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Grace

It wasn’t hard for me to walk away from my family without looking back—the time had come for me to live for myself.
New city. New job.
My new boss? He’s gorgeous.
It’s too bad that handsome face is wasted on such a condescending prick.
He hates me, and the feeling is mutual.
The only reason he may not be the literal devil is because he’s a devoted single dad, making it clear Caine is, in fact, capable of human emotion.

Caine

I’m good at two things:
1. Raising my daughter to be strong and independent.
2. My job.
When my new assistant walks into the office, I become good at ignoring her. She’s sassy. Smart. Beautiful.
Much younger and off-limits for more reasons than I can count.
That doesn’t mean I want her any less.
She hates me—but as each day goes by, it’s harder and harder to remember why I hate her too.


EXCLUSIVE EXCERPT: Mine To Keep

Natasha Madison

Mine To Keep: 5 January 2024

Book Series: 

Natasha Madison’s Southern Wedding series continues this week with an emotional new, single dad, enemies to lovers, workplace romance, and I have an awesome sneak peek for you.

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Prologue

Dearest Love,

Boy, has love been busy.

Every single time I turn around, I see two people falling in love.

It’s amazing and magnificent.

Unless you are Grace and Caine, who think their time for love has come and gone.

He’s a divorced father.

She’s just starting to live her life.

And they just found out they will be working together.

Can they survive without killing each other?

Only time will tell.

XOXO

Love NM


Chapter One

Grace

“This is it,” I tell myself as I press the button to turn the car off before grabbing my keys and pulling the handle to open the door. The hot, humid air hits me right away as I put one foot down on the gravel and dust on the side of the road.

I slip my phone into the back pocket of my jean shorts as I turn to look at the house where I spent so much of my childhood. Scratch that, it’s the house where all of us spent most of our childhoods. It was like the foundation of our lives. The thought makes my heart squeeze just a touch, but I push it away. I smile when I look toward the back of the house, where I see the big fields. The sound of kids running and screaming fills the air. People stand around in groups talking to each other. The smell of the barbecue hits my nose as I make my way from the front of my house to the back.

As soon as I round the corner, I see there might be over a hundred people here today, which is the normal every Sunday lunch at my great-grandparents’ farm. It started with just the family, and then the workers were invited, which then led to anyone who was in town and had nothing to do could come on over and have a place to be.

I spot my cousins sitting around a white plastic table, laughing at something that one of them said. I quickly do a scan of the yard, knowing the first people I have to go say hello to are my great-grandparents, who sit at another round table talking to a couple of friends of theirs. My great-grandmother Charlotte sits beside my great-grandfather Billy, who always has his arm draped around her chair. I even know his thumb caresses her shoulder. His cowboy hat sits on his head. In all my twenty-four years, I’ve seen him without his hat maybe two times, three at most.

I zigzag through the people, smiling as I make my way toward the table. “Hi,” I greet them when I get close enough. My great-grandmother looks up at me, her light-green eyes lighting up even more when she sees me.

She puts her hands together before holding them up for me to bend and give her a kiss. “Sweetheart.” She calls me by my nickname, but truth be told, all the girls are called sweetheart. My cousin Audrey says it’s because there are so many of us, and she can’t keep up anymore. “You came.”

“Of course, I came.” I lean down to hug her and kiss her on the cheek. “Wouldn’t miss this on my last day.” I smile at her as I see the tears form in her eyes. “No crying.” My voice is tight as I blink away the tears starting to form.

“Come here, girl,” my great-grandfather says, and I walk around to his side of the chair. He holds out his hand to me, and I grab it. This same hand held mine when I said I was ready to ride the horse by myself, but shocking, I was wrong. He knew even then, and instead of just leaving me, he held it like a vise. “You going to ride Daisy Bean before you leave?” He asks me about my horse.

“Yup,” I answer, looking around for my dad. “I promised Dad I would go on one more ride before I leave town and ship out to war.” I wink at him as he laughs.

“I’ll see you in a bit, then.” He releases my hand, not looking at me, but I can see the tears forming in his eyes.

I don’t know why I thought leaving would be easy, but I did. I never expected it to hit me like this. I was sitting in the barn one day, looking around, and all I kept thinking was is this it? Is this where I’m meant to be? I had just graduated with a bachelor’s degree in business, but I still had no idea what I wanted to do. So, after college I came back home, and for the past year, I’ve been running my father’s companies. He has ten equine therapy farms. He started when he was twenty with two horses, and it took off. The busiest one of all is the military rehab facility he has. I help run the schedule and take care of the books. It’s when I started taking care of the books that I got more and more interested in accounting. So, while I go off on my own, I’ll be taking online classes to earn my accounting degree to become a certified public accountant. I haven’t even told my family about it. The minute I got accepted into the program, I told my parents I was thinking about moving. It shocked them, but then again, it didn’t shock them if that makes any sense. I wasn’t happy. I was literally just living day by day. I mean, don’t get me wrong, I was content, but they knew I was getting bored.

After I told them I was leaving, I put the second plan into motion. I sent my CV to a friend who works at a recruitment agency. I got a couple of offers but accepted one because she told me it was a family-run company. Something just pulled me toward it, so I accepted being a personal assistant to the vice president. All they know is I got a job working for a company in the city. I kept the rest to myself because everyone can get in your business when you have a family like mine.

