Born in Fire Page 82

“I’ll smile, I’ll be polite. I won’t eat with me fingers.” With a bitter sigh, Maggie shoved up her goggles and held the figure on the end of the tube out of the flames.

“What have you done there?” Curious, Brianna stepped closer.

“Gone mad.”

“It’s pretty. Is it a unicorn?”

“Aye, a unicorn—only needs a touch of gold on the horn to make it complete.” She laughed, turning the mythical figure in the air. “It’s a joke, Brie, a poor one. On me. It’ll be swans next, I’m sure. Or those little dogs with puffs for tails.” She set her work aside, briskly turned off her torches. “Well, that’s that, I suppose. I’ll hardly do anything worthwhile today, so I’ll be along to your dinner party. God help you.”

“Why don’t you rest awhile, Maggie? You look awfully tired.”

“Perhaps I will, after I crate up a few pieces.” She tossed the goggles aside, rubbed her hands over her face. She was tired, Maggie realized. Outrageously so. “You needn’t worry, Brie, you’ll not have to send out the dogs for me. I’ve said I’ll be there.”

“I’m grateful.” Brianna reached down to squeeze her sister’s hand. “I have to go back, make certain everything’s in place. Half seven, Maggie.”

“I know.”

She waved her sister out. To keep her mind on practical matters, she took one of the crates she’d made and packed it with padding. After spreading bubble wrap over a table, she turned to the shelves at the back of the shop. There was only one piece there, the last she’d completed before Rogan’s visit.

Tall and sturdy, the trunk speared up, then curved, flooding down in slim, graceful limbs that almost seemed to sway. It would stand, she thought, like the willow that had inspired it. And it would bend, yielding, even as it remained true to itself. The color was a deep, pure blue that flooded up from the base and paled gently to the delicate tips.

She wrapped it carefully, for it was more than a sculpture. This was the last work she’d been able to draw successfully from her heart. Nothing she had attempted since then had gelled. Day after day she had labored only to remelt and remelt. Day after day she came closer to releasing the panic that jittered inside her.

His fault, she told herself as she secured the top of the crate. His fault for tempting her with fame and fortune, for exposing her vanity to such a stunning and fast success. Now she was blocked, dried up. As hollow as the tube she’d fashioned into a unicorn.

He’d made her want too much. Want him too much. Then he had walked away and let her see, brutally, what it was like to have nothing.

She wouldn’t give up, nor would she give in. Maggie promised herself she would have her pride at least. While her furnace roared mockingly she sat in her chair, felt the familiarity of its shape.

It was only that she’d been working too hard, surely. She’d been pushing herself to do better and better work with each piece. The pressure of holding on to success had blocked her, that was all. She couldn’t suppress the idea that as the tour moved on from Paris it would be found wanting. That she would be found wanting.

That she would never again pick up the pipe just for herself, just for the pleasure of it. Rogan had changed all that. He had, as she’d told him he would, changed her.

And how was it, she thought, closing her eyes, how could it be that a man could make you love him by going away?

“You’ve done well for yourself, haven’t you, darling?” Niall, stuffed into one of his bright-hued suits like a happy sausage, beamed at Brianna. “I always said you were a clever lass. Takes after me dear sister, does Brianna, Chrissy.”

“You have a lovely home.” Christine accepted the glass Brianna offered. “And your gardens are simply breathtaking.”

“Thank you. They give me pleasure.”

“Rogan told me how he enjoyed his brief stay here.” Christine sighed, content with the warmth of the fire and the glow of the lamp. “I can see why.”

“She’s got the touch.” Niall gave Brianna a bone-crushing squeeze around the shoulders. “In the blood, you know. Blood runs true.”

“So it seems. I knew your grandmother quite well.”

“Chrissy was underfoot all the time.” Niall winked. “Thought I didn’t notice her. Shy was what I was.”

“You never had a shy moment in your life,” Christine said with a laugh. “You thought I was a nuisance.”

“If I did, I’ve changed me mind.” He leaned over and under Brianna’s curious eye, kissed Christine firmly on the mouth.

“It took you more than fifty years.”

“Seems like yesterday.”

“Well…” Disconcerted, Brianna cleared her throat. “I suppose I should check on…I believe that’s Mother and Lottie,” she continued when raised voices boomed down the hallway.

“You drive like a blind woman,” Maeve complained. “I’ll walk back to Ennis before I get into that car with you again.”

“If you can do better, you should drive yourself. Then you’d have a sense of independence.” Obviously unconcerned, Lottie strolled into the parlor, unwrapping a thick scarf from around her neck. “It’s a chilly night,” she announced, rosy-cheeked and smiling.

“And you dragging me out in it’ll put me in bed for a week.”

“Mother.” Shoulders braced against embarrassment, Brianna helped Maeve off with her coat. “I’d like you to meet Mrs. Sweeney. Mrs. Sweeney, this is my mother, Maeve Concannon, and our friend Lottie Sullivan.”

“I’m delighted to meet you both.” Christine rose to offer her hand to both women. “I was a friend of your mother’s, Mrs. Concannon. We were girls together in Galway. I was Christine Rogan then.”

“She spoke of you,” Maeve said shortly. “I’m pleased to meet you.” Her gaze shifted to her uncle, narrowed. “Well, Uncle Niall, is it? You haven’t graced us with your presence for many a day.”

“It warms my heart to see you, Maeve.” He enveloped her in an embrace, patting her stiff back with a beefy hand. “I hope the years have been kind to you.”

“Why would they?” The moment she was freed, Maeve sat in a chair by the fire. “This fire’s drawing poorly, Brianna.”

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