Publisher: Black & White Publishing
Format: Ebook and Paperback (12 August 2021)
Page Count: 320
ABOUT THE BOOK
An irresistible love story . . . delivered with sparkle and wit
(in a too-tight red dress!)
Meet Lexie Byrne. The big 4-0 is looming, but she’s perfectly content without a man. How else could she watch movies on repeat and eat crisp sandwiches in bed? Finally free of her love-rat ex, she’s never settling again. Nothing less than ‘The One’ will do.
Then, after an electrifying encounter on a wild St Patrick’s Day, Lexie takes a leap of faith and a flight across the Irish Sea. But as sparks fly, Lexie’s dreams take a serious nosedive. Until an arrival no one anticipated . . .
Will the unexpected love story of Lexie Byrne have a happy ending after all?
My thanks to Janne of Black and White for the tour invitation – this looks a fun read and although I wasn’t able to accept a copy for a review for the tour for time constraints, I’m very pleased to share the first three chapters for your temptation!
Right on the part where Johnny Castle informs Doctor Houseman that nobody puts Baby in the corner, my phone vibrates.
‘Oh, no . . . here we go, Garfield.’ I nudge the pudgy ginger cat sprawled across my thighs and hit pause. Without looking at the caller ID, I know who it is. With slight dread but determination, I answer.
‘I’m not going to make it tonight.’ I come straight to the point, stuff a handful of hot, salted microwave popcorn into my mouth. Garfield wobbles down and I tuck my sore feet under my backside.
‘The bra’s come off. I’m sorry, but I’m absolutely wrecked.’ I shut one eye, wince and wait.
Glasses clatter. Voices are high. Traditional Irish music booms.
A noisy pause.
‘Eh . . . you are so too gonna make it tonight! Strap yer C cups back on, and get yer arse into town, Lexie Byrne!’ Jackie screeches down the line, over a predictably boisterous bar. I snap my phone away from my ear, and it clanks against my earring. I’m dog tired, starving, my feet ache, I have dirty hair and the thought of having to get ‘going-out-ready’ to go back into town fills me with horror. All I want to do is eat my popcorn, see Dirty Dancing through to the end, stand under a steaming hot shower, and order a late supper of chicken tikka masala with pilau rice and naan bread.
‘Heelloooo?’ Jackie yells.
‘Yes, I can hear you. The apartment above me can hear you! I’m not long home; the centre was jammed with lively tourists. You picked the right week to leave the job – myself and Anne- marie were slammed.’ I lick the tips of my salty fingers.
‘The curse of working behind the information counter in a shopping mall, in Dublin city centre, on Paddy’s Day, wha’!’ Jackie roars as I stick my face into the bowl and gather a few half-popped kernels on the tip of my tongue.
‘I guess so.’ I release an anxious breath. Maybe she’s going to give me a pass?
My very own Get Out of Town Free Card.
‘Now. Get up. Get your glam on. Get them dancin’ feet washed! D’ya hear me? Ahh! Will ya watch out, ya mad yolk!’ she yelps.
‘You all right?’ I unhook my earring, balancing the phone between my neck and chin.
‘Some lad just spilled half a pint of Guinness down me good top. We’re like sardines in here.’
‘You’re really not selling it to me, Jackie.’
‘No, it’s all good, gives me a reason to go chat to him later, if I’m desperate, like. Not me cuppa Barry’s now but wait till I’ve fitted me beer goggles in place, he’ll be Barry-Right-Now! C’mon, Lexie, please – all the gang are here!’
‘Seriously, Jackie, I haven’t the energy.’ I’m losing. She’s not going to give up lightly. She’s like a dog with a bone, or at the very least a dog with a phone.
‘I’ve the good leather seat right by the old oak door.You’ll see us as soon as you walk in.’
