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Monday, January 13th, 2020
The Adventures of Aislyn O’Sullivan – Chapter 11

The Adventures of Aislyn O'Sullivan

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.

Chapter 11

A pile of papers plopped onto the top of Aislyn’s overflowing in-basket. She grimaced. “More?”

Gary’s grin held sympathy. “Afraid so.”

A heartfelt sigh escaped. The flood of papers pumped out by the police department seemed never-ending. And for some insane reason, Aislyn needed to study each one and attach a rubber stamp before burying the pages inside filing cabinets. She jerked her gaze from the offending papers. “Please remind me why I wanted to join the fairy force.”

“You wanted adventure.”

“Exactly.” Frowning at her right hand, she leaned back in her chair until it squeaked a protest. “Not a mass of paper cuts.”

A distinct rustle had a frown sprinting across Gary’s face. “Ah, girlfriend, whatever do you have in that bag?”

“My lunch. Why?” Aislyn bolted upright.

Gary shook his head, and the beads he’d had woven into the long extensions the day before clacked together in a musical tinkle. “Because whatever you brought for lunch today is still on the hoof. Probably objects to being the dish-of-the-day.”

Aislyn followed Gary’s gaze and gasped when her bag inched across the linoleum floor.

“What do you need such a big bag for, anyway? Do you have money to burn?”

“I wish. Things are expensive human side.”

“I hear you,” Gary said. “But that doesn’t answer my question.” He stepped behind Aislyn when her bag shot another three inches across the floor. “Why is your lunch moving?”

“Coward. You’re bigger than me, and you’re frightened of a bag.”

“Ain’t my bag moving,” Gary pointed out.

“True.” Aislyn stood and stole stealthily toward her bag. Just as she reached for it and her hand touched the bright red elephant appliqué on the side, the bag wriggled. The contents rattled.

Gary jumped back a foot. “Shoot it,” he ordered. “Where’s your gun? Shoot it.”

Aislyn rolled her eyes. “Good idea, Gary. My gun is inside the bag.”

His beads clacked in agitation. “Your gun? With your lunch?”

“Yeah.”

“Oh, man. I think we’re in trouble.”

Aislyn snorted at his theatrics. “Come here and help me.”

Ah-ha. Not me.” Gary folded his arms across his skinny chest. “I’m staying right here behind the desk.”

“Coward.”

“Better a live coward than a dead hero.”

Amid their argument, the bag emitted a soft sigh.

“Whoa! Did you hear that?” Gary’s eyes bulged. “Your bag is haunted.”

“More likely, a recruit has somehow put a spell on it.” Aislyn seized her bag and shook it. The closing flap flew open, and a small furry beast leaped out.

“A cat,” Gary said with a squeak.

The half-grown creature sprang on top of Aislyn’s in-basket and balanced precariously on the pile of papers. The black cat glared at them with huge orange eyes.

“I thought I heard a noise before,” Aislyn said.

Gary approached the desk, eyeing the cat with misgiving. “I thought you were meant to test the anti-cat remedies, not attract the wee beasties.”

As they glared at each other, the cat slid off the mountain of papers. Clawed feet scrambled for traction, and papers flew into the air, scattering in all directions.

“This is the cat I saw in the alley last week. I’ve no idea how it got inside my bag.”

“You’d better get rid of the beast before the boss arrives.” When Aislyn bent to pick up the cat, Gary seized her forearm. “Wait! I have a better idea. Why don’t you try out one of the anti-cat remedies on it? You said you couldn’t find any cats for your experiments. The fluffy black thing there is your opportunity.”

“The remedies are back at the hostel.”

“Take the beast home with you.”

“Seamus won’t like it.”

Gary’s brows shot upward. “Since when do Seamus’s finer feelings worry you? I thought you lived to rile him.”

Aislyn studied the cat. It was calmly grooming itself. Gary might have a point. The supply of cats in the middle of a city was something the board hadn’t taken into account. “Good idea, but where do I stash him? I can’t keep a cat here because Seamus will notice. I can’t take him back to the hostel because those stupid recruits will tell tales.”

“Easy. Smuggle the cat in and out of the hostel in your bag, and at the weekends, when you need to test your potions, you can bunk at my flat. Or…” He scratched his chin. “Why don’t you get your own flat? That way you won’t have to put up with the bozos at the hostel, you can keep the cat and test your potions with no one else being the wiser.”

“I don’t have enough money—”

“Gary! Where the devil are you?”

“Oops, the boss hails. I’d better find out what he wants.” Beads clacked as Gary sauntered toward Seamus’s roar.

“You’d better do something with the cat before Seamus freaks.”

“Gary!”

“In here, boss.”

Aislyn scooped up the cat and thrust him back into her bag. She shoved the bag under her desk out of sight.

“Why didn’t you answer me? Aislyn, haven’t you finished the paperwork yet? We don’t pay you to sit around. Gary, I want a fairy force meeting scheduled for this evening. Do you have questions before Gill arrives? Good, I need the Scavenger Hunt file. I want to study the info again.” He dragged a hand through his dark unruly hair, and Aislyn noticed his exhaustion with a trace of concern. If this was a sample of his workload, no wonder he didn’t spend much time at the colony.

Seamus stared at the desk. “I’ve a niggling feeling I’ve missed something. I want to go through the file again. Now.”

The last thundered word made Aislyn jump.

“Hell’s teeth, what are you waiting for?” He stormed into his adjoining office, the slam of the door summing up his mood.

Gary exhaled loudly. “Whew. I thought he’d sensed the cat for a moment there.”

“I do not have a crush on that man,” Aislyn said, her tone crisp and concise.

“Neither do I,” Gary added with feeling.

A slow clap of applause sounded, and they both whirled to face the newcomer. Gill grinned, his brown eyes alight with silent laughter. “I’m pleased to hear it. I’m sure the news will please Seamus too.”

“You did not hear our conversation,” Aislyn said.

Gary’s hair beads clacked in agitation. “We were having a private discussion.”

Gill chuckled, and the sound wasn’t reassuring. “Of course, it’s my business. Seamus is my best friend.” He laughed and entered Seamus’s office. The thud of the door closing again chopped off the mocking sound.

Aislyn glared at the door. “Are you sure we can’t use magic on the human side? The pair of them are crying out for a sneaky spell to teach them a lesson.”

Gary sniffed. “I hear you. Your bag is on the move again.”

Aislyn shunted her bag under her desk with a gentle sweep of her foot. “I’ll take the cat back to my room during my lunch break. I’ll buy a paper too and start searching for a flat. Even sharing a flat would be better than the hostel.”

Gary left, and Aislyn started on the paperwork again, after sorting the papers the cat had dislodged. A loud huff of exasperation emerged when she picked up a form in triplicate.

Boring. Boring. Boring.

This wasn’t what she envisaged before she left the colony.

And the way Seamus hovered like a clucky hen was driving her insane. Nuts. Batty. All the above. She couldn’t move without tripping over the bad-tempered male. His mood had jammed in grumpy, and his mouth set in a permanent frown. One black scowl and everyone fled.

Aislyn frowned. Tomorrow her first report on the anti-cat measures was due, and she hadn’t tested a thing. She smoothed her shoe over the red elephant on her bag. “You, my little furry friend, are a savior. Gary’s right. I’ll take you home and start tests straight away.”

* * * * *

The alarm chirped. Aislyn groaned and slapped at the clock. The noise continued—loud, piercing, and annoying. Aislyn lifted her head from the pillow and remembered she’d stashed the clock across the other side of the room.

With a loud groan, she crawled from the warmth of her bed, knocking a book of spells to the floor. During the night, the cat had curled up against her back, and he grumbled at the rude awakening.

“Do you think I’m happy about getting out of bed?” Goosebumps sprang to life on her bare arms and legs as she hurried across the dark green carpet to shut off the pesky alarm. “Next, you’ll want breakfast.”

The cat stirred at the mention of food. It bounded off the blue fleece blankets and jumped to the floor to stretch lazily. Exercise completed, he padded over to Aislyn and rubbed against her legs.

“Shower first,” Aislyn said. “Then I’ll find something for breakfast. Tomorrow, we can move into our new flat, and we can keep our food handy instead of trekking to the ground floor for sustenance.”

Aislyn yanked a faded floral dressing gown from the back of the wooden door, grabbed her towel and toilet bag, and headed for the female shower block. Two women leaned against the wall, waiting for their turn. Aislyn attached to the end of the line, and stared straight ahead, pleased no one expected scintillating conversation. She stared out the dusty third-floor window and noticed the streetlights still glowed. The gloom of the early morning, combined with the wisps of fog made the narrow street outside the hostel forbidding and unwelcoming. Aislyn stirred herself when the line moved.

“O’Sullivan,” a masculine voice roared along the passage.

Aislyn straightened from her slouch, her heart upping its tempo. Maybe it was work—a case. “Yeah?”

“Phone.”

Rats, the call was probably a furtive message from her mother or Seamus with another lecture. Sighing, Aislyn yielded her place in the line and went to answer the summons.

“Aislyn.”

“Hell’s teeth. Does it take that long to answer the phone? Why don’t you get a mobile?”

Irritation sliced through her along with something else more complicated and confusing—an emotion that cropped up a lot where Seamus was concerned. If he hated her presence in Auckland, why did he keep bothering her? If he’d leave her alone, she’d get over the unhealthy crush she harbored for him. She could consign the trembling hands, uneasy belly, and the heat that made her heart pound, to the past.

She rubbed her arm and pressed harder when the itching continued.

“Have you taken your pill?”

His voice, although harsh, sent yearning throbbing through her body. She swallowed and hoped she didn’t give herself away. “I’ve just climbed out of bed. Give me a chance.”

“I’ll be there in five minutes.”

“But—” A loud click signified the five-minute countdown had commenced. Bother the man. If he thought she intended to miss her shower because of his visit, he could think again. Aislyn stomped back up the stairs and joined the line of five women waiting for their turn in the showers.

Half an hour later, showered and dressed in black jeans and a pale green T-shirt, Aislyn hurried back to her room, her damp curls swinging around her face. Seamus pushed away from the wall outside her door, his scowl making her mutter under her breath.

“I’ve been waiting for twenty minutes.”

“I’m here now.” Aislyn silently counted to ten. It was the kid-sister syndrome over again. The kiss in the elevator was a figment of her fertile imagination. “What’s so important it couldn’t wait until I arrived at work on Monday?”

“I have to leave for a while.”

Aislyn lowered her voice. “The colony?”

“For part of the time, but the rest of the week, Gill and I are visiting Little Barrier Island to help with security. Aren’t you going to ask me in? I’ve brought breakfast.” He held up a bag from Peter’s Bakery.

Why wouldn’t he look at her? She opened her door and halted. The cat—he’d see the cat.

