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The Breasal Estate, Killarney, Ireland
November of the same year
Thunder shook the night as the Dullahan's black stallion reared beneath him on the sweeping lawn below. The horseman thrust his severed head toward the sky and called out the names of those he hunted.
"Dylan Donoghue! Maeve Donoghue!"
Powerless to stop him, I watched from the bedroom window. The glass panes infused my palms with the chill of death itself. Out of sight, my parents screamed, then fell silent. The sound of laughter followed.
Exultant. Spiteful. Malignant.
Aoife! The wind demon whose foul plot shattered my family with a single blow.
Hate and despair welled inside me. "No!"
"Ashling, wake up!" My sister shook me awake.
She switched on the lamp between our beds, and I scanned the room. The same sash windows as in the dream. The same luxurious décor in shades of periwinkle, white, and gray. Even my slippers beside the bed were the same. But the night was quiet, and there was no immediate danger.
Deirdre tucked her long, blonde hair behind her ears and gave me a knowing look. "Another nightmare about the Dullahan?"
Nodding, I wiped the sweat from my brow. "And Aoife."
"Sounds almost as bad as my dream the night he took Mom and Dad."
"We don't know he took them."
"We don't know he didn't."
"They're not dead!" Dread clutched my heart, and I pushed out a long breath to calm myself. "They can't be."
"Branna said pretty much the same thing the other night, and you know how psychic she can be."
"And now you and I have abilities. Soon the boys will too," I huffed. "But what good is it if we can't find Mom and Dad?"
"Seriously. The Breasals say we're 'treasures,' but I don't feel like one. It's been weeks —"
"Almost three now."
"Exactly. And still nothing." She punched her pillow.
The image of my boyfriend's exquisite face, of his deep blue eyes and golden hair, flashed in my mind. "Aengus is always out searching for them, and Brigit and Hugh have half the Otherworld on the case. Eamon and Greagoir are also keeping watch."
Deirdre twisted her lips. "Well, if a leprechaun and dragon can't find them, who can?" Her eyes narrowed. "What was that look when you mentioned Aengus?"
"What do you mean?"
"You're not gonna sabotage your first-ever romance, are you?"
I sighed. No point trying to hide it from her. "He seems to care about me. But does he like me or the fact that I was Caer, his great love in a past life?"
She glanced up at her bed's canopy. "Look, I know you're older, but we both know I've had way more experience with guys. So I'm telling you, don't blow this. You have a god of love falling in love with you. Don't ask questions. Just go for it."
"He's not a god." He and his family had stressed that point. The Tuatha Dé Danann could shift between dimensions, but they weren't deities.
"Close enough. Stop analyzing things to death and let nature take its course."
Good advice, but easier said than done. "I'll try." I pushed back the covers and swung my legs off the bed.
"Where are you going?"
"To roam the house for a while." I slid my feet into the soft slippers, then walked around her bed toward the door. "You go back to sleep."
"Don't mind if I do. 'Night, Ash." She reached for the lamp.
With a click, the room went dark as I grabbed the doorknob. "Good night."
I slipped out into the hallway and shuffled past our twin brothers' bedroom to the place I couldn't resist: my parents' room. For the hundredth time, I studied the interior. Everything was exactly as they'd left it, down to Dad's watch on the nightstand and Mom's bathrobe on the chair.
The night they disappeared, Aengus stood beside me in this same spot and squeezed my hand to reassure me. Since then, he spent most of his time in the Otherworld. He hadn't even mentioned the kiss we shared Halloween night.
Was he avoiding me? Maybe. But one thing was certain: he was as drawn to me as I was to him. So what was the deal?
If Mom were here, she'd hug me and say everything would be okay.
I lifted her robe from the chair and sniffed the collar. The faint trace of her banana-scented shampoo filled my nostrils. I closed my eyes and could almost imagine she was there. Almost. My chest tightened.
Aengus's words echoed in my mind. At the level of the spirit, everyone and everything is connected. You can feel it with your astral senses, but it's even more obvious in the Otherworld, especially if you stay open and aware. Thoughts are not only creative but magnetic. When someone thinks of you, you feel it, like a tug on your soul.
I swallowed hard. Then I shut my eyes, shifted into the Otherworld, and whispered to the empty room. "Mom? Dad? Can you hear me? I love you so much. We miss you. We need you. Where are you?" Silence chafed my ears.
"Mom. Dad. Talk to me. Please!"
I returned to the physical world of 3D. Tears pricked my eyes, but I blinked them away. With a sigh, I left the lifeless room and made my way downstairs to the second drawing room, Mom's makeshift office. Was it really only seven months since we first came to stay in this graceful Georgian home? Since Mom first set eyes on the illuminated manuscript that would've made her career?
That will make her career. Will! Once we find her and Dad, and the manuscript.
Light streamed from the drawing room into the hallway. Someone must be inside. Curious, I hastened through the open door.
My youngest brother, Conall, sat curled on the sofa, sketching. Amid the room's blue and green pastels, he looked peaceful.
He looked up and shook his tousled brown hair out of his eyes. "You couldn't sleep either?"
