Falling Through Time
Mists of Fate #4
From the day the Fates decided he would be the warrior to train and lead a group of time-traveling clansmen, Reilly O’Malley has been certain of everything. He’s gone into every battle, verbal or physical, knowing that he will be victorious. Rescuer of many, protector of the O’Rourke clan, knight in shining armor―he lives up to all the titles with the full confidence of a man who knows he will live forever.
Gwendolyn Allen has been in love with Reilly, her best friend, since she met him more than a decade ago. But dreams of a happily-ever-after are dashed when Gwen finally accepts that Reilly won't return her love for him. She’s determined to move on, and she has…almost. When she learns that all Protectors are destined for one woman only, she can only assume that Reilly’s repeated rejection of her means that he’s already found his soul mate.
Reilly is tired of dancing to the Fates’ tune, and when he and Gwen find themselves together for three weeks prior to a wedding, the Fates decide to step in. They give Reilly a taste of what his life would be like without their protection, and suddenly everything Reilly knows is shaken to its core. When his otherworldly abilities begin to fall through time, Reilly may have to trust in something other than fate.
He might just have to trust in love.
Eleven Years Earlier
No matter what the bride called it (coral, for the record), Gwendolyn Allen’s bridesmaid dress was the color of cooked shrimp. With her just-barely-tamed mass of flaming red hair, Gwen thought she rather looked like a crustacean on fire.
Looking at the eleven (eleven!!) other bridesmaids, Gwen felt a flash of camaraderie. Shrimp wasn’t anyone’s color.
The wedding was one of the biggest parties to hit the city of Boston in years. People Magazine won the rights to be the exclusive photographer at the event, but the entertainment shows had reporters there, too.
Her cousin, Kristen Bouchemont, was kind of a big deal. The most famous socialite on the East Coast was finally getting married, and Gwen herself was still surprised by it. Looking at the bride and groom, there wasn’t any doubt in her mind that the union was a true one; for the first time in her life, Kristen looked really happy, as though all was right with the world.
“Gwendolyn, stand up a bit taller. Look at all the potential husbands here!” her mother whispered urgently.
“Mom—” Gwen warned. She always wondered how her mother managed to sneak up on her like a matchmaking ninja. Was it something that happened when one became a mother? Or was it a special talent possessed only by Bev Allen?
“Oh, stop,” Bev whispered. She gave a blinding smile to a passing guest wearing a Rolex on each wrist.
Only through years of training did Gwen manage not to roll her eyes.
“Look at Kristen’s glow!” Bev continued. She smiled fondly at her only child. “I want that for you. Just pinch some color into those cheeks,” she helpfully did it for Gwen, despite Gwen’s attempt to wave her off , “and smile a little. You have the prettiest smile, sweetheart. Your father and I want to introduce you to some of the people here.”
“I’m twenty one, Mom. I have zero interest in marriage.” Or in any of these people at all, thanks, she added silently.
“Don’t count these men out just yet, dear. There are some future presidential prospects here tonight.”
“Seriously, Mom, please don’t. I have so much on my plate at college right now —” Gwen looked around in a panic. Her mom was desperate to see her married to the “most promising” candidate she could find, and in a room full of almost five hundred guests, all with major political ties, Gwen was beginning to feel faint.
Her mother was a matchmaking force in the worst of ways, and Gwen’s usual defense was to escape her presence. But for the moment, she was stuck. Good manners rooted her to the spot; so many people were always watching them. Everyone expected Gwen, as the heiress to the Allens’ fortune, to marry well, and soon. And her parents expected to decide her future for her.
As her best friend Eleanor always said, it was like a living nightmare from those regency romance books they both loved.
Bev gave a derisive snort. “I am thrilled you’re taking your education seriously, Gwendolyn, I am. That’s is important. But marriage is moreso. Making the right connections is a good place to start, and this event is the perfect opportunity for you to — oh, hello, Edward!”
