Jewels of the Sun
“I think William needed a boot in the arse.” Brenna handed the glass back, ducking so the wine that slopped as Jude laughed missed splashing on her hair.
“His students call him Dour Powers. That’s his name, William Powers. Of course, being a modern professional woman, I kept my own name, so I didn’t have all that fuss with the divorce. Anyway . . . what was I saying?”
“How civilized Dour Powers is.”
“Oh, yes. William decided that we’d wait five to seven years. Then, if circumstances were acceptable, we would discuss having a child again. If we decided to go ahead with it, we would research and choose the proper day care, preschool facilities, and once we knew the sex of the child, we’d determine which educational plan to put into action straight up to college.”
“College?” Darcy turned. “Before the baby’s born?”
“William was very forward-thinking.”
“For a man with his head up his bum.”
“He’s probably not as bad as I’m making him out to be.” Jude frowned into her wine. “Probably. He’s much happier with Allyson.” To her shock, tears sprang to her eyes. “He just wasn’t happy married to me.”
“The bastard.” Swamped with sympathy, Darcy abandoned the closet and sat on the bed to wrap an arm around Jude’s shoulders. “He didn’t deserve you.”
“Not for a bloody minute,” Brenna agreed, patting Jude’s knee. “Stuffy, stub-nosed, philandering bastard. You’re a hundred times better than any Allyson.”
“She’s blond,” Jude said with a sniffle. “And has legs up to her ears.”
“Blond from a bottle, I’ll wager,” Darcy said staunchly. “And you have wonderful legs. Gorgeous legs. I can’t keep me eyes off them.”
“Really?” Jude swiped a hand under her nose.
“They’re fabulous.” Brenna gave Jude’s calf a bolstering stroke. “He’s probably going to bed each night steeped in regret for losing you.”
“Oh, hell.” Jude exploded. “He was a boring son of a bitch. Allyson’s welcome to him.”
“He probably can’t even get her off,” said Darcy, and Jude snorted with glee.
“Well, I certainly never heard the angels sing. This is great.” She rubbed the heels of her hands over her face to dry it. “I never had friends to come over and get drunk and toss my clothes around before.”
“You can count on us.” Darcy gave her a hard squeeze.
Sometime during the third bottle of wine, Jude told them about what she’d seen—thought she’d seen—in the old cemetery.
“It comes down through the blood,” Darcy said with a knowing nod. “Old Maude had the sight, and it’s often she talked to the Good People.”
“Oh, come on.”
Darcy only lifted one elegant brow at Jude’s comment. “And this from the woman who’s just described two meetings with a faerie prince.”
“I never said that. I said I met this odd man twice. Or thought I did. I’m afraid I have a brain tumor.”
Brenna grimaced at the very idea. “Nonsense. You’re healthy as a horse.”
“If not that, if there’s no physical cause, then I’m just crazy. I’m a psychologist,” she reminded them. “Well, I was one, a mediocre one, but still, I have enough training to recognize the symptoms of a serious mental disfunc-tion.”
“Why should that be?” Brenna demanded. “As far as I can tell, you’re the most sensible of women. My ma thinks because of that, and your ladylike manner, you’ll be good for me.” Cheerfully, Brenna gave Jude a light punch on the shoulder. “And despite that I like you anyway.”
“You really do, don’t you?”
“Of course I do, and so does Darcy, and not just for your fine clothes.”
“Of course I don’t just like our Jude for her clothes.” Darcy’s tone radiated insult at the very idea. “I like her for her baubles, too.” With that, she collapsed in laughter. “I’m joking. Sure we like you, Jude. You’re fun to be with and a wonderful puzzle to listen to half the time.”
“That’s so nice.” Her eyes welled up again. “It’s so nice to have friends, especially when you’re either dying of brain cancer or acting like a raving lunatic.”
“You’re neither. You saw Carrick of the faeries,” Brenna announced. “Wandering the hills above his raft until Lady Gwen joins him.”
“Do you really believe that?” It seemed possible now, in a way it hadn’t—a way she hadn’t let it—only a few hours before. “Believe in faerie forts and ghosts and spells that last centuries? You’re not just saying that to make me feel better?”
“I’m not, no.” Wrapped in Jude’s thick robe, Brenna dipped into what was left of the chocolate. “I believe in lots of things until it’s proved otherwise. So far as I know, no one’s ever proved there absolutely aren’t faerie forts under the hills hereabouts, and people say there are more often than not.”
