Born in Fire Page 75

“No,” Brianna said evenly. “But I’m telling you. Lottie’s badgered her into sitting out in the garden every day, and into taking walks.”

“Walking?” Despite herself, Maggie’s interest was snagged. “Mother, walking?”

“I don’t know how she does it, but Lottie has a way with her. The last time I visited Mother was holding yarn while Lottie balled it. When I came in, she tossed it down and began to rant about how the woman would drive her into the grave. Claimed she fired Lottie twice, but Lottie wouldn’t go. All the while Mother complained, Lottie rocked in her chair, smiling and rolling her yarn.”

“If the woman drives Lottie away—”

“No, let me finish.” Brianna leaned forward, her eyes dancing. “I stood there, making excuses and apologies and waiting for the worst. And after a while Lottie stopped rocking. ‘Maeve,’ she said, ‘stop pestering the girl. You sound like a magpie.’ And she handed the yarn back to her and told me how she was after teaching Mothing to knit.”

“Teaching her to—oh, that’ll be the day.”

“The thing was, Mother kept muttering under her breath and arguing with Lottie. But she seemed to be enjoying it. You were right about her having her own place, Maggie. She may not realize it yet, but she’s happier there than she’s been most of her life.”

“The point is she’s out of here.” Restless, Maggie rose to prowl around the kitchen. “I don’t want you deluding yourself into thinking I did it out of the goodness of my heart.”

“But you did,” Brianna said quietly. “If you want no one but me to know it, that’s your choice.”

“I didn’t come here to talk about her, but to see how you were getting on. Have you moved into the room off the kitchen?”

“Yes. It gives me another room upstairs free for guests.”

“It gives you some privacy.”

“There’s that. I’ve a place for a desk in there so I can do the books and the paperwork. I like having a window right over the garden. Murphy said I could have a door put in, if I want, so I could come in and out without going through the rest of the house.”

“Good.” Maggie lifted a jar of currants, set it down again. “Have you enough for the labor?”

“I’ve enough. It’s been a good summer. Maggie, won’t you tell me what’s troubling you?”

“Nothing is,” Maggie answered abruptly. “I’ve a lot on my mind, that’s all.”

“Have you quarreled with Rogan?”

“No.” It couldn’t be called a quarrel, she thought. “Why should you assume I’d be thinking of him?”

“Because I saw you together, saw how much you care for each other.”

“That should be enough, shouldn’t it?” Maggie demanded. “I care for him and he for me. The business we have together is successful and will likely continue to be. That should be enough.”

“I don’t know the answer to that. Are you in love with him?”

“I’m not.” Wouldn’t be. “He thinks I am, but I can’t be responsible for what the man thinks. Nor will I change my life for him, or anyone. He’s already made it change.” She hugged her arms close, feeling suddenly cold. “And, damn him, I can’t go back.”

“Back to what?”

“To being what I was, what I thought I was. He’s made me want more. I know I always did, but he’s made me admit it. It’s not enough for me to believe in my work, I need him to. He’s made himself a part of it, and if I fail, I don’t fail alone. When I succeed, the satisfaction isn’t mine alone either. And I think I’ve compromised myself because I’ve given part of me, the best of me, into his hands.”

“Is it your art you’re talking about, Maggie, or is it your heart?” Brianna stared hard at her sister as she asked the question.

Maggie sat again, defeated. “I don’t have one without the other. So it seems I’ve given him a piece of both.”

Rogan would have been surprised to hear it. He’d decided, after a great deal of thought, to treat his relationship with Maggie as he would any business merger with a reluctant company. He’d made his offer. Now it was time to stand back, to distance himself while the other party considered.

There was no professional reason to contact her. The show in Paris would remain for another two weeks before moving to Rome. The pieces had been chosen, the groundwork laid.

For the foreseeable future, she had her work and he had his. Any business contact could be made through his staff.

He would, in other words, let her stew.

It was important to his pride and his plans not to let her know how much her rejection of his feelings had hurt. Apart, they could each evaluate their future objectively. Together, they would simply end up in bed. That was no longer enough.

Patience and a firm hand was what was required. Rogan was sure of it. And if Maggie remained so foolishly obstinate after a reasonable amount of time, he’d use whatever means were at his disposal.

Rogan knocked briskly on his grandmother’s door. It wasn’t their usual time for visiting, but after being back in Dublin for a week, he needed the comfort of family.

He nodded at the maid who opened the door. “Is my grandmother at home?”

“Yes, Mr. Sweeney. She’s in the front parlor. I’ll tell her you’re here.”

“No need.” He strode down the hall and through the open parlor doors. Christine rose immediately and opened her arms to him.

“Rogan! What a lovely surprise.”

“I had a meeting canceled, so I thought I’d drop in and see how you were.” He drew her back, lifting a brow as he studied her face. “You look exceptionally well.”

“I feel exceptionally well.” She laughed and led him to a chair. “Shall I get you a drink?”

“No. I don’t have very long, and I only came for the company.”

“I’ve heard how well it went in Paris.” Christine sat beside him, soothed down the skirt of her linen dress. “I had lunch with Patricia last week, and she told me it was a rousing success.”

“It was. Though I can’t say how Patricia would know.” He thought of his friend with a lingering trickle of guilt. “She’s well?”

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