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Shadows and Light

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Shadows and Light

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Author: Anne Bishop
Publisher: Voyager Australia, 2004
Roc, 2002
Series: Tir Alainn: Book 2

1. The Pillars of the World
2. Shadows and Light
3. The House of Gaian

Book Type: Novel
Genre: Fantasy
Sub-Genre Tags: High Fantasy
Mythic Fiction (Fantasy)
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Synopsis

Ever since the slaughter of the witches, the Fae-who should be shielding their long-lost cousins from danger-have ignored the needs of the rest of the world. And shadows are again gathering in the eastern villages-dark, potent shadows that threaten the lives of every witch, woman, and Fae. Only three Fae can stand against the growing madness and help prevent more bloodshed-the Bard, the Muse, and the Gatherer of Souls.

Aiden, the Bard, knows how desperately the world depends upon the Fae's protection. But the Fae refuse to heed his warnings about the wickedness lurking amid the trees. Now Aiden and his one true love-Lyrra, the Muse-must embark on a perilous journey to find the one Fae who can convince the rest to leave their secure perches to save the witches and mortals. Because if the Fae don't act soon, no one will survive....


Excerpt

Standing in front of the morning room door, Liam smoothed back his dark brown hair and resisted the urge to give the tops of his boots a quick polish on the back of his trouser legs. His mother knew he'd already been out working, had requested this appointment during the time when he usually came in to spend an hour going over accounts and correspondence and, lately, to reply to the black-edged notes of condolence. She wouldn't expect him to look like anything but what he was-a man who tended the land that belonged to him and looked after the people who worked for him. The fact that he was now the Baron of Willowsbrook didn't change anything. He'd been riding over the land for twenty years now, had started visiting the tenant farms on his beloved sorrel pony when he was barely seven years old. She wouldn't criticize him for being dressed in clothes that were a bit sweaty and smelled of animals.

Maybe it was because she wouldn't criticize his appearance that he had the urge to run upstairs and put on a fresh shirt before stepping into a room that was bright, feminine, and soothing.

Giving the door a light rap with his knuckles, Liam walked into the room. His mother, Elinore, stood at the glass door that opened onto a small terrace, no doubt watching the birds that gathered to drink and bathe in the stone basin that was scrubbed and filled with fresh water every morning. The sunlight made the strands of gray in her light brown hair shine like silver. She was a small, slim woman with an inner strength that had weathered all the emotional storms of her marriage.

He may have inherited his father's looks-the dark hair, a face handsome enough to catch a woman's eye, height that was a little above average-but he was glad he'd inherited his mother's hazel eyes. Woodland eyes, she called them, because they were a brown-flecked green. Sometimes he wondered if, when she looked at him, she saw only a younger version of his father. At least when she looked at his eyes, she had to know there was a part of her in him, as well.

"Good morning, Mother," Liam said. He glanced at the tray on the table near the sofa and instantly became wary. The tea, thin sandwiches, and pastries weren't unusual fare for a midmorning chat, but the decanter of whiskey was definitely out of place. Elinore didn't approve of indulging in strong drink, especially so early in the day. That she'd arranged for the decanter to be here meant she thought one of them would need something more potent than tea to get through this conversation.

Turning away from the window, Elinore offered him a hesitant smile. "Good morning, Liam. Thank you for taking time out of your day to meet with me."

Heat washed through his body, a sure sign that his temper was rising. Making an effort to keep his voice calm, he replied, "Thanks aren't necessary. You're my mother. My being the baron now doesn't change that." At least, he hoped it didn't.

"No, but . . . it does change some things." She walked over to the sofa, sat down, and offered another hesitant smile. "Please sit down. There are some things I need to say to you."

Reluctantly, he sat on the other end of the sofa. Then something occurred to him that had him leaning toward her, tense. "Brooke's all right, isn't she?"

"Brooke?"

The surprise in Elinore's eyes, warming to amusement, made him feel limp with relief. His ten-year-old sister was a delightful child, but she did tend to get into scrapes.

"Brooke is fine," Elinore said, pouring tea for both of them. "A bit sulky since it's a lovely day and she's stuck doing lessons instead of working with the new pony a certain someone recently gave her for her birthday."

Taking the cup of tea she offered him, Liam gave her a bland stare. "I seem to recall another someone slipping money to that certain someone with the instructions to purchase new tack for the new pony."

"Is that what you recall?" Elinore asked innocently. "Do you also recall that certain someone telling Brooke she could skip her lessons this morning so that he could take her for a long ride so the pony wouldn't get bored working in the confines of the training ring?"

Liam choked on the tea he just swallowed. "I said maybe. After the midday meal."

" 'Maybe' means yes."

"Since when?"

