Irish rebel, p.13
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       Irish Rebel, p.13

         Part #3 of Irish Hearts series by Nora Roberts
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  She gave his arm a quick squeeze. "Good point. So, you want to try the tack room?" When his mouth fell open, she laughed and threw her arms around him for a noisy kiss on his cheek. "Just kidding.

  Let's go up to the main house and have some dinner instead."

  "I've work yet."

  She drew back. She couldn't read his eyes now. "Brian, neither of us have eaten. We can have a simple meal in the kitchen—and if you're worried, we won't be alone in the house so I'll have to keep my hands off you. Temporarily."

  "There's that." He couldn't stand it. How could he be expected to? She'd thrown her arms around him with such easy affection. And his heart was balanced on a very thin wire. Trying to keep the movement casual, he set her aside. "Well, I could eat."

  "Good."

  She would have taken his hand, but his were already in his pockets. It amused and touched her how restrained he was determined to be. And if it made her naturally competitive spirit kick in, well, she couldn't help it, now could she?

  "I'm hoping to get down to Charles Town and watch some of the workouts once you take Betty and some of the other yearlings to the track."

  "She'll be ready for it soon enough." Relief was like a cool wave through his blood. Talking of horses would make it all easier. "I'd say she'll surprise you, but you've been up on her. You know what she's made of."

  "Yeah, good stock, good breeding, a hard head and a hunger to win." She flashed him a smile as they approached the kitchen door. "I've been told that describes me. I'm half Irish, Brian, I was born stubborn."

  "No arguing with that. A person might make the world a calmer place for others by being passive, but you don't get very far in it yourself, do you?"

  "Look at that. We have a foundation of agreement. Now tell me you like spaghetti and meatballs."

  "It happens to be a favorite of mine."

  "That's handy. Mine, too. And I heard a rumor that's what's for dinner." She reached for the doorknob, then caught him off guard by brushing a light kiss over his lips. "And since we'll be joining my parents, it would probably be best if you didn't imagine me naked for the next couple of hours."

  She sailed in ahead of him, leaving Brian helplessly and utterly aroused.

  There was nothing like an extra helping of guilt to cool a man's blood. And it was guilt as much as the hot food and the glass of good wine that got Brian through the evening in the Grant kitchen. The size of it left little room for lust, considering.

  There was Adelia Grant giving him a warm greeting as if he was welcome to swing in for dinner anytime he had the whim, and Travis getting out an extra plate himself—as if he waited on employees five days a week—and saying that there was plenty to go around as Brendon had other plans for dinner.

  Before he knew it, he was sitting down, having food heaped in front of him and being asked how his day had been. And not in a way that expected a report.

  He didn't know what to do about it. He liked these people, genuinely liked them. And there he was lusting after their daughter. An alley mutt after a registered purebred.

  And the hell of it was, he liked her as well. It had been so simple at first, when there'd been only heat. Or he'd been able to tell himself that's all there was. For a time it had been possible to tolerate being in love with her—or at least talking himself out of believing it. Butcaring for her made it all a study in frustration.

  He could certainly convince himself that he was in love with theidea of her rather than the woman. The physical beauty, the class, the sheer inaccessibility of her. That was all a kind of challenge, a risk he enjoyed taking. But she'd gone and opened herself up to him, so every time he was around her, she showed him more of herself.

  The kindness, the humor, the strength of purpose and sense of self he admired.

  And now this teasing, this sexual flirt in an innocent's body was driving him mad. And God help him, he liked it.

  "Have some more, Brian."

  "I'll be sorry if I do." But he took the big bowl Adelia offered him. "Sorrier if I don't. You're a rare cook, Mrs. Grant."

  "Dee, I told you. And rare was just what I was for a number of years. Before Hannah retired—that was our housekeeper. She was with Travis longer than I've been with him. When she retired a few years back I just didn't want another woman, a stranger, you know, in the house day and night and so on. I figured I'd better learn to cook something more than fish and chips or we'd all starve to death."

  "Nearly did the first six months," Travis commented and earned a narrow-eyed stare from his wife.

  "Well, sure and the experience made you get a handle on that fancy grill outside, didn't it? The man was spoiled rotten. I wager you could even put a meal together for yourself, Brian."

  Idly he rubbed Sheamus—who was snoring under the table—with the side of his boot. "If I've no choice in the matter."

  Brian caught the lazy look Keeley sent him as she sipped her wine. Heat balled in his belly. In defense he turned to Travis. "I'm told you enjoy a hand or two of poker from time to time."

  "I've been known to."

  "The lads're talking about a game tomorrow night."

  "I might come down—I've heard you're a hard man to beat."

  "If you're going to play cards, you should ask Burke to join you," Adelia put in. "Then maybe Keeley, Erin and I can find something equally foolish to do with our evening."

  "Good idea. More wine, Brian?" Keeley lifted the bottle, cocked a brow. The purr in her voice was subtle, but he heard it. And suffered.

  "No, thanks. I've work yet."

  "I'll walk down with you when you're ready," Travis told him. "I'd like a look at that colicky mare."

  "The two of you go ahead. We'll see to the dishes."

  Travis grinned like a boy. "No KP?"

  "There's not that much to be done, and you can make up for it tomorrow." She got up to clear, and kissed his temple. "Go on, I know you've been worrying about her."

