Haunting Desire (Mists of Ireland, Book 3)
by Erin Quinn
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“Erin Quinn weaves pure enchantment in Haunting Desire.” ~Kathryne Kennedy, bestselling author of The Elven Lords series
A woman lost in a nightmare
Shealy O’Leary knows nothing of the ancient Book of Fennore. Nor of the Druid, the dark entity who controls—and is controlled by—the Book. But when she and her father are drawn into the past—and into the cursed no-man’s land called Fennore—she learns that the Druid is all too real. And unless Shealy bends to his will, her father will surely die...
A man desperate to regain his honor
After failing both his land and people, the fierce warrior Tiarnan was damned by the Druid to spend eternity in the black heart of Fennore. His only hope comes in the shape of a beautiful, frightened woman from the future. For she possesses a gift she is unaware of. A gift that the Druid covets—and a temptation that Tiarnan may not be able to resist.
A desire that drives their destiny
Alone in this primitive, terrifying world, Shealy must do what is right while fighting her desires for the formidable warrior who might be her greatest defender . . . or her worst enemy. Her only hope to save herself and her father will be to trust in her own heart and the sacred power she has yet to unleash . . .
Shealy O’Leary found herself sprawled on an enormous flat stone—confused, disoriented and afraid.
She hurt—her entire body felt battered and torn. Muscles and nerves objected violently when she moved. Carefully, she sat up. She wore the pink and white dress that she’d put on for dinner that evening, but it was splattered and stained with a dark, rusty red that her stuttering brain identified as blood. Shocked, she raised her hands, looking at the raw flesh of her palms, the deep scratches on her arms, the mottled bruises mixed in between. Slowly her gaze moved down to her bare legs where more angry scrapes met with abraded knees and black-and-blue shins. The last thing she remembered was leaving the restaurant, stuffed and happy, laughing with her dad as they stepped into the warm Arizona night air. It had been good to see him smile. He’d been so somber since they’d returned from Ireland after his old friend’s funeral. But after that she remembered . . . .
With shaking hands, she touched her face. Swollen, tender in places, but nothing horrifying. Nothing like after her accident.
She gazed at the landscape surrounding her, trying to fill in the pieces. The stone table where she sat like some pagan sacrifice was familiar. She’d dreamed of this many times over. Dreamed of awakening on this very stone to find herself plunged into a nightmare.
But she wasn’t dreaming now.
The landscape that crowded up to the stone alter was harsh, unforgiving, drenched in green so lush it hurt her eyes. A cool evening breeze teased the end of the silk scarf she wore around her throat and ruffled the long waving grasses of a valley that stretched out like a carpet, connecting the rocky crag looming behind her to the dark forest in the distance ahead. The browns and blacks of bark and boulders looked like violent scars in a drenched mosaic. The colors were too bright, too stark to be real.
And yet, without a doubt, it was real. Horrifyingly real.
She didn’t know how she’d gotten there or where her dad was, but she couldn’t pretend it was only a dream. Not this time.
She focused on her high heels, still trying to picture where they’d been, where they’d taken her—but then a fierce howl snapped her eyes from her sandals to the distant tree line.
The wolves. Just like in the dream, the wolves were coming.
Quickly she began to unfasten the buckles at her ankles, knowing that if the nightmare-come-true played out, she’d need to run. By the time she managed to get the first shoe off, the man broke from the trees—as he always did in this nightmare—hauling the adolescent boy along with him as his powerful strides ate up the vivid green valley. The pack of wolves chased only a few feet behind and the sound of their ravenous pursuit brought Shealy to her knees, pain forgotten in her fear. The boy faltered and the man jerked him up, nearly carrying him as he ran, never breaking stride, never looking back to see the doom snarling at his heels.
“Hurry,” she whispered, though she knew they couldn’t hear her. Knew it would do no good even if they could.
The man was as big as she’d remembered him being. Well over six feet, perhaps even six-five. Tall and muscular, built like someone who used his body as a weapon. His shirt billowed as he stretched his legs to increase his speed and his hair blew away from his face.
A dark stain blossoming from just above his heart spoke of a deep wound that still seeped, but it didn’t slow him down. Nor did the weight of the boy he pulled along with him. He looked up, saw the rock formation and made the decision to reach it, as she’d seen him do so many times before. Now, though, she heard his labored breath, saw the tendons standing out at his throat, his arms, the bare chest exposed by his opened shirt, tasted the fear that salted the air, felt his desperation.
