Why couldn’t he see that shadow when they were together?
He continued to study her pictures until she returned with food. She set the Styrofoam containers down in front of him. “You’re going to make me feel self-conscious if you keep staring at my pictures.”
“Why? They’re great.”
She smiled slowly and a hint of pink rose in her cheeks. “Like I said, it’s just a hobby. It feels weird to have it scrutinized.”
“I’m not scrutinizing. I have no idea how to criticize them since I don’t know anything about taking pictures, but I know they look good.”
And so did she, standing in front of him, a little shy about her work but proud at the same time.
Maggie was dog tired. She had no idea why she set the delivery of all of her stuff for the same day she was scheduled to work her first late shift at the bar. If she wanted to make good tips, she needed to be friendly, so a nap was a no-brainer. But it hadn’t been enough. After staying up late watching TV with Shane again, and then spending her entire day rearranging furniture as it came in, she was beat. The hourlong nap would’ve stretched into three if she hadn’t set her alarm.
Now she guzzled coffee to wake herself up. Her stomach tumbled with nerves. Although she’d been working at O’Leary’s without issue, at night the vibe was different. During the day, guys would come in on their lunch break or the old men who had nothing better to do would sit around.
At night, people came in to get drunk, party, pick up people. She hadn’t been part of that atmosphere in a long time. Even when she worked other waitressing jobs or spent time in pubs in Ireland, it was never the party scene.
But it was a Tuesday night, so the bar probably wouldn’t be insane. She blew out a heavy breath. She could do this. She
She applied makeup and played with her hair, unable to decide if she should try to put it up or leave it down. She gathered the sides and swept them up away from her face but left the rest down. With her O’Leary’s Pub T-shirt on over her most comfortable pair of jeans, she left her apartment.
The best part of living above the bar was her commute. As she locked her apartment, Shane’s door opened. He stepped into the hall wearing a bar shirt.
“What are you doing?”
“Heading down to work.”
“You’re serious? You’re really working at the bar?”
“I told you I was. Law school is expensive.”
She eyed him, an uneasiness crawling through her. “Why haven’t I seen you go to work yet?”
“I wasn’t scheduled.” He raised an eyebrow, waiting for more questions.
She hoped Cara knew how lucky she was to have a brother like Shane. Although, when she thought about it, Maggie had the same thing in her brothers. They would all do anything for her.
She walked through the exterior door and down the back steps with Shane on her heels. She hadn’t worn a coat, since she was just going downstairs, but a blast of wind zipped through her, icing her skin, even through her T-shirt.
She popped in the back door of the bar nearest the kitchen without holding it for Shane. The door slammed shut and then reopened a second later.
“Thanks,” Shane mumbled as he walked past her to the front of the bar.
“Sorry,” she called out as she rubbed her hands together over the flat grill. Once her skin was warm and she was sure her nipples weren’t poking through her shirt to give everyone a show, she went to the front.
Enough tables were filled with dinner guests to keep her busy, but she knew that as the night wore on, she’d be selling less food and more alcohol. That part still made her nervous.
As she walked through and introduced herself to the guests at her tables, she was keenly aware of Shane’s eyes on her. His gaze tracked her every move. Although it didn’t feel creepy, she wasn’t his job. He was supposed to watch the drunks. She rolled her shoulders and made her rounds, taking over for Kelly, the waitress who’d worked the earlier shift.
As Kelly sat at the bar and closed out her tickets, she kept looking at Shane, who didn’t seem to notice. Maggie wondered when Shane last went on a date. He hadn’t mentioned anyone in a long time. Usually, he shared stories when they hung out, but now that she considered it, she couldn’t remember when he’d talked about anyone new.
That was a piece to file away for prodding later.
The first shift of dinner guests came and went, and Maggie had gotten her second wind. The time of day hadn’t had an impact on her ability to do her job at all. As she cleared a table, a man stopped her.
“I’m meeting a bunch of friends. Would it be possible for us to push a couple of tables together here?”
“Sure. Give me a minute to get this cleaned off.” When she returned and started shoving the tables, the guy grabbed an end.
“Let me get this. We can get them put together. We didn’t want to mess with your stations.” He was a big guy, biceps stretching the sleeves of his shirt. He could obviously handle pushing a table.
“Thanks,” she said with a smile, and helped arrange the tables for him and his friends. “Will you need menus?”
“We might get some appetizers later. Will you be our waitress?”
“Yes, I will. I’m Maggie. Can I get you started with something while you wait for your friends?”
“I’m Greg and I’d love a Heineken in a bottle.”
“I’ll be right back.”
At the bar, she put in the order. Shane leaned against the wood, looking nonchalant to anyone who didn’t know him. “Making friends?”
“You know it. I want big tips.”
He nodded and offered her a smile, but it was the kind of smile he’d send to any customer walking through the door.
As Jenna handed her the bottle of beer, Maggie said to Shane, “You know, I saw Kelly checking you out before she left.”
