Award-winning author Kimberly Cates opens a door to magic and legend with her emotional, vivid love stories. Now, she captures the spirit of medieval Ireland in this splendid new novel. On a treacherous journey to a king's court, a beautiful but sheltered lass and a defiant warrior discover a love that may conquer all obstacles-or shatter an empire....
Caitlin of the Lilies was born to a terrible prophecy -- one day she would destroy Crom the Ever Truthful, the revered Irish chieftain. For his own protection, Crom sends her to be raised in a far-off convent. Knowing nothing of her destiny, Caitlin awaits the bridegroom Crom has promised her -- and at last, a handsome warrior arrives to escort her home. Caitlin wonders if this proud, silent man is to be her husband.
Niall of the Seven Betrayals has lived for Crom, the king who dared to offer Niall a new beginning. But while traveling with Caitlin, Niall learns of Crom's secret orders, and faces an unimaginable test of his loyalties: kill the innocent maiden who trusts herself to his protection or betray his king....
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Kimberly Cates lives in Illinois with her family. She is currently working on her next romance for Pocket Books.Excerpt. © Reprinted by permission. All rights reserved.:
The wild Irish hills seethed like a giant's cauldron, a baffling mixture of rugged stone, lush green meadow, and lacings of mist broken by patches of sky that glittered as bright and blue as a fairy's wing. Even the trees seemed human, digging their roots like fingers into earth pulsing with the passion and pain of a land at war with itself.
Legend claimed the Tuatha de Danaan, the fairy folk who had once ruled the island, had lost a great battle but defeated their mortal enemies in the end by melting into trees and hillsides, stones and streams, fleet red deer and the most cherished reaches of people's memories.
Now, another battle was being fought for Ireland -- a war between druid gods of earth and saints' God in heaven. Yet, though Caitlin of the Lilies had been raised within the holy confines of the Abbey of Mary of Infinite Mercy, and though she loved the sisters there -- their gentleness, their faith -- she understood a truth they could never comprehend.
No matter how many saints hallowed Irish ground, no matter how many monks inscribed manuscripts of impossible beauty upon the island's seaswept shores, Ireland would always have a pagan heart.
She could feel its steady throb no matter how determinedly she bent her head in prayer, the voice of the land calling to her, wild and sweet. You can never be like the rest of them, Caitlin of the Lilies, for you belong to me. She had fought it, sometimes feared that indefinable something that made her different from all the others. In the end she had surrendered to the invisible barrier that separated her from the practical world of the nuns. And yet never once in twenty years of life had she been able to deny that it existed.
Whatever spell had been cast upon the night she was abandoned at the druid altar was real. And never had she felt its pull more strongly than she did today. Her day. The day twenty years ago when Reverend Mother had found her, a newborn babe wrapped in the robe of a chieftain.
Caitlin glanced back at the walls of the abbey, knowing that there were plenty among Reverend Mother's pious flock who disapproved of her yearly pilgrimage to the block of stone with its ancient writings. They charged her to spend the day fasting and in prayer. To resist her shameful link to things heathen. Yet how could she do as they bade her? It was the one time in the year she had something to hold, something to touch, to assure herself that the voices in her dreams were real...
She shivered in anticipation, her bare feet light on the cool moss as she raced through the trees, certain the yearly offering would be there. She could almost feel it -- the cool stem of one perfect lily between her fingers. She could nearly smell it, the fragrance whispering sweet possibilities. The precious knowledge that someone beyond the abbey walls still cared for her.
Whoever had abandoned her had not forgotten her. And somewhere in the wide world Caitlin had never seen, a mother, a father, a whole family might wait to claim her.
She could not suppress a sting of guilt, a sense that she was ungrateful. No mother, real or imaginary, could have loved her more than the mistress of the abbey. And yet, had not Reverend Mother been the one first who guided her steps along the path to the druid stone, with a secret sorrow, a wistfulness shadowing the nun's mist-gray eyes, as if she knew that this was where Caitlin belonged, no matter how much Reverend Mother might wish otherwise?
Caitlin felt a twinge, but she promised herself that after she delighted in the lily and the wondrous imaginings it always brought, she would go to Reverend Mother's cell, show her the perfect flower. She would lean against the older woman's knee as she had every night since childhood and wrap herself tight in real love that never faltered. Love that should be enough, a voice inside Caitlin whispered.
Nay, she would not tarnish this day with regrets or self-recriminations. Reverend Mother always wished her to feel joy on these journeys. From the beginning, she had understood the questing spirit in Caitlin, the restlessness of a young girl who had never seen the wonders of the world that lay beyond the abbey.
How many times had those prayerful lips curved with indulgence as she told Caitlin her own memories of the outside world? The great fortress where she had grown up, favorite daughter of a mighty warrior. The thrill of cattle raids, the adventures spun by bards about the hero Cuchulain. She had said other things as well, confided her regret over the heartbreaking rift between her and her beloved father when she had refused to marry any one of a dozen suitors, choosing instead the life of a nun. Reverend Mother had hinted quietly of different dangers other nuns spoke more plainly of, wickedness and sin, horrors so unspeakable the women had fled to the abbey to escape them.
