I snap back to the present when Brian and Patrick set their instruments down on the stage, bowing dramatically to the raucous applause. Flushed and goofy-smiled, Faith pats the dancing partner warmly on the shoulder and skips her way back to me. She looks so damn pleased with herself that I raise my beer in salute and she curtsies in response. I hand her my beer and she downs it in one swallow. When she comes up for air, we both laugh.
“Did you see me out there, Willa?”
“I did. You’re a regular Colin Farrell.”
Her tinkling laugh draws interested looks from the same male customers I’ve been warning away from me with dark looks all night. Faith isn’t nearly as intimidating. In her current bubbly, bright-eyed state, she’s effervescent. I shouldn’t feel proud, but I can’t help it. Someone plays a pop song on the jukebox, and Faith jumps up and down, obviously recognizing the song. I’ve never heard it.
Patrick and Brian approach us, and Patrick throws a wiry arm around my shoulders. I roll my eyes at the gesture, but my good mood lets him keep it there. “Brian, have you ever seen two more beautiful women grace the four walls of O’Kelly’s?”
“None beside our ma, Pat.” He smiles rather charmingly at Faith. “So, Beyoncé, are you going to tell us your friend’s name?”
“Gentleman, meet Celine Dion.”
“Celine, you dance like a dream,” Brian says without missing a beat. “I could barely concentrate on my fiddle playing. It takes a certain kind of woman to distract me from my strings.”
Faith cocks a hip and bats her eyelashes. “And just what kind of woman is that?”
“The right kind, love.”
Oh boy. “Celine, this is Patrick. And Brian is the one not so subtly trying to pick you up.” I shake my head at the brothers’ pleased grins. They really didn’t have the ability to feel shame. “These guys have an interesting busking act on Grafton Street.”
“Do you?” Faith breathes. “I bet you meet loads of interesting people.”
“Loads,” Brian confirms, visibly delighted to have Faith’s full attention. “I’m willing to bet none of them are half as interesting as you, though.”
Faith turns red. “Ah, go away of that.”
I watch carefully as the bartender slides a round of drinks in front of Patrick. He hands one to each of us, then holds up his pint. It’s so full that foam washes down over his calloused hand, but he doesn’t seem to notice. “Here’s to the fine balance of the universe.”
My drink pauses halfway to my mouth. “Huh?”
“The balance of the universe,” Patrick explains with a wink. “No other way to explain us being kicked out of our flat this morning, then find ourselves sharing drinks with the two most beautiful women in Dublin that very same night.”
“To balance,” Brian toasts, then drains half his glass.
Right now, that absurd explanation is making complete sense to me. In fact, as I take a long sip of my drink, I wonder if that practical outlook isn’t the answer to everything. Just look at me. I wouldn’t be here shooting the shit with pickpockets if I hadn’t gone through a draining break-up.
“To balance,” I repeat to myself. “So what did you do to get kicked out?”
Brian laughs. “It was a long time coming, I’m afraid. But the final straw was last night. Patrick came home piss drunk, put on his headphones, and blasted his stereo as high as it would go.”
“And what’s wrong with that?” Faith asks curiously. “He was wearing his headphones after all, wasn’t he?”
“I forgot to plug them into the stereo.” Patrick takes a quick sip of his beer and sets it on the bar. “Nearly blasted the bloody building to the ground. Here’s me, thinking all that racket is inside my headphones, when they can hear it ten roads away.”
Brian leans in and interrupts Faith and my laughter. “Down the stairs comes our landlord in nothing but his jocks, pounding on the door to shut it off, but by that stage Patrick is passed out under the coffee table. And a cheese toastie burning on the stove.” The brothers exchange a laugh of recollection. “You’re lucky I came in when I did or they’d be digging your arse out of the rubble.”
Patrick throws a hand over his heart. “Brother.”
Brian shakes his head, but there’s a sparkle in his eye. “You’re a menace.”
I open my mouth to ask where they’re planning on staying, but I feel a shift in the bar’s energy. It’s swift and I appear to be the only one who feels it. The other three continue their conversation unfettered, but I rub my arms and search for the source of disruption.
I see Shane. He’s a head taller than most people in the bar and he’s looking directly at me, prowling toward us in a manner that all at once offends me and renders me breathless. Who does he think he is, moving like that? Women turn as he passes, possibly feeling the same surge in energy I did. It irritates me even more when he doesn’t pay them any notice, as if he’s so used to female attention, it’s a foregone conclusion.
As he comes closer, I notice his glacial gaze is locked on Patrick’s arm, thrown innocently around my shoulder. Without thinking, I slip from beneath it.
Faith is chattering away beside me, her voice full of youthful enthusiasm I’m kind of beginning to envy. I’ve gone this far in giving her a night of freedom, so I decide to salvage it before Shane blows my efforts to hell.
“Brian, if you don’t ask Faith to dance soon, she’s going to spontaneously combust. Then you won’t have a place to live, or a bar to drink in.”
No sooner are the words out of my mouth than Brian shoves his drink into Patrick’s hands and twirls a squealing Faith toward the dance floor. I throw a quick, “I’ll be right back,” at a curious Patrick and move to intercept Shane. We meet at the center of the bar, and I try to ignore the sighs of obvious disappointment from the women around me when they assume I’m his girlfriend. I almost laugh at how far off they are. His disdain for me is written all over his face. It’s in every line of his hard body.
“Are you daft, girl?”
I have zero patience for questions like that. There really is no acceptable answer. My options are either No, I’m not daft, which will be unsatisfying for us both. Or Yes, in fact, I am daft, which will required a lot more explanation. “How did you find us?”
His jaw tightens when I don’t address his question. “It hardly matters.”
“Does to me.”
Over my head, he watches Faith dance and I see a strange look enter his eye, before it vanishes. “You left the address on a note, stuck to your nightstand. I put two and two together.”
My mind races with the implications of that. I can feel my neck getting hot, my temper beginning to make an appearance. “You went into my room?”
“I had no choice. Kitty saw you two leave together, and Faith won’t answer her bloody phone.” He shrugs his broad shoulders impatiently. “It’s not as if I went through your underwear drawer.”
“I’ll never know for sure, will I?”
“If I wanted to see your underwear, there are more creative ways to accomplish it.”