The Rousing: A Celtic in the Blood Novella (2 page)

BOOK: The Rousing: A Celtic in the Blood Novella
13.84Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub






“Bronach is up for sale.”

Liam barged his way into the tiny back office of our village real estate agency, while I hurriedly clicked the red ‘x’ on the wedding announcement and snapped down the lid of the laptop. I’d stared at the damn thing so long, I wondered if he’d be able to see it, burned into my retinas, as I still did.

“Don’t you know how to knock?” I demanded, cutting him a death-glare. I ruffled papers to distract from my ruffled self, willing that tell-tale salt-sting to retreat back down my tear-ducts.

“Didn’t you hear what I said? I thought you’d want to know,” Liam said, landing himself in the wheelie office chair opposite me with a bounce.

“Know what?” I asked.

“Bronach Lodge is going up for auction.”

“You can’t be serious. The old lady’s still warm in her grave.” I’d caught the lingering scent of incense from Lady Pembroke’s funeral on my scarf just this morning. It had been a solemn, impersonal, rain-drenched affair; she’d had no family left to mourn her.

“I’m deadly serious,” Liam said. “Just got off the phone with the executor. He's flying in from New York this evening for a valuation. Insists on being there in person.” Liam scooted closer. "This could be really good for us. The commission on a big house like that-" His smile fell at the corners as he finally did a double-take on the blood-shot eyes and smudged mascara I was failing to hide through the fall of my hair. “Are you crying, Darcy?” he asked.

“No, of course not,” I lied. Fortunately for me, my twin brother wasn’t the observant type. Not unless it involved particular attributes of the female variety, and those did not include tears.

My ex-fiancé might have officially moved on with his life, but I was far from ready for the pity-party that was bound to follow. One sympathetic word from Liam and I'd be a hot mess of pathetic, bawling woman.

“You get your knickers in a twist every time these old estates get put up for auction," Liam said, totally misreading the source of my distress, "but you can’t take each one like a personal blow. Times change, sis. People move on.”

“Yeah,” I exhaled.
Except somehow I got left behind.
My smile was fake.

“An auction will attract international interest. Not like any of the locals would touch that place with a shitty stick.”

“True,” I conceded. Bronach was aptly named for the Gaelic word for sorrow. The house had seen its share of it, and though these days the village had broadband and satellite TV and all the mod cons, not even the invasion of twenty-first century technology could completely douse the flame of local superstition.

“So -” Liam pushed.

“So what?”

“So,” he said, trying to ply me with that same rakish, raised brows and twinkly-eyed look I’d seen him use to melt many a girl’s panties down the local pub, “you’ll take the client? He’ll meet you at the property at five.”

“You’re shafting me to work Friday night, again?” I said, incredulous.

“I would never shaft you, sis,” he laughed, brows wagging, and his voice dropped to a conspiratorial whisper “but there’s this killer blonde I’m hoping to run into again down the pub tonight.”

“Seriously, you like her?” Damn. That woman gave me the creeps with her weird eyes and her sunglasses and the inappropriate touching. “Don’t you ever think outside of your crotch?” I asked.

“You should try it some time, Darcy. Cut loose. Getting ‘shafted’ once in a while might do you a world of good.”

I glowered at him, refusing to rise to the bait.

Christ. Was that my reputation now? The frigid, abandoned spinster? I was still on the right side of thirty, for God’s sake, and it wasn’t as though the laughable, fumbling seduction techniques of the village idiots round here were even remotely tempting.

“Do I need to remind you I’m your boss?” Liam prodded.

I balled a sheet of paper and tossed it at his head. “You know if you weren’t my brother, I’d be slapping my hand across your face and a sexual harassment charge on your arse.”

Liam’s grin widened. “I knew you’d come good, sis.”

“You owe me. Big time,” I said, stabbing a finger in his direction,

“Sure.” He rubbed his hands together as he rose from the chair, smug in his victory. “Who knows, maybe this executor fella will turn out to be a real catch.”

The look I gave him was withering. “Oh yeah. Another paunchy, pasty-faced, cigar-sucking fat-cat from the U-nited States of America, come to rape what little is left of our dwindling heritage. What’s not to love?” I said drily.






An hour on the road, navigating the winding, dusk-cloaked country lanes with my camera, phone and notepad my only companions on the passenger seat, and I was still berating this stranger I was yet to meet. I hadn’t laid eyes on my client, but already I hated him. I knew the type all too well: pseudo-Irish wannabes with more money than sense. They bought up ancient family estates like they were just any other commodity. Then they stripped out their souls: marble fireplaces, mirrors, bathrooms, family heirlooms, all destined for the swanky New-York antique shops, while they installed their obscene swimming pools and their libraries of fake books and faker furnishings and swanned around playing fake lord of the manor. Who said the pillaging of Ireland had ended with the Vikings?

“And when did you become so bitter and twisted?” I said to myself. All I needed were a few cats and a bobble-hat, and my eccentric old bird credentials would be sealed.

