Tuesday, October 2, 2018

Slave is on sale!

The ebook version of Slave is now on sale for only $1.99! This book was already hot, but that price makes it hotter than ever! Don't miss out!

http://www.cherylbrooksonline.com/id19.html


Look for Maverick on the New in Paperback tower in your local Barnes & Noble. It's also available in your local Walmart!


Tuesday, September 18, 2018

Special Cat Star Chronicles Price Promotion!

For a limited time, the ebook versions of every Cat Star Chronicles title are on sale! The new prices should be posted by the end of this week. You'll find links to most platforms on my Cat Star Chronicles website page.


Title
EBook Price
Fugitive
$       2.51
Hero
$       2.99
Outcast
$       2.99
Rebel
$       3.99
Rogue
$       1.99
Slave
$       2.99
Stud
$       2.99
Virgin
$       2.99
Warrior
$       1.99
Wildcat
$       2.99

Sunday, July 29, 2018

Five Star Review of Maverick!

There may be others out there, but this is the first one I've run across, and it's a good one! Thanks to Mari Davis of Fashion Windows for the terrific review!

Check it out! https://www.marienela.net/book-bubbly-4-maverick-by-cheryl-brooks-blush-crush/

Tuesday, May 1, 2018

Cover Reveal and ARC Giveaway of Maverick!

You've waited a long time for this, and in many ways, so have I. My detours into the Cowboy Heaven and the Soul Survivors series have given the second generation of Zetithian survivors time to grow up and be ready to fall in love.

This release also marks the first Cat Star cover that actually shows the hero's face. Unfortunately, my requests for a guy who has been altered to look like a Zetithian fell on deaf ears (the first versions had a dude with a full beard!). I'm sure the powers that be know best, but I really would've liked to see an honest-to-god picture of one of my cats! I mean, my imagination is pretty good, but you know what they say about pictures being worth a thousand words apiece.

Anyway, without further adieu, meet Larry and Althea--all grown up and ready for adventure!


Being irresistible to every species in the galaxy isn't all it's cracked up to be. 

Having the Zetithian feline gene gives Larsanken "Larry" Tshevnoe awesome beauty and sensuality unmatched by any other males in the universe. But it can make the quest for true love...complicated. 

Enter childhood friend and fellow Zetithian Althea Banadänsk. Her empathic powers make her the only one who can know if a woman truly loves Larry for himself, and Althea would do anything to help her friend...even if that means hiding her own intense craving for him. 

But when a distress call sends them off course—and into danger—they find more than their hearts are at stake. Now it's up to them to become the champions of truth and justice throughout the galaxy...or risk losing it all.
 
Now available for preorder from Amazon and Barnes & Noble. It's probably available from some other sources, but I haven't gone looking for them yet.  
 
I have one advance copy to give away. Post a comment below for your chance to win! Contest closes Saturday, May 12, 2018 at 8pm EDT. I will post the winner at 9 pm that evening. Good luck!

Saturday, December 30, 2017

Potato Casserole Recipe!

My grandmother used to make this casserole, but the version I have is in my sister's handwriting on a 3 X 5 card that has definitely seen better days. I used to make this with Ore Ida hash brown patties, but since I can never find them anymore, I've tried using hush puppies or the shredded hash browns. The shredded are easier, although the bag is bigger than 1 lb 8 oz original. If you want to use the full bag, you can use up to 2 cups of sour cream and increase the salt by about 1/4 to 1/2 tsp.



Potato Casserole

Ingredients:
1 pkg frozen hash browns (1 lb. 8 oz.)
1 tsp salt
¼ tsp pepper
½ cup chopped onion (sautéed if desired) 
1 can cream of chicken soup
1 cup sour cream
2 cups grated sharp cheddar cheese


Topping:
Mix together:
½ cup melted butter
1 ½ cup crushed corn flakes


Directions:


Thaw potatoes. If using tater tots or hash brown patties, break them up after thawing. Combine ingredients and mix well. Spread evenly in a greased 9 X 13 pan.

Spread corn flake and butter mixture on top of potatoes. Bake at 350 F for 45 minutes to 1 hour.

Saturday, December 23, 2017

Eggplant and Hamburger Casserole Recipe!

Been meaning to post this recipe for a while now. Finally took a picture so I have no more excuses.

