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Hot Under His Collar

Hot Under His Collar

by Andie J. Christopher

Paperback

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Overview

He’s forbidden fruit and she’s a rule follower, but their connection is something to believe in. 

Father Patrick Dooley joined the clergy to fulfill his mother's dying wish. While it once gave him purpose, he not so sure it’s his calling anymore. But it’s all he’s ever known and he’s not sure what he wants to do with his life if he decides to leave the priesthood. How can he reconcile his faith with his growing desire to live a different life?

Sasha Finerghty was content to admire Patrick from afar while she dated men who were perfect on paper and wrong in real life. But with Patrick’s church in need of funding to keep a community program afloat, she’s just the girl to solve their fundraising problem. Spending more time together only fuels Sasha’s crush on him, who finds a kindred soul in her.

The more Patrick gets to know Sasha, the easier it is for him to see a future unfolding for them. But it will take a leap of faith to turn their friendship into something more, and neither of them are quite ready to make the jump.


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Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780593200049
Publisher: Penguin Publishing Group
Publication date: 07/20/2021
Pages: 304
Sales rank: 162,122
Product dimensions: 5.47(w) x 8.20(h) x 0.83(d)

About the Author

USA Today bestselling author Andie J. Christopher writes edgy, funny, sexy contemporary romance featuring heat, humor, and dirty talking heroes that make readers sweat. A graduate of the University of Notre Dame and Stanford Law School, she grew up in a family of voracious readers, and picked up her first romance novel at age twelve when she'd finished reading everything else in her grandmother's house.

Read an Excerpt

Chapter One

Most people made the mistake of assuming that Sasha Finerghty was a nice girl. This was understandable because she tried to be kind to others, but she’d quit trying to be nice about a year ago. Before that, she’d always followed her mother Moira Finerghty’s rules for comportment for girls. First, one must always be pleasing to the eye. Keep ugly emotions, dark circles, and pimples well-­concealed, and—most important—never do anything that could cause Moira a moment of embarrassment in front of the Ladies Auxiliary Board.

That last one was the kicker. Moira was embarrassed by anything that didn’t fit her extremely precise and exacting—yet constantly shifting—standards for behavior. Moira believed that not only was perfection possible, ­it was the least her daughters could do for her.

Of course, she still looked the part of “one of those nice Finerghty girls.” She was all perfectly pressed sheath dresses and Mary Jane heels with no scuffs. And she never told anyone that she had started experimenting with simple carbohydrates, sleeping until noon, and binge-­watching Lucifer all day.

That would be like a fluffy black kitten going around and telling everyone that she was a ferocious panther. No one would believe her. Even her best friend, Hannah, didn’t know the depths of her depravity and thought of Sasha as some sort of stalwart moral compass.

If it was improper, untoward, fun, or her mother would think her lax-­in-­morals for it, she wanted it. And the list of what her mother thought to be depraved was legion: white after Labor Day, black panties, red panties—anything involving panties, really— dark nail polish, cursing, drinking, smoking pot, and even thinking about having sex outside the confines of a heterosexual marital union blessed by the Holy Church in Rome.

Sasha had come by her taste for the taboo quite honestly—given the propensity of children to rebel against their parents—but had learned to keep it under wraps because it made her life easier.

Forbidden fruit would be Sasha’s downfall. And it would come either in the form of mangoes, which would give her anaphylactic shock, or the insane amount of lust she felt every time she laid eyes on Father Patrick Dooley.

It didn’t matter if he was all the way across the sanctuary of St. Bartholomew’s Catholic Church, and she was working to make sure that flower girls, bridesmaids, and the bride walked down the aisle on cue while simultaneously ensuring that the caterer had shown up at the reception venue.

Every time she saw Patrick Dooley, she went wobbly-­kneed and flushed. There was something about the way the candlelight glinted off the strands of his jet-­black hair and made his green eyes look almost otherworldly. The lilt of his voice as he said the introductory rites caused her to feel indecent things—as though he were whispering dirty nothings right in her ear.

The first time they’d met, her best friend had prepared her.

“He’s a total Father What-­a-­Waste,” Hannah had said.

Sasha hadn’t really taken her seriously. “Oooh, I haven’t seen one of those in the wild for a very long time.”

Hannah had the last laugh when Sasha’s throat had dried out and she’d muttered a hello and made a beeline for the bar when introduced to the man. She—who had been a debutante—lost all sense of manners when she met that man.

Father What-­a-­Waste didn’t come close to encapsulating Patrick Dooley. He had vitality coming out of his pores. The way he smiled and looked everyone directly in the eye as though they were the most important people in the world was captivating.

Sasha didn’t know why he’d become a priest, and none of their mutual friends had shared. She didn’t dare ask, because she didn’t want to seem too curious about the man. But she couldn’t stop imagining the scenarios. And every time she’d seen a hot priest on screen—not that she’d started seeking them out or anything—she’d superimposed Patrick’s face on them in her mind.

