Flying made me nervous.
Flying with the man of my dreams, who I suspected had an engagement ring in his pocket, gave me anxiety.
Flying to a new country for my favorite holiday to meet his entire family made me feel like I might have a full-blown panic attack.
Thankfully, Seamus held my hand and looked at me with his charming Irish stare that said—Me eyes are only for you, Shayla.
As the flight took off, his coffee tipped, spilling the entire contents of steaming liquid into his lap.
Not a single passenger batted an eye when he threw curses around like candy at a Fourth of July parade.
That was the Irish for you.
“Do you need to go to the bathroom and sort out your pants?” I asked Seamus, trying to help him mop it up with the teeny cocktail napkins.
“Only if yeh come and help me,” he said in the Irish brogue I was so in love with. Heck, I was in love with everything about him.
And he’d convinced me he loved everything about me.
It had been practically love at first sight.
Though I’d been about thirty pounds overweight, so I wasn’t quite certain how it had been love at first sight for him—the gorgeous older foreign guy. But I’d since dropped the weight and was in the best shape of my life.
When I didn’t respond to his suggestion, he shrugged. “I’ll take care of it at the airport.”
“I’m really excited to meet your family,” I said.
“Yeh’ve told me about a thousand times.” He laughed. “Now stop worryin’ they’re gonna love ya.”
I stopped picking at my cuticles.
“And even if they don’t,” he said, “at least you get away from work for a while.”
Just the thought of work made me cringe. “That is a plus.” I was a police officer for the Prairie City Police Department. Just like my mom had been.
She was a PCPD legend. Everyone knew her name.
And, because of that, they knew mine.
When I’d started, everyone expected me to be just like her. Tough. Callus. Doesn’t take no for an answer.
Too bad I was practically the opposite. Much to their disappointment.
Which meant I became a glorified coffee runner.
I tipped my head back on my seat. That would change. Eventually, they would appreciate the qualities I brought to the table. Even if they weren’t the same as my mother’s.
Seamus pushed a strand of my blonde hair behind my ear. I’d curled it like I did every day, but it had taken me twice as long. We’d almost missed our flight because I was so worried about how I looked.
“Don’t think about work,” he said. “I’m sorry I brought it up.”
I turned and smiled at him.
He leaned over and kissed me softly on the lips. “You’re beautiful.”
“Thank you,” I said. “I love you.”
“And I adore you.”
# # #
When the flight landed, we were almost the last ones off the airplane.
Seamus darted into the bathroom to clean up the coffee, leaving me to collect our luggage from the carousels.
Though the sun was peeking up over the horizon, my brain told me to go to bed immediately. I thought I’d be able to sleep on the airplane, but that proved to be unrealistic, given my state of worry.
I waited for our luggage to come around on the conveyor belt with several other people from our flight. I reached for Seamus’ bag and pulled it off, almost running directly into a man who wasn’t paying attention to what was going on around him.
Most of the people around the conveyor belt weren’t paying attention to the circling luggage. All their heads pointed to the entrance, where it seemed someone very important had just arrived.
A glamorous woman stood by the doorway with gigantic sunglasses, stick-straight orange hair, and a figure to die for. She wore black platform sandals beneath hot pink bell-bottomed pants and a white off-the-shoulder top with tiered bell sleeves.
Several people next to me pulled out their phones to take photos of her as she posed for the paparazzi. They called out her name—which sounded like Eva only with an F in place of the V. Seamus had quizzed me about the spellings and pronunciations of Irish names several weeks before, and this was one of them. I highly suspected her name wasn’t Eva with an F, but Aoife with an A at the beginning and a whole slew of other letters that didn’t add up to the pronunciation in American terms.
Aoife lived up to the meaning of her name as well. She was the embodiment of beauty and radiance.
I glanced down at my trendy ripped jeans and oversized sweater and felt more like a slouch than a trendsetter.
“I heard her cousin is back in town,” a woman next to me said.
It took me a moment to realize she was talking to me.
“Right,” I said. “Her cousin.”
“Tis about time, if you ask me.” She spoke in an Irish accent so thick I had to concentrate extra hard on what she was saying to understand her.
“He’s been skirtin’ his responsibilities, don’t ya know,” she said. “Needs to deal with the family business, and if he doesn’t move quickly, he won’t be the prime eligible bachelor in Ireland for long.”
“Who is she?” I pointed at Aoife.
“Aoife O’Malley,” she said. “Of the Ballywick O’Malleys.”
“Ah, right,” I said. “Of the Ballywick O’Malleys.”
She looked at me, tearing her eyes off Aoife. “You’re not from around here, eh?”
I shook my head. “How could you tell?”
“The accent’s a dead giveaway,” she said, then leaned closer. “The Ballywick O’Malleys are one of the top ten richest families in the country. They’re in the horse business.”
“The horse business?”
“And Aoife is in the racehorse business?” I asked.
“Aoife?” The woman laughed. “No, no. She was Miss Ireland a few years back. Now, she’s one of them social media influencers.”
I glanced around to see if Seamus had emerged from the bathroom.
“There’s another of my suitcases,” I said. “Thanks for the information.”
“It’s my pleasure,” she said. “Enjoy your visit. Ireland’s the best country in the world if I do say so myself.”
I retrieved the suitcase from the carousel and felt a hand on my lower back.
Seamus kissed me on the cheek. “Sorry it took so long.”
“No problem,” I said. “I was just getting a lesson in Irish wealth.”
“Irish wealth?” Seamus looked confused.
“The former Miss Ireland is here.” I pointed behind us. “I’m sure you’ve heard of her—Aoife O’Malley? Her family is in the racehorse business.”
Seamus glanced behind us quickly, grabbed a suitcase and my hand, and pulled me toward the door.
“Is everything okay?”
My heart skipped a beat. What if he knew Aoife personally? What if they had dated? If he’d dated Miss Ireland, there was no way he’d want to be with me.
“Everything’s grand,” he said, though his tone of voice didn’t make it sound very grand. “I just want to get you to my parent’s home as quickly as possible.”
“Seamus?” I heard a high-pitched voice behind us.
I turned to look, but Seamus kept tugging on my arm. “Come on, keep going.”
“Do you know Aoife?”
“Seamus,” Aoife was running after us in her platform sandals now. “Why are you running from me?”
The photographers clamored to keep up. Then I heard someone say, “Is that Seamus Healy?”
“Damn,” Seamus said. “I didn’t want you to find out this way.”
He turned just in time for Aoife to reach us. She wrapped her arms around Seamus’ neck and said, “I’ve missed you so much.”
Cameras flashed all around us as my stomach dropped.
Read the rest of Mistletoe Malarkey when it releases December 7th.
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