Border Crossingsby Carole Bellacera
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Kathy O'Faolain is an American woman who seems to have it alla loving husband, a satisfying job helping troubled teens, and an adorable young son. She lives happily with her Irish husband, Pearse, in Dublinbut her life is forever changed when Pearse's brother is murdered by Protestant terrorists in Northern Ireland. When Pearse feels obligated to return home to the north and take over his brother's role as a Republica activist, Kathy's life is turned upside down. Struggling to understand the hate that plagues this troubled land, she watches the violence creep closer and closer to the people she lovesand soon she must make a heartbreaking choice between her husband and her son's future.
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Enniskillen, Northern Ireland, June 1991
The schoolgirl came home first. Like thousands of others all over Ireland, she was dressed in a Catholic school uniform consisting of a dark green plaid skirt, kneesocks, and a heavy bulky sweater. She stood at the gate with her pretty blond friend, swinging her bookbag and laughing.
Jack Robinson took a draw on his cigarette and stared at her from the sidewalk table of the pub across the street. It was a glorious afternoon. A fresh breeze drifted in from the banks of Lough Erne, bringing with it the sweet perfume of summer flowers. An hour earlier, the sun had broken through the clouds, drying the cobbled streets from the midday rain and sending the temperature soaring into the sixties. Although he had grown uncomfortably warm in his long coat, Robinson didn't move to take it off.
He studied the schoolgirl, his eyes narrowed. She was pretty enough, he supposed, for a Catholic. Her auburn hair fell to her shoulders in a riot of curls, and although he guessed she was only about fourteen, she had firm lovely breasts and a cute little bum under that plaid skirt. Briefly, he wondered what it would be like to taste a bit of crumpet like her. But he didn't do Croppies, not like.... He shook his head, banishing the thought before it could take shape. He didn't do Croppies ... period.
Croppie. How that word brought back memories of his childhood. Ugly memories of a school play yard and filthy little boys chanting that word over and over. "Croppie ... croppie ... Jack-o's a Croppie!" But he'd put a stop to it.
He took a sip of Guinness, savoring the ale's smooth dark richness as it slid down his parched throat,then glanced at his watch. Five-forty. It wouldn't be long now. As if in answer to his thoughts, a black Renault pulled up to the curb in front of the house across the street. The blond girl waved to the redhead and walked off toward the town center. A tall bearded man unfolded his length from the car and met the redhead with a hug. She laughed up at him and withdrew a sheet of paper from her book-bag, displaying it proudly. The bearded man studied it and hugged her again. With his arm around her shoulders, they climbed the stoop into the house.
Robinson stubbed his fag out in the ashtray and stood up. He dropped a few coins on the table and walked away. On the corner, his eyes met those of a man lounging against a shop window. Robinson nodded. The other man tossed his cigarette to the sidewalk and ground it out with the heel of his boot. He straightened. Robinson crossed the street to where the borrowed Volvo was parked. Looking neither left nor right, he opened the trunk of the car and in one smooth movement, tugged a woolen ski mask over his head. He then swept up a submachine gun and tucked it into his coat.
He turned and saw the other man crossing the street toward the target house. He, too, wore a mask. Robinson followed him, still hearing the children's mocking voices in his mind. "Croppie ... Jack-0's a Croppie...."
He would shut them up. He had to.
"To be sure, Susie O'Donnell thought she'd won it," Aisling O'Faolain said to her father as he followed her into the house. "She did a sketch of the Janus face on White Island. It was good, but there was no life to it, Da. Sister Marie said my sketch was the best she'd seen in years."
His hand pressed into her shoulder. "That's no surprise to me, miss. I've always said you'll have an exhibit in New York some day. Peg! We're home, love. And your daughter has won a prize for her turf-cutter sketch."
Two freckled little boys ran into the hallway and threw themselves into their father's arms. "Hi, Da. Did you bring us a sweet?" piped the older one with a gap-toothed grin. He knew very well that Da always brought them sweets.
As Kennet O'Faolain searched in his pocket for a roll of candy wheels, an attractive woman entered from the kitchen, a plump baby on her hip. "What's this you said? Aisling won a prize?"
