“Books take you someplace new when you have to stay where you are.” While this quote has always been true. In today’s world of social distancing and sheltering in place, it hits home with an extra punch.
That’s why I created my destination romance box set. It’s a mixture of two of my favorite things–travel and romance. The box set is still waiting for its cover, but all the included books are free in the Kindle Unlimited program.
Here’s the beginning of Irish Wishes:
FREE IN KINDLE UNLIMITED
Gillian lacked faith in numbers. Of course, since she was a librarian and not a math teacher, this was to be expected. Words were to be trusted; numbers, especially when it came to predicting the future, were far less reliable.
Flora felt differently, and she slammed her hand on the table to emphasize her point. “It’s the power of three!” Some people called them twins from different mothers, because in looks—moderate height, fair skin and hair, green eyes—they were similar. Even their staunch Christian values were the same, but when it came to numerology, they differed dramatically.
Why three had any more power than five or ten, Gillian didn’t know, but rather than point this out to her friend, she sipped her tea and glanced around the crowded and noisy sidewalk café, willing someone to come and rescue her. Typically, she couldn’t go anywhere without someone she knew from the school or choir stopping her for a chat, but not today.
“The whole thing…it’s suspicious, isn’t it?” Gillian picked off a morsel of her donut and put it in her mouth. She and Flora were supposed to be celebrating the end of the school year, not arguing. She almost regretted ever telling Flora about the mysterious safety deposit box. “I mean, why did the attorney send the notification to the school and not the house? If it had gotten lost in the mail, there was a real chance I wouldn’t have even seen it until after the break.”
“It came at the perfect time,” Flora said.
“Well, it came on my twenty-fifth birthday, as my mom had arranged.”
“Probably because she didn’t want your gram to get ahold of it. Which is also why the letter was sent to the school instead of the house.”
Gillian frowned at her donut. It had turned her fingers sticky, and somehow she’d managed to eat half of it without even noticing. “But my mom couldn’t know I would be working at the school.” Her voice cracked as it often did when she talked about her mom. In just ten years, she’d be the same age as her mom had been when she’d died.
“But she might have known you’d end up with your grandmother.”
Gillian held up her hand and twisted it so the emerald-cut sapphire and surrounding diamonds caught the sun and sent rays of light across the table.
“There were three things in the safety deposit box, right?” Flora asked. “The money, the ring, and the diary.”
“Yes, but I really don’t see—”
“Things come in threes! It’s a proven fact.”
“Proven by whom? As far as I know, only triplets come in threes.”
But Flora was on a roll and didn’t want to listen. “First, you got the letter about the safety deposit box, which contained three things. Second, the offer from Traverse Magazine. And third, they both arrived right as school ended for the summer.”
Gillian scowled. “The summer was going to come no matter what, Flora. It always does.”
“But don’t you see? If the offer from Traverse Magazine had come at any other time of the year, you wouldn’t be able to go. And since you discovered all that money in the safety deposit box, you can afford to go.”
“Leslie Tremaine—that’s the editor in chief—offered to pay all my expenses.” Even she heard the touch of wonder in her voice. “Doesn’t that seem weird to you?”
“Why? You’re a gifted photographer and writer.”
“But there are thousands, maybe even millions, of blogs. How did she find mine? I mean, very few people actually do.”
“Did you ask her?”
“No. I didn’t want to look a gift horse in the mouth.”
“I never understood what that even means,” Flora muttered.
“It means if someone gives you a horse, don’t inspect its teeth. It’s rude. But I don’t want to get to Ireland and find the whole thing is some sort of ruse.”
Flora shook her donut in Gillian’s face. “That is exactly something your gram would say. Along with that whole gift horse saying. Did you tell her about the safety deposit box?”
Gillian fought back a wave of guilt. “No. I’m not sure I’m going to.” She’d never been very good at keeping secrets, especially from Gram. Her grandmother had an eerie sixth sense that had always terrified Gillian.
“You shouldn’t,” Flora said, her disdain for Gram dripping in her voice. “Have you had the chance to read the diary yet?”
