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Divine by Blood P.C. Cast From the bestselling author of the "House of Night" series comes the award-winning world of Partholon, rich in goddesses, intrigue and magic.Raised as a normal girl in Oklahoma for eighteen years, Morrigan had no idea how special she really was. After discovering the truth of her heritage, her rage and grief take on a power of their own, carrying her back to the world of Partholon.Yet, instead of being respected as the daughter of the goddess Incarnate, Morrigan feels like a shunned outsider. In her desperation to belong to Partholon, she confronts forces she can't fully understand or control. And soon a strange darkness draws closer. . . Divine by Blood “Rhiannon, you must listen to me!” He shook her. “If you die bound to Pryderi your spirit will never know the presence of your goddess again. You will never know light or joy again. You will spend eternity blanketed in the night of the dark god and the despair that taints all he touches.” “I know,” she whispered. “But I am finished fighting. It seems all I’ve done for as long as I can remember is fight. I’ve been too selfish, caused too much pain. Done too much harm. Perhaps it is time for me to pay for that.” “Perhaps it is, but should your daughter pay for your mistakes, too?” His words jolted her, and she blinked back the encroaching darkness in her eyes. “Of course she shouldn’t. What are you saying, old man?” “You did not pledge her to him, but Pryderi desires a priestess with the blood of Epona’s Chosen in her veins. With you dead, who do you think will be his next victim?” “No!” But she knew he was right. THE GODDESS OF PARTHOLON series New York Times bestselling author P.C. CAST DIVINE BY MISTAKE DIVINE BY CHOICE DIVINE BY BLOOD And coming in 2010from MIRA Books: ELPHAME’S CHOICE BRIGHID’S QUEST Find out more at www.mirabooks.co.uk Divine by Blood P.C. Cast Book Three of the Goddess of Partholon series www.mirabooks.co.uk (http://www.mirabooks.co.uk/) For my stepmom and dad, Mama Cast and the Old Coach, aka Mama Parker and Richard Parker. With much love from Bugs. Dear Lovely Reader, Divine by Blood may very well be the most difficult book I’ve ever written. And that’s not because I had to complete Shannon’s story—explain about Rhiannon—and tell the daughters’ stories, too. All in one book! The reason this book was tough for me was that in finishing it I felt as if I was saying goodbye to my family. It’s no secret (sometimes much to my embarrassment) that I peopled the Divine books with characters based on friends and family. One character in particular is so close to the living man that it makes me smile just thinking about him. Unquestionably, Richard Parker was fashioned after my dad. And while he and/or his ghost show up in all the Partholon books, it is in Divine by Blood that his character’s words and actions hold particularly true to my dad, Dick Cast. So while I poured a lot of love, and maybe even a piece of my heart, into the Divine trilogy, this last book will always be special to me—so special that it was difficult to see it end. I hope the spirit of it touches you, as it did me. And who knows—Partholon is a big world. Perhaps there are more stories there just waiting for me to tell… Wishing you happy reading and the brightest of blessings. P.C. Cast ACKNOWLEDGEMENTS Thank you to my publishing team, Mary-Theresa Hussey and Adam Wilson, for being so great to work with—as usual! As always, I am thankful for my agent and friend, Meredith Bernstein. Thanks, Dad, for the ecosystem information, finding a feline basis for my lovely fictional species of cave cats, and for making the research trip to Oklahoma’s fabulous Alabaster Caverns and Great Salt Plains so much fun (Mama Cast and Lainee Ann, too!). I’d like to acknowledge the Alabaster Caverns State Park and thank the people there for being so gracious and helping with my research. The Alabaster Caverns State Park is located in northwestern Oklahoma and is well worth the trip. The Oklahoma Great Salt Plains of north central Oklahoma is also an amazing place. Yes, there are selenite crystals on the plains, but you have to dig for them, versus how I fictionalised them. What I didn’t fictionalise is the magic I found in both places. For more information you can contact Alabastercaverns@OklahomaParks.com, and the Salt Plains National Wildlife Refuge at 580-626-4794. Explore Oklahoma and see for yourself! Table of Contents Cover Page (#u04f3e8cb-bf23-500f-8ece-82fc32fb63db) Excerpt (#ue262ec9f-0f7a-52b6-8e86-aa757097d444) Other Books By (#u6cca0ed8-79b6-5bfb-a0d0-7f048d8da423) Title Page (#u20b5ae8f-8bb2-5673-96ed-a7f750f9ee34) Dedication (#u78d4639a-6e48-5813-8eab-2d1ddd99d010) Dear Lovely Reader (#u43d0c15e-ee4b-570b-b935-595a8cc2c8a3) Acknowledgements (#ueed67b2d-b11d-53c1-9886-f59a388b6ffd) Prologue (#u932b3855-aa1d-51c5-818f-304532371017) Part I (#u66b4ae07-6c11-56c6-bff8-7ceecb343c73) Chapter 1 (#u0a1bb910-03d2-5e19-a377-cda531fdd3be) Chapter 2 (#u546b53a5-5fe0-5548-a6e6-848fe4546cfd) Chapter 3 (#ua011e956-2691-5aa1-b1af-ede871dd359f) Chapter 4 (#ua99b01e6-eabb-5619-affd-cf32d6994263) Chapter 5 (#u2ab50871-58cd-52d8-b16b-c3f7997f933d) Part II (#ua98ca03d-2eb8-59ab-934c-34392a6f16ce) Chapter 6 (#uc60b3a38-db55-5b63-9b16-359a008cd9a3) Chapter 7 (#ua6f7611f-e23d-5d62-906b-37e885062ec6) Chapter 8 (#ue70a3c99-18bb-5208-92e9-1088d79bfde7) Chapter 9 (#ud5934805-2bf6-5a2a-a1a2-146502ce43a7) Chapter 10 (#litres_trial_promo) Chapter 11 (#litres_trial_promo) Chapter 12 (#litres_trial_promo) Chapter 13 (#litres_trial_promo) Chapter 14 (#litres_trial_promo) Part III (#litres_trial_promo) Chapter 15 (#litres_trial_promo) Chapter 16 (#litres_trial_promo) Chapter 17 (#litres_trial_promo) Chapter 18 (#litres_trial_promo) Chapter 19 (#litres_trial_promo) Chapter 20 (#litres_trial_promo) Chapter 21 (#litres_trial_promo) Chapter 22 (#litres_trial_promo) Chapter 23 (#litres_trial_promo) Chapter 24 (#litres_trial_promo) Chapter 25 (#litres_trial_promo) Chapter 26 (#litres_trial_promo) Chapter 27 (#litres_trial_promo) Chapter 28 (#litres_trial_promo) Chapter 29 (#litres_trial_promo) Chapter 30 (#litres_trial_promo) Chapter 31 (#litres_trial_promo) Chapter 32 (#litres_trial_promo) Chapter 33 (#litres_trial_promo) Chapter 34 (#litres_trial_promo) Chapter 35 (#litres_trial_promo) Chapter 36 (#litres_trial_promo) Chapter 37 (#litres_trial_promo) Epilogue I (#litres_trial_promo) Epilogue II (#litres_trial_promo) Preview (#litres_trial_promo) Copyright (#litres_trial_promo) PROLOGUE She wasn’t dead. She wasn’t alive, either. In truth, she might have passed countless years simply dwelling in the outlands of existence. Not dying—not living. Just being. If it hadn’t been for the life that stirred within her womb, and the anger that stirred within her breast. Before she remembered who she was, she remembered that she had been betrayed. Yes, anger is good… The voice in her mind was not her own, but it felt familiar, and she grasped it as she sought to find herself again. Who was she? Where was she? How had this happened to her? She opened her eyes. Blackness surrounded her. Blackness and weight, as if she had been submerged in a warm pool. For a moment panic overwhelmed her. If she was underwater how could she breathe? Surley she must be dead. Dead and entombed an eternity for crimes she couldn’t remember committing. Then the child within her fluttered again. The dead did not bring forth life. She commanded her panic to recede, and it obeyed. Panic never helped. Cold, logical thought. Meticulous planning and precise execution of those plans. That was the way to triumph. That was the way she had always triumphed. Until now. But she had been betrayed. By whom? Her anger built and she fed it, channeling her frustration and fear. Yes…allow anger to purify you… Her self-awareness increased. Her mind was less sluggish. Her body tingled. Her anger continued to build until she could actually feel its warmth surrounding her. It energized her. She had been betrayed…she had been betrayed…she had been betrayed… The words circled through her mind, causing memories to leak from the dark barriers behind which they had been hidden. A castle at the edge of the sea. Dreams that were glimpses of reality. A marble-walled temple of exquisite beauty and strength. The call of a goddess. That was it! She was divine! She was the Chosen of a Great Goddess! Rhiannon… The name burst through her mind, and with that knowledge the dams that blocked her memory broke, and the past shattered through her. She had been betrayed by her goddess! Rhiannon remembered everything. The willful choices she’d made during her life that constantly had her at odds with the Great Goddess Epona. The rape that had been her ascension ritual. The fact that Epona had never been content with her. The realization that no one in Partholon truly loved her—that they only worshipped her as an extension of the Goddess. The Magic Sleep vision wherein she had glimpsed the Fomorian demons infiltrating Guardian Castle and plotting the destruction of Partholon. The whisperings from the darkness that told her there was another way…another world…another choice. The vision of that other world she had been given through the power of that dark voice. And her decision to exchange herself for Shannon Parker, the mundane woman from that world whose physical appearance was so like hers that they could have been born from the same womb. Rhiannon’s body trembled as she remembered the rest of it. How Clint, the Shaman she had found in this world, the mirror image of Partholon’s High Shaman ClanFintan, had refused to help her harness the power in this odd world where technology was magic and magic was an almost entirely untapped resource. So she had been forced to use dark powers to call forth a servant to aid her. But something had gone terribly wrong. Clint had summoned Shannon from Partholon, and the two of them had joined to use their powers to defeat her. The trees had named Shannon, not Rhiannon, as Epona’s Chosen, Beloved of the Goddess. Epona no longer spoke Rhiannon’s name. The Goddess did not acknowledge her as Chosen. When Rhiannon had realized this, something within her had broken. Rhiannon felt sick remembering how lost and afraid she had felt. But the wound was not so fresh now. Epona had betrayed her and allowed her to be entombed, while the usurper, Shannon, returned triumphant to Partholon and the life that should have been hers. And her child’s. You haven’t been betrayed by everyone… She now knew to whom the voice in her head belonged. The Triple-Faced God, Pryderi. Pryderi… The name moved through her mind, not as the explosion her own naming had been. Instead it was an alluring whisper. I am still here with you. It is, after all, women who have always betrayed you. Your mother died and left you. Shannon stole what wasyours by right. Epona turned from you simply because you would not be her puppet. The dark god was right. Women had always betrayed her. If you give yourself and your daughter to me I will never betray you. In return for your obedience, I will give you Partholon. Rhiannon wanted to close her mind to the small voice within her that warned against allying herself with darkness. She wanted to give in and accept Pryderi’s offer instantly, but she could not ignore the sense of desolation the thought of embracing another god gave her. Logically, she knew that Epona’s favor had left her—that the Goddess had turned from her forever. But even though Rhiannon had looked to other gods…other powers…she had never taken that final step. The irretraceable step of rejecting Epona and giving herself completely to another god. If she did that she would never be able to stand before Epona again. And what if the Goddess decided she’d made a mistake? If Rhiannon could free herself from this horrid imprisonment and return to Partholon, was there not a chance that Epona might, once again, recognize her as Chosen? Especially after she gave birth to her daughter, whose blood would be rich with the legacy of generation after generation of Partholon’s priestesses? What say you, Rhiannon? Will you pledge yourself to me? Rhiannon could feel the edge in the god’s voice. She had left him waiting for an answer too long. Hastily, she collected herself and sent her thoughts out to him. You are wise, Pryderi. I am well and truly tired of being betrayed. Rhiannon formed her response carefully. But how can I pledge myself to any god while I am still imprisoned?You know a priestess must be free to perform the ascension ritual that will bind her to a god as Chosen. Pryderi remained silent for so long that Rhiannon began to fear she had pushed too hard. She should have just pledged herself to him! What if he left her now? She might be trapped for eternity. It is true that a priestess must freely give herself to a god. Then we shall simply free you so that you can pledge yourself and your daughter to my service. The tree that was her living tomb shuddered, and Rhiannon’s heartbeat quickened. She’d gambled and won! Pryderi was going to free her! She strained against the weight that pressed all around her…trapping her…suffocating her. That is not the way to freedom. You must be patient, my Precious One. Rhiannon bit back an automatic retort. No. She must learn from the past. Confronting a god openly was not wise… What shall I do? She sent the thought out, tempering her frustration and making sure her question felt obedient and eager. Use your earth affinity. Not even Epona can take that gift away from you. It is a part of your soul—of the very blood that runs in your veins. Only this time you will not bother with the Goddess’s trees. Seek the dark places. Sense the shadows within shadow. Call their power to you, Precious One. The time of your child’s birth draws near. With her birth, you will be reborn to the earth. And to a new era in the service of a god. I understand. Rhiannon centered herself. She was no novice priestess. She knew how to wield great power and channel the magic of the earth. Looking to the darkness was no different from tapping into the hidden power of the trees. She refused to think about what Shannon had said—that the trees willingly aided her and called her Epona’s Chosen. Instead she concentrated on the darkness—on night and shadow and the cloak of blackness that monthly covers the new moon. She felt the power. It wasn’t the heady rush she’d known in Partholon when Epona’s blessing had touched her, but power was there and it was drawn to her. Like a vessel slowly being filled, Rhiannon waited and the child within her grew. PART I 1 Oklahoma “A storm comes.” John Peace Eagle squinted into the southwest sky. His grandson barely glanced up from his portable Playstation. “Grandpa, if you’d get cable out here you wouldn’t have to do all that sky watching. You could check out the Weather Channel instead, or watch it on the news like everyone else.” “This storm could not be predicted by mundane means.” The old Choctaw Wisdom Keeper spoke without turning from his study of the sky. “Go now. Take the truck and return to your mother’s house.” This did make the teenager look. “Really? I can take your truck?” Peace Eagle nodded. “I’ll get a ride into town sometime this week and pick it up.” “Cool!” The boy grabbed his backpack and gave his grandpa a quick hug. “See ya, Grandpa.” It was only after Peace Eagle heard the engine roar and then fade as the boy drove down the dirt road that led to the two-lane highway to town that he began to prepare. Rhythmically the Wisdom Keeper beat the drum. It did not take long. Soon shapes began stirring between the trees. They entered the clearing beside the cabin as if they had been carried there by the growing violence of the wind. In the fading daylight they looked like ancient ghosts. John Peace Eagle knew better. He knew the difference between spirit and flesh. When all six of them had joined him he spoke. “It is good you have answered my call. The storm that comes tonight is not only of this world.” “Has the Chosen of the Goddess returned?” one of the Elders asked. “No. This is a dark storm. An evil one stirs.” “What is it you would have us do?” “We must go to the sacred grove and contain what is struggling to be free,” Peace Eagle said. “But we defeated evil there not long ago,” said the youngest of the tribal Elders. Peace Eagle’s smile was grim. “Evil can never be truly defeated. As long as the gods give world dwellers freedom of choice, there will be those who choose evil.” “The Great Balance,” the youngest Elder said thoughtfully. Peace Eagle nodded. “The Great Balance. Without light there would not be dark. Without evil, good would have no balance.” The Elders grunted wordless agreement. “Now let us work on the side of good.” Rhiannon welcomed the pain. It meant that it was time for her to live again. Time for her to return to Partholon and take back what was hers by right. She used the pain to focus. She thought of it as purification. Ascending to Epona’s service had not been a painless ritual. She expected no less from what Pryderi must have planned for her. The labor was long and difficult. For a body she’d been detached from for so long, it was a shock to suddenly be aware of muscles and nerves and the cascade of cramping pain that radiated like drowning waves from her core. Rhiannon tried not to dwell on thoughts of how this birth should have been. She should have been surrounded by her handmaidens and servants. She should have been bathed and cosseted and pampered—given ancient herbal infusions that would dull her pain and fear. Her women would never have left her alone to face the birth by herself. And her daughter’s entry into Partholon would have been met by joyous celebrations, as well as a sign from Epona that the Goddess was pleased by the birth of her Chosen’s daughter. No, she couldn’t dwell on those thoughts, even though she secretly hoped that when this child was finally born Epona would return to her and show her some sign—any sign, even though she wasn’t in Partholon and this child wasn’t her first. Somewhere in the blackness between the seemingly endless surges of pain Rhiannon had time to think about that other child. The infant she had aborted. Did she regret what she had