Hot Nights in Ballymuirby Dorien Kelly
Playboy businessman Devlin Gilvane arrives in Ballymuir secretly intent on acquiring the beloved historical landmark Muir House for a lucrative real estate venture. No one recognizes him for the threat he is -- except Jenna Fahey, the beautiful American chef who turned Muir House into an international destination for gourmands. Jenna spent years working at the finest European restaurants before establishing her own and even though the lease is coming to a close, she isn't about to give it up without a fight. But even as Jenna thwarts Dev's pursuit, she can't resist his rakish charm. With Dev and Jenna locked in a dispute -- and a game of temptation -- there are bound to be some hot nights in Ballymuir....
Read an Excerpt
It takes a woman to outwit the devil.
-- IRISH PROVERB
On a spring-perfumed Tuesday morning, the devil arrived in Ballymuir, wearing a hand-tailored Saville Row suit and driving a black Porsche 911. Other than Jenna Fahey, none in town seemed to recognize him for who he was. Of course, she was the only one he nearly mowed down in the narrow street outside Spillane's Market.
Though shaken, Jenna survived. The delicate heads of organic lettuce she had charmed Mr. Spillane into holding aside for her were, unfortunately, victims.
"Two years in Ireland and you still don't know which way to look before stepping off the curb," Jenna's best friend, Vi Kilbride, teased as she helped her gather the remains of what was to have been salad at Muir House, Jenna's restaurant. "I'm thinking we'll hire a keeper for you. Male, preferably."
Jenna ignored her friend's comment. She had men enough -- a kitchen filled with them, actually -- talented, hard-edged, beloved lunatics.
The Porsche, whose driver she had seen with a near-death sort of clarity, had pulled into a spot uphill. Her lip curled as she checked out the high-performance, lettuce-killing machine. The car was every bit as out-of-place in this quiet corner of Ireland as she'd been when she'd arrived here two years ago, determined to make Ballymuir a bastion of haute cuisine.
A lone head of lettuce rested atop a car across the street. First looking right, then left, instead of the near-fatal reverse order, Jenna crossed. She lobbed the lettuce to Vi, who stood with a handful of people who'd come out of the market to see what the growlingcar and screaming woman had been about.
Before rejoining them, Jenna wiped her damp and gritty hands on her jeans. The sky was clear now, but it had rained soft and steady just before first light. Promise of even more rain clung to the jagged, purple-hued mountains that held Ballymuir hard to the sea.
Jenna pinned on a smile and resorted to humor, her favorite crutch in stressful moments. "What's the last thing that goes through a chef's mind when she hits a car's windshield?" she called from mid-street.
"This is one of those American jokes, isn't it?" asked Mr. Spillane, rubbing a hand over his thinning gray hair. "Never do understand 'em."
"Her..." As she reached the sidewalk, Jenna scowled, her thoughts interrupted. The Porsche's driver was jogging downhill, straight toward her. She knew his type -- rich, self-important, always in a hurry. "Ass."
Black hair, dark eyes, charcoal suit, he was six feet of breathtaking arrogance come to town. Her body's reaction to his undeniable perfection was chemical. And irrelevant.
"I'm so sorry. Are you all right?" he asked as he closed in on her.
Interesting. German car, British plates, and Irish accent. Quite healthy-looking, too, though an Irishman with a tan was highly suspect -- practically a crime against genetics. Irishmen burned and peeled, or weathered to a ruddy finish. They did not look as though they'd just dropped in from Cap d'Antibes for a visit. For the first time she found her "always in the kitchen" pallor problematic.
"If by all right, you mean not dead, I'm fine." She could do nothing about the pasty tone of her skin -- no doubt made even paler by her brush with death -- so instead she straightened her red sweater.
Not that he would have noticed. After a cursory glance that she imagined was to be sure she had no severed limbs, he had turned his attention elsewhere. This was no great surprise; she wasn't the sort of woman that men tended to linger over. Look...yawn...move on.
"I didn't even see you step out onto the road," he said, pushing back the cuff of his white shirt and checking a chunky gold watch that Jenna knew cost more than most people in Ballymuir could hope to save in a lifetime.
"How could you see anything, traveling at the speed of light?"
"Let me replace the..." He frowned at the crushed green stuff interred in its crate.
"It was organic butter lettuce."
His gaze again flicked over her. "Let me replace it for you."