“Aislyn, we can’t talk out here. I need to tell you something.” Once again, his gaze wandered across the top of her head before skittering away to study the pale yellow walls.

His mind was set—the stubborn set of his jaw told her that. Silently, she opened the door and stood aside to let him enter.

Seamus prowled straight across to the single window in the room and pushed back the torn net to peer at the street below. Aislyn shut the door, dumped her dressing gown and toilet bag on the bed, and waited for an explosion.

The cat padded from under the bed, swishing its black tail. It stilled on seeing Seamus and sat back on its haunches. “Meow.”

Seamus whirled. He took one look and speared her with a scowl so black she thought he’d blow a blood vessel. “Have you taken leave of your senses?” His quiet voice sliced through the air with the preciseness of a surgeon’s knife.

“Have you taken your pill?” Aislyn retreated two steps before she realized she’d moved. Halting abruptly, she reclaimed the space she’d yielded. “If it’s the weekend, Gary rings me at eight in the morning. During the week, I take my pill when I arrive at work. I’m following procedure. It’s not eight o’clock yet.”

“A cat is sitting by your bed. If I look under the bed, will there be one there too? Or behind the door?”

Aislyn sniffed and settled her butt on the only chair in her room. “Did you come to harangue me or to bring
breakfast?”

“There’s a cat in your room.”

“I heard you the first time. Do I get breakfast or not?”

Seamus eyed the cat with distaste and crossed the room to sit at the end of the bed. “The cat is dangerous.”

Aislyn gaped at Seamus. If she stood and walked to the bed, she could join him. They could sprawl together, remove their clothes. Wrap their arms around each other. Naked skin. Kissing. Hot, fiery sex. She swallowed, the sharp meow from her cat interrupting her steamy yearnings. The feline arched his back and glared at Seamus with his orangey eyes.

She bit back the urge to chuckle. “Seamus, you’re overreacting.” She glanced at him and rose to her feet. “Joe is scarcely bigger than one of your hands.”

 

“That’s not the point.” Seamus tucked his trembling hands out of sight and scowled at the cat. It was safer if he concentrated on the animal because Aislyn presented a hell of a temptation in her tight T-shirt and form-fitting jeans. The itch to run his hands through her copper curls and kiss the pale skin at her nape was driving him crazy.

Seamus shuffled uncomfortably, willing the blood from his cock. A week away from Aislyn would do him good. He forced his lungs to expand with fresh air and only succeeded in drawing the essence of apricots and Aislyn into his befuddled brain.

“Is there a reason you have a cat?” There, that was better. He’d sounded reasonable instead of deranged and cranky.

“The cat followed me,” Aislyn said. “Then I realized he was the answer to my problem.”

“What problem?” Damn, she shouldn’t look at him like that. One glance from her innocent blue eyes, and he wanted to lay another kiss on her and damn the consequences. Instead, he grabbed the bag of donuts and shoved them at her.

“Joe is the first cat I’ve seen since I arrived. I need cats to test the anti-cat remedies.”

Good point. He wanted to laugh, but his mouth was full of donut. After chewing, he swallowed. “I don’t think anyone contemplated the problem of finding cats in a city.” Even though the first sighting of Joe scared him to death, he was proud of her ingenuity. “How are the anti-cat remedies working out?”

“The one I tested yesterday made both of us sneeze.”

Seamus leaned forward, interested despite his concerns for her safety. “Did you follow the instructions?”

“See the fat book over there, the one keeping my dresser level? That’s the list of instructions and the tests the inventor wants me to run on this one anti-cat remedy. I followed the instructions in the first two chapters, and, apart from violent sneezing, not a thing happened.”

“Have a donut,” Seamus said. “I thought you’d have coffee up here. Pretty small room.”

“Yes.”

When she reached for the bag, her shirt rode higher. His pulse ratcheted upward on seeing the two inches of pale flesh. Man, he was one sad puppy.

“I spilled some of the potion when I sneezed. The liquid splashed my arm, and now I have a rash.”

Glad to focus elsewhere, he studied the angry red marks on her forearm. “Send the potion back to the inventor.”

“I haven’t finished the tests. Murphy said—”

“The potion is useless if it causes sneezes and brings you out in a rash. Fill out the report, and I’ll take the lot back with me this afternoon. I’ll speak to Murphy. Did you want to go anywhere? I’ll drive you.” While Seamus waited for her to answer, he tried not to think about his real reason for visiting the colony. Today he’d make his final decision on a wife and send off the contracts. The board expected him to make the official announcement this week.

“Thanks, but I want to walk to the Domain today. Joe and I will conduct a test in the park.

Seamus nodded and stood, her refusal feeling like a rejection. He knew he was lying to himself. He had it bad for Aislyn O’Sullivan, and the knowledge his betrothal to another woman was mere hours away was slashing his heart in two.

* * * * *

A man and woman filed into John Watson’s penthouse suite on the top floor of the Metropolis Hotel in High Street, Auckland.

John remained by the picture window, staring at the view of Rangitoto Island until the shuffling of chair indicated they were seated. Not a trace of impatience showed on his face. He’d learned long ago as a child, emotions made a man weak. These days he wielded the knowledge as a weapon to aid his cause.

He turned to face his visitors. “Tell Major he can come out now.”

His beefy assistant inclined his head and withdrew. Another man joined the group. He was the spitting image of the man already seated.

Watson allowed a pleased smile to flit across his face. His assistant had done well—very well.

“Good. Everyone is here.” Watson limped behind a solid kauri desk and sat on the large leather chair. “I want a progress report,” he said.

The woman cleared her throat. “We have collected several items on the list. I’ve arranged shipment to the central judging point on the island.”

“Security?” Watson scrutinized the woman. Early thirties. Dressed in a classic style—smart but not flashy. Efficient, according to the references his assistant had provided. Good at her job but not flexible enough to bend the rules. She was balking at the native animals.

The woman consulted a clipboard and named a reputable company with branches worldwide. John gestured for her to continue with her report.

“We’ve collected the bottle of wine, the Penny Black stamp, and the sapphire.”

Watson leaned back in the swivel chair. That was all? Three lousy items? What the fuck was he paying these people for?

The woman faltered under his disapproval. “The competition has strict rules. It’s difficult to collect fifteen rare items with only three people allowed on each team.”

“Why do you think I specified twins? Your job is to coordinate. The scavenger hunt started last week, and we have three items. Pathetic. I intend to win this competition. Do you understand?”

The men stared straight ahead with impassive expressions. A flash of unease flickered across the woman’s features. She caught her bottom lip between white teeth. A replacement. No time for deadwood on his team—not if he intended to win. Employing the woman had been a mistake.

He would rectify the error.

“Right,” he said to the woman. “Go to the central judging point and organize suitable storage for each item. Stay there to liaise with security. I want you to check in each item when it arrives.”

“Who will organize the collecting?”

“I’ll assemble the necessary items,” John said. “Thank you. That will be all.”

“But—”

John eyed the woman, letting his distaste show. “Go.”

She clambered to her feet, glancing over her shoulder once as she left the room.

John steepled his hands in front of him and surveyed the two men. In their mid-twenties, they appeared capable of carrying out the duties he required of them. Both trained in the forces, they now sold their skills to the highest bidder. They were his backup plan. His primary strategy should come to fruition soon.

“I want you to fly to London to liaise with my people. Collect the items required and bring them back personally. I don’t care how you obtain them. Don’t return without the goods. Understand?”

“Yes, sir.”

“Understood, sir.”

John nodded in approval. “Check with my assistant on the way out. He’ll give you your flight documentation. You’re on separate flights, so you don’t attract attention.”

The two men stood and left the room. John heard the soft murmur of voices as Morgan gave them relevant instructions. While he waited for his assistant’s return, he planned the rest of the week.

Revenge would need to wait a little longer.

John drummed his fingers on the glossy top of the wooden desk and picked up the phone to make a call.

“Rick? John Watson here. I need you to do a job for me.” He listened to the man for an instant. “Cash. Half now and the rest once I’m satisfied the job is completed. It should take three days. A week at the most. My assistant will meet you at DeBretts with instructions. You remember Morgan? Is that acceptable? Excellent. Good doing business with you.” John replaced the phone before standing and crossing to the bank of windows.

That was one loose end snipped. Now it was time for a reunion with his stepbrother. After all, he’d been in New Zealand for a week now. It’d be rude not to look up his only surviving family member.

Without volition, John’s hand lifted to his face. He stroked the scar that slashed the length of his cheek. His smile held little amusement.

I wonder if Maximillan knows I’m here.

He limped back to the desk to reach for the phone. About time he made his presence known. Tomorrow, he’d move over to the island, and with a bit of luck, brother Maximillan would invite him to stay at the estate, which would bring him right into the thick of the action.

The island was the perfect place to launch his assault.

* * * * *

“Aislyn.” Gary’s whisper held a sibilant, secretive undertone.

After dropping her purple pen on the desktop and flexing her fingers, she glanced at the doorway where Gary hovered. “Don’t tell me you have more paperwork? It’s late—way past time to go home.”

“Nope, something better. I wanted to check you were alone.” He scurried through the doorway and shut the door behind him. “I have a young lady in my office. She asked to speak to Seamus or Gill. It’s something to do with their current case. I thought you could talk to her.”

“Me?” Aislyn’s eyes widened.

“I’m administration,” Gary said. “I don’t think I should talk to her, but you’re classified as fairy force.”

A vision of Seamus roared through her mind with all the finesse of a freight truck. He’d be furious, yet temptation stayed her protest. It couldn’t hurt to talk to the woman.

She tossed the pros and cons briefly. Sanity prevailed. “She should come back next week.”

“Talk to the woman. This paperwork won’t disappear.”

Aislyn stared at Gary, about to tell him he was crazy. Then the siren lure of the forbidden whispered in her ear. Gary was right. If she didn’t grasp the opportunities presented to her, she’d end up old and gray and still pushing paper around a desk.

“Show her in here.” As she issued instructions, Aislyn shoved her papers in her desk drawer.

Gary hurried out to show the woman in. Aislyn dug through the mess left on her desktop for a jotter pad. Nerves quaked inside her stomach, but anticipation counteracted the worst of her anxiety. At last, she was doing something concrete to help with Seamus’s case.

After a brief tap on her door, Gary ushered the woman inside. Although she accepted the seat he offered, the woman perched on the edge, as if she’d bolt at any second. Her smart black suit bore splotches of mud and her pale shirt showed through a rip on the right sleeve near her elbow. Pansy-colored shadows under her eyes indicated a lack of sleep and fine stress lines bracketed her lips.

Determined to put the woman at ease, Aislyn stepped around the corner of her desk and stretched out her hand in greeting. “Hello, I’m Aislyn O’Sullivan.”

