“So,” I say right back.
“I don’t want you to leave,” he says to me.
His words should surprise me, and yet somehow they don’t. Maybe because even though everything about him tells me he’s the kind of guy who is used to kicking women out of his bed after he’s done with them, I know he’s not done with me.
“I don’t want to either,” I tell him.
His eyes narrow thoughtfully for a moment as he looks at me. “When are ye leaving Ireland?”
I don’t want to think about leaving. I don’t want to think about facing my life. I remember what he said last night: You can’t avoid something forever. But I think you’re allowed to avoid it long enough for you to just get through it. And I’m not through it yet.
“On Thursday. So, a little less than a week.”
He sucks in his bottom lip and I’m nearly giddy at the realization that I know what that lip tastes like, what it feels like on my skin. “This is a trip for you and your sisters,” he comments.
I shrug. “Yeah. It has been. I mean, I’m a bit of a tagger on because I came so last minute.” But honestly, I don’t think they’d mind if I spent some time with Padraig, if that’s what he’s asking.
He looks like he wants to say more but he doesn’t.
“What?” I prompt. I want him to ask me to spend time with him. Coffee, drinks, just the day in bed, anything.
“Nothing,” he says. “I just had a really fucking crazy and inappropriate idea and I realized I’d be a wanker for even asking you.”
Okay, now he really has my attention. “What?”
He exhales through his nose and almost winces. “Last night was something good. I don’t want what I’m about to say to mess that up. To taint the memories. I don’t want ye going back to America with tales of the Irish weirdo.”
I raise my brows for him to just get on with it, though now I’m a little bit afraid of what he’s going to say.
“I have to go home tomorrow,” he says. “Back home to Shambles. To be with my father. To sort out what’s happening over there. I don’t know how long I’m going to be. Maybe a day. Maybe more. Maybe a lot more. I want you to come with me.”
I blink at him for a moment. “You do?”
“Like for emotional support?” I ask. Because, if so, I totally get it.
“Not necessarily,” he says. There’s a caginess to his eyes and I can’t figure out what he’s getting at. “I want ye to come to Shambles and pretend to be my fiancé for a day or two, just to give my father some peace of mind.”
If I was merely blinking at him before, now I’m full on gawking. It takes me a moment to go, “What?”
“Ye don’t have to do anything but smile and nod.”
As if that explains any of this. “I’m sorry, but you’re going to have to repeat all of that, slowly, and then explain all of it, slowly.”
He holds the mug of coffee with both his hands and gives me a fleeting smile that disappears into his beard. “Right. You see, I’ve been up for a few hours now and my mind has been racing. About my father, about my health, about you. About a lot of things. I have to see my father, there’s no doubt there. I need to make amends with him and I truly don’t know what to expect. But I do know that if I showed up there with someone…”
I’m still not getting it. “How would that give your father peace of mind?”
A flash of pain comes across his eyes for a moment and I know there’s something so much more personal going on here that I can barely scratch the surface on. “If ye knew my father…” He pauses, licks his lips. “My mother died when I was sixteen. It’s just been us and we haven’t been the same ever since, our relationship to each other … it’s like my mother was the bridge. The one thing he’d always talk about is what my mother wanted for me. To fall in love, to marry, to have children. My father’s old-fashioned, says the same thing.”
Oh. I see. Because his father might be dying, he wants him to think he’s finally found love for the long run. He wants him to know that he’s going to be okay when he’s gone. Or maybe it’s a lot more complicated than that. All I know is all of this is way over my head.
“I’m sorry,” Padraig says, placing his coffee on the side table and getting out of bed. He starts pacing across the room. “It’s a bloody stupid idea. Like I said, I’ve been up for hours and my mind was getting away from me.”
“It’s not stupid,” I say gently. “I totally get trying to please your parents.”
“It’s not even that I’m trying to please him,” he says, his words coming out hard. “It’s just…” He trails off and stops in the middle of the room, blinking rapidly and then closing his eyes. He sways on his feet for a second and then opens his eyes.
“Are you okay?” I ask, leaning forward. “Why don’t you sit down?”
I don’t expect him to listen but he does, sitting on the end of the bed, his back to me. “I’m fine,” he says quickly. “Just got dizzy for a second.”