  "Thank you for the fine meal, Dee," Brian added when she angled her head.

  "And you're very welcome."

  "Good night, Keeley."

  "Good night, Brian. Thanks for the ride."

  Adelia waited until the men were out, then turned to her daughter. "Keeley, I never would've thought it of you. You're tormenting the poor man."

  "There's nothing poor about that man." Delighted with herself, Keeley broke off a piece of bread and crunched down on it. "And tormenting him is so rewarding."

  "Well, there's not a woman with blood in her could argue with that. Mind you don't hurt him, darling."

  "Hurt him?" Seriously shocked, Keeley rose to help with the dishes. "Of course I won't. I couldn't."

  "You never know what you will or you can do." Adelia patted her daughter's cheek. "You've a lot to learn yet. And however much you learn you'll never really understand everything that goes on inside a man."

  "I've good a pretty good idea about this one."

  Adelia opened her mouth, then shut it again. Some things, she knew, couldn't be explained. They had to be lived.

  Chapter Seven

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  Brian came to know the roads leading from Maryland into West Virginia as well as he knew those in the county of Kerry. The highways where cars flashed by like little rockets, and the curving back roads where everything meandered were all part of his life now, and what some people would say led to a feeling of home.

  There were times the green of the hills, the rise of them, reminded him of Ireland. The pang he felt at those moments surprised him as he didn't consider himself a sentimental man. At others, he'd drive along a winding road that followed a winding creek and the land was all so very different with its thick woods and walls of rock. Almost exotic. Then he'd feel a sense of contentment that surprised him nearly as much.

  He didn't mind contentment. It just wasn't what he was looking for.

  He liked to move. To travel from place to place. It was all to the goo
d that his position at Royal Meadows gave him that opportunity. He figured in a couple of years, he'd have seen a great deal of America—even if the oval was in the foreground of each view.

  He told himself he didn't think of Ireland as home—or Maryland as home, either. Home was the shedrow, wherever it might be.

  Still, he felt a sense of welcome and ease when he drove between the stone pillars at Royal Meadows. And he felt pleasure when he saw Keeley in her paddock with one of her classes. He stopped to watch as she took her group from trot to canter.

  It was a pretty sight, not despite the clumsiness and caution of some of the children, but because of it. This was no slick and choreographed competition but the first steps of a new adventure. Fun, she'd said, he remembered. They would learn, take responsibility, but she didn't forget they were children.

  And some of them had been hurt.

  Seeing her with them, looking at what she'd built herself when she could have spent her days exactly as he'd once imagined she did, brought him more than respect for what she was. It brought admiration that was a little too bright for comfort.

  He could hear the squeals, and Keeley's calm, firm voice—a pretty sight and a pretty sound. He climbed out of the truck and walked over for a closer view.

  There were grins miles wide, and eyes big as platters. There were giggles and there were gasps. As far as Brian could see, the mood ran from screaming nerves to wild delight. Through it all, Keeley gave orders, instruction, encouragement, and used each child's name.

  Her long fire-fall of hair was roped back again. Her jeans were faded to a soft blue-gray like the many-pocketed vest she topped over it. Under that she wore a slim sweater the color of spring daffodils. She liked her bright tones, Keeley did, Brian mused. And her glitters as well, he mused as the light caught the dangle of little stones at her ears.

  She'd be wearing perfume. She always had some cagey female scent about her. Sometimes just a drift that you had to get right up beside her to catch. And other times it was a siren call that beckoned you from a distance.

  Never knowing which it would be was enough to drive a man mad.

  He should stay away from her, Brian told himself. God knew he should stay away from her. And he figured he had as much chance of doing so as one of her riding hacks had of winning the Breeder's Cup.

  She knew he was there. The ripple of heat over her skin told her so. She couldn't afford to be distracted with six children depending on her full attention. But oh, the awareness of him, of herself and that quick trip of the pulse, was a glorious sensation.

  She began to understand why women so often made fools of themselves for men.

  When she ordered the class to switch back to a trot, there were a few groans of disappointment. She had them change directions, then took them through all their paces, and back down to walk. Brian waited until she instructed them to stop, then applauded.

  "Nicely done," he said. "Anyone here looking for a job, you just come see me."

  "We have an audience today. This is Mr. Donnelly. He's head trainer at Royal Meadows. He's in charge of the racehorses."

  "Indeed I am, and I've always got my eyes open for a new jockey."

  "He talks pretty," one of the girls whispered, but Brian's ears were keen. He shot her a grin and had her blushing like a rosebud.

  "Do you think so?"

  "Mr. Donnelly's from Ireland," Keeley explained. Amazing, she thought, he even makes ten-year-old girls moon.

  "Miss Keeley's mother's from Ireland. She talks pretty, too."

  Brian glanced up and saw the boy he remembered as Willy studying him. "No one talks prettier than those from Ireland, lad. It's because we've all been kissed by the fairies."

  "You're supposed to get money from the Tooth Fairy when you loose a tooth, but I never did."

  "That's just your mother." The girl behind Willy rolled her eyes. "There aren't real fairies."

  "Maybe they don't live here in America, but we've plenty where I come from. I'll put a word in for you, Willy, next time you loose a tooth."

  His eyes rounded. "How did you know my name?"

  "A fairy must've told me."

  Keeley struggled to compose her features as Willy goggled. "Class. Dismount.
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