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An Irish Blessing: The Irish Sisters Trilogy (Montana Sky Series), page 1

 

An Irish Blessing: The Irish Sisters Trilogy (Montana Sky Series)
 


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An Irish Blessing: The Irish Sisters Trilogy (Montana Sky Series)


  AN IRISH BLESSING

  Book Two of The O’Donnell Sisters Trilogy:

  Montana Sky Novellas

  by Debra Holland

  Copyright © 2016 by Debra Holland

  ISBN: 978-1-939813-55-8

  Digital Edition

  All rights reserved by the author. The reproduction or other use of any part of this publication without the prior written consent of the rights holder is an infringement of the law.

  TABLE OF CONTENTS

  Copyright

  Chapter 1

  Chapter 2

  Chapter 3

  Chapter 4

  Chapter 5

  Chapter 6

  Chapter 7

  Chapter 8

  Chapter 9

  Chapter 10

  Chapter 11

  Coming January 19: A ROLLING STONE

  To My Readers

  Acknowledgements

  More Books by Debra Holland

  About the Author

  CHAPTER ONE

  Sweetwater Springs, Montana

  January 1895

  (One day after the beginning of A Valentine’s Choice)

  As the sleigh carrying Alana O’Donnell left the Thompson’s ranch to travel to her Uncle Rory’s home on the prairie, she took a deep breath, experiencing an odd sense of relief. Finally, I’m alone. The pressure that had wrapped like a tight band around her chest for the last four weeks suddenly eased enough to inhale without physical pain.

  Not that she was really alone, for her cousin Sally’s husband sat in the driver’s seat. Harry had his back to her, his attention focused on the gray Appaloosa pulling them down the snow-covered road. However, for the first time since leaving Ireland, Alana wasn’t in close proximity to her twin Bridget, who’d remained at the Thompson ranch as a companion to Sally, who was newly with child and prone to morning sickness.

  By nightfall, Alana would arrive at her uncle’s homestead on the prairie in order to nurse her ailing aunt who had influenza. Although these isolated relatives were strangers, for Rory O’Donnell had immigrated to America before the twins were born, she knew they’d be welcoming. Still, only the urgent need for her healing skills would have parted Alana from the twin who’d been her companion since birth.

  Inhaling the frigid air and the musty leather smell of the bearskin covering her, she took a shuddering breath. Alana welcomed the privacy she’d have during the journey, but she already missed her sister and constant companion and wondered how she’d fare during the weeks apart.

  Now I can finally cry. The heavy weight of secret sorrow in her heart, frozen since saying good-bye to her true love, melted into tears.

  Her beloved, Timkin Walsh, was a slight man with wiry strength. He moved like a dancer, graceful whether he was digging in the garden, walking down the road, or treading the measures with her at a Cèilidh. His deep green eyes, gilded hair, and slightly pointed ears gave him a fae look—lending credence that one of the Sídhe had fathered him.

  He’d always made me feel safe…cared for…understood.

  In fact, after weeks of arguments with Bridget, the reason she’d reluctantly agreed to her sister’s plan for the two of them to immigrate to America and live with their uncle’s family was because Alana believed she wouldn’t be leaving Ireland; she’d be married to her Irish sweetheart. Therefore, her twin would not be going, either. The sisters would remain in their dear familiar village, living much the same life as always—except Alana would be wed, and they’d both reside with Timkin Walsh and his mother.

  So when she’d told Timkin she was leaving for America, Alana had hoped, expected even, that the threat of her departure would finally stir her beloved to propose. Instead, he’d stared at her, his face going pale.

  Shaken by his lack of response, she’d pressed her lips to his. His arms at his sides, Timkin had stepped away from her, a desolate look in his green eyes. He’d tried to smile but, instead, the stiff upturn of his lips looked more like a grimace.

  Then as now, tears spilled over. Dampness chilled her cheeks.

  I know he cared for me. So why didn’t he speak of marriage?

