Come with me to New York City. Meet Raine and Callahan.
He’s a cop, one of New York City’s finest. She’s a transplanted teacher, new to the Big Apple. Callahan is streetwise and world weary. Raine is lost in the urban setting. When they meet, the attraction and the emotional connection are powerful. When a former student stalks Raine, he’s also part of Callahan’s unfinished business. The closer they become, the more their lives intersect, the greater the danger. Callahan must put his past and burden of guilt aside. Raine needs to adapt to big city life. Both seek a happily ever after together but with old scores to settle, they have to survive first.
On a rare Saturday off duty, Callahan had nothing much to do. Later that evening, he’d probably drop into the never-ending poker game some of his buddies hosted at the firehouse down the street. But for now, the day stretched out empty but filled with possibilities. He should sleep but he wouldn’t, since he was a lifelong early riser. Under a deep blue sky with no more than a few clouds, the mid-October day intensified his recent restlessness. He wanted to be outside and he needed diversion, so he decided to ride the Staten Island Ferry. As a kid, he’d loved it but as an adult, he couldn’t remember the last time he had ridden the ferry. The prospect of time out on the water with the sun on his shoulders and the wind in his face appealed, so he grabbed his keys and headed for the subway, seizing the moment before he talked himself out of it.
He ran a few errands en route, stopped to pay a couple of bills, and grabbed a sweet bun from a favorite bakery along the way. Callahan descended the steps at Fulton Street Station to catch the train to South Ferry and stopped, transfixed by a woman who sat on one of the old wooden benches, head bent over an MTA map.
He knew right off she wasn’t a New York girl. It wasn’t just the waist-length hair or the way she clutched her purse, but something in the way she hunched her shoulders tight. Callahan couldn’t remember seeing a gal with hair down to her ass lately, but he liked it. I bet she’s pretty under all that hair. He wanted to see her face so he waited until she stood, and when she did, he wasn’t disappointed. A classic, heart-shaped face featuring brilliant blue eyes, a petite nose, and generous lips radiated with beauty. If she’d been smiling, he thought, she would be stunning. But at the moment, she wore a frown and if he wasn’t mistaken, she might burst into tears at any moment. Callahan didn’t think—he reacted. He moved close enough to catch the scent of her perfume.
“Hey, do you need something?”
She stepped backward, and for a moment he feared she might tumble onto the tracks. People did, every year, and some of them died. To prevent a tragedy, he grasped her arm tight. Her eyes widened as she flinched at his touch. Shit, I’m scaring her. Callahan released her. “Hey, calm down. All’s I’m doing is offering help. What’s your trouble?”
“I can’t find the right train.” Her voice came out soft, like a small summer breeze. It trembled and he sought to reassure her.
“I can help you find it,” he said. Then he considered the fact he wore blue jeans faded almost white, an old New York Yankees T-shirt, and his worn-out Reeboks. He probably resembled a bum. “You don’t need to be afraid. I’m a police officer, one of the city’s finest.”
She arched one eyebrow. “Are you?”
He dug out his badge case, something he always carried, and flipped it open to show his ID. Her shoulders relaxed and she sighed. She glanced up with a small smile. “So you are. Thanks, I could use some help. I always get mixed up at Fulton Street. I don’t know why.”
Callahan laughed. “You ain’t the only one, doll. It’s a notorious mess since they started remodeling it. Someday, if they ever finish, it’s supposed to be great, but right now it sucks. Where are you trying to go, anyhow?”
“Times Square on the number two train.”
“Yeah, the Seventh Avenue Express,” he said with a nod. “It’ll get you there. I can help you track it down, pardon the pun.”
“Thank you,” she replied. Then she tossed her head, which rippled her hair in a way he found both beautiful and provocative. “I really appreciate any help I can get, Officer…”
“Callahan,” he told her. “You can call me that, or Cal for short.”
Her head dipped in a brief nod. “I’m Raine Teasdale.”
“Pleased to meetcha,” he said. “So you’re off to Times Square? Are you going to see a show or just the sights?”
He pegged her for a tourist, but she surprised him when she shrugged. “It’s just someplace to go on a weekend. I haven’t made many friends yet, and I don’t feel so alone when I’m in a crowd. I thought maybe I’d just hang out for a while, watch people and all that.”
“So you live here?”
Raine nodded. “Yes, since late August.”
Any other time, he minded his business and kept his mouth closed, but curiosity got the better of him. “So what brought you here?”
Please don’t let her tell me she plans to star on Broadway, write a best-selling novel, or sing to a packed house at Madison Square Garden, he thought. Too many people poured into New York every week with big dreams and empty pockets, then were crushed under the heel of the big city. He didn’t want this pretty thing to share their sad fate.
“I teach at-risk kids,” she said. That surprised him. She seemed fragile and somehow too delicate to work with edgy students.
“Oh yeah?” he replied. “High school, middle school, or what?”
