Beyond Affection: Callaghan Brothers, Book 6, p.1
Callaghan Brothers, Volume 6
Published by Abbie Zanders, 2015.
This is a work of fiction. Similarities to real people, places, or events are entirely coincidental.
First edition. March 23, 2015.
Copyright © 2015 Abbie Zanders.
Written by Abbie Zanders.
Table of Contents
Before You Begin
Special Note from Abbie
Thanks for reading Shane and Lacie’s story
About the Author
Also by Abbie Zanders
(Callaghan Brothers, Book 6)
Before You Begin
WARNING: Due to frequent strong language and graphic scenes of a sexual nature, this book is intended for mature (21+) readers only. In addition, this particular story touches upon some very dark, disturbing topics.
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...
Special thanks to Aubrey Rose Cover Designs for this amazing cover!
Special thanks also go to some very special ladies – Deb, Anjee, Shelly, Carol, Tonya, Carla, and Susan (and a few of you who prefer to remain unnamed – you know who you are) - for reading the first draft and making invaluable suggestions. This is a better story because of them.
She was beautiful. Small, but not petite, not really. Very feminine, with delicate features. Light blonde hair the color of moonlight washed in gold.
And she was sound asleep.
Shane sat back on the desk next to her and studied her for a little while longer with a skill and thoroughness that was second nature to him, automatically committing every detail to memory. Perfect skin, sun-kissed but not tanned. Cute little nose with the barest hint of freckles; he could easily imagine it scrunching up in distaste or anger. Soft, full-looking lips, the color and texture of a dark pink rose, slightly parted as if anticipating a kiss from her lover.
He wondered what color her eyes were. Blue, he thought, for no explicable reason, but it felt right. She had blue eyes, the exact hue of a summer sky before night fell in earnest. It was hard to guess her age; in slumber she could have passed for one of the younger undergrads, but his instincts suggested she was more likely in her mid to late twenties.
She looked so peaceful; he hated to disturb her. But the elderly custodian had peeked in twice already and was obviously anxious to finish up and go home. The evening class ended nearly an hour ago and besides the cleaning staff, they were the only two people remaining in the building.
“Miss?” he prompted, keeping his tone low and gentle to avoid startling her. She sighed softly at the sound of his voice, a ghost of a smile playing at the corners of her lips.
“Miss?” he repeated again, reaching over to touch her upper arm. Her head tilted toward his hand, covering it in blonde, silken waves a few moments before the warmth of her cheek soaked into his skin. Shane’s attempts to wake the young woman had somehow resulted in her using his hand as her pillow. The custodian snickered from the doorway.
Shane smiled, flexing his hand rhythmically but gently, watching with amusement as her head bobbed slightly. It only took a few moments for her to rouse. Those sleepy eyes opened. He was right – they were a shade of cerulean he’d only seen in the heavens. Bemusement filled them for a moment, then they landed on him and widened in horrified embarrassment.
“I fell asleep,” she murmured. Her voice held a hint of the huskiness that comes from deep slumber.
Shane’s grin widened. “I must say, I’ve guest-lectured for Professor Stevens several times, but this is the first time a female student ever actually drooled over me.”
The young woman groaned, lifting her head enough to examine the moistness upon his hand. “Oh, God,” she moaned, mortified as she used the sleeve of her pale tan hooded sweater to wipe it off with hurried strokes. “I’m so sorry.”
Shane wasn’t. Mild interest mixed with amusement, as it had from the moment he saw her nodding off halfway through his interactive segment on modern social mores. Most of the time, students found that part particularly interesting, and this class had been no exception. Well, except for her. While hands had been shooting up all around her, her head had been going down.
“I think this is the part where the earth is supposed to open up and swallow me,” she said ruefully. “At least that’s what I’m praying for right now. You might want to take a step back.”
He couldn’t help it. He laughed. It was a rich, rumbling sound that bubbled up from deep within and felt wonderful. She was embarrassed, yes, but was able to see the humor in the situation. Shane liked a woman who could laugh at herself.
“I guess I don’t need to ask what you thought of my lecture?”
“I liked it,” she said quickly, gathering her books. Shane arched a perfect brow and inclined his head doubtfully. “Well,” she added with a slightly dimpled smile, “the part I heard, anyway. But I haven’t been getting enough sleep lately, and your voice is wonderfully warm and rich and ...”
Her eyes widened and she stopped as if she suddenly realized what was coming out of her mouth. She dropped her gaze even as that pretty rose color deepened in her cheeks and spread down the delicate column of her neck. “Oh, God. Open mouth, insert foot. I need to stop talking now.”
That only served to draw him in further. He was absolutely enthralled by this adorable, sleepy creature who had just told him she liked the sound of his voice. “Why?”
