Dating Breena by Becki Lee

Chapter 1


Breena rolled her stiff shoulders, pushed her hair out of her face, and read the email for the tenth time, debating, yet again, whether she should push send.

Dear Mr. Simmonds,

My name is Breena Renee O’Malley; I’m your daughter.

My mother, Maeve O’Malley, never mentioned your name, and it’s taken years for an investigator to track you down.

I’ve debated whether I should even reach out, but one question keeps popping up for me.


Why did you choose to not be part of my life? To not have anything to do with me for thirty-plus years?



She held her breath and pushed send, unsure what, if anything, would happen next. She closed her laptop and looked at the two large yellow envelopes on the desk next to it. She’d picked them up earlier from her lawyer, Mr. Pillingham, and decided it was time for some answers.

One was labeled Maeve Erin O’Malley, for the mother who abandoned her when she was nine years old. She hadn’t yet been brave enough to open that envelope. But the other was labeled Peter Simmonds—her father, a man who’d never been in her life. Had never wanted her.

She stared sightlessly out her bedroom window overlooking the downtown Nashville skyline. Neon lights shining twenty-five stories below her broke up the darkness and made snow flurries appear colorful.

The penthouse she lived in with her best friend, Grace, had belonged to Grace’s mother, Marilyn. When Marilyn passed away the previous year, it had come as a shock to both Grace and Breena that the woman who’d raised them both had been a multimillionaire and had left a generous inheritance for each of them.

Breena yawned and decided any further action regarding her birth parents could wait until morning. After setting the envelopes on her dresser, she turned off her light and settled underneath a soft, white down comforter. Just as she was starting to fall asleep, her cell phone rang.

“Hello?” She answered with another yawn. She knew if someone were calling at—she glanced at her clock—two in the morning, it must be important.

“Bree, it’s Jilly. I’m sorry to wake you, but are you up for a guest tonight?” Jillian, a Nashville police officer, was one of her best friends and Grace’s soon-to-be sister-in-law.

“No problem. How far out are you?” Breena sat up, alert, all thought of her parents driven from her head.

“About fifteen minutes.”

Breena could hear the background noise of traffic and sirens. “Okay, I’ll be ready for you.”

She hopped out of bed and pushed aside the prospect of sleep as she scrambled into a set of scrubs. She pulled her long, wavy, dark red hair into a scrunchy, then went into her closet and pushed a small button in the back-right corner of the floor. The back wall silently slid open to expose a hidden apartment. Before disappearing through the opening, she shot off a text to Grace, asleep at the other end of the penthouse.

Breena: We have a guest.

The layout of the secret apartment was similar to the one she lived in, except two of the three bedrooms had been converted to other purposes. One was an exam room, akin to the setup in a hospital, but homier and unquestionably more comfortable. The second room was designed to be a gym or physical therapy room.

Marilyn, Grace’s mother, had set up this secret apartment to provide a safe temporary shelter for abused women. She never knew who would be coming through or what they might need. And now Grace and Breena were doing their best to continue her mission by helping women in this apartment until Grace’s long-term shelter, Hope’s House, was completed.

Quickly and efficiently, Breena made a pot of coffee, knowing she would not be the only one who would need it tonight…well, this morning. She checked the exam room and made sure everything was in order.

Just as she finished her first cup of coffee, the doors to the elevator slid open, and Jillian and Brian, the building’s burly doorman, walked in. Brian was carrying a woman with long honey-blonde hair matted around her face, which was bloody and already turning dark colors.

“Go to the exam room. It’s all ready.” Breena washed her hands, then followed them into the room.

Brian gently placed the woman on the bed, and Breena got to work doing what she knew best—how to help others and be the nurse she was trained to be.

“Has anyone taken pictures yet?” she asked, gathering supplies.

“No, we weren’t sure if we should,” Jillian said.

Confused, Breena looked at her friend. “Why wouldn’t we want pictures?”

Jillian nodded her head toward the bed. Breena looked at the woman and inhaled sharply, understanding dawning. The woman on her exam bed was none other than Laci Love.

The Laci Love.

