An Irish Lullaby
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by Leta Nolan Childers
Description: Maeve was unprepared to tangle with Sean O'Flynn. After a devastating family tragedy, for which she blamed herself, Maeve hesitantly stepped back into the world of the living to take up the scattered pieces of her life that she'd allowed to fall by the wayside. Meeting this revered professor just didn't help matters. Sean, too, was attempting to reconstruct a live interrupted. Torn by the nightmares of this youth in Northern Ireland, he wants nothing more than to live in peace. But lightning strikes ... bringing them together to confront each other, their pasts and the future.
eBook Publisher: DiskUs Publishing,
eBookwise Release Date: June 2005
11 Reader Ratings:
Available eBook Formats: OEBFF Format (IMP) [209 KB]
Reading time: 147-206 min.
Chapter One * * * *
Meeting new people had been on Maeve's agenda; she just hadn't expected it in such a shocking and embarrassing manner.
"Are you okay? I am so sorry. I don't know how I could have been so clumsy," she stammered. The brown coffee stain spread through the man's beautiful white shirt, as he valiantly attempted plucking the steaming hot cloth away from his skin without burning his fingers. He tried to smile at Maeve through his pain and discomfort, but the weak attempt more resembled a grimace of pain.
"Not to worry, me dear lady," he said, as his lips spread broadly into a grin. His Irish accent was thick and seductive. It momentarily lulled Maeve into a conscious appraisal. Thick black hair, sparkling green eyes, aquiline Roman nose, well placed in his almost chiseled good looks. "Tis only a wee spot and three or four layers of flesh."
The usual murmur of conversation and laughter in the student's Den at Lakeside University suddenly silenced as the dozens of heads turned in unison. All eyes focused on the commotion at the small table in the center of the room.
Maeve had been talking with some of her fellow college classmates, punching the air to emphasize a point, when the gesture connected with a Styrofoam cup of coffee. Patches of red flooded Maeve's face nearly duplicating the deep red of her long, silky hair. Her small, delicate hands flew to her face in shock as she attempted to fathom the carelessness of her actions.
Of all the people she might have bumped and burned, why did it have to be one of the most popular professors on campus?
"I-I just can't begin to apologize enough," Maeve stuttered, as she looked into the professor's eyes. They were actually more of an emerald with glints of gold, eyes that held her captive as he kept tugging at the steaming fabric. "Do you need some ice-something?"
"No, me lass, I think I'll survive me baptism by fire," Sean laughed weakly. "I no doubt will survive much better than me shirt."
Maeve jumped to her feet-sending her chair on its back in a loud clatter. She wrung her hands in helplessness. Looking back and forth from the chair to the man and back, she couldn't decide what to do next. Should she right the chair or tend to the burn? Indecision in a time of crisis was one of her failings. It had been since ... She knew it would be safer to set the chair back up. She took a step toward the chair and slipped in a puddle of spilled coffee.
Arms windmilling in a vain effort to maintain balance, Maeve struck the man forcefully in the chin with her hand before her feet flew out from beneath her short frame. The air rushed out of Maeve's lungs as her rear solidly hit the cold tile of the floor.
Momentarily stunned, Maeve mentally checked her extremities. She was still basically intact, other than a certain soreness in a delicate area. Of course, all pretense of dignity disappeared. A large, tanned hand reached down from above. Maeve looked up and captured again in the spell of those eyes. She seemed frozen in the hypnotic embrace of his shining, laughing eyes. An unfamiliar flutter stirred deep within her heart.
His burned flesh and wet shirt forgotten, Professor Sean O'Flynn attempted gallantly not to laugh at the small woman's embarrassing position at his feet. Yet, a tiny chuckle escaped from his full, strong lips. She was a pretty little thing, he thought. Tiny, yes, but there was strength in that delicate jaw and determination in her soft brown eyes. She'd be a handful to hold, he considered. It would take both hands to hold on long to one like her, he imagined.
"There's no need to lie like a supplicant at me feet beggin' for forgiveness, lass." He smiled down at her, trying to joke away her obvious embarrassment.
