Wild Highland Magic (The Celtic Legends Series Book 3)(4)

“And now?”

She hesitated. To tell her father that she sensed nothing in the body on the pallet was to speak of impossible things. Every creature had a life force, right down to the moth that just fluttered out of the folds of the cloak hanging on a hook by the door. Something was terribly wrong—either with this man or with her gift. In the agitated mood her da was in, she wasn’t ready to confess to either.

“He’s just dreaming,” she said, tripping on the lie. “He’s having cold dreams of being in the ocean.”

“Look deeper.”

A knot tightened at the nape of her neck. She knew Da was just worried about the danger this man could bring into their home, but she couldn’t help thinking about other times when he got angry at her, mostly when she blurted truths best kept to herself. Once, she’d unwittingly mentioned in her father’s presence that Niall had been sneaking down to a crofter’s cottage to lay with a fisherman’s wife. Another time he was furious when she refused to blurt truths he demanded to know—like who broke a clay vessel of oil amid his medicines. So often she felt like either a stubborn keeper of secrets or a tattler of terrible truths.

She did have one crazy-mad idea about why her gift was failing her, but she wasn’t quite ready to blurt out that the man on the pallet might not be human.

“He’s hardly conscious,” she said, buying time. “You’re asking me to look through the blackest of fog.”

He frowned but did not contradict her. As his impatience ebbed, she read the root of his worry.

She blurted, “You think the murderer will come looking for him here.”

“Someone tried to kill him for a reason.” He ran his hand down his face. “I wager it wasn’t for his clothing.”

“Surely that happened on some ship at sea—”

“How far off shore could that ship have been, if a half-dead man made it to the strand alive?”

Cairenn pulled on her own fingers, worry filling her up. Da’s doctoring brought many an outsider to their door, and each time was a risk. Da seemed normal enough to those who didn’t spend more than a couple of hours with him. But her family was not like other families, just as Inishmaan was not like other islands. It would not behoove them to have outsiders returning to the mainland telling tales about Ma with her strange eyes that could see the future, or Aileen who could heal a wound with the pass of her hands, or Niall who could cast a spell with his music that would make you do things you shouldn’t.

Fairy-gifts from the Sídh, all of them. But many an outsider might call such doings witchcraft. If her family wasn’t careful about how they dealt with strangers, all the O’Conors of Inishmaan could end up burnt at the stake.

Her father said, “I’ve told the islanders to keep quiet about him, especially to say nothing to strangers.”

“But you can’t imagine that old Domnall won’t blabber about the man found on the beach,” she said, speaking her father’s own concerns, “once he gets some ale in him after his next catch.”

“Which means I’ve got business by the strand, and it cannot wait.” Da pushed away from his trestle table, littered with bowls of herbs, and reached for his cloak. “Stay here and watch the man. I need to know who he is and how he got here. When he opens his eyes, you’ll be able to see his mind more clearly.”

Cairenn dropped her gaze to her clenched hands. Father knew her talents all too well. When she looked straight into a person’s eyes she saw their thoughts and emotions and dreams and memories. Most often, the rush of those thoughts assaulted her, sometimes to the point of pain.

Da had his hand on the door when he paused, sensing her discomfort. “Are you all right, a leanbh?”

“I’m fine, Da.”

She didn’t dare tell him that she had already looked straight into this man’s midnight-blue eyes—and sensed absolutely nothing.


Again in his dreams Lachlan remembered the sound of seabirds, tasted the sand in his mouth, and felt a warm body near him. He breathed deeply, wanting to draw closer to the source of the comfort. He lifted himself up and then a searing pain jerked him awake.

Gasping, he saw above him the underside of a thatched roof. In a rush he remembered where he was.

Stabbed. Cast overboard. Found on Inishmaan. Ireland.

He heard a small, muffled sound. He turned his head and saw a woman perched on a chair several yards away, her fair hair glowing in the light pouring in through a small window.

His heart pounded. He didn’t want to blink, lest she disappear as she had all the other times in his dreams. As the seconds slipped by, she remained in his sight, poised as if at any moment gossamer wings might spread from her back.

I’m dead and this is heaven.

She went still, and that’s how he knew he’d spoken aloud. Her bright, wide-set eyes were a shade of green he wanted to see better. Fair hair spilled over her shoulders, so long that the curls brushed the seat of the chair she was perched upon. Her feet were pale, delicate, and bare. He saw the tension in the curve of each arch.

In silence she focused on him with unnerving intensity. Leaning forward, she fixed her gaze as if she were trying to burrow through his skin and bones. Perhaps this was what it was like to be judged. He didn’t think he had that much sin upon his soul, no more than any man who’d had the advantage of spending several formative years unchaperoned under the Roman sun. But still, her gaze was unnerving.

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