It was a few days after Connor O’Brien had arrived and Nick hadn’t had much opportunity to talk to Rhianna. He had spent a lot of time working so that Rhianna could have time with her family. He knew that the entire family had never been all together and after the wedding they would go home to Ireland. Galen and Colleen each thanked him for his sensitivity. He also spent some time doing some heavy thinking about their future. He talked about his thoughts with both Galen and Connor before having a long and serious discussion with Liam.
He saw his mother sitting alone in the study one evening. He wanted to talk to her about what he had decided but wasn’t sure what he would say. He walked into the room.
Victoria looked up at him; she could tell something was on his mind so she invited him to join her. Nick gave her the wide, infectious smile she so loved. She asked him, “What’s on your mind, Nick? Are you nervous about the wedding?”
Nick laughed. His mother always knew just what to say. “No, not really.”
Victoria gave him a knowing smile.
Nick chuckled and admitted to some nerves about the ceremony, but he was absolutely certain about his choice of a wife. “Mother, I’ve been thinking a lot lately and have come to a decision that I want you to know about.”
Victoria looked at Nick, stunned. She wasn’t quite sure what to expect. She put aside what she was doing and looked at him curiously. She hoped they weren’t thinking about leaving the ranch.
Nick explained, “I’ve been talking to Father Liam a great deal.” Nick looked at his mother anxiously. “I am going to convert to Catholicism.”
That was the last thing that Victoria had expected. “You’re going to what?!”
Nick spoke quickly, “Now Mother, just hear me out.”
Victoria nodded her head all the arguments against this swimming in her head. She tried to put them aside and listen.
Nick explained, “Their faith doesn’t allow intermarriage. Liam will marry us anyway because he loves her but it weighs on his soul, I think. I’ve been thinking a lot lately about our future, Rhianna’s and mine. We want children and family. We will raise them Catholic and I want to participate in their life and this will be a large part of it.”
Victoria nodded her head. What Nick had said so far made sense, but she had to speak her mind, “Nick, changing your religion is a serious step to take. You shouldn’t do this to please Rhianna or because it would be more convenient. They have a different way of worshipping; I respect their ways although I don’t understand them.”
Nick retorted, a little angrily, “First of all, I am not doing this to please Rhianna. She doesn’t know about it yet and she has never asked or even hinted about it.” Nick calmed a little, “Second, I am not doing this because it’s convenient.” Nick sighed, “I talked at great length with Liam and he explained to me everything about being Catholic; what it means, what one believes. I have been to Mass with Rhianna and with her family and, well, it’s hard to explain.”
Victoria urged, “Try Nick, I want to understand.”
Nick said, “Well, when I’m there, I feel more at peace. I don’t know. I guess I just feel as if that’s where I belong. I never felt that at the church in town, at least not as deeply.” Nick looked at her somewhat mystified; he wasn’t used to discussing these matters with anybody.
Victoria felt great sympathy for Nick and the issues he was trying to work through. “I’ll give it some thought, Nick and let you know my decision later.”
Nick stood and looked at his mother, “Mother, I didn’t tell you because I’m seeking your permission or your approval. I wanted to you understand my decision because it will affect the family. It’s what I’m doing.” Nick left her to her thoughts.
A few days later, Nick stood at the corral fence, his horse saddled nearby. Rhianna was working hard and it was Killian who noticed their audience. He gestured to Rhianna and she rode over to the fence and dismounted. She appreciated the time with her family, but she missed Nick.
Nick spoke first, “I haven’t seen you much lately. Care to take a ride with me?”
Rhianna looked at Nick. She wanted to, but she was in the middle of working a horse. Killian had an idea about what was going on. He shouted across the corral, “Rhianna, go on and spend the afternoon with the man!”
Rhianna turned and smiled at Killian. She turned and ducked under the fence. Nick promised to saddle Brady while she went and changed her clothes since she was dirty.
After saddling Brady, Nick led him out of the barn and joined Killian at the rail waiting for Rhianna to return. Nick looked at Killian; he had a question but wasn’t sure if he should ask it or not.
Killian glanced at Nick and said, “What’s on your mind, Nick?” He thought he knew what was on Nick’s mind.
“What happened between Rhianna and Mary?” Nick asked quietly.
Killian looked towards the house. “Now, that’s complicated.” He glanced at Nick and then looked off in the distance for a moment before turning his attention back to Nick. “When Rhianna was born, we all just fell in love with her. She is so easy to love; she’s generous, compassionate… Mary never did though. The best I can say is that she’s always been indifferent toward Rhianna. I’m not sure why. Mary has the sight, you know.”
Nick said, with surprise, “Jack says Rhianna has it.”
Killian shook his head, “No. No one can explain the connection between her and Galen, but she doesn’t have the sight. She’s scared of it. She respects it, don’t get me wrong, but she’s also scared of it.” Killian paused and continued earnestly, “Her entire life has been controlled by one vision or another. She’s never been able to make her own choices, in a way. Until you, that is.”
Nick nodded his understanding, “What did your father want her to forgive Mary for?”
Killian said, “The morning Catriona was born, Mary had a vision. She knew the child would not live long and would die a horrible death. She chose not to tell Rhianna that. I think Rhianna understands why Mary chose to do that.” Killian looked off in the distance for a moment before turning back to Nick, “What she can’t forgive is what Mary did that horrible day. Those soldiers came riding through and they stopped and asked a woman for directions. That woman was Mary. She had no way of knowing where the lass was, but it was by her hand that they stumbled across her. Rhianna blames her for that, though it wasn’t her fault.”
