Born in ice, p.37
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       Born in Ice, p.37
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         Part #2 of Born In series by Nora Roberts

  come to the attention of the authorities could be rather awkward."

  "It's as you said," Brianna murmured, staring at Gray. "It's almost exactly as you said."

  "I'm good," he murmured and patted her hand. "So, you came to Blackthorn to check out the situation for yourself."

  "I did. Iris couldn't join me as we were expecting a rather lovely shipment of Chippendale. Admittedly, I got a charge out of going under again. A bit of nostalgia, a little adventure. I was absolutely charmed by your home, and more than a little concerned when I discovered that you were related by marriage to Rogan Sweeney. After all, he is an important man, a sharp one. It worried me that he would take charge. So ... when the opportunity presented itself, I took a quick look around for the certificate."

  He put a hand over Brianna's, gave it an avuncular squeeze. "I do apologize for the mess and inconvenience. I couldn't be sure how long I'd have alone, you see. I'd hoped if I could put my hands on it, we could put a period to the whole unhappy business. But-"

  "I gave the certificate to Rogan for safekeeping," Brianna told him.

  "Ah. I was afraid of something like that. I find it odd he didn't follow up."

  "His wife was about to have a baby, and he had the opening of the new gallery." Brianna stopped herself, realized she was very nearly apologizing for her brother-in-law. "I could handle the matter myself."

  "I began to suspect that as well after only a few hours in your home. An organized soul is a dangerous one to someone in my former trade. I did come back once, thinking I might have another go, but between your dog and your hero in residence, I had to take to my heels."

  Brianna's chin came up. "You were looking in my window."

  "With no disrespectful intent, I promise you. My dear, I'm old enough to be your father, and quite happily married." He huffed a bit, as if insulted. "Well, I offered to buy the stock back, and the offer holds."

  "A half pound a piece," Gray reminded him dryly.

  "Double what Tom Concannon paid. I have the paperwork if you need proof."

  "Oh, I'm sure someone with your talent could come up with any paper transaction he wanted."

  Smythe-White let out a long-suffering sigh. "I'm sure you feel you have the right to accuse me of that sort of behavior."

  "I think the police would be fascinated by your behavior."

  Eyes on Gray, Smythe-White took a hasty sip of beer. "What purpose would that serve, really now? Two people in their golden years, taxpayers, devoted spouses, ruined and sent to prison for past indiscretions."

  "You cheated people," Brianna snapped back, "You cheated my father."

  "I gave your father exactly what he paid for, Brianna. A dream. He walked off from our dealing a happy man, hoping, as too many hope, to make something out of next to nothing." He smiled at her gently. "He really only wanted the hope that he could."

  Because it was true, she could find nothing to say. "It doesn't make it right," she decided at length.

  "But we've mended our ways. Changing a life is an effortful thing, my dear. It takes work and patience and determination."

  She lifted her gaze again as his words hit home. If what he said of himself was true, there were two people at that table who had made that effort. Would she condemn Gray for what he'd done in the past? Would she want to see some old mistake spring up and drag him back?

  "I don't want you or your wife to go to prison, Mr. Smythe-White." "He knows the rules," Gray interrupted, squeezing Brianna's hand hard. "You play, you pay. Maybe we can bypass the authorities, but the courtesy is worth more than a thousand pounds."

  "As I explained-" Smythe-White began.

  "The stock isn't worth dick," Gray returned. "But the certificate. I'd say that would come in at ten thousand."

  "Ten thousand pounds!" Smythe-White blustered while Brianna simply sat with her mouth hanging open. "That's blackmail. It's robbery. It's-"

  "A pound a unit," Gray finished. "More than reasonable with what you've got riding on it. And with the tidy profit you made from the investors, I think Tom Concannon's dream should come true. I don't think that's blackmail. I think it's justice. And justice isn't negotiable."

  Pale, Smythe-White sat back. Again, he took out his handkerchief and mopped his face. "Young man, you're squeezing my heart."

  "Nope, just your bankbook. Which is fat enough to afford it. You caused Brie a lot of trouble, a lot of worry. You messed with her home. Now, while I might sympathize with your predicament, I don't think you realize just what that home means to her. You made her cry."

  "Oh, well, really." Smythe-White waved the handkerchief, dabbed with it again. "I do apologize, most sincerely. This is dreadful, really dreadful. I have no idea what Iris would say."

  "If she's smart," Gray drawled, "I think she'd say pay up and count your blessings."

  He sighed, stuffed the damp handkerchief into his pocket. "Ten thousand pounds. You're a hard man, Mr. Thane."

  "Herb, I think I can call you Herb because, at this moment, we both know I'm your best friend."

  He nodded sadly. "Unfortunately true." Changing tactics, he looked hopefully at Brianna. "I really have caused you distress, and I'm terribly sorry. We'll clear the whole matter up. I wonder, perhaps we could cancel the debt in trade? A nice trip for you? Or furnishings for your inn. We have some lovely pieces at the shop."

  "Money talks," Gray said before Brianna could think of a response.

  "A hard man," Smythe-White repeated and let his shoulders sag. "I suppose there's very little choice in the matter. I'll write you a check."

  "It's going to have to be cash."

  Another sigh. "Yes, of course it is. All right then, we'll make arrangements. Naturally, I don't carry such amounts with me on business jaunts."

  "Naturally," Gray agreed. "But you can get it. By tomorrow."

  "Really, another day or two would be more reasonable," Smythe-White began, then seeing the gleam in Gray's eyes, surrendered. "But I can wire Iris for the money. It will be no trouble to have it here by tomorrow."

  "I didn't think it would."

  Smythe-White smiled wanly. "If you'd excuse me. I need the loo." Shaking his head, he rose and walked to the rear of the pub.

