Larger Font   Reset Font Size   Smaller Font  

Heart of the Sea

Nora Roberts

  Praise for Nora Roberts’s previous novels . . .

  To Pat Gaffney All references to Irish music are just for you

  Her eyes they shone like diamonds, you’d

  think she was queen of the land.



  THE VILLAGE OF Ardmore sat snug on the south coast of Ireland, in the county of Waterford, with the Celtic Sea spread out at its feet. The stone seawall curved around, following the skirt of the golden-sand beach.

  It boasted in its vicinity a pretty jut of cliffs upholstered with wild grass, and a hotel that clung to them. If one had a mind to, it was a pleasant if hearty walk on a narrow path around the headland, and at the top of the first hill were the ruins of the oratory and well of Saint Declan.

  The view was worth the climb, with sky and sea and village spread out below. This was holy ground, and though dead were buried there, only one grave had its stone marked.

  The village itself claimed neat streets and painted cottages, some with the traditional thatched roofs, and a number of steep hills as well. Flowers grew in abundance, spilling out of window boxes, baskets, and pots, and dooryards. It made a charming picture from above or below, and the villagers were proud to have won the Tidy Town award two years running.

  Atop Tower Hill was a fine example of a round tower, with its conical top still in place, and the ruins of the twelfth-century cathedral built in honor of Saint Declan. Folks would tell you, in case you wondered, that Declan arrived thirty years before good Saint Patrick.

  Not that they were bragging, they were just letting you know how things stood.

  Those interested in such matters would find examples of ogham carving on the stones put for safekeeping inside the roofless cathedral, and Roman arcading faded with time and wind but still worth the study.

  But the village itself made no attempt at such grandeur. It was merely a pleasant place with a shop or two and a scatter of cottages built back away from lovely sand beaches.

  The sign for Ardmore said FAILTE, and that was “ welcome.”

  It was that very combination of ancient history and simple character and hospitality that interested Trevor Magee.

  His people had come from Ardmore and Old Parish. Indeed, his grandfather had been born here, in a small house very near Ardmore Bay, had lived the first years of his life breathing that moist sea air, had perhaps held his mother’s hand as she’d walked to the shops or along the surf.

  His grandfather had left his village and his country, taking his wife and young son with him to America. He had never been back, and so far as Trevor knew, had never looked back either. There had been a distance and a bitter one, between the old man and the country of his birth. Ireland and Ardmore and the family Dennis Magee had left behind had rarely been spoken of.

  So Trevor’s image of Ardmore had a ripple of sentiment and curiosity through it, and his reasons for choosing it had a personal bent.

  But he could afford personal bents.

  He was a man who built, and who, as his grandfather and father before him, built cleverly and well.

  His grandfather had made his living laying brick, and made his fortune speculating on properties during and after World War II, until the buying and selling of them was his business, and the building done by those he hired.

  Old Magee had been no more sentimental about his laborer’s beginnings than he had been about his homeland. To Trevor’s recollection, the man had shown no sentiment about anything.

  But Trevor had inherited the heart and hands of the builder as much as the cool, hard sense of the businessman, and he had learned to use both.

  He would use them both here, and a dash of sentiment as well, to build his theater, a traditional structure for traditional music, with its entrance the already established pub known as Gallagher’s.

  The deal with the Gallaghers had been set, the ground broken for the project before he’d been able to hack through his schedule for the time he wanted to spend here. But he was here now, and he intended to do more than sign checks and watch.

  He wanted his hands in it.

  A man could work up a good sweat even in May in such a temperate climate when he spent a morning hauling concrete. That morning Trevor left the cottage he’d decided to rent for the duration of his stay wearing a denim jacket and carrying a steaming mug of coffee. Now, a handful of hours later, the jacket had been tossed aside, and a thin line of damp ran front and back down his shirt.

  He’d have paid a hundred pounds for one cold beer.

  The pub was only a short walk through the construction rubble. He knew from stopping in the day before that it did a brisk business midday. But a man could hardly quench his thirst with a chilly Harp when he forbade his employees to drink on the job.

  He rolled his shoulders, circled his neck as he scanned the site. The concrete truck let out its continuous rumble, men shouted, relaying orders or acknowledging them. Job music, Trevor thought. He never tired of it.

