“Stop the car!” Aedan Callahan shouted.
The driver grunted, eased his foot up off the gas then pulled over. A car honked from behind them before swerving out of the lane. As it passed, the driver gave them the middle finger.
“Same to you, pal!” The cab driver hollered. “Some people.”
“I see some things haven’t changed in my absence.”
The cabbie chuckled. “It all depends on how long you’ve gone.”
“A lifetime, it seems.”
Aedan glanced at the meter, paid the driver with a tip and scrambled from the back seat as fast as his duffle and leg would allow. The taxi sped off and he walked back the five or so steps it took to reach the pub.
Suddenly, Baltimore didn’t feel like a different planet anymore and all the changes meant nothing. All the memories he had with the people who owned the establishment came flooding back. Those, unlike everything else, meant everything.
Pat’s looked the same—sure, the sign over the door had gotten a little older with time but it added a certain something to the regality of the joint.
Whereas the rest of Baltimore had moved on—mom and pop diners replaced with big chain fast food joints, baseball parks replaced with skyscrapers—Aedan had begged for one thing to remain the same. He’d prayed that at least one thing would dawdle in time and that would tell him he’d been missed.
What better place than Pat’s?
With his heart racing, he gripped the door handle and pushed.
Aedan remembered Pat’s vividly. He remembered the laughter, the sound of music, the call of Pop’s voice to customers. He also remembered the love he felt each time he stepped through those doors and would be horded in with Pop’s kids. Not once did they make him feel like an outsider—which was what he was. But at that time Aedan never wanted to go home. He’d spend as much time as he could with the Collins until he didn’t have a choice. Then he’d meander the street for a while longer. Hungry and depressed, he’d climb through his bedroom window and curl himself into a ball.
A low thud caught his attention and Aedan blinked then looked around to see that his bag had slipped to the floor. He was about to pick it up when someone touched his shoulder.
“Welcome home, Soldier.”
Aedan turned to thank the voice then blinked.
“Aedan Callahan,” Killian Collins said, disbelief tainting his deep voice. “Where in the hell have you been?”
“Around? Did you know we filed a missing person’s report on you?” Killian asked. “I think we deserve a little more than around, don’t you?”
“Why are you so upset?” Aedan arched a brow. “The last time I checked, at eighteen years old I was an adult and could leave if I wanted to.”
“Why—” Killian caught his bottom lip between his teeth.
Aedan could tell he was upset by the way Killian’s eyes darkened. What Aedan couldn’t understand was why. He left because he knew no one would miss him. Bronagh definitely wouldn’t have called the cops even if he’d been underage the day he skipped town. To her, it would have been good riddance!
Killian’s reaction stunned him. Sure, he’d spent a great deal of time with the Collins, but Aedan had been quite positive he had more than worn out his welcomed.
“Look, I had to leave,” Aedan said. “I don’t expect you to understand.”
“And what’s that supposed to mean?” Killian rested his hands akimbo. “One minute you were here the next, presto!”
“I joined the military, Killian.” Aedan’s exhaustion pulsed against his lower back. “That’s where I’ve been. It wasn’t like I was in prison. I wasn’t in a ditch somewhere—I was serving my country. I did send word home with the cops who found me.”
“And that’s supposed to—”
“Leave the man alone. He’s barely in the door and you’re already riding him.”
Aedan would recognize that voice anywhere. He smiled and shifted to look at Keira Collins. She was still as beautiful as the first day he’d laid eyes on her. “Keira Collins.”
She hugged him tightly as he picked her up in his arms and twirled her around. It’d been so long since he’d seen her. Aedan couldn’t contain the happiness brimming through him. Keira dropped a kiss to his cheeks as he set her on her feet again and released her.
“It’s Wallace now.” She wiggled her ring finger at him.
“And if you’d been here, you would have known that,” Killian said briskly.
Aedan spun on his heels, anger raging through him. “Get off my—”
“—Killian, cool it!” Kiera’s voice said she was not having it.
“Cic Maith Sa Tóin Atá De Dlíth Air.” Aedan muttered in Gaelic.
“I agree. He needs a good kick in the arse.” Kiera glared at her brother. “But enough about that. You’re home!”
Aedan swallowed and faced Kiera again. For her, he smiled and pushed a wayward strand of her dark hair from her cheek. “It’s good to see you, Kiki.”
She grinned. “No one has called me that in years.”
“You may have grown up, but you’re still Kiki to me.” Aedan winked. “And congrats on the wedding, I really wish I could have been here.”
“It wasn’t like I could have sent you an invite.”
“I know. I’m sorry.”
“One day, Cal, you’re going to have to sit me down and tell me what happened,” Keira said, softly. “We’ve missed you around here. And having you gone affected all of us. No matter what Killian says now, he loves you. His gruff is just man-talk for I miss you.”
“No, it’s man-talk for I’m pissed.” Killian countered.
“Whatever, at this point.” Kiera’s frown returned. “Like I said, we all missed you.”
Aedan nodded. “I will explain soon.” He promised. “Do I get to meet Mr. Wallace?”
“If you stick around long enough,” Killian said.
Aedan’s back went up with that comment. He was barely home, and this guy was raking on his last god-damn nerve. He meant to tear a strip off Killian’s ass, but Keira must have sensed his agitation. She looped her arm with his and led him to the bar.
“You’re limping.” Kiera craned her neck as if to look at his feet. “Are you hurt?”
“You could say that. Can I have a beer?” Aedan changed the subject. He didn’t feel like telling the story of how he lost half his leg yet. He’d leave the pity party for another time when he didn’t feel like punching Killian Collins into the stratosphere.
