The night my ex came home was the worst day of my life.
It was supposed to be a homecoming to remember, with a welcome party in the backyard while he cooked hamburgers and hot dogs on the grill. I even had all the fixings to make frozen margaritas for all our guests, but that’s not at all how it went.
I cancelled the whole thing before his car careened up our gravel driveway.
He stumbled up the stoop and crashed through the door at seven o’clock, which was four hours later than he told me he’d come home by.
I smelled the alcohol on his rancid breath as soon as he walked inside. He reeked of stale beer and cheap whiskey. There was vomit and lipstick smeared into his collar.
I should have been happy to see my husband, the man I’d fallen in love with more than four years ago, the man who had given me my beautiful three-year-old daughter.
He’d never been a good man, but a fairly decent one, at least that’s what I told myself as he stared at me with fury and disdain like I wasn’t worth more than a piece of gum stuck to the bottom of his shoe.
I straightened my shirt, trying to smooth out the wrinkles. When was the last time I washed it? What was I even wearing underneath it?
We’d never been well off. The two of us had always struggled to get the bills paid. Before my daughter was born, I’d been putting myself through community college full time. Being a mom and going to school had proven difficult though, so I’d dropped my course load significantly since then so that I only took one or two online classes a semester. I’d tried to look into getting a job, but then I’d have to put Emma in daycare and that cost more than I would make.
So, I had become a stay-at-home mom because I had to be.
To support us, Trevor had joined the army and two years ago, he’d been deployed to Iraq. Now he was finally back.
This was supposed to be a happy moment, but women talk. He hadn’t been sent home after a successful deployment spent overseas. Instead, he’d been dishonorably discharged ninety days before his tour was supposed to end.
I hadn’t found out why until a week ago.
Trevor had assaulted and raped a female civilian. It had been so terrible that the other members of his unit had to pull him off her. No one knew the context of what exactly happened, but his mission had been severely compromised, and another soldier had gotten killed.
His time in the military was over.
He’d lost his pay, his benefits, everything, and after all that, he intended to come back and live with us.
I should have left before he walked through that door. Instead, I told myself that maybe he was going through post-traumatic stress, or something fucked up like that, anything to explain why such a terrible thing could have happened. He’d provided for us for years now and I thought that should have counted for something.
I was a foolish girl. I had given him a chance and I shouldn’t have.
Now I was going to pay for that choice.
He seethed in the doorway, glancing at Emma who was sitting silently in her booster seat, then at my plate on the table. I’d cooked her favorite, Mom’s special macaroni and cheese.
“Lazy bitch. Where’s my dinner?” he slurred. He bobbed back and forth before leaning on the doorframe. I had no doubt he would have fallen if not for the support that came with it.
“I wasn’t expecting…”
“The fuck you were. They told you I was coming. You didn’t even have the decency to pick me up from the fort,” he garbled. He said something else, but I couldn’t quite make it out, his words incoherent.
“Emma had a doctor’s appointment this afternoon. I couldn’t make it,” I tried to explain, lying because I thought it might be the easiest route through his anger.
He took a step inside the room and wavered, stepping from foot to foot sloppily. His eyes were glassy from the booze. He was absolutely plastered. There would be no talking through this. The most important thing was protecting my daughter.
I rounded the table slowly, trying not to call attention to my movements. I needed to get closer to my daughter. I had to make sure she stayed safe. It didn’t matter what he did to me. He wasn’t going to touch her.
“Daddy?” she asked hopefully.
His murderous gaze centered on her. I needed to distract him immediately.
“Welcome home, my love. Why don’t you sit down on the couch, and I’ll get you a drink,” I greeted, changing my whole demeanor. I smiled so hard my cheeks hurt, faking everything and trying to put him at ease long enough so that I could come up with a plan. He wavered for a moment, before slogging over to the sunken-in couch and sitting down in a rush. The couch groaned at the sudden weight.
I said nothing.
I dug into the cabinet, finding an old bottle of unopened Jack Daniel’s that had been pushed back behind everything years ago. It was dusty enough that I had to wipe it down before I popped it open, picked out a decently clean glass, and poured him a little.
“Let me get Emma to bed and then we can spend some time together. I’ve missed you, Trev,” I began, offering him the glass.
He glared at me but took the drink and sipped it. I honestly doubted he could even taste it.
“Good stuff, at least,” he muttered.
