Sweet Little Lies
Pru Harris’s mom had taught her to make wishes on pink cars, falling leaves, and brass lamps, because wishing on something as ordinary as stars or wishing wells was a sign of no imagination.
Clearly the woman standing not three feet away in the light mist, searching her purse for change to toss into the courtyard fountain hadn’t been raised by a hippie mom as Pru had been.
Not that it mattered, since her mom had been wrong. Wishes, along with things like winning the lotto or finding a unicorn, never happened in real life.
The woman, shielding her eyes from the light rain with one hand, holding a coin in her other, sent Pru a wry grimace. “I know it’s silly, but it’s a hit-rock-bottom thing.”
Something Pru understood all too well. She set a wriggly Thor down and shook her arms to try and bring back some circulation. Twenty-five pounds of wet, tubby, afraid-of-his-own-shadow mutt had felt like seventy-five by the end of their thirty-minute walk home from work.
Thor objected to being on the wet ground with a sharp bark. Thor didn’t like rain.
But he loved Pru more than life itself so he stuck close, his tail wagging slowly as he watched her face to determine what mood they were in.
The woman blinked and stared down at Thor. “Oh,” she said, surprised. “I thought it was a really fat cat.”
Thor’s tail stopped wagging and he barked again, as if to prove that not only was he all dog, he was big, badass dog.
Because Thor — a rescue of undetermined breed — also believed he was a bullmastiff.
When the woman took a step back, Pru sighed and picked him back up again. His old man face was creased into a protective frown, his front paws dangling, his tail back to wagging now that he was suddenly tall. “Sorry,” Pru said. “He can’t see well and it makes him grumpy, but he’s not a cat.” She gave Thor a behave squeeze. “He only acts like one.”
Thor volleyed back a look that said Pru might want to not leave her favorite shoes unattended tonight.
The woman’s focus turned back to the fountain and she eyed the quarter in her hand. “They say it’s never too late to wish on love, right?”
“Right,” Pru said. Because they did say that. And just because in her own personal experience love had proven even rarer than unicorns didn’t mean she’d step on someone else’s hopes and dreams.
A sudden bolt of lightning lit up the San Francisco skyline like the Fourth of July. Except it was June, and cold as the Arctic. Thor squeaked and shoved his face into Pru’s neck. Pru started to count but didn’t even get to One-Mississippi before the thunder boomed loud enough to make them all jump.
“Yikes.” The woman dropped the quarter back into her purse. “Not even love’s worth getting electrocuted.” And she ran off.
Pru and Thor did the same, heading across the cobblestone courtyard. Normally she took her time here, enjoying the glorious old architecture of the building, the corbeled brick and exposed iron trusses, the big windows, but the rain had begun to fall in earnest now, hitting so hard that the drops bounced back up to her knees. In less than ten seconds, she was drenched through, her clothes clinging to her skin, filling her ankle boots so that they squished with each step.
“Slow down, sweetness!” someone called out. It was the old homeless guy who was usually in the alley. With his skin tanned to the consistency of leather and his long, wispy white cotton-ball hair down to the collar of his loud pineapples-and-parrots Hawaiian shirt, he looked like Doc from Back to the Future, plus a few decades. A century tops. “You can’t get much wetter,” he said.
But Pru wasn’t actually trying to dodge the weather, she loved the rain. She was trying to dodge her demons, something she was beginning to suspect couldn’t be done.
“Gotta get to my apartment,” she said, breathless from her mad dash. When she’d hit twenty-six, her spin class instructor had teasingly told her that it was all downhill from here on out, she hadn’t believed him. Joke was on her.
“What’s the big rush?”
Resigned to a chat, Pru stopped. Old Guy was sweet and kind, even if he had refused to tell her his name, claiming to have forgotten it way back in the seventies. True or not, she’d been feeding him since she’d moved into this building three weeks ago. “The cable company’s finally coming today,” she said. “They said five o’clock.”
“That’s what they told you yesterday. And last week,” he said, trying to pet Thor, who wasn’t having any of it.
Another thing on Thor’s hate list — men.
“But this time they mean it,” Pru said and set Thor down. At least that’s what the cable company supervisor had promised Pru on the phone, and she needed cable TV. Bad. The finals of So You Think You Can Dance were on tomorrow night.
“’Scuse me,” someone said as he came from the elevator well and started to brush past her. He wore a hat low over his eyes to keep the rain out of his face and the cable company’s logo on his pec. He was carrying a toolbox and looking peeved by life in general.
Thor began a low growl deep in his throat while hiding behind Pru’s legs. He sounded fierce, but he looked ridiculous, especially wet. He had the fur of a Yorkshire terrier—if that Yorkshire terrier was fat—even though he was really a complete Heinz 57. And hell, maybe he was part cat. Except that only one of his ears folded over. The other stood straight up, giving him a perpetually confused look.
No self-respecting cat would have allowed such a thing. In fact, the cable guy took one look at him and snorted, and then kept moving.
“Wait!” Pru yelled after him. “Are you looking for 3C?”
He stopped, his gaze running over her, slowing at her torso. “Actually,” he said. “I’m more a double D man myself.”
Pru looked down at herself. Her shirt had suctioned itself to her breasts. Narrowing her eyes, she crossed her arms over her decidedly not DDs. “Let me be more clear,” she said, tightening her grip on Thor’s leash because he was still growling, although he was doing it very quietly because he only wanted to pretend to be a tough guy. “Are you looking for the person who lives in apartment 3C?”
“I was but no one’s home.” He eyed Thor. “Is that a dog?”
“Yes! And I’m 3C,” Pru said. “I’m home!”
He shook his head. “You didn’t answer your door.”
