As a member of a tight-knit, extended family full of tough, sometimes-violent men, Flynn McCassey is no saint. But he is smart. The one his cousins call quiet and mysterious, his keen observation skills allow him to see things that other’s don’t.
Missy Grace has lost everyone she’s ever loved. When her best friend, Georgia McCassey, unexpectedly re-enters her life, Missy is presented with an opportunity to start a new life in Hagerstown, Maryland.
Flynn and Missy’s budding relationship comes to a screeching halt with one suspicious phone call. When she announces her need to return to Virginia and her ailing mother, her explanation does nothing to mask her fear. To make sure she stays safe, Flynn offers to drive Missy home. Thrilled by his offer, she accepts his generosity without considering the danger.
Halfway home, the truth comes out…giving Flynn just hours to figure out how to keep Missy alive.
Barnes & Noble.com
Whiskey Creek Press
As she had every day for nearly five years, Missy Grace stood alone.
The late August sun beat down as she loitered in the parking lot in front of McCassey’s Garage. There was not a breath to be had, but being from southern Virginia, Missy thought nothing of the hot weather here in western Maryland. In through her nose and out through her mouth; she inhaled and exhaled steadily, barely noticing the stickiness of the oppressive humidity.
This small town reminded her of her hometown, Fort Chiswell; a little backwoods, but quaint. The gun racks in the back windows of several of the trucks in the parking lot made her feel at home. Firearms didn’t faze her; she’d grown up hunting with her dad.
Because all three bay doors in front of the large brick building were wide open, Missy could hear the commotion inside. Laughter and silliness from those who had put in a long week fixing cars wafted through the air. They were ready start their weekend late on a Friday afternoon.
Missy hadn’t seen her best friend, Georgia McCassey, since she’d disappeared from their hometown just after her fifteenth birthday. When it happened, Georgia’s mom told everyone that her daughter had run away, but Missy hadn’t bought the explanation. In her gut, she’d believed that Georgia’s mother had known where she was. But because lung cancer had taken the woman’s life just three weeks after Georgia disappeared, Missy hadn’t had the chance to question her.
Never in her life had Missy felt as lost and alone as she had when Georgia first vanished. The two of them had been inseparable since meeting on the softball field when they were five. The void Georgia’s absence had left in Missy’s life was so large that she thought it would never be filled.
When Georgia called her out of the blue, Missy recognized her best friend’s voice right away, and would’ve fainted if there had been anyone around to catch her. Instead, she’d eased herself into a chair at the kitchen table and talked for the next three hours to the girl she had grown up loving like a sister.
Silent, sympathetic tears had poured down Missy’s cheeks when Georgia told her the story of how her father had kidnapped her and forced her into prostitution and heroin addiction. She’d listened with interest as Georgia explained how she’d escaped with the help of the drug dealer who owned the house where her father was holding her prisoner. And she’d almost fallen out of her chair when Georgia announced that she had three older half-brothers named Blackie, Judd, and Rebel, who were forty-one, thirty-seven, and thirty-six.
Georgia had also talked about her sisters-in-law, nieces and nephews, uncles, and numerous cousins. By the time the story was over, Missy had been on information overload, and only remembered bits and pieces of that part of their conversation.
Just before they’d hung up, Georgia mentioned that she was playing softball again, and happened to be pitching for McCassey’s Garage in the Hagerstown Tradesman Fast Pitch Softball League’s championship game this weekend. She was the only girl on the team, but Missy doubted that had any effect on her self-confident friend. Georgia had been throwing sixty-four mile an hour fastballs at the age of fifteen, so Missy was sure that what she lacked in masculinity, she made up for in speed and accuracy.
The girls had ended their conversation with the promise to visit each other as soon as possible. But that hadn’t been good enough for Missy. After she said goodbye to Georgia, she’d contacted the girls they’d played softball with on the Fort Chiswell Storm since elementary school. Since most of them had yet to go back to college, all nine of them piled into two cars a few hours ago and made the four and a half hour drive up to Hagerstown to watch Georgia pitch. Fifteen minutes earlier, they’d dropped Missy off at the garage and left to rent two rooms at the local hotel.
Only moments away from reuniting with her best friend, Missy suddenly became very nervous. Growing up, the two of them had known each other inside and out. What if Georgia picked up on what Missy was hiding? What if she started asking questions that Missy wasn’t ready—and didn’t know how—to answer?
