“Cass, you’re on in five.” Dave, innkeeper and resident emcee, stuck his head into what passed for a dressing room in The Barn.
She grinned. “Is the place full yet?”
“Might be.” He thumbed over his shoulder as the unmistakable strains of world-class fiddling started up again. “Buddy’s warming them up for you.”
Buddy MacMaster didn’t warm up for anyone. But at the ripe old age of eighty-eight, he didn’t grace the stage so often anymore either. “I’m so glad he came tonight.”
Dave’s eyes crinkled. “He wouldn’t have missed hearing those strings of yours for the world. Told me so himself.”
“Strings.” She rolled her eyes. “Still can’t get any respect around here.”
She remembered the first time she’d walked into The Barn, a veteran performer already at the age of twenty-five. Newspapers all across the continent had heralded her tour, called her the hottest new fiddler in a generation. And then she’d come to Cape Breton, North America’s cradle of Celtic fiddling. Driven past foals prancing in the fields and cows that had reminded her oddly of the Irish hills of home.
And discovered the best fiddlers of any generation.
The rocks had called her here seventeen years ago—and until she’d parked outside The Barn in Margaree, she hadn’t known why. The genius of Buddy MacMaster’s fingers had pulled her through the door, knocked her into a seat, and kept her jaw on the floor half the night.
“You staying a few days?” Dave gently interrupted her reverie. “He says there’s a seat for you on Friday night if you want it.”
The weekly square dance, and probably the only place in the universe where she’d play second fiddle. Happily.
“Standard rates.” Dave hid a smile.
Her sigh was only a moderate one on the Irish scale—after seventeen years, she’d learned that her fee would be delivered whether she liked it or not. “Fine, but I’m paying full price for my room.”
“Mmmm.” The noncommittal sound suggested she wasn’t going to win that one this year, either. “You’re on in three.”
She shook her head as the door swung closed behind him. And reached for her fiddle—Cassidy Farrell was never late.
A couple of quick bow strokes and she had her strings tuned to each other and to the aching strains of the sad ballad Buddy was building to its peak. Pushing out the door of the small dressing room, she looked left toward the stage—and then turned right.
The rocks were pulling on her again, full of mischief this time. She made her way out the side door, shivering at the slicing wind. March in Cape Breton was never warm.
A full crowd, though, by the looks of the parking lot. Mostly locals at this time of year. With a friendly nod to a couple of stragglers, she stepped inside the main doors. Put bow to strings. And catching Buddy’s entry into the final verse, began to play.
Her fiddle sang long, low notes into the night and the warmth, quiet counterpoint to the talent on the stage.
Buddy’s eyes shot up, searching, and then he smiled and tipped his head back down to his violin.
He couldn’t see her way back here in the dark. Cass stepped forward into the light and added a tiny riff into her next measure. Coming.
He kept playing—Buddy had never been one for frills and ruffles. But she could feel the welcome in every note.
Eyes glued to the stage, she wound her way carefully between chairs, tables, and toddlers on the loose. Played the haunting notes that spoke of death come early to a golden warrior. Of honor for his clan and heartache for his love.
Country music had nothing on the melancholy Celts.
When she reached the foot of the low stage, Buddy finally spotted her, and the tears she’d been holding in the whole walk forward finally spilled. He was still here, still playing—and the part of her heart that rooted in the deep soil of this place finally dared to breathe.
She stepped onto the stage, her bow stroking the final disconsolate notes. A woman’s soul rended, parted forever from the man she loved.
And lifted her fiddle off her shoulder to hug the man who played the music that kept Cassidy Farrell’s soul whole.
The child was never going to survive to see her birthday.
Marcus tried not to growl as he dove out of his chair in Morgan’s direction. “Don’t eat the potted plants, sweetheart. They don’t taste good.”
She beamed up at him, her two new teeth gleaming in the middle of her happy, dirt-rimmed grin.
Dammit, how had he missed that? “Ate yourself some greenery already, did you?” Marcus reached for the baby bag, sighing. That was three times this week. People were going to talk.
“You needn’t fret.” Moira smiled contentedly from a chair by the fire. “A little dirt never hurt anyone.”
Perhaps not—but it probably wouldn’t mix well with the pea gravel she’d already ingested that morning. He released Morgan from his face-cleaning ministrations. “Why in tarnation is she trying to consume half of Fisher’s Cove?”
“Could be a lot of things.” Sophie sat at the table, sporadically working on her laptop in between mad dashes to keep Adam out of the room’s collection of cords and plugs. “Mineral deficiencies, teething, emerging earth powers.”
“Aye. Or maybe you just like strange tastes, sweet girl.” Moira handed a few cookie crumbs to the cruising Morgan. She looked over at Marcus. “They can have some odd opinions at this age. It’s nothing to worry about.”
He always had plenty to worry about. “Is she old enough for cookies?” Google had been very clear—no milk or eggs until she was at least a year old. Not that he had any idea when that blessed event would be—Morgan had shown up on his doorstep missing a lot of basic facts, like the day she’d been born. “What if she has allergies?”
Moira raised a pointed eyebrow. “Do I look like a witch fresh out of healing school?”
“We can scan for allergies.” Sophie stared studiously at her laptop, doing a very poor job of hiding her amusement. “And we have. You needn’t worry on that account. Morgan’s healthy as a horse.”
Yes, and assuming he could keep her away from garbage cans, potted plants, and the cookie-bearing womenfolk of the village, she might stay that way. He raised an eyebrow at Adam, who was making his slow and steady way over to the pile of dirt Morgan had left on the floor. And decided he had better things to do than play guardian to a potted plant.
Muttering under his breath, Marcus layered a simple containment spell over the greenery and raised an eyebrow at Adam. “See what you make of that, young troublemaker.”
Adam sat back on his very well-padded bottom and contemplated the dirt for a while.
“Well, you’ve slowed him down at least.” Sophie watched her son from the table.
Sometimes parenting required asserting control, whatever the female population of Fisher’s Cove believed. He glanced over at Morgan, who had made her way up onto the couch and was now playing with Moira’s pendant. And wondered if it was ancient enough to be full of lead and hexing spells.
“Don’t be silly.” Moira eyed him over her teacup. “I’ve yet to poison any grandchild of mine.”
He hadn’t said a word.
“Sit,” said Sophie gently, nodding at the pair on the couch. “Take a little downtime while you can get it. She’s not going anywhere for a bit.”
It was tempting—he had a very good book sitting on the arm of the parlor’s most battered and comfortable armchair.
“You parent alone, and you’re doing a marvelous job.” The respect in Sophie’s eyes shook him. “But the weight doesn’t have to be yours every moment of the day.”
He knew that. And if he forgot, a steady stream of people arrived on his doorstep every couple of hours to remind him. “I have plenty of help.”
Sophie looked over at her own son now, busy raiding a set of toy cups he’d found hidden on a shelf. “But you worry alone. Set that down for a bit too.”
Marcus had the oddest feeling they weren’t talking about him or Morgan anymore. Sophie’s eyes were far too bleak. And there had been quiet, concerned rumors. He tried, in his supremely awkward way, to offer comfort. “Adam is fine.”
She only gazed at her son.
Marcus was missing the circuits to talk to a woman—but he knew the rules of communal life. And much as he hated to admit it, he cared about a small boy and his mother. “What worries you?”
This time, the twinge of fear was stronger. “He’s different, Marcus. I can’t say how or why yet, but he’s not wired like most babies.”