Kensington, September 2006
(unknown) June 1999
Zebra Books, January 1998
buy the book: Amazon
Best Romance Anthology list 1998, Library Journal
Welcome to the world of Faery! We're not talking Tinkerbell, here. These are the Old Ones, dangerous, and full of seductive power. These novellas are set in a common faery world, built by the authors from folklore, legend, and their own imaginations. The stories (and author's website links) are:
Dangerous Gifts, by Mary Jo Putney.
A shy mortal girl rashly accepts a faery lord's offer of beauty and charm. Then he comes to claim a terrible price--the loss of her new love and everything she holds dear.
The Lord of Elphindale, by Jo Beverley.
A lovely lady discovers she is half-faery, created to bind a special man to the faery realm. But when he claims to love another, she defies the might of faeries to try and set him free.
The Love Talker, by Barbara Samuel.
A faery lord is condemned to haunt the misty glens, cursed by his need to seduce mortal women to their deaths--until a simple maid defies his spell and captures his heart.
The Faery Braid, by Karen Harbaugh.
Stolen by Faerie to increase their powers, a beautiful changeling must choose between the lure of magic and the doomed mortal stranger who calls to her still-human heart.
But near the end of the week, Sir Jonathan experienced the painful blindness again--not as bad as he had had it in the past. It was enough for him to take to his bed, and while he lay sweating in pain, he remembered a cool touch upon his brow that had seemed to soothe it away, and the sweet and bitter draught he had taken.
Rowan--Mistress Rowan was her name. He had slept at last, and dreams of the lady were the only things that had disturbed him that night. His dreams were full of her touch, cascades of dawn-colored hair, and her lips and body soft against him. He had awakened in the middle of the night, breathing quickly, his body hard with desire, and he banished the errant images to a far corner of his mind. He wished to pledge himself to Lady Anne before it was too late, but his dreams were all of another lady, perhaps all concocted from his pain-filled mind. How could such a place be real? And yet, the dreams only laughed softly at him, and pressed hope into the furrows that despair had scored into him, deep in his heart.
The next day he felt better, enough to arise from his bed, though his head still pounded and his sight dimmed at times. It was near noon when he finally decided to ride his horse to the woods he had left a week ago, if only to see if the path had been born of his imagination. If it was not, he had promised Mistress Rowan that he would return, and he kept his promises if he could.
He came at last to the stretch of road that passed through the wood and reined in his horse. He frowned. He had thought there was a path through it to the cottage. But he could not see any such thing, though the leaves had fallen from the trees and the undergrowth and would have shown even the smallest trail through the woods. He turned his horse around and went back the way he came for a space, but there was no path in that direction, either. Once more he searched...nothing.
Was it a dream, then? He remembered the warmth of the garden after the chill of the surrounding autumn woods. It had been like late spring, and flowers had bloomed that were long faded and gone in his own gardens at home. It could not be real.
What a fool he was! He had chased a will o' the wisp called hope, and the hope had been so strong, it had conjured up a vision of spring and healing and the gentle touch of a woman. No doubt it was a phantasm created while he was ill with pain and blindness the last time.
A sudden freezing wind blew in his face and he pulled up his shoulders against it. His fingers grew chill and he thrust his gloved fists in the pockets of his coat to warm them. Something hard poked the fingers of one hand and as he drew it out of his pocket, he drew in a long breath.
It was the twig with the green ribbon around it. Mistress Rowan had given it to him, telling him.... He frowned, trying to remember, and an ache began to move behind his eyes.
A key. She had said it was a key. He had thought it was nonsense, and had just concluded the whole incident was a fantasy, but here was the twig she had given him. Some part of it, then, must have been real. There was no reason why he would tie a ribbon around a twig and place it in his own pocket.
In that case, he must find the path. He looked up again searching the trees to the right and left of him...and there it was right in front of him. He shook his head. Perhaps his injury was worse than he thought--he should have seen it immediately, for it was broad enough for a horse to walk upon.
