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Tears of the Moon, Page 2

Nora Roberts

  He could have had a woman in here, for all she knew. The man attracted them like sugar water attracted bees. Not that he was sweet, necessarily. Though he could be.

  God, he was pretty. The errant thought popped into her head, and she immediately hated herself for it. But it was hard not to notice, after all.

  All that fine black hair looking just a bit shabby, as he never remembered when it was time for a trim. Eyes of a quiet and dreamy blue—unless he was roused by something, and then, she recalled, they could fire hot and cold in equal measure. He had long, dark lashes that her four sisters would have sold their soul for and a full, firm mouth that was meant, she supposed, for long kisses and soft words.

  Not that she knew of either firsthand. But she’d heard tell.

  His nose was long and just slightly crooked from a line drive she’d hit herself, smartly, when they’d been playing American baseball more than ten years before.

  All in all, he had the face of some fairy-tale prince come to life. Some gallant knight on a quest. Or a slightly tattered angel. Add that to a long, lanky body, wonderfully wide-palmed hands with the fingers of an artist, a voice like whiskey warmed by a turf fire, and he made quite the package.

  Not that she was interested, particularly. It was just that she appreciated things that were made well.

  And what a liar she was, even to herself.

  She’d had a yen for him even before she’d beaned him with that baseball—and she’d been fourteen to his nineteen at the time. And a yen tended to grow into something hotter, something nervier, by the time a woman was twenty-four.

  Not that he ever looked at her like she was a woman.

  Just as well, she assured herself, and shifted her stance. She didn’t have time to hang around mooning over the likes of Shawn Gallagher. Some people had work to do.

  Fixing a thin sneer on her face, she deliberately lowered her toolbox and let it fall with a terrible clatter. That he jumped like a rabbit under the gun pleased her.

  “Christ Jesus!” He scraped his chair around, thumped a hand to his heart as if to get it pumping again. “What’s the matter?”

  “Nothing.” She continued to sneer. “Butterfingers,” she said sweetly and picked up her dented toolbox again. “Give you a start, did I?”

  “You damn near killed me.”

  “Well, I knocked, but you didn’t bother to come to the door.”

  “I didn’t hear you.” He blew out a breath, scooped his hair back, and frowned at her. “Well, here’s the O’Toole come to call. Is something broken, then?”

  “You’ve a mind like a rusty bucket.” She shrugged out of her jacket, tossed it over the back of a chair. “Your oven there hasn’t worked for a week,” she reminded him with a nod toward the stove. “The part I ordered for it just came in. Do you want me to fix it or not?”

  He made a sound of assent and waved his hand toward it.

  “Biscuits?” she said as she walked by the table. “What kind of breakfast is that for a man grown?”

  “They were here.” He smiled at her in a way that made her want to cuddle him. “It’s a bother to cook just for myself most mornings, but if you’re hungry I’ll fix something up for the both of us.”

  “No, I’ve eaten.” She set her toolbox down, opened it, started to rummage through. “You know Ma always fixes more than enough. She’d be happy to have you wander down any morning you like and have a decent meal.”

  “You could send up a flare when she makes her griddle cakes. Will you have some tea in any case? The pot’s still warm.”

  “I wouldn’t mind it.” As she chose her tools, got out the new part, she watched his feet moving around the kitchen. “What were you doing? Writing music?”

  “Fiddling with words for a tune,” he said absently. His eye had caught the flight of a single bird, black and glossy against the dull pewter sky. “Looks bitter out today.”

  “ ’Tis, and damp with it. Winter’s barely started and I’m wishing it over.”

  “Warm your bones a bit.” He crouched down with a thick mug of tea, fixed as he knew she liked it, strong and heavy on the sugar.

  “Thanks.” The heat from the mug seeped into her hands as she cupped them around it.

  He stayed where he was, sipping his own tea. Their knees bumped companionably. “So, what will you do about this heap?”

  “What do you care as long as it works again?”

  He lifted a brow. “If I know what you did, I might fix it myself next time.”

  This made her laugh so hard she had to sit her butt down on the floor to keep from tipping over. “You? Shawn, you can’t even fix your own broken fingernail.”

  “Sure I can.” Grinning, he mimed just biting one off and made her laugh again.

  “Don’t you concern yourself with what I do with the innards of the thing, and I won’t concern myself with the next cake you bake in it. We each have our strengths, after all.”

  “It’s not as if I’ve never used a screwdriver,” he said and plucked one out of her kit.

  “And I’ve used a stirring spoon. But I know which fits my hand better.”

  She took the tool from him, then shifting her position, stuck her head in the oven to get to work.

