Click on image to enlarge.
eBook by PG Forte
eBook Category: Erotica/Erotic Fantasy/Romance
eBook Description: Nineteenth century Ireland. Blacksmith Gavin O'Malley is a bitter man, with a heart as hard as the iron he forges. He wants his life back--the one that was stolen from him the day his wife died in childbirth--taking their firstborn son with her. When Aislinn Deirbhile, an immortal, shape-shifting fae, arrives on his doorstep, he knows he's in luck. For Aislinn can give Gavin everything he's been missing: A devoted-seeming wife in the image of his beloved Mairead, and children who are sure to outlive their father. Now, all he has to do is find a way to keep her--without losing his immortal soul in the process. But Aislinn has an agenda of her own. On the run from a vengeful fae lord who's vowed to either make her his or end her existence, she knows the iron that allows Gavin to take her captive will also keep her pursuers at bay. In order to put herself permanently beyond her enemy's reach, however, Aislinn will need something more. She'll need to win Gavin's heart and convince him to willingly part with a piece of the very soul he's trying to save.
eBook Publisher: Atlantic Bridge/Liquid Silver Books, Published: 2009
Fictionwise Release Date: November 2009
* * * *
3 Reader Ratings:
County Clare, Ireland
Anno Domini, 1898
Gavin O'Malley was a blacksmith, as was his father and his father before him. His forge stood just outside the small seaside village of Killbanning. For three generations, there was not to be found, anywhere in the region, a horse that did not owe its shoes, nor a wagon its wheels to the O'Malleys. In fact, you'd have been hard pressed to find so much as a single nail anywhere in that part of the county that had not come from the Killbanning forge.
"'Tis honest work," Gavin would always say when asked about his craft and, being as he was a man of few words, he seldom said more.
A blacksmith's life is rarely a long one. Gavin's father and grandfather had both died from the black lung and he himself had long accepted an early death as part of his fate. There were those who said, rather, that it was something he wished for; though they didn't say it loudly or anywhere within his hearing as the smith had the muscles that went with his profession and a temper as hot as the fires he tended.
In his youth, he'd been of a far different temperament. He'd often laughed and more than often smiled and seldom it was, indeed, that you'd have found him without a song on his lips. But neither smile nor song had graced those lips in many a year, not since the love of his life, his wife Mairead, had died giving birth to their first child--a boy, who'd died along with her.
After a decent interval had passed, the old mothers of the village, having judged that the worst of the blacksmith's grief had likely subsided, decided he must surely be wanting to wed again. Then, many a pretty miss or a bright lass--even a handsome young widow or two--longing for a husband to care for and a hearth and home of their own to tend to, was trotted round to visit him. The hope being, of course, that one of them might catch his eye and a marriage result.
O'Malley showed no interest in any of them; and, as he seemed to grow more sullen and less cordial with each visit that was paid him, he was eventually given up as a hopeless cause and a confirmed bachelor and allowed to go his own way and peace be with him, the poor man.
But 'twas often said of him, ever afterwards, that when Gavin O'Malley had laid his young wife and child to rest in the churchyard that cold, winter's day, sure he must have laid his own heart in the ground right along with them.
It was just past midwinter, at the tail end of yet another cold, December day when Aislinn Deirbhile rode up from Killbanning. She halted her mount on the rutted, dirt track and surveyed the situation before her. O'Malley's forge, and the smith's cottage which was situated across the yard from it, stood all alone in a quiet hollow, just down the road from where Aislinn sat, steeped in thought. The horse on which she was riding, being of a breed perhaps more perceptive than most, was clearly as nervous as she at the prospect; he tossed his head and whinnied softly causing the silver bells on his harness to jingle.
"Milady," pleaded the small man who rode at Aislinn's side. "Will you not reconsider? Come away from this place--now, before it's too late. My people are still willing to offer you shelter, as we have done ere these months past, and ye have yet to come to any harm with us."
"Nay, Eoghan." Aislinn smiled sadly at her companion. Though slight in stature, quite dwarfed, in fact, by the tall, silver-white steed upon which he sat, the spriggan's courage was that of a giant. "You and your people are true friends indeed, but my enemy is at his strongest now. None can hope to stand against Annwn's full might." She turned her gaze back toward the small, stone buildings at the end of the lane and sighed. "If there is any shelter to be had against Winter, or if I've any hope of surviving the geasa that have been laid upon me, I must find them here."