‘But I’m –’
‘Ahhhhhhh, please, Lexie! For me? We’re just waitin’ on you and Annemarie to get the party started, as Pink would say.’ As Jackie breaks into a rather impressive rendition, singing about everybody waiting for me to arrive, I know she won’t relent. I’ll have to show my face.
‘Oh, okay, okay.’ Reluctantly I slide my best artisan bowl onto the low table. I know for a fact wild horses won’t drag Annemarie back out tonight – she’s seven months pregnant after a trojan two-year fertility battle and exceptionally careful of herself. Borderline obsessive, but don’t tell her I said that. I squash the green button on the remote and my Patrick Swayze disappears. I stretch and yawn loudly.
‘Atta girl!’ Jackie’s only delighted with me.
Us singletons rarely have enough excuses in our handbags to get out of going out. I can’t cite boyfriend commitments or lack of babysitters. It’s Jackie’s leaving party – leaving from our workplace, Silverside Shopping Centre, and I did promise I’d be there. And I’m incredibly fond of her. Jackie has a heart of gold; she’d do anything for you. I just need a second wind. No. You know what I need? The door to burst open with an army of makeover people to ‘do me up’. You know the ones? They look effortlessly stylish and bored stupid at the same time. Holding safety pins in between their teeth. Always have bulging bumbags. Don’t tie their laces.
Wearily, I stomp into the kitchen with my new Bosch appliances, clad in only my navy gusset-enforced tights and white work shirt, and dump the bowl into the sink. Grumbling to myself about why people can’t just leave me alone, I walk out and into my bedroom where I heave open the overspilling mirrored wardrobe. Hitting loudspeaker, I throw my phone onto my bed. ‘The Irish Rover’ blares out in the background as Jackie is still rambling on, the effects of a few early drinks resonating in her high-pitched voice.
‘. . . a loada Scottish lads in here too, fine t’ings . . . and all in kilts! I’m debating dropping my powder compact under the table, opening it to the mirrored side and seeing what kinda jewels I can spot!’
‘Stop being ridiculous.’ I can’t help but laugh as it’s not beyond the realm of possibility.
‘C’mon, Lexie, I’ve two Jägerbombs waitin’ on ya and we’re in a bar where the women actually wear the trousers! It’s gonna be some craic tonight!’
I pull the clips from my high bun and shake out my hair; its curls twirl onto my shoulders.
‘Jackie, Annemarie is not coming out, she’s . . . gone to the cinema with Tom – don’t call her,’ I cover for my friend. ‘And I have no intention of getting drunk or ogling up men’s tartan skirts – well not tonight anyway. I’m in early tomorrow and it’s into a late shift. So I’m having one glass of wine to bid you farewell because I’ll miss you.’ I soften. ‘That’s it. We can grab a toastie in Marco’s before you leave next week?’ I perch on the edge of my bed and release my feet from their nylon constraints. There’s one thing about Jackie Brophy – that girl knows how to have a good time.
‘Bid me farewell? Who’d’ya tink ya are? Camilla Parker Bowling Ball?’
‘Let me get ready, ya loon.’ I laugh, cross one leg over my knee and massage my bare foot.
‘As you wish, Miss Byrne. As you wish,’ she declares in a far too convincing received pronunciation accent, then hangs up. Tempestuous March rain drums against my second-floor window. It’s dark outside and the only place I want to be is curled up on my sofa, but I order a taxi for half an hour via my app.
‘Oh, there you are, Garfield.’ My old cat slides back in through the door and curls up under my window, on my sheepskin rug. He purrs lowly. I inherited him when my granny passed away eighteen months ago.
‘You’re still missing Sir Patrick Dun’s, aren’t you?’ He licks his paw. He lived in the leafy residential home with Granny for ten years.
‘I guess you heard that call? I have to go out.’ He rests his head on his silky paws, eyeballs me. Ever since Granny passed, I volunteer at the home almost every weekend I’m not on shift at work. I’ve given up on the dating scene so I’ve zero ties and I can’t think of a more worthy way to spend my weekends.
