Born in ice, p.19
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       Born in Ice, p.19

         Part #2 of Born In series by Nora Roberts
 

  "Well, how's the story telling these days?" O'Malley asked him.

  "It's fine. Two dead, no suspects."

  With a shake of his head, O'Malley slipped the pint under Gray's nose. "Don't know how it is a man can play with murder all the day and still have a smile on his face of an evening."

  "Unnatural, isn't it?" Gray grinned at him.

  "I've a story for you." This came from David Ryan who sat on the end of the bar and lighted one of his American cigarettes.

  Gray settled back amid the music and smoke. There was always a story, and he was as good a listener as he was a teller.

  "Was a maid who lived in the countryside near Tralee. Beautiful as a sunrise, she was, with hair like new gold and eyes as blue as Kerry."

  Conversation quieted, and Murphy lowered his music so that it was a backdrop for the tale.

  "It happened that two men came a-courting her," David went on. "One was a bookish fellow, the other a farmer. In her way, the maid loved them both; for she was as fickle of heart as she was lovely of face. So, enjoying the attention, as a maid might, she let them both dangle for her, making promises to each. And there began to grow a blackness in the heart of the young farmer, side by side with his love of the maid."

  He paused, as storytellers often do, and studied the red glow at the end of his cigarette. He took a deep drag, expelled smoke.

  "So one night he waited for his rival along the roadside, and when the bookish fellow came a-whistling-for the maid had given him her kisses freely-the farmer leaped out and bore the young lover to the ground. He dragged him, you see, in the moonlight across the fields, and though the poor sod still breathed, he buried him deep. When dawn came, he sowed his crop over him and put an end to the competition."

  David paused again, drew deep on his cigarette, reached for his pint.

  "And?" Gray asked, caught up. "He married the maid." "No, indeed he didn't. She ran off with a tinker that very day. But the farmer had the best bloody crop of hay of his life."

  There were roars of laughter as Gray only shook his head. He considered himself a professional liar and a good one. But the competition here was fierce. Amid the chuckles, Gray picked up his glass and went to join Murphy.

  "Davey's a tale for every day of the week," Murphy told him, gently running his hands along the buttons of his squeeze box.

  "I imagine my agent would scoop him up in a heartbeat. Heard anything, Murphy?"

  "No, nothing helpful. Mrs. Leery thought she might have seen a car go by the day of your troubles. She thinks it was green, but didn't pay it any mind."

  "Someone was poking around the cottage last night. Lost him in the fog." Gray remembered in disgust. "But he was close enough to leave a footprint in Brie's flower bed. Might have been kids." Gray took a contemplative sip of beer. "Has anyone been asking about me?"

  "You're a daily topic of conversation," Murphy said dryly.

  "Ah, fame. No, I mean a stranger." "Not that I've heard. You'd better to ask over at the post office. Why?"

  "I think it might be an overenthusiastic fan. I've run into it before. Then again..." He shrugged. "It's the way my mind works, always making more out of what's there."

  "There's a dozen men or more a whistle away if anyone gives you or Brie any trouble." Murphy glanced up as the door to the pub opened. Brianna came in, flanked by Rogan and Maggie. His brow lifted as he looked back at Gray.

  "And a dozen men or more who'll haul you off to the altar if you don't mind that gleam in your eye."

  "What?" Gray picked up his beer again, and his lips curved. "Just looking."

  "Aye. I'm a rover," Murphy sang, "and seldom sober, I'm a rover of high degree. For when I'm drinking, I'm always thinking, how to gain my love's company."

  "There's still half a pint in this glass," Gray muttered, and rose to walk to Brianna. "I thought you had mending."

  "I did."

  "We bullied her into coming out," Maggie explained and gave a little sigh as she levered herself onto a stool.

  "Persuaded," Rogan corrected. "A glass of Harp, Brie?"

  "Thank you, I will."

