Any wedding is a big deal in the small village of Kilbane-even more so when the bride is a famous fashion model. It's also good for business; Siobhan O'Sullivan's bistro will be catering the three-day affair. When the drunken best man is disinvited, Siobhan's own beau, Macdara, gladly steps in. But finding the original best man murdered in the woods casts a pall over the nuptials. And when a second member of the wedding party is poisoned, Macdara goes from being best man to prime suspect. With a killer at large and a string of robberies plaguing Kilbane, Siobhan vows to clear Macdara's name. But like the bride walking down the aisle, Siobhan needs to watch her step.
Release date: February 28, 2017
Publisher: Kensington Books
Print pages: 304
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Murder at an Irish Wedding
He’d told Paul Donnelly, the groom-to-be, that only an eejit would marry a beautiful woman. And Alice Cahill wasn’t just beautiful, she was downright gorgeous. A proper fashion model to boot. She was way out of Paul Donnelly’s league, and if his best man couldn’t tell him, then who could?
“You always have to watch your back with a beautiful woman,” Kevin slurred on the way home from the pubs. They tripped along on the cobblestone streets of Kilbane as the morning birds began to trill, with the rhythm of the fella playing the spoons in O’Rourke’s still thrumming in his chest. “An ugly woman, that’s the way to go. Never have to be afraid of losing her. And that father-in-law! Who in his right mind would want to be related to Colm Cahill? If I were you, I’d do a runner and save m’self a life of misery, lad!”
“Shut your gob,” Paul said. “You’re bollixed.”
“Would Alice still marry you if she knew all your secrets?” Kevin clapped Paul hard on the back, causing him to stumble.
When he recovered, Paul’s eyes burned with rage. “What secrets are you on about?”
“I could tell Alice a thing or t’ree about her groom-to-be, now couldn’t I?” Kevin joked. He and Paul had known each other since they were grasshoppers.
“I can’t believe I chose you as my best man.” Paul was practically roaring down the streets, his handsome face creased with rage. Kevin had never seen him so furious. He was only messing. Was Paul really worried about his secrets? Why, Paul Donnelly’s secrets couldn’t shock a virgin on her first day at the nunnery. If you couldn’t take a bit of ribbing before snapping on the old ball and chain, then when could ye?
Kevin had had a falling out with Colm Cahill too. The father of the bride was having a cigar around the back of the castle, and the trail of sweet smoke drew Kevin directly to him. Colm was planted between a maze of shrubs, with his cigar in one hand and a glass of Jameson in the other. Ice cubes clinked and crickets chirped. The fat yellow moon hung low, and stars dotted the sky like diamonds. Reminded Kevin of the rock on Alice’s hand. She’d better be careful flashing that yoke around.
Colm Cahill made his fortune on a start-up technology company called Swipe-It. An app that allowed you to pay for things with the swipe of a finger. Made himself a pile of money. Can ye imagine that? Making money off taking people’s money? The world was upside-down, it was. Kevin had tried to talk a little business with Mr. Moneybags—had a great idea for a new app called Alibi. If the wife was out of town and a man wanted to do a bit of sneaking around, he could send the missus a phony selfie showing himself doing the washing. Of course, she’d expect the washing to be done when she returned, but every new idea had a few bits and bobs to work out.
It wasn’t until Kevin was nearly on him that he saw Mr. Moneybags was talking on his mobile. “Just do it. Send the confirmation to the castle.”
“How nice to be bossing people around at this hour of the mornin’. Business never sleeps, does it?” Kevin called out.
The old tyrant whirled around. “What is the matter with you? Sneaking up on a person like that.”
“I’m having a stroll. Just like you.”
“Listening in on me conversation, were you?”
“Your conversation intruded on me, not the other way around.”
Colm’s face was scrunched with rage. He shook his fist. “Pack your bags and go home.”
Kevin shook his head and glanced at the moon. A full one sure did bring out the strange in folk. Especially this crew. “I have another business proposition for ye,” Kevin started in.
“Who do you think you are?” Colm approached Kevin, his large frame towering over him.
Did he really not know who he was? Why, the old man was completely off his head. He was starting to think the sooner this wedding was done and dusted, the better. Kevin pointed to himself. “I’m the best man.”
