Knocking back his fourth, or was it the fifth or maybe his sixth, whiskey of the night, Miles was well into his early celebration of St. Patrick's Day at the small pub attached to Cupid's Closet, the quirky store in the town where they had decided to lay low for the winter.
"Somebody's getting lucky tonight, and I'm pretty sure it's going to be me," he stated as Bass took another swallow from his own glass.
"You've been in a hell of a dry streak, Bass. Your balls are gonna shrivel up and die from lack of use if you don't start taking advantage of the local 'resources,'" Miles slurred as he tried to make his fingers mimic air quotes.
Bass grimaced hoping the guilt he was feeling didn't show up on his face. "I'm doing just fine for myself, Miles. You don't need to worry about it. Let's just get you home so you can find your…Rachel."
"Okay…wait, where's Charlie? We can't leave without her."
Sighing, Bass turned Miles toward the door. It had been a long time since he had seen Miles relaxed enough to let his guard down and the alcohol he had consumed that night was making his memories hazy.
"Charlie's not here, Miles. Remember she and Connor are out scouting. They've been gone for almost two weeks."
After making sure Miles made it back to the safe house, and not wanting to be there when Miles' luck started to get noisy, Bass headed back to Cupid's Closet for another drink. It had only been a month since he had found the courage, albeit it liquid and chocolate, to finally let Charlie know some of what he was feeling, and although he didn't want to admit it, he was beginning to realize how much he missed her when she wasn't around. It was almost like a part of him was… "Nope," he thought. "I'm not going there."
Re-entering the pub, Bass was again struck by the familiarity of it. A smoky fragrance permeated the air and it seemed to be everywhere. Somehow, even after the blackout, Sean O'Grady had managed to keep the pub atmosphere intact. The outer door had a panel of stained glass that seemed to be some kind of coat of arms, and the bar itself was a dark, polished mahogany complete with a huge, unbroken mirror, brass fixtures and old fashioned carriage lamps flickering with flame as they hung from the ceiling. A small stage that currently held two stools, a guitar and a fiddle sat at the back of the room, and a stone floor completed the feeling of walking into a small slice of Ireland.
"Back again, Mr. King? What can I do you for?"
"Surprise me, Sean."
"Are you sure you'll be wanting one of my surprise drinks? Sean's Irish brogue slid off his tongue. "Last time you did that, I think the surprise went straight to your heart."
"I think you mean head, don't you?" Bass replied.
"I always say what I mean, and I mean what I say. You were a bit 'fluthered' as we Irish say and your lass was watching over you like a hawk watches for a rabbit. It was your American day of love, was it not? And what is Cupid if not one of the wee folk like our leprechauns and fairies? They're all atangle, don't you know. So I helped you along and sprinkled a little fairy dust in your chocolate drink. Am I right in thinking the night started something between the two of you?"
"You drugged me? Is that why I can only remember parts of that night? Anything could have happened and I would have been too drunk to stop it." Bass angrily glared at the bartender.
"You wound me, Mr. King. I am always in control of my surprises, and I knew the lass had your back. And I'm thinking you did remember the most important things about that night and are happy with the final outcome, are you not?"
Bass snorted as his thoughts swirled to the weeks since Valentine's Day. The day itself had been amazing considering how it started, and the sporadic memories that continued to pop in his head periodically made him determined to repeat them and to create even better ones. However, the days following had been tough.
With everyone together in one house, it had been impossible for Charlie and Bass to have any kind of conversation about the events of that day, much less do anything else. Yes, there had been a few stolen kisses, but every time they had tried to find a private moment, someone or something had gotten in the way. In fact, the interruptions had gotten to the point that he'd swear Miles had found a way to put some kind of tracking device on him. Now here he was, weeks later, with Miles three sheets to the wind and Charlie nowhere to be found. A golden opportunity wasted….
"Jesus, Mary and Joseph, Sean O'Grady. What were you thinking putting the dust in his drink?" Kailee O'Grady asked as she swatted Sean with a bar towel. "Your luck 'o the Irish is going to run out someday and someone is going to take you to task for meddling."
"You know I would never do anything to hurt a body, dearest, but even I could see there was something between the two of them and they needed a push. Him more than her since she's still young and not quite as set in her ways. It may be he needs to be persuaded a little more….and he does love his whiskey. Hmmm…I have an idea. "
Nodding toward a morose Bass as she prepared for last call, Kailee shook her head. "There will be no more of that, Mr. O'Grady. I'm thinking you used a little too much dust on him since so many of his memories seem to be foggy. You'd best be keeping yourself to the task at hand. Run the pub and help me start thinking about what changes April will bring to Cupid's Closet."
