Dark-haired and distinguished, Michael Eagan caught everyone's eye, but none more so than Flanna McKenna. Even Flanna's parents couldn't resist playing matchmaker, desiring nothing more than a son-in-law to continue their heritage. But Michael was really an investigator out to catch a thief, in her life by design. Yet the fire he ignited in Flanna led her to accept his proposition of a mock marriage. It started as an arrangement of convenience, but Michael's rough charms were nothing compared to the magic Flanna ...
Dark-haired and distinguished, Michael Eagan caught everyone's eye, but none more so than Flanna McKenna. Even Flanna's parents couldn't resist playing matchmaker, desiring nothing more than a son-in-law to continue their heritage. But Michael was really an investigator out to catch a thief, in her life by design. Yet the fire he ignited in Flanna led her to accept his proposition of a mock marriage. It started as an arrangement of convenience, but Michael's rough charms were nothing compared to the magic Flanna spun. After all, it was her legacy.…
Patricia Rosemoor loves bringing a mix of thrills and chills and romance to Harlequin Intrigue readers. She's won a Golden Heart from Romance Writers of America and a Reviewers’ Choice and Career Achievement Awards from RT Book Reviews. She teaches courses on writing popular fiction and suspense-thriller writing in the fiction writing department of Columbia College Chicago. Check out her website, www.PatriciaRosemoor.com.
"May the road rise to meet you. May the wind be always at your back," Father Seamus O'Reilly intoned over the coffin in the small graveyard behind St. Mary's Church.
Flanna McKenna stood with the other mourners in the drizzle as fine as a fairy's breath. Used to the weather that kept the land green, most didn't bother to protect themselves.
"May the sun shine warm upon your face. And rains fall soft upon your fields."
A soft day appropriate for a burial, Flanna thought. Bridget Rafferty had been a grand woman with a generous spirit. The crowd around her grave proved how many people she'd touched. In addition to her children—Barry, Eamon and Katie—the wealthy stood among Bridget's servants and people of every class in between. It seemed the whole town of Killarra had turned out to bid her one last goodbye.
"And until we meet again, may God hold you in the hollow of his hand," the priest said, finishing the traditional Irish blessing.
Such a shame—such a crime—that Bridget's life had ended so tragically.
But hadn't that been the curse of the Celtic jewelry collection, the reason the older woman had wanted the pieces copied in the first place? Flanna thought, watching mourners file past the coffin, which would be lowered after they all left. As Flanna had already informed the authorities, Bridget had planned on keeping the copies and donating the originals to the Irish Museum.
Flanna gazed around at her fellow mourners, wondering if the murderer was among them.
"Oh, dear Bridget, may you be in Heaven a half hour before the Devil knows you're dead," Lisa Madden said, choking back a sob.
Apparently the women had been goodfriends despite the difference in age—Bridget more than sixty, while Lisa looked to be on the light side of forty, with shoulder-length blue-black hair and unlined fair skin. Lisa had gone through a box of tissues between the viewing and the funeral mass and the grave site, and her carefully applied eye makeup now pooled below her gray eyes.
Flanna couldn't help but offer comfort. "A cuppa, perhaps?" she asked, thinking tea would soothe her.
A pat on the woman's back served to jolt Flanna into taking a step away. She felt bereft as it was and didn't need the Madden woman's strong emotions adding to that burden.
"A whiskey would be more to the point," Lisa said, wiping away her tears as she moved away from the grave site.
Then the distraught woman straightened her spine and rose to her full height. Much taller than Flanna, who was five-four, she had a regal quality to her, emphasized by a tailored gray suit that nevertheless allowed her to look feminine.
"Sure and this never should have happened," Lisa said, stopping for one glance back at the coffin.
"Right you are, and I know you'll be missing her."
"If only the darling woman had stayed in Dublin with Katie instead of returning early "
Flanna suspected timing wouldn't have mattered. Bridget had not only acquired the pieces, but had also made the mistake of wearing them. The dead woman had activated the curse Flanna kept that thought to herself. Whenever she spoke of out-of-the-ordinary circumstances, she saw how people looked at her—either with amusement or as though they thought her daft.
She certainly wouldn't reveal what she'd learned through her own gift.
"If only she had listened to me," Lisa mourned, adding a final sniffle.
"She never should have bought Caillech's treasures. I tried to talk her out of it."
"You believe in the curse, then?"
"I'm Gaelic through and through, Flanna McKenna. Of course I believe! They say Caillech herself lives in the cabochons and takes revenge on anyone who wears what is hers."
