Dark witch, p.23
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       Dark Witch, p.23
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         Part #1 of The Cousins O'Dwyer series by Nora Roberts

  “I could see them, the old woman, the girl, bathing her grandmother’s face. Fever, she was so hot, like she was burning from the inside out. I could hear them, and him. I could hear him trying to get to her, trying to draw her out. I felt her pain, physical and emotional. She wished, so much, she could spare the girl she loved from the risk and responsibility. But there wasn’t a choice, and there wasn’t time.”

  He shifted her to open the truck door, maneuvered her inside, amazed his hands didn’t shake to mimic his heart.

  “You spoke in Irish.”

  “I did?” Iona shoved at her hair. “I can’t remember, not exactly. What did I say?”

  “I’m not sure of it all. ‘You’re the one, but there must be three.’ And I think . . .” He struggled with the translation. “‘It ends here for me, begins for you.’ Something like that, and more I couldn’t understand. Your eyes went black as a raven’s, and your skin pale as death.”

  “My eyes.”

  “They’re back,” he assured her, stroked her cheek. “Blue as summer.”

  “I need more training. It’s like trying to compete in the Olympics when you’re still learning how to change leads and gaits. And that’s a potent place, full of energy and power.”

  He’d been there before, felt nothing but some curiosity. But this time, with her . . .

  “It hooked to you,” he decided. “Or you to it.”

  “Or she did, the old woman. She’s buried in there. One day we should come back, one day when this is finished, and leave flowers on her grave.”

  At the moment he wasn’t inclined to bring her back ever. But as he walked around to get in the truck, the rain stopped.

  “Look.” She took his hand, pointed with the other at the rainbow that glimmered behind the ruins. “Light wins.”

  She smiled and meant it and, thinking rainbows, leaned over to kiss him.

  “I’m starving.”

  He didn’t think at all, but pulled her in again to kiss her until the image of her swaying on the ledge faded away. “I know a place not far that does a fine fish and chips. And Christ knows I could do with a pint.”

  “That’s what I’m talking about. Thanks,” she added.

  “For what?”

  “For showing me two amazing places, and for catching me before I fell.”

  She looked back at the friary, at the black birds, at the rainbow. Her life had forever changed, she thought. But unlike her ancestor, she considered it a gift.

  * * *

  IN THE COZY KITCHEN WITH THE HOUND AT HER FEET AND a fire in the hearth, Iona told her cousins everything.

  “A busy day for you,” Connor commented.

  “And then some.”

  “That would be three events, we’ll call them, in a single day.” Branna, her hair still bundled up from her workday, contemplated her tea. “But only the first involving Cabhan.”

  “The last one, too,” Iona reminded her. “She felt him coming.”

  “A vision of the past. Whether yours or another’s, still the past. I doubt he’d venture so far now.” Branna looked at Connor.

  “Not now, no, and why should he? Tell me what you were feeling—before, during, after the vision came on you.”

  “Before I’m not sure. I felt I’d been there before, like the abbey, but not . . . bright, not happy like that. It was dark and, well, sorrowful. I knew the layout, what things were, but I realize now it was her, our ancestor. I was thinking her thoughts, and some were pretty damn bitter. She knew she was dying, but more than death she hated passing the amulet, the power, the responsibility on to her granddaughter.

  “I don’t remember going up the steps. It seemed I was just there. The old woman in bed, gray hair streaked with white. Her face gray, too, and shiny with fever. And the girl sitting beside her, bathing her face. Long red hair. Eimear—I think she called the young girl Eimear.”

  “You don’t remember the Irish you spoke,” Connor prompted her.

  “No, just what Boyle thought it meant, or what he understood of it. I remember sorrow and fear, then the light just bursting into the room. For an instant, a sense of power—just wild, huge. Like a, well, like a really excellent orgasm. Then it all went gray, and spinning. Dizzy, weak, disoriented, and when that passed, hungry.”

  “The dizziness will ease after a time,” Connor told her. “It’s good you weren’t alone when you had your first. You weren’t expecting this then?” he asked Branna.

  “Not yet, no. Not yet. I want to say she’s—you’re,” she corrected, and addressed Iona directly, “accelerating. I think it’s where you are, and who you’re with. We’re three together, so what you have is coming ripe more quickly than it might otherwise. It’s a good thing, this. You’ll be stronger, less vulnerable.”