“Of course. I stayed up all night.” She smiled at the memory. “Reading Mom’s writing was like being introduced to someone I thought I knew, but didn’t. Someone witty and charming.”
“And probably beautiful.”
“I already knew that about her.” Memories of her Taylor Swift-beautiful mom flashed in Gillian’s head.
“Did the diary mention your father at all?”
Gillian shook her head. “But it does mention some of my mom’s friends.” She took a bite of her donut, chewed, and swallowed before adding, “I’d like to meet them.”
“Another reason to go to Ireland.”
“I know, but…”
“But what?” Flora asked.
Gillian made a face. “It’s all too neat and tidy. Contrived, even.”
“You like neat and tidy! You thrive on neat and tidy! You’re a librarian, for Pete’s sake.”
A sudden vision of her stepbrother, Pete, flashed in her mind. Witty, lanky, honey blond hair falling across his forehead, baby blue eyes framed by surprisingly dark lashes. She banished his memory to the back of her mind…where he belonged.
“What is it?” Flora asked, sitting up.
“What’s what?” Gillian asked, returning to the here and now—Rose Arbor, a tiny town near the Washington coast, where she lived with her grandmother.
“You had a wistful sort of look on your face.”
Gillian schooled her expression and gave a half-hearted I don’t know what you’re talking about sort of shrug. She had to be careful with Flora. They’d been friends since their senior year of high school. Both had been new to Rose Arbor, making them outsiders in the small, tight-knit community. Gillian and her gram had frequently moved, for no reason that Gillian could point to, during the first two years after Gillian’s mother’s death, while Flora had been a runaway taken in and nurtured by the pastor’s wife. They’d bonded in choir, and after graduation, they’d both worked hard to put themselves through college.
It had surprised both of them when they’d ended up back in Rose Arbor, working at the middle school, but they were practically sisters now. Flora could read Gillian like a book from Gillian’s library.
Flora sighed. “You’re hopeless. I’m telling you, if you don’t go, I will.”
Gillian cocked her head. “Would you come with me?”
“Serious?” Flora brightened.
“Sure. If you’ll come with me, I’ll go. I’ll even pay for your flight.”
“When would we go?”
Gillian shrugged. Now that she’d made the offer, she wasn’t sure she wanted to go through with it because there was still the matter of how in the world she’d explain it all to Gram.
As if bidden, Gillian’s phone buzzed with a text. She pulled it out of her cat-shaped backpack and frowned at the text. “It’s from Gram. She needs me to pick up her hemorrhoid cream from the pharmacy.”
“Your gram texts?” Surprise flickered across Flora’s face.
“No, she gets Harold to do it.” Gillian texted a yes before dropping the phone back into her bag. She zipped it up as if that could keep the gram-time to a minimum.
“The man next door. He pretty much does everything Gram tells him to do. She pays him with baked goods.”
“Interesting,” Flora murmured. “Let’s get back to planning our trip! I can’t go until after Sicily’s wedding.”
“That works.” Gillian polished off her donut, and her mood lifted. “Are we really doing this?”
“Absolutely! Why wouldn’t we?”
“What if it’s a scam?”
Flora laughed. “It’s an all-expense-paid trip to Ireland! What could go wrong?”
Gillian walked the few blocks from Olympic Avenue, Rose Arbor’s main street, to her gram’s house on the corner of Elm and Maple. Steam rose from the sidewalk, sending the scent of warm and wet cement into the air. It was petrichor, the smell that lingers when rain falls after a prolonged dry spell, caused by a chemical reaction.
Where had she learned that word? From Pete. He had always liked science and as a kid had tinkered with a chemistry set and experiments. What was he doing now? Why would she care? He and her stepfather had abandoned her long ago. She didn’t need to spare either of them a thought.
Mrs. Grimes, a gray-haired woman dressed in a floral housecoat and fuzzy slippers, and her yappy Pekinese, Petunia, rounded the corner.
“Hello, dear,” Mrs. Grimes called in her cultured British accent that always made Gillian think of a Masterpiece Theatre production.
“Good afternoon, Mrs. Grimes.” She stooped to tickle Petunia between the ears. Petunia received the attention as if it were her due.
