Authors: Abbie Zanders
First and Only
Callaghan Brothers, Volume 2
Published by Abbie Zanders, 2014.
This is a work of fiction. Similarities to real people, places, or events are entirely coincidental.
FIRST AND ONLY
First edition. December 11, 2014.
Copyright © 2014 Abbie Zanders.
Written by Abbie Zanders.
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First and Only
Callaghan Brothers, Book 2
ARNING: Due to strong language and graphic scenes of a sexual nature, this book is intended for mature (21+) readers only.
If these things offend you, then this book is not for you.
If, however, you like your alphas a little rough around the edges and some serious heat in your romance, then by all means, read on...
pecial thanks to Aubrey Rose Cover Designs for this amazing cover!
Special thanks also go to Carol, Cindy, and Aubrey (and a few of you who prefer to remain unnamed – you know who you are) for reading the first draft and making invaluable suggestions. I could not have done this without your unending patience, support, and encouragement.
eing on a bus wasn’t so bad. It got a bad rap, really. So yeah, okay, maybe it didn’t smell all that great. Diesel fumes and body odor and that uniquely identifiable aroma associated with port-o-potties. Nothing a well-placed spritz of citrus and honey body mist couldn’t cure. Lexi discreetly placed the tiny bottle against the inside of her wrist and squeezed. Now all she had to do was simply lift her hand near her nose and
, problem solved.
Aside from that, the seats were relatively comfortable. As long as you didn’t think about the personal hygiene of whoever occupied the seat before you, that is. Lexi squirmed a little, pulling away so that a bit less of her back pressed against the seat, fighting the sudden urge to scratch. And wash. She wasn’t an overly fussy girl by nature, but her grooming habits were impeccable.
Of course, she could have just taken the limo. But Lexi had never been comfortable with the luxuries her position as master chef of the Celtic Goddess restaurant afforded her. Sometimes she just needed to return to her humble roots and get lost in the crowd. Besides, the two day trip would give her some much-needed time to think and sort out her conflicted feelings about returning to Pine Ridge, Pennsylvania, after so many years away.
Lexi observed those around her discreetly, with little glances here and there from beneath ridiculously long, thick lashes, a gift of her mother’s Greek genes. As much as she avoided direct social involvement, she did find people-watching to be an intriguing way to pass the time. It was fascinating, watching all of the subtle nuances of body language and facial expressions. In her mind, Lexi would supply the thoughts and words of the “players”, as she called them in her little game, often wondering how close she came to what they were really saying and thinking.
There wasn’t much to observe today, though. The bus was less than half full, and she’d already dismissed most of her fellow passengers, feeling confident she’d thoroughly exhausted the most interesting possibilities. There was the plain woman huddling by herself in the back, most likely running away from an abusive relationship given the bruises she tried to hide. The heavy foundation, sunglasses, long sleeves and pants were all dead giveaways. She offered the woman a small smile at one point – one that instantly conveyed understanding and empathy without pity, but otherwise left her alone, knowing that the last thing the woman wanted was anyone butting into her business.
The Mohawk-sporting pincushion a few seats up and over didn’t offer much of a challenge, either. He was young – Lexi guessed no more than seventeen or so, judging by the scared look on his face when he let his guard down. A good kid at heart who got in with a bad crowd, probably. Given the duffel he kept beside him, he was on his way into the military. Lexi’s theories were confirmed when they stopped near Dover and the kid didn’t get back on.
Somewhere along the way, Lexi must have nodded off. When she woke up again, the bus was pulling away from yet another terminal. Damn. She would have liked the chance to stretch her legs and get the blood flowing again.
On the plus side, there were a few more passengers. Thankfully, there were still enough open seats that her solitude remained unthreatened.
She sighed, glancing over the newcomers through her dark sunglasses, adjusting the hood of her thin, lightweight shirt so that it put more of her face into shadow. The few conversations she could hear were subdued, blending in with the hum of the tires eating up the miles and the soft hiss of the overhead air vents.
The most recent additions held little interest. An elderly woman with bag full of yarn and knitting supplies. A tired-looking woman grasping the hand of a young boy. A young couple with their eyes glued to their iPhones. Lexi wondered idly if they were texting each other.
Her eyes were drawn to a woman a few seats ahead of her who kept shooting glances across the aisle. A forty-something woman trying too hard to look like a twenty-something. Too much make-up. Hair too blonde. Clothing made for Disney pop stars, not women of maturity. Her body was in pretty good shape, though, Lexi had to admit. She hoped hers would look as good when she reached that age. Assuming she did, of course. That might be a stretch, given her genetics and the knack she had for attracting trouble.
Lexi’s gaze moved to what had captured the older woman’s attention, and ...
. She immediately sat up a little straighter, shifting slightly to get a better look at the man. Dark hair peeked out from beneath a baseball cap pulled low over his forehead. The slight profile hinted at strong, chiseled features, too. Shoulders too wide for the standard bus seat extended into her line of vision. A long, jean-clad leg stretched out into the aisle. As it always did, that particular combination of features made her heart beat a little faster.
