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Authors: Alexis Harrington

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BOOK: The Irish Bride
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That earned her a faint, satisfied
smile, as if she had accomplished some spectacular feat. And for an
instant, she saw that look again in his eyes, possessive, without
beginning or end, beyond place or time.


That’s good. I only guessed
at the size.” He glanced up. “Farrell,” he said softly, and nodded
toward the receding island of their birth, “look your
last.”

Farrell turned to let her eyes drink
their fill. Ireland shone in the brilliant sunset, distant and
green and luminous, like the gemstone it was often compared to.
Overhead, gulls squawked in the rigging as the sails filled and
they left the last of the cove waters to set out upon the
ocean.

Somehow, someday she would return to
the land of her birth. Somehow. But right now she had control over
nothing but her heart and her own mind. She could let grief and
fear consume her, or she could choose to survive. But for Farrell,
there was really just one choice. She would go to America and she
would survive.


Go mbeannaí Dia
duit
,” Aidan murmured to the tiny emerald
on the eastern horizon.


Go mbeannaí Dia
duit
,” she echoed faintly, her wet gaze
fixed on the tiny speck of land as she crossed herself with a
trembling hand.

May God bless you.

CHAPTER FIVE


A
murderer
, ye say! And a thief! Didn’t
I just know it!” The owner of The Rose and Anchor, who called
herself Kate, wore a shocked expression and slammed a meaty fist on
the bar. “I thought the pair had the odd look about ’em. But them
so weary and tattered and all, I couldn’t turn ’em away. I sold
them stew and let them a room. What else could a God-fearing woman
do but show a little Christian charity?”

This question raised hoots of derisive
laughter from nearby patrons.


God-fearin’!”


Christian! That’s a ripe
one, Katie, girl.”


I could use some o’ that
charity meself, Kate.”


Shut yer filthy gobs, the
rotten lot of ye!
Phaw!
” she bawled at them, her braying voice gurgling with phlegm.
Then she favored Noel Cardwell with a helpless, ingratiating smile
and said, “I’m just a poor widow woman and I have me business to
run. I can’t be too choosey
when . . . ”

While she prattled on, Noel eyed the
massive, ochre-toothed hag of an innkeeper and wished for perhaps
the hundredth time that he’d never let his father maneuver him into
making this miserable trip. And he silently cursed Aidan O’Rourke
for stealing his woman—for he saw Farrell as his possession now,
much as he viewed his horse and his lands. He also cursed O’Rourke
for being the baseborn dross that he was, forcing Noel to track him
down in the most unsavory of places. He knew that Farrell hadn’t
stolen anything from Greensward Manor, but the claim gave more
weight to his story. The pub was filled with rough-looking barrel
scrapings of humanity, all watching him like ravenous curs waiting
for a crumb to drop. By one of the steamed-over windows, a wretched
specimen sawed out some tuneless noise on a fiddle, adding to the
general din. The stinks that assaulted Noel’s nose—boiling pig’s
feet, dirty human feet, unwashed bodies, smoke, overloaded privies,
and God only knew what else—made him wish for his handkerchief-mask
again. But that wouldn’t do in this place. As it was, he could feel
the assessing gazes of those curs upon him, examining his dress,
trying to gauge how much money he might be carrying and whether he
was an easy mark.


Where have they gone to
now, these two with the odd look?”

Kate’s expression turned regretful. “I
hate to be the bearer of bad news to a such fine gentleman as
yerself, but I believe they found passage on a ship that left on
the early afternoon tide, about five hours gone now. Some soldiers
were in here earlier lookin’ for them as well, but I believe the
scurvy pair got away.”


Where was the ship bound?”
Noel asked, feeling as if he were trying to pull teeth from a
chicken.

Kate put a thick, reddened finger to
her chin in a revolting but sincere imitation of a coy gentlewoman.
“Well, now, I can’t seem to remember what I overheard. After all,
they didn’t tell me . . . ”

Pulling a half-crown from his pocket,
he held it up to her. He was nearly as repelled as amused by the
greedy gleam that came into her small, pale eyes. She made a swipe
at it but he held fast and closed his fingers around it.


