Irish on the Rocks

By: Magan Vernon

Chapter One


Grace

The only things good about a charity gala were the free drinks and raising money for the less fortunate. Something I was taking full advantage of—the drinks, that is. Especially when my “date” was late and I didn’t know a single soul in the place. I tried smiling and nodding to a few people, but the only conversations I’d had in months were with my family and my dog. Though, to be fair, she was pretty vocal and a better conversationalist than most of the men I’d dated.

At least I finally had a night out of the house. After staying with my mum and grandparents for the past month, the only time I ever left was for job interviews that never panned out.

But tonight, I got to be the girl in the red dress. The one that made my arse look good. Too bad I didn’t have anyone to impress, including my best mate and “date,” Sean.

Pulling my phone out of my pocketbook, I sent him a quick text.

Me: Where the hell are you?

Sean: Just finishing up practice.

Me: Really? That’s what you’re going with?

Sean: Don’t get your knickers in a twist.

Me: Are you really at practice or in some poor woman’s bed?

Sean: Can’t a man do both?

I rolled my eyes, grabbing a drink from the bar and taking a large swig. Sean Murphy had been one of my best friends since we were in nappies, spending our summers together on my granddad’s estate and our years being crazy in boarding school.

Now, I stood in the grand ballroom, alone, waiting for him and really wishing I had my dog there to talk to.

I took another big gulp of my drink.

Mum and I moved from the UK to Dublin a month ago, after her and my wanker of a father’s year-long divorce battle ended. She had wanted to save face and I, at twenty-three, found myself laid off from my job and out of options.

“Champagne? Is there going to be a toast?” I asked to no one in particular when I finally noticed what I was drinking, staring at the glass as if it would answer me back.

“What would they toast to at a benefit for childhood cancer?” a husky voice responded, and I turned, wide-eyed, to see a man leaning on the bar next to me.

I’d recognize those dark blue eyes anywhere. Jack Murphy, now older with a tailored suit that molded to his well-defined frame, stared at me with his chiseled jawline and dimpled smirk. The one I’m sure had most girls dropping to their knees and begging for his attention.

Every girl but me, that is. Even if I did have a wee crush on the guy back in the day. I’d known him my entire life, and he always thought the sun rose and set on his shoulders. A very nice set of broad, manly shoulders, but that wasn’t the point.

“Right. I guess that wouldn’t make any sense,” I muttered, taking a big gulp of bubbly and hoping I wasn’t going to be knackered. No way could I miss my morning walk with Jane Pawsten, my Brussels Griffon, due to a hangover.

“How about I get you a different drink? Something Irish?” His smile turned into a half-cocked grin that I wasn’t sure if I wanted to kiss or kick off his face. Had he lost his mind? With our past, I was surprised he was being so civil.

“Not much for whiskey, and I think this will be my first and last drink, but I’d settle for tea if they have that.”

Okay, so it was my second, but I didn’t want him to think I was a lush as I grinned, twirling the stem of my glass.

“Tea? I do enjoy a good cuppa as much as the next person, but when there’s an open bar, I don’t think they carry hot water or anything more than Lipton.”

I laughed, even though the statement wasn’t really that funny. Blast, I was a horrible flirt. And why was I even trying with him? Especially since I’d known this man all of my life but now he looked at me as if he didn’t know who I was.

“So…what have you been up to lately? World domination and all that, I guess?”

Bollocks, I really was bad at this small talk. I also wasn’t exactly sure what the oldest Murphy had been doing since I last saw him eight years ago. Sean didn’t really talk to me about his brothers, but I knew his da had passed and Jack and his brothers had yet to take over the company. Something that I definitely wasn’t about to bring up.

He laughed. “Running a pub franchise isn’t world domination. Makes me sound like an evil villain from the comics when you put it that way.”

Slowly he leaned forward in his seat, and I inhaled his manly scent of leather and mint.

Need pooled low in my stomach.

Where was my Sean buffer when I needed him?

