The Ring

 

The Ring 
Serendipity, Indiana – Book Five

Carla makes wishes come true for everyone but herself. Widower Jared and his kids have won her heart. But is the future possible without forgiving the past?

Carla Standish is the go-to person for whatever her friends and family need, and is world-renowned for creating one-of-a-kind, swoon worthy dresses. She’s even surprising herself and the folks in town by dating a decent guy these days. If one missing piece would fall into the jigsaw puzzle of her life, everything would be perfect. But she ruined that possibility long ago, didn’t she?

It’s been a couple of years since widower Jared Barnett and his kids moved to Serendipity for a much-needed new start. They were settling in, but now he’s getting some confusing signals from the vivacious shop owner he’s dating, and the small town “good old boy” network seems determined to treat the Barnetts as outsiders. An offer he shouldn’t refuse would mean pulling up stakes again, but Jared will do whatever is required to take care of his family, and to protect his own heart.

~*~
 
The Ring
Serendipity, Indiana–Book Five
 
By
 
USA Today Bestselling Author
Magdalena Scott
 Copyright ©2016
 
Chapter One
I slogged through the Dublin deluge. Several beautiful days had passed, with just morning fog or a brief shower. But on those days I was indoors, doing fittings and alterations on a stunning winter wardrobe for one of the most famous and fashionable women in Ireland.
My client seemed pleased with her new clothes, and I anticipated more business would come my way as a result of word of mouth advertising. I tried not to wonder how I could handle additional clients.
It was, after all, a delightful problem.
Ireland enchanted me as always, but due to the backlog of work in my little hometown of Serendipity, Indiana, this trip didn’t allow for extended sightseeing. One day in Dublin was my only down time; the next morning I would catch an early flight. I cheered myself with the realization that Dublin in the rain isn’t less beautiful than Dublin on a sunny day, just beautiful in a different way.
The taxi driver who picked me up at the front door of my hotel was as bright and encouraging as the day was grey. As requested, he drove through the Georgian Square area so I could see the many colored Doors of Dublin, and crisscrossed the River Liffey a few times. Views of, and from, those lovely bridges are breathtaking.
When I said good-bye to my agreeable cab driver, I set out on foot, thankful for my knee-high rubber Wellingtons and hooded raincoat.
As usual I took time to walk, awe-struck, through the Long Room of the Old Library at Trinity College. The Brian Boru harp, one of only three surviving medieval Gaelic harps, is amazing, as are the two levels of floor-to-ceiling bookcases. I think the flyer said 200,000 antiquarian volumes are housed there. In the previous rooms I had taken time to admire pages of the intricately decorated Book of Kells.
I had decided to skip the shopping temptations of Grafton Street, for the most part. Wool sweaters, Waterford crystal, jewelry, and books were all favorites, but I didn’t need more. Instead, I would stroll through the National Library, National Museum, and National Gallery. I wondered if I would always visit Dublin alone, or if Jared might like it. A trip to Ireland would be a memorable and educational vacation for his kids too.
But that thought was way ahead of any reality.
When my stomach told me lunch time had arrived, I ducked into a nearby pub. The place was dark and crowded, and the barman made room for me by producing the tiniest table I’ve ever seen—a small round of scarred wood—and tucking it into a corner. He snagged an empty chair and gestured for me to have a seat.
“What’ll you drink, dear?”
“Pint of Guinness, please.” I peeled off my raincoat, and began to relax and enjoy the ambiance. Several conversations were almost discernible, some in American dialects. Other patrons spoke with Irish brogues, and one pair of older gentlemen at the bar had such thick accents I couldn’t make out a single word. I decided they were speaking Gaelic, the official language of the land.
Grey haired, broad shouldered, and wearing sweaters they may have had for years but which would have cost a mint to replace, their presence made the cozy pub all the more picturesque.
A waitress appeared with my drink, and I ordered a lunch of fish and chips just as automatically as I had requested the Guinness, without looking at a menu. When in Rome…or Dublin…
 
