheless.
“Not especially,” Nick responded.
“Look Nick, I don’t mean to butt in but—”
“Then don’t, Mace.”
For a while, there was silence between the brothers. Mason drove the five miles into the city and pulled into the parking lot at Casey’s Tavern. By unspoken agreement they entered the dimly lit bar, Nick going directly to a table while Mason ordered a couple of beers.
Mason straddled his chair and poured the brew into glasses, watching the slight tremble in Nick’s hand as he reached for his drink. The sprinklings of silver at Nick’s temples and the tiny lines in his face were more pronounced than they’d been a few months ago. Mason couldn’t say that Nick had been happy before, but he’d been content. That was before he’d learned about Jason.
Mason could understand his brother’s pain. Mason’s wife, Rebecca, was expecting their first child, and already Mason loved it. The thought of someone keeping that child from him was enough to send waves of panic through him. Always impulsive and independent, Rebecca had been a spitfire from the get-go. He had been through many sleepless nights worrying about this exact situation. Rebecca hadn’t been interested in marriage, and Mason had always been afraid that a passionate encounter would result in a child. It wasn’t that she didn’t want a child; she just didn’t want a husband. The thought of that had been unacceptable to Mason, and it took a lot of patience, love, and a few trips over his knee to bring her around. Now that she was pregnant, she had calmed down somewhat, and he was going to enjoy it while it lasted.
Nick drained his glass and nodded to the barmaid for two more. The pretty blonde responded immediately and winked as she brought them over.
“There are other women in the world you know,” Mason stated offhandedly, observing the admiration in her face.
“Yes, there are,” Nick admitted, rubbing the back of his neck. “If Maggie doesn’t want me, I’ll handle that, but I want contact with my son.”
“I know you do, and I don’t blame you, but you can’t force her. You have to take things slow and easy.”
“For Christ’s sake, Mace, if I went any slower I’d be backing up. I’ve done everything but stand on my head to get through to her. I’ve called, I’ve dropped in, and I’ve even sent flowers. She won’t bend an inch. My practice is starting to suffer, and I’m going to have to make a decision soon. Either I go back to Colorado and give up my son, knowingly this time, or I move back here and force her to accept me as Jason’s father.” Nick’s eyes darkened with pain.
“Mace, I love Maggie. I have since we were kids. If I’d known she was pregnant, this never would have happened.”
“I realize that, Nick, but there are other people involved now. What about Jason’s feelings? How do you think he’s going to feel when he finds out Jim wasn’t his real father, and Todd and Caitlin are only his half siblings? This is going to affect the whole family. Is he going to blame Maggie for not telling him the truth? Jason is at a difficult age right now. Something like this could really affect his stability,” Mason said, sighing deeply.
“I’ve thought about that, Mace, and I just don’t see how perpetuating this lie is going to help anyone involved. It’s not like I’m some criminal. I happen to be a respected professional.”
“Yeah, well, you certainly didn’t look too professional twenty minutes ago,” Mason drawled.
“No, I guess I didn’t. You have no idea how mad that woman makes me.”
“You think not? It seems to me you’ve stepped between me and Rebecca on more than one occasion.”
“Only because I didn’t want to have to represent you in court.”
Now it was Mason’s turn to laugh.
“I’d never hurt her,” Mason defended himself.
“I was figuring on you being the victim,” Nick stated smoothly, finishing his beer and standing up to leave.
“Yeah, right. By the way, what did you threaten Maggie with?”
“I told her I would blister her butt right there if she didn’t straighten out. She took it as a threat; actually, it was more of a promise. On one hand, I can’t believe she managed to reduce me to that level, and on the other hand, well, let’s just say that’s the hand that wants to do the blistering.”
“I get that part, believe me,” Mason told him finishing his own beer. “Just don’t do it at work. It would be kind of hard to explain to OSHA if they happened to be around.
“Right,” Nick agreed with a grin.
“So, where to from here, Nick?” Mason asked as they got into the truck.
“I guess you can drop me off at your place. I really appreciate you letting me use the apartment.”
“No problem, we only keep it for out of town clients or family now, but that’s not what I meant and you know it. What are your plans as far as Maggie is concerned?”
“I’m not giving up, if that’s what you’re asking. What happened with us over the holidays wasn’t planned, but it sure wasn’t a mistake either. Mace, when she came into my arms that night the years just melted away,” Nick sighed.
“I really can’t blame you,” Mason told him smiling. “Maggie is one hell of a woman. Just take it easy on her. She’s had it tough.”
“I’ve been trying too. I think the kids really like me. Caitlin is absolutely priceless, and she’s done a great job with both boys. I can’t fault her there. I have no problem taking on the entire family, but she won’t give an inch.”
“I wish I had some advice for you, Nick, but I’m still trying to find a balance with Rebecca. Just when I think I don’t have anything to worry about, she up and shocks the hell out of me with some new escapade. I go between wanting to wrap her in cotton to keep her safe and wanting to roast her ass till she can’t sit for a week.”
Nick struggled with laughter. The rueful tone of Mason’s voice was more than he could take. Little Rebecca was more than his match. He’d seen grown men quail at his brother’s temper, yet the petite blonde, who barely came to his shoulder, gave back as good as she got. Unbelievable.
“You better talk to the doctor about that,” Nick said grinning. “You might have to find a new hobby until the baby comes.”
“Already did,” Mason laughed. “Doctor Maxwell knows Rebecca pretty well, and he suggested a wooden spoon—not much force, but it will give a hell of a sting. I don’t actually intend to use it, but she doesn’t know that.”
“Hey, how about picking me up tomorrow?” Nick asked. “I think it’s about time I rented my own car.”
“You’re staying then?”
“I don’t have much choice. I’m not ready to give up, so I guess I’ll give that Irish temper of hers a chance to cool off. If she still won’t see reason, I’ll have to take matters into my own hands, one way or another.”
“Well, Rebecca and I are rooting for you. See you in the morning, bro.”