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Archive for December, 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.

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

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.

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

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

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!

Once Upon A Time Fairy Tale Promo

Fairy Tale Book Fair

Do you enjoy reading fairy tale retellings?

Check out these ones, including my One Night of Misbehavior, which is a Cinderella retelling. It’s on sale for 99c for a limited time.

Take me to the Fairy Tales – Once Upon a Time

The Adventures of Aislyn O’Sullivan – Chapter 7

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.

Chapter 7

“Did she name her accomplice?” the commander asked the instant Seamus entered the boardroom.

Scalding fury at the board members and his own culpability warred within him. He shoved guilt aside and concentrated on the here and now. “Rule five hundred and twenty, section two, subparagraph four,” he stated, glaring at each of the board members until they wriggled their bums on their padded chairs. “Guardian’s privilege.”

“Now wait one pixie-popping minute,” the commander said. “You can’t evoke the Guardian’s privilege. We’re the board. We have powers.”

“Hear, hear,” O’Regan said.

Around the oak table, the board members hooted, emphatic in their agreement.

“I’m the Guardian,” Seamus said, meeting the commander’s gaze square on. “I was coerced into the position. You pleaded and told me I owed the colony. You can’t have things both ways.”

While Seamus agreed he owed the colony, the way they’d treated Aislyn was abysmal.

“You’ve got the hots for the O’Sullivan female. She’s scrambled your brain. Why don’t you bed her and move on? There’s no law against taking your ease with a female. You’re not betrothed yet,” Murphy said, punctuating his accusation with a breathless gobble.

Shocked silence met Murphy’s charge. Each of the board members stared at Seamus. Beady speculation glinted in their eyes.

A muscular tick burst to life at the corner of Seamus’s jaw. Under the table, his hands clenched. “I wasn’t aware my private life held such interest for you. But, to clear the air, I’m not involved with Aislyn O’Sullivan. I have not had sexual relations with that fairy.

“You helped her to train for the fairy force recruitment exam,” Murphy objected.

“Aye, you did.” O’Regan jotted a note in his notebook.

Seamus fought an inner battle for calm, fisting his hands to prevent a grab for O’Regan’s pen or worse, his neck.

“I trained Aislyn to help prevent potential problems.” He strove for a reasonable tone. “I know you were against allowing her application, but the board must act fairly.” Hell’s teeth. His personal life was under a microscope. The board was out of line. His life was just that—private.

The commander poured himself a cup of coffee. “Perhaps if you’d announce your betrothal and set the colony on the way to financial recovery with a big, fat dowry, we might think more kindly toward the O’Sullivan female.”

Out and out coercion. Seamus clacked his teeth together, his eyes narrowing. “Anyone else have anything to add?” Cool contempt filled his voice.

“Yes,” O’Regan refused to meet his gaze. Instead, he concentrated on Murphy and the commander. “The O’Sullivan fairy has broken the law. She has endangered the lives of our wives and children. We must expel her from the colony.”

“The Guardian is right,” Murphy spoke fast, no doubt fearing they were treading into dangerous territory. “We have no proof she left the colony. We can’t leave her languishing in jail. I say we send her on the exchange program. Send her to another colony and let them deal with her militant ideas.”

An excited discussion broke out. Seamus tensed, although he maintained his casual sprawl. He didn’t want Aislyn to leave.

O’Regan yelled over the top of the babbled arguments. “Good idea, but it won’t work. The papers picked up the story. The overseas colonies have heard the news. They’ll refuse her entry.”

Seamus straightened. Time to take control. If he didn’t speak up, she’d end up exiled in Outer Mongolia or somewhere equally hostile. “We should let her join the fairy force.”

“What?” Murphy squawked.

O’Regan leaped to his feet, smacking his hands on the oak table. “Are you mad?”

“You’re rewarding the female,” the commander snapped. “Hardly the thing. Not the thing at all.”

“What if I take responsibility for her while she’s out of the colony?” While it wasn’t the best idea, he couldn’t think of a better one. He’d foist her off on his assistant, Gary, and avoid her and the temptation she provided.

The board members muttered. They argued. Some shook their heads while others tsk-tsked, setting Seamus’s teeth on edge. They were a pack of old women.

“I have it!” O’Regan shouted, leaping from the seat he’d only just reclaimed.