"That's a fine offer, to be sure," elderly Breege Flaherty opined from her spot next to Vi. Trust Ballymuir's citizens to insist on being part of the action. No neutrality here, even on matters as mundane as trampled produce.
Americans had a few quirks of their own. Being born and raised in Chicago meant that Jenna's southern belle act was shaky, but how was this false Irishman to know?
"You'd do that for me?" she asked, hand neatly settled over her heart.
The eyelash flutter might have been overkill. Vi was making a sound perilously close to gagging. Jenna shot her a quick glare.
The man simply smiled. One slightly crooked eyetooth rescued him from Hollywood perfection. That, and the fact that Jenna found something very calculating about his expression.
"After running you down in the street, it's the least I can do." He reached into his breast pocket and pulled out a billfold.
Ah, cash, the great placater. She should have expected this, but something about the almond tilt of his eyes had briefly disarmed her.
"It's not that simple," Jenna said as crisp new euros appeared. "You see, Mr. Spillane, here, has to order the lettuce a week in advance, then if we're lucky, it actually makes it from Holland."
"We've not much call for the organic stuff, outside of Jenna and one or two other blow-ins with odd ideas about food," the grocer apologized.
Maybe it was because this stranger was a highly unsettling echo of everything she'd been trying to leave behind, or maybe it was because she remained ticked off over her lettuce, but whatever the reason, Jenna upped the ante...just to see what he'd do.
"The wholesaler in Tralee might still have a case," she said. "Or if that doesn't work, there's always Killarney. Two hours -- maybe four -- and we'll be even."
There, she'd called his bluff -- another man of flash but no substance.
His smile didn't waver. With a graceful economy of movement, he stowed the money and flipped open a cell phone. One push of a speed-dial button and he was all business. "Margaret, I'll be needing a case of butter lettuce -- "
When Jenna cleared her throat, he amended, "Make that organic butter lettuce delivered to -- "
"Muir House," Breege's friend, Edna McCafferty, supplied.
"Muir House," the man echoed. "In Ballymuir, and no later than ten thirty, if you could." He smiled. "What would I do without you, Margaret, my love?"
"Pick up your own damn lettuce," Jenna said just under her breath.
"Sorry? I didn't catch that," he said as he returned the phone to his pocket.
She repeated the thought with sterling diction. "I said, without Margaret, you'd have to pick up your own damn lettuce."
Their eyes met. A startling sort of awareness coursed through Jenna. She looked away first, then realized the error of her choice. One never looked away from the devil.
His smile was slow, easy, a thing of damned beauty. "Without Margaret, that, I would. Now if you'll excuse me, I'm late for a meeting. Have a grand day, everyone."
His long stride covered the incline to his car, and Jenna watched his every step.
"So that's Dev Gilvane," Mrs. McCafferty practically crooned as the Porsche disappeared over the crest of the hill.
Dev. At least his parents had recognized what they would be raising.
"I knew his mam, back when. The boy has her eyes."
Only a woman on the passing side of eighty would see Dev Gilvane as anything less than a full-grown man.
"Right, now. You can scarcely remember yesterday's supper, let alone what Kate Connelly's eyes looked like," Breege Flaherty was saying. "She's been off to Dublin thirty years and more."
Edna ignored her friend. "He's staying with Muriel O'Keefe, I hear. Paying for all three rooms so he can have some privacy, too. His name's always appearing in those London gossip columns -- you know, the one filled with premieres and benefits. A prominent financier, they call him. He's nearly a star like that Bono."
"Who?" Mr. Spillane asked.
"You know, that young jackeen with his music."
"You've not seen him out your way, Jenna?"
Trapped between the warp and weft of the conversation, the best Jenna could do was blink.
"They're meaning Dev Gilvane, not Bono," Vi prompted.
Jenna was sure that even after she'd spent a full decade in Ballymuir, she still wouldn't be able to keep up with the free-for-all talk. She became too enamored by the music of the words to catch their meanings. And more and more, she found herself slipping into the cadence of their speech.
"Um...no. Any reason I should?"
"I've read that our boy's quite the grand man with the ladies, too," Mrs. McCafferty said. "I thought maybe he'd have brought a girl to dine -- a model or actress, perhaps?"
"Sorry, but it's just the usual suspects this time of year," Jenna replied with as much sincerity as she could muster. She had no appetite for models, actresses, or playboys. She'd worked hard to escape from her high-maintenance and high-drama family.
