Dismissed, he had no choice but to kiss her cheek and leave. The moment he was in the car, he yanked at the phone. “Eileen, reschedule Limerick for tomorrow…. Yes, there’s a problem,” he muttered. “I have to go to Clare.”

When the first touch of fall caressed the air and gilded the trees, it seemed a sin not to enjoy it. After two solid weeks of work, Maggie decided she deserved a day off. She spent the morning in the garden, weeding with a vigor that would have made Brianna proud. To reward herself, she decided to bike to the village for a late lunch at O’Malley’s.

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There was a bite to the air, and the layered clouds to the west promised rain before nightfall. She pulled on her cap, pumped up her rear tire, which was going flat, then guided the bike around the house and through the gate.

She set off at a leisurely pace, dreaming a bit over the harvesting in the fields. The fuchsia continued to bloom in teardrops of red despite the threat of early frost. The landscape would change as soon as winter set it, become barren and swept by a bitter wind. But it would still be beautiful. The nights would lengthen, urging people to their fires. The rains would come, sweeping across the Atlantic with the wail of the wind.

She looked forward to it, and to the work she would do in the chilly months ahead.

She wondered if she could convince Rogan to come west during the winter, and if she did, would he find charm in the rattling windows and smoky fires. She hoped that he would. And when he stopped punishing her, she hoped that they could go back to the way things had been before that last night in France.

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He’d see reason, she told herself, and leaned low over the bike against the wind. She’d make him see it. She’d even forgive him for being high-handed, overconfident and dictatorial. The moment they were together again, she would be calm and cool and sweet-tongued. They’d put this foolish disagreement behind them, and—

She had time to squeal, barely, and to swerve into the hedgerows as a car barreled around the curve. Brakes screamed, the car veered, and Maggie ended up bottom first in the blackthorn.

“Jesus, Mary and Joseph, what kind of a blind, ignorant fool is it who tries to run down innocent people?” She shoved the cap back that had fallen over her eyes and glared. “Oh, of course. It would be you.”

“Are you hurt?” Rogan was out of the car and beside her in an instant. “Don’t try to move.”

“I can move, curse you.” She batted his exploring hands away. “What do you mean driving at that horrible speed? This isn’t a raceway.”

The heart that had lodged hard in his throat freed itself. “I wasn’t driving that fast. You were in the middle of the road, daydreaming. If I’d come around that turn a second sooner, I’d have flattened you like a rabbit.”

“I wasn’t daydreaming. Minding my own business was what I was doing, not expecting some jackeen to come speeding along in a fancy car.” She brushed off the seat of her pants, then kicked her bike. “Now see what you’ve done. I’ve a puncture.”

“You’re lucky it’s the tire that’s flat and not yourself.”

“What are you doing?” she demanded.

“I’m putting this excuse for transportation in the car.” Once he’d done so, he turned back to her. “Come on, I’ll drive you back home.”

“I wasn’t going home. If you had any sense of direction, you’d see I was going to the village, where I was going to have a meal.”

“That’ll have to wait.” He took her arm in the proprietary manner she forgot she’d found amusing.

“Oh, will it? Well, you can drive me to the village or nowhere at all, because I’m hungry.”

“I’ll drive you home,” he said again. “I have something to discuss with you, privately. If I’d been able to get through to you this morning, I could have told you I was coming and you wouldn’t have been riding that bike in the middle of the road.”

With this, he slammed the car door behind her and skirted the hood.

“If you’d been able to get through this morning, and had had this nasty way about you, I’d have told you not to bother to come at all.”

“I’ve had a difficult morning, Maggie.” He resisted the urge to rub at the headache drumming behind his temples. “Don’t push me.”

She began to, then saw that he’d said no more than the truth. There was trouble in his eyes. “Is it a problem at work?”

“No. Actually, I do have some complications with a project in Limerick. I’m on my way there.”

“So you’re not staying.”

“No.” He glanced at her. “I’m not staying. But it isn’t the factory expansion I need to speak with you about.” He stopped at her gate, shut off the car. “If you’ve nothing to eat, I’ll run into the village and bring something back.”

“It’s not a problem. I can make do.” She relented enough to close a hand over his. “I’m glad to see you, even though you nearly ran me down.”

“I’m glad to see you.” He lifted the hand to his lips. “Even though you nearly ran into me. I’ll get your bike out.”

“Just leave it in front.” After striding up the walk, she turned. “Have you a proper kiss for me?”

It was hard to resist that quick flash of smile, or the way she reached up to link her hands behind his head. “I’ve a kiss for you, proper or not.”

It was easy to meet the heat, to draw the energy in. What was difficult was to check the need, that instant desire to back her through the door and take it all.

“Perhaps I was daydreaming a bit before,” she said, tugging on his lips. “I was thinking of you, and wondering how much longer you’d punish me.”

“How do you mean?”

“By staying away from me.” She spoke airily as she pushed through the door.

“I wasn’t punishing you.”

“Just staying away, then.”

“Distancing myself, to give you time to think.”

“And time to miss you.”

“To miss me. And to change your mind.”

“I have missed you, but I haven’t changed my mind or anything else. Why don’t you sit? I need to get some more turf for the fire.”

“I love you, Maggie.”

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