Once upon a Summer Night
MISTS OF Fate Book Three
Colin O'Rourke is expanding Celtic Connections, his matchmaking business, to the UK and Ireland. However, its success is threatened before it opens its doors when a prominent UK gossip columnist publishes a slanderous article column about his company. The columnist agrees to retract her article...if he can successfully match her stubbornly-single niece.
Eleanor Carberry is content with her life as a London bookshop owner. She has everything she needs―books, tea, and an aunt who is more like a mother. When her aunt asks Ellie to be the company's first client, to determine if the company can match everyday people and not just London's wealthiest, Ellie reluctantly agrees.
When Colin and Ellie meet, their connection is undeniable. And though he's drawn to her, Colin knows there's more at stake than his own happiness - as an O'Rourke Protector, he has duties that call him to the past. He knows Ellie could be his future, but her aunt has made it clear that if he doesn't match Ellie with a specific type of man, she'll ensure Celtic Connections's failure. Despite the distance Colin tries to keep, Fate has other plans when Ellie takes an unexpected trip back in time...once upon a summer night.
Compressing his lips into a thin line, Colin O’Rourke just barely resisted the urge to put his fist through his wall. The only things holding him back were that he rather liked his walls, being as he had put them up himself, and that he’d probably knock something of importance off his desk.
A glance around his messy office confirmed that, should something fall, it was unlikely to ever be seen again.
“Col, I know you’re upset. But we can control this.” Emmaline MacWilliam, his publicist and relatively new cousin-in-law, kept her voice even and her countenance placid. She sat directly opposite him, holding the offending newspaper out to him. “I’ve spoken with Miss Emsworth—”
“What a stodgy name,” he muttered, taking it from her. He flipped it open to the marked page, his movements tightly controlled.
Emma snorted and rolled her eyes. “I’ve spoken with her directly, and she’s agreed to retract her words…if we can prove we do what we say we do.”
In Colin’s opinion, Miss Winifred Emsworth could take her “article” and shove it into the darkest, deepest recesses of herself. His company, Celtic Connections, was the most successful matchmaking company of its kind in the United States, and it catered to elite clientele. Clients were usually wealthy people who needed some help in finding a forever partner, and Celtic Connections had a highly respected pool of potential matches. With the company’s recent expansion into the UK and Ireland, some of the stringent requirements for potential matches, such as required income and education levels, were lessened. But easing the restrictions, it seemed, only incited the wrath of a woman who wrote for one of the trashiest magazines in Britain. Unfortunately, she was insanely popular, and new member sign-ups weren’t where Colin needed them to be to stay afloat overseas.
He gritted his teeth. A single article from one out-of-touch, uninformed, pseudo-journalist had the power to crush his business before he signed its first client. He would never understand the Brits’ love of their paparazzi.
“That seems like blackmail,” Colin finally replied. He rested his elbows on his desk, carelessly knocking over a stack of papers. He watched them flutter to the floor and added, “Is there really anything we can do to change the old bat’s mind? What did she propose we do to ‘prove’ ourselves? Which, I might add, we shouldn’t need to do. Our reputation speaks for itself.”
Emma absently twirled a lock of her blonde hair and cleared her throat. “Well…she claims that it’s a class thing. Celtic Connections caters to the upper classes, and therefore is something to be suspicious about.”
“Oh, for crying out loud, we’re not going after nobility!” Colin exploded.
“No,” Emma agreed, rescuing another stack of papers in danger of toppling over, “but we did keep the income levels higher than the average salary in the area. And I think that’s her sticking point.”
He clasped his hands tightly in an effort to regain control of his emotions. “Spit it all out, Emmaline. What, exactly, does she want from us in order to retract her words?”
Emma neatened the small stack of stuff in front of her. “You really need a file cabinet, Colin.”
“Emma…” he warned.
“Don’t blame my wife for your lack of organization.” Aidan MacWilliam entered the room, a steaming cup of coffee in each hand. “Else you’ll wear this instead of drink it.” He handed one to Colin.
Emma gratefully accepted the other one. “Thanks, love. I’ve needed something to hide my smile behind for the last half hour.”
“Tease me all you want, but this isn’t a joking matter.” Colin looked for a place to put his own cup, but there wasn’t any surface available. “You know, I do have a housekeeper. Why won’t she touch this room?”
“You couldn’t pay her enough,” Aidan snorted. Papers of various sizes and colors littered the desk and surrounding floor. A large, outdated monitor sat in the middle of the desk, sticky notes covering the edges, and the keyboard was partially covered with envelopes and notecards from various clients. “You need to go digital, my friend.”
Colin raised a brow. “Considering your upbringing, I would think you’d appreciate the tradition of paper.”
“Okay, boys, enough,” Emma cut in. She created a space amongst the papers and put her cup down, then pulled her tablet out of her purse. “Back to Miss Emsworth.”
Colin rolled his eyes and took a surly sip of his coffee.
She sighed. “Miss Emsworth wants us to find a match for her niece. A match that ends with a marriage.”
