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The Washer Woman's Daughter (Excerpt)

By Rebecca Ayers All Rights Reserved ©

Romance / Fantasy

A Fae Encounter

“Oh my god, Bridget, you look beautiful!” Juliet screamed as her maid Marie finally released her into the hallway. Bridget whirled around and smiled as her friend rushed toward her. She wore an elaborate off the shoulder gown of midnight blue silk with a plunging neckline and full skirt, her dark hair cascading around her in loose curls dotted with diamond hairpins.

“Thanks, Juliet,” she answered with a blush, feeling overtly curvy next to her best friend who wore a white Grecian style dress that accentuated her slender form. “You do too.”

“They even let me keep my hair dyed, see?” Juliet turned around with a grin and showed how her bright green tips shimmered along the bottom of the intricately twisted bun at the back of her neck. Bridget returned her smile and winced slightly as the gown’s built-in corset tightened, preventing her from laughing.

“So, hot stuff, are you ready to meet your grandmother?” Juliet continued, her gray eyes full of mischief. “Or at least check out some legendarily gorgeous Fae?”

She remained silent for a moment, unwilling to tell Juliet about her grandmother and their strange conversation until later, and was saved from speaking as Connal made his appearance.

Juliet whistled loudly, causing Connal’s face to turn bright red as he approached. “Looking good, dog-boy!” she continued, placing her hands on her hips and assessing him boldly. His hair had been combed back away from his face and he wore a black medieval style tunic with tightly fitted pants. “Very rock and roll.”

Bridget hid her smile behind her hand as Juliet continued her blatant assessment, clearly won over by his costume. “I’m serious, you’d give seventies era Bowie a run for his money. This look is screaming thin white duke.”

“Thanks, Juliet,” Connal stammered. “I’m not exactly sure what that means but I appreciate the sentiment.”

His eyes went wide as he finally looked over at the girls. “You are both very lovely as well.”

“That’s quite enough drooling over one another, children,” Lady Helen said from behind them, looking regal in a dark red gown. “There will plenty of time to satiate your teenage hormones during the party.”

Juliet immediately went quiet and stared at the older woman. Bridget watched her friend’s expression race from irritated to awe struck and yearned to hear Juliet’s honest commentary.

“Our apologies, my lady,” Connal said, making a smooth recovery. “We were just remarking on the fine level of detail the staff paid to our wardrobes for the evening.”

Helen smiled, her gaze sweeping over Juliet and Connal, and nodded. “You have me to thank for that, young guardian,” she said, obviously pleased. She turned to Bridget and her smile widened further. “We wouldn’t want to disappoint our gracious host.”

With an imperious wave of her hand, Helen motioned for them to follow her to the grand staircase. As the group began their descent toward the front door, Juliet clutched Bridget’s arm and whispered, “Is that who I think it is?” Bridget nodded and Juliet whistled under her breath with a shake of her head.

Further discussion was cut off as one of the clone-like butlers opened the front door and ushered them into the outdoor party. The previously extravagant front lawn had been further transformed into a wonderland of glowing enchantment. A massive waterfall now cascaded from the heart of one of the oak trees, falling into the floating water garden, and trailing flowers wove together to form a wide canopy overhead. Starlight reflected off of massive natural crystals that dotted the landscape, giving the party an eerie blue-green glow.

“Come along, you two,” Helen said to Connal and Juliet. “I want to introduce you to some of the younger party-goers. No use in boring you to death while Bridget and I catch up. We should be able to find you a few lively companions for the night.”

With a sly smile, Helen led her friends away and disappeared into the crowd of people. Bridget remained alone, stunned by the diversity of the crowd. Fae of impossible beauty mingled freely with small, brightly colored pixies, and conversed with a variety of hideous beasts. She watched as a unicorn drank from the waterfall and a nymph braided its mane. A lanky creature resembling a storybook goblin, nearly seven feet tall, sketched a bow as it broke her line of vision and walked past her.

