“No, you’re not prying,” she says carefully, taking a dainty sip of her drink. She clears her throat. “I guess you could say I’m a writer. Freelance now. I did have a job for an online newspaper but I was just laid off, literally the day after Christmas.”
“Yeah. Actually, it’s one of the reasons why I came to Ireland. My sisters were always planning to come and I’d been saying no because of work. Suddenly I was let go and I guess it was the only thing that made sense anymore.”
I nod because I understand. Today the rug was pulled out from under me, and for some reason, the only thing that makes sense to me is talking to her. Even if it’s just for this moment, just for tonight, it’s the only thing that’s keeping me on my feet.
“How long are ye here for?”
“A week,” she says.
“Going anywhere in particular?”
She shrugs, looking shy and wistful all at once. There’s something so damn vulnerable about her that’s refreshing. I don’t let anyone get too close to me and the few relationships I’ve had have always been rather shallow. Everyone is always dancing around each other, acting a part, playing a game. But this girl is different. Everything about her is and I don’t think she even knows it.
“I don’t know,” she says eventually. “My sisters are in charge. I’m just giving them the reins and letting them steer.”
“I bet it feels good to let someone else be in control for a bit, someone ye trust.”
Valerie gives me a small smile. “That’s true. Except I’m not sure how much I trust my sisters. They have a bit of an agenda right now.”
“Well, this damn resolution. They’re really taking it and running. Had it not been for them, I wouldn’t have come over to talk to you.”
I raise a brow. “Really?”
“I knew right away I was going to be rejected.”
I have to admit, that hurts. I wince. “Sorry.”
“It’s fine. It’s just I never go up to guys. That’s why they wanted me to do it.”
I frown at her, my eyes resting on her full, creamy cleavage for just long enough before they travel over the dainty planes of her collarbones, up her long neck and stopping at her stunning face. “I’m going to assume that guys are always coming up to ye.”
She blushes crimson and I notice it flush on her chest. “No. They don’t.”
“Then they’re intimidated.”
She shakes her head. “I’m just not…”
“Not what?” I ask, leaning in slightly. “You have to know how beautiful you are.”
Somehow her skin goes an even deeper shade of red. She’s flustered and her mouth opens and closes, trying to find some way out of the compliment.
“It’s true,” I go on. “I don’t bullshit and I don’t mince my words. I rarely see someone like you, and more than that, rarely want to spend time with them either. But here I am. And here you are.”
“And what do we have here?”
Another voice infiltrates our cozy little scene and I tear my eyes away from Valerie to assess the intruder. It’s her other sister, the one who was on the phone.
She looks a little more different than the others. She’s taller with an athletic physique, her hair brown and shoulder-length, her outfit all black and no-nonsense. I can tell she’s going to be the tough one. Mothers are often tough.
Her eyes are running over me and I can’t tell what she’s thinking. Eventually she looks at Valerie, brows raised. “Did the guy come to his senses?”
While Valerie looks like she wants to die at that comment, I can’t help but smirk. She pulls no punches. I admire that. “I did, actually,” I tell her, getting off the stool and offering my hand. “I’m Padraig.”
“Angie,” she says, her handshake very firm. “Nice to see you up close and not all this.” She gestures to the line between my brows and mimics a frowning face.
“How is Tabitha?” Valerie asks, trying to switch the subject away from her sister’s miming.
It seems to do the trick, and I assume that Tabitha is her daughter because Angie’s face immediately softens. In fact, every part of her becomes a puddle. “She’s good. It’s still pretty early at home so she was tired and a bit cranky. She said she misses me and I think that pissed Mom off.”
“What doesn’t piss her off?” Valerie says.
I have a feeling this conversation is about to leer into personal territory that I have no business being a part of, so I prepare to say my goodbyes. I probably should go home before midnight anyway. I know the minute I step away from her I’ll be back to being in a mood and that’s a mood that shouldn’t be around anyone, especially when alcohol is involved.
“Well, it was nice to meet ye both,” I tell them, raising my empty glass at them. “I wish ye both a happy new year.”
“No,” Angie practically hisses. “Don’t leave on account of me.” She glances at Valerie. “The last thing I want to do is be a cockblocker.”
