(Author's Note: St. Patrick's Day is one of my favorite holidays! I loved the chance to get to celebrate with some of my best writing friends, and to revisit the world of my Laurel McKee RITA-nominated “Daughters of Erin” trilogy. Hope you enjoy it too! For more info visit me at http://ammandamccabe.com)
The Start of the Rainbow
Amanda McCabe/Laurel McKee
Just outside Dublin, 1802
Lady Allison Bennett ran as fast as her slippered feet could take her out of the tiny back room of the Rose and Shamrock, her head bowed so no one could see her ridiculous blushes. She was a blasted fool for falling in love when it was obvious those feelings would never be returned.
“Lady Allison!” Aidan, the barkeep at the Rose and Shamrock, shouted after her as she scurried past.
Aidan was a light-hearted, witty man, one she usually enjoyed sharing a pint and a tale of ancient Ireland with after meetings of the Celtic Society. It meant one less hour she had to be at home with her family on Green Street, one less hour she had to pretend to be someone she wasn't. Lady Allison Bennett, prim and proper debutante, earl's daughter, the quiet sister, the bookish one. No one at the Rose an shamrock cared about such things, and she loved them for it.
But tonight she was in no mood for Aidan's teasing. She couldn't bear for anyone else to see her tears.
She kept running, grateful that Aidan had too many thirsty customers waiting for their pints to follow her. Outside the warm, crowded, noisy tavern, a cold wind hit her in the face and tugged at her blue muslin skirts and cashmere shawl. Its chill seemed to wake her up and her head cleared a bit.
She walked away from the pub, leaving the echo of its laughter behind until all she could hear was the rustle of that wind through the trees. The Rose and Shamrock was on the main road out of Dublin, a favorite stopping spot for the mail coaches that ran past every day but far enough from the city that it felt isolated, set alone except for a few scattered cottages.
Beyond was a thick, dark stretch of woods, rumored to be the haunt of highwaymen. And of banshees, leprechauns, and the ghosts of the rebels of '98. Such tales kept the more nervous travelers far away—and usually the British authorities too. They were busy enough chasing rumored rebels in the city.
All that made the Rose and Shamrock the perfect place for secret meetings of the Celtic Society. The Society had been banned after the rising of '98, even though it was a group of scholars and writers, most of them far too wrapped up in their studies to take the time to foment rebellions. Just the fact that they studied and wrote about the history and culture of Ireland, the heroic myths and legendary warriors and poets, was enough to get them banned in such powder-keg dangerous days. Many of the '98 leaders were inspired by work done by the Celtic Society.
Allison came to it through her friend Lady Caroline Blacknall. Once Caro found out Allison hoped to write a novel about ancient Ireland, she insisted on bringing Allison to the meeting.
And that was where she met him. Sir Finnegal Adams. Finn. The most handsome, most brilliant man in Ireland.
The pub door swung open and two drunks straggled out, singing at the top of their soused lungs. Allison hurried away, finding the narrow pathway that led into the woods. It was late enough that the moon was rising in the dusty-black sky. Its chalky-yellow rays lit her way between the trees. She wasn't afraid of the night, of the skeletal clack of the wind through the branches. No one had ever hurt her at the Rose and Shamrock. The place seemed surrounded by a blanket of safety, of magic, just like the glorious tales the Celtic Society shared in the small back room.
No, the woods held no danger for her. Only her own heart could do that.
Allison thought of Finn, of his thick, untidy sweep of golden curls and his bright blue eyes. His tall, lean figure and strong shoulders. He was handsome, ridiculously so, like a hero in a saga. But more than that, he was brilliant, one of the youngest professors at Trinity University. He was the son of an Anglo-Irish baron, but his passion was with Ireland, as Allison's was.
Tonight he spoke to the Celtic Society about Cuchulain and Maeve, and as he paced the length of the back room in front of that strange, tiny green door, his whole being seemed to crackle with energy and emotion. His passion for the story inspired it in everyone else as well, making them jump up from their seats and applaud as if they were at a cricket match.
