Heart of the sea, p.16
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       Heart of the Sea, p.16

         Part #3 of Gallaghers of Ardmore series by Nora Roberts
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  once we’ve got him settled in a room. He looks a bit fierce with the bruises and the cuts, and I don’t want you to be alarmed by it.”

  “You don’t raise five children without seeing plenty of bruises and cuts.”

  “That you don’t.”

  “You wait here now,” she said, turning to her family, “while I go see your father. And when it’s your turn, I don’t want any weeping and wailing, so get it all out of your system now. And we’ll all of us have a good cry if need be after we’re home again.”

  Darcy waited until Mollie walked away with the doctor before she turned to Brenna. “All right, how do we go about sneaking him in a pint of Guinness?”

  TWELVE

  “DARCY, THERE’S MY girl. You’ve come to spring me from this place, haven’t you?”

  Twenty-four hours after he’d taken a hard tumble and landed for the most part on his head, Mick O’Toole looked pink and alert, bruised and battered, and just a little desperate. Darcy leaned over the bed rail and kissed his forehead fondly.

  “I have not. You’ve one more day to go, if all’s as it should be in that rock you call a brain. So I’ve brought you flowers.”

  One of his eyes was blackened, there was a gouge in his cheek held together by a trio of butterfly bandages, and the forehead she’d kissed was a symphony of raw bruises and rawer scrapes.

  All in all it gave him the look, Darcy thought, of a brawler who’d come out on the wrong side of fists.

  When his big, hopeful smile faded immediately into a long, put-upon sigh, she wanted to cuddle him.

  “There’s nothing wrong with me head or the rest of me, ave this busted wing here, and that’s hardly enough to keep a man chained in hospital, now is it?” “The doctors think different. But I’ve brought you something to cheer you up.”

  “The flowers are very nice indeed.” But he said it with a pout, very much like a twelve-year-old who hadn’t gotten his way.

  “They are, yeah, and right out of Jude’s own garden. The rest of it’s from somewhere else altogether.” Slipping the flowers out of the bag she carried, Darcy set them aside and pulled out a plastic tumbler with a sealed lid. “It’s Guinness—only a half pint, as that’s all I could manage, but it’ll have to do you.”

  “You’re a princess.”

  “I am, and expect to be treated as such.” After popping off the lid, she passed the contraband to him, then lowered the rail to sit on the side of the bed. “Do you feel as well as you look?”

  “I’m fit and fine, I promise. My arm pains me a bit, but nothing to speak of.” He took his first sip, then closed his eyes in pure pleasure. “It was sorry I was to hear you and Trev rushed all the way back from London. It was nothing but a false step and a bit of a tumble.”

  “You scared us all to pieces.” Affectionately, she brushed at the hair on his brow. “And now I suppose you’ll have all your ladies fussing over you.”

  His eyes twinkled. “It’s hard to mind it, as I’ve such pretty ladies, though they’ve been in and out of here since I got my senses back. I’m ready to get back on the job, but Trev won’t hear of it. A week, he’s telling me, minimum, before I can so much as show me face, and then only with the doctor’s say-so.”

  Mick’s tone turned wheedling. “Maybe you could have a word with him, darling, tell him how much better off I’d be working than lying about. A man’s bound to listen to a beautiful woman such as yourself.”

  “You won’t get ’round me, Mister Michael O’Toole. A week’s a short enough time. Now, you rest and stop fussing about work. The theater won’t be built before you’re back to it.”

  “I don’t like taking a wage while I’m flat on my back.”

  “It’s right he’s paying you, as you were hurt on his job, and he can well afford it. Doing so shows his character, just as fretting over it shows yours.”

  “That may be, and I’ll admit it’s put Mollie’s mind at rest even if she doesn’t say so.” Still his fingers worried the edge of the sheet. “He’s a good man and a fair boss, but I need to know he’s got his money’s worth from me.”

  “Since when haven’t you given full shot for the pound? The sooner you’re healed through, the sooner you’ll be working again. And I’ll tell you my plumbing needs another look.”

  She’d made that one up, but saw it brightened him.

  “I’ll take a look-see the minute they let me on my feet again. ’Course, if it’s urgent you can have Brenna see to it.”

  “It’ll wait for you, and so will I.”

  “That’s fine, then.” He settled back, and the sparkle on her wrist caught his eye. “Well, now, what’s this?” He took her hand, turned it so the bracelet shimmered. “That’s quite the little bauble, isn’t it?”

  “It is. Trevor gave it to me.” And she watched Mick’s wicked smile.

