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At eighteen, Mara O’Banyon drove to New York, determined to become a chef. As the luck of the Irish would have it, she was discovered by world-renown Executive Chef and restaurant mogul, Jacques Bernaut. Under his tutelage, she soars to stardom in his restaurants, even surpassing the skill of her mentor/lover. But when her father dies, she returns home to attend his funeral and remembers what it was like to have family. On visiting the family pub, Shenanigans, ideas of how to create a fabulous menu swirl in her mind…if only she can get past the sexy but stubborn Jake O’Leary, the current cook/bartender. The man is trouble with a broad-shouldered, handsome-faced, hot capital T.
Jake has worked at Shenanigans since he was released from the county jail. A self-trained chef, he’s built the bar's menu into what it is today. The last thing he needs is some New York-trained chef to boss him around in his own kitchen—no matter how gorgeous she might be. However, it isn't his kitchen. It's hers. When attraction flares the first day they cross knives in the kitchen, he falls for her—hard. He just needs to make her see he’s better than her fancy French boyfriend in New York. Easy right?
When Mara returns to New York to settle her affairs, she finds Jacques isn't so willing to say good-bye. To her shock and dismay, he holds her hostage with not only his iron-clad contracts but with threats to her family as well. Mara wants to break free, but at what cost? When Jake learns of her desperate situation, he’ll do anything to save her. But will his interference lead to dangers neither of them could have foreseen?
In this Kindle new release Saving Shenanigans series you witness the wits and determination of the third O’Banyon sister, Mara, as she tries to free herself from the demons of her past and tries to build a future including love and trust. Mara is one of three inspiring women in this series as she gains confidence and personal growth toward reconciling what it means to be loved. Mixing a secret past, the mob, and an insane chef is a recipe for mayhem.
Read the first chapter here for free!
Mara leaned against the bar to slip off her Jimmy Choos. Her sister Meg’s wedding had gone off without a hitch, with the couple departing for a quick honeymoon in Orlando. She was proud of herself. She along with her other sister, Mabe, had pulled together a wedding in three weeks in between Meg’s chemo treatments. The timing couldn’t have been better.
Tears sprang to her eyes when she remembered the undying love on both Meg and Rod’s faces as they’d pledged their lives to each other. Mara, not one to dwell on the negative, still accepted the fact Meg was fighting ovarian cancer. She still had a long way to go to recovery, but at least she had someone she’d adored all her life to support and love her through it.
Sipping her glass of champagne, she sat on a bar stool. The rest of the wedding guests had made their way to Shenanigans, her family’s pub, to have themselves a true céle, a rip roaring Irish celebration, with family and friends. Some reminisced about Shane, Mara’s father, telling stories past and present, others drank. Singing always accompanied a good céle. Shenanigans was not in short supply of good singers either. Several men stood together, their beer mugs in hand, regaling the crowd with a loud Irish drinking song. It warmed Mara’s heart to see the joy filling the bar, which was still under construction from the explosion earlier in the year. One which almost cost her youngest sister, Mabe, her life. What a year it had been. In a few weeks, they’d celebrate Christmas followed by the dawning of a new year.
Mara took another sip of her drink, reflecting on the last six months. What a whirlwind. She along with her sisters had lost their father; Mabe had fought the mob to win back the family pub—which had nearly been lost to their father’s gambling debt—Meg was successfully fighting, her battle with cancer, and they’d be planning another wedding in the coming year for Mabe. She huffed out a breath. Wow, who’d have thought one family could survive so much? But we’re O’Banyons. That’s what we do. We stick.
The oldest friend of her father, Gavin McCain, approached. His white hair, normally meticulous, was mussed, his cheeks pink from dancing. His blue eyes sparkling with mirth, he plopped on the stool next to her. “Ah, Mara, me darlin’.” His words came out a bit slurred, each syllable carrying a puff of alcohol. “It’s a fine thing you and Mabe did for your sister. A fine thing, indeed. I’ve never seen our Meg looking so happy.”
Mara smiled at the older man. He’d been a part of their family ever since she could remember. Through all the rough times of her own father’s drinking and after their mother’s death, Gavin had been a rock they could rely on. She reached for his hand, pulled it to her chest, squeezed. “She did look happy, didn’t she? Even if things go wrong for her, at least she and Emma aren’t alone.”
