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Hidden within the stone walls of Castle MacCoinneach is the seemingly quiet realm of Paroseea, yet danger now stalks the halls of the castle, seeking vengeance and patiently awaiting the return of the fallen laird. When the ghost of Padruig MacCoinneach’s beloved sister sends him back to the highlands and a life he forswore, he promises to do anything to save his remaining sister and aid his clan. He never expected, however, that he would have to marry his ally’s daughter, Aimli, whom he deems both a ...
Hidden within the stone walls of Castle MacCoinneach is the seemingly quiet realm of Paroseea, yet danger now stalks the halls of the castle, seeking vengeance and patiently awaiting the return of the fallen laird. When the ghost of Padruig MacCoinneach’s beloved sister sends him back to the highlands and a life he forswore, he promises to do anything to save his remaining sister and aid his clan. He never expected, however, that he would have to marry his ally’s daughter, Aimli, whom he deems both a reckless child and a potent temptation. Together they will have to overcome their anger and doubt to find trust, love, and ultimately safety for themselves and their clans.
Ms. Tolnitch writes a very entertaining tale of love, mystery, and a bit of paranormal thrown in. This is a good read.
Cai's warning growl came an instant before Padruig MacCoinneach found himself gazing at his sister Brona. The only problem with her sudden appearance was that Brona was dead.
"Padruig," she said softly, her gossamer form gaining substance.
He stared at her, his gut clenched in shock, his heart tight with the beloved sight of her. So, it has come to this, he thought. "Brona, you have good cause to haunt me, I ken, but I would prefer to be left alone."
Her pale lips quirked in a familiar smile that brought back the pang of memory. "I've not come to haunt you, Padruig."
He looked down into his cup, wondering just how much wine he'd drunk this eve.
"I am no delirium brought on by drink," she rebuked.
"I must be going mad at last. Mayhap I should be thankful for it."
"Nay." With a tinkle of laughter, she drifted closer and settled on a stool. "You are not mad."
Cai growled again, and crouched down as if to leap upon her.
"Down, wolf," Brona said.
Cai dropped to the floor, but didn't take his gaze from her.
"You must return, Padruig. At once."
"To Castle MacCoinneach."
He barked out a bitter laugh. "You jest. There is naught for me there. This," he said, gesturing around his snug home, "is where I belong now."
She gazed around his dwelling, taking in the living area where she perched, the tapestry spread upon the floor, the simple trunks and pegs along the wall next to stone steps, the other tapestries hung on stone walls to keep out the chill air. "You have made yourself a comfortable refuge here."
"It suits me," he said, knowing the words for a lie, but also knowing there was no other place for him anymore.
"Och, Padruig, how can you bear to be so alone?"
The damn fire must be smoking overmuch, he thought, blinking away a touch of wetness from his eyes. "I have missed you, Brona. As for the rest, I am content here."
"I shall always be with you, Padruig," she said in a low tone that skittered over his skin and lifted the fine hairs on his arms.
"You, of all people, should well understand why I cannot return." Sorrow and regret swirled in his mind, ripening into the pain and shame he lived with each day.
"Nay, you are wrong." Her eyes suddenly flooded with color, the vivid blue startling in her wispy face. She traced a finger down the scar bisecting his cheek, leaving a strange coolness along his marred skin. "You are like a wounded animal seeking its den, hiding away. 'Tis not the way of the Laird of the MacCoinneachs."
"I am not the laird," he told her, hating the sympathy in her eyes, sympathy he did not deserve.
"Freya needs you. The clan needs you."
He frowned. "You are mistaken."
"Nay!" she shouted, rising in a swirl of red and gold. "You are the one who is mistaken. You must return. Grigor is laird, Padruig."
"Grigor? What of Alasdair?"
"Ousted by Grigor and his followers."
Grigor as laird? Padruig found that hard to believe. The man had been at best a barely adequate guardsman.
"'Tis worse than that. Grigor intends to marry Freya to Angus Ransolm. The entire clan suffers under his rule. Your clan, Padruig."
"Angus Ransolm?" Padruig felt the blood drain from his face and fisted a hand. "Why in sweet heaven would Grigor marry Freya to such a mon? He is naught but a foul brute."
"Aye. But I tell you true."
Padruig slammed his cup down and stood. He did not want to face any of this, did not want to face what he had done, did not want to ever face his clan again, but Brona's expression was unrelenting. "What of Mother?"
