(Ludzecky Sisters #1)
by Kathryn Shay
BEGIN AGAIN tells the story of Paulina Ludzecky who, since her husband died three years ago, runs a contracting business with her twin, Antonia. She’s ready to dip her toes in romance, when she meets Adam Armstrong, the architect on the new music hall her company is building.
For Adam, opposites attract and he’s drawn to this no-nonsense, down-to-earth girl next door. She’s equally interested in him though he’s too different from her to settle down with. But alpha male Adam has other plans for Paulina and isn’t about to let her go, even when Paulina has trouble with committing to him. Sex, yes! Love, no! This second chance at love story will tug on your heartstrings.
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The Ludzecky family was well acquainted with tragedy, but none as horrific as this one.
The matriarch, Donuta Ludzecky, affectionately known as Matka, sat in the front pew of a Catholic church next to her best friend, Rosie Pettrone. The woman had suffered the worst loss any mother could have visited on her—losing a child or, in this case, losing two. Twin boys. Twenty-eight years old. The driver of a truck had barreled through a red light and crumpled the front of the car. The boys were killed instantly. They had been married to Paulina and Antonia, Donuta’s two daughters. Like the good Polish woman that she was, Donuta sat stalwart, holding back any display of her own emotions. Of course, she suffered with and for her friend. But she also could not help thinking of the effect this obscene event would have on her eight children.
Her gaze traveled first to her twin girls, dressed in black, shoulders hunched, sitting on either side of Rosie. Antonia had dissolved into tears the moment they had walked into church and had not stopped crying. Lukasz had to take care of her two-year-old son, who cried into his uncle’s chest. Paulina, stronger both physically and emotionally than Nia, had slid her arms around her boys, and remained stone-faced. The crying would come later for her, Donuta knew. And their lives would never be the same without their men. Donuta had learned that fact from the death of her own husband when she was in her forties.
Her gaze landed on Lukasz. He and his wife, Kelsey, had come down from Binghamton after the accident happened. Their near-perfect lives had been hard-won, and now their happiness would be shadowed by their sisters’ trauma. And Lukasz would suffer over living four hours away from the family. Next in age, Caterina was content as a mother, working in linguistics for the Secret Service, very much in love with her husband Aidan O’Neil. She would want to protect the girls, which would be impossible. She had already made plans to stay in Queens with them for three weeks.
Ana, the third oldest, had helped take care of Donuta’s other children, especially when more babies had come along and Donuta was in the hospital, giving birth or, twice, with exhaustion. Though Ana was happily married with one child, she would smother her twin sisters, trying to make things right for them.
Magdalena, a year younger than Ana, would take over the logistics. A successful businesswoman, she would try to organize, strategize and “fix” whatever she could for her sisters. She did not yet know there was no fixing tragedy, that the girls needed to simply grieve, but Magdalena believed she could do anything she set her mind to.
And then there was Sofia, who had had tragedy of her own. At sixteen, she had been diagnosed with leukemia. The treatment had forced her to give up her dancing aspirations. This one would go into herself unless someone stopped her. Donuta hoped her quiet daughter, fragile, thin as a willow, could withstand the sorrow that had come their way.
And last was Elizabeita. Who knew what the baby of the family would do? Bright enough to be a Rhodes Scholar and earn two degrees at Oxford, pretty enough to be a model and bold enough to sky dive and jump off cliffs, the girl had been impossible to control all her life. Donuta worried about her. How would this one handle the overwhelming grief?
When the priest asked them to stand, Donuta chided herself. She was thinking about her family’s welfare, and here was poor Rosie, who had suffered such loss. However, the fact remained: Donuta would be a friend in every way, but her role as Matka would make her priority her children, as always.
From the way Adam looked at her when they were seated on the bench, Paulina knew he was going to kiss her, so she tried to leave the backyard. But once he’d stopped her, there was no escaping—because she didn’t want to be anywhere else. His mouth touched hers lightly, brushed over her lips, and she savored his taste—coffee and a hint of peppermint, which was soon eclipsed by the essence of him filling her head. After a few seconds, he slid his arms around her and drew her close. She went easily, willingly and fell deeper into the kiss. His tongue explored her mouth, and she allowed it,
welcomed it, returned it. His body aligned perfectly with hers, and he pressed his hips in close. He was hard, and she was going damp, and she wanted to weep with the sensation. She missed the scent of a man, his flesh and bones, his unyielding frame. She inhaled him, crooked her head so he could get better access.
She had no idea how long the embrace went on. All she knew was that at some point, they were both stepping back, breathing hard, staring at each other.
“Well!” he said, raking his hand through his hair. She took pleasure in his loss of composure and consequently wasn’t embarrassed by hers. “That was unexpected.” “Really? You started it.”
“That’s not what I mean.” He arched a brow. “Besides, you wanted it.”
“I’m not denying that.”
“What I meant was, the contact was intense. Right away, without warning. I’m shocked by my reaction.”
Her hand touched her lips as she savored his taste, still on her. “I enjoyed it. But if you didn’t, that’s okay.” Once more, she started away. She didn’t have time for games, and if he was rebuffing her again, she didn’t want to stick around and get her feelings hurt.
“Hold on!” This time he caught her hand, pulled her around and didn’t let go. “Why do you keep running away?”
She took in a deep breath. “I guess because I can’t read you. You flirted, asked in an email if we should meet, then said never mind.”
No hedging. No denial. She liked that. “Why?”
