- Purchase ebook instantly
- Receive download link via email
- Send to preferred e-reader and enjoy!
Playboy. Poser. Partner.
It’s always the first two I’ve been known for. With the rest of my siblings in grown-up relationships, I decided it was time to prove I was more than just my reputation, and take my partnership in my family’s law firm seriously.
No more spilling coffee on the photocopier.
Forget my love life, I was taking a vow of celibacy; padlocking away the crown jewels; the bedroom was closed for business – and every other room too.
I was going to find who I was as an individual.
Focus on just being me, Seph Callaghan.
And then she turns up.
This wasn’t how it was meant to go.
- Workplace romance
- Single parent
- He's sworn off love
Intro to Chapter One
Intro to Chapter One
Chapter One - Seph
“What the faffing heck is wrong with this idiotic machine now?”
Whatever was wrong with it was added to as my eldest, and supposedly wisest, brother slammed a fist on top of the photocopier. The resulting crunch suggested that we’d be getting our third machine in less than a twelve-month period.
I leaned against the wall, my well-earned coffee in hand, not sure whether to laugh at Maxwell’s attempt to stop cursing every second word or quietly retreat, because at some point, I would inevitably get the blame for the photocopier’s lack of action.
The sound of heels clicked up behind me. I didn’t need to turn around to know it was my twin sister, three months pregnant, and desperately trying to make her baby bump look more existent than it did.
“‘Faffing heck’? Did you eat a thesaurus for breakfast this morning?”
Payton’s hand landed on my shoulder.
Max looked at us, his expression thunderous. “Vic’s told me I need to quit swearing so the baby’s first word isn’t ‘fuck.’” He tapped the copier with his foot, not hard enough to do any damage.
I’d seen this episode of Max-goes-batshit-crazy before. He would apply a bit more force next time, hear something break, then decide he was a photocopier engineer and could therefore take it to pieces and rebuild it so it would start working. The last time this had happened, we’d had to call Victoria, his now wife, to do something none of us wanted to think about to get him to go home and keep him there until a new machine was delivered.
“We need to have a plan for when this happens that doesn’t involve you kicking shit or thumping the crap out of the copier.” I wasn’t going anywhere near him. Me, coffee and photocopiers had a dubious relationship and I was pretty sure that if I got too close, I’d probably trip over my feet and spill my drink over the machine, which would make it all my fault.
Max glared at it. “It says there’s a jam in entry two. I’ve opened up the lid thing and there’s no jam.”
Payton inched towards it, braver than I was. She pulled something open and then something else – I had no idea what, I avoided the thing.
“The jam’s in entry three.” A piece of paper appeared in her hand. “Looks like someone did… what the hell’s this?” She squinted.
Max looked over. “If the jam wasn’t in entry two, why did it say… fuck. Is that someone’s arse?” He moved away from the copier as if it had bit him.
I frowned. Photocopying parts of your anatomy was a stage I’d gone through, more than once if I was honest, but I’d moved on from that. The last time I’d thought it was a good idea to take a dick print had been at least two photocopiers ago.
A pair of dark brown eyes locked with mine. Max’s brow furrowed and his top lip curled as if he was emitting a silent growl.
I spread my arms wide, as if to underline the fact that this time I was innocent, and my coffee slopped over the sides of my mug, onto the floor.
“For fuck’s sake.” Max didn’t bother to keep the volume low.
“I thought you were trying to give up swearing.” I still had half a mug of the good stuff left, which was a bonus.
“I was, until your backside burned my retinas.” His looked from my face to the mug and back again, desperate to say something about the spilled coffee. I knew my brother well.
I wasn’t the youngest sibling, although I was the youngest boy. One of seven, one of a set of twins, with only Ava younger than me and Payton, and five of us worked together at our family-owned law firm in London. I knew families that only spoke to each other at weddings or funerals, so we arguably got along. I saw most of my brothers and sisters every day, communicated with them several times a day.
Argued with them a fuck-ton.
“That’s not my arse, Max. Can you see the beauty-spot?” I pointed at the print that he now held up.
“Don’t you mean mole?” Payton chirped in.
“It’s a beauty-spot.”
