Title: The Sword Unsheathed
Author: Judith Sterling
Genre: YA Paranormal Fantasy
Ashling Donoghue is no closer to finding her parents than she was the night they disappeared. But hope returns as her brother Kian channels the Sword of Light, revealing past-life secrets and truths long suppressed.
The more she learns, the greater she fears the darkness that drowns the Netherworld also drives her. Is Aengus her true love, or is it Lorcan? Does her future wait in shadow or the light?
One point is clear: the threads of her past-self are woven inextricably into the tapestry of her soul. An impossible choice looms before her, and all the while, evil is poised to strike.
That night found me hovering above a massive, semicircular prehistoric fort at the edge of a cliff roughly 300 feet above the swish and swoosh of the ocean. Three concentric, terraced stone walls enclosed it, and beyond the third ring, an army of jagged stone slabs stood vigil. A large, tan tent dominated the innermost enclosure.
The all-encompassing twilight was telling, as were my bare feet and blue satin nightshirt, which I’d worn to bed. I was in the Otherworld, courtesy of an astral trip. But where exactly?
I had to know.
Determined, I floated to the ground in front of the tent’s entrance. A curious sense of déjà vu washed over me, and every inch of my flesh tingled with a hidden memory.
I’ve been here before. I’m sure of it.
I entered the tent, and a plush Persian carpet cushioned my feet as I explored.
Sumptuous in texture and color, the interior seemed strangely familiar. There were silks, satins, and velvets in shades of gold, burgundy, ruby red, dark blue, and emerald green. Curtains, cushions, and pillows aplenty. Spherical, perforated hanging lanterns. There was even a Moroccan tray table of polished brass decorated with an arabesque pattern; atop it sat two crystal glasses and a matching decanter filled with brown liquid, as well as a compote containing what appeared to be cocoa-dusted chocolate truffles.
“I could get used to this,” I said aloud.
I jumped, then whirled around. Lorcan stood an arm’s length away. As always, he wore his black, Regency Era greatcoat, breeches, and riding boots. A question, deeper than the one he’d asked, glowed in his ice blue eyes.
His eyes darkened. “Are you cold?”
“No. Are you?” A heartbeat after I spoke, I cringed inwardly. What a stupid reply!
He shook his head. Glossy black hair swayed, teasing his broad shoulders. “Not particularly.” A smile tugged at his full, sensuous lips as he gestured to the table. “Chocolate? Cognac?”
I clenched my fists, steeling myself against his charms. “No, thank you, and you can wipe that smile off your face. How can I trust you after what happened Christmas Eve?”
“What do you mean?”
“You left me alone in Aoife’s castle. Where did you disappear to?”
He blinked, and for a moment, his long eyelashes stole my focus. “Ashling, you know I went to investigate the noise we heard.”
“And never came back.”
“I did come back.”
“Really?” I tilted my head to the side. “Funny that I didn’t see you. Aoife said you brought me to her, like some kind of warped Christmas present or—”
“I’m sure she does, but she also spoke a lot of truth. Are you still working for her?”
“How can you ask that?”
He sighed: a sound of impatience and annoyance, both of which I, too, had felt over the past few months. “As I told you before, when I met Caer—you—I left Aoife and planned to live the rest of my days in the Middleworld…here, with you. Then you disappeared on me.”
“So Christmas Eve was payback for something I did centuries ago?”
“It wasn’t. By the time I returned to the dungeon, you were gone. Then I sensed you were in danger. Of course, Aengus did too, and I arrived just in time to watch him save the day.” A shadow crossed his features.
I’d seen that look before, whenever he compared himself to Aengus. Sympathy surged within me, but I expelled it with a huff. “Why didn’t you come and tell me all this before?”
“I didn’t think you’d listen. I knew Aengus would poison your ears with lies about me. How can I compete with such a paragon?” He twisted his lips, and a hint of humor restored light to his face. “Perhaps if I wore only my long drawers.”
“I believe you’d call them underwear.”
The image of a bare-chested Lorcan flashed in my mind and set my pulse racing. “No. Clothes are a good thing.”
He arched an eyebrow. “Are they? Still, my attire is outdated.”
I shrugged. “A little.”
He furrowed his brow, then it smoothened. “I’ve got it.” Before my eyes, his clothing morphed into black jeans and a black T-shirt. “Better?”
Holy hell, he was sexy! Unfortunately, his new look emphasized the toned physique I’d only imagined till then.
I swallowed hard. “I don’t care what you wear.” It was true. He could dress in Super Mario footie pajamas, and I’d still think he was hot.
“Don’t you?” He inched toward me.
I took two steps back. “I…I wanted to ask…where are we? This place seems so familiar.”
“It should.” His eyes smoldered. “We made love here.”
My stomach dropped, and I fumbled for a reply. “You and Caer, you mean. How long were you together?”
“One perfect night.”
He stepped closer. “Even one moment of bliss can feel like an eternity. Caer and I created a heaven of our own. All. Night. Long.”
Dear God. I cleared my throat. “So you live here?”
“Ah. We’re going to have a safe conversation.”
“Yup…if you want me to stay.”
“I do, and yes, I live here. This is Dun Aengus on the isle of Inishmore. Once upon a time, it was Aengus’s home, hence the name which means ‘fort of Aengus,’ but he abandoned it. I’ll admit, I felt a perverse pleasure when I claimed it as my own.”
Doubt and distrust gnawed at me, and I frowned. “Did you feel the same way when you took Caer away from him?”
“That was different.”
He reached for my hand and enfolded it with both of his. Everywhere his flesh touched mine, a subtle vibration took hold. “I wanted you more than anything else in the Otherworld, or any world. I still want you.”
“I’m with Aengus now.”
“But you were once with me.”
“I don’t even remember that.”
His gaze held mine. “Your soul remembers. It went looking for me tonight. That’s why you’re here.”