Saratoga Series, Vol. 1
by Dorice Nelson
Connor O'Malley marries Sinead Brennan-Cavanaugh by proxy, forcing him to leave a peaceful Irish horse farm for the turbulent streets of New York during the Civil War Draft riots.
"A fantastic read...5 Roses," LoveRomances.com.
The story moves on to the vibrant bustle of a Saratoga summer. Connor wants only to return to his homeland and his beloved horses. Sinead hates horses, is responsible for a child not her own, and refuses to go to Ireland, fighting Connor every step of the Way
ISBN 1-59431-192-7 Historical Romance/Civil War/
Cover Art by Maggie Dix
In the usual fashion of uncut equine males, the leggy chestnut stallion shrieked and whinnied to attract the attention of the mares in the next field. Head held high, he ran the perimeter of his enclosed grassy paddock and worked up a heavy sheen of sweat.
He had been at the farm for a month but still behaved in this fashion when other horses were being led into the nearby pastures. His shrill bellows caused eleven-year-old Connor O’Malley to glance up and shake his head in apparent disgust. No one else seemed to pay much attention to the stallion’s nervous calls, so Connor kept watch.
At the chestnut’s continued trumpeting, Bowes Brennan, a short, bandy-legged young man with a thatch of hair the color of ripe straw, peered from behind the barn’s double doors. He, too, shook his head but grinned as he checked the outside area. He waved to his wife, Annie, round with child, who sat on the top rail of the stallion’s paddock fence. He blew her a kiss and disappeared back into the bowels of the barn.
Annie sat high on the fence, seemingly amused at the prancing stallion’s comical attempts to entice the mares. With a joyful smile on her face, she turned and called out to the elder of her two small daughters playing in the sand pit at the near side of the barn. “Sinead, darlin’. Look,” she shouted, her voice filled with merriment. “Isn’t he the most glorious looking beast?”
“Aye, Mam, he is. Pretty horsey,” came the childish shout from the four-year-old. The little girl smiled broadly, displaying perfectly aligned small white teeth. “Almost pretty as you.”
Annie turned back to watch again, her smile wider than before.
Now unbearably anxious, the chestnut focused on the mares in the nearby field. He snorted and called again. Suddenly, in desperation, he propelled himself into a tearing gallop. His massive muscles bunched and stretched, bunched and stretched. He ran straight at the fence, rocked back on his hocks, and propelling himself forward, leapt to jump from the paddock.
The stallion missed the top rail in his surge for freedom. He was almost over when his front hooves clipped the rail, knocking Annie—and him—off balance. She tipped backward and fell to the ground. The stallion’s back legs crashed onto wood, hard and split the rail in half. The two pieces of stout logs plummeted to the ground, hitting Annie, who lay crumpled in a heap outside the paddock.
Her single scream resounded above the hushed hillsides, silenced by more than a thousand pounds of horseflesh landing atop her. The stallion thrashed and kicked in his struggle to regain his feet. He crushed Annie beneath him before he stood upright.
At the sound of the scream, Bowes, his jockey-sized body pumping his legs like pistons, exploded out the barn doors. Connor bolted from the far pasture where he had been teasing the new foals. The two girls rose and stood in the sand, dumbstruck, their faces crossed with horror and their hands tightly clasped.
Bowes reached her first. He lifted her battered body into his arms. “Annie, Annie,” he sobbed, watching the blood seep from her mouth. Her eyes stared blankly at the serene sky. Her lips hung open as if that one scream would be the last sound she would ever make. “Annie, lass, don’t be leaving me. Please, me darling, don’t go…”
Finn O’Malley, Connor’s father, stormed out of the manor house, shouting, “What in hell’s name is going on out here?” Bowes was on the ground holding a body. Finn turned his head and called, “Mary, come…”
The new stallion hovered nearby, head hanging, muscles quivering, his weight on only three of his four legs, unable to move. Finn’s expression was wild. He shouted to Connor, who was fast approaching from the field. “Fetch the gun from the house. Quickly now, lad.”