  She had little hands, Shawn thought. A man might think of them as delicate if he didn’t know what they were capable of doing. He’d watched her swing a hammer, grip a drill, haul lumber, cinch pipes. More often than not, those little fairy hands of hers were nicked and scratched or bruised around the knuckles.

  She was such a small woman for the work she’d chosen, or the work that had chosen her, he thought as he straightened. He knew how that was. Brenna’s father was a man of all work, and his eldest daughter took straight after him. Just as it was said Shawn took after his mother’s mother, who had often forgotten the wash or the dinner while she played her music.

  As he started to step back, she moved, her butt wriggling as she loosened a bolt. His eyebrows lifted again, in what he considered merely the reflexive interest of a male in an attractive portion of the female form.

  She did, after all, have a trim and tidy little body. The sort a man could scoop up one-handed if he had a mind to. And if a man tried, Shawn imagined Brenna O’Toole would lay him out flat.

  The idea made him grin.

  Still, he’d rather look at her face any day. It was such a study. Her eyes were lively and of a sharp, glass green under elegant brows just slightly darker than her bright red hair. Her mouth was mobile and quick to smile or sneer or scowl. She rarely painted it—or the rest of her face, come to that—though she was thick as thieves with Darcy, who wouldn’t step a foot out of the house until she was polished to a gleam.

  She had a sharp little nose, like a pixie’s, that tended to wrinkle in disapproval or disdain. Most times she bundled her hair under a cap where she pinned the little fairy he’d given her years before for some occasion or other. But when she took the cap off, there seemed miles of hair, a rich, bright red that sprang out in little curls as it pleased.

  It suited her that way.

  Because he wanted to see her face again before he took himself off to the pub, Shawn leaned back casually on the counter, then tucked his tongue in his cheek.

  “So you’re walking out with Jack Brennan these days, I’m hearing.”

  When her head came up swiftly and connected with the top of the oven with a resounding crack, Shawn winced, and wisely swallowed the chuckle.

  “I am not!” As he’d hoped, she popped out of the oven. There was a bit of soot on her nose, and as she rubbed her sore head, she knocked her cap askew. “Who said I am?”

  “Oh.” Innocent as three lambs, Shawn merely shrugged and finished his tea. “I thought I heard it somewhere, ’round and about, as such things go.”

  “You’ve a head full of cider and never hear a bloody thing. I’m not walking out with anyone. I’ve no time for that nonsense.” Annoyed, she stuck her head back in the oven.

  “Well, t
hen, I’m mistaken. Easy enough to be these days when the village is so full of romance. Engagements and weddings and babies on the way.”

  “That’s the proper order, anyway.”

  He chuckled and came back to crouch beside her again. In a friendly way, he laid a hand on her bottom, but he didn’t notice when she went very still. “Aidan and Jude are already picking out names, and she’s barely two months along yet. They’re lovely together, aren’t they?”

  “Aye.” Her mouth had gone dry with that yen that was perilously close to need. “I like seeing them happy. Jude likes to think the cottage is magic. She fell in love with Aidan here, and started her new life, wrote her book, all the things she says she was afraid even to dream of once happened right here.”

  “That’s lovely, too. There’s something about this place,” he said half to himself. “You feel it at odd moments. When you’re drifting off to sleep, or just waking. It’s a . . . a waiting.”

  With the new part in place, she eased out of the oven. His hand slid up her back lazily, then fell away. “Have you seen her? Lady Gwen?”

  “No. Sometimes there’s a kind of movement on the air, just at the edge of your vision, but then nothing.” He pulled himself back, smiled carelessly, and got to his feet. “Maybe she’s not for me.”

  “I’d think you the perfect candidate for a heartbroken ghost,” Brenna said and turned away from his surprised glance. “She should work fine now,” she added, giving the dial a turn. “We’ll just see if she heats up.”

  “You’ll see to that for me, won’t you, darling?” The oven timer buzzed, startling them both. “I’ve got to be going,” Shawn said, reaching over to shut it off.

  “Is that your warning system, then?”

  “One of them.” He lifted a finger, and on cue there came the cheerful bell from the clock by his bed. “That’s the second round, but it’ll go off on its own in a minute as it’s a windup. Otherwise, I found I’d be having to run in and slap it off every bloody time.”

  “Clever enough when it suits you, aren’t you?”

  “I have my moments. The cat’s out,” he continued as he took his own jacket from the hook. “Take no pity on him should he come scratching at the door. Bub knew what he was after when he insisted on moving out here with me.”

  “Did you remember to feed him?”

