Heart of the sea, p.21
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       Heart of the Sea, p.21

         Part #3 of Gallaghers of Ardmore series by Nora Roberts
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  She probably wouldn’t have fallen in love with him if he’d been or done any of those things, but that was beside the point. She was in love with him, so why couldn’t he just love her back so everything could be lovely?

  Damned perverse individual.

  When he’d kissed her there in the kitchen of Faerie Hill Cottage, hadn’t he felt it? Hadn’t he known her heart was spilling right out of her and into his hands? Oh, she hated that she couldn’t stop it.

  Hated more that the first time, the only time, she’d wanted a man to see inside her, he just wasn’t looking.

  So, she’d have to deal with that. She tossed the remains of the tattered blossom away, watching it whip like confetti in the brisk wind on the hill. She had plenty of tools at her disposal to employ. Sooner or later, she’d box him right in.

  Damned if she wouldn’t.

  Before she was done, she’d be rich, famous. And married.

  As she came around the bend, the sun flashed into her eyes like a beacon, sharp and white and direct. She raised a hand to shield them, blinking, and saw through the glare the glint of silver.

  “Good morning to you, Darcy the fair.”

  Slowly, with her heart stuttering, she lowered her hand. It hadn’t been the sun at all that had beamed at her. It was filtered soft through layered stacks of clouds that turned the sky the color of Trevor’s eyes. It was magic that shone out at her, and the man standing on the side of the road, under the looming spear of the round tower, owned it.

  “I’m told you frequent Saint Declan’s Well.”

  “Oh, I’m here and there, depending. And it’s rare for you to wander to that hill.”

  “I’m here and there as well. Depending.”

  His eyes flashed with humor, as bright as the doublet he wore. “Since here’s where you are and so am I, will you walk with me?” The iron gate opened as he spoke, though he didn’t touch it with his hand.

  “Men are the same. Faerie or mortal, they must show off.” Pleased when he frowned, she breezed by him and through the opening. “I wondered if you’d ever have cause to seek me out.”

  “I gave you more credit than you deserved.” There, he thought when she turned her head to glare at him. Point for point. “I was certain a woman of your talents would have conquered any man she took aim at. But you’ve yet to land the Magee.”

  “He’s not a fish. And who put the idea in his head that he was obliged to fall in love with me so he’d get his back up about it straight off?”

  “Too much Yank practicality and not enough Irish romance in him, that’s his problem.” Disgusted because Darcy was right about his own miscalculation, he strode over the rough ground. “I don’t understand the man. If his blood didn’t leap the minute he saw you, I’m a jackrabbit. You should’ve been able to bring him to the mark by this time.”

  He stopped, and his eyes burned into hers. “You want him, don’t you?”

  “If I didn’t, he’d never have touched me.”

  “And has he touched only your body? Has he reached your heart?”

  She turned, looking down, to where the village lay. “Isn’t your magic strong enough to see into my heart?”

  “I want the words from you. I’ve learned, with pain, the power of words.”

  “The ones I have are for him, not for you. They’ll be spoken when I choose, not when you demand.”

  “In the name of Finn, I knew I’d have trouble with you.”

  He pondered a moment, rubbing his chin. Then with a sly smile, he raised his arms high. The air shivered, rippled like water at a stone’s toss. Shapes formed behind it, shadows that spread and speared up and took on color and life. The gentle voice of the sea became a roar, a thousand sounds beating against each other.

  “Look now,” Carrick ordered, but she was already staring, eyes wide, at the buildings and streets and people where her village had been. “New York City.”

  “Sweet Mary.” She had already stepped back, half afraid she would stumble and fall into that vast, crowded, wonderful world. “Such a place.”

  “You could have it, the best of it. Shops full of treasures.”

  Store windows, filled with glittering jewels, sleek clothes raced by in front of her eyes.

  “Elegant restaurants.”

  White tablecloths, exotic flowers, the shimmer of candlelight, the glint of wine in crystal.

  “Luxurious quarters.”

  Polished wood and thick carpets, a fluid curve of stairs, a wide, wide window that looked out over trees gone to flame with fall.

  “It’s Trevor’s penthouse. It could be yours.” Carrick watched the awe, the pleasure, the desire, run over her face. “He has more. His family’s getaway in a place called the Hamptons, a villa in Italy on the sea, a pretty pied-a`-terre in Paris, the town house in London.”

