The harsh morning light streamed in through the windows as if it were a switch that made the pounding in my head even worse.
The Irish sun I swore was worse than the American one, and so was the alcohol. Nothing in the world compared to Irish whiskey and it had been a while since I’d been back to my hometown of Dublin.
My phone vibrated against the nightstand and stared at the screen until my eyes adjusted to the light I saw not only the time but that Jack’s assistant was calling me.
“Shit,” I muttered, unlocking my phone and sliding it to my ear.
“Fallon, Mo Gra, tell me your calling with some good news.”I jumped up, searching for something to cover my naked arse and found my clothes from the night before strewn across a hardwood floor.
“Using cutesy Irish pet names for me has never worked in your favor, and it especially isn’t when your brothers are wondering where you are.” Her American accent flowed through the speakers with the clicking of a keyboard loud and clear in the background.
“What’s the fun in that? C’mon, now. We’ve been emailing and having this lovely phone calls for months now. We’re practically best mates,” I said, grabbing my boxers.
“Is everything okay, Connor?” A soft voice with a thicker accent than mine murmured.
I whirled around, covering up my junk and my lucky shamrock tattoos that graced each hip bone. On the bed was a pale redhead with a devious smirk and hair more messed up than a 1980s American metal band. I’d say I shagged that one pretty good, wish I remembered it. Been a while since I’d gotten that knackered and wound up in the bed of a hometown girl.
“Is there someone in the background? Are you seriously hooking up when you have a meeting in ten minutes?”
The girl on the bed’s eyes widened, Fallon’s words booming through the phone.
“Yeah. I thought I set the alarm on my phone and would be on time. But the alarm didn’t go off and now I can’t find my pants. Think I can just walk in wearing my boxers?” My blue eyes searched the floor until I found my crumpled jeans.
“Yeah, it went off twice, and you mumbled for me to snooze it. Is that your wife on the phone? Should I be worried? ” the bed girl said in a scratchy voice, raising her eyebrows.
I shook my head as much as I could and slid on my pants.
If I didn’t get my shit together, the meeting was going to start without me. Why did I need to drink that much last night? While my brothers went home early, I just had to see what I was missing in Dublin by studying and working in America. Better than facing the fact why I was back in the country, I guess.
Funerals are as good of an excuse as any to get knackered.
“It’s my brother’s assistant. Fallon, wanna say hello to this girl who is asking if you’re my wife?” I asked with a smile that caused the girl on the bed’s eyebrows to raise even higher on her head.
Fallon groaned. “Why do I even bother calling you? This feels like Deja Vu from when you almost missed your flight out of Boston.”
“Ah, but that one didn’t involve a girl. Just whiskey. And I made that flight, thank you very much.” I held the phone between my ear and shoulder, sliding on my shirt.
“Only because I saved you with pre-boarding.”
“ Maybe when you’re done with work; you can come back. Or we can meet up tonight,” girl on the bed murmured.I combed my fingers through my hair, hoping it didn’t look as bad as hers did.
“Did she seriously ask you to come back? While you’re on the phone with me even?” Fallon’s laughter carried through the phone.
“Not now, Erin,” I said, brushing her hand off my shoulder while I tried to shimmy on my socks, not looking to see the girl’s reaction. If I hurried, I could still make the meeting on time and maybe even find a breath mint or two on someone’s desk on the way there.
“Don’t worry; I’m on my way, so you don’t need to get jealous. You’re the only girl who can bother me at all hours of the night.” I stood up and stepped into my shoes.
“Erin?” the bed girl asked with a huff.
I turned and looked at her steely glare and arms crossed over her bare chest.
“Not even close,” she growled.
Fallon’s laugh carried through the speaker. “Oh, this is classic.”
I frowned even though Fallon couldn’t see it.
“Well, sorry Not Erin, but thanks for the sex I can’t remember. Hope it was better than mediocre for you,” I said with my hand on the door.
Never said I wasn’t an arsehole.
This caused a gasp from both Fallon and the bed girl. I quickly ran out the door, closing it before the thud of something hard hit the wall behind me. Could have been worse, I could have been cold-clocked by a shoe.
“Did you make it out of there alive after that comment?” Fallon asked.
When I stepped outside, I looked around, realizing I was only a few blocks from the office and the pubs I probably stumbled to this girl’s place from. “Ah, and the luck of the Irish is on my side, Mo Gra because I’m not far from the office.”
This wasn’t the first time I’d run to the office after a less than savory encounter with a bird. It’s how my life had been since I started Uni in America and then graduated three years ago.