His appearance surprised her each time she saw him, but that had only been the dream version of the man. Here, flesh and blood moving ever closer, it stopped her breath. It shouldn’t be possible for one so raw and masculine to be so utterly beautiful, but he was. From the high forehead, the slashing dark brows arched over eyes she knew were the color of whiskey, framed by long lashes as black as soot, to the strong aquiline nose and the full lips. He was the kind of man women fantasized about—the kind of man she’d fantasized about.
Now that he’d fixed on a destination, he pushed himself harder, gaining a few precious feet between him and the snarling pack behind. Then he reached the stones where she waited and hefted the boy up. Shealy scrambled to the edge, reached down and hooked the wounded boy beneath the arms to haul him onto the slab.
The shock of the man’s gaze settling over her features, the stunned distress that sparked in those whiskey brown depths, seared her. In the dreams that emotional mélange had been tempered by the cocoon of sleep. Now it hit her with a brutal backlash, making her scoot away as he gripped the stone table and heaved his massive body up.
For a moment he simply stared at her and she was infinitely grateful for the heavy makeup that hid her scars. Then something changed in his eyes and she felt a mysterious sense of knowing in the look—not recognition, but a bond that went beneath the skin. An intimate acknowledgment that made no sense at all. She was used to men looking at her like she was dessert, but not like this. Not like they could see past her features to her very thoughts.
“Who the fook are y’?” he demanded, as if in denial of the tangible spark that flared between them. His words were spoken strangely and she had the queerest sense that she shouldn’t understand him at all and yet she did. Without looking away from her face, he pulled the adolescent boy to the center of the stone as the huge wolves circled and snapped below, looking for a way up.
They would find it, eventually.
“I’m Shealy,” she said. “Shealy O’Leary.”
“Leary?” he repeated, blanching.
His gaze roamed over her again, searching for something she didn’t understand, stirring an awareness that went beyond this dangerous moment. The dreams had lacked the nuances of reality, but now the undercurrents fanned her dread. He began to pace like a caged lion.
“Where are we?” she asked.
He spun and glared at her. “Fennore.”
“Ireland?” she asked, surprise in her voice. “This is Ireland? The Isle of Fennore?”
“No,” he answered coldly. “The black heart of Fennore. Inis Brandubh.”
Brawn-doov.< He made it sound almost musical, though she knew that Bran meant raven and dubh meant black—nothing musical there. This was the Isle of the Black Raven. The black heart of the black raven, evidentially.
The man moved away, striding from one side of the stone table to the other, looking for a means to make it defensible or a way to make their escape. She knew he’d find neither. The rising cliffs behind them left their sanctuary precarious at best. Soon the wolves would see the way up the crag’s face and they would leap over the gulf to the top of the stone plateau and their human prey—or they would follow their prey into the caves and trap them inside. Either way, in the end the wolves would get the boy first, rip out his throat and then they would come for her while the man fought a futile battle to hold them back. A piece of him would die with each failure.
Always she’d awaken just as their hot breath brushed her skin and their teeth grazed the soft flesh of her neck before puncturing, before tearing . . . . She’d come-to in her bed, crying, covered in sweat and scared. Shaken, but ultimately safe.
But this time, there’d be no rush of relief when her eyes opened, no jolt of adrenaline or dazed reprieve when her fingers touched her throat and felt the skin smooth and unravaged. No waking up. She was already awake and she could die here. Terror settled low inside. She would die here if she didn’t do something to stop it.
The man had spotted the boulders clustered at a cave entrance not far away. With mounting dread, she saw him consider the odds of reaching it.
“No,” she said sharply. “It’s a trap.”
He glared at her, ignoring her warning as he spoke to the kid who sat gasping for breath at his feet.
“Liam,” he said, his voice infinitely gentle. “Brother can y’ hear me?”
Brother . . . the two were brothers . . . .
Liam’s eyes were clenched tight but at his brother’s question his lashes fluttered, then opened. “Aye, I can hear y’, Tiarnan.”
Tiarnan. It was the first time she’d heard the man’s name. It fit the strong warrior crouched over the teenage boy, mirrored in an inexplicable way the sculpted beauty and steel resolve of the man.
“Just be done with it, Tiarnan,” Liam went on, his voice deep but his face painfully young. Blood streaked from his hairline to cover his neck and a nasty cut bled over his eye. “Can y’ not see that’s the way it should be? Where’s the point in fighting for me when y’ know the end?”
Tiarnan’s jaw hardened and his eyes glittered with pain. “I’ll not leave y’. Y’ know I cannot do that.”
Some silent message passed between the man and the boy, something Shealy couldn’t comprehend but it seemed to come with a decision. Tiarnan stood, reaching out a hand to help his brother to his feet, holding him steady until Liam found his balance.
