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Rattlepated (Baxter Boys ~ Rattled)


One photo made them enemies.

 

Ryan Stark took it and wants to use it to promote his business.

Moira Murphy hates it and wants it destroyed. It’s a memory of the worst day in her life.

Now, they are stuck with each other in Paris.

 

Ryan Stark ended up with more questions about his past after he went through his grandmother’s storage unit. Those answers can only be found in France.

 

Moira has been keeping secrets from her best friend in New York while building for her future. Ryan’s arrival could expose everything when she is tasked with watching over him under the guise of being his tour guide.

 

Ryan accepts Moira as the babysitter he does not need or want, but only because he is tasked with learning the truth and making certain all is well.

 

As the layers of secrets are peeled away, will Ryan and Moira discover that they can not only be friends but more, or will it be too hard to overcome the loss of trust?

 

The Baxter Boys may not be with Ryan in France physically, but they are there in spirit and check in often. They do not like one of their own being so far away and everyone will be happy when Ryan returns…if he returns.



PROLOGUE

MOIRA

 

Paris, France


Can this day get any worse?

First, Noelle calls from the States and tells me that one of Sean’s friends has a photo of me, not that she has seen it.

I haven’t been back to the States in a year so I have no idea when this Ryan Stark could have taken it, or why he would have it. She was going to make sure it was me and let me know.

Supposedly, he likes it so much that he wants to use it on his website, but I’m not going to give him permission until I see it.

Then, my apartment building lost power, that is when the day really started to go downhill.

It took me longer to get ready for work because I couldn’t see and had to use the flashlight on the phone, which put me behind and I was late leaving the apartment.

It was reminiscent of high school when I was always running late. And just like high school, instead of homework, I forgot my metro pass and wallet and had to go back to get it, which put me further behind. My grandmother called this state rattlepated, or scatterbrained, because as soon as I’m thrown off, or am rushing, I forget things.

I need to get it together before I get to work. I can’t afford to be rattlepated there.

I blow out a sigh and watch the stops, waiting for mine when my phone dings.

Noelle: The picture Ryan took is you. It’s a great picture too.

Then she calls.

“I’m on speaker,” Noelle announces. “I know your mystery woman.”

“Not funny, you two.”

That must be Ryan since I don’t recognize the voice.

“Moira Murphy, meet Ryan Stark,” Noelle says.

“That can be anyone,” he dismisses.

“And you might be a stalker,” I return and glance up. “Oh, shit, hold on. Crap!”

Noelle laughs. “What’s wrong?”

“Missed my stop. Got distracted. I am already going to be late.”

“You’re on the Metro?”

“If I lose you, I’ll call back.” Except, the call was already lost.

I get off at the next stop and make my way to the other side of the station so that I can go back to the stop I missed.

While I’m waiting, I text Noelle to send me the photo.

A moment later the picture that Ryan Stark had taken pops up on the screen, and my breath gets stuck in my throat.

That is the picture he wants to use?

All the emotions of that day come back to me. The pain, humiliation, and the love and friendship that was destroyed in a simple confession.

I have memories of that day and I don’t need a fucking photo reminder.

I call Noelle immediately. “Tell stalker boy, no.”

“What?” Ryan asks.

“You can’t use the picture. Destroy it.”

He chokes. “Destroy it.”

“It’s of me. You didn’t have my permission. I want it gone.”

“You probably won’t ever see it,” he argued.

“And I don’t want anyone else to see it either.”

“Why?”

“Witness Protection. My enemies might find me.” I sure as hell am not going to tell him the truth. I don’t even know him.

He snorts.

“Why were you taking pictures of people you don’t know? It’s an invasion of privacy.”

“If you must know, I had just purchased a new camera and was in the park testing it out and getting to know it,” Ryan defends.

I already know this because Sean explained, and I also don’t care.

Damn! I need my pulse to calm and my heart to stop pounding or I’ll be a mess at work. A mess will mean things will go wrong and I’ll make mistakes, which cannot happen.

“And pictures of people in public settings, like parks, is not an invasion of privacy,” Ryan insists.

“It is to me. Don’t use it. Destroy it. Thank you.”

I end the call and shove my phone back in my purse.

I’m so angry that my hands are shaking.

Maybe it isn’t so much anger, but shock and a rush of unpleasant emotions.

I glance up just as we reach my stop. I don’t even remember getting in the car. That is how flustered I am.

I take a deep breath and push my way through the crowd, out onto the platform, up the stairs and practically run to the restaurant where I’m the kitchen manager, only to be greeted by the general manager. He looks at his watch.

“Sorry! It won’t happen again.”

“You said that last time.” He turns and mumbles something about unreliable Americans.

I grit my teeth and head to the kitchen. I can hear the chef yelling before I enter and will myself to remain calm.