Yet, in spite of all the tales she heard, Caitlin had fashioned the Irish wilds into an innocent girl's dream where all women were brave and every man a hero, and each year a perfect lily drew her closer to that magical realm.
Caitlin grimaced. Not that she had had much success imagining the bold, handsome heroes. From the beginning, the abbess had told her it was possible that one day she would leave the abbey, that it was even possible marriage might be her destiny.
Yet the only example of a man Caitlin had ever seen was Father Columcille, a wrinkled gnome with a bulbous red nose and rheumy eyes she had watched with great interest as a child, certain they would pop out of their sockets at any moment.
In the end, the men in Reverend Mother's tales had become creatures elusive and mysterious, as deliciously fantastic as the pagan gods Cuchulain had fought. But it did not matter if they were real or not, Caitlin thought with a toss of her head. It was her world, her imaginings, and today was the one day in all the year she could venture beyond the abbey's stone walls to taste the magic of that world just a little.
She rounded a tussock of heather, the trees thinning, the sun falling across her in great bars of light. Suddenly she slowed her steps, uncertain why. Did she feel the reverence in this old and holy place? Was she hoping perhaps this time the mystery of her birth might be revealed? Or was her hesitation something more simple? The knowledge that once she walked through the last archway of oaks and crossed to the great slab of stone to claim her lily, the enchantment would be over for yet another year?
One hand smoothed a cascade of raven locks. The other settled the folds of her simple robes about her, but no power on earth could ever tame the exhilaration sparkling in her fairy-blue eyes.
Intent on making the delight last as long as possible, Caitlin fastened her gaze on the ground, carefully placing her bare feet in an effort to avoid spring's first blossoms that scattered the seldom-used path.
Her fingers tightened in the rough cloth of her robes, and she caught her bottom lip between her teeth as she glimpsed the base of the massive stone. Ever so slowly, she let her eyes trek up the gray surface, past intricate carvings she could not decipher. Sucking in a deep breath, she raised her gaze higher, to the broad top of the druid altar, the rugged cradle in which her lily had always lain.
Caitlin froze. She could not speak, could not breathe. There, upon the altar, lay a man, his dark lashes pillowed against high-slashed cheekbones. Did he sleep? Or did he lie there in some sort of fairy enchantment? Part of the magical spell that had bound her from her birth?
He might have been Cuchulain, called back from the land of heroes, so powerful was the long sweep of his body, rugged planes and hollows, corded muscles barely disguised by the linen of his shirt and the thick wool folds of the garment wrapped around him.
Hair the sleek brown of a stag's coat was threaded with strands of fiery red that snagged the sun. The waves glowed rich and thick against the tanned planes of a face as fiercely beautiful as any peregrine's. His nose, an arrogant blade, was strong as the shortsword bound at his waist, his cheekbones carved in a high, proud arch. But it was his lips that held Caitlin transfixed. Lips impossibly soft, unspeakably sensual, unbearably masculine, above a stubborn jut of jaw. The mouth of a poet, a bard, captured in the face of a warrior.
She swallowed hard, drinking in the sight of him, certain that if she gazed at this man for an eternity she could never have her fill. One glimpse, and her world had altered utterly, forever.
Was this what the lilies had promised? The mysteries that had always surrounded her? Was this, then, her destiny? This man?
Or was he a man, built of bone and sinew? Was he mortal at all? She trembled at the thought. Could it be possible that he was something far different? An offering from the ancient ones who had melted into the trees and the mountains, setting Ireland aglow in countless shades of green, feeding the island with the life in their souls? Could this magnificent creature be woven of that beautiful magic? For her?
The thought was terrifying in its sweetness. Yet could this encounter have any meaning besides fate? Every year, there had been a lily waiting for her on this day. Now he lay in its place...
Filled with wonder, she reached toward the hard column of his arm, but it seemed wrong, a cold way to begin an enchantment. Moved by an instinct she barely understood, she leaned toward him, felt the heat of his breath against her own cheek. He was real, she thought numbly. Real.
Closing her eyes, she pictured his awakening when she brushed the hot satin of that poet's mouth with her own. Summoning up her last bit of courage, Caitlin lowered her lips to his.
A roar shattered the clearing, a flash of sinew and hard, grasping hands catching her in a bruising grasp. She tried to scream, but in a heartbeat, she was sprawled on her back on the stone, a crushing weight pinning her down. Caitlin struggled, a shriek rising in her throat, but a hard hand crushed down on her mouth, stifling any sound.
Balling her hand into a fist, she swung with all her might, catching her attacker on one high cheekbone, her knee driving instinctively for the vulnerable flesh between his thighs. With a grunt of surprise and pain, the beast rolled off her. "Hellcat, you all but unmanned me!" a rough voice snarled.