“Not anymore. You’re not needed anymore.” Colm threw a look over Kevin’s shoulder, and Kevin whirled around to see Paul lurking behind him. Ear-wagging. Colm pointed at Paul. “Did ye hear that? Was I good and clear?” Colm stormed off. Paul stood staring after his future father-in-law, mouth agape. When he recovered, he turned on Kevin.
“What did you do?”
Kevin threw open his arms. “I am an innocent lad. Didn’t even get a chance to pitch me idea.”
“You’re making things worse,” Paul said. “For the love of God, just stay out of it.” Then he whirled around and stormed off. Kevin didn’t know what to make of it, but it made him feel a bit dirty.
Speaking of dirty, he might have made a pass at the mother of the bride. Susan Cahill was descending the steps to the guest rooms just as Kevin was sloshing up. He must have startled her for she cried out when she saw him. She had the look of a woman caught sneaking out. Kevin gave her a pinch on the arse and may have even planted a kiss on her middle-aged lips. Ah but sure, a woman Susan Cahill’s age should be thanking him for the attention, she should. And he could see where Alice Cahill got her looks. Susan was a bit ripe, but you could still see the vestiges of beauty about her. Tall, the Cahill women, mighty tall.
There was at least one other person he had had a run-in with last night—who was it? Ah, Jaysus, for the life of him he couldn’t remember. Alice, gorgeous Alice? He hadn’t upset her, had he? No, she hadn’t even joined the fun. Said she needed her beauty sleep, which was out and out ridiculous.
Brian? That whiny little wedding planner? Could be. Anyone who went around wearing little colored squares in their jacket deserved a bit of hassling. Ah, wait. The wedding photographer. Mr. Fancy Artist with a show coming up in Dublin. Eejit. The lad was in everyone’s face with his fancy camera snapping and flashing away. It’s a wonder he hadn’t blinded anyone. Kevin had knocked the yoke flat out of his hands. The lens smashed to pieces on the cobblestone street. Lad should have had better reflexes. He went a bit mental from what Kevin could recall. Wailed like a woman. Said Kevin owed him five thousand euros. What a wanker!
Who else? He was forgetting someone.
Kevin sunk his sore head back into his pillow and stared at the elaborate crown molding rimming the ceiling. Such fine craftsmanship. Not like the shoddy estates going up today.
Kevin drank in the crystal chandelier, rose wallpaper, and arched limestone windows. His head throbbed, and he was damp right down to the bones in his toes.
The pints. The shots. A few pills. Oh, Jaysus. His head began to pound like a drum. Where were they exactly? Kilbane, was it? The walled town. Luckily the castle was outside the proper walls. Kevin couldn’t imagine being so closed in, like.
A wave of panic hit him. Was the wedding today? It couldn’t be today. He’d be puking down the aisle. No, no. T’anks be to God. The wedding was on Saturday, and today, why it was only Thursday. Lucky for him, weddings in Ireland were often three-day affairs.
Speaking of affairs—did he hear last night that someone was having one? A shocker, it was. Who was it? It was all a bit of a blur.
Something stirred next to him, and he nearly jumped out of his birthday suit. Slowly, he turned his head, and what a fright. Beside him, long blond hair fanned out over the pillow like a den of snakes. Medusa was in bed with him. Her face and body were hidden, burrowed under blankets. There was a colleen in his bed. Or was he in her bed? Perhaps every guest room looked alike.
“If I’m going to ravage anyone tonight, it’ll be the maid of dishonor,” Kevin suddenly remembered saying. She’d batted her eyelids and wiggled her full hips at him all night. He glanced over at the snoring beauty. What was her name? Ah, right. Brenna. Too bad she was nowhere nearly as gorgeous as Alice. Then again, who was?
How cliché. The maid of honor and the best man knocking boots. His eyes landed on the nightstand. His wallet. Keys. A folded-up piece of paper. He snatched it up. The message was typed and centered:
Deed? What deed? More what when the deed was done? Once more he glanced at the nightstand, where his eyes landed on the answer, and it came as quite a delight. A thick stack of euros tied up with a little red string. He swiped it up and fanned through it. Why, there were at least a thousand euros here. He read the note again. The hill. The one behind the castle?
