Never in her life had Maeve expected to one day be in some sort of standoff with a large man in a medieval bedroom, dressed like a 13th century maiden. Sure, in her childhood she had dreamt of what it might be like to live in the middle ages. She had run through the woods pretending to hunt, she had reenacted conversations in her head between herself and a love interest, she had roped friends into playing dark-ages games with her. They had camped in the woods, hidden in bushes, worn poorly made replicas of what they thought a medieval person might wear. Her childhood had been rampant with fantasies.
But real life and childhood fantasy were two very different things. In real life, she was a secretary for her father's law firm. She dressed in cardigans and pencil skirts. She barely knew how to change the tires on her car let alone hold a dagger correctly. And she most certainly was not brave enough to brandish a weapon towards any human. It had taken all she had just to pepper spray the man who had followed her home from the bar suggesting inappropriate things the entire way. Only when her building was in sight did she dare turn, tell him off, and let the spray loose in his vicinity.
Though she often raged many arguments in her head, silently told off many a man who catcalled or made inappropriate passes on the street, and sassed Alex behind his back when he was being particularly annoying, she was known as the calm one by most of her friends. The girl who could diffuse any argument, who saw both sides of everything, who wouldn't hurt a fly. She was not brave. She was not a warrior. She was not much of anything, truth be told.
So to find herself clutching a dagger and holding it firmly in the direction of the very large man who was taking slow, calculated steps toward her as she stood trapped in what she assumed was his bedroom was more of a shock than anything else that had happened so far. Every move he made to come closer to her, she took a tiny step back. Eventually, she knew, she would be utterly cornered and most likely disarmed.
Currently, he was saying something to her in gaelic; something soothing and likely meant to reassure her as he held out a hand. But she resisted.
"Who. Are. You." she demanded, adding, "stop moving closer. I will stab you." She added a little shake to the knife in her hand, as if that would convince him.
"Mo chara, cén fáth nach bhfuil a fhios agat dom?" he said, and an exasperated frown appeared on his forehead. "Why do you not know me?" His english was heavily accented.
"Well, maybe because I've never seen you in my life before you took me from the dungeon. Maybe because you kidnapped me. Maybe because I am a hostage, and you have yet to even tell me your name." She watched as he moved an inch closer, and snapped, "stop that!"
He halted. He was now a mere five feet away from her, and could easily reach out and slap the knife from her hand if he so desired. Yet, he stayed where he was. "Maeve, it is me." He shook his head. "Gallagher. You have known me since we were but... so high." He illustrated with a hand low to the ground.
Picturing this bear of a man as a child no higher than her knees was nigh impossible. "I've never seen you before in my life!" she insisted. And yet, something niggled at the back of her mind. A familiar feeling, the flash of dark hair in a dark place.
"We rode horses together. We climbed trees, and hunted. Many a cave knows our presence." He moved another inch toward her. "You and I... we are one."
What he meant by this, she was unsure, but she backed up again and felt the backs of her knees bump against the bed. For one unsteady moment, she thought she might fall, but she regained her balance and kept the knife trained on him. "We most certainly are not one. Whatever that means."
He raked a hand through his hair, rendering it even wilder than before, and she caught the slightest glint of gray at his temples. "Mo chara, do you not remember anything?" The trace of sadness in his voice disarmed Maeve, and she felt the knife lower, just slightly.
"I remember wandering through snow. I remember drinking at a bar. I remember waking up with a severe hangover in the dirt, and an insane woman screaming gaelic at me, and you carrying me... to this bed, I imagine." The thought sent a shudder up her spine as she recalled waking up dressed in an entirely new garment. "I'm sure you've already done and seen more than enough." At that moment, she realized she very well could have been completely taken advantage of while she slept, and she choked a little. Tears began to run down her face.
He looked distressed, and he came forward again, this time a full step. "Mo chara, please do not cry. Let me help you."
"I swear if you come any closer I will gut you from throat to groin," she threatened wildly. "You had your chance while I was asleep and I don't even want to think about what you've already done to me. Just... let me go," her last words came out in a desperate whisper. "Please... just let me go." She was shaking from head to toe now, shock finally setting in as nightmarish thought after nightmarish thought ran through her head. All of the things she had not yet considered began to crop up.
