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The Adventures of Aislyn O’Sullivan – Chapter 3

The Adventures of Aislyn O'Sullivan

Missed the previous chapters?

Chapter 1
Chapter 2

Chapter 3

Tonight was the night.

In three hours and—Aislyn checked her watch—seven minutes, the names of the successful recruits were due to be announced, the thirty candidates whittled to ten.

“Where are you going, miss?” Her father’s stern voice jerked her to a halt. Aislyn’s hand slid off the brass handle of the front door. She plastered an impassive expression on her features and turned to face him. Her mother stood behind her husband, her pale hands flashing in front of her, clasping and unclasping before settling out of sight beneath her frilly white apron.

“I’m going to the ball.”

“You’re making this clan a laughingstock, persisting with your unfeminine ways. Fairies snigger and talk behind my back when I go to the pub. I’m ashamed to admit you’re my daughter.”

“Patrick.” Her mother’s low voice quivered with stress.

Patrick spun to glare at his wife. “Stay out of this, Bridget. It’s your fault for encouraging her when she was younger. When she should’ve stayed home to practice the feminine arts, you let her go out with her brothers. You let her dress as a male—you and that scandalous sister of yours. I’ve had enough. Aislyn, you will marry Fergus McKenzie. It’s time for you to raise a family and help the colony numbers swell.”

Aislyn fought to restrain the angry, frustrated words trembling on the tip of her tongue. Fergus McKenzie was a slobbering idiot. The idea of being a brood-mare disgusted her. She remembered the pride in her father’s eyes when she was naught but a fairling, recalled the hugs and kisses.

When had things changed?

She’d tried to go along with her father’s wishes but living the same empty life as her mother made her want to scream. She needed more than sewing and a brood of fairlings to fulfill her, and she didn’t understand why wanting a different life was wrong.

Her father turned his wrath back on her, his robust and big-barreled body quivering with rage. “I forbid you to attend the ball.”

Shock roared through her. “You can’t.”

Patrick O’Sullivan folded beefy arms across his chest. “Go to your room. Formal betrothal negotiations begin tomorrow.”

“But Patrick—”

“Enough!” he roared, slashing one hand through the air to emphasize his point.

Aislyn stalked past her parents. She stomped up the wooden stairs, the hollow ring of the floor echoing her fury. It wasn’t fair. She didn’t have a fairy godmother, but she would attend the ball.

And she absolutely refused to marry Fergus.

Aislyn slammed her bedroom door. Muttering under her breath, she paced around her bed and the untidy dresser. Stepping over a pile of dirty clothes and a pile of old spell books, she crossed to the window and peered outside. A large oak grew a few feet from the house, its sturdy branches sparking an idea. Unfortunately, she couldn’t use magic because her father would sense the surge of power. He held supernatural knowledge when it came to his children and magic. Aislyn stalked to her bed and dropped onto the denim-blue quilt cover. Her eyes sought the alarm clock and urged it to speed.

Half an hour later, with the house quiet apart from the muted voices on the television in the lounge, Aislyn donned her witch outfit, slid the window open and crawled onto the roof. After wiping her moist hands on the front of her costume, she took a deep breath and leaped for the tree branch. Seconds later, she grinned up at her bedroom window. All right! The constant training made that easy.

Aware of the passage of time, she hurried away, her brisk steps taking her to the community hall near the village square.

She paused at the entrance, her stomach quivering with the nerves and expectation. Unconsciously, her hands clenched, and she winced at the flash of pain. Her scraped palms smarted after the encounter with the oak tree. She smiled because the battle scars were worth the nasty sting. Tomorrow, she’d worry about the fallout with her father.

The dramatic ending of a Gaelic reel drifted out to her as she hovered at the door. Even though a part of her wanted to run and hide, she forced the sniveling coward away, listening instead to the strong go-get-em fairy who occupied her mind most of the time. She drew a breath to settle her nerves and sauntered into the crowded ballroom.
Up on the stage, the latest string band sensation plucked their instruments while a blue-hair fairy, dressed in a gravity-defying red gown, crooned a sultry ballad. Aislyn gazed at the costumed dancers gliding past, listened to the jocular voices and tinkling feminine laughter.

All at once, loneliness assailed her, and longing seeped from her heart. She wanted what these fairies had—a sense of home and someone to come home to instead of parents who disapproved and friends and neighbors who sniggered behind her back because she dared to be different.

She had no sense of belonging. Perhaps she should fall in with her parents’ wishes, marry Fergus and apply her scant knowledge of sewing to produce pretty furnishings. A grimace compressed her lips.

No, she couldn’t cry defeat.

She refused to settle for second best.

There was only one male for her.

Seamus.

Across the crowded ballroom, Aislyn sought the man of her dreams. She found him dancing with Christel. A handsome goblin and a stunning white witch, they glided together in sync.

Aislyn glanced at her voluminous black witch’s gown and back at Christel, noting the glaring deficiencies in her costume. Seamus had filled every waking hour with training exercises. Hell week lived up to its reputation. Aislyn had sweated through the various mental and physical activities designed to test if she possessed the skills required of a fairy force recruit. By the time she’d recalled her need for a costume, only the wicked witch variety remained in the costume hire shop. Complete with stick-on warts and a hooked nose to fit over her own more pert model, she presented a striking picture. She grimaced again. Yeah, striking was the right word for her all-encompassing black skirts and neon orange warts.

Aislyn straightened her shoulders, stood tall despite her diminutive stature, and headed into the fray. She skirted the whirling dancers to join her brothers and their friends. Her father would learn of her attendance, but right now, the threat of punishment didn’t matter.

Her oldest brother, Duncan, recognized her first. “Hey, Aislyn. Looking good.”

Aislyn grinned good-naturedly and cuffed him on the shoulder. She caught another glimpse of Seamus and Christel and sighed.

Accept the inevitable.

Move onward.

The stubborn part of her psyche insisted on fanning the tiny grain of hope. Instead of worrying about Seamus, she needed to concentrate on the second part of her dream—to join the fairy force.

Seamus treated her as a baby sister. No matter how much she willed it otherwise, things never changed. Someone tapped her shoulder, and she whirled in alarm.

Steve, her brother’s friend, grinned at her. “Wanna dance?”

