USA Today Bestselling Author Jean Grainger wants to take you to Ireland.
Castle Dysert is derelict, but Conor is determined to revive it, so why is someone trying to stop him?
Handsome, kind and funny, Conor O’Shea has had enough of driving and guiding tours of Ireland.
So when an opportunity to renovate and run the magnificent but rundown Castle Dysert as a five-star resort presents itself, he grabs it with both hands.
But problems arise almost immediately when his business partner appears to have more on her agenda than just business.
To add to that, his darling wife seems discontented as a stay at home mom, and his in-laws have moved in.
With his family’s future now entangled in a stunningly beautiful old castle on the coast of Clare, Conor undertakes a mammoth project, and in so doing, he uncovers the troubled past of this ancient stronghold. The mystery of the family who lived, loved, and lost their lives within the walls of the castle are reflected in his own family as they too struggle to let go of the past.
Like in every small Irish village, gossip abounds. But do the ghosts of regret still haunt these ancient hallways? It is now left to Conor to explore the truth and uncover a heartbreaking lesson on the power of memory and the long threads that bind us together.
In The Story of Grenville King, Jean Grainger takes you once again to the real heart of Ireland.
What reviewers are saying:
'Move over Maeve Binchy, Jean Grainger's novels are a fresh new voice in Irish literature, but with all of Maeve's warmth and emotional intelligence.'
'Grenville King is the third book in the Conor series. I loved them all but this is my favourite.'
'A sexy Irishman, a haunted castle and a plot that twists and turns unexpectedly. What's not to love?'
Release date: February 4, 2018
Publisher: CreateSpace Independent Publishing Platform
Print pages: 256
* BingeBooks earns revenue from qualifying purchases as an Amazon Associate as well as from other retail partners.
The Story of Grenville King
Conor O’Shea locked eyes with his lunch companion. The glossy brochure for the almost derelict property lay on the table between them.
‘Well?’ Corlene smiled slowly.
Conor sighed. Corlene’s suggestion had taken him by surprise, but the more he thought about it, he had to admit it sounded tempting.
‘I don’t know, Corlene. I never expected Bert to leave me anything – I was stunned when I got the letter. Half a million euros! To be honest, my instinct was to give it back, but as you say, he was a very wealthy man and he spread his wealth around.’ Conor shook his head.
‘Yeah, well, I knew he was going to do it – we discussed it. When we came on that tour with you all those years ago, he spotted something in you, Conor. It all seems so long ago now, but he really felt you brought such joy and happiness to people on the tours, going far and above what you needed to, and he wanted to reward you.’
Conor smiled at the memory of how Corlene thought of Bert as her next victim at the time. Bert was a very wealthy man who liked to do good things for people with his money. He’d spotted something vulnerable in Corlene and her teenage son and wanted to help them. Corlene had lived in Ireland since that tour and seemingly felt at home.
She went on. ‘Honestly, Conor, don’t overthink it. He wanted to give you something. He left me considerably more. Just accept it in the spirit it was given. So back to my idea – what do you think?’
Conor picked up the brochure again. ‘I know this place – Ana and I walk there sometimes. It’s in an amazing location overlooking the ocean, and it’s in better shape than many of the other castles that are dotted around the place. But to buy it… I don’t know. The amount of work and money it would take…’
‘But we have the money, Conor.’ Corlene was insistent. ‘Bert made sure we had it before he passed away. I’m suggesting a partnership. I put up a million, you put your half in, and we can finance the rest. Bert had some friends, investors, bankers, who would be happy to talk to us – he told me that only a month ago. We’ll be able to buy it and renovate it to a five-star standard.
‘Castle Dysert could be the next big luxury resort, the most sought-after wedding venue in Ireland, the place to have your annual golf holiday when you want to impress your corporate clients. And of course there’s the fact that I could use it for my self-improvement courses. My business is thriving, so we have instant clientele right there. Who knew so many women needed help getting their men to behave themselves? To be honest, most of the guys they’re so desperate to have aren’t worth it, but that’s not my job – I keep quiet about that end of things. With Bert’s investment and help along the way, it has turned into a great business and I make a lot of money.
