The MacCarthy Sisters #1
October 24, 2017
Available in: e-Book, Trade Size
Tangled in Time
A time-travel romance for fans of Diana Gabaldon and Hazel Hunter.
To set him free from an ancient curse, she must travel to a time of myth and legend…
Regan MacCarthy’s ability to see ghosts is a gift inherited from her Irish ancestors, but it’s one she’d dearly like to give back. In an attempt to return her powers to their source, she travels to Ireland to harness the ancient magic that still permeates the mystical site of Newgrange. Instead, something far more unexpected awaits her: a strapping, gorgeous stranger who insists he’s a centuries-old Celtic warrior.
Fáelán was one of Fionn MacCumhaill’s elite soldiers before being cursed by a resentful fae princess. The only way to free himself is to fall so deeply in love that he’d sacrifice his life. Not an easy matter when he’s invisible to most. Yet Regan sees him—not just the proud, handsome warrior on the surface, but the complex man beneath. Only when it’s too late does Fáelán realize that drawing this beautiful mortal into his world has endangered them both, and may destroy the happiness he’s waited an eternity to claim…
Chapter 1 excerpt
Present day, County Meath, Ireland
Regan couldn’t see the passage tomb in the predawn darkness, yet every single internal here-be-spirits antenna within her stood on end. And the closer she got, the more those antennae boogied. Newgrange, aka Brú Na Bóinne, was like Mecca to beings not of this world, not to mention a central hub for magic.
She’d sensed the powerful vibrations the day before, while visiting the ancient tourist attraction. What she’d sensed had compelled her to come back to take a closer, more private look. If she could tap into the energy here, perhaps she’d figure out how to harness a portion. Maybe then she’d be able to use the magic to shut out the ghosts once and for all. That was her hope anyway, and the driving force behind her trip to Ireland.
Legend had it her family’s giftedness sprang from the fae, a boon bestowed upon an Irish ancestor in their distant past. She wished she could give the gift of sight back to that ancestor, or at least learn how to close herself off from it. “If you want to shut off the flow, you have to find the source,” she muttered to herself. So here she was in County Meath, schlepping through dew-covered pastures, about to trespass on a national historic site.
The rolled yoga mat hanging from the strap over her shoulder swayed to the rhythm of her strides. Her shoes and the bottoms of her leggings were sopping wet. Regan trekked on, her blood humming in concert to Brú Na Bóinne’s pulse.
She paused as the dim outline of the wooden shack she’d been looking for took shape in her flashlight’s beam. The kiosklike structure stood at the base of the large hill. This was where visitors purchased postcard photos of the interior of Newgrange while waiting for the park shuttles to take them back to the visitor center. Focusing on getting through a patch of brambles without tearing her clothes, Regan aimed for the low wooden fence she needed to climb to get onto the grounds. What would happen if someone caught her trespassing? She went a little breathless at the thought. Would the Irish police, the Garda, come take her away?
Just as the first blush of dawn crested the eastern horizon, Regan made it to the top of the hill. The large, flat stone guarding the entrance to the tomb came into view. The spiral glyphs etched into the surface were only dimly visible. She reached out and traced one of the coils, and a tingle ran up her arm, coursed along her nerves throughout her entire body and raised goose bumps in its wake.
The view from the top of the hill was incredible. Miles and miles of green, rolling hills in every direction, with the River Boyne meandering in a winding path through the lush landscape. The verdant surroundings carried the sweet scent of growing things and spring blossoms. Birds had begun to stir, singing their own trilled version of the sun salutation.
Regan took a few steps back and dropped her things. She tucked the flashlight into her day pack before unrolling her mat on a relatively flat stretch of grass. After toeing off her shoes, she settled on the mat in a half-lotus seated position and closed her eyes, adjusting her position until she found her center of gravity. Hands on her thighs, palms up, thumbs and pointer fingers touching, she stilled.
Immediately all kinds of ghostly whispers and pleas intruded, distracting her. Some were unintelligible, ancient languages she didn’t recognize; others came through clear as day with the same old familiar refrain. Help me! Where am I? And of course . . . I want to go home. She mentally brushed them aside like so many cobwebs in the corners of her mind. “I’m ignoring all of you,” she called out. “So you may as well quiet down.”
Regan narrowed her throat for ujjayi pranayama, the breath of victory. The inner sound of her breathing, like ocean waves, helped her focus. Concentrating, she opened her mind to the magic surrounding her.
