Finn’s boots squelched with every step. When he kicked them off on his parents’ doorstep, water seeped from his wet socks. “I hate November,” he grumbled while he hunted for his keys. “And weather forecasters.”
They hadn’t predicted this morning’s downpour, and Finn minded that. He might have taken an umbrella had he known. Or a boat.
He’d gone to the post office to drop off his latest batch of parcels, detouring on to the far end of the High Street to look at an empty store on the way back. Double-fronted with a bow window, it was perfect for the shop he dreamed of. He’d lingered in front of the dusty windows, imagining them sparkling clean, and the shelves in the room beyond filled to bursting—until the rain had prompted him to leave.
The shop was all he could think of and if wishes were coins, he’d have rented it already. As matters stood, he hadn’t even enquired.
Finn pushed open the door, and a ball of russet yarn with two needles sticking through it hit him right in the face.
“How many times have I told you not to leave your prissy stuff lying around the house?” His father bellowed at full volume from three feet away.
Finn wanted to point out that his ears worked fine, thank you very much, but knew that it would only make matters worse. He picked up the yarn, grateful that neither needle had poked his eye out, and that his father’s rough treatment hadn’t dropped any stitches.
“Sorry, Dad,” he muttered, meaning it. He’d been working on a commission when he realised that he’d miss the parcel collection if he didn’t hurry. In his rush to the door, he’d brought the half-finished glove in his wake. He should have taken it back to his room and run if he’d needed to, but that was water under the bridge.
He hung up his jacket in the hallway, then stripped off his sodden socks and his T-shirt so he could dry his feet before leaving wet footprints everywhere. He wiped up the water on the wooden floor for good measure before he made his way up the stairs.
If his father was yelling when it was barely five o’clock, then the rest of the evening wouldn’t be peaceful. No doubt he’d already opened the bottle of Scotch he’d bought yesterday.
Finn couldn’t cope with much more of this. Christmas was two months away. His list of orders was as long as his arm and turning away new business was not an option. He needed to work, not sit in his room, keeping half an ear out for trouble.
The familiar, colourful clutter in his room soothed his mind. The space wasn’t large, just roomy enough for a bed, a wardrobe, and his desk. Every free corner held boxes and baskets filled with yarn, and he hunted for a piece he could create in a few hours. Hats were good for that. He could knock those out in no time flat.
His order book showed two requests for hats, and both were his favourites: custom orders.
He opened the first file to the smiling face of a young woman with green eyes, red hair a few shades darker than his own bright copper, and a spray of freckles across her nose. She’d requested a hat in a flattering style, but had specified nothing else. Moss green, his mind supplied immediately. Mohair. A close-fitting hat with a swirl pattern.
Suddenly excited, he went rummaging under his desk for a skein of moss-green yarn that showed tiny speckles of deep red here and there. He stuffed the yarn into his messenger bag along with his needle case, a measuring tape and the customer’s measurements. Then he changed into dry clothes and checked the weather. The rain had let up a bit, and Finn hoped he could make it to the pub without getting soaked again.
His father was swearing at something on the telly, as had become his habit. Finn tiptoed out and breathed a sigh of relief when he stood in the rain. Everything set off his father’s temper these days. Especially Finn.
He really should move out. He would move out. As soon as he’d saved enough to afford the rent on a small shop with a room where he could sleep. Maybe then, his father wouldn’t be so angry all the time and his mother would smile again.
Three hours later, the moss-green hat was nearing completion. Warm through after a dinner of steak pie and chips, and nursing a second beer, Finn felt almost happy. He was a familiar sight in the Crown & Anchor, tucked into a corner with his yarns and needles. It was a place where he could work without fear of interruption, and he’d been coming here ever since his father had lost his job and started drinking.
Food and peace weren’t the only things to recommend the pub. It was a great place to pick up commissions. People always looked for unusual, one-of-a-kind gifts, and he’d made christening gowns, blankets, baby clothes, scarves, hats, gloves, even Christmas ornaments.
The crowd was friendly and Annabelle, who held the pub’s license and worked at the bar that night, was more supportive than his parents had ever been. He’d made her a long cardigan, wine-red yak with a touch of silk, and she was perfectly happy for him to sit in his corner and knit. She even recommended him to friends and customers.
He hadn’t shared his dreams of owning a yarn shop with anyone, but maybe it was time to change that. He was working up his courage to ask her about business loans and setup grants, but he’d wait until she’d finished speaking to the guy leaning on the bar.
He had broad shoulders that tapered to slim hips, a trim backside, and long legs. A fisherman’s rib jumper, Finn’s mind suggested. Navy blue Aaran. Or tweed, indigo with gold speckles. With a high collar to show off that long neck and let the slightly too long blond hair pool like gold against the blue.
You’re staring. Stop it.
That was easier said than done until Finn thought to wonder why the guy had four little Tupperware dishes open on the bar between himself and Annabelle.
He was explaining something to her, talking not just with his hands but with his whole body. There was passion in that lithe form, something bright and shining that held Finn’s interest until he realised he hadn’t stopped staring at all.
He dropped his gaze to his newly finished hat and tried to focus on the pattern, the run of the yarn. It would suit the lady who’d sent the photo. It would frame her delicate face, set off the striking hair, and bring out the green of her eyes. He knew the hat would find favour with her, but—for once—knitting couldn’t hold his mind.
The blond man at the bar drew his mind and his eyes, and Finn caught the moment when all that passion fell to ashes. The man’s shoulders slumped and one of his hands dropped to his side.
Annabelle watched him with an apologetic smile as he returned his dishes to his bag. She pulled a beer for him and handed it across the bar.
For a heartbeat, he appeared as if he was going to refuse. Then he dipped his head in thanks and reached for the glass. He slung the strap of his bag over his shoulder and turned away from the bar.
In a move that surprised him by its daring, Finn caught the man’s gaze, flicked his own to the empty seat at this table. He’d never been so brazen before, but something in the man’s wary determination spoke to him. He wasn’t sure what the blond man saw, but he came over and set his beer on the table.