  “Did he now?”

  “He did, and I shouldn’t have taken it, but I decided not to refuse such a generous gesture.”

  “Why should you? He’s got his eye on you, and has since you first came into view. The man has fine taste if you’re asking me, and you, my girl, could hardly do better than with the likes of Trevor Magee.”

  “It won’t do to get those sorts of notions, Mr. O’Toole. It’s no more than a bit of a frolic for both of us, with neither looking for seriousness.”

  “Is it?” Mick questioned, then seeing Darcy set her chin, as he’d seen her set it all her life, he let it lie. “Well, sure and we’ll see about that, won’t we?”

  And to Mick’s pleasure, it was barely more than an hour after Darcy left his bedside when Trevor came to it. He brought a pint of Guinness with him, and Mick appreciated his boldness in not troubling to hide it, just as he’d admired the neatness with which Darcy had delivered hers under cover. “Now, that’s a man after me own heart.”

  “Oh, did you want one too?” With an easy smile, Trevor passed the glass and sat. “I figured you’d be feeling restless by now.”

  “That I am. If you’d get me some pants I’d walk out of here with you.”

  “Tomorrow. I’ve just had a word with your doctor, and he says they’ll release you in the morning.”

  “Well, that’s better than a jab in the eye with a sharp stick. I was thinking, I could be on the job straightaway, in a kind of supervisory capacity. No lifting.” He hurried on as Trevor merely stared blandly. “No actual labor, just what you’d call keeping an eye on things.”

  “In a week.”

  “Bloody hell, man, I’ll go mad in a week. Do you know what it is to be laid low this way and have a brood of hens clucking about you?”

  “Only in my cherished fantasies.”

  Mick gave a short laugh and settled into his pint. “Darcy left hardly an hour ago.”

  “She loves you.”

  “That feeling’s very mutual between us. I happened to notice the trinket you gave her, the wrist bauble.”

  “It suits her.”

  “It does indeed, being bright and rich and shiny. Some see the girl and think, now that’s a flighty one only looking for fun and the easy way. They’d be wrong.”

  “I wouldn’t disagree with you.”

  “As her father, and my good friend, Patrick Gallagher is across the pond, I’m taking it upon myself to say this to you in plain speech. Don’t toy with that girl, Trevor. She’s not a bauble like that pretty bracelet you picked out of a glass case somewhere. She’s a big and seeking heart in her, even if she doesn’t like to let it show. And for all she may tell you, and herself for that matter, that it’s all fun and games, she’ll bruise like any other woman with rough handling.”

  “I don’t intend to handle her roughly.” His voice was cool now, just a step away from aloof.

  Not the sort of man who’s accustomed to being given orders, Mick thought, or advice, or even warnings about his behavior. “Maybe the word I should use is ‘careless.’ And a man can be careless with a woman even without intending it, especially if the woman expects it
.”

  “I’ll make a point of being careful, whatever she expects.”

  Mick nodded, and again let it lie. But he wondered just what Trevor himself expected.

  Mick was right about one thing. Trevor wasn’t a man who particularly cared for advice, and certainly not when it pertained to a woman. He knew what he was doing with Darcy. They were both clear-sighted adults, adults who had a very elemental attraction to each other. Mixed with it was simple affection and respect. What more could anyone want from a relationship, and a temporary one at that?

  But Mick’s words troubled him, and followed him on the drive back to Ardmore. Rather than head back to the job as he’d intended, he turned up Tower Hill. He’d yet to return to his ancestor’s gravesite, or even to explore the ruins. He could spare another half hour.

  The round tower loomed over the village and could be seen from below from almost every vantage point. He passed it often enough on his way to and from the cottage, but had never followed the urge to take real time to study it. This time he pulled to the shoulder of the narrow road and stepped out of the car. And into the wind.

  When he walked through the little gate, he saw a scatter of tourists climbing over the hilly ground between the old stones and crosses, over toward the roofless stone building that had been the church built in the name of the saint. His first reaction surprised him, as it was mild resentment that anyone should be there, with their cameras and backpacks and guidebooks.

  Stupid, he thought. These were just the people he hoped to appeal to with his theater. These, and more who would come for the beaches when the summer spread warmth along the coast.

  So he joined them, picking his way down the slope to the church, taking the time he’d yet to allow himself to study the Roman arcading, the carving going weak from time and wind.

  Inside with the rubble and graves, two ogham stones had been placed for safekeeping. And how, he wondered, had those lines dug into stone been read as words? A kind of Morse code, he imagined, devised by ancients and left at crossroads for a traveler.