I hate working in a restaurant, and as soon as I find another job where I can use one of my degrees, I am going to take it.


Chapter One

RYAN

 

One Year, Eight Months later – New York City


They are all here for me. I’m the one who called the family meeting, which really means a family dinner. The other eleven people at the table are my family by choice, not blood, and we have been together since high school, Baxter Academy of Arts, and they are waiting for me to explain why I wanted this dinner in the first place.

The table has been cleared, dessert eaten, and Dillon is pouring more wine into glasses. Alex gets me and him a beer. News comes after the meal, not before or during, and now that everyone has their beverage of choice, they focus on me.

“What’s up, Ryan? You’ve never called a family meeting before so this must be serious,” Zach asks.

“It’s an opportunity.”

“What kind of opportunity?” Alex questions.

“I’m headed to Paris in April.” In just a little over a month, I’ll be in another country, an ocean away. It still feels unreal.

“For how long?” Zach asks slowly.

“I am not sure.” I answer.

“What does that mean?” The demand comes from Dylan.

“This better be when and not if you’ll be back,” Alyssa warns.

“Are you moving there?” Christian asks in disbelief.

“How long have you known that you were leaving us for Paris?” Joy demands.

“Why Paris, France?” Zoe demands.

This family doesn’t like anyone to be too far away, especially when they don’t know when the other person will return.

I hold up my hands to silence my friends since they aren’t giving me a chance to answer. “First of all, I called this meeting to let you know where I will be.” I direct my comment to Scarlett who went missing for a year and a half. “Second I've only known for a couple days but I was waiting to get all the details so that when we met, I could answer your questions because I knew you’d badger me for details.”

“It’s not really badgering,” Kate says. “We just like to know where everyone is and that they are okay.”

“The agency that I work for is giving me an assignment. A photoshoot and fashion show in Paris.” Until now, all jobs had been local for online magazines, celebrity events with hopes my photos get picked for publication. I tried to be a freelance photographer, and I still do a lot of that, but I also need an agency for a decent, and somewhat steady, paycheck. They also let me make my own hours and offer choices if I want to take a job or not. It would be stupid to pass up Paris even if I didn’t have another reason for going.

“Then why don’t you know when you’ll be back?” Sean asks. “Don’t jobs like these have open and end dates?”  

“The company will pay for my flight and my hotel for a five-day trip.”

“Then why don’t you know when you will be back?” Joy asks with suspicion, bordering on anger.

“I want more time in France.” There I said it, and hopefully they won’t ask more questions, but I already know that they will. “But in order for the company to give me an open-ended ticket to return when I want, I had to give up the posh hotel that they had me booked in.” It was a really nice hotel if their website is accurate.

“Then where are you going to stay?” Maia asked.

“I hope that Noelle will help me pick a decent, and cheap, place to stay. She knows Paris better than anyone.”

Sean nodded. “I’m sure she’ll be happy to do that.”

“So, you’re just taking a little more time to like vacation and stuff, and then come back?” Christian presses, like he’s afraid I won’t be back.

“I finally started going through my grandmother’s storage unit.” It may seem like a change of subject, but it really isn’t.

Plus, they know that my grandmother died last month. She had been my only living relative and even though she had to go into assisted living when I was ten, I was still able to visit. She also left me the key to a storage unit.

I pull a book from my messenger bag and hold it up.

“The Photo Journeys of Raoul Beaufoy,” Joy reads, confusion laced in her tone.

“My father,” I announce.

There is complete, stunned silence around the table.

I flip to the back, near the end and point to a picture of a man with his camera up as if he is taking a picture. Beside him is a little boy of five with the same stance and a toy camera. I point to the little boy. “That’s me.”

“But your name is Stark, not Beaufoy,” Zach points out the obvious.

“My grandmother changed it to her maiden name.” Mainly because she wanted a clean start for me.

“Why?” Kate askes.

“She hated my dad.” That is the only reason that I dare tell them, and it’s a partial truth. No matter how close we may be—family—there are still some secrets that they will never know. If they find out, I may lose them.  “Grandmother blamed him for my mom’s death, even though they both died in the same accident.”

“What else was in there?”

“My past.” It’s a simple answer, but I discovered so much more.

They are leaning in and listening with interest now.

“My dad’s photos, and that book. Scrapbooks with different articles, magazines.”

“He was that famous,” Zach asks.

“Not really, I don’t think, but he was a photojournalist and traveled the world with Mom and me.”

“You?” Alyssa asked.

Again, I shrug. “There were family photo albums because this was before people started saving stuff online. Also, a bunch of framed photos of Mom and Dad, the three of us. Mom also kept a baby book, with achievements up until I was five, when they were killed.”

