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Authors: Karen Welch

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BOOK: Shannon's Daughter
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“This
is fine.
 
I’m not much of a breakfast man,
actually.”

“I’m
not much of a morning person, period.
 
But Dad doesn’t like to miss a meal out here.”
 
She idly shoved a fork into her boiled egg
and picked at the white.
 
“Did you sleep
well?”

“Fine,
until someone decided to barge into my room.”
 
He hoped his tone was sufficiently teasing.

“I
won’t apologize for that.
 
Another five
minutes and there would have been brats crawling all over you.
 
Considering the fact that you
were.
. .well that would have been embarrassing, wouldn’t
it?”
 
A grin twitched the corners of her
mouth as she took a dainty bite of toast.

“Point
taken.
 
I hope that can remain our little secret?”

“Oh,
yes.
 
I wouldn’t want Maeve to get wind
of it.”
 
She wrinkled her nose.
 
“She’d take advantage of an opportunity like
that, don’t think she wouldn’t.”

He
stifled a groan.
 
“What’s on the schedule
for today?”

“Since
it looks like the rain will last all day, Aunt Addie suggested we go to the
pictures this afternoon.
 
There’s a
theater in town, but the matinee isn’t until five.
 
Until then, I expect there’ll be the usual silly
games, you know, dominoes and cards, but the little ones will just run around
screaming most of the time.”

“Why do
I have the impression you aren’t fond of small children?”

“They’re
okay.
 
I’m just not used to them.
 
I’ve never been around kids, you see.
 
Oh, at school, but that doesn’t count because
the Sisters keep them pretty well under control.
 
Here, they get on my nerves a little, running
free like that.”

“You
don’t like to run free?”

She
smiled wistfully.
 
“Oh, I like
freedom.
 
I just don’t like things so
disorganized.
 
Someone could get hurt.”
 

He took
a moment to consider this girl, barely more than a child herself, who seemed so
concerned for everyone else’s welfare.
 
“At the risk of seeming impertinent, may I ask you a question?”

“Sure.
 
If I think it’s impertinent, I may not
answer, though.”

“Fair
enough.
 
Exactly how old are you?”

“Fifteen.
 
Next month.
 
How old did you think?”

“Oh,
at least that.”

“Now
my turn.
 
How old are you?”

“Twenty-one.
 
Twenty-two on Boxing Day.”

“I
would have said older.
 
You seem very
sophisticated compared to Jack, who’s even a little older than you.
 
Maybe it’s because you’re a musician.
 
And Jack’s sort of an overgrown brat, in case
you hadn’t noticed.”

“He
seems a bit full of himself, I’ll admit.”

“Doesn’t
that sort of come with the territory, though?”

“How do
you mean?”

“He’s a
Shannon, after all.
 
He’s in line to
inherit at least part of his father’s kingdom.”

Kendall
barely escaped choking on his tea.
 
“Is
that the way you see your family, as royalty?”
 
Ironic that he’d thought of them in just those terms.

She
shrugged, painstakingly folding her napkin and tucking it beneath her
plate.
 
“I think that’s how other people
see us.
 
In America, we don’t have
royalty.
 
We just have the wealthy and
the famous.
 
Over here, it seems everyone
wants to be connected to the aristocracy.
 
Dad says Patrick and Sean will probably be on the honours list next year
for their services to the banking industry during the war.
 
Of course, Aunt Maureen is already
aristocracy.
 
She’s the daughter of a
marquis, or something, you know.
 
Why
shouldn’t Jack be full of himself?
 
He’s
in line to take over all that someday, along with Edwin, of course.”

He was
struck once again by what a study in contrasts this girl was proving to
be.
 
Her well- scrubbed face, framed by
shining chestnut hair, today worn loose and tied back with a wide white ribbon,
wore an expression of thoughtful resignation.
 
Sitting ramrod straight in the chair next to him, she had the presence
of a princess herself, regally bearing the weight of her station.
 

“Is
that your situation as well?”

She
didn’t hesitate beyond a little sigh.
 
“I
suppose.
 
I already sit in on board
meetings at the bank sometimes, and always at the foundation.
 
Dad says it’s only fair for me to know what’s
going on, since I’m the only one to take charge if something should happen to
him.”

Kendall
felt the surprising desire to reach out, to offer some form of comfort.
 
