Haunting Beauty (Mists of Ireland, Book 1)
by Erin Quinn
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Danni Jones doesn't believe in destiny until she meets the seductive Sean Ballagh, who lures her back to Ireland, to a moment in her own past when her life was destroyed, giving her the chance to change everything. Now, Danni must fight the forces that threaten to rip her and Sean apart and rewrite history.
The man came to her just before dawn.
Danni had awoken with a start a few moments earlier, tangled in her bedding, unsure of what had pulled her from sleep. The inky blackness outside pressed against her windows, a dark entity that wanted to creep in and take over. Uneasy, she crawled from bed and shuffled to the kitchen for coffee.
That’s when she felt the air turn.
It plunged in a silent, cold force that made her ears ring and her stomach sink. Like a latent memory, the sensation of it was suddenly there, filling her head—familiar and frightening, pressure and relief. She knew it; she feared it. She remembered it, though what the turning air heralded escaped her.
She spun to find the man waiting behind her. Tall, with broad shoulders and the layered muscles of a warrior, he leaned against her counter. As if it was perfectly natural for him to be there. As if he really was in her kitchen.
Dark brows and long black lashes emphasized the unusual color of his eyes—not quite green, not quite gray. Eyes like the sea, relentless and deep. A straight, blunt nose gave balance to his full lips and square jaw. There was a harsh and rugged edge to his features that flawed his beauty and made it something masculine, something more compelling than simple aesthetics. He wore a black leather coat over a crisp white shirt and jeans that tapered from lean hips to long legs. Not just tall. Not just broad. A big man.
He watched her, assessing and judging her with the same weighted concentration she gave him. She felt self-conscious in her faded Save the Children T-shirt and pink boxers, which was ridiculous. He wasn’t really here.
She knew it, but the knowledge didn’t stop her stomach from knotting with uncertainty and fear. Why was she seeing him? What did he want? There had to be a reason. She knew that, too.
Danni sloshed coffee over the edge of her mug as she set it down. She would drop it if she held it any longer. The man interpreted this as acquiescence and began. Sometimes it was like that, she remembered. Sometimes they seemed to take Danni with them, like tour guides on a ghostly journey. Other times they were completely unaware they’d unraveled the fibers of reality and forced Danni to peer in at them.
When she’d been a child, the visits—the visions—had been frequent and exciting. The plunging turn of the air had felt like flying to her. But the visions had stopped so long ago she’d forgotten they’d ever happened at all. No, she corrected herself. She hadn’t forgotten—she’d wiped the experiences from her memory with purposeful precision, because only the crazy saw people and things that weren’t real.
The man turned, gesturing for her to follow as the familiar kitchen walls behind his broad shoulders vanished and, like a painting created before her very eyes, a stark landscape appeared in their place. The image had fuzzy edges and a grainy texture, but it breathed in a lifelike way, just as the man did.
It seemed so real. Too real.
A patchwork quilt of vivid greens, earthy browns and heavy pewter spread out unending. Danni frowned, trying to put a name to the place. Did she know it? Had she seen it before? The man crossed from the pale kitchen tile to a spongy turf that should have left footprints, but of course, didn’t. His steps were as unreal as his presence. Reluctantly, Danni went with him.
It felt like they walked for some time, but she knew they’d never left her kitchen. Still the frosty cold of the earth against her feet, the wintry wind on her face and the damp mist clinging to her hair and scant clothing, chilled her to the bone. The sensations were crisp and visceral and frightening.
Barefoot, still wearing her pajamas, she followed the man across a valley to a destination she couldn’t fathom. The sky above them grumbled and rolled in bleak shades of slate and steel. It seeped down to lush emerald pastures and saturated the air with freezing dampness. The brisk wind carried the spice of sea salt as it tormented the many limbed alders and bandied with the stranger’s long leather coat and short cropped hair. She could hear waves crashing somewhere close.
Where are you taking me?
He paused and looked back at her, as if she’d spoken out loud. There was something in his eyes as he stared. A longing. A need. Her heart thumped painfully at the echo it dragged from inside her. Who was this man? Why did she feel as if she should know him?
