Breandán Mac Liam sighed, just as he had done so many other nights after finishing his days work, and slumped to the cold ground, only to wish he were somewhere else. Not that he didn’t enjoy his life. He was a hunter—a damn good one. And it had brought him a considerable amount of wealth in the trade market despite his tender age of twenty-seven years.
But even with the grand livelihood of trading the surplus of hare and fox furs in Gaillimh, it still did not come close to the thought of being a simple husband and lover.
His lonely days were—despite his terrible efforts—consumed with the thoughts of being with Mara, the daughter on the Connacht king, and a woman who had probably forgotten all about him.
Though it had been more than seven years since he had seen Mara, his love for her had not lessened. He was literally chained to her memory and the hope that one day they could be together.
When he had first laid eyes on Mara, she was a young teen-age girl, riding her horse naively through his hunting grounds. Had it been anyone else, Breandán would have stopped them and directed them elsewhere. But with Mara, he almost longed to have his hunting disturbed.
It was her natural beauty and gracefulness that had first caught his eye. But the more he had seen her lingering in the fields and lounging near the Shannon , the more he came to
appreciate her free-born spirit and gentle kindness, traits he assumed she hadn’t inherited from her pompous father, Cathal Mac Choncubhair.
Mara was nothing like him. She was light-hearted and nimble as she sang and danced in the meadows. She was elegant and agile as she raced her horse through brooks and briars. And above all, she hadn’t an arrogant bone in her body. She was the kind of woman who would greet and welcome anyone who came into her life without ever looking down at them.
Despite all that, Breandán had never felt comfortable enough to approach her. In his eyes, he was still just a common man with common needs, and—given her noble status—he couldn’t give her what he thought she deserved.
When he finally did make himself known to her, she was already in love with and married to a Northman named Dægan Ræliksen. To add to his misfortune, Mara no longer lived near Breandán, but on Inis Mór, an island off the west coast of Ireland . Since that time, Breandán had desperately tried to move on. Tried to forget her. But it
Each passing summer, when the ports were brimming with gossip, he’d hear word of her and find himself rudely eavesdropping to keep up on what was happening in her life. One summer, it was news about her husband’s tragic death. The next year, was how she had bore his son the following spring.
The thought of Mara being all alone and raising a son on such a harsh island as Inis Mór pulled at his heart. Much of his desire to see her again was driven by the deep love he had always had for her and the sincere need to make certain she was all right. He had mulled the idea of going to her a thousand times over in his head. But soon after he had convinced himself to go to her, he learned she was to be married to another.
Again, he had missed out on his opportunity to be with Mara.
From the moment that final stake was driven through his heart, he hardly visited the ports of Gaillimh anymore, relying on his friend and hunting partner, Marcas, to bargain his goods. He stayed clear of everything that would or might remind him of Mara. He even went as far as hunting further north to avoid familiar landmarks she used to frequent.
Though the years passed, it did nothing to lessen the pain or water down the vivid image of Mara’s face. Her absence only escalated his longing.
In the beginning, he only had to endure his thoughts and yearnings of her in the waking hours of the day, finding relief in the solitude of his sleep. But lately, there was no comfort in closing his eyes. Mara had now barged into his peaceful dreams, nearly haunting him as he slept.
Often times, he’d awaken in a cold sweat from literally running all night. She was always out of his reach, calling him…pleading for him to save her.
There was never any apparent danger in his nighttime visions from which he needed to rescue her; just an overwhelming desperation to grasp her outstretched hand as if it meant his very life.
And through the sleepless nights and exhausting days, he had become run down—depressed—and as Marcas would say, “hardly worth a shit.”
“I suppose you expect me to build the fire tonight,” Marcas grumbled as he dismounted from his horse, finding Breandán already reclined against a tree.
“I did snare more rabbits than you this day.”
“You always do, Breandán. But I knew not it meant I had to wait on you hand and foot. Would you like me to cook your dinner as well? Perhaps even draw a bath for you?”
Breandán lifted a single brow to his friend’s sarcasm. “Dinner would be sufficient.”
Marcas scoffed as he unsaddled his horse and tossed the heavy tack practically on
Breandán’s lap. “When are you going to get Mara out of your head?”
Breandán closed his eyes and ignored both the question and the gear his friend threw at him. He didn’t want to have this conversation—not now, not ever. It was bad enough he had to cope with being without Mara, much less explain the reason he couldn’t let go of that little strand of hope. And honestly, he didn’t have a reason. All he knew was he wanted her and needed her as badly as any man could want or need a woman. He was tied to her in a way no one could understand and trying to put it into words was beyond him.
“Or better yet,” Marcas added, adjusting the cloak around his shoulders, “Why do you not simply go to her and find out for certain whether she is married? Perhaps ‘twas naught more than port gossip.”
“The man I spoke to said he heard it directly from Tait’s mouth. Why would Dægan’s best friend say anything untrue? Besides, I cannot go to her without a relevant reason. I would look like a fool—and a desperate one at that.”
