Connall danced along the shore, heedless of the chill wind that spoke of a hard winter to come. This morning was special, doubly so. First, it was his birthday. He was eight years old today. For his birthday wish, he’d asked for only one thing—to spend the whole day together, just him and his mum. She’d gone him one better, taken time off from work and brought him here, where she grew up, for a whole weekend. He had his mum all to himself. All day today. All day tomorrow. They’d have a picnic lunch later if the rain held off. And tomorrow, she promised that they would go into the village and buy a proper cake and some candles and his favorite chocolate ice cream.
He tugged at her hand, urging her to join in his game. Dash toward the sea as a wave receded, then run back before an icy bath drenched his sneakers.
Mum shook her head. “Times like this, you remind me so much of your da. He could never sit still. He wouldn’t have just strolled along the shore either. If he were here…” She stopped at that, slipped off her shoes, bent to roll up the cuffs of her jeans. “All right then, my lad. Let’s have a proper romp on the beach.” She smiled down at him, blue eyes twinkling.
He had her eyes. That’s what everyone said when they saw them together. Her deep blue eyes and her dark hair. His fell in unruly waves, whipping across his face with every gust of wind. Mum’s hair was way longer, hanging halfway down her back. Her waves spiraled into long ringlets from the mist off the ocean, surrounding her face like a soft cloak. He thought she was the prettiest mum in the whole world.
Right now, his pretty mum was about to beat him into the sea. Connall let out a roar, yanking off his sneakers. He made a mad dash into the water, splashing them both as he got caught by a rogue wave breaking high on the shore. Mum shrieked.
“Dear heaven, it’s cold! My toes are numb already.” She laughed and ran her fingers through his hair, happier than he’d heard her in a long time.
They had a fine time strolling along. Connall stopped every few feet, filling his pockets with bits of broken shells and damp chunks of driftwood in odd shapes.
“Doesn’t this one look like the baby dragon in your tale about Saint George when he was just a boy, mum?”
“Aye, it does at that.” She took his hand and pulled him higher onto the shore. “I’ve had all I can take of this game, son. I canna’ feel my feet any longer. Let’s get our shoes back on and climb up to the bluff. There’s something there I’d like you to see—and a story to hear along with the seeing.”
He rubbed the damp sand from between his toes as best he could and hurried to pull on his shoes and stockings. He loved her stories. Tales of evil wizards, brave young warriors, saints who wrought miracles—Connall never knew what he’d hear. Skipping ahead, he took the steep bank on all fours, using stubborn bushes that had taken root on the bank to pull himself up.
At the top, he twirled around, taking it all in. He was atop a windswept bluff with the gray-blue sea at its base, stretching to the western horizon. All around him on land lay the heath, a green carpet spreading out to disappear in the mist. In the distance, he spied a handful of huge stones rising up out of the fog. He sprinted ahead to explore this new wonder.
“Mum, it’s just like the pictures you showed me in that book! The place where the Old Ones held their ceremonies to worship the sun.” He shouted to his mother, just now cresting the bluff. “But these stones aren’t nearly as big.”
Balancing on his toes, Connall raised his hands as high as he could reach. The stones formed a ragged double line, some lying half-buried where they had fallen centuries ago. Damp from the mist, they were dotted with patches of lichens and bright green moss that stood out on the weathered gray surfaces. Straining for a handhold, Connall tried to scale one of the slippery stones. He landed in a heap on a clump of grass just as his mum caught up with him.
“Enough of behaving like a wild monkey. Get up off your bum, lad, and sit here with me while I tell you a tale of this place.” She led him to a slab that had fallen on its side. “Remember last night when we drove through Sligo and I pointed out Knockneara Mountain?”
Connall nodded. “You said we’d climb it tomorrow and see Queen Maeve’s tomb on top.”