‘Believe you me, I’d much rather stay here with you! One hour and I’m out of there! I don’t care what Jackie says. I’ll order our supper in the taxi on the way home. Now, what the hell am I going to wear?’
I pull out a soft off-the-shoulder angora sweater that has been in a crumpled red ball and shake it out. Stretching up, I drag down my pleated skirt, the same one my ex, Dermot, used to tell me I was too old for – apparently made me look like a trying- too-hard has-been . . . Prince Charming, he was not. A cheating, Jack-the-Lad sort, let’s just say he put a whacking great dent in my self-esteem, but ten months on, I’m getting myself sorted. I kicked him out on his love-rat arse and pressed the reset button on my life. It was grim, to be honest, but I’m contented with myself when I look in the mirror these days.
‘Lexie, my girl, you need to jump in that shower and freshen up,’ I tell myself, licking my index finger and running it under my smudged eyeliner. This morning’s liquid over-eye is still winged into a thick flick above my green eyes.
‘I can’t be arsed applying a fresh face,’ I say to a now-snoring Garfield as I take in my reflection. ‘But I suppose I have to do a little preening. Quick fix-up, blast of the hair dryer, smudge of lip gloss and a spritz of my finest Chanel,’ I tell him. ‘The basics.’ I’m no raving beauty, and that’s fine by me. I feel deeply sorry for raving beauties, truth told. Beauty’s longevity isn’t enough to render me jealous; falling in love with The One, now that renders me pea-green with envy. Hence my choice of movie as I curled up with my salty snack after work. I’ve been told by Annemarie I possess an unhealthy fixation with The One. It’s true. I’m obsessed with finding true love, or no love at all. I can blame the movies. I’m besotted by all the romantic classics, About Last Night,The Holiday, Dangerous Liaisons but mainly Dirty Dancing. That’s my romantic bible. I’ve kissed a lot of frogs in search of my ‘Johnny’, but it was not to be. I never found him. So, when I met Dermot at work and he chased me, I was flattered. He made me laugh and I enjoyed the security of being in a couple, but I know now I just settled for him. We were together five years, but like I said, he turned out to be a cockwomble.
So I made the decision that unless Johnny Castle merengues into my life and literally lifts me off my feet, I’m done with second bests. I’m thirty-nine and a half and I’m far better off on my own. Granted, they aren’t beating the door down to woo me, but I’m fine with that. I’m quite happy in my single life. A bit like Garfield, who purrs in his sleep as I bend to rub his generous belly.
‘Right, two-minute shower and patch-up job and I’ll be straight back,’ I whisper into Garfield’s velvety ear. ‘I’ll scrape some sauce off my chicken tikka for you later.’
Content with my plan to get in and out of town as fast as humanly possible, I head for the hot jets.
Some Like It Hot
Whiskey in the jar’ greets my ears before I even open the taxi door. The pavement is spilling over onto the busy road. The famous bench that rests between two wooden beer barrels is home to what seems like a hundred shades of green. The Brazen Head is physically heaving. Literally bulging. Green shamrocks are bouncing, projected all over the medieval brown- stone building of Ireland’s oldest pub. Bodies, dressed head to toe in green, are pressed against condensation-dripping windows. If the brick walls suddenly burst open and people spilled out on top of one another, it would not have surprised me in the least. ‘Oh Lord.’ I brace myself as I lean forward to pay the driver.
‘Yer brave headin’ in there sober, pet, at this hour on a Paddy’s night.’ He chuckles and tips his ‘Kiss Me, I’m Irish’ plastic hat at me, then, turning in his seat, hands me over my change. I unclick my seat belt.
‘Believe you me, it’s the last place on earth I want to be right now.’ I tip him and, sighing, I get out and pick my way through the swaying smokers. As I step up, I pull open the heavy oak door to the left, just at the same time as someone pushes it with force from the other side, and we collide with a clash of heads. Stumbling, I miss the step and fall backward, flat on my back.
