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Off Course by Bennett, Sawyer (1)

PROLOGUE

Renner

Five Years Ago

This is my last night in Dublin and while I've had the best time hanging out with my cousin, Cady and her best friend, Teagan, I'm ready to head home. I miss my mom and dad. Hell, I even miss my pain in the ass brother, Flynn, and my cousins, Nix and Linc, but I'd never admit that to them in a hundred years. I've lived my whole life in the shadow of the Caldwell boys and it's been nice just hanging with girls for a change.

I've been here all summer, visiting with my mom's family. She was born and raised in Dublin but has been in the States since her college days. This trip is my parents' high school graduation present to me, and I've had more fun than a soon-to-be-eighteen-year-old should be having. Cady and Teagan have gone overboard showing me a good Irish time, and I'm getting ready to head out for another evening of flirting with and gawking at cute Irish boys.

Unfortunately, Teagan has headed off for a short holiday with her parents in London, so it's up to me to keep Cady in check tonight. They are both wilder than I am, but since I only have Cady to watch over, it shouldn't be too difficult tonight.

Putting on the finishing touches to my makeup, my bedroom door flies open and Cady walks in, plopping down on my bed. She looks hot in a pair of skinny jeans and an off-the-shoulder t-shirt that is knotted at her stomach, exposing several inches of skin. I glance down at my outfit and feel almost school-marmish in comparison. I'm wearing a pair of khaki pants, a white silk blouse, and a pale green cardigan with mother-of-pearl buttons. At least the sweater makes my green eyes go a shade lighter, and that’s something, right?

Turning to Cady, I slip on my watch and latch it. "So, what are we doing tonight?"

Cady turns on her back and blows a large bubble from the chewing gum in her mouth. When it pops, she draws it back into her mouth and says, "The question is, dear Renner, what aren't we going to do tonight? I'm feeling the need to get into some trouble."

I roll my eyes at Cady but smile as I listen to her musical lilt. She's a mischievous devil. She wears her dark—almost black—hair in a shoulder-length bob but the bottom two inches is bleached blond. Uncle Keefe always grouches to her that he's going to sneak in her room one night and cut the ends off so it's all the same color again. He’s only teasing though. He pretty much lets Cady do whatever she wants, and she's fond of reminding him that she gets good grades in school and has not been arrested even once in her young life. Besides, Cady's idea of getting into trouble is sneaking beers to me at the nightclub we'll likely be hitting tonight and flirting outrageously with any guy that will accept such attention.

Standing up from the chair that sits in front of my vanity table, I walk over to the antique mirror in the corner. I do a once-over and can't help but sigh. I look fifteen years old in my outfit. If our goal tonight is to do a bunch of shameless flirting, no boy is going to look twice at me dressed this way.

"Want me to lend you some clothes?" Cady says from behind me, reading my mind. I glance over my shoulder and she's avidly watching me peruse myself in the full-length mirror.

For just a split second, I think about taking her up on her offer. For just one night, go a little crazy. Maybe show a little cleavage or some leg. But the moment is fleeting and I just shake my head at her. When it boils down to it, I don't have the same courage that Cady does. I don't feel natural in my body or with the way I look. I'm hoping one day I can grow some confidence, but for now, I'll be content to stay in her shadow tonight.

Cady pops off the bed and grabs my hand. "Well...come on then. We'll say goodbye to Mam and Da, and be on our way."

***

"Are you sure this is the right place?" I ask as we step inside the dingy pub. I grimace as my shoes stick to the floor with every step I take. I'm hoping it's just spilled beer and not some type of bodily fluid.

"Yes," Cady acknowledges with a grin. "This is the place."

Ordinarily, this isn't the type of pub that Cady would bring me to, but she said a friend of hers that’s in a band is playing here tonight and she wants to see him. We manage to elbow our way to the bar and Cady orders two Beamish Stouts for us. The bartender doesn't look twice at me but he gives Cady an appreciative once over.

"Here ye are, darlin'," he says as he hands over the pints glasses. Cady gives the bartender a wink and then leads me over to a table near the stage. It says "Reserved—Cady" on a piece of paper sitting on it.

"What's the band's name?" I ask.

