Stay With Me (The Montgomery Brothers)

Prologue

 

Standing in the early morning sun on a crisp September morning, William Montgomery swore that the sun was shining directly on him.  The morning dew on the lush acres of green grass lie before him as he awaited the arrival of his dearest friend to join him for a round of golf.

The last two years had left him feeling blessed; two of his three sons were married
, he had a grandchild on the way and he was about to spend some quality time outside on a beautiful day with a friend.  William felt like he was most definitely a blessed man.  Inhaling deeply, he lifted his face up to the sun, smiled and thanked the good Lord above.

“Now that is the face of a man at peace,” a voice said from behind.

Turning, William greeted his life-long friend Arthur Micelli and shook his hand.  “That I am, Art; that I am.  How could I not be?”

A sad smile crossed his friend’s face.  “As long as you appreciate it, Will.  Embrace it.”

Something in Arthur’s tone caused a trickle of alarm.  William wanted to come right out and ask if everything was all right but knew better than to just charge in to what could quite possibly be a delicate situation.  So instead of asking what was on the tip of his tongue, he segued into the next order of business.  “You ready for eighteen holes?”

Arthur looked out at the greens ahead of them and sighed.  “No time like the present.”

Something was definitely up.  “I don’t know about you, Art, but I don’t feel much like walking this one.  I’m going to grab a cart and then we’ll get started.  What do you say?”

Arthur’s shoulders sagged with what William would guess was relief.  “Sounds good to me.”  Within minutes, their bags were loaded and they were on their way.  Conversation at first consisted of the basic pleasantries but by the third hole, William was ready to get a little more insight into what was going on with his friend.

“You feeling okay, Art?”

His friend chuckled.  “You know me too well.”  Climbing from the cart, he stood and waited for William to join him. 
They stood side by side for a long quiet moment before Arthur spoke.  “Remember when the kids were little and we’d all get together in the summertime to barbecue and swim in the pool?”

William smiled.  “Those are some of my fondest memories of when they were all growing up. 
Just listening to their laughter as they chased each other around always brought a smile to my face.”  He smiled even now at the thought of it.  “Which reminds me, how is Gina doing?  Have you talked to her lately?”

The mention of his daughter’s name brought on a wave of sadness
that was followed with regret.  “We actually spoke on the phone briefly last week.”

“How’s she doing?”

“The same.  Working for a firm that she doesn’t seem to like very much and doing her best to not disappoint her mother.”

“That’s a shame.  I really thought that Barb would have outgrown that controlling streak.”

“I think it got worse after the divorce and unfortunately, Gina’s paying the price for it.”

“She’s a grown woman, Art; she can move away any time she wants.  California isn’t the only place she can live.  Hell, she can come back here to North Carolina!  Have you approached her about coming to work for you?”

Arthur shook his head.  “As much as I would love for Gina to move back here by me, I would never ask.”

“Why not?” William asked, stunned that his friend wouldn’t do whatever it took to get his daughter back in his life.

“Don’t you see, Will, she’s never had the opportunity to choose to do anything.  Barb has made all of her decisions for her.  The poor girl has never been allowed to decide what it is that
she
wants to do.  If I call and ask her to come here and work with me, she’d probably say yes out of guilt and then stress herself out because she’d know that her mother would be angry with her.”  He sighed wearily.  “I don’t want to add any more stress to her life.  Thanks to me, she’s suffered enough.”

“That’s a bunch of bull and you know it!” William snapped.  “Your wife chose to leave and took your daughter with her.  If anything, you stepped back in hopes of making Gina’s life easier.  You’re still stepping back!”

“It’s hard, William; you don’t understand.  You and Monica have a great marriage and your sons are all with you.  I envy you.”

The sadness in Art’s voice had William rethinking this line of conversation. 
“Well, it’s kind of you to say but it’s not always smooth sailing.  Hell, in the last couple of years my sons have been more than a little irritated with me a time or two.”  He chuckled as he thought of how their irritation had faded when they’d realized that dear old dad was doing them the greatest favor of their lives in finding them the perfect wives.  So far Lucas and Jason were enjoying the very lives that they had rebelled against and nothing could please William more.  He wished Arthur and his daughter could reconcile their differences.

“Remember when the kids were younger and we always thought that it would be great if Gina married one of the boys?”

