Coffee Time Romance - Rating: 4 out of 5 Cups  "Outstanding, a great read"

"I really enjoyed this story. It is a wonderful look into medieval Ireland and a very enjoyable love story too. The author has created memorable and vividly real characters and the plot is more complex than a simple love story and full of historical details."
Maura, Reviewer for Coffee Time Romance & More

Read the Full Review Here

Rose Petal Review - Rating: 4.5 out of 5 Roses  "Great Book, I would recomend this book"
"Marie Sterbenz has given us a wonderful historical romance.  The tone in which the story was told added to the accuracy of the time, and the mounting sensual tension that built between the hero and the heroine did not dissapoint.  I would recommend this book to anyone who loves a good romance."
"Compared to the other romance books I have read, these were exceptional."

Terri M.
St. Francis, MN 

"I thought the books were great and I can't wait for the next one. I thought she portrayed the time period, characters and location wonderfully. The stories were great and I could really see that happening in that time period. I read both books in two days, I didn't want to put them down."

The Magic Stone

Chapter One


Siobhan tripped and fell face first into a mud puddle. From the moment she had arisen this morning nothing had gone right. She wanted to cry, but it was not her way, and besides it might attract unwanted attention.  She shuddered and groaning she sat up to survey the damage to her favorite yellow linen gown. Mud dripped from her hair and ran down the front of her gown and across the expensive gold trim. She raised her hand to wipe mud from her cheek; it was then that the stench of horse urine assailed her nostrils. She grimaced in disgust the fabric had been a gift from her father, she and her mother had made the lovely gown but now it was ruined. Siobhan was devastated she treasured her fathers gift, and the fact that it was her own clumsiness made it worse. She had no one else to blame it on. She felt the cold wetness seep through her undergarments to her skin, she shuddered again, this time from the cold.

Even though it was spring the weather in this part of Eire was still cool, and the wind that blew across near by Lough Gur was chilly. The yellow Gorse and purple Heather were starting to bloom in the warmth of the daytime sun but as evening came the air grew cooler.

“May I help you?” said an unfamiliar male voice.

Siobhan peeked up at the man standing beside her. He was tall with the most startling blue eyes she had ever seen. Her first instinct was to crawl away and hide. That would be the coward’s way out, and she was anything but.

“Nay,” she replied, “I can manage on my own. I do not think you would like your garments ruined with this foul mud. If you will excuse me I will go and clean up.” She rose up off the ground in one swift motion and started off across the bailey.

“Wait,” said the man, “you dropped this when you fell.” His hand held the green stone she had been carrying. She had forgotten that she had it in her hand before she fell. Siobhan turned and took two steps back to where the man stood.

“Thank you,” she said as she clenched the stone in her muddy fist. She looked at him fully now, his eyes drew her in, and a smile played about the corners of his mouth. It seemed to her that he was enjoying her predicament. “Who are you?” she inquired. “I do not believe I know you.”

“My name is Brendan Collins at your service.” His smile broadened and he gave a slight bow. “Who might you be?” he asked.

“I am Siobhan, Siobhan Fitz William; please excuse me I must go.” She turned and fled across the bailey so that he would not see her embarrassment. As Siobhan hurried to the bathing hut, she tried not to think about Brendan Collins with his bright blue eyes. She was mortified that someone as handsome as he had seen her in such a state.

“Norah, Norah where are you?” Siobhan shouted as she entered the bathing hut. “I need your help.” The bathing hut was a rectangular building with a fire pit in the center and two wooden tubs on each side of the pit. A large black cauldron hung over the fire pit and was kept filled with water. The fire was tended all day long so that anyone that needed a bath would have hot water. Along one wall was a bench with folded linen cloths, for drying ones self after bathing, and bars of soap. There were pegs above the bench for hanging ones clothes; the bathing hut was a concession to Siobhan’s Viking grandmother.

“Here I am Siobhan. Oh my, what has happened to you?” Norah’s eyes were as big as the wooden bowls they ate porridge from. Then she wrinkled her nose and remarked, “You smell very bad, your hair is dripping all over your gown.”

