With a sigh, I moved to the nearest window and gazed at the full moon. The glowing orb stared back at me and lit the grounds below in soft, seductive light. Lulled into motion by the changeful breeze, the dark trees of the surrounding forest swayed back and forth. The wind whistled and sighed along the centuries-old window panes and urged a throng of clouds across the midnight sky.
There was movement on the lawn. Aengus stood midway between the fairy mound and the castle. He faced the ruins, but with a sudden jerk of his head, he looked right and watched the forest.
He disappeared. Literally. He vanished into thin air.
I blinked and stared hard at the empty lawn. “That’s it!”
Heedless that I wore only satin pajamas, I shoved my feet into pre-tied tennis shoes and slipped out the door. I tiptoed the length of the hall, then raced down the stairs and out of the house.
The night air was deliciously cool. Moonlight and darkness held equal sway over the backyard thanks to the shifting clouds. I dashed across the lawn and halted in the exact spot where Aengus had stood. Panting, I looked around, willing some kind of clue to materialize.
The ruins in front of me darkened as large, heavy clouds swallowed the moon whole. The wind tugged at my long, loose hair and pajamas. Tiny raindrops spattered on my nose and cheeks. I turned my palms to the sky, and cold rain pelted them.
“Great.” Intending to return to the house, I swiveled around.
I gasped. My right hand flew to my chest. “Aengus?!”
The man himself stood an arm’s length in front of me. “Why are you here?”
“You scared the crap out of me!”
The strident sound came from the ruins. I whirled around and stared at the dark keep.
Aengus grabbed me from behind. He pulled me to him and wrapped his arms around me. I reveled in the feel of his taut body, of his warm flesh against mine.
Suddenly, everything changed. The rain stopped. The wind died. The entire landscape was bathed in the soft hue of twilight. Breasal Castle looked brand spanking new, just as it had during the bizarre dream in which I brought Aengus to the cottage. But this time, I knew I was awake.
Dumbfounded, I gawked at the medieval magnificence before me. I had no idea what had happened and no desire to pull away from his embrace.
His lips brushed my right ear, sending a shiver down my spine. “This way.”
His right arm released me, and his left slid down to my waist. Maintaining body contact the entire time, he steered me toward the stand of oaks on our right.
Once sheltered by the trees, he turned us around so we faced the castle.
“Are we hiding?” I whispered.
“Why? And what just happened?”
“I can’t say.”
“Can’t or won’t?”
Until that moment, I’d forgotten I wore pajamas. Now I was acutely aware of it. Satin was pleasing to the touch, but something told me my attire had nothing to do with his grip on me.
I looked up at him. “Not that I mind, but why are you holding me so close?”
His hand tightened on my waist. “It’s necessary.”
“I don’t suppose you can explain that, either.”
With his gaze locked on the castle, he shook his head. He pressed his right forefinger against his mouth in a silencing gesture. Then he pointed up at the keep.
High on the battlements, the black-haired woman from my dream—and from Branna’s painting—paced back and forth. Her hair whipped about her pale face and slender frame.
She paused beside a gap in the crenelated wall and glared down at the fairy mound. Her colorless lips curled into a sneer. Then her human form morphed into a dark shadow, which fragmented into what seemed a million black particles. They swarmed into the air and shot across the twilit sky, disappearing into the distance.
I took a deep breath. “So she’s real.”
He nodded. “She’s real, to be sure. Come.” With his arm still hooked around me, he led me out of the woods and toward the fairy mound.
High atop the farmhouse, we had a good view of the surrounding area. A throng of undulating shadows encircled the house at a distance of maybe 100 yards. As they slithered closer, distinguishing features emerged.
Dark clothing. Pale skin. Stringy hair the color of pitch. Piercing eyes and glossy, feather wings.
Deirdre gasped. “Holy hell! Who are they?”
Brow furrowed, Hugh crossed his arms. “The dark side.”
There were hundreds of them! Slowly, they encroached on the farmhouse like a black ring of dread.
“Sidhe,” Deirdre repeated. “Like fairies?”
“Fallen ones.” I grabbed Aengus’s hand. “I wish I didn’t know about the poison darts.”
Her head whipped in my direction. “Poison darts?!”
“Never fear.” Robin put a hand on her back. “I’ll protect you.”
Brigit exchanged a meaningful look with Hugh. “Rather, my father will.”
Unblinking, The Dagda gave a nod and eyed the prowlers. “Almost here. Just a bit closer.”
With a frown, she threw her red hair over her shoulder. “Do you think Aoife sent them?”
“I’d bet my life on it.” Slowly, he unfolded his arms.
“But why? To infect the whole house? To distract us?”
He stood preternaturally still; only his lips moved. “Perhaps as a test.”
“What indeed? I’ve never seen so many amassed in the Middleworld…except during the Wild Hunt.”
Aengus regarded his father. “She must know you’ll stop them. Sure, they know it too. So why did they come?”
The dark horde had almost gained the house. The smell of sulfur crept into my nostrils, and panic seized my throat. I trusted Hugh, but how could he deal with so many entities at once?
“Oh hell no!” Deirdre declared.
I swallowed hard. “Um…guys, they’re getting pretty close.”
“Good.” Hugh sounded downright calm.
Brigit’s gaze swept over us all. “Let’s give him space. Leap high into the air and stay there.”
