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Alainn O’Brien gazed out the bedchamber’s large arched window. With the beloved rolling green hills dotted with sheep and lines of drystone walls to the west, the rising sun glistening on the beautiful Irish Sea to the east, she felt undeniably blessed. Listening to the seagulls, terns and puffins, she inhaled the misty morning air, content to finally be in their castle—back in their time. They’d been here a week and her very soul rejoiced in being home.
It was wonderful reuniting with their friends Cookson and Lily and meeting their lively young twins. Lily was now heavily pregnant again. Alainn’s friend Eireen and her husband, Fergus, the castle’s steward, remained at Castle O’Donnel, too. Roisin, the castle’s very lovely healer, was still unwed. Alainn had been secretly hoping by the time they returned, Roisin would’ve found a husband.
Alainn had been married to Killian O’Brien—chieftain of Clan O’Donnel (his mother’s clan)—for over five years now, but they’d been in love for much longer. The tall, powerfully built, handsome warrior with rich dark brown hair had won her heart when they were children. They shared an unequivocally profound and passionate relationship. With everything they’d been through together she didn’t know why she felt twinges of uncertainty now. Perhaps because Roisin was beautiful and someone from Killian’s early life who’d once meant very much to him.
Alainn smiled when Killian’s strong arms encircled her. His firm, warm, muscular body resting against her back eased her nagging doubts.
“You’re glad to be back home, Lainna?” Killian said, moving her long golden-blonde hair, softly kissing her neck.
“Happy to be home and back to our time. I see your joy, too. This is where we belong, Killian.”
“I can’t deny that. I’d never rue our unusual experience livin’ five centuries in the future but I agree, this is where we’re meant to be, my Lainna. Although I don’t mind tellin’ you I’m already missin’ those glorious hot showers.”
“We’ve returned to sharin’ our very enjoyable baths,” Alainn said glancing at the bathtub, remembering their recent passionate encounter.
“Bathin’ with you is always most enjoyable,” Killian replied, still kissing her neck.
Alainn sighed at the tingling sensation of heightening arousal.
“The others are adjustin’ well,” Alainn said. “We’ve found adequate livin’ arrangements for everyone; many here in our castle.”
“Arianna and Darius seem relieved to be settled, able to relax and await the birth of their baby,” Killian replied.
“They are, and Ainsley’s excited to finally see Ireland when she’s longed to visit her mother’s homeland her whole life. Cal’s been kept busy showing her around,” Alainn said.
“Cal looked weary last night at supper. They’d been out and about since early morn.”
“I doubt it’s long walks and explorin’ that has Cal exhausted,” Alainn laughingly said.
“If frequent lovin’ is the reason for Cal’s weariness, you and I should be weary, too,” Killian said, placing kisses down her shoulder. His erect firmness against her confirmed she hadn’t exhausted him.
“Transcendent witches do have a healthy appetite for makin’ love,” Alainn said.
“I’m very glad,” Killian replied, his voice husky with arousal.
She turned, looking up into his alluring green eyes filled with love and desire. They shared a knowing smile; he glanced longingly at her unclothed body.
“We’ve taken some time away from our bedchamber to show the others around your chiefdom and your presence has been required again in your chieftain duties,” she said caressing his impressive chest and taut, rippled stomach.
“My husbandly duties are most important to me just now,” he said leaning in for a fervent kiss. “You’re so exceptionally beautiful, Lainna. I’d never tire of lovin’ you.”
Killian eagerly lifted her into his arms and carried her to their large canopied bed. They lay together sharing lingering kisses and intimate caresses. Alainn’s sighs were interrupted by a loud scream and the sound of shattering glass from the kitchen several floors below.
They looked at each other uncertainly and Killian’s eyebrow rose in question.
“That’s Lily,” Alainn said.
“Do you suppose it’s Arianna or Angelique who’s maybe caused Lily’s displeased scream? I did wonder if all three women bein’ with child and sometimes temperamental might cause unrest.”
Alainn closed her eyes and concentrated.
“It’s Angelique. I suppose I must go see what’s caused the calamity.”
