“I’m not doing this,” Grant Callahan yelled at his father. “I will not be a pawn for your newest business venture.”
His father sat there behind the mahogany office desk with a subtle smirk on his face.
“You think this is funny?” The question ended with a squeak as Grant’s anger turned to rage. “You may have been able to dictate my life in the past. But it stops now.”
He turned and strode over to the bookcase filled with business awards and pictures of his father with politicians. He had to keep his cool. That last squeak would give his father fuel to prove he wasn’t yet a man. Another arrow the great Callahan could aim at his son to keep him under his thumb. Behind Grant, his father cleared his throat and rustled some papers on his desk. He was probably concerned that this time with Grant wasn’t bringing him any profit.
Grant let the bitterness of that thought wash his rage to a dull ache. He picked up a gilded silver frame with a picture of his family and the Taylors. Hannah Taylor and his mother, Grace, had grown up in the same circles, and when they married and had families, the friendship stuck. The summer of this picture they’d gone on vacation together to Branson, Missouri. It was one of the last times Grant remembered ever being happy.
He’d been twelve and the mystery of the Ozark Mountains had appealed to his need to belong somewhere. Those rugged mountains had called to him. He and the two Taylor sisters, ten-year-old Keira and six-year-old Lindsay, had spent the entire month hiking, swimming and getting into trouble. Their last day, he and the girls had begged their parents to take them to Silver Dollar City, an amusement park that boasted rides, an underground cavern, and captured the quaint feel of the locale. They’d taken the picture there, the girls in old-fashioned, floor-length dresses—Little House on the Prairie-style—the mothers in prim outfits, unadorned and completely the opposite of their “designer” lifestyle, and all of the men dressed up like gamblers—randy, slick men of the Old West.
He set the picture back down on the shelf. The Taylors were part of his problem. His father wanted to announce Grant’s engagement to Keira Taylor, along with the merger of the Callahan and Taylor empires. The only problem was that there wasn’t any engagement. Hell, he hadn’t even seen Keira since that vacation eight years ago. The ache in his gut panged in regret for what he was about to do.
“No,” Grant said softly.
“I’m sorry, Son? What was that?”
Grant turned to face the man who was forcing him to make a decision that would change life as he knew it.
“I said no. I’m leaving, Father.” He strode for the door. He opened it a fraction, then looked again at his father. Wrinkles furrowed the Great Callahan’s brow, and dark circles under his eyes gave testimony to the stress and hours he worked, away from his family. Grant would never be that kind of man. “And I’m never coming back.”
15 years later, Clayton, Missouri
Grant Callahan stepped out from his garage to see Henry Cochran limping up the gravel drive.
“Got a package here for ya. Ol’ Tommy left it on my front porch, the dang bastard.” Henry handed Grant the box, then leaned over, hand on his knees, catching his breath.
“Thanks, Henry. You could have called, and I would’ve walked down to pick it up”
“Nah, gets me out of the house and away from Her.” With that Henry jerked his thumb back, gesturing towards his house at the bottom of the hill. “Her” was Henry’s sister Nancy. She was a nice woman to everyone but Henry. To Henry, she was the devil.
“Well, I’ll see ya later young man. Don’t want her comin’ up after me.”
Grant watched Henry amble away for a minute, then went back to the garage to finish working on his bike. He tossed the package onto his workbench, forgetting about it.
Two hours later, his knees sore from kneeling on the concrete floor, Grant stood and stretched. The ache in his knees was worth the time it had taken him to install a new carburetor on his bike. It was a 1961 Harley Davidson “Panhead” that he’d restored from the old rusted frame up. The new carburetor was the last part he’d needed before he could put the bike to a road test.
The manila package on the workbench caught his eye. Something, perhaps the sudden tightening in his gut, told him opening the package needed to come before the road test. He wiped his greasy hands on his jeans, then picked it up to see who it was from. The tightening in his gut grew stronger. It had been fifteen years since he’d seen the words that brought his carefully buried anger to the surface—Callahan Enterprises.
