Authors: Julie Lessman
© 2011 by Julie Lessman
Published by Revell
a division of Baker Publishing Group
P.O. Box 6287, Grand Rapids, MI 49516-6287
Ebook edition created 2011
All rights reserved. No part of this publication may be reproduced, stored in a retrieval system, or transmitted in any form or by any means—for example, electronic, photocopy, recording—without the prior written permission of the publisher. The only exception is brief quotations in printed reviews.
Library of Congress Cataloging-in-Publication Data is on file at the Library of Congress, Washington, DC.
Unless otherwise indicated, Scripture used in this book, whether quoted or paraphrased by the characters, is taken from the King James Version of the Bible.
Scripture quotations labeled NKJV are from the New King James Version. Copyright © 1982 by Thomas Nelson, Inc. Used by permission. All rights reserved.
This book is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places, and incidents are the product of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously. Any resemblance to actual events, locales, or persons, living or dead, is coincidental.
To my amazing son, Matt—
whose uncommon kindness, gentle strength,
and love of sports provided the perfect framework
for the hero of this book.
May Sean O’Connor touch the hearts and lives
of my readers just a glimmer as deeply and powerfully
as our son has touched ours.
And thus the secrets of his heart are revealed;
and so, falling down on his face, he will worship God
and report that God is truly among you.
—1 Corinthians 14:25 NKJV
Dublin, Ireland, 1916
he heard it before she felt it. Harsh air sucking through clenched teeth, the grunt of an arm raised, the soft swish of a hand slicing the air.
“I want the truth—”
And then she felt it. The crack of his knuckles when her jaw met the back of his hand, the thud of her head against the wall, the putrid rise of nausea as it climbed in her throat.
“Did you sleep with him?”
“No, I swear—”
Cruel hands rattled her shoulders while the vile stench of whiskey smothered her air. The taste of blood and vomit soured her tongue, forcing the words to heave from her throat. “It was an innocent comment, I swear, from a friend and nothing more—”
He wrenched her arm and her scream pierced the night before he jerked her close, his foul breath hot against her skin. “You think I’m stupid, do ya? I see the way he looks at you, the way they all look at you . . .”
“It doesn’t matter, Rory—you’re the one I love—only you!” The air seized in her lungs as she waited for her words to take effect. Blood pulsing in her brain, she licked her lips and forced her gaze to his, watching as his rage slowed and simmered into lust. Her body quivered as she pressed in close, tracing his mouth with shaky fingers. The violent throb of her pulse betrayed the casual huskiness of her whisper. “You . . . I only want you . . . forever and ever.”
He stared, the crazed look in his eye finally fading into the smoldering obsession she had mistaken for love. Jerking her close, he devoured her with his mouth, his lips hard and cruel as they plumbed the depths of his desire. He shoved her to the wall, pinning her there with a possessive gaze while his hands took the liberties allowed to a husband. “Mine . . . you’re all mine, Emma, and no other man can ever have you—do you hear?”
His breathing quickened as taut arms swallowed her up. “Don’t you know how much I love you?” he whispered, his voice pleading as the dark bristle of his late-day beard ground against her cheek. He jerked away to cup her face in his hands, all of his fury suddenly chased away by the lovesick look in his eyes. A gentle smile lifted the corners of his mouth, transforming his handsome face into the lost little boy she’d fallen in love with. “Emma, my beautiful, beautiful Emma, I’m sorry for hitting you, love, and I swear from now on, I’ll give you all the love you deserve.”
His kiss was gentler this time, and her eyes fluttered closed. Mrs. Rory Malloy—the envy of every girl on O’Connell Street. Her sweat-soaked blouse shivered against her skin. Every lass’s dream . . . and one woman’s nightmare. Rory’s whispers of love tickled her ear, but all she could hear was her father’s curse, ricocheting off the battered walls of her mind.
I pray to God you get what you deserve . . .
With a gentle stroke of her cheek, Rory carried her into their bedroom. He closed the door with the tip of his shoe, severing the light as surely as he’d severed the hope from her soul.
Not to worry, Da . . . I did.
Boston, Massachusetts, July 4, 1931
lways a bridesmaid, never a bride . . . and the saints be praised!
Blessed relief curved Emma Malloy’s mouth into a gentle smile. She inhaled a deep breath of rose-scented air while Charity O’Connor Dennehy tucked an arm to her waist, palm resting against the pink chiffon of Emma’s bridesmaid dress. With a contented sigh that merged with Emma’s own, the two best friends studied Charity’s youngest sister, Katie, laughing as her new husband slipped the garter from her leg.
