I glanced at Mary’s tray of empties. We could go a lot longer and regret it. I shook my head. “I’m good. You two can go ahead, if you want.”
Blake leaned back and slid his arm over my shoulders. “No, we should head back. It’s getting late.”
Brendan nodded. “Of course. Let me see you out, then.”
“I’ll take care of the tab and meet you two outside,” Blake said.
Brendan protested, but Mary ignored his pleas to pay. When he’d finally given up, he and I left the noise of the pub together for the much quieter clatter of the street outside. People walked in small groups past us, in and out of the surrounding establishments. A half-moon cast a sheen on the street. The cobblestones were misted with evidence of a brief rain shower we’d missed while inside.
I stuffed my hands into my pockets and took in all the details of this new place.
“Beautiful night, isn’t it?” Brendan took a deep breath of the evening air.
“It is. I’m so glad we could catch up, Professor.”
He chuckled. “Brendan! I beg you, call me Brendan. At least until you get to graduate school, and then we can work it out.”
I laughed. “Not likely, but fair enough.”
“I suppose what you’ve been through has been your education.” His smile faded a little and his gaze wandered past me. “I’m sorry about yer man Max. I had no idea that he’d be such a disappointment for the cause, Erica. I’d seen a glimmer of hope in the boy . . . Thought for sure he’d straightened up from his younger days.”
I looked down, not wanting to let on what a grave disappointment he’d ultimately been.
“It’s okay. Ancient history,” I said quietly, thinking back to the email update I’d sent the professor days after learning that Max and my ex-employee, Risa, had stolen company information and used it to launch their competing business. I hadn’t wanted the professor to feel guilty, only to save him from sending any other unwitting students Max’s way for help or support.
Max had proven far more dangerous than I’d given him credit for initially. Perhaps if I hadn’t become so involved with Blake, he wouldn’t have taken such an interest in ruining me in every way he could. But I wasn’t about to make excuses for him, and I didn’t want anyone else to have to go through what I had.
“Perhaps it worked out in a way, with you meeting Blake. Silver lining, as they say.”
“Very true. The past few months have been hard, but I couldn’t have gotten through them without him.”
I’d always prided myself on my independence. I’d been left, hurt, and abandoned. I’d been underestimated and brushed off. Never had I thought I’d become so committed to another human being. I couldn’t imagine having come through the past few months the same without Blake by my side, though. And I couldn’t imagine today or any of my tomorrows without his love and support. Saying yes, sharing vows, and giving him my trust had come easier after everything we’d been through.
“Ready?” Blake had stepped through the doorway of the pub and come to my side, effectively sidelining my thoughts and our conversation.
I couldn’t say I minded one bit. I’d loved meeting with my old friend, but I was ready to be back in Blake’s arms, in a quiet place with just the two of us. We were on our honeymoon, after all.
I bit my lip, smiling. My honeymoon, with my husband.
I turned to the professor for a last hug, and we said our goodbyes before parting ways.
Blake and I began to walk the now familiar path back to our hotel, through the dark uneven streets out of Dublin’s city center. A hint of rain and the lingering scent of the fresh flowers that had been sold on the streets hours earlier filled the air.
I held Blake’s hand, admiring the details of the building architecture framing the old streets, greeting the bright-eyed faces that met us on the sidewalk. It was almost midnight, but our schedule was a mess, and I was in no rush to be anywhere as long as we were together.
Seeing my old professor again had been a flashback to a simpler time in my life. So much had happened since that first meeting in the Angelcom boardroom that Professor Quinlan arranged with Max’s initial support. I never could have known then that I’d fall head over heels for the cocky investor sitting across from me . . . that I’d become his wife. But here we were, bound together as closely as two people could be.
Blake caught me closer to his side and brushed a soft kiss over my cheek. “I like Brendan. I can see why he’s become a friend.”
I smiled. “It seems odd to call him a friend when he’s been so much more, but it’s true. He encouraged me to build the business when I had so many doubts. He’s the reason I took the path I did.”