“Why didn’t you tell us before now?” Christian asks.

“I was still getting through the stuff when the agency called. I figured after I had everything gathered that I wanted to take from the unit, then I’d show it to you guys.” I didn’t want to keep running to them with a look what I found, especially since they don’t have family stuff like that. “It was also kind of a personal journey that I needed to sit with for a little bit, but I wasn’t going to keep it a secret.”

That is something they would understand. Some things just take time to work out before sharing.

“Where is this stuff now?”

“Still in the storage unit.”

“Do you think that is why you wanted to be a photographer?” Kate asks. “To be like your dad.”

“I have vague memories of my dad taking photos, but enough that a camera was always important to me. Now I know why. Dad traveling and photographing everything was the first five years of my life.”

“Wow!” Zoe says.

“I also found the name of my dad’s agent, so I went to see him, to see if he remembered enough to tell me what kind of guy my dad was. I was really hoping he wasn’t the asshole that my grandmother claimed. He wasn’t and we had some great conversations.”  

“What does that have to do with you staying in Paris?” Alyssa asks.

“My dad took a whole series of photos in Paris and other parts of France.” I flip the book open to France. “I want to walk in my dad’s footsteps and take the same photos and hope that some memories are stirred. There were pictures of me and Mom in Paris, but I don’t remember being there.”

“What is the other reason?” Alyssa asks. She knows me too well and can tell that I’m still holding something back.

I take a deep breath and blow it out. “I found out that my dad was French. I know the name of his parents and found an address that is at least ten years old.”

“You are going there to look for them.” Alyssa is getting excited for me.

“I am thinking about it.”

“What is there to think about?” Christian asks. “You have more family. You need to meet them.”

I’m not surprised by Christian’s response. He spent his entire life, until last year, wondering if he had family and who they were. His mother had abandoned him outside of a fire station within hours after he was born and he always wondered why. The rest of us knew where we came from.

“They may not want to see me,” I answer and I’m still not sure I want to meet them. “My grandfather signed an agreement that he would not fight my grandmother for custody.” He hadn’t wanted me then, and I am not sure about now.

“So, he signed that agreement and that was it,” Maia asks.

I look away and blow out a sigh. “Grandma contacted them one more time, when I was thirteen and in trouble. She needed them to pay for boarding school. I could also tell by my grandfather’s response to her letter that she didn’t tell him the truth about Baxter because my grandfather’s response was that he was thrilled that I was pursuing photography and was accepted to a school for the arts and would happily pay the tuition.” Which also meant that I wasn’t a scholarship kid like I had always thought.

“So, he did care,” Kate says.

“Except, he never tried to contact me after I became an adult, so maybe he doesn’t want to meet me.”

“Did he know your name was changed?” Zach asks. “Maybe he can’t find you.”

“He needed my name to pay tuition.”

“You still need to meet him,” Kate insists.

“I’ll decide when I’m there.”

 

MOIRA

 

Paris, France

 

Another happy group of tourists are now on their way home. Or at least checking their bags before boarding a plane. I anticipate great reviews because the tips were excellent.

This is the perfect job for me—being a guide through the different wine regions in France. Sometimes it’s Bordeaux, or Burgundy, the Loire Valley, or Rhône Valley and Provence. This last trip had been a six-day tour of Champagne.

In two days, I’ll be headed out again for a tour along the Alsace Wine Route. I absolutely adore the villages we will be visiting.

I took this job a year and a half ago. I got fed up with grumpy chefs that never took responsibility and owners who wanted me to manage problems that were not part of my job description. Now, I make more money and love what I do. And, if there is a problem or if things go wrong, it’s manageable. Not being under constant stress turns out to be a wonderful thing and I haven’t been rattlepated in over a year.

Sure, there have been some tourists who have been a pain in the ass and the type that complain even if everything is perfect. Thankfully they are few and far between. And the few that I have had to deal with, have not left me rattled or scattered because I simply smile and apologize, knowing that I won’t see them ever again.

I grab my phone as soon as it rings and frown. Why is Noelle calling me when it is five in the morning in New York? She should either be busy in the bakery or sleeping.

“What’s up?” I ask.

“Have you scheduled your vacation time yet?” she asks.

The company I work for has been pressuring me to take time off. I was supposed to take thirty days in the first year I worked for them and after a year and a half, I still haven’t taken any. I just can’t decide when I want to take it, or what I’d do if I did, other than go see my family and Noelle in New York.

“Not yet. Why? Are you coming to visit?” I would love for her to, but it would also make things awkward.

“Wish I could, but I can’t.”

“Then why do you want to know about my vacation?”

“I was kind of hoping to hire you if it’s not too late to book your vacation for April.”

“Doing what?”

