Cathal O’Keeley is a charming flirt with a killer smile and sexy accent- everything Fiona Grant needs to avoid.
He co-owns O’Keeley’s Irish Pub in Atlanta but lately spends more time at her small bar than his own. And he’s determined to seduce his way into her bed, the same way he does with every female.
But she learned her lesson with another smooth-talking playboy she almost married.
But when Cathal finally lets his guard down, Fiona’s resistance starts to slip.
Fiona rejects every advance Cathal makes. But her laugh, that mass of red hair, and her intelligence make it impossible to walk away. After months of sitting at her bar, their relationship shifts away from being an uncomplicated, fun distraction from the pain of his past as other women are, to a friend.
And when being her friend means offering her his spare bedroom…the boundaries between friend and lover are bound to break.
Her Irish Flirt is the third and final book in the O’Keeley’s Irish Pub Series by Palmer Jones.
Cathal O'Keeley landed a solid punch square on the jaw of the huge idiot. The impact sent the man stumbling to his knees. Not an easy feat seeing as the man was over six feet five inches. A few inches taller than himself.
But he'd take on a giant if it meant teaching a man a lesson on how to treat a woman.
“What the hell?” Fiona charged through the crowd that had gathered. Her gaze barely skimmed over the dumb man shaking his head, trying to come to his senses kneeling on the floor of her bar.
His fierce Fiona had her dark blue, accusing, fairy eyes leveled at Cathal. They easily showed her emotions.
“That's the fourth time you've laid someone out in my bar.”
Cathal flexed his hand. Nothing broken. But it'd be sore in the morning. He didn't have a temper, by rule, more like a minimal ability to watch men lay their hands on a woman in any other way than God intended. The idiot in question had shoved his girlfriend against the wall when she accidentally spilled her drink on him. The accidental part of the equation didn't even matter.
“You need to leave,” Fiona said. She tucked a strand of smooth, red hair behind her ear before crossing her arms. “Now, Cathal.”
He held up his hands, smiling despite the thump of adrenaline, pushing him to hit the jackass on the floor again.
He could control it. Or try to. “Fine, Fiona, darling. For you, I'll leave. I know the routine by now.” He turned toward the brunette, still hovering in the corner. Crooking his finger, he motioned her closer, but she shook her head. He sighed. “But do me a favor and make sure she has a ride home.” He pulled two twenties from his wallet and passed them to Fiona. “If it's more than that, just add it to my tab.”
The firm press of Fiona's unpainted lips softened. Cathal had caught himself on more than one occasion, wondering exactly how they'd feel. It was that obsession that turned what had once been a joke into a necessity, coming back to her bar every Friday or Saturday night—trying his luck again.
“Go,” she added a little softer.
The man rose to his full height, touching his jaw and wincing. “I don't know who the hell you think you are, but you aren't going anywhere.” He fisted his hands. “I'm not done with you.”
Cathal smirked. He'd been called cocky for most of his life, and he assumed the description suited him. “You never even had a chance to start with me.” He shook his head to clear the buzz and urge to fight the man, looking back at Fiona. She stepped in between them and in danger. He'd leave if only to make sure she didn't get caught up in the middle of the fight.
Then, he wouldn't be able to stop himself.
Giving her a wink to gloss over the anger, he said, “I'm only leaving because you want me to.”
She rolled her eyes. “I feel honored.” She gave his shoulder a shove toward the door. “I'm sure there are thousands of women in Atlanta who'd clamor for your attention. And then maybe you won't end up with your Irish butt thrown in jail again.”
He covered his heart with his hand as he walked backward. “Oh, it sounds like you care.”
“I'm tired of bailing your ass out.” She waved him away. No smile. No laugh. His Fiona was rock solid in her determination not to like him. She never had as far as he knew. For almost nine months, he'd sat at the end of her bar, trying to charm a smile or two from his red-headed beauty and nothing. But he refused to give up.
He started whistling and walked out of the bar and into the early spring air, still trying to swallow down the adrenaline. Seeing a man touch a woman that way, sent his brain into a frenzy. Fiona had probably figured that out after the first time he'd slammed a guy on her bar for grabbing at his sister-in-law, Selena. But it always took a couple hours to level out again.
Bring himself back from the shadows of his memories.
At eleven on a Saturday night, he had several options to consider. Going home was one of them. Ducking into another bar, finding a sweet woman to take his mind off Fiona and, well, everything really, was another option. With both of his brothers tied down now, he'd found himself sorely lacking male companionship.
Then there was the worse option for a Saturday night. Work. O'Keeley's Irish Pub was nearing closing, and if the lights weren’t off and doors locked yet, they would be soon.