"Aye, Mum." Aisling held the parchment certificate in front of her mother's face. "First place for Turf-Cutters by Aisling O'Faolain. Isn't it grand?"
Smiling, her mother eyed the award. "It's lovely, girl. Put it somewhere safe, though. You'll need it when you apply at Trinity." She looked at her husband and sighed. "Oh, Kenny. Must you give the lads candy so close to tea?" With a shake of her head and a forgiving smile, she turned back to the kitchen. "Wash up, Aisling. Tea will be ready in ten minutes."
"Right, Mum." Aisling moved toward the stairs. Sure, but she was famished. And wasn't it a tantalizing aroma wafting from the kitchen? Lamb stew, she hoped.
She was halfway up the stairs when the front door burst open. Startled, she dropped her certificate and looked down into the foyer. Two men in long coats and ski masks entered the hallway. Aisling's heart froze, and her hand flew to her mouth as her father turned to them.
"Who are you?"
The first man pulled an automatic weapon from his coat and fired. A crimson flower bloomed on the back of her father's sweater. Then another one, and another. He tumbled to the floor, his eyes staring blankly at Aisling. She sank to the stairs, her hands clutching the sides of her face, her eyes locked upon the blood-soaked body of her father. The boys began to howl.
In her fogged brain, Aisling heard her mother's panicked scream from the kitchen, followed by the sound of her footsteps ringing on the linoleum. The two gunmen exchanged a glance. One of them gave a brief nod.
Aisling opened her mouth to scream a warning, but nothing came out. Her mother burst through the doorway, the baby still in her arms. One gunman turned his submachine gun toward her, his finger on the trigger. He hesitated, his eyes on the baby. Her mother stared at her husband's bloodstained body, her face alabaster. The gunman who'd shot Aisling's father crossed the room and took the baby from her mother's arms. His eyes met hers.
Slowly, she sank to the floor, closed her eyes, and began to pray. The gunman with the baby stepped away and gave a nod.
"No!" Aisling screamed.
But she knew her protests would make no difference. She squeezed her eyes shut and covered her ears with her hands. Still, she couldn't stop herself from flinching when the short staccato burst of gunfire rang out.
She felt as if her blood had frozen solid in her veins. Moments passed, and still, she was afraid to open her eyes. She heard her brothers weeping ... and the screams of baby Barry. Then she became aware of a presence nearby. She opened her eyes, careful to keep them away from the spot where her mother had knelt. One of the masked gunmen stood on the stairs below her, his dark eyes winter-cold. He had Barry in his arms. The baby screamed incessantly, his face deep purple.
The gunman climbed the stairs. Aisling sat frozen, watching him. He stopped on the step below her. Numb with shock, she returned his appraising gaze.
"You're a piece of work, love," he said, his voice raspy and muffled under the ski mask. A voice she knew would live in her dreams forever.
His hand reached out and touched a strand of her gleaming hair. She flinched. Through the slits of the hood, his eyes hardened. He placed the baby into her lap, turned, and thumped down the stairs. He disappeared through the front door and the other gunman followed. The door closed behind them.
Aisling's body began to shake. She clutched baby Barry to her, unable to move from the stairs. Gradually, his cries softened, and soon he was gurgling and reaching for her nose with a sticky hand. She gently drew his sharp little fingernails from her face and slowly, abstractedly, began to stroke his warm back. His hand tangled in a strand of her wavy auburn hair. As she rocked him, her eyes dropped to the carpeted stairs where her certificate of award had fallen.
It was splattered with her father's blood.
Dublin, June 1991
Kathy O'Faolain pushed away from her desk and stood up, reaching for her denim jacket that hung on a coat rack in the corner. Now, if she could just get out of here before that damned phone rang again.
"And where might you be off to, Kathleen?" a smooth Irish voice spoke from the doorway.
Kathy smiled and pulled on her jacket. "Home, Mark Mullins, and nothing you can say will make me change my mind." She tugged her long hair out from under the collar of her jacket and shook it free. It fell about her shoulders in a riot of corkscrew curls, the color of freshly-minted pennies. "It's been a long, horrible day, and all I want to do is get home to my family. So, whatever scheme you've thought up now, count me out."