“You do know this is a will reading, right? Not just you and Jack in a phone conference talking numbers?” she questioned.
“I’m very aware of what this meeting is for,” I grumbled.
I still had at least a few minutes before I was considered past fashionably late and onto acting the maggot. Running down the brick-paved streets of my childhood, I dodged the flower sellers and the older gentlemen who liked to walk for no reason at all.I wanted to come back to Ireland on better terms and not for my Da’s funeral.
Lung disease was one of the top killers in Dublin, and it hit him hard and fast. I didn’t know how bad it was until Fallon called and told me Da was in the hospital. She booked me a flight back home for the next day, but he was already gone before I even crossed the Atlantic.
“Sorry. That came out wrong.” Voices echoed in the background, and I wondered where she was in the building.
I’d seen the girl’s work photo icon in emails and breezed past her desk a few times, but never really saw her. Funny that she was someone I’d talked to almost as much as my brothers these past six months and I hadn’t formally met her.
“Where are you right now? Are you waiting for me outside the meeting room door? Hoping since Not Erin didn’t get a round two that maybe we can officially meet and hit it off?” I joked and breezed through the wrought iron gates of the Murphy Family Pub headquarters, past the secretary and front lobby, covered in photos of generations of Murphy’s who had run the company.
My family owned a distillery for years and used to brew the whiskey in downtown Dublin. The brand expanded, and my father went into the pub franchise business. Now we had hundreds of pubs all over the world, and the original distillery was currently used for a museum and pub on the first floor with corporate offices on the second.
Mam passed away soon after my youngest brother, Sean, was born. Da raised us all while building his empire and now with his sudden passing, my brothers Jack, Sean, and I were set to inherit the company. This meeting was just a formality to settle the estate, giving us our shares in the business. I figured Jack would take Da’s position as CEO with me as CFO and Sean as president or something if he wanted it.
“Your flirting isn’t cute, Mr. Murphy.”
I stopped at a mirror in one of the hallways, noticing my hair stuck up every which way and I tried to lay it down flat with one hand, holding my phone with the other. “What’s this Mr. Murphy nonsense? We’re practically family, Fal.”
She huffed. “Are you almost here? I’m almost to the conference room, and I don’t want to have to tell your brother you’re still not available.”. I started jogging, and just as I turned the corner, instead of breezing into the conference room, I ran chest first into a petite blonde who was holding a tray of coffees that had now spilled all down the front of her dress.
“Aw, I’m sorry ma’am. I didn’t mean to do a number on ya,” I said, staring at her wide blue eyes, circled by red framed glasses. She looked between me and her dress.
I expected to hear a laugh or some quip from Fallon on my phone, but instead I listened to my voice echoing through the pink dressed girl’s phone.
Recognition dawned on me as my eyes roamed over her from the top of her blonde ponytail down the soaked through dress and cardigan, showing off the curvy frame she hid under the nerdy little ensemble. Her photos and glances at her did not do her justice. She was beautiful in a natural way which made her not need the fancy clothes or too much makeup.
“Fallon. We finally get to meet. I feel like I should hug you. Or maybe undress you. You know get you out of that pink number and into something not stained.” I stepped closer, putting my arms out. I may have said the words jokingly, but the thought of her dropping the dress and taking her against the paneled wall was on the forefront of my mind.
“Are you serious right now? You need to go. You’re going to be late,” she hissed
I glanced at my watch again. Shit, the meeting probably already started. I didn’t have time to sweet talk or other things. Pulling out my wallet from my back pocket, I grabbed a few notes. “Let me at least buy you a new dress and replace the coffees.”
“What? No. Just go. I’ll take care of this.” She narrowed her eyes and slightly shook her head.
“Are you sure?” I raised my eyebrows, still holding the money toward her.
The clock near the conference room chimed, alerting me it was at the top of the hour.
“We can chat more about this later,” I said, putting my money back in my wallet. “Nice officially meeting you, Pinky. Let’s do this again real soon, ” I said with a grin, patting her shoulder before I scooted toward the conference room and shut the door behind me.
Three sets of eyes looked up from the conference table they sat around.
My brothers were in crisp blue suits with their light brown hair perfectly gelled, making me look even more like a fool than I felt with my wrinkled clothes which smelled like sex and whiskey.This wasn’t the way to honor, Da, but at least I was there and I was going to be there for his company, no matter what it took.
“Mornin’,” I said, taking my seat across from the estate solicitor, Thomas O’Malley, who looked like a real-life leprechaun with his short stature, bright red beard, and reading glasses perched on his nose.