  “Should I expect any more surprises?”

  “You’ll take them as they come.”

  “Let’s backtrack a minute. The dream. Did Boyle and I share the dream because we were together?”

  “The sex.” Connor leaned back, shot his legs out. “It’s a powerful link. Or can be.”

  “So if I have sex with Boyle he can get dragged in with me? But it hurt him. His hand. The poison.”

  “Which you tended to well. That’s good instinct.”

  “But the next time it could be worse.”

  “You take it as it comes,” Branna reminded her. “Cabhan hurt him, but Boyle hurt Cabhan as well. Cabhan felt the blow—a human blow and in a dream—and that’s interesting to me.”

  “It was black, mixed in Boyle’s blood. I could see it. If it had spread before—”

  “It didn’t,” Branna said briskly. “We deal with what is. You can’t cloud what is with what-if, and the emotions.”

  “She loves him.” Connor rubbed a hand over Iona’s when she jolted. “Love clouds everything and shines through it as well.”

  “I never said I . . . How do you know what I just figured out?”

  “It’s coming through you so strong I can’t avoid seeing it.” He gave her hand another rub. “I don’t mean to peek through the door, but it’s wide open.”

  “I haven’t said anything to him.” Couldn’t and shouldn’t, she thought, reminding herself of her vow to be patient. “I’m just sort of savoring it. I’ve wanted to feel this way for so long, tried to feel this way. And with Boyle I didn’t have to want or try. I just did.”

  “That’s all well and good, and sure he’s one of the best men I know. But you can’t let what you have filter through the haze of love,” Branna warned.

  “We have different ways of thinking on that,” Connor put in. “I think love only adds to the power. Where she is, yes,” he said to Branna. “And being with us. But I’m thinking what she feels is another reason she’s gaining so fast. How she knew the poison was in Boyle, and how she drew it out so clean, when she’d never done the like before.”

  “I won’t argue. It’s different for everyone, isn’t it? Love, magick, and how we see and deal. And in each, the choices we make. I’ll only say you’ve had but a short time here, and with him, to think of love and the choices that go with it.”

  “I knew the minute I saw him. Maybe that was a kind of vision. I don’t know. But I felt this flutter.” She pressed a hand to her belly. “And this rising.” Slid her hand to her heart. “Attraction, I told myself, because he looked so amazing riding in on Alastar. But it was more. I told myself I couldn’t go there because, well, at first I thought he was with Meara.”

  She lifted her eyebrows when Connor let out a laughing snort.

  “I don’t know why that’s so funny. They’re gorgeous together. Tall and fit and stunning. And they have this connection—it was clear from the start.”

  “Sure like Branna and me, for they’re as close as brother and sister, and never been otherwise. But you thought they were more, so you pushed aside what you felt or might have felt. That’s to your credit. Not all would do the same. I’m wondering if I would myself.”

  “Lo
ve at first sight’s a fairy tale,” Branna said, firmly.

  “I love fairy tales.” With a laugh, Iona propped her elbows on the table, her face on her fists. “I decided it was just attraction, and okay once Meara set me straight. I decided I just wanted to sleep with him, but I’ve never felt what I feel for him. And I know what it is, and I know it started when I saw him riding up on Alastar, both of them so fierce and furious. I fell for both of them right then and there. I’m trying to be patient, which isn’t my nature at all. Alastar figured out he loved me. Now I just have to wait for Boyle to figure it out.”

  “You’re confident he will?” Branna asked her.

  “You can’t just hope for happy endings. You have to believe in them. Then do the work, take the risks. Slay the dragon—though I really think dragons get a bad rap—kiss the princess, or the frog, defeat the bad witch.”

  “Well defeating the bad witch is happy ending enough for me.”

  It shouldn’t be, Iona thought, but Connor gave her hand a little squeeze before she said it.

  “I’ve things to see to, but later on, after dinner,” Branna continued, “we’ll practice again. Connor can help you with the visions, the healing. The solstice comes closer every day, and there’s still work to be done.”

  “You have an idea what to do?”

  “You said Boyle hurt him, in a dream, and with only a fist. We can do better than a fist.”

  “I’ve got to go back to the school, check on some hatchlings. But I’ll be home within the hour.”

