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Hard Irish Luck

Hard Irish Luck

Weldon Brothers Series

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Hardcore, fast-car-and-wild-women bachelor, Jared Weldon, is sure McKenna Construction is being underhanded. That is the only way the company could be under bidding him and edging his company to bankruptcy. He goes with his twin and business partner to a roadside bar intent on milking information about R. McKenna’s practices from the man’s crew. Before he can make the first connection, a woman catches his eye and he ends up in a bar fight with her ex, but not before he steals a forbidden, roll-on-the-bar-floor kiss from her and comes close to having the best five seconds of his life. Little did he know, as his hard Irish luck would have it, he was holding his competitor in his arms.

In the three years since her divorce, Rocky McKenna has kept her nose to the grindstone and dodged any and all emotions or physical entanglements with the opposite sex. She has more important things to do in life. Despite setbacks and tragedy, she has worked hard to make McKenna Construction thrive during difficult times. But now, her body is clamoring for more and Jared’s masterful kiss is the spark that ignites her suppressed passions.

The day after the kiss Jared hunts Rocky McKenna down at the jobsite she outbid him on. He isn’t even sure what his is going to say, he just knows he has to see her again. He shows up in time to save her from being seriously injured by an “accident” on the job, but is slightly injured himself. He is sure someone is out to kill her. Rocky takes Jared for medical help, and he decides he’ll use the guise of his older brother’s security company and convinces her she needs his bodyguard services.

Rocky is sure her life isn’t in danger, but she can’t resist having more time with this man who has swept her off her feet. The meeting of their passions, and Jared’s intense love making, take her to new sexual heights and opens the door to her solitary heart. But more “accidents” occur and it isn’t hard Irish luck at work. Suddenly, as people around her die, Rocky and Jared are in a battle for their lives as they race to uncover the deadly secrets lurking beneath the surface of her seemingly normal life. Both Jared and Rocky are in for some hard lessons about life and love, but will they discover the treacherous murderer in their midst too late to survive?

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I love Jared and Rocky. An exciting thing about Hard Irish is the extraordinary story. There is such a mystery surrounding what is happening to Rocky. For her this stuff is coming out of nowhere and the reader gets to discover the culprit along with Rocky. It is so much fun; I was completely enthralled with this story. Ms. Saints impresses me with her magical weaving of beautiful romance and a phenomenal plot. Hard Irish moved me in many ways. The romance between Rocky and Jared is amazing. The mysterious plot kept me on the edge of my seat and revisiting the Weldon family is icing on the cake. Hard Irish is a MUST READ and I’m Joyfully Recommending it! ~ Miranda – A Joyfully Recommended Read


Night Owl Romance Reviews TOP PICK – 4.5 Stars
Jennifer Saints is on my must-read list. Her ability to weave together a suspenseful plot rich in history with a romance that steals my heart has me coming back for more with each new release. With action packed drama and intense dialogue her stories keep the pages turning and the imaginations soaring. Hard Irish met all my expectations and has me wanting more of the Weldon brothers already! ~ Night Owl Romance

Chapter One

“We’re screwed.” Bleary eyed and muttering, Jared Weldon stumbled across the spacious living room, giving the bottle of Macallan 18 on the coffee table a wide berth. This morning’s “hair of the dog” urge was stronger than ever and he had to be at church in less than an hour.

Maybe it was a good thing he was being forced to go back to beer. The expensive crap kicked his ass harder every time he tangled with it. His sensory circuits were under attack. Music piped from the condo’s sound system. Gulls over the Savannah screeched. A passing tanker honked a warning to a Sunday boater and the way-too-bright sun stabbed daggers at him from across the Inter-coastal. The jackhammer throb in his head doubled.

Fishing the remote from the couch, he activated the window blinds, killing the sun’s glare then silenced the seductive tones of Luther Vandross oozing over the condo’s sound system. Vandross turned chicks on and both he and his twin James, were all about that. The music usually played all night, not only setting the mood but effectively drowning out each other’s bedroom activities.

He followed the trail of discarded clothes to James’s bedroom door, grimacing at the odor of stale booze and left out food hanging in the air. Damn, the line of clothes seemed to go on and on. Either he was seeing double or what’s her name had had on more than he thought when he saw her all over James last night.

Jared winced. But then, his own date, April, had had his full attention. At least from the neck down. Or was her name June?

Hell, maybe that’s why she left in a huff. Who was named after a month of the year anyway? There were twelve of them, too easy to get it wrong.

He knocked on James’s door and thought it was just as well that April-June had left. He hated morning-afters. Hated pretending the sex was great and that he was looking forward to round two. Hated getting phone numbers he’d never call. Hated that by the next weekend both parties would be on the hunt again.

