Dreams of Willow House
"What a delightful story! I so loved this book… I was drawn into the family, the gorgeous backdrop in Ireland… Susanne O'Leary is a wonderful writer, and I always feel good when I read her books. It was a marvellous book and I just had to read it in one sitting. I look forward to more from her in the future."Robin loves Reading
A gorgeous, compelling page-turner about one woman’s journey to the heart of Ireland and the family secret she’s destined to discover…
Cordelia Mirafiore has never truly felt at home in South Florida, so when she’s unexpectedly called to the reading of a long-lost relative’s will in Ireland, she’s hopeful that escaping to Willow House to meet her family might help her to figure out who she really is…
As soon as Cordelia reaches Sandy Cove, the views of the blue ocean and stunning coastline around her provide a sense of calm she has never felt before. She meets her cousins Maeve and Roisin, who welcome her with open arms, finds herself drawn to a handsome man who is also an outsider in town, and feels an instant spark.
But the rest of the McKenna family aren’t so willing to accept Cordelia, or even believe that she’s family. When they learn that Cordelia is to inherit a third of Willow House, she is forced to prove who she is. All she has are old parish records and a battered box of family photographs, but they lead her to secrets she may not want to uncover.
Can Cordelia find the courage to face her family’s past? Can she trust the mysterious man who has swept her off her feet? Or will the lies told for generations force her to leave Sandy Cove forever?
Second chances begin on Ireland’s shores. An unforgettable story about mothers and daughters, Dreams of Willow House is perfect for fans of Sheila O’Flanagan, Debbie Macomber and Mary Alice Monroe.
What readers are saying about Dreams of Willow House
"Dreams of Willow House is a lovely novel… This book is set in a wonderful small Irish town which the author describes so well I can see the ocean and the stars. The characters are wonderful and easy to like… Anybody that enjoys a heartwarming story about family finding each other and some romance thrown in should enjoy this book. Now I want to go and visit Ireland." Goodreads Reviewer
"The story is a genealogical mystery, a sweet romance and a story of new beginnings. It is well written and shows the author’s love for her country… Most highly recommend." Goodreads Reviewer, 5 stars
" Dreams of Willow House is a charming, endearing read full of genuine characters and realistic circumstances – inspiring hope in finding where you are meant to be by following what your heart desires." Goodreads Reviewer
"The backdrop of Sandy Cove is just gorgeous. It makes me want to go to Ireland, that's for sure!… A well-written book and I enjoyed reading Cordelia's story." NetGalley Reviewer
Release date: November 15, 2019
Print pages: 274
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Dreams of Willow House
When the flight from Miami landed at Faranforre Airport in County Kerry, Cordelia looked out through the window at the sunlit green hills with a sense of wonder. Here she was at last. In Ireland, the country of her ancestors. She had never imagined that she would ever travel here, even in her wildest dreams, but the past year had changed her life forever. All because of a woman called Philomena Duffy.
‘Here we are at last,’ Betsy said beside her. ‘I had hoped to come to Ireland one day, but never thought it would be in such sad circumstances.’
‘I know,’ Cordelia replied, touching the older woman’s arm, remembering that Betsy had not only been Phil’s publisher but also a dear friend. ‘I can’t believe she won’t be here to welcome us, like we planned.’
Betsy dabbed at her eyes. ‘I haven’t stopped crying since I heard.’ She blew her nose. ‘I’m such a frigging wimp. Phil would be disgusted. She was such a trouper herself.’
‘She was amazing,’ Cordelia agreed, her own eyes stinging. ‘We only knew each other a short time, but we became so close.’
‘She loved you. And you were such a support to her.’
‘Oh, she would have managed without me. But I’m glad I could do something. We were a team during the last few months. I enjoyed every moment of those book tours and loved hearing her speak on the radio and on TV. That wasn’t work to me, it was a huge thrill.’
‘You made her look like a film star.’ Betsy unbuckled her seatbelt as the plane came to a stop.
Cordelia undid her seatbelt and picked up her bag. ‘Thank you so much for upgrading me. I really appreciated it. This flight would have been a lot less comfortable in economy.’
Betsy patted her arm. ‘You’re welcome, honey. I enjoyed your company. And I think we both managed to sleep for a couple of hours.’
