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Once Upon a Castle

Nora Roberts


  And she was there, just there, conjured up out of storm-whipped air. Her hair was a firefall over a dove-gray cloak, alabaster skin with the faint bloom of rose, a generous mouth just curved in knowledge…

  His heart leaped, and his blood churned with love, lust, longing.

  She came to him, wading through the knee-high mists, her beauty staggering. With his eyes on hers, he swung off his horse, eager for the woman who was witch, and lover.

  —from “Spellbound” by Nora Roberts,

  New York Times Bestselling Author of River’s End,

  Jewels of the Sun, and Tears of the Moon

  Titles by LaVyrle Spencer
























  Nora Roberts, Jill Gregory, Ruth Ryan Langan and Marianne Willman

  A Jove Book

  This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places, and incidents are either the product of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously, and any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, business establishments, events, or locales is entirely coincidental.


  A Jove Book / published by arrangement with the authors

  All rights reserved.

  Collection copyright 1998 by Penguin Putnam Inc.

  “Spellbound” copyright 1998 by Nora Roberts.

  “Castle Doom” copyright 1998 by Jill Gregory.

  “Falcon’s Lair” copyright 1998 by Ruth Ryan Langan.

  “Dragonspell” copyright 1998 by Marianne Willman.

  This book, or parts thereof, may not be reproduced in any form without permission.

  For information address:

  The Berkley Publishing Group, a division of Penguin Putnam Inc.,

  375 Hudson Street, New York, New York 10014.

  The Penguin Putnam Inc. World Wide Web site address is

  ISBN: 1-101-14694-X


  Jove Books are published by

  The Berkley Publishing Group, a division of Penguin Putnam Inc.,

  375 Hudson Street, New York, New York 10014.

  JOVE and the “J” design are trademarks belonging to Penguin Putnam Inc.



  Nora Roberts

  Castle Doom

  Jill Gregory

  Falcon’s Lair

  Ruth Ryan Langan


  Marianne Willman


  Nora Roberts

  To all my wonderful friends in this life and all the others


  Love. My love.

  Let me into your dreams. Open your heart again and hear me. Calin, I need you so. Don’t turn from me now, or all is lost. I am lost. Love. My love.

  Calin shifted restlessly in sleep, turned his face into the pillow. Felt her there, somehow. Skin, soft and dewy. Hands, gentle and soothing. Then drifted into dreams of cool and quiet mists, hills of deep, damp green that rolled to forever. And the witchy scent of woman.

  The castle rose atop a cliff, silver stone spearing into stormy skies, its base buried in filmy layers of fog that ran like a river. The sound of his mount’s bridle jingled battle-bright on the air as he rode, leaving the green hills behind and climbing high on rock. Thunder sounded in the west, over the sea. And echoed in his warrior’s heart.

  Had she waited for him?

  His eyes, gray as the stone of the castle, shifted, scanned, searching rock and mist for any hole where a foe could hide. Even as he urged his mount up the rugged path cleaved into the cliff he knew he carried the stench of war and death, that it had seeped into his pores just as the memories of it had seeped into his brain.

  Neither body nor mind would ever be fully clean of it.

  His sword hand lay light and ready on the hilt of his weapon. In such places a man did not lower his guard. Here magic stung the air and could embrace or threaten. Here faeries plotted or danced, and witches cast their spells for good or ill.

  Atop the lonely cliff, towering above the raging sea, the castle stood, holding its secrets. And no man rode this path without hearing the whispers of old ghosts and new spirits.

  Had she waited for him?

  The horse’s hooves rang musically over the rock until at last they traveled to level ground. He dismounted at the foot of the keep just as lightning cracked the black sky with a blaze of blinding white light.

  And she was there, just there, conjured up out of storm-whipped air. Her hair was a firefall over a dove-gray cloak, alabaster skin with the faint bloom of rose, a generous mouth just curved in knowledge. And eyes as blue as a living star and just as filled with power.

  His heart leaped, and his blood churned with love, lust, longing.

  She came to him, wading through the knee-high mists, her beauty staggering. With his eyes on hers, he swung off his horse, eager for the woman who was witch, and lover.

  “Caelan of Farrell, ‘tis far you’ve traveled in the dark of the night. What do you wish of me?”

  “Bryna the Wise.” His hard, ridged lips bowed in a smile that answered hers. “I wish for everything.”

  “Only everything?” Her laugh was low and intimate. “Well, that’s enough, then. I waited for you.”

  Then her arms were around him, her mouth lifting to his. He pulled her closer, desperate for the shape of her, wild to have whatever she would offer him, and more.

  “I waited for you,” she repeated with a catch in her voice as she pressed her face to his shoulder. “‘Twas almost too long this time. His power grows while mine weakens. I can’t fight him alone. Alasdair is too strong, his dark forces too greedy. Oh, love. My love, why did you shut me out of your mind, out of your heart?”

  He drew her away. The castle was gone—only ruins remained, empty, battle-scarred. They stood in the shadow of what had been, before a small house alive with flowers. The scent of them was everywhere, heady, intoxicating. The woman was still in his arms. And the storm waited to explode.