I couldn’t stop watching those two older men and wondering what they were saying. They certainly had plenty to talk about.
When my food arrived, I asked the waitress for a glass of water, which I knew would arrive in a chilled glass but without ice. I took a bite of flaky, battered fish and sighed with pleasure.
Sensing that I was being watched, I looked up and caught the two old men looking straight at me.
“Poor dear,” said Man Number One. “You’re looking a wee bit lost.”
His friend nodded in agreement.
While eating, my mind had slid from Dublin to Serendipity. I chewed and swallowed, set down my fork. I love meeting new people, and was intrigued by these two. It would be fun to chat. “Oh. I’m…I was just thinking.” I did not look lost, but why quibble?
“Aaaah,” they said in unison.
“Thinking of the boy back home who broke her heart,” Man Number One suggested to his companion.
Man Number Two surveyed my face again. “No, that’s not it. The boy back home doesn’t have marriage on his mind.” He paused, considering me again. “Or, he has marriage on his mind, but the lady isn’t interested.”
Number One took a drink from his heavy glass. “Could be he broke her heart because he doesn’t have marriage on his mind.”
I laughed, grateful for their humor. “Okay, you can stop guessing. Not that it’s any of your business.”
They smiled and nodded. “True enough,” Number Two said.
I thought for a moment, deciding whether to joke with them or to be honest and hear the advice they looked so eager to impart. I often find it easy to talk to strangers when traveling, knowing the conversation will be forgotten when we part.
“To set your minds at ease, I’m not heartbroken.”
Number One shook his head. “Oh, now there’s good news. There’s nothing better in this wide world than marriage between two loving hearts, miss.”
Number Two clapped a hand on Number One’s shoulder. “And nothing worse than loneliness. That’s the truth of it.”
These gentlemen were too much. “I’m not lonely. I have a busy career, wonderful family and friends. I’m very blessed.”
They both looked confused. Number One asked, “You’re not planning to marry the fellow then?”
I shrugged, disinclined to get into specifics. Though I hadn’t admitted the existence of a man in my life, I also hadn’t denied it.
With some painful effort, Number One slid off his stool and came over to me. “Arthritic, I am,” he said in answer to my sympathetic wince. “Doesn’t pay to live in a wet climate when old Arthurcomes to call. But this is my world and all, it is. Wife says let’s sell out and move to Arizona.” He laughed, as did his companion. He held out his hand. “I’m Mick, and me pal here is Jamie.”
I shook his offered hand which did indeed have some knots on the joints. His clothes carried a pleasant aroma of pipe tobacco.
“I’m Carla. It’s nice to meet you gentlemen. Arizona is beautiful, Mick, but if you’ve never experienced summer there, you might want to check that out before moving.”
Mick shook his head, watching me. “Won’t happen. It’s just something the woman mentions when I have my worst days. She doesn’t like to see me suffer, and more than that, doesn’t like to hear me complain.”
Jamie had walked over too, and after shaking my hand he pounded Mick on the back. “Maeve is an angel to stay married to the likes of you all these years.”
“As is your Mary, and that’s the God’s truth.” Mick chuckled back at him. Then his attention returned to me. “This boy-o of yours, Carla. Is he after making you his wife?”
“So far, we’re just dating. And, our relationship is…complicated.”
Mick held up his hands in surrender. “Ah. Americans and their complications.”
Jamie winked at me. “Young people and their complications, you mean.”
“Just what is keeping your hearts separated?” Mick asked.
I had asked for this, by letting myself be drawn into the conversation. “A few things, I suppose. He has children. His wife died—”
“Oh! Saints preserve us,” Jamie said, with his hand on his heart. “The poor children. They’ll be needing a woman in the house.”
I sipped my water. “Their father seems to be doing fine at single parenting.”
Both men rolled their eyes.
“It’s impossible to say where our relationship is going.” My voice had grown softer as I spoke.
“You don’t care for the children?” asked Mick.
“Yes of course I do, but—”
“The man isn’t good to you?” asked Jamie.
“Yes he is, but—”
Mick pierced me with clear brown eyes. “I don’t understand the problem.”
I looked around, as if anyone else in the place was interested in the state of my life. “For one thing, I’m not like Patty, his first wife.”
“Are you supposed to be like Patty, now? Is that what they’re telling you?” Mick’s bushy brows threatened to unite in disapproval.
“They haven’t said that in so many words, no. But when they talk about her…”
Mick interrupted. “Ah, lass, when they talk about her they’re trying to keep the memories alive. It’s been a little while, I’m guessing?”