  "Tea for Maggie, Tim," Rogan began and grinned as his wife muttered. "A glass of Harp for Brie, a pint of Guiness for me. Another pint, Gray?"

  "This'll do me." Gray leaned against the bar. "I remember the last time I went drinking with you."

  "Speaking of Uncle Niall," Maggie put in. "He and his bride are spending a few days on the island of Crete. Play something bright, will you, Murphy?"

  Obligingly, he reeled into "Whiskey in the Jar" and set her feet tapping.

  After listening to the lyrics, Gray shook his head. "Why is it you Irish always sing about war?"

  "Do we?" Maggie smiled, sipping at her tea as she waited to join in the chorus.

  "Sometimes it's betrayal or dying, but mostly it's war."

  "Is that a fact?" She smiled over the rim of her cup. "I couldn't say. Then again, it might be that we've had to fight for every inch of our own ground for centuries. Or-"

  "Don't get her started," Rogan pleaded. "There's a rebel's heart in there."

  "There's a rebel's heart inside every Irish man or woman. Murphy's a fine voice, he does. Why don't you sing with him, Brie?"

  Enjoying the moment, she sipped her Harp. "I'd rather listen."

  "I'd like to hear you," Gray murmured and stroked a hand down her hair.

  Maggie narrowed her eyes at the gesture. "Brie has a voice like a bell," she said. "We always wondered where she got it, until we found out our mother had one as well." "How about 'Danny Boy'?"

  Maggie rolled her eyes. "Count on a Yank to ask for it. A Brit wrote that tune, outlander. Do "James Connolly," Murphy. Brie'11 sing with you."

  With a resigned shake of her head, Brianna went to sit with Murphy.

  "They make lovely harmony," Maggie murmured, watching Gray.

  "Mmm. She sings around the house when she forgets someone's there."

  "And how long do you plan to be there?" Maggie asked, ignoring Rogan's warning scowl. "Until I'm finished," Gray said absently. "Then onto the next?" "That's right. Onto the next."

  Despite the fact that Rogan now had his hand clamped at the back of her neck, Maggie started to make some pithy comment. It was Gray's eyes rather than her husband's annoyance that stopped her. The desire in them had stirred her protective instincts. But there was something more now. She wondered if he was aware of it.

  When a man looked at a woman that way, more than hormones were involved. She'd have to think it over, Maggie decided, and see how it set with her. In the meantime she picked up her tea again, still watching Gray.

  "We'll see about that," she murmured. "We'll just see about it."

  One song became two, and two, three. The war songs, the love songs, the sly and the sad. In his mind Gray began to craft a scene.

  The smoky pub was filled with noise and music-a sanctuary from the horrors outside. The woman's voice drawing the man who didn't want to be drawn. Here, he thought, just here was where his hero would lose the battle. She would be sitting in front of the turf fire, her hands neatly

  folded in her lap, her voice soaring, effortless and lovely, her eyes as haunted as the tune.

  And he would love her then, to the point of giving his life if need be. Certainly of changing it. He could forget the past with her, and look toward the future.

  "You look pale, Gray." Maggie tugged on his arm until he backed onto a stool. "How many pints have you had?"

  "Just this." He scrubbed a hand over his face to bring himself back. "I was just... working," he finished. That was it, of course. He'd only been thinking of characters, of crafting the lie. Nothing personal.

  "Looked like a trance."

  "Same thing." He let out a little breath, laughed at himself. "I think I'll have another pint after all."

  Chapter Ten

  With the pub scene he'd spun in his imagination replaying in his head, Gray did not spend a peaceful night. Though he couldn't erase
it, neither could he seem to write it. At least not well.

  The one thing he despised was even the idea of writer's block. Normally he could shrug it off, continue working until the nasty threat of it passed. Much, he sometimes thought, like a black-edged cloud that would then hover over some other unfortunate writer.

  But this time he was stuck. He couldn't move into the scene, nor beyond it, and spent a great deal of the night scowling at the words he'd written.

