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It happened on a Thursday, when his life circled back to the very beginning of everything.
Pastor Danny Murphy, of those Murphy’s, originally from the green shores of Galway, Ireland, would remember distinctly it being Thursday after choir practice, if he were asked later on. He’d just finished picking up all the hymn books from the pews when the double doors flew open, as if a great gust of wind had aided the motion from God himself.
He was tired, wanting a beer and his bed but the church was always open if folks were in need.
The cold blew in right after and wrapped around his neck.
What with the snow inches thick on the ground in and around Armado Springs, Colorado, and no signs of it changing any time soon. The weather was terrible and biting every second of the day unless he kept the heating turned to a balmy 70 degrees.
His housekeeper was going to tan his arse when she saw the power bill.
Danny was a little afraid of Cora when she got in one of her snits, which was most every day. Aye, she had a temper, she did.
But the woman could bake like no one’s business and he was a slave to her honied flapjacks.
The blown doors brought in the bitter cold freeze and a person swathed in so much coat it was difficult to discern who or what it was under there.
Only that he knew it was someone looking for refuge from the cold and the Baptist Gospel church was open to all, no matter the time of day or season.
So, he left the stack of song books on the front pew and watched the person struggle to close the ancient wood.
Danny didn’t shudder for the mistreatment of such old, antique historical pieces.
He loved his church, his first and hopefully his for a long time to come, but he loved his community more, and if one was needing help or shelter, he could overlook scratches on doors.
Taking the time to put away his very worn and very well loved fifteen-year-old black Fender guitar in its case, he kept an eye out for his new guest as they slowly made their way down the aisle. Shrouded in white puffy material and a knitted hat pulled low and a scarf wrapped high, only the sway-gait of the person alerted him to the possibility that it was a woman beneath the cloak of clothing.
“Hello.” He smiled in greeting.
Sounds of his home back in Galway threaded through his voice. Sometimes he was told he’d picked up Americanisms from his friends, but it only took one rowdy night of pints of Guinness and manic bouts of darts down at Brannon’s pub to have the Irish flowing through him once more, as if he’d never left the green shores years ago.
You can take the man from Galway, as his da says, but you can’t take the Galway from the man. Aye, to be true.
He would always be the alley-rat from back home, no matter how far he went.
Silver rings glinting on his fingers when he brushed his too-long mop of light brown hair from his eyes, he saw a set of crystal emerald eyes follow his hand, pausing as if she was startled to see him. He smiled again to reassure she was safe here.
“Cold out, aye? I can offer you a hot tea. Me mother says I make the best tea in Ireland, but I’m thinking she’s a bit biased. Nevertheless, it will warm you up.”
He heard a muffled hello. The small lump shuffled forward, and Danny finally got a decent look at his guest. From the threadbare tennis shoes, one missing a lace, to the coat with several rips in both sleeves. Lord above, she’d been out in weather like this, dressed like that?
He felt a lurch of sympathy in his chest.
Moving over to the trolley that Cora always left off to the side with a tea urn, cups, plates and a barrel of homemade shortbread, her own family secret recipe he was determined to wrangle out of her one of these days. He poured a tea and dumped in three sugars, not that the woman was in shock, or that he knew of yet, it was just instinct.
“Is there something I can be helping you with?” He asked over his shoulder, hearing a zipper, he popped open the barrel and fisted four biscuits, placing them on a plate.
Of late he’d felt a sense of—he didn’t want to label it detachment, but aye, that was how he felt most mornings when he pulled himself out of bed and went on his typical 7-mile run. Then saw to the day to day running of his church, before he did his daily visits to those most in need in and around his community.
Danny loved his work, but most days—for the past months, and worse still over the holidays, he felt disconnected from everyone and everything. Going through the motions, oh, his faith ever strong, there was no doubt in that. His friends would say he needed to get laid, his mother would assume he longed for a wife and kiddies hanging off his belt loops.
Being a man about to turn thirty and a man of God no less, came with its own troubles and temptations.
He loved his work and would always offer a helping hand as he was offered many moons ago when his heart was black and full of hate. He had a cousin once who came to these shores before Danny. Connor’s life ended long before his time because he got in with a wrong motorcycle club.
Only with the divine grace of God intervening for Danny, did it thankfully put him on the right path.
The right path for him.
Some would ask what gave him the wisdom to counsel his community as he did for such a young age. No one knew his past, and probably wouldn’t ever hear the tales of a time when Danny Murphy of the infamous Murphy’s of Galway, answered only to his mistress; drugs.
