Declan paced, studying the techniques of the first-year apprentices. Each approached the furnace with wrinkled brows, all but Caitlin, daughter of Waterford’s senior blower, Patrick O’Malley. Declan had trained under him for five years, and her over-protective father was the only reason Declan avoided her.
She twirled the six-foot metal rod; her pale blue eyes drifting. Where was she this time? Her lips turned up slightly—definitely not in this manufacturing cave. Too bad he couldn’t join her daydreams. From her starry-eyed expressions, they were delightful.
As she swayed toward the twenty-five hundred degree furnace, Declan darted to her side, touching her elbow.
She jumped, dropping the rod. “Gracious Declan, you put me heart crossways.”
“Sorry.” He retrieved the rod.
She took it, placing it in the molten crystal. She blew and twirled the rod, gathering a bubble. “Hopefully, Da’ didn’t s—”
“Caitlin!” Mr. O’Malley glowered. “A sunny day in Ireland be here before ya’ get that crystal shaped. The group’s already to the molds. Stop your bolloxology—get moving.”
Declan cringed. “Sorry, I wasn’t faster.”
“Thanks for trying.”
“Of course, I like helping you … I mean it’s my job … helping you.”
“Of course, but I do like your help.” She carried the rod to her station and turned the ball against the wooden paddle, but it tilted.
“Lift it some, more pressure.” Declan slipped behind her. “Or it won’t shape, and—.”
“Caitlin Margaret O’Malley!” Mr. O’Malley clapped. “I don’t know what’s goin’ on in that noodle of yours, but the class is ready to head on.”
“Mr. O’Malley, I can stay, and help Caitlin try again.” Declan lifted the rod from her. What was he thinking? He must be mad as a box of frogs. If Mr. O’Malley suspected he was interested in Caitlin, he’d batter him.
“Fine, don’t let her break anything.”
“I won’t.” Declan exhaled.
As Caitlin turned, her ponytail brushed his cheek, and the scent of lavender caught his breath. “We need to reheat this.”
She didn’t budge. “Why are you going outta your way for me? Won’t your girl be wonderin’ after ya’?”
“I don’t have a girl but me mum.” He stepped back. “Let’s get this to the furnace.”
“So you’re playing the field—are ya’?”
“No, I only have eyes for one girl, but …” He took the rod and walked to the furnace.
“But …” She slid under his arm, grasping the rod.
Declan’s cheeks heated like he was in the furnace. “She’s off limits.”
“Intriguing,” she blew in the pipe and spun the rod, adding molten crystal. “Tell me more.”
“Turn it.” He reached around her, placing his hand over hers. “Like that.”
She shifted, meeting his gaze. “Not more instruction. More about your forbidden love.” She extracted the orange ball.
“She’s lovely although a bit of a dreamer.” As he handed her the paddle, their fingers grazed. His heart tripped.
“I bet she’d break the rules for a sweet, handsome guy like you.” Caitlin shaped a vase form with the paddle.
“Maybe … let me help.” He stepped behind her, wrapping his hands over hers on the tools. “Easy does it. Your da’ will have me head if anything happens to you.”
“Never mind him.” She checked the shape. “Ready for the mold?”
She stepped onto the block and fitted the form into the mold. She blew into the rod, twisting it.
He gazed at her. Her flame-colored hair draped over her shoulder like melting crystal. Like a Waterford masterpiece, she was a prism, refracting radiant joy. Her turning slowed, she raised her head, and lifted the vase.
“The vase or me?”
“Both but it doesn’t matter.” He followed her to the cooling chamber.
She spun around, encircling his waist. “Pretend to be my mentor. Da’ will believe that.”
His heart pounded. “Seems risky.”
“Not at all. Now, I owe you a pint … Mentor.” She glanced invitingly at his mouth. “Unless, you’d like to chance a snog.”
“You’re worth it.” He pressed his lips to hers. He must be dreaming.
She giggled. “It’s about time. When’s the next lesson?”