Dark Angel. Lynne Graham
is the wind in the trees.’
Breathing in deep and slow, Kerry parted her lips and said, ‘Grandma…it’s been five years since I decided not to marry Luciano.’
‘Yes, darling, I do appreciate that. Do recall too that at the time I was rather concerned that we didn’t hear Florrie when your wedding was only supposed to be a few weeks away.’
Kerry ground her teeth together so hard it hurt while also wishing that she had had the nerve to tell her grandparents the real reason why she had broken off her engagement instead of settling on the less humiliating pretext of a simple change of heart.
‘But I can’t believe that Luciano will hold your past misgivings against you. I expect he’ll make a great deal of silly noise about it in the way that men do,’ Viola opined in continuation. ‘But you remain the woman who rejected him and he will know no true happiness until he regains your love and trust—’
‘There is no question of any reconciliation between L-Luciano and me!’ Kerry broke in to protest in frustration, her voice sharp and laced with the stammer which she had overcome in her teens but which still returned to haunt her in moments of stress.
Viola O’Brien raised her fine brows in mild reproach but her clear surprise at even that slightly raised voice having been directed at her sank her granddaughter into discomfiture and won her an immediate apology.
‘I understand, darling,’ Viola murmured in instant forgiveness. ‘Having to wait for Luciano to make the first move is very tiresome and must be a considerable strain on your nerves. Unfortunately that is why putting in an appearance outside that court room yesterday would have been the easier path to follow.’
At that very trying repetition of an outrageous proposition, Kerry sprang in a restive motion out of her armchair again. She knew that the older woman could have no idea how much such fanciful suggestions and expectations could still wound and hurt. But then perhaps she herself was more at fault for being oversensitive, Kerry thought guiltily. She adored her grandparents for the unquestioning love which they had always given her. Her reluctant father, Harold Linwood, had never been prepared to offer his daughter a similiar level of affection.
‘Eventually Luciano will wend his own way over to Ireland,’ her grandmother forecast with an obvious wish to proffer that prospect as a comfort.
‘That is very unlikely.’
‘I think not, darling. After all, he does more or less own Ballybawn Castle,’ Viola countered abstractedly while she rustled for fresh embroidery thread in her hopelessly messy work basket.
Kerry studied her grandmother in open-mouthed astonishment. ‘Sorry…what did you say?’ she queried, convinced that she must have misheard that staggering statement.
‘Your grandfather will be annoyed with me…’ Viola O’ Brien’s soft brown eyes revealed dismay before she returned with almost frantic purpose to her search for thread. ‘He did ask me to keep that a secret.’
For several taut seconds Kerry hovered in sheer bewilderment, her mind refusing to handle that additional piece of supporting information.
‘It’s vulgar for a woman to discuss business,’ her grandmother declared in harassed and obvious retreat from the threat of further questioning. ‘I don’t believe I understood what your grandfather was trying to explain.’
In dismay and concern, Kerry noticed that Viola O’Brien’s thin hands were trembling and she paled at a sight she had never seen before. ‘I’m sure you didn’t,’ she forced herself to say with artificial calm.
Her mind whirling, Kerry left the sitting room as soon as she could. In the dim corridor, she sucked in a slow, steadying breath. How could Luciano virtually own her grandparents’ ancestral home? Yet it was evident that her grandmother believed that he did. That her grandfather should have broken the habit of a lifetime to discuss a business matter with his lady wife was a very alarming factor that suggested that the impossible might be more possible than Kerry wanted to believe.
After all, Kerry was already uneasily aware that on the strength of their brief engagement five years earlier Luciano had insisted on giving her cash-strapped grandparents a very large loan. Soon afterwards a proportion of the roof had been mended though some of it remained in disrepair. Kerry had concentrated her own energies on cutting costs and striving to raise extra income on the estate in an effort to ensure that the older couple could at least live out their lives in their vast and dilapidated home. However, her grandfather had never allowed her to take charge of the accounts or, indeed, even examine them but she had naturally assumed that the loan repayments were being kept up to date.
Perspiration dampened Kerry’s short upper lip. The very idea that Luciano might have some kind of claim on Ballybawn Castle horrified her. Could her grandfather have been struggling to handle major financial problems which he had kept from her? Regardless of his granddaughter’s degree in business and her strenuous efforts to make Ballybawn Castle a paying proposition, Hunt O’Brien still cherished the gallant if impractical outlook of a bygone age when it came to his womenfolk. He believed that even Kerry was a poor, vulnerable little woman who had to be protected at all costs from the frightening stress of monetary woes. Therefore, Kerry conceded worriedly, that the older man should even have considered mentioning such an issue to her grandmother suggested that a very serious situation had developed…
Running Hunt O’Brien to earth within his own home was rarely a challenge. In his younger days, eager to follow in his own father’s footsteps, he had been a keen inventor of elaborate mechanical devices but, sadly for him, technology had repeatedly outstripped him in pace. Abandoning his workshop, her grandfather had turned to scholarship instead and, rain or shine, he was now to be found in the library happily surrounded by books. In fact, books were heaped on the bare floor, stacked on the threadbare chairs, and his enormous desk was so covered with them that her eighty-two-year-old grandparent preferred to squeeze himself into a corner of an old sofa and use a battered antique lap desk instead. There for the past half-century he had been weightily engaged in writing his definitive multi-volume work on the history of Ireland. Nobody at Ballybawn had ever been honoured with the opportunity to read a word of his life’s work and Kerry rather doubted that any publisher would ever be permitted the privilege either.
‘Is it time for lunch, my dear?’ Having finally registered her presence, Hunt O’Brien peered at her over the top of his round-rimmed spectacles in enquiry.
Luciano, Kerry recalled with a sharp unwelcome pang, had once remarked that her grandfather must be very much in demand to play Santa Claus. Small and portly with the still-bright blue eyes that were the O’Brien inheritance, he was given a rather merry aspect by his shock of silver hair and his beard. And, in truth, he was an exceptionally kind man but possibly not very well matched to the challenges that had unexpectedly become his when he, rather than his elder brother, had inherited Ballybawn.
‘No,’ Kerry replied. ‘I’ll see to lunch soon.’
‘What’s happened to Bridget…is she ill?’ Hunt enquired absently, his eyes already roaming back to the notebook he had been writing in seconds earlier.
It was well over a year since Bridget, the very last of the stalwart old-style retainers employed as indoor staff, had entered a retirement home at the age of seventy-eight. But her grandfather had never in his life had to live without a cook in the household and continually forgot that fact. Had he not been called to meals, he would have gone without food and indeed was as incapable of looking after himself as her grandmother was. Remorseless time had ground on outside the walls of Ballybawn Castle while the elderly owners within remained trapped in the habits of the previous century.
‘Grandpa…’ Kerry cleared her throat to regain the old man’s attention. ‘Grandma said that Luciano more or less owned the castle.’
At those words, Hunt O’Brien stopped writing and his silver head jerked up at rare speed as he directed an almost schoolboyish look of guilt at her. ‘I was—er—I was p-p-p-p-planning,’ he finally contrived to get the word out in the tense waiting silence, ‘to