Born in ice, p.16
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       Born in Ice, p.16

         Part #2 of Born In series by Nora Roberts
 

  Brianna ignored the headache brewing behind her eyes. "It's comforting with one. Did you have a nice dinner?"

  Maeve gave a snort as she sat. She liked the feel and the look of the fire, but was damned if she would admit it. "Dragged me off to a place in Ennis and orders pizza, she does. Pizza of all things!"

  "Oh, I know the place you're speaking of. They have lovely food. Rogan says the pizza tastes just as it does in the States." Brianna picked up her knitting again. "Did you know that Murphy's sister Kate is expecting again?"

  "The girl breeds like a rabbit. What's this-four of them?"

  " 'Twill be her third. She's two boys now and is hoping for a girl." Smiling, Brianna held up the soft pink yarn. "So I'm making this blanket for luck."

  "God will give her what He gives her, whatever color you knit."

  Brianna's needles clicked quietly. "So He will. I had a card from Uncle Niall and Aunt Christine. It has the prettiest picture of the sea and mountains on it. They're having a lovely time on their cruise ship, touring the islands of Greece."

  "Honeymoons at their age." And in her heart Maeve yearned to see the mountains and foreign seas herself. "Well, if you've enough money you can go where you choose and do what you choose. Not all of us can fly off to warm places in the winter. If I could, perhaps my chest wouldn't be so tight with cold."

  "Are you feeling poorly?" The question was automatic, like the answers to the multiplication tables she'd learned in school. It shamed her enough to have her look up and try harder. "I'm sorry, Mother."

  "I'm used to it. Dr. Hogan does no more than cluck his tongue and tell me I'm fit. But I know how I feel, don't I?"

  "You do, yes." Brianna's knitting slowed as she turned

  over an idea. "I wonder if you'd feel better if you could go away for some sun."

  "Hah. And where am I to find sun?"

  "Maggie and Rogan have that villa in the south of France. It's beautiful and warm there, they say. Remember, she drew me pictures."

  "Went off with him to that foreign country before they were married."

  "They're married now," Brianna said mildly. "Wouldn't you like to go there, Mother, you and Lottie, for a week or two? Such a nice rest in the sunshine you could have, and the sea air's always so healing."

  "And how would I get there?"

  "Mother, you know Rogan would have the plane take you."

  Maeve could imagine it. The sun, the servants, the fine big house overlooking the sea. She might have had such a place of her own if ... If.

  "I'll not ask that girl for any favors."

  "You needn't. I'll ask for you."

  "I don't know as I'm fit to travel," Maeve said, for the simple pleasure of making things difficult. "The trip to Dublin and back tired me."

  "All the more reason for you to have a nice vacation," Brianna returned, knowing the game well. "I'll speak to Maggie tomorrow and arrange it. I'll help you pack, don't worry."

  "Anxious to see me off, are you?" "Mother." The headache was growing by leaps and bounds.

  "I'll go, all right." Maeve waved a hand. "For my health, though the good Lord knows how it'll affect my nerves to be among all those foreigners." Her eyes narrowed. "And where is the Yank?"

  "Grayson? He's upstairs, working."

  "Working." She huffed out a breath. "Since when is spinning a tale working, I'd like to know. Every other person in this county spins tales."

  "Putting them on paper would be different, I'd think. And there are times when he comes down after he's been at it for a while he looks as though he's been digging ditches. He seems that tired."

  "He looked frisky enough in Dublin-when he had his hands all over you."

  "What?" Brianna dropped a stitch and stared. "Do you think I'm blind as well as ailing?" Spots of pink rode high on Maeve's cheeks. "Mortified I was to see the way you let him carry on with you, in public, too."

  "We were dancing," Brianna said between lips that had gone stiff and cold. "I was teaching him some steps."

  "I saw what I saw." Maeve set her jaw. "And I'm asking you right now if you're giving your body to him."

