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Authors: JEANETTE BAKER

Tags: #Fiction

IRISH FIRE

PRAISE FOR JEANETTE BAKER’S ACCLAIMED

NOVELS OF IRELAND AND SCOTLAND

NELL

“Jeanette Baker spins an eloquent and intricate story that combines the lives of two extraordinary women.
Nell
is yet another shining example of Ms. Baker’s exceptional gift for storytelling.”

—Romantic Times

“Ms. Baker has put together a breathtaking novel that has the reader eagerly turning the pages. All the classic themes, including an innovative time travel twist, combine for an explosive read. . . . Ms. Baker waited for the right moment to pack on the sensuality. And it was certainly worth the wait.”

—The Literary Times

“Nell
is rich in the Irish history of a couple of time periods, and Ms. Baker’s prose draws her readers right in. Blend this with not one but two love stories, and readers will cherish this creative masterpiece that spans two decades and the past.”

—Rendezvous

“Nell
has to be one of the best books I have ever read. The characters are so enchanting and unforgettable. I picked up this book at the library and finished it that same night. I was unable to sleep until I finished it because it was so good.”

—A reader from Connecticut

“Nell
is an incredibly wonderful book . . . a perfect mix of romance, history, and contemporary and historical fiction. The story and characters stayed with me long after I’d finished reading.”

—A reader from Colorado

IRISH LADY

“It grips the reader from the first page to the last. . . . A wonderful mix of past and present comparing the griefs and tragedies of ancient Ireland with the heartbreak and passion of present-day Ireland, and an exploration of divided loyalties and discovered destinies.”

—Diana Gabaldon, author of the Outlander series

“A delicious yet poignant read. . . . Truly one of the best and most touching books I have read—a true love story complete with a host of emotions.”

—Amy Wilson,
The Literary Times

“The pride of the Irish and their struggle for freedom from the British is brought to life with outstanding skill. Add two amazing heroines, one in the present, the other in the past, but each with a love that outlives time, and the reader is ensured of hours of joy.”


Rendezvous

“Inspired writing! Splendid! 4½ BELLS!”

—Bell, Book, and Candle

CATRIONA

“Jeanette Baker is rapidly proving herself one of the shining talents of the paranormal genre.
Catriona
is an outstanding blend of past and present that makes for inspiring and irresistible reading!”

—Jill Smith,
Romantic Times

“Readers of all genres will cherish this prize. . . .
Catriona
. . . comes alive with the paranormal, burning sensuality, and a notable plot of outstanding quality that will have readers eagerly awaiting Ms. Baker’s next book.”

—Rendezvous

“Jeanette Baker has joined the ranks of such award-winning authors as Kristin Hannah, Christina Skye, and Barbara Erskine, who have all striven to create unique stories that blend the reality of history and time so that love will triumph. Baker’s
Catriona
and
Legacy
are classics.”

—Jody Allen, CompuServe Romance Reviews

“A great read!”

—Waldenbooks
Romantic Interludes

“An absolutely stunning and unique mixing of several genres (supernatural, historical, and contemporary romances) into a great novel that will delight fans from all three. . . . One of the top novels of the year.”

—America Online on the Shelves

Books by Jeanette Baker

Legacy

Catriona

Irish Lady

Nell

Irish Fire

Published by POCKET BOOKS

This book is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places and incidents are products of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously. Any resemblance to actual events or locales or persons, living or dead, is entirely coincidental.

An
Original
Publication of POCKET BOOKS

A Pocket Star Book published by POCKET BOOKS, a division of Simon & Schuster Inc. 1230 Avenue of the Americas, New York, NY 10020

Visit us on the World Wide Web:
http://www.SimonSays.com

Copyright © 2000 by Jeanette Baker

All rights reserved, including the right to reproduce this book or portions thereof in any form whatsoever. For information address Pocket Books, 1230 Avenue of the Americas, New York, NY 10020

ISBN-10: 0-7434-1806-9

ISBN-13: 978-0-7434-1806-5

POCKET STAR BOOKS and colophon are registered trademarks of Simon & Schuster Inc.

This book is dedicated to Gilles Stewart, a kindred spirit, who shares my empathy for oppressed populations and whose thoughtful questions and quick understanding encouraged me to clarify, rethink, and appreciate the Celtic birthright we share.

