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Forget-Me-Not

By Kris Bryant

Smashwords Edition

Copyright 2017 Kris Bryant

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Forget-Me-Not

When Grace Danner finds out her great-aunt has passed away leaving her a flower shop in Ireland, she is anxious to get it off her hands as quickly as possible. Her career with the most prestigious advertising firm in Dallas has her busy six days a week, and she doesn’t have time to step away from her life to handle her aunt’s estate. She plans a quick trip to sign papers and save family heirlooms, hoping to return home before the end of the week. She meets real estate agent Kerry Mulligan who was consigned to the property quite by accident. Their relationship starts off rocky, and as much as Grace wants to get to know the red-haired Irish beauty in the short time she is there, Kerry is nothing but business. Can Grace break through Kerry’s icy disposition and open her up to a quick affair? Even if Grace manages to seduce Kerry, can she return unscathed to the life she left in Dallas?

What Reviewers Say About Kris Bryant’s Work

Whirlwind Romance

“Ms. Bryant’s descriptions were written with such passion and colourful detail that you could feel the tension and the excitement along with the characters…”—Inked Rainbow Reviews

Taste

“[Taste] is an excellent traditional romance, well written, well conceived and well put together. Kris Bryant has given us a lovely warm-hearted story about two real human beings with whom we can genuinely engage. There is no melodrama, no overblown angst, just two women with an instant attraction who have to decide first, how to deal with it and second, how much it’s worth.”—Lesbian Reading Room

Taste is a student/teacher romance set in a culinary school. If the premise makes you wonder whether this book will make you want to eat something tasty, the answer is: yes.”—The Lesbian Review

Jolt

“[Jolt] is a magnificent love story. Two women hurt by their previous lovers and each in their own way trying to make sense out of life and times. When they meet at a gay and lesbian friendly summer camp, they both feel as if lightening has struck. This is so beautifully involving, I have already reread it twice. Amazing!”—Rainbow Book Reviews

Forget-Me-Not

© 2017 By Kris Bryant. All Rights Reserved.


ISBN 13: 978-1-62639-866-5


This Electronic book is published by

Bold Strokes Books, Inc.

P.O. Box 249

Valley Falls, NY 12185


First Edition: April 2017


This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places, and incidents are the product of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously. Any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, business establishments, events, or locales is entirely coincidental.


This book, or parts thereof, may not be reproduced in any form without permission.


Credits

Editor: Ashley Tillman

Production Design: Susan Ramundo

Cover Design By Sheri (graphicartist2020@hotmail.com)

Cover Concept and Composition By Deb B.

By the Author

Jolt


Whirlwind Romance


Just Say Yes: The Proposal


Taste


Forget-Me-Not

Acknowledgments

This book was a journey for me. It started with a trip to Ireland and ended with love.

I will always be grateful to Bold Strokes Books for continuing to publish my style of writing and my type of romances. Thank you, Sandy and Radclyffe, for trusting my voice and supporting me and all of us. We are all so different, yet a part of a wonderful blended family.

Without Ashley, my books would never solidify into something enjoyable or complete. She does a fantastic job of keeping me on task and isn’t afraid to tell me strengths and weaknesses with everything I write. She’s my rock and I really couldn’t do this without her.

Thank you, Deb, for always looking out for me and giving me the space to write these romances. I know it’s not easy, I’m not easy, and this process takes a lot out of me. And Molly. She’s right beside me during every step of the way. I love you both.

Every year I meet new writers who inspire me somehow, someway whether they realize it or not. I love my writer family. We are a beautiful group who want to share the stories we create. Thank you to the readers who support us and continue to appreciate what we do. Our community is small, but fierce. I am thankful to be a part of all of us.

Dedication

To D

Chapter One

I have my laptop and several e-books to keep me busy on the flight that never ends, but I’m too nervous to settle down. I’m on my way to Ireland from Dallas via Philadelphia and even though it’s only been five hours, I feel like I’ve been thirty-seven thousand feet in the air for at least a week. Forget about telling me to sleep on an airplane. I never do. I’m the one who suddenly jerks awake and then tries to play it off like I didn’t just scare the crap out of myself and my heart isn’t somersaulting in my chest. It’s just better if I stay awake.

The little old lady in the seat next to me is knitting and humming. She hasn’t said anything to me. She only smiles when we do make eye contact and that makes her my ideal travel companion. Had Morgan, my best friend who was supposed to be on this trip been sitting next to me, I wouldn’t get a word in edgewise, nor would I have this much peace. The book I’m reading isn’t holding my interest, so I decide to pull up photos on my laptop of places I want to see while I’m in and around Dublin. That gets the attention of my neighbor. She stops knitting and stares at the screen.

“Oh, that’s a lovely town there,” she says. I smile at her Irish accent and obvious delight in what she is seeing on the screen.

“My great aunt lived there for many years,” I say.

“Are you visiting her?” she asks. Her eyes light up and I’m surprised at the melancholy that has suddenly weighed down my heart.

“No, she recently passed away. I’m going to sell her flower shop and see to her affairs,” I say. She gives me a pat on my arm and I give her a sad smile.