The woman hesitated. “Gina. Gina Wilkins. I wanted to see Mr. Gallagher.”

“I’m his assistant,” Aislyn said, giving herself a large promotion without blinking an eye. She stepped back until her butt leaned against the desk. “His second-in-command.”

“Someone is trying to kill me,” the woman blurted.

“Kill you?”

Gina glanced over her shoulder as if she feared someone would overhear her confession. She swallowed. “Yesterday when I was waiting at the traffic lights to cross from one side of Queen Street to the other, someone shoved me off the footpath into the path of an oncoming bus.” The woman shuddered. “Somehow the driver managed to stop.”

“Are you sure? Could it have been an accident?”

“That’s what I thought at first, but a woman saw the man push me off the sidewalk. Tonight, when I was boarding the ferry to cross the harbor to Devonport, a man shoved me over the side of the wharf just as the ferry moved.” The little color remaining in Gina’s face bled away when she spoke of the incident. “I grabbed the railing and glimpsed a man wearing a hat before the crew came to my aid.”

Caught up in the drama of Gina’s story, Aislyn’s heartbeat raced. “Did you see his face? Did you recognize him?”

“It was getting dark. And he wore a baseball cap pulled low over his face. He looked familiar, but I can’t place where I’ve seen the man before.”

“Can you think of anyone who has a grudge against you?”

Gina shook her head.

“Who do you work for?”

“I’m not meant to tell anyone.” She chewed on her bottom lip, her blue eyes surveying Aislyn with doubt. “I signed a confidentiality clause. It was a condition of my employment—I can’t say who I’m working for or talk to anyone about my duties.”

“Didn’t that strike you as strange?” Aislyn demanded.

Gina’s eyes narrowed. “I do nothing illegal.” Her back straightened, her fearful demeanor replaced by indignation.

“Why the secrecy?” Something in the woman’s expression suggested illegalities were part of the equation, even if she didn’t take part.

“I don’t know.”

“I can’t help if you won’t tell me anything.”

“Seamus will help me,” the woman said.

This time Aislyn’s eyes narrowed. “How do you know Seamus?”

“He’s friends with my sister. I’ve met him twice.”

“Seamus is away for the rest of the week.” Jealousy clawed at Aislyn. “You can wait until he returns.”

“I need help now.” Gina closed her eyes and opened them to stare at Aislyn. “Do you promise not to repeat this to anyone, if I tell you about my job?”

“Just Seamus.”

“Fine. It’s not as if I’ll keep the job for much longer. My boss is less than impressed with my results.” She paused. “He’s an Englishman called John Watson. He’s a collector, and my job is to help him add to his artifacts while he’s visiting New Zealand.”

“What sort of things does he collect?”

“The list is a weird assortment of things ranging from jewelry to clothes to birds and animals. Endangered animals,” she said, color coursing along her pale cheeks.

Gary burst into the office carrying a tray with three cups. “Did you say endangered animals? Carry on,” he said taking a chair right next to Aislyn. “I’m all ears.”

“And mouth as well,” Aislyn said drily. “What do you think this man is up to?”

“I know what he’s up to,” Gary said. “It must tie into Seamus’s latest case. We should contact Seamus and Gill and stash Gina somewhere safe until they can talk to her.”

“Seamus told me I couldn’t contact him.” Aislyn turned back to Gina. “Where is John Watson staying?”

“He has a suite at Metropolis.”

“What does he look like?”

“He’s not tall, maybe a little taller than me. Say around five-eight or nine, he dresses in Italian suits. He has short-cropped gray hair and a scar down one side of his face. His eyes are pale blue and shaking his hand is like touching a wet fish.”

“He should be easy enough to find him if he’s at Metropolis. Do you have somewhere you can stay, Gina?”

“I can stay with my friend, Lucy.”

Gary stood. “I’ll go to find some clothes for you—a disguise. Hopefully, we can fool anyone who is watching for you.” He hurried from the office.

“What are you going to do?” Gina asked.

“We’ll report to Seamus as soon as he returns.” Aislyn hoped like heck she didn’t look as though she was lying through her teeth.

“I’ve found clothes for you,” Gary said, holding up a pair of jeans, an ugly gray jacket and a navy-blue hat. “The jeans will be too big, but Seamus has a tie in his drawer for formal occasions. You can borrow it as a belt to hold up the jeans.”

Five minutes later, Aislyn ushered Gina out a side door of the police station.

“Do you see anyone familiar?” she asked. “What about that man standing over by the Post Office?”

“I’ve never seen him before.”

“Let’s walk up to the corner and catch the Link bus. We can get off opposite TwoDoubleSeven in Newmarket.”

Gina gave a wan smile. “Lucy’s flat is five minutes walk from there.”

“Good,” Aislyn said, grabbing Gina by the arm. “If we hurry, you’ll arrive at your friend’s house in no time. No one is taking any notice of us.” The words sounded sincere or at least she hoped they did. Aislyn hated the way the spot right in the middle of her back prickled. Once they exited the bus, Aislyn hastened her pace, dragging Gina after her. “Which street? This one?”

Gina glanced over her shoulder. “Is someone following?”

Aislyn didn’t answer, instead picking up her speed even more. She couldn’t see anyone behind them either, but her gut told her otherwise.

Come back on Monday to read the next chapter.

Monday, January 6th, 2020
The Adventures of Aislyn O’Sullivan – Chapter 10

The Adventures of Aislyn O'Sullivan

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.

Chapter 10

“Sorry, I took so long.” Aislyn flew into Gary’s office, the breeze she created, sending several papers fluttering from their neat piles. “I missed the bus.”

Gary slapped his hand on the closest pile of papers. “Too busy gawking, huh?”

Shame-faced, she nodded. “Something like that. What do you want me to do?”

“I’m checking through the missing person’s files we collected earlier.”

Aislyn accepted the file he handed her and plonked onto an upright chair. She wriggled her bottom to the edge and placed her feet on the nearby two-drawer filing cabinet. “How do we know these women haven’t disappeared to start a new life?”

“We don’t, but we need to check the descriptions in the files with the details we’ve received regarding the floater. Clothes, facial features—that sort of thing, though with a drowning and since the body’s been in the water for a while, it’s difficult.”

Aislyn nodded and turned her attention to the report. She flicked over the page and read the other side. The phone’s strident buzz cut through the industrious silence.

Gary scooped up the phone. “Auckland Central.” A roar blared down the line, making Aislyn jump. Grimacing, Gary extended the phone to her. “It’s for you.”

As she accepted the phone, the ferocious roaring became more recognizable. “And hello to you too,” she said sweetly.

“What the hell are you playing at?” Seamus’s aggressive shout subsided to an icy chill that sent a shiver along her spine.

“I’m doing my nice little admin job, just as you and the board instructed.” As long as she did her job and tested the anti-cat remedies, he had no right to complain.

“Put Gary back on,” Seamus said.

Aislyn saluted with her free hand and thrust the phone at Gary. “Seamus wants to talk to you.”

“Oh, joy.” After taking a deep breath, he spoke into the phone. “Yo, boss, I’m all ears. Okay. Got it.” He replaced the phone. “They’ve identified the body. It’s Elsa. I’ll send these files back to missing persons and show you what to work on for the rest of the week.”

“That’s sad.” Aislyn thought of the young woman she’d seen during her first visit to the human side. She spent the next hour filing and starting on the list of jobs Gary gave her to complete.

“What should I wear to this party tonight?” she asked during their tea break. “Is it casual or dressy?” With his fancy duds and colored hair, it seemed natural to ask him.

“Think casual sexy,” he said. “With your coloring, I’d suggest opting for your basic black. Black trousers and a snug black top should do the trick.”

Aislyn nodded. Basic black, she had. Sexy…well, that might take longer, but she’d do her best.

* * * * *

Streetlights lit the road, piercing the gloom of the night by the time Aislyn left the hostel with a group of recruits.

A brown-hair recruit waved his arms at a passing cab. “We will need two,” he said. “There’s another one. Grab it.”

Aislyn climbed into the back seat of one cab.

“Where to?” the driver asked.

Muddy Farmer,” the brown-hair recruit said and slid into the taxi beside Aislyn.

The cab pulled away from the curb. Aislyn pressed her nose to the window, eagerly taking in the sights on the way to the pub. They whizzed past huge towering buildings and brightly lit shops. The windows displayed intriguing fashions and products to tempt customers to part from their money. Vehicles of varied colors and designs zapped past in both directions, their speed making her head spin.

The male sitting behind the driver nudged the brown-hair one sitting next to Aislyn. He jerked his head at her and sniggered. “You can always tell the new recruits by the way they gawk. It seems the female ones are no different.”

Let them poke fun at her. Stupid male fairies. And they were fairies—Aislyn could tell by the faint blue aura surrounding their heads. No matter—she didn’t need them. She’d find friends among the humans. She turned her attention back to the world outside the taxi. As the cab slowed for a set of traffic lights, a group of six young humans—teenagers—ran across the road, whooping and hollering. The city was so busy.

With privacy at a premium, she wondered where she could test the anti-cat potions. She hadn’t seen a cat, and she’d been looking.

The cab stopped outside a pub. The sign read, The Muddy Farmer. Everyone piled out, and the last male out pointed at Aislyn.

“She’s paying,” he said to the driver. The fairies disappeared inside the pub as fast and fleet of foot as Murphy when Moira was on the warpath. Aislyn scowled at the empty doorway of the pub. They wouldn’t catch her again. The board had given her fifty human dollars to start off, and she couldn’t afford to waste a cent.

“Fifteen dollars fifty thanks, luv.”

Aislyn clambered out of the cab, pulled a battered leather wallet from her pocket, and opened it to extract the single crisp fifty-dollar note. “Here you go.”

The driver handed her change. She glanced at the notes curiously before she put them away.

“I’ll take that!” A stranger snatched her wallet and raced away.

“But that’s…” Shock yielded to fury. How dare he steal her money? She whipped back her hand, muttered a quick incantation, and pointed an index finger at the fleeing thief.

Nothing happened.

Perplexed, Aislyn tried a different spell. The man disappeared around a corner into an alley with every single hair on his head intact.

“You all right, luv?”

Aislyn gaped at the taxi driver, shock robbing her of rational thought. Her magic had failed. “Ah, yeah,” she said, turning to stare at the alley where the thief had disappeared. “I’m fine.” Apart from the fact, her last dollars now lived in the thief’s pocket, and her magical powers had vanished. Yeah, she was fine and dandy.

“Here’s my card, luv. If you need the name of a witness when you report to the police, get them to contact me. You can ring them from inside the pub.”

“Thanks.” Aislyn’s mind was on more immediate concerns—like the failure of her magical powers.

