Lord of Shadows (Heirs of Kilronan)

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9781439170373: Lord of Shadows (Heirs of Kilronan)
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Who is working the demon arts . . .

Was it her murdered father? Her fugitive brother? It has been seven years since Lady Sabrina Douglas cloistered herself with the Sisters of High Danu, but the questions remain. She is Other—a mixture of Fey and mortal—quietly using her powers to heal. That is, until she saves a half-drowned man, his soldier’s body a roadmap of scars, his fathomless eyes filled with heartbreaking loneliness. The inexplicable connection overwhelms her defenses, touching her heart, mind . . . and body.

. . . and to what end?

A man with no memory, Daigh MacLir seeks his past even as unknown threats fill him with monstrous rage and inhuman abilities. But as a desperate game of hunter and hunted is played out from ballrooms to bedrooms, what Daigh discovers is more chilling than anyone could possibly imagine. Defying death was only the first step in the task he has been given, and Sabrina is his last hope. But dare he risk involving her? Daigh has been summoned to find an ancient king, and even the powers of love may not be enough to win the battle against the powers of darkness.

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About the Author:

ALIX RICKLOFF  has never been able to decide who she enjoys reading more; Austen or Tolkien. That lifelong indecision drove her to create stories of her own, combining those distinct loves. Her writing awards include a final in the Golden Heart, while Romantic Times Magazine calls her work both compelling and original.

To learn more you can visit her on the web at www.AlixRickloff.com. 

Excerpt. Reprinted by permission. All rights reserved.:


Off the southwest coast of Ireland
November 1815


He’d prayed the storm would kill him. One solid lightning strike to splinter his body into so many pieces no amount of mage energy could fit him back together.

A vain prayer. He’d moved far beyond the reach of any god’s aid.

The ocean had calmed from the froth of hurricane swells to a slick of black, rolling water. Good for inducing nausea, but not death. Clouds passed eastward, taking their lightning with them, leaving a sky shimmering with frozen stars, full moon hanging low on the horizon. Picturesque, yet his mood longed for a cyclone’s destruction to match the chaotic madness infecting his mind.

The storm had pushed them off course. He’d heard the sailors mutter and witnessed the captain’s frown as he prowled the quarterdeck. Behind schedule. Battered and in need of repairs. And Cobh harbor another day and a half away if the winds held.

So if the gods had deserted him, it fell to his own devices to find oblivion.

He’d been denied a split second’s painless annihilation. But there were other paths to Annwn. Trackless dark ways that led just as surely to the land of the dead.

He only needed to discover them.

Leaning against the rail, he scanned the sea, his answer written upon every wave. But could he go through with it? Would the wards that kept him alive and untouchable unravel within the sea god Lir’s cold fathoms, bringing the solace he craved? Or would the attempt result in endless suffering of a different kind within the clawing pull of the ocean tides?

The stars above rippled gold and silver upon the surface of the sea. Curled and eddied as if a hand drew shapes with light and water. Turned moonlight to a woman’s pale face. The ocean’s foam drifting across her features like a spill of dark hair, she breathed her love across the separating veil. Shone luminous in a world blanketed by shadows.

Had she been conjured from his tattered memories or was she mere dream? Impossible to distinguish. Names and faces drifted through his consciousness like ghosts. Sometimes as vivid as the existence he found himself trapped within. At other times, only emptiness met his probing efforts to remember. And he was left alone to fight the demonic rage that burned through him like acid. The fury of the damned.

He expected her to dissolve back into the waves any second, but she remained. Her eyes gleamed blue as corn-flowers. Her smile brightening for a moment the hopelessness pressing against his heart, and he knew he must take the course offered. Now. Here. Before she vanished. Before she was beaten back by the howling viciousness, and he was once again left bereft of memories or even the comfort of memories. At least this way he wouldn’t face the uncertainty of death alone.

Slinging a leg over the gunwale, he glanced to be sure none watched. But no, the deck remained quiet. He’d not get a better chance.

With a hard shove to propel him out of the ship’s shadow, he plunged into the water. Arrowed far down below the waves.

The water jolted him alert. A stomach-punch of icy pain, stabbing needles of agony through every nerve. Releasing his breath on a cloud of bubbles, he dropped deeper. Lungs burning and muscles cramping as he fought the instinctual need to breathe. To live.