Mark's soulful brown eyes peered at her with mock hurt. "Ah, you do me wrong, love. So suspicious, you Americans. Always thinkin' everyone has ulterior motives. And after all I've done for you. I'm hurt ... truly hurt."
He leaned against the doorway, his thin frame clad in faded jeans, a black U2 T-shirt, and a brown leather jacket. Mark Mullins. A twenty-seven-year-old teenager with a big heart, an intelligence bordering on the genius level, and not an iota of common sense. But he was maddeningly lovable, and one of Kathy's dearest friends. He saw her expression, and it was as if he read her mind. He gave her his most charming smile, running a casual hand through his golden brown hair, which he wore much too long.
He took a cigarette from his pocket, lit it with a Bic, and took a long drag. He released a smooth smoke ring and said, "It's just a wee favor I'll be asking of you."
Kathy grabbed her purse from the desk drawer and straightened. "Not another contribution to the Baggot Street Rock 'N' Roll Church of Jesus and their illustrious minister, I hope?"
Mark had been on a born-again Christian kick for the last year, even going so far as to establish his own church in his Baggot Street flat and convincing local rock acts to perform for half the offering take. When he wasn't trying to drum up the flagging membership, he was busy giving impromptu sermons on O'Connell Street to anyone who'd listen. But in Kathy's opinion, his most captive audience appeared to be the Dubliner nicknamed "Floozie in the Jacuzzi" and the only reason she didn't walk away was because she happened to be a mermaid made out of stone, trapped for all eternity in a fountain.
Mark's smile widened and his brown eyes danced. "You and the professor have contributed more than generously. God bless ya and keep ya. No, it's good news I'm bringing you, Kathleen. I've met someone. And I'm in love. Over the moon, I am."
"Uh huh." Kathy slung her purse over her shoulder and headed toward him. "Walk me to my car and tell me all about her. Let me guess. You've known her for how long? An hour?"
Mark stuck his cigarette between his teeth and, slipping his arm through Kathy's, walked with her down the hallway to the front door of St. Matthew's Guidance Center for Troubled Teens. "Go ahead. Scoff if you like. I suppose I deserve it. But this time, Kathleen, it's the real thing. And as a matter of fact, I've known Ashley since Sunday."
"Ah! That is a record. So, when's the wedding?"
"Ha, ha. Cute. At least I won't pine after her for three years before I let her know how I feel. Like some people I've known. God knows if it weren't for me, you'd probably be living in Boston with a tight-assed bank president or the like."
They'd reached Kathy's small blue Rover in the parking lot behind the center. She leaned over and gave him a quick kiss on his adolescently smooth cheek. "And I'm thankful every day for your interference in my life, Mark. You know that. But now, if you don't mind, I'd like to get home to my husband before we grow old."
Mark tossed his cigarette butt to the asphalt and ground his heel into it. He positioned himself between the car and Kathy, determined not to let her get away before he had his say. "About that wee favor?"
Kathy sighed. "What?"
"Well, you see, Ashley is rather unusual..."
"Why doesn't that surprise me?"
"She's Australian, and she just arrived in Dublin last weekend." His eyes sparkled with excitement. "Kathleen, she's brilliant. She's a stunt flyer ... you know, a pilot. But I'm afraid she's out of a job at the moment, and well ... I feel rather responsible...."
"What did you do? Get her to take you up and fly loop de loops over Christchurch Cathedral?" At the abashed look on his face, she shook her head. "On second thought, I don't want to know. What's the favor?"
"Can she stay with you for a few days? That's all ... until we can find her an affordable flat. You see, I just wouldn't feel right if she stayed with me." His face reddened. "I'd have to spend all my time on my knees praying to be strong ... if you know what I mean. I know Jesus puts temptation in our paths to test us, but ... oh, Kathleen ... this girl would tempt the pope himself."
"I'm sure she's lovely," Kathy said. "But Pearse and I are leaving on holiday in a few days. I can't allow a strange girl to have the run of my house."