He understood too well the responsibility of
an only child; he’d borne it himself in the years since his father’s
death.
 
But he’d at least enjoyed a
normal childhood.
 
He knew that Michael’s
wife had died while Peg was still a baby, assuming his mother’s facts were
correct.

From down
the table, Michael called, “Hey, you two!
 
Have you solved the world’s woes by now?
 
Don’t let her chew your ear off, Kendall.
 
My daughter isn’t afraid of the sound of her own
voice.”

“Dad!
 
What did I tell you about embarrassing me in front of nice young
men?”
 
Instantly, her face twisted into a
grin and her eye’s sparked bright blue.
 
“I’m just helping Kendall sort out all the cousins.
 
Who’s important and who’s not.”

With a
yelp of laughter, Michael rose from his chair.
 
“Are you ready for your history lesson, then, darlin’?
 
Or would you rather play with the
others?”
 
His wink implied he was sure of
her answer.

“Oh,
yes.
 
I’ve been ready for days.”
 
On her feet, she shot Kendall an intuitive
glance.
 
“Maybe Kendall would like to
join us.
 
He should know about our
ancestors too, now that he’s part of the family.
 
Wouldn’t you like to see the old photographs
and hear Dad tell his only slightly biased tale of how the Shannons shaped the
history of Ireland?”

His hesitation
lasted long enough to catch the sound of riotous laughter emanating from the
bowels of the house.
 
The “silly games”
had apparently begun.
 
He was sure he
heard Maeve’s voice over the others, inquiring as to his whereabouts.
 
“I’d like that very much, sir, if I wouldn’t
be intruding.”
 

Peg
turned her smile on him, a veritable beam of sunlight in the gray room.
 
“Super!
 
You might want to take notes.
 
Every generation had a Michael and most had a Finola.
 
It can get really confusing after a few
hundred years!”
 
Grabbing his hand, she
tugged him to his feet.
 
“Quick now, before Maeve picks up your scent!”

As he
followed her into what appeared to be an office just off the kitchen, he
questioned the basis for his choice.
 
Was
it simply that he wanted to avoid the others?
 
Or did he really prefer this little girl’s
company?
 
He quickly amended that
thought.
 
Peg might be young, but by no
means was she a child.
 
He found her
stimulating, a breath of genuinely fresh air, something he realized he was sorely
in need of.
 

 

Chapter Three

 

By
Friday afternoon when Patrick Shannon and his bride of six months arrived,
glowing from three weeks in the Mediterranean sun, Kendall had found a place,
of sorts anyway, among the Shannons.
 
While the majority of the time Peg remained firmly glued to his side as
combination sympathizer, chaperone and tour guide, he’d managed to join in some
of the “silly games” and even passed a few pleasant hours in the company of some
of the older “kids.”
 
For the most part,
they were a warm, easy-going lot, seeming to assume he was of the same
temperament.
 

Only Maeve
and Jack proved challenging; Maeve due to her uninhibited flirting, and Jack
because he appeared skeptical of Kendall’s sincerity.
 
He commented more than once how “good” it was
of him to take time away from his London mates to come all this way just to
meet a bunch of rowdy strangers.
 
It
occurred to Kendall that if Jack were half as clever as he fancied himself, he
might succeed in making an outsider feel unwelcome.
 

While Maeve
proved easy enough to fend off with a bit of good-natured banter, Kendall had
yet to break through Jack’s façade.
 
Peg advised
him to ignore both of them.
 
They weren’t,
in her estimation, worth his trouble.
 

“Jack’s
too immature for you, anyway.
 
All he
thinks about is football and shooting things.
 
And Maeve has a boyfriend, you know, someone from town Aunt Addie
doesn’t approve of.
 
Agnes told me she
sneaks out to meet him at night.
 
She’s
just toying with you, to see if you’ll fall for her.
 
Maeve’s too pretty for her own good.”
 
Peg cast a glance in the direction of her
cousins, currently engaged in a noisy game of croquet on the farmhouse
lawn.
 
From where she sat with Kendall in
the shade near the kitchen door, they could hear Hannah shooing some of the younger
children, and the subsequent clatter of their exodus.
 
Peg paused, listening long enough to be sure
they weren’t about to be disturbed, before pinning him with an arch stare.
 
“You
do
think she’s pretty, I can tell.”

“She’s
a very pretty girl.
 
