Jewels of the sun, p.17
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       Jewels of the Sun, p.17

         Part #1 of Gallaghers of Ardmore series by Nora Roberts
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  back after loving you.”

  “I wasn’t thinking of him like that.” Appalled, she sat up, too mortified to remember she was naked. “I was just thinking that if he wasn’t having a baby, my mother wouldn’t have told me, and I wouldn’t have gotten upset and come down to the pub and—it all led to here, to this,” she finished weakly.

  He still had the energy for arrogance. Lifting a brow, he said, “I’d have gotten you here eventually.”

  “I’m glad it was tonight. Now. Because it was so perfect. I’m sorry. It was a stupid thing to say.”

  “You’re going to have to stop assuming every stray thought that comes out of your mouth is stupid. And since there’s a logic to the pattern you just mentioned, I say we drink a toast to the timing of William’s virility.”

  Relieved, she beamed at him. “I suppose we could, though he’s not half as good in bed as you are.” Instantly her cheery grin became a look of horror. “Oh, what a thing to say!”

  “If you think I’m insulted by that, you’re mistaken.” Chuckling, Aidan sat up as well, and kissed her soundly. “I’d say it’s worth another toast. To William’s stupidity in not recognizing the jewel he had so she could fall into my hands.”

  Jude threw her arms around him, hugged hard. “No one’s ever touched me the way you did. I didn’t think anyone would ever want to.”

  “I’m already wanting to again.” He nuzzled into the curve of her neck. “Why don’t we go down and have that wine, and a bit of soup or whatever. Then we’ll come back and start all over again?”

  “I think that’s a wonderful idea.” She ordered herself not to feel awkward as she climbed out of bed to dress. He’d already seen all of her there was to see, so it was foolish to be shy now.

  Still, she was relieved when she was covered in the borrowed shirt and her slacks. But when she reached for a band for her hair, Aidan laid a hand on her shoulder and made her jump.

  “Why are you tying it back?”

  “Because it’s awful.”

  “I like it wild.” He played his fingers through it. “Sort of rioting around in this lovely dense color.”

  “It’s brown.” And she’d always considered it as original as tree bark.

  “So’s mink, darling.” He kissed the tip of her nose. “What’ll we do with you, Jude Frances, if you ever take the blinders off and really look at yourself? I think you’ll be a terror. Come on now and leave it be,” he added and began to tug her toward the door. “I’m the one who’s looking at it, after all.”

  She was too pleased to argue, but took a stand once they were in the kitchen. “You cooked breakfast, so I’ll fix dinner,” she said and got out the wine. “I’m not much of a cook, so you’ll have to make do with my fallback meal.”

  “And what might that be?”

  “Soup from a can and grilled cheese sandwiches.”

  “Sounds like just the trick on a rainy night.” He took the wine and settled at a chair at the kitchen table. “Plus I get the pleasure of watching you make it.”

  “When I first saw this kitchen, I thought it was charming.” She moved to the hearth and lit the fire with an ease that surprised Aidan a little. “Then I realized there wasn’t a dishwasher, or a microwave, or so much as an electric can opener or coffee machine.”

  Laughing, she got a can of soup out of the pantry and set to opening it with her little manual opener. “I was a bit appalled, let me tell you. And I’ve done more in this kitchen and enjoyed what I’ve cooked here more than anything I ever put together in my condo. And that kitchen’s state of the art. Jenn-Air range, sub-zero refrigerator.”

  As she spoke, she started the soup, ducked into the refrigerator for cheese and butter. “Of course, I haven’t tackled anything complicated. I’m gathering the courage to try to make soda bread. It seems fairly basic, and if I don’t mess it up too badly, I could work up to actually baking a cake.”

  “Have you a yen to bake, then?”

  “I think I do.” She smiled over her shoulder as she spread butter on bread. “But it’s rather daunting when you’ve never done it before.”

  “You won’t know if you like it unless you try.”

  “I know. I hate failing at things.” She shook her head as she heated the skillet. “I know it’s a problem. It’s the reason I haven’t tried a lot of the things I think about trying. I always convince myself I’ll muck it up anyway, so I don’t try. It comes from being an awkward child of graceful parents.”

  She laid the sandwiches in the skillet, pleased when they sizzled cheerfully. “But I make pretty good cheese sandwiches, so you won’t starve.” She turned and bumped solidly into his chest.