With her mother’s attention momentarily fixated on one of the Congressmen in attendance, Gwen slipped away and hurried out of the enormous, claustrophobic ballroom. She glanced down a long hallway and saw an exit sign; she hurried towards it and pulled the door open.
Perfect. A cool, empty, hotel staircase. She let the heavy door close behind her, and with it came a much-welcomed silence.
She sighed, but nearly jumped out of her skin when a man peered up the stairs at her from the landing below. “You followed me. I knew you would.”
Blankly, she tried to remember the man, but she couldn’t. He was in his mid-twenties, and typical of the wedding crowd. More money than sense, if the expensive suit and strong smell of alcohol indicated anything.
“I don’t think we’ve met,” she hedged, inching backwards towards the door.
“Not yet. You’re Gwendolyn Allen, and I’m Max Drysdale.” He tripped up the steps and gave her a lopsided smile. “Our parents have been trying to get us together for weeks, but you’ve been holding out.”
She wracked her brain, but the name wasn’t familiar. Of course, she wouldn’t put it past her parents to try to set her up with this guy. For all she knew, he was one of the dozen or so names flashed at her weekly.
“Well, school and all that. Come on, let’s get back to the party.” Damn it, the door was locked behind her. She rattled the safety bar, the sound echoing against the cold concrete of the walls around her.
He was almost to her, and she felt a frisson of alarm. His eyes were unfocused, and he swayed a little. She caught him by the lapels before he fell backwards, back down the stairs, and he grinned at her. “I knew you wanted me.”
“Uh, sorry, pal. I’m not interested. What I am interested in is getting back to the party, though.” She turned her back to him and tested the door one more time.
He reached around her waist and jerked her against him. The tulle overlay of her horrid dress crinkled and swished and he crushed her against him and reached for her breasts.
She slapped his hands away and twisted, coming face-to-face with his lips, which he pushed on her in a sloppy mess of a kiss. She shoved him back, hard, and he stumbled back against the small railing. He smiled slowly.
“So you like it rough?”
“Oh my God,” she muttered, annoyed. “No, I don’t like it rough. Back off, Drysdale.”
The dimwit decided to instead lunge at her. She stepped to the side, but he was either not as drunk as she thought him to be or it was dumb luck that he shifted with her and pinned her against the wall. In one move, he had her wrists above her head and his body flush against hers, grinding his hips into hers.
“Get off!” she shouted, turning her head away from his foul breath. “Stop it!”
He merely nuzzled into her neck, making odd slurping sounds that made her stomach sour.
“I will hurt you,” she grunted, struggling against his unfortunately strong grip.
“I look forward to it,” he murmured, dragging his tongue up her neck.
She clenched her jaw, then brought her knee up as swiftly as she could, jamming it between his legs, hitting exactly the spot she wanted to. She watched his eyes cross, heard the shriek of pain, then watched, satisfied, as he crumpled to the floor in a moaning heap.
The door swung open.
“Don’t let it close,” she said quickly, her adrenaline still in overdrive as she slipped under someone’s arm, back into the hallway. “It locks behind you.”
“Aye,” a man replied in a thick, melodic accent, “then perhaps we ought to leave it a bit propped for your friend here?”
Gwen looked in the oversized mirror on the wall and attempted to fix her hair. Not too much damage. It took the hairstylist almost an hour to wrangle it into the complicated half-up, half-down do. “Ugh. He’s no friend of mine. Thanks for opening that.” She turned back to the man and froze.
Her first thought was: enormous. His shoulders were so broad, she couldn’t see the entire (still slightly ajar) door behind him. He wore a black leather jacket, open to reveal a dark, button-down shirt. Perfectly-formed jeans encased his strong, powerful legs, and he wore scuffed black work boots, one of which still propped open the door from which she just came.
Then she registered his face, and her entire world shifted. It was perfectly sculpted, all hard planes and smooth skin. Lips made for kissing. Intense hazel eyes, with striking rays of gold and blue, focused on her own muted, soft green ones, and the look he was giving her stole her breath. His face held just the right amount of five o’clock shadow to separate the men from the boys.