He turned right at the crosswalk, away from his office, away from the pub, and toward another loud bar. Surely, he'd find himself a distraction, at least for the night.
The bar met his low expectations. Loud, pulsating music. A press of people at the bar that three bartenders were trying to serve. At one point in his life, he'd have loved the atmosphere. He glanced around, not missing the way a few women watched him.
He wasn't vain, despite how much his family teased him. Being vain meant he agreed with the assessment that he could get any woman he wanted based on his looks. That wasn't true. He'd been shot down before.
Just look at Fiona. She had no problem telling him to get the hell out of her bar. Although, the nine months of rebuffs did hurt a little.
“Hi,” a woman yelled. That was necessary as the music was two levels too high, in his opinion.
He smiled and used it as an excuse to bend down closer to her. “Hi.”
She pointed at the dance floor, a throng of people pressed up against each other, moving as one mass to the loud techno music.
He wanted a quiet drink at the end of Fiona's bar.
“Do you want to dance?” She smiled up at him, hopeful. Her heart-shaped face was cute. A short, bob of blonde hair ended a little above her shoulders.
He tapped on her beer bottle. “How many of those have you had?” Because he'd learned that lesson a long time ago when he awoke next to a woman who didn't remember him. In all fairness, he didn't remember her name either, but it'd bothered him.
She wiggled three fingers.
“What's your name?”
“Irish?” She grinned and rolled her eyes at his hesitation. “Sorry, it sounds like you have an accent in here.”
“I do.” He waited while she took the last drink of her beer and set it on a small table behind her. “Do you want to dance? My friends are completely boring right now.” She waved to a group of women who stood in the corner, watching them. They all snapped their heads away when she waved.
He laid an arm over her shoulders. “Come on, Lena, we'll show them what they're missing.” And he'll distract himself for the evening.
“If you press charges, then I'll be sure that your girl there presses charges against you.” Fiona Grant crossed her arms and stared down the big brute, a little impressed at how hard Cathal hit. The man's girlfriend had taken refuge in Fiona's small office, still shaking and slightly drunk.
“She won't do that.” He huffed, pressing the ice bag against his jaw. His girlfriend had said the same thing. She didn't want trouble. Wouldn't leave him no matter what. Fiona hated that, but she wouldn't go completely off the chain like Cathal.
She'd seen the guy push her.
And like Cathal, she sprang into action, ducking underneath the bar, heading in their direction and ready to kick his ass out. But Cathal had beat her there.
“I think that guy that hit me is mental. He looked crazed like he wanted to rip my throat out.” The big guy cracked his knuckles. “But he knew I'd kick his ass, that's why he left.”
The swelling along the side of the man's face and the gentle way he cupped it made it look as though Cathal had dislocated his jaw with that one punch. And she hated to admit that watching Cathal defend a woman he didn't know, like he'd done the other times, brought a rush of heat to her cheeks.
“My—friend—” that was the only term she knew to use, “—he doesn't like to see women treated that way. It's sorta his trigger, you know.” Calling Cathal a friend was a stretch. He'd tried to talk, flirt, charm his way into her life, and she'd resisted. One charming man already made a fool out of her. It wouldn't happen again. It didn't matter how tempting he was in those moments. His eyes. That shit-eating grin. He was a playboy. A flirt. A man who had as many bed partners as she had in variety of liquor behind the bar.
The man stood, handed her the bag of ice, and shook his head. “I'm out of here.” He paused by the office door and waited. The woman emerged, her mascara smeared, and her nose red from crying. He put an arm around her shoulder and walked out.
Fiona had drama with her ex-fiancé but nothing like abuse. Their relationship ended over a simple case of cheating. He'd cheated on her the night before her wedding, and she didn't accept his apology.
Fiona snorted and walked back to the bar. That was a joke. He didn't apologize. More like he tried to convince her that she didn't see him having sex with her maid-of-honor in the honeymoon suite. But her mom had seen it even though she denied it later.
Her customers had disappeared with the commotion and subsequent loss of the only bartender...her. She'd close up for the night. No use sitting in an empty bar, burning electricity, and reminiscing over her failed relationship.
The bouncer, Chuck, leaned on the counter, lacking a smile. Typical. “You done for the night?”
“Yeah.” She picked up a glass and set it in the washer. “Cathal cleared the bar like usual.”
“I don't know why you keep letting him back in. I can deny him entry, you know. Just say the word. I don't like the way he looks.”
