Ireland is a land of poets and legends, of dreamers and rebels. All of these have music woven through and around them. Tunes for dancing or for weeping, for battle or for love. In ancient times, the harpists would travel from place to place, playing their tunes for a meal and a bed and the loose coins that might come with them.
The harpists and the storytellers--were welcome where they wandered, be it cottage or inn or campfire. Their gift was carried inside them, and was valued even in the faerie rafts beneath the green hills.
And so it is still.
Once, not so long ago, a storyteller came to a quiet village by the sea and was made welcome. There, she found her heart and her home.
A harpist lived among them, and had his home where he was content. But he had yet to find his heart. There was music playing in his head. Sometimes it came to him soft and dreamy, like a lover's whisper. Other times it was with a shout and a laugh. An old friend calling you into the pub to stand you for a pint. It could be sweet or fierce or full of desperate tears. But it was music that ran through his mind. And it was his pleasure to hear it.
Shawn Gallagher was a man comfortable with his life. Now there were some who would say he was comfortable because he rarely came out of his dreaming to see what was happening in the world. He didn't mind agreeing with them.
His world was his music and his family, his home and the friends who counted. Why should he be bothered overmuch beyond that?
His family had lived in the village of Ardmore in the county of Waterford, in the country of Ireland for generations. And there the Gallaghers had run their pub, offering pints and glasses, a decent meal and a fine place for conversation as long as most cared to remember.
Since his parents had settled in Boston sometime before, it was up to Shawn's older brother, Aidan, to head the business. That was more than fine with Shawn Gallagher, as he didn't quibble to admit he had no head for business whatsoever, or the desire to get one. He was happy enough to man the kitchen, for cooking relaxed him.
The music would play for him, out in the pub or inside his head, as he filled orders or tweaked the menu of the day.
Of course, there were times when his sister, Darcy--who had more than her share of the family energy and ambition--would come in where he was working up a stew or building some sandwiches and start a row.
But that only livened things up.
He had no problem lending a hand with the serving, especially if there was a bit of music or dancing going on. And he cleaned up without complaint after closing, for the Gallaghers ran a tidy place.
Life in Ardmore suited him--the slow pace of it, the sweep of sea and cliff, the roll of green hills that went shimmering toward shadowed mountains. The wanderlust that the Gallaghers were famed for had skipped over him, and Shawn was well rooted in Ardmore's sandy soil.
He had no desire to travel as his brother, Aidan, had done, or as Darcy spoke of doing. All that he needed was right at his fingertips. He saw no point in changing his view.
Though he supposed he had, in a way.
All of his life he'd looked out his bedroom window toward the sea. It had been there, just there, foaming against the sand, dotted with boats, rough or calm and every mood in between. The scent of it was the first thing he'd breathe in as he leaned out his window in the morning.
But when his brother had married the pretty Yank Jude Frances Murray the previous fall, it seemed right to make a few adjustments.
In the Gallagher way, the first to marry took over the family home. And so Jude and Aidan had moved into the rambling house at the edge of the village when they returned from honeymooning in Venice.
Given the choice between the rooms above the pub and the little cottage that belonged to the Fitzgerald side of Jude's family, Darcy had decided in favor of the rooms. She'd browbeaten Shawn, and whoever else she could twist around her beautiful finger, into painting and hauling until she'd turned Aidan's once sparse rooms into her own little palace.
That was fine with Shawn.
He preferred the little cottage on the faerie hill with its view of the cliffs and the gardens, and its blessed quiet.
Nor did he mind the ghost who walked there.
He'd yet to see her, but he knew she was there. Lady Gwen, who wept for the faerie lover she had castaway and waited for the spell to run its course and free them both. Shawn knew the story of the young maid who'd lived three hundred years before in that very same cottage on that very same hill.
Carrick, prince of the faeries, had fallen in love with her, but instead of giving her the words, offering his heart, he had shown her the grandeur of the life he would give her. Three times he brought her a silver bag of jewels, first diamonds cast from the fire of the sun, then pearls formed from tears dripped from the moon, and finally sapphires wrung from the heart of the sea.
