Chapter Four: Flashback
The Hartlin Bar, Carrowville.

"So, what are you drinking?"

Robin pulled himself up onto the bar stool, casting his companion a grin as she followed suit, resting her chin in her hands as she looked back at him. She cocked her head to one side playfully, then,

"See if you can guess." She drawled. "If you don't know my poison by now, Robin Sheppard, you shouldn't be marrying me!"

"Well, I've time between now and March to change my mind." Robin teased lightly. "So keep that in mind!"

He turned to the bartender.

"Vodka and lime on the rocks please, for my fussy fiancee. And I'll have a soda...I'm driving, and we're going out to her parents', so I'd better be stone cold sober."

"Fussy but beautiful, Robin." The bartender grinned. "Coming right up. Hi, Sian. Haven't seen you in here of late - I was beginning to wonder if you'd skipped town on us."

"No, I've just been hunting around for a new job." Sian sighed. "It's pathetic, Josh, but I even looked at going up to the big city to work...but there's nothing much going. I don't want to be a kept woman, and if we're going to have this wedding, we need to be able to afford all the trimmings. But I'm not having much luck. They're all looking for college grads...but if you can't fund college to begin with, where does that leave you?"

"I told her she could go to night school and I'd support us in the meantime." Robin added. "But she won't have it. She's too stubborn...aren't you?"

"Yes." Sian grimaced at him. "I told you Dad didn't raise me or the rest of us to sit at home and keep house all the time. I'm going to bring my fair share to this marriage, and that's final. I'm not gonna have us settled with kids who think Mom does nothing but sit about the house and watch tv."

"Well said." Josh grinned, pushing the drink across towards her. "Here, if you like, I'll ask Alan if there's any slots free to work the bar. The pay's not the best on the planet, but it keeps you in on the action and well, the staff are all pretty neat to hang with."

"That'd be good, Josh, if you wouldn't mind." Sian's eyes lit up. Robin frowned.

"I'm not sure that's any good idea." He murmured.

"Huh?" Sian looked startled. "Rob, what are you talking about? Work is work and you know Alan runs a fair bar!"

"No, I didn't mean that." Robin shook his head. He nudged her, nodding his head in the direction of the man who had just entered the building. "That was more what I was thinking of."

"Calvin Reynolds?" Josh pulled a face. "Ah, he's no trouble, Robin. Drinks himself senseless most nights, then passes out on the floor or we stick him in a taxi home. Nothing your lady couldn't handle, I'm sure. He's just a drunkard - sad, but not much more."

"I beg to differ." Robin said darkly. "He's a jerk."

Josh raised an eyebrow, and Sian sighed.

"Calvin has...shall we say...something of a crush on me." She said slowly, taking a sip of her drink and setting it down on the counter. "I think he's harmless enough, but he's hit on me a couple of times and it's...well, it makes me a little uncomfortable. He knows I'm taken and that I'm marrying Robin in the Spring, but it doesn't seem to matter. When he's drunk, he'll say anything."

"Well, we'll make sure he says it outside the bar." Josh said firmly. "You know me better than that, Sian - we wouldn't allow him to try feelin' you up or anything. Robin, she'd be quite safe with us. She don't need protecting as much as you think."

"I know she doesn't." Robin admitted. "But I wish he'd drop it already. He was always the same in school, too...always trying to compete, always trying to shove me out of the way. If you ask me he's been crushing on Sian way longer than recently - just the more he drinks, the more it comes out. I trust Sian and I know you guys'd make sure he didn't try anything. But if he's a regular here, I don't know as I'd be happy with her behind the bar. I don't know what he might do if he had too much to drink."

"He'd get a slap in the face and a swift kick down below if he tried it." Sian said briskly. "And that'd be the end of it. I'm not a delicate flower. I can fight my corner."

She turned to glance at Calvin, then shrugged.

"He's not my type, anyhow." She said frankly. "I never did like a man who can't manage his drink."