“Norah I know all that,” she gave an exasperated sigh. “I fell in a puddle in the bailey, and I need to bathe and put on clean clothes for grandfathers’ celebration. Please go get my mother for me, and tell her I need a clean gown.” She gave Norah a wave of her hand to indicate that she should go immediately.

Siobhan removed her soiled gown and held it up for inspection the dark mud covered more than half of the front of the gown. It was caked on thick in large areas leaving the weaving of the fabric indistinguishable. She gave a disgusted sigh, and threw it on the bench beside the door of the bathing hut, it was her favorite but she did not think it could be saved. She looked down at her under tunic and wrinkled her nose. It smelled as bad as her gown but did not have the dark mud imbedded in fine linen weave. She took it off and threw it beside the gown, then walked over to large wooden tub, filled it, then stepped into the steaming hot water. She scooted down until her hair was immersed and let the heat of the water warm her cold flesh.

In her hurry she had forgotten to take the bar of soap from the bench where she had deposited her clothes, in fact her gown lay on top of it. “Lord, forgive me for the fool that I am,” she muttered. “I hope Norah hurries back because I do not want to get out of this tub and take a chill,” she spoke aloud to the empty room. She settled back in the warm water and let her thoughts drift. Unbidden a pair of blue eyes entered her mind and she smiled to herself. He was certainly a handsome fellow, but she was in love with Aidan, and dismissed Brendan Collins from her mind. Hearing a noise, she sat up quickly and turned her head to the door just as Norah opened it.

Brendan mused about the muddied red haired beauty that hurried away from him. Her green eyes sparkled with fire, and even though she was covered with mud, there was a dignity in her carriage. She had taken the stone from his hand with her shoulders back and her chin held high. She had spoken in a clear voice as she answered his question. No prissy miss was she, in fact she had hid her embarrassment well and he liked that. The green stone that he had handed back to her was beautifully polished and smooth. It was something he thought he could sell in Cork that would bring a hefty price.

He had wanted to ask her about it but she hurried away so fast that he did not get the chance. He would ask her later where she had obtained it.

Brendan made his way to the entrance of the tower where a young woman who bore a remarkable resemblance to Sean O’Coileain greeted him.

“My name is Brendan Collins and I am here at the invitation of Sean O’Coileain.” Brendan smiled at girl and continued, “I understand that a celebration for his father is to take place here, and Elbert is a cousin of my father.”

“I am Brigid, Sean is my father,” she gave a small courtesy, and then motioned for him to follow her into the hall, which was bustling with activity, and immaculate. The walls were adorned with the traditional elaborate embroidery of their Celtic ancestry. In addition there was a beautiful carved Celtic cross above the dais. It appeared to be of the same green stone that the red-haired young woman had dropped. The hall was much larger than Brendan had expected here in this area of Limerick. Just what he had expected, he wasn’t sure, but perhaps a Rath like the one his father had grown up in.

“Brendan, how good of you to come,” Sean’s voice boomed across the room. “How have you faired this past fortnight?” Sean clapped him on the shoulder in a show of camaraderie.

“Very well,” answered Brendan. “I must say you have an impressive hall.” 

“Nay this is not my hall but that of my sister and her family,” replied Sean. “My brother-in-law built it from the remains of my grandmother’s Rath. It was left to my sister, my family and I live in my father’s Rath. It is but a short stroll from here, come I want my father to see you.”

Brendan noticed the same green stone was imbedded in a metal cup that sat in front of a white haired man who also looked very much like Sean. There seemed to be an abundance of gaiety and noise in the hall as well.

“Athair,” said Sean, “This is Brendan who is your Cousin Brian’s son. I met him in Cork a fortnight ago and invited him to your celebration.” 

“It is good to meet you sir,” replied Brendan.

“You do not look like your athair,” said Elbert as he surveyed Brendan’s blue eyes and blond hair.

“No I do not; I favor my mother’s Viking people.” 

Elbert snorted and gave Brendan the once over then said, “So you do, so you do.”

