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Authors: Alexis Harrington

Tags: #historical romance irish

The Irish Bride (22 page)

BOOK: The Irish Bride
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Holy Mother of God,” he
intoned and crossed himself. “We’ve come home, Farrell. It’s not a
strange place at all. It’s home.” His heart swelled with emotion
that he couldn’t keep out of his voice, and tears blurred his
vision. “It’s home.” Waterfalls cascaded down the sides of high,
rocky cliffs, trees, dark green and ancient, stretched skyward, and
everywhere a plant could grow, lush greenery and wildflowers
sprouted.


I can scarce believe it,”
she said, awestruck and clinging tightly to his arm. “I’d begun to
think the stories you were telling me about this place were
invented by hawkers to sell fares and wagons.”

Keeping his eyes on the view, he
wrapped his arms around her and planted a brief kiss on the top of
her head. “It’s going to be all right. We made it, we’re shut of
the damned Cardwells, and it’s going to be all right.”

* * *


Excusé moi, Lord Cardwell.
I em so sorry to interrupt your meal, mais zat, um, gentleman in
the foyer asks to see you.” The majordomo of the fashionable New
Orleans hotel where Noel was staying spoke to him in a confidential
tone.

Noel looked up to see Seth Fitch
standing in the entrance to the hotel dining room, practically
tying a knot in the hat that he twisted in his hands.


Thank you, Dubois. I’ll
take care of it.”


Très bien,
monsieur.”

Noel turned to his dining companions,
George and Dolly Gray. “Please excuse me for just a moment. I’ve a
bit of business to take care of. Tiresome, but
important.”

Dolly waved him off, her large diamond
ring sparkling like a star in the candlelight. Her multiple chins
jiggled like aspic when she chewed or spoke, and she was often
breathless, presumably due to a tightly laced corset. “Now don’t
you bother yourself, your Lordship. George and I will be just fine,
won’t we, George?”

George spoke around a mouthful of
buttered bread, revealing the partially-chewed mass. He had not
denied himself the pleasures of the table. His watch chain
stretched tight to reach across his considerable but well-dressed
belly. “Fine, of course.”

Noel pushed back his chair and tried
not to shudder visibly. The Grays were crude and ignorant nouveaux
riches who, under any other circumstances, Noel would not have
given the time of day. But the estimable fortune they’d acquired
during the California gold rush made them sufferable. His own
finances were in a precarious state, especially now that he’d hired
Fitch, and the Grays’ ignorance worked to his advantage. They
believed him to be practically royal and a very distant cousin to
Queen Victoria. The fools thought that anyone with a title must be
related to the crown somehow, and he didn’t trouble to correct
them. After their chance meeting in the lobby, they had been his
nearly constant companions. They would not permit him to pay for
his meals, and asked him along on their outings to the opera and
the theater.

God, if only they weren’t such loutish
bumpkins, he thought, crossing the dining room. Of course, they
wouldn’t be such gullible benefactors if they were more
sophisticated.

He reached Fitch and motioned him to a
quiet corner of the lobby. “For God’s sake, Fitch, what is the
matter?” he asked.


I’m afraid I’ve got some
bad news for you, sir.” Fitch’s hat was practically ruined by his
sweaty-handed, worrying grasp.


Well? Spit it out, man.
Can’t you see that I’m otherwise engaged?”


The O’Rourkes have gone.
Left New Orleans.”

Noel clenched his jaw. “Where did they
go?”


They caught a riverboat to
St. Louis. I talked to some of the men in the Lass of Killarney and
I learned that O’Rourke said he was going to the Oregon
Territory.”

The place sounded vaguely familiar,
but Noel had no great knowledge of American geography beyond the
eastern seaboard and this part of the Gulf of Mexico. “Where is
that?”


It’s about two thousand
miles west, on the Pacific coast.”


