Oh, shit! The door slammed shut as he staggered inside his father’s office and into the path of a loaded pistol. Caught mid-stride, his gaze locked on the man standing behind a rich carved mahogany desk. Not the greeting he needed.
“Patrick?” The recognizable voice called out across the candle-lit space.
He inhaled the musty air then released a deep breath of relief.
“Hello, Father.” Patrick dropped his coat onto the gentleman’s chair and rolled down his sleeves. “Pleasure seeing ye here, too.”
“Look at you—what in heaven’s name have you gotten yourself into?” Mr. O’ Callahan demanded, keeping his gun and gaze fixed on him. “Answer me!”
Double shit. Patrick stood still, awaiting his opponent’s next move, and swallowed hard.
All it took was firing that one well positioned shot for this to be over. Go ahead and put me out of me misery, if ye must. His gaze remained fixed on that pistol still held firm in his father’s hand.
Would he dare? Nay.
“Well, answer me dammit and this better be good.”
“Ah, it’s nothin’. I can take care of meself.” His voice cracked.
“Like Hell it isn’t.”
Like bullets, the beat of those words ricocheted off the walls of his conscience, intensifying the throbbing pain inside. Yet, all he wanted this precise moment was a quiet place to sleep it off.
Wishful thinking, he mused, massaging his temple with his palm.
“Just boxing, nothin’ broken.” Patrick mumbled at last.
“Well then, I see Seamus’ bad influence has finally rubbed off on you.” His father sighed. “Knew that boy was nothing but trouble since the day we took him in, yet your mother insisted.”
Arms crossed, Patrick breathed deeply, arching a questioning eyebrow.
“Going to lower yer weapon or should I grab good ole Cap’in Will’s rapier off the wall. And we can duel this out instead?” His gaze travelled to the far wall and rested on the sword secured beside his grandfather’s portrait.
“Hmm, yes, right you are. Sorry ‘bout that, son.” Mr. O’ Callahan lowered his pistol and placed it back inside the top drawer before taking a seat opposite him. “I heard a noise outside and thought—”
“Some stray alley cat had wandered in for a place to call home.” He finished, slumping into the tan leather chair.
With limited emotion displayed, his father returned to the pile of paperwork collected atop his desk.
“Shouldn’t ye be fussin’ over them precious ponies of yers instead? Hear ye have a big race coming up.”
“Actually, I have rather urgent business matters to tend to here, if you don’t mind.” His father grumbled, keeping his gaze lowered on his work.
Patrick leaned back into the butter-soft leather and silently watched him. The short hurried strokes he made with his quill, paired with the frequent deep breaths.
The parchment was folded and stuffed inside an envelope. A generous pool of warmed blood-red wax was poured onto the backside. A wooden handled stamp was pushed down firm into the wax while it cooled, setting the company’s seal.
The letter was set aside and the accounting ledger opened.
Silence bridged the space between them and expanded as the ticking clock on the wall behind counted the minutes away. With another heavy sigh, his father lifted his gaze and growled, “Go home, Patrick, this isn’t the time.”
“And what if it’s, the only time we can talk?”
“Fine, you want to talk?” Mr. O’ Callahan began his lecture. “Time you settled down and took your responsibilities as heir to the family business a little more seriously.”
“And what if I don’t want all that responsibility?” Patrick returned.
“Well, you had better—time you took a more active role in the daily operations around here.” Leaning forward, he continued, “I want my grand children to have a legacy they’ll be proud to live up to and pass on to their children one day.”
Tapping his fingers on the edge of the armrest, he countered, “Perhaps, I don’t want all that. Maybe that ‘legacy’ of yers is too much to live up to, if Grayson were alive—”
“We’d save this conversation for another day.” His father retorted. “With that, I’m sending you on a business venture, first thing tomorrow. I'm putting you in charge of operations at our new London office. I need you to secure some business holdings for us. Maybe this time away will help you gain some direction in life by maturing into that fine man you were truly meant to be. And it’s not up for discussion, understood?”
“Fine. And what would grandfather have to say about all this? Look at ye runnin’ his hard-earned company straight into the ground, pouring all yer money into those expendable racehorses instead. By summer's end there won’t be much left of it fer me.”
“You leave him out of it as well, you hear. He’s not here to speak for himself either.” Mr. O’ Callahan slammed his papers down on his desk and rose to his feet. "I'm in charge of this company and I'll run it any way I damn well please."