done? What good did regret ever do? It had been a choice she had made in her youth. A choice she could not undo. She must focus on the daughter she was giving birth to now, not mistakes in her past. When the next spasm of contractions seized her she opened her mouth to scream, even though she knew that entombed as she was, her pain and aloneness would be given no voice. You are wrong, Precious One. You are not alone. Behold the power of your new god! With a deafening crack, her living tomb was suddenly split open, and in a rush of fluid, Rhiannon was expelled from the womb of the ancient tree. She lay gasping and shivering on the carpet of grass. Wrenching coughs shook her. She blinked her eyes wildly, trying to clear her blurry vision. Her first thought was of the man whose sacrifice had entombed her. With a shudder, she looked over her shoulder at the gaping hole in the tree, expecting to see Clint’s body. She braced herself for the horror of it, but all she saw was a faint sapphire glow that faded slowly, like it was being absorbed into the bowels of the wounded tree. Yes, her memory was intact, as was her mind. She knew where she was—the sacred grove, in the modern state of Oklahoma. And, as expected, she had been expelled from her prison inside one of the twin oaks. The other stood, unchanged, beside the shallow stream that ran between the trees. It was twilight. The wind whined fretfully around her. The bruised sky rumbled dangerously with thunder, and was answered by shards of lightning. Lightning…that must have been what freed her. I am what freed you. The voice was no longer in her head, but it still had a disembodied, otherworldly tone. It was coming from under the twin tree to her oak, where the shadows were the deepest. “Pryderi?” Rhiannon’s voice sounded too raspy and weak to be her own. Of course, Precious One, whom did you expect? The Goddess who betrayed you? His laughter brushed against her skin, and Rhiannon wondered how anything that sounded so beautiful could also feel so cruel. “I—I cannot see you,” she gasped as another contraction engulfed her. The god waited until the pain receded again, and then the shadows under the tree stirred. A form moved slightly, so that it could be more easily seen in the fading daylight. Rhiannon felt her breath catch at his beauty. Though his body was not fully materialized in this world and had the transparent look of a spirit, letting her see through it to the shadows beyond, the sight of him made her forget that she was swollen with impending birth. Tall and strongly built, he was imposing even in spirit form. His mane of dark hair framed a face that should have inspired poets and artists, and not the terrible stories whispered about him in Partholon. His eyes smiled at her and his face was suffused with love and warmth. I greet you, my priestess, my Precious One. Can you see me now? “Yes,” she whispered in awe. “Yes, I see you, but only as a spirit.” Rhiannon felt dizzied by such an obvious show of the god’s favor. He was absolutely magnificent—everything a god should be. And suddenly she could not believe she had wasted all her life worshipping Epona, when she should have been kneeling in supplication at this wondrous god’s feet. It is difficult for me to hold corporeal form. In order for me to truly exist in the flesh, I must be worshipped. There must be sacrifices made in my name. I must be loved and obeyed. That is what you and your daughter will do for me—you will lead the people to find me again, and then I will return you to your rightful place in Partholon. “I understand,” she said, ashamed that her voice was so weak between her panting breaths. “I will—” But before she could finish her words, two things happened simultaneously, both effectively silencing her. The night was suddenly filled with the sonorous sound of drumbeats. Rhythmically, like a heart pulsing blood through a body, the glade was wrapped in a deep, vibrating pulse. At the same moment Rhiannon was gripped by the overwhelming need to push. Her back bowed and her legs automatically came up. She gripped the gnarled roots, trying to find something, anything that would anchor her straining body. Her wild eyes searched the shadows where Pryderi had materialized. Faintly, she could see his spectral form. “Help me,” she moaned. The beating drums were getting louder. Within the resonant sound, she could now hear chanting, though she could not make out the words. Pryderi’s form flickered and, with a horror that mirrored the pain that threatened to tear apart her body, she watched his beautiful face ripple and re-form. His sensuous mouth was seared shut. His nose became a grotesque hole. His eyes were no longer smiling and kind. They glowed with an inhuman yellow light. Then, before she could take another sobbing breath, the apparition changed again. The eyes became dark, empty caverns and the mouth ripped open to show bloody fangs and a slavering maw. Rhiannon screamed in fear and rage and pain. The drumbeat and chanting got louder and closer. Pryderi’s image shifted and he was, once more, the inhumanly beautiful god, only this time he was barely visible. I cannot always be beautiful, even for you, Precious One. “Are you leaving me?” she cried as the terrible pushing urge abated for a moment. Though his changing visage terrified her, she was even more afraid to face birth alone. Those who approach are forcing me to leave. I cannot battle them tonight. I do not have the strength in this world. Then his eyes blazed into hers and his body almost solidified. Rhiannon MacCallan, I have sought you for decades. I have watched your unhappiness multiply as you were shackled to Epona. You must make your choice now, Rhiannon! You have seen all of my forms. Will you renounce the Goddess and give yourself to me as my priestess, my Chosen and Incarnate? Rhiannon felt light-headed with pain and fear. Her eyes flicked wildly around the grove, searching for some sign of Epona, but she saw nothing of her divine light. She had been abandoned to the darkness—a darkness that had been pursuing her for years. What choice did she have? She could not imagine existing were she not the Chosen of a deity. How would she live if she did not have the power such status afforded her? But even as she made her decision, Rhiannon could not bring herself to openly renounce Epona. She would accept Pryderi. That would have to be enough for the god. “Yes. I will still give myself to you,” she said faintly. And your daughter? Do you pledge your daughter to me, as well? Rhiannon rejected the warning that whispered through her soul. “I give—” Her words were broken off by the high-pitched battle cry of seven tribal Elders as the men entered the grove, tightening a circle around the two oaks. With a roar that made Rhiannon’s heart tremble, Pryderi’s spirit dissolved into the shadows. Pain bowed her body again and all Rhiannon knew was that she must push. Then strong hands were supporting her. She gasped and opened her eyes. The man was ancient. His face was deeply furrowed and his long hair was white. There was an eagle feather tied within its length. His eyes…Rhiannon focused on the kindness in his brown eyes. “Help me,” she whispered. “We are here. The darkness is gone. It is safe for your child to enter the world now.” Rhiannon gripped the stranger’s hands. She pushed with everything within her pain-racked body. Then to the beat of the ancient drums her daughter slid from her womb. And as she was born, it was Epona and not Pryderi to whom Rhiannon cried. 2 The old man used his knife to cut the cord that linked daughter to mother. Then he wrapped the infant in a home-woven blanket and gave her to Rhiannon. When she looked into her daughter’s eyes, it seemed to Rhiannon that the world shifted irrevocably. Deep within her soul she felt the change. She had never seen anything so miraculous. She hadn’t felt like this ever before in her life. Not when she’d first heard Epona’s voice—not when she’d experienced for the first time the power of being a Goddess’s Chosen—and not when she’d seen Pryderi’s terrible beauty. This, Rhiannon thought with wonder, touching her daughter’s impossibly soft cheek, is true magic. Another round of contractions wracked her, and Rhiannon gasped. She held her child close to her breast and tried to concentrate on nothing but her while she expelled the afterbirth. Somewhere Rhiannon heard the old man calling orders to another, and understood the urgency in his voice. But the drums continued to beat their ancient rhythm, and her daughter felt so right in her arms… Rhiannon couldn’t stop staring at her. The child gazed back with wide, dark eyes that continued to touch her mother’s soul. “I have been so very wrong.” “Yes,” the old man murmured. “Yes, Rhiannon, you have been wrong.” Rhiannon looked up from her daughter. With a strangely detached observation she realized that he had knelt beside her and was holding a bundle of cloth firmly between her legs. How odd that she hadn’t felt him do that. Actually, she could feel very little of her body, and was relieved that the pain had stopped. Then her thoughts focused on what he had said. “You know my name.” He nodded. “I was here the day the White Shaman sacrificed his life to entomb you within the sacred tree.” With a jolt Rhiannon recognized him as the leader of the Natives who had vanquished the demonic Nuada. “Why are you helping me now?” “It is never too late for an earth dweller to change their chosen path.” He paused, studying her silently before continuing. “You were broken then, but I believe this child has healed your spirit.” He smiled kindly. “She must be a great force for good if her birth was able to mend so much.” Rhiannon cradled her daughter, keeping her close to her breast. “Morrigan. Her name is Morrigan, granddaughter of The MacCallan.” “Morrigan, granddaughter of The MacCallan. I will remember her name and speak it truly.” His eyes held hers and Rhiannon felt a chill of foreboding, even before she heard his next words. “Something within your body is torn. There is too much bleeding, and it does not stop. I have sent someone for my truck, but it will be hours before we can reach a doctor.” She met his eyes and read the truth there. “I’m dying.” He nodded. “I believe you are. Your spirit has been healed, but your body is broken beyond repair.” Rhiannon didn’t feel fear or panic, and she certainly experienced no pain. She only knew a terrible sense of loss. She looked down at her newborn daughter who gazed back at her with such trust, and traced the soft face with her fingertip. She would not see Morrigan grow. She would not be there to watch over her and be sure she was safe and…“Oh, Goddess! What have I done?” The old man did not attempt to placate her. His eyes were sharp and wise. “Tell me, Rhiannon.” “I pledged myself to Pryderi. He also wanted me to pledge my daughter to his service, but your presence drove him away before I could give her to him.” “Pryderi is an evil one? A god of darkness?” he said quickly. “Yes!” “You must renounce him. For yourself and for Morrigan.” Rhiannon looked down at Morrigan. If she renounced Pryderi for both of them, in all probability her daughter would be trapped in this world. She might even be unable to tap into the small threads of power Rhiannon had discovered. Morrigan would never return to Partholon. But if she did not renounce Pryderi, her daughter would be destined to serve the same darkness Rhiannon now recognized had been shadowing her entire life, whispering discontent, echoing anger and selfishness and hatred, and, most destructive of all, twisting love into something unrecognizable. Rhiannon could not bear the thought that her daughter’s life might be as tainted as her own had become. If Morrigan was trapped in this world, then so be it. At least she would not be trapped by the lies of evil, too. “I renounce Pryderi, the Triple-Faced God, and I reject his hold on me—and my daughter, Morrigan MacCallan,” Rhiannon said. Then she waited. She had been the priestess and Chosen of a powerful goddess since she was a girl. She knew how serious it was to renounce a deity. There should be a sign, be it internal or external, that would show Destiny had been altered. Gods did not bear rejection well, especially not dark gods. “The dark one knows you are near death and very close to the realm of spirits. His hold on you is tight. He is not releasing you.” The old man’s words were softly spoken, but Rhiannon felt them as if he had sliced into her heart. Even though she was growing weaker, she forced her arms to tighten around her daughter’s tiny body. “I did not pledge Morrigan to him. Pryderi has no hold over her.” “But you are still bound to him,” the old man said gravely. Rhiannon was finding it difficult to fight against the exhaustion that was graying the edges of her vision. She was cold. She wished the old shaman would leave her alone and let her stare at her daughter until… “Rhiannon, you must listen to me!” He shook her. “If you die bound to Pryderi your spirit will never know the presence of your goddess again. You will never know light or joy again. You will spend eternity blanketed in the night of the dark god and the despair that taints all he touches.” “I know,” she whispered. “But I am finished fighting. It seems all I’ve done for as long as I can remember is fight. I’ve been too selfish, caused too much pain. Done too much harm. Perhaps it is time for me to pay for that.” “Perhaps it is, but should your daughter pay for your mistakes, too?” His words jolted her, and she blinked back the encroaching darkness in her eyes. “Of course she shouldn’t. What are you saying, old man?” “You did not pledge her to him, but Pryderi desires a priestess with the blood of Epona’s Chosen in her veins. With you dead, who do you think will be his next victim?” “No!” But she knew he was right. Pryderi had admitted to shadowing her for decades. He wouldn’t do any less to her daughter. Rhiannon shuddered. Morrigan would not be haunted by the darkness she had allowed to whisper and beguile her—and twist her love for her goddess into something ugly. “No,” she repeated. “Morrigan will not be his next choice.” “Then you must call upon your goddess to force Pryderi to relinquish his hold on you.” Rhiannon felt a surge of despair. “Epona has turned her face from me.” “But have you renounced your bond to her?” “I have done things abhorrent to her.” And for the first time in her life Rhiannon admitted that it had been she who had betrayed her goddess’s faith long before Epona had stopped speaking to her. “She no longer hears me.” “Perhaps the Goddess has been waiting to hear the right words from you.” Rhiannon stared into the shaman’s eyes. If there was just the slightest possibility that he might be right she would try. She would call upon Epona. She was close to death—perhaps her goddess would take pity on her. She could feel the misty veil already shrouding her body and numbing her to this world. Surely even from Partholon Epona knew what had befallen her. Rhiannon closed her eyes and centered herself. “Epona, Great Goddess of Partholon—goddess of my youth—goddess of my heart. Please hear me one last time. Forgive me for my selfish mistakes. Forgive me for allowing darkness to taint your light. Forgive me for the pain I caused you and others.” Rhiannon paused, struggling to focus her thoughts and to stave off the cloying numbness that was traveling throughout her body. “I know I do not deserve your favor, but I ask that you stop Pryderi from claiming my soul and my daughter’s.” The wind picked up her words and rattled and shook them until they sounded like rain sloughing through autumn leaves. Rhiannon opened her eyes. The shadows beneath the giant sacred oak, the twin to the destroyed tree under which she lay, began to stir and her heart fluttered in panic. Had Pryderi returned to claim her, despite the presence of the shaman and the power of their ancient drums? Then a ball of light burst into being, chasing away the darkness. From the center of the light a figure began to form. Rhiannon’s breath caught and tears filled her eyes. The old shaman bowed his head respectfully. “Welcome, Great Goddess,” he said. Epona smiled at the old man. John Peace Eagle, know that for your actions tonight you have my gratitude and my blessing. “Thank you, Goddess,” he said solemnly. Then Epona turned her gaze to Rhiannon. With a trem-bling hand, she wiped the tears from her eyes so that she could see the Goddess more clearly. In her childhood Epona had materialized for her several times, but as she had entered her rebellious teenage years, and then become a selfish, indulged adult, the Goddess had quit visiting her, quit speaking to her, and eventually, had quit hearing her. Now Rhiannon felt her soul quicken at the sight of her goddess. “Forgive me, Epona!” she cried. I forgive you, Rhiannon. I forgave you before you asked it of me. I, too, have been at fault. I saw your weakness and knew your soul was being courted by darkness. My love for you blinded me to the level of your self-destruction. Rhiannon bit back the excuses that always so readily came to her tongue. “I was wrong,” was all she said. Then she drew a deep breath, fighting against the numbness that sought to steal away her words. “Epona, I ask that you break the bonds Pryderi has on me. I have renounced him, but as you know, I am near death. His hold on my soul is strong.” Epona studied her fallen priestess carefully before asking, Why do you ask such a thing of me, Rhiannon? Is it because you fear what will happen to your spirit after death? “Goddess, I find now that death is near many things in my life have become clear.” She glanced down at the child she still held in her weakening arms. “Or perhaps it is the presence of my daughter that has allowed the scales to fall from my eyes.” She looked up at the Goddess. “The truth is that, yes, I am afraid to spend eternity in despair and darkness, but I would not have called upon you to save me from the fate I know I deserve.” Rhiannon choked, coughed, and took several gasping breaths before she could continue. “I called upon you because I could not bear the thought that my daughter would be claimed by the same darkness that has poisoned so much