September 25, 2007
Barnes & Noble
Read an Excerpt
Listen to the Behind-the-Scenes Podcast
A modern woman and a god from ancient legend? Surely an epic love mismatch…or maybe it’s the “myth match” of the century? The irrepressible Katie MacAlister brings us heroes who are more than mere mortals in two sparkling new novellas of the Otherworld.
Dane Hearneâalso known as the Irish fertility god Cernunnosâmust choose a bride quickly. His long-time goddess has run off with a salsa dancer, and Dane must be married by Beltane, just a week away, or become a mortalâand die. When he meets American travel writer Megan St. Clair, he knows he’s found his soul mate. But while Dane is a sexy Irish hunk with his fair share of blarney, can he convince Megan to marry him in just one week?
Alrik Sigurdsson is cursed to sail his Viking ship along the same stretch of Scandinavian coastline forever. So when lovely American Brynna Lund skids her car off the road into the ocean, he and his men are happy for the diversion of rescuing her. Then Alrik discovers that Brynna is the only woman who can break the curse. Is it any wonder that he’s determined to keep her…forever?
Large Print Hardcover
Thorndike Press (Mar 5, 2008)
âMy lord, do you not thinkâŠâ
âEh? Whatâs that? Speak up, Stewart, youâre positively babbling.â
Stewart the steward (we have many a good laugh over that) looked pointedly at the stone statue in front of me. âMy lordââ
I held up my free hand. âPlease, not you too. Itâs bad enough having âMost gracious lord thisâ and âOh worshipful lord thatâ coming from the druids, but youâve known me forâŠphew, how many years now? Three hundred? Four?â
âFive hundred and twelve,â the little man answered, wincing as I scratched my belly and heaved a sigh of relief. âIâve always called you my lord. If not that, what do you wish me to call you?â
âDidnât we go through this last year? Itâs Hearne. Dane Hearne. Know it, use it, love it.â
âAye, myâŠMr. Hearne. ButâŠehâŠis that not a bit sacrilegious?â
âMy name? Not in the least. Itâs the name I was born with, in case you didnât know. WellâŠin a manner of speaking. People didnât much go in for surnames back then, but thatâs what it would have been if they had. Nowadays, people hardly ever use my proper name. I almost forgot what it was myself until a few months ago when I ran across an interesting online article about me.â
âNo, not your name. ErâŠthat.â He nodded to the statue in front of us.
I looked with dissatisfaction at it. âSacrilegious because the artist depicted Taranis as standing astride the world in a position of power when we know him to be a cowardly little wimp, you mean?â
Stewart closed his eyes a moment. âNo, my loâsir. I meant the fact that youâre urinating on it. Taranis is, after all, your overlord, head of all the Irish gods.â
âOn the contrary, I find it remarkably stress-relieving. It expresses my true inner feelings about that bastard,â I answered, punctuating the word I had been writing on the statue with an exclamation point before zipping up. I stretched and glanced around the yard. âSo, whatâs been happening while Iâve been gone? Buildings look good. I see youâve had the verge mown. The druids seem to be multiplying, though. Did you speak to them as I asked? And why the blazes did Taranis wait until now to have me summoned?â
Stewart was a short man. Proud, and of noble birthâif on the wrong side of the blanketâbut still lacking in the general region of height. He trotted alongside me as I strolled around the grounds, eyeing the large square tower that made up one of two inhabitable parts of the castle. The tower looked as solid as ever. There was a hint of moss growing on the north side, but other than that, it looked good. Remarkable, really, considering it was older than Stewart.
âErâŠI have no idea. I was told there was a delay. As for the druids, I tried, Mr. Hearne.â
âDane. Surely after all those long centuries of employment you can call me Dane?â
His little round face looked vaguely shocked. âI couldnât do that, sir. It wouldnât be fitting. You are, after all, Cernunnos.â
âStewart, Stewart, still living in the twelfth century.â I shook my head as I strode past the carriage house where the druids were housed, counting no fewer than three new faces in the group that was dancing around a willow tree.