At that moment Rhianna returned, interrupting the men’s conversation. They parted, not wanted to explain the content. Killian went back to work with the horses as Nick and Rhianna mounted their horses and started out. After getting a little ways from the house Rhianna pulled up. “Where are we going?”
Nick thought for a moment. He wanted the afternoon to be special. “Have you ever been to the North Ridge?”
Rhianna thought for a moment. She had been all over the ranch in her time here. “I have seen it from a distance but I don’t think I’ve ever been there.”
Nick was pleased, “The North Ridge, it is, then!”
They took off together. In all the time she had been there, they had never ridden together. Nick had seen her ride and knew she was an excellent horseman but didn’t really understand just how good she really was. He was able to keep up with her, but it was a challenge. He enjoyed the ride with her across the ranch and hoped they could do it often. They got to the ridge and dismounted, letting the horses roam a little after the strenuous ride.
Nick led her near the edge and stood behind her, holding her close as they surveyed the view. You could see for miles. Rhianna took a deep breath of contentment and Nick held her tighter.
“Rhianna, I brought you here for a reason.” Nick started. He had checked his pocket over and over since leaving the ranch, making sure he still had the object.
Rhianna turned, surprised, “You did?”
Nick nodded. “I was planning to do this when I got back from San Francisco, but then your father arrived.
Rhianna said, “I’m sorry, Nick.”
Nick held up his hand to quiet her. “I’m not. It gives me the opportunity to recreate a memory for you.”
Rhianna looked confused.
Nick continued, “When your father asked you to tell him what I said to you in the barn, I know that destroyed a memory for you. It was the right thing to do and I’m glad that I know about your mother; but I feel bad that that moment wasn’t just between us, so now I get to do it again.” Nick smiled at her as he, surreptitiously, took the object out of his pocket and held it in his hand without showing it to Rhianna.
Nick pulled her close and ran his hand down the side of her face tenderly. “Rhianna O’Brien, I’m in love with you. I want to spend the rest of my life caring for you, loving you, and providing for you and our family.” Nick took a piece of paper out of his pocket and looked at it before taking a breath and asking, haltingly, “An bpos…bposfaidh tu me?” As he asked his question he took her left hand and slid a ring on it.
Rhianna looked down at her hand and saw the most beautiful ring she had ever seen. She looked up at Nick with tears in her eyes. She was touched that he had asked her in her native Irish. She looked up at him and said, “Yes, I will marry you.” Nick bent down and kissed her.
Rhianna looked back at her hand and really looked at the ring. It was made of gold. There was a marquis cut emerald in the center surrounded by diamonds. On the band on each side, was a Celtic trinity knot.
Nick took her hand in his as he explained, “The gold is from one of the Barkley mines. I chose an emerald for you as a reminder of your homeland. The diamonds are for the eternity I plan to spend with you. Finally, the trinity knots have no beginning and no end and are a symbol of the faith we share.”
At this last statement, Rhianna looked confused. “The faith we share?”
Nick nodded and said, with conviction. “I am converting.”
Rhianna shook her head, “No, Nick. Don’t do that for me. I…”
Nick put his finger on her lips. “I am not doing it for you; I am doing it for me. I’ve talked at length with Liam and it is what I believe. It will be better for our children, better for us, and better for me. It’s my decision.” Nick put his arm around her and they started walking back towards the horses. Nick said, “I’ve talked to Heath and he is going to run the ranch while we are on our honeymoon. I’m taking you away, lady, for a while.”
Rhianna looked at him with curiosity, “How long were you planning?”
Nick said bluntly, “Five weeks.”
Rhianna looked stunned, “Five weeks? Where are we going?”
Nick thought for a moment, “It’s a surprise, but I think you’ll like it. I made all the arrangements in San Francisco. I will tell you that we’ll be taking the train. Jarrod is even having our private car redone for us.”
Rhianna laughed, “So THAT”S what you went to San Francisco for!”
Nick grinned, “That and to show a jeweler some drawings.”
Rhianna was amazed. “You designed it?”
Nick laughed, “Not really. I told him what I wanted and we figured it out together.”
Rhianna stopped and turned to face Nick. “I love the ring and I love you. Thank you.” Nick once again kissed her. They mounted their horses and rode back to the ranch.
When they returned it was almost time to eat. There were now so many people visiting that they had taken to having meals in two places. Some ate at the ranch and some went down to Kathleen and Jack’s house. Rhianna showed off her ring and everyone marveled at the beauty.
After dinner, Connor, aided by several of his children, regaled them with tales of Ireland. After a while, he started telling stories about their castle. Rhianna hadn’t grown up in it, but her siblings all had. They talked about secret passages, playing games in the large rooms, and the coldness of the castle at night. They also talked about the beauty of the surrounding countryside. Connor looked at Rhianna. “When you come to visit, you…”
Rhianna looked at her father with compassion.
Connor stopped and said, “You can’t ever come home, can you?”
Rhianna shook her head, sadly, “No, I can’t.”
Connor looked at her, “That’s not what we wanted, for you to be an exile. It’s not what we wanted for you.”
Rhianna nodded her head, “No, it isn’t, but Nick is what you wanted for me.”
Connor nodded his head. Rhianna looked at Galen and he got up to do what she had silently asked him to do.
He brought the two violins in and handed one to Rhianna. She opened the case, took out the instrument, and asked Connor, “Would you like us to play you a tune?”
Connor smiled. “Killian told me you play well.”
Rhianna smiled and asked, “What would you like to hear?”
Connor thought for a moment, “The Minstrel Boy.”
