|Publisher:||Dorchester Publishing Company, Inc.|
|Product dimensions:||4.10(w) x 6.70(h) x 1.10(d)|
Read an Excerpt
By Andrea Wilder
Dorchester PublishingCopyright © 2007 Andrea Wilder
All right reserved.
Chapter OneCounty Meath, Ireland, 1467
"We can surrender or we can fight."
Kieran MacAuley regarded his battered kinsmen intently. In less than two hours' time, their force of fifty had been halved. The grim sounds of ongoing battle echoed through the trees, telling him the other clans had fared no better than his own.
Trapped between the English encampment and a formidable line of cavalry, his kinsmen's choices had been reduced to two. Only the encroaching night gave them the reprieve they now enjoyed. King Edward's soldiers wouldn't venture into the darkness of the forest to be picked off like stiff-necked pigeons.
Kieran wanted to fight. Had always wanted it, since he was a boy wrestling and playing at swords. The challenges of battle fascinated him. Circling his opponent, trying to outguess him, more oft than not besting him in the end. And now, he fought against the English trying to impose their civilized ways on the wild beauty of Ireland.
But 'twas not his decision alone. If the others chose differently, he'd abide by their wishes. Death before dishonor held a more complex meaning for men with wives and children waiting for them at home.
"I don't know about the rest of ye, but I'd ruther diestanding than live on me knees." Wiping his bloody sword on his woolen trews, his cousin Peter rested a hand on Kieran's shoulder. "Who's with us?"
In less than a heartbeat, every last one of them thrust his hand atop Peter's. They clasped one another's wrists in a show of unity that made Kieran's heart swell with pride.
The mark of a man's courage came when he acknowledged his fear and did what honor demanded of him. They could die like rats whimpering in some prison camp or go down screaming their battle cry. This day, the legend of the MacAuley would be plowed into the soil, carried on the wind to be heard far and wide across the Isle.
Never would they be forgotten.
Darrin crouched at his side and offered him a skin filled with water. "What's yer plan?"
Kieran took a long swallow of the cool water before answering. "First, we bury our brothers."
Beneath the blood and grime, Darrin's scowl gave way to a smile. "So, ye have no plan."
"Not yet. But this I can tell you." Kieran connected with each pair of determined eyes. "We'll not be waiting 'til dawn."
* * *
Kieran lay on his back staring up at the black sky. A few stars shone bravely through the clouds, but they blurred before his eyes. It seemed he'd lain here an eternity, listening to the prayers and curses of his wounded men. Each plea for death tore through his heart as one by one they fell silent. Now there was none left but him.
A jagged rock gouged his back, but as the feeling left his limbs, he scarce felt its bite. Still, he fought the darkness. Once he succumbed, there would be no turning back. Some paths led in but one direction, and this one he'd veered from many a time.
Not this time.
Through heavy eyes he watched as a fine mist crept along the ground. The scent of woodland flowers reached him through the stench of blood and death, and on the early spring breeze he heard quiet sobs. He imagined 'twas Ireland weeping for the loss of so many of her fine sons.
Stone fences, rolling fields, homes and families. Pride and honor. For those things, they'd fought and died. Again, he admired the dauntless courage of his men, prayed their souls would find quick passage through the gates of heaven.
Then he saw her. A slender shadow floated among the dead, knelt by each one. She bent to tenderly kiss each brow, then moved on to the next. 'Twas no place for such a delicate lass. Kieran tried to warn her away, but he couldn't summon breath enough to speak.
She glanced about as if she'd heard his thought. Her dainty feet made not a sound as she hastened through the carnage to where he lay and fell to her knees at his side.
Tears shimmered on her cheeks as she lifted his head and pillowed it in her skirts. "This was madness. What in the name of Brigid were you thinking?"
It took all his strength to lift the corner of his mouth. Though he'd never laid eyes on her, he wished for only one thing-to die with her kiss on his lips.
And she granted it.
The ground beneath her trembled. Off to the east, Brynna Ryan heard thunderous hoofbeats and the clang of armored horses. A dozen knights broke through the trees at the edge of the glen, torches held high. Their leader was dressed in metal from neck to toes, a polished helm laid carelessly across his thigh. His face she knew well, and she shrank into the shadows so he'd not see her. He surveyed the clearing with a pained expression.
For one so triumphant, his eyes held little joy.
