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ZaraKeane

Zara Keane

I write contemporary romance with a Celtic twist, and darkly sensual urban fantasy. My first book will be released in 2014.

Release Week, Deadline Fun, and Random Ramblings

Rocky irish coastlineCraggy Point — Scene of Fiona and Gavin's first kiss in eight years.

 

Love and Shenanigans has been out in the wild since last Saturday. It’s up on all the major vendors—Amazon, Apple, Barnes & Noble, Kobo, All Romance Ebooks, Google Play. Alas, for reasons known only to Barnes & Noble, it’s still missing its book description on their site. I’ve been told it might take another few days to appear.

 

I can’t decide if the transition from unpublished to published is exciting or terrifying. I’m guessing it’s a mix of both. I was felled by a chest infection right around hitting PUBLISH, so I haven’t been as active on social media as I might have been. (Although, TBH, I’m not convinced that tweeting buy links to books ten times a day is the way to go. I’ve unfollowed people who do that, especially if that's the only content on their Twitter stream. Promo links don’t bother me at all if the person is otherwise active and interactive.)

 

In the meantime, I’m hard at work on the third draft of Love and Leprechauns, the third Ballybeg story and the second full-length novel in the series. I say “third draft” but this isn’t entirely accurate. Long story short, I’ve been working on the Ballybeg series on and off since I started writing with a view to publication (NaNoWriMo 2009). By the time I decided to indie publish Love and Shenanigans, I had five finished manuscripts set in Ballybeg. One is unlikely to ever see the light of day—trust me, this is a very good thing—and three will be out this year.

 

When I wrote the first draft of Love and Shenanigans, I wasn’t planning to write a series. But a couple of secondary characters demanded to have their stories told, so I wrote a sequel. When I wrote a third book set in Ballybeg, I realized that I needed to write a couple more stories in the series before releasing that particular book.

 

The thing with writing a series set in the same place with recurring characters is that each story I write adds to my knowledge of the town and the people. Suddenly, I know when Event X happened and what effect it would have had on Person A, B, or C. This is why I swear by the writing program Scrivener and another program named Aeon Timeline. (No, I’m not an affiliate of either program, just a very happy customer. :D) I’ve created a Ballybeg series bible in Scrivener and a timeline for each character and event using Aeon. The more I write, the more I need to add to the series bible, but it’s helping me to stay on track.

 

I was one of those readers who always wondered WTH an author forgot a character’s eye color from one book to the next, or screwed up the story chronology. When I read their series back-to-back, I found such inconsistencies irritating. Now that I’m writing one myself, I realize how easy it is to make a mistake like that and how much of a challenge it is to keep all the details consistent throughout a single book, never mind a series. A book that takes a reader a few hours to read often took a few months to write. When those months become years, it’s all too easy to forget a detail from an earlier story. This is absolutely not an excuse for an author to make continuity errors, just me acknowledging that they’re a wee bit harder to avoid than I’d anticipated. :D

 

When I send Love and Leprechauns to my editor, it’s on to the rewrites for Love and Blarney (L&B is due to be released in August/September). So it’s all go chez Keane, but I’m having a blast working on the stories.

 

I was going to take down the downloadable samples of the first 25% of Love and Shenanigans after a few days, but they’re proving popular so they’ll stay put for a while. If haven’t tried the sample yet, here are the clickable downloads for the epub, mobi/Kindle, and pdf files. Happy reading!

EPUBSAMPLEKINDLEPDF

 

Source: http://zarakeane.com/?p=275

Try Before You Buy—Download First 25% of 'Love and Shenanigans'!

If you're not sure about forking out money on a new-to-you author, here are clickable downloadable samples of the first 25% of Love and Shenanigans.  The samples are available as .mobi, .epub, and .pdf files. Happy reading. :D

EPUBSAMPLEKINDLEPDF

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

BLURB:

Vows in Vegas…

Three days before leaving Ireland on the adventure of a lifetime, Fiona Byrne returns to her small Irish hometown to attend the family wedding from hell. When she discovers the drunken vows she exchanged with the groom during a wild Las Vegas trip eight years previously mean they’re legally married, her future plans ricochet out of control. Can she untangle herself from the man who broke her heart so long ago? Does she even want to?

…True Love in Ballybeg.
Gavin Maguire’s life is low on drama, high on stability, and free of pets. But Gavin hadn’t reckoned on Fiona blasting back into his life and crashing his wedding. In the space of twenty-four hours, he loses a fiancée and a job, and gains a wife and a labradoodle. Can he salvage his bland-but-stable life? More importantly, can he resist losing his heart to Fiona all over again?

WARNING: This book features a crashed wedding, a labradoodle with attitude, sexy times, and love and laughter, Irish-style.

Buy Links so far:

 Amazon.com

Amazon.co.uk

Amazon.ca

Apple Store

Kobo

All Romance (ARe)

Google Play

Barnes & Noble NOOK (taking its sweet time to go live)

Source: http://zarakeane.com/?p=266

'Love and Shenanigans' is ON SALE!!!

New

 

I may have bitched a little too loudly about Apple being late reviewing my files. LOL! They came through MUCH faster than I anticipated and Love and Shenanigans is already on sale!!! :D

 

I'll add cute little buy link buttons when I'm back in a place with reliable internet access. (I'm currently up a Swiss mountain.) For now, here are the buy links:

 

Amazon.com

Amazon.co.uk

Apple Store

Kobo

All Romance (ARe)

Barnes & Noble NOOK (taking its sweet time to go live)

Google Play (see above)

 

If you're not sure about forking out money on a new-to-you author, here's a link to downloadable samples of the first 25% of Love and Shenanigans. The samples are available as .mobi and .epub files.

 

Happy reading! :D

Source: http://zarakeane.com/?p=244

Happy Mother's Day/Happy Sunday (Plus New Book Excerpt!)

Today is Mother's Day in Switzerland. Mine was lovely. I got to sleep in, roll out of bed to eat brunch, then go back to bed to laze with a book. Trust me, in my day-to-day life, such sloth never happens. So yeah, it was great.

 

My older kids made a cute present in Kindergarten, my husband bought me chocolates, and The Toddler handed me a gift set of Body Shop Chocomania products. All in all, a lovely day. The crowning glory was a blissful shower. I'd just spread Chocomania exfoliator all over my skin. Suddenly, the shower curtain was yanked open to reveal me in all my naked glory. My scream was worthy of Janet Leigh in Psycho. The Toddler stood there, staring at me. "Mommy!" she said in a disapproving tone. "Why are your boobs covered in poop?"

 

Mother's Day, chez Zara Keane. :D

 

On that merry note, I'll leave you with a second excerpt from Love and Shenanigans. Enjoy! (Click here if you missed the first excerpt.)

 New

 

CHAPTER FOUR

OHMYGAWD! HER ARSE WAS ON DISPLAY.

Her fat, white arse.

Why did these things happen to her? One weekend without incident. That was all she’d asked for. Yet within an hour of arriving in Ballybeg, she was lying prostrate on top of a dog basket with the man she’d hoped to avoid staring at her cellulite.

“Mon dieu!” Claudette clutched her necklace. “What have you done to my dress?”

“Fiona!” Muireann shrieked. “How could you?”

“Never mind the dress. She’s squashing Mitzi and Bitzi.” Deirdre darted forward and yanked the dog basket to safety. Fiona’s face landed on the Persian carpet with a thud.

“What’s wrong with you people?” a male voice demanded. His voice. “Help her up, for heaven’s sake.”

Muscular arms reached around her ribcage and hauled her to her feet.

“Here.” Olivia retrieved the shawl from the floor. “Get this around her.”

Gavin wrapped the shawl around Fiona’s waist, careful not to touch her bare flesh. When his fingers skimmed her satin-encased hips, she felt a jolt of something she didn’t care to define. Their eyes clashed for a millisecond. Too short to mean anything to him, too long not to mean something to her.

She exhaled sharply, her cheeks aflame. Why hadn’t he had the decency to develop a beer gut over the past decade? Or a receding hairline? Life was so unfair.

“Grr!” Wiggly Poo was growling at the Chihuahuas, now held aloft in Deirdre’s scrawny arms.

“My poor babies.” Deirdre fussed over the tiny dogs and fixed Gavin with a quelling gaze. “I blame you for this debacle. If you hadn’t let that mongrel loose, none of this would have happened.”

“Me?” Gavin’s tone exuded outraged incredulity. “I didn’t ask to be saddled with a dog.”

“Mitzi and Bitzi are sensitive around strange dogs, and that one is positively rabid.”

Gavin’s sky-blue eyes darkened. “Wiggly Poo probably mistook them for vermin. An easy mistake to make.”

“Well,” Deirdre said, aghast. “I never.”

Laughter bubbled up Fiona’s throat. “Wiggly Poo?” She gasped, struggling to keep her composure. “What sort of name is that?”

Deirdre glowered at her. “This is no laughing matter, Fiona. My pets were brutally attacked by that savage beast.”

“Bollocks.” Gavin scooped up the puppy. “He didn’t touch them.”

“He didn’t, Deirdre,” Fiona said. “I got to him before he had a chance to do anything more than bark.”

Deirdre’s thin lips parted, baring teeth whitened to a radioactive glow.

“Mummy.” Muireann laid a hand on Deirdre’s arm. “Wiggly Poo’s young. He needs time to adjust.”

“Until he’s tamed, that creature is not welcome in this house.”

Fiona convulsed, losing the battle against laughter.

Deirdre rounded on her. “You’re in no position to laugh, young lady. You’ve destroyed a very expensive dress.”

“Yes.” Muireann smirked. “I invited you to be my maid of honor in good faith, and now… this.” She gestured in the direction of Fiona’s arse.

Fiona’s cheeks grew even hotter, anger mingling with embarrassment. “The dress is too small. I’m sorry it tore, but I wasn’t going to get down the aisle in this frock. Nor in these shoes.” She kicked off the offending footwear and sighed with relief as her stockinged feet sank into the plush carpet.

Deirdre pursed her mouth. “Did you lie about your measurements?”

Fiona gave her aunt the stink eye. “Of course not. Do you think I wanted to humiliate myself by busting out of the dress?”

“In that case, you must have put on weight.”

Muireann tittered. “With the amount you eat, it’s hardly surprising.”

“Steady on,” Gavin said. “Fiona’s not fat.”

Muireann and Deirdre cast him withering looks.

“Get out, Gavin,” Deirdre said. “And take that dog with you. You’ve caused enough trouble for one day.”

Gavin met her glare for glare. “If you want to cast blame, Deirdre, look no further than your husband. He bought the dog.”

Deirdre opened her mouth as if to protest. Gavin cut her off. “What am I supposed to do with Wiggly Poo while we have dinner? I can hardly lock him in the car.”

Muireann regarded the wriggling puppy doubtfully. “Can’t you ask Jonas to look after him? Just for this evening? We can sort out what to do with him later.”

