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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

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The Adventures of Aislyn O’Sullivan – Chapter 5

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.

Chapter 5

“Does this mean I won’t get breakfast?” Aislyn asked, unable to bear the suspense. A real date with Seamus, a memory to hold close and treasure once she returned to her humdrum existence in the colony. He wouldn’t withhold this treat. He couldn’t.

Gill stepped close and slid a comforting arm around her waist. “Don’t you worry, cupcake. If this grumpy lout refuses to buy you breakfast, I’ll take you.”

Seamus glowered, and Aislyn noticed with surprise, he shared his glare with Gill. She’d disobeyed orders. What had Gill done? Sure, the man made cryptic comments regarding mysteries and women, but the interview with Elsa had gone well.

“Thank you, Gill.” A peek at Seamus told her he intended to return her to the colony without the promised sightseeing trip. “Where do you suggest for breakfast?” she asked, fluttering her eyelashes at Gill.

Seamus scowled. “Do you have something in your eye?”

“Has this lout shown you any of the city?” Gill’s lips quivered as if he were suppressing laughter.

“Not yet,” Aislyn said. “We were going this morning. Unfortunately, I’m not here for long.”

“Where are you from?”

“Tipperary,” Seamus said. “If you cease the chit-chat, we can get going.”

Gill kept his arm around Aislyn’s waist as they ambled to the car. “Tipperary? In Ireland?”

“That’s what I said.” Seamus jerked open the car door for Aislyn and waited. He drummed his finger on the car roof. Bang. Bang. Bang.

She slid inside the vehicle.

“Tipperary,” Gill mused. “That’s a long way to go.”

“Hell’s teeth.” Seamus stomped around the front of the car and wrenched open the passenger door. The slam of the door punctuated his tetchiness.

Gill whistled and climbed into the driver’s seat. He turned to wink at Aislyn. “We’ll work on changing his mind.
I’m sure we can fit in a night on the town before you leave.”

“Sounds good,” Aislyn chirped.

“Over my dead body.”

Gill started the car. “That could be arranged.” He glanced at Aislyn. “How does breakfast at The Viaduct sound?”

“Near the harbor?” Aislyn had read of Auckland and the beautiful harbor.

“Ah, the voice of approval. The Viaduct, it is.”

Gill sped from the park. Aislyn spied more people this time. They scurried to work, and the children, wearing cute matching clothes, were heading to school. More cars. She concentrated, attempting to remember every detail. This visit to Auckland was a treat, and she wanted to make the most of her opportunity.

* * * * *

Appearances were deceptive.

Maximillan, for one, understood the cliché rang with truth. Each morning when he glanced in the mirror, he saw himself as others saw him—a man with the face of an angel. He chuckled and sauntered along the jetty to meet the incoming boat. The smooth tanned skin, the clear sparkling blue eyes, and the golden curls hid the soul of a depraved man.

The chug-chug of the launch distracted him from his musing. The captain had notified him of Sameth’s presence on board. Acute eagerness churned his gut, although, to outward appearances, he remained a calm, suave man in control of his destiny.

He spied his second-in-command standing at the bow of the boat and fought an uncharacteristic need to fidget. Had his idea borne fruit? Had his friends, his enemies taken the bait?

The churn of the engines slowed, and the skipper guided the launch alongside the jetty with precision. Two of the crew jumped ashore and fastened the mooring lines. Three minutes later, by Maximillan’s watch, the gangplank hit the dock with a metallic clank, and the passengers disembarked.

His second-in-command left the boat last. In her short, tight red skirt and fitted red jacket, Sameth strutted like a high-fashion model. The tall woman possessed a sharp brain along with Eurasian beauty.

“Maximillan, is something wrong?” she asked in her smooth, well-modulated tones.

He hid his impatience with difficulty. “Nothing at all. I worked in the office this morning and decided I needed fresh air.”

One dark brow arched. “Are you returning to the office? Would you prefer a verbal report now?”

He prolonged the anticipation to test his willpower. Waiting improved the soul, even his depraved one. His gaze followed the sleek curves of her body, and he experienced a lightning bolt of lust. The woman had class, but he thrust aside thoughts of physical gratification. Messing in his backyard was distasteful. Assistants of Sameth’s caliber were challenging to find.