“I’m sorry to hear that.” She is quiet until she sees a picture of Ireland’s Eye, a small island just off of Howth. “Oh, that’s a fine place to see. Lots of history there.” She proceeds to tell me a little bit about the tiny island accessible only by boat.

“Do you live in Howth?” I ask.

“Oh, no. I have a cottage in Dalkey, just outside of Dublin. My husband and I used to go to Howth on the weekends. Such a quaint, lovely fishing town. We always wanted to get a place there, but it is very expensive.” I wonder how hard it is going to be to sell the shop if the cost of living there is astronomically high. Is anybody going to want a flower shop? I probably should have done more research on the town and the shop before I jumped on a plane.

“Is somebody picking you up when we land in Dublin?” I want to change the subject because I’m starting to panic as the weight of the burden of selling a business in a country that isn’t booming economically starts settling in.

“My grandson, Sean, is picking me up. He’s such a good young man. He’s about your age, I think,” she says, squinting her eyes at me, either sizing me up, or trying to figure out how old I am. She tells me her name is Ailis and she has been in New York City visiting her son who moved there ten years ago. Her daughter still lives in Dublin with her two sons, one of them Sean, who will greet her at the airport.

“That’s very sweet. I thought about staying in Dublin overnight, but decided I’m just going to take a cab directly to Howth. I’m supposed to work with a representative from The Mulligan Group tomorrow.”

“That company has been around for years. They are very popular around Dublin. You should have no problem selling the shop.” She picks her knitting back up, my story no longer interesting to her. I take her cue and put in my earbuds. It isn’t long before I hear the pilot over the speaker mumbling something and pull my earbud out just in time to hear him say we are beginning our descent. I want to look out the window, but the sun is getting low and I’m sure Ailis doesn’t want me to lean over her. I pack away my laptop and try to calm my nerves as I wait for the wheels to hit the tarmac.

“Not a flyer, eh?” She smiles at me. I look at her and she looks at my hands on the armrests, my knuckles almost white. I release my death grip on the metal arms and calmly rest my hands in my lap. “I don’t blame you for being nervous. The flight into Dublin is usually pretty bumpy. It’s really not too bad this time.” She says this as we are still five thousand miles up in the air.

“I just can’t relax. There is something about being this high up without any control.” I stop myself from thinking too hard about it because I don’t want to say anything or freak out and upset Ailis. She’s more upset by the flight attendant asking her to put away her knitting.

“You should have been on airplanes forty and fifty years ago when people smoked and the seats weren’t comfortable. Turbulence like this would have given you whiplash,” she says. The horrified look on my face makes her laugh. “So just be happy today’s airplanes are much more regulated and cozy.” I know we are close to hitting the tarmac, so I put my arm out and rest my hand against the chair in front of me, bracing myself. Surprisingly, it is quite smooth and several passengers applaud the pilot’s skillful landing. Now I allow the excitement of a new place to envelope me and I look out of both sides of the plane, hoping to see something more than airplane towers and other planes. No such luck. I lean back and anxiously wait for the plane to empty.

“Well, good luck, dear. I hope that your trip is successful and that you fall in love with Ireland.” Ailis picks up her bag and smiles at me before she slips into the line of people waiting to get off the plane. I take a moment to gather my things and work my way into the single file line slowly walking to the exit. Thankfully, I only have my carry-on and messenger bags so I head straight for the customs line. Feeling nervous and anxious because this is all new to me, I explain that I’m here on business and perhaps some pleasure if there is time. The stoic official stamps my passport and hands it back to me, my life unimportant to him as he dismisses me and waves to the next person in line. I head for a restroom to freshen up and take a moment to collect myself. When I exit the restroom, I stop to get my bearings and people watch. I’m very surprised at how many people have flowers. Every single person I see has a smile on their face. Morgan is so wrong. People need flowers. I remember I promised to call her when I landed.

“How do you always know to call right when I’m ready to take a bite of food?” Morgan doesn’t believe in answering her phone like a normal person.

“Please tell me you are eating a chicken parmesan sandwich from Johnny’s. I’m starving,” I say. She answers me with a grunt and a lot of lip smacking noises. My stomach rumbles.

“How was the flight?” At least that’s what I think she says between mouthfuls of her lunch.

“It was, you know, awful. I made it though. Now I’m going to figure out how to get out of this airport and get to Howth.” I know I’ll hire a cab, and I’m now considering hiring a driver all week because driving on the other side of the road freaks me out. That was supposed to be Morgan’s job. A driver will be quite the expense, but well worth it. Or I can become familiar with public transportation.

“Remember to take a few days for yourself. Go find a hot Irish woman and have fun. Keep it light. Pretend you’re me,” she says. I’m entirely too shy so I know that’s not going to happen. She’s the one who gets all of the action when we go out. I can usually be found hiding in a corner, sipping on a fruity, weak drink. I’m confident with everything in life but women. I snort at Morgan’s advice. “Grace Danner. You listen to me. Quit selling yourself short. You are a beautiful woman inside and out, and people want to be near you. Don’t let one crappy relationship ruin the possibility of something incredible, even if only for a few days. She was just stupid. It’s time to move on.” We don’t ever say her name. When the big break-up happened, Morgan, my warrior, my heroine, couldn’t get what’s-her-name’s stuff out of my condo fast enough. She showed up with storage tubs and boxes and the ex’s stuff was gone within a few hours. To this day, I still don’t know what happened to it all. I can only assume that the ex received it because I never heard from her again. Either that, or Morgan had her killed, hid the body, and gave all of her stuff to a homeless shelter. “How about when you get back, we make a serious effort for both of us to find girlfriends.”

