Book 2 in the Gallagher Brothers Series
The Gallagher Brothers series from NYT Bestselling Author Carrie Ann Ryan continues with the one brother who thinks he can handle it all and the one woman who could change that.
Owen Gallagher likes everything in its place and is organized to a fault. While his brothers have each dealt with their own personal tragedies and stresses, Owen figures he’s had it pretty easy. That is until his perfectly ordered world is rocked at its foundation and he’s forced to rely on others. Now, he must heal his body and his soul while trying to ignore his delectable and utterly off-limits neighbor.
Liz McKinley is stressed out, exhausted, and not in the mood for a bearded and growly man in her ER. When she patches him up to the best of his ability, she’s prepared to push him firmly from her thoughts. Of course, that would be easier if she and her best friend hadn’t bought the house next to his. Now their paths seem to cross daily, and she is finding it harder and harder to say no to the injured and angry man next door. But she’s been scarred one too many times in her life, and even though this Gallagher looks good enough to eat, she knows that sometimes, sating that craving is the worst thing she can do.
There was just something about a woman in jeans. In fact, he had a particular pair of jeans on his mind. They were deliciously tight and molded to this woman’s body so perfectly that Owen Gallagher had to grip the edge of the bar so he didn’t fall to his knees in thanks. It wasn’t every day that a woman left him breathless by merely walking into a building. Owen swallowed hard, thanking God once again for tight jeans and the way a woman could move.
His younger brother, Murphy, raised an eyebrow at him before turning so he could follow Owen’s line of sight. Owen knew when Murphy had spotted her because the younger man whistled low through his teeth before he turned over his shoulder and tilted the neck of his beer.
“Nice,” Murphy mouthed as he turned back so he was standing side to side with Owen. This way both of them had a clear line of sight but could also talk to each other like they’d been doing before the woman in jeans showed up.
Owen swallowed hard, his mind going to dirty places better left untraveled. “Nice” wasn’t a good enough word to describe this particular siren in blue jeans. The woman was all curves and sex appeal, even if she hadn’t exactly dressed the part of a bar goer. In fact, when she’d stormed into the bar just a few moments prior, Owen hadn’t missed the apprehension in her gaze before it turned to annoyance.
She’d scanned the space before stomping toward a group of men and a single woman in the corner. Owen hadn’t really paid attention to that group other than noticing them in passing and still wasn’t looking too hard. He only had eyes for the sexy, blonde woman in a decently loose shirt and tight jeans.
Even though her shirt wasn’t clingy, he could still tell that she was pretty damn stacked and would have more than enough to fill his hands. He loved when that happened. Loved putting his face between a woman’s breasts and sucking and licking until she came. He adored watching the way her tits swayed back and forth when he fucked her from behind, and how they bounced high when she rode him, her hands sliding down his thighs as she arched her back.
Of course, with breasts that perfect, he’d have to rise so he could lick them, suck them, and even bite down on her nipples. Then he’d cup her with both hands, rolling the tight nubs between his fingers as she continued to ride him like he was a damn pony.
It wasn’t just the blonde’s breasts that held his attention, however. The sway of her hips called to him, too, beckoned him closer with each step. She had a perfect set of curves and a delightfully lush ass that just begged to be fucked. He knew the curves of her butt would jiggle and shake when he fucked her, and he’d have more than enough to hold onto as he pounded into her. And those hips? Hell, those hips were the perfect handles, no matter the position the two of them took as they fucked until the sun came up.
His cock hardened painfully behind his zipper, and he let out a groan. Well, shit. He hadn’t fantasized like that about a woman he hadn’t even spoken to in a long while. Maybe Murphy was right, and he needed to get laid.
He’d turned into a damn lecher and he didn’t like it one bit.
Annoyed with himself, Owen sipped his club soda nice and slow so he didn’t choke on his tongue, and so he’d have something to do with his hands now that he’d let go of the damn bar.
The blonde woman spoke to another gorgeous, brown-haired woman, pulling her away from the men in the corner. The guys didn’t seem too pleased about that, but they didn’t crowd the women either. Owen counted that as a blessing, and before he did something stupid like drool over this unnamed blonde, he pulled his attention from her and shifted it to his brother.
The same brother who now stared at the two women with an equally hungry look in his eyes.
“I’m not going to call dibs since we aren’t in high school and have grown beyond that, but…” Owen trailed off when Murphy chuckled.
