Beyond Affection

By: Abbie Zanders

Callaghan Brothers, Volume 6


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.

Chapter One

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 ...”