“Headed home, are you?”
Gillian stood and nodded.
Mrs. Grimes leaned forward to whisper, “Well, I thought I’d give you a heads up. That Tod Bingham is parked in front of your grandmother’s house.” She winked conspiratorially. “Just in case you want to take another loop around the neighborhood.”
“Oh, thank you.” Gillian bit her lip. She didn’t mind Tod. They’d been friends in high school, but his overeagerness wore on her. She knew that if she’d agree to it, he’d marry her in a second, even though they’d never even been on a date.
“If you’d like,” Mrs. Grimes said, “I could give you Petunia’s lead and you could take her to the park.”
“Oh, no. Thank you, though.” She’d rather face Tod than walk the bad-tempered dog.
Mrs. Grimes wilted with disappointment. “Well, maybe some other time.”
“Sure thing. Have a good day.”
When Gillian caught sight of the patrol car parked in front of her gram’s bungalow, her steps faltered. What was Tod doing here? With her lips pressed into a straight line, and feeling like she was walking before a firing squad, she passed through the front gate and climbed the steps up the porch. She listened to the murmured conversation inside for a moment, catching the words break-in and trespassers, before she pushed open the door.
The conversation halted as soon as she entered.
Her gram sat on the sofa, holding a pair of knitting needles in her hands and a ball of yarn in her lap. Gram ordered her clothes from a catalog company that sold cardigans, floral blouses, and coordinating polyester pants in bright colors. Her sunny clothing usually sharply contrasted with her mood and facial expressions that ranged from distaste to dissatisfaction.
Tod stood in the center of the room, looking, as he always did, like a St. Bernard. He not only had the same build and fuzzy hair—albeit close-clipped—but he also always had a Dudley Do-Right, hopeful expression that Gillian found sweet but also annoying.
Chester, the cat, jumped off the sofa and came to rub himself against Gillian’s ankles.
“What’s going on?” Gillian asked, scooping up Chester and hugging him to her chest.
But then she spotted her mom’s diary on the coffee table and a terrible dread swept through her. She moved to snatch it up, but Gram dropped the needles, grabbed the book, and shook it in Gillian’s face.
“Do you want to tell me about this?” Gram’s face flushed an angry red and the whites of her eyes took on a yellow hue.
“It’s my mother’s diary,” Gillian said in a strangled voice.
Gram’s tight gray curls shook with fury. “How did it get in the house?”
“I brought it here.” Gillian skated Tod a curious glance. “Why did you call the police?”
“When I found it in your room,” Gram straightened her spine and squared her shoulders, “I thought for sure someone had broken in.”
Gillian edged closer, hoping to get her fingers on the diary. If she needed to, she could take on her gram. “What were you doing in my room?”
“Just tidying up.”
Tidying up? Her room was as clean and sterile as the library. “You don’t need to tidy up my room.”
“It’s my house, isn’t it? I can go in any room I like.”
Gillian blinked as a sudden thought rocked through her. With the money from the safety deposit box, she could afford to move out.
As if she could read Gillian’s thoughts, Gram snorted, horse-like. “This is a lie! I knew your mother much better than you ever will, and this did not belong to her. Where did it come from?”
“An attorney notified me of a safety deposit box.”
“An attorney?” Gram’s eyes narrowed with suspicion. “What attorney? Where’s his office?”
Doubts tickled in the back of Gillian’s mind. Of course, if her mom had taken out a safety deposit box, it would have been in a bank in New York—not Seattle. But that diary…it had to belong to her mother, she was sure of it. “Give it back!”
Gram stood and moved to the fireplace, where flames blazed.
Horror swept through Gillian. “Don’t you dare!” She darted in front of her Gram. “Tod! Do something!”
“Now, Mrs. O’Hare,” Tod lumbered toward the crackling fire, “don’t do anything you’ll regret.”
“I can’t have this trash in my home!” Gram announced.
Gillian darted forward and plucked the book from her grandmother’s fingers.
Gram froze. “Where’d you get that ring?”
