Born in ice, p.43
Born in Ice, p.43Part #2 of Born In series by Nora Roberts
Since no one was looking, he bent his head to press a light kiss on Liam's mouth. And watched it curve.
"That's the way. Why don't we go in the kitchen, and-" He broke off at Brianna's startled exclamation. Shifting Liam more securely in the crook of his arm, he hurried back down the hallway.
Carstairs stood at the threshold, a tan bowler in his hands, a friendly smile on his face. "Grayson, how nice to see you again. I wasn't certain you'd still be here. And what's this?"
"It's a baby," Gray said shortly.
"Of course it is." Carstairs tickled Liam's chin and made foolish noises. "Handsome lad. I must say, he favors you a bit, Brianna. Around the mouth."
"He's my sister's child. And what might you be doing here at Blackthorn, Mr. Carstairs?"
"Just passing through, as it were. I'd told Iris so much about the cottage, and the countryside, she wanted to see it for herself. She's in the car." He gestured to the Bentley parked at the garden gate. "Actually, we'd hoped you might have a room for us, for the night." She goggled at him. "You want to stay here?" "I've bragged, perhaps unwisely, about your cooking." He leaned forward confidentially. "I'm afraid Iris was a bit irked at first. She's quite a cook herself, you know. She wants to see if I was exaggerating." "Mr. Carstairs. You're a shameless man." "That may be, my dear," he said, twinkling. "That may be."
She huffed, sighed. "Well, don't leave the poor woman sitting in the car. Bring her in for tea."
"Can't wait to meet her," Gray said, jiggling the baby.
"She says the same of you. She's quite impressed that you could lift my wallet without me having a clue. I used to be much quicker." He shook his head in regret. "But then, I used to be much younger. Shall I bring in our luggage, Brianna?"
"I have a room. It's smaller than what you had last." "I'm sure it's charming. Absolutely charming." He strolled off to fetch his wife. "Can you beat it?" Brianna said under her breath. "I don't know whether to laugh or hide the silver. If I had any silver."
"He likes you too much to steal from you. So," Gray mused, "This is the famous Iris."
The photograph from the pinched wallet had been a good likeness, Brianna discovered. Iris wore a flowered dress that ruffled in the breeze around excellent legs. To Brianna's eye, Iris had used the time in the car to freshen her hair and makeup and so looked fresh and remarkably pretty as she strolled up the walk beside her grinning husband.
"Oh, Miss Concannon. Brianna, I do hope I can call you
Brianna. I think of you as Brianna, of course, after hearing so much about you and your charming inn."
Her voice was smooth, cultured, despite the fact that her words all but tumbled over each other to get out. Before Brianna could respond, Iris flung out both hands, gripped hers, and barrelled on.
"You're every bit as lovely as Johnny told me. How kind of you, how sweet to find room for us when we've dropped so unexpectedly on your doorstep. And your garden, my dear, I must tell you I'm dizzy with admiration. Your dahlias! I never have a bit of luck with them myself. And your roses, magnificent. You really must tell me your secret. Do you talk to them? I chatter at mine day and night, but I never get blooms like that."
"And you're Grayson." Iris simply rolled over Brianna's response and turned to him. She freed one of Brianna's hands so that she could grip Gray's. "What a clever, clever young man you are. And so handsome, too. Why, you look just like a film star. I've read all your books, every one. Frighten me to death, they do, but I can't put them down. Wherever do you come up with such thrilling ideas? I've been so anxious to meet both of you," she continued, holding on to each of them. "Badgering poor Johnny to death, you know. And now, here we are."
There was a pause while Iris beamed at both of them. "Yes." Brianna discovered she could find little else to say. "Here you are. Ah, please come in. I hope you had a pleasant trip."
"Oh, I adore traveling, don't you? And to think with all the racketing around Johnny and I did in our misspent youth, we never came to this part of the world. It's pretty as a postcard, isn't it, Johnny?"
"It is, my sweet. It certainly is."