My mother used to make something like this, but it always seemed a bit watery to me, as did the recipe for Hamburger Eggplant Casserole I posted several years ago. I have recently discovered that pre-cooking the eggplant and adding the cornstarch solves the problem quite nicely.

Enjoy!



Eggplant and Hamburger Casserole

Ingredients:

1 lb hamburger (at least 85 % lean)
1 onion, chopped
1 green pepper, chopped
3 tbsp olive oil, divided (basil flavored oil if available)
1 eggplant, peeled and cubed
1 ½ cups tomato puree
4 garlic cloves, minced
2 tsp salt, divided  
½ tsp pepper
½ tsp oregano
¼ tsp red pepper flakes
6 sprigs fresh thyme (leaves stripped from stems) or ¼ tsp dried thyme
2 tbsp cornstarch dissolved in 2 tbsp water

Topping:
Mix together:
1/3 cup grated Parmigiano Reggiano or other parmesan cheese
¾ cup Panko breadcrumbs (may substitute regular breadcrumbs or crushed Ritz crackers)
½ tsp Italian seasoning (omit if using Italian seasoned breadcrumbs)

Directions:

In a large skillet, sauté onion and green pepper in 1 tbsp oil until soft. Add hamburger and garlic and cook until the meat is done. Spoon off excess fat. Place peeled and cubed eggplant in a large microwaveable bowl, toss with 1 tsp salt and 1 tbsp olive oil. Microwave until soft, stirring occasionally, about 4 min. Add eggplant to the hamburger mixture, then add tomato puree, 1 tbsp oil, and the remaining seasonings.  Cook until hot and bubbly. Adjust seasoning to taste. Dissolve cornstarch in 2 tbsp water and stir in. Pour into greased casserole dish and top with breadcrumb and cheese mixture. Bake at 375 until hot and bubbly and topping is lightly browned, about 30 min.

Friday, June 2, 2017

Justice From the Deep Release Day!


Finally, book three is live on all platforms! Read on for the first two chapters. I hope you enjoy it!

She’s humankind’s last best hope for survival. If she fails to bring justice to the world, the next generation could very well be the last.


A telepathic warning from the pilot enables flight attendant Susan Maxwell to survive a terrifying plane crash. In the wake of the disaster, she takes charge until the inevitable breakdown occurs and her mind is filled with the voices of other passengers. When she contacts her fellow survivors, she learns that they too have been hearing voices, and that a greater destiny awaits them.  

Seamus Quinn found the woman of his dreams when he rescued Susan and her friends, but her initial reaction left him with no hope of ever seeing her again—until she shows up on the dock asking to hire his boat.

With his love and assistance, Susan discovers the role that both Seamus and the sea will play in fulfilling her destiny as the Bringer of Justice. Reuniting with her fellow survivors culminates in a display of power that will alter the course of human history.  