Connor swerved at his father’s command and dashed into the house, pushing past his mother, who stood frozen in the doorway, her hand covering her mouth. Finn tore across the lawn toward the accident, his face a mask of sorrow.
Bowes nestled his wife in his arms and looked up at the man standing over him. “Och, dear God! She’s gone, Finn,” he cried. “Me Annie-girl is gone. The babe with her. I felt the last breath leave her.” He sobbed with earth-shaking, gulping howls. “Only a moment ago. Me Annie’s gone and the babe she carried with her.” He clutched his wife closer to his narrow, heaving chest and rocked the body. Keening, he rained kisses over her bruised and bloody face.
Face drawn, Finn hunkered down next to Bowes and put a consoling hand on his shoulder. “Here, man.” He patted the shoulder then rubbed the young man’s head with a gentle hand.
Tears of anguish gushed from Bowes’s blue eyes and forged paths down his cheeks. He looked up at the older man with an almost vacant expression. “What’ll I do without me Annie?”
“Let me take her from ye, laddie. I’ll be bringing her up to the house for me Mary to care for. There’s nothing ye can be doing for Annie now. See to yer girls.” Finn nodded in the direction of the barn. “They’re little forms are shaking yet, stiff with the fright.”
Slowly, with movements meant to soothe, Finn eased Annie’s limp body from Bowes’s grasp and lifted her gently into his own strong arms. Connor ran from the house with a rifle grasped tightly in his hand and moved to his father’s side.
The sight of the blood and gore hit young Connor him with the impact of a runaway train. He fell to his knees. He dropped the gun, crossed himself and murmured a short prayer.
Finn gazed down at his son. “Lad, yer Ma and I will be busy. We must see to Annie. Ye’ll have to be taking care of that crippled creature yerself,” he said quietly, pointing at the forgotten stallion. “There’s none other to do it. ’Tis this very day ye’ll be turning into yer manhood, son. I trust ye to do the deed right, and quick.”
Fighting back tears, Connor’s father turned and shuffled toward the house, carrying Annie Brennan in his arms. The quiet sound of the manor’s door closing was punctuated by the sobbing of a boy becoming a man, the horrific wailing screams of two frightened children and the sound of a gunshot.
* * *
Two months later
The two little girls, eyes wide, gripped each other’s hands tightly. This farm was the only home they’d ever known. Now, they were leaving it. Sitting in a narrow cart amongst their luggage, they stared straight ahead, seeming no longer to recognize the people standing on the porch of the stone manor house. Their father, unlike his former laughing, teasing self, stood morose, stiff.
“Bowes, ye don’t have to be leaving. Ye know me Mary and I will take care of ye and yer lasses.”
“Aye, I do that, sir.” He shook his head. “But the very sight of the horses scares the girls far too much for any pleasure in them. Sinead, in her mourning for her mam, is afraid to leave our cottage. She’s afraid to go anywhere near the horses.”
“We can move ye to another place, perhaps, in the village. At least, ye’d know ye’d be having steady work. Ye’re too much of a horseman to be leaving the beasts forever.”
“Nae, Finn, ’tis better I take the lasses away from the scene of the accident.”
Mary O’Malley, her soft brown eyes filled with unshed tears, asked, “Where will ye go, Bowes? Where will ye be taking those lovely girls?” She paused to look at the sad little girls, her desire for daughters apparent on her face. “I’ll be missing them so. They were the daughters I’ve not had.”
“I think we’ll head toward Dublin first,” Bowes said, taking off his cap and crushing it against his chest. “I have sisters there who will watch the lasses while I work.” He turned away but turned back again, as if reluctant to leave. “They’ll be having family around and a routine to follow. It’ll be better for them.”
Finn put an open hand out to Bowes. “Ye’re a good man with people and a finer hand with the horses. How will ye ever stay away from the beasties? They’ve been yer life’s work, for sure,” he said, in a hopeful pleading tone.
