First and Only:Callaghan Brothers, Book 2

By: Abbie Zanders

Callaghan Brothers, Volume 2



Acknowledgements


Special 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.





Chapter One




Being 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 voila, 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.

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