"Nope." I plopped onto the couch beside him.
"Kian is fast asleep, like always. Deirdre, too?" "Yup. What are you drawing?"
He handed me the sketch, and my jaw dropped. It was a perfect depiction of what occurred near Oweynagat, just after midnight on my birthday. The waist-high stone wall, with the hawthorn tree sticking out its side. Aengus's and my first kiss. And on the opposite side of the wall, watching us, was the dark-haired Lorcan, dressed in his nineteenth-century greatcoat and riding boots.
I regarded Conall. "Why ... how did you ..."
His face flushed. "I know it's an intimate scene. So it really happened?"
"It sure did. How in the world do you know about it? You got every detail right!"
"That's Branna for you."
"What do you mean? Did she dream about this?"
He nodded. "Halloween night, before things got crazy. Her description was so vivid, I had to draw it."
"Maybe it wasn't a dream at all, and her spirit traveled there while her body slept. But I don't remember seeing her. Of course, I was focused on other things."
"Evidently." His green eyes twinkled. Then his smile morphed into a frown. "Branna thought the guy on the left —"
"She thought he might be someone called the fear dorcha, the 'dark man' of Irish legend. He supposedly kidnaps women and takes them to the Netherworld, and he works for the dark fairy queen."
A knot formed in my stomach. "Aoife?"
He shrugged. "It's possible." His shoulders slumped. "I still can't believe what happened that night. It's killing me that we don't know what happened to Mom and Dad."
Dealing with my own fears on the subject was bad enough. Seeing Conall teary-eyed was torture. Dropping his sketch on the couch, I hugged him with all the love surging in my heart. So often, he seemed more like my son than a brother.
"It'll be all right," I said, though I doubted my own words. "We'll make it through this, and we'll find Mom and Dad." I released him and sat back.
He wiped his eyes, sniffled, and handed me the drawing. "Here. You keep it."
I smiled. "Thanks. You did a beautiful job, as always. I guess Branna has seen you working on it?"
"Yes." He hesitated. "About her ... can I talk to you? I mean, if Mom were here, I'd talk to her, but she's not, so ..."
"I like her, Ashling."
"No, I mean I really like her. I think I might love her."
My heart twisted. "Go on."
He groaned. "You know I suck at social stuff. I just don't get it. That's why family's so important to me. You understand and love me for who I am. But I think Branna understands me too. I never thought I'd find that outside our family." He heaved a sigh, and it was laced with yearning. "Should I tell her how I feel?"
"That's up to you."
"But I don't know what to do. It could ruin everything between us."
"If you're that worried about it, hold off. Wait until your need to tell her is stronger than your fear. In the meantime, just enjoy being friends."
He grinned, and his relief was palpable. "Thanks, Ashling."
"Sure. I'm always here if you need me."
"She is the cauldron, after all." Hugh Breasal's deep voice filled the room.
I turned as he approached us. At the same time, I grabbed Conall's sketch and folded it in half to hide the picture. I wasn't sure how he'd react to my kissing his son. And there was no sense in troubling him with an image of Lorcan.
But it was more than that, and I knew it. The unmistakable heat of guilt flooded through me. How could I ever explain — or understand myself — an attraction for two guys at once?
Hugh's silver-gray hair looked perfect as always, and his blue eyes were so like his son's. "What brings you two here at this hour?"
"Couldn't sleep." Conall stood and met my gaze. "I think I'm ready to try again, though. Thanks, Ashling." He glanced at Hugh. "Good night."
"Sleep well, my boy." As Conall plodded off, Hugh cast an eye over the long table in the center of the room, over which Mom had scattered her notes and a multitude of books. All remained right where she'd put it.
He turned back to me. "Still no manuscript, I see."
I shook my head. "Did you expect it to magically reappear?"
"It wouldn't be the first time that happened."
My eyes widened. "Seriously?"
He nodded, then his brow furrowed as he regarded the nearest window.
I followed his gaze. Nothing there but glass panes darkened by night, at least as far as I could see. "Hugh, do you really think Aoife has it?"
"I hope not." His attention stayed riveted on the window.
"Why is it so important?"
He shifted his gaze to me. For a long moment, he stared in silence. "You'll know when the time is right. For now, focus on helping your siblings develop their powers. Has Deirdre received another premonition?"
"She will. A banshee can't stay silent for long."
* * *
Hugh was right. The moment arrived on the first of December, as he, Brigit, my siblings, and I feasted on another of Sheila the cook's masterworks in the elegant dining room. Rain and wind lashed the tall windows behind me, and I relished the clamor as much as the beef bourguignon.
Until a faraway look came over Deirdre.
I swallowed a mouthful of food, then shifted into the Otherworld, where a perfect calm instantly replaced the raging storm of the physical world. Just as I suspected, the ruis ogham on my sister's neck glowed with a blue-white light. Satisfied, I returned to 3D and the noise of nature's fury.
From across the mahogany table, Kian gave me a quizzical look. "Where did you disappear to?"
I pointed to Deirdre. "I think she's having a premonition."
Conall raised his eyebrows. "A Stone of Destiny one?"