“Yes!” Even blurred by wine, Jude’s enthusiasm was ripe as she slapped Brenna on the shoulder. “Exactly my point. Legends are perpetuated, and often take on the sheen of truth by the repetition. Arthur of history becomes Arthur of legend with additions of magic swords and Merlin. Vlad the Destroyer becomes a vampire. The wise women, the healers, of villages become witches, and so on. The human tendency to expound, to extrapolate, to garnish with fantasy to make a tale more entertaining in turn makes the tale a legend that certain groups then take into their culture as fact.”
“Just listen to her. She sure talks fancy and fine.” Darcy, delighted to be wearing one of the cashmere sweaters, pursed her lips in thought. “And I’m sure, Jude darling, there’s something in what you just said that’s profound and miraculous, even for one who claims to have been a mediocre psychologist. But it sounds like bullshit to me at the moment. Did you or did you not see Carrick of the faeries this very day?”
“I saw someone. He didn’t tell me his name.”
“And did this someone vanish into the air before your very eyes?”
Jude scowled. “It seemed he did, but—”
“No, no buts, just the facts. That’s how it’s done, isn’t it, logically speaking? If he talked to you, he wants something from you, as I haven’t heard of him talking to anyone but Old Maude in my lifetime. Have you, Brenna?”
“No, I can’t say as I have. Were you frightened of him, Jude?”
“No, of course not.”
“That’s good, then. I think you’d know if he meant to cause you harm or mischief. I think he’s just lonely and wanting his lady beside him. Three hundred years,” she said longingly. “It’s a kind of comfort to know love can last.”
“You’re such a romantic, Brenna.” Darcy yawned and curled up in a chair. “Love lasts easy as long as there’s yearning. Put the two of them together, and it’s just as like they’d be sniping and snarling at each other in six months’ time.”
“You’ve just never had a man courageous enough to take a good hold of your heart.”
Darcy shrugged and snuggled down. “And I don’t intend to ever give one the chance. Holding theirs keeps you on top of things. Let them get a grip on yours, and you’re sunk.”
“I think I’d like to be in love.” Jude’s eyes drifted shut. “Even if it hurt. You couldn’t feel ordinary if you were in love, could you?”
“No, but you can surely feel stupid,” Brenna muttered, and Jude laughed lightly as she slipped into sleep.
TINY DANCERS WEARING sturdy clogs were doing a brisk step-toe inside Jude’s head when she woke. She could count the beats, each little shuffle-stomp-kick against her temples. It was more baffling than unpleasant, and her eyes twitched as she cautiously opened them.
Hissed at the light, closed, then much more cautiously slitted them open again.
Clothes were everywhere. At first she thought there’d been some sort of violent storm, a kind of Dorothy out of Oz tornado that had swooped in and swirled her things every which way around the room.
nbsp; That would have explained why she was lying crosswise, half naked, and facedown on the bed.
At a soft snuffling sound beneath the bed she caught her breath, then it came fast. She imagined rodents at best; at worst she was sure it was one of those maniacal little dolls that come to life and carry knives and like to slash at people’s hands and feet if they’re unwary enough to let them hang over the bed at night.
She’d had nightmares about those hideous dolls since childhood and never, ever let any part of her hang over the bed. Just in case.
Whatever was down there, she was alone with it and had to defend herself. Fortunately, there happened to be a navy suede pump on her pillow. Without questioning the why of that, Jude gripped the shoe like a weapon and steadied herself
With gritted teeth, she crawled closer to the edge of the bed, peered over, and prepared to do what had to be done.
Brenna was on the floor, wrapped like a mummy in Jude’s thick robe, with her head pillowed on a stack of sweaters and an empty wine bottle at her feet.
Jude stared, squeezed her eyes tightly shut, then popped them open to stare again.
The evidence was there, she thought. It was irrefutable. Wine bottles, glasses, empty bowls, scattered clothes.
She hadn’t been invaded by rodents or evil dolls. She had hosted a drunken party.
The snicker snuck up on her, and she quick had to bury her face in the tangled sheets for fear of waking Brenna up and then having to explain why she was hanging over the bed and laughing like a loon.
Oh, wouldn’t her friends, relations, and associates be shocked if they could see the morning-after here? Holding her aching stomach, she rolled over and stared happily at the ceiling. The entertaining she’d done in Chicago had always involved scrupulously planned dinners or get-togethers, with the background music as carefully selected as the proper wine.
