Read the First Two Chapters…
I can’t wait for tomorrow! And don’t forget to join the FACEBOOK RELEASE PARTY tonight with Tracy Wolff! We’ll be giving away a ton of things (actually, there is giveaway in there now!) and have some big time authors stopping by for fun and games! Definitely don’t want to miss that! Until then, enjoy this excerpt- I can’t wait for you to meet Kieran and Fiona, and little Shea.
Love you all,
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SAVING A LEGEND
Kavanagh Legends, Book 2
“Did you call the cops?”
“What the hell did you do, Kavanagh?”
“Is he dead?”
Kieran Kavanagh’s sneakers hit the cement hard as he pushed off and sprinted toward the edge of the empty swimming pool. Glancing down at his hands, he realized they were covered in blood, and it wasn’t his. He pulled the wrap tape off them and threw it to the side as he ran, hoping to rid himself of the evidence.
Gripping the top edge of the pool wall, he hoisted himself up to the ground, his biceps straining with the swift movement, only to come to a dead stop when confronted with three uniformed police officers, their weapons drawn.
“Hands where I can see ’em!”
Kieran’s eyes went wide, his breathing ragged, his hands slowly rising in the air. Nearly everyone who’d been watching and betting on the illegal fight had cleared out. The few stragglers who weren’t fast enough were being cuffed and read their rights.
“Hands behind your back.” The officers pulled his arms down behind him, cuffing his wrists and holding his forearms with an iron grip.
Looking over his shoulder, Kieran saw the bloodied mess of his opponent lying motionless on the empty pool floor. Police were already climbing down to help him, when he spotted Rory, his older brother, in the mix. Rory’s eyes found Kieran, and the look of shock and disappointment was enough to gut him.
Two Years Later
“Kavanagh! Up! Let’s go, you’re being processed out,” a burly guard announced from the hallway outside his cell.
“About fucking time.” Kieran jumped down from the top bunk he’d been stretched out on. It had been his home for two years, and yet each night he’d had to come up with a new way to fold himself onto the tiny metal platform with a sorry excuse for a mattress pad. Either his feet hung off the end—the steel edge digging into his calf—or one of his arms fell to the side, or his head was crunched up against the dingy gray wall.
“Hands through the slot,” the guard instructed, pulling out a pair of cuffs.
Kieran pushed both hands through a small opening in the bars and waited as the guard slapped the cuffs over his wrists. Once secured, Kieran stepped back from the bars and the guard called his cell number into his radio. A buzzer sounded and the bars slowly slid open, grunting and complaining the entire way.
“Let’s go.” The guard motioned for Kieran to move, which he did. He wanted to get out of here just as much as this guard didn’t want to have to deal with him anymore.
At this point, he was double the size of most of the guards, and even most of the inmates. He’d spent his prison sentence working out because, frankly, there was nothing else to do. He needed to keep busy, stay active, in order not to let his mind dwell on the fact that he was wasting his youth behind bars.
“Is anyone here to pick me up?” Kieran asked the guard as they walked through the jail. “What do I look like? Your fucking babysitter?”
“Um,” Kieran paused, considering saying something snappy that would no doubt earn him a nightstick between the shoulder blades.
“Shut the fuck up, Kavanagh.” The guard unlocked two doors in a row, escorting him into the processing area of the prison. “Go get your clothes from over there.”
Kieran glanced in the direction he was pointing to see another guard sitting at a desk behind a glass pane. Once uncuffed, Kieran headed toward her and pulled his inmate badge off, pushing it through the slot.
“Kavanagh. All right, here’s your stuff. Go get changed and bring your coveralls back when you’re done.” She pushed a clear plastic bag through the slot, and he recognized his jeans and shirt.
Kieran sifted through the bag of clothing in his hands. “That’s everything I had on me?”
The first guard scoffed from behind him. “You weren’t exactly draped in gold and diamonds when you got arrested, Kavanagh.”
Kieran ignore the jab and headed into a small room off to the side of the processing area. He hurried to yank the dull gray jumpsuit down his body, pushing it to the ground and stepping out.
He slid on his old jeans, feeling they were a bit tight around his thighs. Every muscle on his body had tripled in size, even his legs. Pulling on his old T-shirt, he wasn’t the least bit surprised when it barely made it down his midsection, stretching tightly over his defined pecs and chiseled abs.
Thankfully, his sweatshirt fit better since he’d always worn them a bit baggy anyway. With the warmth of spring he knew the extra layer would be somewhat uncomfortable, but at least the sweatshirt covered his stomach. He was already loving the feeling of the familiar old fabric against his skin, rather than stiff, scratchy prison garb.
He pulled his wallet out of the bag and flipped it open.
Kieran Murphy Kavanagh. Age 25.
He felt older, as if centuries had passed while he was staring out of barred windows. It had been a while since he’d seen his name in print, reminding him that only his family called him by his first name. He’d gotten so used to going by his last name only in here. He shoved his wallet into his pocket, then headed back to the front desk and handed his coveralls through the slot.
“You set?” asked the guard who was escorting him.
“Been ready to get out of this hellhole for two years.”
“Good, don’t let me see your ugly mug in here again.”
