“I thought you were eager to meet the guardian. You went starry-eyed when you mentioned him.”
Rats, her fib was returning to bite her in the bum. “I’ll get evicted from Glenveagh if I set one foot outside the colony.” The consequences made her shudder. Once rumors surfaced, the other colonies would reject her, and she’d end up living life in limbo.
He nodded, his expression thoughtful.
“Won’t you get in trouble too?” she asked.
Instead of answering, he reached inside his pocket and pulled out a long, thin cylinder. Using one hand, he removed the tight-fitting lid. A mist of liquid particles floated from the vial and spread until they danced around her. A tickle built at the back of her nose. The sneeze exploded from her, dislodging a wart.
Seamus chuckled when the wart bounced once and rolled across the path, coming to a stop at his feet. “The increasing mist is disconcerting at first. Sneezing is a side effect.”
Aislyn glanced at her feet. Whoa! The ground blurred alarmingly. She swayed and jerked her gaze off the gravel track. The dizziness receded, and she risked another peek. Oh, rats. The ground undulated so much she felt as if she sat in Duncan’s boat, braving the lake waters on a windy day. Queasiness stirred in the pit of her stomach. To divert her attention, she concentrated on Seamus. The nausea converted to such gut-punching lust it stole her breath. Bother, what was she going to do about her crush on Seamus?
Seamus muttered an incantation, the words soft and obscure. A shimmering portal opened in front of them.
“Wow,” Aislyn said, sidetracked from her dilemma.
“Come.” Seamus extended his hand. “We’ll stay for one hour. And don’t worry. If you don’t tell anyone, the board of directors won’t find out.”
“I promise,” she said, grasping his hand. Now that she was close to leaving the colony, she’d pledge anything.
Seamus chuckled. “Minx. Before we go, there are rules.” At her groan, he held up his hand. “This is important. Cats are a threat to you. If one corners you while you’re fairy size, you’re history.”
Aislyn nodded, but impatience made her long to sprint past him, to jump through the portal and into her adventure. Like a bottle of O’Sullivan homebrew, she fizzed with eagerness, greedy to experience, to touch and taste every new sight at once.
“Are you listening?”
“Yeah, you’re giving me the cat lecture. I’ve heard it before.”
“Aislyn.” He grasped her shoulders and turned her away from the portal to face him. “Don’t wander. You must stay close at all times.”
“Yes, okay. What will we see?”
“I’ll take you for a drive around Auckland.”
Auckland! This was better than she’d dreamed. “Will I see the Sky Tower?” Seamus’s touch was the only thing keeping her grounded. A grin stretched from one side of her face to the other, broadcasting her emotions.
“If you’d stop and listen, we might get to the Sky Tower faster. If you’d stop interrupting, we might even have time to take the elevator to the top.”
“I’m listening. I’m listening. I need to stay with you.”
“At all times.”
No hardship there. “Yes, and I have to do what you say when you say. I must keep my visit secret. Got the rules. Can we go now?”
“Come on,” he said.
Together, they stepped through the portal and into his garden. The Guardian’s garden, Seamus, reminded himself. Aislyn didn’t need to learn of his Guardian status. He snapped his fingers, chanted, and the portal faded and disappeared.
Punga ferns swayed in the faint breeze while the leaves in the taller kauri and rimu trees rustled. As he led her up the path toward his house, the leaf litter and small twigs crunched underfoot. The closer they walked to the wooden bungalow, the louder the noises of the city. Muted traffic sounds, and the bark of the next-door neighbor’s fox terrier shattered the silence of the garden.
Aislyn’s reaction intrigued him, scouring away years of detachment and letting him experience the world through her eyes. Awe and excitement burned on her face. Her head whipped from side to side, reminding him of a contortionist he’d seen at a circus when he was a fairling.
He took half a step toward her, the urge to brand her with his kiss so strong a tremor racked his body. The roar of a car with a broken muffler jerked him from his folly. His pulse pounded at the near-miss. Fool, he had no business dallying with Aislyn, not with his future etched in concrete.
“Are you hungry? Would you like a drink before we leave?” He hoped Aislyn didn’t clue in on his huskiness. So help him, if she threw herself at him, he feared his big brother pretense might crack wide open.
“I couldn’t eat a thing.” She skipped two steps ahead, her witch cloak billowing in the breeze.
“Come inside while I find the car keys. We’ll stand out in our costumes, but if anyone asks, we’ll say we’re going to a fancy dress party.”
“What of the man who owns this house?” Her tongue darted out to moisten her bottom lip. Seamus watched avidly and barely restrained his groan.
Spending time with Aislyn was a mistake, but it didn’t make a shred of difference. Her tongue moved on to lick her top lip. There was no holding back the groan this time. “Aislyn.”
