LOVE AND SHAMROCKS (BALLYBEG, #5)

Trouble in Dublin…
Clio Havelin needs a lucky break. Desperate to protect her child, Clio accepts her estranged mother’s offer of a refuge in Ballybeg. What can go wrong in a place with more cows than people? Her hope for a fresh start is smashed to smithereens when she’s blackmailed into facilitating the heist of the decade. So the last thing Clio needs is a sexy cop underfoot, especially when she’s one crime away from freedom. Too bad she’s already slept with him.

…True Love in Ballybeg.
Seán Mackey wants his life back. The former police detective is now stuck apprehending errant sheep in Ballybeg — population 3968, pubs 35. After months of frustration, he’s finally on the scent of a real case. When he’s sidelined into playing bodyguard for his nemesis, talk show hostess Helen Havelin, he’s pissed. And when his gorgeous one-night stand turns out to be Helen’s daughter, Clio, pissed turns to horrified.

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 EXCERPT FROM LOVE AND SHAMROCKS

PROLOGUE

Dublin, Ireland

FOR THE FIRST time since completing her twelve-step program, Clio Havelin regretted rehab. If she’d been high, she could have ascribed the entire situation to a drug-induced hallucination. Not having so much as a drop of caffeine in her bloodstream, she didn’t have that luxury. This was happening. This was real. And the reality of being in a tiny police interview room listening to pat reassurances made her blood boil.

Clio pushed back her chair from the cheap plastic table and struggled to breathe. “What do you mean you’re not pursuing the investigation further? How can you not?”

The fleshy police inspector seated opposite exchanged a significant glance with his younger female colleague. The blond woman adopted what Clio assumed was her standard expression of bland sympathy and leaned forward in a confiding manner. “We’ve done everything we can do, as has the school. Without Tammy’s cooperation, the case won’t stand up in court. There’s no physical evidence and no eyewitnesses. In short, there’s absolutely nothing to support your claim that Mr. O’Leary engaged in improper relations with your daughter.”

“Improper relations?” Clio’s nails dug into her palms. “Call a spade a spade. Trevor O’Leary had sex with his fourteen-year-old pupil. How can you sit here and tell me you’re not going to charge him? What about the other girls he’s done this to? What about the girls he will do this to if you don’t stop him?” An icy trickle of fear made the hair on her nape stand to attention. “If you don’t charge him, the school will have to lift his suspension. He’ll be back teaching impressionable teenagers.”

The blonde’s practiced calm faltered, and she exchanged an uncertain glance with her superior officer.

Inspector Fahey loosened his tie and cleared his throat. “I understand your dismay, Ms. Havelin,” he said. “We take allegations of abuse of minors seriously, believe me, but the only evidence we had to present to the judge was your statement. No one else has come forward to make allegations against Mr. O’Leary. And as we’ve already clarified, even your own daughter refuses to make a statement to support your claim.”

“But you believe me.” She looked from one to the other. “I can see it in your faces. You know what I’m saying is true.”

“It doesn’t matter what we believe.” The inspector gave a weary sigh. “It doesn’t even matter what the judge believes. The prosecution can’t build a case without something to create sufficient probable cause at the very least. O’Leary denies everything, and Tammy says you’re lying.” He shoved his chair back and stood, his junior officer following his lead. “If your daughter changes her mind about making a statement, give us a call.”

The recycled air in the interview room tickled the back of Clio’s throat, bringing forth an asthmatic cough. The nagging suspicion that had plagued her since the start of this disastrous interview came to the fore. “Is this because I have a criminal record?”

The man hesitated in the doorway. “It certainly didn’t help me sell your story to the higher-ups, that’s for sure.”

She swore beneath her breath. No matter how many years had passed since her trial, no matter how many honest jobs she’d held since, she’d always be a convicted thief and drug addict in the eyes of the law. Meanwhile, Trevor O’Leary was considered a respectable music teacher without so much as a speeding ticket to besmirch his good name. Bastard. Clio’s hands balled into fists. She itched to punch the fecker’s smug face and to kick him where it truly hurt.

“Your friend is waiting outside,” Fahey said, holding the door ajar.

Still reeling, Clio got to her feet and followed the police officers out to the lobby.

Both the police sergeant and his junior colleague proffered hands. Clio shook them with barely concealed distaste.

“I’m sorry we couldn’t be more help,” the woman said with genuine regret. “If anything else crops up, give us a call.”