“Why?” Hands full, she blew a stray section of hair away from where it had fallen over one long-lashed eye. “Because I’m perilously close to dying from self-humiliation, and from what I’ve heard, it’s not a pretty way to go. I’d hate for you to have to witness that. Haunts you for weeks.”
Why did he suddenly feel so warm and light inside?
“Why have you not been getting enough sleep?” he clarified before he could stop himself, hoping as he did so that she would not take offense at his curiosity.
“Oh.” She hastily tried to stuff her notes into her over-crammed backpack, shooting him a wry smile. The look she gave him – friendly and genuine – pierced him like a bolt of sunlight. It did funny things to his insides. “You know, the usual. Too much to do and not enough time to do it.” The pack tipped off the desk and its contents spilled onto the floor. She mumbled a few unintelligible things under her breath.
“Did you just say ‘fudge buckets’?” he asked, barely suppressing another laugh.
“Yeah, sorry about the potty mouth,” she replied, but was grinning herself. It hinted at those di
He knelt beside her and helped her gather her things, skillfully ordering them in her bag so that everything fit perfectly.
“You have a gift,” she mused in appreciation. “I’m afraid I haven’t been blessed with a keen sense of spatial perception. I tend to rely on the stuff-and-cram method myself, but your way works, too.”
She stood up at the same time he did, her face only inches from his collar bone. At six-two, he was accustomed to women being shorter than him, but she was even smaller than he’d originally thought. Her delicate femininity made him acutely aware of his own masculinity.
“Oh,” she exclaimed softly. He felt the tiny puff of air on his bare skin where he’d loosened his tie and unbuttoned the top of his shirt. He looked down to find her face tilted up toward his with those pretty eyes.
That look, Shane thought. He liked that look. It smacked of innocence, surprise, and – dare he say - desire. He grew taller, larger from it, like a male peacock who wanted to showcase his magnificent plumage.
She took a step back, only to stumble on the desk and fall backward. Shane reached out and caught her before she managed to hit anything. His entire body lit up as though someone flipped a switch, firing up nerve endings in all kinds of interesting places. Her eyes widened for a split second as if she had felt it, too.
“Thanks,” she stammered.
If anything, his interest grew, as did the odd warmth that seemed to be coursing through his body. He didn’t remove his hands immediately; he let them linger along her upper arms until he was fairly certain she would remain upright and in place.
“Perhaps I should walk you to your car,” he suggested.
* * *
Lacie smiled weakly, hoping he didn’t hear the small whimper that escaped. It was hard to concentrate on anything with his hands gently supporting her like that. Her face was only a few meager inches from some of the broadest shoulders she’d ever seen. He hadn’t looked quite so big when she was sitting down.
She had the most bizarre – and powerful – urge to lean forward just a hair and smell him. That was the G-rated version. The R-rated version had her licking his skin, right there at the hollow of his throat where only the slightest hint of a dark shadow was beginning to emerge. As it was, his clean, musky scent was already wrapping around her, making parts of her – the most feminine ones – tingle.
She forced herself to look up, then suddenly realized her mistake. He was looking down at her, the most beautiful blue eyes she’d ever seen locked on hers, those full, strong lips quirked in amusement. And his breath smelled like chocolate. Oh, hell, no. This man was devastating each and every one of her senses, blowing them away with the force of a nuclear blast.
Surely she was still asleep, dreaming that the sexy prof was actually talking to, walking with, and smiling at her. That was the most logical explanation as he held open the door for her. His other hand hovered along her back protectively, its radiating heat contrasting with the crisp night air. It was a bit embarrassing, but she didn’t blame him for his caution. So far she’d fallen asleep in his class, babbled like an idiot, and nearly managed to fall backward over a stationary desk. Of course, walking into the doorway when she glanced back to make sure she wasn’t dreaming probably didn’t do much to convince him otherwise, either.
“I’m not usually this clumsy,” she told him as she rubbed at the now-sore spot on her shoulder.
“You said you’re tired,” he offered. She accepted that small kindness gratefully.
“Yeah, that must be it.” It certainly couldn’t be that a Celtic god in human form was walking with her. Speaking with her. Touching her occasionally. It was no secret on campus that when Shane Callaghan guest-lectured in Professor Steven’s Ethics class it was standing room only. She vaguely wondered where everyone else had gone; normally the line to speak with him extended out into the hallway; at least that’s what her younger sister had told her when she’d taken this class last semester.
As they walked along, she realized that not only the classroom, but the entire building, was empty. She withheld another groan at the thought that everyone must have witnessed her unintentional snooze. Night school was hard enough without adding social ineptitude.