“I can ask. If he has any sense, he’ll say no.” Gavin sighed. “Right. I’ll leave you ladies to change.”

Fiona caught his eye, and her heart skipped a beat. She mouthed thanks, and he gave a curt nod. He hoisted the puppy onto his shoulder and left the room.

All eyes focused on Fiona.

“I knew you were too fat for that dress.” Muireann’s spray-tanned face creased into a smirk.

The suspicion that had been forming in Fiona’s mind crystallized. “You did this deliberately. You gave Claudette the wrong measurements, and you made damn sure to schedule the fittings for when you knew I wouldn’t be able to attend.”

“I most certainly did not.” Muireann’s smirk faded, but there was a wicked gleam in her eyes. “I’d hardly want to wreck my own wedding.”

“Don’t be absurd, Fiona.” Deirdre waved a hand in impatience. “Muireann would never play such a nasty trick.”

“No?” She placed her hands on her hips. “I sent her my exact measurements, and I haven’t put on weight in the meantime. The moment I saw the dress, I doubted it would fit. If Muireann received my e-mail, I assume she passed on the information to Claudette.”

Naturellement,” Claudette said in her musical Parisian accent. “And I followed them exactly. If you are the size you say, the dress will fit.”

“If the dress reflected the measurements I sent Muireann, it should fit, yes.”

“Are you calling me a liar?” Muireann’s blue eyes widened in faux horror.

Fiona tilted her chin. “Yes, I am.”

“Girls,” Deirdre snapped. “Enough. Whatever happened cannot be undone. I don’t suppose there’s time to make a replacement dress?”

“Not in the chartreuse.” Claudette gave a Gallic shrug “The material was a special order for Madame.”

Quelle surprise. Most people had better taste.

“Mummy, we can’t let Fiona wear one of her Goth getups to the wedding. She’s supposed to be my maid of honor.”

“Here’s an idea.” Fiona’s voice rose a notch. “Why don’t I resign as maid of honor? I’ll spare you the indignity of having me and my unsuitable wardrobe following you down the aisle.”

“You can’t quit,” Deirdre said. “There’ll be an uneven number of bridesmaids.”

“Far be it from us to screw with symmetry.” Olivia stepped forward to stand beside Fiona. “If Fee’s no longer in the wedding party, then neither am I.”

“Are you quitting on me?” Muireann’s nose quivered. “Your husband won’t like that.”

“Feck Aidan.” Olivia’s jaw jutted belligerently. “And feck you. You set Fiona up.”

“Girls, please,” Deirdre said weakly. “I can feel a migraine coming on.” She pronounced it mee-graine.

Fiona caught Olivia’s eye and smiled. She’d rather be just about anyplace on earth than here, but having a friend by her side made everything better. Well, that and having a getaway car at the ready. “If we’re done here, I’m going to change back into my highly unsuitable clothes.” She fingered the torn garment. “I don’t suppose you want the remnants of my dress?”

The twins tittered. Claudette stood mute. Muireann smirked. Aunt Deirdre quivered with outraged disapproval.

“Excellent. In that case, I’ll keep it as a memento.” Fiona removed the shawl from around her waist and tossed it at Muireann. “You can have this back, cuz. After all, you wanted to see me humiliated. I’d hate to deprive you of the pleasure.”

Feeling cheerful for the first time since she’d arrived in Ballybeg, Fiona turned on her heel and marched across the room, swinging her naked arse for all to see.

Glasses2This time tomorrow, I’ll be a married man.

The sick sensation that had been building in the pit of Gavin’s stomach rose up his throat. He swallowed hard, tried to stem the surge of panic.

Breathe in. Breathe out.

Everything was going to be fine, he thought, flexing his fingers over the steering wheel. He was experiencing a bout of the pre-wedding jitters. Everyone got them, and everyone got past them.

He’d been on edge for the past few days, anxious to get the wedding over and done with.

Not that he didn’t want to marry Muireann. Of course he did. Marrying her made perfect sense. They both wanted kids, eventually, and they’d been a couple since university. They were good together. Content. Not the most passionate of relationships, but he’d gladly sacrifice wild passion for stability and security. In short, he and Muireann were the polar opposite of his mother and the numerous men who’d paraded through his train wreck of a childhood.

With a grim sense of déjà vu, Gavin pulled his car to a stop beside Muireann’s Mini. He’d left Wiggly Poo with Jonas’s parents for the night. At least that was one problem sorted.

The other problem was a little trickier.

His stomach lurched. If only she hadn’t blasted back into his life. Fiona was the last person he needed right now. He’d been stunned to see her standing in Deirdre’s parlor wearing that awful dress. No one had mentioned she was invited to the wedding, let alone the maid of honor.

What the hell had Muireann been thinking? She loathed Fiona. Always had.

And the feeling was mutual.

A vision of Fiona’s exposed backside danced before his eyes, and he quashed the memory with a mental sledgehammer.

Fiona was in his past. His distant past. A short interlude that had ended badly. In all likelihood, she barely remembered their drunken night together in Las Vegas. Unfortunately, he remembered it only too well… in all its pixilated glory.

He sighed and pushed open his door. He’d barely had time to lock his car before Muireann appeared in the doorframe. She looked radiant. And happy. And if her happiness were accompanied by a hint of smugness… well, she’d make a beautiful bride.

“You look lovely.” He kissed her on the cheek, careful not to ruin her makeup.

She put a hand on his arm. “I’m sorry about Mummy earlier. You know what she’s like about her Chihuahuas.”

“Don’t worry about it. We’re all on edge at the moment.”

She nodded and looked past him at the car. “What did you do with Wiggly Poo?”

“He’s with Jonas’s parents, wreaking havoc.”

She slipped her hand into his. “Come through to the living room. We’re having a drink before dinner.”

In the Byrne’s antique-ridden living room, Bernard stood before the fireplace. One bulky arm rested on the mantelpiece, while the other hand clutched a tumbler of whiskey. His florid cheeks were redder than usual. This was not his first drink of the day.

Gavin swallowed a sigh. Bernard was hard to deal with sober. Drunk, he was a nightmare.

“The man of the moment.” Bernard’s smile was a rictus of protruding teeth. “How are you enjoying your last hours of freedom?”

The acid in his stomach gnawed his insides. “Apart from dealing with an untrained puppy, I’m grand.”

“What are you drinking, Gavin?” Deirdre sniffed, not looking in his direction. Mitzi and Bitzi were by her side, ears cocked. They glowered at him with their rat-like eyes.

“Fizzy water’s fine. I’m driving.”

“Nonsense. The boy will have a whiskey. The MacAllan nineteen seventy-four.” Bernard leaned closer. His breath alone was fit to put a man over the limit. “I’m cheating by going for Scotch over Irish, but this is worth it. Retails for over eight thousand euros a bottle.”

“That’s obscene.”

“That’s success, my boy.” Bernard’s mustache bobbed. “Success in a glass. Go on. Taste it.”

Gavin took a dubious sip.

Bernard’s self-satisfied smirk widened.

“Isn’t it perfect?”

“Hmm… not bad.” To Gavin’s undiscerning palate, it tasted like any other whiskey. He put the glass on the mantelpiece and turned to his fiancée. “All set for tomorrow?”

She beamed. “I can’t wait. It’s going to be the best day of our lives.”

“You’ll make a beautiful bride.” Deirdre patted her daughter on the arm in a rare display of physical affection. “The neighbors will be pea green with envy.”

“Screw the neighbors,” Gavin said. “Once Muireann’s happy and having a good time, that’s all that counts.”

Bernard snorted. “Impressions matter, especially in business. You’ll learn, lad.”

Gavin refrained from comment. The Byrnes never missed an opportunity to network. He shouldn’t be surprised that Muireann’s parents saw her wedding as yet another opportunity to grandstand and lick the right arses.

“Take this house, for instance.” Bernard was warming to his theme, his voice increasing in volume with every sentence. “Do you think it’s an accident that I bought it? No. Generations of my family worked the land on the Clonmore estate. They were treated little better than slaves and left to starve during the Great Famine. Now here I am, master of the house, while the present Earl of Clonmore lives in a shack on the other side of Ballybeg. That’s success in modern Ireland.”

Gavin had heard the tale a thousand times. “The Major’s not exactly living in poverty. His house is a nice bungalow. Hardly what I’d call a shack. And if I recall correctly, this was the dower house, not the Earl’s residence.”

Bernard shrugged. He wasn’t a man to let a few inaccuracies interfere with a good story. “But now that the old house has been converted into a hotel, Clonmore House is the largest private residence on the old estate.”

The gong sounded, producing a melodious echo. The gong was a relatively new affectation in the Byrne household, and Gavin cringed every time he heard it.

“Time for dinner.” Deirdre led the way into the ornate dining room, complete with an ugly table centerpiece Deirdre called an epergne.

Gavin sat across from Muireann. Judging by the place settings, it was going to be a five-course meal. The acid burned deeper into his stomach lining. He took a deep gulp from his water glass.

The food was perfectly prepared, but it tasted like sandpaper. He had to get a grip. Being nervous about tomorrow was one thing. Being a nervous wreck was quite another.

He stared across the table at his bride-to-be. Muireann was fine-boned and classically beautiful with straight blond hair and large blue eyes. She was tiny next to his six-two frame, even in heels. Her soft-spoken manner charmed most men, but she didn’t find it easy to make female friends.

Although Fiona and Muireann were first cousins, their surname was the only thing they had in common. Where Muireann was petite, Fiona was tall and curvaceous. Where Muireann was fair-haired, Fiona had a tumble of dark curls. And where Muireann was cool and collected, Fiona was fiery and chaotic.

Unless, of course, she’d changed over the years. Remembering the spark of rage in Fiona’s eyes when Muireann and Deirdre called her fat, he doubted the past eight years had tamed her temper.

He continued to pick at his food. Bernard had seconds at every course, wolfing his food and washing it down with several glasses of red wine.

Deirdre and Muireann maintained a seemingly endless prattle about the wedding and who was planning to wear what and who had gained or lost weight or had “a little work” done on various parts of their anatomy.

“I can’t believe Fiona split her dress.” Muireann tittered with ill-disguised glee. “What a fright she looked!”

“She has no manners and no breeding.” Deirdre sniffed. “Hardly surprising, given her upbringing. I’d hoped a few years in Dublin would improve her sense of fashion.”

“She’d need to be a lot skinnier to fit into fashionable clothes, Mummy.”

“Fiona’s not fat,” Gavin said firmly. “She split the dress because it was the wrong size.”

“Nonsense,” Deirdre said. “Claudette is a professional. She followed the measurements exactly. Fiona either lied about her size or ate too much in the meantime.”

“The sight of her pasty bottom!” Muireann laughed. “I haven’t seen anything so funny in all my life.”