  "If I'm..." The pink wool spilled onto the floor. "How can you ask me such a thing?"

  "I'm your mother, and I'll ask what I please of you. No doubt half the village is talking of it, you being here alone night after night with the man."

  "No one is talking of it. I run an inn, and he's my guest." "A convenient path to sin-I've said so since you insisted on starting this business." She nodded as if Grayson's presence there only confirmed her opinion. "You haven't answered me, Brianna."

  "And I shouldn't, but I'll answer you. I haven't given my body to him, or to anyone."

  Maeve waited a moment, then nodded again. "Well, a liar you've never been, so I'll believe you."

  "I can't find it in me to care what you believe." It was temper she knew that had her knees trembling as she rose. "Do you think I'm proud and happy to have never known a man, to have never found one who would love me? I've no wish to live my life alone, or to forever be making baby things for some other woman's child." "Don't raise your voice to me, girl." "What good does it do to raise it?" Brianna took a deep breath, fought for calm. "What good does it do not to? I'll help Lottie with the tea."

  "You'll stay where you are." Mouth grim, Maeve angled her head. "You should thank God on your knees for the life you lead, my girl. You've a roof over your head and money in your pocket. It may be I don't like how you earn

  it, but you've made some small success out of your choice in what many would consider an honest living. Do you think a man and babies can replace that? Well, you're wrong if you do."

  "Maeve, what are you badgering the girl about now?" Wearily Lottie came in and set down the tea tray.

  "Stay out of this, Lottie."

  "Please." Cooly, calmly, Brianna inclined her head. "Let her finish."

  "Finish I will. I had something once I could call mine. And I lost it." Maeve's mouth trembled once, but she firmed it, hardened it. "Lost any chance I had to be what I'd wanted to be. Lust and nothing more, the sin of it. With a baby in my belly what could I be but some man's wife?"

  "My father's wife," Brianna said slowly.

  "So I was. I conceived a child in sin and paid for it my whole life."

  "You conceived two children," Brianna reminded her.

  "Aye, I did. The first, your sister, carried that mark with her. Wild she was and will always be. But you were a child of marriage and duty."

  "Duty?"

  With her hands planted on either arm of her chair, Maeve leaned forward, and her voice was bitter. "Do you think I wanted him to touch me again? Do you think I enjoyed being reminded why I would never have my heart's desire? But the Church says marriage should produce children. So I did my duty by the Church and let him plant another child in me."

  "Duty," Brianna repeated, and the tears she might have shed were frozen in her heart. "With no love, no pleasure. Is that what I came from?"

  "There was no need to share my bed with him when I knew I carried you. I suffered another labor, another birth, and thanked God it would be my last."

  "You never shared a bed with him. All those years."

  "There would be no more children. With you I had done what I could to absolve my sin. You don't have Maggie's wildness. There's a coolness in you, a control. You'll use that to keep yourself pure-unless you let some man tempt you. It was nearly so with Rory."

  "I loved Rory." She hated knowing she was so near tears. For her father, she thought, and the woman he had loved and let go.

  "You were a child." Maeve dismissed the heartbreak of youth. "But you're a woman now, and pretty enough to draw a man's eye. I want you to remember what can happen if you let them persuade you to give in. The one upstairs, he'll come and he'll go as he pleases. Forget that, and you could end up alone, with a baby growing under your apron and shame in your heart."

  "So often I wondered why there was no love in this house." Brianna took
in a shuddering breath and struggled to steady her voice. "I knew you didn't love Da, couldn't somehow. It hurt me to know it. But then when I learned from Maggie about your singing, your career, and how you'd lost that, I thought I understood, and could sympathize for the pain you must have felt."

  "You could never know what it is to lose all you've ever wanted."

  "No, I can't. But neither can I understand a woman, any woman, having no love in her heart for the children she carried and birthed." She lifted her hands to her cheeks. But they weren't wet. Dry and cold they were, like marble against her fingers. "Always you've blamed Maggie for simply being born. Now I see I was nothing more than a duty to you, a sort of penance for an earlier sin."