  His mouth was on hers again. Hot, a little rough and very exciting. When he let her breathe again, he nodded. “Nothing awkward about that, or the rest of you, as far as I’ve seen.”

  Satisfied, he went back to the table and his wine.

  Jude recovered in time to keep the soup from boiling over.

  He stayed through the night so that she could curl warm against him. At sunrise, when the light glided through the window to shimmer on the air, he reached for her again, making lazy love to her that left her steeped in dreams.

  When next she woke, he was sitting on the bed beside her, holding a cup of coffee and stroking her hair.

  “Oh. What time is it?”

  “Past ten, and I’ve ruined your reputation.”

  “Ten?” She sat up quickly, surprised and grateful when he handed her the coffee. “My reputation?”

  “Beyond redemption now. I meant to leave at dawn so my car wouldn’t be in your street. But I was distracted.”

  She sighed deeply. “I remember.”

  “There’ll be talk now, about that Gallagher lad cozying up to the Yank.”

  Her eyes glittered. “Will there, really? How wonderful.”

  He laughed, tugged on her hair. “I thought somehow you might enjoy that.”

  “I’d like it better if I ruined your reputation. I’ve never ruined anyone’s reputation before.” She touched his face, delighted that she could, and trailed her finger down over the narrow cleft in his chin. “I could be that loose American woman who’s stolen the owner of Gallagher’s from under the noses of all the local ladies.”

  “Well, now, if you’ve decided to be a loose woman, I’ll be back tonight after closing, and you can take unfair advantage of me.”

  “I’d be glad to.”

  “Keep a light burning for me, darling.” He leaned forward to kiss her, then lingered over it long enough to make himself uncomfortable. “Bloody paperwork,” he muttered. “I have to go deal with it. Miss me, will you, Jude?”

  “All right.”

  She settled back against the pillows when he left, listened to the sound of the door closing behind him, then of his car starting.

  For an hour she did nothing but sit in bed and hum.

  THIRTEEN

  I’M HAVING A love affair.

  Jude Frances Murray is having a passionate affair with a gorgeous, charming, sexy Irishman.

  I just love writing that.

  I can barely resist behaving like a schoolgirl and writing his name over and over again in a notebook.

  Aidan Gallagher. What a marvelous name.

  He’s so handsome. I know it’s completely shallow to dwell on someone’s physical appearance, but . . . Well, if I can’t be shallow in the pages of my own journal, where can I be?

  His hair is a deep, rich chestnut, and the sunlight teases out the red in it. He has wonderful eyes, a dark and brilliant blue, and when he turns them on me, just looks at me as he often does, everything inside me goes hot and soft. His is a strong face. Good bones, as Granny would say. His mouth smiles slow and easy, and there’s just the slightest of clefts in his chin.

  His body . . . I can hardly believe I’ve had it over mine, under mine. It’s so hard and firm, with muscles like iron. Powerful, I suppose is the word.

  My lover has a very powerful b
uild.

  I suppose that’s enough wallowing in the superficial.

  All right . . . done.

  His other qualities are just as impressive. He’s very kind and has a lively sense of humor. He listens. That’s a skill in danger of being lost, and Aidan’s is well honed.

  His family ties are deep and strong, his work ethic admirable. I find his mind fascinating, and his skill in storytelling entertaining. The truth is, I could listen to him for hours.

  He’s traveled extensively, seen places I’ve only dreamed of seeing. Now that his parents have settled in Boston, he’s taken over the family business and slipped into the role of head of the family with a calm and rather casual authority.

  I know I shouldn’t be in love. What Aidan and I have is a satisfying physical relationship, and a lovely and affectionate friendship. Both are precious, and should be more than enough for anyone.

  But I can’t help being in love with him.

  I’ve come to realize that everything ever written about falling in love is absolutely true. The air’s sweeter, the sun brighter. I don’t think my feet have touched the ground in days.

  It’s terrifying. And it’s wonderful.

  Nothing I’ve ever experienced is like this. I had no idea I had such feelings inside me. Passionate and giddy and absolutely foolish feelings.

  I know I’m the same person. I can look in the mirror and it’s still me looking back. Yet somehow there seems to be more of me. It’s as if pieces that were hidden or unacknowledged have suddenly tumbled into place.

  I realize the physical and emotional stimuli, the charge of endorphins and . . . oh, the hell with that. This doesn’t need to be analyzed and slotted. It just has to be.

