“My brother’s wedding is at the end of the month. He said it’s a small thing without groomsmen, so you don’t need to worry about matching a dress to my tie or anything. I can get you the times once Jack bloody gets them to me and hopefully you don’t have a teacher’s conference or something,” I said, smiling casually. I figured it was a given she’d go as my date. No need to even ask. But this would be the first time she’d meet my family. It was a big step, so I was trying to make it as easy as possible.
For me, at least.
True, I didn’t actually think we had any chemistry other than in the bedroom. And she tended to correct my grammar when we went out on dates. But a girl was a girl, and I needed not just a date. I needed someone to spend forever with.
Or six months, according to my da’s will.
“I think we’re better off as friends.”
The redhead sitting across from me couldn’t even make eye contact as she said the words.
The girl who I’d been dating a month now. Longer than my last few relationships put together.
I stiffened, trying to figure out the best response.
Not now. This couldn’t be happening.
“You can’t just decide this is over. I’m in this, too, you know?” I asked, trying to keep my voice low so people around us wouldn’t hear, but my fists clenched at my sides. If this were a teammate, I’d tell him he was out of his fecking mind for doing something so stupid.
But this was not a guy on the rugby pitch, and I had to count my breaths, hoping I didn’t say something stupid.
Normally I wouldn’t be fighting so hard to get a girl—and usually, I didn’t need to—but the blasted clause in my da’s will said that each of my brothers and I had to be married within a year of his death, or none of us would get the family business, a multi-million-dollar pub franchise.
I never thought I actually wanted the job. Still wasn’t sure about that one, since my rugby career was finally picking up.
But, here’s the thing. The will said that we all had to be married to get the company, and if I didn’t get married, even if I didn’t want anything to do with running a business right now, that meant my brothers didn’t get it, either.
My life was so focused on getting to the next level in rugby that I’ve never even thought about marriage. Especially not at twenty-three.
But now, when I thought maybe I could like this girl enough to try to move forward, she has the gall to break up with me.
She rolled her eyes.
“Yeah, because you’re always at practice. Our first date, if you’d call it that, was me watching you at a game then hanging out at your friend’s flat where you and the team talked about the game the entire time and sipped on warm beer.”
So maybe I wasn’t the best at romance. Who was?
I swallowed hard, leaning in closer, putting on my most charming smile.
“But what about the second date? All our little texts and the flowers I sent to your classroom?” I asked.
Not that I was in love with the girl after a few weeks of seeing her, but she was a real ace. A primary school teacher who volunteered at a local animal shelter. The type of girl who would make a fine wife.
So, what if there wasn’t an electric zing? That would come eventually.
She sighed. “Flowers. Sexting. A few quick hookups where you left right after you cleaned up? That’s not exactly romance. Not something I see that warrants meeting families and being wedding dates.”
What could I say that would change her mind?
I cleared my throat, taking a long drink of my water. “Most people would think that sounds like a grand relationship.”
“Sean, let’s just be friends, okay? I’m sure the right girl is out there for you. It’s just not me,” she said quickly, leaning in to place a quick kiss on my cheek before she grabbed her sweater and bolted out of the café.
Just like that.
Relief washed over me.
I didn’t have to keep trying to make time for her between my rugby schedule anymore.
A few people at the other tables whispered amongst themselves. Like they couldn’t believe I just got dumped over coffee.
“Shite,” I muttered, putting my head back against the seat.
I should have been maybe been a little more pissed off at the situation.
Summer was almost over, and I had until April to find a wife. If things kept going like they had with the last few girls, I’d be better off paying a rugger hugger.
I couldn’t do that to Da’s legacy.
It had to be real or at least have the potential of being real.
I held my breath, then let it out slowly.
In for five seconds.
Out for five seconds.
It was what I did on the pitch when I needed to ground myself.
But this time it wasn’t working, and my brain was still a jumbled mess.
As if the universe knew I needed a distraction, my phone buzzed in my pocket, shaking me of my own thoughts.
An alert popped up with a word game I’d been playing the last few months against my sister-in-law’s American friend, Leah.
Now, there was a girl who I talked to every damn day and didn’t have to worry about dating. She made that abundantly clear at my brother Connor’s wedding when she turned me down for a dance, drank the last of my whiskey, then went off without saying a word.
Feck, but she was just about the sexiest woman I’d ever seen, so if she was going to talk to me, even if it was just a little word game, I’d let her.
Just looking at her game icon with her spiky dark hair and heavily lined eyes, biting that pierced lip, had my once-defeated body now coming to life. The girl knew she was hot shite, which should have made me not even pay attention to her.
