When Irish Eyes Are Smilin'—
Watch Your Step or Revel in Your Good Fortune
Kathy L Wheeler
Niall Adams eyed the bartender with suspicion. There was something odd about the dude. Familiar. And for a minute there, he’d swear he’d seen pointed ears, but on second look they appeared normal enough. Niall blinked and scrubbed a palm over his scruffy beard. Strange dreams that had been plaguing him for the last three years were taking their toll, and his mind. Even more frustrating, he couldn’t seem to recall anything much before those last three years.
“What’ll it be, Yank?”
The bartender’s heavy brogue nagged at Niall. He studied him a moment, realizing in a searing flash Niall’s blood was just as Irish as the bartender's. “I’ve a throat on me, Sprog, give me a pint of plain.” The phrase slipped as naturally from him as sand in the desert.
A dangerous twinkle glittered in the man’s eyes. “Sprog, is it?”
“I could say the same about ‘Yank.’ ”
A tense moment passed before he spun on one heel and flipped a pint glass in the air. He caught it right side up and held it under the Guinness spigot. A second later it was slammed on the wood surface before Niall, without so much as a spilled drop. Niall let the foam settle, swallowed a long drink, then let out a contented sigh. “Ah, now that’s grand. What’s your name, sir?”
He stared at Niall as if surprised by the question. After a short pause he finally answered. “Aidan.”
“Aid—” He stopped. The name went along with the odd dreams, at the heart of which was the reoccurrence of a strange green door amid a small Irish tavern. The visions were all a bit murky. His head ached trying to decipher and assemble the fragments.
Somehow the year 1802 played a significant role, and the perpetual appearance of an English beauty. Creamy pale skin against the softest violet muslin, exposing so much décolleté Niall found himself having to shift his position on the barstool. The dreams were too realistic by far. Most disturbing was the notion that he must have made her acquaintance at some time. Victoria, the name whispered through his mind. He grunted. Most likely he was just bolloxed on too many bevvies. Yet, it didn’t explain how he knew her slender fingers fit so perfectly within his great paws.
He watched Aidan, whose eyes were riveted on the cuff of Niall’s shirt. It had ridden up to display his fine gold wristlet. Niall lowered his own gaze and studied the intertwining Celtic knot he’d worn for the past three years. Like some kind of lifeline representing continuity, no beginning and no end; a sacred and divine pathway back to . . . “Something wrong, Sprog?”
Aidan’s gaze turned dark. Apparently, he despised being referred to as a ‘kid.’ Niall struggled to hide his mirth.
“Ye e’er been in love, Yank?”
“Aye, once. Years ago. Don’t fancy repeating my mistakes.” Now where had that come from? He searched his memory. Had he been in love? Yet nothing concrete surfaced. Only shadows hovering just beyond his reach.
Heat stirred against Niall’s skin where the wristlet lay. He rubbed at it absently. “Aye,” he said slowly. A picture of midnight hair like spun silk, eyes, blue as an Irish sky in summer filled his head. “Kin to the crown, she was. No matter how distant. She chose them over me.” God, the words poured from his mouth like water.
“Aye, lessons in love. They stink, don’t they.”
The statement startled Niall and an angry warmth started up his neck. A pain in his chest burned. “Aye,” he growled. The room around him faded into newly forming visions . . .He stumbled into the tavern—the Rose and Shamrock, it was—his cousin, Finn would listen to his woes o’er Victoria’s desertion. Perhaps they’d drink themselves into oblivion. Damned Tans.
With a mental shake, Niall took in his current surroundings. The distressed wood surfaces, uneven floors, all designed to imitate an authentic Irish public house, failing miserably in the attempt. Most notably were the well dressed patrons. An afterwork, happy hour crowd.
Other memories edged their way in. Tears gathered in Lady Allison’s eyes as she looked at Finn from lowered lashes. Niall smirked. She caught his glance and spun, running out the door as if she were the hunting dog’s white-tailed fox. To his disgust his cousin followed as the proverbial hound. He shook his pounding head. The image blurred yet not the memory. Less than thirty minutes passed when she’d rushed back in proclaiming she’d found a pot of gold in the nearby woods. He’d watched in astonishment as she’d unfolded her fist. Seven pieces of gold!
Confusion ensued. Gasps of surprise, excitement, wonder. Aidan’s anger, his sudden disappearance—
Niall’s head jerked to the bartender. Familiar bartender.
Aidan’s fury centered first on Lady Allison, then slowly moved from patron to patron. Lads tripped o’er their feet anxious to escape the unexpected censure. No one had ever seen Aidan thus. A rush of cold wind swept through the tavern, overturning glasses, scattering newspapers. One of Lady Allison’s coins flew from her hand, landing on the bar before Nèall.