It’s amazing how quickly I stopped caring about finding my soul mate. “Are you ready to settle down?”

“We are both thirty-one years old and not getting any younger. Plus, it would be nice to have somebody to come home to. I haven’t really done that,” she says.

“It’s not all it’s cracked up to be.”

“Quit feeling sorry for yourself. You were born to be a wife. You just need to weed through the crazies to get to your Princess Charming. And I need to open up and let somebody in. It’s time.” Morgan has been my best friend since college. She’s always felt this need to protect me, and I do what I can to keep her grounded. We are a good match, as friends only.

“I’m not worried. Maybe I just need a break. Sometimes it’s best to disconnect in order to reconnect.” I roll my eyes because that even sounds cheesy to me.

“Thanks, bumper sticker. Now go and sign papers and eat food. Oh, and be sure to kiss an Irish girl. If not for you, do it for me.” I’m smiling when I hang up the phone. Morgan always knows how to get me in a good mood.

*

I wait in the taxi line and smile at the attendant who asks my destination. His accent is very thick, and at first I don’t understand him so he repeats himself, speaking slower this time.

“Howth. The Walsh Bed and Breakfast please,” I say. The taxi driver looks immediately annoyed. I’m sure he wanted a fast trip so he could hurry back to the airport and collect his next customer. The attendant loads my bags in the trunk and taps the car to signal to the driver that he is good to go. It takes the driver a good five minutes before he starts talking.

“Are you in Ireland for business or pleasure?” I’d rather he didn’t ask boring questions and just let me enjoy seeing what little I can still see of Ireland in the dimming twilight.

“Hopefully a little bit of both,” I say. He nods like he understands.

“From America, huh?” This time I nod. “Where in America?”

“Dallas, Texas,” I say. That perks his interest.

“Texas. The land of cowboys and jeans,” he says. I’m tempted to kick my leg up onto the armrest to show off my Ariat boots, but I refrain. Suddenly, I have a fan. He starts talking nonstop about western movies and how people in Texas have the best of everything. He either has watched too much American television, or not enough.

“It is a great place,” I say. He bombards me with a bunch of questions all at once. “No, I don’t have a horse, but I do like to ride. Dallas is probably three times bigger than Dublin.” He’s very excited when I launch into a little bit of history about Dallas. When I finally shut up, he starts in about Dublin’s history and before I know it, we are in the small town of Howth.

“Here we are,” he says, putting the car in park. He jumps out and opens the door for me, gathering my luggage from the trunk before I’m out of the car. I must have given him a large tip because he thanks me again and again and hands me his business card. “Please call me when you are returning to the airport or need a cab to get around.” He slips back into the cab and quickly darts off.

I unlatch the wrought iron gate and get a good look at the old stone house. I wonder how long it’s been there and how many coats of paint have peeled off the shutters. It is old, but quaint and I smile at its charm. The beautiful red door opens and I’m greeted by an older lady who fusses over me immediately.

“Come in, please. Before you catch a chill,” she says. I’m fairly certain she knows who I am since I’m expected, but I’m still surprised at her friendliness. She offers to help carry my bag, but I insist that I carry it up the steps. She’s half my size and about thirty years older. “I’m so glad you made it.” The yellow and red floral wallpaper brightens the room somewhat, but doesn’t disguise the age of the place.

“Ms. Walsh, right?” I ask politely. I don’t want to assume she’s the owner, but I want to give her respect in case she is. She nods. “What a delightful place you have here. I was admiring the outside. When was this built?” I hope that’s not an insulting question. Apparently not as she begins to teach me about the house and the neighborhood. The house was built in the eighteenth century and doubled in size when the family decided to open the bed and breakfast close to one hundred years ago. The kitchen tripled in size, and a third level was added including three guest rooms and three small baths. Ms. Walsh has put me up on the third floor because the floor is better insulated and the bathrooms are relatively modern.

“I’m sorry the room isn’t larger, but the shower is hot and the room has a beautiful view of the Irish Sea,” she says. She is a mixture of proud and embarrassed.

“It’s perfect,” I say and mean it. It’s amazing to think about the people who stayed here in this house even before it was a bed and breakfast.

“If you’re hungry, I can open up the kitchen and cook you something,” she offers. We both can’t pretend my stomach didn’t just growl.

“Please don’t bother, Ms. Walsh. I can just run down the street. I’m almost certain we drove by a restaurant,” I say. She’s one step away from fretting about my nourishment. “I’ve been sitting for the last twelve hours. A walk and fresh air really would be nice.” That appeases her. She directs me down the street to Sullivan’s Pub. I walk that way and can hear it before I see it. As I round the steep corner, I’m greeted by two older men outside smoking pipes. One gallantly opens the door for me.

