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“Sorry, I took so long.” Aislyn flew into Gary’s office, the breeze she created, sending several papers fluttering from their neat piles. “I missed the bus.”
Gary slapped his hand on the closest pile of papers. “Too busy gawking, huh?”
Shame-faced, she nodded. “Something like that. What do you want me to do?”
“I’m checking through the missing person’s files we collected earlier.”
Aislyn accepted the file he handed her and plonked onto an upright chair. She wriggled her bottom to the edge and placed her feet on the nearby two-drawer filing cabinet. “How do we know these women haven’t disappeared to start a new life?”
“We don’t, but we need to check the descriptions in the files with the details we’ve received regarding the floater. Clothes, facial features—that sort of thing, though with a drowning and since the body’s been in the water for a while, it’s difficult.”
Aislyn nodded and turned her attention to the report. She flicked over the page and read the other side. The phone’s strident buzz cut through the industrious silence.
Gary scooped up the phone. “Auckland Central.” A roar blared down the line, making Aislyn jump. Grimacing, Gary extended the phone to her. “It’s for you.”
As she accepted the phone, the ferocious roaring became more recognizable. “And hello to you too,” she said sweetly.
“What the hell are you playing at?” Seamus’s aggressive shout subsided to an icy chill that sent a shiver along her spine.
“I’m doing my nice little admin job, just as you and the board instructed.” As long as she did her job and tested the anti-cat remedies, he had no right to complain.
“Put Gary back on,” Seamus said.
Aislyn saluted with her free hand and thrust the phone at Gary. “Seamus wants to talk to you.”
“Oh, joy.” After taking a deep breath, he spoke into the phone. “Yo, boss, I’m all ears. Okay. Got it.” He replaced the phone. “They’ve identified the body. It’s Elsa. I’ll send these files back to missing persons and show you what to work on for the rest of the week.”
“That’s sad.” Aislyn thought of the young woman she’d seen during her first visit to the human side. She spent the next hour filing and starting on the list of jobs Gary gave her to complete.
“What should I wear to this party tonight?” she asked during their tea break. “Is it casual or dressy?” With his fancy duds and colored hair, it seemed natural to ask him.
“Think casual sexy,” he said. “With your coloring, I’d suggest opting for your basic black. Black trousers and a snug black top should do the trick.”
Aislyn nodded. Basic black, she had. Sexy…well, that might take longer, but she’d do her best.
* * * * *
Streetlights lit the road, piercing the gloom of the night by the time Aislyn left the hostel with a group of recruits.
A brown-hair recruit waved his arms at a passing cab. “We will need two,” he said. “There’s another one. Grab it.”
Aislyn climbed into the back seat of one cab.
“Where to?” the driver asked.
“Muddy Farmer,” the brown-hair recruit said and slid into the taxi beside Aislyn.
The cab pulled away from the curb. Aislyn pressed her nose to the window, eagerly taking in the sights on the way to the pub. They whizzed past huge towering buildings and brightly lit shops. The windows displayed intriguing fashions and products to tempt customers to part from their money. Vehicles of varied colors and designs zapped past in both directions, their speed making her head spin.
The male sitting behind the driver nudged the brown-hair one sitting next to Aislyn. He jerked his head at her and sniggered. “You can always tell the new recruits by the way they gawk. It seems the female ones are no different.”
Let them poke fun at her. Stupid male fairies. And they were fairies—Aislyn could tell by the faint blue aura surrounding their heads. No matter—she didn’t need them. She’d find friends among the humans. She turned her attention back to the world outside the taxi. As the cab slowed for a set of traffic lights, a group of six young humans—teenagers—ran across the road, whooping and hollering. The city was so busy.
With privacy at a premium, she wondered where she could test the anti-cat potions. She hadn’t seen a cat, and she’d been looking.
The cab stopped outside a pub. The sign read, The Muddy Farmer. Everyone piled out, and the last male out pointed at Aislyn.
“She’s paying,” he said to the driver. The fairies disappeared inside the pub as fast and fleet of foot as Murphy when Moira was on the warpath. Aislyn scowled at the empty doorway of the pub. They wouldn’t catch her again. The board had given her fifty human dollars to start off, and she couldn’t afford to waste a cent.
“Fifteen dollars fifty thanks, luv.”
