In less than twelve hours C.J. Callahan's life would
be over, and there was nothing he could do about it.
His long–fingered hand loosely wrapped around a
long neck, C.J. sat in the back booth of his bar,
Callahan's, on the west side of New York and contemplated
his life...or what was left of it.
At 9: 00 AM sharp he'd take over running Callahan's
Software Company.C.L. tucked his dark head, then lifted it
to stare around the neighborhood bar that he'd first helped
his uncle operate for four years, then owned outright after
his uncle's death two years ago. The bar was as much as
part of him as his hands. His uncle, Robert Callahan, the
older and only brother of C.J.'s father, had felt the same
Because of C.J.'s love of Callahan's, his uncle had
willed the bar to C.J. and asked him to make sure
Callahan's reached the twenty–five year mark.C.J. had
accomplished that last year and looked forward to
twenty–five more and beyond...until fate said
As much as he didn't want to run the family–owned
software company, he didn't have a choice.His father and
brother's health no longer allowed them to keep the
grueling schedule and frantic pace and that left C.J., his
parents only other son.
The mournful sound of Wynton Marsalis's sax caused
C.J.'s usually erect broad shoulders to sag.His unflappable
sunny disposition was long gone.He felt as if every unhappy
note had been written just for him.Life had done a number
on him this time. It has taken him years to finally find
what he wanted to do with his life and, now that he had, it
was going to be snatched away from him.
"It's not that bad."
C.J. twisted his dark head to see Alex Stewart, one of
his two best friends, standing beside the booth."Why aren't
you still on your honeymoon?"
"Because I'm here."Alex tucked his six–foot trim
frame into the booth's other side.
C.J. grunted.Alex, a lawyer and a darn good one, had an
irritating way with words.He was also crazy in love with
his new bride, Dianne. They'd had a big lavish wedding a
little over a week ago at his parent's palatial estate in
California, and were supposed to still be in Paris.When
they weren't working, they were inseparable."Where's
"She had a stop to make," Alex answered, bracing his
arms on the wooden table. "Sin should be here any minute."
"And it won't change a thing."Sin was C.J.'s other best
friend. They had always been there for each other no matter
what.Sin had a way with women, thus the nickname.
C.J.'s hands closed around the bottle, then he cocked
his head as he saw Sin, tall and in as good of shape
physically as the athletes he matched with his corporate
clients, making his way toward them.His bearded face
serious for once; he was casually dressed in a polo shirt
and slacks, the same as Alex.C.J. preferred
tee–shirts and jeans.Callahan' Software employees
might dress casually, but his grandfather, the founder,
C.J.'s father and his brother, always wore a suit to work.
"Can you get me on a private jet to parts unknown?" he
asked as soon as Sin neared.
Sin was a phenomenally successful sports consultant with
his own Gulf Stream.Payton "Sin" Sinclair moved in some
very wealthy circles, but you'd never know it.He was as
laid back and down–to–earth as they came.
"If I thought it would help, you'd already be gone," Sin
answered in his straight–forward way.He sat beside
Alex when he slid over.
"We're here for you, man," Alex said.
C.J. knew it, but at the moment it wasn't much help.He
and Sin had been best friends since they were freshmen in
high school.Alex hadn't become a part of the strong bond
until he'd moved into the same apartment where C.J. and Sin
lived eight years ago.They were as close as you could get.
"Yeah, I know it's just –" C.J. began, but he was
interrupted by a loud whistle.His head came up and
around.Marsalis's sax shut off.C.J. came out of the booth
to see what was happening, then he couldn't believe his
Sitting on the bar, mic in hand was none other than
Maya, a six time Grammy winning blues singer from New
Orleans.Throwing him a kiss, she opened her mouth and
moaned, low and deep, and then began to sing about love
lost and never regained in her haunting voice.