  That was a gift from his father. Learn from the ground up had been Dennis Junior’s credo, and the thirdgeneration Magee had done just that. For more than ten years—fifteen if he counted the summers he’d sweated on construction sites—he’d learned just what went into the business of building.

  The backaches and blood and aching muscles.

  At thirty-two, he spent more time in boardrooms and meetings than on a scaffold, but he’d never lost the appreciation, or the satisfaction of swinging his own hammer.

  He intended to indulge himself doing just that in Ardmore, in his theater.

  He watched the small woman in a faded cap and battered boots circle around, gesture as the wet concrete slid down the chute. She scrambled over sand and stone, used her shovel to rap the chute and alert the operator to stop, then waded into the muck with the other laborers to shovel and smooth.

  Brenna O’Toole, Trevor thought, and was glad he’d followed his instincts there. Hiring her and her father as foremen on the project had been the right course of action. Not just for their building skills, he decided— though they were impressive—but because they knew the village and the people in it, kept the job running smoothly and the men happy and productive.

  Public relations on this sort of project were just as vital as a sturdy foundation.

  Yes, indeed, they were working out well. His three days in Ardmore had shown him he’d made the right choice with O’Toole and O’Toole.

  When Brenna climbed out again, Trevor stepped over, extended a hand to give her a final boost.

  “Thanks.” She sliced her shovel into the ground, leaned on it, and despite her filthy boots and faded cap, looked like a pixie. Her skin was pure Irish cream, and a few curls of wild red escaped the cap.

  “Tim Riley says we won’t have rain for another day or two, and he has a way of being right about such things more than he’s wrong. I think we’ll have the slab set up for you before you have to worry about weather.”

  “You made considerable progress before I got here.”

  “Sure, and once you gave us the high sign there was no reason to wait. We’ll have you a good, solid foundation, Mr. Magee, and on schedule.”


  “Aye, Trev.” She tipped back her cap, then her head so she could meet his eyes. She figured him a good foot higher than her five-two, even wearing her boots. “The men you sent along from America, they’re a fine team.”

  “As I handpicked them, I agree.”

  She thought his voice faintly aloof, but not unfriendly. “And do you never pick females then?”

  He smiled slowly so it seemed that humor just moseyed over his face until it reached eyes the color of turf smoke. “I do indeed and as often as possible. Both on and off the job. I’ve p
ut one of my best carpenters on this project. She’ll be here next week.”

  “It’s good to know my cousin Brian wasn’t wrong in that area. He said you hired by skill and not gender. It’s a good morning’s work here,” she added, nodding to the site. “That noisy bastard of a truck will be our constant companion for a while yet. Darcy’ll be back from her holiday tomorrow, and I can tell you she’ll bitch our ears off about the din.”

  “It’s a good noise. Building.”

  “I’ve always thought the same.”

  They stood a moment in perfect accord while the truck vomited out the last yard of concrete.

  “I’ll buy you lunch,” Trevor said.

  “I’ll let you.” Brenna gave a whistle to catch her father’s attention, then mimed spooning up food. Mick responded with a grin and a wave, then went back to work.

  “He’s in his heaven,” Brenna commented as they walked over to rinse off their boots. “Nothing makes Mick O’Toole happier than finding himself in the middle of a job site, the muckier the better.”

  Satisfied, Brenna gave her feet a couple of stomps, then headed around to the kitchen door. “I hope you’ll take some time to see the area while you’re here, instead of locking yourself into the job at hand.”

  “I plan to see what’s around.” He had reports, of course—detailed reports on tourist draws, road conditions, routes to and from major cities. But he intended to see for himself.

  Needed to see it, Trevor admitted to himself. Something had been pulling him toward Ireland, toward Ardmore, for more than a year. In dreams.

  “Ah, now there’s a fine-looking man doing what he does best,” Brenna said when she pushed open the kitchen door. “What have you for us today, Shawn?”

  He turned from the enormous old stove, a rangy man with shaggy black hair and eyes of misty blue. “For the special we’ve sea spinach soup and the beef sandwich. Good day to you, Trevor. Is this one working you harder than she should?”

  “She keeps things moving.”

  “And so I must, for the man in my life is slow. I wonder, Shawn, if you’ve selected another tune or two for Trevor’s consideration.”

  “I’ve been busy catering to my new wife. She’s a demanding creature.” So saying, he reached out to cradle Brenna’s face and kiss her. “Get out of my kitchen. It’s confusing enough around here without Darcy.”

