Manhattan, East 92nd Street
Brigid keyed in the security code while Gabe unlocked the door and threw it open. She tossed her coat onto a cushioned bench and hurried in to knock on the housekeeper’s apartment door, disappearing inside as soon as it opened.
Gabe turned to the man hovering behind him. “Don’t wait for a special invitation, Ethan. We won’t see Brigid for at least a half hour, not since she brought back some gifts for Mrs. Doherty and her husband. They’ve been with us since before we were married and Brigid is very close to them.” He sketched a casual gesture, taking in the paneled room. “Welcome.”
“Didn’t know you were filthy rich, man.” Ethan gazed around the spacious foyer of the five-level brownstone townhouse. The marble floor, polished wood balustrade and high-vaulted ceilings, their ornate details still intact, were just a tad bit overwhelming. He whistled and the echo bounced off the walls. “Bloody impressive.”
Gabe grinned. “Bloody expensive to keep up. But it’s been in my father’s family since it was built back in 1865. I was born here.” He pointed to the curved wooden stair rail. “I remember sliding down that banister smack onto my ass, cracking my elbow and then getting whacked by my mother because I’d scared her to death when I ran to her crying and she saw my arm.” He sighed. “Then she hugged me, offered me a cookie and tucked me into bed.” He ran his fingers through his hair and shook off the memories. “Come on in. I’ll show you which floor is yours. Anthony will bring in the luggage after he parks the car around in the back. We’re incredibly lucky. We have two spots for parking.”
Ethan slung his single duffle bag over his shoulder and hoisted up his harp, feeling the vibrations of Ceol Mhor’s strings even through its carrying case. He cradled the small Irish harp in his arms. The duffle bag was light. He’d only a few clothes and his laptop inside. He’d left Ireland in a mad dash with Brigid and Gabe. Clothes had been the last thing on his mind.
Gabe’s voice echoed from the stairs above. “Well, don’t stand there, boy. You’ll want to wash up before Brigid rejoins us.”
“Don’t call me boy, you old fart! It’s not my fault you’re older than dirt.” Even as he taunted him, Ethan couldn’t help marveling. It was hard to take in that Gabe was far older than he looked. A hale and hearty eighty-nine-year-old who didn’t look a day over forty-five. A Terran. Just like him.
It still gave him pause to think that he, Gabe and Brigid were Terrans, a species split off from homo sapiens, with the ability to control the elements and other powers he’d only read about in science fiction. Up until four days ago, he hadn’t even heard of a 3,000 year old bastard named Nimhnach or fought living Stone Men or seen mummies come to life or battled side by side with ancient Milesian warriors or even known how to play the bloody harp or...
“Would you get the hell up here? Are you standing there with your thumb up your--”
“I’m coming! Don’t get your knickers in a twist.”
He raced up the stairs, nearly bumping into Gabe, who waited for him on the landing. “I see I’ll have to give you the five-cent tour now. You can get the full treatment tomorrow.”
Ethan laughed. “You better give me running shoes. This place is huge.”
Gabe shrugged. “It’s home.” He pointed to his right. “That’s the front of the house and my office. At the other end of the house is the music room where we hold informal parties. It opens up to a balcony that leads down into the garden. Follow me. We’ve more floors to go.”
Ethan trailed behind as Gabe continued describing the stately home. “Down in the basement we’ve a walk-in refrigerator, additional pantry, laundry and a wine cellar.” He paused at the next landing. “On this floor is the parlor area that flows on the right to the living room and on the left to the dining room and then the kitchen.” His features softened. “Brigid and I were married here in the living room. We had different music and food on all three floors. Brigid took off her shoes so she could run up and down the stairs more easily. God, she looked gorgeous ... and so ... young.” He took a deep breath and continued to lead Ethan upward. “This is our floor. There’s a master bedroom in the back and a sitting room that we use for a more secure, private study in the house’s front. One more flight and we’re at your level of the house.”
Gabe stopped at the next landing and led Ethan to the left. “All of the bedrooms face the north away from the street for more privacy. You have a fireplace too. There’s a gym on the other end and a kitchenette with a microwave and fridge.” He grinned. “Let Mrs. Doherty know what your favorite snacks are. If you get a craving for anything, you won’t have to trek all the way down four flights.”
He opened the bedroom door. “Everything you need to take a shower--towels, soap, shampoo, robe--is in the bathroom.” He opened the door to a walk-in closet and smiled. “You’ll find something to wear in here. I asked Anthony to bring up some of my clothes for you. Nothing fancy, just some jeans and pullovers. They should fit you since we’re close enough in size. You can always go shopping later this week and buy anything else you’ll need. We’ll see you down stairs in about a half hour or so?” He turned and walked to the bedroom door and stopped. “Oh, by the way, if you need to get in touch with Brigid or me or Mrs. Doherty or her husband, the phone by your bed has separate lines for each of us. If you can’t find something, just buzz. Later.”