“What?” She jerked her gaze from the wooden door at the top of the steps, freezing when she caught his expression. Delicate color filtered over her cheeks.
“You’re still wearing orange warts.” Seamus shoved his hands in his pockets so he wouldn’t touch.
A gamine grin lit her face. “Aren’t they sexy?”
“I wouldn’t say that.”
“Can you take them off for me?”
Damn. Withdrawing his hands from his pockets, he noted, without surprise, they trembled. His breathing ratcheted up a notch drawing in essence of Aislyn. Seamus stopped inhaling, rapidly plucked the offending warts from her face, and stepped back out of danger. Sweat beaded his brow as though he’d completed a grueling gym session, and his legs wavered.
“That hurt.” Aislyn rubbed her cheek with her right hand.
“Let me see.” Danger! Seamus closed the gap between them and smoothed his thumb over the tiny red spot on her cheek. “You’ll survive. A fairy kiss should do the trick.” He paid no mind to the swirling mass of conscience that jabbed and nattered at him. He lowered his head, body full of tension.
Aislyn’s eyes widened, the pupils growing large, the blue color deepening. “I…I don’t think this is a good idea.” The stuttered objection came in a heated rush.
“A kiss won’t hurt.” Even as he uttered the words, his fingers threaded through soft copper curls. Conscience poked him mercilessly. Hell’s teeth, couldn’t he do a thing for himself for once? Did he always have to put duty to the colony first?
Seamus touched his lips to hers in a chaste, friendly kiss. Over and done in mere seconds once he’d quenched his curiosity.
Instead, he fitted her softness to his chest, sipped her mouth, and encouraged her to let him taste her. His heart thumped erratically, slamming against his ribs. She gave a sexy moan deep in her throat. Reaction to her innocent sensuality made his entire body clench in need.
Conscience let rip, barking orders with the precision of a military commander. Wrong. Stop. Duncan will kill you. No future here.
Seamus eased away until inches appeared between their bodies. He closed his eyes, fighting the urge to sweep her off to his bed. His hands tightened around her biceps, but he forced them to relax and drop to his sides.
He took another step back, ripping his gaze from her red, kiss-moistened mouth.
“Am I interrupting?” Gill asked, his tone dry.
“No, dammit.” Seamus straightened to glower at his partner.
Gill folded his arms across his chest and leaned back against a verandah support. “Glad you cleared that up for me.”
Part of Seamus wanted to hug his friend with gratitude. The other part of him wanted to thump him for ogling Aislyn. “Aislyn, meet my partner and friend, Gill.”
“Pleased to meet you, Aislyn. Seamus, a word.” Gill gestured with his head for privacy and came to the point once Seamus followed him. “Got a lead. An insider who’s willing to help us with Maximillan. Where the hell have you been? I’ve been waiting for ages.”
Seamus flinched at the gleam in his friend’s eyes.
“Never mind,” Gill said. “You’re here now. Send the girl home, and we can get going.”
“I can’t send her home.” Damn, Gill was right. They couldn’t let this opportunity pass. They needed someone inside Maximillan’s estate, but he couldn’t leave Aislyn on her own. He dragged his hand through his hair, trying to come up with a solution.
Gill started toward the driveway. “We have to go now. We owe it to Hone.”
“Aislyn will have to come with us. Look, Gill, I can’t explain, but trust me, she won’t cause any trouble.”
Gill shrugged one shoulder. “On your head.”
“We’ll meet you at the car.”
Gill disappeared around the corner of the house, and Seamus hurried over to Aislyn. “Change of plans.”
Aislyn scowled at him. “You can’t send me back. You promised.”
“I’m not sending you back, but I can’t leave you here. You’re coming with us. Promise to sit in the car and keep your mouth shut. As soon as we finish our business, I’ll take you for the drive I promised. If you behave, I’ll buy you breakfast before we return to the colony.”
This whole situation was snowballing out of control. Damn his impulse. The way his luck was running, one of the fairy force members would eyeball them, then hell would break loose. The roar of Gill’s car prompted him to haste.
“Deal.” Her blue eyes sparkled with life again, allowing Seamus to exhale with relief. Crisis averted.
“Hurry, Gill’s waiting.” He grabbed her forearm and dragged her around the corner of the house. Seamus jerked open the back passenger door and hustled her into the back before climbing into the front and slamming his door shut.
Gill took off with a spray of gravel, the car sliding before the tires gained traction. A small squeak from the back seat made Seamus grin.
“I’d prefer to arrive in one piece,” he said. “And Aislyn wants to see Auckland.”
“I’ve arranged to meet Elsa near the kiosk in Cornwall Park,” Gill said. “That’s if she’s bothered to wait.”