“Quite a sight, aren’t they?” a familiar, deep, voice said by her side. She jumped slightly, startled, and saw Lachlan smiling down at her. He now wore a white tuxedo embellished with gold embroidery shaped like interlacing Celtic knots. His dark red hair flowed freely across his shoulders, curling slightly at the ends.

“I remember the first time my Lady Shannon invited me to a Fae party, I nearly fainted from shock,” he said, his green eyes bright as they trailed over her figure. “I would have loved another mortal to hold my hand and help me navigate the party.”

“You look fine now,” Bridget said, desperately wishing that Marie had forced her into a less revealing gown. She avoided meeting his gaze directly and looked out across the beautiful party. “I can’t believe how much everything has changed in the past few hours.”

“Thank you, my dear,” he said, reaching out to take her hand. His palms were warm and large, his fingers elegantly tapered. She blushed as he pulled her close to his side, capturing her arm gently as he did so. “Now, as is my duty as your gracious host, I must accompany you for the first dance of the evening.”

He began guiding her through the crowd toward the dance floor, nodding and smiling at various guests as he did so. “Please, Lachlan,” Bridget said, hoping the use of his first name would better catch his attention. “There is no need to accompany me, I am a terrible dancer.”

He smiled and released her arm, moving his grip lower to capture her waist. “Nonsense, dear Bridget,” he said, his voice smooth.

They walked onto the dance floor made of sea glass and lit from within by a thousand shimmering fireflies. Her heart gave an involuntary flutter of pleasure at the beautiful sight. “Just relax and follow my lead, it will be fun. I promise.”

She sighed and relented, turning fully into the circle of his arms. His arm around her waist dipped a little lower and he guided her hands into proper position. Other couples soon followed them and the music began. She shivered at the otherworldly sounds and rhythms and Lachlan chuckled softly.

“I forget how disconcerting that music is the first time,” he said, his long legs easily guiding her through the steps across the dance floor. “Your heart begins to keep time with the rhythm. Be thankful that this a waltz, rather than a tango.”

She giggled, her corset tightening again, and Lachlan’s burning gaze swept over her once more. “It’s such a shame that you came here with that young man,” he said softly.

He pulled her closer and lowered his head, bringing his green eyes level with hers. “Guardian spirits occupy so much of a girl’s heart.”

Bridget felt her heartbeat slowing in rhythm with the music and became mesmerized by the way the golden light from the dance floor flickered across his perfect features. “Still,” he said, turning her away in a dizzying spin before holding her tight to his chest, “let’s make the most of the night while you’re here in my arms.”

They continued to dance and she lost herself in the moment. A sudden silence between songs shattered the magical fog that had settled over her and she blinked hard, staggering back as she looked up at Lachlan. Surprise flitted across his face and he stepped closer, gripping her hand as she tried to walk away.

“Please, Bridget, don’t go,” he said, his voice smooth. “One more dance, I beg of you.” She was about to refuse but was frozen as the music started up again, this song even slower than the last. She nearly fell to her knees as her heartbeat stuttered nearly to a halt and he took her against him, the hard muscles of his biceps contracting as he kept her on her feet.

“That’s better,” he whispered in her ear as he began to guide her through a slower dance. She felt the burning heat of his hand on her waist and tried to ignore the desire to meet his hypnotic gaze. He suddenly pressed a hand against her ribs and pressed her backwards over his knee into a graceful dip. The world reeled in a kaleidoscope of color as he brought her close and smiled.

“So lovely,” he said, tracing one hand across her neck to brush the curls away from where they fell across her shoulders. She blushed at the intimacy of his touch, nearly remembering another beautiful boy, and he spun her into a graceful lift, high above his head. He kissed her gently as he returned her feet to the ground, his lips as soft as rose petals.

“Come with me, pretty banshee,” he said, guiding her to the edge of the dance floor. “The night belongs to us.”

