"Declan? Are you up here? Declan! The beer um . . . guy is here." Anna hadn't yet grown accustomed to calling him "the ale feller" or "the ale bloke" or "the ale lad," so whenever their distributor came around with the pub's supply of new kegs and her fiancé was nowhere to be found, she still felt a little shy. As soon as she'd noticed the . . . beer . . . man pulling up the drive, she'd ventured upstairs to seek him out. "Declan!"
"I'm up here," he finally answered. "Follow the back stairwell." He sounded awfully quiet for a person who was yelling, Anna thought. She approached an open door she'd presumed concealed a linen closet, but, peering through it, she discovered that it led up to an attic storey. At the top of the narrow staircase, she found herself in a gabled room. Two windows looked down across the roof and then straight out on the back meadow. Yes, this room's very existence would be quite inconspicuous from the exterior, she realized.
Declan was crouched in front of an open wardrobe, rummaging through its wide drawers.
"What are you doing up here?" she asked, taking in the stacks of storage boxes and a jumble of furniture, all draped in old canvas. At his knees was a tangled pile of woolens—hats and mittens and such.
"I'm just looking for a proper coat."
"You've got a coat."
"Not a coat for me, of course. I'm looking for a coat for you. It's getting colder and you've got nothing sensible for the season. You need a proper coat." His distracted demeanor was growing downright surly.
"Libby's packed up half a dozen boxes of my things. They're en route as we speak. She sent me the tracking numbers two days ago. Boston's climate isn't exactly tropical, you know."
"That may be so, but there are storms rolling in and I . . . well, I really wanted to take you up north this weekend. Your things may not arrive from Boston in time."
"This weekend?" Anna asked, admittedly enchanted at the prospect of even a brief getaway with Declan. Declan, who finally stilled his fretful hands and turned his face up to hers.
"Yeah. I mean, if you want to go. To meet my father. He's got a pub up near Galway. He used to drive down every now and then, but it's easier for me to visit him these days."
"Your dad has a pub, too? Is that how you learned to cook?"
"Aye," Declan murmured. Then he turned away again. "Well, we all did it, together." Anna dropped to her knees beside him and busied her hands by smoothing and stacking items from the jumble that had accumulated on the floor. The knitted jumpers were all too small for Declan to wear, she noticed, and the mittens too short for his long fingers. Funny.
"I think we should go! Let's not let a little weather stop us. I have plenty to wear. When do we leave?"
"Not until I find . . . ah." He'd slammed one drawer shut and yanked open the next to reveal a plush, navy peacoat laid flat in a bed of tissue. Its brass buttons were etched with a floral motif and a hook and eye at the collar were meant to hold it extra snug against the weather. The corner of a peach-colored handkerchief trimmed with rosy red ribbon peeked out of the pocket on the left breast. "Up with ya, please," Declan said as he got to his feet and held out the coat.
Anna stood and allowed him to match the garment's shoulders to hers, size up its length, even run his hand down one sleeve against her arm to make sure it covered her wrist. The coat smelled like cedar and . . . something else . . . something ever so subtly floral. "Good. I've been hoping this would work. At least until your things come, or you find something new that you like."
Anna put her arms around the coat and squeezed a little. She had to admit, the thick, boiled wool would be far cozier than her lined trench. And that aroma . . . it was warm, but delicate. Declan's appraising eyes settled on her face for a moment and he smiled softly. "Thanks for saying 'yes.' I've been hoping for that, too." Then he stooped to collect all the contents of the drawers he'd emptied.
Over his shoulder, Anna caught her reflection in the cloudy mirror fixed to the inside of the wardrobe's door. The deep marine blue did something remarkable to her red hair and freckles, she marveled, without the slightest sense of vanity.
"Everything all right?" Declan asked, glancing up at her.
"What? Oh! Yes. This is beautiful. It's . . . I'm just trying to place it . . . "
"I reckon you'll place it over your shoulders if it's cold when we go away this weekend. Or at any other point in the near or distant future, for that matter. I thought we could drive up on Sunday morning; just spend one night. Okay with you?" He closed the last drawer, shut the wardrobe, and turned to face her, but Anna didn't reply. She'd fallen under a spell; one cast by her own reflection and by the scent of the unfamiliar perfume. Declan quirked his brow. "Anna?"
"Did this coat belong to Kayleigh?" she demanded suddenly, tilting her head and squaring her chin.
Struck dumb, truly rendered a complete and utter fool, Declan dared to tease.
"Your voice shot up a few octaves there, at the end . . . " he said as he winced and brought a hand up to one ear as though it were ringing. Anna smacked his arm away.
"Did it?" she fairly growled.
"Jesus Christ, of course not!" He held up both hands and took a few steps backward, loathe to be singed by her fiery glare. "You have my word—nothing here has ever nor will ever belong to Kayleigh. These are all my mum's things. Just a couple of bits that my sister or I liked, that my dad couldn't store after he sold the house."
Anna gulped for air. Her own ears really were ringing a bit and she felt certain that she was blushing to the roots of her hair. She was as shocked as the man before her to realize she harbored any jealousy at all when it came to "the blonde in the photo," let alone such a vicious fury.
"Look, I thought of the coat because, well, there really is poor weather coming, and because Mum was quite fond of it, and simply because I thought it might fit. My mum was small, like you. And a redhead." He grinned with wry affection, both for his mother and for the woman before him.
Still stunned silent, Anna broke his gaze as she drew the coat back up to her face and inhaled the warm, wonderful, fragrance at the collar. She was overcome by a long, lost memory of her granny tucking her into bed with a strong hug and the promise of pancakes for breakfast before Mama or Daddy came to pick her up in the morning. Anna never could be sure which parent would come for her or if they'd arrive the next morning or the one after that, but Granny's hugs always smelled like bar soap and chamomile, of comfort, safety, trust, and love.
His mother. Of course, his mother.
"Declan," she stammered. "I . . . I am so sorry. This is the most thoughtful, most selfless, most loving gesture, and I . . ." She thought of Jeremy's lame diamond studs—Something to keep your ears warm. What the hell did that even mean? "I am an idiot. I don't know what I was thinking. I . . . I . . . I truly don't know what to say, except—may I please wear your mother's beautiful coat to Galway on Sunday, regardless of the weather?"
Declan ventured a step closer.
"As I've already gone to the trouble of unpacking it for you, and as I find you quite fetching in that color . . . you may." He kissed her cheek and made to sling an arm around her shoulders and head back downstairs, but Anna turned into him and put both arms around his middle. Even as he rolled his eyes, Declan beamed and folded her into a firm hug. "And you may avail yourself of the hanky, too, should you need it." She swatted his arm once more. "C'mon, that smarts!"