‘At the moment, I host my workshops, training sessions and all of that in a hotel in Dublin, but imagine if we had our own place? We’d have other guests too, obviously, but it would be perfect! And believe me, there is no end to the clients. I am working around the clock, taking on staff, training them to do what I do, and the demand seems to be endless.’
Conor smiled at her. ‘If you’re determined to do it, Corlene, I’m sure you will, but I don’t know about getting involved. I’m a tour bus driver – what can I bring to the table apart from investment? Sure, I’ve lived in hotels for years, but that doesn’t mean I know anything about running one.’
Corlene sat forward, resting her elbows on the table, her painted fingernails and perfect make-up not far from his face. She reminded Conor of a cat watching a canary. ‘Well, Mr O’Shea, that is where you’re dead wrong.’ Corlene had never lost her Alabama drawl. ‘You’re going to be the public face of Castle Dysert. You know everybody in Irish tourism, you have all the right connections, and you can manage the most difficult of people – you’ve been doing it with grace and good humour for years. But more than that – and I know you’re going to be all embarrassed – you’re the sexiest Irishman I know. Those eyes, that silver hair, that hunky body… Honey, you’re like catnip to those American ladies. We make you the face of Castle Dysert, and every red-blooded woman in the States will be booking flights to get here.’
Conor laughed. ‘Would you go away out of that, you lunatic. I’m the wrong side of fifty years old. I know exactly what you’re doing, trying to sweet-talk me, and it won’t work. I’m one of the few men on earth impervious to the charms of Corlene Holbrooke.’
‘Be that as it may, but I do want you.’ She paused and grinned wickedly. ‘For the hotel, of course. But think about it. You have the skills and would do such a great job. And think of the security it would bring to you and Ana and the boys. It would mean you’d be home more, and you’d have something to leave to them. Do you really want to be dragging suitcases around all your life, living in hotels, missing out on so much of the boys’ childhood? This is a great opportunity, and I want you to take it. And if Bert were here, he’d want you to take it too.’
Conor took a sip of his coffee. ‘I don’t know, Corlene. I’ll have to think about it, talk it over with Ana. You’re some operator, though, I’ll give you that much.’
‘Well, OK,’ Corlene said seriously, ‘but we need to move fast if we’re doing this. A property like that won’t stay on the market for long.’
She was probably on to something; the west coast of Clare was stunningly beautiful and badly needed a resort of that standard. Conor knew from years in the tour business that the demand was there. The Irish Tourist Board had recently begun to market the Wild Atlantic Way, a coastal route that went all the way along the Atlantic seaboard, and it had really taken off. It was kind of funny really; it had always been there, but now that they’d named it, it had become a holiday destination. It was great, though, and all the pubs, cafes, shops and accommodation vendors along the route had seen a huge upturn in profits. Castle Dysert was right on it and would benefit in a similar way if it were up and running.
Corlene changed the subject. ‘So how are Ana and the boys? Dylan showed me some pictures on his phone. They’re growing up so fast – it seems like two minutes ago they were born.’
‘I know. They’ll be seven this summer, and they love to see Dylan and Laoise. Your son is quite the babysitter, Corlene, and believe me, they need plenty of minding. They’re great craic, but you’d need to be in the whole of your health for them, as they’re always dreaming up some new kind of mischief. Ana says her mental health is improving by the month now that they are someone else’s problem for five hours a day. She’s really getting stuck in with the women’s refuge thing. I don’t know if I told you, but I had a woman on a tour a few years ago who was married to this desperate oaf altogether. It turns out he trafficked her into the States from someplace in Siberia. Valentina, her name was, and Ana helped her escape from him. He was arrested and charged and everything. Good enough for him too, as he hit me a clatter one day. But anyway, Ana got involved with the organisation that supported Valentina through the whole thing, and because she speaks Russian and Ukrainian, she’s a great asset to them.’
When he’d met her on a tour of Ireland, he was the driver and guide. She had been determined to find a new husband and, more importantly, a meal ticket. Conor was still single in those days, and she often said she was amazed nobody had snapped him up. But she had been so desperate for a cash injection in those days that a bus driver wasn’t going to fit the bill.