She followed him through the fog that clouded her mind, enraptured the very sound of his voice. He smiled and drew her to the side of the waterfall, still within earshot of the music.

“It’s so beautiful,” Bridget whispered, leaning against Lachlan’s chest as she struggled to regain control of her senses.

He remained silent as he kissed the side of her neck and wrapped his hands around the circle of her waist. She sighed and relaxed against him, twining her fingers in his silken hair. Silence suddenly descended and her awareness returned sharply. The music stopped once more and she gasped, whirling away from Lachlan with shock. His face contorted with anger as she quickly stepped behind the waterfall, gasping as her heart and mind regained their normal pace.

“Bridget, darling,” Lachlan said, following close behind her, his face once again soft and full of promise. “Allow me to apologize, I too am a mortal and all too easily caught up in Fae enchantments. I must admit, I was quite overwhelmed by your beauty in the moonlight.”

She blushed and backed away another step even as she yearned to fall into his arms. He looked impossibly handsome in the low light near the waterfall, his eyes wide. “I’m sorry, Lachlan,” she said, breathing normally again. “I don’t know what came over me but I don’t intend to go anywhere with you tonight or any other night.”

Feeling her strength returning, she set her shoulders back and held her ground. “Besides, you are Lady Shannon’s consort.”

He looked wounded and took another step. “Don’t turn me away for such a petty reason,” he said, his gestures smooth as silk. “Lady Shannon is an immortal creature and will turn me away as soon as I begin to age. I only swore my years to her, Bridget, not body and not my soul.”

Her mind began to reel with the memory of their dance and she backed away once more, realizing with great discomfort that they were totally isolated from the rest of the party.

“How did you know I was a banshee?” she deflected, searching for Juliet and Connal among the masses in the distance. She tapped her clavicle slowly, hoping to distract him once more. “Mortals shouldn’t be able to sense those kind of things, right?”

Lachlan finally stopped and his face twisted into a shrewd expression. “Very clever,” he said.  He smiled, showing perfect white teeth, and began clapping softly. “And I must admit that it has been a long time since I was merely mortal.”

She gasped and went still, fear making her tremble like a rabbit caught in a wolf’s gaze. “Then what are you?” she asked. “What do you really want?”

Lachlan’s form shimmered and he suddenly stood before her, gripping her upper arms in a grip that bordered on painful. “I am whatever you want me to be, my dear,” he purred, tracing his thumb across her cheek.

She suddenly saw the glitter of water just over Lachlan’s shoulder and smiled. She relaxed, allowing herself to melt against Lachlan as she went up on her toes and kissed him once more. He released her arms in surprise and she pulled away, kicking him hard in the shin as she fled toward the water.

She heard a growl behind her and refused to look, racing toward the water shining through the trees. She continued to run, ignoring the branches as they tore at her hair and gown, and finally made it to the edge of a saltwater marsh. Remembering a scene in one of Juliet’s favorite fantasy movies, she dashed into the water, wading in until she was waist high. She spun around as Lachlan crashed his way through the underbrush, looking extremely irritated and extremely handsome as he saw her standing in the water.

“Very good, Bridget,” he called as he watched her. His high cheeks were flushed and he smoothed his hair. “I cannot follow you into the ocean. The dead cannot cross water and Fae can’t abide salt.”

Bridget remained still, panting, as Lachlan paced the water’s edge. “I don’t blame you for fleeing me,” he said, his voice casual once more. “But Lady Helen herself has blessed our union and has offered my Lady Shannon a trade in exchange for my services.”

He bowed deeply and rose, straightening his jacket with a smile. “I shall avail myself to your friends as I await your return,” he said, his eyes shining in the moonlight. “Until next we meet, my beauty.”

Bridget gasped as he disappeared and fell to her knees, the warm saltwater the only thing keeping her upright as the terrible reality of her situation crashed upon her and she wept into the sea.

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