Slowly, deliberately, he pulled his foot from the bottom of the door. It closed with a resounding thud. A weak call of “Hey!” from the other side rang out, but they both ignored it.
“I thought I heard the sounds of a lady in distress.” The timbre of his voice resonated in her chest, the words cascading together in a fascinating lilt. Her ears strained for more, the sounds of the letters at once familiar yet unlike anything she’d known.
She grasped for something clever to say, but then the actual words he spoke registered, and she blinked. “Well, it wasn’t me. I don’t need to be saved.”
“Clearly,” he replied, sounding bemused.
“I’m...I’m Gwendolyn. Gwen. Thanks for the almost-rescue.”
“Reilly. And thank you for that spectacular display of self-defense.”
She blushed, feeling exposed by his intense gaze. “When I went in there, I didn’t know he was there. I just wanted to get away from the noise for awhile.”
The mysterious Reilly grimaced with a glance down the long hallway, where, at the end, the open doorway of the ballroom showed people milling about. “I believe you.”
His accent was thick and melodic. His voice was deeper than any she’d ever heard. He was all virulent male, and never before had she met anyone like him.
Gwen’s normal confidence slipped a notch. She was way out of her comfort zone.
“Friend of the bride or groom?” she asked, unsure as to how to keep their conversation going. Dumb. He wasn’t dressed for the wedding, not in those jeans.
Her eyes, of their own accord, strayed back to his legs. Each thigh was thicker than both her legs together.
He chuckled. “Neither. I’m simply here for the entertainment.”
She tilted her head, enchanted by the sound of his laugh. “Ah. A knight and a wedding crasher.”
“A man of many trades, for certain.”
She giggled, then sobered. “Well, I’m jealous. I can’t leave for another two hours. I’m stuck.”
“Can I offer you need a ride somewhere?”
Gwen wondered if he was hitting on her. Her heart beat triple-time with the thought, but Reilly remained expressionless yet friendly. No overtures of anything, really.
Inexplicable disappointment flooded her.
She managed to smile at him. “Thanks, but I have to stay until at least the cake cutting. Bridal party,” she muttered, signaling to her dress.
“That explains the horrid garment.”
The blunt statement had her mouth dropping open. “Excuse me?”
Reilly reached over and lifted the tulle overlay, and the scent of him filled her senses. Fresh, outdoorsy, clean. No cologne.
Gwen knew, to the depths of her soul, that she would never forget that smell.
They both watched the scratchy material float back down to its chiffon counterpart.
Reilly spoke again. “Can you honestly tell me that is a dress you’d choose for yourself?”
“Kristen had a designer make these especially for today.”
“That wasn’t the question.”
She glanced back at his face, unnerved to see he was still watching her, his eyes still concentrated on hers. She shook her head, unable to form any coherent words.
“I thought not. Forgive my boldness, but you seem like you’re a feisty one. That dress does nothing for your beauty, yet there you stand, somehow still resplendent.”
Gwen blinked. “Th-thank you.”
As though he hadn’t just dropped the most wonderful compliment Gwen had ever heard, he continued, “I may not know fashion, but that color should be outlawed.”
“I was thinking the same thing earlier,” she admitted sheepishly. She glanced down and wrinkled her nose. “Ugh. You’re right, it really is horrid. And with the amount of money I had to drop on this thing...I just think of all the good it could’ve done going somewhere else.”
“Such as?” Reilly asked.
Gwen blushed again, cursing her pale skin, which no doubt now matched her hair. “Oh, you know...families who don’t have anything. It could be a mortgage payment.” At his surprised look, she shrugged and fluffed the skirt self-consciously. “Designer isn’t cheap. And neither is anything about this wedding.”
“That seems like a lot of pressure.”
“It is. Kristen — the bride — thrives on it. I’d rather be...well, anywhere else.”
“If you could be anywhere right this moment, where would that be?”
