Morgan found the path easily as the sky started to lighten. The mist began to recede as she walked further on. Her breath made clouds of steam, trailing after her as she came closer to the end of MacQuill land.
The empty silence was broken by a quick whack, followed by two thuds. Curious, she stepped off the path towards the noise. The closer she got to MacGreen Castle, the louder it became, joined now by a distinct male grunt. Rounding the hill, she found Quinn, chopping firewood in the hazy, pre-dawn light.
Stopping suddenly, Morgan watched as he continued to split log after log in rhythmic precision. She could see his muscles outlined beneath his wool blazer. His breath came in short puffs from sculpted lips surrounded by a day’s stubble. His long legs braced apart, shifted slightly as he reached for another log. Something tingled deep inside her as she watched him, something she hadn’t felt before. She could recognize lust, she’d felt that before, but this was something a little different, something she couldn’t name. When she realized she was imagining how her new neighbor would look chopping firewood without his clothes on, she nearly gasped. She felt her face grow hot as she tore her eyes away from him and tried to turn her thoughts to something else.
Quinn had felt her coming, long before she rounded the bend. He let her watch him as he continued to swing his ax, slightly annoyed at the emotions he sensed from her. Surprise and confusion, but mostly desire. He barely had to probe to see it. He smirked as he split another log.
Then he sensed her shame at her own thoughts and saw her quick blush out of the corner of his eye. His temper flared with anger. Fate had pushed them together though it seemed it was what neither of them had wanted.
“Good morning to you, Morgan,” he called before swinging the ax again. She jumped when he spoke; clearly unaware that he had seen her.
Morgan had to clear her throat. “Umm, hello.”
Quinn set the ax against the stump and sat down on a large log. “You’re out early.”
“Jetlag,” she muttered. “And I, uh, wanted to see the sun come up.” He gestured to another log next to him and she hesitated for a moment before she sat down. “It’s the first day of my new life, so I thought a sunrise would be appropriate.”
Quinn nodded his head in approval at her words. Whatever his feelings against fate, he couldn’t help but like this Morgan MacQuill. “Castle MacGreen sits on high elevation,” he explained, pointing off to the East. “The perfect place to watch the sunrise. You’re more than welcome to stay.”
“Thank you. Are all Irish people so welcoming to strangers?” she asked as the sky became brighter. Quinn just shrugged and looked towards the sky.
In the East, just over the mist-covered hills, the sun was beginning to peek over the horizon. Morgan gasped, as the sky became brilliant with oranges, reds and pinks. The dew on the grass sparkled as if each blade was covered in diamonds. She swore she could feel the warmth of its light.
“It’s amazing,” she whispered, wrapping her arms around her middle.
Quinn snorted in response, not wanting to like this woman any more than he already was. He stood suddenly, wanting to end the magic that he could feel radiating through the sunrise. “Why don’t you come in and have a spot of tea before you go back?”
“I should get back to Braden,” Morgan began, standing up next to him.
“Brigid will look after him,” he answered gruffly. “You look pale and you probably haven’t eaten yet, have you?”
“And you just walked a mile in the cold and dark in an unfamiliar place?”
“No buts,” he interrupted again. “Come, have some tea.” He turned towards the castle and began walking away, smiling to himself when he heard her follow behind him.
They had no sooner taken two steps before a big, dark shape came rushing around the corner of the castle, straight towards them. Seeing it, Morgan squealed in terror, freezing in the middle of the path.
Quinn shouted for the animal to stop but it was too late. The mass of fur and muscle was already leaping towards her.
The last thing Morgan saw was large, yellow eyes locking onto hers before slipping away into blackness.
“Morgan!” The Irish lilt had become rough with concern. “Wake up lass.”
Her eyes fluttered open and locked with golden ones, full of worry.
Quinn sighed with relief. “Are you hurt?”
Swallowing the lump in her throat, Morgan struggled to sit up. “I don’t think so,” she mumbled, brushing a few clumps of grass from her hair. “What the hell was that?”
“My damn dog, that’s what,” Quinn growled, pulling Morgan to her feet. “Bloody wretch doesn’t listen to a word I say.”
The dog in question, huge by anyone’s comparison, chose that moment to come trotting up to Morgan. Her face paled slightly at the size of the animal but she bravely reached out a hand for it to smell. Slowly, the dog stretched its nose towards her hand, sniffing furiously.
“Hello there,” she whispered, smiling at the dog. “You gave me quite a scare. But you didn’t mean to, did you?” The dog cocked his head and stepped closer to her. “You’re awfully handsome.” It barked in response. “And you know it too,” she giggled.
“Welcome, Morgan of the MacQuill’s.”
The voice in her mind was loud, strong and utterly canine. Morgan shook her head, wondering if she had bumped it harder than she had thought. The dog simply stared at her with an expression that closely resembled a smile.
Quinn had heard the welcome and ground his teeth in frustration. Even the damn dog liked her.
“I do believe you have yourself a wolf instead of a dog, Quinn.” she told him, looking up with a smile.
“In a manner of speaking,” Quinn answered, finally smiling. “He’s an Irish Wolfhound.”
“Of course, he is,” Morgan answered, dryly.
“Merlin, meet Morgan. Morgan, this is Merlin.”
“Merlin?” she asked, raising an eyebrow.
“The mutt doesn’t live up to the name,” Quinn replied, smiling broadly. “But he’s usually a good dog. He just wanted to come say hello to you.”
“By knocking me off my feet?”
“Aye, well, he needs some work on the finer points of greeting a guest.” Morgan wobbled on her feet as she tried to laugh. Quinn reached out to steady her before she fell. “Are you well, lass?”
“Mmm, yes. Just a little dizzy.” Before she could object, Quinn swept her into his arms and began to walk towards the castle. “Quinn, put me down,” she growled, pushing against his solid chest.
“Don’t need you going into a faint on MacGreen land,” he answered. He tried not to think about how light she was in his arms, or how sweet she smelled. Like lilacs and spring. “Brigid would have my hide,” he complained, trying to distract himself.
“Really, Quinn,” she protested. “I’m fine.”
“We’ll see,” he answered, easily opening the large oak door with one hand. He unceremoniously dropped her down in a kitchen chair and went to pull a kettle off the hearth. Coming back to the table, he poured her a cup of tea and sat down opposite of her. “Try it,” he told her when she didn’t move.
Sighing, she reached for the cup and took a tentative drink. “It’s delicious,” she admitted, taking another drink.
“Tis one of Brigid’s concoctions,” he told her as she drank more of the steaming tea. He realized he was smiling at her and quickly dropped the grin. He wouldn’t allow fate to push him into something that he wasn’t willing to do. Wanting her to dislike him, he decided to be blunt with her.
“So, did Clare tell you that you’re a witch?” he asked, calmly.
Morgan spluttered into her tea and coughed to clear her throat. “Excuse me?”
He kicked his feet up onto the table. “She didn’t tell you?”
Morgan stared at him, unsure if she should be laughing at an attempt at a bad joke but he just stared at her with a lifted eyebrow. “That’s not very funny, Quinn,” she said, carefully.
“Of course, it isn’t,” he answered. “She should’ve warned you about who you are.” He raised his eyebrow again as confusion ran across her face. “She should’ve warned you about all of us.”
“Warned me about what?” Morgan asked, fear trickling down her spine.
“That we’re witches too.”
When writing a story, it helps to have a visual of what your characters look like. Having an actual picture of someone to base your character on helps you keep track of even the most minor details.
Hillary Duff was good inspiration when writing Morgan MacQuill. Able to look vulnerable with a hidden strength she hadn't yet discovered.