Zach FREE Chapter 1

Zach is a friends-to-lovers romance. This book is available on ALL platforms (Amazon, iBooks, ARe, Nook, Kobo.) To find it at Amazon, click here getbook.at/ZachAmzn

Chapter 1

“Zach, would you like to meet the new baby?” His mom, Carly Morgan, asked warmly from her comfy position on the couch.

At five, and with his own baby sister only a few months old, he really had no interest in this new baby. But Aunt Josie was proud of her new arrival, so he shuffled his feet over to glance down at the baby his mother was holding.

Something in his stomach did flip-flops when the precious baby girl’s eyes locked with his. Reaching a small hand out to touch her downy head, he sighed deeply, “She’s so pretty.”

He loved his baby sister, Aly. But the immediate connection he felt to his cousin, Zoey, rushed through his young body and mind at a speed which was too much to comprehend.

Letting the tiny bundle on his mom’s lap grip his finger, he smiled and cooed at her in a way he’d never live down if his cousins ever found out about it.

“I think she likes you, Zach.” The baby’s mother, Josie Martin, spoke softly. “She’s got a tight grip, huh?”

He’d let his baby sister hold his finger in much the same way, but it hadn’t melted his heart the way it did then. Of course he loved the new baby at his own house, she was his sister so he sort of had to love her.

But, this baby wasn’t his sister. He didn’t have to live with her or love her. But he immediately did, love her that is. His brain couldn’t quite grasp the feeling he was having, but he knew he would love her for the rest of his life.

“Hey there, Zoey Belle, I’m Zach. I promise to be your best friend and take care of you forever.” He brushed his lips across her forehead, “I love you, pretty baby.”

**********

“Mom! Aly won’t stop messing with me, please tell her to stop.” Zach’s ten-year-old voice traveled up the stairs from his parent’s basement apartment in his grandparents’ home.

Carly smiled at Josie as she headed to the stairway door just off the kitchen. Josie had brought her five-year-old daughter, Zoey, over to play with Aly. Zoey and Zach were playing wonderfully together, but Aly seemed to be cramping their style.

“Aly, sweetie, come up here for a bit and have a snack.” Carly’s soft voice lured her daughter up the steps.

“I wasn’t bothering him, Mommy. I just wanted to play with Zoey, but she wanted to color with Zach. They always think they have to do everything together.” Aly pouted as she sat down to eat some apple slices and milk.

“Zoey isn’t used to having a big brother around, sweetie. When we come over here to visit she thinks having Zach to play with is pretty special.” Josie tried to console the little girl.

“You and Zoey get to see each other in class every single day, you’re best friends. She doesn’t get to spend as much time with Zach. Finish your snack and maybe the three of you can watch a movie.” Carly smoothed her daughter’s hair and smiled at Josie over the top of her head.

The women had talked at length between themselves and their sisters-in-law, Libby Morgan and Audrey Jordan. Zach had developed a loving and protective streak ten miles wide the instant he’d laid eyes on Zoey as a baby. He had little patience for his own sister, but he would play any and every game Zoey asked him to. He helped her learn to walk, tie her shoes, and ride a bike without a second thought. When the families were together it could be counted on that Zach and Zoey would be joined at the hip.

Using a reference to a popular book series turned film phenomenon, the families had always joked that Zach had imprinted on Zoey the very first time he’d met her.

“It’s a good thing that’s all made-for-fiction stuff since they’re cousins.” Judy Morgan, one of three grandmas in the clan smiled.

“Technically, they aren’t. And who says cousins can’t be soul mates?” Audrey watched Zach hold Zoey’s hand as he helped her cross a damp, mossy log in the backyard.

“Luckily we aren’t dealing with vampires and shape shifters. Just two precious kids who love each other very much.” Grandma Janie laughed in reference to the fictional characters who imprinted in the books and movies.

“Well, I for one am happy to know Zach will be Zoey’s friend and protect her. All little girls need a brother, or daddy, or cousin, or friend to do that for them. I’m glad to know all my granddaughters have that.” Jack Jordan spoke up.

Coming back to the present, Carly and Josie watched as Aly slid from her chair and took a deep breath as if fortifying herself to put up with her brother and best friend.

After a few more cups of coffee and a couple hours of visiting, Josie gathered up her sleeping infant, Asher, and the mothers headed downstairs to check on the three older children.

“That is absolutely adorable. Take a picture, be sure to send it to me.” Josie smiled at the three kids, lumped together on the sofa while the movie credits ran.

Zach was nestled in the corner of the couch with Zoey snuggled under his arm. She held Aly close to her other side.

