I received a nice little giftie to top off the general celebrations last week – my finalized cover for McShannon’s Heart! This allowed me to finalize the trailer as well. It’s a little longer than I intended, but I just couldn’t resist using the lovely images I found.
In honour of the occasion I’m putting up an excerpt, but first a little background. As I’ve mentioned before, the story’s hero, Martin Rainnie, is a talented fiddler. For years, Martin played at all the local dances in his part of Yorkshire, but after losing his wife in childbirth he no longer has the heart for music. Then, Rochelle McShannon walks into his life. This is an account of Martin’s return to the stage and his first dance with Chelle.
Writing this brought back memories of a dance my DH once played on Pictou Island, a tiny, breathtakingly beautiful smidgen of land off the coast of Nova Scotia. Only 5km long, the island has about 20 full-time residents and another 50 or so who spend their summers there. Unfortunately I have no pictures, but imagine miles of pristine beach, gulls calling, and weathered old seaside homes. If I could have Internet, I’d live there in a minute. We spent an idyllic weekend there.
The dance took place on Saturday night in a two hundred year old, tiny, un-renovated community hall. Bare board walls, original worn plank floor, benches along the sides, a few bare light bulbs that shed no more light than a coal-oil lamp. There was good food and plenty of spirits passed around. It all could have taken place two hundred years ago – the older folks minding the babies, the dancing getting faster as the drinks flowed, couples necking in dark corners and a few boisterous types outside fighting. Since the threat of theft is non-existent, nobody locked their cars. They just left the keys in the ignition. At some point, a prankster gathered all the keys and scattered them in the bushes. They would have been switching people’s horses way back when. I could almost feel the ghosts of the past kicking up their heels in time with the fiddle.
The dance in McShannon’s Heart takes place in a hall built of Yorkshire stone, but the atmosphere is the same. The perfect place for Martin to feel the pull of his music again, and to discover that he’s healing in other ways as well.
They reached the hall to find the yard full of farm carts, wagons and buggies. Inside, the benches lining the stone walls were already filling up. Lanterns hung from the rafters, adding to the heat already building in the room.
The platform at the opposite end of the hall was still empty. The McShannons found space on a bench. Leaning back against the wall, Chelle scanned the room. She didn’t know any of the Carston people.
Three older couples stood chatting near the platform. When they separated, laughing, to return to their seats, Chelle’s heart did a queer little flutter. His broad back turned to her, fiddle in his hand, Martin stood there, deep in conversation with a man about the age of her father. He nodded to his companion, then the two of them stepped onto the platform.
The first sharp, clear notes of the flute caught the crowd’s attention. They fell silent, then burst into cheers when Martin joined Jason in a fast, driving rant. Someone shouted out “Welcome back, lad!” They settled into a reel and in a blink, two sets of dancers formed. Chelle didn’t know the steps to this particular figure, but they looked simple enough to learn. When a third set formed, Brian led Jean out onto the floor.
As she had at the farm, Chelle lost herself in Martin’s music. Tapping her foot in time, she forgot the dancers until the reel ended. As the sets re-formed, someone tapped her shoulder.
“May I have the pleasure?”
Chelle started and looked up at a stocky young man with a shock of blond hair and a pleasant smile.
“Yes, I’d be glad to.”
The music began again. Her partner was a good dancer, and Chelle soon caught on to the steps. The music carried her along until she felt lighter than she had in many months.
She wondered if Martin would dance tonight. If he did, would he ask her? Her pulse quickened at the thought. This must be the first time he’d played in public since losing his wife. How was he feeling? A little ashamed of the glow of warmth that came over her, Chelle turned her thoughts back to her partner and the music.
Martin played the first reel through a storm of conflicting emotions. The welcoming cheers from the crowd touched him. Memories overwhelmed him. It wasn’t until the beginning of the third tune that he dared to look out over the dance floor.
His gaze settled on Chelle as she moved neatly through the figures, flushed and smiling, her bright hair gathered in a soft knot on top of her head, exposing the slim line of her neck. He hadn’t thought about her being here. It would surely make tongues wag, this soon after losing her mother, just as people would talk about him playing. He didn’t give a damn what the village biddies said about him, but Chelle’s reputation was another matter.
Martin had a speaking acquaintance with her partner, who came from one of the farms on the other side of Carston. Lester Barrow was a decent lad, and Chelle seemed to be enjoying herself with him. When the tune ended, another Carston man took Lester’s place. By intermission time, Chelle had danced with eight or nine different partners and Martin’s nerves were as taut as the strings on his fiddle.
You’re daft, Martin. What’s the odds who she dances with? You’re not in the market. But his jealousy wouldn’t down. It tangled with all the other feelings raised by being here, and it wouldn’t be rooted out.
He stepped off the platform and joined the line at the refreshment table. He’d just gotten his punch when he caught sight of Drew Markham lounging against the wall across the room, watching someone intently, a predatory light in his eyes. Martin followed Drew’s gaze to where Chelle stood with her cousin and his wife. His fists clenched, eager to make the man’s teeth rattle.
Jealousy. Protectiveness. Martin had no call to be feeling either, but they overwhelmed him. He returned to the platform, picked up his fiddle and held it out to Jason.
“Break time’s over. Play a couple of tunes to start off, will you?”
Jason quirked an eyebrow as he took the fiddle. “Fancy joining a set? Go on, then.”
Martin didn’t answer. He eased his way through the crowd, his pulse drumming in his ears like it had at eighteen when he asked a girl to dance. The color on Chelle’s face deepened and spread to her throat when she saw him. Standing beside her, her cousin held out his hand.
“Good to see you here, Martin. You haven’t lost your touch.”
“I’m not so sure of that, but thanks.” He shook Brian’s hand, then turned to Chelle. “Miss Rochelle, Jason’s going to start off the next set. Might I have the pleasure?”
Chelle smiled and mimicked his broad Yorkshire. “Aye, sir, I’d be flattered.”