Aislyn clambered out of the cab, pulled a battered leather wallet from her pocket, and opened it to extract the single crisp fifty-dollar note. “Here you go.”
The driver handed her change. She glanced at the notes curiously before she put them away.
“I’ll take that!” A stranger snatched her wallet and raced away.
“But that’s…” Shock yielded to fury. How dare he steal her money? She whipped back her hand, muttered a quick incantation, and pointed an index finger at the fleeing thief.
Perplexed, Aislyn tried a different spell. The man disappeared around a corner into an alley with every single hair on his head intact.
“You all right, luv?”
Aislyn gaped at the taxi driver, shock robbing her of rational thought. Her magic had failed. “Ah, yeah,” she said, turning to stare at the alley where the thief had disappeared. “I’m fine.” Apart from the fact, her last dollars now lived in the thief’s pocket, and her magical powers had vanished. Yeah, she was fine and dandy.
“Here’s my card, luv. If you need the name of a witness when you report to the police, get them to contact me. You can ring them from inside the pub.”
“Thanks.” Aislyn’s mind was on more immediate concerns—like the failure of her magical powers.
The driver climbed back into his vehicle. Seconds later, the cab pulled away from the curb and drove off. Aislyn took one step toward the entranceway of the pub and came to an abrupt halt. Her mouth tightened, her eyes narrowed.
She wanted her wallet back.
Aislyn stomped away from the pub to the alleyway. Her magic might have failed but, thanks to her training with Seamus, she knew several hand-to-hand combat moves to send the thief limping for the hills—if she caught him.
The alley ran between a warehouse and the rear of an Indian restaurant. A huge bin overflowed with debris from the gutted warehouse. A smaller red bin held rubbish from the restaurant. The pungent stench made Aislyn’s eyes water. Aislyn inhaled through her mouth to block the worst of the smell. It was an excellent place for a thief to loiter because no sane being would stand next to the bin wafting such noxious odors. She adjusted her firm footfalls to a noiseless skulk. A loud clatter up ahead froze her in place. Her heart pattered, but she inched forward, impatience throwing prudence by the wayside. Something, a foot perhaps, knocked a piece of wood against the bin.
“Hiyah!” Aislyn hollered and sprang, hands raised in a classic defense position. From the corner of her eye, she caught a flash of movement in the dark shadows. Mid-air, she realized something small had caused the noise.
Frantically, she twisted to avoid the creature. She fell, hitting the ground with a thud, the air exploding from her lungs with a pained wheeze.
She groaned while she struggled to breathe. Minutes passed. Her elbows smarted, and her right hip felt as if someone was jabbing it with a sharp stick.
Aislyn struggled to rise.
“Rats,” she muttered.
So much for her wallet. The thief had scampered.
As she brushed her black trousers, the creature that caused her fall slinked from the shadows and approached her cautiously. “Meow.”
“A cat.” Aislyn eyed the skinny black animal with irritation. “Why didn’t you trip over the wallet thief? Why me?”
“Meow.” The cat sprang onto a low window ledge and up to a piece of timber jutting out from inside the bin. A few inches to the right of where the cat landed, Aislyn spied her wallet. Standing on tiptoe, she grasped the brown leather wallet and combed through the contents. No money, but everything else was intact, including her precious photo of Seamus. She sighed. “Thanks, cat. I’d better get to this party. Maybe someone will lend me enough money to buy a drink.”
She wandered back along the alley to the pub. The door flew open seconds before Aislyn grasped the handle. The man on the other side winked and stood aside to let her enter.
“In you go. Wish I was staying.”
“Thanks,” Aislyn said.
Myriad scents assaulted her as she glanced around with interest. Happy men and women took up the available floor space, and their chatter pounded her ears. Music poured from the corner of the room. Irish music. The twang of the fiddle, a flirty tin whistle, and the thud of the bodhrán made her feel right at home.
“Where’s the private function room?” Aislyn asked the man standing next to her.
“See the sign over there? The room is to the right, along the passage, turn left, and right again. You can’t miss it.”
Up ahead, she caught the faint flash of a blue aura. A fairy. She pushed through a gap in the crowd and collided with a muscular chest.
