A Celtic Witch - By Debora Geary

Chapter 1
"Cass, you're on in five." Dave, innkeeper and resident emcee, stuck his head into what passed for a dressing room in The Barn.

She grinned. "Is the place full yet?"

"Might be." He thumbed over his shoulder as the unmistakable strains of world-class fiddling started up again. "Buddy's warming them up for you."

Buddy MacMaster didn't warm up for anyone. But at the ripe old age of eighty-eight, he didn't grace the stage so often anymore either. "I'm so glad he came tonight."

Dave's eyes crinkled. "He wouldn't have missed hearing those strings of yours for the world. Told me so himself."

"Strings." She rolled her eyes. "Still can't get any respect around here."

She remembered the first time she'd walked into The Barn, a veteran performer already at the age of twenty-five. Newspapers all across the continent had heralded her tour, called her the hottest new fiddler in a generation. And then she'd come to Cape Breton, North America's cradle of Celtic fiddling. Driven past foals prancing in the fields and cows that had reminded her oddly of the Irish hills of home.

And discovered the best fiddlers of any generation.

The rocks had called her here seventeen years ago - and until she'd parked outside The Barn in Margaree, she hadn't known why. The genius of Buddy MacMaster's fingers had pulled her through the door, knocked her into a seat, and kept her jaw on the floor half the night.

"You staying a few days?" Dave gently interrupted her reverie. "He says there's a seat for you on Friday night if you want it."

The weekly square dance, and probably the only place in the universe where she'd play second fiddle. Happily.

"Standard rates." Dave hid a smile.

Her sigh was only a moderate one on the Irish scale - after seventeen years, she'd learned that her fee would be delivered whether she liked it or not. "Fine, but I'm paying full price for my room."

"Mmmm." The noncommittal sound suggested she wasn't going to win that one this year, either. "You're on in three."

She shook her head as the door swung closed behind him. And reached for her fiddle - Cassidy Farrell was never late.

A couple of quick bow strokes and she had her strings tuned to each other and to the aching strains of the sad ballad Buddy was building to its peak. Pushing out the door of the small dressing room, she looked left toward the stage - and then turned right.

The rocks were pulling on her again, full of mischief this time. She made her way out the side door, shivering at the slicing wind. March in Cape Breton was never warm.

A full crowd, though, by the looks of the parking lot. Mostly locals at this time of year. With a friendly nod to a couple of stragglers, she stepped inside the main doors. Put bow to strings. And catching Buddy's entry into the final verse, began to play.

Her fiddle sang long, low notes into the night and the warmth, quiet counterpoint to the talent on the stage.

Buddy's eyes shot up, searching, and then he smiled and tipped his head back down to his violin.

He couldn't see her way back here in the dark. Cass stepped forward into the light and added a tiny riff into her next measure. Coming.

He kept playing - Buddy had never been one for frills and ruffles. But she could feel the welcome in every note.

Eyes glued to the stage, she wound her way carefully between chairs, tables, and toddlers on the loose. Played the haunting notes that spoke of death come early to a golden warrior. Of honor for his clan and heartache for his love.

Country music had nothing on the melancholy Celts.

When she reached the foot of the low stage, Buddy finally spotted her, and the tears she'd been holding in the whole walk forward finally spilled. He was still here, still playing - and the part of her heart that rooted in the deep soil of this place finally dared to breathe.

She stepped onto the stage, her bow stroking the final disconsolate notes. A woman's soul rended, parted forever from the man she loved.

And lifted her fiddle off her shoulder to hug the man who played the music that kept Cassidy Farrell's soul whole.

The child was never going to survive to see her birthday.

Marcus tried not to growl as he dove out of his chair in Morgan's direction. "Don't eat the potted plants, sweetheart. They don't taste good."

She beamed up at him, her two new teeth

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