“Sure.” Aislyn stepped onto the dance floor, determined to enjoy the ball. At midnight, they’d announce the ten finalists, and she’d learn her fate. A tremor goose-stepped across her skin.

Foretelling things to come? She hoped not.

Aislyn danced with friends and chatted with acquaintances, filling the long minutes with activity. She even danced with Fergus and managed polite chitchat. As midnight neared, the jitters in her stomach intensified. The odds were against her, but she crossed her fingers beneath her voluminous black skirts, anyway.

“Aislyn?”

She whirled so fast the sparkling, purple punch slopped over the top of her goblet and splashed her skirts. Rat’s tails. She didn’t have money to spare for dry cleaning. Her chin shot upward, and she inserted attitude in her glare.

“Dance with me?”

Aislyn’s outrage popped like a burst balloon as Seamus removed the goblet from her trembling hand. He led her to the crowded dance floor and gathered her close. Two rats and a mouse! She wasn’t much of dancer and prayed she didn’t mangle his feet.

“I thought you’d want to dance the midnight dance with Christel,” she blurted, unsettled by his seductive scent. Part of her wanted to edge away while her more adventurous self shouted to stay put and enjoy his proximity.

His gray eyes twinkled, almost as if he could read her mind. “No.”

No? Exactly what did that mean? Her eyes narrowed at his enigmatic expression, then another thought bloomed. He belonged to the fairy force. Did he know the identities of the successful candidates?

“Watch out,” Seamus warned a fraction too late.

A couple doing an energetic salsa jolted Aislyn, knocking her against Seamus. Hard muscles flattened her softer curves, and warmth suffused her body from the tip of her nose to the end of her big toes. Immediately, she wanted to snuggle and nibble the soft skin below his jaw.

The idea weakened her knees. Good grief! He’d laugh at her reaction. She stiffened and attempted to pull away before his citrus aftershave swamped her senses, and she did something outrageously stupid, even for her. Her adventurous self had consumed way too much purple punch.

“Stay, Aislyn,” he said, pressing a soft kiss to the top of her head.

“Seamus?” Her pulse thundered, and she couldn’t prevent the quaver in her voice.

Before he replied, the music ceased, and a drum roll rippled through the expectant hush. Aislyn trembled. Seamus brushed a soft kiss on her lips. She stared up at him in stupefied surprise. Had he drunk punch too?

Aislyn was dimly aware of the fairy force commander starting his spiel.

Seamus had kissed her.

“Aislyn, we’ll talk later.”

Her brows puckered, and he chuckled.

“Later, sweetheart.”

Sweetheart? Her heart flip-flopped as he sheltered her from the crowd. Off-kilter, she leaned against his hard chest and attempted to make sense of the commander’s words.

“Without further ado, the trainees for this year are…”

Aislyn’s breath caught, and she tensed, even more, when Seamus gripped her shoulders. All the training, all the hard work and it came to this announcement. She counted off the names as the commander announced them. Five, six, seven…

Loud cheers broke out from different parts of the ballroom as the successful trainees ran up to receive their wings. The beaming recruits stood on stage beside the commander. The recruits greeted each arrival with an enthusiastic pounding on the back.

Two more names to go. She swallowed to dislodge the lump of tension in her throat. Two more. She still had a chance.

“…Cameron Cassidy, Sean Riley.”

A roaring sound rushed through her head. Her body slumped.

She hadn’t made the cut.

She’d failed.

Aislyn bit her lip, fighting waves of nausea sweeping her belly. What should she do now? She hadn’t envisaged failure. Not once. She’d focused her determination and energy on achieving this one goal. She stared at the ten males standing beside the commander, their ceremonial wings shining under the lights, broad smiles of triumph on their faces. Acute envy sliced through her, piercing and painful.

Her hopes, her dreams felled in one swoop.

“Seamus,” the commander’s voice boomed over the loud applause and excited chatter. “Are you ready?”

Around them, fairies turned to stare. Aislyn heard their whispers and cringed under the weight of embarrassment.

Her chin lifted, and a masculine chuckle sounded right before Seamus whispered in her ear, “Wait there. Don’t dare move.”

Disconcerted, she froze. Seamus squeezed her shoulders for a second time and strode toward the stage. Numb, she inched to the door, determined to leave before her emotions spilled free. Already, pressure built behind her eyes.
She could count the number of fairies who’d offered encouragement on one hand. Most were aghast at her cheek. Questioning the rules wasn’t right. The debate had waged on the local talkback radio for weeks, ever since she’d announced her application. The letters to the newspaper editor lambasting her impudence for challenging the rules created great discussions over the breakfast table and morning coffee.

“Good evening, fairies,” Seamus said, his pleasing baritone finding each corner of the room. “Is everyone having a good time?”

“Yes!” the crowd roared.

Aislyn crept closer to the exit, craving privacy to lick her wounds.

 

Up on the stage, Seamus laughed. “I have a quick announcement before the band starts again.”

“Well, get on with it, man!” one of Aislyn’s brothers hollered.

Seamus grinned, pausing for the laughter to subside. From the corner of his eye, he watched Aislyn. She’d edged to the door. He wished, for once, the female would follow orders. A glance at her wart-covered face told of her bitter disappointment. He wished he could tell her how close she’d come to success, but they never disclosed the final scores.

“Okay, I’ll make this brief,” he said.

“Brief is good,” someone shouted.

Aislyn was almost out the door. He’d never get out his congratulatory speech before her departure. Drastic action required. “Aislyn O’Sullivan, I told you not to move. Stop right there.” She froze like an animal under a bright light. “Don’t let her move,” he said over the microphone to the people standing in her vicinity. The outrage cutting into her features made his lips twitch. “Now, where was I?”

“Being brief!” his heckler shouted.

Seamus allowed a grin before he began his speech, congratulating the successful recruits. “So there you have it, fairies. I give you the ten successful candidates. Trainees—choose your partners.”

The beaming trainees stepped from the podium. The music started with a flourish, the beginning notes of a ballad rippling from the singer’s throat as the trainees grabbed their partners of choice for the supper waltz. Seamus searched for Aislyn and couldn’t see her. He headed toward her brothers. They’d know where she’d gone.

“Where’s Aislyn?” he asked.

“She was here a minute ago,” Duncan said. “Why did you want her?”

