Michael:Connelly Cousins, Book 3

By: Abbie Zanders

Acknowledgements


Cover design by Kim Killion of The Killion Group, Inc.

Professional editing by the incomparable M. E. Weglarz of megedits.com, a woman with a true gift for spotting plot holes, character anomalies, black holes, and other potential WTFs. Thank you, Meg, from the bottom my heart.

And special thanks to some very special ladies – Anjee Z., Carol T., Deb B., Perryne D., Susan J., Tonya B., Becky G., Heather J., Shelly S., and Stacy T. (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!





Prologue


The old man is up to something, Michael thought as he lifted the mug of Irish coffee to his lips. Traditionally, the drink consisted of strong, hot coffee, a healthy shot of Irish whiskey, and sugar, topped with thick cream, but Michael preferred his without the sugar or the cream.

And as was tradition, they’d gathered at the family-owned diner after the wedding reception had wound down. The newly married couple, Michael’s younger brother Johnny and bride Stacey, had left long ago, but that didn’t mean everyone else was ready to call it a night. His sister Lina was sitting in her husband’s lap, laughing at something their Uncle Jack Callaghan had said. The rest of the place was filled with Callaghan cousins from across the river in Pine Ridge and a few close family friends.

His grandfather, Conlan O’Leary, was smiling along with everyone else, but the old man was preoccupied. Every now and then his grayish-white brows would knit and he’d look as if his mind was somewhere else.

Michael sat in the back, doing what he did best. Watching. Processing. Quietly observing. But once everyone else shuffled home with full bellies and bleary eyes, he called him on it.

“Aye,” Conlan admitted. “I’ve got a feeling.”

Trained as an Army Ranger, Michael put a lot of faith in his instincts. A man’s gut rarely steered him wrong, as long as he was smart enough to pay attention to it. In his grandfather’s case, those “feelings” often proved eerily accurate, so when Conlan spoke, Michael sat up and listened.

“About what, Daideo?” The Gaelic word for grandfather rolled easily off his tongue; it was how he and his siblings had been addressing him since they first learned how to talk.

The older man thought carefully, as if deciding what and how much to say. “A lass,” he said finally. “I think she’s in some kind of trouble.”

Michael raised an eyebrow, but the admission wasn’t overly surprising. His grandfather had a soft spot for damsels in distress. Much of that might be attributed to the fact that he’d lost both of his daughters, one to illness and another – Michael’s mother – to a plane crash. Or that out of ten grandchildren, only one (Lina) was female.

”Who is this lass? And what kind of trouble?”

“Someone who works for me, and I’m not sure. Like I said, it’s just a feeling...” Conlan rubbed his eyes and shook his head, looking weary.

Michael mentally ran through the female staff at O’Leary’s Diner. Most of them were middle-aged and had been working there for a while, more like family than employees. His gaze found Meg, a forty-something who was blushing furiously and shaking her finger at something his cousin Ian had said. And Nancy, who was seventy if she was a day, bustling about with a pot of coffee in one hand and a bottle of whiskey in the other, refilling everyone’s cups. Carly, Grace, and Tina appeared to be both fine and in good spirits, as well.

“Anything I can help with?”

Michael regretted the words the moment they passed over his lips. Conlan’s gaze snapped up, his clear, green eyes fixing on Michael with triumph and approval. That weariness he thought he’d spotted only moments ago? Gone.

Yeah, he’d walked right into that one. Sometimes he forgot just how wily the old man could be.

“Aye, you’re a good lad. Come back tomorrow night, around midnight.”

“Midnight?” The corners of Michael’s lips quirked. “Should I bring my cloak and dagger?”

Conlan didn’t laugh. “She works the overnight shift.”

“She’s not here now?”

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