“Because I wasn’t sure we should…do anything like this.”
“Adam, it was only a kiss.”
His expression said it was much more than that.
“But I liked it,” she continued. “Still, don’t worry. I’m not asking you for anything.”
Jamming his hands in his pockets, he rocked back on his heels. “What if I want something?”
“Damn it, Adam, just say what you mean. What you want. I don’t have time for or interest in being coy.”
“Let’s go out.”
She watched him.
“You’ve dated since your husband died, right?”
“No, but recently I made a decision that I wanted to get into the…the swing of things.
I’m seeing someone tonight for supper and a movie.”
His brows knit together. “Is it serious?”
“I met him on first base.”
She laughed at her expression. “At a softball game. I got a hit, and he…never mind all that.”
“So, you’re a free agent, so to speak.”
And would probably stay one. But she’d like to see this man. “I am, but I’m not interested in anything serious. Just some fun.” Some hot sex. She didn’t say that aloud, thank God. Though she knew one thing: she was attracted to him big-time.
“Have dinner with me this weekend.”
“Sofia’s taking the boys on Sunday for the day. I could do an early dinner.”
“All right. I’ll pick you up at five.” He added, “Wear something nice, but no ball gowns.”
Did he think he had to tell her what to wear? What was all that about? Maybe it was nothing. She just wasn’t used to this dating scene. Had never really been in it. He was probably being thoughtful.
“Hey, Paulie, you back here?” Frank’s voice came from the end of the yard.
She said, “I have to go.”
He grasped her arm again. “Would you wear your hair down Sunday?”
“Maybe. Let’s wait and see.”
(Ludzecky Sisters Series, #2)
by Kathryn Shay
In PRIMARY COLORS, Nia Ludzecky Pettrone is stuck in her grief and can’t find a way out of her sorrow over the untimely death of her beloved husband. Then she meets famous modern artist Rafe Castle, and she’s intrigued by his gentle demeanor and lack of arrogance. When he shows interest in giving her son the confidence and skills to nurture his budding art talent, she starts falling for him. Still, she finds it hard to leave the past behind and embrace love after loss.
Rafe is definitely interested in a relationship with Nia. If he has his way, she’ll come to love him and he vows to be patient. But when she rejects him in the most elemental of ways, can he control the comparison to past hurts she resurrects for him?
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“And the winner of the first grade prize for Excellence in Art is Salvador Pettrone.” Simultaneously, Ben and Tommy jumped up, fists in the air. “Yes!”
Sal sat demurely in his little first grade chair and blushed.
From the gathering of parents and guests off to the side, Nia watched her son, wishing he was outgoing like his cousins but loving him to pieces anyway.
“Sal.” The deep male voice of the man at the microphone was filled with excitement. “Come up and get your prize.”
Rafael Castle gave a megawatt smile, making Paulina take in a breath. From beside her, Adam Armstrong leaned in. “Watch it, girl. You’re taken.”
Paulina laughed. “Yeah, but not dead.”
She’d been so happy all summer, now that her relationship with Adam was blossoming. They’d met when their company, Pettrone and Ludzecky Builders, had gotten the bid on a music hall that he’d designed. Surprisingly, Nia had taken a liking to the man despite the fact that he lived in a different world from the family. It seemed that every time she saw him and Paulina together, they were closer. And he’d treated Sal just like Paulina’s boys—kind and gentle, always calm.
Making his way to the front, Sal stood before Rafe Castle, looking up and now smiling broadly. Nia had heard a lot about the man who’d come to Benjamin Franklin Elementary School as an artist in residence for two weeks. She’d voted at the PTA meeting for him to be chosen because his artwork seemed so alive. Sal talked about him often…
Mom, he said I got talent.
Mom, he used my picture as an example.
Mom, he loves my work.
She’d been so grateful to the artist for helping bring her son out of his shell, for making him feel good about himself, even before she’d gotten an email from him: Dear Mrs. Pettrone, Your son Sal is one of the most talented artists of a young age I’ve ever seen. After the Art Fair, can we talk?
Responding in the affirmative, Nia was thrilled, and anxious to hear what he had to say.
The grades were separated in the large gym, and Sal watched as the other winners were awarded their prizes. And he cheered heartily for them. He’s such a nice kid, she thought for the hundredth time. Peter would have been so proud. Though her husband had been a jock, he’d have celebrated his son’s success in art, where Sal had inexplicably shown both interest and talent. It had been one of the many things she’d loved about Peter. Sometimes, at events like this, the hole in her heart became a gaping chasm and she struggled against the emotion.
When the formal part of the presentation was over, Rafe said, “Now mingle, everybody. See what stellar work your classmates have done.” Displays of student art lined the walls. “And parents, please browse, too. Congratulations to them all.”
The groups disbanded, and three little dark-haired, dark-eyed boys ran to where the Ludzecky family had gathered.
Sal threw himself into Nia’s arms. “Mommy, I won!”
“I know, sweetheart. Congratulations.”
Sneaking around his mother, Ben went up to Adam and gave him a high-five. “We didn’t win. Mom told us last night we have other talents.”
“But we’re glad Sal won,” Tommy put in. “I like his drawings.”
Adam ruffled Sal’s hair. “We’re happy for you, kid.”
Nia glanced up to see Rafe Castle approaching them. Before he greeted any of them, he knelt down so he was eye-level with Sal. How thoughtful. “You did good, Salvador. Just like your namesake.”
