With his Irish Pub on the brink of closure, Brogan O’Keeley needs his life to stay in order. Rules need to be followed, and they will be enforced.
Or his employees can find another job.
His brothers call him heartless. Probably. But they’ve overcome too much to let it slip away now.
But Selena Chapman falls outside those neat, straight lines. She’s late, messy, but she's the best waitress at the Pub. The second chance he gives her tests both his willpower and his sanity.
And the beautiful woman seems to enjoy pushing every new button she finds.
Everyday is a new struggle. Being the sole caregiver to her grandmother makes Selena focus more on her grandmother's needs, and not her own wants.
Because Selena wants her boss.
But the rules...
Brogan has a rule for everything, including the biggest no-dating policy in the history of employers. Any hanky-panky while on the clock, or with one of the three O'Keeley brothers, and you’re done. Fired.
But when she’s late to work one too many times, he does the opposite of what she expects. He inches closer to that line, asking her to come in early, before work.
Seeing how far she can push her boss, finding out what he hides underneath those fancy suits, becomes an obsession.
Helping him and his brothers save their restaurant is her second goal.
Number one: How far can she push Brogan O’Keeley before something gives?
Her Irish Boss is a contemporary romance full of humor and angst, proving that true love exists, even if it takes breaking a few rules to find.
“Unreasonable, heartless bastard.”
Those were the last words Brogan O'Keeley heard as the cook he fired shoved open the front door and tossed his apron on the ground. The waitress scurried along behind him, her head held high; she was quiet. She hadn't said much after Brogan walked in on them in the supply closet, undressed down to their knickers. Some things he wished he could unsee. Even though he was Irish, he didn't approve of men's boxers dotted with shamrocks.
Brogan glanced around his restaurant, making eye contact with any employee who still stood in shock, watching the unnecessary drama instead of ensuring O'Keeley's Irish Pub was ready to receive customers.
As he buttoned his suit jacket, Brogan noted it was one minute until they opened for lunch. It'd been a hell of a morning already, but working, driving forward in life, always centered him. Staying in control. Managing day-to-day operations. He was good at both of those.
The man said he was unreasonable. Probably. The good of his company would always override rule-breakers who put his business at risk, possibly leaving them open to a sexual harassment lawsuit.
And if anyone asked his brothers, they'd both agree that he was a heartless bastard. He'd devoted the past ten years to make this restaurant a success. For himself. For his brothers. He worked hard to make sure O'Keeley's Irish Pub was ready to present the best possible experience to its customers. Perfection was achievable—
Brogan closed his eyes. And timeliness was everything.
But not to Selena. He took a breath to ensure his voice was even. Too much of his accent and it might give away his irritation.
“I got here—"
“As soon as you could,” he finished for her. He opened his eyes, hoping to see Selena at least ready to wait on customers. Nope. Too much to ask. Her white shirt with the O'Keely's Irish Pub logo was untucked. She held her sneakers in her hands, bright pink flip flops peeking out from underneath her blue jeans.
Her hair, a honey color, long and loose around her shoulders, was not pulled back and meeting safety guidelines. The snap of attraction each day he set eyes on her still irritated him. He clenched his teeth. Personal feelings were always separate from conducting business. He'd paid too much the last time he blurred the lines.
She grimaced. “Yes. I'm really sorry, Mr. O'Keeley.” She took two steps backward, giving him two thumbs up and a hesitant smile. “We're good? Right?”
He released the tension in his jaw with a controlled exhale. Why hadn't he fired her by now? “Go get ready.” Because he knew she worked harder than anyone else. Once she actually got ready to work.
She bounced on her toes and rushed through the dining room, waving to other waiters and waitresses she passed.
He shifted, slipping his hands into his pockets and tearing his eyes away from her retreating figure. A damn nice figure.
Taking a deep breath, he pushed her out of his mind and observed his waitstaff straightening chairs, ensuring the tables were aligned correctly. The dark wood floors and exposed wood beams gave his restaurant a homey feel, just like the pubs back home, except larger. The rich smell of Irish stew and fresh soda bread made him thankful his younger brother had become a chef. Various pictures of Ireland, green landscapes with gray skies hung on the walls, all artwork he and his brothers had collected over the years.
“Mr. O'Keeley?” Lenny, his shift manager, stopped beside him. “We just received a call for a dinner reservation for forty. Do you want me to open up the long room upstairs?”
“Yes. What's the name on the reservation?”
