O’Keeley’s Irish Pub Series

Book Two

When a man like Rian O'Keeley pursues you, holding out forever is hopeless.

Mara Andrews knew of Rian O’Keeley. He co-owns O’Keeley’s Pub in Atlanta, has won dozens of culinary awards, and pictures of him with beautiful women cover the tabloids. But nowhere in the media coverage did it say the color of his eyes shifted from green to blue, depending on the light, or that his sharp sense of humor would make her laugh.

And he’d offered her a date.

One date. One, no-strings-attached night with the gorgeous chef.

Rian O'Keeley has no interest in forming a long-term attachment to a woman. Traveling the world, working, and meeting new people keeps him one step ahead of the tragic memories he's outrun for over a decade. When he returns to Atlanta, he's there to spend time with his brothers and regroup...alone.

But meeting the sweet, selfless Mara changes that when he realizes she's not designed for a simple fling he offers.

He knows he should walk away, but he can't. He wants Mara.

Her Irish Chef is Book Two in the O’Keeley’s Irish Pub series by Georgia native and award-winning author Palmer Jones.


Chapter 1

He was screwed.

Rian O'Keeley pushed through the crowd at the Atlanta airport, heading toward the parking deck. A week in California did not inspire a new dish for the restaurant he shared with his brothers. Instead, he came home to a shitty review from a food critic and his version of writer's block.

He unlocked his sleek Mercedes, sat down, and slammed the door shut harder than necessary. Damn it. The interview he just gave to one of the top food magazines in the world included a bold declaration that a new fusion, something to combine his Irish upbringing with his new home in America, would be on the menu at O'Keeley's by the end of the year. And, so far, he didn't have a single, damn idea.

Years spent traveling around the world had been a waste of time to get to this point in his career and choke. And it wasn't just his name on the line.

The drive to O'Keeley's Irish Pub gave him plenty of time to cool off before seeing his family. He was the level-headed brother of the three. Or at least he'd assumed that role by default. Someone had to play the part of the peacekeeper with an overbearing brother like Brogan and a feckless younger brother, Cathal.

He pulled into the employee parking lot in downtown Atlanta, parking beside Brogan's four-door sedan. His oldest brother also held the title for being the most responsible. He ran the day-to-day operations of the pub. And it was because of Brogan's new wife, Selena, that Rian found himself back in Atlanta instead of traveling to another part of the United States looking for inspiration.

He rose from the car, the Georgia heat and humidity closing in around him. He'd never get used to it.

Selena waited at the front entrance, arms crossed, toe tapping, her golden hair pulled back. “You were supposed to call when you left the airport.”

He paused beside his sister-in-law, planted a kiss on top of her head, and then headed toward the kitchen. “Why? I already knew you'd track the flight.” He wiggled his phone in her direction. “I'm surprised you aren't tracking me by now.”

She took two steps to his one to keep up. “That's because you don't communicate. We arranged for the kids from the community center to visit today. Your idea, by the way.”

Yes, it had been his idea. That was before his future looked shot to hell by his lack of creativity.

“The kids will be here any minute, Rian.”

“I know.” He pushed open the kitchen doors and let the feeling of coming home take away his stress. He loved working in O'Keeley's. It smelled clean along with just a hint of Irish stew they'd made the night before. He'd designed the kitchen himself. The counters were a little higher than average to accommodate his height. Bright lights. Wide spaces between workstations.

It took up more area than most kitchens in a restaurant. Typically, the main floor with additional seating was a priority. Rian held a third of the ownership in the restaurant. He had a third of the decision-making power.

“Selena—” Brogan paused as he pushed open the door. “Oh. Good. You're here. The kids just arrived.”

Rian shot Selena a bright smile. “All that stress for nothing. I'm obviously on time then.”

Selena rolled her eyes. “You're killing me.”

“That's what brothers do.” He grinned and winked at her, finally getting a smile.

“You and Cathal think you can get away with anything by flirting.”