Sean had never encountered this student, if she was a student. He was one of the few professors who preferred the student's Den to the stuffy, solemnity faculty lounge. Usually he held court at one of the back tables, surrounded by a bevy of beautiful coeds. He knew his dark good looks and his charming Irish wit mesmerized them. The realization wasn't a point of conceit on his part, merely an acknowledgment of the obvious. The earnest young men who joined the table looked at Sean as a role model-each of them a budding poet-and as a way to get closer to the girls Sean attracted. He'd learned long ago that he could hide behind their adoration without revealing too much of himself. He preferred it that way. Much as he imagined himself the noble loner, Sean knew he needed the contact with others. Even this superficial contact kept his personal demons at bay.
Hesitantly, Maeve raised her hand and clasped his. Sean gave her hand a quick squeeze and pulled her to her feet, close to him. She felt an electric charge pass between their bodies-a pleasant sensation, though unfamiliar to her. She felt the dampness of the warm coffee on his shirt. It was chilly compared to jolt she felt when he'd pulled her close. It was a pleasant fire, one that teased and thrilled her in a new and different way. The sensation almost seemed as if it were a chemical reaction that completed itself as they came together-a scientific formula of Maeve plus Sean multiplied by her embarrassment and his charm. It created a potion that stirred tingling sensations in the deepest part of her that quickly telegraphed itself to every nerve in her body.
Alarmed and shocked at the intimacy she felt, Maeve pulled her hand back quickly from his and rubbed her posterior. She looked around the Den. People were still staring at them. The moment seemed to freeze itself in time thanks to her embarrassment.
"Thanks. Are you sure I can't get you some ice or something? You must be hot. I mean, that burn must hurt. I mean..." The sophistication she'd hoped to adopt abandoned her as she foolishly stood stammering like a besotted schoolgirl.
"I think ye have probably done quite enough, lass," Sean replied, as he straightened the chair and safely slid it back under the table. He took a step away from her. She was a petite woman just reaching the peak of her young beauty-the kind destined by fate and good genetics to become only more beautiful with age. Her long red hair tousled around her head giving her an almost wild appearance, yet the timidity of her voice bespoke a gentler nature.
Though unaware of her tangled emotions, Sean also felt the frisson of their shared touch. It'd been a long time since just the touch of a beautiful woman had stirred his world-weary soul. He hadn't thought it was possible anymore. Suddenly, he felt lonely and sad that she'd pulled away from their closeness.
"Can I at least pay for the laundering?" Maeve asked feebly. Though still chagrined with self-consciousness, she remained captivated by his smile-by the way tiny little crinkles formed around his eyes and his full lips.
"No, but you can give it a good laundering yourself as a penance," Sean chuckled, as he dropped his briefcase to the floor. Shock them and make them laugh, he thought to himself as he retreated once more into his familiar masquerade. It was the guise he adopted when dealing with strangers-an easy method he'd created years ago to keep others away from his true self. They were all strangers here. He worked hard to keep these friendly people that way.
Sean pulled off his blazer and tossed it on the back of the chair. Maeve's curiosity transformed to shock as she stood frozen. Her mouth flew wide open in shock as Sean loosened his tie and pulled it over his head. He quickly unbuttoned his shirt revealing taut, firm, washboard muscles on his abdomen. A small gasp escaped her lips.
Impossibly, Maeve's face reddened even more deeply as she stared at his trim physique. The realization that he was stripping in front of her was shocking yet titillating. Sean pulled the shirt from his arms and tossed it to her. Her hand flew to catch it too late, and it smacked her in the face before she caught it on the rebound.
"There you go," he said loudly, as he put his still knotted tie back around his neck and tightened it. He knew he was shocking her and the rest of the people in the Den. He delighted in it. It was all part of his disguise. "Not too heavy on the starch. Just lightly pressed. I like me shirts to move with me, not against."
Sean shrugged back into his blazer and picked up his briefcase. His wide smile swept around the room at everyone staring at the two of them.
"There. Well, I guess me classes this afternoon will be a bit more informal than usual. Tis a good thing we're in summer session or I'd be freezing me fine body off."
Maeve stood speechless as Sean moved off to his regular table. A loud chorus of giggles, chuckles and guffaws shattered the silence and the ice that gripped her. Stunned, Maeve stuffed the shirt in her backpack, muttered a quick good-bye to her friends seated at the table and ran from the Den.
Her senses and thoughts reeling, Maeve's only concern was getting as far from that room and him as possible. She attempted to control her emotions and bury her embarrassment, an impossible mission. The library, she decided quickly: the library offered sanctuary from the laughter and the stares.
