The MacCarthy Sisters #2
January 14, 2020
Available in: e-Book, Trade Size
Hidden in Time
Grayce MacCarthy possesses the gift of foretelling—but to her, visions are more a curse than a gift. While visiting Ireland, Grayce takes a hike in the Comeragh Mountains, only to fall into a hidden world with no way out. She’s rescued by a gorgeous warrior dressed like a medieval hero in a romance novel. He’s convinced fate brought her to him, while Grayce is convinced her fae-gifted family will find a way to bring her home.
After more than a millennium, the Tuatha dé Danann magic separating the hidden valleys from the rest of the world is unraveling. A new chieftain must be chosen to guide the clan through the perils to come, and Brian MacSloan is determined to win that coveted role. When a beautiful woman falls into his world, Brian’s life is turned upside down. Grayce challenges him at every turn, questioning his motives, distracting him from his goals, and stealing his heart.
As passion grows between them, Grayce realizes Brian is the only man for her. But then she has a vision revealing a plot to murder Brian, and old rivalries turn deadly. The two are torn apart, and Brian must defeat his enemy and get to Grayce in time, or she’ll be lost to him forever.
Chapter 1 excerpt
Present day, County Waterford, Ireland
The very air within the ceremonial grove rippled with tension. For their head druid to call a gathering when it was not a holy day was cause enough for alarm. That Ceann Carraig had called the council of elders and the chieftains from the other two villages only added to everyone’s anxiety. Brían found an empty spot at the end of a bench and sat down.
The sacred fire at the center of the circle popped and hissed just as their head druid stopped pacing. Ceann Carraig’s expression grim, he stood in front of the glowing embers drifting into the gathering twilight. Everyone quieted and turned their attention expectantly upon the old man. Even the youngest boys stilled, their expressions turning to awe-filled curiosity.
Ceann Carraig gazed out at those who had gathered. “My fellow druids and I have called this gathering to discuss a matter of grave concern. Long have we druids been aware of the signs of change.” He paused, glancing at his fellow priests and priestesses before continuing.
“Animals from the outside have made their way into our hidden valleys when it is not the proper time to do so. One of our hunters found a strange item upon the ground near the boundary between the realms, an item that does not belong here.”
He began pacing again. “The very air carries the taint of the outer world, and our sacred oaks cry out to us in distress. The magic hiding us within the weft and weave of time is unraveling.”
Brían’s heart leaped to his throat, and his ears rang with the collective gasp filling the clearing. As if commiserating, the fire once again hissed and popped, sending another shower of glowing sparks into the air.
“What shall we do, Ceann Carraig?” Kilian, one of the upper village’s elders, rose to his feet. “Tell us what sacrifices must be made to restore the magic protecting our borders. Are there not druidic spells that can be cast?”
Murmurs and nods raced through the assemblage. Brían tensed. Now more than ever they needed strong leadership, and their village chieftain’s health was failing. Blaine was not even present to hear this dire news. He glanced at Aiden, Blaine’s ambitious son. Was there anything to the rumors that their chieftain’s decline was being helped along by his own wife and son?
“We do not yet know what can be done,” Ceann Carraig called over the din. “In the next several days, our elders, chieftains and druids will deliberate upon the matter. We will gather again a fortnight hence. Here beneath the auspices of a new moon we shall discuss the matter further.”
The druid paused. “Each village should set up a schedule of guards to patrol the perimeter until a solution is found. I ask that the council of elders and the chieftains remain here, so we can decide how to proceed with our deliberations. The rest of ye, go to your homes.” Ceann Carraig issued a benediction, and the meeting ended.
Trepidation hovered like thick smoke over those making their way out of the clearing. Never in their long history had they faced the possibility—nay, ’twas more a certainty—that the magic hiding their valleys for more than seventeen hundred years might fail. Had Fionn MacCumhaill, the legendary commander of the elite army of Fianna, and his fae kin abandoned them?
A hand came to rest upon Brían’s shoulder. “Sup with us this eve, laddie. Your ma and I want ye close after this disturbing news, and we’ve a guest.”
