Risk It All     MacAteer Brothers Book 4 

Patrick watched the woman’s constant motion. She might be small, but she was strong. Each pour filled the small glasses with exact amounts straight from the bottle. No drips or spills. It was clear she’d been behind this bar for a long time. She smiled at customers and did some cute bartender tricks of flipping glasses, twirling tongs around her finger, and bouncing caps off her elbow into the trash can.

“It’s early yet,” Angus protested. He picked up his colored drink and swallowed a good portion of it. “Patrick and I have to catch up a wee bit.”

“Aye, that we do.” Patrick quietly agreed as he reached out to snag one of the newly poured shots. Sloane raised her eyes to meet his, and he winked at her as he tossed the liquor to the back of his throat. Instead of the flirty wink back he expected, she scowled at him. “You starting a tab or mooching off Connor’s?”

Patrick let the woman’s ire bounce off him and turned the small glass over. He pushed toward her with one finger. “Tab, me darlin’. Name’s Patrick MacAteer.”

She stopped working for a minute and gaped at him. “Another one? How many of you are there?”

Patrick leaned on the bar with his elbows and ticked them off. “Connor is the oldest. Owen and Garrett are twins, but fraternal. I think Owen came first, but I can’t remember. Angus and I are next and we’re identical. We had to start wearing our hair differently so people could tell us apart. He’s the oldest by about twenty minutes. I’m the youngest brother, but we have a younger sister, Eva. She’s married to a biker and lives in Bryson City. Ever hear of the Dragon Runners MC?”

Sloane dropped her eyes and resumed her work. “Yeah, I know of them. Good people. I take my car to Ditchdigger’s place. He’s part of the local chapter.” She lifted the spouted bottle high and aimed a stream right into the glass. Perfect pour. Impressive.

Patrick lifted the fresh shot and threw it back in one go. The fire from the first one had already settled into a slow glowing burn in his stomach. The greasy drive-through burger from a few hours ago had long since disappeared and he briefly thought he needed to take it easy. Fuck no, I’m drinking tonight! That’s what Ubers are for.

“If yoor havin’ trouble, lass, I’ll be glad to look under the hood for yoo.” He accompanied the thinly veiled suggestion with a half-smile and another wink. His added accent thickened as he turned on the bedroom charm and turned it up to eleven.

Again the woman surprised him with her reaction. Instead of demurring and making a play of her own, she rolled her eyes and affected her own Irish brogue. “Ah now, laddie, ya think me daft? I have a bar full of thirsty people and no time for yoor blarney. If me hood needs anything, I’ll tend it later meself.”

She winked back at him and turned away to take another order.

For once, Patrick was speechless.

Melanie’s voice grabbed his attention. “We have a babysitter who’s probably watching the clock about now. Love that you guys are here. Talk business and shit. We’ll see you tomorrow at lunch, yes?”

Patrick put the cute acidic bartender out of his mind and bear-hugged his brother’s woman. “Feed me and you’ll be my favorite,” he remarked as he released Melanie.

“Beverly’s cooking. I can’t boil water without burning it.”

Patrick laughed as his brother had informed him about some of Melanie’s kitchen disasters. He let the rest of the conversation float around him as he wasn’t too interested in the lunch plans for the next few days. He was too busy watching the bartender stack a bunch of silver shakers and pour five drinks at once. Damn, she was good.

He noticed Angus sidle up to the pretty yoga woman. His twin offered her a seat and set himself behind her as if staking a claim. Renee? Ripley? Reina? Shit, I forgot already. That left Patrick as the only one there without a woman. Fuck that! Patrick snatched another shot from the row of shots and slammed it back. The bartender growled at him, but he ignored the sound and blew her a kiss.

“Party poopers, the lot of ya. Come, me true loves, dance with me before I grow roots.” He grabbed yoga woman and Bertie and dragged them to the dance floor. If some people found his behavior obnoxious, he really didn’t care. He worked hard and played harder and if they didn’t like it, well, fuck ’em.

He gave the pretty yoga woman a sideways smile and glance. “My beautiful new girlfriend, please don’t leave me!”

She laughed as she danced with him. “I’m not your girlfriend.”

“Oh, but you want to be. I’m cuter than Angus, you know.”

“I thought you were identical?”

“We are, but I’m still the cute one.”

The band started playing their next song and Patrick’s eyes lit up like firecrackers. So many shots in his stomach had stripped away any inhibitions he might have had about being in a new town and a new place. “Holy shit, I love this song!”

No one in the band protested when he hopped on stage to join in. He danced and sang at the top of his lungs. Even buzzed, he managed to get through the rapid complicated lyrics of “The Rattlin’ Bog.” The audience appreciated the skillful show and gave him a big round of applause as he took an exaggerated bow and jumped from the stage. Bertie left to go back to Garrett, but several other women joined him. I have my own fan club going here, he thought as he gyrated and smiled and flirted and charmed.