Chapter 1

The drive from the Cliffs of Moher to Liscannor took only a few minutes, but to Susan Maxwell, the trip might as well have taken a week. Her feet dragged as she walked down to the docks when her step should have been springy and light. She should have been pleased to see the boat and its crew. They had, after all, plucked her and two other women from a life raft after their plane crashed into the sea off the west coast of Ireland. 
“And there she is,” Susan muttered as she approached the dock. The Branwyn Eostre rocked gently at her moorings, her blue and white hull reflecting off the waves. The two crewmen were busy on deck, undoubtedly tucking their craft in for the night.   
Seamus Quinn and Ian… Had she ever heard Ian’s surname? She didn’t think so. If she had, it didn’t register. Not like the name of the boat itself, which, according to her captain, was derived from Branwyn, the goddess of love, sexuality, and the sea and Eostre, the goddess of spring, rebirth, fertility, and new beginnings.
New beginnings, hell.
“Every ending is a new beginning.”
“Shut up,” Susan said absently. She hadn’t quite gotten the hang of ignoring the voices that had taken up residence in her head in the wake of the crash. Cleona Mahoney, one of her fellow survivors, had told her they would help her to—Susan couldn’t help but chuckle—save the world.
Yeah, right. How can I save the world when I couldn’t even save the man I love?
“Forget that,” she whispered aloud. “He isn’t in the group.”
That omission had been the unkindest cut of all. When she might have drawn comfort from hearing Chuck’s voice, it had been denied her, save for those few frantic moments before the plane went down.
One of the first flights she’d been on as an attendant had been with him.
“You’re who?” she’d asked. “Chuck Yeager? Seriously?”
It had seemed like such a joke at the time, one Chuck had used to his advantage on frequent occasions, although he’d only been named after the famous aviator. His last name was actually Travers, the “Charles Yeager” having its source in his parents’ expectations of him—not that he’d ever had the chance to be anything but a pilot, given the number of them in his family.
She and Chuck had enjoyed an intense, passionate affair that ended shortly before he met his future wife. Although he and Susan had remained good friends, he had moved on to find love with another, whereas Susan never had. Chuck and his wife lived with their two children in a big old house in southern Maryland. Susan still lived alone in the same Newark apartment, partly because she’d never met anyone who measured up to Chuck, but mostly because she’d never really stopped loving him.
She’d never met any of Chuck’s family, but at least they were still alive to mourn him. Entire families had been aboard that plane, all of them lost along with the 747’s full complement of passengers and crew—with three exceptions. Four, if you included the dog.
Susan still wished she’d been among the dead. Twice now, she’d stood on the edge of the cliffs gazing down at the rocks while mentally calling out to Chuck’s spirit. Refusing to accept the ensuing silence on her first visit, she’d gone back there again. Redoubling her efforts, she concentrated on him so hard she could almost see his face, but if he was there, he wasn’t talking.
How could she have received a telepathic communication from him when he was alive and he not be among the others after his death? Both times, Cleona had interrupted Susan’s attempts to contact him, although whether her intervention was fortunate or unfortunate remained to be seen.
And now, instead of airplanes, she’d been told to seek out a boat.
Great.
Seamus, the younger of the two men, glanced up from his task and swept off his cap, revealing a thatch of dark brown curls. “Well, now… I wouldn’t have thought we’d be seeing you again.”
“Me either,” Susan replied. “But here I am.” She drew in a fortifying breath. “I was told to hire your boat.”
An eyebrow rose as he strolled over to the port side. “And who would’ve told you that?”
Another sigh. “Cleona. She said I was supposed to find you and hire your boat.”
“Did she happen to say why?”
“No, she didn’t.” Saving the world wasn’t going to cut it as an excuse. Not with this guy—especially since she didn’t fully grasp the need herself. “I think…” She straightened as an explanation suddenly occurred to her. “I think she thought it would help me to, um…recover.”
With a slow nod, he rubbed his chin in a contemplative manner. “I see. Would you be wanting it tomorrow? We’ve an hour or so free in the afternoon.”
“Whenever,” she said with a shrug. “I’m not really sure it matters.”
He glanced toward the horizon. “Or would now be a better time?”
