J.T. slumped onto the bench next to me. “Can’t you just…I don’t know, ask her to stay away?”
“I wish it worked like that.” Phelan’s eyes slid shut, his face still tilted toward the sky. “Do you think I have any desire to see her again so soon? I swear I get white hairs every time she shows up, whether she’s coming for me or not.”
Was she coming for you last time, Phelan, or had she just come to deliver a message? I still wasn’t sure. I’d turned her words over and over in my head since then.
Someday you will pay a price….you are stronger than any I have encountered before…you have bent, but you have not broken. That will not always be the case, mo milseáin. I promise.
“What will her price be?” I whispered aloud before I could stop myself.
Phelan’s eyes snapped open. “What?”
I blew out a soft breath, shivering. “She warned us that someday, we would pay a price for everything we’ve done. Someday she’d come and ask us for something. She didn’t say what or when, but someday…” I shivered again, my arms tightening around the knee drawn to my chest. “What does mo milseáin mean?”
“Trust me, you don’t want to know,” J.T. said with a shudder. “It’s too damned Wicked Witch of the West.”
Phelan was momentarily distracted by the question, looking at J.T. “Was that why you asked me what it meant?”
“Where the hell else did you think I’d get Gaelic I didn’t understand to ask you about?” J.T. snapped, perhaps a little more harshly than he intended. Phelan just laughed, shaking his head.
“All right, all right.” He scrubbed a hand over his face, then looked at me, eyes growing serious again. “So she spoke to you, did she?”
“Phelan, she’s been speaking to me since I saw the first potential end of the world.” Even as the words dropped like lead weights from my mouth, my spirit felt lighter, as if I’d just revealed the single most terrible secret I ever could have carried. Perhaps it was.
I glanced sidelong. J.T. looked horrified. I reached over and squeezed his knee. “I only realized it after she came that night. I never knew before, but I…I recognized her voice.”
“Did you tell Thom?”
I shook my head. “No. Why scare him even more than he already was? I really haven’t told anyone about it. I guess it didn’t seem important, especially after we decided that we weren’t going to talk about it. How could I tell anyone I figured out who the voice was without telling everyone about that night, you know?”
J.T. grimaced, nodding. “Good point.”
Phelan just stared at us both for a moment before he shook his head.
“Bloody gods and monsters,” he whispered, shivering himself. His long, scarred fingers tightened around his staff and he leaned forward slightly, pressing his head against the wood. “Did you know, Teague?” he murmured, almost too soft for us to hear him. “Did you know all of this when you sent me here?”
I put my hand on his shoulder and squeezed gently, mindful of where the flesh was still tender and healing. “Does it matter if he did?”
One corner of his mouth quirked into a smile and he turned his head slightly to look at J.T. and I. “Only when it comes to how big of a smack he’s going to get when I see him again.” There was a latent if in his words that almost made me wince.
We’ll make sure you see him again, Phelan. Even if it is only so you can give him that smack for what he’s put you through—and us with him.
“So are you still keen to do it, then?” Phelan asked after staring at us for a moment. “Even with the risk we run?”
I looked at J.T., saw the steel behind his eyes, then looked back at Phelan. “I guess we are.”
“All right,” he said quietly. “We’ll need those torches again, and I’ll have to see if I can harvest enough holly without killing those poor bushes. If I can’t, I’ll have to improvise.” He stood up, bouncing his staff between his palms. “Do you two want me to talk Thomas into it?”
J.T. and I exchanged another look. J.T. looked momentarily pained. I don’t know what he saw in my eyes, but he turned back to Phelan and nodded.
“I think he needs to be there,” J.T. said quietly.
“All right,” Phelan said. “I’ll take care of that first.”
He headed up the hill alone.
J.T. frowned briefly and glanced at me again. “Is he okay?”
“I was going to ask you the same thing,” I murmured, pushing myself to my feet. “What do you think?”
“I think there’s something he’s not saying, but how would that be any different than usual?” J.T. shoved his hands into his pockets as he got up, shaking his head. “Seems like we traded him for Thom in some ways. We got Thom to open up and Phelan shut down.”
“Can’t have that,” I said, starting up the hill after him.
“What are you doing?”
“What do you think? Once he’s done telling my husband what we’re planning, I’m going to figure out what’s eating Phelan O’Credne.”
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