“If that’s true, you need to get out more,” he said tersely. “Fiona’s not skinny, but neither is she fat. And the more you go on about her weight, the more I suspect you deliberately sabotaged the dress fitting.”

“What?” Muireann’s face turned chalky white, and her bottom lip began to quiver. “You’re blaming me for that fat cow destroying her dress?”

“Gavin!” Deirdre radiated disapproval. “What a dreadful thing to say.”

“Well, Muireann? Did you give Claudette the wrong measurements?”

Her eyes darted to the side, then refocused. “Of course not. Why would I want to waste Daddy’s money like that?”

“For a good laugh at Fiona’s expense? It wouldn’t be the first time.” He tossed his fork on the table and leaned forward in his seat. “For whatever reason, Fiona brings your inner bitch out to play. Always has, probably always will.”

“Don’t be silly. I played a few pranks on her when we were younger. Isn’t that what schoolgirls do? It doesn’t mean I’d do anything so childish now.”

“So you’re saying Claudette screwed up?”

“She must have.” Muireann fiddled with her napkin, her engagement ring glinting in the light. “Either that or Fiona sent the wrong measurements.” Her blue eyes grew large, and she leaned across the table to take his hand in hers. “We never argue, yet today we’ve had two disagreements. First about the dog, and now over Fiona.”

He focused on Deirdre’s silver epergne. The center bowl overflowed with exotic fruit. Each of the small dishes extending in branches from the centerpiece contained different-colored flowers. His nose itched from all the pollen.

Raising his eyes, he looked at his fiancée. “All right.” He reached for his water glass. “We’ll leave it for now. I don’t want to fight with you, Muireann.”

Especially not the night before their wedding.

Glasses2

CHAPTER FIVE

THE CHURCH BELLS CHIMED the hour. Eleven o’clock. Fiona increased her pace, dodged a bike, and crossed the square over to Patrick Street. Despite the late hour, Ballybeg town center was busy. People spilled out of pubs onto the pavement, their laughter floating on the light autumn breeze.

So much had changed since she’d lived in Ballybeg, yet so much remained the same. The terraced houses along Patrick Street retained their brightly colored facades, but several of the businesses on the ground floors had changed. The fish-and-chipper was gone, replaced by a Chinese take-away. The old pound shop was now the tourist information office. The butcher’s had been converted into a private residence.

She was a stranger in her hometown, every difference a sharp shock of reality. Time passed, people evolved, places altered. Memories froze a place in time, and change seemed a violation.

Not everything in Ballybeg was different, though, nor everyone. Her aunt’s bookshop was still on Patrick Street, the familiar turquoise paint a welcome sight. Olivia was as warm and welcoming as the first day they’d met in primary school. And Muireann was still a first-class cow.

After the arse-baring disaster, she and Olivia had gone out for a drink. Now it was time to return to Bridie’s house and face the music.

Feckity feck.

She hated disappointing her aunt. Requesting she consider being Muireann’s maid of honor was the first time Bridie had asked her to do anything family-related for years. She went through phases of promoting family togetherness before giving it up as a lost cause.

Fiona turned into Beach Road, each step slower than its predecessor. The tide was out, and the smell of damp seaweed was overpowering.

Most of the homes along Beach Road were old cottages that had endured the strong Atlantic wind for over a century. Each cottage was painted a different shade, but none was as remarkable as Bridie’s. Under the faint light of the street lamps, it was a lurid pink—an eyesore, even in the context of colorful Ballybeg. It suited its owner perfectly.

Said owner was standing on her doorstep, plump hands on broad hips. Her peach-rinsed hair was in tight curlers, and she wore a voluminous fluffy bathrobe the same shade as her hair.

Next door, the lights were out in Gavin’s cottage. Did he still own it now that he’d moved in with Muireann? Fiona’s cheeks burned at the memory of him rescuing her this evening. Trust her to get into such an embarrassing situation, and trust Muireann to orchestrate it.

“What’s all this about you being fired from the wedding?”

“It’s past eleven.” Fiona shut the gate behind her. “Shouldn’t a person of your advanced years be asleep?”

“Cheeky minx. I’m sixty-four, not dead. Now get inside and tell me what happened.”

Bridie stood to the side, and Fiona squeezed past into the small cottage. She shrugged off her coat and walked by the multitude of knickknacks and ornaments that adorned every nook and cranny of Bridie’s home.

“We’ll have cocoa,” her aunt announced when they reached the cluttered but cozy kitchen. “And you’re making it. After listening to Deirdre screech down the phone at me for an hour, you owe me one.”

Fiona laughed and rummaged in the cupboard where the tea and other hot beverages were stored. “Any chance I’m disinvited from the wedding in addition to being fired from my post as maid of honor?”

“Not a hope. Deirdre particularly said she’d like you to attend.”

“Bollocks. She doesn’t want the neighbors gossiping about a family feud.”

Her aunt’s bushy eyebrows formed a unibrow of disapproval. “How did you manage to have a major falling out with Muireann within an hour of arriving in Ballybeg?”

“It’s a talent.” She poured milk into a small saucepan and added cocoa powder. “I’m aware you were angling for a reconciliation between us. I told you it wouldn’t happen.”

“I know you did, missy.” Bridie lowered herself into a kitchen chair, wincing from the effort. “I should have listened. But your dad would have wanted you to go to Muireann’s wedding, and I sometimes get to wondering if the rift between you two isn’t partly my fault.”

“What makes you say that?” She turned mid-stir and regarded her aunt. “Muireann and I have been sparking off one another since preschool.”

“Yes, but I’ve made no secret of my feelings toward Bernard. Maybe that wasn’t fair.”

“Under the circumstances, you’re entitled to feel bitter.”

“Perhaps, but Mammy’s will shouldn’t affect your relationship with your cousin. It’s not her fault Bernard inherited so much and the rest of us so little.”

“Nana’s will has nothing to do with my issues with Muireann. She managed to piss me off all on her own.”

Fiona stirred the cocoa a final time and divided the frothy liquid between two mugs. She placed one in front of her aunt and took the seat across the table.

Lines of pain etched Bridie’s forehead, the grooves deeper than Fiona remembered.

“Are you okay? You look like you’re in discomfort.”

“Ah, I’m grand,” Bridie said. “My hip’s paining me this evening.”

“Arthritis?”

“So Dr. Mulligan says. It’s worse in the winter. Now stop stalling and tell me what led to you being fired as maid of honor. I only have Deirdre’s rant to go by, and I don’t place much store by her account.”

“Long story short, my maid of honor dress was too small. It ripped.” Fiona’s cheeks grew warm at the memory of Gavin’s big hands on her waist.

“Didn’t you send your measurements to Muireann?”

“Yeah, I did.” She took a sip of cocoa. “She swears she passed on the correct measurements to the dressmaker. I don’t believe her.”

“Hmm. And you had a fight?”

“Yeah. It ended with Olivia and me no longer welcome in the wedding party. Whether we quit or were fired is open to debate. At any rate, we won’t be trailing down the aisle after Muireann.”

“Olivia too?” Bridie licked cocoa off her upper lip. “Aidan won’t be pleased.”

“Not much pleases Aidan Gant.” Fiona scrunched up her nose. “I don’t get what she sees in him.”

“Financial security is not to be scoffed at. Take it from one who knows. Gant stands to make a lot of money from Bernard’s new shopping center.”

“Olivia mentioned that. Where are they building it?”

“Out by Fir Road.”

Fiona frowned. “Isn’t that part of the land Bernard inherited from Nana?”

“Yes. He’s been angling to build on it for years, but the old guard on the town council wouldn’t approve the plans. Now that his cronies Aidan Gant and George Jobson are on the council, the plans got pushed through.”

“Nice for Bernard.”

A bitter half smile twisted Bridie’s lips. “Nice for Bernard’s bank account.”

“Speaking of money… there’s something I’ve been meaning to ask you.”

“Ask away.”

“I can’t help noticing the house is looking a bit—”

“Shabby?” Bridie looked her straight in the eye.

“Well, yeah,” she said awkwardly. “But it’s more than that. It’s fairly obvious you need to get a new washing machine, and the sink in the bathroom leaks. Are you doing all right? Moneywise, I mean.”

“I get by.” A muscle in her aunt’s cheek twitched. “I can afford to put food on the table and pay my bills. That’s more than most can say in this economy.”

“Right. And the Book Mark?”

“It’s a bookshop.” Her aunt’s eyes dropped to the worn kitchen linoleum. “People don’t have money to spare for new books, and the used book exchange is more a service to my customers than a big earner. Those who can afford to buy books are going the digital route with the capsule thingies.”

Fiona suppressed a smile. “Tablets?”

“Yeah. That’s what they’re called.” Bridie drained the last dregs of cocoa from her mug and stood. Her stance was awkward, and she was favoring one side. “I’d better get to sleep. Listen, if you decide you’re not going to the wedding tomorrow, would you sort your old stuff? There are at least three boxes of junk in your old room. If you haven’t touched them in eight years, I doubt they contain anything important.”

“Yes, boss.” She gave a mock salute. “What time’s the ceremony?”

“Eleven.” Bridie put a hand on her shoulder. “I’m sorry you came down to Ballybeg for nothing, love.”

A pang of guilt nagged Fiona’s conscience. She should visit more often. Or at least call more than once every few months. She squeezed her aunt’s hand. “Not for nothing. I’m glad to see you.”

“It’s great to catch up with you before you head off to the other side of the world.”

She beamed. “I can’t believe it’s actually happening. I’ve been planning this trip for so long it seems surreal.”

“I remember you talking about going to Australia when you were barely old enough to find it on a globe.”

“Bridie,” Fiona asked tentatively, “how important is it to you that I go to the wedding?”

“For better or worse, I’d like to put the past behind us and behave like a proper family for one day. Your dad was always the peacemaker. Now that he’s gone…”

“In that case, I’ll go to the ceremony, at the very least.” She planted a kiss on her aunt’s plump cheek. “And when I get back from Oz, I’ll come down to Ballybeg more often. I promise. You’ll be sick of the sight of me.”

Glasses2

The rest of Gavin’s pre-wedding meal with the Byrnes passed without incident.

After dessert, Muireann and Deirdre returned to the living room to discuss the last wedding details. Although what there was to be decided, he had no idea. How much more micromanaging could they achieve between now and tomorrow morning?

“Let’s go into the library.” Bernard rose unsteadily to his feet. “We’ll have another glass of the MacAllan.”

Bernard’s library was yet another affectation in a house full of affectations. The oak bookshelves were stuffed with valuable first editions of the classics, yet no one in the Byrne household would ever consider reading one.

Gavin sat in a stiff leather armchair and gazed at the spine of Thomas Hardy’s The Mayor of Casterbridge. How much had it set Bernard back? A few hundred? A few thousand? All for a book the man would never read.

