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by Pat McDermott

Karen and Suzanne, two young ladies from Boston, have been visiting Dublin
and will soon be on their way to County Mayo to attend the wedding of Karen's mother.



While Karen finished checking out, Suzanne committed the details of the posh reception area to memory. Her casual jeans, chosen for traveling comfort, set her apart from the business men and well-dressed guests who swaggered through the lobby. The upscale hotel had been fine for a four-day stay, but she’d choose more affordable digs next time. And there would be a next time. Her first trip to Ireland would not be her last.

“All set,” Karen said, her blissful expression reflecting Suzanne’s mood. “The bellhop is on his way down with our bags, and Andy and Gary will be here any minute.”

The prospect of a four-hour car ride with men she’d never met unsettled Suzanne. She’d come to Ireland to escape the nasty species. Yet these guys should be okay. They’d soon be family connections for Karen. Still…

Suck it up, princess.
“I hate to impose. We could have taken the train.”

Karen strode toward the entrance. “Gary offered. He’s driving Andy home anyway, and a car trip will be shorter than a train ride. Cheaper too. Not that I’m complaining. We said we wouldn’t worry about money on this trip, right?”

“Right.” A fleeting twinge of guilt beset Suzanne. She’d tapped the funds her father had bequeathed to her, something she seldom did, to help pay for this trip. Karen had been persuasive about this particular hotel, insisting that Suzanne needed pampering after her breakup with Jeff.

At the time, Suzanne had agreed. Jacket draped on her forearm, purse looped over her shoulder, she followed Karen across the floor. The black and white tiles reminded her of a giant chessboard. “We’ve really splurged so far. Next time we come, we’ll stay someplace more reasonable, okay?”

“Maybe, and maybe we’ll stay somewhere even more expensive. You’ll be making a fortune with your wedding business in no time, and I’m going to have a humongous divorce settlement.”

“Get serious, Karen. Steve’s not a bad guy. You’re not going to divorce him.”

“Yeah, I guess not.”

“Anyway, I’m glad we did most of our shopping in Boston. Dublin has lots of great stores, but the clothes are too European for me.”

Sunlight shone through the glass in the entrance doors. Karen gazed at her reflection and smoothed her mane of dark-brown curls. “Good thing. Our luggage is crammed as it is. I’m glad we shipped most of the doodads and souvenirs we bought home.”

“Souvenirs for other people. I want to find something special to remember this trip.”

“We’ve been in nearly every store in Dublin, and you couldn’t find something?” Karen pivoted on her heel, forehead wrinkled, smile gone. “You are having fun here, aren’t you, Suze?”

Suzanne ran her hand through her own hair, which, in her opinion, needed a trim and something to fix its drab, ash-blond color. “You know I am. We’ve done some fantastic tours, and we’ve had some wonderful dinners. You’re a good friend, Karen.”

“Yeah, well that works two ways. I know what jerks guys can be. I still can’t believe Steve wouldn’t come to my mother’s wedding. The twit! At least you didn’t marry Jeff.”

The sound of his name hit Suzanne like a punch. “I told you, I don’t want to talk about Jeff.”

“Sorry. I forgot.” Karen turned her head every which way, as if she were seeking a quick escape. “Hey, here comes our luggage!”

A bellhop propelled a loaded brass luggage cart from the elevator to the entrance. Karen tipped him and said they could manage the bags when their ride came. He thanked her and marched away.

Only half-listening to the exchange, Suzanne imagined herself wielding a flamethrower to burn Jeff’s sorry, cheating, perverted ass. During these happy fantasies, she liked to hear him scream. Loudly.

“Looks like we’ll have great weather for our drive across the country today,” Karen said, her tone uncertain.

Soothed by her incendiary daydream, Suzanne flashed the smile that let Karen know all was well between them. “Why wouldn’t we? We’ve had great weather since we’ve been here.”

Showers had fallen once or twice, but the sun had never strayed too far. Today, the hotel’s double glass doors stood open. The breeze blowing in transported an urban mix of restaurant aromas, exhaust fumes, and cigarette smoke. Traffic streamed by. Horns honked. Crowds of tourists laughed and shouted in various languages.

Across the busy street, a black iron fence fought to contain the lush vegetation of St. Stephen’s Green, the twenty-seven acre park where Suzanne and Karen had strolled several times. They’d taken photos of the ponds and flowerbeds and fed the swans and ducks. They’d even enjoyed a mini concert or two.

A dinging bell announced that the light rail trolley called the Luas had stopped in front of the hotel. People stepped off, new passengers boarded, and the streetcar rode on.

Suzanne watched it go. “Next time we come, I want to ride on that cute little thing and see where it goes.”