And then Finn's bright blue gaze landed on Allison—and she was filled with the wild yearning to kiss him.
Fool, fool, she cursed herself as she ran into the woods. She kicked out at a fallen log and pain rushed up her leg, making her feel even more silly. Yes, she had shared a pint at the Rose and Shamrock with Finn before, they had talked about the Irish myths they loved. Once or twice, she even hopefully imagined his stare lingered on her as hers did with him.
But then he would turn away. And she feared she wasn't the sort of wife a man like him needed. Her family scoffed at intellectual pursuits; it was why she herself had to escape them so often. They couldn't help his career as other families could. And she was certainly no great beauty, with her plain brown hair and freckled nose, her brown eyes.
Yet still that longing to kiss him was there, stronger than ever.
Allison whirled around, her foot flying out as if she would kick something again. Suddenly she froze at the sight that greeted her.
In the center of a small, tight ring of trees was a half-open trunk that she could have sworn was not there before. A ray of moonlight gleamed on dull gold piled inside.
Hardly daring to breathe, Allison tiptoed closer and knelt down beside the trunk. She could hardly feel the damp earth seeping through her thin muslin skirt, or feel the chilly wind pulling at her hair. She only saw the astonishing sight in front of her.
It was gold, coins it looked like, a large hoard of them. She carefully picked one up and examined it in the moonlight. It looked very old, a profile image etched on one side and strange letters on the other. Symbolic images she didn't recognize from her studies marched around the beveled edge, which was nearly worn smooth.
They weren't English coins. Could they be some kind of ancient Celtic treasure? But what was it doing here?
Allison glanced over her shoulder, suddenly nervous as she remembered the stories of highwaymen. She knew she couldn't carry the whole trunk herself, but she longed to know what the coins could be. And she knew exactly who could tell her.
Allison quickly scooped up as many coins as she could fit in her hand, and ran as fast as her feet could carry her back to the pub.
“Blast it all, man! Where did she go?” Finn Adams demanded of Aidan the barkeep.
“Neall said she ran out of here like the hounds of hell were chasing her.”
“Neall said she ran out of here like the hounds of hell were chasing her.”
Aidan shrugged as he wiped down a glass, but there was a flicker of worry in his eyes. “It's not my job to chase down gentry ladies who are in a rare state and need their smelling salts, now is it? I tried to call out to her, but she just kept running. Probably just wanted a nip of air.”
Finn felt a hot wave of worry and anger wash over him, and he curled his hands into tight fists to hold it back. To stay calm. He couldn't help Allison if he was in a fury. “It's dark as Hades out there tonight, and I know her carriage hasn't come yet.”
“She'll be back,” Aidan said, but then there was that quickly-vanished flash of worry again. It wasn't like him, and made Finn even more concerned.
“I'm going to find her.” Finn spun around on his heel and ran out the door past a group of new arrivals, leaving the roar of laughter and drunken chatter behind as he hurried into the night. Cold wind tore at his coat, biting through the thick tweed, but he hardly noticed.
He only knew he had to find Allison.
He only knew he had to find Allison.
Dear, sweet, beautiful Allison.
She was nowhere to be seen outside the pub or along the roadway. As a gray, wispy cloud scurried in front of the moon, casting strange shadows on the ground, he started toward the woods. Something told him that he would find her there.
Ever since the first time he saw Allison, the day Lady Caroline Blacknall brought her to a Celtic Society meeting, Finn had felt the strangest connection to her. It seemed as if he'd seen her smile before, heard her laugh, touched her hand. The times when she stayed after a meeting to talk to him and share a pint—he looked forward to those with a schoolboyish eagerness that should have appalled him. Somehow it just made him smile, as did Allison.
And those fleeting hours, the kiss on the cheek when they parted, were no longer nearly enough. He'd decided that very night to declare himself to her. He knew her family wouldn't think him good enough, a professor and scholar, but if Allison would have him he knew he could surmount any obstacle.