‘Yes. I’m glad we did.’
‘Are you sure you’ll be OK to drive?’
Cordelia nodded. ‘Of course. If I can do New York to Miami, I can manage a couple of hours on Irish roads. Can’t be too difficult. Don’t worry, I won’t land us in the ditch,’ she added, trying to ease Betsy’s concern with a joke.
‘They drive on the left here,’ Betsy said, still looking worried.
Cordelia smiled reassuringly. ‘I know. But I don’t imagine the traffic will be as bad as the freeway out of the Lincoln Tunnel or even close. All you have to do is yell “left!” if I stray across the road.’
‘I will. If I don’t go to sleep.’ Betsy stifled a yawn as she gathered her hand luggage and they filed out of the plane. ‘Bye, honey,’ she said to the air hostess on the way out. ‘Thanks for looking after us so well.’
‘You’re welcome,’ the hostess replied with a smile. ‘Mind yourselves now.’
‘Thank you. Have a nice day.’ Betsy returned her smile. ‘Lovely woman,’ she said to Cordelia. ‘I must fly Aer Lingus whenever I can.’
Cordelia glanced down the row of passengers in economy who were still struggling out of their seats trying to find their hand luggage in the overhead bins. ‘And I’ll do my best to fly first class whenever I can. It was so comfortable.’
‘Yeah,’ Betsy agreed, ‘it takes some of the pain out of long flights.’
As they walked down the steps and onto the tarmac, Cordelia breathed in the sweet air laced with the scent of flowers and newly mown grass. A soft breeze played with her hair and the warm sunshine felt wonderful after the many hours in the stuffy plane. She instantly felt at home, a feeling that grew as the Border Police wished her welcome and the personnel in the car rental office did everything to make sure she was comfortable driving a stick shift and that they would take the right road to their destination: Sandy Cove village, on the Ring of Kerry.
‘It’s quite crowded on the roads this time of year,’ the man explained. ‘July is our busiest month.’
‘I can imagine,’ Cordelia said. ‘But I’m sure I’ll manage. Can’t be worse than driving in America.’
‘Not at all,’ he assured her. ‘It’ll be easy for you. Now don’t forget to turn on the air-conditioning. We’re expecting some really hot weather from tomorrow. Could be up to twenty-five degrees, they said.’
‘We’ve just come from Florida,’ Betsy cut in. ‘Twenty-five degrees is cold to us.’
‘Ah sure, in that case you’re all right so,’ the man said, looking impressed. ‘We’ll be sweating bricks ourselves. We’re not used to that kind of heat. Have a nice stay in Kerry and give us a shout if you have a problem with the car.’
They thanked the man, piled in their luggage and drove off into the busy roads of Killarney, getting caught in a traffic jam only ten minutes later.
‘Shit,’ Betsy groaned. ‘I hate being stuck. Who are all these people and where are they going?’
‘Mostly tourists,’ Cordelia replied, pushing her sunglasses into her short dark curls. She scanned the long queue of vehicles. ‘Looks like most of the cars come from other European countries. France, Italy, Germany and over there I can see a car from Spain. It’s the middle of the tourist season after all.’
‘I know.’ Betsy sighed and brushed her nearly white hair from her face. A tall, slim woman in her early sixties, she suddenly looked every minute of her age. Usually so well-groomed with her hair in a sharply cut bob, her red glasses and her simple way of dressing, she now looked worn out both from the flight and the grief of having lost a dear friend. She and Phil had become so close while they worked together which, Cordelia thought, had a lot to do with them being of the same generation. ‘Ignore me. I’m jetlagged and upset.’ Betsy leaned her head against the back of the seat and closed her eyes. ‘I’ll try to catch some sleep. Would you wake me up when we’re there?’