“Aye, I will. Who might your guest be?”
“Monroe. He’ll be staying in the village for a few days while the council deliberates.” His da kept his hand upon Brían’s shoulder as they walked. “He’ll join us for supper once he’s finished conferring with the druids and the elders.”
Brían shook his head. “The other village chieftains do their part while ours lies abed.” Monroe, his da’s closest friend and a staunch ally, was chieftain to the uppermost village. “If only ye were still our chieftain, Da. This is no time to be without leadership.”
“Do not wish that role upon me again. Being chieftain is a heavy burden to carry, no matter how broad a man’s shoulders. As ye well know, chieftains are oft the target of envy and resentment by those believing themselves better qualified, or those wanting power over others. And what of individuals who’ve received judgement against them in a dispute? If there is no scandal attached to a chieftain, the envious will conjure one of their own making,” he said, his tone tinged with bitterness. “Your mother and I are content. I’ve no wish to place either of us in that position again.”
Anger churned deep within him for his parents’ sake. “Still, I wish we might find a way to—”
“Stir up old wounds? Foment animosity?” His da gave Brían’s shoulder a squeeze. “Nay, laddie. Let it go. Your mother and I have.”
Golden candlelight glowed from the window of his parents’ cottage, and the delicious aromas of his mother’s stew and freshly baked bread beckoned. Their two dogs shot out of their shelter, barking a greeting and wagging their tails furiously. Brían leaned down to scratch the two behind their ears. “What do ye think would become of us should the magic hiding our valleys cease to exist?”
“Who can say? We have the stories told by our women about how things are in the outer realm. Mayhap we’d be allowed to remain where we are as we are. Mayhap we’d be forced to relocate and adapt.”
“I swear to do everything within my power to see that our world remains hidden. That is what Fionn MacCumhaill and his fae kin promised. If need be, we should try to summon the Tuatha dé Danann and force them to keep their promise.”
“Force the fae?” His da’s brow rose. “And how exactly do ye suggest we go about summoning them? Mayhap they no longer concern themselves with na Baiscne. Ye can no more force the fae to do anything than ye can prevent the sun from rising.”
Could their druids find a way to reach the Tuatha dé Danann? Brían couldn’t bear the thought of leaving their mountains and valleys. His entire being rebelled at the notion of adapting to a world he knew not at all. His own mother had shared horrifying tales of how the outer world was being choked with poisons. She and others from that place told how the air and water, necessary for life itself, were becoming contaminated. The women explained how wars were fought with unimaginable weapons able to wipe out entire villages in a trice.
Nay. He could not adapt to a place prone to such folly. He’d dedicate the rest of his life to maintaining and protecting their hidden vales. Whatever it took, he would give, even if it meant his very life.
Grayce stood in the midst of her family, along with her sister Regan’s in-laws, as the minister droned on and on about the responsibilities of being a godparent. Her nephew’s christening was being held in the same ancient church where Regan and Fáelán were married less than a year ago. Their son, indifferent to the proceedings, slept peacefully in his father’s arms. He even slept through being passed to his godfather’s arms, one of Fáelán’s many relatives.
Conan Breck O’Boyle slept soundly until the water from the baptismal font was poured over the soft tufts of bright red hair sprouting from his mostly bald head. Then the adorable little bundle of eat-sleep-pee-poo let loose a wail worthy of a banshee. Grayce knew exactly how her nephew felt—uncomfortable and unhappy about the sudden way in which he’d been awakened.
Except for the indignant part, she too had been suffering discomfort and unhappiness, which made no sense. For years she’d wished like hell her ability to see the future would somehow disappear. She hadn’t had a vision since visiting Regan in Ireland a year ago last June. She ought to be ecstatic, yet disconcerted would be a more apt description of her state of mind. Anxiety factored in as well, and of course loneliness chose that moment to raise its hand in a me too gesture. She feared the visions would return with a vengeance at any moment, and she spent her days metaphorically peeking around corners, waiting for the inevitable ambush.
Conan’s baptism over, Grayce followed her family out of the old stone church and into the drizzly June morning. Guests stood around under umbrellas and the eaves of the church, giving the O’Boyles a head start home where they’d host the celebratory brunch.
