With every New York Times bestseller, Luanne Rice illuminates yet another of the secret wonders of the heart. Her unforgettable evocations of family, friendship, and loves lost and won in such novels as The Edge of Winter, Sandcastles, and Summer of Roses give voice to our most powerful emotions. Now she brings back two of her most beloved characters to tell of their journey across the sea to unravel the mysteries of a shared past—and two undying love affairs....
What Matters Most
Sister Bernadette Ignatius has returned to Ireland in the company of Tom Kelly to search for the past—and the son—they left behind. For it was here that these two long-ago lovers spent a season of magic before Bernadette’s calling led her to a vocation as Mother Superior at Star of the Sea Academy on the sea-tossed Connecticut shore. For Tom, Bernadette’s choice meant giving up his fortune and taking the job as caretaker at Star of the Sea, where he could be close to the woman he could no longer have but whom he never stopped loving. And while one miracle drew them apart, another is about to bring them together again.
For somewhere in Dublin a young man named Seamus Sullivan is also on a search, dreaming of being reunited with his own first love, the only “family” he’s ever known. They’d been inseparable growing up together at St. Augustine’s Children’s Home, until Kathleen Murphy’s parents claimed her and she vanished across the sea to America. Now, in a Newport mansion, that very girl, grown to womanhood, works as a maid and waits with a faith that defies all reason for the miracle that will bring back the only boy she’s ever loved.
That miracle is at hand—but like most miracles, it can come only after the darkest of nights and the deepest of heartbreaks. For life can be as precarious as a walk along a cliff, and its greatest rewards reached only by those who dare to risk everything...for what matters most.
From the Hardcover edition.
"synopsis" may belong to another edition of this title.
Luanne Rice is the author of twenty-five novels, most recently Light of the Moon, What Matters Most, The Edge of Winter, Sandcastles, Summer of Roses, Summer’s Child, Silver Bells, and Beach Girls. She lives in New York City and Old Lyme, Connecticut.
From the Hardcover edition.
Sister Bernadette Ignatius and Tom Kelly sat in the back seat of a black cab, driving from Dublin's airport through the city. She felt jet-lagged from their flight from Boston and all the weather delays, but full of anticipation about what she was about to find out. Although she hadn't been here in over twenty years, Dublin looked so familiar: the lovely Georgian townhouses with their fanlights and brightly painted doors, stone bridges arching over the River Liffey, the columned facades of imposing government buildings.
"Well, look at that," Tom said, leaning across the seat to point at the cozy brick bar with hot pink petunias spilling from glossy black window boxes. "O'Malley's Pub. It's still here. Remember? Our own personal Tir na Nog. That's where . . ."
"Some things never change," she said quickly, to stop his words. "I wonder if Mr. O'Malley is still behind the bar."
"I wonder what he'd think to see Bernie Sullivan in a nun's habit."
"With the convent right around the corner, I doubt he's shocked by the sight of a nun."
"No," Tom said. "But then, you're not just any nun."
"Tom Kelly," she said sternly. "We're either going to do this the hard way or the easy way. I'm voting for the easy way."
"You're the boss, Sister Bernadette," he said. "You always have been."
She nodded once, hard. He was right about that: she was his employer. Tom was the foreman and groundskeeper at Star of the Sea Academy in Black Hall, Connecticut, where Bernadette was Superior. He and his crew kept the lawns manicured, the gardens blooming, the vineyard producing, and the old stone walls and buildings from falling apart. He had quite a vested interest in the place; it had once been the mansion and grounds of his paternal great-grandfather, the well-known industrialist and philanthropist Francis X. Kelly.
Bernadette slid a glance across the seat, saw Tom staring out the cab window. She tried to read his expression. She had known him forever, or at least most of their lives. They had met at Star of the Sea, at summer picnics when his family would invite hers down to the beach for the day. Francis X. Kelly had employed her great-grandfather, Cormac Sullivan, to build all the walls on the property. Their families had long histories, and so did Bernadette and Tom.
Tom had thrown away his family riches to work the land. He was passionate about social causes and justice, caught up in the legacy of his ancestors' poverty, hunger, and fighting spirit. He had gone to private schools, then turned his back on a life of luxury and ease. He liked to keep his hands dirty and his feet planted solidly on the ground. Bernie loved him for it. She doubted she could have a better foreman and knew she could never have a better friend.
He looked tired, she thought. This trip was possibly more challenging for him than it was for her, and that was saying something. She knew that he had very strong hopes, in terms of the outcome. And she knew, even before they really set forth on their quest, that he would be disappointed.
"Here we are," the driver said in his bright Irish accent. "The Convent of Notre Dame des Victoires."
"Guess which one of us is staying here," Tom asked him.
"Very funny," Bernadette said as the driver chuckled.
Although the driver started to help her with her bags, Tom took over. She saw him reach into the trunk, pull out her suitcase. She rarely used it, hardly ever leaving Star of the Sea, except for the occasional monastic conference or retreat. Since her family--her brother John, his wife, Honor, and their three daughters--lived on the Academy grounds, she usually spent her week's vacation right there at home.