“A couple of years.”
Mick nodded. “Talking about her keeps her image in their minds. They need to sit and talk about photos, where they were taken, who said what just before the shutter clicked. It’s all they have of her, you see. Photographs. The things she touched. As time goes on, Patty may seem all the more perfect to them. It’s easier to let any ill feelings go, and forget shortcomings, once a loved one has died. Maybe you’re not willing to endure that, and be the person who is only human, doing her best in the here and now.”
He was right, wasn’t he, that as time passes, it’s natural to venerate a deceased person? If I was feeling insufficient in comparison with Patty now, would I find the shadow of her memory easier or harder to deal with in the future?
Jamie drained the last of his pint. “That’s something to think about. If you feel you’re competing with a ghost, there’s no winning.”
Mick looked at Jamie. “Still and all, the girl’s in love. That much, at least, is clear.” Mick’s gaze shifted to me again. “It’s no wonder you’re looking lost, dear. ‘Tis a hard thing to know how to proceed with a man who’s suffered the loss of his wife.”
I pleated a paper napkin, beginning to regret this soul-baring conversation. “I’m old enough to know the challenges.” I had never been married, had dated my share of losers, and was more qualified to dump guys than to stand by them. But in theory I knew how healthy relationships worked.
“Hmm. I think you’re trying to convince yourself.” Jamie shot a mysterious look to Mick, who paused, glanced at me, and nodded.
“Carla, this is meant to go to you,” said Mick. He reached into his pocket and withdrew a small, manila envelope which he handed to me.
Weighing nothing, it felt empty, yet Mick’s sparkling eyes showed he was eager for me to see what was inside. His attitude piqued my interest, and I opened the envelope with care, in case there was a valuable paper of some sort hiding within. Once the flap was open, I tipped the envelope over my other palm, and a small Claddagh ring slid into my hand. I recognized the traditional Irish design, featuring two hands (representing friendship) holding a heart (representing love) and above the heart, a crown (loyalty).
I met Mick’s sparkling brown eyes. “It’s lovely. But why do you say it’s meant for me?”
“Humor an old man.” He paused, taking the envelope and depositing it onto the miniature table. “There’s meaning in a Claddagh, you know.”
I nodded, examining the delicate gold ring. There seemed to have been an inscription at one time, but it was illegible now. “I’ve read some about these. Worn on the right hand, with the heart pointed a certain way, it means you’re looking for a man. When the heart points opposite, it signifies you’re taken. On the left hand, it shows you’re either engaged or married. Right?”
“A knowledgeable young woman!” Mick nudged the smiling Jamie before asking me, “And you’ve a respect for tradition?”
I nodded, still not certain about accepting the ring as a gift.
He leaned closer. “What about magic? How do you feel about that?”
My breath caught. “Magic?”
“Nothing dark. I’m talking about the fact that I found the ring in this very pub, one year ago. I turned it in to the barman and he kept it in the lost and found box. Today he handed me that envelope, saying since no one had claimed it, the Claddagh is mine. I have no need of it. The women in my family wear their own.”
He stopped, watching my reaction. “I’m giving it to you, and here is the reason. Your mind is whirling with possibilities of this man of yours. You don’t seem to know if you’re looking or taken.” He pointed a gnarled finger toward the ring I held. “Wear this on your right hand. Maybe seeing it there, feeling its presence day and night, will help you decide.”
Jamie chuckled. “She likely thinks you’re touched in the head.”
Mick frowned at him. “Perhaps, but love is no business for the sane.” He pointed at the ring again. “Would you be sliding it onto your finger, then, Carla?”
I did as he asked, and wasn’t the least surprised that it fit.
“You’ve put it on to indicate you’re taken.”
I nodded, contemplating the ring.
Mick cleared his throat. “I wish you all the best in life, Carla. Remember, you can use that as an engagement ring and wedding ring as well. Pass it down through your family to do the same if you wish. There’s something very special about an item handed from one generation to the next.” He patted my hand, turned and headed to the door. Jamie said good-bye and followed him.
Mick’s words were similar to what my grandmother had told me when I was a little girl. I looked down at my hand again, and the delicate gold ring glowed up at me. What a shame someone had lost it and not known where to look.
~*~
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Learn more about the rest of the Serendipity series on my Serendipity page, here.