Seamus paused. Not a topic he cared to share, even if Duncan was his best friend in the colony. He should’ve kept his mouth shut. Seamus cleared his throat. “I wanted to offer her a job,” he said in sudden inspiration.

“What sort of job?” A trace of suspicion colored Duncan’s voice.

Duncan’s wife, Julie, speared him with a militant look. “Why did you embarrass Aislyn in front of everyone? Hasn’t she suffered enough public humiliation without you drawing attention to her tonight?”

The couple glared at him, united in their displeasure. Seamus remained silent. He couldn’t have explained his feelings for Aislyn if he tried. “I tried to help Aislyn. I told her the odds were against success. I know she’s unhappy here in the colony, that she’s having a tough time finding a job. I wanted to help.” As Seamus stopped speaking, he noticed the way Duncan held Julie to his side, protective yet proud. The facts clicked, now making sense. “You’re pregnant.”

Duncan grinned, and pride and love radiated from him. “To be sure, we are indeed pregnant.”

His wife cuffed him over the shoulder. “Quiet.” She turned to Seamus. “We have told no one yet.”

“But this is marvelous! There hasn’t been a fairling born in the colony for going on six years. This is cause for celebration.”

“I’m not past the danger time for miscarriage yet.” At Seamus’s dismay, she hurried to reassure. “I’m fit as a horse. Duncan and I want to make sure everything is okay before we announce the pregnancy. Besides, I’m not ready for the cotton wool treatment. Everyone will behave as if I’m a prize cow at the Glenveagh agricultural show. I remember the Geraghty fairy when she announced her pregnancy. Frankly, I’m not surprised the poor thing miscarried, and I don’t want the paparazzi camped on my doorstep, thank you very much.”

“Julie is right to worry, which is why we’re heading for the beach colony early next week. I’ve applied for a month off, and by the time we return, Julie will be four months along,” Duncan said. “We’re taking the honeymoon we didn’t have time for when we first married.”

The couple’s exchange of smiles made Seamus uncomfortable. He studied Julie in light of the new knowledge, searching her face for signs of illness. Instead, her face sparkled with vitality. Julie was right. She looked as fit as a racehorse in training. Now, if only she carried the fairling full term the colony would have a chance of survival.

The colony spent a fortune researching the low birth rates. Scientists spouted about global warming, the sad fact that fairy woman attracted cats, stoats, and weasels. Few lived through the attacks. The human population faced the same problem with their native birds, and, so far, neither humans nor fairies had found a suitable deterrent.

Seamus imagined Aislyn out loose in the human world and shuddered. Cat food in the first five minutes. “Is this the new business you’re telling the family about?”

“We had to tell them something,” Duncan said.

Seamus reached into his jacket pocket and pulled out a small pager. “Take this.” He pressed the pager into Julie’s hand. “Call me if you have a problem. Day or night.”

Duncan pulled him into a bear hug. “Thanks. Your support means a lot to both of us.”

Julie kissed him on the cheek. She searched his face in the scant light and gave a slight nod. “Aislyn has probably gone for a walk by the river. It’s where she goes to think. You shouldn’t have trouble locating her.”

Seamus nodded. “Call me. I want weekly reports.” With a wave, he ambled from the ballroom, not wanting to attract undue attention. Once he rounded the corner, he jogged to the river. Aislyn better not do anything stupid. He ran faster. Given her current mood, he wouldn’t put anything past her.

As he approached the river, the rush and thunder of the water as it poured over the falls grew in intensity. During the day, mist and spray rose from the water, but right now, he had difficulty seeing farther than a foot either side of the path.

She wouldn’t do anything dumb, would she? Seamus recalled the disappointment on her face.

“Aislyn!” His holler echoed, bouncing back at him, her name repeating three times before silence fell. Impatience rippled to life. He’d told her to wait. “Aislyn!” This time the echo rang with annoyance.

“I’m over here.” The faint voice stopped him dead in his tracks.

“Where?”

“Over here.”

A faint shimmer to his right caught his attention. When he squinted, the gleam formed into an object of substance. Aislyn stepped onto a spot of the moonlit path. “You blend in that stupid outfit,” he snapped, his temper surging now he’d found her unharmed. “Why didn’t you wait?”

“So, you could make an even bigger fool of me?”

“I intended to offer you a job.” Seamus paused after repeating his excuse. A job was a good cover for his temporary lapse of sanity. A task to keep her occupied and out of mischief.

“What type of job?” Aislyn asked, turning to face him for the first time.

His heart twisted at the tear tracks gleaming on her cheeks. “Ah, Aislyn.”

“Don’t feel sorry for me. I’m not a charity case.” She prickled up like an agitated hedgehog and flounced to a fallen log. “Do you have a job for me, or are you trying to make up for my failure?”

He’d thought it before and, no doubt, he’d think it again. The female was a shrew. For an instant, he wondered why he bothered, then she stretched, and his hormones jogged his memory, tightening his body in places that had no business reacting. He counted slowly to ten. So the girl owned one or two less than sterling qualities.

“I have a job.” Seamus thought on his feet. “I’m working on a case at present. We’re short-staffed and need help. It’s not exciting, but you’d be helping on a real case.” The more he explained, the better he considered his off-the-cuff idea. A brainwave, the job fixed several problems at once.

Aislyn rose from the log and stepped toward him, her face shining with eagerness. “You mean to let me help work on your case?”

Seamus nodded and lurched back under Aislyn’s weight when she threw herself at him. The armful of quivering female almost did him in. He registered her softness and curves and smelled her delicate scent—not the floral fragrance associated with most of the women of his acquaintance, but apricots.

“When can we leave the colony?” she asked. “Tomorrow? I’m so excited I could burst.” Without warning, she tore from his light grasp and whirled in circles, her copper curls flying while she danced with sheer delight. “Wait until I tell everyone. They’ll soon stop their malicious whispers.”

Leave the colony? God’s balls! What had he done? Seamus grabbed her arm. “Aislyn, wait. You can’t leave the colony.”

She stopped dead. “But you said…” She trailed off, staring at him. Her blue eyes reminded him of a whipped puppy.

“You said I’d help with your case,” she whispered.

The melancholy tone made him cringe. Aislyn’s bottom lip wobbled. Please don’t cry again. He wanted to help but could only do so much. His hands were tied.