Zach was as rough-and-tumble as his three male cousins, but he never complained about spending time with Zoey. Having Aly tag along wasn’t top on his priority list, but having his sister with them was the price he paid for spending time with his favorite girl.

**********

“Zoey Belle, don’t move.”

His voice was serious.

She was only five, but Zoey must have immediately recognized the fear in his voice because she stopped dead in her tracks.

He walked up slowly behind her. Grabbing her shoulders he quickly whispered in her ear, “You just stepped on the edge of a yellow jacket nest, pretty girl. I’m going to spin you around, and I want you to run before they get really angry, okay?”

He breathed a sigh of relief that she didn’t cry or make any other loud noises. She hadn’t disturbed the nest much, but one more step would have likely caused the stinging insects to start swarming.

“Once I spin you around, run and get the Captain, okay?” When she nodded, Zach continued, “Okay, one, two, three, run!” He spun her around and pushed her slightly.

Knowing the yellow jackets would sting that which was closest, he stood his ground at the edge of the nest, watching the little girl run to their grandfather.

His heart caught in his throat when she stumbled just a few feet away. Her worried face looked back at him desperately, her fear of him getting hurt was evident.

“I’m fine, Zoey. Just run!”

The movement and noise at the edge of the nest had been enough to stir the jacks up, and he heard the ferocious buzzing building around his feet, working its way up to his head.

Once he knew she was far enough away, Zach took five giant steps away from the nest, batting at the angry buzzing around his head. He knew he’d been stung at least a couple times, the hot, burning stings were making themselves known quickly.

Ever grateful for the well-prepared Captain, Zach rushed to Zoey as his grandfather stalked toward the nest with a fire extinguisher. Zach held Zoey close to his side as the Captain sprayed the nest and surrounding area with the foam.

“That will keep them cold and slow them down for a bit. It’s always wise to bring a fire extinguisher on a trip to the woods, you never know what it may be useful for.” The Captain winked at the children, and then ushered them away from the paralyzed colony.

Once they’d reached their camp, Zach’s mom and aunts had gotten word of the incident and had a paste of baking soda ready to rub on his wounds.

“You got stung!” Zoey’s bottom lip quivered as she watched her aunt spread the soothing paste on several angry red stings.

“I’m sorry, Zach. I didn’t know the nest was there. I didn’t want you to get hurt, I was just wanting to climb that tree.” Tears poured down the girl’s face.

“Zoey Belle, no harm, no foul. You didn’t get me stung on purpose. I’d rather it was me getting stung than you. Once my stings are all covered we’ll go find the best climbing tree in the whole woods. Whatdya say? Ready to climb trees with me, pretty girl?” He winked at her, and tried to concentrate on climbing trees rather than on the throbbing stings.

**********

“So, if you had to pick a girl to kiss, who would it be?” Kendrick, the cousin who had started to show the most interest in girls at their tender age of 11, wagged his eyebrows and challenged the other three to name a girl.

“I don’t want to kiss any girl. The girls in our class are always giggling and saying stupid stuff. I don’t get them at all.” Decker, the most level-headed of the crew, shook his head in disgust. He had yet to meet any girl who seemed worth the bother.

“I don’t know, man. Maybe Katie Smith? If I had to, not because I want to kiss any girl.” Sawyer’s answer followed his twin’s, and made his face blush.

“I don’t even like girls.” Zach had rolled his eyes.

“Oh, right, you just have Zoey at your side every second of the day if possible.” Kendrick shot back.

“Not because I want to kiss her. She’s my friend.” Zach defended.

“But, let’s say when we’re older, and she’s not just a little girl, would you want to kiss her then?” Kendrick challenged.

“I don’t know, I don’t even want to talk about kissing girls. And, she will always be younger than me. Plus, isn’t it like illegal to kiss your cousin or something?” Zach felt a bit strange to be having the conversation.

“If you think about it, she’s not truly your cousin. We all call them Aunt Josie and Uncle Kyle, but they aren’t related to Uncle Nicky or Aunt Carly at all. Sawyer and Kendrick and I are distantly related to them, but Aly and Zach aren’t at all.” Decker presented the facts.

“So, would you want to kiss her when we’re older?” Kendrick wouldn’t let it die.

“Sure, yeah, fine. I’d kiss her if we were older. But only if I had to.” Exasperated, Zach walked away from the ridiculous hypothetical talk. He loved Zoey. Their friendship wasn’t the same as his with his male cousins, but she was one of his closest friends. He didn’t want to think about ruining things by kissing her.