After losing her lavish lifestyle, spoiled Southern belle Tara Butler finds herself pulled into a thinly-veiled matchmaking scheme between ex-soldier and childhood friend Aidan O’Mara and smooth-talking, handsome businessman Rafe Langston in order to inherit beloved aunt’s rambling Irish home in the second installment of award-winning author Leah Marie Brown’s new contemporary romance series.

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A Special Excerpt from You’ll Always Have Tara by Leah Marie Brown

 

I wake up covered in a sheen of perspiration, my cotton nightie plastered to my back and legs, breathless and disoriented, as if still trying to navigate my way through unfamiliar terrain. The nightmare haunts me for weeks. Until finally, I accept that my subconscious is grabbing me about the shoulders and giving me a good shake. Pay attention! I am talking to you. There’s something jacked-up with your wiring and you need to sort it out right quick.

One morning I am filming a cooking segment showing viewers how to make an iconic Charleston dish, Huguenot Torte, a sludgy cake of caramel, apples, and pecans topped with an airy, crispy meringue that puffs up in the oven before collapsing into the sludge, when I have an epiphany.

Like the meringue, this illuminating discovery puffs up, takes shape in my mind, an airy notion, that then collapses and settles down in the sludge of my consciousness as something profound and true.

If I don’t muster the courage to venture beyond the misty borders of my life soon, I will most certainly grow old and gray right here in Charleston, an unhappy, unfulfilled wanderer squinting at the road less traveled and wondering where it might have taken me.

It was right in that moment—as I was dicing a Granny Smith apple and making sure the carton of buttermilk I would need to make the whipped topping wasn’t blocking my shot—that I decided if my practical big sister could throw caution to the wind and elope with some French guy, I could step off my well-traveled road and onto a new one.

 

I reckon it sounds mighty vain, but sometimes a new wardrobe and a head full of fabulous highlights are all a girl needs to boost her courage.

After my Huguenot Torte epiphany, I called a property manager to sublet my condo, officially resigned my position as special correspondent for WCSC, and made an appointment at You Glow, Girl. Miss Yolanda is Beulah’s cousin and she’s been styling my hair since I wore it in Dutch braids and ribbons. Most of the women I know get their hair done at a high-class salon on King Street because the owner was a Hollywood stylist for a hot Hollywood minute and offers complimentary head massages and mimosas, but I’ve never been tempted to stray from Miss Yolanda or You Glow, Girl. She might not send embossed appointment reminder cards, but sometimes she calls and says, Girl, when you gonna let me get up in that head of yours? I saw you on TV last night and you lookin’ like a Boo Hag. I’s afraid you were gonna start snatching some skins. You need to get down here so we can style you. She’s pretty much a hair genius.

Miss Yolanda transformed my flat-iron-tortured hair back to its more natural curly state, adding several layers so the curls are big and bouncy. “Tara girl, you can go on as many starvation diets as you want, but we both know inside that stick figure is a big, bouncy, badass girl just dying to bust out. Be big and bouncy.” She kicked the color up a few notches, taking me from warm cinnamon back to my more natural blazing ginger. In a city filled with born- and bottle-blondes, it feels good to be a redhead.

I sold most of my clothes to the consignment store down on Meeting Street and then went shopping for a few new outfits, replacing my brightly colored maxi dresses, sweet-as-Southern-tea eyelet lace skirts, and statement necklaces for items that made me feel free when I tried them on in the fitting room. Black denim leggings. Thigh-high suede boots (because I have wanted thigh-high boots since I saw Gigi Hadid wearing a pair in People). A black minidress. Worn-out, beaten soft jeans. Slouchy sweaters. Irreverent slogan tees. And a ridiculously cute oversized flannel shirtdress. I am calling my new look Rebel Without a Cause (yet). It’s edgy and unpretentious, which is more my style than the fussy, frilly, girly-girl staples found in every Southern deb’s wardrobe. I’m not gonna lie, y’all. I didn’t shed a single tear at parting from my pearl earrings and monogrammed sweater sets.

Some in my circle will probably say (behind my back, of course) that I am acting all crazy, subletting my condo, selling my wardrobe, joining the Ginger Brigade, but in for a penny candy, in for a pound cake, right?

I don’t know if Ireland is that one spot in the puzzle where I belong, where my unique, jagged edges fit without alteration or force. I just know I won’t find my place if I don’t venture beyond my Southern comfort zone.

