I get out of bed, put on my slippers and my robe that’s emblazoned with the owl logo of the Shambles B&B and slowly open my door and quietly head down the stairs.

I go to Padraig’s room and cautiously open his door, not wanting to wake anyone else in the house.

“Who’s there?” Padraig says sleepily and in the beam of faint light from the night light in the living room, I can see him, completely naked and trying to reach for his covers that are tangled in his legs.

Jeez. I came here just to sleep but that cock has me thinking other things.

“Sorry,” I whisper, quietly closing the door and plunging us back into darkness. “I couldn’t sleep. Can I sleep with you?”

“Oh, darlin’, like ye even have to ask,” he says, and I hear him shuffling in bed. “Come here.”

I carefully make my way across the dark room and slip under the covers, curling up beside him.

“I’m glad you’re here,” he whispers to me as I lay my head in the crook of his arm. “I could use ye like this every night.”

I smile into him and put my hand on his chest, feeling his heartbeat hammering beneath my fingers. I slowly take my hand and trail it down over the ripples of his abs, over his flat stomach, and down, down, until I’m skimming over his cock.

He’s already hard. How about that.

He lets out a low moan, his back arching as I make a fist around his shaft, feeling the heat press into my skin. “I could definitely use ye like this every night.”

I grin, biting my lip, and start taking off my nightgown and underwear. It’s not fair he’s the only one naked.

He brings his body on top of mine, pressing his cock against my hip until I open my legs in anticipation. His fingers then slip between my thighs and start rubbing my clit in circles while his mouth dips down to my nipple to do the same.

“Yes,” I hiss, digging my nails into the muscles of his strong shoulders, wanting more of everything.

He takes his cock and starts rubbing it along my clit, up and down, making me drenched and open and wild for him.

Padraig is the king of blissful torture.

“I want you inside me,” I say through a groan as he flicks my nipple with his tongue. He keeps on licking, sucking it in between his lips, sending sparks of electricity through my body, out into every limb, while his cock continues to tease me.

“Padraig,” I pant. “Come inside me.”

He ignores that and continues to rub at me but the pressure gets less and less.

He lets out a grunt of frustration, like he’s getting annoyed, which takes me by surprise. I reach down for his cock to guide him in but he keeps it away from me.

“What’s wrong?” I ask, wishing I could see his face.

“Nothing, nothing, just …” he says, his voice breaking. “Leave me alone.”

Leave me alone?

I blink. “Okay.”

“Just give me a minute.”

Oh.

Oh.

I see.

“Sure,” I say lightly.

He leans back off me and I hear him start jacking himself off, the soft sound of his skin against skin. Another frustrated grunt escapes his lips.

“Fuck!” he cries out and the sound fills the room.

I’m momentarily frozen.

“Padraig,” I hiss at him. “You’re going to wake everyone.”

“Fuck, just FUCK,” he says again, not hearing me or not caring. “Fuck this!”

He gets off of me completely and sits on the edge of the bed.

I know I should probably ignore this, it would be easier on his ego, but we need to address it.

I lean over and turn on his bedside light to see him sitting there hunched over, making fists in his hair, eyes closed, forehead deeply lined.

“It’s okay,” I say softly. “We’ll try again later.”

That seems to make him crumble. “No, Val, I want ye, ye don’t understand.”

I reach over and grab his hand, pulling it off of his head, his fingers uncurling from the strands of hair. “I know you want me and I want you too. But it’s late and I just woke you up. I should have let you sleep. That was selfish of me.”

He shakes his head, anguish on his brow. “This isn’t supposed to happen.”

I give him a sympathetic smile, feeling for him on every level. “It is supposed to happen. You know what the doctor said.”

“Fuck the doctor,” he grumbles. “This isn’t me, okay? This isn’t …I can’t …”

“Padraig, I love you. This is something that happens. To, like, everyone. It’s not a big deal. It will probably happen again too, but more times than not, it’s going to be fine. Better than fine.”

He’s breathing hard as he looks at me with frozen eyes, refusing to believe the reality. And honestly, it really isn’t a big deal. I mean, it’s happened to me with an ex before and I’ll admit I felt totally insulted. But Padraig is dealing with MS. This is just part of the deal. I know how much that man wants me and I know how damn good he is at fucking. I’m not worried about any of that. There is more to us than that anyway.