Art laughed.  “We always thought she should marry Lucas because they were the closest in age but she only had eyes for Mac.”

William felt that familiar itch of inspiration.   “
She sure did; followed him around wherever he went.  He may have grumbled about it at the time, but I think that was just to save face.” 

Arthur couldn’t help but smile at the memory as well.  “Well, being seven years older than Gina, I’m sure it wasn’t cool to have her trailing around after him.”  He turned
toward William.  “He was always a good sport about it.  I was always so grateful that he made sure to be kind.”  His tone was serious and before another wave of melancholy swept over him he added, “No wonder she had such a crush on him!”


Lucky for us he’s the only one left that isn’t married!”

“If only it were that simple,” Art said.  “They haven’t seen each other in what? Twelve or thirteen years?”

“What difference does that make?” William’s voice boomed with excitement.  “There’s still time!  I bet if we got them together, there’d still be a lingering spark.  Plus, they’re no longer kids.  Just think, we could be grandparents together in no time!”

Art turned to his friend with a look of utter devastation on his face.  In that moment William knew that what was coming wasn’t going to be good.  He stopped and looked at Arthur’s face and for the first time noticed the fat
igue that was etched there and that his color was a little off.

“Art?  What’s going on?”  A cool breeze blew around them and the sun dipped behind a cloud as if sensing the impending news.  His friend’s hesitation stopped William cold.  “Art?”

“I’m dying.”

 

Chapter One

 

Mackenzie Montgomery was tired.  Weary to the bone exhausted.  It wasn’t the long hours at the office wearing him out, it was the incessant rounds of well-wishers with their
“Congratulations”
and
“You all must be so happy”
that was grating on his every last nerve.

“Must
I be so happy?” he sneered under his breath.  Deep down, Mac knew that they all meant well; he shouldn’t begrudge their being nice.  Unfortunately, for the last two years all he seemed to hear was how happy everyone was for his brothers, their wives, their lives…sure, it was great but didn’t anyone have anything else to think about?  To focus on? 

“Great news about Lucas and Emma
isn’t it, Mac?”

Mac looked up and there in his doorway stood one of his junior executives with an eager look and a wide smile on his young face.  Mac tried to return the smile but at this point in the day, it made his face hurt.  “It sure is.”

“Tell them I said congratulations!” the young man said and then he was gone.

Mac slumped down into his plush leather chair and turned to face his wall of windows.  The sun was setting ever so slightly and the view of downtown Charlotte was one of bustling activity.  Glancing at his watch he saw that it was just after five and he knew that he should get going and head to the hospital where the rest of his family had congregated to welcome the newest Montgomery. 

A girl.  Mac couldn’t help but chuckle.  His big former NFL player brother, who had been so certain that he was going to have a son to teach all of his moves to, now had a tiny baby girl.  There was a joke in there somewhere but right now Mac couldn’t seem to find it.  He’d go, he’d meet the newest member of the family and pat Lucas on the back and hug Emma and remember to smile at all of the excitement that was sure to be going on around him when all he wanted to do was go home, have a beer and just relax.

The drive to the hospital was short and he even remembered to stop and pick up a bouquet of flowers for his sister-in-law.  The noise level as he headed toward Emma’s room told him that he was right on the money with what was going to happen.  He was greeted by his father first, then his brother Jason and then he made his way to shake the new father’s hand before handing the lilies to Emma.

“Oh, Mac,” Emma said as tears swam in her eyes.  “They’re perfect.  Lilies for our Lily.”

Right; the baby’s na
me was Lily.  Happy coincidence? Or maybe he had subconsciously remembered his father telling him that was what they had named her.  Neither here nor there, the fact was that he had done a good thing and now everyone was staring at him with sappy grins on their faces.

Great
.

“Do you want to hold her?” Emma asked, nodding toward the bassinet that was next to her bed. 

Mac was about to break out in a cold sweat.  Hold her? 
The baby
?  Wasn’t that against the rules or something?  He wasn’t the father!  He could have germs or drop her!  Lucas must have seen the look of pure terror on his face because he chuckled and said, “I’m not ready to entrust my princess with him yet.  He can’t even catch a football!”  The room erupted with laughter but Mac took it all in stride since it got him out of infant holding. 

“Were
you planning on throwing her to me?  Because I’m pretty sure that the hospital has rules against that,” he teased and then smiled when his mother came over and looped her arm though his and pulled him close. 

