Missed a previous chapter?
Read Chapter 1 here.
Read Chapter 2 here.
Read Chapter 3 here.
Read Chapter 4 here.
Read Chapter 5 here.
Read Chapter 6 here.
Read Chapter 7 here.
Read Chapter 8 here.
Read Chapter 9 here.
Read Chapter 10 here.
Read Chapter 11 here.
Read Chapter 12 here.
Read Chapter 13 here.
Seamus kicked off his sandals and reached for his swim shorts. He glanced at Aislyn, noting a frozen quality about her. Had he upset her? Sometimes he forgot she was unused to the human side.
She stooped to spread her towel on the sand and unfastened her sandals. When she straightened, her hands unbuttoned to the front of her dress. Seamus stilled. She wasn’t…
The dress slid over her shoulders, baring a large expanse of skin to his avid gaze. A quick shimmy of her hips made the dress slither farther, exposing slim, tanned legs before it puddled at her feet in a whisper of fabric.
Seamus swallowed, his gaze caught on the hot pink bikini. He needed to say something, do something instead of standing there like a colossal dummy—a naked dummy. Abruptly he lifted one leg to step into his swim shorts. When he looked up again, he saw Aislyn sprinting toward the sea as if thirty cats chased after her. When she neared the water’s edge, she never hesitated. She dove under a wave and came up swimming.
What the hell? He ran after her, hit the water with a loud splash, and stroked out to sea. With his superior strength, he soon caught her. Breathing easily, he touched her arm to let her know he was alongside. She jerked in fright and floundered, going under the waves.
Seamus snaked out an arm to grab her. She came up spluttering, and he trod water until she caught her breath.
“What did you do that for?”
Seamus couldn’t help noticing the way her chest heaved from her recent exertion. He kicked his feet, moving them inshore until he touched the bottom. “You took off abruptly. I wanted to make sure you were okay.”
“I’m fine. No thanks to you.”
A flash in the trees snagged his attention. “Someone’s watching.”
“How do you know?”
“The sun reflected off his binoculars.” The touch of her sleek skin was driving him crazy, making him think things no betrothed male should consider. Her legs kicked to keep her afloat and, since he still gripped her arms, their bodies brushed, smooth limbs sliding against his legs. Lust struck a blow, and he ached to draw her closer to kiss her.
“Can I look?” Her blue eyes glowed with excitement.
“Not yet.” He hesitated, his gaze drawn to her lips. “We need to reinforce the honeymoon angle.” His conscience shrieked at him, and he cursed, admitting to bad behavior. Unfortunately, he was helpless to halt the slow slide into intimacy. He let the gentle waves jostle their bodies together. As he lowered his head, his heart battered his ribs.
Fool. They stood close enough to convince anyone watching. Kissing wasn’t obligatory. He stared at Aislyn’s pink lips. One taste…then he’d do the right thing and tell her of his betrothal to Renee.
She swallowed, her lashes lowering to screen the secrets swirling through her eyes. With blood roaring through his veins, Seamus gently covered her mouth with his. The soft pliancy of her lips sent a surge of lust to his cock.
She issued a sigh. Her arms snaked around his neck, one hand moving upward to cup the back of his head and pull him closer. Panic roared through him then, his conscience hollering this was wrong even though his lusty body greedily craved more. Before he could retreat, she gripped his shoulders and returned his kiss.
Without volition, he gentled his hold and gave into his desperate need to learn her curves, to commit her body to memory. His lips seared a path across her jaw and down her neck. The saltiness of the water contrasted with the faint scent of apricots.
One kiss wasn’t enough.
The hunger inside him spread to full arousal. He closed his eyes and concentrated on the taste, the scent, the silken feel of her beneath his lips. God, he’d never wanted a woman like this. Ever.
He tried to remind himself of the reasons to stop. His betrothal. He owed his loyalty to the colony and had to consider their future. Aislyn was his best friend’s sister. He’d promised to look after her—not seduce her.
“Seamus,” she whispered.
He traced a fingertip across her bottom lip. His gaze dropped to her breasts, straining against bright pink material. They rose and fell with each breath. The yearning to proceed was a hunger inside, slow and insidious.
“Touch me. Please, Seamus.”
His gaze shot back to her face. He swallowed, his hands clenching convulsively on her upper arms. “I… It’s wrong, Aislyn. We shouldn’t do this.”
Her breasts abraded his chest when she drew a deep breath. “Why? How can this be wrong when we both want the same thing?”
“We’re working. We’re not here to enjoy ourselves. And Duncan will kill me.” His mouth twisted in the parody of a grin. “You know I’m right.”
“I’m sick of you flinging Duncan’s name at me. I’m not a fairling any longer.”
The constant waves nudged their bodies together, making it difficult for him to concentrate. He should tell Aislyn about Renee. If he explained he was Guardian, Aislyn would understand.
A lone gull wheeled overhead, screeching in its search for food.
He was tired of his Guardian position, of the duties the office imposed. For once, he’d like to do something purely for selfish reasons.