“Wake up, bro! The ceremony is in forty-five minutes.” Getting no answer, Jared pounded harder. Nonstop. Something he knew pissed his twin off to no end.

James snatched open the door, naked, and ready for a fight. “What the hell?”

A mirror image of himself, James looked just as rough and wasted as Jared did. And not for the first time Jared wondered what in the hell had happened to them both. Somewhere over the past eighteen months they’d lost their ass in more ways than one.

“The ceremony for Jake and Jason is in forty-five minutes and we lost the bid for the Drake Hotel renovation. E-mail came through this morning.”

“We had that bid in the bag. How in the hell?”

“Who else? Those damn vultures from across the river again. McKenna Construction.”

“Santa baby, I’m cold.” The purr floated from inside the bedroom.

James winced.

“Santa baby? Really? It’s July.”

“What can I say? I come bearing gifts and she’s Aussie. They like their Christmases hot.”

Jared couldn’t see the bed from where he stood, but the ceiling fan whirling with a pair of red fur-trimmed thongs hanging on a blade told a story that he wasn’t about to ask the details on. “We’ll talk later. Meanwhile, move ass.” He nodded to the bedroom. “Make that plural. We’ve got less than forty minutes to be at the church.”

James grumbled. “I’ll hurry. Don’t know why we’ve got to swear before God and country that we’ll take care of Jake and Jason. Jackson and Jesse know were good for whatever it takes. Nothing’s going to happen to them anyway.”

“I agree. Something about getting hitched and downloading a kid has scrambled their brains.”

Thirty minutes later a suited, limping James smacked a kiss on his Aussie then climbed shotgun into Jared’s Porsche. Jared spun out of the parking lot trying to gauge how much time it would take to get to the church. He loved the feel of speed, precision, and power at his fingertips.

Suddenly, a pang of reality gripped him by the short hairs.

Without the Drake job he and James would have to cut things to the bare minimum, which meant this ride had to go back into the leasing company tomorrow and he’d have to eat the penalty.

The crash in the economy had killed the momentum of Weldon Estates, their high-end housing development on the Savannah River. New building had slowed to a crawl and Shamrock Construction needed another job to meet payroll for their crew.

James buckled in. “Elbow me if I drift off during the ceremony.”

“Christmas last all night?”

He grunted. “Remind me to think twice before sleeping with a Pilates expert again.”

“You said flexible was right up your alley.”

“Flexible is one thing. Planking during sex is another. And by the way, it does not prolong an orgasm. Nips the sucker short. I’ve got kinks in places I didn’t even know I had. “

“I’m sorry I asked.”

“I’m sorrier.”

“Do I look as hung over as you?”

James squinted his way. “All I see is a blur, but no worries. There’s a sinister plot afoot anyway.”

Jared frowned at James’s incoherent jump in subjects. He hoped his brother could keep it together during the church ceremony. “Agreed. McKenna Construction’s has practically put us out of business. There’s something off about the whole thing. I cut that bid to the bone.”

“McKenna? What does he have to do with our nephews?”

“What sinister plot are you talking about?”

“Not long before Jesse and Jackson asked us to do this, I overheard mom complaining to them that we weren’t just living high on the hog, but we were living on a high wild hog and she’d wrung a hole in her dishrag. I’ve a feeling this ceremony is a way to hog-tie us back to Earth. Be good examples for our nephews and stuff.”

“Hell, why didn’t you say something?” A vise squeezed Jared’s conscience.

“I figured it would blow over. It’s not like we’re screwing our lives up like Jesse and Jackson, right? We’re just doing what bachelors do. Enjoying playing the field, home run after home run.”

“Right.” Jared couldn’t argue with that logic. Both Jesse and Jackson had run the rough edge of nowhere and had barely escaped its dark side. Still, finding out that he and James had worried their mother as badly as Jesse and Jackson had didn’t sit well in his gut. Either that or his whiskey binge was turning him green. He upped the AC and sucked in a deep breath.

“You okay?” James squinted his way again.

“No. We’ve got mortgage and payroll due shortly and no job. The only possible bright spot is that couple coming tomorrow to see our spec house. But even if they buy, we’ll only be out of hot water temporarily. ”

“Then we’ll cash in the last CD and make damn sure we get the bid on that new bank they’re building north of town.”

Jared shook in his head and winced at the increased throb in his temple. Was he having a nightmare? Or was James that much out of it lately? “Reality check, bro. We cashed the last CD last month. And the bank job? Let’s just say that when Jesse carted Alexi off from marrying Roger, I don’t think the Holsteads are interested in dealing with the Weldons on any level.”

James groaned. “We cashed the last CD?”

