Calder Finnegan entered the smoky pub and scanned the area. It never changes. He’d been away from the bar for almost six years. His gaze roamed the crowd of people drinking and laughing. Some of the faces had changed in the small Irish pub, but the atmosphere was essentially the same. It was a long room with about fifteen tables and ten booths all lined up like little soldiers. The small stage, used for traditional Irish music, appeared as though it was in need of some repairs. Fin wondered if his da would mind if he made a few upgrades here and there while he was in town?
The only thing that was still perfect about the pub was the mahogany bar. Oh, and the delicious bartender standing behind it. Yum. Da sure hadn’t employed anyone who’d looked that good last time he’d come in. Fin decided to take a seat in the back corner of the pub and get the lay of the land.
The bar was packed with twenty- and thirty-something customers. While he was growing up, the bar had been frequented by dock workers and other blue-collar types nearing retirement age. Back then, the pub’s heaviest traffic came right after five o’clock when the workers got off shift. They’d stop off at Finnegan’s for a beer or two before going home to their families. Occasionally, men would bring their wives or girlfriends to the pub on a Friday or Saturday night to listen to music, but that was it. This crowd was completely different from what he was used to.
Now Finnegan’s held a broad spectrum of patrons. Everyone from college kids to guys in suits. Fin shook his head. What the hell was going on in the small lazy pub his da had chosen over him and his mom? Fin’s anger returned at the thought of his mom. He pushed the thoughts away and concentrated on the bartender. Fucking amazing. He stood maybe six feet tall, with black hair and brilliant blue eyes. His body was lean but not skinny, muscles corded in ropes on his arms and neck. Fin wondered if his chest was hairy. Damn, now he was getting hard. This was definitely not the place for him to lust after a man. It could totally ruin his career if anyone saw him staring at Mr. Gorgeous with a stiff cock in his jeans.
To help hide his identity, Fin wore a baseball cap with his shoulder-length black curls tucked up inside.
He continued to watch the bartender entertain the crowd. He told jokes and laughed at the stories and people surrounding him. He seemed to be the main attraction in the pub. Fin watched him do a few tricks with the liquor bottles while filling drink orders. He was absolutely amazing.
The small band of musicians started up again but Fin’s eyes remained on the bartender. God, he could so not do what he wanted to. He would be the laughingstock of professional football if anyone found out he preferred the players to the cheerleaders. He had to get himself under control. He glanced toward the bar and stared into a brilliant set of blue eyes. Fin’s mouth went dry and his palms started to sweat. He quickly averted his gaze to the musicians on the stage. When he looked back the hunk behind the bar was busy doing another one of his bottle tricks.
The customers began to chant. “Mick…Mick…Mick…Mick.”
Fin swiveled around. Who the hell was Mick? He watched the bartender jump onto the bar and take a bow. So, that’s what Mr. Gorgeous’ name was.
“Sing for us, Mick!” someone in the crowd shouted. The rest of the patrons chimed in, clapping and whistling. Mick gave the people a beautiful dimpled smile then turned and gazed right at Fin. His eyes felt like a caress on Fin’s skin. Mick jumped off the bar and headed for the stage.
He spoke quietly to the musicians and began singing the Irish ballad, The Banks of Lee. Fin’s jaw dropped. The man had a voice that would make any Irish tenor jealous. The notes were so perfect they touched his soul.
He caught Mick watching him at several points during the ballad. Mick finished the song and did a quick bow before jumping back over the bar to resume his duties. The crowd was still cheering as Mick went back to mixing drinks.
With his cock finally under control, Fin approached the bar. He leaned on the end watching Mick, waiting for his turn. Finally, Mick turned and Fin was captured.
He walked over to Fin and wiped the bar in front of him with a rag. “What can I get for you, friend?”
Fin didn’t dare say what he was thinking. “Build me a Guinness please.” Mick nodded and smiled. Fin almost groaned. He wanted to stick his tongue in those perfect dimples. Mick appeared older close-up. Fin guessed him to be around thirty.
“One Guinness coming up.” Mick began to slowly, but expertly, build Fin a Guinness. They referred to it as building a Guinness because the added nitrogen caused the Guinness to foam so much that a good bartender took his time while drawing the dark beer from the tap, adding layer upon layer until the glass was full with just the right amount of foam. When he was done he handed the drink to Fin. “Not many people ask for that anymore. The customers today all want Mexican beer.” Mick shook his head. “Why they come into an Irish pub for Mexican beer is beyond me.” He wiped the bar down again and smiled.
Fin dug his wallet out of his pants and put a ten on the bar. “They come in for you. You’re the best bartender I’ve ever seen. The best singer too.” When Mick tried to make change, his change Fin refused it. “Keep it. You earned it.”
He held out his hand to Mick. “I’m Calder Finnegan. My da probably told you he asked me to come to Boston during the off-season so he could take this trip back to Ireland.”
Mick’s eyes seemed to lose some of their shine. He rubbed his palms on his faded jeans and returned Fin’s greeting. “Nice to finally meet you, Calder. I’m Dominic ‘Mick’ Sullivan.”
“I’ll let you get back to your customers. I’m going to drink this and head to Da’s, but I’ll be back before opening tomorrow…and please call me Fin.” At Mick’s nod, Fin went back to his table and drank his Guinness. When he’d finished, he waved to Mick as he left.
Mick stared after Fin. “Damn.” He shook his head. How he’d not recognized the football star was beyond him. How was he going to work alongside Calder Finnegan, knowing he could never touch the all-star running back? Sean hadn’t told him Fin was going to take up the slack when he went to Ireland. He needed to call Sean before his plane left in the morning. Mick checked the clock. Eleven-thirty. Mick wondered if Sean would still be packing.