It took only a few minutes to ride down the path to the gate of the cottage. Jonathan was surprised it was not easily seen from the road. But the brush and trees were more thick here than at the edge of the road, and perhaps that was why it was obscured from sight. He tied the reins of his horse to a wooden post next to the door and knocked.
He thought he heard soft footsteps, and then silence. Almost he turned to leave, for he heard nothing more, and thought perhaps he had mistaken the day. But then the door opened, and Mistress Rowan was there smiling widely up at him.
For one moment he stared at her, for he did not remember her smiling thus before, only a few small brief ones. But this time her smile reached her eyes and she took his hand and brought him into the garden. He could not help smiling back, and when her own smile grew wider and he caught his breath.
She was beautiful. Very. Why had he not remembered this before? For some reason he had not recalled it. The sun streamed through breaks in the clouds, and a beam of light struck her head, making her hair shine like gold. The brightness seemed to course through the strands of hair braided round her head in a crown and flowing down the long locks flowing down behind to her waist, making her hair seem a living thing. When she walked she seemed almost to float over the ground and he would have thought he was dreaming again except for the warmth of her hand in his. And when she smiled, her lips looked soft and he wished, suddenly, that he had not decided to try to ask Lady Anne Winscombe to be his wife again. Lady Anne. He firmly reined in his thoughts. It was for her that he was here, after all.
"I am glad you have come," she said. "I almost thought you would not." Her voice was low and sweet, just as he had remembered. She led him to the cottage and made him sit in a chair by the fire.
He sat, slowly, and gazed at her. "I almost didn’t." He stopped--it was a boorish thing to say. "That is, I thought all this was a dream, for I could not find the path at first."
Rowan nodded. "But you brought the key. That is the only way you will find this place, you know." She shook her head. "I wonder how you came here last week, for no one does, unless it is Mother Aldara or someone who accompanies her. I almost think someone led you here." She busied herself opening different cupboards, bringing out bags of herbs and bottles of liquid. She glanced at him. "Are you hungry? Do you wish for food?"
"No, I thank you." He smiled at the brief flicker of disappointment upon her face. "I had my luncheon before I came." She nodded and continued rummaging about in the cupboards.
The wool collar of his heavy coat itched against his jaw, and he realized suddenly that he was too warm, and that sweat prickled his hands inside his thick gloves. Slowly, he took them off, looking about him carefully now. Outside the cottage, it was unchanged from what he remembered--there were the spring flowers and the roses, flowers long gone from his own land. The alder in which she had sat before still had green leaves where the woods outside the garden had shed half their yellow ones. And when he had stepped from the wood into the garden, he remembered could feel the warmth of the sun on his face, where the sun in the wood seemed distant and cool. He shivered slightly, not from cold, and stared at the young woman before him.
"What is this place?" he said abruptly.
Her hand paused for a moment over a bottle before she picked it up, then she turned to look at him. "It is where I live," she said.
"Oh, really?" he said, and could not help the sarcastic tone in his voice.
She laughed softly, and this time it was musical sound, not halting like the last time when he’d been here. "Yes." She paused and gazed at him, as if trying to decide something. "I will not insult your intelligence by telling you it is part of the world you know," she said. "You clearly have noted the difference between what is outside the walls and what is within. What is outside is the mortal world, the world in which all may come and go. Here--" She stopped and her brow creased as if trying to search for the right words. "Here is a between-place."
She cocked her head, looking at him. "Between the mortal world and Faery."
He said nothing, but stared at her, trying to make sense of the words she had just spoken.
"You do not believe me, I see," she said. She turned to the door of the cottage and waved at the garden beyond. "In your world it is autumn, is it not? The leaves are gold and brown, and some have fallen. But here it is spring, and the air is warm, not cold. Time marches differently here--and no, you need not be alarmed." She smiled slightly. "It is not like the stories. This is a between-place. You will not leave here to find everyone you cared for dead or aging. The time you spend here is the same as you would spend in your mortal world." She turned to her herbs and bottles again, and he could see her lips move as she went over them. "There," she said. "I have all I need."