  “I’m not a complete moron.” Unoffended, he wrapped a scarf around his neck. “He has food enough, and if he didn’t, he’d go begging at your kitchen door. He’d do that anyway, just to shame me.” He found his cap, dragged it on. “See you at the pub, then?”

  “More than likely.” She didn’t sigh until she’d heard the front door close behind him.

  Yearnings in the direction of Shawn Gallagher were foolishness, she told herself. For he would never have the same aimed her way. He thought of her as a sister— or worse, she realized, as a kind of honorary brother.

  And that was her fault as well, she admitted, glancing down at her scruffy work pants and scarred boots. Shawn liked the girlie type, and she was anything but. She could flounce herself up, she supposed. Between Darcy and her own sisters, and Jude for that matter, she would have no limit of consultants on beautifying Brenna O’Toole.

  But beyond the fact that she hated all that fuss and bother, what would be the point in it? If she polished and painted and cinched and laced to attract a man, he wouldn’t be attracted to what she was in any case.

  Besides, if she put on lipstick and baubles and some slinky little dress, Shawn would likely laugh his lungs out, then say something stupid that would leave her no choice but to punch him.

  There was hardly a point in that.

  She’d leave the fancy work to Darcy, who was the champion of being female. And to her sisters, Brenna thought, who enjoyed such things. As for herself—she’d stick with her tools.

  She went back to the oven, running it at different temperatures and checking the broiler for good measure. When she was satisfied it was in good working order, she turned it off, then packed up her tools.

  She meant to go straight out. There was no reason to linger, after all. But the cottage was so cozy. She’d always felt at home there. When Old Maude Fitzgerald had lived in Faerie Hill Cottage, for more years than Brenna could count, Brenna had often stopped in for a visit.

  Then Maude had died, and Jude had come to stay for a while. They’d become friends, so it had been easy to fall back into the routine of stopping in now and then on her way home, or into the village.

  She ignored the urge to stop in more often than not now that Shawn was living there. But it was hard to resist. She liked the quiet of the place, and all the pretty little things Maude had collected and left sitting about. Jude had left them there, and Shawn seemed content to do the same, so the little parlor was cheery with bits of glass and charming statues of faeries and wizards, homey with books and a faded old rug.

  Of course, now that Shawn had stuffed the secondhand spinet piano into the dollhouse space, there was barely room to turn around. But Brenna thought it only added to the charm. And Old Maude had enjoyed music.

  She’d be pleased, Brenna thought as she skimmed her finger over the scarred black wood, that someone was making music in her house again.

  Idly, she scanned the sheet music that Shawn forever left scattered over the top of the piano. He was always writing a new tune, or taking out an old one to change something. She frowned in concentration as she studied the squiggles and dots. She wasn’t particularly musical. Oh, she could sing out a rebel song without making the dog howl in response, but playing was a different kettle of fish altogether.

  Since she was alone, she decided to satisfy her curiosity. She set her toolbox down again, chose one of the sheets, and sat down. Gnawing her lip, she found middle C on the keyboard and slowly, painstakingly, picked out the written notes, one finger at a time.

  It was lovely, of course. Everything he wrote was lovely, and even her pitiful playing couldn’t kill the beauty of it completely.

  He’d added words to this one, as he often did. Brenna cleared her throat and attempted to match her voice to the proper note.

  When I’m alone in the night, and the moon sheds its tears, I know my world would come right if only you were here. Without you, my heart is empty of all but the memories it keeps. You, only you, stay inside me in the night while the moon weeps.

  She stopped, sighed a little, as there was no one to hear. It touched her, as his songs always did, but a little deeper this time. A little truer.

  Moon tears, she thought. Pearls for Lady Gwen. A love that asked, but couldn’t be answered.

  “It’s so sad, Shawn. What’s inside you that makes such lonely music?”

  As well as she knew him, she didn’t know the answer to that. And she wanted to, had always wanted to know the key to him. But he wasn’t a motor or machine that she could take apart to find the workings. Men were more complicated and frustrating puzzles.

  It was his secret, and his talent, she supposed. All so internal and mysterious. While her skills were . . . She looked down at her small, capable hands. Hers were as simple as they came.

  At least she put hers to good use and made a proper living from them. What did Shawn Gallagher do with his great gift but sit and dream? If he had a lick of ambition, or true pride in his work, he’d sell his tunes instead of just writing them and piling them up in boxes.

  The man needed a good kick in the ass for wasting something God had given him.

  But that, she thought, was an annoyance for another day. She had work of her own to do.

  She started to get up, to reach for her toolbox again, when a movement caught the corner of her eye. She straightened like a spike, mortified at the thought of Shawn coming back—he was always forgetting something—and catching her playing with his music.