She’d never had a thing for a full-­on priest before, and it was extremely taboo, even for her. More mortifying than the fact that she had a crush on him was that their friends had noticed her crush, despite her best efforts to hide it. Her best efforts weren’t very good, apparently.

It was rather annoying, given that she’d recently decided not to covet unavailable men. Aside from being deeply sinful in this case, it was not going to get her any closer to being married. She’d often tried to tell herself that there really wasn’t anything about Father Patrick’s hair, or his eyes, or the craggy dimples in his clean-­shaven cheeks that was so much more handsome than every other man she’d ever met. But that was a lie. It was that he was the epitome of unobtainable, and the taboo of it gave her a kind of rush she couldn’t get from overindulging in reality television and pastries. Definitely not from any of the perfectly blah men she’d met on the three dating apps she was currently juggling like a part-­ time job.

But she had to learn to ignore it if she wanted to get married and have a family. That was something she wanted that she could actually have. And it didn’t matter whether she could summon even a scintilla of the passion aroused by Father Patrick Dooley’s wedding homily or the frisson of something she felt whenever he looked at her, even though he barely looked at her.

She only wanted him with the heat of a thousand suns because (a) he was a priest, and therefore she could never have him, and (b) even if he wasn’t a priest, he wouldn’t acknowledge her existence.

It was just like her first real crush—Jake Sanders in the sixth grade. He was the cutest guy in school, but he persistently ignored her batting her eyelashes and dropping things in front of him. She’d even baked him cookies on his birthday. He’d pointedly thrown them in the trash, and somehow it had only made her want him more.

And her crush on Patrick was eerily reminiscent of her lusty imaginings about her first-­year English professor—a Canadian former professional hockey player with a rakish scar from a split lip to show for it. And the way he talked about books by old, dead, cis white men made them seem almost interesting at the time.

Patrick made God seem more interesting than all the Catholic schoolteachers, theology professors, elderly Fathers, and relatively nubile seminarians she’d met in her whole life had.

It was a miracle that she made it through the ceremony without interrupting the proceedings with an audible, wistful sigh. She knew she’d made cow eyes at Father Patrick the whole time because Hannah rolled hers as they left the church for the reception venue.

“Thank God he won’t be at the reception; otherwise you would combust.” Although Hannah had no clue as to the depths of her crush, she’d sussed out that Sasha had a crush on Patrick. Hannah thought it was cute rather than a ticket straight to hell and made jokes about it. Sasha let her do so because getting her to stop would require her to reveal how deeply serious her pants feels for the good priest truly were. She would never survive that sort of humiliation, so she kept her mouth shut.

But she agreed that they were lucky Patrick was not joining the celebration at the reception. They had way too much work to do, what all with making sure no one got gluten who wasn’t supposed to get gluten and that the mic cut off before the mother of the groom’s toast got way too racy for the mother of the bride.

Some people, including her family, thought Sasha’s work was frivolous. But they’d helped her and Hannah with start-­up cash because she couldn’t very well be idle until she got married and had lots of babies, as every Finerghty woman had done for generations and generations. But Sasha derived great satisfaction from her work. Since they didn’t work funerals, Good Time Girls’ Events was in the business of harvesting joy. And that had value.

She wished her parents could see that, even though she was glad to be far, far away from them.

Sasha was gathering the favors that several guests had left on the tables when a she felt a tap on her shoulder. She jumped, because most of the guests were bidding the bride and groom farewell out front.

She quickly turned and saw one of the groomsmen smiling down at her. Immediately and problematically, she compared him to Patrick. Where Patrick was dark ­haired and green ­eyed, this man was blond­ haired and brown­ eyed. He also had the unsettling tan of someone who spent entirely too much time in the outdoors without sunscreen. Where she and Patrick shared the pallor of two people who spent most summer afternoons cloistered inside with a book as Gutenberg intended, this man looked like the sort who pursued beach volleyball or—shudder—hiking.

“Hi, I’m Nathan.” He held out his hand, and she looked at it for a long moment before offering her own.

“Sasha.” She really didn’t know what else to say, but she knew she shouldn’t remark on how white and straight his teeth were. The feral part of her wanted to do that. But the lady that her parents raised bit her lip to stay silent.

He apparently thought her lip bite was charming, because his smile got wider.

After another silent beat, she asked, “Did you misplace something?” She often had to gather a plethora of lost-­and-­found items after wedding receptions with an open bar—umbrellas, purses, one time even a thong from an empty coat closet.

“No, I . . . uh . . . was wondering.” As he spoke, Sasha felt a level of dread. He was going to ask her out. This wasn’t the first time it had happened while she was on the job, and it wasn’t the first time Sasha had craved the protection of Hannah’s big, sparkly ring. Between that and a positively wicked death stare, groomsmen and drunken wedding guests always left her alone.

Right now, patiently waiting while Nathan spat out his request for her number so that she could give it to him because she would feel guilty if she didn’t, she wished she had half the chutzpah that her best friend did.

“I was wondering if I could get your phone number.”

There it went. “Oh, uh . . .” She did this thing—it was automatic—where she looked down coyly and stared at him from beneath her lashes. Her sisters did it too. So had her mother and generations of women before them. “Of course.”