For a moment he was transfixed by the sight and sound
of his favorite singer being in his bar in a red satin
dress that showed off every generous curve to
perfection.Maya had a breathy, whisky–coated voice
that grabbed a man by the throat, and tugged at the
emotions.She also had the homeliest face on the planet, but
he loved her music.No pretense, just jaw–dropping
power.Not many things were that way today.
A picture of a beautiful woman in a lavender dress tied
at the shoulders flashed before C.J.Her full skirt had
shown a tantalizing glimpse of black netting underneath
each time she'd moved in stiletto black heels.She'd smiled
up at him as he held her to him on the dance floor.He
pushed the image away before he could wrap his mind around
why he was thinking of her again.
Ever since that slow dance with her at Alex and Dianne's
wedding, he'd been thinking of Cicely St. John more and
more, of what would have happened if he had taken her to
his room and untied that dress.There was a reason why he
hadn't.At best they tolerated the other because she was
She was stuck up and had slammed his bar, not once but
twice.Once to his face, the other on her irritating blog.He
might have bent to be cordial for the sake of Alex and
Dianne, but if he never saw again it wouldn't bother him in
"Be back in a moment," Sin said, scooting out of the
booth.Alex was right behind him.
C.J. was still trying to figure out why Maya was there,
when he saw Dianne at the door beckoning Alex.Caught
between listening to Maya and finding out what was going
on, C.J. folded his arms and chose to listen to Maya.He was
past due for something good.
The last time he'd seen Maya was at Madras Gras a
couple of years ago when he, Alex, and Sin had gone to New
Orleans.They'd had a ball.The only time they had had more
fun was when they'd gone to Vegas for a championship boxing
match.They hadn't slept for three days.Even now, the memory
made him grin.What happened in Vegas definitely stayed in
There was a commotion at the door.C.J. jerked around and
frowned.Alex and Sin were coming through the door with four
other men carrying a long table.Even as C.J. moved to help
them and finally find out what was going on, he saw the
top.Green felt.A craps table.Behind them, another man
carried a roulette table, while two croupiers and three men
carried slot machines.
It hit C.J. at once and made him throw back his head and
laugh for the first time that day.Alex and Sin were
throwing him a casino party.Seemed they remembered the
vacation and the Madras Gras and were combining it into one
fabulous night.Still grinning, he watched them place the
craps table over the top of the pool table, push back
chairs for the roulette table, and place the three slot
machines on the tables pushed against the wall.
"I can't believe you did this," C.J. said, chuckling.
"Let's have some fun."Sin slapped a pair of dice into
C.J.'s hand."This time I plan to walk away the winner."
"In your dreams," C.J. turned and with an agile flick
of his wrist sent the dice tumbling.Seven.
Sin folded his arms and shook his dark head."At least
the food will be better."He inclined his head toward the
C.J. spun in that direction to see his cousin, Summer
Radcliffe, owner of the famed Five–Star Radcliffe's
restaurant, setting up food on the other end of the
bar.Dianne, Alex's wife, was passing out tickets to the
patrons.At the end of Maya's song, Dianne accepted the mic
and beckoned Sin and Alex.
Alex curved his arm around Dianne's waist and took the
mic."We figured a lot of regulars would be at Callahan's on
a Sunday night so Sin and the two beautiful women beside us
and I thought it would be the perfect time to throw C.J. a
little good luck party for his new job as CEO of Callahan
Applause, whistles and cheers filled the bar.Alex handed
the mic to Sin.
"Summer Radcliffe, the beautiful woman in magenta, is
the famed owner of Radcliffe's, so you're about to taste
the best food in the state.And because we value you, the
bar is closed.You can have one ticket for an alcoholic
beverage and unlimited anything else.You'll also be given
fifty dollars in chips to play to your heart's content". He
paused and looked at C.J."Good luck on getting a chance at
the craps table.It's C.J.'s favorite."
C.J. held up the dice."It's my party."
"Another favorite of C.J. is Maya who graciously came in
from New Orleans for the party."Sin turned to her.
