Cait Gallagher hummed along to the traditional Irish music that played softly through the speakers hidden deep in the corners of the pub that she owned in Grace's Cove, a small village set on the shores of Southern Ireland. Cait admired the gleam of the dark wood that accented all of her whimsical Irish décor as she wiped down a table. Content, and happy that the rehearsal dinner for Keelin and Flynn had gone so beautifully, Cait let her guard down and set her mind to wander.
"I bet she's good in bed. She's so tiny that I could throw her over my shoulder and drag her out of here."
Cait straightened as Patrick's voice shot through her mind. Forcing herself to keep all emotion from her face, she bent to wipe the table once more before turning towards the bar where Patrick, her new bartender, cleaned glasses in the new glass cleaner she had just purchased. Even if she couldn’t read minds, the hunger she saw in young Patrick's eyes was unmistakable. He blushed when Cait glanced his way and, dipping his head, he focused on the task at hand. Cait blew out a small breath and ran a hand through her short, curly mop of hair. At just over five feet tall, Cait was indeed tiny. A slim frame, short hair, and greenish-gold eyes completed the package and often had her being mistaken for a little girl. Those who knew her never made that mistake. As a pub owner, Cait had a commanding presence, a rigid backbone, and a healthy dose of risk-taking. She'd been known to break up more than her fair share of brawls. Typically though, it took little more than her raised voice to stop an argument in its tracks.
Cait kept an eye on Patrick as she moved around the pub. A recent hire, he was just eighteen years old and full of testosterone and angst. With his dark hair and gray eyes, Cait imagined that he had already cajoled more than one girl into his bed. Smiling, she shook her head at the urgency of youth and reminded herself to keep her mental shields up, as she would probably hear more than she needed to from Patrick if she wasn't careful. Cait shot him a friendly smile as she ducked under the pass-through behind the long wood bar that framed rows of glass shelves hung in front of a gilded mirror. Liquor bottles of all shapes and sizes clustered the shelves. Cait prided herself on stocking more than just the average fare and enjoyed offering a variety of drink choices. She bent to tuck her cleaning supplies beneath the counter. Turning, she slammed into Patrick's chest and stepped back involuntarily as he caged her with his arms.
Cait took a deep breath as her pulse picked up its pace. Blowing out her breath, she met Patrick's eyes.
"I think about you. A lot." Patrick's words sent an involuntary shudder through Cait and she realized that maybe she should have listened a little more closely to Patrick's thoughts. Allowing her shields to drop, Cait did a quick scan of Patrick's mind. She breathed a sigh of relief as she found a healthy dose of lust but no intent to harm. Cait reached up and patted Patrick's arm.
"Patrick, I'm almost ten years older than you. While I'm flattered, you need to find a woman your own age to date." Cait smiled gently at him. She gasped as he wrapped his arms around her and pressed a passionate kiss to her lips. Cait let out a soft squeak before she contemplated how to break the kiss without bruising his fragile ego.
"What's going on here?"
A voice sliced across the pub and Cait tried not to groan as Patrick stepped hurriedly back from her. Cait knew that voice. Its owner had starred in more than one of her most decadent fantasies.
"Have I interrupted something?" Shane MacAuliffe stepped up to the bar and leaned casually against the railing as his brown eyes coolly assessed the situation. His lanky frame belied a whipcord strength that Cait had seen exhibited on several occasions.
"No, you haven't. Right, Patrick?" Cait turned and crossed her arms, staring down the young man. Patrick's cheeks turned pink and he ducked his head, nodding at the floor.
"Why don't you take the kitchen bin out and finish cleaning up in there?" Cait suggested, and Patrick nodded, not meeting her eyes. He ducked quickly beneath the pass-through and all but ran for the kitchen, the door swinging wildly behind him. Cait huffed out a sigh and turned to face Shane. She was dying to read his thoughts but her own code of honor prevented her from doing so. She'd have to deal with this like a regular person.
Cait allowed her eyes to scan Shane. His casually proper attire was something that she knew he took time with, just as she knew that he drove into Dublin for his haircuts. His blond hair and stubborn jaw made him an attractive, if not an interesting man to look at. The unofficial mayor of Grace's Cove, Shane owned more than half of the commercial real estate buildings, including the one that housed her pub. Still, that didn't mean it was okay for him be here after hours, Cait thought. Deciding to take the offensive, she glared at him.
"And what are you doing, sneaking in here after hours?"
Shane raised an eyebrow at her and Cait was startled to see anger lying beneath the cool surface of his calm façade.
"I own the place, remember?"