She was still staring at him when she realized her mouth had dropped open. “Nno. I don’t think so.” The mere thought of being out to sea at night set off a shiver. 
“Just as well,” he said. “It’ll be getting dark soon, and there’s some weather moving in.” He cocked his head. “You said you needed to recover. You look fine to me—a bit pale, perhaps, but—”
“Please don’t start that again.”
A smile tugged the corner of his mouth. “Start what?”
“That crap about redheaded women being fierce.”
“Ah, but it’s true, isn’t it?” His eyes narrowed to a squint. “You were plenty fierce before.” His gaze shifted toward the top of her head. “And you’re still a ginger.”
“Hmm…” She pressed her lips into a firm line. This was a conversation she truly didn’t want to have. “How do you know the color didn’t come from a bottle?”
The boat rocked as he took a step closer and peered up at her. “It’s been almost two weeks since that plane went down, and the roots of your hair look to be the same shade as the ends. Something tells me you wouldn’t have been in any mood to dye your hair.”
He was right, of course. As adrift as she’d felt, she barely had the inclination to wash and comb it.
“Adrift, hell. You’re clinically depressed. And rightly so.”
The shrink was talking to her again. She had to bite her lip to keep from retorting aloud. She took a moment to regroup before saying, “You’re probably right.”
“So tomorrow, then? At about three?”
She nodded. “That should work.” Deeming the conversation over, she turned to go.
“Hold on.” Within seconds, he’d climbed nimbly up the ladder and hopped onto the quay. “Can I get a phone number in case we need to call you?”
She stood there for a long moment. I’m gaping again.
“You have a mobile phone, don’t you?”
Actually, she had two. One that worked, and one that didn’t. Oddly enough, she didn’t know the correct number for dialing either of them. Nevertheless, she fished through her purse for the phone the airline had given her. The other one was back at her hotel in a bag of rice. She didn’t know what she’d hoped to accomplish by trying to dry out some stranger’s phone, but it had given her something to focus on at a time when her life had lost any semblance of order.
“Nice purse,” he commented.
She glanced up at him in surprise. Granted, it was a Gucci, but why a fisherman would notice such a thing defied logic. “The airline people gave it to me in London.” Her fingers touched on the smooth plastic of her phone. “Here it is. Hold on while I look up the number.” Something as simple as a phone number should’ve been easy to remember, but for some strange reason, she hadn’t been able to commit it to memory.
“Why don’t you just call mine?” he suggested.
Deeming it easier than delving into the settings on her own device, she tapped in the numbers as he rattled them off, then pressed the Send icon. Within moments, his phone rang—playing an ordinary ringtone, as opposed to something more distinctively Irish.
“We’re connected,” he said, checking his phone. “All we have to do is look under Recent Calls.”
So simple… Unlike Cleona’s talents. She’d been using Ireland’s stone towers to communicate with Susan, which was weird as all get-out, but was, thus far, their only mode of contact, if somewhat inconvenient. Not only did Susan have to climb to the top of O’Brien’s Tower, she had to pay the two-euro admission fee every time they needed to talk. Still, as a means of proving that something spooky was going on, such “calls” were unsurpassed. At least it proved she wasn’t losing her mind.
Or did it? Perhaps their peculiar abilities were a sign of mutual insanity. She waited a moment for the shrink to chime in—which, of course, he didn’t. None of her ghostly cohorts ever answered questions on demand. They only made random comments whenever the spirit—her choice of words elicited a mental eye roll—moved them. They hadn’t said anything when she’d stood at the edge of the cliff. She’d told Cleona that the cliffs were the only place she could find peace, when what she’d really meant was that the voices ceased as she approached the edge. Maybe it was their way of trying not to goad her into jumping—or holding their collective breath to see whether she would.
“Um…where are you staying?”
“I’m at the Cliffs of Moher Hotel.” The description had intrigued her—Unassuming lodging with restaurant and bar. You couldn’t go wrong with a place like that—aside from the fact that it was the only hotel in Liscannor that wasn’t booked solid when she arrived.
“So you decided not to stay on in London?”
She shook her head. “I was there for about a week. I tried to avoid this place, but it kept calling to me.”
If he thought her reasoning was strange, he was at least tactful enough hold his tongue. “It’s a nice enough hotel,” he said. “And I’m not a bit surprised you came back here.”