"Over The Edge," she replies as she glances around, checking out the scenery.

"You have a reserved table. Are you like a groupie or something?"

Cady laughs and then takes a sip of her beer. "No. But my parents took Cillian in for few years when his parents were having some issues and I'm like a baby sister to him. He told me he'd have a table set aside for us."

"Hey! Isn't Killian a beer?"

Cady just looks at me like I'm an idiot. "Silly, Yank. It's Cillian with a 'C'. Killian with a 'K' is the Anglicized version of the Irish name and I believe you're right... ye Yanks do have a beer by that name."

I flash her a saucy grin and take a seat at the table beside her. Glancing around, I can see the pub is quite packed with an eclectic mix of people. I have no clue what sort of music Cillian plays but if I had to take a guess, the sheer number of tattooed and pierced Irish in the bar leads me to believe rock or punk.

We chat for a bit but before too long, all of the lights in the pub dim, throwing the stage we are sitting in front of into total darkness. A hush falls over the crowd, and then the silence is broken by a shrill whistle from someone in the back. I hear the clack, clack, clack as the unseen drummer beats his drumsticks together. Then the stage explodes with noise as the band rips into its first number.

As suspected, the opening guitar riffs are harsh, wild, and edgy, reminding me of some of the metal rock that Flynn insisted on blaring from his room back home.

Several floor lights on the stage are glowing, illuminating the band members with sort of a hazy vagueness. I can't see any of their features, just the outlines of their bodies shadowed by the soft light. I have no clue which one is Cady's friend, Cillian, but I'm positive it's not the bassist. That is clearly a female because I can see a femininely curved body and hip-length hair swinging back and forth in the dimness.

Then, a lone spotlight comes down on the lead guitarist just as the lyrics begin. He stops playing the guitar, swinging it to his hip, and grabs a hold of the microphone in front of him. The music slows and softens, and I'm entranced as he starts singing.

He's tall and lean...almost gangly. And he's young...maybe just a few years older than I am. He's Black Irish...what Americans like to term Irishmen that have dark hair, olive skin, and dark eyes. His hair is long and shaggy, falling forward over his eyes as he sings and just brushing the tips of his shoulders. I take in the fact that he is dressed in faded, black jeans that are tucked into black combat boots, a white t-shirt, and a faded, red-plaid shirt. As he holds the microphone with both hands, I notice he has several leather bracelets around each wrist and just a peek of tattoos shining through.

He is, quite simply, the hottest guy I've ever seen in my entire life, and I'm sure it has everything to do with the fact he's on a stage singing in the most sexy, caramel rich voice I've ever heard in my life.

She goes down, down, down...

I push her down, down, down...

Hot breath, moist lips...

She goes down, down, down...

My face flames red as I listen to the lyrics.

Cady leans over to me but she practically has to yell so I can hear her. "Cillian's good, isn't he?"

I just nod at her. That also answers my question...Cillian is the band's lead singer.

Taking another sip of my beer, I get lost in his music, the atmosphere, and the wildness of Cillian.

His lips graze the microphone as he sings and I can't help but wonder what they would feel like sliding over my lips in the same way. At one point, he looks down to our table and a quick smile comes to his face when he sees Cady. She waves at him and his smile turns bigger. His gaze moves off Cady in a casual way, checking out the people around. His eyes skim over and pass me by, and I feel disappointment. But just as that brief glimpse moves over me, his eyes snap right back to mine. I can see his eyebrows rise under his shaggy bangs, and then he gets an almost sensual smile on his face. I feel the redness still staining my face get brighter and start creeping down my neck under his bold perusal.

But I hold his look.

I force myself not to let my shyness prevail. I pretend that he is singing only for me.

And he doesn't look away from me for the rest of the song.

***

Over The Edge has finished their last set and people are pouring out of the bar. I feel like I've drank about five Starbuck Mochachinos as I'm buzzing from a flirting high. All night, Cillian stared at me as he sang. Not in a creepy way. He looked around, taking in all the pub's patrons rocking to his beat. But his gaze often came back to rest on me for several long moments at a time. It was usually when he was singing about something super sexy, and I won't lie—the sensation of having someone singing to you is thrilling.

