Perched on a bar stool with her legs crossed, Shannon Reynolds sipped her Tom Collins and played with the fluffy, spotted tail of her costume. Around her, young Americans in colorful getups hoisted pints of beer to their lips and threw back Jell-O shots, their loud voices giving way to drunken laughter. Jack-o’-lanterns leered at her from the lacquered bar top, the candles within them flickering whenever the front door opened, and a giant spiderweb made of orange and black crepe paper dripped from the ceiling. In Ireland, Shannon had celebrated the festival of Samhain with her family each year on this night. The ancient Celtic and Druid ritual marked the end of summer and the start of a new year, and spirits walked the earth. Her mum cooked the traditional Colcannon dinner of broiled potato and curly cale cabbage, followed by Barnbrack cake, and at bedtime, each family member cast an ivy leaf into his personal cup of water. According to legend, those whose leaves remained unblemished at sunrise were destined to enjoy a prosperous year. But if any leaf developed spots during the night, its bearer was destined to suffer a dreadful fate. Shannon smiled at the memory of her favorite superstitious tradition. Here in the States, Halloween had become nothing but an excuse for shop owners to sell garish costumes and candy corn, and for television stations to dust off lame sequels to bad horror films. She’d been looking forward to the exotic parade in Greenwich Village, but her employers, the Smythes, had forbidden her from exposing their children to the “sexually deviant behavior” associated with the pageant. Instead, she took her charges, Evan and Paige, trick-or-treating within the safety of their luxury apartment building on the Upper West Side. Evan had dressed up as Captain America, and Paige had gone as Wonder Woman. Later, while the kids watched black-and-white monster movies on TV—no Jason or Freddy for them—she inspected their sweets for razor blades and other signs of tampering. Bloody insane world. “The Monster Mash” came over the speakers for the second time since Shannon had arrived at the pub, and the costumed drunks singing along still couldn’t manage to get the lyrics right. Shannon looked at her watch: midnight, the Witching Hour. Her roommate, Meg, must have gone to the flat of her new boyfriend, Ronald or Donald or something, a cocky investment banker. Stroking the gold crucifix suspended from a chain around her neck, she gazed at its reflection in the mirror behind the bar. Orange candlelight flickered on the crucifix’s polished surface. Bollocks, she thought, draining her tall glass. Too late to make other plans. She pulled on her red leather jacket and tossed back her blond hair. As she slid from the stool, her eyes locked on those of a man sitting in the shadows at the far end of the bar. Sitting alone, he appeared to be in his midtwenties, clean shaven, with short, sandy brown hair. His charcoal gray business suit blended with the shadows, which explained why she had not noticed him nursing his bottle of Heineken. But she noticed him now, and he’d obviously noticed her. How long had he been watching her? Holding her gaze, he smiled at her and then raised the green bottle to his mouth. Shannon’s body tingled with nervous excitement. Raising her glass to her lips, she used her tongue to separate the maraschino cherry from half-melted ice cubes. Then she set the glass down and sucked on the cherry between her teeth. Perhaps the night would not be a waste of time after all. With the gin in her bloodstream emboldening her, she took a deep breath, detached herself from the bar, and circled it on numb legs. Had she already had too much to drink? Clearing the costumed bodies in her path, she zeroed in on the empty seat beside her target. In the dingy glow emanating from a neon beer sign, his features appeared delicate, almost feminine, his Brooks Brothers suit tailored for his slim frame. Stepping before him, she felt his liquid blue eyes measuring the curves of her body. “Nice costume,” he said over the music and drunken chatter. She had almost forgotten about the feline ears clipped to her hair, and the tail pinned to her miniskirt. “And what are ye supposed to be?” Following Meg’s advice, she played up her brogue. “A Hell’s Angel.” He said this without even a hint of irony. She summoned an appreciative laugh. “Actually, I’m a CPA.” Smiling, he raised a black leather briefcase into view. “I had a late business dinner with a client and thought I’d have a drink before cabbing it home to Brooklyn. I completely forgot about Halloween.” Shannon leaned against the bar, offering him a glimpse of her cleavage through the flaps of her jacket. If only Meg could have seen her! “Sure ye did. I bet that’s just your bag for trick-or-treating, and it’s full of goodies.” His eyes dipped to where she desired them. “Just an adding machine and a worn-down Number Two pencil, I’m afraid.” “I’m Shannon.” She held out her left hand instead of her right, and when he shook it she saw no wedding band on his finger. “Byron.” He paused. “What’s a pretty kitty like you doing alone on a night like this?” Shannon shrugged. “‘Where’s Old Nick?’” The phrase had become a common response to unanswerable questions ever since Nicholas Tower, the world-famous billionaire, had gone into self-imposed exile three years earlier. Byron’s smile widened. “Can I buy you a drink?” “Only if I can buy the next round.” “It’s a deal.” Lou Reed’s “Halloween Parade” blasted over the speakers. Read more. . .