"But, Lady," the little man implored, his distress evident in every line of his face. "How can there be any help for you here? A blacksmith. A worker in iron. The very ether is contaminated with its foul essence! Can you not smell it on the wind? Can you not almost taste it?"
"Oh, aye." Aislinn grinned in reply. "And can you not imagine the look it will put on Tiernan's face when first he tracks me here? How I wish I could see it!" But just thinking about Tiernan ap Annwn, her would-be husband--nay, her would-be jailer--wiped the smile from her lips in a hurry. She urged her horse forward. "Come. Let us make haste. Night is upon us."
As they picked their way between the rocks and mud of the rutted boreen, Eoghan continued his litany of complaints. "Are ye still after putting your faith in that oracle you consulted this past Samhain? You canna be serous. You know as well as I that most of what occurs in the realm of the Fae is well outside the druid's ken."
"Indeed, my friend." Aislinn inclined her head. "But, as I am banished from the Realm 'til Summer's return, 'twas for information pertaining to this dimension that I sought out the Oracle of Death; as well as for advice on how I might best survive in this world."
"Sure and that Druid must have imbibed a cup too much of the nawglan," Eoghan said in tones of disgust. "To have bid you find shelter with a blacksmith."
Aislinn sighed. "Ah, my friend, can you not at least enjoy the irony with me? Is not the plan elegant in its subtlety? Sure and 'tis the last thing Tiernan will be expecting me to do; and once I am safe behind yon walls even you must admit I will be beyond his reach for as long as I choose to stay there."
"Aye, Lady." Eoghan's voice was grim. "And beyond the reach of any help such as I or mine might wish to offer you, as well. But why talk ye of choosing? Methinks you will not be safe once you are locked behind the walls of such a place. My Lord Tiernan is not the only one whose plans may be thwarted thus. That same iron you trust now to keep your too-ardent suitor out, may very well serve to keep you in."
"I'm not unmindful of the risk, Eoghan. But, think you, how much trouble is one mortal man likely to present me? In any case, I'm sure and I'd rather take my chances with one such as he than fall prey to Tiernan's tender mercies. I fear my actions these past months have not increased his lordship's affection for me."
Eoghan chuckled. "Nay. 'Tis not likely he took it well--all his great plans laid bare aforetime and himself made to look foolish before both courts. Have a care, Lady. Even an you make it past this winter, there is still likely to be a reckoning between ye."
"I know it," she said as she sighed again. "But, hush, my friend. No more talk now. Even in this desolate place, the Night may have ears."
The sound of their horses' hooves, clattering against the cobbles, echoed loudly on the still, evening air as they entered the smith's yard. Light spilled out onto the stones when the cottage door swung open and a man appeared in the doorway. Even with his face in shadow, Aislinn's sight was such she could still detect the frown on his visage as he looked them over. His gaze swept her with barely a pause, seemed hardly to touch at all on Eoghan, who had cloaked his true form, and lingered longest on the horses.
He was an exceedingly well formed man, she observed; eyeing him back with interest for, after all, this was the man, or so the druid insisted, on whom her safety--nay, her very life--might well depend. She estimated his age at about three dozen summers, maybe a couple less. He stood well over six foot; strong and fit and fairly muscled, with hair dark as a raven's wing and thick, straight brows which almost met above an equally straight nose. Several days' worth of stubble darkened his cheeks and softened the angles of his jaw. She thought his face would have been quite pleasing, overall, were it not for the scowl that sat too comfortably upon his features, as though it had found a permanent home there.
"Well, then?" he asked, at last, and something about the deep timbre of his voice caused a shiver to run down Aislinn's spine. "And what would you two be wanting?"
"Is it Mr. O'Malley to whom I'm speaking?" she inquired, still trying to determine, in the failing light, whether his eyes were as deep a blue as she suspected. "Mr. Gavin O'Malley? The blacksmith?"
"Aye. 'Tis my name," he said. "Might I know yours?"
