Nora Roberts --2 Irish Rose (1988) Chapter 1 Chapter 2 Chapter 3 Chapter 4 Chapter 5 Chapter 6 Chapter 7 Chapter 8 Chapter 9 Chapter 10 Chapter 11 Chapter 12
--2 Irish Rose (1988)--
Her name was Erin, like her country. And like her country, she was a maze ofcontradictions—rebellion and poetry, passion and moodiness. She was strong enough to fight forher beliefs, stubborn enough to fight on after a cause was lost, and generous enough to givewhatever she had. She was a woman with soft skin and a tough mind. She had sweet dreams andtowering ambitions.
Her name was Erin, Erin McKinnon, and she was nervous as a cat.
It was true that this was only the third time in her life she'd been in the airport at Cork. Orany airport, for that matter. Still, it wasn't the crowds or the noise that made her jumpy. Thefact was, she liked hearing the announcements of planes coming and going. She liked thinkingabout all the people going places.
London, New York, Paris. Through the thick glass she could watch the big sleek planes rise up,nose first, and imagine their destinations. Perhaps one day she'd board one herself andexperience that stomach-fluttering anticipation as the plane climbed up and up.
She shook her head. It wasn't a plane going up that had her nervous now, but one coming in. Andit was due any minute. Erin caught herself before she dragged a hand through her hair. Itwouldn't do a bit of good to be poking and pulling at herself. After thirty seconds more, sheshifted her bag from hand to hand, then tugged at her jacket. She didn't want to lookdisheveled or tense… or poor, she added as she ran a hand down her skirt to smooth it.
Thank God her mother was so clever with a needle. The deep blue of the skirt and matchingjacket was flattering to her pale complexion. The cut and style were perhaps a bit conservativefor Erin's taste, but the color did match her eyes. She wanted to look competent, capable, andhad even managed to tame her unruly hair into a tidy coil of dark red. The style made her lookolder, she thought. She hoped it made her look sophisticated, too.
She'd toned down the dusting of freckles and had deepened the color of her lips. Eye makeup hadbeen applied with a careful hand, and she wore Nanny's old and lovely gold crescents at herears.
The last thing she wanted was to look plain and dowdy. The poor relation. Even the echo of thephrase in her head caused her teeth to clench. Pity, even sympathy, were emotions she wantednone of. She was a McKinnon, and perhaps fortune hadn't smiled on her as it had her cousin, butshe was determined to make her own way.
Here they were, she thought, and had to swallow a ball of nerves in her throat. Erin watchedthe plane that had brought them from Curragh taxi toward the gate—the small, sleek planepeople of wealth and power could afford to charter. She could imagine what it would be like tosit inside, to drink champagne or nibble on something exotic. Imagination had always been hersin quantity. All she'd lacked was the means to make what she could imagine come true.
An elderly woman stepped off the plane first, leading a small girl by the hand. The woman hadcloud-white hair and a solid, sturdy build. Beside her, the little girl looked like a pixie,carrot-topped and compact. The moment they'd stepped to the ground, a boy of five or six leapedoff after them.
Even through the thick glass, Erin could all but hear the woman's scolding. She snatched hishand with her free one, and he flashed her a wicked grin. Erin felt immediate kinship. If she'dgauged the age right, that would be Brendon, Adelia's oldest. The girl who held the woman'shand and clutched a battered doll in the other would be Keeley, younger by a year or so.
The man came next, the man Erin recognized as Travis Grant. Her cousin's husband of sevenyears, owner of Thoroughbreds and master of Royal Meadows. He was tall and broad-shouldered and
was laughing down at his son, who waited impatiently on the tarmac. The smile was nice, shethought, the kind that made a woman look twice without being sure whether to relax or braceherself. Erin had met him once, briefly, when he'd brought his wife back to Ireland four yearsbefore. Quietly domineering, she'd thought then. The kind of man a woman could depend on, aslong as she could stand toe-to-toe with him.
On his hip he carried another child, a boy with hair as dark and thick as his father's. He wasgrinning, too, but not down at his brother and sister. His face was tilted up toward the skyfrom which he'd just come. Travis handed him down, then turned and held out a hand.