How long had she been asleep? How long had her unconsciousness rendered her helpless and unknowing? What had he done to her that he'd needed to remove all of her clothing? She stared at the man who called himself Gallagher, her eyes wide and blurring with tears, and felt her stomach lurch again.
"What would I do to you?" he asked her gently, his voice breaking. "I would never harm you, Maeve. You must know this."
She leveled him with what she hoped was a scathing glare despite the tears running down her cheeks. "Why, then, did I find myself completely bereft of my clothes in your bed?"
His eyebrows twitched into a confused frown. "I left you in the care of Finola that I might deal with the beggar woman below." Looking her over, he explained, "she was to wait for you to wake and assist you in bathing and dressing. I suspect she got tired of waiting and removed what she could, leaving the rest for you to deal with when you awoke."
Maeve was not sure she believed him. "She removed all of my undergarments. All of them."
Just slightly, his lip twitched upward. "She is a thorough help. You should be thankful, as it appears you pissed yourself as you fell into a faint."
A whirl of embarrassment flooded Maeve. Not only had she been extremely hungover, but she had lost the contents of her stomach and her bladder before her abductor, who no doubt knew this brave waving of the dagger was completely a front. "Why should I believe anything you say? Why should I believe you didn't take advantage of me as I lay unconscious? Why should I believe it wasn't you who removed my clothes?"
Slight irritation flashed into his eyes, which ran down the length of her with abandon. "You are well aware I need do nothing to seduce you to my bed but hold out a hand and ask you to come." There was annoyance in his eyes, but a slight smile on his lips and a knowing tone in his voice.
That tone sent a blush over her that was not fearful, nor embarrassed. How dare he be seductive with her. "I, as an unmarried Christian woman, would never... how dare you even assume... I would not. And certainly never as easily as that!"
"Unmarried?!" he exclaimed, and he pointed at her hand, which still held the dagger up at him even though her arm burned. "That ring is nothing to you then? None of the holy vows, none of the ceremonies, none of the..." his voice deepened, "... consummation?"
Maeve glanced at the ring on her finger, its pearl entwined with sterling silver in a branch-like display, the metal worn down to look beautifully antique though she knew for a fact Alex had purchased it brand new from a very expensive jeweller. "He... he left me at the altar." She did not want to utter the entire thing. That he'd cheated on her the day they were to be wed, came crawling in like the rat he was, begging for a second chance.
"But he came back to you." He stepped closer. "I came back to you." Were he to inch forward any more, his chest would brush the tip of the dagger in her hand. "What has happened to you, Maeve? Why don't you remember me?"
Maeve stared at him, utterly confused. Those sincere green eyes, so full of love and sadness and pleading, were not the eyes she would have expected from a kidnapper. He towered over her, at least a full head taller, but somehow she did not feel threatened. Meeting his gaze, she felt... reassured. It was more than obvious merely by the ripple of the muscle through his shirt that he could easily disarm her. One swift move and he could slap the dagger from her hand, throw her on the bed, and kill her or have his way with her, and she would be able to do nothing to stop him.
She was not an unfit woman; she prided herself in eating healthily, going to the gym daily, and lifting weights not only to keep her figure trim but to build up strength. Though slender, she was strong, and had good endurance. But this man could no doubt snap her like a twig. It would take nothing for him to crush her neck with one hand, of this she was certain. Yet... though she wanted to deny it, to push away the thought that grew and yelled at her from the back of her mind, though she had already experienced enough in two days' time to put her on edge for the rest of her life... she new him.
Perhaps he had passed through her life at some point, and it was merely the memory of a stranger that now pressed in on her. Logically, he could very well be a dangerous man, liable to take advantage of her at any moment. Logically she should ram the dagger through his chest and run for dear life. Logically, she should not under any circumstance lower her guard, nor believe his words, nor let his pleading eyes get the better of her.
And yet, she lowered the dagger. She took a deep breath, and she slowly nodded.