Rian leaned over, his arms resting on the cold, stainless steel counter. “And, my dear, how does your husband get away with things? Does Brogan flirt with you as well?”

Selena laughed. “I'm not sure you want the details to that.” She pushed open the door.

The sound of voices drifted in a moment before becoming muffled again as the door closed.

Nonstop chatter, to be exact. The cooking demonstration would teach the kids both the tools to make healthy food choices and give them a glimpse of his career.

Rian laid out the ingredients. Selena stuck her head into the kitchen. “Are you almost ready?” She straightened and pointed to the zucchini. “You do realize these are kids?” she asked.

“Yes. Kids should eat vegetables.”

“French fries and macaroni and cheese are vegetables at this age.” She laughed when he made a face. “Not everyone grew up with a freaking garden in the backyard of their cottage in Ireland.”

Maybe not, but he'd try to expose them while he had the chance.

“I'll bring them back.” She turned to leave then stopped, her golden eyes settling on him. “Try not to be so quiet.”

“I have to talk, Selena. I'm giving a cooking demonstration.”

“Yes, I know, but you have such a great personality.” She stepped back to him and gave him a quick kiss on the cheek. “You should let that come out a little quicker.”

He crossed his arms. “I feel like you're trying to tell me that people don't like me.”

“Eh,” she murmured, waving her hand side to side. “You can come across as aloof.”

“Maybe I’m aloof when I’m not in the mood to talk.”

Selena huffed. “You’re impossible.” She left him alone. He smiled. He'd have never thought his older brother would have ever found a woman to actually marry his grumpy ass, but there she went, the newest member of the O'Keeley clan.

Just as bossy as Brogan.

And having close friends wasn’t an issue for Rian. It was rare for him to call someone a close friend, but they existed. He gave so much of himself conducting interviews or cooking around the world, that when he was home, he wanted to live quietly.

The children's chatter drew closer. He took a deep breath as they walked in through the kitchen door.

The voices rose even higher, if possible, all talking at once – a blur of faces.

Rian blinked, trying to sort it out and questioning his sanity for doing this.

A woman brought up the rear of the group, her lips moving fast and giving out directions. She kept her face averted, quieting them down as she passed by them until she stopped in front of Rian.

Her heart-shaped face and guarded smile fascinated him – warm brown eyes with full lips. No makeup. The only thing he could think to say was, “hi,” as he held out his hand.

Her smile faltered. For some strange reason, he wanted to make her smile.

She shook his hand, her eyes locked on their hands. “I'm Mara Andrews.”

“Rian O'Keeley.” Her hand felt cool, her skin a beautiful contrast to his own.

Selena cleared her throat. “Rian?”

He reluctantly dropped Mara's hand. “Sorry. Kids. Right.” He scanned his audience. Most of them were under sixteen. A little girl stood in the front, her eyes wide.

“Hi, there,” he said.

She tilted her head back. “You're tall.”

He chuckled. “You're short.”

She grinned, missing two teeth. “My name is Blair.”

He spoke in French. “You have a very pretty dress, Blair.”

Her eyes sparkled. “What did you say?”

“He said you have a very pretty dress.” Mara's smile appeared a little more genuine.

“You speak French?” That surprised and pleased him.

“Yes. I lived there for a year when I was in college.”

If her face hadn't captivated him, that small fact did. He spent most of his time in Europe and mostly in France. He opened his mouth to ask her where.

Selena's sharp elbow caught him in his ribs. “You're acting no better than Cathal,” she mumbled.

That comparison grabbed his attention. His younger brother's hobby would be classified as picking up women. And he was damned good at it, too. But Rian had an audience of kids watching his every move. Convincing their chaperon to go on a date would have to wait.

But if she were available, it would happen.

“Let's get started,” Rian said. “We've set out a workstation for each of you. We'll start with peeling zucchini and cracking eggs.” Selena and Mara organized the kids, placing one at each station.

