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by Brenna Lyons
Category: Fantasy/Romance ARIANA Award Winner: Best Cover Art
Description: To save their family lands from their unscrupulous neighbor, Cadal agrees to act as trustee to the Blake estate until Mollie, the youngest of the Blake women, is established at running it. Cadal expects to meet a child, but when Mollie arrives in Ballynaclogh, he finds himself face to face with a woman who is more than his equal.
eBook Publisher: Mundania Press LLC/Mundania Press LLC, 2007 2007
eBookwise Release Date: September 2007
51 Reader Ratings:
Available eBook Formats: OEBFF Format (IMP) [638 KB]
Reading time: 429-601 min.
It all started with Xanthe. Life and death, love and hate, innocence and soul-shattering betrayal all came back to one tiny Human female.
For generations, ever since the dark young lord, Bran Blake, brought the golden-haired beauty known as Xanthe home to wed, the family had lived with the curse. No one knew where Bran found such an unknown treasure, but none questioned why he claimed her on sight.
More than a century later, stories of her haunting beauty were still told. Xanthe was a gracious but spirited lady. She rode hell-bent and astride like a man. She was the most beautiful woman anyone in Ballynaclogh had ever lain eyes on until her daughters and granddaughters were born.
The descendants of Xanthe and Bran were not only beautiful. They were formidable women, skilled farmers who were so successful that at times their neighbors cast scornful looks their way. It was a shame that Sean O'Bane had separated Colleen and her child, Darcy, from the land.
Not that Katie was unequal to the task of running the estate without her older sister, Colleen. Far from it, the land flourished under her hand as it had under every Blake woman from Xanthe on. There had never been so much as a hint of disagreement in handling between the sisters in all that time.
Katie was the oldest surviving member in the long line of Blake women. Cadal panned his eyes over her, frail and ill. Her beauty had faded long ago, in the years between his visits. He'd left a vibrant twenty-one year old woman on her wedding day and was summoned back to a woman in her early seventies. It always made Cadal sad to see how quickly Humans faded, especially the good Humans who deserved better from their gods.
Katie coughed, and Cadal moved to her side, offering her what little comfort he could in the form of a medicinal herbal tea.
She took the cup in a shaking hand and waved away his dark look of concern. "I am fine, Cadal. It is not yet my time."
"You should have told me," he whispered.
Katie had confirmed for him that she was dying only the night before. It had taken him months to screw up the courage to ask her. Cadal ached that there was nothing he could do to ease her way.
"I am Human, Cadal. Death comes for all Humans, as it comes for all Fairies."
"But so soon--"
"I know. Were I Fairy, I would still be a child." Her tone was wistful, as it was when she told him about her dreams of flying.
If he had the power, Cadal would grant her the gift of flight for a single night, but not even the Fairy Mistress had power that strong. The Fairy magic could not be given, only taken away.
He cracked a smile. "You are still very much like a Fairy child," he assured her. "You have their purity, and you ask too many questions."
"How long will your Mistress let you stay?" she asked suddenly.
Cadal dropped into one of the soft chairs set before the fire. "Questions, questions. You are always full of questions." He sighed. He didn't know how long he would be able to stay. The Fairy Mistress had said his time was limited, but limited time to a Fairy was surely more than he would need to complete a task in the Human realm. "Morda said I will have time enough."
Katie nodded, her once emerald-green eyes clouded and sad. "I sent for her last night."
His heart pounded in his chest. Katie had put off sending for Mollie for almost a year, reluctant to expose her to Joshua Thornton and his schemes.
"Will she come?" He prayed to The Harmony that she would. He did have limited time, and Mollie was a child. She had years to procrastinate, if she chose to.
She chuckled. "Questions, questions," Katie teased him. "I wonder that you are over two-hundred years old, Cadal."
He blushed. "I must be like your Peter Pan. I seem to lack common sense where the Blake women are concerned."
Or perhaps it was this new world the Humans had crafted for themselves. Televisions showed images in full color now. Automobiles reached speeds of more than ten-times the speed of a horse over distance. Everything was a wonder. Everything was frightening. It was too fast, too easy, too disposable, even life.