  “She’ll be back tomorrow, and by this time of the day you’ll have cursed her a dozen times.”

  “Why do you think I miss her? Give your order to Sinead,” he told Trevor. “She’s a good girl, and our Jude’s been working with her. She just needs a bit more practice.”

  “A friend of my sister Mary Kate is Sinead,” Brenna told Trevor as she pushed open the door that swung between kitchen and pub. “A good-natured girl, if a bit scattered in the brain. She wants to marry Billy O’Hara, and that is the sum total of her ambitions at this time.”

  “And what does Billy O’Hara have to say?”

  “Being not quite so ambitious as Sinead, Billy keeps his mouth shut. Good day to you, Aidan.”

  “And to you.” The oldest of the Gallaghers worked the bar and had his hands on the taps as he looked over. “Will you be joining us for lunch, then?”

  “That we will. We’ve caught you busy.”

  “God bless the tour buses.” With a wink, Aidan slid two pints down the bar to waiting hands.

  “Do you want us to take it in the kitchen?”

  “No need for that unless you’re in a great hurry.” His eyes, a deeper blue than his brother’s, scanned the pub. “Service is a mite slower than our usual. But there’s a table or two left.”

  “We’ll leave it to the boss.” Brenna turned to Trevor. “How will you have it?”

  “Let’s get a table.” The better to watch how the business ran.

  He followed her out and sat with her at one of the mushroom-shaped tables. There was a buzz of conversation, a haze of smoke, and the yeasty scent of beer.

  “Will you have a pint?” Brenna asked him.

  “Not until after the workday.”

  Her lips twitched as she kicked back in her chair. “So I’ve heard from some of the men. Word is you’re a tyrant on this particular matter.”

  He didn’t mind the term “tyrant.” It meant he was in control. “Word would be correct.”

  “I’ll tell you this, you may have a bit of a problem enforcing such a rule around here. Many who’ll labor for you were nursed on Guinness and it’s as natural to them as mother’s milk.”

  “I’m fond of it myself, but when a man or woman is on my clock, they stick with mother’s milk.”

  “Ah, you’re a hard man, Trevor Magee.” But she said it with a laugh. “So tell me, how are you liking Faerie Hill Cottage?”

  “Very much. It’s comfortable, efficient, quiet, and has a view that rips your heart into your throat. It’s just what I was looking for, so I’m grateful you put me on to it.”

  “That’s not a problem, not a problem at all. It’s in the family. I think Shawn misses the little kitchen there, as the house we’re building’s far from finished. More than livable,” she added, as it was one of their current sore points, “but I figure to concentrate on the kitchen there on my off days so he’ll be happier.”

  “I’d like to see it.”

  “Would you?” Surprised, she angled her head. “Well, you’re welcome any time. I’ll give you the direction. Do you mind me saying I didn’t expect you to be as friendly a sort of man as you seem to be?”

  “What did you expect?”

  “More of a shark, and I hope that doesn’t offend you.”

  “It doesn’t. And it depends on the waters where I’m swimming.” He glanced over, and his face warmed as Aidan’s wife came up to the table. But when he started to rise, Jude waved him down again.

  “No, I’m not joining you, but thanks.” She rested a hand on her very pregnant belly. “Hello, I’m Jude Frances and I’ll be your server today.”

  “You shouldn’t be on your feet like this, carrying trays.”

  Jude sighed as she took out her order pad. “He sounds like Aidan. I put my feet up when I need to, and I don’t carry anything heavy. Sinead can’t handle things on her own.”

  “Not to worry, Trevor. Why me own blessed mother dug potatoes on the day I was born, then went back to roast them after the delivery.” At Trevor’s narrowed glance, Brenna chuckled. “Well, maybe not, but I’ll wager she could have. I’ll have today’s soup, if you don’t mind, Jude, and a glass of milk,” she added with a wicked smile for Trevor.

  “The same,” he said, “plus the sandwich.”

  “A fine choice. I’ll be right back with it.”

  “She’s stronger than she looks,” Brenna told him when Jude moved to another table. “And more stubborn. Now that she’s found her direction, so to speak, she’ll only work harder to prove she can do what you tell her she shouldn’t. Aidan won’t let her overdo, I promise you. The man adores her.”

  “Yes, I’ve noticed. The Gallagher men seem to be devoted to their women.”