What?” he barked. Catching
a curious glance from the desk clerk, he went on in a lower voice.
“By God, when did they leave? How are they traveling?” He drilled
Fitch with questions, and although the man had most of the answers,
none of them was to Noel’s liking. Not at all.


All right, then. Stay in
touch. I’ll let you know what our next move will be.” He had no
idea what that next move might be, and the realization that
O’Rourke, and worse, Farrell, had slipped away from him so easily
made his blood boil. He had to find them. His father’s wishes be
damned—this had become a personal grudge that would he
satisfied.

Somehow.

He returned to his companions and
drank a full glass of wine in one swallow, then poured
another.


Troubling news, was it?”
George asked.

Noel waved languidly. “Oh, you know
how vexing business can be sometimes.”


Huh, do I ever! Why, before
the gold rush, me and Dolly piddled along for years in that dry
goods store in Sacramento. If I’d to show old Mrs. Grant one more
bolt of that damned chambray— Well, anyhow, when word leaked out
about the gold strike at Sutter’s mill, we raced over there to
stake our claim. We grubbed in the dirt like pigs, but look at us
now.” He thumped his chest. “Happy as pigs in mud—golden mud, that
is, haw-haw-haw!”

Dolly brayed at George’s clever joke
while Noel downed another glass of wine.


That’s right—I’d forgotten
you’re from the west. You’re both so cosmopolitan, it’s hard to
remember that you aren’t from a large eastern city,” Noel said. The
lie came a little more easily with four glasses of wine sloshing
around in his belly.

Dolly giggled at the compliment. “And
you’re such a fine gentleman, your Lordship.”

He bent over the woman’s chubby hand
and placed a kiss just above the diamond. As he did so, the germ of
an idea began to take shape in his mind. “Madam, you are too kind.”
He held out both hands to them. “Please, we’ve become such good
friends, us three, I wish you would call me Noel.”

George grabbed his hand and pumped it.
“By Jesus, Noel, you’re all right. A top fellow.”

Noel managed a smile that he certainly
did not feel. “Now, tell me more about the west. It sounds like a
fascinating place, maybe one I’d like to visit.”

CHAPTER ELEVEN

The furnished house that Aidan rented
for himself and Farrell in Oregon City was a tidy place with a real
bedroom, a kitchen, and a parlor. It even had flowers blooming
beside the front door. Doctor John McLoughlin, who had founded
Oregon City in 1829, was a man of prestige and many interests in
the Territory, and owned this property. Aidan had told Farrell that
he would never be a tenant again, but even he realized that they
must live somewhere until they could settle on their own land.
McLoughlin, nothing like Arthur Cardwell, had offered to help them
find a suitable parcel. It was August now, though, and they had
only another month or two before the rains would begin. There
wasn’t enough time to build a cabin before winter came.

Aidan and Farrell had bought food, and
some household and personal necessities. They were little
things—candles, soap, thread and needles, a few clothes that
fit—but important. Finally, after two nights in yet another hotel,
they had come home. The owner of the general store had sent a lad
with a wagon to deliver their purchases, and they were stacked
around Farrell as the evening sky began to dim.

In the parlor, she twirled
and laughed like a young girl, making her skirt flare, her arms
outstretched. “Aidan, isn’t it just lovely? All these rooms! Wood
floors and rugs, a feather bed, not just a pallet, decent food and
a kitchen with a real
stove
to cook on! We have so many riches, I think I’ve
died and gone to heaven.”

Aidan closed the front door
behind him and smiled. “It’s good to hear you laugh again,
céadsearc
. I know the
last few months were pure misery.” He gestured at their
surroundings. “You deserve this and more.”

She dropped her arms and looked at him
intently. She didn’t know how he felt about her, and she wasn’t
sure any longer how she felt about him. That she was attracted to
him she could not deny. After all, what woman would not be? But
things had changed between them over the course of their trials. “I
swear to ye, Aidan, even though I promised myself and vowed to
Brigit that I’d survive the trip, often I was sorry that I came,
and I was furious with you for taking me from Ireland. I was ready
to give up.”