Of course, she didn’t know he was Guardian or the constraints he labored under. Few fairies knew, and he liked it that way. The paparazzi tagged after him now whenever he appeared in the colony in his fairy force liaison capacity. If they discovered his Guardian duties, they’d make his life a living hell. The last thing he wanted was to relive the misery of his fairling years.

“I meant here, Aislyn. The work would come to you. I never said you’d leave the colony.”

Aislyn jerked from his touch and hurried away from Glenveagh, heading toward his house.

“Aislyn, you can’t go much further. Talk to me. Or better yet, return to the village and sleep on it. I’m serious about the job.” Guilt and alarm sharpened his voice.

 

The hard knot of disappointment inside Aislyn snapped, and her temper ignited. Talk to me, Aislyn. Return to town, Aislyn. You can’t join the fairy force, Aislyn. You’re a female, Aislyn. They don’t leave the colony.

Didn’t the fairies around here get the plot? Yes, she was a fairy. Yes, she was a female, but she had a brain too.
Her legs pumped harder, faster. She clenched her jaw and seethed at the injustice. It wasn’t her fault she’d been born a female. Heck, given a choice she’d have picked male. Males got to do everything. What was so bad in the human world? Cats? Hogwash! As far as Aislyn was concerned, cats were an excuse. She’d never seen one, for goodness sake. Not even a picture. The board of directors had banned photos in case some dim-witted fairy performed a magic spell and brought one to life. As if! Everyone talked about cats. The scientists were always trying out new potions and pills to deter the furry beasts. Yet, she’d take a bet most colony inhabitants wouldn’t recognize a cat if it sat next to them.

“Aislyn, stop!” Seamus grabbed her elbow, jerking her to a halt. “You’ll set off the alarms.”

“I don’t care.” She snapped her fingers in his face. “I don’t give a rat for your stupid rules and regulations.”

Seamus’s hands slid up her arms to curve around her shoulders, holding her in place while he glowered at her. “The rules are there for a reason. They keep us safe and help the colony survive. I know you’re disappointed not to make the recruits, but my job offer is serious. Will you reconsider?”

Dispirited, she considered the long days stretching ahead in her future. Her father disapproved of everything she did and, after tonight, she’d have to find a place and move out. Her savings account contained two pieces of gold, and if she didn’t find a job soon, she’d have to apologize to her father and admit her failure.

She brushed away a tear. “I’ll take the job.”

At least the work was related to the human world. Too bad it was the closest she’d come to traveling and exploring the countries outside the colony. “Thank you for thinking of me,” she added politely, knowing Seamus was trying to help.

“Good.” His touch gentled, and belatedly Aislyn realized how near they stood.

Her heart lurched. Her face heated.

“Come on. We’ll celebrate your new job.” He grabbed one of her hands and tugged her down the leaf-strewn path. Trailing green ferns brushed her skirts as she hastened to keep up with him.

Finally, she noticed they were still heading away from the colony. “Where are we going?” She dug in her heels, coming to an abrupt halt. “Seamus, stop! We can’t go any farther. It’s against the rules.”

He grinned, a devil-may-care grin that turned her insides to mush. “The rules don’t apply to fairy force members.”

Aislyn flinched. Did he have to rub it in? “I’m nothing to do with the fairy force,” she said, her tone dignified and designed to hide every scrap of the hurt hurtling around inside her.

Seamus chuckled. “I’m a member of the fairy force. Last time I looked, I still had my wings. Since you’ve accepted my offer of employment, we can make exceptions this once.”

Aislyn’s mouth rounded to a perfect O. A croak emerged when she tried to speak. Swallowing, she tried again. “Do you mean what I think you mean? You’re escorting me from the colony?”

His smile widened. “I am.” He held out his hand. “If you want to come.”

Was the male crazy? Yes, she wanted to explore outside the colony. Aislyn accepted his hand, and frissons of awareness sprinted up her arm from the point of contact. “Where will we go? What will we see?”

“I thought we’d visit the man at the top of the garden.”

“But…but…” Heat suffused her cheeks, a hue that, no doubt, clashed with the orange warts on her face. “Seamus,” she said in an agony of embarrassment. She’d admitted to spying on the man, but only because he reminded her of Seamus. It was Seamus she loved. The mystery man—well, sometimes Aislyn couldn’t help herself. She had to break out and defy the colony rules. It wasn’t as if her transgressions were enormous, world-altering ones.

She chewed on her bottom lip as rebel debated with sensible. Sensible won the race by a head.

“Wait,” she blurted, yanking at his hand. Breaking petty rules was one thing. Banishment from the colony was another matter entirely.

Chapter 4 coming next week.

The Adventures of Aislyn O’Sullivan – Chapter 2

The Adventures of Aislyn O'Sullivan

Missed the previous chapter?
Read Chapter 1 here.

Chapter 2

“Where have you been?” Aislyn spared a quick glance at her watch before turning the full spectrum of her glare on him. “You said six o’clock, and it’s almost seven. You promised to help me train, and I’ve seen you once since you agreed to help, for all of five minutes.”

The female was a shrew. After the week he’d experienced, he wasn’t in the mood for a bollocking. “Surely, you can train with the other applicants?”

Her pained grimace strained his temper.

“What have you done now? Turned someone into a rat? A frog? As a recruit, you need to practice doing things without magic. Can’t you do anything without stirring trouble?”

The lass inspected his pissed expression and backpedaled. “I’m sorry.” She gestured at the young males at the far end of the sports stadium. “The other applicants refuse to take me seriously. They won’t speak to me, let alone train with me. And I have resisted turning anyone else into a rat.”

Seamus tightened his jaw against the onslaught of a yawn. Bone-deep exhaustion weighed him down, bringing sluggish thoughts and an uncertain mood.

“I’m here now.” Unfortunately, one eyeful of Aislyn in her tight ice-blue tank top told him there was nothing amiss with his hormones.

“Bad day at work?”

“I can spare an hour, so we’d better get started. Tell me what you’ve done in the way of training during the last week.”

“I can ride a brumby now—mostly without taking a spill, so my reactions and balance have improved. I’ve memorized the rules and regulations for the theory section, and I’ve started my weapons training.” She wrinkled her nose when she mentioned weapons.

The sprinkling of freckles across the bridge of her nose reminded him of fine gold dust, and he fought the urge to brush his hand over her cheek to learn if her skin was as soft as it appeared.

