Lord Griffin’s Prize
Part of the Emerald Isles Fantasies series
Tullamore Castle Ireland is an enchanted place where the unexpected happens. Phantom lovers materialize in haunted beds and a lonely griffin patrols the ramparts waiting to reclaim its mate. And that’s just the beginning.
For the adventure of a lifetime Maeve de’Burgo visits Tullamore to study genealogy. Through a magical act and time travel she becomes embroiled in a dangerous medieval romance and the unfinished life of her ancestor. Maeve gets thrown back in time to be captured, ravished and cherished as a war chief’s prize.
Ronan O’Griofa is a griffin-shifter, the most loyal of creatures. He’s been trapped in limbo as the avenging guardian of Tullamore since 1332 AD and longs to be free. When the soul of his wife returns to the castle he’s granted the privilege of becoming a man for one day to be her lover, win her heart and remind Maeve of a bond strong enough to last an eternity.
About the Author
I’m an artist, an author, mother and wife. I write for Ellora’s Cave, Loose Id Publishing and a couple new publishers to be announced soon. I try to bring a touch of the mystical and a big sense of adventure to everything I write because I believe there’s a bold, kick-ass heroine inside all of us who wants to take a wild ride with a strong worthy hero.
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Maeve placed a gloved hand on the golden door handle of the Tullamore Castle Hotel and pushed. The glass door resisted against the vacuum of a blustery gust. The short but stormy walk from the cab to the curb had left rain sheeting from her umbrella and tall black boots.
She bore down, gave the door a firm shove and watched in awe as it swung open onto a timeless realm entrenched in equal parts modern luxury and dour medieval grit. Above the entrance a time-ravaged, iron-studded medieval shield bearing the image of a griffin held a place of honor between two Victorian-era crystal sconces, punctuating the contrast of a far-reaching past.
Maeve was too tired to care that she was tracking water across the patterned carpet as she ambled into the elegant front lobby dragging a lopsided piece of rolling luggage. For the past twenty-four hours she’d roamed airports, engaged in endless desperate bargaining with airline personnel to exchange tickets, hunted down cabs and texted anyone she could reach to tell them that her international flights and all her arrangements on the ground had been disrupted by turbulent weather.
The challenging journey from the US to Ireland had left her weary to the bone. Everything that could go wrong had. As she approached the front desk there was little wonder in her mind why the word “travel” had its roots in the original travail, which literally meant torture.
An attentive middle-aged woman, with red hair swept away from her stark face, stepped from behind the carved baroque counter to greet her. “You must be Maeve Clark. We received your message. I’m so sorry you’ve had such a difficult time getting here.” The woman reached for Maeve’s luggage. “Let’s get you signed in so you can rest.”
The woman glanced out the front entrance as the cab that had brought Maeve turned and drove away in the pouring rain. “I don’t see anyone else out there. Is Mr. Clark with you?”
“What time is it?” Maeve fought the impulse to rub her eyes with the heels of her hands and grind what little mascara still clung to her lashes onto her cheeks.
The woman smoothed the lapels of her prim navy suit. “It’s 1:11 a.m.”
“Oh god. I’m so disoriented I thought it was earlier. By the way, I’m no longer Maeve Clark. I made the reservations last year before I divorced. Didn’t I update you on the name change?”
The woman’s gaze lingered on the prominent wedding ring on Maeve’s left hand. “No name change was mentioned, but we have a beautiful room waiting and we’re pleased to have you visit with us, Miss...?”
“Maeve dé Burgo.”
The woman looked elated. “You’re a dé Burgo? Of course, now it all makes sense! Oh this is wonderful, and so appropriate. I’m certain you are aware that the ancestral founder of Tullamore Castle was Lord dé Burgo?” The woman clasped Maeve’s hand. “My name is Áine Byrne. I’m the current owner of Tullamore Castle and if I’m not mistaken, you and I are distant relations.”
“You’re the castle owner? I’m so happy to meet you, Miss Byrne.”
“Call me Áine. I’m simply thrilled to have a dé Burgo under our eaves again!”
Maeve was dumbfounded by the woman’s intense enthusiasm for her maiden name. “I’m surprised to see you working the front desk at this hour.”
“I’m a hands-on owner and a notorious insomniac. Night is when interesting things happen at Tullamore. I like seeing everything and everyone who comes through the front entrance. Hospitality is my business and I enjoy being hospitable.”
“Thank you, Áine.” Maeve was barely able to manage a smile in her exhausted state. “From the outside, the castle is so dramatic, very picturesque. I’m certainly looking forward to seeing my room.”
“Of course you are.” Áine took Maeve’s hint and hurried behind the counter to retrieve a massive leather-bound ledger with vellum pages. “Because you are a dé Burgo would you please sign the historic guest ledger?” She handed Maeve an old- fashioned feather quill and a bottle of ink.