Kevin ran his fingers through his hair and plucked his packet of fags off the nightstand. He started to light up, then thought better of it. He might wake the bird. The last thing he needed was Brenna clucking around his business. It was almost sunrise. The note sounded a bit desperate. Parting desperate folks from their money was well within Kevin Gallagher’s skill set.
He sat up, fighting the throbbing in his skull, and reached for the blue tracksuit hanging on the chair. Every member of the wedding party had been given the silly tracksuits. Alice had insisted on a group photo in front of the castle before breakfast. He’d have to hurry to the hill if he wanted to be back in time for the photo. Only thing worse than marrying a beautiful woman was riling one up. Especially one about to get married. He dressed, donned his trusty watch and gold chain, then shoved the money and note into his tracksuit pocket and crept out of the room.
He began to whistle a little tune as he wondered who would be waiting atop the hill. He couldn’t shake the feeling that he was about to strike a killer of a deal.
Siobhán O’Sullivan clutched her platter of brown bread and met the steely gaze of the castle security guard head-on. A beefy lad, for sure, but a baby was all he was, no more than eighteen years of age, if she had to guess.
“I’m tellin’ ye, I’m a guest of Macdara Flannery. Garda Flannery.” Usually her auburn locks and bright smile were enough to disarm a young man, but this one seemed immune.
“And I’m tellin’ ye. You’re not on the list.” He stared at his clipboard as if it contained all the mysteries of Ireland. As security guards went, he was as intimidating as their new Jack Russell pup, Trigger.
“There’s been an emergency.” Siobhán hoisted the platter of bread. “Seems the chef here is French—which is all well and good for the tourists, but as you know, the bride and groom are Irish.”
“I know, yeah,” he said. “I’m a Limerick man myself.” Pride rang through his voice. Well then, why wasn’t he letting Siobhán pass? Imagine, seconds from now she was actually going to get to meet Alice Cahill. Tucked underneath the platter was the most recent fashion magazine that sported the gorgeous Alice on the cover. Siobhán had promised her sisters she’d try to get Alice to sign it. Gráinne and Ann, two blossoming beauties themselves, were most definitely starstruck.
The security guard glanced at her pink Vespa parked a few feet away. In addition to her prized cappuccino machine back at the bistro, the scooter was near and dear to her heart. She’d been riding it so often it was starting to feel like an extra appendage. It was the one thing she had that was just for her. When she was on it, the breeze in her face, the thrum of the machine through her body, it was like a little escape. A momentary break in her responsibilities when she could imagine there was nothing between her and the rest of her life but an open road and the Irish countryside. The security guard’s lip twitched. Apparently he’d never seen a guest ride up on a pink scooter.
“You’ll mind it, won’t ye?” she asked him. “It’s very dear.” He looked startled as if she’d just asked him to wash her delicates. Just when Siobhán thought she was either going to have to kiss him or kick him, a heavenly voice rang out.
“Siobhán O’Sullivan?” Alice Cahill was floating toward them in a plain blue tracksuit, yet despite the casual attire, she was just as glamorous as her magazine covers. Long, ebony hair that flowed out in perfect waves, sky-blue eyes with thick eyelashes, and at six feet tall, she was just a few inches taller than Siobhán. “She’s with me, Val,” Alice said, lightly touching his arm.
Val’s face flamed up, and he stepped back from the gate. “By all means.” He waved Siobhán through as if puzzled that she was still standing on the outside.
“Thanks, luv,” Alice winked. Val straightened himself up, and if Siobhán had had a handkerchief she’d have been wiping the drool off his double chin. There was a definite power that came with beauty and, unlike Siobhán, Alice seemed completely at ease with it. Siobhán could learn a thing or three from the fashion model.
Alice linked arms with Siobhán and began to escort her up the winding drive to the castle. “Your hair is gorgeous. Like the sun lit it on fire. You probably get sick of hearing that.”
She was sick of hearing it, but not from the likes of Alice Cahill. “It’s an honor to meet you,” Siobhán stammered. In the distance, white tents dotted the sweeping, lush grounds.