Of all the things that annoyed her about Cathal, his looks weren't one of them. If she ignored the cocky, arrogant attitude, the man was very nearly perfect. Blue eyes. Light brown hair. A body that looked long and lean under the dress shirts and slacks he wore. Sexy as hell.
But he knew it.
Just like her ex-fiancé, Hugo.
Chuck sighed and stood up. “Whatever. I'm here if you need me.” He knocked on the wooden bar top. “I'll see you tomorrow night.”
“Bye.” She finished cleaning her bar, the thoughts of Cathal still confusing her. He'd hit on her regularly for the past few months, ever since he first rescued his sister-in-law from some perv who'd grabbed her. Nearly killed the man in the process. Fiona's testimony had cleared him of the charges but had earned her a new customer. Same seat. Every week.
Cathal tipped her well enough to cause guilt at her annoyance with him. It's like his tip was payment for her being subjected to his failed flirting attempts. Some nights, when she was tired, his Irish accent almost made her forget that she didn't want a smooth-talking man ever again.
She sighed and grabbed her purse, flipped off the lights to the bar, and locked the front door. Her car, always parked in the closest spot to the exit, was something she loved. Her BMW. But that brought on another wave of guilt. Her parents owned the car just like they paid for her apartment.
She'd agreed to the conditions of their continued support by ignoring the fact she was supposed to return to Hugo at the end of the separation. They'd never set a time limit. Eventually, her father would come calling for her. Then, she'd cut off all her financial ties with them.
For the time being, it gave her the freedom to reinvest in her bar.
She drove to her apartment, letting the valet take her car before she hauled her tired body through the lobby and up the elevator. She scanned through her email as she walked down the hallway to her apartment door. Like usual, Hugo had emailed her.
She started to delete it without opening it, but their seven years of relationship, even if he did ruin it, made her tap on the email.
Weekly, he demanded a firm date to end their estrangement. She half-laughed.
Those were terms he and her parents put on it. Fiona flat out broke it off. She'd happily give back the apartment and her car if that were necessary to get her parents and Hugo to acknowledge the truth. Everyone kept supporting her, thinking she’d miss that lifestyle and cave in. That would never happen. But, for now, she'd accept the support as a sort of compensation for making her go through hell. At least she finally found happiness in owning her own bar.
Cathal cracked his eyes, his bedroom a little bleary. The clock confirmed he'd passed out a total of three and a half hours. Not bad. Sleeping never came easy. The whiskey and women helped.
His head hurt almost as much as his hand. The dumbass guy had a jaw as solid as a rock. He opened his hand gingerly, trying to determine if he'd broken anything. He would never regret punching the man, but he might hit a softer target next time.
His mind replayed the vision of the woman being shoved against the wall.
No. No regrets, even if a few bones might be cracked.
Sunday meant he'd roll into O'Keeley's Irish Pub a little later in the afternoon. His brother, Brogan, generally ran the pub, but Cathal had volunteered to go into work on Sundays and give Brogan a day off with Selena, his very pregnant sister-in-law.
He rolled his ass out of bed and into the shower. He'd met a woman last night. Lisa...maybe. The scent of her perfume still lingered on his skin, and he wanted it off.
He enjoyed women. It helped to keep his mind occupied away from his past. Too bad, his thoughts had continued to travel toward a certain redhead ever since he'd first laid eyes on her nine months ago. But Fiona didn't want anything to do with him, a fact that drove him back to her bar every weekend.
After his long, hot shower, he stepped out, feeling closer to human again. He put on his suit, a requirement his oldest brother said, and headed into the restaurant.
“Hello, Katie,” he called as he stepped through the front door. The scent of cottage pie reminded his stomach that he'd not eaten breakfast or lunch, yet. Katie stood at the hostess podium, her hair, now a platinum shade of blond was up in a high ponytail.
She smiled. “Good morning, Mr. O'Keeley.”
“Please.” He grimaced at the insinuation that he was like his oldest brother . “I'm not Brogan. Cathal will do. You know that.”
She smirked. “I do, but I love watching you cringe.”
He chuckled and walked through the restaurant. The pub was the brainchild of Cathal’s and his two brothers. Rian was the middle child and the chef, the creativity and fame behind the O'Keeley name. Brogan, the oldest, made it happen. The staffing, scheduling, money, everything that made O'Keeley's run like a greased machine was due entirely to Brogan.
Cathal helped some with the legal side of the business, but there wasn't much else a lawyer could do running a restaurant. His brothers often referred to him as lazy, and maybe he was, but being serious brought out more emotions than he wanted to handle. He saved his “serious” days for the times the law firm called him into work.