‘Owwwwww! Fu–’ I hit the ground hard, legs in the air, contents of my bag rolling everywhere. I grab my head, checking my fingers to see if there’s blood.
‘Oh! Bugger! Oh shit! Sorry! I do apologise . . . oh, I’m so sorry . . .’ a voice echoes. An English accent apologises profusely over and over.
‘Seriously, I – Could this day get any bloody wor–’ I look up.
A vision stands above me. Things suddenly seem fuzzy. In and out of focus. I can’t find a focal point. I’m not sure if it’s the bang to my head or . . . him.
He reaches down for my bag, which has vomited all over the ground. Phone, tissues, loose batteries, keys, lip gloss, tampons, coins, a Subway wrapper – he gathers it all back into the bag and throws the brown leather strap over his shoulder. Then extends his hand. I pull my skirt down, thankful for the coverage of my tights and high boots.
‘I think that’s everything? Here, please take my hand?’ I’m almost afraid to.
‘Oh, I’m so sorry, this pub is like a maze, so many doors. Are you sure you’re okay? That was quite the tumble.’
It’s like I’m experiencing some sort of déjà vu. I can’t take my eyes off him. It’s his dark messy hair, his thick stubble, his strong jaw, his black leather jacket. His voice penetrates my brain.
He repeats himself.
‘Are you sure you’re okay?’ He tilts his magnificent face to look down at me. Never mind the fact he could run away with my bag, I still can’t find my voice. I continue to stare. Eyes to drown in. The darkest brown. Melting. He’s in jeans that hang off his hips like a Tom Ford model. A brown belt with a silver buckle. He’s tall, broad, olive-skinned and he just has this . . . presence, like he never looks in the mirror. A real man. Not one of the Gym Robots that roam the plains.
‘I . . . am – I . . . am –’ I come around, take his warm hand and he pulls me up gently.
‘Well . . . if you’re sure. Again, I’m terribly sorry.’ He touches his own head.
‘No, don’t be silly – it wasn’t your fault.’
Then he smiles at me. Oh what a smile. My stomach does a double back somersault roundoff. An imaginary row of judges all hold up straight tens. I complete the scene with a neat curtsey. He really is a vision. I lick my lips, glossy with my best MAC and thank Christ for that basic wash-and-scrub-up under the shower earlier. ‘I was too heavy handed with the door. If you’re sure you’re not hurt?’ He slips my bag off his shoulder and over mine. It’s a
simple action that feels anything but.
‘I didn’t want to come out tonight; at least that’s what I told my cat.’ As soon as the words leave my mouth, I cringe so hard it hurts. It’s my I Carried a Watermelon basic blunder.
‘Is that a fact.’ He laughs. Bites down on his bottom lip. Perfect teeth.
‘I mean . . .’ People push past us now on their way into the bar.
I’m jostled. He reaches a hand to steady me. Delicious. ‘You don’t feel dizzy or anything, do you?’
‘No.’ A barefaced lie. ‘Can I –’ he starts.
‘Adam! There you are, Coops!’ A group of heavy-set, thick- necked lads surround him. ‘Were you trying to escape while we were vaping, mate! Caught ya!’ Riotous laughter. From within the scrum that’s now carrying him away from me, he leans his head back and holds my eye.
‘I was. But I’m staying now.’ They move away in the pack.
Holy shit, I think as I gather myself and this time slip in through the open door, incident free.
Lexie! lexie! lexie byyyyrrrnnnne! Over here! I’m here!’
Jackie jumps up on the leather seat and waves wildly at me as though she’s been clinging to a buoy in a rough sea all night, and I’m a lifeboat crew at first light.
‘I knew ya wouldn’t let me down, chicken!’ She expertly flicks over her shoulder the two long clip-in green plaits that hide her own pixie haircut, currently nestling under a Viking hat.