Rhianna looked at Galen and they started the tune. They played it as a duet. They played a few more upbeat tunes and Connor’s spirits were lifted.
As Rhianna put her mother’s violin back in its case, Shawn Andrew distanced himself from his brothers and said, “Rhianna, I have a question.”
Immediately his brothers started to argue with him, “No, Shawn Andrew, we swore we would never ask!”
Rhianna held up her hand and waited for the cacophony to die down and said, “What is your question?”
Shawn Andrew said, “When she died…I never understood why you never sent us after them.”
Rhianna looked around at her brothers and said, “I didn’t have to. Someone had already gone after them and they were dead before night had fallen.” Her eyes narrowed and she said with a vengeance, “Make no mistake, I would have sent you after them.”
Her brothers looked at each other in confusion. “So who killed them?”
“I did.” Connor looked at his sons defiantly.
Keenan said, “Da? It was you?” Keenan shook his head, he should have known. To change the subject he asked, “Oh, Rhianna, I’ve been meaning to ask you. Where is that leather satchel that was mother’s? I want to use it for my dispatches.”
Rhianna replied, “I don’t have it anymore.”
Keenan gaped at her; he knew that she treasured everything that had belonged to their mother. “You don’t have it? What happened?”
Rhianna glanced at Nick and replied, “I gave it to Nick last Christmas.”
Keenan subsided, thoughtfully.
Connor said, “Your mother, she would have loved that.”
The weeks flew by. The day of the wedding drew closer and closer. The invitations were hand written and delivered. The preparations were coming together. Victoria thought it would be a beautiful service and was looking forward to the reception at the house. Nick’s decision had been told to the rest of the family and was readily accepted. Heath and Nick spent hours going over details about the ranch so Nick could be absent. Heath knew what to do, but he figured he would just let Nick ramble on to ease his mind. Five weeks was a long time. Jarrod spent time in San Francisco having the private car redecorated as his gift for the couple.
One afternoon, a few days before the wedding as Jarrod was in his office finishing up for the day, a messenger came from the depot asking him to drop by.
“Hello, Charlie. I got your message. There’s a package for me?”
Charlie looked at Jarrod. “Not exactly, Mr. Barkley. I have a strange package here for a Mrs. Mary Cavanaugh. The address is the ranch, though.”
Jarrod smiled. “That’s Nick’s future sister-in-law. She’s staying at the ranch until the wedding. I can take it, if you like. Strange package, you say?”
Charlie went in the back and got a tall, awkward object. It was a wooden box with many holes cut all around. “Here you go, Mr. Barkley.” He carried it out to the carriage and loaded it for Jarrod before saying, “I heard Nick is marrying that Irish girl.” At Jarrod’s wary nod, he continued, “I’ve seen her around; she seems like a nice girl. I wish them much happiness though it may be tough around here for a while.”
Jarrod thanked him and got in the carriage, curious about the interesting package he was delivering. When he got to the ranch he found Mary and told her about the delivery. She beamed with delight and asked him to help her uncrate the precious package declaring, worriedly, “I hope it survived the trip.”
That evening Mary walked into the parlor. She was glad to see there were only a few people there. Rhianna and Nick were sitting together enjoying the evening. Victoria, Connor, and Jarrod were talking and having an evening cordial. Mary sat across from Rhianna and Nick and spoke. “Nick, I heard you offered to bring Catriona here.”
Nick nodded his head. After his conversation with Killian, he was unsure how to treat Mary.
Mary continued, “I agree with your decision, Rhianna.” She hesitated; the sisters had mended most of their fences. Mary had always held Rhianna at arms length because of the visions she had had, but now it was time to let Rhianna into her heart. “I sent a wire to Brian in Ireland; he has sent me something for you.”
Mary rose and went to the foyer. She returned with a large object covered in burlap. She held it out to Rhianna who took it and with Nick’s help removed part of the burlap revealing a rose bush. “My Brian went to the churchyard and took a part of the bush that was planted to mark her resting place. I know it always has had the most beautiful white blooms. I thought you could plant it here in your beautiful garden and it would be something you could remember her by.”
Rhianna handed the plant to Nick and embraced her sister, all wrongs, both real and imagined, were forgiven.
The next morning, both families gathered to plant the bush in a corner of the rose garden. It was placed so that there was a view of it from Nick’s bedroom where the couple would reside after their marriage. Nick wouldn’t let anyone else dig the hole for the bush. Liam said a special prayer and blessed the rose bush, praying for peace and that it would bloom for many years to come so they could remember her life.
After planting the rose bush, all minds turned to the wedding.
Nick woke the morning of the wedding with a pounding in his head. The sun was streaming through the windows and he thought that if he looked at the light it would kill him. He tried to remember the previous evening. After a moment, the fog started to clear and he recalled the previous night at the saloon in Stockton. All the men, except Connor, had gone to town to celebrate the end of Nick’s status as a single man. The mistake he made was trying to keep up with his future in laws. He was no stranger to drink, but he was convinced that no one could match them drink for drink and survive. He should have listened to Rhianna and her sisters. They tried to warn him.
He frowned, remembering the rocky start to the evening. At first, the O’Briens were refused service because they were Irish. A serious conversation with Jarrod and several well placed threats convinced the bartender otherwise. Nick hoped that that was the end of it, but he had a sneaking suspicion that Rhianna was right about how they would be treated in town.
He groaned as he sat up. He needed to get moving. He couldn’t believe he was getting married today. After dressing, he turned and surveyed his room. Today would be the last day he would call it his room. From now on this would be their room. He liked the sound of that.