  It’s so outrageously romantic, the way he walks to my cottage at night. Coming through the gloom or the moonlight to knock at my door. He brings me wildflowers or seashells or pretty stones.

  He does things to my body I’ve only read about. Oh, God, reading has definitely taken second place.

  I feel wanton. I have to laugh at myself. Jude Frances Murray has a sex drive. And it shows no signs of abating.

  I’ve never had so much fun in my entire life.

  I had no idea romance could be fun. Why didn’t someone tell me?

  When I look in the mirror, I feel beautiful. Imagine that. I feel beautiful.

  Today I’m picking Darcy up and we’re going to Dublin to shop. I’m going to buy extravagant things for no reason at all.

  The Gallagher house was old and lovely and sat on the edge of the village, up a steep little hill and facing the sea. If Jude had asked, she would have been told that Shamus’s son, another Aidan, had built the house there the same year he married.

  The Gallaghers didn’t make their living on the sea, but they enjoyed the look of it.

  Other generations had added bits and pieces to the house over the years, as money and time had allowed. And now that there were many rooms, most of them had a view to the sea.

  The house itself was dark wood and sand-colored stone that seemed to be cobbled together in no particular style. Jude found it intriguing and unique. It was two stories, with a wide front porch that needed a coat of paint and a narrow stone walk worn by traffic. Its windows were in diamond-shaped panes she imagined were the devil to keep clean.

  She thought it was caught somewhere between grand and quaint, with just enough of both. And with the light morning fog just burning off around it, it held a bit of mystery as well.

  She wondered what it had been like for Aidan to grow up there, in the big, rambling house, a stone’s throw from the beach and cozy enough to the village to have swarms of friends.

  The gardens needed work, to Jude’s newly experienced eye, but they had a nice, wild way about them.

  A lean black cat stretched out on the walkway gave Jude a steely stare out of golden eyes as she approached. Hoping he wouldn’t take a swipe at her, she crouched down tentatively to scratch between his ears.

  He rewarded the attention by narrowing those eyes and letting out a purr that rumbled like a freight train.

  “That’s Bub.” Shawn stood in the front doorway and shot Jude a grin. “Short for Beelzebub, as he’s a devil of a cat by nature. Come in and have some tea, Jude, for if you’re expecting Darcy to be ready on time, you don’t know her.”

  “There’s no hurry.”

  “That’s a good thing, as she’ll primp an hour just to run out for a quart of milk. God knows how long she’ll be admiring herself for a trip to Dublin.”

  He stepped back to let Jude in, then tossed a shout over his shoulder toward the stairs. “Jude’s here, Darcy, and she says to get your vain ass moving if you expect a ride to Dublin City.”

  “Oh, but I didn’t,” Jude burst out, flustered, and had Shawn laughing as he drew her firmly inside.

  “She won’t pay any mind. Can I get you some tea, then?”

  “I’m fine, really.” She glanced around, noting that the living room spilling off the little foyer was cluttered and comfortable.

  Home, she thought again. It said home and family. And welcome.

  “Aidan’s down the pub seeing to deliveries.” Shawn took her hand in a friendly manner and tugged her into the living room. He’d been wanting to have some time with her, to take stock of the woman who had his brother so enchanted. “So you’ll have to make do with me.”

  “Oh. Well, that doesn’t sound like a hardship.”

  When he laughed again she realized she’d never have flirted so easily, so harmlessly with a man a few months before. Certainly not one with a face like a wicked angel.

  “My brother hasn’t given me opportunity to have more than a word with you up to now.” Shawn’s eyes twinkled. “Keeping you to himself as he is.”

  “You’re always in the kitchen when I come into the pub.”

  “Where they keep me chained. But we can make up for it now.”

  He was flirting right back with her, she realized, just as harmlessly. It didn’t make her nervous. It didn’t give her those odd and lovely liquid pulls that flirting with Aidan did. It just made her comfortable.

  “Then I’ll start by saying you have a lovely house.”

  “We’re happy with it.” He led her to a chair, and when she sat, made himself comfortable on the arm of it. “Darcy and I rattle about well enough.”

  “It’s made for more people. A big family, lots of children.”

  “It’s held that more often than it hasn’t. Our father was one of ten.”

  “Ten? Good God!”

  “We’ve uncles and aunts and cousins scattered all over and back again—Gallaghers and Fitzgeralds. You being one of them,” he added with a grin. “I remember as a boy having packs of them coming in and out of the house from time to time, so I was always sharing me bed with some lad who was my cousin from Wicklow or Boston or Devonshire.”