  He heard a woman call out for her children in the flat accent that said States to him, East Coast, North. And seemed so out of place here. Did his voice have that same slightly-out-of-tune sound to it? Here voices should lilt and flow and have old music under each word.

  He stepped out again, looking up now at the tower. The old defense had its conical roof still attached and seemed even now as if it could withstand any attack.

  What had they come for, all the invaders? Romans, Vikings, Saxons, Normans, Britons. What fascination did this simple little island hold for them that they would war and die to take it?

  And turning, he looked out and away, and thought he saw part of the answer.

  The village below was neat and pretty as a painting, with the broad beach a sweep of sand glittering golden in the fitful sunlight. The sea spread, blue as summer, shimmering in that same restless light, foaming white at the edges.

  The hills stretched back and back, green and lush with patches of rich brown, muted gold to complete the quilt of land. Just the shadow of dark mountain peaks rose behind them.

  Even while he watched, the light changed, shifted, grew, and he could see the shadows of clouds swim over the land as the sunlight beat through them.

  The air smelled of grass, fading flowers, and sea.

  He doubted it was the beauty of the country that brought those who wanted to land here. But he was sure it was part of the reason they had fought to stay.

  “We’re a land that absorbs our invaders, and makes them one of us.”

  Trevor glanced around, expecting to see an Irish touristor one of the locals behind him. Instead he looked into Carrick’s wild blue eyes.

  “You get around.” With some surprise, Trevor saw that they were alone, when only moments before there had been at least half a dozen people exploring the hill.

  “I prefer a bit of privacy.” Carrick winked at him. “Don’t you?”

  “It’s difficult for me to be private when you pop up at will.”

  “I’ve been wanting to have a word with you. How goes your theater, then?”

  “We’re on schedule.”

  “Ah, you Yanks are big on schedules. I can’t tell you how many come through here, checking their watches and their maps and figuring out how to do this and that and the other all with staying on schedule. You’d think they’d toss such things aside when they’re about a flaming holiday, but habits die hard in some.”

  With his hair blowing in the wind, Trevor tucked his hands in his pockets. “So, you wanted to have a word with me about the American habit of clock watching?”

  “Just a bit of a conversational gambit. If you’re after seeing your uncle’s resting place again, it’s this way.” Carrick turned, walking gracefully over the rough ground with his silver doublet sparkling.

  “John Magee,” Carrick began when Trevor joined him by the marker. “Beloved son and brother. Died a soldier, far from home.”

  Trevor felt an ache around his heart, a kind of distant grief. “Beloved son, undoubtedly. Beloved brother is debatable.”

  “You’re thinking of your granda. He came here rarely, but he came.”

  “Did he?”

  “Aye, to stand as you are, with a scowl most often on his face and his thoughts dark and confused. Because it troubled him, he closed his heart. A deliberate click of a lock.”

  “Yes,” Trevor murmured. “I can believe that. He did nothing, as I can remember, that wasn’t deliberate.”

  “You’re a deliberate man yourself, in some ways.” Carrick waited until Trevor’s head lifted, until their eyes met again. “But isn’t it an interesting thing, that when he whose seed started your father stood on this hill, looked down at what was home, he didn’t see what you do. Not a lovely spot, edged with magic and welcome. He saw a trap, and would have gnawed his leg off at the ankle to escape it.”

  Carrick turned to study Ardmore again. His black hair streamed back, like a cape. “Perhaps in a way, he did. And hobbled with the loss of some part of himself, he went to America. If not for his doing that, you wouldn’t stand here today, looking down and seeing what he couldn’t.”

  “Wouldn’t,” Trevor corrected. “But you’re right. I wouldn’t be here without him. Tell me, who puts the flowers here on John Magee’s grave, after all this time?”

  “I do.” Carrick gestured to the little pot of wild fuchsia. “As Maude no longer can, and it was the one thing she asked of me. Never did she forget him, and never did her love waver in all the years between his death and her own. Constancy is the finest of your mortal virtues.”

  “Not everyone can claim it.”

  “No, but those who do know a joy in it. Is your heart a constant one, Trevor Magee?”

  Trevor looked up again. “It’s not something I’ve given a lot of thought to.”

  “That’s shading close to a lie, but we’ll shift the question for you. You’ve had a taste of fair Darcy now. Do you think you can push back from the banquet and walk away?”

  “What’s between us is private.”