of my life. If you break the bonds Pryderi has upon my soul I do not ask that I be allowed to enter your meadows. I ask that you allow me to exist in the Otherworld, where I can keep watch on her and try to whisper good when the dark god whispers evil.” Eternity in the Otherworld is not an easy fate. There is no rest to be found there—no meadows of light and laughter to succor your world-weary soul. “I do not wish to rest while my daughter is in danger. I do not want her to follow my path.” The years of your daughter’s life will be only a tiny ripple in the pond of eternity. Do you truly ask an interminable fate for something that is in essence so transient? Rhiannon leaned her pale cheek against her daughter’s soft head. “I do, Epona.” The Goddess smiled and, even so near death, Rhiannon was filled with a rush of indescribable joy. Finally, my Beloved, you have conquered the selfishness in your spirit and followed your heart. The Goddess stretched her arms over her head. Pryderi, god of darkness and lies, I do not relinquish my rightful hold on this priestess! You shall not claim her soul without first vanquishing me! Light shot from the Goddess’s palms, splintering the shadows that had skittered to the edges of the clearing. With a terrible shriek, the unnatural darkness dissipated completely, leaving what Rhiannon now recognized as only the normal and comforting darkness that twilight foretold. “My spirit feels light,” she whispered to her daughter. That is because for the first time since you were a child your spirit is free of the influence of darkness. “I should have taken this path long ago,” Rhiannon said faintly. Epona’s smile was, once again, filled with limitless kindness. It is not too late, my Beloved. Rhiannon closed her eyes against a wash of emotions that drained her of the last of her waning strength. “Epona, I know this isn’t Partholon, and I am no longer your Chosen One, but would you greet my daughter?” Her voice was almost inaudible. Yes, Beloved. For the sake of my love for you, I greet Morrigan, granddaughter of The MacCallan, and I bestow upon her my blessing. Rhiannon opened her eyes at the sound of the whir of wings. Epona had disappeared, but the sacred grove had been filled with thousands upon thousands of fireflies that dipped and dived and soared all around her and the infant who rested in her arms. In the fading light they illuminated the air around them as if the stars had temporarily taken leave of the night sky just to dance about the glade in celebration of the birth of her child. “The Goddess heard your plea,” the old man said reverently. “She did not forget you. She will not forget your child.” Rhiannon glanced at him, and had to blink hard to focus on his face. “Shaman, you must take me home.” His eyes met hers. “I do not have the power to return you to the Otherworld, Rhiannon.” “I know that,” she said weakly. “Take me back to the only home I have known in this world—to Richard Parker, who is the mirror image of my father, The MacCallan.” Rhiannon grimaced and pushed back the memory of Shannon Parker’s voice telling her that in Partholon her father was dead. “Take my body there and present Morrigan to him as his granddaughter. Tell him…” She hesitated, trying to speak through the numbness that was quickly enclosing her. “Tell him…that I believe in his love and know he will do the right thing.” The shaman nodded solemnly. “How do I find Richard Parker?” Rhiannon managed to gasp simple directions to Richard Parker’s small ranch outside Broken Arrow. Thankfully, the old man questioned her little and seemed to understand the words she whispered between gasps. “I will do this for you, Rhiannon. I will also offer prayers for your spirit in the Otherworld. May you watch over your child and keep her safe.” “My child…Morrigan MacCallan…blessed by Epona…” Rhiannon whispered. She found that she could not fight against the numbness any longer. Still holding her daughter to her breast, she allowed her head to fall back so that it rested on a gnarled root. And while firefly lights played all around them to the tune of ancient drums, Rhiannon, Priestess of Epona, died. 3 Partholon “Okay, so here’s the absolute friggin truth. If it was fun, they wouldn’t call it labor.” I grimaced and tried to find a more comfortable position on the huge down-filled mattress I’d dubbed the marshmallow, but I was so damn tired and my body was sore in so many intimate places that I gave up and settled for sipping more of the mulled wine a helpful nymphet offered me. “They’d call it something like party,” I continued. “Women would say, ‘Oh, boy! I’m going into party now and having a baby. Yippie!’ Nope. It’s definitely not called party.” Alanna and her husband, Carolan (who had just delivered my daughter), glanced over their shoulders at me. Both of them laughed, as did several of the nymphlike handmaidens who were clustered around the room, tidying, fussing, basically doing the handmaiden stuff they loved to do (and, quite frankly, I adored their abject adoration). “I don’t know what you’re laughing at. In a couple months you’re going to know exactly what I’m talking about,” I reminded Alanna. “And I will count on you to hold my hand through every moment of it,” Alanna told me happily, and then kissed her husband’s cheek. “That’s fine with me. I’ll look forward to being on the hand-holding end of the childbirth thing.” “I thought women quickly forgot the pain of the birth.” I looked up at my husband, the centaur High Shaman ClanFintan, whose strength and stamina surpassed a man’s, but who at that moment appeared uncharacteristically worn and bedraggled, as if he had fought his way through hell and back instead of standing by his wife’s side as she labored (for a friggin day) and gave birth to their daughter. “Are you going to forget it soon?” I asked him with a knowing smile. “Not likely,” he said solemnly, and for the seemingly thousandth time in the past day he bent to brush the sweat-damp hair from my face and kiss me softly on the forehead. “Yeah, me neither. I think that whole ‘women don’t remember the pain of childbirth’ thing is a big lie started by freaked-out husbands.” Carolan’s deep chuckle rolled across the chamber. “I would have to agree with your theory, Rhea,” he said. I frowned at his back. “Great. My doctor didn’t think to mention that to me before I went into labor?” “No, my Lady.” I could hear the thinly veiled humor in his voice. “Little good it would have done then. If I would have mentioned it, it should have been before you bedded the centaur.” “Hrumph!” I said, purposefully sounding like my husband, which caused Carolan to chuckle again. “Ah, but Rhea, wasn’t it all worth it?” Finally finished swaddling my newborn daughter, Alanna, smiling like she was Santa Claus, brought the baby back to my waiting arms. I took her eagerly from my best friend and all-around girl Friday, executive assistant and expert on everything-Partholon-that-I-didn’t-know. “Yes.” I breathed the word, overwhelmed by the not-yet-familiar rush of love and tenderness holding my daughter evoked. “Yes, she is worth every bit.” ClanFintan knelt beside our mattress with the fluid grace with which centaurs moved. “There is nothing she is not worth,” he said reverently. Then he touched the down of curly auburn hair that capped her perfect head. “What shall we call her, my love?” I didn’t hesitate. I’d had months to think about this, and during that time only one name kept circling around and around in my mind. I’d asked Alanna about it when I first heard it echoing through my head, and when she told me its meaning, I knew it had to be my daughter’s name. “Myrna. Her name is Myrna.” ClanFintan smiled and circled us with his strong arms. “Myrna, the word in the old language for beloved. It is as it should be, for she is truly our beloved.” Then he leaned closer to me and for my ears alone murmured, “I love you, Shannon Parker. Thank you for the gift of our daughter.” I nestled against him and kissed the strong line of his jaw, holding our sleeping daughter close to us. He rarely used the name I’d been born with—and never when he could be overheard by the general populace. There were only three people who knew I was not Rhiannon, daughter of The MacCallan—ClanFintan, Alanna and Carolan. The rest of Partholon had no idea that almost one year ago I had been “accidentally” exchanged for the real Rhiannon, with whom I looked almost identical. But our physical likeness is where our similarities ended. Rhiannon had been a selfish, hateful bitch who’d abandoned her world. I liked to think that I was just mildly selfish, and only a bitch when absolutely necessary. I knew I would never abandon Partholon, or the people and goddess I had come to love there. I’d fought to stay—and stay I would. There was no doubt that I belonged in Partholon. Epona had made it clear to me that I had become her Chosen, and that it had never been an accident or a mistake that I’d been exchanged for Rhiannon. Epona chose me, and therefore I belonged to this world. Sublimely happy, I nuzzled the top of my daughter’s soft head, “Happy birthday, Mama’s precious.” ClanFintan’s arm was warm and strong around me. He squeezed gently, and I could hear the smile in his voice. “Happy birthday to both of my girls.” I blinked in surprise and laughed. “That’s right! Today’s April thirtieth. It is my birthday. I’d totally forgotten.” “You’ve been busy,” ClanFintan said. “I definitely have.” I smiled up at the amazing centaur with whom I was so completely in love. “I think that we should thank Epona for our magical daughter who was born on her mother’s birthday.” He kissed me gently. “Epona has my eternal thanks for Myrna and for you.” He drew a deep breath, and then in his resonant voice with which he called ancient shamanistic magic to him so that he could shape-shift into human form and make love to me, he shouted, “Hail, Epona!” “Hail, Epona!” His cry was gladly taken up by Alanna and my handmaidens. Suddenly the gauzy drapes that covered the floor-to-ceiling windows on the far wall of my chamber began to billow up like rolling clouds, and on the fragrant breeze into the room floated hundreds of rose petals. The handmaidens made happy little exclamations and began twirling around with the petals. Then the voice that I had been waiting to hear filled the room as my goddess, Epona, spoke. My Beloved has given birth to her beloved. It is with great gladness that I welcome Myrna, daughter of my Chosen One, to Partholon. Let us greet her with joy, magic, laughter and the blessings of her goddess! With a pop and sizzle that reminded me of Fourth of July sparklers, the rose petals exploded into little balls of glitter and became hundreds of butterflies. Then there was another popping sound and the butterflies became jewel-colored hummingbirds that swooped and dived and circled my laughing, dancing maidens. My eyes filled with tears of happiness and relief. My daughter had been born safely, and my goddess had attended her birth. I relaxed in the warmth of my husband’s arms, thoroughly and utterly content, and gazed down at the miracle that was our daughter, Myrna… “This is true magic,” I whispered. A mother’s love is the most sacred magic of all. Epona’s familiar voice drifted through my mind. In the future remember that, Beloved. A mother’s love has the power to heal and to redeem. I was suddenly chilled. What did Epona mean? Was something going to harm Myrna? Rest easy, Beloved. Your child is safe. I felt a wash of relief so strong that it made my body tremble. And then I felt something else and the trembling became a shudder. “Rhea? Are you well?” ClanFintan asked, instantly sensing the change in me. “I’m tired,” I prevaricated, surprised at how weak my voice sounded. “You should rest.” He kissed our daughter’s forehead and then mine before he caught Alanna’s eye. She quit dancing with the hummingbirds and handmaidens, and hurried to our side. “Rhea must rest,” he told her. “Of course she must,” Alanna said a little breathlessly, her hand rubbing her protruding abdomen. Then she clapped her hands and the frolicking handmaidens looked her way. But before she could announce that it was time for them to depart, the hummingbirds, as a group, circled the air above where I lay and then, in a flurry of wings and glittering colors, they exploded and were once more rose petals, which rained on the floor of my chamber so that the rich marble was carpeted in Epona’s magic. “The Goddess knows her Beloved must now sleep,” Alanna said, smiling in delight at Epona’s show of favor. “Thank you for being here. Thank you for singing my child into the world.” I somehow made my voice sound normal even though normal was far from what I was feeling. “It was our honor, Beloved of the Goddess!” several of the handmaidens said together. Then, laughing, clapping and calling blessings to us, they scampered merrily out of my chamber. I could feel ClanFintan’s gaze and knew better than to try to hide what was going on from him. I looked into his dark, almond-shaped eyes. “Rhiannon is dead,” I said. Alanna gasped, but ClanFintan grew very still. His jaw clenched and his classically handsome face seemed to turn to stone. To an outsider, his voice would sound calm, almost gentle. But I knew it for what it was—it was the way he cleared his mind and readied himself for battle. “How do you know this, Rhea?” he asked. I tightened my grip on Myrna’s small, perfect body. “I felt her die.” “But I thought she was killed months ago, when the shaman from your old world entombed her in the sacred tree,” Carolan said. I swallowed. My lips felt cold and numb. “I thought she was, too. She should have died then, but all this time she hasn’t been dead. All this time she’s been trapped inside the tree…alive.” I shuddered. Rhiannon was a hateful bitch. She’d caused me countless problems. Hell, she’d even tried to kill me. But I’d come to understand that she was just a broken version of myself, and I couldn’t help pitying her. Thinking about her being entombed alive made me feel sick and sad. Two hard, quick knocks sounded against the door. “Come!” ClanFintan ordered. One of my palace guards entered the chamber and saluted me briskly. “What is it…” I paused, trying to remember which guard he was. I mean, they all looked so much alike. Muscular. Tall. Scantily dressed. Muscular. Something about this one’s very blue eyes jogged my memory. “…Gillean?” I expected he’d come to pay homage to Myrna, but the grim set of his face had my heart beating faster. “It is the tree in the Sacred Grove, my Lady. The one around which you pour libations every full moon. It has been destroyed.” My gut wrenched with a pain that had nothing to do with childbirth. “What do you mean destroyed? How?” “It appears to have been struck by lightning, but the evening is clear. There is no hint of storm in the sky.” The bitterness of fear filled the back of my throat, making my voice sound rough. “Did anything come out of the tree?” The guard didn’t as much as blink at my weird question. This was Partholon, where magic was as real as the Goddess who reigned here. Weird was this world’s normal. “Nothing came out of the tree, my Lady.” “There were no bodies?” I made myself ask, trying to push away the mental image of Clint’s decomposing corpse. “No, my Lady. There were no bodies.” “Are you sure? Did you see for yourself?” ClanFintan fired the questions. “I am positive, my Lord. And, yes, I examined the tree for myself. I had just been relieved from the northern watch outside the temple grounds. I was returning when I heard a great cracking noise coming from the grove. I wasn’t far from it, and I know the Sacred Grove is important to Lady Rhiannon, so I went there immediately. The tree was still smoldering when I came upon it.” “You have to go look,” I said to ClanFintan. His nod was a tense jerk. “Get Dougal,” he told the guard. “Tell him to meet me at the north gate.” “Yes, my Lord. My Lady.” He bowed formally to me and then hurried out. “I will come with you,” Carolan said grimly. Then he and Alanna moved across the chamber, obviously allowing me some privacy with ClanFintan. “If she’s here, she’s dead,” I said, sounding much calmer than I felt. “Yes, but I wish to be sure that if she brought anything into Partholon with her reentry, it is dead, too.” I nodded and looked down at Myrna’s sleeping face. Vulnerable. I felt so damn uncharacteristically vulnerable knowing that I couldn’t bear it if anything happened to my daughter… “I will never allow anything to harm either of you.” ClanFintan’s voice was low and dangerous. I met his steady gaze. “I know.” But it was clear in both of our eyes that we were remembering a few months ago. I had been pulled through that very tree and taken to Oklahoma, along with a resurrected evil we had all believed we had vanquished forever. And that had happened while ClanFintan watched, powerless to save me. I had only been able to return to Partholon through the sacrifice of ClanFintan’s human mirror, Clint Freeman, and the power that was in the ancient trees. “Be careful,” I said. “Always,” he said. He kissed me and then Myrna. “Rest. I will not be gone long.” He and Carolan rushed out of the chamber. I could hear him calling orders for the guards to double their watch on me and on the palace, which should have made me feel safe, but all it did was send a terrible wash of cold fear through my body. Myrna began to make restless noises, and I whispered reassurance to her. “She’s probably hungry, Rhea.” Thankfully, Alanna was at my side helping to arrange my soft nightdress so that Myrna could find my breast. I tried to relax and concentrate on the sublimely intimate act of nursing my daughter, but my thoughts wouldn’t be still. I had known the exact moment of Rhiannon’s death. The sacred tree that had imprisoned her had been destroyed. And then there were the Goddess’s cryptic words about the power of a mother’s love to heal and redeem. Rhiannon had been pregnant when she’d been entombed. “All will be well, Rhea.” Alanna lifted the now full and sleeping Myrna from my arms and placed her in the small cradle within reaching distance of my bed. “I’m scared, Alanna.” Alanna took the wide soft brush from my vanity and knelt behind me. Gently, she began brushing my hair in long, slow strokes. “Epona will not allow you or Myrna to come to harm. You are her Chosen One, her Beloved. The Goddess protects her own. Rest now. You are safe here in the heart of Partholon, protected by all of us who love you. You have nothing to fear, my friend…nothing to fear…” Alanna kept up a steady murmur of reassurance. The sweet sound of her voice and the gentle strokes of the brush coupled with the exhaustion of twenty-four hours of laboring and childbirth worked on me like a sleeping pill. My body was aching for rest. And just before I slipped into the comforting darkness, my last thought was that if there were no bodies found in the Sacred Grove in Partholon, then they must be in the mirror version of that grove in Oklahoma. What the hell was going on over there…? 