Mrs. McCafferty remained undaunted. "We've hope yet. He's told Muriel he's just here on holiday, but she's seen him paging through the real-estate listings over breakfast. Just think of the glamorous types we'd have coming our way if he were to move home."
Breege's silver brows rose into an arch. "Ballymuir's never been his home."
"Ah, but it could be a yearning for his roots. He might be looking to settle in." Edna rubbed her hands together, as though warming to the prospect of glory and glamour strolling the streets of the village.
Breege laughed. "Have you been nipping at the fuisce? Just where would someone grand like Mr. Gilvane be settling in? Our manors are no more than piles of ruin."
"Well, it takes someone mad as an Englishman to bring back one of those old hulks," Mr. Spillane pointed out.
All gazes settled on Jenna.
"Not-not that I'm meaning an insult," the grocer stammered. "It's a fine thing you've been doing with Muir House. Why, I was saying to my Kathleen just the other day that -- "
"It's okay, Mr. Spillane. Really."
And it would be far better for all of them if she could stop Seamus Spillane's torrent of words before he got going. He was a nice enough man, but had no Off switch that she could find.
In any case, Jenna realized that settling at Muir House had been an act of insanity. All the same, now it was home and hearth. What these people didn't know -- not even Vi -- was that the place wasn't exactly hers, as they all assumed. To hear that this Dev Gilvane was sniffing around knotted her stomach.
"I suppose we'd all best get on with our days, too," Vi prompted. Jenna caught her friend's worried glance and reminded herself that she'd do well to hide any hint of emotion around Vi, whose perceptiveness bordered on the unnatural.
Mr. Spillane picked up the case of lettuce. "To the rubbish with this."
"It seems such a waste," said Edna McCafferty as she began to wrestle the box away from the grocer. "Surely with a bit of soaking, there will be some left to save."
Not more than a handful of bruised and ragged leaves, according to Jenna's practiced eye. Still, it was this sort of "something from nothing" attitude that had made Ballymuir thrive while other equally isolated villages diminished to roadside ghosts.
Breege weighed in on Edna's side of the battle. "You'd best let go, Seamus," she said to the grocer. "You know Edna can take you if she's got a mind to. Besides, it seems to me that Jenna should decide the fate of the lettuce. It's bought and paid for, is it not?"
Mr. Spillane released his grip. "Aye."
Edna held her prize tighter.
Jenna issued her verdict. "It's yours, Mrs. McCafferty. Would you like my recipe for chilled lettuce soup? It's a hit during summer teatime."
"Soup? I was thinking just to give the greens a good dollop of mayonnaise and all would be right."
Organic lettuce reduced to a mayonnaise delivery device. If that wasn't the work of the devil, what was?
"I'm sure it will be wonderful," she lied.
"What with mayonnaise isn't?" replied Mrs. McCafferty before she and Breege made their way up the street to the small house they shared next to the surf shop/bookstore.
Jenna and Vi said their goodbyes to Mr. Spillane. Instead of heading toward the harbor, where her studio was located, Vi followed Jenna to her car. Once there, Jenna's friend strategically placed herself between Jenna and the driver's door.
Jenna looked up at Vi, who had several inches on her in height. What she saw didn't improve her morning. Vi's green eyes held a determined glint, that of a warrior readying for battle.
"Don't get started," Jenna warned.
Vi crossed her arms and leaned against the car. "Ah, so it's to be the standard ritual of you denying you're troubled and me prodding until you can take it no more?"
"Nothing's bothering me. I couldn't be better."
Vi flicked a lock of her long red hair over her shoulder. Nothing was permitted to stray out of line when she was in one of these moods. "Right, you are. And it's not just that Dev Gilvane crossed you, either. Though speaking of the man, I don't suppose you noticed that he was incredibly -- "
"Full of himself?"
"Gorgeous, perfect, fine enough to eat."
"Says the vegetarian. Though if you think he's that hot, have at him. He's all yours."
Vi laughed, the sound rich and musical in the cool air. "In any other circumstance, I might, but he's not meant for me, you see?"
"Then who is he meant for, Edna McCafferty?"
Her friend's smile grew broader. "Are you telling me you didn't feel it? The sun shone brighter when you two spoke."
Jenna shifted uncomfortably. Vi's brand of Celtic mysticism was far more entertaining when focused on someone else. Especially because Jenna had felt something -- what, exactly, her cautious heart refused to consider.