The last rays of the sun were waning as Charlie pulled the wagon to the back of Cupid's Closet. Thankful to be done with both the patrol and the special errand for the O'Grady's, she closed her eyes for a minute and breathed in the earthiness that surrounded her. She'd been anxious to get home, and the lengthening of the days now that spring was near had helped her return a day earlier than planned. Connor was none too happy over the way she had pushed them every day, but it was worth it to get back to the safe house and to whatever she and Bass were becoming.
Of course, that was still up in the air because, other than the spectacular bath time on Valentine's Day, there had been no chance for them to even talk about what had happened since then. Between all the people in the house, and the general friendliness, although some might call it nosiness, of people in this town, they were quite literally never alone together. Her frustration level starting to build as she began to recount their lack of opportunities to come together, Charlie shook her head to try and clear her thoughts. Climbing down from the wagon, she headed inside to find Sean and Kailee and ask where they wanted the delivery unloaded.
Walking into the back of the store, Charlie was again struck by the feeling of home she got every time she entered. In February, the store had been awash in romance with pinks and reds everywhere. It was still a mystery to her as to where they managed to obtain real chocolate to make the body paint Bass had used on her. The trick to the store seemed to be that the décor seemed completely natural and not at all cheesy given whatever month they happened to be in.
As soon as the calendar changed to March, Cupid's Closet had become a little patch of what she imagined Ireland must be like. Varying shades of greens with some woodsy browns thrown in for good measure, and a familiar smoky/earthy smell assailed the senses when you walked in. Shamrocks, leprechauns, rainbows, patches of moss appearing to grow from the floor, the smell of whiskey from the attached pub, and the sound of an Irish fiddle playing combined to make this one of the most popular establishments in town. It drew you in to browse and kept you hostage until the last Danny Boy of the evening had been sung.
Thinking about Ireland took Charlie back to the days when Maggie had been part of her life. Although English, Maggie had wholeheartedly thrown herself into celebrating St. Patrick's Day every year. Charlie and Danny would go to bed in a neat and clean house the night before only to wake up on March 17th to find that mischievous leprechauns had invaded overnight throwing toys out of the toy box, turning over chairs, and once even turning the milk Maggie had gotten from their neighbor's cow green. Shamrocks would mysteriously appear everywhere Charlie and Danny played that day, and Maggie always said it was a sign that the leprechauns were watching over them.
Smiling at the memory, Charlie wandered right into Sean knocking him onto his backside.
"It's an interesting greeting custom you Americans have here, Charlotte," Sean said with a twinkle in his eye as she leaned down to help him up.
"I am so sorry Mr. O'Grady. I was thinking about your lovely shop and daydreaming about St. Patrick's Day celebrations when I was little, and I wasn't paying any attention to where I was going. I was looking for you or Kailee, though, to ask where you wanted me to unload your shipment."
"Sure, and I can't fault you for thinking about the Irish, Charlotte. St. Patrick was a grand lad, and it's lucky we are that he has been embraced by those outside of Ireland. Now, let me help get everything unloaded in the storeroom out back. Sean lowered his voice. "It's a bit of a secret that the homey smell in the pub is burning peat, and I'd like to keep it that way. Few around here realize that peat is actually quite prevalent in America. Everyone needs a little mystery in their lives." He grinned at Charlie as one conspirator to another.
"They won't hear it from me, Mr. O'Grady," Charlie promised as Kailee strolled up to the twosome.
"And here's my lovely bride now, ready to help us unload. Kailee, my love, we have a full wagon to tide us over for many months thanks to the efforts of Miss Charlotte. What do you suggest we do to thank her?"
"Leave us be, Mr. O'Grady. I'll help Charlie unload. You need to head into the pub and keep taking drink orders. It looks like the town is wanting to practice their whiskey shots ahead of tomorrow's festivities."
Nodding at Charlie and planting a smacking kiss on Kailee, Sean headed back to the bar whistling an Irish jig.
"There will be no living with him tomorrow," Kailee said. "He lives for St. Patrick's Day every year. Says it's his only way to pay tribute to our home."
Charlie grinned at her. "Well, I think it's cute. St. Patrick's Day is one of the best memories I have growing up. I've always thought it was a special day."
"And what do you have planned for tomorrow then?" Kailee asked.
A small frown marred Charlie's face. "Actually, I don't really have any plans for tomorrow. I guess I'll just hang out at the pub and drink so that I'm out of the house. It's a little too crowded there, and I'd rather not have to listen to Miles chasing after my mom going, "Kiss me, I'm Irish" after he gets home from the pub. Please tell me that you're going to stay open later tomorrow."
