A Paladin St. Patrick's Day
"Since when is St. Patrick's Day something that the Kalith people have to celebrate?"
Emmett Sloan ignored Barak q'Young's question while he fastened a bouquet of green and white balloons to the brass railing that ran along the top edge of the counter. When he had it secured, he grabbed the next bunch and moved down to the center of the bar.
When it became clear the warrior wasn't going to lift a finger to help unless he got an answer, Emmett stopped to glare into Barak's pale eyes. "Since Devlin Bane decided to use the holiday as an excuse to throw a party. Evidently the boss man seems to think we all need an excuse to blow off some steam. Just by chance, March 17th fell on a Sunday this year, which meant the bar would be closed to the public. I don't know how Devlin convinced Dan to let us use the place for a private party, but he did."
That was the sum total of his knowledge on the subject. Rather than encourage more conversation, he pointed toward the stack of paper shamrocks and a roll of tape on the counter. "Everyone got volunteered to do something to help out. You and I were assigned to decorate, but at least that means we won't be working during the party. We also won't have to stick around to clean up. I think we got off lucky, so quit crabbing and stick those shamrocks on the mirror behind the bar."
Barak didn't look any happier, but at least he finally picked up the tape and got to work attaching the decorations on the mirror in some random pattern. The ladies might not like how it looked, but Emmett wasn't the decoration police. It wasn't as if he had any more experience than Barak did in making a bunch of balloons and cardboard cutouts look good.
After sticking the last shamrock in the middle of the mirror, Barak stepped back to study his handiwork. "What is the meaning behind this particular kind of plant? I'm pretty sure it's one of the weeds that Lacey is always trying to kill off in our yard."
Emmett glanced at the pictures and frowned. Was it really clover or a shamrock? And how was he supposed to know? If they'd taught something like that back in school, he'd forgotten whatever they'd said. He'd graduated from high school twenty-plus years ago and had spent fifteen of those years in prison for a crime he hadn't committed. Holiday decorations hadn't exactly been plentiful behind bars.
Luckily, another voice entered the conversation. His lady, Jana York, had just stepped out of the kitchen with a tray stacked high with green cookies shaped like said clover. She set them down on the refreshment table along the back wall.
She smiled at Barak. "There are several different explanations about what a shamrock is supposed to represent. What I always heard is that the three leaves represent faith, hope, and love. If you find one of the rare plants with a fourth leaf, then that one is luck."
Huh, who knew?
Emmett tied off the last bunch of balloons. Personally, he thought they were a bit much, but he was smart enough to keep that opinion to himself since Jana was the one who'd bought all the decorations. "I think we're done. Looks good to me."
Jana slipped her arm around his waist. "You guys did a nice job. Dan is finished making the sandwiches, and he said the bartenders and waiters we hired for the party should be here any minute. The dishwasher is already hard at work in back. The person, that is. Not the machine."
Barak stole a cookie. "Devlin said everyone had to pitch in to help. I'm glad he also made sure everyone will be able to relax and enjoy the party."
Jana pointed to the clock on the wall. "It's almost time for the onrushing hordes to arrive. We should get the rest of the food out here."
Emmett smiled down at her. "Sorry, babe, but Barak and I are the decorations team. Nothing was said about having to haul sandwiches and stuff around."
Then he leaned in closer. "But I might be persuaded to help if you offer the right incentive."
What she whispered back had him hauling ass for the kitchen with a big grin on his face. Yeah, party or not, this promised to be the best St. Patrick's Day celebration ever.
Three hours later, the party was in full swing. Emmett was on his third beer, which he was convinced had improved his dancing skills. Jana might have a different opinion on that, but at least she hadn't complained when he accidently stepped on her toes when he'd tried out a couple of fancy new maneuvers.
When someone tapped him on the shoulder, he turned to glare at Tyson. "What?"
The former marine's grin set Emmett's teeth on edge. "Devlin needs to talk to you."
"He didn't say. I'm just the messenger."
"Where is he?"
Tyson pointed to the far side of the room. "The last I saw of him, he was headed that way."
Emmett looked around, trying to spot the Paladin leader. At several inches over six feet, he was used to being able to see over any crowd. Unfortunately, he was only average height among the Paladins and their Kalith allies. "Sorry, Jana. I'd better go see what he wants. I'll be back as soon as possible."
"No problem. I'll be here."
He shoved his way across the crowded dance floor. When he finally spotted Devlin, the big man was dancing with his wife. Seriously? What was the huge emergency that he'd felt it necessary to interrupt Emmett's quality with his own woman?
"Devlin, you wanted to see me?"
To his surprise, Devlin's expression turned thunderous as he cut loose with an impressive string of curse words. Then he put his fingers in his mouth and whistled loud enough to wake the dead. The dancers came to an abrupt halt, and those seated around the edges of the room grew quiet. A few seconds later the music died as well.
