Born in ice, p.42
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       Born in Ice, p.42

         Part #2 of Born In series by Nora Roberts
 

  "I was not snooping. I was dusting."

  He sipped idly at the coffee he'd gone to the kitchen to brew. To his thinking, he'd never seen her quite so flummoxed. "You don't have a dust rag," he pointed out.

  Feeling naked, Brianna wrapped dignity around her. "I was about to get one. Your desk is a pitiful mess, and I was just straightening up."

  "You were reading my notes."

  "I was putting the notebook aside. Perhaps I glanced at the writing on it. Superstitions is all it is, of evil and death."

  "Evil and death's my living." Grinning, he crossed to her, picked up the pad. "I like this one. On Hallowtide-that's November first."

  "I'm aware of when Hallowtide falls."

  "Sure you are. Anyway, on Hallowtide, the air being filled with the presence of the dead, everything is a symbol of fate. If on that date, you call the name of a person from the outside, and repeat it three times, the result is fatal." He grinned to himself. "Wonder what the garda could charge you with."

  "It's nonsense." And gave her the chills. "It's great nonsense. I used that one." He set the notebook down, studied her. Her high color hadn't quite faded. "You know the trouble with technology?" He lifted one of his computer disks, tapping it on his palm as he studied her with laughing eyes. "No balled up papers, discarded by the frustrated writer that the curious can smooth out and read."

  "As if I'd do such a thing." She flounced away to pick up her linens. "I've beds to make." . "Want to read some of it?"

  She paused halfway to the door, looking back over her shoulder suspiciously. "Of your book?"

  "No, of the local weather report. Of course of my book. Actually, there's a section I could use a local's spin on. To see if I got the rhythm of the dialogue down, the atmosphere, interactions."

  "Oh, well, if I could help you, I'd be glad." "Brie, you've been dying to get a look at the manuscript. You could have asked."

  "I know better than that, living with Maggie." She set the linens down again. "It's worth your life to go in her shop to see a piece she's working on."

  "I'm a more even-tempered sort." With a few deft moves he booted his computer, slipped in the appropriate disk. "It's a pub scene. Local color and some character intros. It's the first time McGee meets Tullia." "Tullia. It's Gaelic."

  "Right. Means peaceful. Let's see if I can find it." He began flipping screens. "You don't speak Gaelic, do you?"

  "I do, yes. Both Maggie and I learned from our Gran."

  He looked up, stared at her. "Son of a bitch. It never even occured to me. Do you know how much time I've spent looking up words? I just wanted a few tossed in, here and there."

  "You'd only to have asked."

  He grunted. "Too late now. Yeah, here it is. McGee's a burned-out cop, with Irish roots. He's come to Ireland to look into some old family history, maybe find his balance, and some answers about himself. Mostly, he just wants to be left alone to regroup. He was involved in a bust that went bad and holds himself responsible for the bystander death of a six-year-old kid."

  "How sad for him."

  "Yeah, he's got his problems. Tullia has plenty of her own. She's a widow, lost her husband and child in an accident that only she survived. She's getting through it, but carrying around a lot of baggage. Her husband wasn't any prize, and there were times she wished him dead."

  "So she's guilty that he is, and scarred because her child was taken from her, like a punishment for her thoughts."

  "More or less. Anyway, this scene's in the local pub. Only runs a few pages. Sit down. Now pay attention." He leaned over her shoulder, took her hand. "See these two buttons?"

  "Yes."

  "This one will page up, this one will page down. When you finished what's on the screen and want to move on, push this one. If you want to go back and look at something again, push that one. And Brianna?"

  "Yes?"

  "If you touch any of the other buttons, I'll have to cut all your fingers off."

  "Being an even-tempered sort."

  "That's right. The disks are backed up, but we wouldn't want to develop any bad habits." He kissed the top of her head. "I'm going to go back downstairs, check on the progress on your greenhouse. If you find something that jars, or just doesn't ring quite true, you can make a note on the pad there."

  "All right." Already reading, she waved him off. "Go away, then."