“Yeah. Remember? We discussed it the Friday you and what’s her name were heading out to Vegas for the weekend.”

James upped the AC. Now gulping for cool air, too. “Shit. And I blew ten grand on that trip. Why didn’t you ream my ass?”

Jared shrugged. “Thought we’d be fine. Always have been before. At least until that McKenna outfit moved in on our territory. How in the hell are they underbidding us?”

“I don’t know. As you said, our bid was to the bone.”

“Bet you anything they’re using illegals for labor.” Jared turned onto East Bay Street and headed north passing through Savannah’s historic district. He loved his hometown. The history. The architecture. Its Old World flavor was like a good aged scotch, rich and mellow. He loved the fact that he and James added to that flavor with the quality of their construction and in the designs of their housing development. They did each job with pride and each house plan they’d developed borrowed some of the look and features of Savannah’s historic homes and plantations. The thought they could lose everything they’d worked so hard for was soul sickening.

James nodded his agreement. “Using illegals and substituting lower quality material when no one is looking seems to be the only way they can undercut us. We should check with our guys and see if they know any of McKenna’s crew. Couldn’t hurt to ask a few questions.”

Jared smacked his palm on the steering wheel as he hung a right toward the church. “Damn right. It’s time we take this bull by the horns before it gores Shamrock Construction into bankruptcy. Somehow I’m going to find out what McKenna’s game is.”

“If we can prove they’re up to no good, then we can get the Drake Hotel bid back.”

“Good point. After church today, I’ll go check out their last job.”

“You mean after the BBQ. No way dad will let us skip-out again. We missed the last family shindig.”

“We did?”

“Yeah, remember yachting with those party heiresses?”

Jared groaned as he pulled into the church parking lot. “You mean that trip we swore we’d forget ever happened.”

“That be the one.” James opened his car door.

Blinking bleary-eyed at the bright blue sky, Jared cautiously stepped out of the Porsche and gauged the distance to the entrance. Lightning bolts out of the blue did happen. “Bringing that weekend up before walking into church is just asking for God to strike us dead.”

James rolled his eyes, but glanced at the sky and picked up his pace anyway.

That weekend he and James had cruised with rich and infamous jet-setters. The very sketchy memories of booze, drugs, and orgy-like sex had left them both knowing they’d never cross the drug-using multiple-partner line again. The old adage “when in Rome do like the Romans” only worked out well if you want to be Roman. Jared walked into church in a cold sweat, feeling he’d pass out in any second. The smiled plastered on James’s green face said he was feeling the same.

Jesse and Jackson were standing just inside and from the instant glint in both their gazes, Jared knew his and James’s hangovers were readily apparent. Their older brothers walked over and slapped him and James hard on the back.

The jackhammer in Jared’s head worsened. Jesse grabbed his arm, leading him toward the sanctuary. Jackson strong-armed James.

Jesse was livid. “The ceremony starts in five minutes. Not only are Jackson and I going to beat you and James to a pulp for this, but Lexi and Nan can’t wait to dig their nails into you both, and behind them are Mom and Dad. Couldn’t you two have stayed sober for just one night?”

Jared regretted not having that “hair of the dog” drink this morning. “Relax. We’re here and we’re sober,” he muttered.

Jesse’s returning gaze cut deep. “You’re barely sober and as for being here, you’re not. In fact you are so far gone I question whether you could do anything to help Jake were something to happen to me.”

Jared stumbled. Not from the booze, but from the gut-slicing pain in his heart. It wasn’t Jesse’s doubts that hurt, it was the ugly truth behind them. Jesse’s grip tightened and Jared sucked in a deep breath. He stepped into the church and saw the “Come to Jesus” meeting facing him in the look in his parent’s eyes. There was hell to pay and it was coming out of his hide today.

He couldn’t say he didn’t deserve it, but knowing that did nothing to ease the bite and the shame. Jared glanced at James and knew without a doubt Jackson had cut deep, too, but rather than contrite, James looked pissed, as if he’d just had an injustice shoved down his throat.

For once in their close-knit life, Jared found no solace in the fact that he and James were in the dog house together. His world was in such a state that he wouldn’t wish it on his worst enemy, but somehow he’d led James down this road to ruin. If memory served him right, he’d been the first one to start blazing their bachelor’s trail. James had just followed suit and was thoroughly enjoying the status quo.

Not even God could stop the train wreck that was about to happen today.

The organ blared. The congregation stood and Jared blinked at the sun piercing through the churches arched windows as it highlighted an empty cross and cast the pastor into shadows. The pastor spoke and Jared’s mind scrambled for a foothold in quicksand as more and more of his and James’s wild nights streamed like an X-rated movie in his head. He wasn’t sure how much time passed but when Jesse gripped his elbow, he knew the moment had arrived. He and James were led to the front of the church and then faced the congregation. All eyes were on them and Jared had little doubt that a scarlet letter was stamped in the middle of his forehead.