Leaning down to get another load of peat to put in the storeroom, Charlie missed the fleeting smile on Kailee's face.
"I think I may have a solution to your problem, Charlie, if you're interested in getting paid by barter for gathering the peat for us."
St. Patrick's Day dawned sunny and clear. The town was all but closed down as everyone took advantage of the chance to hold any kind of a celebration. Green was the color of the day and Cupid's Closet was overrun with shoppers looking for anything to show their Irish spirit.
An impromptu concert was being held on the street outside as Sean and another gentleman whiled away the morning playing all manner of Irish song. Even Kailee took to trying to teach some interested girls basic steps to Irish dance after getting Charlie to help out behind the store counter.
"Hey kid. So you're minding the store today?" Miles grinned as he sauntered in wearing an old button with his favorite "Kiss me, I'm Irish" saying on it. "Do you think they need any help behind the bar? I'd be happy to pour some drinks."
"Thanks, Miles, but I think they got Bass to help out in the bar. Apparently, they had some concerns about a loss of profit if you were the one pouring drinks today."
Placing his hand over his chest, Miles feigned indignation. "I am truly wounded that they think I would over pour drinks for their customers…even if it is the drinking-est day of the year."
"I don't think it was concern for their customers as much as it was how much you would pour down your own throat, Miles." Charlie laughed. "By the way, I won't be home for the next couple of days but don't worry about me. I'm taking care of something for Sean and Kailee."
"Ummm….okay. I think Bass is going to be gone for a couple of days, too. He said something about being hired to provide security for someone for a while." Miles started to head into the pub. "Hey, if you guys are gone, maybe I can get Aaron and Connor to go somewhere, too, and Rachel and I can…" With a gleam in his eye, Miles stopped talking and headed into the pub, oblivious to Charlie shaking her head at him.
Heading over to the bar, Miles shouldered his way through a layer of drunks.
"Hey, Bass, I need a couple of whiskeys to get started."
"Got you covered, Miles. There's a stool with your name on it at the end of the bar."
Many hours later, Rachel showed up at the pub after Sean sent her a message to come get a very drunk Miles.
"Hey, it's Rachel." Miles yelled when he saw her heading toward him. "Guess what? I'm pissed! Sean told me I was pissed, and I told him that was always you, not me!" Laughing at his joke, Miles started to topple of the bar stool as Rachel caught him. "Pissed means drunk. Did you know that?"
With a look on her face that promised retribution, Rachel draped Miles arm around her shoulder and started to lead him through the remaining pub patrons.
Seeing Bass come back into the bar with a couple of bottles of alcohol, Miles called out.
"Hey, brother. Guess who's getting lucky tonight?"
With a nod of acknowledgement, Bass watched Miles and Rachel stumble out into the night. Turning, he saw Sean standing next to him.
"You wouldn't have happened to put any of your special dust into Miles' drinks tonight, would you Sean?"
Looking around to make sure Kailee wasn't in earshot, Sean nodded. "I only promised my Kailee that I wouldn't do it to you again. I didn't say I wouldn't do it to anyone else. And he needs a little something to make him happy. He's already found his true love. It just didn't work out for this lifetime. I might have helped him along with a bit of dust to be satisfied with that one. She's his "you might do" until another comes along."
Bass just stared dumbfounded. "How in the world could you have possibly known that, Sean? He never talks about Nora."
"And didn't I tell you back in February that Cupid was a cousin of mine? It's the same way I knew that you and Charlotte were fated for each other. Sometimes, you just know what is supposed to be even if others can't see it."
As Bass and Sean were holding their conversation, Charlie was staring open-mouthed at the small cottage bathed in moonlight to which Kailee had just led her.
"I have scouted all the woods around this area, and I never saw this or the path that led us here." Charlie said as she turned to look at Kailee
"It wouldn't be St. Patrick's Day without a bit of magic, Charlie. Wait until you see the inside. And you'll be doing us a favor to stay in it for the next several days as we take some time off to recover from the celebrations. It's fully stocked so you shouldn't need to venture out for anything. You can have a rest from your weeks on the road and not be bothered by anyone. Now, I'll leave you to it and see you in a few days. Enjoy the solitude." Kailee opened the front door and gave a little wave as she departed and Charlie stepped across the threshold.
"No way," Charlie muttered to herself as she took in the surroundings. From the outside, the cottage looked as if it had been picked up from Ireland and plopped down in the middle of the forest. The small, stone-lined path had been hidden by the overhang of tall trees and strategically placed bushes. A sweet earthy smell permeated the air around the cottage while inside peat burned in a small stove. A fireplace was laid with kindling and wood ready to light, and a huge couch covered in pillows dominated the front room. Small tables on either side of the couch held books, and several of them appeared to be about the Civil War.