âI was born in the sixteenth, sirââ
âDoesnât matter.â I waved a hand at the splotches of yellow that cascaded over the crumbled stones that made up the ruined part of the castle. âThose yellow blobs there, those flowers. Just look at them!â
We marched past the flower-splattered mossy ruins, following the narrow trail down to the rocky beach that dropped abruptly into the sea. âWhatever they are, theyâre positively bursting with life force! Itâs spring, man, the time of birth and rejuvenation and life! The time to celebrate being alive, not fussing around with archaic ideas and outmoded methods of speech. Live in the here and now, thatâs my motto, and itâs never let me down. Whereâs Fidencia?â
âErâŠsheâs not here, sir.â Stewart skidded down the last of the path, and kept from falling by clutching the root of an uprooted tree which had washed ashore a few year ago.
I hopped over the tree and walked to the waterâs edge, breathing deeply of the fresh salt air. My position may be tied to shady woodland areas found inland, but it was the sea I loved best. The relentless roar of the waves, the sharp tang of salty air, the piercing cry of gulls and terns they etched great arcs into the skyâah, yes, it was the sea that I returned to each time I was born, and it was the loss of the sea I mourned each winter when I died.
The sea air brushed away a few of the mental cobwebs that always remained after rebirth. I turned from the view of my beloved sea to glance back at Stewart. He was looking distinctly uncomfortable, shifting restlessly from foot to foot. âWhatâs the matter with you?â I asked, feeling a momentary spike of concern. Stewart had been with me so many centuries, I couldnât imagine how I would cope without him. Had someone wooed him away from my employment while I was gone?
âItâs Lady Fidencia.â
âWhat about her? Donât tell me that sheâs broken that thing we started a couple of years agoâŠwhat was itâŠâ
âA credit limit?â
âDonât tell me she blasted through that credit limit and bankrupted me again? I distinctly remember you telling me she couldnât do that any more.â
âNo, sir, she has not exceeded the limit you put on her credit cardâat least I donât believe she has, I havenât seen the statements for this month yetâitâs something of a different nature that I believe will interest you.â
I turned back to the sea, allowing its ebb and flow to soak into my soul. âI sincerely doubt that. Fidencia is so caught up in herself, she never had time for anyone else, let alone her lord and master. Whatâs she done now? Started another artistâs colony? Gone to those monks in Nepal to learn meditation again? Decided to breed more pygmy goats?â
âAlas, she hasnât, sir. SheâsâŠerâŠâ
âSpit it out, man,â I told him, not taking my eyes from the breathtaking expanse before me. It amused me to try to find the point on the horizon where the steel grey of the sea merged into the grey of the sky.
âSheâs gone to South America, married another god who is now a Brazilian salsa dancer, and is going to be expecting a happy event sometime in the near future,â he said, the words coming out in a rush.
My blood seemed to turn to fire in my veins. I turned slowly to look at the steward. He had backed away a few steps, a wary look in his eye as if he was about to bolt. âShe what?â
He jerked at the bellow, the birds above us scattering with harsh cries of protest. I was on him in two steps, the blood pounding so loudly in my ears it blocked the sound of the sea. The pressure in my head built until it burst forth, another roar of anger sounding against the crash of the waves. âShe married someone? She canât marry someone, sheâs supposed to marry me in a week! Sheâs gone and impregnated herself with some other manâs child? She canât do that! I forbid her to be pregnant! I forbid her to be married!â
âYouâreâŠstrangling meâŠsirâŠâ Stewartâs raspy voice pierced the roar in my ears. My eyes focused on his face, red and blotchy as I held him by his neck a good two feet off the ground.
âBlast! My apologies, Stewart.â I set him down carefully, straightening his tie and jacket, and watching him closely to make sure he wasnât going to swoon. âYou all right?â
âYes, sir,â he squeaked, tugging at his tie. He eyed my forehead with a look of great caution. âYou seem to be manifesting. Shall I fetch the swords?â
I waved away the offer. âNo, no, thereâs no need for me to work off anger through fencing anymore. There was a new yoga instructor in my department. I spent the entire time I was dead working on anger management skills. Just let me get control again, and then you can tell me what the hell Fidencia is up to now.â
Stewart looked away as I turned back to the sea, driving all thoughts from my mind but the calming rhythm of the waves. A few minutes later, I was myself again, and tapped him on the shoulder before starting back toward the tower. âI think this is going to require a drink.â
âSeveral, I would imagine.â
âTake it from the beginning,â I said a few minutes later as we walked into the room at the top of the tower that served as my study. I poured brandy into a couple of glasses, sliding one toward him before moving to the window overlooking the rocky beach. The uneven stone surface that made up the entire tower was cool to the touchâit always was, no matter how hot the day. I gripped the stone windowsill, my eyes on the grey sea below.