She never found that elusive millionaire, but she’d made some great friends, and her son, Dylan, had fallen in love, not just with Laoise, an incorrigible Irish wild child, but with the music of Ireland. He went from being a surly goth, all make-up and growls, to a charming, well-dressed, slightly shy young man. He and Laoise had a very successful band, and they toured all over playing traditional Irish music.
Conor picked up the brochure again and leafed through it. ‘I’ve often wondered what it’s like inside now. It’s too overgrown to get at it, but some of the plants on the grounds are really unusual. I’ve seen photos of it back during the First World War. They used to have balls there for the British soldiers who were stationed here in Ennis. The family – I forget their names now – were well in with them, being English and Protestant themselves. It was absolutely magnificent back then – stables, walled gardens, orchards, the whole lot. It was burned in the twenties by the IRA in an effort to drive the family out. That happened often, as those wealthy landowners were seen as symbols of British imperialism. The family went out to Australia then, I think, and that’s where they made their money, in opal mining. But one of them was a botanist, and she brought back all kinds of exotic plants and things from the tropics. Because the Gulf Stream hits the west coast of Ireland, it makes the soil temperature higher than it would normally be in a country with our climate, so those plants can grow here.’
The brochure showed an impossibly romantic image of a castle perched on a clifftop. Its cut limestone and red sandstone façade was obscured by a tangle of weeds and climbing plants, but he could see that beneath the vegetation, it was an ornate structure. The gardens swept down to the rocky shore below. Mother Nature was threatening to choke the place with briars.
‘I should have guessed you’d know all about it. How come nobody fixed it up?’ Corlene was fascinated.
‘Well, I’m not totally sure. There were always rumours, you know? I do know that after the castle was burned, the family left Ireland. Then one of the sons of the original family came back with his wife – she was the botanist – sometime in the fifties, I think, and did it up. The daughters of that family were the last people to live there, and they stayed there for most of their lives. They were reclusive, neither married, and when one of them died last year – cancer, I believe – the other one committed suicide. The poor woman threw herself from the roof.’
‘Wow, not just a gorgeous building but one with a dramatic past. I like it. Good for business.’ Corlene grinned.
Conor knew better than to reprimand her. She was incorrigible. ‘So apart from trying to recruit me into acts of insanity, how’s life going for you?’ he asked, changing the subject as he needed time to mull things over. ‘We haven’t seen you since the launch of Dylan and Laoise’s new album, so that must have been last autumn?’
‘I know. I’ve been so busy. The website is getting so much traffic, I honestly can’t keep up. When I did that makeover job on Cynthia, who could have guessed what it would lead to? She and Patrick send their love, by the way. They are so funny, such a mismatch, but it works so well. Your tours really do have something magic, you know, Conor. All over the world there are happy people, all because they sat on your bus for a week. There was a TV show in the States, years ago, called The Love Boat, and Bert and I used to joke that your tours were a bit like that, only not so corny. I mean, look at me. I was a mess, a total disaster, but I met you and Bert, and, well, I could never have imagined how great things would turn out.’
Conor listened as she updated him on all the strides forward her business had taken. He’d thought it was a daft idea when he heard it first, but Corlene had turned her business into something huge. He tried to reconcile the polished, prosperous, good-looking woman who sat in front of him now with the person he met all those years ago. She’d arrived on his tour without a penny, dressed far too young for her age in clothes too tight, drowned in cheap perfume and caked in make-up. She shamelessly flirted with anything in trousers. When she found herself drawing blanks romantically, and with funds at an all-time low, she even resorted to placing a personal ad in the paper in Killarney. Conor had thought he would choke from laughing when she recounted that tale at his and Ana’s wedding. The whole story, from the tight shapewear digging into her to the potential beau’s mother being some kind of old crone in a pub, had the entire gathering in stitches. Even Dylan laughed, and his mother’s antics up to then had caused him nothing but shame. It was great to see Dylan and Corlene so relaxed around each other now. There was a time when everything she did embarrassed her son.
