Rogue On the Rollaway by Shannon MacLeod
“I’m going to steal yer breath away, mo ruadh, but I promise to give it back – one kiss at a time.” – Faolan
Hell hath no fury like a faery scorned.
A man out of time. Enchanted by a jealous faery, 13th century warrior and druid Faolan MacIntyre has his work cut out for him. In order to break his curse, he must entice a woman to fall in love with him. His love comes at the highest possible cost, however…for the woman.
A woman alone. Rebuilding her life after an ugly divorce, merchandising director Colleen O’Brien lives vicariously through movies and romance novels. When the sexy bespelled Scot crash lands in her living room unannounced, her resolve to never love again is sorely tested. After admitting her love, Colleen finds herself in 14th century Ireland. Now she’s scared and alone, until Faolan finds her and they are both pursued by their jealous enemy.
Thrown together by destiny but held together by love, Faolan and Colleen must work together if they are to survive. But for two headstrong people–a man accustomed to giving orders and a woman who refuses to take them–it’s much easier said than done.
CONTENT WARNING: Faery magic gone awry, a plucky Irish heroine and a hot Highlands badass clad in a very small towel.
A Lyrical Press Historical Romance
Copyright 2013, Shannon MacLeod
All rights reserved, Lyrical Press, Inc.
Present day–Brandon, Florida
Colleen O’Brien sighed with relief when her condo door swung closed behind her, aided by a well-placed hip to speed it on its way. She set the heavy grocery bags down on the tiled foyer then locked the doorknob, the deadbolt, the second deadbolt, and finally both chain locks, giving the last one a tug to make sure it was secure. “Hi, honey–I’m home,” she sang, scooping up the bags to carry to the kitchen. “The shop was a madhouse today. I’m beat, but not too beat to celebrate tonight. No, no–don’t get up, I’ve got it.”
She began putting the groceries away, starting with the frozen entrees. She stacked them by size, right side up, labels facing out. The individual Weight Watcher desserts were placed next to the dinners, favorites on top. A quart of two percent milk, a carton of eggs, slices of thick ham from the deli, a wedge of sharp cheddar cheese and low fat yogurt found their way into the fridge. Crisp gala apples and ripe bananas were stored in a faux crystal bowl on the countertop.
Colleen paused to listen. The comfortably appointed condo was silent, as it had been every night since her divorce was final a year ago. She caught sight of herself in the living room mirror and tried not to cringe. Not too bad for twenty nine, she thought, determined to ignore the specter of thirty looming over her shoulder. If the moniker O’Brien didn’t shout her Irish heritage to the high hills, her looks certainly did. Thick chestnut hair too straight to be curly and too curly to be straight fell just past her shoulders, framing a delicate, oval face with high cheekbones. Her eyes were the color of dusty jade, and to her constant mortification she had a light sprinkling of freckles across her nose that no amount of concealer or foundation would hide. Looks like country come to town, her ex husband used to say. Lips just a little too full, mouth a little wide, she turned from side to side, surveying herself with a critical eye. Five foot five inches, one hundred thirty pounds. “Average build, average weight, average life, just average…me. Nothing special here, boys and girls,” she murmured.
Shrugging off the pending melancholy, she put away the rest of the dry goods and had just popped one of the entrees in the microwave when the doorbell rang. Tossing the empty box in the trash, she ran to the front door, rising up on tiptoe to look through the peephole. “Just a minute,” she called, flicking open the numerous locks with practiced ease.
Sandy Jasko waited patiently, a shoebox sized parcel plastered with international stamps tucked under her arm. “This came for you down at the complex office, too big for the mailbox,” she explained. “Told them I’d bring it up to you on my way home.”
Colleen grinned and accepted the package from her next door neighbor and best friend. It was much lighter than it looked. “Come on in,” she said, giving the box an experimental shake and frowning when it made no sound that might indicate its contents.
“Just for a minute,” Sandy said, stepping past her into the tidy living room. “Bill and I are going out for dinner–we’re going to try that new steakhouse over on the Causeway. You know you’re welcome to join us…”
Colleen shook her head firmly, setting the package down on the large sectional sofa. “And be a third wheel? Don’t think so. Besides,” she added loftily, “I have my own culinary delights awaiting me.”