It was a sign. He palmed the piece and glanced up. A green door he’d ne’er seen before, stood slightly ajar; coaxing him, enticing him. The ancient coin felt hot in the coolness of his hand. Gold! He needed to get it through the door . . .the door was the key. . .
Spectral whispers tugged at his senses, he couldn’t look away. He must walk through. Victoria, they chanted. Victoria. Victoria.
Aidan banged a couple of pints on the bar at the opposite end, startling Niall from the past. Victoria. Eyes, as blue as an Irish sky in summer. Sweet lips. Pain. He’d run from the pain.
It was a dream, he insisted.
Niall looked around again. He’d been in this land nigh on three years. Had he transcended to America by some strange magic? It certainly wasn’t the America the British had killed to reclaim. But something akin to the future! And how had he not remembered the gold? It was gold.
His customary cynicism returned. What bizarre dreams had an English beauty frequenting an Irish tavern? It was total rubbish. The secret Celtic Society. Another whisper. But—
Victoria. He gasped, and shoved the name away, finally realizing that it wasn’t dreams he’d been suffering through but his own past trying to surface. What else had he forgotten? Lady Allison claimed to have found a loaded pot of ancient coins. Real or imagined? Well, he had nothing but time now, hadn’t he? Gold was a worthy enough cause. Niall frowned. But that was in 1802. Where was he to start more than two-hundred years after?
Niall looked at Aidan, and smiled. He downed the pint, then slammed the glass on the bar. “Right then, another one, boss.”
“Comin’ right up,” Aidan murmured, turning away.
Damn good bartender, that Aidan, he decided, when the second pint landed in front of him half a minute later. It was comforting to know that some things never changed. You couldn’t beat a great bartender, no matter what the year. The kind that read body language. Or desperation.
Once visions of Victoria took shape, scouring his mind of her was nigh impossible—leastways ’til he was sloshed beyond reason. Niall lifted the newly poured pint, set to partake, reveling in the pleasant humming chatter he so loved about Irish pubs despite their lack of authenticity. Determined to wipe that pert nose and heart-shaped face from his thoughts, he swallowed a large gulp.
The chatter throughout rose then dropped in decibel before it ground to a screeching halt. The hair on his arms stood as the hush mounted. ’Twas if a ghost walked o’er his grave—no. More like hovered there. Dangling in a sharp, chilled breeze that blew across the moor and right up his spine. Yet there was no wind, no inkling of a stirring current.
The subtle shifting of the crowd drew Niall’s gaze toward the patio entrance where in swept the girl from his dreams, dark wavy locks hanging down her back. Her glance moved about, taking in the rustic décor, her plum-plumped lips tilted up, obviously charmed. Dark brows, perhaps slightly heavier than he recalled. He closed his eyes, certain he was in a waking dream. No. ’twas impossible. It could not be her.
He opened his eyes. Surely, she just looked similar. Yet, the girl was most enticing, sent his pulse racing.
“Aidan,” he barked, not relinquishing his gaze on her. “Confirm to me I’m in the year 2013, if ye please.”
He chuckled, but Niall didn’t look at him. “It be 2013, my friend. ’Tis the luck of the Irish, it is.”
Niall’s own chuckle escaped, if somewhat maniacal. 2013, indeed. He should have his head examined.
She wore some pinkish-reddish lace concoction, that covered her modestly enough to mid-calf, but form-fit every contour of her slim, lithe body. No corset, stays, or petticoats for modern day nobility, not nobility, he told himself. He couldn’t keep his eyes from her. He was tempted to tell Aidan to pinch him, reassure him this vision was not a mirage of this godforsaken desert he’d found himself in.
“Thick as a ditch you are, Yank,” the feisty bartender muttered.
“Aye, that I am,” Niall returned softly.
Aidan shook his head in disgust, glaring at the fool. He crossed his arms over his chest and shifted his gaze to the gold band with the interweaving knots at Nèall’s wrist. A small grin stirred deep within, coursing through his body like a rising flood. It was one of his pieces, he would swear the livelihood of all the woodland’s nymphs in his home forest on it. The very forest he was most homesick and determined to return.
He glanced towards the newcomer who’d just flown in. Just the one. Aye, he remembered her. Fit as bird, she was. Every rich, blue-eyed inch of her. She looked too mollycoddled by far.
Three years, or three hundred years, it made no difference, it shouldn’t have been that difficult—just a step through the green door. And poof! He shook his head, aggravated. Recovering his legacy was progressing at an excruciatingly snail’s pace.