It was the same disconnect in his breastbone he felt from those dark days of trying as hard as he could to die and failing each time.
Even as he smiled, carrying over the tea and snack, he wondered was God of a mind with a new path for the pastor? He knew one thing, he always listened when God spoke to him.
Aye, he wasn’t so daft these days.
The red scarf un-wound from her neck. At least the women felt comfortable enough to take a seat for a while. If she needed a bed, he was sure to find her one, he was well acquainted with the local shelters and no one should be desperate enough to sleep in the snow.
Next, off came the oversized hat and Danny froze where he stood.
The blood stopped circulating inside his veins.
And the shock of what he was seeing—who he was seeing, caused a mass riot within his lungs.
If the devil himself had appeared and started to do the Irish jig he couldn’t have been more surprised at the cascade of blood-red hair that tumbled out of the hat.
Corkscrew red curls fell in rivers over slim shoulders as a face emerged.
A face of freckles dusting over her nose like cinnamon sugar.
He knew the numbers of freckles.
He’d counted them many times. Kissed them a million times and sought them in crowds for years.
Moss green eyes met Danny’s.
Sure, the ground underneath him was rocking because for the first time in a long time, Danny felt unsteady in his own body. He stalled his steps, the cup swaying in his hand. A look of nerves on the woman’s face, she too was stuck in place, but she wrestled with the zipper of her coat, her teeth chattering together to show how cold she was.
“Aoife…” his voice scratched, sure he was dreaming and not standing in front of the girl he’d loved at six. And then at twelve. And at eighteen and every year in between.
The girl who had broken his soul apart at twenty-two.
Memories like a kaleidoscope swept through his vision, he didn’t have one childhood memory that didn’t involve Aoife. The girl he’d loved before he knew what it was to love a person as deeply as he had.
He’d loved her so deeply as a little boy, he’d wanted to be her everything.
Protector and best friend until she only loved him.
Knees just about buckled out from under him.
Aoife here in his church.
What was God doing to him?
The first girl he’d kissed.
The girl he’d climbed trees with and jumped over streams for because she wanted him to capture her a frog. The same girl he hid from her brothers and protected her from her drunk father. The same little girl who would sneak into his house and to sleep in his bed when she was scared of thunderstorms.
The girl who took all his firsts and gave him hers.
The girl he’d worshipped and fucked and lost all in the same year.
And the same woman who had walked away from him and married someone else.
The thump of his disbelief matched that of his heartbeat.
Shaking the fog from his brain, he was a pastor first, a man second.
Oh, she was lovely as ever, he thought.
Her freckles told stories only he would understand.
Though her lips were pulled straight now, he remembered when there was nothing but smiles and whispers of love and temptation on them.
Play with me, Danny-boy.
Touch me, Danny-boy.
I love you forever, and a day, Danny-boy.
She was neither tall nor short. He used to call her height perfect that fit directly under his chin when she curled into his ribs. With a slight build and tempting curves attached to her hip bones. There was not an inch of her body he didn’t know intimately. Once upon a time ago.
Still an artist’s dream come to life as she ever was. With her bow lips and almond shaped eyes and a bone structure he recognized from memory.
“I’ve come a long way, Danny-boy.” She spoke finally.
Sounds of home in her husky tone put heat in his belly.
The love he’d long since locked away started to peek through the cracks in his heart.
Danny cast a look at the ceiling, inhaling rapidly as a dying man would, in his mind he asked; “Lord, how could you do this to me now?” He was sure he could hear laughing.
Her coat unzipped all the way to her thighs, and the mysterious woman he’d first thought was on the thick side, was not at all. Aoife was slender as always.
What bulked out her coat was the baby wrapped around her chest.
A sleeping bairn no bigger than a sack of potatoes that she kissed on the top of its head, and then those bright green jeweled eyes that could once bring him to his knees and make him beg, turned on him.
Razor sharp. Wary. Shocked. Frightened.
Yeah, he noticed that one the most because it hit him square in the chest.
Danny hadn’t moved an inch.
His gaze going from Aoife to the bairn.
“I’m so glad you’re here. I seem to find meself in a bit of a bother, so I do. Can you help me, Danny-boy?”
And that was how Danny Murphy, of the infamous Murphy’s, knew that God was setting him on a new—unknown path once again.
One that would test his faith and loyalty and put him back in a place where his heart ruled … and shite alive, he didn’t have the first sodding clue how to feel when faced with the girl that not only got away but ran far…and took his soul with her.
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