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Authors: Angela Elwell Hunt

The Velvet Shadow

BOOK: The Velvet Shadow
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O
h, Charity.” Flanna clutched the newspaper and its dread news to her chest. “What are we going to do? This is terrible news, just terrible.”

“We could go home.” Charity lifted one brow in mute supplication. “We don’t belong up here, Miss Flanna.”

Flanna lowered the paper to her lap, her mind spinning with bewilderment. Her father hadn’t had time to write of this incredible news, but he would, she was certain. Would he demand that she come home immediately?
Should
she go home? She was so close to finishing her degree, but what would her fathers friends think of a man who allowed his daughter to live among and consort with Yankees? A cold knot formed in her stomach as she realized that she was now in a foreign country, a place no longer affiliated with home.

We are one country, Flanna, one sacred Union.

Not anymore.

Flanna pressed her fingers to her temple as another thought hit her.
Roger!
If Papa were caught up in this wave of secession hysteria, he’d no sooner correspond with a Yankee Republican than he would with Abe Lincoln himself. He would never approve of Flanna’s engagement. Indeed, he might even reply to Roger’s initial letter with a surly response, destroying any chance of what might have been a suitable match.

And finishing her degree elsewhere was not an option. There was only one medical school for women in the South—Graefenberg Medical Institute in Dadeville, Alabama—but her father had not been impressed with that schools facility. In Boston Flanna had enjoyed access to a vast array of resources: a real skeleton, lab equipment, and an entire room of normal and pathological specimens in glass beakers. Graefenberg did not even have a decent medical library.

Dear God, what should I do?

With thanks to Gaynel and Sharon Wilt
(who gave me “flippin’ her eyelids at him”),
and Rick and Frani Rivers,
who volunteered their time to make sure I got it right.

The Heirs of Cahira O’Connor

Book I: The Silver Sword

Book II: The Golden Cross

Book III: The Velvet Shadow

Book IV: The Emerald Isle
               
(Available Fall 1999)

I have just thought of something new to Write to you. It is as following.

Over to Carroll Prison they have got three women that is Confined in their Rooms. One of them was a Major in the union army and she went into battle with her men. When the Rebels bullets was acoming like a hail storm she rode her horse and gave orders to the men. Now she is in Prison for not doings accordingly to the regulation of war.

The other two is rebel Spies and they have Catch them and put them in prison. They are Smart looking women and [have] good education.

I Can’t think of any more to Write at this time. Write soon as you get this letter.

Rosetta Wakeman
,

Alias Pvt. Lyons Wakeman
,

153rd Regiment
,

New York State Volunteers

The Heirs of Cahira O’Connor

Book 3

Prologue

T
hree months passed before I saw Taylor Morgan again. What had seemed at the outset to be a promising relationship faded like the colors of autumn when the fall semester began. As the oak leaves in Central Park toasted golden brown, Taylor’s schedule picked up its pace, and I, too, stayed busy with schoolwork and my part-time job at the bookstore.

I’ve never been one to mourn the passing of what could have been a promising relationship. When Jeff Knave broke my heart in the ninth grade, I decided then and there that if a guy couldn’t see that I was something special, I’d say good-bye with no regrets. Not that I think I’m more special than anyone else, mind you. But if a thing is not meant to be, I figure it’s just not part of God’s infinite plan.

So I moved on, and I buried my fascination with Cahira O’Connor and her descendants with as much determination as I put away my interest in Taylor Morgan. When I had researched Anika of Prague I’d been giddy with enthusiasm, and I had been thoroughly infatuated with Taylor while I investigated the story of Aidan O’Connor. But since Taylor had drifted away, so had my eagerness for the work of reading, researching, and writing. I hadn’t even thought about Cahira O’Connor in several weeks because thinking about her reminded me of
him

I was surprised, then, to find Taylor sitting on the steps of my apartment building one afternoon just before Christmas break. He wore a heavy overcoat with the collar turned up against the wind, and
for a split second my adrenaline surged at the sight of a stranger at the door of my apartment. But then those blue eyes flashed in my direction, and my knees turned to water.

“Hello,” Taylor said, his voice faintly muffled by the collar and the scarf at his throat. “Its good to see you, Kathleen.”

I pressed my lips together and hoped he wouldn’t notice that my cheeks were burning. “Taylor? What on earth brings you here?”

He flashed me a brief smile and clapped his gloved hands together. “I just happened to be in the neighborhood.”

That was a lie, and we both knew it. Taylor divided his time between his apartment and the college, and both were located on the Upper West Side. Taylor wouldn’t come to the Village unless he really wanted to see me.

I shifted my grocery bag from one hand to the other, not exactly sure what I should say next. After a brief season of dating last summer, we’d gone our separate ways. So, did friendship require that I invite him in for a cup of coffee, or should I be truthful and tell him that my Chaucer class met in half an hour?

