my personal man of all work
Ah, kiss me, love, and miss me, love,
and dry your bitter tears.
—IRISH PUB SONG
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.