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November 4th, 2019
The Adventures of Aislyn O’Sullivan – Chapter 1

The Adventures of Aislyn O'Sullivan

Chapter One

Duty called.

Seamus Gallagher’s eyes shot open as the sharp instinct settled in his gut. He wrestled his battered body from tangled sheets and crawled out of bed. One glimpse in the mirror elicited a grunt. He’d felt better, but instinct gnawed at him, urging him to speed.

The human side or the fairy colony?

Concentration—heck, any rapid movement—set off pounding vibrations inside his head.

Was it time for Hone’s report, or had Aislyn O’Sullivan pulled another prank and upset the colony board of directors?

Closing his eyes gave the drummer permission to perform a solo complete with a laser-light extravaganza. Next time he’d think twice about a night on the town with Gill.

Biting back a groan, he groped for his cell phone.

No messages.

That decided the matter.

This wasn’t police business.

His guardian duties on the fairy side required attention.

Through bleary eyes, he checked his wristwatch. If he hustled, he’d have time to visit the colony before meeting his partner, Gill, at the Auckland Central police station.

He meandered out his back door into the wild jungle he called a garden. The fresh air revived him, and he charged down a narrow pathway leading into the tangle of overgrown ferns, trees, and shrubs. The gravel crunched beneath his boots as he skirted the puddles created by last night’s rainstorm. Already, the sun shone brightly, and steam drifted off the mounds of fallen leaves beside the path.

When he neared the portal, caution had him pausing. A glance over his shoulder reassured him he was alone, apart from the chatty fantail flitting through the treetops.

Seamus muttered an incantation in the old Celtic language from Mother Ireland. In the emptiness before him, a shimmering portal formed—the doorway to Glenveagh, the fairy village beyond.

Hell’s teeth, his eyes hurt when he focused on the damn thing.

Seamus fumbled in his pocket for sunglasses and slapped them on as he stepped through the fiery blue-white light. Melodic Gaelic tripped off his tongue, interspersed with heartfelt groans. While displacement was standard, nausea and starbursts of white-hot pain through his body were not. Seamus clapped his hand over his forehead and gritted his teeth as he shrank to the size of a Jim Beam bottle.

God’s balls, alcohol was the devil. Deep breaths. In. Out. Gradually his insides realigned, and, feeling marginally better, he clicked his fingers in a rapid staccato code. Seconds later, the portal vanished.

Seamus followed the winding path leading to Glenveagh. The forest gave way to meadows edged by fuchsia hedgerows. Cottages studded the landscape, growing denser when he neared the village proper. He strode down the cobblestone road into the business center. In the square, young fairlings played tag, racing about with shrieks of laughter. Seamus halted to avoid a collision with a blond youngster intent on escape.

A few feet away, fairy women gossiped while examining potatoes and squeezing melons at Marion’s market stall. Seamus smothered a grin because Marion stood poised to pounce. They’d better watch out since she’d attacked customers caught fondling her produce.

At the far end of the square, a group of males huddled in vehement discussion. A spurt of curiosity snared him and, while he pondered possibilities, every shop and civic building in the square altered color. The pristine whitewash walls changed to a sunny buttercup yellow. Voices rose in a heated debate. Seconds later, the yellow buildings transformed into an eye-popping hot pink that made him glad of his sunglasses.

He suppressed a smirk at the cry of outrage. Ever since the O’Brien clan had returned from Ireland, marveling at the colored cottages, the idea of beautification and the resulting squabbles had spread like a smallpox epidemic. The board would face a fight if they wanted to stick with dull white buildings.

Seamus checked the familiar faces in the square, searching for Aislyn. He’d promised her brother he’d monitor her, so he was…

Hell’s teeth! Who was he trying to kid? His entire body hummed with the urgent need to see her—a mistake since she spelled trouble.

With limited time available, he rubbed the Guardian’s silver amulet circling his right biceps and summoned Aislyn’s likeness to his mind. Almost instantly, he materialized on the far side of the village near the stockyards. Rory was talking to someone inside the chute. A frantic neigh rent the air. Timber creaked. Clouds of dust rose from the chute.