He picked up the bar phone and dialed Sean’s number while still filling drink orders. Sean picked up on the third ring.
“Hi, Sean, it’s Mick. I hope I didn’t wake you.” Mick handed a waitress the last of her drink order. “I just met Fin. He stopped by on his way to your house. Why didn’t you tell me he’s going to help out while you’re gone?”
“I didn’t tell you because I wasn’t sure he’d really come. As you know, we’ve not had the best relationship since his mom died. I called him a month ago. I guess it took him until the last minute to make up his mind, but I’m glad he did. Otherwise, you’d be working thirteen-hour days for the next month.”
Mick sighed. He knew Sean was right, he would need the help. He just wasn’t sure if Fin was the kind of help he needed. “When he gets there, tell him I’m sorry I didn’t recognize him. Say I’ll meet him downstairs at ten tomorrow morning.” Mick filled more drink orders and made change. “What time does your flight leave?”
“Eight in the morning and if Fin is here there won’t be a need for you to take me.” Sean seemed to think for a minute. “Mick? Please don’t tell Fin about the cancer. I’ll find a way to tell him when I get back.”
Mick stopped what he was doing and ran his hands through his hair. “I don’t understand why you haven’t told him, Sean. You’ve known for two months. Why are you gonna waste a month in Ireland when you could be spending it with Fin?”
“That’s my business, not yours. I’m doing all of this for a reason and it’s not just running away like you seem to think. The doctors say I’ve got six months left before I start really getting sick and there are a few things I need to accomplish before I go. Now can we just leave it at that for a while?”
Mick swallowed around the lump in his throat. He loved Sean like the father he’d never had. “Okay. I’ll trust you on this. You don’t have to worry. I won’t tell Fin anything while you’re gone.”
“Thanks Mick. I’ll see you in a month. Is there anything I can bring back for you?”
“Just you, old man. Just make sure you come back.”
“Bye, Mick. Take care of Fin. He doesn’t seem to be a very happy man, despite his fame and fortune.”
“Bye. Have a good trip.”
Mick hung up the phone and had to step around the corner of the bar to dry his eyes. He didn’t understand what Sean was thinking but Sean always seemed to have a plan. Mick would have to trust that he really knew what he was doing this time around.
* * * *
Fin knocked on the front door of the brownstone he’d grown up in. He’d only been back to Boston a couple of times since his mom’s death six years ago, and he wasn’t at all sure he could live in this house for the next month. The front door opened and Fin hardly recognized the older man standing in front of him. His da had aged a lot in the last few years. “Hi, Da.”
His da pulled him into a warm embrace. “I’m so glad you decided to come home, Calder.” Sean stepped back into the hallway and let Fin enter the house.
Carrying a large suitcase, Fin walked into the living room followed by Sean.
Fin studied the living room. “Everything looks exactly the same.” Fin focused on his da. “Why is everything exactly the same? It hasn’t changed at all since the day Mom died. Not even the crochet basket beside her chair.”
Sean gazed around the room as if he was seeing it for the first time in a long while. He shrugged and sat in his chair. “Why would I? Your mom worked hard to make this house a home.”
Fin swallowed and broke eye contact. “I don’t want to argue with you.” Fin sat on the blue floral sofa to his da’s right. “I stopped by the pub tonight on my way over. It was kind of weird. The pub is so different, yet everything is the same. Same tables and booths, same décor, same bar, everything seems like it always was except the customers. When did Finnegan’s become a hot spot for the college kids and young professionals of Boston?”
Sean smiled. He was very proud of his pub, always had been. “It started changing the day I hired Mick Sullivan. He’s got the kind of personality people flock to. I sold him the apartment above the bar three years ago.”
Fin was shocked. “You sold him the apartment? I thought that run-down place was a rental only. How could you sell the top floor of the building?”
Sean shrugged again. “It’s the only way he’d live there. I was getting too old to do the maintenance required on it and I got tired of people skipping out still owing me rent. So I talked to Mick about it and he said he’d buy it as long as I’d also sell him ten percent of the pub.” At Fin’s shocked face, Sean continued, “He doesn’t seem to care anything about making decisions for the pub or the profit that’s earned from it. What he was after was job security for as long as he lived there. So…tell me what you thought of him?” Sean gestured to the baseball cap still on Fin’s head. “Nice hat, by the way.”
Fin reached up and took the cap off. His black curls fell to his shoulders. “Sorry about that. I put it on to go into the pub. I wanted to check things out without anyone recognizing me.” He set the cap beside him on the sofa. “Mick seemed like a…nice enough guy. I didn’t get a chance to talk to him long but he builds a good Guinness.”
Sean nodded. “Yeah, the man sure does know his business. He called before you got here, by the way. Wanted to let me know you were coming. He told me to apologize for not recognizing you. It seems your hat had the desired effect. Mick said to meet him in the pub at ten tomorrow morning.” Sean brushed imaginary lint off his pants. “I was hoping you could take me to the airport too. My flight leaves at eight, but I should get there around five.”
“Sure, I’ll take you, Da. Is your cousin Peter meetin’ ya at Shannon Airport?”
“Yeah. I left his number beside the phone in case you need to get a hold of me for something. We won’t be there the whole time, we plan on doing some traveling around the country, but we’ll at least call and check messages.”
Fin yawned. “Sorry, I’m going to have to get to bed if I’m going to be up and dressed by four-thirty to take you to the airport.” Fin stood and started up the stairs, carrying his bag.
Sean called to him as he got to his bedroom door. “It’s good to have you home, son.”