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"So this is Ballykirk," Jordan Kennally murmured to herself, peering through the windshield of her car at the picturesque village below.
She'd been in Ireland for nearly sixteen months now, working as the project manager on the Castle Cnoc renovation. And though she'd seen a lot of the countryside, she was still amazed at how every sight managed to look exactly like some picture-postcard. Ireland was nothing if not quaint.
She glanced at the clock on the dash, then calculated the time it would take her to find Danny Quinn, discuss their business and get back to the castle. She wasn't used to chasing around the countryside looking for workers, but she'd been told that Danny Quinn was the best. And Jordan needed the best.
She steered her car down the winding road that led into Ballykirk, following the carefully drawn map that Kellan Quinn had provided. The town was like so many others along the coast of County Corka pretty collection of colorful buildings set against a stunning landscape, this time the blue waters of Bantry Bay.
When her father had assigned her the project at Castle Cnoc, she'd looked at it as both punishment and reward. It was her first project as manager, solely in charge of a five-million-dollar budget and pleasing one of her father's wealthy clients. It was also a way of putting her firmly into her place at Kencor.
She'd been doggedly scratching her way up the corporate ladder of her family's multimillion dollar real estate development firm, working hard to carve out a place for herself. But with four equally driven and talented older brothers above her on the ladder, just the process of getting noticed was impossible.
She'd begged for good projects to manage, but had always been given a secondary role, usually as the interior designer, for projects that her brothers headed. She'd been sent to Ireland to oversee the restoration of a once grand manor house and castle keep, because no one else could be bothered to come. They were all too busy with hotels and shopping malls and office towers.
"Whistler Cottage." No street, no number, just a name. Jordan studied the map. "Behind the bakery and up the hill to the blue cottage," she read. The bakery was easy enough to find and when she did, Jordan parked her car, grabbed her bag and jumped out of the vehicle.
There were blacksmiths scattered all over Ireland, their skills ranging from amateur to competent artisan. But Danny Quinn was known as one of the best ornamental blacksmiths in the country, a true artist, and she intended to hire him for her project.
His brother, Kellan, had served as the architect on the Castle Cnoc restoration and Jordan had assumed that Danny would jump at a big-budget job so close to home. But he hadn't returned any of her calls. So Jordan had decided to force the issue. She needed an answer, one way or another, or she'd be put off schedule.
The pressure to bring the job in on time and under budget was immense. If she did, her father wouldn't be able to ignore her anymore. The next logical step would be the boutique hotel they were developing in SoHo and after that, progressively larger projects. They wouldn't think of her as the company "decorator" anymore.
Jordan cursed softly. They all looked at her like some swatch-wielding cream puff, unable to exert any power with the mostly male contractors on the job sites. Maybe she didn't curse and throw tantrums and berate the workers, but that didn't mean she didn't get the job done. Jordan had always preferred a quiet confidence to a raging temper. You get more flies with honey. That's what her grandmother had always said.
But she'd been pleasant to Danny Quinn, polite on all the messages she'd left. Maybe it was time to get tough. If he didn't want the job, he needed to tell her outright so she could find someone else. Trouble was, she didn't want anyone else. Kellan had shown her a portfolio of his brother's work and Danny was exactly who she needed to provide some of the authentic details she sought for the project.
As the map indicated, a cobblestone path led between the bakery and the adjacent building. After walking through a narrow alleyway, she saw the sign for the smithya decorative iron anvil and tongs attached to the side of an azure cottage set on the low hillside.
The front door to the cottage was wide open and she walked inside. Two black-and-white dogs lying near the fireplace immediately leapt up and began barking at her. They scampered across the room, driving her against a battered breakfront.
"Shh," she urged, working her way back to the front door. "Settle down. I'm not going to hurt you." Jordan held out her hand as she made her retreat. But just as she turned to step outside, she ran face-first into a wide, muscular and naked chest.
A tiny cry slipped from her lips as she stumbled back. The dogs got behind her legs and she felt herself losing her balance. And then she was on the floor with the dogs climbing all over her, licking at her face and nuzzling her hands.
"Finny. Mogue. Away now."
The dogs retreated a safe distance, then sat down and peered at her with curious blue eyes, their tongues hanging out, their heads cocked. They looked so pleased with themselves. "Thank you so much for the lovely welcome," she muttered to the dogs as she struggled to her feet. A moment later, the man grabbed her hand and helped her up. It was only then that Jordan got a good look at the elusive Danny Quinn.
The family resemblance was keen. At first glance, he looked like his older brother, Kellan. But upon more careful study, she saw that where Kellan was handsome in a cool, sophisticated way, his brother oozed raw sex appeal.
He wore torn blue jeans that rode low on his narrow hips, and an old work shirt, open at the front and missing its sleeves. A sheen of perspiration covered his sinewy arms and chest. His hair, nearly black, stood up in unruly spikes. But it was his eyes, pale blue in color, that caught her complete attention. She forced herself to look away and her gaze drifted to a narrow strip of hair that traced a line from his navel to beneath his
"Sorry about the dogs," he said with a boyish smile. "They'll herd anything that moves." He paused. "How they could mistake you for a sheep, I'll never know."
Jordan looked up, her face warming with embarrassment. Sheep? What was she doing? Quinn was a business associate. "Youyou must be Daniel Quinn."
"I must be," he said. "And who must you be?"
"Oh." She held out her hand. "Jordan. Jordan Kennally."
He seemed taken aback by her introduction, but then wiped his hand on his jeans and took her fingers in his. "You're Joe Kennally?"
"Jordan," she said. "Your brother calls me Joe. He thinks it's funny." She cleared her throat, determined to stay on the subject at hand. "I've been trying to contact you for the past two weeks now and haven't gotten a call back. So I decided a visit was in order." He stared at her silently. "What?" she asked, an impatient edge to her voice.
