The Luck of the Irish is Running Out for Dustin…

Here’s a taste of what you can expect in The Irishman, releasing May 18th!

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(From chapter 3)

Katherine was glad that Shawn understood her need to stay at Samuel Flanagan’s for the evening. The close connection between the Keiths and the Flanagans was made perfectly clear to him before they ever married and she told him straight out that if the need came, she’d be at Cassandra or Samuel’s side in an instant. Now was no exception. Besides, Shawn could never bear funerals. He attended the burial with her, but no more. He was much more inclined to stay home or go to the pub until the whole hysteria blew over. Their two little ones needed looking after either way.
Samuel put on a brave face for the funeral, but once the mourners were gone and they were shut up in his house, he was nearly inconsolable. He simply sat by the fireplace, staring at the chair where Cassandra used to sit and knit during her free time when she wasn’t doing chores or going off with Dustin.
The old man barely responded to her questions and when he did, they were in single syllables that were sometimes unintelligible to begin with. Katherine gave what little comfort she could, but she knew that she couldn’t stay forever. After she started up a big pot of soup and gave up on any type of conversation, she set to straightening up the house and cleaning it to the best of her ability, knowing the man wouldn’t get around to cleaning it himself for quite some time. From what Dustin told her, Cassandra did all the cleaning in the past.
Her thoughts continually came back to what had become of her younger brother. No one had seen him after the reception. Not a single sign or word from him at all. If he was around, hiding somewhere, he surely would have come for the funeral. Katherine wondered if he had befallen a similar fate as Cassandra and his body just hadn’t been found yet.
But, she forced out that thought and scrubbed down the dining table even harder, as if pouring herself into her task would silence those disturbing whispers of melancholy. There was quite enough sadness to go around and she wouldn’t add to it with her own suspicions. Men were already out searching for Dustin and she was sure that they would find him, alive and well.
As if her own thoughts on her brother had been spoken out in the open, Samuel replied to them.
“He did it,” the old man grumbled. “I know he did.”
Katherine straightened and fisted the washcloth in her hand. “What was that?”
Samuel blinked slowly and then rubbed the heel of his palm into his eye. It did little to hide the tear that leaked out and curled under his chin.
“He did this to her. I know he did.”
Her brows pinched together in confusion. “You’re saying Dustin…” She couldn’t even speak the words. It was inconceivable. Dustin loved Cassandra more than anything. She remembered in the early days of their attachment when he’d go on and on, speaking in such poetic prose that she thought he had lost his mind. He said that she was the reason he breathed, the only bit of happiness he could ever hope for in life – no offense meant to Katherine or their family as a whole.
To think that Dustin could have killed Cassandra in such a brutal, savage way… It was impossible.
“It was the beast,” Samuel muttered, so soft that if Katherine hadn’t stopped her cleaning, she would have never heard him.
“Beast?”
Samuel dropped his face into his hands, but he didn’t give himself over to the frenetic crying like she had expected to witness in the course of the evening. Instead, he fell silent again and didn’t utter another word. First he said Dustin killed Cassandra, and now he said it was some beast? No one else had mentioned seeing a beast or even an animal when they went to the Keith homestead late last night.
Katherine let out a tired sigh and gave up on understanding the grief-stricken father. He didn’t know what he was saying. Her own father had become the same way when her mother preceded him in death. He followed soon after, and Katherine wondered if Samuel’s broken heart would drive him to an early grave too. He might not have been in the best of health, but he still had several years of living left to do.
She left the man to whatever confused musings were rolling around in his head and took the bucket from the back door to fetch water. The few dishes they owned were all dirty and needed washing before she could even think about leaving.
The weather had turned cold in the progression of the afternoon and a stiff wind hit her face as soon as she came around the side of the house to the well. The bucket wasn’t halfway down the shaft when she caught a bit of movement out of the corner of her eye. Katherine looked up and saw a man coming forward out of the woods, his clothes sullied as if he had been on a long journey and feet completely bare to the elements.