But doubting his heart, and her own destiny, she refused him. And the jewels he poured at her feet, so legend had it, became the very flowers that thrived in the door yard of the cottage.
Most of the flowers slept now, Shawn thought, bedded down as winter blew over the coast. The cliffs where it was said the lady often walked were stark and barren under a brooding sky.
A storm was biding its time, waiting to happen.
The morning was a raw one, with the wind knocking at the windows and sneaking in to chill the cottage. He had a fire going in the kitchen hearth and his tea was hot, so he didn't mind the wind. He liked the arrogant music it made while he sat at the kitchen table, nibbling on biscuits and toying with the lyrics for a tune he'd written.
He didn't have to be at the pub for an hour yet. But to make sure he got there at all, he'd set the timer on the stove and, as a backup, the alarm clock in his bedroom. With no one there to shake him out of his dreams and tell him to get his ass moving, he tended to forget the time altogether.
Since it irritated Aidan when he was late, and gave Darcy an excuse to hammer at him, he did his best to stay on schedule. The trouble was, when he was deep enough in his music, the buzzing and beeping of the timers didn't register and he was late in any case.
He was swimming in it now, in a song of love that was young and sure of itself. The sort, to Shawn's thinking, that was as fickle as the wind but fun while it lasted. A dancing tune, he decided, that would require fast feet and flirting.
He would try it out at the pub sometime, once it was polished a bit, and if he could convince Darcy to sing it. Her voice was just right for the mood of it.
Too comfortable to bother going into the parlor where he'd jammed the old piano he bought when he moved in, he tapped his foot for rhythm and refined the lyrics.
He didn't hear the banging at the front door, the clomp of boot steps down the hallway, or the muttered curse.
Typical, Brenna thought. Lost in some dream world again while life went on around him. She didn't know why she'd bothered to knock in the first place-he rarely heard it, and they'd been running tame in each other's houses since childhood.
Well, they weren't children anymore, and she'd as soon knock as walk in on something she shouldn't.
He could have had a woman inhere, for all she knew. The man attracted them like sugar water attracted bees. Not that he was sweet, necessarily. Though he could be.
God, he was pretty. The errant thought popped into her head, and she immediately hated herself for it. But it was hard not to notice, after all.
All that fine black hair looking just a bit shabby, as he never remembered when it was time for a trim. Eyes of a quiet and dreamy blue--unless he was roused by something, and then, she recalled, they could fire hot and cold in equal measure. He had long, dark lashes that her four sisters would have sold their soul for and a full, firm mouth that was meant, she supposed, for long kisses and soft words.
Not that she knew of either firsthand. But she'd heard tell.
His nose was long and just slightly crooked from a line drive she'd hit herself, smartly, when they'd been playing American baseball more than ten years before.
All in all, he had the face of some fairy-tale prince come to life. Some gallant knight on a quest. Or a slightly tattered angel. Add that to a long, lanky body, wonderfully wide-palmed hands with the fingers of an artist, a voice like whiskey warmed by a turf fire, and he made quite the package.
Not that she was interested, particularly. It was just that she appreciated things that were made well.
And what a liar she was, even to herself.
She'd had a yen for him even before she'd beaned him with that baseball--and she'd been fourteen to his nineteen at the time. And a yen tended to grow into something hotter, something nervier, by the time a woman was twenty-four.
Not that he ever looked at her like she was a woman.
Just as well, she assured herself, and shifted her stance. She didn't have time to hang around mooning over the likes of Shawn Gallagher. Some people had work to do.
Fixing a thin sneer on her face, she deliberately lowered her toolbox and let it fall with a terrible clatter. That he jumped like a rabbit under the gun pleased her.
"Christ Jesus!" He scraped his chair around, thumped a hand to his heart as if to get it pumping again. "What's the matter?"
"Nothing." She continued to sneer. "Butterfingers," she said sweetly and picked up her dented toolbox again. "Give you a start, did I?"