“My father sends his best wishes to you for a wonderful celebration of your natal day. He would like to have come himself but he is not well, and the trip would have been too much of an ordeal for him,” said Brendan.

“What ails him,” asked Elbert?

“He was wounded by a robber nine days ago, and has not yet recovered. In fact he seems to be getting worse as the days go by. Mother has sent for the Abbot at Red Abbey. He is a known healer; all should be well by the time I return home.” Brendan was about to continue but a great commotion at the other end of the hall caught everyone’s attention.  

Entering the hall were two men and a lovely lady with sparkling deep blue eyes. Her hair was completely covered by her crispinette but he could see that the color was light brown and he noted that she had a trim figure that would turn any man’s head. The man to her left was tall with red gold hair, green eyes and a neatly trimmed beard. The man to her right, who was clean-shaven, was even taller and had deep brown hair and eyes. He was very broad of shoulder and had a dimple on his chin. They were introduced to Brendan as Sir David Fitz William and his longtime friend Sir Simon de Foe, and on Sir Simon’s arm the lovely lady was Sara Fitz William. She had clear creamy skin with a few freckles across her nose. Brendan immediately noticed the similarity of Sir David to the young woman he had met in the bailey.

“Welcome to Dair Keep,” said Sir David “I hope you will be pleased with your stay here.”

“Thank you,” replied Brendan as he gave a slight bow of his head, “I am sure I will.”

“Where is Siobhan,” asked Sir David as his eyes searched the room, “She should already be here.”

“She had a slight accident in the bailey and will be delayed,” replied Dame Sara with a smile. “She should be here anon.”

“We must not keep our guests standing, let us be seated, and let the celebration begin,” offered Sir David. “I am certain Siobhan will be here before the roast pig is served.”

“Sean, father will sit at the head of the dais this day and preside over the meal. Will you escort him up the steps, and see that he is properly seated?” requested Sara.

Once everyone was seated and the trenchers were placed, Brendan noticed an empty space next to a man he was introduced to as Aidan Murphy. It was obvious that whoever was to sit there would share a trencher with Aidan. Brendan surmised that it must be Siobhan. He was sharing his with Brigid. She was a pretty thing but paled in comparison to the green-eyed Siobhan.

The second course was being served when Siobhan entered wearing a beautiful smile and a striking green gown that set off the copper tresses that were peeking from beneath her crispinette.

She went straight to her grandfather and planted a kiss on his weathered cheek then handed him a small leather pouch. “This will protect you from mischief when the wee folk are about.” She said loud enough for all to hear.

“This must be a magic stone then,” Elbert said as he removed the beautiful green stone from its pouch and ran his fingers over the smooth polished stone.

“Aye, I have imbued it with a magic chant of old.” She stood beside him with her hands on her hips and a grin on her face.

“Thank you child, I shall treasure it and keep it with me always. Now go and sit, the meal grows cold.” His voice was gruff and those who knew him well knew it was because he was touched by her gift.

 Siobhan took her seat next Aidan, “have they already passed the roast pig?”

“Nay,” replied Aidan.

She looked across the table at Brigid and said, “You know how the roast pig is my favorite, as well as the Grete Pye.” She shrugged her shoulders while tilting her head to one side. “I was afraid with my late arrival I might have missed them.” She took a bite of fish from Aidan’s trencher.

“Brendan, have you met my cousin, Siobhan?” asked Brigid.

“Well yes I have, out in the bailey. We met when I arrived, however I must say she looks much better now than she did then.” Brendan grinned at Siobhan and winked.

“Unfortunately, I was not at my best just then.” She hoped her voice sounded as irritated as she felt. She decided he was no gentleman to have mentioned her predicament, especially in front of others. She made up her mind to try to ignore him for the duration of the meal, unfortunately he was not going to co-operate.

“I would ask, fair lady, where you obtained the lovely green stone I retrieved for you in the bailey?” inquired Brendan. “I would like to obtain some like it.”

