CELTIC FAE, BOOK ONE

Fate Calling

A cursed fae prince. A feisty human lass. A fate they never expected…

All Aislinn Morgan wants is to live a peaceful life with her sister in the beautiful highlands of Scotland. When a hike on the Isle of Skye goes horribly awry and the sisters are taken to the mythical land of the fae, Aislinn will do anything to protect the only family she has left.

Even bargain with a beastly fae prince.

But the brooding, dangerous, and powerful Kieran O’Bairr is no ordinary fae. He has spent the last one hundred years in a self-imposed exile for a crime that haunts his every waking moment. The stubborn Aislinn Morgan is a complication he doesn’t want, but his longing for the golden-haired lass is undeniable, her kissable lips a temptation he can’t resist.

Aislinn is his fated mate.

And one desperate, stolen kiss will be his undoing.

Beauty and the Beast meets Celtic Mythology in a breathtaking tale of love and adventure. If you enjoy brooding, swoon-worthy heroes and sweet, slow-burn romance, discover this fade-to-black fantasy romance series for fans of Elise Kova, Emma Hamm and Shari L Tapscott!

PROLOGUE

Kieran had known the lass would be his undoing.

He sank to his knees, too weak to even stand. He had once fought hundreds of blood-sucking baobhan siths single-handedly, yet this one enemy had tested the limits of his power.

And prevailed.

Through the copse of spindly birch trees, Kieran met the arrogant crimson eyes of his enemy. The pale-gray skin shone silver in the veiled sunlight, contrasting with the striking black veins—a sign of the dreaded curse upon his kind.

Kieran wiped the sweat from his brow with a bloodied hand and watched his enemy approach. He didn’t have much time. His energy was fading, his life dwindling. In his final moments before certain death, Kieran thought of… her.

Golden hair the color of the sun.

Kissable, rosebud lips he was unable to resist.

The warm brown eyes that had sealed his fate with a single look.

She was a complication he’d never wanted.

And he would protect her with his dying breath.

CHAPTER ONE

AISLINN

Once upon a time… my life was torn asunder. Brutally shattered. Obliterated by unthinkable loss.

It had happened not far from where we were hiking, just beyond the mountains looming in the distance. It had been six years since that fateful night. I never expected to return here—not after what had happened.

But it seemed fate had other ideas.

Covering my eyes with one hand, I peeked up at the gloomy afternoon sky. Rain had been drizzling down all morning, and the approaching mist crept slowly across the moor in eerie and ominous curls.

Iconic Scotland—a land of myth and mystery.

Its folklore dated back thousands of years and was often interwoven with elements of magic and romance—the kind fanciful little girls read about in fairytales. When I was a child, one of my favorite legends had been about a human falling in love with an immortal faerie. It was about a love that was true and everlasting. A love that transcended all reason.

But true love didn’t exist.

And not everyone lived happily-ever-after.

I paused in the road and looked up the steep, gravel hiking trail. Dull rays peeked intermittently through the clouds, shining light over a handful of tourists.

We were on the Isle of Skye, standing at the foot of the Black Cuillin Mountains near a popular tourist attraction known as the Fairy Pools. It was a series of beautiful, small waterfalls and pools of crystal-clear blue, accessible only by foot.

It was a place right out of Scottish myth.

It was magical.

Unnatural.

It was a place where the locals believed faeries could pass through a veil between worlds.

Drawing in a deep breath, I followed my sister on what I was certain would be an ill-fated journey through the Scottish highlands. My already dark mood deepened with every step.

It took twenty minutes to reach the first and largest of the waterfalls. Its deep pool was a vivid turquoise, the water so clear I could see the moss-covered stones littering the bottom. It was breathtaking and utterly magical with the mist drawing ever closer.

But these pristine, natural pools weren’t the reason we were here. We were searching for a pool of near supernatural beauty, hidden within the mountain where tourists rarely ventured.

A pool the locals referred to as Tir na Nog.

“Watch your step, Cat,” I warned as the pathway veered to the left, rising upward with natural rock steps. The ground was slick from the slight rainfall—an accident waiting to happen.

Catriona joined me at the top of the steps and nudged my arm with her elbow. “Don’t be such a worry wort. I can climb stairs without falling.” She tossed her straight, brown hair over her shoulder as she gave me a sidelong glance. “And would it kill you to smile, at least a little?”

I crossed my arms and offered the ghost of a smile.

“Oh, come on! You can do better than that.” Catriona poked at my ribs, searching for my ticklish spot. “Give your favorite little sister a smile. Come on, you can do it.”

I pushed her hands away and rolled my eyes. “You’re my only sister,” I pointed out. “Of course you’re my favorite.” Ignoring the sweet, pleading smile Catriona aimed at me, I resumed my defensive stance. “I’m here because you asked me to come with you—but I can’t pretend I’m happy about it.” Not after what had happened the last time. Inching to the right, I peered warily over the cliff’s edge. “I have a bad feeling about this, Katy-Cat.”

