Authors: Lauren Hammond
Copyright © Lauren Hammond 2012
No part of this novel may be reproduced, copied, recorded, or used by any means without written permission from the publisher.
This book is a work of fiction. Any names, places, characters, and incidents are a product of the authors imagination or used fictitiously. They are not to be misconstrued as real. Any resemblences to any persons, either living or dead, or locales and events, are completely coincidental.
Isbn – 9780615678061
Cover Design – Stephanie Mooney
Editor – PWL Editing Services
First and foremost no writer can survive without his or her readership. I’m so grateful and blessed that I’m able to let my creativity soar and for this reason I owe everything to my readers and fans. There is no possible way I can thank you enough for your support, reviews, and spreading the word for not only me, but your favorite authors. So thank you a million times over.
Secondly, I need to thank Kaycee my brilliant editor at PWL editing who squees when she receives my very, untidy manuscript and works her butt off on whipping it into tip top shape. So thank you Kaycee. You rock.
Third to Stephanie Mooney, my genius cover designer who takes a photo and creates a masterpiece with it.
Lastly, to Stephanie Sahli, a great friend and epic former female boxer who introduced me to the world of jabs, right hooks, shadow boxing, and head down gloves up. Without your invaluable information on the sport, I’m not really sure what this book would read like. So thank you. Thank you. Thank you.
The first installment in the Knockout Series
Connor, aka Connie Doyle, sat in the back of his Lincoln Town Car and watched the mourners gather. Every one of them dressed in black. Even a few of the women had black veils covering their faces.
Surrounded by black tinted windows he remained invisible to the crowd who had come to pay their respects to Siobhan Reilly. She was a kind-natured woman. A loving wife until her beloved Patrick met his own untimely death ten years back, and dutiful mother to her two children. Cancer of the ovaries, in the end that's what took Siobhan. Sad really. Connie always thought it was a pity that the good always died young.
Connie's eyes swept over the mourners until they settled on him, Sean. Siobhan and Patricks' eldest child. It had been years since Connie had seen him. About ten to be exact. Ever since the day of...
It wasn't like Connie to drudge up old memories. The past was the past. It was best to keep it that way.
Seans' blue green eyes narrowed in on the car, the young lad's brow furrowed. The boy was the spitting image of his mother all grown up. From his chestnut hair to his almond complexion, all the way down to the puzzled look he wore on his face. A soft smile pulled on Connie's lips when he thought of Siobhan in her youth. He'd grown up with her in Kerry, Ireland and remembered the way the boy-o's used to chase her around. He'd been one of them. Once he told her she was the most beautiful lass on the island. Unbeknownst to him at the time, Siobhan apparently had it bad for his best mate, Patrick Reilly. Sibohan had always been the one thing that Connie wanted, but could never have. A lone tear glistened in his eye and he pulled his monogrammed handkerchief out of the front pocket of his Armani suit. He dabbed at the corner of his right eye, then tucked the handkerchief back into the inner pocket of his suit.
Connor Doyle didn't cry for anyone or at least he hadn't in a very long time. And he thought it ironic that the first tear he'd shed in fifteen years was for the only woman he ever really loved, Siobhan.
“Sir, it's about to start.” Connie's driver and wing man, Aidan, eyed him through the rear view mirror. He gave him a curt nod through his tinted glasses and waited for Aidan to get out of the car and open his door.
When Aidan opened the door, Connie stepped out of the car into the sunlight. He pulled a comb from his pocket, slicked his hair back and adjusted his suit jacket. He leaned toward Aiden and in a low voice uttered, “Are you packing?”
Aidan, a tall man with a thick mass of reddish-brown curly hair lifted the lapel of his suit jacket and the shiny metal .44 Magnum reflected against the bright sun. “Always.”
Fury twisted and simmered in Connie’s veins at the sight of the weapon. Didn't this buffoon have any respect? They were at a funeral for Christ-sake. In one quick motion, Connie's left hand jutted out and whacked Aidan across the back of the head. “Jesus Christ, Aidan!” he rasped. “Couldn't you have at least tucked into the back of your pants?” The tall, lanky wing man acted swiftly, sticking his hands into the inner pocket of his suit. Connie barred his arm across Aiden's front and frowned. “Too late now.”
Connie stepped forward with Aidan close behind him, and as the priest began he blended in with the mourners, but lingering in the back. The last encounter he had with Siobhan hadn't been pleasant. In fact he swore he saw fire dancing around in her green eyes. He came inquiring about Sean, her son. Siobhan appeared in the doorway and wouldn't even open the screen. “Well, well,” she said in a sing-song voice, her Irish accent thicker than usual. “If it isn't the devil himself.”
Connie chuckled. “How's the boy-o?”
Siobhan's eyes widened at the question and her full pink lips pressed into a straight line. Her cheeks were hot, red with fire and she gritted her teeth. “Don't you dare come around asking about my boy.” She walked out of the screen door, holding it open with her hip, and closed the thick oak door behind it. “I know what you want, Connor Francis Doyle. And do you know what I have to say about that?”
He raised an eyebrow. “What?”
“Over my dead body.” The adamant tone in her voice was twisted with a bit of rage. She opened the oak door and left it half open before peering over her shoulder. Then she said, “Now get off my porch.”
Standing on his toes, Connie glanced over Siobhan's head just before the door slammed and saw the boy-o. He was nearly a foot taller than his mother, with a muscular build, and Connie even heard him ask before the door slammed, “Ma, who was that?”
Siobhan's muffled voice followed with, “Never you mind, Seany. Go do your homework.”