Clio gave a stiff nod and shoved open the door of Rathmines Garda Station. Outside, Emma was leaning against a metal railing, tapping a restless foot against the pavement. Today’s ensemble screamed New Age hippy, complete with a tie-dyed hair band that did little to control her wild blond curls. Emma straightened the instant she spotted Clio. “Oh, no,” she said, searching her face. “It didn’t go well.”

“No, it did not.” Clio wound her scarf around her neck and marched down Rathgar Road at speed, forcing her friend to scramble to keep up with her furious pace. “They’re going to let the bastard get away with sexually exploiting a minor. He’s even going to get his job back.”

“Clio.” Emma panted. “Slow down and talk to me. I know you’re upset—”

“Upset doesn’t even begin to cover it.” The pulse at the base of Clio’s throat throbbed.

“—but you shouldn’t do anything rash.”

Their eyes locked. Emma had known Clio since the bad old days, back when Emma’s family had fostered Tammy for a couple of years before Clio got clean. Insofar as it was possible to know everything about another person, Emma knew everything there was to know about her, and vice versa.

“I’m not letting O’Leary get away with this. He’s thirty years old, for goodness sake. What sort of a sick bastard takes advantage of a fourteen-year-old?” Hot tears stung Clio’s eyes. She brushed them away with the back of one hand while flipping out her phone with the other. “Tammy is still in touch with him, and I don’t trust her not to meet him, even if she changes schools.”

Emma sighed. “She thinks she’s in love with him.”

“Even worse.” Clio gave a bitter laugh. “She thinks he’s in love with her.”

They came to a halt outside the redbrick Edwardian house where she and her daughter shared the top-floor apartment.

Emma toyed with a stray pebble on the pavement. “Maybe you should consider taking your mother up on her offer.”

“What?” Clio’s jaw dropped. “You’re advising me to drag Tammy to a spit-and-you-miss-it little town in Cork? And move in with my mother? What about the agency?”

Her friend grimaced. “Reilly Investigations isn’t inundated with business at the moment. I’d cope on my own. A fresh start might be exactly what you and Tammy need.”

“Moving back to Dublin from Barcelona was supposed to be our fresh start.” What a mess that’s turned out to be.

Emma tossed her windblown hair over her shoulder. “Think it over. It would put over three hundred kilometers between O’Leary and Tammy. Much harder for them to meet. After all that’s happened, a new environment and a new school might be what she needs.”

Clio squeezed her eyes shut for an instant and shook her head. “The sticking point is my mother. We’ve taken tentative steps toward a reconciliation, but living together is a whole other level.”

“Only on weekends, right? You said she’d be away filming her show Monday through Friday.”

“Yeah…”

“In other words, you’d be living in the house on your own with Tammy five out of seven days.” Her friend’s blue eyes burned with earnest conviction. “I don’t think that’s a bad deal. Helen can be a pain, but she’s not a monster. If she’s willing to pay the fees for Tammy to attend a private school, they’re likely to provide extra tuition to help her catch up on the work she’s missed over the past couple of months. She has the Junior Certificate coming up in June, doesn’t she?”

“Yes, she does.” If Tammy didn’t get good grades in the first set of state exams, her options for the final three years of secondary school would narrow. “I hear what you’re saying, but I’d have to be seriously desperate to move into my mother’s house, even if she’d only be there for part of the week.”

“Just consider it, okay?”

“I promise I’ll talk it over with Tammy,” she said with reluctance, “but I don’t think she’s any more keen to live with Helen than I am.”

Emma’s phone beeped an insistent reminder. “Two o’clock already? I’d better get moving.”

Clio nodded toward her friend’s cell phone screen. “The O’Brien case?”

“Yeah. Fortunately for their marriage, but unfortunately for our bottom line, I don’t think Gerry O’Brien is cheating on his wife. This case is likely to wrap up quickly. Until I can confirm my gut feeling, though, I’m supposed to trail the husband. He’s due to meet friends at the organic market in Temple Bar.” Emma tugged at the tie-dyed headband. “Hence the outfit.”

“At least you get to put your acting skills to good use,” Clio said. “Your years on the stage make it easy for you to slip into a role and follow someone without them noticing.”

“I set up the private investigation agency because I was struggling to find acting jobs. Who’d have thought I’d spend most of my time in disguise?” Emma stepped forward and gave her friend a hug. “Don’t think I didn’t notice your attempt to deflect the conversation onto me. Will you be all right on your own?”

Clio hugged her friend back. “I’ll be fine. Go and catch errant husbands.”

