Duty before love. As much as Breanna’s heart protested, Gowthaman would have to wait until she returned with the rescued Alfar-Sindhu prince.
Love before self. Following Breanna into the World Between Worlds, Gowthaman faces the pains of his past, risks his intellect, his sanity and his life. For her.
Destiny before all. In the time of the blue Keltic moon.
It’s been twenty years since Morghan, leader of the Alfar-Sindhu, became trapped in the desolate World Between Worlds and once again blue moons are aligning in a multitude of worlds.
Breanna has loved Gowthaman forever, but as one of the Faerie race, he continually claims their age difference is too great. Yet the soulfire shows he loves her as well. To help her family, she must set aside her emotions to lead a rescue mission to the World Between Worlds. She and her group will face the unknown and bring Morghan home.
Even devoting his life to the Fey library hasn’t saved Gowthaman from the agonies of his past, and the long moments he spent in the World Between Worlds. Now, the woman he loves stands ready to lead a rescue party into that cursed place, and only he holds the knowledge to take them there…and, with luck, safely return with the prince. The risk to his mind…doesn’t matter as long as he keeps Breanna from harm.
The World Between Worlds. Can a place filled with despair and loss also be a discovery of love and redemption? Perhaps… only under the blue Keltic moon.
Enjoy Chapter One
“Never.” With the clang and ring of faerie steel against faerie steel her opponent’s sword slipped the length of hers and he twisted away. “Ha.”
Silent, Breanna advanced, the tip of her weapon swaying slightly, a slow, mesmerizing dance meant to lull an opponent into complacency. A seasoned fighter would hold the tip steady, ready for a thrust, slice or defense. This was a new trick Granda recently taught her. One she hoped hadn’t been passed on to her opponent as well.
He took a backward step then stood his ground. Eyes calm, he watched her advance, his own sword gripped lightly but steady in his hand. She allowed herself a half smile and his eyes narrowed with confusion though he remained still.
Lunge. Parry. Slice. Sounds of battle filled the glade quieting the birdsong. The metal clangs echoed off the ancient trees, and dropped heavily from the overhanging branches.
“You will yield.”
He danced away and shook his head. One eyebrow lifted in a cocky arch. “Shouldn’t waste your breath talking. Need it for fighting,” he panted.
Knowing she gave him an advantage, she glanced at the sun. Time passed too quickly and she had somewhere else to be. Unlike others of her clan, she wasn’t able to manipulate a time portal.
As she knew he would, her opponent took the bait.
A quick sidestep. Crouch. Swing one leg. Connect.
Flailing his arms for balance, he went flying forward and crashed to his knees. Then he ate dirt. Breanna leaped to his side and planted one knee in the center of her brother’s back. “Yield?”
He angled his head to spit out a mouthful of dirt and dried leaves. “No.”
A low growl vibrated in her throat. She wrenched his free arm back, angling it high between his shoulders. “I don’t have time for this.”
He struggled against her weight and laughed. “Sorry to keep you. Yikes!”
The tip of her sword dug deep into the soft ground an inch from his nose. She yanked the shining steel from the dirt and planted it again, this time a half an inch closer. “Yield.”
She grinned when he slid his hand from his sword hilt, flexed his fingers then pressed his palm flat against the ground. “Okay.”
“Say it.” She tugged, just a little, on his arm.
“Okay, Bree, I yield.”
In one lithe movement she stood to the side and held out one hand. Chance rolled away from her sword and lay on his back staring up at her. Finally he shrugged, took her hand and hung heavily making her strain to help him to his feet.
Chance scrubbed a hand through his short, white-blond hair. “Geez, Sis. This was just supposed to be practice.” He moved his hand to his shoulder, cast her a disgruntled look, and rubbed. “Man, Bree. Did you have to pull so hard?”
She shook her head. He was never serious about practice. “You know how important this is, Chance.”
