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The Adventures of Aislyn O’Sullivan – Chapter 11

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.
Read Chapter 9 here.
Read Chapter 10 here.

Chapter 11

A pile of papers plopped onto the top of Aislyn’s overflowing in-basket. She grimaced. “More?”

Gary’s grin held sympathy. “Afraid so.”

A heartfelt sigh escaped. The flood of papers pumped out by the police department seemed never-ending. And for some insane reason, Aislyn needed to study each one and attach a rubber stamp before burying the pages inside filing cabinets. She jerked her gaze from the offending papers. “Please remind me why I wanted to join the fairy force.”

“You wanted adventure.”

“Exactly.” Frowning at her right hand, she leaned back in her chair until it squeaked a protest. “Not a mass of paper cuts.”

A distinct rustle had a frown sprinting across Gary’s face. “Ah, girlfriend, whatever do you have in that bag?”

“My lunch. Why?” Aislyn bolted upright.

Gary shook his head, and the beads he’d had woven into the long extensions the day before clacked together in a musical tinkle. “Because whatever you brought for lunch today is still on the hoof. Probably objects to being the dish-of-the-day.”

Aislyn followed Gary’s gaze and gasped when her bag inched across the linoleum floor.

“What do you need such a big bag for, anyway? Do you have money to burn?”

“I wish. Things are expensive human side.”

“I hear you,” Gary said. “But that doesn’t answer my question.” He stepped behind Aislyn when her bag shot another three inches across the floor. “Why is your lunch moving?”

“Coward. You’re bigger than me, and you’re frightened of a bag.”

“Ain’t my bag moving,” Gary pointed out.

“True.” Aislyn stood and stole stealthily toward her bag. Just as she reached for it and her hand touched the bright red elephant appliqué on the side, the bag wriggled. The contents rattled.

Gary jumped back a foot. “Shoot it,” he ordered. “Where’s your gun? Shoot it.”

Aislyn rolled her eyes. “Good idea, Gary. My gun is inside the bag.”

His beads clacked in agitation. “Your gun? With your lunch?”

“Yeah.”

“Oh, man. I think we’re in trouble.”

Aislyn snorted at his theatrics. “Come here and help me.”

Ah-ha. Not me.” Gary folded his arms across his skinny chest. “I’m staying right here behind the desk.”

“Coward.”

“Better a live coward than a dead hero.”

Amid their argument, the bag emitted a soft sigh.

“Whoa! Did you hear that?” Gary’s eyes bulged. “Your bag is haunted.”

“More likely, a recruit has somehow put a spell on it.” Aislyn seized her bag and shook it. The closing flap flew open, and a small furry beast leaped out.

“A cat,” Gary said with a squeak.

The half-grown creature sprang on top of Aislyn’s in-basket and balanced precariously on the pile of papers. The black cat glared at them with huge orange eyes.

“I thought I heard a noise before,” Aislyn said.

Gary approached the desk, eyeing the cat with misgiving. “I thought you were meant to test the anti-cat remedies, not attract the wee beasties.”

As they glared at each other, the cat slid off the mountain of papers. Clawed feet scrambled for traction, and papers flew into the air, scattering in all directions.

“This is the cat I saw in the alley last week. I’ve no idea how it got inside my bag.”

“You’d better get rid of the beast before the boss arrives.” When Aislyn bent to pick up the cat, Gary seized her forearm. “Wait! I have a better idea. Why don’t you try out one of the anti-cat remedies on it? You said you couldn’t find any cats for your experiments. The fluffy black thing there is your opportunity.”

“The remedies are back at the hostel.”

“Take the beast home with you.”

“Seamus won’t like it.”

Gary’s brows shot upward. “Since when do Seamus’s finer feelings worry you? I thought you lived to rile him.”

Aislyn studied the cat. It was calmly grooming itself. Gary might have a point. The supply of cats in the middle of a city was something the board hadn’t taken into account. “Good idea, but where do I stash him? I can’t keep a cat here because Seamus will notice. I can’t take him back to the hostel because those stupid recruits will tell tales.”

“Easy. Smuggle the cat in and out of the hostel in your bag, and at the weekends, when you need to test your potions, you can bunk at my flat. Or…” He scratched his chin. “Why don’t you get your own flat? That way you won’t have to put up with the bozos at the hostel, you can keep the cat and test your potions with no one else being the wiser.”

“I don’t have enough money—”

“Gary! Where the devil are you?”

“Oops, the boss hails. I’d better find out what he wants.” Beads clacked as Gary sauntered toward Seamus’s roar.

“You’d better do something with the cat before Seamus freaks.”

“Gary!”

“In here, boss.”

Aislyn scooped up the cat and thrust him back into her bag. She shoved the bag under her desk out of sight.

“Why didn’t you answer me? Aislyn, haven’t you finished the paperwork yet? We don’t pay you to sit around. Gary, I want a fairy force meeting scheduled for this evening. Do you have questions before Gill arrives? Good, I need the Scavenger Hunt file. I want to study the info again.” He dragged a hand through his dark unruly hair, and Aislyn noticed his exhaustion with a trace of concern. If this was a sample of his workload, no wonder he didn’t spend much time at the colony.

Seamus stared at the desk. “I’ve a niggling feeling I’ve missed something. I want to go through the file again. Now.”

The last thundered word made Aislyn jump.

“Hell’s teeth, what are you waiting for?” He stormed into his adjoining office, the slam of the door summing up his mood.

Gary exhaled loudly. “Whew. I thought he’d sensed the cat for a moment there.”

“I do not have a crush on that man,” Aislyn said, her tone crisp and concise.

“Neither do I,” Gary added with feeling.

A slow clap of applause sounded, and they both whirled to face the newcomer. Gill grinned, his brown eyes alight with silent laughter. “I’m pleased to hear it. I’m sure the news will please Seamus too.”

“You did not hear our conversation,” Aislyn said.

Gary’s hair beads clacked in agitation. “We were having a private discussion.”

Gill chuckled, and the sound wasn’t reassuring. “Of course, it’s my business. Seamus is my best friend.” He laughed and entered Seamus’s office. The thud of the door closing again chopped off the mocking sound.

Aislyn glared at the door. “Are you sure we can’t use magic on the human side? The pair of them are crying out for a sneaky spell to teach them a lesson.”

Gary sniffed. “I hear you. Your bag is on the move again.”

Aislyn shunted her bag under her desk with a gentle sweep of her foot. “I’ll take the cat back to my room during my lunch break. I’ll buy a paper too and start searching for a flat. Even sharing a flat would be better than the hostel.”