"Oh, please, Kathleen. I'm begging you. She's going to leave Ireland if I can't find a place for her to stay." His eyes grew round with horror. "She's threatening to go to England, for Christ's sake!"
"A fate worse than death," Kathy muttered. "I don't know, Mark. Tell you what, bring her over for tea tonight and let us meet her. But don't commit me until I see what she's like. No offense, but you and I don't always have the same taste in people."
Mark threw his arms around her and gave her an enthusiastic smack on the cheek. "You're a love, Kathleen. And you'll see, you'll adore Ashley. What time shall we be there?"
Kathy disengaged herself from Mark's grasp and slid into the driver's seat. "Seven-thirty. And don't be late. Pearse is a bear if he doesn't eat on time." With a wave, she pulled out onto Capel Street and headed toward the Liffey River, hoping she could make-it through Dublin to Rathmines before the traffic got too congested. Then she remembered today was Thursday, the day Pearse taught a morning class at Portlaoise Prison. That meant he would get home before her, and that meant he'd be cooking. Kathy smiled. Pancakes, of course. It was the only thing he could make without totally disastrous results.
It was true what Mark had said. If it hadn't been for him, she probably would be back in Boston. Married to some boring executive while holding down a part-time job in social services and organizing Junior League activities in her spare time. She shuddered at the mere thought of it.
She'd been so close to going home to America after grad school at Trinity College. But she'd stayed on through the summer, refusing to admit the real reason she couldn't leave. Only Mark's insight had saved her. For three years, she'd taken Pearse's Irish history classes with Mark, sure that her infatuation with the handsome professor was just that--infatuation. Until one night when Mark had taken her to a pub that specialized in traditional Irish music. And on the stage, there he was. Professor Pearse O'Faolain, playing the fiddle with the same passion with which he taught history. After the set, Mark had somehow engineered their meeting--this time on a man-to-woman basis--and there was no going back.
Pearse. Just the thought of him waiting at home sent a shiver of anticipation through her. She saw a slight gap in traffic in the right lane. With a deft movement, she darted into it, and was rewarded with an indignant beep from the car she'd cut off. She smiled. An American, she was--but after five years in Ireland, she now drove like a Dubliner, born and bred.
The traffic thinned out finally, and she pressed on the accelerator, her thoughts on home and family.
With a wry smile, Kathy scrubbed at the griddle where Pearse had allowed the last batch of pancakes to burn. It happened every time he cooked, but at least the first batches had been edible. Her fault, he'd protested. Her arrival home had distracted him. They'd been in the middle of a long, drawn-out hello kiss when the smell of scorched pancakes reached them. Cursing in Irish, Pearse had gone to rescue the pancakes as Kathy assured him she'd rather have the kiss than dinner, anyway. But two-year-old Sean hadn't been so forgiving. He'd pounded out his displeasure with a spoon against his highchair tray, his bottom lip thrust out mutinously as he waited for his dinner.
Kathy heard a footfall behind her. She rinsed off the griddle and placed it in the dish rack to dry. A pair of masculine hands slipped around her waist.
"Alone, at last..." Pearse murmured in his soft Irish lilt. He pulled her against the solid warmth of his tall, lean body, his lips nibbling at her neck.
"Sean is down?"
"Uh huh. Marguerite said he was a little devil today, so he must be exhausted. Barely protested." His tongue trailed up her neck, his teeth capturing her earlobe. "He must get that devilment from your side of the family," he added.
"Oh, I wouldn't be so sure." Kathy relaxed against him, smiling. "Mmmm ... it looks like you have a little bit of the devil in you tonight..."
"That, I do." He turned her around to face him. "Driving back from Portlaoise this afternoon, I had the most lovely fantasy about this gorgeous redheaded woman." He grinned down at her. "I thought perhaps I could tell you about it, and we could act it out. It involves a pair of high-heeled boots and black satin ribbons."
