DISCLAIMER: No disclaimers are required. The characters and this story are mine, though they may remind some of us of two characters we all know… Contains some vividly described violence and the mention of physical abuse.
ACKNOWLEDGEMENTS: I want to thank Nene Adams for really helping me out in regard of editing and beta reading. Your help was highly appreciated and very much needed J
AUTHOR'S NOTE: This is my first story ever and English is so not my mother tongue. I also have to admit that I never visited Ireland and hope that I got the important things right – if not and you are Irish, please do not be offended. In case you want to let me know how and if you liked my story, please write to filfil67@yahoo.de and/or visit my website at www.filfil.de
ARCHIVING: Only with the permission of the author.

The Matchmaking Festival
By filfil


Part Two

Eileen was there when I woke up, just as she had promised, sitting in her chair and reading a sheet of paper that I thought might be a letter. She looked beautiful, still favoring black for her clothing. The color suited her; I had to admit, adding to her mysterious aura. She definitely was a beauty of the classical kind and sitting there in tight fitting black leather trousers … well, let's just say I could get used to this particular sight. I was positively surprised about my awakening libido, and shocked that my hormones were doing happy dances.

It seemed to be day outside, since there was light filtering through the heavy curtains. When I asked if her daylight 'allergy' was why the curtains had been drawn, Eileen laughed, pointing out that due to my headache and my still swollen eye, it would be better to prevent me from too much light exposure. She wondered aloud when I thought it would be before I got rid of all my misapprehensions about vampires. She told me that dearg-dus don't disintegrate when exposed to light; at least that was something less to be afraid about. I would never forget the icky scene in Interview with a Vampire when the undead woman and child were exposed to the sun and disintegrated into ash. That awful picture has stayed with me a long time.

After taking care of my need for the bedpan, and eating some jell-o – my sore jaw wasn't up to much more solid food – I asked Eileen if she had heard anything regarding Monika. I imagined Monika going crazy with worry, and felt bad for my friend. Eileen told me that she had received a message during my beauty sleep that Monika was on her way to O'Shane Manor at that moment, making me even happier.

Eileen left the room to get some fresh tea for us which gave me, alone and alert for the first time in what seemed days, the opportunity to observe the room I was occupying. Candles were lit everywhere, and I couldn't see any proof of electricity, but a fire burned in a stone fireplace for warmth. The interior was rather dim and antique. I noticed nothing that could be described as fairly modern, but the whole atmosphere was cozy.

I wondered what kind of room I was lying in, and how huge O'Shane Manor was, since to my knowledge there were at least two servants working here. I remembered that Eileen hadn't been alone when she had shown up for my rescue, and guessed that there had to be more people living here in her service. I made a mental note to ask her later.

In the midst of my pondering and daydreaming the door opened, and Eileen came back with our tea. She sat down on the edge of my bed, setting the tray with its cups and teapot on the nearby table. I already enjoyed her presence very much; it was as if I had never been afraid of her, or if I had known her for a very long time. I was able to relax in her presence, and realized I was beginning to trust her. I was more than a bit torn though, because I had sworn to myself after breaking up with Jennifer that I would never trust too easily or too quickly again. In spite of this resolution, I couldn't deny what I already felt towards Eileen.

I wondered if it was foolish to allow those feelings to develop. But on the other hand, what did I have to lose? Eileen had had enough opportunity to kill or hurt me if that was her plan.

"So, how are you feeling, Julia?" she asked.

I took her hand, wondering about what had happened to my 'don't touch' and 'don't come to close' attitude. I seemed unable to keep Eileen at a distance. "I have still a bit of a headache, but feel a lot better compared to the last time I was awake."

I smiled at her, squeezing her hand, already craving the contact and giving in to that craving without a struggle. I received a warm smile from Eileen. Her fingers curled tentatively around mine.

"Do you feel up to some more talk?" she asked. "It's still going to take some time before Monika arrives."

"Yes, that would be great. I do have some more questions. Like, where exactly am I?"

"I can show it to you later on a map if you like. We are still in County Clare. The Manor is set in wonderfully secluded woodlands, and isn't easy to find for those who are not invited. As you may know, there isn't much forested land left in Ireland, but this has been my family's home for a very long time and we did everything to conserve our old growth woodland and even try to expand it. I'd love to show you around once you are allowed to leave the bed, if you like to." She smirked, but not unpleasantly. "Shall we continue our discussion while I make myself comfortable in my chair?"

I immediately felt the loss when she released my hand and stood up.

I was still confused. My picture of vampires – and that was the image that still kept running in my head – had been culled from television and movies. I learned that a vampire was a creature who was more or less invulnerable; also sadistic, powerful, immortal, bloodthirsty; a serial killer who murdered for food and fun. Madeleine and her gang fit that description as far as I was concerned. But Eileen O'Shane with that shy smile on her face, looking and acting like an angel, didn't fit the profile. She was no cinematic Dracula, but my recollection insisted she had the fangs for it.

The need to be close to her warred with the need to keep myself safe, so my emotional rollercoaster continued. I was torn between wanting to trust Eileen and beginning to believe that maybe I had really found something that I hadn't dared dream about for such a long time, and being careful and alert at the same time, believing that life had once more played a cruel joke on me. I was really looking forward to Monika's arrival, because I knew that I would trust her judgment of Eileen much more than my own.

"Eileen, I still don't get it," I admitted finally.

She waited for me to continue, looking at me with her beautiful blue eyes.

"I have a certain image of vampires in my head," I went on, "and Ryan told me that a dearg-du is something like a vampire. Since you showed me your fangs yesterday –" both of us had to grin at the memory – "there seems to be some kind of similarity between dearg-dus and vampires, right?"

She nodded. "Yes. How shall I put it? I've already told you that there is a difference. Beside dearg-dus, there are nosferatus, daywalkers, vampires… a total of around twenty more species which you would probably all lump under the same 'vampire' header because we all have to drink blood to survive. There's a great diversity between the species, though; we differ very much but some things are similar. Like I said, one main difference is that I am closer to the sidhe, a totally different race. I am not undead, and have never been human, as it is the case with most of the others."

We were interrupted by a knock on the door. Lena entered with a mug that smelled heavenly, and made my hollow stomach howl for a meal.

"Mistress, I bring something for the little one," Lena said, putting the mug into my hand. Wisps of steam rose, and so did my appetite. She went on, speaking to me, "It's chicken broth, lass. Your stomach still wouldn't be able to handle more solid food right now, but it's a good way to start regaining your strength. I suppose you'll enjoy warm food much more than that disgusting jell-o stuff. Whoever invented that must have had a sick brain. I will bring you more broth later if you like."

Lena left the room, shutting the door behind her. I sipped the broth carefully, and it was either delicious, or I was just plain hungry and hadn't noticed until that moment.

"Don't drink it too fast," Eileen warned. "Take your time, Julia."

I smiled at her. "Thanks. Would you like to continue, please?"

"Aye. Where was I… oh, yes. We differ very much from species to species, and race to race. The thing which units us is that we all need blood to survive – some more, some less. The amount needed is dependent on age and on some other things."

At the mention of drinking blood, I nearly dropped my mug and wasn't sure if I wanted to continue with my meal. She frowned and said, "Sorry, Julia. Sometimes I forget that things like that are disturbing for squeamish humans, but let me assure you that most of us dearg-dus don't suck humans dry anymore. Oh, things were different in the past, I admit; it was a rather long process before we found out how we could change things, and it was an even longer and tougher process to convince the others to try walking this new way."

Her answers only added fuel to my burning curiosity, which was strong enough to make me forget – or at least, try to put aside – the notion of Eileen as a blood-sucking vampire. In no way did she fit my expectations of the breed. "And you live like that? Without drinking human blood?"

"No, I don't. We just don't need to kill anymore to be able to survive: There is synthetic blood, which lacks some substantial ingredients but is a good substitute if the real thing is unavailable. We can buy blood from blood banks and store it, and there are people who sell us blood privately. There are also people who offer to be used as a kind of mobile blood supply in exchange for, let's say, other things than money. I myself usually stick with the synthetic blood or buy my supply from blood banks, but I have to admit that there was a time when I relied on those offering their services as mobile blood supplies. And not all of them always offered themselves freely."

She paused and starred at the floor. I realized that although I hardly knew her, I was already able to read some of her body language. At that moment, I saw that she was lost in her thoughts and the aura of sadness definitely expanded around her. Despite my curiosity, I decided not to ask her what she had meant by other things beside money that one could expect as payment in exchange for blood. And besides, I wasn't sure if I really wanted to know anyhow, definitely not about those not offering their service freely.