“I’ll come, too, if for nothin’ more than male support for Cookson.”
They hurriedly donned their garments and Alainn pulled a brush through her waist-length hair before they made their way down the many castle steps to the large bustling kitchen.
Kitchen servants kept away from the fray, but cast curious glances at what was occurring. Cookson, typically jovial, looked like he could use support. He’d been friends with Alainn and Killian at Castle O’Brien where his father had been head cook. Cookson was proud to take on that position here. Alainn and Killian brought Lily to Ireland from England. Her parents had been killed by a horrid demon that had been pursuing Alainn. Cookson and Lily fell in love and married not long after.
Lily’s hands rested on her hips; her very pregnant belly strained her gown. Angelique stood nearby, shattered dishes at her feet.
“What’s the reason for this early mornin’ commotion?” Killian asked.
“Your friend’s been telling my husband how to run his kitchen, she has!” Lily’s English accent was enunciated when perturbed. “Down here before the sun’s even risen making unreasonable demands.”
Angelique smirked. Alainn met her eyes, barely able to hide her smile. There was something about Angelique, the witch from the twenty-first century, that caused Alainn to feel a strong kinship with her.
“What were these unreasonable demands, Cookson?” Alainn asked.
“I didn’t find them entirely unreasonable,” Cookson admitted, which brought a fiercer scowl from Lily.
“I asked the kitchen staff to wash their hands before food preparation and that the well water be boiled, especially since I’ve seen several unsanitary-looking people drinking from the same dipper. I requested the dishes be washed in very hot water. I’ve offered to assist, which is why I’m here. I don’t think that’s something to freak out about.”
Lily’s face flushed further at that.
“Your New World accent’s rife with superiority,” Lily snapped.
“It’s an American accent. But did a Londoner actually say I sound like I believe I’m superior? Can’t even blame the long-standing grudge over the Revolutionary War for your dislike of me.” Angelique laughed with a snort.
“I think you’re not quite right in the head. That unmannerly sound doesn’t make you seem a lady, though the servants are ever so quick to address you as such,” Lily grumbled.
“Hey, I never asked for that title—certainly never professed to be a lady.”
“Why aren’t you attired in those unladylike trews today?” Lily said.
“They’re called jeans and I only packed a couple of pairs.”
“You still haven’t told Alainn and Killian what you did,” Lily fumed.
“I would like to know why that crockery lies smashed upon the floor,” Killian said.
“The broken dishes are kinda my fault, but Lily did urge me to show her. I didn’t anticipate she’d react so adversely.”
“What did Angelique show you?” Alainn asked.
“Your sorceress friend made the dishes crawl with repulsive beasties. It’s fortunate I haven’t yet eaten or I would’ve spewed,” Lily complained.
“I just gave Lily a glimpse at bacteria and what she’d be eating if the dishes aren’t washed thoroughly and the water isn’t boiled.”
“Would you show me, too?” Killian asked.
Angelique picked up a mostly still-intact plate, waved her hand and it soon squirmed with tiny unfavorable worm-like creatures.
“That is disturbing,” Killian agreed even as he grinned, then glanced at Lily, trying to be serious. “Perhaps you might apologize, Angelique.”
“Sorry I’ve caused problems, Cookson…distressed you, Lily, and that our disagreement’s likely woken half the castle including our chieftain and his lady.” She curtsied exaggeratedly to Killian and Alainn. “But Lily could be a bit thankful I didn’t throw the dishes back. Baseball is…or will be…America’s national sport and I have a really good arm.”
“Now, I’d better clean this mess before somebody steps on glass and I piss off someone else.”
“That isn’t necessary, Angelique,” Killian said. “Someone will tend to it.”
“I’m not accustomed to anyone waiting on me. I’ll sweep it up if that pleases Lady Lily.”
Lily glared at Angelique and stormed from the kitchen. Alainn would speak with her when she cooled off.
“Sorry, Cookson,” Angelique said.
“It’s not all your fault,” Cookson said. “Lily’s extra emotional just now.”
“I think Lily might also be jealous of yours and my friendship, Angelique.”