Susan waited for the obvious quip about being anxious to see him again. But once more, he didn’t comment. “Oh? Why is that?’
His gaze swept the bay and the surrounding village. “There’s a kind of magic to this place. I’ve lived here all my life and I still can’t explain it—although the proximity of St. Brigid’s well might have something to do with it.” His eyes met hers once again. “Have you been to the well?”
“No—at least, not yet.” She had passed by the site a number of times. Even without a sign to point the way, the statue of St. Brigid standing in her glass case by the roadside was hard to miss. Thus far, however, Susan’s only comfort had been walking along the cliffs rather than visiting the local holy places. She wondered why. In the wake of such a terrifying disaster, she ought to have sought solace in every shrine in Ireland.
“You should go,” he urged. “It’s not far from here. People visit from all over. Even without the religious aspect, it’s an interesting spot. Very soothing to the soul.”
She nodded. “I’ll do that.”
Ireland itself had provided a measure of healing. The sweeping vistas of County Clare contrasted with neat, whitewashed buildings, and a pub sat right beside the site of the holy well, the perfect mix of magic, practicality, and natural beauty. The air was clear and fresh, carrying with it the faint tang of the sea, which was the only clue that the ocean was so near. No lawns sloped down to a sandy beach; the land was well above sea level, as the height of the cliffs demonstrated so vividly.  
“I could take you there now if you like,” Seamus said after glancing at the horizon once again.
Susan smiled to herself, thinking that perhaps it was a seaman’s habit to consult the sky rather than his watch to mark the time of day. “That’s very kind of you, but I know the way. And I have a car.” Truth be told, one of her excursions to the cliffs had been accomplished on foot. Walking exercised the body and calmed the mind—except when her hitchhiking ghosts decided to chime in. Would they be as quiet at the well as they were on the cliffs? Either way, she’d have bet money that her resident shrink would tell her that visiting the well was good therapy.
“It is.”
Figured that would get you going again.
Seamus shifted from one foot to the other as his smile slowly broadened. “You misunderstand me.”
Deliberately, perhaps. Cleona had seemed to think Seamus could aid them in their quest to save the world; no doubt she would read Susan the riot act for pushing him away. “Okay, then. If you really want to take me there, I have no objection to allowing you to do so.”
“Your enthusiasm is bowling me over,” he said with a mocking grin. “But I’ll take that as a yes.”
“See now… That wasn’t so hard, was it?”
Oh, hush up.
He offered her his arm. “Shall we?”
“Don’t you have to do more, er…boat maintenance before you go?”
“Ian will take care of the rest. We were nearly done anyway.” Turning toward the boat, he waved at his shipmate. “Oy, Ian! We’ll be heading out now. I got us a three o’clock for tomorrow.”
Ian waved back. “Is that the ginger Yank, then?”
“Aye, it is. Told you she’d be back, didn’t I?”
“That you did.” Ian nodded toward Susan. “Good to see you, lass. You look a mite better than you did the last time we saw you.”
“I’m doing okay,” she said. “At least, as well as I can be.”
With a wag of his head, he went on, “A terrible business, that. Still amazed anyone survived. The investigators talked to us the other day. Said it was a miracle, and I didn’t argue with them.”
“Investigators? Really?”
“Aye. Asked us to tell them everything we remember—not that our story would be any different from what any other witnesses could’ve told them. Just checking the facts, I’ll wager.”
“I suppose so.” Susan shouldn’t have been surprised. She’d been interviewed at length in the aftermath, although “interrogated” would have been a more apt description.
No. That was too harsh. “Debriefed” was closer to the truth.
“We’re going up to St. Brigid’s well,” Seamus said, filling the gap in the conversation. “She hasn’t seen it yet.”
Ian nodded. “An excellent notion. We could all stand a bit of spiritual guidance after such a tragedy.”
Susan nearly laughed out loud at Ian’s choice of words. Somehow she doubted either man suspected she was already carrying around her own private pack of spiritual guides, none of whom had seemed particularly religious. Thus far, the shrink had been the most vocal, leading her to assume he’d been charged with the task of keeping her from offing herself long enough to—she cringed at the thought—save the world.
Perhaps the other spirits would help her with the actual planet-saving.