Conor knew that Ana wasn’t that keen on Corlene. She loved Dylan and Laoise, but Corlene flirted with Conor all the time, touching him unnecessarily and constantly making suggestive remarks. It didn’t bother him – she was only messing and she went on that way with all men – but he knew it grated on Ana.
On the other hand, she was a great businesswoman. If he went into business with her, it would have to be with his eyes wide open. She could size people up in seconds and knew instinctively how to get what she wanted. But he also knew that beneath her polished image there lay a heart of gold and that she’d seen more than her fair share of rough times. She was a very complicated person.
He glanced through the brochure once more. ‘And you want us to buy it, just like that?’ he asked.
‘Yes. We buy it together. I do the business end, and you’re the front man. Together, we turn Castle Dysert into a serious five-star, really high-end hotel – well, more of a resort actually. A spa, leisure centre, the usual, but more than that. I’ve thought this through. We could offer tailored holidays. People searching for their Irish ancestors can come, and we’ll get the right people to help them find them. People who want to learn about Irish literature can take classes, go to readings, that sort of thing. We could do a lot with Irish music – workshops, classes, sessions. There’s a market for it – I know there is – and we’re going to tap into it. I can do all the business stuff, the schmoozing, dealing with banks, builders, all of that, but you have to be the man people think of when they think of Castle Dysert. You are the quintessential Irishman, with the accent that makes women want to drag you into bed, the crinkly-eyed smile, the knowledge of the country… You are the whole package, Conor. Men like you and women love you, and it won’t work without you.’
Corlene paused and gazed at Conor intently. Her hazel eyes with flecks of amber were made up perfectly to accentuate her best feature. She looked much younger than she had before, and when he’d remarked on it last year at Laoise and Dylan’s launch, she simply whispered, ‘Surgery,’ in his ear and gave him a pat on the bum that Ana had noticed.
Conor wished Corlene would rein it in. His wife trusted him, and he never gave her reason not to, but while he knew there was no harm in Corlene really, Ana didn’t see it like that.
‘Conor, we need someone with your skills. Not the day-to-day running – that’s someone else’s job. We don’t want to waste your considerable talents on housekeeping and balancing the books – we’ll get a manager for that. No, your role is much more important and only you can do it. You can call it what you like, but ultimately everyone there would be answerable to you. Our success in this venture – and believe me, it will be a huge success – is totally dependent on you being part of it. Normally when you recruit someone, the idea is to make them feel like they would be lucky to get the job, but not in this case. I need you, Conor. What I’m proposing is that once the repayments and so on are made, we split the profits fifty-fifty. I know your investment is half of mine, but you’ll be doing most of the work, so I think it’s fair. We’ll get it all drawn up legally, and it will be very clear-cut. You get to do what you do so well every day, only this way you earn more money. And more importantly, you get to go home to Ana, Artie and Joe every night.’
Conor didn’t answer. This was so much to take in.
‘Take some time to think,’ she instructed as she gathered her things into a voluminous Versace handbag. ‘But not too long. Talk to Ana, and I’ll call you tomorrow. I’ve got to go.’ She placed several notes on the table to cover the lunch bill. ‘Dylan is leaving for Sweden and Denmark this evening with Laoise. They have some gigs lined up there, and I want to see him before he goes.’
He stood and she embraced him, kissing him on the cheek and giving him a squeeze, and then she was gone.
Conor pulled into his driveway and sat in the car for a few minutes. He and Ana had loved the home and garden the moment they saw it – a big old two-storey house, built of rough stone and covered in Virginia creeper.
The house had needed total modernisation, but now that it was done, it was lovely. He remembered the small terraced house of his childhood, with no garden and just a small yard, and thought how it was often cold and empty.
He sat for a few minutes, watching the boys playing football in the garden, Joe scoring a goal and doing a victory run that involved pulling his shirt over his head and yelling. Artie then took advantage of his twin’s temporary blindness and tackled him to the ground. Conor smiled. They were like a pair of tiger cubs, constantly jostling and wrestling, but they were so devoted to each other that no fight lasted more than a minute.