The driver climbed back into his vehicle. Seconds later, the cab pulled away from the curb and drove off. Aislyn took one step toward the entranceway of the pub and came to an abrupt halt. Her mouth tightened, her eyes narrowed.

She wanted her wallet back.

Aislyn stomped away from the pub to the alleyway. Her magic might have failed but, thanks to her training with Seamus, she knew several hand-to-hand combat moves to send the thief limping for the hills—if she caught him.

The alley ran between a warehouse and the rear of an Indian restaurant. A huge bin overflowed with debris from the gutted warehouse. A smaller red bin held rubbish from the restaurant. The pungent stench made Aislyn’s eyes water. Aislyn inhaled through her mouth to block the worst of the smell. It was an excellent place for a thief to loiter because no sane being would stand next to the bin wafting such noxious odors. She adjusted her firm footfalls to a noiseless skulk. A loud clatter up ahead froze her in place. Her heart pattered, but she inched forward, impatience throwing prudence by the wayside. Something, a foot perhaps, knocked a piece of wood against the bin.

“Hiyah!” Aislyn hollered and sprang, hands raised in a classic defense position. From the corner of her eye, she caught a flash of movement in the dark shadows. Mid-air, she realized something small had caused the noise.

Frantically, she twisted to avoid the creature. She fell, hitting the ground with a thud, the air exploding from her lungs with a pained wheeze.

She groaned while she struggled to breathe. Minutes passed. Her elbows smarted, and her right hip felt as if someone was jabbing it with a sharp stick.

Aislyn struggled to rise.

“Rats,” she muttered.

So much for her wallet. The thief had scampered.

As she brushed her black trousers, the creature that caused her fall slinked from the shadows and approached her cautiously. “Meow.”

“A cat.” Aislyn eyed the skinny black animal with irritation. “Why didn’t you trip over the wallet thief? Why me?”

“Meow.” The cat sprang onto a low window ledge and up to a piece of timber jutting out from inside the bin. A few inches to the right of where the cat landed, Aislyn spied her wallet. Standing on tiptoe, she grasped the brown leather wallet and combed through the contents. No money, but everything else was intact, including her precious photo of Seamus. She sighed. “Thanks, cat. I’d better get to this party. Maybe someone will lend me enough money to buy a drink.”

She wandered back along the alley to the pub. The door flew open seconds before Aislyn grasped the handle. The man on the other side winked and stood aside to let her enter.

“In you go. Wish I was staying.”

“Thanks,” Aislyn said.

Myriad scents assaulted her as she glanced around with interest. Happy men and women took up the available floor space, and their chatter pounded her ears. Music poured from the corner of the room. Irish music. The twang of the fiddle, a flirty tin whistle, and the thud of the bodhrán made her feel right at home.

“Where’s the private function room?” Aislyn asked the man standing next to her.

“See the sign over there? The room is to the right, along the passage, turn left, and right again. You can’t miss it.”

“Thanks.”

Up ahead, she caught the faint flash of a blue aura. A fairy. She pushed through a gap in the crowd and collided with a muscular chest.

“Hello, sweetheart.”

Seamus. Before she could move clear, another hard jolt from a woman tottering past on high heels sent her flying into his arms. Hard, sculpted muscles pressed against her chest, her belly, her legs, and instant desire speared her. A blush heated her face, and an internal shudder rocked her from her head to the tips of her toes. Memories of the kisses they’d shared sped through her mind.

“You’re late,” he growled next to her ear. “Where have you been? I know you arrived at least half an hour ago with a group from the hostel.”

Aislyn sighed and made no attempt to evade the truth. “I had a tiny accident.”

Seamus pushed her far enough away to see her face. “What happened?”

“It was my fault,” she said.

“It’s always your fault.”

Hands fisted at her sides, his words igniting her ire. “Do you want me to tell you or not?”

“Go on.”

She wanted to hit him, she really did—smug, arrogant, know-it-all. She sucked in a breath. “When I was paying for the taxi, a man appeared from nowhere and grabbed my wallet.” She lowered her voice. “I tried to zap him, but nothing happened. He stole my money and got clean away.”

“I told you to read the manual. If you had, you’d know the pills we take to keep us human-size strip our magical powers.”

Chagrin swept her. “All of them?”

“We can’t have fairies going around performing magic whenever they please.”

She sighed. “That means I need to keep up my fitness levels.”

“You could always go home.”

“I can’t go home. You heard what the board said.”

“Aislyn—”

“I don’t want to go home, and you can’t make me.” She turned toward the function room.

“Will you wait?” He grabbed her elbow, drawing her to a halt and gestured at her trousers. “All I wanted to say was that you should clean up first. You have a streak of dirt on your cheek too.” Grasping her shoulders, he indicated the restroom sign. “I’ll wait for you outside.”

“I don’t need a babysitter. Forget your promise to Duncan. I absolve you from responsibility. My father has disowned me. You should too.”

“Quit babbling. Clean up, and we’ll go to the party.”

Aislyn slammed through the swinging door into the ladies’ restrooms.

 

“Seamus.” A stunning blonde halted inches from him.

He wrenched his gaze from the restroom door and forced a polite smile. One decent gust of wind, and she’d end up plastered against him. He inched back and tried not to breathe in her cloying scent.

“Seamus! Great to see you again.”

He maintained his smile and hoped Aislyn appeared soon. “Geraldine, how are you?”

She closed the distance between them with one deep breath. “I deserve a better hello than that.” Her eyelids fluttered shut and her lips puckered.

The seconds ticked by while Seamus furtively checked for means of rescue.

“Seamus?” Her eyes popped open.

“Thought I saw someone I knew.” Finally accepting the inevitable, he brushed a light kiss across the russet-colored lips. From the corner of his eye, he caught the flash of copper. About time. “I’m with someone,” he said to Geraldine.

“Figures.” One tanned shoulder lifted in a delicate shrug, her lips pursing in a moue of regret. She combed through a bag the size of a small envelope and produced a pale yellow business card. “If things don’t work out, call me.”

“I’m ready, Seamus.”

Relief made his knees weak. He draped an arm around Aislyn’s shoulders and tugged her to his side. “Geraldine, this is Aislyn.”

A frown created a furrow on Aislyn’s forehead. “Seamus, you should have told me you were meeting friends. I can go to the party by myself.”

Geraldine’s expression did a three-sixty, disappointment transforming into predatory interest. Hell, Aislyn was supposed to rescue him, not dump him straight into women trouble.

“I assumed you were with someone special,” Geraldine said.

“I am,” Seamus said a trifle grimly. He dipped his head to kiss Aislyn. The minute his lips touched Aislyn’s, he forgot they had an audience.

A sharp kick on his right ankle brought him back to the present. He lifted his head, his gaze diverted by Aislyn’s moist lips. An elbow to the ribs jerked his gaze farther north to her indignant eyes.

“Aislyn and I are close.”

“Right,” Aislyn agreed, her tone hovering close to mutiny.

“Nice to see you again, Geraldine.” Seamus had experienced difficulty extracting himself from Geraldine’s claws once before after a blind date. Gill’s fault. “We’re attending a party in one of the private rooms. I’ll see you around.” He hustled Aislyn in the direction of the private room.

“What was that?”

“Keep your voice low.”

“A discarded suitor?” Now Aislyn sounded amused instead of pissed.

“An ex-girlfriend who won’t take no for an answer. Until now, I’ve avoided her.”

“That’s mean-spirited.” A devilish smile zapped to her lips. “You should’ve told me earlier. I could have made the kiss appear more authentic. I’m an excellent actress.”

Seamus shuddered, managing a weak grin. A good actress—damn—that one kiss packed more punch than any of Geraldine’s attempts. Without volition, his gaze drifted to her lips. A soft natural pink, they held more allure…

“We’d better appear at the party,” he said.

“Humph!” She flounced in the direction he indicated. Unbidden, his gaze zeroed in on her pert backside, the subtle rock of her hips, and moved higher to study the two-inch gap of creamy white skin between the band of her trousers and her skimpy black top. His breath eased out with a soft hiss. Man, he was in big trouble but had no idea how to halt his escalating attraction.

A fast worker, his mother had emailed him back already with her shortlist of three favored candidates for a daughter-in-law. Seamus tried to picture their faces and failed. Instead, a vision of copper curls formed, laughing blue eyes, and a stubborn chin. Yep, he was in trouble.

Men lined the small bar. Seamus caught up to Aislyn and shouldered his way through the press of bodies towing her behind him.

“Seamus, you made it.”

Blast! He’d meant to avoid Gill. “Gill,” he said, gritting his friend’s name through his teeth.

“Aislyn too.” Gill’s mouth twitched.

Seamus tensed, wanting to turn the air blue with his curses. No prize for guessing his friend’s thoughts. “Aislyn is staying at the hostel with the other new recruits.”

Gill’s blond brows shot toward his hairline. “Is she now?”

“Quit it,” Seamus growled. “I’m looking out for a mate’s sister.”

“Is that right?” Gill’s mouth curled up at the corners.

“Duncan and Seamus went to school together,” Aislyn said.

Gill scratched his chin this time. “You don’t say?”

“Knock it off.” Seamus turned his back on his friend, his jaw flexing as he fought for control. “Aislyn, what do you want to drink? Orange juice or a soft drink?”

Her chin rose, and Seamus tensed.

“I’ll have a glass of Marlborough Sauvignon Blanc, please.”

The thought of a drunk Aislyn brought a cringe. “Are you sure?”

“I’m buying,” Gill said. “One glass of wine for the lady and a beer for you, Seamus? I’m with Rachel.” He jerked his head to the left. “We nabbed a table in the corner. I’ll bring over the drinks.” Gill plunged into the melee at the bar, leaving him alone with Aislyn.

“What do you mean by ordering a glass of wine? Have you tasted wine before?”

“No,” Aislyn said. “I saw wine mentioned when I flicked through the manual and decided to try it at the first opportunity.”

“If you read about wine, how come you missed the losing your magical powers bit?”

“I looked at the pictures.”

“Aislyn!”

“You have no sense of humor.”

Seamus bit back his exasperation. His hands itched to paddle her backside, and his gaze drifted in that direction. A massive jolt of lust rocked his system. He ripped his gaze away. “We’d better find Rachel.”

“Will there be dancing?”

“No.” He intended to hustle Aislyn out of here after one drink.

“I enjoy dancing,” she said, plowing into one of Seamus’s workmates. “Sorry. My fault.”

The man’s hands dropped to Aislyn’s waist while his smile ratcheted into charming. Seamus bristled, recognizing a competitor when he saw one. “Are you going to let her go soon, Robinson?”

The man focused on Seamus. His brows rose, and Seamus knew his glare was solely responsible. Dammit, he didn’t want anyone touching Aislyn but him. For an instant longer, they held gazes, then Robinson grinned.

