Nora Roberts the Irish Born Trilogy

By: Nora Roberts

Chapter One





HE would be in the pub, of course. Where else would a smart man warm himself on a frigid, wind-blown afternoon? Certainly not at home, by his own fire.

No, Tom Concannon was a smart man, Maggie thought, and wouldn’t be at home.

Her father would be at the pub, among friends and laughter. He was a man who loved to laugh, and to cry and to spin improbable dreams. A foolish man some might call him. But not Maggie, never Maggie.

As she steered her racketing lorry around the last curve that led into the village of Kilmihil, she saw not a soul on the street. No wonder, as it was well past time for lunch and not a day for strolling with winter racing in from the Atlantic like a hound from icy Hades. The west coast of Ireland shivered under it and dreamed of spring.

She saw her father’s battered Fiat, among other vehicles she recognized. Tim O’Malley’s had a good crowd this day. She parked as close as she could to the front entrance of the pub, which was nestled in a line of several shops.

As she walked down the street the wind knocked her back, made her huddle inside the fleece-lined jacket and pull the black wool cap down lower on her head. Color whipped into her cheeks like a blush. There was a smell of damp under the cold, like a nasty threat. There would be ice, thought the farmer’s daughter, before nightfall.

She couldn’t remember a more bitter January, or one that seemed so hell-bent on blowing its frosty breath over County Clare. The little garden in front of the shop she hurried by had paid dearly. What was left of it was blackened by the wind and frost and lay pitifully on the soggy ground.

She was sorry for it, but the news she held inside her was so fearfully bright, she wondered the flowers didn’t rise up and bloom away into spring.

There was plenty of warmth in O’Malley’s. She felt it nuzzle her the moment she opened the door. She could smell the peat burning in the fire, its red-hot heart smoldering cheerfully, and the stew O’Malley’s wife, Deirdre, had served at lunch. And tobacco, beer, the filmy layer that frying chips left in the air.

She spotted Murphy first, sitting at one of the tiny tables, his boots stretched out as he eased a tune out of an Irish accordion that matched the sweetness of his voice. The other patrons of the pub were listening, dreaming a bit over their beer and porter. The tune was sad, as the best of Ireland was, melancholy and lovely as a lover’s tears. It was a song that bore her name, and spoke of growing old.

Murphy saw her, smiled a little. His black hair fell untidily over his brow, so that he tossed his head to clear it away. Tim O’Malley stood behind the bar, a barrel of a man whose apron barely stretched across the girth of him. He had a wide, creased face and eyes that disappeared into folds of flesh when he laughed.

He was polishing glasses. When he saw Maggie, he continued his task, knowing she would do what was polite and wait to order until the song was finished.

She saw David Ryan, puffing on one of the American cigarettes his brother sent him every month from Boston, and tidy Mrs. Logan, knitting with pink wool while her foot tapped to the tune. There was old Johnny Conroy, grinning toothlessly, his gnarled hand holding the equally twisted one of his wife of fifty years. They sat together like newlyweds, lost in Murphy’s song.

The television over the bar was silent, but its picture was bright and glossy with a British soap opera. People in gorgeous clothes and shining hair argued around a massive table lit with silver-based candles and elegant crystal.

Its glittery story was more, much more than a country away from the little pub with its scarred bar and smoke-dark walls.

Maggie’s scorn for the shining characters squabbling in their wealthy room was quick and automatic as a knee jerk. So was the swift tug of envy.

If she ever had such wealth, she thought—though, of course, she didn’t care one way or the other—she would certainly know what to do with it.

Then she saw him, sitting in the corner by himself. Not separate, not at all. He was as much a part of the room as the chair he sat on. He had an arm slung over the back of that chair, while the other hand held a cup she knew would hold strong tea laced with Irish.

An unpredictable man he might be, full of starts and stops and quick turns, but she knew him. Of all the men she had known, she had loved no one with the full thrust of her heart as she loved Tom Concannon.

She said nothing, crossed to him, sat and rested her head on his shoulder.

Love for him rose up in her, a fire that warmed down to the bone but never burned. His arm came from around the chair and wrapped her closer. His lips brushed across her temple.