Nick slowly made his way downstairs to the dining room and saw both his brothers eating carefully and wincing; at least he wasn’t suffering alone. He sat down gingerly and took a plate of food. He looked around but didn’t see the face he wanted to see. Rhianna had spent the previous night at Kathleen’s house. He wouldn’t see her again until they were at the altar.
Colleen entered the dining room and looked at the three of them suffering in silence and bit back a giggle. They warned them. She took pity on Nick and sat next to him and asked quietly. “Nick, Mary and I were wondering if it would be okay if we moved Rhianna’s things into your room before the wedding. It would make it easier for you when you return.”
Nick appreciated her thoughtfulness and nodded his head. “Thanks, Colleen, I appreciate that.” He had already moved some of his things around to make room for Rhianna’s things. He had even moved some furniture to make room for her kneeling bench.
Heath had finished eating and offered to help move the kneeling bench. He remembered that it was fairly heavy and thought that the women needed help to move it. As the pair left to attend to the chore, they met Audra who was holding a telegram. When she heard about their errand she offered to help. First she delivered the telegram to Nick and then left to help Mary and Colleen.
Nick opened the telegram. Jarrod looked at him, concerned. He hoped that nothing was wrong to mar the day. “Everything okay, Nick?”
Nick quickly read the telegram. “Everything’s fine. It’s from Gene. He won’t be able to make it today. He has an important exam that he couldn’t reschedule. He sent congratulations, though.” Nick folded the telegram and put it away commenting, “Rhianna will be disappointed.”
Jarrod said, “He’s coming home for the holidays, though, so we’ll see him soon.”
Nick nodded, “I know, but Rhianna was hoping to have the whole family here.”
That same morning, Rhianna woke to the sound of children laughing. She listened for a moment and realized they were playing with their grandfather. She stretched, and enjoyed a rare moment of ease. She rose from the chair she had been sleeping in as she realized it was her wedding day. She went to the window and looked out. She looked towards the ranch. It was out of her sight but she knew that it was there; that he was there. The thought caused her to smile with happiness. She wondered how he was feeling this morning. She had warned him but she was pretty certain he hadn’t listened.
She went downstairs to eat. She had a lot to do to get ready for the ceremony. Kathleen beamed at her as she came into the room. She was proud of her sister and so glad that she had finally found peace and love.
The day passed swiftly, there was much to do. The wedding was set for early evening. Late in the afternoon, Victoria went to her garden with determination. She carried a basket and clippers with her. She wanted Rhianna’s wedding bouquet to be from her garden. She clipped many of the last blooms of the year. She normally treasured the last blooms and hoarded them, but this year she wanted to give them away. She had seen the dress and knew what would complement it. She clipped pale yellow, pale pink, peach, and white roses. The white roses weren’t from the special bush, but they were special all the same. Her basket was soon filled and she entered the house to arrange them in a bouquet.
She entered the kitchen and found lots of activity. Food was already being prepared for the reception that would take place in the house. Nick and Rhianna had decided on a private ceremony in the small Catholic Church with only their families in attendance. They did agree to a larger reception at the house and many people in Stockton had been invited.
She carved out a small space for her project and was sorting the roses when Mary came in and saw what she was doing. After a moment, she said, a little hesitantly, “Mrs. Barkley, may I add something?”
Victoria looked at her and said, “What did you have in mind?”
Mary said, “I’ll be right back. I know just what I want.” She took the now empty basket and the clippers and went out into the garden. Victoria continued to sort and assemble the roses waiting curiously for Mary to return.
When Mary returned the basket was overflowing with purple lavender.
Victoria asked, “Lavender?”
Mary explained, “Lavender is a symbol of love, loyalty, devotion, and luck. Would you consider adding it to your bouquet?”
Victoria gave the other woman a spontaneous hug. “Let’s add it in. I think those are wonderful things to wish the two of them!”
They finished the bouquet and set it aside to send over to Kathleen’s. There were many flowers left over so they arranged them in several vases that they placed in the parlor, dining room, but especially in the foyer. Mary offered to take the bouquet over to Rhianna as she and Colleen were heading over there to help Rhianna dress. Nick had also entrusted Mary with his gift for Rhianna.
When Mary and Colleen got to Kathleen’s they went inside. Connor was trying to entertain the girls and keep them out of the way. They went upstairs to help their sisters.
Kathleen was trying to braid Rhianna’s hair, but wasn’t doing a very good job. Colleen laughed, “You never were very good at that! Let me do it.” Kathleen gratefully turned the job over to her younger sister. Colleen undid the plait and brushed Rhianna’s long hair. She sectioned it off and braided it neatly and smoothly. She tied the end with a blue ribbon.
Mary had laid the bouquet on the bed. Kathleen picked it up and looked at it. It was beautiful. She was pleased that Rhianna was incorporating several Irish traditions into her wedding.
Kathleen looked at the clock and said, “It’s getting late and you need to finish getting dressed.”
Rhianna stood and took a deep breath. Colleen and Kathleen helped Rhianna into the dress. Mary looked at her and was filled with love. She stood in front of Rhianna and handed her a box. Nick asked me to give this to you. Rhianna opened the box and there was a beautiful strand of pearls. She was overcome with emotion. Mary asked, “Would you like me to put them on you?” Rhianna didn’t trust herself to speak so she nodded.
Mary put the pearls on Rhianna. After they all admired the pearls, Kathleen said, “Let’s see, something old would be your dress and something new is the pearls. We need something borrowed.” Mary took off her earrings and said, “You can borrow these.” Rhianna put them on and smiled. Kathleen continued, “The Something blue is the ribbon in your hair.” She handed Rhianna an old Irish coin and said, “And here’s the silver sixpence in your shoe!” They all laughed as Rhianna slipped off a shoe and placed the coin in it and put it back on. Mary picked up the veil and asked, “Who should put her veil on?”
