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