My sister’s playful smile dimmed. She patted my arm and briefly squeezed my shoulder before climbing the next set of steps. “Don’t worry, Ash. Everything will be—” Her words broke off with a startled cry as her foot slipped out from under her. She teetered backward, her sunshine-yellow Wellies skidding uselessly over the wet rock.

“Catriona!” I cried out, lunging for her. But I was several steps below, and her grasping fingers only managed to slip through my rain-slicked hands. Horror filled my chest as she flailed precariously on the edge of the cliff.

A hand suddenly latched onto Catriona’s arm. “Easy there, lass. I’ve got ye,” said an elderly man in a lightweight rain jacket, swiftly pulling her to safety. He had a thick Scottish brogue and a friendly smile that was barely visible behind his aged-red beard.

I reached them seconds later and grabbed hold of Catriona with shaking hands. “Oh, Cat! Thank goodness.” I squeezed her in a fierce hug, my heart hammering against my ribs. That fall would have killed her if she wasn’t lucky enough to land in the crystal pool below—and I seriously didn’t believe in luck, or fate.

Not after what had happened to us.

Catriona buried her face against my shoulder and rubbed my back. “I’m okay, Ash. I’m okay.” Her voice was gentle—understanding. She knew what another loss would do to me. “I’m sorry for scaring you.”

“I know, I know. Just… try to be more careful.” I briskly kissed her forehead and forced my hands to unleash their death grip without giving in to the urge to shake some sense into her. My little sister was curious—and often fearless. She charged into every situation without hesitation, without forethought. Her bravery frightened me.

I turned toward the elderly man and the woman standing beside him. “Thank you for helping my sister,” I said, clasping his hand and shaking it vigorously.

He touched the brim of his flat cap. “My pleasure, lass. Are ye hiking to Tir na Nog?” he guessed, nodding at the backpacking bags slung over our shoulders. “It’s another twelve kilometers beyond the final pool. Take care when you find it. It’s Beltane, ye ken, and folks often disappear around the Fairy Pools on Beltane—when the faeries pass through from the Otherworld.” His eyes twinkled as he gave us an exaggerated wink.

He wasn’t the first local to have warned us about Beltane, the ancient Celtic festival celebrated on the first of May. Beltane marked the beginning of summer. In Scotland, it was a day of celebration.

A day for the supernatural—when the portal to the Otherworld opened, allowing all manner of mischievous faeries to pass into our world.

It was a day when people often went missing.

“Och, don’t scare them,” chided the woman standing hand-in-hand with him. Her white hair was twisted up into a bun, but tiny wisps had pulled free to tickle the skin around her flushed cheeks. She swatted the man’s arm and leaned toward us with a kind smile. “Where are you dears from? You sound American.”

“We’re from Alaska,” Catriona answered. “But we just moved here, actually.”

The woman’s eyes widened. “Did ye, now? That’s exciting! Have you moved here to the Isle of Skye?”

“Portree,” Catriona clarified. It was the largest town on the isle, but remote enough to give us the peace and serenity we came to Scotland in search of.

“That’s a bonnie town, right on the harbor,” said the woman. “Did ye ken it’s the capital?”

My eyes strayed to the mountains beyond as I tuned out the rest of their conversation. I was ready to get this over with—and allow the memories we unearthed to remain buried where they belonged.

“Well, we should get going,” Catriona said, laying her hand on my shoulder. We thanked the couple again and continued on our way.

After hiking past several more pools and mini waterfalls, we came to the end of the main hiking trail. A weather-beaten wooden sign was posted, urging travelers to proceed at their own risk.

Hesitating, I glanced briefly over my shoulder at the people dispersing through the distant parking lot. A moment of indecision held me rooted in place. It wasn’t too late to change our minds.

There was still time to turn back.

To avoid the haunted memories.

I was just about to ask Catriona to reconsider the hike when she stopped suddenly and whispered, “We’re close.” Our shoulders brushed as I drew even; she was trembling.

“Are you sure you want to go through with this? It’s not too late to turn back—”

“No,” Catriona said, adjusting her pack with a determined set to her shoulders. “I need to do this.”

She set off again, leaving me to follow. As much as I didn’t want to be here, I couldn’t allow her to do this alone. I was the big sister. I was the one who needed to protect her—especially now that we were orphans. Trudging after her, I stared at the mountain looming before us.

From here, the land spread out in a layer of peat moor. Raindrops glistened upon batches of gently-waving green grasses and mud splattered the dirt trail. The hike lasted another four hours and took us deep into a mountain crevice that was well away from the other tourists.

Just before sunset, we found it.

Tir na Nog.

