Heart of the sea, p.4
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       Heart of the Sea, p.4

         Part #3 of Gallaghers of Ardmore series by Nora Roberts
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  “The back door was unlocked.”

  “We’re a friendly sort of place.” She carried the glasses to the bar. “But I’m afraid I can’t sell you a pint right now.”

  “I didn’t come in for a pint.”

  “Didn’t you now?” She knew what a man was after when he had his eyes on her that way, but the game required playing. “What are you looking for, then?”

  “I wasn’t looking for anything when I got up this morning.” He leaned on the bar. They both knew what they were about, he thought. It made the dance simpler when both people knew the steps. “Then I saw you.”

  “You’re a smooth one, aren’t you, Mr. New York City?”

  “Trev. Since you’ve got a couple hours free, why don’t you spend them with me?”

  “And how would you know I have free time?”

  “I came in on the end of your employer directive. She’s wrong, you know.”

  “About what?”

  “It does take brains, and knowing how to use them. You do.”

  It surprised her. It was a rare man who noticed she had a mind, and a rarer one who commented on it. “So you’re attracted to my brain, are you?”

  “No.” At the quick humor in his eyes and a flash of grin a nice little ripple moved up her spine. “I’m attracted to the package, but I’m interested in your brain.”

  “I like an honest man under most circumstances.” She considered him another moment. He wouldn’t do, of course, for more than a pleasant flirtation. No, wouldn’t do, she thought and was surprised by a very real tug of regret.

  But he was right about one thing. Time she had. “I wouldn’t mind a walk on the beach. But aren’t you supposed to be working?”

  “My hours are flexible.”

  “Lucky for you.” She moved down the bar, lifted the pass-through. “And maybe for me as well.”

  He came through the opening, then stopped so they stood close and face-to-face. “One question.”

  “I’ll try to give you one answer.”

  “Why isn’t there someone I have to kill before I do this?” He leaned down and brushed his lips very lightly over hers.

  She dropped the pass-through back in place. “I’m choosy,” she said. She walked to the door, then sent him a level and amused look over her shoulder. “And I’ll let you know if I choose to have you try that again, Trev of New York. With a bit more enthusiasm.”

  “Fair enough.” He stepped outside with her, waiting while she locked the front door.

  The air smelled of sea and flowers. It was something she loved about Ardmore. The scents and sounds, and the wonderful spread of the water. There were such possibilities in that vast sea. Sooner or later it would bump into land again, another place with new people, different things. There was wonder in that.

  And comfort here, she supposed, raising a hand in greeting as Kathy Duffy called out to her from her dooryard.

  “Is this your first time in Ireland?” Darcy asked him as they walked toward the beach.

  “No, I’ve been to Dublin several times.”

  “One of my favorite cities.” She scanned the beach, noting the pockets of tourists. Automatically she angled away and toward the cliffs. “The shops and restaurants are wonderful. You can’t find that in Ardmore.”

  “Why aren’t you in Dublin?”

  “My family’s here—well, part of them. Our parents are settled in Boston now. And I don’t have a burning desire to live in Dublin when there are so many places in the world and I haven’t seen nearly enough of them yet.”

  “What have you seen?”

  She looked up at him. A rare one indeed, she thought. Most of the men of her acquaintance wanted to talk about themselves. But they’d play it his way for now. “Paris, just recently. Dublin, of course, and a great deal of my own country. But the pub hampers traveling.”

  She turned, walking backward for a bit with her hand up to shield her eyes. “I wonder what it’ll look like when he’s done with it.”

  Trevor stopped, studied the pub as she was. “The theater?”

  “Yes. I’ve looked at the drawings, but I don’t have an eye for such things.” She lifted her face to the breeze of salt and sea. “The family’s pleased with it, and they’re very particular.”

  “So is Magee Enterprise.”

  “I imagine so, though it’s difficult to understand why the man would pick a small village in the south of Ireland for his project. Jude, she says part of it’s sentiment.”

  It surprised and nearly disconcerted him to have the truth spoken so casually. “Does she?”

  “Do you know the story of Johnnie Magee and Maude Fitzgerald?”

  “I’ve heard it. They were engaged to be married, and he went off to war and was killed in France.”