Get a grip.

He gave himself a mental shake.

Remember your promise to your mother and the board. By the end of the year, he’d be married to a fairy from another territory, one with a sizable dowry. For the sake of the colony, he had to push aside this senseless attraction to Aislyn.

“Seamus? Are you listening?”

“Yeah.” Engulfed by her scent, he steeled against the burst of groin-jolting sensation. “What else have you done?”

“My shooting sucks, but I go to the range as often as I can afford. I will shoot the required number of targets. All I need is practice.”

Seamus’s gaze swept her lithe body, noting the smattering of bruises on her arms and legs, the colors ranging from brilliant purple to an ugly sulfurous yellow. If enthusiasm counted, she’d top the list of recruits. Unfortunately, passion wouldn’t help her through. She required all-round skills, including physical strength. Even making it through hell week wouldn’t guarantee her a place with the recruits.

“What about physical fitness? The fitness and stamina tests are the ones you’ll have problems with because of your size.”

Aislyn’s chin shot upward. “I can do this.”

“How, if you don’t train?”

She tossed her head, her copper curls bouncing to highlight both frustration and irritation. “I hate running and going to the gym. It’s boring.”

Seamus considered her carefully. If he pushed hard enough, would she relinquish her ambition to join the recruits? For her sake, he had to spell out everything and make her understand. Perhaps if he described the everyday frustrations the members of the force faced, she might change her mind. Those rose-tinted glasses of hers were blinding her to reality. Even if part of him cheered her efforts, she must understand how dangerous it was to leave the colony.

In Aislyn, he saw bright-eyed ambition, the idealism, and the love of life he used to possess. Lost and eroded by dealing with the murky underworld of criminals, board politics, and the fairy paparazzi. “Fairy force work is tedious. It bears little resemblance to action movies on the fairy network.”

“Don’t you think I know that? I can do this. I know I can.”

Too exhausted to argue, he gave way. He strode to the far end of the stadium. “We’ll start at the gym,” he said, nodding at a group of young males. The fairies greeted him and ignored her. A flurry of masculine mutters following them into the gym.

Humor burst to the surface, his mouth twisting in a wry grin. Aislyn might be petite, but she left a trail of chaos. She couldn’t help herself.

“We’ll concentrate on a full weights program supplemented by aerobics and cardio work,” he said. “You can work with a personal trainer when I’m not here.”

Aislyn skidded to a halt. “I can’t afford a personal trainer. Finding the shooting range fees is difficult enough.” She stared at her feet. “Still haven’t found another job.”

“Can’t your parents can help?”

“No.”

Won’t help her, he surmised, unsurprised. It was a wonder Patrick O’Sullivan hadn’t contacted him already to spout outrage at Seamus’s involvement with Aislyn. “What about your brother, Duncan?”

“I can’t ask Duncan and Julie. Every penny they can spare goes into their new business.” Aislyn caught his sympathetic glance and glared. “I don’t need a personal trainer. Show me what to do, and I’ll do it.”

“After you.” He gestured at the weight machines and followed her. A mistake, he realized as his gaze zapped to her tanned legs and traveled higher, past her tight black shorts, to study the feminine sway of hips. He watched, mesmerized by the way Duncan’s sibling had matured into a stunning fairy. When he caught himself pondering her love life, he jerked his wayward thoughts to an appalled halt. He tried to conjure the image of the top contender on his first lady list and failed. Instead, he pictured Aislyn in another fairy’s arms and instantly wanted to hit someone.

“Which machine first?” she asked.

Ignoring the slide of pleasure brought on by her husky voice, Seamus chose the closest machine and demonstrated its use, determined to concentrate on the task at hand. The sooner he started, the quicker he could remove himself from her vicinity and the ever-present temptation. He loaded weights on the machine and reclined, showing her how to position her body.

“Lift this way.” He leveled his gaze at a cobweb on the ceiling. “Make sure you don’t jerk. Keep each move smooth and your breathing even. Remember to warm up first to avoid injury. I’m going in cold today since I’m showing you how to use the machines, and we’re short of time.”

“Looks easy enough.”

Her husky voice made him shudder. It was way too seductive for his tired mind to cope with today. He hoisted the weights. A sigh grabbed his attention. He glanced over and almost dropped the bar. Her admiring expression held a hint of hunger. He blinked and sneaked another fleeting glance. She peered innocently back.

“Can I have a turn?”

Seamus shook himself. Too many late nights working the case. He needed to rein in his imagination and sort out his betrothal to preserve his sanity.

“Sure.” The weights rattled as he set them in the rack. He sat up, making way for Aislyn on the narrow bench. She was so petite. Feminine. He could crush her with his two bare hands. The idea of her coming face-to-face with a criminal shoved shivers down his spine.

“Are you sure you want to do this?” He maintained a low voice so the males using the neighboring machines couldn’t eavesdrop.

“Lift weights?” Aislyn chuckled. “It looks boring, but I’ll do it along with the other fitness work required.” Her chin jutted upward in the characteristic gesture he was coming to recognize. “I will join the fairy force.”
Despite what everyone else thought. She didn’t care if she was out of step with every fairy inhabiting the colony.

Aislyn O’Sullivan marched to her own drummer.

* * * * *

Another day. More training.

Be careful what you wish for.

She’d wanted Seamus to train her because he was the best, but each session seemed more grueling than the previous. Sweat dripped down her forehead, stinging her eyes, making her skin itch. She swiped her face with her shirt, flashing her bare stomach, and not giving a damn.

Seamus scowled over his shoulder. “Pick up your feet. Move your butt!”

He, of course, moved freely and looked as fresh as this morning’s brown bread. She was a heavy lump of dough.

Aislyn shot a look of acute dislike at the back of his neck. She had feelings for this male? This tyrant. This bully.

She needed her head examined.

“Two more laps, thirty push-ups, and a warm-down. We’ll move to weapon training next.”

Aislyn’s breath wheezed in and out while her feet pounded the track. Fitness. Weapons. Theory plus the hundred and one other things Seamus considered necessary for her training. Some came naturally while others, like this fitness kick, were torture. Sheer-gritted determination and pride kept her running even though her body screamed to stop.
Up ahead, Seamus halted and dropped to the ground, the muscles in his shoulders and back bulging with each smooth push-up. Sweat shone on his bare skin.