It took a moment for her to realize who he was and she nearly let go of the rope between her hands. Too surprised to see her brother, she didn’t move from the well. Neither did she speak, though she wanted to start shouting at him for not only leaving Cassandra the night before, but also for not coming to the funeral to pay his respects. He had better have a good excuse.
Only when he drew closer did she see what kind of state he was in. The clothes didn’t fit him, so she knew they couldn’t have been his. And along with the muddy splotches of mud along his skin, she spotted some traces of blood around his chin and down his neck.
“Good God,” she whispered under her breath, even though she knew he wouldn’t have heard her. “What happened?”
He was still some distance off when he shook his head. “I don’t know,” he called back.
How could he have heard her? She made a motion for him to keep his voice down and pointed toward the house. “He’ll hear you.”
Announcing Dustin’s arrival to Samuel was unwise. If the old man somehow partially blamed his son-in-law for the murder of his daughter, they would have another funeral to plan.
Quickly, she lowered the bucket and brought it back up once it was brimming with water. Dustin came to the well and set something down on the stone ledge before slowly bringing the bucket closer to him. She let him take a long drink and splash his face before starting in with her questions.
“What happened last night? Where did you go? We’ve all been worried sick! I thought you were dead too.”
Dustin shuddered and turned his face away from her. Did he know what happened to Cassandra? By the way he didn’t probe into her suggestion that he might have been dead along with someone else, Katherine suspected that he must have known. At least he showed some remorse. Was that a good sign that Samuel was wrong about him being the murderer?
Dustin, his face dripping and the front of his shirt drenched, leaned against the well and wouldn’t make eye contact with her. “I was hoping you could tell me what happened,” he mumbled in monotone.
Katherine brought the bucket closer to her and unhooked it from the pulley. “No one really knows what happened and you would have been the only one to see it. They found her in the bedroom, torn to pieces.”
Uttering these few words brought a fresh wave of anguish to Dustin and he shook his head.
“I don’t remember anything,” he replied, voice thick with emotions that she couldn’t even begin to understand.
She had lost her parents, but never a lover. She didn’t even want to think about the day when she’d lose Shawn and hoped dearly that she would die first, so she’d never have to bear the loss.
“Not a thing? What happened after you came back to the house? Where did you go?”
“I said I don’t remember!” he snapped.
Katherine flinched away. Dustin wasn’t usually the one to lose his temper with her, but plenty of things had happened in the course of a day. He might not have been the same man anymore. Looking him up and down, he did seem a bit taller and broader in the chest than he had been during the wedding. That, joined with his disappearance and the sheer amount of blood that she could see through the thin material of his shirt, inspired even more questions.
“What was the last thing you remember?” she asked, lowering her voice, so she wouldn’t rile him into agitation again.
Dustin took a calming breath before saying, “We came back from the reception. We were in bed… That’s all. I blacked out and woke up a mile or two outside of Kenmare.”
“Kenmare?” she hissed. “How did you get to Ken-“ She stopped herself before she could finish, knowing what his answer would be. He didn’t remember. He couldn’t remember any of it. Asking him about the blood would prove just as pointless.
Dustin’s throat worked as he tried to form the next words. “I don’t know what’s happened to me. If I knew anything, believe me, I would tell you.” He lifted his eyes and regarded her with a certain pleading look that must have been mirrored in her own expression. “But something has happened to me… And I’m scared, Katey Kat.”
She pitied him, and though he smelled foul, she came forward to wrap him in a hug. “You lost your wife, Dustin. That’s what’s happened to you. It’s happened to many other husbands.”
He returned the embrace, his powerful arms encasing her. “No, it’s more than that… I can do things now. Things that no one else can do.”
Katherine pulled away and eyed him curiously. “What do you mean?”
He went on to explain how fast he could run and how he could almost hear her heartbeat when they were standing this close together. He could smell the stew on the stove inside the house and the leftover crops in the field that Samuel had neglected to take up during the harvest. She listened, and wanted to doubt him at first. But, when he mentioned the stew she prepared and the soap residue on her hands, she knew there was some credit to what he said. She couldn’t even smell either of these things and she didn’t tell him of it before.