Cait blew out a breath and turned to finish cleaning the glasses. The task gave her something else to focus on and forced her to keep her mouth from saying something stupid like, "Take me." Cait did a mental eye roll. She promised herself that one day she would get over this insatiable crush that she had on her landlord.
"Yes, sir, I remember." Cait infused her words with bitter sarcasm. He always hated it when she called him sir.
"Knock it off. What are you doing messing with that kid? He's too young for you," Shane said bitterly as he ducked behind the bar and helped himself to a Harp.
"Make yourself at home, there," Cait said.
"Put it on my house account. Now, answer my question."
Cait finished washing her hands and dried them carefully on a bar rag that hung in front of her. Part of her was gleeful that Shane cared and part of her was infuriated that he thought that she was too old for Patrick.
"My love life is my own. Thanks for asking though."
Cait gasped as Shane stepped towards her, pressing her small body back against the bar. She allowed her eyes to trail up his chest, past his clenched jaw, to where his deep brown eyes were murderous. It was so rare for Shane to show emotion like this that Cait found herself trembling against him.
"Your love life? You're sleeping with him? What kind of boss are you?"
Shock hit Cait at his words and a warm flush of anger and embarrassment shot through her.
Her voice shook and she skewered Shane with a glare.
"I'm the best kind of boss. One that knows what she wants and gets it. No matter what. And at this moment that would be you…leaving my pub. Now."
Shane took a deep breath and stepped back from her. Cait felt oddly bereft at the absence of his heat. She held his eyes as he nodded once at her and ducked beneath the pass-through.
"Excuse me, then. I'll just leave you to your business. I'm sure that Patrick can walk you home instead." Shane slammed through the front door and Cait brought her trembling head to the bar, allowing the smooth wood to cool the heat of her forehead. What had just happened? Cait needed a moment to breathe.
"Um, I'd be happy to walk you home."
Cait stayed where she was as Patrick's voice greeted her from across the room. If she knew her town, this would be the gossip on everyone's lips over breakfast tomorrow.
"No, thank you, Patrick. Come here, we need to talk."
Patrick walked to the other side of the bar and met her eyes, the naked hunger in his eyes softening her stance. Though Cait felt the pleasure of being wanted wash through her, she also knew that Shane was right. Patrick was not only too young for her, but he was also her employee.
She pulled out two shot glasses and filled them with a splash of Tullamore Dew. She slid one across to Patrick.
"Here's the deal, Patrick. I'm flattered that you are attracted to me. But, at your age, you'll find someone else in under a week. And you should…you should be out testing the waters and seeing what you do and don't like. Not only am I not the one for you, it also goes against my rules and my ethics to sleep with an employee. You do a good job here and I want to keep you on. But, I'm going to have to ask you never to make a pass at me again. Do you think that you can handle that?" Cait said firmly, her eyes never wavering from the young man's face. Patrick took a deep breath and nodded once before breaking into a smile.
"So, we're okay?"
Cait smiled at him and held up her shot glass. "Slàinte." They clinked glasses and she allowed the warm burn of the whiskey to slip down her throat. The heat only seemed to fuel her anger at Shane but she kept a cool demeanor as she and Patrick chatted about the rehearsal dinner they'd hosted at the pub earlier that evening. Cait went around and flicked off lights and tried not to think about why Shane had come to the pub tonight. Instead, she thought about Keelin and Flynn's wedding tomorrow. Cait was going solo as she was a bridesmaid in the wedding, but that didn't mean she wouldn't be able to mingle with the guests. Knowing that Flynn owned restaurants across Ireland had led Cait to hope that maybe she'd meet a new man, one not ensconced in Grace's Cove. One…that wasn't Shane. With a sigh, she ushered Patrick from the pub and locked the door behind her, pocketing her keys smoothly.
Her small flat was only a few blocks away and made her commute convenient, though she often wished that she wasn't so accessible to all of her employees. Cait supposed that that was the drawback of owning your own business. She laughed at herself as she walked the quiet street towards her building. She loved owning a pub in Grace's Cove. Rumored to be a mystical town, the cove drew curiosity seekers from around the world. Tourism was a big business in Grace's Cove and Gallagher's Pub was at the heart of it. So what if people thought the cove was enchanted? They wouldn't be far wrong, Cait thought. Rumors held that Grace O'Malley had protected it as her last resting place and that very few were allowed to enter the cove without being harmed. Whispers of powers passed down through Grace's bloodline heightened the reputation of the town. It was good for business and business was booming.
She wouldn’t change it for the world, Cait thought, and smiled at the sleepy town.