Ethan shook his head, his mouth in a half-smile as the door closed behind the older man. He did a 360 degree turn around the room and spoke aloud reassuring himself that he wasn’t dreaming. “Jesus. It’s like a bloody B and B. I think I’m going to enjoy America a hell of a lot better than the last time I was here at that drab motel.”
He peered into the bathroom and gawked. The room was bigger than his flat in Dublin. Lord only knew what the master bath must be like. He stripped quickly, found a hamper for his clothes and strode naked into the glass-enclosed shower.
The scalding hot water poured over him, massaging his still tender shoulder. The only trace of what should have been a near-crippling injury was a small puckered scar front and back on the fleshy part of his underarm.
He soaped his body, marveling at the changes in his life. Now that he knew he was a Terran, he knew why he always healed so quickly and looked so much younger than his age, and why he’d never found someone with whom he wanted to share his life.
Until he met Brigid.
Lovers thousands of years ago when he was Uaithne, the legendary harper of Brigid’s father Dagda. Now he’d found her again, only to lose her once more.
Of course, there was a way he could be with her, but he didn’t think he could deal with it any time soon. For the moment he could only be glad that his bedroom was above theirs and the floors and walls were too thick to hear them.
Now if only he could buffer his imagination.
* * * *
“Mrs. Doherty, I’m so happy to see you! So much happened in Ireland.”
The serene older woman, used to Brigid’s enthusiasm, smiled and accepted her tight embrace and laughed as Brigid plunked her trim rear onto the cushioned sofa, held out a bright green box with gold lettering and a gold ribbon and snatched up a freshly baked cinnamon bun all in one smooth movement.
With the bun halfway to her mouth, Brigid stopped. “Oh, Lord, I’m not sure I can tell you--”
“That you know you’re a Terran and finally came into your Element?” She chuckled. “Anthony and I were betting you were a Water Keeper. Were we right?”
Brigid gaped at the matter-of-fact announcement. “You know about Terrans?”
“Of course,” Mrs. Doherty said, and untied the gift box. She opened the lid and withdrew a Belleek china teapot, two cups and saucers, a sugar and a creamer. “Oh, it’s lovely! And so delicate.” Taking great care, she placed them back in the box before speaking again, giving Brigid a chance to come to grips with her own startling announcement.
Patting Brigid’s knee, she continued. “I’ve known about Terrans all my life. Anthony and I are both Terrans. Anthony’s a Protector and an Earth Keeper. He’s also Gabe’s cousin. I’m an Earth Keeper too. Why do you think we grow the best tomatoes in town?”
Her features sobered. “There were so many times I wanted to tell you who you were, child, but all any of us knew was that you were a Terran and destined for great things.” Her eyes softened. “And alone. So alone. As loving as Gabe was and is, he was a bachelor when you became his ward and you needed a female influence, if not a Terran one. Anthony and I were thrilled to help watch over you.” Dimples appeared in her cheeks. “I was ready to beat Gabe over the head if he hadn’t finally realized you were in love with him. And now that you know we’re related, why don’t you call Anthony and me by our first names? After all, we’re family.”
Brigid reached over and hugged her. “I should be mad as hell that you never told me anything, but I do understand--Martha.”
Martha wrinkled her nose and shook her head. “Marty. Now, don’t tell me everything that happened in Ireland right this minute, but do tell me if we guessed correctly about your Element. And tell us more about the Irish hunk.” A twinkle appeared in her eyes. “Donovan sent us pictures.”
Brigid laughed. “Well, you’re half right. I am a Water Keeper, but I’m also a Fire Keeper.”
“Two Elements! We would never have imagined Fire. And the Irishman? Donovan told us he’d be staying with us for awhile.”
“His name is Ethan Clark. He’s an archeologist and he also just learned that he’s a Terran.” Brigid took a deep breath. “He’s a Singer and Air Keeper.”
Marty gaped. “Do you know what he can do? Does he know what he can do?”
“Gabe said he’s one of the most powerful Singers he’s ever met. He saved our lives in Ireland.” Her voice trembled. “Ethan and I knew each other. We’d met a very long time ago.”
Marty’s eyes narrowed. “What exactly do you mean, child?”
“I ... it isn’t easy to talk about now. I promise I’ll tell you soon. Okay?”
“As long as I know he hasn’t hurt you ... in any way.”