“Dearly beloved, we are gathered today not only to celebrate the gift of life, but to reaffirm our commitment to family. The love a parent has for their child is a deep and abiding one. It is a love that sacrifices and it is a love that never rests in its desire to provide and secure the best possible future. The greatest gift a parent can have is the assurance there are others within the child’s life who will care for the child should they be unable to do so. Today Jesse and Alexi Weldon and Nancy and Jackson Weldon have chosen Jared and James Weldon, brothers and brothers-in-law of whom they have a high regard for, to take a special place in the lives of their children, Jake and Jason. This ceremony marks that faith and commitment.”

The pastor moved from the shadows and stared him right in the eye. “Jared Weldon.”

“Yes,” Jared said, his voice worse than a frog croak. A cold sweat started in his gut and spread. He locked his knees to stay upright but could do nothing to stop his head-to-toe quivering.

“Do you swear before God, this congregation, and your family to take a special lifelong interest in your nephews, Jake and Jason? To be there for them in life and to help guide them morally and ethically as they develop into adults?”

Jared swallowed the choking lump in his throat, sure he was about to die on the spot. The phenomena of spontaneous combustion suddenly seemed completely plausible. He blinked the blur from his vision and found Alexi and Nan were standing before him. In their arms were his chubby nephews, blue eyes bright and slobbery grins happy. Alexi put Jake in the crook of his left arm and Nan put Jason in the crook of his right arm. They were so small, so innocent, so trusting, and so helpless. The thought of their lives resting in his hands blew his mind. He’d been skating over the surface of life, free as a bird, but in that moment the ice broke and he plunged beneath into the icy water of reality. Terror ripped through.

He nodded several times but was incapable of saying the “I do” he’d been instructed to respond. After an uncomfortable moment the pastor zeroed in on James.

“James Weldon. Do you swear before God, this congregation, and your family to take a special lifelong interest in your nephews, Jake and Jason? To be there for them in life and to help guide them morally and ethically as they develop into adults?”

“I do,” James replied, loud and clear. Instead of coming over and taking Jake and Jason from him as planned, James pitched forward in a dead faint and face-planted the altar.

From the expression of his family all staring at him, Jared concluded that train wreck was too mild a description for the situation. Nuclear explosion was a more apt description.

Jared prayed hard, but for some reason God didn’t instantly beam him up to heaven, instead he left him squirming in hell. He didn’t need a “hair of the dog” drink this morning. He needed the whole damn bottle.

Chapter Two

“Woof!”

“Slow down, Pebbles. You’re shaking the steps.”

Her tenuous concentration broken by the fact that two hundred pounds of slobbery St. Bernard and the zaniest woman in the South were about to descend on her, Roxanne “Rocky” McKenna quickly stood and stretched her long legs. She slipped a robe on over her sun-kissed skin and prepared for the onslaught. Used to be drugging sunshine, fresh air, and yoga after her routine morning swim could clear the cloudiest horizons. Not anymore.

Either life’s troubles or her suppressed hormones reared a disturbing head.

“Thought I’d find you up here. I brought you Intense Chai this morning. Next best thing to an orgasm to start your day.”

Rocky laughed as Desmond “Dessie” Langford and her huge pooch breached the privacy of her rooftop garden. Between the riches of Hilton Head, South Carolina and Savannah, Georgia lay a swampy land of everything under the sun from The Golden Bunny burlesque joint to the Lazy Cow Café.

At fifty-five, Dessie, a Marilyn Monroe look-a-like, was still the queen of the Golden Bunny. Moves Like Jagger had nothing on her. In Dessie’s world, liposuction and silicon fixed what the Good Lord taketh away with age and when the gray hair moved south, she went Brazilian—a waxing luxury that Rocky herself, upon coercion, found she enjoyed.

Wearing a hard hat on the job all day made her enjoy the sleek, cultured feel of being smooth and sexy all over. Maybe more than she should.

The best two moves of her life had been her divorce and moving in next door to Dessie and Pebbles. Well, Pebbles was still kind of up in the air. The monster dog was delusional. Thought she was a lap dog and did her best to crawl one paw into any available lap. Rocky did a lot of standing when Pebbles was afoot. Reaching down, she nabbed one of Pebbles balls left from her last visit and tossed it down the stairs. Pebbles took off in a house-shaking rush after the ball that would likely bounce down all three flights and take her a good five minutes to find.

With Pebbles out of the way, Rocky took the mug of hot tea Dessie held out and inhaled the cinnamon and spice before sipping. “The best.”