Tears glistened in his pa’s eyes despite his tough exterior and Patrick wanted to apologize. Instead, he watched him from behind, unlocking a liquor cabinet in the bookcase. A bottle of the finest rum, labeled Rumfustian, was retrieved along with a tulip glass, which carried a fitting price tag to match, no less.
Only the finest money bought suited his father best.
“Seein’ how it’s my life and all, maybe I wish to make a name for me own self and some day marry a sweet girl like Tess instead—ever care to think about what I may need or want here for a change?”
Patrick waited, though no answer came. He soon noticed his father’s hand tremor as he poured, nearly dropping the glass. Alarmed, he half-rose to his feet when his father turned round.
“Tess, you say?” A snort of laughter escaped him, as his cheeks rouged. “The innkeeper’s daughter, have you lost your mind?”
“Now, Pa I—” A firm knock from behind cut him short, and he sat back down.
“Come in.” The door softly creaked open and they both turned toward their guest standing in the doorway. “Ah, James, come right in. We were just finishing things up here.”
James Finley nodded and walked up to the desk. “Was in the area and thought I’d check to see if you be needin’ anything. Heard some shoutin’, hope everythin’s alright.”
“Everything’s just fine.” Mr. O’ Callahan smiled to his chief employee then turned back. “Now son, I expect to see you back here first thing in the morning.” He glared. “And it would be wise of you not to disobey me.”
Patrick stood, pulling on his coat then walked away without a word.
At the doorway, he paused while looking back to the two men in hushed conversation and listened close. “…make sure this urgent letter reaches the Earl of Lancaster, safely. Time cannot be wasted here when so much is dependent upon its outcome…”
The last of his father’s words trailed off as he stepped into the hall, closing the door.
With several questions flooding his mind at once, he inhaled deeply and shook them away for some other time. Maybe tomorrow’s meeting and this new business venture would provide those answers.
For now, all he needed was another place to rest up and clearly the mansion was out of the question as well. He was in no mood at all to deal with his mum this late at night either.
Perhaps, Ye Olde Inn would do?
Tess, he thought, wandering out the building’s back entrance.
How he needed her right now. Aye and yet, he couldn’t let her see him like this. What would she think of him? A shameless drifter? Or better yet, a waste of her time as well?
What had become of him?
In all his thirty years of bachelorhood. This was one night he wished to forget, morning couldn’t arrive fast enough, so it seemed. Then he remembered the Faery Star pendant he bought her this eve with his own money, both tucked inside his coat pocket.
Would she even accept it after knowing the cost?
Patrick retrieved his mount and spurred onward bound for King’s Crossing, which became St. Kevin’s Street at the outer edge of Dublin. Gas lampposts lit the way along Portside’s promenade, as his heart guided him along that darkened path to a fond place of his youth.
The Rowan tree it was.
♣ ♣ ♣
Tess lay beneath the sheltering foliage of the giant Rowan tree.
This was her sanctuary. Her slice of heavenly bliss.
She could spend hours here, amongst the Faeries or “Wee Folk” who dwelled inside the tree’s trunk. Anything to escape the dullness of her life as the innkeeper’s only daughter.
’Twas a special place she and Patrick had frequented often as children.
Twenty-four years. Nearly a quarter of her life already spent at Ye Olde Inn, helping her father with the daily chores, affectionately treating each of his guests like they were her own extended family. Like the true family—complete with a mum and siblings—she longed to have over the many years.
Her deepest wish, yet something she kept to herself.
Her arms folded beneath her head and she gazed up at the cloudless sky sprinkled with stars. Fond memories from those long-forgotten days sparkled to life against the midnight expanse.
Of children in play, laughing and chasing one another round the Rowan tree. The sweet scent of honeysuckle tickled her senses with curiosity. She reached down to take a handful and wound up with a mouthful of grass as an unsuspecting tree-root caused her to take a swift tumble.
Patrick rushed to her side and examined her scraped knee. He wiped away a tear from her cheek and then the debris from the wound with his crisp white sleeve, smiling. He whispered, “Oh Tess, not to worry. I’ll fix ye right up.” He kissed her knee, tenderly, which made her feel all better inside.
Then the memories twinkled into thoughts of the future ahead…the many exciting adventures out there waiting for her far beyond the boundaries of the only home she had ever known. Of those magical and wondrous places Patrick had visited—even described to the last detail in all their correspondence over their years apart. A promised new life together as friends forever, awaited her…
She smiled, wondering when she’d hear from him next. And if he came this evening to take her away, would she go? Could she ever leave this place and more importantly, her father behind?
