Ryan's Place - By Sherryl Woods

Chapter One

Ryan Devaney hated holidays. Not only were they lousy for business, but the few people who did walk into his Boston pub were usually just about as depressed as he was. The jukebox tended to blast out its most soulful tunes, which might have reduced him to tears if he hadn’t given up shedding them a long time ago. Thanksgiving, with its bittersweet memories, had always been worst of all. And this year promised to be no different.

Outside there was the scent of snow in the crisp air, and back in Ryan’s kitchen, his cook was already baking the dozens of pumpkin pies Ryan would be taking to the homeless shelter and also serving to the handful of people who showed up at the pub for a lonely meal tomorrow. Ryan had a very dim recollection of a time when both aromas would have stirred happy memories, but those days were long gone. It had been more than twenty years since he’d had anything at all for which to be thankful.

Even as the thought crossed his mind, he brought himself up short. Father Francis—the priest who evidently considered saving Ryan’s soul his personal mission—would blister him with a disapproving lecture if he ever heard him say such a thing aloud. The priest, whose church was just down the block and whose parish benefitted from Ryan’s generosity, had a very low opinion of Ryan’s tendency to wallow in self-pity around holidays.

“You have a roof over your head. You have money in your pocket and warm food in your belly,” Father Francis had chided on more than one occasion, disappointment clouding his gaze. “You have a business that prospers and customers who rely on you. You have countless others who depend on you for food and shelter, though they don’t know it. How can you say there are no blessings in your life? I’m ashamed of you, Ryan Devaney. Truly ashamed.”

As if Ryan had conjured him up just then, Father Francis slid onto an empty stool at the busy bar and gave Ryan his usual perceptive once-over. “Indulging again, I see.”

Ryan winced at the disapproving tone. “Haven’t touched a drop,” he said, knowing perfectly well that liquor was the last concern on the priest’s mind.

“Ah, Ryan, my boy, do you honestly believe you can get away with trying that one on me?”

Ryan grinned at the white-haired man, who still had a hint of Ireland in his voice. “It was worth a try. What can I get you on this chilly night?”

“Would a cup of Irish coffee be too much trouble? The wind is whipping out there, and my old bones can’t take it the way they once did.”

“For you, Father, nothing is too much trouble,” Ryan told him with total sincerity. As annoying as he sometimes found the priest, Ryan owed him his life. Father Francis had snatched him out of the depths of despair and trouble many years ago and set him on a path that had landed him here, operating his own business, rather than sitting in a jail cell. “Why aren’t you home in front of a fire?”

“I’ve been to visit the shelter. We’ve a new family in there tonight. Can you imagine anything sadder than being forced to go to a homeless shelter for the first time on Thanksgiving eve, when everyone else is fixing turkey and baking pies and preparing to count their blessings?”

Ryan gave him a sharp look. It had been Thanksgiving eve, seventeen years ago, when Father Francis had taken him to the St. Mary’s shelter, scared and hungry and totally alone. Just fifteen, Ryan had been angry at the world and had barely managed to escape being arrested for shoplifting, thanks to the priest’s influence with the local police precinct and the outraged shop owner.

“No, I can’t imagine anything sadder,” he said tersely. “As you well know. What do you want?”

Father Francis smiled, a twinkle in his eye. “Not so very much. Will you talk to them tomorrow? Your own story is an inspiration to many in the neighborhood. Hearing what you’ve accomplished under difficult circumstances will give them a reason to hope.”

“I imagine you think I can find work for at least one of them, as well,” Ryan said with a note of resignation in his voice.

There had been a time when he’d had a formal business plan for his pub, complete with goals and bottom-line projections. Taking in Father Francis’s strays had pretty much thrown that plan into chaos, but if the