I can’t help but grin at that, and again Valerie looks embarrassed. It’s hard to tell where her skin ends and her hair begins.
“Seriously,” Angie says. “Stay. Stay here. I’ll go find Sandra.” She reaches over the table and snatches up her purse. “Valerie, text me later. Have fun tonight. Love you.” She says this a mile a minute, and suddenly she’s gone, like she vanished into thin air and it’s just Valerie and I again in the alcove.
“Wow,” I remark, watching her get swallowed by the crowd. “I would have thought she was going to tell me to get out of here.”
“She’s usually a lot tougher than that,” Valerie says after a minute. “I thought she would have given you the third degree.”
“So why didn’t she?”
She gives me a quick glance and smiles. “I guess she trusted you. Or trusted me.”
“Or maybe she thought I was good for ye.”
I expected her to blush even more at that, but she doesn’t. She just gives me another smile, this one soft, and I feel it in my gut.
I want to be good for her. This redhead from Philadelphia, the writer, the one with the body that won’t quit, the one who lacks any armor right now, who is saying yes to the moment and not thinking about the future. I want to be good for someone, now, while I can.
“Do ye want to get out of here?” I ask her, knowing I might be too presumptuous but also knowing it feels like there are no rules tonight and the shy beautiful girl might just want to be with me.
She licks her lips in thought, her eyes on her sisters by the bar who are now drinking and throwing us quick glances. Then she meets my gaze. “Yes.”
I know what that yes means.
What the hell am I doing?
One moment I’m nursing my bruised ego over a cider, the next the stranger who had bruised said ego is buying me a whisky and asking me about my life.
Now he wants to get out of here, and while I’m not sure where, I have an idea, and I said yes.
Something tells me this resolution of mine is going to get me into nothing but trouble.
The odd part is even though I’m usually a bit socially awkward around guys, it’s not the case at all with Padraig. And I should be. I mean, he’s the most enigmatic, sexy, commanding man I’ve ever had the pleasure to be around. His accent makes me melt, especially how he says “you”—even his damn name is sexy (it’s pronounced “Pawd-rig”). I should be an awkward puddle of mush around him, knocking over drinks and saying stupid things.
But so far I’ve managed to hold it all together. Aside from the out of control blushing, of course—there’s no helping that.
I get to my feet, ready to follow this Irishman, this stranger with a name, and only then do I realize how damn tall and big he is. I’m not short by any means, around 5’7”, but Padraig has got to be at least 6’4”. It’s not even just his height though, it’s the space he takes up. I can tell he’s got muscles to die for and a frame that can take a beating, both probably a prerequisite for rugby, but he has a way about him that makes him seem larger than life.
Everyone in the room knows it, that’s why they’ve never stopped glancing over at him the whole time he was talking to me. I know I’m nothing to sneeze at, and that to some guys my excessive curves are more of an asset than a hindrance, but I still can’t help but feel I have to be way out of this guy’s league. He’s a rugby star here, he’s probably used to having hot models on his arm all hours of the day.
But he chose to talk to you, I remind myself before I get carried away. He didn’t go off with them, and even when they were throwing themselves at him, he chose you.
I take in a deep breath from my nose and steady myself, pushing those thoughts of being unworthy out of my head. It’s been a long battle with my self-esteem ever since “the accident” when I was six years old, and only recently did I start going to a few therapy sessions hoping to get a handle on my body dysmorphia, my trauma, and of course, my family. I’m working on it, I guess that’s the important part.
“Shall we?” he asks, his delicious accent and the warmth in his voice putting me at ease. With my jumbled thoughts and sensitive heart, that’s not always an easy thing to do.
“Sure,” I tell him as I follow him through the bar.
How funny it is that he even has warmth in his voice. When I was observing him from afar, I could have sworn he’d be cold as ice. That’s why I was so reluctant to approach him. And I guess he was cold, at first.
But even though there’s a wash of sadness that seems to pass over his dark eyes from time to time, whatever thing he was dealing with earlier seems to have been pushed aside. Maybe I’m distracting him from his problems as much as he seems to be distracting me from mine.