Born in ice, p.21
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       Born in Ice, p.21
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         Part #2 of Born In series by Nora Roberts

  kissed Maggie's cheek. "Tell me, how does it feel having the president buy your work?"

  "As long as his money's good." Then Maggie threw back her head and laughed. "It's like going to the moon and back. I can't help it. We Concannons just aren't sophisticated enough to take such things in stride. Oh, I wish Da..."

  "I know."

  "Well." Maggie took a deep breath. "I should tell you that the detective Rogan hired hasn't found Amanda Dougherty as yet. He's following leads, whatever that may mean."

  "So many weeks, Maggie, the expense."

  "Don't start nagging me about taking your housekeeping money. I married a rich man."

  "And everyone knows you wanted only his wealth."

  "No, I wanted his body." She winked and hooked her arm through Brianna's. "And your friend Grayson Thane has one a woman wouldn't sneeze at, I've noticed."

  "I've noticed myself."

  "Good, shows you haven't forgotten how to look. I had a card from Lottie."

  "So did I. Do you mind if they stay the third week?"

  "For myself Mother could stay in that villa for the rest of her natural life." She sighed at Brianna's expression. "All right, all right. It's happy I am that she's enjoying herself, though she won't admit to it."

  "She's grateful to you, Maggie. It's just not in her to say so."

  "I don't need her to say so anymore." Maggie laid a hand on her belly. "I have my own, and it makes all the difference. I never knew I could feel so strongly about anyone. Then there was Rogan. After that, I thought I could never feel so strongly about anything or anyone else. And now, I do. So maybe I understand a little how if you didn't love, and didn't want the child growing in you, it could blight your life as much as loving and wanting it can brighten it."

  "She didn't want me, either."

  "What makes you say such a thing?"

  "She told me." It was a load lifted, Brianna discovered, to say it aloud. "Duty. Twas only duty, not even to Da, but to the Church. It's a cold way to be brought into the world."

  It wasn't anger Brianna needed now, Maggie knew, and bit back on it. Instead, she cupped Brianna's face. "It's her loss, Brie. Not yours. Never yours. And for myself, if the duty hadn't been done, I'd have been lost."

  "He loved us. Da loved us."

  "Yes, he did. And that's been enough. Come, don't worry on it. I'll take you upstairs and show you what we've been up to."

  From the back of the hallway, Gray let out a long breath. The acoustics in the building were much too good for secrets to be told. He thought he understood now some of the sadness that haunted Brianna's eyes. Odd that they should have the lack of a mother's care in common.

  Not that the lack haunted him, he assured himself. He'd gotten over that long ago. He'd left the scared, lonely child behind in the cheerless rooms of the Simon Brent Memorial Home for Children.

  But who, he wondered, was Rory? And why had Rogan hired detectives to look for a woman named Amanda Dougherty?

  Gray had always found the very best way to find the answers was to ask the questions.

  "Who's Rory?"

  The question snapped Brianna out from her quiet daydream as Gray drove easily down narrow winding roads away from Ennistymon. "What?"

  "Not what, who?" He nipped the car closer to the edge as a loaded VW rounded a curve on his side of the road.

  Probably an inexperienced Yank, he thought with a superior degree of smugness. "Who's Rory?" he repeated.

  "You've been listening to pub gossip, have you?"

  Rather than warn him off, the coolness in her voice merely egged him on. "Sure, but that's not where I heard the name. You mentioned him to Maggie back at the gallery."

  "Then you were eavesdropping on a private conversation."

  "That's redundant. It's not eavesdropping unless it's a private conversation."

  She straightened in her seat. "There's no need to correct my grammar, thank you."

  "That wasn't grammar, it was... never mind." He let it, and her, stew a moment. "So, who was he?"

  "And why would it be your business?"

  "You're only making me more curious."

  "He was a boy I knew. You're taking the wrong road."

  "There is no wrong road in Ireland. Read the guidebooks. Is he the one who hurt you?" He flicked a glance in her direction, nodded. "Well, that answers that. What happened?"

  "Are you after putting it in one of your books?"

  "Maybe. But it's personal first. Did you love him?"

  "I loved him. I was going to marry him."

  He caught himself scowling over that and tapping a finger against the steering wheel. "Why didn't you?"

  "Because he jilted me two paces from the altar. Does that satisfy your curiosity?"

  "No. It only tells me that Rory was obviously an idiot." He couldn't stop the next question, was surprised he wanted to. "Do you still love him?"

  "That would be remarkably idiotic of me as it was ten years ago."

  "But it still hurts."

  "Being tossed aside hurts," she said tersely. "Being the object of pity in the community hurts. Poor Brie, poor dear Brie, thrown over two weeks before her wedding day. Left with a wedding dress and her sad little trousseau while her lad runs off to America rather than make her a wife. Is that

  enough for you?" She shifted to stare at him. "Do you want to know if I cried? I did. Did I wait for him to come back? I did that as well."

  "You can punch me if it makes you feel better."

  "I doubt it would."

  "Why did he leave?"

  She made a sound that came as much from annoyance as memory. "I don't know. I've never known. That was the worst of it. He came to me and said he didn't want me, wouldn't have me, would never forgive me for what I'd done. And when I tried to ask him what he meant, he pushed me away, knocked me down."