The sun radiated sweltering heat, and Aislyn considered stripping off her shirt. She scanned the busy arena and couldn’t summon the energy to smile. A topless recruit. Now that would cause a sensation with everyone except Seamus.

With lungs puffing like bellows, she dropped to the ground and commenced push-ups, groaning with the exertion and effort it took to coordinate tired, straining muscles.

Seamus had agreed to train her, but she’d seen him three times. He was moody, short-tempered, and his abrasive orders tore her natural confidence to shreds. Only this morning, she’d joked of sexual frustration—his. A mistake on her part because Seamus decided on fitness training soon after. Aislyn wasn’t sure she wanted to continue with this tension between them.

“All done?” His mocking voice sounded from above.

“Yoo-hoo, Seamus!”

Aislyn faltered before picking up the rhythm again. A familiar voice. She would have to show up now. Christel—voted Miss Fairy Princess last year, the beautiful fairy with long blonde hair and a stunning figure. The fairy with a trail of males panting after her.

Aislyn muttered a rude word under her breath, cursing fate. Christel wanted Seamus, and he wasn’t running in the opposite direction. So much for Aislyn’s ego.

Aislyn collapsed to the ground after her last push-up and crawled to her feet slower than a geriatric fairy with gout. She bit back a groan when Christel neared. Talk about contrasts. Her skin was sticky with sweat, and she suspected she smelled ripe too. No wonder Seamus preferred Christel. Miss Fairy Princess wrinkled her perfect nose when she halted beside Seamus, confirming Aislyn’s worst fears.

Christel leaned nearer and lowered her voice. “I’ll see you at the Witches and Goblin’s ball. Save a dance or two, hmmm?” She sidled close enough for her full breasts to slide across his chest and brushed a lingering kiss on his lips.

Aislyn clenched her fists and noted Seamus didn’t protest. For the brief second it took to control her surge of temper, she considered using a sneaky spell. She changed her mind on meeting Seamus’s knowing grin. Christel smirked, and Aislyn tempered her glare. She probably still looked as if she’d eaten a sour apple.

No spells.

If the impossible happened and Seamus looked at her with romance in mind, she wanted—needed to know she’d won on her own merits.

* * * * *

John Watson was eating lunch at his country estate in England when the invitation arrived.

An abrupt noise, loud and sharp as a thunderclap, made him start. His head jerked up, and his aristocratic nose twitched like a fox sensing danger.

“Sorry, sir.” The flustered maid righted the dinner trolley she’d tripped on and smoothed her black skirt, her gaze darting around the cobblestone patio.

John set his knife and fork across the middle of his plate. His gaze flicked over the hovering maid. “What do you want?”

The maid flinched but held her ground. She remained silent, refusing to meet his gaze, inching closer and extending her hand—the one containing a pale blue envelope.

He made the maid stand, her hand outstretched while he wiped his mouth on a cream Irish linen napkin. He picked up a crystal glass containing chilled vintage chardonnay and sipped the wine while watching her through narrowed, assessing eyes.

“I haven’t seen you before. Are you new?” His words crackled through the air with shotgun quickness. He studied the attractive brunette and the way the sun caught the streaks of red in her hair.

She swallowed before saying in a quiet yet firm voice, “Yes, sir. I started yesterday.”

He took a perverse pleasure in making her wait, keeping her with an outstretched arm until her hand trembled.

Whether from nervousness or fatigue, John wasn’t certain, but he allowed himself a sliver of satisfaction.

He’d made his point.

Extending his hand, he accepted the envelope from her. “Next time, bring it on the silver tray.”

She sketched a brief curtsy. “Yes, sir.”

The maid turned to leave. John checked her departure with an upheld hand before turning his attention to the envelope.

It told him little.

A frisson of unease filtered through him. He hated surprises, and this innocuous blue envelope presented one.

He picked up his steak knife, slit the envelope open with one decisive cut, and extracted the fancy embossed card. With a faint frown, he read through the invitation. His frown metamorphosed to a delighted chuckle.

“A game!” He leaned back in his chair, a grin playing on his lips. “Oh, Maximillan, I accept with pleasure.”

The maid frowned. “Sir?”

“Send Morgan to me,” he ordered.

“Yes, sir.”

He watched the feminine sway of her hips beneath the black uniform skirt as she moved toward the house. Her high heels clicked on the tiles, signaling her departure. Cocking his head to one side, he thought of Natasha. She was exhibiting an annoying tendency to cling. She was also common, but this one…this one would bear watching. This new maid possessed an innate style he found pleasing, and she knew her place. John frowned and nodded. He’d need to do something about Natasha.

Soon. And meanwhile, a replacement waiting in the wings wouldn’t hurt.

“You wanted me, sir?”

“Ah, Morgan. We have a small challenge to amuse us.” He handed his brawny personal assistant the engraved invitation and waited while the man pulled out a pair of gold-rimmed spectacles.

Morgan’s blond brows rose as he read the invitation. “A worthy challenge, indeed. The stakes are high, sir.”

John allowed a gloating smile to distort his lips. “Look at the field. It’s small enough to be exclusive yet large enough to allow healthy competition.”

“You want me to accept on your behalf? Even though the invitation comes from Maximillan?”

“Yes, Morgan.” He chuckled. “I rather think I do. I can handle my darling stepbrother.”

“Very good, sir. I’ll see to it straight away. Will there be anything else?”

“Has the latest shipment arrived?”

“An hour ago, sir.”

John rubbed his hands together, almost gleefully. “And is the Little Spotted Kiwi settling into its new home?”

“The vet checked him over and released him into the nocturnal house. All seems well.”

“Good. Good. Maybe now we’ll have success with our breeding plan.” He pushed to his feet, dropping his napkin on top of the Royal Dalton plate. “Tell Tim to expect me later this afternoon. I want to check on the tiger cubs, but I’m eager to see our new arrival.”

Morgan nodded and turned to walk across the spacious tiled courtyard to his office. John watched his employee leave. A smile hovered on his lips as he wandered toward his rose gardens.

Lately, life had become humdrum. He sauntered between the rows of perfumed blooms. Maximillan’s invitation brought a hidden dare. Enough risk to add spice, but with his money and buying power he’d avoid any awkward entanglements with the law.