  "I don't understand. I don't," Brianna whispered when Smythe-White was out of earshot. "I kept quiet because you kept kicking me under the table but-"

  "Nudging you," Gray corrected. "I was only nudging you."

  "Aye, and I'll have a limp for a week. But my point is, you're letting him go, and you're making him pay such a huge amount. It doesn't seem right."

  "It's exactly right. Your father wanted his dream, and he's getting his dream. Good old Herb knows that sometimes a con goes sour and you count your losses. You don't want to send him to jail and neither do I."

  "No, I don't. But to take his money-"

  "He took your father, and that five hundred pounds couldn't have been easy for your family to spare."

  "No, but-"

  "Brianna. What would your father say?"

  Beaten, she dropped her chin on her fist. "He'd think it was a grand joke."

  "Exactly." Gray cast his eyes toward the men's room, narrowed them. "He's taking too long. Hang on a minute."

  Brianna frowned into her glass. Then her lips began to curve. It really was a grand joke. One her father would have greatly appreciated.

  She didn't expect to see the money, not such a huge amount. Not really. It was enough to know they'd settled it all, with no real harm done.

  Glancing up, she saw Gray, eyes hot, storm out of the men's room and head toward the bar. He had a quick conversation with the barman before coming back to the table.

  His face had cleared again as he dropped into his chair and picked up his beer.

  "Well," Brianna said after the moment stretched out.

  "Oh, he's gone. Right out the window. Canny old bastard."

  "Gone?" Staggered by the turn of events, she shut her eyes. "Gone," she repeated. "And to think, he had me lik
ing him, believing him."

  "That's exactly what a con artist's supposed to do. But in this case, I think we got more of the truth than not."

  "What do we do now? I just don't want to go to the police, Gray. I couldn't live with myself imagining that little man and his wife in jail." A sudden thought stabbed through, making her eyes pop wide. "Oh, bloody hell. Do you suppose he really has a wife at all?"

  "Probably." Gray took a sip of beer, considered. "As to what we do now, now we go back to Clare, let him stew. Wait him out. It'll be easy enough to find him again if and when we want."

  "How?"

  "Through First Flight Tours. Then there's this." Before Brianna's astonished eyes, Gray drew out a wallet. "I picked his pocket when we were out on the street. Insurance," he explained when she continued to gape. "After all these years, I'm not even rusty." He shook his head at himself. "I should be ashamed." Then he grinned and tapped the billfold against his palm. "Don't look so shocked, it's only a little cash and I.D."

  Calmly Gray took bills from the wallet and stuck them in his own pocket. "He still owes me a hundred pounds, more or less. I'd say he keeps his real money in a clip. He's got a

  London address," Gray went on, tucking the lifted wallet away. "I glanced through it in the men's room. There's also a snapshot of a rather attractive, matronly looking woman. Iris, I'd think. Oh, and his name's Carstairs. John B., not Smythe-White."

  Brianna pressed her fingers between her eyes. "My head's spinning."

  "Don't worry, Brie, I guarantee we'll be hearing from him again. Ready to go?"

  "I suppose." Still reeling from the events of the day, she rose. "He's a nerve, that one. He clipped out, too, without buying us the drinks."

  "Oh, he bought them." Gray hooked an arm through hers, sending a salute to the barman on the way out. "He owns the damn pub."

  "He-" She stopped, stared, then began to laugh.

  Chapter Nineteen

  It was good to be home. Adventures and the glamour of traveling were all very fine, Brianna thought, but so were the simple pleasures of your own bed, your own roof, and the familiar view out your own window.

  She would not mind winging off somewhere again, as long as there was home to come back to.

  Content with routine, Brianna worked in her garden, staking her budding delphiniums and monkshood, while the scent of just blooming lavender honeyed the air. Bees hummed nearby busy flirting with her lupine.

  From the rear of the house came the sound of children laughing, and Con's excited barks as he chased the ball her young American visitors tossed for him.

  New York seemed very far away, as exotic as the pearls she'd tucked deep inside her dresser drawer. And the day she had spent in Wales was like some odd, colorful play.

  She glanced up, adjusting the brim of her hat as she studied Gray's window. He was working, had been almost around the clock since they'd set down their bags. She wondered where he was now, what place, what time, what people surrounded him. And what mood would he be in when he came back to her?

  Irritable if the writing went badly, she thought. Touchy as a stray dog. If it went well, he'd be hungry-for food, and for her. She smiled to herself and gently tied the fragile stems to the stakes.

  How amazing it was to be wanted the way he wanted her. Amazing for both of them, she decided. He was no more used to it than she. And it worried him a bit. Idly she brushed her fingers over a clump of bellflowers.

  He'd told her things about himself she knew he'd told no one else. And that worried him as well. How foolish of him to have believed she would think less of him for what he'd been through, what he'd done to survive.

  She could only imagine the fear and the pride of a young boy who had never known the love and demands, the sorrows and the comforts, of family. How alone he'd been, and how alone he'd made himself out of that pride and fear. And somehow through it, he'd fashioned himself into a caring and admirable man.

  No, she didn't think less of him. She only loved him more for the knowing.

  His story had made her think of her own, and study on her life. Her parents hadn't loved each other, and that was hurtful. But Brianna knew she'd had her father's love. Had always known it and taken comfort from it. She'd had a home and roots that kept body and soul anchored.

  And in her own way Maeve had loved her. At least her mother had felt the duty toward the children she'd borne enough to stay with them. She could have turned her back at any time, Brianna mused That opinion had never occurred to Brianna before, and she mulled it over now as she enjoyed the gardening chores. Her mother could have walked away from the family she'd created-and resented. Gone back to the career that had meant so much to her. Even if it was only duty that had kept her, it was more than Gray had had.

 
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