He'd seen the way she looked at him, the shy glances, the smiles, the lingering touch of her hand on his over the bar. He'd dared hope she returned his feelings. He even determined to declare himself that night.
But then she ran out of the meeting so fast, not stopping to speak to anyone, not looking at him. It was as if she guessed his purpose—and did not like it.
He had to find her now. It wasn't safe for her to be alone in the woods. And if she had run there to avoid him...
He could never forgive himself.
“Lady Allison!” he shouted. His voice echoed back to him. “Where are you?”
For a long moment there was nothing but silence, heavy and ominous. Then a small voice answered at last.
Finn stopped on the path and heard the rustle of running footsteps through fallen leaves. Allison burst between two trees, the splintered rays of moonlight shining on her pale gown. She looked at him with a radiant smile on her face, and Finn knew he had never seen anything more beautiful. All his worry was replaced in that instant by golden happiness.
He ran to her and caught her up in his arms, twirling her around and around as they laughed. He reveled in the warm, sweet life of her against him, the fact that she was safe and here, in his arms at last. She wrapped her own arms around his neck, and he bent his head to kiss her. Really kiss her, finally.
She tasted of cool night air, of smoky dark tea, and of some sweetness that could only be Allison alone. She was perfect—they were perfect together, just as he'd known they could be. Their mouths and bodies seemed to fit, as if they were made to be together just like that.
“Oh, Finn...” she sighed as his lips traced the softness of her cheek. “I never thought it could be—that you felt like I did...”
“Neither did I,” he answered hoarsely. “I love you, Allison. I have loved you from the first moment I saw you.”
Her arms tightened around his neck. Her eyes shimmered bright as she looked up at him in the moonlight. “You love me?”
“I think I always have. I used to think such notions as love at first sight were absurd...”
Allison laughed, a wonderful, sunny sound that banished all the cold. “Me, too. Until now. Oh, Finn. I love you too.”
Finn laughed with her, happier than he'd ever thought he could be. As he pulled her close again, he suddenly felt a heavy weight drop onto his boot.
“Oh!” Allison cried. She knelt down and scooped up the strange object from the ground. “I almost forgot. This was what I came running to tell you. I found these in the woods.”
She held out her hand, and Finn saw the dull glint of gold against her pale skin. “What are they?” he asked.
“I don't know. They look terribly old. I thought perhaps you had seen something like it before.”
She shivered, and Finn's concern for her was greater than his curiosity about her strange find in the woods.
“Let's go inside and take a closer look,” he said. He slipped his arm around her waist and she leaned against him as they made their way back to the Rose and Shamrock.
“There you are,” Aidan said with a laugh as Finn helped Allison onto one of the high stools by the bar next to their friend Neall. “Knew you wouldn't go far.”
“Of course not,” Allison answered happily. “Finn found me.”
“So it seems,” Aidan said with a wink.
“And it seems Lady Allison found something as well,” Finn said.
“Yes, these were in the woods.” Allison laid one of the coins on the scarred wooden surface of the bar. “What do you suppose they are?”
“Where did you get that?” Aidan said, his voice strangely furious and deep, like the swirl of a gathering storm over the sea.
Allison looked up, her mouth parted and eyes wide as if she was startled, and everyone around them grew quiet with surprise. Aidan was never furious, even when fights broke out and furniture got smashed. Teasing and joking, yes, mischievous sometimes, but not angry. Especially not with ladies.
What was it about the coin?
“I—I told you,” Allison stammered. “In the woods. I only wanted to know what they were...”
Her words were drowned out by the sudden bang of the door slamming open. No one was there, but a rush of cold wind swept through the pub, overturning glasses and carrying away caps and scarves. Newspapers scattered across the dusty wooden floor.
And when Finn and Allison looked back to the bar, the coin was vanished. And so was Aidan.