“The waitress I relieved? I think she might’ve had to wipe some drool off her tips.”
He snorted and took a stroll through the bar. She delivered the beer to Greg, who now had three friends with him. She smiled brightly at the prospect of the tips coming her way.
Business picked up as the night progressed. Although he wasn’t officially on staff, Shane couldn’t help but do the job. He watched for people being overserved and for anyone who looked ready to start a fight. For the most part, it was a quiet evening, except for the table of Marines who took a solid interest in Maggie.
It seemed like every few minutes they were calling her over to ask a question or place another order. Mostly, they just wanted to talk to her and earn one of her smiles. He knew the feeling. Ever since he left his apartment, he’d felt like she was giving him the cold shoulder.
He stood at the bar and drank another glass of water and eavesdropped on Maggie’s conversation with the table full of guys.
“Hey, Maggie. We need another round. This time add a shot of Jack Daniels for everyone, and my friend Drew over there is going to pay for this one since he doesn’t have his challenge coin.”
“Challenge coin?” she asked.
Every man at the table pulled out a coin and slapped it on the table. “We all have them. When out with your buddies, if someone calls for it, you have to produce the coin. If you don’t have it, you have to pay for the round.”
Maggie slid her tray under her arm and picked up one of the coins. She held it up and twirled it around. “So if you all know Drew doesn’t have his coin, can’t you just pull this every time you want a drink? He’d have to pay your tab all night.”
“Hush, now,” Drew said.
Maggie smiled brightly and handed the first guy his coin. “Sorry,” she said, letting everyone know she wasn’t really sorry at all.
She stood next to Shane at the bar while she waited for the shots.
“You look like you’re having fun.”
“I am.” She laid a hand on his forearm. “I know you’re worried, but I’m good. Even more, I’m enjoying myself.”
He felt better hearing it from her instead of trying to make an assessment based on her body language, but he still couldn’t relax. He wondered if the urge to take care of her would ever subside. His dad was right. He couldn’t put his life on hold for Maggie.
She strode back to the table with a tray full of shots looking confident in everything she did.
Maybe he wasn’t needed here after all. He sure as hell could find better ways to spend his night than standing around drinking water. If nothing else, he had an apartment that needed renovations.
For the next few hours, he roamed around the bar and flirted with a few girls who were out celebrating a job promotion. As much as he should’ve been enjoying himself, though, he wasn’t. He was tired and really wanted to go to bed. The bartender reminded everyone it was last call, and Shane sighed.
Bed was close.
The group of guys who had taken Maggie’s attention all night were getting ready to leave. The leader, the one who had arrived first, stood and stepped close to Maggie. Although it wasn’t a threatening move, Shane didn’t like it. Maggie didn’t seem scared, but then her color changed. She forced a smile, but her face had gone pale, and as soon as the guy turned to put on his jacket, she darted toward the back.
Torn between punching the guy for upsetting Maggie and finding out why she was upset, Shane had to decide. He opted to follow Maggie.
By the time he got to the back of the bar, she was nowhere to be seen. He knocked on the women’s bathroom door but didn’t get an answer, so he opened it and called, “Maggie?”
“Can I come in?”
“No.” Her words were weak and he didn’t want to fight her, so he stood in the dark hallway with his hands in his pockets.
A few minutes later, she came out of the bathroom. He stared at her and tried to assess what to do. She was beyond upset. Her hands were shaking and her eyes red and watery. In his pockets, his hands clenched with the need to hit something. “What happened?” he asked.
“Nothing. Greg closed out his bill and thanked me for being a great waitress. He handed me a tip.” She inhaled a shaky breath. “But the smell of whiskey on his breath . . .” She paused and swallowed. “I had this sudden flash of Todd. He’d been drinking whiskey that night.”
All Shane wanted to do more than anything at the moment was wrap his arms around her and comfort her. But he knew she might not want that. She might need the space. Touching her could make everything worse. He took his hands from his pockets. “What can I do?”
She launched herself at him and hugged him tightly. He let his arms circle her gently. If this was his sole purpose for wasting an entire night at O’Leary’s Pub, it had been worth it.
“I know it’s stupid. Greg was really nice. He wasn’t a jerk and didn’t hit on me. It was the smell . . .” She inhaled slowly again, this time a little steadier. “I didn’t even see it coming.”
He rubbed a hand down her back. “Now you know it’s a trigger.” He paused and weighed his next words carefully. “Maybe you’re trying too much at once, Mags. The apartment, working here, blind dates. Maybe it’s too much.”
“It can’t be, Shane,” she mumbled against his chest. “It’s how normal people live. And I need to be normal.”
After a few more breaths, she eased away from him. “Thanks. You’re always here for me, knowing just what to do. I know you don’t agree with how I’m handing it, but I
this.” She swiped a hand over her face and pressed her lips together. “I have to go finish up for the night.”
With a stiff nod, she turned and walked away.