“Nope only second best. Orgasm is the best. So when are you going to ditch your ivory tower and let your hair down, girl. All this Zen meditating in the nude and Fung Shu-”

“Feng Shui,” Rocky said.

“Whatever all this is,” Dessie waved at the rooftop garden. “It don’t make up for having a man while you’re young enough to enjoy him. As I see it, you’ve let your ex steal three years of great sex from you. Maybe even more than that since it must not have been all that great with him or you’d be itching for a good fix by now.”

“It’s not like there hasn’t been anything else going on.”

“Sorry, luv. I’m not discounting your father’s illness, but you were in this state before his stroke. It’s been a month now and who knows how long it will be before he recovers.”

If he recovers. Rocky mentally said what she knew Dessie was too kind to say. After skipping a beat Dessie continued. “You need to get out and meet people. You need a man.”

A large splash from below alerted them both that Pebbles had found the pool and would return soaking wet.

Rocky rolled her eyes and drank more tea. She wasn’t about to give Dessie an inch to hang her with. Truth was Rocky had more than an itch, she had a fever, but she damn well was not going to give into it, no matter what the temptation. Thus the meditation. Not that it helped a whole lot. The heated thoughts that wiggled their way into her mind kept her in a state of need.

But hormones had landed her on the wrong side of love more than once and she refused to give into them ever again. Next time she tangled with a man, she’d connect with his mind first and make sure he was Mr. Right before anything else happened between them.

She arched her eyebrow and turned the tables. Dessie only dished out advice when she had a problem and didn’t know what to do. “So who has your thongs in a wad today?”

“That obvious, huh?”

“Only to those who love you. Now give it up. What’s ailing you?”

“The new bouncer at the Golden Bunny. OMG he’s Robert Redford redone and melts me with one look.”

“So?”

“So he’s too young. I may purr and scratch, but cougaring ain’t my thing. Trouble is he doesn’t want to take no for an answer. Come save me. You really ought to swing by the club and meet him today. He’s got great sex written from head-to-toe of his hard body.”

“Not going to work, Dessie. I’m not going to let your Chai Tea seduce me into another man-mistake. I work with hard-bodied men day in and day out and married one, that doesn’t necessarily make a man great. Might even be just the opposite. I have to stop by the office to set up a few things for the new job tomorrow and then I’m going to see Da today anyway.”

Dessie put her hand to her forehead as if she might faint. “I’ve wasted years of my life. Haven’t you heard a word I’ve been saying, Rocky? There’re men who’ve got brains, brawn, balls and heart, but you aren’t going to find him up here and you aren’t going to find him in the nursing home either. You work too much. You need to get out and date.”

“Job pays the bills. Besides, I’m not that bad. I dated Cam Phillips after Newsline did the segment on Building-A-Future.” The free summer work camp she held every year to teach area kids the basics of building and how to use tools had garnered national attention after she’d won a local humanitarian award. The well-known anchor had been interested in her for a time.

“That’s been over a year ago. He flew in from LA three times over two months. You kept him at arm’s length and as soon as a gossip monger splashed your picture in the paper with his, you sent him packing.”

“Like Da said from the start, I’m a private person. I wasn’t about to become chum for the sharks.”

“I think your father didn’t want you leaving the hole he pegged for you to live in and sabotaged that relationship before the first date. I like your dad, but did you ever have a choice about what you wanted in life?”

“It doesn’t matter. I like being in construction. Building things, improving things, making the world around me a better place.”

“Just make sure you haven’t locked yourself in a prison. And give your Da a hug for me while you’re there.”

They both heard Pebbles bounding back up the steps.

“I will. Thanks for the tea,” Rocky made a quick exit to the metal stairs spiraling into her house and Dessie turned to meet Pebbles who proceeded to shake, rattle, and roll water in every possible direction. Dessie laughed and bent down, hugging Pebbles’ enormous neck–a show of true love if there ever was one. Rocky smiled.

Her smile widened an hour later as she arrived at McKenna Construction’s main office. Even though the office was closed on the weekends, she thankfully saw Maggie Dupree’s Mini Cooper parked out front. Rocky didn’t have a moment to waste and had had everything possible sitting on go. To win the bid, she’d promised to have the renovations done in an impossibly short time. She’d read a local magazine article on the hotel’s new owner, Tiffany Parker Bentley, and known that hard-driving efficiency would appeal to the Clinton-like feminist. For once, the fact that Rocky was a woman operating in a man’s world had worked in her favor instead of against her. With Maggie’s help this morning, Rocky could quickly send the emails and faxes to put the Drake Hotel job in motion and have more time with her father.