“Simmons?” Lenny said it like a question. At Brogan's raised eyebrow, Lenny cleared his throat and tilted his chin up. “It's Simmons.”
Brogan let a rare smile show. He'd worked with the kid to make sure he came across with authority in his new position as a shift manager. “Good.” He started to walk away. Simmons. “Randy Simmons?”
“Yes, sir. Did you still want me to put them in the upstairs room?”
The man had some gall coming into O'Keeley's when he planned to tear it down. “Yes.” His eye caught Selena leaving the back storeroom where the employees had a small changing area and break tables. Her hair now in a ponytail was swinging back and forth as she hustled to her area. “Assign Selena to the group.”
“But that's past her shift.”
Selena might be a mess of a woman, but she could easily handle a large group with a couple of other waiters as support. And she could probably use the tips. “Let me talk to her.” He didn't know anything about her personal life. On purpose. He sure as hell didn't need that as a distraction. But, based on her hurried state and constant need to wear flip flops, he assumed she could use the money.
Lenny hesitated long enough to catch Brogan's attention.
“Was there something else, Lenny?”
Lenny cleared his throat. “I was going to offer to work the group too. It's past my shift as well, but if you didn't mind—”
“Are you needing to pick up some extra cash?” The young guy's beat-up car came to mind. Brogan might not have always driven a nice, luxury vehicle, but he kept his possessions as nice as possible. Lenny looked as though he played bumper cars for fun.
“Not exactly.” A ruddy color appeared on his cheeks. “I've been trying to find a way to ask Selena out. I thought, maybe, if we worked together on the Simmons’ party—”
“Have you lost your mind, boy?” Brogan crossed his arms, belatedly realizing how thick his accent had turned. He didn't know what irritated him more. The fact that Lenny was a supervisor to Selena and that was utterly irresponsible or the thought of his small, wimpy hands pawing all over her body.
“I...I...I,” he fumbled.
Brogan narrowed his eyes.
Lenny finally shrugged. “I don't know.”
Brogan leaned over, coming within an inch of Lenny's pointy nose. “You are in a supervisory position as a shift manager. You cannot date anyone in this business. Everyone, including you, signed an employment contract with our sexual harassment clause highlighted. It is grounds for immediate dismissal. Do you understand me?”
Lenny's eyes grew round. “Yes, sir.”
The first customer opened the door. Brogan straightened and adjusted his tie, addressing the customers with as warm of a smile as he could muster. “Welcome to O'Keeley's.”
He turned and walked toward the back of the dining room. He needed a few minutes to himself to come down from the edge of anger. Lenny was young and didn't know the way the professional world worked. He would have to learn it quickly, or he'd find himself out of a job. Some things were intolerable. Especially after four sexual harassment claims that his company had to settle over the past ten years. Three were legitimate claims that he paid the damages and changed his workplace policy because of.
And the one, the most expensive one, had been a charge leveled against him.
He knew himself and his morals. Knew that he'd never, intentionally, pursue a woman inappropriately. But she'd blinded him: pretending to be interested, plotting, executing her plan perfectly, causing their restaurant to settle the claim outside court for half his salary that year. And she'd smiled as she'd walked away.
No woman was worth it. Lenny just didn't know that yet.
“Mr. O'Keeley?” Selena stopped him with a light touch of her hand before he entered his office.
He hadn't noticed her or else he could have ventured a different direction. Avoidance seemed to be his only defense.
“Can you come to look at this?”
“What is it, Selena?” He gritted his teeth against the smooth way her name rolled off his tongue. She didn't seem to notice as she led the way to the back of the restaurant. He'd almost refused to hire her because of his body's uncanny reaction each time she spoke. It'd happened since the very first interview. She'd shown up, wearing a tidy outfit with her hair falling around her shoulders.
Six months later and nothing had changed.
“I wanted your opinion.” She stopped by a table and pulled out a chair and sat down. Then stood up. Then sat down.
Brogan crossed his arms. “Getting your workout in?”
She rolled her eyes, a small dimple he'd not noticed before appeared along the corner of her mouth. He'd just gotten done lecturing Lenny about involvement with subordinates, and he seemed to see every little thing about this woman.
She rose again. “Yeah. That would be the first time in a year I've had time to work out. No. The chair feels loose.” She pointed to the seat. “Try it.”
He gripped the back of the chair and shook it. “It seems fine.” He stepped to leave. “I don't have time to play musical chairs. And neither do you.”