“Cathal?” The bartender called his name. He turned, spotting a pretty woman that seemed familiar. She tilted her head to the side as he tried to place her face. “Do you remember me?”
He grinned, something he hoped was charming and would earn him an apology as he couldn't remember her. “Give me a hint.”
She shook her head. “I wouldn't expect you to remember me, I guess. You're like the dentist.”
“That's a new one.” He walked to the bar, setting his hands on the beautiful wood they had shipped from Ireland. It was smooth and always felt warm under his hands. Like it was still alive. “How am I like a dentist?”
“You know your dentist's name, right? Well, he has hundreds of patients, so he might not remember you.”
Controlling his expression, he ran through a mental list of the women he'd slept with. He would remember that face. Her skin a deep tan, but nothing that gave away her ethnicity. Maybe Egyptian. And now she worked for them. Damn, but Brogan would have his ass for this. His strict no dating policy was fine by Cathal, but surely it couldn't extend to a woman he'd obviously been with before they hired her.
“You're a beautiful woman, but I'm afraid—”
She laughed, interrupting his sentence. “I'm Kami Taylor. Or actually Dawson now. You helped me through my divorce.” Her brown eyes narrowed. “That was it.”
He felt his cheeks grow warm. “I'm sorry.”
“I'm flattered, really.”
“You look great.” She did. The woman he'd represented had looked like a shell of a person by that point in her marriage. This woman looked alive and vibrant.
“It's amazing what ditching a husband can do for a person’s metabolism and self-esteem. And I have you to thank.” This time, when her eyes narrowed, they had a purpose. He recognized the attraction, and he took an automatic step backward.
“How long have you worked for O'Keeley's?”
She lifted a shoulder. “A couple weeks by now. I knew you were an owner. I saw you a few other times but never had a chance to say anything.”
“Well,” he began, taking another step away and toward the safety of his office. Kami leaned on the counter, straight out inviting with her eyes. They were gorgeous eyes. “I have a pile of paperwork to start on.”
“Maybe we can talk some other time? You know, after work?”
Might as well lay it on the line. He stopped in his retreat and smiled at her. “I'd like that, Kami Dawson, but seeing as I'm your employer, I'm afraid our conversations need to be limited to work and work hours.” He shrugged. “My brother's rules.” And his. He never wanted a long-term relationship and working alongside someone he found interesting one night, didn't bode well for anyone.
The disappointment was evident, but she didn't argue. She simply nodded and turned back to the register. His eyes landed on Katie, watching the interaction, although she would be too far away to hear anything.
Katie shook her head. At one point, Katie had issued similar invitations to him and had been turned away. It was a small joke between his family and her now, both happy as friends. Cathal winked, and Katie fanned herself before laughing.
He walked into the silence of Brogan's office and closed the door. He'd have to let his brother know about Kami. At least, with everyone aware, they'd know Cathal wasn't trying to pull anything. He tossed his keys and phone into the desk drawer and powered on the computer. A stack of unopened mail sat in the middle of the desk with a note on top.
To give you something to do- S
Selena. His sister-in-law was so thoughtful. He snorted and tossed the note in the trashcan. Brogan had found his female counterpart. She lightened his brother up from being a straitlaced ass most of the time, but they both loved running the business. The paperwork they could keep. Cathal enjoyed interacting with the people.
He opened the top letter. It came from an attorney's office he was knowledgeable of. One that didn't always play above board. All attorneys pursued every avenue possible to gain a favorable outcome for their client, but, at least for him, he'd never go against his ethics to do so.
Cathal scanned the letter, standing up as he read the meat of it. They were being sued.
He took the letter and left the restaurant. Brogan might have declared Sunday his day off, but Rian never did. Since the man lived within walking distance, he'd pay him a personal visit to deliver the good news.
Fiona pinched the bridge of her nose and waited while her mother cried. Long, drawn-out sobs that would look as fake as they sounded. To her mom, they weren't fake. She honestly thought she was that upset. But in a snap, she'd be over the issue and moving on with life.
“I just don't know why you're doing this to us.” Her mom paused and blew her nose. “It's been almost a year. When are you coming back?”
“Mom, I'm only thirty minutes away.” Her parents lived a little north of Atlanta, not on the other side of the country. But no one, not her friends, not her parents, ever came to visit. Hell, her friends hadn't even tried to contact her since the incident.
“I meant back to the family. Your father just hasn't been the same since you left. He and Hugo have worked hard in the business. They could use your help.” She sniffed. “You and Hugo should try again.”
For the business. Her dad wanted her there so he could hand over the company to his son-in-law that he'd groomed to take over.