When the song was done, she took his hand in hers and kissed it. “I knew you’d be here.”

“How did you know I was thinking of you, Maggie, my love?”

“Must be I was thinking of you.” She sat back to smile at him. He was a small man, but toughly built. Like a runt bull, he often said of himself with one of his rolling laughs. There were lines around his eyes that deepened and fanned out when he grinned. They made him, in Maggie’s eyes, all the more handsome. His hair had once been gloriously red and full. It had thinned a bit with time, and the gray streaked through the fire like smoke. He was, to Maggie, the most dashing man in the world.

He was her father.

“Da,” she said. “I have news.”

“Sure, I can see it all over your face.”

Winking, he pulled off her cap so that her hair fell wildly red to her shoulders. He’d always liked to look at it, to watch it flash and sizzle. He could still remember when he’d held her the first time, her face screwed up with the rage of life, her tiny fists bunched and flailing. And her hair shining like a new coin.

He hadn’t been disappointed not to have a son, had been humbled to have been given the gift of a daughter.

“Bring me girl a drink, Tim.”

“I’ll have tea,” she called out. “It’s wicked cold.” Now that she was here, she wanted the pleasure of drawing the news out, savoring it. “Is that why you’re in here singing tunes and drinking, Murphy? Who’s keeping your cows warm?”

“Each other,” he shot back. “And if this weather keeps up, I’ll have more calves come spring than I can handle, as cattle do what the rest of the world does on a long winter night.”

“Oh, sit by the fire with a good book, do they?” Maggie said, and had the room echoing with laughter. It was no secret, and only a slight embarrassment to Murphy, that his love of reading was well-known.

“Now, I’ve tried to interest them in the joys of literature, but those cows, they’d rather watch the television.” He tapped his empty glass. “And I’m here for the quiet, what with your furnace roaring like thunder day and night. Why aren’t you home, playing with your glass?”

“Da.” When Murphy walked to the bar, Maggie took her father’s hand again. “I needed to tell you first. You know I took some pieces to McGuinness’s shop in Ennis this morning?”

“Did you now?” He took out his pipe, tapped it. “You should have told me you were going. I’d have kept you company on the way.”

“I wanted to do it alone.”

“My little hermit,” he said, and flicked a finger down her nose.

“Da, he bought them.” Her eyes, as green as her father’s, sparkled. “He bought four of them, and that’s all I took in. Paid me for them then and there.”

“You don’t say, Maggie, you don’t say!” He leaped up, dragging her with him, and spun her around the room. “Listen to this, ladies and gentlemen. My daughter, my own Margaret Mary, has sold her glass in Ennis.”

There was quick, spontaneous applause and a barrage of questions.

“At McGuinness’s,” she said, firing answers back. “Four pieces, and he’ll look at more. Two vases, a bowl, and a…I supposed you could call the last a paperweight.” She laughed when Tim set whiskeys on the counter for her and her father.

“All right then.” She lifted her glass and toasted. “To Tom Concannon, who believed in me.”

“Oh, no, Maggie.” Her father shook his head and there were tears in his eyes. “To you. All to you.” He clicked glasses and sent the whiskey streaming down his throat. “Fire up that squeeze box, Murphy. I want to dance with my daughter.”

Murphy obliged with a jig. With the sounds of shouts and clapping hands, Tom led his daughter around the floor. Deirdre came out from the kitchen, wiping her hands on her apron. Her face was flushed from cooking as she pulled her husband into the dance. From jig to reel and reel to hornpipe, Maggie whirled from partner to partner until her legs ached.

As others came into the pub, drawn either by the music or the prospect of company, the news was spread. By nightfall, she knew, everyone within twenty kilometers would have heard of it.

It was the kind of fame she had hoped for. It was her secret that she wished for more.

“Oh, enough.” She sank into her chair and drained her cold tea. “My heart’s about to burst.”

“So is mine. With pride for you.” Tom’s smile remained bright, but his eyes dimmed a little. “We should go tell your mother, Maggie. And your sister, too.”

“I’ll tell Brianna this evening.” Her own mood shifted at the mention of her mother.

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