“Niall, quit flirting. She’s here for a pint not an old man like yourself,” he says. After a few days, I’m sure I’ll get used to the accent here, but for right now, I can’t help but smile. They could tell me that there is a murderer out and about preying on American women and I wouldn’t even care because I’m under the spell of the thick Irish brogue. I enter the pub and swear I’ve suddenly teleported two hundred years into the past. This pub is everything I expected it to be, only better. There are long tables and only a few booths for eating. Most of the patrons are sitting at the bar talking, laughing, and drinking. There is no television, no music, just people having several different conversations at once. Feeling self-conscious because I appear to be the only woman in the joint, I freeze. Do I go to the bar? Do I sit down at a table? A booth?

“Take a seat anywhere.” A voice booms out at me and I quickly sink into the closest booth, desperately trying not to draw attention to myself. A few patrons look my way and nod, but turn back around to their conversations. A woman in her late forties, early fifties heads my way digging a pencil out of the hair piled haphazardly on her head. “What can I get you to drink?” She’s perfect. Exactly what I expected to see. Plumpish with meaty hands and a warm smile. Her hair is more brown than red, but curly with frizzy strands bouncing out from her scalp. The pencil she now holds was keeping most of her hair contained.

“Is it too late for food?” I ask. At this point, I’d nibble on dry bread crusts.

“I can get you a bowl of Irish stew. It’ll warm you up quite nicely,” she says.

I nod with approval. “And I have to try a Guinness, too, while I am here.”

“Where in America are you from?” she asks. I don’t even bother asking why she thinks I’m from the United States. From what I understand, Europeans can spot an American from five miles away.

“Texas,” I say.

“There it is,” she says. I have no idea what she means. “Your accent.” I smile. Her accent is far sharper than mine.

“Is that a good thing?” I ask.

“Of course. Wait a minute. Are you Nola Burke’s great niece?” she asks, her smile fading quickly. “She was such a nice lady. We are all sorry she passed.” I feel guilty that I’m not as affected by her passing as they are, so I only nod my appreciation of her respect.

“I’m here to handle her shop and get things in order,” I say. She pats my hand.

“Let me get your food and pint and I can tell you more about your aunt,” she says. I watch her walk away and mumble something to the bartender. He nods at her and looks at me. Feeling self-conscious, I look away and study my surroundings instead. This pub is so unlike anything I’ve seen back home. It is designed for people to share meals, talk, and drink. Nobody has their cell phone out. I hear music from somewhere, probably the kitchen, but it’s faint and not a distraction. I find myself relaxing even though I’m in a new place and don’t know a single soul. Within five minutes, I have a bowl of hearty Irish stew and soda bread in front of me, accompanied by a glass of beautiful, dark stout.

“You will have to come back for lunch when my boys deliver the fish. Freshest fish and chips you will find here in town,” she says. “I’ll be back in a moment to check on you.” I dig into the stew and sigh happily as the flavors dance inside my mouth. The stew is perfectly seasoned with just the right amount of vegetables and meat. I soak up the broth with the bread and even though the beer is strong, I manage to get through half of it while wolfing down my food.

“Was it to your liking?” she asks, swooping in to gather up my bowl and plate.

“Fantastic. It hit the spot,” I say.

“I’m happy you enjoyed it. The stew is an old family recipe. I’m Colleen Sullivan, the owner here,” she says, still busying herself around the booth, wiping up imaginary crumbs. I invite her to sit down and she gladly accepts.

“Your aunt was a lovely woman. She kept mostly to herself, but everybody knew her. She came in here quite a bit for lunch. The flower shop she ran is just a few streets over and on nice days, she would walk here for exercise.”

“I didn’t really know her very well. I think the last time I saw her was the summer after my high school graduation. We had a family reunion when my grandfather retired in Florida and I spent a few hours talking with her. She was always nice and friendly,” I say.

“Oh, yes. Very quiet, but very popular. The men around here always asked her advice on love and how to keep the fire going,” she says. I look at her peculiarly and she laughs. “When you have a flower shop, you know the best way to a woman’s heart. You know what to do.” I smile. I forgot about that part. I thought maybe she was Ireland’s Dear Abby. I have so much to learn about the power of flowers. “She probably saved more marriages than she realized.”

“I know so little about her,” I say. “I don’t understand why she chose me.” She didn’t have any children, but plenty of other family members who, I’m sure, were more involved in her life than I was.

“Well, there is a reason she did and I’m sure you will figure that out in due time,” she says. “I should get back to work. Don’t be a stranger. And come back for lunch.” She yells at one of the men who is ribbing her about sitting down on the job. “I will be seeing you, Grace Danner.” She walks away before I even realize that I never told her my name.

Chapter Two

I don’t sleep the greatest when I travel, so I’m not surprised when I’m up before sunrise. I know that I’ll be toast by noon, but right now the excitement of being in a different country and wanting to explore it gets me ready and dressed. I’m supposed to meet Kerry Mulligan at nine thirty at the flower shop. That gives me almost three hours to sightsee and explore the village. Just under nine thousand people live here so I can’t imagine that I will get lost or be unable to find the shop.

