Matt's Dilemma (The Winstons, #2) - Rowena Dawn - ebook

Matt Winston, member of a family with paranormal abilities, is a good and caring man. After a bad experience, he enjoys only brief affairs, unwilling to engage his heart. Yet, life doles its own brand of fun and changes everything when it throws Nora Barnes into his path. Nora’s marriage comes to a bitter end and she is determined to make ends meet and offer a good life to her son. A shooting changes everything for her, and Matt Winston’s interference in her life will turn it upside down. Surprises never end. Rebecca Winston, angry with her husband’s betrayal and her daughter’s suicide, cursed the younger generations of the family. The curse has a deadline, and Matt, her oldest great-grandson, with only two months to spare, knows he is out of time. He decides to live his life exactly the way he wants and forget about curses and love. He doesn't believe in a special someone to spend his life with and who could help him lift the curse. In this second novel of the Winston series, Matt finds his peace of mind and happiness after a long battle with himself and others, and especially with the woman he loves. If you love a paranormal romance, with strong characters and a touch of humor, then this is the book for you. 

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This is a work of fiction.

Names, characters, places and incidents are products of the author’s imagination and are not to be construed as real. Any resemblance to actual events, locales, organizations or persons, living or dead, is entirely coincidental.




ISBN: 978-1-988397-50-4

All rights reserved.

No part of this book can be used or reproduced in any manner whatsoever without written permission, except in the case of brief quotations embodied in critical articles and reviews.

For information address:

Scarlet Leaf:

[email protected]

To Simona and Andrei




Adam (m. Anna)

Evelyne (deceased)

Adam’s children

Marjorie (Twin, m. Jonathan) – children: Matt (34), Maggie (28), Jay (28)

Michael (Twin, m. Amelie) – children: Josh (26), Lily (26)

Gabriel (m. Emilie) – children: Ariel (32), Alex (32), Becka (19; m. Bryan; twins: Lea and Sean)



“BECKA, MOVE YOUR BUTT upstairs, now,” Bryan’s voice boomed, and made Matt smile.

Matt knew Becka’s policy of not locking the front door. He also knew Bryan didn’t have much success in making her heed his advice.

That was why Matt didn’t even bother knocking. He just came inside. After all, he felt there like at home. Becka and Bryan were some of the kindest in the family, although their couple was strange by far.

“I thought you liked my butt,” Becka shouted from the study, and then stormed out of the room.

She missed Matt by an inch. She didn’t even notice him, and started taking the stairs two at a time.

“I love your butt, and you know it. But right now, bring it up here. She levitates, damn it, and she won’t listen to me,” Bryan’s harangued voice came from somewhere above, and Matt burst into laughter.

Matt’s imagination wasn’t very strong, but, at least, he guessed how stressed Bryan felt, having two gifted children.

As an outsider in the Winston family, Bryan had to put up with a lot of things. However, no one could say he shrunk his responsibilities.

Even if he didn’t have a clue what to do in some circumstances, he dug his feet in the ground, and took everything in stride. Now, though, he seemed overwhelmed with his one-and-a-half-month daughter, who inherited her mother’s family’s heritage.

Only whispers came from upstairs, so Matt decided to go there, and visit with his niece and nephew. He knew his apparition would make Bryan roll his eyes. He’d understand Becka had failed to lock the door again, and he’d probably give her hell after Matt left.

He wouldn’t say a thing in front of Matt. No matter how upset he was, Bryan never said anything to Becka in front of others. He thought they had judged her enough for marrying a man twelve years older, and she didn’t need to hear any ‘I told you’.

Matt knocked on the nursery door, and Bryan looked up, concern edged on his face. When his eyes fell on Matt, his tension eased away, and he smiled, shaking his head.

“You haven’t locked the front door again,” he said in a resigned voice, glancing at Becka.

“I forgot,” she shrugged, and patted his hand. “Don’t worry, no one will come in, but Matt. Hi, Matt, what’s up?”

Matt couldn’t hide his amusement. His younger cousin was always a delight, and he enjoyed seeing Bryan struggling both with his concern for her, and his ineffectiveness in making her understand the dangers of the city.

“Just passing by. I’ve got an hour to kill and thought of coming and seeing you two. And the munchkins.”

