Kitty raps on the glass overlooking the street. “Have you seen the owl outside your window?”
I follow her line of vision knowing I’ll see nothing. “There’s an owl?”
“Sure, maybe it was yesterday. I can’t keep track.” Kitty looks crestfallen, but a smile chases it away. She goes to my dresser, flips over the tea cup, and begins to pour tea. From the lack of steam, I know it’s ice cold. “Why do you never hang out down in the pub? We really have a lovely menu. Our cook, Martin, takes the bus in every morning from Howth with fresh fish. It’s gorgeous with chips, so it is.”
To be honest, I do want spend some time down in the pub. When I walk through the buzzing crowd at night, I’m always tempted to pull up a stool and watch everyone operate. The old men at the bar, left over from the day crowd, shaking their heads at the younger customers’ antics. Office workers whose ties and tongues get looser the later it gets. There always seems to be a bachelorette party/pub crawl of some sort taking place, putting a group of girls in feather boas and glitter lotion. It’s Shane. He’s the reason I don’t stay. Yet if I dig deep into my subconscious, I’d probably realize he’s also the main reason I want to stay. So go figure.
“I’ve heard good things about the cod.” I push my tangled hair back over my shoulder. “Some night I’m definitely going to stop in.”
“A fib if I ever heard one.”
“Yeah.” I laugh, still too groggy to make a convincing denial. Kitty sets the teapot down on the dresser and starts to make the bed. Guess I won’t be going back to sleep, after all. With a shrug, I head to the bathroom and brush my teeth, wondering why she’s decided to switch up the routine, almost as if she knows I’d planned on getting an early start today. My musings are interrupted when I hear a deeper voice coming from the bedroom. The last of my sleepiness shoots toward the ceiling and sticks like slime.
Shane is in my bedroom.
I freeze in place, hating myself for checking my reflection in the mirror. I’m currently somewhere in the neighborhood of Swamp Thing’s ugly cousin. No way am I going out there. I shut off the running water in the sink to listen, trying to figure out why he is in my room.
“You took the wrong pot, Ma.” His voice is gentler than usual as he sets something down with a thunk. “This one’s just boiled. I’ll trade you.”
“You know, I thought something about it felt odd.” The note of embarrassment in her voice makes me frown. “The temperature, like.”
“The pots look the same, don’t they? Easy mistake.” A floorboard creeks. “Now when you start serving coffee to the guests, we’ll know you’ve finally lost the plot.”
In my horror, I drop my tooth brush, but the sound only interrupts Kitty’s delighted laughter. Obviously, she is far from offended, but now I’ve given myself away as an eavesdropper. Honestly, the fact that I’ve become an eavesdropper in my own room is exasperating. Throwing one last disgusted glance at myself in the mirror, I swagger into the bedroom. As much as one can swagger in boxer shorts and bare feet.
Shane comes into view, his gaze running over my bare legs before snapping back up to search my face. There it is again, that thoughtful expression that makes me wonder what he’s thinking when I shouldn’t give a flying f**k. His hair is slightly more rumpled than usual and he’s wearing suspenders. Apart from firefighters, I don’t think I’ve ever seen someone wear them in real life. They look so good and natural on him it’s unnerving. Kitty is looking between me and Shane with a serene expression on her face, as though we’ve just finished discussing the weather. Do they even need to discuss the weather here? Rain. There, discussion over.
“Well.” Kitty picks up both teapots, smiling cheerfully as she glides toward the door. “I’ll leave you to it, then.”
Shane makes no move to follow her. I raise a single eyebrow and point toward the door, but Kitty is already closing it behind her. All I can do is gape.
“What are you still doing here?” My breaths are shortening. This is far too intimate, both of us sleep-tangled, standing in the dim morning light with a bed so close. Without the armor of my jeans and boots in place, I feel far too exposed. I need him to leave. “You have to go.”
“In a moment.”
“God, your family lacks basic boundaries.” I shift my feet on the cold floor. “Do you have tea parties at six in the morning with all your guests, or am I just that special?”
“Fair warning, girl. I’m having trouble contending with your smart mouth and those shorts at the same time.”
My hands fly to the hem of my boxers, but I stop at the last second and cross my arms over my chest. I refuse to cover up my legs in my own room. “What do you want?”
“I should think that was obvious by now.”
Me. He means me. I can tell by the way his voice has dropped, falling like a boulder in the quiet room. I take a step backward, away from his intensity, even though there is a dark, untapped part of me that wants to venture closer.
“Please rid yourself of that nervous expression. Don’t you think I realize this is inappropriate, coming into your room like this? You never stand still long enough to give me another option.”
There is a thread of frustration in his voice that echoes in the pit of my stomach. “Say what you came to say. I have plans.”
“Of course you do.” He scrubs a hand over his stubbled jaw. “What you said Friday night in my car… I don’t like being wrong. Something tells me you understand that feeling well.”
I don’t respond, but he definitely has my attention now. He’s talking about my impulsively telling him about my mother. The threat of him coming any closer fades, some unnamed intuition telling me it wouldn’t be his style to catch me off guard with a reminder of something upsetting and then take advantage. Still, I’m far from relaxed. Relaxing around Shane simply isn’t a possibility. Especially not now when he looks like he’s just crawled out from between a pile of twisted sheets.
Shane clears his throat and nods toward my shirt. “Chicago Police Department. Do you know someone on the force, or did you get that as a souvenir for being arrested?”
The abrupt subject change throws me off. “That was it, huh? Your whole apology?” He simply leans against the doorjamb and raises an eyebrow. Apparently his implying he might have been wrong about me is all I’m going to get this fine morning. Although something tells me a brief, stilted explanation counts as groveling in Shane’s world. “My sister’s husband Derek. He’s a homicide lieutenant now, but he’s being promoted soon to captain.”
Remembering how I came by this T-shirt makes me smile. The first week Ginger and I lived in Chicago, our apartment flooded. Derek had come out into the hallway, taken one look at both of us in soaked nightclothes, and stomped back into his apartment to retrieve two department T-shirts, mainly because he didn’t like the group of firemen ogling Ginger. His concern for me came secondary, but I didn’t care. It was the first time someone besides Ginger had gone out of their way to make me comfortable. I’ll keep this damn shirt until I die.
“He’s important to you.” His statement jerks my attention back to the present. There it is again, that reflective expression on his face, as if he’s trying to solve an algebra equation.