Keeping a firm hand on Kieran’s upper arm, the officer led him down another hallway and through two more locked doors before pointing him to his final exit. It was a plain set of solid double doors, with slivers of sunshine sneaking through the cracks around all four edges.
Kieran’s hand paused on the prison door handle for only a moment before pushing down and out. Swallowing his nerves, he stepped into the sun and immediately shielded his eyes from the light. Until now, he had been allowed only one short visit per day to the prison yard, which was a small section of land mostly shaded by the building itself. Now, feeling the wind gently brushing over his skin, not obscured by high walls, his chest ached for all he’d missed.
Acutely alert to all the sounds and smells he’d been missing these last two years, he walked down a concrete path leading toward the twenty-foot-high metal fencing that surrounded the prison. Birds chirping, the roar of diesel engines, and the smells of exhaust mixing with spring air hit him all at once. All once so familiar, they now overloaded his senses.
Guards in towers watched him make his exit along the concrete path. As he tried to acclimate to the bright sun and the feeling of being free, he decided that this was it. Taking stock of everything around him one final time, he promised himself he would never set foot here again. He was determined, he was going to follow the rules, and he would make damn sure this part of his life was over for good.
Snapping out of his thoughts, he saw a tiny older woman jumping up and down, waving at him, her dark red hair a halo around her expressive face. He’d know that vibrant hair and bright grin anywhere—his mother, Deidre “Dee” Kavanagh.
Speeding up his stride, he arrived at the gate on the edge of the prison property just as it buzzed and opened for him. Seeing his mother with a big smile on her face was everything he’d hoped for, and he spread his arms wide for her. She had visited him every other weekend in the federal prison and had kept him up to date on life back home, but they’d never been allowed more than one quick, supervised hug good-bye each time. “Good to see you, too, Ma.”
“I’ve missed you so much, Kieran. A boy shouldn’t be away from his mama this long.” She sniffed, let go, and then stepped back.
He smiled at her and affectionately cupped her face, wiping away the tears. She looked older than he remembered, and definitely more stressed. Wrinkles lined her forehead, and the corners of her eyes were lined with creases he’d never seen before.
Guilt bit at him as he wondered if he was to blame for how much she’d aged in the last two years.
“All right, Ma, stop hogging him.” Kieran finally noticed that two of his brothers were standing next to the car behind them.
His younger brother, Quinn, pushed his jet-black hair out of his eyes as he walked up first and shook Kieran’s hand, bumping their shoulders together and clapping him on the back.
“It’s so good to see you, Quinn,” Kieran greeted his brother.
“About fucking time,” Quinn said as they pulled apart. Despite Quinn’s friendly smile, he seemed stiff, maybe intimidated, like he barely recognized him. Kieran felt the same way, since Quinn had definitely added even more tattoos to his lean, athletic body since he’d seen him last.
“I’m not a mirror, you know.” Another familiar voice called out as his twin approached, grinning widely. Their blue eyes mimicked one another under the fluffy, short brown hair they both shared, even though Kane’s was a bit longer than his at the moment.
Kieran grinned at his twin brother. “Kane, you’ve gotten smaller.”
“Fuck that, you got gigantic. What the hell were you doing in there?” Kane sounded a little bitter at the discrepancy between them as they hugged. This was what he needed, his other half. Their bond was more than brothers; no one else could make him feel at peace the way his twin did.
He and Kane were identical twins, though Kieran was older by a few minutes, and he never let Kane forget that. Their family members could tell them apart, but most others couldn’t. The size difference between them would make that a lot easier now. Although, knowing Kane, he’d probably hit the gym extra hard now in an attempt to close that gap.
“Maybe I should have you training me instead of Rory. I think you might be bigger than him now,” Kane said over his shoulder as he led the way to the car.
“No one’s bigger than Rory.” Quinn laughed, wrapped an arm around his mother’s shoulders, and followed Kane, with Kieran next to them.
Mention of his older brother sparked Kieran’s curiosity. “Where is Rory? Or Jimmy? Or Casey and Dad?”
“Jimmy’s working. I’m sure, as a cop, he’s tired of visiting prisons,” Quinn answered, trying to make a joke, but no one laughed.
“Casey’s taking her midterms. She’s in her spring semester at New York University.” Dee climbed into the car first and slid into the back, leaving room for Quinn to slide in next to her so the twins could sit together up front.
“That doesn’t explain Rory or Dad. I’m guessing they didn’t want to make the long trek for the screwed-up son,” Kieran trailed off, sliding into the passenger seat. No one said anything as Kane started the engine and pulled out onto the road.
“Each of my boys is perfect in his own way,” Dee finally said, trying to change topics. “And now they will all be together again for Sunday dinner.”
His mother’s comment brought back wonderful memories of what Sundays used to be like, surrounded by family. It was Friday afternoon now, so he was already anticipating the upcoming event. He was curious to see if it would be a happy occasion, as he remembered it being, or if he would feel unwelcome after his time away. He’d heard all kinds of stories from guys he’d met in prison who’d gotten out, only to wind up back behind bars again soon after, about how people treated you differently when convicted felon was added to your résumé.
“Kane, you got extra room at your place?” Kieran asked.
“Yeah, need a place to crash?”
“Just for a few days. I’m going to go apartment hunting soon.”
“You’re not going to stay with your father and me?” Dee asked, leaning forward toward the front seat so they could hear her better.