“You’ll have to hold her eventually,” she whispered with a sassy smile.

“Sure, when she’s talking in complete sentences, I’m sure I’ll be fine.”  Off in the distance he heard his father’s cell phone ring and then watched as William quickly exited the room.  Mac quirked an eyebrow at his mom but she simply shrugged and then walked over to gaze lovingly at her new granddaughter.

His brother Jason walked over and pat him on the back.  “Nice side-step with the baby
; for a minute there I thought you were going to cry.”

Mac took the
ribbing but his mind was on his father.  Was something wrong? Was there an emergency at the office?  “Is there a problem at the office that I’m not aware of?” he asked his brother, ignoring his earlier comment.

“Not that I’m aware of,” Jason said.  “Why?”

“Probably nothing but dad got a call and sort of bolted from the room.”  Mac looked toward the doorway to see if his father had returned.

Before Jason could offer any input, Lily let out a small cry and all attention was on the newborn. 
Mac never understood the attraction to babies, particularly newborns.  They were tiny and wrinkly, fragile and terrifying and they cried a lot.  He watched in amazement as Lucas walked over and picked up his daughter with such gentleness that Mac almost couldn’t look away.  He was used to seeing Lucas being rough and physical; after all, years of high school sport and a career in the NFL had toughened him.  But watching him now?  He seemed at ease handling the tiny pink bundle and handing her to his wife.  A collective sigh went out as Emma took the baby and cuddled her.  Even Mac got a little misty at the sight of mother and child. 

What in the world?

Taking a step back, he saw his father walking back into the room.  “Everything okay, Dad?”  William’s face was drawn and sad.  “Dad?”

William reached out and touched Mac’s arm and pulled him aside.  “Son,” he said, his voice cracking slightly, “I need you to do something for me.”

****

There were a million reasons why Gina Micelli should be anywhere else but where she was at the moment.  She had a job that needed her, social engagements that she had committed to, plants that needed to be watered, bills to pay…but the fact was that she was walking through the Charlotte-Douglas International Airport on her way to see a man who had been vastly a
bsent from her life for more than ten years.

Her father.

Arthur Micelli was a good father on paper; Gina had been given everything she had ever asked for.  Except his time.  When her parents divorced when she was fifteen, her mother had taken her clear across the country and her father had let her.  Gina went to the best schools and had a wardrobe that was the envy of all of her friends.  She vacationed all over the world and had a new car every three years. 

She glanced down at the Rolex watch her father had given her for her last birthday and saw that it was a little after two in the afternoon and she was scheduled to meet William Montgomery in baggage claim at two-fifteen.  That made her smile slightly.  The Montgomerys were always such good friends to her parents and Gina had nothing but fond memories of the countless times they had gotten together for barbecue’s and holidays and even several vacations. 

She often thought about the family and where they all were now.  She knew that Lucas had played professional football and although Gina was not a fan of sports, she remembered reading about the injury that had ended his career.  She had been devastated for her old friend and could only hope that he was doing well.  Jason Montgomery was a couple of years older than her and she had seen him a couple of times in the last few years when he had flown out to the West coast for business.  It had never been intentional, but they ran in some of the same social circles and she usually got the Reader’s Digest version of what was new with his family.  While hearing how his parents were doing was always nice, she somehow managed to listen politely until he got to news about Mac.

Mackenzie Montgomery.

Sigh.

Mac had been her reason for living when she was a teenager.  He was so much older and they had absolutely nothing in common but she had always been drawn to him.  He was serious and studious and much more reserved than his brothers but Gina found that even at a young age, she was attracted to that in a man.

He had always been polite to her and had treated her like a kid sister but by the time she hit puberty, the last thing she wanted was to have Mac think of her like that.  Gina had had big plans for when she turned eighteen and how she would find the courage to engage with Mac on an adult level but her mother had moved her thousands of miles away before she ever had the chance.

Sighing, Gina picked up her pace and navigated her way through the throngs of people to get to baggage claim.  Her father was in serious condition and there was little hope of him living beyond the next three months.  The thought caused a tightening in her chest.  Even though Arthur Micelli was an absentee father, it didn’t mean that she wasn’t devast
ated by the thought of losing him. 