"Milady," Eoghan whispered urgently as Aislinn threw him her reins and slid to the ground. "Have a care!"
"It is well," she replied, amused by the spriggan's concern. Did he think her so far gone in her fear as to forget herself and make a present of her name to the whole outdoors? Still shaking her head at his foolishness, she turned toward the mortal and smiled. "My name need not concern you, for now, sir smith. But, lo, the day grows late. Will you not invite me indoors that we might discuss our business in greater comfort?"
The smith folded his arms across his broad chest. "If we have any business to discuss, you and I, sure and we can do it here. But, as you say, 'tis late, and I am past wanting my supper. So, if your business has aught to do with shoeing your horses, you'd best come back on the morrow. For they're decent looking creatures and 'tis not a job I'd wish to hurry."
At this, Eoghan uttered a muffled oath and the two coomlaen stamped restlessly. It was all Aislinn could do to keep from laughing at the suggestion. "Nay, it has naught to do with that." She took a step closer, subtly altering her appearance, as she did. "But, are you so cruel hearted, then, you'd deny a lady the chance to warm herself at your hearth this bitter eve?"
The blacksmith's eyes widened as he looked her over once again. "By the saints," he said, his voice suddenly thick with concern. "Are you addled, lass? To be dressed as you are, and out on a night like this? Sure and it's a wonder you've not caught your death already."
"Might I not come in then?" she inquired again.
He nodded, still frowning. "Aye, to be sure. In with ye. Quick now, before your very feet freeze to the stones."
Eoghan heaved a worried sigh as Aislinn flashed him one last glance. "Slan agat," he whispered for her ears alone. "Farewell, Milady. And may your trip succeed with ye."
"Slan leat, my friend," she replied just as softly, lifting her hand in farewell. "And the same to you. Go raibh mile maith agat." May you have a thousand good things. Then she turned her smile once again on the bemused blacksmith and took his arm and, together, they entered the cottage.
What madness is this? Gavin wondered, shaking his head like a man trying to awaken himself from a dream. Am I possessed, then? Or fallen into a dream?
It might well be a dream, he thought, given the woman's appearance, for she was like none he'd ever seen in waking life. Tall and slim, she wore a filmy green gown that well displayed her narrow waist and ample breasts but was far more suitable for a summer's day than the depths of winter. She had waves of bright hair that rippled down her back, eyes like a gray mist, and a voice whose spell you'd be glad to fall under, time and again. As for the rest of her--no, he'd not think on that.
He watched, bemused, as the creature boldly made herself at home in his cottage, tossing off the light cloak that was all she'd worn against the cold; going directly to his hearth and seating herself there beside his fire. She moved with confidence and grace and, indeed, there was such an air of nobility about her he was surprised when she chose the low sugan chair with its slatted back and seat of woven rope. He'd half expected her to claim the padded, wooden armchair for herself for it was larger and more comfortable looking, its leather coverings secured in place with rows of nails he'd fashioned himself.
"So, what is this business--?" he'd started to ask when a clatter of hooves on the stones outside reclaimed his attention. He turned in time to see the lady's companion riding out past his gate, with her horse tied behind. Starlight shimmered on the horses' white flanks, and the bells on their harnesses jingled softly as they jogged along.
"Hi," Gavin called out to the man, though it seemed a great effort to speak at all. "Where the devil are you going then? Hi! Hi! Come back here."
The rider made him no answer, but the look he gave, turning briefly in his saddle to gaze sternly over his shoulder at the smith, was chill and unearthly and Gavin felt his blood run cold. The rider's eyes were pale, his face even paler, and his long, white hair outshone the moon. Gavin found himself suddenly speechless, marveling that he had not remarked the man's strange appearance before; and he was reminded, all at once, of a daydream he'd had as a boy, whilst out walking in the woods one evening. Just such horses and riders he'd thought he'd seen then, through the shadows and the mist and the twilight; and though his father had pronounced it nonsense, his mother and grandmother had been sore troubled by his story.
Now, he stood in the doorway struck dumb by the sight, leaning out into his yard with one hand on the door and the other on the lintel, quite unable to gather the pieces of his thoughts together, 'til the woman at his hearth called out, "Hurry, now. Come inside and latch the door before the Night crowds in on us."