The microwave dinged and Sandy’s eyes narrowed. “Healthy Choice?”
Colleen nodded enthusiastically. “Manicotti, my favorite. I’m celebrating the loss of two hundred unsightly pounds,” she said.
The petite brunette’s eyebrows shot up in apparent confusion, but her lip twitching gave her away. “Do tell. What’s your secret?” she asked
Colleen burst into laughter. “My divorce was final a year ago today,” she explained.
Sandy laughed too, making her mop of curls bounce. “Marc was a first class asshole, so it’s worth celebrating. It’s not every day one loses that big a chunk of wasted carbon.” She studied her friend a little closer. “You can’t stay locked in here forever, you know,” she said gently. “You’ve got to start getting out, you know, socialize…meet people. Why don’t you join us tonight? Bill has a friend I bet you’ll love…” She launched into her old familiar matchmaking refrain.
Colleen raised her hands in surrender and laughed. “Your husband always has a friend. I meet people every day at my job, and tonight I’m having dinner with…” She paused to look at the DVDs lined up on her coffee table, “Viggo Mortensen and Orlando Bloom.”
“Lord of the Rings again?” Sandy rolled her eyes. “God, you are such a geek. How many times–”
“A bunch. I can recite entire passages and reenact the battle scenes using interpretive dance. Aren’t you going to be late?” Colleen interrupted.
Sandy looked down at her watch and shrieked at the time. “I gotta go. Call me if you change your mind!”
“I won’t, but I do appreciate the offer. You go on and have fun. Tell Bill I said hello,” Colleen said, following her friend to the door and relocking herself in before heading to the kitchen. She placed her cooling dinner on the TV tray, grabbed a diet soda and headed for the couch. “I’ll open you after dinner,” she said to the box, pushing it aside to sit down.
When she was finished, she set the tray aside and eased the box into her lap. “You’re not very heavy,” she mused, looking at all the colorful stamps. After giving her dinner knife a careful lick to catch the last drop of lingering gravy, she used it to cut away the tight packing tape. Her grandmother in Ireland passed away six months ago, and Colleen guessed someone was just now getting around to cleaning out her sprawling farm house. Sure enough, there was a note.
Your grandmother left specific instructions this was to go to you. Moire O’Brien was a fine woman and will be missed by all who knew her. I am truly sorry for your loss.
Mary Catherine McDermott
Colleen smiled. She met her grandmother’s neighbor during her childhood visits, remembering her as a kindly woman if slightly on the nosy side. Excited, she dug around inside the box, scattering the Styrofoam packing peanuts. Her hand closed on something hard, smooth and curved. Getting a firm grip on the unknown object, she pulled it from the container and stared in wonder.
“Buccinum undatum–the common whelk. What a beauty!” She ran her hands over the large shell, holding it to her ear to hear the distant sea it came from. Childhood memories of walking the beaches with her grandparents looking for discarded shells and other aquatic treasures brought a smile to her face. “You need a special place,” she decided, clearing out a spot in the center of her bookcase. She regarded it carefully before re-appropriating a lace doily from a nearby flower arrangement. Slipping it underneath the whelk, she pronounced it properly displayed.
“Thank you, Grandma,” she said out loud to the ceiling, and wrapping herself in her favorite quilt settled back down on the couch to watch good triumph over evil once again in Middle Earth.
* * * *
Colleen awoke to find she had fallen asleep on the couch–again–and gasped when she dared to peek at the time. 3:33 AM. Triplets. Quick, make a wish. “I wish for something…better. A life. A happy life.” She groaned loudly as soon as the words were out of her mouth. “God, I’m pathetic,” she said, turning off the TV with the remote and pitching the room into darkness. “Maybe Sandy’s right. Maybe I should start getting out…” Her voice trailed off when she realized although the room was supposed to be dark, it wasn’t. Neither was it silent.
A low humming broke the stillness. Her gaze lit upon the bookcase, where the new whelk sat glowing like a night light was hidden inside. She studied it until she was certain that was also where the sound was coming from. Flicking on the end table lamp, she rose and moved to pick it up. As soon as her slender fingers made contact, the humming ceased and the shell glowed more brightly than ever.
