Born in ice, p.38
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       Born in Ice, p.38

         Part #2 of Born In series by Nora Roberts
 

  Maeve was hard, embittered; she too often twisted the heart of the scriptures she so religiously read to suit her own means and uses. She could use the canons of the church like a hammer. But she had stayed.

  With a little sigh Brianna shifted to stake the next plant. The time would come for forgiveness. She hoped she had forgiveness in her.

  "You're supposed to look happy when you garden, not troubled."

  Putting a hand on top of her hat, Brianna lifted her head to look at Gray. A good day, she decided at once. When he'd had a good day, you could all but feel the pleasure of it vibrate from him.

  "I was letting my mind wander."

  "So was I. I got up and looked out of the window and saw you. For the life of me I couldn't think of anything else."

  "It's a lovely day for being out-of-doors. And you started working at dawn." With quick and oddly tender movements, she staked another stem. "Is it going well for you, then?"

  "It's going incredibly well." He sat beside her, indulged himself with a gulp of the perfumed air. "I can barely keep up with myself. I murdered a lovely young woman today."

  She snorted with laughter. "And sound very pleased with yourself."

  "I was very fond of her, but she had to go. And her murder is going to spearhead the outrage that will lead to the killer's downfall."

  "Was it in the ruins we went to that she died?"

  "No, that was someone else. This one met her fate in the Burren, near the Druid's Altar."

  "Oh." Despite herself Brianna shivered "I've always been fond of that spot." "Me, too. He left her stretched over the crown stone, like an offering to a bloodthirsty god. Naked, of course."

  "Of course. And I suppose some poor unfortunate tourist will find her."

  "He already has. An American student on a walking tour of Europe." Gray clucked his tongue. "I don't think he'll ever be the same." Leaning over, he kissed her shoulder. "So, how was your day?"

  "Not as eventful. I saw off those lovely newlyweds from Limerick this morning, and I minded the American children while their parents had a lie-in." Eagle-eyed, she spotted a tiny weed and mercilessly ripped it out of the bed. "They helped me make hot cross buns. After, the family had a day at Bunratty, the folk park, you know. Only returned shortly ago. We're expecting another family this evening, from Edinburgh, who stayed here two years past. They've two teenagers, boys, who both fell a bit in love with me last time."

  "Really?" Idly he ran a fingertip down her shoulder. "I'll have to intimidate them."

  "Oh, I imagine they're over it now." She glanced up, smiled curiously at his snort of laughter. "What?"

  "I was just thinking you've probably ruined those boys for life. They'll never find anyone to compare with you."

  "What nonsense." She reached for another stake. "I talked to Maggie earlier this afternoon. They might be in Dublin another week or two. And we'll have the baptism when they get back. Murphy and I are to be godparents."

  He shifted, sat cross-legged now. "What does that mean, exactly, in Catholic?"

  "Oh, not much different, I'd imagine, than it means in any church. We'll speak for the baby during the service, like sponsors, you see. And we'll promise to look after his religious upbringing, if something should happen to Maggie and Rogan."

  "Kind of a heavy responsibility."

  "It's an honor," she said with a smile. "Were you not baptized ever, Grayson?"

  "I have no idea. Probably not." He moved his shoulders, then cocked a brow at her pensive frown. "What now? Worried I'll burn in hell because nobody sprinkled water over my head?"

  "No." Uncomfortable, she looked away again. "And the water's only a symbol, of cleansing away original sin."

  "How original is it?"

  She looked back at him, shook her head. "You don't want me explaining catechism and such, and I'm not trying to convert you. Still, I know Maggie and Rogan would like you at the service."

  "Sure, I'll go. Be interesting. How's the kid anyway?"

  "She says Liam's growing like a weed." Brianna concentrated on what her hands were doing and tried not to let her heart ache too much. "I told her about Mr. Smythe-White-I mean Mr. Carstairs."

  "And?"

  "She laughed till I thought she'd burst. She thought Rogan might take the matter a bit less lightly, but we both agreed it was so like Da to tumble into a mess like this. It's a bit like having him back for a time. 'Brie,' he might say, 'if you don't risk something, you don't win something.' And I'm to tell you she was impressed with your cleverness in tracking Mr. Carstairs down, and would you like the job we've hired that detective for."

  "No luck on that?"

  "Actually, there was something." She sat back again, laid her hands on her thighs. "Someone, one of Amanda Dougherty's cousins, I think, thought she might have gone north in New York, into the mountains. It seems she'd been there before and was fond of the area. The detective, he's taking a trip there, to, oh, that place where Rip van Winkle fell asleep."

  "The Catskills?"

  "Aye, that's it. So, with luck, he'll find something there."

  Gray picked up a garden stake himself, eyeing it down the length, wondering absently how successful a murder weapon it might be. "What'll you do if you discover you've got a half brother or sister?"

  "Well, I think I would write to Miss Dougherty first." She'd already thought it through, carefully. "I don't want to hurt anyone. But from the tone of her letters to Da, I think she'd be a woman who might be glad to know that she, and her child, are welcome."

  "And they would be," he mused, setting the stake aside again. "This, what-twenty-six-, twenty-seven-year-old stranger would be welcome."

  "Of course." She tilted her head, surprised he would question it. "He or she would have Da's blood, wouldn't they? As Maggie and I do. He wouldn't want us to turn our back on family."

  "But he-" Gray broke off, shrugged.

  "You're thinking he did," Brianna said mildly. "I don't know if that's the way of it. We'll never know, I suppose, what he did when he learned of it. But turn his back, no, it wouldn't have been in him. He kept her letters, and knowing him, I think he would have grieved for the child he would never be able to see."