"Smacks of bondage," Kathy said. She gazed up at her husband, and the look in his brilliant blue eyes sent her heart thrumming. Amazing that even after three years of marriage, he still made her heart beat faster when he got that certain amorous expression on his lean, handsome face. Her eyes roved over him, following the line of his arched black brows, his finely chiseled cheekbones and sensuously sculpted lips. His glossy black hair tumbled onto his high forehead, as attractively rumpled as it had been on the first day he'd walked into the classroom, sending Kathy's heart plunging to her toes. He'd taken her breath away.
And he still did.
"Tell me about your fantasy," she said, smiling up at him.
"Well, it goes something like this..." His head tilted toward hers.
She closed her eyes and waited for his kiss. His lips closed upon hers. Kathy melted against him, her mouth parting to allow his teasing tongue entrance. The kiss deepened, and a molten heat flamed in Kathy's pelvic region, and for a moment she tried to fight it, knowing there was a reason why she couldn't give in to Pearse's love play just now. But as his hand closed upon her left breast over her chambray shirt, she pushed the thought away with a soft groan and reached up to thread her fingers through his cool, glossy hair.
"Yuckkkk!" Pearse jumped away from her as if she'd sent an electric current shooting through his body. His blue eyes shot mock daggers at her. "You did that on purpose, woman. Don't deny it."
Kathy gaped at the wet rubber gloves she still wore on her hands, and burst into gales of laughter. "Ooops! Sorry, Pearse. I forgot. Really, I did."
He rubbed his dampened hair ruefully. "Right. And my wee grandmum is the Queen of England. And here, I thought you'd appreciate me being romantic."
Kathy managed to control her laughter, but she couldn't wipe the grin from her face. "I do. But..." Her brows furrowed. "There's a reason why we can't right now."
The doorbell rang.
"And there it is now," she said with a sigh. "I forgot to tell you. Mark is bringing over his new girlfriend. He wants our approval on her."
"Poor lass," Pearse murmured, following her to the door. "And she probably doesn't even realize she's being evaluated."
Kathy opened the door, a noncommittal smile on her lips. Mark stood there, wearing the expression of an eager puppy dog. His arm was draped around a diminutive girl wearing a floral-patterned rayon dress and black Doc Martens. She had a beautiful fine-boned face with huge eyes of a shade so green that she had to be wearing colored contact lenses. But it was her hair that Kathy couldn't stop staring at. It was a bright magenta and looked as if it had been buzz-sawed by a psychotic barber.
Mark gazed at his tiny girlfriend in obvious adoration. "Kathleen, this is Ashley."
"So, what's your verdict on Lady Ashley?"
Kathy turned on her side and cuddled up against Pearse. Her lips brushed against his bicep. "Mmm ... crazily enough ... I like her. Despite her appearance, she seems to be a centered person. Just what Mark needs, I think. Someone grounded in reality."
Pearse chuckled and ran his hand down her waist to rest against her hip. "A grounded pilot. Have you ever seen a more unorthodox-looking pilot?"
"I've never seen a more unorthodox-looking person. What's with her hair?"
He threaded his hands through her long copper curls. "Lovely, that. Not dull and boring like yours. Come here..." He pulled her against him and his mouth crushed down on hers. Finally, he drew away, smiling. "Kathleen, you make me crazy, girl."
Her name wasn't Kathleen, but Katharine. From the day they'd met though, she'd been Kathleen to Pearse, and that was fine with her. She loved the way it sounded on his lilting Irish tongue.
Pearse's hand slipped beneath her nightgown and traveled up her inner thigh in a delicious journey. Her mouth locked against his, Kathy began her own journey, stroking his muscled chest, entangling her fingers in his rich mat of black hair before sliding down his flat stomach and under his Jockey shorts to close upon his bulging erection.
He drew in a sharp breath and, in a swift movement, pulled her over on top of him. She gasped as his penis prodded against her pubic mound. His hand wove into her hair, and he pulled her head down for another insistent kiss.
The phone rang. Once, twice. Kathy ignored it, holding onto the kiss, her pelvis grinding against his. On the fourth ring, she pulled away and gazed down at his shadowed face. His fingers dug into her buttocks, holding her against him.
"Don't answer it," he whispered in a ragged voice. "They'll hang up."