As Adelia stepped through the opening, the sun struck her hair with arrows of light. The richchestnut shone around her face and shoulders. She, too, was laughing. Even with the distance,Erin could see the glow. She was a small woman. When Travis caught her by the waist and liftedher to the ground, she didn't reach his shoulder. He kept his arm around her, Erin noticed, notso much possessive as protective of her and perhaps of the child that was growing inside her.
While Erin watched, Adelia tilted her face, touched a hand to her husband's cheek and kissedhim. Not like a long-time wife, Erin thought, but like a lover.
A little ripple of envy moved through her. Erin didn't try to avoid it. She never attempted toavoid any of her feelings, but let them come, let them race to the limit, whatever theconsequences.
And why shouldn't she envy Dee? Erin asked herself. Adelia Cunnane, the little orphan fromSkibbereen, had not only pulled herself up by the bootstraps but had tugged hard enough to landon top of the pile. More power to her, Erin thought. She intended to do the same herself.
Erin squared her shoulders and started to step forward as another figure emerged from theplane. Another servant, she thought, then took a long, thorough look. No, this man would serveno one.
He leaped lightly to the ground with a slim, unlit cigar clamped between his teeth. Slowly,even warily, he looked around. As a cat might, she thought, a cat that had just leaped fromcliff to cliff. She couldn't see his eyes, for he wore tinted glasses, but she had the quickimpression that they would be sharp, intense and not entirely comfortable to look into.
He was as tall as Travis but leaner, sparer. Tough. The adjective came to her as she pursed herlips and continued to stare. He bent down to speak to one of the children, and the move waslazy but not careless. His dark hair was straight and long enough to hang over the collar ofhis denim shirt. He wore boots and faded jeans, but she rejected the idea that he was a farmer.He didn't look like a man who tilled the soil but like one who owned it.
What was a man like this doing traveling with her cousin's family? Another relative? shewondered, and shifted uncomfortably. It didn't matter who he was. Erin checked the pins in herhair, found two loose, and shoved them into place. If he was some relation of Travis Grant's,then that was fine.
But he didn't look like kin of her cousin's husband. The coloring might be similar, but anyresemblance ended there. The stranger had a raw-boned, sharp-edged look to him. She rememberedthe picture books in catechism class, and the drawings of Satan.
"Better to rule in hell than to serve in heaven."
Yes… For the first time, a smile moved on her lips. He looked like a man who'd have similarsentiments. Taking a deep breath, Erin moved forward to greet her family.
The boy Brendon came first, barreling through the doorway with one shoe untied and eyes alightwith curiosity. The white-haired women came in behind him, moving with surprising speed.
"Stand still, you scamp. I'm not going to lose track of you again."
"I just want to see, Hannah." There was a laugh in his voice and no contrition at all when shecaught his hand in hers.
"You'll see soon enough. No need to worry your mother to death. Keeley, you stay close now."
"I will." The little girl looked around as avidly as her brother, but seemed more content tostay in the same place. Then she spotted Erin. "There she is. That's our cousin Erin. Just likethe picture." Without a hint of reserve, the girl crossed over and smiled.
"You're our cousin Erin, aren't you? I'm Keeley. Momma said you'd be wailing for us."
"Aye, I'm Erin." Charmed, Erin bent down to catch the little girl's chin in her hand. Nervesvanished into genuine pleasure. "And the last time I saw you, you were just a wee thing, allbundled in a blanket against the rain and bawling fit to wake the dead."
Keeley's eyes widened. "She talks just like Momma," she announced. "Hannah, come see. She talksjust like Momma."
"Miss McKinnon." Hannah kept one hand firmly on Brendon's shoulder and offered the other. "It'snice to meet you. I'm Hannah Blakely, your cousin's housekeeper."
Housekeeper, Erin thought as she put her hand in Hannah's weathered one. The Cunnanes she'dknown might have been housekeepers, but they'd never had one. "Welcome to Ireland. And you'd beBrendon."
"I've been to Ireland before," he said importantly. "But this time I flew the plane."
"Did you now?" She saw her cousin in him, the pixielike features and deep green eyes. He'd be ahandful, she thought, as her mother claimed Adelia had always been. "Well, you're all grown upsince I saw you last."
"I'm the oldest. Brady's the baby now."