  “The time is short now,” she told him. “You must come. Calin, you must come to me. Destiny can’t be denied, a spell won’t be broken. Without you with me, he’ll win.”

  He shook his head, started to speak, but she lifted a hand to his face. It passed through him as if he were a ghost. Or she was. “I have loved you throughout time.” As she spoke, she moved back, the mists flowing around her legs. “I am bound to you, throughout time.”

  Then lifting her arms, raising palms to the heavens, she closed her eyes. The wind roared in like a lion loosed from a cage, lifted her flaming hair, whipped the cloak around her.

  “I have little left,” she called over the violence of the storm. “But I can still call up the wind. I can still call to your heart. Don’t keep it from me, Calin. Come to me soon. Find me. Or I’m lost.”

  Then she was gone. Vanished. The earth trembled beneath his feet, the sky howled. And all went silent and still.

  He awoke gasping for breath. And reaching out.


  “Calin Farrell, you need a vacation.”

  Cal lifted a shoulder, sipped his coffee, and continued to brood while staring out the kitchen window. He wasn’t sure why he’d come here to listen to his mother nag and worry about him, to hear his father whistle as he meticulously tied his fishing flies at the table. But he’d had a deep, driving urge to be in the home of his childhood, to grab an hour or two in the tidy house in Brooklyn Heights. To see his parents.

  “Maybe. I’m thinking about it.”

  “Work too hard,” his father said, eyeing his own work critically. “Could come to Montana for a couple of weeks with us. Best fly-fishing in the world. Bring your camera.” John Farrell glanced up and smiled. “Call it a sabbatical.”

  It was tempting. He’d never been the fishing enthusiast his father was, but Montana was beautiful. And big. Cal thought he could lose himself there. And shake off the restlessness. The dreams.

  “A couple of weeks in the clean air will do you good.” Sylvia Farrell narrowed her eyes as she turned to her son. “You’re looking pale and tired, Calin. You need to get out of that city for a while.”

  Though she’d lived in Brooklyn all of her life, Sylvia still referred to Manhattan as “that city” with light disdain and annoyance.

  “I’ve been thinking about a trip.”

  “Good.” His mother scrubbed at her countertop. They were leaving the next morning, and Sylvia Farrell wouldn’t leave a crumb or a mote of dust behind. “You’ve been working too hard, Calin. Not that we aren’t proud of you. After your exhibit last month your father bragged so much that the neighbors started to hide when they saw him coming.”

  “Not every day a man gets to see his son’s photographs in the museum. I liked the nudes especially,” he added with a wink.

  “You old fool,” Sylvia muttered, but her lips twitched. “Well, who’d have thought when we bought you that little camera for Christmas when you were eight that twenty-two years later you’d be rich and famous? But wealth and fame carry a price.”

  She took her son’s face in her hands and studied it with a mother’s keen eye. His eyes were shadowed, she noted, his face too thin. She worried for the man she’d raised, and the boy he had been who had always seemed to have…something more than the ordinary.

  “You’re paying it.”

  “I’m fine.” Reading the worry in her eyes, recognizing it, he smiled. “Just not sleeping very well.”

  There had been other times, Sylvia remembered, that her son had grown pale and hollow-eyed from lack of sleep. She exchanged a quick glance with her husband over Cal’s shoulder.

  “Have you, ah, seen the doctor?”

  “Mom, I’m fine.” He knew his voice was too sharp, too defensive. Struggled to lighten it. “I’m perfectly fine.”

  “Don’t nag the boy, Syl.” But John studied his son closely also, remembering, as his wife did, the young boy who had talked to shadows, had walked in his sleep, and had dreamed of witches and blood and battle.

  “I’m not nagging. I’m mothering.” She made herself smile.

  “I don’t want you to worry. I’m a little stressed-out, that’s all.” That was all, he thought, determined to make it so. He wasn’t different, he wasn’t odd. Hadn’t the battalion of doctors his parents had taken him to throughout his childhood diagnosed an overdeveloped imagination? And hadn’t he finally channeled that into his photography?

  He didn’t see things that weren’t there anymore.

  Sylvia nodded, told herself to accept that. “Small wonder. You’ve been working yourself day and night for the last five years. You need some rest, you need some quiet. And some pampering.”

  “Montana,” John said again. “Couple of weeks of fishing, clean air, and no worries.”

  “I’m going to Ireland.” It came out of Cal’s mouth before he’d realized the idea was in his head.

  “Ireland?” Sylvia pursed her lips. “Not to work, Calin.”

  “No, to…to see,” he said at length. “Just to see.”

  She nodded, satisfied. A vacation, after all, was a vacation. “That’ll be nice. It’s supposed to be a restful country. We always meant to go, didn’t we, John?”

  Her husband grunted his assent. “Going to look up your ancestors, Cal?”

  “I might.” Since the decision seemed to be made, Cal sipped his coffee again. He was going to look up something, he realized. Or someone.

