Home > Kiss Me Under the Irish Sky

Kiss Me Under the Irish Sky
Author: Karen Foley

Chapter One



No amount of jet lag could make Rachel Woods take a nap, not when the Wild Atlantic Way beckoned just outside the door of the cozy bed-and-breakfast she would call home for the next three months. Leaving her suitcase and her backpack on the bed, she quickly changed her shoes, slipping her bare feet into a comfortable pair of leopard-patterned ballet flats. Through the casement window, sunlight glittered on the distant ocean and she could hear the cry of seabirds overhead. Low stone walls edged the greenest fields she had ever seen and tiny blobs of white told her there were flocks of sheep grazing there. Grabbing a lightweight jacket and her phone, she locked her room and made her way downstairs.

Mrs. O’Leary, the owner of the B&B, appeared from the back of the house, her face wreathed in smiles. “Ah, there you are, Miss Woods! I just put on the kettle for tea if you’d like a wee bit of refreshment. You’ve had a long trip, all the way from America.”

“Oh, thank you, Mrs. O’Leary,” Rachel said, “but I thought I’d go for a walk. I can’t believe I have a view of the ocean from my bedroom!”

Mrs. O’Leary laughed. “Oh, yeah, it’s not that far. Turn left out the gate and follow the road until you come to the church, and then bear right. You’ll see a livestock gate and, beyond that, a path through the fields. If you follow the path to the top of the hill, you’ll have a fine view of the sea and the cliffs.”

“Through the sheep field?” Rachel repeated doubtfully. “Isn’t the land private?”

“Paddy Cullen owns the field and he will not mind you walking through; everyone does. Pay no mind to the sheep; they’ll stay away from you. Stay on the path and you’ll avoid the bogholes.”

Rachel laughed, sure the other woman was joking. “Bogholes? What’s a boghole?”

“The fields can be wet, especially this time of year. A boghole is just a hole filled with mud and water, but it’s not very pleasant to fall into one.”

“Maybe I’ll just stay on the road,” Rachel ventured. “I’m not really one for hiking through sheep fields.”

“Well, it’s up to you, of course, but the best views are from the top of the hill.”

Rachel smiled. “In that case, if I’m not back in an hour, send out a search party.”

“You’ll be fine. I’ll have the kettle on and tea ready when you return,” Mrs. O’Leary promised. “Since it’s lambing season, you’ll likely see some wee lambies as well.”

“That seals the deal for me,” Rachel declared, holding up her phone. “I’ll gladly brave bogholes for a picture of a lamb.”

Mrs. O’Leary laughed. “Very good, enjoy, and mind you close the gate behind you! We don’t want our own sheep escaping.”

Stepping outside, Rachel paused to breathe deeply. The air was tinged with salt, and fragrant with the smells of the ocean and the fields, and the peat smoke that puffed from the chimneys of the nearby houses. She still couldn’t quite believe she was here. The landscape that spread out in front of her seemed surreal in its beauty, and so far removed from the glossy skyscrapers and urban sprawl of Chicago that she almost pinched herself to be sure she wasn’t dreaming. She was really in Ballylahane, a small village in the heart of County Donegal, home of Ireland’s oldest weaving mill. The McDermott family had been handweaving and manufacturing tweed and luxurious textiles in this village for nearly two hundred years. Tomorrow, she would begin a three-month internship at the mill as part of her graduate studies, the last step in earning her MFA in textile design.

The O’Leary B&B sat just on the edge of the busy town center, a little back from the road. The gravel parking lot in front of the house was surrounded by a low wall with a white iron gate. Several sheep grazed at the edge of the driveway and eyed her cautiously as she slipped out of the yard and pulled the gate closed behind her. She stood for a moment and looked up and down the main street, which was lined with brightly painted shop fronts. From where she stood, she could see the pub, the post office, a tea-and-bake shop, a small clothing boutique, and a locally owned supermarket. There were also two woolen and tweed shops and a small hotel. Rachel laughed softly. Ballylahane was certainly a far cry from Chicago, in every way possible.

Setting out in the direction of the church, Rachel turned her face toward the sun and smiled. Could anything be more lovely or magical than Ireland in the spring? Here she was, mere steps away from the quaint village center, strolling along a gravel lane edged with stone walls and green creeping vines. Overhead, the sky was a brilliant, cloudless blue. She passed an older couple walking in the opposite direction, each of them carrying a walking stick. They nodded politely and greeted her with a smile, but Rachel didn’t miss how they stared at her leopard-patterned shoes. She could see the curiosity in their eyes, and wondered if she stood out as an American.

At the small stone church with its ancient graveyard, she turned right. The road narrowed to just two ruts, and she could see the wide expanse of field ahead and the steep hill that must overlook the entire countryside. The wide, metal livestock gate was closed, but there was an opening at the edge with a wooden step built into it for walkers to access the field, and a wooden sign with a crudely painted arrow that read, Ballylahane Head—2 km.

“This must be the way,” she murmured, and climbed through the opening.

From her window at the B&B, the field had looked like a uniform sweep of green velvet. Up close, Rachel could see the ground was wet and marshy, with tussocks of grass that grew in great clumps, surrounded by spongy earth. But the path was easy enough to follow, and she made her way upward for what seemed like an eternity, until eventually she had to stop when she became overheated and out of breath. Bracing her hands on her knees, she looked back the way she had come and realized she’d traveled farther than she’d realized. The church and the road now looked tiny, but she was barely halfway up the hill. She could see the B&B and the miniature white tufts that were the O’Learys’ sheep in the front yard. Glancing upward, she saw a small flock slowly making their way along the ridge above her and among them were several lambs, cavorting alongside their mothers. Seeing them, she straightened, determined to reach the top. She stripped off her jacket and tied it around her waist.

“I can do this,” she muttered. “And when I get back to the States, I am so joining a gym.”

She continued on until she came to a shallow stream that was too wide for her to easily cross without getting wet. Gingerly, she stepped off the path and picked her way across the field in search of an easier spot to cross. The ground squelched wetly beneath her feet and she tested each footstep for firmness until she found a spot where the stream narrowed and she thought she could jump across. The ground on either side looked soft and mushy, and there were no hummocks of grass here as there had been near the path. Drawing in a breath, she leaped across the water, slipping a little as she landed in the mud on the other side, realizing her shoes were completely impractical. Regaining her balance, she searched for the best way back to the path, but everything looked marshy, and suddenly she felt less certain about continuing on. From where she stood, she could no longer see the path, although she knew where it must be.

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