A cigar clenched between his front teeth, Bernard sloshed whiskey into a tumbler and shoved it toward Gavin. He poured himself an even larger glass. “Pre-wedding nerves, lad?” He took a gulp of whiskey, then a puff of his cigar. “We’ve all been there.”

Gavin coughed discreetly through the plumes of pungent smoke. “I’m grand. The joking about Fiona went too far for my taste.”

“Fond of Fiona, are you?” Bernard’s shrewd gaze speared him to the spot.

“Before today, I hadn’t seen her for years.” And had tried not to think of her. “But yeah, we always got on well.” Better than you’ll ever know.

Memories of that crazy night in Vegas surfaced again. Hazy, colorful, loud. And the look of hurt and betrayal on Fiona’s face the next morning when he announced he was leaving.

“Fiona has an inferiority complex. And no sense of style. My sister is hardly a good influence on her. She’d have been better off coming to live with us after her parents died.”

“From my understanding, no such offer was extended.”

Bernard’s mustache bristled. “Nonsense. We’d have been happy to have her. But enough about my niece. Let’s talk business.”

Gavin’s ears pricked up. The contract. It had to be about the contract.

“Aidan Gant’s drawn up the papers to make you our new design director. They’ll be ready to sign when you get back from your honeymoon.”

And not a moment before… Bernard was loving having him on a chain.

He swallowed a mouthful of MacAllan. “I’d hoped to get it all sorted out before we left. That was the original plan.”

Bernard swirled his glass. “Yes. I’ve been distracted by the wedding prep.” He regarded him with a steely expression. “I’m confident you’ll make my daughter very happy.”

He stared at the paisley-patterned carpet. “I’ll certainly do my best.”

“Excellent.” The older man stood and flashed him a snake-like smile. “I’ll have the contract ready for you to sign as soon as you’re back from Mauritius.”

He was tempted to tell Bernard where to stick his contract, but common sense prevailed. Too much was at stake here, not least Muireann’s feelings. If working for her father for a couple more years was the price he had to pay for financial stability, well, we all made sacrifices.

He got to his feet. “Right. I’ll see you tomorrow.”

Deirdre was rearranging flowers in the hallway when he emerged from Bernard’s lair. “Muireann’s already gone to bed,” she said, poking and prodding at a yellow floral arrangement that was making his nose itch. “A bride needs her beauty sleep.”

“I’ll nip up and say good-bye.”

Upstairs, he knocked on Muireann’s bedroom door and went in. She was already in her nightie, brushing her long blond hair. She paused midstroke when she saw his reflection in her dressing table mirror.

“I’m sorry about earlier. Let’s assume Claudette messed up.” He put his hands on her bare shoulders and kissed her neck.

She pulled away and resumed her hair brushing. “Forget it. You’re probably just nervous about the wedding.”

He let his arms drop to his side. “I’m not fond of public speaking, but it’s more than that. These past few months haven’t been easy—for either of us.”

She tugged at a tangle. “Planning a wedding is stressful. As is moving house. We’ve done both this year.”

“At least it’ll be all over by tomorrow night.”

She turned to look at him, an odd expression on her face. “That’s a funny thing to say about your wedding day.”

“Big events with tons of guests aren’t my thing.”

“Why did you agree to it?”

He shrugged. “I know how much a traditional wedding means to you.”

She bit her lip. “You’re looking forward to the honeymoon at least?”

“Yes. Yeah. Of course I am. A holiday is exactly what we need.” He bent down and pecked her on the cheek. “I’d better let you get some sleep. Besides, Jonas will be waiting for me at the cottage.”

Her baby blue eyes met his. “I love you, Gavin. I’ll be a good wife to you.”

“I know you will. I love you, too.”

And he did. Of course he did. So why did the words weigh down his tongue like lead?

Glasses2

CHAPTER SIX

ON HIS WEDDING DAY, Gavin rose early for his morning run. Dawn was breaking when he closed the door of his cottage. His hand stilled on the door handle, and his eyes strayed to the nameplate on the wall.

Abhaile, the Irish word for home.

He’d loved this house the moment he’d seen it, ramshackle though it was. Where his mother saw a dump, he saw potential. Where she saw a financial drain, he saw an opportunity. And where she saw an unwanted abode, he saw a home.

Now it was no longer his home.

If his mother had despaired of the cottage, Muireann despised it. She’d set her heart on a big house, and her parents were willing to sell them Clonmore Lodge. Gavin had caved, acknowledging the cottage was too small to raise a family. The cottage was up for sale, but no interesting offers had come through yet. He was relieved, even though they needed the money. If a buyer didn’t materialize soon, he’d have to find a tenant. But that was a concern for another day.

He headed down the short path and out the gate. He crossed the road and stood at the railings overlooking the beach.

What a view. The tide was out, exposing a vast expanse of wet sand. It was rocky in places, sandy in others.

He took the steps down to the beach two at a time. At the bottom, his trainers sank into damp sand. After a few preliminary stretches, he began to run.

He pounded down the strand, his lungs burning, his mind free. The only activity more calming than this was swimming, but even he wasn’t crazy enough to wade in today.

After a couple of kilometers, he stopped to catch his breath. He wiped sweat from his brow and took a swig from his water bottle. The sea was wild and the tide had turned. The waves crashed and foamed, and the blue-green water crept up the sand.

He should get back to the cottage. There was a lot to do before he left for the church. Plus he had a guest. Yeah, breakfast with Jonas was something to look forward to. He hooked his water bottle.

“Gav!”

He whipped round.

Jonas was pounding down the sand toward him, clad in an old T-shirt and what appeared to be swimming trunks. A lit cigarette dangled from one hand. His dark hair stood on end, and thick stubble shadowed his jawline. Despite his disheveled appearance, he looked better than Gavin felt.

“Morning.” He grinned at his friend. “Didn’t expect to see you up this early, never mind jogging.”

“Trying to get fit. The sedentary lifestyle and all that.”

“Bollocks,” Gavin said with a laugh. “You’re sickeningly fit for a man who sits on his arse all day and writes.”

“Mental exertion, mate. Crafting stories uses a lot of energy.”

“Yeah, right. More like a high metabolism and good genes. Enjoy it while it lasts.”

“I’m jogging, aren’t I?” Jonas took a drag from his cigarette. “I’m trying to set an example for Luca.”

“With fags and beer?”

“Shut up.” Jonas grinned. “At least I’m not about to get hitched.”

“You could give it consideration. Luca’s nearly five.”

A shadow flitted across Jonas’s tanned face. “You’re distracted, mate. I told you Susanne and I are on a break.”

“Another one?” How many times had they broken up since Luca’s birth? Four? Five?

Jonas shrugged. “Nah. Same break as last time we spoke of it. This one’s just lasting a while. Luca’s diagnosis hit Susanne hard.”

“For feck’s sake. He’s on the autism spectrum, not terminally ill.”

His friend gave him a sharp look. “It’ll be fine, okay? I don’t need relationship advice from a reluctant groom.”

If Jonas had punched him in the gut, Gavin couldn’t have felt more stunned. “Reluctant? Where did you get that impression?”

“Come on, Gav. We’ve been friends since secondary school. You’re not exactly what I’d term a blushing groom.”

“A bout of pre-wedding jitters. It’ll pass.”

“Make sure it passes before eleven this morning.”

Gavin stared out to sea. “Why don’t you worry about your own relationship and let me worry about mine?”

“Sorry, mate. I’ll back off.”

“Forget about it. How about a full Irish breakfast back at the cottage?”

Jonas grinned. “Last one there cooks?”

“You’re on.”

They raced down the beach, neck and neck for the first while until Gavin gained the advantage. He bounded up the slippery stone steps, across Beach Road, and waited for Jonas at the door of the cottage.

“Ha,” he said when Jonas hauled himself up the garden path, gasping for breath. “You’d make the perfect ad for an anti-smoking campaign.”

“Feck off,” said Jonas, panting. “I lost on purpose.”

“Sure you did.” Gavin inserted his key into the lock.

“Self-preservation, mate. You can’t cook for shite.”

Gavin opened the door of the cottage. They were greeted by the sound of retching.

Gavin froze, then legged it into his bedroom, Jonas close behind. “Aw, no.”

“Jaysus,” Jonas said. “Is it my imagination, or is Wiggly Poo regurgitating your wedding suit?”

Glasses2

“Morning, Sleeping Beauty. Time to play happy families.”

Bridie wrenched open the curtains. Sunlight flooded Fiona’s old bedroom, revealing faded posters of rock bands she’d loved as a teenager and Bridie’s bright orange dress.

“Ugh.” Blinking, she buried her head beneath her pillow. “Not time yet.”

“Olivia’s drinking tea in the kitchen. Says she’s here to lend you a hand getting ready for the wedding.”

Fiona emerged from underneath the pillow. “Does no one trust me to wear appropriate footwear to the church?”

“Frankly, no.”

“Your faith in me is touching.” She threw off her duvet and found her feet. In the wardrobe’s full-length mirror, her reflection stared back. A wild bush of dark curls on her head, bags under her eyes, and five kilos above her ideal weight.

“Now that you’re no longer maid of honor, do you have an outfit to wear to the wedding?”

“Nothing fancy,” replied Fiona. “I have a black dress I can jazz up with jewelry.”

“Sounds grand. Don’t forget to remove your lip ring. Deirdre made particular mention of it.”

Fiona stuck her tongue out. “Oh, all right.”

“In that case, I’ll leave you girls to get ready.” She fastened a matching orange hat to her head. “I’m due to give The Major a lift to the church. And check his attire. That man cannot be trusted to wear a matching tie.”

Fiona bit back a laugh. The Earl of Clonmore—more commonly known as The Major—was Olivia’s grandfather and Bridie’s favorite frenemy. They argued about life, the universe, and everything during bridge, bingo, and flower shows.

Fiona threw on her dressing gown and went out into the kitchen.

Olivia was seated at the kitchen table, drinking tea and perusing the morning paper. She wore a beautiful emerald dress, and her auburn hair was pulled into a chic chignon. She looked up when Fiona came in. “Wow, Fee. Conditioner is your friend.”

“Morning to you, too, Liv.”

“Right, girls. I’m off.” Bridie grabbed her handbag off the kitchen counter. “Be at the church before eleven.”

“Yes, Bridie,” they chorused.

When she left, Fiona turned to Olivia. “I love her to bits, but she’s driving me mad. As far as she’s concerned, I’m still a kid. And when I’m around her, I revert.”

“Tea?” Olivia indicated the half-full pot on the table.

“No, thanks. I’ll hit the shower and get dressed; then we can spend a productive hour cyberstalking people we used to know way back when.”

Olivia laughed. “Sounds like a plan.”

Fiona showered, dressed, and applied more makeup than she usually wore. She was fiddling with her hair when Olivia knocked on her bedroom door.

“Shall I?” She pointed to Fiona’s hair straighteners.

“It’s hopeless. I can’t seem to tame it.”

“Never fear. Olivia is here.”