“I’m glad Conan has a touch of something special,” Meredith, Grayce’s identical twin, whispered beside her.
Grayce snorted. Something special was Meredith’s code for giftedness. The MacCarthy family carried a bit of Tuatha dé Danann DNA. They had their many times great-grandmother to thank for the affliction. That ancestor had not been able to keep her weak knees together when it came to a certain promiscuous fae seducer of mortal women. “Can you tell what his gift involves?” she asked.
“More than one, I think.” Meredith canted her head as she always did when concentrating. “He’s an empath, and I sense the gift of foresight.”
“Poor little guy,” Grayce murmured. “At least he won’t see ghosts.”
“They are called gifts for a reason, Grayce.” Meredith let loose an exasperation-laced sigh. “Let’s not have this argument today.”
“Fine. I’m right, and you’re wrong. We’ll leave it at that.” She and her family left the shelter of the eaves and set out for the rental car they shared. “Do you want me to drive, Dad?” she asked. Both her parents found driving on the left side of the road challenging, especially at intersections where force of habit had them looking in the wrong direction
“Sure. Your mother and I could both do without your squeals of alarm and imaginary braking.” Grinning, he handed Grayce the keys.
She slid behind the wheel, buckled up and turned the ignition key while the other three settled into their seats. Still unfamiliar with the area, she set the GPS mounted on the dashboard for Fáelán and Regan’s address before taking her place in the slow-moving line of cars leaving the lot.
Fáelán and her sister owned an amazing nineteenth-century manor house overlooking bluffs and the ocean. Grayce was happy for her older sister, really happy, yet sadness permeated her entire being. The older sister she adored, the only soul who truly understood her, now lived an ocean away. Her eyes stung for the merest instant, and an uncomfortable tightness gripped her chest.
Self-pity could launch a bout of self-loathing, and she wrestled the unwanted emotions back to the far reaches of her mind. Once upon a time, those same feelings had led her down a very dark and dangerous path to a place where she attempted to obliterate her feelings and her visions with drugs and alcohol. It hadn’t worked. She would not go there again.
“So,” her dad began. “I’m curious, Graycie. How long do you plan to keep your hair neon blue?”
“Why? Would you prefer chartreuse?”
“I’d prefer your own naturally beautiful hair color,” he said, eyeing her neon-blue spiked hair.
“Gene,” her mother warned.
“Angela,” he replied. “I’m allowed to state my opinion on the matter.”
“Just as Grayce is allowed self-expression where the color of her hair is concerned.”
Her mother reinforced her support by patting Grayce’s shoulder from her place behind her.
“You’re welcome. I’m not crazy about all the piercings though. Someday you might change your mind, and then what? The hair color is temporary; piercings leave scars.”
“So much for the maternal support for self-expression,” Meredith added, huffing out a laugh.
Grayce flashed her twin a smile through the rearview mirror. Of course, little miss parent-pleaser wore her unenhanced, honey-colored hair to her shoulders, and only Mere’s ears were pierced, each with a single spot for tastefully conservative earrings.
“Maybe I’ll let my hair go natural,” she announced, placating her father. “This color will eventually wash out.”
“And the piercings?” her mother asked, her tone hopeful.
“Baby steps, Mom. Baby steps.”
By the time she pulled into the O’Boyle’s circular driveway—she still had trouble thinking of Regan as an O’Boyle—a large number of cars were already parked along the edge of the drive. The entire clan had been invited to the celebration, including Fáelán’s half-fae daughter, Boann.
She parked and climbed out. Sliding her sweaty palms over her denim skirt, she stared at the house. What if this was the day her visions returned, and she suddenly foresaw one of Fáelán’s relatives’ impending death? Why were her visions never about good stuff, like winning the lottery or landing that perfect job?
This is Regan and Fáelán’s big day. Don’t make this about you. Right. Concentrating on that, and on the odds that she’d get to hold her tiny nephew, who generally smelled really
good … until he didn’t, she walked with her family to the front door.
