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Authors: Karen Welch

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BOOK: Shannon's Daughter
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“Fine.
 
A bit choppy, though.
 
I’m not the
best sailor, I’m afraid.”
 
He sampled
what appeared to be an egg sandwich, realizing he was well past hungry.
 
“This is just the thing, Peg.
 
Or perhaps I should call you Cousin Peg?”

“Please
don’t!
 
There’s so much ‘cousin this’ and
‘auntie that’ over here, I get confused.
 
I haven’t been here since I was five, before the war, you know.
 
I don’t really know any of these people
yet.
 
We have that in common, I
guess.
 
Being strangers
in a strange land, so to speak.”

He
chuckled, sipping at the scalding tea.
 
“I suppose.
 
But they’re your
family.
 
I’m the outsider.”

“Oh,
but they’re all looking forward to meeting you.
 
I should warn you, they’ve seen your photograph and Maeve for one is absolutely
crazed to get a closer look.
 
Watch out
for Maeve, if you get my drift.
 
She’s
boy-crazy as all get out, and you’re not really cousins, after all.
 
She’s on the make for a summer romance, or my
name isn’t . . .”
 

Barely
stifling a chuckle, Kendall supplied, “. .
.Anna
Margaret Shannon?
 
And thank you, Miss
Shannon, for the warning.”
 
She pulled a
face, scrunching her nose and poking her tongue out a polite distance.
 
“You know, you might be able to help me sort
out who’s who here.
 
My mother’s quite
hopeless with such things, I’m afraid.”

“Sure.
 
Just pay attention when I introduce you to
everybody.
 
And they’ll all be very understanding,
you being new.
 
Me, they seemed to think
I should remember them all, but that was ages ago.
 
I just pretended I remembered so as not to
insult anybody at first.”

“Ah,
yes, your penchant for pretending.
 
You certainly had me fooled over the telephone.
 
I was expecting a woman of at least
twenty-one.
 
You made me feel the
complete idiot down there on the curb.”

She
giggled,
a warm, girlish sound that made him smile.
 
“I know.
 
You should’ve seen your face!”
 
She paused, glancing down at her hands folded on the table in front of
her.
 
“Don’t take this the wrong way, but
I really like you, Kendall Gregg.
 
I
think we’re going to end up being super good friends.”

 

Chapter Two

 

Through
one barely opened eyelid, Kendall surmised that daylight, pale and gray, had
invaded his room.
 
On the roof of the
dormer above his bed, he recognized the rhythmic pelting of rain.
 
It couldn’t be much past dawn, yet the farmhouse
beneath him vibrated with a low rumble of human energy.
 
Outside his door, a stampede of bare feet
pounded the floorboards, and poorly stifled giggles echoed down the corridor.
 
Drawing the covers higher, he shuddered.
 
Cousins ranging from tiny to teenaged
apparently curious to learn what it would take to wake him.
 
They had all tried to examine him last night,
crowding around to investigate his bags, practically rifling his pockets and
inspecting his teeth.
 
If not for the
sweetly fierce intervention of the One in Charge—youngest of the Shannon
siblings and clearly as masterful as any of her brothers, petite and pretty Adelaide
McGill—he wondered where the exploration might have ended.
 

Today
would no doubt bring more of the same.
 
Peg had warned him, hadn’t she?
 
She’d tried to protect him from the onslaught last night on their
arrival, but it proved too much for even her formidable presence.

“This
is our new cousin, Kendall Gregg, everyone.
 
Please at least give him a chance to settle in before you swarm over
him.”
 
But the swarm had already begun.
 
A tiny boy called Jock actually climbed his
leg, while the eldest girl, Maeve, sliced her way through to stand before him
with a sly smile, extending her hand as though they were about to dance.
 
A rosy-cheeked lad who couldn’t have been more
than ten years old, but weighed at least four stone, reached through the throng
to thrust a grimy fist into his shoulder, declaring that another male was
always welcome in the family.
 
Above the
crowd, Kendall caught Peg’s gaze as she retreated in the obvious interest of
self-preservation.
 
To his unexpected
delight, she winked at him, a clear signal of their kinship.
 
He wasn’t sure why it pleased him so much to
have this girl on his side, but when they’d said goodnight, he’d made a point
to ask when she’d be back.

“In
the morning.
 
Dad and I always come for breakfast.
 
You’ll be safe tonight.
 