Right here with you, came the immediate thought. Gwen swallowed hard. Her reaction was visceral and overwhelming; she had to get control of herself before she did something embarrassing, such as throw herself against him and beg him to take her with him.
Wherever he went.
It was, to say the least, unnerving.
He smiled, a mysterious half-lifting of his lips that made her tremble in ways she’d never done before.
He tried another question, as she seemed unable to answer the first. “What do you want to do with yourself, if not be like those people in there?”
“I want to work with people,” she replied without hesitation. “Really work with them, create homes and communities.”
His eyes crinkled at the sides, the only outward sign she could see of his surprise. She wondered how old he was; he seemed older than the twenty-somethings she hung around.
“Fascinating.” It was said honestly, without any derision or mockery.
Gwen felt herself fall a little bit more under whatever spell he was weaving.
“Where are you from?” she asked, suddenly needing to know.
“I’m most recently from right outside Dublin.”
Max banged his fist on the other side of the door, apparently recovered enough to get to it. “Anyone out there?”
“Nay,” Reilly growled loudly, turning his head towards the closed door. His expression went cold, making Gwen’s eyes widen. He looked back at her and softened his gaze. “Never a need to fear me, lass.”
“You’re one of the good guys?” she asked, her voice barely above a whisper.
He smirked, and her insides went molten. “Depends on whose side you’re on.”
She swallowed hard. “I think I’d want to be on your side.”
His smile grew. “Then aye. I’m one of the good guys.”
Gwen recognized the matchmaker who had orchestrated the meeting between the bride and groom. Brianagh waved to him from the other end of the hallway. He waved back and held up a finger.
“I’m her ride home,” he explained to Gwen.
“Oh, your girlfriend?” Gwen asked, disappointment clouding her tone. Ridiculous. He’s way too old for me, she tried to reason with herself.
Reilly fished a folded bar napkin from his pocket. “Nope. Cousin.” He produced a pen from the front pocket of his button-down shirt and scribbled something on it. “I’m in town for a few days. Feel free to call me if you want to have a drink or two. Of course, if you’re ever in Ireland, you can look me up there, too, Gwendolyn.” He glowered at the door, where Max was making pathetic pleading noises. “I’m a good friend to have around, even if you can take of yourself well enough.”
“Are there bad guys in Ireland?” she asked, unwilling for him to leave.
“If there are, be assured that my armor is always ready when needed.”
He gave her a wink, then gently grasped her wrist and opened her hand. Numb with shock from the sensations skittering across her skin, Gwen watched, breathless, as he slid the napkin into her palm.
“What’s this?” she whispered.
He lifted an eyebrow. “My number. It comes with the offer of friendship and, if ever necessary, a rescue.”
“How many rescues do I get?”
“As many as you need.”
She gave him a cheeky grin. “I don’t think I’ll need any, but thanks.”
“Perhaps not. Call me.”
He headed down the hallway, and Gwen stared after him, a different person than she was just ten minutes earlier. Something in her changed in those moments, though she couldn’t pinpoint exactly what.
He turned and gave her one last, long look, then disappeared around the corner. She glanced at the napkin in her hand.
Reilly O’Malley, Knight Extraordinaire
A faraway smile graced her lips. Not just something, she mused, tracing his bold script with her finger. Everything.
Three interminable hours later, Gwen sat, alone, in the hotel bar. Kristen and Justin were on their way to the airport, and most of the guests had departed. She’d declined the ride home from her parents, she’d turned down the limo service, and she got herself a room. With everything her parents put her through that day (six attempted setups, thirteen introductions to men old enough to be her father, and handing her number out to all of them), she’d gone ahead and used her dad’s credit card to purchase herself some new clothes from some boutique on Newbury Street, which would be delivered by the morning.
There was no way in hell she was leaving the hotel dressed as an aquatic arthropod.