  She and Timkin would never again walk side-by-side in the gloaming after the day’s tasks were finished, or work together to heal a small animal. The sound of him singing—his tenor so rich and beautiful that goose bumps shivered over her skin—would only be a memory. Never again would she gaze upon his dear countenance, for the whole ocean and most of the American continent lay between them.

  From the moment he’d spurned her advances, hurt and shame and bewilderment had churned within Alana. But in the flurry of her and Bridget’s leave-taking and weeks of travel, she had no privacy to release the emotions. Nor did she want to reveal to Bridget the depths of her foolishness, for her twin had long ago warned Alana that she needed to stop trailing after Timkin like a shadow. No, while Bridget would have listened with concern and been sorry for Alana’s pain, she believed the break was for the best.

  I couldn’t bear to hear her say those words.

  Her memories built to a terrible mourning, for her pain was more than a broken heart. Too many losses filled these three years past—the deaths of her parents…her sister Catriona running away…the twins leaving their beloved home.

  She slid down in the seat, ducking beneath the fur so she could cry without freezing her eyes and face or worrying that Harry would glance back and see her distress. In the close darkness under the covering, Alana welcomed the sobs.

  Pulling a handkerchief from the fur muff borrowed from Mrs. Thompson, she blotted her eyes, but the tears didn’t stop. Under the protective covering of the bearskin, Alana wept for a long time. Remembrances—at once both dear and painful—flowed through her mind. From time to time, she blew her nose and then cried some more at a fresh recollection.

  Now, far across the sea, in a frontier wasteland as different from home as could be, Alana was alone and bereft in wild Montana—never to have the life she’d dreamed of. The thought made her body tremble with grief.

  Gradually, her tears slowed from a gush to a trickle, and then stopped. Weeping had done her good, drained some of the heaviness from her chest and numbed the jagged edges of her pain. For a final time, she blew her nose into her handkerchief, the cloth sodden and cold from her tears.

  Once her face was dry, Alana lowered the bearskin and sat up, peering over the side of the sleigh at the evergreen forest around them. She took a deep breath of the crisp pine-scented air. The cold hurt her face, and she scooted back down under the fur, pulling the edge above her nose.

  Harry slowed the horse, turned around, and grinned. His face was too rugged for handsomeness—not like Timkin’s even-featured countenance. But she could see how his smile had charmed her cousin Sally into a whirlwind marriage. Yesterday, the cowboy had kindly welcomed the two unexpected visitors from Ireland who’d dropped in on the recently wedded couple.

  “All right?” he asked Alana. “We’ll be stopping to change the horse soon.”

  She lowered the bearskin a few inches so Harry could see her attempt at a smile, hoping he attributed her red eyes and nose to the brisk breeze. “I’m fine,” she lied.

  “Not much farther to Sweetwater Springs, and you’ll have a chance to get out and warm up at Doctor Cameron’s house.”

  “I’ll be glad of it.” That at least isn’t a lie.

  “We’ll break our fast, too.” He winked before turning back to his driving.

  The small exchange brought her into the present—to the sound of hoofbeats and the grate of the sleigh runners on snow; th
e stark blue sky glimpsed through crystal-white treetops. No, Alana realized, she wasn’t—as she’d sometimes thought on the wretched journey to America—going to die of grief.

  Although, she also knew, to have any chance of happiness in this new land, she’d have to purge her old hopes and dreams, along with all the love in her heart for her fae lad and the mystical emerald-green country she’d left behind. The task seemed almost impossible.

  Somehow, I’ll have to find new dreams.

  * * *

  The slowing of the sleigh woke Alana from the doze she’d fallen into. She blinked several times to moisten and focus her eyes. From the position of the sun, she suspected the time must be near noon.

  The sleigh pulled up in front of a two-story white house with a broad front porch. Green boxes hung under the windows. Bare-branched trees sheltered a yard enclosed by a white picket fence. Here and there along the fence, the snow level dipped enough to show the pruned stubs of rose bushes. In the summer, she imagined, the yard would look beautiful.

  Harry turned. “I’ll drop you off here to confer with the doctor about your aunt. I’ll head to the livery to change horses.” He pointed his chin in the direction of the house. “Use the front door.”