“It’ll be more of a long walk, really. That’s lucky for us. Neither of us could handle climbing a real mountain,” his mother replied. “There are dozens of myths about the queen and her magic. But when I was but a wee lass, my gram told me a tale about a young maiden seeking her help who ventured here to this sacred spot long ago. I was sitting on this very same stone when I heard it for the first time, just as you will now.”
Connall grinned up at her. The tales she told from her gram were his favorites. But he’d never had one of her stories told to him on the same spot that his mum had heard it.
“Legend has it that there was once a wealthy laird in this realm who pined for a son to carry on his name,” his mother began. “But alas, his beloved wife died giving birth and he had only one child—a daughter, named for the great queen whose tomb we’ll see tomorrow. He raised his Maeve like a boy, taught her to fish and hunt and ride like the wind. But according to law at the time, no matter how skilled she was in manly pursuits, she couldn’t inherit his land or his title.
“When she became of age for a suitor, the laird searched high and wide and found a penniless laird living in Dublin who was willing to take on his last name and marry Maeve in exchange for taking title to his vast holdings. The man was desperate, having squandered his own fortune gambling on cards—which is why you should never gamble, son,” she added.
“Yes, okay, I won’t. Now go on,” Connall blurted, knowing by now that his mum would never finish the story unless he acknowledged her built-in morality tale.
“Well, Maeve was willful and headstrong, having been raised with all the freedom and privilege of a young lad in her day. She took one look at the suitor her da had chosen and threw a fit. Not only was he poor, the laird was practically an old man, short and squat with a fat stomach and a big red nose from too much whiskey.
“‘I’ll never marry him! You can’t make me,’ she shouted. Maeve locked herself in her room and refused to come out, no matter how her da pleaded. He even threatened to break down the door and take a birch rod to her bottom in the morning if she didn’t do as she was told. That’s when Maeve decided to flee. She snuck away out the window in the dead of night and saddled a horse from the stable. Maeve was determined to go to the grave of her namesake and throw herself down on it; calling upon the queen’s fabled magical powers to change her fate.
“Bad weather was brewing over the ocean that night and dense fog covered the land. My gram said that Maeve lost her way. Her horse carried her here, to this place of sacred stones. By the time she arrived, a fierce storm pummeled the land. Cold and exhausted, Maeve huddled on the ground in the driving rain, weeping and pleading her case to the ancient ones here instead. But she didn’t know that these stones are guarded by the spirits of Druid priests, stern men all. They could never allow a young maiden to defy her father’s orders, no matter how unfair they may have seemed.”
Mum fell silent, blinking back tears the same way she did sometimes when she told him stories of his da.
“What happened then?” Connall fidgeted on the hard rock, anxious to hear the end of the tale.
“Ah, that’s when a vicious bolt of lightning struck,” his mum replied. “And when the laird and his men tracked her here the next day, all they found were her clothes, lying in a heap on the grass by the stone cairn right there. The laird searched high and low but his Maeve was gone, vanished without a trace. According to my gram, the Druid priests sent that bolt of lightning to snatch Maeve from this world. They took the defiant girl to dwell with them in the realm of spirits, only to be sent back to this life when there’s a man strong enough to master her walking upon the earth. Then she’ll be returned and given to him to be his wife.”
“And did he come to get her?”
“Ah, no one knows for certain, my love. My gram’s tale ended there, as does mine. ’Tis only a legend, after all. But here,” she pointed to a jagged scar on one of the standing stones, “here is the mark she showed me long ago, where that powerful bolt of lightning sent by the Druids cracked one of the sacred stones that night when it took poor Maeve away. It marks the spot where the man who is powerful enough to be her mate will find her waiting for him one day.”
She shivered in the cave, naked and alone. Cold rain seeped in through the narrow opening, turning the floor to mud. She didn’t know how long she’d been here, only that she was desperately thirsty. Hunger was the furthest thing from her mind—her head ached so badly that she felt sick to her stomach.
