Born in ice, p.44
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       Born in Ice, p.44

         Part #2 of Born In series by Nora Roberts
 

  He gave the envelope one last, longing look. "Yes, dear."

  Gray walked back in, holding the certificate. "Yours, I believe."

  "Yes. Yes, indeed." Eager now, Carstairs took the paper. Adjusting his glasses, he peered at it. "Iris," he said with pride as he tilted the certificate for her to study as well. "We did superior work, didn't we? Absolutely flawless."

  "We did, Johnny, dear. We certainly did."

  Chapter Twenty-two

  "I have never in the whole of my life had a finer moment of satisfaction." All but purring, Maggie stretched out in the passenger seat of Brianna's car. She sent one last glance behind at their mother's house as her sister pulled into the street.

  "Gloating isn't becoming, Margaret Mary."

  "Becoming or not, I'm enjoying it." She shifted, reaching out to put a rattle in Liam's waving hand as he sat snug in his safety seat in the back. "Did you see her face, Brie? Oh, did you see it?"

  "I did." Her dignity slipped just a moment, and a grin snuck through. "At least you had the good sense not to rub her nose in it."

  "That was the bargain. We'd tell her only that the money came from an investment Da made before he died. One that recently paid off. And I would resist, no matter how it pained me, pointing out that she didn't deserve her third of it as she never believed in him."

  "The third of the money was rightfully hers, and that should be the end of it."

  "I'm not going to badger you about it. I'm much too busy gloating." Savoring, Maggie hummed a little. "Tell me what are your plans for yours?"

  "I've some ideas for improvements on the cottage. The attic room for one, which started the whole business."

  As Liam cheerfully flung the first one aside, Maggie pulled out another rattle. "I thought we were going to Gal-way to shop."

  "We are." Grayson had badgered her into the idea and had all but booted her out of her own front door. She smiled now, thinking of it. "I've a mind to buy me one of those professional food processors. The ones they use in restaurants and on the cookery shows."

  "That would have pleased Da very much." Maggie's grin softened into a smile. "It is like a gift from him, you know."

  "I'm thinking of it that way. It seems right if I do. What about you?"

  "I'll shovel some into the glass house. The rest goes away for Liam. I think Da would have wanted it." Idly she ran her fingers over the dashboard. "It's a nice car you've got here, Brie."

  "It is." She laughed and told herself she'd have to thank Gray for pushing her out of the house for the day. "Imagine, me driving to Galway without worrying something's going to fall off. It's so like Gray to give outrageous gifts and make it seem natural."

  "That's the truth. The man hands me a diamond pin as cheerfully as if it's a clutch of posies. He has a lovely, generous heart."

  "He does."

  "Speaking of him, what's he up to?"

  "Well, he's either working or being entertained by the Carstairs."

  "What characters. Do you know Rogan tells me when they went to the gallery, they tried to charm him into selling them the antique table in the upstairs sitting room?"

  "Doesn't surprise me in the least. She's nearly talked me into buying, sight unseen, a lamp she says will be perfect for my parlor. A fine discount she'll give me, too." Brianna chuckled. "I'll miss them when they leave tomorrow."

  "I have a feeling they'll be back." She paused. "When does Gray go?"

  "Probably next week." Brianna kept her eyes on the road and her voice even. "He's doing no more than tinkering on the book now, from what I can tell."

  "And do you think he'll be back?"

  "I hope he will. But I won't count on it. I can't."

  "Have you asked him to stay?"

  "I can't do that, either."

  "No," Maggie murmured. "You couldn't. Nor could I under the same circumstances." Still, she thought, he's a bloody fool if he leaves. "Would you like to close up the cottage for a few weeks, or have Mrs. O'Malley look after it? You could come to Dublin, or use the villa."

  "No, though it's sweet of you to think of it. I'll be happier at home."

  That was probably true, Maggie thought, and didn't argue. "Well, if you change your mind, you've only to say." Making a determined effort to lighten the mood, she turned toward her sister. "What do you think, Brie? Let's buy something foolish when we get to Shop Street. The first thing that strikes our fancy. Something useless and expensive; one of those trinkets that we used to look at with our noses pressed up to a shop window when Da would bring us."

  "Like the little dolls with the pretty costumes or the jewelry cases with the ballerinas that spun around on top."

  "Oh, I think we can find something a little more suited to our ages, but yes, that's the idea."

  "All right, then. We'll do it."

  It was because they'd talked about their father that memories swarmed Brianna after they reached Galway. With the car parked, they joined the pedestrian traffic, the shoppers, the tourists, the children.

  She saw a young girl laughing as she rode her father's shoulders.

  He used to do that, she remembered. He'd give her and Maggie turns up, and sometimes he'd run so that they'd bounce, squealing with pleasure.

  Or he'd keep their hands firmly tucked in his while they wandered, spinning them stories while they jostled along the crowded streets.

  When our ship comes in, Brianna my love, I'll buy you pretty dresses like they have in that window there.

  One day we'll travel up here to Galway City with coins leaking out of our pocket. Just you wait, darling.

  And though she'd known even then they were stories, just dreaming, it hadn't diminished the pleasure of the seeing, the smelling, the listening.

  Nor did the memories spoil it now. The color and movement of Shop Street made her smile as it always did. She enjoyed the voices that cut through the lilting Irish-the twangs and drawls of the Americans, the guttural German, the impatient French. She could smell a hint of Galway Bay that carried on the breeze and the sizzling grease from a nearby pub.

  "There." Maggie steered the stroller closer to a shop window. "That's perfect."