“Spit it out,” the commander said. “Let us judge.”

Let them judge.

That was ironic. Seamus folded his arms across his chest and waited for O’Regan to spill his pearls of wisdom. The burden of his Guardian duties weighed as heavy as a yoke around his neck.

“The research scientists are always complaining they can’t test their cat remedies outside the colony. I say we suggest to the O’Sullivan female that she is our…ah…” He hesitated, inhaled, and cast a quick look at Seamus.

“Appoint her as a research assistant and have her test the cat remedies.”

“Brilliant. Absolutely brilliant!” Murphy’s gobble of triumph made Seamus itch to throttle him.

Seamus shot to his feet. He grasped the edge of the table to keep his hands busy and hopefully prevent bloodshed in the hallowed halls of the council. “Would you let your daughter test cat remedies?”

The commander drew his bushy eyebrows together and fidgeted with his pen, refusing to meet Seamus’s wrath. “That’s not the subject under discussion.”

“You said you’d offer support and supervision.” O’Regan narrowed his piggy eyes. “Or does the female tempt you to forgo duty?”

“Why you—” Seamus took two steps in the direction of the slight fairy with the big mouth and froze. “I’m busy drawing up a list of prospective first ladies. Once I decide on a candidate, and the negotiations are complete, I’ll announce my betrothal,” he gritted out. “I know my duty.”

Delighted grins bloomed on their faces. Several fairies stood to clap him on the back.

“Excellent news,” the commander said, beaming.

Seamus slunk back to his seat, a wide grin pasted on his face. Inside, nausea swam through his stomach and attempted to crawl up his throat. Saying it aloud to the board made his betrothal sound final. A trap that made him resentful. Couldn’t he ever think of himself before the colony? His grin fell away but not the sense of obligation.

Murphy beamed. “We’ll have a wee dram in celebration once we hammer out the specifics regarding the O’Sullivan female.”

The noose of responsibility tightened around Seamus’s neck. He managed another weak smile. “Any suggestions as to where she could live?” If they suggested his house, he was doomed. He only had so much willpower.

“The fairy force members are fully integrated with the human police recruits. Why can’t we move the O’Sullivan female into the hostel? Several of the human officers are female,” Murphy said.

An old-timer nodded. “Perfect. That’s settled. Jameson’s, I think. The good stuff.”

“Who will tell her?” O’Regan asked.

The fairies studied each other, then turned to Seamus.

“You’re Guardian so it should come from you,” the commander said.

“She should sign a contract first,” O’Regan said. “The contract will have to come from the board.”

Murphy gave a distressed gobble. “Too time-consuming. A contract will take time.”

Seamus watched them communicate silently and come to a rapid decision.

“We’ll have the contract ready for the female to sign at ten o’clock tomorrow morning.

Seamus checked his watch. “I have Aislyn in a safe place and will bring her here in the morning.” His glare cut potential arguments to nil. “One more thing. I know you have problems with Aislyn, but make the contract a fair one.”

Heads nodded in unison. Red faces shone with innocence.

Seamus snorted as he strode from the building. Now, why did he have trouble believing them?

* * * * *

The next day dawned bright and sunny. With plenty of time in hand, Seamus picked the old-fashioned way of traveling. He walked, savoring the flirtatious breeze and the heat from the sun on his bare head—a fine day to test his willpower. The sooner he picked a consort, formalized their betrothal, and made an announcement, the better. He wasn’t blind. Aislyn didn’t think of him as a brother.

Changing his mind about walking, he stabbed the blue button on his armband. Seconds later, he popped into a minute steamy room. A woman sang one of the latest fairy hits, her body gyrating to a silent beat only she heard. The scent of ginger-and-fresh apricots filled the room. Groaning, Seamus peered through the misty air, his stomach swooping and plunging as horror worked up his throat. Wet, red curls hung around her head and resembled curly rat’s tails. He snapped his eyes shut, but not before the imprint of Aislyn’s naked body ricocheted around his mind. Ah, hell. She bore seriously touchable curves—ripe, wet curves that begged him to reach out and touch, slender legs long enough to wrap around his hips…

Reaction flooded his body, lust pulling his cock tight. He groped for the door and flung himself into the passage, breathing hard and heavy. Three gasping breaths later, he still smelled Aislyn. He’d never eat an apricot again without thinking of her, picturing her naked.