Chapter 2

Seamus glanced at Susan before adding, “Or spiritual comfort” to Ian’s comment. He would’ve given a lot to have spent the past several days comforting her rather than carrying on with business as usual. Not when meeting her meant that nothing would ever be the same.
No one ever told him what it would be like to finally find the right woman. He’d never known what to expect—what signals to watch out for or how he would feel, let alone that it would occur as the result of one of the all-time most improbable chance encounters. He’d known she was the one from the moment he laid eyes on her. Stripping off his sweater to wrap it around her shivering shoulders on the day of the crash had seemed perfectly natural—to the point that he’d all but ignored the other two women’s needs. He’d only been recalled to his senses when the blond woman—Jillian Dulaine, her name was—had asked if he had any blankets.
Their time together had been brief, not allowing for much conversation. Even so, he could scarcely mind what he was doing while she was aboard, and she hadn’t been far from his thoughts ever since. He’d read every scrap of information about the crash in the press and online, all the while hoping that someday, somehow, he might reconnect with her.
And now, here she was, asking to charter his boat.
What are the odds?
The offer to take her to the well had been prompted by his needs rather than hers. She intrigued him in a way he couldn’t begin to explain. He wasn’t about to let her out of his sight now.
He gestured toward the car park. “Shall we?”
Susan replied with a somewhat absent nod and turned away from the dock with a vague wave of farewell at Ian. Despite his attraction to her, she obviously wasn’t feeling it on her end. At least, not yet. Push her too hard and she never would.
He led the way to his car, an aging Vauxhall Astra that was even less conducive to picking up women than the Branwyn Eostre. He opened the door for her and waited until she fastened her safety belt before closing the door.
She shifted in her seat, seeming hesitant and perhaps a bit uncomfortable before aiming a brittle smile at him as he climbed in on the driver’s side. “Who’s the captain? You or Ian?”
“The boat was my dad’s. Ian used to work the boat with him, and I kept him on after Dad died, so I guess you could say I’m the captain now.” He grinned as he started the engine. “Ian is captain in practice, though. More experience.”
She nodded, her gaze drifting from his face as her smile faded. “I don’t know if I ever thanked you guys for rescuing us. I’m sorry if I didn’t, but thank you. We really appreciated you coming so quickly.”
“No need to thank us,” he said as he pulled out of the parking space. “It’s all a part of life at sea. You help whenever you can, knowing it might be you that needs help the next time.”
“I suppose so.” Her voice still sounded rather faint, lacking the firm diction that had characterized her tone on the day of the crash. “It’s a shame everyone doesn’t live by that code.”
“I can’t argue with that.” He fished around for a topic of conversation that wouldn’t be too personal or too prying. “I’m assuming the airline gave you some time off. How long will you be in Liscannor?”
“Maybe forever—although I’ll have to find someplace else to stay if I do. I don’t know. I’d like to go home—and I probably will. Just not yet.”
Perhaps there was hope for him after all. “Why the delay? Not wanting to get on another plane?”
Her derisive snort surprised him. “If that were the only issue, I’d have left already.”
“How so?”
“II lost someone on that plane. I’m not over it yet. I may never be, even though Cleona said we were—” She stopped abruptly, catching her lower lip between her teeth.
“She said you were what?”
Her laugh was sharp and mirthless. “I’d better not say. You probably already think I’m about to go off the deep end or else you wouldn’t be taking me to a shrine.”
“I don’t think anything of the kind, although healing is St. Brigid’s specialty.”
With another absent nod, she turned toward the side window. “I finally figured out why this place looks so strange to me.”
After the mention of insanity, Seamus thought it best to humor her abrupt change of topic. “How so?”
“The houses and barns are distinctively Irish, but it’s the lack of trees that makes it seem so odd—almost like driving through Kansas or Colorado. A vast, treeless expanse of gently rolling hills.”
“I’ve never thought about it, myself. That’s just the way it is around here.”
She was right, though. Except for the tree-covered hillside across the road from the well and the small grove behind the well itself, there were no woods or forests to speak of, only the occasional isolated tree scattered amid green pastures and the ever-present gorse. Funny how he’d never considered it strange until now.
“There’s the well.” He turned left onto the road that ran past the cemetery behind the well and pulled into the tiny parking space by the steps. Continuing to play the gentleman—his mum would’ve fussed if he’d been anything less—he got out and went round the car to open the door for her. She took his hand without comment, although considering the graceful manner in which she rose to her feet, she hadn’t needed his help. Two weeks prior, she would’ve declined his offer with a disdainful glance. She’d been angry back then, perhaps because of the loss of the person she’d mentioned. Who was it? A lover? A friend? A family member? She hadn’t said, and he debated the wisdom of asking her to explain.