“Yeah, yeah. But there hasn’t been anything to fight against since Jayse and Lucidea killed Fiedhlim.” An odd, distracted look passed through his expression and Bree wondered how often he thought about the evil Faerie who had fathered him. All her life she’d struggled to keep that taint of evil from her beloved baby brother. Now he was nineteen, almost a man. And like any man, he wouldn’t let her into his thoughts.
“We never know when or where a new threat will appear. I want to be able to keep both of our worlds safe.”
“Ever since Granda handed the leadership of the Alastriona over to you, you’ve been nuts. What? Are you on some sort of power trip? Granda left the Alastriona because there wasn’t enough to keep him busy. Where are you finding all these threats? Where have all these dangers been hiding? Think they were waiting just for you?”
It was an old argument. She didn’t know why she felt there was something lurking, some evil power waiting until the protectors of mankind were lackluster and lazy. Deep in her bones she knew, she understood, a power waited. And that power would soon become impatient.
Chance waved a hand then moved toward the thick tree trunk where they’d left their scabbards. He wiped his sword on the hem of his tee shirt then sheathed the blade in the plain, worn leather. “Whatever. I know you’ll make me practice. And I will.” He turned to her, the laughter gone. A dark, serious light shimmered in his blue eyes. “I feel a gathering of some power, too. If my… if Fiedhlim wasn’t dead, I’d say he was gearing up for another attempt to take over.”
Eyes wide, Bree stared at her brother. “You… feel it?”
He gave her a typical adolescent eye-roll and snorted. “I’m not stupid. I’m half-Faerie, too, ya know.”
Interesting. She’d never suspected Chance had any inkling of the vibrations she felt in the dark night, much less honed the powers he’d exhibited so strongly when he was a baby. Having fully human parents in a clan made up of a multitude of Fey peoples hadn’t been easy for any of them. She’d been pretty precocious herself. Much to her father’s dismay.
“Why haven’t you said anything before now?”
“I wasn’t sure.” The darkness left his eyes and the clear blue sparkled with mischief. “Besides, I knew you’d really hit my training hard then. It’s bad enough now.”
“We need to talk about this. Do Mom and Dad know? Granda or Jaysson?”
“Nope, nobody but you. But…” He glanced at his hands and spread his fingers in a helpless, beseeching gesture. “I don’t suppose you’d keep this quiet. At least for a while. At least until I understand a little more about what’s going on.”
“Until we understand this, baby bro, I’ll keep your secret.” She sheathed her sword and wrapped one arm around his shoulders. His broad, well-developed shoulders. She paused in surprise. When had her little brother gotten so muscular? Must be all the training she put him through. “But you and I are going to talk about it. And soon.”
He opened his mouth, but she stopped his speech with a shake of her head. “Not now. I’ve got to be somewhere and I’m running late.”
His sly, knowing grin and waggled eyebrows made her groan.
“Off to the library again?”
“As a matter-of-fact, yes. Gowthaman’s found some new old manuscripts.”
“Since when are you interested in old manuscripts? Oh wait. I know. Since Gowthaman has something to do with them.” Chance laughed, pressing his palms against his stomach as if trying to hold in the glee. It didn’t work.
Drawing back her fist, Bree punched his arm. Instead of laughter, a harsh oomph of air burst past his lips.
“Geez, Sis. Did ya have to hit so hard? Good thing we’re grown up or I’d have to run and tattle to Mom.”
“Grown up? The way you tease?”
He danced a jig around her then bowed. “Part of my Faerie heritage.”
“Honestly, Chance. I’ve been helping Gowthaman–”
“Got the hots for him more like.”
Heat blazed in her cheeks but she refused to fall prey to Chance’s effective teasing. “Like I said, I’ve been helping him with research. You know Lucidea’s determined to get her uncle back from the world between worlds.”
“Yeah, she’s been trying for what… oh, since I was born? I know that’s a serious concern and everyone’s main focus now. But come on, Bree. Just admit it. You go to the library for the librarian.”