“I’ll keep out of the kitchen, then. I could stay in that empty cottage by the sea. I’d boil my water, cook my food without bothering anyone. Maybe that sweet stray dog I found on the beach and Ainsley and Cal’s cat could stay with me.”
“We want you here, Angelique,” Alainn said.
“We do,” Killian affirmed, “and if washin’ hands and boilin’ water could prevent illness, I’ll be glad to have the kitchen do so.”
Cookson nodded his agreement.
“Besides, it’s not safe for you to stay alone,” Killian added.
“Safe?” Angelique asked, going to the nearby alcove and locating a straw broom.
“It’s better if we all remain together,” Alainn said.
“I suppose,” Angelique replied.
“Let me do that,” a brusque middle-aged kitchen servant said, taking the broom from Angelique. “You run along, Lady Angelique. You’re lookin’ quite pale.”
She fondly patted Angelique’s face. Alainn and Killian shared a surprised look. The woman was usually surly.
“Thanks, Emer,” Angelique said.
Alainn looked closer at Angelique. She was pale and her fingernails had a bluish hue.
“Would Chieftain O’Brien and Lady Alainn like to join me for a walk, maybe a swim?” Angelique asked.
“Perhaps a walk. The water’s too cold for me to swim. I suspect Killian wishes to break fast.”
“I am hungry,” he said.
Catching the look in his eyes, Alainn knew it wasn’t food he hungered for since their passionate encounter was interrupted. Angelique must’ve noticed, too.
“You go back to your chambers. I’m meeting someone anyway…someone who loves the sea even more than me,” Angelique said.
They nodded to Cookson and walked from the kitchen. Alainn searched Angelique’s eyes.
“Faolan?” Alainn asked, thinking it unlikely.
“No,” Angelique disappointedly sighed. “Faolan avoids me like the plague. Maybe not the actual plague, but…I’m meeting the water dragon. In a vision he said he’d be near here this morning. You return to whatever you were doing earlier.” Angelique winked. Killian and Alainn smiled.
“At least two of the four transcendent witches are gettin’ lucky in Ireland,” Angelique stated. “Arianna would be, too, if her stomach didn’t look like a balloon about to pop. Their daughter will arrive day after tomorrow.”
“I agree,” Alainn said. “Enjoy your walk, Angelique.”
“You enjoy your morning, too.” Angelique grinned. “Any message you’d like me to give the dragon, Alainn?”
“As a magical creature, if he has any influence with the gods, perhaps he could tell them we’d like to discuss what they know of Odhran or the upcoming battle.”
“I’ll do that,” Angelique said.
Watching Angelique go through the castle’s large main doors, Killian whispered, “You’re worried, Alainn.”
“I am. Angelique is pale—sometimes breathless. I’ve seen how Cal looks at her with concern.”
“You, the other witches and Danhoul have powerful intuition. Can’t you tell if somethin’s wrong?”
“We can’t read Angelique as well. Danhoul mostly keeps his distance after the incident where she was hurt,” Alainn admitted.
“Do you believe all is well?” Killian asked. “Her condition’s barely apparent, yet you claim she’s halfway through her term.”
“Her inverted womb could be why she’s hardly showin’, which can also sometimes prevent adequate growth, and Angelique carries twins. She’s probably wishin’ she was back in her time with ultrasounds to determine if all’s well.”
“But Cal’s a doctor with magic and has been keepin’ close watch on her,” Killian said.
“As much as he’s able without modern methods. I suspect he knows somethin’ more.”
“Danhoul’s stayin’ in the round tower?” Killian changed the subject.
“Aye. Sure Diadra’s relieved to be reunited with her son.”
“And Faolan’s at your grandfather’s castle.”
“He’s definitely won over Da and Grandda,” Alainn said.
“I like the man, too. He’s a bit intense and I sense his bitter animosity toward Danhoul. I suppose there’s no way it won’t be awkward for them when Angelique was with them both and carries two babies, one fathered by each of them.”
Heading up the castle’s winding stairs, they met Cal and Ainsley coming down.
“Good morning. What was all the clatter earlier?” Ainsley asked.