Bah! His duties were clear; and after this he’d only three more pieces to acquire.
Her friend tugging her in the opposite direction jarred him back to the present situation. He glanced over at Nèall, determined to right the man’s past. It was the only way to gain possession of his gold.
Aidan snapped his fingers and the tall stool next to his old friend clattered to the floor, snapping the attention of every cailín and gent in the place, and perhaps a few dead ones buried in the desert as well.
“Well, I must admit you were right, this pub is most definitely quaint, if not so. . . er . . . genuine.” Tori North shook her head. “And, in the middle of the desert. It’s quite spectacular, isn’t it?” Several customers turned in their direction.
Tori spoke softly, keeping her voice low so her British accent would not stand out quite so prominently, but it seemed to reverberate off the wood surfaces, from the uneven floors, to the rickety stools, and aged wainscoting that met ceiling-high windows. She and her American friend, Paige Harris, scanned the bar for empty seats—of which were few—when she spotted him. Her stomach dropped. There he sat, the most attractive man she’d ever seen in her life. Her every dream within a stone’s throw, and he was staring right at her.
England didn’t sport men of his kind. The sort with shadowed, square jaws and sun kissed skin. But the men in Ireland . . . or rather one man. To think she had to travel through time and America to find him. She grinned suddenly thrilled with life.
The clap of wood against wood. Tori couldn’t ascertain if it was the barstool that hit the wood floor, or a door slamming to the loo, from where a drunken sot just emerged. Regardless, the jolt startled a pretty server, despite the horrid color of her unnatural red hair, carrying a full tray of drinks. Glasses hit the floor, shattering. Several gasps amid strongly uttered curses filled the air.
“Come on.” Paige snatched her hand and dragged her—straight in his direction.
Brilliant jade green eyes tracked their progress. The nearer she and Paige drew, the hotter the temperature rose in Tori’s face. She couldn’t pull her gaze from that mesmerizing stare. It was as intense as she remembered.
He righted the toppled barstool and held it out for her. In a clumsy attempt to sit, she almost tumbled to the floor on her bum instead. Mortified and speechless, she accepted his assistance, his touch burning through to her lower back.
He settled next to her, Paige, possibly on her other side. Tori couldn’t be sure, couldn’t pull her eyes from him long enough to see. From across the pub, she’d thought his hair had grown darker, but sitting this close, she could still discern the rich auburn tresses that begged for her touch. The fresh scent of sea air filled her nostrils, made her homesick for . . . him.
“I can’t stifle the feeling we’ve met before,” he murmured. His tone, somewhat sardonic, made her blush. And just as captivating, with only a hint of his Irish brogue stealing through. She’d never reacted to anyone as strongly, before or since . . . him.
“Have we met before?” Niall demanded softly.
“I don’t see how.” She smiled, and he thought his heart stopped.
Victoria, Victoria, Victoria. The relentless whispers ravaged his control. His hands curled into fists. It’s her, it’s her, it’s her.
She paused, then said softly, “Unless, you’ve chased me through time.” Her clipped accent teased him.
Niall drew in a deep, measured breath. “Chased you through—”
“What’ll it be, m’dear?”
She turned that brilliant smile on Aidan, sending a shock of jealousy slamming through Niall.
“Same as him,” she said.
“A pint of plain, it ’tis.”
Niall watched the byplay, dumbstruck. Had she found the hidden door? Perhaps she was after the gold, as well. He scrutinized her from the corner of his eye. Victoria. Was it possible? Of course it was possible, he’d managed it, hadn’t he? His fingers itched to touch her hair, cup her cheek. Kiss her lips.
But he’d do well to remember Victoria had chosen them over him, refusing to elaborate except to say her younger sister needed her. Her pretty tears had torn him to pieces, and all he could do was watch her slip away.
She was the daughter of Lord North, the 5th Earl of Guilford, her grandfather, the 2nd earl, served as the British Prime Minister at one time, and to his credit—fought desperately against the old imperial system in favor of Ireland’s independence. Her father, however, did not favor an Irish son-in-law. Those wounds had still proved too recent.
Seeing her—this woman—dressed as a modern woman in the 21st century—well, who could blame him for being unable to reconcile the sight before him. Compared to the proper young lady whose gloved fingers he’d touched his lips to, turned the dance floor with . . . it just wasn’t possible.
After her father banished Niall from her presence, Lord North retreated to England with his family in tow—taking the only love Niall had ever known. He flexed his fingers. He willed himself calm and pondered her presence with a less than obvious stare—he hoped.