"Erin?" She glanced over in time to see Adelia rush forward. Even heavy with child she movedlightly. And when she wound her arms around Erin, there was strength in them. The recognitioncame strongly—family to family, roots to roots. "Oh, Erin, it's so good to be back, so good tosee you. Let me look at you."
She hadn't changed a bit, Erin thought. Adelia would be nearly thirty now, but she looked yearsyounger. Her complexion was smooth and flawless, glowing against the glossy mane of hair shestill wore long and loose. The pleasure in her face was so real, so vital, that Erin felt itseeping through her own reserve.
"You look wonderful, Dee. America's been good for you."
"And the prettiest girl in Skibbereen's become a beautiful woman. Oh, Erin." She kissed bothher cousin's cheeks, laughed and kissed them again. "You look like home." With Erin's handstill held tightly in hers, she turned. "You remember Travis."
"Of course. It's good to see you again."
"You've grown up in four years." He kissed her cheek in turn. "You didn't meet Brady the lasttime."
"No, I didn't." The child kept an arm around his father's neck and eyed Erin owlishly. "Faith,he's the image of you. It's a handsome boy you are, Cousin Brady."
Brady smiled, then turned to bury his face in his father's neck.
"And shy," Adelia commented, stroking a hand down his hair. "Unlike his da. Erin, it's so kindof you to offer to meet us and take us to the inn."
"We don't often get visitors. I've got the minibus.
You know from the last time you came that renting a car is tricky, so I'll be leaving it withyou while you're here." While she spoke, Erin felt an itch at the base of her neck, a tingle,or a warning. Deliberately she turned and stared back at the lean-faced man she'd seen step offthe plane.
"Erin, this is Burke." Adelia placed a hand on her skirt at the stirrings within her womb."Burke Logan, my cousin, Erin McKinnon."
"Mr. Logan," Erin said with a slight nod, determined not to flinch at her own reflection in hismirrored glasses.
"Miss McKinnon." He smiled slowly, then clamped his cigar between his teeth again.
She still couldn't see his eyes but had the uneasy feeling that the glasses were no barrier towhat he saw. "I'm sure you're tired," she said to Adelia, but kept her gaze stubbornly onBurke's. "The bus is right out front. I'll take you out, then we'll deal with the luggage."
Burke kept himself just a little apart as they walked through the small terminal. He preferredit that way, the better to observe and figure angles. Just now, he was figuring Erin McKinnon.
A tidy little package, he mused, watching the way her long, athletic legs moved beneath herconservative skirt. Neat as a pin and nervous as a filly at the starting gate. Just what kindof race did she intend to run? he wondered.
He knew snatches of the background from conversations on the trip from the States and fromCurragh to this little spot on the map. The McKinnons and Cunnanes weren't first cousins. Asnear as could be figured, Adelia's mother and the mother of the very interesting Erin McKinnonhad been third cousins who had grown up on neighboring farms.
Burke smiled as Erin looked uneasily over her shoulder in his direction. If Adelia CunnaneGrant figured that made her and the McKinnons family, he wouldn't argue. For himself, he spentmore time avoiding family connections than searching them out.
If he didn't stop staring at her like that, he was going to get a piece of her mind, Erin toldherself as she slid the van into gear. The luggage was loaded, the children chattering, and shehad to keep her wits about her to navigate out of the airport.
She could see him in the rearview mirror, legs spread out in the narrow aisle, one arm tossedover the worn seat—and his eyes on her. Try as she might, she couldn't concentrate on Adelia'squestions about her family.
As she wound the van onto the road, she listened with half an ear and gave her cousin the bestanswers she could. Everyone was fine. The farm was doing well enough. As she began to relaxbehind the wheel, she dug deep for bits and pieces of gossip. Still, he kept staring at her.
Let him, then, she decided. The man obviously had the manners of a plow mule and was no concernof hers. Stubbornly avoiding another glance in the rearview mirror, she jabbed another loosepin back in her hair.
She had questions of her own. Erin expertly avoided the worst of the bumps on the road andtrained her eyes straight ahead. The first of them would be who the hell was this Burke Logan.Still, she smiled on cue and assured her cousin again that her family was fit and fine.
"So Cullen's not married yet."
"Cullen?" Despite her determination, Erin's gaze had drifted back to the mirror and Burke. Shecursed herself. "No. Much to my mother's regret, he's still single. He goes into Dublin now andagain to sing his songs and play." She hit a rough patch that sent the van vibrating. "I'msorry."