“Angelique and Lily had a disagreement,” Alainn replied.
“Angelique was givin’ Lily and Cookson a lesson in sanitation,” Killian explained.
“She’s warranted in that,” Cal replied.
“It included visuals.” Alainn used a word from the future.
“Sure it’s difficult for Angelique havin’ lived when such knowledge is common,” Killian said.
“She’ll find some practices in this century bloody archaic,” Cal stated in his northern English accent. “That wasn’t meant to offend you.”
“We aren’t offended, Cal,” Alainn smilingly assured him.
“On my journeys through time, I found some eras difficult to adjust to,” Cal said.
“Has anyone checked on Arianna this morning?” Ainsley asked.
“She’s well enough,” Darius said, now joining them. “A bit irked at being awakened by all the damn noise earlier. She was up to the privy several times and couldn’t get comfortable to sleep.”
“The baby’s dropped,” Cal offered. “It won’t be long now.”
“I can only imagine how eager you are,” Alainn said.
“We’ll be very relieved to finally meet our daughter,” Darius agreed.
“If you’re goin’ for breakfast, maybe we’ll join you,” Killian said.
Alainn nodded. Killian squeezed her hand, letting her know they’d resume their amorous intentions later.
“Is Arianna comin’ down?” Alainn asked.
“She’s finally asleep. I’ll take her food later; though she’s not been very hungry.”
“Another sign your baby’ll be here soon,” Alainn said. “Angelique says day after tomorrow. I concur.”
“Me, too.” Ainsley nodded.
Darius blew out his breath. “I’ll count on it then.”
“Where’s Angelique now?” Cal questioned.
“You’re fretful about her, Cal,” Alainn said.
“She is our great-granddaughter,” Cal replied with his usual dry humor.
That was true. But with the way of time travel, Angelique was the same age as Ainsley, who was, indeed, her great-grandmother. In fact, all four transcendent witches were identical age—twenty-two, born precisely the same date, albeit in four different centuries.
“Angelique’s not in an enviable situation,” Ainsley added. “The man she loves mostly keeps his distance.”
“Yet, that’s not the reason for Cal’s concern,” Alainn speculated.
“Besides the unfavorable position of her womb, she’s anemic,” Cal replied. “We can’t exactly continue iron infusions here in the sixteenth century.”
They entered the castle’s enormous great hall with its unusually tall ceiling and massive proportions. The immense stone hearth fire hadn’t been lit, for the warm late April sun streamed through the long row of arched eastern windows. Once seated at the lengthy head table, Alainn addressed Cal’s previous comment.
“Do those conditions cause blue fingernails or breathlessness?”
Cal’s expression was serious. “You’re a healer, Alainn. Ainsley’s a nurse. You both know what causes those symptoms. I’m sworn to secrecy; therefore, you must draw your own conclusions.”
“It’s a heart condition,” Alainn whispered.
“By God’s bones, that sounds serious,” Killian replied.
“It is,” Cal quietly said.
“Carryin’ one, much less two babies, will put strain on her heart,” Alainn morosely stated.
“And childbirth could be life-threatening,” Ainsley said.
Cal nodded solemnly. “Since you’ve guessed the truth, I’ll tell you what I know. Her heart’s been damaged twice. In her time Angelique was advised to abort the babies immediately and have extremely risky open-heart surgery. She chose against both. Faolan doesn’t know. Even with his magical perception, Danhoul doesn’t seem aware. I suggested they be told, but Angelique adamantly disagrees, not wanting their or anyone’s worry or pity.”
“By Christ, they’d be overwrought if they knew,” Darius said.
“Did you know, Ainsley?” Alainn asked.
“I had suspicions but Cal wasn’t apt to say anything after he’d already announced Angelique’s pregnancy against her wishes.”
“I wanted to tell you, Irish, but wasn’t sure Angelique would ever forgive me for letting that slip,” Cal admitted.
“I understand, Cal,” Ainsley said.
He affectionately touched his forehead to hers. Aware of the solemnity of the situation, everyone sat silently, lost in their own thoughts.
End of Excerpt