Maggie started out last summer as a volunteer at Rocky’s Build-A-Future camp then signed on as the McKenna Construction’s receptionist and soon became invaluable, not only helping Alice Owen, their longtime secretary, but also serving as a go-to-woman for jobsite offices and paperwork, saving Rocky lots of time. And when Rocky had to move her father’s things from his apartment after his stroke, both Alice and Maggie had made the task bearable.

She entered the air conditioned building and for a brief moment her breath caught at the disorder until she realized the books from the shelves and the drawers from the cabinets were in neat stacks and not ransacked as they had been one day last month. The office had a home-like appearance to its furnishings and decor with book shelves and comfortable sitting areas to each room, a central kitchen/break room, and a jungle of plants.

“Maggie?” Rocky navigated her way through the front office. After a moment she heard a door shut then the click of heels on the hardwood floors.

“Rocky?” Maggie called out. “Bugger me, you gave me a fright.”

She appeared in the doorway of Rocky’s office, better known as the Rainbow room because of the fairytale murals of rainbows and a unicorn riding princess, Rocky’s mother, Keira, had painted on the walls of the onetime playroom. Rocky had been coming to the office since an infant. The furniture had changed from crib to tea party table to desk, but Rocky had kept the paintings, something she was glad she had done after losing her mother to cancer five years ago.

Rocky shook her head and smiled. Only the Brits could make bloody, bugger, and bollocks attractive adjectives. “I came in to put the Drake job in motion. This looks like a project.”

“A bit of belated spring cleaning.” Maggie waved her hands toward the mess and joined Rocky in the reception area. At forty something with strawberry hair that hung somewhere between curly and straight and designer black glasses that somehow missed being stylish, the buxom woman had “hard life” written on her wrinkled brow. She’d lost her mother at an early age, and from occasional comments, Rocky got the idea Maggie’s father had passed her around to distant family members after that, so unlike the stable home Rocky had had.

“A project I do not envy. Is Alice coming to help?”

“No need. I can handle the dust mites better than her asthma can.”

“Good point.” Rocky frowned at the disorder. “I can help after I take care of a few things.”

“And have you miss time with your Da? Wouldn’t have it. Besides I get more work done by myself. Any change in his condition?”

“Yes. No. Maybe?” Rocky sighed. “It could be wishful thinking on my part, but it seems to me that there are moments lately where I swear he’s aware and he’s trying to tell me something. His expression becomes intense and I feel as if his hand grips mine. It gives me real hope that damage from the stroke isn’t as severe as they think.”

“Good to hear. What can I do to help you? I could use a break from cleaning.”

“If you’re sure.”

“Quite.”

“Okay. You can send faxes while I do the emails.”

Maggie winced as she looked toward the Rainbow room. “Hope you can get to your computer. Your office is a bloody mess. I’m not only cleaning the shelves but vacuuming under them as well. You won’t believe the cobwebs.”

“Heavens. I don’t even remember the last time that was done; likely before my mother became ill seven years ago. Cleaning is not my forte, but hand me a hammer and I’ll work all day.” Rocky entered her office and saw that Maggie hadn’t overestimated the situation. Everything had been moved. She navigated around the vacuum cleaner and the stacked file cabinet drawers to get to her desk then moved the furniture polish and cleaning rags to unearth her files for the Drake Hotel job.

“I suppose that works,” Maggie said, following. “If you give free reign to the cobwebs then you can always use a hammer on the spiders.”

“Talk about overkill.” Rocky wrinkled her nose. “After that visual, I think I’ll hire a cleaning lady.”

Maggie laughed. “Or bribe your friends. Let me know if you need help, luv. Meanwhile I’ll take on those faxes. You’re really moving fast on this job. Any special reason?”

Rocky handed her the list. “I promised I’d have the renovations done in record time. We can’t afford any delays or we’ll be in trouble. Odd thing about reputations, it takes forever to build a good one, but then one mishap and it goes down in a heartbeat.”

Maggie took the file and then made the climb for the door. “Money’s the same way,” she said before she left. “Forever to get it and then you bloody lose it and nothing goes right.”

“True,” Rocky said and as she sent out the messages that would put Monday’s agenda in motion, she realized most of life was like that—forever to build then lost in a second. Dreams, love, relationships…health. For a man in his late fifties, her father had been in good shape. He ate right, exercised, and only indulged in a good scotch on special occasions.

Thanks to Maggie, Rocky made it to the nursing home in good time and settled in to her usual place at his side and told him about Pebbles’s latest exploits, knowing he’d enjoy hearing about them. He believed that the only “real” dogs in the world were the ones that weighed more than fifty pounds. After Pebbles, she turned the conversation to his pride and joy. McKenna Construction.

