Just as she walked into the bedroom with an armful of clothes, a bolt of lightning struck her, or so it seemed at first. Something zapped her from head to toe, as if she’d stuck her finger into an electrical socket. Dropping the laundry on the bed, she collapsed forward, braced her weight on her elbows, and waited for the shock to fade. When her head cleared, she felt a sizzle of static in the air. Without conscious effort, her brain translated the sensation into knowledge—somebody’s here, searching for me. Not for her, actually, because finding her was only a side issue, if Kieran had told any part of the truth. They wanted the baby.
She grabbed her cell phone, rushed into the kitchen, and clattered down the back steps onto the beach. Again without thinking, she knew the danger came from this direction. She also had a feeling she’d better not let the intruder, whoever it was, see Baird.
Kieran, with the dog beside him, stood halfway between the house and the shore. With his arms flung wide, he seemed to be warning off the invader. Near the surf line, a brownish horse trotted on the packed sand parallel to the water. She recognized the man astride the horse as Halwyn. He rode bareback, using a rope as a halter.
That does it! The heck with Kieran’s objections, I’m calling for help. She punched 911 on her phone. When the operator answered, she said, “I need protection against a man who’s been harassing me. He just rode into my yard on a horse.” She didn’t want to get into technicalities about who the land belonged to. “I’ve got a baby with me, and I think this guy is dangerous.” She rattled off the address, ended the call, and hooked the phone to the belt of her shorts.
Kieran gave no indication of noticing what she’d done. He shouted a challenge at the invader in what she assumed to be their native language. Halwyn yelled a retort, then cut it off mid-breath and angled the horse toward Fern.
“You again. Didn’t I warn you that your sister and her child were in danger?” His voice sounded as musical as Kieran’s.
Breathing hard, she planted her fists on her hips and glared at him. “Yeah, so?”
“I can imagine the kinds of things Kieran has been telling you. He expects you to turn over Adair’s child to him, doesn’t he?”
“What’s that got to do with you? I’m not about to give you my nephew, either.”
Halwyn emitted a silvery laugh. “Believe me, I have no interest in taking him—unlike my cousin there. Do you know he murdered Adair?”
“Liar!” Kieran burst out.
“I don’t know any such thing,” Fern said, taking a few steps closer to the two men. But I don’t know he didn’t, either, whispered an insidious voice inside her head.
“Well, perhaps it wasn’t technically murder, since it happened during a duel.”
Duel? What kind of archaic society did these men belong to? Her head pounded as she remembered what she’d seen, no, imagined, a little while ago. Adair lying dead at Kieran’s feet. “Why should I take your word, any more than his? What about the shot you took at Kieran yesterday?”
“Forgive me, I had no intention of harming you or the child. I was defending myself against a dangerous outlaw. I’m assigned to bring him to justice.” The horse paced toward her.
Fern cast a glance at Kieran. She sensed anger pouring off him like steam. The beast beside him growled, its fur bristling. “So what now?” she asked Halwyn. “You’re not just a detective but a bounty hunter, too?”
“Fern, don’t listen to these lies!” Kieran shouted. With a roar of incomprehensible syllables, he flung his arm up, pointing at Halwyn. The dog lunged at the horse’s forelegs.
Her head swimming with confusion, she rubbed her eyes with both hands. The viscous liquid still clinging to her fingertips spread over her closed lids. Blinking to clear away the oily substance, she remembered the label on the vial. Clear sight. Well, whatever Ivy had meant by her message, somebody here certainly wasn’t what he seemed.
When Fern opened her eyes completely, the sunlight dazzled her at first. She could see nothing but a blaze of golden light. Oh, no, have I blinded myself? She hardly had time to panic, though, before the brightness vanished. She saw clearly again—just as the world turned inside out.
A violet glow flared on the edges of her vision. Whipping her head from side to side, she saw a shimmering, transparent curtain of light marking the boundaries of the cottage’s beach. It made bright specks dance before her eyes. She forced them away from it to focus on the animal beside Kieran. The beast didn’t look much like a dog now. It had a canine head, true, although with a slavering muzzle crammed with fangs fiercer than any domestic dog’s. From the neck down, it resembled a shaggy pony, and it seemed to have grown bigger. Its eyes gleamed red. It’s still black, anyway. Small comfort that remnant of consistency granted her.
Fern blinked and rubbed her eyes again, trying to scrub away the impossible sights. Her view of the beach and its occupants didn’t change. She looked up at Halwyn. He had pointed ears. And his eyes had slitted pupils like a cat’s.