“There she is,” I hear from beside me and look over to see my mother walking toward me, her black hair blowing in the wind. “Your father was wondering when you would be getting here.” My parents met when he found my mother unconscious after being left for dead. He pulled her out of the house and never let her go. “Did you finish packing?”

“I did,” I tell her, smiling. “It’s all done. No turning back now.” I try to make a joke of it as my heart spasms in my chest.

“I hope not,” she says as we turn and walk toward the barn. “I don’t want you to freak out,” she says, and I stop walking.

“You know, just because someone says I don’t want you to freak out doesn’t mean someone isn’t going to freak out,” I inform her, putting my hands on my hips, trying not to freak out.

“Okay, so I was talking to Olivia.” She mentions my grandmother who used to be a model, loves to decorate houses, and goes above and beyond for everyone. I must get about forty packages a month with stuff she buys for me because she thought about me. “Well, she asked to see the apartment you’re renting.” I close my eyes because I can only imagine where this is going. “And well, she might have…” I put my hands on my face, and my head falls back. “Perhaps called Levi and set up to have it arranged and ready for you.”

“Mom,” I moan, “I’m supposed to be moving into the apartment tonight. Like leaving here…” I point down at the grass. “And flying there and moving in.”

“Um, about that.” She holds up her hand, and I can only shake my head.

“No,” I say, not liking her expression right now.

“Your grandfather—” I hold up my hand. My grandfather is, well, there are no words for my grandfather. He is a tech guru. He owns one of the highest-rated security companies in the world, and, bottom line, he’s the biggest badass I’ve ever met in my life. He’s also overly protective of us all.

“Stop right there.” I point at her. “Don’t you dare say one more word.”

“Okay.” She rolls her lips. “He sort of had someone go out there to, I don’t know what you call it. He had a couple of alarms put in for your protection.”

“What? Why?” I swear I’m at the point where I’m pouting.

“You have to pick your battles, Grace,” my mother warns. “You already aren’t moving into a place he bought for you. Instead, living in a two-bedroom condo.”

“Because I’m one person, so having a five-bedroom penthouse is just plain dumb. And then people wonder why I never tell them anything,” I hiss. “And by people, I mean Grandma and Grandpa.”

“I can’t believe you’re leaving.” I know she’s trying to change the subject. “The house is going to be so empty without you.” She reaches for my hand.

I smile at her. “Charlie is planning on turning my room into a man cave.” I inform her of the plans my brother started to make the minute I told my parents I was moving out.

My mother throws her head back and laughs. “He did mention that he thinks we should knock down the wall between your rooms and make a huge en suite.”

I shake my head. “Well, I don’t think you have to ever worry about him moving out, like ever.” I smile.

We turn and start to walk back toward the barn. “It’s not going to be the same without you.”

“I know.” I look down at my feet. “I’m going to miss this too.” I look over my shoulder at everyone. “Even though I can’t do anything without someone knowing something.” We both laugh.

“I was wondering if you forgot about me.” I look over to see my father walking out of the barn. He’s wearing jeans and a T-shirt, his trusty old worn cowboy boots covered in dust and dirt.

“I’m not talking to you,” I say right away, and he stops midstep.

“What did I do?” he asks, then looks over at my mother, who pretends to look around as if searching for something.

“Did you tell Grandpa Casey where I was going to live?” I ask.

“Um…” he says. I see it written on his face that he’s trying to think of something to say.

“I specifically said to you, ‘Please don’t tell anyone because I didn’t want to make a huge fuss about it.’”

“Gracie.” He uses my nickname he gave me when I was a baby. “He asked me where you were staying. What kind of father would I be if I didn’t know where his only daughter would be living? Besides, do you think you could have kept it from him?” His eyebrows rise as he waits for me to answer his question.

“The point is, I didn’t want to make a big deal out of this. I wanted to move into the place and make it my own. I wanted to move into the place and find out who my neighbors were, not be given a spreadsheet about them.”

“Did he send you his report?” he asks, shocked.

“There’s a report?” I shriek. Throwing my hands up in the air, I look over at my mother to see if she knows about this report, but I know right away she does when she avoids looking at me and instead looks down at her feet and then off to the side. Basically, she looks anywhere but at me.

“No.” My father covers his mistake. “Of course not.” He pffts out. “He wouldn’t do that.”

“Unbelievable.” I put my hands on my hips. “Well, it’s a good thing I didn’t tell you where I’m working.” He then glares at me. “Or else I’d be showing up to work, and surprise… my grandfather owns the company.”

“He’s only done that once.” My father holds up his hand. “And it was a good investment.”

“He bought a hockey team.” I throw my hands up. “He’s never even been on skates.”

“That was because…” My father stops talking to hold up his finger. “There was a good reason for that.”

“There is no good reason for that. Not one good reason for it besides trying to strong-arm Sofia’s husband.” I mention my cousin and her new husband. I actually got the apartment from his cousin’s best friend, Levi.

“I don’t want to fight with you on your last day here,” my father says. “Now let’s get going since you have a flight to catch.” He turns to walk into the barn. “Unless you want to borrow the jet, or we can drive you there.”

“Quinn,” my mother grumbles between clenched teeth, “at this point, she’s not going to come home, ever.”

My father gasps, putting a hand to his heart. “She would never.”

I smirk at him. “Never say never, Dad.” I tilt my head to the side. “Never say never.” I walk past him toward the stable that holds my horse, never thinking those words would come back to haunt me.

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(standalone stories with interconnected characters)

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