Soul Mates Excerpt
Watching the preparations for the upcoming festivities at the castle unfold in front of her, the young girl closed her eyes and breathed deeply to take in the smells of the assorted meats as they roasted on the communal spit. Her mouth was watering from the savory scents.
Today was indeed a special day. It was not only her birthday, but also a day of festival where all the people belonging to the Clan O’Brien converged on the castle dressed in their finest clothes, partook in games, listened to bards, danced, and indulged in succulent meats and spirits. Today was the first day of February, traditionally the first day of spring in Ireland and the day for honoring St. Brigid of Kildare. Long tables and benches had been set out in the courtyard for all the clansmen and visitors to partake in the celebration.
Maybe, just maybe, if she were lucky, she would get a glimpse of the chief's son, Donovan. She smiled to herself, not understanding the feelings her six-year-old heart felt when her gaze fell on the beautiful Donovan with his dark hair and intense, ten-year-old boyish good looks.
She held the wild rose she had picked on her walk to the castle close to her heart. She didn't know why, but she believed this rose was significant somehow. Her mother had always taught her to listen to her inner feelings so Shannon clung to the rose, knowing it would be of great import today.
As she weaved her way through the people, her spirits soared. Everyone was smiling, laughing, friendly. Moving closer to the inner circle of the courtyard, she noticed many unfamiliar faces among the men. While not unusual at festival time, her curiosity was aroused. As she moved even closer, a cold chill ran down her spine. Questions filled her mind as she became aware that these men displayed none of the lightheartedness of the others—in fact, just the opposite.
Her hand unwittingly flew to the amulet hanging around her neck in a leather pouch to feel its warmth and security. Who are these men? Why do they all look so unapproachable, so angry? Her feeling of unease was so intense that she wanted to run from the celebration and sound a warning of danger. Every instinct within her was forewarning Shannon about the pure evil of which these men were capable.
With such strong feelings of distress running through her body, she didn't realize that she was slowly backing away from where the men had gathered in a single area of the courtyard. As she put distance between herself and these strangers, the tension in her body eased. Though her senses were relaxing, she still clutched her amulet. Turning, she saw a stranger dressed as the frightening men were dressed; yet, there was something different about this man. He was not angry like the others. She felt no evil cascading off of him as she had with the others.
This man was sad, the feeling so strong within him that the air around him seemed to shimmer with it. She stood there, unable to move, watching as people, walking by this man, unconsciously gave him a wide berth. Although the people seemed oblivious to the shimmering aura around him, it was evident they must have felt it for they walked around this force field of sorrow as if to avoid being trapped in it.
Aengus Doyle, heir to the Clan Doyle, sat and stared into his cup of ale. He was burdened by the viciousness that always overtook him when he sought revenge against those who had murdered the people of his father’s clan—murdered for a few meaningless trinkets and even less livestock. With each day that passed, he knew he was becoming more and more like his bloodthirsty father, who ruled with an iron fist and a heart of stone. He could not help but wonder what had happened to that young lad who had loved life and dreamed of leading his father’s people with a generous, kind heart, rather than with one as black as his had become. Torturing those thieves had excited him as he discovered new ways to inflict pain upon them. It was as if his father had stepped inside him, possessing his body like the devil himself. Now it sickened him to the core.
Lost in thought and blocking all the sounds of celebration from himself, he felt a slight shift in the air pressure around him. A tiny voice made its way through the psychological walls he had set up around himself.
"Excuse me, sir."
He ignored the sweet voice as he forcibly kept his attention on his feelings of disgust about the atrocities he had inflicted on other human beings. He hoped this exercise and his remorse would keep these dark, powerful emotions chained within himself, never to appear to him again. If he could keep them there, perhaps he had a chance to go on with his life.
"Excuse me, sir," the voice repeated.
Without looking up, Aengus snarled, "Go away! I do not desire to have a conversation."