‘OK,’ Cordelia replied. ‘Looks like it’s easing a bit. This roundabout is like a bottleneck. Muckross,’ she muttered, peering at the road signs. ‘OK, that’s the best road to take, then Sneem and Caherdaniel…’
She followed the stream of traffic through Killarney, out past Muckross Park, where a lot of the cars turned off and people got out to walk around the lake and to see the famous Victorian manor house she had heard Phil talk about. Her thoughts drifted to Phil and the year they had spent together. They had made plans for Cordelia to visit Phil here in the part of Ireland that she loved so much. Phil had wanted to introduce Cordelia to the people she was distantly related to, and she had promised that this would make her feel a little more Irish. But Phil had become ill before they had a chance to do all this, or even say goodbye. As she glanced out at the lovely little town and the green hills beyond, she felt a stab of loss and sadness. She would never see Phil again and hear her lovely lilting voice. Cordelia shivered as she thought of the funeral that lay ahead. How would she cope during the next few days that would be so full of sorrow?
The traffic thinned to a steady trickle and Cordelia increased the speed while she glanced out at the stunning landscape with mountains rising above green fields and glimpses of lakes and rivers through the trees. Everything was so lush and green and the houses just like the ones she had seen in tourist brochures, especially the white-washed cottages, some with thatched roofs. They were so Irish it was nearly like a cliché. She glanced at Betsy snoring softly, her mouth half-open. Good. Betsy needed a rest after all that had happened in the past few days.
An hour later, they had reached Sneem, a small village halfway to Sandy Cove. Cordelia pulled up outside a café in the main square as Betsy opened her eyes.
‘Pitstop,’ Cordelia announced. ‘I need the rest room and a cup of coffee and some kind of bun or whatever they serve here.’
Betsy sat up. ‘Good idea. The breakfast they offered on the plane didn’t deserve the name. More like a snack.’
After a visit to the tiny toilet, they sat down at a table by the window and looked at the menu on the blackboard over the counter. A woman in a white apron appeared and smiled at them. ‘Hi there. Welcome to Sneem. What can I get you?’
‘Breakfast,’ Betsy replied. ‘What’s “the full Irish”?’
‘Sausage, eggs, bacon, black pudding, mushrooms and grilled tomato. Served with toast or soda bread, tea or coffee.’
‘Holy mother,’ Betsy said. ‘Sounds like a total health disaster. I’ll have that, please. With coffee. What about you, Cordelia?’
Cordelia laughed. ‘Sounds a little too much for me. I’ll just have a poached egg on toast and coffee, please.’
‘Coming up,’ the woman said and opened the door to what appeared to be the kitchen. ‘One Irish, one poached egg and two coffees,’ she yelled. Then she closed the door and smiled at the two women. ‘My son. Needs to be woken up at times. You’re our first customers today, but there’ll be busloads of tourists soon, so he needs to get his ass in gear, as you say over there in America.’
The breakfast appeared only a little while later and Betsy tucked into her huge plateful with gusto. ‘This’ll fix the jetlag,’ she said between bites. ‘How’re your eggs?’
‘Lovely.’ Cordelia sipped her coffee, pleased to see some colour come back into Betsy’s cheeks.
‘It was a good idea to stop,’ Betsy remarked. ‘For you, I mean. Must be tiring to drive like this in a strange country.’ She looked out at the sunny square lined with tiny cottages, their lovely little gardens full of roses and hydrangea bushes in full bloom. ‘Gorgeous place. I love Ireland already, don’t you?’
‘Oh yes,’ Cordelia agreed. She finished her breakfast and pushed away her plate. ‘I just wish…’ She stopped and looked down at her plate, blinking away her tears.
‘I know.’ Betsy sighed. She ate the last of her gargantuan breakfast and picked up her cup. ‘Can’t believe she’s gone. I didn’t even know she was sick. I just thought she was tired and needed vitamins or something. How stupid of me. I should have told her to go and see a doctor.’
Cordelia put her hand on Betsy’s arm. ‘Please. Don’t beat yourself up about it. I begged her to go and see a doctor and she said she would when she got back to Ireland. But then it was too late. The cancer was too far gone. It’s nobody’s fault. Phil might have felt this was the end of her life and she wanted to slip away quietly without fuss.’ She sighed and looked at Betsy’s sad face. ‘I know how hard this must be for you.’
‘Yes, it is. It seemed to happen so fast. And now we’ll be going to her funeral only a few days after her passing. It appears there are two services. Something called a “removal” tonight, Phil’s niece Maeve told me, and then the funeral tomorrow. Weird, don’t you think?’