Within fifteen minutes, Olivia had Fiona’s hair straightened and tamed.

A glamorous stranger stared back at her from the vanity mirror, straight-haired and red-lipped. “You’re a genius. Thank you.”

“No problem.” Olivia glanced at her phone. “We have over an hour before we’re due at the church.”

“My aunt asked me to clear out my storage boxes. Want to laugh at our school yearbook photos?”

“Sounds like the sort of thing mature adults would do,” Olivia said. “Go get them.”

“Bridie’s got my old photo albums and mementos stored under the bed.” Fiona bent down and pulled out a couple of boxes. “I keep meaning to sort through them and take the ones I want to save home to my apartment in Dublin. I guess this weekend is as good a time as any.”

Olivia lifted the lid off the first box and leafed through a small photo album. “These are from our school trip to Berlin in third year. Oh, my God. That was the time I shaved my head, and the nuns had a conniption.”

“There are even worse ones of you in here,” Fiona said. “Irish college the summer before the Leaving Cert. You dyed your hair pink, and I dyed mine blue.”

“Gosh, we look a state.”

Olivia lifted the lid off the second container and rifled through its contents. “Looks like this one is from your year in the States. I have fond memories of the time we met up in San Francisco. Hey, here’s a picture of you with your host family. Do you keep in touch?”

“Christmas cards.”

“Oh, wow!” Olivia held up an elegant wooden box emblazoned with Chinese characters. “You still have your little memory box.”

“What?” Fiona dropped the envelope she was holding. A prickle of foreboding snaked down her spine. What had she kept in that box?

“I have no idea what happened to mine,” Olivia said. “Do you remember the day we bought them in that little shop in Chinatown?”

Gavin… Las Vegas… oh, feck! She tried to yank it out of Olivia’s grasp.

“No way.” Olivia was grinning. “I want to know what you hid in the false bottom.”

“Give it here.”

Olivia had already opened the box and located its false bottom.

Fiona’s heart rate accelerated into the fast lane. Feck, feck, feck!

Olivia was holding papers in her hand. “Ah, you’re a sly one. Photos, eh?”

“I’m serious. Give me the box.”

“Hold on a sec… here’s one of you and Gavin. Huh?” Olivia raised an eyebrow questioningly. “You look pretty cozy. Where was this taken?”

Fiona’s stomach performed a stunt worthy of an acrobat. “Las Vegas.”

“Vegas, eh? Where’s Muireann in these pictures?” Olivia put her hand back into the box and extracted more photos and papers. She flipped through them and then paused. “What the hell?”

Shite! Olivia must have found the photo of her and Gavin kissing. Why hadn’t she destroyed it years ago? Why had she been soppy and sentimental and kept it?

“Fiona.” Olivia’s rosy cheeks were pale, her voice uncharacteristically tremulous. “Is this a marriage certificate?”

The sound of ripping fabric tore a horrified gasp from the crowd. The material at the back of the dress split open, revealing two luscious, creamy buttocks.

 

LOVE AND SHENANIGANS will be on sale by 1 June 2014.

Source: http://zarakeane.com/?p=239

'Love and Shenanigans' — First Excerpt

New

Chapter One

Ballybeg, County Cork, Ireland

GAVIN STEERED HIS BMW down the winding road leading to Clonmore Lodge, windows down, punk rock blaring. Through the gaps in the trees, he glimpsed the sea. He inhaled deeply, tasted the salty air on his tongue, and felt it sting his nose.

Ballybeg was the best place on earth. He’d loved this area from the first moment he’d seen it. Adored the wildness of the sea, the rolling green fields, the seaweed-scented wind. He couldn’t imagine living anywhere else. While he liked to travel, the best part of every holiday was coming back home.

He rounded a last bend in the road and turned into the drive that led to a spacious three-level house. It was gorgeous, of that there was no doubt. Built in the mid-nineteenth century, it combined the quaint elegance of Old Ireland with modern comforts. It boasted five bedrooms, a sauna in the basement, and a small tennis court out the back. As his fiancée assured him daily, it would be the perfect home to raise kids.

And yet he’d trade it in for his cozy cottage any day. Yes, the cottage was too small for a family. Yes, it wasn’t as fancy as this house. And yes, it wasn’t in the most desirable area of Ballybeg. But the cottage was the first place he’d called home, and leaving it was a wrench.

He pulled his car to a halt outside the ivy-framed door. He was on the verge of opening his car door when his mobile phone flashed a message. A glance at the glowing display made his stomach cramp. He read the message several times. By the time he tossed the phone back on the passenger seat, the words were imprinted on his brain.

Hi, Gavin. Best wishes on your wedding day. Sorry we can’t make it. Too much to do on the farm. I know you’ll understand. All the best, Mum xx

He exhaled sharply. He was used to his mother’s offhandedness. Resigned to her disinterest in his life. So why did this latest rejection hurt so damn much? He was thirty-two years old, for feck’s sake. Too old to get maudlin over her lack of interest, and old enough to have developed a thicker skin.

He grabbed his briefcase and architect’s tool bag, climbed out of the car, and slammed the door.

Inside the house, seventies pop music drifted down the hallway. He laughed softly. One thing he and his fiancée definitely did not have in common was their taste in music.

“Muireann,” he called. “I’m home.”

Over Abba’s crooning, he heard what sounded like a dog barking. He frowned. That couldn’t be right. He and Muireann had a strict “no pets” rule.

He dumped his bag and briefcase and headed toward the living room to investigate.

Muireann was sitting on the sofa, humming and cradling a curly-haired puppy in her arms. “Isn’t he adorable?” She beamed and the puppy slobbered all over her face. The same face Gavin was barely permitted to air kiss these days in case he smudged her makeup. She’d always been particular about her appearance, but in the months leading up to the wedding, she’d become obsessed.

Gavin stared at the scene before him, slack-jawed. There was an overturned vase, claw marks on the leather sofa, and a suspicious yellow stain on the hearthrug.

Jaysus. That dog peed on a one-thousand-euro rug.”

“Hmm?” Muireann glanced at the hand-tufted rug Gavin had specially commissioned for her engagement present. “He’s not quite house-trained, but we’ll soon have that sorted, won’t we, Wiggly Poo?”

Gavin sank into an armchair and groped for the whiskey decanter. “Why is a dog urinating in our living room? Why is a dog in our living room in the first place?”

“Daddy gave him to us as an early wedding present.”

“What?” He clenched the decanter. “I’m allergic to dogs.”

“Yeah.” She nuzzled her nose into the canine’s curly fur. “But he’s an Australian labradoodle.”

“A labra…what?”

“It’s a cross between a Labrador and a poodle. They’re supposed to be hypoallergenic.”

Supposed to be. That’s reassuring.”

Muireann’s pink lips compressed into a perfect pout. “You’re not suggesting we give him back?”

“We discussed marriage. We discussed babies. We never discussed labrawhatsits.”

“If you want rid of him, you talk to Daddy.”

“You can be damn sure I’ll talk to Bernard. I bowed to pressure over the house. No way am I allowing him to foist a pet on us.” Gavin sloshed a generous helping of Jameson into a tumbler and knocked it back in one. This wedding business was getting out of control. The sooner the ceremony was over and they were sunning themselves in Mauritius, the better.

“I realize you wanted us to live in your cottage, but you must see it’s not practical.”

Gavin sighed. “Yeah, I do. That’s the reason I agreed to move in with you, rather than vice versa.”

“We’ve been spoiled by our years of living in separate homes.” She patted his hand. “It’ll take time to adjust. For both of us.”

The dog barked, drawing his attention back to his unwanted guest. “Who came up with the daft name?”

“Mummy. Wiggly Poo wouldn’t be my first choice, but I didn’t want to offend her. Besides, it rather suits him.”

Gavin eyed the animal with suspicion. It resembled a walking bathmat. The dog panted and batted canine eyelashes at him.

“Do you want to hold him?” Muireann raised a perfectly plucked eyebrow.

He edged back in his seat. “I’ll pass, thanks.”

“Suit yourself,” she said with a shrug.

Gavin gestured at the dog with his whiskey glass. “Who’s minding the mutt while we’re in Mauritius?”

“Aunt Bridie.”

“What about her bad hip?”

Muireann sniffed. “After all Daddy’s done for her over the years, it’s the least she can do.”

“Why can’t your parents dog sit?”

“It would be too much for Mummy’s Chihuahuas. Wiggly Poo’s a little wild.”

Gavin’s gaze dropped to the stained rug. “You don’t say.”

“Mummy called boarding kennels and none had a free place at such short notice.”

“I’m not happy about having a dog thrust upon me. By the time we get back from our honeymoon, I want him gone.”

She gave an exaggerated sigh. “Fine. Can we discuss this later? It’s the day before our wedding. I don’t want any unpleasantness between us.”

“Okay, but I’m not backing down. You got your way over the house, the wedding, and the honeymoon. No bloody way am I agreeing to keep a pet.”

“Yes, dear.” She gave him a peck on the cheek. He smelled her face powder and her signature scent. “Whatever we end up doing with the dog, Wiggly Poo needs a walk this evening. Will you take him out while I’m with my designer?”

“What? Me?” She had to be bloody joking.

Muireann treated the curly-haired destroyer of rugs to one last pet and dumped him in Gavin’s lap. “I told you this morning. I have an appointment with my bridesmaids to practice the choreography for the wedding. My designer is bringing all the dresses to my parents’ house.”

“The choreography? Won’t you all just walk down the aisle?”

“It needs to be timed.” She slipped her powder compact into her handbag. “I want everything to be perfect.”

Wiggly Poo buried his snout in Gavin’s crotch, making him squirm. “Jaysus, Muireann. You can’t be serious about us keeping the dog. My asthma’s already kicking in.”

Actually, it wasn’t, much to his chagrin. He clutched his throat for dramatic effect and forced a feeble cough. What was the point of having an allergy if it didn’t act up when you wanted it to?

“Nonsense. You’ll be fine once you get used to him.” She snatched up her handbag and overnight case from the coffee table. “Don’t be late for dinner. Mummy and Daddy are expecting you at six.”

Gavin struggled to his feet. The dog dug its claws into his tailored shirt. “What am I supposed to do with him while we’re out for dinner?”

“Oh, leave him here,” she said airily. “He’ll be fine.”

“He might be fine, but will the house?”

Muireann checked her lipstick in the hall mirror and smoothed her straight blonde hair. “It’s natural for Wiggly Poo to want to explore his new terrain.”

“His new terrain is our house. Our heavily mortgaged house, complete with expensive furnishings.”

“Gavin, don’t make a fuss. My interior design business is picking up. And once Daddy promotes you, we’ll easily afford the mortgage. Besides,” she gestured at their luxurious surroundings, “we’re getting the house for a steal. Daddy gave us a great price.”

“He gave us a good deal on a very expensive house. And you’re trying to distract me from talking about the dog.”

