“Where is she?”
Four sets of eyes stare back at me. Cool, calm, infinitely calm, but I’m not fooled. Tessa’s brothers run hotter than a 450 degree oven. One turn of the dial and the whole bar could go up in flames. It used to be intimidating. Now it just pisses me off.
They continue to stare, not phased by my attire, or the fact that I probably look like a man possessed. Hell, I am possessed. And I’m also done playing games.
“For Christ’s sake, Tessa is a grown woman! She doesn’t need you to fight her battles for her.”
“Who says we are?” Shamus, the youngest, says from the other end of the bar. He sits on a stool, gripping a pint of Guiness, a smirk playing at the corner of his mouth. His wave of auburn curls, the same color as Tessa’s, wraps around his ears like ivy. “Maybe we’re fighting our own.”
I groan and take a step forward on the bartop, halting when my bare foot lands on something sticky. I look down. Did I run all the way here without my shoes?
“Give it up, O’Donnell.” I swing my head in the direction of the voice, my gaze colliding with cold, blue eyes. Brendan. I only know it’s him because his eye color is the only physical characteristic that distinguishes him from his identical twin who, in a rare genetic anomaly, inherited Tessa’s jade-colored irises instead. For a second I stare at him, dumfounded. Brendan is the serious one. He rarely speaks and when he does, it’s not to me. “You think you’re the first guy to come here and try and pull one over on our sister?”
I’m shocked again when Brendan’s lips don’t move, but then I notice the brawny frame of his twin, Owen, leaning against the juke box next to him, his face obscured by shadows. Owen kicks the box and it comes to life. Redbone’s, Come and Get Your Love invades the silence.
I’m here, honey. Where are you?
“I didn’t pull one over on her,” I say, gripping the back of my hospital gown tight with one hand. “I didn’t do anything.”
“You can’t have your cake and eat it too.”
This from Liam, the oldest and by far, the scariest of them all. I glance down at him where he stands, behind the bar, a rag slung over one shoulder, arms crossed over his chest. The fact that he owns Flaherty’s and keeps the family business afloat might make you think he’s the responsible one.
You’d be wrong.
Unpredictability is as much a Flaherty family trait as loyalty. And, even though I know I’m testing both, Tessa is worth it.
And so I laugh, a crazed half-laugh, half-cry that echoes in the empty bar. It’s the middle of the afternoon so the bar isn’t yet open which I consider a good thing since, if it was, I’d be flashing my pasty white ass to half of the city right now.
“Funny you should mention, cake. Did you actually bake the laxative into the cake or just add it to the icing?” I ask, through gritted teeth. Thanks to them, I’d spent the night at the hospital under observation for a bought of dehydration resulting from a bad case of diarrhea. Yup, the Flahertys played dirty, no pun intended.
“I have no idea what you’re talking about,” Liam deadpans.
I throw my hands up, no longer caring about my ass. Let them see it. It would serve them right.
“The woman Tessa saw me with was a real estate agent. I’m not cheating on your sister, I’m buying her a goddamned house, so when I ask her to marry me, she’ll know I’m serious. I love her, you idiots. I’m not playing her for a fool. I’m the fool. A fool in love with the most beautiful woman in the world and, even if she gives me hell for it, I need to see her.”
The bar door swings open and I whirl, automatically reaching behind my back to hold my hospital gown closed. A silhouette, one I’d know anywhere, appears in shadow against the backdrop of a glaring sun. She steps forward a long mane of wavy white hair grazing her elegant shoulders. I shake my head, confused.
“I love you too, you crazy man.”
I reach out and she’s there, taking my hands in hers. “Come back and give me hell,” I whisper.
She squeezes my fingers. “Not yet, my love. Not yet.”
One tug on my arm and the bar falls away and shatters like glass at my feet. I cover my eyes with my forearm to block the light streaming through the windows of…the dining room?
“Mr. O’Donnell.” Another tug. “Mr. O’Donnell,” the voice says, more urgently this time. I lower my gaze to find a woman, smiling a strained smile, worry clouding eyes too dark to be Tessa’s. “It’s not time for your medication yet, but if you come down I’ll sneak you a piece of cake for dessert. That’s what you want, right? Some cake?”
She winks, as if we’re sharing a private joke, but all I can do is stare. Because no, cake isn’t what I want. It’s not what I want at all.