  “And she never married, but lived alone in her cottage on Faerie Hill all her days. Long days, as Old Maude was one hundred and one years when she passed. The boy’s mother, Johnnie Magee’s mother, grieved herself to death within a few years. They said she favored him and could find no comfort in her husband, her other children, or her faith.”

  It was odd to walk here and discuss these pieces of his family, pieces he had never met, with a woman he barely knew. Odder still that he was learning more of them from her than he’d learned from anyone else.

  “I’d think losing a child has to be the biggest grief.”

  “I’m sure it is, but what of those who were alive yet and needed her? When you forget what you have for what you’ve lost, grieving’s an indulgence.”

  “You’re right. What happened to them?”

  “The story is that her husband finally took to the drink, excessively. Wallowing in whiskey’s no better or worse than wallowing in grief, I suppose. And her daughters, I think there were three, married as soon as they could and scattered. Her other son, he who was more than ten years younger than Johnnie, eventually took his wife and his little boy away from Ireland to America, where he made his fortune. Never did he come back nor, they say, contact those left here of family and friends.”

  She turned and looked back at the pub again. “It takes a hard heart never to look back, even once.”

  “Yeah,” Trevor murmured. “It does.”

  “But so the seeds of Magee Enterprise were sowed first in Ardmore. It seems the Magee running matters now is willing to put his time and money into seeing those seeds grow here.”

  “Do you have a problem with that?”

  “No, indeed. It’ll be good for us, and for him as well most likely. Business is business, but there’s room for a bit of sentiment as long as it doesn’t cloud the bottom line.”

  “Which is?”

  “Profit.”

  “Just profit?”

  She angled back, gestured out to the bay. “There’s Tim Riley’s boat coming in for the day. He’s been out with his crew since before first light. It’s a hard life, that of a fisherman. Tim and those like him go out day after day, casting their nets, fighting weather, and breaking their backs. Why do you suppose they do it?”

  “Why don’t you tell me?”

  “They love it.” She tossed her hair back, watching the boat ride a crest. “No matter how they bitch and complain, they love the life. And Tim, he cares for his boat like a mother her firstborn. He sells his catch fair so there’s no one would say Riley, he’s not to be trusted. So there’s love of the work, tradition, reputation, but at the bottom of it all is profit. Without an eye on making a living, it’s only a hobby, isn’t it?”

  He caught a curl of her hair as it flew in the wind. “Maybe I’m attracted to your mind after all.”

  She laughed at that and began walking again. “Do you love what you do?”

  “Yes. Yes, I do.”

  “What is it appeals to you most?”

  “What did you see when you looked out your window this morning?”

  “Well, I saw you, didn’t I?” She was rewarded by the humor that moved warmly over his face. “And other than that, I saw a
mess.”

  “Exactly. I enjoy most an empty lot, or an old building in disrepair. The possibilities of what can be done about them.”

  “Possibilities,” she murmured, looking out to sea again. “I understand about that. So you enjoy building something out of nothing, or out of what’s been neglected.”

  “Yes. Changing it without damaging it. If you cut down a tree, is what you’re putting in its place worth the sacrifice? Does it matter in the long run, or it is only short-term ego?”

  “Again the philosopher.” His face suited that, even while the windblown hair and little scar spoke another, less quiet side. “Are you the conscience of Magee, then?”

  “I like to think so.”

  An odd sentiment for a laborer, she thought, but it appealed to her. The fact was, she couldn’t at the moment find one thing about him that didn’t appeal. “Up on the cliffs there, beyond the big hotel, men once built grandly. The structures are ruins now, but the heart remains and many who go there feel that. The Irish understand sacrifice, and why and when it matters. You’ll have to find time to walk there.”

  “I’ll plan on it. I’d like it better if you found time to show me the way.”

  “That’s another possibility.” Judging the hour, she turned to walk back.

  “Let’s build on it.” He took her hand to stop her, enjoyed the faint hint of irritation that came into her eyes. “I want to see you.”

  “I know.” Because it was the simplest angle, and never failed her, she tilted her head and allowed a teasing smile to play on her lips. “I haven’t made up my mind about you as yet. A woman has to be careful when dealing with strange and handsome men.”