Deirdre raised her eyebrows. “Hover in the air? We can do that?”
Aengus nodded. “We can, and you’d want to do it now.”
His grip on my hand tightened, and we jumped into the air, together with Brigit, Deirdre, and Robin. Roughly 30 feet below us, Hugh stood his ground on the rooftop.
I turned to Aengus. “What’s he gonna do?”
“Send them back to the Netherworld.”
Up ʼtil then, I’d seen only one creature at a time sent packing. “All of them?”
Robin glanced my way. “Well, he is the Dagda.”
He was and no mistaking it. The embodiment of poise and power. As his hands formed the úath symbol, music filled the air. Not a melody, but the sound of a thousand violin strings playing in unison—their pitch sliding from high to low—as if the vast energy of the Otherworld condensed to a single purpose, to be used by one sentient being.
“Úath!” Light emanated from Hugh’s entire frame. It grew whiter, brighter, then exploded, rippling out from his body as a seismic wave that shocked the air, the land, and everything in its path. The force reverberated inside me and with a sonic boom, it blasted the dark sidhe back where they belonged.
“Close your eyes, and don’t open them until I tell you.”
Nerves atwitter, I did as Aengus asked. A brief, subtle tingling sensation swept through my body as we slipped into the Otherworld.
A moment later, he released one of my hands but held fast to the other. “All right. You can look now.”
I opened my eyes. We stood before an immense, grass-topped mound surrounded by a multitude of tightly-packed, white stones.
It looked familiar. “Wait a minute. This is a famous prehistoric tomb. What’s it called? Newgrange?”
Aengus nodded. “I call it Sí in Bhrú, and it’s part of Brú na Bóinne, or the ‘Palace of the Boyne’ in County Meath. We’re in the valley of the River Boyne.”
I gave him a sideways glance. “Did you say ‘palace’?”
“In the physical world, this is an ancient temple and passage tomb, more than five thousand years old. Here in the Otherworld…well, it’s best to show you.”
The next instant, we stood inside a grand, circular hall, far larger than the mound we’d viewed outside, with a high, domed ceiling. Tri-spiral designs covered the walls, but the space was empty except for a five-tiered fountain at its center.
My gaze locked onto the trickling, golden liquid. A feeling of déjà vu overwhelmed me, and I shivered. “Is that…mead?”
I turned to him. “Remember what exactly?”
“This fountain flows eternally with mead. My parents gave it to us as a wedding gift.”
“To you and Caer, you mean.”
He squeezed my hand. “Does anything else spark your memory?”
“The spirals seem familiar.”
His blue eyes shone. “They should. We lived here for centuries.”
“Caer lived here, not me.”
“But you were Caer.”
My insecurities ganged up on me and knotted my stomach. Is that the only reason why you want me? Because of who I once was?
Could I ask that out loud? What if he said yes?
Yes or no, I had to know. A lasting relationship required honesty and communication. My parents’ love had taught me that, and I wanted nothing less.
I pulled my hand from his grasp and took a step back. “Maybe you wish I still was Caer.”
His blissful expression devolved into a frown. After a heart-stopping moment, he found his voice. “What?”
“Sometimes I wonder whether you like me or just who I used to be.”
“You can’t fight your soul’s history.”
“Especially when everyone keeps shoving it down my throat.” My gut tightened further.
I huffed. “Kian. Robin. Deirdre. Lorcan. And now—”
“Lorcan?” There was an edge to his voice.
“Yes, Lorcan. I’ve seen him a couple of times, but not because I went looking…” I couldn’t finish that sentence. My soul had obviously sought Lorcan the night I traveled to Dun Aengus.
“Ashling, you know how I feel about him.”
“Yeah, well, you weren’t around to stop me, were you?”
His frown deepened. “What do you mean?”
“It’s hard to have a relationship with someone who’s never around.”
“And Lorcan is around. Is that what you’re saying?”
“He’s always there, waiting in the wings, ready to take your place.”
Aengus slammed a fist into his other hand. “It’s time I showed him—”
“No! It’s time you showed me whether you want me or Caer, because I’ve had it with ghosts from the past messing up my—”
He grasped my arms and pulled me close. His mouth came down on mine in a searing kiss. Releasing my arms, he stole his own around me, and I responded in kind. Bodies and tongues entwined, we rode the wave of the kiss for a blissful moment that seemed as eternal as the bubbling fountain beside us. Nothing else mattered.
When at last he pulled back, he gave me a tender smile. “Does that answer your question?”
“Um…” My head still spun from the kiss.
“I kissed you, not Caer. I brought you here tonight because I wanted to share a piece of myself with you. It’s only natural I wondered if you’d remember it. After all, a part of your soul lived here for ages.”
I scanned the vacant, cavernous space. “If we lived here so long, where’s all the furniture?”
The light in his eyes dimmed. “Once upon a time, this place brimmed with beauty…with rare treasures, music, poetry, and the laughter of friends and courtiers. But when you left…when Caer left…nothing was the same. I couldn’t stay.” He squeezed his eyes shut, as if to block out painful memories.
Thick tentacles of worry and guilt wrapped around my heart as though a legendary kraken sought to drown me in a sea of regret. I placed a hand on Aengus’s cheek. “I’m sorry.”
His eyes opened, and he covered my hand with his. “Don’t be.”