Authors: Jamie Hollins
McKenna Series Book One
This is a work of fiction. All of the characters, organizations, and events portrayed in this novel are either products of the author's imagination or are used fictitiously.
The Best Part of Me: McKenna Series Book One
Copyright Â© 2016 by Jamie Hollins
All Rights Reserved
Cover Design by Asha Hossain Design LLC
Formatting by Polgarus Studio
The journey to this point was a long one, and I have quite a few thank-you's to hand out:
To my parents. I think I could probably call you up and tell you that I wanted to live on Mars, and you'd probably tell me I'd be the best damn Martian there ever was. From a young age you always pushed me to reach for what I wanted. Thank you for giving me that self-confidence.
To my brother and sister-in-law: thank you for being so excited about this new adventure I'd undertaken. Your encouragement means the world to me.
To my mother and father-in-law for being so supportive.
To Amy at Blue Otter Editing who helped make this story shine.
To Asha at Asha Hossain Design for a gorgeous cover.
To Melinda and Amy for all your comments and recommendations during this story's infancy.
To the most insightful and spot-on critique partner in the whole world. Jenn, you have no idea how much you mean to me. Thank you for always being there with an eagerness to help. I don't know what I would do without you. Honestly.
And finally to my husband. Thank you for giving me the nudge I needed to take that writing class. Thank you for patiently listening to me talk for hours about these characters. Thanks for taking an interest in my interests and for lifting me up when I'm down. You and Gabe are the best parts of me.
It wasn't every day Ewan had his bell rung, but since the hit came from out of nowhere, he wasn't embarrassed to admit his vision had clouded for a moment when the bolt of pain lanced into his head. Instinctually, he spun and crouched, preparing for the next hit even though he couldn't see a damn thing.
A second hit never came.
His other senses on high alert, he heard the crowd inside the pub through the door he'd just exited, felt a balmy breeze against his face promising rain, and smelled the faint tinge of stale beer from the empty kegs stacked beside the dumpster. He also heard feet shuffling away on loose gravel in his immediate vicinity.
His eyes finally focused on the asshole who'd retreated across the deserted back courtyard of the pub. Jim “Remy” Remford stood at the ready, moving his weight impatiently from side to side as if he were preparing for a heavyweight battle.
Blood surged into the tips of Ewan's fingers as he unclenched his fists at his sides. He didn't have to look in a mirror to know the left side of his face was starting to swell. His heartbeat pulsed from his cheekbone where the sucker punch had landed.
“You're a damn coward, McKenna,” Remy spat.
Ewan stood up out of his fighting stance. Now that he knew it was Remy who was throwing the punches, the threat was over. The only way Remy could ever land a punch on Ewan was if it were blind. And since that's exactly what had happened, it made Ewan want to drive his fist through the fat fucker's skull. And Remy was the one calling Ewan a coward?
“Don't tell me you came all the way from Boston to tell me that, Remy. A simple call would have worked.”
Remy scowled. “Yeah, but then I wouldn't have had the pleasure of rearranging your face.”
Ewan glared, noticing the way Remy wiped his sweaty hands on his thighs.
“It's gonna take a lot more than that to rearrange my face. You better get on with it then,” Ewan replied, beckoning the big man toward him.
Remy snuffed loudly, then spit on the ground at Ewan's boots. “I've got a message from the boss.”
Many lifetimes agoâor at least it felt that way to Ewanâhe'd known that Remy worked as a henchman for the Madigans, a long-standing crime family in Boston. Since Remy was a less-than-eloquent thug who probably had the IQ of a house fly, he definitely wasn't getting his marching orders directly from the head of the Madigan family. He'd be much further down the criminal corporate ladder.
“And what boss might that be?”
Keith Hardy had his own men? What the fuck was this world coming to?
Remy didn't wait for Ewan to respond. “Boss needs your help with something over in Hartford.”
Of course he did.
“And you think that sucker punch of yours is gonna persuade me to help?”
Remy continued to shift from side to side, his eyes bright with false bravado. It was full-on dusk with the late-April sun setting about a half hour back. The ominous rain clouds rolling in made it seem later than it really was. Darkness nearly covered the entire back courtyard thanks to the surrounding buildings and high walls. The only light was from a small halogen lamp that hung in the back alley that ran perpendicular to the pub's square courtyard. Like a fucking idiot, Remy stood right in the middle of the lamp's white glow.
“I ain't happy about asking you to come help with something I don't think we need help doing. Boss man doesn't like it either. He's just following orders, which means I'm just following orders.”
Ewan stepped away from the back of the pub into the black shadows cast from the high courtyard wall. Remy stopped rocking and squinted to follow Ewan's movement, but as Remy turned and faced the alleyway light, Ewan could tell the exact moment he lost him. It would serve Remy right if Ewan beat the piss out of him. And truth be told, after the shit day Ewan was having, it would make him feel better too. But he'd been outside now for too long, and although it would take all of five minutes to kick the shit out of poor, fat Remy, he didn't want to catch any more shit from Jenny, who was at that moment soloing the serving and bartending duties inside the pub. He needed to get back behind the bar.