Katie sighed and sipped her tea. "I hope she will. I cannot ask you to stay past your time. If that time comes--"
Cadal reached out and placed his hand over hers. "No. I gave my word to keep Thornton from taking your land, and I will do whatever needs done." Cadal was here at the estate, as he'd promised Katie he would be. He'd come to her last year, as some Cadal always had when a Blake woman needed him.
With her husband passed away, Thornton sought to force Katie to sell the estate to him so he could add it to his own holdings. If the land fell untended, it would be sold at auction, and the Blake women would lose their place here, forever. Without question, Cadal knew that could never be allowed to happen.
He had done the only thing he could. Cadal had returned home and made arrangements for an extended stay. He would act as a hands-on trustee, an executor of sorts, until Mollie was comfortable running the estate or, Harmony forbid, another of the Blake women came to run it. It was the only way to protect both Katie and the land.
Cadal's mother had been livid that he would choose such a course. Zera always believed that Cadal would fail to come home some day, as his father had failed to come home one day. Cadal had no need of her permission. He had not needed that for many years, but it made him more at ease when their Mistress, Morda, talked his mother into a grudging consent. It would have upset Cadal to have his mother distraught at his leaving, though he did not need her permission to go.
He knew Morda gave Zera her assurances, based on her knowledge of The Harmony's ways and the vibrations that guided them, that he would not be lost to them. In the end, his mother had still voiced an opinion. She believed Cadal was making himself a servant to the women he was drawn to protect when he could content himself to be their friend. In the end, Zera hadn't stood in his way.
"Whatever you can do, Cadal. No more. I can ask no more of you. I have high hopes for Mollie. She is not like her mother. She knows the tales. She lives for the touch of the land."
"But she is so young," he complained.
"Cadal, I have told you many times. Twenty-six is many years an adult in Humans. You remember me at twenty-one. Did you think me a child?"
His heart stuttered. No, he hadn't thought her a child. Cadal thought her and her sister both desirable women, but they were both spoken for. "No. You know I did not."
"And neither is Mollie. From what Colleen told me of her, she is all the hellion of her fore-mothers and more."
Cadal smiled. "The land needs such a spirit." But, would he survive losing another Blake woman? Losing Xanthe had all but killed him, and finding that Katie and Colleen belonged to others had not helped his mood.
Katie gave him a searching look. She always knew when dark thoughts weighed him down. "We are more alike now, Cadal. Now that I have lost my John."
He grimaced that The Harmony, or perhaps the 'Christian God,' had never permitted Katie children. "You should have had children," he whispered. Perhaps it was part of the curse that she could not. The family was not being permitted to expand over the years as a normal family would.
"It is the curse. You know it is."
Cadal nodded. Yes, it was the curse.
The villagers believed the Blake Estate was cursed. Every generation produced two daughters, one a spirited lass like Xanthe and the other a quiet, withdrawn lady who was more at ease with her books and chores than with people. Katie Barrett had been such a sister, but she had shocked the entire village when she married John Stuart, the first of the quiet sisters to bind herself to another. That she married at the prodding of Cadal was known only to the Blake family and to Cadal.
No one in the village bothered to call it anything but the Blake Estate. No one bothered to acknowledge the name of the current owners in residence, except when addressing them directly. Over the years, descendents of the Blakes found themselves married to younger sons of other landowners or boys from the village. First sons of landowners saw no merit to the match once it became clear that there would be no male heirs from the marriage. The Blake lands had passed from mother to daughter over the generations. The current family name was irrelevant. It became a given that the estate would simply pass to another daughter who would marry yet another man of a different name into the strange family of women, the Blake women.
Their husbands considered the marriages good matches, despite the fact that they were guaranteed to have no sons. The brides were beautiful and spirited. Known for their peculiar and striking attributes as much as for their wealth, it was an unusual situation all the way around.
"I worry, Cadal."
He trained his youthful eyes on her in concern. "Why? What is wrong? Can I get you something?"
"Why is there only one in this generation? Are we meant to die out?"
Cadal sighed. He wished he had the answers for her. "I know only that your marriage broke the cycle of pain. Perhaps that is why there is only one child."
Katie shook her head. "It broke the cycle of pain for the Blakes, but what of you? How fares your pain?"