Eileen went on after a minute, "I have to admit that I miss the taste and smell of fresh human blood sometimes. And I do miss the hunting." She grinned sadly and continued, "I made a decision a long time ago not to harm humans because of my blood thirst anymore, and I stick to it. Unfortunately, there are dearg-dus who don't. And even more of the leanan sidhe still rely on the old ways, drinking blood or sucking life out of humans in other ways. One of them is my former wife."

Surprised by the unexpected revelation, I choked on the broth in my mouth and swallowed the wrong way. It hurt terribly when I had to cough; my ribs protested, paining me until I was sweating.

Eileen immediately came to my help, touching me and murmuring words in the same unknown but already familiar language to me. A warm feeling spread over my body, just as it had after my beating. The warmth helped stop the coughing. Eileen mopped at the spilled broth with a napkin.

"Are you okay, Julia?" she asked.

"Yes, sorry. It took me a bit by surprise."

"That I was married?"

"Yes. Married and to a woman, to boot."

I watched her closely. The blue eyes turned really dull now and were shadowed with old pain. I instantly regretted my rash statement, even though it had been the truth. Eileen seemed to be a thousand miles away, emitting a melancholy that I had first noticed in the portrait, and never since we had met in the flesh. I think I shocked us both when I obeyed my instinct and grasped her hand, but her fingers curled around mine quickly, and she gave me a grateful smile, returning from whatever inner place she had briefly drifted.

"It was a marriage of convenience made a long time ago, and it is a rather shameful part of my life," Eileen said, speaking reluctantly as if each word had to be dragged out of her by the force of her will. "I found out pretty quickly that we didn't fit together one bit. But I did many stupid and sometimes simply horribly things during that part of my life. Things I regret deeply today." Defensive walls came up in her blue eyes, which made them nearly turn dark grey. I was fascinated and frightened at the same time because her whole appearance changed.

"You actually met her," Eileen went on. "She was the one who had you kidnapped."

Madeleine? Madeleine and Eileen had been married?

Thinking back on it now, there was no reason to be too much surprised, since Madeleine had told me that her last name was O'Shane and asked me if I had heard of her. How stupid of me not to put the puzzle pieces together!

"Did you kill her?" I asked.

She stared at me, obviously shocked. "Who?"

Who did she think? "Well, Madeleine…." I said.

She relaxed a trifle at hearing that, pushing her hand through her hair. "No, no. I can't kill her… well, I could, but… it's difficult."

She looked so sad, my heart ached in sympathy. I believed there was a longer story behind this marriage of hers that I would want to hear when she was ready to tell me. Perhaps this was the cause of Eileen's grief, which I still felt coming from her in waves. But I wasn't sure if I wanted to push her, or if I should just leave the issue alone. I had more questions and thought I could try to distract her from the bad memories I had inadvertently dredged up.

"Eileen, it isn't important," I said. "It was Madeleine who kidnapped me and you were the one rescuing me. And since I haven't said it before, I do it now – thank you."

I leaned forward and surprised the hell out of both of us when I brushed my lips softly over hers before reluctantly leaning back again. I realized what I just done, but felt no regret at all as I was sure that this kiss spoke clearer as any of my words ever could, telling Eileen that I certainly didn't hold her responsible for Madeleine's actions.

Eileen was pole-axed, but I wasn't too concerned about her health, noticing the slow smile and the healthy color on her cheeks. Both assured me that my spontaneous move was the right thing to do – and a very pleasant one as well. My lips were still tingling, and not only my lips, either. Thinking of something, anything to say to avoid embarrassing one of us, I picked one question that was running through my mind since she told me that she was the Eileen of the portrait. "Eileen, how old are you?"

She seemed to relax and to be thankful for the change of subject, though the color and the wide grin stayed on her face. "I'm four hundred years old, born shortly after the reign of Elizabeth I, and before the time of Cromwell's invasion of Ireland. But most days I feel a lot younger, honestly."

The diversion worked. We laughed, which caused explosion of pain around my ribs that virtually ended any merriment. Again, Eileen murmured in her own language and touched me, which eased the pain a little. This foreign language stuff came sure handy.

"Julia, we really shouldn't overtax you," Eileen said, pulling her hand away from my weak grasp. "For you to regain your strength, you need a lot of rest and a lot of pampering. Between us, Lena and I will make sure that you receive plenty of both. But you have to work with us and let me know when you need a break. No arguments!"

I reached out and took her hand again, noticing that not touching her was already difficult for me. The hand was a bit cold, but very soft, and for some reason I didn't want to let go of it. I didn't want to let go of her. Everything I had learned about Eileen until now was positive and felt good, despite my earlier misgivings about her nature. I should have been more afraid, but I had already begun to feel so very comfortable with her that I didn't heed my instinctive fear. I only longed for Monika to confirm my feelings, to tell me that I could really trust Eileen, but even more myself.

"I'm easily tired, I have to admit," I said, "but my head is running wild with all the questions I have, and I need to get some answers as well to feel better." I had to stop and cough in order to swallow past the emotional knot in my throat. "All of this is still so new to me and … and I need to know more about you, and about all this. I want to know who you are, and what you are, and what all of this is about. What does it mean to us? To me?"

Eileen squeezed my hand. "You will, I promise. We have lots of time. But I don't want you to have a relapse; I am so happy that you feel better. I wouldn't be able to forgive myself if I didn't take good care of you."

Both of us fell silent, just looking at each other. All of a sudden, I realized what the expression 'drowning in someone's eyes' meant. There was an awkward silence between us, not exactly uncomfortable, but I thought it best to break it by asking some more questions which were still nagging at me. "How did you know about me? You said Ryan informed you." I said, hoping for more information.

"Well, Ryan couldn't wait to tell me about your purchase and I never lost track of you once I was informed. I was curious about you, about what happened. I didn't know how to tell you the import of what you had done in his antique shop; I didn't know what your intentions were, so I followed you for a while, wanting to find out more first. You have to understand that your action really caught me with my pants down, so to speak. I wasn't prepared, but it didn't take me long to notice that Loarn was following you as well. Still, I wasn't sure how to approach you after your panic attack and I wasn't sure what was really on Madeleine's mind."

My heart leaped in my chest, and I burst out, "How do you know…?"

"Well, I felt you responding to me, noticing me around. It's difficult to describe, but I told you before that becoming my fiancée set the bond between us alive. Since that moment, I felt your emotions rather soon. It's only the first stage, but you'll also be able to notice my presence and emotions more and more, since the bond will grow every day if we allow it."

I thought about that, putting two and two together, and feeling sick to my stomach once I realized that she had been there the whole time while I was being beaten and hadn't done anything. "You were watching it the whole time… watching Loarn beat me, hurt me? I thought that you showed up shortly before I heard your voice for the first time."

When she didn't respond at once, I went on furiously, "Why did you wait so long before coming to my rescue when you were watching me the whole time? Did you like to see me violated?" I shouted at her, scarcely believing what I was saying. She could have come to my rescue earlier, before Loarn became violent. I felt cold all over. How could I have trusted her? Someone like her… here I was again, full circle at the mercy of an abuser. Maybe she was one who rather got her kick from watching someone being abused than inflicting pain herself.

It seemed to me as if the picture I had in my head about beings like her was right after all, and my feelings had betrayed me once again. I trusted too easy and too early. What a fool I was. Over and over again. Damn! There was no need to wait for Monika anymore.

Eileen stared at me with an unreadable expression which only added fuel to my fire.

I had to get away from her and from this place. Without thinking, I threw the duvet away, tried hard to block out all the pain I felt in my body and… was pressed back into the bed by Eileen, who was at my side faster than anything I've ever seen before.

"Don't do that please! You are going to hurt yourself." she begged me.

I screamed at her: "What do you care?"

I was in no mood to give in and tried to fight her. I wouldn't have been able to match her strength even if I had been a model athlete, but I didn't care. Trying to resist her in my injured state was totally ridiculous and just left me nauseous and covered in cold sticky sweat by the time exhaustion and pain forced me to submit to her. I closed my eyes, trying to suppress the tears that came with the feeling of total defeat and helplessness. I was at her mercy. Saphead that I was, I should have never trusted her.

"Julia, please look at me." Eileen's voice was soft. I didn't want to give her the satisfaction of seeing the fear and the defeat in my eyes, so I turned my face away, trying to pull my wrists out of her tight grip. She let go, only to cup her hand under my chin, trying to tilt my head up.

Even though I felt as if I pulled every stitch and intensified all the damage done to my body, I just screamed at her, "Leave me alone, you damn creature! You demon! Do you like hurting me? I bet you just rescued me to have your own blood supply and toy at home. Damn you, you monster!" I started to sob hysterically, thrashing around as much as I was able.