Matt came inside and went to Becka, who was holding Lea in her arms. He kissed Becka’s cheek, and then, stroked the baby’s head and put a kiss on the top of her head.

“She’s already causing problems, I hear,” he turned to Bryan, who raised an eyebrow inquiringly. “I heard you when I came in,” Matt confessed, and a naughty smile appeared on his lips.

Becka blushed. She remembered what Bryan had shouted to make her come upstairs. She speared him with a pointed look, and Bryan just grinned.

Matt chuckled. He loved both of them and his heart burst with joy whenever he thought how good they were together. Yet, he was jealous of them sometimes, because he couldn’t have the same thing.

“So, the problems started, I understand,” he said, nodding to the little bundle in Becka’s arms.

‘Yep, and it scares me shitless, to tell you the truth. Thank God, Sean hasn’t manifested any kind of powers yet,” Bryan replied.

“He will... In time,” Matt told him, putting a reassuring hand on his shoulder. “You’ll manage, don’t worry. You’ve never struck me as a man who can’t handle everything.”

Bryan scowled, but didn’t reply. He glanced at Becka, ready to say something, but she shushed him, putting her finger to her mouth.

“She’s asleep again,” she whispered, and Bryan came to her to take his daughter and replace her in her crib.

Becka and Matt started to the door, expecting Bryan to follow. When Matt looked back, Bryan was still watching his daughter sleep, and his expression was priceless.

Matt had liked Bryan since the moment they met. Yet, once he got to know him, his respect and feelings for the man evolved.

Bryan was a devoted husband and father, and it crushed Matt to see that hulk of a man so deeply in love with his family.

Matt went downstairs after Becka and found her in her study. She was typing something at her computer, checking a pile of papers at her elbow.

“What are you doing?” he asked her.

“I have to finish an essay. Just two more lines, and I’m done,” she replied, but didn’t look at him.

Matt leaned on the doorjamb, crossing his ankles, and kept silent so she could finish her work. A minute later, Bryan came downstairs, as well, and waved Matt to come to the kitchen with him.

Even before stepping into the kitchen, the aroma of a beef stew reached his nostrils, and he inhaled with pleasure. His stomach growled and Bryan, who was close to him, chuckled.

“Ready for lunch?” he teased Matt.

“I suppose you cooked,” Matt inquired in a dry voice.

“You suppose well,” Bryan replied. “I wouldn’t let Becka into the kitchen. She’s a walking disaster,” he shrugged, and, going to the stove, picked up a wooden spoon to stir the stew.

“Am I?” Becka bristled from behind Matt, and Bryan winced.

“Come on, sweetie, you know you can’t boil an egg,” Bryan replied, yet, there was no reproach in his voice. “And we’re fine, aren’t we? It’s no need for you to cook when I can do it very well,” he added.

He came to her, took her head in the cradle of his palms, and kissed her lips tenderly. Matt turned to look out of the window. The tender display touched a yarning in his heart, he thought he’d squashed long ago.

“Hungry everyone?” Bryan asked, turning off the stove and taking bowls out of a cupboard.

“I’ll set the table,” Becka intervened.

“What’s there to set, baby?” Bryan wondered. “Just take a seat and I’ll bring everything to the table.”

“But I want to help,” Becka retorted with annoyance.

Matt knew she didn’t want him to think she wasn’t doing anything around, but he knew better. Bryan didn’t allow her to do much.

“You’ve had enough to do today, Becka,” Bryan stroked the side of her face and kissed the tip of her nose. “You had to go to school – and forgot to lock the door, in the process,” he thought to add, “and you worked on your paper for the last couple of hours...”

“Yes, and you cooked, cleaned and took care of the babies,” she replied. “And in a couple of hours, you’ll have to go to the dojo for your afternoon and evening classes, so...”

“I can do it, don’t worry,” Bryan waved her concern away, at the same time, leading her to the table and helping her to sit. “You’re a new mom, and must rest as much as possible,” he pointed out.

“I was a new mom a month and a half ago, Bryan. I’m perfectly fine now,” she replied stubbornly.

“And that’s how you have to remain,” he pushed on her shoulder when she tried to stand up. “Come on, Becka, just sit. I can carry three bowls to the table myself,” he said in a frustrated tone.