She stretched one hand outside the mouth of the cave, cupping it to capture a few drops of water in her palm. It wasn’t much, barely a mouthful, but it was enough for now. Her eyes closed again and she drifted away.
The next time she woke, it was pitch black. She stretched out a hand, feeling damp stones all around her, even over her head. She let out a scream and the sound echoed off the stones. Am I dead? Is this my tomb? She curled into a ball, sobbing.
Faint rays of light came in through the opening of the cave. She looked down at her body, covered with cuts and scratches. One part of her mind wondered what had happened to her, while the other gave thanks that she was still alive. She crawled forward a few feet, toward the light, crying out when her head hit the low roof of the cave. The pain returned, making her feel as if her skull had been rent by a hatchet. Better to sleep…
Quinn didn’t remember it being so damned cold. Even now, with summer barely gone, the night wind off the North Sea was vicious. And the ever-present dampness seeped into his bones, making him ache like an old man. But then, he remembered his mum telling him the coldest temperature ever recorded in Ireland had been at Markree Castle right here in County Sligo.
A full day of tromping around on the heath with his team left him feeling more like seventy-two than forty-two. It was clear those celebrities who claimed that fifty was the new thirty had never been in a helicopter crash. Quinn struggled to walk without a limp as they headed down the town’s main street. He refused to show any weakness in front of his team. He had a good ten years on the oldest of them as it was.
This was his first trip back to the western coast of Ireland since he was a child. The area looked exactly the same, as though time had passed it by. Miles and miles of empty rugged coastline without a fancy seaside resort or a Starbucks anywhere in sight. It was hard to believe that anything in this wilderness could have created an electromagnetic pulse strong enough to crash computer networks from here to London and disrupt communications at military installations throughout Northern Europe.
His team had arrived late last night, straight from the meeting at headquarters in Brussels. In eight years of working with NATO, he’d never seen so many high-ranking members willing to sit down and actually listen to a group of scientists. He was used to hard-core military minds scoffing at scientific techno-babble. As a rule, they were only interested in deploying brute force to solve a problem.
But this time, bullets and brawn weren’t going to fix anything. A powerful electromagnetic anomaly had been detected, originating somewhere in the sparsely populated countryside of western Ireland, of all places. Along with knocking out electrical power to much of the UK for several hours, whatever it was disabled computer systems that controlled both satellite communication and deployment of ICBMs at top-secret military installations throughout Northern Europe as well.
A hastily assembled group representing the top minds of the US, the UK, and half a dozen other NATO allies had been called to Brussels, along with Quinn and three other NATO Special Forces team leaders. The discussion had rapidly escalated into a heated debate. Everything from terrorist activity to alien invasion to the idea of another genius teenage hacker like the infamous Walter O’Brien operating out of some thatched-roof cottage on the heath was tossed in as a possible answer for what had happened.
Publicly, the government was blaming a computer virus, but it was clear that no one inside that room had any real idea what had caused the anomaly. Quinn realized that the very people in charge of keeping the public calm in times of crisis were having a hard time maintaining cool heads themselves on this one.
Finally the decision was made to attack the problem on multiple fronts. One team was sent to Dublin to track down suspected terrorist cells there. Two others were dispatched to top-secret military installations in the UK, to search for shadow footprints hackers may have left in the computer systems. His team was sent to Ground Zero in County Sligo to scour the countryside for any sign of unusual physical phenomena that could have affected high-tech infrastructure hundreds of miles away.
“What’s our plan of attack this evening, commander?” Jackson strolled along beside him, grinning as usual.
Quinn turned and addressed the whole team. “We’re going to split up tonight, hit a few of the local watering holes. Jackson, you take a couple of the men and head to Killarney’s. Will, you get to babysit Remy and Eddie tonight. I’m going alone, to Paddy’s Pub.”
“Babysit! That’s a right nasty thing to say.”