"Fine," she said, "but if you dare touch me I still have this dagger and I will cut you." Waving the dagger toward him, she inched away from the bed and put herself halfway between him and the door. "But I'll bite." She surveyed him, from the wild black hair to the powerful torso to the rippling muscles of his legs. "Who are you, really?" she asked, emphasizing the last word. "And why should I know you?"
The man's dark eyebrows knitted together with concern, and he shook his head. "Maeve..." he ran a hand over his face, and she noticed there was the shadow of stubble on his chin. His eyes, bright green as they were, were tired and worried around the edges. His shoulders slumped the slightest bit. "A chara, you are my wife."
In that moment, Maeve could have been knocked over with a feather. Every thought left her head, staring at the man called Gallagher, and she fought to breathe. His wife? This man thought they were married? Slowly, she began to shake her head, and the insanity of it all struck her with an odd sense of amusement. Here she was, standing presumably abducted in a strange room with a strange man who claimed they had been married, the day after the love of her life cheated with her best friend and deprived her of the wedding she had dreamed of her entire life. One day an unwillingly jilted bride, the next an unwillingly married woman?
Despite herself, Maeve found that she had started to laugh and she could not stop. She clutched her stomach, which growled at her with hunger, and she giggled hysterically. The tears that had previously been of fear turned to tears of unhinged hilarity, and as she gasped for breath she looked up to find Gallagher staring at her with a raised eyebrow, obviously unsure whether he should smile or be concerned.
"What..." she managed, humor still bubbling up her throat as she straightened, "what kind of elaborate scheme is this?" She could not help it as her voice hitched higher at the end of the sentence and she was sent into another fit of giggles.
He shook his head and rubbed his face tiredly. "There is no scheme, Maeve. I do not know what madness has overtaken you, but perhaps wandering the moors for six weeks has put an end to your mind."
Maeve swallowed the last of her laughter and managed to straighten her features into some semblance of seriousness. "... wandering... the moors?"
Gallagher lifted one shoulder and nodded. "You left on your horse for an afternoon ride. She came back, but you did not. The mud of the marshes were on her hooves." Slowly, he backed himself up and sat on the end of the bed, weariness finally showing itself in his bowed head and folded hands. "We searched for you for weeks." He looked up at her. "Weeks, Maeve. They all thought you to be dead, or the faeries took you."
Maeve raised her eyebrows. "The faeries."
"You are a beautiful woman," he said, matter-of-factly, "and we all know they steal away the prettiest ones." Looking her up and down, he narrowed his eyes. "Perhaps you're a changeling, and the real Maeve is lost in fairyland. That would explain how you appeared in the cell below."
Maeve could not help that her jaw had dropped open. This man was accusing her of being mad, while he spoke of faeries and changelings as if they were fact? "Are you... serious?"
To her slight relief, he shook his head. "You know I don't believe in the fairy folk, but that's not fact we let get out." He frowned at her. "You, though, you always believed in them."
Maeve snorted, and then realized he was serious. "I did not. Do not... believe in fairies." Not any more. Not ever since she was ten and realized her mother was the tooth fairy.
Rising from the bed, he came to her slowly, studying every inch of her, walking around her as she uncomfortably twisted to keep an eye on him. His eyes missed nothing, and she grew warm beneath that direct gaze. "You look like her." He came to stand before her. "You sound like her. You smell like her. You answer to her name. It is you, is it not, Maeve?"
"I am Maeve, although... I don't know who you think I am, but I'm not your wife," she answered.
He mused over her for a moment, and then said, "You have two small marks under your right breast, small brown moles, and another on your left shoulder."
Taken aback, Maeve lifted a hand to cover her already-clothed chest, and replied, "If it was you that took off my clothes, you could easily have seen that."
He shrugged. "When you were a child, you fell from an apple tree and got that scar on your forehead." He watched as she lifted a hand and lightly touched the silvery scar that was barely visible on her skin. "You were trying to catch a butterfly for your mother."
A chill went through her. "How could you possibly know that?"
"Your father nearly sent you to the healer to stitch it up, but your mother knew that though the blood flowed free, the cut was mild," he finished calmly.
She lowered her hand. "How old was I?"
Gallagher did not hesitate. "Five."
"Have you been stalking me?" she could think of no other explanation.
