Cowboys and leprechauns both occupy Maeve MacKeighry’s world in 1870, and she must decide which will win her heart. Leprechauns are feared, even in Ireland, but that doesn’t prevent Maeve from striking up a friendship with one who lives near her village. But once Maeve becomes a young woman, the local villagers start to gossip, especially since the MacKeighrys are known to practice magic in their home. It’s just for entertainment, but the town folk don’t see it that way. Rather than be outcasts, the MacKeighrys set off to America to homestead in Kansas, vowing to leave their magical ways and friends behind. Little do they know that Maeve’s friend follows and protects them on their journey.
The MacKeighrys encounter many adventures along the way to Kansas, only to find a simple sod house on their new farm at the end of the journey. The untamed land offers a fresh start for the family, as well as two very interesting men who both compete for Maeve’s attention. Pretty young women in a wild western town are a rarity. But can she forget her magical friend, and turn her attention to two of the most interesting men she has ever met? Perhaps cowboys and outlaws have a certain charm that a leprechaun doesn’t, after all.
Most of the novel takes place in Kansas in 1870 and is based on the author’s family history. The idea of the MacKeighry’s sod house came from the home of Willett’s great grandfather. She was lucky enough to visit it as a teenager before the house was destroyed. One of the characters, Nikki Fuerst, is based on an ancestor, a prince from Austria who was disinherited for marrying a commoner and sent off to America. Stories Willett has been told her entire life about her family’s history and traditions, such as levitating tables, are included in Near The Wild.
Leprechauns were feared, even in Ireland. Of course, Ma and Da denied that we were related to the magical people in the forest, the sidhe, but there was no denying that the other good families in our village of Clonmel didn’t know how to do the things we did.
Ma would shake her head and tease us, calling us leprechauns whenever we asked if we could play our favorite game. But then she would close the shutters so the fun could begin. Surely none of our neighbors should see us huddled around a table that was two feet off the ground. It was just a fortune-telling game to us. We’d make the table rise into the air merely by thinking it should do so, and then we’d ask it simple questions. The hovering wooden table would tap one of its legs on the floor to answer, once for “yes” and twice for “no.” As our confidence grew, our questions became more outlandish, making my younger brothers giggle until tears poured down their faces.
I’m not sure where that game came from, but I do remember Ma playing it with her sisters, too, whenever we all got together for holidays, and such. My brothers and I would watch in fascination because my mother and aunts were so much better at it than we were. The table would rise much higher and then pound out the answer to the “yes” or “no” question posed to it. None of us children understood the implications of what we were witnessing. But the elders of the village and church did.
Then, there was the business about Finn and me. I didn’t think anyone outside our family could see him, so as we got older I got lazy about keeping our friendship secret. We began to venture out of the thick forest, where we had played since we were babes, and sit together in the meadow on the outskirts of Clonmel. We’d lie back and let the tall, green grass engulf us. Finn would make fun of some of the townsfolk to make me smile.
I soon learned my mistake. One day, the baker’s wife marched into the middle of the town square to point her finger in Ma’s face, making a holy show of herself and poor Ma. The sour-faced woman said I was inviting trouble, that I’d be stolen away to the sidhe’s world, or worse. The baker always gave Ma a free meat pie when she went into the shop, while his wife watched with a scowl. I think she had it in for us.
Ma told the woman to “hump off,” much to my delight and horror, and then she demanded an apology from the fat, old crone. I received less support when Ma got me home, though. She yanked so hard on my ear, it felt like it’d come off, and the heat of her anger made her face go scarlet.
“Maeve MacKeighry,” she shouted through clenched teeth, still pulling my earlobe, which I feared had now been deformed forever. “I’ve had enough of your sprite! You will not see him again, or so help me Lord Jesus!” When Ma took the Lord’s name in vain, it was serious business.
But we both knew Finn could not be so easily discarded. He was a wild spirit, full of good intentions but no regard for rules, or restrictions, as his kind often were. Even if I tried to avoid him, he wouldn’t let go of me.