“Y’ see the boulders, the opening behind them?” he asked pointing to the cave that Shealy knew would become their tomb.
The boy nodded, glancing numbly down at the circling canines.
“Don’t look at them,” Tiarnan said. “Y’ look there—where we go. Only there.” He waited for Liam’s nod and then shot Shealy an angry look over his shoulder. “Come if y’ want.”
Not exactly a pledge of protection, but it seemed to cost him a great deal to make it.
“It’s a trap,” she repeated, shaking her head. “There’s another way into that cave and they’ll find it. They’ll catch us in the middle. I’ve seen it.”
The last words did what the first had not. He froze, glaring at her. The sooty fringe of his lashes made his golden brown eyes glow like polished stones. The anger inside them felt like a lash.
She broke away from the force of that stare and took a step back, searching for an alternative that had yet to be revealed. On one side was the forest through which the man and his brother had emerged. If there’d been some place to hide in there, to escape, he’d have found it. The valley below offered only wide, open space for the pack to surround and kill them. That left the crag rising behind. The rock wall was sheer for ten or twelve feet before breaking down into boulders, then rocks that sloped and merged until they reached a high plateau that stretched flatly from rim to rim, as if the top of the mountain had been sliced cleanly off. On the other side she could hear the surge of the sea as it spewed and churned. The only escape once they reached the top—if ¬they reached the top—would be a plunge from the plateau into the icy waters.
“We need to go up,” she said, pointing at the stone wall with its broken, jagged ledges and irregular protrusions. She realized she was still holding her high-heeled sandal, dangling from the ankle strap in her hand. The other shoe remained on her foot. She bent to take it off and felt him watching with that gold, glittering gaze, looked up and found herself ensnared in it.
“Leary,” he repeated angrily.
“O’Leary. Shealy O’Leary,” she answered her voice equally cold, not sure why her last name should irritate him so much.
He shook his head and stared at the crag. The wolves barked and growled as they circled in frenzy.
“Tiarnan,” Liam said. “’Tis surely death one way or another, isn’t that so?”
Tiarnan’s broad shoulders slumped at that simple statement.
“Aye. ’Tis always death.”
The resignation in his tone lanced her own building ire. Whether or not she deserved his hostility, it was clear this man carried a heavy burden on those strong shoulders. She had an almost uncontrollable need to reach out to him, to touch that beautiful face, to comfort the hardened warrior. It seemed he heard her thoughts because he turned those copper eyes her way and stared at her. Something curled tight and low in her belly.
“It doesn’t have to be death,” she said. “But if that’s my only options, I’d rather take my chances with the sea than be ripped apart and eaten by them.”
After a moment, he nodded. “Aye, if that’s the choice.”
There was no time to question him now though, no time to even plan. The pack leader had begun the scramble up the sheer base of stone. The animal made it only a few feet and then pitched back, falling with a thud and yelp. But now others attempted it, their large paws gripping, claws spreading as they tried to scale the wall.
Beside her, Tiarnan rubbed the bloody wound at his shoulder and swayed on his feet but he didn’t fall. Looked as if he might never fall, unless it was in death. She saw resolve on his face.
“There,” he said, pointing to a jutting shelf that poked out a few feet up. From there they might be able to reach the lip between the massive boulders stacked on top of it.
They would have to jump from the formation where the wolves had them trapped, across ten feet of bared fangs and bloodlust, catch the ledge just right and then hope they could scramble up to the next level. It could be done. Perhaps.
Tiarnan looked at his brother. “I’ll go first. Y’ come after. Do y’ understand me?” Liam glanced at Shealy and then away. “Do not worry about her. It is y’ that comes next.”
Reluctantly Liam nodded. Shealy stiffened when Tiarnan gave her a brooding once over from head to toe, his expression unreadable yet those eyes glittered with a potent combination of remorse, awareness and anger that sparked along her nerves.
“Who beat y’?” he said.
The question was so unexpected that for a moment, she couldn’t process what he asked. He pointed to her eye, making a circle motion with his finger that encompassed her whole face and neck.
As if his attention had brought with it feeling and sensation, her entire body began to ache again and the pain she’d held at bay rushed through her. Shaking, she raised a hand to her face, wincing as she touched the swollen split skin under her eye, the bruised lacerations around her mouth, the puffy, burning of her cheek.
And then it crashed over her like a thundering storm. The dress, the shoes—after she’d taken her father out to dinner for his birthday, they’d been attacked . . . in the dark parking lot. There’d been a man and . . . and . . . . Blackness swam in front of her eyes and she teetered on suddenly rubbery legs.
