Beyond Affection

The Callaghan Brothers, Book 5​


She was beautiful. Small, but not petite, not really. Very feminine, with delicate features. Light blonde hair the color of moonlight washed in gold.

And she was sound asleep.

Shane sat back on the desk next to her and studied her for a little while longer with a skill and thoroughness that was second nature to him, automatically committing every detail to memory. Perfect skin, sun-kissed but not tanned. Cute little nose with the barest hint of freckles; he could easily imagine it scrunching up in distaste or anger. Soft, full-looking lips, the color and texture of a dark pink rose, slightly parted as if anticipating a kiss from her lover.

He wondered what color her eyes were. Blue, he thought, for no explicable reason, but it felt right. She had blue eyes, the exact hue of a summer sky before night fell in earnest. It was hard to guess her age; in slumber she could have passed for one of the younger undergrads, but his instincts suggested she was more likely in her mid to late twenties.

She looked so peaceful; he hated to disturb her. But the elderly custodian had peeked in twice already and was obviously anxious to finish up and go home. The evening class ended nearly an hour ago and besides the cleaning staff, they were the only two people remaining in the building.

“Miss?” he prompted, keeping his tone low and gentle to avoid startling her. She sighed softly at the sound of his voice, a ghost of a smile playing at the corners of her lips.

“Miss?” he repeated again, reaching over to touch her upper arm. Her head tilted toward his hand, covering it in blonde, silken waves a few moments before the warmth of her cheek soaked into his skin. Shane’s attempts to wake the young woman had somehow resulted in her using his hand as her pillow. The custodian snickered from the doorway.

Shane smiled, flexing his hand rhythmically but gently, watching with amusement as her head bobbed slightly. It only took a few moments for her to rouse. Those sleepy eyes opened. He was right – they were a shade of cerulean he’d only seen in the heavens. Bemusement filled them for a moment, then they landed on him and widened in horrified embarrassment.

“I fell asleep,” she murmured. Her voice held a hint of the huskiness that comes from deep slumber.

Shane’s grin widened. “I must say, I’ve guest-lectured for Professor Stevens several times, but this is the first time a female student ever actually drooled over me.”

The young woman groaned, lifting her head enough to examine the moistness upon his hand. “Oh, God,” she moaned, mortified as she used the sleeve of her pale tan hooded sweater to wipe it off with hurried strokes. “I’m so sorry.”

Shane wasn’t. Mild interest mixed with amusement, as it had from the moment he saw her nodding off halfway through his interactive segment on modern social mores. Most of the time, students found that part particularly interesting, and this class had been no exception. Well, except for her. While hands had been shooting up all around her, her head had been going down.

“I think this is the part where the earth is supposed to open up and swallow me,” she said ruefully. “At least that’s what I’m praying for right now. You might want to take a step back.”

He couldn’t help it. He laughed. It was a rich, rumbling sound that bubbled up from deep within and felt wonderful. She was embarrassed, yes, but was able to see the humor in the situation. Shane liked a woman who could laugh at herself.

“I guess I don’t need to ask what you thought of my lecture?”

“I liked it,” she said quickly, gathering her books. Shane arched a perfect brow and inclined his head doubtfully. “Well,” she added with a slightly dimpled smile, “the part I heard, anyway. But I haven’t been getting enough sleep lately, and your voice is wonderfully warm and rich and …”

Her eyes widened and she stopped as if she suddenly realized what was coming out of her mouth. She dropped her gaze even as that pretty rose color deepened in her cheeks and spread down the delicate column of her neck. “Oh, God. Open mouth, insert foot. I need to stop talking now.”

That only served to draw him in further. He was absolutely enthralled by this adorable, sleepy creature who had just told him she liked the sound of his voice. “Why?”

“Why?” Hands full, she blew a stray section of hair away from where it had fallen over one long-lashed eye. “Because I’m perilously close to dying from self-humiliation, and from what I’ve heard, it’s not a pretty way to go. I’d hate for you to have to witness that. Haunts you for weeks.”

Why did he suddenly feel so warm and light inside? 

“Why have you not been getting enough sleep?” he clarified before he could stop himself, hoping as he did so that she would not take offense at his curiosity.

“Oh.” She hastily tried to stuff her notes into her over-crammed backpack, shooting him a wry smile. The look she gave him – friendly and genuine – pierced him like a bolt of sunlight. It did funny things to his insides. “You know, the usual. Too much to do and not enough time to do it.” The pack tipped off the desk and its contents spilled onto the floor. She mumbled a few unintelligible things under her breath.

“Did you just say ‘fudge buckets’?” he asked, barely suppressing another laugh.

“Yeah, sorry about the potty mouth,” she replied, but was grinning herself. It hinted at those dimples again. Shane had a soft spot for dimples.

He knelt beside her and helped her gather her things, skillfully ordering them in her bag so that everything fit perfectly.

“You have a gift,” she mused in appreciation. “I’m afraid I haven’t been blessed with a keen sense of spatial perception. I tend to rely on the stuff-and-cram method myself, but your way works, too.”

She stood up at the same time he did, her face only inches from his collar bone. At six-two, he was accustomed to women being shorter than him, but she was even smaller than he’d originally thought. Her delicate femininity made him acutely aware of his own masculinity.

“Oh,” she exclaimed softly. He felt the tiny puff of air on his bare skin where he’d loosened his tie and unbuttoned the top of his shirt. He looked down to find her face tilted up toward his with those pretty eyes.

That look, Shane thought. He liked that look. It smacked of innocence, surprise, and – dare he say – desire. He grew taller, larger from it, like a male peacock who wanted to showcase his magnificent plumage.

She took a step back, only to stumble on the desk and fall backward. Shane reached out and caught her before she managed to hit anything. His entire body lit up as though someone flipped a switch, firing up nerve endings in all kinds of interesting places. Her eyes widened for a split second as if she had felt it, too.

“Thanks,” she stammered.

If anything, his interest grew, as did the odd warmth that seemed to be coursing through his body. He didn’t remove his hands immediately; he let them linger along her upper arms until he was fairly certain she would remain upright and in place.

“Perhaps I should walk you to your car,” he suggested.

Copyright © 2015 – 2018 Abbie Zanders.

Written by Abbie Zanders.

All rights reserved.