We stepped through the black painted doors of The Widow and into the energy of the pub. Laughter rose above the steady murmur of its patrons crowded together in small booths that lined the walls. With Blake’s hand in mine, I led us farther into the room that wrapped around the old square bar, the centerpiece of this place made for spirits and revelry.
Around the corner, a face lit up with recognition, a smile mirroring my own.
I broke contact with Blake and made my way toward the man I’d known all my years at Harvard as Professor Brendan Quinlan. He rose and greeted me with a tight embrace. The texture of his green sweater was rough under my hands, his salt-and-pepper hair a tickle against my cheek.
“Erica! Wonderful to see you. How have you been?” His Irish brogue had become more pronounced in the months since I’d seen him.
How could I possibly sum up everything life had thrown at me since graduation months ago? Still, in this very moment, I was . . .
“I’m great.” I smiled broadly and felt Blake’s warmth behind me, then his hand gently at the small of my back.
I glanced up at the man who’d completely stolen my heart since the last time I’d seen Brendan. Blake’s dark brown hair was trimmed neatly for our recent wedding. His lean, muscular torso was hidden under a light sweater, but his jeans strained in all the right ways over the contours of his thighs. Maybe I was a smitten newlywed, but I wasn’t alone in my admiration. Blake turned heads, even in the few minutes since we’d walked into the pub. And because he was mine in all the ways that mattered, I no longer cared who looked.
The professor extended his hand to Blake. “You must be the lucky lad.”
Blake shook his hand, his deep hazel eyes crinkling at the edges with a smile. “I certainly am. It’s a pleasure to meet you. Erica speaks very highly of you.”
“And she of you. You two are quite the pair now.” He darted his gaze between the two of us. “The maven and the mogul.”
I laughed and leaned into Blake. “Maven? I’m not sure if I’m quite there yet.”
The professor motioned toward the worn wooden table where we took our seats. “Don’t doubt it! Might be a good title for a book in any case. I may have to steal it.”
He winked, and the gesture tugged at my heart. I’d missed his friendship and guidance. Once so steady, and then suddenly gone after he’d left for sabbatical and I ventured out into the working world for the first time. I smiled inwardly, remembering how we’d spent hours going over my business plan and turning over ideas, all the while figuring out how I was going to satisfy my major between business-building efforts. I’d never forget what his support meant to me then and how it had set me on a journey that would challenge me beyond my wildest imagination.
He’d left for Ireland nearly as soon as Blake had come into my life. He’d had his reasons, of course. Despite his focus on business studies at the university, he’d left to pursue a different kind of dream and one I was eager to hear more about.
“How is the novel going?”
“It’s going grand. Plenty of characters around here to inspire me. Isn’t that right, Mary?”
The waitress, a woman with thick black curly hair pulled back into a clip, arrived at the table. She’d brought with her a dark pint filled to the frothy brim. She set it down and straightened, resting her hands on her hips over the strings of her small black apron.
“Is he pestering ye? I can toss him out. Wouldn’t be the first time, would it, Bren?” She winked.
He shook his head with a smile. “No need, love. I’ll be on my best behavior.”
We ordered a couple more pints, and hours later I was warm from the beer and laughing, listening to Brendan’s stories about his local friends and adventures. We talked about Harvard too, reliving the best of my college memories. I was careful to skirt past the others. Brendan would never know about those shadows, and I truly hoped he’d never know how close Max had come to repeating history. Perhaps when Brendan was back in Boston he would get wind of the assault charges that had been brought against his former student, but at least for now, he was far enough away that he likely wouldn’t find out.
Blake and Brendan were chatting about one of Blake’s business ventures when Mary returned to clear our empty glasses.
“There she is. My bride to be,” Brendan muttered, his accent somehow thicker than it had been when we arrived. “Oh, you.” She smacked his arm, barely concealing a smile.
He beamed with a grin and turned his focus back to us. “Will you have another?”