Seamus scanned the arena and frowned. Aislyn wasn’t here. The amulet had failed. Again. Gary, his assistant, kept telling him to send it to the French colony for repair.

It was for the best, anyway.

Aislyn unsettled him.

She made him crave the impossible.

A cynical snort escaped. Two hundred years ago, after a war of magical proportions decimated the fairy colonies, the clans signed a treaty. There would be no magic for financial gain. The clans could no longer manufacture riches with magic. Each territory must earn their way with trade. He sighed.

His path was set.

The New Zealand colony’s finances were a mess. The Guardian must marry money and, since he was it, that made him the official sacrifice—the chump marrying for money.

The first obstacle.

Then there was good old Dad and his shenanigans. The jet-setting lifestyle his father had maintained during his term of Guardianship had sucked the colony dry. The cat attacks and the six fairy deaths on the Northern boundary were a direct result of his father’s skimping on security to fuel his entertainment fund. Obligation compelled Seamus to make restitution for his father’s sins.

Face it, Aislyn’s an unattainable dream.

And he was a bloody fool since the Guardian role belonged to him, whether he wanted it or not.

Loyalty and promises.

Responsibility.

Duty.

No matter what, the colony came first in his life—before any physical attraction to a woman.

Seamus was the only one with experience on the human side, familiarity the colony needed to survive into the next century.

Yeah, duty and responsibility sucked.

Pushing aside his futile yearnings, Seamus stepped up to the wooden railings, slid off his sunglasses, and settled in to watch the show.

 

Aislyn glanced at Rory as he peered through the sturdy wooden gate.

“Are you ready, lass?” His wrinkled face bore concern, although he’d stopped trying to talk her out of the ride.

Inside the chute, Aislyn gave a clipped nod. She clamped a black cap on her head and waited, her stomach jitterbugging with nerves.

“On the count of three, lass. One.”

A shuddering breath filled her lungs.

“Two.”

She tightened her grip on the reins, wrapped her slim legs around the streamlined body quivering with fury beneath her, and leaned back in the saddle.

“Three!”

The gate shot open with a protesting creak. Muscles bunched beneath Oher, and a bad-tempered neigh exploded from the brumby as the creature sprang from the chute. Aislyn’s body jerked. She ignored the protesting shake of taut muscles and clung like a leech, determined to emerge the winner in this battle of wills.

She had to win—she just had to.

The brumby skewed to the left, bucked and twisted mid-air. One jolting buck merged into another. Aislyn’s entire body jarred with each powerful surge. Her head snapped back. Her teeth rattled. She could do this. Eight seconds wasn’t long.

The brief lapse in concentration proved the edge her opponent required. Aislyn sailed over the brumby’s head, landing in the dusty arena with a bone-crunching thump.

Aislyn sucked for breath. Rat’s tails! Failure when the honeyed taste of success hovered so near. Close enough to touch. She tried a tentative movement. A jagged shaft of pain shot up her leg, radiating outward. She gasped as every bone in her body protested the abuse. The thump of running feet beat in unison with her head.

“Aislyn, sweetheart. Are you all right?”

A stupid, idiotic question. With her hearing fuzzy from the fall, she didn’t recognize the strong brogue. Probably Rory rushing to her aid and about to tell her she was a fool to attempt to ride one of the Aussie brumbies.
Was she okay? Of course, she wasn’t!

She’d failed to last the required eight seconds.

“Aislyn.” Gentle hands probed her body, leaving tingling warmth in their wake. They turned her over, and she bit back a moan of protest. “Aislyn!” The voice took on a stern tone, while hands grasped her shoulders.

“Stop squeeze…squeezing me.” Her eyelids fluttered open.

“How many fingers?”

She focused and gasped at the harsh visage swimming into view. Midnight black hair and gray eyes the color of the Tasman Sea on a stormy day. She sighed, convinced she was dreaming. “Seamus?”

“Hell’s teeth, Aislyn. What were you thinking?” Seamus pushed the words between clenched teeth while his fists tightened on her shoulders. She winced at the flash of pain. “You could’ve been killed.”

Well, she’d wanted his attention but not like this. Aislyn groaned and pushed his hands away so she could rise to a sitting position.