âIt was just after you left for the Underworld that she called from Rio de Janeiro. She said that she had fallen in love with Dionysus.â
âDionysus?â The named seemed familiar, but I couldnât quite place it.
âBetter known as Bacchus, sir. Lord of wine and celebration. Evidently Dionysus joined an alcoholic twelve-step program, has gone on the wagon, and become a salsa dancer at a hotel, which is where Lady Fidencia met him. She called soon after you died to say that she was in love, was going to marry him, and stay in Rio to live la vida loca.â
I cast a frown over my shoulder at him. âSheâs living what?â
He made a little gesture that had his brandy splashing in his glass. âLa vida loca. I looked it up on the Internet. Evidently itâs from a popular song. It means living the crazy life.â
âLife here wasnât crazy enough for her?â I asked, turning to gesture with my glass of brandy, indignant at the thought that she felt the life I offered was lacking in any way. âShe doesnât think being surrounded by neo-druids for half the year, and hyperactive fitness instructors and televangelists for the other half isnât crazy? Sheâd have to be insane not to find that crazy!â
Stewart shrugged, and sipped his brandy.
âThis isnât good.â I jerked out the chair from behind my desk and slumped into it, not even the thought of the sea calming my jangled nerves. âBeltane is a week away. You know what that meansâTaranis will be positively chomping at the bit to get a replacement for me in here. Well, Iâm not going to let that happen. Get Fidencia on the phone. Maybe this is some sort of ploy to get her credit limit raised.â
Stewart rose immediately to do as I requested, but the look on his face had me worried.
He moved to the desk in the alcove that used to be a fireplace, but which now made up his office space. The tower walls were several feet thick, made of local stone quarried not a few miles from the castle, the building of which took seemed like a good idea at the time. I looked around my study, wishing Iâd had the good sense in the thirteenth century to panel the walls with wood, instead of taking the advice of the resident castle-builder. Although the tower was the only original part of the castle to remain standingâthe carriage house had been added several centuries laterâit always had a slightly damp feel to the stones, as if they leeched the constant spray of water that beset the outer walls.
âSomeone is going to fetch her,â Stewart said from his alcove, his hand over the mouth of the telephone.
I grunted a response, and turned on the laptop that sat on my desk, sullenly prodding a couple of buttons until the current weekâs schedule was displayed. âThis is just what I need the second Iâm rebornâa faithless consort, possible dispossession, and oh, joy of joys, whatâs this? Tourists? We donât open the castle for bookings until June. Why does it say that weâre booked for ten days starting tomorrow?â
âSim, sim, Senhora Fidencia, por favor.â Stewart covered the mouthpiece again. âI was going to tell you about that. We had an offer I didnât think you would want to refuse from one of those American travel websites. Theyâre running some sort of international contest for their top travel writers, and they needed several historical sites to serve as subject matter. You should be flattered they chose Bannon Castleâthey skipped several others in the county. Besides, theyâll only be here for ten days, and the money is quite good. You said before you went underground that the roof needed repair, and you didnât know where you were going to find the money for itâI thought this was a blessing in disguise.â
I frowned and waved away his idea of a blessing. âBut they will be here before Beltane! You know how disturbing I find touristsâalways getting underfoot, asking questions, wanting their pictures taken with me, coveting my manly body, that sort of thing. Thatâs why Fidencia and I go away during the summer, so we wonât be bothered by them. How many rooms are they taking?â
âJust two. Thereâs a writer who has been assigned the castle and surrounding area, a cameraman to film her, and a sound engineer. Evidently the last two are a couple. I thought we could put them in the carriage house, and let the writer have the Tutor Room for the atmosphere. Sim? Ah. Obrigato.â
âAnd just how are we going to explain about the druids?â I asked, exiting the schedule program with a sour expression. I disliked having my well-laid plans put awry, and now I was facing what seemed insurmountable upheaval. âThe celebration is coming up, and you know how they getâeverythingâs a sacrifice or a ceremony, most of them conducted with no clothing on, and many involving sexual congress of some sort or another. Debauchery and pagan ceremonies is hardly how I want Bannon Castle depicted to the world at large.â
âIâll talk to Elfwine and tell her to keep a low profileâgood morning, Lady Fidencia. I have his lordship waiting to speak to you.â Stewart paused for a moment, a faint blush brightening his cheeks.