"She is of no aid," Brona said slowly, her form beginning to melt away.
"Brona, do not ask this of me. I cannot-"
"You cannot fail Freya, Padruig," she said, and disappeared.
He picked up the cup and hurled it against the wall. Do not fail Freya, she'd said. She didn't need to add, "As you failed me." That knowledge was ever with him, ever a cold, heavy weight upon his heart.
Dear God, how could he allow his sister Freya to be wed to the likes of Angus Ransolm? The lass was no more than fifteen years of age. Angus was at least two score, and each of those years had been spent in selfish depravity. Padruig had been a guest at Ransolm Castle once when his father considered an alliance with the Ransolm clan. As the day drew on, Angus had emptied his cup time and time again. Eventually, he ended up roughly taking a servant girl in full view of everyone in the hall, sending her off with a none too tender slap when he finished. By the reactions of those in the hall, but for Padruig, his father, and their men, such an occurrence was far from uncommon.
Padruig grimaced, seeing the man's expression of satisfaction, his casual attitude that using a servant such was no more than his due. When Padruig's father had inquired about Angus's wife, the man had dismissively announced that she was dead. Thinking back, Padruig remembered his father muttering that Angus had a habit of losing wives.
Brona was right, though how she knew was something he did not wish to ponder.
There was no choice for it. He would have to go home.
* * *
Aimili de Grantham smiled in her sleep, and let out a soft sigh of contentment. Her dream swirled in her mind, the same wondrous dream she'd had time and time again. Striding across the thick, emerald-green grass, he came for her, sunlight gleaming over her very own golden man, his blue eyes tender and fierce all at once. She flung herself into his strong arms, and he laughed, twirling her in the air, before sliding her down his body, his beautiful mouth lowering to hers ...
"Wake up!" a voice intruded, followed by a rough shake of her shoulders.
She fought the command, twisting away from the hand. Unfortunately, her shift in position put her nose in close proximity to a newly deposited pile of horse dung.
"Ye cannae sleep in the stable, as if you were no more than a stable hand," the voice said, which Aimili now recognized as her younger sister, Morainn's.
"Morainn, I am exhausted. Leave me be."
Morainn sniffed. "I am no surprised, given your morn with that devil horse. But you have a perfectly fine bed."
Aimili slowly blinked her eyes open, more than a wee bit disgruntled with her sister for interrupting her sleep, and more importantly, her dream. "I like being close to Mist."
Her sister gave a louder sniff. "Who nearly dumped a pile of dung atop your head. By the saints, Aimili, one would think you cared more for this horse than anything or anyone else."
The horse in question bent down her velvety, gray head and snuffled Aimili's hair. Aimili stroked Mist's soft nose and rose to her feet, choosing to ignore her sister's unusually perceptive comment.
"Asides," Morainn said with a sidelong glance at Aimili, "Father sent me to fetch you."
"Ye cannae think he would not hear of this morn's deed." Morainn shook her head and sidled out of the stall. "I cannae understand why you take such risks. No one can ride that beast."
"I can," Aimili protested, pushing away the memory of landing in the dirt more than once earlier that day.
"Oh?" Morainn lifted one perfectly arched brow. "As you did earlier?"
Ignore her taunt. Ye shall succeed, a gentle voice murmured in Aimili's mind. She turned and put her face against Mist's neck. Aye, I will, she answered silently. When she turned back to her sister, she squared her shoulders. "It will take time to earn Loki's trust." She spat in the straw. "Angus Ransolm abused him terribly."
Morainn simply shrugged. "Father is waiting."
Reluctantly, Aimili gave Mist a last pat and followed her sister across the busy bailey. They had almost reached the entrance to the great hall when she felt a tug on her arm.
"My lady," Gunnr, one of the stable lads, said on a rushed breath. "Were you wanting us to leave Loki out in the pen? He's runnin' awful fierce."
She smiled down at the boy. "Let him run. I shall return anon to bring him back in."
Gunnr's thin face drew into a frown. "Are you sure, my lady? I can bring the beast in."
"I shall do it. He must become accustomed to me. Asides," she said, ruffling Gunnr's mop of red hair, "he needs to run." She turned away and walked into the great hall, suppressing another groan to find not only her father awaiting her, but also her eldest brother, Wautier, who gave her a smug look.
"Aimili!" her father's voice boomed across the cavernous hall. Servants scurried about, setting up tables for the midday meal. Well used to hearing the Laird of the de Grantham clan chastising his daughter, they went about their duties, though one of the younger maids gave Aimili a quick glance of compassion.