“Well, aren’t you special,” she murmured, turning it over to look for an on-off switch. Not finding one, she gave it a slight shake. Something rattled in response. When she shook it again, the something fell down to the plush carpet and the light in the shell snuffed out like a candle. She set the empty whelk back on the bookcase and picked the shiny object up, realizing with a start it was a necklace.
She flipped on the overhead light and peered down at her unexpected find. A gold star inside a circle with a large stone the color of skim milk in the center, the whole amulet was just a little larger than a quarter. “Aw, it’s scratched,” she noted, fumbling for the magnifying glass on the shelf. “No, wait…these are deliberate markings. Symbols of some kind all around the circle and the arms of the star. What language is that?” Turning it over, she found the back was covered with the same oddly slanted etchings. She peered at the opaque gem through the magnifier and for a moment, it looked almost as if something shifted inside it. Pausing, she shook her head at the outlandish thought.
“Talk about your overactive imagination. Pretty, though. I’ll wear it to work tomorrow–no, today. Shit.” Without another thought about the strange amulet, she headed for bed to try and catch another couple of hours sleep before the morning alarm.
The Tampa Museum of Art Gift Shop opened at ten sharp on Saturday morning. As the Director of Merchandising–which sounded much more official than manager- -Colleen unlocked the plate glass doors right as the ornate grandfather clock chimed the hour, wishing again that her usual clerk hadn’t requested the day off. Not that she had plans or anything, she sighed, but still–it was the weekend and normal people did stuff on the weekends. Like go on dates and have lives. She sighed. Nope, not going there.
The large shop stayed busy throughout the day with tour groups and families coming and going. She sold informational books and replica items, candy and souvenirs and kept the brochure racks stocked as best she could with pamphlets advertising area attractions. With a pleasant smile glued to her face, she gave directions and made innocuous small talk with the wide variety of customers that dropped in to buy mementos of their visit.
After an afternoon rush of last minute purchases from a large senior tour group, the shop was empty and Colleen seized the opportunity to straighten up. She headed for the brochure rack first to restock yet again. “I can’t believe parents let their kids just wreck it like this,” she grumbled. She had just completed the mind numbing task of restoring each pamphlet and postcard back in their original slots when the front door chimed, announcing the arrival of yet another visitor. She turned to greet the newcomer and gasped. Tall, handsome and oblivious to her presence, he glanced quickly around the shop.
Hello, Gorgeous. “Hi, can I help you?” she offered with a friendly smile.
“I was lookin’ for a soda machine,” the man said, seeing her smile and raising it with a grin of his own.
“Just over there,” she said, waving him toward the back wall where the small cooler resided. After making his selection, he browsed the coffee table art books for a moment, picked out a child’s coloring book, grabbed a couple of candy bars then headed for the counter, placing his purchases in front of her.
Mmm–tall, dark and…married. Shit, she thought, noting the wide gold band when he pulled out his wallet. “Will there be anything else?” she managed to ask without sighing while she bagged up his items. When she didn’t get a response, she glanced up to find him looking at her amulet with a curious expression on his face.
“Sorry–not meaning to stare, but ’tis quite an interesting necklace you’re wearin’,” he apologized, his quiet voice rising and falling in a distinct Irish brogue. “Might I inquire where you got it?”
Colleen’s hand flew to her neck. “Thank you. My grandmother sent it to me from Ireland.”
He was clearly disappointed at her admission. “I had hoped you bought it here. My wife would love to have one like it. I thought it might be Celt from the design. Would you mind…” He motioned toward the amulet.
“No, not at all.” Colleen unclasped the necklace and placed it before him on the counter. The man bent to look more closely, tucking a long auburn curl behind his ear when it tumbled into his face. He frowned then glanced around as if searching for something. Taking a book magnifier from a nearby display, he examined the curious markings on the star again.
“Do you know what the language is?” she asked. “I thought it might be Gaelic or something like that, but–”
“It’s not,” he interrupted her. “Unless I’m mistaken, this predates that. Ever hear of the Irish Book of Invasions?”
“Um…no?” she said, furrowing her brow at the strange question.