“And I'm not an idiot.” The heat with which she said the words to him made him pause. Her pretty eyes narrowed for a fraction of a second.
“I'm sorry,” he said, fascinated by her attempt to get herself under control. He knew the feeling. “I didn't mean it that way.”
“Then—” she pressed two fingers to his shoulder, her golden eyes locked with his, “— sit.” The sharp demand in her voice seemed to startle her. She snatched her hand away and cleared her throat. “Please.”
He sat. At that one moment, she could have told him to bark like a damn dog, and he would've. His gut twisted. Nerves. Fear. He would not lose his head over an employee again. Not when there were dozens and dozens of beautiful women in Atlanta.
Plenty of other women who weren't employees.
Plenty who wouldn't file a claim against his business. Because with all the other shit thrown at the restaurant lately, that would be the end of O'Keeley's.
The seat of the chair shifted instantly. “I can feel what you mean.” Brogan stood, glad to have something to focus on besides his off-limits employee. He flipped the chair upside-down. The chair lacked one screw, causing the entire thing to become unstable. “I'll fix it. Thank you.”
She blinked, reminding him of a surprised cat with her eye color. “Oh. You're welcome, Mr. O'Keeley.”
For some reason, he didn't like her calling him that. It'd never bothered him before. Everyone called him Mr. O'Keeley. They called his younger brother Chef and his youngest brother, Cathal. The lazy sot didn't get a title.
Taking the chair, he left the dining room, happy to have a few minutes to himself before his brothers arrived for their Monday lunch meeting. They always met on Mondays to accommodate Rian's travel schedule. He'd flew back to Atlanta from wherever he traveled on Sundays. And Cathal, well, Brogan wasn't too sure what the hell Cathal did most of the time besides pick up women and drink whiskey. He occasionally put his degree to use and played lawyer.
After fixing the chair, Brogan tightened his tie and left his office to find Selena. He was still her boss. Even if he didn't want Randy Simmons in his restaurant, the forty-guest party would bring in a good-sized tip.
Lenny stood with an arm propped up on the bar, talking to Selena. He touched her on the shoulder, his hand lingering far too long.
Brogan slowed in his stride. Annoyance and anger flooded through his veins. He couldn't pinpoint what bothered him more. The fact that Lenny was opening himself and the company up for a lawsuit or the fact that Selena might be interested in the little turnip.
Not that Brogan had any interest in making a play for her, but he still hated the thought of another man touching her.
The dark side of his brain didn't give two damns that initiating a personal relationship with her meant trouble. Very expensive trouble.
He'd have to hand it to Lenny, though. The boy knew exactly how to get himself fired.
“Brog,” Rian called as he approached from the back hallway. “How's it going?”
Brogan crossed his arms, the suit pulling tight across his back. “I'm trying to figure out why I promoted that piece of shit who's hitting on Selena.”
Rian scanned the restaurant. “Selena? Not sure I've met her. Does he not know how it works once you're in a position of power? It puts every female in your business off-limits.” He shrugged. “Or male. Can't assume things these days.”
“He does as I just laid it out for him not ten minutes ago.” Brogan moved toward them as Lenny pulled out his phone. Getting her number? Workplace friendships were fine. What employees on the same level did outside of work was their own business. But in his restaurant, during work hours, was his business. His liability. His shitty reminder about how gullible he'd once been.
“Lenny. Selena.” Brogan looked between the two of them. “Is there a problem?” His eyes cut back to Lenny. That unattractive red color came back into his skin again as he fumbled with his phone and began to stammer. He'd thought he could teach the boy some managerial skills. But if he were hitting on Selena, he'd be fired before his first paycheck hit the bank.
“Mr. O'Keeley, did you fix the chair?” Selena's gaze held his for a long moment, long enough that he'd almost tuned out the bumbling, incoherent Lenny beside him.
“It's not what it looks like,” Lenny finally managed to stammer out. “I wasn't, I mean, she asked me about going to the movies.” He nodded his head so vigorously, it might have shaken itself off his shoulders.
At Selena's sharp intake of breath, her eyes widening, Brogan knew the truth. He focused his wrath, and frustration, entirely on Lenny. “Do you want to try that again?”
Lenny's eyes begged Selena to go along with it. It was pathetic if nothing else. Had she really agreed to go on a date with him in the first place? If this was the best Selena could do as far as a date, his impression of American men just sank lower.