“What’s a namesake?” Ben asked.
Sal announced proudly, “Who you’re named after.”
“Our Uncle Salvador?”
A male chuckle from the artist. “Nope. I told him I bet he has roots going back to Salvador Dali, the famous twentieth-century artist.”
“Like you, Rafe.” Nia noticed Sal used his first name. “You said maybe you got roots to…who was it?”
“A painter from the Renaissance time period. Raphael Sanzio da Urbino.”
“Yeah, that’s him.”
Standing, Rafe turned his gaze to Nia. “Mrs. Pettrone?”
Nia cleared her throat. Though she’d seen pictures of him online since the school chose him for this position, his physical presence was daunting. Those navy eyes focused on her, increasing their effect. “Yes, I’m Sal’s mother.”
“You’re son’s very talented.”
“So you said.”
Castle’s brows rose. “Adam? Hello.”
“You know my teacher, Adam?” Sal asked.
“We’ve met. And I saw his show at the Mitchell Gallery. I bought The Dragon Within. His work is amazing. So individualistic.”
“What does that mean?” Ben wanted to know.
“That everybody gets something different out of it,” Adam explained.
Her sister held out her hand. “I’m Paulina Pettrone.”
When he got a look at Paulina, Rafe startled. “Wow, two of you? How do the men in the world stand it when you’re together?”
“Excuse me?” This from Nia.
“You must bowl them over.”
Paulina rolled her eyes. “It was a compliment, Nia. Say thanks.” She focused on the boys. “Let’s go see everybody’s art before we have to leave. Nia, take your time in getting back to work. No rush.”
“Could Sal go with you?” Rafe asked. “I’d like to speak to Mrs. Pettrone in private.”
Nia stepped back.
“It’s all positive stuff.”
The four of them left, and Nia folded her arms across her chest, watching Rafe Castle. His dark hair was long and curly, and he carried himself in the confident, masculine way that men who looked like him seemed to have. “What did you want to talk about?”
“I appreciated your letter.”
“I meant every word, and more. Did you notice how his paintings and drawings evolved the last two weeks?”
“Yes, I did. Some got more realistic. Some more abstract. I liked the latter best.”
His eyes glistened like sapphires, as if she’d said the right thing. “I have a proposal for you. I’d like to continue working with Sal. Free of charge.”
“Why on earth would you do that? Adam said you were hot.”
He winked at her. “I am.”
“Oh, I meant your reputation. But back to Sal.”
“He’s a prodigy. And that kind of talent needs to be cultivated.”
Feeling guilt take root inside her, she sighed. “I’ve thought about getting him art lessons, but we’re so busy…”
“I’ll come to your house. And yes, I’d expect an adult to supervise us, so you’d have to arrange that.”
“We live with my mother and sister. It wouldn’t be too hard to get coverage.” She raised her chin. “But I insist I pay.”
“Then I retract the offer.”
“I won’t take your money.”
“Mr. Castle, I might be a widow, but we have enough funds to live on.”
His gaze darkened. “I’m sorry, I didn’t know Sal’s father died. He’s only talked about you, but…please, accept my condolences.”
Nia could feel her face redden. “No, let me apologize. I jumped the gun. The boys told us some things they overheard people saying about them not having a dad, and I’m too sensitive.”
“I don’t think you can be too sensitive about your kids.” He cocked his head. “So, the lessons?”
“I’ll think about it.”
His brows rose, indicating surprise at her statement. “All right.” He took out a card and handed it to her. “Let me know.”
“One thing, Mr. Castle. Thanks for not asking in front of Sal.”
“Of course not. We’re buddies. He’ll want to do this. But it’s your decision. I respect that.”
“Do you have kids?”
“No, never married. So none yet.” A big male grin. “Someday, though.”
As he walked away, Nia stared at his long male stride. And okay, his butt, encased in soft denim, and his broad shoulders in a chamois shirt. But that wasn’t the matter at hand. Now, once again, she’d have to make the right choice for her child alone. She wished Peter was here to help with that and a million other things. Which was enough to worry about. But more pressing was the issue that Nia had not gotten beyond her grief enough to move on like Paulina had and that was as big an issue as the solo responsibility she now had.
“I remember.” When he didn’t say more, she batted her eyes like Elizabeita did when she flirted. “Mr. Castle, are you asking me to come up and see your etchings?” The old line for seduction.
“Well, Ms. Pettrone, my intention was more honorable until you said that, but I’m up for anything.”
Was she? Right now, Nia felt like she was.
He watched her. When she didn’t move, he took her hand. “Come up to my place. I do want to show you something.”
They walked faster down the two blocks, still holding hands. Once inside his building, they took the elevator in silence and Rafe unlocked the door to his loft.
Nia entered first. “I’m still stunned by how big this place is.”
“I don’t need all this space, but Jonas loved the openness.”
“It suits you, Rafe.”
He turned to her. “Why is that?”
“You’re larger than life and not because you’re famous. It’s your personality. You’re joie de vivre. You live in primary colors.” And her tones ran from cream to beige and often times gray.
“What a nice way to put it. Jonas said I take pleasure in everything.”
“After a difficult childhood, that’s amazing.” He was amazing.
“Now I’m embarrassed.”
Taking her hand, he tugged her to the studio. Several easels stood guard around the room. Two canvases were started. Another was covered with a cloth, and he crossed to it. “Stand about five feet away. Face the other side of the room.”