For a moment nothing happened, but then she touched my head with her other hand and said, "Sorry, Julia, but you leave me no other choice." She murmured some more words and I felt my body go limp and not respond to my will any more. I drifted off, thinking that there was some truth regarding vampires and hypnosis. Not for the first time in the past few days, I thought that this was the end of my life. I never expected to wake up.

Unexpectedly, I did wake up again, realizing soon that I wasn't dead at all, because the afterlife wouldn't mean lying on the same bed as before. My first priority, therefore, was to try and sense if a particular someone else was with me in the room but I felt … nothing, only a lot less pain than the last time I was awake.

Next, I carefully opened my eyes, happy that both of them seemed to be working again. Then I moved my head to observe my surroundings, and felt sick when I realized that there was a person sitting close by on a chair. I was afraid and hopeful at the same time that it would be Eileen. But it wasn't her – it was Monika, sleeping in a funny position, drooling on her sweater but seemingly unharmed. Neither Eileen nor Lena were around as far as I could tell.

"Monika?" I realized how raw my throat was. But my harsh croak served its purpose because Monika awoke with a start and an aching expression on her face.

"What … oh, sweetie, you're awake." She grinned like the proverbial Cheshire cat and stood up, immediately offering me something to drink, but allowing me only two small sips of water before asking, "How do you feel?"

I tried again, noticing that my voice sounded a lot better now, "I'm okay, but Monika, since when are you here? And where is Eileen O'Shane? We must leave this place! They are dangerous creatures, not humans, and…"

Putting her hand on my shoulder, she more than surprised me by saying: "No, no, no – calm down, will you? I know everything. Eileen told me what happened, and even though all of that is hard to take in, I believe her. Trust me Julia, I really believe we are as safe as safe can be."

My heart pounded in my ears. What could I say? I sure wouldn't be able to leave without Monika's help. Maybe they had put a spell on her or something like that, because I was sure she couldn't mean what she just said. My thoughts must have shown on my face, because Monika sat down next to me, giving me a much needed hug. Despite my inner turmoil, I happily absorbed her warmth and reveled in her familiar smell, which always meant safety to me. Monika was the solid rock in my life and somehow we would be able to escape that situation as well, if we acted together. I just had to convince her.

Before I was able to say anything else, she whispered into my ear, "There is no need to be afraid, Julia. Honestly. Eileen explained the whole situation to me: the portrait and the ring, about the fight, about the sidhe and her being a dearg-du – as unbelievable as all of this is – and she told me about your argument."

I stared at Monika in total unbelief. How could she betray me like that?

She stood up and paced up and down in front of my bed for a moment, then continued, "I have to admit that this was not how I envisaged our holiday, even in my wildest dreams, and I never was someone who believed in supernatural or mystical stuff. But after having a long talk with Eileen before she left … ."

"What?" I interrupted. "What do you mean with 'before she left?'"

Her look was rather pensive and it took a moment before she answered my question. "Well, I wasn't here long when someone arrived with a message for her. She left soon after reading it. I have no idea what the whole ruckus was about and Lena doesn't want to tell me. But yeah, Eileen's left the manor."

She left? Why would she leave? It made no sense. What did she want to achieve? It was hard to think clearly, but it began to dawn to me that if Monika was not enchanted and really believed Eileen, I was the one in the wrong. If so, it was possible that I had really misjudged the whole situation, and cursed Eileen who had done nothing to deserve that. Not for the first time in recent memory, I was utterly confused.

"Do you really believe her, Monika? The stuff she told you and that and … well … do you think she is one of the good guys? I don't know what to believe anymore."

Monika nodded without hesitation, granting me one of her warmer smiles. "Yes, I do believe her, as weird as it is, and as hard as all of this is to accept. But I guess the real question is – do you believe her?"

I felt ashamed and embarrassed. Why had I reacted so hysterically? Eileen saved me, cared for me and made herself vulnerable, and instead of trusting her, I turned her down flat, accused her of wanting to do me wrong. I had to apologize even though I still needed to know why she hadn't come to my aid earlier. "When will she be back, Monika? I have to talk to her."

Monika dropped her head, avoiding my gaze. She, looked uncomfortable.

"Monika?" I asked a cold feeling in the pit of my stomach.

She looked up again but still avoided my gaze, glancing the interior of the room instead. "Well, Eileen said that she probably won't be back before you're healed properly, and that maybe it would be better for both of us if we left the manor as soon as you feel able to move."

I was stunned. "What… how… why?"

"She didn't say much more, only that probably it would be better to leave things like they were before and that we would be safer somewhere else."

Shit! That was a polite way of saying, Go, before I throw you out. I said aloud, "Didn't she say anything else?"

Monika watched me carefully and a bit curiously. "No. Ah, well; actually, she left something for you." She took something out of her pocket and laid it in my hand.

Eileen's ring.

I felt like throwing up.

I was so very ashamed and angry. This was one of those times where I just wished I could kick myself in the ass! But I was in a mood to kick Eileen's ass as well. How could she just leave and avoid talking to me? She had been the one telling me all that stuff about being soul mates, being bonded, and now she left because of a misunderstanding, a heated argument? Not that I wouldn't be able to understand that she didn't want me in her life, as I never really understood why she should have wanted that in the first place. But she had been the one believing in all that soul mate crap and making me all mushy inside. Coward!

I needed to do something. I wouldn't just leave and give in! "I would like to get up, Monika; could you help me please?"

My first priority was to talk to Lena. I was sure that she would know where Eileen was. I needed to visit her. Since I was doing much better now, and surely needed some exercise to regain my strength back, I would start with looking for Lena.

But Monika refused to give me a hand. She stood in front of the bed with her hands on her hips, tapping a foot on the wooden floor. "No way. You stay put! You're still not up to any stunts like that. Eileen told me you should take it easy for at least one more day."

We stared at each other, both not moving for a moment. I was too frustrated to be cautious. I pushed the duvet away and tried to sit up on the edge of the bed. Fine, I thought, if she wouldn't help me, I had to help myself. I was nauseous and my vision was not very clear, but that was soon gone. I was determined to make it on my own, no matter what.

Monika shook her head but finally gave in, steadying me when I tried to stand up. I guess she was simply not interested in seeing me fall over and kiss the floor. It was quickly brought home to me that I was hardly able to walk a few feet before my legs gave out and I had to sit on a chair she thankfully provided. Lingering pain and exertion left me breathless.

Monika didn't need to say anything, since her whole face expression just screamed 'I told you so.' After a short rest, she had to help me back into bed. There was no way I would be able to walk around. I had to give in and rely once again on the philosophy of taking one small step at a time. I hated that stupid philosophy! I needed to talk to Lena, the sooner the better.

Monika insisted on hearing the whole story from my viewpoint before helping me do something stupid. So I did, only to find her staring at me open-mouthed when I finished.

"You are engaged to Eileen?" Monika asked her eyes wide as saucers. "She told me that the ring was supposed for someone else and that you bought it by accident. Why did she tell me a different version of that story?"

I felt stupid, but I had a feeling about Eileen's motive for lying which didn't make me feel better. She was trying to make it easy for me. Damn her! I felt tears stinging in my eyes. "Well, no," I said. "The truth is that by buying the portrait and the ring I became her fiancée. At least I was – but now she left the ring behind. So I don't know…"

Monika shook her head. "I still don't understand her version of the story, but anyhow and for future reference, I honestly am never ever going to leave you out of my sight. Unbelievable! You have a chance to marry a drop dead gorgeous, seemingly rich, caring, interesting woman and then you accuse her of being a sadist… really, Julia!"

It did sound kind of bad when she put it like that. I hastened to make my excuses. "But Monika, she is a dearg-du, and she didn't try to stop Loarn from beating and nearly killing me. And I don't really know her well enough … "

Monika closed her eyes and counted out loud until she reached ten, which annoyed me no end, before opening her eyes again and telling me, "In a way I understand your reaction, but why didn't you give her time to explain? Maybe she had a reason for not helping you earlier, because she sure came to your rescue later."

Could it be so easy, and could I have been so wrong? Maybe – but maybe not. And even if I was wrong, I would have expected her to stay and not just run away. Or was there another reason for her absence? But why did she leave the ring behind? I really needed to talk to Lena.

As it turned out, luck was on my side. I should have trusted Lena to be a good caretaker and arrive just in time to provide us with food, although she didn't even deign to grant me a glance after entering the room, only communicating with Monika in short sentences before turning around, ready to leave us alone again. I couldn't allow that to happen. It was my chance to get some desperately needed information, and maybe find out where Eileen was and when she was destined to come back. So I gathered my courage, because I could clearly feel that I was not in Lena's good graces at the moment.

