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.
“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.
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.”
“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