Dark witch, p.20
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       Dark Witch, p.20

         Part #1 of The Cousins O'Dwyer series by Nora Roberts
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  thirst for more of it that made Cabhan.”

  Iona thought she understood how that could be, how the temptation, the seduction of such great power could overwhelm. “Boyle talked me down. He helped me hold it, calm it, and finally stop it.”

  Now those eyebrows rose. “Is that the way of it? That’s no small feat, to rein in a witch who’s not only reaping a whirlwind but riding one. Otherwise, the pair of you would be roaming about Oz looking for ruby slippers.”

  “But I’d be the good witch.”

  “Hmm. I’m relieved you weren’t hurt, either of you. And I’m thinking we might have a space of time, before he makes another lunge at us, to smooth out more rough edges. I’m proud of you,” she added, then rose.

  Simple words, simply spoken, but they poured into Iona like fine wine. “Thanks.”

  “I’ve a thing or two to see to in the workshop now that my head’s clear,” Branna continued. “I’ll tell Connor all of this, and as he came at you when you were with Boyle, it’s best if we tell Meara the whole of it as well. And Fin,” she added before Boyle could. “We’ll meet again, would you say, in a day or two, once I’ve—once we’ve all had time to think it all through.”

  “I think that’s the right thing,” Iona said. “We’re stronger together, right, than separately?”

  “I’ll hope. See you at breakfast, Boyle,” Branna said with a wink, then left them.

  “Oh well, I don’t know as I should—”

  “You should.” Now Iona got to her feet, held out a hand. “You really should. Come upstairs with me, Boyle.”

  The wanting was so steep he couldn’t climb out of it. He stood, took her hand, and went upstairs with her.

  * * *

  UNDER STRICT ORDERS TO REPORT TO BRANNA’S WORKSHOP directly from the stables, and with Boyle busy in a meeting with Fin, Iona tapped Meara for a ride home.

  “I have to get a car.” She frowned at the winding, narrow road Meara zoomed along as if it were a six-lane highway. “A cheap car. A cheap, reliable car.”

  “I can put the word out on that.”

  “Yeah, that’d be good. Then I have to learn how to drive on the wrong side of the road.”

  “It’s you Yanks who drive on the wrong side, and can put the fear of God into a person just driving out to do the weekly marketing.”

  “I bet. But why do you guys drive on the left? I read it was about having the right hand free for the sword, but it’s been a really long time since people needed to battle it out on horseback with swords.”

  “You never know, do you? Most don’t battle it out on horseback with whirlwinds as a rule.”

  “You got me there. Maybe I can talk Boyle into letting me drive some tomorrow. He’s going to take me around to some sites. I’ve been so buried in work and lessons I haven’t seen anything outside of that, and the village. Not really.”

  “A day off’s good for the soul. But it’ll take considerable talk of the very sweetest of nature, and very likely promises of exotic sexual favors to convince Boyle to let anyone behind the wheel but himself.”

  “I’m a good driver,” she insisted. “Or was when the steering wheel was on this side. And does everyone know I’m in the position to offer Boyle sex?”

  “Anyone with eyes. If there’d been more opportunity today, I’d’ve pulled more out of you about the whirlwind business, and the sex. But we had too many people about for it.”

  “You could come in,” Iona said as Meara pulled up at the workshop. “Then Branna couldn’t dump me right into more work, and I could give you lots and lots of details.”

  “Why is it so entertaining to have a window into others’ sexual adventures? Maybe so we don’t have to deal with the upheaval of them in our own lives. In any case,” Meara continued before Iona could think of an answer, “I’d be all ears, that’s for certain. But I’ve errands need doing. Now, I could meet you at the pub later, with my ears, unless you’re already planning more adventures with Boyle.”

  “I could squeeze in time for a drink with a friend. Do you believe in reincarnation?”

  “Sure that’s a question.” Meara shoved back her cap. “Where did it come from?”

  “I was wondering why some connections seem so easy, so natural, as if they’d already been made and are just getting picked up again. It’s the way it worked for me with you, with Branna and Connor. With Boyle. Even Fin.”

  “I guess I don’t discount anything. You don’t when your best friend in the world’s a witch. But I think a big part of that is you’re open to those connections. You reach for them, you do. It’s hard not to reach back, even when you’re not the reaching type in general.”

  “You’re not?”

  “Not as a rule, no. I keep my circle tight. Less upheavals, so to speak.”

