Born in ice, p.49
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       Born in Ice, p.49

         Part #2 of Born In series by Nora Roberts


  "Michigan. He has a lead on her, and the man she married." He glanced at his wife. "And the child."

  "She had a daughter, Brie," Maggie murmured, cuddling her own baby. "He located the birth certificate. Amanda named her Shannon."

  "For the river," Brianna whispered and felt tears rise up in her throat. "We have a sister, Maggie."

  "We have. We may find her soon, for better or worse."

  "I hope so. Oh, I'm glad you came to tell me." It helped a little, took some of the sting out of her heart. "It'll be good to think of it."

  "It may just be thinking for a while," Rogan warned. "The lead he's following is twenty-five years old."

  "Then we'll be patient," Brianna said simply.

  Far from certain of her own feelings, Maggie shifted the baby, and the topic. "I'd like to show the piece I've finished to Gray, see if he recognizes the inspiration. Where is he? Working?"

  "He's gone." Brianna sent the needle neatly through a buttonhole.

  "Gone where? To the pub?"

  "No, to Dublin, I think, or wherever the road takes him."

  "You mean he's gone? Left?" She rose then, making the baby chortle with glee at the sudden movement.

  "Yes, just an hour ago."

  "And you sit here sewing?"

  "What should I be doing? Flogging myself?"

  "Flogging him's more like. Why, that Yank bastard. To think I'd grown fond of him."

  "Maggie." Rogan laid a warning hand on her arm. "Are you all right, Brianna?"

  "I'm fine, thank you, Rogan. Don't take on so, Maggie. He's doing what's right for him."

  "To hell with what's right for him. What about you? Take the baby, will you?" she said impatiently to Rogan, then, arms free, went to kneel in front of her sister. "I know how you feel about him, Brie, and I can't understand how he could leave this way. What did he say when you asked him to stay."

  "I didn't ask him to stay."

  "You didn't-Why the devil not?"

  "Because it would have made us both unhappy." She jabbed the needle, swore lightly at the prick on her thumb. "And I have my pride."

  "A fat lot of good that does you. You probably offered to fix him sandwiches for the trip."

  "I did."

  "Oh." Disgusted, Maggie rose, turned around the room. "There's no reasoning with you. Never has been."

  "I'm sure you're making Brianna feel much better by having a tantrum," Rogan said dryly.

  "I was just-" But catching his eye, Maggie bit her tongue. "You're right, of course. I'm sorry, Brie. If you like I can stay awhile, keep you company. Or I'll pack up some things for the baby, and we'll both stay the night."

  "You both belong at home. I'll be fine, Maggie, on my own. I always am."

  Gray was nearly to Dublin and the scene kept working on his mind. The ending of the book, the damn ending just wouldn't settle. That's why he was so edgy.

  He should have mailed the manuscript off to Arlene and forgotten it. That last scene wouldn't be digging at him now if he had. He could already be toying with the next story.

  But he couldn't think of another when he wasn't able to let go of the last.

  McGee had driven away because he'd finished what he'd come to Ireland to do. He was going to pick up his life again, his work. He had to move on because... because he had to, Gray thought irritably.

  And Tullia had stayed because her life was in the cottage, in the land around it, the people. She was happy there the way she never would be anywhere else. Brianna-Tullia, he corrected, would wither without her roots.

  The ending made sense. It was perfectly plausible, fit both character and mood.

  So why was it nagging at him like a bad tooth?

  She hadn't asked him to stay, he thought. Hadn't shed a tear. When he realized his mind had once again shifted from Tullia to Brianna, he swore and pressed harder on the accelerator.

  That's the way it was supposed to be, he reminded himself. Brianna was a sensible, levelheaded woman. It was one of the things he admired about her.

  If she'd loved him so damn much, the least she could have done was said she'd miss him.

  He didn't want her to miss him. He didn't want a light burning in the window, or her darning his socks or ironing his shirts. And most of all, he didn't want her preying on his mind.

  He was footloose and free, as he'd always been. As he needed to be. He had places to go, a pin to stick in a map. A little vacation somewhere before the tour, and then new horizons to explore.

  That was his life. He tapped his fingers impatiently on the steering wheel. He liked his life. And he was picking it up again, just like McGee.

  Just like McGee, he thought with a scowl.

  The lights of Dublin glowed in welcome. It relaxed him to see them, to know he'd come where he'd intended to go. He didn't mind the traffic. Of course he didn't. Or the noise. He'd just spent too long away from cities.

  What he needed was to find a hotel, check in. All he wanted was a chance to stretch his legs after the long drive, to buy himself a drink or two.

  Gray pulled over to a curb, let his head fall back against the seat. All he wanted was a bed, a drink, and quiet room.

  The hell it was.

  Brianna was up at dawn. It was foolish to lie in bed and pretend you could sleep when you couldn't. She started her bread and set it aside to rise before brewing the first pot of tea.

  She took a cup for herself into the back garden, but couldn't settle. Even a tour of the greenhouse didn't please her, so she went inside again and set the table for breakfast.

  It helped that her guests were leaving early. By eight, she'd fixed them a hot meal and bid them on their way.