“Please,” she whispered. “For once, I want something for myself.”
For an instant, he stared. Of all the words to choose, she’d picked the ones to duplicate his thoughts.
They both wanted a relationship without the ties of duty and loyalty.
“Seamus?” Her hands caressed his shoulders and trailed across his chest. His pulse jolted, and a groan escaped as the fight bled out of him. He hauled her against his chest and put his heart into a kiss.
Aislyn wondered if Seamus would feel her desperation. Her body knew what she wanted, even if her mind hadn’t caught up with the play. His hands smoothed over her arms and wandered down to cup her buttocks. A shudder worked through her when their lower bodies caressed. Although she hadn’t done this before, she’d attended sex education classes at college and knew what to expect. He desired her as much as she wanted him. Her breasts ached, and only his touch assuaged the persistent throb.
He pulled away, an anguished expression on his face. “I’m sorry, but I can’t—” He broke off. “I need to contact Gill.” He swam to shore without glancing back.
The ache in her chest intensified at the rejection.
A lone tear trickled from one eye, and she brushed it away before swimming to shore. Fergus still wanted to marry her. Jacob had asked her out on a date. The minute she returned to Auckland, she’d ring Gary’s cousin and accept.
When she reached the shallow water, she stood. A flash from the trees over to the right snagged her attention. When she walked closer, she glimpsed the edge of a building. Watson’s cabin?
Aislyn dragged herself up the beach and stooped for her towel. After shaking the sand-free, she wrapped it around her body to stave off the chill—a bone-deep chill that emphasized her loneliness.
Seamus yanked on his clothes, heedless of the droplets of water still coating his skin. Fool. After tugging on his sandals, he hurried along the beach and up the sloping path, desperate to put distance between him and Aislyn. He needed to contact Gill but not so urgently he couldn’t have done it later.
Needing privacy to gather his thoughts, he stopped by the cabin to grab the car keys and his cell phone before hurrying from the resort. Fifteen minutes later, he drove along the main street of the small township of Coromandel. After parking, he punched in Gill’s number and waited for his partner to answer. He tried not to think of Aislyn, her hurt expression.
“It’s me,” Seamus said tersely.
A few beats of silence played out. “Aislyn giving you problems?”
“This is nothing to do with Aislyn.”
“Why don’t you sleep with the girl?”
Seamus gritted his teeth. “I can’t.”
“I’m engaged.” The instant he spoke, Seamus wanted to create a magic spell to snatch the words back. As Guardian, he possessed the power, but it probably wasn’t ethical to mess with his partner.
“Since when? Who’s the lucky lady?”
“The marriage is an arranged one.”
“Fuck. When do I get to meet her?”
Never. Renee wouldn’t leave the colony to come to the human side. Not something he could discuss with Gill. “Renee will arrive in two weeks. She’s staying with friends.”
“What will you do about Aislyn?”
“I didn’t ring to discuss my love life. We’ve located Watson. He’s in the cabin nearest the beach. We need someone to watch the shoreline. It’s too easy for a boat to moor at night. They could hit one of the offshore islands, and we’d be none the wiser.”
“We’re short of manpower as usual.”
“Aislyn and I will monitor things as best we can. Any news your end?”
“Someone hit Little Barrier Island last night. The tuatara they keep there has vanished, and the DOC. guys think they’re missing a kakapo chick.”
Seamus cursed. “How the fuck did they learn the chicks were there? It’s not public knowledge. The media reported their transfer to Maud Island.”
“Don’t know, bud. We’re doing our best to contain the situation.”
Gill laughed. “Probably doesn’t help with the gorgeous Aislyn sharing a room?”
“Can it,” Seamus snarled. “I’ll check in on Thursday unless we have a problem.” He disconnected the call, even more unsettled than before. Damn, Gill. They’d been friends for too long.
Seamus rubbed his face and groaned out loud. There were only 86 of the native parrots in existence. The country couldn’t afford the loss of even one. Now they knew Watson was a competitor in the scavenger hunt, they needed to keep him under surveillance.
He parked the car and strode through reception to reach their cabin. “Aislyn, I’m back.”
“Up here, Seamus.”
Half expecting anger, relief filled him when she replied. He jogged up the stairs and into the large double bedroom.
The view of the Hauraki Gulf was stunning, but it didn’t hold his attention. His gaze zapped straight to Aislyn, who reclined in the middle of a king-size bed.
“What have you been doing?” He neared the bed with caution, eyeing the green robe that clung to her curves.
Aislyn’s blue eyes shimmered with excitement.
Seamus tensed. What the devil had the girl been up to now?
“I met John Watson.”
“You what?” Seamus collapsed onto the corner of the bed, his legs trembling. “When?”
“After you left, I sunbathed until I dried off, then walked back to the cabin. I encountered him on the path.”
“Don’t tell me you talked to him? Did he recognize you?”
“Yeah, I spoke with him. What did you want me to do? Tell him, oops, you’re Mr. Watson. I’m not supposed to talk to you. Don’t you think that might have raised a few questions?”
