Love Beyond Reach
Book 8 of Morna's Legacy Series
"So...what do ye think?" The question tumbled nervously from my lips. He'd taken his time reading our story. Each passing hour might as well have been a day as slowly as the minutes seemed to pass.
Spells, matchmaking, meddling—these were my talents, not writing—but my need to get our story down into a tangible form was so great that it had nearly driven me mad. My hands ached from the hours, days, and months spent working on my great project. Now that it was in front of my husband being read for the first time, I was sick with nerves.
"Did ye exaggerate for creative purposes?"
I knew without looking at the pages, without asking him, just what details in my story he questioned. I wouldn't lie to him to spare his feelings—not after so many years together. Our secrets were ours to keep but there was no room for lies between us.
"Hmm." He nodded in unison with the small noise. He may have wished for me to say otherwise, but he expected the answer I gave him. "I never knew ye loved him. I thought..."
My husband shook his head as he reached for me. Both our hands were wrinkled and weathered from time, but the feel of his touch still quickened my pulse in a way little else could. Time was powerless in dampening my desire for him.
"I thought ye stayed there to wait for me to return to ye, not because ye were happy at his side. But ye were. No matter how glad ye were to have me back, it broke yer heart to leave him. I dinna see that then. I am sorry for it. I am sorry for anything that has ever caused ye pain, but by God I am glad that ye chose me."
"All hearts must be broken now and then." I smiled and squeezed his hand. "And I was there waiting for ye. 'Tis only that I often wondered if my waiting would do any good. But ye have to know that there was never any choice for me to make. It was always ye."
I wasn't sure my words would ease the pain I knew he must feel after reading certain parts of my story, but every word I said to him was true.
"Morna, who is this story meant for? I know that 'tis not only for us."
My husband knew me too well. Our story was meant especially for another—to lead her to the man worthy of holding her heart.
"There is a lass—the next to go back—that I intend to share my writing with. There are lessons she can learn from our story—lessons she will need before she makes a great journey of her own."
My eyes were still turned toward our joined hands but I glanced up in response to his soft noise.
"What? Say whatever it is ye mean to. I canna stand it when ye beat around things so."
"Ye keep saying that 'tis our story, but it is not yet that. What ye have written here...'tis yer story."
He was right. It was the story of how we came to be, of all the events that led up to our life together, but there are two sides to every story, and I truly only knew my own.
"Aye, but I doona know what ye wish me to do about it. The only way for me to know all that happened in yer own life during that time is for me to spell ye, and I promised ye long ago that I wouldna do that. Unless ye finally mean to tell me everything."
Through our years together, he'd shared bits and pieces, but I never saw reason to press him on the subject. As long as we were together, I was fine with letting the past stay there. After all, I had plenty of my own secrets that I'd kept hidden until now.
"I willna tell ye a thing, but perhaps I shall try writing down my version just as ye have done. If 'tis rubbish when I finish, ye doona have to include it with what ye leave for the lass. Will ye let me try?"
Of course I would. Despite his modesty, he knew full well that whatever he wrote down wouldn't be rubbish. My husband was a closeted creative—I had a chest full of love letters and poems to prove it.
"Aye. Can ye finish it within three weeks? The lass arrives then."
He stood, still clinging to the pages he held in his hand and winked at me as he moved toward the stairs.
"I'll have it finished in half that time. The words are surfacing even now."
* * *
Three Weeks Later
It was odd for me to be watched so closely in the place that had once been my childhood home. I stood nervously inside the familiar walls of my old bedchamber, twisting my head at every noise or possible footstep to make certain no other tourists or castle employees were headed in our direction.
"It sure looks good, Morna. You did a really good job of making the outside look like a bunch of the other old books here. Do you have another copy? I want to read it."
A brief moment of terror filled me at the thought of Cooper opening the pages of my book and taking in the words inside. He understood far too much about everything already. The last thing he ever needed to read was every little—and sometimes scandalous—detail of my life.
"Cooper, if ye love me, ye will promise me to never, ever read what I've written. It is meant for someone else's eyes, and those are not yer own. Do ye understand?"
While young Coop usually did the exact opposite of what he was told, I could see by the concerned look in his eyes that he cared enough about my plea to listen this time.
"Fine, but I know what that means. It means there's the same stuff in this book as in the books that Mom used to read when we lived in New York. I bet you talk about kissing in there, huh?"
I could live with it if all Cooper thought was inside those pages was a little kissing. "Aye, Cooper. I'll admit there is some mention of kissing within that wee book."
