Guitar Player reads my mind. “We’ll disappear before you have a chance, pet.”
“Please, stop calling me that. It’s dehumanizing.”
“Give us a name to use instead.”
“Beyoncé.” They exchange an amused glance. “Your turn.”
“Patrick,” says the pickpocket. “Not half as glamorous, but they do the trick.”
Brian has moved onto the chorus of “American Woman,” his fingers flying over the neck of the guitar. “How long are you in town, Beyoncé? I’d hate for this to be good-bye.”
For some reason, these two are already starting to grow on me. I haven’t talked to anyone in days apart from loony-tunes Kitty, and the banter feels easy and free of expectation. I know it doesn’t speak well of me that I get along so well with a couple of cons, but what can I say? I’m more comfortable exchanging words with these two than I ever was with Evan’s friends. “Why? You have any suggestions?”
Patrick smiles. “We’ve a gig Friday nights in O’Kelly’s down on Sheriff Street, if you’re up for a pint and some real Irish music. None of this watered-down shite.”
I consider them for a minute, wondering if there’s any harm meeting two semistrangers as long as it’s in a public place. Derek would shit a live cow, but he’s not here, and frankly, these two seem like the good time I need. I decide to case O’Kelly’s beforehand and leave if anything seems weird. “I’ll make you a deal. You guys let me return that pink wallet to its owner, and I’ll think about Friday.”
It’s comical how both of them deflate, shoulders hunching like two scolded children being told to share. In the end, Patrick hands it over. “You’re worse than our ma.”
My lips tug into a smile. “Thank you.”
“See you Friday then?”
I split a look between them. “As long as you realize I’m not interested in either of you sexually.”
“Women rarely are.”
With a laugh, I leave them standing there and walk toward the mother, who is checking the ground for her missing wallet. “Hey,” I call out, holding up the wallet. “Did you drop this?”
Later that night, I walk into the Claymore Inn, surprised to find the pub mostly empty. A check of my watch tells me I’ve been out longer than I thought. On a weeknight at ten o’clock, it appears the good people of Dublin are resting up for work the next morning. Over the last few nights, I’ve managed to sneak past the bar without making eye contact with a swamped Shane. I don’t escape so easily tonight. He turns his head at my entrance, but he doesn’t move from his casual lean against the gleaming bar. An eager-looking man stands at the bar, watching as Shane writes something down on a glossy magazine. When Shane hands it back to him, I realize he’s just signed an autograph.
This is the first time it has occurred to me that he’s actually…famous, in a way. I’ve seen the trophies, but until now his attitude has been taking up most of my attention. Why is it kind of appealing to me when he acts like he signs autographs several times a day?
He’s layered a white, long-sleeved shirt under a black polo, the white material pushed halfway up his forearms. He nods absently at the man now thanking him, but he’s watching me as he starts chewing on a red cocktail straw.
“I was starting to think you’d gone back to Chicago.”
“You won’t get rid of me that easily.”
“More’s the pity.”
Knowing the few remaining customers could hear every word, I feel a stupid flush creep up my neck. I start to beeline for the back staircase, but something occurs to me. I’m running from him. Letting him intimidate me. If I do it once, it might become a habit, and I don’t want to run anymore. Easing into a swagger, I pull out a bar stool and hop up into the sturdy leather seat. I have the distinct pleasure of watching his teeth clench down hard on the straw. I don’t normally drink, but tonight I’m making an exception. I wait for him to ask me what I’m having, but he’s already putting together some sort of concoction out of my line of sight. When he sets the Shirley Temple down in front of me with a smirk, I reel back my temper like a fisherman who just caught a great white.
Smile feeling as though it might crack, I fish through the ice for a cherry and pop it into my mouth. When his gaze drops to my lips, watching me chew, I know staying in the bar was a mistake. I clear my throat, breaking the silence, bringing his shadowed blue eyes back up to mine. “Slow night. I guess not everyone values abrasiveness in their bartender.”
“I can play nice when I want to.”
“That remains to be seen.”
He leans forward on strong forearms. “Would you like to see for yourself, tough girl?”
I force myself not to jerk back, but it’s a damn struggle when his face comes within inches of mine. “I can’t think of anything less appealing.”
That deep voice sends a ribbon of smoke curling in my belly. It alarms the ever-loving hell out of me. Is it because he’s so different than Evan that I’m being…drawn? Because he is, really. Entirely different than Evan. The anti-Evan. My ex-boyfriend had never challenged me like this or called me on my bullshit. He’d only ever tried to rid me of it. Like I must have known it would, the forced reminder of Evan sends me leaning back in my chair, as if he’s just walked into the room and found me inches from another man so soon.
Shane’s stare is unnerving. “You didn’t answer my question the other night. What are you doing here, Willa?” He looks over my head at some invisible spot before his attention locks back on me, more intense than before. “I’ve a hunch it’s a man you’re after running away from.”
“I don’t care if you have a hunch,” I scoff. “Your opinion means jack to me.”
He winks at me, the f**ker. “Now, if that were true, you wouldn’t mind telling me about him.”
“I never confirmed or denied I’m running away from a him. Or running at all, for that matter.”
“What’s his name?”
In the interest of buying myself some time, I take a long sip of the pink, fizzy drink. It’s actually really tasty. Why do we stop drinking Shirley Temples when we get older? They’re a goddamn delight is what they are.
I give a mental eye roll when I realize even my subconscious is trying to change the subject. Oh, what the hell. Maybe I’ll just give him something to get him off my back.
“Evan.” The name tastes like bitter failure in my mouth.
Why he seems disappointed, I can’t begin to fathom. “Bad breakup?”
“You could say that.”
He rubs the heel of his hand against his jaw, appearing to weigh his next question. “Why’d you go your separate ways in the end?”
I laugh loudly enough to draw the attention of a man half asleep in the corner stool. “You actually think I’m going to tell you that?” Another sip of pink stuff. “No way am I handing you that ammunition so you can use it against me at will.”
“That bad, huh?”
Shane’s deadpan response infuriates me, mainly because it tells me that I’ve shown my hand. I’m not giving him an inch more. In fact, I decide to take a few back. Something has been bothering me ever since our conversation the night I arrived. His curt reply when I asked why he returned to Dublin. His defensive manner when revealing plans to sell the inn. Maybe I’ll just take a stab in the dark and see if I hit something. After all, it’s what he’s doing by asking about Evan. “We’re all running from something, though. You would know. Right, Shane?”