Lucien held his hand out to Jess and helped her from the rocking boat. She gripped his hand tightly as the boat shifted more than anticipated. Her boot slipped on the wet rocks, and she would have tumbled to the ground had Lucien not caught her.
After giving her a knowing look, he grabbed her bag from the bow and slung it over a shoulder. He settled it in place and joined Jess on the rocky shore. He looked at the sun just blooming over the horizon.
The ocean was on fire with reds and golds streaming towards them over the gentle waves. Plovers called to them, warning them to leave the cursed island. Above, gulls echoed the warning before alighting on the cold water to stare at the intrusion.
Ireland had been warm, but the isle was cold despite it being late spring. Wind blew around them, and Jess shivered, wrapping her arms around her middle. It wasn’t the cold that had chased her through Lucien’s curse, but it still held a note of anger and power that told her this isle was cursed.
She looked at Lucien and caught his eye, the unspoken knowledge that he felt as well reassured her slightly. She started walking away from the rocking boat as Lucien moored it, securing it to a rock with worn markings from previous use.
“Is there anything you need to do to prepare?” Lucien called, voice rising over the cries of the plovers upset by Jess’s movement.
She shook her head. Waves of anger ebbed and flowed as she walked closer to the epicenter of the curse. “Just what’s in the bag, and I might not even need that if Cassidy makes it.”
“There is so much anger and pain,” Lucien said softly, walking ahead of Jess on the narrow path.
His hand brushed against a plant blocking the path, and he pulled away with a hiss of pain. Rubbing the back of his hand, he stopped, and Jess nearly ran into him. “We are getting close.”
“How can you tell?” she asked, eyes wide as she looked around the isle, covered with flora in the midst of spring. Except for the opressing feeling surrounding her, there was no sign of a curse.
“The nettles,” he replied grimly. He inspected the back of his hand, grimacing when he saw the red, itchy rash from the small needles on the nettles. Rubbing it one last time, he pulled a pair of thin leather gloves out of a pocket and slid them on. “They are the only plant growing as the trees thin out. There is no grass or bushes. Only flowering nettles.”
“Shit,” she swore softly, putting her gloves on as well. Her jeans and buttoned wool coat would protect the rest of her body, but without the gloves, her hands would be at the mercy of the painful sting of the nettles.
Lucien pushed his way through to the center of the isle. After fifteen minutes of a walk that became hard and near-impossible, he stopped at the edge of a clearing. Just beyond, cattails were already growing tall, surrounding a lake. The nettles stopped at the clearing, not daring to intrude on the pastoral scene before him.
Seven swans swam in the clear lake, softly calling to each other over the foggy morning. In the middle of the isle, the air was warmer, but even under the warmth, the curse was still there, buzzing almost audibly in his head.
He reached out and touched a slight shimmer in the air. With a small smile, he pressed harder against the curse. It resisted, becoming as solid as a wall beneath his hand. “Well, we found it. Now the question becomes: what do we do now?” he asked, dropping the bag to the ground.
“I need to get in there,” Jess said, digging through the bag. She came out with empty hands and a frustrated look.
“Forget something?” Lucien asked drily, taking a step back and trying to hide his grin at her glare.
“No,” she snapped. She sighed and ran a hand through her tangle of copper hair. “I just don’t know how to get through, and nothing in there,” she said, pointing at her bag, “is going to help.”
Lucien knelt before the barrier, balancing on the balls of his feet as he looked at it with his ability to see curses. Strands of black and silver obscured everything from within. They wound and danced together, moving under the sun as if they were a living creature. “Can you separate the strands?”
“Maybe,” she said doubtfully. Reaching out, she tried just as he suggested, but stopped after a few minutes of obvious failure. “Apparently not.”
Lucien rocked forward and pressed his hand against the barrier. He forced the curse to give as he pushed against the barrier with not only his physical strength, but his mental powers as well. Beneath his hand, the strands started to cave. His hand sunk in a centimeter before the curse coalesced around his skin. It quickly drew away when the black and silver strands touched the nettles still embedded in his skin. “Perhaps you need one more thing…”
“What?” Jess said, looking up from the ground to Lucien.
He held up his hand, showing the itching rash. “This, ma cherie.”