“Yeah. Sure.” Kiera hurried behind the bar. She pried the cap off an ice-cold bottle and set it before him. When he tried to pay, she frowned at him and crossed her arms at her chest. “Put that away, Aedan Callahan. You’re family.”
“Don’t make me tell you again.”
He remembered that tilt in her head was her way of silently saying, do not test me today, Aedan Fionn Callahan. You will lose.
She crinkled her nose at him while laughing softly. “So, how you been?”
He sat around, sipping and speaking with Kiera. The heat of Killian’s glare never left him. Aedan ignored it and focused on Kiera’s face, her laughter, her warmth.
When he’d left Baltimore, he honestly didn’t believe anyone would miss him. He was stunned when in basic training, he was called into his commander’s office. Aedan hadn’t been in trouble. Baltimore P.D thought he had been missing. He did send a message back letting them know he was fine and not dead in a ditch somewhere. But, it seemed Killian didn’t take too kindly to that.
Aedan would not apologize for escaping when he could. Killian would have to put on his big girl panties and deal.
“Listen.” Aedan took another sip of his beer before setting the bottle back on the counter. “Thanks for the beer. I should get going.”
“I just got off a nine hour flight,” Aedan said. “I only want to go to my apartment, shower, maybe get some sleep.”
“Oh! So, you are staying?”
Aedan nodded. “If I can find work.”
“Well, I guess you’re staying then.” Keira said. “You can work here.”
“Don’t you think you should talk to the others first?” Aedan asked, jerking his head in Killian’s direction. “I’m pretty sure there will be quite a few of them who won’t be pleased I’m back.”
“The others won’t mind.” Kiera’s determined gaze bore into him. “And just because Killian has a stick up his ass doesn’t mean he isn’t happy to see you. He thought of you as a brother when we were kids. Give him some time.”
“What would I do here, anyway?”
“You can be our handyman.” Keira wiggled her brows suggestively at him. “Besides, all the other eye candies in this place are taken. The ladies require fresh meat—er, I mean, new faces.”
“Eye candy?” Aedan laughed. He laughed so hard he snorted. “Me? No, you don’t understand. I’ve been called a lot of things over the years, most of which cannot be said in the presence of a lady. I assure you, eye candy was never one.”
“There’s a first time for everything.”
“I don’t know what to say.” Aedan rubbed the back of his neck. “I mean—”
Kiera extended a hand to him. “Say yes already.”
She tilted her head at him, hand still outstretched.
“Yes.” Aedan ignored her hand but reached across the bar to kiss her cheek.
“You can start Monday night.”
“Thank you.” Aedan told her. “But it’s only for a little while until I can find a job in my field. I don’t want to impose on your kindness longer than I have to.”
Kiera rolled her eyes. “What’s your field?”
“I’m a mechanical engineer. I figured since I was in the military I might as well have a backup plan if anything happened and I had to leave.”
“Wow! Good looks and brains!” Keira giggled. “You’ll see. With credentials like that, a good woman is gonna scoop you up like that!” She snapped her fingers before his eyes.
His cheeks heated. “I really have to go. I know I don’t start till Monday, but I’ll stop by tomorrow night to see if you need me.”
“You do that.”
Aedan winked at her and shifted from the stool. He picked up his duffle and headed for the door. When he glanced toward Killian, the man merely turned and walked off into the back. Aedan sighed and shook his head. There was no way to explain to Killian what was happening at that time in his life.
Back outside, the sunlight was almost too much as vehicles sped by. It was a little dizzying for Aedan. A fire truck charged by him, sirens blaring along with two cop cars and a fire supervisor van. He squinted and craned his neck to watch them as long as he could. He blinked and tried watching them again, but the emergency service vehicles were nothing but a dot in the distance.
A second blink and they were gone.
With a sigh, he began focusing on re-familiarizing himself with his surroundings. If he recalled correctly, he would have two blocks before he was at his place.
Aedan inhaled deeply and turned down the street. So many thoughts filled his mind until he had to stop walking to refocus. He bottled them all, releasing only one—his motorcycle should be delivered within the next two days. Then he’d have to modify it to fit his now missing leg and the new prosthetic he’d had specially designed for riding. Being on the motorcycle gave him a sense of freedom and he wasn’t about to lose that too.
The walk took him by a small grocery store and Aedan stopped to pick up a few necessities—beer, toilet paper, steaks, fruits and vegetables, toothpaste, some spices and butter. He also stopped into a kitchen supplies store and bought all he’d need for the apartment’s kitchen. In the end, he had to call a cab. It wasn’t a long ride, but he’d purchased more than he realized and couldn’t possibly walk with everything.
Once he’d managed to lug everything to his unit, Aedan popped the beer in the empty fridge, dropped the stakes in the sink and set to work putting things away. Somehow, he’d pulled his head out of the clouds long enough to pick up enough for dinner for the weekend. It would be a challenge, since he hadn’t been feeling hungry but knew he had to eat. His therapist had warned him not to succumb to the depression going back to civilian life would bring. But Aedan didn’t know anything else.
At eighteen, he left Baltimore, wound up in New York and was recruited into a rock band. At nineteen the band fell apart.
In all honesty, they weren’t very good. At nineteen and a half he was at a military recruitment center filling out the paperwork.
All his adult life had been spent in uniform.
What was he supposed to do now?
His next job was to look through his new home. It was empty, sterile—silent. He was thirty three years old, staring thirty four in the eyes and all he had to show for all those years was an empty apartment, a purple heart, a motorcycle and a small savings account.
There has to be more to life than this.