Irish tradition said that only a happily married woman should put the veil on the bride for luck. They argued good-naturedly about which one of them was the happiest in her marriage, but finally Colleen put the veil on. Mary handed the bouquet to Rhianna and the bride was ready, a shade nervous, but ready.
Mary and Colleen had a job to do at the church so they left as soon as Rhianna was dressed after carefully hugging her. Connor came upstairs and stood in the doorway, speechless. “If I didn’t know better, I’d swear it was my Ciara standing there.” He was rewarded with nervous smile. Connor said, “I am so happy for you and I know that Nick is a good man. Now, don’t be nervous, Alanna. This is a happy day.” This time he was rewarded with a radiant smile. They talked for a few more moments as they were waiting for the carriage that would take them to the church to arrive.
Nick was trying to tie his tie with shaking hands when Jarrod poked his head into his brother’s room. “Let me help you, Nick.” Nick gave up and allowed Jarrod to complete the task. Jarrod chuckled he’d rarely seen Nick flustered. Nick was usually a very confident person. “A little nervous?” Nick shrugged his shoulders. Jarrod said, “When I married Beth, It happened so quickly that I didn’t have time to get nervous. I’m sure all your nerves will disappear as soon as you see your beautiful bride walking down the aisle towards you.” Nick looked at Jarrod, surprised. Jarrod didn’t talk about his late wife, though Nick had always suspected that he thought of her often. Nick simply said, “Thanks, Jarrod. Has Heath left yet?” At Jarrod’s nod, Nick relaxed a little. Jarrod smiled at his brother and said, “We better get to the church, ourselves.”
Heath had been asked to drive Rhianna and her father to the church. He pulled up in the carriage and got out carefully. He didn’t want to mess up his suit. He knocked on the door and Kathleen let him in. She smiled at him and went to get Rhianna. She came back downstairs quickly and said, “They’ll be down in a minute. We’re going to go ahead. I want to get the girls settled. See you at the church!”
Heath only had to wait a few minutes before Rhianna and Connor came carefully down the stairs. He stared at Rhianna. “Wow. You look beautiful. Nick’s a lucky man.”
Rhianna looked at Heath and smiled. “Thank you, Heath.”
Heath replied, “We better get you to the church.”
The three went outside and Heath helped Rhianna and Connor into the back of the carriage before taking his place up front and driving slowly towards the church. He drove slowly so they wouldn’t kick up lots of dust.
Victoria and Audra arrived at the small church as Mary and Colleen were finishing up their chore. They had placed white candles all around the church and were just lighting the last one when the other women arrived. Victoria looked around in amazement; it seemed that there were a hundred candles at least. It was the most beautiful sight and she knew that it would lend a romantic, mystical atmosphere to the sacred event.
Nick and Jarrod walked in a few minutes later and were equally impressed. Everyone was there except the bride and her father. Keenan, Galen, and Shawn Andrew were wearing their uniforms. Killian had on a nice suit, borrowed from Nick, and Liam was resplendent in his priestly garb. Galen was tuning his violin and had another instrument waiting on a nearby pew. Even though the couple wanted the wedding mass, Liam knew that this was a little less formal and had decided to perform the mass in English and not the traditional Latin. Everything was ready and he went to the door and could see the carriage in the distance. He asked everyone to take their places.
Since only family was present they decided not to have the traditional separation of guests on the bride’s and groom’s sides, but instead they all gathered together without separating into respective families. Liam took his place at the head of the altar and Nick stood with Jarrod, waiting for his bride.
After Heath entered and went to sit with Victoria, Colleen went to the back of the church and waited. Rhianna and their father stopped just outside the church as Keenan and Shawn Andrew closed the doors of the church and stood in front of them.
Liam said, “Please rise.” The assembly stood and the ceremony started.
Colleen walked slowly down the aisle and took her place on the left, opposite Jarrod.
Galen now sat and put a strange instrument to his lips. At Keenan’s signal, He played the Uilleann Pipes. He played a short, triumphant piece on the Irish bagpipes that heralded the entering of the bride. At the first note, Keenan and Shawn Andrew opened the doors with great ceremony and Connor led Rhianna to the top of the aisle and paused as his sons joined the family.
Galen then put down the pipes and stood cradling his violin and began to play “Jesu, Joy of Man’s Desiring.” It was to this lovely tune that Connor escorted his youngest daughter to her love.
As Rhianna came closer, Nick could see the details of the dress. It was a soft ivory color. It was a shiny silk and hung in soft folds to the floor. The bodice was fitted and covered with Irish lace. The sleeves started at her shoulders and were puffed sleeves of lace with silk inlays that extended to her elbows and ended in more lace that went to her wrists. The neckline was scooped with lace going straight across. It was a lovely dress. Somehow her sisters had pinned a beautiful veil of Irish Lace to her head and it flowed behind her. In the soft candlelight, Rhianna glowed. In that moment, Nick understood for the first time why Jarrod had lost his mind when his Beth had been gunned down. Nick thought that if anything happened to Rhianna he would go mad. His thoughts were interrupted as Liam spoke. “Who gives this woman to be married to this man?”
Connor said a little tremulously, “Her mother and I do.” Connor placed Rhianna’s hand in Nick’s and went to stand with Kathleen and her family.