  A house of brilliant white wood and sparkling glass with the blue water close, another in soft, pale yellow with a red tile roof tucked onto a soaring cliff over yet another blue sea, the charm of old stone and iron rails over the streets of Paris, and the dignified brick home she remembered from London. They all flashed by, made her head spin.

  Then they were gone, in the blink of an eye, and there was only Ardmore sitting cozily under the layered, grayedged clouds.

  “You could have it, all of it, for with some women they’ve only to want to have.”

  “I can’t think.” Giving in to her shaky legs, she sat on the ground. “My head aches from it.”

  “What do you want?” Watching her, Carrick reached for his pouch and turning it over, poured a flood of sparkling blue stones onto the ground. “I offered them to Gwen, but she turned from them, and from me. Would you?”

  She shook her head, but not in denial. In sheer confusion.

  “He gave you jewels, and you wear them.”

  “I . . .” She ran her fingers over the bracelet on her wrist. “Yes, but—”

  “He looked at you and found you beautiful.” “I know it.” The brilliance of the stones made her eyes tear. It was the shine of them, she told herself. It wasn’t her heart breaking. “But beauty doesn’t last. If that’s all that holds him, what happens when it fades? Am I only to be wanted for what can be seen?”

  It would be enough if she wasn’t in love. Enough to have only that if the man was anyone but Trevor.

  “He’s heard your voice and promised you fame, wealth, and a kind of immortality. What more is there? What more have you ever dreamed of?”

  “I don’t know.” Oh, she wanted to weep. Why should she want to weep for having seen wonders?

  “You have the power, you have the choice, and here is a gift for you.”

  He plucked up one of the stones and taking her hand, laid it warm in the cup of her palm. “On this you can wish. Not three wishes, as so many of the stories go, but one only. Your heart’s desire is in your hand. Be it fortune, you will live in wealth. Vanity, and your beauty will fade never. Fame, and the world will know you. Love? The man you want most is yours, always and ever.”

  He stepped back from her, and if her eyes had been clear, she might have seen compassion in his. “Choose well, Darcy the fair, for what you choose you live with.”

  And he was gone, and the jewels, save the one in her hand, bloomed to flowers. She saw now they covered a grave, and the name carved into the stone was “John Magee.”

  She lay her head against it and wept now for both of them.

  SIXTEEN

  DARCY INTENDED TO go straight through the pub and upstairs so she could make herself presentable. But Aidan was already there, inventorying stock. He took one look at her, set down his clipboard.

  “What happened?”

  “Nothing. It’s nothing. I had myself a little jag, is all.”

  She started through, but he simply moved in front of her, put his arms around her, pressed his lips to her hair. “There, darling, tell me what’s the matter.” His greatest fear was that Trevor had hurt her in some way, and then he’d have to kill a
man who’d become a friend.

  “Oh, Aidan, don’t start me up again.” But she held on, and held tight. “It’s just a mood.”

  “You’re a moody one, no question. But one thing you’re not, Darcy, is a blubberer. What’s made you cry?”

  “Me, mostly, I think.” It felt so good to be held by one who had never let her down. “I have so much in my head, and it seemed the only way to let some of it out was with tears.”

  He braced himself for the worst. “Magee hasn’t done anything . . .”

  “He hasn’t, no.” And that, she thought, was part of the problem. He’d done nothing but be what he was, what she wanted. “Aidan, tell me something. When you went traveling all those years ago, saw all those things, all those places, was it wonderful?”

  “It was. Some was grand, some bloody awful, but altogether it was wonderful.” He stroked a hand through her hair, remembering. “I guess you could say I had a lot in my head as well back then, and rambling was my way of getting some of it out.”

  “But you came back.” She drew away then, studying his face. “Of all the places you’ve been and seen, you came back here.”

  “Here’s home. The truth is . . .” He dabbed a stray tear from her cheek with his thumb. “I didn’t think I would,not when I set out. I thought, well, here’s Aidan Gallagher off to see the world and find his place in it. All the while, my place was right here, where I started. But I had to go away to come back.”

  “Ma and Dad, they aren’t coming back.” Her eyes filled again, though she’d have sworn she had already cried herself dry. “Sometimes I miss them so much I can hardly stand it. It’s not every day or like that, but just in the once and a while it hits me that they’re thousands of miles away in Boston.”