“My mistake,” he said, his hands falling away from Aislyn.

Seamus let his breath ease out, grabbed Aislyn by the hand and tugged her after him, using his larger body to force their way to the other side of the crowded room. There were way too many lecherous men for his liking.

“What took you so long?” Gill complained. He indicated the drinks on the table. A heartbeat later, he smirked.

“Never mind. You’re here now. Rachel, you remember my partner, Seamus? And this is his…” His mouth curled up in a wicked grin. “…friend, Aislyn.”

Seamus scowled

“Quit while you’re ahead,” Gill advised in an undertone as he handed Seamus a drink. “Your single days are numbered. You’re crazy if you think you can outrun her.”

“You don’t know what you’re talking about.”

“Yeah?”

“Yeah.”

Gill smirked again, and this time one brown eye closed in a sly wink. “Care to bet on it?”

Come back on Monday for the next chapter

Wednesday, January 1st, 2020
New Release: Maverick Lovers

Maverick Lovers by Shelley Munro

Yay! Maverick Lovers is here. At long last, Christina gets her story. This story was a challenge to write, and it percolated for a long time. *grin* I hope you enjoy Maverick Lovers.

BTW, Maverick Lovers is book 6 in the Friendship Chronicles series, but it can be read as a standalone.

Here’s the blurb:

Maverick: [noun] an independent person who has ideas or behavior that differs from the norm. Someone brave and impulsive who attacks life their way.

Finding and satisfying one lover is difficult…
Adding a second to the equation is an impossible challenge

Christina: her life is spiraling out of control. Her job, her friends, and her family relationships are slipping through her fingers, leaving her achingly alone and staring into the eyes of the black dog of depression. She claws her way free, and finally, a bright spot—she reconnects with a childhood friend. Not a boyfriend, but wow! That’s the way her mind is marching now, straight to Mr. Sexy Pants.

Gabriel: he’s seeing the success he’s worked for after his parents kicked him from their home for something he didn’t do. Christina’s arrival makes him happy, makes him consider a future, a family, then Aidan arrives home. Off-balance because he has feelings for each of them, Gabriel screws up both relationships. Go him!

Aidan: Tired of traveling and clawing his way to the top, he’s come home to claim Gabriel, the man he has always loved. The only problem—while Aidan was running away, Gabriel has moved on with his life. Prepared to fight, he can’t hate the gorgeous yet troubled Christina as much as he wants.

Three lost lovers battle their way to a committed relationship that shouldn’t be possible but has the potential to cement them into a solid and unconventional team.

Available now at: Amazon | Apple Books | Google Play | Kobo | Nook |

Tuesday, December 31st, 2019
Muriwai Gannet Colony

From August to March each year, visitors get a ringside seat to the goings-on at the gannet colony. There are nests with chicks and busy adult birds feeding their offspring. We watched the birds for ages as they flew back and forth, rode the air currents, and squabbled with each other.

It’s an hour’s drive from Auckland and a short walk from the carpark to the viewpoint, and I thoroughly enjoyed watching these seabirds going about their business. This is one of the few mainland colonies in New Zealand.

Muriwai Gannet Colony

Muriwai Beach

Muriwai Gannet Colony

Gannets and Gannet Chicks

Christina, Gabriel, and Aidan visit the Muriwai Gannet Colony in Maverick Lovers. Learn more about Maverick Lovers and read the first chapter.

Monday, December 30th, 2019
The Adventures of Aislyn O’Sullivan – Chapter 9

The Adventures of Aislyn O'Sullivan

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.

Chapter 9

Aislyn pulled away but not before Seamus felt the rapid rise and fall of her chest. At least he wasn’t the only one affected by their kiss.

“What, sweetheart?”

“The lift is working again. Should we stand?”

The lights flickered back on, and Seamus blinked at the brightness. He shot to his feet with relief but let Aislyn stand under her own steam, not trusting himself to touch her. Uncomfortable jeans attested to his lack of willpower, and the burden of guilt threatened to bury him. He glanced at Aislyn, and her ruffled curls, the high color in her cheeks. Her kiss-swollen lips diverted his attention.

He’d faced his demons with confined spaces yet stuffed up big-time. Seamus bunched his fists and turned away, unable to face temptation any longer.

What the hell did he think was he doing? Last night, he’d worked on a list of candidates for his first lady. Tonight, he’d send the shortlist to his mother to start negotiations.

Seamus watched the lights on the control board.

“Are you better now?”

Hell, no! “I’m fine,” he gritted out.

The elevator shuddered to a halt. He tensed, half expecting another wait for the technicians. Instead, the doors opened with a ponderous groan.

A serviceman appeared. He dropped his toolbox on the floor with a metallic rattle. “You folks okay in here?”

No, he’d made a monumental mistake in the elevator’s darkness. God’s bones! The desire to pummel the serviceman’s nose curled his hands to fists. Seamus beat away the urge and brushed past the man to escape the elevator, a desperate need for solid ground beneath his feet.

“We’re fine,” he snapped. “Aislyn, hurry. I have things to do.” He hurtled along the carpeted passageway without checking that she followed.

The serviceman sniffed. “Some folks have no manners.”

Seamus heard and didn’t stop. The sooner he rid himself of Aislyn, the quicker his life would return to normal. He stomped into his outer office, nodding at Gary, who sat behind a desk with a stack of folders in front of him. The photocopier hummed, spitting out papers. To Seamus’s left, three goldfish glided through their glass aquarium.

“Hey, boss. You’re late. Gill has rung four times.” Gary wagged his finger in a scolding manner.

His assistant’s smart-ass attitude usually amused Seamus. Not today. “My office. Now.”

Gary’s blond eyebrows rose. “Oh! Temper, temper.”

Aislyn appeared in the doorway, puffing and out of breath. She fired a glare that should’ve sizzled his eyeballs.

“You didn’t have to run.”

“What have we here?” Gary rose to circle Aislyn, scrutinizing her like a strange bug.

Seamus ground his teeth together, yanked his office door open, and stomped inside, leaving Aislyn to Gary’s tender mercies.

 

After a quick glance around the office with its fish tank, shelves of books, and office supplies, Aislyn turned her attention to the male who gawked at her so rudely. “I have my own teeth.” Her hands crept up to check her hair. “My hair started out tidy. It has a mind of its own.” Nothing out of the norm.

Finally, she quit the self-conscious preening and studied him right back. He wore a smart suit, but his hair grabbed her rapt interest. It was shoulder length and the color…well, Aislyn had difficulty deciding. In the sunlight streaming through the windows, his hair shone with rainbow colors. Tiny strands of blue, green, red, and violet interspersed with his natural blond. “Your hair is beautiful,” she said. “Could I have my hair styled in that way?”

The man stepped closer, picked up one of Aislyn’s spiral copper curls, and rubbed it between his fingers. “Why would you want to? Your hair is gorgeous. No wonder the boss never mentioned you. I’m Gary. You must be Aislyn.”
Seamus appeared in the doorway, his expression harsh and stuck in the grumpy zone. “When the two of you finish with your mutual admiration, perhaps we could start our meeting?”

Gary shrugged and strolled into Seamus’s office, unruffled by his boss’s temper. Aislyn followed with more caution as she stepped into a plain, no-frills office. A large chair sat behind a wooden desk. Paperwork filled the two baskets on the desktop.

“You’ve kept her secret, boss,” Gary said, halting a few feet from where Seamus stood near the desk.

“Can we get to business?”

Gary hitched a hip onto the desk corner. He winked at Aislyn and offered Seamus another shrug. “Go right ahead. I’m not stopping you.”

Aislyn took one look at the vein pulsing at Seamus’s temple and edged against the wall. No way was she getting caught in the pending skirmish.

Instead of exploding, Seamus dropped onto his chair. A pained expression crossed his face as if he’d eaten too many of Mistress Devlin’s famous green apple pancakes. He gripped the edge of the desk, his chest expanding under his shirt. “Aislyn is moving into the dorm with the rest of the recruits and will help with Operation Scavenger Hunt. I want you to make sure her luggage arrives and show her what to do. She’ll report to you.”

What? Aislyn jerked away from the wall. Since when did the fairy force members report to an administrative clerk?
“Why will I report to him? I’m part of the investigating team. I—”

“You’re assigned to the administrative team. Don’t bother arguing. My word’s final.”

Aislyn reached the desk in three rapid steps. She placed both hands on the wooden surface and leaned over to glare at him. “You misled me.” She caught a whiff of his familiar scent. Her gaze flicked across his face and settled on his mouth.

A flood of memories assailed her—an action replay of the kisses in the elevator. Pain shafted through her, a sense of despair.

“You’ve known you intended assigning me to desk duties for a week. You knew I assumed I’d take part in active fairy force duties.” The swelling knot in her throat halted her tirade, and to her horror, moisture gathered in her eyes.

“Why didn’t you tell me the truth?”

Gary coughed delicately. “I’ll wait by my desk.” The door closed with a soft click, indicating his retreat.

Seamus’s face gentled, and a flash of regret flickered then disappeared. “I promised Duncan I’d look after you.”

Huh, it was more likely the colony rules and regulations again, and those pompous, interfering board members. The tight sensation in her throat sank downward to grip her chest. Her hands slid across the surface of the desk to curl around the edge. Aislyn closed her eyes and opened them again two seconds later.

“Don’t you have a dream?” She swallowed. “Isn’t there something you’d surrender your fairy wings for—just to fulfill that ambition?”

“The colony rules are clear.” Seamus rose and stepped to the window to stare out at the scenic view of Auckland harbor. He remained silent for a long time before turning back to her. “Remember your presence here is a punishment, not a treat. And I promised Duncan I’d watch out for you. Can’t you try the admin job first? We’re overworked and could use the help. Clerical work mightn’t sound exciting, but give it a go. Maybe we can extend your duties later.”

Did he think she was stupid?

“Specify the length of time,” she said, nailing him with a determined stare.

“Three months.”

Aislyn’s head jerked in surprise. Wow, she hadn’t expected him to agree to a time limit. Sudden suspicion made her frown, ponder the angles. Was there something she’d missed?

“At least you’re on the human side,” Seamus reminded her. “You’re the first female allowed off the colony since the late 1800s. You’re responsible for testing the anti-cat remedies, which makes you a pioneer, Aislyn. One who’ll go down in the colony history books.”

“Yeah. I can see the headlines now. Rabble Rouser. I know what the board calls me behind my back.”

“So you agree? Three months trial?”

“I don’t have a choice.” Somehow, she’d take an active part in the investigation. Seamus couldn’t watch her every minute of every day.

 

Seamus hung up the phone and rubbed the heels of his hands across gritty eyes. Without warning, his office door flew open and crashed against the inner wall with a solid bang.