"I'm just surprised you're a girl. Kell neglected to mention that."
Jordan felt her temper rise. That comment had been thrown at her regularly since she'd begun working for her father's development company. Why couldn't she be a girl? Women had every right to work in the construction industry these days. And Jordan wasn't a name reserved exclusively for boys.
"Is that a problem?" she asked, snatching her hand back and fixing him with a cool look. Obviously, the only way to keep this conversation on track was to present a tough facade.
Danny shrugged. "I can assure you, that's never been a problem with me. And had I known you were a woman, I might not have dodged your calls for two weeks." He chuckled. "And had I known that you were so beautiful, I'd have turned up on your doorstep in less than a day."
"You could tell I was a woman from the messages," she said.
Danny frowned. "I really wasn't paying attention. I usually just ignore my phone messages."
"That's always a good business practice," she murmured.
He stepped out of the door and motioned for her to follow him. "Come on then, I'll show you around."
To her consternation, he didn't bother to button up his shirt and she found herself fixated on that thin line of hair, this time following it up from his belly to his collarbone. Maybe she should offer him a chance to put on something more appropriate for a business meeting. When her attention shifted to the sculpted muscles of his upper arms, Jordan stifled a groan.
She stepped past him, her shoulder brushing against his body as she walked outside. The contact sent another current racing through her. Jordan wanted to scream. What was happening to her? After just a few minutes, this man had her completely off balance. There was no way she'd be able to negotiate a contract with him in this state. He could ask for a million Euros and her naked body in his bed and she'd sign on the dotted line.
"Just follow the path to the back," he said, pointing.
Since she'd been in Ireland, Jordan had lived the life of a nun. The first year, she'd made a point to return to New York at least once a month, in an attempt to maintain a romantic relationship with her last boyfriend. But after their breakup, it had seemed like a waste of time and money.
Though she'd made a few acquaintances in the area, she'd kept to herself. In truth, she wasn't very good with friends. Work always took precedence and she often turned down invitations to socialize because of that. She put all her energy into her job.
"Did your brother tell you about the project?" she asked as they walked to a small stone barn set behind the cottage.
"I know the place," Danny replied. "Castle Cnoc. We used to go out there when we were teenagers. It was a grand spot for a party if you could avoid getting caught by the peelers."
"The gardai. The cops. People around here think it's haunted, you know."
"Yes, well, a lot has changed," she said, risking a sideways glance. "We've finished with most of the renovations. But we still have a lot of the details to get right. Your brother showed me your portfolio. I like your work. A lot of the original ironwork was stripped out of the place after it was abandoned, but we do have photos from early in the twentieth century and some samples we managed to find. So you'd do some new fabrication and some restoration of existing work. We want to put everything back the way it was."
"It's a big job of work," he said. "That place is huge."
"We haven't done anything to the castle itself. That will be done later. It's the attached manor house that we're working on."
"That's still a big house," he said. "And the last time I saw it, it was a ruin."
"Nine bedrooms. Nearly ten thousand square feet. Built in 1860 with a major addition in 1910. I know we haven't talked money, but I figured you'd want to see what's required before you give me a quote. And I wanted to meet you, to see if we well, if we could work together."
They reached the door to the old stone barn and he stopped and stood in front of her, staring at her in a brazen way. She pressed her hand to her chest, wondering why her heart was suddenly beating so fast. Was it the smile that made his mouth seem more kissable? Or was it the sheen of perspiration that made her long to touch his bare skin? Or was it
"So, this is kind of like a first date for us," he commented. "We're just feeling each other out, trying to decide whether we want to get involved, is that it?"
Jordan felt her cheeks blaze again. This was crazy! She'd dealt with handsome men like Danny Quinn all her adult life. What was it about him that had turned her into a silly teenager? "It's purely a business transaction, Mr. Quinn. It has nothing to do with my feelings for you. Not that I have any feelings at all for you. We just met."
"Oh." He nodded. "Then it would be more like I'm a brasser and you're my customer?"
"A prostitute? A hooker, I think you Americans call it."
"I'm not making you do anything illegal, unless making hinges and gates will get you arrested in Ireland."
"You haven't seen my hinges," he said with a grin. "They're obscenely sexy. Erotic, some would say."
She had to put a stop to thisthis playful, but highly suggestive banter. "Mr. Quinn, I"
"Oh, Jaysus, can we stop with the Mr. Quinn? No one ever calls me mister. And it makes you sound like a snootypants."
"Do you want this job?" she asked, her eyes narrowing in frustration. "Because I get the feeling you're doing everything in your power to get me to turn around and walk back to my car."
He raked his hand through his tousled hair. "Now don't be doing that. I'm just having a bit of fun," he cajoled. "And you're right, I'm not really sure I want to take on a job like this. Copying someone else's work doesn't appeal to my creative sensibilities at all."
"But you'd be a part of a really wonderful project. The castle is going to be restored to its former grandeur."
"Why? So some rich American can live there and pretend he's a nineteenth-century lord, looking down on all the locals? Oh, count me in on that. And while you're at it, do you have a few red-hot pokers you'd like to stick in my eye?"
Jordan stared at him, baffled by his response. She'd gotten the impression from Kellan that his brother really needed the work. But it was clear that Danny Quinn required more than just a decent paycheck before he took a job. He needed inspiration.
"So who is it that bought the old castle?" he asked. "Everyone in the county has been speculating. Whoever it is must have money to burn."
"I'm really not at liberty to"
"If you expect me to take the job, I'm going to want to know who I'm working for."
"You'd be working for me," Jordan said.