  “Sweetheart, a woman with your arsenal uses men for target practice.”

  Irritated, she tugged her hand free. “Only if they ask for it. Having a pleasing face doesn’t make me heartless.”

  “No, but having a pleasing face and a sharp mind is a potent combination, and it’d be a waste if you didn’t know how to use both.”

  She considered flicking him off and walking away, but damned if he didn’t intrigue her. “Sure and this is the strangest of conversations. I don’t know if I like you or not, but maybe I’m interested enough to take some time to find out. But at the moment, I have to head back into work. It wouldn’t do for me to be late after I’ve lectured Sinead.”

  “She underestimates you.”

  “I beg your pardon?”

  “She underestimates you,” Trevor repeated as they walked back across the sand. “She sees the surface—a beautiful woman with a keen sense of fashion who’s passing the time working in her family business. One her brothers run. A woman who in her mind holds the lowest position on the ladder and doesn’t do much more than take orders.”

  Darcy’s eyes narrowed now, but not against the sun. “Oh, is that how you see it?”

  “No, that’s how your Sinead sees it. But she’s young, inexperienced. So she doesn’t see that you have as much to do with the running of Gallagher’s as your brothers. The way you look doesn’t hurt a thing when it comes to setting the atmosphere, but I watched you today.” He glanced down at her. “You never missed a step, even when you were pissed off you never broke rhythm.”

  “If you’re trying to get ’round me with compliments . . . it’s in the way of working. Though I have to say I can’t remember having any like these from a man before.”

  “No, they all tell you you’re the most beautiful woman they’ve ever seen. It’s a waste of time to state the obvious, and it must get tedious for you.”

  She stopped as they reached the street, stared at him a moment, then laughed. “You’re a rare one, Trev from New York. I think I like you, and wouldn’t mind spending a bit of time here and there in your company. Now if you were just rich, I’d marry you on the spot so you could keep me entertained and indulged all my days.”

  “Is that what you’re looking for, Darcy? Indulgence?”

  “And why not? I’ve expensive tastes that I want to feed. Until I meet a man who’s willing and able to fill my plate, I’ll go on filling my own.” She reached up to touch his cheek. “Doesn’t mean I can’t have a meal or two with another along the way.”

  “Honesty, too.”

  “When it suits me. And since I have a feeling you’d cut through even a well-crafted lie quick enough, why waste the effort?”

  “There it is again.”

  She sent him a puzzled look as they crossed the street. “What?”

  “Efficiency. I find that very arousing in a woman.”

  “Christ, you’re the oddest of ducks. Since I find it amusing to arouse you so easily, I’ll take you up on that breakfast offer.”

  “Tomorrow?”

  She jingled her keys in her pocket and wondered why the idea was so appealing. “Eight o’clock. I’ll meet you in the restaurant at the hotel.”

  “I’m not staying at the hotel.”

  “Oh, well, if you’re at the B and B, we can—”

  “There you are, Darcy.” Aidan came up behind, his keys already in his hand. “Jude thought you were coming down the house to visit.”

  “I was distracted.”

  “I see you met my sister,” he said to Trevor. “Why don’t you come in for a pint on the house?”

  “Actually, I have some work. I was also distracted,” Trevor said with a glance at Darcy. “But I’ll take you up on the offer later.”

  “Always welcome. Your men are keeping us busy. Now with Darcy back, I’m wagering they’ll keep us busier yet.” He winked and shot the key into the lock. “Likely we’ll have a seinsiun going later tonight. Come in if you’ve the chance and you’ll get a small idea of what we’ll be offering those who come through on the way to your theater.”

  “I’ll look forward to it.”

  “Darcy, did you have that chat with Sinead?” She kept her eyes on Trevor’s. “It’s dealt with. I’ll be coming in to tell you about it in just a minute.”

  “That’s fine, then. Good evening to you, Trevor.”

  “I’ll see you later.”

  “Your men,” Darcy said when the door closed. “Your theater.”

  “That’s right.”

  “And that would make you Magee.” She took a careful breath, knowing it would only keep her calm for the short term. “Why didn’t you tell me?”

  “You didn’t ask. What difference does it make?”