Karen had no chance to respond. From the way she waved at the shiny red car coasting to the curb at the hotel entrance, Gary and Andy had arrived.

An unreasonable wave of panic beset Suzanne. What if they were like Jeff? How could she protect herself from guys like him when she was too stupid to recognize the signs until it was too late?

She scolded herself yet again for thinking she knew nothing about men because she’d had no mother to teach her. She could easily deal with Jeff and his ilk. The mistake she’d made with Jeff was to fall in love with him. That wasn’t going to happen again, not with any guy, and these two posed no threat to her resolve. Andy would soon be Karen’s step-brother. Gary, whichever one he was, had something going on with Andy’s sister.

And Jeff the Jerk was hiding in a corner with his pants on fire.

So what was the problem?

Those who’ve been bitten by snakes are afraid of ropes…

Karen touched Suzanne’s arm. “They’re good guys, Suze. I promise.”

“I’m sure they are. It’s me. I’m—”

“Gun shy. I know. We have to get you back on the horse.”

Suzanne’s face grew warm. She spoke slowly and deliberately. “The horse is in the stable, and the door’s shut tight. We talked about this, remember? It’s why I’m here in Ireland with you.”

Car doors slammed. A pair of jean-clad males in the top tier of tantalizing manhood approached the lobby. Both were tall and fit enough to stretch the sleeves and chests of their T-shirts. The driver had a leaner build than the passenger, a stud with a fabulous smile.

Not that Suzanne cared.

Both guys had dark reddish hair, though the thinner one, who wore a long ponytail at the back of his neck, had lighter tones in his. The beefier one—the guy with the fabulous smile—had short man-curls that looked brown until he turned in the sunlight. Not brown, Suzanne thought. A luscious dark bronze.

Karen rushed out the open door, dashing between the potted plants lining the hotel entrance. “Hello, you two!” After she hugged them both, she whirled toward Suzanne, who’d followed her to the sidewalk.

“Suzanne,” she said, ruffling Smiley’s curls, “meet Andy Connigan, my brother-to-be.” She waved her arm. “This is Gary O’Brien. Guys, meet Suzanne Ingerson, my best friend ever since we were in grade school. This is her first time over.”

Gary stepped forward and offered his hand. “You’re very welcome to Ireland, Suzanne. How’s Dublin treating you?”

Delighted by his deep-voiced Irish accent, she shook his hand. The strength in his long, slender fingers surprised her. “Great, thanks. We’re having a wonderful time. Nice to meet you.” She extended her hand to the other one. “Hello, Andy. Nice to meet you too.”

“Been seeing the sights, have you?” His handshake seemed hurried. The rhythm of his accent differed from Gary’s; his voice sounded lighter, more musical.

Not that Suzanne cared. “We’ve seen some of them.”

“Not enough time to see everything,” Karen said. “We’ll have to come back someday.”

Gary glanced at the hotel door. “Where are your bags? We should be on our way if we want to reach Westport by teatime.”

“The luggage cart is in the lobby. Come on, Gary. Help me roll it out.”

Once she and Gary had gone inside, Andy opened the door on the driver’s side and pushed something that opened the trunk. Then he opened the back door and yanked out a bulky backpack.

“You ladies will sit in the rear,” he said. “I’ll toss my rucksack in the boot with your bags.” He smirked at her. “If you don’t have too many bags, that is.”

“The boot?” She knew they called the trunk that here, but his leaning over and his easy lifting of the backpack had conspired with his lilting accent to fluster her.

“The trunk to you, yeah?”

She shrugged. “Yeah.”

He set the backpack in the trunk-boot just as Karen and Gary reappeared, pushing and pulling the luggage cart. As Suzanne moved out of the way, she glanced into the trunk and saw a rectangular leather bag covered with various handles and loops. Not a typical suitcase. Something for the wedding?

“Is that a camera bag?” she asked.

“Oh, Gary!” Karen cried. “You brought your pipes!”

“I did. Ben asked if I’d play something during the ceremony, and I expect we’ll have a seisiún or two during the week.”

“A seshoon,” Suzanne said slowly.

“A music session,” Karen said. “A gig.”

“I figured that.”

“Right.” Cart empty, Karen rolled it to the door. “Gary’s a fabulous piper, Suze. Wait till you hear him!”

“I’ll look forward to it.” Special music. That’s good. Makes the wedding more personal.

Andy ushered Suzanne to the street. Though he never touched her, he shielded her from oncoming vehicles. Suzanne entered the car and sat beside Karen, who gave her the OK hand sign. Andy closed the door and settled himself in the front passenger seat. Four sets of seatbelts clicked, and the car pulled into the thickening Dublin traffic.



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