They were greeted by Dr. James Ahearn, another of her brother-in-law’s many-times-removed nephews. James had managed Fáelán’s affairs while the cursed Fiann had still been trapped in the void realm. Jim’s wife Kathryn stood by his side. Both held a Bloody Mary in their hands, complete with celery and olive garnishes.
“Hello,” James said, holding out his hand to Grayce’s dad. “Such a joyous occasion bringing us together again, aye?”
“Indeed,” her dad agreed, a huge smile brightening his features as they shook hands.
“The food is set up in the dining room, and you know where the bar is,” James said, lifting his drink as they entered. “Help yourselves.”
Grayce surveyed the crowd milling about on the first floor. She couldn’t eat, not while her insides were a tangle of nerves, anyway. Worse, the siren’s voice of temptation urged her to seek out the bar. “Alcohol,” said the siren, “will soothe your nerves and mask all the unwanted emotions. Only then you can relax.” Grayce glared the siren into submission. “Where’s Regan?”
“Upstairs,” James told her. “Young Conan needed a nappy change by the time they arrived home, and I believe this might be his lunchtime.”
“Thanks.” Grayce took the stairs and headed for the suite of rooms Regan and her husband shared. She knocked on the door.
“Who’s there?” Regan called.
Grayce’s heart melted at the sight before her. Regan sat in a rocking chair by the window with baby Conan at her breast, suckling contentedly. “Wow, Regan,” she said, her voice hitching. “Just … wow.”
“I know.” Regan smiled at her. “Have a seat.”
The new parents had added a temporary nursery to one corner of their family room, complete with a basinet, a dresser with a changing area on top, and the all-important rocking chair. Once Conan slept through the night, he’d be moved into his own room next to their suite. Grayce dropped into the upholstered chair facing her sister. “Can I burp him when he’s done?”
“Be my guest.” Regan took the burp-cloth from her shoulder and set the soft square of flannel on Grayce’s lap.
Grayce reached out and touched Conan’s chubby hand, and his tiny fingers closed instinctively around hers. “He’s amazing, Regan.”
“We think so.”
“You look great, by the way.”
“Thank you for lying. I’m exhausted, and I haven’t lost much of the baby weight yet. Conan is still waking every three or four hours at night. All the baby books say he should settle at around three months, so we have a few weeks to go before we get a decent night’s sleep.” She yawned. “We hope he settles into a routine then.”
Grayce placed the burp cloth over her shoulder and accepted her darling nephew from his mother. Draping the sleepy little guy over the cloth, she patted his tiny back. Leaning back with Conan’s soft, warm weight against her, Grayce closed her eyes and rubbed her cheek against his sweet, downy head.
“You’re having a tough time,” Regan said, her tone gentle.
Grayce sighed. “Never could hide anything from you.”
“The crowd downstairs?”
She nodded. “That and perpetual anxiety.”
“Still worried about the lack of visions?”
“Yes, and I’m struggling with jealousy,” she admitted. “You and Fáelán are so obviously happy and in love, and now you’re a family of three.” Conan chose that moment to burp and spit up a dribble of curdled milk onto the cloth. She dabbed at his rosebud mouth with a corner of the flannel. “I’ll never have what you have.” Self-pity once again clogged her throat, and that spiraled into self-loathing.
“Don’t say never, Grayce. You don’t know what the future holds for you.”
“You don’t know what the future holds for me either. What I do know is that I need some me time. Traveling with Mom, Dad and Meredith wears on my nerves. You know how they are, all into ‘our specialness, and the our-gifts-are-meant-to-be-shared’ bullshit. God, I love them, but sometimes they suck the happy right out of me.”
“You’re welcome to take one of our cars. Hike along the bluffs, pack a lunch and spend an entire day doing whatever you want.”
“I’m sold. Thanks,” Grayce said. I think I’ll hike in the Comeragh Mountains. I hear the views are fantastic. Or maybe I’ll take a drive to River Blackwater and hike the trails there.”
“Somebody has been reading their tourism guide books,” Regan teased.