"Yeah. The symbol on her neck was glowing like crazy."
All at once, Deirdre snapped out of the trance. Her gaze darted around the dining room, before settling on Hugh, who sat at the head of the table. "I just saw an old man's face. His name is Joseph, and I think he's gonna die soon."
Kian gave her a dubious look. "Are you sure?"
She made a face. "Well, as sure as you can be about something so weird."
"Man!" He huffed and turned to his twin. "I wish we had our powers now."
Conall rolled his eyes. "What are you complaining about? You'll get yours before I do."
Lifting his napkin to his mouth, Hugh cleared his throat. His plate was almost empty. "You can't have it all ways. Your powers will ripen when the time is right. Even Deirdre must wait until the winter solstice to use hers fully."
Brigit's knife and fork plunked onto her plate, and she threw her long red hair over her shoulder. "Dierdre, did you sense an action is required?"
My sister's gaze dropped to her half-eaten dinner. "Yeah, but I'm hungry."
Hugh sat forward. "Your food will wait. You'd want to follow your intuition."
She sighed. "Then I guess I should go to the guy's house."
Brigit exchanged a meaningful glance with Hugh, then looked from me to Deirdre. "Right. We'll go now. I'm sure if you focus on the man's energy —"
"His energy?" Deirdre's brow crinkled.
"His face, then," Brigit said. "Do that, and you'll travel to the right place." She glanced my way. "If Ashling and I hold your hands, we'll go along with you." She turned to Hugh. "I'll handle this, Father. I'll tell you all when we return."
He gave her a nod. "See that you do."
Pushing my chair back, I stood and hurried around the table. I grabbed Deirdre's right hand, and Brigit took her left. Together, we shifted into the Otherworld, where soft twilight reigned.
Brigit gave Deirdre a nod. "Right. Envision Joseph's face and focus on going to him."
"Okay. I'll try."
The next instant, we stood in a small bedroom. An elderly man lay withered and pale in an iron bed. A number of people — presumably relatives — crowded around him.
"I did it!" Deirdre's elation lasted all of two seconds. Then she went rigid, and her eyes glazed over.
Brigit watched her closely. "I'll warrant she's seeing the moment of his death."
Ten seconds later, life returned to Deirdre's eyes. Her lower lip trembled, and wrinkles spread across her forehead. "I saw him die." She observed those gathered around the bed. "I felt their grief. I still feel it. It's horrible ... and getting worse every second. God, I can't stand it! It's like my heart's gonna burst out of my chest, and my throat ..."
Compassion ruled Brigit's elegant features. "Let it go, Deirdre. That's why you're here."
"I'll scare these poor people to death."
"They'll hear your cry as from a distance, not at full volume as we will."
Wide-eyed, my sister turned to me. "But ... I can't. I've gotta hold it back, or else I'll feel everything they do in one big ... damn it all to hell! I don't want this." She shut her eyes and shook her head. "I'm not strong enough."
I squeezed her hand. "Yes, you are. Look at me!" She obeyed. Anguish swam in the depths of her brown eyes.
I infused my voice with as much authority as I could summon. "You were born to do this, and you're one of the strongest people I know. Don't think. Don't wait. Just scream."
Frantically, she nodded. Her grip on my hand strengthened. The ogham on her neck glowed brighter. Then she opened her mouth and unleashed a scream that shook the air around us. It seemed to penetrate every molecule of my body.
At last, she fell silent. Her head and shoulders slumped with obvious relief.
A murmur rose among Joseph's relations. They looked around the bedroom and at one another.
A middle-aged woman opened a window and peered outside. "Did ye hear that?"
Several of those gathered nodded.
"Sure, I heard it."
"Was it the wind? Or a banshee?"
A sandy-haired boy, no more than five, looked right at me, then at Brigit and finally Deirdre. "It was your one there."
The woman at the window turned to him. "Ah, Michael. What are you on about?"
The boy frowned. "Don't you see them?"
He raised his tiny arm and pointed to us. "The three ladies in the corner."CHAPTER 2
Little Michael's gaze was glued to Deirdre, who'd assumed a deer-in-the-headlights expression. All eyes in the room shifted toward our location. Would they see us?
Brigit gave me a soulful look. "Time to go. I'll choose the location."
A second later, we were back at Breasal Manor, standing in my favorite room of the house, the library. Brigit and I released Deirdre's hands, and we all returned to 3D.
My sister frowned. "I thought we'd go back to eating."
Brigit shrugged. "I sensed my father was here. Look."
Lounging in a leather chair beside the massive fireplace, Hugh closed his book and regarded us. "Well?"
Deirdre and I sank onto the couch. The warmth of the crackling fire, the oak paneling, and a legion of books welcomed us home.
Brigit beamed as she claimed the chair next to us. "It was brilliant."
Deirdre snorted. "I don't know about that, but I did my best."
I smiled at her. "Everyone in the room heard your scream." I turned to Hugh. "And a little boy actually saw us."(Continues…)
Excerpted from "The Stone Awakened"
Copyright © 2018 Judith Sterling.
Excerpted by permission of The Wild Rose Press, Inc..
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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