"I feel that I'm now twenty minutes behind schedule. I feel that I need to come up with a replacement for my spring salad because we both know that man's never going to get me any lettuce. And I feel that you're just a bit too smug for your own good."
All of which only sharpened Vi's resemblance to a sleek, contented feline, albeit one wearing a bright blue woolen cape. "Smug and optimistic, actually. I'd be tidying my bedroom for a bit of company, if I were you." She stepped aside and motioned at the car with a flourish of her hand. "Now, be off."
Jenna opened her Nissan's slightly rusted silver door. "If I didn't love you like a sister -- "
"You'd hate me like one," Vi finished. "And don't be thinking I've forgotten to ask what's bothering you. I'm just waiting until I have you as a captive audience. I'll visit for a meal and a chat tonight around eight."
Vi waited for no answer before strolling away, and Jenna had none to give. She took solace in knowing that eight o'clock tonight meant closer to nine, since Vi operated on the relaxed concept of Irish Time. Still, whether Vi's interrogation was to be twelve hours off or twelve days made no difference. One bit of dissembling and Vi Kilbride would squash her flatter than the devil had her lettuce.
Dev Gilvane pulled into his parking spot at Cois na Mara. Lovely name for a house that -- like many things from the 1970s -- was best viewed blindfolded. Still, with the nearest hotel over twenty miles away and most bed-and-breakfasts not game for a long-term guest, the odd little place was a godsend. He supposed in time he might grow accustomed to its pseudo-gothic architecture, though he didn't plan to stay long enough to test the theory.
Dev grinned in spite of himself as he neared the strangest aspect in this landscape of the bizarre. The front garden was crowned by a replica statue of Dublin's well-endowed fishmonger and folk-song legend, Molly Malone. He hadn't quite worked up a polite way to ask Muriel O'Keefe, the bed-and-breakfast's owner, what Molly was doing in the yard. It had been bad enough when he'd asked what Cois na Mara meant.
"Why, near the sea, of course," she'd replied in tones thready with shock that an Irishman wouldn't know this.
Perhaps the fact that the sea was a faint sliver of Dingle Bay blue on the horizon had thrown Dev. Or perhaps it was because since leaving Ireland at age eleven, he'd spent no more than the occasional holiday here. His Irish was limited to the stock vulgarities that were the first words a boy learned in any foreign tongue.
All these years later he had to admit to a passing curiosity over what the Irish for "near nothing at all" might be. A more honest name for Muriel's house, if less alluring.
In a gesture rich with unintended irony, his employers at Harwood, a behemoth of a British real-estate concern, had sent him here on assignment as a reward. When settling on Emerald, they'd chosen the wrong Isle. Now, Capri or the Greek Isles came to mind as appealing spots.
Dev reveled in his career as the king of all site finders. Some souls had a nose for wine; his particular gift was a nose for sheer hedonism. He could pinpoint a travel trend and then create a resort to cater to desires a guest didn't even yet know he or she possessed.
When Trevor, his boss and mentor at Harwood, had presented him with this "marvelous opportunity to see home," for the first time ever Dev had given his superiors short shrift. Rather than fully explore a land he'd prefer to avoid, he'd traveled directly to his mother's county of birth.
True, he'd done slightly better than toss a dart over his shoulder at a map of Ireland. Mum was always waxing bloody poetic about the beauty of Kerry. And though he could remember virtually nothing of a childhood trip to Ballymuir, he'd thought that surely something here would suit his needs. And it appeared that something might. All the better for him to be quickly back to his London friends and diversions.
As Dev passed Molly, he gave her a friendly pat on her bronze bum. He bounded up the steps and entered Bric-a-Brac Central. Muriel instantly appeared, wiping her hands on a frilly blue apron she wore over nondescript trousers and top.
"And so how was your morning drive?" she asked.
Before pulling the door shut, he took a speculative glance outside, wondering if the Molly statue weren't rigged to be some sort of advance warning system. He'd never made it past the entry without Muriel materializing and her farmer husband bounding out the back door for the hills beyond.
"Rain-free, at least." As he imagined it wouldn't do much to endear him to Mrs. O'Keefe, he kept to himself the fact that he'd nearly killed one of the locals. And for quite the same reason, he was visiting Ballymuir in the guise of a tourist. The more picturesque a location, the more hostile its residents to the idea of development.