Money could buy anything.

He pursed his lips and halted in front of a Claude Monet, a mottled pink and cream rose, and his current favorite. The trick would be to manage his resources more efficiently than the other competitors.

He glanced at his scarred hands and reached up to finger the faint scar running the length of his face from his right eyebrow to his jaw.

It was an opportunity for revenge.

Chapter 3 coming next Monday

A Research Visit to Barista Cats, Auckland, New Zealand

Barista Cats

These days, many families live in rental accommodation or high-rise apartments are unable to keep pets. Enter – a business opportunity. Barista Cats in Queen Street Auckland is one of the new cafes where animal lovers can go to have a coffee and get their pet-fix without having the responsibility of a full-time pet.

Barista Cats has fifteen cats who live at the café and mingle with the café patrons as they chill with a tea or coffee. All the cats are ex-SPCA cats, and all have had tough lives, so they lap up the attention and care they receive at the café. One is deaf while another is blind. One or two of the cats wobble as they walk or climb, but all are healthy and happy.

Barista Cats Cafe

A visit to the café must be booked online beforehand, and only children over the age of fourteen can enter the premises. They must be with a guardian.

Hi Cutie

A Barista Cat

On arrival, all visitors are introduced to each cat, and the rules are explained. The cats have loads of toys and different bedding, but most are happy to plop down and enjoy a stroke or two from their visitors.

Each session is one hour, and the café hosts special sessions with kittens. They also have yoga and movies several times a month. You get to do yoga or watch a movie with a cat on your lap.

Dinner Time at the Cafe

Want to chill out and destress? If you’re a pet-lover without a pet, this is definitely the place for you.

Military MenI enjoyed my visit, and some of my experience will go into my current, as yet unnamed work-in-progress, which is part of my Military Men series. Watch this space!

Hobbiton, Part Two

This is a continuation of my post about my visit to Hobbiton in Matamata. Part one is here.

Pheasant in the Vegetable Garden

I was busy taking photos of Hobbit holes and my surroundings and saw something moving. It took me a moment to realize the pheasant was real and it was busy feasting on the vegetables.

The Frog Pond

This is the frog pond. During filming the frogs made it challenging to hear the actors. Sir Peter Jackson paid someone to catch all the frogs and relocate them elsewhere so filming could continue without issue. The frogs found their way back…

The fake tree

This tree, which grows above Bilbo Baggin’s home in Bagshot Row is the only fake tree. All the rest are real. A few days before filming Peter Jackson visited the site and decided the tree’s leaves had faded to the wrong color. A man spent two days spraypainting each leaf. The trees are resprayed every few years.

Bilbo Baggin's Home

Bilbo Baggins is one of the more prosperous hobbits. We know this because his home has lots of windows, and Hobbits are taxed by the number of windows in a dwelling.

Shelley and the Hobbit Hole

There are two different sizes of Hobbit holes. I think the guide said they were 60 and 90 respectively. The Hobbit characters were filmed in front of the large doors, and the tall characters such as Gandalf were filmed in front of the small doors. I’m standing in front of a small door.

Each of the Hobbit holes is empty inside since the interior shots were all filmed at studios in Wellington.

Green Dragon Inn

This is the view of the Mill and the Green Dragon Inn. We walked across the bridge to the Green Dragon and finished our tour with a drink.

Drinks at the Green Dragon Inn

The drinks are all brewed especially for Hobbiton. I tried the apple cider, which was delicious.

If you’re ever near Matamata, I recommend a visit to Hobbiton. It’s pure fun and whimsey, and I loved every moment of my visit.

A Visit to Hobbiton, Matamata, New Zealand

I’ve wanted to visit Hobbiton in Matamata for ages, and yesterday, I finally got to explore the home of the Hobbits. In order to visit it’s necessary to plan and book ahead. My tour was for 10:30 and Hobbiton central was very busy with tours going out every half an hour.

Map of Hobbiton

This is the map of Hobbiton, given to each visitor. Hobbiton itself is situated on the Anderson farm, which is an operating beef and sheep farm of 1250 acres. The land in the Matamata area is gorgeous full of green rolling hills and perfect for Hobbiton. Sir Peter Jackson discovered his home for Hobbiton after flying over in a helicopter. After the Lord of the Rings movies were completed, Hobbiton was dismantled. When it was decided to film the Hobbit movies, Hobbiton was rebuilt in permanent materials and kept as a tourist attraction once filming was completed.

Welcome to Hobbiton

There are 44 Hobbit holes and seven maintenance men and women keep the 12-acre site in pristine condition. What I loved about the place was the attention to detail. Each hobbit hole has a theme or a clue as to the occupant’s occupation. There is a beekeeper, a fisherman, a painter and so forth.

A Hobbit Hole

Smoking Chimney

This one even had a smoking chimney. There were lines full of washing, and I loved the vegetable gardens.

The Fisherman's Home

Hobbit Hole

Shelley and the Hobbit Hole

I enjoyed my visit so much and took heaps of photos. There are too many for one post. Come back tomorrow for part two.

The Waitakere Ranges Regional Park, New Zealand

Whenever we have friends visiting from overseas, we take them to the Waitakere Regional Park. A short drive from the inner city and you’re in the middle of nature. The views from the visitor center are gorgeous, and it’s an interesting place for kids of all ages!

Waitakere View from Lookout

This is the view from the lookout at the rear of the visitor center. On a clear day, you can see for miles.

View of Auckland

It was a little hazy on the day I took this photo, but you can make out the Sky Tower and the other highrise buildings in the central city.

Native NZ trees

These are some of the native trees. The punga ferns were striking and pretty this day.

About the kauri tree

A Young Kauri Tree

A young kauri tree. This native tree is in danger from kauri dieback. It’s incurable, and currently, many of our tracks in the park are closed in an attempt to stop the spread of the disease.

The bush and river

Another view of the bush and the river.

Maori carving

Maori carving

Maori carving

These are some of the Maori carvings at the visitor center.

Shelley at Waitakere

And finally, this is me hamming it up with a view of the bush and sea behind me.

I’ve used the Waitakere area in my book Black Moon Dragon, and the heroine lives on the coast at Piha, which is not far away.

I highly recommend a visit to the Waitakere Ranges if you’re a visitor to Auckland. You won’t be disappointed!