He strode away, leaving Eddie still griping about the insult. When his team hadn’t found anything unusual in their quadrant searches today, he’d decided to go to Plan B, stopping by the local pubs after dark to see what gossip he could pick up. Quinn had volunteered his men for the posting here in western Ireland, since he was the only team leader who’d spent any time in the area. He still had some distant relatives living nearby, cousins of his mum, and he wasn’t above using that connection.
Locals might be willing to tell him things that they might not admit to outsiders. Sightings of odd lights in the sky, or creatures in spacesuits prowling the heath. It was amazing how often these events had rational explanations—common machinery and equipment or hazmat suits worn by terrorists to protect themselves against biological weapons they were busy creating in some out-of-the-way corner of the world
He pulled open the old oak door to Paddy’s and stepped inside, taking in the place with one quick glance. A blazing fire in the hearth lit up the far side of the room, where a dozen or more men of varying ages lifted pints of ale at scarred wooden tables. He heard a cheer over by the dartboard and watched a buxom matron well on the far side of forty hit her third bull’s-eye. She was packed into a tight black skirt paired with a white blouse cut low enough to give more than a hint of her charms. A full head of bottle-red hair flowed halfway down her back.
“Ye’ve just earned yerself a shot of Bushmills, Meara,” declared the bartender. “Come on, lads. Are ye goin’ ta let yerselves be shown up by a darter wearin’ a skirt? We’re not in Scotland, are we?”
Quinn sat down at an empty table and watched as the woman yanked her darts from the board and waved them triumphantly in the air to the sound of catcalls and clapping. Then she swayed through the room, loading empty glasses on a tray. She fended off the attention of one inebriated patron with a grin, a bump from her well-padded hip, and a quick retort that left the others at the table chuckling.
She ran a practiced eye over the room and made a beeline for his table.
“Well now, luv, haven’t seen you in here before.”
Quinn smiled. “I just arrived in town.”
“Welcome to Sligo. You’ll be needin’ a little something to warm your bones on this chilly night. What would ye like?” She tossed her hair back like a saucy lass half her age and gave him the same hungry look he’d gotten from women young and old ever since he was in his twenties. The look that said she’d be happy to give him whatever he asked—and she hoped it wouldn’t be only a drink.
“I’ll have a shot of that Bushmills the bartender promised you—if you’ll join me here at the table to drink it.”
She ran her eyes over his broad shoulders and then slowly up and down his six-foot-one frame. “Well, aren’t you the cheeky one?” she said, giving him a wink. “Ye’ll fit right in with the other lads here. As you can see, I’m a bit busy right now, but if ye’ll be around a few days…” Her voice trailed off suggestively.
“I may be.”
“What brings you ta County Sligo?”
“I spent some time here as a young lad and thought I’d come back to see it as a grown man. My mum was born and raised nearby, as was her mum, Ellen O’Reilley.”
The woman let out a shout that carried across the room. “Seamus! Seamus, come over here. I’ve found you a long-lost cousin, hails from America, I’d wager, based on his accent. Says he’s the grandson of Ellen O’Reilley. His name is…” She stopped and waited for him to fill in the blank.
“Connall. Connall Quinn.”
An old man made his way painfully across the room, clapping his hand on Quinn’s back. “Young Connall. Yer Ellen’s kin all right. I’d have recognized those blue eyes anywhere. Ye won’t recall, but we met once, when you were just a wee lad. Ellen was so proud. She took you all over town, showin’ you off, her grandson come to live here from across the pond. I knew your mum as well.” His voice softened. “A fine lass, taken to be with the angels long before her time. It’s good to have ye back here, my boy, back where you belong.”
He waved a hand. “Meara, bring us a shot. Not that fancy overpriced Bushmills Paddy is always pushing. This lad needs to taste some real Irish whiskey for his homecoming. Make it Connemara Cask.”
He turned back to Quinn. “It’s a local brand, made right here in the west of Ireland. Goes down smooth, it does, but packs a kick.”