“Take care of yourself,” Emma said, concern forming a frown line on her otherwise smooth forehead, “and don’t do anything stupid.”

She gave a wan smile. “You know me too well.”

As soon as her friend’s wild curls disappeared down the street, Clio switched on her phone and scrolled through her list of contacts. Her index finger hovered over one particular name. If she called Tammy’s father, Trevor O’Leary would never bother Tammy again. Hell, if she called her ex, Trevor O’Leary would never bother anyone ever again.

She shut her eyes and dragged oxygen into her lungs. No, even O’Leary didn’t deserve such a fate. All she wanted was for him to stay away from her daughter, not wind up dead. Who else did she know with the power to scare the crap out of a person? Swallowing past the lump in her throat, she dialed a number not saved on her phone but imprinted on her memory. It was time to call in an old favor.

Saint Patricks Day Shamrock Leaf Symbol Isolated On White, VectoCHAPTER ONE

Six Weeks Later

Ballybeg, County Cork

SERGEANT SEÁN MACKEY weighed the weapon of mass destruction in one gloved hand and surveyed the scene of the crime. “Let me get this straight. Armed with an air rifle and a bottle of Jameson, you shot a bird through your closed living room window? While naked?”

Seán’s Uncle John-Joe, aka the Swimming Elvis, hiccupped, swayed, and groped for the mantelpiece. He was clad in tight swimming trunks and a grubby wifebeater, his graying Elvis quiff limp and screaming for shampoo. John-Joe was none too clean, none too sober, and none too cooperative. At least he was no longer in his birthday suit. “Bit of a mess, eh?” he said after another hiccup.

“Bit of a mess” was an understatement. On the other side of the broken window, feathers, pellets, and broken glass lay strewn across the patio of the Fitzgeralds’ tiny garden. Some joker had drawn an outline of a robin redbreast in the snow, CSI-style.

Seán rubbed the back of his neck with his free hand. Jaysus. He needed a Dublin transfer pronto, preferably to vice. He’d take prostitutes and drug dealers over outlaw relatives any day. “How did you get your paws on a high-end air rifle?” he asked in the tone he usually reserved for recalcitrant rookies and crooks. “I didn’t have you pegged as a small-game hunter.”

The older man’s tongue darted between his lips, reptilelike. His beady eyes swiveled toward his wife.

Aunt Nora was kneeling on the living room carpet, surrounded by broken glass and pulverized porcelain. Firing the air rifle at close range against the hard, flat surface of the window had caused glass to shatter and pellets to ricochet. All but one of her beloved knickknacks had been blown to smithereens—the statuette of the Virgin Mary remained intact, her expression serene amidst the chaos. Seán’s mouth twitched at the incongruity.

“My Dalmatians,” she moaned, clutching a severed porcelain head to her fluffy peach bathrobe. Although her impossibly black hair was still in curlers, Nora wore full war paint. When they were kids, he and his brother, Dex, had speculated their aunt must either reapply her makeup before going to bed or wake up at an ungodly hour to ensure she looked her best.

Instinct drove Seán to touch her shoulder. Experience made him recoil. For a millisecond, he was hurtled back twenty-five years to happier times. The nostalgic taste of his aunt’s apple tart, the sugary smell of his tenth birthday party, and the sweet sight of his mother’s smile. His mother… A dull ache of grief settled between his shoulder blades, erasing the happy memories in an instant. He flexed his spine, shrugging off the past. He had no time for sentimentality. “Nora, where did John-Joe get the gun?”

His aunt placed the broken china dog on the carpet and pushed herself to her feet. “From that fool, Buck MacCarthy,” she said through pursed scarlet lips.

Seán knew Buck. He was a fisherman with more hair than sense. Which, in Buck’s case, wasn’t saying much. “Why does Buck need an air rifle?”

John-Joe shrugged, his tongue poking a bulge in one cheek. “How should I know?”

“What did the bird do to warrant you firing several shots at it and turning your living room into a disaster zone?”

“It was plaguing me. Kept banging against the window and causing a racket.”

“So you decided to shoot it?” Seán’s eyebrow arched north. “Bit extreme, don’t you think?”

His uncle’s scowl created a unibrow. “Not right away. Not till it flew inside and shat all over my costume.” He pointed toward the rhinestoned monstrosity slung over the sofa.

Seán squinted. Like its owner, the costume had seen better decades. It was white—or had been in a previous life—with fraying cuffs and a velvet trim. Its appeal was not enhanced by bird excrement.