Gillian held out her hand, admiring once again the sparkling stone and intricate gold setting. “In the safety deposit box.”
Gram clutched her heart, staggered back to the sofa, and fell onto it. A puff of dust settled around her.
“Gram? Are you okay?” Gillian asked, worry replacing anger.
“Mrs. O’Hare? Would you like me to call an ambulance?” Tod asked.
Gram pinned Gillian with a steely gaze. “Get that book out of this house!”
“Gram,” Gillian began.
“Get out! Get out!” Gram shrieked. “This is my house and I can say who and what belongs here and what doesn’t.” She pointed a wavering finger at Gillian. “GET OUT!”
Gillian stared at her grandmother with an open mouth.
Tod took Gillian’s elbow and steered her from the room and out onto the porch.
“She doesn’t mean it,” Gillian said in a shocked whisper. “She can’t really mean it.”
Tod gave her a sympathetic glance and rubbed her back. She eased away from his touch.
“Do you have somewhere to go?” he asked.
She nodded. “Flora, Jessie, or Mindy.” She had lots of friends who would probably be happy to let her sleep on their sofa for a few nights.
Tod shuffled his feet. “I was going to say you’re always welcome to stay with me. It’s not much, and I’d have to clean up…bachelor, you know?”
“That’s sweet, Tod, but not necessary.”
Gram appeared in the doorway with a shotgun in her hand. She cocked it. “Are you still here? I want you off my property immediately!”
“Gram!” Gillian gasped. “She’s lost it!” she said to Tod.
“Give me the gun, Mrs. O’Hare,” Tod said, looking officious for once. He tossed the words, “Get out of here, Gillian,” over his shoulder. “Go somewhere safe!”
Gillian sat on the edge of Flora’s bed with her hands between her knees. Flora sat beside her with a comforting arm around Gillian’s shoulder.
“You have to go,” Flora said.
“No, I can’t go,” Gillian insisted.
“It’s another sign.”
“This—according to your scorekeeping—makes four signs, and there’s nothing magical about four.”
Flora shook her head. “You were right before. Summer comes no matter what, so that wasn’t a sign. But this is.”
“I can’t leave her!”
“You don’t have a choice,” Flora insisted.
“She needs help!”
“Of course she does. But you don’t have to be the one who provides it. Have you called her sisters?”
“Yes, but you know they’re all as crazy as she is.” Gillian sucked in a deep breath. Just thinking of her great aunts gave her a panic attack. The last time the three sisters had been together, they’d watched Fox News and gotten in a shouting matching over political issues that they all agreed with. It was craziness that they could scream at each other even when they all shared the same opinions. She found it strange that the sisters who were constantly bickering had all migrated from Ireland together and couldn’t seem to live without each other. “Auntie Verna and Auntie Sarah said they would be here tomorrow.”
“Just another reason for you to leave.”
“I don’t have a suitcase. I don’t have any clothes.” Gillian bit her lip, immediately recognizing her mistake and wishing she could take back her words.
Flora grinned and bounced off the bed. “You, my sister, have come to the right place!” She disappeared out the door. “Come and see what I just found!” Flora called from the next room.
“I can’t pillage your stash!” Gillian said, not moving.
Flora returned with her arms full of clothes. “You can and you will!”
Flora ran an online clothing business where she found pieces at local thrift stores and garage sales, dolled them up, and resold them at outrageous prices. Even though she’d dreamed of being a fashion designer, she’d chosen to get a degree in math because she considered it practical and she liked a teacher’s lifestyle and benefits. But her online business was quickly outperforming her teacher’s salary.
Gillian wasn’t about to take her inventory. “I can buy my own clothes,” she said.
Flora, ever the savvy businesswoman, rubbed her hands together in glee. “Did someone just say shopping?”
Pete sat at an isolated table overlooking the Long Island Sound on the terrace of the Montage Hotel. A cool breeze carried the clatter of cutlery and the hum of conversations over the lawn, but his father must have chosen this particular table to be set up in this remote spot so their conversation wouldn’t be overheard.