Gary left, and Aislyn started on the paperwork again, after sorting the papers the cat had dislodged. A loud huff of exasperation emerged when she picked up a form in triplicate.

Boring. Boring. Boring.

This wasn’t what she envisaged before she left the colony.

And the way Seamus hovered like a clucky hen was driving her insane. Nuts. Batty. All the above. She couldn’t move without tripping over the bad-tempered male. His mood had jammed in grumpy, and his mouth set in a permanent frown. One black scowl and everyone fled.

Aislyn frowned. Tomorrow her first report on the anti-cat measures was due, and she hadn’t tested a thing. She smoothed her shoe over the red elephant on her bag. “You, my little furry friend, are a savior. Gary’s right. I’ll take you home and start tests straight away.”

* * * * *

The alarm chirped. Aislyn groaned and slapped at the clock. The noise continued—loud, piercing, and annoying. Aislyn lifted her head from the pillow and remembered she’d stashed the clock across the other side of the room.

With a loud groan, she crawled from the warmth of her bed, knocking a book of spells to the floor. During the night, the cat had curled up against her back, and he grumbled at the rude awakening.

“Do you think I’m happy about getting out of bed?” Goosebumps sprang to life on her bare arms and legs as she hurried across the dark green carpet to shut off the pesky alarm. “Next, you’ll want breakfast.”

The cat stirred at the mention of food. It bounded off the blue fleece blankets and jumped to the floor to stretch lazily. Exercise completed, he padded over to Aislyn and rubbed against her legs.

“Shower first,” Aislyn said. “Then I’ll find something for breakfast. Tomorrow, we can move into our new flat, and we can keep our food handy instead of trekking to the ground floor for sustenance.”

Aislyn yanked a faded floral dressing gown from the back of the wooden door, grabbed her towel and toilet bag, and headed for the female shower block. Two women leaned against the wall, waiting for their turn. Aislyn attached to the end of the line, and stared straight ahead, pleased no one expected scintillating conversation. She stared out the dusty third-floor window and noticed the streetlights still glowed. The gloom of the early morning, combined with the wisps of fog made the narrow street outside the hostel forbidding and unwelcoming. Aislyn stirred herself when the line moved.

“O’Sullivan,” a masculine voice roared along the passage.

Aislyn straightened from her slouch, her heart upping its tempo. Maybe it was work—a case. “Yeah?”

“Phone.”

Rats, the call was probably a furtive message from her mother or Seamus with another lecture. Sighing, Aislyn yielded her place in the line and went to answer the summons.

“Aislyn.”

“Hell’s teeth. Does it take that long to answer the phone? Why don’t you get a mobile?”

Irritation sliced through her along with something else more complicated and confusing—an emotion that cropped up a lot where Seamus was concerned. If he hated her presence in Auckland, why did he keep bothering her? If he’d leave her alone, she’d get over the unhealthy crush she harbored for him. She could consign the trembling hands, uneasy belly, and the heat that made her heart pound, to the past.

She rubbed her arm and pressed harder when the itching continued.

“Have you taken your pill?”

His voice, although harsh, sent yearning throbbing through her body. She swallowed and hoped she didn’t give herself away. “I’ve just climbed out of bed. Give me a chance.”

“I’ll be there in five minutes.”

“But—” A loud click signified the five-minute countdown had commenced. Bother the man. If he thought she intended to miss her shower because of his visit, he could think again. Aislyn stomped back up the stairs and joined the line of five women waiting for their turn in the showers.

Half an hour later, showered and dressed in black jeans and a pale green T-shirt, Aislyn hurried back to her room, her damp curls swinging around her face. Seamus pushed away from the wall outside her door, his scowl making her mutter under her breath.

“I’ve been waiting for twenty minutes.”

“I’m here now.” Aislyn silently counted to ten. It was the kid-sister syndrome over again. The kiss in the elevator was a figment of her fertile imagination. “What’s so important it couldn’t wait until I arrived at work on Monday?”

“I have to leave for a while.”

Aislyn lowered her voice. “The colony?”

“For part of the time, but the rest of the week, Gill and I are visiting Little Barrier Island to help with security. Aren’t you going to ask me in? I’ve brought breakfast.” He held up a bag from Peter’s Bakery.

Why wouldn’t he look at her? She opened her door and halted. The cat—he’d see the cat.

“Aislyn, we can’t talk out here. I need to tell you something.” Once again, his gaze wandered across the top of her head before skittering away to study the pale yellow walls.

His mind was set—the stubborn set of his jaw told her that. Silently, she opened the door and stood aside to let him enter.

Seamus prowled straight across to the single window in the room and pushed back the torn net to peer at the street below. Aislyn shut the door, dumped her dressing gown and toilet bag on the bed, and waited for an explosion.

The cat padded from under the bed, swishing its black tail. It stilled on seeing Seamus and sat back on its haunches. “Meow.”

Seamus whirled. He took one look and speared her with a scowl so black she thought he’d blow a blood vessel. “Have you taken leave of your senses?” His quiet voice sliced through the air with the preciseness of a surgeon’s knife.

“Have you taken your pill?” Aislyn retreated two steps before she realized she’d moved. Halting abruptly, she reclaimed the space she’d yielded. “If it’s the weekend, Gary rings me at eight in the morning. During the week, I take my pill when I arrive at work. I’m following procedure. It’s not eight o’clock yet.”

“A cat is sitting by your bed. If I look under the bed, will there be one there too? Or behind the door?”

Aislyn sniffed and settled her butt on the only chair in her room. “Did you come to harangue me or to bring
breakfast?”

“There’s a cat in your room.”

“I heard you the first time. Do I get breakfast or not?”

Seamus eyed the cat with distaste and crossed the room to sit at the end of the bed. “The cat is dangerous.”

Aislyn gaped at Seamus. If she stood and walked to the bed, she could join him. They could sprawl together, remove their clothes. Wrap their arms around each other. Naked skin. Kissing. Hot, fiery sex. She swallowed, the sharp meow from her cat interrupting her steamy yearnings. The feline arched his back and glared at Seamus with his orangey eyes.

She bit back the urge to chuckle. “Seamus, you’re overreacting.” She glanced at him and rose to her feet. “Joe is scarcely bigger than one of your hands.”