Becka just shrugged, but didn’t try to stand up again. Matt, who always enjoyed their sparring immensely, watched her. She was biting her lower lip, annoyed with something.

“What’s the problem, pumpkin?” he asked quietly.

“He won’t let me do anything,” she snapped. “As if I’m fragile.”

“I never said you’re fragile,” Bryan’s voice came from a few feet away.

Becka and Matt turned to him, and Matt immediately stood up to help Bryan to put the heavy tray on the table. He’d filled three bowls to the rim, and sliced warm homemade bread.

“I can tell you, you cook as well as my mom,” Matt sniffed the stew, and grumbled in satisfaction.

Becka smiled, proud of Bryan. Aunt Marjorie was the best cook she’d ever met, and Matt’s praise meant something.

She dipped her spoon in the stew, and fidgeted a little in her seat, before carrying to her mouth.

“Out with it,” Bryan said. “Something’s bothering you,” he asked, looking at her sideways.

Matt knew Becka couldn’t even sneeze without Bryan getting concerned.

“Well, if you want to know,” she started saying hesitantly, “I don’t think it is right for you to do everything. It’s already been a month and a half since I gave birth, so I am perfectly able to...”

Bryan stopped her, touching her hand.

“Don’t worry about, Becka. You do more than enough. You have to wake up at night and breastfeed, and...”

“Huh!” she snorted inelegantly, and Matt had to hide his smile.

“Huh?” Bryan asked. “What does that mean?”

“Whenever I wake up, you wake up too, so don’t try to sell me on that stuff,” Becka shrugged.

“I might wake up, but I don’t breastfeed,” he retorted, miffed.

Matt couldn’t hold it anymore and burst into laughter.

“You two are comical. The first couple I’ve seen quarrelling because the other is doing more,” he shook his head.

“You eat and shut up,” Becka snapped at him. “I’m serious, here. Yes, I breastfeed, and yes, I go to school. That’s the sum of my accomplishments,” she sulked.

“I wouldn’t say that,” Bryan murmured. “You keep me happy, Becka,” he said, taking her hand, and squeezing it with tenderness. “And don’t worry so much. Your mom will send Rosa’s daughter here tomorrow. She’ll clean and do the laundry, so I won’t have much to do.”

“Finally,” Becka said relieved. “At least, you won’t do those anymore.”

Matt grinned. He knew Becka wouldn’t accept Bryan’s hard work for long. Now, at least, she knew there was someone else to take up the brunt of the housework, because Bryan would have never accepted her help.

It wasn’t easy to hire help in their houses though. They needed to keep the family’s secret and they couldn’t hire just anyone.

Luckily, their hired help worked for them generation after generation. Rosa was Becka’s parents’ housekeeper and Uncle Michael’s housekeeper’s daughter.

“So, she’ll start tomorrow?” Becka asked.

Bryan just nodded and spooned more stew. Matt knew he must have been exhausted. He’d started doing everything long before the birth of his children, and also kept his training schedule.

They savored the beef stew in silence for a few minutes, and then Becka looked at him inquiringly.

“What?” he asked.

“I was wondering if you had any news,” she shrugged, and took another slice of bread.

“What kind of news are you expecting?” Matt asked, and, following her example, helped himself to another slice of bread.

Bryan did know what to do in the kitchen. He imagined Bryan knew what to do in almost every situation. His cousin by marriage was one of the most resourceful and talented men in the family.

“You know, Matt,” Becka insisted. “It’s May 19th already.”

“And?” Matt asked with dismay.

He knew where the conversation was going and didn’t like it. Only Bryan looked from one to the other with curiosity.

“In July, it’s your birthday,” Becka doggedly continued. “On 27th,” she thought to specify.

“So?” Matt asked, feigning disinterest. “Are you planning a party for me or what?”

“Don’t try to play games with me, Matt Winston,” Becka snapped, and her small fist hit the table. Bryan’s eyebrows shot up. “You know very well what I’m talking about.”

Matt shook his head, scooped more stew and chewed.

“Not really,” he replied. “I was thinking of taking a cruise or something, that’s true. I haven’t made my mind yet, though,” he shrugged.