“Yeah, no dibs necessary. I’m pretty sure your stare like a puppy that just found a delicious new chew toy to chomp and hump in equal measure was for the blonde.” Murphy winked. “I’ve always been partial to brunettes myself.”
Owen shook his head, a smile playing on his lips. “Good to know.” He took a sip of his soda. “I wasn’t that bad, was I?”
Murphy raised a brow and set his half-empty beer down on the bar. They had both driven here tonight and had a one-beer limit, though Owen had opted for club soda since he had a headache.
“You couldn’t keep your eyes off her. I’m surprised you didn’t follow her around, trying to catch her scent. Plus, your jaw dropped just a little bit, though you somehow kept in the drool. Good for you.”
Owen flipped Murphy off before setting his drink down next to his brother’s beer. “Shut up. I wasn’t close to drooling.” He wiped his chin just in case, and Murphy threw his head back and laughed. “See, no drool.”
“That’s probably not the best way to show you weren’t acting like a horny teenager. Been a while, has it?” Murphy grinned, and Owen resisted the urge to punch the other man in the shoulder.
“It hasn’t been that long.” Owen winced as he remembered that he hadn’t slept with anyone since Tracy, and that was over three months ago. He and Tracy slept together off and on when their schedules and relationships matched up. Recently, there hadn’t been much matching. If he were acting this hard-up for a woman he didn’t even know, maybe he needed to call Tracy and see about letting off some steam. Yet even thinking that didn’t appeal. Didn’t really sound like a good idea at all.
“If you have to qualify it, then it’s been too long,” Murphy explained. “Why don’t you go ask her out? Or at least talk to her. What could you lose?”
From the way Blondie glared at her friend, Owen was pretty sure he could lose something like a finger…or worse.
“I’ll pass, thanks.”
“Suit yourself,” Murphy said simply before ordering a soda for himself.
“Not in the mood to finish your beer tonight?” Owen asked.
His brother shook his head. “Have a headache.”
Owen’s shoulders stiffened. “Are you okay? Should you be sitting?”
Murphy glared. “You had a headache too, ass. Hence why you’re not even trying to drink a beer. We had a long day at the jobsite today—as you well know since you were there—and my head hurts. Every single little twinge and ache aren’t cause for concern, you know. I’ve been cancer free for years.”
Owen let out a breath and leaned on a stool. “Sorry, Murph. I get overprotective.”
Murphy nodded at the male bartender who handed over his drink and sighed at Owen. “I know you do. All three of you do. I’ve been dealing with three overprotective brothers since the day I was born.”
“You’d think you’d get used to it by now,” Owen said with a smile he knew didn’t reach his eyes. Murphy had been sick when he was a child. Really sick. And then, when everyone had grown up, and they all thought they were in the clear, Murphy had gotten sick again.
It had taken a toll on their mother, who died a few years back. Their father had gone right along with her a couple of years later. Not that he, Graham, or Jake actually blamed Murphy for their parents’ deaths. Their mom’s and dad’s hearts had given out at a young age for a number of reasons, but Owen knew Murphy blamed himself.
And the fact that every time Murphy got even so much as a sniffle, the remaining Gallagher clan would snap into action and overdo it probably didn’t help. Owen couldn’t help it, though. He was a fixer. An organizer. And if he could find a way to color-code and label his way to making sure Murphy stayed healthy for the rest of his very long life, Owen would do it.
“I’m fine, Owen. Just drop it, okay?”
Owen studied his brother’s face, from the hard lines of his jaw to the color in his cheeks, and nodded. No matter what Murphy said or did, Owen would be there to make sure his baby brother was okay. He would never forget how pale Murphy had looked in his hospital bed as a young kid and then later as a teenager.
“I can drop it,” Owen said slowly before shaking off the memories that would haunt him until his dying breath.
They lapsed into silence for a few moments while the sound of the bar filled Owen’s ears. He liked coming here after long days at work. It was the perfect place when he wasn’t quite in the mood to deal with the silence of his empty home but also didn’t want the loud music of some of the other bars around the area. Plus, this place was pretty close to where he and the rest of his brothers lived, so it was one of their usual destinations. Of course, none of the four of them were getting any younger, and with two of the four married with children, going out to bars was quickly becoming a thing of the past.