  “Do they still come back?”

  “Now and then. You did, cousin Jude.” He liked the way she smiled at that, sweet and a little shy. “But it’s Darcy and me in the house most times now. And will be until the first of the three of us decides to marry and start a family. The house’ll go to the one who does.”

  “Won’t the other two mind?”

  “No. That’s the Gallagher way.”

  “And you’ll know you’ll always be welcome here, that it’ll still be home.”

  “That’s right.” He said it quietly because he read tones and nuances well, and could see she was yearning for a home of her own. “Do you have a house in Chicago?”

  “No. It’s a condo like a glorified flat,” she added, then suddenly restless, rose. Flat, she thought again, was precisely how it seemed to her now. “This is a wonderful spot. You can watch the sea.”

  She started to walk to a window, then stopped by a battered old piano. The keys were yellowed, and several of them chipped, and over the scarred wood sheet music was scattered. “Who plays?”

  “All of us.” Shawn came up beside her, put hi
s long fingers over the keys and played a quick series of chords. Battered the instrument might have been, but its notes rang sweet and true. “Do you play as well?”

  “A little. Not very well.” She blew out a breath, reminding herself not to be such a moron. “Yes.”

  “Which is it?”

  “Yes, I play.”

  “Well, then, let’s hear it.” He gave her a nudge, hip against hip, that surprised her into sitting down on the bench.

  “I haven’t played in months,” she began, but he was already riffling through the sheet music, setting a piece in front of her before joining her on the bench.

  “Try this one.”

  Because she only intended to play a few chords, she didn’t bother digging her reading glasses out of her purse. Without them, she had to lean closer and squint a little. She felt the skitter of nerves, wiped damp palms on her thighs, and told herself it wasn’t one of the childhood recitals that had scared her into desperate nausea.

  Still, she had to take two deep breaths, which made Shawn’s lips twitch before she began to play.

  “Oh!” She flowed from the first bar into the second. “Oh, this is lovely.” She forgot her nerves in sheer pleasure as the notes drifted out dreamily, as her throat began to ache from it. “It’s heartbreaking.”

  “It’s meant to be.” He cocked his head, listening to the music as he studied her. He could see easily why she’d caught his brother’s eye. The pretty face, the quiet manner, and those surprising expressive and misty eyes.

  Yes, Shawn mused, the combination would draw Aidan’s interest, then wind around his heart. As for her heart, it was a yearning one. That he understood well.

  “You play very well indeed, Jude Frances. Why did you say you didn’t?”

  “I’m used to saying I don’t do things well, because I usually don’t.” She answered absently, losing herself in the music. “Anyone could play this well. It’s wonderful. What’s it called?”

  “I haven’t named it yet.”

  “You wrote it?” She stopped playing to stare at him. Artists of all kinds, any kind, left her awestruck. “Really? Shawn, it’s gorgeous.”

  “Oh, don’t start flattering the man. He’s irritating enough.” Brenna strode into the room and stuffed her hands into the pockets of her baggy jeans.

  “The O’Toole here has no appreciation for music unless it’s a rebel song and she’s drinking a pint.”

  “When you write one, I’ll lift a glass to you as well.”

  They sneered companionably at each other.

  “What are you doing here? There’s nothing broken that I know of.”

  “Do you see my toolbox in my hand?” Would he never just look at her? she wondered. The bloody bat-blind moron. “I’m going to Dublin with Jude and Darcy.” Brenna lifted a shoulder. “I got weary of Darcy badgering me about it, so I’ve surrendered.” She turned and shouted up the stairs, “Darcy, for sweet Jesus’ sake, what’s taking you so bloody long? I’ve been waiting an hour.”

  “Now you’ll have to confess that lie to Father Clooney,” Shawn told her, “as you just walked in the house.”

  “It’s only venial, and it may get her down here before next week.” She dropped into a chair. “Why aren’t you down to the pub helping Aidan? It’s delivery day.”

  “Because, Mother, he asked me to stay and see to Jude until Darcy made her entrance. But since you’re here, I’ll be off. You’ll come back and play again, Jude Frances.” He smiled as he rose. “It’s a pleasure to hear my tunes played by someone who appreciates music.”

  He started out, pausing by Brenna’s chair long enough to tug the bill of her
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