Thank the good lord Aislyn hadn’t noticed him pop into the bathroom.

“Hello.”

Seamus jerked in shock. His mouth worked, but no sound came out. Like an idiot, he stared at the blonde fairy woman.

Instead of the scream he expected, she smiled at him. “I didn’t realize Aislyn expected a visitor. Sorry, I’ll make myself scarce. Tell Aislyn goodbye for me.”

By the time Seamus had his mouth in working order, she’d disappeared out the front door, leaving him alone with Aislyn. Alone with naked temptation.

“I don’t have to succumb to temptation.” Tomorrow he’d give the amulet to Gary to send for servicing. Hang on a minute. What did she mean, she didn’t realize Aislyn had company? Jealousy stopped him short. Did Aislyn make a habit of bringing male fairies home for the night?

The bathroom door opened, and ginger-and-apricot scented steam billowed into the passage. Seamus’s gut churned as he straightened to face the pint-sized fairy who made him weak at the knees.

“Good morning,” he said, managing a half-smile.

“Sorry, have you been waiting long?” Aislyn asked, a cheery smile on her face. “I had to wait for Caitlin to collect my clothes from home.”

“She told me to tell you goodbye on her behalf.” Seamus dragged deep for calm, even as he digested the reason for the other fairy’s presence. Aislyn acted as if she paraded in front of male fairies all the time, wearing nothing more than a skimpy towel and a smile. Perhaps she did? No, Glenveagh was so small the gossip would’ve reached him. Relief weakened his knees, the reaction irking him.

“We’re due at the council buildings in five minutes,” he said, his burst of temper aimed at himself as much as her. “I’ll wait in the lounge.”

Seamus stomped along the hall and slammed the door while he struggled to deal with a myriad of compelling, confusing emotions. He wanted her. He wanted the right to stroke her naked body and share the shower with her. Her bed. He sucked in a deep breath, willing his unruly body into submission. Aislyn wasn’t for him, no matter how much his body throbbed with the urgent need to claim her.

“I’m ready,” Aislyn chirped, a mere five minutes later.

Not long enough to work off his lust or build walls of protection. Seamus’s temper strained for freedom but pride bade him hold his tongue. Instead, he gnashed his teeth, struggling to come to terms with the situation. Situation—hell.

The problem was Aislyn. In her black jeans and tight black-and-white jumper, she seemed an adult rather than Duncan’s little sister. He jerked his lustful gaze away before she caught him slobbering.

“We’re late,” he snapped. “Take my arm.”

Holding his breath, he thumped the amulet. If they landed anywhere except the council chambers, so help him, he’d deliver the faulty product to the guru in France himself. Let one fairy mutter the words, out of warranty, and he’d ram the bloody thing somewhere uncomfortable. They wouldn’t sit for a week.

Seconds later, they shimmered into the square in front of the council rooms. Seamus propelled her into the board room and shoved her onto a chair. Mission accomplished, he dived from the boardroom.

Aislyn-free air.

Man, he’d thought it before, and he’d think it again—he was never gonna eat an apricot again. He stalked over to the commander on the other side of the reception room.

“Aislyn’s waiting in the boardroom,” he said. “Let’s get the agreement signed. I have a meeting on the human side.”

The men filed into the room one by one. They were hard-put to contain their glee. Each sat in their assigned seat, apart from the commander. He planted a sheaf of papers in front of Aislyn.

“I take it Seamus has explained what will happen?”

 

Aislyn sought Seamus. Her heart thudded, only settling when she found him, leaning against the wall, arms folded across his chest. The brooding expression on his face should have made her nervous. He intended to scare her away, but she suspected his moodiness was a facade to keep her at bay. His presence helped her jittery nerves to relax.

“No.” Under the table, she clasped her hands together, tense while she waited for her punishment.

“You will leave the colony,” the commander said.

Expulsion. A sick sensation settled inside her belly, and she slumped in her chair. “Where will I go?”

“Hell’s teeth,” Seamus snapped, pushing away from the wall. He sounded angry on her behalf. “Aislyn, what the commander means is they’re allowing you to take up a job on the human side. You’ll become an unofficial part of the fairy force.”

