While Ginger Murphy completes her music studies, childhood sweetheart and neighbor, Brad O’Sullivan betrays her with the new girl next door. Heartbroken, Ginger escapes as far away as she can go—to Australia—for five long years. During this time, Brad’s shotgun marriage fails. Besides his little boy, Jamie, one other thing in his life has turned out sweet and successful—his pastry business.
When her mother’s diagnosed with heart failure, Ginger has no choice but to return to the green grass of Ireland. As a sought-after wedding flautist, she quickly establishes herself on home soil. Although she loves her profession, she fears she’ll never be more than the entertainment at these joyous occasions. And that she’s doomed to bump into the wedding cake chef she tries to avoid. Brad broke her heart once. She won’t give him a chance to do it again.
A gingerbread house contest at church to raise funds for the homeless has Ginger competing with Brad. Both are determined to win—Ginger the contest, Brad her heart. But when a dear old saint challenges that the Good Book says the first shall be last, and the last first, Ginger has to decide whether to back down from contending with Brad and embrace the true meaning of Christmas—peace on earth, good will to all men. Even the Irishman she’d love to hate.
GINGER MURPHY had vowed never to return to Ireland. News of a sick mother will overturn the impulsive declarations of a broken heart.
She moved her hand and let the lace curtain fall back. How many hours of her life had she wasted gazing from her bedroom window at the house across the street? Far, far too many. She wouldn’t let old habits creep back in. Not now. It had taken five long years to heal her heart.
Being back home was wonderful. And hard. So many memories lived on that lane and in the fields nearby and beside the Liffey. The walks along that meandering river with its tea-colored waters were the best. Brad close to her, holding her hand. And those picnics beside its buttercup-lined banks… She trailed a finger over her bottom lip. After all this time, she could still feel, still remember, his kisses.
How had it all gone so wrong?
Her fingers curled around the thin lace again as she pulled back the fabric for one last look, one last reminder, lest she be tempted to forget. Her gaze shot to the house next door to the O’Sullivans. The day she’d moved in had been the day the foundations of her world began to crumble.
Remember that. Always.
The curtain swayed back into place as Ginger released it. She checked her makeup in the mirror, and then fluffed the fiery curls that tumbled over her shoulders. Brad had always loved the color of her hair…until he discovered he preferred brunettes to redheads. Not collectively—just a particular one.
Stop it. No thinking about Brad. But how could she not? It was impossible not to wonder whether he still lived on the other side of the tarred strip separating their houses. Mam and Dad didn’t say, and she hadn’t asked. The subject of Brad O’Sullivan had long not been permitted as a topic of conversation—with her parents, or her friends. Enduring six months of snippets about Brad was enough. She’d no longer wished to hear about his happy little life, with his perky little wife. More like pesky. Like a troublesome bug, Claire Madden—her nemesis—had infected Brad.
If Brad still lived in that white semi-detached house that had been a part of her life since she could remember, she’d find out soon enough. In the week she’d been home, the place had remained in darkness. But last night, two cars had parked in the driveway. The red van, branded ‘All Things Nice’, had been missing since early this morning. Brad’s van, or some stranger’s? Sugar and spice, and all things nice… Had Brad followed his dream and opened his own pastry business, or did the vehicle belong to someone running some kind of shady operation?
Maybe she should’ve allowed her family and friends to continue keeping her in the loop.
The chocolate brown chiffon of her layered dress swirled as she turned. She loved the color. Probably because she loved chocolate. Ginger grabbed her clutch purse, flute bag, and music stand, and placed them into a canvas carry bag, Australia printed repetitively across the fabric. She slid the bag’s strap onto her shoulder, and then hooked the ankle straps of her high-heels around the fingers of her free hand. She’d put those on downstairs. The block heels clunked together as she headed for the staircase. If she didn’t get going now, she’d be late. And she was the distraction to keep anxious guests entertained until the bride stepped onto the aisle, and the wedding march began to play.
“You look beautiful,” Dad said as he lowered his newspaper. “You sure you’re not the bride?”
Ginger sat down opposite him at the kitchen table. “Last time I looked, Daddy, brides wore white.” And they had a man in their lives—one who wanted to marry them and be with them forever.