“Why?” His gray eyes glinted diamond-hard in an unforgiving face.

A fiery blush heated her face and spread downward to her chest. Rats. Why did he have to arrive home right now? All the most embarrassing moments in her life occurred in front of Seamus.

“Are you going to answer me?”

The way he loomed over her made her vulnerable. Not a good look for a recruit.

Avoiding his gaze, she gritted her teeth and pushed to her feet with a wobble. Masculine hands shot out to steady her, and she shrugged them off. “I don’t need your help.” And I can’t think when you touch me.

“You need a keeper.”

She tried to meet Seamus’s gaze—she really did, but managed scant seconds of his mesmerizing glare before her attention shot to her dusty black boots. She sighed, acutely aware of his athletic physique and the way he towered over her by a good eight inches. He wasn’t handsome or pretty, more rugged and masculine. Solid and confident. A reassuring male to have around and the one she lusted…

Two rats and a mouse! She’d thought she had this crush thing beat.

“Why, Aislyn?”

“I have to prove I can ride,” she said. “I want to join the fairy force.” Since I can’t have you.

“What?” His eyes turned to molten steel. A vein twitched in his clenched jaw. Seamus stalked closer, and she fought to stand her ground.

“You’re always yelling at me.” Aislyn scowled at him. Quick, shallow breaths partially blocked his appealing citrus scent. Frustration at his attitude made her tense like a mythical cat primed to pounce. Seamus had no right to boss her around.

“The fairy force doesn’t accept female recruits.”

“Says who?” His smug tone infuriated her so much she whipped a small black book from her trouser pocket and slapped it against his chest. “Where in the rule book does it say that? Show me.”

Aislyn placed her hands on her hips and gave a triumphant smile. He couldn’t. She’d spent every waking hour of the last month poring through the same black book, checking the fine print. No way did she intend to knock herself out training to suffer a check on the brink of success because of a stupid rule she’d missed.

Seamus glanced at the book before placing it on a nearby railing. “You don’t have a hope. When the board of directors stops laughing, they’ll screw up your application form and send you away with a pat on the head. Hell, even if it’s not against the rules, nothing will come of your scheming because you’re not strong enough to complete the final training.”

“I’m smart. That’s half the battle won.”

His dark brows rose, and he snorted. “You forgot, stubborn.”

Aislyn conceded, knowing the accusation was nothing less than the truth.

“Why do you want to leave the safety of the fairy colony? It’s dangerous outside for fairy females.”

Why? He should try stepping into the shoes of a female fairy, restricted to Glenveagh, and never allowed to leave because of stupid cats. Huh! She’d bet the creatures were an urban legend invented by males to keep their female counterparts under control. She remained silent. Only to herself did she admit the truth.

There were two things she wanted from life—Seamus Gallagher and the fairy force. And since Seamus treated her like a younger sibling, she intended to concentrate on joining the fairy force—even if she had to make fairy history to do it.

 

“Well?” Seamus stared at the copper-hair sprite standing in front of him, defiant to the last. Her obstinate expression made him want to shake her silly or at least put her over his knee and spank some sense into her. The thought sent a jolt straight to his cock, and he glared. This was her fault.

“I imagine for the same reasons you joined.” Her face flushed with indignation. “I want to experience the human world. Explore Auckland and compare the city to our colony. Do good deeds, fight destructive crime. I don’t like needlework. The other females can sew to their heart’s content. Why do I need to learn to sew a straight line?”

She needed sense spanked into her delectable… Appalled, he put a brake on his thoughts. “Tell me again. The truth this time.”

“I’ve told you the truth.” Aislyn’s chin shot up, and she inhaled, thrusting her stunning curves into prominence.
Seamus averted his gaze. Beads of sweat formed on his forehead. The enticing vision remained imprinted in his mind, so he started silently counting backward from one hundred.

“You—you’re an MCP.”

Her sky-blue gaze struck like a bolt of lightning, stabbing right to his heart. His counting ground to an abrupt halt. “MCP?”

She gnawed on her bottom lip, and he realized he was staring. Ninety. Eighty-nine. Eighty-eight.

