Shannon Larkin and Scott Page are happy in their long marriage, but a tragic loss forces her to delve into the past in order to face some ugly truths about her husband. Devastated, she retreats into her own solitary world. A stranger brings her out of self-imposed exile and shows her the beauty of unconditional love exists after all.
SCOTT AND SHANNON PAGE hurried along the stone path to the cottage, dashing to escape the downpour. She held an umbrella over their heads, while he carried two paisley suitcases. The weather was typical for the time of year on Ireland's Beara Peninsula. Though it was only mid-afternoon, angry black clouds darkened the sky as it churned heavy rain showers.
The couple reached the covered front porch, where Shannon drew in the umbrella and shook water from the panels. Scott set down the luggage and fished around in his pants pocket for a key.
"I hope Mrs. Feeny stocked the cottage like we asked," he grumbled. "I'm starving and I could use a stiff drink to warm my bones."
Shannon leaned the umbrella against the house. "I called her from Dublin before we left yesterday. She assured me the cottage was well-supplied with food, liquor, magazines and movies for us to watch." She peered at him. "Did you find the key yet?"
Scott produced the key, holding it in front of him to show her. As he unlocked the front door, Shannon turned and looked toward the Beara Peninsula, marveling as she always did at its wild beauty. The cottage afforded a lofty view over the fishing port of Castletownbere, which rested in the spectacular setting with a picturesque tranquility.
Every year since their marriage, Scott and Shannon vacationed in Ireland for fourteen days. They spent one week in Dublin, taking in the theatre, dining in elegant restaurants and staying at their small house on Pembroke Lane in Ballsbridge. The second week was spent in Castletownbere, where they rented the Larkin ancestral cottage for the duration of their stay.
The home had been restored by the Irish Historical Society some years ago and was now leased to tourists. Scott and Shannon reserved the last week in April every year, also hiring local woman Erin Feeny to stock the shelves with essentials.
"Are you coming in, Shan?" Scott asked from the doorway.
Shannon turned to him, smiling. "I was just admiring the view. I never grow tired of the sight, no matter how many times I see it."
He put his arms around her. "I know. This has to be the most beautiful place on earth. I always feel renewed when we leave, as if my batteries have been recharged."
"It's a wonder John Larkin ever wanted to leave," she murmured.
He kissed her on the temple. "If he hadn't, Larkin City wouldn't be on the map. And more than likely, we wouldn't have met."
She glanced at her husband, regarding him warmly. "You're right. Things happen the way they do for a reason, I suppose."
"Are you ready for some warming refreshment?" he asked, winking at her.
"A cup of hot tea would hit the spot."
"You have the tea," Scott declared flatly. "I'm going for something stronger."
Every time she entered the Larkin ancestral cottage Shannon felt right at home. Most of its design and architectural features could also to be found in the lighthouse keeper's cottage at Banshee Point on the family estate in Maine. While the layouts were similar, the furnishings were very different.
The living room of the cottage contained a long, sage-colored sofa with a rounded coffee table. The double-sided fireplace faced the couch, and an oaken entertainment center in the corner held a large television set and a DVD player.
Scott went to the hearth to build a fire, while Shannon entered the kitchen to put on a kettle of water for tea. The room was square and roomy, with long granite counters and a smooth red-brick floor. She peered in the refrigerator, noting with satisfaction that Erin Feeny stocked them with all the basics, along with steaks, salmon and sausages.
Shannon found a bottle of Jameson whiskey in a cupboard, and poured a healthy amount into a glass tumbler for her husband. Next, she took white teapot decorated with small green shamrocks and warmed the insides with hot water from the sink. She measured loose tea into a silver tea ball and poured boiling water from the singing kettle into the pot. She let the brew steep for a few minutes while she assembled a wooden tray with Scott's drink and her cup and saucer, and a small jug of Irish cream.
She glanced out the kitchen window and watched the steady rain pelt from the sky, secure in the warm and cozy cottage. She was looking forward to the next week of peace and solitude with her husband. Being at the cottage was her favorite part of their yearly trip because it gave them a wealth of privacy that was sometimes sorely lacking back home in Maine.