"Oh, what a lovely home. Just charming." Iris kept her hand firmly on Brianna's as she glanced around. "I'm sure no one could be anything but comfortable here."
Brianna gave Gray a helpless look, but he only shrugged. "I hope you will be. There's tea in the parlor if you like, or I can show you your room first."
"Would you do that? We'll put our bags away, shall we, Johnny? Then perhaps we can all have a nice chat."
Iris exclaimed over the stairway as they climbed it, the upstairs hall, the room Brianna escorted them into. Wasn't the bedspread charming, the lace curtains lovely, the view from the window superb?
In short order Brianna found herself in the kitchen brewing another pot of tea while her new guests sat at the table making themselves at home. Iris happily bounced Liam on her lap.
"Hell of a team, aren't they?" Gray murmured, helping by getting out cups and plates.
"She makes me dizzy," Brianna whispered. "But it's impossible not to like her."
"Exactly. You'd never believe there was an unscrupulous thought in her head. Everyone's favorite aunt or amusing neighbor. Maybe you should hide that silver after all."
"Hush." Brianna turned away to carry plates to the table. Carstairs immediately helped himself to the bread and jam.
"I do hope you'll join us," Iris began, choosing a scone, dipping into the clotted cream. "Johnny, dear, we do want to get business over with, don't we? So distressing to have business clouding the air."
"Business?" Brianna took Liam again, settled him on her shoulder.
"Unfinished business." Carstairs dabbed his mouth with a napkin. "I say, Brianna, this bread is tasty. Have a bit, do, Iris."
"Johnny rhapsodized over your cooking. I'm afraid I got a teeny bit jealous. I'm a fair cook myself, you know."
"A brilliant cook," a loyal Carstairs corrected, snatching his wife's hand and kissing it lavishly. "A magnificent cook."
"Oh, Johnny, you do go on." She giggled girlishly before swatting him aside. Then she pursed her lips and blew him several quick kisses. The byplay had Gray wiggling his brows at Brianna. "But I can see why he was so taken with the table you set, Brianna." She nibbled delicately on her scone. "We must find time to exchange some recipes while we're here. My speciality is a chicken and oyster dish. And if I do say so myself, it's rather tasty. The trick is to use a really good wine, a dry white, you see. And a hint of tarragon. But there I go, running on again, and we haven't dealt with our business."
She reached for another scone, gesturing to the empty chairs. "Do sit down, won't you? So much cozier to talk business over tea."
Agreeably Gray sat and began to fill his plate. "Want me to take the kid?" he asked Brianna.
"No, I've got him." She sat with Liam resting comfortably in the curve of her arm.
"What an angel," Iris cooed. "And you've such an easy way with babies. Johnny and I always regretted not having any ourselves. But then, we were always off having an adventure, so our lives were full."
"Adventures," Brianna repeated. An interesting term, she thought, for bilking.
"We were a naughty pair." Iris laughed, and the gleam in her eyes said she understood Brianna's sentiments exactly. "But what fun we had. It wouldn't be quite right to say we were sorry for it, when we enjoyed it so much. But then, one does get older."
"One does," Carstairs agreed. "And one sometimes loses the edge." He sent Gray a mild look. "Ten years ago, lad, you'd never have pinched my wallet."
"Don't bet on it." Gray sipped at his tea. "I was even better ten years ago."
Carstairs tossed back his head and laughed. "Didn't I tell you he was a pistol, Iris? Oh, I wish you'd have seen him button me down in Wales, my heart. I was filled with admiration. I hope you'll consider returning the wallet to me, Grayson. At least the photographs. The identification is easily replaced, but I'm quite sentimental over the
Gray's smile was quick and wolfish. "You still owe me a hundred pounds. Johnny."
Carstairs cleared his throat. "Naturally. Unquestionably. I only took yours, you see, to make it seem like a burglary."
"Naturally," Gray agreed. "Unquestionably. I believe we discussed compensation in Wales, before you had to leave so unexpectedly."
"I do apologize. You'd pinned me down, you see, and I didn't feel comfortable coming to a firm agreement without consulting Iris first."