Gavin hugged her tight. “She was never truly alone. She had you, your sister. Didn’t she? But I know what you mean. There’s nothing like having a special someone to share it all with.” In all these years, he’d never lost the Irish lilt in his voice. Mara loved hearing it.
“It went well, didn’t it? The wedding, I mean?”
“Aye, it did that. I was so happy to have gotten home in time. What an honor it was to walk Meg and her angel of a daughter down the aisle. Shane missed out, I’ll tell ya.”
Mara made a rude noise. “He’d have been too drunk to do it if he’d been here.”
“Now, don’t speak ill of the dead, my darlin’. I know he wasn’t the finest father on the earth, but he loved you girls.”
“You’d have never guessed it by me. I knew in my heart of hearts he never thought I was his. He said so enough times.”
Gavin caught her gaze, held it. His eyes were the nicest shade of blue, but they held pain. “It was the drink that made him say it, Mara. He knew what was his. It broke his heart when you ran off to New York.”
“Ha.” Mara laughed. “He must have gotten over it pretty quick because he never came to look for me.”
“Ah, but there’s where you’re wrong. He had me hire an investigator to look for you.”
Mara’s jaw dropped. “You never told me.”
“You never asked.”
“He must not’ve been a very good investigator.”
“Oh, he did well enough. I knew where you were, who you were with, and what you were up to.”
Stunned for the second time, Mara didn’t know what to say.
“Close your mouth there. You look like a fish floundering on the deck.” Gavin leaned against the bar, stretching out his long legs. “Yes, I knew where you were all along. I just never told Shane.”
Finding her voice, Mara said, “What? Why not?”
“I’ll tell you. I knew things were never what they should’ve been between the two of you. Once I knew you were safe, I left it up to you to come back when you were ready.”
“Didn’t he ever ask after me? Wonder what the investigator found?”
“He did, on occasion. I told him we were still looking. I told him what I just told you. Sometimes a child had to go away to find themselves. I knew if I told him we’d found you, he’d come after you. I figured you needed your space.”
Mara sucked in a deep breath, fought back the tears. It astounded her how much Gavin understood her. She never knew. She’d always thought of him like an uncle. Someone who was there if she and her sisters needed him, but she never guessed he understood her family so well. “Wow,” she breathed.
Gavin glanced down at her bare feet, stood then yanked her off the stool. “You owe me a dance, my love.”
“Oh, no. I—” Mara protested, but Gavin wouldn’t take no for an answer.
He swung her out on the dance floor just when the band started a full Irish jig. Mara kept up with him toe for toe, kick for kick. She danced around him, with him, beside him as they pounded the floor. Guests gathered, clapping and cheering. When the music stopped, they were both winded but grinning.
“I’d forgotten how much fun jigging is,” Mara gasped.
Mabe stepped up, hugged her sister. “God, what a sight. I’d forgotten what a great dancer you are. Well done.”
Mara laughed. “I’m not so sure it was award winning, but it was fun.” She turned to the older man. “You okay there, Gavin?”
He wheezed, waving a hand at her. “I’ve got to sit before I fall flat on my arse.”
While he made his way to a nearby table, the crowd praised him. He waved them off, but Mara could tell he was pleased with the attention. She was about to sit herself, when Jake stepped up behind her. The band began a slow tune.
“May I?” Jake held out his hand for a turn.
Mara hesitated. This is trouble with a capital T. I should have known he’d ask me to dance. Damn. Why didn’t I leave earlier?
“Oh, come on. It’s just a dance.” His grin spread. Mara couldn’t resist his handsome face. She couldn’t explain it, but the ruffian appealed to her in his Neanderthal kind of way. After being with the refined Frenchman, Jacques, for ten years she didn’t understand her attraction to Jake. He was the exact opposite of the chef who’d found her in New York, given her a career, and would soon yank it away from her.
Grabbing her hand, he pulled her close. “You look like you’re trying to decide whether or not to push the button on a nuclear warhead. I’m not that dangerous. Come on.”