Her head snapped up, her shoulders straightening from a loser’s slump. “The fairy force. Me?” she croaked.

“There are conditions,” Murphy informed her in a snooty tone. “If you fail to abide by the conditions we set, we’ll make alternative arrangements.”

Pure, exquisite joy spurted and bubbled through her veins. Her gaze sought Seamus, and not even his scowl dimmed her happiness. They were letting her leave the colony to join the fairy force. “I’ll agree to anything,” she said fervently. “Anything at all.”

“Who helped you leave the colony?” Murphy asked. “A name. We want a name.”

Oh, heck. Not that. Seamus played such an essential part in the community, liaising between the human and fairy worlds. Her shoulders hunched in defeat. Confession was out of the question since Seamus had helped with her training, never once scoffing at her ambitions.

“I’m sorry. I can’t tell you.” Disappointment surged through her. “I guess I’ll have to stay here.”

“Murphy,” Seamus gritted out, an edge to his voice. He glowered—a man pushed to the limit.

A nervous gobble echoed through the luxurious room. “Read the papers and sign them. You need to initial each page to confirm your agreement with our terms. The contract will last for one year. Once the year expires, we will renegotiate the terms.”

They hadn’t told her everything. A few board members wore expressions of pity. With a visible tremor, she accepted the pen the commander handed her. She pushed aside her uneasiness and bent to read the official documents. Her eyes narrowed. They wanted her to test the anti-cat weapons. She turned the page in the quiet room and read the next page. Accident compensation rates, life insurance, public liability. Reports due on a monthly basis.

When she glanced up from the contract, she caught the stern visages. Some still bore pity while others appeared quietly satisfied. The fools. They thought this was a punishment. She schooled her expression to neutral, quashing the celebratory roar building inside her.

The adventure she longed for and a purpose.

She scrawled her initials and turned the page, exulting in anticipation.

At the end of the contract, she signed her name with a flourish. “Who wants to witness the agreement?”

Not one member of the board moved.

“I’ll do it.” Seamus stepped up beside her, affixing his heavy scrawl under her signature before stepping back. “I have to go. When do you want me to return for Aislyn?”

“One week from today,” the commander said. “That will give her time to pack and receive her instructions from the research department.”

Aislyn flashed a grin at Seamus. His return scowl did nothing to dampen her soaring spirits. Finally, she’d leave the colony and take her rightful place in the world.

She’d landed her dream job.

* * * * *

Sameth scanned the crowded room, searching for potential problems. The party was in full swing, the entrants assembled at Maximillan’s resort, ready for the start of the competition. Classical music played in the background. Candles glowed on the intimate tables. The buffet table held a vast and exotic spread. She’d planned the event with precision along with the endless supply of expensive champagne to lower inhibitions.

From the doorway, she observed the couples on the dance floor and compared her unrelieved black sheath with the peacock bright plumes worn by the other women. Armani gowns stood alongside New Zealander Karen Walker’s creations. The women glittered with diamonds, a conspicuous display of their wealth. The men wore designer labels too, ranging from formal to casual.

In every corner of the room, she spotted the subtle nuances of rich men and women trying to outdo each other. Every new gadget and toy was on display, competitors juggling for the essential mental edge in the coming competition. A few were open friends and others deadly enemies.

Sameth’s job was to discover which camp they fell into and use the information to Maximillan’s advantage.

No easy assignment when winning was everything to these people.

She surveyed the laughing faces with an edge of cynicism. She trusted none of them and remained watchful. Because of her job with Maximillan, she’d garnered enemies. Strolling past the buffet table, ostensibly to check on the caterers, she collected the careless gossip, filing away useful snippets for later reference.

Greed.

It governed their every action.

Maximillan was no exception. In his face, she witnessed the thrill of the hunt and the desire to get one-up on his business competitors. Top dog. That’s what this competition meant to Maximillan.

Sameth checked her watch and slipped from the ballroom to check everything was in order for the start of competition tomorrow. Once clear of partygoers, she strode along a narrow but well-lit pathway to a small clearing where she’d left her motorized golf cart.

During the ten-minute drive from the resort to the estate, she went over the details in her mind. She parked the cart and dashed to the office. She liked to check the guards were alert and at their stations instead of goofing off. The instant she appeared in the doorway, the two brawny men standing at the office door stood to attention.