  “I’ll walk with you,” Iona told Connor. “I’d like to give Alastar some exercise, even if it’s just around the jumps course.”

  “Then I’ll come back by, walk home with you.”

  “I can probably get a ride, but if not, I’ll text you.”

  “Fine then, go off with both of you, give me some thinking time.” Branna pushed back from the table. “You said Fin was to do a protection charm for Boyle’s bed. Make sure he has before the two of you make use of it again.”

  “Okay.”

  “The next time you, or any of us, go into a dream, I want it to be a choice, and us doing the pulling in.”

  16

  IONA CHANGED INTO RIDING BOOTS, AND TOOK TEN SECONDS to put on some lip gloss in case she ran into Boyle. They both had obligations that evening—his paperwork, her spell casting—but she hoped to talk him into a ride after work the next day, maybe a casual dinner out, then a cozy night in, at his place.

  Outside, she hooked her arm through Connor’s. The air might have blown cool and damp, but spring rode with it and nudged the blackthorn into bloom.

  “Have you ever been in love?” she asked him.

  “Sure countless times, and never the way you mean. Though my heart’s been bruised and bumped, never has it been broken.”

  “I had the bumps, too, and some bruises. When I was in high school, I actively wished for actual heartache, just to know what it felt like. I always wanted those big feelings, you know? The rush and the fall. What I got was mostly even ground. Settling for someone I knew was settling for me. It makes you feel forever mediocre.”

  “And now?”

  “Now I feel powerful, purposeful.” She circled her fingers, made tiny lights dance. “Joyful.”

  “And all look good on you.”

  “Do you want to? Fall in love?”

  “Sure one day. She’ll walk into the room, beautiful and brilliant, a sexual goddess with the mind of a scholar and an angel’s temperament. She’ll cook like my aunt Fiona, who can’t be equaled in the kitchen, match me pint for pint at the pub, and like little better than to go hawking with me.”

  “You don’t ask much.”

  His eyes, green as the moss, twinkled at her. “Why not ask for all, as you never know what life’s going to hand you?”

  “Good point,” she said, and made another dance of lights.

  * * *

  IN THE STABLES BOYLE BRUSHED DARLING AS MUCH TO soothe himself as to groom her. He’d sent his stable hands home a bit early, as he’d coveted a little time alone. Now, with the sweet mare for company in the quiet stables, he could roll through all the things crowding his mind.

  There were bills to pay and orders to make, and he’d get to all that, wouldn’t he? He had all evening for that, as he needed.

  Wanted, he corrected.

  A man needed time and space of his own without a woman expecting his attention.

  So he shouldn’t be thinking about going by and scooping her up so she’d be in his time and space.

  If anything, once the paperwork was seen to, he should take some of that time to think about all that had happened that day.

  He’d have to tell Fin the whole of it, of course, and would whenever Fin got back. They’d talk it out over a pint, so there was no room for Iona, even if he was inclined for her.

  Which he was, all the damn time.

  What the hell did it mean when a man couldn’t keep a woman out of his space, much less his mind?

  Bewitched is what he was, by blue eyes and an easy laugh, and a pretty body he couldn’t keep his bloody hands off of. And that utter faith in the good and the happy that lived inside her, though he understood, more and more, how little of either she’d had.

  Finding himself wanting to give her the good and the happy troubled him more than a little. Hadn’t he planned out the entire day with the goal of giving her just that? Not that it had worked out in all cases, considering dark visions and a scare that had near stopped his heart. But he’d planned it all, with her in mind.

  Always in his mind, she was.

  It was time to remind himself that what a man needed, when it came down to it, was room, work, a good horse, and a pint at the end of a hard day.

  “That’s it, isn’t it, Darling? We’ve got what counts right here.”

  In the next stall Alastar snorted and blew.

  “I’m not after talking to you, am I? Bad-tempered beast.”

  “And you’d know about that,” Fin said from behind him. “What are you brooding about, brother?”

  The man could sneak up on a body, Boyle thought, like smoke from a flue. “Who says I’m brooding?”

  “I do.” Fin reached out, stroked Darling’s neck. “Sent the men off early, did you?”

  “A bit. Everything’s done needs doing today.”

  “I thought you’d be out rambling still with Iona.”