Owen winced as he rubbed his lower back and thought about the day they’d had at the project site. Yeah, he was definitely getting older. He, Murphy, and their eldest brother, Graham, owned and operated Gallagher Brothers Restoration. Jake, his second-eldest brother, helped as well, though he hadn’t wanted a stake in the company since he had a business of his own. Graham was the lead contractor, and Murphy the architect. Jake came in for special jobs as the artist, and Owen…well, Owen organized them all. Sometimes to a fault.
Or at least that’s what Murphy had claimed that morning.
“So, do you know what you’re going to get Rowan for her birthday?” Murphy asked after a few moments. Rowan was their niece, Graham and Blake’s daughter. But since Rowan hadn’t been in the brothers’ lives until recently, they weren’t quite sure what to do when it came to gifts for the little girl.
Owen sighed. “I have no idea what to get a little girl for her birthday. It’s not like we grew up with sisters.”
Murphy nodded. “True. Maybe Maya and Blake will help us out. And we have a few weeks to get things done.” Maya Montgomery-Gallagher had married Jake, as well as another man, Border to complete their triad, but she had been in the Gallaghers’ lives for years. Well, she’d legally married Border and had completed a commitment ceremony with Jake since poly marriages weren’t exactly legal, but anyone who knew them considered the three married in every way that mattered.
“Maybe,” Owen agreed. “But I think they’re going to want us to figure things out ourselves.”
Murphy snorted. “Well, you’re the one who organizes us all and does all the research. Make a list, and I’ll pick something.”
Owen flipped his little brother off. “I do more than organize lists for you.”
“Of course. You get us coffee, too. With our initials on it so we don’t drink the wrong one. Not that Graham ever pays attention.”
“You’re the one who took the ‘G’ this morning so shut up.” A pause. “And I do more than just that. You realize that, right?” He didn’t like thinking that his brothers saw him as a glorified admin rather than an integral part of the company. Not that their admins weren’t vital. He just thought he was more.
Murphy frowned. “Of course. You do way more. I’m just messing with you. You have that new project coming up, and the rest of us didn’t have anything to do with that.”
Owen studied his drink. “It’s not final yet.” But it would be. He had a good feeling about it. He’d done all the research, spent countless hours dealing with the man that owned the property and the companies that wanted in on the action… Usually, all of the Gallagher brothers worked together for a new project, but with Graham getting married, Jake having a new baby, and Murphy picking up the slack, Owen had been the one to work on the next phase of their company alone.
He was so fucking nervous, and yet excited all at the same time.
“It will be. You’re good at what you do.” Murphy looked over Owen’s shoulder and grinned. “And it looks like you’re going to have a chance to see what I’m really good at.” He smiled slowly. “Ladies.”
Owen turned as Blondie and her friend walked over to the bar, a frown on Blondie’s face and a grin on the brunette’s. While the other woman was gorgeous, Owen only had eyes for the blonde.
“Hi, boys,” the brunette said with a slight drunken slur. “Liz is making me leave, but I wanted to say hi. I’m Tessa.” She held out her hand, looked down, and laughed before pulling her arm back. “Sorry. Not at work. I guess handshakes in bars are weird, right?”
Blondie—Liz, he corrected himself—closed her eyes, and he assumed counted to ten. He couldn’t help but feel for her right then. Picking up inebriated friends from bars when you were clearly not in the mood wasn’t the easiest thing in the world.
“We’re all friends here,” Murphy said softly. “I’m Murphy, this is my brother, Owen.”
Owen nodded at them both, though his eyes were still on Liz. “Hey.”
“Hey,” Liz said with a soft scowl. “Now that we’ve said hello, Tessa, we’re going home. I’m exhausted and not in the mood to deal with bars and the grabby hands of the dudes that frequent them.” She winced and looked over at Owen and Murphy. “Sorry. No offense.”
Murphy snorted and held up his hands. “No offense taken, and no grabby hands here. Nice to meet you both.”
Owen tilted his head and studied the shadows beneath Liz’s eyes. She may be exhausted, but he had a feeling it wasn’t just lack of sleep that gave her that look.
And why did he care?
He’d literally just met her and her friend and had said all of one word so far. He should just let them go and head home himself. He wasn’t in the mood for a bar night either it seemed.
“Get some sleep, ladies,” Owen said after a moment. “Nice to meet you both.”
Tessa pouted but winked as she did it, completely ruining the effect. “Nighty-night, boys.”
