Dangerous Secrets:Callaghan Brothers, Book 1(5)

By: Abbie Zanders

Because Taryn Malone didn’t exist.

Her hair started curling into loose ringlets as the mist fell upon it, a trait she’d inherited from her mother, or so she’d always believed. She shivered as the cold curls bounced against her neck, knowing that pretty soon she would be soaked through. What she needed was a warm place to dry out for a bit before she found herself a little nest somewhere.

Her stomach growled hungrily. She reached into the backpack she always carried with her and pulled out an apple, thankful she’d bought the bag of fresh-picked Fujis at the little roadside stand the day before. This would be it for a while. A hot, satisfying meal would not be an option tonight. She looked longingly at the 24-hour IHOP across the street. Maybe tomorrow.

She had no idea how she was going to pay for the repairs on her car, either, but she didn’t tell the mechanic that. He was just a young guy, maybe eighteen, apologetic because he couldn’t get her up and running again right away. The hundred dollars in cash she had to pay for the tow pretty much wiped her out.

Taryn sighed. She should have just abandoned the car and hitchhiked, though the way her luck was running lately, she would probably have been picked up by a state trooper. As bad as things were now, that would be worse. In Taryn’s world, avoiding anyone in law enforcement was imperative.

She looked around the quiet, small-town setting. At least if she was in a city she could find some kind of work – there was always someone somewhere who needed temporary help and didn’t ask too many questions. But this place looked like Mayberry. Old, established. Clean. Nice.

She shivered again, tossing the apple core into the park off to the left for some hungry squirrel to find. She paused, scanning for a place she might be able to hole up for a few hours. On the far end was a bench beneath a sprawling maple, but she quickly dismissed it as too visible. Anyone walking or driving by would spot her, and this was definitely not the kind of town where people would simply turn up their collars and pretend not to notice. But what about on the other side of the tree? It was a possibility she locked away for later consideration. She was too restless, too anxious to think about bedding down just yet. And she needed to chase some of the chill from her bones first.

Taryn pulled one hand from the warmth of her pocket to finger the Celtic cross she wore around her neck on a thin piece of leather cord. “If you’re listening, Charlie,” she murmured, “I could sure use a little guidance here, because I just don’t know what I’m going to do.”

She waited in silence for some indication, some sign – anything – but sensed nothing. With a sigh, she started walking again. “That’s okay, Charlie. I know you’d help me if you could.”

Two blocks later she began to hear the pounding bass. Three blocks later she heard the guitars and vocals that went with it. By the fourth block she found herself under the dark green and white-striped awning outside of Jake’s Irish Pub, feeling the vibrations of the music and laughter through the soles of her well-worn shoes. Old-fashioned lantern lights burned brightly, bathing the sidewalk in a warm glow. A peek inside the windows showed a mob of happy, smiling people.

Her eyes were drawn almost immediately to the large man behind the bar. He had to be six-four, six-five at least, maybe more. His shoulders were broad, with a heavily-muscled chest and arms clearly visible as they pressed against the light blue button down shirt he wore. His hair was so black it was almost blue, reaching down to extend slightly past his collar.

She lifted up onto her toes and strained to catch another glimpse as waves of people moved in and out of her line of sight. He appeared again, and her heart beat a little faster. But when, against all probability, he turned to the window and the deepest, most intense blue eyes she’d ever seen locked on hers, it stopped completely.

He couldn’t actually see her, she told herself. Not through all those people, not through the tinted glass into the darkness. Yet something in his expression seemed to change. Surprise? Puzzlement? Curiosity? She didn’t know.

The man behind the bar kept his eyes locked on her. Another man, remarkably similar in appearance but slightly smaller and likely younger, tapped him on the shoulder. The man said something, and soon the younger man was looking out at her, too.