Brigid shook her head vehemently. “Never. He’d never hurt me.” She glanced away and murmured so softly Marty thought she’d misheard her. “But I think I hurt him.” Brigid’s shoulders drooped, a sigh wrung from her, and her eyes narrowed as a thought occurred to her. “Speaking of Irish hunks, Doherty’s an Irish name. Doesn’t that make Tony an Irish Terran?”
“Not quite. Tony’s only Terran on his mother’s side. It’s actually quite romantic. She’s Gabe’s aunt. Back during World War I, she eloped with Tony’s dad. They were killed a few years after the war and Tony was raised by Gabe’s family. We’ll always be grateful to Gabe’s family. They took him in when no one wanted to acknowledge him. It was only after it appeared that Tony had inherited his mother’s Protector and Earth Keeper abilities that the rest of the family came round.”
“Now, time for a good hot shower and then I’ll send up some sandwiches for you and Gabe and Ethan. Or do you want to eat in the kitchen?”
Brigid lifted her eyes and a smile crossed her face. “In the kitchen, please. Just leave ‘em in the fridge. I’ll take care of setting up the rest. We’ll see you in the morning around nine ... in the kitchen. I’ll introduce you to Ethan. And give my love to Anthony? Tell him you almost won the bet, after all, I’m not only a Water Keeper!”
* * * *
“Did you and Mrs. Doherty have a good visit?”
Brigid watched as Gabe slipped off his loafers and placed the shoe forms in them neatly. He methodically clipped his socks together and tossed them down the laundry chute. Next she knew, he’d take his change out of his pockets and place the coins in the small, square-shaped Waterford crystal box on top of the dresser.
Brigid counted to ten before she answered him.
“I had a great visit with Cousin Marty.”
Gabe winced at her sharp tone. “You know.”
“Seems everyone knew but me!”
Gabe grabbed Brigid’s arms and swung her around to face him. She tried pulling away, but he held her firmly in place, exerting a little of his Protector strength.
“Be reasonable, darling. First off, your family’s journal clearly stated not to tell you. Besides, you were only twelve years old. You’d just lost your last family member. How could we throw this at you then? And later... Brigid, a lot has been going on in the world that the Terrans are trying to rectify.” Gabe dropped her arms and ran his hands through his hair. “I wanted to keep you safe.” He took a deep breath. “Even if I could have told you, I wouldn’t have. Damn it, Bridge, when you were a child it was my duty to protect you. By the time you were seventeen...” He turned and walked to the window, crossed his arms and stared out at the terraced garden.
Moving quietly, Brigid stood behind him, leaning her body against his back. Her arms circled his waist and she whispered in his ear. “By seventeen I knew what I wanted too, but you insisted I date. Do you know the only reason I had sex the first time with someone else was so that you wouldn’t have to worry about hurting me?” Her arms tightened as she pressed her breasts against him. “Whenever you brought home another woman I wondered if she was the one you’d marry.” Her hands drifted to his fly and she ran her fingers up and down his zipper, fondling him.
His breath hissed. He uncrossed his arms and his hands joined hers, encouraging him to press harder. He rocked against her, feeling her heartbeat speed up. Her nipples prodded him through his soft T-shirt and her breath heated his skin. Her quiet chuckle vibrated through him. “I always wondered why you sounded so old-fashioned sometimes when you interrogated the boys who took me out. Now I know.” Brigid pressed her lips against his shoulder and kissed him. “You were an even more ancient fuddy-duddy than I realized.”
He laughed and lifted her hands from their arousing actions. “Fuddy-duddy? Me? Careful, you sound like you’re over a hundred instead of only twenty-seven.” He drew her into his arms and held her tightly, his confined erection pressing against her. He gripped her firm ass and fondled her. “Damn, I want to make love to you so fucking much...”
Brigid brought his face lower to hers, clasping his jaw in her hands. “I just want to fuck you. Ring Ethan’s room. Tell him we’ll see him tomorrow and to buzz Mrs. Doherty to send him something to eat if he’s hungry.” Her hands dropped and she pulled down his zipper, dipping her fingers inside to caress his naked flesh. “The only thing I’m hungry for is you.”
Gabe grabbed her wrist, his eyes locked with hers, and slowly pulled her hand away. He moved to the phone by the bed and rang Ethan’s extension. Brigid knelt behind him, kissing his neck and shoulders, her hands loosely clasped around his waist.
