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Authors: Alexis Harrington

Tags: #historical romance irish

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BOOK: The Irish Bride
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Aidan folded his hands in front of him
on the table and gave the captain an even stare. “A pity it would
be but there are other ships, and we’ll find passage with one of
them if needs be. And ye don’t look to be the kind of man who would
pass up the chance to make ten pounds, even if it comes later in
the day.” He lifted one brow. “So, Mr. McCorry, would ye be kind
enough to tell me the name of your vessel so we’ll know which one
to look for?”

The captain let out a roar
of laughter. “Aye, boyo, ye’re no bumpkin, after all. Come to
the
Mary Fiona
as
soon as ye like. We sail just after noon.”

The two shook hands then, and McCorry
rose from his chair and made his way to the pub door. As he passed
the soldiers, he threw them a loud greeting. “Top of the day to ye,
boys.”


Can we trust him?” Farrell
asked as she watched McCorry’s departure.


No, but it’s a bit less
worrisome with our ten pounds still in my—uh, pocket.” He gave her
a sudden, wicked smile that she was annoyed to find quite
disarming. Oh, and didn’t the sight of it probably make all the
girls melt away like hot butter? she thought dryly. Well, it didn’t
fool her, though she made a pointed effort to ignore the little
jolt that shimmied through her. “And I’ll ask about to make sure
the good captain isn’t after telling us a tale about other ships
bound for New York.”

While Kate had disappeared into the
kitchen, the soldiers still stood at the bar, and now they were
casually scanning the pub patrons. At this time of day, there
weren’t many to look over, and it wouldn’t be long before they
discovered Aidan and Farrell.


Do you think they’re
searching for us?” Farrell whispered, her stomach fluttering
nervously. Aidan sat next to her on a short bench with his hard
thigh pressed against hers. She felt the tension in his muscles
through her thin skirt, and half expected him to leap up at any
second, grab her arm, and make a run for the entrance.

Their exit was to be more subtle,
though. “Best that we not find out. Come, wife,” he answered
quietly. “We will be leaving now. Don’t hurry, but don’t lag,
either.”

Aidan stood and extended his hand.
Farrell closed her fingers around his and drew comfort from his
warm, firm grip. He led her across the room and toward the door,
slipping past the soldiers with the nonchalance of a man escorting
his wife. Just as he had his hand on the knob, Kate reappeared and
brayed, “That’s ’em now! The man and the woman I was tellin’ ye
about.”

Aidan swore vehemently under his
breath, cursing the pub owner with a profanity that Farrell had
heard only once in her life, and with his fingers still tightly
interlaced with Farrell’s he jerked open the door and pulled her
along with him into a heavy rain.

Terror arced through her like
lightning, and Aidan’s iron grip on her arm was so tight, her
fingers tingled.


Halt!” one of soldiers
called from the pub doorway behind them. But Aidan didn’t stop
until they reached a narrow, garbage-filled alley on the next
block. Plunging between the buildings, he pushed her into a tall,
shallow depression in one of the brick walls and flattened himself
over her, breathing hard.

Farrell could scarcely breathe at all.
Her face was pressed hard against his chest, and his shirt buttons
dug into her cheek. Heartbeats, strong and fast, mingled with her
own galloping pulse, making it impossible to separate hers from
his. The male scent of him, laced with a tang of high tension,
filled her head. From the street she heard the sound of running
footsteps as they passed the alley, but Aidan didn’t move for
several moments. To Farrell, who was beginning to grow lightheaded
from lack of air, the moments seemed like hours.

Finally Aidan pulled away and her
knees buckled, pitching her forward into his arms.


God, lass, are ye all
right?” Aidan whispered, alarmed by her paleness. How easily
Farrell fit in his embrace, he realized—her forehead nestled
against his jaw. But there was so little to her, all fine bones and
softness. She felt much different from the sturdy maids he’d known.
And much better. Her hair against his cheek was silky and
warm.