“There it is,” Catriona whispered. “It’s… it’s…” She shook her head, at a loss for words. I stared in equal awe.

Although six years had passed, Tir na Nog looked exactly as I remembered.

Spanning over twenty feet, it was a glistening pool encased in rough rock and fed by the small waterfall embedded within the mountainside. Torrents of water rushed and whirled in a thunderous cascade. We scooted around the edge toward a tiny clearing beside the waterfall, left our bags in a pile, and sat down beside the water’s edge.

As I drew closer to it, I could swear I felt a pulse emanating from the water. It seemed to throb in my very bones.

It called to me.

“Can you believe it’s been over six years?” Catriona asked, leaning forward and swirling her index finger through the crystal-blue water. “Daddy loved it here; he always said it was one of his favorite places in all of Scotland.”

“I remember,” I murmured, staring out over Tir na Nog.

In the last glimmer of daylight, the water was a vibrant blue-green, brighter than a typical shade of turquoise. It was unlike any color I’d ever seen before. The various plants ringing the rock edges were thriving in glorious hues of green. They swayed around each other, moving in and out, almost like a dance.

I could understand why our father had loved Tir na Nog. It was beautiful and magical. And whenever I was here, I always seemed to feel a strangely deep connection to the land.

Like I belonged here.

Like it was calling me home.

I shook the silly feelings away and swirled my fingers through the water, admiring the ripples it created. I’d always loved Scotland and being here—despite the tragic memories—reminded me of how much I’d missed it. How much the land called to me. It thrummed through my blood with a supernatural energy.

It was the land of my ancestors.

My birthplace.

My home.

A gentle sniff made me glance at Catriona, and when I saw the single tear sliding down her cheek, I wrapped an arm around her shoulders and pulled her close for a hug.

“Oh, Katy-Cat,” I whispered, fighting back my own set of tears.

She leaned her head against my shoulder and sniffled again. “I miss them… every single day.”

I pressed my cheek to the top of her head. “I do, too.”

“Really?” She looked up at me with fresh tears brimming in her light-brown eyes. “Because you never show it.”

“That doesn’t mean I don’t feel it,” I whispered.

“But it makes me feel like I’m all alone in this. You didn’t even cry at Mum’s funeral.”

That wasn’t true—I’d just cried where no one could see me. And I’d cried in my room every night since her diagnosis, while drowning out the tell-tale sounds with music.

“I wish you’d confide in me more,” Catriona continued, oblivious to my inner turmoil. “You never share what you really feel, you just keep it all bottled up inside—”

“What good will it do to let it out?” Wearing the pain on my sleeve wouldn’t fix the break in my heart. I was trying to be strong—I needed to be strong. We were the only two left in our family.

“It will help you learn to let go,” she whispered with a sad smile.

Let go…

Catriona had been telling me to let go for the last six weeks, ever since our mother had died. Let it go, let it go, let it go.

But I couldn’t let go of this pain. It was permanently etched within my heart—my soul—after losing both of my parents within six years of each other. It was a living, tormenting reminder of how badly a broken heart could hurt. And it was a pain I never wanted to feel again.

Shifting away from Catriona, I pulled my knees to my chest and wrapped my arms around them. My hand automatically went to the necklace I was wearing.

It was a round, silver pendant with a belt and buckle looped around a griffin bearing a sword. The Morgan family crest.

Staring out over the water, I rubbed my fingers over the ancient heirloom. It was lackluster and dull after years of being worn, but it was a priceless memento I would forever treasure.

Catriona turned her face away from me, and we lapsed into silence as the memories I’d been fighting flooded my mind. Memories of two loving parents. A happy childhood. Annual camping trips in the Scottish highlands. I could still picture us on that final camping trip—here in this very spot.

It was the last time I’d seen my dad alive.

Tears burned my eyes and spilled over my cheeks. Closing my eyes, I pressed the pendant to my lips with a shaking hand. “I will never forget you,” I whispered, then added in Scottish Gaelic, “Beannachd Dia dhuit.”

May the blessings of God be with you.

It was a phrase I’d memorized for our mother’s funeral.

A moment later, Catriona reached over and squeezed my arm. I angled my face away, not wanting her to see my tears. I was the big sister—I needed to be strong for her.

She released me after several heartbeats and stood, brushing the dirt from her jeans. Her voice was soft and filled with understanding. “You know, Ash… it’s okay to be vulnerable sometimes.” She gave my shoulder a final pat before turning away and leaving me to my melancholy.

I listened to Catriona rummage through the packs while fighting another onset of tears. When I’d finally composed myself, I helped her set up our measly campsite. Thin bedrolls and mummy sleeping bags were squeezed into a two-person tent. We crawled into it minutes before the clouds opened in a torrential downpour. Not even bothering to eat dinner, I curled up in my sleeping bag and cried silently until every last shred of my heart had poured out its pain.