Bad, when he allowed himself to think on it. But, he would not burden Katie with that. "It has been more than a century, more than five decades since I found relief from my pain." Morda assured him that his pain would end very soon, that there was another soul for him after all this time.
She raised an eyebrow, unconvinced by his attempt to put her at ease. A knock at the door interrupted whatever comment she was about to make.
Elizabeth entered and smiled, her black curls highlighted in the glow from the fire. "Do you need anything more before I retire, Miss Katie?" she asked in her lyrical voice.
Katie shook her head. "Not for myself, Elizabeth. Thank you. Perhaps for you, Padraic?"
Cadal smiled. "It is William, Katie. Thank you, no, Elizabeth."
Katie blushed. "Dear me, but you do look so like your grandfather, I sometimes forget myself. Forgive me, William."
He nodded with a tight smile.
Elizabeth turned for the door. "Good night to you both, then. Call me if you need me."
Katie offered him a sheepish smile as Elizabeth's steps faded away. "I told you that I always preferred Padraic," she offered by way of apology.
Cadal laughed heartily and retrieved the glass of wine from the table between them. His lies when he came to her were unnecessary. Katie knew he had been drawn to her by a power beyond himself and he would have her best interests at heart. As Cadal, he could do no less. Better, she knew him for what he was, which lessened his burden considerably. He would not have to lie to Katie as he had the first time they met.
The seasons he spent with Katie were among the happiest of Cadal's life. Still, he knew he was unprepared. She would die soon, leaving him without her light and laughter to speed him through this task.
As if reading his sudden melancholy mood, Katie sipped her tea. "It is not my time, Cadal. It is not my time." * * * *
Mollie Hardy listened to Joseph O'Bane's argument, forcing herself to remain quiet while he rambled on. She tucked one gray-clad leg beneath the other, glad she had opted for the comfortable dress slacks and matching blazer over the white silk t-shirt. A conversation like this one could take awhile. Already, Joseph had been talking for thirty minutes without a break, outlining his latest plan for Bane's Barters, their family's import and old Celtic re-make company.
Mollie sighed as Joseph droned on. She brushed an errant lock of dark auburn hair, escaped from the tight bun behind her head thanks to her endless fiddling, off her face and wrapped it tight around the bun.
His family, she reminded herself yet again. Her family consisted of the poor cousins dragged in to save the butts of the less business-savvy O'Banes. When Sean O'Bane had relocated his wife and child from their estates in Ballynaclogh, Ireland, it was on the pretense that he was to run his uncle's company for him. The truth was, the O'Banes wanted the expertise of the Blake women, the family Sean had the good fortune to marry into.
She scanned her eyes over Joseph. He held controlling interest in the company, but her distant cousin was essentially an idiot when it came to finance, marketing, or any other useful field. He'd majored in Party 101 in college, and it showed in his handling. Undoing the damage Joseph left in his wake monopolized her time most days.
Luckily, Uncle Paul had been a rare jewel for finance, as far as O'Banes went. He'd left the company in excellent standing, which made dealing with Joseph's incompetence possible if not easy. Of course Paul, like his ancestors, had listened to the Blake women in his employ where Joseph did not.
Today was no different. Mollie could tell that much from the tone Joseph was using and the defensive stance of his six-foot frame. She had yet to open her mouth, and it was war. It was going to be a long day.
Joseph's latest plan was as ill-advised as dozens of others Mollie had heard in the last two years. When Joseph's father died, the useless young man had decided to make a name for himself, all over the company she'd helped build. Mollie massaged her forehead and made notes, prioritizing them on what she should attack--address, she reminded herself, first.
Mollie ran a hand over the letter in her pocket for the third time this meeting. If only she could throw caution to the wind and disappear to the family estate. She decided Galway was far enough from Joseph for her liking.
She had never been there herself. Her mother, Darcy, would never permit it when she was young. Darcy had been born there and said her daughter was missing nothing. When Mollie was older, she couldn't afford a trip to Europe.
Still, Nana's descriptions of the lush green hills, the village full of simple people, and the quiet peace of the land calling to a soul, had haunted Mollie all of her life. As long as she could remember, Mollie had ached to visit the estate she knew only from pictures, stories, and letters from Aunt Katie despite a part-interest in the concern.