Walking through the front room, Charlie found the small kitchen. As Kailee promised, there were plenty of fresh vegetables and clean water. There was even an icebox with eggs, milk and some kind of stew. She wasn't the greatest cook, but Charlie knew she would enjoy not having to hunt for her food while she was here.
Leaving the kitchen behind, Charlie wandered down the hallway into the bedroom and stood stunned for the second time that evening. A huge bed dominated in a room that felt like a fairy glen. The four-poster bed was covered in a dark green bedspread that looked like moss and felt like velvet. Two small plush rugs were on either side of the bed and another small stove in the corner helped keep the room warm. A nightgown and matching robe of the finest silk lay on top of the bed with a note attached.
Opportunities come along in everyone's life, but we don't always recognize them or make the right decisions when presented with them. Sean and I were fortunate enough to find our true love, and we know that now is your time. Please don't think us meddlesome. You have become important to us, and we want to do this for you. The nightgown is our gift to you brought from Ireland many, many years ago. Enjoy your time in our little cottage and think of us fondly in the coming years until our paths cross again.
Much happiness to you,
Kailee and Sean
Putting the note down, Charlie picked up the nightgown and held it against her face. She couldn't remember ever feeling anything this soft against her skin. She wasn't sure what the note meant, but she was definitely ready to feel the silk slipping down her body.
Sitting on the couch in front of the fireplace and enjoying the feeling of being alone without having to worry about others, Charlie found her thoughts wandering to Bass and their one time together. Never in her life had she felt what Bass had shared with her that night. Remembering his touch and the incredible things he had done with his hands and his tongue had Charlie's hands starting to wander over and under the silk of her nightgown. With her eyes closed and her breathing becoming more rapid, Charlie didn't hear the door open or the slight intake of breath as her visitor took in the sight before him.
With her head thrown back and her hair cascading over the couch, Charlie was the epitome of perfection and the embodiment of everything Bass's imagination could conjure. He couldn't believe that she was here, in the house he was staying in for the next several days.
Startled at hearing her name, Charlie opened her eyes to see Bass standing at the foot of the couch taking her in. Stunned to see him, she stared at him not knowing what to say. Scrambling to get off the couch, she grabbed a pillow, holding it in front of her like a shield.
Finally finding her voice, she asked, "How did you find this place? What are you doing here, Bass?"
"I think I could be asking you the same thing. Sean and Kailee asked me to watch the cottage for a few days while they recover from their St. Patrick's Day celebrations." Holding up a note, he continued. "They told me to use it as a retreat to think about unexpected opportunities and not be afraid to take chances."
"But they asked me to look after the cottage, too." Charlotte managed to eke out.
Staring at each other and with both of their hearts pounding, Bass moved closer.
"I know we haven't been able to talk about us since our impromptu Valentine's Day bath, but not a day has gone by that I haven't thought about you, Charlotte. You have been a thorn in my side and the voice in my mind through almost every decision I've made since you first dropped back into my life."
"No, let me finish. I've been thinking about this for a while. If I don't get this out now, I will probably never do it, and for once in my life, I am going to try to get this right. Valentine's Day was the best day of my life. I know I'm not much of a prize, I am way too old for you, and I know Miles will kill me for this, but I love you. You are the face I want to see when I open my eyes each morning, and the breath I want against my neck each night. You make me whole."
Charlie held up her hand to stop him. With a worried look on his face, Bass opened his mouth to talk again, only to have Charlie shush him.
"Bass, it was only a month ago that I said I choose you. I haven't changed my mind. I don't care about age, and I don't care about Miles. I mean I do care about Miles but not when it comes to you. You are the only one for me, and I know that will never change. Now will you shut up and kiss me? You and I have this cabin for at least the next three days, and nobody is expecting to see us before that. You're burning daylight."
Pulling her into his arms, Bass angled his mouth down to claim hers. Jumping up and wrapping her legs around his waist, Charlie placed her hands on either side of his face.
"Is this happening too quickly, Charlotte? I don't want to rush you if you need more time."
Looking in his eyes, she tilted her head to the left.
"Bedroom's that way, Sebastian."
A huge smile splitting his face, Bass turned down the hall. "So that's the way it's going to be, huh."
A little way up the path outside, two pairs of eyes watched the lights in the cottage wink out.
"Looks like they've found their way, Mr. O'Grady." Kailee whispered.
"True love will always out, Mrs. O'Grady. Looks like someone really is getting lucky tonight!"