"You damn near killed me."
"Well, I knocked, but you didn't bother to come to the door."
"I didn't hear you." He blew out a breath, scooped his hair back, and frowned at her. "Well, here's the O'Toole come to call. Is something broken, then?"
"You've a mind like a rusty bucket." She shrugged out of her jacket, tossed it over the back of a chair. "Your oven there hasn't worked for a week," she reminded him with a nod toward the stove. "The part I ordered for it just came in. Do you want me to fix it or not?"
He made a sound of assent and waved his hand toward it.
"Biscuits?" she said as she walked by the table. "What kind of breakfast is that for a man grown?"
"They were here." He smiled at her in a way that made her want to cuddle him. "It's a bother to cook just for myself most mornings, but if you're hungry I'll fix something up for the both of us."
"No, I've eaten." She set her toolbox down, opened it, started to rummage through. "You know Ma always fixes more than enough. She'd be happy to have you wander down any morning you like and have a decent meal."
"You could send up a flare when she makes her griddle cakes. Will you have some tea in any case? The pot's still warm."
"I wouldn't mind it." As she chose her tools, got out the new part, she watched his feet moving around the kitchen. "What were you doing? Writing music?"
"Fiddling with words for a tune," he said absently. His eye had caught the flight of a single bird, black and glossy against the dull pewter sky. "Looks bitter out today."
"'Tis, and damp with it. Winter's barely started and I'm wishing it over."
"Warm your bones a bit." He crouched down with a thick mug of tea, fixed as he knew she liked it, strong and heavy on the sugar.
"Thanks." The heat from the mug seeped into her hands as she cupped them around it.
He stayed where he was, sipping his own tea. Their knees bumped companionably. "So, what will you do about this heap?"
"What do you care as long as it works again?"
He lifted a brow. "If I know what you did, I might fix it myself next time."
This made her laugh so hard she had to sit her butt down on the floor to keep from tipping over. "You? Shawn, you can't even fix your own broken fingernail."
"Sure I can." Grinning, he mimed just biting one off and made her laugh again.
"Don't you concern yourself with what I do with the innards of the thing, and I won't concern myself with the next cake you bake in it. We each have our strengths, after all."
"It's not as if I've never used a screwdriver," he said and plucked one out of her kit.
"And I've used a stirring spoon. But I know which fits my hand better."
She took the tool from him, then shifting her position, stuck her head in the oven to get to work.
She had little hands, Shawn thought. A man might think of them as delicate if he didn't know what they were capable of doing. He'd watched her swing a hammer, grip a drill, haul lumber, cinch pipes. More often than not, those little fairy hands of hers were nicked and scratched or bruised around the knuckles.
She was such a small woman for the work she'd chosen, or the work that had chosen her, he thought as he straightened. He knew how that was. Brenna's father was a man of all work, and his eldest daughter took straight after him. Just as it was said Shawn took after his mother's mother, who had often forgotten the wash or the dinner while she played her music.
As he started to step back, she moved, her butt wriggling as she loosened a bolt. His eyebrows lifted again, in what he considered merely the reflexive interest of a male in an attractive portion of the female form.
She did, after all, have a trim and tidy little body. The sort a man could scoop up one-handed if he had a mind to. And if a man tried, Shawn imagined Brenna O'Toole would lay him out flat.
The idea made him grin.
Still, he'd rather look at her face any day. It was such a study. Her eyes were lively and of a sharp, glass green under elegant brows just slightly darker than her bright red hair. Her mouth was mobile and quick to smile or sneer or scowl. She rarely painted it--or the rest of her face, come to that--though she was thick as thieves with Darcy, who wouldn't step a foot out of the house until she was polished to a gleam.
She had a sharp little nose, like a pixie's, that tended to wrinkle in disapproval or disdain. Most times she bundled her hair under a cap where she pinned the little fairy he'd given her years before for some occasion or other. But when she took the cap off, there seemed miles of hair, a rich, bright red that sprang out in little curls as it pleased.
It suited her that way.