I went back to the table and picked Emma up out of the booster seat. She protested immediately.
“No! I’m not done, and I want Daddy,” she screamed. She’d been fighting me all night to eat her dinner. She was in this weird phase where she hated everything she had previously liked, even if it had just been last week, and I was struggling to get past it with her. She’d always loved mac and cheese but was being particularly difficult tonight. I struggled to hold her, and a dangerous gleam came over Trevor’s face.
“Can’t even be a mom and keep your kid quiet,” he grumbled.
“She’s your daughter too,” I scoffed.
Emma started kicking and screaming in my arms. I tried to soothe her. This wasn’t like her. She was typically shy and looked to me any time anything was different. Routine made her feel secure. I was putting her to bed earlier than normal, but I really didn’t want her to be around him for any longer than she had to be, especially with him like this.
“Shhh, Emma. You’ll be able to see him in the morning,” I pacified her. Her cries only got louder, and I bounced her on my hip.
That always made her feel better. Her crying lessened a little, but it didn’t stop.
“Shut that fucking kid up!” he roared.
If he’d just yelled at us, that would have been one thing, but it hadn’t ended there.
It got so much worse.
Furiously, he shot to his feet. He chugged down the rest of his whiskey, slung his arm back, and threw the heavy glass toward me and Emma. I ducked down as much as I could with her in my arms and the glass slammed into the wall, shattering just over my head. The fragments landed on top of my hair. Time seemed to slow as the shards bounced off my shoulders and clinked down to the floor. Some of them landed on top of her hair and for the first time in my life, I was thankful for the thick mop of reddish blonde curls on her head.
I stilled, only now noticing that I’d curved my body around Emma’s in order to protect her. She’d gone quiet and I drew in a hesitant breath, nervous to make any sudden movements while also knowing that I needed to get out of there.
Bravely, I stood back up, staring down at the pieces of sharp glass below my feet. Gently, I used my one free arm to brush the broken glass from her head and from mine second. I cut my fingers, but I barely notice. I stepped over them carefully and made my way down the hallway. Thankfully, he didn’t follow. As soon as I made it to Emma’s room, I closed the door behind me and cleared my throat, trying to swallow every ounce of fear inside me so that my daughter wouldn’t see just how bad this really was.
“What’s going on, Mommy?” she asked, her voice small and timid.
“Nothing, sweetheart. It’s time for bed. Can you be a good girl for Mommy and go to sleep?” I replied softly.
“I’m not tired,” she pouted. Her blue eyes sparkled with unshed tears, and I wanted to do everything I could to take those away. I reached for her, brushing a stray hair off her forehead.
“What if I made you a deal? Would you like to use Mommy’s tablet? You can even use my headphones if you like,” I offered.
“Can I watch a movie?” she asked, her eyes already brightening with excitement. She loved some of the older Disney films these days. Her current obsession was Cinderella. She’d watched it yesterday, but that didn’t much matter. She could see it every day and not tire of it.
“Yes. But only because it’s a special occasion,” I grinned. “Can you get in your PJs for me?”
She nodded and quickly skipped over to her dresser. She’d been practicing getting dressed all on her own, mostly for bedtime at least, so I’d put all her pajamas in the lowest drawer. She struggled it get it open at first, but once she got past the point where it usually stuck, she squealed with glee. She picked out a pink unicorn nightie, putting it on the bed so she could look it over and fully decide it was the perfect outfit for the night. She pulled her t-shirt over her head, leaving it on the floor in a pile with the rest of her outfit.
In the meantime, I unplugged my tablet from the charger and plugged in her headphones. I didn’t want her to hear what happened next. I handed her the tablet and checked her pull-up, seeing that it was still clean.
“Ohhh! Goodie!” she exclaimed. I tucked her in, and she tapped the screen a few times to bring up her movie. She’d been able to figure that part out all on her own about two weeks ago and I’d been so proud. That was my daughter. She was such a smart little thing.
I hoped that she would have a better life than me.
I kissed her forehead and switched off the light.
“Sweet dreams, my Emma,” I whispered, but she was already engrossed in her movie. That left me about ninety minutes to do what I needed to get done. I closed the door as silently as I could before I stole into the bathroom. With as much stealth as I could muster, I opened the medicine cabinet and grabbed an old prescription bottle from the back.