Nick and Rhianna turned and faced Liam as he said, “Father, you have made the bond of marriage a holy mystery, a symbol of Christ’s love for his Church. Hear or prayers for Nicholas and Rhianna. With faith in you and in each other they pledge their love today. May their lives always bear witness to the reality of that love. We ask you this through our Lord, Jesus Christ, your son, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever, Amen.”
After everyone was seated Liam continued with the ceremony. There were several readings including the gospel. Liam gave a short homily, talking about the uniqueness of the couple and relating views on marriage and family.
Liam then asked each of them about their freedom of choice, faithfulness to each other, and acceptance and upbringing of children. After Nick and Rhianna had done so, Liam held a book open for them as they faced each other and recited their vow to each other. They each said, “You cannot possess me, for I belong to myself, but while we both wish it, I give you that which is mine to give. You cannot command me, for I am a free person, but I shall serve you in those ways you require and the honeycomb will taste sweeter coming from my hand. I pledge to you that yours will be the name I cry aloud in the night and the eyes into which I smile in the morning. I pledge to you to you the first bite of my meat and the first drink from my cup. I pledge to you my living and my dying, each equally in your care. I shall be a shield for your back and you for mine. I shall not slander you, nor you me. I shall honor you above all others, and when we quarrel we shall do so in private and tell no strangers our grievances. This is my wedding vow to you. This is a marriage of equals.”
After reciting their vows, Liam took and blessed Rhianna’s wedding band. Nick had had one made that was simple to go with her engagement ring, but that would be safe for her to wear alone while working. Liam handed the ring to Nick who said, “Rhianna, take this ring as a sign of my love and fidelity. In the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit.”
After the exchange of rings, Liam led them in several blessings and administered the Eucharist to Nick and Rhianna, signifying bringing Christ into their marriage. Then he offered it to the OBriens. He truly regretted that he couldn’t offer it to the Barkleys but that was not the position of the church. He had explained it to them, and was grateful they seemed to understand and not take offence.
At last, he said his final blessing, “God the eternal Father keep you in love with each other, so that the peace of Christ may stay with you and be always in your home. May your children bless you, your friends console you, and all men live in peace with you. May you always bear witness to the love of God in this world so that the afflicted and the needy will find in you generous friends, and welcome you into the joys of heaven. And may almighty God bless you all, the Father the Son, and the Holy Spirit. Amen.”
Liam then took a cloth from Colleen and bound Nick and Rhianna, left hand to left hand. The couple turned, still bound, and faced their families. Liam said as he made the sign of the cross, “May I present, Mr. and Mrs. Nicholas Jonathan Barkley. In Nomine Patrius, et Filius, et Spiritus Sancti.” As their families applauded them, it occurred to Victoria she had never seen her son so happy and she suspected the same was true of her new daughter-in-law.
There was no procession out and the families came to congratulate the newly married couple. Colleen came and unbound them as Connor made a quick beeline to congratulate Rhianna. In Irish folklore it was unlucky for a woman to congratulate a new bride first.
After a few moments Nick and Rhianna walked hand in hand outside. They paused and Nick kissed his wife for the first time. Heath went and got the carriage and Nick helped her in. As Heath drove the couple to the reception, the others hurriedly blew out the candles and cleaned up the church. Heath had been told to drive them on the longest route possible back to the ranch.
When Victoria got to the ranch, many of the invited guests were there waiting for the newly married couple. She was surprised to see only half as many as she had expected. She looked at Jarrod. They silently agreed to make the event as festive as possible, although she doubted Nick and Rhianna would even notice in their wedded bliss. She was pleased to see Fred and Dr. and Mrs. Merar as she counted them among her closest friends.
There was a photographer there and he had set up in the foyer where there was the most light. The guests gathered in the parlor looking on as Nick and Rhianna arrived just after all their families had arrived. They took several pictures and then Jarrod announced in his best courtroom voice, “My dear guests, May I present, Mr. and Mrs. Nicholas Barkley!” The guests applauded and Nick swept Rhianna into the parlor for their first dance as Galen drew his bow and played the song that they had danced to in that room after becoming engaged.
The reception went on and it was a wonderful evening according to all who attended. Rhianna and Nick greeted everyone who came, and if they noticed that there were fewer than expected, they didn’t show it. There was wonderful food and there was much dancing, drink, and celebration. The cake was brought out, cut, and served. After a few hours, Jarrod started worrying about the lateness of the hour. He said something to Colleen who got the sisters together and the three of them and Audra headed upstairs to help Rhianna change into a dress she could travel in. The precious dress was taken off and Audra promised that she would have it taken care of and put away carefully, to be saved for the next generation.
Rhianna came down the stairs in a dark blue dress with Nick watching her carefully. They left the house with family and friends cheering them. Just before getting in the carriage, it occurred to Rhianna that when she returned, her family would be gone. They were standing together on the porch. She ran back and gave each of them a hug, lingering longest with Connor, Galen, and Liam. Nick knew she was asking Liam to stay once more as he saw Liam shake his head. She came back to Nick, teary eyed, and got in the carriage. Nick held her close as Heath pulled away and started the drive into Stockton. They didn’t speak during the drive.
Heath pulled up to the train depot as the Barkley private car was being attached to the train. Nick and Rhianna turned to Heath and thanked him for all he had done. Heath gave Rhianna a hug and told her how happy he was for them. Nick took him aside for a few last minute instructions. Heath laughed and told him not to worry and to have a good time.
Nick threw back his head and laughed. He had every intention of enjoying every minute alone with his new wife. They boarded the train and Heath passed the luggage up to Nick. The last thing that Nick and Rhianna saw as they pulled out from Stockton was Heath waving to them as they started their lifelong journey together.