“Male chauvinist pig.”

“Male…that’s a human term. Where did you hear it? Have you been spying on the human who lives at the top of the garden? Have you been spying on the Guardian?”

Given the right atmospheric conditions, fairies could see through the colony walls, but humans couldn’t observe them.

“No!”

“Aislyn.”

Guilty color flooded her face and crept down her neck. Seamus grinned, starting to enjoy her predicament. Aislyn had been spying on him, not that she knew he was the guardian. He’d made the board agree on secrecy before he’d accepted the position. There was enough to worry about without fairy paparazzi dogging his heels, attempting to establish if he took after his fickle, womanizing father.

One dainty foot traced a pattern in the dusty arena. “I was passing.”

“That’s a bit out of your way.” This sounded promising. Damn. Eighty-seven. Eighty-six. Don’t say it. “Fancy him, do you?” Dammit, stop fishing, Gallagher. Eighty-five. Eighty-four.

“Yes. No! All right,” Aislyn admitted.

This was Duncan’s baby sibling. Eighty-three. Hades, he needed to pick a candidate for his first lady and announce the betrothal before he committed a supreme act of stupidity. Even imagining the possibilities was foolish.

Aislyn O’Sullivan was out of bounds. Eighty-two. Eighty-one. Eighty. Do not pursue this conversation. “And if you were a member of the fairy force, you could travel between the human and fairy worlds. You could meet your human on equal terms.”

“Yes,” she said in a small voice. “Now, you know my pitiful secrets.” She averted her face, but not before he witnessed the renewed flush on her cheeks.

Tenderness twisted inside him, and he reached out to grasp her chin, forcing her to meet his gaze. “The fairy force is hard work.” He wasn’t so old he didn’t remember the exhausting training, both mental and physical. “Fairy force work isn’t glamorous. The human world isn’t much different from our colony. We have the same facilities here, the same problems. Why would you want to leave?”

“You don’t understand. Everyone expects me to follow the feminine arts, but I’m bored rigid. I want this, Seamus.”

“Ah, Aislyn.” Despite thoughts of self-preservation, he pulled her into a loose embrace and smoothed his hand over her unruly mop of hair. In the bright New Zealand sunshine, the curls shone like shiny Irish pennies. They were soft and springy to his touch and smelled like fresh juicy apricots. She cuddled closer, giving a soft sigh. Seamus cursed. He wished he wasn’t attracted to her. She made him want things he couldn’t have, not if the colony was to survive into the next millennium.

He stepped back, putting a safer distance between them before cupping her face with one hand. “Have you any idea what you’re letting yourself in for? The odds are against your success, even if you persuade the board to let you try out for the recruits.”

 

Aislyn smiled. His earnest words were cute. He was intent, so sincere. In fact, he looked very similar to the human who lived at the top of the garden. A small gasp escaped. Was that why she watched the human whenever the opportunity arose? Was it because he looked like Seamus? Not that she’d managed a good look at him. The veil separating fairy from human-made everything hazy.

“What?” A smile lurked in his eyes.

Some might call the glint a mischievous twinkle. She knew better. Seamus considered her an annoying younger sibling in need of protection while she loved him. She railed at the injustice while her heart sank at the enormity of her problem.

“Nothing.”

Seamus was a lost cause. He’d never consider her in a romantic light. That’s why she’d set her sights on the force, despite carrying cat-attracting pheromones.

Every female fairy carried the pheromones. Frankly, Aislyn couldn’t see the problem. According to rumor, a cat was a huge, hairy beast with fangs and smelly breath. The stories were pure exaggeration. They must be. She’d questioned several fairy force members when they returned to the colony on leave. They avoided straight answers, but cats must be smaller in stature than humans.

“I’ll help you,” he said without warning. “Duncan would want me to help you.”

Her brother.

Again.

Aislyn tried to read him and failed. She had no idea what went on in that mind of his. Suspicion made her question.

“You’re not joking? Making fun of me?”

Seamus clutched his chest and raised his gaze to the sky. “She wounds me.”

“Fool,” she snapped, trying not to stare at the rippling muscles under his pale blue shirt.

“I’m offering to help you train.”