It was Klonopin, a sleeping medicine I’d been prescribed back after I’d had Emma. I hadn’t liked how it made me feel, so I never used it more than the one time. I read the label, reading the prescription instructions intended for a small woman and knowing he’d need more than me.
I put several tablets into my pill crusher. I’d bought the thing back when Emma was younger because it was easier to grind down whatever pills she needed to take and mixing it in her baby food rather than getting her to swallow it whole.
I hid the container with the crushed pills in my palm and went back into the kitchen. Trevor had sat back down on the couch and turned on the television. He’d picked up my own bowl of mac and cheese and was polishing it off. I noticed that Emma’s was gone too. While he was distracted, I grabbed another glass and dumped half the contents of the crushed pills into it. I poured a very healthy portion of whiskey and swirled it around until the sleeping pills dissolved completely.
I made my way back over to him and handed him the drink, playing the part of the perfect doting wife. He glanced at me and then back at the television.
“I can’t get anything other than kid’s stuff,” he whined.
I didn’t say anything as I grabbed the remote. It took a few steps, but I pulled up a superhero movie and started playing it.
“That’s more like it,” he slurred.
He settled into the couch, and I just sat there on the opposite end. He didn’t reach for me or even acknowledge that he’d attempted to attack both his wife and his daughter tonight. To him, it was almost as if it didn’t even happen. In all honesty, he probably wouldn’t remember it in the morning.
He didn’t sip the whiskey I gave him. He gulped it down and passed me the glass. I put a second dose of sleeping pills into his drink, wanting to make sure he had enough for a man of his size but not enough to kill him. I just wanted to make sure he was out for a good long time. I handed him the refilled glass and he downed it too.
A half hour later, he was starting to get drowsy. Forty-five minutes later, he had begun to nod off. An hour later, he was fully passed out on the couch.
I got up and started washing the dishes. When he didn’t move at that amount of noise, I knew he was fully asleep and would be for a long time. I stole off down the hallway and packed my bags as quickly as humanly possible. My closet wasn’t particularly large, so I stuffed it all into one big bag. I’d hidden a stash of cash under the mattress, so I made sure to pack that too so that the two of us would at least have a chance at a fresh start. I tossed the bag out the window when I was ready.
I snuck into Emma’s room. She was still fully into her movie as I stuffed everything of hers into the rest of the luggage we owned. I grabbed a backpack, making sure I didn’t leave any of her doggie stuffed animals behind. Her favorite one was next to her in bed, and I made a mental note to make sure not to forget that either.
I snuck out the back door on the opposite side of the house, quickly loading the trunk of my dark gray Ford Explorer. I stole back into the house, risking more time in order to be able to pack all of her diapers I had stored in the bathroom closet. When I was finally ready, I peeked back into the living room.
Trevor hadn’t moved a single inch. I could still see his chest rising and falling, but he was fully out. I breathed a sigh of relief.
I grabbed one last backpack, grabbing her favorite snacks from the cupboard before I snuck back into her room. I sat down beside her and put on a smile, holding her favorite stuffie in my arms.
“Mommy has a surprise for you,” I began.
“A surprise?” she asked sleepily. Her eyes were droopy, and she looked to be minutes away from falling asleep herself.
“You and I are going on a trip,” I said quietly.
“Yup! We must be really quiet though. It’s dark outside and we don’t want to wake up any of the monsters living in the woods, do we?”
“No. No monsters, Mommy,” she replied seriously, as if she’d just taken on the most important mission in the world. I pulled off her nightie and replaced it with a pair of sweats.
“Where are we going?” she asked, unable to keep her excitement at bay.
“I’ll tell you once we get into the car,” I said, while pulling a pair of thick socks over her feet. I grabbed the tablet, chargers, and headphones and put them in the backpack too. I passed her stuffie and she held it tight as I hefted her onto my hip.
“Quiet for Mommy now,” I whispered.
My daughter clung to me as we snuck through the dark hallway, out the back door, and into my car. I clipped her snugly into her car seat and jumped into my side of the car. I rushed to turn the key, praying that I’d given him enough so that he wouldn’t hear the engine turn over.
In terror, I stared at the door as I pulled away.
It never opened.
And I escaped.