“I’m a bit old to be living with my parents, Ma.”
“Nonsense, it’s not like I’m asking you to live at home for the rest of your life, just until you’re settled. Any of my kids are welcome to live at home anytime. People are always coming and going at our house anyway, and it’s been so long since I’ve had any of my boys home.”
“Ma, he’s fine with me,” Kane intervened.
Dee leaned back in her seat. “You’ve spent two years somewhere I couldn’t help you or take care of you, Kieran. Let me be your momma again for a little while, just until you get situated.”
Kieran felt his mother’s hand on his shoulder, so he placed his on top and gave her a comforting squeeze. “Ma, I really don’t think I deserve to be pampered right now. I was in prison, not the peace corps.”
“Don’t say that.” She smacked his upper arm from the backseat. “All of my boys are wonderful and deserve everything. A little slipup doesn’t mean anything.”
Quinn snorted at her comment. “Is two years behind bars considered a little slipup?”
“Quinn,” Dee warned.
“Sorry,” he replied sheepishly. “I’m sure Kane will pamper him plenty over at his place.”
“The fuck I will,” Kane admonished, shaking his head, which earned him a prompt swat on his arm from Dee.
Kieran laughed at the thought of his twin brother doing anything for anybody else. They might be the exact same age, minus about five minutes, but Kane seemed like he hadn’t changed one bit in the last few years. Kieran envied that, because he felt the exact opposite.
Everything was different about him now. He was different.
“Kieran, please stay with us,” Dee continued. “We had someone from your dad’s old boxing days staying with us the last month, but he’s since left and we’ve plenty of room. I can make you pancakes, bacon, and chocolate milk tomorrow morning. You know how you love that!”
“You should open a bed and breakfast, Ma,” Quinn said. “Get paid for always being the innkeeper.”
“Nonsense, we don’t need the money. Plus, I like having people there, especially my sons,” Dee said before leaning forward toward Kieran with hopeful eyes. “Kieran?”
“I’ll be fine at Kane’s, Ma,” he reiterated. “I’ll visit home often though.”
Dee sighed, finally seeming to accept his answer. “Fine, but you better not miss one single Sunday dinner. Ever again.”
He grinned. “Deal.”
“Will you just trust me? Rory comes here every Sunday and gets Ma flowers.” Kane sighed, opening the flower shop door and ushering Kieran inside.
“So what, I’m just supposed to copy him? How’s that help me?”
“I don’t know, call it sucking up, apologizing, playing nice. Any of the above. Pick one. It can’t hurt, right?”
“Whatever.” Kieran shrugged.
“Go ask the lady at the counter for a bouquet. I’m going to hit the head.” Kane headed toward a door to the side with a restroom sign hanging over it, but pointed Kieran toward the back of the shop, where a young woman sat in front of a cash register thumbing through a catalog.
Kieran sighed. “Seriously? You can’t wait ‘til we get to Ma’s?”
“Just go get the damn flowers.”
Kieran rolled his eyes at his brother’s retreating figure, then sauntered toward the counter. The young woman glanced up before closing her catalog. Her eyes widened as he moved toward her and she straightened her stance, tension visible in her long limbs.
“Hi, may I help you?” She forced a nervous smile, her light blue eyes making him pause. She was absolutely stunning, but in a muted way, as if she was trying to hide it from the world. Or as if she didn’t know she was beautiful. Whatever it was, he was having trouble taking his eyes off her.
“I need a bouquet,” he announced, forcing himself not to reach out and run his fingers through her long brown hair, which fell in thick waves just past her shoulders. Because that wouldn’t be creepy or anything, he thought, and wondered if two years in prison could have stunted his game.
“Sure, a bouquet of what?”
Kieran wanted to grab the word as soon as it left his mouth, realizing how juvenile he sounded. His game was definitely lacking. The young woman stifled a smirk, her body visibly relaxing and her lips twitching.
She cleared her throat, peering at him with kindness. “All right, well, who would it be for? Maybe that can help us narrow down our choices.”
“It’s for my mother.”
“Do you know what her favorite flower is?”
He shook his head, trying to think of the last time he had seen his mother with flowers. In truth, he hadn’t purchased flowers for his mother since her birthday the year before he went to jail. He didn’t think she was the stereotypical roses type of woman, but he wasn’t sure.
“No, I can’t remember. I’ve been, uh, gone for a while. Just got back.”
“Welcome back, uh—” She paused, raising one brow.
“As in ‘Fiona’s Flowers’? This is your shop? Wow, that’s impressive. You don’t look old enough to have your own business.”
She walked out from around the counter and toward a refrigerated section. “And you look too old not to know your mother’s favorite flower.”
“Ah, Fiona: 1, Kieran: 0.” He followed her to the glass doors that separated a wide selection of floral bouquets.
“What about one of these? Think she might like this?” Fiona slid open the large refrigerator door and touched some pink flowers he didn’t recognize. “This has always been one of my favorites, ever since my mother first taught me about flowers.”
“If you like it, I’ll take it.” He agreed without hesitation, unable to keep his eyes from roaming the length of her perfectly curved yet long body.
Fiona nodded and removed the vase from the shelf of the refrigerated case, slid the door closed, then carried the vase over to the counter. She pulled some clear cellophane from under the counter and began wrapping the arrangement, taking care not to crush any of the blooms. Next, she brought out some ribbon and tied it around the vase, finishing it with a small bow.