Her eyes widened in faux innocence.

“What are we doing with the dog tonight?” He watched her slip on her jacket and pick up her bags. “You’re staying at your parents’ house and say you can’t bring him with you, and I’m staying at my old house with Jonas. We can’t leave him here alone.”

“Can’t you take him to yours? Jonas’s kid can play with him. Kids love dogs.”

“Luca’s staying with his grandparents. It’s only me and Jonas at the cottage.”

Muireann glanced at the slim gold watch her father had given her for her last birthday. “I’m going to be late. You’ll figure something out. Bye, Wiggly Poo.”

With these not very reassuring words—and yet another air kiss—Gavin’s future bride made her perfume-scented exit.

 

Glasses2

Chapter Two

IF AN EVIL FAIRY conjured Fiona’s personal hell, it would be this wedding.

“Isn’t your dress gorgeous?” The evil fairy of the moment—Fiona’s cousin, Muireann—displayed dazzling white teeth set in a saccharine smile. “Since you’re my maid of honor, I wanted you to wear something special.”

Fiona tongued her lip ring and squinted at the satin monstrosity hanging in her cousin’s walk-in wardrobe. No, she wasn’t hallucinating. Muireann wanted her to wear snot-green.

“You’re in the chartreuse.” Muireann’s smirk widened. She took down the hanger and held the dress against Fiona. “Maroon is so draining on brunettes, don’t you think?”

Fiona grimaced. Who the feck chose chartreuse and maroon for their wedding colors? And what in the bejaysus was that thing at the end of the dress? “Is that a fin?” She poked at the stiff fabric. With a bit of luck, it was detachable. She’d “lose” it somewhere between here and the church.

“It’s a mermaid bottom. I thought the design particularly well-suited to someone with your physique.”

My physique. Riiight.

In other words, she knew the dress would draw attention to Fiona’s childbearing hips and thunder thighs. What better way for Muireann to emphasize her own petite figure than to contrast it with her heifer of a cousin?

A lot had changed in the eight years since Fiona left Ballybeg, but her cousin had not. And neither, it seemed, had Fiona’s reactions to Muireann’s jibes. Over the years in Dublin, she’d shed her body image issues and learned to embrace her curves. Half an hour back in Ballybeg and Muireann’s company, and all her old insecurities had come flooding back.

“Plus,” continued Muireann, “the long sleeves will cover your tattoos.”

Fiona shifted her weight from one lace-up boot to the other. “If you find my appearance offensive, why did you ask me to be your maid of honor?”

“Mummy insisted. But she doesn’t feel it’s proper to show tattoos in church.”

“In that case, I guess your groom will be wearing a high-necked collar.”

Her cousin’s eyes narrowed to slits. “What do you know about Gavin’s tattoos?”

Feck! Curse her for a fool for speaking without thinking. She cleared her throat. “The one on his neck’s pretty obvious.”

“Gavin’s a man,” Muireann said with a sniff. “Tattoos aren’t ladylike.”

But being a total bitch was? Fiona gave a mental headshake. Why had she let Bridie talk her into participating in this farce? She’d bloody well known Muireann would do something to humiliate her.

Muireann draped the dress across the queen-sized bed, and pivoted on her heels. “I’ll leave you to get ready. Claudette—my designer—needs to check the fit. Such a shame you couldn’t make it to Cork to attend the earlier fittings. Claudette was most distressed.”

“I had to work. I was teaching summer school up until yesterday. It’s hardly my fault you scheduled the fittings for weekdays.” Fiona fingered the hooks at the back of the dress. “Am I going to manage to do it up myself?”

Her cousin waved one French manicured hand in a dismissive gesture, the other already turning the crystal doorknob. “I’ll send Olivia in to help. Be quick about it, will you? Claudette doesn’t have all day.”

The door half closed, leaving Fiona to contemplate fish tails and dresses the color of infected sinuses.

Muireann’s head popped round the door again. “By the way, Fiona?”

“Yeah?”

“Lose the boots.”

The door clicked closed.

Fiona slumped onto the four-poster bed. Three days. Three days until freedom and white sandy beaches. Three days until she embarked on the trip of a lifetime. The catch was surviving the next seventy-two hours.

Someone tapped on the door, making her sit bolt upright.

“Are you decent?” Olivia—her best friend and only ally at this infernal shindig—slipped into the room. She wore a simple maroon bridesmaid’s gown that complemented her auburn hair and slim figure. She held a bottle in one hand and two champagne flutes in the other.

Fiona leaped to her feet and enveloped her in a bear hug. “Liv!”

“If you’re initiating physical contact, it’s got to be bad.” Olivia spied the dress draped across the bed and recoiled. “Oh, my gawd! The color’s hideous.”

“It’s a shade I associate more with sinus infections than weddings.” Fiona scrunched her nose. “What the hell was Muireann smoking?”

“It’s odd. She’s got a good reputation as an interior designer.”

“Obviously her good taste in color schemes doesn’t extend to clothing.”

Olivia cast another look at the offending garment and gave an exaggerated shudder. “I’m so glad I nicked the champagne. You’re going to need it if you’re to model that dress before your aunt Deirdre and the Evil Twins.”

“The twins are here, too?” Fiona groaned. “In that case, bring it on.”

Olivia popped the cork and poured. She handed a glass to Fiona. “Get that down you. If there’s a silver lining to this wedding, it’s the Cristal.”

Sláinte.”

The bubbly liquid coated Fiona’s tongue like a caress. “Delicious. Uncle Bernard’s wine cellar can’t compensate for the fugly dress, but it certainly helps.”

Olivia peered at Fiona over the brim of her champagne flute. “Jokes aside, how are you coping? This can’t be easy, especially after the breakup with Philip.”

Fiona swallowed hard. The concern in her friend’s gaze almost persuaded her to succumb to her inner blub fest. “I’m grand,” she said, ignoring the quaver in her voice.

Olivia reached out to squeeze her hand. “You’re a crap liar. You always were.”

She gave a wry laugh. “That’s why we sent you to buy alcohol when we were teenagers.”

“Ah, Fee. Queen of the witty diversion.” Olivia wagged a finger. “You won’t distract me that easily.”

“Consider it a deferred conversation.” Fiona took another sip of champagne before placing her glass on the bedside table. “Are you going to help me into this crime against fashion, or what?”

Olivia cast her a knowing glance. “I’m only letting you change the subject because Muireann will do her nut if we don’t hurry up.”

“Not to mention Claudette.” Fiona grinned, slipping off her jeans and T-shirt. “Is she as terrifying as Muireann makes out?”

“Worse. Even Deirdre quakes in her Jimmy Choo’s when Claudette’s around.”

Fiona removed the dress from its hanger. “It looks kind of tight.”

“There’s not much give in the material, but never fear. I’ll wrestle you into it.”

Fiona groaned. “That’s what I’m afraid of.”

“Ah, it’s your own fault. You should have told Muireann to feck off.”

She didn’t ask me to be her maid of honor. It was Aunt Deirdre’s idea, and I let Aunt Bridie guilt me into agreeing. She said it would be healthy to bury the hatchet.”

“Where? In Muireann’s back? How’s making you her maid of honor supposed to compensate for years of bullying?”

“Given the state of the maid of honor’s dress,” Fiona said morosely, “I suspect my role is to lumber down the aisle behind her looking like a luminous green sausage. How did you get roped into being a bridesmaid, anyway? You and Muireann aren’t exactly besties.”

“Aidan’s in cahoots with your uncle Bernard.” Olivia rolled her eyes. “Long story short, he’s got a stake in the new shopping center Bernard’s building, and Bernard’s got a stake in his political career.”

“Aidan’s serious about running for the town council?” Fiona was tempted to add something disparaging about sleazy lawyers and politicians and had to bite her tongue in time. Aidan was odious, but he was Olivia’s husband, even if Fiona couldn’t fathom what she saw in the man.

“Town council? Sweetheart, you’re behind the times. Aidan’s already on the council, and he won’t stop there. He wants to be mayor of Ballybeg when O’Shaughnessy retires next year.”

Fiona gave an internal shudder. The thought of Aidan Gant wielding so much power was terrifying. “I’m sorry you have to suffer through this with me, Liv, but I won’t lie—I’m damn glad you’re here.”

“At least it’ll be over in a couple of days.” Olivia tossed her rich red hair over her shoulder. “Then I’ll return to my exciting existence as a lady who lunches, and you’ll be off gallivanting around the world. You lucky sod. I wish I were a teacher and could take a year off work.”

Fiona laughed. “No, you don’t. Teaching’s a bloody hard job these days. The kids are obnoxious and the parents are worse. Yeah, the opportunity to take a sabbatical is fantastic, but I don’t get paid for the year I don’t work. However, I figure if I don’t go travelling now while I’m still relatively young and definitely single, I’ll never do it.”

“Where’s your first stop?”

“Singapore, home of the Singapore Sling, then on to Melbourne.” Fiona tugged the dress over her hips. “Gosh, this is tight.”

“The color is revolting.” Olivia shuddered, and topped up their champagne glasses. “It’s typical of Muireann to pick horrible bridesmaid dresses so none of us upstage her. She told you about the shoes, right?”

“That I’m to lose the Docs? Yeah, that was mentioned.”

“Ah. It gets worse.” She strode to the wardrobe and extracted a shoebox. “These are your wedding shoes.” Reaching into the box, she withdrew a pair of six-inch stilettos the same shade as Fiona’s dress.

Fiona’s stomach lurched, and the prickling sensation of panic climbed her spine. “Muireann remembers I have a limp, right? How does she expect me to walk in those?”

“You’ll practice,” Olivia said with determined cheer. “You’ve got until tomorrow. Besides, you hardly ever limp anymore.”

“If I have to stagger around in those heels all day, trust me, I’ll be limping.” Fiona groaned and reached for her glass. “I need more champagne.”

Olivia examined every inch of Fiona, pausing when she came to her backside.

Fiona drained her glass. “How bad does it look?”

“You can see your knickers through the fabric.”

“So?”

“So you’ll have to go commando.”

“No effing way.”

“It’s only for this evening. You can get a thong to wear on the day.”

“I don’t do thongs.”

“Fee.” Olivia thrust her chest out. “Shut up and lose the knickers.”

“Some pal you are.” She struggled out of the offending garment.

“No more VPL,” Olivia said with triumph. “Much better.”

“I doubt anything could improve this dress.” Fiona had managed to squeeze herself into it, but breathing was a challenge. “Can you help me with the hooks at the back?”

Olivia yanked the back panels together. “Are you sure it wasn’t mislabeled? It’s meant to be form fitting, but this is awfully tight.”

“I don’t think so. I’m the only one wearing chartreuse.”

When her friend started lacing up the hooks, Fiona gasped.

Olivia tugged. “Breathe out.”

“I can’t. Breathe. At. All.”

“Okay, Fee. Let’s try this lying down.”