They reached the edge of a precipice hanging out over the churning sea. A foot path cut a sharp trail down the side. Even as she prayed he’d turn away from it, the man started down the steep slope. His long legs covered the distance easily as he descended but Danni had to scramble to keep up—certain a deadly plunge was in her future—not so clear on what that might mean to her real self. If she died in a vision, would it be for real?
The sounds of the tide thundering relentlessly were louder now and she smelled the sharp scent of brine. She sensed something big looming high up to her left, but didn't know if it was real or imagined and couldn’t turn to look back.
Enormous rocks poked from the hillside, forcing them to weave as they descended. The exertion warmed her and now she could hear sounds rising from down below. A woman’s voice. Danni paused, listening to the agitated tone. Frantic, pleading. There were other voices too. A man, maybe two. And children. Frightened children.
Danni’s blood raced so fast she felt sick. The sound of their young, scared pleas propelled her back into her own history. To nights in the communal bedroom of the group home, where someone was always afraid, always crying.
Solemn and intent, the man continued down with effortless grace. Danni remained frozen where she was, listening to the troubled but unintelligible words. Whatever was happening down there, it wasn’t good and every instinct Danni possessed urged her not to continue.
There was a loud bang—a shot followed by screams. Danni trembled, her palms slick with clammy fear. Her shaking dislodged pebbles that rappelled down the hill. She didn’t want to follow the man anymore. She wanted out of this vision. She wanted to be back in her kitchen where it was safe. She clenched her fists tight, wanting to escape it. Reject it.
The man paused and looked back. It seemed he knew what she was thinking. His eyes darkened with compassion, but also with disappointment he couldn’t quite hide. She felt it as much she saw it. He gave her a small nod. Go ahead, he was saying. The gesture came without condemnation. He was giving her permission to turn away. To run away.
For a moment the steep sea wall, the glowering sky . . . the compelling man watching her . . . It all wavered and Danni could see her kitchen through the overlaid image. All she had to do was step through, step out.
Down below the children sobbed and the woman beseeched with frantic incoherent words. Danni felt her despair, her terror. Her desperate need . . . .
The man started down again, now with urgency. Danni clenched her eyes tight and breathed deeply. Knowing she couldn’t turn her back on such desperation, she mentally closed the passage to her kitchen, slamming the door on safety and sanity. She began to follow once more, hurrying to catch up as he disappeared into the deep gloom covering the bottom.
Broken shells and rocks crusted the shallow strip between massive boulders and angry surf. It crunched painfully beneath her feet as she followed the man to a door cut into the base of the wall rising up to the cliffs. Danni peered through the gathering shadows and thick fog that hugged the ground, obscuring her feet
She couldn’t see anyone until she reached his side. And then, with the pop of her ears clearing and a surreal rush of color and texture, the source of the voices emerged from the blur into shocking focus.
Read more at www.erinquinn.info
Danni’s life hasn’t been easy. Abandoned at a daycare when she was five she’s been shuffled through the foster system. Danni was different. Nobody really wanted her until she was placed with Yvonne. Now a handsome stranger appears at her door and turns everything she has believed upside down. Her family has been searching for her for twenty years. Come home to Ballyfionúir with him? Can she believe or trust him? The only thing she can do to find the truth is follow him to Ballyfionúir, an island off the coast of Ireland. Nothing there is what it appears on the surface. What’s a lie and what’s the truth? What is she suppose to do? Will anything she accomplishes help or will her efforts only make it all worse?
Enthralled, entranced, rapt, take your pick. That’s the effect Haunting Beauty had on me. I was completely ensnared in the web of magic so masterfully woven by Erin Quinn. The real world was a major annoyance because it meant I had to leave the one inhabited by Danni and Sean. I really appreciated that there were several twists that kept me from knowing how it would play out from the beginning. I was torn between drawing it out, savoring it and devouring it as quickly as I could. I tried for the middle path. Parts I devoured while others I read slowly or re-read. Danni and Seans’ story is multi-faceted and wholly satisfying. Haunting Beauty is a keeper that I’ll go back and revisit again and again. For lovers of time travel romance and intricate storytelling I highly recommend Haunting Beauty.
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