“I read a book once where you thought the man was the villain the entire time but in the end, he was the hero,” I blurted, wishing I had something better to talk about than what I had edited for freelance work.

He raised an eyebrow. “Don’t think I’ve ever read something like that. Do you work in the publishing industry? Romance author? Or maybe you’re a cover model?”

I choked on my own spit and let out a wheezing cough, putting my hand to my chest as I blinked rapidly. Why was he being nice to me? And why was I being nice back? “I’m in editing right now. Freelance for the time being. But if you know a publisher who is looking for a new editor, I’m all ears since my last one downsized.”

He laughed, shaking his head. “Can’t say that I know any publishers, mo gra, but if I knew the one who let you go, I’d boycot all of their books.”

I struggled not to roll my eyes. “That’s a horrible come-on. I would think after all these years you’d have something better.”

He blinked, swirling the liquid in his rocks glass. “Hey, I was just trying to be nice. You see a girl sitting alone in a beautiful red dress and you buy her a drink and have a conversation.”

His voice was smooth, laying it on thick with a dimpled smile as he leaned on the bar.

“I’m Jack, by the way, if I didn’t say that before. Jack Murphy. But surely we’ve met before. I feel like I’ve seen you somewhere,” he said, taking my hand in his.

I grazed my fingers along his and stared at our intertwined digits. He couldn’t be serious, could he? I hadn’t changed that much since we were in boarding school. Yes, I learned how to tame my curls, got rid of the glasses, lost a few pounds, and had braces in Uni, but surely he knew the girl he was talking to. I’d been one of his brother’s friends.

Or did he?

Oh, this was going to be good.

“Yes. It’s nice to see you again, Jack. Been a long time,” I said with a large grin.

His lips quirked into a half smile as he took a long sip of his drink. His eyes burned into me like he was still trying to figure out who the hell I was.

“Yes. It has been a long time. How’s your family?” he asked, the generic question everyone asked.

Before my parents’ divorce battle that left Mum with nothing. But I wasn’t going to bring that up to the smiling man across from me. Oh no. I had a better idea.

“The family’s grand. How’s yours? Saw Connor was recently married and Sean’s still playing rugby. Who would have known the little punk rock kid would turn into an athlete?” I laughed, taking a swig of my drink before setting it on the counter only to have it filled again by the bartender before I could protest.

Anyone would know about Connor’s marriage and Sean’s career if they lived in Dublin and were familiar with the Murphy clan. But not everyone would know the whole past. Jack’s forehead crinkled slightly. He was still trying to place me.

Oh, come on now.

“All grand here,” he said, turning to the bartender and ordering a refill of his drink. “It’s been a very long day, and I’m about ready to head out of here.” His blazing blue eyes searched mine.

“I get that maybe we’ve both changed a bit and haven’t seen each other since you graduated school. But you know, the night is still young. Why not stay and chat with me?” I tugged at the low neckline of my dress where his eyes briefly flitted to. We had changed since I last saw him, but I guess some things were still the same.

“When you put it that way, mo gra, how could I say no to another drink?” he asked softly. But the wheels were turning as his brow quirked slightly.

I’d be lying if I said heat didn’t flutter low in my stomach, and I had to push it back. He couldn’t just use cute little Irish terms of endearment and expect me to bow down to him. Especially when he didn’t even remember me.

“It’s no tea, but I guess I can settle for this champagne. I just might need to call a cab home. First drink I’ve had in months,” I rambled.

He traced the lines of my hand, the light touches flickering feelings I thought had been burnt to the ground along with any thoughts of a relationship after my parents’ divorce. “And why is that? Busy with work? Something else?”

I shook my head, setting my glass down before pulling back and letting out a deep breath. No. No. Just because he looked at me with those dark blue eyes and flashed his dimpled smile, didn’t mean I could get personal with him. He may have just been asking a simple question, but one more drink and I’d forget that the arsehole didn’t remember me. That I was just playing around with him.

“You know, I should actually probably head out, too. I haven’t seen my friend who I’m meeting and I’m wondering if he’s even going to show at this late hour.”

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