‘No,’ Cordelia replied. ‘That’s the Irish way. The removal is this evening. That’s when the… the coffin is brought from the funeral parlour to the church and then there is a service, and after that, a wake. Then the formal funeral Mass the next day. That’s what I did for my mother, anyway, even though she died in America.’ Cordelia blinked away tears. Her mother had passed away only three years earlier and it was still so fresh in her mind.
Betsy patted Cordelia’s hand. ‘I know, honey. Your mom’s only gone a short time. It must be hard for you.’
‘It is sometimes.’
‘And when you and Phil discovered each other it was such a comfort, wasn’t it? To have found someone related to your mother and who had actually known her. Incredible.’
Cordelia smiled at the memory. ‘Yes. How strange it was to discover that my favourite author was none other than my mother’s first cousin.’
‘It seemed like a miracle. Or maybe just a happy coincidence. And if you hadn’t happened to watch that show on TV and heard Phil talk about her life and her family back in Ireland, you wouldn’t be here now.’
‘I know.’ Cordelia fiddled with her teaspoon. ‘I was so nervous about contacting you. I thought Phil wouldn’t want to see me.’
‘Why wouldn’t she?’
Cordelia shrugged. ‘She had so many relatives in Ireland. Didn’t think she’d be interested. I mean, she was a famous author. She must have been contacted by a lot of people.’
‘Yeah, sure she was. Lots of people wanted to meet her in person, too. But you were different. She knew immediately you were genuine.’
‘We clicked straight away.’
‘You made her life much easier. I could see how she relaxed around you, as you helped her with her tours, and found more peace to write. You were a godsend to her.’
‘That’s nice to know.’
Betsy sighed and drained her cup. ‘Famous author meets long-lost relative, the daughter of her cousin who ran away all those years ago. And then you became her close friend and assistant. Such a lovely story. You and Phil finding each other like that and discovering you were related.’
Cordelia smiled fondly at Betsy. She was right. It was a lovely story. If only it were true.
The day Cordelia saw Phil for the first time felt like fate. At first, she was thrilled to see one of her favourite authors being interviewed on TV, but as she’d watched her, she’d been instantly reminded of her mother. And when the discussion turned to Phil’s Irish family, Cordelia felt a shiver going through her.
Cordelia owed her black hair and golden skin to her father’s Italian ancestors, but her bright blue eyes and the freckles smattered across her nose and cheeks were pure Irish, just like her mother’s family. The sloping eyebrows and the dimple in her chin were also typical of her Irish genes: ‘So like your grandmother,’ her mother used to say with a sad little sigh. What her father thought about that – or anything – Cordelia didn’t know. He had left when she was three and for a long time he was just a voice on the phone on birthdays and at Christmas. The calls hadn’t lasted, and he’d faded away in her mind, like a ghost from her early childhood. She didn’t feel sad for herself, but she did for her mother, Frances, who often seemed lonely and lost. They lived, just the two of them, in a small house in Morristown, New Jersey, her mother working as a music teacher in the local high school and giving piano lessons in her free time.
Frances had met and married Gino when she had been in America for about ten years and she had given birth to Cordelia just a year later. The marriage had been short and stormy and Cordelia had faint memories of rows and doors banging but as soon as he’d left there was peace and a sense of relief in the little house. Cordelia had grown up feeling she was her mother’s only support and confidante. Together they struggled to pay the bills and Cordelia worked after school as a babysitter and in the local grocery store at weekends. They’d had no money for a college education but Frances had scraped together enough for Cordelia to train as a beautician.
When Frances’ health had deteriorated and the doctor had recommended she move to somewhere warm and sunny, Cordelia didn’t think twice about living nearby and moved with her mother to Miami, where she found a job in one of the hotels. And when Frances had died peacefully in hospital, with a funeral attended by a surprising number of people who had loved her, Cordelia couldn’t imagine leaving Miami. Rents and food were cheaper there than in New York, too, which was a help as her mother’s medical bills started to arrive.
And it was there, still grieving for her mother and exhausted by her days coping with two jobs, that Cordelia had found Phil’s stories, which swept her away from reality in the most delightful way. The heroines’ romantic adventures with handsome men made up for the lack of romance in Cordelia’s real life and she found herself looking forward to bedtime and getting back into the world Phil had created, going to exotic places and flirting with glamorous men.