He watched Mara, openly, so he noticed each time she glanced in his direction.

She settled in beside Blair, laughing each time the little girl cracked an egg. The director seemed happy. He liked that. He'd dated women from all walks of life, all ethnicities, all races. Happiness was the number one trait that he liked when thinking of going out on a date.

He'd had enough sadness and frustration in the past.

Selena moved through the older kids peeling zucchini. She was a natural with children. Not that it surprised him, but it reassured him that at least his brother's wife might have an idea what she was doing should they start a family soon. In his opinion, Brogan was a lost cause. The man would probably buy a suit for his son or daughter before they turned one.

“Mr. O'Keeley?” Mara shifted from behind the counter. She bit her lower lip. “Or Chef? I'm not sure what to call you.”

“The title of Mr. O'Keeley belongs to my older brother.” He wiped his hands on the towel hanging from his back pocket. “Rian is fine.”

“Rian,” she said, causing him to want to hear it again. Her Southern accent was soft, dragging out the first vowel in his name in a cute way.

“I like your accent.”

She laughed. “Mine? You're the one with the major accent in the room.” She pushed a piece of hair behind her ear. “I was wondering if you'd consider doing this again. Maybe teaching them a dish they can make at home. Out of easy ingredients? I'd purchase the food, but I can already tell the kids, especially the boys, are completely impressed by you. That doesn't happen often. We have a small kitchen in the after-school center you could use.”

Her eyes held his, and he knew he should give her an answer. But it wasn't one he wished he could give her. “My schedule is fairly busy.”

Her gaze dropped. “Oh. I knew it might be. It was just a suggestion.”

“Wait.” He pulled his phone from his pocket. “When were you thinking?”

“Anytime.” She chewed on her bottom lip again.

He cleared his throat. “I'm free on Friday.”

Selena slapped a hand down on the countertop, causing an egg to roll to the edge. She caught it and shook it at him. “Seriously, Rian. Cathal is definitely rubbing off on you, picking up women whenever you get the chance.”

Rian set his phone down, giving Selena a sharp look. “I was scheduling when I could come and give them a demonstration at their after-school center, dear sister.”

Selena blushed and gave Mara an apologetic look. “Sorry. I'm just trying to help keep him on track. O'Keeley men are easily distracted by pretty women.”

Rian shook his head. “I won't deny that statement. I'm more concerned about your mental health, seeing that you picked the surliest one of the three of us.”

“Brogan can be very charming when he's not working.”

“Which is never.” Rian's phone chimed. He wagged it toward Selena. “If you want to help me, then go tell my brother to lay off texting me about next month's specials. He's gotten pushier since he married you. If that was possible. That's the fifth text since yesterday.”

She tilted her nose in the air. “I sent the first three from his phone. You stopped answering mine.” She turned on her heel and walked over to check on the kids.

He shifted back to Mara, who gave him a small, sympathetic smile. “I'd say sorry, but I'm afraid everyone has to deal with family. Mine's pretty crazy.”

“Selena is the best thing that could have happened to my brother Brogan. But when she gets something in her mind, there's no slowing her down.” He fired off a text to Selena.

A second later, Selena’s head snapped up, eyes narrowing.

He threw his head back and laughed.

“What?” Mara looked between the two of them, seeming to enjoy the byplay.

“She wanted next month's specials for the menu.” He held out his phone for Mara to read. She angled closer, a smell of fresh peaches drifted toward him. She smelled like dessert.

She smiled a real, gorgeous smile that lit up her brown eyes. “I don't believe for one second you're going to serve peanut butter and jelly sandwiches.”

“I was inspired by the youth of America.”

“I could actually afford to come here if you served something like that.”

Her comment pushed him back a step. He wanted her to come, enjoy the restaurant. Sit with him. Talk to him. Give him the privilege of watching her eyes dance when she laughed.

“Friday night. After I cook with the kids, you and I will come here for dinner.”

Her smile vanished. “Just us?”