It is with great appreciation that I thank:

My sister, Vicki, who lost her thoroughbred, The Corrigator, last year, and who guided me through the most elemental aspects of care for the breed.

Pat Perry and Jean Stewart for their encouragement, their careful attention to detail, and their enthusiasm for each new venture I undertake.

Peter and Anne Martin of Glebe House in Kilcullen, Ireland, for their wonderful hospitality, their huge sitting room firea must for a southern Californian visiting Ireland in Novembertheir delicious breakfasts, and their unflagging persistence in setting up appointments for me to complete my research for this book.

Ian Lewis of the Turf Club for spending an afternoon answering my questions about horse racing inIreland and for arming me with more brochures, books, and information than I could possibly need.

Edwina Farrell, M.R.C.V.S., Member of the Royal College of Veterinary Service at the Troytown Clinic, who gave me a personal tour of the clinic, answered all my questions about RLNdisease, and allowed me to view an actual equine surgical procedure in progress.

Helen Boyce and Eileen Kavanagh of the Irish National Stud who kindly brought me up to speed on breeding practices at the stud farm. Leona Harmon, who walked me around the impressive facility and, while discussing procedures, calmed my nerves when a stallion, bearing no similarities at all to the mild-mannered geldings and mares of my experience, escaped from his stall and thundered past us.

Nancy Williams of Tea & Sympathy who regularly buys and handsells more of my books for her store than anyone in the world.

And last but not least, Loretta Barrett, my literary agent, and Kate Collins, my editor, for offering encouragement and supporting my desire to branch out into contemporary fiction.

I
RISH
F
IRE

1

Kilcullen, Ireland

B
rigid Keneally picked up a teaspoon and frowned at her reflection in the polished silver. The face that looked back at her was old. Somehow, while she was busy minding the pub and the store and raising the girls, the years had crept up on her, carving deep crevices that crisscrossed her skin like lines on a road map. She didnt feel old, not a day older than forty, but the gleaming sterling of her place setting told her differently, as did the ache in her bones from living in a house that was too big, too old, and too in need of repair to ever be truly warm.

Still holding the spoon, she stared at the flowing script of the letter in her lap. Where were her reading glasses when she needed them? She ran the fingers of one hand over the stationery and wished that her eyes were better, that Caitlin wasnt four thousand miles on the other side of the Atlantic, and that her grandchildren, the sweet rosy-cheeked, dark-eyed pair of them, would somehow, miraculously, come running into the store, throw themselves into her arms, and beg for sweets.

She sighed. Why not just wish that she was young again and that all the years she had spent wishing were hers to live over, only this time with the hindsight to do it right. Brigid looked at the clock. It was past time to open the pub. There would be men wanting their spirits even at this absurd hour of the morning. Her mouth twisted humorlessly. Pity the woman who tried to part an Irishman from his drink.

Her regulars would just have to wait a bit. A letter from Caitlin was rare enough that she wanted a moment to sit and think, to go over the pain of it again in her mind, to wonder where shed gone wrong with her youngest, least predictable daughter.

Visions of her late husband intruded upon her thoughts. Resolutely, she pushed them away, back into the think-about-it-later file in her mind. Caitlins letter was enough of a damper. No need to bring up Sean Keneally, yet another one of her failures.

One would think that when a daughter was grown and married, with children of her own, that the worry would stop and the sick, tight feeling a mother felt when something wasnt quite right would never plague her again. But it didnt work that way. The feeling was always there, sometimes deeply hidden, but ready to flare up again when the provocation arose. Oftentimes, Brigid reflected, adult childrens troubles were worse than anything. After a child was grown, a mother had no control. Difficulties couldnt be solved by the promise of sweets or a warm cuddle in an ample lap.

Brigid concentrated until the vein in her right temple throbbed. What was it about Caitlin that bothered her so, outside of her ill-fated marriage? Not that a bad marriage wasnt enough to gather the storm clouds over a house. But Caitlin wouldnt be defeated by something so easily remedied, not the Caitlin Keneally her mother remembered.