Barely aware of what he was about, Gavin stepped back into the cottage and closed the door behind him. The heavy clank of the latch as it dropped into place seemed to clear his head a little, but the green-clad woman shuddered at the sound.
"The windows too," she urged impatiently, rubbing her hands up and down her arms as though she'd only now realized she was cold. "Lock them. Hurry."
Gavin frowned. "I'll thank ye to leave me the task of deciding for myself how my own household is to be run," he replied, much annoyed, for he was not used to being ordered about in his own home. "As it happens, the windows have already been latched. Now, as to this business--"
"Truly? All of them? With iron locks and iron hinges?"
"Aye, iron, what else would they be made of, woman? What would you be expecting to find in a blacksmith's house, then--tin?"
At that, the woman laughed; a sound as soft as a summer breeze lofting through green branches and just as sure to lift the hearts of those that heard it. Gavin had to shake himself awake again. "Ah, no," she said, smiling at him. "The tinker's art would in no wise serve me tonight. But this..." She looked around her, seemingly pleased. "Four walls with iron bound. This will do quite nicely." She nodded at the hearth. "Now, you, sir, have a care, for I judge your supper is just about burnt."
"Ah, the devil," Gavin cursed as he rushed forward immediately to pull his bacon from the fire before the rashers were ruined. The rest of the meal he'd removed from the heat before he'd gone to the door so that all of it was ready now to eat; though most of it was colder than he'd have liked and the rest of it was overdone. He frowned at the woman who was the cause of all his troubles tonight and grudgingly asked, "I don't suppose you'd be wanting some, now would ya?"
"Aye, I would indeed," she said getting up at once and seating herself at his table. "And I thank you most kindly for the hospitality."
Gavin stared after her, caught between annoyance, displeasure and surprise, and thought seriously about telling her there was not enough to share. But, he couldn't do it. Giving up, he went and took down his seldom used second set of dishes and placed them on the table before her. He apportioned out the food between them, poured out two cups of tea and then sat himself across from her, frowning at his half-empty plate. In truth, there was not enough to share. He'd not thought he'd be feeding two when he'd started cooking and he was feeling hard put upon now, forced to make do with half of what he'd planned to eat.
"So, if it's not shoes for your horses, what business is it that brings you here?" he asked at last, as he shoveled food into his mouth. "And what is it I'm to call you, then? For I must call ye something."
She gazed at him a moment before answering, as though determining what to say. "I am called Aislinn Deirbhile and that's a name you might use for me, if you wish. I've come here seeking shelter."
So, it is a dream then, Gavin mused, 'dream' being the literal meaning of her given name. Then the rest of her statement caught his ear. Putting down his fork, he stared at her perplexed. "Shelter, is it? For what?"
"Why, for myself, of course." An amused smile glimmered on her lips. "And thank you most kindly once again, for I'm feeling quite comfortable here already."
"You can save your thanks for him as will earn it," Gavin advised her as he went back to his meal. "'Twill not be me, for 'tis not an inn I'm running"
"No," she agreed as she glanced around. "'Tis surely not that. But, in truth, an inn would not suit me half as well."
"And your staying here does not suit me at all," he replied. "So, whether you will or no, you'll have to seek your shelter elsewhere. As soon as your man returns from wherever it is he's gone, I'll be turning the two of you out."
"Very well," she murmured, acquiescing so readily that Gavin felt immediately suspicious. "'Til Eoghan comes back then. And you'll swear you'll not make me go beforehand?"
He frowned. "He is just down in the village, is he not, perhaps keeping himself warm while he gives us time to conclude our business?"
Aislinn's eyes gleamed when she raised them to meet his and the look on her face was like that of a cat playing with a mouse. "He will journey much farther than that tonight."
"But, he'll be back for you soon, will he not?" Gavin prodded. "Very shortly?"
"Shortly? Oh, aye. As he reckons it, he and I may hope to see each other very shortly indeed."
"Within the hour?"
At that, her mouth pursed into a reluctant moue. "Nay. He will not return here quite as soon as that. Nor anytime this evening."