“I’m going to show you something I did the night you were at my loft. But I want to see your face when you first get a look at it.”
Nia turned to the collection on the opposite wall. The easels there sported scarlets and yellows, peacock blue and pinks.
Rustling, scraping. Then, “Okay, turn around.”
Pivoting back, Nia gasped. Oh, my God. She almost couldn’t take it in. Slowly, she walked closer to the canvas. Studied the way the sky gave way to her image—which was…unbelievable. Every feature was right. And every feature was wrong. He’d drawn her as a sensual siren, floating out of the clouds. The glint in her eyes was unfamiliar.
“I don’t understand. This isn’t me, in so many ways.”
“It’s how I see you, I guess.”
“Rafe, this woman is so…sensual. Sexy. So not me.”
“I think it is. Or had been. Or might be.” He stepped closer, cupped her jaw. “Let me prove that to you, Nia.”
Nia’s first instinct was to run. Fast and far away. Her heart raced, and her palms began to sweat. But she glanced at the painting again, and suddenly, she knew she wasn’t going to leave. So she moved closer and said, “Take me to bed, Rafael.”
(Ludzecky Sisters Series #3)
by Kathryn Shay
Magdalena Ludzecky is a career woman extraordinaire. A child prodigy, she’s worked her way into a successful private equity firm by the time she was twenty-four. Seven years later, she’s still the gentle, good-hearted sister who hasn’t forgotten her roots, but in business she’s a force to be reckoned with. She’s a woman who has everything, including Logan Price, her coworker and her best friend outside of the family. They support each other through tragedy and loss, vacation together and make million dollar deals together.
But suddenly, they find attraction growing between them. And no, they both think, this can’t happen! They like the status quo. An office romance is unthinkable. It doesn’t seem to be up to them, though, as fate intervenes and brings them together as lovers. Yet fate can be cruel, too, and pulls them apart when Logan’s circumstances change dramatically. Does this friends to lovers romance have a chance or are Logan and Magdalena going to lose each other forever?
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“I think we have what we need for our due diligence, Mr. Holland.” Magdalena smiled graciously at the owner of The Natural Life stores. “I hope you’re as excited as we are about the potential investment in your company by Price and Associates.” Magdalena had joined the private-equity after graduate school.
The owner held her gaze. “Mostly, it feels like I’m handing my first born off to someone else to raise.”
She gave him a sympathetic look. “Most of the companies we do business with have that initial reaction. Maybe you could look at it as sending your child off to school, where others can invest their time, energy and money into him.”
Carter Holland nodded. “So, where do we go from here?”
“Price and Associates analyze all the documents and visit more stores.”
Logan sat forward. “Ms. Ludzecky and I are both operational analysts.” The Power Team, they’d been called by the media. “We’ll analyze your strengths and weaknesses to make sure we want to invest, but we don’t get to this phase without being fairly certain we do.”
“And you’ll complete a management assessment, correct?”
“Yes.” This was Logan’s baby. “We’ll evaluate your staff and see if there’s any overlap or duplication of effort within the stores or in upper management.” There most likely would be layoffs, which Holland had to know.
Once again, Magdalena admired her colleague and friend for being able to handle the personnel task with emotional aplomb. She was glad she didn’t have to do that part of the assessment, though she’d be consulted.
After answering a few more questions, Logan stood. “We’ll be in touch about our decision. Before that, if we need anything else from you. One promise I can make is that we’ll be fair and save as many jobs as we can.”
“Which is why I want to work with your firm.” He stood and so did Magdalena.
She offered her hand first. “Thank you for your time. I’m sure we can take that baby of yours to greater heights than you could alone.”
“I hope so.”
“You won’t be sorry, Mr. Holland,” Logan told him.
Together, they left the office and soon stood on the streets of New York’s Financial District. Magdalena didn’t live too far from here. Early January sported one of its sunny winter days, so she and Logan stopped to talk. “He’s nervous,” she said, glancing back at the building.
“All owners are when they want to grow their business and go with private-equity investment. But Price wouldn’t be pursuing the company if we didn’t think it was good for all of us.”
She squeezed his arm. “Of course we wouldn’t. And I know you’re not crazy about the layoffs.”
Pointedly, he took a bead on her. “Then why don’t you do this part?”
“Because you got your undergrad in human resources. Mine’s in finance.” Checking her watch, she saw it was 1:00 p.m. “Want to get something to eat with me and Ana?”
“No thanks. I have a lunch date.”
Having worked with him for seven years, Magdalena rolled her eyes. “I know what that means. Shall I bring a sandwich back to the office for you?”
“I’ll have you know, Teresa and I are eating this time. She has to be at the theater early to go over some dances with the choreographer.” Logan dated the current star of All of Me, the hottest ticket on Broadway. Magdalena liked the woman, though from what he said about her, she could be mercurial in her moods. Logan called it artistic temperament.
“You’re good at finding time for other business,” she teased.
“Stop.” Though he liked a variety of women in his life, Logan was good-hearted and never duped any of them into thinking the relationship would last forever. He also didn’t give that heart of his to anyone. Often, Magdalena wondered why.
They both crossed to the curb. “Why’s Ana in town?”
Her older sister was the Dean of Admissions at Mount Mary’s in Brooklyn and was often in the city for her job. She still lived in the other borough, in the same house she once shared with Jared the Jerk.
“A recruiting fair.”
“How is she, Mags? I know you worry about her.”
“Because she’s bitter and still very sad, even after more than two years. Why wouldn’t I worry?”