Ignoring Lenny for the moment, he faced Selena, blocking Lenny from her view. “Did you ask Lenny on a date?” She opened her mouth and leaned to try and see around Brogan, but he shifted. “You don't need him to answer. Yes or no. Did you ask him out?”
Her tongue darted out, wetting her bottom lip and pulling his attention away from his annoyance for a brief second. He slipped his hands into his pockets to quell the urge to reach out to her.
“No,” she whispered so low he almost missed it.
“Did he ask you out?”
Lenny tapped him on the shoulder. “Mr. O'Keeley—”
Brogan held up his hand, and Lenny stopped. Rian sat at a nearby table. Get the man a bag of popcorn, and he'd have a full show to watch. Rian owned a third of the restaurant. The least he could do, besides create the menu, was to help out with the employee drama. But both his brothers had volunteered Brogan for the position. They argued that he was so used to bossing them around, it was a natural personality trait.
“Yes,” Selena whispered even softer. Then she mouthed, “Don't fire him. Please.”
He should. Fire him on the spot like he'd done to the employees earlier. Make an example. Why didn't she want him fired, though?
He snapped around to face Lenny. The boy had shifted from a red face to pale. Brogan rolled his eyes. “Don't go fainting on me now.” He pulled out a barstool and shoved Lenny into it.
“Please don't fire me. I promise I won't do it again.”
“You're right. Starting next week, you will never manage a shift that Selena is working.”
Selena set her hand on his arm. His muscles contracted automatically from the contact. Like before when she'd pushed him to sit in the chair, her hands snapped away, and the smallest gasp escaped her lips.
Brogan tilted his head toward her, waiting, wishing she'd touch him again and hating himself for it.
She rubbed the palms of her hands together. “I can't work at night, Mr. O'Keeley.”
Again, he wanted to tell her to call him Brogan, but he'd be no better than Lenny. “I know. Lenny will work at night if he wants this job.”
Lenny nodded. “Absolutely. Again. I'm sorry.”
Brogan shifted to leave, but Selena stood in his way.
“Thank you,” she murmured. Her body leaned a fraction closer, enough, so he smelled a sweet scent that suited her. Sweet like the honey color of her hair. Eyes. Skin.
Back to being in charge and putting a barrier up, he crossed his arms, and his voice deepened. “You can thank me by being on time and ready to work tomorrow.” He took two steps toward Rian before stopping. “Oh, and if you want a pretty decent tip, there's a large party coming in at seven. It's yours if you want it.”
“Wow. Yeah. Let me see if I can make arrangements.” She began to move away but pulled up short. “Do you mind if I go make a few phone calls so I can be free tonight?” She pointed to her section. “No one is in my area yet.”
Brogan waved her off. Better she leaves his sight than look at him that way again.
Or move in closer, implying that if he did give her a kiss, she might kiss him back.
As he sat across from Rian, his younger brother smirked. “That was interesting.”
“I don't want to talk about it.” Because he couldn't explain it. Selena was the most unorganized woman he knew, and for some reason, she still attracted him without doing a damn thing. He didn't really blame Lenny for trying, but he wouldn't foot the bill in the end if things turned south.
He wouldn't risk his brothers' futures. If the three of them didn't raise the money to buy the property, Randy Simmons would come in and level the whole block, evicting them from their space and making them start from scratch somewhere else.
Another costly sexual harassment lawsuit and they'd never reach their goals. Everyone had to play by the rules. Careful and safe. Including himself. He couldn't enforce his own rules while trying to lure the pretty Selena a little closer.
He'd suffer in silence. His brothers wouldn't understand. They knew the first lawsuit, the one Crissy filed against him, was fake. Made-up. And they'd supported him. The same way he'd supported both of them in the past.
He was the oldest. He'd helped take care of his family his entire life, and he'd continue to do so. And that meant no Selena now, or ever.
Selena slapped the alarm clock, silencing the overly cheerful radio advertisement for a summer clothing sale she couldn't afford anyway. Waking up at a quarter till six hurt her soul after going to bed at one in the morning. Her feet and back ached from working a twelve-hour shift yesterday. She needed the money, and she was glad Mr. O'Keeley had given her the opportunity, but it'd made for an even longer day. And heftier nurse's bill.
It was hard to tell if she enjoyed the night shift or merely a night off from watching Mimi. She remembered why she enjoyed working from lunch to happy hour most days. She didn't miss what came along with serving jackass men drinking liquor. A few of the men at the Simmons' party got O'Keeley's nice restaurant mixed up with the ones where you hit on the waitresses and called them “sugar” all night.