But she also didn’t want to stay at her parents’ home in Connecticut. They were moving to California soon, which was a blessing, for she needed some distance from them. They expected her to follow them to L.A. once she graduated, but she wanted to be done with the lifestyle. The insincerity, the constant round of parties with the same faces, always being known as “the Allen heiress” — it was overwhelming and she hated it.
She hated it.
She wanted to be someone else, but she wasn’t sure how.
“Is this seat taken?”
Her breath caught in her chest, and she slowly turned. She looked up, high enough that her neck felt funny, and blinked at the man standing next to her.
Mutely, she shook her head, causing her neck to complain, and she quickly looked forward again. Reilly O’Malley slid into the seat, and the bartender — who had barely glanced at Gwen the entire time she’d been there — hurried over to take his order.
“What are you having?” he asked.
Embarrassed, she hesitated. She’d been taught that ladies drink wine, and sometimes trendy spirits. Jameson’s whiskey on the rocks did not qualify as a ladylike drink. Yet, it was her favorite, and as no one was around...
He glanced in her tumbler, then picked it up and gave it a sniff. His eyebrows nearly disappeared into his hairline, but he was smiling when he said, “I’ll have what the lady’s having. Make it a double.”
She fiddled with her napkin. “You like whiskey?”
He chortled. “Lass, I’m Irish. Not liking Uisce Beatha isn’t an option.” She gave him a questioning look, and his explained, “Uisce Beatha. Gaelic for water of life. Or, as you call it, whiskey.”
“I like your accent,” she blurted out.
“I like you,” he returned.
A delicious feeling started to unfurl throughout her skin, and she was pretty sure it wasn’t the whiskey. “Are you picking me up in a bar?” She liked this. She liked him. He was different than the men she’d dated; he was older, of course. But there was something almost uncivilized about him. She couldn’t put her finger on it, but there was an edge to him that thrilled her.
“Do you want me to pick you up in a bar?” he asked, his voice reminding her of a whiskey she’d had once. Smooth. Strong.
Warmed her belly in unfamiliar ways.
She chewed her lip for a moment. “I think I do.”
He leaned in closer, his lips inches from hers. “Full disclosure: I can only give one night.”
She sized him up. “So, should I save it for a special occasion?”
He blinked at her, thrown, and suddenly, he laughed. The rich, warm sound invaded her soul, letting loose a thousand butterflies in her stomach.
He took his double and drained it. “By the saints, I really do like you, Gwendolyn.”
She smiled at him, a real one, and gave him a small smile. “I like you too, Reilly.”
He banged his head against the table. “You know what this means, though, don’t you?”
She hoped it meant he was going to take her upstairs to her room and show her what was inside those soft jeans of his, but she refrained from saying so. She merely remained silent, watching him with what she hoped was a sexy expression on her face.
“It means that I can’t take you to bed.”
Her mouth dropped open. “What?”
He signaled to the bartender for another drink. “You’re something special, Gwendolyn Allen.”
“I never told you my last name.”
He truly smiled at her then, and she was left momentarily witless from the wattage.
“You’re worth more than a single night, and I’m not capable of giving that. So let’s agree to carry on as friends, aye?”
“You’re a strange man.”
His eyes glinted with humor. “You’ve no idea, lass. But like I said before, I’m one of the good guys.”
“Apparently too good,” she muttered.
He chuckled, then tossed some cash on the bar. When she rifled through her purse for her wallet, he frowned at her. “Nay. This is on me. It’ll always be on me.”
“Always?” she scoffed. The man just turned down sex, and he was talking as if they were going to be best buds and hang out for all time? He must’ve been drinking prior to joining her.
He nodded, then glanced in her open purse. “Still have my number, or did you chuck it in the nearest rubbish bin?”
She colored. The napkin was clearly visible in the tiny satchel that held her credit card, a small roll of cash, and her lipstick.
He chuckled, then gently drew her hand to his lips.
He kissed each knuckle, weakening her knees to the point of jelly. “Aye, always.” His eyes turned serious. “Please call me, Gwendolyn.”
She knew she would. And somehow, she knew he knew she would.