Book 1 in the Gallagher Brothers Series
In the first of a Montgomery Ink spin-off series from NYT Bestselling Author Carrie Ann Ryan, a broken man uncovers the truth of what it means to take a second chance with the most unexpected woman…
Graham Gallagher has seen it all. And when tragedy struck, lost it all. He’s been the backbone of his brothers, the one they all rely on in their lives and business. And when it comes to falling in love and creating a life, he knows what it’s like to have it all and watch it crumble. He’s done with looking for another person to warm his bed, but apparently he didn’t learn his lesson because the new piercer at Montgomery Ink tempts him like no other.
Blake Brennen may have been born a trust fund baby, but she’s created a whole new life for herself in the world of ink, piercings, and freedom. Only the ties she’d thought she’d cut long ago aren’t as severed as she’d believed. When she finds Graham constantly in her path, she knows from first glance that he’s the wrong kind of guy for her. Except that Blake excels at making the wrong choice and Graham might be the ultimate temptation for the bad girl she’d thought long buried.
Graham Gallagher had never craved a cigarette as much as he did right then. It didn’t matter that he’d quit smoking over fifteen years ago cold turkey and hadn’t picked one up since then. He just wanted a damn smoke.
He wanted a fucking cigarette, a beer, and a willing woman underneath him as he fucked her until they were both spent.
And not necessarily in that order.
Not that he’d get any of that anytime soon. Between this new job, the old one they hadn’t fully completed yet, and the rest of the crap in his life, he wasn’t sure he’d even have time for a beer.
And considering it had been a long six months since he’d had a woman, he was pretty sure he wouldn’t be getting laid anytime soon. He and his right hand had a perfectly nice relationship for now, and when things got downright dangerous, he got to know his left.
Jesus, he needed coffee or something if he was thinking about how his left hand would be something different in his life.
He pulled his dark hair out of the rubber band and grimaced as he caught some tangles when he ran a hand through it. He wasn’t sure he’d brushed it that morning; instead, he’d just thrown it up in a tie at the back of his head as soon as he’d gotten out of the shower. At least I showered, he thought. Considering he’d slept for shit the night before, a shower after sweat-slick dreams had been the only recourse. He quickly ran his hand through his hair a few more times, getting out most of the rat’s nest, and then pulled it back again before the owner of their new project showed up and called him a heathen.
Graham sighed, sliding his hand over his beard to straighten it out. Since it had grown past his chin and almost touched his chest if he lowered his head just right, he already looked the part of a criminal to some. Add in the ink covering his body, and the piercings only those in his bed could see, and he didn’t fit the ideal image of a businessman that the caliber of people who wanted to work with their business expected.
Not that he was only a business owner. He and two of his brothers owned, operated, and sweated for Gallagher Brothers Restoration. They cleaned up and restored old homes and buildings that were either already historical landmarks or well on their way to becoming them. It wasn’t the easiest work in the world in Colorado since it was a relatively new state compared to those out east. To put it more simply, the buildings weren’t as old in Denver as they were where the first colonies had settled, like Delaware, Pennsylvania, or the Carolinas. But in the past decade, he, Owen, and Murphy had never lacked for work. Their other brother Jake worked with them at times as well, though he had his own life with this artwork and never seemed to want to butt in.
Graham always tried to change that, always tried to make sure everyone was included.
He sighed. One of the perks of being the oldest brother was apparently an ulcer, since he worried over his family so freaking much. And now he was standing in the middle of a monstrosity of a mansion and not in the mood to deal with the legalities and politics that came with this particular job.
Hence why he needed the cigarette, beer, and willing woman.
“Let me guess, you woke up, showered, and put on the cleanest jeans you own, but didn’t bother to make a cup of coffee. I mean, why would you, when you figure I’ll bring you some.”
Graham turned at the sound Owen’s voice and shrugged. “You always bring me coffee. Why should I make any? Especially when I was running late anyway.” He took the aforementioned coffee with the “G” written on the side, and took a sip, his body relaxing at the first taste of the brown elixir of life.