Sparks shot out from the point of contact on her lower back as Shane gently guided her around a piece of statuary that would have done some serious damage to her kneecaps had she walked into it.
“I’m questioning the sanity of letting you get behind the wheel,” he said, his deep voice wrapping around her like velvet and filled with obvious amusement. What he didn’t seem to realize was that he was the source of her current ineptitude. Shane Callaghan was the human male equivalent of a solar flare, messing up all of her circuits. She’d walked this path a hundred times and never had an issue. Well, not that anyone saw, anyway.
Instead of voicing those thoughts aloud and adding to her humiliation, however, she simply nodded, hoping to clear away some of the fog while at the same time clinging to it. “You’re probably right. Maybe I should grab a coffee first.”
“Mind if I join you?”
His words, completely unexpected, had her freezing so suddenly on the spot that Shane took a step beyond her before he realized she’d come to an abrupt halt. “Why would you do that?” Lacie asked, her blue eyes the size of saucers as she regarded him. Was he kidding?
The light breeze caught his hair – a black so dark and shiny it looked blue – pushing locks of it into his face. His eyes – a crystalline blue – were like brilliant sapphires in the moonlight. The effect was startling. She sucked in a breath, a conscious effort to remind her temporarily failing autonomic systems that breathing was essential
He shrugged, offering a boyish grin. “I’m not sure exactly. Maybe because you’ve made me smile more in the last ten minutes than I have in the last ten days.”
It took a few moments for his words to penetrate the haze. Oh. Comic relief. Yeah, well, okay. She could do that. It was probably the only time she’d ever get a chance like this, so why not?
“You like to live dangerously, don’t you?” she said, flashing him a friendly smile again. “No, I don’t mind, but I’m warning you - you do so at your own risk.”
“Duly noted,” he chuckled. “But I think I’ll take my chances.”
Shane hadn’t been entirely honest with her. She did make him smile, that much was true, and heaven knew, he could use more of that these days. Five of his brothers – including his twin – were now happily married, leaving only him and his younger brother Kieran feeling somewhat... lost? Left behind, maybe?
They had always been a very close-knit group. For the most part, their adult lives had been a series of dangerous missions interspersed with Callaghan-centric recharge time. Over the last several years, though, the dynamics had changed. They had wives and kids to turn to. They had other places to go. Other things to do.
Not that Shane sat around on the sidelines twiddling his thumbs these days, not by any means. As the legal counsel for his family and their vast (and lucrative) interests he stayed quite busy. And with himself and Kieran as the only unattached males, they were taking on more of the special forces task load, both out of a sense of responsibility and for the sense of purpose it gave them.
But it wasn’t the same. Things were changing. It wasn’t enough anymore. And Shane found himself looking. For what, he wasn’t sure. Just... something.
He stole a glance down, catching the illusion of sunshine and moonlight as the old-fashioned streetlamps cast their light upon her golden hair. The sweet, subtle scent of lilies and orchids drifted up to him, wrapping around him like a soft breeze. He filled his lungs with it. Such a light fragrance. Clean. Simple. Pure. Feminine.
She was being especially cautious now, paying particular attention to where she was walking. Shane bit back a smile. He was being particularly attentive as well. If she stumbled or trip
The lights of the all-night campus coffee shop glowed welcomingly. Shane stepped forward to open the door for her, then extended his hand, indicating that she should order first. His curiosity was roused, and this little exercise would provide a chance to study her, to learn a little more about her.
He had a natural gift for “reading” people, for sensing their underlying natures. He could tell when someone was lying, or when they were nervous. It was an ability that had served him well over the years, but one that he sometimes wished he didn’t have. Once in a while, it would have been nice to simply be able to take people at face value, and not know what lie beneath the surface.
The woman with him was slightly anxious, but it was a ‘good’ anxiety, one based on anticipation and, possibly, incredulity, as opposed to the kind someone felt if they were afraid or hiding something. Nor was it the blatant lusty admiration he often picked up from some of the younger coeds, the type that had him turning on his heel and slipping out of the back of the classroom earlier, only to return for his sleeping beauty once the lingerers had left.
Oh, she was interested. The way her cheeks flushed that lovely pink and her pupils dilated every time she looked at him were clear tells. But it was the subtlety of it that made all the difference.
This woman was not the type to throw herself at a man or take the initiative.
He took it as an encouraging sign. She had a sense of humor. Her smile lit him up from the inside out. She smelled like flowers, and had what he could only describe as a refreshingly honest interest in him and his company.
His initial analysis was promising indeed.
Personal desire aside, this was also an exercise in the study of human nature. Would she defer to him or order for herself? Would she select something she actually wanted, or would she be more worried about what he might think?