  Alana hesitated, not liking the idea of barging in on strangers.

  Harry gave her a reassuring smile. “The doctor is accustomed to people dropping by. If you were in need of medical attention, you’d go around to his office in the back.”

  She shoved aside the bearskin and stepped from the sleigh. The snow was tamped down, as if many had trod this way today. The town spread on both sides of the house. Clapboard, log, and brick structures flanked a wide street. To her surprise, the buildings weren’t crammed close together like so many of the towns she’d seen from the train windows on their journey across America.

  She pushed open the gate and walked through. Eager to get out of the cold, Alana hurried up a cleared brick pathway. She knocked on the door and waited. When nothing happened, she wondered if anyone was home or if, perhaps, the doctor was out seeing a patient.

  Alana knocked again, louder this time, hoping she wasn’t sounding rude—or worse, as if she were injured and in need of medical attention.

  The door flew open, and a man stuck out his head. His unruly red hair seemed at odds with his formal Prince Albert suit. Blue eyes intent, he quickly scanned her from head to toe, obviously seeking signs of illness or injury.

  “I am well, sir. I don’t need medical assistance.” She rushed out the words. “Harry O’Hanlon dropped me off here so I could talk to ye. I’m Alana O’Donnell, and he’s driving me out to nurse my aunt.”

  “Aye, lass. I’m Dr. Cameron,” he said, in a Scottish brogue. Offering a kind smile, he waved her in.

  In another room, Alana heard a child crying, the sound shrill.

  With a harried look, the doctor ran a hand over his head, rumpling his hair. “Thinking it was quiet, my wife chose this time to go to the mercantile. Then two families with wee ones in distress descended upon me at the same time. I’m surprised I even heard your knock on the door. Luckily the screamer, puir laddie, paused for breath at the right moment.”

  Dr. Cameron ushered her into a parlor, done up in comfortable shades of green and brown. A cylindrical stove gave out heat. “Make yourself at home, lass.” He pointed to a hallway on the right. “The washroom is there.”

  The screams grew more piercing.

  He frowned, the lines around his eyes deepening. “If you will excuse me.” The doctor headed toward a door in the opposite direction that must lead to his office.

  Alana moved around a green velvet settee to reach the stove. She pulled off the muff and mittens and tucked them under one arm while she warmed her hands. After a few minutes, she became comfortable enough to pull off her knitted hat and set it and the muff on the settee. She slid the mittens into the pockets of her coat and unwrapped her new scarf, knitted by her cousin Sally, and walked over to a coat rack to hang it up.

  She sloughed off her coat, set the garment over the scarf, and hurried down the hall to the washroom. There, she discovered that, like at the Thompson ranch house, the Camerons had the luxury of indoor plumbing—a toilet, sink, and claw-footed tub. Dark-blue trim edged the gleaming white tile on the walls.

  After using the toilet, she washed her hands and face with the rose-scented soap, holding the small pink bar to her nose for an extra sniff of sweetness. The hand towel was thick and soft, and Alana allowed herself to enjoy the plush feel of the cloth. Someday I want a washroom like this! The wish felt like an impossible dream.

  When she left the washroom and walked down the hall, Alana heard a second, high-pitched cry join the first, causing a pain-wracked cacophony. An infant, her experienced ears told her. Perhaps colicky. She glanced out the window at the sunlight. A little earlier in the day than most babies experienced the discomfort. Perhaps something the little one had eaten. Eager to help, Alana bypassed the parlor, moving toward the noise.

  In a wide hallway, lined with chairs and leading to a back door, sat an elegantly dressed blonde woman, holding the screaming baby. A fur coat and hat hung from a row of pegs on the wall opposite the chairs. Various-sized coats, scarves, and hats lay on several chairs next to her. From the worn condition of the garments, Alana surmised they belonged to the family currently with the doctor in his office.

  Normally, the woman’s obvious upper-class status would be enough for Alana to keep her distance. But with the baby’s cries spurring her on, without stopping to think, she acted on her healer’s impulses, stooping to feel the infant’s forehead under the blue knitted cap. “No fever, thank goodness.” She smiled at the mother, seeing the fatigue on the woman’s beautiful face. “How old is yer wee one, then?”

