Had anyone ever looked at Pru like that? If so, she’d forgotten it, and she didn’t think one could ever forget true love. All she wanted, all she’d ever wanted since the day she’d lost her parents, was for someone to care enough to come into her life and stay there.
Her chest tightened and her throat burned, but she refused to give into that. Crying wouldn’t help. Crying never helped. All crying did was make the day a waste of mascara. And since she’d splurged on an expensive one this time in a useless effort to give her lashes some volume, she wasn’t about to waste it. Get it together, she ordered herself. Get it together and keep it together. You’re okay. You’re always okay . . .
But the pep talk didn’t work. The lonely still crawled up her throat and choked her.
The man smiled down at the woman in front of him, his gaze full of the love that Pru secretly dreamed of. He took his girl’s hand and off they went into the rain, shoulders bumping, bodies in sync.
It broke her heart more than it should have. They were complete strangers, for God’s sake. But watching them made her feel a little cold. Empty.
A crack of lightning lit the sky. She startled and then jumped again at the nearly immediate boom of thunder, sharp and way too close. Skipping the wroughtiron entrance to the courtyard, she instead ran directly into the pub.
She stood just inside, her eyes immediately straying to the bar.
Finn stood behind it with Sean, who was addressing everyone in the place, and all eyes were on him.
Except for Pru, who was watching Finn. He stood at Sean’s side, his blank face on. Though Pru knew him now, or was coming to anyway, and she could tell by his tight mouth and hooded eyes that he wasn’t feeling blank at all.
“So raise your glasses,” Sean concluded, lifting his. “Because today’s the day, folks, our first anniversary of O’Riley’s, which we modeled after our dear departed Da’s own pub, the original O’Riley’s. He’d have loved this place.” Sean clasped a hand to his heart. “If he were still with us—God bless his soul—he’d be sitting right here at the bar with us every night.”
The mention of this loss would normally have made Pru’s heart clutch because of her family’s part in their loss, and there was certainly some of that, but she hadn’t taken her eyes off Finn. He wasn’t sad. He was pissed. And she thought maybe she knew why.
His dad hadn’t been anything like hers. He hadn’t cuddled his sons when they’d skinned a knee. He hadn’t shown them love and adoration. He hadn’t carried them around on his shoulders, showing them off every chance he had.
But for whatever reason, Sean was telling a different story. She had no idea why, but Finn’s feelings on the matter were clear.
He hated this toast.
“We miss him every single day,” Sean went on and finished up with a “Slainte!”
“Slainte!” everyone in the place repeated and tossed back their drinks.
Sean grinned and turned toward Finn. He said something to him but Finn didn’t respond because he’d turned his head, and as if he’d felt Pru come in, he’d leveled his gaze right on her.
If she’d thought the oncoming storm outside was crazy, it was nothing compared to what happened between her and Finn every time they so much as looked at each other.
You’re trouble with a capital T.
Her grandpa’s words floated around in her brain, messing with her head, her heart.
One look into your laughing eyes and I knew. All you wanted to do was have fun and you didn’t care what fell by the wayside.
She couldn’t do this. She’d thought she was doing the right thing by helping Finn find some fun and adventure in his life but now she knew she wasn’t. Worse, she felt too fragile, way too close to a complete meltdown to be here. And yet at the same time, she was drawn, so terribly, achingly drawn to the strength in Finn’s gaze, the warmth in his eyes. She knew if he so much as touched her right now, she’d lose the tenuous grip she had on her emotions.
It was the only clear thought in her head as she whirled to do just that but Finn’s warm, strong arms slid around her, turning her to face him.
He’d caught her.
“I’m all wet,” she whispered inanely.
His eyes never left her face. “I see that.”
“I’m—” A mess, she nearly said but the ball of emotion blocked her throat, preventing her from talking. Horrified to feel her eyes well up, she shook her head and tried to pull free.
“Pru,” he said softly, his hand at the nape of her neck, threading through her drenched hair. There were tangles in it but he was apparently undeterred by the rat’s nest. Pulling her in slowly but inexorably, his lips brushed her forehead. She could feel his mouth at her hairline as he whispered soothing words she couldn’t quite make out.