“Mostly teens,” Raine told him. “I work with kids who are in juvenile detention, in the hospital or some other facility, in orphanages, and a few of the schools. I’m someplace different every day of the week.”
“Whaddya teach them?”
A smile lit her face, the first he’d seen, and it made her beautiful. “I teach them literature,” she said with apparent pride. “We read everything from Charles Dickens to Carl Sandburg, from The Outsiders to Harry Potter, with a little Shakespeare and some Dr. Suess. Or, I hope we will. It’s early in the year.”
“That’s awesome,” Cal said and meant it. A teacher had turned him on to reading in the sixth grade, and he’d been an avid reader ever since. Books had been his salvation from the sometimes tough streets of his boyhood on the Lower East Side and the Jacob Riis housing project where he had lived. Without the escape that reading had provided, he might have fallen prey to drugs like his Aunt Brenda, the one everyone had called “Birdie,” who died of a cocaine overdose when he was twelve. When his mother died two years later, he had moved across the East River to Brooklyn and lived with his grandmother until he graduated from high school. “I had some good teachers, but I could’ve used someone like you back in the day. You’ll make a difference.”
Raine blushed. “I hope so.”
A subway train rushed out of the dark tunnel on one side of the platform, and she turned toward it. “Is that my train?”
Callahan shook his head. “No, it’s a number one train, so it’s mine. It’s headed the opposite direction from where you want to go.”
Her expression wilted. “I was hoping you’d help me get on the right one before you had to leave.”
“Don’t sweat it, sweetheart. I can miss it,” he said. An idea struck. “Or you can change your plans and come with me. You wanna ride the Staten Island Ferry?”
She grinned. “Do you mean it? I’d love to!”
“Then let’s hustle,” he said and grabbed her hand. The subway cars came to a stop, and as the doors opened to release passengers, Callahan pulled her toward the front of the train. As soon as the people got off, they stepped into the car. With standing room only, he maneuvered her toward the opposite corner and secured one of the straps. “You’d better hang on,” he told her.
In the crowded car, he could smell her perfume and the scent of her shampoo. Raine stood in front of him, her back against his torso. Then she turned toward him and stood on her toes. “I will,” she whispered into his ear.
Her hair fanned out and brushed against his bare arm. It tickled, and the intimacy of it sent a shiver through Callahan. His dick twitched in response, and for a moment he wanted her with an unreasonable urge so strong he imagined taking her where she stood. It would be easy enough to raise the black skirt she wore and nail her from behind. The moment passed and he chided himself for the thought. Jeez, she’s a nice gal, a teacher yet, and I’m thinking dirty thoughts already. He would never have made a knight, not when he wanted to fuck the damsel in distress, but he’d never claimed to be either a gentleman or noble-minded.
At Rector Street, when anyone heading to South Ferry had to cram into the first five cars, he grabbed a pair of seats. She sank down beside him with a smile. “Thanks.”
“For sitting down?” he asked. “You’re welcome.”
“Thank you for inviting me to ride the ferry,” she told him. “It’s one of the things I’ve wanted to do and haven’t yet. Is it as cool as I’ve heard it is?”
“Better,” he replied. “It’s one of my favorite things to do, and I’m a native New Yorker. You’ll love it, I bet.”
At the South Ferry station, they got off the train and climbed the steep stairs to street-level. Along the way, he held her hand, telling himself it was because he didn’t want to lose her in the crowds. Truth was, he enjoyed the contact. He told her how the brand-new, multimillion-dollar subway station had opened but had been destroyed by Hurricane Sandy. “This is the original one, built back in the early 1900s. I’ve always liked to imagine the ladies in their long skirts and picture hats, and the men in suits and waistcoats or wearing fedora hats.”
He couldn’t believe he shared that. His sometimes fanciful imagination wasn’t something he shared. He wished he could snatch the words back, until she smiled. “I love those images,” she said. “I know I haven’t even seen the ferry yet, but it brings to mind Edna St. Vincent Millay’s poem, you know, “Recuerdo.”
Cal didn’t, but he did know the word meant something like remembrance in Spanish. “Tell me how it goes, teach.”
Raine quoted a few lines, “We were tired, we were merry, we had gone back and forth all night on the ferry.”
He snapped his fingers. “Oh, yeah, I do know it. Part of that is on the wall somewhere at the ferry terminal. I don’t read much poetry, never did, but I like that one.”
They entered the terminal and ascended to the second level. Callahan got a kick out of the way she gawked at the food vendors, the uniformed officers with drug dogs, and the crowds. Seeing the place through her eyes gave him a fresh perspective. As they stood among the others waiting for the next cruise, he leaned down and brushed her hair back from her face. “There,” he said. “That’s better. So this is okay? You don’t mind missing Times Square?”
She shook her head. “No, I don’t. It’ll be there, and I’ve been, once. I just didn’t have anything else to do today.”