"It's all right."
Turning her head, she studied Adelia with genuine concern. "Are you sure? I'm wondering if youshould be traveling at all."
"I'm healthy as one of Travis's horses." In a habitual gesture, Adelia put a hand on herrounded belly. "And I've months to go before they're born."
"Twins this time." The smile lit up her face. "I've been hoping."
"Twins," Erin repeated under her breath, not sure whether she should be amazed or amused.
Adelia shifted into a more comfortable position. Glancing back, she saw that her two youngestwere dozing and that Brendon was putting up a courageous, if failing, battle to keep his eyesopen. "I've always wanted a big family like yours."
Erin grinned at her as the van putted into the village. "It looks like you're going to matchit. And may the sweet Lord have mercy on you."
With a chuckle, Adelia shifted again to absorb the sights and sounds of the village sheremembered from childhood.
The small buildings were still neat, if a bit rough around the edges. Patches of grass weredeep and green, shimmering against dark brown dirt. The sign on the village pub, the Shamrock,creaked and groaned in a breeze that tasted of rain from the sea.
She could almost smell it, and remembered it easily. Here the cliffs were sheer and towering,slicing down to a wild sea. She could remember the times she'd stood on the rock watching thefishing boats, seeing them come in with their day's catch to dry their nets and cool drythroats at the pub.
The talk here was of fishing and farming, of babies and sweethearts.
It was home. Adelia rested a hand against the open window and looked out. It was home—a way oflife, a place she'd never been able to close out of her heart. There was a wagon filled withhay, its color no brighter, its scent no sweeter than that of the hay in her own stables inAmerica. But this was Ireland, and her heart had never stopped looking back here.
"It hasn't changed."
Erin eased the vehicle to a stop and glanced around.
She knew every square inch of the village, and every farm for a hundred miles around. In truth,she'd never known anything else. "Did you expect it would? Nothing ever changes here."
"There's O'Donnelly's, the dry goods." Dee stepped out of the van. Foolishly she wanted to haveher feet on the ground of her youth. She wanted to fill her lungs with the air of Skibbereen."Is he still there?"
"The old goat will die behind the counter, still counting his last pence."
With a laugh, Dee took Brady from Travis and cuddled him as he yawned and settled against hershoulder. "Aye, then he hasn't changed, either. Travis, you see the church there. We'd come inevery Sunday for mass. Old Father Finnegan would drone on and on. Does he still, Erin?"
Erin slipped the keys of the van in the pocket of her purse. "He died, Dee, better than a yearago." Because the light went out of her cousin's eyes, Erin lifted a hand to her cheek. "He wasmore than eighty, if you remember, and died quietly in his sleep."
Life went on, she knew, and people passed out of it whether you wanted them to or not. Deeglanced back at the church. It would never seem exactly the same again. "He buried Mother andDa. I can't forget how kind he was to me."
"We've a young priest now," Erin began briskly. "Sent from Cork. A hell-raiser he is, and not asoul sleeps through one of his sermons. Put the fear of God into Michael Ryan, so the man comessober to mass every Sunday morning." She turned to help with the luggage and slammed solidlyinto Burke. He put a hand on her shoulder as if to steady her, but it lingered too long.
"I beg your pardon."
She couldn't stop her chin from tilting forward or her eyes from spitting at him. He onlysmiled. "My fault." Grabbing two hefty cases, he swung them out of the van. "Why don't you takeDee and the kids in, Travis? I'll deal with this."
Normally Travis wouldn't have left another with the bulk of the work, but he knew his wife'sstrength was flagging. He also knew she was stubborn, and the only way to get her into bed fora nap was to put her there himself.
"Thanks. I'll take care of checking in. Erin, we'll see you and your family tonight?"
"They'll be here." On impulse, she kissed Dee's cheek. "You'll rest now. Otherwise Mother willfuss and drive you mad. That I can promise."
"Do you have to go now? Couldn't you come in?"
"I've some things to see to. Go on now, or your children will be asleep in the street. I'll seeyou soon."
Over Brandon's protest, Hannah bundled them inside. Erin turned to grip another pair of casesby the handles and began unloading. It passed through her mind that expensive clothes mustweigh more when she found herself facing Burke again.
