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Authors: Karen Welch

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BOOK: Shannon's Daughter
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“Not if
you’re in the lot.
 
Seriously, Peg, you
could have broken your neck.
 
Promise me,
no more tree climbing.
 
I’d hate to hear
that you met an untimely end rescuing another baby bird.”

“You
were really scared, weren’t you?
 
That’s
very touching, considering you only just met me a week ago.
 
I told you we were going to be good friends,
remember?”

“I’m
not sure how many friends like you a fellow can survive.”

 

He
excused himself from the “picnic” of stale sandwiches and ginger ale and
collapsed on the bed in the tiny spare room, not bothering to turn back the
covers or undress.
 
Exhausted as he was,
the residual adrenaline allowed him to do no more than doze.
 
There was always the possibility Peg would
need something and he wondered if Michael would be up to the task.
 
Based on his observations of the two, he’d
concluded Peg was more parent than child, and Michael followed her lead if not
blindly,
then
certainly with one eye closed.
 

Between
bites of her sandwich, Peg had convinced her father to take his nightly sleeping
medication, insisting that she could manage fine by herself, while glancing in
Kendall’s direction implying his inclusion in her vision of self-reliance.
 
Peg, it seemed, was her father’s guardian as
well as his filter from the harsh realities of life with a pubescent
daughter.
 
He could only imagine her
portrayal of the day’s events, given Michael’s almost jovial mood now.
 
Behind the easy conversation and her
convincing smile, the pain in her eyes should have been evident to any
observant parent.
 
Kendall was certainly
aware of it, so much so that he felt a compassionate twinge in the region of
his solar plexus, as he watched her performance.
 
  
 
  

He
drifted toward sleep with his ears open, listening to the two say good night.
 
It was Peg who offered reassurance and
Michael who responded gratefully.
 
Much
like his own relationship with his mother, he realized.
 
Years of protecting and pampering had almost
convinced him that sort of thing was normal, but now he was struck by the
injustice of a girl like Peg, already motherless, coddling her father at a time
when she herself was suffering.
 
Punching
his pillow, he rolled over on the narrow bed and told himself it was none of
his business, that in another few days, his time with the Shannons would be nothing
more than fading memories.

A
minute or an hour later, he couldn’t be sure
which,
he
was awakened by a rhythmic scraping.
 
That adrenaline reserve flung him from sleep, off his bed and into the
corridor before he had time for conscious thought.
 
Haloed in the doorway of her room, Peg was hopping
on one foot while unsuccessfully dragging her cast along the floor.
 

“What
do you think you’re doing?” he demanded in a hissing whisper.

“What
does it look like?
 
I’m trying to get to
the bathroom.
 
I’m not a camel, you
know.”

The
urgency in
her own
hiss prompted him to hold out his
arms.
 
“Here.
 
Let me carry you.”

“I don’t
need carrying!
 
Just give me your
arm.
 
I can hop, I think.
 
This stupid thing weighs a ton.”
 
She reached, nearly losing her balance, and
caught one of his forearms in that all too familiar
grip
of hers.
 
“Hurry!”

Hurrying
was unrealistic, but they managed to make the few steps to the bathroom door
without incident.
 
He escorted her as far
as seemed feasible, releasing her only when she’d grasped the edge of the basin
and turned in the proper direction to achieve her purpose.

“Wait
outside,” she snapped impatiently.
 
When
he hesitated, assessing the security of her position, she fixed him with a
scathing glare.
 
“Go!
 
Now!”

He
slouched outside the door, brooding on the bizarre twist of fate that had
thrown him into such a situation.
 
Bad
enough that he’d endured the day’s ordeal, but now his night promised nothing
but the same kind of trauma.
 
He took a
moment to bitterly regret agreeing to bring Peg and Michael back to town.
 
A polite refusal, the suggestion that one of
the other men in the family would be better equipped, and he could have avoided
that horrific drive, a possibly disabling back strain, and the humiliation of
playing nursemaid to an ill-tempered woman-child.
 

“Kendall?
 
I’m done.”
 
Stunned by the soft, girlish tone in her voice now, he cautiously opened
the door to be greeted by a grateful smile.
 