“Beautiful,” Kieran said, complimenting more than just her work as he pulled out his wallet. “How much do I owe you?”
“Fifty bucks? Do these flowers also come with dinner and a movie?” he asked.
She blushed and dropped her eyes to the counter, not saying anything. Shit. Not two days out of the joint, and he was already offending people. “I’m kidding, Fiona.” He handed her a few bills. “Unless you’d be interested in that?”
“In what?” She took the money from him and opened the cash register to put it away. “In dinner and a movie. With me.”
She looked up at him suddenly, wide-eyed, her lips parting slightly. Her cheeks blushed crimson, and that only made him like her more. She screamed innocence and purity when he was the opposite. “I, um, sorry. I don’t date.”
“I don’t buy that—you’re too beautiful.” He leaned against the counter, trying to get closer to her, but she handed him his purchase instead.
“What did you get Ma?” Kane came up behind him, interrupting his flirtation.
“Your mother should love these pink Gerber daisies.” Fiona smiled at Kane, which Kieran guessed was her way of avoiding looking at him.
Avoiding looking at him by looking at his twin instead . . . Yeah, he really didn’t understand women.
“Thanks, miss,” Kane said to the florist before turning to him. “Come on, bro, we’re going to be late.”
Kane took the vase of flowers from him and was already walking toward the door. Kieran started to follow, but paused to look back at Fiona.
“Don’t give me your answer now, flower girl. Think about it, and I’ll be back for your answer,” he added with a wink.
Fiona’s mouth fell open before he turned and followed his brother out the door. A few years in jail hadn’t changed anything; he knew he still had game. He just hoped it was enough to charm the beautiful brunette.
“Ma! We’re here,” Kane called as he and Kieran walked into the front foyer of their childhood home.
“I’m in the kitchen. Come say hi to everyone,” she yelled in return. The Kavanaghs were known to be a rather loud family. The two men headed into the kitchen and found her taking a heavy dish out of the oven.
“Hey, Ma.” Kieran was going to kiss her cheek, but she was carrying hot lasagna in her mitted hands. After she placed the glass pan on the stove, she turned to hug him. When they parted, he offered her the bouquet. “I got these for you.”
“Oh! My boys are so kind, as always.” She took the flowers from him, then bustled about, removing the wrapping and making minor adjustments to the arrangement. She inhaled their fragrance and smiled warmly. “They’re perfect, Kieran. I’ve always loved pink daisies— it’s so sweet of you to remember after all this time.”
“Uh”—he paused sheepishly, rubbing his hand on the back of his neck—“it’s no big deal.” Thank you, Fiona.
“Ha! He didn’t remember anything. It was the pretty flower shop girl he was flirting with who suggested them.” Kane obviously had no qualms about selling his twin out to their mother.
“What the hell, man?” Kieran shot him an angry look accompanied by a not-so-gentle punch to his upper arm.
“It’s true!” Kane laughed, rubbing his arm with a grimace. Kieran had hit him a bit harder than he’d intended, still not fully aware of his newfound strength.
“It’s still a very sweet gesture, Kieran,” his mother assured him, stepping between the boys as if to break up an impending fight. She was the mother of five boys, so this was definitely nothing new for her. “Here, go put the vase on the table so we can see them while we eat.”
Dee handed him the vase before resting her hands on his forearms and leaning up to give him another kiss on the cheek. When she pulled back, tears glistened in her eyes. “I love you so much, Kieran. It’s so wonderful having you home again.”
Kieran felt a lump form in his throat. “I love you, too, Ma.”
“All right, enough of this,” Dee said with a forced laugh as she pulled her apron up to wipe at her eyes. “Go take the flowers before I embarrass you with more affection. Believe me, I’ve got so much more stored up for you from the last two years.”
Kieran smiled and turned to do as she’d asked. His heart felt like it was so full, it would burst. He loved his mother, and seeing the relief in her eyes made him both happy he was home and sad he’d ever left.
The first thing he saw when he walked into the dining room was a second vase centered on the table with a significantly bigger and more expensive-looking bouquet. Frowning, he pushed them to the side slightly and placed his vase next to it.
“Looks like Rory one-upped you.” Jimmy walked into the dining room and seemed to be sizing Kieran up. He looked less daunted than Quinn had, but his face carried a look of judgment. Or maybe disappointment. Either way, Kieran didn’t like it. Jimmy continued, “That’s why I don’t even bother buying Ma flowers anymore. None of us can compete with the famous Rory Kavanagh.”
Jimmy’s voice was lilted with exaggeration as he came over and hugged him stiffly. The redheaded man was stereotypical Irish, with a broad chest and a stoic stance that screamed law enforcement. Barely an inch or two shorter than Kieran, but significantly taller than the average guy, Jimmy’s clean-shaven, boyish face contrasted in a powerful way with his sculpted, mature frame.
“Good to see you, Jimmy.” Kieran hugged him back, genuinely happy to see his baby brother.
“Word of advice, try a box of chocolates or something next Sunday,” Jimmy teased as they pulled apart.
“I might do that, but I kind of want an excuse to see that hot florist again,” Kieran said, only half joking.