4 Oklahoma Richard Parker knew something was wrong long before John Peace Eagle drove slowly down the lane with his grim cargo. He’d been restless all evening. Worse, all six of his dogs, greyhound and Irish wolfhound mixes, had begun to howl just moments after twilight. Despite his threats, they hadn’t shut up for almost a full five minutes. He didn’t have to check the calendar to know what day it was. He’d been counting down the months and weeks and days since he’d last seen his daughter in November. Not that the exact date was important. He had no idea of her due date—just a rough estimate. Late April. Today was the thirtieth of April. Shannon’s birthday. In another world, one where she was revered as a goddess’s incarnate, she turned thirty-six today. But remembering the day of his daughter’s birth wasn’t what was giving him an eerie, walking-over-his-grave feeling. Had Shannon given birth today in an ancient world somewhere across an unimaginable barrier of time and dimension? No matter how impossible it seemed he wasn’t surprised that she would try to let him know. After all, the whole damn situation was impossible. When Shannon had first reappeared on his doorstep in the middle of a god-awful snowstorm looking scared and bedraggled with a man he recognized as Clint Freeman, an ex-fighter pilot hero, he hadn’t wanted to believe her wild story about being switched for Rhiannon, Goddess Incarnate in another world, and then being pulled back to Oklahoma by Clint. But his daughter wasn’t a liar. And the woman who had been running around for the preceding several months acting like a cold, calculating bitch and alienating her friends and family had looked like his daughter, but sure as hell hadn’t acted like her. Even before the evil Nuada had almost killed him in the icy pond and he had witnessed his daughter’s Goddess-given powers, he had found it easier to accept the idea of an alternate world than to accept the idea that his daughter had somehow managed a total change of personality. He’d known when Shannon had defeated Nuada and left this world, just as surely as he knew the smell of rain and the feel of a horse’s hide under his hands. It was an innate knowledge, something that rang true deep in his soul. He’d also known that Clint had been killed returning her to Partholon, and that knowledge had saddened him almost as much as the loss of his only child. At least Shannon hadn’t died. Actually, it was easier for him to think of it as if she had moved to Europe, or maybe Australia, and that someday they might get to visit one another again. Richard sighed and paced restlessly from one side of the concrete patio to the other. Shannon had had to leave. She’d been married in that other world to the father of her unborn child. She loved him. And a child, a daughter, needed her father. “…Needs her grandpa, too,” he muttered. He’d hoped that Shannon would be able to communicate with him, even if only briefly, so that he wouldn’t feel as if he’d lost his daughter forever. He did dream of her often. In his dreams she was always happy and surrounded by people who adored her. He’d even seen her centaur husband in his dreams. Richard snorted. “And that had been a damned interesting sight.” He believed Shannon was behind the dreams—or maybe it would be more accurate to say that Shannon’s goddess, Epona, was behind them. Either way, it was almost like getting letters from her, and he’d been content with the small glimpses he had been granted. Tonight was different than the dreams, though. This feeling, this terrible foreboding was lodged so firmly in his gut he couldn’t even stand still. Was Shannon trying to communicate more directly with him? It fit. It was the right time for her to be giving birth to his granddaughter, and of course she would want to share the event with him. But why then was the feeling so negative? Why did he have an itchy sense of danger? He stopped pacing as a terrible thought hit him, literally driving the breath from his lungs. Was he feeling her death? Had she died in childbirth in that ancient world where they had no hospitals or modern medicine? Was that why he felt such weight in the air around him, such a sense of pending doom? “Please, Epona,” he told the wind. “Protect her.” “Hon, what is it?” Patricia Parker, Mama Parker to the legions of football players he’d coached, called from just inside the open screen door behind him. “Nothin’.” He realized his tone had been harsher than he’d intended and smiled an apology at her over his shoulder. “Just restless tonight.” Her kind face instantly looked worried. “It’s not…not…that again, is it?” Patricia had been out of town visiting her only sister in Phoenix when Shannon had returned and Nuada had attacked him, but she’d seen the aftermath. And he had, of course, told her everything. Ironically, Mama Parker had been relieved to learn about the Rhiannon/Shannon switch. It had meant that the woman she’d raised and loved as if she was really her biological daughter, hadn’t turned on her. That the nasty things she’d said and done had been Rhiannon, and not Shannon. “Nope, nope, nope,” he said gruffly, sorry his imaginings had upset her. He didn’t really know that anything terrible had happened. Hell, it might be that the jalapeños he’d had with dinner were disagreeing with him. “Everything’s fine. I’ll be in soon.” “Well, okay then, hon. I’ll just finish up the dishes.” She had begun to turn away when they heard the sound of the truck start up the lane. Richard glanced at his watch. After ten-thirty. Late for a social call. Ice crawled up his spine again as he watched the old blue Chevy move slowly toward him and cough to a stop behind the other two trucks already parked in the drive. An old Indian slowly got out of the cab to face him. “Evenin’, Richard Parker.” Richard automatically extended his hand. The old man met his gaze steadily and returned his handshake with a firm one of his own. “John Peace Eagle. Sorry to disturb you so late.” “No problem. What can I do for you?” “Rhiannon asked that I bring her home.” Richard felt a jolt of surprise. “Rhiannon!” When he’d had no news of her after he felt Shannon leave this world, he had assumed that she had taken Rhiannon with her, probably so that she could face the consequences of abandoning her world and her duties as Epona’s Chosen in Partholon. Now she was here? Saying this was her home? He set his broad shoulders. No matter how much she looked like his daughter, Rhiannon was not Shannon, and he would not allow her to masquerade as his daughter again. But that was not something he would discuss in front of a stranger. It would wait until they were alone. Then he’d take her to town or the airport or where-the-hell-ever. Anywhere was fine, as long as it was away from Oklahoma. “Well, where is she?” He narrowed his eyes back at the cab of the truck. Someone was sitting there, but it was too dark for him to make out her features. He snorted. She should be afraid to come out here and face him. “She is here.” The old man didn’t go to the cab, but walked around behind the truck. With the sound of complaining hinges, he yanked open the tailgate. Richard followed him and then frowned. There was only one thing in the bed of the truck. At first he thought his eyes and the dim light from the pole lamp were playing tricks on him. The thing looked like a body, wrapped head to toe in a Native American blanket. John Peace Eagle climbed into the truck bed with surprising agility. He crouched down and gently pulled the blanket free. Richard felt as if something had slammed into his gut when he saw her face. “Shannon!” He jumped into the truck bed, ignoring the stiffness in his knees. “Not Shannon. This is Rhiannon. It was her wish that I bring her here to you, and that I also give her child into your keeping.” There was a buzzing in his ears and it was hard for him to concentrate on what the old man was saying. “She’s dead,” Richard said. Peace Eagle nodded. “She died giving birth. But not before love for her daughter healed what was dark in her spirit.” Richard forced his gaze from the dead face that mirrored his daughter’s so exactly. “You know about her? About Partholon?” “Yes, I was there when the White Shaman vanquished the evil one and sacrificed himself to return Shannon to that world. I was also there this evening, when evil freed Rhiannon from the sacred tree in which she had been imprisoned.” Richard’s eyes peered sharply into the surrounding shadows. “Did it follow you here?” “No evil accompanies me. The Elders and I banished the dark god from the Sacred Grove, and then Epona’s appearance made the last of the lurking darkness flee, as well as severing the ties that that god had to Rhiannon’s soul.” “Epona forgave Rhiannon?” “She did. I witnessed it.” In the deep, rhythmic voice of an experienced storyteller, Peace Eagle recited all that had happened with Rhiannon in the Sacred Grove. “She finally found the good within her.” Slowly, Richard brushed Rhiannon’s cold, pale cheek with his hand. “Oh, God! Shannon!” Richard looked up to see his wife standing at the tailgate of the truck, eyes wide with shock, hand pressed against her mouth. “No, Mama Parker, no.” He scooted down so that he sat on the tailgate and took her in his arms. “It’s not Shannon. It’s Rhiannon. Hush, don’t cry.” He rubbed her back while she sobbed into his shoulder. He was too busy comforting his wife to notice when the old shaman left the bed of the truck, but he certainly noticed when he returned because in his arms he held a newborn. “This is Morrigan. Your granddaughter.” The old man held the child out and Mama Parker automatically took the infant. With trembling hands, she opened the blanket and unwrapped the baby. Richard Parker peered over his wife’s shoulder, and fell instantly, irrevocably in love. “She looks exactly like Shannon did when she was born,” he said, and laughed through the unexpected tears that burned his eyes. “Just like a little bug.” “Oh, hon, how can you say that?” Mama Parker’s voice was breathless with emotion. “She is too beautiful to be a bug.” Richard looked at his wife. They’d been married for almost thirty years, since Shannon was just a little girl. Patricia Parker couldn’t have children of her own, but she’d loved and raised Shannon as if she had given birth to her. And now she was fifty-five and he was fifty-seven—too damn old to raise a baby. But his eyes were drawn back to Morrigan, who was so much like his Shannon, his Bugsy. “She has no one but you in this world,” John Peace Eagle said. “Rhiannon said to tell you that she believed in you and knew you would do the right thing.” He paused for an instant, as if he needed to consider his words, and then added, “I have a feeling about this child. I sense a great power within her. Whether that will be power for good or for evil is yet to be discovered. The darkness that haunted her mother will very likely stalk Morrigan, too. If you turn the child away I fear that the darkness may gain an upper hand with her.” “Turn her away!” Richard felt his wife’s arms tighten around the baby. “Oh, no. We couldn’t turn her away.” “Pat, you have to be sure about this. We’re not young anymore.” Smiling, she looked up into her husband’s eyes. “Morrigan will keep us young. And she needs us, hon. Plus, she is all of Shannon we may ever have.” Unable to speak, Richard nodded and kissed his wife’s forehead. “My daughter, Mary, is in the cab. She brought some things for the child—diapers, formula, bottles. Such as will get you by for tonight.” “Thank you.” Pat Parker turned her luminous smile on him. “We appreciate that.” “Why don’t you and Mary take the baby things into the house? John and I will finish up here,” Richard said. Pat nodded, but before she walked away she gave Rhiannon’s body one more look. “It’s hard to believe she’s not Shannon.” “She’s not Shannon,” Richard said with finality. “Shannon is alive and safe in another world.” The baby started to fret, and Pat’s attention went instantly from the corpse to the child. Cooing to her softly, she hurried around to the cab of the truck. Richard waited until the women and the few sacks of baby supplies disappeared into the house. Then he turned to the old Indian. “I’m not taking her into town. This is no one’s business but ours.” John Peace Eagle nodded slowly. “It is good that the modern world does not touch her any longer. She belongs to a different time—a different place.” “I’d like to bury her down by the pond under the willow trees.” He looked out at the dark pond. “Those trees have always seemed sad to me.” “Now it will be as if they are crying for her.” Richard grunted and nodded. “Will you help me?” “I will.” Together they started for the barn to get what they’d need. “What will you tell Morrigan of her mother?” Peace Eagle asked. “The truth,” he said automatically, and then added, “eventually.” He wished he knew how the hell he was going to do that. It was almost dawn before John Peace Eagle and his daughter left. Richard was exhausted. He rubbed his right hand slowly with his left, trying to work out the stiffness that always bothered him if he used it too much. He wondered if the injury would ever truly heal, and then reminded himself that it had been only five months since he’d split it open trying to claw his way out of a hole in the icy pond—a hole made by the evil Nuada as he tried to follow through on his threat to kill everyone Shannon loved. Richard’s skin shivered and twitched, like a horse being harassed by a biting blackfly. He didn’t like to remember that day. The mewing of the baby pulled his concentration across the dimly lit bedroom. Quietly he got up, walked around to his wife’s side of the bed and peered down at the wriggling bundle. The child was in the old cradle Mama Parker had managed to get from the attic. Shannon’s old cradle. He’d forgotten he’d kept it. Christ, it must have been in that attic for thirty-plus years. Without hesitation, he picked up Morrigan. Patting her back only a little awkwardly, he hurried from the room before she could wake Mama Parker. “Shh,” he soothed. She was probably hungry. Newborns ate constantly—he did remember that. As he heated up a bottle of formula, the weight and scent of the baby caused even more memories to surface. He’d forgotten that holding his newborn daughter had seemed to him a religious experience. And he wasn’t a religious man. He had no time for the stuffiness and hypocrisy of organized religion. All his life he’d wondered how people could so readily believe God could be contained in buildings and overly translated and dissected words. He found his god, or goddess he mentally corrected with a silent laugh, in rolling pastures of sweet hay, in the warm smell of a well-worked quarter horse, in the loyalty of his dogs. So when he thought of holding this new baby girl in his arms as religious, he didn’t mean that it brought to mind church and such. He meant it brought to mind the perfection of beauty, of the miracle of nature at its finest. He sat down in the rocking recliner with a sigh at the cracking of his knees and the stiffness in his back and shoulders, but his gaze on the baby as she sucked at the bottle and made soft, puppy-like noises wasn’t that of an old man. It was that of a man who was seeing anew the magic of life and birth and love reborn. “I think we’ll do fine together,” he told the baby girl. “Mama Parker and I aren’t young anymore, but we’re also not stupid as damn knot-headed twenty-somethings. And I’ve had some practice with this father thing. I think if Shannon were here she would tell you that I did just fine with her.” Thinking of Shannon made him sad, as it always did. He missed her. But tonight, with the warm, sweet weight of the sleepy newborn in his arms he found that he felt his daughter’s loss less sharply. The missing her would never go away, but maybe the pain of it could be eased by this child that was so like her. He lifted the baby to his shoulder when she was through with the bottle, and chuckled when she belched like a little sailor. “Just like Shannon,” he said. Then he nestled her securely back in the crook of his strong arm and began rocking her. And from the recesses of his memory came lines from a book he’d read to Shannon over and over again when she was a little girl. “‘Johnny Go Round is a tan tom cat. Would you like to know why we called him that?’” The baby blinked up at him and smiled. Richard’s heart, which had felt somehow heavier since the day his daughter disappeared from his world, lifted suddenly as if it had grown wings. He had to clear his throat and blink his eyes before he could continue the story. “‘Well, Johnny goes round when…’” 5 Partholon/Oklahoma DreamLand is my favorite place. Yeah, I like it better than Epona’s Temple (which I adore), Tuscany (which I drank my way through whilst a group of my students tried, albeit unsuccessfully, to chaperon me) or even Ireland (again, students attempted to keep me in line on our educational pub tour; thankfully they failed). I’ve always been able to control my dreams, even before I came to Partholon and became Epona’s Chosen. As a child growing up in Oklahoma, I thought it was normal to be able to control my dreams. I hadn’t realized there was anything weird about it till I was in third grade and one of my friends said she’d had a terrible nightmare the night before. I’d laughed and said something like, “Well, why didn’t you just tell your dreams to take