But that didn’t stop her from accepting my request to play a game.
She was, after all, my sister-in-law’s best mate and all the way in America. So, no harm at all in looking at or chatting with her.
“Is that even a fecking word?” I stared at “shequel” on the screen.
Shoving the phone back in my pocket, I looked out the front window, trying to control the jumbled mess in my head.
But then I caught something out of the corner of my eye and leaned forward.
The girl across the street. I knew her.
But why the hell would Leah, the girl who was supposed to be playing an online game in America, be standing outside of Murphy’s Pub?
I had to be hallucinating, yet that didn’t stop me from slowly walking out of the café, didn’t stop my eyes scanning from the top of her spiky pixie cut, down the colorful butterfly tattoo on her neck, and then over the white button-down blouse and trousers that the pub’s waitstaff wore.
Maybe it wasn’t Leah.
My heart thumped hard in my chest at the thought.
Whoever the gorgeous woman was, she just walked into one of my family’s pubs. I didn’t have anywhere else to go, and it was still early on a Saturday.
I swallowed hard, my thoughts scattered, as I waded through the crowd of patrons.
When I finally reached the pixie-haired girl, she stood in front of an empty stool filling some rocks glasses with dark liquids before passing them over to the group of tourists in Hawaiian shirts behind her.
I may have only met Leah when she was in town for Connor’s wedding, but I’d recognize that quirk of her lips and those golden-brown eyes anywhere.
“Shequel?” I asked, sitting at the empty stool in front of her as she turned around. I wiped my palms on my trousers, the curse of my nerves, which still rolled through me. Even after all this time, I couldn’t help the swirl of energy that came over me when I talked to a pretty girl.
Sometimes it was hard to forget that I wasn’t the chubby, Celtic punk kid anymore.
“Sean Murphy, finally you come into my pub for a drink,” she said, flashing a smile.
That gorgeous smile that told me she was not just a lookalike. That the real deal was in front of me, something that me grinning from ear-to-ear.
I swallowed hard, trying to gain some saliva, but shook my head so, hopefully, she wouldn’t notice I was a sweaty, nervous mess.
What the feck?
“Your pub? I seem to recall that last time I talked to you, you had some clothing store back in Chicago. Never mentioned anything about becoming a Murphy.”
She shook her head, biting down on her lip, where a silver hoop dangled from her red-painted mouth, before she spoke. “Not a Murphy. Just a bartender, for now.”
“For now?” I raised an eyebrow, curious as to how the hell the girl got here and why no one told me. Not to mention that the girl was also making me smile more than the bird who just dumped me.
“Aw, I knew ya missed me, mo gra, and you’d be back,” I said, trying to keep the mood light even though I was still on edge, trying to figure out why the hell this girl was back in Dublin. Why now? After all this time.
“Your Irish pet names aren’t cute,” she said with a scowl. Her darkly lined eyes may have been narrowed, but there was a sparkle in them.
Fecking hell, was she gorgeous, with her dark hair and eyes, and those colorful tattoos dotting her tanned complexion. She was like the living dream I didn’t know I had.
But she’d shoot me down in an instant. Then I might have to deal with my brother and sister-in-law giving me shite about it forever.
Better just to try and keep it casual.
“Ah, I think you’re cute, too,” I said, flashing the smile that usually had girls dropping their knickers. But this one was completely unfazed.
She rolled her eyes, but a smile played on her lips as she shrugged, the motion squeezing her breasts together and giving me a fantastic view.
Fecking hell, Sean, stop staring at the woman’s tits.
“I’m not here to talk about my problems, but I am getting the hang of this bartending thing.”
She grabbed a pint glass, setting it under the Guinness tap. “And if you’re sitting here alone in the pub on a Saturday night, something tells me you need the advice of a sage bartender.”
“Think I’m just going to spill all my secrets to you just because we’ve played some online word games and you know my drink order?” I asked as she set the pint in front of me and poured a shot of Murphy’s whiskey, placing it next to the glass.
When she looked up at me, it was as if the wind had been knocked out of my chest, and it took everything I had not to gulp as a smile crossed her lips, one small eyebrow arched.
“Yes, I do.”
I took a long pull of my drink and set it down, shaking my head. If I wasn’t already knocked on my arse by her mere presence, that little smile had me laid out. “I’m not going to just give you everything, right here. But if you are looking for someone to give you a tour of Ireland, I can do that. Unless Fallon’s been showing you around?”
Her brown eyes were somehow even brighter in the low light of the pub. Their calculating stare ran over me as if she was trying to figure out my story from one little look. “Not seen much around the area, aside from Fallon and Connor’s place, where I’ve been staying. And the pub. But it’s not like this is Disney World and I need to see every little thing at once. Not that I’ve actually been to Disney World, but if there are some dancing mice down in Temple Bar or something, I might want to see that.”