Silently, I picked up the phone on my desk and leaned back in the chair, unable to keep the smile from forming as Stewart was forced to listen to Fidenciaâs recital of intimate woes stemming from her pregnancy. I let her go on for a bit, but took pity on him when she got to the part about bathroom difficulties. âWhat sort of game are you playing now?â I asked, interrupting her. âYou picked a hell of a bad time to do it, whatever it is. I need you back here immediately. Beltane is just a week away. We have to be married by then, as you well know.â
âNoony, darling!â Fidencia positively cooed into the phone. âWhat a delight it is to hear your forceful, one might almost say grating, voice again. How was the Underworld? Still filled with usurers and adulterers?â
I scowled at the photo on my desk, that of a long-limbed, dark-haired, sultry goddess poised seductively on a white fur rug. Noony. I hated that absurd nickname, which was no doubt why she used it. âThere havenât be usurers since the investment advisors fed them to the sharks, and as for adulterers, those who live in glass houses, my dear.â
Her laughter tinkled in a way that once, for the three years I had been unaccountably smitten with her, delighted me, but now just made my teeth itch. My jaw tightened in response, causing my teeth to grind. âDarling Noony! One canât adulterate someone who isnât oneâs legal spouse. You died. Therefore, I was a widow and free to remarry as I liked.â
âItâs a symbolic death, as you very well know, or you would know if youâd ever gone into the Underworld with me, as you were meant to do.â
âOnce was enough,â she answered quickly, the shudder evident in her voice. âIâve moved on since then. While you were moldering away in the Underworld, I was falling madly, wonderfully, totally and completely in love with Dion. He asked me to marry him the very first night we metâat a Samba contest, which naturally we wonâand I just knew that he could offer me everything you couldnât. It was kismet, darling, kismet.â
I ground my teeth some more, just for the hell of it. âYou have no right to marry someone else. You agreed to the rules of the job, even if youâve disregarded most of them. But you canât just brush aside the fact that in a weekâs time, we are to be married. Iâm willing to overlook this indiscretion just as Iâve overlooked all the other ones, but I wonât have you jeopardizing my job simply because youâve had it off with some Latin boy toy.â
âHeâs Greek, actually, dear heart, but I wouldnât expect you to know that. Dion gave up his licentious past, and has devoted himself heart and soul to salsa. And me, naturally. I can assure you that Dion is anything but a boy,â she purred. âAnd as for your jobâI am sorry, darling, but Iâve decided to quit. Iâve found my true mĂ©tier in lifeâto be a wife and motherâand nothing you can say or do will change my mind.â
âYou canât do this to me!â I yelled, ignoring the pressure in my forehead. âYou know that Taranis has been breathing down my back for the last two hundred years! The instant he knows youâve married someone else, heâll take everything away from me and hand it to one of his minions!â
âIâm truly sorry, darling, but my mind is quite made up. There is nothing in the laws that say I have to be your wifeâyouâll simply have to find someone else to marry you at Beltane.â
A few more layers of enamel were ground off at that thought. âYou canât seriously expect me to find, court, and marry a woman in a week?â
âThere was a time, once, many centuries in the past, when you had something approaching charm,â she said thoughtfully. âI suggest you dust that off and use it. OtherwiseâŠitâs been nice knowing you.â
The call continued in that vein for another agonizing fifteen minutes. I tried every argument I could to make her see reason, but she always was an unreasonable woman, and nothing had changed that.
âHellfire!â I swore, slamming down the phone. A second later I took great pleasure in jamming her photo into the trash, followed by a great many invectives.
âI take it the call did not proceed in a satisfactory manner?â
âNo.â I stormed around the room for a moment, cursing Fidencia, cursing women in general, cursing the situation I found myself in. âAfter eleven hundred years, she suddenly decides I donât offer her enough scope. Scope! What the hell does that mean, anyway?â
âI believe, sir, it means she feels her life is going nowhere, that marriage with you is stiflingââ
One glare was enough to cut him off and leave him mumbling an apology.
âAs if anyone could stifle her. Sheâs the most unreasonable woman in existence, and I rue the day I ever saved her wretched neck by pulling her out of the sea before she drown. The little witch has me by the balls good and proper. Well, Iâll just show her who is lacking in scope! There is no way in this world or the next I will give up my job to one of Taranisâs lackeys. Stewart! Round up every marriageable female you know. Iâm going wife shopping!â