“Grace, breakfast isn’t served until seven,” Ms. Walsh tells me, her face registering surprise as she almost bumps into me in the foyer. I’m getting my camera equipment ready and not even thinking of food.

“Oh, I’m fine. I just want to get a head start on this gorgeous day,” I say.

She fusses for a bit, tells me to wait, and comes back with a warm pretzel roll with cheese and butter tucked inside. “This should tide you over until I can get a proper breakfast on the table.”

“This will tide me over until lunch.” I never eat breakfast back home, but if somebody brought me this every morning, I would rethink the three meals a day thing. This smells heavenly.

I head out, anxious to begin my journey. I zip up my leather jacket all the way when I’m greeted by a biting chill in the early morning wind. Thank God I left without putting makeup on because the tears that keep slipping out of the corner of my eyes would have washed it away. I head straight for the docks. Howth is a little fishing town and I’m excited to capture its essence with my camera. The houses that line the street leading down to the water are colorful and laced with age. It’s hard to believe that this town has been around for over a thousand years. Dallas is under two hundred years old and already there is a lot of renovation to buildings and parks. I’m pretty sure these houses have been here for at least that long. Charming with age. I take a few photos of the colorful doors that I’ve read about and head to the docks. Several of the boats are already gone, and the ones left are either unloading their pre-dawn haul or just there for weekend trips. I snap a few photos of the fishermen, surprised that several of them are younger than I am. I hear a wolf whistle coming from a docked boat, but ignore it and focus on the seagulls floating on the air above me. They are everywhere, waiting for the fishermen to throw scraps of fish into piles, scavenging from ten feet above. I take pictures of them, my nearness not affecting them at all. When I spot a pair of sea lions breech the surface, I squeal and get as many photos as I can before they disappear under the water. What a fantastic sight. I crawl down over some rocks to look out across the water. It’s so peaceful here. I eat my roll, sharing a large portion of it with the fish and birds. I smile because I know that if Morgan was here, she would still be in bed, mumbling about how cold it is. She would never crawl over these rocks and sit on mossy, cold stones eating a sandwich and feeding fish. She would complain about the smells and want, no demand, to sit in the car or find a restaurant and drink hot coffee.

I check my watch and decide I need to find Aunt Nola’s flower shop, The Irish Garden, and meet with the realtor. I want to get there early so I can see the shop and its location. Sad to leave my peaceful place, I wipe the crumbs off of my jeans and vow to return to this sanctuary before I leave. Just looking around, I see so many things that I want to photograph. I’ve almost filled my memory card and I’ve only been actively snapping photos for the last two hours. I adjust my settings so that I’m able to squeeze more on the card, thankful that I have several empty ones back at the bed and breakfast. This is so unlike Dallas where everything is new and shiny. Even though it’s early, there are already several people out, including two families at the playground, young people headed to the coffee shop, and others headed to the wharf. I read that there is a farmer’s market out on the wharf and I plan to hit that before I leave.

I look back at the docks and notice that the early morning sun is hitting the tips of the boats, giving the entire harbor a beautiful warm glow. I snap a few pictures, but I’m not quite at the angle I want to be so I step out into the street to get that perfect shot. That’s a mistake. I hear screeching tires and a loud crash beside me. I freeze and tense up, waiting for a giant truck to smash into me and send me a hundred yards down the street. I slowly turn to the side and see a Volkswagen Jetta crunched into a concrete and stone garbage can, the fender and part of the hood crumpled up. Holy shit! I forgot the Irish drive on the opposite side of the road here so I literally walked into traffic because I was looking the other way. Before I even fully cross the street, the driver’s side door flings open and a woman busts out yelling at me. She flings her arms at me, then points to the car, then back at me. I can’t keep up with what she is saying, so I just stand there and wait for her ranting to stop.

“I’m so sorry. I didn’t mean to jump out in front of you.” I’m about two feet in front of her and suddenly I forget I just caused her to crash her car. She’s gorgeous and every bit Irish. Long, red hair, alabaster skin, and emerald eyes. Morgan has green eyes, but this woman’s eyes are a dark green, a color I have never seen before. She’s still ranting at me and I still don’t understand her. Her brogue is too strong, or she’s speaking a dialect, or Gaelic. I pick up on a few words that aren’t entirely pleasant, but I don’t blame her.

“Why would you jump out in front of my car? Who does that? Why didn’t you look first?” Finally, words I understand. She stops talking, her chest rising and falling fast at the adrenaline coursing through her. She moves closer to me, her stunning eyes flashing with anger. She is waiting for me to say something.

“Are you okay? Are you hurt anywhere?” She looks completely and justifiably perturbed. “I’m so sorry,” I say again. “I forgot that you drive on the opposite side of the road here. I will pay for all damages to your car.” She stares at me, looks back at the car, then back to me. I see her shoulders slump. I feel stupid standing there, looking at her and saying nothing. I have no idea who to call to fix her car. I’ve been here twelve hours and I’ve already managed to screw things up. Now I wish Morgan was here. She would take complete control of the situation.

“You’re American,” she says. There is no malice in her voice. As a matter of fact, she suddenly seems sad at that revelation. I’m thoroughly confused. “Let me guess, you’re Grace.” Okay, now I’m completely confused. I haven’t been here long enough for people to talk about me.