The next moment, a beautiful rose moved into his field of vision. Something in his gut clenched. He looked up to see a little girl dressed in a well-worn smock, holding the rose out to him. His body relaxed as he looked at this beautiful child in front of him. She had golden hair that shimmered in the sun, light-colored freckles dotted her nose, and a beautiful smile crossed her lovely, bow-shaped mouth. Looking into her large, stunning eyes, he forgot to breathe. Her eyes were such a dark blue, they reminded him of priceless gems he had once been shown by his father in his clan's coffers. Her soul shone brightly through these eyes of sparkling sapphire, and he knew he would never forget them. He felt this child looking into his soul and experienced peace for the first time since his journey had begun.
"I picked this rose for you, sir, on my way to the castle." She brandished the wild rose, and her smile grew even larger.
Aengus lifted his hand and gently took the rose from the child. As he did this, she climbed into his lap and put her tiny hand on his face to help steal the sadness from him.
"My name is Shannon. Today is not a good day to feel so sad. Today is a happy day. It is festival and my sixth birthday. No one should feel the pain you do today."
The emotion this child was evoking in him stunned Aengus. At her touch, tension that had ensconced itself in his body flowed out of him. He felt warmth and love emanating from this small angel, undoubtedly sent to him from heaven above. No more words were spoken. Shannon simply looked into his eyes and smiled. Time stood still. He knew this tiny girl was somehow giving him strength, healing his soul. He didn't understand it, but he wouldn't refuse the gift she was passing to him.
Proudly, she told him, "My mother says I have a gift. She says that I'm going to be a very important person when I grow up. I'm going to change the way people think and how they treat others." Her hand moved from his face to clutch her amulet. "You are in danger. I can feel it. You're afraid of losing yourself to the dark side of your ancestry."
She paused as she took the pouch off of her body and held it out to him. "This is my talisman. It's very powerful." She reached for his hand and placed it over the amulet in her own. "Do you feel it? Do you feel the power of it?"
His breath caught in his throat. He could feel the power, power such as that contained in the strong storms at sea. He felt the power surge through his body as if he had been hit by lightening.
"Do you feel it?"
He couldn't speak. All he could do was acknowledge her with a nod.
"The amulet keeps me safe. My mother said to never take it off, but I believe your soul is in grave danger, and you need it more than I."
Aengus stared at her, unwilling to let go of the emotions this child aroused in him. She was offering something so personal, so powerful, to a complete stranger who she felt needed help.
Afraid of his voice cracking, he spoke very softly. "Thank you, little one, but I cannot accept such a gift as this. I have nothing of value to give in return."
Shannon smiled. "The evil from your soul is gift enough. You, too, are destined to change the people around you. You need this to stay safe so you can continue on the path you were meant to be on."
She put the pouch around his neck and pressed it against his heart. His body shook with emotions he had not felt in years. He felt as though he now had the strength to beat the devil himself. He didn't know how or why, but he knew her words were true. He would change the lives of the people in his clan for the better when he became chieftain of the Clan Doyle.
She gently slid off his lap and gave him one last, delightful smile. Without her sitting on his lap, the sharp pain of abandonment, complete isolation, washed over him again.
"I must leave now to go home and help mother bring our food to the festival." Conspiratorially, she cupped her hands to her mouth as if relaying a big secret. "I'm going to walk home through the trees." She giggled. "My mother says not to walk there because there are goblins and fairies that will carry me off, but I've never seen one."
Immediately alert, he leaned forward and reached for her hands. "Let me take you home. It's the least I can do for you."
Cocking her head, she said. "I love to walk, and I don't live far. You stay and enjoy the festival. I'm glad you feel better. The sadness has stopped shimmering in the air around you."
He didn't want to let her go. He pleaded, "Please, do as your mother asks. Take the road. It's much safer than the trees." He paused, thinking of the ambush he and his men had accomplished just hours ago in trees like these. "There are bigger and much uglier things than fairies or goblins that can hide in the woods."
Her answering smile sent waves of warmth to his very core as she nodded. "Then I will take the road." She turned and walked away from him through the entrance of the castle.
His eyes never wavered from her retreating form. He continued to watch even after she was no longer visible. Reaching up. he gently fingered the amulet. His urge to look at what was inside the leather pouch was strong, but he felt this was something that must be done when no one was watching.
As he sat there, contemplating this tiny, angelic child who was placed in his path, a sense of foreboding settled over him. It was so strong that he found himself upright and moving quickly to his horse outside the castle walls before his actions even registered in his brain. Panic set in. Shannon, his beautiful, six-year-old guardian angel, was in trouble, and he knew it. He had to get to her. He kicked his horse and moved quickly down the road leading away from the castle.