Cillian's music was raw, with most of the songs played in an almost wild frenzy. His voice is deep and slightly gravelly, enabling him to hoarsely shout many of the lyrics but still make them sound like you want to get stoned to a pleasurable death by them. Some of his songs were slower, almost ballad like and I noticed that his voice would lose some of the graveled quality, sounding richer...softer. No matter what he was singing, his voice was entrancing to me.

We're waiting outside of the bar where OTE played, which I am just now noticing is simply called Mac's Place. Cady wants to see Cillian, and frankly, I want a closer look as well. My nerves are humming just over the thought of meeting him. I’m equal parts nervous, terrified and excited, feelings that make me almost want to puke.

Said nerves fire into overdrive when Cady breaks out into a huge smile as she glimpses someone behind me. With a squeal, she jets around me. I turn to see her launching herself into the arms of the man who stared at me all night. He grabs her in a big bear hug, lifting her tiny body clear off the ground. Wrapping her arms around him tightly, she buries her nose in his neck. He returns her hug but lifts his eyes to capture mine and a tiny smirk graces his lips.

After Cillian puts Cady back on terra firma, she grabs his hand and drags him over to me. Again, those dark eyes of his hold mine like a magnet and my body warms then tingles with anticipation.

"Cillian...this is my cousin, Renner Caldwell. Renner...this is my friend, and of course you already know the most amazing musician, Cillian O'Bradaigh."

"Hi," I say. "You were great tonight. I really enjoyed watching you."

"Likewise," he replies with a predatory smile, obviously referencing the fact he stared at me from the stage most of the evening. I glance at Cady and she rolls her eyes at his obvious flirtation.

"Cady, why didn't you tell me your Yank cousin was so beautiful?"

Cillian asks this question of Cady but he stares at me the entire time. My pulse starts galloping away.

Cady sighs loudly. "Quit being such an eejit, Cillian. Everyone in Mac's could tell you're interested in her by the way you stared at her all night."

I’m so embarrassed because Cady calls him out on the carpet like that, but it doesn't seem to bother Cillian in the slightest because he says with a devilish smile, "Just staking my claim is all."

"Bloody fool," Cady grumbles but Cillian and I share a look, and he knows I'm interested in him too.

"So... you ladies fashion going to a party with me tonight?"

***

I'm having the best time since I've been in Ireland all summer. Cillian brought us to a party at the house of one of his band mates, who I haven't had the chance to meet yet. All night, Cillian is stuck to my side. He introduces me to some of his friends, and eventually his arm winds around my waist to hold me close to him. I revel in the feeling, especially since it's been awhile since I've had a boyfriend. It's extra nice, because Cillian is clearly a guy that women are interested in. Other girls blatantly come on to him, but he only seems to notice me.

I finish my beer and Cillian leaves to get me another. I use the opportunity to take a quick peek around for Cady and see her playing beer pong in the kitchen. She doesn't seem too drunk, for which I'm thankful. I don't look forward to helping her stumble home.

When Cillian returns, his hands are empty. Before I can say anything, he grabs my wrist and leads me down a hallway into a bedroom. After closing the door, he turns to me and takes my face in his hands. I know I should be worried as to what this means, but I'm buzzed not only on beer, but also with the excitement of being alone with him. It makes me feel daring and reckless, two things that are foreign to me.

Stepping in close, he leans down and whispers against my lips, "I've been wanting to kiss you all night and I'm tired of waiting."

He doesn't wait for me to respond. He doesn't care if I want the same thing. He just presses his lips against mine, and because I do, in fact, want the same thing, my mouth opens willingly.

Cillian kisses me slow and deep and I am lost. My hands come up to his chest and my fingers curl into his t-shirt. Pulling back slightly, he murmurs against my mouth, "Cailín álainn."

I don't know what he said but I recognize it's Gaelic. It sounded like "coll-een aw-leen" and with this Irish lilt, I think they are the most beautiful words I’ve ever heard. Before I can ask the translation, he is kissing me again, and suddenly, I could care less what it means.

His lips are soft but controlling. His tongue isn’t shy and it claims my mouth as if he has owned it for my entire life. Feelings that I’ve never experienced race through my body. My heart thumps madly in my chest and my entire existence seems to boil down to the fact that I am in Cillian’s arms.