“I know the feeling,” he told her.
Together they boarded the John F. Kennedy, one of the older ferryboats still in service. Callahan had ridden it since childhood, but he still experienced a thrill when he stepped on board. He maneuvered Raine to a spot near the railing on the right side as they headed out into the bay so they’d have the best view of the sights. Acting like a tour guide, he pointed out the sights as they passed. They made small talk, and he delighted in watching the expressions change on her face from delight to wonder and back again.
She intrigued him and evoked a deep curiosity. Everything about her shouted small-town-raised and country girl. He could imagine her doing rural things, maybe milking a cow or pulling eggs from beneath a hen. Of course, he didn’t know anything about such chores, and his notions came from books or movies, not personal experience. She possessed a delicious combination of beauty and vulnerability. Callahan wanted to French kiss her—hell, to be honest, he ached to take her hard and fast. He also wanted to hold her hand, too, though, and cherish her like a virgin on prom night. Cal yearned to know what she liked and what she didn’t, to discover her thoughts, and get acquainted.
From the moment he saw her at the subway station, he’d gone from admiration and a desire to offer help to something deeper. He had never believed in love at first sight—and he still didn’t—but Cal wanted to, and that was huge. By the time they docked at the St. George terminal on Staten Island, he knew he wanted to spend the rest of the day getting to know her. He liked her company and wanted more. The poker game he’d planned to join for the evening no longer seemed as desirable or fun.
“So you want a soda or something?” he asked as they walked into the terminal with the crowd. “Or you just wanna go back?”
Raine gazed up at him. “No, I don’t, unless you have somewhere else you need to be. I’d love something to drink. I’m thirsty.”
They settled for bottled green tea in the terminal, then boarded another ferry for the return trip. This time, they stood on the upper deck against the rail and watched Manhattan as it grew larger. Minutes before they reached the Whitehall terminal, Callahan turned to her. “You wouldn’t want to ride it again, would you?”
Her grin answered before she spoke. “I’d love to, Officer Callahan.”
He looped one arm over her shoulders, friendly more than intimate. “Aw, don’t insult me like that,” he said. “I told you, call me Callahan or Cal.”
“Don’t you have a first name?”
One small giggle escaped her mouth. “I figured you did. So what is it?”
“That’s on a need-to-know basis,” he said. His parents had saddled him with a proud, old family name, one his grandfather and great-grandfather had endured before he did. During grammar school, he’d taken his share of ribbing about it. He never shared it willingly with anyone since, and even his closest buddies had no idea. Callahan could never understand why his parents saved it for the last kid, the third son.
Raine lifted one finger and touched the corner of his mouth, then traced his upper lip. He kissed it, more a reflex than a romantic notion. “I think I need to know,” she told him. “I wouldn’t want to think you’ve been holding out on me.”
Her touch affected him like a match to a short fuse. His body tingled with something close to anticipation, and he resisted the overwhelming urge to kiss her. “If I tell you, you gotta promise not to call me by it,” he said. “And make a pinky-swear you’ll never tell another living soul.”
Laughter erupted from Raine, and she crooked her little finger around his. “I promise.”
“Awright, awright, I’ll tell you. It’s Aloysius.”
Cal cringed as he said it, the long, old-fashioned moniker still able to bring embarrassment, and waited for her reaction. He figured, like everyone else, she would laugh like crazy, but she didn’t. Instead, she repeated it as if committing it to memory.
“Al-oo-wish-us,” Raine said.
“That’s not so bad. Didn’t your family give you a nickname or something?”
He dredged it up from the past. “Yeah, they called me Buddy. So whaddya think, doll?”
Her eyes met his and held the gaze. “I think it’s a fine, old family name, an heirloom of sorts, but I can understand why you don’t like to use it, Callahan.”
God, he liked the way his name sounded on her tongue. Somehow, in her soft voice, sweeter and kinder than a New York accent, it became almost a caress. Cal snaked one arm around her waist as the ferry docked and when the boat shifted in the process, he pulled her tight. “I like you, Raine,” he said. “Something about you gets me here.”
Callahan tapped his chest somewhere near his heart.
Raine put her hand over his. “You had my attention from the moment you asked if I needed help. I don’t know what happened. I’m usually shy with strangers, but I’m not with you.”
“Good. Then let’s go get lunch somewhere, then we’ll come back and ride the ferry again.”
“Okay. What happens after that?”
A rush of joy washed over him, so potent he could all but taste it. Cal wanted to laugh. His feet yearned to dance and he wanted to sing, even though he knew he sang off-key at best. “We’ll figure it out then,” he said. “Are you willing?”
Her lips curved upward into a quirky smile as she answered. “Yes.”
“Then let’s go,” he said.
He grabbed her hand and they merged with the crowds spilling back into the terminal, then made their way through the building and outside. Cal couldn’t remember when he’d been happier, and for once he forgot the tragedies in his past and lived in the moment.
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