“Why not? If you want to eat here, that is. You just mentioned it, so I thought you might like to come with me.”

“I'd think you'd be sick of eating your food.”

“Coming to O'Keeley's is the closest I usually get to eating my food.” He dropped his voice to a whisper, moving closer. A horrible excuse, but he was no better than Cathal as Selena had pointed out to him. “I don't often cook alone.”

Her eyes gleamed with amusement, and she imitated his whisper. “I'm guessing you're not alone...often.”

That was an odd statement. “What does that mean?”

She lifted a shoulder and glanced away. “I saw the pictures of you on the yacht. I assume you are with people. All of the time.”

That couldn't be farther from the truth. He loved being alone. Living alone. Waking up alone. For some men, like Cathal, they hated it. His youngest brother dated woman after woman, treating them over-the-top to make up for his past. Using them as a distraction for a few weeks, or a few hours, and then parting with them. Strangely, he treated them so wonderfully that none of his past dates ever held ill feelings toward him.

Rian's past had the opposite effect. He enjoyed dating, but for him, it was temporary, and second dates were rare. He had no desire ever to have a long-term relationship, so he never formed any real attachment. And usually, he left before the sun rose.

There were too many mad memories lurking in the corners of his mind. A commitment meant a woman wanted every detail of your past.

He wanted those details to remain locked away.

“I can assure you, I'm alone far more often than the internet gives me credit. The woman in those pictures, the one with the blond hair—”

“And legs for days. Yes. I saw.” She drummed her fingers on the counter. “What about her?”

“The owner of the boat's wife. If you had the full picture, you'd see that he was sitting on the other side of her. He's an old friend.” He tapped her cell phone. “Don't believe everything you read, Mara.”

She searched his face. “Obviously, I shouldn't.”

“Friday. I'll drive you from the center here after I work with the kids. You can pick what you call it.”

She smirked. “I assumed it's just a dinner. Why? What were you going to call it?”

“What I plan on it being.” He moved around the counter, pausing beside her. His arm pressed against her shoulder.

Her eyes widened, but she didn't move or pull away. She wasn't very tall, maybe five-eight. Nothing compared to his six-two height, but her curves, now that he had a clear view of her, confirmed that his physical attraction to her was magnetic.

“It's a date.”

Chapter 2

“Why aren't you married, Ms. Mara? Don't you want to be?”

Nine-year-olds could be so darn cute. And observant. Amara Andrews gave Blair a stiff smile. “Because I haven't found the right man.”

She'd almost responded with, “because the man I was going to marry ended up being a jackass,” but poor Blair could find out that not everyone was like Prince Charming when she was a little older. She didn't need her dreams crushed at nine.

“I'm going to marry Bruno Mars.” She clasped her hands together. “He's hot.”

Mara couldn't help but laugh. Blair had no clue what that meant. She repeated everything the older girls said. “I'm sure he's very lucky to have such a smart little girl like you. But I bet even Bruno Mars would want you to know how to subtract double digits. C'mon. Concentrate now so we can earn those M&Ms.”

Bribery. Sometimes, it was all inner-city kids responded to. Learning math because it would help them later, much, much later, was a hard concept for kids like Blair.

“Mara?” The director called from the door of her corner office.

Mara pointed to the next problem. “Work this on your own.” She left Blair and walked across the tiled floor of the old warehouse. The after-school program had recently opened up in a new location in downtown Atlanta. It wasn't much to an outsider, but to the kids and staff, it was everything. Plenty of space to play basketball or, as the older kids liked, dodgeball.

She’d sure as hell never offer to play that again. Her boys took no mercy.

“Yes, Mrs. Peterson?” Mara sat down in the one, plastic chair across the desk. The office wasn't much bigger than a bathroom stall, but Mrs. Peterson was entitled to the only office. Her boss was a stern woman, late fifties, with blonde hair that she'd never let go gray.