“Shit. How’d they find me?”
He ripped the package open and pulled out its contents—typed documents of some sort. He was about to toss them in the trash when a peach envelope fell out from the stack. His mother used peach stationary. For a moment he was thrown back in time, watching his mother at her desk addressing envelopes for a dinner party and letting him lick them closed. For a five-year-old, that had seemed an important job. Letting the memory fade, he bent down to pick up the envelope. In his mother’s handwriting were two simple words, Please Read.
* * * *
Grant had showered, changed and grabbed a beer before sitting at the kitchen table to read his mother’s letter. The Great Callahan, Grant T. Callahan, Sr., his father, had died. Grant thought he should feel something for the man, but he didn’t. His mother’s letter had been a request for him to return. No, she’d pleaded with him to come back and let bygones be bygones. She was one of two people Grant missed from his previous life. He felt a pang of regret at not having been there for his mother.
With his father gone, he could go and visit her for a month or two. He didn’t really have anything or anyone here in Clayton that he couldn’t leave for a bit. Rex manned his bike shop, Just Ride, and Henry could watch Chopper, his black lab.
He stood to make the necessary calls, but couldn’t bring himself to call his mother just yet. He called Henry, but it was Nancy who answered.
“I’m sorry, Grant. Henry isn’t supposed to have any excitement. You’ll just have to find somebody else to take Chopper.” Nancy hung up with an exasperated huff.
Rex was an easier phone call.
“Sure thing, boss. Maybe you’ll getcha some in the city.”
Grant laughed at that. He’d been so busy working on his bike it had been at least six months since he’d “gotten some.” That was just a few too many judging by the stirring in his jeans at the mere thought of sex. Maybe this trip to the city would be about pleasure as much as business after all.
Two hours later, Grant and Chopper hopped in his black Chevy truck and started down the drive. He’d had no luck in finding anyone to take Chopper for that long, so he’d decided to bring him along. The company would be nice, even if it did slobber. He planned on staying in Chicago for two months, tops. That should give him enough time to help his mother get things squared away and get caught up with her. Then he could go back to his quiet life in the Ozarks. Back to his bike shop. Back to his crazy neighbors. Back to himself. Chicago had never held any appeal to him. Its hectic pace and mostly snobbish inhabitants had only made his decision to leave all that much easier. He loved his mother, but unfortunately, she fell under the snob category. Along with the Taylors, who’d been the other reason he’d left for the mountains.
Botching the forced engagement to Keira Taylor had been one of the best decisions of his life. Sure, she was a nice girl, her sister too for that matter. What was her name? Oh, yeah, Lindsay. She’d been a cute kid but a pain in the ass, too. That summer their families had spent together, Lindsay had tagged along everywhere. Even when he’d snuck off to go make-out with a girl he’d met, she’d popped up. Just as he was putting his hand up the girl’s shirt, Lindsay had called out to him and ruined everything. On second thought, maybe she hadn’t been that cute. He’d stick with “pain in the ass.”
Chopper whined next to him and tried to do his customary three turns before settling down.
“Sorry, boy…” Grant reached over to scratch the dog behind the ears. “…We’ve got a long drive ahead of us so you’ll just have to deal with it.”
Chopper cocked his big head to the side and gave a low bark, as if to say, “Right, and I’ll just drool on you, then,” and proceeded to do just that. He stepped toward Grant and licked his ear.
“Get off, you big lug.” Grant shoved him affectionately down on the seat, where Chopper finally settled down. Grant set the cruise. “Guess I better get comfortable, too, Chop. This will be the last time we have any peace for a while.”
* * * *
The first thing Grant noticed when he pulled into the underground parking of the Callahan building was that the place was deserted except for his mother’s limousine.
“Some things never change,” he muttered to himself, wondering if his mother ever left work. He got out of the truck and waited, while Chopper ran off some energy from being cooped up in the truck. Typically dogs were supposed to be leashed in the city, but in the enclosed, empty parking garage, he couldn’t see what harm a dog could do. A blue Honda Accord pulled into the garage and parked over by the elevator. He was about to go find Chopper, who was taking way too long to do his business, when the car door opened and out stepped a leg. Not just any leg, mind you, but a slender, milky-white calf that slimmed down to a petite foot wrapped in a hot-pink, strappy sandal.
