Maggie Magee is an unemployed college graduate visiting her artist friend in Ireland for a couple of weeks. First impressions are everything, so when Maggie is nearly impressed on the front of the local lord’s roadster she takes an instant disliking to him. Their paths and swords cross again when she takes a tour of his fine castle, and insults inadvertently fly before she bustles her ample behind out the door. To make matters worse she learns the lord is landowner to her friend’s cottage, making her trouble with the lord trouble for her friend. How will she get herself, and her friend, out of this mess? Will the lord learn of their relationship and boot them both from the cottage? Will it ever stop raining?
Ireland is a beautiful land with green hills, rain, scenic roads, rain, and pleasant people. Did I mention there was rain? It was the kind Noah would panic about, and that’s what met me on my trip to see my artist friend Lily O’Brien. She and I had gone to college together when she was an exchange student, and I promised I would visit her once we both settled into jobs. The job part still hadn’t come to me when I decided to pack it all in and go see her anyway.
She’d settled herself into a small cottage on the outskirts of a promising small village in the south of the country. I flew over the big puddle and had one of the city taxis drive me down as far as the village. The rain pattered against the quaint houses and businesses as I rushed from the car and into the post office. I saw the postmaster at the empty counter. He was a jolly-looking chap with a bright smile that showed off all his teeth.
Lily was supposed to meet me at the post office, but she wasn’t any of the people who came in for their mail. I pulled out my phone and dialed her number. It rang a few times and I heard a voice on the other end.
“-this is Lily, I can’t get to my phone right now so please leave a message after the beep.” BEEP.
I rolled my eyes. “Hi Lily, it’s your guest irately waiting for you in front of the post office. I’ll be walking the road to your place. If you see a drowned rat that’ll be me. Bye.”
I shut the phone and sighed. I had an ulterior motive for coming to this quaint village, and it looked like I was going to be starting it earlier than I expected. You see, I was a little overweight for my height by about fifty pounds. My, shall we say, husky frame made me look like I’d eaten a couple of the dogs, and the snow sled for good measure. I hoped Ireland would lead me to a life of exercise and outdoor spirit, among Ireland’s other bottled spirits. That, and Lily was always texting me about the life of a starving artist. If the beautifully tempting countryside couldn’t get me walking then her sparse table would lose the pounds.
Before these high aspirations of mine could be fulfilled, I first needed to find the road that led to her place. I turned to the man at the counter and walked up to him. “Excuse me, but could you tell me where Jasper Lane is?”
“Certainly, miss. You head north from here and follow that road for a mile, then take the left road until you hit an old barn at a fork. Take the right road and that’ll be the lane,” he replied.
I smiled and nodded at him. “Thanks for the help.”
“But what’s a pretty young lady wanting with that road?” he asked me.
“My friend lives on it, Lily O’Brien,” I told him.
“Ah, I know Lily. She’s a fine artist,” he complimented. “And what be your name?”
“I’m Maggie Magee,” I hurriedly replied. “And I’ll be sure to tell her you said that, but I’d better be-”
“And are you an artist yourself?” he wondered.
I laughed and shook my head. “No, I couldn’t draw a circle to save my soul, but I’d better get-”
“Never say never,” he protested. The man dragged a paper and pencil from beneath the counter, and pushed them toward me. “I bet you can do it right now.”
It’s not like I didn’t try, but I just wasn’t any good. I grabbed the pencil and drew something that more resembled a triangle with palsy than a circle. “Damn, always get the corners wrong…” I muttered. I blamed my public education. “Anyway, it was nice to meet you, sir, but I really need to be running along.” He glanced down at me with a twinkle of mischief in his eye. “All right, I have to be walking along.” I turned away, paused, and turned back with a sheepish grin. “Um, which way is north?”
He chuckled and pointed out the direction, and I scampered out for my little day hike in the pouring rain. Fortunately, I only had a single backpack, but unfortunately, I didn’t have an umbrella. My hair clung to me and I wished for a snorkel in case I tripped into one of the puddles I jumped around. One thing I noticed before I left the village was how many people were out and about, even with the dreadful weather. They smiled and nodded at me until my neck cramped from all the nodding and my face contorted from all the smiling back. I hurried out of there before I scared the children, and headed down my road.
I was at the intersection of barn and fork when I heard a car came down the left path. I tried to get out of the way, but forgot one very important detail about Ireland; they drive on the opposite side of the road. That meant my hopping to an island on the right side of the road wasn’t a good idea.
I prayed for a clean miss, but God must have had a more pressing appointment elsewhere because the red sports car swished by me and tore up water from the bottomless puddles. I was sprayed with water filthy enough to make a pig happy. I raised my fist to the car as it went careening down to the village. “Damn crazy drivers!” I shrieked in my best old-lady voice.