"It might be an emergency," she whispered.
The phone rang again. Pearse still didn't release her.
"It might be my father," Kathy said. "It's early in Boston."
He released her and she rolled away so he could lean over and grab the phone on his side of the bed. "Hello ... Erin. What's up, love?" There was a pause, and then a soft explosive "Christ!"
He sat up and swung his legs over the side of the bed. The horror in his one syllable sent a chill through Kathy. She reached out and turned on the lamp at her bedside. Pearse's back was to her, rigid with tension. One trembling hand raked through his ebony hair. From the telephone receiver, Kathy could hear the strident voice of his sister, but her words were unintelligible.
Pearse spoke again, his voice hoarse, "Peg, too? The bloody bastards! The children? Are they all right?"
Kathy got out of bed and came around to sit down next to him, her heart racing. Dear God, what had happened? Tears glinted in her husband's eyes.
"Aye, of course. We'll head out straightaway. Erin?" His voice choked, and for a moment, he couldn't go on.
Kathy touched his arm. He reached out and grasped her hand. He swallowed hard. "How's Da?" He listened and then nodded. "Aye. See you in a few hours. God bless." He hung up the phone. For a moment, he sat staring down at it, his body stiff.
"Pearse, what happened?" Kathy asked, knowing she wasn't really prepared for his answer.
He drew her into his arms. She felt him trembling, felt his tears wet against her hair. "Kennet..." he said brokenly. "He and Peg have been murdered."
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Meet the Author
Carole Bellacera's work has appeared in magazines such as Woman's World, The Star, Endless Vacation and The Washington Post. Her new romantic suspense novel, East of the Sun, West of the Moon, was released in hardcover by Forge Books in August 2000.
Her first novel, Border Crossings, a hardcover published by Forge Books in May of 1999, was a 2000 RITA Award nominee for Best Romantic Suspense and Best First Book, a nominee for the 2000 Virginia Literary Award in Fiction. It was also a 2000 finalist in the Golden Quill award and in the Aspen Gold Award and won 1st Place in the Volusia County 2000 Laurel Wreath Award**. Her work has appeared in various anthologies such as Kay Allenbaugh's Chocolate for a Woman's Heart, Chocolate for a Couples' Heart and Chicken Soup for Couples. Carole (nee Foley) grew up in Pittsboro, Indiana, and graduated from high school in 1971 at Pittsboro High.
Although she had dreams of becoming a novelist, she joined the United States Air Force to see the world and became a medical technician, serving assignments at Scott Air Force Base, Illinois and in Crete, Greece. It was in Crete that she met her Italian- American husband, Frank Bellacera. In 1985, after a chance meeting with Princess Di and Prince Charles at Andrews Air Force Base, Carole rediscovered her love affair with the written word. Her first published story, "The Day Princess Di Spoke to Me," appeared in the military magazine, Family. From that time on, she never looked back. It took eleven years, but finally, with Border Crossings, her dream of becoming a published novelist was realized.
Now a resident of Northern Virginia, Carole has been married to Frank, a retired Air Force man, for twenty-six years, and is the proud mother of two grown children. As a military wife, she has had the privilege of living in some wonderful places, including Hawaii, Greece, Colorado and North Carolina. In addition to her writing career, she has worked as a medical technician, a librarian, an executive secretary and a receptionist for a member of Congress on Capitol Hill. When she's not writing, her most favorite thing to do in the world is downhill skiing.
She considers Picabo Street her personal heroine, and if she wasn't a writer, she'd love to be a ski racer.
SPOTLIGHT, her second novel, was a 2000 RIO Nominee in the Dorothy Parker Award for Excellence in Fiction (Best Romantic Suspense), a 2001 Holt Medallion Finalist for Best Mainstream Novel and a 2001 Booksellers' Best Awards Finalist.
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An unforgettable story and very difficult to put down...the details of the setting and the situation are vivid and certainly leave a lasting impression on the mind and heart long after the last page is turned. Bravo Ms. Bellacera. BORDER CROSSINGS is an outstanding piece of work and should not be missed. HRR HEARTBEAT AWARD.