She walked to her bathroom to start the shower, stubbing her toe and letting as many curse words fly as possible. It usually took away some of the pain as she ended up laughing at her creativity, but after the late night, she couldn't even bring herself to smile. It was going to be one hell of a day.
After a cold shower, because the water heater was out again, she wrapped her hair up in a towel and headed to the kitchen. Mimi would be awake in another hour, wanting her breakfast and maybe, if she was lucky, remembering the current year. Her memory jumped back and forth between the present day and 1946.
Apparently, Selena looked like her great-grandmother because the resemblance was enough to keep Mimi from overreacting when she did have an episode. That was a plus side to her living with Selena, although she couldn't give her the kind of care she really needed.
If the damn insurance company would send someone to spend more than ten minutes with her, maybe she could point it out. There were facilities out there that helped with memory problems. Each day Mimi spent in their cramped apartment was one more day she might lose her memory for good. It's not like she could afford a lawyer to help with her case or to figure out all the paperwork. She could barely afford the nurse.
She cracked eggs for Mimi's breakfast harder than necessary, doubling her frustration with the situation when she had to fish the tiny bits of shell out of the bowl. She didn't have time for this.
“Mama?” Mimi called.
Selena's head dropped. Back to 1946. The morning could get worse. Somehow. She was sure of it. She didn't have time to contemplate how.
After getting breakfast made and cleaned, and Mimi changed into regular clothes, Selena headed to her own room to dress. With thirty minutes until she needed to leave, she pulled the laundry from the dryer and dumped it onto her bed. Selena rummaged through the pile before stepping back into the bathroom. On the floor lay her work shirt, right where she'd stripped out of it before falling into bed – not washed.
They'd given her two when she started, and she’d never bought another one, saving that money instead. She had to run laundry every night for Mimi anyway, might as well wash her work shirt along with it.
Too bad she left her other shirt in the locker at work in case she ever got hers dirty. Mr. O'Keeley dressed impeccably, and she didn't doubt that he wouldn't approve of a member of his staff running around with shepherd's pie spilled down the front of their shirt.
Waking up thinking about her boss was probably a warning sign that her infatuation had gone too far. No denying he was gorgeous. And cultured. Smart. Everything that she wasn't.
But Mr. O'Keeley didn't intimidate her. She refused to let herself be pushed around again. Not after her last, long-term boyfriend hid her away from his high society friends. But she'd been younger then. And she’d wanted to please Jacob.
That felt like a lifetime ago. Now, her mom had taken off with some guy to California, and Mimi was her responsibility. Knowing how to act at a country club or five-star restaurant didn't pay the bills.
“I'll just get there early and change.” Pulling on a clean tank top, she headed out of the bedroom, leaving the pile of laundry a complete mess on the bed. But what was new? “I'm going to wait at the door for Ms. Perry.”
“Alright, Selena,” Mimi cooed in her slow, Southern voice, back in reality and flipping through a catalog that neither one of them could afford a thing from. Mimi had helped raise her, her own father taking off shortly after her ninth birthday. He'd also belonged to a different level of society, according to her mother – one where water heaters didn't stop working every other day.
Selena tapped the screen of her cell phone, staring at the time as she stood at the door to her apartment. Suddenly, she felt a pang of sympathy for what she put Mr. O'Keeley through as she waited for the nurse. “Why couldn't Ms. Perry make it by ten thirty for once in her life?” she muttered.
Finally, the nurse, who might have been a year or two younger than Mimi and moved just as slow, arrived.
“I have to run,” she called to Ms. Perry, passing her on the stairs. At this rate, she would be even later than yesterday. Mr. O'Keeley had explicitly asked her to be on time. She was almost ready. She might not have on the right shirt, but she did have her shoes and hair fixed for the day. And a little makeup to cover her dark circles.
No way she'd make it there on time.
Selena tore out of the parking lot and cut through a neighborhood to avoid rush hour traffic. After following a school bus which made four stops, she slammed on her brakes and laid on the horn of her small car, hoping to get the dog in the middle of the road to move. It turned its head, staring at her with a pathetic look. The kind of look the dogs on those commercials gave, had her feeling guilty for not having more money to save them all.
The dog moved in slow steps across the rest of her lane. Nope. That dog didn't care that Selena was already twenty minutes late leaving.
But her boss would care.
