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Authors: Alexis Harrington

Tags: #historical romance irish

The Irish Bride (6 page)

BOOK: The Irish Bride
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I hope you’ll move the rest
of the coin to a safer place than your coat pocket,” she whispered,
also glancing around at the pub’s clientele.

Aidan gave her a long, wry
look with those unsettling sapphire eyes. He whispered too, but his
voice had an intimate quality that she recognized even over the
noise in the pub. “Farrell,
I
hope ye don’t think I’m a stupid man. And I’d
wager that ye’d turn the color of old Kate’s nose over there, if I
told you where I’ve hid the other money.” He leaned back in his
chair and with those eyes directed her attention to his crotch,
where a noticeable swell stretched the fabric of his trousers. His
meaning was plain enough, and she was reminded once more of the
power he now held over her. “So I’ll just say that ye needn’t be
worrying about it.”

She averted her gaze to the sticky
tabletop and her cheeks burned again. In too few minutes, in the
time it would take a starving man to devour his food, Aidan would
usher her upstairs to room number three and demand his due as her
husband. Her right to choose the man she would give herself to had
been one of the few things she still owned in the world. Now that
was gone too.

Farrell glanced at his hands where
they rested on the table in front of him. They were strong hands,
broad across their backs and dotted with old and newer scars from
work or fights, she didn’t know which. They’d certainly be strong
enough to hold her, and he probably would have no regard, no
sentiment for her woman’s tender feelings.

Like a child, she hoped that maybe if
she lingered over her supper long enough, Aidan would be too weary
to do more than sleep when they went upstairs. Yes, it could work,
especially if he was like most men—feed them and they went as lazy
as swine.

Just then, a scrawny, timid creature,
most likely the unfortunate Ann whose name Kate had brayed earlier,
brought a tray with two steaming plates of some kind of stew, a
couple of old-looking biscuits, and two pints of ale. The moment
the food was put in front of Farrell, all of her other concerns,
and her plan, were forgotten.

The broth was thin and bland, and the
mutton in it had been boiled down to mushy lumps a toothless old
man could have gummed with no effort. But after having walked so
many miles, to her it looked like a king’s banquet. The aroma alone
had the power to bring tears to her eyes.

With no thought for decorum or
anything else beyond eating and the most basic will to survive, she
fairly jumped on the dish and began spooning the stew into her
mouth as fast as she could. She felt Kate’s sardonic gaze on her,
probably noting her bad table manners. But at that moment, Farrell
didn’t care how she looked.

The stew was hot and it burned all the
way down her throat, but she ignored the pain. A drop of broth
clung to her lip and she lapped at it with her tongue, then took
another bite. She swore she could hear each swallow hit the pit of
her empty stomach, and as she cleaned the plate, life seemed to
flow back into her veins. Then, barely stopping for breath, she
turned her attention to the biscuits, ripping one in half like a
barbarian at an orgy to sop up the last of the broth.


Lass, ye’d best eat
slower,” Aidan advised, watching her with a serious expression. “No
one will steal your food from you, and it might come right back up
if you gobble it that way.”

With the bread already in her mouth,
Farrell realized how unladylike she must appear. What did it
matter, though? She had no reason to impress Aidan O’Rourke as if
he were a suitor. He was only her husband—

Husband.

Honor.

Obey.

She stopped chewing and swallowed the
dry lump. “Excuse me,” she murmured, embarrassed.


I know you’re hungry,” he
said quietly. “We’ve all had our share of hungry times. There’s no
shame in it.” A sudden grin crossed his face. “Of course, it’s no
grand blessing, either.” He put down his own spoon and took a long
drink of ale. If only he wouldn’t look at her that way, she
thought, proprietary, determined. “After we’re done here, we’ll
rest. You’ll need your strength for the days ahead.”

Not wanting to acknowledge what he
might mean, Farrell took a cautious sip of her own ale and asked,
“Do you think anyone yet knows that we’ve gone?” She lowered her
voice. “I mean, people who might be interested?”