Siobhan looked directly at him. “Would you really, I doubt you have enough coin to purchase them. The cost of the labor makes them very expensive. That is, unless you have a craftsman who can shape and polish them.” She watched his eyes as they widened slightly. Feeling she had put him in his place, she smiled and took a sip of her mead. She was totally unprepared for his response.

“What makes you think that I do not have the coin, name a price?” He cocked his head to one side and continued. “For all you know I am very well off.” He saluted her with his cup of Mead.

“You are quite right; I do not know the extent of your wealth. However I am the one who cut and polished the stone, and I only do that when I want to for those I love. It takes many hours to accomplish the task; I have no desire to sell you anything I make.” She took another sip of her Mead.

“You seem quite sure about that, I however would like the chance to change your mind. I can offer you a great deal of money, and you may create anything you like. I see that your work is of the finest quality, and I would give you as the artisan full credit when I sell your work.”

“Nay, I am not interested,” she responded as she pursed her lips together.

“Siobhan, are you not being a little hasty?” said Aidan.  “After all you yourself have said you enjoy making items from the marble.  Why not make a few coins and a name for yourself.”

She raised her left eyebrow, “Aidan, think you that I do not know my own mind. I have given him my answer, and it will not change. Let us not speak of this subject any longer.”  She turned to the serving maid who was passing with a tray of roast pig. She took a healthy helping and began to eat with gusto. She could feel Brendan’s eyes upon her, but decided to ignore him. No one was going to spoil the feast for her beloved grandfather, least of all an outsider. It suddenly occurred to her that he was sharing Brigid’s trencher. It was most unusual for an outsider to be sharing a trencher with a member of the family.

While it was true that Aidan was not a member of the family he soon would be. She wondered how much longer it would be before he spoke to her father asking for her hand. “Tell me Brendan how is it that you came to be here for my grandfather’s natal celebration?” queried Siobhan.

“Sean invited my family a fortnight ago when he was in Cork. My father and your grandfather are cousins. My father unfortunately is too ill to come, so I came in his place.”

“I see,” replied Siobhan. At least now she knew why he shared Brigid’s trencher. “I am sorry to hear that your father is ill I hope he recovers soon.”

Siobhan smiled up at Aidan in what she must have thought was a beguiling manner. Aidan asked to be excused and patted Siobhan on the shoulder as he left the table. It was obvious that Siobhan had missed the looks exchanged between Brigid and Aidan, but Brendan did not. Brigid sat unmoving with her head down and continued to eat her meal. Brendan wondered how long it would be before Brigid excused herself to join Aidan.


Chapter Two



It was early morning when Brendan walked out into the bailey and headed for the stables. He wanted to check on his horse, and retrieve a pouch from his belongings. He hoped to be able to talk to Siobhan if he could find her, and try to convince her to let him sell her beautiful work. The stable boy said that she might be in her workshop behind the kitchens. He hoped her mood had improved from last night. She seemed to have very little sense of humor. Not a good thing to his way of thinking. He rounded the corner of the kitchen and encountered Siobhan coming out of her workshop.

He was startled to see her garbed in peasant’s clothes, and not just any peasant’s clothes but men’s. Her trousers were loose as was her shirt with the sleeves rolled up to her elbows. She also wore a leather blacksmith’s apron that appeared to have been made just for her. He had no idea that working with the green stone would require such garb. As soon as he recovered from the shock, he gave her the once over and exclaimed. “Good morning mistress. How fare you this morn?”

Siobhan gave him her haughtiest look and replied, “I was doing quite well until now.”

“Until now?” he questioned.

“Yes, until you came blustering around the corner.” She crossed her arms and tapped her foot to emphasize her irritation.

“I take issue with your comment, I never bluster.” He shifted his weight as he smiled at her. “I have come to discuss a business arrangement with you. I do hope you will be receptive to my ideas.”

“I thought I made myself clear last eve. I have no interest in any arrangement.”

Brendan hefted the leather pouch that clinked with coin and questioned, “are you quite sure that there is no amount of coin that might tempt you?”

“Aye,” she uncrossed her arms and raised her left eyebrow in the manner of her father.