“It’s never what it appears on the surface, why people break up.”
Because she loved Logan in many ways, she listened to him. “You’re right. Have a good lunch.”
He hailed a cab and she took out her phone. As she watched him get into the taxi, which always seemed to come right away for him, she could see why women flocked to him. Six three, all muscles with sky blue eyes, he was a stunner. For the hundredth time, she was grateful she was immune to his charms. She much rather preferred to have him in her life as a friend she could count on.
And she could. In every way.
Logan climbed into the cab and waved good-bye to Magdalena. He was always shocked that cars didn’t crash into each other when she was on the street. She had to be one of the most beautiful women he’d ever known. That luscious hair in curls down to her waist. Those tawny eyes. She was the picture of loveliness.
Who was not for him. There’d be too much competition for her attention. And he’d never want to lose her as a friend. Then there was the fact that they were colleagues. It would be difficult to have romantic feelings for her. Turning his thoughts to Teresa Allen, he smiled. Now, she was perfect for him, at this point in his life anyway.
He saw her waiting outside the theater. She waved to motion the cab over. When he exited, he embraced her. She went willingly, fully and gave him a big kiss on the mouth. “Hello.”
“Hi, babe.” They walked to the restaurant two doors down from the theater. Once inside, they sat and she scanned the menu.
“Hungry?” he asked.
“Always. Order some red meat so I can have a slice.”
Because she was a dancer and singer in addition to an actor, she was scrupulous about her diet. “Already had some this week?”
“Once, my limit. But I’ll cheat with a tiny slice.”
They talked about the play and the changes they were making in the choreography. All of Me had been a big hit, but the choreographer was noted for his perfection. “Will you come to see it again?”
The Way We Were
(Ludzecky Sisters Series #4)
by Kathryn Shay
Ana Ludzecky had it all—a sexy husband, a beautiful daughter, her dream house and the best extended family in the world. Then, tragedy strikes them and her life turns upside down. Unable to bear the suffering of her sisters, she makes some bad choices that eventually lead to the dissolution of her marriage.
Dr. Jared Creswell, a professor at Mount Mary College, always believed he and Ana would last forever. He’s never loved anybody like he loved her. But a year after the tragedy, she’s still suffering because of the horrific events her family suffered. Jared weakens and makes the biggest mistake of his life.
When their daughter is stricken with a rare kidney disorder, both Ana and Jared must come together to see her through this difficult time. Will his and Ana’s past love be rekindled or have they put it out forever? You’ll root for these two who’ve been dealt a bad hand in life and are trying to find their second chance at love.
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“The dinner was awesome, Daddy.” Opal smiled at her father like she always did, as if he’d hung the moon.
“I’m glad you liked it, princess.”
“Mom does, too.” Her dark-haired, green-eyed daughter looked over at Ana. “Right, Mom?”
“Yep, my favorite of all your dad’s dishes.”
“Did you know, Opalinski”—his Polish nickname for her—“that I made this meal for Mom the first Valentine’s Day after you were born?” Opal had turned ten in October.
“How come you didn’t go out for dinner?”
Ana steeled her heart against the story and transferred her gaze to the family room, where a fire blazed in the hearth and could be seen from the table in the kitchen. Jared had been living here because Opal had to have surgery in a week and he’d insisted he be close to her. Ana had nixed the idea of Opal at his house; instead, he’d moved into the home they used to share. But it was harder than she imagined it would be. These reminiscences were as difficult to listen to as much as rereading the notes Jared, a literary man, had written to her all their lives together.
“We had a babysitter all lined up—Aunt Magdalena. But when she got here, your mother started to cry.” His expression, when he turned to Ana, was the one he used to give her when he loved her. “She didn’t want to leave you on your first Valentine’s Day. So I went out to the store, got ingredients for this dish, and we ate at home.”
And, Ana thought, made sweet love that night. Memories of how good they were together devastated her, so she stood. “I’ll clean up.”
Jared’s gaze intensified. God, it wasn’t fair that he looked better at thirty-nine than when she’d met him. He had a touch of gray hair at his temples, but it made his eyes stand out like emeralds, even when he wore his glasses. “Does that have to be done right away?”
She pretended to inspect Opal. Both her height and her slender frame mirrored Jared’s more than Ana’s. And now her face was tense. “I think our daughter is tired.”
As if the suggestion made it so, Opal’s shoulders sagged. “Yeah, I guess.” She bit her lip. “I can’t wait till this is all over.”
Her rare kidney disorder made it necessary to move the ureter from the top to the bottom of her kidney, which would prevent the fluid buildup she was now suffering. Problem was, she’d lose most of the function in that kidney.
“I know this has been hard for you, honey.” Jared stood and kissed the top of her head. “How about if you get ready for bed, and you and I read some?”
“Will you do all those voices in Huckleberry Finn?”
“I’d love to.”
Their daughter left the room, and they heard her footsteps on the stairs. Ana crossed quickly to the sink with dishes in her hands. She began rinsing them, but the gravity of Opal’s situation hit her at the oddest times. Combined with Jared’s trip down memory lane, emotion welled up and clogged her throat. Please don’t let me cry.
Unaware of her emotional state, Jared began to clear the table. When he brought his and Opal’s plates to the sink, he stopped. She knew her body had begun to shake.
“Annie.” His pet name for her. He moved in close so his front, his heat touched her. His hands went to her shoulders. “You don’t have to suffer alone. Please, let me comfort you. Let’s comfort each other.”