  “We did enough, maybe more than.”

  “Trouble then? Of a personal sort or a magickal sort?”

  “Both, I’m thinking. It started early this morning, as you know, when I shared a dream with her and came to blows with that cursed bastard.”

  “You had more trouble from that?”

  When Fin gripped his shoulder, Boyle just kept brushing the horse. “Nothing serious or lasting. So I’ll tell you the rest.”

  And he did, from the beginning, right on through to when he carried Iona out of the friary. Only grunted when Fin grabbed his hand.

  “I told you she fixed it, and Connor had a look as well.”

  “I’ll look for myself now.” Once he did, Fin nodded, let Boyle’s hand go. “You said you hurt him. You’re sure of it now that some time’s passed and you’ve thought it through?”

  Boyle curled his hand into a fist. “I know when I land a blow, mate.”

  “Aye, you would.” Fin paced away and back again. “I’ve given it some thought, and we’ll use that; I’ll think on it more, but use it we will. And I’ve a protection charm for you before you turn in for the night. Is she coming by?”

  “She’s not, no. I need a night to myself, don’t I? I’ve work, and I’ve thinking of my own to do without being crowded.”

  Fin lifted an eyebrow at the tone. “Had a row?”

  “We did not. After I carted her out of the cursed friary, she packed away fish and chips like a starving woman. I took her around to Clew Bay, as she wanted to see the water, then she spotted more ruins, another graveyard, so she wa
ndered about, but there was nothing for her there like the other places. And that was a relief.”

  “She handles it well, for someone coming into it later than most.”

  “I suppose she does, and it’s a lot on her plate for all her appetite. And it makes me wonder.”

  Fin gestured an opening. “Wonder away.”

  “I want her here, even when I don’t. Or I think I don’t, then I do.” The words sounded mad to his own ears, but he couldn’t stop them now that he’d started. “And I never have much liked women in my place, as they tend to fuss or leave things behind, or bring little bits over, look to change the order of things.”

  “Hmm. And does she?”

  “She doesn’t, and that’s suspect, isn’t it?” Boyle jabbed a finger in the air as if his point had been made.

  “So if she does those things, she’s encroaching. If she doesn’t, she’s suspect? Mo dearthair, you’re acting the gom.”

  “I’m not.” Insulted, Boyle rounded on Fin. “It’s not being a fool to wonder if she’d got some plan under there. She talked of weddings, mind you. Of a wedding at Ballintubber Abbey.”

  “Which it’s famed for. Did she propose to you then, along the Stations? I’m seeing no ring on your finger or through your nose.”

  “Smirk if you must, but I’m wondering. I think about her too much. ’Tisn’t comfortable. When I have her in bed it’s like nothing else ever was. No one else. So I end up staying, or having her stay, and then there’s breakfast, and on to work. I have to work, don’t I? And she’s pushed into my mind even then. It’s fucking annoying now that I say it out loud.”

  “I can see that. It has to be a trial to you, having a woman as pretty as a spring morning, and as fresh and sweet, taking up your time and attention.”

  “I’ve a life to live, don’t I?” Boyle snapped back, as every word Fin spoke made him, well, feel as if he acted the gom. “And a right to like that life just as it is—was—before.”

  “Sure as I’m standing here I’d trade places with you if I could, to have a woman in my mind and heart who was pleased and willing to have me in hers. But you have, of course, every right to live your life without a sweet and fresh and pretty woman in it.”

  “She’s more than that, as well you know. I’ve never seen the like of her, and I’ve seen you, Branna, Connor. But when it’s on her, I’ve never seen the like. It takes my breath. I don’t know why that is.”

  “I’ve a speculation on it.”

  Boyle mimicked Fin’s gesture. “Speculate away.”

  “You sound like a man in love to me.”

  “Oh sure and that’s helpful.” Boyle resisted throwing the brush only because it would startle Darling. “I’m telling you, she’s pushed herself into my mind, my life, my bed so I’ve barely a minute to myself. I took a day off work, which I don’t do, as you know, to drive her all around Mayo and Galway. I can’t get away from her even when I’m sleeping.

  “I think she’s bewitched me.”

  “Oh Christ Jesus, Boyle.”

  But Boyle had the bit between his teeth now. “She’s come into it late, as you
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