Remy was beginning to twitch, and his nostrils were flaring as he tried to pick up any clue of where Ewan was. He waited until he was nearly to the fat man's right shoulder before he spoke in a low, menacing tone, “Tell Hardy I'm not interested.”
Instead of spinning around and swinging, which Ewan was expecting, Remy bolted for the alleyway like his feet were on fire. The fucker's shoes slipped on the loose gravel of the courtyard, spraying small pebbles in his wake. Ewan stepped calmly into the light just as Remy looked back over his shoulder.
But with Remy's panicky eyes trained back on Ewan, he didn't see the other person who was walking in the alleyway. There was a heavy collision followed by the dull thud of someone's head hitting stone. As luck would have it, Remy kept his feet and scurried toward the main street, leaving a limp figure lying prostrate on the cold ground.
“Fuck,” Ewan muttered under his breath as he hurried toward the bystander. He quickly knelt beside the still form that faced away from him. It was a woman; her light brown hair covered her face so he couldn't tell how old she was. All he knew was that she looked frail to begin with, like a stiff wind might blow her over, and she'd just made impact with a large brute and a stone wall. If he hadn't seen the shallow rise of her ribs, he would have been worried that the impact might have seriously hurt her.
As gently as he could, he pulled her hair back from her face. It was completely dark now, but in the alley's dim light, he could see where she'd made impact with the wall. Her skin was split and swelling quickly at her right temple. She needed to get ice on that right away or her eye might swell shut. He would have gone into the pub to get her some, but he didn't want to leave her unconscious and alone in the empty alleyway. Not that the crime rate in Ballagh worried him. It was a small, sleepy village a few hours outside of Boston where nothing exciting ever happened. He just didn't want the poor woman to wake up alone.
Fucking Remy. Goddamn clumsy motherfucker.
He heard a tiny sigh as the woman took a deep breath, then whimpered. Her hand untangled itself from the plastic bags she was carrying and reached immediately for her head, which must have been spinning.
“Easy now,” he said as quietly as he could so he wouldn't startle her. He placed his palm on her shoulder, which immediately made her recoil.
She rolled her weight forward onto all fours and slowly sat back on her heels. Her hair hung in front of her as she cradled her head in both hands. At last, she dropped her hands to her lap and let her head roll back, her hair falling to her shoulders to expose a pale, pained face.
He ran the only pub in the village and he knew everyone. Yet he'd never seen this woman before.
She had high cheekbones, a straight pert nose, and a full mouth that at that moment was grimacing in pain. Her eyes were squeezed shut as she exhaled a long, labored moan.
He wasn't sure if it was her parted pink lips or the fact that he hadn't gotten laid in some time, but that moan went straight to his dick.
Jesus Christ, get ahold of yourself. She's in pain, for fuck's sake.
Concentrating on the situation at hand, he quietly cleared his throat. “You okay?”
She peeled one stormy gray eye open and peered at him.
“Do I look okay to you?”
He wanted to laugh but didn't dare. He waited patiently beside her as she knelt there and steadied her breathing. Finally she opened both eyes and leveled her gaze on him. It was accusatory and angry. Although it was a bit misguided, he couldn't really blame her.
“Let me help you up.” He extended his hand.
She narrowed her eyes slightly before using the stone wall to her right to raise herself off the ground without his help. She wobbled a bit and Ewan reached out to steady her. She stared at where he grasped her arm before turning those fiery eyes to him. He let go and held his palms up as if to say he surrendered.
She didn't want him touching herâthat was fine. He bent down and picked up the four heavy plastic bags at her feet. “Where you headed?”
“Give me the bags,” she responded tightly as she reached for them.
He pulled them farther from her grasp, knowing as soon as she took them, they'd pull her back to the ground.
“I'll carry them for you. Just tell me where you're headed.”
“You've helped quite enough. Now give me the bags.”
Stubborn bloody woman
“I wasn't the one who knocked into you, so you can drop the attitude. I'm just the nice fucking guy who's trying to help you home if you'd just tell him where the hell it was you were headed.” He didn't even try to keep the irritation out of his voice.
She took a deep breath, then immediately squeezed her eyes shut. After a minute, she replied, “The Hughes farm.”
Ewan blinked in surprise. The Hughes farm was less than a half mile away. But why the fuck was this woman staying with Maura Hughes?
“What's your name?” he asked her.
The light bulb went on in his head. Goddamn it, she was the niece. The whole town had been talking about her for weeks. Apparently her parents had been killed in some horrible accident, and she was coming from Pittsburgh to stay with her aunt for a while. The same aunt who happened to detest him to his very core. The same aunt who was widely known to be the meanest bitch this side of the Atlantic.
He looked at the womanâQuinn Adlerâand studied her. One thing was for certain, she wasn't what he'd expected at all. He'd pictured a younger version of Maura Hughes. A twenty something frumpy, round troll with a forked tongue. However, this woman was sylphlike, almost too slender. But even with her baggy athletic shorts and T-shirt, he could tell she had decent proportions: thin waist and shapely hips. If she put on a few pounds, she'd probably fill out nicely.