Six months later
I hadn’t set foot in Turners Falls since I left. I’d considered driving all the way out to California or even out of state, but I didn’t want to leave any footprint that Trevor could follow. In the end, I decided on heading into Boston, which was one hundred miles east of home. Since it was the same state, there would be no need for me to get a new license or anything. It was a large enough city that I could disappear into the shadows. Plus, Trevor knew I didn’t like cities, so I hoped that he wouldn’t think to look there.
When I arrived, there was really nowhere for me to go other than a woman’s shelter. When I told the counselor my story, she quickly offered me a spot in the domestic abuse center.
“Will I be safe there?” I asked quickly.
“It’s a locked facility. No one can get in without the door code. You’ll be safe there with your daughter,” she assured me.
It was difficult in the end, but I wasn’t deciding just for me. I needed to make sure my daughter was protected too.
I stayed there for three months before I had to find someplace to go. The center had daycare, so I was able to go out on several interviews and find work. During the day, I worked for a cleaning service as a maid. It didn’t pay much, but they promised me that it would be okay to bring my daughter with me to work once I no longer had access to daycare, and they paid in cash at the end of the week, which meant no paper trail and that was good.
Because it wasn’t enough to support both me and Emma, I found a job as a bartender at a local Irish pub that had a reputation for being open all night in South Boston, or Southie as I quickly learned they called it. The owner was kind and paid me in cash. He said it was for some accounting related reason, but I didn’t ask any questions. I preferred to be off the books anyway.
During the interview, he’d looked at me with a reserved and semi-reluctant expression, almost as if he couldn’t believe that I could handle myself in a bar.
“Your work experience isn’t that extensive, Leah,” he said, appraising me as I stood there leaning against the heavy wood-grain bar.
“I’ve been caring for my daughter. She’s only three. I’ll do whatever I need to do to make money to help care for her,” I replied.
“Is that so,” he said, his voice flat. He continued to assess me.
“Yes,” I said firmly.
“I’m the owner, Sean McCarthy. I’ve run this place for the last twenty years. Sometimes the crowd gets a bit rough, think you can handle that?” he asked.
“I’m a fast learner,” I reassured him.
“I’ll give you a week. If you want to turn and go by the end of that, I won’t hold it against you,” he muttered.
“Thank you so much, Mr. McCarthy. You won’t regret this,” I exclaimed.
He nodded and I could have sworn there was a hint of warm kindness in his eyes. I tried to ignore it, not wanting this to be some form of charity. It was hard for me to let other people take care of me and I hoped this wasn’t that.
That first week hadn’t gone quite as smoothly as I had wanted it to, but I learned the ropes soon enough. When I didn’t walk out at the end of that first week, I told Sean more about my living situation. My time at the center was quickly coming to an end and I needed somewhere to go. He connected me with a friend of his who was renting out a small apartment down the block above a coffee shop. Again, I had to ignore the feeling that this might be charity too, and it was more difficult this time.
The rent was cheap. I’m not sure if Sean had anything to do with that, but I didn’t ask questions because I really didn’t want to know. The place was fully furnished, which was a relief. It wasn’t the nicest place, but it was a step up from where I came from, and I was grateful for that. The elderly landlady, Irma Shelby, was also highly agreeable to cash payments and didn’t care to take any of my information, which just made everything that much easier for me. She also offered me a daily coffee as a part of the rent package since she owned and ran the shop underneath too. Emma’s eyes had gotten big at the sight of some of the donuts in the glass bin. When Irma had seen, her whole face had warmed. It was easy to see that she loved children and that put me even more at ease.
“If your mommy tells me that you’ve been very good, you can even have one of those each morning,” she winked.
“My favorites are blueberry muffins,” Emma piped up.
“For today, at least,” I chuckled.
“My kids and my grandchildren all went through that phase,” Irma said. “Now, Leah, you let me know if you need anything. It’s not easy here down in Southie, especially for out of towners,” she added, reaching into the cabinet and pulling out a muffin. She handed it to me, along with a mug of steaming black coffee.
“Thanks, Irma,” I smiled politely.
“Creamer and sugar are over that way.” She pointed to a small table beside the door and grinned warmly, before turning away to serve another customer. I handed the muffin to my daughter, then pushed my small cheap stroller out of the way to the table with all the fixings. I added creamer to my coffee and strode out the door to be on my way to my first job.
That was my life.
I cleaned with Emma during the day. She loved to help, and I made sure she was safe in whatever she did, but it was nice to spend every day with her. I cherished that.
My nights consisted of Sean’s Pub.