“I think some time soon, we may travel across the pond to America. I have sisters there, too, in a city called New York. It’ll be a new place, a new life for me and the girls,” he said, gripping Finn’s hand then letting it go and walking down the steps, saying good-bye to Mary and Finn O’Malley for a final time.
Finn followed him down to the drive. He put his arm around Bowes’s thin shoulders and hugged the young man to him. They broke apart, embarrassed at the sudden show of affection. Bowes took a step closer to the overloaded cart.
Finn said in a low voice, “The money I’ve given ye is not near enough for the care of your girls. ’Tis not enough for me to do for ye. Bowes, ye know ye can always count on me if ever yer family runs into any kind of trouble.”
“Thank ye, Finn. Ye’ve always been most generous to me and mine. I don’t think things will ever get this bad again. At least, not in my lifetime.”
A short grunt of derision burst from Finn’s mouth. “There’s no telling the amount of tragedy God will put into a fellow’s life, just to test him.” He crossed himself quickly. “But if ever ye should need me or mine, we’ll be there for ye. ’Tis my solemn promise to ye, man to man.”
The two men embraced again and gave each other quick pats on the back. Neither looked up to notice the grave forlorn faces of Connor and his four younger brothers. The boys stood huddled together and watched the leave-taking from an upstairs window.
Bowes trotted toward the cart alone. Inserting himself between the protruding frames, he grasped them and, with a grunt, pulled the cart down the road, away from the manor house. He didn’t look back.
Connor O’Malley scanned the pasture and studied the new foals racing across the field in playful abandon. He chortled over their antics. Lord, but I love these horses!
Looking guiltily to each side, at the ground in front of him, and then up to the sky, he crossed himself quickly and added both his family and Ireland to his mental list of things he loved, whispering aloud, “In that order.”
Connor laughed at himself for the many insignificant superstitions ruling his life. He shook his head in further amusement at his own daftness. He knew full well, whenever he got a chance, he would tell everyone or anyone who would listen or not, about the best breeding program of racing stock in all of Ireland. He smiled. And the best racing training to boot.
This morning, he was puffed up with a sense of pride in what he considered his accomplishments and downright smug in his beliefs about his future in the European world of horseracing. He was hotter-than-hell from planting oak and elm saplings in the pastures, to cover his beloved horses from the ravages of Ireland’s quick downpours and shade them from the strong bursts of sunshine. It became more important each day to maintain the proper condition of their coats.
Beads of perspiration rolled from beneath the blue cloth circling his brow. He stopped digging and, with the turned-up sleeve of his grimy cotton undershirt, wiped the sweat from his forehead and looked around. Where had his four brothers gone, he wondered. The damned fools disappear every time there’s hard work to be done.
A dull jangle of out-of-tune iron bells made Connor turn from the foals clustered around him, now shoving and poking at him, to look down the road leading to the manor. Ill-matched hoof beats of a poorly shod horse accompanied the discordant clang of the bells and drummed up thin clouds of dust on the dirt road.
Slowly, an ancient gray horse struggled into view over the last slight rise in the roadway. Connor chuckled and leaned on his shovel to watch the old gray, with an even older white-haired man perched atop him, approach the stone house.
His cousin Padrik O’Malley from the village, a pouch slung over his shoulder, sat draped atop his plug of a horse. Padrik’s chin rested on his chest. His eyes were closed.
The flea-beaten horse plodded across the gravel path straight to the most vibrant green of the grassy lawn surrounding the house. Once there, he spread his front legs and stretched his neck down to graze.
The sudden movement upset the elderly man’s balance. Slipping and sliding in the leather saddle, almost falling, Paddy grabbed a handful of mane and pushed hard to right himself. He looked around him with a silly and guilty expression on his face, obviously startled by the rude awakening.
