Chapter 2 – Ambition
Adam would have preferred to continue sleeping, but Princess Thorn had different ideas. He felt her jabbing into his chest before he opened his eyes. He contemplated grabbing her hand and squeezing – he knew someone who could heal her – but he didn't really want to use Aine like that.
Aine Grian, fiancé of one of his childhood friends, had an innate ability to heal. It came in pretty handy in a pinch, but it also caused some inconvenient side-effects. He didn't like that. It was the idea of inflicting transferred pain that kept him from physically refraining stick-fingers.
Adam grunted and didn't bother to excuse himself when he wiped away the drool that had pooled at his lips. She was interrupting the nap that could have easy lasted right into bedtime.
Great, he thought. Now I'm cranky, and I'm still behind by half a day.
Breda had been watching Hercules sleep, and she startled herself by actually wanting to leave him lying there. He seemed peaceful as he slept. All the sharp edges of his facial features and chiselled body relaxed, and she almost wanted to cuddle him.
Except that she didn't. Instead, she decided to poke him into consciousness. The alternative invited danger. As far as she knew he might come out of it impersonating a bear that had been disturbed during hibernation. She was having a miserable time, and Luck had abandoned her, but she wasn't suicidal.
The drive back to the farm was quiet, and Adam was thankful for that. He really didn't want to pretend to be an understanding ear. Obligations went only so far. He was tasked with driving her there and back, and he didn't plan on following her inside so that his mother could find some other way to keep them together. Besides, he was way behind on his chores, and they weren't going to do themselves.
Breda wasn't about to let one minor set-back completely destroy her goals. She had to stay for a few more weeks. Big deal. She was tough. She could handle it. She would go back to Toronto stronger than ever and toting stories to share with her friends about how she had survived such poor conditions.
Maybe she could even use the spare time to decide what exactly she wanted to do with the money once she got it. A fair amount would go toward her continuing education. Breda Larcon had attended four different universities in seven years and had been unsuccessful in completing a single course. It wasn't that she hadn't found something to suit her talents; she was actually quite good at everything that she tried, but most things held more appeal in thought than they did in practice. She hadn't found her niche.
Adam was thankful to see three little heads pop up from the chicken coup as he and Breda pulled into the driveway. They were peeping over the board which he had put up based on Killeen's advice. The board had worked to settle down his colt, which wasn't altogether impressed by the neighbouring chickens.
The other two weren't far behind. Adam had four nephews in total and one niece, and he adored them beyond words. He showered them with an absolute affection – partly because they were irresistible and partly because he never wanted them to feel unwanted and unloved.
Adam tried his best to stay out of the private affairs of his sister, Krista, and as much as he had wanted to chase after Ryan for leaving her in a bad way, he had learned first-hand through his would-be-sister Flynn what meddling in relational affairs did. It wasn't good.
Besides, Ryan was back – sort of – and while Adam wasn't ready to throw caution to the wind and trust him, it was nice to have another pair of helping hands on the farm. So long as Ryan was trying to get back in Krista's good graces Adam would use him to his advantage.
"Rhi, Bren, and Ben," Krista called with Dillon on one hip and Devlin on the other. "Come out of there before you rouse up the rooster."
It annoyed him when his sister carried on like they were a bother. They were never in his way, even when they were. Brenden headed up the rambunctious crew at the age of seven, Benjamin was six, Rhianne was just shy of five, Devlin was terribly two, and Dillon was about to celebrate his first birthday.
Adam owed Aine eternal gratitude that the boy would be able to celebrate at all. Without her help the hole in his heart would have seen him in an early grave. Little Rhianne wouldn't have survived her allergic reaction either.
All in all Fate had tended them well in sending Aine to them. She had been equally gracious in sharing Killeen. It was because of those sound choices that left Adam concerned about her sudden shift in good sense.