He shrugged as he swallowed. “It’s
hard to say, but I wouldn’t think we should dawdle here longer than
needs be.” His own plate and cup empty, he pushed back his chair.
“Are ye finished, then?”

Heaven help her, yes, she was. There
was nothing left on the table to consume, and no excuse she could
think of to keep from going upstairs. Nodding, she rose from her
chair with foot-dragging reluctance.

Aidan piloted her to the stairs on the
far end of the room. As they reached the first landing, he moved
his hand to the small of her back and its heat startled her. She
glanced over her shoulder, almost hoping for rescue from someone in
the pub. She didn’t want to be here, she didn’t want to be married
to Aidan O’Rourke. For a frantic moment she considered shouting out
that he had kidnapped her after killing her brother, and that she
wasn’t his wife at all. But what good would it do? she chided
herself. The men in the pub didn’t appear to be chivalrous
defenders of females in distress. She had no money and with the
authorities probably searching for them both, she had nowhere else
to go.

Aidan followed her up the steps, and
Farrell felt as if she were going to her own hanging, prodded along
by a handsome executioner.

On the second floor, Aidan took a
lantern from a hook at the top of the stairs and unlocked the door
with a “3” carved on it. He stood aside to let Farrell pass. The
flame threw tall shadows on the rough walls of the small cupboard
that contained a narrow bed and a tiny table with a chamber set on
it. After lighting the candle stub that stood on a chipped saucer
next to the bowl and pitcher, Aidan returned the lantern to the
hall. The room held a musty, closed-up smell, as if the bedding had
been used many times and not changed, and it was so cramped Aidan
couldn’t close the door behind him without touching her.

Farrell perched on the edge of the bed
and eyed him warily.

Aidan stood in front of her and
watched her just as intently, as if trying to see into her
thoughts. Her heart began to thud in her chest under the scrutiny,
but she made an effort to conceal her fear, and lifted her
chin.


Ye don’t want to be here
with me, aye?” he asked finally.

The question took her aback. The
answer seemed so obvious, she couldn’t imagine why he asked. “No, I
don’t.”

A more clever woman might have lied,
perhaps to escape her new husband’s wrath, but Farrell couldn’t
make herself tell him something that wasn’t true. “I wish I was
back in Skibbereen with people who love—” She stopped. Fearing for
her own family’s safety, her cousin Clare had been anxious to be
rid of Farrell, and Liam— She was sure that Liam had sent her off
for her own good, but still . . .  “I just wish
I was home,” she finished simply.


That’s what ye’d wish for?
To be home?” Aidan threw the small bundle of their belongings on
the bed and sat on the far end of the lumpy straw tick. “But
neither of us has a home to go to, not anymore. The battering ram
turned mine into a pile of old stone and thatch.” He needn’t have
reminded her—the image was as sharp as broken glass in Farrell’s
mind. “And you’re an orphan, with your family dead in the workhouse
years ago.”

Orphan
. A grown woman of twenty-two years couldn’t really be
considered an orphan. But Aidan’s words struck her as cruelly true,
and she was filled with a bereft loneliness so profound she could
hardly bear it. Too many things had happened in the last two days,
horrible, earth-shattering events that tore at her heart and left
her feeling defenseless. Tears stung her eyes. She would
not
begin crying again,
she told herself. Swiftly she turned her head so that he wouldn’t
see.


Yes, I guess I am,” she
replied, her face still averted.


But then, ye know I suppose
I am too, in a way.”

She felt his weight shift on the tick
and she stole a glance at him. He sat with his elbows on his knees
and he stared at the floor between his feet. “What makes you think
that? You have your da and two brothers.”

He shrugged. “Well, yes, but I’ve left
them behind and I’ll probably never see them again. And I can’t say
that I’ll meet someone from home in America. It’s a grand place, a
huge land, full of strangers and near-naked, wild savages who paint
their faces and wear animal skins. Indians, they’re called”—he
smiled, more to himself—“though I’m thinking they sound a bit like
the ancient Celts.”