  It was raining when he landed at Shannon Airport. The chilly late-spring rain seemed to suit his mood. He’d slept nearly all the way across the Atlantic. And the dreams had chased him. He went through customs, arranged to rent a car, changed money. All of this was done with the mechanical efficiency of the seasoned traveler. And as he completed the tasks, he tried not to worry, tried not to dwell on the idea that he was having a breakdown of some kind.

  He climbed into the rented car, then simply sat in the murky light wondering what to do, where to go. He was thirty, a successful photographer who could name his own price, call his own shots. He still considered it a wild twist of fate that he’d been able to make a living doing something he loved. Using what he saw in a landscape, in a face, in light and shadow and texture, and translating that into a photograph.

  It was true that the last few years had been hectic and he’d worked almost nonstop. Even now the trunk of the Volvo he’d rented was loaded with equipment, and his favored Nikon rested in its case on the seat beside him. He couldn’t get away from it—didn’t want to run away from what he loved.

  Suddenly an odd chill raced through him, and he thought, for just a moment, that he heard a woman weeping.

  Just the rain, he told himself and scrubbed his hands over his handsome face. It was long, narrow, with the high, strong cheekbones of his Celtic forefathers. His nose was straight, his mouth firm and well formed. It smiled often—or it had until recently.

  His eyes were gray—a deep, pure gray without a hint of green or blue. The brows over them were strongly arched and tended to draw together in concentration. His hair was black and thick and flowed over his collar. An artistic touch that a number of women had enjoyed.

  Again, until recently.

  He brooded over the fact that it had been months since he’d been with a woman—since he’d wanted to. Overwork again? he wondered. A byproduct of stress? Why would he be stressed when his career was advancing by leaps and bounds? He was healthy. He’d had a complete physical only weeks before.

  But you didn’t tell the doctor about the dreams, did you? he reminded himself. The dreams you can’t quite remember when you wake up. The dreams, he admitted, that had pulled him three thousand miles over the ocean.

  No, damn it, he hadn’t told the doctor. He wasn’t going that route again. There had been enough psychiatrists in his youth, poking and prodding into his mind, making him feel foolish, exposed, helpless. He was a grown man now and could handle his own dreams.

  If he was having a breakdown, it was a perfectly normal one and could be cured by rest, relaxation, and a change of scene.

  That’s what he’d come to Ireland for. Only that.

  He started the car and began to drive aimlessly.

  He’d had dreams before, when he was a boy. Very clear, too realistic dreams. Castles and witches and a woman with tumbling red hair. She’d spoken to him with that lilt of Ireland in her voice. And sometimes she’d spoken in a language he didn’t know—but had understood nonetheless.

  There’d been a young girl—that same waterfall of hair, the same blue eyes. They’d laughed together in his dreams. Played together—innocent childhood games. He remembered that his parents had been amused when he’d spoken of his friend. They had passed it off, he thought, as the natural imagination of a sociable only child.

  But they’d been concerned when he seemed to know things, to see things, to speak of places and people he couldn’t have had knowledge of. They’d worried over him when his sleep was disturbed night after night—when he began to walk and talk while glazed in dreams.

  So, after the doctor
s, the therapists, the endless sessions, and those quick, searching looks that adults thought children couldn’t interpret, he’d stopped speaking of them.

  And as he’d grown older, the young girl had grown as well. Tall and slim and lovely—young breasts, narrow waist, long legs. Feelings and needs for her that weren’t so innocent had begun to stir.

  It had frightened him, and it had angered him. Until he’d blocked out that soft voice that came in the night. Until he’d turned away from the image that haunted his dreams. Finally, it had stopped. The dreams stopped. The little flickers in his mind that told him where to find lost keys or had him reaching for the phone an instant before it rang ceased.

  He was comfortable with reality, Cal told himself. Had chosen it. And would choose it again. He was here only to prove to himself that he was an ordinary man suffering from overwork. He would soak up the atmosphere of Ireland, take the pictures that pleased him. And, if necessary, take the pills his doctor had prescribed to help him sleep undisturbed.

  He drove along the storm-battered coast, where wind roared in over the sea and held encroaching summer at bay with chilly breath.

  Rain pattered the windshield, and fog slithered over the ground. It was hardly a warm welcome, yet he felt at home. As if something, or someone, was waiting to take him in from the storm. He made himself laugh at that. It was just the pleasure of being in a new place, he decided. It was the anticipation of finding new images to capture on film.

  He felt a low-grade urge for coffee, for food, but easily blocked it as he absorbed the scenery. Later, he told himself. He would stop later at some pub or inn, but just now he had to see more of this haunting landscape. So savagely beautiful, so timeless.

  And if it was somehow familiar, he could put that down to place memory. After all, his ancestors had roamed these spearing cliffs, these rolling green hills. They had been warriors, he thought. Had once painted themselves blue and screamed out of the forests to terrorize the enemy. Had strapped on armor and hefted sword and pike to defend their land and protect their freedom.