Maeve sighed as she accepted the quill and ink. Despite her interest in all things historical, she had no experience writing with a quill and hoped she wouldn’t make a mess of Áine’s lovely old ledger with an inevitable clumsy ink splosh on the creamy page.
Áine seemed to read Maeve’s mind. “It’s not difficult. Simply dip, swipe the quill on the rim of the bottle and write far more slowly than you think you should.”
Maeve dipped the quill and sketched her name across the velum with shaky, scratchy strokes that required several dunks into the ink.
“Lovely.” Áine gazed at Maeve’s signature and set the ledger aside to dry. “By the way, the room you requested is not available. We had a slight accident with some workmen the other day and the room you reserved will require refurbishment.”
Maeve groaned in disappointment. “The cheerful little yellow room overlooking the rose garden isn’t available?”
“No.” Áine glanced at Maeve sideways. “We’re putting you in the O’Griofa suite tonight. It’s our finest room.”
Maeve gasped. She’d visited Castle Tullamore’s website many times and knew the O’Griofa suite was a sprawling set of adjoining rooms stuffed with priceless antiques and no doubt far beyond her budget.
“It’s all right.” Áine raised a preemptive palm into the air. “You will not be charged suite rates. The mistake was on our side and you shall be the one to benefit.”
Maeve exhaled. “Thank you.” A nearly forgotten thought surfaced. “Some months ago I contacted a Professor Burke to meet me here at the castle and help me to gather information about my family’s genealogy. I forgot to email him and tell him my flight was delayed. Has the professor contacted you?”
“Yes, I spoke with Professor Burke at some length and now that I know you’re a dé Burgo your research project makes perfect sense. The dé Burgos have shared a stunning history with Castle Tullamore. Your family has been here since the beginning.”
“I’ve been told I was named for a great ancestor of mine, Lady Maeve dé Burgo. I’m looking forward to learning more about her.”
Áine did not appear to be the least bit surprised by this bit of information. “There’s been a mild setback. I am sorry to say Professor Burke isn’t coming. He called yesterday to cancel your appointment. He must attend to emergency business in France and will not return for a fortnight. He apologized profusely for the sudden change of plans.”
“The professor’s not coming?” The energy drained from her. “I’m so disappointed. That was the core purpose of my trip to Tullamore.”
“Don’t despair.” Áine lifted her chin. “Another professor has volunteered to take his place.”
“Ironically it’s a Professor O’Griofa. He too claims a strong ancestral connection to Tullamore and has enjoyed a long association with the castle. Isn’t that an interesting coincidence?” Áine’s gaze sharpened. “Professor O’Griofa is considered the premier expert on Castle Tullamore, so it goes to show that tiny setbacks and substitutions can often be wonderful boons. I’m sure the change was for the best. Tullamore’s just that kind of place. One must expect the unexpected.” She reached for a brass skeleton key dangling from a hook. “We use an old-fashioned key for the O’Griofa suite. Come with me and I’ll show you to your room.”
Maeve followed Áine down a long corridor lined with gilt-framed oil portraits of the castle’s many occupants. They passed a staircase and approached an antiquated- looking iron-cage elevator.
“We’re going to take the lift.” Áine took hold of the iron filigree door and struggled to wrench it open. “This door can be so stubborn.” She gave the base of the door a brisk kick with the heel of her shoe until it opened. “Ah, there we go. You’re not claustrophobic or easily startled by screeching metallic sounds, are you?”
“No.” Maeve gazed longingly toward the staircase. “Don’t worry, the lift is in excellent working condition. It’s just odd.”
Maeve lingered at the threshold. “How is it odd?” “It’s haunted and there are a few other peculiarities.” “Like what? I would think haunted is peculiar enough.”
“Oh there’s much more.” Áine stepped into the lift, pulling the rolling luggage with her, and motioned for Maeve to follow. “Get in and I’ll tell you about its many eccentricities.”
Maeve felt her face blanch as she stepped inside the unsound-looking lift.
Áine slid the rattling door shut and pressed a button. The lift lurched with a grating noise and rose to the thumping whir of unseen gears and pulleys.
Maeve gulped a nervous breath. “I’ve never been in a lift like this.”
“You certainly haven’t!” Áine grinned with pride. “It’s one of a kind. I’ve had guests swear the lift delivered them into another time and place. Can you imagine that? A few bold souls have even claimed to encounter entities haunting the lift that encouraged them to engage in...” She hesitated. “How should I say this? Amorous behavior. Their actions were quite spontaneous and uninhibited, but I strongly suspect they didn’t do anything they didn’t already want to do.”
“Oh my.” Maeve laughed. “And they blamed the lift?”
The lift screeched to a jolting halt. Áine drew the door open. “We’re here.” She motioned for Maeve to exit. “The O’Griofa suite is at the end of the corridor.”
(Just wait until Maeve sees the handsome portrait of Lord O’Griofa. She’s in for trouble…)