I couldn’t afford a babysitter every night, so I put Emma to bed and kept a baby monitoring camera on her that I could access on my phone. There were a few times I’d had to go to her when she’d woken up, but that wasn’t often. It wasn’t ideal, but it worked for now until I could save up enough to have someone watch her at night. Sean didn’t particularly like when I left during my shift, but he understood and wasn’t an asshole about it either. I was thankful for that too.
A few weeks after I moved into the apartment, Emma came down with a cold. It wasn’t overly serious, but she was carrying a low-grade fever and a cough. I couldn’t afford much more than over the counter drugs and I couldn’t take the time off because rent was due the next week, so I gave her some children’s Nyquil and kept a closer eye on her than usual on my monitoring device. The whole walk, I watched her, breathing a bit easier when I could see that she was fast asleep.
It was a Friday night, which usually meant that the party carried on until three or four in the morning. By the time I got to the pub at shortly after nine, the place was already packed.
“Leah! A round of Guinness for table four!” Sean shouted, tossing me a towel as soon as I walked through the door. I could hear just a hint of his Irish accent then. It always came out when he was a bit stressed. I quickly poured out enough pints, taking special care to tilt the glass so that I didn’t get too much head. I’d gotten scolded a number of times when I started that I ruined the Guinness if I didn’t do it correctly.
The first moment I got, I set up my phone on the charger so I could keep an eye on Emma. She was tossing and turning a bit, but she still looked to be asleep. I hated that I had to leave her like this and that I couldn’t be by her side, but I didn’t have any other choice. Irma went home at nights, so I couldn’t ask her to check in on her and there wasn’t anyone else nearby that I trusted enough to be alone with my daughter.
Later on, she started fussing and I started to get a bit more worried. What if her fever was rising? What if she was coughing more and calling out for me?
Sean started to get annoyed that I was constantly checking my phone, but there wasn’t much time to explain because the pub was so busy. I could feel his grumpy stare on my back, but I did my best to ignore it and focus on serving everyone while also keeping an eye on Emma every chance that I could get.
At around eleven o’clock, a fresh wave of people poured into the door. I watched them with interest as they walked into the private back room, the one that was usually reserved for customers who paid for it. I was about to stop them, but Sean caught my sleeve and redirected me to serve another man at the counter. Eventually, he returned and made a beeline straight for me. He seemed more stressed than usual, which only made his accent even more noticeable.
“Leah. Get whatever the back room wants. Tell them it’s on the house,” he demanded. I glanced to my phone and then back to him, which only made him scowl. Whenever he got this frazzled, he was more irritable and less understanding than usual.
“Got it, boss,” I answered quickly. That seemed to appease him at least.
I grabbed my notepad and speedily strode into the back room. I pulled a pen out of my apron as I entered, plastering a smile on my face when I saw the group of men sitting around the old wooden table.
“A bottle of your best whiskey,” a voice sounded at the end of the table. I lifted my head, glancing in the direction of the man who had spoken.
Piercing, icy light blue eyes met mine. The color pulled me in, drowning me in the jewel-toned waters of the Caribbean. They felt stormy and ruthless, but I couldn’t look away, even when his strong square jawline flexed at my open stare. His cheekbones were sharper than most, a bit harsh, casting shadows down the side of his face. A thick five o’clock shadow covered his chin and I vaguely wondered if he would shave it in the morning. His lips were full, tense for a moment before he relaxed with a gentler smile. His warm grin caught me off guard, but there was something about it that made me relax and I couldn’t put my finger on why.
It was clear that he was in charge here. Everyone else looked to him with a deferential sort of body language, so I did too. The low light cast his skin in a pale glow, offsetting his light-colored irises and his dark mussed hair. It wasn’t overly long, but just long enough to lace my fingers through so I could grip it as I rode his cock.
I nearly choked at the direction of my thoughts. I recovered as quickly as I could, clearing my throat and staring down at my notepad. I focused on writing down his order rather than looking right at him.
“How many glasses?” I spoke. My voice quivered just a little.
“One for each of us. A round of Guinness too,” he added.
“Sure thing. May I ask your name?” Unable to help myself, my eyes flicked back to his.
“Kieran,” he answered. His gaze assessed me, warm and kind despite the iciness encapsulated within them.
“I’ll get your drinks right away,” I replied.
I turned and practically sprinted out the door, but not before I heard his voice call out once more.