‘Hey.’ I feel as though I’m walking on air. We double-cheek kiss and I squeeze in.
‘I just got hit –’ I begin to tell her. ‘Did ya run out of hair product?’
Oh shit! Am I that looking that shite? ‘Eh, I was in a hurry.’
‘I’m only messin’ with ya. Don’t ya always say ya do a ponytail when you’ve no time to style yer hair? You always look fab, all those wild, blonde curls, them to-die-for cheekbones. Yer a little ride, Lexie Byrne, sure amen’t I always tellin’ ya how lucky ya are to have lips that natural but look done? Ya know everyone.’ Jackie pinches my cheek then extends her hand. There are about eight people on the long leather seat. I know this seat well – the same seat where Annemarie met her now husband, Tom. Alas, no, I don’t know any of the people sitting here tonight. Silverside Shopping Centre is huge – it’s on four floors. Jackie tends to be out five nights a week, so she moves around the centre a lot meeting staff. Fresh blood. Her words not mine.
‘Hi.’ I give a mini wave. ‘So are you all excited for this new journey?’ I try to hold her attention, engage with her – that’s why I’m here, for her. Try to put the man who’s just floored me, literally knocked me off my feet, out of my racing mind.
‘Go up an’ get a drink. I drank yer Jägerbombs. Soz.’ I can see the dark Guinness stain down the front of her yellow Life Is Good T-shirt.
‘I’ve just sat down – the bar is teeming. I want to talk to you.’ I slip off my denim jacket as Jackie takes my cold hands in hers. I wonder if she can feel how my heart is still beating like a pneu- matic drill after that encounter.
‘Lexie, I love ya, ya know I do . . . but I’m like Julie Andrews here, chicken.’ Jackie leans right into me, holds her fake plaits back and nods at the others. ‘I’ve all these Von Trapps to keep amused.’ She flicks her thumb in their direction. ‘Now I’ve no room to run around the bar and wrap meself in the curtains, or any brown paper bags to tie up with string, so I’ve suggested a drinking game. Now get in the queue and get yerself a beverage. Ya can’t have me all ta yerself, pet.’ She winks at me, crinkles her pierced nose.
Typical Jackie. ‘Okay.’ But I look around the pub from pillar to post to see if I can spot him.
‘Whaddya doin’?’ Jackie pokes me.‘Yer like a meerkat! Gerrup!’ ‘Well can I get you a goodbye pint?’ I ask her.
‘Ya cannot. Ya brought yerself and that’s good enough for me.’
I get up. It’s impossible to make out any individual in the throng of bodies. What are the bloody chances that the biggest ride I’ve ever seen would poleaxe me with a door on the night I’m not exactly at my Lexie Byrne best?
I squeeze through the mass of people, elbowing my way to the bar. U2’s ‘Pride (In the Name of Love)’ plays out and the whole bar seems to be singing along.
‘Excuse me.’ I slither between a kissing leprechaun and a very short St Patrick, take my place and that’s when I spot him again, right at the other end of the bar.
‘Bingo!’ I say to myself. I need to act on this. There was some- thing about his voice that shook me. I don’t think I’ve ever been attracted to a voice before. I know what I have to do. Annemarie and I used to call it the orchestrated bar-bump.
I shimmy across and find myself in the queue behind him. He’s jostled in the crowd. I see two younger women poke one another. One juts her thumb upward behind his leather jacket, the other makes a circle with her finger and thumb and inserts her index finger in and out. They high five one another. He shouts his order of three Guinness. My heart starts to pound again. His pints are served. He turns with his drinks.
‘Oh! You again! That’s mad. Hi!’ I strain my eyes, opening them so wide in fake surprise that the right one starts to water. I’m giving an Oscar-winning performance here.
His hands are full, trying to carry all three. But his brown eyes light up, laughter lines dance.
‘Hey! Oh! Hi again!’
