A Gilded Cage Snippet #1
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Emmet stalls with his hand on the door. The trepidation in his eyes catches in the glow of the neon pub sign blinking ‘Guinness’ beside his face. “It’s not too late, Fi. We can still make our escape.”
I move in and block his retreat. He might have six inches and fifty pounds on me, but I can take him, and we both know it. “Four hours ago, you swore to be brave in the face of danger. You can handle this.”
“I signed on for bank robbers and automatic weapons. What’s awaiting me in there, not so much.”
A stiff summer breeze whips a loose swath of auburn curls into my face. I trap it and tuck it back in my ponytail. “Sack up, mate.” I lay the accent on thick. “Yer a feckin’ Cumhaill. There’s no need to fear the wind if yer haystacks are tied down.”
He snorts. “You’re getting scary good at the oul man impressions.”
And that’s why I am the chosen one to get Emmet here.
Resistance is futile when I dig in my heels, and my five brothers know it. “Onward, Cumhaill. There’s a hape of people proud of you. For once, suffer through the attention and accept the compliments.”
He doesn’t budge, and he doesn’t laugh.
I’m about to get physical when he holds up a finger to stop the assault. “At least swear you won’t let them embarrass me. I haven’t lived down going viral on my twenty-first birthday, and that was almost three years ago.”
I catch my laughter as it pushes up my throat. He never figured out it was me who posted that drunken delight. “No promises. Da and the others headed over straight after your graduation. They’ll be banjaxed by now.”
The expression on Emmet’s face is priceless. Still, he’s stalling. I reach around him, yank open the stained-glass door, and shove him into Shenanigans.
The blissful aromas of pub fare and beer hit us at the same time the uproar of applause and hollering signals our arrival. With a hand on the hostess stand, I climb onto the bench of the first booth. After steadying my boots, I accept the tumbler of whiskey shoved toward me and straighten.
Finger and thumb together, I press them under my tongue and let out a whistle that could shatter glass. The music cuts off, and the room of loveable rowdies quiets.
I raise my whiskey. “To my brother, Emmet Cumhaill. The last man in the house to hit the city streets.” I smile and call on Da’s family motto to finish my toast. “May yer heart remain pure, yer limbs remain strong, and yer actions always be true to yer word.”
“To Emmet!” Da says, perched slightly cockeyed at the end of the bar talking with Auntie Shannon. He raises his pint glass and offers the room a glassy-eyed smile. “Slainte mhath!”
“Slainte mhath!” I shout amongst the chorus.
Emmet gets a drink thrust into his hand and is swallowed by a crowd of friends and family and men on the force. As the fifth of Niall Cumhaill’s sons to don a badge and gun to follow him into the city streets, great expectations abound.
And rightly so.
My brothers and da are solid men who live by a code and put their lives on the line every time they leave the house.
As much as I worry—and I do—I admire them.
The music blares back on, and I hop down from the booth to join the celebration. With the Celtic rhythm pulling me into its enthrallment, I sway my hips through the mass of familiar bodies and raise my glass.
“Slainte mhath,” I shout.
The toast for good health comes back to me twentyfold.
I empty my tumbler in a greedy gulp, the velvety fruit flavor of Redbreast Whiskey sliding down my throat. It mixes with my cocktails from dinner and warms my belly.
The elastic slides from my ponytail with little more than a tug and I run my fingers through the lengths of my hair, setting it free for the evening.
Twirling on the dance floor, the upbeat rhythm of fiddle and flute feeds my soul as always.
Friends spin me and kiss my cheek as I cut through the dancers and head to the bar. It takes me an age to get there, but no sooner do I set my empty tumbler on the pitted wooden surface than Shannon reaches over and pours me another dram.
That’s the beauty of Shenanigans.
There’s no such thing as an empty glass in an Irish pub.
“What’s the craic, Fiona?” Shannon reaches over to accept Da’s empty pint.
“Not much beyond the obvious,” I say.
“Did you and Emmet have a nice dinner?”
I take a swallow of whiskey. “We did.”
“Sushi isn’t dinner,” Da says. “If ye’d gone somewhere with real food, we’d have joined ye.”