I tried to clean myself off and was still mumbling about not needing a mud bath when I heard another car coming. This one came down the right path, and through the rain haze I saw Lily at the wheel of the vehicle. I practically threw myself on her hood because that was the only dry spot of land in a hundred miles. She stopped the car and got out to see who the crazy person was on her hood. I flung off and draped myself around her shoulders. “You came for me!” I cried out in my most dramatic voice.
“I’m sorry, I didn’t realize I was that late,” she apologized.
I released her and dashed to the other side of the car. “Less talk, more driving before I drowned in these clothes.” They hung off me like damp rags, and when I slid into the seat my pants squished beneath my butt and emitted a loud honk of air.
“That better have been the water,” Lily remarked as she got back into the car.
I grinned evilly. “Maybe it was and maybe it wasn’t.”
“Uh-huh, and how did you manage to get out this far?” she asked me.
“I asked the postmaster,” I told her.
Lily laughed as she swung the car around. I clutched onto the seat at the speed of the turn, and was pushed back into the cushions when she jammed the pedal down and we propelled forward. “And you’re still not there? You must have some skills talking yourself out of his chatting.”
For the first time I was wishing I was still there. “I’m fast on my feet when the rest of me doesn’t get in the way,” I replied. I’d forgotten how fast Lily drove. She was a madwoman on the muddy, winding road, and I wished I was back on my fast feet. We took a particularly hard corner and my already sore neck snapped.
Lily noticed me rubbing my neck. “Long car ride from the city?”
I shook my head and hung on for dear life. “No, I met half the villagers and they all greeted me by nodding. I tried to return the favor but I think I threw something out.”
My evil friend laughed at my suffering. “Yes, we Irish are a pretty friendly lot, so we’ll give your neck a workout.”
“Just try not to roll my head off, I’m still using it,” I joked.
“We’ll get you in shape before that happens,” she promised.
“I just hope it’s not a pretzel shape.”
We arrived at her cottage with my sanity shattered into a million pieces, but otherwise okay. Through the Biblical-flooding weather I could see it was a quaint little place with grassy roof, rock wall around it, and a garden out back. A cute little gate completed the picturesque scene, but I was more focused on the long, deep puddle that extended from the road to the front door. “I don’t think I’ll make it to the door,” I told Lily.
She frowned at me. “Why not?”
“I can’t swim.”
Lily rolled her eyes. “I’m sure you’ll manage to doggy-paddle your way there, now come on before you catch your death of cold.” As if on cue I let out a great sneeze. “See what I mean? Best get you inside now.”
I wrinkled my nose; damn traitorous appendage. Lily stepped out and helped me inside. She shut the door, and shut out that nasty storm. Inside the place was clean, toasty and, above all else, dry. I sloshed off my backpack and coat, and rung out my hair. “I’ll never have to shower again,” I told her.
“I doubt that. You’ve got mud enough on you to warrant sleeping in my sty tonight,” Lily laughed.
“You seriously have pigs?” I asked her, and she nodded.
“They keep stray dogs out of the yard, and are much smarter,” she assured me. “But how did you get to be so muddy? Did you fall?”
I scowled and shook my head. “Nope, some jerk in a fancy red car came out of the left road and got me pretty good. He didn’t even stop to see if I was okay. Do you have any non-Irish people staying around here?”
“Not everyone can be cheerful all the time,” she defended her people. “And I think I know just the person you were talking about. It’s Lord Sean MacKenna, of MacKenna Castle.” She nodded to her left. “He owns most of the land around here, and lives in the castle that’s adjacent this property.”
“Castle, huh? A musty old lord with a musty old place filled with hidden passages and creepy servants?” I guessed.
She smiled and turned me toward a door to my left. “Nothing so dramatic. He has a few servants, but the place is well-kept. Now that’s enough talking about the lord and more of getting you out of these clothes. Have you got any spares?”
I nodded at the soggy, limp backpack. “Yeah, but I don’t think they’ll be any better.”
“No bother, you can use some of mine,” she offered. “Then we’ll get you by the fire, and nice and toasty. I’ve got a good supper for you, too, if you’re hungry.”
“Hungry enough to go outside and eat a pig whole,” I replied.
She laughed and pushed me into the side room on the left side of the house. That was to be mine during my stay, and it was as small and cozy as the rest of the house. “What do you think we’re having for supper?”
I dressed in dry clothes, warmed myself by her rock chimney fire and helped myself to her delicious cooking of pork and potatoes. By the time we were done eating and talking it was past nine and I was exhausted. With an exchange of goodnights I shuffled off to my room. There was a short, sturdy wooden bed, and beside it was a small window that looked out into the side of the house. That was the direction of the castle, and I tried to catch a glimpse of a ruined tower or haunted parapet, but the mist was too thick. All I was were the dark shadows of the trees and the stone wall around the house. Those stones looked like the only thing keeping that wilderness from overwhelming us.
I shuddered at the thought and snuggled beneath the warm, fluffy down quilt. I was asleep in less than a minute, and dreamed of falling rain and fast cars.