Without her mind’s conscious consent, she leaned back against him. She couldn’t help it. Because she did that, he slid his arms around her waist and held her to him. His breath at her ear, he said, “We can get through this together. I promise.”
Though she knew he’d made a lot of promises he hadn’t kept, she let herself believe this one. She had to. She’d expended all her strength on getting through the past two weeks since Opal’s diagnosis.
This time, he kissed her hair.
Then, loudly, too loudly, she heard, “Dad, I’m done… What’s going on?”
Jared stepped away. Ana straightened. “Just helping Mom clean up.” He cleared his throat. “I’ll be right up.”
Ana could hear that Opal didn’t move. So she ducked out from in front of Jared and pasted a smile on her face. “You look cute in those new jammies Aunt Mags gave you.” Red and black, they had dogs on them.
“Yeah, to take to the hospital.” Again, she bit her lip. Looked as if Ana wasn’t the only emotional one tonight. Crossing to her daughter, she embraced her.
Ana wished she could keep her child close, not turn her over to doctors who would operate on her. But she couldn’t; she had to be strong. “I promise we’ll be there for you, Opal. You’re not alone in this.”
“Daddy, too?” she asked in a whisper.
Ana glanced at Jared. His face was taut and he’d gone stiff. She could tell he was as worried as she. “Yes, Daddy, too. I promise. We both promise.”
Handle with Care
(Ludzecky Sisters Series #5)
by Kathryn Shay
Of all the Ludzecky sisters, Sofia is the calmest one. She’s had to be. Diagnosed with leukemia at sixteen, the disease has affected her entire life. When bad things have happened to her—her father’s death, her Secret Service sister and brother getting shot, the deaths of her brothers-in-law–Sofia has gone into herself and found the strength to help them out and also take care of herself. The easy going, laid back lifestyle suits her and she likes it. Her chosen profession is as a yoga instructor and owner of Serenity Yoga, which enhances this way of living.
Football Coach Max Walker doesn’t know what to make of this sweet, demure and pretty woman who is hired by his high school to teach yoga to students. But he’s part of the Physical Education department and has to deal with her every day. Soon he comes to learn how special she is, and though he steered clear of romance with another teacher, he’s drawn to her. But she shies away from him—big time. Why? Women usually flock to Max.
Little does he know that his outgoing personality, his rabid bent for competition and his boisterous athletic family upset her. Opposites attract is not true in her case. But Max wants her, and he’s always gotten what he wants.
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Sofia calmed herself with rhythmic breathing and stared out the window of Eastside High School’s faculty lounge. Snow covered the ground. Many people hated the weather at this time of year, but not her. She treasured every season’s dawn and end. When she was sixteen, she hadn’t thought she’d experience very many of them again.
From behind, she heard, “Sofia?”
Max Walker had returned. She’d come to the school for a meeting with him and the vice principal and encountered a fight they’d just broken up in the hall. Since she and Max had to wait for the VP to deal with the perpetrators, Max escorted her to the teachers’ cafeteria and detoured to get her tea. The respite from his presence had allowed her to even out her reaction to him. Now he was back.
Turning, she saw him there, this big jock who was probably intimidating to most people. She herself was thrown by the impact of his physicality and his machismo in, well, a feminine way. She nodded to the cup of steaming water he set down. “Thanks.”
They sat and she fished some herbal tea out of her purse.
“Always carry that?” he asked, extending out his legs as if his body required special accommodation most people didn’t need.
She, for example, perched on the chair, sat straight up, spine long, neck relaxed. “I do. I have to be careful of what I eat.”
He tried to stifle the snort. “No Garbage Grub for you, huh?”
At the mention of the fat-filled, bad-for-your-arteries popular dish, she shuddered inwardly. “No, none.” And changed the subject. “I’ve wondered how your staff is reacting to the yoga classes I’m teaching in the fall. As head of the Physical Education Department, you’d know by now.”
“Mostly positive. The female PE teachers especially. One guy is definitely not on board.”
“Let me guess, Mr. Cook.”
Dark brows rose. “How’d you know?”
“I was a student here and had him in class. He used to make snide comments about boys taking Home Economics or whatever they call it now.”
“Family and Consumer Sciences. I didn’t know you went to Eastside.”
“I did.” Though a lot of what she remembered was her illness. For her last two years, she’d struggled with the horror of trying to do schoolwork and not give up because of the cruel anxiety and physical side effects of the leukemia treatment. Thank God she’d found yoga after she’d had to give up dance.
“Not a pleasant experience?”
“Why would you ask that?”
“Your face. It’s expressive.”
“Ah. I was sick, but I’d prefer not to talk about that, Mr. Walker.”
The corners of his mouth turned up. His nice mouth. “Max. We’re gonna be working together.”
“You’re the football coach here, too, aren’t you?”
“Yeah, and I hope to keep the job for a while.”
“Aren’t you good?”
He winked. “Darlin’, I’m great.”
She rolled her eyes. “I meant how’s the team doing?”
“We had a losing season last year. A bad one. Most of the players on our winning teams graduated. It was like starting over. I’m praying for success this year, but they have to be in the right mindset.”
“There are ways to help that along.”
“Sure, I know. The kids are lifting weights with me all winter. And we have a football camp in the summer. Practice starts in August.”
“I didn’t mean your skill preparation or muscle building.”
“What did you mean?”
