Read an Excerpt
Zeke Kendall did not believe in fairies. Not merely a serious scientist but a man of the millennium, he held no truck with ghosties or ghoulies or things that went bump in the night. It didn't matter that he was standing hip-deep in what was purported to be a fairy glen in the middle—well, no, to be fair, the western edge—of Ireland, where generations had seen, spoken to, consorted with and recovered from fairies. Even standing in the middle of fairy central, Zeke could say with perfect conviction that he did not believe in the species.
Which was why the sudden sight of the delicate, sloe-eyed woman sent him reeling.
He'd been on the site most of the morning, tucked along a steep, wet hillside in between road and riverbed, in preparation for his work farther up the mountain. Seasoning, one of his Irish colleagues had called it, for the meal to come. Background and basis for an area of study he wasn't acquainted with.
"Get a feel for the magic here," the friend had said with a huge grin over a double shot of Tullamore Dew the night before. "The kind you can't get in a place with barstools and cigarette smoke."
Zeke, a trained and experienced field anthropologist whose specialty was North American Indian tribes, was here by invitation of that same friend, who wanted to compare and contrast burial and ritual seasonal customs between the migratory cultures of the western hemisphere and the migratory neolithics of the eastern.
Zeke's ancestors had come en masse from the Celtic countries: Ireland, Scotland and Wales. Back in North Carolina, his great-great-grandmother had been called an Irish witch when she wasn't needed for her healing abilities and a powwow woman when she was. So, in a rare moment of whimsy, Zeke, nursing a long whiskey at his sister's wedding, had been overcome with that common and obviously communicable malady, genealogyitis.
So here he was, up to the tops of his work boots in Irish mud, the rain dripping off the battered old cowboy hat he used for digs, and his field of vision jam-packed with green. Green rhododendron, green ferns, green moss, green holly, green yew and whitethorn and oak and birch. An explosion of green, a bouquet, an overdose to a man more used to stalking the stark, redhued desert of the Four Corners Reservation.
Oddly enough, though, he felt almost at home here. Certainly more than on his digs, more even than in the high, wind-swept mountain valley in Wyoming where he'd grown up. It was almost cozy here, even with the steady patter of the rain. Friendly and soft and gentle in a way he wasn't used to. Well, he supposed, if you were fairies, you wouldn't want to fight a howling desert wind to set up shop.
On the other hand, if he stood still enough, he could feel something else here. Something alive, something prescient. Something darker than the shadows that collected in this little glen. Even wearing his best long johns and leather jacket, he felt an odd chill skitter up his back.
He was just about to turn back up the hill, to where an iron grill gate set among overgrown fuchsia hedges separated the third millennium from the first, when he saw her. A flash of her. A sudden, heartstopping glimpse of her farther down the walk.
He caught her out of the corner of his eye, the way you would in a dream. Creamy skin that all but glowed in the soft, watery light. Thick, curling auburn hair that seemed oddly dry in the rain. Big eyes. Wide eyes. Clear, laughing green eyes that sparkled at him and then turned away. Eyes he would swear on his grave he recognized from somewhere.
Before he realized what he was doing, Zeke was following her. Splashing in puddles up to his ankles, he shoved aside ferns and fuchsia and oak branches in his haste to catch up with her.
She was in a dress. Could she possibly be in a dress? A floaty kind of silky thing in the most iridescent shade of peacock he'd ever seen. Tantalizing over breast and hip and thigh. Compelling a man who had never had the need to be compelled.
Zeke was no monk. That had been his brother Jake's job for most of their lives. Zeke preferred to sample a bit of everything life had to offer. He'd had his share of relationships. He'd been told by people other than his family that he was handsome. Rugged, according to his latest friend, Tina. He was in shape, that was for damn sure. Hard not to be, when you did more vertical cliff-feet than a mountain goat. Wide-shouldered and tall and healthy. He hadn't needed to beg women to stop for him, nor had he ever particularly felt the gut-wrenching desire to do so.
But suddenly, after the swift, stunning sight of a woman who had not smiled at him but laughed at him, luscious strawberry lips parted over perfect white teeth—just a glimpse, as if they were illicit—and a toss of perfect copper hair, he was running as if his life depended on it.
And somehow, on a single path to a single stream in the middle of nowhere, he lost her.
Zeke got to the very bottom of the path, all but breathless from hopping boulders, sliding through mud and ducking under foliage, and stopped. Looked around. Stared hard at nothing.
He was sure he'd seen her. He couldn't mistake something that vibrant. He could almost still hear her windchime-light laugh as she spun away. Hell, he could almost feel that silk dress against his fingers. He swore he smelled cloves.
Where the hell was she?
Who the hell was she?
Zeke had only meant to spend a few minutes in the fairy glen, the one to which W. B. Yeats had lovingly ascribed magical powers. He'd just wanted to see what kind of place could invest itself a sense of magic that would survive so long.