The buxom singer leaned toward him and purred, "I could
use a little company on that private jet of your back to
Sin grinned, a wicked smile in his bearded
face."Sometimes a man knows when he might get in over his
head."He gave her the mic."Maya."
Taking the mic, the singer looked at C.J."You're too
handsome and too happy to feel as deeply as you do about
the blues, sugar."
C.J. took her hand, brushed his lips across the
top."Blame it on that voice of yours."
Maya cocked her head to one side to look thoughtfully at
C.J. and then Sin."You two are too carefree to have had
your hearts broken, but one day it will come, and when it
does, I want you to remember that love is worth every
Straightening, she closed her eyes and began to sing
about a man giving his heart to the wrong woman, the
wrenching pain, the unforgettable pleasure.
C.J. and Sin shared a self–assured grin that said
no woman would ever leave them heartbroken.They were always
the one to walk away.Throwing Maya a kiss, C.J. happily
headed for the craps table with Sin and Alex right behind
him.If he was going to his execution in the morning,
tonight he was having fun.
Cicely St. John hadn't planned to come to the party they
were giving C.J. until Dianne mentioned they were having a
craps table. Cicely had always been glad she didn't live in
Vegas or anywhere they had legal gambling.She'd have to
join Gambling Anonymous.
There was something about the roll of the dice that
pulled her.Like life, you never knew what would come
up.Hers certainly hadn't gone the way she planned.Pushing
the unhappy thought away, she entered Callahan's Bar and
found the party in full swing.
People were dancing, laughing, and in general having a
great time.The woman singing had a voice that made you want
to move your body or cry in despair.The sight tonight was
very different from the last time she'd been at Callahan's.
She'd been there with a photographer taking photographs
for her fashion blog to help Dianne and Alex's new fashion
line, D & A of NY, gain some much–needed publicity.As
the fashion director for Fashion Insider, one of the top
high fashion magazines in the world, she had gained a
reputation for finding the next big thing ahead of the
crowd.She'd liked Dianne's designs for full–figured
women and wanted to use her blog to help.
However, from the moment she and C.J. had met, they had
mixed as well as oil and water.He'd been proud of the fact
that his bar was a man's bar.They didn't even serve wine.He
hadn't even wanted the name of the bar mentioned when she
did her blog.She was happy to oblige.If he didn't want the
free publicity, his loss.
Yet, somehow, at Dianne and Alex's wedding they'd ending
up on the dance floor together. Everyone was having a great
time at the reception.The champagne had been excellent, the
food scrumptious.C.J. hadn't stepped on her feet and had
been a surprisingly good dancer.There had been a moment
when the music ended and she'd looked up at him and had the
strangest urge to press her lips against his.She'd quickly
quelled the idiotic notion and left him on the floor.
Now, shaking her head, she accepted the gaming chips and
drink tickets. She ordered a Pellegrino and began to
circulate, the skirt of her multicolor silk dress swirling
around her long legs.Bohemian fashion had been in the
previous summer.She still enjoyed the free, easy look and
wore what pleased her.
Searching for Dianne, Summer, and the gaming tables, in
that order, she moved to the other end of the bar.
A short distance away, she saw the table and a man
she'd like to forget.Never one to shy away from a
challenge, she continued toward the table while sipping her
C.J., shaking the dice, had a hard frown on his
too–handsome face.Apparently Lady Luck wasn't being
kind to him.Grinning, she edged her way to the end of the
table just as the dice stopped in front of her.Snake eyes.
C.J.'s gaze lanced upward.Their gaze locked.She felt a
strange tingling in the pit of her stomach, and quickly
attributed it to a missed lunch and a chocolate bar for
dinner. With her hectic schedule, Sundays were just as much
a work day for her as any other.
She'd gone over three articles for the coming issue,
dropped by a fashion shoot in New Jersey, gone to a fashion
show, and afterwards returned home to blog until her
stomach reminded her she hadn't eaten, and now she was here.