He'd give her a disapproving kind of look. The one that made her both want to melt into a puddle and make some smart-ass comment. He was bossy. Rude. Dominating.
God, his blue eyes pinned her in place and made her lose track of her thoughts. If only she could figure out a way to have the rest of him pin her down.
She honked again, and the dog picked up speed, trotting to the side of the road, looking like a hitchhiker down on his luck.
She'd been there. Not a hitchhiker, but that depressed, sad state where it felt like a good, substantial meal might change everything. Now, she had a steady job she loved. If she still had the job after showing up late so many times, because, according to Mr. O'Keeley, on time was late.
That saying never made any damn sense to her. But why should it? She was “on time” everywhere she went. She wouldn't go around purposefully late. It wasn't even her fault this morning. It'd rarely been her fault since her grandmother moved in.
Mr. O'Keeley didn't have to worry about things like grandmothers. He probably had “people” to take care of that. His suits screamed money, which was another reason she should stop her dumb daydreams. She didn't know anything about fancy wine or food. Her apartment was a little better than a shit-hole, the best she could afford now supporting her grandmother, whose Social Security checks were split between her expensive medicine and covering part of her nursing care.
Selena had already been in one relationship with a man who cared about money and appearance. And she had no intention of returning.
But her body didn't care about her intentions. It intended to keep right on daydreaming about Mr. O'Keeley and that accent. Especially when he got the least bit irritated, and it dropped a little deeper.
She ran a yellowish red light. Orange. She'd call it an orange light for now and ignore the adrenaline rush at breaking the law. Some things were worth breaking the law. Getting to work on time so your anal-retentive boss didn't fire you was one of them.
Her phone rang, and she answered it, flipping it to speakerphone and setting it in her lap. Hands-free driving was a luxury she didn't have. “I'll be there in ten.”
“He's still in his office. I bet if you make it in like five minutes, he wouldn't even know you're late. Again.” Katie whispered every word.
“I'll do the best I can.”
“You better not get fired. I couldn't stand to work here without you.” Katie had become a close friend in the past six months, both starting at O’Keeley’s at the same time.
Selena shook her head and blew through another orange light. “You love it there as much as I do.”
“I meant about Mr. O'Keeley. He makes me nervous.”
He made Selena nervous, too, but based on her tone of voice, not in the same way as Katie. “I'll be there. Bye.”
She raced down the street, swinging into the parking lot at a NASCAR pace and pulling her small car into its usual spot. She grabbed her purse and sprinted through the parking lot. The quicker she got into the building, the better. And, as it was every morning she was late, she hoped she didn't see Mr. O'Keeley.
But really, she hoped she did.
Instead of walking through the door at 10:59 a.m., she arrived at a stunning 11:02 a.m. But Mr. O'Keeley didn't wait by the front door as usual. Her luck might have turned around. She booked it through the dining room and straight into the employee break room to change.
Two men turned around as she entered, both smiling in greeting before focusing back to their jobs. Tools and an air compressor sat in the middle of the room as part of the air conditioning unit was dismantled.
Great. Now she had to waste another ten minutes making it to the bathroom across the freaking restaurant and back. And in front of everyone. She wrinkled her nose and glanced at the men in the corner. No. She couldn't change in here.
She stepped into the hallway. Mr. O'Keeley's office sat directly across from the break room, door open, and his desk empty. It would take two seconds to change shirts. Not second-guessing herself, she darted into the empty office and pushed the door closed.
In a world record, she snapped off her pink tank top and slipped into her white work shirt. She unzipped her skinny jeans, tugging them low enough down her hips to get her shirt tucked into them. She turned to leave and froze as her eyes swept the room.
The office wasn't empty.
Three very attractive, very Irish, men watched from a small sitting area off to the side. A large leather sofa and two chairs were angled around a coffee table. Good time to realize the office was more prominent than just a square box and all the owners had decided that morning to hold a meeting.
“Sorry?” She winced when her eyes locked with her boss's agitated glare. Of the three men, he was the only one not smiling, which was a good thing. The two times she'd seen him smile had resulted in her physically drooling onto her shirt. She didn't have a spare shirt to change into this time.
“I'd like to introduce Selena Chapman,” he said, his flat, even voice laced with disapproval. He could join the club of men who disapproved of her for one reason or another. First, it was her father and then her long-time, now ex-boyfriend. She never truly understood why her father left. Her mother's explanations were always hard to comprehend with half a bottle of vodka in her system. And her ex-boyfriend—well, he left for a very apparent reason. She wasn't good enough.
