by Sela Carson
She looked up from her computer and her breath hitched. Surreptitiously, she straightened her skirt and only just stopped herself from smoothing back her hair, not wanting to be so obvious. Maeve Riordan waited with a professional smile on her face for the next passenger in the First Class check in line.
“It’s nice to see you back, Mr. Connolly.”
He smiled at her just as he always did, polite but a little distracted. A by product, she supposed, of always being on the go. The Irishman appeared at the Central Airways ticket counter almost every week, always bound for somewhere exotic. She’d lived in Baltimore her whole life and had never traveled further than Washington, D.C, on a high school field trip. Mr. Connelly’s destinations, Dublin today, might as well have been on the dark side of the moon for all her experience.
“Back to Ireland I see.” She couldn’t keep the wistful note out of her voice.
“Yes. Are you sure you’ve never been, Miss Riordan?”
Her fingers flew over the keyboard, making certain he had seat assignments and that his baggage would arrive at the same destination.
“You’re teasing me again, Mr. Connolly. I’d love to go to Ireland. It sounds so beautiful. And I can’t imagine being surrounded by people with accents as lovely as yours.” The light-hearted flirting was a rare indulgence for her. He grinned and played along.
“Accents as lovely as mine? Come now, Miss Riordan. Surely you hear accents all day long here.”
“I do. Maybe it’s the Irish in me that finds that accent so comforting, though.”
She handed his ticket back to him and their fingers met. A spark sizzled up her arm and she bit her lip.
His eyes held hers. “What’s your name, Miss Riordan?”
“I beg your pardon?”
“Your name. The tag says M. What does it stand for?”
“Maeve. Actually, it’s Mavourneen, but no one seems able to pronounce it, much less spell it.”
“A lovely Irish name for a lovely Irish girl. Do you know what it means in Gaelic?”
She shook her head, caught in the spell he wove with the music of his voice.
“It means my darling. Maeve means goddess. So I suppose that would make you my darling goddess.”
He waved his ticket at her as he gathered his carry-on bag. “I’ll see you soon, Miss Riordan.”
Maeve waved at him and watched him walk toward his flight and let her heart dream for a moment. Then she pulled herself together.
“Next in line, please.”
* * *
“What do you mean my bags aren’t here? I’m here. I had time to get on the plane. Why didn’t my bags make it?”
Maeve had pulled the short straw and was working the Lost Baggage desk for the last flight of the night. A delayed flight into the Central Airlines hub airport meant that almost everyone who had just arrived did so without baggage in tow. Most of the passengers accepted the delay with, if not good graces, then at least tolerance. Thankfully she was down to the last two passengers, but her current customer, a tall, heavy set man in rumpled clothing, was worse the wear for drink.
“Sir, I apologize for the delay. I’ve spoken with baggage control at the other end and they have assured me that your luggage is on the next flight. We’ll be more than happy to deliver it to you first thing in the morning.”
“I don’t want it in the morning. I want it now.”
Maeve sighed. “Sir, your bags will be delivered to your front door as soon as they arrive. That’s the best I can do.”
“That’s not the best you can do, you stupid -- ” The man leaned toward her, his large frame towering over her, waves of alcohol fumes fogging the air.
A large, familiar hand wrapped around the man’s arm.
“I think that’s enough from you now. The lady said she would do the best she can. That’s all anyone can hope for in this world.”
“Mr. Connolly,” said Maeve, her usually peaceful temper roused by the confrontation. “Thank you, but I can handle this.” She turned to the unruly passenger.
“Mr. Simpkins,” she said with steel in her voice. “Your baggage will be delivered when it arrives. If you persist in insulting me, it will not only delay the process, you will very likely be detained by the police. I suggest you catch a cab, go home and sleep it off until your luggage shows up. Now good night, sir.” She held his bleary glare until he backed up and walked away, muttering, toward the cab line.
Maeve blew out the tense breath she’d been holding and rolled her head on her shoulders. She gave Mr. Connolly, the last person in line, a shaky smile and he smiled back.
“Thank you so much for stepping in, Mr. Connolly.”
“First, let me say that I’m impressed with how you handled the situation. You’ve a fine temper when it’s roused.”
“Well, it takes quite a lot to rouse it, even in this job. If he hadn’t been drinking, it would have gone off without a hitch.”
“And second, please call me Eamon. I feel like we’ve seen each other so often over the last few months that we’ve come a bit beyond you calling me Mr. Connolly. And may I call you Maeve?” He was close and smelled slightly of cloves despite the long flight.
Her smile strengthened and she nodded. “All right then, Eamon. I’m sorry your baggage is delayed.” She prepared to type his information into the computer, but he reached over the counter and stopped her with a hand on hers.
“I didn’t lose my bag,” he said, holding up the travel worn duffel he always carried.
Maeve gave him a puzzled look. “Then why are you here?”
“I want to talk to you.”
“Me?” Her voice rose as high as her eyebrows and he laughed, a deep sound that wrapped around her, filling all the empty places inside.
“Definitely you. The whole time I was in Ireland, I kept thinking of how much you’d enjoy it. How many things I wanted to show you.” His fingers curled over hers and the warmth of his hand spread into her heart.
“Maeve, if it’s alright with you, I’d like the chance to get to know you better. And someday, I’d like to show you the land you came from.”
“Eamon,” she replied, bringing his hand up to her cheek, “it took you long enough.”