“Marilyn Monroe had a beauty spot; you have a mole on your arse, Joseph. Mole. Moley moley mole.” She gave me a grin that was filled with pure evil.
“Whatever. It’s genetic. Don’t be surprised if your spawn inherits it.” I pointed to her tiny bump that looked more like she’d had a large Sunday lunch.
Payton frowned and I remembered at the last minute that her fiancé, Owen, had warned me that she was hormonal and more temperamental than usual; pregnancy hormones were not doing any of us any favours.
“How do you know it’s genetic?”
“Because Jackson has one on his arse in the same place. Left cheek, just below the dimple. Only his has a hair growing out of it.”
Max made a noise that sounded like he was about to vomit.
“How do you know about the hair. In fact, how do you know about the mole?” Payton looked rather green.
I stepped further back from her. Projectile vomiting was a talent she’d perfected.
“Showers in rugby. We all know they’ve got matching moles.” Max didn’t look too well himself, but maybe he was realising how expensive the insurance on the photocopier was going to get now he’d damaged another one.
Max glowered. “You want to explain how you got close enough to Jackson’s backside to know he has a hair growing out of his mole?”
“Not the current point.”
I shrugged and took a deep breath. “He asked me to look because he was worried. He thought his beauty-spot had become a little raised and he was thinking of getting it checked by a doctor.” I was seriously breaking my second oldest brother’s confidence, but he was man enough to take a little piss-withdrawing next time we had a poker night.
“Was it okay?” Now Max was concerned.
“Fine. He just didn’t want Vanessa to check. Thought it might put her off, you know.” I heard a strange snort and stopped talking. Payton was pretty much creased in two. “You okay?”
She managed to look up at me. “Just dying of laughter.” Tears had started.
“Well at least you won’t have to get on your baby’s level with its sense of humour.” Max shook his head and looked back at the print. “You’re right. There’s no mole.”
He ignored me.
“So who the fuck printed a picture of their arse? It isn’t you or Jackson. It’s not me…. Eli?”
Max’s eyes lasered onto the door to Eli’s office that was in direct sight through the reprographics entrance.
“Yep. Must be Eli’s. For sure.” Even though we had at least three dozen other male members of staff working for us. Eli was the fiancé of our youngest sister, Ava, and worked alongside Payton in the commercial law department. I had no idea what Eli’s naked backside looked like, but I knew I’d enjoy the revenge he’d take on Max when Max started to flash that image about.
As he would.
I knew my brother too well.
“What about the copier?”
Max looked at the machine as if he’d just realised it was there.
“I guess I’ll have to try and fix it.”
I nodded, edging towards the door, my twin scampering out through it already. “Good. Sure, you’ll be able to do that.”
As soon as I was out of there, I called his wife, hoping she wouldn’t give me any details of what she’d do to get him out of there before he caused any more damage.
* * *
Thursdays had been the new Fridays for as long as I could remember. In Borough Market, where the Callaghan Green law firm was based, the bars and restaurants buzzed on a Thursday night as loudly as they did on a weekend. I didn’t need to go far to find someone I knew who didn’t have a toddler or a baby or a pregnant significant other at home, which accounted for most of my family now.
This evening, having escaped the office only slightly deafened by Maxwell’s cussing at the copier, I was meeting Shay, my housemate and cousin who was coming off a two-day shift at the hospital where he was an emergency paediatric consultant or something.
Shay had been God’s apology for marrying off all of my brothers and leaving me without a wingman, only he had easily taken my trophy for biggest manwhore south of the Thames by his second week here.
“Joseph!” His holler from the other side of the bar was loud and attention-drawing, not that he needed to draw any attention his way. Two women flanked him, one that I vaguely recognised as working with him. I glanced to the table near to where he stood and saw another half a dozen women. It looked like I was crashing some form of hospital night out.
Not something that boded well. I had work in the morning and although it’d been a long time since I’d gone in with a hangover, I didn’t want to get dragged into being the centre of the cesspool of gossip that would inevitably happen if I started talking to one of Shay’s colleagues.
Even though I hadn’t hooked up with anyone, or even been on a date, for about four months, my reputation of being a party boy hadn’t been diminished. It still burned brighter than the Vegas lights and probably with the same amount of class.