 

“That’s not the point.” Seamus tucked his trembling hands out of sight and scowled at the cat. It was safer if he concentrated on the animal because Aislyn presented a hell of a temptation in her tight T-shirt and form-fitting jeans. The itch to run his hands through her copper curls and kiss the pale skin at her nape was driving him crazy.

Seamus shuffled uncomfortably, willing the blood from his cock. A week away from Aislyn would do him good. He forced his lungs to expand with fresh air and only succeeded in drawing the essence of apricots and Aislyn into his befuddled brain.

“Is there a reason you have a cat?” There, that was better. He’d sounded reasonable instead of deranged and cranky.

“The cat followed me,” Aislyn said. “Then I realized he was the answer to my problem.”

“What problem?” Damn, she shouldn’t look at him like that. One glance from her innocent blue eyes, and he wanted to lay another kiss on her and damn the consequences. Instead, he grabbed the bag of donuts and shoved them at her.

“Joe is the first cat I’ve seen since I arrived. I need cats to test the anti-cat remedies.”

Good point. He wanted to laugh, but his mouth was full of donut. After chewing, he swallowed. “I don’t think anyone contemplated the problem of finding cats in a city.” Even though the first sighting of Joe scared him to death, he was proud of her ingenuity. “How are the anti-cat remedies working out?”

“The one I tested yesterday made both of us sneeze.”

Seamus leaned forward, interested despite his concerns for her safety. “Did you follow the instructions?”

“See the fat book over there, the one keeping my dresser level? That’s the list of instructions and the tests the inventor wants me to run on this one anti-cat remedy. I followed the instructions in the first two chapters, and, apart from violent sneezing, not a thing happened.”

“Have a donut,” Seamus said. “I thought you’d have coffee up here. Pretty small room.”

“Yes.”

When she reached for the bag, her shirt rode higher. His pulse ratcheted upward on seeing the two inches of pale flesh. Man, he was one sad puppy.

“I spilled some of the potion when I sneezed. The liquid splashed my arm, and now I have a rash.”

Glad to focus elsewhere, he studied the angry red marks on her forearm. “Send the potion back to the inventor.”

“I haven’t finished the tests. Murphy said—”

“The potion is useless if it causes sneezes and brings you out in a rash. Fill out the report, and I’ll take the lot back with me this afternoon. I’ll speak to Murphy. Did you want to go anywhere? I’ll drive you.” While Seamus waited for her to answer, he tried not to think about his real reason for visiting the colony. Today he’d make his final decision on a wife and send off the contracts. The board expected him to make the official announcement this week.

“Thanks, but I want to walk to the Domain today. Joe and I will conduct a test in the park.

Seamus nodded and stood, her refusal feeling like a rejection. He knew he was lying to himself. He had it bad for Aislyn O’Sullivan, and the knowledge his betrothal to another woman was mere hours away was slashing his heart in two.

* * * * *

A man and woman filed into John Watson’s penthouse suite on the top floor of the Metropolis Hotel in High Street, Auckland.

John remained by the picture window, staring at the view of Rangitoto Island until the shuffling of chair indicated they were seated. Not a trace of impatience showed on his face. He’d learned long ago as a child, emotions made a man weak. These days he wielded the knowledge as a weapon to aid his cause.

He turned to face his visitors. “Tell Major he can come out now.”

His beefy assistant inclined his head and withdrew. Another man joined the group. He was the spitting image of the man already seated.

Watson allowed a pleased smile to flit across his face. His assistant had done well—very well.

“Good. Everyone is here.” Watson limped behind a solid kauri desk and sat on the large leather chair. “I want a progress report,” he said.

The woman cleared her throat. “We have collected several items on the list. I’ve arranged shipment to the central judging point on the island.”

“Security?” Watson scrutinized the woman. Early thirties. Dressed in a classic style—smart but not flashy. Efficient, according to the references his assistant had provided. Good at her job but not flexible enough to bend the rules. She was balking at the native animals.

The woman consulted a clipboard and named a reputable company with branches worldwide. John gestured for her to continue with her report.

“We’ve collected the bottle of wine, the Penny Black stamp, and the sapphire.”

Watson leaned back in the swivel chair. That was all? Three lousy items? What the fuck was he paying these people for?

The woman faltered under his disapproval. “The competition has strict rules. It’s difficult to collect fifteen rare items with only three people allowed on each team.”

“Why do you think I specified twins? Your job is to coordinate. The scavenger hunt started last week, and we have three items. Pathetic. I intend to win this competition. Do you understand?”

The men stared straight ahead with impassive expressions. A flash of unease flickered across the woman’s features. She caught her bottom lip between white teeth. A replacement. No time for deadwood on his team—not if he intended to win. Employing the woman had been a mistake.

He would rectify the error.

“Right,” he said to the woman. “Go to the central judging point and organize suitable storage for each item. Stay there to liaise with security. I want you to check in each item when it arrives.”

“Who will organize the collecting?”

“I’ll assemble the necessary items,” John said. “Thank you. That will be all.”

“But—”

John eyed the woman, letting his distaste show. “Go.”

She clambered to her feet, glancing over her shoulder once as she left the room.

John steepled his hands in front of him and surveyed the two men. In their mid-twenties, they appeared capable of carrying out the duties he required of them. Both trained in the forces, they now sold their skills to the highest bidder. They were his backup plan. His primary strategy should come to fruition soon.

“I want you to fly to London to liaise with my people. Collect the items required and bring them back personally. I don’t care how you obtain them. Don’t return without the goods. Understand?”

“Yes, sir.”

“Understood, sir.”

John nodded in approval. “Check with my assistant on the way out. He’ll give you your flight documentation. You’re on separate flights, so you don’t attract attention.”

The two men stood and left the room. John heard the soft murmur of voices as Morgan gave them relevant instructions. While he waited for his assistant’s return, he planned the rest of the week.

Revenge would need to wait a little longer.

John drummed his fingers on the glossy top of the wooden desk and picked up the phone to make a call.

“Rick? John Watson here. I need you to do a job for me.” He listened to the man for an instant. “Cash. Half now and the rest once I’m satisfied the job is completed. It should take three days. A week at the most. My assistant will meet you at DeBretts with instructions. You remember Morgan? Is that acceptable? Excellent. Good doing business with you.” John replaced the phone before standing and crossing to the bank of windows.

That was one loose end snipped. Now it was time for a reunion with his stepbrother. After all, he’d been in New Zealand for a week now. It’d be rude not to look up his only surviving family member.

Without volition, John’s hand lifted to his face. He stroked the scar that slashed the length of his cheek. His smile held little amusement.