He struggled against the claustrophobic crush of water, but the seeping drugged cold of the sea made every movement excruciating. And then impossible.

The woman’s smile urged him deeper.

Water filled his lungs. His body surrendered. Death came like a lover.

He answered her smile. And stepping through the curtain between them, embraced her at last.

“Sabrina! Where have you gotten yourself? Answer, or so help me . . .”

Normally such a threat would have shot Lady Sabrina Douglas from her hiding place like a bullet from a gun. Not so today. Today was different. It was the sixteenth of the month. Seven years ago on this date, her world had been turned upside down, and nothing had ever been quite the same since.

It wasn’t like her to spend time reminiscing on the past. The head of the Sisters of High Danu said it was useless spinning what-ifs in your head. One could lose oneself in the infinite possibilities of action and consequence until reality grew dangerously frayed. Madness lay in second-guessing.

But today, Sabrina courted madness. She’d forced herself to remember all that had occurred that long-ago November day from beginning to end. Let it flow from her brain to her journal in a mad scrawl. And at Sister Brigh’s first shout was only as far along as noontime.

“You ungrateful, undisciplined hoyden, come out this moment.”

When Sister Brigh scolded, Sabrina felt more like a disobedient ten-year-old than the woman of twenty-two she was. But then, Sister Brigh considered anyone younger than herself a recalcitrant child, which included almost the entire bandraoi community. The woman was a hundred if she was a day. Only Sister Ainnir rivaled her in age. The two like mossy twin holdovers from centuries past.

“Sabrina Douglas! I know you can hear me!”

Sister Brigh by far the mossier. And the louder.

Sabrina sighed, closing her journal on the pen marking her place.

November 16, 1808, would have to wait.

November 16, 1815, was calling.

The priestess’s clamoring faded as she left the barn. Turned her search to the nearby outbuildings—creamery, laundry, gardener’s sheds. The convent was large. It would take the head of novices ages to check everywhere.

Rising from her hiding place behind the stacked straw bales and grain bins, Sabrina dusted the grime from her skirts. Straightened her apron and the kerchief covering her hair before slipping back into the bustle of the order’s life. And right into Sister Brigh’s ambush.

“Gotcha!” Her talons sank through the heavy wool of Sabrina’s sleeve. Squeezed with enough force to bring hot tears to her eyes. “Ard-siúr’s had me searching for you this hour and more. And here you are, hiding as if there wasn’t honest work to be done.” She snatched the journal away. “Are you scribbling in that silly book again? You’ve been warned more than once about frittering away your time unwisely.”

Sabrina stiffened, giving Sister Brigh her best quelling look. “I wasn’t frittering. And I wasn’t hiding.”

It passed unnoticed. “Hmph. Come along. You’ve kept Ard-siúr waiting long enough.”

As they passed through the sheltered cloister, a group gathered at the front gates. Voices raised in surprise and confusion, drawing even the determined Sister Brigh’s eye from her purpose.

Sabrina craned her neck to peer over the crowd. “What’s happening?”

Sister Brigh responded with a scornful huff. “No doubt a lot of stuff and nonsense. Wouldn’t have happened in my day, you can be sure of that.”

Her day being sometime during the last ice age. Sister Brigh dressed in furs and sporting a club, no doubt.

She tightened her hold on Sabrina. Doubled her pace. Up the steps. Throwing the door wide with barely a word. Slamming it closed with a whisper equally as effective.

The old priestess’s sanity might be in doubt, but her magic was irrefutable.

The temperature plummeted once inside and out of the bleak afternoon sun. Frost hung in the passage leading to Ard-siúr’s office, causing Sabrina’s nervous breath to cloud the chilly air. The cold seeped through her heavy stockings and the double layer of petticoats she’d donned beneath her gown.

It wasn’t even winter yet and already she longed for spring. Spring and a release from scratchy underclothes and chilblains and runny noses and afternoon dusk and drafty passages. At this moment, she’d sell her soul for warmth and light and, well . . . something different.

So little varied within the order that any change, even the gradual shifting of seasons, seemed an adventure. But perhaps that was only because the genuine change she longed for still eluded her and would continue to do so if Sister Brigh had her grumpy way.

As they were shown through the antechamber to Ard-siúr’s office, Sister Anne waved a cheery hello. Received a bulldog scowl from Sister Brigh. A wan smile from Sabrina.