“Where the hell have you been?” Gill bellowed, storming into the office with a pale blue file in his hand. “I’ve rung Gary and paged you. I’ve tried your cell phone.”

Seamus shrugged and picked up a pen. “I had things to do.”

“I saw Aislyn in Gary’s office. If she’s your cousin, then I’m a purple polka-dotted dinosaur.”

Giving up the pretense of doing paperwork, Seamus stood, happy to purge his angst in an argument with Gill. “We’re not involved. Her brother is my friend, and I promised to monitor her.”

A teasing grin replaced his tense irritation as Gill propped his butt on the edge of Seamus’s desk. Seamus straightened in alarm.

“Then you won’t mind if I ask her out.”

Fear, stark and vivid, grabbed Seamus by the scruff. A searing stab of jealousy followed on the heels of fear, and he glowered at his friend. “Leave her alone.”

Gill’s grin widened to a full-out smirk. “Fine. Now we know where we stand regarding the luscious Aislyn, could we focus on our case? In particular, the body found floating in the harbor near The Viaduct early this morning.”

Interest peaked in him. Gill was renowned for his instincts and had become a legend at Auckland Central. If Gill’s gut told him something, Seamus listened. “Who found the body? What condition? Where? How did they die?”

“The crew of Team New Zealand found the body when they put their boat in the water this morning. No identification as of yet. The body is bloated, and fish or birds have nibbled at it. Difficult to tell how long it’s been in the water.”

Seamus dropped onto his swivel chair and leaned back, making it creak and wobble dangerously. He tapped his pen against the chair arm while he thought aloud. “Difficult to tell if a drowning victim has died of natural causes.”

“Yeah, but the wounds tell a different story. There are severe abrasions over the body. Looks as though someone didn’t want it found and used weights.”

“Have you checked the missing person’s reports?”

His partner stood, a troubled frown flitting across his face. “I asked Gary to check, but Seamus, it might be Elsa. She hasn’t contacted me for over a week.”

“Not good.”

“Yeah.” Gill paused before moving to the door. “I shouldn’t have forced her into helping us.” He stepped from the office without his usual swagger.

Seamus heard Gill speak to Gary. A feminine laugh rang out. His stomach clenched, hard and tight. It was bad enough helping Aislyn train for fairy force selection. How was he going to cope with her in the office? Especially now, since he’d made matters worse and kissed her.

Gill strode back to join him and parked his butt in its regular spot on the corner of Seamus’s desk.

“Can’t you sit in a chair like a normal person?”

“What’s with you today? Your expression says you want to punch me.” Gill’s interest wandered to the outer office and landed on Aislyn. He turned back to Seamus. “Why don’t you sleep with her? Either that or concentrate on work.”

“Pondering our case doesn’t help.” Seamus grunted. His feet hit the floor with a thump. “Damn, I can’t believe I admitted that.” Sucking in a deep breath, he told himself Gill was right. Focusing on the case was the only alternative since sleeping with Aislyn was out of the question. “What’s happening with the identification?”

“Gary’s gone to check the missing person’s files. He’ll try to locate Elsa too.”

Seamus sprang to his feet. “Did he take Aislyn with him?”

“How the hell should I know? Dammit, will you concentrate? Do you want me to bring you up to date on the case or not?”

“Yeah.” Seamus stalked to the end of his office and back again. “I’m listening.”

Aislyn had to leave the building some time. She was with Gary, human size, and on the pill. Nah, nothing could go wrong. Aislyn would be fine. They were on their way back from records now. Seamus glanced at his watch, making a mental note of the time. He’d give them half an hour.

He pulled out the relevant files and opened them. As was their habit, they went through everything they’d learned already because the repeated information helped them brainstorm and come up with new angles to investigate. The file was thick, and it took a while.

“According to the information Hone obtained, the scavenger hunt started yesterday. The guy who operates the launch between Auckland and Maximillan’s resort told us he has ferried extra supplies during the last two weeks. Several high-rollers have arrived at the resort.”

“Competitors in the scavenger hunt?”

“Possibly. We’ve tightened security around the offshore islands and for departing passengers at airports. Apart from that, it’s a waiting game.”

Seamus paced the length of the office again. “Do you have the list of items the competitors need to collect?”

Gill rustled through a thick pile of papers and pulled a single sheet from the folder he’d brought with him. “One live kakapo chick, one live tuatara, a fertile kiwi egg, an Australian parrot, a golden lion tamarin from Brazil, a copy of Ladies Man by Suzanne Brockmann, a tiara worn by royalty, a postage stamp used prior to 1900, a bottle of Vinedo Chadwick, Maipo Valley wine from Chile, Freddie Mercury’s autograph, a pint glass from The Goat Tavern in Kensington High Street, London, a dress owned by Princess Diana, a photo of the competitor in front of the Eiffel tower, a sapphire pendant, and a Scottish International rugby jersey.” Gill paused to sweep his hair away from his eyes. “I don’t know who decided on the items, but they’ve made the hunt interesting for the competitors.”

“And for us,” Seamus said. “Five of the items are rare birds and animals.”

“Three are from New Zealand. Stinks of Maximillan collecting for his private zoo.”

A loud crash sounded in Gary’s office. Seamus charged out to investigate with Gill hot on his heels.

“Who’s there?” Seamus demanded. Shit, over an hour had passed since Gill’s arrival.

Gary’s colorful head poked up from behind the desk, his mouth wreathed in a sheepish smile. “I dropped a pile of files. Woke you up, did I, boss?”

Seamus scanned the rest of the office. “Where’s Aislyn?”

“She helped me search the files at the records office before I dropped her at the hostel. We checked on her luggage, and I left her there. She’s making her own way back to the office. I’ll take her through the routine stuff when she arrives back.”

Seamus’s curse rattled the windows. Gill’s brows rose, but he kept his mouth shut.

Gary sighed. “Boss, don’t get your boxers in a bunch.” Gary started to say something else, glanced at Gill, and stopped.

Luckily for him. Seamus attempted to push back the panic seizing him by the throat. Steady. Steady. Gill’s here. Don’t say something you’ll regret.

“Don’t worry, boss. I explained everything to Aislyn and told her to read the manual. Boss, she’s not stupid. The last thing she wants is to return to her parents’ farm.” Mindful of Gill’s presence, Gary phrased his words with care.

“A country lass.” Gill smirked. “We need to check with the crime scene team.”

Seamus shook off his unease. “Ring me when Aislyn gets back.”

“No problem, boss.” Gary plunked the files he’d retrieved from the floor onto the desk. “We’ll work through these files this afternoon. I’ll call if I learn anything about Elsa. If Aislyn doesn’t make it back this afternoon, I’ll take her through the routine tomorrow. I’ll see her tonight at the party, anyway.”

Seamus froze. “The recruit party?” His mind screamed at him to keep Aislyn far away from the randy recruits.

“For God’s sake, stop trying to live Aislyn’s life for her,” Gill ordered. “We need to talk to the crime scene team.”

He didn’t have time for this. His warning glare at Gary promised retaliation as he followed Gill from Auckland Central.

Come back for Chapter 10 next Monday

Wednesday, December 25th, 2019
Goat Island Marine Reserve: The Setting for Maverick Lovers

The first marine reserve in New Zealand was created in 1975 and takes its name from the small island not far from the shore. Goat Island Marine Reserve is 518 hectares in size, and more than 100 species of fish have been identified within the reserve. The reserve is a real success story.

Goat Island Marine Reserve

It’s the perfect place to snorkel, scuba dive, kayak, or for those who don’t like to get wet, explore the seabed via the glass bottom boat.

Snapper

Both juvenile and adult snapper gather in the marine reserve around Goat Island near Leigh in New Zealand.

Blue MauMau

Blue MauMau fish at the Goat Island Marine Reserve.

The beach is a busy place during the summer months since a visit to Goat Island is perfect for a family outing.

Beach at Goat Island

Beach at Goat Island in backlight.

Goat Island Marine Reserve

Rocks and Beach near Goat Island Marine Park

In Maverick Lovers, Aidan is a travel blogger. He’s on assignment with New Zealand tourism and takes his friends Gabriel and Christina with him when he visits Goat Island. Learn more about Maverick Lovers and read the first chapter.

Monday, December 23rd, 2019
The Adventures of Aislyn O’Sullivan – Chapter 8

The Adventures of Aislyn O'Sullivan

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.

Chapter 8

Aislyn gaped at the pretentious and slender fairy who strutted into the room, carrying a locked box with the pomp and ceremony customarily reserved for the crown’s jeweled wings. His upright posture made her want to glance at his butt and search for a stick. She sighed grumpily and zeroed in on the metal box. Another stupid anti-cat potion—she’d bet on it.

“You there,” the male fairy trilled. “This is my cat-away formula. I want you to test it immediately.”

Aislyn rolled her eyes. “I’ll add you to the list.” She picked up the list that now ran into several pages and flicked through to the end. “Name?”

“No.” He snatched the list from her hands and scribbled out the first name, replacing it with his. “I insist you test mine first.”

“I’ll do my best,” she said, forcing an interested smile.

In a short week, she’d learned research fairies inhabited a world of their own: me, me, me—the eternal cry.

Aislyn had assumed she’d form part of a team, but the last few days had taught her otherwise. Each fairy possessed a pet project—potions, pills, sprays, and ointments. She was required to test them all, following their detailed instructions plus complete an in-depth questionnaire in triplicate.

The fairy placed the box in the middle of the table next to Aislyn. “I’ll expect your report in three days.”

Not if she had anything to do with it. In three days, she’d be safely on the human side, far away from the research fairies and their demands.

“My cat-away formula will make me famous,” the fairy crowed, pushing his bifocal lenses back into place. “I’ll win a Lebon Peace prize nomination with this formula.”

“I’m sure you’ll get everything you deserve,” Aislyn said sweetly, the last of her amusement fleeing.

What about her contribution? She was the one putting life and limb in danger. Straight to the bottom of the list, she decided, having already designed her criteria for the tests. Politeness from the scientists helped, but color, consistency, and aroma of said anti-cat product played a crucial part in determining the order of testing.

The fairy sent her a sharp look as if he wasn’t sure of her sincerity. He sniffed before prancing off to leave her alone.

Good. She had things to do.

 

At precisely one minute past eight the next morning, Aislyn gathered her luggage. Her two bags, stacked next to the door of the room she’d appropriated as an office, were stuffed full of her prized possessions. All she needed to do was finish sorting out the anti-cat products. Under normal circumstances, she’d return for weekends and days off, but because of her misdemeanors, Murphy had informed her she’d remain on the human side.

Aislyn stuck her hands on her hips, cocked her head to one side, and made a sharp gobbling sound. “Until you can act with the dignity and comportment befitting a female fairy, you’re banned from returning to the colony.” She emitted another sharp gobble then clapped a hand over her mouth to prevent hysterical laughter.