Gavin stared at her in confusion. "What is it you're saying, then? Sure and you're not telling me he's off and left ye?" he asked, bringing his fist down hard on the table when she nodded. "Bloody hell, woman, what are ye about? I've no patience with your games and I tell you plain, I'll not have ye staying here tonight!"
"'Tis no game," said she, sighing grimly, the playful gleam dying out of her eyes. "And, I assure you, had I any other choice, I would not be imposing upon your kindness in this fashion. But, come now, surely you're too much of a gentleman to cast me out into the cold. There must be some way to persuade you?"
"None that I can think of." Crossing his arms, Gavin glared at her. First his supper disturbed and now this. The woman was surely daft. Too much a gentleman, was he now? Bah. If he thought it would do any good he'd attempt to scare her out of that notion and maybe convince her she'd best leave on her own. But he didn't want to be responsible for whatever misfortune might befall the creature if he chased her off into the night, ill-equipped as she was for the cold.
As it was, he supposed, he would have to harness up his jennet and drive her around to his neighbors himself, going door to door until he found one with a room to spare. It would be something of a rarity at this time of year when all the folk as what could would be coming back home for the holidays.
"Have you no wish for riches, then?" she asked with a cunning smile. "Or the promise of a long life?"
Gavin snorted. "And how is it you're in a position to offer me either one? Nay. Even if you could keep such a promise I'd refuse it, for I've life and money enough for my needs. But if you've the gold to pay for a room, why offer it to me? I've yet to meet the innkeeper who would turn away a paying customer."
"Have I not told you already? I've no wish to go to an inn. But if neither gold nor long life interest ye, sure and there must be another form of payment 'twould better suit?" Her smile turned sly as she added, "Or are you that rarest of creatures--a truly happy man, with no wants or needs to speak of? If that be so, you're the first such I've ever met."
"Happy?" Gavin spoke the word as if it were one he'd heard so long ago he barely remembered its meaning, which was not so far from the truth of it. He shook his head. "Nay, though my wants and needs are few, I'd not call myself a happy man."
"Well, then, whatever it is you're craving, name it and if it's aught I have to offer, it will be yours."
Gavin stared at her, dumbstruck. He wondered if she'd any idea how her words sounded to him, or how another man might choose to interpret them. "And what have ye got, lass, that you'd be willing to offer in trade?" he asked, mockingly. "Or is it yourself you're offerin'?"
To his surprise, Aislinn's lips curved upward in a craven smile. "Och, is that what you're wanting, then? Why didn't you say so sooner and have done with it? Shall I share your bed tonight, sir smith, in exchange for the hospitality of your house? Is that a bargain you'd be willing to make with me?"
Her words caught Gavin off-guard--as did the heat that blazed in her eyes as her gaze swept over him. It's not that he wasn't tempted, indeed he was. His dick, which had been making a nuisance of itself since first he'd glimpsed her, sitting like a queen upon her fine, white steed, throbbed heavily now, as though demanding that he release it from his breeches so that it might bury itself between her legs.
Never before had a woman affected him so fiercely. And never before had one offered herself to him so freely, excepting upon his wedding night. But, thinking about that--about Mairead and all the suffering she'd endured because of him--damped his ardor right down. No. He'd no wish to go down that road ever again.
He shook his head. "Nay, I'll not make that bargain."
Aislinn's eyes widened. "And why will you not?" she asked, clearly affronted. "Do I not appeal to you then?" She glanced around the small room. "Or is it that you think so highly of your accommodations you do not count it a fair trade? Whichever the case, I assure you it can be redressed. And I can promise ye a night such as you'll not soon forget."
"I've no doubt," he said with an unpleasant smirk, for the conversation was not at all improving his mood. "But 'twould be a sin to indulge in such pleasures, in case ye don't know it. If ye care to imperil your own soul, that's your concern, but I've yet a hope of seeing Heaven when I die. And I've no wish to put that hope into jeopardy for the likes of ye."
If he thought to shame her with talk of sin, he was once again surprised. For upon hearing his words, she put back her head and roared with laughter. Gavin watched her, feeling even more sour and out-of-sorts, for his dick was once again clamoring for attention. Her laughter held all the sweet, wild beauty of a summer storm and seeing her thus had him wanting her now even more than before.