“Which florist did you go to?”
“Fiona’s Flowers, a couple blocks over.”
“Not a good idea, bro.” Jimmy shook his head.
“Why not? I’ve been in prison for two years, I’m not exactly picky.”
“Fine, but not that girl—leave her alone. She’s got baggage you don’t need to be picking up and carrying right now.”
Kieran frowned and was about to ask what he meant when Casey walked into the dining room.
“Kieran!” Casey squealed in delight, rushing over to him and throwing her arms around his neck. Her long, bright red hair fell over his face as she squeezed him tightly.
“Hey, Case Face.” Kieran wrapped his arms around her and hugged her back before she pulled away to look at him. Her piercing blue eyes matched his, but she also had cute freckles over her nose and was as petite as he remembered.
“Have you gotten bigger? I didn’t think that was possible. God, you’re like Rory now, maybe larger.” Casey looked him over with sisterly pride. She may technically be his first cousin, but they’d grown up together in the same house, and so to him, she’d always be his little sister.
“Bullshit, I could snap him like a twig.” Rory’s deep voice boomed as he walked into the dining room, eyeing Kieran with caution and yet purposefully provoking him at the same time.
“The hell you could.” Kieran snorted.
Rory nodded down at the hulking black-and-white dog by his side. “You remember Ace?”
Ace looked much livelier than Kieran remembered. When he’d first met Rory’s dog, he had been underweight and mangled. Now he was healthy, and most of his fur had grown back. There was a thick scar down his side that looked new, but all the previous nicks he’d first seen on the dog were faded or covered with new, thicker fur.
Kieran placed his hand in front of the dog to sniff before scratching his head. “Hey, Ace.”
“I’m gonna go help Ma, but I’m so glad you’re back, K,” Casey said, using his nickname as she left to let the brothers talk.
“Same here.” Jimmy followed her.
“So, Kieran,” Rory said with an awkward pause, extending a hand as soon as they were alone. Kieran gripped it, shaking firmly with polite disinterest.
“How was prison?” Rory asked, an uncomfortable heaviness in his voice.
“Fine, no thanks to you. How’s the bottom of a bottle?” He squeezed Rory’s hand tighter. Regret washed over him as he wished he hadn’t stooped so low and mentioned Rory’s alcoholism. Kieran had left prison resolving to become a new person, a better person. A person who was once again close to his entire family, including the one brother who had betrayed him.
“Five months sober, asshole.” Rory dropped his hand just as a pretty young girl with blond ringlets falling down her shoulders walked up to them, wrapping an arm around Rory’s waist. Ace’s ears perked up as he, too, leaned into the woman, definitely happy to see her.
“Hey, Kane, how are you?” she asked him, her smile kind and inviting.
“Babe, that’s not Kane.” Rory laughed, the tension seeming to melt off him from her touch. He kissed the top of her head.
“Oh! I’m sorry! Kieran, right? Wow, you and Kane sure do look alike, although I can definitely see the differences.” She blushed deeply, her pale skin turning crimson.
“That tends to happen when you share a womb for nine months.” Kieran grinned back at her. “You must be Clare?”
When his mother visited him over the last two years, they never talked about Rory much, especially after everything that had happened between them. However, she had mentioned that he had moved in with his girlfriend, Clare.
“Yep! It’s so great to meet you. I’ve heard so many wonderful things about you.” Her words seemed to bounce in the air between them, and when he offered his hand to her, she swept right past it and hugged him instead.
He decided then and there that he liked Clare, and that maybe she was his best chance of rebuilding a relationship with Rory. He also decided that Rory probably wasn’t the one who had been saying nice things about him.
“I don’t know who told you wonderful things, but we Kavanaghs tend to have a tenuous grasp on the truth.” Kieran laughed as he hugged her.
“I never lie!” Dee waltzed into the room behind them and wrapped an arm around his waist, confirming she had been the one to chat him up. “All of my sons are the absolute best. And mo neacht, my niece, of course.” Dee winked at Casey, who had followed her into the dining room.
“Can’t argue with you there.” Clare glanced over at Rory, who took it as an invitation to cover her lips with his in a very public, very affectionate display. It was both too much and perfect at the same time. Kieran had to avert his gaze not to feel like he was imposing on a private moment.
A pang of jealousy sliced through him as he wondered if he would have that with someone one day. It had been a long and lonely two years without women, which he’d thought would make him just want a woman to take the edge off. However, seeing what his brother had only made him want an actual relationship instead. He wanted someone to be there for him, to look at him the way Clare looked at Rory, and that meant a random hookup wouldn’t do.
An image of the pretty florist darted through his mind, but he pushed it away.
“There they go again.” Casey giggled. “Kieran, help me bring everything to the table. You don’t want to be around those lovebirds long or you won’t be able to eat.”
He followed her, grabbing a basket of rolls and a dish of butter from the kitchen to bring back to the dining room. Even the dog seemed uninterested in watching his owner’s affections and followed Kieran instead.
“Kieran.” His father’s tone as he approached was gruff and unforgiving. Seamus Kavanagh was now sporting more salt-and-pepper than his once jet-black hair. Like his mother, his father had definitely aged in the last two years while he’d been away. Another wave of guilt hit him, because he’d spent so many years wrapped up in his own life that he hadn’t paid attention to the grief he’d caused his family.