  Impatient with herself, she scrubbed her hands over her face to dry it. “I know they’ve come back for the weddings, and they’ll come to see your baby when it’s born, but it’s not the same.”

  “It’s not. I miss them, too.”

  She nodded. Hearing him say it helped. “I know they’re happy, and that’s a comfort. Every time they ring or write, they’re full of news and excitement about the Gallagher’s Pub they’ve built way over in Boston.”

  “We’re an international franchise now,” Aidan said, and made her laugh a little.

  “Next we’ll be planting one in Turkey or God knows.” She let out a little sigh. “They’re happy there, and I know I’ll go over and see them one day. But it makes me think that if I went away, I might not come back either. As much as I want to go, to see places and do things, Aidan, I don’t want to lose what’s here.”

  “It’s not a matter of losing, but of changing. You won’t know what changes till you go. You’ve been needing to go since you could stand on your own feet. I was the same. It’s Shawn who’s planted here and never had a question about it.”

  “Sometimes I wish I were like him.” She looked up sharply. “And if you ever tell him I said such a thing, I’ll swear you’re a liar.”

  He laughed, tugged her hair. “There. That’s better.” “

  “There’s more.” Sliding a hand into her pocket, she fingered the stone she carried there. “I have to decide if Trevor has it right and I should sign his contract and have him make me a singer.”

  “You are a singer.”

  “It’s different. You know it.”

  “It is. Are you asking my opinion?”

  “I’d like to weigh it in.”

  “You’d be brilliant. I don’t say that because I’m your brother. I have traveled and in traveling had the opportunity to hear a lot of voices. Yours shines, Darcy, and always has.”

  “I could do it,” she said quietly. “I believe I could, and not make a mess of it. More, and better, I think I’d like it. Attention,” she said with a glint in her eye, “is food and drink to me.”

  “You’d have a banquet this way, wouldn’t you?”

  “I would. Trevor had me go up and talk to his man this morning. Nigel, from London. He didn’t paint a picture that was all rose and gilt, and I appreciated that. It would be hard work.”

  “You know how to work hard. And how to dance around the task when you’ve had enough, which is almost as important.”

  Another brick of worry tumbled off her shoulder. “I wouldn’t have to dance if you weren’t such a slave driver. And I have a feeling Trevor’s cut from the same cloth. He’ll push me, and I won’t always like it.”

  “It sounds as if you’ve decided.”

  “I suppose I have.” She waited a moment, and discovered she felt relief instead of excitement. The excitement, she thought, would come. “I haven’t quite put it all in its place as yet, and I’m not ready to tell Trevor. I prefer letting him dangle a bit longer, and perhaps nudging him toward sweetening the pot.”

  “There’s my girl.”

  “Wheeling a deal’s the Gallagher way. There’s more still.” Holding her breath, she took the stone from her pocket, held it out.

  It wasn’t surprise she saw in his eyes so much as acknowledgment, then a kind of resignation. “I knew you’d be the third. I didn’t want to think about it.”

  “Why?”

  He looked at her then, eye to eye. “My girl,” he murmured.

  The force of love was so fierce it nearly dropped her. “Oh, Aidan, you’ll make me cry again.”

  “We can’t have that.” To give them both time to compose, he got two bottles of water from under the bar. “So, you went up to Old Maude’s grave?”

  “No. Tower Hill.” She took the water, drank deeply when she realized her throat was dust-dry. “There are flowers blooming over John Magee now. I was hardly surprised to see him. Carrick, I mean. Still, my heart shook.”

  She pressed her fist to it, and in the fist she held the stone. “It’s a wonder, isn’t it? He looks sharp, Carrick does, and bold. But behind his eyes is sorrow. Love is such a tangle.”

  “Do you love Trevor?”

  Because it seemed hot against her heart, she lowered the stone. “Yes. It’s not what I thought it would be. It’s not soft and easy, and it sure as hell doesn’t make me feel like a queen. There’s been a change in me since the minute I looked out my window and saw him. There might not have been anyone else there for a space of time, and so I should have known it was already too late to stop it.”

  He knew that feeling very well, and the stuttering nerves that went with it. “And would you, if you could?”

  “I think I would. Stop it or slow it or something until I could get my breath steady. Or the man could catch up with me. He keeps himself one step back. It’s a cold step and a deliberate one. I understand it, as I’ve taken it often enough myself. He wants me.”