“Okay,” he says after a moment, when he seems to visibly calm. “Okay.” He gets up and slips on his pajama pants, heading around the bed to the door.

“Hey,” I cry out, leaning across the bed and grabbing him by the pant leg, holding him in place. “Don’t do that.”

“Do what?” he asks cagily, avoiding my eyes.

“This. Leave. You’re avoiding me, you’re avoiding this. We need to talk about this. I need you to be able to look at me and not feel ashamed. Communication is the only way we’re going to be able to get through it all together. Right?”

He stares at the wall and nods.

“No, Padraig, please look at me.”

He looks down and meets my eyes.

I give him a small smile. “I don’t want you for a second to think this changes anything between us. I don’t think anything less of you, I don’t think you’re weaker or any sicker and I certainly don’t think you’re less of a man because I know what that beautiful cock can do to me and I know you’ll continue to do it well. You need to be easy on yourself, okay? This is just life. Right now, it’s life. Let’s just move on from it but let’s move on together. Okay?”

He nods sheepishly. “Okay.”

“I love you,” I tell him emphatically.

“I love you, too.”

“Then come back to bed and let’s go to sleep.”

He rubs his lips together for a moment and then climbs back under the covers beside me.

I turn out the light.

19

Valerie

“Valerie, do ye mind going into the kitchen and telling Gail that Colin will be joining us for supper,” Agnes says as I head to the dining room table where Padraig and Major are already seated. She’s standing by the back door, talking to Margaret, Colin’s nurse.

“Sure,” I say and head into the kitchen.

Gail has her head in the pantry, searching for something, while food is bubbling over on the stove.

I quickly go and turn down one of the burners just as she pulls back and sees me.

“What are ye doing?” she snaps.

“Sorry, it was boiling over,” I tell her.

“That’s my problem to worry about, not yours,” she says and god, it’s crazy how much this bitch hates me. The other day, Padraig and I were at the pub and Alistair let it slip that he thinks Gail is a “hoor” and ever since then that’s all I can say in my head.

“Why are ye here?” she adds, hand on her hip.

“Agnes says Colin is joining us for dinner. I guess he feels well enough. You don’t need to make him anything separate.” … you hoor, I finish in my head, giving her a polite smile.

I turn to leave and am almost out the door when she says, “I know you’re faking it.”

My blood runs cold.

I stop.

I don’t turn around.

Keep walking, don’t engage, this hoor doesn’t know shit.

“I know you’re not his fiancé, I don’t even think you’re his girlfriend,” she says confidently.

No. No.

How can she know?

What do I do?

Play dumb.

I slowly turn around to look at her and put on my smug face. “You know, Gail, I had a feeling you didn’t like me from the start. I couldn’t figure out why. Now I know. You’re his ex. He broke your heart. And now I have his heart. You’re just jealous of me. Well, you need to get over yourself, it’s not becoming.”

What the hell was that? That was not playing dumb!

She laughs sharply. “I am not jealous of ye, you wagon.”

Wagon?

I have a feeling it doesn’t mean something good.

She pulls out her phone and keeps talking. “Believe me, what Padraig and I had was a long time ago and anyway, even if I did harbor something for him, it’s nothing more than resentment. He was a little shite back then, ye know that? But it doesn’t matter anyway because I know the truth. You’re both fecking liars.”

She holds out her phone and it’s a link to all my articles at Upward.

“You were a journalist based in New York City, writing for this online news magazine,” she says.

“I wrote those remotely.”

“Uh huh,” she says and flips the screen to something else. This time it’s a Google search. “I knew there was something off about ye both. I knew that it was timed a little too well for Padraig to bring home a fiancé that no one had heard of, just in time to say goodbye to his dad. I grew up with him. I know their relationship. I know that Padraig would do what he could to seem like he had his life together, to win him over.”

She taps on a link and a picture of Cole comes up, an article he was featured in Entrepreneur Magazine just before we broke up.

My heart sinks, past my knees and to the floor.

I can’t even think.

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