"Can I bring you some tea, or some of my scones?" Mrs. O'Keefe asked. "They're fresh-baked, you know."
Dev pocketed his car keys and edged toward the stairway. "Thanks, but no. You filled me up with your wonderful breakfast."
Muriel cooked meals large enough to feed a legion. He'd had buttery fried eggs, rashers, toast, and juice, and enjoyed it all to excess. Both his tailor and personal trainer were going to go around the bend when he finally made it home.
"Well, if you're needing a bite later, just come to the kitchen and I'll fix you a plate," his hostess called after him.
Dev took the steps two at a time.
"Home," he muttered as he came to the door with the numeral 2 painted on its plain wooden surface.
Once inside, he slipped out of his suit coat and hung it in the wardrobe that sucked up most of the room's space and light. His accommodations were essentially a purple floral closet with delusions of grandeur. Sort of the Royal Suite for Dwarfs...
After debating whether to change into more casual garb, then rejecting the idea because work was work, even when conducted in a backwater, Dev grabbed his briefcase and cell phone, then made his way downstairs.
If he were staying at the Clarence in Dublin, he'd have a suite with an enormous postmodern desk and a minimum of two phone lines. Here, he had a corner of a dining table in the breakfast room. Claiming an addiction to current events, he'd persuaded Mrs. O'Keefe to let him run a line for his computer from the jack in the entryway. In exchange for the access, he'd agreed to cover her telephone bill for the time he was a guest. Muriel's appeared to be a far-flung family. Yesterday, when he'd come back from his soggy and fruitless drive, she'd been chatting it up with a third cousin in Brisbane.
Dev opened his laptop, plugged in the phone line, and got down to work. His favorite Internet search engine took less time to spew a list of results than it had taken him to type in a single name: Jenna Fahey.
Based on what he'd heard about her at the pub the prior night, he hadn't expected Muir House's chef to be so...feminine. Soft brown curls, a full mouth meant for kissing, and hazel eyes bright with wit weren't chief among the attributes he appreciated discovering in a potential adversary.
After noting her face, he'd permitted himself to look no lower. He was a lover of women -- their scents, their laughter, their mystery. This was business, though, and he refused to regard Jenna Fahey as a woman.
He wished for an Amazonian ball-buster, bloody cleaver raised in clenched hand and invective spewing. That sort was all the easier to take in battle. Ah, but he could still defeat the pretty chef, and if circumstances compelled, he would.
Dev leaned against the straight wooden back of his dining chair and closed his eyes. None of these were thoughts conducive to efficient business, and being in Ireland was damn distracting enough. Resolved to be done with this, he began opening links to Web sites and became acquainted with the seamless public persona of Jenna Fahey, a rare two-star chef, restaurateur, and daughter of a rich and privileged American family. It was what went unsaid that intrigued Dev.
He flipped open his cell phone and called his personal assistant. "Margaret, I've just forwarded you a list of Web sites to review. When you've finished, contact our security department regarding the background on Jenna Fahey. And I'd like a reservation for one at Muir House at eight o'clock tonight." He paused, then added, "Not under my own name. Use Malone, Molly Malone."
Dev wasn't sure what motivated this sudden yen for anonymity -- not to mention egregious absurdity -- but he had learned to trust his instincts. They had saved him from the fire more than once.
"Eight o'clock, it is," Margaret replied, unruffled that her employer had morphed into a woman.
He began to launch his usual "What would I do without you?" but the words died in his throat. From the depths of his imagination came a smooth American voice saying, "Why, make your own damn reservation, of course."
Instinct told Dev Gilvane that Muir House and Jenna Fahey were to be anything other than business as usual. And how he dreaded the thought.
Copyright © 2004 by Dorien Kelly
Meet the Author
Dorien Kelly is the award-winning author of The Last Bride in Ballymuir, the first novel in her captivating trilogy set in Ireland from Pocket Books. She is the recipient of both the Romance Writers of America's Golden Heart Award and the Georgia Romance Writers' coveted Maggie Award. A frequent visitor to Ireland, Dorien has followed the coast from Dublin to Dingle and north to Dungloe, and tracked the River Shannon from beginning to end. When not traveling the Irish byways with her family, Dorien can be found in Michigan. For a bit of flavor from her journeys, visit her website at www.dorienkelly.com.
Most Helpful Customer Reviews
See all customer reviews