He’d always been a leg man, and since Chopper was taking his sweet time, he stood transfixed, wondering what would follow that enticing shoe and calf. He didn’t have long to wait. As a woman stepped out of the car, his gaze followed the slender line of her legs up to a short, hot-pink and sherbet-orange skirt that swished when she stepped toward the back end of her car. He continued his perusal upward to a sweater a shade lighter than the orange on her skirt.
When she bent over to get something out of the trunk, his body lit on fire. Okay, so maybe he was an ass man. Her lush bottom peeked out from under pink and orange ruffles. The scrap of lace women called underwear nowadays did nothing to hide her pale bottom from him or anyone else that could have been looking. Speaking of anyone, Grant glanced around to see if there was anyone else enjoying the show the beauty was putting on. When he looked to his right, all he saw was a blur of black fur and lolling tongue galloping full on, straight for…
“Chopper … no…” Grant lunged for the massive beast, but the dog slid through his hands and he landed with a painful jolt on the hard concrete. The woman spun around. Her face was etched in pure horror as she stood, frozen, watching his damn dog barrel toward her.
Chopper launched himself at her and knocked her sideways onto the garage floor. The attaché case she’d clutched flew out of her hands and landed with a resounding crash. It flew open and papers scattered everywhere. Picking himself up, Grant ran over to where Chopper was happily licking the woman’s face. He had to give her credit. She wasn’t screaming and kicking like most women would at having a one hundred-pound-plus canine pinning them down.
“Chopper, get off!” Grant grabbed hold of his collar and yanked the dog away. “Bad dog. Bad Chopper.”
Chopper slumped down to his belly, ears laid back in a form of repentant submission. But Grant knew better. Knocking people down was one of Chopper’s favorite things to do.
“Bad dog?” the woman said, still lying flat on the floor.
“Bad dog?” she repeated, this time with an edge of hysteria.
Grant reached out to help her up, and she pushed his hand away. Scooting up, once again giving Grant a peep show of her tight ass, she teetered a bit before straightening and took stock of herself. Her clothes were ruined. Big, black paw prints graced her sweater and her skirt was torn. She’d lost a shoe, too.
If Grant thought she’d been beautiful from afar, she was a knockout up-close, even disheveled and pissed off. In fact, the flash of anger he’d caught a glimpse of in her silver-blue eyes as she glared at him before straightening her clothes only served to heighten his sexual appetite. His cock lengthened and strained against the zipper of his jeans. When she finally stopped fidgeting and looked at him dead on, he saw a wave of something he didn’t understand flash across her eyes, but she masked that quickly with tantalizing anger.
“I see I have my work cut out for me,” she said in a steely voice. “Not only will I have to change you…” she pointed a shaky finger at Grant. “…but your fucking beast as well.”
“I’m sorry?” Grant said roughly, his mind scrambling to shift from wanting to take this woman on the hood of her car to what she’d just said. “Change me? Lady, you don’t even know me or my dog, and for the record, his name’s Chopper not ‘fucking beast’.” At the mention of his name, Chopper crawled up from where he’d been hiding behind Grant and sat next to him.
“Oh, but I do, Grant Callahan.” The anger in her eyes quickly changed to mirth as her kissable lips hitched into a half smirk. “I’ve even seen you in your underwear.”
That threw Grant off. He was pretty good about remembering the women he’d slept with. Or at least he thought he was. He stared at her for a moment, racking his brain and wondering how he could have forgotten such a magnificent woman. Forgotten or not, he was going to take advantage of the newly discovered “intimacy.”
“Well, then…” Grant cocked his hip and matched her smirk. “Since we’re on such intimate terms, you won’t mind when I do this.”
He took one step forward and grabbed hold of her arms. Pulling her flush against him, he crushed his lips to hers.
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