Are you sure you don’t
know?”


They went out on the
Mary Fiona
, bound for New
Orleans.”

Damn that James McCorry,
Noel thought savagely. The bastard had lied to him. Ignoring the
grubby countertop, he leaned an elbow on the bar and briefly rubbed
his forehead. God, this was far worse than he’d imagined. “New
Orleans—
America?


Yes, indeed.”


And it docks nowhere else
before heading out to sea? Liverpool, perhaps?”

Kate’s nearly hairless brows snapped
together and for a moment, the ridiculous, feigned expression of a
demure lady cracked. “Jesus bleedin’ Christ, do I look like a
bloody port schedule?” He showed her the coin again, and she
resumed her mannerly pretense. “I mean, no, sir, not so far as I
know.”

He pushed the half-crown
across the bar and she snatched it up so quickly, the motion was a
blur. Sighing, he straightened and lifted his elbow from the sticky
bar. He knew the
Exeter
was in port. His father was the majority
shareholder of the ship. It was just more bad luck that O’Rourke
hadn’t decided to buy passage on her. If he had, this would all be
over by now.


Ye’ll be needin’ lodging
and board for the night, I would imagine, sir,” Kate ventured,
still posturing. “I’ve a nice room upstairs and a leg of mutton
turnin’ on the spit in the kitchen—” She turned toward the kitchen
doorway. “Ann! Cut a piece off that mutton and put it on a plate!
A
clean
plate,
mind!”


Thank you, no. I’ve already
taken other lodgings,” Noel replied, flipping open his cloak to
reveal a wicked-looking pistol tucked into his waistband, just in
case some of the denizens of this filthy place had ideas about
following him. “But I appreciate your help.”


Anytime, sir, anytime,”
were Kate’s croupy words. “It was my pleasure.” This last,
apparently, was more than the men in the bar could bear with
straight faces. As Noel escaped to the dark street, the wave of
muffled snickers gave way to full-throated hoots and catcalls that
only added to the fury mounting within him. From within, Kate
rebuked her customers with a string of colorful
obscenities.

The cold night air, though laced with
the odors of river and fish, was clean and blessedly crisp compared
to the interior of The Rose and Anchor. Mounting his horse, a fine
black his father had grudgingly given him for the trip, he made his
way to a bridge that crossed the river, watchful for unseen threats
that might lurk in the shadows, ready to pounce on a well-dressed,
prosperous-looking man. He saw no one but an occasional doxy,
sidling along the narrow street. They called to him but he ignored
them and rode on.

America. That bastard O’Rourke had
sailed for America and had taken Farrell with him. He had become
the focus of Noel’s wrath. He’d stolen Noel’s intended mistress,
the woman who had literally wriggled from his grasp and humiliated
him.

If not for O’Rourke, he could have
smoothed over his father’s outrage. After a time, the whole fuss
would have died down and his life would have resumed its
comfortable routine. Instead he was faced with the twin
catastrophes of Michael Kirwan’s thievery and the escape of the
man’s killer.

As Noel spotted the tall
masts of the
Exeter
, a burgeoning resolve grew along with his anger. He would
find Aidan O’Rourke and Farrell Kirwan, even if it meant sailing to
America himself.

* * *


I’m sorry, Mr. Cardwell,
but I’ve got cargo going to New York, and people there expecting
it. I can’t be taking the
Exeter
on a pleasure jaunt to New Orleans.” Ship’s master
Oliver Royce faced Noel over the worktable in his low-ceilinged
quarters. The cabin was tidy and clean, and decorated with
souvenirs from all over the world. Fragrant smoke from the pipe
clamped between Royce’s teeth scented the air. The table was
covered with a number of navigational charts and instruments. Royce
unrolled a map of America’s eastern coastline and gestured with his
pipe stem at the distance between his intended destination and
Noel’s. “You can see it’s a hell of a trek out of the way. His
lordship wouldn’t appreciate such a delay.”