I nod. “I am. How do you know me? Who are you?” Before I get the final word out, I know who she is. She’s Kerry Mulligan, the realtor I am to meet with right now. “Let me guess. You’re Kerry,” I say. She turns from me and heads back to her car. I’m standing on the edge of the street wondering what I’m supposed to do now. She crawls into the car and grabs her cell phone. I head over to the car to investigate the actual damage. The front bumper is curled up and is pushing up against the tire, making it immobile.

“Luke is coming to tow the car,” she says.

“I really am sorry. I can’t believe I did such a stupid thing,” I say. I glance over at her and see her hands clench into fists. If this wasn’t such a serious moment, I would smile at how much she is struggling to keep her anger in check.

“I know it was an accident,” she says. I think she is trying to convince herself of that, and not me. I’m suddenly very glad she’s the agent and works for me, because her fury fully unleashed would probably make me weep. She makes a few quick calls and suggests we walk to The Irish Garden. The three block walk is hell and done in painful silence. I glance at her a few times, admiring her slender form and her feminine grace. Even her cool demeanor is attractive. Once we turn the corner and I see the shop, I’m quite impressed with it. The front is bright and colorful, not gaudy, and the large window boasts flowering plants and vases of cut flowers. I’m surprised to see a cat perched on the windowsill, inside, close to the door. I smile and rub my finger at it on the outside. It rubs up against the window, trying to feel my hand. As I wait for Kerry to unlock the door, I take a moment to look at the shop’s location. It seems to be in an easily accessible place. There is ample parking across the street and the shop is visible from the intersection. There is only one neighbor; a small electronic store that is about half the size of the flower shop, but just as quaint. There is a long stone wall covered with ivy and moss on the other side, hiding whatever is behind and beside the shop.

“I normally don’t do commercial real estate,” she says as she finally gets the door to unlock. She steps back and motions for me to enter in front of her.

“Then why are you doing it now?” The question comes out snottier than I intended and I see her stiffen. I tone it down and ask it a different way. “I mean, why did you take the contract?” She flips on the lights and I take a moment to look around. She answers me when I turn to face her.

“I liked your great aunt. She was very sweet and kind,” she says. She offers me no other explanation and instead starts talking about the size of the shop and what’s included in the sale. “You have approximately three hundred square meters in the store, ninety square meters for storage, and another sixty for the office. That is also the same amount of space above for your aunt’s living quarters,” she says, pointing up at the ceiling indicating where my great aunt lived. I look at her in surprise. A brief whisper of a smile flashes across her face, but it is gone before I have a chance to truly appreciate it.

“I guess I just assumed my great aunt lived elsewhere,” I say.

“Most people who have businesses have living quarters in the same place. Ireland isn’t a wealthy place,” she says, the bitterness back in her voice. I inwardly sigh. Either she was really attached to her car, or she is pissed that I’m here. Knowing my luck, it’s probably both. I follow her around the store, impressed by all of the different flowers and plants on display. The cat in the window weaves its way toward us, anxious for a real loving session. “Why hello, Abram, how are you today?” Her voice has changed from professional to charming and the cat rubs up against her legs, relishing her touch. He purrs and meows and ends up falling at her feet, offering his furry belly to her. She squats down and loves on him for a bit. I take the time to walk around the store, touching soft leaves and smelling wildflowers. I’ve never seen most of the flowers in this shop. It’s a nice change because back home, there are about four different flowers that I have ever seen or paid attention to. Roses, carnations, tulips, and lilies make up about ninety-nine percent of the bouquets I’ve sent or received. Here I can really only identify lilies.

“There are so many great flowers here. I don’t know many of them,” I say. She walks over to me, Abram snuggled in her arms. “Is he my aunt’s cat?” Suddenly I’m hit with the realization that this cat might be an orphan and now I’m responsible for him.

“He’s a stray that the shop took in. I’m sure Leigh would take him when the shop sells,” she says. She puts Abram back on the floor and points to the office. “The way upstairs is through the office.” She marches past me and I fall into step behind her. Now that I’m only a few feet behind her, I can appreciate her form as we climb the steps. Her curves are hidden beneath a suit that is a half size too large for her, but I can still make them out. She is about four inches taller than I am, but about two inches are heels. Because of her slight form, she seems taller. “It might be cold up here. I opened a few of the windows for fresh air.” My great aunt’s place is surprisingly fashionable. The furniture is so retro, it’s actually modern again and in really good shape. The sofa and recliner are a neutral color and contrast well against the dark mahogany coffee and end tables. Most of the personality of the room is punctuated by colorful artwork. Turns out my great aunt was pretty hip. She has an old fashioned radio that I reach out and turn on for no reason other than to keep my hands busy.

“I really like this place,” I say. It’s about the size of my condo back in Dallas, only not as modern. I don’t see a dishwasher or microwave in the kitchen, but I do see a gas stove and I can’t help but turn on the burner. “I love cooking with gas.”

“How do you cook now?” Kerry seems confused.

“I have an electric stove now and I don’t like it so I don’t cook very often,” I say. “Plus it’s hard to just cook for one person.”