Ma feared I’d never have a respectable suitor, even though boys in Clonmel gave me admiring glances, especially when I wore my long, thick curls loose. Ma used to say I had classic features offset by fiery hair. Although I did inherit the high cheekbones of the MacKeighry clan, I don’t quite know what she meant by “fiery” since my hair was more brown than red. In either case, boys did look my way whenever I passed by, but none approached me. Maybe because my stride wasn’t as dainty as most girls looking for husbands, or maybe because of the challenge they saw in my green eyes. Most likely, though, it was because they’d heard the whispered tales about Finn and me.
Then the whispers became more frequent. Villagers stopped knocking on our door. Rumors of witchcraft started to spread. Never mind that the baker’s wife was the culprit, it still made townsfolk turn away when we walked down the street to church. When Father Donoghue shunned our family after Sunday mass more than once, Da left to start a homestead in Kansas.
Ma said they were giving away land in America. It might as well be on the moon for all I cared. And the land must not be worth much if they were giving it away for free, I figured. Nevertheless, some months later, we followed.
“The Lord is giving us a chance at a better life in a new country,” Ma told us all one rainy afternoon. The weather made us housebound, so we begged to play with the table. “None of our games will be allowed in our new home. We’ll have a fresh beginning, and one without the ways of leprechauns,” she had said with a pointed look in my direction.
I can still see myself as I was in 1870 at the dawn of becoming a woman, standing on the deck of the Belle Asisse in high hopes for our adventure, feeling the ocean wind whip through my hair more forcefully than it did the patched sails overhead.
As I looked out at the green waters of the Atlantic, I hoped we would sight land soon. I wanted to feel solid ground beneath my feet and get off that moldy, old ship. Finn said I looked tired, and he was right, too. How could I sleep sharing a bunk with four of my brothers? Even though they were all younger than me, they were tall and took up too much room. I’d sleep on the floor, but the rats or roaches might get me. The bay leaves and garlic Ma put around our two bunks didn’t keep the vermin away, and things grew larger in the dank air.
The sudden laugh in my left ear startled me out of my thoughts. It seemed closer than it should be, because no one stood next to me at all. I looked around, wondering if it had been the howling of the wind, but then the sound came again. Something was playing tricks on me, but it wasn’t the wind.
“Finn!” I tried not to call his name. I didn’t want anyone to know he was onboard. It was supposed to be our secret, but he took many chances by going on deck in daylight.
I whirled around when the laugh came again, only this time it was behind me. A flash of raven black hair was all I spotted before he disappeared, but it was enough to make me go down the stairs to the sleeping quarters below. The smell of musty wood and unwashed bodies assaulted me. I wouldn’t be able to catch him, so I hoped I could trick him instead. I ran down the stairs and through the maze of wooden bunks. Some were occupied but most were empty. The deck was crowded in the afternoons with passengers getting a few hours of fresh air, so I jumped over empty bed after bed and ran to the darkest corner. I knew it well, and so did Finn. We’d met there almost every night after Ma and the boys fell asleep.
I gasped for air as I collided with a barrel and almost fell to my knees, but he put his hand out to keep me from doing myself real injury.
“You need to be more careful, darlin’ girl. Don’t run so hard. You’ll burst your laces,” Finn said with his bewitching smile that made his crystal-clear aqua eyes sparkle. “Young ladies shouldn’t play so rough.”
I pulled away and socked him in the shoulder with my fist, making him wince for just a second. Then he smiled again.
“Although, you are good at playing rough,” Finn said as he rubbed his shoulder.
“What girl with six brothers isn’t?” I flashed a smile at him, trying to be beguiling like the girl in the novel I’d just finished, but knowing it wasn’t working. Offending his shoulder hadn’t helped me much either.