Aislyn listened to the two males fascinated with the way they interacted. One seemed to know the other’s thoughts before they spoke a word. A real human male. Curiosity bubbling over, she studied the back of Gill’s head. They didn’t appear different. His hair was blond, long and shaggy, in need of a visit to the colony hairdresser, Snip ‘n Curl. He needed a shave too, but one glimpse of the human’s intense green eyes and dark lashes and his scruffiness faded into the background. He’d cause chaos amongst the female fairies if he visited the colony. Cleaned up, he’d look almost pretty, except for the large nose.
The car brakes shrieked as Gill hurled the vehicle around a corner. Aislyn grabbed the front seat for purchase. The sun climbed sluggishly above the skyline, allowing her to read the road signs as they darted in and out of traffic.
Remuera. In her mind, she sounded each syllable. A warm glow spurted through her body. The world outside the colony was foreign, and she loved it.
Gill pulled up at a set of traffic lights, his fingers drumming on the wheel while he waited for the change to green. The brick-and-tile buildings gave way to a vast expanse of green grass and trees bordered by a stone wall. Gill slowed and turned into the park. Cornwall Park.
So much to see and so little time before Seamus returned her to the colony. Resentment fanned to life without warning. It wasn’t fair a male could experience the wonder of Auckland and the towns and countries beyond while she kicked around the colony discussing sewing techniques.
“There she is.” Relief shaded Gill’s voice. “Thank God, she waited. We have to convince her to work with us.”
Seamus cursed. “I thought she’d already agreed.”
“I said she was thinking about it. But we have leverage, so she’ll come round to our way of thinking. Her older brother is doing time for aggravated robbery. She’s stayed out of trouble, but we picked up her younger brother shoplifting for the second time since school let out for holidays. I’ll suggest we help each other.”
“Let’s do it.” Seamus turned to face Aislyn. “Stay in the car. Don’t move.”
Gill shot her a quick, easy grin that warmed her insides. “Have a heart, Seamus. Let the girl get out of the car. This might take a while.”
Seamus’s glare drilled holes, nailing her in place on the backseat. “Follow my orders,” he repeated. “Or I’ll put you over my knee and blister your backside. Clear?”
“Crystal.” Aislyn fired back the glower with every ounce of her Irish temper. She pictured her hands around his neck and ran through her store of rat spells.
Gill shook his head as he climbed from the car. “You need to get laid.”
“None of your business,” Seamus said.
The two men strode over to a massive, sprawling fig tree. A young girl waited by the base of the tree, her hand jerking as she puffed on a cigarette. When the men approached, she blew one last cloud of smoke before tossing the butt on the ground and rubbing it out with her foot.
Aislyn sighed. She wanted to hear the conversation. After all, she was part of the team, or she would be once she started on the job and worked with Seamus. Her hand crept to the door handle. A faint click came when the door opened. Aislyn almost leaped out of her skin at the sound. She cast a guilty glance Seamus’s way. When he continued his conversation, she let the door fall open just to let the fresh air into the car.
Once the door was open, she decided she might as well stretch her legs. They were so much longer than usual. She’d need to keep her circulatory system in tip-top condition. With another glance at Seamus, she stepped from the car.
A gentle breeze tickled her cheek and tossed her corkscrew curls into disarray. She sniffed, trying to identify the strange smells carried in the wind. There were car fumes, the richness of the earth beneath her feet, and a faint whiff of pine and greenery. Mindful of Seamus’s warnings, she checked in both directions and sniffed, trying to discern anything out of the ordinary. Yep, just as she’d thought. Not a thing out of place. Feeling both bold and invincible, she crept toward the two males and the girl. Her black cloak dragged along the dew-covered grass, mopping up water until the bottom six inches was sodden. Aislyn paid no mind, her attention centered on the trio standing by the fig tree.
“We can keep your brother’s record clean, but you have to work with us,” Gill said.
Seamus scowled at the girl. “No point. Gill, we’re wasting our time.”
Aislyn’s mouth dropped on hearing Seamus’s harsh tone. The girl cast a panicked glance at Gill. Why was Seamus speaking to the girl in that manner? She’d never work with them if Seamus treated her this way.
“Seamus, don’t be so hasty,” Gill said. “Elsa wants to help us. Don’t you, Elsa?”
Elsa’s head moved in a jerky nod.
Ah! They were playing a classic good cop, bad cop scenario. Enthralled, Aislyn edged closer, not wanting to miss a word of the technique.
“We can help your brother,” Gill said. “We might even swing a job for the boy to keep him out of mischief. How does that sound, Elsa? A job to help him build pride.”
Elsa nodded again. She fumbled in her jacket pocket and pulled out a packet of cigarettes.
Aislyn tsked under her breath. Didn’t she know those things killed? What was the point of trying to save her brother if she traveled on the path to an early death because she smoked?
“A job sounds good,” Elsa said, her voice low and throaty. “Real good.”