There was no getting around his astute statement. He was right. Although, as the leader of the Alastriona, it was important she knew and reasonably understood anything that could be harmful to Faerie or, through Fey contact, to the human world. She did spend more time at the library than she probably needed to. If only Gowthaman would admit he loved her. She knew he did. At least, she thought he did.
From Chance’s wide grin, she expected him to start skipping around her like he had when he was eight. Bree an’ Gowthaman sittin’ in a tree… The singsong taunting had merely annoyed her then. If he broke into song now, she’d deck him. Maybe a low blow that would have him singing soprano for a while. She’d never really do that, but just thinking about the possibility made her chuckle.
“I don’t like the sound of that.” Chance sidestepped away from her, then joined in her laughter. “You were just thinking about when I used to tease you.”
He stopped and scuffed his toe in the dirt, looking like he was eight again, before lifting an innocent expression to her. “I’d never–”
“Uh-huh.” She rolled her shoulders to ease the remnants of battle tension. “Never mind. I’ve got to run. Will you take my sword back for me?”
“No sweat, Sis. Give Gowthaman a kiss for me–oh wait–I take that back. Give him one for you. Just say hi from me.” Laughing he took her sword and jogged along a narrow path toward the Faerie armory.
Breanna shook her head. Irrepressible. She loved him dearly and couldn’t imagine her brother any other way. Still, a darkness seemed to haunt his eyes at times and the odd expression she’d witnessed before he’d hidden his thoughts away behind laughter or smart-ass remarks concerned her deeply. With luck, someday soon, she’d get him to open up to her like he had when they were younger. Once he’d reached puberty, his confidences had become few and far between. She supposed that was the way it was with teenagers, but she missed their closeness.
Of course, she hadn’t exactly been an open book with him, either.
Books. She was due at the library and she really needed a shower. She wanted to appeal to Gowthaman, not offend his sensitive Faerie nose with the stench of mock battle. Forming a portal back to her apartment, she rushed through, leaving her concerns over her brother behind.
White hot, the desert sun blared down from a crystal blue sky. Gold and copper sand stretched in undulating dunes into the distance, ending at a hazy horizon. Gowthaman dragged his sandaled feet through the sand as he walked, relishing the warmth, willing the heat to seep into his cold, cold body.
He’d had another dream, or perhaps it was a memory. He no longer knew the difference. He wished the legends that the Fey didn’t dream were, in fact, truth. Fate had not been kind to him over the past twenty human years. He had been able to hold back the memory and keep the debilitating pain at bay for only so long.
He reached the oasis and sat cross-legged in the shade of a trio of palm trees. Clear water bubbled from a rock outcropping and splashed into a small pool. He dragged his hand through the water and shivered. Before long he would be forced to swallow his reluctance and ask for help–again.
Requiring assistance was not a bad thing. But there was only one who could chase away the pain and fill the emptiness left by the mind rape. Only one who held the skill to ease his suffering. Only one.
At first, each time she touched his mind to take away the agonies, he’d carried guilt nearly as intense and debilitating as the pain. She had been so young, only five, the first time she’d offered him healing.
Only five the first time she’d told him she loved him.
“Ah, Breanna.” The few birds inhabiting the oasis lifted in flight at his agonized cry. “You should not love me.”
He stared unblinking at the sun and whispered, “As I should not love you.”
Humans would find a relationship between them a matter of gossip for he was uncountable years older than she. But as Faerie, age held no meaning once she had reached adulthood. As a child she had been adorable and charming. Now she was a beautiful, vibrant woman. He should feel honored she cared about him.
The love shining in Breanna’s startling blue eyes when she looked at him was as painful to his heart as the dreams. The fact she was the only one who could comfort him, take the agony from his mind and return him to a functioning being tore through his soul. No one should have such responsibility for another. Or witness the extent of his pain and still love him unconditionally when he put harsh conditions on himself.
