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Mythical Creatures

Mythical Creatures

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There was something scarier than flying: falling in love with Callum Callaghan.
He was the confident playboy who never promised more than one night. Back in college he was my friend, and the boy who could’ve broken my heart, if I’d trusted him with it.
Instead, I chose his best friend.

The last time I saw him, he looked at the heart I held in my hands and walked away.
It hadn’t been my heart.
It had been his.

A decade later, Callum and I are thrown together under the African sun. We're here to save animals, but this could be a second chance with the boy whose heart I still hold.

But can I trust him with mine?

Mythical Creatures is part of the Callaghan Green series but can be read as a stand-alone. Full of very steamy scenes that are hotter than the African sun, inappropriate family texts, a touch of angst and a second chance romance with a HEA and no cheating.

Main tropes:

  • Lovers to enemies to lovers
  • Second chance romance
  • Set in Africa and London

Intro to Chapter One

Chapter One - Callum

My favourite book when I was a kid was Peter Pan.  I suppose I identified with the Lost Boys and maybe wondered what it was like to be part of them.  They were all looking for a place to belong and then they found Wendy and she became that place.  

Marie was my Wendy: the stepmother that was anything but horrid because in fact she was our saviour.  I remembered the day she arrived in our too big, too empty house, or maybe I made up the memories based on my elder siblings’ accounts because I was barely a toddler at the time.  This loud, hugely tiny woman came into the hallway, her American accent mingled with Irish brogue and she swore as she saw the four of us for the first time, four ragamuffin children who had no idea that chocolate wasn’t a proper breakfast and that bed sheets needed to be changed.

“Jesus holy fucking sunshine, look at the states of you.  Shite, I shouldn’t swear.  I’m Marie.  Think of me as the nanny you’re not going to be able to scare away.”

And we didn’t.

Thank fuck.

I checked my phone one last time before I needed to switch it to airplane mode for the duration of the flight. As I predicted, I had a message from Marie, the ‘nanny’ who I now called mum, or if I really wanted to piss her off, mother.

Mum: Don’t catch any STD’s while you’re abroad.

I eyed the flight attendants who were too busy dealing with storing people’s hand luggage to pay attention to me.

Me: Going to Africa for six weeks is pretty much enforcing my celibacy.  Bestiality has never been in my repertoire.

Mum:  I know you, Callum Callaghan.  I give you two hours and you’ll have an air stewardess in the mile-high club.

Me: The politically correct term is flight attendant.

Marie: The non-politically correct terms are clap clinic and child support.  I hope you have condoms in your hand luggage.

Me: Do you give Seph this same advice?

There was a lull, probably because she was bossing my father about or deciding what to say.  Seph was my younger half-brother and occasionally clueless, but most of the time he was hiding his intelligence behind fake glasses and idiotic charm.

Mum: Yes, but he receives clearer instructions.  Just promise me that this is for six weeks and you’re not going to found some animal reservation or vet training program and stay out there for a year.

This was an easy promise.  Eighteen months ago, it couldn’t have been.  Then I’d have been jonesing for a reason to hide from England and, by default, my family.  Now I didn’t really want to leave.

Me: Promise.  Back in six weeks, home for four, then back out for another six and we’re done.  Nothing long term and you could always fly out and visit.

Mum: We’ll see.  Be good.  And if you can’t be good, wrap it up.

Me: Always ;) 

I fussed with the phone and turned it onto flight mode, stuffing it in the old backpack I was using for hand luggage.  This wasn’t my first rodeo to Africa or most other places.  I’d got lucky.  Somewhere along the line I’d met a magic unicorn, rubbed its horn and got three wishes.  See the world and save animals.  Those two were pretty magical.  The third I’d never made.  Never known what else I’d wanted.

My fellow traveller was late, which was prolonging the agony.  If I could’ve met her weeks ago when it had been confirmed that it would be her, I would’ve.  Ten years since I’d seen her.  A decade.  Since then, we’d managed to keep at least a continent between us.  We’d never attended the same reunions or meet ups between mutual friends; we hadn’t even crossed paths at conferences or when we’d both attended the same wildlife refuge for the same event, just on different days.

Serendipity Jones was the brilliant girl who’d always beat me to the top of the honours charts.  She had been the quiet, studious student, who’d oozed magnetism and had a way with animals and people alike without even trying.  Where I had been almost arrogant and slept my way through five years of vet school, she’d been the girl everyone had wanted to either marry or be.

She was the reason I almost turned this gig down.  Twelve weeks, filming animals in Africa and then over in the Far East, getting enough footage for a documentary and linking it back to my work at London Zoo.  It was nothing to do with the money.  This was about the donation the production company were donating specifically to the research project on big cats that I was leading.  They’d wanted me, so I was here.

Just fucking nervous.

“Here’s your seat, Miss Jones.”  The flight attendant was smiling, directing Serendipity to her seat.  I didn’t want to look, wanting to remain in my bubble where this girl didn’t exist, but like watching a horror movie, I just couldn’t fucking do it.

Serendipity – known as Wren – Jones was everything I remembered and nothing I could recall.  Small framed, like the bird she was nick-named after, her brown hair was now cut short, shaped into her neck.  Her eyes looked even bigger.  Puppy-dog eyes.  Eyes I’d never been able to say no to.

Except once.

After which, I’d lost any right to ever say yes again.  Not my finest hour.

She looked older, her cheekbones sharper, her eyes wiser and she was thin with bigger tits than I recalled.

My dick sat up.  He hadn’t forgotten.