Sean moved to the back of the Den. As he pulled his chair from the table, he looked back searching for her in the well-filled room. He caught sight of her just as she was running out the door.
Regret at his actions pierced his heart. He hadn't meant to embarrass her that way. It wasn't about her. She was a lovely, young woman, though a bit older than the other students here, he thought. Under different circumstances, he wouldn't have minded getting to know her much better.
No, Sean reminded himself, he couldn't allow himself to get close to anyone. Everyone with whom he'd been close wound up miserable or worse. Knowing others were cursed by their closeness to him, he'd decided long ago never to let anyone else get that close again.
The regular "crew" was seated at his table. Harmless children, he thought. Easy to amuse and easy by which to be amused. They were all chattering at him at the same time, impressed by his brazen boldness. Well, that was part of the facade, too. Let them think that was the real Sean O'Flynn. It was easier that way for them. It was easier that way for him, most of all.
Sean greeted his students. Laughing easily, he exchanged verbal jabs and witticisms with these eager young people. As easy as it was to be with them, his mind couldn't erase the tenderness of Maeve's touch, the haunting desire he felt to capture her in his arms and never let go.
Maeve ran all the way to the library. Normally, she would push through the enormous glass doors of the library and stop for a second at the desk. After nearly four years, she knew all the librarians well and liked to greet them with a smile and a few polite words. It was a courtesy few of the busy, demanding students here offered to the staff, Maeve had come to understand. The other students preferred to reserve their manners and courtesy for the faculty-the great gods of grades. Perhaps it was because she was a couple of years older than most of her fellow seniors, but Maeve believed courtesy should be extended more to the staff than the much better paid teachers.
Today, however, was not a normal day. Maeve rushed past the circulation desk and headed to the back of the building. She sought the security of her favorite table. It was one near the large open windows that let in the warm summer breeze that chased away the musty smells of thousands of books. The windows provided a panoramic view of the campus, now thickly covered with lush green trees and well-tended beds of bright colorful flowers.
Breathing deeply, Maeve concentrated and allowed the view and the hushed quiet of the library to embrace her soul. As her breathing finally slowed to normal, Maeve concentrated on the incident in the Den. As embarrassed as she was at the accident, she was infuriated at what she considered was the callous treatment of the incident by Professor Sean O'Flynn. More than that, Maeve thought, she was confused by her sexual attraction to the man. Normally, Maeve was not the type of person easily attracted by a man's physical presence or easy charm. Again, this was not a normal day for her, she thought ruefully.
"I am no blushing virgin," Maeve thought, as she watched students stroll calmly along the tree-shrouded sidewalks outside the library. "Sure, there haven't been that many men I've let get close to me-in that way. But, it's not like I melt at the touch of every good-looking man I meet. With him, though, one touch and I act like a tongue-tied twit ready, willing and anxious to trip him and beat him to the floor.
"What is it about him? What made him so different? Why did he make me practically dissolve into a lump of oozing gelatin at his feet?"
Maeve pushed her hair back from her face and clasped it into a ponytail. With a flick of the wrist she knotted the mass of thick hair into a knot. It was a natural habit-one she'd had since she was a child. She did it mostly when lost in thought. Suddenly, she wished that Puss, her cat, were there. She could always discuss things with Puss and see the sense of things. Puss had that kind of effect on her.
"Well, Puss isn't here," Maeve thought, as she sat back in her chair. She watched a young couple, obviously in love, sitting on a bench outside the window. They were murmuring in each other's ears and feeding bits of sandwiches to each other. Maeve felt an ache in the pit of her stomach. It was a combination of emotions-she longed to create that kind of intimacy with a man. How wonderful to be so enraptured with another person that a private world could be created in the midst of a bustling campus. The couple was oblivious to all around them.
On the other hand, Maeve feared that kind of intimacy. It was a fear born of losing everything one held close and dear. She'd experienced that kind of loss before and desperately sought to avoid the chance of losing again.
Leaning back into the comfortable leather, Maeve propped her legs up on the top rung of the chair. She sighed and crossed her arms across her chest.