“Selena, I'm not sure you've met my brothers.” They all stood. Mr. O'Keeley, her boss, pointed to one that was barely an inch taller than him but thinner. Like a runner. He wore a black shirt that fit his toned frame with a pair of blue jeans. “This is Rian O'Keeley.”
Oh, God. He was a famous chef.
Mr. O'Keeley half-way waved in the direction of the other one, almost dismissively. “Cathal.”
Cathal had a devilish smile. Damn. With his looks and presumed Irish accent, women probably threw themselves at him. His blue collared shirt tucked neatly into chinos, hugged his shoulders and highlighted his eyes even from a distance. Did it hurt to be that pretty?
And why, as the other two brothers watched with amusement, did she have to be attracted to the one with the grouchy disposition?
“Unless either one of you would like to take over the employee side of management, do you mind if I have a word with Selena in private?”
Rian held his hands up. “Have at it. I'm going to check the kitchen. Nice to, um, meet you, Selena.”
Her face flamed. “You, too.” Nothing like showing all three of your bosses your unsexy white bra before lunch. And underwear. She closed her eyes for a brief second. She'd pulled down her jeans, too.
Cathal didn't budge. He wasn't looking at her; he watched his brother with humor.
“Since that sounds like actual work,” he said after the long pause, his accent thicker than the other two, “I think I'll leave you to it.”
“Good idea,” Mr. O'Keeley answered, crossing his arms the way he always tended to do. His suit jacket was laid over the back of the chair, and white shirt sleeves rolled to his elbows. How could just his tan forearms cut with muscle attract her?
She waited for Cathal to leave and then took one, two steps forward. “I really am sorry.” She hitched a thumb over her shoulder. “There were two men in the break room fixing the air conditioner, and I thought I could slip in here and change so I can put my tank top back in the locker room and not have to make two trips, one to the bathroom and one back to put my shirt up. I wanted to start work as soon as possible without calling a bunch of attention to myself.” She bit her bottom lip as he watched her another moment in silence. She'd caused herself too much attention already.
“About that. We need to talk about your timeliness.”
The air in her body rushed out. Now was the point where he fired her. She'd held this job for six months, longer than the others. And she liked it. She was good at it. Not having a college degree limited her choice of employment. And men. Jacob had made that clear enough. Sophisticated men like her boss, who reminded her of an angry bull at the moment, didn't date girls from the other side of the tracks which might embarrass them. She'd embarrassed her ex enough times to learn that lesson the hard way.
But her boss didn't want to date her. He wanted to fire her. She would not let that happen without a fight.
“Please, don't fire me. I really need this job.”
“I want you to try and be here by nine thirty in the morning from now on.”
“Nine thirty?” He didn't want to fire her? She thought about the extra forty dollars for the cost of the nurse. Could she pull that off with her budget?
“Yes. That way, you might get here by eleven.” He smirked. And damn if that wasn't just as sexy. “I'll pay you for the time that you're here. If you show up before your shift starts, then you'll help where needed to prep for the day. Full wage, not as a waitress.”
His chin raised slightly. Now that she was openly staring at her sexy boss, she realized his nose was a little crooked like it'd been broken once or twice. Probably some uptown accident. There was no way Mr. O'Keeley would lower himself to an actual fight. He was too high-class for that. Might get his perfectly pressed suit wrinkled.
She hadn't expected that. “You'll pay me an extra twenty-five dollars to get here an hour earlier?”
“Technically, if you got here on time, you'd be here an hour and a half before your shift. Consider it an incentive. I don't want to have to fire you, Selena. You're a great waitress. Efficient. Professional.” His lips kicked to the side again, and he looked away. “When you keep your shirt on.”
She'd embarrassed him. The thought of anyone, even a woman in a crappy white bra, flustering the stoic, high-class Mr. O'Keeley amused her. She'd never been on that side of the equation before.
“You have a deal. And I'll be sure not to take my shirt off again in your presence.” Her mouth would forever get her in trouble. She'd meant it as a joke. The whole, laughing with someone instead of laughing at someone. He didn't seem to take it that way.
His blue eyes locked onto her for one long beat of silence, enough for her to know that underneath that hard, shell exterior, something ran hot and dangerous. Maybe she shouldn't joke with her boss, especially since they didn't even have the outside chance at a relationship—even a one-night relationship.