Tiarnan stepped in front of her, gently took her shoulders in his big hands, the heat of his skin shocking her out of the spiral of panic sucking her under. “Breathe,” he ordered and Shealy sucked in a deep breath that burned her throat and seared her lungs.
“Again,” he demanded.
Like a child she obeyed, nodding her head to let him know she wasn’t going to pass out, that she would take the next breath and the next without his command. He released her immediately and her body swayed in protest. As he turned she caught another glimpse of emotion in those whiskey eyes. Compassion. Regret. Hunger.
He masked it quickly and moved away.
Before she could speak, he took a running step and leaped up over the chasm to the ledge, hitting hard, stumbling and then catching himself. Both Shealy and Liam watched with wide eyes and terror as the wolves jumped and snapped at his heels, fighting with each other as they tried to scale the wall to reach him.
Tiarnan caught his balance and inched to the side. Wrapping his fingers around a sharp flange, he leaned out, reaching. “Liam, come now.”
Liam looked guiltily at Shealy and took a step forward. Feeling panicked at the idea that once Liam made that leap, the two males would leave her here for the wolves, Shealy forced herself to give him a cool smile and a nod. Over the years, she’d perfected that mask of indifference and now she was glad she could draw on it. “Go on. I’ll be just behind you.”
Liam did as his brother had, stepping back for a running start then leaping off the edge. Tiarnan caught him easily and his landing was surer, softer than Tiarnan’s had been. Tiarnan hauled the boy up and Liam used his brother’s shoulder as a step to reach the next level. Only when he was there, did the big man turn to Shealy.
“Now y’, Leary,” Tiarnan said.
“It’s Shealy. Shealy O’Leary,” she corrected angrily. She turned, throwing her high heels over the edge and into the distance, grinning grimly as a few of the wolves took off after them. Her scarf followed, caught by the wind like a kite. Feeling exposed but determined, she hiked up her dress and made a running jump for the other side.
Halfway across, she knew she wouldn’t make it.
The certainty came with a wash of panic that made her skin hurt and her nerves burn. She flailed her arms and legs crazily, trying to use momentum, force of will, anything to breach the distance. Close, so very close, but not there.
Gravity sucked her down and she had only a second to read the alarm in Tiarnan’s eyes before she plunged. Below her the wolves frothed, snarled and snapped. She felt teeth graze her ankle and then a hand locked over her arm and pulled. Her fall halted with a jerk that snapped her teeth and knocked a cry from her. Still scissoring her legs to keep the wolves from latching on, she felt her body move up an inch, then another. One of the bigger wolves found the break in the stones she’d known they would discover, raced up and vaulted at her. Its body hit her hard and she felt the grip on her arm loosen and then she was slipping, screaming, twisting while its claws scored her flesh as it fell. Another wolf jumped from below and nipped at her but couldn’t lock its powerful jaws on her thrashing leg. Above her Tiarnan and Liam shouted and rocks sailed down, pelting the frenzied canines. She heard them yelp as they scattered.
Tiarnan’s strong hands were towing her up now and then he had her in his arms and he tugged her onto the ledge. She was shaking from head to toe and she clung to him, feeling the pounding of his racing heart beneath her cheek. He held her tight, telling her she was safe. But it was a lie.
“They’re coming,” Liam shouted. The other wolves had found the break that allowed them to climb and now they raced, slipping and sliding on the shale as they snaked between the boulders below, focused only on their prey. Tiarnan pulled himself to the next ledge where Liam waited and then reached down for Shealy, swinging her up with one great motion. The sharp rocks cut Shealy’s feet when she landed, but she didn’t pause as she scrambled behind the boy and the man as they climbed, fearing if she lagged they would leave her behind.
The wolves chased with speed and efficiency, gaining in numbers, gaining in distance until their snarls and yips felt like a hot breath bearing down on Shealy. And then suddenly Liam was on his belly at the very top, looking down for Tiarnan who hoisted Shealy onto the plateau then followed.
They stopped for just a moment, the sound of their harsh breathing rising over the cacophony of the chasing pack. Ahead the rough terrain stretched flat for four or five hundred feet and then abruptly dropped to the churning sea. She could hear the crash and roar, smell the salt and brine. From behind them, the wolves continued their relentless pursuit, snaking across the crag as they climbed.
“Keep moving,” Tiarnan said and both Liam and Shealy did as they were told, sprinting across the flattened peak. Shealy’s lungs burned and her muscles quivered by the time they reached the rim on the other side.