  Gray wandered downstairs, and outside. The six courses of local stone that would be the base for her greenhouse were nearly finished. It didn't surprise him to see Murphy setting stones in place himself.

  "I didn't know you were a mason as well as a farmer," Gray called out.

  "Oh, I do a bit of this, a bit of that. Mind you don't make that mortar so loose this time," he ordered the skinny teenager nearby. "Here's my nephew, Tim MacBride, visiting from Cork. Tim can't get enough of your country music from the States."

  "Randy Travis, Wynonna, Garth Brooks?"

  "All of them." Tim flashed a smile much like his uncle's.

  Gray bent down, lifted a new stone for Murphy, while he discussed the merits of country music with the boy. Before long he was helping to mix the mortar and making satisfying manly noises about the work with his companions.

  "You've a good pair of hands for a writer," Murphy observed.

  "I worked on a construction crew one summer. Mixing mortar and hauling it in wheelbarrows while the heat fried my brain."

  "It's pleasant weather today." Satisfied with the progress, Murphy paused for a cigarette. "If it holds, we may have this up for Brie by another week."

  Another week, Gray mused, was almost all he had. "It's nice of you to take time from your own work to help her with this."

  "That's comhair," Murphy said easily. "Community. That's how we live here. No one has to get by alone if there's family and neighbors. They'll be three men or more here when it's time to put up the frame and the glass. And others'll come along if help's needed to build her benches and such. By the end of it, everyone will feel they have a piece of the place. And Brianna will be giving out cuttings and plants for everyone's garden." He blew out smoke. "It comes round, you see. That's comhair."

  Gray understood the concept. It was very much what he had felt, and for a moment envied, in the village church during Liam's christening. "Does it ever... cramp your style that by accepting a favor you're obliged to do one?"

  "You Yanks." Chuckling, Murphy took a last drag, then crushed the cigarette out on the stones. Knowing Brianna, he tucked the stub into his pocket rather than flicking it aside. "You always reckon in payments. Obliged isn't the word. Tis a security, if you're needing a more solid term for it. A knowing that you've only to reach out a hand, and someone will help you along if you need it. A knowing that you'd do the same."

  He turned to his nephew. "Well, Tim, let's clean up our tools. We need to be getting back. You'll tell Brie not to be after fiddling with these stones, will you, Grayson? They need to set."

  "Sure, I'll-Oh Christ, I forgot about her. See you later." He hurried back into the house. A glance at the kitchen clock made him wince. He'd left her for more than an hour.

  And she was, he discovered, exactly where he'd left her.

  "Takes you a while to read half a chapter."

  However much his entrance surprised her, she didn't jolt this time. When she lifted her gaze from the screen to his face, her eyes were wet.

  "That bad?" He smiled a little, surprised to find himself nervous.

  "It's wonderful." She reached into her apron pocket for a tissue. "Truly. This part where Tullia's sitting alone in her garden, thinking of her child. It makes you feel her grief. It's not like she's a made-up person at all."

  His second surprise was that he should experience embarrassment. As far as praise went, hers had been perfect. "Well, that's the idea."

  "You've a wonderful gift, Gray, for making words into emotions. I went a bit beyond the part you wanted me to read. I'm sorry. I got caught up in it."

  "I'm flattered." He
noted by the screen she'd read more than a hundred pages. "You're enjoying it."

  "Oh, very much. It has a different... something," she said, unable to pinpoint it, "than your other books. Oh, it's moody, as they always are, and rich in detail And frightening. The first murder, the one at the ruins. I thought my heart would stop when I was reading it. And gory it was, too. Gleefully so."

  "Don't stop now." He ruffled her hair, dropped down on the bed.

  "Well." She linked her hands, laid them on the edge of the desk as she thought through her words. "Your humor's there as well. And your eye, it misses nothing. The scene in the pub, I've walked into that countless times in my life. I could see Tim O'Malley behind the bar, and Murphy playing a tune. He'll like that you made him so handsome."

  "You think he'll recognize himself?"