The cougar reached across the aisle, her red-taloned hand landing on the forearm of the dark-haired hottie. The low murmur of voices mixed in with the white noise as the woman attempted to engage the man in conversation. Lexi couldn’t blame the woman for trying. From back here the guy looked totally delicious. At least the woman had good taste.
With several hours to go and nothing else to hold her attention, Lexi watched the scene with mild interest. A few times, Lexi was treated to additional glimpses which only supported her initial impression. His shoulders were very broad. The line of his slightly-darkened jaw and the curve of his neck was sinfully masculine. Occasional shifts or flicks of his hands when he talked were done with a grace and fluidity that suggested a confident man who was very comfortable in his own skin.
Lord, but he was easy on the eyes. Well, the back of his head and slight profile were, anyway. She passed the time imagining what he looked like from the front, creating her own perfect fantasy in her mind’s eye.
wasn’t exactly an accurate word, because the face she conjured belonged to a real person, someone from her past who she’d never quite been able to forget. And from where she sat, this guy was a dead ringer.
She mentally kicked herself for not noticing him boarding, for not seeing his face. How she’d missed it, she had no idea. Given the way parts of him were spilling over the meager seat space, the guy was obviously tall and well-built. And, if the little bit of his face she had seen was any indication, he was gorgeous as well. Surely she must have broken some rule of feminine über senses by not feeling a shift in the cosmic energy within the Greyhound interior when he joined the motley crew of travelers heading north.
Lexi kept her gaze locked on him for longer than she should have, but found it hard to wrench her eyes away. Why bother, she rationalized, when the guy hadn’t looked back her way once? And with nobody else behind her, it wasn’t like she was going to get caught, right? Except that even as she was rationalizing, Mr. Gorgeous shifted slightly, then suddenly turned around and looked directly into her eyes.
Embarrassed, Lexi dropped her gaze immediately, feeling her face flush about a dozen shades of pink. She pulled her hoodie further around her face and shrank back into her seat. For the next hour, she stubbornly refused to lift her head, pretending to be engrossed in the paperback she’d picked up at the station. It wasn’t one of the hot and steamy romances she preferred, but it looked interesting.
Too bad it took her so long to realize she was holding it upside down.
* * *
an felt the prickling on the back of his neck and knew immediately that he was in someone’s sights. By the tingle of awareness in other, more private regions, he also knew that it was a woman who was watching him. An unusual gift, perhaps, but one that had served him well in the past. He cleared his mind, relaxed and stilled his body, and let it wash over him as he extended his SEAL-trained senses.
Yes, definitely a woman. Behind him and to the left. He almost frowned, feeling a slight wave of disappointment. Not the little thing in the hoodie and shades, the one who had been catnapping when he had boarded? She was just a kid, wasn’t she?
No, he decided after a few minutes. Definitely not a kid. A woman. A woman with enough intensity in her gaze to not only have his neck prickling, but to heat up his core temp several degrees at least.
He had to look, but it had to be done smoothly. Ian shifted slightly, glancing back down the aisle. Ah, yes, it was the hoodie. The small figure started as he caught her, her full lips parting slightly in what he imagined was a little gasp at being busted.
He started to smile, but she was already looking away. It was hard to tell with the way the hood was shadowing her face, but he could have sworn he’d caught a flush of bright pink flaring across her cheeks. Even more surprising? He found it oddly arousing.
The woman beside him droned on and on. About what, he had no idea; he’d stopped listening a while ago. She was attractive enough, but a bit mature for his personal tastes. He just couldn’t summon the interest.
Now the one in the hoodie, she was a different story. Eyes hidden beneath the brim of his cap, Ian glanced back discreetly several times in the hopes of getting a better look, but her head remained steadfastly downcast, intent on – he smiled with genuine amusement – an upside-down paperback.
Ian occupied himself over the next hour by imagining what she looked like. Was her hair light or dark? Those eyes that had landed on him with such a penetrating gaze – were they warm and soft, like chocolate or caramel? Or perhaps they were clear and faceted, like emeralds or sapphires? And her lips. Were they the dark, dusky rose they appeared to be, or was that just an effect of the shadows?
He was roused from his musings when he felt a hand lightly caressing his thigh. The woman next to him was saying something about excusing herself to use the facilities. The wink she included implied a not-so-subtle invitation to join her. It was an interesting proposition, but not one he was inclined to accept. However, her absence did give him another idea. One infinitely more appealing.
Lexi started at the deep male voice near her ear. The gorgeous man from a few seats ahead was indicating the window seat next to her with a graceful wave of his large hand. She scanned the half-empty bus. Surely there were lots of other seats available. Watching from afar was one thing, but sitting next to him? Talking to him? That was something else entirely.