“Why? You don’t approve.”

“Think of it as a favor to my best friend’s baby sister.”

Aislyn deflated inside like one of her manual attempts at baking a soufflé. Verbal proof. He looked on her as a sister. Despite her hurt, she decided to accept his offer and make him suffer for the unknowing damage he’d inflicted.

“Okay.” She thrust out her hand to seal the bargain, steeling herself against the shiver of pleasure she knew would follow his touch. “So,” she said. “Where and when do we start?”

* * * * *

Hell in a handbasket.

That about summed up the day. Seamus shouldered open his front door and stood aside to let his partner enter.
First Aislyn then Hone—not a day to record for prosperity.

Gill stormed down the passage and turned into the living room. Seamus followed.

“Hone is dead? You saw his body yourself?” Total disbelief covered Gill’s face.

“Yeah.” Seamus stalked the length of his living room and back, ignoring the magnificent view of Auckland city and the harbor beyond. His mouth compressed. “What was left of him.” No one should have to die that way. Dammit, he was responsible. He should’ve taken more care, instructed Hone to take extra precautions.

He whirled to a halt and glanced at his partner and friend, MacGillicuddy. One look told him Gill felt the same burning need for revenge.

Maximillan was going down.

Gill straightened from his slouch and jerked his head toward his fridge in the adjacent room. “Drink?”

“Is the Pope Catholic?” Seamus displayed a flash of teeth in the hope it might pass as a grin. He shrugged off his jacket and flopped down on the nearest chair, thrusting his feet out in a comfortable sprawl. Inside, his gut churned with guilt, self-recrimination, and a hundred other emotions he failed to control.

Gill thrust an ice-cold can at him and dropped into the shabby blue chair opposite.

Seamus bit back his frustration and tugged on the ring-pull. A soft hiss escaped as the can opened. He closed his eyes, tipped back his head, and drank, savoring the crisp taste of hops as the beer slid down his parched throat. A few more beers, and he might even relax. On feeling the weight of a stare, his eyes popped open.

Gill studied him intently. “Do we have anyone in place at Maximillan’s?”

Bloodlust glittered in Gill’s pale blue eyes. Seamus knew the same fierce emotions reflected in his own gaze. “No, but, thanks to Hone, at least we have more info.”

“Hone’s dead because of a scavenger hunt, for God’s sake.” Gill leaped to his feet and paced. With his blond hair sticking up in wayward tufts, scruffy undercover clothes, and his fierce expression, he resembled a demented street person. “Maximillan is stark raving mad if he thinks we’ll let him get away with Hone’s murder and decimating New Zealand’s wildlife all in the name of a friggin’ game. You’ve seen the list?”

“Yeah.” Seamus had seen the scavenger hunt list. The idea that an eccentric millionaire thought he had the right to take whatever he pleased because he possessed big bucks and political clout made him sick. Maximillan’s day would come. Of that, Seamus was confident. Maximillan would make a mistake. So far, the man was wily as a weasel, too crafty to walk into their traps.

Gill whirled about after another lap of pacing. “How the hell do the fools expect the competitors to bag a kakapo chick?” Disgust made his top lip curl. “Smuggling a tuatara and a kiwi egg out of the country is bad enough. Have we notified the conservation departments in Australia and Brazil?”

“Talked to the Aussies half an hour ago. I left a message for the Brazilian contingent. Diego’s gonna ring me.”

“What’s the plan? We’re not overloaded with manpower.”

Seamus shot to his feet, desperate to soothe his agitation with motion. “Another beer?”

“Yeah, but I need to get going soon. Are you sure you don’t want to come? Rachel has a twin sister.”

Seamus grabbed another two cans and handed one to Gill. Although a night on the town sounded frivolous, he knew it was Gill’s way of coping with Hone’s death. Seamus understood the need to push aside the unspeakable, even if escape was for a mere night. “Another time. I have things to do.” Like working out how to deal with Aislyn.

Gill’s brows rose. “The mystery woman again.”

“There is no woman.” A vision of Aislyn with her vivid copper curls danced through his mind. He thrust it away.

“Argue all you like. I don’t believe you. One day you’re gonna break down and tell me.”