A horse’s eager whinny off in the distance swiftly answered her.
Torn from those precious thoughts, Tess straightened like a pin, listening to the crunching of grass and stone. Her gaze fixed in the direction of the highway.
She was spellbound by the steady drum of the horse’s hoof beats coming down the hillside. Her breath caught in her throat as the horseman came into view.
“Patrick?” She called, as he pulled his steed to a hurried stop.
“Tess, hadn’t expected to find ye here.” He returned, staying within the silvery shadows.
“Couldn’t sleep so I came out here for a bit o’ stargazin’, won’t you join me?”
“Nay, not tonight.”
Everythin’ alright?” She inquired.
His graceful palomino danced in circles, pawing at the soft earth, as she approached them. He looked away, yet the full moon’s soft light revealed what he’d tried to keep hidden.
“Dear God, Patrick. Did yer father do this to ye?”
Hesitantly, he answered, “Nay, I did. It was foolish of me.” He paused, steadying his mount. “Ye needn’t worry Tess, I’ll be fine.”
“I’ll be the judge of that.” She reached her hand for him to take. ‘Come inside, let me have a look at ye.”
“Ye should go back inside.” He urged, turning his mount back toward the highway.
Yet Tess persisted, smiling up at him. “I’ve got a batch of chocolate puddin’ cake, yer favorite, freshly made. Please won’t you come inside, if only for awhile?”
Patrick succumbed to her sincere kind-heartedness and dismounted.
“I’ll have pa take Éireheart down to the stables for some feed and rest. And ye can tell me all about yer troubles.” She assured, rubbing the horse’s velvety pink nose, and took the reins.
“Ah, yer too good a friend to me, Tess. Don’t know where I’d be without ye.” He followed her along the moonlit pathway and in through the back door of Ye Olde Inn.
♣ ♣ ♣
“Have a seat.” Tess motioned while taking his coat. The strong scent of cigar smoke and pure masculinity mixed with aged whiskey clung to the black velvet, she noted before resting it on the back of the chair next to him. A scent she hardly noticed before and yet for whatever reason, this evening, could not ignore.
Nonetheless, she dismissed it for now, while whisking her way over to the counter. A large chocolate cake decorated with fresh flowers and shamrocks rested beneath a clear dome, waiting to be served.
Her birthday had arrived hours earlier, and yet it seemed everyone hardly noticed, especially her dearest friend seated at the table a few feet away.
Patrick glanced around the kitchen as she set a generous slice of the cake onto a plate. “I see not much has changed, since the last time I was here.”
Tess smiled back. “Has it been that long,” she teased, handing him the plate and a fork.
“Too long, in fact. Thank you.”
Returning to the counter, she retrieved a bowl and a bottle of ointment from the upper cabinet. She poured water from the blue ceramic pitcher and placed a cloth to soak in the bowl as she carried the items over to the table.
The items were set down and she picked up the bottle, opening it. Lost in thought, while humming a favorite Celtic tune, she stole a quick glance at him.
However innocent. There was something different about him tonight—a deep longing need burned bright in his eyes. One she hadn’t seen there before which awakened something new within herself.
He set the cake aside, watching her ring the excess water from the cloth, then reached for her hand. The faded square of fabric dropped back into the bowl when his hand covered hers.
Her heart fluttered like delicate faery wings.
“Forgive me, I should’ve found somewhere else to stay the night. Ye shouldn’t be fussin’ over me like—”
“Shh.” Tess whispered, noting the genuine thoughtfulness sparkled alive in his grey-blue depths, while placing a finger to his lips. The warmth of those lips sent a twinge of unknown pleasure throughout her entire body—deep into her soul and down to her toes.
From a close friend who was like an elder brother, it seemed most unnatural.
Her hand recoiled by the sudden rush of emotion stirred inside as she took a deep breath and reached for the cloth to finish cleaning the wound. Determined to not allow this strange new sensation to take hold of her, she rang the wash cloth out again, keeping her gaze away from his penetrating eyes.
The lord only knew what else she’d read in them if she let herself.
Tess took her time. She dabbed at the cut above his right eye, removing the dried blood and dirt. The ointment was placed over top and the wound sealed.
“Luckily it’s not too deep, just some bruising is all. Should heal up fine in no time.” She stepped back, admiring her work, when a knock on the back door behind called her attention—just the distraction she needed—and not a minute too soon.