"We're strong advocates of full partnership," Iris put in.
"Indeed." He gave his wife's hand an affectionate pat. "I can truthfully say that all our decisions are a matter of teamwork. We feel that, combined with deep affection, is why we've had forty-three successful years together."
"And, of course, a good sex life," Iris said comfortably, smiling when Brianna choked over her tea. "Marriage would be rather dull otherwise, don't you think?"
"Yes, I'm sure you're right." This time Brianna cleared her throat. "I think I understand why you've come, and I appreciate it. It's good to clear the air over it."
"We did want to apologize in person for any distress we've caused you. And I wanted to add my sympathies over my Johnny's clumsy and completely ill-advised search of your lovely home." She cut a stern look at her husband. "It lacked all finesse, Johnny."
"It did. Indeed it did." He bowed his head. "I'm thoroughly ashamed."
Brianna wasn't entirely certain of that, but shook her head. "Well, there was no real harm done, I suppose."
"No harm!" Iris took up the gauntlet. "Brianna, my dear girl, I'm sure you were furious, and rightly so. And distressed beyond belief."
"It made her cry."
"Grayson." Embarrassed now, Brianna stared into her teacup. "It's done."
"I can only imagine how you must have felt." Iris's voice had softened. "Johnny knows how I feel about my things. Why, if I came home and found everything topsy-turvy, I'd be devastated. Simply devastated. I only hope you can forgive him for the regrettable impulse, and for thinking like a man."
"I do. I have. I understand he was under a great deal of pressure, and-" Brianna broke off, lifting her head when
she realized she was defending the man who had cheated her father and invaded her home.
"What a kind heart you have." Iris streamed into the breech. "Now if we could touch on this uncomfortable business of the stock certificate one last time. First, let me say it was very broad-minded, very patient of you not to contact the authorities after Wales."
"Gray said you'd be back."
"Clever boy," Iris murmured.
"And I didn't see any point in it." With a sigh Brianna picked up a finger of bread and nibbled. "It was long ago, and the money my father lost was his to lose. Knowing the circumstances was enough to satisfy me."
"You see, Iris, it's just as I told you."
"Johnny." Her voice was suddenly commanding. The look that passed between them held until Carstairs let out a long breath and dropped his gaze.
"Yes, Iris, of course. You're quite right. Quite right." Rallying, he reached into the inside pocket of his jacket, drew out an envelope. "Iris and I have discussed this at length, and we would very much like to settle the matter to everyone's satisfaction. With our apologies, dear," he said, handing Brianna the envelope. "And our best wishes."
Uneasy, she lifted the flap. Her heart careened to her stomach and up to her throat. "It's money. Cash money."
"A check would make bookkeeping difficult," Carstairs explained. "And then there's the taxes that would be involved. A cash transaction saves us both from that inconvenience. It's ten thousand pounds. Irish pounds."
"Oh, but I couldn't-"
"Yes, you can," Gray interrupted.
"It isn't right."
She started to hand the envelope back to Carstairs. His eyes lit up briefly, his fingers reached out. And his wife swatted them away.
"Your young man is correct in the matter, Brianna. This is quite right, for everyone involved. You needn't worry that the money will make an appreciable difference in our lives. We do quite well. It would ease my mind, and my heart, if you'd accept it. And," she added, "return the certificate to us."
"Rogan has it," Brianna said.
"No, I got it back from him." Gray rose, slipped into Brianna's rooms.
"Take the money, Brianna," Iris said gently. "Put it away now, in your apron pocket. I'd consider it a great favor."
"I don't understand you."
"I don't suppose you do. Johnny and I don't regret the way we lived. We enjoyed every minute of it. But a little insurance toward redemption wouldn't hurt." She smiled, reached over to squeeze Brianna's hand. "I'd look on it as a kindness. Both of us would. Isn't that right, Johnny?"
Born in Ice by Nora Roberts / Romance & Love have rating 4.2 out of 5 / Based on55 votes