you somewhere happy?” She’d looked at me like I was totally nuts and told me that people couldn’t control their dreams. I’d (uncharacteristically) kept my mouth shut until I could get home and ask Dad about it. Dad had explained that people usually couldn’t control their dreams and that maybe I should keep it to myself that I could. Which I pretty much did after that, although the weirdness of my ability didn’t dampen my DreamLand enjoyment. In Partholon my dream weirdness turned to magic. Epona often communicated with her Chosen through dreams. Actually, it’s more accurate to say that the Goddess’s Chosen has the ability for astral projection, which Partholonian priestesses call the Magic Sleep. In other words, the Chosen’s (moi’s) sleeping soul projected anydamnwhere at the whim of Epona. Which is as cool and as disconcerting as it sounds. Epona has projected me everywhere from the middle of a bloody Fomorian battle where my bodiless spirit saved my husband’s life, to a Partholon birth, attended by singing, laughing women where I witnessed the miracle of new life. For most of my pregnancy, though, Epona had kept my Magic Sleep trips to a minimum. Well, that is after Nuada was vanquished, Rhiannon was entombed and I was returned to Partholon (where I definitely belong). So I was surprised when my dream of Hugh Jackman rubbing my feet while Brandon Routh rubbed my shoulders (both were, of course, in their full superhero costumes) and argued over which one of them was more worthy of my very personal attention that night (I was leaning toward Brandon. He is, after all, super.) was interrupted by my spirit suddenly popping up through the ceiling of Epona’s Temple like a wine cork surfacing in a cask of my favorite red. “Oh, jeesh.” I gulped big breaths of night air (yes, I know, I didn’t really have a “body” but just trust me on this—it feels like I still have a body). “Ugh, feeling sick…feeling dizzy…feeling…” I suddenly realized why I was feeling so discombobulated and I grinned. “Feeling not pregnant!” Epona’s silver laughter seemed to float musically in the air around me. Did you expect to feel pregnant after you gave birth, Beloved? “Well, no. But it’ll be awhile before I get back into those little leather riding slacks that are so cute. So I guess I just figured I’d still feel fat and bloated the night after I gave birth.” The spirit recovers quicker than the body from childbirth. I was relaxed, loving the sound of my goddess’s familiar voice in my head, but my aimless floating came to an abrupt end with Epona’s next words. And it is good that the spirit recovers quickly. Tonight you need to make a difficult journey, one that was not safe for you to attempt in the last stages of your pregnancy. “What is it? Not the Fomorians again?” I tried to keep my fear in check, but just the thought of those creatures abroad with my newborn daughter helpless, asleep… It is not Fomorians. I had a moment to feel relieved, and then I remembered what had happened just before the exhaustion of labor and birth had caused me to fall into a deep sleep. “Rhiannon.” Rhiannon, the Goddess agreed. “But she’s dead!” I blurted. Yes, Beloved. Rhiannon is dead. “I—I didn’t know that she was alive inside that tree all this time.” The thought of it still made me sick. I’d played a part in putting her there, as had Clint. His part had cost him his life. Rhiannon’s choices entombed her alive. Not you—not Clint. As usual, it seemed Epona could read my mind. You should know, Beloved, that before she died, what was broken within Rhiannon’s soul was finally healed. “I’m glad,” I whispered, meaning it. She was healed and her spirit rescued from the dark god, but Pryderi still lusts to control one who carries the blood of my Chosen. “Myrna!” I gasped. “He’ll go after my baby?” He may, Beloved, just as he tried to draw you from me. I snorted. “No damn chance of that.” With you and ClanFintan by her side, there will also be little chance Myrna will listen to Pryderi’s dark whisperings. “We sure as hell won’t make the mistakes that were made raising Rhiannon,” I muttered. Rhiannon had been spoiled and cosseted and basically never told no. (Note to self: remember to jump square in Myrna’s butt if/when she gets mouthy.) “Myrna is going to know the meaning of ‘no you may not, little girl.’” So you see, Beloved, it is not Myrna about whom I am worried. “Huh?” I said succinctly. Ready yourself, Beloved. And remember, I will be with you. I had just enough time to start to worry about where the hell Epona was taking me when the clear sky over the temple began to swirl as if a weird, inverted tornado had materialized. I blinked at the dark cone shape that shifted and opened to show me a tunnel of fire. And before I could say, “Billy Jo Bob loves his first cousin” my spirit was sucked into that roiling inferno. Knowing I was no longer physically attached to my body made no damn difference. It still felt like my heart was literally being squeezed within my chest. I couldn’t breathe. In a total state of panic I opened my mouth to scream, and my spirit exploded from the tunnel. I was thoroughly disorientated. Nausea engulfed me. I gulped huge breaths of cool air, wondering (and not for the first time) at how a spirit body could come so close to projectile vomiting. But soon the familiar hovering sensation calmed me and I felt my vertigo fade. I glanced down, and realized where I was. Happiness shocked through my spirit, chasing away the last of the nausea. I was back in Oklahoma, floating over my childhood home. Slowly, my spirit body began to sink through the achingly familiar roof, and very soon I was hovering in the middle of my parents’ living room. I stayed very still, just wanting to soak in the room. Nothing had changed. It was clean, but messy. You know what I mean. My parents have a real home where people actually live and love and laugh instead of a cold, heartless showpiece. (I mean, please, even my opulent chamber in Epona’s Temple gets messy sometimes!) Books were strewn all over the end tables and whatnot. (My parents read constantly. Their favorites are paranormal romances. Yes, even my dad reads them. Promise. Which is proof that men can evolve beyond the subhumanoid level of Sports Illustrated and Maxim.) There was only one small table lamp on and it was turned down so low that it actually took me a little while to realize that Dad was sitting in the chair next to the lamp. He was sound asleep. I smiled and firmly told myself I would not cry. Just the sight of Dad made me feel warm and safe and loved. Man, I’d missed him. I felt the little shiver that told me Epona had worked some of her magic to make my spirit body visible, and glanced quickly down at myself. Thankfully this time I wasn’t naked. Then I looked back at Dad and, with another grin, opened my mouth to shout a big Surprise, Dad, it’s me, when the book in his lap moved. And kicked. And made a little cooing noise. “Holy shit, that’s not a book!” At the sound of my voice Dad’s body jerked. He blinked, squinting around the room sleepily, clearly thinking he’d been dreaming. Then he shifted the baby (BABY?!) from the crook of his arm to his shoulder, where he patted the diapered behind gently. “Dad, where the hell did that baby come from?” Dad’s body jerked in surprise again. He followed the sound of my voice up and his eyes widened. “Shannon? Is that you, old Bugsy?” “It’s me, Dad.” Then before I could say anything else he said, “Is everything all right with you? Did anything bad happen today?” “I’m good, Dad—great, actually. I had a daughter today. Her name is Myrna and she’s amazingly beautiful. You’re a grandpa!” “Bugsy old girl, that’s wonderful!” He shifted the baby from his shoulder to his other arm so that he could wipe his eyes clear of tears. I glanced at the baby and felt the shock of recognition sear me like I’d just touched a hot iron. “Whose child is that?” I knew what his answer would be before he said it. “Rhiannon’s.” “How, Dad? She’s dead.” He nodded his head slowly. “Yep, yep. She died today giving birth to her.” “Her?” I felt sick, even though I’d known the baby had to be a girl child. Epona’s Chosen was always gifted with a girl child as her firstborn. “Rhiannon named her Morrigan,” Dad said. “Did Rhiannon die here? I don’t understand. How did she get out of that tree?” Dad sighed. “I only know what happened secondhand. Rhiannon was dead when she got here. An old shaman found her and helped deliver the baby. He told me that Rhiannon had made a deal with a dark god to break free of the tree. She was to be his High Priestess—both she and Morrigan were supposed to pledge to his service—but the birth of Morrigan changed her. Or I guess fixed her would be a better way to put it. Rhiannon denied the dark god, but she was so near death that the god wouldn’t release her. So she called on Epona, and the Goddess answered her.” “Epona forgave Rhiannon?” “She did,” Dad said. I know it was wrong—selfish of me and more than a little hateful, but knowing that Rhiannon had reconciled with Epona made me feel ridiculously jealous. You are now, and will forever be my Chosen One. My love for Rhiannon does not lessen my love for you, Beloved. Epona’s voice in my head made me jump guiltily. Pay attention now, Beloved. Your father must be made aware of Pryderi’s intentions. And suddenly I knew why Epona had pulled me through the fiery tunnel that separated our worlds, and it wasn’t just for me to tell Dad about Myrna or for me to understand what had happened to Rhiannon. “Dad, are you keeping Rhiannon’s baby?” “Yep…yep…” He looked down at the child and touched her cheek gently before continuing. “It was Rhiannon’s last request. But there’s more to it than that, Shannon. This baby is so much like you were. I have to help her—I can’t let her go to strangers.” His eyes begged me to understand. And, oddly, I did. “She looks just like Myrna. It’s really weird. I suppose it makes sense. Rhiannon and I could have been twins. And Clint and ClanFintan are mirrors of each other—” I broke off abruptly with a gasp. This was Clint’s daughter! Had I chosen to stay in Oklahoma and not returned to my life in Partholon, Clint would be alive today. He and I would be together. My next child would have been his…I clamped down on those thoughts, forcing myself not to cry…not to regret… Dad looked only momentarily surprised. “Clint’s daughter, huh? I’m glad to hear it. I liked that young man.” “So did I,” I said quietly. “Did the shaman say anything about finding Clint’s body by the tree?” Dad met my eyes. “No. And I’m sure if his body had been there the old man would have mentioned it.” He paused. “So Clint is dead.” Although it wasn’t a question, I nodded. “It was the sacrifice of his life that returned me to Partholon.” “Yep…yep…He was brave. I’ll be sure to tell Morrigan what a good man her father was.” Which reminded me. “Dad, I’m here because Epona wants me to warn you. That dark god that broke Rhiannon free from the tree?” Dad nodded. “His name is Pryderi. He’s really bad news. They call him the Triple-Faced God, when they call him anything at all. Most people in Partholon won’t even speak his name. A long time ago he was Epona’s consort, but he betrayed her because he wanted her power. She banished him, but he wants to come back.” I spoke the next words as the Goddess whispered them through my mind. “His power feeds on worship.” I paused, sifting through the knowledge Epona was giving me. “It’s like he’s a vampire. He literally drains the good from those who worship him. He thrives on the ashes of their souls. And he needs a High Priestess as a go-between, so that his evil intentions are hidden from his worshippers.” I drew a deep, shaky breath. “He wants to use a daughter of Epona’s Chosen to win a hold on Partholon. That means even in Oklahoma Morrigan will not be safe because we all know sometimes people can travel from Oklahoma to Partholon.” I was shocked to see that Dad didn’t look one bit surprised. He only nodded slowly and said, “Yep, that’s basically what the shaman told me. It’s why Rhiannon asked Epona to forgive her. So that her spirit could be free to watch over her daughter and try to keep her from being lured to the Dark Side.” Despite the seriousness of the situation, his wording made me smile. “The Dark Side, Dad? As in Darth Vader?” “Seems like a reasonable comparison.” A laugh bubbled out of me. “I suppose you’re right.” “So I’ll just have to be sure that the Force is strong with her,” he said, chuckling. “Seriously, Dad, Pryderi is going to come after her. Raising her could put you and Mama Parker in danger.” “We know that, Shannon. This isn’t our first time around the dance floor.” Then he smiled at me. “Dark gods or no dark gods, parenting is a damn tough job. You’ll see.” I frowned at him. “I’m talking about an evil deity sniffing around, not about the terrible twos or an obnoxious teenager.” “Obnoxious teenager is redundant,” Dad said automatically, and I had to force myself not to smile. Dad had been teaching and coaching for about a zillion years. He and I definitely saw eye to eye on teenagers. “You know what I mean,” I said. “I do.” He paused and then sighed. “What would you have me do, Bugsy, give her to the state to raise? I imagine that would be playing right into Pryderi’s hands.” He shook his head before I could answer. “Nope, nope. I won’t do that. Mama Parker and I decided. We’re going to raise her and do our best by her.” He smiled at me and his eyes were shiny with familiar love. “It worked once before. You didn’t go over to the Dark Side. It’ll work again, Bugsy old girl.” He cleared his throat and added quietly, “This little girl is all I’ll ever have of you or my granddaughter. In this world, it’s the closest I’ll come to leaving a part of me behind. You can’t really mean to ask me to give that up, can you?” I blinked fast, trying to clear the tears from my eyes. “No, Dad. I can’t ask you to give that up. I just want you to be really, really careful.” “I will. I give you my word on it. Plus—” he grinned “—Rhiannon’s ghost is supposed to be around somewhere. I imagine she’ll help out with the more boogerman-like aspects of parenting Morrigan.” I glanced around, almost afraid I’d see a spooky version of myself lurking about. “Dad, that’s just weird.” He barked a laugh. “No weirder than your spirit floating around my living room while your body’s in another world.” I shrugged. “You have a point.” Tell him he has my blessing, Beloved. You should not stay any longer. Having your spirit separated so far from your body is not healthy. “Dad,” I said hastily. “Epona says I gotta go in a second. But she wants me to tell you that you have her blessing.” Dad bowed his head respectfully. “Tell Epona I appreciate that, and I’ll be sure Morrigan is raised spending plenty of time in the country around trees, and that she knows the Goddess’s name.” “And horses,” I added, intuitively knowing Epona would approve. “Be sure she’s around horses.” “Yep, yep. Just like you,” he said. “I’ll be sure she has her own mare.” “It’d be cool if you could make it a gray mare. Epona’s Chosen mare is always a silver-gray.” “Yep, I can do that.” I felt my spirit body begin to shiver, and I knew I would soon disappear. “I love you, Dad! Don’t ever forget that. And I miss you! And remember that in Partholon there’s a part of you that lives on there.” “I love you, too, Bugsy old girl. Try to come back and see me again.” “I will, Dad. Tell Mama Parker I love her, too.” “I’ll tell her. Oh! And happy birthday, Shannon!” “Thanks, Dad, and don’t forget to be careful…” I called. The living room and Dad faded from my view as I lifted through the house and then, before I could steady myself, I was sucked back into the tunnel of fire. “Oh, shit!” I sat up too fast and grimaced at the tenderness in my body. “Rhea? What is it?” ClanFintan hurried up to our bed. He’d obviously just gotten back from the Sacred Grove. He smelled vaguely of damp earth and sweat. Shakily, I pushed my wild hair out of my face. “The Magic Sleep. It was just especially disconcerting tonight. Epona sent me back to Oklahoma.” Concern narrowed his dark eyes. “Why there?” I answered him with a question of my own. “You didn’t find Rhiannon’s body, did you?” “No.” And then I saw understanding flash on his face. “She died in your old world.” I nodded. “But not until giving birth. Today. To a daughter my parents have decided to raise.” ClanFintan looked almost as shocked as I’d felt when I’d discovered Morrigan in my father’s arms. Then my eyes followed his and we gazed at the perfect baby girl who slept so peacefully in the cradle beside our bed. “Rhiannon’s daughter looks just like Myrna,” I said. I saw ClanFintan jerk in surprise. Then his eyes found mine, and I saw they were shadowed with worry. “Why did Epona send your spirit to your father?” “She wanted me to warn him. Pryderi freed Rhiannon from the tree. She was supposed to be his minion or whatever, but the birth of her daughter changed her…fixed her…” Emotions made my voice choke and I had to clear my throat before I could continue. “Rhiannon was forgiven by Epona before her death, and her bonds to the dark god were broken, but it seems Pryderi is still after a Chosen of Epona—or the daughter of a Chosen.” “That dark creature had better look elsewhere. He will not touch our daughter with his evil whisperings.” “Which is exactly why Epona had me warn Dad. He can’t have me. He can’t have Myrna or any other children we may have. So his next logical choice would be—” “Rhiannon’s daughter,” he finished for me. “Exactly,” I said. “Is your father prepared to fight a dark god for the soul of the child?” I smiled grimly at ClanFintan. “Dad’s not about to let someone he loves give in to the Dark Side.” He, of course, hadn’t seen the Star Wars movies (not even the old ones), but he totally got the gist of what I was saying. “But can he stop her? The MacCallan wasn’t able to stop Rhiannon from being seduced by darkness.” I felt cold, and shivered. “I don’t know. I think all we can do is wait and see.” “And pray for Epona’s aid,” he said. “And pray for Epona’s aid,” I echoed. Silently I added, Please, Epona, somehow, even though that’s not your world, help Dad and Mama Parker and little Morrigan. Then my own