  Brianna maneuvered through the crowd until she could look over Maggie's shoulder. "What is?"

  "That great fat cow there. Just what I want."

  "You want a cow?"

  "Looks like porcelain," Maggie mused, eyeing the glossy black-and-white body and foolishly grinning bovine face. "I bet it's frightfully priced. Even better. I'm having it. Let's go in."

  "But what'll you do with it?"

  "Give it to Rogan, of course, and see that he puts it in that stuffy Dublin office of his. Oh, I hope it weighs a ton."

  It did, so they arranged to leave it with the clerk while they completed the rest of their shopping. It wasn't until they'd eaten lunch and Brianna had studied the pros and cons of half a dozen food processors that she found her own bit of foolishness.

  The fairies were made of painted bronze and danced on wires hung from a copper rod. At a flick of Brianna's fingers, they twirled, their wings beating together musically.

  "I'll hang it outside my bedroom window. It'll make me think of all the fairy stories Da used to tell us."

  "It's perfect." Maggie slipped an arm around Brianna's waist. "No, don't look at the price," she said when Brianna started to reach for the little tag. "That's part of it all. Whatever it costs, it's the right choice. Go buy your trinket, then we'll figure out how to get mine to the car."

  In the end they decided that Maggie would wait at the shop with the cow, with Liam and the rest of their bags, while Brianna drove the car around.

  In a breezy mood she strolled back to the car park. She would, she thought, hang her fairy dance as soon as she got home. And then she would play with her fine new kitchen toy. She was thinking how delightful it would be to create a salmon mousse or to finely dice mushrooms with such a precision instrument.

  Humming, she slipped behind the wheel, turned the ignition. Per
haps there was a dish she could try to add to the grilled fish she intended to make for dinner. What would Gray enjoy especially? she wondered as she steered toward the exit to pay her fee. Colcannon, perhaps, and a gooseberry fool for dessert-if she could find enough ripe gooseberries.

  She thought of the berries' season as those first days of June. But Gray would be gone then. She clamped down on the twinge around her heart. Well, it was nearly June in any case, she told herself and started to drive out of the lot. And she wanted Gray to have her special dessert before he went away.

  Brianna heard the shout as she started into her turn. Startled, she jerked her head. She only had time to suck in a breath for the scream as a car, taking the turn too sharp and on the wrong side, crashed into hers.

  She heard the screech of metal rending, of glass shattering. Then she heard nothing at all.

  "So Brianna's gone shopping," Iris commented as she joined Gray in the kitchen. "That's lovely for her. Nothing puts a woman in a better frame of mind that a good shopping binge."

  He couldn't imagine practical Brianna binging on anything. "She went off to Galway with her sister. I told her we could manage if she didn't make it home by tea." Feeling a little proprietary about the kitchen, Gray heaped the food Brianna had prepared earlier onto platters. "It's only the three of us tonight anyway."

  "We'll be cozy right here." Iris set the teapot in its cozy on the table. "You were right to convince her to take a day for herself with her sister."

  "I nearly had to drag her out to the car-she's so tied to this place."

  "Deep, fertile roots. It's why she blooms. Just like her flowers out there. Never in my life have I seen such gardens as hers. Why, just this morning, I was-Ah, there you are, Johnny. Just in time."

  "I had the most invigorating walk." Carstairs hung his hat on a peg, then rubbed his hands together. "Do you know, my dear, they still cut their own turf?"

  "You don't say so."

  "I do indeed. I found the bog. And there were stacks of it, drying in the wind and sun. It was just like stepping back a century." He gave his wife a peck on the cheek before turning his attention to the table. "Ah, what have we here?"

  "Wash your hands, Johnny, and we'll have a nice tea. I'll pour out, Grayson. You just sit."

  Enjoying them, and their way with each other, Gray obliged her. "Iris, I hope you're not offended if I ask you something."

  "Dear boy, you can ask whatever you like."

  "Do you miss it?"

  She didn't pretend to misunderstand as she passed him the sugar. "I do. From time to time, I do. That life on the edge sort of feeling. So invigorating." She poured her husband's cup, then her own. "Do you?" When Gray only lifted a brow, she chuckled. "One recognizes one."

  "No," Gray said after a pause. "I don't miss it."

  "Well, you'd have retired quite early, so you wouldn't have the same sort of emotional attachment. Or perhaps you do, and that's why you've never used any of your prior experience, so to speak, in your books."

  Shrugging, he lifted his cup. "Maybe I just don't see the point in looking back."

  "I've always felt you never have a really clear view of what's coming up if you don't glance over your shoulder now and again."

  "I like surprises. If tomorrow's already figured out, why bother with it?"

  "The surprise comes because tomorrow's never quite what you thought it would be. But you're young," she said, giving him a motherly smile. "You'll learn that for yourself. Do you use a map when you travel?"

  "Sure."

  "Well, that's it, you see. Past, present, future. All mapped out." With her bottom lip clamped between her teeth, she measured out a stingy quarter spoon of sugar for her own tea. "You may plan a route. Now some people stick to it no matter what. No deviations to explore some little road, no unscheduled stops to enjoy a particularly nice sunset. A pity for them," she mused. "And oh, how they complain when they're forced to detour. But most of us like a little adventure along the way, that side road. Having a clear view of the ultimate destination doesn't have to keep one from enjoying the ride. Here you are, Johnny dear, your tea's just poured."

  "Bless you, Iris."

  "And with just a drop of cream, the way you like it."

  "I'd be lost without her," Carstairs said to Gray. "Oh, it appears we're having company."

 
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