“If you will not sell me your wares will you at least show me some of your work in progress?”

“To what end,” she asked?

“I believe you indicated last eve that I could get the stone if I had my own artisan to work it. I should like to see what is involved, so that I might find someone in Cork to do just that.”

Siobhan turned, opened the door of her workshop, and motioned for Brendan to enter.  She went to the center of the shop and stepped upon a short ladder. She turned a metal bar and lowered a part of the roof. Immediately the room was filled with sunlight. Brendan could see a long bench that held various tools and chisels. All were small, neatly laid out, and clean. One end of the bench held a basin of water with two leather strops. He saw various pieces of stone that appeared to be half finished or so he thought. There were also small vessels that held different colored powders; he had never seen anything like it before. He paused to examine a flat piece of green stone that had a Celtic cross in relief in the center of it. Next he picked up one of the small tools that resembled a farrier’s pick.

“Can you tell me what you do with this tool?” asked Brendan.

“I use that tool to work fine lines into the stone.”

“And these powders?” he inquired.

“They are used to polish the stones; you start with the coarsest and end with the finest. The green stone is Connemara Marble.”

Brendan noted that her voice had softened as they spoke. Her beautiful green eyes sparkled as she warmed to her subject. He forgot how she was dressed, as he continued to converse with her about her work. It was obvious that she loved her art. Perhaps the way to start over with this beauty was through these stones.

“Where did you get your tools,” he asked as he touched them?

“Our blacksmith made them for me, the usual tools used for sculpture were too large for me to use.” She picked up a small file, and turned it over in her hand. “He used them as a pattern and scaled them down to the size you see here.”

“But how did you know how to use them?”

“I watched a sculptor in Limerick.” She laid the file down.  “It is not hard to use them but it does take a great deal of patience.” She and her abilities fascinated him; he watched her mouth as she spoke. Her red lips were full and inviting, it was all he could do to keep from taking her in his arms and kissing her soundly. He also knew she would not appreciate the gesture. It would likely fire her temper, which matched her red hair. Brendan was so lost in his musings that he did not register what she was saying; he shook his head to clear his thoughts.

“Are you alright? Is something wrong? You seem to be somewhere else,” said Siobhan.

“I am sorry you see I was so engrossed in looking at these beautiful stones that I truly did forget where I was.” He looked at a Celtic cross that lay on her bench. “Did you make the cross I saw in the hall?”

“Aye, I did and it took me many a day to complete.”

“This pile here, are they finished,” he gestured to a small pile of polished stones in a wooden bowl?

“Those,” she said with irritation, “are my discards they are flawed.” Her tone left no room for further discussion.

“You are a most accomplished artist,” Brendan smiled, “I do wish you would reconsider and sell me some of your beautiful work.” He looked into her eyes to see if he could discern any change in her attitude. She appeared thoughtful. If she would consider working with him it would give him reason to spend a great deal of time with her. He had never met another like her, she was talented, beautiful, spirited and most of all intelligent.

  “I will not be leaving till tomorrow. You need not give me your answer right now, sleep on it, I will ask you again before I leave.” He turned and walked out of her workshop without a backward glance.

As he walked back toward the stable he spotted Brigid as she slipped behind the smithy.

Brendan started to follow her when he saw Aidan go behind the same building from the opposite side. So they were meeting in secret, it did not bode well for Siobhan.

The next morning Brendan learned much to his chagrin that Siobhan had not changed her mind. On his way to the stable he went to her workshop and took three stones from her so called flawed pile. He stepped out of her workshop and looked around to see if anyone was about who could have seen him. He hurried to the stable to ready his horse for the trip on to Nenagh.

When he was a half days ride from Dair Keep he rested his horse by a small stream and sat beneath a large oak tree. He took the three stones he had pilfered from Siobhan’s workshop out of the pouch to inspect them. He could see no flaws in the beautifully worked stones as they gleamed in the filtered sunlight. He could not help but wonder why she thought they were not good enough. They were a deep green like the hills of Eire, and were so highly polished he could almost see himself in them.  He knew he could sell them in Cork for a goodly sum, he felt sure that once he had the coin, and gave Siobhan her share she would change her mind.