“You were there, Mom. He was naked on the bed with Wren.” Her description of the situation went from polite to a little vulgar to try and get her mom to admit what she'd seen. But her mom's mental stability was always a little frail, and Fiona’s dad easily influenced her.
“Fiona, I told you I wasn't sure what I saw.”
“You picked up Wren's underwear, Mom!”
“Maybe,” she mumbled. “Yes. I agree, but Hugo says that wasn't him.”
Fiona tossed her hand in the air as she paced her apartment. Granted, Hugo had bolted into the bathroom that connected with another guest suite, leaving Wren to fumble for an explanation alone. But Hugo's butt had a very distinct birthmark on it. One that reminded her of a Dalmatian’s spot. And Wren even admitted it at first before changing her story.
Both of them were drunk.
Still, not an excuse.
“I'm not going back over this. I know what I saw. If you want to play Dad's little game to get me to come back home, that's fine, but I'm not going to budge. I like my life now. I like running a bar.” She wanted to make it successful.
“But you have a degree in economics. You and Hugo are going to take over the operations once you get married.”
Still in the future tense. Her mom never gave up. Fiona didn't want to run an international shipping company. Yes, it was profitable, but some things were more important to her.
Pride was one of them. Sanity was another. She couldn't exist around people who questioned her if she didn't go along with their version of reality.
“I'm done talking about this. I'd still like to see you next weekend.”
“Oh, I don't know. Your father, dear, would be mad. He thinks that if I stay away, that you'll come back home.”
Fiona bit her lip against the frustration. The issue wasn't her dad wanting her back home, it was her dad wanting Hugo in the family. He'd taught him the ropes, pegged him to take over his “empire” and Fiona had ruined that. Actually, Hugo destroyed that when he decided to play CEO and secretary with Wren.
“Let me know later this week, then. I love you.”
“Love you, too,” her mom replied, sounding as though nothing had upset her to begin with.
Fiona picked up her keys and purse and jogged out the door. Sunday was her only day off, and she took advantage of every second. Her yoga class started in fifteen minutes. The April weather hovered in the mid-seventies, and the new leaves were bright green. She loved spring. Everything was born again. That's how she wanted her life to feel. Fresh. New. Instead, her parents and ex were a constant reminder that she could never really move forward. Not until that situation was resolved.
She kept her head down, her thoughts running over and over Hugo, replaying the scene in her mind.
Two feet appeared in her vision.
She snapped her head up, coming face-to-face with Cathal. He held a piece of paper in his hand, and for a quick second, the cocky look he wore was absent.
It changed his face. The man was attractive when he was all smiles, cracking jokes and making everyone around him laugh. Right then, with a small worry line in between his brows and his eyes pinched tight with stress, he looked angry and sexy-as-hell.
He blinked. “Fiona?”
Her breath hitched, and her face grew warm with the way he said her name.
But he ruined it a second later. That damn, silly grin appeared as he tilted his head to the side. “What is the most beautiful woman in Atlanta doing out this time of day?”
“I'm headed to yoga.” She motioned at his suit. “I didn't realize you wore a suit every day of the week.”
“It's Brogan's rule. I'm actually supposed to be at the restaurant but needed to run an errand.” He shifted closer, his blue eyes matching the sky behind him. “I'm glad I ran into you.”
She moved to the side, away from his incredible maleness. The smell of his cologne or aftershave was more pronounced when not in her bar. More lethal to her senses.
“I figured you'd still be curled up around some lucky woman from last night.” Her tone of voice reminded her of a bitter shrew. She hated it. That wasn't who she was. Not deep down. Hugo had done that to her.
His smile didn't falter. “Ah, Fiona, it doesn't take luck for that to happen. Not for you.”
She rolled her eyes. Playboy. “I need to go. Have a good day.”
“I will now that I've seen you.” He winked when she glanced back up.
She shook her head and walked away, hating that she was as susceptible to his charm as every other female. She'd already fallen in love with another smooth-talking man and look where that had gotten her: humiliation. Even though she knew the fault lie with Hugo and Wren, a small part of her ego wondered why she hadn't been enough for him.
What was she missing?
Nothing. She straightened her shoulders and pushed open the door to the yoga studio with a bright smile on her face. She wanted this life, not the life she'd set herself up for with Hugo. Big house. Great career. No love. There had been love there, once, a long time ago. Back in college, she'd made big plans with him. But at some point, she'd fallen out of love.
Unfortunately, she never broke off the relationship, and it turned out that Hugo didn't really love her either. Maybe, if she did have feelings for Hugo, she'd have fought harder instead of walking away from that life and her wedding day.