Joseph stopped talking and eyed Mollie. It was a challenge, and she knew it. She dropped her pen on the tablet and regarded him silently for a long moment. She was too tired to be diplomatic today, so she decided to be blunt.
"It won't work, Joseph. You'll alienate our biggest clients, and the bank will never lend you the money."
Joseph's eyes became hard and cold. She had seen this look before. He looked as if his eyes were two chunks of coal, but Mollie doubted they could ever be truly warm, even if set ablaze.
"Really?" His shoulders bunched under the stylish dark gray Italian suit and light gray shirt that set off his dark eyes and fiery red hair so nicely.
He's a well-dressed idiot. "Yes, really. I'm sorry, Joseph." She wasn't sorry, but it didn't hurt to say it. "The company's financial position doesn't support this move. Look at the numbers. We can't--"
"It will never support anything better unless we do something drastic."
Mollie shook her head slowly. "We make moderate gains every quarter. Why must you overextend the company in pursuit of more?"
"Because I want to be the best," he thundered.
Mollie fought to keep her temper in check. They had argued this problem many times before. They were a small, family-owned business. If they put up stock, they could compete with the players he wanted to, but Joseph would lose his little castle. If he didn't, it was no use trying to compete with anything but other small, family-owned companies.
"That is not the way," she assured him. Joseph knew why it wasn't. Mollie wasn't in the mood to rehash the whole argument today.
Joseph leaned across his desk. His significantly larger body had given Mollie pause four years ago when she graduated and joined the company for her percentage. It had ceased to intimidate her years ago, though Joseph never seemed to clue in to that point. Mollie straightened her five-foot-four height as he started to speak again.
"It's my company. I'll say what direction it takes," he growled. Little Napoleon was in rare form today.
Mollie reached her breaking point at last. It was Joseph's company, but she cleaned up his messes as he tried to destroy it again and again. A sudden image of herself twenty or thirty years from now, picking up the pieces after Joseph, left her cold and angry.
"Fine. Choose your direction, but do it without me." The words came in a rush, and Mollie was stunned by how good it felt to say them. She felt as if she had been waiting centuries to say them.
Joseph laughed heartily, and Mollie felt a burn in her gut as she fired up for a fight. It had been far too long since she'd felt like this. Had she forgotten what holding her tongue for too long wrought?
"Is that a threat?" he asked in amusement.
"No, Joseph. That is my resignation. If you prefer, I can e-mail it to you, or even type it up in Word for you."
"Where will you go?" He still thought she was joking.
Shattering his illusion was going to be sweet. "I have a better offer. I got it just the other day, and I've been thinking it over until now."
"Better than the family business?"
"It's your business, Joseph. Remember? It's yours to build or to destroy. I don't want to watch you try to destroy it anymore. I don't want to pick up after you anymore." Mollie reflected that she was going into the real family business. The one he couldn't intrude on, her family's business.
Joseph's face turned as vivid a red as his hair. "If that's the way you feel..."
"You know it is. I don't know why I stayed this long."
"Who is it that's offering you more money?"
"It's not more money, Joseph. It's job satisfaction. It's having people listen to what I have to say. It's not seeing you, not having to fight with you every day of my life. A job without you--" Mollie smiled at the thought of such a paradise. It could be in Siberia in winter and an improvement if Joseph wasn't there.
"If you go to work for a competing company, I'll sue on grounds of your exclusivity contract. You better watch what you do, cousin."
"It's not competing. My skills can go almost anywhere."
"You're actually going to do this?"
For the first time, Mollie saw a measure of concern that he was losing his safety net. That made her next move all the sweeter. "Why not? If I stick around here, I won't have a job in a few years. Less if you fire me for telling you when you're wrong."
"Is that what you want?"
"To be fired? It doesn't matter to me. I've already quit. Would you like me to give you two weeks' notice?"
"I don't think that will be necessary."
"Good. Then in two weeks, you'll notice I'm gone," Mollie answered Joseph's scowl. Less than that, she hoped secretly. How long would it take Joseph to screw it up?