Nathan let out a breath when she said that, signaling that he’d been nervous that she might refuse. Sasha would never be so mean as to turn down such a polite query for her phone number. If he turned out to be creepy or boring, she could always block him later. Nathan was perfectly handsome, with a nice smile, just about tall enough—sort of a dreamboat if polite, handsome, blond men who were just about tall enough made her feel anything at all.

His smile got even bigger, and she mirrored it. It wasn’t his fault that his earnestness deflated her lady boner like a cold shower or reading entries from the r/relationships subreddit did.

She gave him her phone number and saved his when he texted her.

And she only got a little bit sad when he texted her to set up a date for the following Thursday night.

When Father Patrick Dooley joined the priesthood, he’d thought he’d struggle with the vows of poverty, celibacy, and obedience. Especially the celibacy one. But what he didn’t anticipate were his struggles with accounting and paperwork. His issues with the vow of celibacy were entirely theoretical, and he could normally avoid the focus of his inappropriate thoughts. His problems with accounting and administrivia were very immediate.

Sitting in hour three of a financial briefing from Sister Cortona, he thought he might just up and quit then. Not because the stout, fifty-­something nun wasn’t lovely—well, not that anyone who’d ever met her would tell her she was anything less than a shining rose of a bride of Christ—but because he’d much rather be hearing confessions or tending to the sacristy or even flagellating himself with a long run in the summer heat.

Hell, he’d rather be reading to the pre-­K class, even though their teacher thought that Hop on Pop was way too violent for the three-­ and four-­year-­olds. The chaotic energy of small children was never boring.

As Sister Cortona droned on about the level of tithing, for some reason he flashed back on Sasha Finerghty fluffing the bride’s veil before she walked down the aisle yesterday. He should definitely not be thinking about how lovely Sasha had looked in a pastel dress that hugged her small waist. Or how her thick, dark ponytail would feel like silk in his hands.

He was getting fidgety, flexing and unflexing his fist.

The light in his office—all somber mahogany paneling and stained-­glass windows—was scant. The smell of old frankincense and the mineral tinge of holy water was almost too relaxing, and he was worried that he would nod off on the sister again. She wouldn’t hesitate to smack him across the back of the head— ­hierarchy of the Church be damned—so he did his best to stay awake.

When she paused to take a breath, he asked, “Is this going to get less depressing?”

She looked over the top of her gold wire-­rimmed glasses and sheaf of papers that somehow spelled out the fate of all the parish’s programs in a language of chicken-­scratched numbers that he would never be able to decipher if something—God forbid— happened to Sister Cortona. “I’m afraid not, Father.”

Then she did the thing where she somehow flattened and pursed her lips at the same time, and he knew that he would have to double up on his heartburn meds that night or be breathing into a paper bag by the end of the meeting.

He’d expected to feel like he was in the world and not of the world when he’d become the pastor of St. Bartholomew’s a few years ago. He’d been almost fresh out of seminary, but the Church was so starved for priests—see the vow of celibacy—that he’d gotten his own parish much sooner than he would have in decades past.

And he was lucky. He was in his neighborhood and could see his family whenever he wanted. Being close to his dad and brother eased just a bit of the loneliness that he could never admit to anyone. The loneliness that he felt whenever he wasn’t saying Mass or ministering to someone.

The administrivia and the feeling that he was never quite a part of real life were a complete drag, though. And somehow, the administrivia made his ever-­present loneliness worse.

As Sister Cortona started to speak, he forced himself outside his head and back into the gloomy office. “The budget shortfall will force us to shut down the pre-­K program—”

If anything could yank his brain back from his maudlin thoughts about how he should be content but wasn’t, it was hearing that they would have to shut down the pre-­K program.

He’d taken ownership—even the Catholic Church employed consultants who said things like “taking ownership”—of creating the program for low-­income children when he’d started at St. Bartholomew’s. It was open to all the neighborhood kids, regardless of whether they were members of the parish, with tuition on a sliding scale. And it had been a resounding success. Kids who had spent two years with them were reading earlier and seeing higher math test scores in the first and second grades. The program had done more to burnish the Church’s reputation locally and bring parishioners back to services than anything the diocese had done over the past few years.

Decades of scandalous, harmful, traumatizing behavior by priests had thinned out the ranks of the faithful and those who answered the call to minister. Patrick believed that initiatives like the pre-­K program, things that actually helped people in the community, could turn the ship around. The fact that people in the neighborhood surrounding St. Bart’s now knew a priest who wasn’t a total creep was actually getting butts in pews. The pre-­K program was a more important part of his ministry than saying Mass.

Losing it would be devastating, and he couldn’t let it stand. “How much do we need?”

“We’re twenty-­five thousand dollars short when it comes to paying for the teacher’s salary and the necessary supplies.”

“Shit,” he said quietly.

“Language, Father.” Sister Cortona gave him the same look that Sister Antoninus used to give him and his best friend, Jack, when they threw spitballs during class. It was withering.

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