Seamus coughed and spluttered when a chug of beer went down the wrong way. He gasped for breath and wiped a dribble of beer from his chin. Gill might be his best friend on the human side, but if he told him the truth, the man would start running and never look back. Some facts were better kept secret. He shrugged, doing nothing to confirm or deny.

A grin twitched at Gill’s mouth. Seamus stiffened. He didn’t trust that look.

“Man, keep your secrets.” Gill sipped his beer. “She’s married,” he said without warning, his tone flat, betraying disappointment.

“She’s not married.”

“Ah! So it is a woman.” Gill’s triumph made Seamus want to put a kink in his friend’s impressive Roman nose.

“Think what you like. Truth is, I don’t feel like going out on the town tonight. Not after last night.”

Gill sobered. “What are we going to do about Maximillan?”

“I’m going to pull a few favors. Try to arrange more police to take in the slack. At least with the list, we have a better idea of the areas they’ll hit. Most of the endangered birds are safe on the offshore islands, but Maximillan’s resort in the Hauraki Gulf is the ideal base for competitors. That’s our main problem.”

“Since it’s right next to Little Barrier Island. Yeah, I know. That’s why we need someone inside the resort or better yet working on Maximillan’s estate.”

Seamus scowled. “Who? Neither of us can go. Maximillan knows our faces.”

“How about one of the recruits?”

Seamus didn’t like the idea. The recruits were keen but inexperienced, and this situation was too bloody dangerous. The empty can in his right hand crumpled as he sought an alternative. “I don’t know. I’ll give the situation some thought.”

Gill grunted. “We need a woman.”

Seamus knew Gill meant a woman undercover on the island, but amusement sparked, anyway. “It always comes down to a woman with you.”

“Nothing better to keep you warm at night,” Gill agreed with a grin. “And on that note, I’d better leave. Don’t want to keep the lady waiting. See you tomorrow.”

“Early,” Seamus warned. “Don’t get too comfortable with all that warmth.”

Gill fired his empty can at the bin and whooped at the noisy clang of success. “A dedicated bachelor, that’s me. You’re the one with the dark, dangerous secrets. Later.”

Gill’s footsteps echoed in the passage as he headed for the front door. Seconds later, his friend’s Ford started with a throaty rumble.

His mouth twisted as he replayed Gill’s words. Secrets. His friend knew Seamus Gallagher, police detective. He didn’t have a clue about Seamus’s double role as Guardian in charge of the fairy colony. Yeah, he possessed dark secrets. Dangerous secrets and it was a damn juggling act trying to keep the balls in play. He hoped like hell he didn’t take a wrong step and suffer a concussion in the fallout.

He headed off for a shower, and ten minutes later, dropped into a leather recliner in his den. Despite the cold water, his blood still ran hot.

Aislyn’s fault.

He rubbed his hands over his face and cursed softly. Talk about a big mouth. The instant he’d spoken, he’d known he should turn and walk—hell—sprint in the opposite direction. Instead, he’d offered to help her train when he needed to concentrate on avenging Hone’s death and stopping Maximillan.

His fists clenched while he contemplated his stupidity. Too late to take back his offer now. He’d given his word. The future loomed full of cold showers and long sleepless nights filled with fantasies that wouldn’t quit—of copper curls, firm breasts, trim thighs…curves in all the right places.

Bloody hell. He should’ve taken up Gill on his offer of a night on the town.

Then he laughed, the hard edge holding not a trace of humor. He stood to pour a glass of Jameson’s and stared into the amber liquid, deep in thought.

The names of the successful applicants would be announced at the Witches and Goblin’s ball in one month. Working with Aislyn until then would be like staring temptation in the face and daring it on.

Masochist.

He dragged out a file, intending to bury himself in work instead of fixating on Aislyn O’Sullivan. This surge of lust for her was a temporary blip. It would pass, and life would go on. Police work had filled his life for a decade, his Guardian duties two years. Guilt pricked him. He should decide on a wife and announce his betrothal, yet he hesitated, and his remorse grew.