Because he wanted to see her face again before he took himself off to the pub, Shawn leaned back casually on the counter, then tucked his tongue in his cheek.
"So you're walking out with Jack Brennan these days, I'm hearing."
When her head came up swiftly and connected with the top of the oven with a resounding crack, Shawn winced, and wisely swallowed the chuckle.
"I am not!" As he'd hoped, she popped out of the oven. There was a bit of soot on her nose, and as she rubbed her sore head, she knocked her cap askew. "Who said I am?"
"Oh." Innocent as three lambs, Shawn merely shrugged and finished his tea. "I thought I heard it somewhere, 'round and about, as such things go."
"You've a head full of cider and never hear a bloody thing. I'm not walking out with anyone. I've no time for that nonsense." Annoyed, she stuck her head back in the oven.
"Well, then, I'm mistaken. Easy enough to be these days when the village is so full of romance. Engagements and weddings and babies on the way."
"That's the proper order, anyway."
He chuckled and came back to crouch beside her again. In a friendly way, he laid a hand on her bottom, but he didn't notice when she went very still. "Aidan and Jude are already picking out names, and she's barely two months along yet. They're lovely together, aren't they?"
"Aye." Her mouth had gone dry with that yen that was perilously close to need. "I like seeing them happy. Jude likes to think the cottage is magic. She fell in love with Aidan here, and started her new life, wrote her book, all the things she says she was afraid even to dream of once happened right here."
"That's lovely, too. There's something about this place," he said half to himself. "You feel it at odd moments. When you're drifting off to sleep, or just waking. It's a...a waiting."
With the new part in place, she eased out of the oven. His hand slid up her back lazily, then fell away. "Have you seen her" Lady Gwen?"
"No. Sometimes there's a kind of movement on the air, just at the edge of your vision, but then nothing." He pulled himself back, smiled carelessly, and got to his feet. "Maybe she's not for me."
"I'd think you the perfect candidate for a heartbroken ghost," Brenna said and turned away from his surprised glance. "She should work fine now," she added, giving the dial a turn. "We'll just see if she heats up."
"You'll see to that for me, won't you, darling?" The oven timer buzzed, startling them both. "I've got to be going," Shawn said, reaching over to shut it off.
"Is that your warning system, then?"
"One of them." He lifted a finger, and on cue there came the cheerful bell from the clock by his bed. "That's the second round, but it'll go off on its own in a minute as it's a windup. Otherwise, I found I'd behaving to run in and slap it off every bloody time."
"Clever enough when it suits you, aren't you"
"I have my moments. The cat's out," he continued as he took his own jacket from the hook. "Take no pity on him should he come scratching at the door. Bub knew what he was after when he insisted on moving out here with me."
"Did you remember to feed him?"
"I'm not a complete moron." Unoffended, he wrapped a scarf around his neck. "He has food enough, and if he didn't, he'd go begging at your kitchen door. He'd do that anyway, just to shame me." He found his cap, dragged it on. "See you at the pub, then?"
"More than likely." She didn't sigh until she'd heard the front door close behind him.
Yearnings in the direction of Shawn Gallagher were foolishness, she told herself. For he would never have the same aimed her way. He thought of her as a sister--or worse, she realized, as a kind of honorary brother.
And that was her fault as well, she admitted, glancing down at her scruffy work pants and scarred boots. Shawn liked the girlie type, and she was anything but. She could flounce herself up, she supposed. Between Darcy and her own sisters, and Jude for that matter, she would have no limit of consultants on beautifying Brenna O'Toole.
But beyond the fact that she hated all that fuss and bother, what would be the point in it? If she polished and painted and cinched and laced to attract a man, he wouldn't be attracted to what she was in any case.
Besides, if she put on lipstick and baubles and some slinky little dress, Shawn would likely laugh his lungs out, then say something stupid that would leave her no choice but to punch him.
There was hardly a point in that.
She'd leave the fancy work to Darcy, who was the champion of being female. And to her sisters, Brenna thought, who enjoyed such things. As for herself--she'd stick with her tools.