"Greetings, Father," she said.
He frowned and leaned over to pluck a long piece of straw from her hair. "Lass, what were you thinking?"
Wautier snickered behind her father.
Aimili gratefully accepted a cup of wine from a passing servant and took a sip. She gazed around the great hall, looking over the smoke-blackened timbers, the wall hangings depicting one battle after another, and the impressive array of blades on the wall behind the dais. Above the weapons, a wide banner hung, embroidered with the motto of Clan de Grantham. "Dare all," she read aloud, fastening her stare on her father, whose frown deepened.
"'Tis a war cry for the men of the clan, no an instruction to a young lass." Her father shook his head, his shaggy, dark hair swinging back and forth. "What am I to do with you? How will I ever find a mon willing to wed such a reckless lass?"
As her father launched into his familiar discourse cataloging Aimili's unacceptable behaviors, in sharp contrast to perfect Morainn, Aimili stopped listening, instead taking her mind back to the dream.
And to the man who begat it.
Padruig MacCoinneach, once Laird of the MacCoinneach clan, now but another story carved from the harsh mountains of the Highlands, floating in the mist over the lochs. Almost too comely to be a flesh-and-blood man. Kind and gentle to a young girl whose careless stubbornness led her to injury. All the things that she'd never found in any other man.
"Lass, are you heeding me?" her father barked, breaking into her yearning thoughts.
"As always, father," she said, giving him a wide-eyed look.
He snorted, but then smiled. "Go on with ye now. I'll expect you at dinner."
Grateful that today's lecture was over, Aimili hastened away toward the rear of the hall.
"And be careful with that animal!" her father called after her.
* * *
How I hate this ugly bastard, Freya MacCoinneach thought, glaring at her thankfully several times removed cousin, Grigor. She stood in the laird's solar, the fading sunlight cloaking the chamber in ribbons of gold. A sliver of sun caught the gleam of Grigor's ring. The ring of the laird.
She fisted her hand in the skirts of her woolen bliaut. Grigor didn't even look like a laird, she thought in disgust. His thin, angular face matched his lean form, his small eyes a colorless gray. "Nay," she said, proud beyond measure that her voice did not shake.
Grigor glared back at her and casually took a sip of wine. "Aye. I have spoken with Angus and it is decided." He gave her a sly smile. "He is most anxious to gain a young bride, particularly one of your undeniable beauty."
Bile teased the back of Freya's throat. She knew she was beautiful, of course. Everyone at Castle MacCoinneach had told her so repeatedly, just as they had pampered and indulged her all of her fifteen years.
Until today. She lifted her chin and took a step forward. "I shall never marry the likes of Angus Ransolm. He is old, filthy, and"-she gulped-"all have heard the tales of his ... appetites."
"Rumors," Grigor said, waving a hand. "You should be thankful. Angus is a powerful laird, and the clan is a prosperous one."
Freya glanced back at her mother, Mairi, who hovered in the doorway. How she wished that her mother would fight for her, but there would be no aid there, despite the burn of anger Freya saw in her mother's gaze. Life and the loss of Brona had left her mother a broken shell of herself, beaten and bitter. Freya turned her attention back to Grigor, whose gaze ran over her in a very uncousinlike manner. "Angus Ransolm is a pig!" she spat.
"'Tis unwise to voice such slurs about your future husband." He sipped more wine. "And master."
"Nay." This time Freya could not help her voice from shaking. "How much did he offer you?"
"'Tis no concern of yours. The bargain was well met."
Freya was seized by the nearly uncontrollable urge to throw Grigor's cup of wine in his face. How could he do this? As she stared at him, she realized how. He cared for nothing and no one but himself and the power he'd seized. It made no difference to him at all that he would sacrifice her to a depraved old man, who would likely kill her with his enthusiastic abuse.
Another figure appeared in the doorway, and a fragment of hope unfurled in Freya's chest.
Alasdair, her brother Padruig's former advisor and the man who should be laird, stepped into the solar, his expression grim. "Grigor, mayhap you should reconsider this match. Freya is young and beautiful." He gave her a glance of support. "She can do much better than Angus Ransolm."
Grigor leapt to his feet and slammed down his cup. "I need no advice from you, old man."
"I will not do it," Freya shouted. "I have heard the stories myself." She shivered. "The man is foul and cruel. I will not wed him. Ye cannae do this to me."