daughter began to stir and my attention shifted from Oklahoma and darkness to Partholon and the light of new beginnings. PART II 1 Oklahoma From her earliest thoughts Morrigan knew she was different. It wasn’t just because she was being raised by her grandparents. She knew other kids whose parents were losers and their grandparents had to raise them. It wasn’t just because her mom and dad were dead, even though she didn’t know anyone else whose parents were both dead. And it wasn’t because G-ma and G-pa taught her kinda weird stuff when it came to religion. Oklahoma was the Bible Belt, but even in Broken Arrow there were kids in school who believed in different stuff. Okay, not many. But still. She was different because she heard things other people didn’t hear, and because she felt things other people didn’t feel. Morrigan sighed and continued to pull the journals out of her closet and stack them neatly in storage boxes. “And here it is. All my weirdness. Chronicled for the enjoyment of the masses.” She bowed her head and waved her hands, as if accepting grateful accolades from a crowd. “No…no…your applause is too much. Really.” “Morgie! Hon! Do you need some help in there?” “Grandma, no! I’m fine.” “Want a glass of sweet tea?” Morrigan sighed again, but she smiled and made sure the smile touched her voice. “No, Grandma. Don’t worry. I’ll be done in here in a little while.” “Okay, well, your friends will be here pretty soon. So if you need me to help you—” “Mama Parker, leave the girl alone. If she said she’s fine, she’s fine…” Morrigan giggled at her grandpa’s gruff voice and at her grandma’s soft reply. G-pa always seemed to know when she needed some time to herself. Not that she didn’t love her grandma and appreciate her. But G-ma tended to…well…hover. And an eighteen-year-old girl who was packing to go away to college didn’t need hovering. Or at least not all the time. She picked up another journal and thumbed through it restlessly. It was hard to think about going away, though. Sure, Oklahoma State University wasn’t that far away. Only about an hour and a half. But it wasn’t here. It wasn’t home. And she’d have to meet new people. Make new friends. Morrigan frowned. She just wasn’t good at that. New people didn’t get her. She tended to be shy and quiet. People misunderstood that and assumed she was stuck up. So she felt like she always had to force herself to act against her personality—to smile and say hi when she just wanted to sit in the background and watch what was going on until she felt comfortable joining in. That’s why she’d gotten into drama. She’d even been in several of the school plays. She and Grandpa had come up with the plan in middle school that she should take Intro to Drama so that she could learn to “act” in her daily life. Okay, it sounded wrong and kinda even deceptive. But it wasn’t. Morrigan had needed a way to fit in. And not just for herself. It was important to her grandparents that she had friends. That she acted normal. Even though she wasn’t. They understood her. But no one else really did. So she’d learned to act. And she got into dance and made the Tigette Dance Squad for all four of her high-school years. And she dated (mostly football players or wrestlers—they were the guys G-pa approved of). She gave the appearance of normal. But inside, where it really counted, Morrigan was far from normal. She tossed another journal in the storage box. It flipped open, and the childish handwriting caught her eye. She picked it up and read from the open page. April 2 (28 more days till my 9th birthday!) Dear Journal, I really, really think G-pa and G-ma are getting me a horse for my birthday!! And not just because I’ve been asking and asking for one, and being sure I show them that I’m old enough to take care of one all by myself. The wind tells me. She whispers that my horse is coming and that I should always love and cherish my mare. The wind is almost always right. I guess I should tell G-pa that the wind talks to me, but Morrigan didn’t need to flip the page to remember the rest of the long-ago entry. She could recall all too well the little girl she used to be. The girl who’d loved, more than anything, the trees and the earth and the beautiful dappled gray mare she did get for her ninth birthday. The girl who didn’t constantly look into shadows for bad things, but believed that all the voices in her imagination were good, her special friends, and that she wasn’t a total and complete freak for being able to sense spirits in the land. Not today. She wouldn’t think about that today. She shook her head. Today she had enough to deal with as she packed to leave her home and then went on one last road trip with her friends before they scattered to different colleges. The battle between good and evil would have to wait till after she was settled in the dorm. She wasn’t Buffy. Morrigan snorted. She wasn’t even Eowyn, although she’d give just about anything to be a Shieldmaid of Rohan. Was there really a battle between good and evil? Could it just be something her aging, eccentric grandparents had made up? “No,” she said firmly, shoving aside the fact that she didn’t know if those last thoughts had been her own, or had been whispered to her on the wind. To distract herself she flipped the journal ahead to the April 30 listing, and let herself smile and relax as she read her childish excitement. Dear Journal Dear Journal Dear Journal! THEY DID GET ME A HORSE! I knew it! She’s the most beautiful, amazing, incredible thing in the world! She’s only a two-year-old. G-pa says that’ll give us time to grow up together. (G-pa is so funny.) She’s an awesome dappled gray that’s so light she’s almost silver. I think I’m going to call her Dove because she’s so pretty and sweet. AND SHE’S MINE! G-pa and G-ma are the best! It doesn’t even matter that they’re old. Tonight while I was brushing Dove G-pa told me all about a horse goddess named Epona. She’s also goddess of the earth and trees and rocks and everything. He said if I’m really happy about my new horse then maybe I should thank Epona, because she probably pays attention when someone gets her first horse of her very own. I thought that sounded like a cool idea, so after dark I snuck out to the big tree in the front yard (the one rightoutside my bedroom window) and I said THANK YOU to Epona. Because that’s a really big tree and I figured if she’s goddess of trees she probably liked that one a lot. Then I pulled one of the lawn chairs over and stood on my tip-toes on it so that I could reach to put my favorite shiny rock (the one I found when I was weeding the garden last summer) as far up as I could. I told Epona the rock was for her. And do you know what? I swear I heard someone laughing up in the branches of the tree! A girl someone! “And the next day the shiny rock was gone,” Morrigan whispered. And that’s when her relationship with Epona had started. The older she got, the more often her grandparents mentioned the Goddess. And the more often Morrigan thought about her. Morrigan didn’t remember exactly when the woman’s voice in the wind had become that of the Goddess to her, she just knew that soon after the rock disappeared she’d started thinking of the voice in her mind, the one that sounded like music, as the whisper of a goddess. Until the day she had finally admitted to G-pa that the wind spoke to her. She’d never forget the look on his face. He’d gone from laughing with her about something Dove had done, to being pale and serious within the space of just a few seconds. Then he’d sat her down and given her The Talk. Had The Talk been a big, embarrassing lecture about sex and periods and that kind of stuff? Unfortunately, no. It’d been a talk about good and evil, and how both might touch her life. Morrigan put away the journal she’d been reading, and sifted through the others until she found the one she wanted. She didn’t have to thumb through many pages to find the entry she’d made after The Talk. September 13 Dear Journal, I guess the whole thing about the 13th being unlucky is true. I told G-pa about the voices in the wind today and he really freaked. And the stuff he said kinda scared the s**t outta me. Morrigan closed her eyes. She didn’t have to read the childish version of the conversation. She remembered it all too well—and without the cushion of childhood’s innocence to soften the impact of his words. The three of them had sat at the kitchen table. “Morrigan, I want you to listen carefully to me,” G-pa had said. She’d known he was dead serious because he’d called her by her full name instead of Morgie or Morgie old girl. She remembered that the tone of his voice had made her stomach hurt. “You think I’m crazy because I hear the wind,” she’d blurted. “No, hon!” G-ma had patted her hand. “Grandpa, tell her we believe her and don’t think she’s crazy.” “Nope, nope,” he’d grumbled. “You’re not crazy. We believe you can hear voices in the wind.” He sighed and rubbed his eyes under his glasses. “It’s like how you used to draw pictures of rocks and trees with hearts in them when you were a little girl. Remember what you told us about that?” Of course she’d remembered. “I told you that I drew hearts in them because I knew they were all alive.” “Right,” Grandpa had said. “The wind talking to you is like you knowing the trees and rocks have spirits.” “The wind is just another spirit in the world?” Morrigan had brightened, thinking that if the voice was like the trees and rocks then it should be okay. Maybe one of the voices, that really pretty girl voice, was Epona! “It’s not that simple, hon,” G-ma had said. “The rocks and trees are good. But the voice you hear—” “Voices,” she’d interrupted. “It’s not always the same voice, but I always think of it as wind.” G-pa gave G-ma a long look before he continued. “You know that there’s good and evil in the world, right?” “Yeah, we’re studying WWII in history. Hitler was evil.” “That’s right.” “And lots of kids believe in Satan. He’s evil.” “Yes. But sometimes evil isn’t as easy to identify as Hitler or Satan, just like not all that’s good seems good at first.” Morrigan had scrunched up her nose and said, “Like brussels sprouts tasting nasty but being good for me?” That had made him chuckle. “Just like brussels sprouts.” Morrigan remembered that she’d suddenly realized what he was trying to tell her. “You mean that the voices in the wind might be bad?” “Not all of them, hon,” G-ma had said. G-pa had taken a deep breath, and she remembered thinking that he looked really tired. Then he’d said, “Your mom heard voices. Whispered voices. Some of them were good. She could even hear the sound of Epona’s voice.” She’d sat there, awestruck that her mom had actually listened to a goddess. And if her mom had heard Epona, then maybe she could hear her, too! Then the rest of what G-pa was saying was like he’d thrown ice water on her. “But she could also hear a voice that was evil. She listened to it, too, until after a while it changed her, and it wasn’t until you were born that she realized she had made a mistake and let evil get a hold of her.” “But you said my mom was a good person.” Morrigan had felt like crying. “She was. There was a lot of good in her. For a while it just got smothered out by the whispers of evil.” “Like the voices I hear?” “Morrigan—” G-pa had leaned forward and put his big, rough hand over mine “—I think your mom might be one of the voices you hear. She would want to watch over you. I think another voice might be that of Epona herself. The Goddess was close to your mother. But I also think that the evil that whispered to your mother might also be trying to influence you.” “We’re not telling you this to scare you, hon,” Grandma had said. “Nope, nope. I wouldn’t have told you about this until you were older. But you already hear the voices, so it’s important you know that you have to be careful,” Grandpa had said. “And be smart.” G-ma had smiled at me. “You’re a smart girl. Like Grandpa says, don’t be afraid, just be careful.” “But how do I know if I’m listening to the wrong voice?” Morrigan remembered exactly how confused and afraid she’d felt, despite their hands on hers and their assurance that she didn’t need to be afraid. “If it feels wrong, don’t listen to it,” G-pa had said firmly. “If it’s selfish or mean or a lie, don’t listen to it.” “And always look to the light, hon. The trees and the rocks and the spirits you feel in the earth are not evil,” G-ma had added. “And we’ll be here to help you, Morgie old girl,” Grandpa had said gruffly, patting my hand again. “Always, hon. We’ll always be here for you.” Morrigan smiled, remembering how G-ma had hugged her afterward and then thought that she’d totally distracted her granddaughter by asking Morrigan to help her cut a batch of fudge into squares. But she hadn’t been distracted, or at least not for long. Later that night she’d gone down to the end of the east pasture to the huge willow tree and the headstone that rested under it. There was one stone for both of them that simply said: SHANNON AND CLINT BELOVED DAUGHTER AND THE MAN BORN TO LOVE HER Morrigan hadn’t realized then, when she was just a little girl, how weird the headstone was. That most gravestones had full names and dates of death and birth carved on them. She’d eventually asked G-pa about it and all he’d ever say was that what the stone said was all that was important. That day she’d stepped within the curtain of the weeping willow that framed the grave and brushed off some dead leaves from the top of the stone. Then Morrigan had traced her mother’s name with her finger. “I wish you were here,” she’d whispered. “Or at least I wish I could tell for sure if one of the wind’s voices is yours.” Morrigan listened hard, hoping to hear her mom tell her that she really did talk to her daughter on the wind. But she’d heard nothing but the rustle of the willow’s hanging leaves. It hadn’t been till she was turning away from the grave that it had happened. Morrigan remembered that the sun had gone behind a cloud and she’d shivered as the wind whipped around her cold and sharp. And on that wind she suddenly heard, Listen to your heart’s desires and you will know me… Morrigan blinked, bringing herself back to the present. She closed the old journal with finality and shoved it in the box. She didn’t want to remember that day. Her grandparents’ words had followed her enough in the years since. She didn’t need to relive it again today. She grabbed another journal. “Something happy…something light…that’s what I need,” she muttered, and then with a glad little cry, she caught sight of a bright pink leather journal and lifted it from the others. “It’s in this one. Yeah, here it is!” She smiled as she began reading the journal entry she had made when she was thirteen. November 4 Dear Journal, Oh my gosh! The coolest thing happened today! Well, okay, it was freezing out, but Dove needed to be exercised so I was riding her up Oak Grove Road so that we could gallop through that big empty field. So in the middle of the field these stupid wild turkeys flew up and scared the crap outta Dove and me. She jumped forward and her hoof must have hit something because she tripped and I FELL RIGHT OFF OF HER. Can you believe it? I never fall off. Anyways, it didn’t hurt much and even if it had I was too worried about Dove’s leg to worry about me. She was kinda limping around and I thought she’d broken it. So I made her hold still and felt down her leg. I was scared and shaking and crying and all of a sudden I realized MY HANDS WERE GLOWING! Okay. Really. It was like I made a light come out of them, like a little candle or something. I cannot wait till G-ma and G-pa get home so I can tell them! Oh, P.S., Dove’s leg is just fine. Morrigan smiled at her thirteen-year-old self, remembering fondly her childhood with the sweet gray mare who was now retired to Grandpa’s greenest meadow to spend Morrigan’s college years lazing in clover, round and happy. Laughing softly, Morrigan lifted her hand. Holding it palm up she stared at it, concentrating hard. After what seemed like forever, a tiny flicker of light danced around her palm, but it was gone almost before she could be sure she saw it there. Morrigan sighed and rubbed her hands together—her right palm still felt warm and tingly. But nothing else. She could do it again, but only just a little. Her grandparents had no explanation for her weird ability. Like her, they were clueless about where it came from or what it meant. The wind wasn’t clueless, though. Over the years it had whispered affinity for flame and you can bring light and other equally cryptic things to her. Morrigan didn’t understand what the voices were trying to tell her, and she was afraid to ask them to help her understand. What if that meant she was asking evil to help her? It was way too confusing. “Morgie, hon, it’s getting late.” Morrigan jumped away from her grandma’s soft touch like her hand was a live wire. “Oh, crap, Grandma! Don’t sneak up on me like that. You scared me so bad you almost made me pee my pants!” “Watch your language, hon,” G-ma said sternly, but she smiled to soften her reprimand. “And I didn’t sneak up on you. I called you three times. Looks like you were busy woolgathering.” Morrigan felt silly sitting there in the middle of her journals. She shouldn’t be dredging up the past and messing with a weird ability she’d need to keep hidden when she was at OSU. What she should be doing was focusing on the future. “Sorry, G-ma,” she said quickly, shoving the last of the journals into the storage box. “Guess I was daydreaming.” “Well, come on out. Your breakfast is getting cold, and those kids will be here before you know it. The Alabaster Caverns are three hours away. You need a good meal before you go.” She called the last over her shoulder as she headed back to the kitchen. Morrigan hurried to do as her grandma had asked, enticed by the smells of bacon and coffee and blueberry muffins wafting down the hall to her room. G-ma had probably packed her—and her friends—a great lunch, too. Shaking off the weird feeling calling the flame to her hands always gave her, Morrigan grabbed her shoes and a sweatshirt and headed into the familiar warmth of the kitchen. She ignored the echo of laughter that