Somewhere on the coast of Maine
Nick stirred in the bed, half awake. He could hear the wind blowing and the surf pounding somewhere outside. He let his thoughts drift back to the last couple of blissful weeks.
They had boarded the train in Stockton just before it left at midnight. Heath had passed him the luggage and he had put it in the car without really taking in the surroundings. He was more concerned about getting loaded before the train left. He had a few last words for Heath about the ranch, but wasn’t really as concerned as one might think. He trusted his brother.
After the train left they finally got a chance to look around the car. Jarrod had had it redecorated for their honeymoon and it was sumptuous. The front room had several settees and chairs. They looked very comfortable. By one window there was a small table with two chairs that was obviously meant for dining. Nick knew that Jarrod had arranged for a porter to take care of all their needs. He wasn’t one for fancy butlers and servants, but he appreciated his older brother’s thoughtfulness. It would be nice to just relax and not worry after the last few weeks crammed with visitors and wedding plans.
He saw Rhianna standing in the doorway of the back room. Nick walked up behind her, put his arm around her waist, and looked past her and into the room. There was a big brass bed outfitted with beautiful, luxurious linen. There was also a big comfortable chair next to one side of the bed with a warm blanket folded over it. Nick was hoping that Rhianna would soon be able to relax and learn to sleep in a bed.
Nick led Rhianna from the doorway and back into the front room. He turned and poured them each a drink from the ample supply of liquor that was in a cabinet. He noted that there were many bottles of Irish whiskey, but Nick poured them each a glass of Champagne.
He handed one to Rhianna and they toasted each other. Nick thought that Rhianna looked a shade nervous and he thought that he knew the reason. He knew that she had had a child, but he also knew that she had only been with her child’s father once. He gently took the glasses and put them down before taking her in his arms and kissing her with more passion than he had ever dared to before. She broke off the kiss and turned away from him.
Nick started to say that he understood her nervousness, but she held up her hand to stop him from speaking. She was nervous, but not about what most brides are nervous about. Nick went to her and turned her around asking her what was wrong. She looked at him and said, “You know that I was in the Army.” Rhianna hesitated, then said, “Nick, I…” She took a deep breath and looked him in the eyes. “When Audra marries, on her wedding night, her husband will see a soft, smooth, perfect body. I have scars, Nick, and…” Nick silenced her with a kiss. He now understood her nervousness. He picked her up and carried her to the bed, shutting the door firmly behind him.
He laid her down and slowly started undressing her, kissing every scar that he found. As far as he was concerned, every scar on her body was just one step on her journey to him. As they explored each other and became one, he knew that he was the luckiest man in the world at that moment.
The next week was spent talking and laughing. They enjoyed wonderful meals and watching the country fly by through the window of their compartment. They didn’t socialize very much with others on the train, but instead, kept to themselves. Nick noted that every morning Rhianna was asleep in the chair by the bed, but he also realized that every night she slept in the bed with him a little longer. He didn’t comment, hoping that one morning he would wake with her still in his arms.
After a week on the train, they arrived in Boston, Massachusetts. He had chosen Boston because he had heard interesting things about the city; he had been told that many Irish were in the city. After seeing that the private car was properly stored until their return voyage, they went to a fine hotel in the prestigious Beacon Hill area.
While in Boston, they explored the city. They took many walks in the Public Garden and Boston Common. It was nice finding a piece of green land in the middle of the growing city. They went to Cambridge and visited Harvard Square. Harvard was the oldest university in the country and it was interesting to see it. They decided not to take in any theatre, symphony, or Operas. They even went over and looked at the building projects that were going up in what some people were calling the Back Bay. It looked like it was going to be an influential part of the city. Nick thought that Jarrod would like it.
Every night, however, they ended up in an area south of Boston. Many Irish were making that part of the area their home. The first night, they found a wonderful and friendly Irish pub. Rhianna was recognized immediately and celebrated. Nick knew her countrymen respected her, but didn’t realize how deep their love went. The first night they went there, he was almost thrown out violently until Rhianna asked what they were doing to her husband. The Irishmen looked him up and down and then declared him to be an honorary Irishman. From that moment on, they went to the pub every night and ate, drank, danced, and had a great time. Rhianna played some every night and the light in her eyes increased as she got happier by the day. Nick realized that he hadn’t paid for a meal or a drink since they got there.
After a week, it was time to leave Boston. They said good bye to their new found friends and got in a carriage heading north. Nick had wanted to give her something special and after much research found a place in Maine that suited his requirements.
Nick stopped his ruminations as he realized he was alone in the room. He sat up and called out, “Rhianna?” He was greeted with silence. He got up and pulled on his clothes. They had arrived late last night and after making love, had fallen asleep, exhausted from the journey.
Nick wasn’t too worried about Rhianna, but it was very cold this time of year in New England. He looked in the wardrobe and was relieved to see that her warm shawl was missing. He remembered with absolute clarity her bout with pneumonia the previous year.
He hastily left the room, grabbing his coat and his hat on the way out. He walked downstairs and looked in the small, quiet lobby. Rhianna was nowhere to be found. He approached the front desk. The clerk quickly said, “Good morning, Mr. Barkley. I hope you found the accommodations satisfactory.” They had been given the best room with a balcony that looked out at the ocean. Nick replied, “Yes, the room is very nice.” He hesitated a moment. “You haven’t seen my wife, by any chance, have you?” Even after three weeks, it seemed strange to call Rhianna ‘my wife.’ The clerk said, “Yes, sir. She went outside a while ago. I think she was heading towards the cliff.” The clerk looked worried, “I hope she’s all right, sir, the wind is strong today.” Nick smiled at him. He should have guessed. “Thank you. I’m sure she’s fine.”