She just looked at him until he wanted to squirm. That was the problem with trying to argue with his mother, even playfully. She knew him too well and remembered far too many things from his own childhood.

"After the midday meal, if she has her lessons done, I'll take her for a ride and we'll put the pony through his paces," Liam said.

"Listening to the two of you determine the definition of 'done' should be quite entertaining," Elinore said placidly.

"I-" Liam leaned back, feeling a bit sulky himself. He wasn't going to win this round. Brooke was his little sister. His baby sister. He'd already been away at school when she was born, and her first years were odd flashes of memory for him. A baby who drooled and giggled when he made funny faces at her. An infant who had learned to crawl between one visit home and the next, and had sent him into a panic when he'd put her on the carpet and turned his back for what he swore had been no more than a minute, only to have her disappear on him. The toddler who giggled and ran through the gardens as fast as her chubby little legs could take her. The bright little girl who chattered about anything and everything to the point where he'd nicknamed her Squirrel. The silent, wary child she became whenever his father was around.

As the male head of the family, he'd do his best to be firm about getting the lessons done, but the minute she turned those big blue eyes of hers on him, he'd cave. He remembered too well how it felt to be stuck indoors laboring over sums when the land beckoned.

"Liam." Elinore sipped her tea and didn't look at him. "Did you mortgage the estate?"

It didn't surprise him that she'd known his father had intended to take a mortgage out on the estate. No doubt the old baron had taken cruel delight in telling her he was stripping the land for everything it was worth.

When his father's man of business had gone over the accounts with him, he'd been appalled at the amount his father had intended to wring from the already foundering estate. And he'd felt an obscene kind of gratitude that the old baron had choked to death while dining with his current mistress before the papers had been signed.

"Yes, I took out a mortgage," Liam said, gulping down the rest of the tea. "A small one." Enough to pay off the tradesmen his father owed and give himself some money to honor his own bills for the next year or so. Elinore had provided him with a generous quarterly allowance ever since he'd first gone away to school, and he'd been grateful for it, but now that the estate was his, he didn't want to live off her money. With proper care and management, the land should be able to provide him and his family with a good living.

"I see." Elinore set her cup down, then folded her hands in her lap. She focused her gaze on the terrace door. "I'll make the same bargain with you that I made with your father."

Don't treat me like I've become him just because I hold the title, Liam thought fiercely.

"I'll pay the servants' wages and the household expenses," Elinore continued, her eyes still focused on the terrace door. "And I'll assist in paying any bills for the upkeep of the tenants' cottages. But I won't pay any bills for the upkeep of the town house in Durham, nor will I pay for any of your . . . personal . . . expenses."

Meaning, if he took a mistress as his father had done, he'd have to pay for his own pleasure. Not that he thought much pleasure could be had from a mercenary creature like the woman his father had been bedding when he died. On the other hand, he couldn't blame her for being mercenary. It had showed she'd had a better understanding of his father than the other women the old baron had enjoyed.

"It's a generous offer," he said. It stung that he had to accept it, but he was practical enough to know it would be a few years before the estate would recover sufficiently to pay all the expenses. "I thank you for it."

"Your father didn't think it was generous."

"My father and I didn't see eye to eye about a great many things," Liam said sharply. "Your father gave you an independent income for your benefit, not for my father's and not for the estate's. You had, and still have, every right to do with it as you please. Willowsbrook should be able to support itself twice over. The fact that it can't quite support itself is my father's-and his father's-fault, not yours."

After a long pause, Elinore said, "Would you like more tea?"

What he'd like was a hefty glass of that whiskey, but he had the feeling they'd only chewed the edges of whatever she'd wanted to talk to him about. "Please," he said, holding out his cup. He waited until she refilled both their cups. "Would you mind if I sold the town house in Durham?"

"The estate and any other property is yours now, Liam. You may do with it as you please."

"Would you mind?" he persisted.

When she looked at him, he saw a bitterness in her eyes she'd never allowed to show before. "There's nothing in that place that I value."

No, there wouldn't be, not when his father's string of mistresses had spent more time there than she had. Well, that was one burden and expense he could easily shed. He'd write to his man of business and set things in motion to sell the town house and its contents.

"Won't you need the town house when you have business in the city?" Elinore asked.

Liam shook his head. "I can rent rooms easily enough for the two times a year when the barons formally meet."

He felt a pressure building inside him, and he clamped his teeth to try to keep the words back as he'd done for so many years. Perhaps it was because the conversation was already difficult that he couldn't hold it back anymore. "Why didn't you leave him? He was a bastard, and you deserved so much better. Adultery is grounds for severing the marriage vow. You had income of your own, ...

Copyright © 2002 by Anne Bishop


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