“Glad you could grace us with your presence, Connor,” Thomas said, shuffling the papers in his hands.
“Happy to have made it,” I said, folding my hands on the table and smiling, even though my brothers audibly groaned next to me. If there was one thing I learned from Da, it was that you never showed weakness.
“Okay, let’s get started with the reading,” Thomas said, clearing his throat.
Then flipped to a new sheet. “Whereupon my death, my three sons, Jack, Connor, and Sean will each inherit their equal share of thirty-three and a half-percent of the family franchise upon the day all three of their marriage certificates are certified by a priest and again by my solicitor Thomas O’Malley, six months after the day of their nuptials. If all three of them are not married within a year of my death, none will be able to get controlling interests, and the board may offer each son’s ownership stake to the highest bidder.”
Every hair on the back of my neck stood on end. Marriage? Thre three of us? Within a year? All of that to get the company? That couldn’t be right. Da never said anything about that. Sure, he was a loyal family man, who never married or even dated after Mam died, but I didn’t think he would do something like this.Especially when the board was a bunch of crotchety old men who smoked too many cigars and were probably half the reason Da got sick in the first place.
My oldest brother Jack leaned forward in his seat. “Thomas. I could be wrong here, but is this stating that each of us has to be married and not just married, but married for six months? And this all has to happen within the year? That can’t be right. Da never even re-married or had a serious girlfriend. He used to say the pub was his only wife after Mam.”
Thomas sighed, pushing his glasses up. “You young men have done a fine job in your positions in the company, but your father also knew you were still sowing your wild oats. He wanted to make sure you settled down a bit, so the company didn’t suffer. This was his way of seeing to that.”
There has to be a clause that can get us out of this, right? I don’t even have a girlfriend, let alone a girl I’d want to marry by the end of the year.” Sean said.
I wanted to ask Sean what he even had to do with this company since he hadn’t taken an interest in anything but rugby. I know Jack had brought up more than once about eventually buying out his portion and now with us all having to be married, or none of us got the company, which put a damper on that one. Before I could ask any more questions, Thomas cleared his throat.
“Boys, I’d like to say there’s another option, but that’s what it states in the will,” he said, standing up and placing the papers in his briefcase. “You can try and get your own solicitors or a judge to dispute this, but I’ve been doing this for longer than you’ve been alive. Once this will is set and notarized, it’s legally binding.”
“Does the board know about this?” Jack asked.
Thomas nodded solemnly. “Ah, they’re aware of the clause, not all of the details, but some have already made comments about a buyout for a third of the company.”
I clenched my fists without even thinking, my gut twisting at the thought of someone else taking over the business.The one Da had built from the ground up, but Jack and I had worked to keep it a well-oiled machine on both sides of the pond. A bunch of old men with one foot in the grave would just run the franchise into the ground along with all our hard work.
Da put a lot of hard work into the enterprise. What he built. What he wanted our family to have. That wasn’t just going to disappear because of some marriage clause, I couldn’t let it.
“Can’t we just find some girl, see if she wants to get married for a few months, then divorce with a nice little settlement? Isn’t that what they do on those American reality shows for publicity?” Sean asked, staring between all of us.
Thomas shrugged. “I guess there’s nothing in the will that says you can’t, but how do you think the board would take that? Moreover, your Da would probably roll in his grave if he heard you married a girl just to get the company. Your mother was the love of his life and the reason he was able to make this company what it is today. He just wants the same thing for you boys. Not some random fling.”
“I’m sure there are worse things we could do,” Sean muttered, buttoning and unbuttoning his suit jacket.
“If we have nothing else to discuss, then I best be heading back to the office. You’ll call if you need anything and let me know as soon as I get to meet the future Murphy girls,” Thomas said with a tight-lipped smile.
We walked him toward the door, but none of us left the room.
Jack was the first to speak as soon as Thomas rounded the corner and was out of sight. “What the hell are we going to do?”
Sean shook his head. “I don’t know. This wasn’t at all what I was expecting. Hell, I guess I’d better get on a dating app or something.”
“This isn’t a joke,” Jack growled.
I put my hand on his shoulder, trying to calm the beast a little, but his nostril’s flared. “Calm down, Jack. We’ll figure this out. We always do.”
His dark blue eyes didn’t move from the empty hallway. “This isn’t about deciding where to put a new pub in America or marketing expenditures. This is marriage. This is our company. Our future.”
I nodded solemnly. We all knew what was at stake here and the only way to solve our problems was with a wedding. Something I never even thought I would be thinking about. Now I had no choice. I was going to be a married man by the end of the year, and so were my brothers, no matter what it took.