  "Oh, I do, yes. I don't know how he'll feel about being one of the suspects, or the murderer, if that's what you've done in the end." She waited, hopeful, but he only shook his head.

  "You don't really think I'm going to tell you who done it, do you?"

  "Well, no." She sighed and propped her chin on her fist. "As to Murphy, probably he'll enjoy it. And your affection for the village, for the land here and the people shows. In the little things-the family hitching a ride home from church in their Sunday best, the old man walking with his dog along the roadside in the rain, the little girl dancing with her grandda in the pub."

  "It's easy to write things down when there's so much to see."

  "It's more than what you see, with your eyes, I mean." She lifted her hands, let them fall again. She didn't have words, as he did, to juggle into the right meaning. "It's the heart of it. There's a deepness to the heart of it that's different from what I've read of your writings before. The way McGee fights that tug of war within himself over what he should do. The way he wishes he could do nothing and knows he can't. And Tullia, the way she bears her grief when it's near to bending her in two, and works to make her life what it needs to be again. I can't explain it."

  "You're doing a pretty good job," Gray murmured.

  "It touches me. I can't believe it was written right here, in my home."

  "I don't think it could have been written anywhere else." He rose then, disappointing her by hitting buttons that jangled the screen. She'd hoped he let her read more.

  "Oh, you've changed the name of it," she said when the title page came up. "Final Redemption. I like it. That's the theme of it, is it? The murders, what's happened to McGee and Tullia before, and what changes after they meet?"

  "That's the way it worked out." He hit another button, bringing up the dedication page. In all the books he'd written, it was only the second time he'd dedicated one. The first, and only, had been to Arlene.

  To Brianna, for gifts beyond price.

  "Oh, Grayson." Her voice hitched over the tears rising in the back of her throat. "I'm honored. I'll start crying again," she murmured and turned her face into his arm. "Thank you so much."

  "There's a lot of me in this book, Brie." He lifted her face, hoping she'd understand. "It's something I can give you."

  "I know. I'll treasure it." Afraid she'd spoil the moment with tears, she ran her hands briskly over her hair. "You'll want to get back to work, I'm sure. And I've whittled the day away." She picked up her linens, knowing she'd weep the moment she was behind the first closed door. "Shall I bring your tea up here when it's time?"

  He tilted his head, narrowed his eyes as he studied her. He wondered if she'd recognized herself in Tullia. The composure, the quiet, almost unshakable grace. "I'll come down. I've nearly, done all I need to do for today."

  "In an hour then."

  She went out, closing the door behind her. Alone, Gray sat, and stared, for a long time, at the brief dedication.

  It was the laughter and the voices that drew Gray, when the hour was up, toward the parlor rather than the kitchen. Brianna's guests were gathered around the tea table, sampling or filling plates. Brianna herself stood, swaying gently from side to side to rock the baby sleeping on her shoulder. "My nephew," she was explaining. "Liam. I'm minding him for an hour or two. Oh, Gray." She beamed when she saw him. "Look who I have here."

  "So I see." Crossing over, Gray peeked at the baby's face. His eyes were open, and dreamy, until they latched onto Gray and stared owlishly. "He always looks at me as if he knows every sin I commited. It's intimidating."

  Gray moved to the tea table and had nearly decided on his choices when he noted Brianna slipping from the room. He caught up with her at near the kitchen door. "Where are you going?" "To put the baby down." "What for?"

  "Maggie said he'd be wanting a nap." "Maggie's not here." He took Liam himself. "And we never get to play with him." To amuse himself, he made faces at the baby. "Where's Maggie?"

  "She's fired up her furnace. Rogan had to run into the gallery to handle some problem, so she came dashing down here just a little bit ago." With a laugh she bent her head close to Gray's. "I thought it would never happen. Now I have you all to myself," she murmured. She straightened at the knock on the door. "Keep his head supported, mind," she said as she went to answer.

  "I know how to hold a baby. Women," he said to Liam. "They don't think we can do anything. They all think you're hot stuff right now, boy-o, but just wait. In a few years they'll figure your purpose in life is to fix small electrical appliances and kill bugs."

 
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