Siobhan flew through the hall in a fine rage, her nostrils flaring, with her face red as a sunset. Her father was close on her heels, shouting for her mother. Dame Sara stood at the bottom of the stairs to the tower.

“For goodness sake David stop shouting or you will scare away the wee folk.”

“You need to talk to your daughter before she does something foolhardy like attacking her cousin Brigid.”  Sir David was panting and waving his arms about. He was not being his usual calm, logical self. 

“Why? What has happened that has her so upset?” Dame Sara took hold of her daughter’s shaking hands. “Tell me what is wrong.”

“Brigid stole Aidan from me, that is what.  Uncle Sean agreed to a betrothal between them last eve, and announced it to everyone at the evening meal. One of the milkmaids told Norah about it and Norah told me. I am going to beat her until she gives him up.” By now tears of frustration threatened to spill from the corners of her eyes. She took a deep breath and tried to pull away from her mother’s grasp.

“You will do no such thing. Listen to me; Aidan was never yours to begin with. He was and is his own man. If he chose Brigid over you then you have no one to blame but yourself. Love is a funny thing and we cannot choose who we fall in love with, but we can influence the choice of our hearts with kindness and consideration. Think you that your father and I own each other?”

Siobhan nodded her head in the affirmative. “Nay daughter you are wrong,” her mother continued. We do not own each other we are each free to leave, but because we love one another we choose to stay together. It was your father’s thoughtfulness and care that won me over. Aidan has never, in my opinion, given you reason to believe that he wanted to marry you.”

“But I want him,” Siobhan stomped her foot “I have wanted him ever since he came to foster under father.”

Dame Sara took a deep breath and explained. “Just because you want something does not mean that you will have it.” She led Siobhan over to a bench beside the hearth and bade her sit. “Tell me what you did to win his affections.”

“What I did to win him?” she questioned.

“Aye, did you flirt with him, and say sweet things to him. Did you tell him how handsome and wonderful you thought he was.” Siobhan eyed her mother for a moment then looked toward her father.

“Is that what you did with father?” She raised her eyebrow as her gaze swept back to her mother.

“Nay I tried to send him away, but he was obstinate and would not go. Normans are a stubborn lot, hard to deal with, they think very highly of themselves.” Dame Sara winked at her husband and continued. “But I have grown used to his ways, and now find him charming.”

“Then why should I have to flirt with Aidan if you did not have to flirt with father?” She crossed her arms and pursed her lips together in a mulish pout.

“Because your father wanted me but I did not want him, much as you want Aidan but he does not want you. He obviously wants Brigid for reasons that are his own. It is too late for you to go after him now, and it is not Brigid’s fault.” Dame Sara stood and looked down at her headstrong daughter. “You are so like your grandfather in many ways, and that is not necessarily a good thing.”

Siobhan sat with her head down while she took two deep breaths, then jumped up and made her way to her workshop. She wanted to be alone to think and working her stones calmed and cleared her head. There were no other men she knew that she wanted to wed. She did not want to wed a stranger, besides her father had promised her she could choose her own husband, so she had chosen Aidan. Unfortunately she had not apprised Aidan of this fact.

She entered her workshop, then propped open the door to let in the warmth and light of the sun. She went to her ladder, climbed up and turned the bar to lower the roof portal. As she climbed down she missed the bottom step and nearly fell. She grabbed hold of her workbench to steady herself “saints preserve me,” she muttered.

She picked up a cabochon she had been working on earlier and began to rub it with a wet piece of leather and sand. She rubbed it more vigorously than normal, and because of her anger she forgot to rotate the stone as she worked it. The next thing she knew she had a minute flat spot on the stone, so she threw it into her discard bowl. “The wee folk have abandoned me,” she grumbled.

A dark form appeared in the doorway blocking out the sunlight. From where Siobhan stood she could not tell who it was. She moved to one side to see better who was there but to no avail. “Speak and identify yourself,” she squinted toward the open door, “I have no time for games right now.”