The fact I’d had a long-term relationship for several years wasn’t considered. It was as if Cassie had never existed, that my family and friends had wiped her from their memories and time had rewound itself to back when I was nineteen and had never had a girlfriend, let alone a serious one.
That didn’t mean I was innocent though. That innocence had been lost when I was fifteen and visiting Callum – my only non-lawyer brother - when he was at university. The experience wasn't bad, not for me at least, and although I’d been fairly stupid in most things at that age, I’d at least had the sense not to brag about it. My mother kidded herself into thinking that Cassie had been my first everything, and because she’d eradicated her from her memory, I was back to being a teenager.
Incapable of surviving unsupervised.
The person who was incapable of surviving unsupervised was, in this case, my cousin. Shay Green, doctor extraordinaire, had an arm around a blonde woman on his right and a brunette on his left. He was unshaven and looked at the point of exhaustion where delirium had set in.
Shay’s grin grew wider.
I shook my head.
He shook his back.
All of a sudden, the lengthy pile of time recording on my desk looked appealing.
“Joseph, have you met Larissa?” Shay tilted his head toward the blond. “And Shelly,” he tilted his head toward the brunette and squeezed her. Larissa took this as a hint, giggled and stepped out of his relaxed hold.
She was the nurse I remembered meeting a month or so ago, only she hadn’t been with Shay at the time. She’d been climbing all over another doctor, an orthopaedic surgeon or something to do with bones.
Larissa had been very interested in one of his bones.
I took a big lungful of breath and caught the whiff of familiar perfume. Cassie’s. The scent of it made my stomach do an impression of a washing machine and for a moment I felt lightheaded.
“Definitely Larissa.” I gave her grin that I hoped wasn’t too flirty. “You got a tab open?”
I really hoped Shay had left his credit card behind the bar. His days off between his long, lengthy, inhuman shifts at the hospital tended to be complete blow-outs – lengthy drinking sessions, followed by some form of escapade that ended in him having either a marathon fucking session in my living room or being collected at stupid o’clock two days later from the floor of someone’s apartment, not smelling entirely fresh.
I got that his job was busy and stressful, and he dealt with some fucking shitty situations where kids were sick, but my eardrums would never recover from some of the noises I’d heard when my living room had turned into his boudoir of badness.
That was Shay’s name for it.
Boudoir of badness.
He made me seem entirely normal.
“Of course. Go treat yourself, cuz.”
I felt Larissa’s hand on my back. Caught another mouthful of her perfume. Thought of Cassie. Tried not to look for her or find what she was doing, because she wasn’t there.
“You mind getting me a drink while you’re there?” Larissa gave me a tired smile.
She was pretty, somewhere in her late twenties with highlighted blonde hair and make-up that wasn’t overdone. I’d dated a couple of models and a couple of women who were wannabe ‘it’ girls, desperate to make their name in the gossip mags and social media, and I knew I preferred the underdone look.
Four months ago, Larissa would probably have gone home with me, maybe for a couple of nights until I found a way to let her down easy or she got bored of waiting for me to be serious.
“Sure. Looks like Shay’s paying. What do you want?” I knew it would be prosecco or a cocktail, probably a Porn Star Martini.
I was right. She almost blushed when she asked for the martini and let out a slight giggle. It should’ve been cute.
“I’ll bring it over.” I stepped away from her hand on my back and headed to the bar. A couple of the fee earners from Callaghan Green were there, bottles of beer in their hands, empty shot glasses next to them. “Out for the night?” I nodded at the glasses.
Vinny, who worked in the employment law department, grinned. “Booked the day off tomorrow. Three-day weekend.” He glanced over to where Larissa waited. “That your date?”
“No. She works with my cousin.” An iota of relief settled my stomach. I was pretty sure Larissa was looking to get lucky and burn some tension off tonight. Vinny would be decent enough to help her.
He didn’t take his eyes off her arse. “She single?”
“I’d assume so, but couldn’t swear to it. She’s drinking Porn Stars.” I’d save Shay a few quid and be a good cousin.
He rubbed his hands together. “One Porn Star coming up.”
I looked at his colleague, Lucas, and shook my head. Neither of us had a clue how to take that.