He’d always loved a good gag, and now he had one. The question it seemed was who would be the butt of this shenanigan? The wristlet burned against his skin. He could think of one sure way to confirm this was Victoria or some conniving impostor.
A kiss would leave no doubt.
Tori’s heart fluttered in her chest as if a hive of bees had been liberated. Something in her companion’s demeanor had shifted. Anger? Anticipation? Aloofness? It frightened, excited, terrified her. This was him. Her Néall. Oh, how she’d missed him. He was as heart wrenching as ever. Shoulders broad, shadowed jaw, firm lips. Had time diminished his love? Her gaze lingered on those lips. A single kiss would satisfy that notion—wrong! A single kiss would never satisfy her.
“What is it you do, Miss . . .” The question trailed.
She struggled to pull her thoughts together. “Tori,” she said. “Just Tori.”
“Tori, then. Do you have an occupat—”
“I’m a student.”
One brow lifted, flustering her.
“In Phoenix. I’ve almost completed my program,” she said, furious with herself at sounding defensive. “It’s two hours south.”
His lips turned down in a frown, as if he had trouble picturing that. “I know where Phoenix is.”
She lifted her pint. “Criminal Justice,” she said softly, then sipped. After all, if she ever returned home she would see things to right. Just see if she didn’t!
He swiveled on the barstool to fully face her. “Criminal Justice,” he repeated. “I . . . see.”
Of course you don’t see, she wanted to shout to the rooftops. But being a lady of decorum she hid her disdain behind a winning façade of a smile.
“But, nothing,” she snapped, suddenly impatient. How could he possibly understand the despair, the injustice of how Catherine’s death had devastated—changed her. Her sweet, delicate six-year-old sister, drowned.
His eyes fell to her lips. “I . . . I have to kiss you,” he said.
The pint she held slipped from her fingers, covering the bar with a large pool of beer and foam. “W-what?”
Niall had to know! Without a second’s hesitation, he snatched her hand and lifted her from her stool. He pulled her through the patio doors, ignoring her friend’s gaping mouth and Aidan’s knowing grin.
Though the early evening was still balmy, a blaze filled a large pit. Flickering light from the flames reflected on her face. Wide eyes watched him, unafraid. As desperately as he wanted to feel her lips against his, just as fiercely he craved looking at her.
Cradling her head in his hands, he lowered his mouth to hers, and savored the melting sweetness of a response he well-remembered. Dreams or no. Every shred of doubt evaporated in that instant. Her arms stole behind his neck, tugging him closer. Now that he’d found her, he knew he could never let her go.
He started to lift his head, but she moaned, holding him in place, lips not quite touching. “Victoria,” he whispered.
“Yes. Yes, it’s me, Néall.”
His name whispered against his lips, her accent pronouncing as it was intended, sent a shudder of desire hurdling through him. “Why?” he demanded. “How could you have chosen them over . . . over us?”
She closed her eyes, but tears escaped. “Catherine—” Her voice was as desolate as her face.
Oh, lord, her younger sister. A fragile child, who looked as if she’d break if one ventured too close. He had no wish to hear. Such anguish was not for her. But he would bear her grief along with her.
“She’s gone? My love, she was sickly. ’Twas bound to happen,” he said gently. He would give his life for her not to feel the pain he read in her eyes.
Pain shifted quickly to fury. “She drowned. There was no enquiry. No questions. It was all assumed an accident though the circumstances were suspicious.” She spun, paced the patio.
He caught her hand on the next pass. “The Criminal Justice degree then . . .”
He tipped his head to one side. “How did you get here?”
“How did you?”
Both turned in that moment, her slender hand molded to his, and looked through the glass doors to Aidan. Watched him slide a pint to Victoria’s friend. Again, Niall could swear he detected points at the tips of Aidan’s ears. And, again, the vision faded. There always was something strange about the man.
Aidan glanced up just then. Tossed a coin he held in the air and caught it. With a sly grin he saluted and turned away.
“Well,” Victoria said as if that answered everything.
Niall had to agree. He twirled her to face him. “I love you, darling. Henceforth, you shall not travel anywhere without me. Past, present or future.”
“I love you as well. And the same applies to you.”
He lowered his head to hers, basking in his good fortune. An odd coolness touched his wrist, and he glanced down. The Celtic band was gone, but he cared not one whit. Home was in her arms. Victoria’s.
Aidan watched the lovebirds through the patio doors and chuckled. He curled his fingers over his latest acquisition piece. “Aye, an ’the luck of the Irish to ye both,” he said tenderly under his breath. “And may ye live happily ever after.”
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Don't forget to visit tomorrow for Heidi Vanlandingham's A Matter of Luck!
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