“Your players should do breathing exercises, centering meditations, in addition to stretches and isometrics.”
He laughed out loud, and heads turned to look at him. “That’s namby-pamby for us jocks, don’t you think?”
It was her turn to laugh—at him—though she was quieter about it. “Seriously? You still use words like that? It’s the twenty-first century.”
He scowled. “Words like what?”
“Let’s see. Pansy. Sissy. Not to mention the more hurtful ones that are feminist put-downs or gender-orientation slurs.”
His gaze turned glacial. “I’m not bigoted. I think yoga is too easy, no, not that, too tame for my guys.”
“And for you?”
She nodded to his leg. “As soon as we started talking about the team, your knee started bobbing. Fast.”
“Yeah, my mother always said it was a telltale sign of…” He trailed off. “I get it, you think I could use all that stuff you just mentioned.”
“Yes. Everyone can benefit from it. But I’ve been doing some research on yoga for high school kids. Athletes are the number one group they cite for needing yoga practice.”
“That can’t be true, lady.”
“You really should watch your language, Coach. You didn’t mean lady kindly.”
She sighed. “I’m sorry we’re getting off on the wrong foot, Max. All I was suggesting was that you and your team could be better if you did yoga poses and breathing exercises. I was hoping some of the guys would sign up for the fall session.”
“Ain’t gonna happen.”
“Obviously not, with you as a role model.”
He sat up straight and his fist clenched on the table.
Leaning in, she put her hand over it and felt the tension. She was surprised he didn’t snatch it back. “Again, I apologize. We have a difference of opinion on this. I won’t bring it up again.”
“Yeah, sure, that’d be okay.”
“On one condition.”
Now his gaze narrowed. “What?”
“Come to Serenity Yoga, my studio. Take a few classes. They don’t have to be from me. But we’ll do it free of charge. If your experience there doesn’t convince you that you’re not in as good shape as you think, I’ll be silenced till the end of time.”
As soon as she touched him, Max went off-kilter. He stared at their hands, her small one covering his big paw. Both strength and comfort transferred from her to him. He couldn’t explain it. He raised his head. It was a mistake. She wasn’t exactly pretty, though the long hair, hanging down her back in a braid, was probably stunning spread across a guy’s pillow. In her eyes, he saw…what the hell was that? Confidence. Security. Ah…peace. Which he longed for all of a sudden.
“Sorry. You’re disturbing me.”
“I don’t mean to.”
“No, that’s okay. So, let’s go over this again. You want me to take some yoga classes at the studio where you work. See if I think it can help my players, what? Be better at football?”
“Yes, they wouldn’t be the first.”
Cocking his head, he watched her.
“You know who Ray Lewis, Victor Cruz and Vernon Davis are?”
“Yeah sure. They play for the Baltimore Ravens, the New York Giants and the San Francisco 49ers.”
Approval in her eyes. Hell, he couldn’t believe he liked it. Because he didn’t much like her.
“They all take or took yoga.”
“Seriously?” Though, even as he said the word, he remembered reading something about that.
“LeBron James and Shaquille, too. They’re athletes who turned to yoga to learn stretching, focus and body awareness.”
Max didn’t know what to say, so he shut his trap.
“The basketball coach from Duke did, too, and they recently won a NCAA championship. When asked how he stayed so calm, he said it was because he practiced yoga.”
Feeling at a disadvantage, he did what all guys do when put on the spot. He went on defense. “You came prepared for this little game, Ms. Ludzecky. I’m not in shape for the argument.”
“Sofia,” she said, mimicking his earlier reference to using his first name. “And yes, I came prepared.”
Max watched her. Suddenly, he realized having her in his department, even for a few classes a week, wasn’t going to be harmless like he’d thought. And the notion bothered him a lot. He looked down. Shit! His knee was bobbing again.
(Ludzecky Sisters Series #6)
by Kathryn Shay
Elizabeita Ludzecky is two different women: one the risk-taking, hip, wild child in the Ludzecky family. Her other side is the Rhodes Scholar and businesswoman who works at the Metropolitan Museum of Art. The problem is she doesn’t know which is the real her. But what she does understand is the secret she carries inside her, and how it’s helped her survive a family fraught with tragedy.
Hardened cop Nick Casella decides to leave the NYPD because of his distaste for anti-police sentiment that developed after several high profile shootings were not prosecuted in the courts. But he’s asked to be part of a task force for the NYPD, an undercover unit specializing in unique crimes. He’s sent to the Met, ostensibly as a new employee do to set ups and other odd jobs. The famous museum has been besieged by odd emails, hackers and maybe even a stalker.
Nick works with Elizabeita when they put up a new exhibit and, at first, is not at all charmed by her winsomeness, her upbeat attitude about life or her sexy charisma. She’s a baby anyway, as he has more than a decade on her. But she’s getting the emails, too, and might be a victim, so he has to spend time with her. When she sets her sights on him, his first instinct is to run in the other direction. Soon, that changes dramatically. With secret and lies as the basis of a relationship, especially an older man/younger woman romance, does it have any chance of surviving?
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Elizabeita entered one of the conference rooms at the Metropolitan Museum of Art and took a seat in the back. Most of the Contemporary Art staff had already gathered, and she noticed a workman touching up some paint on the side wall. Its scent was strong but not unpleasant
“How’s everybody today?” Delores Martin, the head curator in charge of the division, asked. In addition to Dee, three assistant curators, three collections managers, one research associate and a variety of technicians completed their department. Sometimes, Elizabeita had to pinch herself to believe she’d actually gotten an assistant curatorship at this renowned museum three years ago.