Everyone said they looked like him. He had one or two pictures of himself as a kid, and he supposed they were right, though he was sure he had never been as good-looking as his boys were, with their white-blond hair, olive skin and Ana’s green eyes. They were universally adored wherever they went.
His childhood was starkly different to theirs, however. Reared by his mother when his father left, he and his brother never knew the carefree happiness his twins did. His mam worked so hard and tried her very best, but the shame of being a deserted wife and the constant financial pressure killed her in the end. Conor had left school at sixteen and worked hard as an apprentice mechanic for a man called Joe Kelly, who had become the closest thing to a father Conor had ever known.
He smiled as he reminisced and watched little Joe, named after his old boss, who was now hanging upside down from the goalpost while Artie tried to kick the ball into his brother’s arms.
He heard Ana calling the boys for their dinner, her accent as undiluted now as it was the day she arrived from Ukraine. She was many years his junior, and at first, he had been reluctant about the relationship. Now, the idea that he might not have grabbed her with both hands and never let go filled him with horror. She was the best thing to ever happen to him, and he adored her. He was looking forward to telling her about Corlene’s proposal and wondered if she’d be in favour of it if it meant he could be at home more.
He loved driving tours, and he was good at it – Corlene was right about that – but he hated being away. When the lads were smaller, before they started school, Ana used to bring them to various hotels to meet him in the evenings, but it was more difficult now. He worked for one of the best tour operators in the country and was their most senior staff member. He had almost total control of itineraries and hotel choices, as they trusted him and paid him well. It was a lot to walk away from. He sighed. Once the boys were in bed, he’d hammer it out with Ana; in the end, he’d do whatever she wanted.
He got out of the car, crept up behind Artie just as he was about to score and lifted him bodily off the ground. Within seconds, all three of them were on the grass, rolling and playing. Conor scrambled to his feet, took the ball and scored, dodging his sons’ efforts at tackling. He pulled his shirt over his head and did the victory run, much to their delight. Ana arrived then and he ran to her, picked her up and kissed her as he swung her around.
‘Urgh, Dad, yuck! Stop kissing Mammy – it’s so gross!’ Artie tried to get between them.
Joe just giggled and jumped on his father’s back.
‘OK! You is all like wild animals. And you’ – Ana pointed at the middle of Conor’s chest – ‘is making them worse.’ Her words were softened by the huge grin on her beautiful face. ‘Come inside, wash your hands and eat your dinner. You don’t even do your homework yet. And Joe, Miss Carney say to me your handwriting is very bad, so please let me or Dad see it before you put it away, OK?’
‘OK.’ Joe grinned as he caught his father’s eye. While Artie was studious, Joe didn’t give a hoot about school.
Ana gave Conor the look, the one that said, ‘Back me here,’ and Conor instantly responded. He bent down to be at eye level with the boys and put his arms around them. ‘That trip to Tayto Park we promised is not going to happen unless there is a big improvement in the writing. Do you hear me, Joe? Mammy is going to check with Miss Carney and so am I, and she needs to be telling us that there are no more scribbles and words she can’t read. You’re well able to write neatly. Remember the lovely writing you did on my birthday card? That was such brilliant writing, I thought Mammy had done it for you. But you’re in such a rush to finish the homework, sometimes you can be very sloppy. And also, Artie, I asked you to clear all the old toys out of the garage two weeks ago and put them into three piles – ones you want to keep, things to go to the charity shop and, if they’re totally banjaxed, ones that need to go to the recycling centre. Both of you need to get cracking seriously now if you want us to take you there. Clear?’
They nodded. They loved their dad unquestioningly, and when he gave instructions, they were followed. He was never cross with them, but they hated it if they felt they had let him down.
‘Now, let’s get inside and do what Mammy says, no messing. I want to see you at the table, hands washed, in five minutes, OK?’ He tousled their hair and they scampered into the house.
‘Thanks.’ Ana smiled, slipping her arm around his waist. ‘Sometimes they don’t take notice of me. And thanks for saying something to Artie too. It’s hard for poor Joe, Artie always getting the best in the class and he doesn’t.’