“Times are hard.” The older man’s shoulders sagged the slump of defeat. “ I had a gig, see. First one in months.”

“The Elvis impersonation business slow in West Cork?” Seán asked, deadpan. A nation in the depths of recession was unlikely to have much call for professional performers at private parties, let alone a sexagenarian gyrating in Speedos.

His uncle’s mouth formed a petulant pout. “No money to pay the mortgage ain’t no joking matter. I got a wife to support.”

“You wouldn’t be financing the mortgage ­­by taking on a few side jobs of, shall we say, dubious legality?” ­

“Eh?” John-Joe danced a nervous jig on the thread-worn carpet, like a toddler fighting the urge to pee. “Don’t know what you’re talking about.”

“Someone has been shooting out tires at the Travellers’ caravan site,” he said with icy casualness. “With an air rifle.” He took a step closer to his uncle. “Don’t suppose you know anything about that?”

John-Joe appeared to shrink inside his swimming trunks. “I don’t have anything to do with the Tinkers.”

“Travellers,” Seán corrected, “or Pavee. Gypsies, if you must.”

The man’s nose wrinkled. “I don’t go in for politically correct shite. They’re Tinkers to me.”

He took another step closer to the man who’d once been his favorite uncle. “Has your un-PC self been taking potshots at their caravan tires?”

John-Joe’s head gave an uncertain shake.

“In that case, I’ll be having a word with Buck.”

The man’s Adam’s apple bobbed. “So… we done here?”

He gave him a tight smile. “No, we are not done. I’m charging you with possessing a firearm without a license, discharging said firearm in a residential area, and for generally being a blight on society.”

John-Joe’s jaw slackened. “You can’t do that!”

“Not the last part,” Seán said with regret, “but the rest I can.”

“Air rifles are legal. Have been since… since… they changed the law.”

“Since 2006, air rifles with a muzzle energy less than one joule don’t require a license.” He placed the bagged-and-tagged weapon by the sofa. “This air rifle exceeds the limit. Even if it didn’t, you’re only allowed to fire them in designated areas. Newsflash, John-Joe: that excludes your living room.”

“How was I supposed to know?” John-Joe’s voice rose in a panicked whine. “Buck said he bought it off the Internet.”

“I’ll be asking Buck about that when I invite him to join you at Ballybeg Garda Station for a lecture on the Firearms Act.”

John-Joe’s feet stopped their nervous shuffle. “Down the station? Do I have to?”

“Yes, you do.” His voice held a note of steel. When he’d been disgraced, demoted, and sent to rusticate in a country police station, Seán had been determined to keep his distance from his estranged family. Within days of moving back to Ballybeg, his uncle’s propensity for petty crime had scuttled that plan. “I’ll need a statement from you, too, Nora,” he said in a gentler tone.

His aunt glared at her husband, cheeks quivering. “You blaggard. Because of your tomfoolery, I’ll be hauled off in handcuffs.”

“Don’t be daft,” Seán said with a touch of impatience. “All I need is a statement. You’re not being charged with anything.”

“Handcuffs!” Nora screeched as if she hadn’t heard a word he’d said. “What will the neighbors say? I’ll never live this down.”

John-Joe was clearly at the end of his hungover tether. “Ah, would you ever quit your moaning, woman? Only peace I get is when you’re at mass.”

Nora’s hands fluttered to her forehead, and then to her chest, in a subconscious sign of the cross. Her gaze flickered toward the swimming trophies on the mantelpiece, souvenirs of John-Joe’s days as a champion swimmer.

Seán regarded the trophies with a pang of regret. Hard to believe his uncle had once been the town hero, before his drunken antics and Swimming Elvis act had turned him into the town joke. “Stop arguing. Let’s go and get this over with. If John-Joe cooperates, you’ll both be home by noon.”

If Seán’s hunch was right—and they usually were—he finally had a lead on their mystery shooter. He gave a mental fist pump. This was the part of the job he loved. If he solved the case quickly, his Dublin transfer was in the bag, but he hoped to goodness the culprit didn’t turn out to be someone close to his uncle. John-Joe had neither the patience nor the brains to carry out a stealthy operation over a period of months, but one of his regular partners in crime might.

Out of the corner of his eye, he spotted movement. Before he could react, Nora grabbed a swimming trophy from the mantelpiece and chucked it at her husband, hitting him square in the beer belly.

“Ow,” Joe-Joe roared. “Have you lost your mind, woman?”

