With a sigh, I moved to the nearest window and gazed at the full moon. The glowing orb stared back at me and lit the grounds below in soft, seductive light. Lulled into motion by the changeful breeze, the dark trees of the surrounding forest swayed back and forth. The wind whistled and sighed along the centuries-old window panes and urged a throng of clouds across the midnight sky.
There was movement on the lawn. Aengus stood midway between the fairy mound and the castle. He faced the ruins, but with a sudden jerk of his head, he looked right and watched the forest.
He disappeared. Literally. He vanished into thin air.
I blinked and stared hard at the empty lawn. “That’s it!”
Heedless that I wore only satin pajamas, I shoved my feet into pre-tied tennis shoes and slipped out the door. I tiptoed the length of the hall, then raced down the stairs and out of the house.
The night air was deliciously cool. Moonlight and darkness held equal sway over the backyard thanks to the shifting clouds. I dashed across the lawn and halted in the exact spot where Aengus had stood. Panting, I looked around, willing some kind of clue to materialize.
The ruins in front of me darkened as large, heavy clouds swallowed the moon whole. The wind tugged at my long, loose hair and pajamas. Tiny raindrops spattered on my nose and cheeks. I turned my palms to the sky, and cold rain pelted them.
“Great.” Intending to return to the house, I swiveled around.
I gasped. My right hand flew to my chest. “Aengus?!”
The man himself stood an arm’s length in front of me. “Why are you here?”
“You scared the crap out of me!”
The strident sound came from the ruins. I whirled around and stared at the dark keep.
Aengus grabbed me from behind. He pulled me to him and wrapped his arms around me. I reveled in the feel of his taut body, of his warm flesh against mine.
Suddenly, everything changed. The rain stopped. The wind died. The entire landscape was bathed in the soft hue of twilight. Breasal Castle looked brand spanking new, just as it had during the bizarre dream in which I brought Aengus to the cottage. But this time, I knew I was awake.
Dumbfounded, I gawked at the medieval magnificence before me. I had no idea what had happened and no desire to pull away from his embrace.
His lips brushed my right ear, sending a shiver down my spine. “This way.”
His right arm released me, and his left slid down to my waist. Maintaining body contact the entire time, he steered me toward the stand of oaks on our right.
Once sheltered by the trees, he turned us around so we faced the castle.
“Are we hiding?” I whispered.
“Why? And what just happened?”
“I can’t say.”
“Can’t or won’t?”
Until that moment, I’d forgotten I wore pajamas. Now I was acutely aware of it. Satin was pleasing to the touch, but something told me my attire had nothing to do with his grip on me.
I looked up at him. “Not that I mind, but why are you holding me so close?”
His hand tightened on my waist. “It’s necessary.”
“I don’t suppose you can explain that, either.”
With his gaze locked on the castle, he shook his head. He pressed his right forefinger against his mouth in a silencing gesture. Then he pointed up at the keep.
High on the battlements, the black-haired woman from my dream—and from Branna’s painting—paced back and forth. Her hair whipped about her pale face and slender frame.
She paused beside a gap in the crenelated wall and glared down at the fairy mound. Her colorless lips curled into a sneer. Then her human form morphed into a dark shadow, which fragmented into what seemed a million black particles. They swarmed into the air and shot across the twilit sky, disappearing into the distance.
I took a deep breath. “So she’s real.”
He nodded. “She’s real, to be sure. Come.” With his arm still hooked around me, he led me out of the woods and toward the fairy mound.
Aengus grinned. “You’re a few minutes early.”
“Patience is not one of my virtues.”
He chuckled. “Well, your wait is over. First, let’s shift into the Otherworld.”
Once we did, he reached out his hands, palms up. “Your hands, milady.”
I placed them in his and smiled as our fingers curled together. “I’m all yours.”
He stared into my eyes. “Promise?”
My heart raced. The power of speech deserted me.
He cleared his throat. “Right. Away we go.”
The next instant, we were standing in a wide, open field at the mouth of a cave. The entry was small, about three feet high and four feet wide.
I scanned the surrounding farmland. “Where are we?”
“Oweynagat in Cruachan, the ancient capital of Connacht.” He released my hands and motioned toward the cave’s entrance. “The opening is narrow, but it’s like a cathedral inside. In the Otherworld, at least.”
“Are we going in?”
“Then why did we come?”
“We’re here in honor of your birthday and in the spirit of your favorite holiday.”
“This cave has something to do with Halloween?”
He nodded. “It’s an important mythological site, and it’s been called the hell-mouth of Ireland.”
I twisted my lips. “Well, that sounds ominous.”
He clasped my hands and closed his eyes. Abruptly, our position changed. We now stood a good twenty yards from Oweynagat and viewed it from the side. A waist-high, dry stone wall served as a barrier between us and the cave, and it stretched for miles in either direction. Somehow, a tree had grown through the side of the wall and flourished.
Aengus smiled. “There. Close but not too close.”
“What do you mean?”
He laid his hand on one of the stones. “This wall is only visible in the Otherworld. The entire thing is infused with the protective energy of that hawthorn tree.”
“Do we need protection?”
“But we’re not going into the cave.”
“There’s no need. We’ve only to wait and watch what comes out at midnight.”
I glanced at Oweynagat. “What’s gonna come out?”
He grinned. “You’re about to witness something few have ever seen: the Wild Hunt.”
“A group of phantom huntsmen and other creatures who ride out into the night. They do it every year as All Hallow’s Eve shifts into November.”
A sudden, resounding chime pierced the silence. Then another rang out, and another. It sounded like the peal of a gigantic grandfather clock. The wind began to howl.
“Midnight.” He turned and pointed. “Look!”
From the mouth of the cave burst a symphony of specters. There were hunters on horseback and wailing hounds. Flying above and behind them were hundreds of nocturnal creatures. Living gargoyles. Gray ghosts. Copper red birds. Dark angels with massive, black-feather wings.
I suppose I should’ve been scared. But for someone like me, who’d embraced the magic and mystery of Halloween from day one, the Wild Hunt was a glorious sight. The stroke of midnight, the rushing wind, the mad pursuit across land and sky: all stirred my soul.
I craved freedom. I wanted Aengus.
I turned to him. The spectacle held him rapt. Between his roused expression and wind-ruffled hair, he was irresistible. And he was mine.
He turned to me. Our gazes locked. Our souls connected.
I couldn’t speak. I couldn’t breathe. My entire life had led me to this moment, this man.
We came together in a surge of passion. His arms locked me in a powerful embrace as his lips captured mine. I gave myself to the kiss. It was wild, sweet, filled with longing. He ran his fingers through my hair and down my back. My hands slid to his shoulders, his chest, the small of his back. I pressed my hips against him.
He moaned. His tongue strained to deepen the kiss. Every inch of my body tingled. All thought was lost in a haze of desire.
#guardiansoferin #ya #fantasy #paranromal #judithsterling