  But now she was alone. Certain she would find contentment in routine, she set the kitchen to rights. Upstairs, she stripped the unmade beds, smoothed on the sheets she'd taken fresh from the line the day before. She gathered the damp towels, replaced them.

  And it couldn't be put off any longer, she told herself. Shouldn't be. She moved briskly into the room where Grayson had worked. It needed a good dusting, she thought and ran a finger gently over the edge of the desk.

  Pressing her lips together, she straightened the chair.

  How could she have known it would feel so empty?

  She shook herself. It was only a room, after all. Waiting now for the next guest to come. And she would put the very next one into it, she promised. It would be wise to do that. It would help.

  She moved into the bath, taking the towels he'd used from the bar where they'd dried.

  And she could smell him.

  The pain came so quickly, so fiercely, she nearly staggered under it. Blindly she stumbled back into the bedroom, sat on the bed, and burying her face in the towels, wept.

  Gray could hear her crying as he came up the stairs. It was a wild sound of grieving that stunned him, made him slow his pace before he faced it.

  From the doorway he saw her, rocking herself for comfort, with her face pressed into towels.

  Not cool, he thought, or controlled. Not levelheaded.

  He rubbed his hands over his own face, scraping away some of the travel fatigue and the guilt.

  "Well," he said in an easy voice, "you sure as hell had me fooled."

  Her head shot up, and he could see now the heartbreak in her eyes, the shadows under them. She started to rise, but he waved a hand.

  "No, don't stop crying, keep right on. It does me good to know what a fake you are. 'Let me help you pack, Gray.

  Why don't I fix you some food for your trip? I'll get along just dandy without you.' "

  She struggled against the tears, but couldn't win. As they poured out, she buried her face again.

  "You had me going, really had me. You never even looked back. That's what was wrong with the scene. It didn't play. It never did." He crossed to her, pulled the towels away. "You're helplessly in love with me, aren't you, Brianna? All the way in love, no tricks, no traps, no trite phrases."

nbsp; "Oh, go away. Why did you come back here?"

  "I forgot a few things."

  "There's nothing here."

  "You're here." He knelt down, taking her hands to keep her from covering the tears. "Let me tell you a story. No, go on crying if you want," he said when she tried to pull away. "But listen. I thought he had to leave. McGee."

  "You've come back to talk to me about your book?"

  "Let me tell you a story. I figured he had to leave. So what if he'd never cared for anyone the way he cared for Tullia. So what if she loved him, had changed him, changed his whole life. Completed it. They were miles apart in every other way, weren't they?"

  Patiently he watched another tear run down her cheek. She was struggling against them, he knew. And she was losing.

  "He was a loner," Gray continued. "Always had been. What the hell would he be doing, planting himself in some little cottage in the west of Ireland? And she let him go, because she was too damn stubborn, too proud, and too much in love to ask him to stay.

  "I worried over that," he continued. "For weeks. It drove me crazy. And all the way to Dublin I chewed on it- figured I wouldn't think of you if I was thinking of that. And I suddenly realized that he wouldn't go, and she wouldn't let him. Oh, they'd survive without each other, because they're born survivors. But they'd never be whole. Not the way they were together. So I did a rewrite, right there in the Lobby of the hotel in Dublin."

  She swallowed hard against tears and humiliation. "So you've solved your problem. Good for you."

  "One of them. You're not going anywhere, Brianna." He tightened his grip until she stopped dragging at her hands. "When I finished the rewrite, I thought, I'll get a drink somewhere, and go to bed. Instead, I got in the car, turned around, and came back here. Because I forgot that I spent the happiest six months of my life here. I forgot that I wanted to hear you singing in the kitchen in the morning or see you out of the bedroom window. I forgot that surviving isn't always enough. Look at me. Please."

  When she did, he rubbed one of her tears away with his thumb, then linked his hands with hers again. "And most of all, Brianna, I forgot to let myself tell you that I love you."

  She said nothing, couldn't as her breath continued to hitch. But her eyes widened and two new tears plopped onto their joined hands.

  "It was news to me, too," he murmured. "More of a shock. I'm still not sure how to deal with it. I never wanted to feel this way about anyone, and it's been easy to avoid it until you. It means strings, and responsibilities, and it means maybe I can live without you, but I'd never be whole without you."

  Gently he lifted their joined hands to his lips and tasted her tears. "I figured you'd gotten over me pretty quick with that send-off last night. That started me panicking. I was all set to beg when I came in and heard you crying. I have to say, it was music to my ears."

  "You wanted me to cry."

  "Maybe. Yeah." He rose then, releasing her hands. "I figured if you'd done some sobbing on my shoulder last night, if you'd asked me not to leave you, I'd have stayed. Then I could have blamed you if I screwed things up."

  After a short laugh she wiped at her cheeks. "I've accommodated you, haven't I?"

  "Not really." He turned back to look at her. She was so perfect, he realized, with her tidy apron, her hair slipping from its pins, and tears drying on her cheeks. "I had to come around to this on my own, so I've got no one else to blame if I mess it up. I want you to know I'm going to try hard not to mess it up."

  "You want to come back." She gripped her hands tight together. It was so hard to hope.

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