She went back to the oven, running it at different temperatures and checking the broiler for good measure. When she was satisfied it was in good working order, she turned it off, then packed up her tools.
She meant to go straight out. There was no reason to linger, after all. But the cottage was so cozy. She'd always felt at home there. When Old Maude Fitzgerald had lived in Faerie Hill Cottage, for more years than Brenna could count, Brenna had often stopped in for a visit.
Then Maude had died, and Jude had come to stay for a while. They'd become friends, so it had been easy to fall back into the routine of stopping in now and then on her way home, or into the village.
She ignored the urge to stop in more often than not now that Shawn was living there. But it was hard to resist. She liked the quiet of the place, and all the pretty little things Maude had collected and left sitting about. Jude had left them there, and Shawn seemed content to do the same, so the little parlor was cheery with bits of glass and charming statues of faeries and wizards, homey with books and a faded old rug.
Of course, now that Shawn had stuffed the secondhand spinet piano into the dollhouse space, there was barely room to turn around. But Brenna thought it only added to the charm. And Old Maude had enjoyed music.
She'd be pleased, Brenna thought as she skimmed her finger over the scarred black wood, that someone was making music in her house again.
Idly, she scanned the sheet music that Shawn forever left scattered over the top of the piano. He was always writing a new tune, or taking out an old one to change something. She frowned in concentration as she studied the squiggles and dots. She wasn't particularly musical. Oh, she could sing out a rebel song without making the dog howl in response, but playing was a different kettle of fish altogether.
Since she was alone, she decided to satisfy her curiosity. She set her toolbox down again, chose one of the sheets, and sat down. Gnawing her lip, she found middle C on the keyboard and slowly, painstakingly, picked out the written notes, one finger at a time.
It was lovely, of course. Everything he wrote was lovely, and even her pitiful playing couldn't kill the beauty of it completely.
He'd added words to this one, as he often did. Brenna cleared her throat and attempted to match her voice to the proper note.
When I'm alone in the night, and the moon sheds
I know my world would come right if only you
Without you, my heart is empty of all but the
memories it keeps.
You, only you, stay inside me in the night while the moon weeps.
She stopped, sighed a little, as there was no one to hear. It touched her, as his songs always did, but a little deeper this time. A little truer.
Moon tears, she thought. Pearls for Lady Gwen. A love that asked, but couldn't be answered.
"It's so sad, Shawn. What's inside you that makes such lonely music?"
As well as she knew him, she didn't know the answer to that. And she wanted to, had always wanted to know the key to him. But he wasn't a motor or machine that she could take apart to find the workings. Men were more complicated and frustrating puzzles.
It was his secret, and his talent, she supposed. All so internal and mysterious. While her skills were...She looked down at her small, capable hands. Hers were as simple as they came.
At least she put hers to good use and made a proper living from them. What did Shawn Gallagher do with his great gift but sit and dream? If he had a lick of ambition, or true pride in his work, he'd sell his tunes instead of just writing them and piling them up in boxes.
The man needed a good kick in the ass for wasting something God had given him.
But that, she thought, was an annoyance for another day. She had work of her own to do.
She started to get up, to reach for her toolbox again, when a movement caught the corner of her eye. She straightened like a spike, mortified at the thought of Shawn coming back--he was always forgetting something--and catching her playing with his music.
But it wasn't Shawn who stood in the doorway.
The woman had pale gold hair that tumbled around the shoulders of a plain gray dress that swept down to the floor. Her eyes were a soft green, her smile so sad it broke the heart at first glance.
Recognition, shock, and a giddy excitement raced through Brenna all at once. She opened her mouth, but whatever she intended to say came out in a wheeze as her pulse pounded.
She tried again, faintly embarrassed that her knees were shaking. "Lady Gwen," she managed. She thought it was admirable to be able to get out that much when faced with a three-hundred-year-old ghost.
As she watched, a single tear, shiny as silver, trailed down the lady's cheek. "His heart's in his song." Her voice was soft as rose petals and still had Brenna trembling. "Listen."