“Dad.” The men stared at each other for a moment, before moving into a stiff embrace. “It’s good to see you.”
His father grunted in response, and Kieran dropped his eyes to the floor, feeling self- conscious. He knew his father was disappointed in him, angry at what he had made of his life. Or what he hadn’t made of his life. It seemed neither one of them knew what to say.
“Hey, bro!” Quinn stepped around their father and was the next to hug him. Their exchange was much more natural than the stagnant awkwardness between him and his father.
A few minutes later, every dish was on the dining room table, and the place settings were perfectly arranged. The entire family filtered in, and Kieran took a seat on the left side, smack dab in the middle.
Casey, Kane, and Jimmy took the seats next to him, and Rory and Clare sat opposite with Quinn; their parents took either end. Ace lay sprawled out under the table.
“Kieran, can you say grace?” Dee reached her hands out to Casey and Quinn, who were on either side of her.
He shifted in his seat uncomfortably. “Uh, maybe someone else should?”
“I’ll do it,” Rory spoke up. Kieran glared at his brother for a second before taking a deep breath and bowing his head, wishing he’d just said the prayer rather than giving his brother the honors.
When Rory finished praying, everyone piled plates high and dug into the food. He loved his mom’s cooking, and as a kid his friends couldn’t wait to stop by their house because they knew she always had some tasty treat waiting for them. The meal was even better than he’d remembered.
“Ma, this is delicious.” Kieran scooped another forkful of lasagna into his mouth.
“I’m so glad you like it,” she responded with a relieved smile. He wondered if she’d felt nervous cooking for him for the first time since he’d been away. He hadn’t really considered that others might be feeling just as nervous as he was about the family reunion.
“Didn’t have food like this in prison, huh?” Quinn asked, always the instigator.
Kieran shook his head, ignoring the provocation.
“So you find a job yet?” Seamus asked gruffly from the top of the table, casting sidelong glances at Kieran.
“Not yet. Filled out a few applications yesterday, made a few calls. I still have plenty of savings, so it’s not really an emergency. Just need something to tell my parole officer.”
“Rory, why not have Kieran help you down at the clinic? Don’t you need help with the construction?” Dee interjected.
Rory began in protest, “Ma, I don’t think—”
“I can find a job, Ma. I meet with my PO in the morning, and I’m sure he’ll know where to point me.”
“But in the meantime, you need something. Even if the guy gives you some leads, it might be a while before one of them actually comes through.” Dee turned back to Rory. “What’s the harm in hiring your brother for a few days, Rory?”
“We could use the extra hands, babe,” Clare intervened, giving Kieran a sympathetic smile.
Part of him wanted to hate her pity, but in truth, he was grateful this total stranger was so accepting of him. He couldn’t understand why she was; she didn’t know him, and she undoubtedly hadn’t heard good things about him from his brother.
“Fine, but just until you find something else.” Rory glared at him for a moment before his eyes softened and he turned back to Clare. “Since when do you and my mom team up against me, mhuirnín?”
“Since she is right, and you’re a stubborn ass.” Clare shared a conspiring wink with Dee.
“You picked a good one there, Rory.” Dee reached over the table and squeezed Clare’s hand before turning to Kane. “What about you, Kane? Dating anyone I might like this time? I want grandchildren soon, you know.”
Kieran snorted and ducked away from his twin brother, not wanting the questions to deviate from Kane to him.
“What? Why me? You’ve got three other sons here who are all single, Ma. Plus Casey,” Kane said, in an attempt to deflect her attention.
“Not really. Casey needs to focus on finishing school. Jimmy’s only twenty-two; he’s too young to settle down. Quinn’s only a year older than Jim, and he’s stuck on the Finley girl.” Dee rattled on as she passed scraps of food under the table to Ace.
“I am not stuck on her!” Quinn protested, but she ignored him.
“So that leaves you, Kane.”
“What about Kieran? He was all over the pretty florist today.” Kane threw him to the wolves. Jimmy shook his head at the comment, reminding Kieran that he wanted to ask what Jimmy had meant earlier about Fiona having baggage.
“Don’t drag me into this.” Kieran put his hands up in defense, but inside he was happier than he had been in a long time. He had missed his family, and these Sunday dinners. Despite their bickering, he knew that in this room, no matter what he had done in the past, he was loved.
“Kavanagh.” A short, bald man holding a clipboard stepped out of one of the rooms that lined the hallway Kieran was sitting in.
“Here.” Kieran stood from his chair and followed the man into a small windowless office, filled with entirely too many filing cabinets. The whole place reeked of mildew and stale coffee.
“Kieran Murphy Kavanagh. Age twenty-five. Two years upstate for aggravated assault, let out for good behavior. Now serving six months parole plus three hundred hours of community service. That you?” The man rattled off the information from the file in front of him.
“I’m Officer Kirk Huppert.” The man shook his hand before motioning to a chair facing a desk. Kieran was at least a hundred pounds bulkier than the stocky, short man, and yet the officer seemed completely unfazed by their size difference. “I’ll be your parole officer for the next six months, and hopefully not a day longer. If it is longer, it’s because you fucked up, and I have no qualms about throwing your ass back in jail. Understood?”