“The job will officially post next week. I wanted to make sure you were aware of it.” She sat down at her desk, giving Mara the same look she sometimes gave the kids in trouble. “I have significant pull with the selection of my replacement. I know you've worked hard, but we both know you have areas you can improve.”

“Yes, ma'am.” She didn't agree. Mara had watched Mrs. Peterson for the past ten years. She knew exactly how she'd run the program and things she’d change.

And, of course, a pay raise would be nice. She earned enough to get by, alternating between a part-time receptionist and her assistant director position at the after-school program, but she wanted the job. Her degree in psychology and master’s in social work had earned her a big student loan and a little paycheck.

As much as she respected her boss, she'd only taken the job in the hopes of running the program one day. It just seemed like that day might never come.

Until now.

Geez, what if she didn't get it?

“Rian O'Keeley is due here soon, correct?”

Rian. Yes, the man with the sexy as hell accent, tousled brown hair, and blue-green hazel eyes that made her heart stop when he'd asked her on a date.


Men had asked her on dates before, attractive, successful men. But it did something to a girl's soul when someone that hot asks her out.

Mrs. Peterson clasped her hands together and set them on the desk. “Mrs. O'Keeley said that the restaurant wanted to do some additional community outreach. She's offered to provide fifty-dollar gift certificates to each child who participates today in the cooking class that Mr. O'Keeley will teach.”

“They're going to give a fifty-dollar gift card to each kid? Wow. That's really generous.” And she would get dinner at O'Keeley's tonight with Rian. She looked away from Mrs. Peterson, hoping the excitement didn't show. Having a date with a man like him beat going home to her apartment with her cat, Dash, who hated her. Oh, and the frozen Salisbury steak dinner she had waiting in the freezer.

“She said it was Rian's idea.”

Mara pulled out her phone, searching for him as she'd done before. There he was, lounging on a yacht. And there was his leggy blonde, in all her perfection.

The woman might only be a friend to Rian, but Mara was still a little jealous. Those were the types of people he socialized with. Not social workers that lived in a studio apartment. The only culinary taste she'd acquired over the years was which brands and entrees she enjoyed for dinner in the frozen food section.

She'd not dated anyone seriously since she'd broken off her engagement to Shane. Luckily, Shane still lived back home in the middle of Alabama. Her stomach tightened the same way it did with the memory of that volatile relationship. For years she stayed with him because it was expected of her. She never saw a way out. Her parents, friends, everyone loved him.

She pulled her shoulders back. She'd worked too hard in the past two years to let it affect her any longer. Rian had asked her out. She'd go without bringing her ex and his memories on the date with her.

“Ms. Andrews, I did it!” Blair stood in the doorway and held up her paper. Mara walked over to her. This was her calling, helping children.

“Oh, honey,” Mara began, pointing at the first column on the first problem. “Let's do it together.”

After working with Blair for another ten minutes, Mara left to go to the grocery store and buy the ingredients for Rian's demonstration. She spotted his sports car near the entrance when she returned, and the situation hit her full force. A strange buzzing ran through her body. Nerves? Probably. Her fingers tightened on the grocery bags.

She stepped into the center as Rian emerged from the kitchen. He was early. And looking delicious. He'd worn tan slacks and a red button-down shirt with the sleeves rolled up, revealing toned forearms.

A date.

With that man. She'd be lucky if she didn't make a fool of herself before the date even began and he found a reason to make other plans. Her kids might have behaved on the field trip to O'Keeley's, but they weren't entirely predictable when they were at the center. That included little Blair.

But contemplating her date would have to wait. Blair’s cry echoed throughout the center.

Mara’s steps quickened. The little girl’s learning disability caused a wave of emotions when she became frustrated. And, judging by the screams coming from Mrs. Peterson's office, Blair was having a moment.

“Sorry.” She handed Rian the bag of ingredients, unable to revel in the way his fingers brushed along her wrists. “I need to see to Blair.”