He was a down-to-earth person. He didn't put much faith in magic, but he couldn't turn a blind eye to seeing it either. Aine and Killeen were clearly gifted beyond normal means. So it stood to reason that this stranger was in some way tied into the whole curse-talk that William Hayes made them meet about several times a week. He just couldn't figure out whether or not over-indulgence was gift or not.
Breda turned up her nose at Rhianne and moved toward the house when she tried to offer her a dirty-handed wave, and Adam knew in that moment that she couldn't possibly be his soul-mate. Even Fate wasn't cruel enough to send him someone who couldn't love the people he loved the most.
"Who's the pretty lady?" Rhianne asked, wiping her hands on her hand-me-down boy shorts.
"Yeah Adam, who is the pretty lady?" Krista asked, handing over Dillon who was all but jumping out of her arms to get to him.
"A royal pain in the..." Adam started, and was promptly cut off.
"Don't you dare finish that sentence," Krista warned him. "It took me two weeks to get them to quit using the last flavourful adjective you taught them."
"Momma took the soap to Bren," Ben added.
"And she said if we come back talking like sailors, she will take the soap to you and send us out on the boat with Uncle Murphy," Bren continued excitedly. "Can we go? Truly?"
"I didn't say that exactly," Krista countered. "And you weren't supposed to be happy about it, in any case."
Adam smirked but knew better than to laugh. Krista was trying hard to raise her children to be decent. He wouldn't undermine her authority, regardless of how funny it was.
"You listen to your Momma," Adam said sternly.
"Yes sir," they returned.
"Guess what?" Rhianne said, jumping up and down so that her piggy-tails bounced from her shoulders to above her head.
"What's that, pretty girl?" Adam returned, kneeling down so that he was closer to her level.
"We milked for you," she said, beaming with pride. "And we barely knocked the bucket at all."
"Is that right?" Adam asked, grinning a bit.
"Papaw says that I've got the makings for the best foam," Rhianne stated.
"I believe it," Adam replied. "Bella didn't give you too hard a time?"
"Papaw says she's easy with me," Rhianne stated matter-of-factly.
Adam nodded. "You've a way with them."
"Like Killeen!" Rhianne continued.
"Something like her, for sure," Adam said.
Adam looked around for his dad and knew that he would have something to say about things being off-schedule. Regardless of his mother's wishes, Adam had a responsibility to the farm. That would always come first.
What surprised him was the interaction his father had with his grandchildren in recent months. He was paying them notice, which was uncharacteristic of him. Adam had spent half of his life wishing for Thomas Donagh's praise and the other half wishing he wouldn't speak to him at all. He had no choice but to settle for the occasional almost-acknowledgement he had received once he became far too intimidating in size to physically reprimand.
They looked nothing alike. Adam was a monster in comparison to his five-foot-six tall father. His mother was a few heads shorter, and everyone in town had a good laugh at how a giant and come in and bred his mother. Adam sometimes believed there must be some truth to it, because the only thing that they had in common was a strong work ethic.
And work they did – from sun-up until sun-down. Their farm was full of blood, sweat, and tears, and it seemed to have come to the end of its term. They had tried everything they could think of to refertilize the fields, but they simply didn't want to grow anything. They had even tried Killeen's gift as a buffer with no success.
Thomas Donagh approached while Adam was contemplating.
"You lose your faith in the land, and it will stop supporting you," Thomas said, looking at the barren field.
"I haven't lost my faith in anything," Adam argued.
"That's right," Thomas said, spitting his chew on the ground at Adam's feet. "It wasn't in your blood to begin with. Just like your mother."
Adam closed his eyes and fought with himself for the restraint to bite his tongue. He was doing everything he possibly could to make things run right. He was doing everything that his father had taught him. It wasn't even his farm, but it was him who put the most work into tending it.
"Come on inside, Da," Krista said, giving Adam a sympathetic smile. "Dinner will be ready soon."
"Yes Papaw," Rhianne said, taking her mother's queue. "We'll help Nana just like we helped you."