Colin barked out a laugh. “Oh, right. Because that doesn’t have setup written all over it.”
“You’re not supposed to be interrupting,” Aidan chided.
Emma swiped something on her tablet. “There’s a bit more to this, Col. Her niece isn’t exactly a willing participant yet.”
Setup. Colin physically bit his lip to stop himself from speaking. Or roaring.
He wasn’t sure which, yet.
Emma continued, “Eleanor Carberry is twenty-eight years old, and she currently lives in England. She’s a bookseller in London.”
Colin groaned. “She sounds boring.”
Emma laughed. “She may be, but boring isn’t a challenge we haven’t overcome before. We really don’t have a choice here. If we don’t do this, Emsworth will write another article, claiming that she offered us this option but we declined. Then we’ll be seen as unfriendly Americans looking to cash in on the motherland. If we take her up on this, then at least we gave it a shot. The truth is that her publication —”
“I think calling The Daily Sleaze a publication is insulting to real journalistic endeavors,” Colin cut in sourly.
“Her publication, despite what we think of it, sways a lot of readers. A lot, Colin. Enough that when people search for us online, this article is one of the top results. Also, the paper is called The British Tea Times, not The Daily Sleaze. We can’t just ignore her and hope she goes away.”
“But if we give in to her, who’s to say other people won’t line up behind her and demand the same thing? When would it stop?”
“We could point those folks back to the success of this match. It will be publicized enough that the weight should carry.”
Aidan grinned. “So failure is not an option.”
“It never is,” Emma agreed. She looked expectantly at Colin, her heather eyes sparkling. “Aidan and I are going home to Ireland in a few days. And we have recruiting engagements set up in both Dublin and London. If I don’t have an official answer to Emsworth’s allegations, we’re sunk.” She pursed her lips. “You hired me as a publicist, Colin. Let me do my job. Give me the go-ahead that we’ll match the niece, and I’ll spin it in all sorts of good ways once we get her agreement. But we all have to be on the same page to present a unified front as a company.”
“I love when she gets serious,” Aidan murmured.
“Can we please focus on Celtic Connections for a moment?” Colin asked, feigning disgust. In truth, he couldn’t be happier for his cousin, now that Aidan found love. And with everything they had gone through to be together…Colin couldn’t really begrudge him and Emma their smiles. But he could redirect their attention. “All right. We’ll do it. But I want the niece—Elena?”
“Whatever she’s called, she has to agree to this. We do not force anyone to participate. Make that crystal clear.”
Emma nodded, jotting down the note.
“Absolutely. Who do you want to put on this match?”
“What about Candice or Mike?” Aidan asked. “They’ve each made a strong and difficult match in the last year, and either of them could successfully match Miss Carberry.”
Colin shook his head, determined. “Not this time. If we’re going to sink over there, it’s on my shoulders. I’ll take Miss Blueberry on myself.”
“Carberry,” Emma replied absently. Then, surprise flitted across her face as his words registered. “I thought you didn’t match clients anymore?”
Before he could answer, her phone rang, and she gave him an apologetic look as she held up the phone. “The press again. Excuse me.” She quickly left the office and shut the door behind her.
Colin threw a pencil at Aidan, whose lips remained in a half smile as he eyed the door Emma had just exited through. “Good God, MacWilliam. Pull yourself together!”
Aidan chuckled. “When you find yours, cousin, you’ll be the same way. Mark my words.”
Colin scratched the back of his neck. “That sounds ominous. I’m quite content without any attachments, thanks.”
“You can be a Protector and a good mate,” Aidan offered. “I’m sure there are cases of it.”
“In our well-documented family history, you mean?” Colin remarked blandly. “Hmm. I’ve never met a Protector who’s successfully claimed his soul mate.”
Emma reentered the room, a confused look on her face. “Is that what you call it? A Protector?”
Aidan draped his arm around her waist and drew her close to him. “Aye. In our unwieldy family tree, one person from each generation is given the ability to travel through time.”
“Right. To protect to the line,” Emma said. “It’s why you and I had to go back to the Middle Ages.” She shuddered. “Let’s not do that again. No disrespect meant, of course,” she added hastily.
Aidan, being of medieval birth himself, merely smiled. “Legend has it that every hundred years or so, a Protector is born. He can move through time at will, whether the line is in danger or not. He can travel without restrictions.”
Colin snorted. “Oh, trust me. There are restrictions. Lots of them.”
On his fifteenth birthday, Colin’s mother, Evelyn, and his cousin, Reilly O’Malley, had given him a birthday gift together—a silver pocket watch. The face of the watch was amber, engraved with a red lion that proudly reared up on its hind legs, and the numbers were more like symbols. When Colin questioned it, Reilly told him a tale of a family who had a secret to protect; only one person from only each generation was entrusted with the task of keeping that secret—and that family—safe.