Oh, if you only knew, boyo. You’re too freaking cute for your own good. But Mara didn’t pull away. She let him tug her against his broad chest, wrap one arm around the small of her back, while the other hand held hers close to his shoulder. His heart beat against her breast. The woodsy fresh scent he always wore filled her senses. Her stomach did a little flip. She fought against it. She had no time for a man. She needed to go to New York and get her life in order. She knew she was needed here for a little while longer, but, after her last very uncomfortable encounter with Jacques several weeks ago, she also needed to face him in New York.
She’d told the man who’d taken her in over ten years ago it was over, but she was under contract with him for at least two restaurants. Maybe Gavin could help her untangle herself from the mess—Jacques wouldn’t give in without a fight. He was nothing if not possessive, and she’d made him a great deal of money over the years. Pride warmed her at the thought of the popularity she’d gained in New York. People flew in from all over the country just to eat food she prepared.
While Jake whirled her around the floor in a slow waltz, she glanced around the pub. It was full of happy faces, couples celebrating the joy of a wedding. It was home in a way home had never been before. Her last memories before she went to New York were anything but happy. Her father had treated her like a bastard child all her life, and even though she’d felt guilty about it, she’d run at her first opportunity, never looking back. The news Gavin had just shared with her still amazed her. She planned to get him alone and sober very soon. She needed to know what more there was to the story. There was no way she believed her father had asked him to look for her. In her heart of hearts, she believed Gavin had looked for her on his own. It touched her.
As Jake twirled her with one hand, she glanced into his face. She followed his lead with ease, marveling at what a smooth dancer he was.
“You know, for a caveman, you’re not a half-bad dancer.”
Jake chuckled. “It’s because I’ve had several beers and a few glasses of champagne. Don’t get used to it.”
“Had no plans for that,” she quipped.
Before she realized it, he’d worked them over to an area just to the right of the dining room away from the dance floor. The music wound down and, on the last bar, he lowered her into a dip. She stared into those whiskey-brown eyes, her heart thumping. He lifted her upright, his gaze never leaving hers. Before she realized what he was about to do, their lips met. Nothing too demanding, just a soft gentle kiss, but what it did to her blood was anything but gentle. Passion flared in her body, taking her off guard. Before her brain could stop her mouth, she returned the kiss. His lips were warm and firm, demanding hers to part, which they did. When his tongue dipped in for a quick plunder, she lost all feeling in her legs almost slipping boneless to the floor.
As quick as it started, Jake broke the kiss, leaving her breathless and trembling. It was a good thing he’d backed her into the bar, or she’d have fallen flat on her own ass. Blinking, she stared at the lopsided grin on his face. Passion flared to anger at his smug expression. How could he take advantage of me like that?
The romantic mood of the night, the champagne, Gavin’s emotional news…all of it had made her vulnerable. The cocky son of a bitch had swooped right in, taking her off guard.
Reaching back, she slapped him hard across the face then escaped toward the unfinished kitchen.
“What the hell was that for?” He called after her, but she continued toward the exit without looking back.
Damn him, damn him, damn him. He had no right to kiss me. Who the hell does he think he is? I am not some bar slut he can just plunder at will.
The bare-naked truth of it was the feelings he’d sparked with one kiss had scorched her soul in a way no one had ever managed before. The iron-bar control she’d always maintained had slipped away from her, leaving her vulnerable and somewhat terrified.
She needed to get away for a while. It might be the perfect time to go to New York to deal with Jacques. Then, when she returned home, she could put Jake back in his corner where he belonged…far away from her heart.
Feeling a little steadier, she walked up the street toward home then realized she’d left her shoes at Shenanigans. She blew out a deep breath of frustration. As she mounted the steps to the front porch, she noticed a gray sedan slowly driving down the street. She couldn’t see the driver through the tinted windows, but she shivered. Who is that? Why are they driving so slow? The thought it might be a stalker creeped her out. She unlocked the door, jumped inside, then slammed it shut. Approaching the living room window, she pulled the curtains back to peer outside. The car continued slowly past the house then turned at the corner.
“Okay, that was weird.” She headed up the stairs to take a hot bath and forget the entire evening—except for Meg’s wedding. That she would never forget.