"Lena, please," I begged.

She hesitated for a second before continuing on her way to the door, ignoring my plea, but it seemed to me as if her steps were a bit slower than before.

"Lena, I need to talk to you," I said. "Do you know where Eileen is, please?"

She turned around and we stared at each other for a short while. I immediately noticed that she didn't look very good; there were dark circles under her eyes and not much left of her graceful appearance. I was speechless, wondering what could possibly have happened.

I tried again. "Lena, please. I need to talk to Eileen. When will she be back?"

Lena glanced coldly at me. "Why would you be interested in that?"

I was embarrassed, guessing that she had more than just an idea about what had happened between Eileen and me. I knew that if I wanted to have a chance of finding out more, I needed to be open, even though it wouldn't look too good for me.

"I want to apologize for what I said to her," I told Lena. "I… gosh… I made a fool out of myself and I think I hurt her somehow and…"

Lena interrupted, looking daggers at me. "You think you hurt her somehow? If I am not very much mistaken you called her a monster. And you think you hurt her! Humans! We should have left you alone, really. You are not worth all the trouble, thinking you know everything. Worshiping your modern technology and science, trying to rule everything with logic. But when you are alone for a night in the dark, listening to your feelings when hearing the noises you can't explain… then you run away screaming, feeling hunted. And hunted are you, even if only from your fear, but sometimes from something or someone more substantial. And then, then you are more than happy to have someone like the mistress to help you. But you, you call her a monster…"

She turned around again, walking to the door faster. For the second time that day, I jumped out of bed, and before Monika was able to stop me, I hurried after Lena… well, at least that was my plan. I quickly realized that my body was not up to something like that, and I fell straight on top of the table and into the trays of food. Even though I hurt myself, I at least had gotten Lena's attention, and found a way to stop her from leaving the room. Getting a bump on my forehead and being decorated with food was worth it, I decided.

Both Monika and Lena helped clean me up and made sure that I was okay apart from the headache that had returned with a vengeance. I waited until Lena stopped fussing over me, and then seized the chance to get some information out of her. "Lena, could you please sit down for a moment. Please!" I said.

She reluctantly sat down, still giving me rather unfriendly looks. But she did not run away, and waited for me to continue, which I considered was another small step successfully taken. Monika chose a chair a bit farther away to give us some privacy, though she watched everything attentively. I cleared my throat and hoped for the best.

"Lena, I realize that I am a bit of a fool and I really would give everything to be able to undo what I said," I told her. "You cannot imagine how much I regret my words, but I can't apologize and try to mend what happened if I am not able to talk to Eileen."

That didn't seem to break the ice between us and I didn't know what else to do. There was an awkward silence, but she finally asked me in a cold voice, "Why did you do it? Calling her names like that? Causing her to feel as she did before! You cannot imagine how hard it was for Eileen to achieve acceptance from the other sidhe with her new ways of living, of not hunting humans anymore. And you cannot imagine her pain when she lost her parents and her brother; she always blamed herself for their deaths. On top of everything else, she found out that her own wife had betrayed and used her, the one person she hoped to be able to rely on, then she was called monster and betrayer and more because her kin thought she was behind the plan to kill the rest of her family so she could become the chieftain of the O'Shane clan."

Lena got up from her chair and took a step closer to my bed, which made me feel like a cornered animal. Monika was getting out of her chair, stepping closer to Lena, who continued her speech. "And then, when she, after living in chosen isolation for a very long time, rather unexpectedly finds someone whom she against all odds believes to be her soul mate, and she begins to hope that maybe, maybe there could be something good for her, you call her names like that. Being a soul mate sure doesn't mean you cannot be an asshole at the same time! She was happier than I've seen her for decades. She hadn't really been able to trust that maybe it was her time to be happy again, to have found the someone special, but she was hoping nevertheless and then… why? Why did you accuse her so unjustly?"

What could I possibly say? I could see the tears in her eyes, and felt like shit and absolutely helpless at the same time. "I really didn't mean to hurt her, Lena," I said, "but I was simply afraid, shocked about everything that happened. And I think we both pushed buttons somehow." I tried to bite back the tears that threatened to fall. "I've been in an abusive relationship for so long that I really don't trust myself anymore with all the things I feel and… and … I was afraid … and … I can't understand why she let Loarn beat me."

My tears flowed freely. I tried to hide my face behind my hands, feeling so very ashamed, when I felt someone stroke my hair. Expecting it to be Monika, I was more than surprised to realize that it was Lena.

"Ah, little one," she said. "Come on now, that is not going to help any of you and is not going to make you feel better."

"But, but… " I hiccupped, trying and failing to form a coherent sentence.

"Shush. You get yourself together while I get us some fresh tea from the kitchen; it will do us good. And then we will talk some more. Right?"

Lena stepped out of the room, leaving Monika and me alone. We just stared at each other before Monika stated what I felt as well. "She really is something else, right?"

I had to concur, sniffling. "You know, I always feel like a little child when she is around, and not like a grown-up person."

We laughed and it made me feel a bit better. It seemed as if Lena wasn't so angry any more, and perhaps there was still a chance for Eileen and me after all. I had no idea what the future would bring for us, if there was any, but I knew that I had to apologize for my outburst and for the names I called her. She didn't deserve the way I had treated her after she rescued me and showed me nothing but kindness, especially after what Lena had revealed bout her past.

I began to realize that it was not only me still recovering from a traumatic experience. It was not only my behavior being influenced by what had happened to me in the past. Eileen, too, was haunted by her own demons. What a minefield to cross!

Talking about relationships was something I did a lot with my therapist. I remember her telling me that every relationship is different because people are different, and everyone has their own baggage to carry. I found out that for me, to make a relationship work I needed to move carefully, be honest and learn to trust the other person. But trust was something I wasn't good at. Monika was the only person I really trusted, because it had been affirmed over and over again that she would never, ever hurt me, not under any circumstances. Still, it took a long time before our friendship reached that level.

As for Eileen… hell, I didn't know her until a few days ago, and I could never have guessed that someone like her existed. She was not what I would consider a safe person, or someone I would choose for myself after being burned so badly in my past. But then she touched me like nobody before ever did – like I was the most precious thing in the world to her – and I knew that I had fallen hard for her already.

I was still deep in thought when Lena showed up with the promised tea and a bottle of whiskey. After pouring us all a good amount of both beverages, she said, "I have the feeling that we need something stronger to get us through the afternoon." She pointed to the bottle, her grin the widest I had ever seen.

Lena went on, "In Ireland, we call whiskey uisce bheatha, which means 'water of life,' and I personally believe there isn't much that cannot be cured with good tea and good whiskey. Whiskey is actually one of the things you humans did a good job with. It could have been us inventing it."

She held her glass high, and I took her last statement as a peace offering. Lena continued, "So first a glass of our water of life, lasses, to get us going, and then we solve our problem with the tea afterwards. Sláinte!"

She drank her shot of whiskey and we followed her example without hesitation. Hell, that stuff was strong and burned my insides, as I really was not used to alcohol and hardly ever drank something so strong! I forgot that they drank their whiskey straight in Ireland, but it sure made me feel warm some seconds later. I decided a more relaxed atmosphere wasn't bad for what lay ahead of us.

Monika succeeded in coaxing another shot out of Lena; she always had a liking for that kind of water, and Lena poured her a much larger portion with a mischievous twinkle in her eyes. Lena just took her cup of tea and relaxed in Eileen's chair, observing me quietly for a while.

"So, little one," she said at last, "I still don't condone what you did, but before we really start any discussion I need to know – do you want to mend what you've broken with Eileen? Are you still interested in her and what the future could be for you both?"

I looked her straight in the eye, trying not to be too impressed about her unwavering gaze, which bore into me and did nothing to alleviate my nervousness. I tried to state with a confidence that I didn't have, "Yes, I am, Lena. I have no idea how and I'm still scared shitless. But, yes, I am!"

That brought another grin to her face, which made her look younger at once and left me wondering how old she was anyhow, knowing by now that Eileen was around four hundred years old. Geez!

Lena nodded. "Good, then tell me lass, why did you freak out like that, making Eileen leave?"

Yeah, why not start with the easy stuff? But knowing that I couldn't avoid it anyway, I told Lena about my relationship with Jennifer and how much her abusiveness continued to influence my life; about my sleep problems; my fear of crowds; how much all of what I experienced made me mistrust my own feelings; and all the other bits and pieces I suffered from without surcease. Monika interrupted from time to time, commenting on things and helping Lena to get a true picture of my past. This was something I would never get used to – telling someone else about a horrible part of my life that I only wanted to forget.

