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Page 11

But as horrifying as Kieran’s death had been, Niall couldn’t be unhappy that the cruel Fae who’d abducted his children and would have murdered them was gone. "If they hadn’t killed him, the prince would have killed all of us."

Alanna nodded. "Me, certainly. I'd hoped that while he attacked me, you and your cubs could get away."

Niall shot to his feet. "That was your plan? For me to run away while you died? ’Tis not what Shifters do for mates, lass."

"It’s done, Niall. You must leave now. If they find you here, they will hold you responsible. Kieran’s cousin, his heir, had no love for Kieran, but he might appease his followers by making an example of you."

Niall hugged his boys close. They were scared, but unhurt, resilient lads. "And what is to say they won’t come after me and my cubs into the human world?"

"Because most Fae had no love for Kieran, either," Alanna said. "I doubt any of them will be willing to risk entering the human world to avenge his name."

"But you can not stay here, either, lass. They’ll blame you too."

Alanna gave him a long look. "Perhaps, if you exchanged your steel knives for bronze ones, I could better serve you breakfast?"

Niall’s heart thumped fast and hard. He reached for her, pulled her into the circle of his family. "You saved my boys, and me. You stay with me as long as you damn well please."

Her scent wrapped around him, fresh and graceful and beautiful. Niall wondered that he could have ever disliked it. Her scent was wrapping around his heart as well as the warmth of a new bond that had started to forge.

Alanna held the sword up to him. "This belongs to you."

Niall closed his hand around the hilt. The sword felt right in his palm, as though he’d made it especially for him to hold. And maybe he had. "A soul releaser?"

"I spelled it so that when a Shifter’s soul is in peril of being bound to its body or to another’s will, this sword will release it in peace. The Lupine souls that had been cursed to linger at their graves have at last gone to the Summerland."

Niall studied the lines and runes that ran and down the blade and the hilt. "Why did you do this? Why help Shifters? You’re Fae."

"Because many of the Fae are noble people. Some like Kieran, or our grandfather, or the ones who made and enslaved the Shifters in the first place, were cruel--even we consider them cruel. Fae have long lives, and we now live remote from the human world, which makes us view things differently. Kieran’s vengeance was that of a child pulling wings from a fly that annoyed him. I could not let him succeed."

The boys were looking at the sword too, with the bright gazes of lads fascinated by a pretty weapon. Niall saw long days ahead explaining to them why they couldn’t touch it.

"Why didn’t you tell me, lass?" he asked. "When we made the sword together, why didn’t you tell me what you were doing?"

"Because when I walked into your forge, you made no secret that you hated Fae. Why should you help me? You are Shifter. And to be honest, I simply didn’t think you’d believe me."

"And you’d have been right, love. I wouldn’t have." Niall’s heart squeezed as he thought of the danger she’d walked into, taking the sword to the Fae realm and knowing her brother would discover what she’d done. "But you should have told me this morning what you intended."

"I intended to have your children back to you before you woke. I never thought you’d be daft enough to follow me to Faerie."

"Daft, am I?" Niall tilted her face to his and pressed a brief kiss to her lips. "Who was the one who came here alone, intending to sacrifice herself? But we can argue about who's most foolish later. Let’s be going, before your brother’s keepers return for us."

They went, through the mists and the standing stones, back to the freezing wind from the wild sea, the light dancing on the waves and the green of the Great Island across the strait. The wind tossed Alanna’s hair, which streamed like gold.

They returned to the cottage, where Piers and Marcus ate ravenously and regaled them with their adventures with the enthusiasm of boys no longer afraid. Niall hung the sword point downward on the wall, the blade gleaming softly.

"Keep it well," Alanna said from his kitchen table. "And wield it well."

"There are so many Shifters," Niall said. "I can’t be everywhere in the world waiting to see if a Shifter is in danger of losing his soul."

"Then we will make more. We will forge enough swords so that every Shifter clan will have one, and then your work will be done. You aren’t the best sword maker alive for nothing."

"I’m so glad you believe in me, love."

Alanna rose from the table, stepped into his arms, and kissed his lips. Piers and Marcus snickered, children laughing at their elders.

"Of course I believe in you," she said. "But do you believe in me?" Her voice lowered to a whisper. "Have you found the answer to the question you asked last night? Can a Shifter love a Fae?"

Niall cupped her face and looked into her beautiful dark eyes. "If that Fae was you, I think I could. Can you love a Shifter who's covered with soot and smells of iron?"

"I can love you, Niall O’Connell."

"Of course I won't be home much, lass, if you expect me to forge a sword for every Shifter clan in existence."

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