  “Hah. Your privacy means nothing to me. Three times a century I’ve waited for you—you, I’m sure now, and no other. You’re the last of it. You stand there, worrying about being taken for a fool, which is only another kind of pride, your granda’s sort, when you’ve only to take what’s already been given. Your blood’s hot for her. Your mind’s clouded with her, but you stop short of exploring what’s in your heart for her.”

  “Hot blood and a clouded mind have very little to do with the heart.”

  “That’s foolishness. Isn’t the first step toward love the passion, the second the longing? And you’re past the first step, already on to the second, and too stubborn to admit it. I’ll wait.” Impatience shot into his eyes, and they seemed to burn. “But I’ve a bloody schedule of me own, so make lively, Yank.”

  He snapped his fingers, a kind of lightning shot. And vanished.

  It p
ut him in a foul mood. A rash and foul mood. As if it wasn’t irritating enough to have Mick O’Toole handing him advice on his personal life, he’d been given a potful from someone who shouldn’t even exist. Both mortal and mystic were pressuring him to take some sort of definitive step with Darcy, and he’d be damned if he’d be cornered that way. His life was his own, and so was hers.

  To make a point of it, he waved off the calls when he crossed the job site and went straight into the pub’s kitchen door.

  Shawn glanced up from scrubbing pots. “Hello, Trev. You’re late for lunch, but I’ll fix you up if you’re hungry.”

  “No, thanks. Darcy out there?”

  “She just went up to her little palace. I’ve fish stew still on the . . .” Shawn trailed off, as Trevor was already climbing the stairs. “Well, I suppose he’s not hungry for what I can serve him.”

  He didn’t knock. It was rude, he knew it, and got some perverse satisfaction from it. Just as he got satisfaction from seeing Darcy’s surprise when she walked out of the bedroom with a little shopping bag in her hand.

  “Sure, you’re at home, aren’t you?” However mild the words, there was the unmistakable whip of irritation through them. He enjoyed it. “It’s sorry I am I can’t entertain you at the moment, but I’m just off to Jude’s to take her the little stuffed lamb I bought for the baby.”

  His response was to stride to her, fist her hair in his hand, and drag her head back even as his mouth swooped down to crush hers. Shock stabbed into her, fused with an instant and molten lust so it was like one slice from a burning sword.

  She shoved at him first, and meant it. Then gripped him hard, and meant that as well. He paid no attention to either reaction until he was good and finished. And when he was, he pulled her back, and his eyes were steel bright.

  “Is that enough for you?”

  She struggled to find her balance, her wit. “As kisses go, it was—”

  “No, damn it.” Temper roughened his voice and at that her own eyes slitted. “Is what that does to you, what you know it does to me, enough for you?”

  “Have I said differently?”

  “No.” But even as he struggled with his straining temper, he cupped her chin. “Would you?”

  However set off he was, she was sure his study of her was cool, calculated, and thorough. A man with that measure of control was an irritant, she thought. And a challenge. “You can be sure you’ll be the first to know if I’m dissatisfied.”

  “Good.”

  “And as a woman of my word, I’m telling you now I don’t appreciate you bursting into my home uninvited and manhandling me because some bug’s crawled up your arse.”

  With a half laugh, he shook his head, stepped back. “Point taken. I’m sorry.” He bent down, picked up the bag she’d dropped, and handed it to her. “I was just up on Tower Hill, at my uncle’s grave.”

  She angled her head. “Are you grieving, Trevor, for someone who died long before you were born?”

  He opened his mouth to deny it, but the truth simply slid out. “Yes.”

  Everything about her softened. She reached out to touch his arm. “Come sit down now, and I’ll make you some tea.”

  “No, thanks.” He took her hand, lifted it to his lips in an absent gesture that made something inside her stretch and yearn. Then he turned away and paced restlessly to the window to look out at the work in progress.

  Was he the invader here, he wondered, staking his claim? Or a son returning to dig in roots? “My grandfather wouldn’t speak of this place, and being a slavishly dutiful wife, my grandmother wouldn’t either. As a result—”

  “Your curiosity was whetted.”

  “Yes. Exactly. I thought about coming here for a long time. On and off, even made half-baked plans a couple of times. But I never seriously committed to it. Then the idea for the theater jumped into my head, full blown, as if I’d been building it there, stage by stage, for years.”

  “Isn’t that the way it is sometimes with ideas?” She crossed to him, looked out with him. “They simmer around without you really being aware of it, until they’re cooked proper.”

  “I suppose.” Hardly aware of it, he took her hand. Just held it. “Since the deal’s done, there’s no harm in telling you I’d have paid more for the lease,
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