He pushed to his feet. She would arrive at the library soon to look over the latest information he’d discovered for the Zeroun clan. He suspected the information had initiated the onset of his dreams. The young lord’s uncle by marriage had been imprisoned in the world between worlds and once the immediate danger to the clan had been eliminated, most of their resources had been focused on finding a way to rescue him.
Gowthaman shivered and moved from the comfort of the shadows into the sunlight. The family was careful around him, knowing each mention of the gray nothingness reminded him of his time there. But more than that, the memory of the faerie witch who had forced her way into his mind and stolen his knowledge, his… self, was what caused him deep and abiding anguish.
Shoulders hunched, he stared into the golden distance. He should have remained in the world between worlds when the others escaped. His damaged mind would have had no stimulation and he could have forgotten.
He shook his head. He would never forget the torment of another clawing through his mind, taking his memories, his hopes and desires. Never forget the hopelessness left in the witch’s wake. The world between worlds may have been the kindest fate. At least there it wouldn’t matter if he couldn’t forget.
No one would hear his nightly screams.
Gowthaman inhaled deeply. The desert air heated his lungs, but the warmth refused to spread to the rest of his body. Forgetting was not his destiny. Most days he didn’t much care, knowing he would survive as he had over the past years, little more than a shell.
He glanced again at the sun and steeled himself. No more moments remained for self-recrimination. Instead it was time to put on a face to show the world, at least those few who visited the ancient Fey library of Alexandria. A calm, untroubled face for Breanna’s sake. She had taken to the responsibilities as leader of the Alastriona with joy and determination yet arranged her duties so she could frequently assist him in the library. A smile relaxed his face. He was proud of her.
He quickened his steps as he crossed the hot sands. Hidden from human eyes in the guise of yet another unremarkable mountain of sand and extending far beneath the ground, the library held the texts of many races, Fey and human. In his aimless wanderings through the maze of hallways and tiny alcoves, Gowthaman had discovered scrolls and tablets he had yet to announce to any others.
Had these been discovered only twenty human years previously, the importance of the extremely ancient writings would have been overlooked. Or dismissed as fiction. Until he understood the vague references and hidden meanings relating to happenings in the Faerie and Alfar worlds, he would hold the knowledge close.
He drew a deep breath before passing into the cool library. This new information, the clues to helping the Zeroun clan, had precipitated the intensity of his dreams and the unintelligible voice. His steps slowed.
Temptation whispered into his mind. Perhaps it was time to allow Breanna to touch his mind, to heal…
He flattened his palm against the cool wall and knew he would not. Years had passed since the last time he accepted her offer of comfort and a short time of peace. He would not burden her further with his failings. Nor could he allow the woman she’d become access to his thoughts. If she touched his mind that intimately he would not be able to disguise his feelings for her. Then she would know how much she truly meant to him. How he loved her. Desired her.
He froze in the doorway of the small chamber he used as work space. Breanna stood to one side, her profile lit by the flickering soft candlelight he preferred to the harshness of mechanical lights. She studied a heavy stone tablet, angling it toward the flame to peer at the faint notches of carving.
Gowthaman avoided thinking about how the flame brightened the golden strands of her short hair. He pushed away thoughts of the intensity of her bright blue eyes when she concentrated. When she traced the angled cuts of words with her finger he shuddered as if that finger touched him. He swallowed heavily.
“That… that is a recording of a curse.”
She turned a wide smile to him. “Then I shouldn’t try to read it out loud, should I?”
He drew his eyebrows together in confusion, then relaxed when he remembered the movie she had made him watch with her a month ago. She’d explained then it was a common device to have the innocent hero or heroine read a chant or incantation they didn’t understand, speaking the words out loud and thus releasing the danger. He struggled then found his own smile. “No, you should not. Unless you wish a sand demon from Bard’s world waiting on your doorstep.”
“I don’t think I’m in the mood for that today.” Replacing the stone rectangle on the table, she tilted her head to one side and studied him. “How about you, Gowtham? How are you?”
Gowtham. She was the only one to use the shortened, personal form of his name. A familiar, pleasant heaviness filled his chest. “I am fine.”