Even though Siobhan turned him away, Connie had never been the type to give up on something so easily. And what he wanted was Sean. Well, he wanted Sean's loyalty to Braithreachas Don Saol, just like Patrick, Sean’s father had pledged before him.
Braithreachas Don Saol was a phrase in Gaelic that meant Brotherhood For Life. Once you pledged your loyalty, there was no un-pledging. You were in the brotherhood until the day you died. Connie had joined fresh of the boat from Kerry, when he was eighteen. The brotherhood had been established in the Cleveland area for a while and Connie showed such promise at a young age. His hunger for power, wealth, businesses, success, and the lengths he would go to to acquire all of those things made him stand out among his peers. He was the youngest member of the Braithreachas to ever hold the title of boss and he'd earned that at age twenty three.
Sadly, his ascent to wealth and success left him no time for anything else. Siobhan was the only woman he had ever left room for in his heart so he never married. And never had children. The boss before him hadn't had children either. As far as Connie was concerned, Siobhan and Patrick's children; Sean and Teagan were the closest thing he had to children of his own. They were his family. And in Connie's eyes Sean was next in line to inherit the title boss from him.
He tuned out the sound of the mourner's singing My Bonnie Lies Over The Ocean and made his way toward Sean and his sister, Teagan. Sean's gaze was centered on Siobhan's cherry wood coffin as it was being lowered into the ground The boy-o was strong. Connie could tell that by the fierce glint of determination in his blue green eyes. His eyes, the only part of him that hadn't belonged to his mother. He had his father's eyes.
The music cut out and Connie thought of Siobhan's last couple of words to him. She'd said, “Over my dead body.” A deep, wicked smile curled on Connie's lips. How ironic, Siobhan? He thought. How ironic.
His attention shifted, standing next to the children, and his eyes locked on their hands. Teagan's dainty pink fingernails stuck out of Sean's thick, long manly ones. The boy was squeezing his sister's hand and making a statement with the gesture. It was if he was assuring her that everything would be all right. The simple act reminded Connie of himself, and how at Sean's age he was always filled with a fierce determination. The boy was a survivor, Connie was sure of it.
After the crowd of mourners dispersed, Connie followed Sean over to Siobhan's headstone. Sean placed a hand flat on his mother's name and let out a deep breath. The breathe was followed by sobs. He needed consoling. He needed family. The children had lost both of their parents at such a young age. Connie knew that had to be devastating for them. He'd never been close to his own parents. Leaving Ireland at such a young age, cut off their communication with one another and Connie didn't even know if they'd passed or not.
Placing a hand on Sean's shoulder, he cleared his throat and said, “Boy-o?”
Sean turned his head, glancing over his shoulder, and his reddened eyes, wet with tears widened. “Uncle Connie?”
Connie smiled faintly. “Yes, boy-o. Listen, I'm real sorry about your Ma, but you shouldn't cry. The angels have her now.”
Sean sucked back his tears and exhaled. “I know. But it's not just Ma's death that I'm dealing with.” He threw his head back and closed his eyes. “Ma's life insurance policy is barely going to cover the funeral, let alone her medical expenses from the cancer treatments.”
“Aye, and how old are you now, boy-o?”
“Seventeen? You're a man now.”
“Not according to the government. Do you know they might take Teagan away from me? They might split us up and we'll each have to go to different group homes before we're entered in the foster-care system.” Sean shook his head and focused on the mound of newly laid dirt at his feet. “They can't take Teagan away from me, Uncle Connie. They just can't. She's the only family I have left.”
“Boy-o, do you honestly think I would allow that to happen?”
“I don't know.” Connie's mouth dropped open and Sean shrugged. “I don't mean any offense by that, Uncle Connie. It's just...well...We haven't seen you in a really long time.”
He patted the boy's shoulder and nodded. “I know, I know,” he reassured him. “But I'm here now. And I promise you two will be taken care of. You won't be separated and I'll take care of all the expenses.”
“Uncle Connie, that's kind of you but—”
Connie cut the boy off with a wave of his hand. “No buts, boy-o. You kids were like my own. I'm happy to do it.” Of course the boy didn't know Connie's ulterior motives. He had a feeling if he did he wouldn't agree to accepting the help so quickly.
“You don't know how much I appreciate this,” Sean said. “There has to be some way I can repay you.”
A joyous chorus of
sounded off in Connie's mind and a wicked leer spread across his lips. “Now that you mention it, Sean, there is.”
“Really?” Relief washed over the boy's features. “I feel better now. I don't like taking and not giving back. So, Uncle Connie what is it I can do for you to repay you for your kindness and generosity?”
“All I need is a pledge from you, boy-o.”
“Yes. A pledge of your loyalty.” Connie paused and cupped his arm around Sean's shoulder. “Do you remember the Braithreachas Don Saol?”
I am alone on the side walk.
Frantically trying to make it to the safe haven of my car.
You see, this part of the city is sketchy. The part of the city with abandoned builings, boarded up houses, and rusted, rotting cars lining the streets. Smoke unfurls from chimney’s, coating the midnight colored sky with an eerie fog. I’ve heard from a few of the kids on campus that gun shots, and howls in the night, are normal songs on the soundtrack that set the back drop for this part of town.
Soft breaths leave my lips.
Aside from that…
Maybe the kids on campus were wrong.
The silence swells and expands, deafening my clogging footsteps against the pavement. I’m nervous—wary—and I swear I can feel my heart pulsating in my throat.
Questions flood my mind like the brown, murky waters of the Ohio River. Why did the study group insist on coming to this part of town to cram for finals?
What was so special about Manzo’s Pizza Shop? Why couldn’t we go to a Pizza Hut or Papa John’s closer to the Carver University Campus?