He didn't need to say there was no coming back. She wouldn't turn back now, even if there were a place for her at the company. They both knew that.
Mollie's smile never faded as she left the building. Her mother would be irritated, but Mollie needed a drastic change. When she reached home, she wrote Aunt Katie and started preparing for her move to the Blake estates. Meeting Katie alone would be worth quitting her job. Nana Colleen's younger sister was, by all accounts, the last sane member of her family, the only one besides Mollie who knew what really counted in life.
By the time Mollie returned with boxes, her mother had left the first of many messages on her answering machine. Mollie looked at the blinking light and laughed hysterically. She was tired of fighting with Joseph and her mother, tired of the rat race, tired of the city, the traffic, and the crime. Twenty-six was far too young to be so tired. * * * *
"Why?" Darcy Hardy asked for the fifth time in an hour.
Mollie rolled her eyes and took another deep breath.
Darcy continued without waiting for Mollie's answer. "For three generations, we've made our life here. Why take a step backward now?"
"I don't think of it as a step backward, Mother. It's a change, and I think it's a change I need."
"Running away from civilization?"
"Not at all. I just want to do something that will make me happy. Babysitting Joseph doesn't fit into that category. It never did."
"And, if you're not happy?"
"I'll make you a deal, Mother. We'll even make it legal." Mollie smiled. She had been planning this move for the last three days, since she'd walked out on Joseph. It was the only way to keep Darcy out of her hair. Now, Mollie had to hope Darcy's business savvy overpowered her controlling instincts for long enough to make the plan work.
Mollie surveyed her mother. Darcy was every ounce the professional woman. Mollie would have to put this in terms she could appreciate. "You sign over your interest in the estate to me, and I'll sign over my interest in the company to you. That way, you'll have the leverage to keep Joseph in line, if you care to take on the job. In the meantime, if I hate farming, I can sell the estate for enough money to start over somewhere. I won't need you to bail me out. It's worth enough to give me a fresh start almost anywhere I want to go."
Her mother snorted in a most unladylike fashion. "That's a deal. The estate will never be worth half of what your interest in the company is worth right now."
Mollie rolled her eyes. It was worth something now, for her share of the quarterly returns as agreed when Sean brought his family here. But unless someone got a choker on Joseph, next year, it could be worthless.
Of course that wasn't Mollie's motive in this. She wanted sole interest in the estate, so Darcy couldn't interfere with her plans later. Darcy was good at that. Maybe she would forget the alternative in her haste to get the more lucrative interest in the company.
Nana Colleen hadn't wanted to come to America. She had been forced by her husband to leave her beautiful land in exchange for a percentage of a company she'd hated as much as Mollie did. How unfair, to be at the whim of such a man. Mollie would never stand for it again, now that she'd escaped Joseph.
"Is it a deal? Can I call Jenkins and tell him to draw up the paperwork?" Mollie asked.
"Of course it is. Do I look like a fool? I hope you're not making a big mistake. If you do this, you'll have nothing to come back to here."
Mollie shook her head and sighed. She hardly had anything left to come back to since her father died. "Well, there's only one way to find out, I suppose," she commented, turning back to her packing boxes.
She almost added that Nana would have happily gone back the first chance she got. Mollie knew she couldn't push it that far. If Darcy knew Mollie intended to stay at the estate for good, she'd do anything in her power to stop her. It wouldn't surprise her mother, since Darcy believed Nana Colleen poisoned her granddaughter with her love for the land, but it would also make Darcy back out of their deal. Mollie was sure of it.
Darcy glanced at her manicured nails in sudden, practiced disinterest. "I still think you're going to regret this. You'll see I'm right when it's too late. You always do."
Mollie hoped Darcy was wrong this time. The young woman wasn't worried about the move, rather about the message she'd received from Aunt Katie. Katie wasn't well, and her executor, Mr. William Cadal, was already running the estate for her. Mollie hoped she hadn't left the service of Joseph O'Bane to find herself in an all-too-familiar situation with William Cadal. She didn't know what powers Aunt Katie had given him over her life. She hoped it was minimal. * * * *
Cadal wasn't looking forward to Mollie Hardy's arrival. Two days ago, before Mollie started her long trek of planes and trains, Katie had passed away. Cadal had little zeal for the job at hand without his old friend by his side. It became more of a chore than an adventure without her.