“Yes,” she screamed, tears of anger running down her face in mascara-tinged rivulets. “I lost it the day I was stupid enough to marry you.”

Ouch. Seán placed a steadying hand on his aunt’s arm, but she wrenched it free, hysterical by this point, cursing and flapping and whacking John-Joe with whatever missile came to hand.

“For crying out loud, Nora.”

She ignored him, moving down the row of trophies with impressive speed.

Patience had never been Seán’s strong suit, and the little he possessed had run dry. “That’s it,” he snapped. “I’m cuffing the pair of you.”

After a short struggle, during which John-Joe’s undershirt developed another rip, he managed to slap handcuffs on his aunt’s and uncle’s wrists. “You have no one to blame but yourself, Nora. I told you I only wanted a signed statement from you.”

He dragged one air rifle and two protesting relatives down the hallway and out the front door. On the way, he grabbed a Mack for John-Joe and chucked it over his shoulders. The combination of tight swim trunks, wifebeater, and raincoat made the man look like a flasher. Sweat beaded on Seán’s forehead. Jaysus. What a start to my day.

A crowd had gathered by the gate of the Fitzgeralds’ two-up two-down terraced house. Several pairs of eyes unpeeled Seán’s layers as though he were an onion. Heat burned a path from his scalp to his toes. Too many people in Ballybeg knew his family history. What he wouldn’t trade for blissful anonymity…

Seán pictured the baton in his utility belt. He missed his SIG. He missed Dublin. He missed a lot of things. With a bit of luck, Frank—his former partner—would have news of a place on the vice squad. Their lads’ weekend couldn’t begin soon enough.

A second squad car pulled up behind Seán’s. Garda Brian Glenn climbed out of the vehicle, a beam of delight spread across his freckled face. “Quite a turnout. I haven’t seen a crowd this big since Ben Driscoll held up the post office with a banana.”

“This sort of caper always brings out the curtain-twitchers.” Seán wrestled John-Joe and Nora into the backseat of his squad car.

Before he closed the door, Nora put a hand on his arm. It was warm, solid, familiar. “You don’t have to arrest us,” she said in a beseeching tone. “Please, Johnny.” Her breath floated in ghostlike wisps through the crisp February morning.

He dragged cold air into his lungs, past affection warring with everything that had happened since. Had the maternal look she was giving him not reminded him of what he’d lost, he might have caved. “I ceased to be Johnny twenty-five years ago, Nora.”

He slammed the door. If only shutting out the past was as easy as shutting a car door. Cutting short the question hovering on Brian’s tongue, Seán added, “If that pair of eejits represent domestic bliss, I’m staying single.”

The younger policeman rolled with the deflection and turned his attention to the air rifle. “I’ll lock the gun in my car. There are five registered firearms in Ballybeg, and this isn’t one of them.”

“John-Joe got it from Buck MacCarthy. I’ll haul him in for questioning later. Hopefully, it’s a viable lead on the Travellers case.”

Brian’s grin faded. “Speaking of the Travellers, there’s been a development.”

Seán was instantly on the alert. “Another incident?”

“One of the caravans had its tires blown out with the occupants sitting inside. As you can imagine, they’re none too pleased.”

“That brings the tally to four attacks this month.” Seán frowned. “Hell on wheels, no pun intended. When was this latest attack?”

“Twenty minutes ago.”

He exhaled in a hiss. That put John-Joe in the clear. Was that a disappointment or a relief? He jerked a thumb at his car. “I’ll drive by the Travellers’ site once I’ve dealt with the miscreants.”

“It’s all happening today,” Brian said, waggling his red eyebrows in an exaggerated fashion. “While you’re dealing with drunken Elvises and mystery shooters, I’m on my way to meet our local celebrity with Superintendent O’Riordan.”

He tilted his head. “Local celebrity? I didn’t know we had one.”

“Indeed we do. It’s that ultra-conservative talk show host who used to write a silly advice column for The Tribune.”

Seán’s heart rate kicked up a notch. No, he thought. Please, no. “Not Helen Havelin?” The words came out in a croak.

“Yeah, that’s the one.” Brian rolled back on the balls of his feet and grinned, seemingly oblivious to his partner’s inner turmoil. “She’s the new owner of Clonmore House.”

Seán’s world tilted on its axis. The acrid sting of bile rose in his throat.

Helen Havelin. The woman who’d helped destroy his childhood was living in Ballybeg.

From Love and Shamrocks by Zara Keane, Copyright 2015 OUT APRIL 2015