I chuckle. “It’s Emmet’s night, Da. He wanted sushi.”
“Arragh,” he says, which is the Irish be-all and end-allqagenerally unhappy.
“You didn’t miss much, Da, I promise. We came straight over. Are Kinu and the kids here?”
Shannon points to a booth on the back wall. My oldest brother Aiden is there with his wife and their two wee ones. As if he senses my attention, Aiden looks over and winks. I blow them a kiss and wave to Kinu and the kids.
He and I look the most alike. The oldest and youngest of six got Da’s russet-red hair and bright blue, Irish eyes. Brendan, Calum, Dillan, and Emmet got Ma’s raven black hair and eyes as green as shamrocks in the sun.
Still, there’s no looking at any one of us and not knowing we come from Clan Cumhaill. Or as most pronounce it, Clan Cool.
“It’s a shame Brendan can’t join the fun.” Shannon slides Da a refill.
My old man raps his knuckles on the wooden bar with a firm knock. “Safe home, Brendan.”
Shannon and I follow suit and knock. “Safe home.”
My second-oldest brother, Brenny, works undercover for Guns and Gangs. It’s been four months since we’ve had him home. Da keeps tabs on him through his captain, so we know he’s all right—and I saw him a couple of months ago while I was out on a run-around in town.
Honestly, his transformation when he’s undercover is so impressive that I almost didn’t recognize him.
But I did, so I crossed the street and headed into a store to let him pass without acknowledging him. Being raised in the culture, I’m as well-trained in police procedure as any of the six officers Cumhaill.
The only difference is, I don’t make the Toronto streets safer. They do.
By midnight, the crowd is thin, the music slows, and Aiden and Kinu have long ago taken Meg and Jackson home to tuck them into their beds.
“So, Liam.” I nurse my drink at the bar. “Are we keeping you from something important, cousin? You’ve checked your phone six times in the past hour and have one eye on the door.”
Liam shuts the beer tap he’s pulling and shoots me an ocular “fuck-you, Fi.” It’s a look I’m very familiar with, and I laugh. He checks around and finds his mom at the far end of the bar joking with Emmet, Calum, and Dillan.
He shakes off his panic and rolls his eyes. “One sec, and I’ll top you up.”
I sip from my tumbler while studying the faces of those still celebrating Emmet’s progression from the academy to beat cop. Everyone’s so happy and proud. I am too…truly.
Immersion in law and order is the lifeblood of our family. It’s what we know. It makes perfect sense for Emmet to join the others. I considered it for a time—Da nearly shit a brick—so I discarded the idea.
Even if Da would allow it, which he never would, I don’t think police work and I would be a good fit.
I’m not one for rules and regulations.
Liam sets five Guinness and a fruity abomination with an umbrella onto Kady’s serving tray. When she heads back to her tables, he grabs the neck of the Redbreast bottle and comes over to my end of the bar.
Tall and fit, with brunette hair and ice-blue eyes, Liam’s a handsome guy. It’s not weird for me to think so. He’s my cousin by circumstance, not blood. Our fathers were partners out of the academy, and they rode together for sixteen years. Our families grew up close, and after Mark was gunned down during a traffic stop, my parents stepped in to make sure Liam and Shannon weren’t alone.
After Ma passed a few years ago, they returned the favor.
Liam stops on the other side of the bar, and the wonky energy he gives off raises the hair on the nape of my neck. When I look up and meet his ire, the pub spins in a pleasantly fuzzy tumble and swirl.
He lifts the bottle and leans in. “Shit on a stick, Fi. Quit setting my balls in a sling for shits and giggles. Seriously, you’re a royal pain in my ass. If I didn’t love you so damned much, I’d quit you.”
I wave off the top-up and laugh. “Seriously, what’s up with you?”
“Now that you’re poking at it, my blood pressure.” Liam has a great sense of humor and can take the piss better than most of us.
I lean back and smile. “How is it a great guy like you is still single? Are ye tryin’ te break yer mam’s heart?”
He snorts, grabs a bar towel, and wipes the taps down. “It’s one of the great mysteries. I propose to every woman I meet on the first date, but none of them say yes.”
“Exactly. What about you? Have any prospects made it through the Cumhaill screening process alive?”