seemed to float on the air around her. 2 “Mama Parker kicks ass in the kitchen,” Gena said around a big mouthful of steak hoagie. “Yeah, but if she heard you say ass she’d tell you to watch your language, hon.” Morrigan did a more than passable imitation of Mama Parker that made the girls laugh. “No way would I say ass around your grandma. I don’t want to piss her off. She might stop cooking for us,” Gena said. “No shit,” Jaime agreed. “Mama Parker is too sweet to piss off. Plus, that wouldn’t be smart,” Lori said. “We might have to start eating my mom’s cooking. Then we’d be saying goodbye to yummy homemade hoagies and chocolate-chip cookies and hello to mac and cheese.” “My mom’s idea of cooking is to call for pizza delivery. If she’s feeling extra-fancy she’ll order cheese sticks and ranch dressing, too,” Gena said. “Ditto for my mom,” Jaime said. “You know, y’all could actually try learning to cook for yourselves. I mean, you’re eighteen and leaving for college in a few days. What are you going to eat?” Morrigan said. “Dorm food, of course,” Jaime said. “I’ll eat anything someone else cooks. Like Mrs. Taco Bell. I love her cooking,” Lori said. “Eat?” Gena tapped her chin with one perfectly manicured French-tipped nail and looked purposefully perplexed. “For the next four years I plan on eating beer and football players.” The three of them convulsed into giggles. Morrigan gave her friends a collective eye roll. Yes, she liked them. They’d been friends since middle school, but even when they were just kids she’d always thought of herself as older and more mature. That she felt (and acted) older used to seem kinda cute to her, and they definitely needed someone to look after them. More and more it just irritated her. Would they never grow up? “Okay, whatever. I still say I’m glad I don’t have to depend on Mrs. Taco Bell or Mrs. Pizza Hut to eat when I’m away from home.” Proving Morrigan’s point about immaturity, Gena stuck out her tongue at her. “Hey, someone remind me why we’re here instead of browsing through the end-of-season sale at Gap?” Gena said. “We’re here because Morgie likes to do weird stuff, and this is the last time we’re going to be together doing weird stuff with her probably till Christmas break,” Lori said. “I don’t think the stuff I like to do is weird.” “Exhibit A—you thought it would be fun to hike the six-mile forest trail by Keystone Dam.” Lori held up one finger like a baseball umpire. “If I recall correctly, which I’m sure I do, it was not fun. It was hot and sweaty and I found a tick crawling up my thigh trying to find its way to my vagina.” “Ticks do not go looking for your vagina,” Morrigan said, trying hard not to laugh. “No, don’t even try to change my mind about that. I saw the House episode. The tick was hiding in the girl’s vagina.” Lori shivered convulsively. “It was majorly disgusting.” “That really is gross,” Gena said. “And complete fiction.” Morrigan tried, unsuccessfully, to add some common sense to the conversation. “Exhibit B.” Up went Lori’s second finger. “Camping.” “Oh, come on! That was way back in ninth grade.” “Time has made it no less horrifying,” Lori said primly. “And it wasn’t that bad. I remember having a good time.” “Yeah, that’s because you like playing Boy Scout, and the great outdoors, and…and…you like nature.” Lori said the words as if they were the name of a deadly disease. “The rest of us will remember the mosquitoes.” “Size of hummingbirds,” Gena piped in. “And the chiggers,” Lori continued smoothly. “Don’t talk about it. You’ll make me start to itch,” Jaime said. “And the snakes,” Lori finished with a flourish. “There was only one snake,” Morrigan said. “As if that mattered,” Gena muttered. “It was really pretty, though,” Morrigan said. She’d never admit to them that she and G-pa had gone back to the Keystone campsite often after her one failed attempt to camp with her friends. She absolutely loved camping. “Pretty?” Lori was saying. “No. It was dirty and hot and buggy. The new Starbucks in BA is pretty. The bracelet Keith gave me is pretty.” She waved her wrist around so that the delicate gold links glittered. “My great Kenneth Cole wedges—the ones you wouldn’t let me wear today because we’re going to be schlepping through a nasty, dark, cold, batty cave—are pretty. Camping is not pretty. See the difference?” “Wait, there’re bats in the cave?” Gena sat up straight and quit playing with her hair. “No one told me about the bats.” “Hello! It’s a cave. Of course there’re bats,” Jaime said. Morrigan sighed. “It’s summer. You won’t see the bats. They’re hiding in the darker, cooler parts of the cave. And anyway, if you see one it won’t bother you.” “And finally, we come to exhibit C in proof-that-Morgie-likes-to-do-weird-stuff.” Lori paused dramatically with her three fingers up in the air. “Dancing outside naked at night.” Jaime groaned. “Do we have to talk about that?” Gena used her hand to fan herself as her face flushed hot with remembered embarrassment. “Admit it. That wouldn’t have been so bad if we had put on shoes and if disgusting Josh Riddle hadn’t been watching us,” Morrigan said. “I still have nightmares about that gross kid’s beady little eyes,” Gena said. “That’s not the ‘little’ part of his anatomy I still have nightmares about,” Lori said. Gena made gagging sounds. “Why were we out there again? I don’t remember,” Jaime said. “I think I’ve blocked it.” “We were celebrating the Esbat.” Blank looks met Morrigan’s matter-of-fact statement, so she added, “A celebration of the full moon. My grandma told me the story about how some pagans like to honor the full moon by dancing sky-clad, or naked, under it. We thought it sounded fun.” “No, you thought it sounded fun. We just went along with you,” Lori corrected her. “You know, it’s weird that Mama Parker knows so much about bizarre religions. I mean, she’s all sweet and grandmalike and looks totally normal. Then all of a sudden one night you’ll drive up the lane and see her outside pouring wine and honey around a fire she’s made in the middle of the patio and she’ll smile at you and say something like, ‘Just finishing up my offering to the Goddess at Imbolc, hon. Make yourself at home. There’re cookies in the kitchen,’” Gena said. “Doesn’t seem weird to me.” Morrigan’s eyes began to narrow. “Not that I don’t think Mama Parker’s great. She is,” Gena said quickly. “You have to admit that she’s not exactly the norm for Oklahoma,” Lori said. Morrigan shrugged. “I’ve never understood what’s so great about the norm.” “Morrigan has a point,” Jaime said. “I’ve been going to the super-boring First Methodist Church of Broken Arrow all my life and I’ve never had as much fun there as I did the time we did the Easter-wishes thing with the tree.” All of the girls smiled as they remembered. “It’s called an Eostre Wishes Tree,” Morrigan said. “Remember how Mama Parker planted all of those flowers around the tree?” Gena said. Morrigan nodded. “They were daffodils, crocuses and hyacinths. I helped her plant the bulbs the winter before.” “Then when they were blooming and beautiful Mama Parker gave us silk ribbons and crystals—” “And those cool little stars she made out of shiny foil,” Lori interrupted Gena. “Then she gave us blank wildflower note cards, biodegradable of course, and told us to write our wishes on them. When we were done we tied the cards and the decorations up in the branches of the tree.” “Yeah, and Mama Parker told us it was just another way for our prayers to be heard at Easter. Well, it was for sure way more fun than waking up too early and sitting on a hard pew through boring church,” Jaime said. “It really was cool,” Lori said. “Yeah, cool,” Gena echoed. “So maybe y’all don’t mind my weirdness too much?” Morrigan kept her voice light and kidding, but she knew that there was a very real part of her that was constantly waiting for her friends to someday realize that she just didn’t fit in—no matter how good her acting abilities. Then they’d walk away and leave her alone with the voices in the wind and her unanswered questions. “Morgie, baby, we like your weirdness!” Gena cried and flung an arm around her. “That’s right. Without your weirdness we wouldn’t be the Core Four,” Jaime said. “Which is why we’re here, following you into a batty cave when we should be shopping,” Lori said. “Okay, enough with the bats,” Gena said. A bell rang, reminding Morrigan of something that ranchers probably used a zillion years ago to call cowboys in to dinner. “Three o’clock tour through the cave is leaving in two minutes!” a male voice bellowed over a scratchy loudspeaker system. The girls exploded into activity as they shoved the leftovers in the picnic basket Mama Parker had packed for them and dumped the plastic plates, et cetera, in a nearby trash can. Morrigan grabbed the basket and hurried to put it in the back of Old Red, her beat-up Ford Escort station wagon. As an afterthought, she grabbed the little emergency flashlight G-pa made sure she kept with the first-aid kit, flares and blanket in the rear of her well-used car. She shoved it into her purse and jogged to catch up with the line that was already beginning to make its way around the gift shop and picnic area down some old rock stairs that would lead to the entrance of the main cave. Morrigan felt a tremor of anticipation. This time she wasn’t just going camping in a forest, or hiking in some woodsy hills. This time she was actually going into the earth. She could feel the draw of it as surely as she could feel the change in temperature of the air around her. Come… The word echoed in her ears. “Morgie! Come on—over here.” Morrigan realized she had been standing alone at the bottom of the stairs, gazing at the surprisingly ordinary-looking slash in the earth that was the entrance to the cave. She blinked and saw Gena waving at her from the shadows just inside the cave where she stood with Lori and Jaime, and the rest of the small group they’d joined. Morrigan shook herself and hurried to her friends. Come… The word enveloped her, as did the cool darkness of the cave. August in Oklahoma was always hot and miserable, and Morrigan instantly breathed easier, adjusting quickly to the more than thirty-degree difference. She drew another deep breath as she reached her friends and only half listened as the guide launched into a speech about the history of the cave. It smelled incredible! Earth…rich, sweet and rocky. The scent filled her senses and made her feel excited and relaxed at the same time. This is where you belong. The words drifted through her mind and for once Morrigan didn’t run them through a sieve of good-thought/bad-thought where she would dissect it and struggle with it and try to figure out if it was something she should ignore or not. This time the truth in the words was too powerful for such laceration. This is where you belong. Unable to stop herself, she moved through the little group so that she could be the first one behind the guide to enter the bowels of the cave. The first to smell and touch and see everything. Morrigan’s soul seemed to quiver in excitement and she ignored the sounds of her friends trying to catch up with her. “Okay, if we’re all ready, then let’s move forward as a group,” the guide was saying. “Please remember that the lights are on a timer system, so you’ll need to stay fairly close to me and together.” How annoying! Like she wanted to be stuck with the herd? She was dying to explore this amazing place on her own. Irritated, Morrigan pulled her eyes from staring at the recesses of the cave, meaning to shoot the pain-in-the-ass guide a dirty look. Instead she felt her heart lurch with a little stutter-beat. The guy was f-ing drop-dead gorgeous. And he was looking right at her like he could read her mind. 3 “Ready?” The guide spoke right to her, his brilliant blue eyes meeting her gaze. Morrigan nodded her head. “Excellent,” he said. “Oh, I forgot to formally introduce myself. My name is Kyle, and I will be your guide today.” Even though he seemed to be speaking just to Morrigan, several people in the group laughed and called, “Hello, Kyle,” while he turned his back to them and used a key to unlock a little metal box and flip a series of switches. Instantly, the cavern was bathed in white lights. A surge of annoyance made Morrigan forget about the hot guide. The lighting was wrong. It was too harsh—too white—too impersonal. The inside of the earth should be illuminated with softness. With glowing rocks or sweetly licking flame… “Jeesh, Morgie, quit staring and come on!” Lori grabbed her arm and pulled as she jostled past her. Morrigan shrugged off Lori’s arm and moved ahead until she was at the front of the group again. The guide stopped not far inside the cave. They’d come to a room that was huge, littered on either side of the iron-railed trail with enormous sections of large, flat rock. Before the guide began to speak, Morrigan knew. “This is the deepest part of the cave.” “You’re absolutely right!” Kyle smiled at her. Completely taking Morrigan off guard, she smiled nervously back at him. Until then she’d had no idea she’d spoken aloud the thought that had been whispered into her mind. Then she was further surprised to see Mr. Gorgeous Guide blush, like her smile had disarmed him, and turn hastily back to address the rest of the group. “As the young lady said, we are now at the deepest part of the cavern. From floor to ceiling it measures fifty feet, which puts us at about eighty feet under the surface.” Young lady? Morrigan thought. He doesn’t look much older than me. Beside her, Lori hugged herself and whispered, “It’s too creepy for words thinking about being eighty feet under the ground. God, talk about a deep grave.” “No, it’s not like that at all,” Morrigan responded automatically, eyes scanning the magical place. “It’s not creepy. It’s beautiful and perfectly safe.” Safe? Why had she said that? Lori turned her attention to Kyle the Hot Guide. “Hey, Kyle. My friend says the cave is perfectly safe. What do you say?” “Well, it’s not one hundred percent safe.” All the people in the group, except for Morrigan, shifted restlessly at this, so he added hastily, “Oh, you’re safe enough with me today. But the truth is that those huge slabs of gypsum that litter the floor around the entrance, and those there and there—” he pointed to giant clumps of rock off the side of the trail “—they all fell from the ceiling of the cave. The last time we had rock break loose was just this past December. Thankfully, the cave was closed for Christmas.” “How do you know none of it will fall on us today?” Lori asked. “We have monitors checking the ceiling daily. If anything is loose, we close that area of the cave. Nothing’s been loose since December.” One of the middle-aged men in the group, the one with the big gut, snorted. “You’re, what, all of eighteen? Shouldn’t we check with someone else, like your boss, before we go any farther?” Morrigan thought Kyle would blush and fidget, but was impressed when he turned a steady gaze on the old guy. “Sir, I am the boss, or rather the most senior member of the team here. I’ve been employed at the park for six years. Currently, I’m finishing up the fieldwork for my master’s in geology. Don’t worry, you’re as safe as you can possibly be.” “Oh, well then…” The fat guy looked embarrassed and the women in the party all looked smug, clearly choosing the gorgeous young geologist over Mr. Fatty. Morrigan wanted to say I told ya so, but then again Kyle hadn’t agreed with her one hundred percent. It is always safe for those who have an affinity for the earth…if the rocks speak to you and tell you when and where they will fall… Uncharacteristically, Morrigan listened to the voice that sloughed through the winds of her mind. Here in the womb of the earth the voice seemed maternal, harmless, even nurturing. And she felt so right here—so like she belonged. Maybe the earth herself was insulating her from the whispers of the dark god. Maybe here she could be sure she was only hearing the sound of her mother’s voice. “Right around this corner is what we like to call the Encampment Room.” The line had begun to move again and Kyle had flipped on another set of abrasive artificial lights. “It would make sense if people had used this cave as shelter—although we haven’t found any evidence of ancient occupation—that they would probably have camped here. It’s close enough to the entrance to be easily accessible. The floor is flat. You can see the walls have formed in such a way that they’re perfect for shelves. And a stream runs here on the other side of the room, bringing in fresh water.” “Bleck. Camp here? It’s way too cold.” Lori shivered. “It would make something as gross as camping even grosser.” “Actually, the temperature inside the cave stays at a fairly consistent sixty degrees. It only fluctuates about five degrees either way, and that only in the middle of winter or summer,” Kyle explained. “Still means cold and creepy to me,” Lori muttered. Lori’s complaint made Morrigan realize that everyone else had put on jackets or sweatshirts. Even Kyle wore a khaki-colored jacket with the Alabaster Caverns State Park logo on the pocket. She was still holding her sweatshirt. She hadn’t been cold at all. As usual feeling weirdly out of sync with everyone else, Morrigan hastily tied the unneeded sweatshirt around her shoulders. “Okay, that rock is really pretty,” Gena said. “It almost makes me forget that bats live down here.” Morrigan followed Gena’s pointing finger to see a huge roundish stone onto which a pink spotlight was shining. The boulder glittered in the gaudy light. Morrigan thought it looked like something that should be decorating Dollywood. “That is the largest freestanding boulder in the cave made completely of selenite.” “It’s not supposed to be pink,” Morrigan heard herself say, and then she pressed her lips together. She was probably annoying the hell out of the cute guide. Kyle gave her a surprised look that lacked any hint of irritation. “You’re right, selenite isn’t pink. That’s just our creative lighting. If you get closer to it, or look around at the rear side, you’ll see that selenite is a clear crystal, like glass. Actually, it’s so clear and easy to cut that settlers used sheets of it as windows in their