Cordelia had turned on her TV just as Phil was introduced by the talk show host under her pen name Fanny l’Amour, her heart beating faster as the tall woman walked onto the set, smiling into the camera like a pro. Cordelia had leaned forward and stared at the screen, taking in every minute detail of Phil’s face. A lovely older woman with dark hair and beautiful eyes, her face lined but with a brilliant smile that instantly made Cordelia fall in love with her. What a lovely, charming, warm woman she must be.
Phil and the host chatted about her books for a while before moving on: ‘I would like to talk a little bit about you and your life and who you, the woman behind these wonderful books, really are.’
Phil had laughed. ‘There’s nothing startling there,’ she’d said in her lilting Irish accent. ‘I come from County Kerry in Ireland. My darling late husband was an international lawyer and we travelled around the world all through his career. When he retired, we came back to Ireland and lived in my family home, Willow House on the Atlantic coast, where I still live, except for when I’m on a book tour. I hope to go back there in the summer and run it as a guesthouse with my other niece, Roisin, who has been managing the repairs to the house while I’ve been away.’
Cordelia had stared at the screen. Philomena Duffy, she’d thought. What a gorgeous name. Irish, like Mom…
‘What about your family,’ the host asked, ‘are they all living nearby?’
‘Some of them,’ Philomena replied. ‘My brother lives in Spain, but my two nieces live in Sandy Cove where my house is. Wonderful village. Quiet, friendly and very beautiful. The rest of my family are sadly all dead.’
‘All of them?’ the host asked. ‘No relatives in America by any chance?’
‘None,’ she’d said, pausing. ‘That is, apart from a cousin called Frances, now I think about it. She was ten years younger than me and went to America when she was still in her teens. I remember how sad I was when she left. Lovely young girl. But we never heard from her again. She seemed to have disappeared. I have a feeling she died, but I don’t really know.’
‘Maybe she’s still alive?’ the host had suggested.
‘No idea,’ Philomena had replied with a sad little shrug. ‘It would be impossible to find her, I think.’
The host had turned to the camera. ‘Maybe not? Why not ask the viewers out there if they know a woman called Frances—’ She paused. ‘What would her last name be?’
‘Fitzgerald,’ Philomena answered. ‘Our mothers were sisters. My mother married my dad, who was a McKenna, and my aunt Clodagh married a man called Jim Fitzgerald. Jimmy Fitz, they called him. Frances was their only daughter.’
‘A woman called Frances Fitzgerald,’ the host continued. ‘About sixty years of age?’
Philomena laughed. ‘I should protest and say I’m forty-nine, but that would be stretching the truth a little bit. Yes, about that age. Sixty-four, I think. And she was from Dublin. She came to visit us in Sandy Cove one summer when she was around nine and I was a teenager. I was given the job of minding her on the beach and we read stories together. She was a lovely little girl, but later became a bit of a rebel, I heard. Then she went to America all on her own and we didn’t hear from her after that.’ Philomena sighed, looking suddenly sad. ‘I don’t think it would be possible to find her after all this time, but miracles do sometimes happen.’
‘We’ll hope someone gets in touch,’ the talk show host had said. ‘Now, about your new series…’
Cordelia had tried to concentrate on the rest of the interview while the words rang through her mind: Frances from Dublin. Around sixty-four years of age. The same name and the same age Mom would have been… But of course, that was the only thing in common. Cordelia’s mother’s maiden name had been Ó Braonáin which was O’Brien in Gaelic, Cordelia had assumed, and she had also been an only child. This was probably another Frances, but the similarities were quite amazing all the same.
Cordelia sighed. Wouldn’t it have been lovely if… Then something clicked in her mind. Maybe it would be possible, she thought as the credits rolled on the TV screen. As if in a trance, she picked up her phone and googled the number of the TV station. Her heart beat like a hammer in her chest and her stomach churned as she dialled the number. As she waited, she began to rehearse what she was going to say. But would it all be lies? she asked herself. She was about to hang up, but then someone answered and she heard herself talking in a very excited but convincing manner about how she had just heard Fanny l’Amour asking abou. . .
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