It had been easy to board the vessel
once Noel identified himself to the watchman. The Cardwell name did
open doors, he was pleased to note. But he resented the fact that
Arthur Cardwell’s name carried far more weight with the master than
did his own. Noel realized he might need to be a bit more
persuasive to achieve his goal.

He smiled blandly at the reference to
his father. “This is not a ‘pleasure jaunt,’ Royce. It was Lord
Cardwell who dispatched me on this errand.”

Despite a full,
neatly-trimmed beard, Royce was obviously a young man, perhaps even
younger than Noel himself. In contrast with James McCorry’s
derelict appearance and manner, Royce was sober and
earnest-looking, with a dignified loyalty to his employer that
irked Noel. “Well, I believe another ship, the
Fortunate Maid
, will be docking in
Cork within the next week. She sails to New Orleans from here and
you could be on your way.”

Noel put both hands on the table and
leaned forward slightly. “As I already explained, I’m searching for
a man who has committed murder. He has a good day’s head start. I
must find him, and every hour counts. I can’t wait a week for
another vessel. I assure you, I can make it worth your while.” The
ship’s master eyed him but didn’t respond. “Do you have a family? A
wife, children perhaps?”

His face brightened. “Aye, sir. Nell
and my three lads.”


You must miss them when
you’re gone. And of course they miss you. Maybe Mrs. Royce would
like some small comforts for herself and the young ones. Something
to make their lives easier in your absence?”

The man smiled, more to himself. “Oh,
she’s got it into her head that she’d like one of those fancy new
machines that sews stitches. I made the mistake of telling her that
I saw one in New York.”

Noel straightened and held his hands
open wide. “There you are, then. You can take me to the very place
I need to go, and then go on to New York and bring your wife the
gift she craves with the bonus I’ll pay you. Shall we say half
again as much as you would earn this voyage?”

The master appeared to think it over,
then shook his head. “No sir, I can’t be doing it. His lordship
wouldn’t like it at all.”

Noel clenched his jaw. He might seem
incorruptible, but if Noel’s experience at the gaming tables had
taught him anything, it was that every man had a price. Or point of
desperation.

On the poop deck outside, brisk
footfalls sounded, then faded beyond the closed door.


You might consider this
option, then,” Noel went on in quiet, matter-of-fact tone. “I can
put you off this ship right now and you will find yourself in want
of a position. It would be a grave error on your part to
underestimate my influence, or to assume that you know what my
father wants. And if I put out a few words to the right ears, the
only work you’ll find will be on a leaky whaler bound for
Greenland. It’s dirty work, I hear. Dangerous as well.” The
Exeter
, a sleek,
well-tended, well-trimmed ship, drifted gently against her
moorings, as if in protest.

Oliver Royce’s dark brows met briefly.
“I don’t take kindly to threats, Mr. Cardwell.”


I
don’t take kindly to being refused. Nor does my father.” Noel
leaned a hip against the table. “If you no longer wish to captain
this ship, I’ll have another master aboard and piloting me to New
Orleans within twenty-four hours. Now what’s it to be, Royce? Will
your wife get a nice gift from this voyage, or merely learn that
her husband is out of work?”

A tense, nearly palpable pause hung
between them.


We’ll sail tomorrow night
on the evening tide.” The man’s teeth clamped so tightly to his
pipe, Noel heard his jaw pop. “For New Orleans.”

Noel nodded. “Excellent. Now if you
would be so good as to have someone show me to my quarters, I’ll
settle in.”

* * *

On deck, Farrell’s eyes snapped open
at the sound of gurgling screams, distant and yet so filled with
terror, she was positive she had dreamed them. Yet she felt warm
and comfortable for the first time since leaving home. So surely,
she must have been dreaming.

But she hadn’t been.


Man overboard! A man
overboard!

BOOK: The Irish Bride
9.72Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
ads

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