Purposely pushing Aislyn to the back of his mind, he shuffled through the papers in his manila file until he found the scavenger hunt list. According to intelligence Hone had supplied, each of the twenty competitors put up half a million American dollars to enter with the winner taking out a cool ten million in prize money. The challenge attracted the competitors most, not the prize package.

Too much money to know better.

Boredom was a hell of a thing.

Seamus ran his finger down the list. Fifteen items, all rare and challenging to attain, and they came from far-flung corners of the world. Fury built within him, burning his gut, fueling his determination to capture Maximillan.

Kakapo chicks. They were an endangered species, so scarce there were eighty-six in existence. Damn if he’d let Maximillan and his mates take what they wanted without a fight.

The persistent ring of the colony cell phone jerked Seamus to the present. “Gallagher.”

An Irish brogue blasted down the line. “Dammit, what do you mean by encouraging the O’Sullivan lass? You might be Guardian, but you should’ve consulted the rest of the board first.”

Seamus frowned. A rattled Murphy. “What’s happened?”

“The O’Sullivan lass applied to join the fairy force. When Moira McKenzie refused her application, the lass turned her into a white rat.”

Seamus’s lips twitched when he pictured the board’s office assistant in white fur and whiskers. Hell’s teeth, what was he going to do with Aislyn O’Sullivan? “I thought there was an ordinance against the use of magic on the board premises?”

“Yes, well.” Murphy spluttered, sounding like a gobbling turkey. “If the fairy force recruits were chosen on sheer ingenuity, the O’Sullivan lass would be a shoo-in. She accosted Moira in the Dunlewy deli. Only the owners, Max and Hilda, witnessed the debacle. Thank goodness!”

“No problem then.”

“I haven’t got to the good bit,” Murphy said. “The rat…ah…Moira ran up Hilda’s skirt, Hilda tripped and fell over the dessert trolley. The sweets went flying, and Hilda sacked the O’Sullivan lass. Aislyn O’Sullivan is trouble. Moira is blaming me.”

“Murphy, if you must dip your wick—”

“That’s none of your business!” Murphy made the crazed gobbling sound again.

Seamus bit back a grin. The affair between Murphy and Moira was an open secret.

“Boy, this is your fault. You encouraged the lass. We can’t have females joining the fairy force. It’s unthinkable. If we let her join, the womenfolk will push for more. We can’t allow it. If we let one female out of the colony, they’ll all want to go.” Murphy’s voice rose with each successive sentence. “Next thing we know, they’ll want females on the board!”

“Would that be a bad thing?” Seamus heard Murphy’s sharp intake of breath and waited for the inevitable gobbling.

“Women on the… Are you mad?”

Seamus grinned, unsurprised at the older male’s reaction. “The doctor passed me on my last medical. I’m quite sane.”

“Then why are you encouraging the O’Sullivan fairy?” Murphy roared.

Seamus held his mobile away from his ear. “I tried to talk her out of applying, but she’s adamant. She wants to try out for the next intake of recruits.”

“It’s against the rules,” Murphy said.

Seamus glanced over at the black rulebook sitting on the corner of his desk. He’d read the thing from cover to cover after talking to Aislyn. “There’s nothing in the rules to prevent a female from applying.”

“Nothing?” Murphy demanded in a hoarse voice.

“I checked. Murphy, you’re panicking over nothing. She has to make the cut first.”

“You mean—? Ah, I’m with you. We’ll make sure she doesn’t make the cut. Now I know why we voted you Guardian.”

“Coerced and blackmailed, you mean. And no, that’s not what I meant,” Seamus snapped, incensed on Aislyn’s behalf.
“We have to take care of our reaction. The fairy press will scrutinize everything we do, and the other colonies around the world will run the news because it’s a good fairy interest story. Consider the facts. Making the cut is difficult, even for a male. You know how high the drop out rate is during hell week.”

“So you’re saying let the O’Sullivan lass compete and give it her best shot?”

“Legally, we can’t stop her applying, but physically I don’t think she’s capable.”

“Then why are you training her?”

“I want to keep an eye on developments.” Seamus worked to keep the bite from his voice. If he repeated this often enough, maybe even he’d come to believe his own excuses.

Chapter 2 coming next week.

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