Her employment contract prevented that by her agreeing to the no dating clause. He'd fired two employees just yesterday. And based on the way he'd chided and almost fired Lenny, Mr. O'Keeley reaffirmed that he didn't play around when it came to the rules.
He cleared his throat. “How did last night go?”
“Last night? Oh. The party of forty. It went well. They all seemed to enjoy the food.” She thought back to the two men who'd slipped her their phone numbers. Creeps.
“Did you hear any of their conversation at the table?”
She stuck her hands in her back pockets, trying to appear relaxed. She had heard their conversation, but until then, she'd forgotten.
“Yes. They were talking about a development. Real estate, I imagine. I know Atlanta has plenty of places to shop, but I don't live too far from here, so putting in a Big Jim's Superstore in downtown Atlanta works nicely for me. Do you know where?”
She chewed on her lip a moment. “Here? As in—”
“The developers are planning to purchase this entire block of buildings and make it into your superstore.” He snarled as he said it, his Irish so thick, she had a hard time understanding him.
“Great.” She threw her hands in the air. Finally found a job that could cover the nurse's bill and buy groceries and she might lose it anyway.
“I'm glad you're happy about it.”
She cut her eyes his way. “I was being sarcastic, Mr. O'Keeley.”
Her breath froze in her lungs.
“Call me Brogan when we aren't around the other employees. Mr. O'Keeley feels too formal.”
He'd said nothing improper for a boss. No insinuations. He hadn't moved any closer to her, she'd moved closer to him, if anything, but it felt intimate calling him by his first name.
When you flash someone your bra, it must drop you down to a first name basis. Did other employees call him Brogan when they were in private?
She licked her dry lips and hoped she played it off smoothly. “Alright, Brogan.” The dark blue of his eyes seemed to deepen the longer he watched her. “What do you plan to do about the development?”
He began rolling down his shirtsleeves. “I'm not sure yet. That was the meeting that you pleasantly interrupted. The owner of this building gave me the first right of refusal. But the asking price is more than we can afford at the moment. We don't have much leverage to put up. I've reinvested almost everything back into the business.”
She pressed her lips together to keep her mouth from dropping open. He was talking to her. Like a human and not just an employee. “Oh. So, I really might be out of a job after all?”
He buttoned his cuffs, looking sexier than any boss should. God, she should look away. It seemed personal, watching him dress. But, hell, he'd just watched her dress, and it'd been a little more revealing than him covering up those amazing arms.
“I hope that doesn't happen, but I won't lie to you. That is a possibility. But as of right now at 11:25 a.m. you do have a job. And so do I.” He slipped into his jacket. His tie sat a little crooked.
He walked toward her, a natural smile she'd never seen before in place. Real. Open. The kind of smile that makes you feel like you are the center of that person's universe for that one moment.
He motioned toward the door of his office. “Shall we?”
Out of nowhere, she reached up, adjusted his tie. She never understood why her body didn't listen to her rational mind. He'd given her permission to use his first name.
Not touch him.
Not skim the tip of her finger along the edge of his collar against his smooth skin.
And, judging by the mask that fell over his beautiful face again, he didn't appreciate it.
She stepped back. “Sorry. I know you wouldn't want to go out there with a crooked tie.”
“No, I wouldn't.” His expression didn't match that husky, sexy quality that'd slipped into his voice. Maybe she'd imagined it. Sophisticated men like Brogan never looked twice at women like her. Or if they did, it was for a fling. Nothing serious.
Jacob had dated her longer than what she'd describe as a fling, but it didn't change anything in the end. He wanted someone who could make the rounds at his fancy parties. Host dinners for other uppity men and women. And when he discovered she wasn't the “right” woman, he'd hid her away.
“Then let's go to work.” She turned on her heel and marched out ahead of him, swinging close to the break room door long enough to throw her tank top in the general direction of her locker. Neatness be damned. She had a job to do while there was still an O'Keeley's open.
“Do you normally throw your clothes around?” He'd waited for her in the hallway, the expression from before a little less severe.
She smiled over her shoulder as they headed out into the main dining room, already partially full, from the downtown lunchtime crowd. “I do when I strip for my boss.” That was another mark against her dating someone like Brogan or Jacob. Her sarcasm was hardly tolerated. Or appreciated.
But Brogan didn't chastise her.
And she about tripped over her own feet.
“Go to work, Selena,” he said, a definite edge of laughter in his beautiful voice.
Risking even more mortification. “You, too—” she winked “—Brogan.”