  “Then I’m glad you widened it for me. See you at the pub? A couple hours?”

  “That’ll do fine.”

  “Thanks for the lift.” Iona jumped out, shot back a wave. She liked the idea of being open to connections, and the prospect of meeting a friend for a drink. Maybe she could talk Branna into joining them—a kind of impulsive girls’ night out.

  Then maybe she’d get lucky and top it off with a little adventure with Boyle.

  Pleased with the plan, she swung through the door.

  “Let the lesson begin, then we can— Oh, sorry. I didn’t see you had company—a customer.”

  She hesitated at the doorway, not quite sure if she should go in or out, then recognized the woman standing at the work counter with her cousin.

  “Oh, hi. I met you my first night at Ashford, at the Cottage. You’re Mick’s daughter. Iona,” she added when the woman simply stood there, flushed and staring.

  “I remember, yes. My father speaks well of you.”

  “He’s terrific. Just one more reason I love my job. Sorry to interrupt. I’ll just go—”

  “No, no, it’s not a problem a’tall. I’ve just finished. And thanks, Branna, I’ll be on my way then. Best to Connor.”

  She hurried out, pushing a little bottle into her coat pocket.

  “Sorry. I know you do some business here, even though most of it’s through the shop in the village.”

  “A bit here, a bit there.” Branna tucked some euros into a drawer. “Those who come here are often looking for what I don’t sell in the village.”

  “Oh.”

  “I’m not a doctor, but I’m discreet. Still, in this case I’ll tell you, as it’s hardly the secret Kayleen thinks it is, and there may come a time you’ll be asked for the same.”

  She lifted a ladle, poured a pale gold cream from bowl to bottle through a funnel, and touched the air with the scent of honey and almonds.

  “There’s a fine-looking Italian come over to work at his uncle’s restaurant in Galway City. Our Kayleen met him a few weeks ago at a party, and they’ve been seeing each other a bit. I met him myself when they came into the shop, and he’s charming as a prince and twice as handsome.” She continued to work as she spoke, filling her bottles, then wiping them clean before sealing them with the stoppers.

  “Kayleen’s mad in lust for him, and who could blame her for it? I’d have a go at him myself if I was in the market. Others feel the same, and it appears he’s fine with that situation. And who could blame him?” she added, tying a thin gold ribbon around the bottle’s neck.

  “But Kayleen doesn’t want to share, and feels the handsome Italian only requires a bit of a boost to pledge to her alone. She had in mind I’d give her the boost.”

  “I’m not following.”

  Branna set the finished bottle in a box for transporting. “A love spell was her request, and she was willing to pay a hundred hard-earned for it.”

  “A love spell? Can you do that?”

  “Can and will are different matters entirely. There are ways, of course. There are always ways, and there’s nothing more dangerous or filled with pain and regret as spells that involve the heart.”

  “Yo
u told her no. Because it’s taking someone’s choice away. And because you’re not supposed to use magick for gain.”

  Hands quick and clever, Branna tied the next ribbon. “Every spell’s for gain, one way or the other. You want something or believe in something, want to protect or block or vanquish. This cream here, it’ll make the skin smooth and fragrant, and it can lift the ego of the one wearing it, as well as draw a response from the one catching its scent. I create it, someone buys it, and I’m paid. That’s gain as well.”

  “I guess that’s a way to think about it.”

  “It is. As for choice, there are times we do that as well, however well-intentioned. And so we have to be willing to pay the price, for magick’s not free.” She looked up then, met Iona’s eyes with her smoky ones. “Not for us, not for any.”

  “Then why did you say no?”

  “Emotions are magick of their own, aren’t they? Love and hate the strongest and most powerful. It’s my philosophy that you don’t tamper with feelings, don’t push them in one direction or the other, not with power. The risk is great. What if the love is already there, about to bloom? You push it along, maybe it opens to obsession. Or the one who paid for the spell has a change of mind or heart. Or there’s another who loves and would be loved and is now shunted aside by magickal means. So many ors and ifs there. I don’t play with love spells or their kin. You’ll make up your own mind where you stand on it, but it’s, to me, an unethical and risky line to cross.”

  “Unethical, yes. And even more it just wouldn’t be fair.” For Iona, that was even more important. “And yeah, I get what you’re saying. A lot of magick isn’t fair. But love should be, I don’t know, sacred. People have to be able to love who they love.”

  “And not love when they don’t. So I said no, and always will.”

  “What did you sell her instead?”

