Ah, kiss me, love, and miss me, love,
and dry your bitter tears.
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 seanachais-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 some time 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 cast away 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 dooryard 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 bootsteps 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 in here, 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.