  “I think it makes a difference in how you presented yourself to me. I don’t care to be deceived and toyed with.”

  He slapped a hand on the door before she could wrench it open. “We’ve had a couple of conversations,” he said evenly. “There was nothing deceptive about them.”

  “Then we have different standards in that area.”

  “Maybe you’re just ticked off that I’m rich after all, and now you’ll have to marry me.”

  He sent her a smile designed to charm, and got nothing but a withering stare in return. “I don’t find your humor appropriate. Now step back from the door. We’re not yet open to the public.”

  “Is this our first fight?”

  “No.” She did manage to yank open the door now, nearly bashing his face with it. “It’s our last.” She didn’t slam it, but he clearly heard the click of the lock through the thick wood.

  “I don’t think so,” he said with a great deal more cheer than another man might have felt under the circumstances. “Nope, I don’t think so.” He strolled down to his car and thought it might be a good opportunity to wander up to the cliffs and take a look at the ruins everyone had told him about.

  • • •

  This was the Ireland he’d come to see. The ancient and the sacred, the wild and the mystic. He was surprised to find himself alone, as it seemed to him that any who were drawn to this area would be compelled to come here, high on the cliffs where the ruins brooded. He circled the steep stone gables of the oratory that had been built in the saint’s name. It stood on the rough and uneven ground and was guarded
, he supposed, by the souls who rested there. Three stone crosses stood guard as well, with the fresh water quiet in the well beneath them.

  He’d been told it was a lovely walk from here around the headland, but he found himself more inclined to linger where he was.

  Darcy was right, he decided, the structure might have tumbled, but the heart of it lived.

  He stepped back, respectful enough, or just superstitious enough, not to step on graves. He assumed the small, pitted stones were graves.

  And glancing down, he saw the marker for Maude Fitzgerald.

  Wise Woman

  “So here you are,” he murmured. “There’s a picture of you with my great-uncle in one of the old albums my mother salvaged when my grandfather died. He didn’t keep many pictures from here. Isn’t it odd that he had one of you?”

  He hunkered down, touched and gently amused to see that flowers had been planted over her in a soft blanket of color. “You must have had a fondness for flowers. Your garden at the cottage is lovely.”

  “Had a way with growing things, did Maude.”

  At the comment, Trevor looked back toward the well, then rose. The man who stood there was oddly dressed, all in silver that sparkled in the sun. A costume, Trevor assumed, for some event at the hotel. He was certainly the theatrical sort, with his long flow of black hair, wicked smile, and lightning-blue eyes.

  “Don’t startle easily, do you? Well, that’s to your favor.”

  “A man who startles easily shouldn’t pass the time here. Great spot,” Trevor added, glancing around again.

  “I favor it. You’d be the Magee come from America to build dreams and find answers.”

  “More or less. And you’d be?”

  “Carrick, prince of the faeries. Pleased to make your acquaintance.”

  “Uh-huh.”

  The bland amusement in Trevor’s tone had Carrick’s brows beetling. “You’d have heard of me, even over in your America.”

  “Sure.” Either the man was a lunatic or he wasn’t willing to step out of character. Probably both, Trevor decided. “It so happens I’m staying in the cottage over the hill.”

  “I know where the devil you’re staying, and I don’t care for that indulgent tone you’re using. I didn’t bring you here to have you make sport of me.”

  “ You brought me here?”

  “Mortals,” Carrick grumbled. “They like to think everything’s their own doing. Your destiny’s here, tied with mine. If I planted a few seeds to get you moving on it, who has a better right?”

  “Pal, if you’re going to drink this early in the day, you ought to stay out of the sun. Why don’t I give you a hand back down to the hotel?”

  “Drunk? You’re thinking I’m drunk?” Carrick threw back his head and laughed until he was forced to hold his sides. “Bloody bonehead. Drunk. We’ll show you drunk. Just give me a moment here to recover myself.”

  After several long breaths, Carrick continued. “Let’s see here, something not so subtle. I’m thinking, for I see already you’re the cynical sort. Ah, I’ve got it!”

  His eyes went dark as cobalt, and Trevor would have sworn the tips of the man’s fingers began to glow gold, then in his hands was a sphere, clear as water.
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