Deeming it best to avoid the cemetery for now, he steered her toward the gate in the stone wall that encircled the well. St. Brigid stood in her glass case atop a dais of stone with shrubs and flowers massed near her feet. He’d always thought of the statue as being the saint herself, perhaps because of the serenity he felt whenever he gazed up at her face.
Susan walked around the statue, studying it from every angle and taking pictures as any dutiful tourist would have done. When she followed him into the cave-like entrance to the well, she seemed properly awed by the hundreds of tokens left there by visitors and worshipers alike, but it was the water pouring into the well from the niche in the stone wall that held her transfixed.
He knew the feeling. The sunlight glinting on the water from the opening above and the trickling sound echoing on the walls of the cave combined for an effect that was as mesmerizing as it was soothing. He’d stood there for what had to have been hours after his father’s funeral, and he wasn’t the least bit surprised when Susan knelt down and cupped her hand to scoop up some of the water. As she stood and held out her hand, allowing the water to sieve through her fingers, the snapshot of his father that Seamus and his mother had placed on the wall caught his eye. The photo had already begun to fade, but his father’s smile and twinkling eyes were as warm and genuine as ever.
It wasn’t until he felt Susan standing beside him that he realized he’d been staring at the picture almost as long as she’d been captivated by the water.
With a smile and a bit of a blush, he nodded toward the photo. “That’s my dad. Died about four years ago. That was taken not long before he passed.”
Susan peered at the photo. “Died fairly young, then?”
“Aye. He was only fifty-four. Lung cancer—most likely from smoking, they said. Never picked up the habit myself.”
“Neither did I.” She laughed again, a self-deprecating, ironic sort of laugh. “Always tried to live a healthy lifestyle and then nearly got myself killed in a plane crash.”
“But you didn’t die,” he pointed out. “Must be your reward for all that healthy living.”
This time, her laugh was more of a snort. “If you can call it a reward. I’m not so sure it doesn’t qualify as a punishment.”
“Mum felt the same way. Always hoped she would pass before my dad. Said she didn’t want to face living without him.”
“And how is she now?”
“Well enough,” he replied. “Hasn’t found a new man yet, mainly because she hasn’t bothered to look.”
Seamus had a similar problem himself. One severely broken heart had put him off the idea of taking a wife. He might have dated and flirted a bit since then, but never once had he felt the need to take the first step in a more serious direction. Susan, however, had reawakened the inclination. He could scarcely believe his luck in her actually seeking him out, especially since he’d already begun the process of relegating her to the status of the one that got away.
“Four years, you said. I wonder…how long does it take?”
“Before your heart mends, you mean?” With her nod, he thought for a moment before replying. “Sometimes never, I suppose. But hopefully sooner rather than later.”
“That sounds pretty vague.” Her wry smile gave him a tiny ray of hope. “You’re not much help, are you?”
“None at all,” he declared, while at the same time marking her slight change of attitude with approval. More like the fierce ginger I remember. “Would you like to see the rest of the grounds? It’s quite pretty up on the hill.” Until you came to the cemetery, although as cemeteries went, St. Brigid’s was more serene than spooky.
“I’d like that,” she said, her voice whisper-soft once again.
Not missing another opportunity to take her by the hand, he led her out into the sunlight and up the steps, which were flanked by beds filled with more shrubs and flowers.
“It’s very beautiful here,” she said. “Someone obviously tends the grounds with lots of loving care.”
“Aye, they do. I’ve been known to lend a hand myself, although I’ve had less time of late.” He should make that time, though. Simply being near the well had always improved his sense of well-being.
On the other hand, being near Susan had done something very similar.
* * * *
Seamus was a decent sort, really. Susan had to admit she’d misjudged him. He wasn’t an obnoxious flirt. He was a man who tended shrines and drew his livelihood from the sea.
The sea…
Susan’s body had flooded with warmth the moment she touched the water. Not the cross or the stones or the statues or the flowering plants… No. The water was what had brought the voices in her head back to the fore.
“Do you feel it?” one of them asked. “The oneness with our water planet?”
Go away, she admonished. I feel happier here, that’s all.
“You feel the heat, though. Don’t you?”
Yes, I do. But I don’t think it means what you think it means. She’d nearly laughed aloud when that quote from The Princess Bride resurfaced in her mind, particularly since she never dreamed she would ever be amused by anything again.
“You might be surprised,” said one.
“Let it flow,” said another.
She’d stood and turned abruptly away from the well only to find Seamus staring at one of the many photographs adorning the wall of the grotto. His response to her presence had given her an easy means to escape the nagging voices.
Now, as she and Seamus strolled across the grassy hill above the well, she felt at peace, a feeling similar the way she felt while standing at the edge of the cliffs. Except that at the cliffs, the voices had let her be.
Cleona had advised her to embrace the madness of hearing voices. Susan wanted to reject it completely. She was being selfish, which was the only way she could view the matter now that she knew she was supposed to help save the world.
Ridiculous.