“Not a one. The last one was messy.”
“Not another musician.”
I snort. “No, a part-time yoga instructor.”
He laughs and wipes his hand over his mouth. “And your da found the man wanting, did he? I’m shocked. He’s so accepting when it comes to you and the security of your future.”
“I know, right? Too bad. He had a fabulous…body.”
Liam laughs and nods at one of the regulars holding up two fingers. He pulls a couple of bottles of stout from the cooler, hands them over, and keys the charge into the register. “You’re the great Fiona-freaking-Cumhaill. Raise the bar and find someone worthy.”
“Oh, I did. I’ve decided the love of my life is Chris Hemsworth in character as Thor. If I can’t have him looking pretty in leather and saving the world, I don’t want anyone.”
Liam checks on his mother again, then calls up the time on his phone.
“She must be one helluva booty call.”
Liam waggles his brow. “Of the wildest variety, and if I don’t leave soon, I’ll be pooched to catch a bus uptown. Ma doesn’t approve of me running the roads so late at night. She thinks I need to set my sights on a good Irish girl and make plans for a future.”
I snort and hold up my fist for a knuckle bump. “Preach.”
We’re still chuckling when Da nearly slides off his stool down the bar. I launch to catch him before he embarrasses himself and us.
“Lightning reflexes, Cumhaill,” Liam says.
“It’s a gift.” I’m not exaggerating. All of us have crazy-quick reflexes. It’s a boon for them as cops. I guess, for me, it means I can catch my inebriated father when he slips from his stool. Yay me! “It’s a skill honed from years of dodging my brothers’ fists and tackles.”
“The joys of being a one and only child.”
Ha! Being Shannon’s sole focus since her husband died is exactly his problem at the moment. “Hey, Liam, can you do me a huge favor?” I prop up my father and gesture for my cousin to join me in front of the bar.
“What do you need?”
“I’m a little gone for driving tonight. If I cover the bar with Auntie until close, could you take my car and drop Da at home? I’ll be here anyway. Might as well make myself useful. I’ll catch a ride with the boys, and you can drive it back tomorrow if that works.”
That earns me a grin worth the next two hours on my feet. “For you, Fi, I’d walk on hot coals.”
I snort, exchange my keys for his apron, and head behind the bar. “And that’s why you’ll never quit me.”
By closing time, there are a dozen patrons left in the pub, and I start the final cleanup behind the bar. Shannon balances the waitresses’ till and cashes Kady out for the night. Calum props a polluted but content Emmet in the booth by the door and starts lifting chairs. Dillan runs the hot water for the mop.
Each of the six of us has worked at Shenanigans at one time or another, so we all know our way around what needs to be done. Considering tonight’s crowd was almost completely our guest list, helping out is a no-brainer.
“Why don’t you head out, Kady,” I say.
She watches me tie up the night’s trash and nods. “Yeah. If you guys have things covered, I’m happy to cut and run a few minutes early. Thanks.”
I follow her down the back hallway with the two large garbage bags clenched in my hands. She stops inside the door and grabs her hoodie off the plaque of wall hooks. After shrugging it on, she frees her long, blonde hair from the back. “Thanks for helping out tonight, Fi. It’s always fun when your family hangs around.”
Translation: I like it when your family comes in so I can stare at your brother. I smile. Kady’s had a crush on Dillan for a donkey’s age, but he is as oblivious as she is shy. They’ve each had enough time to figure things out.
I’ll have to intervene.
The two of us step out the back door, and I follow her down the four metal steps and toward the dumpster. I heave my burden over the side of the massive green bin. My smile fades as my instincts kick in. The hair on my nape stands at full attention, and I turn.
A man steps out of the shadows in front of Kady.
“Hey,” I snap while waving my hand to shoo him off. “This is a staff area. Go home and sleep it off.”
The guy doesn’t move, and Kady is frozen in her tracks.
I look around for something to use as a weapon, but Shannon is meticulous about keeping the dumpster area clean.
I hustle to get to Kady, but the stranger is closer. He grabs her and pulls her by the wrist toward the back lane. When they step under the light of the streetlamp, I recognize him. I felt his gaze on the bar more than once tonight while I was working and caught him staring.