And okay, he had found it to be something special. Something completely otherworldly, as if all that green had turned the light aqueous and the water fingered tunes among the trees. Zeke had always appreciated water, having spent so much of his professional life having to do without it. But here...here it was more elemental, more compelling. Here he could invest it with all the magic the Irish seemed to give it.
Here he could see that ferns and yew and even tropical-sized elephant-ear could transform shadows into living beings. He could almost believe that the world on this side of that iron gate was something not quite real. Not really a part of the sunlight, the banal ritual of everyday life. He could understand why Yeats and all his countrymen would want to find fairies here.
But that didn't mean there were any.
He turned away finally, deliberately, and slogged back up the hill. He hadn't really seen her. It had been jet lag. It had been all those suggestive stories whispered in his ear when Colm O'Roarke had shared a fire with him in the canyons of Utah. It had been swamp gas, for God's sake. It had not been fairies. Zeke Kendall did not believe in fairies.
Then what the hell had she been? * * * "Fairies, boyo!" Colm bellowed the next morning when he picked Zeke up at the B&B Colm had found for him.
An old country house, it was a little faded and ragged around the edges, and tended by a hesitant, overanxious woman named Mrs. O'Brien, who gave Zeke the sneaking suspicion he was going to Irish breakfast her out of house and home.
Colm had waved off the worry when Zeke had brought it up. "Ah, sure, don't be worrying over old Mary. She gets more people to forego their rightful breakfast by that hangdog look on her pious old face. What do you mean, you saw a beautiful woman in the fairy glen?"
Zeke realized now he shouldn't have said anything. Not so much as a word. But somehow it had just slipped out. Kind of in the "You're from around here, Colm. Do you know any beautiful redheads who hang around the fairy glen?" way of things.
And then, of course, he hadn't been able to explain it. Not her appearance, not who she was, nor where she'd gone. And certainly not the dark, disturbing dream of her that had followed him through the night.
Colm howled with delight, his ugly little face alight, his thin, stooped shoulders shaking with glee. For a short, skinny man, Colm had an amazing capacity for volume and mirth.
Colm could hardly get the car started, he was laughing so hard. "You, Zeke Kendall, man of science, dancin' with the fairies. By God, I wish I'd seen it, so!"
"I didn't dance with any damn fairies," Zeke growled, mashing his hat brim between his hands where it sat across his knees, since it didn't fit on his head in the tiny almost-car Colm piloted down the almost-roads like a Disneyland ride. "I saw a woman who didn't introduce herself and knew a different way out of the woods."
"Of course she did, lad! She lives there!" Another round of guffaws accompanied much handslapping against the steering wheel. "Tell me, you didn't by chance think to go wanderin' around that little patch of grass at dusk, like, did ya?"
Zeke was now actively gritting his teeth. This was worse than the time he'd told his sister Gen he'd accidentally walked into the girls' locker room and seen Betty Williams without a bra on. All that effort, his sister had howled in glee, and wasted on poor Betty. But even Betty hadn't bothered him like the sight of one laughing Irish girl in the dusk.
"Never mind," he snapped, staring out into the rain. No wonder the water was so plentiful here, he thought for no reason. It never stopped coming down.
"Ah, no, I don't think we can," Colm disagreed, wiping his merry blue eyes with the back of a gnarled little hand. If Zeke had really seen fairies, he would have preferred them looking more like Colm—small, knobby, bushy-haired and merry. Leprachaunish. Not...
Not... "See," Colm was saying, pulling out a pipe to clamp between his teeth. Barry Fitzgerald, for God's sake. "We're going to be after diggin' around the old girl's house."
"What old girl's house?"
"Your girlfriend, boyo. If she was sidhe, like I'm thinking."
He got another rolling laugh. "I told you we'd be siting the next stage of work on the excavation of the multiple raths and cairns in the area surrounding Knocknarea and Carrowmore." Finally, the pipe bobbing with his words, Colm sounded completely businesslike. "The one we've sited to do next is a cairn of maybe thirty meters surrounded by a rath...an old ring fort or, in local parlance, fairy fort. Fairy rath. On moonless nights, especially Mayday Eve and Hallow-een—which is coming up, boyo, so watch out the fairy queen doesn't steal you to go live with her in that magic hill of hers—the fairies were forever riding from the Fairy Glen around Knocknarea Mountain to Carrow-more to celebrate. Or to steal mortals to play with for all eternity. Then they'd go back home beneath our very cairn."
"So, thoughtful scientists that we are, we're going to tear it down to see if they're still there."
Colm shot him a quick, sharp look. "Scientists don't believe in fairies, boyo."
Zeke gave him a wry grin. "That's what I've heard, Colm."
"What I thought we'd do, like, is see the new site first. Get acquainted before we start pickin'at it and all. Then I'll zip you on over to Carrowmore and meet the staff there. Talk about what they've found, all right."