There was only one way to find out. One foot in front of the other, Missy slowly made her way across the parking lot, through the middle bay door, and into the building.
* * * *
Frustrated to the point of craving a much-forbidden cigarette, Flynn McCassey turned his baseball hat backward and leaned further under the hood of the car he was working on.
At two o’clock that afternoon, taking on one last tune-up before punching out for the day had seemed like a good idea. However, had he known that he was going to have to declare war on a corroded carburetor, he would’ve ignored the mess and locked up his tool cabinet early. But here it was, ten minutes before quitting time on a Friday afternoon, and he was locked in battle with a task that was normally so simple a ten-year-old could do it.
Because he wouldn’t be able to enjoy his weekend knowing such a catastrophe was waiting for him Monday morning, Flynn tuned out the chaos around him inside the garage and tried to concentrate.
It was hard not to join in the conversation that his six cousins and two uncles were having around the old square card table in the back of the building. McCassey’s Garage was playing against Joel’s Masonry in the Hagerstown Tradesman Fast Pitch Softball League championship game tomorrow. It was all everyone had been talking about since they’d opened for business at seven o’clock that morning.
Flynn’s nineteen-year-old cousin, Georgia, was scheduled to pitch. She could throw a seventy mile per hour fastball right down the middle with her eyes closed and was one of the main reasons they’d made it to the finals.
But Flynn always finished what he started, and couldn’t allow himself to join his family until the tune-up was complete.
He stretched his arms and leaned even further under the hood to get a good grip on the bad engine part. As he was trying to pull it free, he caught sight of a worn pair of brown cowboy boots out of the corner of his eye. He watched the boots approach the vehicle, and was surprised when they came to a stop just a few feet away.
He’d assumed that one of his cousins had come over to give him a hard time, so he ignored the person standing next to him. Ignored them, that is, until the carburetor finally pulled free and he backed out slightly from underneath the hood. That’s when he noticed the boots were attached to a pair of very long, sexy legs.
Taken completely off guard, Flynn was suddenly very interested in getting a look at the rest of what the owner of the boots had to offer. Only, in his haste, he had a momentary brain freeze and forgot that he was still hovering over the engine. As soon as he rose to his full, six foot two inch height, he cracked the top of his head on the hood of the car. “Shit!” It hurt like hell.
His hand flew to the area where a tiny lump had already risen, and he backed away from the vehicle. A sudden, quiet giggle reminded him that his original intention had been to check out the owner of the hot legs.
Since he was already looking at the ground, Flynn decided there was no time like the present to browse the merchandise. His gaze left the woman’s boots and traveled slowly up every inch of two smooth, solid legs that seemed to go on for miles. They were much more muscular than he’d expected, but on her, they were perfect. He looked past her snug, blue jean cutoffs and pink v-neck tank top, and stopped when he reached her torso, where the tiny silver locket around her neck dangled enticingly above her cleavage. When he finally came face to face with the most beautiful woman he’d ever seen, the breath rushed from his body as if the wind had been knocked out of him.
Other than her long blonde hair and sweet, full lips that did nothing but beg to be kissed, the most mesmerizing thing about the angel in front of him was her light, bright green eyes. They sparkled and danced with life, hypnotizing him as they locked with his.
“Flynn McCassey.” He introduced himself in a breathless exhale, relieved he’d been able to say his name without getting tongue-tied and making a fool of himself. He’d never had to worry about that before; Flynn liked to believe he was as smooth with the ladies as the rest of his cousins. But he’d also never been in the presence of anyone so lovely.
Instead of greeting her with a handshake, he reached out slowly, took her hand in his, and brought it to his lips. He placed a light kiss just below her wrist, and held onto her a moment or two longer than he knew was proper. He enjoyed the lavender scent of her smooth skin and didn’t want to let go.
The woman smiled shyly, seemingly unaffected by the grease he’d just remembered was all over his skin. Much to Flynn’s dismay, she withdrew her hand without offering her name. With another sweet, soft giggle, she pointed to the vehicle. In a thick southern drawl, she spoke for the first time. “Car giving you trouble?”
Hoping the distraction would allow him to regain his composure; Flynn chuckled and began wiping his grease-covered hands on what used to be a white rag. “This is not a car; it’s Christine reincarnated.”
The girl smiled, revealing perfectly straight, bright white teeth. “Well then, Mr. McCassey, you’d better be careful. You could be in danger.”