Yet the supernatural aspects of the crash and its aftermath continued to haunt her. She’d heard Chuck’s voice as though he’d been standing right beside her, urging her to do what she could to save herself and as many of the passengers as possible. It didn’t seem fair that all she could have of him was his last ditch attempt to save her when he seemed bent on destroying everyone else aboard that plane—that and some stranger’s cell phone. She’d completely forgotten about the phone until finding it in her pocket when they reached Inisheer. She probably should’ve given it to the airline officials, but it was one of the last things Chuck had touched, and she was reluctant to part with it. Being doused with seawater had probably rendered it inoperable anyway—worthless to anyone except her.
He’d succeeded, though. She was alive and well, walking the green hills of Ireland. Too bad she hadn’t been able to save any of the others, although she suspected Cleona might have been in her section. She still wasn’t sure about that. Perhaps she never would be.
Seamus was an excellent guide, providing a running commentary on the saint and various aspects of the shrine and the grounds. Unfortunately, Susan doubted she would retain even half of the information. Crossing the small lawn, she laid a hand on the tall, lichen-covered cross and felt nothing. No spiritual messages, no supernatural powers. Clearly, water had to be involved for anything of that nature. Had Cleona known how important water would be when she told Susan to charter a boat? Perhaps she did, especially since she claimed to have her own set of voices to tell her such things.
In a way, Susan was envious of Cleona. Her voices had at least been helpful. Susan’s had been annoying enough to make her consider jumping off a cliff.
Seamus had also irritated her at first. Now his accent and cheerful demeanor seemed mildly therapeutic. He was good company, and she had no need to wonder what his wife or girlfriend might think about them being out together. At least, she didn’t think he was involved with anyone. Had he told her he was single? She couldn’t remember.
Spending time with Chuck had been completely different. Although neither of them had been attached at the time, they’d been discreet to the point that very few people knew they were seeing each other. Even if it had been common knowledge, with the plethora of clandestine affairs going on around them, their romance probably wouldn’t have raised any eyebrows, and it was ancient history now. Nevertheless, she did her best to avoid drawing attention to the number of his flights she bid on each month. She might only get one of her choices, but simply being on the same plane with Chuck made her feel whole again. Either way, they were still good friends—friends with a closeness of spirit that had culminated in his last desperate plea.
Had he known he was going to crash the plane before they boarded? Why hadn’t he warned her? For that matter, why hadn’t he warned the airline or called the police? He could’ve refused to fly, or at least delayed the flight in some way. All she’d gotten from him was that he had to do it or more people would die, including his family. How had he known that? For the thousandth time since the crash, she wished his voice were among the others. He could’ve told her something useful, or at least comforting. Her onboard shrink had been analytical and his advice was probably sound, but for pity’s sake, why couldn’t he have been Chuck?
Seamus cleared his throat in a you-really-aren’t-paying-attention-to-me-are-you manner.
“Sorry. Woolgathering.” Did anyone ever use that term anymore? Sheep shearers, perhaps? Maybe Cleona’s boyfriend the sheep farmer used it. Or—heaven forbid—one of her resident voices.
“I asked if you were hungry. I thought we might stop in at a pub.”
Jesus. First the excursion to the well and now dinner. Wasn’t it enough that she’d hired his boat for the morrow?
The morrow? Yet another archaic phrase. One of her voice buddies must be positively ancient. Or Irish, which would make as much sense. An incredibly old Irishman. Or woman. Their genders weren’t always easy to identify at first. In the beginning, she’d only assumed the shrink was male because he tended to be somewhat condescending. She made herself a promise to call Cleona as soon as she got back to her hotel. She needed more particulars if she was going to be of any help at all in the “saving the world” scheme.
“Hungry…”  
A tiny grin quirked his lips. “You know… For food?”
Truth be told, she wasn’t hungry for much of anything. Food had lost most of its appeal, and she’d picked at every meal since the crash, whether it was served in a fancy London eatery or one of Liscannor’s excellent pubs. However, a glance at her watch at least proved it was dinnertime.
“I should probably eat something,” she conceded, frowning. “Now that you mention it, I’m not sure I ever had lunch.” Breakfast was a bit of a blur—along with most recent events. She blamed the extra souls she’d acquired, whether they were truly responsible or not.
“Such enthusiasm,” Seamus murmured as he steered her toward his car. “Good thing my company isn’t responsible for your lack of interest.”
“And how would you know that?”
“I’m fairly certain I wasn’t on your mind at lunchtime.”
“Mmm… You’re wrong about that. I was thinking about you—and how much I dreaded seeing you again.”
He drew back, pressing a fist to his chest in dramatic protest. “You wound me, lass. You truly do.”
“Yeah, right,” she drawled. “Like my opinion really matters.”
Astonishingly, he took her hand and raised it to his lips. “You’d be surprised how much.”