My young body is demanding to know what comes next, but my virginal status makes me a bit leery as to where this is heading. I've made out plenty of times with my ex-boyfriend in high school, but he knew I never had any intention of going all the way with him. Thus, he never really tried to push me any further than some hot kisses and clumsy groping. It's probably why he broke up with me, just before graduation... because I wouldn't have sex with him.

Oh well.

But Cillian's mouth on mine is like nothing I've ever experienced and for the first time...ever...I truly wonder what sex is like. His kisses are heady and fill me with a yearning that I didn't know I possessed inside of me. When one of his hands glides lightly over my breast, I can't help the soft moan that comes out of my mouth. My moan seems to elicit a responding growl from Cillian and our kiss becomes deeper.

Emboldened, Cillian's hands start to roam a bit further, and I find that I want him to plunder every bit of me.

At least I want that, at first. My inhibitions are lowered from the alcohol and my common sense is blurred from the exhilaration of making out with a hot musician. But when one of his hands starts to undo the button on my pants, I start to snap out of the lust-induced haze I'm in.

My hand covers his and I say, "Wait."

Cillian slowly pulls his hand away and takes a small step back. His eyes search my face. "Too fast for you?"

I nod shyly, looking down at the floor. "I'm sorry. I can't."

"Don't be sorry, cailín álainn. Just be you." He smiles at me warmly and he doesn't look mad at all. "It's not a problem."

Giving me a kiss on my forehead, Cillian takes my hand and leads me back out to the party. My head is spinning, because God help me I wanted him to go further. I chew on my lip, wondering if I made a mistake... wondering if I missed a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to become a woman in the most sinfully naughty of ways. To give it up to a gorgeous Irish musician who I would probably never see again.

But no... I remember Cillian's last words. Just be you.

And I know I did the right thing, and clearly, he respected that.

Dropping me back off in Cady's care, Cillian tells me he'll be back and melts into the crowd.

"Where were you two?" Cady asks as she grabs my arm.

"Um..."

"You didn't... you and he didn't...?"

"God no, Cady. We just... kissed."

"He kissed you? I'm going to kill him."

"No, you're not," I admonish her. "Besides... it was nice and he was a gentleman."

Cady gave huge snort. "Cillian? A gentleman? That wanker doesn't want anything but to get in a girl's pants, Ren. I love him to death but he's not for you."

"How do you know he's not for me?"

"Well... for one... you live in the States. He lives here. But mainly, because he doesn't take girls seriously. He's just in it for... you know... the sex."

Cillian didn't seem that way with me. He didn't come on to me in an overtly sexual way, and his kisses, while steamy, were above board. He stopped when I asked him to stop, and he didn't make me feel guilty or call me a tease.

Cady glances at her watch. "Shit... we have to go. Da's goin' to kill us because we're out so late."

"Uncle Keefe is going to kill us because we've been drinking."

"Nah. We both turn eighteen in just a few months. Besides, as long as we get home safe, it's easy to smooth his feathers."

She takes my hand and starts leading me toward the door. I start to pull away from her because I want to say goodbye to Cillian. I want to give him my email address and ask him to stay in touch with me. As I'm thinking this, my eyes are scanning the party, looking desperately for that dark, shaggy head.

Then I see him... in the corner... with his arms around another girl, kissing her deeply. His hands are on her waist, pulling her hips flush with his.

My heart actually bottoms out with disappointment. I'm disappointed in Cillian that he could so easily forget that we were just kissing, and I'm disappointed in myself that I stopped him. Most of all, I'm disappointed that any of this is even bothering me in the first place, because come tomorrow, I'll be on a plane back home to the States and I'll never see him again.

Cady gives my hand another tug and pulls me out the door—the entire time I'm looking at Cillian kiss that girl.

Cady was right. I was nothing to him. When I said no, he didn't push me or pester me to give it up. And why would he? He could snap his fingers and have any other girl at that party in his arms in a matter of seconds.

Which is exactly what he did.

Suddenly, my longing for home grows tenfold. Just minutes ago, I was yearning to feel Cillian's body against mine, now I'm just yearning to get back to New Jersey and have my mom wrap her arms around me in a hug.

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