I raised my eyebrows, finding myself smiling. I tried to tamp down my reaction, but it was too late, and my mouth moved faster than my brain.
“Never been to Disney? Isn’t that the American vacation place that everyone goes? Feck, I’ve even been there. Da took the three of us and a nanny when we were just wee lads. Those people in costumes scared the shite out of me, though. Pretty traumatizing for a five-year-old when a big, furry duck comes at you, not saying a peep.”
She laughed, a sound that had me grinning in response. Feck, it was a beautiful laugh.
“Your accent makes things ten times funnier. I’ve gotten used to the Irish tone working here, but since it’s mostly tourists, I don’t get enough of it.”
“My accent? You should talk about yours. You sound like the guys in those old mobster movies.”
True, she did have an American accent, though hers was more endearing than the ones in the movies. Watching her smile and get along with me had me wanting to keep pushing and see how much more I could get her talking.
She laughed even harder, tilting her head back as her whole body vibrated. My own face quirked into a broad smile that almost hurt from pulling so hard. What was this girl doing to me? “You think I sound like Al Capone or The Godfather or something? Just because I’m from Chicago?”
“Leave the gun. Take the cannoli,” I said, lowering my voice and trying to mimic that Chicago accent.
She laughed so hard that she covered her mouth, her nose wrinkling. Then she shook her head. Fecking hell, she was cute.
“Is that really what I sound like to you?”
“Do I sound like a leprechaun to you?” I raised my eyebrows, waiting for her smartass remark, leaning in with anticipation that had me licking my lips, almost as excited for her response as I was for the next play in a game.
“No. I was thinking more like maybe an Irish mobster. Oh, or a fortune teller. You’d make a lovely gypsy, beard and all,” she said playfully, as if we were best mates who said these things all the time. Her red-painted nails curled in the edge of my beard before giving the coarse hairs a little squeeze.
Fecking hell, my cock practically jumped out of my trousers, and I sat up straighter telling myself to calm down. We were in a public pub.
“Girls do fancy a beard,” I murmured, leaning in so close I could see the flecks of gold in her eyes.
So. Fecking. Beautiful.
“Not all girls. Which makes me wonder if you’re in here to see me because you’re having women troubles,” she said, quickly pulling her hand away as if she just realized what she was doing.
I leaned back, trying to ignore the magnetic tug that kept drawing me closer to her, and instead picked up my drink so I’d have something to do with my hands.
“I do not have woman problems, thank you very much,” I replied, quickly taking a big gulp of my pint. Then I chased it with the whiskey and ignored the guilt riddling deep within me.
If she only knew.
“You see the secret to being a bartender is being perceptive to when someone has a tell. And that lack of eye contact tells me I’m right. Well and, you know, the whole marriage-will clause thing,” she said flippantly, but I almost spit out my drink, the liquid lodging in my throat as I faced her full on.
“How do you…?” I blurted, fumbling for the right words.
“Please. Fallon is my best friend. I tell her I caught my on-again-off-again boyfriend in bed with my former business partner, and she gave me the chance to come here and work in the pub. We talk about everything. Like Connor and Jack having found wives, and you still having the lack of one.”
I swallowed hard, at a loss for words as every hair on the back of my neck stood on end. Rubbing the exact spot, I tried to appear casual, but inside my stomach soured, like it did every time the fecking clause was brought up.
Not that the clause was a big secret. The board knew about it, and anyone with public records could probably find the will, but I thought Connor might have shut his trap about it when it came to his wife.
I finished the last of my beer and let out a deep breath. The tension in my shoulders drifted away.
Well, I supposed now that it was out there, no use hiding it.
“You try finding a wife when you’re surrounded by rugby players, rugger huggers, or old men in the boardroom. Any girl I fancy, I don’t seem to have the time for. As evidenced by the bird who just broke up with me over coffee,” I muttered the last part, watching as Leah quickly filled my pint glass, not a jot of pity or smugness on her face.
“That’s what the internet is for, isn’t it?”
“You and I both know a lot of those sites are just for hookups. Which is all well and good, if I wasn’t looking for more.” I took another gulp of my pint and let the liquid haze that came from drinking this early in the day take over.
She sighed. “What you’re saying sounds like every girl’s dream. Have you ever just approached one of those rugger huggers, as you call them, and said ‘hey I need a wife for the business, wanna head to the chapel?’”
I laughed, shaking my head before taking another pull of my beer. If we were going to have this conversation, it would probably require a few more drinks. “I don’t want just some random rugger hugger.”