“You are not married?”

“No. Most of my meals come from the microwave or from the Chinese restaurant on the corner,” I say. I can’t tell if she’s horrified at the fact that I nuke my meals or that I eat Chinese food. Her lips are pursed tightly and her scowl isn’t pleasant.

“I always thought that was an exaggeration,” she says. So it’s the microwave.

“I work quite a bit during the week and get home late so my meals are sketchy,” I say.

“What do you do for work?” she asks. She seems genuinely interested.

“I work for an advertising firm,” I say.

“For print or television?”

“Both. I mainly dabble in print and layout, but I head their media department, too,” I say. Finally, I’ve impressed her.

“It sounds like you have an important job,” she says. I shrug at her, but secretly I’m trying not to smile. “How long will you be here before they can’t work without you?”

“I’m here just shy of a week, but if we need longer to seam things up, I can take more time. Thankfully, I can work out of the office. Most of what I do is approve campaigns or give suggestions to our teams.” I don’t tell her that we have six teams that keep me busy or that I do a lot of the photography for ads because I have a hard time trusting our photographers to capture exactly what I want. Hence, my sixty to seventy hour work weeks and zero love life.

“Sounds interesting. I’m almost certain we will be able to wrap this up in a week.”

“One question, I noticed when I was looking at places to stay a lot of houses and apartments come fully furnished. Do you think I should do that with Aunt Nola’s stuff?” I correct myself because I sound heartless. “I mean, offer her furniture and belongings since it seems to be a popular thing to do here. Or, if anybody who works here at the shop wants anything of hers, I’m more than willing to give it to them.”

“I think you should do whatever you want to do,” she says. She is not helping me.

“What do you normally do? As a real estate agent or as somebody who probably knows what to do in a situation like this.” Getting information out of her is not easy. “A little bit of help here would be great.” Now she’s starting to get under my skin and not in a good way.

“It’s really up to the seller,” she says. I grit my teeth and just shake my head. We stare at each other for a few moments. She senses my frustration and gives in first. “In your situation, unless you want to box up and ship the furniture somewhere, we can list it as a furnished apartment included with the sale.”

“Thank you.” Jesus, how hard was that? “This might take me longer than a few days. Maybe I’ll tack on a week so I can get through all of her things.”

“We aren’t done with the property. I need to show you the best part.” The tension in her voice is replaced by appreciation.

“Oh?” I lift my eyebrow at her. She does that almost smile thing at me again and asks me to follow her. We head through the kitchen to a door almost hidden by a closet.

“Be careful and watch your step.” She points down to an uneven first step. Again I follow her up. When she opens the door, she turns to me and gives me a smile that makes me weak in the knees. I’m not expecting that. I grab hold of the railing and give her a quick smile back. We walk out onto the roof and I understand why her smile is so large. This is fantastic. The roof was a getaway for my great aunt. There are plants and flowers everywhere. A cute wicker patio set faces the Irish Sea. I’m instantly mesmerized. It’s a beautiful view. There is even a hammock off to one side and as tempted as I am to jump in it, I refrain. I walk around, soaking in the beauty and peace of this slice of paradise.

“Wow. This is incredible, Kerry. Absolutely gorgeous.” She’s still smiling at me and I have a strong urge to keep that beautiful smile on her face. “I hope my aunt spent a lot of time up here. I know that I would if I lived here.”

“I think that with this bonus, you won’t have any problem selling the property,” she says. She is all business again. I honestly can’t keep up with her mood swings. She quickly looks at her watch. “I bet Leigh and Emma are downstairs now. Would you like to meet them?” I nod and follow her back down the two flights of stairs until we are back in the office. A woman is sitting at a desk reviewing paperwork. “Leigh, come meet Nola’s great niece, Grace Danner. I will be working with her in handling the property,” she says. A thin, wisp of a woman stands up to greet me. She is in her late fifties, early sixties with salt and pepper hair and a pleasant face. Truthfully, she could be from any of the last seven decades, her practical, cotton floral dress timeless. Leigh reaches out to my outstretched hand and cups it in both of hers.

“Oh, dear. I am sorry about Nola. She was quite the lady.” She holds my hand a little longer than necessary and stares at me. Suddenly self-conscious, I carefully remove my hand.

“It’s nice to meet you. This is a beautiful shop. You’ve done a wonderful job with its upkeep,” I say. I can be charming. Even Kerry smiles at me. Weak knees again.

“Has she shown you around then?”

“Yes, Kerry has been extremely kind in showing me the property.” I confess that I accidentally made her crash her car and the look on Leigh’s face makes me feel ten times worse.

“Are you all right?” At this point, I really just want to slip away and start this day over. Leigh must sense my discomfort because she does an about face and is charming once again to me. “Well, obviously Kerry is fine and Luke will take care of things.” We all turn and look when we hear a bell announcing someone has entered the shop. “Oh, look. It’s Emma. Good morning. Please come over and meet Grace from America.” A very pregnant and beautiful young woman walks over to us, careful not to trip over Abram who wants her attention, and stretches out her hand to greet me.