According to everything she’d read, practitioners could use magic to repel unwanted energies. Some were able to mask their presence with a spell. Hiding from dead people and their bereaved families would work. If she couldn’t divest herself of her abilities, at least she’d have a shield.
Thoughts flitted around for a few minutes, but at least they were hers and no longer ghostly. She simply observed them until her inner self quieted. Reaching for the powerful vibrations, she waited—and waited some more. Regan meditated as hard as she could, inviting the magic in.
The minutes ticked by, at least forty of them, and nothing happened. No flow, not even a trickle or a drip seeped into her. Magic all around, and she couldn’t touch it. So, this was not the way magic worked, or she lacked what it took to call that kind of power to her.
Disappointed, she heaved a sigh and rose to standing.
Despite her failure in this first attempt, she couldn’t help but appreciate the glory of the rising sun. She’d greet the day here, so slogging through dewy fields wouldn’t have been a total waste of time. Besides, holding on to disappointment wouldn’t do her any good. Better to embrace the newly born day with gratitude.
Facing the east, she brought her hands together over her heart and began her salutation. “With hands folded in prayer, I face the sun, feeling love and joy in my heart.” She moved into the first asana. Flowing into the second pose, she continued her prayer. “I reach out and let the sun fill me with warmth. I bow before the sun’s radiance, and place my face to the ground in humility and respect.”
By the time Regan had completed four sets of the sun salutation, the burning orb had risen in a blaze of orange and pink against an azure background. She switched to Ashtanga Yoga, and moved through the more challenging poses. Inhale. Move into the posture. Exhale, and . . . hold.
“What is the daft lassie doin’ then?” a very male voice said from behind her.
A burst of adrenaline wrecked her meditative state. She drew in a long cleansing breath, letting it out slowly through her nose. He had to be a ghost, because she would’ve heard a fellow trespasser’s approach.
“Until you interrupted her, the daft lassie was doing Ashtanga Yoga,” she said, coming out of her pose. So much for ending her practice with another brief meditative effort to grasp hold of the magic here. So much for shutting out the dead.
Since birth, it had been deeply ingrained in her by her family that her gifts were meant to be shared. She’d been born to guide confused spirits to the light, offer the bereaved some closure and chase away beings who had no business messing with humans.
Whether she wanted to or not, interacting with the spirit world was her lot in life. Doing so took a lot out of her and left her empty. It wasn’t always the dead who stole her energy, though their proximity chilled and exhausted her; sometimes it was their needy, grieving relatives who drained her the most. The living didn’t always want to let go, and they were persistent with their demands for her help. The worst part, though, was the effect her abilities had on her social life. Communing with the dead and otherworldly often repulsed potential love interests among the living.
“You hear me?”
“Grand. Do the thing where ye balance on one foot, arch your back like a bow and touch your toes to the back of your head again, if you please. Only . . . face me this time. Liked that one, I did,” he said.
“’Twas quite . . . provocative.”
Ghosts remembered lust and sex, though they no longer experienced the physical sensations. Annoyed, she turned to scowl at him, only to gape instead. As far as ghosts went, this man was one finelooking apparition. Lean and fit, he stood maybe five foot ten. He wore his long, auburn hair in numerous braids, held back in a knot bound with strips of leather. The original man bun?
His features were strong and angular—broad forehead, long, straight nose, flaring slightly at the nostrils, high cheekbones and a wide, expressive mouth over a tapered chin. Though he was fair and freckled, his eyes were a deep, rich brown, and they were filled with keen intelligence. He must have been quite strong in life to be this vivid in death. He was the most colorful spirit she’d ever encountered. He looked almost corporeal.
She eyed his coarse linen shirt, worn under a vest made of some kind of sleek fur. Seal? A green woolen cloak rested over his shoulders, held in place with a gold brooch of Celtic knots with a crouched wolf effigy in the center. Suede leggings fit him snugly, and the soft leather shoes he wore resembled moccasins. He reminded her of the ancient Roman descriptions she’d read of Celtic warriors, and the pictures of equally ancient rock and wood carvings she’d studied in books.
Standing a bit straighter under her perusal, he cocked his head slightly. “What might ye be called, Álainn?”
Aww, he’d just called her a beauty, and he’d said it with such an enticing Irish lilt too. “Regan MacCarthy. And you?”
“Fáelán of Clan Baiscne at your service,” he said with a bow. “Fáelán means wolf.”
“I believe it’s the diminutive form of the word, isn’t it? That would make you Little Wolf.”