“Yes, sir. I’ve got no plans to go back there. Ever,” Kieran said, taking a seat as the officer rounded the desk and sat, spreading Kieran’s file out in front of him.
“Good, then don’t violate your parole. I find anything, I mean anything, that even smells the tiniest bit like shit and you’re doing another thirty days. Depending on how bad it is, possibly the rest of your sentence,” Officer Huppert said.
Kieran nodded. “I understand.”
Officer Huppert flipped through his file again. “So you got a job yet, Kavanagh?” “Yes, sir. Doing construction down at Woodlawn Rescue. My brother bought the place,and they’re fixing it up.”
“Oh, yeah, I’ve driven past that. It’s called Ace’s Dogs now, right? My kid’s been hassling me to get her a dog. Maybe when the place is up and running,” the officer mused out loud, not really talking to Kieran as he scanned his file. “And says here you’re living with your brother, too?”
“Different brother, but yes.”
“All right, if any of that changes, you need to let me know immediately. We’ll be meeting every Monday morning at this time, and if you miss even one appointment, we will have a warrant out for your arrest. Here’s my card, and you can call me anytime you need to talk.” The officer handed him a small business card.
“Yes, sir.” Kieran nodded, feeling nervous at the ease with which he could end up behind bars once again.
“For your three hundred hours of community service, you’re going to be working at a local youth center, right here in Woodlawn.”
“Working with kids?” Kieran’s brows shot up, unsure if the officer knew what he was saying. “I don’t really have any experience with children. Plus, do parents want an ex-con around their kids?”
Huppert waved his hand, dismissing his worries.
“Doesn’t matter, you’ll learn. You’ve got a college degree, and that’s a hell of a lot more than most of my other parolees have. This youth center has mainly at-risk kids, even though it isn’t solely for that. Administrators there think someone with your background could help get through to some of these kids. Scare-them-straight kind of thing. It’s a new initiative, so we’ll see how it goes.”
“What will I be doing there?”
“Tutoring mainly, but also doing whatever the hell the admin wants you to do. You’ll be there three hours a day, every afternoon, Monday through Friday. Here’s the information and address. Ask for Ms. Hannigan when you arrive. She’s expecting you as soon as we’re done here for a tour and all that, so you should get going.”
“Yes, sir.” Kieran took the paper offered to him and left the office.
His parole officer was a no-nonsense kind of guy, and Kieran appreciated that—a clear and straight talker was just the type of person he liked to deal with.
Woodlawn was a small neighborhood, all within walking distance, and he arrived at the Woodlawn Youth Center only fifteen minutes later. The run-down building outside was dull and parts were marked with graffiti; one of the windows was covered with cardboard.
As he pulled on the door handle, the front door scraped open with a loud groan that caused his whole body to tense. He really needed this to go well, starting with a good first impression. Luckily, the room he had just stepped into was empty, except for the young woman sitting at a desk on which a tiny plaque read RECEPTIONIST.
“Hi, I’m looking for Ms. Hannigan. Can you point me in the right direction?” Kieran asked, giving her a friendly smile.
“Sure, and you are?” She pushed her glasses up her nose and lifted the phone receiver to her ear, her hand hovering over the number pad.
“Kavanagh? As in the Kavanaghs?” She did a double take, perusing him slowly this time. “The one who just got out of jail?”
“Uh,” he stuttered. He knew everyone in Woodlawn talked, but he had been unprepared for her directness.
Finally, he nodded, doing his best not to show his annoyance. The receptionist turned her attention back to the phone and dialed an extension, telling the person on the other end in a hushed tone that he had arrived. Kieran wandered away from the desk and looked around the room as he waited.
It was on the small side and set up similar to a doctor’s office, with chairs and low tables holding a clutter of teen magazines. The ceilings were low—Kieran’s head was only a few inches from brushing it. There were colorful, inspirational posters on the walls, including one of a kitten holding on to a tree branch, with the quote HANG IN THERE. Nothing in the room matched, but somehow the random collection of different colored furniture worked.
“Mr. Kavanagh?” a young woman called from behind him, and he turned back to the receptionist to see a thin woman of average height standing next to her.
The new woman had tight, blond curls that hung down to her shoulders and reminded him a little bit of his brother’s girlfriend, Clare. She offered her hand to him, smiling warmly as her hazel eyes sparkled. Everything about her was relaxed and casual, probably the best sort of person to manage a center for at-risk kids.
“That’s me,” he confirmed as he took her small hand in his large grip, impressed that someone so young ran everything. She made him think of Fiona from the flower shop, someone else so young and in charge of her own business.
“I’m Nora Hannigan, the youth program’s main coordinator, but just call me Nora. May I call you Kieran?”
He smiled and nodded. “Of course.”
“We’re happy to have you working with us over the next few months.” She beamed at him with a quirky, slightly off-center grin, and he wondered why he was thinking about Fiona when such a gorgeous woman was standing right in front of him.
“Uh, thanks. I’m a bit surprised to hear that,” he admitted.
“Why?” She furrowed her brow as she motioned for him to follow her through a door that led farther into the building.
“The whole just-got-out-of-jail-and-on-parole thing, maybe? Your receptionist seemed less than impressed.”