“Grace. It’s nice to meet you. I’m just sorry it’s under these circumstances.” She tucks a few strands of hair up into her bun, the color as pretty as Kerry’s, and I wonder how long hers is. “We really admired your aunt. She was a very nice lady.”

“I wish that I knew her better. She’s been over here so long that I have only visited with her a few times back in the States,” I say. I don’t tell them it was only twice because I already feel the two strikes against me. One, I caused Kerry to crash her car and two, by selling the place, I am going to put three employees out of their jobs. I’m not about to lose any more respect they might have for me because I’ve made no effort to get to know Aunt Nola. My heart is even heavier now that I know Emma is pregnant and she will be out of a job soon.

For the next fifteen minutes, I politely listen to Leigh explain how the business is run and how there are ups and downs depending on the season, the social events, and the age of people in the town, but I’m really trying to overhear Kerry and Emma’s conversation. They seem very friendly with one another and I wonder if they are about the same age. Maybe they went to school together or attend the same church. There are so many little churches in this town, I don’t know which ones are historical sites and which ones are active. When Kerry reaches out and puts her hand on Emma’s tummy to feel the baby kick, I know they have serious history. “So what are your plans while you are here in town? My husband and I would love to have you over for dinner one night if you aren’t too busy,” Leigh says.

“That would be wonderful. Thank you very much for your hospitality. I know this is a big change for you.” I don’t know how to apologize to somebody who is about to lose their job. Even though it’s not my fault, I know it’s my responsibility and I feel horrible.

“We will treat you to a home cooked Irish meal,” she says. Damn, if it’s as good as the Irish stew I had last night, I’m going to want to stay and eat my way through Ireland.

“That sounds lovely. Any night is fine. I will spend several nights here at the shop going through Aunt Nola’s belongings,” I say. I know I will have to go through every piece of paper up there and ensure it goes to the right person or place. As much as I want to get to know Howth and the neighborhood, I’m going to have to stay focused so that I stay on schedule. Hopefully they won’t mind if I head upstairs after a few more minutes of pleasantries. The door boldly opens and we are interrupted by a thin young man with a mop of dirty blond hair who apologizes for scaring us.

“Ladies, good morning. Sorry for being late,” he says. He runs his hand through his hair, pushing the long curls from his forehead. He is tall, pale and borderline unkempt, but charmingly so. I instantly like him. “I’m Conor. You must be Grace.” He is not shy and briefly I think he might be flirting with me, but I see he is this way with all of the women. He leans past me and places a quick kiss on Leigh’s cheek. He focuses his attention back on me and I’m stunned by his copper colored eyes. “It’s nice to meet you. When did you arrive?”

“Last night. I’m ready for a nap. Jet lag and all,” I say.

“I’ve never flown before but I understand it can be challenging,” he says. He turns his attention back to the rest of the women. “What’s in store for us today? Any new deliveries?” Leigh motions for him to follow her to the back to review the orders of the day and I’m left with Kerry and Emma. Feeling very awkward because now I’m the third wheel, I gingerly step away under the guise of looking for Abram. I’m sure Kerry can’t wait to tell Emma about our initial meeting. I inwardly cringe again recalling the scene from just an hour ago. We hear the bell again and I see a large man wearing navy blue coveralls enter the shop. He’s all muscle and looks like he’s been playing rugby since birth. A true bulldog of a man. I’m actually frightened.

“Where are you, missy?” Knowing my luck, he’s looking for me.

“Which one of us are you looking for?” Emma asks. I struggle a bit to understand her when she slips into her dialect.

“Come here, you.” He gently scoops up Emma into a bear hug until she squeals.

“Da, be careful. You don’t want to hurt your back again,” she says. He reaches out and grabs Kerry, too, although with her he is a bit gentler.

“Don’t worry about me.” He hands Kerry a set of keys. “Here. Take my car. Sean is loading up yours right now. It’s not as bad as you think. We just need to pop out the hood,  bang out the bumper, nothing major. I’ll have it back to you by the end of the week.” I quietly slink over to them, my presence forgotten.

“I’m so sorry. Please let me know how much the repairs are going to be and I’ll pay for them. And whatever the cost for the car she will be driving until hers gets fixed.” He turns to me and I almost take a step back from his size and intensity.

“So, you’re the one who jumped out into traffic?” He barks out a laugh. “Oh, boy. I wish I could have seen it. Kerry’s temper is always a pleasure to see.” He’s rewarded with a small punch in the arm from Kerry.

“Luke, be nice. My temper isn’t that bad,” she says. A pink flush splashes across her cheeks and neck.

“She is very understanding,” I say. He nods his head at me sarcastically, knowing full well she had a burst of very colorful and explicit language before reining in her rage. “I know I would have been very upset, but she really did not take it out on me. Please just let me know the costs. I’ll still be here by the end of the week. And even if it doesn’t get fixed by then, I’ll give you my credit card number.”

He softens his look. “I’m sorry to hear about your aunt. She has always been nice to my girls here and to everybody in town.” He turns back to Kerry. “Now, give me your keys so we can get out of here and let you girls do what you need to do. I’m leaving you the Focus.” He waves at everybody again and leaves as quickly as he came. Emma doesn’t act surprised so I know Kerry must have told her.


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