As he approached a sharp bend in the road that hid the path ahead, his heart sank. He knew he would find her around this bend. A woman’s wail sliced through the air and excised all the strength in his body. His horse kept moving forward until they rounded the corner, and he saw her, his little angel, Shannon. She was lying broken on the road ahead of him.
Dropping from his horse, he ran the rest of the distance to her. The hysterical woman, Shannon's mother, was being held back from Shannon's body by other children who were older than his angel, obviously her brothers and sisters.
Aengus knelt beside the beautiful child in the tattered dress and tears fell unashamedly down his face. He looked into her huge, lifeless, dark-blue eyes that were wide open and staring at the sky. She was gone.
He placed the beautiful wild rose in her hand and picked up her broken body, trying to wash away the feeling of isolation that her loss was reigniting in him. He rocked her body back and forth, crying for a child who had changed his life in a matter of minutes.
"I promise you, Shannon, I will heed your words and change my life. My soul is safe from the darkness because of you. I will never forget you, and you will be in my heart forever."
Phoenix, Arizona 2013
Ian jumped out of the shower and towel-dried himself. He couldn't keep the smile from his face. He wondered where he'd find Shandelle this morning. Since she'd moved in, she'd been determined to start his day every morning with a huge breakfast. He snickered. Unfortunately for both of them, Shandelle was not a morning person.
As he opened the bathroom door leading into the bedroom, he glanced at the empty bed and laughed out loud. The hunt for his woman was on. He never knew where he'd find her on these morning, sleepwalking stints. Moving through the dark house, he took care where he stepped just in case his little pixie woman hadn’t made it to the kitchen. He thought back to the morning he had tripped over her legs as she sprawled on the floor with her back leaned against the wall, sound asleep. Living with Shandelle was turning into an adventure.
Opening the kitchen door, Ian turned the lights on and saw her across the room. With elbows and forearms leaning on the counter, she was holding a coffee cup in front of the coffeemaker, again sound asleep. His heart fluttered with the love he felt for her. He moved to her and lovingly put his arms around her. Chills raced through his body as he touched her, knowing she was his. He felt like the luckiest man in the world, not because she couldn't stay awake long enough to make his breakfast, but because she tried every morning.
With humor in his voice he whispered in her ear, "What are you doing, sweetheart?"
She grunted. He laughed.
"You need to turn the machine on to get coffee," he teased as he reached past her and flicked the coffeemaker on. He bent down and pulled her into his arms. Carrying her, he sat down in a chair at the kitchen table with her on his lap while the coffee brewed. She was still holding the coffee mug. He couldn't pry it from her fingers. His laughter rang out once again, but she didn’t stir.
Ian whispered softly to Shandelle even though he knew she wouldn’t hear a word he said. "Oh, sweet baby, if you only knew what it means to me that you love me enough to try to wake up just to make me breakfast every morning, and if you only knew how much fun I have trying to find you. It's like a scavenger hunt every single morning, and the best part is that I always win the grand prize in the end." He nuzzled her face.
Holding the precious woman in his arms a little closer, Ian rocked her back and forth as the coffeemaker did its magic. He lovingly kissed the top of her head, and the melodic tones of a love song flowed naturally from him as he hummed and rocked. He shook his head in amazement at the changes this one small woman had made in him just by loving him. His life was finally full, complete. He wasn't lonely anymore.
Before Shandelle had come into his life, his world had always revolved around work. Becoming extravagantly rich and powerful had been all consuming, leaving little time to even notice how lonely he really was. Single-minded, he had worked hard to gain the respect of the men and women with whom he worked and just as hard to crush those who couldn't or wouldn't be a part of his vision for the future. Then Shandelle had rocked his world. Everything that had been so important to him before no longer mattered. This small pixie of a woman was the most important thing in the world to him, and he intended to spend the rest of his life proving it to her.
As the aroma of the coffee filled the kitchen, he leaned her back in his lap and started nuzzling and kissing her neck to wake her. She moaned and raised her hands to embrace his face. The forgotten coffee cup almost knocked him out when it smacked him in the cheek. At the moment of impact, Shandelle jumped and with glassy, sleep-filled eyes asked, "Where are we?"
