Authors: Abbie Zanders
The Connelly Cousins, Volume 2
Published by Abbie Zanders, 2015.
This is a work of fiction. Similarities to real people, places, or events are entirely coincidental.
First edition. November 18, 2015.
Copyright © 2015 Abbie Zanders.
Written by Abbie Zanders.
10 9 8 7 6 5 4 3 2 1
Connelly Cousins, Book Two
ARNING: This book contains alpha male characters: a badass biker, a sexy construction worker, and a brooding Army Ranger.
Due to frequent strong language and graphic scenes of a sexual nature, this book is intended for mature (18+) 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...
over 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 – Deb B., Anjee Z., Shelly S., Carol T., Tonya B., Susan J., Perryne D., Carla S., and Shayne R (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!
ohnny is the second book of the standalone Connelly Cousins Trilogy.
Many of you might recognize him from his occasional cameo appearances in my popular Callaghan Brothers series. That’s because the Connellys are cousins to the boys in Pine Ridge, and live just over the river in the small valley town of Birch Falls.
If you’re keeping track, Johnny is the older brother of Celina (Book 1). Their mother, Erin, and the Callaghan matriarch, Kathleen, are sisters.
So sit back, relax, and come along with me for another visit to Northeastern Pennsylvania...
he’s coming – I can’t believe it!” Lina squealed as she hung up the phone, throwing herself into her husband’s strong arms. Kyle caught her in an embrace easily and kissed her forehead. In the few short months they’d been married, he’d become accustomed to his wife’s sudden bursts of exuberance, and was less likely to become a casualty of her fierce hugs, despite the fact that his large, muscular frame dwarfed her small, womanly one.
“I’m glad, baby,” he chuckled as she wiggled in his arms. He loved the feel of her, all of her soft feminine curves pressing into him. She fit so perfectly there, as if she had been custom made specifically for him and him alone. Just the thought of how well they fit together in other ways made him want to deepen the kiss, to lose himself in the feel and taste of her.
“Next week,” she told him. “She’s flying in on Wednesday. We can hang out in town for a few days, then I thought I’d take her up to the cabin for the weekend. Can you get off?”
Kyle gave her a sexy smile, grinding his hips against her suggestively. “I can’t believe you just asked me that.”
Lina laughed and kissed him. “You know what I mean, Kyle. Does Mo need you to work next weekend?”
A frown crossed over his handsome features. “I might have to, baby. Got a couple of big shots waiting on me.”
Kyle designed and built custom motorcycles for people all over the country. He was one of the best, and his unique skills were always in high demand. Now that he wasn’t working as many late nights – thanks to his new wife providing one hell of an incentive not to – he was busier than ever during the daylight hours.
“I am so proud of you, Kyle,” she said with so much love in her eyes it almost hurt. “You are so good at what you do, it’s no wonder you’re so busy.”
She kissed him tenderly, and he deepened it. He’d never really cared what anyone thought, but the fact that she was proud of him filled him with a sense of warmth and purpose, made him feel like a better man than he was. She loved him wholly, completely, without exception. Just as he loved her.
“It’ll probably work out for the best anyway. Stacey said she’s hit a few snags with her current book. Maybe some time alone up there will help her get past her block.”
“She’s a writer, huh?”
“Not just any writer. The
.” Lina glowed with pride for her friend. It was one of the many things Kyle loved about her. She was genuinely happy when other people did well.
“Are you going to introduce her to Amy?” Amy was a good friend of Lina’s, and owned a thriving bookstore in Birch Falls.
“Oh, definitely. But Stace doesn’t do public appearances, so it’ll all be very hush-hush.” A shadow crossed Lina’s features, and as always, Kyle wanted to make it disappear. Shadows had no place on a face as lovely as hers.
“Well, I’m sure I can at least take the time to head up after work on Friday. We can spend the night, get her all set up, then come back early Saturday morning. How’s that?”
“Perfect,” she said, rocking her hips against him. “Just like you.”
Kyle sucked a breath through his teeth. Another thing he loved about Lina, she was so easy to please.
“You,” he said huskily, grasping her hips as she found her rhythm, “are either an angel sent from heaven or the daughter of the devil himself. I can’t decide which.” She laughed as Kyle growled and carried her off to the bedroom.
* * *
hat the hell had she been thinking?
Stacey Mallory, a.k.a. Salienne Dulcette, held her head in her hands. She’d just gotten off the phone with her former college roommate, having agreed to fly all the way across the country to the east coast for a visit. She couldn’t help herself; it had been an impetuous decision made under the sweet duress of Lina’s soft-spoken tones and remembered images of those huge, flashing green eyes.