The biggest singing sensation to come out of Nashville in years.

She was the sweetheart of country music.

Breena looked at the woman again and nodded in understanding. “We still need the pictures. We just need to be incredibly careful to make sure the press doesn’t see them. But if she wants to press charges, she’ll need evidence. I got this. Coffee’s fresh, help yourselves.”

Brian and Jillian left the exam room, and Breena got to work. Someone had used this beautiful woman as a punching bag, and her bloody face was starting to swell. Breena grabbed her phone and clipboard and began documenting her newest guest.

“I’m Breena,” she said softly when Laci groaned. “I’m going to clean you up and help you into something more comfortable.”

Laci nodded, understanding. “Wait…why are you taking pictures? No pictures.” Her words were soft and slightly slurred.

“I don’t know who did this to you, but if you ever want to press charges, you’ll need these pictures for evidence. I won’t let them out of my possession, but this is our only opportunity to get them.”

Laci sighed and nodded again, a tear running down her bruised cheek.

“I’m sorry if this hurts, but I need to get you out of these clothes.” Slowly, gently, and methodically, Breena cut the torn and bloody outfit off her guest, cleaned her up, then helped her into a soft gown.

By the time she’d finished, she’d noted Laci had a black eye, a shallow laceration along her hairline, bruises on her face and arms, and a couple of bruised ribs. “I’m going to give you something for the pain to help you sleep a bit easier.”

“I don’t want any drugs.”

“This is over the counter. Not addictive, not too strong. Things are going to start hurting, and I’d like you to be as comfortable as possible.”

Laci nodded, swallowed the pills, and lay back on the soft bed. “Who are you?”

“I’m Breena.”

“But why are you helping me? Where am I?” She looked around the room. It was pale pink with white sheers on the window. There was an antique dresser full of supplies against one wall and a comfy dark-gray recliner next to the bed. “Obviously, this isn’t a hospital.”

Breena looked around the room as well and smiled. “You’re right, this isn’t a hospital. You’re in my home, and you’re safe. I’m not sure what happened to you, but when women are brought to me, it’s because they need a place to hide from someone…or in your case, I’d guess everyone. This apartment has a history of helping women in need that I’ll tell you about later, when you’re not so groggy and not in pain.” She smiled at Laci, whose eyes were struggling to stay open. “Go ahead and sleep. I’ll be here when you wake up.”

Breena paused a few minutes to make sure Laci was comfortable and asleep, then went to the living room, where Brian and Jillian sat at the counter, waiting for her, each with a cup of coffee.

“Laci Love?” She looked at Jillian. “What the heck is going on?”

“We responded to a 911 call. She didn’t want to go to the hospital but did want to be hidden, so here made the most sense.”

Breena nodded toward the exam room. “But who would do this to her?”

“I’m guessing her boyfriend. Looked like he wasn’t happy about something tonight. He’d disappeared by the time we got there.” Jillian pulled out her phone. “I got pictures of the scene and asked for discretion from the officers processing it. But it’s going to be out when the world wakes up.”

“Did anyone see you bring her here?” Brian asked.

“No.” Jillian shook her head. “As far as the press can tell, an ambulance took her to the hospital. We were able to get her out unseen.”

“She’s safe here,” Breena said. “Hopefully, we can keep it that way. I’ll talk to Grace in the morning.” She looked at her watch and shook her head. “Well, later this morning. I’ve got this for now. Go get some sleep, you two.”

As they headed out, Breena made another pot of coffee; she wouldn’t be getting any sleep. Then she cooked some oatmeal and put some frozen fruit on top before sitting in the comfortable lounge chair next to Laci’s bed, going over her notes while her guest slept.



Breena startled at the soft voice and looked up to see Grace standing in the doorway. She checked her watch, eight o’clock, then took a peek at her guest and determined she was still sleeping before heading out to the dining room. She noticed the breakfast tray Grace had brought with her, grateful for her thoughtfulness.

“A new guest, huh?” Grace eyed the room Breena had just come from.

“Yep, and this one has the potential to cause issues.”