I wonder if Maximillan knows I’m here.

He limped back to the desk to reach for the phone. About time he made his presence known. Tomorrow, he’d move over to the island, and with a bit of luck, brother Maximillan would invite him to stay at the estate, which would bring him right into the thick of the action.

The island was the perfect place to launch his assault.

* * * * *

“Aislyn.” Gary’s whisper held a sibilant, secretive undertone.

After dropping her purple pen on the desktop and flexing her fingers, she glanced at the doorway where Gary hovered. “Don’t tell me you have more paperwork? It’s late—way past time to go home.”

“Nope, something better. I wanted to check you were alone.” He scurried through the doorway and shut the door behind him. “I have a young lady in my office. She asked to speak to Seamus or Gill. It’s something to do with their current case. I thought you could talk to her.”

“Me?” Aislyn’s eyes widened.

“I’m administration,” Gary said. “I don’t think I should talk to her, but you’re classified as fairy force.”

A vision of Seamus roared through her mind with all the finesse of a freight truck. He’d be furious, yet temptation stayed her protest. It couldn’t hurt to talk to the woman.

She tossed the pros and cons briefly. Sanity prevailed. “She should come back next week.”

“Talk to the woman. This paperwork won’t disappear.”

Aislyn stared at Gary, about to tell him he was crazy. Then the siren lure of the forbidden whispered in her ear. Gary was right. If she didn’t grasp the opportunities presented to her, she’d end up old and gray and still pushing paper around a desk.

“Show her in here.” As she issued instructions, Aislyn shoved her papers in her desk drawer.

Gary hurried out to show the woman in. Aislyn dug through the mess left on her desktop for a jotter pad. Nerves quaked inside her stomach, but anticipation counteracted the worst of her anxiety. At last, she was doing something concrete to help with Seamus’s case.

After a brief tap on her door, Gary ushered the woman inside. Although she accepted the seat he offered, the woman perched on the edge, as if she’d bolt at any second. Her smart black suit bore splotches of mud and her pale shirt showed through a rip on the right sleeve near her elbow. Pansy-colored shadows under her eyes indicated a lack of sleep and fine stress lines bracketed her lips.

Determined to put the woman at ease, Aislyn stepped around the corner of her desk and stretched out her hand in greeting. “Hello, I’m Aislyn O’Sullivan.”

The woman hesitated. “Gina. Gina Wilkins. I wanted to see Mr. Gallagher.”

“I’m his assistant,” Aislyn said, giving herself a large promotion without blinking an eye. She stepped back until her butt leaned against the desk. “His second-in-command.”

“Someone is trying to kill me,” the woman blurted.

“Kill you?”

Gina glanced over her shoulder as if she feared someone would overhear her confession. She swallowed. “Yesterday when I was waiting at the traffic lights to cross from one side of Queen Street to the other, someone shoved me off the footpath into the path of an oncoming bus.” The woman shuddered. “Somehow the driver managed to stop.”

“Are you sure? Could it have been an accident?”

“That’s what I thought at first, but a woman saw the man push me off the sidewalk. Tonight, when I was boarding the ferry to cross the harbor to Devonport, a man shoved me over the side of the wharf just as the ferry moved.” The little color remaining in Gina’s face bled away when she spoke of the incident. “I grabbed the railing and glimpsed a man wearing a hat before the crew came to my aid.”

Caught up in the drama of Gina’s story, Aislyn’s heartbeat raced. “Did you see his face? Did you recognize him?”

“It was getting dark. And he wore a baseball cap pulled low over his face. He looked familiar, but I can’t place where I’ve seen the man before.”

“Can you think of anyone who has a grudge against you?”

Gina shook her head.

“Who do you work for?”

“I’m not meant to tell anyone.” She chewed on her bottom lip, her blue eyes surveying Aislyn with doubt. “I signed a confidentiality clause. It was a condition of my employment—I can’t say who I’m working for or talk to anyone about my duties.”

“Didn’t that strike you as strange?” Aislyn demanded.

Gina’s eyes narrowed. “I do nothing illegal.” Her back straightened, her fearful demeanor replaced by indignation.

“Why the secrecy?” Something in the woman’s expression suggested illegalities were part of the equation, even if she didn’t take part.

“I don’t know.”

“I can’t help if you won’t tell me anything.”

“Seamus will help me,” the woman said.

This time Aislyn’s eyes narrowed. “How do you know Seamus?”

“He’s friends with my sister. I’ve met him twice.”

“Seamus is away for the rest of the week.” Jealousy clawed at Aislyn. “You can wait until he returns.”

“I need help now.” Gina closed her eyes and opened them to stare at Aislyn. “Do you promise not to repeat this to anyone, if I tell you about my job?”

“Just Seamus.”

“Fine. It’s not as if I’ll keep the job for much longer. My boss is less than impressed with my results.” She paused. “He’s an Englishman called John Watson. He’s a collector, and my job is to help him add to his artifacts while he’s visiting New Zealand.”

“What sort of things does he collect?”

“The list is a weird assortment of things ranging from jewelry to clothes to birds and animals. Endangered animals,” she said, color coursing along her pale cheeks.

Gary burst into the office carrying a tray with three cups. “Did you say endangered animals? Carry on,” he said taking a chair right next to Aislyn. “I’m all ears.”

“And mouth as well,” Aislyn said drily. “What do you think this man is up to?”

“I know what he’s up to,” Gary said. “It must tie into Seamus’s latest case. We should contact Seamus and Gill and stash Gina somewhere safe until they can talk to her.”

“Seamus told me I couldn’t contact him.” Aislyn turned back to Gina. “Where is John Watson staying?”

“He has a suite at Metropolis.”

“What does he look like?”

“He’s not tall, maybe a little taller than me. Say around five-eight or nine, he dresses in Italian suits. He has short-cropped gray hair and a scar down one side of his face. His eyes are pale blue and shaking his hand is like touching a wet fish.”

“He should be easy enough to find him if he’s at Metropolis. Do you have somewhere you can stay, Gina?”

“I can stay with my friend, Lucy.”

Gary stood. “I’ll go to find some clothes for you—a disguise. Hopefully, we can fool anyone who is watching for you.” He hurried from the office.

“What are you going to do?” Gina asked.

“We’ll report to Seamus as soon as he returns.” Aislyn hoped like heck she didn’t look as though she was lying through her teeth.

