He left quickly, and with a clomp of boots on the stairs.
“So, what’s all this about?” Branna wondered, then noting the fire in Iona’s eyes, held up a hand. “Hold that in until we’re down in the kitchen. I’ve a feeling I’ll be wanting more coffee for this.”
She led the way, then poured two mugs. “Go on then, cut it loose.”
“He comes banging on the door. I’d been floating feathers. I’ve got it, Branna. I’ll show you. But he broke my focus, and there’s feathers everywhere, but I pulled it back, and I showed him. I was excited and happy, who wouldn’t be? But I’m not blind or stupid.”
She stomped around the kitchen as she spoke, one hand gesturing wildly. Branna kept her eye on the coffee in the mug in case it threatened to lap over.
“I know when a man’s thinking about making a move. I know that look. You know that look,” she said, pointing at Branna.
“I do indeed, and it’s a fine one under most circumstances.”
“Exactly, and since it felt fine, I went with it, or would have. I mean, for God’s sake, all I did was lean in a little, and he pulls back like I’d jabbed him with a burning stick.”
“Hmm,” Branna said and got down a skillet.
“I felt like an idiot. You know how that kind of thing makes you feel. Well, you probably don’t,” Iona reconsidered. “What man would pull back from you? But I felt hot, not in the good way. Embarrassed. So I apologized. Just read it wrong, that’s all, sorry about that. Okay, so maybe I babbled a little, but I felt awful and stupid, and completely flustered because I’d thought he and Meara were a thing, but she said no, so I let myself open that door, which I hadn’t because of Meara, and you don’t poach. Besides, he’s the boss, and you don’t want to step in it. And then I did, so it was worse. And I’m apologizing and trying to make it like no big thing, and he grabs me.”
Branna paused for a moment in her task of frying bacon and eggs. “Is that the truth of it?”
“He yanked me in, and kissed me until my brains leaked out of my ears and the top of my head blew clean off.” She made an exploding noise, threw her hands up, fountained them down. “And in like five seconds he just drops me, and makes some nasty comment about shutting me up, and says let’s get going.”
“A poet Boyle McGrath will never be.”
“Screw poetry. He didn’t have to slap me down that way.”
“He didn’t, no.” Sympathy twined around amusement. “He’s brusque, is Boyle, and sometimes that can be taken for unkindness, but he’s not unkind as a rule.”
“I guess he broke the rule with me.”
“I’d say he did, by kissing the brains from your ears. You work for him, so it’s an awkward sort of situation. He’d take that to heart, Boyle would.”
“Here, have this at the table.” She offered Iona a plate with the bacon and egg on a thick piece of toasted bread. “Morning drama stirs my appetite.” Branna carried her own, and her coffee, took a seat. “I’ll tell you, he’s a man of rules. You don’t cheat, steal, or lie. You don’t misuse animals or take advantage of those weaker than you. You don’t spoil for a fight—which is a rule come to be in the last few years—but you don’t walk away from one. You stand for your friends and for your round in the pub. You never touch a woman who belongs to another, and you don’t give your word unless you intend to keep it.”
“I wasn’t spoiling for a fight, and I don’t belong to anyone. I’m not weaker than he is. Physically, sure, but I have something more. I think I lifted his truck—lorry—just a little, like a good-sized bump in the road. On the way over here.”
More amused now, Branna enjoyed her breakfast. “Temper can spark power. You’ll want to learn how to control that. You said yourself, he’s your boss. He’d think of that, Iona. It would count with him, and yes, even though you could say you made the first move. So if he kissed the brains out of your ears, you can be sure he wanted to enough. It—like the bump of the lorry—wasn’t controlled.”
Thoughtfully now, Iona cut into the open-faced sandwich. “You don’t think he did it to teach me a lesson?”
“Oh no, not Boyle. No, he’d not think of such a thing. I’m saying—and it’s just my thought hearing only from you—he said what he did after only because he was mad at his own self. He gave you a look or two the other night at the pub.”
“He . . . Really?”
“Ah, what a position this is. My cousin and dark sister on one hand, and the man I’ve been friends with most of my life.”
“You’re right. I shouldn’t put you in the middle.”
“Don’t be daft. Sisters weigh the scale. I’d say he’s had a thought about it, decided it’s against the rules. And now he’s pissed and frustrated, as he’s muddied the waters more than they were.”
“Good.” Iona cut another bite, decisively. “Then we can both be pissed and frustrated. But I feel better, talking to you. I know I throw most everything out there, and you . . . well, you don’t. But I want to say if you ever need to talk to anyone, I know when to shut up and listen.”
“We’ll have plenty to talk about. Now that you’re living here, we’ll need to put our time to good use. You’ve much yet to learn, and I don’t know how long you have to learn it. I can’t see it, and that worries me not a little.”
“I know it’s a small thing, but I floated all the feathers at once. I could direct them, change the speed, turn them. And it was like I didn’t have to think how once I understood. I just felt it.”