Black Moon Dragon Available For Pre-order

At long last, the Dragon Investigators series has a new addition. I had a lot of fun writing this one, and I absolutely adore the hero and heroine together.

There is suspense, humor, dragon politics, and Maori mythology along with romance. If you’ve read Blood Moon Dragon, book 2 in the series, you’ve already met Manu. You’ll realize the predicament Manu was in at the end of Hone’s romance. In Black Moon Dragon, Manu finally gets his happy-ever-after.

Black Moon Dragon

Check out the blurb:

Her life has taken a turn to Crazy Town.

She has caught a weird disease.

And now, this scary big dude is offering help.

There’s trouble here somewhere, right?

Manu Taniwha. A billionaire inventor. Leader. Tattoos, bossy attitude, icy control. Man by day. Dragon at night. Magnificent. Oh yeah.

But what’s his angle?

Jessalyn Brown. A daypack of possessions. Debts. Half-blood with huge, fiery problems. Her only wealth is an old pendant.

She’d be crazy to trust this man, yet every instinct is propelling her to say yes.

What if he turns her into the cops? Or has nefarious plans for her body? She’s no dummy even if she is new to the city.

Finally, Jessalyn agrees to stay with him, but if this dragon gets out of line, she’ll leave in a heartbeat. Her way or the highway.

Stand well back because her flames are hot!

You’ll adore this dragon romance because it contains a grumpy billionaire taniwha with his mesmerizing tattoos and his dislike of, dragon politics, plus the strong, sassy woman who is about to burst out of her cocoon and kick dragon butt.

Pre-order at:

Amazon | Apple Books | Kobo | Nook |

Exploring Ponsonby, Auckland

This week, I decided to do my writing session in a different place. I ended up in Ponsonby.

Ponsonby Road

Ponsonby is an inner-city suburb, around 2 kilometers from the city center of Auckland. The origins of the name Ponsonby are a bit murky, and my search didn’t produce a definitive answer on how the place got its name.

Ponsonby is one of the original suburbs of Auckland. In the 1950s and 1960s, the area was a low-cost housing area, but these days, things are very different. It’s a thriving suburb with expensive property and lots of cafes and restaurants.

Huge mature trees grow on the grass verges, casting shade while the pedestrians get glimpses of the harbor and the Sky Tower. I particularly loved the wooden bungalows and villas that lined some of the streets—a reminder of an earlier time with their white picket fences.

Row of Bungalows

Wooden Bungalow

Bungalow

Mature Trees

The mature trees that grow in the area are beautiful and the shade is welcome during the hot summer.

Old wooden church

This old wooden church is a Samoan church these days.

View of Sky Tower from Ponsonby

The Sky Tower is visible from many parts of Auckland. This is the view from Ponsonby.

I had a fun morning exploring Ponsonby, and I managed to get lots of work done too. Win-win!

A Stroll Up a Dormant Volcano #Adventure2019

Adventure 2019

The city of Auckland is built on and around a field of volcanoes, which I think accounts for my fascination with volcanoes. One day, I will use volcanoes in a romance. Somehow.

I’ve been lucky enough to see most of our New Zealand volcanoes, including the more active ones farther south of Auckland. (White Island, Ruapehu, Ngauruhoe, Tongariro)

On one memorable trip we visited an active volcano in Guatemala. It was almost dusk and we stood next to the glowing lava flow. The conveyer-belt glide of the molten lava, full of rocks and popping gases, and the heat that came off that shimmering ribbon lives with me still, despite the passing of years.

On Auckland Anniversary day, we had friends visit from Winnipeg, so we marched them up to the top of one of our dormant volcanoes—Mount Eden. Mt. Eden is interesting because it has a perfect crater and the view of the sprawling city below is fantastic.

Auckland weather was on its best behavior and the views were stunning. From the summit, it is easy to see the other dormant volcanoes that stud the landscape. One Tree Hill, Mt. Hobson, Rangitoto Island, and Mt. Victoria to name a few.

Mount Eden, Auckland

The crater as seen from the top of Mount Eden.

Auckland harbor bridge and Sky Tower

View over downtown Auckland. Spot the Auckland Harbor Bridge and the Sky Tower.

Rangitoto

This is Rangitoto, which is the youngest volcano in the Auckland region. It erupted around six hundred years ago.

Other dormant volcanoes

The grassy hills are also dormant volcanoes. These ones are visible from the top of Mt. Eden.

One Tree Hill

One Tree Hill is yet another volcanic cone.

Drinks to rehydrate after our sightseeing

Drinks to replace the liquid lost while sightseeeing. That’s my story, and I’m sticking to it!

If you ever visit Auckland, this spot is the perfect one to get an overview of the city with 360 views. From here, you can see both coasts (the Manukau and Waitemata) but a warning—if the day is windy. Hold onto your hat!

A Visit to the Tui Brewery – Yeah Right!

During our recent trip we visited the Tui Brewery in Mangatainoka. It was a lunch stop, and of course, we had to try the beer.

According to legend, in 1889 a man called Henry Wagstaff stopped on the banks of the Mangatainoka River to make a cup of tea. That cup of tea was the best cup of tea he’d ever tasted, and right there and then he decided that with such great water, this would be the perfect spot to build a brewery.

So he did.

Beer is still brewed at this spot. Fine beer. I know because I’ve tasted it.

While the beer is tasty, the Tui Brewery is famous for something else—their tongue-in-cheek advertising. The woman responsible for the cheeky ads noticed how many people were saying, “Yeah, right.” and she decided to use this in the Tui advertising campaign. Some of the billboards are controversial, others are plain funny and all of them use Kiwi humor.

Tui Brewery Sign

We arrived just on opening time at 11.00 a.m. I was really disappointed to discover the brewery closed. We turned the car around and when we drove back, it was magically open. I obviously didn’t check the opening hours properly!

Tui Brewery

One of the Yeah right signs. This one is right outside the brewery.

A Factory Close-up

Mr. Munro at the bar

We had a drink and a meal. Both were delicious.

Yeah, right!

A view of the iconic Tui Brewery

A view of the iconic Tui Brewery

Trips and tours through the Tui Brewery are very popular. They even do a trip on a steam train, which might possibily make an appearance in one of my upcoming romances.