New York, 1867
The wedding was over, and great craic it had been.
Nuala nibbled a piece of fairy-light wedding cake and stared at her older sister. Rose looked radiantly lovely, her traditional blue Irish wedding dress turning her eyes to violet, the fine cobweb of a veil a luminous cloud about her dark hair. And Dary smiled from ear to ear, his arm possessively about his bride’s waist, his graygreen eyes shining with love.
Nuala’s heart swelled with a mixture of happiness and grief. I’m truly happy for Rose. Of course she was. Her sister and Dary deserved the joy they’d fought for so fiercely. They loved each other. Dary would do everything in his power to make Rose happy.
But Nuala’s throat ached all the same at the thought of losing Rose.
“Why so solemn, little sister?” Her brother, Joe, who’d given away the bride, handed her a cup of punch. He grinned down at her, his blue eyes glinting. “Won’t your time come soon enough?”
Nuala forced her lips into a smile. She blinked furiously. “They look so right together.”
“They do, and ‘twas a long time coming.” He gazed quizzically at her, and she lowered her lashes. “They’ll be happy, love, you’ve no need to worry about that.”
Their younger sister, Caitlin, grabbed Joe’s arm and pulled him into an eight-hand reel. Nuala sighed with relief. She wouldn’t have to explain to Joe what she couldn’t understand herself.
She watched with a wistful smile as Dary whirled her sister into the dance. Tears stung behind her eyes as she thought of their parents, the only family missing on this special day. Mam and Da would have loved to see Rose so happy. Oh, why do people have to go away?
Someone touched her arm. She turned, her face breaking into a smile “Tim!” She flung her arms about her younger brother’s neck. “Ah, Tim, ‘tis glad I am you could be here today. I know how much it meant to Rose.”
Oh, he looked so handsome today! His russet hair had been tamed for the wedding, and his restless blue eyes regarded her with affection...and something like regret. Nuala’s heart squeezed in her chest. Not Tim! Oh, not Tim too!
“’Twas good to see all of you, Nuala. And especially good to see Dary and Rose wed right and proper. But…”
“You’re not going away again?” Her voice grew shrill, and she caught his arm, nearly spilling his glass of punch. “Sure, we’ve only just got you back!”
“Careful, love!” Tim laughed, holding the glass high in the air. He sobered, and his face looked much older than his years. “I have to go, Nuala. Sure, you know that. The boys need me.”
“The boys!” He meant the boys at the Emerald Fire Saloon, an Irish bar run by the Fenians. She stared him down, frantically trying to hide the terror that clogged her throat. “Sweet Heaven, Tim, you don’t need to be working for those boys! Sure, wouldn’t Dary be glad to find work for you?” Work that won’t put you in danger?
“I know well he would. But aren’t the boys after collectin’ money, and don’t they need someone to buy the guns for the next revolution in Ireland?” His blue eyes blazed with fanatical light. “I’m one of them, Nuala. I’ve taken the oath, and I’m willing to fight for a free Ireland!”
Or die for it. Fissures webbed through her heart. Tim had been a rebel from boyhood, and had jumped at the chance to work at the Fenian bar. He’d gone off with them several months ago, telling no one where he was or what he did. Dary had found him and brought him back especially so Rose could have her whole family with her on her wedding day.
Now he would leave them again.
“Tim, please don’t go.” Nuala whispered the plea through a mist of tears. “We need you here.” I need you here. Don’t leave me.
Ah, you don’t. Sure, you’re a grand clever lass, and if ever you need something, won’t Dary and Joe be here with you?”
“It’s not the same.” She pushed her bottom lip out into the pout that never failed to move everyone who saw it. “We could never replace you.” A single tear slipped over the dam of her lashes. Loss closed cold fingers around her heart. “First Mam, and then Da. And now you.”
He caught her hand, drew her forward to kiss her cheek. “I’ll write,” he promised. “And I’ll visit as often as I can. I promise, Nuala. Don’t be sad, love, not on Rose’s wedding day.”
She forced a smile, knowing if Rose saw her this way, she’d break away from Dary and hurry to her sister’s side. She’d been both mother and father to them all.
And now Rose is leaving, too. The stark knowledge struck at Nuala’s heart. Rose and Dary will have their own family now.She’s leaving us as sure as if she were going a million miles away. She spun away from her brother, fighting tears and loss.
“Nuala, darlin’.” Rose hurried up and threw her arms around her. “We’re after leaving. Nuala, love, you’re crying. What’s the trouble?”
She couldn’t do it. She couldn’t tell Rose how frightened she was, couldn’t ask her not to leave her. She had to let her sister go. She blinked hard and forced a smile. “Sure, doesn’t everyone cry at weddings?” She touched one of her sister’s carefully arranged curls. “You look beautiful, Rose, sure, you do.”
Rose gave her a dazzling smile. “’Tis happy I am, love. So very happy.”
Dary, his eyes lit with affection, bent to press a kiss to her cheek. “I’ll bring her back to you,” he vowed. “And I will cherish her forever.”
Anguish flooded her heart as she stared up at this wonderful, caring man who obviously adored her sister. “I know you will.” Her voice emerged weak and thready.
He reached forward to give her a brief, heartening hug. “You will always have a home with us, Nuala.”
They disappeared into the crowd almost before she could blink.
Someone grabbed her arm and began pulling her along with him. She glanced up to see Declan Morrissey, Dary’s best friend who’d stood up for him at the wedding. A boyish grin spread across his normally serious features. “Come on. They’re after leaving.”
Sure enough, the bridal couple’s friends and family had gathered near the door. Someone thrust a bunch of rose petals into Nuala’s hands. Someone else began to sing.
And since it fell into my lot,
That I should rise, and you should not,
I’ll gently rise and softly call,
“Good-night and joy be to you all.”
Nuala tossed the rose petals and tried to smile. She was happy for Rose, glad that at last her sister had found a man who loved her so dearly. But at the same time, she felt bereft of the last bit of security she’d known in America.
“Good-night and joy be to you all.”
Rose turned when she reached the threshold. Her loving gaze met Nuala’s, and she tossed her bouquet of red roses directly at her. Nuala caught them automatically, her heart shattering with love and grief.
She buried her face in the fragrant blossoms to hide the fall of her tears.
Will I never be able to keep the people I love?