She took a step back and remembered what Samuel had said about a beast killing Cassandra. Her eyes darted to the blood stains as her mind began to put each of the pieces together. Maybe Dustin did kill her, but not intentionally.
Katherine folded her arms and looked away. She believed in the fairy folk just as much as Dustin did – which was not at all – but she was raised up with the stories that had been passed down through the generations. Christian faith took the place of such beliefs, but some traditions were hard to kick, as was the case with Samuel. He believed in magic more than anyone she knew in Glengarriff. And the rampant thought entered her mind that, perhaps, he was right.
Though, all of this didn’t suggest that Dustin was a changeling. They didn’t kill people and it wouldn’t explain his heightened senses. A far darrig maybe? No, they didn’t kill people either. They were just mischievous spirits who went about wreaking havoc for the Irish.
If Samuel’s earlier mutterings about a beast were true, that meant Dustin would have shifted into another form. The form of an animal that could rip through flesh. An animal like a wolf.
“What is it?” Dustin demanded after a long stretch of silence between them.
Katherine looked up and searched his face for any sign to confirm her foolish assumption. None of them knew of Dustin’s heritage. Could he have been a faoladh? A descendent of the wolves of Ossory? They were alleged to be relatively harmless, unlike the wolf warriors of Tipperary who ate the flesh of babies in exchange for their mercenary services to the king. Both fables were so old. Ossory didn’t even exist anymore. Could Dustin have faoladh blood in him?
“Are you sure you don’t remember anything?” she asked again, tempting his rage. “Did you see an animal? Maybe a wolf that might have come in the house?”
Dustin shook his head, but a sudden look dawned in his eyes that told her he did remember something, but not until just now. He blinked a few times and then lowered his gaze to the bit of ground that separated them. His face lost all color, gone pale by whatever it was that gradually crept back into his mind. She could see the struggle as he tried to grasp that elusive memory.
Once he finally grabbed hold of it, she noticed his breath quickened into a panic. She reached out for him once again, but he shied away, refusing what comfort she was willing to give.
“What is it?” she begged. “What do you remember?”
A muscle in Dustin’s jaw jumped and he shook his head again. “I… I can’t stay.”
She stared in disbelief. “What? What do you mean?”
Dustin snatched up the flower from the ledge on the well and turned as if he were ready to bolt away into the forest again, but he came back to Katherine.
“Tell no one that you saw me,” he said hastily. “I was never here. Do you understand? I can’t stay. I… Please, forgive me?”
Katherine grabbed for his sleeve before he could run again. “Forgive you for what? Tell me, Dustin. You can tell me anything.”
He shook his head again, fresh tears filming over his eyes. “I can’t. Just say you forgive me.”
It was then she understood. He must have realized the truth that he had something to do with Cassandra’s murder. She nodded in response. “I forgive you,” she whispered, sorrow stealing her voice. If Dustin did kill her, it had to be unintentional. He didn’t know what he had done. Whatever he was, whatever happened to him, it was against his will and she could never blame him for that. And she’d take the secret to her grave.
They embraced for the last time and she couldn’t form the words she needed to say to him. If he had to leave Glengarriff, she only hoped that wherever he went, he would find some peace.
They released and Dustin gave her one more heartfelt, apologetic look before he fled for the forest again. She saw the kind of inhuman speed he mentioned. Her brother was no more than a blur, and if she had blinked, she would have missed his departure entirely.
With shaking hands, she picked up the mostly-full water bucket and went back into the house. It would take a moment for her to compose herself before facing Samuel, but at least no one would question her sorrow. She not only lost a dear friend in Cassandra, but also her beloved brother to a future that she couldn’t begin to imagine.

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About Sheritta Bitikofer

Sheritta Bitikofer is an author of eclectic tastes. When she's not writing her next paranormal or urban fantasy novel, she can be found volunteering at her local animal shelter, shooting archery at a medieval reenactment event, doing Zumba, watching a historical documentary, or having coffee with her husband at their favorite café. A wife and fur-mama to two rescue dogs, she makes time to write engaging and moving stories about shifters, vampires, and magic that enthrall readers from cover to cover.
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