“I’ve found clothes for you,” Gary said, holding up a pair of jeans, an ugly gray jacket and a navy-blue hat. “The jeans will be too big, but Seamus has a tie in his drawer for formal occasions. You can borrow it as a belt to hold up the jeans.”

Five minutes later, Aislyn ushered Gina out a side door of the police station.

“Do you see anyone familiar?” she asked. “What about that man standing over by the Post Office?”

“I’ve never seen him before.”

“Let’s walk up to the corner and catch the Link bus. We can get off opposite TwoDoubleSeven in Newmarket.”

Gina gave a wan smile. “Lucy’s flat is five minutes walk from there.”

“Good,” Aislyn said, grabbing Gina by the arm. “If we hurry, you’ll arrive at your friend’s house in no time. No one is taking any notice of us.” The words sounded sincere or at least she hoped they did. Aislyn hated the way the spot right in the middle of her back prickled. Once they exited the bus, Aislyn hastened her pace, dragging Gina after her. “Which street? This one?”

Gina glanced over her shoulder. “Is someone following?”

Aislyn didn’t answer, instead picking up her speed even more. She couldn’t see anyone behind them either, but her gut told her otherwise.

Come back on Monday to read the next chapter.

The Adventures of Aislyn O’Sullivan – Chapter 10

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.
Read Chapter 9 here.

Chapter 10

“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.

Nothing happened.

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.”

“Thanks.”

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.

“Hello, sweetheart.”

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?”

“Go on.”

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.”

“Aislyn—”

“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.”

“Aislyn!”

“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.”

Seamus scowled

“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.”

“Yeah?”

“Yeah.”

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

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

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

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

The Adventures of Aislyn O’Sullivan – Chapter 6

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.

Chapter 6

The raucous crowing of Miss Mapleton’s rooster woke Aislyn from a deep slumber. She didn’t remember getting in bed. Seamus—depression grabbed hold. After the previous day’s excitement, her bleak future loomed.

Women’s work.

Perhaps she’d stay in bed since there was nothing better to do. They wouldn’t miss her at the sewing bee, and she’d avoid her father.

Yanking the blankets over her head, she screwed her eyes shut and willed herself to sleep. Miss Mapleton’s rooster continued his enthusiastic wake-up call.

“Damn bird.” Aislyn flung off the blankets and jumped out of bed. “I’m gonna toss you in Ma’s soup pot.” She ripped the curtains back and glared at the bird. Her eyes narrowed when she spied her target. Chicken noodle soup. Her favorite kind. She drew a breath, ready to blast the pesky bird with an Aislyn special to singe his tail feathers.

“Chook, chook, chook!”

Aislyn’s hand dropped to her side. Miss Mapleton to the rescue. “Another time, birdbrain.”

Seamus must have put her to bed. He mightn’t be interested in her romantically, but he’d given her more—an experience to savor for the rest of her life.

In the bathroom, Aislyn stripped and jumped into the shower, thankful the family home was empty. Wait a minute. Maybe she wasn’t a total loser. Her nose shot into the air, her hands fisted to prepare for a drying spell. No! She’d continue to live without using magic. It was good practice. Next year, she’d apply to join the fairy force again. She’d keep trying until she made the grade.

She darted back to her room and searched the drawers for clothes. The ironing pile produced better results. After dressing in her favorite Kelly-green midriff top and a pair of white trousers, she picked up the clothes littering the floor and shelved two books on Irish myths and one on old spells.

A glimpse of black jerked her memory. The witch’s costume.

Oops. The costume was due back yesterday. Still, weighing up a visit to Auckland versus an angry Mr. Fitzgerald, she’d do the same again.

Sighing, she scooped up the costume, shook out the worst of the wrinkles, and steeled herself to face Mr. Fitzgerald. Despite the early hour, she’d find him at the coffee shop near the square. Perhaps if she groveled and offered to help him in his shop for a few hours, he’d waive the charges?

Potholes riddled the cobblestone backroad leading into the village center. Half the streetlamps refused to work, and not one of Aislyn’s spells made them glow again. Even so, this was better than the risk of meeting someone she knew by walking along the main road.

Aislyn set a nippy pace, keeping to the edge of the road. Last week, during a training run, the milk cart had almost run her over, and she didn’t want to repeat the eye-to-eye experience with the milk fairy’s Clydesdale.

When she passed the Rafferty farm, she waved to old man Rafferty, busy tending his goats. Seconds later, the scramble of pounding feet from behind had her whirling in astonishment. The low warning growls from two dogs froze her to the spot.

“Mr. Rafferty.” Her voice held a distinct quiver. “Mr. Rafferty!” She prayed the man would hurry. Despite her magic embargo, she searched her mind for a suitable spell. The dogs stalked nearer. The closest, a huge fluffy Alsatian, growled deep in his throat, his body quivering with eagerness. She swallowed. “Bibity bobity…um…” Her mind remained blank of even the most basic spell. Where was Mr. Rafferty?

“Get in behind!” a man’s voice thundered.

Aislyn backed away, not daring to take her focus from the dogs. “What…what’s wrong with them? They’ve never behaved like this before.”

The hair along the Alsatian’s spine lifted, making the dog look big and mean. She took another step back. She bumped into someone and gasped in fear. She glanced over her shoulder.

“Steady, lass.” Rafferty tugged his snowy white beard. “Can’t rightly say why they’re misbehaving.” Puzzlement shone on his face. “Get in behind,” he ordered his dogs. They stole to his side, and he grabbed both by their collars. “Away with you, lass. You should be right now.”

Aislyn wasted no time fleeing. By the time she reached the butter factory on the outskirts of the village, her breath came in rasping pants. She waved at the post lady, riding by on her shiny green bicycle. Her steps faltered when the woman snubbed her greeting. The post lady wasn’t the only one who ignored her presence. When she arrived at the café, she caught her breath and gathered her composure.

The scent of freshly ground coffee beans perked up her mood. She’d have a latte before she faced Mr. Fitzgerald. After stuffing the costume under her arm, she grabbed the door handle, intending to creep inside.

Without warning, a piercing siren blasted to life right behind her. She lurched forward, tripping on the second step. A squeak of alarm escaped when she overcompensated and toppled down the step she’d already navigated. She landed on her butt. Her hands crept up to cover her ears while the witch’s costume dropped to the ground at her side.

Shopkeepers and fairies peered through windows and doors, trying to locate the source of the ear-splitting alarm.

“What is it?” asked Mr. Fitzgerald, from the doorway of the cafe.

“I don’t know,” another fairy replied.