“Ah, well, even the mightiest bear starts out as a cub, aye?” He winked at her. “An bhfuil Gaeilge agat? An dtuigeann tú?”
“I don’t speak Irish well, but I do have some Gaeilge, and yes, I did understand what you just said.”
“Hmm.” His gaze bored intently into hers. “And ye see me.”
“I do. Just so you know, I’ve helped many like you, and—”
“Many like me?” He crossed his arms in front of him, widened his stance and lowered his brow. “Meanin’ what, exactly?”
He stomped around in front of the tomb’s entrance and let loose a string of expletives, all in his native Irish. “I’m no scáil; I’m cursed.
Woman, do ye have any idea who or what I am?”
Huh. She’d been demoted from beauty to woman. “Little Wolf, better known as Fay-lon of Clan Bask-nuh?” Regan hid her grin and checked the horizon. The visitor center would open at nine. She slipped into her shoes and gathered her things.
“I am one of Fionn MacCumhaill’s elite, one of the Fianna who served the high king, Cormac MacArt himself. Do ye have any idea how difficult it was to become one of the few skilled enough, clever enough to be ordained into the Fianna? Do ye have any idea how prestigious it was to be counted amongst their ranks? Why, I defeated nine warriors at once, I did.”
“After walking barefoot through snow up to your waist and climbing over a mountain, no doubt,” she muttered. His ego certainly hadn’t diminished with death.
“Nay.” He flashed her a look of confusion. “’Twas midsummer. I passed many such tests to become one of Fionn’s warriors, not the least of which was proving my skill with sword, bow and lance.”
“Good for you.” Out of all the deceased she’d encountered, this boasty ghosty took the prize for being the most entertaining. Regan couldn’t wait to call her sisters to tell them about today’s encounter. Was she supposed to help him? Was that what drew her back to Newgrange and not the magic after all? No. Fáelán was but one of many ghosts hanging out on this hill. And she had no interest in working with dead people anymore. Honestly, she never had. All she’d ever wanted was to be ordinary and to have all the ordinary things life had to offer, like a job she loved, a husband, children and a nice house in the burbs.
She started down the hill, heading for the fields she needed to cross to get to her rental car. “I believe you, but the Fianna existed in what . . . the second and third centuries? This is the twenty-first century, so—”
“Ye know our history.” His gaze lit with approval. “I’m cursed, I tell ye, by the Tuatha Dé Danann princess Morrigan. Tricked me, she did. Came to me in the guise of a mortal and seduced me into her bed. Had I known her true identity, I never would have lain with her, and—”
“And you’d be long dead regardless. Nobody lives into their thousands.”
“And ”—he scowled—“not knowin’ the brief tryst meant aught to her, I took another lover soon after. Morrigan caught me and my lover between the furs once upon a winter’s eve, and that is when the fae princess cursed me.”
“Killed you more like.” No point in mincing words. If he was to cross over, he had to first accept his state of deadness.
“Nay. I told ye, I’m no ghost.”
Fáelán strode ahead, turned and faced her, forcing her to stop in her tracks or walk right through him. She hated the walk-throughs, hated the creepy chill and the overwhelming fight-or-flight instinct that shot through her every time it happened. Even thinking about it caused a shudder.
“Do ye want to hear the curse, lassie?”
His expression was so earnest, so hopeful, how could she resist? “I’m guessing you wish to share it with me.”
“I do,” he said, his gaze roaming over her face, coming to rest upon her lips.
She turned away. Too strange, this feeling of attraction to a dead man. “Go ahead, but we need to keep walking. I’m trespassing here and don’t want to get caught.”
“If we must, but I won’t be able to do justice to the recitation.”
“Oh?” He was funny, charming and somehow vulnerable. Add to that his breathtaking good looks, and she could see why a fae princess might want to crawl between the furs with him. “I know how difficult it can be to walk and talk at the same time, but I trust you’ll do the best you can,” she teased, earning her another disgruntled look from her ghostly companion. “You remember the curse word for word after all this time?”
“Of course.” His shoulders squared. “I had to commit to memory all the verses of poetry about our people’s history, and I recited every last word to Fionn without error afore I could be ordained into the
Fianna. I also proved myself a poet in my own right.” “Boasty ghosty,” she muttered.
“Cursed,” he snapped back, just as they reached the wooden fence separating the heritage land from the fields beyond. “I’d lend ye a hand, lassie, but I fear I cannot. I exist in the void, whilst ye reside in the earthly realm. We cannot touch.”