By the time Meara returned with their shots, half a dozen other men had pulled up chairs at the table. Seamus introduced two more as distant cousins, then lifted his glass. “To kinfolk. Slainte.”
Seamus reminisced about Quinn’s grandmother, told a few tales of the old days. Quinn drained his glass and insisted on buying the next round for everyone. “Here’s to our wives and girlfriends,” he said, raising his glass in a toast when it arrived. “May they never meet.”
Seamus roared with laughter. “Aye, yer definitely kinfolk!”
By the fourth round, tongues had loosened and Quinn was able to turn the talk to the recent power outage.
“At first, we all thought ’twas from the storm,” Seamus said. “Wicked it was, like a hurricane. Worst I can remember in all my years. We don’t normally get harsh storms here, just the rain that goes on and on, sometimes for weeks without a glimpse of the sun, it seems. The other night, the wind howled like a banshee. Lightning flashed for hours, lit up the sky like fireworks on New Year’s night. But when that one strike hit, it shook the ground for miles around. Strong as an earthquake it was. That’s when the power went out. Everywhere.”
“We didn’t think much of it, figured a local tower had been hit. But then the reports started coming in. Cell phones out all over the UK, computers not working all the way to London. There’s no dearth of naughty faeries around here, creatures who love nothing more than to cause a bit of mischief. The problem soon righted itself, as these things do. But there were plenty of rosaries prayed that night, I’ll wager.”
Quinn managed to hide his surprise at that. He’d forgotten how the locals here spoke of magic and fairies with the same calm acceptance they gave to the equally improbable idea that pictures and voices could fly along on unseen pathways in the air.
“I tromped around some of this area years ago. Was anything damaged near the place where that big strike hit that could have caused the power to go out?”
“Near as anyone could tell, ’twas somewhere near the coast it hit. There’s nothing there for miles, not even a cottage, except what’s left of the stone temple where the Old Ones gathered and a pile of rocks said to be the grave of their pagan high priest.”
Quinn nodded. “I remember that place. My mum took me there once.”
“Nothin’ there to do any harm if ’twere struck. Just a batch of old stones piled up, standin’ alone in the heath.”
Dawn had barely broken when they took to the fields again, this time moving the search further north and west. Rain fell slowly and steadily, dripping down his neck, the kind that promised it would linger for hours. He adjusted the collar of his leather jacket, zipping it up tight. He’d split the team up again, with his squad hugging the edge of the coastline, heading for the pagan stones Seamus had mentioned last night.
Hours passed, although the sky stayed dark and gray. A heavy bank of clouds overhead blended into the gray-blue of the sea on the horizon. He heard a crackle from his belt and grabbed the walkie-talkie clipped there.
“Are you there, commander? Spock here. Come in, Commander Quinn.”
“I’m here, Jackson. Cut the crap.”
“Sorry, commander. I’m not used to this newfangled equipment they’ve got us using. Walkie-talkies? Really? I had one of these when I was about five years old, in the G.I. Joe play set I got for Christmas. Except mine worked better.”
“You know we’re using these in case there’s another outage. For some reason, older technology wasn’t affected by whatever caused the…”
His radio crackled again. “Yeah, the ‘disturbance in the force.’”
He heard guffaws in the background.
“You’re a fucking comedian, Jackson. Did you call me just to audition for stand-up?”
“No, sir. Checking in as ordered. We’ve completed our search of this quadrant. There’s no sign of alien spacecraft wreckage, but we’re leaving a trail of M&M’s leading back to base just in case.” More laughter.
Quinn heard snickering from behind him and he whirled to face Remy and Eddie, from France and England respectively. Both men stared back at him, poker-faced.
“Fine. Take your men to search quadrant four and then report back to me. And Jackson?”
“Lose the attitude. We have a job to do here.”