“Damn,” Fiona said, wheezing. “I sent Muireann my measurements. The dress should fit.”

She lay on her stomach. Olivia straddled her and pulled at the material with force.

“Ouch. You’re after digging a hook into my back.”

The bedroom door swung open. Aunt Deirdre stood in the frame, her lips forming an O. “Girls! What are you doing?”

“I’m trying to get Fiona into her dress,” snapped Olivia. “What does it look like?”

“I thought perhaps…” Deirdre trailed off, her bony hands aflutter. “Well, chop, chop. Claudette is waiting.”

“There’s a problem with the fit,” Fiona gasped from the bed.

“What?” Deirdre sounded like she’d been sucking on helium. “Then hurry up and come out.” She slammed the door behind her.

They lay frozen on the bed for a moment, then burst into simultaneous laughter.

“Did Deirdre think we were in a lesbian clinch?” Fiona asked. “Oh, damn. I shouldn’t have laughed. The hooks have burst.”

Olivia made a few more attempts to force the back of the dress to close. “Sorry, Fee. It’s hopeless.”

She climbed off Fiona and picked up the matching chartreuse shawl from the dressing table. “Chuck this around your shoulders and let’s see what Claudette can do.”

Fiona struggled to her feet. “I’m not sure I can walk in this thing.” She eyed the mermaid bottom with suspicion. “Or in these shoes.”

“Can you shuffle?”

“I can try.”

“Give me your arm.”

Fiona took a deep breath and laced her arm through Olivia’s. “Let’s go face my demons.”

 

Glasses2

Chapter Three

MUIREANN’S PARENTS LIVED a five-minute drive from Clonmore Lodge. Too far for Muireann’s taste, and too near for Gavin’s.

Gavin followed the curve of the road until Clonmore House was thrown into view. He whistled softly, like he did every time he saw the house. It was an impressive Georgian construction, nestled on a cliff overlooking the beach. The building was large, imposing, and pompous—rather like Gavin’s future father-in-law, he thought with a grin.

Like the Lodge, Clonmore House was once part of the estate of the Earl of Clonmore, back in the bad old days of British rule in Ireland and near-slave conditions for the native Irish. Whereas his and Muireann’s new home used to be the gatekeeper’s residence, Clonmore House was the former dower house. Obviously, the Earls of Clonmore had liked their mammies.

“Woof!”

He peeked at the moving-box-come-puppy transporter on the passenger seat. The dog was urinating. “Aw, hell. Not again!”

Yellow liquid seeped out of the box, onto the leather seat, and all over the bunch of flowers destined for his future mother-in-law.

“Dammit!” He glared at the dog. “First you wreck my rug, then you destroy the living room curtains, and now you piss in my car.”

The small dog whimpered and retreated into the recesses of his box.

“Aw, hell.” He ran one hand through his tightly cropped hair and gripped the steering wheel with the other. “Sorry, Wiggly Poo. I’m not mad at you. I’m mad at your Dog Mammy.”

Actually, he was more annoyed with Wiggly Poo’s Dog Granddad for foisting a dog into his life. He’d be having a word with Bernard.

“And you interrupted my nostalgic moment.” He banged the steering wheel, warming to his theme. “I was savoring it. I’ve had months of wedding crap, moving stress, and business woes. I’ve had Muireann morphing into Bridezilla, Bernard behaving like a boor, and Claudette trying to strangle me with cravats.” He turned to the dog, which was staring at him with huge brown eyes. “Seriously, Wiggly Poo, when did people in Ballybeg start referring to ties as cravats?”

Wiggly Poo’s tongue lolled.

“I’m a simple man with simple tastes. I was happy in my cottage. And now I’ve got a McMansion with a mortgage and a shagging koi pond.” Gavin eyed the dog. “I don’t suppose you eat fish?”

Wiggly Poo continued to stare at him, panting now.

“No, I guess that’s more cat territory.” He rolled up the automatic windows. “Ah, well. I’m hoping the koi pond is the extent of Muireann’s garden monstrosities. She’s always been a perfectionist, but she’s lost the plot over the last few months. She needs a holiday. We need a holiday.”

He nodded to himself and drummed the steering wheel. “It’ll all be grand when we get back from Mauritius. We’ll get back into our comfortable routine. She’ll concentrate on her career, and I’ll concentrate on mine. We’ll put the stresses and strains of the last few months behind us. We’re perfect for each other. I can’t think of another couple that fights so seldom. And that’s the way I like it.”

The car crunched over the gravel courtyard, and he pulled up beside Muireann’s Mini.

He hopped out of the car, retrieved the peed-on flowers from the front seat, and grabbed the dog out of its makeshift home. Wiggly Poo was thrilled to escape the confines of the box. The puppy licked Gavin’s face and whined in excitement.

He was struggling to keep a grip on the wriggling dog when the front door was thrown open.

“Gavin,” boomed Bernard from the top step. “Delighted to see you.”

Bernard Byrne was a large man—in width as well as in height. He had a bushy walrus mustache to complement his bushy eyebrows, a florid complexion, and a bulbous nose. The crowning glory—literally and figuratively—was a jet-black toupee perched precariously on his scalp.

Gavin glowered at Bernard’s twitching mustache. “You have an extra dinner guest.”

“Giving you gray hairs already, is he?”

“I’m allergic to dogs,” Gavin said tersely.

“Muireann isn’t.” Bernard grinned, and stepped aside to allow him entry. “And she loves dogs. I don’t see why she should be deprived of a pet because you’re allergic. Sure, isn’t she delighted with the little fellow?”

“It’s not about me depriving Muireann of a pet. Dogs and cats trigger my asthma.”

Bernard shrugged. “I made sure to buy one that’s hypoallergenic.”

A muscle twitched in Gavin’s cheek. “So why am I sneezing?”

“Hay fever. Those flowers will be to blame.” Bernard clapped him on the back. “Gavin, be a man. Once you get used to him, you’ll be grand.”

Gavin clenched his jaw. “You bought the dog, Bernard. You can deal with him. Find him a new home before we get back from our honeymoon.”

“What’ll Muireann say? She’ll be devastated if she finds him gone.”

“I’ll talk to her. Make her see reason.”

“Ah, you’re a hard man.” Bernard allowed his mustache to droop for dramatic effect. “We won’t argue about it now. Can I offer you a drink? Some fortification before the Big Day?” The man’s grin was back in place.

Gavin glanced around the small entrance hall. “Where’s Muireann?”

“The ladies are still trying on their wedding finery.”

Wiggly Poo’s claws slid over Gavin’s shirt, leaving tracks in the material. “In that case, perhaps we can discuss the shopping center plans while we have that drink. I have a few suggestions to make about parking—”

Bernard cut him off with an imperious gesture. “Yeah, yeah. Leave that for when you get back from your honeymoon.”

A mobile phone began to buzz.

Bernard’s sausage fingers fumbled over his smart phone’s display. “Gant? Hang on a minute.” Bernard cocked an eyebrow at Gavin. “Go on into the library and pour yourself a drink. I won’t be long. And keep the dog under control. Deirdre will go mad if he breaks her ornaments.” With these encouraging words, Bernard turned his large back on Gavin and lumbered down the hall.

“Typical,” muttered Gavin. “Bloody typical. He lands me with an untrained puppy that wreaks havoc in my house, and then he expects me to keep it under control in his.”

Wiggly Poo treated his nose to a generous lick.

He scowled at him. “Keep that up and I’ll walk down the aisle with a rash on my face.”

A shriek of laughter from one of the rooms proved too much excitement for the puppy. He leaped out of Gavin’s arms, slid across the marble floor, and shot off in the direction of the noise.

“Come back, you blaggard!” Gavin chucked Deirdre’s roses on the floor and took off after the dog.

He pounded down the narrow hallway that led to the downstairs guest bedrooms. One door was slightly ajar. He caught sight of a curly canine arse disappearing behind it.

He barged into the room without knocking.

A chorus of feminine gasps greeted his appearance. Apart from the French designer, all the women were wearing satin dresses of various hues. Deirdre was in a lavender creation, complete with puffy sleeves. The bridesmaids—Olivia, Mona, and Brona—wore maroon dresses that reminded him of the costumes in the deadly dull Jane Austen adaptations his fiancée adored. Muireann’s wedding dress was a meringue concoction with skirts that took up half the room. It didn’t suit her, but he’d lie tomorrow and tell her it looked great.

The pièce de résistance was the woman poured into a greenish-yellow frock with a weird fishtail bottom. The bodice of the dress was so tight that half her breasts were squeezed into view. He drank in the woman’s face. Her mouth formed an O of horror at the sight of him.

His stomach performed a stunt worthy of an acrobat. He knew those breasts. He knew that face. He knew that mouth.

Fiona.

Bloody hell! What was she doing at the wedding? What was she doing in the wedding?

Her intelligent green eyes pinned him in place. A slide show of memories flashed through his mind—some good, some bad, some X-rated.

“Gavin!” Muireann screeched, jolting him back to the present. “You’re not supposed to see my dress!”

He flushed to the roots. Had he been remembering sleeping with another woman while his bride-to-be stood in front of him? Jaysus. He needed to pull himself together.

Deirdre grabbed a swath of fabric from the speechless Claudette and threw it around her daughter. “Get out, Gavin. You’ll jinx the wedding!”

“Sorry for barging in. Wiggly Poo is in here somewhere.”

Muireann’s jaw dropped. “You brought him here? I told you to leave him at home.”

“Baby, I couldn’t leave him alone,” he said in mounting exasperation. “He was wrecking the place. He pulled down the curtains and attacked my stereo speakers.”

“Ah, Gavin. Why didn’t you stop him? He’s only a puppy.”

“Are you sure? I’d label him a hellhound.”

Fiona snorted with laughter. Muireann shot her cousin a look of pure venom.

No love lost between them.

In a split second, Wiggly Poo emerged from underneath an antique chair and charged at a basket near Deirdre’s feet.

“Watch out!” Gavin cried. “There he goes.”

“Stop him!” Deirdre screamed, veiled hat askew. “He’s attacking Mitzi and Bitzi.”

Fiona lurched forward on her high heels and half-fell, half dive-bombed the dog basket.

The sound of ripping fabric tore a horrified gasp from the crowd. The material at the back of the dress split open, revealing two luscious, creamy buttocks.

 

Coming June 2014

Source: http://zarakeane.com/?page_id=83

The Ballybeg Series

HousesTeaserI've had a few people ask me questions about the Ballybeg series, so I thought I'd put together a brief FAQ section on my website.

 

Does each book in the Ballybeg series stand alone?

Yes! Readers can jump into the series at any point. Each book or novella features a different couple, all of whom get their HEA by the end of their story. The stories are set in the same town with recurring secondary and tertiary characters. Some characters are friends. Others are related to one another, or simply know each other from work or places around the town.