“We’re going to stay in the black, Da. We won another bid. This one is for the Drake Hotel job. So you don’t have to worry. It’s all going to be all right.” Swallowing the lump of emotion knotting her throat, she forced a smile as she searched his watery blue gaze. At a hefty six-five, she never thought Rory McKenna could ever look small and vulnerable, but he did.

The stroke had taken him from man to invalid in minutes, leaving a hole in her universe as big as the Milky Way. She tucked the blanket higher on his burly chest and clasped his hand in hers. Persistent Vegetative State…Locked in Syndrome…the doctors were still determining his condition. From all that she’d read about brain stem strokes, the prognosis of a patient could be difficult to predict. And while recovery miracles did happen, they weren’t likely and they weren’t often.

She wished she could do more. More than just pray. More than just keep McKenna Construction going. She wished she could go back and…what? Take back their last argument so she might have been with him as usual the night he had his stroke?

They’d fought over whether or not to have a more in-depth documentary done of her Building-A-Future summer camp and instead of going to his place for dinner, she’d come home to stew. Maybe Dessie was right. Maybe her father had been afraid of her leaving. He’d been against her doing the news show with Cameron last year, too.

She leaned in close, searching. His expression seemed more intense again, but he wasn’t looking at her. He stared straight ahead. “You know you’ll never lose me, Da. I’m not going anywhere. I love what I am doing. I love running the company. Was that what you were worried about?”

His breathing increased, as if he were suddenly running a race. Rocky’s heart squeezed with concern. “Da? What’s wrong?” She felt his pulse. It was steady but his skin seemed hotter than usual. He coughed.

She was in the middle of praying he wasn’t coming down with pneumonia or something when she heard the words. “Keira. Unforgivable. Stop. Pray.”

It took a moment for her to realize her father had spoken. At least she thought he had. As she studied him, looking for evidence, she began to think she’d imagined it. His gaze had become unfocussed again and his expression slack. His breathing had slowed to normal.

She clasped his hand tighter. “Da?”

Nothing.

“Da?”

“Any change?”

Rocky jumped at the question and bit back a groan of disappointment. “Uncle” Pat stood in the doorway. His Irish lilt and deep voice were similar to her father’s. Her father had grown up with Patrick Brady in Ireland and they’d immigrated to America back in the early 1980’s. Pat was her father’s best friend, their business partner, and her ex-father-in-law. As a young woman she had bought into the dream her father and Pat had had, of her and Collin Brady running McKenna Construction together. That hadn’t worked out at all and there were still after-divorce potholes that made the road bumpy for everyone.

“Were you just talking to someone in the hall? I heard my mother’s name and some other words. I thought Da had spoken.”

Pat looked shocked and moved to her father’s bedside, studying him closely then shook his head. “Wasn’t me talking, but it doesn’t look like Rory has either. Ya sure ya heard something, lass? Was it wishful thinking?”

Rocky frowned. She and Pat had argued whether or not to keep her father alive via a feeding tube. Pat didn’t want to see her father in this state of limbo forever and she’d wanted to do everything possible to keep him alive. She’d gone with the feeding tube and with every other measure that could be taken to keep him alive. She wanted her father back.

Had she imagined the words? If she had, she wouldn’t have imagined the words she’d heard. Her mother’s death was too painful for him and they’d avoided talking about her.

Tears stung her eyes as she clasped her father’s hand tighter. “Da had to have spoken, Uncle Pat. This is an answer to prayer.”

Pat called the nurse who came and checked her father. Barely able to breathe, Rocky waited while the nurse made a neurological assessment and took her father’s vital signs.

After finishing, the nurse shook her head. “I’m not seeing any change in his condition, Miss McKenna. But I’ll make a report on the chart that he spoke to you and let the doctor know in case there are any tests he wants done.”

“Thank you,” Rocky bit her lip as the nurse left. She’d hoped for an additional indication that her father’s condition had improved. She almost felt let down and close to tears.

Pat set his hand on her shoulder. “If he spoke, he’ll speak again. I’m worried about you, lass. All you do is work.”

She shook her head. “There’s no ‘if’, Uncle Pat. He spoke. He’s been trying to tell me something important. I’ve felt it every time I’ve come.” She clasped her father’s hand again. “Da, what do you mean Keira unforgivable? Stop pray? Why would mum be unforgivable? Why would you stop praying?”

Pat inhaled and coughed, drawing her attention. She’d known him all of her life, but their relationship had become business only in the three years since the divorce. Still, she could tell from his flushed cheeks and wincing frown that he was guilty of something. “What are you not telling me?”