A massive gray destrier pushed past him, its rider clearly agitated. "Major Hawlings, when I put you in charge of this division, I told you I wanted the head of Kieran MacAuley on a pike. That's the only way I'll believe he's finally dead."
"As you can see, Lord Worcester, they're all quite dead."
"His head." Leaning forward in his saddle, the older man calmly added, "Now."
"Which one is he, sir?" another asked. "They all look the same to me."
Brynna gazed on the man clinging so desperately to life. She reached out to push aside hair the color of mahogany. Hidden beneath it she found the mark that Maire, the faery Queen of Meath, had given him at his birth. Stark against his deeply tanned skin, the tiny star at his temple glowed like its sisters in the sky.
The hope of Ireland, Maire had proclaimed him. He and others like him would lead their people out of the darkness into a future filled with promise.
Soldiers strode through the bodies, shaking their heads and muttering all manner of insults to the Irish in general. They hadn't yet noticed her, and she could easily slip away. But if she left Kieran behind, the Englishman would make good on his threat, and she couldn't bear the thought of the chieftain being reduced to naught but a grisly trophy. So she did the only thing she could.
She threw herself over his prone figure and began sobbing.
Careful to conceal his features, she kept her own face hidden in the folds of her cloak and wept as though her heart were breaking. From the corner of her eye, she glimpsed one of the knights striding toward her.
Major Hawlings stopped him with a hand on his arm. "Leave her be. We've no business with a grieving widow."
"I'd be only too happy to distract her from her mourning, sir."
"Back to your mount," he ordered, strolling to join the nobleman still astride his horse. "I'm familiar with MacAuley, and I don't see him anywhere. He must have escaped."
"Again. I swear, when I finally catch him, I'll have his liver with my breakfast."
"Remind me not to join you that morning."
With a harsh laugh, the English lord wheeled his stallion into a dignified trot. When the young officer reached his horse, he turned to look back at Brynna.
Eyes shadowed with sorrow, he dipped his head to her, then mounted and rode away. His men trailed after him, laughing and boasting about their great victory. Their voices gradually faded, but never would she forget their mocking words.
Brynna glanced about her with a shudder of loss. The wails of banshee had echoed through the surrounding hills for three nights, foretelling death in great numbers. This night, they could rest.
She heard a rustling in the brush nearby and glanced up to find two familiar forms slipping through the brambles. Apparently, not all the sídhe were tucked away in their beds.
Lithe and fair, with hair like spun gold and eyes of aquamarine, her mischievous half-sisters had captured the hearts of more men than they could recall. Being immortal, faeries had a great deal of time to fill.
"Oh, look," Rianne crooned, hands clasped over her romantic heart. "He's beautiful!"
"Move aside and let me see." Shela shoved Rianne out of the way. "Beautiful he is. Such a waste of Mother's finest work."
"Hush, both of you," Brynna warned. "He might hear you."
"You mean he's alive?" Rianne asked, looking quite confused.
"He is, and I intend to keep him that way."
"You kissed him, didn't you?" Brynna refused to answer, and Shela rolled her lovely eyes. "You should have let him go. When a mortal's time has come, there is no bargaining with death."
"'Tis easy to say such things when you need never face that fate."
"You've saved one?" Rianne gestured about her. "What good is that?"
Brynna looked down, smoothed an errant lock of hair from his closed eyes. "To him, it means everything."
The three fell silent as a silvery wash of light spread over the glen. The hazy beam hovered over each man, brightened for a moment, then faded to its original appearance.
When every soul had been accounted for, the light winked out, leaving in its place a petite woman with luminous hair and sea-green eyes. Her trailing gown shimmered in the moonlight. It seemed made of jewels but in truth was fashioned of dewdrops that rippled with her graceful movements. As she strolled to join them, she looked about her with the weary expression of a mother who'd lost countless sons.
"Mother, look!" Shela knelt beside Brynna. "This one's alive. May we keep him?"
"Have you ever seen such a wonderful man?" Rianne breathed, staring at him dreamily.
"Indeed I have." Maire cast a look at Brynna that seemed equal parts anger and pride. "What were you thinking, using your skills that way? Have I taught you nothing?"
"You've taught me a great deal. I used my knowledge to help him."
"You used your knowledge to change the course of his life, and even I cannot foresee the consequences. He accepted his fate. Who are you to deny it?"
"He was prepared to die," Brynna argued. "That doesn't mean he accepted it."