Knowing this, Flanna nodded but kept from adding that legend also said that Caillech would be able to free herself and return to corporeal form—the form of the wearer but with the power of the sorceress—if the whole suite was brought together and worn by the new owner on Beltane, the anniversary of Caillech's death. Not that Bridget had purchased every piece. There was still a girdle belt and brooch missing. Thankfully, for Beltane was but a week away.
"I'll be thanking the both of you to keep from soiling my mother's good name with such nonsense."
Flanna whirled to see Bridget's red-headed offspring in a phalanx behind her. Young Katie was weeping, Eamon glowering, and Barry, the one who'd spoken, had his nose ever-so-slightly in the air.
"I meant no disrespect to your mother," Flanna said. "But the curse is no secret."
"I told Mother not to involve a McKenna," Barry said, shaking his head. He was a big man with a wide girth and jowly face, and his posture disclosed his self-importance. "A weird lot, all of you McKennas. But Mother wouldn't listen to me. If she had—"
"She might be alive today," the younger and slighter Eamon finished for his brother.
"You don't think I had anything to do with her murder?" Barry's expression, set in stone, told her he did. "You'll be handing over the pieces of the collection still in your possession."
Not liking his tone or the accusation, Flanna said, "When you pay me for my work. A cashier's check will do."
She feared that he might write a personal check and then cancel it before she could get it to the bank. She'd rented a cottage here in Killarra just to do the work for Bridget, and she still had to pay for her flat in Dublin. Her finances were sorely depleted.
"I do have a contract," she went on, "and I was to be paid in full on receipt of the final pieces, which I have completed. You'll get both the originals and the copies when I get my compensation."
Barry looked ready to choke. "I won't be able to manage that until Monday—"
"Then Monday it will be."
"In the meantime, the gardai will be checking on you, sure enough," Eamon said.
Flanna couldn't believe the younger, slighter-of-build brother was now threatening her with a visit from the authorities.
She'd done nothing wrong! "Perhaps the only pay you'll be owed is three meals behind bars," Barry said, his voice tart with satisfaction.
Eamon added, "If you had anything to do with our mother's death, you'll certainly not go free."
The fragile-looking Katie suddenly spoke up. "Stop it, both of you! Put the blame where it belongs. It's my fault she's dead!"
The brothers acquiesced, and Barry pressed his siblings to move off to the car park and their waiting Mercedes.
"Her fault?" Flanna murmured.
"Katie and Bridget had some terrible fight. I don't know about what, but it's the reason Bridget came home early. That must be why Katie blames herself. If her mother hadn't left Dublin when she did "
"She would be alive today." Feeling badly for the young woman, Flanna said, "Thank goodness her brothers don't blame her."
"Don't let them get to you," Lisa said softly. "Grief makes one mad."
Their grief riled Flanna inside, but outwardly she kept her temper. "Bridget believed, too, you know. A pity she was tempted into wearing Caillech's treasures."
Nodding, Lisa asked, "Shall I save you a seat at lunch, then?" When Flanna shook her head—she was too upset to eat— the other woman moved off. The crowd had thinned out, mourners no doubt heading for Garrity's pub, where a buffet lunch was to be served. The drizzle had stopped and the few raised umbrellas were lowering.
That's when she saw the stranger on the far side of the grave. The way he was looking at her put a knot in her stomach and a tickle in her throat. She noted every detail about him despite the distance between them. With hair that shone blue-black and eyes that gleamed nearly as deeply blue as the Irish Sea, he was a fine-looking man who filled out the shoulders of his navy suit jacket quite nicely.
A man she had never before seen.
So why was he staring at her as if he were trying to see inside her?
Instinct made her move away fast. Flanna's pulse threaded unevenly, and her breath caught in her throat. She didn't glance back, just walked as fast as she could to the car park. It wasn't until she was opening the door of her car and getting inside that she looked up to find that the stranger was following her. She ignored his wave imploring her to wait so he could speak with her, and started the engine.
Not wanting to speak to someone she didn't know, Flanna drove off, heading not for her own home but for the small town where her parents lived. Irony of ironies, today was her birthday, her thirty-third, and Ma and Da were making way too much of a fuss, insisting on throwing a family party and all.
What a way to start the celebration—with a funeral. Turning onto the national road that would take her to Lough Danaan in Co. Cork, Flanna glanced in the rearview mirror and caught a glimpse of a dark blue Renault doing the same. Probably one of Bridget's rich friends.
Her thoughts turned to the kind and generous woman. Flanna would mourn her. Bridget had known about the curse on the jewelry. That was the reason she'd hired Flanna to make the replicas in the first place. But the doomed woman hadn't been able to resist wearing the real thing in the meantime just that once.