But why? Pete picked up his drink, swirled it, and watched the bubbles chase around the inside of the glass. On occasions like this with his father, he felt like the fizz in his water—running in circles, but never arriving.
Pete sensed, rather than heard or saw, his father’s arrival. The waiters snapped to attention and the heads of the few other restaurant patrons turned while his father, JW Oaks, strode across the lawn. He wore fawn-colored pants, and a blue-and-white button-down shirt that accentuated his tanned skin and baby blue eyes. Pete stood.
JW clasped Pete’s hand hard and gave him a friendly slap on the arm before settling down at the wrought-iron bistro-style table. Pete followed suit, taking note of the tired wrinkles around his father’s eyes.
“How are you?” JW boomed.
“I’m good, Dad,” Pete said. “Although you know that. We just saw each other an hour ago in the boardroom.”
“I know.” JW unrolled the linen napkin and placed it on his lap. “But that’s no place for a father-and-son chat. Too many suits and ties listening in and waiting for an opportunity to ambush.” He delivered this jokingly, but Pete heard the hurt behind the words. JW ran his business much like a loving patriarch, and it always pained and surprised him when one of his employees acted out of greed.
JW cleared his throat. “You’re probably wondering why I asked you to meet me for lunch. The truth is, I need a favor.” JW leaned forward and braced his forearms on the table.
Pete set down his water glass, studying his father, a self-made billionaire and hotel mogul with landholdings across the globe. He could—and did—hire almost anyone to do anything he wanted, so this request came as a surprise. It had to involve something personal and confidential. “Anything, Dad. You know that.” And he meant it.
Relief washed over JW’s face, but he laughed softly. “You might not think so when I tell you what I need you to do.” He took a sip of water, set down the goblet, and leaned back in his chair. “I want you to find your sister and bring her home,” JW said.
Surprise rocked Pete. “Gillian?” He hadn’t seen her since her mom’s funeral, and that had to be ten years ago. She’d been a scrawny fifteen-year-old with a mouth full of metal and a collection of freckles mixed with pimples on her nose.
JW nodded, plucked a dinner roll from the basket on their table, and tore into it. A warm, fragrant puff floated into the air, making Pete hungry.
He ignored his rumbling belly. “Why me?”
JW slathered butter on his roll without meeting Pete’s gaze. “I would go myself, but I don’t think she’ll listen to me. Her grandmother has poisoned her opinion of me.”
A latent rage he had nearly forgotten about burned inside Pete. “I don’t know why you didn’t fight for custody. You would have won.” His dad had an army of attorneys at his bidding.
JW glanced up, his expression stony. “Don’t you think I know that?”
“So, why didn’t you?”
“I didn’t know anything about raising a daughter, and Naomi’s mom was… I loved your stepmother, but her family was—is—a bunch of lunatics.”
“So, why did you let them keep Gillian?”
“They may be lunatics, but they’re harmless. And Marna—that’s Naomi’s mother—loved Gillian and was thrilled when Naomi had finally brought her round.” He shrugged. “It was easier.” Then he pointed his half-eaten roll at Pete. “Hey, don’t judge me. You don’t know what it’s like to lose a spouse. I was sick with sorrow for a really long time.”
Pete had been away at college when Naomi had died, but he still remembered his dad’s mind-numbing grief and his own searing loss.
“Where’s Gillian now?”
“Ireland.” He ground out the word.
“And this is bad because…?”
“I’m afraid she’s gone looking for her dad—her biological dad.”
“And this is bad because…?” he repeated.
JW fell silent as the waiter returned with a tray carrying their meals.
“I just want her to come home to New York,” he said as soon as the waiter was out of earshot. “I want her to attend my seventieth birthday.”
That was a month away. JW wasn’t asking Pete to go to Ireland for a month, was he?
“But what about the Lakewood acquisition?” Pete asked.
“Morris will take it over. That’s pretty much a done deal, anyway.” JW tucked into his food.
Pete used his fork to stir the peppercorns in the cream sauce around his plate. There was something his dad wasn’t telling him. There was a hidden agenda here.
“That thing with you and Stacy Hoffman?” JW asked without meeting his gaze.
