-- ROUND FOUR --- FULL CIRCLE
She never thought she'd be in Ireland again. She's been fighting sharp flashes of panic ever since stepping foot on the plane. What if she'd made the wrong decision? What if her research had been wrong? What if he didn't want her anymore?
She's come too far to back off now. Thirteen months of poring over thick dusty tomes and sorting between fact and fiction have led her here. Where it all started. The past week had been spent getting rid of her belongings, selling her cottage and trying to make amends with her mother. It's all or nothing. Either Kiernan takes her back or...
No thinking of that now. Positive thoughts, Lil, positive thoughts.
Everything changed on that sunny afternoon in her cramped apartment. Once her tears were cried out, she started replaying their conversation in her head. Scene after scene, viewed from a different perspective, revealed things she hadn't seen before. A flicker of pain in his eyes when she accused him of using her for revenge. Relief, joy and love conveyed with the simple touch of a hand. Anger and betrayal. He honestly believed she was the one playing with him. Had she really been the one to blame for all this?
It had only taken a few minutes to make her decision. By the end of the next day, her lease on the apartment was broken. Her clothes, laptop and books had been shipped to the cottage on the coast. Her furniture, dishes and everything else would stay with the apartment in exchange for getting out penalty-free. She quit her job via cell phone as she waited for her flight to board.
The cottage was full of dust and cobwebs and none of the utilities had been switched on, but it felt more like home than her metropolitan apartment ever had. Once everything was straightened out, she got to work. Searched all the nearby libraries for books. Called every dealer on the east coast. Spent endless nights on the internet in chat rooms. She called it research for her new book, surprised at how many doors it opened. Even more surprised when a story seemed to shape itself in her mind and then on paper. Scraps of dialogue and bits of plot jotted down on the grocery list between bread and ice cream.
Every waking hour was spent buried in one book or another with a pad of Post-Its nearby to flag important pages. It was hard to separate truth from fantasy, but she kept on searching. Devouring book after book. None of her questions were answered until she found the thin book with a scarred leather cover and brittle yellowed pages.
The sketch of Kiernan on the second page made her heart skip a beat. Not only did it cover his birth, childhood and early adulthood, it described his world in great detail. It didn't just mention the beauty and magic, it revealed nearly every secret. Why it remained hidden from mortal eyes, how a human could reach it... why she couldn't stay.
The tears she thought were dried up, fell like raindrops onto the book. Shame and guilt mixed with misery to send her into a dark depression that lasted for five months. Kiernan may have been the one to introduce her to his world, but she'd been the one to kick herself out. Her doubts, fears and insecurities were stronger than the magic that was supposed to keep her there indefinitely. They'd unknowingly kept her cocooned in a thick blanket so that her summons went unanswered and his attempts at contact failed.
No wonder he'd been so angry.
She'd immediately hidden the books in the attic and tossed her laptop under the bed. Day and night bled together as she stayed wrapped up in her pain. During the brisk fall afternoons, she unpacked the boxes that had been stacked up since the move. When the sun went down, she wandered the cottage like a restless ghost only to fall asleep at dawn then wake up and repeat the process.
Reaching into the last carton, her fingers brushed against something softer than jeans or sweaters. She tightened her grip, sucked in a deep breath and pulled out Kiernan's cloak. It settled around her shoulders like a comforting embrace. If she closed her eyes, she could pretend it was him and not merely a piece of cloth.
The cloak stayed around her shoulders as she hooked up her laptop and booked a flight to Dublin. When the doubts or fear crept in, she'd bury her head in its soft folds until the moment passed. Her poor laserjet worked overtime while she wrangled with real estate agents, lawyers and her mother. When the printer was done, she dropped one sheaf of papers into an addressed manila envelope and tucked the other into her messenger bag.
In a quiet Irish field, with rolling fields and stone walls as far as the eye can see, she wraps the cloak around her shoulders a little tighter and clutches the sheaf of papers against her chest. This is where she first met him. Where she first lost her heart. She only hopes this is where she can win his back.
She drops to her knees in the springy grass and gently places the papers on the ground. This is her gift to him. The final Lillian Murphy novel. It was not how she originally planned to end the series, but it fits. The heroine realizes that she'd been so very wrong about the villain-turned-hero. She embarks on a perilous journey to reach the hero and begs him to forgive her. Lily hopes Kiernan sees the parallels along with all the little things she can never say just right.
Her head bows and his name slips through her lips on a soft whisper. She pushes out every trace of doubt and concentrates only on how much she loves him and has missed him. It seems as if forever passes by before the wind shifts directions and she feels a warm hand on her shoulder.
"It was me all along. I'm sorry."
He picks up the story while his free hand lifts her chin. "I know."