  Her gaze wandered, followed the flitting path of a speckled butterfly. "He was a dreamer, Grayson, but he was first and always a family man. He gave up a great deal to keep this family whole. More than I'd ever guessed until I read those letters."

  "I'm not criticizing him." He thought of the grave, and the flowers Brianna had planted over it. "I just hate to see you troubled."

  "I'll be less troubled when we find out what we can."

  "And your mother, Brianna? How do you think she's going to react if this all comes out?"

  Her eyes cooled, and her chin took on a stubborn tilt. "I'll deal with that when and if I have to. She'll have to accept what is. For once in her life, she'll have to accept it."

  "You're still angry with her," he observed. "About Rory."

  "Rory's over and done. And has been."

  He took her hands before she could reach for her stakes. And waited patiently.

  "All right, I'm angry. For what she did then, for the way she spoke to you, and maybe most of all for the way she made what I feel for you seem wicked. I'm not good at being angry. It makes my stomach hurt."

  "Then I hope you're not going to be angry with me," he said as he heard the sound of a car approaching.

  "Why would I?"

  Saying nothing, he rose, drawing her to her feet. Together they watched the car pull up, stop. Lottie leaned out with a hearty wave before she and Maeve alighted.

  "I called Lottie," Gray murmured, squeezing Brianna's hand when it tensed in his. "Sort of invited them over for a visit."

  "I don't want another argument with guests in the house." Brianna's voice had chilled. "You shouldn't have done this, Grayson. I'd have gone to see her tomorrow and had words in her home instead of mine."

  "Brie, your garden's a picture," Lottie called out as the
y approached. "And what a lovely day you have for it." In her motherly way she embraced Brianna and kissed her cheek. "Did you have a fine time in New York City?"

  "I did, yes."

  "Living the high life," Maeve said with a snort. "And leaving decency behind."

  "Oh, Maeve, leave be." Lottie gave an impatient wave. "I want to hear about New York City."

  "Come in and have some tea then," Brianna invited. "I've brought you back some souveniers."

  "Oh, what a sweetheart you are. Souveniers, Maeve, from America." She beamed at Gray as they walked to the house. "And your movie, Grayson? Was it grand?"

  "It was." He tucked her hand through his arm, gave it a pat. "And after I had to compete with Tom Cruise for Brianna's attention."

  "No! You don't say?" Lottie's voice squeaked and her eyes all but fell out in astonishment. "Did you hear that, Maeve? Brianna met Tom Cruise."

  "I don't pay mind to movie actors," Maeve grumbled, desperately impressed. "It's all wild living and divorces with them."

  "Hah! Never does she miss an Errol Flynn movie when it comes on the telly." Point scored, Lottie waltzed into the kitchen and went directly to the stove. "Now, I'll fix the tea, Brianna. That way you can go fetch our presents."

  "I've some berry tarts to go with it." Brianna shot Gray a look as she headed for her bedroom. "Baked fresh this morning."

  "Ah, that's lovely. Do you know, Grayson, my oldest son, that's Peter, he went to America. To Boston he went, to visit cousins we have there. He visited the harbor where you Yanks dumped the British tea off the boat. Gone back twice again, he has, and taken his children. His own son, Shawn, is going to move there and take a job."

  She chatted on about Boston and her family while Maeve sat in sullen silence. A few moments later Brianna came back in, carrying two small boxes.

  "There's so many shops there," she commented, determined to be cheerful. "Everywhere you look something else is for sale. It was hard to decide what to bring you."

  "Whatever it is, it'll be lovely." Eager to see, Lottie set down a plate of tarts and reached for her box. "Oh, would you look at this?" She lifted the small, decorative bottle to the light where it gleamed rich blue.

  " 'Tis for scent, if you like, or just for setting out."

  "It's lovely as it can be," Lottie declared. "Look how it's got flowers carved right into it. Lilies. How sweet of you, Brianna. Oh, and Maeve, yours is red as a ruby. With poppies. Won't these look fine, setting on the dresser?"

  "They're pretty enough." Maeve couldn't quite resist running her finger over the etching. If she had a weakness, it was for pretty things. She felt she'd never gotten her fair share of them. "It was kind of you to give me a passing thought while you were off staying in a grand hotel and consorting with movie stars."

  "Tom Cruise," Lottie said, easily ignoring the sarcasm. "Is he as handsome a lad as he looks in the films?"

  "Every bit, and charming as well. He and his wife may come here."

  "Here?" Amazed at the thought, Lottie pressed a hand to her breast. "Right here to Blackthorn Cottage?"

  Brianna smiled at Lottie. "So he said."

  "That'll be the day," Maeve muttered. "What would so rich and high-flying a man want with staying at this place?"

  "Peace," Brianna said coolly. "And a few good meals. What everyone else wants when they stay here."

  "And you get plenty of both in Blackthorn," Gray put in. "I've done a great deal of traveling, Mrs. Concannon, and

  I've never been to a place as lovely or as comfortable as this. You must be very proud of Brianna for her success."

  "Hmph. I imagine right enough you're comfortable here, in my daughter's bed."

  "It would be a foolish man who wasn't," he said amiably before Brianna could comment. "You're to be commended for raising such a warm-hearted, kind-natured woman who also has the brains and the dedication to run a successful business. She amazes me."

  Stumped, Maeve said nothing. The compliment was a curve she hadn't expected. She was still searching through it for the insult when Gray crossed to the counter.

 
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