“Brides and babies have to be some of God’s most beautiful creatures.” Charity’s tone was wistful. She rested her head against Emma’s, the two of them lost in a sea of noisy guests celebrating Katie and Luke’s wedding in a cozy back room of Kearney’s Café.
Ivy garland from the O’Connor garden looped its way along a lace-covered table where a crystal vase of yellow roses presided over cake and punch. Long rectangular tables were cloaked in a wide array of tablecloths on loan from the other three O’Connor sisters, all sporting crystal bud vases abloom with roses in varying shades as different as the sisters themselves. Dusty pink for twenty-seven-year-old Lizzie—the color of the shy blush that often tinged her cheeks—blended nicely with the vibrant scarlet blooms that her older sister Charity seemed to prefer. Creamy white tea roses called to mind the innocence and sincerity of Charity’s eldest sister, Faith, while Katie’s bridal bouquet of lemon-yellow roses bespoke the joy and promise of a new beginning.
Emma couldn’t help but smile at the thought of four sisters who “cloaked” each other—and her—as well with a mantle of love and support as beautifully woven as any lace tablecloth. From Katie’s independent zest for life and Lizzie’s soft-spoken gentleness, to Faith’s solid faith and Charity’s quirky humor, Emma felt more like a sister than a friend in this family that she now claimed as her own. A sigh feathered her lips as she leaned in, tilting her own chin-length brunette curls against Charity’s golden marcel waves. “Mmm . . . brides and babies, yes,” she repeated reverently, the softest hint of brogue in her tone. “And sure, when it comes to brides, our Katie is one of the most beautiful.”
Indeed, rising from the chair to stand next to her new husband, Katie glowed like the crystal chandelier overhead, her cheeks as soft and dewy as the delicate bouquet in her hand.
“Oh—look! She’s getting ready to throw the bouquet.” Charity tugged Emma closer while a surge of young women pressed forward with outstretched arms. Turning her back to the crowd, Katie launched the bouquet over her shoulder in a wide sweep.
Emma stared at her feet in shock, where Katie’s bouquet nestled neatly between her satin Mary Jane pumps. Pandemonium erupted with little-girl shrieks and flying limbs. Emma blinked, too stunned to move.
In a blur, Charity snatched the flowers from the jaws of death and thrust them in her hands. “It’s yours, Mrs. Malloy, married or not. And may it bring you the happiness you so richly deserve.”
Heat gorged Emma’s cheeks.
The happiness she so richly deserves?
She gulped, the action almost painful for the guilt clogging her throat.
Oh, Charity, that’s blasphemy . . .
“Hey, no fair—she’s already married,” ten-year-old Gabriella objected. The O’Connor’s tomboy foster child crossed her arms in indignation, the spray of freckles on her heart-shaped face all bunched in a frown. Eyes the same deep mahogany of her hair narrowed considerably, ready to take Emma on.
Charity tweaked a dark banana curl on her foster-sister’s shoulder. “The flowers will be dead tomorrow, Gabe. Let the woman have some happiness, will you?”
“But . . . but I can’t . . . ,” Emma managed with another hard swallow.
“They’re flowers, Emma, not a death sentence, so enjoy them.” Charity cocked a brow. “Did you even have a bouquet when you took your vows?”
Emma shook her head, avoiding Charity’s eyes.
“Well then, consider it the bouquet you never had at your own wedding, all right?”
“But . . . but . . . they should go to somebody who’s not . . .” Emma thrust the bouquet back at Charity, her voice a strained whisper, “married.”
“There’s nobody more ‘not married’ than you, Mrs. Malloy, cheating sot of a husband notwithstanding.” Charity cupped an arm around her friend’s shoulder. “Enjoy the flowers, will you, Emma? They may well be the only decent thing you’ll ever see out of a marriage.”
Cheeks burning, Emma hid her discomfort with her nose buried in the bouquet, the scent of the flowers far sweeter than the memory of her past. At thirty-one years of age, she was quite certain that Charity was right. Over eleven years ago, a handsome Irishman named Rory Malloy had dashed her hopes of happiness with a pan of hot grease that scarred her face during a drunken fit. Suddenly, she was no longer the comely Irish lass who had turned his head, but an albatross as disfigured and scarred as their love had proven to be. She closed her eyes, lost in the satiny spray of roses in her hand. Grazing the ribboned stem of the bouquet with her thumb, she felt the prick of a forgotten thorn and sighed, reminded of just how painful marriage could be.