Ballybeg, County Cork, Ireland
IF JAYME KING WANTED a metaphor to sum up the mess she’d made of her marriage, finding herself on a flooded Irish road blocked by sheep seemed pretty damned appropriate.
The wipers of her rental car swished back and forth at a frenetic pace. Heavy traffic and even heavier rain had turned what should have been a two-and-a-half-hour drive from Shannon Airport to Ballybeg into a four-hour ordeal. According to the GPS, she’d almost reached her destination… almost being the operative word.
Jayme sighed and regarded the ovine roadblock. An elderly man in an olive-green raincoat and tweed cap was herding the sheep. He waved a walking stick at her in a friendly gesture. The sheep inched their way from a pasture on one side of the road to a metal building on the other. If they didn’t hurry their furry asses across, she’d lose what little control she had over the standard transmission. Why hadn’t she remembered to specify an automatic when she’d made the reservation? But how was she to know the Irish regarded stick shifts as the norm? Remembering to stay on the left side of the road was bad enough. Throwing a third pedal into the equation had turned her impromptu road trip into a nightmare.
She drummed the steering wheel and glanced at the dashboard computer. Nearly nine thirty. If she made it to Ballybeg within the next few minutes, she’d check into her accommodation before hunting down the man she’d traveled over three thousand miles to find.
At the thought of the task ahead, her stomach went into a free fall. What would he say when he saw her? How would he react? And how much would it hurt if he rejected her a second time? Her fingers tensed over the wheel.
Finally the last sheep reached its destination. The farmer doffed his cap at her and disappeared into the metal shelter. Grinding the gears, she shuddered into motion. She didn’t want to spend the rest of her life wondering what if? She’d already wasted months on tears and regrets. It was time to learn to live again.
Ruairí MacCarthy, manager and proprietor of MacCarthy’s in Ballybeg, surveyed his domain. The pub had the flair of an Ireland long gone but far from forgotten. The bar was the old-fashioned kind—stained mahogany edged with a tile inlay. He danced his fingertips over the faded wood counter, each scratch a reminder of a previous generation of customers.
Not bad. Not bad at all, especially considering the state of the place when he’d taken control thirteen months ago. Once the renovation was complete, the pub would look similar to when his great-grandfather had hung his shingle over the door in 1927.
He whistled cheerfully, an old tune he couldn’t place but couldn’t get out of his head. Yeah, life wasn’t perfect—not by a long shot—but in comparison to this time last year, things were good.
A fist pounded on the front door.
He paused in the act of polishing a pint glass and frowned. Probably kids messing around. They’d know someone would be in the pub by now, readying it for opening time. He refocused on the task at hand, polishing the glass until it lost its dishwasher dullness and sparkled under the pub’s dim light.
This evening, he was knocking off early. And he couldn’t bloody wait. The moment the clock struck five, he’d chuck the keys of the kingdom to his sister Marcella and head to Cork City. He smiled to himself and pictured his date. Laura Corrigan was a leggy brunette with generous breasts and a ready smile. But most important, Laura was a laugh. She didn’t take herself—or him—too seriously. In short, she was exactly what he needed after the implosion of his marriage. For his first date in years, he was glad it was with someone who was more potential friend than future soul mate. And if their relationship developed into more than friendship, he’d take it one step at a time.
He swore beneath his breath. Could it be one of his sisters? If so, he was in no mood to rush to the door.
“We’re not open.” His voice was gruff enough to deter whoever was pounding on the pub door before opening time.
For feck’s sake. Surely no one in Ballybeg was that desperate for a pint. Grumbling, he placed the glass on the counter and tossed his polishing cloth beside it. He shoved up the counter flap and maneuvered his large frame through the gap.
“Keep your hair on,” he growled. “I’m coming.” Through the stained-glass slats in the oak door, he spied a small figure.
He loved his sisters, he truly did. But being their go-to person for every disastrous situation they got themselves into was exhausting. What would it be this time? Was Sinéad’s renegade boyfriend in jail and in need of bail money? Had Sharon’s boss finally come to her senses and fired her? He slid the bolts and braced himself, not to mention his bank account, for the latest episode in the MacCarthy family soap opera.
His chest collided with his visitor’s petite form. She took a step back in alarm. He blinked through the heavy rain. She was a small woman and fine-boned, judging by the way her oversized raincoat enveloped her tiny figure.
“Our opening time is the same as every other pub in Ireland,” he said, not unkindly. “Ten thirty.”
“I’m not here for a drink.” One slim hand, wearing a large diamond ring, pushed back the hood to reveal a mane of honey-streaked brown hair and a very familiar heart-shaped face.
His heart rate kicked up a notch when his brain registered who was standing on the doorstep. “Jayme?” His voice was a croak.
“Ruairí.” She pronounced his name in the light singsong way of a foreigner who’d tried hard to master which of the many syllables went up in intonation and which went down but hadn’t quite gotten it right.
Air exited his lungs in a whoosh. “What are you doing here?”
She tilted her sweet little chin, revealing the cleft he’d once loved to trace with his tongue. “Ask me in and maybe you’ll find out.”
His feet reacted before his head could process her words. He stood aside and let his estranged wife step over the threshold.
From Love and Blarney by Zara Keane, Copyright 2014