“I haven’t seen her in weeks.” Pete sliced into his steak.
JW nodded. “I’m sorry,” he said, but his tone said not sorry. “What did she do again?”
“She manages a venture capital fund.” Pete took a bite of his steak, chewed, and swallowed before adding, “You play golf with her dad, Mark Hoffman.”
“Right. The Goldman Sachs guy.” JW chewed his food thoughtfully. “I don’t know what you ever saw in her.”
“Me neither,” Pete said.
JW put down his fork, laughing.
Pete wanted to do the same, but an uneasy feeling lingered between him and his dad like a shadow.
“Don’t be in Ireland too long,” JW said.
“How long is too long?”
JW shrugged. “Just bring her back as soon as you can. Tell her about the party. But act like your running into her is accidental.”
Pete thought back to when Naomi had first introduced him to Gillian. She’d been six years old, a spitfire who had kicked him in the shins when he’d dared to touch her paper dolls. He smiled at the memory. “What if she refuses?”
JW picked up his goblet and held it up. “She won’t. You won’t let her. Look, it’ll be easier to persuade her once she’s away from Marna.”
His first summer home from college, one of his girlfriends, Millie something, had invited Gillian to join them on a date to the New Jersey shore. Gillian, then thirteen, had spent the entire trip working on rewriting an Agatha Christie poem about the ten little Indians and their grisly deaths. She’d inserted the names of people she knew into the poem, and Millie had worried that Gillian was a baby psychopath. He’d laughed at the time, but who was to say how Gillian had turned out? He hadn’t seen her in years.
Knowing his dad had a lot more confidence in him than he deserved, Pete felt worry settle between his shoulder blades like an itch he couldn’t quite reach. But he didn’t try to argue with his dad. This was something he would never do.
Gillian picked her way across the rocky path in her shoes that, while cute, were hardly suitable for the boggy yet rugged soil. In fact, Gillian was rethinking her entire wardrobe selection. Her white linen pants were now mud stained. Her windbreaker was more of a breeze enabler. She’d only brought one sweater…
The internet had promised balmy days and “a sure a long stretch of the evenings” because the sun didn’t set until close to eleven at this time of the year—her birthday month.
She grew homesick thinking of her friends. They’d thrown her a birthday party before she’d left. They had showered her with gifts for the trip—a suitcase, travel toiletries, clothes—most of them wildly impractical, but fun.
And now, here she was on her dream vacation, alone outside a secluded graveyard on Boa Island in Northern Ireland. Loneliness settled in the pit of her belly. Sure, it was cool to see all of these ancient places, but she longed to share it with someone. Flora was coming, but she couldn’t come until after her sister’s wedding.
Gillian pushed open the creaky metal gate that led to the ancient cemetery. Her mind flitted between legends and history. The two were so melded together, it was hard to know which was which. Leprechauns, vampires, banshees, wee folk. Maybe she would unknowingly meet one. The rocky path gave her an unsettled feeling—made her unsure where to place her feet. She disliked the thought of walking on top of ancient graves. She read the headstones as she passed by, wondering if any could belong to her ancestors—maybe her father’s unknown side of the family. Maybe she would knowingly meet one of them, too.
A breeze picked up as a cloud shrouded the sun. She shivered and pulled her windbreaker tighter. The skin-pricking sensation of being watched told her she wasn’t alone.
Glancing around the cemetery, with its weathered tombstones and markers and lush foliage, she spotted a fat tabby sitting high on the limb of a birch tree. It studied her while flicking its orangish-red tail. The tension in her neck eased.
“Hello,” Gillian called to the cat. “Are you alone?”
The cat responded by jumping to the ground and disappearing into a break in the thicket. Gillian thought about following, only out of curiosity, because it seemed odd for the cat to be so far away from any houses—or humans—but she turned back to the path, in search of the pre-Christian era statues. She spotted the largest one first and pulled out her camera to take a few pictures.
The shutter froze. Gillian jiggled the camera while frustration rippled through her. She needed the pictures for her article and blog!