Lena listened patiently until I finished and made me damn nervous when she didn't respond right away. I was not able to judge from her expression what she thought and had no idea what to expect from her. After a while, even Monika – who was used to sitting things out as a corporate lawyer – cleared her throat, a sure sign that she didn't like the tense atmosphere either. Both of us were anxiously waiting for Lena's reaction, which was to our surprise was to get up, pour herself another whiskey, and chug it down before returning to her chair and letting out a deep sigh.

"Oh, my, that is going to be a difficult relationship and a lot of fun for all of us being around you two. You will have the potential to heal and hurt each other immensely. I most definitely should stock up on tea and whiskey," she said.

My expression must have shown how flabbergasted I was because Monika broke out into a fit of laughter and Lena joined in. I was not amused at all and had to fight back angry tears, still feeling unstable about everything that had happened, and feeling betrayed about them having such a reaction when I had just unburdened myself. Lena came over and sat on the bed, giving me a hug, not caring about my stiff attitude.

"Oh, little one. Eileen has a temper of her own, she's Irish, so what else is there to expect? And you seem to be a big thickheaded yourself as well, though you aren't Irish, but you will fit in perfectly. We will sure not get bored with both of you around. It was too damn quiet here for a long time anyhow."

She laughed again. I have to admit that I was still kind of angry and upset. She drew me into another bear hug despite my trying to resist her embrace. "Lass, there is no reason to be so grieved," she said. "I just state the obvious."

Lena held me a bit away, tilting me chin up and smiling at me. "Does Eileen know about your past and everything you told me?" she asked.

I couldn't really remember if we had talked about it since I had been in very much of a daze when we started talking the first time, but I was quite sure that I hadn't told her much of anything at all, and I said so to Lena.

"See, little one, I can tell you that Eileen sure is falling for you, and I have the impression that you care about her as well. Is that right?"

Monika shouted a cheerful yes in the background, pouring herself another glass from the half-empty bottle of whiskey, causing Lena to whisper into my ear, "She is going to wish she was dead tomorrow if she continues like that."

I had to stifle a laugh, because it was true – from time to time, Monika didn't care about her limits, and her self-pity was always without end and rather loud the next day.

After ruffling my hair, Lena sat back in her chair, making herself comfortable and encouraging Monika with a wicked smile to have another glass of that delicious whiskey, assuring her that there were some more bottles in the cellar. And Monika was only too ready to oblige, murmuring something which sounded a bit like 'twist my arm, will you.'

Lena giggled, enjoying Monika's behavior tremendously. She poured herself another glass of whiskey as well, and downed it in a few swallows. "I like a woman who knows how to stand her ground," she said. "Right, lasses. We need to concentrate and think about our next step here. Eileen will be gone for another two or three days, expecting you to have left the Manor before her return. Let's see what we can come up with. You definitely will need to tell her about your past and make her understand why you reacted so harshly. I'm sure she will understand if she gets the whole picture."

That left me with a question. "Lena, why did Eileen leave? Was our fight the only reason?"

She sighed. "No, little one. There was another reason. Her presence was required somewhere else, though she was happy to have an excuse for leaving the Manor. But I won't tell you any more. That is up to her."

I knew that she wouldn't tell me more, so I left it like that and asked no further questions

The rest of the afternoon was spent in strategic discussion, interrupted with fits of laughter, about a way for me to win Eileen's trust back and convince her to forgive me. An interesting discussion it was, and a ribald one at times as well, making me blush and wish I could hide somewhere. I was hardly able to stop Lena from telling us about dearg-du sexual stamina compared to humans in far too much detail for my peace of mind. But something I found out that afternoon was that being able to impregnate someone was not limited to male dearg-dus. I filed that tidbit away for future reference.

Monika and Lena became merrier the longer the afternoon went on, the two of them ending as good friends. They left me in a good mood as well. After seeing them head off to the kitchen to prepare a nice meal, I was sure that Lena would keep me company alone for the rest of the evening since Monika's speech was more than slurred already, and I expected her to fall asleep in the kitchen. I knew Monika was no domestic goddess, and I was sure that Lena wasn't a person who would just hand her kitchen over to someone else, so that was all right.

I was happy that Monika and Lena got on so well with each other. In a way it was weird, because here we were, two human lawyers, staying in an old hidden manor which was owned by a dearg-du who was on the run. We were making plans and drinking a bottle of whiskey with her housekeeper, who was a dearg-du as well, as we found out during our afternoon chat with her. I had survived being kidnapped by Eileen's former wife, a leanan sidhe who had been after Eileen's heritage and was, according to Lena, the person, uh, being, behind the murder of Eileen's parents. Thinking about the complicated situation made we wish for another glass of whiskey. Life sure is stranger than fiction sometimes.

Fortunately, I didn't have to explain all of this to someone else. Or, hey, maybe that would have been a good opportunity to get back on my parents. I would love to tell to them something like – I know you never liked me being a lesbian, but guess what? This is your daughter-in-law Eileen, and she is what you would call a vampire. And then I would ask her to show them her fangs, oh yes…

Anyway, the outcome of our little girl's party during the afternoon was a plan. Maybe not the most creative one ever, but one I felt comfortable with. As soon as Eileen was back, Lena would hand her my invitation for a last meeting for dinner in Sheedy's Country House Hotel which – according to Monika's information – was one of Lisdoonvarna's best and most romantic restaurants. It was Lena's job to make sure that Eileen would show up, and she was positive that she would be able to persuade Eileen to do just that. It would then be my job to explain myself and make her believe that I would like to have another chance with her. She would have to take the ring back and put it on her finger again. Lena explained to me that giving the ring to me was a sign of her intent of a 'divorce,' but taking the ring back made the divorce void.

She told us that in her opinion, the reason for Madeleine going mad after my purchase of the portrait and the ring was that her divorce from Eileen couldn't be retracted any more. That would mean that everything her clan had worked on for over three hundred years – all the schemes and plans – was irreversible destroyed.

Still, I wouldn't be able to do much more than showing my willingness when meeting Eileen; everything else would be up to her. Lena was sure that Eileen's temper would have substantially cooled down by Friday, and that would be a good chance to reconcile with her.

One of my assignments until Friday would be to gather information in the library about the sidhe and Eileen's family history to get a bit of an understanding what made her tick.

I really wanted to understand more of Eileen's world, since it was so different from mine.

The next morning was interesting. Living together with Monika and knowing her habit of enjoying a good time made me believe I'd seen it all, but hell, did she have a hangover that particular morning! While Lena assisted me in getting out of bed and helped me dress, Monika was sitting in Eileen's chair, whining all the time about how unfair life was and that she would never ever again so much as touch a glass of that damned whiskey, and that I was supposed to be her friend, and that Lena was cruel and so on, just like I had expect the day before. It was really hard to keep a straight face. It was a good thing that the exercise of dressing and walking took all of my effort, energy and concentration.

After enjoying a light lunch and making sure that I was able to walk or at least stumble along without falling, Lena assisted me to the library. For the very first time, I saw more of O'Shane Manor and was impressed by the understated elegance I saw on my way. Everything seemed to be telling me that Eileen was a woman of wealth and good taste. The library itself was simply magnificent and pure bliss for someone like me, decorated in a typical Irish country house style with matching sofas and armchairs in front of a blazing fire. Every wall was lined with shelves full of books. As I sat down in one of the armchairs, I felt like I was in my own personal heaven. Books had always been a refuge for me, and therefore an important part of my life. I really fell in love with that room.

"Lena, this is just absolutely fabulous," I said. "The house, the library, and the way everything is decorated."

Lena smiled and sat down in the armchair opposite mine. "Yes, Eileen did a great job with the rebuilding when the former manor was destroyed by a fire. Fortunately, we were able to rescue quite a few family belongings because the fire spread slowly enough to get some things out. But still many of the old scrolls, many family portraits and a lot of furniture was destroyed. Eileen really put a lot of effort and money into bringing the old manor alive in a new location, but some things were just not replaceable. By the way, the old manor once stood where you met Madeleine."

I took a second look around, and noticed the lack of portraits and of personal knick-knacks I would have expected in an old family-owned manor. I remembered that I hadn't seen anything like that in my bedroom or on my way to the library.

Lena brought me out of my musings. "Little one, why don't you stay right there in that chair and I bring you some books to read? You take your time and I will make you some tea."

A short while later, I was left with some scrolls and more books, all in the English language. That was the smallest part of the library; most of the important stories were written either in Gaelic or in the language of the sidhe as Lena told me, neither languages I could read. But still, I had enough to make a beginning in my studies.