Privately, Quinn couldn’t blame him. Tromping around startling bunny rabbits in the heath was a far cry from their last assignment in Paris. Men like Jackson thrived on danger and excitement. They were truly alive only when their asses were on the line. He understood. He’d been the same way. But that was before he spent fifteen hours lying pinned in the wreckage of his downed copter in the Afghan desert while his rescuers battled sniper fire to get to him. Then came the four surgeries to repair the damage to his shattered leg, followed by long months learning to walk again. All of it had soured his taste for sticking his butt into life-threatening situations on a daily basis.
He was through commanding a Seal team. His body couldn’t handle the demands. It wouldn’t be fair to men whose lives might depend on his ability to run like hell while firing an AK-47, or hoist a wounded man on his back while under enemy fire and haul him out of danger. But he was still hooked on the adrenaline rush that came from laying it all on the line. That’s why when the admiral suggested he apply for a position running one of NATO’s elite crisis management teams, he’d jumped at the chance to make himself useful again. Now he headed an international group that investigated potential terrorists’ threats to high-tech infrastructures all over Europe and the US. Cyber danger was just as real, the adrenaline rush as fierce at times, but this was a whole lot easier on his battered body.
He’d spent two years back in school first, learning the basics of cyber warfare courtesy of Uncle Sam, while going to rehab nearly every day that first year. Now he seldom needed his cane, resorting to it only when he’d been on his feet for eighteen or twenty hours at a stretch. He’d thrown away the pills too, hating his dependency on them even more than he hated the chronic pain.
Today he’d have sold his soul for a Vicodin—or at least another shot of good old Irish whiskey at the pub back in Sligo. He gritted his teeth and deliberately set a pace that left the two men behind him struggling to keep up. When this mission was over, he promised himself, he’d spend another evening at Paddy’s and knock back more than a few in memory of his mum and his gram, and happier times roaming the countryside here.
Behind him, Remy and Eddie stopped to examine a map. Quinn watched them struggle with it for a few minutes, then sighed and grabbed the map, turning it 180 degrees before handing it back. Without a functioning GPS, these two might wander aimlessly out here for days.
“You know, when I went through Seal training…” he began.
“Wasn’t that back in the last century?” Eddie asked.
Remy started to laugh, then choked it back, turning it into a cough when Quinn’s steely gaze landed on him. Remy DesChamps was a hacker extraordinaire, a self-taught high school dropout from the seedy streets of Marseilles. He’d survived by discovering and then exploiting a series of loopholes in the Internet that allowed him to evade RSA algorithms and perpetrate credit-card fraud on a massive international scale for the French version of the Mafia. When he was finally caught, he was given the choice of going to prison or joining NATO’s new quantum cryptography division.
The other member of his squad, Eddie Wilshire, had led a privileged life in a London flat as the youngest son of some minor lord or viscount, going on to earn simultaneous degrees in physics and quantum mechanics at MIT before he was twenty. His father had pulled a few strings to get him this posting straight out of the university.
These two were geniuses when it came to fighting cyber warfare. But they’d starve to death if they had to survive two weeks in the jungle with only a piece of string and a pocket knife, the way he’d done in one of the many exercises Special Forces took for granted during training. They could track terrorists to the farthest corners of the globe while sitting at a desk, yet here in the wild, they were helpless as babes. If the team found evidence that the problem had been caused by hackers, he’d need their expertise. That’s why he brought them along on this mission. But he didn’t think it was fair to saddle one of his other squads with a couple of cyber sleuths who were out of their element in the great outdoors, so when it came to splitting up his team to search the countryside on foot, he took the two of them.
Jackson, the other American on his team, was a former Ranger. Will Stiles hailed from an elite group of English Special Forces. That’s why Quinn had chosen them to head up the other two squads. He was confident they could handle anything thrown at them. All together he’d had eight men scouring the countryside since yesterday. So far, all they found were illegal snares set by the locals to catch a hare or two.