Nay, he told his rebellious part. Ye know what's always come of that. I'll take her round and get her settled elsewhere--let her be someone else's ticket into Hell. Sure and there must be someone in the parish who can better afford it than I.
But who? That was the question now, wasn't it?
"Ah, me," Aislinn sighed, wiping tears from her eyes. "It seems I am now even more in your debt, sir smith. For sure and I've not laughed so hard in months." She smiled at him again, her eyes twice as bright, her face rosy and flushed, her voice even more seductive. "So, a sin, am I? Sure and I've a mind to give ye a night such as I offered ye just to pay ye back for that bit of impertinence. But, very well, I'll not tempt ye any further, for now. Come, though, there must be something you'd be willing to accept?" She cocked her head to the side and gazed at him. "A horse, perhaps? That wouldn't be a sin, now would it? Though, I suppose, the horse might view it differently. The Sons of Mil have always loved horses, have they not? And I saw how you were eyeing Eoghan's steeds. Would such a thing please ye? Or maybe more than one? Perhaps it's your own stables you're wanting?"
"Oh, aye, 'twould be just the thing. And would I also be getting the land to go with it then?"
"Well, and why ever not?" The slyness crept back into Aislinn's eyes. "For what's the use of one, without the other? Is it a bargain?"
"A landed blacksmith," Gavin mocked. "Whoever heard of such a thing? No! You silly wench, even if I believed you capable of delivering such a gift I'd not accept it from ye. I'll not be indebted to you nor to anyone for my station in life. I'm a blacksmith, I've always been a blacksmith and so I'll stay. Now, hurry and eat your supper and I'll drive ye round 'til I've found someone who'd be willing to take in a stranger. Daft as ye are, there must still be some such in the county who'll think it their Christian duty to give you aid. Perhaps the priest would have room for ye."
In truth, it was not just the lack of available rooms in the village that worried Gavin. For, despite his words to her, he doubted anyone in their right mind would take in such a one as she--a stranger lacking all good sense--even given her assets and attributes and her apparent willingness to share them with all and sundry.
Worse yet, and more wounding to his pride, was the fact that who among his dour neighbors would believe he'd no connection with the lass? Even though they knew him from the cradle and he'd spent his whole life among them, would any of them ever believe him when he swore that she had no claim on him, but had come on a whim, seeking shelter? Would he believe such a story if it were told to him? Not bloody likely.
Aislinn's face had gone pale. "Nay, I'll not leave this house tonight." Her voice low and insistent, sounded close to breaking. Gavin's heart was filled, suddenly, with misgiving. "And you must not unbolt the door again 'til morning. You will promise me this. And if you cannot think of aught right now that you would take in payment then I shall leave you ample time to think on it and I'll return in a year and a day to meet your price."
"What's all this then?" Gavin asked, more touched than he cared to admit. "Are ye in trouble, lass? Is that what this is about? Is there someone after you?"
Aislinn nodded. "Aye, that there is. And if he were to catch me..." A shudder ran through her. Her face seemed about to crumple but then she steeled herself. Her expression hardened. "I'll not go with him," she answered proudly. "I'll not kneel at his feet nor be his slave. I'd rather end myself than grant him any part of what he wishes."
"Whist," Gavin whispered, soothing her as he might a jumpy horse he was trying to shoe. "Calm yourself now. Sure and it will not come to that. You're safe for the present. The windows and door are all bolted fast and I'll not be letting anyone else in. You'll come to no harm here."
"Your word on it, sir," Aislinn insisted. "You must give me your promise."
Gavin nodded. "All right then, lass, 'tis a promise. Though I'm not happy to be forced to it, you may stay the night. For, I'll not be handing ye over to a ruffian without knowing the whole of your story. You've my word on that." No sooner were the words out of his mouth when a tingling feeling swept over him, a warm sensation of surety. "Saints, what a strange thing," he muttered, mostly to himself, as he looked around, baffled. "What was that, do you suppose?"
She looked at him in surprise. "What? Have ye never before sworn an oath then?"
"Indeed I have," he replied bitterly, recalling some of the vows he'd made. "And ne'er felt naught like that. But, tell me," he continued, "This man who is after you, why come here to evade him? You're not from these parts. Have you no family you could go to?"