Aunt Addie will make them all go to bed now
that you’re here.”
 
Holding out her hand,
she smiled up at him, an innocent, sincere smile despite that persistent
twinkle in her eyes.
 
“I’m glad I got to
meet you first.
 
Now I know you better
than any of them ever will.”

Outside
his door, heavier footfalls passed.
 
Probably
Jack, who last night had offered a fraternal handshake and mumbled something about
Oxford
.
 
Tall,
good-looking in a red-faced, blonde fashion, Jack had taken his measure, he
felt sure.
 
What he really thought of a
musician in this family of bankers and financiers, Kendall could only
imagine.
 
That was something he’d
broached to Peg the night before as well.
 
Her assessment was that the Shannons would
welcome an artist into their midst.
 
While few of them could do more than carry a familiar tune, they were
great admirers of those with true talent.
 
This he’d learned during the time they waited for her father to finalize
his dealings.
 
Once Michael joined them,
he’d had little opportunity to talk further with Peg.

The
Shannon men all bore a certain resemblance, tall and broad, with slightly ruddy
complexions and thick, straight hair ranging from blonde to light brown.
 
Michael, fourteen years older than his
nearest sibling Patrick, was already graying and his frame carried significant
extra girth, aging him beyond his fifty-six years.
 
His eyes, however, as bright a blue as his
daughter’s, sparkled excitedly as he eased himself into a chair and accepted
the sandwich Peg laid before him.

“Done
and well done!”
 
His nodding comment to
Peg apparently referred to the negotiation.
 
The two exchanged triumphant smiles before he extended a hand across the
table.
 
“Michael Shannon.
 
Welcome to the family, young man.
 
Please forgive me for missing your
train.
 
I assume Peg here’s taken good
care of you?”
 
His accent was American, but
there was an underlying cadence reminiscent of his Irish parentage.

“Yes
sir, excellent care.
 
I’m sure I could
have found my way to the estate, but I am grateful for the welcome.”

Michael
grinned over his teacup.
 
“Estate?
 
Don’t let
Addie hear you call it that.
 
It’s
nothing but a farm, son.
 
A good old working farm with little in the way of frills.
 
Oh, the house is large enough, but the doings
there are simple.
 
Good food, plenty of
kids and dogs underfoot, and a lot of rehashing the past over a glass of ale at
twilight.
 
No talk of politics,
though.
 
Strictly
forbidden.
 
You may find it dull
after the big city, but we all look forward to these little family
get-togethers.”

“But,
Dad, it’s not dull.
 
It’s positively chaotic!
 
I’m worried Kendall won’t be able to find a
minute’s peace there.
 
I don’t suppose we
could keep him here, at least until his mother arrives?”

With a wink
in Kendall’s direction, Michael laid a hand over his daughter’s.
 
“Now, darlin’, you can’t be taking him to
raise
.
 
I’m sure
Kendall here is quite capable of holding his own with the likes of your
cousins.
 
And you’ll be there to protect
him most of the time, anyway.
 
Addie would
never hear of him bunking with us.
 
She
told me she’d thrown Jack in with the younger boys, just to make room for your
new friend here.”

Peg
scowled.
 
“Fine, but we have to stay with
him for a while, to see that he’s not overrun with brats.
 
Not to mention the older ones, who think
they’re going to get him off all to themselves.”

Another
wink, this time accompanied by a sly grin.
 
“That wouldn’t be your cousin Maeve you’re thinking of, would it?
 
I hear Maeve has quite an eye for the fellows,
and she’s not shy about staking her claim.”

“Dad!”
 
Blushing, Peg lowered her eyes, but not before glancing at Kendall to
see how he was taking this news.

“I’m
sure I look forward to meeting the entire family, sir.
 
Admittedly, the numbers may be a bit
overwhelming at first.
 
But your daughter
has promised to help me get acquainted.”

Michael
barked a laugh and held out his arms to the girl.
 
“And she’ll do a fine job, I’m sure.
 
Come here, darlin’, give your old Dad a
hug.
 
Forgive me a bit of fun at your
expense?”

Kendall
watched as she slid onto his lap, her feet almost touching the floor.
 
“I forgive you, Dad, but try to remember that
I’m not a child anymore and don’t embarrass me in front of nice young
men.”
 
She ruffled his hair with one
hand, slipping the other into his jacket.
 