The blow came so quickly that she had no time to duck. Stumbling backward, she would have fallen if Alasdair had not caught her in his arms. Her face burned and she stared at Grigor in disbelief.
But for a spark of satisfaction in his gaze, his expression remained calm. "You will wed Angus Ransolm by All Hallows' Eve."
Despite her fear, Freya could only shake her head. The horror of what he demanded was too much to bear.
"Rauf!" Grigor shouted.
Rauf, a beefy guard, lumbered into the solar, his thick lips flattened into a mocking smile. Grigor nodded toward Freya. "See her to her chamber and lock her in."
From outside the solar, Freya heard a soft moan.
Grigor's lips curled back into a chilling smile. "Do not gainsay me in this, Freya. I am your laird and I have made my decision. You shall abide by it."
"Or?" she whispered.
"Or," he leaned closer, "I shall do whatever is necessary to persuade you." He chuckled. "Mayhap Angus would like to visit his future bride before the blessed event."
Terror gripped Freya's belly and she nearly spilled the contents of her stomach upon Grigor's fine tunic. "You would allow him to ..." She could not say it, the idea was so repellent.
"Grigor, nay," Alasdair said. "Ye cannot treat the lass so. She is the daughter of the laird."
Grigor's gaze flashed anger. "The former laird, whose only son left in disgrace."
"Duncan would never approve of this. Nor would Padruig."
"Well, Duncan is naught but bones and ashes, and your dear Padruig is not here, so what they may or may not approve of is of no matter."
"Cease!" Grigor barked. "Rauf, take her from my sight. And you, Alasdair, would be wise to remember that 'tis only by my sufferance that you remain here at all."
Rauf half-pulled, half-dragged Freya from the solar. Within a few minutes, she found herself thrust into her chamber, the sounds of a bar being mounted on the door confirmation of the horrific fact that Grigor did, indeed, intend to sentence her to life with Angus Ransolm.
The only boon was that most likely that life would not be long, she thought, hysteria creeping into her mind.
She buried her face in her hands and wept. Oh, Padruig, how I wish you were here, she silently chanted.
* * *
Aimili woke in her bed, terror lodged tightly in her throat. She scanned her chamber, the glowing embers of a fire leaving most of it in deep shadow. Slowly, she took a deep breath and let it out, focusing her senses.
Naught but the rumbling snore of her hound, Bobo, sounded in the room. She clasped the bedcovers in her hands and stared into the dying fire as if it could give her answers.
Chills rippled down her back that had nothing to do with the coolness of the chamber. She tried to remember her dream, tried to draw out the details, but instead could only barely grasp a feeling.
It was a feeling of evil. Covetous, angry evil.
And it was coming into her life.
No, Aimili, she told herself. It was only a dream. A silly dream, no doubt brought on by your stuffing your mouth with one too many of Cook's apple fritters.
Excerpted from A Lost Touch of Magic by Amy Tolnitch Copyright © 2008 by Amy Tolnitch. Excerpted by permission.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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Posted May 18, 2010
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Padruig MacCoinneach left his heritage and his Highland home vowing never to come back to Castle MacCoinneach. However, when his late sister¿s ghost demands he go home to protect their sibling and their clan, he does so by becoming the chieftain a role he disdained. Padruig also learns that he must marry Aimili de Grantham, who has placed him on a pedestal since childhood, if he wants an ally; she is the price.<BR/><BR/>Aimili prefers horses to people as she can communicate better with steeds using her psychic skills. Sad that he crumbled from his place of adulation in her heart, Aimili still loves the brute, who shows not one iota of interest in her. She plans to seduce her spouse even as they must team up to prevent evil creeping through the walls of Castle MacCoinneach.<BR/><BR/>Medieval paranormal romance fans will appreciate the fourth ¿Touch of ¿¿ thriller due to the behavior of the prime player Padruig who rightfully feels overwhelmed and should be as he stars in two co-equal plots involving women he loves in peril. In some ways the audience will feel as overwhelmed as the hero as the story line constantly switches back and forth between Padruig¿s concerns for his sister and his concerns for his wife. Neither truly takes charge nor do they fully merge into one cohesive main plot. Still fans will enjoy Amy Tolnitch¿s intriguing historical due to Padruig¿s travails.<BR/><BR/>Harriet KlausnerWas this review helpful? Yes NoThank you for your feedback. Report this reviewThank you, this review has been flagged.