‘Ah, they do listen to you, but they see you all day. It’s ’cause I’m away so much. Familiarity breeds contempt and all that.’
‘What?’ She looked at him, confused by the saying.
He grinned. ‘It just means that people you see all the time have less impact than someone who isn’t there as much.’
‘This English, totally ridiculous language. In Ukraine, we just say that, the explanation, not the mad old saying from so many thousands of years ago…’
‘I know, I know.’ He chuckled, put his arm around her shoulder and kissed the top of her head. They walked in to join the boys for dinner.
After dinner, Ana FaceTimed her parents in Kiev while Conor cleared the dishes. Despite valiant efforts on Conor’s part, the Ukrainian language had eluded him, so he had no idea what she was saying. Ana tried teaching him Russian as well, as both languages were similar, but the Cyrillic script didn’t help, so eventually she gave up. His parents-in-law were wonderful people and loved Conor, despite never having had a conversation with him without Ana to translate. It was hard for her, he knew, and she wished he could pick it up, but he was never great for the books, even back at school. Practical things were no bother to him; things that he could see the benefit of, he learned very easily. But he remembered years of sitting in school with teachers going on about glacial rejuvenation or conjugating irregular French verbs, and he just couldn’t see the point of it. His mind would wander until the roar of the master or a clatter across the head brought him back to the present. He lost count of the number of times he was beaten at school. The brothers had told his mam he was just plain thick, and for a long time he’d believed it. But now he knew that wasn’t the case. He just needed there to be a reason to learn something. He felt ashamed – Ukrainian was his wife’s language and that should be enough of a reason to learn the blasted thing. But she spoke English and the boys were completely bilingual, so he just couldn’t summon the enthusiasm.
Ana had spoken in her mother tongue to the twins since their birth. They even went to a little Ukrainian school in Ennis every Saturday morning to learn about the culture, and while Artie enjoyed it, Joe absolutely hated it.
While she spoke, Conor tidied the kitchen, made the boys’ lunches for school the next day and gathered their clothes for the laundry. Ana was still speaking to her parents, so he hurried the boys upstairs to bed amid much protesting. He wanted time with Ana alone to talk to her about Corlene’s proposal.
Eventually, after he’d ensured their teeth were brushed, read them stories and issued dire warnings of the trip to Tayto Park being cancelled if there were any shenanigans out of them, he came downstairs. Ana was sitting at the table lost in thought, the call finally over.
‘What’s up?’ he asked, leading her to the sofa.
She sighed. ‘It’s Papa. The place where he is working always is going to close. Some big Russian company buy it and now they move it all to Russia, so everyone is unemployed. You know how the town is – everyone work there, so when is gone, he won’t get other job. Also, their apartment is with the job, so no job means no home. They don’t know what to do. They can’t go in Russia, and anyway, Papa hates Russia after everything they do in Ukraine and to its people…’
Conor thought for a moment. Ana was the youngest in the family. She had an older brother who lived in Moscow and a sister who was married to an awful lout altogether by Ana’s reckoning. Conor had never met the brother, Sergei, and had only met her sister, Dorota, once.
‘Well, a conversation I had today might help.’ He told her quickly of the plan Corlene had put to him that afternoon.
Ana looked astounded. ‘And we could do this, buy this old place?’
‘Well, technically I suppose we could,’ Conor confirmed. ‘To be honest, I dismissed it at first, but then I found that the idea of being at home with you and the lads and running my own business does appeal to me. Maybe it’s a crazy idea. We’d be in debt up to our eyes, and I don’t know if I could even do it. What do you think?’
Ana thought for a moment. ‘And just you working there, not Corlene?’ she asked.
‘Well, she’d be the major investor, so I’d be in touch with her, but she wouldn’t be there day-to-day, no.’
‘And you would not have to do more tours and stay away from us?’ She seemed to be warming to the idea.