“You know I really love you, don’t you?”
There were times when I understood how it felt to be one of my older brothers dealing with my post-Cassie-meltdown phase. Most of those times had ended in one of them dragging me through the doors of their houses, my mood anywhere between euphoric and the sewer of a meltdown, leaving me in the recovery position and removing my phone so I couldn’t drunk dial anyone, including Cassie.
Shay’s feet stumbled over an invisible obstacle. I tightened my core muscles and stopped us both going arse over tit.
“Could’ve got a taxi though.” Shay tried to slap my back but stumbled again.
“I value my Uber rating.” There was no way a taxi driver would let Shay in his cab. I wasn’t about to allow him in my house, mainly because it was too far to walk to, and Maxwell’s was much closer. Plus, he had six bedrooms.
Shay mumbled something that was incoherent which meant I didn’t need to bother to respond; that suited me perfectly. I was tired and kept thinking about an advice I had to draft in the morning that was going to be technical to say the least; not leaving Shay to sleep in a gutter was definitely something I wanted a medal for later.
Worse, Shay would wake tomorrow with no hangover, not even a small drummer boy would be pounding his head, yet I’d be like a half-alive Zombie at work, despite having had only three beers.
Max and Victoria’s house was a tall four storey Victorian building set back from the road with a long front garden which was dotted with old trees and shrubs. An old fashioned street lamp lit the drive, throwing mine and Shay’s shadows so we looked like two monsters on the stone.
“This isn’t where we live.” Shay slurred and stumbled again.
If he fell, I was more than happy to leave him there, given we were on Max’s property. I might even get him a blanket.
I didn’t bother responding. Before we could reach the door, it was opening, my brother standing there wearing just sweatpants, his hands in his pockets and his face looking grim.
“You really need to trim that beard.” It was rather bush-like.
Max glowered and looked from me to Shay and back again. He pulled his hands out and crossed his arms. “Take it he’s got a few days off work.”
I nodded, although it wasn’t a question. “He either needs to crash here or can you give us a lift home.”
Victoria appeared behind him, her hair messy and a robe tied round her. I figured I’d caught them in the middle of Vic trying to find Max’s tiny penis. Usually, I’d make a comment about magnifying glasses, but I really didn’t want to try and get Shay home by myself.
“I can get myself home.”
Shay’s words were just about understandable – rather slurred and there was definitely drool.
“And for tonight, home is on the couch.” Victoria pulled Max out of the way. “With a bucket. And water. Lots of water.”
I pushed Shay up the steps and into the house, gripping onto both his arms to steer him. As soon as I was in, Max took one side of him and we half carried him into Victoria’s snug, her reading room, where there was an old chesterfield sofa that I knew from experience was decent to sleep on. Not that I’d always been in the state that Shay was when I’d collapsed on it.
I’d lived with Max and Vic for a couple of months when they’d first moved in. It was a big house, and while I’d known my family wasn’t impressed that I moved my backside in there when Max had just bought it, there was enough space to hide away from them. After I’d moved out, I’d found myself there some evenings, to watch a film with Vic or sports with Max, or sometimes just to be in a place where I felt comfortable in my own skin.
“Don’t need water. Another whisky?” Shay looked at me pleadingly. If we’d been at my apartment, I’d happily pour him a couple of fingers, knowing that we had separate bathrooms and he could clean up after himself in the morning, but here it was Max’s call.
“Up to you, big bro.” I glanced at Max.
He shook his head. “I thought you were a mess when you were drunk.”
Were. He said were.
Max didn’t say anything, not to me. He turned to Victoria, her hand on her bump, the one they were both so proud of. “I think I’m going to need a whisky.”
“Have one then.” She frowned.
My eyes went from her to him and I frowned. “He’s asking you for permission?”
Victoria laughed. “He feels bad that I can’t drink, so he’s trying to not drink either.” She shrugged, her dark hair glossy and trailing down her back. “I keep telling him that it doesn’t bother me.”
“It bothers me. You’re the one doing all the hard work. All I had to do was…” he glared at me.
I tilted my head at the ceiling.
Victoria grabbed one of the many throws she had lingering around the room. “Enjoy yourself?”
“That’s one way to put it.” Max stretched, edging towards the door.
