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.
When she retreats to the Blake estate, all Mollie wants is to start over, but she finds much more. From the first time she meets William Cadal, she knows him. Mollie should know him; she has dreamed about him for half of her life. That makes Cadal a dangerous distraction to her newfound freedom, but she will go to almost any lengths to find out how close her dreams are to the truth. Little does she know that all her dreams are true, even the ones that can't possibly be.
CONTENT ADVISORY: This is a re-release title.
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 descendents 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."