Seamus threw up his arms, snorting his disgust out loud.
Elsa threw him a panicked look and turned to Gill. “Don’t listen to him,” she cried. “Jason is a good boy. He’s fallen in with the wrong crowd. A job might make a difference.” She coughed then brushed a lock of dark hair from her face with a trembling hand. “I’ll do it,” she said. “I’ll help you, Gill, as long as you look out for my brother.”
“Good girl.” Gill’s voice was full of approval. “I’ll give you a cell phone. Ring me when you have something to report. If anyone asks who you’re ringing, tell them I’m your cousin, and I’m watching over your family for you while you’re working on the island.”
“What sort of things do you want to know?” Elsa asked.
“Arrivals. Departures. We need the names of guests staying at the estate, names of visitors from the resort who meet with Maximillan. Watch whenever you can. Tell us everything. We’ll work out what’s important. Can you do that, Elsa?”
“Yes,” she whispered.
“Good girl,” Gill said, and his soft voice stirred the hairs at the back of Aislyn’s neck. Wow, this man was good.
Aislyn imagined him with a haircut and better clothes and nodded. Oh, yeah. He’d do nicely.
A low cry came from the leafy bush, a few feet from where she hid. The leaves trembled at ground level, rustled again, and parted.
“Wow.” With a furtive glance at Seamus, she crept closer to investigate the small fluffy creature that emerged from the bush. She crouched and stretched out one hand in greeting. To her delight, the black and white animal swaggered closer.
“You’re cute,” she cooed. She held her breath, silently urging the creature to step close enough for her to touch. Just as her knees started to protest, the creature strutted up to her, its tail swishing through the air. Then, wonder of wonders, the animal rubbed its fluffy head against her hand. She grinned and sank to the ground, unperturbed by the damp seeping through her cloak.
A gurgle escaped Aislyn when the creature climbed on her lap and nibbled at her arm. She ran her hand over the animal’s soft fur. What was it? They didn’t have them in the colony.
The bush rattled. Two more creatures appeared. Just as cute, but in different colors. They slinked toward her on their bellies. A black and white one leaped at her, landing with a bump, sharp claws extended to catch her cloak.
“Ouch,” she scolded the creature. “That hurts.” When she tried to remove the animal, it bunted her with its head and slid a small pink tongue across her skin. It charmed Aislyn. “I wonder if Seamus will let me take you home with me,” she said, lifting the white one and holding it in front of her face. “I bet all the fairies will want one.”
The roar made her shriek in alarm. The creature hissed and leaped for safety, leaving a track of claw marks across her hand. The animals scuttled into the leafy undergrowth. One glimpse of Seamus’s face made her wish she could follow.
“I told you to stay in the car.” He grasped her hand and hauled her to her feet, the black glower on his face leaving little doubt of his mood.
“I’m sorry.” Aislyn yanked from his touch because she had the urge to step closer. “I wanted to see more.”
“I turn my back for one minute, and you disobey my orders. What was I thinking of bringing you here?” A vein pulsed at his temple.
“I’m sorry. I…I…” she trailed off, unable to put her sense of exhilaration at leaving the colony into words.
Seamus hauled her into a bear hug, holding her so tight she could scarcely draw breath. “If anything happened to you, I’d never forgive myself.”
A surge of intense excitement flared in her, the smoldering flame she saw in his eyes igniting hope.
“I thought you said she was a relation.” Gill’s laconic voice broke the dangerous currents swirling between them.
“She is,” Seamus snapped, loosening his hold.
“I presume it’s the kissing kind.”
Seamus pushed her away, treating her as if she carried a contagious disease. “I’m meant to look after her. She’s not used to the city.” He dragged a hand across his face. “If something happened to her, I’d never hear the end of it.”
Gill sent Aislyn a pitying glance. “Hell, Seamus. Lighten up. Your mystery woman’s tied your good sense into knots. The girl was playing with a few cats, for God’s sake. She wasn’t doing anything wrong.”
Cats? Aislyn peeked at Seamus. “They were cats?” she asked in a hushed voice.
The deep color on his cheekbones highlighted his fury. He folded his arms across his chest. “Oh, yeah, sweetheart. Those cute, cuddly animals were cats. The things you’re allergic to, remember? See the blackbird sitting in the fig tree?”
Aislyn nodded when she spotted the bird.
“Cats hunt birds that size.”
A solid pressure formed in her chest. Her normal size. She swallowed, trying to release the tension choking her throat.
“If I see you within spitting distance of a cat again, I’ll blister your backside so hard it will hurt you to sit for a full week.”
Aislyn’s gaze slid away, guilt making it difficult to maintain eye contact. Now she’d done it. Did this mean she’d miss breakfast and a visit to the Sky Tower?
Chapter 5 coming next Monday