A defense force truck raced along the street. Its blaring siren added to the clamor. Behind the vehicle, a platoon of fairy protectors ran at full speed. The synchronized thud of their feet was impressive, and Aislyn watched in awe.

An announcement started over the loudspeaker in the defense force vehicle. “This is a CAT alarm. There is a CAT loose in the colony. Walk straight to the nearest building. Do not run. Do not panic. This is a CAT alarm.”

The burst of excited, panicked chatter covered Aislyn’s shocked gasp. Pandemonium broke out. Fairies scattered. They tripped over each other. They fell and scrambled to their feet. More than one panicked fairy ran straight into another.

Aislyn scooped up her witch’s costume and scrambled out of the way as five fairies tried to force their way through the doorway of the café at the same time. Part of her wanted to run, and the other part wanted to watch the protectors in action. She noted the new automatic machine wands with approval. Curiosity battled with prudence and won. She inched her way along the side of the café wanting to witness the unfolding events firsthand. But she wasn’t stupid either. She kept a wary eye out for the cat.

A trio of fairies in white overalls appeared out of thin air. They carried strange packs on their backs. Sparks shot from the instruments, and a low-pitched whine filled the air.

“Over there!” one of the trio cried.

The defense vehicle screeched to a halt. The stench of burning rubber filled the air. The platoon turned as one to face the direction the fairy pointed.

“Present wands!”

The platoon aimed their weapons.

“Hold your fire! Make way for the cat-busters,” an official ordered. “We want to take the cat alive.”

“Where’s the cage?” another of the trio asked.

Aislyn watched spellbound. History in the making. Where were the reporters? The cameramen? She needed photos to cut out and paste in a scrapbook. Stories. She’d give a quote to the journalists.

“Bring on the cage.”

A cage appeared out of nowhere and clattered to the ground.

The fairy commander thrust his head out of the window of the defense vehicle. “Where’s the cat?”

Aislyn glanced at the trio in white overalls. So did the commander. The trio glanced at each other and consulted their gadgets. Lights glowed. Sharp beeps echoed down the alley. The trio huddled and held a brief, whispered conversation.

“Stand back,” one ordered.

They stepped forward, shuffling toward Aislyn. The beeps grew louder, turning into a high-pitched whine. Her head throbbed.

“Grab the cage!”

Several of the protectors broke rank and hoisted the cage off the ground.

“Instruments on full power.”

“Full power on one,” a fairy squeaked.

“Full power on two,” another fairy shouted.

The trio moved close enough for Aislyn to see the color of their eyes beneath the strange rubber goggles they wore. She couldn’t wait to inform her brothers. Then she remembered only Duncan would talk to her now. He was at the beach colony. There was no one to tell, not even Seamus. She edged farther along the brick wall of the café.

“Fire!”

Without warning, a beam of blue light surrounded her. She tried to flee and found herself glued to the spot. Rats! Why hadn’t she escaped to safety when she had the chance? The blue light exerted a fierce pull on her body, dragging her from the safe viewing spot and placing her in the middle of the alleyway.

The blue light flickered out, freeing her. Panic gave her feet the speed of a champion sprinter. She lurched for cover, her heart pounding with terror. She didn’t want to die this way, not before she’d made peace with her family, not before she’d kissed Seamus again.

“Release the net! Before the cat gets away.”

The urgency in the fairy’s voice made the hair at the back of Aislyn’s neck stand to attention. She detected the thud of running feet and smelled the fetid breath of the cat as it gave chase.

“Throw the net!”

Hurry before the wretched creature pounces. Her lungs screamed for oxygen. Adrenaline pumped through her body. A spell. She needed a spell. “Majesty protect me now, send me—”

A strange whir snapped through the air. The shock wave knocked her off her feet, surrounding her with darkness.

“Is everyone all right?” the commander asked.

“Yes, sir. Mission accomplished, sir. We’ll take the cat back to the lab.”

Fools. Were they blind? They’d captured her, and the cat remained on the loose, somewhere in the colony.

Aislyn squirmed beneath the heavy net, endeavoring to wriggle free. The screech of tires and the pound of running feet halted her escape attempts.

“Commander, have you captured the cat?”

Aislyn groaned. She recognized the breathless brogue. Scott McGuire, a reporter from the Colony Rag. Rats, she’d pictured five minutes of fame but not with that scurrilous excuse of a reporter.

“Commander, yoo-hoo! Yoo-hoo! Can you tell us if there are injuries?”

Oh, no. Aislyn shuddered. She was doomed. Maisie Bubblehead, the gossip columnist for Fairy television.

“Stand back. We haven’t restrained the cat under the net.”

A burst of excited chatter greeted this statement. Aislyn issued another heartfelt groan. Half the colony had arrived to witness the capture. After this debacle, her father would disown her properly, and Aislyn hated to imagine Seamus’s reaction. He’d lecture her for the rest of the week.

“Troops, control the crowd,” the commander ordered.

Conversational buzz faded, and she presumed they’d contained the bystanders behind a wall of determined protectors.

“Where are those cat busters?” the commander asked in a tetchy voice. “You, over here.”

Aislyn resumed her frenzied wriggling. She had to escape—perhaps fashion a quick spell, one that worked for a change.

Suddenly, they whisked the net off her. Shouts and screams echoed in the alleyway. Camera shutters snapped while Aislyn squinted at the bright lights, her mouth dropping open in a sheepish smile.

Oops. A bit late for a sneaky exit.

* * * * *

One week later.
Seamus paused at the door of the boardroom and stared in pure astonishment. Pandemonium. The ten board members were shouting over each other, shaking their fists and—may the good lord have his hands over his ears—cursing loud enough to enable the Irish colonies to eavesdrop.

Murphy gobbled at the top of his voice. The room throbbed with frustrated magical vibes, but as yet, none of the males had broken the rules and let rip with a spell on council premises.

What had set them off?

He hadn’t heard such a heated kerfuffle since his father confessed to diverting colony funds to finance his high-rolling lifestyle. Seamus’s stomach roiled at the thought. God’s balls, surely his father hadn’t turned up and caused this ruckus? He’d promised he’d stay away—for what his pledge was worth.

In trepidation, he marched into the luxurious boardroom, another legacy of his father’s rule. Seamus gritted his teeth each time he saw the needless waste. Time for this meeting to come to order, otherwise he’d never get back to Gill. He slid into the large leather chair.

“Seamus.” The tall, spare commander glared at him, his walrus mustache twitching.

Seamus fought an urge to magic up two antacids.