“I will now, I promise.” She pulled her keys from her bag. “We can just run up there right now and—”
“No can do, dude. It’s five o’clock straight up.” He waved his watch to prove it. “I’m off the clock.”
But nothing, he was gone, walking off into the downpour, vanishing into the fog like they were on the set of a horror flick.
Thor stopped growling.
“Great,” Pru muttered. “Just great.”
Old Guy slid his dentures around some. “I could hook up your cable for you. I’ve seen someone do it once or twice.”
The old man, like the old Pacific Heights building around them, had seen better days, but both held a certain old-fashioned charm — which didn’t mean she trusted him inside her apartment. “Thanks,” she said. “But this is for the best. I don’t really need cable TV all that bad.”
“But the finals of So You Think You Can Dance are on tomorrow night.”
She sighed. “I know.”
Another bolt of lightning lit the sky, and again was immediately followed by a crack of thunder that echoed off the courtyard’s stone walls and shook the ground beneath their feet.
“That’s my exit,” Old Guy said and disappeared into the alley.
Pru got Thor upstairs, rubbed him down with a towel and tucked him into his bed. She’d thought she wanted the same for herself, but she was hungry and there was nothing good in her refrigerator. So she quickly changed into dry clothes and went back downstairs.
One of these days she was going to buy an umbrella. For now, she made the mad dash toward the northeast corner of the building, past the Coffee Bar, the Waffle Shop, and the South Bark Mutt Shop — all closed, past The Canvas tattoo studio—open—and went straight for the Irish Pub.
Without the lure of cable to make her evening, she needed chicken wings.
And nobody made chicken wings like O’Riley’s.
It’s not the chicken wings you’re wanting, a small voice inside her head said. And that was fact. Nope, what drew her into O’Riley’s like a bee to honey was the six-foot, broad-shouldered, dark eyes, dark smile of Finn O’Riley himself.
From her three weeks in the building, she knew the people who lived and/or worked here were tight. And she knew that it was in a big part thanks to Finn because he was the glue, the steady one.
She knew more too. More than she should.
“Hey!” Old Guy stuck his head out of the alley. “If you’re getting us wings, don’t forget extra sauce!”
She waved at him, and once again dripping wet, entered O’Riley’s where she stood for a second getting her bearings.
Okay, that was a total lie. She stood there pretending to get her bearings while her gaze sought out the bar and the guys behind it.
There were two of them working tonight. Twenty-two-year-old Sean was flipping bottles, juggling them to the catcalls and wild amusement of a group of women all belly up to the bar, wooing them with his wide smile and laughing eyes. But he wasn’t the one Pru’s gaze gravitated to like he was a rack of double-stuffed Oreo cookies.
Nope, that honor went to the guy who ran the place, Sean’s older brother. All lean muscle and easy confidence, Finn O’Riley wasn’t pandering to the crowd. He never did. He moved quickly and efficiently without show, quietly hustling to fill the orders, keeping an eye on the kitchen, as always steady as a rock under pressure, doing all the real work.
Pru could watch him all day. It was his hands, she’d decided, they were constantly moving with expert precision. He was busy, way too busy for her, of course, which was only one of the many reasons why she hadn’t allowed herself to fantasize about him doing deliciously naughty, wicked things to her in her bed.
Whoops. That was another big fat lie.
She’d totally fantasized about him doing deliciously naughty, wicked things to her in bed. And also out of it.
He was her unicorn.
He bent low behind the bar for something and an entire row of women seated on the barstools leaned in unison for a better view. Meerkats on parade.
When he straightened a few seconds later, he was hoisting a huge crate of something, maybe clean glasses, and not looking like he was straining too much either. This was in no doubt thanks to all that lean, hard muscle visible beneath his black tee and faded jeans. His biceps bulged as he turned, allowing her to see that his Levi’s fit him perfectly, front and back.
If he noticed his avid audience, he gave no hint of it. He merely set the crate down on the counter, and ignoring the women ogling him, nodded a silent hello in Pru’s direction.
She stilled and then craned her neck, looking behind her.
No one there. Just herself, dripping all over his floor.
She turned back and found Finn looking quietly amused. Their gazes locked and held for a long beat, like maybe he was taking her pulse from across the room, absorbing the fact that she was drenched and breathless. The corners of his mouth twitched. She’d amused him again.
People shifted between them. The place was crowded as always, but when the way was clear again, Finn was still looking at her, steady and unblinking, those dark green eyes flickering with something other than amusement now, something that began to warm her from the inside out.
Three weeks and it was the same every single time…
Pru considered herself fairly brave and maybe a little more than fairly adventurous — but not necessarily forward. It wasn’t easy for her to connect with people.
Which was the only excuse she had for jerking her gaze away, pretending to eye the room.
The pub itself was small and cozy. One half bar, the other half pub designated for dining, the décor was dark woods reminiscent of an old thatched inn. The tables were made from whiskey barrels and the bar itself had been crafted out of repurposed longhouse-style doors. The hanging brass lantern lights and stained-glass fixtures along with the horse-chewed, old-fence baseboards finished the look that said antique charm and friendly warmth.
Music drifted out of invisible speakers, casting a jovial mood, but not too loud so as to make conversation difficult. There was a wall of windows and also a rack of accordion wood and glass doors that opened the pub on both sides, one to the courtyard, the other to the street, giving a view down the hill to the beautiful Fort Mason Park and Marina Green, and the Golden Gate Bridge behind that.
All of which was fascinating, but not nearly as fascinating as Finn himself, which meant that her eyes, the traitors, swiveled right back to him.
He pointed at her.
“Me?” she asked, even though he couldn’t possibly hear her from across the place.
With a barely there smile, he gave her a finger crook.