"All right, you jokers, enough is enough. I can't help if the men outnumber the women here, and you want a dance partner. Fine, I get it. But if one more of you idiots send someone to hunt me down for no reason other than it gives you a shot to dance with his lady, I'm not going to be happy. Have I made myself clear?"
His wife spoke up next. "For the record, I'm willing to dance with someone other than my husband. All you have to do is ask."
Devlin clearly wasn't happy about that, especially when several of the younger Paladins immediately lined up to accept her generous offer. He settled for giving them all the evil eye and growled, "Behave yourselves and no slow dances."
A ripple of laughter followed his footsteps as he stalked off toward the bar. The music started up again as Emmett headed back to where Jana had promised to wait for him. He wasn't exactly surprised that she wasn't there. Instead, she was in the middle of the dance floor with her new dance partner. She gave him an apologetic look but made no move to abandon Tyson. The sneaky bastard had the nerve to smirk as he twirled Jana out and then back again.
Larem moved up beside him with a beer in his hand. "My wife is dancing with Jamieson. Having come to a few of these parties before I met her, I have some sympathy for the guys who come alone. It's not as if they can bring just anyone."
That was true. The truth they all lived with had to be kept secret from the world at large. That meant before anyone could be brought into the fold, he or she should be heavily vetted in advance. Not that it always worked that way. In his own case, he'd only recently learned about the Paladins-and the fact he was one-when he'd met Jana. He'd done his best to protect her from his new reality, but three rogue Others had slipped past the Paladins and attacked her.
Emmett had died to buy her enough time to escape and would do so again without hesitation. It had been a heck of way to find out that Trahern and Bane had been telling him the truth all along. Waking up to learn that his chance for a life with Jana hadn't ended in that alley with a sword in his gut was the best moment in his life. Close on its heels was when she'd accepted his engagement ring the very next day. They'd finally set a wedding date. It had taken him awhile to win over her family, and he had wanted them to be there for her when he and Jana exchanged vows. The wedding was a little over a month away, and he couldn't wait.
Which brought him back to the moment. Without her, he'd be just another one of the guys hoping someone else's lady would take pity and dance with him. His irritation with Tyson's sneak attack faded. He really shouldn't begrudge the man a few turns around the dance floor with Jana.
"Thanks for reminding me that we're the lucky ones here, Larem." He snagged a beer off the tray of a passing waiter. "I still might bruise Tyson up a little bit for not manning up and simply asking Jana if she wanted to dance. You know, just on principle."
Then he shot the man out on the dance floor a hard look. "Of course, all bets are off if he doesn't follow the rules Devlin just laid out. He tries to slow dance with my woman, I will kick his ass from here to Tacoma and back."
His smile had little to do with good humor. That was okay because right now his companion on the sideline was glaring at Jamieson big time. The music might not be slow and sultry, but that didn't mean there wasn't opportunity for a little too much physical contact. The medic had just dipped Sasha over his arm and grinned as he held the position for several seconds longer than necessary. When the Kalith warrior took a couple of steps in the couple's direction, Jamieson immediately released his hold on Sasha and put a more reasonable distance between himself and his dance partner.
Larem retreated to once again stand beside Emmet. "Tyson isn't the only one who might need to be taught a lesson. Jamieson needs to remember humans don't heal as fast as Paladins or even Kaliths."
"Do you think they'd learn best crossing swords or should we use a more hands-on approach?"
The song ended before Larem could answer. At least Tyson showed the good sense to immediately escort Jana off the dance floor. He even fended off a couple of other would-be dance partners along the way. When they reached Emmett, he smiled at Jana. "Thanks for the dance. It was fun."
Turning his attention toward Emmett. "Thanks for not punching me."
Jana gasped even as Emmett said, "It's never too late. I'm still thinking you need to be taught some manners."
Tyson's laughter rang out across the room. "Just let me know. Besides, what's a St. Patrick's Day party without a few dustups to go along with the green beer and loud music?"
He winked at Jana. "On that note, I'll leave you two alone. Dancing is thirsty work, and I hear a beer calling my name. After that, I'm thinking I'll see if Trahern's wife would like to dance."
Emmett glanced over to where one of the scariest men he'd ever met was sitting with his wife. He and Trahern had become friends, but he couldn't imagine trying to borrow Brenna for a dance. "Tyson, you must have a death wish."
Tyson only laughed again and disappeared into the crowd. The music started up again, this time a slow, smoky jazz number. Emmett set his beer down and grabbed Jana's hand, tugging her out onto the dance floor. Wrapping his arms around her, the two of them swayed to the slow beat of the music. She snuggled in close. "This is the best St. Patrick's Day ever."
Emmett tightened his hold on the woman who held his heart in his hands. She was his very own four-leaf clover. And when they got home, they'd have a little private celebration of their own.