* * *

My tears had long since dried, but the rain hadn’t let up at all.

Sitting cross-legged on my sleeping bag, I peered out through the open tent flaps. Mist had crawled in and rain drenched the ground. Wind began to howl, rattling the tent in its violent grip. Now that the sun had disappeared behind the mountain, darkness descended all around. It was pitch black in the empty, haunted place where my father had died.

A shiver trailed down my spine.

What if the same fate awaited us?

I glanced at Catriona, sleeping soundly beside me. We were crazy for doing this—for coming here, all alone. But Catriona had refused to listen to reason when I’d tried to convince her not to come.

Nervous energy charged through me. I wanted to pack up and head straight back down the mountain, but it was too late—too dangerous to traverse the mountain trail in the dark. We had no choice but to wait it out until morning. Peering out at the downpour, that uneasy feeling grew.

“Ash?” My sister’s groggy voice whispered in the dark. “What are you doing? It’s the middle of the night.”

“I’m just watching the rain. Go back to sleep.” I patted her leg beneath the sleeping bag.

“‘Kay.” Catriona yawned and rolled over, laying with her back to me. I smiled when her gentle snores filled the tent a few minutes later. I was a light sleeper, but Catriona could sleep through pretty much anything.

I envied her that sense of oblivion, for even in sleep I found no respite from the horrors of reality. My dreams were often haunted by memories of the past and fear of the future. Heaving a weary sigh, I propped my chin on my fist and gazed out at the steady downpour. My mind reeled with worried thoughts.

At only nineteen-years-old, I had become the sole provider and protector of my eighteen-year-old sister. How was I supposed to take care of her emotionally and financially? The money our mother had left us was quickly running out after our impromptu move to Scotland. I had managed to snag a waitressing job at one of the local restaurants, but it didn’t pay well, and the rent on our crappy flat nearly ate up my entire paycheck. I didn’t know how I was supposed to pay for our other bills, let alone necessities like groceries.

My shoulders sagged beneath the weight of my grief and fear.

It was too much to handle. Too much to bear on my own.

I covered my face with my hands and battled the thick, burning sensation in my throat. The tears threatened, but I refused to let them spill. Crying wouldn’t change anything. It wouldn’t stop the torment, or turn back time—

Wait. Something wasn’t right.

I lifted my head and lunged toward the tent opening, shifting forward so quickly that Catriona startled in her sleeping bag.

“Ash?” she called in a sleepy voice. “What is it?”

“The rain,” I whispered, feeling chilled to the bone. “It stopped.”

“O-kay.” The sarcasm in Catriona’s voice was obvious, but I knew she didn’t understand. She was still half-asleep… and I was beginning to think I was too.

Because what I was seeing was impossible.

Purely, simply impossible.

Mouth gaping in wonder, I scrambled out from the tent and gazed around with wide, rounded eyes. The rain had indeed stopped—but so had everything else. It was like an utter stillness had fallen over the entire mountain.

The waterfall was no longer cascading in a steady stream, but frozen mid-fall as if time had merely stopped. The swaying grasses lining the pool began to slow and still, one by one. The water’s glassy surface was a perfect reflection of the star-filled sky overhead, but completely and unnaturally still. Not even the hint of a ripple.

“Oh my gosh.” Catriona stumbled out of the tent behind me and sucked in a gasp. “Ash, are we dreaming?”

“We have to be.” Bewildered, I dropped to my knees at the water’s edge. My fingers dug into the rock face as I stared at the pool, still fighting to make sense of everything. It felt too real to be a dream, but what other explanation was there?

A minute later, a single ripple fanned out from the center of the pool. Something broke the surface, rising from the deep, dark depths.

My breath caught as a head emerged.

It was covered in shaggy black hair and threaded with pond weed. Next, I caught a glimpse of light-brown skin and amber eyes with strange, slitted pupils.

A creature of nightmares.

Was it a faerie? No, that was impossible. Tir na Nog was not some magical portal to the Otherworld. This had to be a dream.

But the uneasy feeling in my chest expanded—and a part of me feared it wasn’t just a dream. I scurried backward from the edge, slamming into Catriona. She shook as she clung to me.

“What is that?” Her voice was filled with horror—and disgust.

I backed us up a step, moving very, very slowly. “I don’t know,” I barely dared to breathe.

The creature paused with its face still partially submerged in the water. Bright amber eyes swiveled toward us and locked onto mine, suspending time once again. My breath lodged in my throat. I waited for the creature to move, but the longer it sat there, staring at me, the more dread flooded my veins.

Cold, icy—and paralyzing.

Gazing into the equine-like eyes, I suddenly realized I was rooted in place, unable to move. My eyes widened in fear.

Then the creature lunged.

BOOKS IN THE CELTIC FAE SERIES:

More books to be announced in this world.

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