“One of the invasions was the Tuatha De Danann, the faery folk. Legend has it they brought the magick to Eire. This lettering appears to be similar to what’s in the book.” He straightened and put the magnifier back on the display. “I’d offer to buy it, but I know it’s not for sale,” he said with a shrug. “And even if it were, it would far surpass what I could afford. This is very, very old. I’d be careful with it.” He warned, then with a twinkle in his dark green eyes added “And I suggest you not be wishin’ for anything you don’t truly want while you’re wearin’ it. Just in case it was to be enchanted by the sidhe, you know.”
With a polite nod and a smile, he picked up his bag and left the shop. She refastened the necklace and patted the amulet, a rush of excitement flooding through her at the mere thought of faeries and mystical talismans. “One necklace to rule them all.” She giggled but after a moment gazed off when the full impact of his strange words hit her. “What would I wish for…” she mused, making a mental note to search the Book of Invasions on the internet after dinner.
The museum closed promptly at five-thirty, but the gift shop stayed open until six to catch the remaining stragglers. Colleen glanced at the clock and cringed in anticipation of the inevitable.
“Colleen!” a bright voice called out, interrupting her thoughts and dashing her hopes of avoiding what she knew would be an unpleasant encounter.
“Marc,” Colleen said, not raising her head. Resigned to her fate, she sprayed glass cleaner and wiped down the immaculate counter top again, giving the nonexistent grime her full and undivided attention.
Marc Simmons–assistant museum curator, ex-husband and official bane of her existence–sauntered in and up to the counter. At just over six feet tall with an athletic build, Marc still looked exactly like what he used to be twelve years ago–a former student body president and All American collegiate football star until a knee injury ended his budding career. “Listen, I just wanted to stop by and say…I know what yesterday was. I’m sorry things had to work out as they did. Everything going okay with you?” He managed to look almost interested for a moment before something under his fingernail caught his full attention.
Narcissistic creep. “I’m doing great, thanks,” Colleen lied. She continued to wipe like a woman possessed. June Cleaver would have been proud.
Marc leaned against the counter, placing one hand squarely on the area she had just cleaned and smoothed back his collar length blond hair. “Wonderful to hear. Are you seeing anyone yet? You really should, you know. Get right back into the dating game. Best thing for getting over the…uh, unpleasantness…of the past.”
Correction. Narcissistic arrogant creep. “Yes, actually I am,” she lied again. “We’re really happy. Move, please,” she said, wiping his smudged handprints off the glass. Add inconsiderate to that. Oops–news flash, her inner voice muttered, you already knew that. She would have laughed, had she not been so annoyed.
The smug smile on Marc’s face faded just a little. “That’s wonderful,” he said, his voice lacking a little of his earlier enthusiasm. “Anyone I know?”
“No, you don’t know him. He’s…not from around here,” she said. “And I’m meeting him for dinner, so I need to finish up here if you don’t mind.” She stepped around him, walked to the front door and held it open.
He took the hint and walked outside. “I’d like to meet him sometime. Maybe we could all go out to dinner some night, me, Brandi, you and…”
Colleen ignored the obvious question as she locked the heavy door behind him. “I’ll mention it to him if I remember. Tell Barbie hello,” she called back over her shoulder, making a concerted effort to not stomp her aggravation out for him to witness.
“It’s Brandi,” Marc corrected, his breath fogging the recently cleaned glass pane. He used his jacket sleeve to wipe it away and gave her the practiced All American Boy grin that used to melt her heart. Now it just left her cold.
“Whatever,” Colleen muttered. Without looking back again, she gathered up the last of her dignity and the cash envelope to drop in the office on her way out.
Stupid, stupid, stupid. She fumed all the way home, lecturing herself on the thirty minute commute from downtown Tampa to Brandon in the sports coupe Marc had begrudgingly conceded to her as part of the divorce settlement. She reminded herself to slow down, groaning aloud in mortal vexation. “Just had to go and open your big, fat mouth. We’re really happy,” she mimicked herself, smacking first her forehead then the steering wheel for good measure. “Why the hell did I tell him I have a boyfriend? When he finds out I don’t…”
She knew what would happen. He’d give her pitying glances whenever she saw him at work, and she’d rather set herself on fire than have him give her one more of those poor thing you just can’t get over me sighs. A single tear slid down her cheek, and she swiped at it angrily with the back of her hand.
