Ronan’s Queen by Ruby James

Chapter one

The mid-July morning sun sparkled off the Chesapeake Bay. The corners of Ronan Sullivan’s mouth ticked up as he stared out the window of his third-floor office. He didn’t think he’d ever tire of the view or his new life in Point Harbor, Maryland.

At thirty-eight, Ronan had decided to overhaul his life entirely after a melanoma scare. He sold his condo in Baltimore, bought a single-family home in a new development, and left his job as a literary agent for a boutique agency, and moved to the waterfront town to be closer to his younger brother, Conor, and his fiancé, Marley.

Ronan ran his hands through his short auburn hair and slipped on his reading glasses. His new position as Point Harbor Community Outreach Director allowed him to help give back. His first event was a school supply and clothing drive in three weeks.

He stood and stretched his arms over his head. It was getting close to four o’clock, and he had plans to watch the baseball game with his brother. First, he had to check with his assistant Georgia to make sure they had all the confirmations from the sponsors.

Town Hall was a historic building, and Ronan loved the exposed brick in his office. The office was small but big enough for his wood desk, two guest chairs, and a meeting table. A short three-shelf bookcase sat off to the side and held two pictures from family vacations and a plant from his future sister-in-law.

Georgia’s large cubicle was one of two in the middle of the offices that outlined the hall. The older African-American woman had taken him under her wing when he started three months ago. She was three years from retirement, something she reminded him of once a week and was the heart and soul of the public relations department. The pictures of her family, awards she’d won over the years, and thank you knick-knacks decorated his assistant’s space.

“Ms. Georgia, have you received anything from the co-op?” he asked as he leaned on the top of one of the removable walls.

Her steely dark brown eyes met his cobalt blue ones. “Have you seen the time?”

“Yes, and I know—”

“Five minutes before I clock out, and you are asking me something that could wait until Monday?”

Ronan flashed the smile that would get him out of trouble with his mother. “I know, but I wanted to finish this before I head out.”

“If you had a woman, you wouldn’t be standing here asking me nonsense.”

“How is it nonsense if we need to make sure they are going to follow through with the gift cards?”

Georgia spun in her chair to face him head-on. “It’s nonsense because if you had just checked the folder labeled confirmation, you would have seen they sent theirs this afternoon.”

“I did.” Ronan mentally double-checked. Maybe he hadn’t.

“If I pull up that folder and find it, I’m going to make sure you don’t get any of the cookies I’m baking this weekend.”

Ronan quickly waved his hands in front of him. “Never mind. I believe you.”

“That’s what I thought.” The woman made a tsking noise in her throat, followed by a chuckle. “Go home, hon. It’s a beautiful afternoon, and nothing else is going to get done today. I heard some of the younger people were getting together for happy hour. Why don’t you join them?”

One of the assistants in public records on the first floor had invited Ronan. The same woman had made her interest known when his boss took him around to meet the staff. He was sure the invitation was for her personal benefit rather than Ronan getting to know his co-workers.

He never had a problem attracting women. His fair skin highlighted the dark blue eyes he inherited from his mother and his muscular runner’s body. It’s what made his bachelor life as much fun as it was. However, Ronan was looking to settle down. The woman in public records was young and screamed partier. Those days were long past.

“Actually, I’m getting together with my brother to watch the baseball game.”

“Not the same as spending time with a young lady.” Georgia pulled her purse from the bottom drawer and stood. “Why don’t you let me set you up with someone from my book club?”

Since Georgia learned he was divorced, she had been offering to fix him up with someone. Ronan laughed at the offer, shaking his head. “Because I doubt any of those women can bake as good as you.”

“You got that right.”

“I knew it.” Ronan leaned against her cubicle wall. “Seriously, I’m just trying to settle into my new life in Point Harbor. I will take a copy of your caramel brownie recipe to help me pass those lonely nights.”

Georgia waved her hand dismissively at him before pushing her chair under her desk. “You’re missing out, but the offer still stands. And don’t go assuming the women in the book club are cougars. We have members as young as twenty-five.”

“I’m knocking on forty,” Ronan commented. “What’s a twenty-five-year-old going to do?”

“Give you a house full of babies,” Georgia responded with her hands on her thick hips.

“I’m still trying to adjust to being a dog dad,” Ronan quipped. His recently adopted two-year-old German Shepard kept him busy.

“You’re a mess. See you Monday.” Georgia gave him a finger wave and headed towards the elevator.

“Have a nice weekend.”

Ronan looked around the dark offices at their end of the hall before returning to his. Maybe Georgia was right, but Ronan was happy with his life. He was finally doing what he wanted with his career. He had his brother, friends, and a dog. If a woman came along that immediately grabbed his attention, he would consider dating again. He didn’t think being set up with a random woman from Georgia’s book club was the solution.