Seamus wanted to grin, but he needed to show Aislyn that taking part in this investigation meant teamwork. It was dangerous for her to question Watson on her own. “Cut the sass, sweetheart. This is serious. If he has ties with Maximillan, he’s capable of anything, including murder.”
“He spoke to me first. When I heard his accent, I asked where he came from.”
She’d caught the sun today. Her nose was pink, and he’d swear there were more freckles than usual. She was damn fidgety. She hadn’t told him everything yet and positively vibrated with importance. “And?” he asked in a soft voice.
“We chatted about England, and he invited me for a drink.”
“You said no.” Even though he had no rights with Aislyn, jealousy flared in response.
“I told him yes.”
His mouth worked, but not a sound emerged. He stared in disbelief. Hadn’t Aislyn listened to a word of his lecture during the drive from Auckland?
Seamus leaped to his feet and started to pace. It was that or wringing her neck to release his building tension. No wonder the board had jumped at his solution. They’d wanted to be rid of the responsibility for her. “Would you care to explain what transpired during your talk with John Watson?”
Aislyn narrowed her eyes, and her exuberant air deflated. Her chin shot up in belligerence. “I told you. We talked about England—”
“Tell me about meeting him.” Seamus rubbed his temple, feeling the onset of a headache.
“He asked me out for a drink. I told him I was married.” She waved her left hand in the air and wriggled her fingers to show Seamus the gold wedding band she wore. The ring glittered in the afternoon sun, the weight on his finger a reminder of the matching band on his left hand.
“He said that didn’t matter.”
“Dirty old leech.” Seamus hated hearing that. He couldn’t believe Aislyn would be so gullible. “I hope you told him to get lost.”
“Will you let me speak?” Aislyn snapped. “Are you finished? Can I speak?”
“Someone should’ve disciplined you more when you were younger.”
“And spanked me?” Aislyn asked, her tone sugary sweet.
Seamus took two steps toward the bed. “It’s not too late for someone to take you in hand, sweetheart.”
“Is that a threat?”
Seamus gritted his teeth. “Why don’t you tell me what you told him?”
“I told him I was married, and he suggested we both go along for drinks. I thought you’d want to meet him in person. We’re due at his cabin at six-thirty for drinks and canapés.” Her blue eyes glinted with a challenge. “Did I do good or what?”
“You did well.” His tone sounded grudging.
Aislyn preened. “I know.”
“But you’re still a little baggage.” And I should put you over my knee except I don’t trust myself to touch you.
“What are we doing for the rest of the week? Are we going to keep watch at night?”
Aislyn’s questions reminded him of the missing kakapo chick. “It appears as if one of the scavenger hunt competitors stole a kakapo chick from Little Barrier Island. The DOC staff noticed the chick missing during routine checks yesterday.”
“Can a chick live without the parents? I know little about kakapo or any of the birds on the human side.” Aislyn gestured at the book lying face down beside her on the bed. “Don’t say more reading. I’m doing so much reading my eyes will turn square.”
“Here’s a summary. Kakapos are a parrot. They are nocturnal and aren’t big on flying, so they’re susceptible to predators. They were thought extinct, but in 1952, the birds were rediscovered. DOC captured the known birds and placed them on pest-free off-shore islands in the hope they’ll breed. The numbers increased to 86 this year.” Seamus felt his mouth tighten. “85 now that one is missing.”
“And if we let the rest of the competitors bag a chick each, the kakapo will be extinct in no time.”
“The only good thing I can say about the competition is they specified a live chick, which gives the competitors an incentive to look after the birds. They’ll need incubators to keep them alive.”
“Can we get leads on the people who’ve purchased incubators?”
“Probably wouldn’t help since they’re used in the poultry business.”
Aislyn frowned. “They’ve got to keep the birds somewhere, that lizard thing too.”
“The maid service might notice a bird or a lizard in a guest’s bedroom.”
“There are lots of vacation cottages for rent around the Auckland area. Waiheke Island would be ideal. Lots of the properties have private jetties.”
“So it’s like looking for a needle in Murphy’s haystack. Nigh on impossible.”
“Did Gill have any information for us?”
Oh, yeah. Seamus wished she hadn’t asked. “I’ll call him in two days. Sooner if we have anything to report.”
Aislyn wriggled around to find a more comfortable position on the bed.
Seamus averted his gaze but not before her silky green robe gaped to reveal a glimpse of creamy curves.
“How do we handle the visit to John Watson’s cabin?”
“Let me do the talking. I don’t want you within ten feet of the man.”
When he found his eyes straying to the neckline of her robe for the second time, his humor dissipated. He needed a distraction. For a few brief seconds, he thought about Renee. He should tell Aislyn, but pure selfishness made him hesitate. He wanted to enjoy her company, her sense of humor, even if she drove him mad and tested his reserves of willpower.
“So, you want me for decorative purposes?”
“That’s right.” He’d finally got through to her.
“Okay,” she said. “I can do decorative.”
Come back next Monday to read the following chapter.