At that thought, he took another drink, this one a bit bigger. If he was thinking in terms of elixirs like Murphy, perhaps he needed more caffeine than he realized.
“You wouldn’t run late if you actually set your alarm for a reasonable hour, instead of right before you need to be out the door. It’s amazing what happens to your day when you actually set a schedule and keep it.” Owen set down the last cup, this one with a large “M” on the side for Murphy, and took a drink out of his own cup, the big “O” written in Owen’s perfect block lettering.
Seriously, if his brother weren’t so good with his hands when it came to restoring buildings and didn’t take care of all the paperwork that gave Graham headaches, he’d hate the guy. Plus, Owen talked to the other contractors and people who owned the land they worked on. Since Graham didn’t particularly like talking to people in general, he was damn happy Owen dealt with it.
While Graham had pulled on the cleanest and brightest T-shirt he owned over jeans, Owen had on a button-down shirt over pressed jeans. Yeah, he had a slight beard, but he’d trimmed it down that morning, and even had some sort of mousse or gel in his hair. As Graham had never once used the stuff, he wasn’t sure which one it was. He also had a feeling if Owen hadn’t planned on actually getting dirty at the start of the job, he’d have worn slacks instead of jeans, and probably even a tie along with it.
Graham never did understand his brother and his need to look presentable at all times.
But that’s what made Owen, Owen and Graham…Graham.
“I didn’t sleep well,” he mumbled. “It’s also the first day on a new job I don’t want in the first place, so yeah, I’m a little off. Once I get a hammer in my hands, I’ll get over it.”
Owen studied Graham’s eyes and cursed under his breath. “Shit, I didn’t think about what month it was.” He paused as if trying to think of something to say to make it all better. Nothing was going to make it that way so his brother would do better to stop trying.
Graham held out a hand and shook his head. “Don’t worry about it. I’ll get over it. I always do,” he lied.
He never got over it; never let it leave his mind. But he worked through it, buried it when he needed to, and found a way to live when not living had almost seemed like a better choice.
Hell, he needed more coffee than this if his brain were going to head in that direction. “When’s Murphy getting here?” he asked, trying to change the subject smoothly. From the look in Owen’s eyes, he hadn’t been smooth enough.
Thankfully, Owen went with it and didn’t push. That’s what he loved about his brothers; they didn’t press unless he needed it. And even then, they did their best not to be annoying about it. He knew he was the same way when it came to their demons, and that’s what made them Gallaghers.
They’d gone through hell on their own and had come together when the only other option had been giving up.
And for a Gallagher, there was no such thing. A Gallagher did not give up.
“Murphy said he’d be here a few minutes ago, so probably in ten minutes,” Owen said with a grin.
“I heard that, asshole,” Murphy said as he strolled in. Their younger brother had brushed his hair at least, but other than that, he looked like a slightly smaller version of Graham. He’d also let his hair down so it lightly brushed his shoulders, and since he’d shaved his beard fully a month or so ago, it hadn’t come back all the way yet.
If Jake had been there with his scruffy beard and messy hair, the four of them would have probably looked like they needed to be locked up somewhere—up to no good and with no responsibilities. But looks weren’t everything, and even though they were inked, pierced, and not the cleanest cut, they were well on their way to making Gallagher Brothers Restoration into something more than the small yet profitable business it was.
Owen flipped Murphy off and handed him his coffee. “I know you heard it. I said it loudly enough for you to. It’s amazing what happens when you’re observant and hear a truck park.”
For that remark, Graham flipped Owen off, as well. He looked between his brothers and the old mansion that hadn’t been cared for in far too long. It needed a complete overhaul so it would be safe for anyone who wanted to live there in the future, as well as keep in line with the century it had been built so it could remain on the list for historical landmark status.
It was going to be a bitch to work with, and if it had been any other house with any other backstory and politics attached to it, Graham would have been first in line to work on it.
Now, though, he wanted nothing to do with it.