She shook her head sadly. "None who'd be likely to take me in if I went to them now and none who could do me any good, even an they were willing. 'Twas a blacksmith I was needing, at least 'tis what the druid told me."
"Druids! Oh, saints preserve us," Gavin said as he quickly crossed himself. "So, that's the way of it, is it? You're a witch then? Consorting with heathens and fortune tellers and all manner of devil? Tell me then, is it a demon who hunts you, looking to take your soul in exchange for your sins? Or is it something even worse?"
"Sins again!" Aislinn scowled at him. "Hark at yourself--warding off evil with ancient gestures you scarce comprehend while you prattle on about sinners and saints--and all of them mortals like yourself. If you'd even half the sense of your forebears you'd know me for what I am, for I fancy you've seen my kind before. You've the look of one who's been gifted with the sight."
Gavin stared at her for an instant, uncomprehending. I fancy you've seen my kind before. What the devil did she mean by that? he wondered. And then, too late, understanding dawned. "Fae," he whispered, his heart lurching between fury and fear--for surely that's what she was. "You're one of the Gentry then, aren't ya? You're one of the Daoine Sidhe." His glance fell on the plates of food on the table before them and he staggered to his feet. "And, oh, dear God, I've eaten with ye. Curse me for a fool! Oh, Holy Mary, help me. Am I still myself, even? Is it yet tonight? Or will I wake in a minute to find I've aged a thousand years and everyone I've ever known has turned to dust?"
Aislinn's expression was unreadable as she stared back at him for all of a second, and it was the longest second of Gavin's entire life. Then a smile broke over her face. "Ridiculous man!" she laughed, the sparkle in her eyes bright enough to put diamonds to shame. "Why, sure and it is your own food you've been eating. And in your own kitchen too. If you take any harm from it, 'tis naught to do with me. 'Twill be your own fault for being such a terrible, poor cook. Now, sit back down again," she urged. "Do. And I'll promise not to let you come to any harm here tonight as well. Or, at least, not much harm."
Reluctantly, Gavin resumed his seat. He studied her more closely and, now that he knew her nature, he found it hard to understand how he could have missed seeing the sparkling shimmers of light that seemed to attend her every movement, or the coldness that seemed to lurk behind those bright eyes. And he remembered once more the dreams-that-were-not-dreams he'd had as a child; all the stories he'd learned at his grandmother's knee; all her warnings about the dangers of consorting with the Fair Folk.
"Beautiful they may be to gaze upon, Gavin, my boy, but you keep your distance from them just the same; for they're perilous breed, they are. Completely heartless. And they'll steal your soul away as soon as look at ye."
"You should have told me from the start how it was," he said at last, as annoyed with himself as much as with her. For, despite his Maimeo's warnings, he was thinking that perhaps he should have taken the fae up on one of her many offers. After all, it was not every day a man found himself in the position of having one of the gentle folk freely offering gifts out of hand and here he'd gone and pissed the opportunity away.
"Sure and I said nothing to you that wasn't true," Aislinn protested, still smiling.
"No, ye would not, would ye?" Gavin replied for even he knew that the fae, though always willing to trick a man into mischief, could not utter an outright lie. "But, tell me now, is it another of your kind who's after ye?"
"Another fae, aye. But not my kind. Tiernan ap Annwn is of the Unseelie Court--the Sluagh Sidhe--one of those who deal in fear, darkness and coercion, and whose kind holds sway in Winter and Dead of Night."
Gavin sighed heavily. It was not every day a man found himself caught in the middle of a Fae war, either. "Well, I've promised you safety here tonight, though I wouldna done it had I known what you are, and I'll not go back on my word, but this argument is between your two courts. It has nothing to do with me and I want naught to do with it. So, I'll have your promise now that you'll leave come morning."
Aislinn looked searchingly at him, but Gavin's mind was made up and he would not be bent. Finally she nodded. "Very well. I'll promise that unless you change your mind before the dawn comes, I'll leave here in the morning. Will that satisfy you?"
"Aye," Gavin answered, relieved, having felt the tingling surety of her own oath as it washed over him. "Aye, Fae, it does."