‘Here, let me help you.’ I prise a cold pint from his full hands. ‘Why thank you! Oh, can I buy you a drink?’ He does a double take from me to the bar.
‘No, but thanks – I just got a full glass of wine.’
‘This way.’ He raises the other two pints above his head, and I follow him. When we reach his busy table, I rest the pint down and stand back. God, why didn’t I style my hair and even out my complexion? I’ve made a bigger effort going to the bottle bank. ‘I’m Adam by the way.’ He wipes his hands on his jeans,
extends his hand.
‘Lexie.’ Again, electricity shoots through my veins at our touch. ‘Nice to meet you, Lexie.’
Oh, suddenly I’m tongue-tied.
‘That was quite the meet-cute we had outside, I mean –’
‘Oi! Adam! Found you, mate!’ Another larger-than-life Englishman drapes himself across Adam’s shoulder, oblivious to how rudely he’s interrupting us. ‘JJ! Michael! Over ’ere, lads!’ He beckons.
‘All right, Dominic,’ Adam says.
‘Yeah, mate, they really did turn the River Liffey green. You should have come with us, mate – looks class!’
‘Sorry, we’ve a bit of a gang here.’ Adam tries to untangle himself.
‘Don’t worry.’ I tug my sweater down, revealing more bare shoulder, look up through my eyelashes. Adam seems to be holding this guy up.
‘I’m sorry about this,’ he says as he tries again, unsuccessfully, to free himself.
‘Shots! Shots! Shots!’ Dominic punches the air gleefully. ‘Don’t worry, I best be off. I’m over there with friends . . . at the long leather seat by the door. They’ll wonder where I’ve got to.’ Crash! Bang! Wallop! I drop my whereabouts. I don’t want him to think I’m alone or just after a free drink. So, as casually as I can, I saunter off back to my seat, stomach sucked in so hard it pains, praying he’s watching me go. When I get back to the table I have to squeeze into the corner. The drinking game is in full swing and I watch, amused but distracted. Wait until I tell Annemarie about this guy. She’ll never believe it.
‘C’mon, Lexie! Join in!’ Jackie tries, six be-kilted Scottish men all standing around us now, a peeled beer mat stuck to her forehead with Kim Kardashian scrawled across it.
‘Not tonight, Jackie – I’m in work early, remember.’ I keep one eye on the game and one on the passers-by. Come on. I will Adam over.
‘Here, neck this! We’ll ease you into the night.’ She pours me a glass of Prosecco from a newly appeared silver bucket in the middle of the table. Thanking her, I accept the chilled flute and put my mouth over the glass to slurp the excess she’s poured.
‘You have one question!’ A man jams a finger at her, holding his pint precariously.
‘Am I mega famous?’ Jackie’s asking the crowd around her. ‘Yes!’ another Scotsman roars.
‘Am I Kim Kardashian?’
One-take Jackie. They all cheer and drink.
After about thirty minutes of increasingly daft and leery ‘Who Am I?’, I notice Adam approaching the table. Finally. Our eyes connect across the crowded room – he smiles, I swallow and try to keep my cool. How is he having this effect on me? He gets nearer, until he’s only a few feet away. I cross one leg over the other, he smiles at me, then pulls the door carefully open, turns and exits. The door slams behind him.
Just like that my adrenaline disappears and I feel completely wiped out.
‘Jackie!’ I roar down the table from the corner I’m still stuck in. ‘I’m gonna head in a few.’
Jackie nods, but it’s clear she has no idea what I’m saying. In a pathetic attempt to forget the greatest clash of heads I’ve ever experienced, I swig back the last of my rapidly deflating bubbles. The taste is sour in my mouth. Time to call it a night.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Writer and actress Caroline Grace-Cassidy is the author of 8 novels. She co-owns Park Pictures, with whom she has written and directed 7 short films. Caroline is a regular panellist for The Elaine Show on Virgin Media One and contributes to Women’s Way, Irish Country and Weekender Magazine. She lives in Dublin.