I knew I was being crabby. I knew it was unreasonable, but damn it, it was that or dwell on that salt-in-the-wound, picture-perfect, kissing-in-the-sunshine wedding announcement I couldn’t get out of my head. That depressingly apropos Adele song came on the radio and I punched through the stations, hoping to lift my mood. I paused, catching the tail end of a storm warning on the shipping news. There hadn’t been a breath of wind all day, but here on the coast, the weather was fickle.

Let’s hope the American's not a talker
, I thought, driving on, singing along to angry rock anthems
at the top of my lungs. As though the landscape was tuning into my dark mood, slate-grey clouds roiled on the horizon. A wind whipped up out of nowhere, buffeting my little car as I approached the remote headland on which Bronach Lodge had perched above the waves, unmolested for centuries.
A bit like you, Darcy,
I thought, laughing at myself. John-Joe’s groping didn’t count.

My client’s car was already there, staking a claim outside the property, when I pulled up a short distance away. A huge, sleek, racing-green gas-guzzler of a sedan, I recognised it as a Jaguar from its animal insignia. How predictable. I felt my upper lip curl. The black-out windows ticked yet another box on my
douche bag checklist. Assuming he was watching me through all that dark glass, I flashed him a megawatt smile whilst simultaneously flipping him the bird, unseen behind the dashboard.

I slid the vanity mirror open and glossed my lips a dark red. If I was going to defend Ireland’s coastline against invading marauders, a little war-paint was definitely in order. My fraternal twin, Liam, and I shared the same colouring: almost black hair, blue eyes and porcelain-pale skin that didn’t take the sun. Nothing exotic in this neck of the woods, nothing as overtly sexual as the blonde bombshell in the bar last night, but foreigners seemed to find it alluring, and I wasn’t above using all the weapons in my arsenal to secure this deal. It was no secret the country was in an economic slump - why else would these bald-headed vultures in business suits be circling? - and since my father's diagnosis, the bills were mounting at the little estate agency that had once been his pride and joy. So game-face on, I gathered up my camera and notepad, slung my bag over my shoulder and exited the car.

You might think it was reckless for a woman to meet a stranger alone in some backwater of Ireland, but the crime rate here was so low they’d actually shut-down the police station. Suicides, teenage drinking and the odd driving-under-the-influence was about as dangerous as it got around here. Besides, I kept an illegal can of pepper spray in my bag, and wasn’t averse to delivering a swift knee to the groin of any chancer who might try it on with me.

I approached the penis-extension-slash-Jaguar with the wind lashing around my ankles and flipping the hem of my skirt high enough to give its occupant an eyeful of my underwear. I cursed into the gale. Wrestling the skirt back into place whilst simultaneously dragging stray hairs from my freshly-glossed mouth proved to be a battle too far. So much for multitasking. My camera fell victim to the struggle, landing in the wet grass.

Way to make a first impression, Darcy.

I hunkered down to retrieve the camera, and found myself staring at the leather uppers of a very expensive looking pair of men’s shoes.

"Kneeling won't be necessary."


“No need to kiss my feet either.”

My head shot up, a pithy retort at the ready, only to find my anger deflated by a smile. Not the blinding-white, fake Hollywood veneers that leave you picturing the skull beneath, but normal, nice even teeth with normal imperfections. It was a genuine smile.

"A joke," he said, by way of apology. "I'm Jack. Nice to meet you. Thanks for coming at such short notice."

That voice, with its foreign accent, rubbed over me like long-pile velvet. He extended a hand to help me up, and I couldn’t help but notice the expensive looking watch and the light dusting of hair on his tanned forearm. I took what he offered on reflex and he helped me back onto my feet. As he did so, I cast my eyes up to his face and was arrested by a pair of eyes greener than the stormy sea behind him and framed by the kind of dark, thick lashes any woman would kill for.

Ok, so maybe my client wasn’t bald. His hair was thick, dark and straight, groomed at the sides, but longer on top, and tousled by the wind.

Not exactly old either. I pegged him as early thirties, max.

And I couldn’t say he was fat. In fact, the way he filled the charcoal-grey suit, all broad-shoulders and narrow hips, I’d have said underneath all that expensive tailoring was a strong, athletic frame.

Not a trace of cigar smoke either, damn him. Just the clean, male smell of classy aftershave.

“Drop something?” he asked.

Yeah, I dropped something alright. My jaw. Probably my panties too. Bastard.

"Just my camera," I said. I had to smile up at him. He out-heighted me by a good half-foot, even in my low heels. Against my will, I felt my face heat.

Windburn, Darcy. Most definitely.

In that moment, I hated the man even more for proving my assumptions wrong. Beyond that, I hated him for the undeniable flare of attraction that flushed my cheeks and flooded parts of my body I'd begun to think had gone to rust.

Appearances are deceptive, I berated myself. An asshole who happened to be sex on a stick was still an asshole.

I’d been right about one thing, he was American. There was no mistaking that smooth, liquid-sex drawl.

"Is it always this unsettled ‘round here?" he asked.

I sure couldn’t recall the last time I’d felt this unsettled in the presence of a man.

BOOK: The Rousing: A Celtic in the Blood Novella
13.84Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub

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