I started my homework about the history of the sidhe and the dearg-dus, the different tribes and houses that I learned still existed, the way their lives had changed over their centuries, how their society worked and so on. The social orders reminded me a lot of what little I knew about the old European aristocracy, but the amount of information was so overwhelming that I could only grasp the smallest part of the accumulated knowledge.

I read about Eileen's family's history and found a bit of information about the she had suffered from her former wife. Madeleine O'Kilroy was a chieftain's daughter. Both families had the hope that through marriage, their influences would be even bigger. Well, the O'Kilroys seemed to have won, the O'Shanes were nearly destroyed, with Eileen the only one of her family still alive. I wondered why Eileen's parents and Eileen herself had trusted them in the beginning, and found myself anxious to know more about that part.

I took a well deserved tea break after two hours, feeling slightly dizzy from all the information. It seemed like I would never be able to really get an understanding of Eileen's world; it was so different from the way I had lived my life so far.

At least I realized that based on what was written there, most of what I read or saw in movies about any kind of mystical creatures was ridiculous, pure fiction made up for thrill-seekers and horror fans. It seemed that some of the authors who wrote about that kind of stuff had glimpsed the things that stalked on the fringes of human society, but the reality seemed to be really different. Still, I found it hard to separate stuff I read or saw once from what I read about now, and I would have loved to discuss it with Eileen. That would have to wait until her return. Well, and until after our little talk about just running away, which would hopefully happen after my apology for freaking out and calling her names.

When evening approached, Lena showed up and lit some candles in the library, telling me that Monika had been put to bed some time ago after being forced to drink an old cure for hang-over, which made her get rid of that alcohol that was still in her system.

I was thankful for Lena joining me as there were quite a few questions nagging me, such as what would possibly happen if a human and a dearg-du were joined in marriage. She told me about the McNamara's of Clare, and I remembered Eileen mentioning that family as well. But Lena had to admit that there had never been a joining between a human and a dearg-du before. The only thing she was sure of was that a human marrying a sidhe would become a half-sid. Nobody knew beforehand how such a bonding would influence a human, and the few times a bonding like that took place, the outcome was different every time.

That left me wondering what could possibly happen with me and Eileen. Well, there was another bridge to cross first, but I still wondered – would I grow fangs and have the urge to drink blood? What kind of skills would I develop? Healing, the ability to cast spells of any kind, being able to understand and talk to animals, or would I become a warrior?

The variety of possibilities was stunning, and some were certainly more desirable than others.

Monika proved fit enough to help me with some more exercises the next day, and she wanted to spend time with me in the library, too. She – an avid reader herself – fell in love with the library as well. Both of us spent our time in there reading, discussing and studying until Lena showed up and forced us to join her for dinner in the kitchen; she said the kitchen was more comfortable than the official dining-room. The kitchen was also the second room I saw and immediately fell in love with. It was exactly the kind of place where you would sit and drink a cup of tea or coffee to relax. There was a big iron stove in one corner, lots of herbs hanging to dry on racks near the ceiling, and in the middle of the room sat a huge wooden table. While we were enjoying another of Lena's marvelous meals, we were joined one after another by the people who worked and lived in the manor. Despite my usual shyness around strangers, I enjoyed the evening tremendously, listening to old stories and even older songs while more and more of the staff showed up to eat and chat. Some of them had such strange appearances, even I could pick out as not being human. Lena told me later that I saw some Changelings and a Leprechaun, while most of the others were dearg-dus and leanan-sidhe.

Lena said to me on our way to our rooms that she was hardly able to remember a gathering like that. All of Eileen's people were hoping that life for their mistress would change for the better now that I was there, and they were all willing to fight for her. Let's hope so! I thought. Because right then, I wasn't so sure about the outcome of the following night, or what would happen when Eileen and I met after our separation.

The next morning began with an early, long, very good breakfast which would keep us going for some while. We had to leave the manor before Eileen returned, and Lena expected her later that morning.

We left the estate in one of Eileen's cars, accompanied by a bodyguard as Monika put it, hoping that Lena would be able to convince Eileen to show up the same night at Sheedy's. Lena was still very optimistic that not only Eileen would come to the meeting, but she would be willing to open her heart again for me. I wasn't as certain, but I wasn't going to give up without a fight, either.

After arriving in Lisdoonvarna, Monika and I used our time for an appointment at a hairstylist, and later on a visit to one of the fashionable clothing boutiques. Even dressed in something other than my usual jeans and sweaters, and with a fresh hairstyle that Monika assured me was flattering, I still felt unready for that evening.

Sooner than expected, I was sitting at the table in the restaurant. Monika had helped me choose the venue for that evening, and Sheedy's was everything I hoped it would be. Monika elected to stay behind, sitting in front of the open fire in the foyer. I had to tell her later that if she ever planned on seducing someone in Lisdoonvarna, this restaurant should definitely be her place of choice as the whole atmosphere and the setting simply screamed 'romantic.' The dining room was done in a stylish subdued olive-grey with candle-lit tables, very cosy and stylish. It was absolutely marvellous. Lena was sure that Eileen had never heard of the restaurant since she had stayed very much isolated the last few decades.

I carefully chose our meal after Lena's instructions, who had pointed out to me that a good meal was as helpful as a good tea and a good whiskey. Taking that into consideration, I chose a risotto of asparagus and wild mushrooms as a starter, to be followed by Burren lamb served with a wild mushroom sauce and baked potatoes as a main meal, and finally lemon posset with fresh fruit as a dessert. I made sure with Monika's help that I selected a red wine which would complement the servings, having no clue myself about that part. Our waiter was instructed to begin serving the red wine as soon as Eileen came to the table.

Monika made sure that I picked a table a bit separated from the others, hoping that it would grant us some privacy. I doubted that the other guests would be interested in what was going on at some other table; it was the last night of the matchmaking festival, and all the other tables seemed to be occupied by couples who were much more interested in themselves rather than spying on their neighbours. There was a special kind of energy vibrating in the room which couldn't be denied. I wouldn't exactly call it mating season vibes, but that was the best definition for it that I could come up with.

I grew more and more nervous sitting alone at the table and waiting for Eileen to show up, knowing that this night would be a definite crossroads in my future. Either Eileen would forgive me and we could try to explore a relationship together, or she would say 'thanks, but no thanks' – and then Monika and I would be leaving for Germany, and Ireland would be a strange part of our past, leaving both of us changed forever with a knowledge of things we never expected to exist.

Surrounded by other couples, no matter how incurious they were, would have made anyone feel vulnerable. Since I sat there quite a while, I really wished for a glass of Lena's famous whiskey to calm my nerves. I began to wonder what I would do if Eileen wouldn't show up at all. Lena had so positive that this would not happen, but now I felt like a fool and my readiness to bolt was growing with every second. Suddenly, I felt something, a shift of energy in the room, a powerful presence. A few seconds later I saw her, and was again simply stunned by her appearance. It wasn't only me noticing her, either; the whole room went quiet for a moment before the conversations continued.

As usual, she was dressed in black, leaving me to wonder if she ever wore something other than her black leather trousers. But I noticed the blouse was different – black to be sure – but well tailored. The style supported Eileen's commanding presence, underlining her natural authority and charisma. I was sure you had to be born with an aura like that, having the ability to tell everyone without words to respect your privacy and wait for you to advance. No seminar in the world could train someone to take control of a room like that. It was the second time I had the opportunity to see her like that – as a commanding presence.

Beside all that, I was able to feel something else, like the very first time I saw her portrait. I noticed the deep loneliness and the grief she tried to hide with her tough attitude. I noticed the dark shadows under her eyes and was able to sense her fatigue, guessing that this was partly my fault. While all of these thoughts went through my head, she suddenly stood in front of me, asking with a small smile that didn't reach her eyes, "Hello Julia. Is this place free?"

I was only able to nod as any ability to articulate seemed to have left me. Why did I allow Monika and Lena to talk me into this? The whole thing was a ridiculous idea. I felt so out of my league at this place, with my outfit and with Eileen. The waiter rescued me when he showed up and begun to serve the already ordered wine, receiving a raised eyebrow from Eileen, whom he chose to taste it, despite me being the one who had ordered it originally.

Eileen played her part well, tasting the wine like a real gourmet, doing all the things to indicate that she had some experience. She approved at last and the waiter filled both our glasses, leaving us alone and to our silence. After a while, Eileen broke it with a sigh.

"So here I am, Julia," she said. "I don't want to be rude and would definitely enjoy this setting under different circumstances, but I don't have all evening. What can I do for you?"

