Chapter 1 - Missouri Loves Company
When Emma Connelly graduated at the top of her class at Columbia University, she was certain she was going to prove her parents wrong – she was going to make a career of journalism. She had received offers from news organizations from all across the country. Only one newspaper, The Kansas City Times, promised an opportunity to cover the political world. The opportunity would be a perfect fit for her dual degrees in Journalism and Political Science. But dreams are funny and sometimes fickle things.
Emma had only been in Jefferson City, Missouri for a few days before her editor sat her down and broke the news that she would not be covering the politicos as expected. It seemed the promised and coveted position was not available to be filled. The newspaper had a reporter out on maternity leave and jumped the gun assuming she wouldn’t return. And for Emma, it was worse than just her dream job vanishing in front of her eyes. She’d spent every penny she had for her move, in the cozy but comfortable apartment, and the first new furnishings she’d had since leaving home. With the rug getting pulled out, there was no way to recoup all the lost funds. Breaking the lease on her apartment and losing the security deposit was a huge blow, as was having to rent the moving van to take her belongings with her. Selling them through the classifieds had almost seemed a better prospect but the idea of spending her nights in a sleeping bag just didn’t appeal to her.
But then having to move to the western part of the state, finding new accommodations there, in an area where everything was that much more expensive? Emma wondered who was trying to break her now, and why. While she knew she was lucky to still have a job at the paper, the job they offered her seemed an utter waste of her knowledge and skills. Now her recorders and notepads were filled with notes on the sports scene.
Sports? What the hell did she care about sports? In the almost year she’d spent in the greater Kansas City area, Emma had found some things that made the job worthwhile: friends, ones who genuinely cared for her and enjoyed her company. A rather novel concept, she mused, for someone who could be the literal image of social ineptitude.
Still, through it all, Emma tried to make the best of the situation. Even if she did know little about Missouri and the twangy drawl of its natives, she was learning loads about all the local sports franchises – baseball, football, and even a handful of hockey games over in St. Louis. And while much of the action still seemed silly to Emma, she’d come to know and understand the terminology, to recognize talent in individuals, to even appreciate a well-done action on the field or ice.
Would she have that appreciation without the Malones, her Bostonian brethren, who’d taken her under their wing, showed her the area and often opened their home for long conversations? Maybe not – and it still made Emma laugh to think about how she’d met them, maybe the second or third baseball game she’d attended, and her blatant staring at the man who now was more like her big brother…
One Year Earlier
“He’s gorgeous.” She hadn't meant to say it out loud, but the sight of his dark hair, arms covered with tattoos, and a stance that seemed to make everyone around him stop and give him another look. He obviously loved his jeans, and clear to her and anyone else that was looking, that love was mutual.
She blushed when she noted she had a companion beneath the ice cream stand, more so when the other woman agreed with her assessment. “He so is. Look at those lashes. I know several women who would cut off their left arms for lashes like that.” And as Emma edged a bit forward to get a better look, she saw the woman spoke the truth. The stud not only was drop dead gorgeous, he had lashes she would kill for! On some men, that much lash would look silly, but on him, they made his brown eyes stand out even more.
Shaking her head just a bit, Emma grabbed a napkin and tucked it in her pocket, murmuring at the other woman, “If I keep staring, I’m going to start drooling. And that would be wicked embarrassing.”
“Oh yeah. Especially if his wife showed up and caught you drooling.”
Blinking, Emma turned to get a better look at the woman beside her, and found green eyes filled with laughter gazing back at her. As her own eyes widened, the other woman raised her hand, revealing her wedding ring, and Emma paled, whispering in a low tone, “Shit.” Her instinct was to bolt, to run back to the relative safety of the press box, but before she even made it a step, a well-manicured hand closed around her arm.
“Fortunately, his wife is used to people drooling. Though she is less used to people throwing around the word ‘wicked’ in normal conversation.” Though Emma still hadn’t turned around, she could hear the amusement in the other woman’s voice, and after another moment, she heard her call out loudly, “Devin, c’mere!” At this, she finally turned, trying to keep the blush from burning into her cheeks.
Within a moment, tall dark and handsome himself was standing in front of them, looking them both up and down with a look of delight on his face that matched that of his wife’s. “What’s doin’?”
Before she could even stop herself, the familiar words slipped off her tongue and Emma answered, “Not much.”
At this, the couple exchanged another look and then grinned, all while Emma lowered her eyes and blushed profusely. By this point the other woman had let go of her arm, and she knew she could have escaped. And yet she found herself unable, unwilling to leave. “She’s decked out too nicely to be a fan. So who is she?” The husband asked and, though Emma continued to blush, she was grateful she’d put suitable clothes on to work in, rather than the jeans she had been considering.
“I hadn’t gotten that far yet. She threw out a wicked and I called you over.”
“It’s okay sweetie. I don’t bite. ‘Cept the Missus. An that’s only when she’s askin’ me too.” Emma looked up quick at his teasing, and found a way to blush even more crimson than she’d thought possible. She promptly stared at the ground again until she felt the woman’s hand back on her arm once more.
“You’ve piqued our interest. Who are you? And why on earth would you leave Massachusetts for this god forsaken place?”
“Because they hired me.” Emma blurted out, immediately bringing her hands to her mouth. Why was she telling these people anything? Why wasn’t she running like hell? Why wasn’t she…
“No, the Times.” And she did it again. She was never this forthcoming with anyone, and yet these people had already managed to get her to slip into an Eastern Massachusetts accent and identify her employer!
This time it was a male hand settling on her arm, and Emma’s eyes darted over to it before looking back down at the ground again. “Let us buy you a beah.” He paused for a moment, then asked. “Ya legal, right?”
“I’ll be 22 in a bit over a month.” Emma confirmed and then stood in place, dumbstruck for a moment. “This is crazy. I don’t even know you two, and you’ve somehow convinced me to join you for drinks. This is ludicrous. This is...”
“Two Bostonians welcoming in another. Go get ya stuff. Trust me. Ya gonna stick out like a saw thumb here anyways, may as well make friends with people who can at least understand ya.”
Snorting in a rather unladylike manner, Emma nonetheless pulled away from their dual grasps and pulled her press credentials out of her pocket, murmuring at them. “And where should I meet you two?”
“Bang a uey outta the main pahkin’ lot. Take the highway into Independence. First exit, look for O’Callaghan’s Pub. We’ll be there, buy ya a beah.”
Emma could only shake her head as she scurried over to the elevator that would take her back up to the press area. Eight years she’d spent away from her damnable hometown, between boarding school and university, having the accent trained out of her so she’d sound like a ‘normal’ person, and in 5 minutes, she’d managed to slip right back into it and find perhaps the only two people in Missouri who would catch on and call her on it.
Her parents would so not be amused.