“Now I think it would be lovely if we stopped for ice cream on the way
to the farm, don’t you?”
 
Deftly
withdrawing his wallet, she removed several bills, which she folded and tucked
in her own pocket.
 
“And you owe me for
the cab fare, plus an hour’s interest.”
 

Kendall
grinned drowsily at the memory.
 
Peg had
thus far managed to overshadow his impressions of all the other Shannons.
 
Last night, while Maeve, blonde and pretty
enough, and her sister Agnes, solemn and bespectacled, fussed over him, and the
younger children volleyed incessantly for his attention, he kept his sights on
Peg until she left at nearly midnight.
 
He admired her ease with the older family members, as she sat on a low
stool near her father’s chair.
 
She
wasn’t forward or precocious; rather her occasional comments were astute and
appropriate.
 
Far more
astute than those of her older cousins, in fact.
 
Jack, he was quick to ascertain, was a show-off,
full of his own cleverness, while Maeve appeared no more than the typical
teenaged miss, all fashion and film-stars.
 
Agnes alone seemed to have a head on her shoulders, but she also had a
way of staring through those eye-glasses which he found himself wanting to
avoid.
 

A
gentle rapping disturbed his doze.
 
Hoping it was one of the smaller children, he
resisted answering.
 
Maybe they’d take
pity on him and let him sleep late this morning.
 
Another moment, and to his astonishment, the
door opened and a voice called softly into the dimness.
 

“Are
you awake?
 
I just wanted to make sure
you survived the night.”
 
A shadowy
figure stepped into the room and closed the door.
 
“Kendall, you are awake, aren’t you?”

Not
only awake, but keenly aware that between the sheets he wore nothing more than
his
skin,
he clutched the covers around his ears.
 
“Peg!
 
Don’t you know it’s highly improper for a young lady to barge unannounced
into a man’s bedroom?”

“I didn’t
barge.
 
I knocked.”
 
Going to the window, she drew back the
curtain.
 
Gray daylight flooded her face
as she turned toward the bed.
 
“Better
this young lady than a pack of obnoxious brats.
 
They were all in the kitchen just now begging to wake you.
 
I thought I should give you a head’s up.”

“Thank
you.
 
Now if you wouldn’t mind stepping
outside. . .”

“Oh,
you don’t have to dress for breakfast.
 
Everyone just goes down in their pajamas or robes or whatever.”
 
Her gaze roamed the room.
 
“Did you unpack
your.
. . dressing gown, I suppose you call it?”

He
ground his teeth.
 
“Peg, I can manage on
my own.
 
Just run along downstairs and
tell the others I’ll be there shortly.”

Rather
than leaving, she eyed him suspiciously.
 
“Fine.
 
But I should warn you, I don’t care for being told to ‘just run along’
anywhere.
 
What’s wrong with you this
morning?
 
You look scared to death.”

“Peg,
please.
 
At least step into the hallway
until I can pull myself together.”

She
turned to the door.
 
Just as her hand
touched the knob, she glanced back.
 
Too
hastily, Kendall sat up, letting the sheet drop to his lap.
 
“You sleep in the buff, don’t you?”

“What?”
 
He snatched the sheet snugly beneath his
chin.

“You
sleep without pajamas.
 
Connie O’Hallaron’s
brother Bill does too.
 
Sorry.
 
I didn’t think you were the type.”
 
With that, she opened the door and made her
exit,
leaving him with the uneasy feeling he’d disappointed
her.
 

 

Breakfast
in the McGill household was an informal affair.
 
Children and their attending parents came and went, while some of the
elders lingered over vague planning sessions or rambling reminiscences.
 
By the time Kendall had dressed and found his
way to the kitchen, a low-ceilinged cavern of a space which also served as
breakfast room, only a few adults and Peg remained at the long table.
 
Michael, Sean and Maureen were huddled
together in conversation, while Addie hovered nearby.
 
Peg barely looked up while he served himself
at the sideboard, but when he stood uncertainly searching for an opening among
the abandoned place-
settings,
she patted the spot next
to her chair.

“I saved
you a space.
 
Hannah, that’s Aunt Addie’s
cook and housekeeper, doesn’t clear until everyone’s gone.
 
Was there enough food left for you?”
 
She eyed his plate of fried eggs and toast.
 
“Wasn’t there any sausage?”

BOOK: Shannon's Daughter
4.48Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
ads

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