The Cauldron Stirred Guardians of Erin, Book One
by Judith Sterling Genre: YA Fantasy, Paranormal
Ashling Donoghue never dreamed moving to Ireland would rock her perception of reality and plunge her into a mystery that brings legend to life.
At seventeen, she’s never had a boyfriend, but she feels an immediate connection to Aengus Breasal, the son of the wealthy Irishman who’s invited her family to stay at his Killarney estate. For the first time in her life, a guy she likes seems attracted to her.
But Aengus is secretive, with good reason. He and his family are the Tuatha Dé Danann, ageless, mythical guardians adept at shifting between this reality and the magical dimension known as the Otherworld. Evil forces from that world threaten the Breasals, the Donoghues, and all of Ireland. Ashling must open her heart, face her fears, and embrace a destiny greater than she could ever have imagined.
With a sigh, I moved to the nearest window and gazed at the full moon. The glowing orb stared back at me and lit the grounds below in soft, seductive light. Lulled into motion by the changeful breeze, the dark trees of the surrounding forest swayed back and forth. The wind whistled and sighed along the centuries-old window panes and urged a throng of clouds across the midnight sky.
There was movement on the lawn. Aengus stood midway between the fairy mound and the castle. He faced the ruins, but with a sudden jerk of his head, he looked right and watched the forest.
He disappeared. Literally. He vanished into thin air.
I blinked and stared hard at the empty lawn. “That’s it!”
Heedless that I wore only satin pajamas, I shoved my feet into pre-tied tennis shoes and slipped out the door. I tiptoed the length of the hall, then raced down the stairs and out of the house.
The night air was deliciously cool. Moonlight and darkness held equal sway over the backyard thanks to the shifting clouds. I dashed across the lawn and halted in the exact spot where Aengus had stood. Panting, I looked around, willing some kind of clue to materialize.
The ruins in front of me darkened as large, heavy clouds swallowed the moon whole. The wind tugged at my long, loose hair and pajamas. Tiny raindrops spattered on my nose and cheeks. I turned my palms to the sky, and cold rain pelted them.
“Great.” Intending to return to the house, I swiveled around.
I gasped. My right hand flew to my chest. “Aengus?!”
The man himself stood an arm’s length in front of me. “Why are you here?”
“You scared the crap out of me!”
The strident sound came from the ruins. I whirled around and stared at the dark keep.
Aengus grabbed me from behind. He pulled me to him and wrapped his arms around me. I reveled in the feel of his taut body, of his warm flesh against mine.
Suddenly, everything changed. The rain stopped. The wind died. The entire landscape was bathed in the soft hue of twilight. Breasal Castle looked brand spanking new, just as it had during the bizarre dream in which I brought Aengus to the cottage. But this time, I knew I was awake.
Dumbfounded, I gawked at the medieval magnificence before me. I had no idea what had happened and no desire to pull away from his embrace.
His lips brushed my right ear, sending a shiver down my spine. “This way.”
His right arm released me, and his left slid down to my waist. Maintaining body contact the entire time, he steered me toward the stand of oaks on our right.
Once sheltered by the trees, he turned us around so we faced the castle.
“Are we hiding?” I whispered.
“Why? And what just happened?”
“I can’t say.”
“Can’t or won’t?”
Until that moment, I’d forgotten I wore pajamas. Now I was acutely aware of it. Satin was pleasing to the touch, but something told me my attire had nothing to do with his grip on me.
I looked up at him. “Not that I mind, but why are you holding me so close?”
His hand tightened on my waist. “It’s necessary.”
“I don’t suppose you can explain that, either.”
With his gaze locked on the castle, he shook his head. He pressed his right forefinger against his mouth in a silencing gesture. Then he pointed up at the keep.
High on the battlements, the black-haired woman from my dream—and from Branna’s painting—paced back and forth. Her hair whipped about her pale face and slender frame.
She paused beside a gap in the crenelated wall and glared down at the fairy mound. Her colorless lips curled into a sneer. Then her human form morphed into a dark shadow, which fragmented into what seemed a million black particles. They swarmed into the air and shot across the twilit sky, disappearing into the distance.
I took a deep breath. “So she’s real.”
He nodded. “She’s real, to be sure. Come.” With his arm still hooked around me, he led me out of the woods and toward the fairy mound.
The Stone Awakened Guardians of Erin, Book Two
Since moving to Ireland, Ashling Donoghue has tackled one challenge after another. Now the mystery of her parents' disappearance seems unsolvable. Are they dead or only missing? No one—not even the godlike Breasals—has a clue. Hope and fear war inside her, but she's determined to find answers and stay strong for her siblings. Even as she hones newfound powers, her banshee-in-training sister Deirdre needs her support.