"Well supervising is something these old bones can still do," Thomas said jovially as he allowed Rhianne to guide him inside. "At least someone here knows where their priorities should be."
Adam felt a soft hand on his arm, which kept him from clenching his fists. It was a good thing too because Dillon had wormed his way into both of them and was in the process of using Adam as a jungle-gym. He didn't have the drive to fight his father anyway. He was a beaten horse.
"Let it lye, Adam," Krista suggested. "We all know what you put into this place. Even him."
"Come on squirt," Adam said, redirecting his somber thoughts. "Let's go see what a job your siblings did at evening tends."
Dillon giggled when Adam hoisted him onto his shoulders and headed off toward the barn.
Sitting at the dinner table was awkward. Even the kids were encompassed by a strange silent trance. The clicking of silverware was the only sound in the room, and the scraping of Breda's fork on her plate as she pushed around her food left Adam feeling like a stranger in his own skin.
There was something sad in her eyes, and as much as he wanted to find secret amusement in whatever had caused her façade to crumble, he couldn't. An unfamiliar desire to make her smile consumed him, and it took all his reserve willpower to keep himself from trying.
Breda had no desire to eat. It wasn't that the food looked to taste bad. She was actually surprised with the amount of vegetables presented to her. She had assumed that they were meaty-eaters, and she hadn't really wanted to explain to them that she had removed that food-group from her diet.
She was too busy trying to figure out how she was going to stay there when the phone call to her mother hadn't gone as planned.
"Well you have no choice but to stay until the test results confirm that William is your biological father," Carolyn stated.
"Then I need you to send me some money to pay for the room," Breda replied curtly. "I am not asking him if I can stay there."
"No," her mother returned flatly.
"What do you mean no?" Breda shrieked into the phone.
"You need to figure this one out on your own," Carolyn persisted. "It's what your father would have wanted."
"My father is dead," Breda rebutted. "And I know you are trying to grieve in your own way. I have been happy to remain respectful when you did not support me in the proceedings, but this is absolutely ridiculous! I need money. You have money. Your accounts were not frozen!"
"Your father left me with specific instructions where you were concerned, Breda," she said gently. "I owe him far too much not to abide by his wishes."
"Daddy would never have wanted to see me on the street," Breda persisted, trying another approach.
"You won't end up on the street," Carolyn returned, knowing full well her daughter's tendencies toward theatrics. "William has described these people as nothing less than welcoming. If you can't stomach the thought of staying with him, perhaps you could explain your situation to the Donagh family."
"And have them pity me? You would have someone so obviously under our stature pity me? Is that what you would want to do to your daughter? Do you want me to grovel, Mother? Would that appease this sick quest you have to ruin my life?"
"Breda darling, I am not trying to ruin your life," Carolyn explained. "I am trying to help you live it."
"I was living quite contently before all this happened," Breda returned sharply. "And I will live quite contently once it's all finished. If you don't want to help me, then fine, but don't come crying to me when your circle of friends hears about how you have treated me."
"What makes you think they don't already know?" she asked softly. "You seem to have some preconceived notions about your status. If you would take two seconds to look beyond the shell that is our physical presence, you might be impressed with what you find underneath."
"Seriously?" Breda said, frustration clear in her voice. That was the end of her call. She promptly hung up.
Breda had adjusted to her mother's new healthy perspective. She had been on board with the dietary change and physical exercise, but the whole concept of mediation and mental purging annoyed her. Why would she want to purge her good fortune? Why would she want to rise beyond a realm she was perfectly happy existing in?
"Would you mind helping me carry a load to the kitchen, dear," Tilly asked.
Breda's shocked expression quickly subsided as she realized that it was not the time to decline anything, especially since she had no way to pay her.
Adam finished his plate and then slid Breda's over to finish as well. He supposed that someone as uppity as her was clean enough to eat after. Rhianne snickered as she watched him.