Her vision cleared, and she found herself staring into a face as fierce and pagan as any warrior god the druids had ever dreamed. She felt a horrible sense of loss. The sleeping hero she had found vanished forever.
Green eyes pierced her so deeply that she could not breathe. "I thought your Christian God said to love thy enemy," the man sneered with a scornful glance at her habit, "not knock him senseless."
Caitlin scrambled back, her legs so tangled in her robes she could not get to her feet. "Wh-who are you?"
"They call me Niall." His mouth hardened further still. "Niall of the Seven Betrayals."
What kind of man could he be? One whose very name proclaimed his infamy? Caitlin's gaze flicked to his, and she saw her revulsion register in those fierce green eyes. His lips curled in the harshest smile she had ever seen.
"You are wise to be wary of me, madam."
She hated him for sensing her fear, hated herself for letting it show, no matter how well founded that fear might be. Drawing the tattered remnants of her pride about her, she tipped her chin up in what Reverend Mother always called her fairy queen expression -- one that, at the moment, made it evident she wanted nothing more than to command some minion to cut off his head.
"Did you steal my flower?" she demanded, incensed as if he had robbed the treasure of Tir naN Og itself.
If nothing else, she had set him off balance. "Steal?" he echoed. "A flower? What the devil for?"
"It is supposed to be there. On the druid stone."
"Let me assure you that if I ever decided to turn thief, I would not waste my time stealing an accursed flower. Why the blazes should it matter so much to you? I cannot begin to guess." His eyes flicked down the coarse homespun of her clothes, and he laid one powerful finger alongside his jaw. "Then again...perhaps I can. Meeting a lover, are you? I wonder if your abbess would approve."
"I -- I am not! She would -- " Caitlin cut off her stammerings, her cheeks burning with embarrassment and indignation. She wanted nothing more than to slap the smug expression off the man's face.
"So you are from the abbey. You might be of some use to me yet." Something in his voice terrified her. "I have ridden three days without sleep searching for the abbey of Saint Mary's. Could not find the accursed thing. Finally fell asleep on that rock of yours. Perhaps it was fate. Now I will not have to stumble about, searching, any longer. You can show me the way."
Caitlin stared in disbelief. This warrior, intimidating enough in a chance meeting, was far more frightening seeking the abbey. And he wanted her to lead him to the walls?
She shuddered, thinking of the sisters who had raised her -- so gentle, so compassionate, so trusting in the protection of their God. She reeled from the sudden realization that all the things she loved about them left them terrifyingly vulnerable.
She struggled to keep from imagining what sort of damage this giant of a man, this warrior, could do to a flock of defenseless women. "What business could you possibly have at the abbey?" she demanded.
Disgust and impatience sparked in the warrior's hard eyes. "I come to claim a wench."
Caitlin crossed herself. "G-God help her."
Niall gave a snarling laugh. "She will need far more help than your puling God can offer."
"Wh-who..." The question snagged in Caitlin's throat, a hard, barbed thing. She knew before he spoke, felt it -- a horrible sinking in the pit of her stomach.
"They call her by some absurd name. Caitlin of the Lilies."
"Nay!" Caitlin gasped, foolish childhood dreams crumbling into nightmare. "That is impossible!"
Holy Mary, why had she not guessed? Why had she not suspected that what the other sisters had warned her of, feared, was true? That the lilies were sweet poison, luring her to disaster instead of a fragrant path to some wondrous destiny?
Terror drove sudden strength into her limbs, her hands tearing loose the tangled skirts as she scrambled to her feet. One last glimpse of that implacable face burned itself in her memory, then she ran, back to everything she had loved yet so long taken for granted.
But no matter how fast her feet flew, Caitlin knew the truth. The abbey walls could not bar a man like that forever. Tears streaked her cheeks, hot, hopeless, sick with certainty. Even Reverend Mother's love could not protect her now.
Caitlin felt countless eyes upon her as she ran through the rickety gate, the bevy of sisters gaping when she dragged the heavy bar across it as if an invading army marched against the abbey. Caitlin winced as the aged wood barrier groaned beneath the bar's weight, the gate in danger of tumbling down of its own accord. Sister Luca, a plump woman who often nodded to sleep over her
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Descrizione libro Pocket. MASS MARKET PAPERBACK. Condizione libro: New. 0671028227 . Codice libro della libreria AUD5040RJXX071116H0768P
Descrizione libro Pocket, 1999. Mass Market Paperback. Condizione libro: New. Codice libro della libreria DADAX0671028227
Descrizione libro Pocket, 1999. Mass Market Paperback. Condizione libro: New. book. Codice libro della libreria 0671028227
Descrizione libro Pocket, 1999. Mass Market Paperback. Condizione libro: New. Codice libro della libreria P110671028227
Descrizione libro Condizione libro: Brand New. Book Condition: Brand New. Codice libro della libreria 97806710282201.0