When she’d attempted to say goodbye to her family, her father had slammed the door in her face, shouting she was a disgrace. She no longer had a family.

“You look ready.”

“Seamus! You’re early.” Aislyn spun to face him and almost tripped over a stack of boxes containing cat deterrents. He hadn’t heard her impression of Murphy, had he? She flicked an errant curl from her eyes. “My gear is ready, but I need longer to organize the stuff the scientists have given me to test.”

Seamus pushed away from the doorjamb and sauntered into the box-filled room. Aislyn eyed him with alarm. Either he’d grown, or the room had shrunk. She gulped and backed up until a wall of boxes stopped her retreat. From beneath lowered lashes, she studied him covertly. Was there a chance for her—a romantic chance now that she’d see more of him? Then she remembered Christel, and her confidence plummeted to her big toes.

“Where is the stuff?” Seamus demanded. “I’ll help so we can get away early. I have a busy day.”

Aislyn sucked hoarsely for air as Seamus stalked closer. “In there.” Her hand sliced toward the right to indicate the door leading to the adjoining room.

Seamus shouldered the door open and came to an abrupt halt. His gaze whipped to her. “You’re kidding. Tell me you’re kidding.”

“Nope.” Aislyn smiled brightly, refusing to let his short temper cow her. “Part of the contract, remember? Punishment for the rebel fairy.”

“We’ll see about that.” Seamus stomped from the room. Seconds later, a door crashed against the wall farther down the passage. “Murphy,” he roared. “Murphy!”

When Seamus stormed back, the commander and Murphy were practically hanging off the back of his navy polo shirt.
“Have you seen the number of potions the scientists expect Aislyn to test?” He planted his hands on his hips and aimed a hard-edged glare at them.

The commander stepped forward, urged on by Murphy’s sharp nudge in the middle of his back. “I checked with the head scientist. Everything is going according to plan. He assured me there wasn’t much for the O’Sullivan female to do. If she’s trying to wriggle out of the deal, she can think again. Zounds, this is a punishment, not a four-star, all-expenses-paid holiday.”

Indignation thrust her into the conversation. “I’m not. I wouldn’t.”

“Aislyn, I’ll handle this.”

Fine. She edged back against the wall and folded her arms across her breasts. Let the males sort it out.

“Look through there,” Seamus ordered, indicating the storeroom door with a slash of his hand.

The commander, once again urged on by Murphy, opened the door, and stepped inside. “Holy heck,” he said, stopping short.

Murphy’s hearty gobble echoed through the packed room before spilling back out to Aislyn. She bit on her bottom lip, trying to catch her amusement before it escaped and snagged her more trouble.

“It’s not bad,” Murphy said in a gross understatement.

“How are we meant to ship this stuff to the human side with no one noticing?” Seamus roared. “We’re meant to integrate, not stand out like males in a sewing circle. This will call attention to us.”

Intense curiosity compelled her to ask. “What would happen if we draw attention?”

“Humans will cage us like pet monkeys.” The commander turned away, ignoring her. “What do you suggest? You can hardly blame the scientists. They’re excited because they’ve never had this opportunity.”

“A female has never left the colony before,” Murphy said.

“That’s no reason for everyone to get carried away. Aislyn’s work will be difficult enough,” Seamus said.

The commander and Murphy exchanged a panicked glare. They were worried something might go wrong, forcing them to keep her in within the colony. Her gaze zapped to Seamus. He didn’t look as if he cared. Since their day spent together on the human side, she seemed to push his anger-buttons.

“Assign Aislyn an administrative fairy to liaise with her from the colony. The assistant can send one carton of anti-cat measures once a month for Aislyn to test. She can’t do a proper job of testing the potions if she’s hurried. A new batch once a month is plenty.”

“But where will the funds come from?” Murphy wailed. “The budget is overstretched now.”

“I’ll campaign the Guardian,” Seamus said. “Can we hurry? I have a meeting on the human side.”

Murphy gaped at Seamus. “But you are—”

“Let Seamus take care of it,” the commander interrupted.

A curious expression flickered over Seamus’s face. More council secrets, no doubt.

Murphy let out an apologetic gobble. “I have to go.” He scampered out the door, disappearing as though someone had zapped him with an itching powder spell.

“Are we agreed?” Seamus asked.

Aislyn still had no idea what was happening, but she didn’t want an arrogant, know-it-all male assistant foisted on her.

“I want a female fairy to assist me.”

“Whatever. The commander will sort it out this end. We’ll take one box with us today.”

Seamus bit back a curse. It was bad enough he had to escort Aislyn from the colony, but dealing with politics gave him a nasty taste in his mouth. He waded into the storage room and snatched up a green carton at random. “We’ll take this one with us today. Aislyn, grab your bags. I need to pick up the Guardian’s pouch, then we can head for the transport area.

When Seamus strode from the room, he felt the weight of two gazes branding his back. The apricots he associated with Aislyn teased his senses. Soft footfalls behind suggested she was following him. The knowledge left him edgy and plain grumpy. Hades, what was he going to do with Aislyn? The more time he spent with her, the worse he wanted to drag her off to a secluded place, preferably somewhere horizontal where he could rid this inappropriate lust from his system.

He closed his eyes before opening them again. The list of betrothal candidates—he’d study it tonight. Guilt at his delaying tactics slithered through him. For the good of the colony, he must pull himself together, stop dragging his feet, and make a decision.

Once betrothed, he’d be able to focus and accept his responsibilities more readily.

“Seamus?”

“I’m fine,” he snapped, not daring to witness Aislyn’s fresh-faced eagerness. “Let’s go.” He charged along the council corridor to the classified fairy force only section. At a set of double doors, he let a machine scan his retina. “Hurry, Aislyn. I have a meeting.”

The doors slid open and, after making sure Aislyn was through safely, he forged ahead, down the long white passage. At the next doors, he had to wait for her. She arrived in a flurry of bags and out of breath.

“Give a bag to me,” he snarled, more angry with himself than her.

Her shining blue eyes were a temptation. The copper curls and cute sprinkling of freckles across the bridge of her nose enticed him to touch and her tight jeans… Seamus jerked his gaze away to scowl at the door.

“Time lock,” he explained tersely.

“When will I start work?” Aislyn asked. “I haven’t received my uniform yet. I’ll need that first, won’t I?”

Guilt and shame made him want to shuffle in embarrassment. Regret was a waste of time and emotion. Putting Aislyn into an administrative job was for his sanity as much as keeping her safe. However, his parents hadn’t raised a fool. He had no intention of confessions until the last possible moment.

“We’ll sort everything out once we arrive. The admin department will take care of you.” He hoped.

The doors slid open to reveal a large office staffed by security guards. Seamus dipped his head in a brief nod as the security guard checked their passes.

“Wow! I didn’t know there was a tunnel out of the colony. Wait until I tell my friends.”

Seamus whirled on her, his fury bubbling free. “The tunnel is kept a secret to maintain the colony’s safety.”

The excitement and happiness bleached from her face, and Seamus groaned inwardly. Bullies-are-us incorporated.

“Sorry.” Her shoulders squared in quiet dignity. “I didn’t think.”

“That’s your problem—you don’t think. You’re reckless and tread your stubborn path oblivious to the dangers to the colony. The commander assured me he’d briefed you on colony national security. Did you listen at all?”

Her bottom lip quivered. Great. Next came the tears. She clamped her bottom lip between white teeth. Immediately, his body heated, leaping from anger to sexual thoughts in no time flat. He forced back a snarl of frustration. Gill had tried to set him up with a double date. He’d refused. Perhaps he’d tell Gill he’d changed his mind.

“The commander gave me a rule book. I haven’t read it yet,” she confessed in a small voice.

“Read the book tonight. You mustn’t make mistakes in the human world.”

Aislyn nodded, but Seamus suspected she still didn’t understand how important it was to follow the rules. “I’ll spell it out. On the human side, I’m in charge. It’s part of my job to ensure the fairy force integrate and follow the rules. Offenders have their wings clipped and return to the colony. In your case, the colony doesn’t want you.” Oh, great, Gallagher. That was tactful. “What I mean is the consequences will be more severe for you. Read the handbook tonight. Please?”

“I will,” Aislyn promised.

Seamus nodded. He proceeded down another long passage toward the exit gate. Murals, painted by Glenveagh fairlings, decorated the walls. “Have you taken the pill today?” he asked, referring to the pill the recruits took to maintain human size and negate their magical powers.

“Yes. I followed the instructions on the prescription.”

“Good, make sure you take one every day as the doctor prescribed. You’ve experienced the cat’s attraction to your pheromones. You must take care.”

 

Aislyn grimaced and hustled to keep pace with Seamus. You’d think she was a babe, the way he kept lecturing her. Of course, she knew to take her pill. Her head still pounded from the danger the council doctor had expounded on—broken bones, fang scars… Death by cat sounded like a nasty way to die.

“This is the way you will enter and leave the colony. Make sure you don’t lose your pass because security will detain you if you fail to produce a valid one. Most of the recruits get it tattooed somewhere on their body.”

Did she have idiot stamped on her forehead? Each time she moved closer to him, he froze as if she carried a virulent disease. She was developing a complex.

“I know this,” she said. “Your assistant made an appointment for me to have my pass tattooed on my arm.”

He ignored her and planted his feet in front of a set of red double doors. “Leave your bag here. We’ll collect the luggage at the other end.”

Aislyn dropped her bag with a loud sigh of relief. She rolled her shoulders and flexed her hands.

A bell chimed, and the doors clanked open. Seamus stepped inside the small room, and Aislyn followed. Anticipation churned her stomach when the doors slid shut. A whirring clank played inside her head. Seamus blurred in front of her eyes. Bones cracked, lengthened, and skin drew taut as her body grew to human size. She blinked and felt a grin sweep her face. Cool.

Without warning, the small room jerked upward. Aislyn’s stomach dropped to meet her black regulation boots. To her embarrassment, a squeak emerged. She slapped a hand over her mouth and lurched the two steps it took to reach

Seamus. “What’s happening?”

Seamus curled an arm around her waist, and she needed no second invitation. She plastered herself against his muscular chest, her breath coming in small pants. Why hadn’t someone warned her about this moving room? They’d lectured her on everything else.

“Don’t worry,” Seamus murmured. “It’s an elevator. You’ll get used to them since lots of human buildings have them. We’re going up to the twenty-eighth level. A few minutes more, and the lift will stop.”

“You could’ve told me.” Aislyn hated looking foolish.

“All the information necessary for recruits to adjust to the human side is in the recruit’s handbook.”

“I have a rule book. Is that the same as the handbook?”

“I meant Murphy to issue you with one.”