Reilly explained that he, Colin O’Rourke, was that person, and his secret was that of time travel. He could bend time at will, and he could move others through time as well. The true purpose of the power was to protect his family line when it was in danger of being exposed or threatened with annihilation. After Reilly brought him to Ireland and showed him exactly what his power could do, Colin eagerly accepted the gift.
With the knowledge of that power came immediate instruction: swords, knives, street fighting. Tactics that would keep him alive in times not his own—martial arts, strength exercises, and even dance lessons to increase his flexibility and agility. Years of training with Reilly chiseled his body and sharpened his mind, and Colin had reveled in it.
If he had only known then what he knew now.
He learned in his early twenties that there was always a “but.” The Fates were a mystic force, which Reilly spoke of in respectful, if sometimes derisive, tones. Part of Colin’s training was understanding the Fates and the powers they wielded. Reilly explained they were the ones who gave everyone life, death, and time…and they controlled the Protectors. Reilly never discussed where or when he himself came from, but he spoke of the Fates as if he’d known them for hundreds of years. As Reilly’s time-bending power was much stronger than his own, Colin often wondered what, exactly, Reilly’s role really was to the Fates. Colin still wasn’t sure how old Reilly truly was, and Reilly deftly danced around or outright ignored the question any time it was asked.
When Colin was twenty-two, after a particularly bloody battle in which he had watched dozens of his sixteenth-century clan members die, he decided he didn’t want to be a Protector anymore. He’d seen enough adventure to last him a lifetime…but unfortunately, that wasn’t the way it worked. And despite Reilly explaining it to him countless times, Colin didn’t care. He renounced his Protector oath, and was subsequently brought before the Fates.
Though Reilly stood stoically by his side, Colin was not -so-secretly terrified of the three Fates in front of him. He knew from all Reilly’s teachings that they could choose to end his life on the spot, or painfully draw it out. They could be merciful or merciless, and rarely were second chances given.
Perhaps it was Reilly’s silent support. Perhaps they thought Colin young and foolish…but whatever it was, that day, they let Colin live. They denied his renouncement, and, at Reilly’s suggestion, agreed Colin needed to learn a different kind of lesson. For three years, one for each Fate, Colin would be tasked to save one of his direct descendants. If he failed, his very existence would be erased. It was, as they told him, the only chance he’d have to determine his own fate.
The first year, his assignment was a fifteenth-century maiden named Claire, who’d been kidnapped by a vengeful laird. She was the spitting image of his cousin Brianagh…and he later learned that she was, by twists of fate he dared not question, Bri’s daughter. The second year, he saved a mother—Brianagh herself—from certain death at her father-in-law’s hands. And the third and final year, he rescued his own great-grandmother from the Black Death by helping her and her family flee Ireland and come to America.
Maiden, mother, crone. He didn’t miss the significance.
Throughout each of his lessons, he learned many things…but one of the more resounding ones was his lesson in love. He saw it in each time period: the men in his family tree had a single soul mate. The woman would be one they’d be willing to die for; it was an everlasting kind of love, and if not claimed, legend had it that the lovers’ souls would not rest in peace until they were united.
Colin had seen the shells of the O’Rourke men who hadn’t claimed their loves when given the chance, and he saw the richness of those who had. It left an impression, to say the least. But he had met only one other Protector, other than himself and Reilly, who hadn’t claimed his own mate. That man, though…
Colin shuddered when he thought of him. Shea O’Rourke, born in the seventeen hundreds, had worked with him on an assignment years ago, and the man was a shattered soul. He’d claimed his own mate when he had the chance, but she didn’t love him in return. He had no chance at finding love again, and the result was enough for Colin to swear off serious relationships forever. He kept only to shallow women. Ones only looking for a good time, or one night; nothing permanent, nothing real.
When Brianagh decided to start a matchmaking company, she convinced Colin to join her. Despite his dating record, he was sharply intuitive about people, and she recognized it. When Brianagh found her own true love, she left the company to Colin, and he took it to new heights, firmly believing that helping people find love was worth every ounce of his energy. It became his calling, and as the years passed without him ever feeling the spark of recognizing his true love, he began to think that perhaps the Fates wouldn’t be so cruel as to introduce him to his mate.
Aidan snapped his fingers, drawing Colin’s attention. “Glad to see you’re still alive, Col. I’ve called your name three times!”
“Sorry. Woolgathering,” Colin murmured.
Aidan merely raised a brow. “Well, I was saying that you’re still young by modern standards, so you may have plenty of time to find your woman.”
Colin stood stiffly. “You know as well as I do that means nothing. I appreciate you trying to make me feel better, but don’t bring it up again.” He pushed down the hollow feeling in his chest as he spoke the words aloud. “I’ve chosen my destiny, and it doesn’t involve anyone but me.”
Aidan let out a low whistle. “Now you’ve done it.”
“Done what?” Emma questioned.
He shook his head slowly. “He just challenged the Fates again. Didn’t he learn his lesson the first time?”
Colin rolled his eyes. “Leave off, Aidan. I speak the truth, and they know it.”