In spite of his words to the clerk, Nick hurried outside and looked towards the cliff. In the distance, he could see a woman with red hair and a blue shawl. He walked towards her quickly. He came up behind Rhianna and wrapped his arms around her. She looked up at him and smiled. She reveled in the warmth of his arms. She was a little cold. Nick asked her, “Do you know what’s out there?” He pointed to the sea.
Rhianna said, “What?” She knew what was out there, but wanted to hear what was on Nick’s mind.
Nick said, “Your home. I couldn’t take you to the Cliffs of Moher, but this is as close as I could get you.”
Rhianna turned and looked at him, stunned. “You remember that?”
Nick chuckled, “That the Cliffs of Moher are your favorite place in Ireland? Yes, I remember.” He bent down and kissed her, then saw her shiver slightly, and looked at her closely then said, “Let’s go in and get something hot to drink. You’re getting chilled and I don’t want you getting sick, Mrs. Barkley.” Rhianna beamed at the sound of the words. They turned toward the inn and started walking back Nick’s arm around Rhianna.
That evening as they dined, they enjoyed the view from the dining room downstairs. Rhianna couldn’t get enough of looking at the ocean. Eventually they went up to bed. As they were lying in bed, Nick asked her, “How do you say sweetheart in Irish?”
Rhianna looked at him and thought about it. “There’s no direct translation. Mo anam cara means my soul mate. Bean mo chroi is woman of my heart.” She lapsed into thoughtful silence before saying, “A ghra mo chroi.”
Nick asked, stroking her hair, “What does that one mean?”
Rhianna replied, “Love of my heart.”
Nick shifted Rhianna so he could look at her better and said, “You are. A ghra mo chroi.” He kissed her and words were no longer necessary. The next morning when Nick woke, Rhianna was still in his arms.
Heath finished eating his breakfast. He had been up for hours and had already talked with the foreman about the work for the day. Nick and Rhianna had been gone for about a month and should return in another week. Heath was looking forward to their return. The ranch was doing well, but it was very quiet without the couple.
The rest of the family had left for the day. He looked at his younger sister. She had a certain look on her face; the one that usually preceded the asking of a favor. He bided his time; he knew she would eventually ask. After she was almost finished eating, Audra looked at Heath. He was watching her expectantly.
Audra asked, “Heath, would you do me a favor?”
Heath smiled into his coffee before saying, “Depends on the favor, I guess.”
Audra said, quickly, “I hear there’s a new dressmaker in Stockton. I want to go and meet her. Would you take me this morning?”
Heath rolled his eyes. “Audra, you have enough dresses, already. I don’t have time to spend all day in Stockton waiting for you.” Audra opened her mouth to argue when Heath held up his hands to forestall the argument. “I’ll take you but it will have to be a quick trip. I have work that has to get done before Nick gets back.”
Audra finished eating quickly and ran to get ready for the trip into town. Heath chuckled as he went outside to hitch up the buggy. He could do with a trip to town. He figured on dropping by the general store for a few things. Maybe Jarrod could be wooed away from his office for lunch and a drink.
Audra was ready quickly, for her. She didn’t want to push Heath too much. She was grateful he was willing to drive her into town. They chatted on the way into town about many things but both were looking forward to Nick and Rhianna’s return.
Once in town, Heath dropped her off at the new dress shop and then went towards the general store. He walked around for a few minutes and thought about what they needed at the ranch. He picked up a few things and talked with the storekeeper before putting the bag in the buggy. He went by the livery and passed the time with the blacksmith there. There were a few horses that needed shoeing and he wanted it done before Rhianna got back.
After a while, he looked towards his brother’s office. He sauntered across the street and entered. He spoke briefly to Jarrod’s long time secretary before going in to see his brother.
Jarrod looked up from his desk. He was working on a complicated case and had many law books open around him. He looked frustrated and welcomed the distraction of a visitor. “Heath! What brings you to town?”
Heath grinned at him, “Our sister.”
Jarrod leaned back in his chair, “I was wondering how long it would take her to find out about the new dressmaker.” He thought for a moment, “Hmm, She’s been open about three days. Word travels fast.”
Heath grinned. “I thought maybe you might want to join me for lunch at Cattleman’s before I try to pry her away from the shop.”
Jarrod laughed, “Well, I wish you luck with that! I will join you though. This new case is driving me crazy and I could use the break.” Jarrod got up and found his hat. As they left they were laughing about their sister’s love of new dresses.
After a long lunch with Jarrod, Heath wandered over to the dress shop. He had taken a bit longer than he had told Audra, so he hoped that meant she was finished. He walked into the shop, hesitantly. Like most men, he wasn’t comfortable in a dress shop. The two women looked up at him. He spoke to his sister, “Are you almost ready, Audra?” Then he looked at the other woman.
She was a small woman, younger than Audra. She had brown hair and clear blue eyes. She looked at him and then quickly looked down as if embarrassed. “I’ll get those estimates for you, Miss Barkley.” Heath noticed her southern drawl.
The woman returned quickly and Audra introduced Heath. She made a point to mention that Heath was her brother. She had noticed a mutual spark between them. After a few moments, Audra and Heath left the small store. As Heath was helping Audra into the buggy, he asked, “What is her name?” Audra thought for a moment and said, “Miss Therese LaMontaine.” Heath walked around the buggy and got in. He was deep in thought as he turned the buggy towards home.