“Thank you, Leah.”
I hadn’t told him my name.
By the time I returned with a silver platter full of Guinness to start, my heart was racing in my chest. I tried to remain polite as I placed the mugs down on the table, but it was difficult when I could feel Kieran’s gaze on me the whole time. I hadn’t been able to carry everything, so I returned to the bar and grabbed one of the top shelf Irish whiskeys. I filled another tray with the bottle and small cocktail glasses and went back to serve them.
I walked around the table and picked up the bottle, placing it on the table beside Kieran. I placed the tray down and reached to open the wax seal, but Kieran reached for it first. His fingers brushed against mine and my heart pounded frantically in response. When I pulled away, I could still feel the electric heat of his touch.
“I’ve got it,” he grinned. He reached into the pocket of his gray pinstripe suit and pulled out a small pocketknife. He carved around the wax and popped it off. I handed him one of the glasses, watching as he poured it himself.
“Thank you, Leah,” he nodded politely. I quickly passed out the rest of the glasses to the other men, before turning back to Kieran.
“Is there anything else?”
“No. That will be all for now,” he answered and somewhere deep inside my soul, I was almost disappointed that he hadn’t asked for anything else.
The night passed quickly, remaining steady and busy for several hours. I kept checking on Emma with increasing concern. She was growing more and more restless and at around two in the morning, she woke up with a coughing fit.
She was getting worse.
Sean scowled as he noticed my distraction. I swallowed hard, knowing I was going to have to face the big grumpy bear. He was a good guy at heart, but sometimes his moodiness was hard to deal with. With a nervous reluctance, I squared off my shoulders and approached him.
“I need to go for a little bit,” I started. I kept my voice soft and non-confrontational, knowing that it was the best way to go if I wanted to keep my job—and I did. Sure, sometimes the nights got loud and rough, but the men that frequented here typically tipped well and generally treated me with respect. I knew finding another place like it would be a miracle, especially this close to my apartment.
“We’re busy, Leah. I can’t let you go right now,” he answered, his voice short. His face reddened a little with aggravation.
“Please, Sean. My daughter, she’s sick,” I tried to explain.
“I see you checking her all the time on your phone. I’m sure she’ll be fine for another hour or two until the end of your shift,” he scowled.
“I need to check on her. Please,” I pleaded.
“If you want to keep your job, Leah, you’ll stay. This is not the night for you to disappear on me. I need you here serving drinks,” he replied.
“I…” I started, but his mouth hardened into a firm line. I didn’t know what else to say so that I could get him to understand. He wasn’t a father, but a single man solely focused on building his business. He didn’t have a care in the world for the worries of a poor single mother.
“I need this job,” I protested, my voice wavering. Overwhelmed, tired from lack of sleep, and fearful for my daughter, my eyes started to water. I blinked, trying to will the tears away. It didn’t work.
“Sean,” a smooth male voice murmured beside us. I turned my head, only to see a familiar pair of blue eyes. Kieran was leaning against the bar, staring directly at us. His brow furrowed, his concern for me a bit heartwarming. Sean cleared his throat, his jawline ticking with nervousness.
“Kieran. I hope we haven’t disturbed you,” he choked worriedly. I glanced between them, noticing the significant difference in power play between them.
“Let her go home, Sean. Don’t worry. I’ll take care of things,” Kieran offered. I suddenly felt like I should know more about him, like there was something I was missing in the true meaning of his words.
“Please, Mr. Murphy. You don’t have to concern yourself with Leah,” Sean tried, and Kieran shook his head.
“I’ll take care of it,” he said again.
Beside me, Sean stayed silent for a moment before nodding once with understanding.
“I thank you, Kieran.” He dipped his head. When I glanced back at Sean, I saw that he was more relaxed. He peered back at Kieran with something like deference, rather than fear and that put me at ease. Whoever this Kieran was, Sean respected him, and I might even go as far to guess that he trusted him with what he had promised.
“Let me walk Leah home. Tommy in the back used to work at a pub back in Dublin. Go tell him I said to help you until I return,” Kieran explained.
“Got it. I appreciate this, Kieran,” Sean said quickly. He strode out of the bar into the back room, leaving me alone with Kieran. It felt like there was only the two of us, even though the rest of the pub was filled with patrons.
“Come. I’ll walk you home.”
For the first time, I felt like I could breathe.