He powered down his computer and packed up for the night. Maybe he would have time for a quick run after he picked up Loki from doggie daycare.

Ninety minutes later, Ronan dragged himself and Loki into the house. The frigid air from the conditioner had them both sigh in relief. What possessed him to think it was smart running in the humid air? After thirty minutes around the neighborhood, Ronan called it quits. He toweled off his buddy and gave him cool water in his dish. After setting up the kiddie pool with water for Loki to finish cooling down, Ronan hopped into the shower.

He heard Conor yell out when he walked into the house just as Ronan was slipping into a pair of basketball shorts and a T-shirt.

“Be right down.”

Loki was getting belly rubs when Ronan stepped onto the lower level. The dog loved the attention.

“You just getting home?” Conor asked as he rose to his feet. Dressed in a similar outfit, his brother had his strawberry blond hair pulled into a low man bun.

“Technically. Came home long enough to change and went for a run. Been back for about twenty minutes.” He gave his brother a quick hug. “How’s the new book coming?”

“Finished yesterday. My last children’s book for the publisher, and now I can focus on writing the fun stuff.”

His brother, known to the literary world as Scott Cooper, was a children’s book author and had recently released a young adult fantasy book that was doing better than expected. Marley, his fiancé, did the covers and drawings for the insides. Ronan used to be the agent for both.

Conor and Loki followed him into the kitchen. When he started house shopping, an open floor plan where people could gather was important. His home’s modern kitchen flowed into the spacious great room and created one large space. It immediately sold him.

Ronan and Conor’s family and friends were social, and he wanted an area so that they could all still talk with whoever was cooking. Ronan kept the palette neutral with lots of brown, red, and yellow. His future sister-in-law supplied the bounty of plants throughout the house. Marley even gave him a watering schedule and stuck it on the wall.

Ronan took the wings from the fridge and set the oven to preheat. “Did you hear Mom and Dad will be back in town next month?”

Conor set the bag holding the shrimp on the counter. “Yep. A week before the wedding. Dad said they’re staying with you but parking the RV on Bas’ property.”

Ronan nodded. “The HOA won’t allow it because they’ll be here for a month.”

Their parents sold their house three months ago and bought a motorhome to visit the US and Canada. They’d been traveling through the upper Midwest that summer and were currently in Ohio before heading back to Maryland.

“My heart goes out to you,” Conor teased.

“Don’t speak too soon. You know Mom’s going to be helping with the wedding.”

“I hope not. Marley’s already stressed. I hope this spa day with her moms and Addy tomorrow will help her relax. Yoga can only do so much.” Conor set the steam basket in a large pot and started the water to boil. “FYI, Marley has you down as a plus one.”

His future sister-in-law was as bad as Georgia. “I’m not bringing a date.”

“Well, in case you do, we’ve allowed for it.”

“Good to know.” Wanting to ignore the dull pain in his chest, Ronan changed the subject. “Will you still be able to do the school drive?”

“Yep. The publisher is sending one hundred copies of the children’s books, and I have an order for one hundred of my young adult fantasy. Bas said he’d come shopping with us tomorrow since Addison is doing the spa thing.”

Ronan figured he could donate any books they didn’t give away to the school libraries. Since Conor, Marley, and their best friends, Bas and Addison, all worked for themselves, he had to expand his reach just in case some businesses in town fell short of helping donate supplies. He was hoping for a surplus because families needed school supplies and clothes throughout the year.

Loki let out a solo bark as he trotted to his collection of toys and pulled out one of his ropes. He and Conor had gotten into a routine of playing tug whenever he came over.

“You can wait for a minute. Let’s get you dinner first, boy.”

Loki liked food more than playing, and he knew the word dinner. He dropped the knotted toy at Conor’s feet and met Ronan by the food dish. They laughed at the dance Loki gave when the container with his food appeared from the pantry.

“He makes me want to get a dog,” Conor commented. “I’m not sure Bijou would like that too much.”

“If you did, it would need to be a dog she could dominate.”

“Like a Newfoundland?” Conor teased. Marley’s Maine Coon cat, Bijou, was huge, and Ronan was sure it could hold its own against most dogs.

The two went about preparing their dinner and listening to the pregame commentary. Though Ronan and Conor regularly saw each other when he lived in Baltimore, it wasn’t the same as living in the same town and only minutes away.

“Maybe you’ll meet a few single moms at this event.” Conor shrugged, emptying his raw shrimp bag into the steam basket. “Or you could try online dating.”

Ronan shuddered. “Too many horror stories about online dating. As long as there’s no baby daddy drama, I’m okay with a single mom.”

Deep down, a flicker of hope blossomed in Ronan’s chest. Maybe there will be a single mother.