"There's just a few more," she muttered, and deliberately breezed by him.
Inside, the inn was dim but far from quiet. The excitement of having visitors from America hadkept the small staff on their toes all week. Wood had been polished, floors had been scrubbed.Even now old Mrs. Malloy was leading Dee up the stairs and keeping up a solid stream ofreminiscence. The children were cooed over, and hot tea and soda bread were offered. Decidingshe'd left her charges in good hands, Erin walked outside again.
The day was cool and clear. The early clouds had long since been blown away by the westerlywind so that the light, as it often was in Ireland, was luminescent and pearly. Erin took amoment to study the village that had so fascinated her cousin. It was ordinary, slow, quiet,filled with workingmen and women and often smelling of fish. From almost any point in town youcould see the small harbor where the boats came in with their daily catch. The storefronts werekept neat. That was a matter of pride. The doors were left unlocked. That was a matter ofcustom.
There was no one there who didn't know her, no one she didn't know. Whatever secrets there werewere never secrets for long, but were passed out like small treasures to be savored and sighedover.
God, she wanted to see something else before her life was done. She wanted to see big citieswhere life whirled by, fast and hot and anonymous. She wanted to walk down a street where noone knew who she was and no one cared. Just once, just once in her life, she wanted to dosomething wild and impulsive that wouldn't echo back to her on the tongues of family andneighbors. Just once.
The van door slammed and jolted her back to reality. Again she found herself looking at BurkeLogan. "They're all settled, then?" she asked, struggling to be polite.
"Looks like." He leaned back against the van. With his ankles crossed, he pulled out a lighterand lit his cigar. He never smoked around Adelia out of respect for her condition. His eyesnever left Erin's. "Not much family resemblance between you and Mrs. Grant, is there?"
It was the first time he'd spoken more than two words at a time. Erin noted that his accentwasn't like Travis's. His words came more slowly, as if he saw no reason to hurry them."There's the hair," he continued when Erin didn't speak. "But hers is more like Travis's prizechestnut colt, and yours—" he took another puff as he deliberated "—yours is something likethe mahogany stand in my bedroom." He grinned, the cigar still clamped between his teeth. "Ithought it was mighty pretty when I bought it."
"That's a lovely thought, Mr. Logan, but I'm not a horse or a table." Reaching into her pocket,she held out the keys. "I'll be leaving these with you, then."
Instead of taking them, he simply closed his hand over hers, cradling the keys between them.His palm was hard and rough as the rocks in the cliffs that dropped toward the sea. He enjoyedthe way she held her ground, the way she lifted her brow, more in disdain than offense.
"Is there something else you're wanting, Mr. Logan?"
"I'll give you a lift," he said simply.
"It's not necessary." She clenched her teeth and nodded as two of the town's busiest gossipspassed behind her. The evening news would have Erin McKinnon holding hands with a stranger inthe street, sure as faith. "I've only to ask for a ride home to get one."
"You've got one already." With his hand still on hers, he pushed away from the van. "I toldTravis I'd see to it." After releasing her hand, he gestured toward the door. "Don't worry,I've nearly got the hang on driving on the wrong side of the road."
"It's you who drive on the wrong side." After only a brief hesitation, Erin climbed in. The daywas passing her by, and she'd have to make every minute count just to catch up.
Burke settled behind the wheel and turned the key in the ignition. "You're losing your pins,"he said mildly.
Erin reached behind her and shoved them into place as he drove out of the village. "You'll takethe left fork when you come to it. After that it's only four or five kilometers." Erin foldedher hands, deciding she'd granted him enough conversation.
"Pretty country," Burke commented, glancing out at the green, windswept hills. There wereblackthorns, bent a bit from the continual stream of the westerly breeze. Heather grew in asoft purple cloud, while in the distance the mountains rose dark and eerie in the light."You're close to the sea."
"Don't you like Americans?"
With her hands still folded primly, she turned to look at him. "I don't like men who stare atme."
Burke tapped his cigar ash out the window. "That would narrow the field considerably."
"The men I know have manners, Mr. Logan."
He liked the way she said his name, with just a hint of spit in it. "Too bad. I was taught totake a good long look at something that interested me."
"I'm sure you consider that a compliment."
