Authors: Zara Keane
Tags: #Contemporary, #New Adult & College, #Holidays, #Genre Fiction, #Christmas, #Women's Fiction, #Holiday Romance, #Ireland, #Romance, #Literature & Fiction, #Two Hours or More (65-100 Pages), #Fiction, #Romantic Comedy, #Humor, #Contemporary Romance
LOVE AND MISTLETOE
A BALLYBEG ROMANCE (BOOK 4)
Kissed by Christmas, Loved by New Year
Policeman Brian Glenn wants a promotion. Studying for a degree in criminology is the first step. When a member of Ballybeg’s most notorious family struts into his forensic psychology class, his hopes for a peaceful semester vanish. Sharon MacCarthy is the last woman he should get involved with, however hot and bothered she makes him get under his police uniform. Can he survive the semester without succumbing to her charms?
Sharon’s had a rough few months. She knows her future job prospects depend on finally finishing her degree. When she’s paired with her secret crush for the semester project, she sees a chance for happiness. Can she persuade Brian that there’s more to her than sequins, high heels, and a rap sheet?
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To the Romance Divas for all your support over the past few years.
Certain Gaelic terms appear in this book. I have tried to use them sparingly and in contexts that should make their meaning clear to international readers. However, a couple of words require clarification.
The official name for the Irish police force is
An Garda Síochána
(“the Guardian of the Peace”). Police are
(singular). They are commonly referred to as “the Guards”. I’ve kept the use of these terms to a minimum but I do use them in reference to Garda Brian Glenn’s rank and when naming the local police station (Ballybeg Garda Station).
The Irish police do not, as a rule, carry firearms. Permission to carry a gun is reserved to specialist units, such as the Emergency Response Unit. The police in Ballybeg would not have been issued with firearms, hence there are no references to holsters, guns, or shooting ranges.
Ballybeg, County Cork, Ireland
Location: The MacCarthy Farm
THERE WERE MANY PLACES Garda Brian Glenn would rather spend his Saturday night. Dry places. Warm places. Places that didn’t stink of cow shite.
Wrinkling his nose, he hunched down behind a bush and squinted through his police-issue night-vision binoculars. “They’ve finished unloading the car.”
Sergeant Seán Mackey shifted on the grass beside him, the sudden snap of a twig serving as a timely reminder to keep the volume down. “Are you sure about this?” His breath floated through the damp night air in smokelike wisps. “Because if you’re not, we’re trespassing on private property. Not to mention freezing our balls off. Trust you to pick the first cold night in September to go on a flaming stakeout.”
Brian lowered his binoculars and grinned through the dark at his partner and superior officer. “Speak for yourself. I had the good sense to wear thermals. Seriously, man. My intel is solid. The MacCarthys are definitely up to their old tricks. I overheard Sharon discussing it with Naomi Bekele in the pub. Brazen as brass.”
The police sergeant grumbled and tugged his hat lower, presumably to shield his ears from the harsh wind.
His perfectly flat ears
… Seán was film-star handsome with a deep Dublin baritone that made the women of Ballybeg swoon—a far cry from Brian’s sing-song Donegal lilt and sticky-out ears. If his new partner weren’t a decent bloke and a fine cop, he’d have resented him.
“Come on, Seán. Sure what else would we be doing this evening? At least a stakeout is more exciting than breaking up a fight at MacCarthy’s pub.”
“Who are you trying to convince? Me or yourself?”
“This is the first interesting lead I’ve got on, well, anything in ages. Not much happens in Ballybeg.” And when it did, the local police weren’t left in charge for long. At the rate Brian’s career was going, he’d be stagnating in uniform until retirement. He needed something—anything—to impress the higher-ups.
“I realize Sharon hasn’t been the most law-abiding of citizens,” Seán said, “but I can’t see her manufacturing drugs in her own kitchen.”
“Why is it so hard to believe?” Brian forced himself to keep his irritation no louder than a whisper. “You haven’t been down here long enough to know the full story about that family. Apart from the father being a regular fixture at Cork Prison, one of the brothers was convicted of drug dealing a couple of years ago, and a second was done for possession.”
“Yeah…” The older man drew out the word, giving it a wealth of meaning, “but Sharon’s previous infractions include shoplifting, speeding, and drunk and disorderly behavior. And all her priors are at least a couple of years old.”
He stared at his partner, slack-jawed. “How the hell do you know all that?”
Seán gave a low chuckle. “The MacCarthy files were among the first to cross my desk when I started working at Ballybeg Garda Station. I’ve read everything we have on the entire clan, including the fact that Sharon has cleaned up her act since she started university.”
“Do you really think attending college has magically transformed her character?” Brian snorted in disgust. “Come off it, man. Think of all the students who are busted for dealing. Being clever enough to get into uni doesn’t mean you’re smart enough to stay on the right side of the law.”
“All right. Don’t get your thermals in a twist. We’ll check out whatever is going on in the house. I just hope we don’t end up making tits of ourselves in the process.”
“Apart from not landing face first in cow shite, my main concern is avoiding a close encounter with one of Colm MacCarthy’s hellhounds.”
“Jaysus. Don’t tell me he’s still involved with the dog fights?” Seán’s mouth curled in disgust. “I knew the judge should have given more than a fine the last time he was up in court. That man’s more of an animal than the ones he breeds.”