Ashling could use a little help herself. She's struggling to navigate her first romance, and while Aengus Breasal stirs her body, mind, and soul, his nemesis Lorcan does too. Both men harbor secrets about her past life as Caer. One has ties to Aoife, the scheming wind demon whose influence is on the rise.
As the Stone of Destiny awakens, so does the conflict within.
That same night, I found myself back inside Muckross Abbey, surrounded by the cloisters’ arches. I stood two feet from the quadrangle’s yew, exactly where I’d been before. I looked down at my pink, satin pajamas and bare feet. Winter’s chill had no hold on me, and all was twilit. Okay, I thought. This is either an astral trip or a dream. But which one?
My gut told me I’d left my sleeping body. How better to discover what Aengus hadn’t wanted me to see in the Otherworld version of the abbey’s graveyard? Then again, I did have vivid dreams.
A sudden gust whistled along the deserted corridor to my right. I turned as a robed figure disappeared up a winding stairwell.
Startled, I whirled back around toward the velvety voice. Lorcan! Clad in black like a character out of a 19th-century romance, he peeked out from behind a stone pillar.
“He’s merely a monk. That is, he was.” His ice blue eyes were intense, even in the soft light.
I swallowed hard. “Why are you here?”
“Why are you?”
“I don’t know.”
“Don’t you?” Leaving the cloister, he sauntered toward me.
My pulse quickened. He was every bit as handsome and alluring as Aengus, and my mutinous body knew it. No. Aengus is the one for me. Only Aengus. I grasped for an explanation, an excuse that would lighten the weight of guilt dragging me down. I’m asleep, and this is all just a dream.
Lorcan stopped an arm’s length away. “You’re here because I was thinking of you. And I’m here because earlier, you stood right in this spot thinking of me.”
I regarded him through narrowed eyes. “You spied on us?”
“Don’t you think I could’ve felt it?”
“That’s not a straight answer. And I don’t know you well enough to guess what you could or couldn’t feel.”
His pupils encroached on the lighter blue. “Your soul knows me.”
Unquestionably. But what history did we share? “I’m not sure I can trust you.”
“I realize that. But you can.”
I cleared my throat. “Well, I think I came back here to see what I didn’t before. The graveyard, as it looks in the Otherworld.”
“A worthy goal. Among the buried are ancient chieftains, including the O’Donoghues, and the last King of Desmond. Aengus stopped you, didn’t he?”
“He said he was protecting me.”
“Ha! From what? The mysteries of the night? Dark and lovely, they are.”
Again, my eyes narrowed. Did he know the paranormal fascinated me? Maybe he’d sensed my excitement over the Wild Hunt on Halloween night. “Mysteries?”
“There are many associated with this place. Have you heard of the Brown Man?”
I frowned. “No.”
“He was a newlywed whose bride found him here, in this very graveyard, feasting on the flesh of a dug-up corpse.”
“Then there’s the religious hermit who lived here all by himself for a decade in the eighteenth century.”
“That doesn’t sound too strange.”
Lorcan arched an eyebrow. “No? Every night, he slept in a coffin.”
He nodded. “Then there was Herbert, a local landlord who ordered his servants to dig up some of the graves, burn the remains, and scatter the ashes in his garden.”
“Okay. Now you’re just making stuff up.”
He gave me a sidewise look. “Am I? Later, a woman in white attacked Herbert, right outside the abbey. Tales like these inspired Bram Stoker when he visited the area.”
“Bram Stoker? The author of Dracula?”
“The very same. He was often seen wandering these ruins at night.”
“After what you’ve told me, I can see why. Some people fear the unknown, but I’ll bet it fascinated him. I mean, you’ve got a ruin like this and a graveyard. When darkness falls, it’s the perfect setting for a gothic story, or the inspiration for one.”
He inched closer. Silky and seductive, his energy reached out to me. I could almost imagine he was touching me. My face. My shoulders and arms. My waist.
“Then you feel it too,” he murmured.
His eyes smoldered. “The lure of the dark.”
The Sword Unsheathed Guardians of Erin, Book Three
Ashling Donoghue is no closer to finding her parents than she was the night they disappeared. But hope returns as her brother Kian channels the Sword of Light, revealing past-life secrets and truths long suppressed.
The more she learns, the greater she fears the darkness that drowns the Netherworld also drives her. Is Aengus her true love, or is it Lorcan? Does her future wait in shadow or the light?
One point is clear: the threads of her past-self are woven inextricably into the tapestry of her soul. An impossible choice looms before her, and all the while, evil is poised to strike.
“Close your eyes, and don’t open them until I tell you.”
Nerves atwitter, I did as Aengus asked. A brief, subtle tingling sensation swept through my body as we slipped into the Otherworld.
A moment later, he released one of my hands but held fast to the other. “All right. You can look now.”
