The Boldest Man in Ballymuir
Ballymuir Series, Book Two
by Dorien Kelly
Author’s Preferred E-book Edition Published September 2012
(originally published by Pocket in March 2004, titled Hot Nights in Ballymuir)
"Cheerful spot," Dev commented, raising a brow at the graveyard surrounding Kilmalkedar.
"You should see it on a foggy day. It's like something out of a horror movie."
He laughed. "And you sound so very pleased."
She shook her head, then absently combed her fingers through her tangled curls. "It's not just the graves and the ruin. You need to look closer . . . feel the place."
"Starting with the sheep manure just in front of us?"
Jenna smiled in spite of herself. "Are you sure you're even the smallest bit Irish? Where's that dark, contemplative nature?"
"Pounded out of me in a fine British public school," he replied. "Though I still have the occasional desire to martyr myself for a hopeless cause--which I have mostly ignored."
"Well, indulge me here, Gilvane. Be a tourist in your motherland. Have a look around."
And before he could blow away her hopes for a relaxing afternoon, Jenna ventured off. She walked carefully, for as warm and lovely as the day was, the tall grass was still wet and slick, and the pathways hard to find.
There had been a funeral sometime recently. Wooden folding chairs were stacked and waiting under the eaves of the small, crumbling church for return to a drier place.
Here and there modern gravestones, polished black with gold lettering, sat in well-tended sites. Mostly though there were markers so lime-encrusted, rough and ancient that nothing was left to read in what could be seen through the shaggy grass holding them captive.
But everywhere was a sense of collective power, a subliminal hum just beneath the range of hearing, vibrating in the bones, filling the mind. It was this that brought Jenna back to Kilmalkedar.
She walked to the tall ogham stone that aligned neatly with the church's gaping entry--no coincidence she was sure. Kilmalkedar's founders had been her kind of people, practical, efficient souls building on a site that had likely held meaning before Christianity. Out of habit, she ran her hand up the rough, timeworn lines and slashes chiseled into the stone's side. The rock was cool and damp under her palm.
Dev had joined her. "Can you read it?"
"No," she admitted.
He chuckled. "Then I don't want to know what you're doing."
She patted the admittedly phallic rock. "Feeling somewhat insignificant by comparison?"
He grinned. "Actually, no, except as it pertains to finding the lure of your pet ruin. I'm trying hard enough, but I'm afraid I'm just not seeing it."
"Doesn't it give you a sense of belonging? As though we're all working toward some common purpose?"
"To all be buried here, then? I'd had my heart set on a grand memorial in the center of London, perhaps with myself in full naval regalia."
"Go ahead, tease me. I still think there's something beautiful about the place."
"In a bleak, you'll-be-needing-antidepressants-soon sort of way, yes," Dev conceded.
She laughed. "Thanks."
In addition to the primal hum that she wouldn't raise with Dev the Unbeliever, the evidence of family, even lost ones remembered, appealed to Jenna. Maybe because her family, though powerful for generations, had bizarrely little sense of past. There was no ancestral home handed down, but a series of places where Faheys had formerly lived and handful of places where they did now. There were no portraits of long-departed relatives, no family anecdotes, no communication among the living. There was only her father, Martin, the last mad kingmaker, and her mother, sure to always remain one family residence ahead of Martin.
She walked a ribbon-thin path around to the back of the church. She could hear Dev following behind. To her right lay an enclosure of several stones protected by a rusted iron rail. A statue of what she supposed had once been the Virgin but now looked more like a ghost, drew her. She stopped when she saw the surname on a marker at the figure's feet.
Jenna looked back to Dev. "Connelly. Isn't that your mother's people?"
He frowned. "How would you know that?"
Yes, he had much to learn about Ballymuir. "The same way I hear about anything else--in town, of course."
"They all know who my mum is? I told only Muriel."
"Well, there you go..."
He shook his head. "No one's said a word to me."
"They probably figure you've already met your mother."
The smile he gave her was vague, at best. He left the path and circled the enclosure, the wet grass slowing his pace. "I suppose it's possible these could be relatives. My mum hasn't spoken much about her past. A mention or two, but nothing more."
Something wasn't playing right.
"And yet you decided to look for a house in Ballymuir. Why?"
In the number of times they'd talked, which were few when viewed in light of last night's kiss, she'd never seen him this uncomfortable. He began to speak, paused, then started again.
"It seemed a good place."
The diplomatic thing would be to let this go, except she was no diplomat. "But why? You had to have had a reason."
"Did I?" he shot back.
She'd provoked him. The thought pleased her. Why should his life be free of turmoil?
"Most people do, Gilvane. It can't be some sort of longing for your roots. You're not exactly a frequent visitor."
"What, more gossip in town?"
"Of course. Other than attending parish hurling matches, it's the local pastime. So why Ballymuir, Dev? Are you planning to grow old and grey there?"
His anger was nearly palpable. Ignoring the tall grass, he walked toward her in long strides. "I had a thought, the time and the money, so here I am . . . for the pleasure of it."
He moved even closer. With the uneven ground behind her, Jenna couldn't step back.
"Is there nothing you do for pleasure?" he asked.
She wanted to run, a ridiculous impulse. She was miles from her car and had only this angry man to get her there.
What did she do for pleasure? It seemed to have sifted from her life. That both he and Maureen would have asked her this today frightened her. She was accustomed to no one looking beneath her unremarkable, capable exterior.
"Don't change the subject."
"Ah, but I haven't. I told you I'm here for the pleasure of it." He reached out his right hand and followed the curve of her jaw, then the line of one cheekbone. Even as she clenched her fists, steeled herself to resist this diversion he offered, her eyes slipped shut.
"Pleasure," he whispered, his mouth just brushing hers. He kissed her forehead, the very tip of her chin. He teased her mouth and the sensitive skin of her throat. One broad hand settled at her nape and with a slight pressure urged her to him.
Alchemy, she thought. Passion from anger.
"God, I love the taste of you," he said, then followed thought with deed.
The low hum that was so much a part of this place vibrated through Jenna, filling her, echoing so loudly in her head that it masked the mad rush of her heart. She twined her arms around Dev's neck and held fast in the storm.
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