"Just an observation. This the fork?"
"Aye." She drew a long breath, knowing she had no reason to set her temper loose and everyreason to hold it. "Do you work for Travis?"
"No." He grinned as the van shimmied over ruts. "You might say Travis and I are associates." Heliked the smell here, the rich wet scent of Ireland and the warm earthy scent of the womanbeside him. "I own the farm that borders his."
"You race horses?" She lifted a brow again, compelled to study him.
"At the moment."
Erin's lips pursed as she considered. She could picture him at the track, with the noise andthe smells of the horses. Try as she might, she couldn't put him behind a desk, balancingaccounts and ledgers. "Travis's farm is quite successful."
His lips curved again. "Is that your way of asking about mine?"
Her chin angled as she looked away. "It's certainly none of my concern."
"No, it's not. But I do well enough. I wasn't born into it like Travis, but I find it suitsme—for now. They'd take you back with them if you asked."
At first it didn't sink in. Then her lips parted in surprise as she turned to him again.
"I recognize a restless soul when I see one." Burke blew out smoke so that it trailed throughthe window and disappeared. "You're straining at the bit to get out of this little smudge onthe map. Though if you ask me, it has its charm."
"No one asked you."
"True enough, but it's hard not to notice when you stand on the curb and look around as thoughyou wished the whole village to hell."
"That's not true." The guilt rose in her because for a moment, just a moment, she'd come closeto wishing it so.
"All right, we'll alter that to you wishing yourself anywhere else. I know the feeling, Irish."
"You don't know what I feel. You don't know me at all."
"Better than you think," he murmured. "Feeling trapped, stifled, smothered?" She said nothingthis time. "Looking at the same space you saw the day you were born and wondering if it's thelast thing you'll see before you die? Wondering why you don't walk out, stick out your thumb
and head whichever way the wind's blowing? How old are you, Erin McKinnon?"
What he was saying hit too close to the bone for comfort. "I'm twenty-five, and what of it?"
"I was five years younger when I stuck my thumb out." He turned to her, but again she saw onlyher own reflection. "Can't say I ever regretted it."
"Well, it's happy I am for you, Mr. Logan. Now, if you'll slow down, the lane's there. Justpull to the side. I can walk from here."
"Suit yourself." When he stopped the van, he put a hand on her arm before she could climb out.He wasn't sure why he'd offered to drive her or why he'd started this line of conversation. Hewas following a hunch, as he had for most of his life. "I know ambition when I see it becauseit looks back at me out of the mirror most mornings. Some consider it a sin. I've alwaysthought of it as a blessing."
What was it about him that made her throat dry up and her nerves stretch? "Have you a point,Mr. Logan?"
"I like your looks, Erin. I'd hate to see them wrinkled up with discontent." He grinned againand tipped an invisible hat. "Top of the morning to you." Unsure whether she was running fromhim or her own demons, Erin got out of the van, slammed the door, and hurried down the lane.
She had a great deal to think about. Erin sat through dinner at the inn, with her familytalking on top of each other, with laughter rolling into laughter. Voices were raised to beheard over the clatter of tableware, the scrape of chair legs, the occasional shout. Scentswere a mixture of good hot food and whiskey. The lights had been turned up high in celebration.The group filled Mrs. Malloy's dining room at the inn, but wasn't so very much bigger than aSunday supper at the farm.
Erin ate little herself, not because one of her brothers seemed to interrupt constantly to haveher pass this or that, but because she couldn't stop thinking about what Burke had said to herthat afternoon.
She was dissatisfied, though she didn't like the idea that a stranger could see it as easilyas her family had always overlooked it. Years before she'd convinced herself it wasn't wrong tobe so. How could it be wrong to feel what was so natural? True, she'd been taught that envy wasa sin, but…
Damn it all, she wasn't a saint and wouldn't choose to be one. The envy she felt for Deesitting cozily beside her husband felt healthy, not sinful. After all, it wasn't as if shewished her cousin didn't have; it was only that she wished she had as well. She doubted a bodyburned in hell for wishes. But she didn't think they grew wings for them, either.
In truth, she was glad the Grants had come back to visit. For a few days she could listen totheir stories of America and picture it. She could ask questions and imagine the big stonehouse Dee lived in now and almost catch glimpses of the excitement and power of the racingworld. When they left again, everything would settle back to routine.