More likely, if he tried, her hand would go right through his. “It’s all right. I can manage.” She climbed over the fence, only to find him already on the other side by the time both her feet hit the ground. “So, the curse?” She set off across the field.
Fáelán cleared his throat, shook out his arms and huffed out a breath. He began, in a rich baritone, projecting his voice from his ghostly diaphragm . . . in Irish.
She hated to admit it, but her curiosity had been piqued. “Wait. My Irish isn’t good enough to get much out of what you just said. Can you translate the curse into modern-day English for me?”
“Of course. I’ve had centuries aplenty to learn all forms of English, French and German. I suspect ye might be from the Americas, but your accent is none too familiar. Where are ye from, Álainn?”
“Tennessee. The curse? Please continue.”
He cleared his throat again and seemed to ponder for a few moments. Finally, he began.
“Foolish, fickle human,
’tis a royal covenant ye have broken.
Harken well to my edict, for ’tis your penance now spoken. By wind, water, earth and fire I vow,
’til blood of sidhe in a mortal will tell, ’twixt here and shadow shall ye dwell.
Not without mercy, a daughter of Danu be, I grant ye one path by which ye might be free. During the interludes when the realms collide, in the earthly world may ye bide. Seek she who sees ye, and woo her well. For once your heart is fully given, when your life for hers ye’d gladly give, in the earthly realm may ye once again live.”
“Impressive.” He truly was a poet if he could spew out something like that at a moment’s notice. “What does the curse refer to when it mentions realms colliding?”
“During solstices and equinoxes, the veil between the worlds lifts, and the realms merge. I know of only three: the shadow realm where the dead go to be judged afore rebirth, the void realm where the fae make their home and the earthly realm where we humans are meant to dwell.”
She’d read the Celts believed there were different realms, and building his fantasy upon what was culturally relevant to him made sense. Besides, ghosts had to go somewhere when they stepped into the light, and she’d often wondered where that might be. Who was she to say there weren’t other dimensions? “When did this happen, Fáelán?”
Getting a ghost to think about time’s passage was the first step in a multistep process for helping them accept they were dead. She should write a manual for ghost whisperers, a twelve-step program for helping spirits depart. Once she found a way to rid herself of her gift, she could pass the manual along to some other unfortunate soul who’d been born with the sight. Perhaps she would write that book. Now that she’d sold her chain of yoga studios, she had the time. Step two: confront the ghost with empirical evidence of their demise—or at least the implausibility of their continued existence. Regan glanced at her ghostly companion. “How do you explain not aging or dying after all this time?”
“I cannot, for I do not understand the reasons myself. ’Tis said the Tuatha Dé Danann, the children of the goddess Danu, partake of the Elixir of Life, which is the source of their immortality. Morrigan may have slipped a drop or two of the elixir into the food I am provided with in my captivity.”
“Hmm.” Poor guy. Clearly, he was a ghost with a rich imagination, unwilling to accept his own mortality. And why would he? He’d died so young. No wonder he’d stuck around. Acceptance would be difficult for such a strong personality. She’d encountered the same denial many times with accident victims, especially young men. What was it about young males that led them to believe they were immortal?
“Ye see me,” he said, sweeping his arm in a wide arc and turning in a circle. “Seek she who sees ye, and woo her well.” He lowered his chin and winked at her again. “Perhaps you’re the lassie I’m fated to love with all my heart, aye?”
Speaking of hearts, hers broke a tiny bit for him. He was so deep in denial, he’d created an entire fantasy for a way to return to the land of the living. Despite her wish to be done with ghost busting, she was tempted to help this spirit come to grips with his reality.
“’Tis a wonder. Might you be mo a míorúilt lómhar, my precious miracle? I do hope so, for a lovelier miracle I could not have imagined.”
His over-the-top flirty tone didn’t match the desperate hope she glimpsed deep in his eyes. “For a ghost, you certainly are a shameless flirt.” She couldn’t keep from grinning. The notion that she could be anyone’s precious miracle tickled her. “It’s highly doubtful I’m the one destined to win your heart after all these years, but I’ll help you in any way I can.”
Meaning she’d come back to Newgrange a few more times and lead him as gently as possible to the realization that he was no longer of this world. Once he accepted his death, she’d guide him toward the light, and he’d cross over.
A sense of rightness settled over her. For this boasty ghosty, she’d put aside her search for a way to cut herself off from the spirit world. Temporarily. Once he’d departed, she’d take up the search right where she’d left off.
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