  “Truth. She’ll decide if she makes use of it. If she does, they’ll both be able to say what they feel, and want and expect. If not, she can go along enjoying what is for as long as it lasts. I think she won’t use it. She has a fear of magick, and she’s not ready for truth.”

  “If she loved him, she’d want the truth.”

  Branna smiled, slipped the next bottle into the box. “Ah, and there you have it. She’s a bit besotted and wildly in lust, but not anywhere near the borders of love. She only wishes to be. Love doesn’t break under the truth, even when you want it to.”

  The door opened. Kathel trotted in, and Fin followed.

  “Ladies.” He pushed back his wind-tossed hair. “I heard we had a bit of trouble. You’re all right, darling?” he said to Iona.

  “Yes. Fine.”

  “I’m glad of it. And still, I’d like the details of it all, and what’s being planned in the certainty there’ll be another attack.”

  “Boyle didn’t come with you?”

  “He’s dealing with the farrier, and Connor’s out on a hawk walk, so it’s left to the two of you to deal with me on this.”

  “Boyle was there as well.” Branna carried the box to a shelf in the back. “He’ll have as many details as Iona.”

  “He sees it from his eyes. I want hers.”

  “We’ve work, Fin. She needs more knowledge, more practice.”

  “Then I’ll help you with it.” As if it was already accepted, he shrugged out of his coat.

  “We have different . . . techniques, you and I.”

  “So we do, and Iona would only benefit from seeing, and trying the differences.”

  “This habit of talking about me in the third person when I’m right here is getting really old,” Iona decided.

  “And rude,” Fin said with a nod. “You’re right. I’d like to help, and once we’re done with the work, I’d very much like if you’d tell me exactly what happened, and how you left it—from your eyes, Iona. If you will.”

  “I . . . I’m supposed to meet Meara later. But . . .” Iona glanced back at Branna, watched her cousin sigh, shrug. “We could ask her to come here, and Boyle, too. It would be smart, I think, to have us all here, go through it once and for all, and talk about what comes next.”

  “All right then. I can have dinner brought in. You’ve no need to cook for a horde again, Branna.”

  “I’ve sauce I put on an hour ago for pasta. It’ll stretch easily enough.”

  “I’ll ring up the others then.” He drew out his phone. “Then we’ll get started.”

  14

  IT FELT GOOD, AND IT FELT RIGHT TO HAVE EVERYONE TOGETHER AGAIN. Everyone tucked into the roomy kitchen with good cooking smells, voices carrying over voices, the dog sprawled at the hearth.

  It made the normal, to Iona’s mind, despite the dark and light of the paranormal.

  She tossed a big salad, kind of her specialty. She did pretty well in the kitchen as long as it didn’t involve actually cooking.

  So she felt good and right and, with the increased push on her lessons with Branna, strong. Even the recounting of the altercation with the wolf, once again, reminded her of the power in the blood, at her fingertips. And made her feel confident.

  “It’s bold, isn’t it?” Meara commented as she slathered herbed butter over thick slices of baguette. “To come at the pair of you that way, in the daylight and so close to Ashford.”

  “I’m thinking it wasn’t planned.” Connor nipped a slice of bread from the baking tray before Meara could slide it in the oven to toast. “But more he saw an opportunity and took it, without the planning.”

  “Maybe to frighten more than harm,” Fin suggested. “To harm certainly if that opportunity opened. You were having a nice, easy ride, relaxed.”

  “And not on guard.” Boyle nodded. “A mistake we won’t be making again.”

  “It’s a kind of terrorism, isn’t it?” Fin carried the big bowl of salad to the table. “The constant threat, the not knowing when or where it may come. And the disruption of the normal rhythm of things.”

  “Sure he’s the one who bore the brunt of it.” Branna dumped drained pasta in a cheerful blue-and-white bowl. “And got his arse kicked by a witch barely out of the cupboard.”

  “Satisfying.”

  But as Fin spoke, Iona caught the quick look he shared with Branna.

  “But? But what?”

  “He’s come after you twice. Here, sit now, get started,” Branna ordered. “And both times he’s been sent off with his tail between his legs.”

  “He underestimated her,” Boyle said as he took his seat.

  “No doubt of that, and little that he’ll do so again.” Branna handed the salad set to Meara. “Dish it up. I’ll turn the bread.”

  She could follow the dots, Iona thought, especially when they were so clearly marked. “You think he’ll come after me again? Specifically?”