“And I suppose you are content to wait around for God knows how long, until an opportunity presents itself, aye?”
“I have not much choice.”
Marcas patted his horse absentmindedly and spoke to the animal. “See what happens to a man when he has denied himself a woman for too long? His will to live and prosper simply vanishes. ‘Tis utterly brutal to watch.” He momentarily looked at the horse and waved his hand dismissively. “Ach, what do you know? You have been gelded.”
Though the discussion with the equine was meant to humor Breandán, he hardly reacted at all, inwardly wishing his friend would leave to fetch the wood for the fire and give him a few moments peace.
“Breandán,” Marcas said, trying his best to console. “You have to stop thinking of Mara. It has been seven years, a chara. She has moved on and you must do the same.”
“You think I do not know that?” Breandán uttered sleepily. “I have tried.”
“Isolating yourself in the hunting grounds is not going to help you forget her. You need to remove her from your mind permanently. And I know the perfect remedy.”
Breandán blatantly sighed and let his head fall back against the tree, knowing his friend’s antidote was probably either a drunken stupor or a wild romp with a practiced woman, neither of which interested him.
“What you need,” Marcas said joyously, sliding to his knees beside Breandán, “is that fine woman your father has deemed worthy of you…Ríoghán’s daughter. What is her name again?”
“Sorcha,” Breandán answered indolently.
Marcas’ smile grew at the sweet sound of her name as though she were standing right
before him. He even reached out with both hands as if to touch her very bosom, with a hand gesture that resembled a mild groping. He shot Breandán a sideways glance. “Can you not see what great things she has to offer you?”
Breandán couldn’t help but smile at his crude companion. “My eyes have seen, but…”
“She is like a sister to me.”
“Ach,” Marcas groaned with distaste. “Why must you resort to that?”
“Because she is,” Breandán reconfirmed. “I have known her all my life. She used to meet me in the forest when her father and brothers were busy with their chores. She would often keep me from mine, which in the beginning gained me a swift beating, but I found ways around it. Rising before sunrise to get a head start or simply working faster.”
Marcas’ interest suddenly peeked, albeit for suggestive reasons. “Aye...go on.”
“Nothing ever happened,” Breandán amended. “We were merely children who got along well together. We fished, climbed trees, laughed at each other…”
“Naught more?” Marcas asked, completely unenthused with the tale thus far.
Breandán furrowed his brow. “We were children.”
“Not forever. She grew up mighty quickly if I recall.”
Breandán nodded his agreement, swiftly adding, “And so, lost interest in fishing and climbing trees as most girls often do.”
Marcas shook his head in disappointment. “You are truly daft, a chara. There are other things you could have done in that forest to keep her interest.”
“And have her three brute brothers, not to mention her very large father, after my hide? I think not.”
Marcas raised a single finger, denouncing Breandán’s logic. “But now, you have attained their blessings. You could do anything you wanted with that gorgeous woman and have no ill will from any of her family because you would be her husband. You would obtain a heavy dowry for her and your father would gain the alliance he desires with Ríoghán. Everyone would win, including me.”
Breandán looked at his friend oddly. “You?”
“Of course! I am your best friend, therefore, you would surely tell me all the naughty details of your interludes. I relinquish all of mine.”
Breandán sighed and rolled his eyes. “It certainly is not because I have ever asked you to.”
Marcas chuckled cynically and left to gather wood for the fire.
“Did my father put you up to this?” Breandán asked after rehashing the few choice words
Marcas used to persuade him into the marriage.
“Nay,” Marcas winked. “’Twould be all my doing.”
As Marcas walked away into the depths of the dark forest, Breandán gave thought to the arrangement. It would be a good match considering he and Sorcha were already friends. Most often, a man is married to a woman he barely knows and love comes, hopefully, thereafter. They, however, wouldn’t have to endure that awkward part of the relationship.
He could love her, he thought. Sorcha was a beautiful young woman with long, ebony hair and ice-blue eyes that looked straight into a man’s soul. She was taller than most girls her age, with slim shapely legs to carry her. And there was also the feature she was most remembered for—her large, lovely breasts. While she was not a promiscuous woman, a man would have to be blind not to notice them.
Aye, he could love her. He already cared deeply for her, given their childhood and the time they had spent together. So learning to love her as his wife might come more easily, if he tried hard enough.
That was the problem. Did he really want to try? Did he really want to love another woman like he loved Mara? And more importantly, was it even possible?
Breandán sighed and pulled his cloak tighter around his shoulders, his breath steadily emitting a slight mist in the air. He only started to feel the chill of the cool night as his thoughts came wandering back to reality—to the harsh awareness that his memory was most likely as foremost in Mara’s mind as the vanishing vapor of his own breath.
Purchase Mac Liam now!
Friend Renee on Facebook
Tweet with Renee on Twitter
Visit Renee at Deep In The Heart Romance
Renee will be giving away an E-book copy of Mac Liam to one lucky commenter when the SPOTLIGHT is over, so leave your comments for your chance to win!