Maeve's mind replayed the incident in the Den. Perhaps she was wrong to judge his actions so harshly. Everyone was going a bit mad with the way the weather had been lately. It had been an incredibly hot summer-punctuated every couple of days with severe thunderstorms. There'd been yet another one the night before. The thunder and lightning had abraded the small college town for hours until it finally began raining. Now, it was already nearly 90 degrees, and any signs of the rain had evaporated from sight.
No, Maeve thought, it was too easy to blame his poor behavior on the weather. It was more likely just another facet of the faculty's arrogant demeanor toward the lowly students. He'd just taken it way beyond how any other professor would react to such a harmless accident. Yet, she couldn't deny her attraction to him. It stirred feelings in her that she had long denied.
At the ripe age of twenty-six, Maeve had experienced what she'd mistaken for love on a couple of occasions. Certainly, her experiences lacked the intensity or frequency of others her age, but not many of them had shut themselves away from the world for nearly four years, as she had. She knew that few others experienced the kind of life-altering tragedy she'd endured. Then, when she was finally ready to face the world again, to claim some shred of normalcy, she'd discovered her life was merely a shadow of the real thing. It was nearly impossible for her to voluntarily sacrifice any of the tenuous control she held over her life. Without that ability, it was virtually impossible for anyone to truly know her or share her life. It had been a self-imposed exile.
Now, the mere touch of a man she neither knew nor respected seemed to be shaking the walls she'd carefully constructed around her. She knew she wasn't immune to certain biological reactions, but they'd never lingered this long nor captivated her mind so fully.
"It was an accident. He over-reacted. Then I reacted to his over-reaction. What man in his right mind would strip off his shirt like that in the middle of a public place? He must be a lunatic. He could have been watching where he was going and then none of this ever would have happened." Maeve smiled to herself. "And, I wouldn't have such a pain in the rump or such a bruised ego if he hadn't been such a pain in the ass."
There, she'd settled it in her mind, content that she could now forget the incident and the man. Maeve lifted a hand to her cheek. It was still warm. She just hoped that the redness was rapidly fading away. Maeve opened her backpack to get out her books to review before her next class and spied the shirt.
It was wadded now, a mass of white and brown wrinkles. Maeve doubted if she could ever totally remove the stain even if she had the inclination to try. Surely, he had been joking when he had suggested she launder it. She folded the shirt over and over into a small ball. Rising from the table, Maeve walked over to the large wastebasket at the end of the aisle. She lifted the lid of the receptacle.
"Good-bye, Professor Sean O'Flynn. Good-bye to your charm-it only disguises your contempt for other people's feelings. Good-bye to your smugness. Good-bye to you. May you someday become the butt of someone else's sense of humor-so to speak," Maeve silently grinned at her pun. She lifted the shirt over her head and released it from her grasp.
Before it could hit the trash, she grabbed it out of the air.
"What am I doing here?" she asked herself. "If he thinks he can make me the subject of his little joke, he's got another think coming. I wouldn't be my daddy's little girl if I let this opportunity slip away."
Maeve clasped the damp shirt to her chest. She could feel the moisture sinking into the college T-shirt she was wearing. The aroma of faint, lingering traces of Sean's after shave and pipe tobacco clung to the shirt. She breathed them in deeply. Again, the pleasant, tingling sensations flooded her body and made her head spin deliciously.
Smiling wickedly, Maeve walked back to the table and stuffed the shirt into her backpack. She hummed a little tune as she happily marched from the library, stopping only long enough to throw a big smile and a quick salute to the librarian sitting at the circulation desk.
Never in her nearly four years at the university had Maeve walked so happily to her class in accounting. A scheme was percolating in her mind-devious and delirious. As she eased herself into her chair and retrieved her accounting book and papers from the backpack, she patted the rumpled shirt and smiled broadly.
"Oh yes, I have plans for you, Mr. Shirt ... I used to be pretty good at practical jokes about a million years ago," Maeve laughed to herself. "Maybe it's time I started trying to be that fun girl I used to be before..."
Unconsciously, Maeve pushed away the tiny nagging notion that she hoped to experience those stirring sensations again once she perfectly perpetrated her revenge. Consciously, she convinced herself that her only motive was retribution-pure and simple-for his exaggerating and increasing her embarrassment in front of a roomful of people.
"I guess it's a good thing I'll never have to take a class from you, Professor O'Flynn. For once, you're going to be the student while I'm the teacher. And you're going to learn your lesson the hard way."