The truth was she wouldn’t have him back no matter how hard he begged. She did find the visual most appealing, though, preferably with him prostrate on the ground in front of her with all of their former friends and acquaintances in attendance. Pay per view would be good, she decided, enjoying an imagined setting somewhere between Gladiator and Mad Max: Beyond Thunderdome. “Thumbs down,” she would snarl to the cheering mob, who naturally would be calling for his head on a platter. As an afterthought, she added pitchforks and torches to the scene and smiled.
Marc’s callous betrayal after eight years of marriage came out of far left field. It was obvious everyone in the free world knew the up and coming assistant curator was screwing his perky–something she’d never be, even on a good day–colleague. But no one–not even those she considered friends–had the guts to come forward and tell her. Her sham of a marriage was officially pronounced DOA the day she walked in on the two of them bent over the top of the large oak desk in his office, vigorously engaging in what his overpriced lawyer later claimed he was driven to by a cold and unresponsive wife.
Stomping into the condo in high dudgeon, she kicked off her low heeled pumps and padded in her stocking feet to the kitchen. “Food therapy it is. Mmm…what’s for dinner?” She picked out one of the entrees–some sort of suspicious looking fish she elected not to examine too closely–put it back, picked out another and stuck it in the microwave. While it heated up, she went to change from her slacks and blouse into a long baby blue satin nightgown, tying the matching robe around her. “Saturday night. Looks like it’s just you and me tonight, Mel,” she sighed, dropping Braveheart in the DVD player and pressing the start button.
She ate her turkey and dressing in silence while she watched the historical drama unfold, using her finger to get at the last of the cranberry compote. When she finished, she paused the movie and took her tray to the kitchen, washing her fork before putting it in the dishwasher. She was headed for her bathroom to brush her teeth when the house phone in the kitchen rang. “Damn, damn, damn,” she muttered, seeing the museum office number on the caller ID. Against her better judgment, she answered it anyway. “Hello?”
“Yo, it’s me.”
Quadruple damn. “Yes, Marc?” Colleen answered coolly.
“Thought you were going out to dinner,” he said, his tone smug.
“We are, just getting a later start than we had planned. What do you want?” Besides checking up on her story.
“Brandi and I have reservations at Bern’s this evening. Thought maybe we could all meet up for a drink later,” Marc suggested. “You know, just to show there are no hard feelings.”
He never took her there, Colleen caught herself thinking. “I don’t know…what our…exact plans are. Maybe another time…” She glanced around frantically for an excuse to end the call. “My cell’s ringing in the other room. That’ll be him. Gotta go!” She hung up quickly to end her misery.
With a heart weary sigh, she went to brush her teeth. Afterward in her bedroom, she splayed both hands on the dresser and leaned against it. “I’m not going to be able to go on like this,” she said to herself in the mirror. “I know how this is going to play out. He’s going to pester me to death unless I come up with the boyfriend to end all boyfriends.” She began searching her brain for all the good looking single men she knew. It was a very short search. She sighed. “I don’t want to go out with one of Bill’s accountant friends just to get Marc off my back,” she said, stamping her foot in exasperation like a five year old. “I want to find my own man who will love me for me, faithful, funny, intelligent, strong, thoughtful, and drop dead gorgeous. And loves movies,” she added as an afterthought. “Seriously. Is that too much to ask for?” She directed that last question at the ceiling. “The movies part is a deal breaker, just so you know.”
…I suggest you not be wishin’ for anything you don’t truly want while you’re wearin’ it. Just in case it was to be enchanted by the sidhe…
The strange comment came drifting back and she lifted the amulet she still wore to eye level. “I don’t know if you work or not, but now’s your chance to convince me. I wish for the man of my dreams,” she intoned formally. “The one I just described. Please. Um…thank you.” She held her breath and listened for several long moments. When there was no blare of trumpets announcing her Prince Charming’s arrival, her shoulders sagged. “I am such a–”
An intense flash of white light from the living room interrupted her tirade right before her personal paradigm took a fierce and permanent shift.
“Completely fun and engaging, this book had me laughing out loud in parts, enjoying the characters throughout and left me with a happy smile. Shannon MacLeod has managed to mix in faeries, time-travel and a thoroughly modern, if not entirely bold heroine into this story that is certain to be a favorite of many romance fans.”Vanessa, The Jeep Diva review Blog