  But it wasn’t Shawn who stood in the doorway.

  The woman had pale gold hair that tumbled around the shoulders of a plain gray dress that swept down to
the floor. Her eyes were a soft green, her smile so sad it broke the heart at first glance.

  Recognition, shock, and a giddy excitement raced through Brenna all at once. She opened her mouth, but whatever she intended to say came out in a wheeze as her pulse pounded.

  She tried again, faintly embarrassed that her knees were shaking. “Lady Gwen,” she managed. She thought it was admirable to be able to get out that much when faced with a three-hundred-year-old ghost.

  As she watched, a single tear, shiny as silver, trailed down the lady’s cheek. “His heart’s in his song.” Her voice was soft as rose petals and still had Brenna trembling. “Listen.”

  “What do you—” But before Brenna could get the question out, she was alone, with only the faintest scent of wild roses drifting in the air.

  “Well, then. Well.” She had to sit, there was no help for it, so she let herself drop back down to the piano bench. “Well,” she said again and blew out several strong breaths until her heart stopped thundering against her rib cage.

  When she thought her legs would hold her again, she decided it was best to tell the tale to someone wise and sensible and understanding. She knew no one who fit those requirements so well as her own mother.

  She calmed considerably on the short drive home. The O’Toole house stood back off the road, a rambling jigsaw puzzle of a place she herself had helped make so. When her father got an idea for a room into his head, she was more than pleased to dive into the ripping out and nailing up. Some of her happiest memories were of working side by side with Michael O’Toole and listening to him whistle the chore away.

  She pulled in behind her mother’s ancient car. They really did need to paint the old heap, Brenna thought absently, as she always did. Smoke was pumping from the chimneys.

  Inside was all welcome and warmth and the smells of the morning’s baking. She found her mother, Mollie, in the kitchen, pulling fresh loaves of brown bread out of the oven.


  “Oh, sweet Mary, girl, you gave me a start.” With a laugh, Mollie put the pans on the stovetop and turned with a smile. She had a pretty face, still young and smooth, and the red hair she’d passed on to her daughter was bundled on top of her head for convenience.

  “Sorry, you’ve got the music up again.”

  “It’s company.” But Mollie reached over to turn the radio down. Beneath the table, Betty, their yellow dog, rolled over and groaned. “What are you doing back here so soon? I thought you had work.”

  “I did. I do. I’ve got to go into the village yet to help Dad, but I stopped by Faerie Hill to fix the oven for Shawn.”

  “Mmm-hmm.” Mollie turned back to pop the loaves out of the pan and set them on the rack to cool.

  “He left before I was done, so I was there by myself for a bit.” When Mollie made the same absent sound, Brenna shifted her feet. “Then, ah, when I was leaving . . . well, there was Lady Gwen.”

  “Mmm-hmm. What?” Finally tuning in, Mollie looked over her shoulder at Brenna.

  “I saw her. I was just fiddling for a minute at the piano, and I looked up and there she was in the parlor doorway.”

  “Well, then, that must’ve given you a start.”

  Brenna’s breath whooshed out. Sensible, that was Mollie O’Toole, bless her. “I all but swallowed me tongue then and there. She’s lovely, just as Old Maude used to say. And sad. It just breaks your heart how sad.”

  “I always hoped to see her myself.” A practical woman, Mollie poured two cups of tea and carried them to the table. “But I never did.”

  “I know Aidan’s talked of seeing her for years. And then Jude, when she moved into the cottage.” Relaxed again, Brenna settled at the table. “But I was just talking to Shawn of her, and he says he’s not seen her—sensed her, but never seen. And then, there she was, for me. Why do you think that is?”

  “I can’t say, darling. What did you feel?”

  “Other than a hard knock of surprise, sympathy, I guess. Then puzzlement because I don’t know what she meant by what she said to me.”

  “She spoke to you?” Mollie’s eyes widened. “Why, I’ve never heard of her speaking to anyone, not even Maude. She’d have told me. What did she say to you?”

  “She said, ‘His heart’s in his song,’ then she just told me to listen. And when I got back my wits enough to ask her what she meant, she was gone.”

  “Since it’s Shawn who lives there now, and his piano you were playing with, I’d say the message was clear enough.”

  “But I listen to his music all the time. You can’t be around him five minutes without it.”

  Mollie started to speak, then thought better of it and only covered her daughter’s hand with her own. Her darling Mary Brenna, she thought, had such a hard time recognizing anything she couldn’t pick apart and put together again. “I’d say when it’s time for you to understand, you will.”

  “She makes you want to help her,” Brenna murmured.