Once Mollie Hardy found her feet, Cadal would return home, figure out his final task, and find his true soulmate at last. Surely, his decision to help Katie was his second task.
He knew the young woman would arrive soon. The train would have dropped her in Ballynaclogh half an hour ago, and Liam Brennan, his hired man and the manager of the estates in the Blake's stead when need be, would drive her out to the estate.
Boxes sent ahead had begun arriving a week earlier. They had been stacked unopened in Colleen's old rooms. They must have been sent the same day that Mollie expressed the letter off to Katie. At least Mollie seemed serious about making a go of it.
Liam entered the stable as Cadal finished brushing down Squirrel, a chestnut mare Katie had bought for her great-niece the very day she found out Mollie planned on coming.
"She is here?" Cadal grimaced at his awkward speech. He was still trying to learn a smoother way to translate into English, but it was slow coming. He had mastered the contractions I'll and I'm, but most of the others were still foreign to him.
Liam nodded, sending a cascade of shaggy dark hair past even darker eyes. "In the house, sir." After all these months, Liam still insisted on calling him 'sir' despite Cadal's dislike for the title.
Cadal raised an eyebrow. "She is tired from the trip, I suppose."
"No, sir. She's actually a mite angry right now, and it seems she's working off the extra energy unpacking."
"Angry? Why is she angry?"
"She asked to see Miss Katie right off." Liam shrugged.
"Angry that Miss Katie is dead?"
"She is not upset?"
"I wouldn't know, sir. It's hard to tell with females. Sometimes, they act angry to cover the hurt. Sometimes, they're just plain angry. If I had to guess, I'd say there's anger in there. I don't know what else there is yet."
Cadal nodded and handed the brush off to Liam on his way past. "Perhaps, I should meet this fiery female."
"Perhaps, you should borrow Patrick's motor-cross helmet first, sir."
Cadal frowned at the young man's honest expression and headed for the house. Surely, Mollie wasn't that hard to deal with. Then again, Katie's description of her as all the hellion of her ancestors plus some may have been accurate.
He picked up a tray of bread and cheese from the kitchen and capped it off with two glasses of wine. It couldn't hurt to come bearing gifts. Cadal couldn't afford to alienate Mollie Hardy. Not only had he promised Katie, but also he couldn't stay forever. He had to turn over the estate to this angry young woman and return to the colony. The smoother things ran until then, the sooner he could accomplish his goal.
The sound of boxes being shuffled and ripped open echoed down the stairs. She was at her work furiously. He waited for a lull in the racket.
Cadal knocked on the door quietly. "Miss Mollie?" he called out.
"Please, call me Mollie. It sounds like an oldies song when you say that."
He bit back a chuckle. Little one, you have no concept what I would consider an oldie. "May I come in?"
"I'd rather have some time alone if you don't mind," she answered automatically.
"I have brought some food and drinks."
"I'm really not hungry."
"It will go bad if no one eats it."
Mollie sighed deeply. "All right then. If it will get me a few moments of peace, bring it in."
Cadal smiled. Mollie was much more reasonable than he'd expected, given Liam's description of her.
As he opened the door, Cadal got his first look at the young woman sitting cross-legged on the bed. Her hair was dark auburn. He would have thought it was short if it were not for the long tendrils that escaped the style hidden behind her head, brushing over her shoulders. Her deep brown eyes were fixed on the large book in her lap. She wore a form-fitting pair of blue jeans and a green button-down shirt that fell gracefully over her ample chest. Like all of the Blake women, Mollie was exquisite.
He believed Mollie looked much younger than her years, not that he was an expert at guessing Human ages. Cadal remembered what Katie looked like when she was twenty-one. He compared that to Elizabeth, the combination cook and housekeeper Katie employed, at her twenty-fourth birthday earlier that year. If he didn't know she was twenty-six, Cadal would have guessed Mollie at no more than twenty. Maybe less, if he had simply met her on the street. Still, she was marriageable in any culture Cadal knew.
He shook his head to clear the train of thought he found himself following. He found his voice. "Where would you like this?"