Grayce moved the now sleeping Conan to the crook of her arm and ran a fingertip over his velvety cheek. He smiled in his sleep, and she couldn’t help but smile in response. “See? I knew if I spent a little time with my favorite older sister and my nephew, I’d feel better.”
“As your only older sister, I’m glad I could help.”
“Hey, I didn’t see Boann at the christening. Isn’t she here?”
“No, and don’t bring her up with Fáelán. He’s upset. Boann’s grandfather, King Lir Beneath the Sea, is putting the thumb screws to her regarding her involvement with mortals. She’s only allowed to visit us when no one else is around.”
“That’s too bad. I really like her.” Plus, the half-fae princess might know whether or not Grayce’s visions were gone for good. If not, Boann might know how to make them go away once and for all.
“It’s been difficult on all of us. After all the centuries Morrigan kept Boann from Fáelán, she finally has a family, and she’s become attached. She adores Conan. I know she wanted to be at his christening.” Regan rose from the rocking chair and grabbed the baby monitor. “Let’s put him down for his nap, so we can get something to eat. I’m starving.”
Now that her insides were no longer so tightly knotted, Grayce could definitely eat. “Let’s. I do love listening to your in-laws talk. That wonderful Irish lilt, you know?”
“I do know.” She grinned. “If we’re lucky, Fáelán will tell us a story today. Just wait. You’re going to be spellbound.”
“Will his story involve boasting?”
“Probably. Once a member of Fionn MacCumhaill’s elite Fianna, always a Fiann.”
“Great. I’ll have a reason to bust his chops.” Grayce placed little Conan in his basinet. She followed her sister downstairs, feeling more settled than she had since arriving in Ireland. Tomorrow she’d pack a lunch, a few bottles of water and hike in the Comeragh Mountains. Surely that would lift her spirits, and her spirits surely needed lifting.
It took two hours of uphill trekking to reach Mahon Falls, situated in the Comeragh Mountains of County Waterford, and by then sweat beaded Grayce’s brow and dampened her shirt. The river cascaded over massive steps of rock from a distant peak above. The power and the roar of the swiftly moving water held her spellbound, and she stilled for several moments to watch.
She took a deep breath as her heartbeat and breathing slowed to normal. Mist from the falls drifted over her, cooling her overheated face as she took in the grandeur. Her empty stomach grumbled, and her muscles ached from exertion.
Grayce scanned the area and found a grassy patch in front of a flat-sided boulder where she could sit in the sun and eat the brunch leftovers she’d packed. Here by the falls she could just be for a while. She had nowhere she had to go and nothing she had to do.
Picking her way carefully through the rocky terrain, she made her way to her chosen spot. There she dropped her backpack to the ground and sat on the grass. Her stomach rumbled again as she unzipped her pack and fished around for the plastic container holding her lunch.
She leaned back against the sun-warmed boulder, and listened to the hypnotic roar of the falls. She’d just finished a goat-cheese and fig tart, when the hard surface supporting her back disappeared.
“Ack!” she yelped, tossing the plastic container in her hands. She tried to grab onto something as she tumbled backwards into darkness. Half-slipping, half-tumbling, she hurtled down a wet, muddy tunnel, scrabbling blindly for anything she could grip to stop her bone-jarring descent.
Fear and confusion choked her. The light-filled opening at the end grew larger the closer she got. A fingernail tore painfully as she tried to grasp hold of something, anything to stop her descent. Oh, God. What if she flew out over a cliff?
The tunnel spit her out, and she landed face down in a patch of long, scratchy grass. She groaned as shock and pain throbbed through her entire body. Had she fallen asleep and this was a nightmare, or was she caught in a vision unlike any she’d ever experienced before? Damn, but the burning sting from her scrapes was all too real.
Dogs barked nearby, and she flinched, too beat up to move away. The next instant, cold noses snuffled and nudged at her. A deep masculine voice spoke firmly in Irish, and the dogs whined and backed off.
A pair of leather moccasin-style footwear and suede leggings came into view, that and two sets of border collie brown eyes fixed upon her. She also glimpsed the bottom half of a long- sword in its scabbard. Her heart pounded, and disbelief reverberated throughout her entire being. No one walked around with a longsword strapped to their waists. A rifle while out hunting, maybe, but not a sword. What the hell just happened, and where the hell am I?