“Thank you.”  She sat down, having not even cast a glance my way.  

If this was how it was going to be for the next four months, I may as well quit now.  

“How are you?” I broke the silence between us.

She didn’t turn her head.  “Very well.  How are you?”

Civil.  Cool.  No charm being wasted on me.

“Good.”  I didn’t know what else to say.  There were more pleasantries, the things Marie had taught us to say when she was trying to mould us into something that resembled civilised human children rather than ones who had been brought up by wolves, but they would be wasted.

We both faced forwards.  Looked at the screens that were showing what in-flight entertainment would be available.  No need to look at each other.

Fuck knows how we’d get through the next few months. We had to be on camera together, discuss animals, probably operate together.

I should’ve said no.

I should’ve said a lot of things.

Instead of trying to talk, I pulled out the itinerary sent to us by Gemma, the production manager.  It was already embedded in my memory – I knew how long we were meant to be in each area for and what the purpose was.  I knew how long it would be before I landed on London soil again.

The flight we were on would take just over six hours to get to Dubai where we had a three-night stay, before we were back on a plane for a nine-hour flight to Harare, the Zimbabwean capital. We’d spend a night there before heading out to the first of three national parks where we were scheduled to help out with various groups, some general inoculations, a training stint in one place for volunteers in animal first aid and then work with baboons on a project that was linked with a programme at London Zoo.  Then we were to fly to Marrakesh to assist with a charity helping the donkeys that were still used to work there.

I loved Africa.  I loved the continent, the people, the sense of urgency mixed with the noise and song.  I’d disappeared here for three months, four years ago, cutting myself off from anything to do with my family and London and work, volunteering at different reserves or even on humanitarian projects.  It had been the first time I’d been grateful for my father’s money and the last time I’d cursed him.

“Have you seen the hotel we’re staying at?” 

Wren’s words surprised me.  I turned to look at her and remembered not to touch.

“This must be costing them a fortune.”

“Probably why they’ve had to drop the budget for us rather than getting David Attenborough involved.”  Although they had: he was an advisor.

“They wanted vets.”  She looked at the screen again.

I saw how she clutched onto the arms of her seat and remembered that she’d once told me that she was an anxious flyer.  Ten years of working across the planet hadn’t cured her.

“They wanted us.”

“You.  They wanted you.  Mr Instagram and social media star.”  There wasn’t humour in her words.  “I’m the token female.”

“You’re the brains.  And the eye-candy for the men.”  I braced myself for how she would take the compliment, but the plane started to lift into the air, the force pushing us back into our seats.

She made an odd noise and I saw colour drain from her face as I glanced over.  Aviophobia.  Fear of flying.

“You okay?” I figured it was safe to ask the words.

She shook her head.

“Wren?  Hold my hand.  Nothing’s going to happen, I promise.”  I hoped to fuck I was right.

She grabbed on to my hand, the first physical contact I’d had with her since we were twenty-two and I was even more stupid than I was now.  “Sorry.  It’s just take-offs and landings.”

“Just use my hand as a stress ball.  I’ll get the feeling back before I need to operate, I’m sure.”

She scowled.

“Or we could sedate you for the next flight…”

She scowled harder.

I laughed.

“Fucking arsehole.”  She squeezed harder, this time I doubted it was out of fear.

“It will be fine though.  I can give you the statistics of flying on this plane.”  I reeled them off.  I wasn’t a nervous flyer.  I was the opposite of a nervous flyer.  Anything that involved a risk was an aphrodisiac for me, the more dangerous the better when I was in a certain frame of mind.  I’d gotten better at it; minimising risk, finding my adrenaline shots from elsewhere.  Working with big cats helped.

She groaned, still holding my hand, her colour slightly less deathly.  “I know.  It’s irrational.  I should have more therapy for it.”

“Maybe.”  I didn’t know where to start, or where I could start that wouldn’t make her hate me.  We were on this plane together for six hours.  The next few months were going to be pretty intense.  Avoiding each other successfully for ten years wasn’t going to be on the cards for the foreseeable.  “How’s life been?”

“Good.”  She moved her hand away, the aircraft having steadied. 

We were back to one word answers.

“Where’ve you been working?”

“India.  Thailand.  Russia.”

“Have you been to Africa before?”

She shook her head.

“You’ll fall in love with it.  Part of the reason I agreed to do the programme was because it was an excuse to come back.”

I felt her looking at me.

“You sound serious.”

My jaw clenched.  “I am.”

“I don’t remember you as being serious.  Not unless you were operating or examining.”

Because humour was a great way to keep people away.  The joker.  The superficial, cocky twat who people wanted to be with but not forever.

“Yeah, well.  Not much has changed.”

“Tell me more about Africa.  Which countries have you been to?”  She took the menu and started to look through it, avoiding my eyes.

“South Africa, Botswana, Mozambique, Somalia – that was interesting – Ghana, Kenya, Zimbabwe, Egypt, Morocco… I think that’s it.  I’ve done two years there in total.”

She nodded.  “Favourite?”

“Anywhere there.”

The air hostess reached us, taking drinks orders.  We were in first class, courtesy of the production company, and normally I’d have ordered something alcoholic.  But we were flying to Dubai and it was still early, so I went for coffee.  Black.  Strong.

Wren ordered tea.  Nothing new there.  She had never been one for alcohol.  In all the nights out we’d had when we’d been at college I’d never seen her drunk.

And then we were back to silence, that horrible silence that hangs like a thick fog, almost palpable.

Fucking awful.

It was going to be a long flight.

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