But don’t worry, she
isn’t my type.
 
Girls like Maeve can be
dangerous.”
 
He instantly questioned the
wisdom of such frankness.
 
More and more,
he forgot Peg’s age and found himself treating her as a contemporary.
 

“Dangerous
how?”
 
Her unwavering gaze demanded an answer,
causing him to regret the comment all together.

“Oh,
not really dangerous.
 
But a fellow has to be careful not to lose
his head.
 
Pretty girls can make a man
forget his manners.”
 
Lame, he knew.
 
And Peg wasn’t having any of it.

“You
mean they can seduce a man, when all they meant to do was flirt with him.”

“What
do you know about seduction, young lady?”

“Seduction
is as old as time.
 
It’s even in the
Bible.
 
Connie O’Hallaron says a lot of
what’s in the Bible should be banned, like those dirty books from the
library.
 
But since it’s in the Bible, we
get to read it anyway.”

“This
Connie O’Hallaron, is she really a suitable friend for you?
 
And while we’re on the subject, how do you
know what her brother wears to bed?”
 
He
welcomed the change of subject though it wasn’t much more appropriate.
 
At least it involved someone outside the Shannon
family.

“Connie
O’Hallaron has been my best friend since the first day of the first grade.
 
She may be a little bit nutty, but she knows
me better than anybody.
 
We’re like
sisters, I guess.
 
We fight sometimes,
get each other into trouble, but we always take up for each other.
 
There are five kids in her family, and they
sort of let me pretend I’m one of them, when I need that kind of thing, you
know.”

He knew
instinctively what she meant.
 
“It gets
lonely sometimes, doesn’t it, being an only child.”

“Sometimes,
but there are benefits too.
 
Being friends with someone like Connie gives
me the best of both worlds.
 
And as for
your question, I only know Bill sleeps in the buff because Connie told me.
 
I’ve never been in
his
bedroom.”
 
She smirked,
her eyes sparkling.
 
“You’re the only man
I’ve ever been that close to seeing naked.”

Laughing,
he tweaked one of her braids.
 
“Has
anyone ever told you how outrageous you are, Peg Shannon?”
 

She
nodded primly.
 
“Dad tells me all the
time.
 
I take that as a compliment, thank
you very much.
 
That’s better than being
sweet
, or
nice
, I’m sure.
 
I can’t
afford to be those things.
 
I have to
learn to hold my own in a world where sweet and nice will get run right over.”

Their
conversation was halted by the arrival of his mother and Patrick.
 
In the ensuing chaos of greetings and introductions,
Kendall realized Peg had disappeared.
 
Locating her finally in the kitchen watching Hannah peel a small
mountain of potatoes, he insisted she come meet his mother.

“I will,
later.
 
There was just such a mob out
there.”
 
He took her hand, leading her
gently toward the door.
 

“Nonsense.
 
They’ve scattered now anyway.
 
Something about a bird’s nest.
 
Mother’s out here waiting to meet you.”

His
mother, as he’d feared, treated Peg as though she were just another of the
children, passing her over with a bland smile while continuing her conversation
with Michael.
 
“I so appreciate the
kindness you’ve shown Kenny.
 
I know he
was a little timid about coming ahead of us to meet all of you on his own.”

“Oh,
he’s been in good hands, m’ dear.
 
My Peg
took him under her wing the moment he arrived, and now they’re practically
inseparable.
 
Isn’t that right, lad?”

“It is,
sir.
 
Mother, I want to properly
introduce you to Miss Anna Margaret Shannon, a most extraordinary young lady.
 
Peg, this is my mother, Eloise.”
 

Focusing
on the girl standing before her, her right hand regally extended, Eloise
smiled, the kind of ingratiating smile which always caused him to cringe.
 
“This young woman is your daughter,
Michael?
 
Why, I was expecting a little
girl.
 
I’m so pleased to meet you, dear.
 
How are you enjoying your visit to
Ireland?”
 

“Frankly
it was pretty awful until
Kenny
got
here.
 
But now things are going along
much better.”
 
She cast a sideways glance
in his direction, her lips twitching irrepressibly, before going on sincerely.
 
“You might want to hurry and freshen up, Aunt
Eloise, while the bathroom’s free.
 
Once
the kids start lining up before supper, it’s every man for
himself
.”