“Are ye hurt, lassie?”
Dumbest question ever uttered in the history of mankind. Hell, yes, she was hurt. She nodded slightly.
“Can ye stand? Have ye any broken bones?” the smooth, baritone voice asked.
The bright sun prevented her from looking up at the man looming over her. Somewhere along the way, she’d lost her sunglasses and her cap. Shit. Her backpack holding the dessert bars and her water bottle were lost to her too. She really wanted that lemon bar right now. Funny how shock affected one’s thinking.
Every inch of her throbbed like a thumb pounded by a sledge hammer. Her skinned knees and elbows, scraped palms, and torn fingernail burned like hell. She went slack and closed her eyes against the shock, against the unreality of whatever she’d fallen into. If she kept her eyes closed long enough, she’d wake up from this vision-nightmare. She’d trek— downhill this time—to her brother-in-law’s Mini Cooper, eating all the yummy dessert bars along the way.
Once she reached Regan’s house, she’d treat herself to a nice, long, hot soak. Later she’d sit down to dinner with her family and tell them all about her bizarre, painful, very bad dream.
Gentle poking and prodding of her legs and arms commenced. She tried to move away, but then the figment of her imagination slid his hands under her armpits and lifted her to standing. Why wasn’t this man as stunned to find her face down on the ground as she was to find him standing over her?
“’Tis sorry I am for what has befallen ye.” He held her hands, palms up. “Your scrapes are not so bad.”
“Not so bad?” She snorted.
“Will ye not open your eyes, lassie?”
Grayce shook her head emphatically. To open her eyes meant acknowledging her surreal situation. Not ready. A deep, masculine chuckle resonated through her.
“Ah, well, I’ll lead ye then. My ma will have a salve to soothe these scrapes.”
“What the hell just happened?” she demanded, not at all pleased he found her amusing. “Where the hell am I?”
“Ye are in na Gleannta Bhfolach, The Hidden Vales. I am called Brían MacSloan of na Baiscne clan. What might ye be called?”
BREE-uhn of nuh Bask-nuh? Her pulse pounded hard enough to echo inside her skull. She swallowed, although her mouth had gone so dry there really wasn’t anything there worth the effort. Hadn’t Regan told her Fáelán came from an ancient clan … the Baiscne, which no longer existed?
Grayce tried to breathe through a new wave of panic. She opened her eyes and gasped. The man before her had to be a dream, because men like him only existed in movies and on magazine covers where they were photoshopped and airbrushed to perfection.
Thick chestnut hair shot through with threads of polished copper, fell to his shoulders in shiny waves. His face—oh, man—his finely sculpted handsome face was the stuff of lonely-girl fantasies everywhere. Deep brown eyes shining with keen intelligence assessed her.
His broad shoulders and chest were adorned in an embroidered sleeveless woolen tunic reaching mid-thigh, worn over a long-sleeved linen shirt that tied at the throat. The wool had been dyed an earthy green, and the embroidery formed russet and dark brown Celtic knots around the hem and neck opening. Beside the sword hanging from his hips, he carried a leather quiver strapped to his back, filled with an unstrung bow and at least a dozen arrows.
Regan had described what Fáelán had been wearing when she’d first met the third-century warrior at Newgrange. Moccasin-like shoes. Check. Suede leggings. Check. Tunic and cloak. Check on the tunic, but no cloak. But then, the air carried only a slight chill today, and the sun was warm.
Her sister Regan had traveled back through time to the third century to prevent Fáelán from being cursed by Morrigan, an evil faerie princess. Third century. Denial shrieked through Grayce’s brain. She knew time travel could happen, but not to her.
She eyed his weapons. “Have I …” Her voice came out a raspy squeak. She cleared her throat. She couldn’t ask if she’d fallen through time, could she? He’d think she’d gone off her rails. Oh, Lord. What if this wasn’t a dream, and she was in the middle of a psychotic break with reality? Visions gone, replaced by insanity?