He took a strand of my hair and twirled it around his finger, smoothing out the curl as he went. He had impossibly long, tapered fingers. The kind any girl would envy. Then, more fingers were in my hair in a soft yet demanding way. I watched, fascinated by the way they worked their way into my curls, entwining my heart with their rhythm. I imagined those same long fingers running down my neck, unbuttoning my bodice, making a pattern on my skin. A small, choking sound escaped from my throat, much to my shame. Finn dropped my hair and backed away.
Things were changing between us, and I wasn’t prepared for it, especially the way he made me feel. I had always been the one in control, even when we were small children, but now Finn was able to set my emotions spinning with just a glance of his eyes, or toss of his glorious black hair. I tried to get my breath under control, but his perfect face with its luminous skin and ruby lips got in the way.
So, I concentrated on the dark green jewel he wore on a leather strip around his neck instead. Finn was never without it. He’d told me before that the emerald contained what was left of his ancient soul. The jewel looked tarnished and murky, as if it had seen better days. I had suggested we polish it once, but Finn had said that was impossible and refused to talk about it further. I stopped asking about it when we were children.
He stood there watching me with his light eyes. My heart wasn’t calming down at all, so I felt the need to shift my weight from one foot to another. Then, I remembered last night and was quite pleased to feel something other than desire.
“I’m so angry with you! I don’t think we should be friends anymore!” I tried to sound steadfast in my conviction, but as he stepped closer, his sweet spicy scent made my senses spin again. I leaned against the side of the ship, wanting to feel the hardness of the wood and smell the mold that was everywhere, instead of Finnegan.
“You don’t mean that,” Finn said in a husky voice as he put a hand on each side of my head and bent in toward me. “My Maeve, you’re the center of my world. You have been since the day I first saw you in the forest. Why would you say such a thing?”
My chest heaved and fell with each breath, making my skin chafe against the course cloth of my plain gown. I longed to be free of it, but just the thought of what would happen if I suddenly stripped off my restrictive clothes made me feel faint. I swallowed hard.
“I couldn’t find you. I looked all over the ship, and waited for hours last night, but you weren’t here. Where have you been?” I asked, not wanting to sound like a petulant child, or jealous, for that matter, but I wasn’t successful. I held my breath and waited. I had never clung to Finn before. It had always been the other way around.
A flash of concern crossed his face. “I was here, while you were eating supper. But then Michael walked by, so I left. Your brothers are sentries. It’s as if they know I’m on the ship.” Finn stooped, put his lips to my forehead, and then stepped back.
The air became a bit less intoxicating as he moved away, and I could almost breathe again. “Were you with someone else last night?” I didn’t want to ask, but it needed to be in the open. I had seen Finn looking at some of the other young ladies on board, and I wasn’t sure if it was curiosity or longing in his eyes.
All expression left his face. “Don’t ever ask me that again. I’ve been devoted to you your entire life, and that has never faltered.” His voice was low, so only I could hear it, but it was filled with emotion. “It never will.”
I nodded, recognizing the truth in his statement, and felt the blush fill my face, thankful the darkness covered it. I wanted to put my hand on his arm and kiss his cheek the way I used to, but I hadn’t felt comfortable doing that in quite some time. It would lead to things neither of us was strong enough to control.
“Maeve! Maeve!” Michael’s voice was close. It was too dark to tell where my eldest brother was. There’d be the devil to pay if he saw us together.
“I’ll be here tonight, waiting for you,” Finn said in earnest, and then he was gone. A flash of light remained in the air around me. It had an odd golden glow.
About the Author:
Maureen Willett is a writer of fiction that pushes the boundaries of established genres. Her stories mostly come from her own family legends that have been passed down through generations, but then she tops them off with a twist of faery dust and angel wings.
But at the core of each story are great characters in very human conflicts that anyone will find compelling. Each novel is crafted as an experience that will take readers beyond their day-to-day lives, incorporating themes of time travel, reincarnation, and magic.
She lives in Hawaii and finds its ethereal beauty a source of inspiration for her writing. She is a former journalist, public relations professional, and media marketing specialist. Writing fiction has been her passion since grade school.
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