“Thank you,” she sighed.
 
“I knew
I’d never wake Dad in time.
 
He sleeps
like a log once he’s taken his pills.”

It
would have been fruitless to point out that her father had taken those same
pills at her insistence.
 
Besides, he felt
perversely gratified by her trust.
 
Probably fatigue and the illusion of helpless innocence before him, he
mused, as he offered his arm and they hobbled back toward her room.
 

When
she was safely on the bed, he made the fatal error of asking if there was
anything else she needed.
 
“Stay with
me?
 
I’m not at all sleepy now.”

There
was nothing to do but take a seat on the hard wooden chair by the bed.
 
Mildly queasy, no doubt the aftermath of the
most recent adrenaline surge, he dropped his head in his hands.

“Poor
Kendall.
 
I suppose you’ll hate me now, after all I’ve
put you through.
 
I meant to apologize
earlier for being sick all over you.”
 

Despite
his present state of exhaustion, he recognized when he was being manipulated by
a female, even a very young one.

“I
don’t hate you.
 
I’m just tired.
 
And you should be too.”

“I took
naps, remember?”
 
She was silent long
enough to cause him to raise his head warily.
 

“You’re
sure I can’t get you anything?”
 

“I’d
love some more ginger ale, but then I’d just have
to.
. . again.”
 
She cocked her head toward
the door with a meaningful twist of her lips.

“Then
we’ll just make another trip down the hall.
 
You can’t go without fluids.
 
You’ll get dehydrated.
 
And cranky.”
 
He
couldn’t help grinning at her.
 
In her soiled,
rumpled clothes, her hair a tangled mess with one braid unraveling, she looked
more like a street urchin than a self-proclaimed princess.

She
grinned back, a gamine-like smirk.
 
“Cranky?
 
I’m never cranky.”

“Ha!
 
We can debate that later.
 
Now I suppose you’d like that ginger ale on
ice, wouldn’t you?”

“Uh-huh.
 
And a straw, please.
 
There should be some in the drawer by the
sink.”

 
 
 

Chapter Seven

 

Katie
arrived at seven, entering by way of the rear stairs as usual.
 
On a normal morning, she’d have found Peg in
the kitchen with juice and dry toast, while her father sat with a mug of tea
eagerly awaiting his fry-up.
 
At the
sight of a disheveled, bleary-eyed man at the sink filling the kettle, she let
out a little shriek and would have retraced her steps in terror, had not Peg,
now on the sofa in the sitting room, intervened.

“It’s
all right, Katie.
 
Kendall is my
cousin.
 
He’s also my Sir Galahad.”
 
She pointed meaningfully to her cast.
 
“I had a little accident yesterday.
 
Kendall rescued me.”

“Good
heavens, Miss!
 
What have you done to
yourself?”

Curtly,
as befit his current mood, Kendall supplied, “Broken ankle.
 
Lucky it wasn’t her neck.”
 
He handed Peg her juice and scowled down at
her.
 
“I’ll leave you to fill Katie here
in on the details.
 
I’m going to clean
myself up a bit, if you don’t object.
 
I
can’t stand myself much longer.”

“Go
ahead.
 
Are you sure you don’t want me to
help you to the bathroom?”
 
She scrunched
her freshly scrubbed nose and grinned.

“Brat!”
he called over his shoulder, hurrying toward the possibility of at least
brushing his teeth before she had any further need of him.

He’d
been wakened at first light by Peg’s stifled giggle.
 
“You snore!”
 
Having slept the remainder of the night in the chair, his neck was
stiff, his legs numb, and he felt sure he had drooled all over himself.
 

“So do
you,” seemed a fitting response.
 
“How’s
the leg?
 
It obviously didn’t keep you
awake.”
 
She looked annoying fresh
beneath the mop of tangled hair.

“It’s
not so bad.
 
But I’m gross.
 
Look in the wardrobe.
 
My bathrobe is in there.
 
It should be decent enough.
 
Just get me to the bathroom and I can do the
rest.”
 
Orders given, she beamed a
winsome smile in his direction.
 
“Please?”

She did
a remarkable job.
 
Face washed, teeth
sparkling and her hair brushed to a deep golden sheen, he was grudgingly
impressed.
 