Becka stared at him with disbelief. Then, she took a breath, ready to launch herself in a lecture. Bryan touched her arm and calmed her.

“Matt,” he said. “I see there’s something the matter here and I really don’t want Becka riled up. So what is it?”

“Why don’t you ask her?” Matt asked stubbornly. “I don’t know what she wants from me,” he answered with indifference, and continued eating.

He didn’t really regret coming to their house. He liked watching them interact and loved the little ones. Moreover, he always ate well in Bryan’s kitchen.

“Okay, sweetheart, what is it?” Bryan asked her. He understood Matt wouldn’t give in.

“He’ll be thirty-five on July 27th,” Becka pointed out.

“And?” Bryan insisted. He knew there must have been much more than Matt’s birthday.

“He’ll lose everything then.”

“What will he lose?” Bryan asked again, feeling like he was pulling teeth.

“His powers, his trust fund...”

“Oh, I see, now. So that thing has a deadline,” Bryan nodded when the truth dawned on him.

He turned to Matt and expected he’d say something. Yet, Matt just continued eating. He wasn’t interested in expanding on that story.

“Come on, Matt,” Becka said. “You still have a little over a month and a half.”

That made him freeze with the spoon half way to the mouth. His stunned eyes locked on Becka. After a few seconds of deafening silence, he put the spoon back in his bowl and asked, “Are you for real?”

“Now, what?” she asked, throwing his hands in the air.

Bryan mused. Becka had a real talent for drama sometimes.

Matt pushed the bowl away with regret. He did want to eat that stew. A frown appeared between his eyebrows, and he stared Becka down.

“I couldn’t find a woman to love until now and you, seriously, think I could find one in a month and a half,” he noticed. “Bryan, your wife lost her mind. I’m really sorry for you,” he said, turning to Bryan.

“Nah,” Bryan replied. “Becka’s smart and you should listen to her. It doesn’t always take years to fall in love. It took me a day and a half, maybe less. And you still have over forty-five days, I think,” Bryan shook his head, chastising him.

“Okay, I see it now. You’re nauseatingly happy, both of you, and see everything through pink glasses,” Matt concluded, and started to stand up.

“Maybe yes and maybe no,” Bryan replied. “That doesn’t mean you can’t finish your stew. Both Becka and I,” he said, with a meaningful look at Becka, “will refrain from talking about this matter anymore. Right, sweetie?” he asked her and, reluctantly, she nodded.

Undecided, Matt looked from one at the other, and, in the end, his hunger won. He sat back on his chair and pulled the bowl back in front of him.

“So, how’s your schedule these days?” Bryan asked. “You said you’d like to come by my dojo for some training,” he observed.

“Not today, though,” Matt said with regret. “I have a late meeting. An ugly divorce case,” he specified. “Are you there tomorrow? In the morning, for instance? I have a couple of free hours then.”

“Yes, I am. It’s Becka’s day off school and she’ll be staying with the brats. See, sweetie, you do things, so don’t complain anymore,” he turned to her.



TENSION FILLED THE conference room, yet Matt didn’t appear affected. He leaned back in his chair, his ankle over his knee, his papers forgotten on the table.

He never needed to refresh his memory. Files played the role of props for him. He used them to intimidate. He never checked them, either in a conference room or in court.

The man next to him, his client, Paul Willow, was a sleek man in his thirties. He didn’t like him, but his partner, Joshua, had accepted his case and, with Joshua suddenly married and in an extended honeymoon, the case had fallen in Matt’s hands.

Something didn’t seem quite right with that Paul Willow, but his divorce case didn’t present any difficulty for Matt. The facts didn’t leave any loophole for the opposing council.

“So, let’s recap here,” he addressed to the opposing lawyer, Fred Rhoades. “Mrs. Willow signed a prenup before marriage. It is a straightforward document. We all agree with that. If she cheated, she’d get nothing. We have four men willing to testify they slept with her in several occasions. They might not be outstanding citizens, but their bad reputations will make our case stronger. Plus, Mr. Willow is willing to pay for a DNA test to prove Mrs. Willow’s son is not his,” he said very matter-of-fact, and stopped to gauge their expressions.

The lawyer seemed annoyed and started cleaning his glasses. Her client, Nora Willow, soon to be Nora Barnes, had paled and the shadows under her eyes swallowed almost half her face.