  “It’s you coming here that’s set things in motion that held for hundreds of years. There’s apples in here,” Connor discovered as he sampled the salad. “It’s nice.”

  “So if he scares her off—at least—and back to America?” Meara frowned. “What does that do?”

  “I’m not sure it matters now. She’s the third.” Branna brought the bread to the table, sat to have her salad. “And he knows it, as we do now. Her power has opened, and wider and faster than he—or I for that matter—had anticipated. The cork’s not going back in that bottle.”

  While she appreciated the compliment, Iona continued to follow the dots, into a very uneasy place. “But if he kills me, or either of you?”

  “Pain’s better.” Connor ate with obvious enjoyment, and spoke with something kin to cheer. “Or seduction. Those lead to turning, and by turning any of us, he gains more power. Killing outright, he’d get some, but far from all. Still he might try it out of frustration or spite.”

  “There’s a happy thought,” Meara muttered.

  “If that’s true, why hasn’t he gone for either of you long before I got here?”

  “Oh, he’s made a few swipes from time to time, but no scars.” A
s soon as the words were out of his mouth, Connor winced. “I’m sorry for that, Fin.”

  “It’s no matter. He couldn’t know, as none of us could know, the three of you were the three. Not until you came, Iona, and the links clicked together.”

  “And the amulets help to shield,” Branna added. “And if he did away with me or Connor, there’d be another. There’s O’Dwyers a plenty.”

  “Not like you.” Boyle spoke quietly. “Nor like Connor. Or you,” he said to Iona. “You knew, Fin, it would be this three and this time.”

  “Only for certain when I saw the horse. I saw you on him,” Fin said to Iona. “Astride the stallion under a moon so full and white it seemed to pulse against the black sky like a bright heart. I saw fire in your hands, and power in your eyes.”

  “You said nothing of this before.”

  Fin glanced at Branna. “I bought the horse because I knew it was hers. I didn’t know when you’d come, not for certain,” he said to Iona. “Only that you would, and you’d have need of Alastar. And he of you.”

  “What else have you seen?” Branna demanded.

  His face shuttered. “Too much, and not enough.”

  “I’m not looking for riddles, Finbar.”

  “You’re looking for answers, as always you do, and I don’t have them. I’ve seen the fog spread, as you have, seen him watching from the shadows, a shadow himself. I’ve seen you under that same bright moon, glowing like a thousand stars. With the wind flying through your hair, and blood on your hands. I’ve wondered if it was mine.”

  Saying nothing, Branna rose to go to the stove, to pour the simmering sauce in a bowl.

  “I don’t know what it means,” Fin continued, “or how much is real and true, how much is wondering.”

  “When the time comes, it’ll be his blood spilled.” The cheer left Connor’s voice. Now there was only a hard edge, a lick of temper.

  “Brother. I am his blood.”

  “He doesn’t own you.” With her shoulders very straight, her eyes very direct, Iona looked at Fin. “And feeling sorry for yourself isn’t helping. He’s been around, waiting for hundreds of years,” she continued in a practical tone as Branna shot her a quietly approving look over her shoulder. “What the hell has he been doing for centuries?”

  “Fin thinks he goes back and forth, when he’s a mind to, between times, or worlds. Or both,” Boyle added.

  “How does he— Oh, the cabin, the ruins. The place behind the vines. If he can do that, why doesn’t he kill Sorcha before she burns him to ashes?”

  “He can’t change what was. Her magick was as powerful as his, maybe more,” Fin speculated, “before she took ill, before he killed her man. It’s her, I think, who spellbound the place, protects it still. What was, was, and can’t be altered. I’ve tried myself.”

  “Well now, you’re full of secrets, aren’t you then.” Branna dropped the bowls on the table, snatched up the salad to put it aside.

  “If I could’ve finished what she started, and ended him, it would be done.”

  “But so would you,” Iona pointed out. “Maybe. I think. Time paradoxes are . . . paradoxical.”

  “In any case, I couldn’t change it. My power was there, I felt it, but it made no matter. And I couldn’t hold my place, if you take my meaning. It all wavered, and brought me back where I’d started.”

  “You could’ve been lost,” Connor reminded him. “Taken somewhere, or some time else entirely.”

  “I wasn’t. I think it’s like a string of wire, from then to now, and there’s no veering off from the wire.”

  “But there’s a lot of years on the wire,” Iona mused. “Maybe it’s a matter of finding the right spot.”

  “Change one thing that was, it all changes. And you should know better,”
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