“Agreed. I’ve nothing concrete about Colm and the dogs, but I could have sworn I heard one bark earlier. Did you hear it?”
“Can’t say I did, but it’s hard to hear anything over this wind.”
Brian hunkered down in the shadows and peered through his binoculars. Shapes moved against lit windows, but he couldn’t identify who they were. “Vicious dog or no, we need to get closer to the house. I can’t see anything from this distance.”
“Me neither. Pity the station’s budget can’t cover more powerful binoculars.”
“The station’s budget doesn’t cover roof repairs, never mind binoculars,” Brian said dryly. “I can’t move in my office without tripping over a bucket. It’s been like that since I was first sent to Ballybeg. We’re always being promised more men, better equipment, and a new station building. It’ll never happen.”
Seán hung his binoculars around his neck and turned up the collar of his coat. “Come on, then. Let’s go.”
They crept through the field as silently as they could manage, the house and farm buildings looming closer with each step.
“Wait!” Seán grabbed Brian’s arm. “Do they have motion-detector lighting over the yard?”
He considered before answering. “I don’t think so. No lights came on while they were unloading the car. Either they’d deliberately switched them off, or they don’t exist.”
“All right. Go on.”
Moving stealthily, they covered the last few meters of the field and took up their position behind an ancient water trough.
Seán rubbed his hands together to keep them warm. “I’m frozen. I’d kill for a cup of coffee right now.”
“I’ve a thermos in my pack.” Brian slid his rucksack off his back and extracted a metal can. “It’s tea, not coffee.”
His partner gave an exaggerated shudder. “How did you make it through training college without having the shite beaten out of you? Everyone knows cops drink coffee.”
“Everyone knows cops drink
coffee.” Brian unscrewed the top of his thermos and poured piping-hot tea into the lid. It burned his tongue when he took a sip, but he relished the warmth wending its way from his mouth to his stomach. He held the cup out to his partner. “Sure you won’t take a swig?”
Brian couldn’t see Seán’s face clearly in the dark, but he could sense the indecision flickering over his features. “Ah, go on, then. I’m desperate.” The other man had the cup halfway to his lips when a sharp bark hacked through the silence. The cup of the thermos shot out of his hand and ricocheted off the metal trough, knocking against a rusty bucket in the process. “Feck.” Seán cradled his hand. “I’m after scalding myself.”
“That was definitely a dog.” Brian craned his neck to see over the trough. Lights went on in the room nearest the back door. A human-shaped shadow flitted across the window. “Someone’s coming. Duck.”
Voices floated out the open door, the occasional word decipherable. Voices from a house that was likely to be a lot drier and warmer than Brian and Seán’s current location. The dog barked again followed by a high-pitched whine. Footsteps rang over the cobblestones, and light from a flashlight bobbed in a drunken dance. A woman wearing high heels.
Brian would bet his police badge he was right.
He pictured her in his mind: medium height, medium build, generous bust, and a high, tight arse that begged to be pinched.
Where had that notion sprung from? He couldn’t stand Sharon MacCarthy. She unnerved him, seemed to take a devilish delight in taunting him at every opportunity. She was no beauty—not in the classical sense—but there was something about her that caused men to look twice. He crouched down and waited for her and the dog to go back inside.
Minutes dragged by. Finally, right at the point Brian was ready to scream from holding still for so long, a door creaked shut, and the clickety-clack of the heels moved back across the cobblestoned yard to the house.
When the lights in the room nearest the back door went out, his tense muscles slackened.
“Whatever eejit of a hound Colm’s got now is a useless guard dog,” Seán whispered. “Why didn’t it pick up our scent?”
Brian shrugged. “Dunno. No sense of smell? Maybe he got it cheap.”
“No sense of smell or not, it sounds vicious.” Seán shifted restlessly. “We’re going to have to try to get a look in the window. Without proof that they’re up to something they shouldn’t be, we’ve no business being here.”
“You go, and I’ll shadow you?”
Seán laughed, a low rumble. “Nice try. This stakeout was
get to do the honors.”
“You can leave the thermos with me.”
Brian tossed it to him with a wry smile. “Changed your mind about hating tea?”
“Nah. More like not changed my mind about being cold. At least the can will keep me warm.”
After giving the yard a quick scan to check for prowling animals and lurking humans, Brian emerged from behind the trough and half crept, half ran to take up his position beneath a windowsill. Cautiously, he unfurled enough to be able to peer in the glass. The sight that assaulted him was enough to give a man heart failure. A furry face was pressed to the window, lips drawn back to reveal sharp fangs.
Location: The MacCarthy Farm
Sharon surveyed the ingredients lined up on the kitchen counter: Epsom salts, coarse sea salt, baking soda, corn starch, citric acid, essential oils, and food coloring. Everything they needed to make fabulous homemade bath products. “The Ballybeg Christmas Bazaar won’t know what hit it. We’ll make a fortune.”
Naomi paused in the act of unpacking a selection of cupcake-sized baking molds in a variety of shapes and sizes. “I don’t know about making a fortune. Personally, I’d settle for making our money back.” She fingered a little bottle of lavender oil. “Did you have to go and spend so much on the ingredients?”
“There’s no point in bothering if we’re going to use shite ingredients. Decent essential oils don’t come cheap.” Sharon patted her friend on the back. “Don’t stress. Not only will we break even, but we’ll make enough profit to afford the rental deposit on a decent-sized flat.”