Yoga-girl matched him dance for dance, but she gave up after a while and took a break to sit at the table his brothers commandeered. A pretty blonde twerked in front of him, and he watched her pumping butt with interest. He and Angus had checked into a cheap room for the night for the both of them, and it wouldn’t be the first time they both brought women back, one for each bed. They had even switched places once to see if the women noticed.

They didn’t.

The band sang their final song and said good night. Most of the dance floor and indeed the pub had emptied, and only a few hard-core partiers were left. It surprised Patrick that his older brothers were still around as they had families to get home to. Then again, it had been a long time since they’d been together.

He galloped up to the bar, sweating from the physical exertion and high on life. “Oy, what a night! Great music. Barkeep! A pint of your finest!”

“Last call happened twenty minutes ago,” she called back without looking up from her work.

“Ah please, my lovely lass, just one wee pint to quench me parched throat.”

She frowned at him. “Nope.”

He smiled big and wheedled. “Please, darlin’? I’m new in town and I’m lookin’ for a warm, wet welcome.”

Sloane stopped her work and looked straight into his eyes. By the annoyed look on her face, she was not impressed. Mild intrigue filled Patrick. He usually got what he wanted with a little cajoling and flattery. Seldom had his charm and good looks not worked on a woman. The stare down grew longer, and heat burned on the back of Patrick’s neck. This woman had no intention of giving in and for the first time, Patrick feared he met his match.

Then she flipped the towel she’s been using over her shoulder and crossed her arms over her small chest. “I’ll give you a beer in a bottle for the road if you stand on that table and sing ‘Danny Boy’ so I can post it on the Facebook page.”

Patrick grinned in relief. Both for the release from her intense eyes and that he knew the song well. “Challenge accepted!” He climbed up and caught his balance. She took out her phone to film. He placed his hand over his heart and assumed a dramatic pose while he began to sing.

“Oh Danny boy, the pipes, the pipes are calling
From glen to glen, and down the mountainside
The summer’s gone, and all the roses falling
‘Tis you, ‘tis you must go and I must bide.”

Another voice joined in and Patrick recognized Angus harmonizing with him.

“But come ye back when summer’s in the meadow
Or when the valley’s hushed and white with snow
‘Tis I'll be here in sunshine or in shadow
Oh Danny boy, oh Danny boy, I love you so.”

Patrick thought Connor had fallen asleep at the table until he stood and joined his brother with a deep baritone. A twinge hit Patrick’s heart as he sorted through a few memories of the brothers all singing together. There had been many times as children when that was their only form of entertainment. They had spent most of their lives traveling from job to job with their father and working on the family construction crew. Campgrounds, the family RV, and temporary accommodations were more the norm than having a house or a home. Many times TV was not available.

“But when he come, and all the flowers are dying
If I am dead, as dead I well may be
You’ll come and find the place where I am lying
And kneel and say an ‘Ave’ there for me.”

A few patrons still hanging around came over and sang with the impromptu performance or hummed the tune if they didn’t know the words. Patrick closed his eyes at the sight and sound and let his voice ring loud and high. The alcohol still ran through his system, making him somewhat maudlin.

“And I shall hear, tho’ soft you tread above me
And all my grave will warm and sweeter be
For you will bend and tell me that you love me
And I shall sleep in peace until you come to me.”

Silence met his ears after the last notes faded. Patrick’s heart dipped, and the shock of tears in his eyes made him sober up.

The sound of a single person clapping came from the bar. The bartender held out two handfuls of cold bottles. “Take ’em home before you open them, boys. Now that’s how you close down a pub.”

The patrons took the offered bottles with thanks as Patrick hopped down from his perch. Congratulatory back slaps and a chorus of “nice job” and “great voice” greeted him as he picked his own bottle of cold, wet beer and twisted off the cap. His intention was to drain the bottle dry in one go; however, he stopped when he saw the woman’s reflection in the bar mirror.

She turned away to straighten the liquor bottles on the back-wall display. Tension pulled her muscles into rigid ropes. She hid herself from the celebrating bar and no one paid attention to the two tears tracking down her cheek. A thin hand came up to wipe them away and Patrick could see the fatigue on her face. Patrick kept his eyes on the struggling woman. He watched her bite her lip in an effort to keep it still and regain control.

Something about the song or the rough night? She had been on her feet serving, pouring, cleaning, and ringing up orders for the bar and the waitresses since before he and Angus showed up and Patrick hadn’t seen her sit down. Not once. He admired she had the power and energy to keep up all night. Long workdays were normal for him as well, but he was a lot bigger and stronger than this tiny woman.

Sloane. Sloane was her name.

As if sensing his perusal, she lifted her eyes and met his in the mirror. Her tears dried up, and she lifted an eyebrow at him in a classic what-the-hell-do-you-want expression. He smiled and winked at her before he lifted the bottle in a private toast and tipped it back.

ML Nystrom

Author  of MC and Contemporary Romance.