Fourteen years in America had changed her, something more than Sam Claiborne with his smooth tongue and polished manners, his blueblood family and their Kentucky money had done. Brigid felt it as surely as she felt the rain slanting down on Kilcullen Town, drowning the otherwise pretty village in a drab shroud of gray wetness. If only she could put her finger on the real hurt. Why wouldnt the obstinate child confide in her?

Those who recalled Caitlin in her youth frequently reminded Brigid that her youngest daughter was born difficult. A changeling, the superstitious whispered, a black-haired, dark-eyed, reed-slim throwaway from the travelers caravan that had camped for a single night down by the river and disappeared in the morning.

Others, with their feet on the ground and their requisite share of common sense, recognized the child for what they thought she was, the spitting image of her recently departed father.

Poor Brigid, the town folk had commiserated, shaking their heads after one of Caitlins more mischievous escapades. How unfortunate that the child born to her six months after Sean Keneallys untimely death, should be the one most like him. If they had known the truth, Brigid would have been drawn and quartered, her head a pike decoration on the ancient fortress walls of Donore Castle. Perhaps not now, but not so very long ago when Rome had its fist tightly clenched around the heart of Ireland.

Everyone knew that Sean, may he rest in peace, was a wastrela charming wastrel with a twinkle in his eye, a way with words, and a smile for the ladies. Not that Brigid ever complained, mind you. She had more than enough to be grateful for with five saintly daughters made in the image of herself, lovely blue-eyed, golden daughters who behaved beautifully and predictably from the moment the midwife placed them in Brigids waiting arms, daughters who obeyed their masters at school, minded their mother at the store, kept their eyes lowered during mass and said thank you and if you please, without any reminders.

Caitlin, on the other hand, was never still, never compliant and, most definitely, never predictable. She simply moved on a plane that was a level apart from everyone around her. Schedules did not interest her. She was as unlikely to arrive on time for tea as she was to appear for Sunday mass, for her lessons at Saint Patricks Academy or for taking her turn working in her mothers store when the long summer afternoons lingered into twilight. Unmoved by threats of perpetual purgatory, bribes, or pleas to her better nature, she brought shame to her family with the regularity of Saint Patricks church bells announcing the hour on Sunday.

No one could explain it, least of all the Dominican Sisters who had the questionable duty of shaping the girls of Kilcullen Town into an ethical, albeit indistinguishable, mold. One reproachful glance from Caitlin was enough to reduce the saintly sisters to stammering apologies. Caitlin Keneally simply went her own way. With her unmanageable black curls, foreign-dark eyes and a mouth that the women who had known Sean Keneally in his youth never failed to settle on and lose track of their thoughts, much to Brigids disapproval, Caitlin was something of an anathema to the good citizens of Kilcullen.

None of it would have mattered if she had been unattractive or aloof, mean-spirited, selfish, or foolish. If she had been any one of those things, the residents of Kilcullen Town would have clucked sympathetically and gone out of their way to be condescending. But she was not.

Brigids late-in-life daughter blazed with a quivering inner light that made the more imaginative think of faeries and wee folk, of the legends of Emain Macha, and the stone Celtic circles that glowed with magic.

The children of Kilcullen adored her, imitated her, followed her lead, idolized her. She was curious, fearless, tenacious, and intelligent. She could climb the lichen-strangled walls of Donore Castle with the nimbleness of a gymnast, walk its twenty foot high rampart with eyes closed and arms outstretched; tell deliciously horrifying stories in the graveyard after midnight by the light of a wind-flickering candle; calculate the odds of a two-year-old colt placing in the Two Thousand Guineas Race simply by looking at him; consume a book with an inch-and-a-half spine from cover-to-cover in two hours, losing nothing of its meaning; and ace her mathematics examinations without ever completing a single page of practice sums. Everyone who knew the girl realized before long they were in the presence of something quite out of the ordinary.

Looking back, Brigid recalled that only one thing had really mattered to Caitlin and that was thoroughbredsthe breeding, training and racing of themwhich explained her immediate and intense attraction to the Claiborne heir.

From the beginning it was crystal clear to Brigid that marriage would not suit Caitlin, not marriage to Samuel Claiborne, anyway. But the child wouldnt listen. Children never did, of course. Brigid, herself, hadnt listened when wiser minds than hers had tried to warn her away from Sean Keneally. She suffered a twinge of guilt. Marriage hadnt exactly suited her either. She hoped it was nothing shed passed down to her daughter. But then Sean was nothing like Sam Claiborne, and Caitlin had never known her father, except through the eyes of those who had.