Making it easy on me seemed to be far from her mind, not that I really expected it. But I had to blink my eyes to keep tears from falling, realizing that I simply had no idea where to start. My mind was blank, my feelings were playing havoc, and the silence between us stretched on and on. All the strategic plans that Lena, Monika and me discussed had vanished from my brain and I had no idea what to say. What could I tell her that would convince her about my honest feelings for her?

It didn't really help that Eileen's eyes bore harder and harder into mine. Just when the waiter showed up with some amuse-bouches, Eileen stood up, her gaze not leaving mine. "Julia, I came out of respect, but it seems like there is nothing to say, right? So I think I better leave and ask Monika to join you for your dinner."

She turned around to go and I, knowing that this could really be my last chance, found my ability to form words, even if it sounded not much more than a whisper of despair when I said, "Don't, please!"

Even though the attempt was pathetic, it served its purpose and made her stop and turn around, observing me carefully. For a second I had the feeling that her face looked a bit softer, but that could have been a figment of my imagination.

Nevertheless I gathered all my courage and murmured, "Please, Eileen. I know that this is an unpleasant situation. But that is true for both of us. Please stay."

Standing beside our table, the waiter looked a bit confused but finally decided to leave the plates with us and attend his other customers. I wondered if he and his colleagues were trained for situations like that. I thought that lover's quarrels must be something they were used to, especially during that time of the year.

Eileen slowly came back to the table, still observing me as if waiting for something else before sitting down again. I did the only thing that came to my mind – I held up my hand, showing her the ring I was still wearing on my finger. I cleared my throat and said with the best poker face I was capable of mustering, "I don't accept you breaking off our engagement. I am still your betrothed by right. So please sit down, Eileen."

She did as I asked, staring at me before responding, "You don't – what?"

To this day, I have no idea where I found the courage to talk to her like that, but I felt that I needed to be a bit rough on her to be able to break through the walls she had built around herself for protection. I didn't want to waste my last opportunity, so I did what I never was able to do before – I asserted myself and took charge.

Showing as much confidence as possible, I tried to look defiantly at her. "Lena explained to me that you leaving the ring behind like that meant that you were breaking off our engagement. But she also explained that for this to become effective, I would need to agree to it. And I don't, which means that we are still engaged and need to talk about future plans."

I began eating the amuse-bouches with what I hoped to be an unfazed expression. I noticed out of the corner of my eye that Eileen didn't move at all. I was not sure if she was still breathing, but she was definitely shocked by my statement. We were quiet for a while, me eating the parsnip crisps, semi-dried tomatoes and black olives on my plate without tasting much, while she downed her glass of red wine in a few gulps.

Finally, she snorted angrily. "Julia, I have no idea what kind of game you are playing and I am simply tired. So let's get down to business: What do you want from me? Is it money? Do you want my title?"

My temper got the better of me. I found myself standing, towering over her with a finger wagging in her face. I was seething. "How dare you! You left me without leaving a note, without talking to me, without giving me an opportunity to explain or to apologize. I demand your respect, damn it, and I deserve better than that!"

Our reunion was not really going as planned. I am sure that our waiter wished he would have applied for another shift as he turned around on the spot and left again with the bottle of water he was supposed to deliver to our table. Poor guy – he had a rather unusual evening.

The whole thing between Eileen and me felt a bit like a bad match, and I was surprised about my own behaviour. The question was who would be the winner in the end, and my deepest hope was that it would be the both of us, but I knew that the most difficult part was still ahead. It was time for me to take the next step so I sat down again, hoping that it was a good sign that Eileen was still sitting in her chair, her complexion a bit paler than before.

"Eileen, I… I am sorry; could we try to act like grown-ups?" I asked contritely.

She stared at her plate, moving the olives around and didn't look up when mumbling, "I can give it a try."

I was afraid to be rejected again, but following my gut feelings had proved to be right so far, therefore I took Eileen's hand in mine, causing her to jump a little in her seat. Even though she looked like a deer caught in a car's headlights, she didn't take her hand away. I felt the need to choke down my laughter because of the seriousness of the situation. Here I was, a human with hardly any self-confidence, afraid of nearly everything, sitting in a romantic surrounding, arguing with a dearg-du who was my fiancée and who seemed to be much more out of her wits than me.

I forced myself to look serious and continued, "Eileen, I don't want anything from you right now other than your forgiveness. The whole point of meeting you here tonight was to tell you that I am more than sorry for what I said to you, and to let you know that I am deeply ashamed about my outburst. You are most definitely no monster but saved my life, and I simply had no right whatsoever to call you names or assume that you wanted to hurt me. And I wanted to ask you to forgive me for my absolutely stupid and shameful behaviour."

Her hand suddenly felt a lot colder, but she didn't break the eye contact and responded after a while with nothing more than a whisper, "But why did you? What did I do that made you think I would harm you, Julia?"

My heart felt like it would break any moment. I was hardly able to stop the tears in my eyes. I owed her an honest explanation, no matter what the outcome of this evening would be. "I didn't understand why you watched Loarn doing me harm when you could have come to my rescue earlier. I just don't understand it. And, well, I was in a long-term relationship with an abusive partner and… and I don't really trust myself and my feelings, and all of this came together with you and the whole soul mate thing, and… I don't know what else to say. But I didn't want to hurt you. Please, you have to believe me."

Both of us were quiet again. Our brave waiter showed up, taking advantage of the opportunity to take away our plates and prepare the table for our starters before hurrying off again.

"Well, I guess he really deserves a good tip tonight, poor guy," I said. I could see the corners of her mouth twitching, restraining a smile before becoming serious again.

"Julia, will you tell me a bit about the relationship you were talking about?" Eileen asked.

It only took that gentle prompting before I did just that, telling her about the most horrible years of my life. That Jennifer was my first serious relationship after discovering that I am gay; that we moved in together rather soon and that she seemed to be everything I hoped for until the day we had the first major disagreement; that I learned rather fast through her 'special way' that I'd better agree with her, or suffer the consequences. It was hard to explain that prior to that day, Jennifer had given me the feeling of being important and interesting, which was something I was not used to. How could I explain that she was as charming and smooth-tongued as they come, and that nobody had told me before 'I love you.'

Eileen didn't let go of my hand throughout the story. When I finished, I needed a short break, taking advantage of the wine before continuing, "Four years is a long time to invest in a relationship, more so in an abusive one, and I found out that old habits die hard. While I hadn't had a huge amount of self-confidence before Jennifer started using her fists, it didn't take long for her to beat the rest out of me when we were together. All of this is still giving me a very hard time today; I have some physical as well as some mental difficulties as leftovers from that time, like I suffer from nightmares, can't sleep without a light on, and have to see the exit when I'm seated somewhere. On top of that, I still have some ugly scars left on my back and sometimes I have problems with breathing if it's too cold because of some damage she did to my ribs during one of our disagreements."

I said all of that in a hurry to get it over with and finally drank the rest of my wine to calm my nerves. Eileen still didn't let go of my hand. It seemed we had reversed the roles in the meantime; my hand was cold and hers had more of a healthy temperature.

Our waiter chose that moment to show up with our starters, leaving in a hurry again. I stared at the risotto, not sure if I would be able to eat anything again tonight, when I felt Eileen squeeze my hand. I shyly looked into her eyes, expecting to find disgust or pity there, but all I could see was understanding and – love? I didn't dare to hope so.

Her voice was very soft when she said, "Thank you for telling and trusting me with that, Julia. You are a very brave person."

"I am?" That statement came as a surprise to me.

She laughed a bit, but I didn't feel offended, noticing the gentle twinkle in her eyes. She said, "Yes, you are. And to answer a question you asked some time ago – I forgive you, Julia. I think I am able to empathize a bit better and understand where you were coming from and why you… well, let's say, went hysterical."

"Hey!" I threw a piece of bread at her and suddenly there was that cocky grin again that produced goosebumps all over my body. I felt a somewhat better; having hope again that maybe this evening would run smoother now and possibly with a positive outcome in the end.

As if reading my thoughts, Eileen held up her glass of wine, taking a sip. "Julia, I want to be as open with you as you were when telling me about your past, if you like that?"

She gazed expectantly at me and I simply nodded, not really sure what was coming now.

"Right, lass," she said. "Well, I am sure that Lena told you a bit about what happened between Madeleine and I, and maybe a bit about my family history – even though she denies that."

I nodded my head again, a smile crossing my face when I thought back to our little chat in the library. Lena had told me some family stories that she said 'Eileen would be too damned stubborn to talk about.' Some of them were hard to take, but some were just those kinds of stories you only heard from proud parents who told you things their child never wanted to be mentioned again.