The vacation had not come at a better time as Shannon was restless of late. Since both of their children were grown with lives of their own, Shannon felt at loose ends. Scott went to work each day, while she often filled her hours with baking, handling the family accounts, reading, participating in local charitable events, cooking meals for the family, taking walks on the beach and generally becoming what she described as "idle and rich." She felt there was no purpose, no direction, in her daily life.
Shannon carried the tray to the living room, where Scott was sitting on the couch with his head back and eyes closed. She set the tray on the coffee table, feeling the warmth of the fire against her back.
Scott opened his eyes. He stared at his wife, a smile forming on his lips. "You look lovely in this light," he said. "You always do."
She smiled in return, handing him the tumbler full of whiskey. Taking her tea cup and saucer, she sat next to him on the couch. "You mean my ancient age doesn't reflect as well here as it does in the light of Maine?" she quipped, sipping her tea.
"Ah, you know what I mean."
She took another sip of tea, her eyes gazing into the fire absently. She became quiet, almost introspective. Scott knew his wife had something on her mind. He noticed her distracted state upon their arrival at the cottage earlier, when she shrugged out of her jacket, missed the peg on the wall and walked away without noticing.
"What's bothering you, kitten?" He asked her gently. "You've had something on your mind for quite awhile, even before we left Larkin City."
She looked at him, startled out of her own thoughts. "I'm just at loose ends," she began. "What do I do, Scott? I don't have a career to speak of. I haven't had a real job in years. I feel useless, like I'm just going through the motions."
Scott was surprised. "Are you kidding? You run the mansion almost single-handedly. You keep the books, do the taxes, and take care of all arrangements to do with the house. In case you haven't noticed, it's a big place and there's a lot of folks living there who rely on you. You should get a salary for that alone, but you don't. Last year, you raised almost half a million dollars for new equipment at Larkin Hospice with the silent auctions and benefit dinners. How can you think that you're useless, that you do nothing?"
"I have no personal accomplishments," she argued. "No individual achievement. You have the mining company, Angie is a writer, and Jamie is a veterinarian. I have no real direction, no vocation."
He scrutinized his wife. "What do you have in mind? Is there something in particular you want to do?"
"That's just it, I don't know," she replied in frustration. "There are so many different things I like to do. You know I love computers. Maybe I'll take some classes at LCU. I like cooking. Should I open a restaurant? Write a cookbook? But then I'd be going up against Dana, which I don't want. I've been doing the family books as you said for years, but I don't have an accounting degree. I learned by rote. But should I go for a degree? Or not?"
He laughed. "Try them all, Shan. You can do whatever you want. There's nothing holding you back, is there?"
She stared at him open-mouthed for a moment, and then smiled broadly. "You're right," she conceded. "I have money to do as I please, and I don't have a nine-to-five job pulling me down."
"Why do I always feel better after I talk to you?" Shannon asked, reaching over to take his hand.
"Because I'm your husband," he answered her simply. "I know and love you well, and I can be objective when you're bogged down. You do the same for me, kitten."
"We complement each other," she murmured, squeezing his hand. "It's so hard to believe nearly thirty-one years have passed since we got married. Why does time go by so quickly?"
"I wish I could put a hold on time," he agreed. "I want to stay just like we are, now." He sipped his whiskey. "But, the future beckons. Do you know what you want to do?"
"Computers, I think," she said with a smile. "I know a lot on my own, but there is so much more to learn. When we get back to Larkin City, I'll enroll in some computer classes."
He grinned. "That's what I thought you'd say," he teased her. "It's bad enough we have a computer in our bedroom, in the drawing room, in the kitchen . . ."
"Having a PC in the kitchen is brilliant," she interrupted him. "I can cook and do the books at the same time."
"You might ask Derek or Diana which classes are the most beneficial," Scott suggested. "I'm sure they'll have a good idea who the best instructors are."
"Wonderful. I'll do it." She placed her hand on his knee. "Enough about that. We're here to relax and enjoy our time alone. What would you like for dinner?"