Seamus. Before she could move clear, another hard jolt from a woman tottering past on high heels sent her flying into his arms. Hard, sculpted muscles pressed against her chest, her belly, her legs, and instant desire speared her. A blush heated her face, and an internal shudder rocked her from her head to the tips of her toes. Memories of the kisses they’d shared sped through her mind.
“You’re late,” he growled next to her ear. “Where have you been? I know you arrived at least half an hour ago with a group from the hostel.”
Aislyn sighed and made no attempt to evade the truth. “I had a tiny accident.”
Seamus pushed her far enough away to see her face. “What happened?”
“It was my fault,” she said.
“It’s always your fault.”
Hands fisted at her sides, his words igniting her ire. “Do you want me to tell you or not?”
She wanted to hit him, she really did—smug, arrogant, know-it-all. She sucked in a breath. “When I was paying for the taxi, a man appeared from nowhere and grabbed my wallet.” She lowered her voice. “I tried to zap him, but nothing happened. He stole my money and got clean away.”
“I told you to read the manual. If you had, you’d know the pills we take to keep us human-size strip our magical powers.”
Chagrin swept her. “All of them?”
“We can’t have fairies going around performing magic whenever they please.”
She sighed. “That means I need to keep up my fitness levels.”
“You could always go home.”
“I can’t go home. You heard what the board said.”
“I don’t want to go home, and you can’t make me.” She turned toward the function room.
“Will you wait?” He grabbed her elbow, drawing her to a halt and gestured at her trousers. “All I wanted to say was that you should clean up first. You have a streak of dirt on your cheek too.” Grasping her shoulders, he indicated the restroom sign. “I’ll wait for you outside.”
“I don’t need a babysitter. Forget your promise to Duncan. I absolve you from responsibility. My father has disowned me. You should too.”
“Quit babbling. Clean up, and we’ll go to the party.”
Aislyn slammed through the swinging door into the ladies’ restrooms.
“Seamus.” A stunning blonde halted inches from him.
He wrenched his gaze from the restroom door and forced a polite smile. One decent gust of wind, and she’d end up plastered against him. He inched back and tried not to breathe in her cloying scent.
“Seamus! Great to see you again.”
He maintained his smile and hoped Aislyn appeared soon. “Geraldine, how are you?”
She closed the distance between them with one deep breath. “I deserve a better hello than that.” Her eyelids fluttered shut and her lips puckered.
The seconds ticked by while Seamus furtively checked for means of rescue.
“Seamus?” Her eyes popped open.
“Thought I saw someone I knew.” Finally accepting the inevitable, he brushed a light kiss across the russet-colored lips. From the corner of his eye, he caught the flash of copper. About time. “I’m with someone,” he said to Geraldine.
“Figures.” One tanned shoulder lifted in a delicate shrug, her lips pursing in a moue of regret. She combed through a bag the size of a small envelope and produced a pale yellow business card. “If things don’t work out, call me.”
“I’m ready, Seamus.”
Relief made his knees weak. He draped an arm around Aislyn’s shoulders and tugged her to his side. “Geraldine, this is Aislyn.”
A frown created a furrow on Aislyn’s forehead. “Seamus, you should have told me you were meeting friends. I can go to the party by myself.”
Geraldine’s expression did a three-sixty, disappointment transforming into predatory interest. Hell, Aislyn was supposed to rescue him, not dump him straight into women trouble.
“I assumed you were with someone special,” Geraldine said.
“I am,” Seamus said a trifle grimly. He dipped his head to kiss Aislyn. The minute his lips touched Aislyn’s, he forgot they had an audience.
A sharp kick on his right ankle brought him back to the present. He lifted his head, his gaze diverted by Aislyn’s moist lips. An elbow to the ribs jerked his gaze farther north to her indignant eyes.
“Aislyn and I are close.”
“Right,” Aislyn agreed, her tone hovering close to mutiny.
“Nice to see you again, Geraldine.” Seamus had experienced difficulty extracting himself from Geraldine’s claws once before after a blind date. Gill’s fault. “We’re attending a party in one of the private rooms. I’ll see you around.” He hustled Aislyn in the direction of the private room.
“What was that?”
“Keep your voice low.”
“A discarded suitor?” Now Aislyn sounded amused instead of pissed.
“An ex-girlfriend who won’t take no for an answer. Until now, I’ve avoided her.”