The truth of it, Brigid admitted to herself, was that although she loved all her daughters dearly, Caitlin was the one who brought a song to her heart and a smile to her lips, just as her father had done in his day, and the very idea of her living in a state of unhappiness was like a festering wound that refused to heal. Brigid went to sleep every night dwelling on her daughters predicament and woke each morning without an answer. Perhaps if she hadnt allowed the girl to visit Lelia.

Caitlin had been so very young for marriage. Not that marriage and motherhood were bad things in themselves, especially for another sort of girl. But they shouldnt drain the spirit from a woman, wipe the life from her eyes or the laughter from her face, or the teasing wit from her lips. Brigid had known something wasnt right on her one and only visit to America, but Caitlin was on her guard, Sam was charm itself, and no amount of wheedling would bring the girls troubles out in the open.

Brigid looked down at her hands. She was past seventy and her hands, more than anything else, showed it. They were thin skinned, the veins large, ropy and blue, extending high above the crepe-like flesh. They hadnt always looked this way. Once her hands had been beautiful. When had she stopped caring about them? She thought back over the decades. It was soon after Seans death. Hands had been important to him. He noticed them immediately. Where other men saw a womans breasts or legs or hair, he saw hands. She closed her eyes and remembered the feel of a warm mouth against her fingers, lips pressed against her palm.

She rose on weary feet and headed for the door leading to the pub. She wasnt feeling herself lately. It was time to settle what was left of her affairs and write to Caitlin. Not that a pub and convenience store could be called a true legacy. But maybe Caitlin was ready for something less magnificent than the Claiborne mansion with its fifty rooms and a stable lit by the light of crystal chandeliers.

Brigid clucked under her breath. What was the world coming to when horses were better cared for than people? Even in horse-crazy Ireland, a man knew the difference between himself and a horse. Kilcullen thoroughbreds grazed on green grass and slept in sensible wooden barns with blankets thrown over their backs, not forced-air heat in the winter and air-conditioning in the summer. There were no bronze-coated stable roofs, simulated tracks, and speakers strategically placed to recreate the noises of a roaring crowd. The most Ireland could boast were the lantern-shaped rooftops and skylights in the box stalls of the National Stud. A horse was a horse and if he was a runner, so be it. The Irish had done well enough with their thoroughbreds thanks to the old tried-and-true methods of training.

Americans. Brigid snorted deprecatingly. Not that they werent lovely people with lovely bank accounts, but they had no concept of age or roots. The Claibornes had occupied their acreage in Kentucky for a mere hundred years, strutting their lineage and their membership in the Jockey Club as if they were descended from true aristocrats, instead of felons dumped on the shores of a British penal colony.

Here, in Kilcullen, where a century was a mere drop in the bucket, where
old
meant that misty time when the Celts carved their circular designs in the caverns of Newgrange, they would be considered newcomers.

Brigid had nothing against newcomers. Sean had been a newcomer, his home that rocky land far to the north. A land of low stone fences, soil a mixture of sand and seaweed and, in every direction as far as the eye could see, a vast ocean and endless sky. Too late she had learned that he could never be quite comfortable in the richer, greener, more prosperous land to the south, a land of horses and gentle hills and haystacks rolled into golden bales. But that was all behind her now. She brushed away the unwelcome memory, concentrating once again on the Claibornes.

Brigid had not begrudged the Claibornes their money. What sensible mother would? She wasnt one of those people who resented inherited wealth. As for those whod done well on their own, well she was more than happy to celebrate their success and wish them well. But the Claibornes pretended theyd always been rolling in excess as if it wasnt common knowledge that, until Bull Claibornes father made a fortune dealing illegal spirits in Americas prohibition years, the Claiborne family had never done anything more than dabble in wagering at the annual Kentucky Derby.

Brigid had never cared for pretension. Caitlins mother-in-law, Lucy Claiborne, was so full of it that if one took a pin to her well-endowed backside, she would most likely sit several inches lower in her chair. Of course, what could one expect from people who served their ham slathered in maple syrup and ate grits dredged in bacon-cream sauce? It made Brigids stomach heave just to think of it.

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