  Gray's hands tightened on the wheel. "He what?"

  "He knocked me down," she said calmly. "And my pride wouldn't let me go after him. So he left, went to America."

  "Bastard."

  "I've often thought so myself, but I don't know why he left me. So, after a time, I gave away my wedding dress. Murphy's sister Kate wore it the day she married her Patrick."

  "He isn't worth the sadness you carry around in your eyes."

  "Perhaps not. But the dream was. What are you doing?"

  "Pulling over. Let's walk out to the cliffs."

  "I'm not dressed for walking over rough ground," she protested, but he was already out of the car. "I've the wrong shoes, Gray. I can wait here if you want a look."

  "I want to look with you." He tugged her out of the car, then swung her up in his arms.

  "What are you doing? Are you mad?"

  "It's not far, and think of what nice pictures those nice tourists over there are going to take home of us. Can you speak French?"

  "No?" Baffled, she angled back to look at his face. "Why?"

  "I was just thinking if we spoke French, they'd think we were-French, you know. Then they'd tell Cousin Fred back in Dallas the story about this romantic French couple they'd seen near the coast." He kissed her lightly before setting her on her feet near the verge of a rocky slope.

  The water was the color of her eyes today, he noted. That cool, misty green that spoke of dreaming. It was clear enough that he could see the sturdy humps of the Aran Islands, and a little ferryboat that sailed between Innismore and the mainland. The smell was fresh, the sky a moody blue that could, and would, change at any moment. The tourists a few yards away were speaking in a rich Texas twang that made him smile.

  "It's beautiful here. Everything. You've only to turn your head in this part of the world to see something else breathtaking." Deliberately, he turned to Brianna. "Absolutely breathtaking."

  "Now you're trying to flatter me to make up for prying into my business."

  "No, I'm not. And I haven't finished prying, and I like to pry, so it'd be hypocritical to apologize. Who's Amanda Dougherty, and why is Rogan looki
ng for her?"

  Shock flashed over her face, had her mouth tremble open and closed. "You're the most rude of men."

  "I know all that already. Tell me something I don't know."

  "I'm going back." But as she turned, he simply took her arm.

  "I'll carry you back in a minute. You'll break your ankle in those shoes. Especially if you're going to flounce."

  "I don't flounce as you so colorfully put it. And this is none of your..." She trailed off, blew out a huff of breath. "Why would I waste my time telling you it's none of your business?"

  "I haven't got a clue."

  Her gaze narrowed on his face. Bland was what it was, she noted. And stubborn as two mules. "You'll just keep hammering at me until I tell you."

  "Now you're catching on." But he didn't smile. Instead he tucked away a tendril of hair that fluttered into her face. His eyes were intense, unwavering. "That's what's worrying you. She's what's worrying you."

  "It's nothing you'd understand."

  "You'd be surprised what I understand. Here, sit." He guided her to a rock, urged her down, then sat beside her. "Tell me a story. It comes easier that way."

  Perhaps it would. And perhaps it would help this heaviness in her heart to say it all. "Years ago, there was a woman who had a voice like an angel-or so they say. And ambition to use it to make her mark. She was discontent with her life as an innkeeper's daughter and went roaming, paying her way with a song. One day she came back, for her mother was ailing and she was a dutiful daughter if not a loving one. She sang in the village pub for her pleasure, and the patron's pleasure, and a few pounds. It was there she met a man."

  Brianna looked out to sea as she imagined her father catching sight of her mother, hearing her voice.

  "Something hot flashed between them. It might have been love, but not the lasting kind. Still, they didn't, or couldn't resist it. And so, before long, she found herself with child. The Church, her upbringing, and her own beliefs left her no choice but to marry, and give up the dream she'd had. She was never happy after that, and had not enough compassion in her to make her husband happy. Soon after the first child was born, she conceived another. Not out of that flash of something hot this time, but out of a cold sense of duty. And that duty satisfied, she refused her husband her bed and her body."

  It was her sigh that had Gray reaching out, covering her hand with his. But he didn't speak. Not yet.

  "One day, somewhere near the River Shannon, he met another. There was love there, a deep, abiding love. Whatever their sin, the love was greater. But he had a wife, you see, and two small daughters. And he, and the woman who loved him, knew there was no future for them. So she left him, went back to America, She wrote him three letters, lovely letters full of love and understanding. And in the third she told him that she was carrying his child. She was going away, she said, and he wasn't to worry, for she was happy to have a part of him inside her growing."

  A sea bird called, drew her gaze up. She watched it wing off toward the horizon before she continued her story. "She never wrote to him again, and he never forgot her.

  Those memories may have comforted him through the chill of his dutiful marriage and all the years of emptiness. I think they did, for it was her name he said before he died. He said Amanda as he looked out to the sea. And a lifetime after the letters were written, one of his daughters found them, tucked in the attic where he'd kept them tied in a faded red ribbon."

  She shifted to Gray then. "There's nothing she can do, you see, to turn back the clock, to make any of those lives better than they might have been. But doesn't a woman who was loved so deserve to know she was never forgotten? And hasn't the child of that woman, and that man, a right to know his own blood?"

 
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