As she glanced at the battered face resting in her skirts, she couldn't keep back a smile. He looked almost boyish, as if any moment he'd leap to his feet, eager to take on anyone who dared challenge him. "This is Kieran MacAuley."
"I know who he is, child. Since the day of his birth I have watched this one. Many times have I intervened, but-"
"I beg of you, do it again. I know I can save him."
"You needn't fash yourself, little sister," Rianne chided her with a dimpled grin. "We'll take good care of him while he's with us, won't we, Shela?"
Brynna glared at them both. "You'll tie him to your bed is what you'll do."
"Men love that," Shela assured her airily.
"Not this man."
When her sisters reached curious hands to his face, Brynna pulled Kieran as far away as she could. She'd never fought them before, but somehow this man was different. Perhaps it was the way he'd watched her so protectively, trying to warn her away from the hideous scene. Or the look on his face when he'd gazed up at her, giving her a crooked smile before wishing for a kiss.
Brynna steeled herself to face the powerful Queen of Meath. "He's needed here, to help his people. Please let him stay and finish what he's begun."
Smiling sadly, Maire bent and took Brynna's face in her translucent hands. "My darling one, what he's begun won't be finished in his lifetime."
"Then his sons will finish it, or their sons. But he's the last of his brothers, and without him, the line of Morgan MacAuley will all but vanish."
"I know that!" Maire straightened to her full height and glowered in a most unqueenly fashion. "They vex me to the last, and he is the worst of them all. There is no fear in this one, not even as a child."
"Leave him with me. I'll care for him and return him to his clan."
"But I want him!" Shela turned to Maire with a beseeching look. "If you let me have him, I'll share him with Rianne."
While her sisters pleaded and whined, Brynna kept silent. She'd gain nothing by voicing her objections. Her mother knew them already. Beyond that, she knew Kieran, cared for him as she did for so few mortals. 'Twas a rare human who commanded her attention, much less her continuing indulgence.
At last, Maire raised her hands to signal for quiet. "I cannot take him that way. He has fought long and hard." Pausing, she smiled at Brynna. "And he has a staunch champion, to be sure. Heal him and help him find his way home." A warning look replaced her smile. "But do nothing beyond that. You have altered the future quite enough."
"I understand. Thank you, Mother."
Maire rewarded her with a smile and a tender kiss on each cheek. Then she straightened and looked pointedly at her older daughters. "For my part, I promise your sisters shall not interfere, as they are so often wont to do."
With that, she strolled back into the mist, Rianne and Shela grumbling as they trailed in her dignified wake.
"Put him here, Grady." Brynna motioned to her small bed, then quickly removed her woolen cloak. The fire hissed its approval as she threw several dry logs onto the embers. "I couldn't have managed him alone. I'm grateful for your help."
"Anything for you, Mistress Brynna," the farmer assured her as he limped across the room and settled Kieran atop the covers. "After saving our little one this winter, 'tis a lifetime of debt we owe to ye."
"And how does Kathleen fare these days?"
"Sturdy as any lamb on the farm." He unbuckled the scarred leather scabbard from about his waist. "He'll be wanting his sword, I'd wager."
"No doubt. Thank you for bringing it."
His eyes went to the still figure in her bed. "'Tis him, is it not? Kieran MacAuley?"
"I didn't ask his name," she replied, hoping to still his curiosity.
"I met him once, just before one of the dawn raids a few miles east of here. He went around that camp, spoke to every man face to face. Laughing, telling us to eat hearty." He swallowed hard, pain etched deeply around his eyes. "When next I saw him, he wasn't laughing. He dragged two of his brothers back behind our lines and returned for half a dozen more men."
"One of them was you," Brynna surmised as she handed him a cup of mulled cider.
Grady took a long drink and grimaced. "Aye. Were it not for him"- he nodded to the man he so obviously admired-"my Meg would be a widow and Kathleen just a fond wish in her mother's broken heart."
And now, by asking Grady for his help, she'd put them all in danger. Aiding the enemy didn't set well with the English who ruled this portion of Westmeath.
Aiding the infamous chieftain carried a death sentence.
"I'll not tell a soul," Grady assured her. "Not even Meg. I owe him that much and more."
"Thank you, Grady. I think it best that I not tell him about you, either."
"He'd not remember me, even if ye did. We're not kin, so I was nothing to him." He rubbed the back of his neck and chuckled. "I said as much at the time. He clapped me on the shoulder and laughed. Said I was defending Erin, and that was good enough for him."
