Romance is in the air when King Brian invites Janet and her grandparents to his country estate for Halloween weekend. In this excerpt, Prince Liam gives Janet a tour of the house.
All Liam wanted was to spend some time with Janet. He suspected his mother had arranged the Gleasons’ weekend visit with his humble self in mind. She did her best to keep him and Talty from drowning in their intensive studies and royal duties.
Liam didn’t mind school—his university schedule was far less grueling than the classes and private tutoring he’d endured since childhood—but he hated having to escort the conceited daughters of international notables to royal events. Janet was a rare exception, and his mother knew how much he looked forward to seeing her.
As he reached the foyer, she danced down the stairs. He stopped at the smoldering fireplace and raised his hands to cover his face. “A nimble goddess in runners and denim descends from the heavens in light so bright, I must shield my mortal eyes.”
Her bubbly laughter lit his soul like moonbeams dappling the lake. “Your sister is right,” she said. “You are an eejit.”
“For a foreign importation, you’re learning Irish well.” He clasped her hands and tugged her into the nook beneath the staircase. She didn’t object, nor did she resist when he stole a kiss, a gentle yet potent exchange.
They looped their arms around each other, and she rested her head on his chest. “I’ve missed you, Liam.”
Her murmured words buzzed through his ribs and spread to his toes. His protective shield of eloquence abandoned him, leaving him fragile and vulnerable. “Me too,” he said stupidly. “Missed you, I mean. You, not me.” He sighed and reluctantly broke their embrace. “Come on, let’s—”
She smiled and pounced, seizing his neck and peppering his mouth with kisses. Surprised but delighted, he joined in the fun, happier than he’d felt in weeks. Too happy, it seemed. He started to chuckle, which gave her the giggles. They laughed together, letting their silliness play itself out, relieved—at least in Liam’s case—that their glimpse at the frightening depths of affection had left them unscathed for the moment.
Seeking to stand on safer ground, he took a step back while she caught her breath. He noticed she wasn’t wearing her locket. When he’d first met her, she was never without the small gold heart that held portraits of her parents, and she’d fondled it often for comfort. She’d recently told him she no longer needed her little girl pendant, now that she felt more at home in Ireland and boarding school.
He ran a knuckle over her cheek. “It’s fine to see you, Janet Gleason. Come on, I’ll show you the place.”
Holding hands, they ambled down the hall. She asked him how long his family had lived in the house, and he thought an American accent had never sounded so sweet.
“Hundreds of years, at least,” he said. “The legends say the fairies allowed the first Borus to live here after they saved a fairy queen from the Vikings. I don’t know if that’s true, or if my ancestors made it up so no one would challenge their ownership of the land. They were a bunch of rascals, for sure.”
She bumped her shoulder against his arm. “That hasn’t changed a bit.”
He grinned and bumped back. “Brian Boru’s army had a base camp here in the glen a thousand or so years ago. We think there were other camps before that. Different settlements from previous times. When the builders started digging to lay the foundation for the garage, they found the remains of an Iron Age forge.”
“Wow. How long ago was the Iron Age?”
“In Ireland, it began around 600 BC. So about 2,500 years ago.”
“Did they have to put the garage in a different place?”
“We’d never have any new buildings or roads if we had to keep moving the locations. Whenever anyone starts digging to build something new in Ireland, they find something old. Once the archaeologists finished fussing over the site, the garage went up.”
“Your sister said a bunch of archaeologists are here now. They think there’s a crannog in the lake.”
“In our little lake?” The idea kicked a fanciful tripwire in Liam. Snapshots of ancient scenes flooded his mind. Smoke wafted from the chimney hole of a pristine roundhouse atop a crannog. Prehistoric men and women came and went from the thatched lake dwelling. He longed to know the fur-clad farmers, the bearded priests chanting prayers to the sun, the bejeweled nobility wielding their weapons, and the bards who kept all their stories alive.
“Yes. Something about the water level dropping over the summer.”
Were the archaeologists the surprise Robbie had mentioned? Liam hoped his parents had asked them to supper. “This is fantastic! Most of our crannogs are in the northwest and the midlands. I don’t know of any this far south. If it weren’t already dark, I’d run down to see it.”
“We’ll go tomorrow. Tell me about the house.”
They had reached the game room, the heart of the house. He paused outside the door and told her that originally, the house had been a stable, built over subterranean chambers. “For the warriors’ horses in ancient times. My forebears converted it in the 1600s and modernized it over time. The original kitchen was underground, along with an ice room they filled with ice from the pond in the winter. It’s the wine cellar now, and the laundry is down there too. The other rooms still look like dungeons. They’re used for storage.”
Janet winced. “We can skip that part of the tour. Speaking of dungeons, how’s school?”
He squeezed her hand. His mention of dungeons must have reminded her of Clontarf Castle’s cellars, where the two of them had nearly lost a chilling battle of wits with the flighty King of the Fairies. “I’m enjoying university life. Kevin and I are in some of the same classes. Thanks to all that tutoring inflicted upon us, we’re both a year younger than most of the other students, but they don’t bully us too much. How about you?”
Her enthusiastic account of her upcoming play and her need for an elderly role model delighted him. He had no doubt she’d shine in the part. A few weeks ago, he’d seen her in a one-act play at her school and thought she’d have made a first-rate shape-shifter in the old days, when the magic flowed.
He opened the door to the game room, switched on the lights, and stood aside to let her enter. “So that’s why you were interrogating poor Hannah out in the kitchen.”
She breezed by him and stopped. A magnificent faux-glare reshaped her face. “I wasn’t interrogating her. Just chatting. She’s amazing.”
Liam glanced around the mahogany-paneled room, one of the largest in the house. To their right, turf coals glowed in the black marble hearth, ready to burst into comforting flames with the proper coaxing. Armchairs flanked the fireplace. Piles of books and magazines cluttered the coffee table between them. Beside one chair sat a straw basket filled with Auntie Nuala’s yarn and knitting needles.
Janet pointed to the basket. “Who’s the knitter?”
“Nuala. She makes snuggly things for the animal shelters. You remember Nuala?”
Head turning, Janet gazed over the billiard table, the home theater, the electric train setup complete with mountains and villages, the shelves filled with board games, and the old upright piano. “Yes,” she said. “Princess Nuala is your father’s aunt and Kieran Dacey’s mother. The only other living Boru princess besides your sister. What a great room. Lots to do.”
“You should have seen it ten years ago. It always looked like a hurricane hit it.” Liam grinned, recalling the puppet and magic shows, the target and ball games that got out of hand, the tricycle races down the halls. “We used to raid the kitchen for towels and aprons to make costumes for the plays we put on. Speaking of which, you should find lots of inspiration here for your old woman character. The place is packed with the gray-haired things.”
“Is that a fact?” said an indignant female voice behind him.
The words pierced his back like arrows. He squeezed his eyes shut, noticing as he did that Janet had raised her hand to her mouth. Whether in horror or to smother a smile, he couldn’t tell. He held his breath and turned around, trying but failing to smile. “Hi, Gran.”
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