“The Guardian has arrived,” Murphy announced, cutting through the raised voices with a sharp gobble of command.
“He’ll sort out this mess.”

Seamus sighed, sensing this meeting might take longer than he’d anticipated. He reached for the coffee carafe sitting on the large oak table in front of him, poured the black liquid into a bone-china cup, and sat back to await developments.

Gradually the noise abated, and each of the board members subsided into their assigned seats. They studied him with varying degrees of expectation.

“Can someone enlighten me?” His fingers beat a tattoo on the tabletop.

Murphy gobbled from the far end of the table. “You don’t know?”

Seamus leaned back in the leather chair, working at holding his temper. “I’m investigating an important case.”

“Where’s the paper?” the commander demanded. “Does anyone have a copy?”

Several of the board members thrust newspapers at him.

Seamus accepted the closest. “Anything in particular, you want me to read?”

Impatience had his irritation tugging for freedom. Why didn’t someone tell him? If his father had returned to the colony, he damn well wanted to know so he could send him packing—after he extracted the much-needed gold from his father’s Swiss bank accounts. Thanks to his father, the colony was broke, and it wasn’t merely a matter of using hocus-pocus magic these days to get what they wanted.

“Front page, second and third pages and the back of the front section,” the commander replied tersely.

A distinct air of anticipation hovered in the boardroom. Seamus frowned at their scrutiny. They were staring at him as carefully as a research scientist studied cat hair under a microscope. Shrugging off his unease, he unfolded the newspaper. The headline exploded across the front page. A color photo took up most of the page. He cursed under his breath. Fuck, she’d done it this time.

“Tell me what happened.” When everyone burst into speech at once, he held up his right hand. “Murphy, you tell me.”

Murphy’s face burned with emotion. He gobbled and spoke fast, almost tripping over words in his haste. “Somehow, we don’t know how, the lass left the colony and came in contact with a cat. The colony alarms picked up the scent, setting off a full-scale alert.”

“The O’Sullivan lass won’t utter a word.” The commander’s mustache jiggled with his indignation. “She refuses to tell us anything.”

“The female must leave.” Murphy pounded the boardroom table to emphasize his point. “Expel her from the colony. She’s trouble, a stick of dynamite primed to blow.”

Everyone spoke at once.

Seamus glanced from face to face, and guilt sliced through him. He couldn’t blame Aislyn for this debacle. If he were an ordinary fairy without responsibility, without a duty to uphold the rules, he might have an excuse. But he was the Guardian, and because of his father’s right royal cock-up, he owed his loyalty to the board of directors.

This was his fault.

He couldn’t fail the colony.

Seamus stood, and silence fell. Self-recrimination made him scowl. Aislyn hadn’t told the board of his involvement. He needed to learn why as soon as he’d confessed.

“I doubt she’ll talk to you,” the commander said, tugging at his jacket sleeve.

O’Regan, the farmer’s representative, spoke for the first time. “I agree with Murphy. We must expel the O’Sullivan girl from the colony. We need to make an example of her. Females in the fairy force. I ask you.” He emitted a rude snort of disgust.

“Hear, hear,” another member said.

Seamus felt smaller by the minute. “What’s next on the agenda?” Maybe they’d sort everything else out, and he’d make his confession right at the end.

“Aislyn O’Sullivan is the agenda. She’s created chaos, Seamus. You haven’t been here. We’ve had riots and panic, the like I’ve never seen since our previous human Guardian brought us to New Zealand instead of Australia. Today we had protest marches with the right-wing militants demanding equal opportunities for females. Since the lass’s costume set off the alarm, the press is crucifying the scientific community. The newspapers are full of the scandal and the television…” O’Regan shuddered. “I refuse to switch on my television. Maisie Bubblehead is out of control.”

“This is my fault,” Seamus thundered over the outpouring of venom against Aislyn.

“I hardly think so,” the commander said into the shocked silence.

“But I—” Seamus stopped, deciding to talk to Aislyn first. “I’ll go to see Aislyn now.” He stalked from the boardroom and hurried through the ornate picture gallery to the main entrance.

“Seamus, wait!”

Footsteps thundered behind him, but he was in no mood to debate the situation. What a monumental mess. Perhaps he took after his father, and bad blood ran through his veins too.

“Seamus, wait, dammit!”

Seamus slowed for Murphy to catch him. He fell into step with Seamus, his face red and his breathing as harsh as a combustion engine.

“There’s no point going to visit the O’Sullivan lass at her parents’ home.”

“I need to speak with her,” Seamus said, clenching his fists when what he wanted to do was smack something. He brushed past Murphy and jogged down the steps into the square.

With a burst of speed, Murphy whipped around him and grabbed his arm, clinging like a vine until Seamus halted. “The O’Sullivan female is in jail.”

“What?” The idiots. Aislyn was no criminal. He was the one who needed incarceration.

Murphy backed away. “She…she’s in jail.”

“Which jail?” Menace laced Seamus’s voice. None of this would’ve happened if he hadn’t succumbed to her tears. So help him, if another female cried in front of him, he’d shoot them.

A high, nervous gobble escaped Murphy. “Solitary confinement.”

“Are you all mad? She’s not a criminal.

“She refused to talk.” Murphy emitted another nervous gobble.

Seamus narrowed his eyes and stalked Murphy until he crowded him against the cobalt blue wall of the council building. “Rule five hundred and twenty, section two, subparagraph four,” he gritted out. “The Guardian’s extra special powers. I’m invoking them. Go back to the boardroom and inform the rest of the board. Wait for me there.”

Murphy paled to a color the exact pasty white of his bottom. “Rule five hundred and twenty?” he whispered. “Are you sure?”

“Very.” Seamus took the stairs two at a time and headed back into the council buildings. The blathering fools. Why hadn’t they called him? Why had they taken matters into their own hands? He stomped down the winding stone staircase leading to the dungeons, barely holding raw emotion in check.

“Who goes there?” the guard demanded.

“Keys,” Seamus snarled at the male at the bottom of the stairs. He stepped into the light, making no attempt to conceal his towering rage.

“You,” the guard whispered.

“Give me the keys.” Seamus thrust his face near the guard’s. “Hurry, I don’t have all day.”

The guard’s hand shook, and he dropped the keys. He picked them up and thrust them at Seamus.

“Tea break,” Seamus said as he accepted the key ring. “Apart from the O’Sullivan lass, do you have any other prisoners?”

“No, sir.”