  "I raised you with care," Maeve began.

  "With care. No, it's true you never raised your hand to me the way you did with Maggie. It's a miracle she didn't grow to hate me for that alone. It was heat with her, and cold discipline with me. And it worked well, made us, I suppose, what we are."

  Very carefully she sat again, picked up her yarn. "I've wanted to love you. I used to ask myself why it was I could never give you more than loyalty and duty. Now I see it wasn't the lack in me, but in you."

  "Brianna." Appalled, and deeply shaken, Maeve got to her feet. "How can you say such things to me? I've only tried to spare you, to protect you."

  "I've no need of protection. I'm alone, aren't I, and a virgin, just as you wish it. I'm knitting a blanket for another woman's child as I've done before, and will do again. I have my business, as you say. Nothing has changed here, Mother, but for an easing of my conscience. I'll give you no less than I've always given you, only I'll stop berating myself for not giving more."

  Dry-eyed again, she looked up. "Will you pour the tea, Lottie? I want to tell you about the vacation you and Mother will be taking soon. Have you been to France?"

  "No." Lottie swallowed the lump in her throat. Her heart bled for both the women. She sent a look of sorrow toward Maeve, knowing no way to comfort. With a sigh she poured the tea. "No," she repeated. "I've not been there. Are we going, then?"

  "Yes, indeed." Brianna picked up the rhythm of her knitting. "Very soon if you like. I'll be talking to Maggie about it tomorrow." She read the sympathy in Lottie's eyes and made herself smile. "You'll have to go shopping for a bikini."

  Brianna was rewarded with a laugh. After setting the teacup on the table beside Brianna, Lottie touched her cold cheek. "There's a girl," she murmured.

  A family from Helsinki stayed the weekend at Blackthorn. Brianna was kept busy catering to the couple and their three children. Out of pity, she scooted Con off to Murphy. The towheaded three-year-old couldn't seem to resist pulling ears and tail-an indignity which Concobar suffered silently.

  Unexpected guests helped keep her mind off the emotional upheaval her mother had stirred. The family was loud, boisterous, and as hungry as bears just out of hibernation.

  Brianna enjoyed every moment of them.

  She bid them goodbye with kisses for the children and a dozen tea cakes for their journey south. The moment their car passed out of sight, Gray crept up behind her.

  "Are they gone?"

  "Oh." She pressed a hand to her heart. "You scared the life out of me." Turning, she pushed at the stray wisps escaping her topknot. "I thought you'd come down to say goodbye to the Svensons. Little Jon asked about you."

  "I still have little Jon's sticky fingerprints over half my body and most of my papers." With a wry grin Gray tucked his thumbs in his front pockets. "Cute kid, but, Jesus, he never stopped."

  "Three-year-olds are usually active." "You're telling me. Give one piggyback ride and you're committed for life."

  Now she smiled, remembering. "You looked very sweet with him. I imagine he'll always remember the Yank who played with him at the Irish inn." She tilted her head. "And he was holding the little lorry you bought him yesterday when he left."

  "Lorry-oh, the truck, right." He shrugged. "I just happened to see it when I was taking a breather in the village." "Just happened to see it," she repeated with a slow nod. "As well as the two dolls for the little girls." "That's right. Anyway, I usually get a kick out of OPKs." "OPKs?"

  "Other people's kids. But now"-he slipped his hands neatly around her waist-"we're alone again."

  In a quick defensive move she pressed a hand to his chest before he could draw her closer. "I've errands to do."

  He looked down at her hand, lifted a brow. "Errands."

  "That's right, and I've a mountain of wash to do when I get back."

  "Are you going to hang out the wash? I love to watch you hang it on the line-especially when there's a breeze. It's incredibly sexy."

  "What a foolish thing to say."

  His grin only widened. "There's something to be said for making you blush,
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