“Any friend of Garda Macdara Flannery is a friend of mine. Paul just adores him. The two of them are thick as thieves. You’d never know they haven’t seen each other since university.”
At the mention of Macdara Flannery, Siobhán felt the top of her head lift off and soar toward the Ballyhoura Mountains. She wondered where he was, then forcefully put the top of her head back on and pushed all such thoughts away. He hadn’t invited her to the wedding nor offered a word of explanation as to why not.
On the bright side—which Siobhán always tried to look on—thanks to him she was here now. Nice ruse, hinting that Alice should try Siobhán’s brown bread. There were worse ways to spend a morning than at a castle with a gorgeous fashion model. Not to mention how nice it was to be near another tall woman. At five feet nine Siobhán usually towered over everyone. She loved standing next to Alice.
The castle and grounds were gorgeously framed by the Irish sky, the Ballyhoura Mountains, and a wooded hillside. The air smelled of lavender and heather, and the promise of an earthy rain.
Within the castle grounds, wealth and beauty flirted in equal measure. Interspersed amongst expanses of green lawn were manicured gardens delineated by polished black stones. The gardens were arranged into distinct sections: blossoming flowers of nearly every color in the rainbow, manicured hedges, and sculpted topiary. Wild heather grew in patches along the stone wall surrounding the grounds. Several fountains were strategically placed in the middle of the gardens, sculptures of angels spouting water. There was even a small moat, complete with a stone bridge crossing over a creek.
The castle, a fifteenth-century structure, was a grand affair. It boasted two turrets and a stunning stained-glass window. Stone lions flanked the massive front entrance. Siobhán was dying to have more of a walkabout, but Alice headed straight for the tents, where three women dressed in identical blue tracksuits were huddled in a clump. The eldest two were gripping mugs of tea like they were miniature lifeboats, while the younger one, a blonde, was examining her fingernails. When they neared, the blonde broke out of the group and practically lunged for Alice.
Her eyes were bloodshot and her skin splotchy, and her hair looked like it could conduct electricity. Like Alice and Siobhán, she appeared to be in her early twenties. Probably pretty if she had a bit of sleep and a bit of sense. She raised her arms as if waving in an aeroplane. “Thanks be to God, the brown bread is here.” Alice’s lips tightened, and she shook her head in admonishment. The blonde just laughed and flicked her eyes to Siobhán. “Alice has been losing the plot.” Her voice was raspy, as if she’d spent the night screaming. “We’ve got a French chef making hot, buttery croissants, and herself wants brown bread!”
Alice blinked her disapproval. “Macdara said Siobhán’s brown bread is the best he’s ever tasted.” She flashed a smile. “The best in County Cork.”
The best in all of Ireland, Siobhán thought with pride.
“It had better be,” the blonde replied with a pointed look. “You’d think Saint Peter himself had blessed it.”
Alice elbowed Siobhán. “This is Brenna. My maid of honor. As you can see from the state of her, your little town has quite the nightlife.”
Brenna crossed her arms, accentuating her ample cleavage. Everyone else had their tracksuits zipped well up past the cleavage zone. “It was a wonderful hen night.”
Siobhán turned to Alice. “You had your hen night, so?”
“You would t’ink, wouldn’t ye?” Brenna cut in. “Alice didn’t want a hen night. What’s the purpose of having a bloody wedding if you aren’t going to have a hen night? I had to put the tiara and boa to other uses, if you know what I mean.” A smile spread across Brenna’s splotchy face as she fluttered her eyelashes.
Alice pursed her lips. “Unfortunately, we always know what you mean.”
Siobhán had yet to go to a hen night, but she’d seen plenty of ladies out, tripping around in tiaras and boas, celebrating the bride’s last days of freedom with bottomless pints and penis-shaped pastries. Part of Siobhán thought hen nights were immature and silly, but another part of her was dying to experience one. She admired Alice for not giving in to pressure.
Alice offered a tight smile. “I refuse to have a sore head and splotchy skin for my wedding.”
Brenna groaned. “You would have been sorted by then.” She began to count off on her fingers. “The wedding is Saturday, it’s only Thursday. Last night was Wednesday.”
“Thank you for the lesson on the days of the week. You had plenty of fun without me, didn’t ye?” Alice snapped.