  Cold, he thought. He was just running cold. That's why the scene was cold.

  Itchy was what he was, he admitted bitterly. Sexually frustrated by a woman who could hold him off with no more than one quiet look.

  Served him right for obsessing over his landlady when he should be obsessing about murder.

  Muttering to himself, he pushed away from his desk and stalked to the window. It was just his luck that Brianna should be the first thing he saw.

  There she was below his window, neat as a nun in some prim pink dress, her hair all swept up and pinned into submission. Why was she wearing heels? he wondered and leaned closer to the glass. He supposed she'd call the unadorned pumps sensible shoes, but they did senselessly wonderful things to her legs.

  As he watched, she climbed behind the wheel of her car, her movements both practical and graceful. She'd set her purse on the seat beside her first, he thought. And so she did. Then carefully buckle her seat belt, check her mirrors. No primping in the rearview for Brianna, he noted. Just a quick adjustment to be certain it was aligned properly. Now turn the key.

  Even through the glass he could hear the coughing fatigue of the engine. She tried it again and a third time. By then Gray was shaking his head and heading downstairs.

  "Why the hell don't you get that thing fixed?" he shouted at her as he strode out the front door.

  "Oh." She was out of the car by now and trying to lift the hood. "It was working just fine a day or two ago."

  "This heap hasn't worked fine in a decade." He elbowed her aside, annoyed that she should look and smell so fresh when he felt like old laundry. "Look, if you need to go to the village for something, take my car. I'll see what I can do with this."

  In automatic defense against the terse words, she angled her chin. "Thank you just the same, but I'm going to Ennistymon."

  "Ennistymon?" Even as he placed the village on his mental map, he lifted his head from under the hood long enough to glare at her. "What for?"

  "To look at the new gallery. They'll be opening it in a couple of weeks, and Maggie asked if I'd come see." She stared at his back as he fiddled with wires and cursed. "I left you a note and food you can heat since I'll be gone most of the day."

  "You're not going anywhere in this. Fan belt's busted, fuel line's leaking, and it's a pretty good bet your starter motor's had it." He straightened, noted that she wore earrings today, thin gold hoops that just brushed the tips of her lobes. They added a celebrational air that irritated him unreasonably. "You've got no business driving around in this junkyard."

  "Well, it's what I have to drive, isn't it? I'll thank you for your trouble, Grayson. I'll just see if Murphy can-"

  "Don't pull that ice queen routine on me." He slammed the hood hard enough to make her jolt. Good, he thought. It proved she had blood in her veins. "And don't throw Murphy up in my face. He couldn't do any more with it than I can. Go get in my car, I'll be back in a minute." "And why would I be getting in your car?" "So I can drive you to goddamn Ennistymon." Teeth set, she slapped her hands on her hips. "It's so kind of you to offer, but-"

  "Get in the car," he snapped as he headed for the house. "I need to soak my head."

  "I'd soak it for you," she muttered. Yanking open her car door, she snatched out her purse. Who'd asked him to drive her, she'd like to know? Why she'd rather walk every step than sit in the same car with such a man. And if she wanted to call Murphy, well... she'd damn well call him. But first she wanted to calm down. She took a deep breath, then another, before walking slowly among her flowers. They soothed her, as always, the tender green just beginning to bud. They needed some work and care, she thought, bending down to tug out an invading weed. If tomorrow was fine, she'd begin. By Easter, her garden would be in its glory.

  The scents, the colors. She smiled a little at a brave young daffodil. Then the door slammed. Her smile gone, she rose,turned. He hadn't bothered to shave, she noted. His hair was damp and pulled back by a thin leather thong, his clothes clean if a bit ragged.

  She knew very well the man had decent clothes. Why, didn't she wash and iron them herself?

  He flicked a glance at her, tugged the keys out of his jeans pocket. "In the car."

 
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