"What do you--" But before Brenna could get the question out, she was alone, with only the faintest scent of wild roses drifting in the air.
"Well, then. Well." She had to sit, there was no help for it, so she let herself drop back down to the piano bench. "Well," she said again and blew out several strong breaths until her heart stopped thundering against her rib cage.
When she thought her legs would hold her again, she decided it was best to tell the tale to someone wise and sensible and understanding. She knew no one who fit those requirements so well as her own mother.
She calmed considerably on the short drive home. The O'Toole house stood back off the road, a rambling jigsaw puzzle of a place she herself had helped make so. When her father got an idea for a room into his head, she was more than pleased to dive into the ripping out and nailing up. Some of her happiest memories were of working side by side with Michael O'Toole and listening to him whistle the chore away.
She pulled in behind her mother's ancient car. They really did need to paint the old heap, Brenna thought absently, as she always did. Smoke was pumping from the chimneys.
Inside was all welcome and warmth and the smells of the morning's baking. She found her mother, Mollie, in the kitchen, pulling fresh loaves of brown bread out of the oven.
"Oh, sweet Mary, girl, you gave me a start." With a laugh, Mollie put the pans on the stovetop and turned with a smile. She had a pretty face, still young and smooth, and the red hair she'd passed on to her daughter was bundled on top of her head for convenience.
"Sorry, you've got the music up again."
"It's company." But Mollie reached over to turn the radio down. Beneath the table, Betty, their yellow dog, rolled over and groaned. "What are you doing back here so soon? I thought you had work."
"I did. I do. I've got to go into the village yet to help Dad, but I stopped by Faerie Hill to fix the oven for Shawn.?
"Mmm-hmm." Mollie turned back to pop the loaves out of the pan and set them on the rack to cool.
"He left before I was done, so I was there by myself for a bit." When Mollie made the same absent sound, Brenna shifted her feet. "Then, ah, when I was leaving...well, there was Lady Gwen."
"Mmm-hmm. What?" Finally tuning in, Mollie looked over her shoulder at Brenna.
"I saw her. I was just fiddling for a minute at the piano, and I looked up and there she was in the parlor doorway."
"Well, then, that must've given you a start."
Brenna's breath whooshed out. Sensible, that was Mollie O'Toole, bless her. "I all but swallowed me tongue then and there. She's lovely, just as Old Maude used to say. And sad. It just breaks your heart how sad."
"I always hoped to see her myself." A practical woman, Mollie poured two cups of tea and carried them to the table. "But I never did."
"I know Aidan's talked of seeing her for years. And then Jude, when she moved into the cottage." Relaxed again, Brenna settled at the table. "But I was just talking to Shawn of her, and he says he's not seen her--sensed her, but never seen. And then, there she was, for me. Why do you think that is?"
"I can't say, darling. What did you feel?"
"Other than a hard knock of surprise, sympathy, I guess. Then puzzlement because I don't know what she meant by what she said to me."
"She spoke to you?" Mollie's eyes widened. "Why, I've never heard of her speaking to anyone, not even Maude. She'd have told me. What did she say to you?"
"She said, 'His heart's in his song,' then she just told me to listen. And when I got back my wits enough to ask her what she meant, she was gone."
"Since it's Shawn who lives there now, and his piano you were playing with, I'd say the message was clear enough."
"But I listen to his music all the time. You can't be around him five minutes without it."
Mollie started to speak, then thought better of it and only covered her daughter's hand with her own. Her darling Mary Brenna, she thought, had such a hard time recognizing anything she couldn't pick apart and put together again. "I'd say when it's time for you to understand, you will."
"She makes you want to help her," Brenna murmured.
"You're a good lass,
Mary Brenna. Perhaps before it's done, help her is just what you'll do."
--Reprinted from Tears of the Moon by Nora Roberts by permission of Jove Books,
a member of Penguin Putnam Inc. Copyright (c) 2000 Nora Roberts. All rights
reserved. This excerpt, or any parts thereof, may not be reproduced in any form