‘Yeah, I’d resign and take over the castle full time. The renovation first, then run it. Sounds easy if you say it quickly.’ He smiled. Then something struck him. ‘And I just thought of something. Maybe your parents could come here. There’ll be loads of work in the hotel, and your dad is very good with his hands – he can do anything. I’d definitely take him on, your mam too if she wants a job. You said yourself they like it here, and they don’t have much to do with Sergei or Dorota anyway. They could stay with us for a bit, and then if they’re happy here, we could get them a little house somewhere near us.’
He knew by Ana’s face that she was torn. She wanted to care for her parents and he knew she hated him being away on tour, but she was nervous.
‘OK, so if we do that, and my parents come here, that is good. But, Conor, why is Corlene ask you? I know you are so good at the tours and everything, but look – I am sorry if it sound bad, but always we are honest – I don’t like the way she is with you, all touching you and saying how nice you are and everything. The last time I meet her, she looks so perfect, hair and make-up, and me just boring old housewife in jeans and a T-shirt… And don’t say I imagine it, because I do not. Even Valentina say it. She say, “Don’t let Corlene near Conor.”’
Conor pulled his wife gently into his arms. ‘Listen to me now. That’s just the way she goes on – she’s like that with all men. I don’t take a tack of notice of her, and neither should you. Valentina can think what she likes, and Corlene can as well. You’re the only one who matters to me – forever. You’re my wife and I’m your husband. We are true and faithful to each other, and Corlene could stand on her head in the nude in front of me and it would not change that one iota.’
Ana giggled at the image, and Conor was relieved. ‘Anyway, if we do it, she’d be around a bit at the start as we set it up, but once it’s running, she’ll be in Dublin. She lives there, her business is there, and she won’t be down here much at all, I’d imagine. But either way, you need never worry, Ana. I swear I would never look at another woman. You’re all I want or need. You know you can trust me, don’t you?’ His sapphire-blue eyes searched hers and she nodded. ‘But this might be a good opportunity, and now it would help your parents as well. What do you think?’
‘It is not you I do not trust, but I suppose it is a good solution, and if it means you will be home every night, then it is worth it. But what about you? Papa and Mama can’t speak English. The boys would be talking to them in Ukrainian, and you won’t understand. Conor, will it not be a big strain for you if it is possible?’
He rested his arms gently on her shoulders. ‘Ana, they’re your parents. You’re my wife. That makes us family, and we’ll figure it out. The boys are mad about them, and your mam would be a great help to us looking after them. You saw how they were when they visited last year. You were only saying the other day how you can’t give as much time as you want to the refuge because of the boys, so maybe now you could do a bit more if your mam is here to help out. And I’d be around too, not like before.’
‘Well, that is true, especially now. Most people are look forward to summer, but I do not. It means you will be gone. I know it is the job you have and everything, but we hate it when you’re away.’
To his dismay, he saw her green eyes fill with tears, which she wiped angrily away. ‘I’m sorry, Conor. I should not to make you feeling bad. You take so much care of me and the boys, but… Ignore me… I don’t know what’s wrong with me these days. I feel sometimes like I am disappearing. I am just the mother, cooking, cleaning, washing clothes, driving to school, to football and hurling… I look bad. I don’t know, Conor… I’m sorry.’
He loved her so much, it upset him to see her like this. ‘It’s been hard on you, I know, in a foreign country with only the boys for company when I’m away. But this could change all of that. You could do whatever you want – go back to college, get a job, volunteer more at the refuge, whatever you want. And as for not looking good, well, that’s just wrong. You’re gorgeous. Sometimes I watch you when I come home late and you’re asleep, and I can’t believe how someone like me got to marry someone as beautiful in every way as you, my darling girl.’
They sat peacefully together for a long time, each lost in their own thoughts.
Eventually, Ana broke the silence. ‘Let’s do it. But if Corlene starts all the flirting again, you will stop her, OK?’
‘I’ll try. You know I have said it to her loads of times, but she just ignores it. She’s relentless. Honestly, the best way to deal with it is to ignore it. You’ve nothing to worry about with me on that score, Ana, ever. You know that, don’t you?’
She nodded and smiled. ‘I trust you, Conor, but maybe not so much Corlene. She looks always like she wants to eat you, like a lion.’