Brenna shrugged and then scanned the horizon, where the blue skies were being painted by angry purple streaks. The weather was in turmoil. A light wind started to blow. “You forced me to have a session with the lads instead. The craic was mighty.”
“I heard you were quite the flirt.” There was an angry edge to Alice’s voice.
Brenna shrugged. “It’s your own fault. Leaving me at the mercy of Kevin Gallagher!”
Alice groaned, and all the women exchanged looks. Alice must have noticed the curious expression on Siobhán’s face for she turned and filled her in on the story. “Kevin got absolutely blotto and ruined everyone’s evening.”
“Kevin?” Siobhán couldn’t help but ask.
“The best man,” Alice said.
“Not anymore,” a tall woman said, breaking out of the group and stepping into their semicircle. “Your father told him to pack his things and leave. Did I mention he accosted me on the stairs?”
A chorus of “yes” rang out from the others.
So this must be the mother of the bride. She was almost as tall as Alice and appeared to be in her early fifties. Her hair was pulled in a tight bun, and it was apparent that a pricey plastic surgeon had done the same to her face.
Alice shook her head. “Sorry to ambush you with our drama.”
“It wouldn’t be an Irish wedding without drama,” Siobhán said with a laugh.
“It won’t be an Irish wedding without traditions either,” an older woman standing near the tents piped up.
“Where are my manners?” Alice said. “This is my mother, Susan, and this is Paul’s mother, Mrs. Faye Donnelly.” Faye Donnelly, the woman who had made the comment about traditions, turned at the mention of her name. She was about the same age as Susan, but not nearly as tall. Salt-and-pepper hair framed her soft face.
“Paul’s mother thinks I’m a bit too modern,” Alice explained.
Faye held up her hand. “I’ve already made my peace that there will be no bagpipes or harps at the wedding, but your groom should be wearing a kilt.”
“Paul will look handsome in a suit,” Alice said. “And he won’t have to worry about which way the wind is blowing.” She winked and lifted her head to the heavens as the wind blew her hair back.
“If only you would postpone this until next month,” Faye wailed.
“Why is that?” Siobhán couldn’t help but ask.
“Whoever marry in August be, many a change are sure to see,” Faye recited. “Marry in September’s shine, your living will be rich and fine.”
“Useless superstitions,” Alice said. “Besides, I’m already rich, and my life could stand a few changes. So that’s me sorted.”
“At least make sure the sun shines on you on your wedding morning,” Faye said. “And try to spot three magpies or a cuckoo.”
“I’ve already spotted a cuckoo,” Alice said with a mischievous twinkle in her eye.
“On your wedding day,” Faye emphasized.
Alice’s eyes sparkled. “You’ll be there, won’t you?”
“I’m passing out bells at your wedding, and you can’t stop me,” Faye said.
Alice turned to Siobhán. “Did you know that ringing a bell helps keep evil spirits at bay?”
Siobhán laughed. “Oh, I love all the old superstitions. I take it you won’t be having your hands tied to your groom’s?” Hand fasting was an old Irish tradition in which the bride and groom’s hands would literally be tied together during the ceremony. It’s where tying the knot came from. Siobhán did love tradition and history, although she wasn’t superstitious. “If you really wanted to be traditional, you’d wear a blue wedding gown and carry wildflowers,” she added.
“The bride wore blue,” Alice said. She shook her head. “I prefer my lovely white gown. But I adore wildflowers.” She turned to Faye with a grin. “If I carry wildflowers, will it bring me luck?”
“It’s a start. You’ll also want a magic hanky, a braid in your hair, and whatever you do, on the day of your wedding do not wash your hands in the same sink as Paul. Disaster!”
Alice sighed. “Disaster indeed.” She touched Faye on the arm. “I’m so happy you’ll be going back to work.”
“Work either keeps you young or takes you young,” Siobhán sang. All heads turned to her, and every face looked quizzical. “Sorry. Me da always used to say it.”
“Wonderful,” Alice said, clapping her hands, but still looking confused.
Siobhán turned to Faye. “What is it that you do?” she asked politely.
Faye reached into her handbag, pulled out a business card, and handed it Siobhán.
“Ju. . .
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