When she saw Ian holding his cheek, she grimaced and set the cup on the table. "Did I hurt you?" She reached up and gently rubbed her fingertips across his cheek. When he flinched, she smiled that sleepy, sexy smile that Ian longed to see every morning and said, "Come here, baby. Let me kiss it and make it all better."
He grinned at her. "You only have an hour before Taylor and Maeve come to pick you up for your girls’ day out. If you start kissing me, we're going to end up making love." He reached out and touched the freckles on her nose. "It's going to take a hell of a lot longer than an hour. You won't have any time to get ready for the big day."
The coffee completely forgotten, she moved closer and burrowed her face into his neck. "Let's multitask in the shower."
He squeezed her tighter. "Oh, baby, that works for me." Laughing, he carried her out of the kitchen. Breakfast was already forgotten.
Fully dressed and lying on the bed, Shandelle stretched her hand out to touch Ian as he walked by, her thoughts returning to the passion of moments before. The doorbell rang, bringing her back to the present. She sat up. "Hey, I have a great idea. Why don't we spend my birthday in bed?"
Sitting down next to her, Ian pulled Shandelle into his lap. "I can't think of a better way to spend the day, but your friends are on our front doorstep, waiting to take you on a girls’ day out."
The doorbell rang again. He kissed the top of her head and with humor in his voice, said, "Go let them in before they tear the door down looking for you." He lifted her to her feet and slapped her on the butt to get her moving.
She opened the door to her two closest friends in the world and gave them a pathetic look. "I'm really sick. I don't think I'll be able to make it today."
Taylor and Maeve glanced at each other and then back to Shandelle. "Bullshit. You're frickin’ glowing," Taylor said as she squeezed past Shandelle. "You just want to have sex all day. I'm here to tell you that is not an option. Judging by the satisfied grin on your face, you've already had your fair share of the hunky Mr. Brennan today. Maeve and I are taking you out on the town. Breakfast, champagne, shopping, lunch, more champagne, more shopping. It's going to be the very best birthday you've ever had."
Shandelle put her arm around Taylor's shoulder and laughed. "Oh, honey. Has it been so long since you've had great sex that you've forgotten that when you are getting it, you just can't get enough of it?"
Giggling, Maeve worked her way through the doorway. "We need you with us, Shandelle. At the moment, Taylor and I aren't getting any sex at all. It's been a long dry spell for us. You have an obligation to share the joy with your best friends. Details…we want all the details. Nothing but the facts, ma'am."
Ian turned the corner into the entryway and found them in a group hug. "Good morning, ladies. It's nice to see you."
He moved toward them and put his arms lovingly around Shandelle. "I want you ladies to have the best girl day possible." He reached into his pocket and handed a credit card to Taylor. "Anything you want, it's yours. Just treat my sweet, pixie woman to the most special birthday girl's day there is."
Shandelle pulled herself from Ian's arms, and her balled fists flew to her waist. She stood there, glaring at Ian with fire in her eyes. He took a step back. She was cute as hell when she was mad, but a little scary, too. He threw his arms out questioningly. "What did I do?"
"Ian Brennan! Are you in a roundabout way trying to tell me that you have not taken the time to pick up a birthday present for me?" She tilted her head and cocked an eyebrow at him.
He threw his head back and laughed. She gently punched him in the stomach. Hurt by the thought of his not picking out her gift himself, her lips started to quiver, and unshed tears filled her eyes. "I can't believe you didn't take the time to get my birthday gift yourself."
He could see the hurt in her eyes for they always gave her true feelings away. He moved in and wrapped her in his embrace. "Sweetheart, I've had your birthday present for over a month. Of course I picked it out myself."
As she lifted her head to smile at him, she threw her arm out behind her and waved her open hand at Taylor. "Oh, man," Taylor said. "You're going to make me give the platinum card back to him, aren't you?"