"You are joking," he said. Faery...such things were not real. They were only stories told by mothers to their children.
"Joking? No. You have seen the difference of seasons yourself. What else could it be?"
"Then I am dreaming."
Mistress Rowan stepped toward him and pinched him.
She raised her eyebrows. "Dreams do not pinch."
"No, I suppose not," he said, and could not help laughing at the mischievous look on her face.
She turned and poured some water into a kettle and set it on a hook above the hearth, then came to the table at which he sat and set down the herbs she had gathered. “I will give you tea to start. When you are done, I will work the pain away from here--” She reached out and touched his temple near the scar. “And here.” Her fingers ran down the back of his neck to his shoulders.
His breath caught at her touch and he stared at her; he should have been indifferent to the sensation, for her voice was impersonal, instructive. But her fingers had lingered as they flowed from temple to shoulders; he had not been touched like that for a long time. For one moment there was silence as she stared in return and a slow blush rose in her cheeks. Then she shook her head slightly as if dismissing some thought.
“Did--did that hurt you?” she asked, and her eyes growing worried.
Jonathan smiled and brought her hand to his lips. “No. It was pleasant, Mistress Rowan.”
Again the silence as she gazed at him, and her blush rose higher. She pulled her hand away, and hastily took up a cloth to take the kettle from the fire. “I...I am glad it did not hurt,” she said. She did not look at him when she poured the hot water into the teapot into which she had put some herbs and dried flowers. But then she seemed to shake herself and she smiled at him. “If it is pleasant, then the healing will be that much faster for you.” She brought a mug from one of her cupboards then poured out the tea, straining it through a fine cloth sieve. She pushed the mug toward him. “There, you must drink all of it, and then I will rub away the pain.”
It was a sweet and bitter drink, much like the drink he had tasted when he first arrived in Mistress Rowan’s garden. Better tasting, certainly, than the draughts that had been forced down his throat in London. As he drank it, he became conscious of her hand upon his arm and that she stared at him, as if trying to discern something from his face.
“Is there anything amiss, ma’am?”
She opened her mouth, then closed it. “I--I sometimes remember things when I touch you.” The words rushed from her, and for a moment she looked surprised before her expression became distant.
“I hope they are pleasant memories,” he said.
A little smile curled up one corner of her mouth, oddly defiant. “They are,” she replied. She let out a breath, then rose and stood behind him and he almost rose as well, but she pressed her hand down on his shoulder. “No, sit. You must relax yourself.” Her hand came up and settled on his jaw, then slipped upward to his temple. It was a simple touch, but he caught his breath again, and the dreams he had of her last night flashed in his mind. He had not lain with a woman for a long time. The mistress he had kept before his accident had shuddered when she looked at him, and he could hardly blame her; the scar on his face was still red and would repulse anyone.
But it did not seem to repulse Mistress Rowan. He felt a hot damp cloth pressed against his face, and then caught a glimpse of her fingers laden with a thick ointment that smelled slightly of camphor. Then her fingers moved in a smooth, slick motion against his wound and upon his temples, and he closed his eyes.
There was only the soft sound of the sighing breeze amongst the trees outside, the brooding of the hens behind the cottage, and the quiet sound of her breath behind him as she rubbed his temples. A long sigh left him, and his shoulders loosened.
“Tell me of yourself,” came her soft voice behind him, almost a whisper, and her breath was warm against his ear.
“There...there is not much to tell.” He felt her fingers at his throat, and his cravat suddenly came loose and his shirt came open. Again he caught his breath, opened his eyes, and seized her hand. “What are you doing?”
“I cannot stroke away the pain and apply the ointment if your neck is covered.”