He was in danger all right. But not from the car. The very sound of her voice had put him in serious danger of embarrassing himself. “It’s Flynn,” he corrected her. “And I’ll be sure to keep that in mind, Ms.—?”
The woman’s cheeks turned pink. “I’m sorry; my name is—”
“Missy!” The shriek behind him came from his cousin Georgia. He turned just in time to see her sprinting in their direction, and jumped out of her path less than a second before she flew past him and into the arms of the blonde.
It wasn’t until the blonde cried, “Georgia!” that it finally dawned on him who she was. Missy Grace was Georgia’s best friend. They hadn’t seen each other since Georgia’s father—Flynn’s Uncle Dolan—had stolen her from her mother almost five years earlier.
Georgia had wandered into Hagerstown a strung out junkie nearly a year ago, but hadn’t wanted to contact any of her old friends until she was clean and felt that she was close to being her old self. That had been just yesterday. Georgia hadn’t mentioned that Missy was coming for a visit; Flynn wondered if she’d known.
Suddenly feeling guilty for what he’d been thinking about Missy, Flynn retreated into the crowd that had gathered.
They were all there. Georgia’s older brothers, Blackie, Judd, and Rebel, stood shoulder to shoulder off to the side. Arms crossed at their chests, their expressions were blank, but Flynn knew that the three of them were proud of the half-sister that they hadn’t known existed until she’d arrived in Hagerstown. They’d taken her in, helped her detox cold-turkey, and made her part of a family that she hadn’t thought she was good enough to be in.
Their uncles, Frank and Jimmy—part owners of the garage with Rebel—were there, too. The two of them only stayed long enough to glare at his cousins, Brady and Kane, with a silent, behave-if-you-know-what’s-good-for-you, warning. The two men who spent more time screwing around than they did working must’ve read the message loud and clear, for they disappeared along with their uncles.
Flynn shoved the greasy rag into the back pocket of his mechanics coveralls and moved over to stand next to Rebel.
“Did you know she was coming?” Flynn asked his cousin.
Rebel shook his head. “I don’t think Georgia did, either. Look at her. She’s actually crying.”
Flynn had noticed that. Because her brothers were overprotective as it was, Georgia usually tried like hell not to cry around them. It was smart on her part. Acting like a baby would give them a good excuse to treat her like one…even though she was going to be twenty years old in less than three weeks.
“Where’ve you been the last two hours?” Rebel wanted to know.
Flynn motioned to ‘Christine.’ “Fighting with that damn car.”
Rebel spared a quick glance at the hunk of junk sitting in front of the middle bay door. “Forget about it. We’ll handle it Monday morning.”
Normally, Flynn didn’t like to leave an unfinished project, but in this case, he was willing to make an exception. It wasn’t like he was going to be able to concentrate on anything now, anyway.
Before he could thank his cousin, loud, shrill screams filled the large building as eight more girls ran inside and formed a huddle around Georgia. Flynn looked at Rebel, who shrugged. “Damned if I know. Softball team?”
Flynn thought that sounded like a good answer and shrugged back. The girls, who all seemed to be around Georgia’s age, were laughing and hugging and crying. Although it was chaotic, Flynn felt like an intruder as he watched the scene play out. This was Georgia’s moment. He didn’t feel right gawking, but couldn’t take his eyes off the group. He felt like he’d died and gone to southern belle heaven.
Flynn was headed toward the office when Georgia pushed through the crowd. She was holding Missy’s hand and dragging the blonde behind her. The two girls came to a stop in front of him. “Flynn, this is my best friend, Missy Grace. Missy, my cousin, Flynn.”
Flynn grinned at Missy, and was rewarded with a gorgeous smile. “I’m sorry about before,” she apologized devilishly. “I should’ve told you who I was.”
Damn, she was beautiful. He shook the hand she offered and smiled back. “No harm done, darlin’.”
When Georgia pulled Missy toward her brothers, Flynn retreated into the office to punch his time card. Officially clocked out for the day, he sat down at the receptionist’s desk and watched Georgia introduce her friends to Blackie, Judd, and Rebel. The men seemed to take all the hugging and kissing from the girls in stride, as they had everything else that had come along with acquiring a teenaged sister.
Even though the large McCassey clan was dominated by men, Flynn hadn’t had as much trouble adjusting to having Georgia around as her brothers had because he’d grown up with two older sisters. He was used to girly stuff like tears, giggles, and affection. Blackie, Judd, and Rebel weren’t, despite the fact that all three of them were married and had children. Sisters were different than wives, as each one of them was reminded everyday.