He snickered. "How about a serving of sweet kitten in the bedroom?"
Even after all their years together, Scott still had the power to make her blush and go weak in the knees. "Behave yourself," she chastised him half-heartedly. "We've just arrived, and you said you were starving."
Scott grinned. "You can't say I didn't try. Okay. I'd love an Irish omelet. Are you game?"
"That sounds perfect."
"I'll help," he offered. "I want lots of pepper in mine."
She touched his face. "Yes I know, darling. I'm well aware of your likes and dislikes."
"As I'm aware of yours. I know and love you well, kitten."
"We complement each other," she reiterated gently. "We always have."
THE NEXT AFTERNOON, SCOTT and Shannon walked into Castletownbere Village to have lunch at the landmark MacCarthy's Pub on the square. Half the pub was a grocery store, while the other half contained a bar with dart boards and billiard tables. Scott and Shannon tried to eat there at least once during their stay, enjoying the comfortable and genuinely Irish atmosphere. They both ordered pints of Guinness along with salmon steaks, jacket potatoes and hot-buttered scones.
"Would you like to take a walk around the harbor?" Scott asked as they finished their meal.
Shannon reached across the table to touch her husband's hand. "I have a better idea," she whispered, lowering her eyes. "Let's spend the rest of the day at the cottage, warm in our bed."
He chuckled, squeezing her hand. "My, my," he teased her. "My wife is insatiable this fine day. Didn't last night and this morning quench your thirst for me?"
"Not nearly enough."
"So we've come all this way to spend our time in bed?"
"Exactly," she replied in a husky tone.
His eyes darkened with desire. "We're not waiting on me, kitten," he said softly.
SCOTT MADE LOVE TO Shannon as if he could not get enough of her. Once they returned to the cottage from MacCarthy's, he led her to the bedroom, removing pieces of her clothing in quick succession. When she tried to do the same to him, he brushed her hands aside and began kissing her. He started at her lips, and then made his way down to her neck, shoulders, breasts, stomach and finally to the dark triangle between her legs.
She moaned, touching the top of Scott's head. She dug her fingers into his hair as he continued to pleasure her with maddening slowness. She thrilled to his touch now just as she had when they made love for the first time thirty-one years ago. Scott set her ablaze with passion, making her almost mindless in the process.
He laid her on the bed and then stood, removing his own clothes. She felt his weight dip the bed as he joined her, locking her into an embrace and entering her quickly. She met his exhilaration, holding tight to his shoulders as he thrust into her, over and over.
Afterward, they lay sated in each other's arms. Both of them were pleasantly exhausted, lethargic yet fully awake. It began to rain again, the clouds casting long shadows in the room.
"I wish we could stay here forever," Scott said in the darkness.
"So do I."
He rolled on his side to face her, resting his chin on the palm of his hand. "I really mean it, kitten," he said strongly. "Let's buy this place once and for all, pack up our things in Larkin City and move to Castletownbere."
She reached up and brushed a stray lock of hair from his forehead. "Are you serious?"
"We could always go back to Larkin City during holidays," he spoke urgently. "We could even spend time there in the summer, during Larkin Fair Days."
She laughed. "Now I know you're teasing me. You'd never leave the mining company, or Angie and Jamie."
Scott felt his enthusiasm slowly dissolve. He was serious, but Shannon did not recognize his momentum. He wanted to get away from Larkin City, to live with his wife in the peace and solitude of Castletownbere. They deserved the time alone as they grew older. They earned the right to do as they pleased.
But he knew Shannon would never allow herself to be uprooted from her home. She might be fond of Castletownbere and the cottage of her ancestors, but it would never replace the love she felt for Larkin City and the family estate.
Scott relaxed next to his wife. "I love you, Shannon," he whispered against her lips. "More than you'll ever know. Please don't ever forget it."
THE TWILIGHT ©Deidre Dalton. All rights reserved.
"The Twilight" may not be reproduced in whole or in part without written permission from the author. "The Twilight" is a work of fiction. Any resemblance to actual persons living or dead is purely coincidental.