"Yuck." Cooper's expression twisted into one of disgust, and he held the book away from him as if he worried the nearness of it might allow him to absorb the words. "You don't need to say anything else. I promise to never read it. But can I ask you one more thing? Why did you want me to come?
I laughed but didn't argue the point with him. I had, in fact, not wanted him to come. If not for Cooper's unexpected arrival at our home a week ago, I would've brought the book to the castle myself but, as was customary for Cooper, he'd been quite insistent on coming with me. Apparently, now that I'd given him a job to do, he felt needed enough to forget the previous conversation.
"I suppose I just thought that mischief is more fun in the company of others, and I know how good ye are at keeping a secret. I can trust ye to keep a secret, aye? Ye know how the others feel about my meddling. I doona wish to explain it all to them."
If Cooper felt he had an important role to play in anything, he was sure to meet it head-on.
"Of course you can. Don't you worry. How long do you think it will take for her to find it up here?"
I couldn't be certain. I would no longer spell anyone to do exactly as I wished them to, but I would always point people in the direction I knew they needed to go.
"I hope not verra long at all. She's here actually. In the castle at this verra moment."
"Really?" Cooper's voice rose several octaves in his excitement. "Can you show her to me on our way out? I promise I won't say anything to her. Let's just walk by her or something, okay?"
I was just as keen to see the woman in person myself. "Aye, fine. Now, ye best hurry before someone finds us." I paused and pointed in the direction of the small table next to a sitting chair in the corner of the room. "Ye see there? Lay it just there as quickly as ye can. Then we best be on our way. Magic works best if ye set it and then release it to do as it should."
"Aye, aye, Morna. I am your humble servant, Pirate Cooper."
"A pirate? Have ye moved on from dinosaurs then?"
Cooper's voice, when he answered, sounded astonished and horrified.
"Move on from dinosaurs? Are you crazy? I don't think I could ever do that. But a man has to have varied interests. It makes him well-rounded."
I laughed at him and gently reached for his shoulder to steer him from the room.
"Right ye are, Cooper. Ye are a well-rounded young man, indeed."
It was my every memory—my husband's, as well—and I hoped that when the lass found it, she would treasure every word. Only time would tell.
* * *
"I think this one is my favorite, so far. There's just a feeling to it. I don't know what it is, really. Something magical about it, wouldn't you say?"
Laurel turned and awaited Marcus' response. She could tell by his glazed expression that her usually-patient friend was losing his resolve to indulge her obsession with all things old.
"You've said that about every castle. Each one is more magical than the last, each new one is now your favorite. I'll be honest, they are all starting to look the same to me—just one big blur of stones and crumbling junk."
While many sites they'd visited over the last ten days had indeed been crumbling, Conall Castle in no way fit that description. Well-tended and magnificent, Laurel could all but see the castle's history swirling around her—could almost feel the people who had lived here before.
"That's because they do keep getting more magical. I swear it. Especially this one. But you know, it may just feel that way because it seems like we are the only ones here. It's lovely to have the whole castle to ourselves rather than bumping into other tourists around every corner."
Marcus laughed and Laurel knew what he was going to say before he uttered a word. He'd complained about it for the entirety of the drive.
"It doesn't surprise me that we are the only ones here. I know lots of the places we've visited have been isolated, but this is quite literally in the middle of nowhere. If our car broke down on the way back tonight, there would be nowhere for us to stay."
Laurel found herself hoping, however wrong, that the car would break down just before dusk. She couldn't think of anything more enjoyable than being stranded around such beauty.
"I don't think I would care too much if we got stuck out here. Surely a castle as old as this wouldn't be too hard to slip into after everyone's left for the night. To sleep in a place like this would be pure heaven."
Marcus couldn't have sounded less enthused. "It probably has ghosts."
"Oh, I hope so. All of the best ones do."
Marcus' hand on her forearm drew her attention away from the tall window she stood gazing out of. "Hey, look. We're not alone, after all. Still, I agree with you that it's nice being around fewer people."
Sure enough, as Laurel turned she could see two people approaching—an older woman accompanied by a young boy who held himself very proudly as he walked.
"Let's head down toward the other end, Marcus, so that they have this area of the castle to themselves."
The woman and boy said nothing to either of them as they passed, but Laurel found herself struck by the intensity of the unabashed stare she received from both of them. She gave them a friendly smile in return and the young boy raised his left hand and waved in greeting before they went on their way.
"Did you see the way they both stared at me? Has my blouse popped open or something?"
Laurel looked self-consciously down at herself as she tried to make sense of their wide, questioning eyes.