Obviously, once had been enough.
Sunk in gloomy thoughts of death and destruction, Flanna was halfway to her parents' house before realizing the blue Renault was still right behind her. Surely it wasn't following her, she thought, her fingers tightening on the steering wheel. The road was a double carriageway, with vehicles passing at will. But not the Renault, not even when she slowed to see if the driver would become impatient. Kilometer after kilometer, it stayed directly behind her, the same several car lengths back no matter what speed she took.
Was she really being followed?
Unable to get the thought out of her head, Flanna felt herself react to the situation. Her stomach twisted into a knot and her pulse sped up. The turnoff to Lough Danaan couldn't come too soon for her.
One small part of her thought that surely the Renault would keep going on the larger road, but no, it turned and stayed directly behind her.
What to do?
There would be people at her parents' home, including her second cousins Aidan, Cashel and Tiernan McKenna, three of the biggest, baddest lads a lass in need of protection could wish for. The thought settled her down even as she wondered what the man following her wanted.
Only one way to find out.
Parking behind several other cars in front of her parents' home—a two-story limestone building with extensive gardens that had been lovingly planted by her Grandmother Moira— Flanna steeled herself as the Renault pulled in right behind her. She exited the car and stood fast, ready to scream for help if necessary. The man exiting the Renault was the same man from the grave site.
The one who'd been staring after her. "Flanna McKenna, wait a moment."
Pulse thudding, she stopped, drew herself to her full height and demanded, "And what is it you would be wanting?"
"To talk. About your work for Bridget Rafferty."
"Unless you represent the authorities, which I doubt with that accent—" he was obviously an American "—I have nothing to say to you." How would a complete stranger from another land know about her work?
"Michael Eagan, Beacon Hill Investigations." He pulled out a leather wallet and flipped open his identification. "It seems your Mrs. Rafferty was the third murder connected to the theft of antique Celtic jewelry in the last month, the first having been in Boston."
"The third?" Flanna's mind whirled. "Of course, the other pieces "
"So you do know something about the murders." The way he said it put up Flanna's back. Another person who thought she was guilty of something? Though she wanted in the worst way to tell him to leave, she couldn't do it just yet, not until she got the details. She'd not only experienced bad vibes from the pieces she'd replicated, but she'd also had visions of several historical deaths connected to the collection, as well. Now he was saying there were three more deaths in the present, two more than she'd known about .
She hesitated too long. The front door flew open and there was her mother coming at them, pushing the silver-streaked dark hair from her still pretty face, which was lit by a big welcoming smile.
"You didn't say a thing about bringing a date, Flanna," Delia McKenna said, giving her daughter a hug and kiss on the cheek. "And isn't he a handsome boyo."
Michael smiled in return and a dimple popped in his right cheek. "Why, thank you, Mrs. McKenna."
"An American, is it?"
"Irish-American. Michael Eagan. I can see where your daughter gets her beauty."
Flanna gaped as the private investigator turned on the charm and took her mother's hand. Her mother actually giggled.
"We'll be so pleased to have you as our guest."
"Give us a minute," Flanna said, biting the inside of her cheek when her mother raised her eyebrows and smiled before retreating to the house. She counted silently to three, then faced Michael. "What do you think you're doing?"
"Trying to be pleasant to your mother."
"Now she thinks you and I are—are "
"I was going to say together!"
"You have a problem with intimacy?" One dark eyebrow shot up in challenge.
"I have a problem with you. Perhaps you should leave now and we can meet back in town later."
"You realize if I don't come inside with you, you'll have to explain why."
He had a point. The last thing she wanted to do was further upset her parents, especially her father, with his heart condition and all. They knew about Bridget, of course, and were already troubled about her involvement with the situation. She didn't want to have to explain what Michael Eagan was doing and why he had followed her, because he seemed to think she was somehow suspect in the crime. She didn't want her da having another heart attack.
She had no choice but to go along with the charade for the moment. "You may come inside with me on one condition, Michael Eagan."
"And what would that be?"
"Say nothing about the thefts or murders. I don't want my family vexed for nothing."
"I wouldn't equate murder to nothing."
"They have no involvement in the crimes. Nor do I, other than as an innocent bystander," she informed him.
Michael nodded. "All right. On your terms. How do we explain who I am and our relationship?"
"I'll think of something. Just follow my lead," she said, her voice mournful as she turned to go inside.
The fates were conspiring against her.
Once inside, she dipped her fingers into the font of holy water at the door and made the sign of the cross, all the while asking Himself for help.
She was going to have to convince her family that she liked this Michael Eagan, when the only reason he was here was because he thought she knew something about Bridget's death.