And it seemed she had arrived just in time to have a
She tipped her bottle of water.Several gold bracelets
with stones the same
colors as her dress, jiggled on her wrist."Hey,
fellows.Looks like beginner's luck isn't with you tonight,
Alex and Sin, standing on either side of C.J., burst
out laughing. Sin explained, "C.J. is an excellent player."
Cicely lifted a regal brow and took another sip."Could
have fooled me."
"I guess you could do better," C.J. challenged, his jaw
Cicely didn't even think of declining.She'd had to
fight all of her life to fit in, fight to get where she
was.Scooping up the dice with her left hand, she rounded
the table and held out her bottle to C.J.
Hard black eyes drilled into her for so long that her
stomach got that free–falling sensation again.She
resisted the urge to rub her stomach or drop her gaze and
ordered her hand not to shake.She could bluff with the best
of them.She'd had to in order to survive.
Finally, blessedly, C.J. took the bottle.If he noticed
the little zip when their fingers touched, he certainly
didn't show it. Her unwanted reaction to him was just
enough to tick her off even more and bring out the killer
instinct she'd learned in the world of fashion.The weak
Facing the table, she placed half her chips on top,
shook the dice in her hand, then let them fly.Seven
Sin patted C.J.'s back in sympathy.Alex whistled.
The croupier handed her the dice again along with a
pile of chips.She leaned over the table.She'd show him.And
she did when, in less than two minutes she had won all the
A cocky grin on her face she turned to C.J.Careful not
to touch him, she took her bottle from his clenched hand,
took a sip and almost purred, "You were saying?"
C.J. looked as if he'd like to have her head.
"Cicely, why don't we get something to eat," Summer
suggested, taking her by the arm.
Dianne grabbed the other arm."Summer, as usual, outdid
herself with the food."
Well aware that they're trying to get her away from
C.J. before he blew, Cicely let them lead her away.She'd
made her point.She'd bested the man who probably thought
the only places for women were the bedroom and the
kitchen.But she couldn't resist giving C.J. one last
triumphant look over her shoulder.
She laughed when she thought she heard him growl.Sin
and Alex's gaze snapped from her to C.J..Clearly they
didn't know what to expect from him either.Remembering how
hungry she was, Cicely faced forward, a smile still curving
With her plate in her hand, Cicely and the women found
a relatively quiet area where she could eat.Unfortunately
she was facing the craps table.
Despite the crowd, she had no difficulty finding
C.J.He, Alex and Sin stood out, not just because of their
height or gorgeous looks, but because the
self–assured way they carried themselves set them
apart.His gaze touched hers, and she felt that strange
something again. It took all of her effort to look away.
Of all the men and all the times for her sleeping libido
to awaken, now was the worse.C.J. was a throwback, and even
if he wasn't, she hoped to be in Paris in less than six
weeks as the new editor–in–chief for her
magazine's international office.She didn't have time for a
man, any man.
Across the room, C.J. half–listened to Sin while
watching Cicely.Tall, elegant, she had black eyes that
could tempt a man to sin from thirty–feet
away.Classically beautiful, she had lips meant to be kissed
– often – and incredibly soft skin.His frown
deepened.He hadn't missed the flash of awareness when their
fingers brushed against each other.It had taken all of his
will power to hide his reaction that, even now, puzzled and
How could he be attracted to the woman who slammed his
bar?Just the thought annoyed him.
The bar was like an old friend, always there offering
comfort and accepting no matter what.Men needed a place to
come and just be, a place they didn't have to talk or try
to explain the impossible or reason, just shoot the bull
and have a good beer while watching a game without being
asked to take out the trash or talk about their feelings.
Callahan's Bar provided that and more.Yet, that didn't
seem to matter to Miss Snuck–up Cicely.Now, she was
here thumbing her pretty nose at him and beating him at
He'd known she was trouble from the moment he'd seen
her.Hopefully this would be the last time.Turning away, he
put her firmly out of his mind.