Matt didn’t feel any kind of pity for her. He couldn’t stand cheaters and gold diggers, and, according to the file he had on the table, that woman was both.

Interesting though, although she’d paled and her fingers were shaking, she didn’t flinch under his stern eyes. She returned his look squarely, as if she hadn’t felt any remorse or shame.

“Now, we can go to court. We can’t lose. Everything is cut and dry. Of course, by the end of the proceedings, we’ll have your reputation in shreds, Mrs. Willow, and your son will find out the truth about his mother,” he told her directly, his scorn obvious, both in his voice and eyes. “Or we can settle now,” he turned to the other lawyer. “She gets nothing, as the prenup says. My client will not pay any alimony to his ex-wife and her child. But the child won’t find what kind of woman you are,” he concluded, his eyes returning to her. “So, what would it be?”

Matt’s voice didn’t raise, not even a notch, as if he’d just read dull instructions. He finished presenting the alternatives and waited patiently for their decision.

Rhoades tried to whisper something to his client, but the woman put up her hand and quieted him.

“I’ll sign the agreement,” she told Matt in a very calm voice.

Matt had never seen such a composed woman in a divorce case as the woman before him. She didn’t react verbally to anything. She didn’t attack or tried to push the guilt on her ex-husband’s shoulders. The only sign she felt something was that tremor of her fingers.

“It’s not like I’d have wanted a cent of his money anyway,” she continued. “And it is true, his contribution to the house was much higher than mine, so, of course, I couldn’t have asked for the house. I should ask for the money I invested in the house,” she pointed out, and Matt became more focused on her.

No way she’d give up that money, if she knew she was entitled to it. His eyes narrowed, and he tried to use his mental abilities to read her, but he didn’t succeed, and that puzzled him. His mental powers hadn’t completely developed, but he still could read something here and there.

“What I want, though, and this is not negotiable,” she warned in a steely voice, “is that he signs a document giving up any kind of parental rights. He stated my son isn’t his. He must sign the papers,” she concluded, and the inflexions of her voice warned Matt, she wouldn’t budge on that score. 

Matt lifted his left eyebrow, pensively. The woman had a lot of guts for a woman painted as a slut. She kept surprising him, and he didn’t like it.

He turned slightly to his client with an inquiring look. The man just shrugged.

“I don’t care about parenting the brat. You can prepare the documents, can’t you?” he asked Matt.

Matt nodded briefly and stood up.

“I’ll be back in a couple of minutes. May I hope you won’t start fighting while I’m gone?” he asked.

The woman’s behavior wasn’t natural. She didn’t reproach, accused or pleaded. He feared she’d explode while he was away.

Nora just nodded, and, completely disinterested in her future ex-husband or the lawyer next to her, she picked up her cell phone and started checking messages or emails. Matt shook his head imperceptibly. That woman befuddled him.

Then, he left the room to ask his paralegal to prepare the documents and bring them in the conference room.

He didn’t dare to stay away for long. His instincts told him something was very wrong, and he wanted to avoid any kind of ugly events.

He returned to the conference room and silence greeted him. Only his client was drumming his fingers on the tabletop. Fred Rhoades was checking an agenda, and Nora was standing near the window, admiring the square at the back of the building.

She turned her head when he returned, but when he told them the documents would be ready soon, she preferred to remain near the window.

The following fifteen minutes felt like hours. Matt tried to make small talk with his fellow lawyer, but Rhoades’s monosyllabic answers annoyed him.

His client started texting back and forth with someone, and seemed to have the time of his life. His soon to be ex-wife, didn’t leave the window until his paralegal had come with the papers.

Then, she approached the table, took her reading glasses out of her handbag, and, after reading the documents carefully, dignified, she signed them.

When she finished, she collected her things silently, ready to leave.

“Mrs. Willow,” Matt stopped her, but when he saw the mocking glitter in her eyes, he corrected himself, “I apologize, I wanted to say Ms. Barnes. My paralegal brought these papers for you. You have info about how to change your name and everything. As Mr. Willow renounced his parental rights, you can also change your son’s name, if you want to,” he specified.

“Do I have to?” she asked, and, for the first time, she sounded fearful.