Although chunky, their weight rested evenly on their feet, poised to strike at a second’s notice.

“Problems?” Sameth asked, pleased by their vigilance. Their assignment was an important one—to guard the list before the start of competition in the morning. Even Maximillan had no idea of the list contents since he’d wanted to enter the competition and pit his wits against his friends. Sameth was both author and custodian.

“All quiet,” one guard replied. “We haven’t seen a soul.”

“Keep alert,” she warned, seeking eye contact with both men to enforce the order. Satisfied, she hustled along the passage, her heels clicking on the tiled floor.

In her bedroom, she exchanged her gown for casual clothes, still unrelieved black, and tugged a pair of comfortable flats onto her feet. After yanking a black nylon daypack from under her bed, she opened her bedroom door a few inches to peer along the corridor in both directions. Empty. A smile curved her lips. The sleeping pills in the staff dinners had done the trick. Apart from the guards, the rest of the staff was asleep. Elation hummed through her, anticipation widening the smile on her lips. Everything was going to plan.

Sameth crept from the house and, once clear, increased her speed, a buoyant spring of expectancy in each step. The tang of salt became stronger, the crash of waves tumbling to shore more distinct now. Sameth escalated her pace until she was almost running.

Without warning, a body appeared on the path in front of her and unable to halt in time, she careered into them headfirst. The air whooshed from her lungs. She tripped, twisting her body in a blind panic. She muttered a curse.

Two hands settled on her shoulders, holding her upright. Instead of the rough treatment she expected, the hands relaxed. Her head jerked up to peer through the darkness.

She exhaled with a soft sigh. “You’re here.”

“I’m here, darlin’. I promised, didn’t I?”

Letting out a whoop of joy, she sprang into his arms, winding her legs around his waist. He gave a bark of surprised laughter and whirled them both around in a circle. Their lips met, the games ended, and night noises took over. The lonely cry of a Morepork came from the trees, the slap of water against the bow of a boat, and the breeze ruffling the trees.

The moon peeked from behind a cloud, and he smiled at her. “Ah, darlin’, I’ve missed you.” He smoothed his hands through her hair and mapped her face with his fingertips. “Can you spend the night?”

“I can stay until early morning.”

“Then what are we waiting for?” He swaggered along the path carrying her with ease. Sameth pressed against his chest, burrowing her hands beneath his collar to touch warm skin and inhaling to reacquaint herself with his scent. Inside, she ached with need, her body pulsing with a heady sense of expectation.

The path gave way to sand, the sand to the water. He waded into the shallows where a second man waited with an inflatable dingy.

The man greeted her with a wide smile. “Sameth, darlin’. Long time no see. How ya doing?”

She giggled. “Fine. I’m doing fine.”

The man who held her gave a mock growl. “She might be fine, but I’m not.” The moonlight showcased his wolfish smile, and she grinned back as he set her inside the boat. “Sameth and I have some private catching up to do.” He settled beside her and she leaned against his broad chest, treasuring the rare moment of togetherness.

The oars slapped the water with a rhythmic beat as the second man rowed to an anchored launch. Five minutes later, they pulled alongside.

Sameth’s tongue swept out to slide across her bottom lip. Longing seeped deep into her bones when she studied the harsh visage. He bore a maddening touch of arrogance, but she wouldn’t love a man who lacked confidence. He nuzzled the delicate skin at the base of her neck. She trembled, her body desperate for more personal contact.

“How long do we have?” the second man asked.

Reluctantly, she retreated a few inches, but she was unable to let go. Her hand stroked one biceps.

“Until four in the morning,” she murmured, only partly concentrating on the conversation. “I need to be on the beach at four. If I meet anyone on the way back to the house, I’ll say I’ve been for a run.” She relaxed against his chest again, reveling in their physical differences.

“I’ll knock on the cabin door at ten minutes to the hour. Did you bring the list?”

“Of course.” She shrugged off the pack and handed it to the second man. “All the details are in there.”

“You’re a champion, darlin’.”

The man holding Sameth grinned. “I knew that already, little brother. Now scoot, will you? I want privacy with my girl.” He bent his head, his mouth covering Sameth’s hungrily, before he swung her into his arms and headed for the master cabin.

Chapter 8 coming next week

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