Liz rolled her eyes, a small smile playing on her lips even as she tried to frown. “Good night.” She pulled at Tessa’s arm, and the two of them made their way out of the bar, most of the eyes of the men in the building following them. Owen couldn’t blame the guys as he was one of them, but he still felt a little bad about it.
A guy tripped his way up to Owen’s side and snorted. “Looks good coming and going. I’d fuck either one of them, but that blonde one seems a bit stiff. Maybe she just needs a little D to get over whatever stick is up her ass.”
Owen looked over at the idiot and narrowed his eyes. “Watch it,” he growled softly. “She was just picking up her friend.”
The guy raised a brow. “What the fuck ever. She needs to get over herself.”
The asshole’s friend cupped himself, rocking into his hand. “She just needs to be stuffed with something other than that stick.”
Murphy put his hand on Owen’s shoulder, and that’s when Owen realized he’d moved forward ever so slightly toward the other two men. And now that Owen got a good look at them, he recognized them as the group Tessa had been talking to before in the corner.
Owen might have had fantasies about Liz—and now felt like an asshole about them—but in the daydreams, she’d been a willing participant, not something to fuck and get over like these guys insinuated. And hell, he was glad Liz had gotten Tessa out of there because a woman drinking alone with these guys would only lead to bad things.
“Let’s go,” Owen growled. “I’m done.”
Murphy squeezed his shoulder and pulled him back again. “I’m with you.”
The other guys ignored them, going back to whatever crude and mundane conversation they’d been having before, and Owen was grateful for it. He didn’t want to get in a fight tonight. Didn’t want to deal with the inevitable injuries to his hands—even though he and Murphy would have won for sure against these drunk idiots—and, hell, he definitely didn’t want to deal with the cops.
Liz and Tessa hadn’t asked for their help and weren’t even there any longer, but Owen still had the desire to teach the guys a lesson.
And because there was nothing he could do other than show them how to treat women, he slung back the rest of his club soda so he had a bit of pep thanks to the bubbles for the drive home and headed out of the bar with Murphy.
The parking lot wasn’t that full since it was the middle of the week, but since he and Murphy had gotten there at different times, they hadn’t been able to park next to one another.
“See you in the morning,” Owen grumbled.
“Nine, right?” Murphy asked, his eyes too innocent.
“Seven, and you know that.” Though Murphy would probably stroll in bleary-eyed and in need of caffeine at seven-fifteen or so. Their little brother was not a morning person and usually worked later than all of them to make up for it.
“God, why are there two sevens in the day? I mean, hell, isn’t seven in the evening enough for us?” Murphy clutched his chest and took a couple of steps back, and Owen shook his head.
“You’ll be fine.” And, thankfully, they were calling it an early night tonight since they did, in fact, have a very early morning. Owen would probably set out at six or so to pick up something to eat for the crew and coffee for his brothers. They never asked it of him, but he always did it. Anyone could have picked it up, but then Owen wouldn’t be able to make sure it was done correctly and on time.
So he was a little anal-retentive.
What of it?
He said goodbye to Murphy and headed back to his car, aware that others were filing out of the bar, as well, their voices carrying on the wind. Owen rolled his head on his shoulders and stuffed his hands into his pockets as he crossed the long lot to where he’d parked under a street lamp.
At the sound of a shout, he turned, the hairs on the back of his neck standing on end. Lights filled his vision, and he took a staggering step back, throwing his hands up to shield his face.
The sound of an engine filled his ears, and he only had a moment to realize what it was he saw until he couldn’t see anything else. The truck—it had to be a truck with the size of those lights—clipped him in the side, and Owen flew.
He felt weightless and yet too heavy all at the same time.
His body went numb before it felt as if he’d caught on fire.
He hit the pavement hard enough to crack bones—maybe a few ribs—and he tried to scream, only he couldn’t get enough air. His body skidded across the parking lot for far too long, his head scraping the gravel along the way.
Then he stopped.
His body shaking.
His mind whirling.
And yet he couldn’t focus.
The sound of tires burning rubber as they skidded away made him want to wince, but he couldn’t pull his arms up to cover his face. Rapid footsteps sounded as someone came near and others shouted for help.
But Owen didn’t do anything.
When he finally opened his eyes and saw Murphy above him, his brother’s eyes wide, tears running down his pale cheeks, the streetlight hovering above him like a halo, Owen figured this might be the end.
Because no Gallagher looked like an angel, not even his baby brother.
Owen tried to reach out, to say something.
But the darkness came, and then there was nothing.
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