As
Kendall carried her bags upstairs, Eloise eyed the less than grand décor of the
farmhouse with something close to fear.
 
“Patrick suggested we take rooms in town, perhaps near Michael, but I
thought it would be more convenient if we stayed here.”
 
He noted the nervous quaver in her voice.

“Don’t
worry, Mother.
 
It’s a bit rustic, but
everyone’s quite civilized.
 
Once you get
settled in, I’m sure you’ll manage.
 
You’ll have to get into the spirit of being a Shannon sooner or
later.”
 
Opening the door to the bedroom,
he led the way in.
 
“See, Aunt Adelaide
made sure you have everything you need, including a wash basin and a pitcher of
nice fresh well water.
 
As Peg said,
there’s only one bathroom, currently shared by the fifteen of us.”

Eloise’s
dismayed gasp was exhaled in a resolute sigh.
 
“You seem to be enjoying yourself, dear.
 
How nice that you’ve formed a friendship with Michael
and his little girl.”

He
grinned.
 
“I wouldn’t call her that to
her face.
 
Peg Shannon may look like an
adolescent girl, but beneath those braids, she’s far more intelligent than any
of her older cousins, and a great deal more fun to be with.
 

“That
may be the case, Kenny dear, but I hope you haven’t snubbed the others.
 
I’d hoped you’d find you had something in
common with Sean’s youngest, Jack, is it?
 
And what about the McGill girls?
 
You
have
been paying proper attention to them, I hope?
 
You are, after all, a guest in their home.”

On any
other day, he would have bristled at his mother’s tone, but he recognized that
today, faced with meeting the Shannon clan, her insecurities were in control.
 
Propriety was all important to Eloise, as was
just the right blend of admiration and gratitude toward those who might improve
her previously tenuous social and financial standing.
 
He’d hope now that she and Patrick were
married she might start to relax and enjoy her new-found security.

“Mother,
please don’t fret.
 
Everyone here is so
friendly, so hail-fellow-well-met, there’s no need to walk on eggshells.
 
Jack and I get along well enough, and as for Maeve
and Agnes, they’re just typical girls, although quite different sorts of
typical, as you’ll soon see.
 
All of the
Shannons are so bent on having a good time together, there’s no call to make a
fuss over any one of them.
 
Now why don’t
you freshen up and rest for a bit?
 
I
assume Patrick has been waylaid by Aunt Addie.
 
She’s been as excited as a child all day, waiting for him to get here.”

“They’re
very close, only two years apart in age, I think.
 
Patrick says since she’s the baby, he’s
always watched out for her.
 
Losing her
husband last year and being left here with the farm, well I’m
afraid
Patrick feels called upon to step in and help her
decide how she’s going to manage on her own.”
 
During this sighing monologue, she’d slipped off her shoes and stretched
wearily on the bed.
 
“Kenny, dear, could
you dampen one of those little towels for me?
 
I’m afraid all this traveling has quite worn me down.”

After
draping the towel gently over her eyes, he lowered the window shade and was
just about to make his escape when she stretched a languorous hand in his
general direction.
 
Patting the mattress,
she waved him closer.
 
“Sit with me for a
bit, please.
 
We don’t get the
opportunity to visit much these days.
 
How are you feeling?”

Perching
on the edge of the bed, he stared at the floor, knowing there would be no
avoiding this “chat.”
 
Much as he liked
to believe he’d cut the apron strings, Eloise had yet to acknowledge his
independence.
 
“I’m fine, Mum.”

“You
seem pale.
 
You’ve never fully recovered
from your surgery, have you?
 
Are you
sure the doctors in Oxford knew what they were doing?”

“I’m
sure they could remove an appendix without complication.
 
You worry too much.”

“I
still don’t understand why you didn’t call me when you were hospitalized.
 
That hurt me, Kendall.
 
I’m your mother, after all.”

“You
were on vacation with Patrick, if you’ll remember.
 
Grandfather and I agreed there was no need to
disrupt your plans.
 
Mum, we’ve been over
this already.
 
I’m fine.
 
Now why don’t you try to rest for a bit?”

When he
made a move to rise, she caught his arm.
 
“How
are
your grandparents?”

“They’re
well.
 
Grandfather’s enjoying his
retirement.
 
Gran is as busy as ever with
her friends and her church work.
 
They
always ask about you.”

BOOK: Shannon's Daughter
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