He sighed a deep and frustrated breath. "Maeve. We grew up together. You are my wife. You are... the love of my soul. I know everything there ever was or is or will be to know about you."
Somehow, he had come closer to her, close enough to reach out and touch her. There were tears in his eyes. Maeve flinched only slightly when he raised a big hand to her face, gently cupping her cheek.
"Beloved, where have you gone?" He studied her intensely, pleadingly. "What has taken you from me? What has taken me from your mind, from your very core?" He was whispering now, and had her face held in both of his hands.
Maeve was highly aware that at any moment he could snap her neck.
"Where did you go? Why did you leave me for six agonizing weeks? I thought my heart could not take any more pain and now here you are before me, whole and well..." He stroked her cheek with a thumb worn rough with years of work. "And you are ripping my heart to pieces."
The agony in his voice was too real for her to doubt him. With everything in his being, this man believed she was his wife, who had gone missing weeks ago in the moors, who perhaps was now dead. His tears flowed freely now, and he did not try to hide them.
"Come back to me, beloved," he whispered. Tenderly, he brushed her lips with his own and despite the fear racing through her heart Maeve felt a shot of heat run through her at his touch. "Come back to me, feel my heart beat as one with your own, my thoughts as one with yours." He leaned his forehead against hers, and she felt his tears drip onto her cheeks.
Catching her breath, Maeve tried not to think of the raw power holding her captive in two gentle hands, the possible madness that could very well cause this man to snap at any second. She raised a hand to his, felt the dagger in her other hand with its foreign but comforting weight. Whether sincere or insane, she knew he believed what he said was true. He believed she was his wife, and as of now he likely would not harm her.
"Please," she said softly, closing her eyes. "Please let me go."
He released her slowly, and took a step back. For a few minutes, he stared at her, the sadness in his eyes slowly fading behind an amiable mask that made his size a little less threatening.
Maeve ventured a question. "Am I a prisoner here?"
"You are free to go wherever you please within the castle." He gestured at the door. "It is, after all, yours."
She did not move. "And outside the castle?"
For just a moment, the pained look surfaced, and he shook his head. "As I have only just regained you, I would be happier if you would... stay close."
"Right." She was a prisoner after all. In the silence that followed, her stomach grumbled loudly, causing her captor to chuckle.
"Perhaps a meal?" he offered, and she agreed. "Would you like food to be brought to you, or shall we visit the kitchen?"
Maeve felt her heart leap at the thought of escaping this room. "The kitchen," she said. "Definitely the kitchen."
He held out a hand for her to proceed. "You know the way." His words surprised her, and she could not help but blink at him blankly.
After a moment of confusion, she shook her head. "No... I... I don't know the way."
"Have you really forgotten everything?" He regarded her with unabashed curiosity. "Even the halls of your childhood?"
An unladylike snort escaped Maeve's nose. "I did not grow up here. Are you joking?" She raised her brows at him when he shook his head, his expression sincere. "You're serious."
"As serious, it would seem, as you are in insisting you remember nothing of me or this place," he returned.
Frustrated at this charade, Maeve very slowly and firmly reiterated, "I have never been here. I don't know you, nor am I your wife."
He nodded complacently and began to walk out of the room. "I will do whatever it takes to remind you of who you are, Maeve O'Connolly, be it the last thing I do."
She scowled at his back, unsettled by his knowledge of her body and her history, and hurried after him. "My last name is not O'Connolly. It's—"
He interrupted her "Carridean, I know." His voice was long suffering. "You are a very strange woman, wife. I remember the fight you put up to keep that name. You did not want to change it to mine, wed though we were."
Maeve stared at him, catching the small grin he shot her way. She had fought Alex on this very thing; she loved her last name and in this modern day and age why did anyone have to change their married name anyway? And how would he know this fact? Did he know Alex? Moreover, did he know her family? The story of her scar was not one she told many, though it was not a private memory. He could have discovered it from any of her close friends. As she followed him through the hallways, expecting at any moment to see something modern that would break this feeling of being displaced in time, she wondered: was he telling the truth? Did he really know her?
Or was this all an elaborately constructed scheme to use her for her father's money?