Jonathan relaxed again, and again the thought of his abstinence from women flickered in his mind, and his eyes went to the large fleecy sheepskin rug near the hearth. He felt her hands upon his collarbone and imagined them slipping downward upon his chest, and a heat rose up from his loins. Abruptly he stood up. “I think perhaps this will be enough for now,” he said.
Her hand pressed hard upon his shoulder. “I pray you let me decide this, Sir Jonathan. No, it is not enough for now. You will sit and you will let me apply the ointment,” she said, and her voice grew angry. The cottage dimmed, and an odd threatening pressure surrounded them. Reluctantly he sat.
The pressure lightened and the sun streamed into the windows again.
“Who are you? Are you--are you a faery?” He blurted the words, then felt foolish. Such things were only children’s tales, and Mistress Rowan was solidly real, as her touch and his resulting imaginings clearly showed. Yet, the garden, and sudden the shift in atmosphere...a “between-place” she had said....
A pause, then: “Almost. I am almost faery.” This, a whisper, so that he would have not heard it had not the cottage and garden been so silent.
“There is still a part of me that is mortal,” she said, and her words came from her haltingly. “I have been here since I was a child, being made ready for the time I am twenty-one years. Then, I will be all faery, and a worthy bride of a faery lord.”
Jonathan could hear uncertainty in her voice. “But that is a few years from now,” he said, wanting to comfort her, though he had an uneasy feeling at the thought of her being wed. “You are young yet to be thinking of marriage. And no doubt your faery lord is handsome and pleasing to you.”
“I do not know what he will be like,” Rowan said, and her voice was flat. Then she laughed and her breath stirred the hair on the back of his head. “And I have only six months until I am one-and-twenty--what, did you think me a child?”
He did, and did not. He had thought of her face and how it looked at once child-like and full of old knowledge. He felt her body against his back as she worked upon his neck, holding him up when he had relaxed, and the occasional brush of her skirts against him. He stiffened his back and drew away from her. “I thought perhaps you were younger--sixteen or so. It’s hard to tell.”
“The faery are ageless, unless they choose to look otherwise.”
Her touch lingered upon his skin for a moment before she left him to pour more hot water into the teapot. The pouring of tea, the cottage, the room--these were mundane things, and here she was talking of faery as if it was just as mundane. And yet, it was not autumn in this garden....
Suddenly remembering the stories he had heard as a child, he said, “Why are you doing this for me?”
He almost missed the hesitation before she said, “For the practice, of course. I am a healer; I heal.”
She gazed at him, her brows raised haughtily, but said nothing.
“I remember the stories my nurse told me when I was a child,” he said. “The faery don’t offer gifts without a reason. What do you gain by healing me? Tell me, or I shall leave.”
Her smile was touched with scorn. “I doubt you will leave. You wish to be healed of your injury, after all.”
He rose from the chair and strode to the door.
He turned and faced her. She gazed at him, at once angry and anxious, one hand curled into a tense fist at her chest. “Sit, and I will tell you.”
He returned to the chair and sat.
Rowan glanced away, then gazed at him steadily, though she bit her lower lip briefly before she spoke. “I … I told you I remembered things when I touched you. I don’t remember what it was like before I came here, what my mortal life was like, only a few things. But I remember when I touch you--perhaps it is because you are mortal, and that calls to the mortal part still in me. But I wish to remember more, and so...and so I wish to touch you again, to see if I can.” Her hand closed under her breast, as if she were holding something precious to her heart.
Jonathan rose and took her hand in his, and her fist gently uncurled. He smiled and brought it to his lips as he bowed. “If that is all, then I will stay, and count myself fortunate that I have found a physician whose fee is so easy to pay.”
For one moment she stared at him, and her eyes were wide and vulnerable. And then she let out a long sigh and pulled her hand from his to pick up the teapot. “Thank you,” she said, and gave him his tea.