“You look quite human
again.
 
Considering.”

“Thanks.
 
Now take me to the couch, please.
 
I couldn’t stand another minute in that
bed.
 
Katie’s going to have to fumigate
the whole room.”

“Yes,
m’lady.
 
Would you like for me to carry you, or would
you prefer to hop your way there?”
 
He
stood back, watching her pivot on one foot.
 

“If I
didn’t like you so much, I’d make you carry me again.
 
But since you’re such a nice guy, I’ll
hop.
 
How’s your back, by the way?”

“Probably
fractured in several places, but never mind that.
 
A hunchbacked violinist may not be that rare
a sight.”
 
As they shuffled toward the
sitting room, he nodded toward Michael’s closed door.
 
“Should we wake your father?”

“No.
 
Let him sleep.
 
When he gets up, he’s going to insist on
taking me to the hospital for an x-ray.
 
Going down those stairs might be harder than coming up.
 
Maybe I could just roll down.
 
What do you think?”

“I think
we’ll come up with something, rolling not being an option since you’re far from
round.”
 
Peg had giggled as she arranged
herself on the couch, and in spite of
himself
, he’d
laughed too.

As he
went through the motions of washing up, shaving and brushing his teeth, he
considered the likelihood of getting her downstairs without breaking both their
necks.
 
Resigned to the fact that he’d
been elected her official caregiver, he wondered if anyone else in the family
had given a thought to lending a hand.
 
The irony of the matter should have rankled—after all, he was only
family by marriage, while the rest of them were genuine Shannons—but he knew
he’d be illogically put out if relieved of his duties now.
 
Perhaps this was self-imposed penance for
yesterday’s negligence.
 
Or perhaps he’d
become overly involved with Michael and his daughter because he identified so
closely with their situation.
 
An
ill-equipped albeit devoted parent and a sensitive, precocious child made for a
pairing which closely matched his own with his mother.
 
Whatever the reason, he would make himself
available for as long as necessary, or for as long as his strength held out.
 
At least Peg’s misfortune had given him cause
to feel useful for the first time in months.
 

Peg had
been right in saying her father would not rest until an x-ray was taken and his
fears that she might be crippled for life due to a country doctor’s ineptitude
dispelled.
 
Assured by Peg that she was
up to the trip, as quickly as he could eat and dress, Michael had the car
waiting by the door.
 
Katie had helped Peg
into a more suitable outfit of skirt and blouse, and her right foot now sported
a sturdy sandal.
 
As he bent to lift her
from the couch, Kendall said softly, “You’re pretty sore, I imagine.
 
I’ll try not to hurt you further.”

“I’m
okay.
 
I hate hospitals worse than I do
doctors, but I might as well get this over with, so Dad’ll stop fussing.”
 
She pouted slightly, and it occurred to
Kendall she might have put up a brave front this morning for her father’s
benefit.
 
Just the effort of dressing
seemed to have taken its toll on her spirits.

He eyed
her bare legs and the narrow skirt with a scowl.
 
“I can’t guarantee to protect your modesty,
miss.
 
That hemline is rather high.”

“Don’t
worry.
 
I doubt anyone’s going to be
peeking.”

He
snorted a laugh.
 
“All right, hold on
tight, now.
 
If we go down, we go down
together.”

Descending
the narrow stairs was actually far simpler than mounting had been, although his
pace was apparently faster than Peg expected.
 
By the time they reached the bottom, her terrified squeal turned to
giggles.
 

“Didn’t
frighten you did I?”

“Only
for a second.
 
Were you trying to?”

“I was
trying to make it as painless as possible for both of us.
 
You took me too literally about holding on
tight.
 
Good heavens, girl, you’ve got
the strength of ten men in those skinny little arms of yours.”
 
He maneuvered her into the car, pleased to hear
her still laughing.
 
If he’d been her
father, he told himself smugly, he would have considered her comfort first,
rather than putting her through this ordeal.
 

 

The
visit to the hospital proved beneficial in more ways than one.
 
Not only were Michael’s fears laid to rest
when the x-ray showed the clean fracture perfectly realigned, but on their
return to the flat, a pair of crutches was waiting.
 