“A friend of my will be traveling to Paris. He will be alone and doesn’t know his way around. I thought you could be his tour guide, show him stuff, help him find the places he does need to get to—”

“—Is he single?” I ask with a tinge of irritation.

“Yes but—”

“—Tell me that you are not trying to fix me up with someone.” Ever since Noelle fell in love and married, she has been pushing me to date more. Like I have time, which I don’t. Nor will I make time for a guy. Twice burned and now that I’m on my way to making a dream come true, I’m not going to let any man into my life because he will either fuck it up or fuck me up.

“No! No…no. That is not it at all.”

“Why is he even coming to Paris, alone?”

“He is going there for work, but that will only occupy his time for about four days. He’ll need transportation that is not the metro because he will have equipment with him. When that is done, he wants to see Paris and maybe some other towns in France.”

“So, you want me to be his driver and tour guide.”

“Pretty much.”

An adult man should not need a tour guide in Paris. There are plenty of colorful maps that he could use to find his way around and enough people that speak English that there shouldn’t be any language barriers.

There is more going on because Noelle’s tone is off. We’ve been friends since we were kids, so I know when she’s keeping something from me.

“Sean and I are worried about him,” she says after a moment.

“Why? Is there a reason he shouldn’t travel without an adult?”

“No, that isn’t it.” Noelle blows out a heavy sigh. “He has had some stuff happen recently, unexpected news, and Sean and I don’t want him to be alone in Paris.”

“How come one of his friends cannot come with him?”

“Everyone has offered to do just that, but he said he wants to do this alone.”

Everyone? Is he one of the guys who has been one of Sean’s friends since high school? Only two are single—Zach the female impersonator and Ryan, the photographer.

I think Zach would be fun. Ryan, on the other hand, doesn’t even like me, nor do I care for him. We’ve shared enough conversations, all of which started with that damn photo, to know that we will never get along. At least he doesn’t bug me about the photo anymore, but when he is around Noelle and she is on the phone with me, he takes it from her to chat with me. I don’t know why; except I think he just wants to irritate me from afar. “Then let him do this alone.”

“Because they will worry. That’s why I really want to hire you. To keep an eye on him under the guise of tour guide. Someone needs to make sure he is okay or let us know if someone needs to hop a plane.”

What the hell is she trying to get me into?

“But you can’t let him know we are worried. It will just piss him off.”

“Is he unstable? Dangerous?” I may not like Ryan, but he doesn’t strike me as the kind of guy I’d have to worry about. I also can’t imagine Zach being a threat either. If either of them was, Noelle wouldn’t have anything to do with them, even if he was Sean’s friend. Since both Ryan and Zach live in Noelle’s house, they have got to be okay.

“No. Not at all.”

“Then why are you worried?”

“There’s something that he may or may not do, and it could either really bum him out or make him happy.”

“Are you going to tell me what this thing is?”

“I can’t. It’s personal.”

“Then how the hell will I know what I would need to worry about?”

“You won’t unless he decides to visit someone.”

“Who?”

“Shit! I can’t say and I’ve already said too much…just be his tour guide and let me know how things go.”

At least I won’t have to keep guessing and only need to worry if he decides to visit someone.

“When does he get here?”

“April third and he’ll be done with his job on the sixth, I think. Then he'll be free to be a tourist.”

“When is this trip over?”

 Noelle doesn’t answer me right away and I wonder if the guy plans on leaving at all.

“His plane ticket is open ended because there is stuff that he wants to do in France.”

“Okay I will take my vacation starting on April 3rd, but I will have to be back to work by May 3rd. I only get 30 days,” I remind her.

“Hopefully that’s all he needs,” she says.

“Which one is it? Zach or Ryan?”

“Why would you think it is one of them?”

“Because that group are about the only friends you have, or care enough about to ask me to do this.”

She blows out a sigh. “It’s Ryan.”

Shit!

She wants me to babysit the guy who took that photo. The one who has the reminder of the first worst day in my life. The guy that I argue with, and kind of hated once.

I also don’t know why he irritates me so much.

“Isn’t there somebody else who can babysit him?

“No,” she answers. “All our other friends work weird hours. And, lucky for me, you need to take vacation and he must go to Paris.”

“Does he know that you asked me to be his tour guide?”

“No. Just that I would arrange a ride from the airport.”

“You know Ryan and I don’t exactly get along.”

“I know,” she says. “That should also prove how worried we are, or I would not ask you to do this.”

Because it’s Noelle, my best friend, who is asking, I really do not have a choice. “I’ll do it. But if stalker boy mentions that photo one time, I’m abandoning his ass.”

“It’s a deal.” Noelle then hangs up without a goodbye. Probably because she doesn’t want to give me a chance to change my mind.

What the fuck have I just agreed to?












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