I looked away from those compelling blue eyes and remembered my resolution to forget him. “Taylor, it’s good to see you, but—”

He cut me off with an uplifted hand. “Kathleen, I didn’t come here to intrude.” His voice deepened in apology. “But I thought you should know about the professor.”

“Professor Howard?” I smiled, remembering the soft little man who had first introduced me to the legend of Cahira O’Connor. He’d set me on one of the great quests of my life. “What’s the professor up to these days? Did he earn another doctorate?” I pasted on a look of exaggerated astonishment. “No—don’t tell me, they’ve just awarded him the Nobel Prize!”

My voice dripped with sarcasm, and inwardly I cringed. I was behaving like a jilted lover, but Taylor Morgan had never made any promises, never said anything to imply that we were more than just friends. So why was my heart pounding like a kettledrum?

Taylor stood and jammed his hands into his coat pockets, then lowered
his gaze to the sidewalk. “Professor Howard is dead, Kathleen.”

A curious, tingling shock numbed my brain. The professor couldn’t be dead. I’d had lunch with him just six months ago, and he’d looked fine. And he wasn’t old, certainly not more than fifty-five or so. “Dead?” I forced the word through my tight throat.

“He’d been having heart problems.” Taylor’s square jaw tensed. “I found him in his office this morning. He was sitting there with his head on his desk, and his hand was resting on this.”

Taylor pulled a manila envelope from the pocket of his overcoat and handed it to me.

I frowned at the sight of my name printed in the professor’s neat handwriting. In the center of the envelope, beneath my name, was another: Flanna O’Connor. Cahira’s last heir. The one I’d relegated to a mental back burner and hoped to forget.

Caught up in a vague sense of unreality, I looked up at Taylor. “What does this mean?”

“I’d like to come in and tell you about it.” Taylor glanced down at his shoes again. “It was important to the professor, so I thought you ought to know. If you have a few minutes to spare.”

My heart twisted in compassion as I studied his face. Taylor Morgan usually looked like a confident, dashing young intellectual, but the sorrow in his countenance today revealed how much he’d thought of his teacher. And no matter how disappointed I was that Taylor and I had never developed a romantic relationship, he was still a friend.

I decided to borrow notes from the girl who sat next to me in the Chaucer class. Being here with Taylor was far more important than studying
The Canterbury Tales.

“Come on in.” I tucked the envelope beneath my arm and climbed the steps. After unlocking the door, I led the way inside and pointed toward the sofa in the living room. “I’ll be with you in just a minute,” I called, carrying my groceries to the kitchen. “Let me get us something warm to drink, and then you can tell me all about it.”

Taylor moved silently past me toward the sofa. And as he passed,
I thought I saw a shimmer of wetness on his cheek.

Ten minutes later, I had two steaming cups of tea on the coffee table and the professor’s envelope in my hands. Barkly, my guardian mastiff, had given the package a perfunctory sniff and then stretched out beside the window, content to watch our guest from a cautious distance.

Taylor sat on the sofa and picked up his mug. He held it with both hands, all signs of false cheer gone from his eyes. He looked like a man who’d just lost his best friend, and I realized I had underestimated the bond between the older man and his protégé.

“I’m very sorry about the professor,” I said, sinking into the wing chair facing him. I wanted to reach out and pat his arm, but felt too awkward to attempt it. “I know he meant a lot to you.”

“He was like a father.” Taylor’s gaze moved from me to the carpet. “Forgive me if I seem addled. I suppose I’m still in shock. This day has been a nightmare, with the questions and all the arrangements.” A muscle clenched along his jaw. “I have to handle everything. Professor Howard had no family. He never married, and his parents are deceased.”

“How awful. How did you know what to do?”

“I found an envelope at the front of his filing cabinet, and in it were all his last requests. His library is to be donated to the college, his personal effects are going to Goodwill, and he wanted his body cremated. He wanted no memorial service, no fuss.”

I couldn’t help frowning. “Sounds awfully Spartan.”

“That’s what he wanted.” Taylor’s gaze shifted to the envelope on my lap, and his icy blue eyes seemed to thaw slightly. “Since that package was on his desk, I thought he might want you to have it as soon as possible. It looked to me like he was clutching it when he died.”

A tumble of confused thoughts and feelings assailed me as I looked at the wrinkled package. Though the envelope looked new, it had picked up the smell of musty paper and old attics. It bulged at the sides, straining to fit around whatever the professor had slipped
inside.

“What do you suppose it is?” I asked, almost afraid to open it. “He wasn’t still checking up on Cahira O’Connor for me, was he?”

“He may have been.” Taylor stretched one arm along the back of the sofa as he shifted to watch me. “I know he was disappointed when I told him you hadn’t mentioned anything about plans to work on Flanna O’Connor’s story. I know he was most curious to learn as much as he could…as quickly as he could.”