Brynna was beginning to understand how the legend of the Fearless One had blossomed so quickly. Kieran's loyalty and courage inspired those traits in others, and where he led, they followed. Not out of blind acceptance, but admiration and trust. Such a remarkable man was he. Little wonder her mother doted on him.
She went to the pot hanging over the fire and dipped some warm water into a small wooden bowl. From her herb drawers, she added a good amount of crushed healing yarrow. When she pulled out her needle and several lengths of sinew, Grady paled.
"Will ye be needing help holding him?"
Taking pity on the poor man, she shook her head. "You've done more than enough. Your family will be missing you."
"Right y'are. A peaceful evening to ye, then." Donning his cap, he made for the door as quickly as his lumbering gait would carry him.
Once the door closed, she pulled a chair up beside the bed and focused on Kieran. Not powerful enough to heal him completely, her kiss had sustained him while Grady carried him through the woods to her sod hut. Though she'd taxed her own strength, she deemed it a worthy trade.
She removed the studded jerkin he wore, frowning at the deep cuts rending the sturdy leather. Then she took off his boots and blood-soaked léine. Slashed to ribbons, the tunic was beyond repair, and she tossed it into the fire. The injury that vexed her most was a long gash that traveled from his right shoulder past the waist ofhi s leather trews. They were drenched with equal shares ofswea t and blood, and she stripped them away, averting her eyes until she'd pulled a blanket over him.
Excerpted from Fearless by Andrea Wilder Copyright © 2007 by Andrea Wilder . 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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Most Helpful Customer Reviews
In 1467 Ireland, the English army destroys their Irish opponents leaving one survivor barely alive. Healer Brynna struggles to keep the nearly dead Irish chieftain Kieran ¿The Fearless One¿ McAuley alive. Desperate as she knows he is 'the hope of Ireland' even if he is her father¿s enemy, Brynna uses fairy magic to heal him, but also erases his memory of her.-------------- When Kieran meets Brynna, he feels they have not only met before, but she is the star of his erotic dreams. Although Brynna knows Kieran is her true love, she hides her feelings as Ireland must come before either of their personal desires and she believes he is Ireland. He hopes that he can convince his soulmate they can have both a love of country and a love of one another.---------- Fans of medieval romantic fantasy will appreciate Andrea Wilder¿s superb debut. The lead couple live up to the title as they are FEARLESS in their love for one another and their country even when he wants their relationship to become permanent and she fears what that would do to her beloved Eire. With strong support from humans and Fey led by the Queen of Meath, sub-genre readers will enjoy this crisp tale.----------- Harriet Klausner
King Edward has come to Ireland to dominate and Kieran MacAuley and his kinsmen will not stand for it. Though they love their families, keeping their beloved Ireland safe must be foremost at the moment. On a bloody battlefield, the strong chieftain¿s life hangs in the balance. Praying only that his men¿s souls find their way to heaven, he¿s certain he cannot turn death away this time. When a brave lass haunts the fallen men, he¿s certain all he needs is a kiss from her to die in peace.------- Brynna Ryan mourns the loss of the brave men of Ireland. When she encounters the legendary Kieran, she calls upon her fey roots to save his life. As he is already favored by the faery Queen of Meath, it¿s a task well seen too. Brynna nurses the handsome fighter back to health and in the solitude of the forest, they discover there¿s more to life than the next battle, be it for Ireland or on a more personal level. But when Kieran asks more of Brynna than she is willing to give, he¿ll have to overcome the tricky veil that is fey magic if he truly wants to be with her. Brynna will do all in her power to keep him safe, and if it means keeping them apart due to her past, so be it. Love has a way of unfolding the veil though and soon even the world of faery will learn that it cannot hold love back.------- Fearless is a stellar addition to the romance shelves and as Ms. Wilder¿s debut, quite impressive. The story draws one in from the very first paragraph with action and sets the tone before the second page with romance and fey intrigue. The characters are well written and we see a wonderful progression of the hero and heroine throughout the story. Kieran is a strong man, without being overpowering and he finds his perfect mate in the kind and just Brynna. There are plenty of emotional wringers, and therefore plenty of opportunities to cry for and cheer the two on. From the moment it starts, the pace is wonderful and never slows down or meanders. The addition of the fey elements add a measure of uncertainty, and left me to wonder at times if all would indeed be well for the main characters by book¿s end. A great way to spend a lazy weekend¿or one long, breathless night. Congrats to author Wilder for her wonderful first contribution to the world of romance!