When she’d spoken her brave words about preferring the sea to the carnage of the wolves, she hadn’t been standing over the churning waves, the roiling surf that slammed against rocks and sand, the certain death that such a fall would bring. She looked down at her bloodied legs, at the angry bite on her calve, the gnawed flesh of her ankle. Behind them, the wolves were gaining. They had seconds. Maybe less.
“We jump for there,” Tiarnan said, pointing down to a surging tide pool between the stones. “The water looks deeper. The rocks are not so many.”
She didn’t see as many rocks either, but that didn’t mean they weren’t there, just below the surface. The three exchanged one silent glance, a good bye. Good luck. Shealy didn’t know what it was. The anguish in Tiarnan’s eyes though, was a living thing with jaws as great as those of the wolves. He shook his head, as if in resignation.
“Me first this time,” Liam said and without hesitation, he leaped over the side.
Tiarnan reached for him as his body flew off the edge, as if he might stop what was about to happen. Of course he couldn’t. No one could. A giant gust rose like a hand from nowhere and grabbed the boy, shoving him off course, slamming him into the wall and then bouncing him from one massive boulder to another. Tiarnan’s shout echoed off every surface, stealing the breath from Shealy’s lungs. He threw himself after his brother and the weight and mass of him took him straight down like a bag of stone. Shealy couldn’t watch, couldn’t bear to see what happened.
Behind her, the wolves had breached the edge of the plateau and raced at her, bodies stretched long and flat as they covered the distance in seconds. With no time to think of what she did, Shealy lunged from the ledge. One wolf followed her into the nothingness of the fall, snapping its jaws as she plummeted, yowling as it realized what it had done. Shealy’s scream was locked in her chest with her terror as she sailed down and down and down. She heard a sickening thud as the wolf rappelled off something hard and jutting, braced herself to do the same. But in the end, all she felt was the stabbing cold of icy water. All she knew, was the darkness of its depths.
For his audacity in attempting to destroy the Book of Fennore, Tiarnan is cursed and flung into the heart of the darkness that threatens everything and everyone in the Mists of Ireland series; into the Book of Fennore itself. Trapped within its depths every day is a fight for survival of body and soul with no end in sight. Tiarnan is still reeling from the events in HAUNTING WARRIOR. The lesser of two evils choices, the losses, and betrayal have dealt him cruel blows that still ache under the daily battle to survive this strange and terrifying world.
Disfigured and barely alive from the horrific crash off the cliffs of the Isle of Fennore that killed her mother; Shealy O’Leary is a miracle of survival and reconstructive surgery. Moving with her father, the only other survivor, to Arizona for a grueling series of surgeries Shealy has lost herself, literally. She’s now the poster child for her plastic surgeon and his cause; helping children disfigured in accidents and born with correctable deformities. But Shealy isn’t perfect; she was forced to stop short of the perfection her doctors sought. There are still scars aplenty, physical, emotional, and mental. Shealy is floundering, searching for that elusive something that will allow her to find and regain herself; bring her a measure of peace and closure. She takes the first step of that journey while arguing in an Arizona parking lot with her dad. The fabric of time and space rips, not once but twice. Shealy is about to discover who she really is and what she’s capable of.
Erin Quinn took me from the here and now to the fantastical alternate reality existent in the Book of Fennore. Blindsided, this was a twist I never saw coming when I finished HAUNTING WARRIOR. I never imagined the Book of Fennore was powerful enough to accomplish such a feat. Throwing Tiarnan into the harsh horrifying reality that exists within its pages. More amazing still is that Tiarnan isn’t alone. I confess Tiarnan is my favorite hero in the series. Everything about him appeals and clicks with me. I couldn’t be more pleased that Shealy is his heroine. Their chemistry is amazing, going beyond the physical from first sight. Tiarnan sees beyond the marred perfection to what Shealy is inside. Shealy sees that Tiarnan still possesses everything he believes he’s lost. There’s more to both Tiarnan and Shealy than first meets the eye. Abilities they possess that they themselves are unaware of. Tiarnan and Shealy are prophesized. That’s only fitting for Tiarnan in my humble opinion.
Questions are answered while more are raised. Unexpected twists, turns, and surprises kept me on edge. What I thought was clear is actually opaque and I’m doubting all my prior conjecture. I think I know where it’s headed, but I’ve thought that before.
HAUNTING DESIRE is the most intense and engrossing entry in the series so far and that’s saying a lot. If I had to use a one word description it would be, ASTOUNDING.
That being said, I’m both anticipating and dreading HAUNTING EMBRACE. I’m anxious to travel to the unexpected places, visit all the characters we’ll see again or be introduced to, while at the same time I don’t want the adventure to end. It’s already feeling bittersweet.
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