“We’re not taking the job,” Graham said with a growl.
It was an old argument. One he hadn’t won yet. Because they hadn’t signed the final papers, they could still back out and take a job that wouldn’t make his brain hurt and his hands twitch. The heiress and final land owner of the property would be there soon to go over the final details, and because of the way the place had been caught up in litigation with one thing or another, they hadn’t met her yet.
He wasn’t in the mood to deal with a spoiled princess who couldn’t be bothered to care about the place she’d grown up in.
“We’re taking the job,” Owen said, this time without his normal patience.
As usual, Murphy stood back and let Graham and Owen fight it out. Graham wasn’t sure what side Murphy was on, but he had a feeling it wasn’t his.
“We’re not taking the job,” Graham repeated.
“We’re taking the job,” Owen said right back.
“No, we aren’t.”
“We need this,” Owen said, frustration lining his voice. “This is our big break. We can make Gallagher Brothers a name in the business. We’ll be along the lines of Montgomery, Inc.. A legacy in our field, where we won’t have to worry about finding jobs because they’ll find us. We’ll be safe. Secure.”
“Not with this job, Owen. I’m the oldest Gallagher. The boss. What I say goes.”
Murphy and Owen shared a look, and Graham sighed, knowing he’d lost before he’d taken his first sip of coffee.
They were taking the damn job.
“Fine,” he growled. “Whatever.” He drained the rest of his cup and tossed it in the trash bag Owen held out. Seriously, the man thought of everything.
“Want to take a look around before she shows up?” Murphy said with a small smile. “I mean, if we have to take the job, we might as well see what we’re working with.”
“We already did,” Graham said. “And you’ve been poring over the plans for months, Mr. Architect.”
Murphy was the company’s lead architect, though all three of them worked on plans. Owen was their manager, the one that kept them organized and sane. While Graham was the foreman, the one in charge of the day-to-day building and bossing around the rest of their crew to make sure they knew what they were doing. When Jake joined them on projects, he did the classical restorations and woodworking that none of the rest of them had the talent or skills for. It worked for the four of them, even if sometimes working with his brothers day in and day out was a little much. They kept him steady, though, and that had to mean something. Especially this month.
Murphy shrugged. “Yeah, but it’s a little different when we’re about to sign the papers. Come on. It’ll be fresher for us so we can jump right in.”
“He’s right, you know. We should at least do a walk through before she shows up, in case there are any issues we didn’t address in the initial documentation.”
Graham blew out a breath but followed his brothers as they began their way through the sprawling mansion that had seen far better days.
“Like you’d let anything escape your attention before this,” he said to Owen with a small smile.
Owen rolled his eyes. “I can’t help being perfect, you know. It’s a curse as well as a gift.”
Graham punched his brother in the arm, putting a little heat behind it to make sure Owen kept on his toes. Graham might be nearing forty, but he wasn’t about to grow up fully anytime soon. Plus, Owen and Murphy were closer to thirty than he was, and he needed to make sure his baby brothers knew who was actually the boss in this company and family.
Owen reached out to punch him back, and Graham ducked, running into Murphy, who pushed him into Owen’s shoulder. Graham laughed then, a deep chuckle that surprised him. He hadn’t thought he’d laugh this month, and damn if he didn’t respect his brothers that much more for keeping him in the now, rather than always in the past.
As they neared the other entrance, he let out an oath. If anything, the cracking paint and wallpaper, as well as the molding beams, looked even worse than before. If they hadn’t already done a full sweep of the place to make sure it was safe to even stand under the damn roof, he wouldn’t even be inside. This was going to be one hell of a job, and if he’d been in any other mood, and if it had been any other place without the strings that came with it, he might have been more excited about the prospects of being part of the restoration.
The place had good bones, he had to give it that, but that was about it. And, normally, while good bones were the reason he did this job and loved it—at least, usually—sometimes, he wanted to kick someone for letting a place get to this. Yeah, he’d be out of a job in that case, but to see something that had once been so grand and intricate end up the way this place was, hurt.