Pat looked sadly at her father. “I don’t know what to do. Rory had secrets that he wouldn’t even share with me and he made me swear upon my mother’s grave not to tell ya until he was gone. After the construction office was broken into last month, he gave me a box to keep. He said it was Keira’s wish for you to have the box after Rory died. I also know your father’s attorney has stuff he’s supposed to give ya, too, but not until Rory passes on.”

Rocky stared at her him as she held onto her father’s hand. A surreal tingling crawled over her. Something her mother had left for her that’s been sitting hidden for five years? Why? Why would her father withhold anything about her mother? Why wait until her father dies to tell her? “I’ll call the attorney in a minute. What’s in the box?”

“That man is not going to be happy with me. I don’t know what is in the box, Lass. It’s sealed. I put it in a safety deposit box at the bank. I can bring the box to you tomorrow afternoon. I have a meeting with the concrete suppliers in the morning.”

Rocky wanted immediate answers and she wasn’t getting anything but frustration. “Why haven’t you said anything before?”

“I swore to Rory I wouldn’t. I’m still not sure I’m doing the right thing. I don’t think he expected that he’d end up like this though. So if he is trying to tell you something about your mother, maybe the box will help.”

Confusion and hurt warred with her love for her parents. She didn’t understand why they would have done this. Why the secrets? Why leave her things to be opened only after their deaths? Why would her mother be unforgivable and beyond prayer?

“I knew something was wrong,” she said, almost angry. “Da was frantic when he walked in and saw the office had been ransacked. He went immediately to the safe and appeared relieved until he opened it and went through the contents several times. After that, he seemed distracted and worried. A week later he ended up like this. Did he lie to the police when he told them nothing was missing?”

Pat shrugged. “I don’t know what all was in the safe. Since Collin was cut from the company, there are some business matters that I just leave for you and your father to handle. Less tension all the way around.” He sighed and studied her sadly.

“Don’t say anything about him.” Rocky stiffened her back. Here it comes again. His apology for Collin’s behavior. How he wished things were different. How Collin was different now. She didn’t care how long Collin Brady had been on the wagon. And she didn’t care how sorry he was. Everyone thought her hard and unforgiving because she’d forced Collin from the company and she let them think that. She didn’t have the heart to tell his father or her Da the “real” man beneath Collin’s charm.

Pat sighed. “I won’t. I’ve realized you and Collin are a burned bridge. I still think of you as my daughter, lass. I’m sorry my son hurt you.”

She could see that Pat was still hurting from the split. “I’m sorry things are the way they are.”

“I know you are and I’m worried about you. You’ve cut yourself off from everyone since the divorce. You need to get out and be young again. The crew’s throwing a birthday party for Mack at Sally’s tonight. It couldn’t hurt for you to stop by for a few minutes on your way home.” He chuckled. “And it would do the new boys good for you to take them down a notch or two, if you’re still queen of the eight ball, that is.”

Rocky bit her lip. She hadn’t played pool since she’d come home from a job early and found Collin and some bar hussy in the pool room, and it wasn’t the billiard balls in play either. She’d moved out the next day, but not before she’d disassembled the pool table and burned it in the backyard. “I’ll be staying here. Seeing if Da speaks again.”

The weight of the world settled on Pat, his shoulders slumped. “Don’t answer now, lass. Think about it at least. You know Mack and your dad got on pretty good as of late. Maybe he might have an idea about what had Rory so worried.”

Rocky nodded and swallowed hard. Her divorce from Collin and her father’s help in forcing Collin out of the business had put a rift between her father and Pat. Pat turned to leave, but then swung back. “I mean it, lass. You’re young and beautiful. Life is too short. Don’t waste any more of it on hurts from the past and us old geezers. Rory will either heal or pass in God’s own time and there’s not much you can do to change that.”

Pat left before she could respond. Part of her realized that he was right. Seeing her father was important, but being at his side every spare moment wasn’t necessarily going to make him recover faster. If he did recover.

Stepping to the window for good reception, Rocky called Steve Vance, her father’s attorney. She received a voice mail that said he was away on business until Tuesday. As directed, she left a message for him to call her back. She let him know that she knew her father had things for her. She told him that her father had tried to tell her something important and couldn’t. Then she suggested that knowing what her father wanted her to have after his death might help him now.

Rocky stayed with her father throughout the day and by evening time, there had been no change. She went over and over in her mind what her father was referring to, trying to remember some point in her parents’ lives where there’d been a rift great enough for her mother to be unforgivable and beyond prayer, but came up blank. The more she thought about it, the less sense her father’s words made. Her father had loved her mother deeply until her dying breath. There was nothing unforgiven between them. By the time dark descended, her gut was a knotted mess of questions with no answers. She decided to take Uncle Pat’s suggestion to see the crew at Sally’s Roadhouse, hoping Mack could tell her something.

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