“Then it sounds like you need a matchmaker. Or maybe a Cyrano who can feed you lines.”
Realization dawned on me. It was as if a lightbulb went off in my head. I sat up straighter, and I slapped my hand on the bar. “You should be that person.”
She put her hands up, her eyes widening as her entire body shook. “Whoa, buddy, I’m not marrying you. No offense, but you’re not my type.”
“Well, thanks for that vote of confidence,” I grumbled, but I wasn’t knocked down yet.
Now that this idea was in my head, there was no getting it out. My eyes lit up at the very thought of my marriage worries coming to an end. Even if I couldn’t have the girl in front of me, if she could find someone like her…
Leah smiled, leaning on the bar top, her fingers tapping at the screen of the phone that lay beside my pint, the little clicking sound driving me mad.
Fecking hell, it was like the woman knew she could get me wound up. But I had to keep my eyes locked on hers, letting her know I was dead serious.
“But I can help you find a girl. Just give me your phone, and we’ll do some swiping.”
“Oh, no, I need more than that.” I tapped my fingers against my whiskers, thinking of my next move. “If you’re working here and staying at Fallon’s, something tells me you could use more, too.”
She pulled back, wincing as if my words just slapped her. “I don’t like where this is going.”
A new thrill shot through me as I plopped my glass down, a wave of beer spilling over onto my hand, but I didn’t care. This was it. My moment. “No, this is perfect.”
“You become my assistant. Like a personal assistant. I need someone to help keep me in check with everything—Murphy’s Pub and rugby, plus finding a wife.”
She shook her head slightly. “I don’t know…”
“It would include the flat Fallon used to rent next door. Since Jack and Connor both have virtual assistants, it’s been empty.” I smiled, knowing exactly the thing that might get her to say yes.
But still, I held my breath, waiting for her response.
In for five seconds.
Out for five seconds.
Her eyes lit up, but she quickly looked down as if hoping that I didn’t notice her excitement. “That might be an option. We’d have to talk salary, and I’d have to crunch some numbers first. Plus, I can’t just leave the pub without notice.”
“Sounds like you aren’t saying no.”
I grinned, my heart beating fast as elation took over, and I wanted to reach across the bar and hug the bird. Instead, I slid my fingers on the wood grain of the bar and took the pint glass back in my other hand. “Then I’ll have Fallon give you a tour of the flat tomorrow and you can start work for me on Monday?”
“I’m not that easy, as you should know after your many attempts to get in my panties last time you saw me.” She smirked.
I shook my head, keeping my face neutral so she’d know this wasn’t about getting in her knickers. “Ah, but now I’m not trying any of that, mo gra. I want you by my side as my assistant. The person who can finally help me get my shite together. It’s brilliant.”
She raised an eyebrow. “How do you figure?”
I leaned back, crossing my arms over my chest, noticing her brief glance toward where my shirt pulled against my biceps. Normally I’d take that as an opportunity to flex, make a move on the bird, but things were different with Leah.
No, things would have to be different with every girl, if I wanted a wife. If I wanted the company to stay with the Murphys.
“You know my brothers, or what Fallon has told you of them, at least, and you’re female. You also ran a successful business back in America, aside from the shitey business partner you’ve been talking about, so you know what you’re doing not just in the woman department, but the Murphy-managing part as well,” I rambled, hoping anything I said made sense.
Truth be told, I was having trouble voicing much of anything.
My head and my heart had been at odds since the will was read.
“I’ll have to think about it,” she said quickly, moving down the bar to take another order.
I wasn’t used to this many nos or attempts to avoid the question, and it was fecking maddening.
“I’m going to message you my number and the address to the flat, so you have both. In case you decide to accept,” I called, which got us a few glances from the patrons.
She patted the bar top, saying something to the people she was helping, then quickly moved back to me, her eyes slightly narrowed as she leaned in.
We may have been in a dark pub, but the woman still smelled like fresh laundry and a hint of some floral perfume. If I weren’t afraid of what would happen to my heart and trousers, I might have complimented her perfume. Instead, I just smiled.
“Think that’ll work for you, or you just want to accept my offer now?” I asked, wiggling my eyebrows.
Breathe in for five seconds.
“If I say yes and get you another pint, will you promise to try not to be a shite the rest of the night?”
She grabbed a pint glass, filling it to the brim before setting it in front of me. “You get me something in writing, emailed to Leah Harlowe at Umail, and I’ll look over it to see if we can come to an agreement.”
I smiled, every tension in me now exploding as relief washed over me, and I held up my glass. “I’ll have it to you after this pint.”
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