"You'd better get to eating yours before I take the mind to clean it as well," Adam warned her.
Rhianne promptly put a spoonful of sweet potatoes in her mouth. The older boys were already finished and had escaped the house before they could be made to work at cleaning up the mess. Krista was helping Ryan help the younger two. He wasn't doing a very good job at encouraging them to eat, but at least he was trying.
When his mother came back in with Breda, Adam noted the distinct expression of disgust mixed with relief. Adam settled back in his chair. This ought to be good, he thought.
"Breda has kindly offered to assist us here for the duration of her stay," Tilly began.
Adam guffawed, which earned him a disapproving look from his mother. Offered had to be a code-word for something else, because he knew that the only person that girl would wilfully help was herself.
Breda stood nervously in the doorway. When Tilly had called her into the kitchen, she really wasn't sure how the situation was going to go. She wasn't overly surprised that the woman had eavesdropped on her conversation – she hadn't exactly made a valid attempt to keep her voice low – but she was surprised when she offered her a way to pay off her debt. Did she have any other choice?
To earn her bed, she would help in whatever way Tilly thought would best be beneficial. Breda didn't work. She had never worked a day in her life, but the idea of physical activity was more appealing than calling William Hayes and asking for a place to stay. She would suck it up, chalk it up to some sort of charity job, and forget all about it ever happening once she was back in Toronto.
"Isn't that kind of her, Adam?" Tilly continued, narrowing her eyes to divert his instinctual response.
"Yes, ma'am," Adam replied, shaking his head.
"What exactly to you plan on having her do?" Krista asked curiously.
Adam smirked. It was a great question. He was pretty excited to hear the response himself. On the farm the only primping came from the chickens, hand moisturizer came from the balm they used on the cow udders, and make-up came in the way of dirt and sweat.
"Well, I am educated in a great number of things," Breda responded, lifting her chin.
"That's lovely dear," Tilly said cheerfully, encouraging her. "What did you earn your trade in?"
"I haven't really finished a degree yet," Breda said, hesitating.
It was Rhianne that saved her. "That's alright. I change my mind about what I want to be when I grow up every day."
Breda's expression softened a little. If Adam hadn't been staring at her, he wouldn't have noticed. He sort of wish he hadn't witnessed that. It did something strange to his gut.
"Maybe Rhianne can find something you will be capable of handling," Adam said, before he was able to silence himself.
His mother shot him a stern look. "You know full well that this little darling has school to get to in the morning."
Then she went and said something that he wanted to take and shake right out of his ears via a kick from his colt.
"I was hoping you could have her shadow you tomorrow," Tilly suggested. "You could certainly use the extra help."
Adam cinched his jaw and prayed for the strength not to sass his mother. The last thing that he needed was the city-brat slowing him down. She wouldn't be any help at all. Tilly Donagh was asking him to add to his already over-heavy load. Her notions about potential romance were about to be the cause of broken carriage.
"With all due respect," Adam began, trying to keep the edge out of his voice. "I hardly think throwing her right into the mix this all will be good for any of us." Especially me.
Breda watched Adam. He annoyed her right to death, and for a moment it almost sounded like he was implying that he was better than her. Helping him would be the perfect opportunity to prove that silly notion wrong, which was a bright side in the horrible situation. She shifted gears and realized that she might very well like to throw a wrench right into his gears. The idea absolutely delightful her. Besides, she had seen people do it on television before. How hard could farming really be?
"You heard your mother," Thomas stated.
"Yes, sir," Adam returned.
It was the crossing of Breda's arms and the smug smirk on her lips that drove him to slamming his door.
Ambition had tried different tactics, and still Earth seemed stuck in his submissive role. What would it take for him to break free of the restraints he placed on himself? As a last ditch effort, Ambition was going to push him right over the edge. He had found just the bulldozer to do it, and his only hope was that the driver didn't go right over with him.