He studied her blue, spikey hair and the piercings along her ears, moving to the stud through her eyebrow. In fact, he seemed to be taking inventory from the top of the her pounding head to her sturdy hiking boots and back to her face again. There his gaze lingered on her mouth.
“What might ye be called, fair one?”
Fair one? He didn’t seem at all surprised to find her lying on the ground. Was he responsible for her fall through that hellish tunnel? He still held her hands in his. She snatched them back and swiveled around to look for the tunnel she’d fallen through. She’d climb back up to her own time—or back to sanity—even if it took the rest of the day. She sucked in a sharp breath, and her stomach dropped. “Where did it go?”
“Where did what go?”
“The tunnel I fell through.” On unsteady, aching legs she approached the cliff of solid rock and kicked the wall. “Shit.” Tears spilled from her eyes. Every inch of her hurt, and to top it all off, she was covered in mud and her clothes had torn. Misery sapped her will to stand. She sank to the ground and hugged her knees to her chest. Dropping her forehead to her arms, Grayce rocked herself back and forth. “This can’t be happening,” she sobbed.
The next thing she knew, she was being hoisted into the powerful arms of the stranger. “Put me down,” she wailed and squirmed.
“I wish only to offer aid and to bring ye to safety.” He tightened his hold. “Ye’ve suffered a great shock and cannot even stand on your own two feet, lassie.”
“No shit.” She sniffed and swiped the backs of her hands over her cheeks. Sensing his sincerity, his lack of threat to her, she gave in to the relief of being held. “I don’t know where or when this is, and I don’t understand what just happened.”
The dogs barked again, and Grayce peered down at them. The pair ran around the feet of the man carrying her, tails wagging like crazy, as if they’d just found their long-lost best friend. The border collies put their paws on the man’s thighs, stretching to sniff at her again. Her rescuer—or was he her captor?—whistled sharply, and the dogs took off. He set out after them with her still in his arms. The mud from her clothes smeared his tunic. “Sorry about the mess I’m making of your clothing.”
“The mud will shake out easily enough once it has dried.” His warm brown eyes met hers.
“Where are you taking me?” Her voice quavered, and she’d begun to tremble uncontrollably from the aftereffects of shock. She should insist he put her down, but being carried felt so damn good. She bit her lip, the only part of her that didn’t hurt.
“To my parents’ cottage.”
“How do I get back to where I was? Will you help me get home?” Oh, God, her voice sounded whiny.
“All will be explained soon.”
“Well, thanks. That is so not helpful. I feel much better now that I know all will be explained soon.” Again, her whatever-he-was chuckled. Frustration and fear roiled through her, and her poor heart bounced erratically around her ribcage. Where the hell was she, and how the hell had she gotten here? Even more important, how would she get home?
Hold on. Her backpack still sat on the ground next to where she’d sat against the rock surface that had been solid one minute and gone the next. Meredith knew which trail Grayce had taken. Her twin and her mother would sense something had happened to her, and her family would know where to look. They’d find her backpack, and they’d sense she was alive.
For the first time in her short life, gratitude for her family’s giftedness stormed to the forefront. Fáelán would reach out to his half-fae daughter, and with Boann’s help, her family would find a way to bring Grayce home. The tightness in her chest eased a degree or two.
“I’d prefer to walk,” she said. “If I don’t, I’ll get even more stiff and sore than I am now.”
The man called BREE-uhn stopped and set her on her feet. “Are ye a healer then?”
“No.” She wrapped her arms around her midriff, careful not to touch her palms against anything. “I’m an assistant manager at an office supply store in Knoxville, Tennessee in the states. It’s one of a large chain of stores located all across the country. Lots of opportunities for advancement.” The impossibly gorgeous man’s brow furrowed. He had no idea what she was babbling on about. Why would he care about her chances of being promoted in a job she didn’t even like all that much?
Grayce gestured forward. “Lead on.” Soon. Very soon, a day or two at the max, Boann would come for her. The fae princess would whisk Grayce back to her family, and everything would return to normal. She hoped.
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