My blood ran thick with guilt. I had not even begun to work on Flanna O’Connor, reasoning that two novel-sized manuscripts on the O’Connor heirs was more than enough research for one lifetime. After all, I had a job, college classes, and a
life
, for heaven’s sake. And though the professor had been fascinated by the story of Cahira’s deathbed prayer, I didn’t really want to believe I was one of her long-lost relatives. The first time I met him, the professor had been quick to point out that all Cahira’s noteworthy heirs had red hair with a piebald white streak, just like mine. But surely that was coincidence, the whim of chance, or a one-in-every-two-hundred-years caprice of nature.

“Aren’t you going to open it?” Taylor’s voice, though quiet, had an ominous quality that lifted the hair on my arms.

“I know what this is about,” I said, flipping the envelope. “Professor Howard thought that I was—that I
am
—one of Cahira’s descendants. Just because I have red hair with a white streak, he is—he
was
convinced that I’m going to do something of earth-shattering importance with my life. Well, I’m not. I’ll be lucky if I get a job at a newspaper. I’m no hero, I’m just me. I told him several times that I was only the writer, the one who could chronicle the stories of Anika and Aidan and—”

“But you stopped before the job was done.” His tone rang with a strong suggestion of reproach.

I opened my mouth to give him a sharp answer, then thought better of it. No sense explaining that I was tired of reading and writing and research. People like Professor Howard and Taylor Morgan never wearied of such things. Taylor would rather spend the evening
in a library than at a movie; maybe
that
explained why we never progressed past friendship.

“I’m sorry.” I offered the words as a heartfelt and belated apology to Professor Howard. “If I had known he wanted to know—that he only had a few more months…”

“Open it,” Taylor urged, his voice flat.

My fingers trembled as I undid the clasp and slid the envelope’s contents into my lap. The envelope contained a book, its leather cover brittle and clouded with age, and a single sheet of letterhead stationery from New York University. I recognized Professor Howard’s tidy penmanship immediately.

My very dear Miss O’Connor
,

You may never know how gratified I was to learn of your work on the biographies of Anika of Prague and Aidan O’Connor! Taylor read your first manuscript and sat through what I understand was an invigorating depiction of your second, and he is most complimentary of you and your efforts. Kudos to you, my dear. You have done excellent work.

I also understand that you have taken a sabbatical from your work on the O’Connor descendants. While I can understand your need for a change of pace, I begin to fear for you, Kathleen. With every sunset, we are brought closer to the new millennium, and you must face the dawning of the next century as an heir of Cahira O’Connor. I cannot begin to imagine what wonders and terrors the next century will hold, but I know you will not meet the challenge unprepared. Through your work, I trust you have acquired Anika of Prague’s spiritual strength and Aidan O’Connor’s creative joy. I pray you will exhibit both these qualities as you face your future.

There remains only Flanna O’Connor of the nineteenth century. I confess I was afraid you might begin your study of this young woman on a day when I would be unable to aid you, so I have done a bit of research to help you make a good
beginning. We are fortunate, you see, for journal keeping was a favorite pastime of women in the Victorian era, and our Flanna was no exception. God has smiled upon us. Enclosed is Flanna’s journal, which I discovered in a Boston museum and purchased for your use.

I would not send you into the future unprepared, Miss O’Connor. You are but two-thirds equipped for the task that lies ahead of you. Take then Flanna’s journal and glean from it the lessons you can. And know that I bear every good wish for your happiness and success in your endeavors.

With great affection and every prayer

     for God’s blessing,

Henry Howard

“He bought this…for me?” I dropped the letter on the coffee table and ran my hand over the rough journal, inhaling the scents of age and dust. If the book had come from a museum, the professor must have paid a high price. Astounding, the thought that he’d do something like that for me.

“I believe,” Taylor’s mouth tipped in a faint smile, “that the professor had begun to think of you as a daughter. He often spoke of you, and he cherished the few notes you sent him about your research.”

The few notes
. I cringed, wishing I’d made more of an effort to stay close to the professor. Months ago, when we first met, I had thought him an eccentric old man with a naughty penchant for redheads. Later I’d discovered he was a brilliant history professor with more compassion than the rest of my teachers put together.

Once he learned that the heirs of the Irish princess Cahira O’Connor were linked by a common thread, the professor grew terribly concerned for me. On her deathbed, Cahira begged heaven to allow her descendants to fight for right in the world, and thus far each woman who inherited her red hair and white streak had also been bequeathed an unusual destiny. Anika of Prague, who lived in the
fifteenth century, became a knight and fought against spiritual corruption in the Bohemian Hussite wars. Aidan O’Connor disguised herself as a common sailor to flee the corruption of Dutch Batavia’s wharf and later became a world-famous artist and philanthropist. And Flanna O’Connor…

BOOK: The Velvet Shadow
12.08Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
ads

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