When the mayhem died down and all of the girls except Georgia and Missy had gone, Flynn ventured out of the office. Desperate for a shower and some peace and quiet, he tried to sneak upstairs. The small apartment above the garage wasn’t much, but it was where Flynn had been living off and on for the past few years; the place he considered home for the time being. Almost home free, he was more than halfway to the metal stairs at the back of the garage when Georgia ran up and stopped him.
When her arm curled around his, he glanced down at the young cousin he’d become so close to. A good foot shorter than him—and every other male in the family—she had filled out and put on a healthy amount of weight since she’d gotten clean. Georgia Virginia McCassey was a beautiful young woman, but there were times when she still looked very much like a kid. She could act like one, too, if you caught her in the right mood.
Flynn was glad that he and Georgia were friends as well as family. She was probably the most unique girl he’d ever met. A dangerous combination of all three of her brothers, she had Blackie’s bad temper and fearlessness, Judd’s emotion, and Rebel’s brains and leadership skills. She wasn’t cocky or overconfident, but she seldom backed down from anything.
She was fun and funny and loved to hang out at the garage.
Flynn didn’t mind having Georgia around all the time. And although he was used to seeing her, he’d never get used to how much she looked like her brother, Judd. Their appearances were so similar, it was easy to understand why the first time he saw her, Judd—sixteen years older—had thought there was a possibility Georgia was his daughter. That little heart-stopping incident resulted in a very uncomfortable safe sex conversation between Judd and his ten-year-old son, Jay.
“What do you need?” he asked, trying to keep his attention on Georgia and away from Missy. “I was headed upstairs.”
Whatever her like-a-kid-on-Christmas grin was all about, it undoubtedly meant bad news for someone; probably him. “You’re coming to practice later, right?”
Okay, that wasn’t so bad. All week, Team McCassey had been planning to practice that evening, so there was nothing odd about her asking if he was going. “I’ll be there as soon as you get the hell out of here and let me shower.”
“Why take a shower? You’re just going to get dirty again.”
He unwound his arm from hers and tugged on one of her loose, dark brown curls. “Because, wild child, I don’t want the new dirt to get jealous that the old dirt’s been there longer.”
Georgia rolled her eyes. “Whatever.”
His answer was a little off the wall, but he wasn’t about to mention that he didn’t want Missy to think he was a redneck greaseball who took his once-a-week bath before church on Sundays. Not that he went to church. Or took baths. Ugh! He wished they’d leave already. “Why’d you want to know if I’d be at practice?”
She grinned, and he held his breath.
“Because all the girls are coming, too,” Georgia said. “We thought it’d be fun for the two teams to scrimmage against each other. You know, to get us ready for the game tomorrow.”
What? He glanced from Georgia to Missy and back again. “Do the rest of the guys know about this?”
She shrugged. “Rebel knows.”
At first, Flynn hadn’t believed that the girls on Georgia’s softball team wanted to play Team McCassey. He’d thought that maybe Georgia was just feeling him out; trying to determine whether or not she should suggest the idea to the guys. But once she’d said that Rebel knew, Flynn knew it was a done deal.
Rebel was the one who called the shots in their rough and rowdy family. He was only ten years older than Flynn, but Rebel was the one liked and respected by everyone; the one man who never started trouble…but finished it. If Reb said they were scrimmaging a bunch of girls who pretty much played the sport of softball for a living, then they were.
And they were probably going to get their asses kicked.
“I’ll see you girls at the field.” He started to walk away, but stopped himself when he realized that with the exception of the three of them, the garage was empty. Missy was staying at Blackie and Angel’s house with Georgia. “Hey, do you girls need a ride home?”
Georgia shook her head. “Ladies!” she corrected him. “No thanks. Blackie’s waiting for us outside.”
As if on cue, Blackie’s oversized, black diesel dually pickup truck pulled in front of the middle bay door. Coal-black exhaust poured from the smokestacks when he stepped on the accelerator and revved the engine to get the girls’ attention.
When the two of them left the garage, Flynn’s last visual image was of a pair of long legs inside worn, brown cowboy boots climbing up into the truck. He watched until the vehicle was out of sight, then slowly made his way upstairs to take a long, cold shower.
Copyright 2003-2009 Lauren N.Sharman All rights reserved.