 

I considered focusing the series on a particular group of friends or siblings, but decided against it. I wanted to be able to write about different personalities and I didn't want to be in a situation where I felt I had to force characters to be friends with one another merely to fit in with my series concept. I'm also not a fan of couples from previous stories stealing scenes from the current hero and heroine. If they appear in the story, it has to be organic (e.g.: they're a close friend and it makes sense for them to be in the scene). For example, Gavin and Fiona (the hero and heroine in Book 1, Love and Shenanigans) don't appear in Love and Blarney (Book 1.5) because the timing wouldn't make sense.

 

How many stories will be in the series?

Short answer: probably six.

Long answer: I've written four books and two novellas set in Ballybeg, all of which are either finished or in various stages of revision. I have ideas for a couple of more stories after these, but they might be in the form of a spin-off series set somewhere else in Ireland. While I love the town and the characters I've created, I want to keep my writing fresh. To keep writing stories set in the same place, I need to be sure I have something new to add, and not simply rehash old settings and scenarios with a different couple.

 

Why is your series set in Ireland?

I'm Irish! After a disastrous attempt to write romance set in a generic American town, my very wise critique partner suggested I write what I know. The result was the Ballybeg series. :D

 

Is Ballybeg a real town in Ireland?

Although there are several towns named Ballybeg in Ireland, the Ballybeg in my series is fictional. The name stems from the Irish (Gaelic) term, baile beag, which means "little town" or "small town". One of my favourite Irish playwrights, Brian Friel, has set many of his plays in a fictional Ballybeg located in County Donegal.

 

My Ballybeg is a seaside town in County Cork. Its geography was loosely influenced by a few different towns along the south coast of Ireland. They include Clonakilty, Kinsale, and Cobh (formerly known as Queenstown, the last port of call of the ill-fated Titanic). The picture in the teaser above is a stock photo of houses in Cobh.

 

Are you self-publishing?

Yes.

 

Did you hire an editor?

Hell, yes!  The typos in this blog post should be reason enough why. When I decided to self-publish, I budgeted for editing, copy editing, proofreading, and professional covers. I have no prior publishing credits, no experience working with editors at a traditional or a digital publisher, and no established fanbase. If a reader thinks my books suck, I don't want it to be because I didn't make the effort to put out a professional product. I'm under no illusion that my books will be error free, but I hope to get them as close to that state as possible.

 

In what order will the stories be published?

This is the plan so far:

Book #1: Love and Shenanigans (Gavin and Fiona's story) — June 2014

Book #1.5: Love and Blarney (Ruairí and Jayme's story) — September 2014

Book #2: Love and Leprechauns (Jonas and Olivia's story) — November 2014

Book #2.5: Brian and Sharon's story — Spring 2015

Book #3: Seán and Clío's story — Summer 2015

Book #4: Muireann and Damian's story — Fall 2015

 

Where will you sell the books?

They'll be available as ebooks at all the major vendors—the various Amazon stores, Barnes and Noble, iTunes, Kobo, etc. I'm planning to produce print copies through Createspace.

 

Will they have DRM?

Not if I can help it. I believe some vendors automatically add DRM, but I'll opt out of it wherever I can. If someone who purchases my book wishes to strip it of DRM, make a back-up copy, or share it with family or friends, I have no objection. I'd appreciate it if people didn't put them up on pirate sites, though. :D

 

Where's the excerpt of Love and Shenanigans?

I'll be posting the first excerpt next week. :D

Teaser Graphics and Other Adventures

RingsTeaser3

My goal to update this blog a couple of times a month hasn't happened. I had a deadline at the end of January, and I have another one at the end of this month. Note to future self: schedule more recovery time between deadlines!

 

On the writing front, I've completed the third draft of Love and Shenanigans. I'll finish the fourth draft in March, and then it's off to beta readers. In the meantime, I'm working on Love and Blarney (Ballybeg, #1.5). This is a novella featuring a secondary character from Love and Shenanigans and his estranged wife. It will be around 20,000 words in its finished form.

 

Fun news: my website has has a new look. I'll be updating it soon with excerpts of Love and Shenanigans, and covers for Love and Blarney and Love and Leprechauns, but the blurbs for all three stories are already up.

 

In preparation for the launch of Love and Shenanigans, I've been playing around with images on PicMonkey. I've created a couple of rudimentary book teasers. As you can see, I won't be setting up shop as a graphic designer anytime soon, but I had a lot of fun making them. :D

 

Golden labradoodle sitting in lush grass.

Due to my crazy schedule—not to mention small people falling sick—my To Do list has turned into a mountain. I haven't had as much time to read as I'd like, especially as I just got a new Kindle Paperwhite, but I have managed to read a few good books over the past few weeks.

 

Nick Stone's The Verdict is a brilliant British legal thriller with a genuinely nice guy as the main character. (They're a rare breed in crime fiction.)

 

I also enjoyed the third book in Nadia Lee's contemporary romance series, Redemption in Love.

 

Elly Griffith's A Dying Fall is the fifth book in her series featuring forensic archaeologist, Ruth Galloway. I didn't care for the fourth book, so I'd left it on my To Be Read pile for ages before I finally got around to reading it. I'm glad I did. It's a strong murder mystery with plenty of twists and turns.

 

Have you read anything good lately? Is there a book you're particularly looking forward to in March?

 

Picture Credits:

Teaser 1: Photo purchased at iStockphoto and tweaked courtesy of PicMonkey.

Teaser 2: Photo purchased at iStockphoto and tweaked courtesy of PicMonkey.

Source: http://zarakeane.com/?p=135

My Very First Book Cover!

2014 got off to a nice, calorie-filled start. On New Year's Eve, we had friends round for Raclette, one of Switzerland's national dishes, and washed it down with Champagne. The following evening was the moment us Sherlock fans had been waiting for: the first episode of Season 3.

 

January is traditionally my month to re-read old faves. I started with a couple of Georgette Heyer books. So far, I've re-read Sylvester and The Reluctant Widow. Next up: The Nonesuch.

 

There are a number of January and February new releases on my wish list.

 

One of my favourite Irish authors is Adrian McKinty. The third and final book in his Sean Duffy mystery series is called In the Morning I'll Be Gone. It will be out at the end of January.

 

Karina Halle's Donners of the Dead sounds so cool! It's described as a Horror Romance. :D I don't think I've come across this genre mash-up since I devoured Christopher Pike and Point Horror books as a teen.

 

The third book in Nadia Lee's Hearts on the Line series of contemporary romances is called Redemption in Love. It will be out in February. I've been waiting for Gavin's book!

 

In other news, I got my very first book cover! It was designed by the super talented Kim Killion. Here's the cover and blurb for my June release, Love and Shenanigans.

 

New

Love and Shenanigans (Ballybeg, #1)

 

Vows in Vegas…
Three days before leaving Ireland on the adventure of a lifetime, Fiona Byrne returns to her small Irish hometown to attend the family wedding from hell. When she discovers the drunken vows she exchanged with the groom during a wild Las Vegas trip eight years previously mean they’re legally married, her future plans ricochet out of control. Can she untangle herself from the man who broke her heart so long ago? Does she even want to?

 

…True Love in Ballybeg.
Gavin Maguire’s life is low on drama, high on stability, and free of pets. But Gavin hadn’t reckoned on Fiona blasting back into his life and crashing his wedding. In the space of twenty-four hours, he loses a fiancée and a job, and gains a wife and a Labradoodle. Can he salvage his bland-but-stable life? More importantly, can he resist losing his heart to Fiona all over again?

Source: http://zarakeane.com/?p=67

2013: A Retrospective

On Christmas Day 2012, I nuked my old website. I’m not sure if it was the trifle we had for dessert, or the glass of port afterwards, but I managed to delete two years’ worth of blog posts and content with a couple of keystrokes. Depressing, no?

 

Fast forward to Christmas 2013. I finally got off my arse and put together a new author website. It doesn’t contain much in the way of content yet, but I’m working on it.

 

With the New Year mere hours away, I’m in a reflective mood. Last January, I swore 2013 would be my Year of Productivity. And it was. In comparison to many of my writer pals, I’m a snail, but completing two full-length contemporary romances and one urban fantasy novella in twelve months is my current record.

 

2014 will mark the start of a new adventure. I’ve decided to self-publish my series of Irish contemporary romances. Over the past few years, I’ve written five stories set in the same small town. (Technically, I’ve written six. I ended up scrapping the first book and starting from scratch. Same characters, same setting, different story.)

 

Next year, I’m planning to release two novels and one novella. My tentative release date for Love and Shenanigans is May 2014. It’s merely a guestimate at this stage. I have my work schedule in place, and booked slots with editors and proofreaders. However, this will be my first time preparing a book for publication, and I prefer to err on the side of caution.

What I can say with certainty is that the three stories I’ve slated for release in 2014 are already written, and are at various stages of revision. I’m currently on the third draft of Love and Shenanigans. I got my developmental editor’s notes back a couple of weeks ago, and I’m busy incorporating her suggestions into the manuscript.

 

On the reading front, 2013 was a mixed bag. I read a lot of non-fiction. For the first time since I left university, I read far more non-fiction than fiction. For whatever reason, I find it near impossible to read romance for pleasure while I’m in first draft mode. And as I was in first draft mode for most of the year, the number of romance books I read was at an all time low.

 

If I can push the envelope on genre definition, I read and enjoyed Karina Halle’s Artists Trilogy. I devoured Miranda Neville’s historical romance backlist. Sandra Schwab’s Betrayal is a lovely old-style historical romance. Lexi Ryan’s Text Appeal is a fun contemporary romance.

 

I started listening to audio books a couple of years ago, and I’m a huge fan. I listen to mostly crime fiction. Here a few recent favourites:

 

  • The Cuckoo’s Calling by Robert Galbraith
  • Strange Shores by Arnaldur Indridason
  • Redemption by Jussi Adler-Olsen
  • Phantom by Jo Nesbo
  • I Hear the Sirens on the Street by Adrian McKinty
  • The Man in the Brown Suit by Agatha Christie

How was your 2013? Did you do anything spectacular? Or read anything amazing?

Source: http://zarakeane.com/?p=1

The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo

The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo - Stieg Larsson

I listened to 'The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo' as an unabridged audio book. It took me over five months to finish it, despite the excellent narrator (Saul Reichlin).

 

The premise and characters were interesting, but the book was patchy. Some parts were brilliant, and others monotonous or repetitive.

 

The good bits kept me coming back for more, and the dull ones made me take yet another break from listening.

 

The ending was very well done, hence the third star.

'The Leopard' by Jo Nesbo

The Leopard: A Harry Hole Novel (8) - Jo Nesbø, Don Bartlett

Jo Nesbo is one of my favourite authors of crime fiction. I was disappointed by this entry in the Harry Hole series. Plotholes abounded, and the first half of the book was a slog. The second half was considerably better, but not good enough to redeem the book.