There was no point in denying it, but he wanted to reassure her. ‘Well, she can look all she likes, but she won’t get anywhere with me. She knows that too – that’s why she does it. The funny thing about Corlene, for all her flirting and now this business she has, she has never once in all the years I’ve known her had a man of her own. And even before they came here the first time, Dylan said the same thing. She got married loads of times, sure, but never to anyone she had even the slightest feelings for. The only person she loves is Dylan, and even that’s a relatively recent phenomenon. I don’t mean she didn’t always love him, but she didn’t do a great job of showing it in the past.’
‘What about Dylan’s father? Does she ever talk about him?’
‘Nope, not a word. Even Dylan doesn’t know. She told him years ago that it could have been any number of people, that she couldn’t be sure. Poor lad. He told me once he used to imagine what his dad was like, tried to make up stories about how he was looking for Dylan but couldn’t find him because Corlene moved them around so much.’
‘Poor Dylan.’ Ana sighed. ‘He had such a hard life before here, before meeting you. But now it is so much better. He is so happy with Laoise, and even they are happy to live with her parents. Most young people would want a place of their own, but I think Siobhan and Diarmuid are like his family too. At the start, when I see him looking at Laoise, I getting scared for him. He so much loves her. But then she is not so crazy as she looks and acts. She is more sensible, really, and they are good, solid, I think. Anyway, tell me more about this plan to be the king of the castle…’ She grinned, and Conor was relieved to see her back to her old spirits.
‘Well, Corlene and I are going to buy it. We’ll need to borrow from a bank, but Corlene arranged all of that with Bert before he died. So I’m just investing my share, and I’d be what she calls the face of the resort. She has big plans, a place not like anywhere else in Ireland, and I know if she sets her mind to it, she’ll make it happen.’
Ana thought before she spoke. ‘And could you be happy, staying in one place after so many years always going, going, everywhere in Ireland? Always since I know you, you do this, and it is, I think, part of what you are. Of course, me and Artie and Joe want you to be here with us, but also you must be happy for yourself. If you are lonely for your job, for all the friends you have in the hotels and other drivers and guides… It must be right for you as well as for us.’
Conor sighed. He wondered how he got this woman in his life. He looked down into her face. She was tiny in comparison to him. Her blonde hair had been cut in a cute pixie cut ever since he’d met her, and her ears were pierced several times. She had high cheekbones and skin that took the sun well. Though Artie and Joe were very alike, they weren’t identical, with Artie looking much more Slavic and with an open expression, like Ana.
‘Ana, I want us to be together as much as we can. I also want financial security for my family. I’m not getting any younger, and to be honest, I’d happily say goodbye to the long days, the early starts, and the lifting of heavy suitcases every day on the tours. So if you’re OK with it, I’ll call Corlene tomorrow and tell her I’ll do it.’
‘Are you sure? You won’t be so sad?’
‘No, of course I won’t. I love the job, but I hate being away – you know I do. It suited me for years, the life I had before I met you, but not now. As for my friends, drivers and all of that, I’ll miss the craic, I’m sure. But I like those people – I love you, Joe and Artie. You are my people, the people I want to be with, so if I can make enough money and get to come home to you every night, then that is exactly what I want.’
‘And what about Mama and Papa? Will we ask them if they want to come? Maybe we can talk to the embassy and ask if they can do the papers…’
‘Sure we can. I know a fella who works in the Department of Foreign Affairs, and I’ll ask him what the story is. Don’t say anything to them yet. Let’s see if it’s a runner, and if it is, then we can put it to them, OK?’
‘OK.’ She cuddled up to him and yawned.
‘Are you exhausted?’ he asked. ‘Maybe you should get an early night?’
‘That is a really good idea. But, Conor?’
‘Yeah?’ he replied as he searched between the cushions of the couch for the TV remote.
‘I’m not tired.’ She ran her hand over his chest, leaving him in no doubt of her intentions.
‘You’ll be the death of me, Mrs O’Shea.’ He grinned as he followed her up to their bedroom.
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