“That’s mean-spirited.” A devilish smile zapped to her lips. “You should’ve told me earlier. I could have made the kiss appear more authentic. I’m an excellent actress.”
Seamus shuddered, managing a weak grin. A good actress—damn—that one kiss packed more punch than any of Geraldine’s attempts. Without volition, his gaze drifted to her lips. A soft natural pink, they held more allure…
“We’d better appear at the party,” he said.
“Humph!” She flounced in the direction he indicated. Unbidden, his gaze zeroed in on her pert backside, the subtle rock of her hips, and moved higher to study the two-inch gap of creamy white skin between the band of her trousers and her skimpy black top. His breath eased out with a soft hiss. Man, he was in big trouble but had no idea how to halt his escalating attraction.
A fast worker, his mother had emailed him back already with her shortlist of three favored candidates for a daughter-in-law. Seamus tried to picture their faces and failed. Instead, a vision of copper curls formed, laughing blue eyes, and a stubborn chin. Yep, he was in trouble.
Men lined the small bar. Seamus caught up to Aislyn and shouldered his way through the press of bodies towing her behind him.
“Seamus, you made it.”
Blast! He’d meant to avoid Gill. “Gill,” he said, gritting his friend’s name through his teeth.
“Aislyn too.” Gill’s mouth twitched.
Seamus tensed, wanting to turn the air blue with his curses. No prize for guessing his friend’s thoughts. “Aislyn is staying at the hostel with the other new recruits.”
Gill’s blond brows shot toward his hairline. “Is she now?”
“Quit it,” Seamus growled. “I’m looking out for a mate’s sister.”
“Is that right?” Gill’s mouth curled up at the corners.
“Duncan and Seamus went to school together,” Aislyn said.
Gill scratched his chin this time. “You don’t say?”
“Knock it off.” Seamus turned his back on his friend, his jaw flexing as he fought for control. “Aislyn, what do you want to drink? Orange juice or a soft drink?”
Her chin rose, and Seamus tensed.
“I’ll have a glass of Marlborough Sauvignon Blanc, please.”
The thought of a drunk Aislyn brought a cringe. “Are you sure?”
“I’m buying,” Gill said. “One glass of wine for the lady and a beer for you, Seamus? I’m with Rachel.” He jerked his head to the left. “We nabbed a table in the corner. I’ll bring over the drinks.” Gill plunged into the melee at the bar, leaving him alone with Aislyn.
“What do you mean by ordering a glass of wine? Have you tasted wine before?”
“No,” Aislyn said. “I saw wine mentioned when I flicked through the manual and decided to try it at the first opportunity.”
“If you read about wine, how come you missed the losing your magical powers bit?”
“I looked at the pictures.”
“You have no sense of humor.”
Seamus bit back his exasperation. His hands itched to paddle her backside, and his gaze drifted in that direction. A massive jolt of lust rocked his system. He ripped his gaze away. “We’d better find Rachel.”
“Will there be dancing?”
“No.” He intended to hustle Aislyn out of here after one drink.
“I enjoy dancing,” she said, plowing into one of Seamus’s workmates. “Sorry. My fault.”
The man’s hands dropped to Aislyn’s waist while his smile ratcheted into charming. Seamus bristled, recognizing a competitor when he saw one. “Are you going to let her go soon, Robinson?”
The man focused on Seamus. His brows rose, and Seamus knew his glare was solely responsible. Dammit, he didn’t want anyone touching Aislyn but him. For an instant longer, they held gazes, then Robinson grinned.
“My mistake,” he said, his hands falling away from Aislyn.
Seamus let his breath ease out, grabbed Aislyn by the hand and tugged her after him, using his larger body to force their way to the other side of the crowded room. There were way too many lecherous men for his liking.
“What took you so long?” Gill complained. He indicated the drinks on the table. A heartbeat later, he smirked.
“Never mind. You’re here now. Rachel, you remember my partner, Seamus? And this is his…” His mouth curled up in a wicked grin. “…friend, Aislyn.”
“Quit while you’re ahead,” Gill advised in an undertone as he handed Seamus a drink. “Your single days are numbered. You’re crazy if you think you can outrun her.”
“You don’t know what you’re talking about.”
Gill smirked again, and this time one brown eye closed in a sly wink. “Care to bet on it?”
Come back on Monday for the next chapter