“What's wrong?” Instead of going back into the kitchen, he motioned Romeo, one of her students, over and passed off the bag. “Take these to the kitchen.”

The teenager, who usually hated every authority figure possible, nodded and walked away. She’d have to figure out Romeo later. She broke into a jog at Blair's next high-pitched scream.

She turned into the office. Blair sat curled into a ball in the plastic chair with her hands over her ears.

The director threw her hands up, her voice shrill. “Maybe she'll respond to you. You left, and she had a meltdown. She’s too dependent on you. I’ve told you that before.”

Mara squatted in front of Blair, brushing the hair back from her face. The way Blair coped with the uncertainty of the world was to push it away. She'd curl into the ball, hands over her ears.

She’d worked with her, trying to find other ways for Blair to deal with her frustration when things didn't go her way. Mrs. Peterson lacked the same patience.

Blair jerked when Mara set a hand on her shoulder. Her hand knocked Mara in the face, sending her toppling backward onto her butt, the back of her head hitting Mrs. Peterson's desk. A cup of pens and pencils bounced off her shoulder and scattered on the ground.

Rian's warm hand wrapped around her arm. “Are you alright?”

“Fine.” Great. Here was the embarrassing part where Rian realized she wasn't in his league.

“Can I try to help?” He waited for Mara to stand, his hand lingering along her elbow longer than necessary. Not that she'd complain that an amazing looking man like Rian touched her too long. Nope. Those words would never come from her lips.

He leaned over the back of the chair and began whispering in French to Blair. It was Twinkle, Twinkle Little Star. Blair tilted her head to the side, cutting her eyes up at him, and he smiled. If Blair actually understood what a hot man was, she'd dump her Bruno Mars for Rian. No offense, Bruno.

Mrs. Peterson sighed and stared at Rian like he was her Bruno.

Rian slowed down and said one word at a time, letting Blair repeat them back to him. She sat up and sang the little verse. She pronounced it with reasonable accuracy.

Mara sang the song in her head along with them. She wouldn't break whatever spell he’d cast over Blair to help calm her down.

Rian held his hand out for Blair to hold. “Can you help make our snacks?”

She nodded, and he led her out the door.

Mara paused before following them and looked at Mrs. Peterson. Guilt forced her to mention their date. “I'm having dinner with him tonight. He invited me to O'Keeley's after work.” She couldn't hide it. If she did, it meant she had expectations that the dinner was something more than a nice gesture from Rian.

Mrs. Peterson's whimsical look dropped from her face. “You realize we have a morality clause in your contract, right?”

“It's dinner, not a date.” It wasn't like he'd invited her on a yacht. That was only in the dream she had last night.

“It’d better stay that way. He's a volunteer at our facility.” She nodded once and then sat back down at her desk. “I retire in a little over a month. If you want to move into this position, you need to prove that you will maintain good ethical standing. People in the community will talk.”

That's why she'd mentioned it, to begin with. She didn't want her director to find out from someone else and assume the worst.

“I understand.” Mara turned on her heel and left the room, a little deflated. She hadn't had any real expectations of Rian’s interest in her, but she at least wanted to enjoy her one dinner. Morality clause. That was code for you better not sleep with him.

Dejected, she left the office. She’d have to make it clear to Rian that this was a casual dinner. Nothing else.

The kitchen had erupted into straight chaos. Rian in the middle of it, either participating or trying to stop it. Hard to tell. Several of the boys had found the flour and threw handfuls of it at each other, creating a white cloud.

“Boys!” She took a step in their direction and got a face full.

She closed her eyes. This was not happening.

The room fell silent.

Someone snickered. She snapped her eyes open, wanting to take her wrath out on whoever thought it was funny.


Rian was the one with a hand over his mouth, trying not to laugh but doing a poor job of hiding it.

“Oh. This is funny to you?” She reached out and grabbed her handful of flour and tossed it in his face. He tried to block it, but it's flour, so, really, what the hell could he have blocked?