Jackson and Will hadn’t turned up any new information in their visits to the other pubs. Everyone around here was blaming the so-called ‘storm of the century’ that had hit the other night, right around the time the electromagnetic anomaly had been recorded. Quinn shrugged. Maybe there was nothing to find. Eventually it might be chalked up to something as basic as the convergence of a massive solar storm with one here on the ground, creating a rare new type of disturbance that the two he thought of as his private geek squad would have to find a way to overcome.
He decided to give it another two hours, and then have everyone regroup back at base camp. According to his map, the ancient stone tomb and the row of standing stones leading to it weren’t far away. Though he didn’t expect to discover that a pile of rocks was behind the event that nearly led to mass panic, he’d been trained never to rule out a threat based on assumptions alone. He steeled himself to put up with more whining from Eddie and led them due west of the coast.
The stones appeared suddenly, rising up out of the mist ahead, stark and gray and slightly forbidding in the barren landscape.
“Merde,” Remy muttered. “What the hell is that?”
“It’s a henge, a megalithic structure that predates historical record,” Eddie replied in his usual pedantic style.
“I know what it is,” Remy snapped. “But what is it doing here?”
“Most people are familiar with Stonehenge, the largest and the most well-known of these. But what they don’t know is that the UK has well over a thousand smaller prehistoric stone formations scattered around the countryside—not to mention similar structures found all over the world.”
Even Quinn raised his eyebrows at that.
Eddie shrugged. “I was raised on stories about Stonehenge. My granddad’s family had a summer house near Bath and he used to have Sunday picnics on the stones that had fallen over when he was a boy—before the area was cordoned off like it is now.”
“Oooh, now tell us that tale about your father when he was a lad. The one where he was run off the road by a limo while riding his bike and the Queen Mum herself got out to see if he was all right, then insisted on giving him a lift home. It’s my favorite,” Remy simpered.
Quinn ignored them and headed for the stones. He reached out to run his hand over the craggy surface of the nearest one. Memories came flooding back. How he’d tried to scale one of them and landed on his ass in the weeds, how lovely his mum had looked that day. It was one of the last truly happy childhood memories he had. His mother died not long after, and he’d been sent to America to be raised by the Quinns, his father’s parents. They were a nice, middle-class couple, kind but distant, far too old and set in their ways to be saddled with the care of a rambunctious young boy. As he grew older, he came to realize that his very presence was a constant reminder of their own grief and anger over the senseless loss of their son, his father, in the waning days of the war in Vietnam.
Quinn never met his father, relying only on the stories his mum told of her husband, the handsome and brave G.I. who died before he was born. She’d run off to America and married him after only knowing him for three weeks. Her own father had never forgiven her. He passed away before she came back to Ireland and the fact that he’d died before they could reconcile was one of her biggest regrets.
Quinn took pride in the fact that he was named for his da, after a fashion. Connall was Gaelic for ‘mighty warrior,’ and that’s how mum remembered her husband Robert Quinn. After he died, she’d come back to Ireland to be near her own mum whose health was failing, bringing him along when he was barely two. He’d been raised here as a small child, on the heath, his mother sometimes working two jobs to support all three of them.
He dragged his thoughts back to the present. Eddie had sunk down on a fallen stone, complaining about how cold his feet were. Remy pulled one of his toys out of his backpack and was busy taking readings all around.
“These stones are registering off the charts. There’s definitely been some major electromagnetic activity here. Recently.”
Quinn left him to it and headed along the row of standing stones, toward the structure that legend said was the tomb of a powerful Druid priest, the leader of the ancient tribe that once worshipped here. It was nothing more than a cairn of moss-covered rocks half-buried in the ground. Something had caught his eye—a flash of movement. It looked as though there was an opening at the base of the cairn, possibly leading to a small cave underneath. Back in the US he’d have drawn his weapon, prepared to face down a bear or a pack of wolves. But Ireland had no large mammals, except for wild deer. Gray wolves once roamed the land, but they’d been extinct for centuries. The den probably held nothing more menacing than a red fox and her young.