She straightened away from him and
nodded, gulping in deep breaths. “Aye. J-just let me get my
wind.”


That was too close, the
bleedin’ bastards,” he muttered, glancing over his shoulder toward
the street.


Are—are they gone? Those
soldiers?”


Yes, but they may still be
creeping about out there somewhere. We were only lucky that they
didn’t think to look in here.” His mind racing with strategy, he
turned back to her and took her by the shoulders. “Have ye got your
feet under you again? We can’t go to the pub and collect our
belongings. We’ll have to buy a few things from one of the shops
here and get to the
Mary Fiona
as soon as possible. If we’re caught, we’ll be
doomed.”


I know.” He recognized the
fear in her eyes; after all, he’d sometimes seen it when she looked
at him. He didn’t want to frighten her but there was no way to put
a pretty face on their circumstances. They were dire. Nevertheless,
he admired her for not whining as some females might about the
personal things she was leaving behind. Farrell had had little to
call her own in her young life. He knew she’d brought along her
most precious treasures—her mother’s rosary, a small whalebone
hairpin, a linen handkerchief. Not important things, and of little
value, but her treasures all the same. Yet she uttered not a word
of reproach, simply accepting what she knew he couldn’t change.
When they reached America, he would buy her new and better things.
She deserved no less for her bravery.


All right then,” he said
and edged toward the alley opening. Rain fell in windblown sheets
and the street was nearly deserted as people sought shelter in
doorways and shops. Across the road, the gray river so closely
matched the slate-colored sky it was difficult to tell where one
left off and the other began. But the soldiers were nowhere to be
seen. “Keep a sharp lookout and follow me.”

* * *

When Farrell and Aidan
arrived at the
Mary
Fiona
, they were both laden with bedding,
some used clothes they’d bought, supplies, and a few odds and ends,
all of which were getting soaked in the downpour. Darting between
buildings and the quay had been harrowing; Farrell expected to see
soldiers lurking around every corner. Once, she even thought she’d
seen Noel Cardwell, that villain, mounted on a fine black gelding.
Fear had squeezed her heart in a cruel grip—if he caught them, she
knew he would drag her back to Skibbereen and do unspeakable things
to her. But it seemed impossible; Noel would not have ridden on
horseback all these miles and in this weather. He would have
traveled in nothing less than a coach and four. In any event, the
man had not noticed them. Luck had been with them, and they made it
to the ship without being seen.

Aidan’s discreet inquiries
around town to verify McCorry’s information had proven the man to
be telling the truth. There were no other ships in port sailing to
New York or any other city on America’s east coast. Hamburg, South
America,
China
,
for the love of God. But nowhere Aidan and Farrell needed to
go.

So they were bound for New Orleans.
They’d find a way to travel north once they arrived, he told
her.

The
Mary Fiona
was a small, rather
tired-looking three-masted barque, and when Farrell first set eyes
on the ship her heart fell to her feet. She didn’t know much about
sailing, but still, how would such a little vessel navigate the
Atlantic, an ocean said to be icy and storm-ridden at this time of
year?

Coming aboard, Farrell had sat on a
coil of rope, so as not to be seen by passers-by. While Aidan spoke
with James McCorry, she’d started to feel a bit more hopeful. The
ship might be no longer than five or six large farm wagons set end
to end, and less than half that in width, but it offered passage,
and what other choice did they have? The answer to that question
was impressed upon her even more strongly when she picked up a bit
of Aidan’s conversation with the ship’s master.


Aye, laddie, those boys
from the pub were already here lookin’ for ye. There even came a
dandy in fine clothes with a silk kerchief pressed to his nose,
askin’ about a red-haired woman and man such as yerself.” Dear God,
Farrell thought, it
had
been Noel whom she’d seen. McCorry squinted at
him. “The soldiers said ye killed a man. The dandy claims yer
missus worked in his manor house and stole the family
silver.”

Aidan turned to look at Farrell, and
her jaw dropped when she heard that barefaced lie. “They lie,” he
said simply.