She leaned forward to put on her shoes. “But, thanks.” She glanced up, her father filling half her view, the table the rest. “I made a mac and cheese this morning for you and Mammy for dinner. Pop it in the oven at a moderate heat for thirty minutes when you’re ready to eat. I’ll try to get home as soon as I can, but I’m booked to play until after the main course. Then the DJ takes over.”
“Thanks, Ginger. ’Tis so good to have you back home. I’ve missed my freckle-faced girl.”
“I’ve missed you, too.”
He smiled. “Thank you for giving up your new life in Australia to come home and help me with your mother.”
“Five years isn’t exactly a new life.”
“Aye, that’s why I know the decision wasn’t an easy one.”
It sure wasn’t, despite how difficult it had been to adapt to a new culture, even though she’d stayed with her aunt and uncle. Ireland would always be in her blood.
Would Brad O’Sullivan?
She hoped not. He was married, with a child…who’d be turning five in a few months.
Ginger rose, standing three inches taller in her heels than her usual five feet. She stepped to her father and gave him a peck on the cheek. “Bye.”
He grasped her hand and squeezed. “Have some fun, love.”
She wrinkled her nose. “Unfortunately, I’m there to work, not to play.”
“I thought you were there to play…” A laugh bubbled from Dad’s throat.
Ginger laughed, too, before she pulled back her hand and turned to go. “Well, I’ll be away then.” At the threshold, she paused and glanced over her shoulder. “It’s good to be home. Really.”
Ninety minutes later, the haunting melody of Ginger’s flute floated across the Orangery at Killruddery House. Sunlight filtered through the high glazed dome above. The late September weather had cooperated with the bride’s plans. What an amazing venue—the first of many she’d lined up. With her reputation in Australia as a wedding and corporate flautist, it hadn’t been difficult to be booked up almost every weekend until Christmas before she’d even stepped on the plane to Dublin—a few introductory emails to Irish wedding planners was all it took.
Soon as the ceremony started, Ginger gathered up her flute and her folded music stand. She tip-toed out of the Victorian conservatory to set up in the courtyard outside the 18th century barn conversion where the reception was to take place.
She gazed toward the large trees in the distance, beginning to morph into their autumn colors. Then she headed down the path beside the terraced lawn toward the sunken lavender and rose garden bordered by green hedging. She strolled along the gravel pathway. The spindly purple blooms and full peachy-pink English roses begged to be sniffed. Ginger paused to savor their fragrance. As she walked by the large pond in the center of the symmetrical garden, she dipped her fingers in. Ripples spread out as the cool water refreshed her fingertips. How peaceful.
If she could only stay there longer.
Taking the path to her right around the pond, she headed for the charming octagonal Victorian structure. The tea room. She stepped inside to enquire if she was headed in the right direction. She could not afford to get lost on this large estate and tarnish her reputation at the first wedding by arriving after the guests she was hired to entertain. The smell of coffee and zesty citrus cakes beckoned her to stay, and she made a mental note to return on a free weekend. Perhaps she’d bring her best friend, Tara.
After an affirmation by the young lady working the till, as well as an explanation of the rest of the way, Ginger arrived at the reception venue moments later. She stepped inside to have a look at the décor before setting up. And the cake.
Much as she’d tried not to over the years, she’d found herself on numerous occasions wondering what Brad would’ve done with the wedding cake had he been the pastry chef. He’d always been good in the kitchen, especially with sweet things. A miracle she’d managed to keep her petite figure through her teens.
She stared at the towering masterpiece—four tiers of decadent chocolate. Perfect. Must’ve set the father of the bride back many euros, although nothing about this wedding was cheap. Including her.
Ginger ran her tongue between her lips as she gazed at the smooth dark brown shine of the ganache. A tall, elegant bride and groom made of porcelain topped the cake while deep red roses edged each tier. She leaned forward and inhaled, expecting a repeat of the rose garden’s aroma.
She took a closer look. Icing? How was that possible? The blooms were so lifelike.
“’Tis not time to cut the cake, yet.” A cuckle followed the deep brogue of the familiar voice.
Her knees weakened. No. It couldn’t be. But there was no mistaking the sound. She’d heard that voice whisper sweet nothings in her ear since she was a teenager.
There was nowhere to run.
Pulse pounding, Ginger sucked in a breath and spun around. Deep-set blue eyes and a dimpled smile greeted her. “Brad O’Sullivan.”