“No, you don’t have to,” Matt answered softly.

“Thank you,” Nora said and stretched her hand to him.

Matt shook her hand briefly. Her skin was freezing cold, but that didn’t bother him. The brief electrical shock did. His eyes were focused on her face, and the surprise in her eyes told him she felt it as well.

Matt stepped back, bowed his head, and started gathering the files. The door clicked behind her, but he didn’t even turn.



WHEN HIS PHONE RANG, he stopped under the overhang of the newsstand shop, a newspaper under his arm, and his umbrella in his left hand.

The weather channel had announced frequent rain showers and thunderstorms for that day, and he’d left the house prepared. They hadn’t been wrong. It poured, and lightning lit the sky, covered with heavy clouds.

Matt took his cell phone out of his pocket and checked the screen. He frowned. Becka rarely called him so early in the morning, and he feared the worst. He’d seen her two days before and everything seemed fine.

“Hey, pumpkin, everything okay?” Matt asked Becka.

“I need your help,” she said breathlessly, as if she’d run for her life.

“What happened?” Matt inquired, his heart beating frantically, and his fingers clenched on the umbrella handle.

The panic in his voice must have reached Becka’s ears, because she hurried to say, “Oh, no, Matt, nothing happened. I’ve just run to take cover. It’s pouring, you know. And I can’t call you from home. I need your help to buy a gift for Bryan. Of course, I couldn’t call when he could hear me,” she chastised him.

Matt breathed relieved. He hadn’t realized he was holding his breath.

“Thank God, Becka. You scared me,” he confessed. “When do you want to buy that gift?”

“Are you free now? I’m in town, not far from your office,” she replied.

“I’m not in the office. You know the shops across from my office? I’m there. I came to buy a newspaper and I was thinking to go for a coffee or something.”

“Oh, Matt, it’s perfect. Can you make it to the mall? I’m already there. Most of the shops will open in half an hour. We can have a snack together before that,” Becka said with enthusiasm.

“Won’t Bryan get upset if you eat now, and then, skip the lunch he cooked?” Matt asked her maliciously, his eyes wandering along the road.

“Nope. He’ll cook dinner today, but not lunch. I’m supposed to have lunch at U of T, and he will be at his dojo. Mom came in the morning to spend time with the babies, until I get back at three,” Becka explained.

“Okay, Becka, we have a deal. See you at Timmies, in about fifteen minutes, all right?” Matt gave in.

“Great, Matty. I knew you’d help me,” she replied enthusiastically and disconnected the call.

Matt sighed and resigned to walk through the rain to the mall. He opened his umbrella, and started down the street, whistling a merry tune. At the traffic lights, he crossed to the other side of the road, so he could head right to the mall.

Few people passed by. Most people had found cover somewhere, so he could move at ease. Most of the time, that part of town was crowded.

Suddenly, the wind intensified and almost blew his umbrella away. He grabbed the handle better, and angled the umbrella against the rain pour, which came sideways now.

He pushed ahead mulishly, his head down, and mumbled to himself. Becka had chosen the wrong day to go shopping.

He heard an anguished cry and looked up. A few meters away, a woman with a toddler in his arms, was fighting the wind. Her umbrella had broken, and her bags had fallen to the ground. She shielded the child as much as she could, and now was trying to collect her things.

Matt rushed up and picked her bags fast. He started to hand them to her, and only then, he saw her face, and practically froze.

Nora Barnes looked at him warily. The rain plastered her long red hair to her face, neck and shoulders. Her wet summer dress left little to imagination. It showed every single curve of her body and outlined her underwear. Her arms full of a fidgeting toddler, Nora tried to balance everything in the other hand.

“So, we meet again, Ms. Barnes,” Matt drawled.

“Yes, it seems so,” she replied in an indifferent voice, yet her eyes betrayed her nervousness.

She tried to take the bags from his hand, but he pulled them to him. She frowned. Her lips parted, and her entire face showed she was puzzled. His actions didn’t make sense.

“What are you doing out with your child in this rain?” Matt inquired, his voice far from friendly. “This isn’t the responsible action of a parent,” he observed.

He closed the distance between them, so he could hold the umbrella above the toddler’s head. Grudgingly, he protected her as well.