Shandelle squeezed Ian one last time before turning to Taylor with her hand outstretched. "Give it over, Taylor." Begrudgingly, Taylor handed the card to Shandelle, who turned to Ian and slipped it back into his pocket. "I want you, Ian, not your money. I make quite a nice living on my own. I appreciate it, but I wouldn't feel comfortable taking your card." She shot him an evil grin. "Especially with these two." Her head bobbed in her best friends’ direction. "We'd probably end up in Greece or Italy."
Everyone laughed at her remark except Ian. Once again, he was reminded just how lucky he was. Looking deeply into her eyes, he knew she spoke the truth. She was the first person to come into his life who didn’t want his money, the first who only wanted his love in return. Nothing more. He was so touched, he couldn't speak.
Taylor chimed in. "Um…watching you two make goo-goo eyes at each other is all very exciting, but we've got places to go, champagne to drink, things to see, people to meet, stuff to buy, more champagne to drink. It's going to be an epic birthday even without the platinum card! Let's get a move on, girls."
Amused by her eagerness, Ian winked at Taylor before he enfolded Shandelle in his arms one last time to feel her warmth against his body. He kissed the top of her head. She tilted her face up toward his and said, "I love you." Even standing on her tiptoes, Ian had to bend down for her to reach his lips. She gave him a soft kiss goodbye.
In all his thirty-three years on this earth, he had never imagined that three little words could mean so much, and he doubted that they would except when they were spoken by this pixie of a woman. She said them a lot, but he wanted her to know that he didn’t take them lightly. His face serious, he held her gaze as he spoke. "I love you, too, my little fairy princess." He would have preferred to give her a mind-numbing kiss but didn't want to embarrass Taylor and Maeve, so he just gave her a little peck. "Now, off with you. Have fun today."
After watching them pull out of the driveway and disappear from sight, he pulled out his cell phone and started dialing as he made his way to the kitchen. The moment the call connected, he yelled into the phone, “Lori, the coast is clear. She’s gone for the day. You can come by any time. I’ll be in the kitchen so I’ll leave the door unlocked.
“Can you let everyone else know they can come over now? I have to pick out exactly the right recipe for the cake and make sure that it has plenty of time to cool. All the recipes say the cake has to be completely cool before I can frost it.”
Chuckling, Lori said, “Calm down, Ian! You're going to give yourself a heart attack and then what kind of surprise party would this be?” She paused for him to take a deep breath. “It would be a bummer—that’s what kind. Why don’t you just go and buy a cake? I’m sure it would be better for a lot of reasons.”
Ian took another deep, cleansing breath and spoke to his sister as if she were a child who had difficulty understanding English. "I told you, Lori. I want this to be special. It's not a special cake if I buy it. Money means nothing to her. I have to show her I love her by my actions. You've known her longer than I have. You should know she likes getting gifts that have some thought behind them, and if they're handmade, it’s even more special to her. I want her to know that I would do anything for her, even bake her birthday cake. How hard could it be, anyway? It's just a cake."
Lori burst out laughing. “Whew, big brother, you've really got it bad. I like seeing this side of you for a change."
Ian plopped down on the kitchen chair, his knees weak from the emotions he was feeling. Still holding the cell phone, he rubbed his brow with his right hand as he admitted, "I love her more than life itself, Lori. She's the most important person in the world to me." His breath hitched as he continued. "I never considered myself a lucky man before…hell I never even believed in luck before. I always thought a person made his own destiny. When I look at her, I see the future, a very happy future, one that I am going to hold onto until my very last breath. When I think back on my life before her, there's just nothing. Emptiness. When she's near me, I keep reaching out to touch her to make sure it's all real. When we're not together, I have to call her and hear her voice just to gather enough strength to make it until I see her again."
He waited for Lori to respond. There was just dead air. "Lori, did I lose you? Are you still there?" He heard the sound of gulping.
Clearly crying, Lori said, "I'm so happy for you, Ian. I'm sure you already know this, but it's always nice to hear it from someone else. I see the same feelings in her when she looks at you. Her face goes soft, and her eyes shine with the love she feels for you."
Loudly blowing her nose, she finished, "You can thank me later for introducing you." She laughed. “Anyway, don't worry about a thing, brother. I'll make sure everyone is over there to help decorate and get the food ready. I had the kids make some special birthday decorations, too. It's going to be very special. You go work on that extra special cake."