Compared to the chilly atmosphere of the outside corridor, Ard-siúr’s office seemed an absolute tropical paradise. A small stove put out heat enough to keep the tiny room comfortably cozy, and the thick rugs on the floor and bright wall hangings cheered the stark, color-draining stone. Add to that Ard-siúr’s cluttered desk complete with purring cat and the slow tick of a tall case clock in a far corner and Sabrina’s taut nerves began to relax.

The atmosphere seemed to have the opposite reaction for Sister Brigh. Her eyes darted around the room with fuming disapproval as she drew up in a quivering pose of long sufferance, only now releasing her death grip on Sabrina’s arm.

Ard-siúr put up a restraining hand while she finished her thought, her pen scribbling across the page, her lip caught girlishly between her teeth as she worked.

The head of the Sisters of High Danu seemed as eternal as the ancient standing stones guarding a nearby cliff-top meadow. Tall. Broad. A face weathered by years, yet eyes that remained clear and bright and full of humor. Her powers as a bandraoi and sorceress seemed to rival those of the Fey, as did her air of regal self-containment. But Sabrina knew it took every ounce of her gifts both innate and learned to preside over an order of Other while concealing their true nature from a distrustful Duinedon world.

To all beyond the walls of the order’s demesne, they were merely a reclusive house of contemplative religious women. It fell to Ard-siúr to see that it remained that way. An unenviable task. Though, come to think on it, there was one who envied it very much.

Sister Brigh breathed heavily though her nose like a kettle letting off steam.

Finally, Ard-siúr placed her pen in its tray. Scattered sand across the page. Shook it clean. Folded it. And cast her penetrating gaze upon the pair standing silently before her.

“Thank you, Sister Brigh, for locating Sabrina.”

Her acknowledgment clearly meant as a signal for the head of novices to depart.

Instead Sister Brigh barged ahead with a list of grievances. They rolled off her tongue as if she’d prepared them ahead of time. “Three times in three days, Ard-siúr. Three times I’ve caught her with her head in the clouds when she should be working. That or she’s scribbling in that diary of hers. You can’t keep brushing it under the rug. It only encourages her to feel she’s above the rules. The lord’s daughter she once was rather than the aspiring bandraoi priestess she’s supposed to be.”

The sarcastic emphasis Sister Brigh placed on “aspiring” had Sabrina bristling, but one look from Ard-siúr and she subsided without argument.

“Is this true, Sabrina? Do you feel above the rules? That your family’s station in life entitles you to special consideration?”

“No, of course not, but—”

Sister Brigh slammed the journal on Ard-siúr’s desk, sending the cat leaping for cover with a hiss. “Sabrina’s lack of devotion and her failure to abide by our way of living undermine her candidacy. And I, for one, believe she would be better off leaving the order and returning to her family.”

Ard-siúr turned her gaze upon Sabrina at last. “Sister Brigh brings up serious charges. Could it be that you aren’t as committed to a life among us as you think? That you begin to yearn for the future you might have led but for tragic circumstance?”

Sabrina blinked. Had Ard-siúr brought that up on purpose? Did she know what Sabrina had been writing in her diary? Or had the mention been mere coincidence? Always difficult to know with the head of their order. She seemed to have a canny knack for discerning all manner of things. Especially the bits you didn’t want known.

Perhaps forcing her mind back to that long-ago November day hadn’t been such a good idea after all. She’d dredged up memories long buried. Forgotten how much they hurt.

“I’m more than ready to take up my full duties as bandraoi.” She shot an offended glance Sister Brigh’s way. “And I didn’t mean to make you wait, Ard-siúr. I was trying . . . you see, I needed . . . it happened today seven years ago, Ard-siúr. And I felt as if I needed to remember it clearly before it slipped away.”

Ard-siúr gave a slow nod. “Ah yes, your father’s death.”

“His murder,” she clarified.

“It was seven years ago today the Amhas-draoi attacked and killed my father.”

“And for good reason, if half the rumors are true,” Sister Brigh mumbled. “Ard-siúr, even if it’s not enough for you that Sabrina shirks her duties and carries on as if she were queen of the manor, you must see that her presence brings the order unwanted attention. Never in our history was one of our priestesses interrogated by the Amhas-draoi.”

“It wasn’t my fault they wanted to speak with me. I didn’t tell them anything.”

“Keeping secrets from the very brotherhood sworn to protect us? Worse and worse.”