Saying no to Lina had always been damn near impossible, which was exactly why Stacey refused to pick up the phone for so long. For one thing, Lina was one of those people who was always doing something for someone else. She was the one people confided in, the quiet and reliable shoulder to lean on, the friend you could always count on to lend a helping hand or simply just be there when you needed her. Lina rarely asked for anything herself, so when she did, Stacey felt kind of obligated, because she knew she would feel awful for days if she didn’t.
Stacey also knew that Lina harbored guilt on her behalf. While Stacey never once blamed her for anything that had happened, there was no doubt in her mind that Lina felt at least partially responsible. Lina believed she had let her best friend down, and had been trying to make amends for the past five years. Stacey had seen it in her eyes the last time they’d been face to face; she read it in between the lines of every card and hand-written note Lina sent her; and she heard it in her voice with every voicemail message Lina left, in all the things she
The last time they’d seen each other, Stacey had been in critical but stable condition, the victim of a horrible accident. They’d been seniors, preparing for finals, excited about being so close to finishing their undergrad studies with Bachelor’s degrees – Stacey in English Literature and Lina in Comparative Literature. Since then, Stacey had avoided direct contact with Lina, a fact which she knew was more painful to Lina’s sensitive soul than any form of verbal or physical abuse would have been.
Hurting Lina was not Stacey’s intention, but she hadn’t had much choice. Her life had been irrevocably changed that day. The person she was, the life she had led, had all changed drastically. Lina was part of her old life, and for Stacey, a reminder of what once was.
To soften the blow of her outright rejection (and to ease some of her own guilt), Stacey sent Lina a signed, first edition copy of every book she published, along with a small card listing Stacey’s current address and personal number.
The books were worth a fortune, since Salienne Dulcette was one of the most reclusive (and therefore sought after) authors in recent history. Her sexy, erotic, and insightful novels had taken the literary world by storm, finding and filling a niche among strong, independent, and often disappointed, women. Even though copycats had come out of the woodwork after her first book surpassed all expectations and shot straight to the top of the best seller list, there was nothing that came close to Stacey’s poignant wit and engaging storylines. Through her writing, Stacey touched the souls and hearts of women everywhere; her books were now offered in dozens of languages worldwide.
Lina apparently loved the books, too. Her notes and messages never failed to mention how much she treasured them, not just because she enjoyed romance novels, but because they had come from Stacey directly. Stacey knew that despite their worth, Lina would never sell them, just as she knew Lina would not reveal her personal address or phone number, even though she would be paid handsomely for that kind of information.
Not answering Lina’s letters or returning her phone calls had been a difficult, yet conscious choice. It had taken years to build thick walls of seclusion around herself. But on those rare occasions when she was totally honest with herself, she had to admit she enjoyed hearing from her old friend. Her spirits lifted every time she spotted Lina’s loose, curvy handwriting on the envelope, or heard her low, sweet voice on her voicemail.
As a result of Lina’s tenacity, Stacey knew everything that had happened in Lina’s life since they’d last seen each other. It many ways, it kept her grounded. Reminded her that there was a world beyond her laptop and her website and fan chat rooms, even if she wasn’t the one living it. Stacey lived vicariously through her own imagination and the life penned in the handwritten letters Lina sent to her faithfully.
She didn’t know what made her pick up the phone this time. Perhaps she’d been feeling more sentimental than usual. Or maybe it was that second glass of wine that clouded her judgment. The caller ID had popped up on the display, right along with a sudden, strong desire to answer. Before she had a chance to overthink it, she picked up. Lina’s shock at hearing Stacey’s actual voice was evident, though it only lasted a few seconds.
It had been surprisingly easy to talk to Lina, far more than she would have expected after five long years. Stacey asked her all kinds of questions about Kyle (no one could really be
hot, could they?), about the little town she’d returned to in northeastern Pennsylvania (several feet of snow in the winter
sweltering heat and humidity in the summer?), and about the multi-colored tattoo that ran the length of her back (did it hurt much?). Lina was candid and funny, and only too willing to answer Stacey’s inquiries, sometimes in shockingly vivid detail.
Ever the author, Stacey made mental notes here and there, already forming her next main female character in her mind. It certainly wouldn’t be the first one she’d based on one or more aspects of her old friend.
The most amazing thing of all was, the more she talked with Lina, the more she felt like the old Stacey – wild, carefree, living life to the fullest. Despite everything that had happened, Lina still saw her that way.
Maybe that’s why she’d agreed to fly out to see her. To see if it was possible a tiny piece of the old Stacey remained, buried so deeply that not even Stacey herself could find it. If anyone could uncover it, it would be Lina.
After the accident, all Stacey wanted was to be left alone. After several years of pushing people away, she finally got her wish. No one called anymore, just her agent. No one stopped by to visit or offer false encouragement. The “Get Well” cards and “Thinking of You” notes had stopped too, eventually. Even her mother’s check-ins had been reduced to once a week, on Sunday afternoons. Those calls were the most dreaded fifteen minutes of Stacey’s week.