If he meant to give her courage about
what lay ahead, he failed. “Aren’t ye scared to leave Ireland,
then?” she asked in a small voice.


Not scared, but I wish to
God I didn’t have to.”

Utter exhaustion gave her
frankness. “
I’m
scared.”

Aidan turned his head and looked at
her. She knew she was probably as pale as milk. He sat up and
reached out to capture her chin between a rough thumb and
forefinger, turning her face to his. “Ah, t’will be all right.”
Apparently it didn’t occur to him that he was part of what she
feared. “Your mother and Father Joseph saw to it that we all
learned to read and to write a decent hand—we’ll need that more
than ever in America, I’m thinking.”

She nodded, and couldn’t help but
smile. She remembered the valley’s children crowded into the Kirwan
cottage while her mother had schooled them. They hadn’t learned
much beyond writing, reading, and ciphering. But learning at home
was far preferable to attending one of the British-established
National Schools, where it seemed the primary goal was to teach
Irish students not to be Irish. “Do ye remember the day Moira Healy
came home and recited that horrid verse?


I thank the goodness and
the grace

That on my birth have
smiled

And made me in these
Christian days

A happy English
child”

Aidan chuckled. “I thought her da
would burst a blood vessel, his face was so red. Ye could hear him
roaring oaths up and down the valley. He made the wee lass wash her
mouth out with lashings of whiskey—he said it was the only thing
that might kill the filthy words on her tongue.”


Aye, and didn’t she hate
it! Poor, Moira. It was after that, Mam offered to teach us
herself,” Farrell reminisced. Her smile faded then, and she dropped
her gaze to her lap. She had known Moira Healy all of her life, had
seen her face alight with a sweet smile that always reached her
mist-gray eyes. Farrell knew she’d never see her again. “I will
miss her something terrible. I didn’t even get to tell her
goodbye.” Loss, loss, and more loss—was it to be Farrell’s
legacy?


At least we’re not alone,”
Aidan put in. “We know each other, you and I.” That wasn’t much
comfort to her, either. “Everything will be all right,” he
repeated. “Ye’ll see,
céadsearc
.”
Sweetheart
. The endearment rolled off
his tongue so easily, he must have used it lots of
times.

Startling her, he moved closer and
took her face between his hands. His eyes roved over her features.
“God, do ye know how fair ye are, lass?”


F-fair?” She thought her
mother might have told her once in her life, but it sounded
altogether different coming from Aidan. Liam had mentioned her
appearance, comparing her to a spring day. But this was
different.

Aidan’s haggard good looks swam in her
tears.


Aye, as pretty as a rose,
all velvety and sweet-smelling.” Farrell wasn’t a vain woman, but
something about the sound of Aidan’s voice, rich and low, almost
made her believe him. She smelled the smoke from downstairs in his
hair, and a scent of his own that made her remember again the
giggling comments girls had made about him.

Then she recognized the intense
purpose in his eyes as he lowered his lips to hers. They were
gentle—no doubt he guarded the cut on his upper lip—but searing,
and she had the sudden fear that he would devour her if he
could.

His mouth moved over hers, possessing
and insistent, and unbidden, in her mind rose the image of
Michael’s putty-colored features, stilled forever by the very man
whose hands cupped her face. Anger welled up in her again,
fortified by a hot meal and his presumption. She made a noise of
protest in her throat and arched her back to get away. Working both
hands up between them, she pushed against the solid wall of his
chest with all her strength.


No!” She glared at him.
“How dare you? Do ye expect to whisper a few sweet words and think
I’ll forget everything that has happened? That I’ll welcome you
with open arms? Michael’s barely cold. This marriage wasn’t my
idea, you’ll remember. The rest of you decided for me. I wanted to
marry your brother. I
love
Liam and ye’ve taken me from him.”

BOOK: The Irish Bride
7.13Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
ads

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