Mollie glanced around for a moment. "The night stand seems free of my clutter so far." She returned to her examination of the book.
Cadal set the tray down and picked up a glass of wine. As Mollie accepted it from him, she met his eyes. Her reaction was startling. She was rapt. A blush came up in her cheeks, and she almost dropped the wineglass in her shock. Cadal righted it for her gently.
Her grip tightened, and she snapped her eyes away. As they lighted on the tray, her blush deepened. "Two?" she asked without looking up again.
Cadal felt the embarrassment coursing from her in waves.
"I thought we might talk. Perhaps get to know each other."
Mollie snapped the book shut and leapt to her feet smoothly. "This may not be an appropriate place for that."
He smiled widely. Despite Katie's belief that Mollie was an adult, she was still very much a little girl. "As you wish. Would the library be better?"
She nodded stiffly and left with the book still clutched to her chest like armor.
He followed her down the stairs, holding in a chuckle so that his throat ached in the effort. Mollie might be a spirited woman, but she was also delightfully naïve. Cadal choked off the thought of how much fun educating a woman like that would be.
In the library, Mollie curled into a chair and took a sip of wine. She met Cadal's gaze again. "Now then, what did you want to talk about?" she asked calmly.
Cadal could tell that was a stretch. There was a tension in her that seemed to increase every time his hand passed near and an underlying tremor as she surveyed the length of him critically. Her browsing eyes caused a stirring of sexual interest that almost overwhelmed his confusion with her reactions. What was it about him that unnerved her so completely? What was it about her that caught his interest?
He settled into one of the other chairs and set the tray on the table between them. Cadal took a sip of wine before he answered her. "I heard you were angry. It is my place to make you at ease."
"Is it? Are you Mr. Cadal? I'm sorry. I hadn't expected a man like you to--um..."
"Serve you?" Cadal smiled at her blush. "Do not become accustomed to it. It was a simple courtesy because of your long trip. Please, call me Cadal." He paused and grimaced at the unwanted alternative he must give her. "Or William. I care little for titles."
In truth, Cadal wished he had used the name Padraic a second time, but he had forgotten that Humans named children after living relatives until the mistake had already been made. Like Katie, he had a fondness for the name Padraic. Since he was forced to use a Human name, it could have been one he liked more than William.
"I can appreciate that, but there's no need to worry about me. Honestly, there isn't. My personal upsets are of little consequence." She broke off the comment and stared into the fire for a moment before continuing. "That was unprofessional of me. I owe Liam an apology, and I'll see that he gets it at dinner."
Cadal considered what she said. He knew she wasn't being honest, with him or with herself. Mollie wasn't simply angry. She was lonely and upset. He considered his next move carefully.
"I know Katie wanted you to be happy here. She arranged several surprises for you before..." He sighed and sipped the wine again.
Mollie nodded. "I hoped to meet her, but I guess that's beyond anyone's control."
He could tell that was only a small part of what Mollie really wanted to say, but she stopped herself again.
"Katie would have loved to meet you. She said you were like your grandmother, like her sister. She was looking forward to it, I know."
She regarded him strangely. "I am? I suppose that makes sense. I wanted to meet Aunt Katie because she was like Nana."
Cadal startled. "She was? I was led to believe that they were very different."
They were. Aside from possessing of a stunning beauty, the sisters were complete opposites in body and spirit. Colleen was a fiery woman from her deep red hair to the temper and wit Cadal had sampled when first he met her. Katie was light and laughter, comfort and friendship.
Mollie smiled a wistful little smile. "No, Mr.--sorry--Cadal, they were very much alike."
"Really? In what way?"
She blushed deeply. "Let's just say we all cared for the same things, the things that were important to us, the things we loved."
"Please, tell me."
Mollie didn't answer.
Cadal tried a different strategy. The book in her lap was obviously very important to her. "Does it have to do with the book you are holding?"
He had no idea what gave him that impression, and he'd asked without thinking, much as a child would ask whatever question popped into his head. He thought he'd outgrown that failing more than a century before, but Blake women tended to bring out his forgotten youth in many ways.
Mollie startled then nodded, seemingly seeking for words. "Among other things." She ran her hand over the book fondly. It was very old. "Yes, it most certainly does."