“You just threw flour at me.” His shocked expression made him look a little like a ghost.

With their eyes wide, the kids watched the two adults. Sometimes she wondered if she was the best role model for these kids. Could she handle being the director when she couldn't even control a small room full of children?

She didn't see the flour before it hit the side of her face.

Blair stood there, a gap-toothed grin stretched across her face.

Rian laughed again.

Hell. Mara took a massive handful and threw it. Not at Rian, but at Romeo. He stood off to the side with his typical annoyed, too-cool-for-school expression in place. Until the flour hit him.

Mara leaned toward him, ignoring his angry scowl, and whispered, “Hey—” she winked “—food fight.”

The first smile she'd seen in a month appeared on his face. He snatched the flour from another kid and began pelting everyone. All the kids joined in.

Rian seemed to alternate between aiming for her and tossing it softly at Blair.

The boys went to war, hiding behind chairs, ducking between the cabinets.

Rian moved closer, his hand touching her shoulder. “This isn't how I normally cook,” he said between laughs.

She waved her hand in front of her face, trying to clear out the flour to see him better. “Really? Because it seemed as though you enjoyed hitting me with it.”

A shrill whistle sounded. Both adults and all the children froze in place. Mara winced and slowly turned to see Mrs. Peterson in the doorway, her signature “look” of disapproval in place.

“Mara. Mr. O'Keeley. I'm not sure what's happening here.” Her voice was tight and controlled. She wanted to yell, and if Rian hadn't been there, she would have screamed. A lot.

Rian's chest brushed along Mara's spine. He'd moved to stand right behind her. Maybe to support her? He didn't have to. He could have easily walked away.

“I enjoy watching kids have fun in the kitchen,” he said, the edge of amusement still in his voice.

The kids snickered. Mara caught herself before she joined in. Mrs. Peterson’s expression darkened, reminding her of the Wicked Witch from Wizard of Oz.

“I expect you and the kids to clean up, Mara. Six weeks. Remember that.”

Wow, she even sounded like that witch.

“I'll help,” Rian said.

Mrs. Peterson shook her head. “No. There's no need. I don’t think that cooking lessons are the right fit for our program. I appreciate you coming and trying.”

She disappeared from the doorway, without the red smoke the original witch used. The room remained silent. Disappointment covered each child’s face. She hated it.

“C’mon, y’all. Let’s clean up.” Not surprisingly, Mara’s tone lacked enthusiasm.

The kids groaned and started complaining about Rian leaving.

Mara turned around. He stood so close. She tilted her head up, expecting to say something, apologize for Mrs. Peterson's rude dismissal, but her mind blanked.

Completely flat-lined.

He brushed the back of his fingers across her cheek. “You are covered in flour,” he murmured. She wanted to do the same to him, but she interlaced her fingers behind her back and stepped away. She wanted the director's job more.

“I'm sorry this didn't work out,” she said. “And I should probably back out on dinner tonight. I have a lot going on in my life.”

He watched her for a long second. “I fly out tomorrow morning.” He didn't give her a chance to respond. “Lisbon. I have an event.”


“Then I go from there to Melbourne.”

“That's a lot of time zones.”

He nodded and set his hands on his hips. Covered in flour and he still made her heart race. “Then, I'm back in Atlanta for a couple of weeks.”

The kids around them had started picking up overturned chairs, and one of them got the broom. She'd help in a moment after she could move. His eyes were a beautiful shade of green in this light. Earlier, they'd looked blue.

“Then where are you off to?”

“San Francisco.”

“For an event?”

His lips twitched, but he didn't smile. “Yes.”

“So, you're saying I may never see you again?”

“It's a possibility.” He skimmed his fingertips down the outside of her arm.

“I'd still like for you to come to O'Keeley's tonight.”

That gorgeous man still wanted to take her out. She let out a shaky breath. It'd be one night with him. She'd read between the lines on that one. She swallowed over her dry throat, hoping she'd make the right decision.

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