“Go home. You’re finished work for the day.”

“But…” The guard cast a fearful glance over his shoulder. “The board will sack me for leaving the dangerous female alone.”

Seamus stepped toward the cowering male again. His jaw flexed. The desire to thump the man into the next week made his hands shake. “Go,” he ordered, and he shot past the confused fairy guard heading for the cells without looking back.

The steady drip of water echoed against the rock walls. Loud. Monotonous. Fresh air gusted through a small hole in the wall. The window, high above his head, cast shadows and minimal light. Fear and guilt twisted his mind into knots. Unbelievable.

“Aislyn.” Sheer terror clogged his throat. If anything had happened to her, he’d never forgive himself.

A loud thwack resounded in the stone chamber to his left and a weak, tear-filled curse. “Seamus? Is that you?”

Seamus blundered through the dim dungeon. If they intended to outlaw magic, the least they could do was make sure the lights worked. Bloody stupid, pedantic rules designed to protect the colony. For not the first time, Seamus wondered if the colony was heading in the right direction. Was it right to segregate fairies from humans? Surely there was a better way. The board might consider more integration. He could imagine the consternation if he tabled a discussion of this nature during the next board meeting.

“Yeah, it’s me. Where the hell are you?”

“In the last cell. Seamus, please hurry.”

“What? What’s wrong?” He disliked the alarm in her voice. Nothing frightened Aislyn.

“Seamus!”

Her panicked cry thrust a burst of adrenaline through his veins. He jogged the remaining distance, thankful a second window lightened the gloominess. “What is it?”

Aislyn huddled on a narrow bunk bed—the bottom one. They’d restrained her hands behind her back, pre-empting escape via magic since fairies needed their hands to utilize their magical powers, except the fools protected the entire council building with shields. How did they expect her to escape by magic?

Seamus fumbled the keys while struggling to open the lock. Instead of leaping off the bunk, Aislyn remained on the bed, her legs drawn tightly to her chest. God’s bones, if they’d hurt her, he’d take them apart limb by limb. She moaned, a high panicked cry of terror.

Which key? Dread made him clumsy as a fairling learning his first magical spell. The third key slid into the lock, and Seamus flung the door open, rushing to her side.

“What’s the problem?” He snatched her into his arms, rapidly checking for broken bones.

“Sp…spell,” she mumbled.

Bloody fools. He clutched her to his chest and strode from the cell. His conscience shrieked at him, stridently settling the blame squarely on his shoulders. How did he fix this? Why hadn’t she told them this was his fault? The questions pounded at him, demanding answers. Not now. He had to get her to safety then unravel the spell holding her prisoner.

At the top of the dungeon stairs, he paused when he saw no one. Seamus couldn’t decide if this was a good thing or not. The instant he stepped beyond the shields, he stabbed the blue stone on his Guardian’s band, praying they ended up inside his colony flat. His assistant had offered to send the amulet for servicing, but Seamus had put him off, more worried about his case than magical equipment.

A blink of a horny toad’s eye later, they landed on his bed—the right location, lousy landing spot. The feather mattress gave under their feet, throwing them off balance. They rolled over the edge of the bed, toppling to the floor.

Seamus twisted to take the brunt of the fall. Aislyn thumped down, her luscious curves crammed against his chest.
He inhaled, sliding his eyes shut to hide the explosion of heat firing his body.

Gary was right. The Guardian’s amulet needed servicing. He murmured a quick-release spell to free her arms.

Aislyn groaned weakly and rolled her shoulders.

His eyes flew open, his hands smoothed down her spine. “Are you okay?”

She stretched against him, bringing their bodies flush in a male-female fit. He forgot to breathe, every particle of blood shooting from his brain to his cock faster than he could curse. He froze, his skin itching and burning beneath his clothes, and he swore under his breath.

“We need to get you upright to restore your circulation.” Seamus lifted her away from him and contrarily wanted to grab her back. He forced himself to release her.

Seamus stared at the female who’d upset his world without even trying. He swallowed and tried not to dwell on the things he’d like to do with her and to her. “I need to go back to the council chambers,” he said, willing his erection away.

Tomorrow, he’d contact his mother to start the ball rolling. Living in Europe, she had the contacts. The minute he announced his betrothal, he could focus on his duties and his future.

And it’d help him resist the lure of Aislyn.

Chapter 7 coming next Monday

The Adventures of Aislyn O’Sullivan – Chapter 1

The Adventures of Aislyn O'Sullivan

Chapter One

Duty called.

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

The human side or the fairy colony?

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

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

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

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

No messages.

That decided the matter.

This wasn’t police business.

His guardian duties on the fairy side required attention.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

It was for the best, anyway.

Aislyn unsettled him.

She made him crave the impossible.

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

His path was set.

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

The first obstacle.

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

Face it, Aislyn’s an unattainable dream.

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

Loyalty and promises.

Responsibility.

Duty.

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

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

Yeah, duty and responsibility sucked.

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

 

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

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

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

“On the count of three, lass. One.”

A shuddering breath filled her lungs.

“Two.”

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

“Three!”

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

She had to win—she just had to.

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

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

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

“Aislyn, sweetheart. Are you all right?”

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

She’d failed to last the required eight seconds.

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

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

“How many fingers?”

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

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

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

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

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

“Are you going to answer me?”

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

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

“You need a keeper.”

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

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

“Why, Aislyn?”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

“You—you’re an MCP.”

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

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

“Male chauvinist pig.”

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

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

“No!”

“Aislyn.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

“What?” A smile lurked in his eyes.

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

“Nothing.”

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

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

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

Her brother.

Again.

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

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

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

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

“I’m offering to help you train.”

“Why? You don’t approve.”

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

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

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

* * * * *

Hell in a handbasket.

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

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

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

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

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

Maximillan was going down.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“She’s not married.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

“How about one of the recruits?”

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

Gill grunted. “We need a woman.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Aislyn’s fault.

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

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

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

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

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

Masochist.

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

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

Too much money to know better.

Boredom was a hell of a thing.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“No problem then.”

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

“Murphy, if you must dip your wick—”

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

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

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

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

“Women on the… Are you mad?”

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

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

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

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

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

“Nothing?” Murphy demanded in a hoarse voice.

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

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

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

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

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

“Then why are you training her?”

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

Chapter 2 coming next week.

Fancy Free at Book Junkie!

I’m visiting Book Junkie today where I’m talking about my contemporary romance, Fancy Free, and where I get some of my ideas.

Fancy Free also has a great review.