“Uh-huh. I don’t think so. But don’t worry, I won’t press. This time. So, what do you have to show me today?”
He wished he could show her the worlds upon worlds he’d been discovering in the ancient writings. Expose her to the amazing places described in the scrolls and volumes hidden deep in the library. Experience those worlds through her innocent eyes. To show her feelings, his feelings… about her.
With a tightening of his fist at his side he brought himself back to the reality of this world.
“You’ve been having dreams again, haven’t you? Nightmares.” Her bold statement startled him. He hadn’t been hiding the pain deep enough. What more did he need do to keep his agony secret?
“I can always tell. It’s your eyes, Gowtham, surrounded with lines of pain. Let me–”
“No.” He retreated two steps and lifted his hands before him to keep her at a distance. “No,” he said more softly.
“Why won’t you accept what I offer?” She sat and watched him, the sadness stark in downward turn of her full lips and the dimming of her eyes.
Did she realize she offered herself along with her healing touch? Of course she did, she was a woman grown. A woman who had offered him her love when but a child and who had never retreated from that offer. “No, Breanna.” Sweet Breanna, my love.
Ignoring her wounded expression, he lightened his tone and steered the discussion to a safer topic. “I have added to the family trees.”
Instantly, her expression brightened. “You’ve discovered more?”
Waving one arm to indicate the huge parchment covering an entire wall, he nodded. “Nothing new for the Zeroun clan, but I have discovered ancestors for others related to the rulers, including one of my own.”
She clapped her hands once, and he was struck by her youth. There was too much time between them but still her enthusiasm tugged at his heart. “Wonderful.”
“Yes. Many families have been entwined again and again for untold ages. Look.” He pointed to a branch of a small ornate tree set to one side of the large, multi-branched Zeroun genealogy.
Breanna felt her eyes go wide. “It’s me.”
Gowtham’s easy smile erased some of the pain from his face. The tight lines of his dark eyebrows eased to a slight arch. Tiny strands of black hair twisted into curls at his temple. Bree restrained the impulse to smooth them back, because then she’d want to touch his face. Nothing would delight her more than to trace the angles of his straight nose or the firm line of his jaw. She loved the contrast of her pale skin against the golden brown of his. In a wistful moment she’d once written in her diary that his skin reminded her of rich, cream-lightened coffee.
A dimple, barely beyond his lips, deepened. She tore her attention from his mouth to gaze into his eyes. A twinkle danced in the dark depths. This was the Gowtham she wished he could be with her help in healing.
He spoke softly, the words a caress. “Remember when you insisted you were to play Mustardseed?”
“I was determined, wasn’t I? That was the first time I performed in A Midsummer Night’s Dream.” She chuckled at the memory. At seven she’d astounded all the adults in the production by knowing every character’s lines perfectly. She couldn’t help if she followed the Zeroun clan’s obsession with the play.
“Follow the trunk to the roots.”
Tracing her fingertip down the parchment, she discovered a barely pronounceable name with a notation below it in a gilt edged rectangle. She read silently then gasped. “He was the inspiration for Shakespeare’s Mustardseed?”
Gowthaman gave a rough chuckle. “You know better than that. He was Mustardseed.”
“Amazing.” She swept her hand over the wall of family trees. “I see what you mean about families being intertwined. Guess we just can’t get away from each other.”
Gowthaman stepped back. “There is another addition to the ancestries.”
“Hmm, I see.” Next to the thin trees recording her family history was another newly labeled tree with few branches. She easily found Gowthaman’s name on a top branch. Smiling to herself, she wondered if he realized he’d drawn their families so close together. And that his branch stretched toward hers. Maybe there was hope for them. “You’ve discovered your ancestors?”
“Ah, yes. And look…” He leaned over her shoulder making her ache to lean into the heat of the sun he’d brought in with him. Or maybe it was the heat of the man. She squelched the longing and glanced at the tree’s roots.
“The kidnapped Indian prince?”