  She said it musingly, then caught Aidan’s wince. “Oh, don’t go male and brotherly on me now when you’ve been doing so well.”

  “I am male and your brother.” He shifted, and now he drank deep as well. “But go on.”

  “There’s passion, and love would be bland without it.

  “There’s a caring that stops it from being nothing but heat. But that step, the chill in it, stops it all just short of . . . trust,” she decided. “And acceptance.”

  “One of you has to take the step forward instead of back.”

  “I want it to be him.”

  There was a trace of her old arrogance in her tone. It worried Aidan as much as it amused him. She opened her fingers, letting the stone rest on her palm where, like a heart, it pulsed its blue light.

  “Carrick showed me things, amazing things. I could have them, he said. I’ve only to wish for it. Riches and excitement, fame and glory, love and beauty. To wish for it, but only one wish, one choice.”

  “What do you want?”

  “All of it.” She laughed, but there was something brittle in the sound that broke his heart. “I’m selfish and greedy and want all. I want everything I can snatch up and hold, then I want to go back and get more. Why can’t I want the simple and the ordinary and the quiet
, Aidan? Why can’t I be content with easy dreams?”

  “You’re so hard on yourself, mavourneen . Harder than anyone else can be. Some people want the simple and the ordinary and the quiet. It doesn’t make those who want the complicated and extraordinary and the

  exciting greedy or selfish. Wanting’s wanting, whatever the dream.”

  Struck, she stared at him. “What a thought,” she managed at last. “I never looked at it that way.”

  “Study on it a while.” He brushed a fingertip over the stone, then closed her hand around it. “And don’t rush your wish.”

  “That I’d already concluded for myself.” She slipped it back into her pocket where it couldn’t tempt her. “Carrick may be in a fired hurry, but I’m inclined to take my time.”

  She pressed a kiss to each of Aidan’s cheeks. “You were just what I needed, just when I needed you.”

  She did give it time. Her talk with Aidan had settled her and made her able to enjoy the time. As the days passed into a week, she even found herself amused that neither she nor Trevor brought up the potential business end of their relationship.

  He was, she thought, as canny a negotiator as she was. One of them would break first. She didn’t intend for it to be her.

  Work on the theater progressed in a kind of stage by stage that she found more interesting than she would ever have believed. A change was happening right outside her window. A monumental change that had its seeds in a dream and was so much more than bricks and mortar.

  She wanted it for him. That, she supposed, was the nature of love. That you could want so intensely your lover’s dream to come true.

  Now that most of the roof was on, she missed seeing Trevor out her window. He was inside the shell of the building as often as not. As the noise was as terrible as ever, she rarely kept her windows open on the off chance of hearing his voice.

  With summer, the beaches drew people to Ardmore, and so the pub. Work kept her mind occupied, and for the first time she began to see just what the theater would mean to home.

  It wasn’t only the villagers and the neighbors talking of it now, but those who visited.

  She could stop for a moment in the crush of a lunch shift, look around at the packed tables and bar, hear the voices, and imagine what it would be like the following summer. And she could wonder where she would be.

  As both she and Trevor appreciated the distance from work, most nights she went to the cottage. It became her habit to walk whenever weather allowed, though he never failed to offer his car. She liked the quiet that slid over the air after midnight, and the balm of the breeze, and rush of starlight.

  Odd, but she wasn’t sure she’d really appreciated it before she’d understood she wouldn’t be there forever. The softness that came from the sea, and the waves that were a constant hum and lap in the night.

  When the moon was bright, she liked it best, that alone time where she could see the cliffs throw shadows.

  Whenever she reached Tower Hill, she stopped. If the wind was pushing the clouds, the spear of the tower seemed to sway, and the stones, old and new, beneath it stood silent and still.

  Flowers bloomed yet on the grave of Johnnie Magee. But Carrick, if he was there, chose not to show himself.

  She walked on. The road narrowed, and the scatter of lights in Ardmore were lost behind her. There was the scent now of fields and grass and growing things, then the glow out of the shadowed dark that was the lights in the cottage on the faerie hill.

  He was waiting for her. And that, she thought with a delicious thrill, was just how she liked it.

  As always, her heart grew lighter and she had to force herself not to rush to
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