Buildings needed care, and most of the time, people sucked and didn’t do it.
“You’d think with a family with this kind of money, they’d take care of their shit a little better,” Graham grumbled.
“Good to know what kind of attitude you’ll have on the job,” a sultry voice said from behind him.
Owen mumbled a curse while Murphy’s eyes widened. Graham tightened his jaw. Great. The little heiress was finally here, and now he had to deal with whatever shit she’d brought with her.
He turned on his heel, rolling his shoulders back as he did. The shock to his system at the first look of her was a jolt.
Shit, were heiresses supposed to look that good in a business skirt?
Of course, they are, he thought to himself. They spent all their money on their clothes and whatever they needed to look the way they did, rather than taking care of the important things in their possession like the home they’d once lived in. God forbid this woman get her hands dirty to clean up the mess that the people residing here had left.
Her long brown hair had streaks of lighter colors in it, like blonde and chestnut, though she’d pulled it back in a tight bun at the base of her neck so he couldn’t see how long it was.
Her eyes were large, but not too big for her face, and had this honey brown hue to them that looked as if they might change color in different lighting. Her cheekbones were prominent, but not in the malnourished way that the one chick who’d hit on him at the last site had had. She wore a light brown business jacket with silver buttons over a cream shirt and a very tight skirt that matched the jacket.
If he weren’t already in a pisser of a mood, he might have wanted to see how far that skirt would slide up her legs as he fucked her. Especially with those tall heels she wore that had the little straps at the ankles to keep them in place.
And that was a train of thought he needed to end right now. He didn’t know this woman, and while his groin might have one idea, his brain needed to focus on the fact that someone had neglected this house for years. Yeah, it might not exactly be her fault, but she was here, and he needed someone to blame.
It made him an asshole, but frankly, he didn’t have enough coffee in his system to not be one. And add in the fact that this month was one he’d rather not think about…
She was lucky he didn’t walk right out and say “fuck it” to the whole project.
Owen cleared his throat next to him, and Graham held back a groan. That was why he didn’t have the option of leaving, and why he probably shouldn’t be a dick when it came to this woman.
But something about her rubbed him the wrong way, and apparently, he couldn’t keep his mouth shut.
“If you don’t like my attitude, you can walk, princess.” Owen and Murphy each groaned under their breath. Hell, why was he acting like he was a toddler who’d stubbed his toe? He needed to get a freaking grip.
The woman narrowed her eyes before looking toward Owen. “You’re the one dressed for this, so I take it you’re in charge?” She pointedly didn’t look at Graham, and he couldn’t blame her, even though it annoyed him.
Owen moved forward, pushing Graham out of the way as he did so, and held out his hand. “Owen Gallagher. I’m the Construction Manager listed on record, and have been the one speaking with who I presume is your estate lawyer. These are my brothers, Murphy and Graham. They own the company with me, though in the future, you’ll only have to talk with me.” He laid on that Gallagher charm that had skipped Graham completely today.
“Blake Brennen.” She took Owen’s hand in a quick shake and then let go. She nodded at Murphy before turning to Graham. “If you have a problem working here, then leave. I’m only here because I’m listed on the estate as the executor, and because the will demands this restoration. I’m out of options. I really don’t care if you have a problem with me, but I will have a problem if you make mistakes on the job because of it.”
Graham’s brows rose, an inkling of respect and curiosity about the woman in front of him sliding through his defenses. The fact that she didn’t seem to want to be here any more than he did intrigued him.
“We’re here because this place needs help,” Owen said smoothly. At her snort, Graham’s lips quirked. “It’s true, and you can see it. I don’t know the full history of the place other than what’s in the documents I have, but I do know it has heart.”
Blake’s eyes hardened. “It might have had it once, but it doesn’t now.”
Owen cleared his throat, but it was Graham who spoke next. “The place went to shit, but we’ll fix it.” He paused, letting her gaze rake over him. He couldn’t help but like that part, even if on first sight he didn’t like her. “That’s what we do. We’re Gallaghers.”