He reached the pile of rocks. Sure enough, there was an opening into a space under the cairn, larger than it had looked from a distance. He crouched down, peering into the dark mouth of the cave. A pair of green eyes stared back at him, wide with fear. Quinn reached an arm in, and was met with scratches, shrieks, and snarls.
He bit off a curse and hauled out a filthy wet female covered with cuts and scratches, naked as the day she was born. She barely came up to his chin, but she fought him, twisting and writhing in his grip. When she bit down on his hand, nearly drawing blood, he let loose with a string of obscenities.
“Calm down,” he growled, trapping her in his arms. “I’m not going to hurt you. What the hell are you doing out here?”
She stared at him, defiant, but refused to speak.
Quinn tried again. “Look, I’m sorry if I scared you, but you’re safe. I promise I won’t do you any harm.”
She shook her wild mane of tangled red hair from side to side and tried to wriggle away. Quinn spoke softly, patiently, hoping to break through to her. Her body was grimy, smeared with mud from the rain that had seeped in to soak the dirt floor of the cave. She was young, but obviously full grown, judging from the size of her soft breasts and the curve of her hips. Quinn felt his cock stirring, and tried to ignore the fact that his hands were all over a naked woman. Suddenly she dropped her head and sagged in his arms. He reached up to stroke her hair, hoping to soothe her.
The wench slammed a knee at his groin and he pivoted just in time, taking the brunt of the blow on his bad leg. This time he wrestled her to the ground, pinning her arms over her head and straddling her body. She looked up at him through lowered lashes and whispered something. Quinn bent his head to make out the words. That’s when she head-butted him in the nose, hard enough to bring tears to his eyes.
“I wish it had been a den of wolves,” he muttered. “I’d have been better off.”
He grabbed both her wrists in one hand and used the other to unzip his jacket, pulling up a corner of his shirt to staunch the flow of blood from his nose that was dripping onto her body.
He could feel her shivering beneath him. He shrugged off his jacket, brought her hands down, and rolled her into it with both arms held tight in front of her. Fortunately his jacket was long enough to cover her body to mid-thigh, giving his stiff dick a breather. The whole time she kicked wildly at him. Finally, he managed to throw one leg over hers, trapping her beneath him. She lay there, unmoving, like a trussed rabbit. But no rabbit he’d ever seen held such raw hatred in its eyes.
“Well, look what you found.”
Her eyes widened again as she caught sight of Remy, coming up behind them.
“Is this our terrorist suspect?” he asked. He drew nearer. “She’s hurt.”
“No, that’s my blood,” Quinn admitted. “She’s a little spitfire, butted me so hard I’m still wondering if my nose is broken.”
Remy said something under his breath that sounded suspiciously like, “You go, girl.”
“I don’t know what happened to her, but it’s obvious that she’s scared out of her wits,” Quinn went on. “So far she hasn’t said a word. It’s impossible to tell how long she’s been hiding out here. She may have been too close to one of the bolts of lightning that struck here the other night. Or maybe she saw something, witnessed whatever it was that caused the anomaly, and it frightened her. We need to get her back to base. Clean her up so we can question her.”
Quinn dragged her to her feet. She winced and bit off a cry. He looked down at her legs and her bare feet, covered with cuts and scrapes from the briars on the heath. There was no way she could walk all the way back to the old farmhouse they’d rented. Sighing, he bent and tossed her over his shoulder, still wrapped snugly in his jacket. She was heavier than she looked; apparently all muscle behind those luscious curves.
He shifted her body slightly to handle the load, so that her firm, shapely bottom was directly over his shoulder and her head hung down at his back. She grunted, then began howling and kicking her feet into his stomach. Rain pelted him and he turned his face up. At least it would wash off the blood still dripping from his nose.
It was going to be a long, cold hike back to base.