  “So they’d better be, or their women will know why.” Relaxed, she kicked back, pulled off her cap. Those red curls tumbled down. “So you aren’t finding it, I guess we’d say ‘too rustic’ for you—out in the countryside here after being used to New York City?”

  He thought of the job sites he’d experienced: mud slides, floods, blistering heat, petty vandalism, and sabotage. “Not at all. The village is exactly what I expected after Finkle’s reports.”

  “Ah, yes, Finkle.” She remembered Trevor’s scout very well. “Now there’s a man I believe prefers urban conveniences. But you’re not so . . . particular, then.”

  “I’m very particular, depending. That’s why I incorporated most of your design into the theater project.”

  “Now that’s a fine and sneaky compliment.” And nothing could have pleased her more. “I suppose I was angling more toward the personal. I have a special
fondness for the cottage on Faerie Hill, and I wasn’t sure you’d find the place to your liking. Thinking, I suppose, a man with your background and wherewithal would be more inclined to settle at the cliff hotel with maid service and the restaurant and so forth.”

  “Hotel rooms become confining. And I find it interesting to stay in the house where the woman who was engaged to one of my ancestors was born, and lived, and died.”

  “She was a fine woman, Old Maude. A wise woman.” Brenna kept her eyes on Trevor’s face as she spoke. “Her grave’s up near the well of Saint Declan, and it’s there you can feel her. She’s not the one in the cottage now.”

  “Who is?”

  Brenna lifted her eyebrows. “You don’t know the legend, then? Your grandfather was born here, and your father as well, though he was a babe when they sailed to America. Still, he visited many years back. Did neither of them tell you the story of Lady Gwen and Prince Carrick?”

  “No. So it would be Lady Gwen who haunts the cottage?”

  “Have you seen her?”

  “No.” Trevor hadn’t been raised on legends and myths, but there was more than enough Irish in his blood to cause him to wonder about them. “But there’s a feminine feel to the place, almost a fragrance, so odds are for the lady.”

  “You’d be right about that.”

  “Who was she? I figure if I’m sharing quarters with a ghost, I should know something about her.”

  No careless dismissal of the subject, no amused indulgence of the Irish and their legends, Brenna noted. Just cool interest. “You surprise me again. Let me see to something first. I’ll be right back.”

  Fascinating, Trevor mused. He had himself a ghost.

  He’d felt things before. In old buildings, empty lots, deserted fields. It wasn’t the kind of thing a man generally talked about at a board meeting or over a cold one with the crew after a sweaty day’s work. Not usually. But this was a different place, with a different tone. More, he wanted to know.

  Everything to do with Ardmore and the area was of interest to him now. A good ghost story could draw people in just as successfully as a well-run pub. It was all atmosphere.

  Gallagher’s was exactly the kind of atmosphere he’d been looking for as a segue into his theater. The old wood, blackened by time and smoke and grease, mated comfortably with the cream-colored walls, the stone hearth, the low tables and benches.

  The bar itself was a beauty, an aged chestnut that he’d already noted the Gallaghers kept wiped and polished. The age of customers ranged from a baby in arms to the oldest man Trevor believed he’d ever seen, who was balanced on a stool at the far end of the bar.

  There were several others he took as locals just from the way they sat or smoked or sipped, and three times that many who could be nothing other than tourists with their camera bags under their tables and their maps and guidebooks out.

  The conversations were a mix of accents, but predominant was that lovely lilt he’d heard in his grandparents’ voices until the day they died.

  He wondered if they hadn’t missed hearing it themselves, and why they’d never had a driving urge to come to Ireland again. What were the bitter memories that had kept them away? Whatever, curiosity about them had skipped over a generation and now had caused him to come back and see for himself.

  More, he wondered why he should have recognized Ardmore and the view from the cottage and even now know what he would see when he climbed the cliffs. It was as if he carried a picture in his mind of this place, one someone else had taken and tucked away for him.

  They’d had no pictures to show him. His father had visited once, when he’d been younger than Trevor was now, but his descriptions had been sketchy at best.

  The reports, of course. There had been detailed photographs and descriptions in the reports Finkle had brought back to New York. But he’d known—before he’d opened the first file, he’d already known.

  Inherited memory? he mused, though he didn’t put much stock in that sort of thing. Inheriting his father’s eyes, the clear gray color, the long-lidded shape