homesteads.” Without waiting for permission, Morrigan stepped off the well-marked pathway to look at the unlighted side of the boulder. She could easily see the clear brilliance of the glasslike stone. She touched it. The rock was soft and cool. Morrigan laid her palm flat against the surface. “You really are beautiful. You don’t need that stupid pink light,” she whispered. The surface of the rock quivered like the skin of an animal. Welcome, Light Bringer… The words weren’t in the wind around her, as were the familiar voices she’d been hearing as long as she could remember. The words somehow traveled through her palm, through her skin, soaking into her body. Morrigan let out a little yelp and stepped back so quickly that her foot slid over the damp floor and she had to windmill her arms to keep from falling on her butt. A strong hand caught her arm, steadying her. “Careful, it’s slick in here, especially if you move off the pathway.” Thoroughly shaken, Morrigan did little more than nod and mutter a belated thanks as Kyle pulled her back on the path, smiled shyly at her and then motioned for the group to follow him forward. “Okay, that Kyle cutie is tall and blond and delicious. Excellent job of getting him to notice you by playing damsel in distress,” Gena whispered to her. Morrigan’s body followed Gena but her mind was buzzing with disbelief. What was going on? She couldn’t have really felt the rock move. The voice couldn’t have been anything except what she’d been hearing since she was a kid. Or had she finally let all the weirdness get to her and gone totally, one hundred percent nuts? Which meant she should be packing for Laureate psycho hospital instead of OSU. By the time Morrigan caught up with the front of the group Kyle had stopped them in a place where the cave widened out again. He waited until everyone was looking expectantly at him. The dome… The words flitted through Morrigan’s mind just before Kyle pointed his flashlight up. “This is the first of several domes in the cave. Notice that it is easy to see from the grooves and patterns left on the rock that the domes were created by whirlpools. At one time this cave was filled with water. Over the years it carved out the unique shape of the cave. Of course today all that is left of the once raging river is a shallow, glassy lake you’ll see later in the tour and this little stream that trickles parallel to our path.” Morrigan thought the dome looked as if it had been shaped by a giant ice-cream scoop digging into the selenite-embedded alabaster ceiling. It was beautiful and mysterious, but somehow familiar. How could that be? It was like she’d known it would be there before Kyle had drawn their attention to it. But she’d never been in this cave—any cave—before now. Staring up, Morrigan wandered to the edge of the pathway where the smooth wall was peppered with selenite crystals. She wanted to run her hand over the glistening surface. Actually, she felt compelled to touch it. But she hesitated, afraid and eager at the same time. Discover the truth. Morrigan was immeasurably relieved when she heard the whisper in the air around her; though she did appreciate the irony in feeling relief about something that had haunted her since she was a child. To her it still seemed the voice in the wind was more clearly maternal than usual. And she was relieved that it was in the air and not traveling through the skin of the cave. Or was she? There had been something infinitely compelling about that “other” voice—the one that had come from the selenite rock. “This is my favorite part of the tour.” The humor in Kyle’s voice tugged at Morrigan’s attention. She turned so that she could see him standing with the rest of the group near one of the metal light-switch boxes. “We are going to experience complete dark. It’ll only last for sixty seconds, but it will be a long minute. The eye needs light to function properly. If you were to live in the dark for six weeks, you would go blind. Let’s get a little taste of that now!” With a click, Kyle flipped off the lights. The darkness was utter and impenetrable. Little squeals of semi-pretended fear came from the group. Morrigan definitely recognized Gena’s shriek. And there was the furtive rustling of people grabbing onto whoever stood beside them. Slowly, like she was moving through water, Morrigan turned blindly to the wall. She felt no fear. In the complete dark her senses seemed to expand. Her body felt liquid, and she imagined she could be absorbed into the cave and merge with the glasslike crystals. Morrigan realized the thought should have scared her, but it didn’t. Not at all. She reached out her hand and pressed it against the cool surface of the cave wall. She could feel the crystal selenite where it mixed with the smoother, softer alabaster, and was amazed that even though she could see absolutely nothing she could tell which rock was which. Then against her palm she felt a stirring, the same type of movement she had felt when she’d touched the crystal boulder. Light Bringer… The name shivered through the selenite crystals, passing into her body like a current of sound. This time she didn’t pull away. Curiosity held her captive. Morrigan’s hand began to feel warm, and as the lights snapped back on she was staring at her hand where it rested against the cave wall. The selenite crystals under her palm had begun to glow. Morrigan pulled her hand from the wall and stuffed it into the front pocket of her jeans. The crystal flickered then went dark again. “I told you this place was creepy,” Lori said, rushing up to Morrigan. “No freaking way would I ever want to get stuck down here. I cannot believe you didn’t scream your brains out when he shut off the lights and you were standing over here all by yourself.” Morrigan moved her shoulders. “No big deal. I mean, he said it was only going to last for sixty seconds.” Trying to sound normal, she said, “My bikini wax last week lasted longer and was scarier.” Lori laughed and Morrigan tried to relax. Gena and Jaime joined them and the four girls followed the group continuing down the path. “I swear to God I was sure a bat was going to fly into my hair when he turned off the lights,” Gena was saying breathlessly. “I’m cold,” Jaime said. “I wonder how long this thing is.” “The path is about a quarter of a mile,” Morrigan said absently, and then wondered how the hell she knew that. Thankfully, everyone else was used to her knowing stuff about the outdoors, so no one noticed her extrasensory knowledge. “Good. Then we won’t be down here too much longer,” Lori said. “Was that a bat?” Gena was squinting up at another dome formation in the ceiling. “I think I just saw a bat.” Morrigan tuned out their chatter. As often as she could she let her fingertips trail over the smooth, damp side of the cave. Whenever her skin touched selenite she felt a zap of heat. She absolutely, definitely felt something within the rock that she could only describe as sentience. The cave was alive and by some amazing miracle it recognized her. It called her Light Bringer. As she walked the rest of the path, slowly bringing up the rear, she felt as if she had left Oklahoma and entered another world—and this time it was a world in which she belonged. But how could that be? How could she feel at home in an f-ing cave? It didn’t make any sense, but then neither did hearing voices or making fire sprout from her hand. Morrigan realized it was getting warmer. They must be coming to the exit from the cave. Reluctantly, she moved up with the rest of the group where they had stopped beside Kyle. “The modern exit from the cave is there.” He pointed to where the cave path turned gently to the left. “But that’s a man-made exit. Before that was built, the exit was through there.” Kyle aimed his flashlight down a small tunnel that branched off from the main pathway. “To exit the old way, people had to duck and squeeze through there. They went most of the way on their hands and knees, and sometimes they even had to crawl.” “Eew,” Gena said. “Talk about claustrophobia. I’d rather turn around and go out the in than do that.” Kyle chuckled. “Thanks to modern engineering, you don’t have to do either.” “Can we take the old exit if we want?” This time Morrigan meant to speak aloud. Everyone turned and stared at her. The looks on her three friends’ faces were predictably horrified. She didn’t bother with them, though. She kept her gaze steady on Kyle’s blue eyes. “Don’t you think it would be claustrophobic and tomblike in there?” He shined his flashlight down the narrow tunnel again. “No,” Morrigan said firmly. “I think it’s perfect the way nature made it and I’d like to use the original exit.” A quick thought made her rummage through her purse for the flashlight. “And I have this.” Kyle smiled. “Sure, go ahead. I usually take that exit when I’m not leading a group. You’re small enough that you shouldn’t even have to crawl—hands and knees should do it for you.” He glanced at the rest of the group. “Anyone want to join Miss Adventurous?” There were muffled laughs and lots of heads shaking. Lori started to open her mouth to protest, but Morrigan ignored her, flipping on her flashlight and striding past her gawking friends. “Just keep your flashlight on and keep moving forward. It’s really not very far. You’ll meet us about twenty-five feet from here just before the rear opening.” He grinned, which made him look like a really cute but mischievous twelve-year-old. “Have fun.” “Thanks, I will.” Morrigan smiled back at him, wondering how old he was. At first he’d seemed way young, but he’d told the potbellied guy that he was finishing his master’s. That made him twenty-something, didn’t it? She hoped he was older. Young guys gave her a headache. The last guy she’d dated had been nineteen—of course, he’d acted like he was thirteen, but that had been no big surprise. If she felt years older than her girlfriends, she felt centuries older than the guys they hung out with. “Are you changing your mind? It’s okay, you know.” Morrigan jumped, realizing she’d been standing there holding her flashlight, staring into the tunnel and daydreaming about guys. No wonder she hadn’t had a date in months. She was truly a dork. And an overly mature dork at that. “Oh, no! No. I’m not changing my mind. I was just waiting for you to tell me I could go ahead.” “Oh.” He blushed again, and Morrigan thought his pink cheeks made him look adorable. “You can go ahead.” “Good. Okay. See you on the other side.” Morrigan got on her hands and knees and, flipping the flashlight on, crawled into the tunnel and away from the group’s curious stares. 4 The tunnel turned abruptly to the right. Crawling, she followed it and the cave swallowed her. Logically, Morrigan knew she was only a few yards away from the rest of the group—that if she backed up she would pop out of the tunnel and would be on the well-marked pathway with its electric lighting system and its oh-so-safe handrails. But logic had little to do with how she’d felt since she entered the cave. The tunnel was small and smooth and pleasantly cool. She crawled on, enjoying the sense of protection the tight space gave her. When the tunnel widened just enough for her to sit on her feet, knees bent, she stopped. Morrigan spread her arms. Both hands rested on either side of the tunnel. She caressed the rock, concentrating and feeling carefully. Yes…only by touch and without looking she knew it when her palms brushed over selenite crystals embedded in the alabaster. Light Bringer… The name vibrated through her body and Morrigan felt an indescribable rush of excitement. “Hello…” she whispered hesitantly. We hear you, daughter of the Goddess. Morrigan’s heart thudded heavily. Daughter of the Goddess? The crystals thought she was the daughter of a goddess! The thrill of the thought quickly faded. What would happen when the crystals found out they were mistaken? She wasn’t the daughter of any goddess. She was just an orphan kid whose family was kinda strange. Sure, like her grandparents, her mother, Shannon, had believed that trees and rocks and nature in general had souls, and that a god or goddess couldn’t be confined to a building. But Shannon Parker had definitely been mortal and not a goddess. Her death was all the proof Morrigan needed of that. Embrace your heritage. The words didn’t come from the rocks, but drifted to her familiarly through the cool air of the cave. Morrigan sighed and muttered, “It’s hard to embrace my heritage when I’m not really sure what that means.” It means you are touched by the divine. The immediate response startled Morrigan. The voices in the wind never answered her. She’d never had a conversation with them. Usually they were just random thoughts that she caught, like an overheard conversation. Sometimes she heard laughter. Sometimes she heard crying. But they’d never, ever responded to her—not even the many times she’d called out for her mother. A finger of worry shivered up her spine, but the sense of belonging and peace the cave gave her outweighed any trepidation she might have felt at the deviation from what she considered normal. “I’ve been touched by the divine.” Morrigan repeated the words—testing them—tasting them—trying to wrap her mind around them. “And if that’s true, then the crystals really do recognize me,” she reasoned aloud, the walls of the narrow tunnel absorbing the sound of her voice. Morrigan spread her fingers wide against the skin of the cave and concentrated. “Hello,” she said softly. “Thank you for recognizing me.” Instantly her palms began to warm. The crystals quivered against her skin and then the warmth intensified and the rock began to glow. Morrigan was utterly intrigued, completely absorbed in the light she was creating. It was different from the little flame that sprouted from her hands. That never lasted long and left her feeling breathless and what her grandma described as “out of sorts.” Lighting the crystals made her feel powerful. She knew without any doubt she could turn off the flashlight and create enough light by which to guide herself. And she wasn’t just making light—she was also creating warmth. If someone touched her skin it would be warm, maybe even hot. It was like she had found a power source that only she could tap into, and it lived in the crystals of the cave. “Hey! Are you doing okay in there?” Kyle’s voice made Morrigan jump. She pulled her hands from the tunnel walls. And the crystals remained lit. Awed, she stared at them. “Yeah! Sorry!” Morrigan yelled down the tunnel. “I just stopped to look at some of the crystals.” “Well, the group is out. We’re waiting for you,” he yelled back. The internally lit selenite was incredibly beautiful. It caught the surrounding alabaster, making that section of the tunnel glow with a pure, white light. “Morrigan?” Kyle’s voice sounded closer, which jerked Morrigan out of the trancelike state in which she’d been gazing at the crystals. “I’m coming!” She scrambled forward on her hands and knees, clutching the flashlight. Just before the tunnel took another sharp turn and opened to the larger exit, Morrigan glanced over her shoulder. The light of the crystals was fading. As she watched, it flickered…flickered…and then went dark. She hurried the rest of the way. Kyle took her free hand and steadied her as she emerged from the tunnel. “Wow, you must have worked up a sweat crawling through there, your hand is burning up.” His brow was furrowed and he studied her carefully, as if he expected to see signs that she had had a claustrophobic fit. Morrigan gave him her best smile. “I guess I’d better hit the gym more often.” She pretended to wipe nonexistent sweat from her face and purposefully breathed heavily. “Sorry it took me so long to get through. I didn’t mean to hold everyone up. It’s just that those crystals caught the beam of my flashlight, and they were so beautiful I guess I got distracted.” The guide’s handsome face relaxed. “I know exactly what you mean,” he said as he motioned for her to follow him out of the cave. Morrigan forced herself to walk with him, but as she stepped from the mouth of the cave’s exit and stood on normal ground again, with the Oklahoma heat pressing down on her and the aqua blue of the sky spreading unendingly above her, she felt the loss of being within the earth like a physical thing and she blinked her eyes hard, amazed that she felt so much like crying. “Ohmygod! There you are!” Gena blurted as Morrigan and Kyle approached the trolleylike wagon where everyone was waiting. “She’s safe and sound,” Kyle assured the group. He grinned at Morrigan. “She’s just a natural spelunker, which means she has to be pried from a cave.” “Well, you and she can have it! Too dark and claustrophobic for me,” called the middle-aged man. His wife nodded in such vigorous agreement that several of the group members chuckled. Relieved that he had turned the group’s attention from her, Morrigan gave Kyle a quick, grateful smile and then climbed into the trolley. Her friends made room for her and Kyle went to the cab, put it into gear and pulled them smoothly away from the cave. Morrigan wanted to scream at him to take her back. She had to grip the seat hard to make herself stay in the car. What was wrong with her? Why was she feeling like this? Embrace your heritage…floated around her in the hot wind. “So—” Lori leaned toward Morrigan with a knowing smile “—tell the truth. You did all of that so that hottie would be alone with you. Right?” “Yeah, right,” Morrigan said automatically. “I’ll bet he took your hand to help you out of that creepy tunnel, didn’t he?” Gena said. “Yeah.” “I think he likes you,” Jaime whispered. “He kept looking at you. God, he’s so damn hot. You’re crazy if you don’t get his number.” Конец ознакомительного фрагмента. Текст предоставлен ООО «ЛитРес». Прочитайте эту книгу целиком, купив полную легальную версию (https://www.litres.ru/p-c-cast-7/divine-by-blood/?lfrom=334617187) на ЛитРес. Безопасно оплатить книгу можно банковской картой Visa, MasterCard, Maestro, со счета мобильного телефона, с платежного терминала, в салоне МТС или Связной, через PayPal, WebMoney, Яндекс.Деньги, QIWI Кошелек, бонусными картами или другим удобным Вам способом.
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