And if anyone had one too many, it was always dealt with discreetly. The hostess never passed out on the bed, no, indeed, but graciously saw each of her guests to the door, then responsibly tidied up the disarray.
She’d never had anyone curl up to sleep on her floor, and she’d never awakened the next morning with what was surely a hangover.
She liked it.
She liked it so much that she wanted to write about it in her journal right away. She climbed out of bed, wincing, then grinning when her head pounded. Her very first hangover. It was marvelous!
She tiptoed out, thrilled at the thought of noting it all down in her journal. Then she’d have a shower, and make coffee. Make a huge breakfast for her guests.
Guests, she remembered abruptly. Where in the world was Darcy?
Jude had her answer the minute she stepped into her little office. The lump under the covers on the little bed was bound to be Darcy, which meant the journal entry would have to wait a bit longer.
No matter, Jude thought, amused and delighted that her new friends had felt at home enough to settle in for the night. Despite her aching head, she all but danced into the shower.
It had been the best night of her life. She didn’t care how pathetic that sounded, she thought as she ducked her head under the hot spray. It had been wonderful—the talk and the laughter, the foolishness. These two interesting women had come to her, enjoyed her, made her feel part of what they had together.
A friendship. Just as easy as that. And none of it had hinged on where she’d gone to school, what she did for a living, where she’d grown up. It was all about who she was, what she had to say, how she felt.
And not a little to do with her wardrobe, she added with a giggle. But her clothes were a reflection of who she was, weren’t they? At least a reflection of how she saw herself. And why shouldn’t she be flattered that a beautiful woman like Darcy Gallagher admired her clothes?
Still smiling, she stepped out to dry off, then took a couple of aspirin out of the medicine cabinet. She wrapped the towel around her, figuring she could find something to wear just by cruising her bedroom floor, then with her hair a dripping mass of curls she stepped out into the hall.
Her first shriek could have cracked glass—it certainly scored her throat and caused her abused head to reel. The second came out more like a yip as she clutched at the towel and gaped at Aidan.
“Sorry to startle you, darling, but I did knock—front and back—before letting myself in.”
“I was—I was in the shower.”
“So I see.” And what a treat for the eyes she was, he decided, with her all pink and damp and her hair dripping in wet ropes about her shoulders. A dense, glossy brown it was against that pink and white skin.
It took all a man’s will not to just step forward and take a bite somewhere.
“You—you can’t just come in.”
“Well, the back door was unlocked, as back doors usually are hereabouts.” He continued to smile, to look directly into her eyes. Though it was tempting—more than tempting—to let his gaze go wandering. “And I saw Brenna’s lorry parked in your street, so I figured she and Darcy were still here. They are still here, aren’t they?”
“I need to fetch Darcy. She has the lunch shift today and she tends to forget such matters.”
“We’re not dressed.”
“I’ve seen that for myself, darling, and I’ve tried not to comment on it overly. But since you mention it, I’d like to say you’re looking lovely this morning. Fresh as a rose and. . .” He stepped a little closer and sniffed at her. “Twice as fragrant.”
“How’s a body to sleep with all that yammering going on!” Jude jolted as Brenna’s voice erupted from the bedroom. “Kiss her, for sweet Christ’s sake, Aidan, and stop talking her ear off.”
“Well, now, I was working my way along to it.”
“No!” The squeal was so foolish, Jude immediately wished to be buried alive. The best she could do was dash to the bedroom and snatch up a sweater. Before she’d pushed her way through the piles for trousers, Aidan had come in behind her.
“Mother of God, what secret female ritual results in this?”
“Jesus, Aidan, put a cork in it, will you? Me head’s falling off me shoulders.”
He crouched down beside the tangle of red hair. “You know wine gives you a bad head, lass, if you overindulge.”
“There wasn’t any beer,” Brenna muttered.
“Then what’s a body to do, after all? I brought along the Gallagher Fix.”
“Did you?” She rolled, turning her white face and bleary eyes up to him and grasping at his hand. “Truly? God bless you, Aidan. The man’s a saint, Jude. A saint, I tell you. There should be a monument to him in the square of Ardmore.”
“When you get yourself on your feet, crawl down to the kitchen. I brought a jug along just in case.” He gave Brenna a light kiss on the forehead. “Now where’s my sister?”
“She’s in my office, the second bedroom,” Jude told him with what she hoped was cool dignity as she clutched the clothes to her breast.