McCorry continued. “Well, be that as
it may, I told ’em all ye couldn’t meet my price for passage. But
they might come back. I suggest you and your wife stay below decks
till we cast off.”

Taking McCorry’s advice to heart, they
had carted their new purchases below and found accommodations built
with rough planks of timber, nailed or otherwise wedged into place.
The two-foot-wide bunks were stacked three rows high on either side
of the dark, stuffy hold, and a narrow aisle ran down the middle.
Those already on board—single men and rag-tag families with crying
babies and wan children of varying ages—all jostled to carve out a
place for themselves.

How could her life have changed so
dramatically so quickly? Just over three days ago, she’d been at
home in Skibbereen, expecting to marry another man. Now she was on
a creaking ship, ready to cast off for a land thousands of miles
away, with that other man’s wild brother.

They spent the afternoon traveling
down the River Lee, and now as the ocean came into view, Farrell
and Aidan stood on deck watching the green, misty hills of their
homeland slip past in the dusk. Wild and lonely and tragic, it held
rivers and lakes, cliffs and hollows and castle ruins, and magic
and stories that went back to the beginning of the
world.

It was the place where her family was
buried.

It was the place that owned her
heart.

Her throat grew tight with tears and
sorrow. In the west, a bright band of sunset melted the clouds and
lighted the horizon. And in the west lay America.

Although the rain had stopped, a brisk
wind chilled her but she only pulled her shawl closer. She didn’t
want to go below and miss the last sight of Ireland she might ever
have. Apparently, neither did the other sixty or so people making
this trip with her and Aidan. They clung to the railings, their
faces full of wistfulness and optimism. Some of the women dabbed at
their eyes with their apron hems as they comforted their frightened
children. The men looked as though they’d all aged ten years in a
single afternoon.

Aidan looped his arm around
Farrell’s shoulders, and at this moment of farewell she found
comfort in his touch. “We’ll see her again,
céadsearc
. Someday.” He spoke with
the rusted voice of a man whose thoughts were far away and in days
long past, in the rain-washed glens and dark, magical woods where
the fey people were said to dwell. “But we’ll find none like her
till then, not even if we search the whole world.”

She glanced up at him, but his gaze
was fixed on the beautiful landscape with its tiny inlets and
harbors. Angry, hot-blooded Aidan O’Rourke, the man she feared,
didn’t look as dangerous at that moment. In fact, she saw tears
standing in his eyes.

Plainly embarrassed to be caught with
his emotions showing, he released her and dashed his shirt sleeve
across his eyes. Then he reached into his pocket. “I got this while
ye were choosing the blankets.” He withdrew a plain, thin silver
band and held it out on his open palm. “Since we’re wedded, I
thought you should have a ring. Tommy gave Clare my mother’s
wedding ring when he married her. This one isn’t as grand—it has no
carving on it or writing inside. But, well, I thought ye might like
to have it.”

Surprised, she reached out a tentative
hand. “I guess I hadn’t thought of a ring. Everything has been
so—so—”


Desperate.”

She sighed. “Aye.
Desperate.”


Still, I know how much
little things like this mean to a woman.”

She tipped a glance at him. “Yes, I’m
sure ye do.” He looked sincere, but she couldn’t let herself accept
that. She remembered the neighborhood gossip last summer when he’d
taken wildflowers to Bridget McDermot every day for three weeks.
Everyone—including Bridget, no doubt—had expected to hear news of a
proposal. But it hadn’t come, and Aidan moved on to Moira Flannery.
Moira had received no flowers that they knew of, but she and Aidan
had been seen walking in the moonlight often enough. For a while,
anyway. And his prior history with women was no different. Still,
that had all happened in the past, and there was no point in being
ungracious, especially now.


Thank you, Aidan,” she said
simply. Taking the ring from his palm, she slipped it on her finger
and held out her hand for his inspection. “It fits just
fine.”

BOOK: The Irish Bride
3.13Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
ads

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