She saw confusion on Grace’s face. Each guest came with their own problems, but this one had the potential to blow their secrecy out of the water.

“Laci Love,” she said simply and watched Grace’s eyes grow wide.

“Really? Is she okay?” Grace looked back at the exam room, concern on her face.

“She will be. Got a good bang-up, but she’ll heal. Physically.” Breena gestured to the coffee pot. “Want some?”

Grace nodded, pushing her dark blonde hair off her face and stretching her long, lean body before sitting on one of the stools at the kitchen counter.

“You look beat. What time did you get the call?”

“Thanks. You know how to make a girl feel special.” Breena chuckled softly and set a cup of coffee in front of her friend. “Jilly called at two.”

“Yikes. I can hang here if you’d like to take a shower and get a nap.”

A groan from the exam room brought Breena back in. Laci was waking up, and it sounded like the medicine had worn off enough for her to be uncomfortable.

“Good morning,” Breena greeted her guest, doing a quick visual exam. “Where’s it hurting?”

“Oh, everywhere.” Laci grimaced as she struggled to sit up.

“Hang on, I’ll sit your bed up.” Breena put a gentle but firm hand on Laci’s shoulder to keep her from moving and worked the controls to slowly lift the bed. “You think you can eat?”

Laci closed her eyes. “Yeah. That would be good, I think. Thank you.”

Grace came in with a tray loaded with buttered toast, scrambled eggs, a banana, a cup of coffee, and some water. “I wasn’t sure what would sound good, but this all seemed like it would be easy to eat.”

Laci looked wide-eyed at Breena, fear in her eyes.

“This is Grace Parson. She’s my best friend, the owner of this apartment, and my partner in helping the women who come through here. She’s safe.”

Grace set the tray on a rolling table and adjusted it across the bed.

“Thanks, Grace. This is perfect.” Breena smiled at her friend before turning to Laci. “Think you can get any of this down?”

Laci nodded as she took a bite of the toast. She then made quick work of the food, looking a little sheepish. “Guess I was hungry.”

Breena chuckled. “That’s good though. Now I can give you more medicine to help with the pain.”

Laci frowned and shook her head. “I don’t like taking drugs. I’d prefer not to.”

“You’ve got some bruised ribs, and they’ve got to be painful. You don’t have to take the medicine, but it will certainly help you rest more comfortably. How about just today, then tomorrow we won’t do meds? I need to wrap your ribs today, and it is not going to feel good. You might appreciate the pain relief.”

Laci shook her head. “No, I’d rather not. And thank you for letting me stay here. I’m guessing the news is already out, so I’ll need another spot to hide soon.”

“You’re safe, Laci.” Breena sat in the chair next to the bed and looked Laci in the eye. “No one knows you’re here. And they won’t. This is a safe house, and you are welcome here for as long as you need.”

“No one knows I’m here? How is that possible?” Laci looked at her in disbelief. “I know there were reporters at my house last night. Someone had to have followed the police officer who brought me here.”

“The reporters followed an ambulance to the hospital. Jillian, the police officer who helped you, was then able to bring you here unnoticed. Like I said, you’re safe here.” Breena smiled as she stood up to clear away the dishes. “Now let’s get you bandaged up so you’re a little more comfortable. I’d love for you to rest a bit more.”

Breena carefully bandaged Laci’s ribs, then lowered the bed back down. Laci was out before she left the room.

“Mind if I take you up on that nap and shower now?” she asked Grace.

“No problem. I got this. I brought a book, and I’ll just hang out in there while she rests. I texted Carl to tell him I was spending time with you and our guest this morning, so I’m available as long as you need me.” She grinned at her friend. “Honestly, I’m happy to be away from the construction zone up at Hope’s House.”

“I won’t be too long.” Grateful, Breena hugged her friend and made her way back through the hidden panel to the main apartment to take a shower and change.

In her own bathroom, Breena surveyed her face in the mirror. Her light Irish skin—Grace always called it peaches-and-cream—was even paler than usual, and her green eyes had purple bruising under them from lack of sleep. She pulled the scrunchy out of her hair and let it tumble down. Growing up, she’d hated her curly red hair, but now it was just part of who she was.