Shay was starting to fall asleep, gentle snorting noises being farted by his mouth. If Max and Vic weren’t there, I’d film him and post it on social media later, because even though I was trying to turn over a new leaf, I was still a shit when it came to my cousin.
“Are you staying over?” Victoria put a hand on my arm. “Your room’s ready.”
I needed to move away from her touch.
It scorched me, like it did every so often, catching me unawares like a flash of lightning without the humidity.
It wasn’t that I wanted Victoria. I hadn’t ever coveted the love of my brother’s life, but I had wanted what he had with her, what I’d known he could have with her. She was beautiful and smart and ambitious, independent without being aloof, and when I saw my brother melt just by looking at her, I wanted to know how that felt.
She smiled. If she’d asked me for a kidney right then I’d have offered to get a scalpel.
“The baby’s only going to use one room, Seph, and Max figured you’d be back at some point.” She touched her stomach again. “Will Shay be okay?”
His mouth was slightly open, just wide enough that I could’ve stuck something in there, which I was tempted to do. I knew had Victoria not been there, Max would’ve definitely done it. A chilli, maybe.
I glanced at Victoria and knew I didn’t want to stay the night. Shay didn’t need a babysitter now he had somewhere that wasn’t the gutter to sleep. He’d be up at seven, fresh as a dewy daisy and ready to go for a run.
“I’ll head home.” I stuffed my hands in my pockets. “I need to get stuff sorted for tomorrow.” I didn’t, and if Max thought about it, he’d either know I was lying, or he’d assume I’d forgotten to do something.
He pushed his hand through his hair again and frowned, eyeing me in a way I hadn’t seen for a while. I was close to all my brothers; we all got along, and I couldn’t remember when we’d last properly fallen out, but I’d always had a different relationship with Maxwell. We’d never been friends, not in the way Callum and I were, or even me and Jackson. The age difference was almost a generation and when Max had been at university, I’d only just started high school. He’d been some kind of hero, Thor mixed with Clarke Kent. When I’d been about thirteen all I’d wanted to be was him.
“You want a lift?” Max didn’t argue with me about staying.
He was probably worried that if I stayed I wouldn’t leave again.
“I’ll walk it. It’s not raining for once.”
Shay snorted and turned over, now sound asleep.
“Been a while since you’ve been in that state.” Max rubbed his beard. “You passed on your mantle?”
I knew my smile was grim. “Seems that way. When’s the new partner starting?” I had no idea why that had occurred to me. She’d been due to start two weeks ago, but there had been some delay which had left me short-staffed. My department was now one of the busiest in the company and new files were coming in at a rate that meant my sleep was a precious commodity. We’d taken on a couple of trainees and three fee earners, solicitors who were a few years experienced but not partner level. But they all needed more supervision, and given my caseload was heavier than a weight training elephant, we’d decided to bring in a salaried partner.
I hadn’t met her. Max and Jackson had done the interviews when I’d been in court in Manchester, which had pissed me off as I’d wanted to have some say in who I ended up working closely with.
“Monday.” Max gave a slight nod. “She’s had to sort some family stuff out this week.”
I shrugged. I’d read her application and heard my brothers wasting words about what an asset she’d be to the commercial litigation department, but I hadn’t paid too much attention, knowing that if I started to analyse her strengths and weaknesses, I’d end up worrying about how good she’d actually be and what additional work she was going to create for me.
“She’ll be good, Seph. She was a partner for Eversley Harrop and she won on the James-Higford case last year.”
I stifled a yawn and didn’t say anything. I’d heard all this before. She was leaving another top law firm to come to us, after a win that had been huge – a really technical case that had made the gazette and altered precedent.
“I’m sure she will. I just hope she’s ready to get stuck in – we were instructed by Cabotts today. It’s going to be a big one.” That was probably an understatement. Cabotts were a huge company involved in the export and import of goods, and my initial understanding of what they were claiming was that it was complex and involved a lot of cash. Even if I hadn’t decided to immerse myself in work for the next few months, the chances of having any form of social life during this were going to be pretty much zero, unless my new colleague was that good.
“She will be. You sure you don’t want a lift?”
I shook my head. The fresh air would do me good.