She tilted her head, and as he studied her, he thought he saw something in her gaze that called to him. But he had to be wrong. Because he’d already told himself he didn’t like her. She was just like Candice. Too good for him, and too good for anything in his life.
Been there. Married that. He was out.
“I don’t know the Gallaghers, sorry,” she said finally. “If I had my say, I’d have the Montgomerys on this project, but apparently, they gave it to you.”
That wasn’t exactly the case, considering this was what the Gallaghers did, and the Montgomerys knew that. The fact that Jake was marrying a Montgomery was only part of the equation, but he didn’t know what all this Blake knew.
“Anyway,” Blake said suddenly, her chin raised. “Do you have everything I need to sign? Once that’s done, I’m out of your hair. In fact, I honestly don’t think I’ll be back. Good riddance to his place.
Hell, there she went, being all interesting again.
Owen moved forward and slid some papers out of his messenger bag. “I got it right here. Let’s go to my truck, if that’s okay with you. That way, we can go over everything.” He looked over his shoulder at Graham, narrowed his eyes, and took Blake gently by the elbow as they walked out of the building.
When Blake cautiously moved away from Owen’s touch, Graham did his best to not be happy that his brother wasn’t touching her. Hell, his dick needed to get in gear because he did not want that woman. He didn’t need her in her pressed suits with her fancy money and all the drama that came with it.
She’d said she wouldn’t be back, and he couldn’t help being grateful for that. He didn’t want to deal with whatever was going on in her life, or the fact that his dick couldn’t help but stand at attention when she was near.
As soon as Owen and Blake were out of earshot, Murphy, who had been suspiciously quiet up until now, punched Graham in the shoulder. Hard.
“What the fuck, man?” Graham bit out as he rubbed his shoulder. His little brother might have been scrawny as hell growing up because of the poison in his veins and body, but he sure as hell packed a mean punch now.
“I should be asking you the same question,” Murphy spat. “I have never seen you act that way around a woman before, and I’ll be damned if you do it again. I mean, seriously, Graham, what the hell is wrong with you? Mom would smack the back of your head or kick your ass for doing something like that. Blake hadn’t even spoken a word, and you were already treating her like something on the bottom of your shoe.”
Graham felt heat rise on his neck, and he shrugged, shame filling him though he did his best to push it away.
“She just rubbed me the wrong way.”
“So?” Murphy asked. “Just because you don’t like her for reasons only God and your dickish brain knows, doesn’t mean you can talk to a woman like that. Hell, you especially shouldn’t talk like that to someone we technically work for.”
“Technically, we work for the estate,” Graham mumbled.
“Now who’s acting like the little brother,” Murphy sneered. “Get your head out of your ass and apologize to her when you see her next. Because you know what? Not only is Owen right in the fact that this job means something, but you’re better than this.”
Graham sighed and ran his hand over his face. He needed that cigarette, beer, and woman again. Only when he thought of the woman, she saw Blake, and he held back a growl.
“She reminded me of someone, and I took it out on her.” He grunted. “I’ll apologize.”
“Damn straight you will,” Owen said as he stormed back in. “She’s gone, by the way. So maybe call her and leave a message to say how much of an asshole you are. Because there’s no way she’s coming back here, though I don’t know if that’s all because of you. And who the hell does she remind you of?” As soon as he said it, he closed his eyes and cursed.
Graham sighed. “Yeah. Her.” They all knew whom he was talking about.
“Jesus, this month is going to suck,” Murphy whispered under his breath.
Murphy wasn’t wrong. And yeah, Graham was an asshole. Because no matter whom Blake was, she wasn’t his ex-wife, and he needed to get that through his head. What made matters worse—he hadn’t minded the fact that Candice was a trust fund baby when they were married.
It was only when their world had crashed down around him that it had become an issue.
An issue he would do anything to forget.
But nightmares never faded, and Graham knew that better than anyone.
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