Tess turned toward the man dressed in stable-hand clothing entering the kitchen. “Hello, Seamus. Pleasure seein’ ye again. There’s cake here on the counter if yer interested, help yerself.”
“Don’t mind if I do. Thanks, love.” He smiled before glancing over at Patrick. “Ah-ha, Paddy me friend, there ye be. Wonderin’ where ye wandered off to after leaving ole Blarney’s. Ye missed Fiona’s singin’, but then again maybe that’s a good thing.”
Patrick rose to his feet, reaching for his coat, and walked to the doorway. “Thanks, mate for the drinks, I owe ye one.”
“Make that two,” he corrected, patting him on the shoulder. “So, how ye feelin’, buddy? Ye put on quite the show.”
Tess glanced over at Patrick wearing a boyish grin and waited for his answer.
He stood silent, keeping his gaze away from her.
Perplexed, she returned her gaze to their long-time friend for the full story. What trouble had they found themselves in this time, she wondered.
Seamus stood at the counter and ate a mouthful of cake before continuing, “’twas ah-mazing Tess, ye should’ve seen him up there. His first fight and he took home the prize.”
“Oh, really. A boxing match was it, that got ye all lookin’ like something a grey-malkin dragged through town?”
“I told ye it was nothin’,” Patrick replied.
“Ole Paddy here has quite the mean left hook.” Seamus jabbed at the air in demonstration. “I feel terribly sorry for the other poor fella, had to be carried off.”
Tess glared at him, resting her hands on her hips. “Oh, shame on ye, Seamus, fer dragging him into such a foolish blood-sport like that.” She wagged a finger at him then turned to face Patrick, scolding, “Why ye could’ve been killed.”
Patrick turned back for the exit, without a word.
“Sorry, love, won’t happen again—promise.” Seamus answered instead. “Guess this is my cue to leave.” He kissed her on the cheek before stepping into the doorway. “Happy Birthday, Tess.”
“Why, thank ye, Seamus, very kind of ye. Been a long day, I’ll see ye t’morrow.” She held the door open for him.
“My pleasure. Oh, and yer father wanted me to pass on word that he’ll be home later, went into town for a few supplies.”
“Have a good evenin’,” she replied.
Patrick pulled on his coat and walked to the door. “I best be goin’ too. Father wants to send me away on another business venture first thing in the mornin’. I’ll be down at the stables with Éireheart to sleep this mess of a night off, sorry for the trouble.”
“I think not,” Tess retorted, closing the door. “There’s plenty of room here, I’ll fix ye a room upstairs. Just wait here.”
“Aye, my dear. Hmm…on second thought, we could finish that kiss we started.” He grasped her hand, pulling her close.
“Ah-ha, I see. Well, ye’ll be gettin’ plenty more than a kiss from me if ye dare get into anymore trouble like this, ye hear?”
“Maybe this will this help make it up?” Patrick pulled from his pocket the Faery Star pendant he’d found in Dublin on his way home. “A little something I picked up with the money I earned. The shoppe lady said it holds the key to the faery realm, right there at its heart. According to legend, when the full moon shines onto the center moonstone, you can see the doorway.”
“Why, thank ye, it’s absolutely beautiful.” Tears welled in her eyes. “It must a cost ye a fortune. I don’t know what to say.”
Tess held the pendent in her hands, studying it for a moment.
“Nothin’s ever too expensive for ye. And how could I ever ferget what day this is?” His lips brushed against her ear as he whispered, “Happy Birthday, dear Tess.”
Turning it over, she read the inscription written in an ancient Gaelic as once spoken by the magical Fae of Celtic lore, “The heart knows… May it shine bright to guide you on your pathway, always.”
“Glad ye like it. Here.” Patrick fastened the chain around her throat with the pendent resting beside her heart. “This way, the faeries ye love so much will always be close to ye heart.”
Tess closed her eyes, rubbing the multicolored opalescent stone, and made her wish—her heart’s truest desire. She reopened them and kissed the pendent.
She met his gaze as he tucked a stray curl behind her ear.
“Tess, I need you.” With the pad of his thumb he tilted her chin up and lowered his lips to hers.
A forbidden love was hers for the taking. Could she allow herself?
Caught under the spell of his passion glazed eyes, she sucked in another deep breath while the steady thud of her own heartbeat rang in her ears, drowning her senses.
“Aye—” The words lost themselves upon that wanton kiss.
Nothing else mattered. She needed him as well.