Is he stalking Kady?
Far more Wall Street than mean street, he didn’t set off my radar. Handsome, shabby-chic, and well-dressed, he doesn’t fit the bill of the men in the mugshot books Da and Calum pore over some nights.
Stupid. So were Bundy, Dahmer, and Bernardo.
I glance toward the back door and curse. It’s too far to get help and not lose track of Kady. Yelling won’t do any good either. The music is still playing inside.
It’s on me, then.
I hold up my palms and ease closer. Petite and willowy, I’m no one to be alarmed about, right? I study his hands and his hold. He doesn’t have a knife or a gun out. That’s a plus.
“How about you let go of my friend?” I make every effort to seem non-threatening. “It’s been a long night, and you don’t want trouble, do you? Kady and I will head back inside and forget you were ever here.”
He chuffs. “Off ye go, then.”
And leave Kady? Hells no. Had this been any other night, Kady would’ve thrown out the trash and been out here alone. Thank the luck of the Irish she’s not.
“Look.” I step closer and try to convey to Kady to remain calm. “You noticed a pretty blonde, and you made a bad decision. If I scream, a dozen cops will flood out that door, and someone’s liable to get hurt. Maybe you. Maybe her. You don’t want her to get hurt, do you?”
His gaze narrows on me as his mouth quirks up at the corners. He’s studying me studying him. He glances around the back lane and his smirk blooms into a smile. The car parked in the darkest spot between the light posts must be his.
His shoulders tighten as he secures his hold on Kady and moves to step back. He’s going to make a run for it.
Some might think having five brothers pound on a far smaller and weaker little sister is terrible. At times, maybe it was, but I learned at a young age if I didn’t fight back, I’d be toast. I can hold my own in an all-out fisticuff, and there’s no way this shadow-skirting gobshite is making off with Kady while I still have an ounce of breath in my lungs.
When he checks over his shoulder, I seize his moment of distraction and launch. I run and use momentum to boost my impact. My pulse pounds through my veins as I connect. The moment of surprise is short-lived, but I manage to land a solid palm-strike to his head.
The hit shifts his focus from Kady to me.
Twisting her free of his grasp, I shove her toward the back door. “Go!”
The iron grip on my shoulder makes the world spin. Hot breath washes my cheek, and the scent of cinnamon and pine trees assault my senses. He shakes me like a ragdoll and my brain rattles in my skull.
I fight my way free, but the violence of it knocks me flying forward. Off-balance, I go down. The asphalt bites into my hands and knees, and I hiss. My palms take the worst of it, but I scramble into a crouch. He’s between the pub and me, so my option is fight, not flight.
Game on, asshole.
With a banshee scream, I rush him, head down, shoulder-first. He cushions the hit, and we fight and grope. I’m out-weighted and out-muscled. That’s nothing new.
Hellcat works for me.
I’m clawing at his face while I slam my boot heel into the top of his foot. He curses and grips my elbow with bruising force and pulls me against his broad chest.
Twisting with all my weight, I make a solid grab for his crotch. My hands aren’t big, but I grab all I can and squeeze like I’m juicing an orange to a pulp.
My knee meets his face as he buckles over. Then I start punching. I don’t stop when he drops to the ground. I don’t stop when he’s got his arms over his head. Lost in a rabid rage, I lose track of the world around me.
The roar of fury brings him bursting back to his feet. He lifts me off the ground like I weigh nothing and slams me into the trunk of a tree. Pressed face-first against the rough bark, I try to push back.
I’ve got nothing left.
I twist in his hold but get nowhere. Where his palm presses between my shoulder blades, his touch burns my skin.
Prickly tingles zing into my cells, and my senses explode.
I groan, and he lets me go, sinking to a heap on the pebbled ground. My vision fritzes and my head goes wooly.
Blacking out is a bad idea.
I try to stay conscious, but…
“Ye’ve got fight in ye, kin of mac Cumhaill. I’ll give ye that.”
Are you as excited as I was to find out what happened to Fiona? Then come back Friday, the 25th so see. Or better yet, get your pre-order in now so you won’t have to worry about waiting. The book will show up in your library as soon as it goes live on Sunday, September 27th!