Almost as if he had heard Sian's words, or caught her look, Calvin got to his feet at that juncture, ambling clumsily towards the couple. Though he had only just arrived at the bar, it was clear he had already had a few to drink before he arrived, and the smell of alcohol hovered around him like flies surrounding rubbish. He cast Robin a sour look, then shoved past him to the bar, glaring at the bartender as he demanded a shot of whisky.

Josh send him a doubtful look.

"Looks to me like you've had your quota for one night, Calvin." he said lightly. "Maybe you'd better off be going home and sleeping it off. You know how Alan feels about people passin' out or pukin' up in his bar, and I don't want any trouble."

"If you give me the damn drink, there won't be any trouble." Calvin growled, dropping a handful of tarnished change onto the counter. "I'm a paying customer, so mind what you say. Gimme the drink, Josh. I'm no different from any of your other customers."

"Calvin, go home." Sian put in at that moment. "You're drunk to the skies and Josh is right. Let us call you a taxi or something...get you home safely. You're in no state to be out and about."

Calvin leered at her, a slight smile touching his lips.

"Are you gonna come along with me, little miss Mulhavy?" He slurred. "Might be tempted, if you're a part of the deal."

"You shut your face, Reynolds." Robin glared at the drunken man, clenching his fists as he did so. "I've told you before about hitting on my fiancee. She's not interested and all it's gonna do is get you a smack in the mouth!"

"You think so?" Calvin shot back. "Maybe I'll rearrange your face for you her what a real man is all about!"

"If you guys start fighting I'm gonna have to call the police." Josh warned. "Step back, all right? Calvin, I already told you I can't serve you. You may as well take Sian's advice and her offer and let her call you a taxi to take you home."

"I ain't going nowhere." Calvin shot Robin a black look. "Not till I settled the pretty boy here."

"You want to fight about it?" Robin raised an eyebrow. "Outside!"

"No!" Sian slipped off her stool, positioning herself deftly between the two men. "Calvin, you're drunk. You don't know what you're saying or what you're doing. And Robin, I will not have you punching a guy out because of me, you got it? You have a good job and a good reputation in this town and think of what your Ma would say...let alone what mine would say if you come in there this evening all tattered and covered in blood. And if Calvin doesn't want to leave, then we will. Mom will be expecting us,'s getting late."

An obstinate look crossed Robin's features but Sian was determined, and she linked her arm in her fiance's, pulling him away from his rival. She cast Josh a grimace over her shoulder, and the barman returned it with a helpless shrug.

"I could have taken him, you know." Robin muttered, once they were outside in the street. Sian frowned.

"Yes, I know, but I didn't want you to." she said softly. "I won't have you fighting that bum over me, you got that? You're far too good a man to stoop to that level and I won't have it. Now we have other responsibilities tonight - are you calm enough to drive or do you think I should be doing it? I've only had the one drink."

"I'll drive." Robin shook his head. "I'm okay, Sian. And I'm sorry...he just gets to me, making comments like that."

"I know, and you're all up to defend my honour." Sian grinned at him affectionately, reaching up on tiptoes to kiss his cheek. "But he's not going to take me away from you, Rob. You know that, don't you?"

"I know that." Robin agreed. "All right. Let's go head over to your Mom's, then. And let's not mention tonight to her, all right?"

"It's a secret." Sian made a zipping motion over her lips. "Let's go!"

Prologue: Flashback: Carrowville, Arkansas
Chapter One: Memory
Chapter Two: Spies and Secrets
Chapter Three: Jack
Chapter Four: Flashback: The Hartlin Bar, Carrowville
Chapter Five: Margot's Plan
Chapter Six: Confidences
Chapter Seven:Flashback: The Wedding Reception
Chapter Eight: Fallout
Chapter Nine: Advice
Chapter Ten: A Friend In Need
Chapter Eleven: Logan
Chapter Twelve: Flashback: Sian's News
Chapter Thirteen: Ambush
Chapter Fourteen: Reconciliation
Chapter Fifteen: Flashback: Farewell
Chapter Sixteen: The Curse

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