I’m a historical romance gal, always have been, always will be, but that doesn’t mean I’m not going to sniff out a great romance nestled in a story of another genre. In this case, urban fantasy. E. Catherine Tobler has a history of beckoning me out of my comfort zone, and her latest, Watermark, the story of Pip, a kelpie sent to the world of humans, is no exception. Pip, in human form, finds there’s more to both human and fae than she first suspects, and there’s the small matter of Finn, a delicious, tattooed baker who is, like much in this entrancing novel, much more than he appears on the surface.
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Who was he to me? The question rested on my tongue. I did not ask it.
We traced our way through the woods as we had come, Finn holding my hand all the while. Fingers were not so curious to me as toes, but now I understood why. Our hooves left twin trails of prints through the long grasses, prints that were slowly erased in our wake. Wouldn’t a horse be captivated by toes? Wouldn’t a…
“Púca,” he said.
“Can you read my mind then?” The idea wasn’t nearly as unsettling as I expected it to be.
“I’ve a gift for that,” Finn said with care, “but you… You were always different for me, aye?”
He said “aye” the way the king had, slanted with an accent I didn’t recognize—yet it made me ache with familiarity. That was a sound from home. And the idea that I had always been different for him made me stop in my tracks.
“It’s like looking at a lake,” he said. “Most people, I see only what they wish me to, or my own reflection. Some let me below the surface.”
Finn gathered my hands into his. “Earth cups water, prevents it from spilling every which way. Water soaks into earth, letting life grow.”
My nose wrinkled again. This, like Berengaria and Conaire, was nearly too private. It was like looking at something I should not see, even if it involved me.
“Water freezes and earth quakes. Water can flood, smothering ground. Likewise ground can suck entire lakes away.”
Finn’s head tipped in a nod, mane shivering. “Aye, they do. Balance, as Conaire spoke of.”
“You said I was always different, Finn.” I stumbled over his name, knowing the way I knew my own pulse that it was not his true name. The queen and king had not even used that name for him, as if they also knew.
“Faeries do not dream,” he said, “but I think I am. I have a memory of a girl who was not a girl. She watched me through the woods. And I was me, but not me. I was a magical thing she wanted to catch.”
I clasped my hands together, but did not remove them from Finn’s hold. Unlike my own story of the lake and the young girl, I could see none of what he spoke of, but sensed something. A memory?
“She looked for a long while, but I could not tell you how long. She came to the woods every day, hopeful. In the beginning her hands were empty. Eventually, she came with treats. Sugar, cheese, apples.”
He fell silent, and I watched him. Could he see it all so clear within his mind? And then—
“I could show you.”
I only nodded once.
Finn’s hands closed hard around mine, and the wood around us vanished. I drew in a breath even while I had no lungs, no form. I was a small ball held together by Finn’s hands. Around us emerged another wood, not the wood of my lake; these woods were his, I understood. The trees were the color of melancholy, and he was the color of sunlight on snow.
He moved through the trees as a creature I could not name. Not a horse, something beyond a horse, something that glowed and beckoned and there. A girl, with hair as of night, and an apple, green like Yule boughs, and only when she learned to sit did he come.
“Did she catch you?” I whispered.
I watched as the unearthly beast bowed his head, lips claiming the apple, brushing the woman’s palm. My own palm knew that touch, wet velvet.
“Oh yes,” Finn said. “She did.”
Hungry for more? An interview with E. Catherine Tobler is on the way. In the meantime, explore some Fairy Places and find out how you can get a chance to win a copy of Watermark for your very own.