"No. Everything is covered as far as I can tell. Maybe they recognized you."
Laurel laughed and continued to move down the long hallway toward the last room at its end.
"Did you see how small that child was? There is no way he knows who I am. If his parents let him read one of my books at his age, then God help him. No, it definitely wasn't that. Maybe they were staring at you, and I just mistook the direction of the boy's gaze."
"Because I'm black? Come on, Laurel. Surely you think better of them than that."
Laurel couldn't tell if he was joking, but it wouldn't surprise her if he wasn't. Marcus had so many wonderful qualities, and while his humility was to be admired, it drove her crazy just how incapable he seemed of recognizing his own attractiveness.
"No, Marcus. I most definitely didn't think they were staring at you because you are black. Perhaps they were staring at you because the only other human I've seen with your shape is the guy who plays Captain America."
Marcus huffed and stepped into the room to their right.
"I can already predict what you are going to say about this room."
Laurel remained just outside the doorway as she awaited his prediction.
"Oh yeah? What's that?"
"You are going to say that out of all the castle's and all the rooms you've seen, this is by far your favorite."
She knew he teased her. Regardless, he was bound to be wrong. The room that lay ahead of her couldn't possibly beat the tower room they'd seen in the castle two days before.
"Let's just see about that, shall we?"
Determined to come up with a reaction opposite of what Marcus expected, Laurel stepped inside, looked around, and found herself completely unable to do so.
The room was perfect in every way. The things she loved most in all the world lined three of the four walls—books.
"It drives me crazy when you're right. This beats the tower."
"I knew you were going to say that. I knew it even before I stepped inside. I read about it in the guidebook and knew you'd love it. I can see by the happy, glazed expression on your face that you'll be in here a while. I think I'll go explore the dungeon while you do so. I'll come back for you in a bit."
Marcus nudged her playfully before leaving her alone in the room. Once he was gone, she inhaled deeply and smiled. The smell of books gave her the same kind of energy coffee did for some. She thrived off of them, lived in them, made her own living from them. In a room full of books, she felt at home.
She knew that the books lining the shelves didn't quite fit the historical nature of the castle—the bindings and covers were enough to tell her that none of them could be more than a hundred years old. Still, that knowledge did not to reduce her love for what surrounded her now.
She moved to the far wall and slowly trailed her fingers along the spines moving row after row, bottom to top. It was a game she often played in libraries—letting her fingers trail the spines of many books until she felt something that draw her to one in particular. As her fingers moved, she glanced to her left and took notice of a lone book sitting on a side table. Her fingers moved toward it instinctively.
She only resisted sitting on such an old piece of furniture for a few seconds. As she picked up the book, she sank into the soft, empty chair, eager to read.
The chair was old and for a moment she feared it would collapse underneath her, but as she settled in more fully, it seemed to wrap her up in a way that invited her to do nothing more than read.
Marcus would occupy himself for ages while exploring the castle grounds. It wouldn't hurt anyone a bit for her to take a moment to herself.
She opened the book gently. While it surprised her to see that the words were English, it was the handwritten note inside that piqued her interest in a way nothing else ever had.
To whomever finds this book, you should know that it was meant just for you. Tuck it away in your bag, hide it beneath your shirt, but whatever you do, do not return it to the place from which it rested before. For many would read the pages contained within and dismiss my every memory and word as nothing more than fiction. But you, my first and last reader, will read these words and hear the truth in them.
Read these words. Love them, tend to them, believe them, and then once you've made peace with the truth, come and find me. By my story's end, you will know just where.
Until we meet,
P.S. Those that know me well know that I have a terrible habit of butting in pretty much whenever I feel like it, and I'm afraid I found myself doing the same thing with my writing. As I was preparing my story, I realized that in some instances my conversational voice—sort of like this letter—was needed to show you even more. These little intrusions are scattered throughout the book. Think of them as author notes, if you will.
P.P.S. My husband has also seen fit to throw in his two cents, so you'll find parts of the book written by him, as well. It may all sound rather confusing now, but I have a keen sense of just how bright you are. You'll have no trouble at all, I'm sure. Now, get to reading. We have no time to waste.
"Damn." Laurel whispered the word aloud to herself, shaking her head at the book with mesmerized awe. Whatever the reason for such strange words, the author must have known that it would be impossible for the reader who stumbled upon them to do anything other than read on. She didn't know anyone whose curiosity would allow them to do differently.
Smiling at the wit and the wonder of it, Laurel happily flipped to the next page and began, never suspecting for a moment how such an act would change her life forever.
© Bethany Claire