Wild Highland Magic (The Celtic Legends Series Book 3)(8)

“Our stranger was staring at the sea,” Cairenn said, focusing her attention on the little ones, “because I think he’s a selkie.”

She heard them suck in a collective breath, but what she sensed the strongest was the burst of light in their minds, a mixture of fear and rising excitement.

“Cairenn.” Her father’s voice was a warning.

“He came from the sea, didn’t he?” She leaned in to her younger sister, Dairine. “How else could he have survived the surf otherwise?”

Little Dairine nodded, her mind full of innocence. Her two younger brothers stared with their fingers in their mouths, their thoughts whirling. Fiona was at that awkward age when growing girls feign constant disinterest, but her mind was open and waiting.

Little Dairine whispered. “Is it true?”

“I think so,” Cairenn said, knowing the lie wouldn’t hurt. “His skin is hidden on the strand somewhere. It’d be a slick black skin that he’d pull over him to swim back into the ocean with his brother and sister seals.”

Maybe it was the lie that brought her mother’s attention from the hearth where she poked at the whitefish she’d roasted upon the stones, or maybe it was just her mother’s special sense of knowing. “The first of you who finds that skin,” her mother announced, “will receive some sea-treasure from the selkie, no doubt.”

In a flash, her brothers and sisters shoved the last of dinner in their mouths and dashed out the front door.

Cairenn gave her mother a grateful smile. Her mother’s most powerful gift was a heightened sense of knowing the present as well as the future, so her mother understood Cairenn’s intent hardly before she did herself.

“Niall.” Her mother eyeballed her eldest son, still digging into his fish. “You go with your brothers and sisters and see that they collect winkles while they’re searching.”

Niall kicked up to alertness. “But—”

“Would you have Dairine drown while racing out to the rocks?”

Niall suppressed a sigh and cast Cairenn a resentful glance. In her mind she heard his voice as clear as a bell. Your fault. He shoved the last of his dinner in his mouth, swung his leg over the bench, and strode out into the sunshine.

Only when she heard the last of their voices fade did she place her knife on the table and break the expectant silence.

“Da,” she said, “I can’t read the mind of this stranger.”

She didn’t have the courage to look at either of her parents, though she felt her mother’s gaze upon her. Since the first day she discovered her gift, falling to her knees in agony on the Galway shore, Cairenn had always considered her talent more of a curse than a blessing. What advantage did it give her? Unlike Niall, she could not go to the heights and play the music that flowed in her. Unlike Aileen, she could not go to her father’s side and use her gift to heal people. All she could do was pierce the veils of human thought and suffer what she was forced to know.

She couldn’t even leave the island.

“Cairenn,” her father said, his mind straining with patience, “a wounded man often loses his memory. A knock on the head, a swelling under the skull, and then all is fog.”

She saw her father’s vision of Lachlan, buoyed on the waves, knocked up against the great boulders in the channel.

“It’s not like that, Da.”

“His mind is as battered as his body.” He picked up a piece of fish and weighted it between his fingers. “You should learn to recognize this.”

“When I look at him, I cannot see a thing beyond his eyes.”

Her father frowned. “Is that what this selkie foolishness is about?”

“Have you another explanation as to why, with him, my mind is blind?” She’d not soon forget the feel of his muscles moving against her as he stood by the window. “For I’d like to hear it, I would.”

She regretted the sharp words the moment they left her mouth. She did not make it a habit to speak to her father so, but her frustration was like a screeching flock of seagulls in her head. This gift that shackled her to this island had only one, single benefit—using it, she could keep her family safe by knowing the thoughts and intents of the strangers who ventured to their home. Without that benefit, what use was it?

What use was she?

Her mother’s hand fell upon her head. She glanced up and wished she could read her mother’s mind and see the fate that her mother kept secret from her.

“It’s not easy, this gift you have,” her mother said. “Even in the best of times, you see only the darkness, the sins, and the lies that men try to hide.”

Sean the fisherman’s envy over his cousin’s coracle. Sean’s wife’s lustful thoughts of Padraig of Inishmore. Tadgh’s theft of coins from the roof-thatch of the hut of his own blind grandmother, coins spent on whores and ale in Galway. Men undressing every woman they look upon, bending them down in their minds. Women slashing the faces of rivals with their kitchen-knives.

She shook her head as if that would help shake her free of the things she wished she didn’t know.

“You’ve grown wise these years,” her mother continued, “and have learned to keep your counsel. This is a thing not many with your gift would be able to do.”

“Niall appreciates it,” she blurted. In her mind, she could already see him sneaking around to the widow’s hut by the sea.

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