She looked down at her body. She’d always been envious of Grace’s tall, slim build. Breena was shorter and curvier. She was getting a little curvier than she wanted. Time to get out and start running again. Ugh.

A shower and a two-hour power nap would help. She knew how to do naps. After being a nurse for the past ten years, naps were part of her normal routine. She could sleep anywhere. And she’d honed her internal alarm clock so she could wake her up when she needed to. She blasted the hot water and stepped into the shower. The beating water massaged her tired body, loosening her muscles. After her shower, she crawled into bed and immediately fell asleep.

Two hours later, almost to the minute, Breena woke up, ready to tackle the day. She pulled on a pair of black leggings and an emerald-green sweater that fell to midthigh. Before heading next door again, she pulled out the crockpot and assembled ingredients for vegetable soup.

As she walked through the sliding panel in her bedroom closet to the secret apartment, she saw Grace making grilled ham-and-cheese sandwiches.

“Is she awake?” Breena asked, sniffing appreciatively.

“Just woke up and asked about some lunch, so I thought I’d get some sandwiches going. How was the nap?”

“Just what I needed. I feel much better now. Thanks for hanging out so I could nap.”

Breena wandered into the exam room to check on their guest. She smiled to see the bed already up and Laci reading a book Grace had brought with her.

“Hey there. How’re you feeling?” She walked to the bed and started checking over Laci.

“I feel like I got hit by a truck.” Laci grimaced.

“Well, you certainly got hit by something…or someone. Let me check your wrapping, then we can try getting up to eat in the dining room.”

She knew they’d talk about what happened eventually but didn’t want Laci to feel like she had to share before she was ready. Gently helping her out of the gown, she grabbed the supplies and rewrapped her ribs. Laci winced, and Breena was impressed she didn’t cry out.

“I have some soft, comfortable clothes we can get you into, then we can see how you feel about walking.”

After helping Laci out of the hospital gown and into a pair of sweatpants and a soft button-front, long-sleeved top, Breena helped her off the bed and out to the dining room. The smell of grilled sandwiches permeated the air, and both women’s stomachs grumbled in appreciation. They looked at each other and grinned.

With Laci settled at the table, Breena grabbed the plates and silverware as Grace gathered the food. Lunch was quiet as the women ate their sandwiches with some fruit. Breena kept an eye on what Laci ate and was pleased to note she had a good appetite.

“Based on what I see out the window, we’re in downtown Nashville. But where exactly are we?” Laci asked between bites.

“We’re at The Athenian.” Grace grinned at Laci’s surprised expression. “Yeah, we were surprised to find this here too. My mother set this apartment up several years ago when she lived here.”

Breena jumped into the conversation. “We were flabbergasted when Brian, the doorman who helped you up here, showed us this space. We moved here about three and a half months ago and have just recently been able to restart this mission.”

Laci nodded. “Well, I appreciate you letting me stay.”

“I want to make sure you’re comfortable here, so is there anything I can bring you? Food, clothes, anything?” Grace asked. “I’m running around for a bachelor auction tonight, so I’m happy to pick up whatever you need. I can’t go to your house, but I can buy anything we don’t already have.”

“You’re doing the bachelor auction?” Laci looked at her, surprised. “I think my manager, Gabe, is in the auction.”

“You mean Gabriel van Neugh? Yep, he’s in it.” Grace laughed. “He was very wary when Carl and I first approached him about participating.”

They talked for a few minutes about face cleansers, lotions, and what size clothes Laci needed before Grace headed out with a promise to be back in a few hours. “If you think of anything else you need or want, just shoot me a text.”

“Oh no! It’s Thursday, isn’t it? I was supposed to meet with Gabe today.” Laci rubbed her temples. “I have to give him a call and let him know I’m okay.”

“I’m sorry, Laci, but no calls. No one can know where you are. Even your manager. It won’t take the press long to figure out you’re not at the hospital. And if your manager comes here, the press will follow him. They’re going to be on the hunt for you.”

Laci let out a big breath. “You’re right. Of course. He’s going to be furious.”