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.
“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.
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