You can’t leave Charleston!

But why?

Where will you go?

I met Callie at Pawpaw’s the day after I had the Huguenot Torte epiphany. I told her about my plan to move to Ireland over pulled pork sandwiches and sides of mac and cheese and she cried. Now, over buckets of crispy flounder and baskets of fries at The Shack, I am telling the rest of my friends that at the end of the week I will board an Aer Lingus flight out of Charleston International Airport bound for Dublin.

“That explains your new . . . style,” Maribelle says, flipping her glossy blonde ponytail over her shoulder. “Is that the way they dress in Ireland?”

Callie leans close to Maribelle and whispers in her ear, just loud enough for me to hear. “You best be nice tonight, Maribelle Cravath, or I’m gonna jerk a knot in your ponytail. You hear me?”

“Your hair looks great, Tara,” Grayson says.

“You think? Not too bold?”

“Not for you,” he says, chuckling. “I’ve always thought you had the soul of a redhead. You really quit your job?”

I nod my head.

“What will you do?”

I shrug.

“Why Ireland?” B. Crav asks. “What’s in Ireland besides bogs and booze?”

“Mary Kate Lanigan,” Tavish says.

“Louise Byrne,” Truman says.

“Who?” Maribelle asks.

“Instagram’s hottest Irish models,” the twins say in unison.

Maribelle rolls her eyes.

“Tara isn’t moving to Ireland to hook up with an Instagram model,” Callie says.

“I never considered Tara hooking up with Louise Byrne, but now that you mention it”—Truman looks at his brother and raises his closed fist—“I think that is a visual I need to take some time pondering.”

“Yahss, brother,” Tavish says, bumping his knuckles against Truman’s fist. “Nice.”

“I swear you Barton Boys have more testosterone than sense. If either of you ever had an intelligent thought it would die of loneliness,” Callie says, swatting Truman with her napkin.

“Seriously, dahlin’,” B. Crav says. “Why Ireland?”

I take a sip of my wine to stall for time, mindful that Maribelle Cravath is perched on the edge of her stool eager to hear my answer. I can’t very well tell Charleston’s biggest gossip that my aunt thought up some bizarre inheritance scheme that requires me to spend three months living with two men in an isolated castle because I know, I know, she will twist and pervert that story until the entire low country believes I am engaged in some sordid, Fifty Shades-esque ménage- a-trois.

I am about to put my glass back on the table when Grayson answers the question for me.

“Tara spent every summer in Ireland, remember?” He smiles at me and the warmth of a thousand Carolina days spreads through my body. The kind of warmth that comes from knowing even though the foundation of our friendship was shook, it remains intact. “I always thought she would end up there someday because she loved it so much.”

“I did?”

For a minute, the noisy clatter of The Shack fades away, Callie with her sad eyes, Maribelle with her pinched expression, the Barton Boys with their fistbumping, fall out of focus.

“Sure you did.” Grayson rests his forearms on the table and leans forward, his eyes sparkling. “Don’t you remember the way you would come home with your hair all wild, wearing ripped jeans and a big fisherman’s sweater, your cheeks slapped pink from all those walks around the lough? You’d speak in an Irish accent and insist your daddy call biscuits scones?”

I laugh. “Quit it.”

“Quit nothing.” Grayson laughs. “You would grumble about having to spend the summer away from Charleston, but then you would come back and everything was grand. Ah, Grayson, the sun is shining and the magnolias are blooming. ’Tis a grand day. Just grand.”

We all laugh.

“You don’t remember that?” Grayson asks.

I shake my head.

“Ireland was your happy place, Tara. It seems only fitting you go there now, what with your daddy being gone and your sisters living in Europe.”

“First Manderley, then Emma Lee, and now you,” B. Crav says, raising his wine glass. “Charleston might still have her towering magnolias, but she has lost three of her most genteel flowers, and is a sadder, drear – ier place for it.”

“Here, here,” Truman says, clinking his beer bottle against B. Crav’s wine glass.

“To Tara”—Callie lifts her glass—“and her happy place.”

 

About Leah Marie Brown:

Leah Marie Brown has worked as a journalist and photographer. An avid traveler, she has had adventures and mishaps from Paris to Tokyo. She lives a bike ride away from the white sand beaches of Florida’s Emerald Coast with her husband, children, and pampered poodles. She is hard at work on her next novel, but loves to hear from readers. 

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