In addition, the arrival of a private duty
nurse was anticipated by nightfall, courtesy of Patrick Shannon.
 
Kendall wondered if his mother had nagged
Patrick into action.
 
Eloise at least
understood the demands of an immobile patient.
 

By
early afternoon, most of the women of the family, including Hannah bearing an
offering of freshly baked teacakes, had descended on the flat, or more
accurately, they had overrun it, in Kendall’s opinion.
 
He found himself skirting the walls, trying
to keep an eye on Peg as she reclined in silence on the couch.
 

Redundancy
seemed a real possibility.
 
His mother,
for one, seemed to be summing up his service to the cause, as though his
usefulness were at an end.
 
Catching him
alone in the kitchen, where he’d escaped to refill Peg’s ginger ale, she
indicated as much.

“Now
that she’s all settled in, Kenny, you need to get yourself back out to the
farm.
 
There’ll hardly be need for you
here, with the nurse on hand.”

“I
know, Mum.
 
I plan to go back out
tonight.
 
But Peg’s come to depend on
me.
 
She’s not so sure about a perfect
stranger, I’m afraid.
 
Poor kid, hasn’t
she been through enough?”

Pinned
beneath one of his mother’s more penetrating gazes, he sensed a lecture
coming.
 
“Kendall, if the girl were
older, I’d think you’d developed feelings for her.
 
Since she’s just a child, I can’t understand
your devotion, unless you feel you’ll win Michael’s favor by coddling his
daughter.”

He
clenched his jaw.
 
Too tired for patience,
he swallowed his initial terse response.
 
“Mother, don’t be ridiculous.
 
The
only
feelings
I have are guilt.
 
If I’d paid proper attention, Peg wouldn’t
have been hurt.
 
As soon as I can
gracefully do so, I’ll be more than happy to leave her in more capable hands.”

“You
are
planning to attend the party
tomorrow night, I hope.
 
Maeve is quite
put out with you as it is.
 
She said something
to the effect that she feared you found the company here too
unsophisticated.
 
It won’t do to insult
them.
 
I have it on authority that
Adelaide and the girls will be relocating to London in the very near
future.
 
They may well look to you to
provide an escort, at least until they get to know the right people there.”

He was
left feeling like a scolded schoolboy, his face burning with unspoken
irritation.
 
When he took Peg her drink,
she fixed him with another kind of gaze, her tired eyes signaling a silent plea.
 
“Do you need something else?”

“No.
 
I just think I’d like to take a nap.
 
Would you mind helping me to my room?”
 

He cast
a puzzled glance around the room.
 
How
did one prompt a mass exit of females now settled in for a good gossip?
 
It was Peg who provided the solution.
 

“I’m
sorry, but I’m feeling a little queasy,” she announced to the room at large.
 
With a look of desperation and her teeth
clenched, she turned to him.
 
“Kendall,
would you mind?
 
I think I
might.
. .you know. . .again!”

While
the ladies rose and expressed sympathetic dismay and a few half-hearted offers
of assistance, not one of them followed as Kendall hastily scooped up the
patient and made for the bathroom.
 
He
gave a bitter thought or two to the Shannons and their lack of nurturing
instincts as he hurried down the hallway.
 
When he reached the door, Peg pinched his ear and shook her head.
 
“Not really!
 
Just take me to my room, silly!” she hissed.

With a
silent, “Ouch!” he continued down the hall, depositing her unceremoniously on
the bed.
 
“You didn’t have to pinch me!
 
But I must say you put on a very convincing
performance back there.”
 

“I told
you I could be an actress.
 
Are they
leaving?”

He
peered down the hallway to see the ladies gathering their things.
 
“Yes.
 
Now you can have your nap and I can at least
have a few minutes peace and quiet.
 
Where did your father get off to?”

“He
said he needed to get away for a bit, to let off some steam.
 
I expect that meant a stop at the nearest
pub.
 
Poor Dad, he never handles it well
if I’m sick or something.”
 
As an
afterthought, she said sincerely, “Don’t worry, he won’t get drunk.
 
If there’s one thing my dad can do,
it’s
hold his drink.”

BOOK: Shannon's Daughter
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