“Oh, that. Well, that doesn’t bother me at all, and it won’t bother the kids. Most of the kids here have at least one parent in jail, if not both, or know someone who is. We’re hoping they’ll find you relatable, and that you’ll influence them in a positive way.”
“I guess that makes sense. How did you end up here, then?”
“I’m working on my doctorate of psychology, and I interned here last year and kind of never left. I’m still in school, but I ended up taking this job because I really enjoy working with the kids.”
Kieran nodded as she spoke, admiring her for being someone who clearly gave so much of herself on a regular basis.
“From what I hear,” Nora continued as she led him down a hall then into her office, “you’re out on good behavior and looking to turn your life around. Is that true?”
“Yes, for sure. I made a stupid mistake; it cost me. I did my time, and that’s going to be the end of it,” he assured her.
“Good, then you’re perfect for the job.” Nora sat down at her desk, and Kieran pulled out a chair across from her and got comfortable. She continued, “These kids need guidance and role models. Especially male role models. The majority of them are considered at-risk, but we have a wide variety of kids here, and you’ll learn that they all need something a little different.”
“Okay, well, I’ve never really worked with kids before.”
“That’s fine, most kids like to be treated as you’d treat any adult. With respect, and like your equal. None of them want to be coddled. The majority of the kids you’ll be working with are teenagers who come here after school and stay until their parents pick them up. They need homework help, some tutoring, and monitoring of their recreation time. Sound good?”
“Sure. Doesn’t sound too hard.”
“It’s not,” Nora confirmed as a young girl walked into the room, interrupting them. She couldn’t have been older than eight or nine. She held a book in her hands but seemed not to be looking directly at anything. Instead, she found a spot on the ceiling to focus on as she came to a stop before them.
There was something ever so slightly off about her expression, something that indicated a deeper issue that made him immediately feel protective of her. She seemed fragile, and he found himself wishing something better for her than spending her time in a place like this every day.
“I’m all finished.” The child wore jean overalls, a pink T-shirt covered in flowers, and worn sneakers. Her hair was tied back in two braids that hung down over either shoulder, and she handed Nora a thick book. She reached up and carefully adjusted a pair of very large earmuffs that looked like the type of outer ear protection you’d wear at a gun range. Except they were pale pink.
“Shea, sweetheart, I’m in the middle of a meeting.” Nora’s voice softened as she addressed the young child, and she took the book and placed it on a shelf by her desk. “Can I get you another book later?”
“I’m all finished,” Shea said again, not hearing Nora as she fidgeted with her fingers and stared up at the ceiling.
Nora gently lifted one side of the earmuffs so the child could hear her. “I’ll bring you another book in a few minutes. Okay?”
“I read one hundred pages. I’m all finished. I need the next one.” Shea didn’t seem to understand that Nora was asking her to wait.
“Kieran, would you mind waiting here for a minute?” Nora asked, obviously wanting to get Shea settled.
“Sure, take your time.” He watched them walk out of the room, holding hands. Glancing around the small room, Kieran spotted a pamphlet for the center on Nora’s desk. He picked it up, slowly flipping through it to pass the time. Nora was gone only a few minutes before returning alone.
“Sorry about that, thanks for waiting. Shea is such a sweet girl, although she isn’t technically enrolled here at the youth center. Her guardian is one of my best friends,” Nora explained, “and needs help watching her during the day while she’s at work.”
“That’s nice of you. She seems sweet, but a little impatient,” he noted.
“Oh, no, she isn’t impatient. Well, I guess she is, but she doesn’t mean to be. It’s not her fault. Shea has autism spectrum disorder, although she’s on the mild side of the spectrum and high functioning.”
Ashamed of his earlier observations, it all made sense now. “Really? Wow, I don’t know much about it, but I’ve heard it mentioned on the news.”
He wondered how much of what he’d just seen was due to autism, like why she hadn’t made eye contact with them. He wondered if the headgear also had something to do with it.
“It presents itself differently in every child. She’s extremely smart, mostly because she reads so much, but she struggles with understanding emotions and with sensory overstimulation; plus, she has some communication issues. She can also be a bit inflexible, mainly because routine is so important to her. When she first learned to read, she became voracious and wouldn’t stop. So a while ago her mother made a rule of one hundred pages a day, which Shea adopted to mean exactly one hundred pages without stopping every single day.”
“Like she’ll stop in the middle of the sentence if it’s the one hundredth page?” Kieran asked.
“Is that why she wears the earmuffs? Or whatever they are?” he asked.
“Well, that’s the sensory overstimulation part of it. Noise can be a very tough thing for some autistic children, and the headgear tends to limit the number of meltdowns she has. Helps keep her calm.”
“Wow.” He made a mental note to keep an eye on the child around the center, and make sure no harm came to her. He wondered again why her mother had placed her here rather than with other autistic kids and better resources.
“You’ll meet her guardian later this afternoon. She comes and teaches a class a couple times a week. They’re both sweethearts, so I’m sure you’ll get along. There’s no need to treat Shea any differently because of this, either. Like I said, she’s a perfectly smart and capable child, sometimes even beyond her age.”
“Of course,” Kieran assured her.
“Perfect.” Nora stood and moved to the door. “So, are you ready for a tour and to get started?”
Kieran just nodded and followed her, happy to find he was already enjoying his time here and he hadn’t even started yet. Maybe community service wouldn’t be so bad.
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