"What is it?"
She laughed. "Fairy tales," she told him, a new-found glitter in her eyes.
Cadal was captivated by how beautiful she was when she offered an honest, happy smile. "Fairy tales? What kind of Fairy tales?" he asked.
"About Fairies, of course."
He smiled uncertainly.
"They're Mima Xanthe's stories. Surely, Aunt Katie told you about them. They're a family tradition."
Cadal felt a stab of regret that he had asked the question.
"There's even a Fairy in here named Cadal," she continued.
Mollie smiled a teasing smile, and Cadal felt a warm rush he had not felt since he'd met Katie. Blake women affected him that way. They always had. It was part of the magic Xanthe and her descendents held over Cadal, the reason he was bound to serve them.
He smiled, surprisingly not a forced smile. "Really? Maybe after dinner, you can read some of the stories to me. I would wager that you are a wonderful storyteller." Like Xanthe.
Cadal pushed away the thought. Mollie wasn't Xanthe. He couldn't fall into that trap. He would listen to the stories, because it would put Mollie at ease. It was simply the shock of the first unpromised descendent of Xanthe he had met. Cadal still had a soulmate out there somewhere, maybe in another colony. He couldn't afford to get sidetracked by a girl who reminded him of lost love and longing so effectively, even if she was beautiful and naïve and captivating and...
By the Harmony, stop this! He gulped down a mouthful of the wine, trying to find his center.
Mollie seemed uncertain. "You'd really like to hear them?"
Cadal nodded. "Yes, I really would." He wondered at the realization and found it was true. Perhaps, he merely wanted to know what Xanthe had told her descendents. "Maybe I can tell you a few that my mother told me while we are at it."
"I'd like that. There are quite a few stories, much more than a single night's worth. Are you sure you don't want to read the book?"
"No. Fairy stories should always be told. It loses something in the simple printed word." And his grasp of written English or Gaelic was slightly weaker than his grasp of the spoken word, pitiful as that was when he needed it most.
"Oh, I don't think so. Not if you have a good imagination. If it wasn't for reading them, I wouldn't know half of them. I still get lost in them."
"Really? Did no one tell you the tales? From what Katie said..."
Mollie blushed. "Nana told me some of them before she passed away. She left me the book because she knew..." She looked toward the fire and sighed.
"What did she know?"
She didn't look at him, but she answered. "Nana knew my mother would never read them to me. My mother hated the stories. She could hardly stand that Nana read them to me. If the book had passed to her, she would have destroyed it, I'm sure."
"How sad. I always thought Fairy stories were the best sort."
"Yes, they most certainly are." Mollie smiled and met his eyes again. "I suppose you solved a portion of my upset after all."
"In what way?"
"I was looking forward to sharing the stories with Aunt Katie." She hesitated and looked to the flames, her jaw tightening and loosening as if she fought back a torrent of words.
"Go on," he prodded. Mollie had a habit of not saying what she really wanted to say that Cadal found most intriguing.
"It's childish, but I thought she would be the one person in the family that I could share those stories with, the one person who would understand them, like I do and Nana did."
"And would understand you, as well?"
She met his eyes again and nodded in shock.
"And now she is gone?"
She attempted to smile at his insight, an insight that Cadal didn't understand at all. The problem of Mollie's loneliness and anger was much more complex than he'd first supposed.
"It is not childish. It is very--Human." Cadal sobered at the word. It was very Human, wasn't it? And, she was Human. Why did it surprise him that she acted as a Human would? He shook his head, trying to right his senses.
"I should have come long ago. I've wanted to for years."
"Why did you not?"
"Work, family, responsibilities--I don't know really. I guess I'd finally had enough of it all."
"At least you are here now. I'll do my best to help you juggle until you are comfortable. Unfortunately, there are some vipers here, but I'll help you tame them until you get a handle on them."
Mollie looked slightly shocked. "Thank you. It's more help than I expected."
"That is what I'm here for," he assured her. That's all I'm here for, he reminded himself yet again.
Mollie sipped the wine. She was young, but Cadal was certain she was also a formidable woman, as he would expect of any Blake woman, even one that had been separated from her land.