“Is there much breakable in there?”
“I beg your pardon?”
Aidan straightened. “Just pay no mind to the screams and crashes. I’ll do my best to keep the property damage to a minimum.”
“What does he mean by that?” Jude hissed the question at Brenna the moment he was out of the room, even as she rushed to drag on the slacks.
“Oh.” Brenna yawned hugely. “Just that Darcy doesn’t wake cheerful.”
At the first scream, Brenna clutched her head and moaned. Shocked, Jude yanked the sweater over her head and rushed toward the sound of the thumps and curses.
“Get your hands off me, you blackhearted baboon. I’ll kick your ass from here to Tuesday.”
“It’s your ass that’ll be kicked if you don’t get it out of bed and to work, my girl.”
If the words and the vicious tone in which they were delivered had shocked her, it was nothing to the visual impact. Jude burst into the room in time to see Aidan, his face grim and set, d
rag Darcy, dressed in nothing but her bra and panties, from the bed to the floor.
“Why, you brute! Stop that this minute!” Driven to protect her new friend, Jude leaped forward. The order and the movement managed to distract Aidan just long enough for Darcy to ball her fist, bare her teeth, and deliver a short-armed punch straight to his crotch.
Jude wasn’t sure the sound he made was human. Torn between yet another layer of shock and a wave of pure female amusement that she wasn’t the least bit proud of, she watched Aidan crumple to his knees and Darcy fall on him like a she-wolf.
“Ouch. Jesus! Bloody hell!” He did what he could to defend himself as his sister thumped, yanked, and bit exactly as he’d taught her, and still wheezing from that first blow, he finally managed to pin her.
“One of these days, Darcy Alice Mary Gallagher, I’m going to forget you’re a female and plant one on you.”
“Go ahead, you great bully.” She thrust out her chin, blew her hair out of her eyes. “Plant one now.”
“I’d likely break my hand on that face of yours. However pretty it is, it’s stretched over a skull made of rock.”
Then they were grinning at each other, and he was rubbing his hand over her face with what surely was as much affection as exasperation. Jude just kept staring as they got to their feet.
“Put some clothes on, you shameless hussy, and get in to work.”
Darcy pushed at her hair and didn’t seem in the least bothered by the recent tumble. “Jude, can I borrow the blue cashmere jumper?”
“Um, yes, of course.”
“Oh, you’re a sweetheart, you are.” She danced by, giving Jude a peck on the cheek. “Don’t worry, I’ll tidy up what I can before I go.”
“Oh, well, that’s all right. I’ll make coffee.”
“That would be lovely. Tea even better if you have it.”
“Coffee?” Aidan said when Darcy had sauntered out the door. “I think you owe me a cup at least.”
He stepped toward Jude. “That’s the second time you’ve distracted me in battle and caused me to take a blow I’d have dodged otherwise. Oh, and very well you might bite your cheek to hold back the grin, but I see your eyes laughing clear enough.”
“I’m sure you’re mistaken.” Jude looked deliberately aside. “But I’ll make the coffee.”
“And how’s your head faring this morning?” he asked as he followed her out and down the stairs.
He lifted a brow. “No ill effects due to squeezing a bit too much of the grape?”
“Maybe a little headache.” She was too proud of it to be embarrassed. “I took some aspirin.”
“I’ve better than that for you.” He rubbed a hand casually over the back of her neck, miraculously hitting just the spot that made her want to purr, then moved to the counter as they entered the kitchen. The jar he picked up was filled with some dark and dangerous-looking red liquid.
“Gallagher’s Fix. It’ll set you up right and tight.”
“It looks awful.”
“Not a half-bad taste all in all, though some say it needs a bit of acquiring.” He took a glass from the cupboard. “When a man serves drinks for a living, he’s honor-bound to have a cure for the morning after.”
“It’s only a little headache.” She studied the glass he poured dubiously.
“Then drink only a little, and I’ll fix you some breakfast.”
“A bit of this, a bit of that, and a little lie-me-down.” He nudged the glass on her. She was a bit pale and her eyes were shadowed. He wanted to cuddle her until she felt herself again. “You’ll wake up forgetting you had a hedonistic orgy last night.”
“It wasn’t an orgy. There weren’t any men.”
He grinned, fast and bright. “Next time invite me. Here now, sip a little and start the coffee, and some tea as well. I’ll see to the rest.”