The Grand European by Marilyn Brant

Dougray Murphy was not particularly fond of curly-haired brunettes, loud Americans or recent college grads. The order of his dislike was unimportant. He’d had plenty of bad experiences with all three and avoided further encounters whenever possible.

Today, however, it wasn’t possible.

He stuffed his notes into the pocket of his sturdy tweed jacket and leaned over the railing of the Calais-bound ferry, studiously averting his gaze from the noisy troupe of young vacationers at his left.

Backpackers.

He shuddered. The shameless manner with which they invaded the Continent irritated him. Their trekking atop historical sites. Their littering of landmarks with their Coca-Cola bottles and Cadbury-bar wrappers. Their pointing and ogling at priceless cultural relics with all the insight of an O-Level flunkey. How their parents must cringe.

“Hey, man,” one beefy American called to his punk-haired British buddy. “What was in those ‘pasty’ things? I think I’m gonna puke.”

The Brit answered with a sloppy grin, slapping his fool companion on the back. Both looked out of place without surfboards and a rolled joint. Dougray sunk his head in disgust.

He supposed it never occurred to Surfer Dude that he should’ve stayed in L.A., stoked his ignorance with a bottle of whatever bitter-tasting ale they specialized in there and gone to Disneyland instead. Just think, he could’ve had a hotdog.

Of course the three inebriated Swedes further down the deck wouldn’t be poster boys for national pride either. They looked to be twenty-two, give or take a short prison term, and were probably wanted for flagrant misuse-of-chains-while-dressing back in Stockholm.

Hard to believe he was merely six years their senior. With all his world-weariness, it might’ve been sixty.

Dougray dug his fingers into his trousers’ pocket, feeling the unfamiliar coins cool his skin. They weren’t like his native Irish pounds nor the British ones he’d grown so accustomed to. A unified European currency was…well, singular. Common. The momentousness of the transaction diluted. It felt more like crossing the street rather than crossing borders.

He drew a random coin out of his pocket. A one-euro piece. The golden outer ring surrounding the silver center reminded him of the twisted strands of a gold-silver torque, the metal collar worn by the ancient Celts in Gaul. Despite the unsavory spectacle around him, he considered this a good sign and prepared for a ritualistic offering.

He sent a silent prayer to The Dagda, high king of the Tuatha De Danann who reigned as the Celtic god of the arts, of knowledge and of magic, to provide guidance on his research and during this critical Swiss expedition to La Tène. Holding the coin with reverence for a moment, he tossed it into the swirling waters of the English Channel.

“What’d you wish for?” a woman’s voice asked brightly.

Dougray stiffened. American.

He turned to look at the young lady to his right. The royal blue hood she wore to ward off the chill managed to partly camouflage her face, but she appeared to be in her early twenties. Probably a recent college grad. Terrific.

She was extremely petite, this one. With eyes as green as his beloved Irish homeland–a place he hadn’t returned to for a decade despite devoting his every breath to the study of its ancient peoples.

He observed the full, dark cherry lips moving again and found himself mesmerized by their parting and closing. Like a butterfly’s wings in flight.

“Pardon?” he asked.

The lady grinned. “I just wondered what it was you were wishing for so hard,” she said, a smile playing upon the corners of those sinful lips. Father O’Reilly would require ten Hail Marys just for looking upon them. “…But I suppose it’s none of my business anyway.” She batted her eyelashes and grinned again, as if to belie the words, convinced, it seemed, of her utter irresistibility.

Damned if she was right. It was none of her business. Women the world over were far too curious about the undisclosed convictions of a man’s soul. But, what the hell, he’d answer her this time. Perhaps she’d find his response educational.

“I always–” he began. Then she did it. She swept the hood away from her face and a tumble of dark ringlets floated onto her slim shoulders. A curly-haired American brunette. He stopped speaking mid-sentence and stared.

Oh, hell. Not another one.




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