“That’s not what I meant. You’re twisting my words.”

“Enough.” Ard-siúr lifted a hand.

Momentum behind her, Sister Brigh barreled on. “A father working the demon arts. A fugitive brother running from the Amhas-draoi. The family of Douglas is cursed. And the sooner you’re gone from here, the better for the order.”

Sabrina turned a hot gaze on the elderly nun.

“I said enough.” The whip crack of Ard-siúr’s voice finally silenced Sister Brigh, though she remained red-faced and glaring with suppressed fury. “This is neither the time nor place. If you have valid arguments to make, bring them to me at another meeting and we can discuss it further.”

Turning her attention to Sabrina, Ard-siúr smiled. “My dear, I requested your presence merely to deliver a letter that’s come for you by messenger.”

How did one simple sentence drop the bottom out of her stomach and create an immediate need to draw nonexistent covers over her head? In her experience, letters never boded well. Like holding an unexploded bomb in your hand.

The door burst open on the flustered face of Sister Anne. “Ard-siúr, Sabrina’s needed in the infirmary right away. A man’s been brought in. Found half drowned on the beach below the village.”

“May I go?” Sabrina cast beseeching eyes in Ard-siúr’s direction.

Sister Brigh looked as though she chewed nails, but the head of the order dismissed Sabrina with an imperious wave of her hand. “Go. Sister Ainnir needs your skills. The letter will await your return.”

Plucking up her skirts, Sabrina dashed from the room in Sister Anne’s wake. She could kiss the unlucky fisherman who’d rescued her. Saved in the nick of time.

It was only fair to return the favor.

“Guide the mage energy as you would a surgical instrument. Precise. Focused,” Sister Ainnir advised quietly over the still form of the man lying between them.

Sabrina fought to check the magic simmering in her blood, humming along her bones. Less the accuracy of a stiletto than the bluntness of a battle-axe. Release the power now, she’d char the poor unfortunate man to cinders.

“Pay attention, Sabrina. Your mind is not on your work.”

No, it was still seething with resentment at Sister Brigh’s accusations. Lack of dedication. Above the rules. Frittering. If Sabrina wasn’t careful, the head of novices would have her...

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Book Description SIMON & SCHUSTER, United States, 2011. Paperback. Condition: New. Language: English. Brand new Book. After her father's murder, Lady Sabrina Douglas retreated into the sanctuary of the cloister, becoming a Sister of High Danu, women devoted to the contemplative life of the Otherworld. Unfortunately Sabrina's past catches up with her when a man is found half-dead on a beach and brought to the care of the Sisters. Daigh MacLir has no memory of who he is or where he comes from. Only a pressing feeling of an unsolved task he's been given and blinding headaches and hellish nightmares that torment him with images of another existence, one submerged in evil and hate. Taken in by the nuns, Daigh is drawn to Sabrina without knowing exactly why, only a sense that she will be the one to help him remember who he is. It's only when those memories return and he realizes not only who he is-a soldier of Domnu; a mage-born slave spawned from the bones of a dead warrior, but what he's been sent here to do-capture the Rylkoth Tapestry depicting the final resting place of King Arthur-that he realizes Sabrina Douglas will either save him from hell or he will send her there. Seller Inventory # CBL9781439170373

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Book Description SIMON & SCHUSTER, United States, 2011. Paperback. Condition: New. Language: English. Brand new Book. After her father's murder, Lady Sabrina Douglas retreated into the sanctuary of the cloister, becoming a Sister of High Danu, women devoted to the contemplative life of the Otherworld. Unfortunately Sabrina's past catches up with her when a man is found half-dead on a beach and brought to the care of the Sisters. Daigh MacLir has no memory of who he is or where he comes from. Only a pressing feeling of an unsolved task he's been given and blinding headaches and hellish nightmares that torment him with images of another existence, one submerged in evil and hate. Taken in by the nuns, Daigh is drawn to Sabrina without knowing exactly why, only a sense that she will be the one to help him remember who he is. It's only when those memories return and he realizes not only who he is-a soldier of Domnu; a mage-born slave spawned from the bones of a dead warrior, but what he's been sent here to do-capture the Rylkoth Tapestry depicting the final resting place of King Arthur-that he realizes Sabrina Douglas will either save him from hell or he will send her there. Seller Inventory # CBL9781439170373

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