William had promised to set up an appointment for her to talk with her father’s doctors so that they could better explain Arthur’s condition.  It was not something that Gina was particularly looking forward to.  She was here because Arthur was her father; she had no idea how to be with him or how she was supposed to act with his medical team.  When she made arrangements at work for a leave of absence and her boss had asked how long she’d be gone for, Gina had shrugged and said,
“I don’t know; a couple of weeks, I guess.”
  Surely she wasn’t expected to stay until the end?  What good would that do?  Wouldn’t it be better for her and Arthur to settle their differences so that he could die in peace?

A shudder ran down her spine at her own callous thoughts.  Gina couldn’t think about her father dying; not now.  She wasn’t ready.  In her mind, it was better not to know and to act as if he was going to recover and be okay. 

Yes, that was what she was going to do.  She would thank William for his efforts but then graciously decline his offer to meet with the doctors.  The less she knew, the better.  No, her time would be better spent just being with Arthur and making peace. 

Looking up she saw the signs signaling where her luggage was being unloaded and anxiously looked around for William Montgomery.  Knowing that it had been well over ten years since she’d last seen him, Gina
still had no doubt in her mind that she’d recognize him.  Her gaze went over the crowd of people standing around and waiting and that’s when she saw him.

Mac.

What was Mac doing here?  Where was his father? Why didn’t someone tell her there was a change in plans?  She wasn’t ready for this!  She wasn’t dressed to meet up with the object of her every teenage fantasy.  The flight had been over six hours; she stunk like plane and had dressed casually for the flight.

With a quick duck through the crowd, Gina ran for the nearest ladies room and did her best to
freshen up.  Her long, black hair had been haphazardly pulled back into a ponytail and the curls were begging to be let loose.  Pulling the band from her hair, she shook it out and finger combed it to try and tame it.  Unfortunately, the hair gods were not on her side and Gina felt like she looked like something out of an eighties hair band video.

Sighing with frustration, she gave up the fight against her hair and pulled out her small makeup bag from her purse and retouched her lipstick and blush and used her travel toothbrush to do a quick brush and rinse to freshen her breath.  The final touch was a spritz of perfume to her wrists and then she straightened and turned to look at herself in the full-length mirror. 

“Let’s hope that he doesn’t hold too much stock in first impressions,” she muttered as she squared her shoulders, took a deep breath and made her way back out into the crowd and toward one Mackenzie Montgomery.

****

Mac scanned the crowd again in search of Gina Micelli.  When his father had asked him if he would come and pick her up at the airport, Mac had been less than enthused at the idea but in doing so he got himself out of being part of the big taking-baby-Lily-home festivities. 

It was like trading one form of hell for another.

It had been over ten years since he’d last seen Gina and he basically had no idea who he should be looking for.  He remembered her as a kid; dark hair, glasses and the typical awkward, gangly teen.  He may not know much about these things but he was sure that she didn’t stay that way.  Looking at his watch he huffed with agitation.  It was two-twenty.  He knew for a fact that Gina’s plane had arrived on time so where was she?

With another glance around the baggage claim area he caught a glimpse of a gypsy.  That was the only way to describe the woman who seemingly floated toward the luggage belt.  She w
as petite, maybe five foot four, tops, and she wore some sort of long, gauzy black skirt that flowed with her every step.  Peeking out from behind the filmy fabric was a pair of bejeweled sandals and hot pink tipped toes.  Mac swallowed roughly as his gaze lingered upwards.

A tiny waist was where a sheer blouse was belted and underneath it was what promised to be a phenomenal body covered in some sort of clingy teal colored cami that matched the beaded necklace around her slender neck.  Dark sunglasses covered her eyes but Mac mentally bet himself that they were either blue or green and
knew that either would look phenomenal against her tanned skin and jet black hair.

He shifted his stance and pulled at the collar of his shirt because it certainly felt like it was getting hot in the airport.  Unable to tear his eyes away, he watched, fascinated by her every graceful move, as she reached over and pulled a large black suitcase from the belt and then did her own scan of the crowd. 
When her gaze landed on him, Mac felt frozen to the spot. 

Other books

Falling For a Hybrid by Marisa Chenery
Stepbrother, Mine #2 by Opal Carew
Imperfect Love by Isabella White
A Friend from England by Anita Brookner
Murder Your Darlings by Murphy, J.J.
Beyond Peace by Richard Nixon
New Species 12 Darkness by Laurann Dohner