Eileen nodded. "Good, I thought so." Now it was her turn to drink the rest of her wine, which made our unfortunate waiter turn up again, refilling both our glasses before she continued, "My head and my heart tell me two different things right now, Julia. You really hurt me and it will still take some time for me to not feel the pain about that any more. But I still believe that we are soul mates, otherwise I wouldn't have shown up tonight, despite Lena's attempt at persuasion. My heart tells me to court you, and though there is still a part of me which is afraid, there is nothing I would love more than to try win your heart and have you spend your life with me. But my head tells me not only to let you go, but encourage you to do just that."

I opened my mouth to interrupt her, to tell her that I already decided that I wanted to stay and that I knew I was already were in love with her, but she forestalled my reaction with an upraised hand and continued talking.

"Wait and hear me out, please. The situation is difficult. Madeleine and I had some kind of grudging but workable armistice for a long time, as unbelievable at it seems. I was never able to prove that she was behind the death of my family, though I am fairly sure about that point. But revenging my parents without having proof would have meant that the O'Shane line would be threatened with extinction, since that action would have resulted in a fight that likely would have ended both family lines. There is no heir left but me, and my father asked me to take care of providing for our line to continue. At any rate, the armistice was broken by her some days ago, which was the main reason for my leaving the manor shortly after Monika's arrival. Breaking the armistice means that we have something like a war at the moment. That will result in open as well as hidden fights in which both sidhe and humans will die. That was always the case in the past, and will be the same now. But you, Julia, will most definitely not be safe if you stay. Madeleine knows about you and knows that getting her hands on you will be to her advantage. So I think that because of my feelings towards you, I have to ask you to leave. Fly away from Ireland and go home."

That was not at all what I expected to hear and for a second I hesitated. Finally, I asked, "Eileen, what did Madeleine do to break the armistice?"

"Julia, I am not sure if you really would like to…"

"I am no child, and I want to know!"

Her shoulders slouched a bit and she took a deep breath, before playing absently with her fork. "Over the past decades, more and more sidhe have gotten in contact with me and asked to be allowed to move to my domain. I guess our society structure is difficult to understand, but let me put it like this – once they move in, it is my task to protect them because they become my tenants or are working for me in another way, providing for the manor and my clan. Anyhow, they became my people, my responsibility. Madeleine didn't like that because quite a few of them were formerly under her domain, but she couldn't and wouldn't do anything about it because sidhe are free to choose their domain and she had to respect that.

"These old rules cannot be changed or broken. But some days ago, she brutally slaughtered some of her former tenants on my land without mercy; she didn't even let the children survive. Because the slaughter happened on my domain, I have to seek justice, and because Madeleine is not going to bow to any formal adjudication, I will have to enforce the law. I cannot back away. And because of all this and the bloody mess it will produce, you will have to leave. Madeleine has shown her real face now and will have no need anymore to hide her true colors. I simply cannot guarantee your security here."

I shivered, thinking about what had happened to those poor families. I was thankful at the same time that I had been able to escape Madeleine with Eileen's help. I sure hadn't expected her to tell me such things; I needed to digest the information I had received. She wanted to protect me again, and it sounded as if the whole situation could become very dangerous. But then, who could guarantee that I would be safe if I left? Was Germany really any safer than Ireland? Did I want to leave Eileen, knowing what I felt for her?

Thinking about what a war could mean to me made me want to run and take Eileen up on her offer of letting me go. I'd most certainly suffered enough violence in my life, and longed for simple safety and happiness with someone I loved.

Eileen was observing me quietly, trying once again to put up an expressionless front. But she couldn't conceal her feelings from me. I sensed her nervousness and agitation as if they were my own. Maybe they were just that. Some days ago, I had been sure that I would never be able to have a relationship again. I was still not sure how much of myself I would be able to give, and if there was much of anything to give anyway, even if I wanted to.

How could the idea of spending my life with Eileen feel so terrifying and amazing at the same time? For a short moment, I didn't know what to do. In the end, it wasn't too difficult to make up my mind, considering everything I knew. I got up from my chair and left the table. I felt Eileen's immediate hurt in my bones, marveling once again about our strange bond; a bond between a sidhe and a human. My next step was to turn around, walk back to the table, position myself in front of it, smooth down my clothes and try to smile as warm and friendly as I could, while pushing down the fear that lingered in my body.

"Hi, my name is Julia," I said. "I am from Germany and came here with my friend Monika, who was looking for a mate. I could never have imagined everything that has happened to me while being here, but it sure was more than a surprise to meet my mate, my soul mate. And if my soul mate still wants me despite everything, I would very much like to enjoy the rest of the evening here before leaving this place to be together with her, and stand by her side for the rest of our lives and beyond that. "

To say that Eileen was surprised wouldn't really do justice to the moment. She seemed to be beyond shocked and didn't immediately understand what I said. It took a moment before she stood up as well, coming around the table and taking me into her arms, whispering into my ear: "Did you just propose to me, lass?"

Her warm breath on my ear caused my knees to wobble. Just hearing her voice so close and feeling her breath on my ear produced the most amazing feelings in some more southern parts of my body.

"Are you really sure, Julia?" she asked. "Did you consider what I told you? It's going to be a tough time and a wild ride. And I simply could not take it to be hurt like again."

I smiled; she really was my protector, but I was beginning to understand needed protection as well. "Yes, I am. Scared shitless, but nevertheless sure. If you'll have me with my baggage, that is. I really need you to be patient with me."

Her mouth still very close at my ear when she answered, "Yes, I will, and I promise you that I will do my best to protect you, and take care of you and your gentle soul, lass."

That statement was followed by the most incredible, mind-blowing kiss I had ever experienced. After ending it and leaving me breathless, she tucked my head against her chest, rubbing gentle circles on my back. I couldn't remember ever feeling safer in my life.

Suddenly I remembered something important. I took a piece of jewelry out of my pocket and put it in her hand. "Make an honest woman of me and put your ring on again, will you?"

That she did without hesitation, followed by another of those sweet and fiery kisses.

A polite cough brought our attention back to reality and to the fact that we were still in the middle of a restaurant. Our waiter stood there with the main course, staring a bit embarrassed at the floor. Eileen and I giggled before sitting down in our proper chairs again. I couldn't really believe what had happened, realizing that I had actually proposed and Eileen accepted. I was sure that both of us had the silliest grins on our faces that the place had ever seen.

The rest of dinner turned out to be a more than pleasant affair for the both of us, only I was so full of adrenalin or endorphins or both that I couldn't enjoy the food at all. My stomach did constant flip-flops. In the end, we decided to skip dessert, since Eileen confessed that she would prefer a more private setting than the restaurant. She finally insisted on paying the bill, giving our waiter a more than generous tip, before we went to the lobby to pick up Monika, whom we found slightly drunk and in Lena's company.

Both Monika and Lena were cheering when they saw us coming out of the restaurant. All four of us left the hotel together, and for the next half hour we were mainly occupied in getting Monika into the carriage Lena brought with her to Lisdoonvarna. Eileen tethered her own horse behind the carriage and climbed inside with us.

I was able to sleep a little in the carriage, held by Eileen who didn't let go of me the whole time. Monika slept, snoring softly with her head on Lena's shoulder, and Lena carried her to the guestroom after our arrival. Somehow those two seemed to have hit it off; Lena was amused by Monika's behaviour, and Monika intrigued by Lena's differences. That was fine with me, since Eileen and I were more occupied with something else, shuffling nervously around each other while standing in the entrance hall of the manor.

"So Julia should I escort you to your room?" Eileen asked shyly.

That was exactly what I expected from her; letting me set the pace of our relationship and making me feel safe. "No, I would like you to show me your room and hold me while we sleep," I said. "I will need your patience with me to get used to us and… well, the physical aspects of our relationship. But I don't want to sleep separated from you."

Then a thought came to my mind.

"You do sleep, Eileen, don't you?" I asked.

She just laughed, took my hand and said, "You know, I really wonder if and when we'll ever get rid of all of that stupidity you seem to have learned about vampires. I certainly do sleep, come on, lass. I'd love to sleep with you in my arms. And for the rest, we have all the time in the world."

After saying that, she half-dragged me upstairs to her room.

Whatever is going to happen to us in the future, who knows? But I know that my life already changed in ways that I could have never imagined. And all of that because Monika decided to give fate a chance and go to Lisdoonvarna to participate in Europe's biggest singles meeting to find herself a match.

Fate sure is surprising us from time to time, and I am sure that it will continue to be so in the future.

The End

Well, that was it – my first story ever. Wouldn't it be interesting to see what fate holds for our two girls… Somehow I am sure that Madeleine has some unfinished business.

I love to hear what you thought about this little tale filfil67@yahoo.de

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