I opened my eyes. We stood before an immense, grass-topped mound surrounded by a multitude of tightly-packed, white stones.
It looked familiar. “Wait a minute. This is a famous prehistoric tomb. What’s it called? Newgrange?”
Aengus nodded. “I call it Sí in Bhrú, and it’s part of Brú na Bóinne, or the ‘Palace of the Boyne’ in County Meath. We’re in the valley of the River Boyne.”
I gave him a sideways glance. “Did you say ‘palace’?”
“In the physical world, this is an ancient temple and passage tomb, more than five thousand years old. Here in the Otherworld…well, it’s best to show you.”
The next instant, we stood inside a grand, circular hall, far larger than the mound we’d viewed outside, with a high, domed ceiling. Tri-spiral designs covered the walls, but the space was empty except for a five-tiered fountain at its center.
My gaze locked onto the trickling, golden liquid. A feeling of déjà vu overwhelmed me, and I shivered. “Is that…mead?”
I turned to him. “Remember what exactly?”
“This fountain flows eternally with mead. My parents gave it to us as a wedding gift.”
“To you and Caer, you mean.”
He squeezed my hand. “Does anything else spark your memory?”
“The spirals seem familiar.”
His blue eyes shone. “They should. We lived here for centuries.”
“Caer lived here, not me.”
“But you were Caer.”
My insecurities ganged up on me and knotted my stomach. Is that the only reason why you want me? Because of who I once was?
Could I ask that out loud? What if he said yes?
Yes or no, I had to know. A lasting relationship required honesty and communication. My parents’ love had taught me that, and I wanted nothing less.
I pulled my hand from his grasp and took a step back. “Maybe you wish I still was Caer.”
His blissful expression devolved into a frown. After a heart-stopping moment, he found his voice. “What?”
“Sometimes I wonder whether you like me or just who I used to be.”
“You can’t fight your soul’s history.”
“Especially when everyone keeps shoving it down my throat.” My gut tightened further.
I huffed. “Kian. Robin. Deirdre. Lorcan. And now—”
“Lorcan?” There was an edge to his voice.
“Yes, Lorcan. I’ve seen him a couple of times, but not because I went looking…” I couldn’t finish that sentence. My soul had obviously sought Lorcan the night I traveled to Dun Aengus.
“Ashling, you know how I feel about him.”
“Yeah, well, you weren’t around to stop me, were you?”
His frown deepened. “What do you mean?”
“It’s hard to have a relationship with someone who’s never around.”
“And Lorcan is around. Is that what you’re saying?”
“He’s always there, waiting in the wings, ready to take your place.”
Aengus slammed a fist into his other hand. “It’s time I showed him—”
“No! It’s time you showed me whether you want me or Caer, because I’ve had it with ghosts from the past messing up my—”
He grasped my arms and pulled me close. His mouth came down on mine in a searing kiss. Releasing my arms, he stole his own around me, and I responded in kind. Bodies and tongues entwined, we rode the wave of the kiss for a blissful moment that seemed as eternal as the bubbling fountain beside us. Nothing else mattered.
When at last he pulled back, he gave me a tender smile. “Does that answer your question?”
“Um…” My head still spun from the kiss.
“I kissed you, not Caer. I brought you here tonight because I wanted to share a piece of myself with you. It’s only natural I wondered if you’d remember it. After all, a part of your soul lived here for ages.”
I scanned the vacant, cavernous space. “If we lived here so long, where’s all the furniture?”
The light in his eyes dimmed. “Once upon a time, this place brimmed with beauty…with rare treasures, music, poetry, and the laughter of friends and courtiers. But when you left…when Caer left…nothing was the same. I couldn’t stay.” He squeezed his eyes shut, as if to block out painful memories.
Thick tentacles of worry and guilt wrapped around my heart as though a legendary kraken sought to drown me in a sea of regret. I placed a hand on Aengus’s cheek. “I’m sorry.”
His eyes opened, and he covered my hand with his. “Don’t be.”
Judith Sterling is an award-winning author whose love of history and passion for the paranormal infuse everything she writes. Whether penning medieval romance (The Novels of Ravenwood) or young adult paranormal fantasy (the Guardians of Erin series), her favorite themes include true love, destiny, time travel, healing, redemption, and finding the hidden magic which exists all around us. She loves to share that magic with readers and whisk them far away from their troubles, particularly to locations in the British Isles. Her nonfiction books, written under Judith Marshall, have been translated into multiple languages. She has an MA in linguistics and a BA in history, with a minor in British Studies. Born in that sauna called Florida, she craved cooler climes, and once the travel bug bit, she lived in England, Scotland, Sweden, Wisconsin, Virginia, and on the island of Nantucket. She currently lives in Salem, Massachusetts with her husband and their identical twin sons.