Excerpt

The Irish Heiress by Kaitlin O'Riley

Chapter One

Premonitions

September 1894

It was happening again. 

When it occurred in a public place Lady Mara Reeves tended to panic at the very thought of it happening to her. As it was just now... 

There really was no way to stop it once it started. At least not a way that she was aware of as yet. No, Mara’s only recourse was to find a quiet corner and hope this particular episode passed quickly. It hadn’t happened to her in quite a while, but she recognized the prickly signs immediately. And they were inordinately strong this time, as if making up for their long absence with a vengeance. 

It reminded her once again how different she was from everyone else.

Casting a silent prayer that no one would notice her, with hurried steps Mara retreated to a small alcove along the massive hallway, as she suddenly grew very dizzy, almost faint. Her elegant champagne pink silk ball gown grew restrictive around her chest. She reached for a marble pillar to give support, the cool white stone sending chills right through her long white gloves to her heated flesh. 

Then just as she knew it would, that peculiarly familiar tingling sensation crept over her skin ever so slowly, awakening each and every nerve in her body. Her heart raced and she grew warm and yet she shivered. The hair on the back of her neck stood on end and she clenched her teeth together. Pressing her fingers to her temples, Mara closed her eyes and held her breath. The lively music from the ballroom receded into a dark cloud of silence. Sharp pinpricks of awareness lit up inside of her, flashing sparks of light from within. 

And then it happened…  Misty wisps of images began to take shape in her mind. 

Fire. Glints of flames. Blinding bursts of light. Shimmering walls of golden orange and brilliant yellow. Breathtaking, scorching heat. Trapped in the burning building, blazing embers and smoky ash filling the air, Mara didn’t know where to go. Gut-wrenching, tormented screams echoed against the rush of flames. Her own panicked, terrified cries reverberated around her. Scalding tears, knowing it was her fault, knowing it was too late. Blinding heat and black smoke and swirling flames, the vicious sting of fear and the horrific smell of imminent death.

Her death. She was going to die in this raging inferno.

Then nothing. A short breath of blessedly cool air. She gasped.

A man. Frantically calling to her, his hand outstretched, reaching for her, a look of love, mixed with anguish and horror, awash on his handsome face. His eyes, oh, his eyes! Deep green and filled with abject longing and desire, they implored her to come with him, to believe him. And she wished to be with him with a certainty that belied all else. She held out her hand to him, trusting him implicitly, the terror that engulfed her dissipating at the touch of his fingers. Flooded with relief and elation, buoyed with happiness and hope, Mara clung to him, his strong arms embracing her.

He pulled her tightly to his broad chest and she was safe, secure, loved. In spite of their dangerous surroundings and the acrid smell of smoke thick around them, she could breathe easily within his sheltering embrace. A profound peace enveloped her. Never had she felt such an ebullient happiness and tranquility. This man loved her deeply and she loved him.  She looked into the greenest eyes she had ever seen. The desire to be with him overwhelmed her. She was his and he was hers. The certainty, the rightness of it, was all consuming.

She belonged to him. They belonged together.

And just like that, the intense images evaporated, as if Mara had simply awakened from an incredible and vivid dream.

Yet Mara had not been sleeping. She had been very much awake.

Shaken by what she’d just seen, she remained motionless, fighting the urge to cry. The loss of the exquisite connection with that man and the inexplicable sense of warmth, happiness, and pure love brought tears to her eyes.

Mara trembled, as if she were shivering from a cold wind.

Whenever she had one of her strange premonitions, it was always about someone else, never about herself. It had been that way her whole life. Sometimes she could foresee the future, getting a glimpse into what was going to happen to the people she loved. Sometimes she saw good things, other times she saw things she did not wish to know. But they always presaged the actual events themselves. And she had never been wrong. When she saw something in her visions, it always came to pass.

Ever since she was a little girl, she had kept these premonitions, these feelings or intuitions or signs or whatever they were called, to herself. Locked deep inside. She’d mentioned them to her father once when she was about seven years old, and from the panicked and worried expression in his paternal eyes, she learned not to mention them to him ever again. Another time, she had half-heartedly confided in Sara about them, but her cousin seemed baffled by her revelation.

However, this time her premonition was completely different from any of the others she had ever had.

This time the vision was about… her. Mara was the center of it all. Mara was the girl in the flames.

Fire had haunted her whole life. Was it any wonder that a vision that involved her included flames and smoke? Fire fascinated her and terrified her. There was no mistaking what she had seen and felt just now, even if she could not discern what it meant in any real context. Was she in danger now? When would this come to pass? Tonight? Tomorrow? A year from now? 

The only thing she was certain of was that it would happen.

“Mara…? Mara, are you unwell?”

In a daze, she blinked up at a familiar face. 

Her cousin, Phillip Sinclair, placed a steadying hand on her arm. His voice full of concern, he repeated her name, “Mara?”

Bracing herself, trying to refocus her mind, Mara finally responded with an automaticity that surprised her. “I’m perfectly fine, thank you.”

“Well, you don’t look perfectly fine at all.” Phillip shook his head, his boyishly handsome features lined with skepticism. “You look ghastly and about ready to faint. Let’s go sit in the drawing room for a moment, so you can rest. You’re lucky I happened to come along when I did.”

Nodding in wordless agreement, Mara followed Phillip away from the grand ballroom, where the sounds of lively music from the orchestra and the exuberant rise and fall of laughter and voices muddled together. All the guests were enjoying a wonderful evening of dancing and dining to celebrate Uncle Jeffrey’s birthday. Meanwhile an icy cold knot tightened in the pit of Mara’s stomach. 

What had just happened to her? 

It was unlike anything she had experienced before. Of all the visions, the seeings, she’d had in her life, this one had been drastically different. Still trembling, she took a gulp of air and walked unsteadily beside her protective cousin, holding tight to his arm, grateful for his calming presence for it anchored her in reality.

As they moved down the marble-floored corridor and passed by the other guests of her aunt and uncle, Mara looked up and into the face of the man she had just seen in her vision. She gasped.

Eyes of the deepest forest green, fringed with dark lashes and framed with dark brows arched in matched surprise as they met her own. These eyes gazed into her very soul, until Mara felt as if she were drowning in them, consumed by them. The man did not look away from her, nor did he flinch from their locked gaze. Strange feelings washed over her. Instant recognition. A sense of knowing and belonging.  A feeling of wonder. A blossoming of something exquisitely wonderful. Mara could not breathe. There was a connection so strong, she could only stop abruptly in place and stare back at him, utterly speechless. Frightened by the power of it, by the sheer beauty of it, she was motionless. 

It was him.