With a discouraged sigh, she slipped her camera back into its bag and pulled out her phone. The phone’s images wouldn’t have the same quality, but they’d have to do. Maybe she could get her camera fixed in town.
When she finished, she jotted in her notebook:
In ancient Roman religion and myth, Janus is the god of beginnings, gates, transitions, time, duality, doorways, passages, and endings. He is usually depicted as having two faces, since he looks to the future and to the past.
She thought his big eyes, straight nose, and half-open mouth with protruding tongue above the pointed chin both ugly and intriguing.
Seamus Heanley’s poem “January God” floated in her memory:
Then I found a two-faced stone
On burial ground,
God-eyed, sex-mouthed, its brain
A watery wound.
In the wet gap of the year,
Daubed with fresh lake mud,
I faltered near his power —
Collin had been a poet, too. Thinking of her lost love sent a hungry longing sweeping through her. Maybe she would look him up. She hadn’t yet decided. She had come in search of her father and, of course, to write the magazine article—not to rekindle some college romance that she should have set on the shelf long ago.
The clouds shifted, and a shaft of sunlight struck something shiny. Gillian stepped closer and found a small collection of coins lying in an indentation in the stone carving. She didn’t touch them but silently counted the British pounds sterling and euros. The finding could easily pay for her camera repair…or maybe just a warm meal.
Cold seeped through the soles of Gillian’s sadly inadequate shoes. She pulled the hood of her jacket over her head as the drizzle turned to rain. She fumbled in her pocket, pulled out a few coins, and left them as an offering. With one last look at the statue, she headed back for the B&B and shelter from the weather.
But the being-watched sensation followed her. She stopped at a fairy tree. A lone hawthorn—she reminded herself that it was disrespectful to mention the fairies, or wee folk, by name. It was also bad luck to cut down a hawthorn or even hang things on it, except at Beltane, the ancient Celtic festival celebrated on May first. In ancient Greece, the hawthorn was associated with love and marriage, and hawthorn branches were used as torches in a wedding ceremony—thus giving birth to the phrase carry a torch for.
I still carry a torch for Collin, Gillian thought, drawing in a deep breath. With rain coursing over her hood, she went to the sweet-smelling hawthorn tree. “Help me find real, long-lasting love,” she whispered into its branches.
Feeling silly and yet better, she headed down the path. Despite the rain pelting the hood of her windbreaker, Gillian hesitated when she reached the road. There, near her feet, was a pile of coins, at least equal to what had been left in the crevice of the statue. If it hadn’t been raining, she would have jogged back to the cemetery to increase her offering, but, as it was, this almost seemed like a gift—like something she was supposed to take. Laughing, she shook away the suspicion. Someone must have spilled their purse or emptied their pockets. And now she could leave them for someone else—someone who needed them more than she did—or pick them up herself.
The rain had turned them shiny and they glistened, tempting her like a leprechaun’s pot of gold. She picked them up, slipped them into her pocket, and promised herself she would give them away.
She walked the two miles into the village, passing pastures filled with sheep and lazy cows. On the corner of Main Street and Elm, a busker sat beneath an awning, sawing on a fiddle. Gillian dropped the coins into his hat.
The watched feeling returned, but she shook it off and headed for the bed and breakfast where she was staying.
Back at Colleen’s Cottages, Gillian shook out of her windbreaker and let the warmth and sweet odors floating from the kitchen welcome her. She’d only been here a few days, and it already felt like home. Colleen, the caretaker, had offered to let her help in the kitchen and with housekeep in exchange for free lodging and meals. As her gram liked to say, no place can truly be yours until you care for it.
Thinking of her gram deepened her maudlin mood. Gram hadn’t answered or returned any of Gillian’s calls, and now her aunts had also gone dark. Gillian knew they had to be talking about her and deigning her unworthy of their attention. She’d seen them do this same thing to many others, but she’d never been on the receiving end of their silent treatment before.
The cottages, with their ironstone pottery and matching blue-and-white decor and windows overlooking Lough Erne, were soothing and lovely, and Gillian enjoyed helping the plump, gregarious hostess.
“A man came looking for you today.” Colleen bustled into the room with a feather duster in her hand.