Mumbles of good or okay or tired abounded. Elizabeita liked the people she worked with, including the two interns from the School of Art in Manhattan.
After some announcements, Delores zeroed in on her. “Elizabeita, I’ve got good news for you.”
“Seriously? We’re getting it?” She’d been working on bringing a touring exhibit of a comparison between Dali and Picasso to the Met.
“Yes, we are. A gallery in Chicago had to drop out because of a fire. We’ve gotten their slot at the beginning of November.”
“Hallelujah!” Success meant a lot to her.
“We don’t have much time to prepare for this, but I’m sure it will sell out in days. Publicity is already underway. You can expect the setup to begin as soon as the Matisse exhibit ends and is broken down.”
“Great. Will I still be going to the conference in California the week after next?”
“I don’t see why not.” She transferred her gaze to the person next to Elizabeita. “Ellen, about your project. We didn’t receive a grant we expected from the city. It’s impossible to finance your exhibit before the end of the year.”
Also an assistant curator, Ellen Pratt frowned. “But you said it was on track to be accepted.”
“I thought it would be. I didn’t plan on the cut.”
Elizabeita knew how Ellen must feel. She’d experienced rejection at work, too. Then again, everybody did.
“Make an appointment to see me and we’ll talk.”
They covered other business, then Dee took off her glasses and leaned forward. “We’ll end with something we need to discuss—the emails our department has been getting.”
For a while now, the staff at the Met had been receiving emails which consisted of a line or two about modern art. The missives had gone from innocuous statements about its lack of relevance, its nonsensical presentation to branding the style as pagan, blasphemous and sacrilegious. After studying the history of art at Oxford, Elizabeita knew about art fanatics.
“There might be cause for concern,” Delores went on.
“Why?” Ellen asked. “We have the best security of any art museum in the world here. And Director Davidson is top-notch.”
“We do. Physically.” The museum sported the requisite cameras, guards in every room, motion sensors on each work of art, and vigilant overnight security. “But we may need assistance in dealing with computer issues.”
The collections manager offered, “These emails have been coming periodically for a while now. Aren’t they just from some kook who doesn’t understand genius or wants attention?”
“At first, we thought so. Then the frequency increased. And the tenor of the messages has become aggressive. Also, a few employees have noticed lurkers around the quietest spaces in the museum. When security was called, they vanished.”
“A lot of people lurk in museums.” This from the research associate. “We call it browsing.”
Elizabeita agreed about the lurkers. Her favorite patron of the museum, a little old Polish man who took the train in from Brooklyn every week, could be considered one. And he was as harmless as a kitten.
“All I can say is the director wants you to be on the lookout for anything unusual. And be sure to send your emails to him as soon as you receive them so his team can analyze the data.”
Elizabeita’s gaze strayed to the man painting in the corner. He hadn’t gotten much done. Right now, he was on his haunches doing something she couldn’t see. It was unusual to have a workman in a room during a staff meeting.
When the group broke up, Elizabeita took out her phone. As she walked into the hallway, she checked for messages. Three texts had come in, and she moved to the side to read them. One from a professor she had taken classes from—and more—who lived in London. One from Ana. Another from a guy she’d dated once and didn’t plan to see again. She answered them and then pushed herself off the wall. Right as the workman came out. They collided.
A gallon can went flying. When it hit the wall, the top came off and beige paint spattered everywhere. ““What the hell?” he muttered and whirled around. “You ran into me.”
“I wasn’t looking where I was going. I’m sorry.”
“Do you have any idea how long that’s going to take me to clean up?”
She frowned. “Quite a while.”
He glanced back to the wall. “Damn it,” he said under his breath.
“Listen, I can help you. It was my fault.”
“Damn right it was.” He raked her up and down with a disgusted gaze. “Never mind. I can’t see you mopping up paint in those heels and the suit.”
Hmm. Must be he didn’t know who she was. Not a big shot at the museum, for sure, but she’d started working here after she got her second degree in art and had interned in galleries in London and Paris. She planned to climb the art ladder fast. Now, at twenty-six, she was recommending exhibits and had gotten one approved. She could, if she wanted to, get him in trouble.
Sofia would kill her. Sweetie, she’d say. Be forgiving of people. You never know if their cat died, if they were up all night at a second job, or if they’d lost everything they’d worked for.
So she backed up a few steps. “You’re right. I was only trying to help.” Stung, she started to walk away.
And heard behind her, “I could probably leave the paint on the wall, and people would think it was just another piece of that damned modern art.”
Hmm. He had a sense of humor. Who would have guessed?
About the Author
A NEW YORK TIMES bestselling author, Kathryn Shay has been a lifelong writer and teacher. She has written dozens of self-published original romance titles, print books with the Berkley Publishing Group and Harlequin Enterprises and mainstream women’s fiction with Bold Strokes Books. She has won five RT Book Reviews awards, four Golden Quills, four Holt Medallions, the Bookseller’s Best Award, Foreword Magazine’s Book of the Year and several “Starred Reviews.” Her novels have been serialized in COSMOPOLITAN magazine and featured in USA TODAY, THE WALL STREET JOURNAL and PEOPLE magazine. There are over five million copies of her books in print, along with hundreds of thousands downloaded online. Reviewers have call her work “emotional and heart-wrenching.”
You can find Kathryn at