She had applied for a sabbatical last year, hoping to go to Florence to study her beloved Fra Angelico, but had never found the time to take it. The Academy always needed her--to run the school, make decisions in the convent, keep the vineyard operating.
This trip to Dublin fell under the category of "personal time." As Superior, she had granted time away to Sisters with sick siblings or parents, funerals to attend, family emergencies. For her own leave of absence, she had made arrangements very quickly, left Sister Ursula in charge of everything, including the hectic start of the school year. None of her nuns had ever needed to deal with anything like what she herself was about to face, and the thought of it sent chills through her body.
"Are you cold, Bernie?" Tom asked, seeing her shiver, standing on the curb.
"No," she said. "I'm fine."
"Coming down with something?"
She shook her head, gazing past him at the convent's curtained windows. She thought she saw the fabric move and a shadow pass behind the glass.
"Well, I'll be at the house," he said. "You have my number if you need me. If they don't have orange juice, or you need some aspirin or something, you know who to call."
"I'm sure they'll have everything I need," she said dryly, slipping her hands into her sleeves.
"And if they don't, you'll get it," he said. "You do know how to take care of things, I'll give you that." He squinted up at the convent, as if assessing the brickwork. "There's some crumbling mortar there, needs repointing," he said, pointing at the front steps. It was probably a very effective way to block out his memory of the last time he'd dropped her off at this address.
"Not every convent can be lucky enough to have you on staff," she said.
He gazed down at her, the squint not letting up one bit. She waited for a smile, but it didn't come. What did she expect? For him to thank her for the compliment? Not likely, not Tom Kelly. Under the circumstances, it probably sounded to him meager at best.
"At least, most likely, they don't have a resident vandal," he said, giving her a quick, mischievous smile. "What was that message, carved in the stone?" He paused, seeming to think, even though she was sure he knew the words by heart. She felt the heat in her neck and face, and she shook her head. She never would have expected Tom to be so mean. "Tell me the words, Bernie. The ones that appeared first, early in the summer . . ."
" 'I was sleeping, but my heart kept vigil,' " she murmured.
He nodded. "That's right," he said, lifting her bag, carrying it up the sidewalk. "How could I forget?"
"You didn't," she said coolly, unlatching the wrought-iron gate at the foot of the front steps.
As they climbed the steps, she felt years falling away, almost as if she were coming to the convent for the first time, preparing to join the order. Her mouth was dry, and she was filled with a sense of trepidation, fear that she might be making the wrong choice.
"You sure you want to do this?" Tom asked, the same question he'd put to her twenty-three years earlier.
"The choice has already been made," Bernie said, echoing her own response.
Just then the door opened, and a nun stood there smiling widely, gazing at Bernie with warm green-gold eyes. She was tall and thin, and looked exactly as Bernie remembered her, all those years ago, when they were novices together.
"Sister Bernadette Ignatius!" the nun said in her Kerry brogue.
"Sister Anne-Marie," Bernie said.
Tom slid the bag into the front hall, standing back as the old friends embraced and Bernie wiped away tears.
"Is that you, Tom Kelly?" Sister Anne-Marie asked, beaming.
"It sure is," he said. "How're you doing, Annie?"
"I'm fine," she said, throwing herself against him in a big hug. Bernie watched the affection in both their faces, and she fought to keep her own expression as blank as possible. She knew this wasn't going to be simple, and she had to maintain as much control as she could.
"Okay, I'm off," Tom said. "You have my number, Sister Bernadette. I'll see you tomorrow morning. Take good care of her, Sister Anne-Marie."
"You know I will," she said with mock sternness, locking arms with Bernie, and pulling her into the inner sanctum, closing the door behind her.
Bernie's heart was pounding. She looked around the hall, saw the delicate marble statue of the Blessed Mother standing in the alcove. The aroma of good cooking wafted down the hall, and she also smelled hints of incense from the chapel just off the front hall. Memories were flooding back, making her feel almost faint. She heard the car door slam, and when she glanced past the curtain, she saw Tom watching out the car window as the driver pulled away.
"Feels like it's happening all over again," she said in a low voice.
"It's not, though," Sister Anne-Marie replied, standing just behind her.
"I'm not sure why I came," Bernie said. "This story has already been written. Right down to 'The End.' "
"A kinder way to look at it," Sister Anne-Marie said gently, her tone bringing hot tears to Bernie's eyes as she eased her around, taking her hand, "is that the story is just beginning. 'Once upon a time . . .' "
Bernie opened her mouth to reply, but just then she heard heavy footsteps coming through the parlor--the room where she had seen the shadow behind the curtain. And she knew without turning around that this was the person she dreaded seeing more than anyone in this world.
Merrion Square was one of Dublin's finest addresses, hands down, and it was there that Tom Kelly directed the driver to take him. The large Georgian square was surrounded by museums and brick townhouses with wrought-iron balconies, ivy growing up the bric...
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