“Ethan. Listen, Brigid is a bit ... (ahh) ... tired. We’re going to call it a night. If you’re hungry, give Mrs. Gardener a buzz she’ll ... (stop) ... fix something for you. We’ll see you in the morn--(yesss)--ing. Nigh--”
Ethan stared at the phone he gripped in one hand, the shoe he was ready to slip on dangling from his other hand. Carefully, he placed the phone back in its receiver and just as carefully hurled his shoe across the room through the open bedroom door and straight to the door of the gym where it struck with a satisfying thud.
He ground his teeth and cursed luridly and fluidly in several languages.
Just as he feared, tonight was going to be the first in a long line of hard nights.
* * * *
Boynton, New York
Arven Lowery, a financier recently doing business as Lord Nolen, who once ages ago was known as the druid, Nimhnach, gazed at the printouts in front of him on the desk. He had spent the better part of his second day in America going through his choices for his housekeeper and personal assistant.
He picked up the glossy photo of Lorraine Foley. Foley had been his first choice for the housekeeping position for several reasons. He smiled reminiscently while he thought of the first reason and his cock hardened as he brought up the video once more of her sadomasochistic encounter at a private sex club.
Nolen unzipped his pants, plucked his fine linen handkerchief from his breast pocket and spread it on his lap, anticipating the video’s sought after effect.
He fisted his penis as he viewed the woman being fucked, whipped and beaten all with her full consent. His hand moved in rhythm with her partner’s cock sliding in and out of her ass first, and then her mouth until she had her fill and climaxed. The female nipped the man’s cock as the limp piece of flesh slipped from her lips.
And calmly, swiftly and smoothly she castrated him, sliced his body and bathed in his blood.
As the latest victim’s blood washed over her, Nolen’s sperm gushed over his hands and onto the handkerchief. He gathered up the corners and tossed the soiled material into the trash receptacle by his desk. Taking a foil-wrapped moistened paper towel from the center drawer, he ripped the package open, wiped off his hands, gently cleansed his cock and straightened his clothing.
Tomorrow Ms. Foley would be driven up to his estate under the pretext of an interview for the position as food critic for a new magazine. Instead he would make her an offer that, in the words of one of his favorite movies, she couldn’t refuse.
He set her folder aside and gazed at an email memo from the snitch he had in his Canadian venture. He reread its contents, admiring the man’s ingenuity. To be accurate, he couldn’t call James Macalister a “snitch”--perhaps an enterprising young man would be more accurate. When Nolen’s former manager had been killed during an attempted rape of his maid, Macalister had acted swiftly to take care of things. He’d taken advantage of the situation to bring himself to Nolen’s attention. He had covered up the crime scene, kept tabs on the murderer and taken over his boss’s vacant position with flair.
Regrettably, young James had a few secrets of his own.
The vibrant picture he held in his hand was a copy of one taken for a Canadian business magazine’s issue of Canada’s most eligible bachelors. Along with the photo was a brief bio.
Twenty-nine years old, single, no family, Macalister had worked his way through McGill University to get his MBA. Hobbies were skiing, jazz--he played piano--and tennis. He was a Gemini. And a closet homosexual.
He had no idea why Macalister had decided to keep his sexual orientation hidden. Not that that mattered to Nolen. His lovers over the course of centuries had been both male and female, although he knew that acceptance was as yet not given in all quarters. Still, Toronto was one of the most liberal cities in Canada. Nolen shrugged. Macalister’s decision had made him vulnerable and that was all that mattered to him.
He took a closer look at Macalister’s picture. A soft, mobile mouth and firm chin, curly dark brown hair and dark eyes. A strong nose and haughty air, he looked more Italian than Scots, but who knew his origins?
What Nolen did know was enough dirt to send him to prison for life.
James also had blood on his hands.
Not everyone at the import/export business that was a cover for Nolen’s money laundering was pleased with James’ new position. One of those skipped over had discovered James prowling at Toronto’s gay bars and had taken photos of him picking up and then having sex with a man barely eighteen years old in a back alley behind the club. Nolen fanned his copies of the original pictures on the desk’s polished wood surface, admiring James’ technique. Each shot showed him taking more and more of his pick-up’s cock into his mouth. The ecstasy on their faces was almost enough to send Nolen reaching for his penis again.
James’ reaction was quite different when presented with the photographs. At a meeting late at night in the company’s multi-story car park, James and his blackmailer had fought over them. An accidental stumble had sent the other man over the side as James watched in horror. Still, he managed to gather both his wits and the damaging pictures scattered on the oil-stained garage floor and cover his tracks.
Too bad he couldn’t cover the artfully concealed security video cameras that routed directly to a man paid an exorbitant amount of money to do nothing but observe the tapes and alert Nolen should anything interesting appear.
When Nolen viewed James’ tape he knew he had hit the jackpot. Soon, all things being equal, he’d collect his winnings.
* * * *