  “Five weeks. She cries like this for hours. I don’t know what to do for her.” Distress shadowed the woman’s blue eyes.

  Alana took a seat on the empty chair on her other side. “In Ireland, we call such times the witching hours.” She raised her voice to be heard over the baby’s cries. “Some say it’s because the wee ones are bewitched,” she said in a matter-of-fact tone. “But I think such superstitions come from the frustration, aye, even anger, a mother experiences at such times. Makes her feel like a witch.”

  The woman leaned back against her chair, releasing a sigh of apparent relief. “That is so. I have felt wicked to have such frustrated thoughts when my poor Carol is in pain.”

  “Yer not the first mother to feel so,” Alana assured her, wishing she could hold the baby. Her methods usually soothed fractious little ones.

  “I love her so much.” She dropped a kiss on her daughter’s forehead before turning to look at Alana. Her eyes held the sheen of tears. “Her arrival made my life complete.”

  Envy squeezed her chest, but Alana thrust away the feeling to concentrate on the mother and child. “Luckily, yer Carol does have to sleep sometime and, I’m sure, looks like such an angel, ye wonder how she could work up such dreadful screechin’ when she’s awake.”

  The woman smiled and dropped another kiss on her wailing infant’s head. “You’ve made me feel better, Miss…?”

  “I’m Alana O’Donnell, just come from Ireland, I have. And I nursed plenty o’ babes at home. My mother, God bless her soul, was the midwife of our village.”

  “I’m Elizabeth Sanders. Are you related to the O’Donnells who have a farm on the prairie?”

  “Aye, and I’m about to descend upon them unannounced.”

  “I’m sure they’ll be thrilled. Out here, visitors are always welcome, especially family.” The child whimpered, and Mrs. Sanders drew a fine hand over little Carol’s bright cheek. “I’m afraid a crying baby isn’t a good welcome to Sweetwater Springs.”

  “Nay. ’Tis the best, for I feel needed.” Alana held out her arms toward the baby. “Would ye mind, Mrs. Sanders? Let me try a few things for Carol while we wait for Dr. Cameron to see to her. Ye never know what will help.”

 
“How kind of you.” The woman handed over her daughter.

  Alana held the baby tight for a moment, murmuring soothing words in soft Gaelic. The infant was a miniature of her mother with a wispy blonde curl peeking from under her cap and bright blue eyes. Although it was hard to tell with her little face red and scrunched in pain, Alana suspected the baby was beautiful. “Let me quickly show ye what to do. I’m going to unwrap her, but I don’t want her to become chilled.”

  Mrs. Sanders gestured toward a closed door across from them. “Let’s go sit by the stove in the kitchen.”

  Alana lifted an eyebrow in askance.

  “Don’t worry,” Mrs. Sanders smiled, obviously amused. “I’m well enough acquainted with the Camerons to barge uninvited into their kitchen. I promise you, Alice Cameron will not mind a bit.” She rose and led the way.

  The room reminded Alana of the Thompson’s kitchen—comfortable, with a big stove against one wall and a long table covered in oilcloth in the middle. A faint smell of bacon came from a can of congealed grease on the counter, obviously set out to cool. The wooden floor was painted brown, curtains of green chintz were pushed back from the window, and wallpaper patterned with green and yellow flowers gave the room a cheerful aspect.

  Holding the squalling baby in one arm, Alana pulled a chair from the table with her free hand and set it next to the stove. Taking a seat, she laid Carol on her lap, unwrapped the blanket from around the infant, and eased her arms out of her tiny wool coat but left on the rest of her clothing.

  Mrs. Sanders added some wood to the banked coals of the stove and stoked the fire before sitting down next to her.

  Gently, Alana rubbed the infant’s head, cheeks, arms, legs and feet, and then lightly made circular motions on the babe’s stomach, at last moving the tiny legs back and forth as if pedaling.

 
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