He stepped around a fifty-pound bag of
flour and came close enough for her to smell the soap he’d washed
with. “I admit I never guessed how hard it would be, myself. Many
was the time that I regretted dragging ye off on what you called a
fool’s errand. And it could have ended badly, at least a dozen
different times.” He lifted her hand and kissed the back of her
finger that bore her silver wedding ring. “Are ye still
sorry?”

His voice took on subtle, husky shades
and he captured her gaze with his. It was almost frightening, the
heat and depth of emotion she saw there. A woman could get lost in
eyes like his and never find her way back. She could fall in love
with a man who had such eyes and never be the same.


No. I’m not
sorry.”

He turned her hand over and kissed the
center of her palm, making gooseflesh rise on her arm.


And are ye still furious
with me?”

She drew a deep breath when his tongue
touched her palm. “No.”

He looked at her over her hand and put
his arm around her waist to draw her to him. “I’m glad. Shall we
start over, then?”


Start over?”


Aye.” He backed up and
bowed slightly. “Hello, pretty lass. I’m Aidan O’Rourke. And who
might you be?”

She laughed. “And how many girls in
Skibbereen heard those very same words?”


Now, now, we’re not in
Skibbereen. We’re in America, and a fine place it is, too. But ye
look like an Irish girl I used to know. What did you say your name
is?”

She gave him an arch look. “This is
silly. You know my name.”


But I want to hear you say
it.”


I’m Farrell
Kirwan.”


Hmm. I’ve heard that ye’re
married.”

“’
Tis true, I
am.”


Yet, you don’t use your
husband’s name? Well, join me at the table over here for a wee dram
of good Irish whiskey and tell me about it.”

She followed him to the table and sat.
She didn’t know what kind of game he was playing, but she went
along with it, wondering where it would lead.

After taking two cups from a shelf on
the wall, he sat with her and pulled the cork from the bottle. “I’m
sorry we have to drink from teacups, but I don’t know where things
are kept at this inn.” He poured a measure for both of
them.

She smiled, intrigued. Through the
open windows, the wind pushed heavy clouds across the sky and
rustled the dark fir trees around the house. Chirping birds flew
past, looking for their nests before nightfall and the start of
rain.


In the name of Erin,” he
intoned, and held up his cup.


In the name of Erin,” she
responded and took a careful sip of her drink, recognizing the
whiskey’s distinctive flavor that no other country on earth
produced. “Where did you find this? This isn’t your da’s
poteen.”


No, one of the saloons in
town, Kelleher’s, is owned by a man from Dublin. He has it shipped
in, thank God. That poteen from home won’t last forever.” He bolted
back his drink and set down the cup. “Now, then. You were going to
tell me about your husband.”


I was?”


Yes. Ye tell me you’re
married but you’ve given me your maiden name.” He gazed at her.
“What is your married name?”


Farrell
Kirwan . . . O’Rourke.” It was as if he’d
willed the truth from her.


Aye,” he said, seeming
satisfied. “Just so.” He poured another drink for himself. “What
kind of man is this O’Rourke?”

Ah, now she realized what he was
doing. He wanted to know how she felt about him. “He’s a good man,
I think. Better than I might have thought originally.” She
considered him over the rim of her own cup. She had come to realize
that Aidan was not the irresponsible philanderer she’d believed. Or
at least not the one he’d once been. Time and again he’d proven
himself to be ambitious, honest, considerate, and protective of
her. His handsomeness had made her follow him with her eyes more
times than she could count. She didn’t much care for his gambling,
but she understood why he’d taken part in those card games—to get
the money to bring them here. She added, “Marrying him wasn’t the
entire disaster I expected it would be.” She put a finger over her
lips, realizing how unflattering her comment was.

He almost sprayed a mouthful of
whiskey over them both when he laughed. “God, but you’re kind,
woman!”

BOOK: The Irish Bride
2.56Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
ads

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