I already know this is wishful thinking. My luck is notoriously f**ked-up. So when the office door is yanked open and Shane walks in, I’ve got a cover story locked and loaded. Metal box under his arm, he freezes when he sees me, one dark brow quirking with an unspoken question.
“Wait a minute, this isn’t the bathroom,” I say, scrutinizing the employees only sign.
I didn’t say it was a good cover story.
Shane isn’t buying it either. He flips on the light, and I see his attention flick over to the box of trophies, then back to me. I’m waging a hefty battle not to turn around to see if I left one of them at a noticeably different angle.
“Curious as well as stubborn, are you?”
Question answered. Pretense dropped. “All right, you caught me. I was lured in by the world’s worst family photo. I was powerless against its creepy magnetism.”
When he moves into the office, his expression reminds me of a hunter who’s just trapped his dinner. He comes so close, I swear he’s going to kiss me. His face comes within inches of mine, his big body making the barest hint of contact. All the while, he keeps his blue eyes trained on me with intent. It’s a ballsy move. It’s unnerving. Challenging. As if catching me red-handed has given him permission to mess with me. I don’t intimidate him at all. Not the way I intimidated—
Evan’s image pops into my mind and at the last second, I flinch backward.
Shane’s laugh is devoid of humor. “Not curious about everything, then?” He draws a set of keys out of his pocket and unlocks one of the desk drawers where he stows the metal box. After he shuts and locks it, he looks up at me again. “Brace yourself. This might come as a shock, but I’m glad I caught you. We should talk.”
For the second time in as many minutes, I’m surprised. It must be some kind of record. My mind automatically begins calculating what he could possibly want to speak with me about. “Is this about me ditching you and taking a cab from the airport? I’m not going to rat you out to the contest organizers. You’ll get your money.”
“I received it this afternoon, or you’d be looking for a new place to stay.”
“Heartwarming.” Jesus. And I thought I was mean? “I thought Ireland was the land of one thousand welcomes.”
“I’m knocking it down to nine-hundred ninety-nine.”
I tilt my head. “Not quite as catchy.”
He smirks. “I want to talk to you about Faith. Close the door. She’s an accomplished eavesdropper, my sister.”
With a shrug, I kick it closed and cross my arms. “Fire away, un-welcomer.”
“Very well. We’ll make this quick.” He reaches down and adjusts one of the trophies nestled in the box. I watch something flicker behind his eyes, but it vanishes pronto. “Back off my sister. I know she doesn’t make it easy, latching on the way she does, but the last thing she needs is a temporary friend.”
My surprise meter must be malfunctioning today. It keeps dinging. “I didn’t come here to make friends,” I say without thinking.
That gives him pause. I can see him battling the urge to explore that statement, but like me, he decides against expressing even the barest form of interest. “Just the same, she’s relentless. Do your best to let her down gently. Although, I reckon tact isn’t something that comes easily to you.”
I laugh a little hysterically. “You’re calling me out on tact?”
Shane acknowledges my words with a sigh. “Look, Faith gets attached.” Another glance at the trophy box. “I won’t be here much longer. When I leave, it’ll be hard enough. I don’t need you making it worse.” He crosses his arms over his wide chest. “I realize you’ve only arrived, but I thought it best to get this conversation out of the way early.”
“Wow. Thanks for letting me unpack before unloading your family’s baggage onto me.”
See, now he’s got me good and pissed. This is exactly what I’d been hoping to avoid. In the last month, I’ve experienced enough teen vampire-style angst to last a lifetime, and I’ve somehow already been dragged into this family’s drama. If there was a red reject button sitting on the desk, I’d slam my fist down on top of it. I have more than one reason to be annoyed and it all goes back to my stupid need to know more. “Where are you going anyway?”
He looks to be debating whether or not to confide in me, but in the end he shrugs. “Back to racing. As soon as I can get this place sold, I’m getting back on the circuit. Shouldn’t be long until I unload this place. There are several interested parties.”
I’ve only been here a couple of hours, and I’m already appalled at the idea of selling the inn. It screams family institution. When you’ve never felt comfortable or welcome in a single place in your life, and you find out someone is taking that very feeling for granted, it’s impossible to understand. “Why did you come back in the first place?”
“My father died.” He says it quickly, snapping the revelation like a whip, as if he’d anticipated the question. Had been asked it countless times. “So you see, this year alone Faith has suffered enough loss. Then you walk in here with your Clash T-shirt, dripping with sarcasm, and she sees an escape. Don’t be that for her, or she’ll wither when you leave.”
“For someone who clearly dislikes me, you seem to have a high opinion of my ability to sweep your sister off her feet.”
“Don’t let it go to your head. You’ve already got enough confidence to fill the Atlantic.”
“What’s the Irish word for hypocrite?” He doesn’t answer, obviously. I want that to be my parting shot—I adore a good parting shot—but there’s still another piece of the puzzle I need to slide into place. “Won’t she still have your mother when you leave?”
Shane laughs under his breath. “You’ll meet Kitty soon enough.”
That answer is far from satisfying, but if I pry any more, it’ll look like I care. And I don’t. “Well. If she’s half as charming as you, I’m in for a treat.”
He rounds the desk and comes toward me. I want to back away, but manage to stand my ground. Something about him puts me on the defensive. He keeps invading my personal space, and I don’t like the way it makes me feel. Anxious…aware. Before he can take another step, I close the distance for him, bringing us toe to toe. I’m trying to send a message, although I have no idea what it is. Stay away, maybe. So why am I moving closer?
His eyebrows dip a little, as if he’s trying to read me, frustrated that he can’t. “Do I have your agreement, Willa?”
I reach behind me and yank the door open with an impatient noise. “Relax, frosty. I told you I wasn’t here to make friends and I meant it.”
“What are you here for?”
I leave without answering. The only person I owe answers to now is myself.
A few days passed and by slipping out of the inn early each morning, I’ve thankfully managed to avoid Shane and Faith. Kitty, not so much. Bright and early the morning after mine and Shane’s laugh-a-minute chat, she knocked on my door while I was still wrapped in a towel, hair dripping wet. Briefly, I’d pictured Shane coming to kick me out, but a tinkling voice had called cheerfully through the wood. Definitely not Shane.