“Yeah, well. Let’s say Murphy and I don’t speak since my run-in with Moira.” His breath wafted against her cheek. Their noses were so close they almost touched. Aislyn’s gaze dropped to his mouth. The way it slashed his face in a flat line indicated his extreme irritation. Nothing new there.

“If you’d thought harder before you rebelled, you wouldn’t have problems now.”

“Thank you very much. I’ll treasure the nugget of advice.”

Seamus seized her by the waist and lifted her away from him. “Dammit, Aislyn. I don’t need this.”

The small room stopped moving. Seamus didn’t notice.

“This isn’t my fault.” Aislyn tried a conciliatory tone.

“But you got what you wanted.” Seamus scowled as if he loathed the sight of her.

“I didn’t tell anyone you took me from the colony.”

His nostrils flared. “Why didn’t you? Damn, why has the lift stopped moving?”

Aislyn eyed him warily. “I thought we’d arrived.”

Seamus glanced at the lights on the wall and thumped a button. “It’s stuck. Can’t you see the two numbers lit up on the controls?”

“Since I haven’t traveled in an elevator before, how would I know?” What was wrong with him? He trembled without warning, and alarm zapped through her. “Are we going to die?”

A thin laugh spluttered from him. “No, dammit. We will not die. The fairy maintenance team will realize we’re trapped and get the elevator going again. They’ll have us out soon.”

Aislyn nibbled on her lip, not sure whether to believe him. Despite his laugh, his face appeared deadly pale, his muscles tense. The elevator jerked then ground to a pained halt.

Seamus bounded to the control panel and thumped on the control buttons. Beads of sweat glinted on his forehead.

“Are you sure we’ll be out soon?” Aislyn asked. “You’re not just saying that to make me feel better?”

He groaned and sank to the ground with his back pressed against the wall. His eyes were squeezed shut. “Damn, I hate enclosed spaces.”

A rumor she’d heard from her brother sifted to the front of her memories. Seamus had been trapped in a cave while on a case. A wave of sympathy flooded her. What should she do? If she offered comfort, he’d likely growl.

The elevator jerked again, hard enough to send her off balance. Seamus moaned, and Aislyn squatted beside him, sliding her arms around his neck. Instead of shoving her away, he groaned again and yanked her so close she gasped for breath.

“Can’t breathe,” she wheezed.

He slackened his fierce grip, and she sucked in some much-needed oxygen.

“Sorry.” His stiff tone spoke of his discomfort.

“It’s okay.” She patted him awkwardly on the arm and peeked at him through her eyelashes. Their gazes connected and held.

“Aislyn.”

The smoldering flame in his eyes startled her, yet held her enthralled. He smoothed his hands up her arms. A tingling sensation sprang to life in the pit of her stomach, and this time it was she who trembled.

“Aislyn,” he repeated.

Stars, he intended to kiss her. Her eyes fluttered closed, and her mouth puckered in readiness.

A strained chuckle sounded right by her ear. Her eyelids sprang open, but the lights had gone out. She couldn’t see her hand in front of her face.

 

Fear kicked him in the gut. The lights flickered and died. His hands tightened on Aislyn’s upper arms. Hell’s teeth, he loathed small places. Add the dark, and he had trouble controlling his panic.

The darkness quivered like a breathing entity. It sucked the oxygen from the elevator until the space compressed inward, pushing him down. He jerked Aislyn across his lap and reached his hand out to cup her head, needing her comfort to fight the panic before it propelled him back to the past. His hand trembled. His stomach clamped tight. Hell, he couldn’t do this. Inhaling, he focused on her. The scent of fruit—apricots—wafted from her hair. He lowered his lips, desperate for distraction from the hideous monster bearing toward him.

His lips slid across her cheek, awkwardly colliding with her nose. Two seconds later, he’d corrected the angle, slanting his mouth across hers with precision exactness. Work with me here. He silently pleaded for the comfort he desperately needed.

A small gasp escaped her when their lips met. She didn’t draw away. Instead, lips soft as orange petals trembled beneath his. He brought her closer until her breasts pressed against him, branding his chest with heat. She tasted of peppermint. Sweet. Innocent. His.

He sank into the kiss, sliding his tongue across her mouth, exploring in a sensuous dance. She opened for him, and fire licked his body as he tasted the sweet moistness beyond. The darkness receded, replaced by pure sensation.

He lifted one hand and curled his fingers into her hair. This close to her, the apricot scent intensified, making him dizzy. He pulled away and dragged in a deep breath.

“Seamus,” she whispered.

He smiled and skimmed her mouth with his thumb. Her lips parted, her tongue flicked out. She sucked his thumb into her mouth, the hot, damp sensation sending a dart of lust straight to his cock. Need kicked in, biting savagely at his restraint.

“Hell,” he said in a hoarse voice he didn’t recognize. He remained frozen in place—an animal in the glare of a spotlight—while she laved his thumb, his body growing hotter and harder until he ached and throbbed for fulfillment.

“Aislyn, let me kiss you.” He withdrew his thumb and claimed her lips, catching her cry of surprise with his mouth. His hands slid along her arms, back up again, and inched across to cup one full breast.

His befuddled mind recognized the absence of a bra, and he pinched her nipple through her jumper. Instantly the urge to touch her bare flesh whispered through him, and he trembled like an inexperienced fairling. Seamus kissed the delicate skin of her neck, his tongue lashing out to explore the subtle curves of her collarbone. Almost without volition, his hand burrowed beneath her jumper to fondle her soft breast. Tracing slow circles, he made a brief foray across her nipple. It hardened to a tight point against his palm.

Seamus groaned, fighting his need to explore further. He had to stop. Aislyn deserved more than a frantic groping in an elevator. He tore his mouth from her neck and rested his forehead against hers, his breaths coming in ragged pants. Removing his hand from beneath her jumper was one of the hardest things he’d ever done.

“I’m sorry. For God’s sake, slap me. Please.”

“Why?” Her voice sounded dreamy, the trust she’d shown him tearing at his guts.

“Because…because…” Seamus struggled to verbalize why he needed to stop.

“Kiss me again.”

He groaned and tried to separate their entangled limbs. “You’re not listening to me.”

Her fingers feathered up his arms, over his biceps to make darting forays inside his shirt collar. Her innocent touches sent a jolt through his sensitized body. Heaven help him, but he wanted her naked, writhing against him.

He wanted…he wanted things he couldn’t have.

Come back next Monday for the next chapter

Saturday, December 21st, 2019
Pohutukawa Tree – New Zealand’s Christmas Tree

The pohutukawa tree is a New Zealand Christmas icon since it flowers during November and December. Christmas never seems right to me unless I see the pretty scarlet flowers. The pohutukawa grows in coastal areas and is part of the myrtle family.

Pohutukawa Tree

The Maori people consider the pohutukawa sacred since the spirits of the dead leave Te Reinga (the top of the North Island) via the trees. According to legend, the mythical hero Tawhaki fell from the sky and his blood turned the flowers of the pohutukawa tree red.

pohutukawa tree flowers

Thursday, December 19th, 2019
Waiheke Island: The Setting for Maverick Lovers

View from Waiheke looking back to Auckland

A forty-minute ferry ride from Central Auckland, Waiheke is one of the many islands in the Hauraki Gulf. It’s a popular place with daytrippers and the third most populated area of New Zealand after the North and South Islands.

The convenient proximity to the city means Waiheke residents can comfortably commute to work, and many do.

Waiheke means cascading or ebbing water in the Maori language, and interestingly the temperatures are slightly higher than the Auckland region, which makes it ideal for growing grapes and olives.

Initially, when I started writing Maverick Lovers, I was going to set my romance in one of the country towns that surround Auckland. One day when I was thinking about my setting, the idea of using Waiheke came to me, and I ran with the idea. Waiheke turned out to be perfect, giving my characters a sense of isolation, yet maintaining the small-town feel I was aiming for.

While my characters are busy sorting out their lives, they do get to go wine-tasting, to the beach, and involve themselves in local events like the weekly Farmers’ market.

If you’re interested in visiting Waiheke, these are some of the things you might like to do:

1. Go walking on one of the many walking tracks on and around the island.
2. Check out the art galleries or perhaps the sculpture walk.
3. Go wine-tasting!
4. Try some of the fantastic restaurants, many of which are part of the various vineyards.
5. Visit one of the many beaches to relax, swim, or go bird watching.
6. Water sports – diving, snorkeling, kayaking, swimming.
7. Try out the zip-line (This is relatively new and something I want to try.)
8. Go olive oil tasting.
9. Star-gazing.
10. Visit Stoney Batter – the remains of a World War Two gunnery installation.

Not visiting New Zealand soon? No problem! Go armchair visiting to Waiheke and check out Maverick Lovers.

Maverick Lovers, Friendship Chronicles 6, is due out on 1 Jan 2020. Here is the blurb:

Maverick LoversMaverick: [noun] an independent person who has ideas or behavior that differs from the norm. Someone brave and impulsive who attacks life their way.

Finding and satisfying one lover is difficult…
Adding a second to the equation is an impossible challenge

Christina: her life is spiraling out of control. Her job, her friends, and her family relationships are slipping through her fingers, leaving her achingly alone and staring into the eyes of the black dog of depression. She claws her way free, and finally, a bright spot—she reconnects with a childhood friend. Not a boyfriend, but wow! That’s the way her mind is marching now, straight to Mr. Sexy Pants.

Gabriel: he’s seeing the success he’s worked for after his parents kicked him from their home for something he didn’t do. Christina’s arrival makes him happy, makes him consider a future, a family, then Aidan arrives home. Off-balance because he has feelings for each of them, Gabriel screws up both relationships. Go him!

Aidan: Tired of traveling and clawing his way to the top, he’s come home to claim Gabriel, the man he has always loved. The only problem—while Aidan was running away, Gabriel has moved on with his life. Prepared to fight, he can’t hate the gorgeous yet troubled Christina as much as he wants.

Three lost lovers battle their way to a committed relationship that shouldn’t be possible but has the potential to cement them into a solid and unconventional team.

Learn more here or pre-order https://shelleymunro.com/books/maverick-lovers/

Walheke Walking Track

One of the many walking tracks on the island.

Vineyard view - Waiheke Island

Vineyards, Waiheke

Waiheke Vineyard

Most of the vineyards on Waiheke Island have gorgeous views over the Hauraki Gulf or the Auckland region.

Waiheke Coastline

Waiheke coast

Fun on the beach

Family friendly beaches

The beaches are lovely. Some are sandy while others are rocky. They’re perfect for exploring, swimming, and other water sports or you can just relax with a picnic and a bottle of wine.

Auckland ferry terminal

And finally, this is a view of Auckland city from the ferry on returning after a busy day on Waiheke Island. Visit for the day or stay longer. I guarantee you’ll have fun!