But not forever, Erin promised herself. No, not forever. In a year, maybe two, she would havesaved enough, and then it would be off to Dublin. She'd get a job in some big office and have aflat of her own. Of her very own. No one was going to stop her.
Her lips started to curve at the thought, but then her gaze met Burke's across the table. Hewasn't wearing those concealing glasses now. She almost wished he was. They'd been disturbing,but not nearly as disturbing as his eyes—dark gray, intense eyes. A wolf would have eyes likethat, smoky and patient and cunning. He had no business looking at her like that, she thought,then stubbornly stared right back at him.
The noise and confusion of the table continued around them, but she lost track of it. Was itthe amusement in his eyes that drew her, or the arrogance? Perhaps it was because both added upto a peculiar kind of knowledge. She wasn't sure, but she felt something for him at that
moment, something she knew she shouldn't feel and was even more certain she'd regret.
An Irish rose, Burke thought. He wasn't sure he'd ever seen one, but was certain they wouldhave thorns, thick ones with sharp edges. An Irish rose, a wild rose, wouldn't be fragile orrequire careful handling. It would be sturdy, strong and stubborn enough to grow throughbriers. It was a flower he thought he could respect.
He liked her family. They would be called salt of the earth, he supposed. Simple, but notsimple-minded. Apparently their farm did well enough, as long as they worked seven days a week.Mary McKinnon had a dressmaking business on the side, but seemed more interested in discussingchildren with Dee than fashion. The brothers were fair, except for the oldest, Cullen, who hadthe looks of a Black Irish warrior and the voice of a poet. Unless Burke missed his guess, Erinhad her softest spot there. Throughout the meal he watched her, curious to see what other softspots he might discover.
By the time dinner was over, Burke was glad he'd let Travis talk him into an extra few days inIreland. The trip had been profitable, the visit to the track at Curragh educational, and nowit seemed it was time to mix business with a little pleasure.
"You'll play for us, won't you, Cullen?" Adelia was already reaching across the table to gripErin's oldest brother's hand. "For old time's sake."
"He'll take little enough persuading," Mary McKinnon put in. "You'd best clear a space." Shegestured to her two youngest sons. "It's only fitting that we dance off a meal like that."
"I just happen to have my pipe." Cullen reached in his vest pocket and drew out the slim reed.He stood, a big man with broad shoulders and lean hips. The fingers of his workingman's handsslid over the holes as he lifted the instrument to his lips.
It surprised Burke that such a big, rough-looking man could make such delicate music. Hesettled back in his chair, savored the kick of his Irish whiskey and watched.
Mary McKinnon placed her hand in her youngest son's and, without seeming to move at all, sether feet in time to the music. It seemed a very restrained dance to Burke, with a complicatedpattern of heels and toes and shuffles. Then the pace began to pick up—slowly, almostunnoticeably. The others were keeping time with their hands or occasional hoots. When heglanced at Erin, she was standing with a hand on her father's shoulder and smiling as he hadn'tseen her smile before.
Something shimmered a bit inside him—shimmered, then strained, then quieted, all in the spaceof two heartbeats.
"She still moves like a girl," Matthew McKinnon said of his wife.
"And she's still beautiful." Erin watched her mother whirl in her son's arms, then spin with aflare of skirt and a flash of leg.
"Can you keep up?"
With a laugh that was only slightly wistful, Erin shook her head. "I've never been able to."
"Come now." Her father slid an arm around her waist. "My money's on you."
Before she could protest, Matthew had spun her out. His grin was broad as he held her hand highand picked up the rhythm of the timeless folk dance she'd been taught as soon as she couldwalk. The pipe music was cheerful and challenging. Caught up in it and her family's enthusiasm,Erin began to move instinctively. She put her hands on her hips and tossed up her chin.
"Can you manage it?"
Adelia looked up at her eighteen-year-old cousin. "Can I manage it?" she repeated with her eyesnarrowed. "The day hasn't come when I can't manage a jig, boyo."
Travis started to protest as she joined her cousins on the floor, but then he subsided. Ifthere was one thing his Dee knew, it was her own strength. The depth of it continued tosurprise him. "Quite a group, aren't they?" he murmured to Burke.