“I don’t blame you. You’re overwhelmed. This has got to be so hard on you.”
“Yea,” he says, and seems to zone out for a moment, staring at the wall. “It is.” He clears his throat and gets back up. “I’ll manage. I always do.” He turns around and eyes the coffee in my hand. “Can I get you another one?”
“I’m still working on this,” I tell him.
“Look. I’m really sorry I sprang that on ye. I don’t know what I was thinking.”
“Honestly, I would think the exact same way. Your father is sick, Padraig. You want him to know you’ll be fine. It makes perfect sense to me.” I pause and let my mind run away with me the way his did with him. Pretending to be someone’s fiancé is a preposterous idea and yet the intentions are good. He wants to put his father at ease, he wants to heal the gap between them. And it’s not just a someone. It’s this man who I don’t think I’m ready to say goodbye to. “How far away is the town?” I ask.
He raises a brow and folds his arms across his chest. Nope, definitely not ready to say goodbye to those biceps either. “It’s a two-hour drive.” He cocks his head to the side. “Don’t tell me you’re actually considering it.”
I see the hope on his face and it hits me in the gut like a hammer, because I know that look, I know that hope. That maybe there’s an answer to something you’ve been fighting with for a long time.
And yet I know I have to squash that very hope before it grows, before it hurts.
“I wish I could. But I couldn’t do that to my sisters. Come with them on a sisters’ trip, one we’ve really needed, and then ditch them for a guy.”
He shrugs. “Fair enough.” He clears his throat. “Listen, I’m going to jump in the shower. You’re welcome to join me.”
Even though the invitation is clear in his eyes and my body hums at the thought of getting him naked again, I think the smart thing to do would be to just go. Go before I change my mind and start considering his proposition. Go before things get any more complicated.
“I think I’m just going to take a taxi back to the hotel. I’m sure my sisters are worried about me.” Or supremely hung over.
Padraig nods. I expected him to look at least a little disappointed but his face is blank. “No problem. I’ll drive ye there.”
“It’s really no bother, take your shower.”
He gives me a small smile. “Listen, darlin’,” he says, and the way he rolls his Rs over my nickname gives me a thrill inside. “I wouldn’t be much of a man if I did that. I’ll drive ye. I want to.” He bends down and picks my dress up off the floor. “You want to put this on or do ye want to borrow a shirt?”
“I mean take. It’ll be too big on you but I’m sure you can tie it,” he says, going to his armoire and shuffling through a row of dress shirts. He tosses me a black, long-sleeve one made out of the softest silk I’ve ever felt.
“Wow,” I remark, looking at the label. Tom Ford. Padraig has taste, and it’s expensive. “I didn’t think you were a designer kind of guy.”
“There’s a lot ye don’t know about me, darlin’,” he says before walking out of the room, presumably to give me privacy to change.
I stare at the shirt in my hands and my shoulders slump forward. Am I doing the right thing? Why am I heading back to the hotel already? Why don’t I get in that shower and spend the day with him? Why don’t I at least give a little more consideration to what he asked? Yes, it’s crazy and it’s scary, but wasn’t that what my resolution was all about? How come I stopped saying yes already? I should have said yes to the shower, yes to the fake fiancé. Yes to more of him.
Maybe saying yes led you only to last night, I tell myself. Maybe that’s enough.
But I know in the depths of me that it’s not. There should be more to this.
And yet, I slip on the shirt, button it up, and try to tie it in the most flattering way possible. I don’t have a bra so it’s kind of a lose-lose situation here, but I still feel more comfortable in it than that dress. I then find my underwear and leggings and put them on, then my boots. I grab my phone, make a pit stop in his washroom, then head downstairs.
“I hate to say it,” Padraig says as I step off the last step. He’s leaning against the kitchen island with my coat in his hands. “But that might be sexier than the dress.”
“It’s because I’m not wearing a bra,” I tell him with a smile.
“You won’t hear me complaining.” He slips the coat on me like a gentleman and leads me outside. The air is crisp and cold, but there’s a purity to it, as if the weather knew it was the first day of the year and needed to be a clean slate. All of yesterday and yesteryear is hidden by a few inches of snow.