“Good day to ye, Cousin Padrik,” Connor called while moving steadily toward the old man.
“Aye?” Paddy called in return. He looked around with a vacant stare. “Aye? Och, there ye are, Connor, me lad,” he shouted. Cupping his ear as if he could barely hear, he beckoned Connor closer with his free hand. “A good day to ye, laddie. Come closer,” he bellowed, his voice growing louder the closer Connor came. “Yer horses are looking right fine, a rompin’ in that new field at hill’s bottom. Sleek-looking, a gleamin’ in the sun they are.”
“Why, thank you, cousin,” Connor said. He grinned, suspecting Padrik had been sound asleep when he passed the lower field. “’Tis a beautiful day for taking leave from your duties and traveling a bit. A visit to me da, is it now?”
“Nae. ’Tis me duty I’m doing. As post fer the village, I’m deliverin’ a packet to yer da.”
Connor strolled to Paddy’s side and lifted the horse’s head to wipe the half-chewed grass from his mouthpiece. He handed the reins to his cousin. “Padrik, I think the packet’s for me. ’Tis expecting one from an English breeder I am.”
With the mail pouch clutched to his chest in a tight grip, Paddy shook his head. “Nae, Con. The packet’s addressed to your da, it is.” He leaned down and whispered in a gravelly voice, “Lots of papers shoved inside, it has. Givin’ it some bulk. Came from across the pond, it did. Important, I’m thinkin’.”
“America?” Connor frowned. “Well then, it’s surely not for me.” Connor edged around the horse in the direction of the pasture. “Have yourself a short nip while you’re visiting with me da,” he said as an afterthought.
He wheeled around and strode back toward the pasture, mumbling to himself, “As if you hadn’t thought of that nip all by your wee self.”
Connor briefly wondered how a packet, from America no less, would concern his da, but he shrugged off his thoughts and marched back to the field. Why should he worry about something from America? He had everything he needed to keep his life content. His horses, his family and Ireland itself were the very things on this earth to fill him with supreme happiness.
I am blessed!
* * *
Four days later
Only minutes earlier, a heartbroken Finn O’Malley rang the huge iron bell on the manor’s porch to summon his five ‘boyos’ from the fields. He let the bell peal on by itself while he retired to the library.
Finn’s eyes filled. He let the wetness slither down his face as he stood at the tall windows waiting for his sons to appear in the distance. Vivid sunlight danced over his face in flickering movements. He shaded his eyes from the glow, for its very brightness made a sad mockery of the dark deed he would commit this day.
He wondered what the mother of his sons, his sweet Mary, gone these past ten years, would think of him. What would she think of his promise and of his newfound scheme to honor it? Would she sling curses from heaven upon his head for severing the family life she so cherished?
Over the years, Finn presumed the vague promise, barely remembered, would never come to pass. How could he explain to his grown sons the promise made so long ago, before they were adults? In twenty years, no mention of it crossed the O’Malley threshold. Now, Bowes Brennan had called it in, a Bowes Brennan from the new country, a Brennan who desperately needed an O’Malley.
Finn’s heart filled with sadness. He knew he would lie to his lads. One of his sons must…
They appeared in the distance. Finn shook his head to chase his dour mood away. With pride, not unlike Connor’s, he watched the young men leap the pasture fences with an agility born to them. Each stopped long enough to pat every grazing horse they passed before they met in the center of the biggest field. There, they jostled and shoved each other around in their usual roughhouse ways.
Finn carefully studied them, committing to memory each and every precious feature. They were of the same sturdy stature—tall, with corded muscles thick and deep from daily dealings with the land and the animals. Their coloring, different for each one, was not unlike their rainbow temperaments— from fiery redheaded, green-eyed Egan, the youngest, to enigmatic, dark brown-haired, dark-eyed Connor, the eldest at thirty-one.
He watched them enter the house and knew they would clean up before entering the library. When he heard the shuffle of their feet in the hallway, he turned to face the library door.
* * *