“I thought I’d walk to the headland first and enjoy the fine weather before the forecast front brings rain.” Curiosity had him pondering his assistant’s family. Sameth was close-mouthed—useful for his business purposes—but it left a yawning gap in personal details. Perhaps she had a sister or a presentable cousin he could use for his sexual pleasure?

“Shall we meet in an hour?”

“Excellent. I look forward to your report.”

 

Sameth strolled with Maximillan along the length of the wooden jetty, the strap of her laptop bag hitched over one shoulder. Their shoes thudded on the wooden planks, marking their progress. At the end of the dock, they parted ways, Maximillan taking the right fork of the path and her to the left. She strode straight to the office, wanting to open the mail she’d collected at the post office box before Maximillan returned. More entries and she wanted to vet them in private.

She tapped on the heavy, steel-plated door and waited. The scrape of metal indicated the movement of the surveillance equipment. Another metallic clatter sounded before the door creaked open.

“Miss Sameth, I thought you were arriving later,” the butler said.

Sameth gave a natural smile of greeting. “I finished earlier than expected.”

“Would you like coffee?”

“Coffee sounds perfect. I’ll be in the office. Maximillan is joining me at eleven.”

Jansen nodded. “Very good, miss. I’ll see to refreshments.”

Jansen made the flesh at the back of her neck crawl. The man might appear benign. She knew better. While he bore the title of butler, his duties were many and varied. Put simply, the man did disposal work for Maximillan, both on the island and farther afield. Body disposal. She didn’t trust him but maintained a cordial working relationship with the man. No way did she want to appear on his future hit list.

In the office, she opened the mail and sorted the correspondence into piles. The number of acceptances would please Maximillan—twenty-five in total. Initially, they’d limited the competition to twenty. However, twenty-five was equally manageable and more profitable. A cool twelve and a half million to bolster the coffers plus the interest they’d earn.

Jansen arrived with a pot of coffee, a teapot, and a plate of her favorite chocolate-and-ginger biscotti. Maximillan walked in soon after.

“Excellent timing.” Sameth leaned back and crossed one leg over the other. The whisper of stockings was loud in the quiet business atmosphere. “I’ve finished with the mail.” She ignored the way both men followed the shift of her leg.

Jansen coughed and gestured at the teapot. “Shall I pour, sir?”

“Please, Jansen. How was your week, Sameth?”

Sameth accepted a cup of coffee, smiling her thanks. “Excellent. I’ve hired the new staff you requested. They’re due to arrive on the late afternoon launch. The upcoming recruitment drive should take care of the rest of our requirements.”

“That will be all, Jansen. Make sure we’re not disturbed.”

“Yes, sir.” Jansen backed from the office, pulling the door shut after him.

Sameth waited until Jansen’s footsteps faded. “We have twenty-five confirmed entries for the scavenger hunt. I’ve directed the funds to the trust account.”

A glow of satisfaction flickered across his angelic face, and Sameth consulted her notes to hide her distaste. “We’ve decided on fifteen items. I’ll take care of printing the lists this week.” She bent to extract a manila envelope from her briefcase.

Maximillan frowned. “Security?”

Sameth schooled her expression to neutral while inwardly, she cursed. Maximillan continued to question her every step of the way. Surely, after working with him for five years, he trusted her? “The printing will take place in-house. Your secretary understands discretion is essential. I pointed out the benefits to her health.”

Maximillan chuckled, his rusty cackle producing goosebumps on her arms. “Ah, clever girl.”

Sameth experienced little satisfaction even though he phrased the words as a compliment. Showing the secretary photos of a mutilated body and telling the woman her daughter could suffer the same fate if she blabbed a word of the scavenger hunt made Sameth realize she’d reached the ranks of the lowest. Witnessing the horror on the secretary’s face had confirmed she’d plummeted straight to hell.

After five years, Sameth had assumed immunity to the reactions of other people. Maximillan paid well, and money was a powerful incentive for a girl born into a poor family. There were alternatives, but spreading her legs bore no appeal. Still, the horror on the woman’s face left her feeling tainted.

Maximillan tapped the edge of the envelope she’d handed him. “I’m looking forward to the scavenger hunt.”

“The contestants arrive in two weeks. I’ve organized suites at the resort, and the contestants have received invitations to your cocktail party here at the house.”

“The competition should prove interesting.”

Sameth stared at Maximillan, registering the gloating in his smile. The man resembled a cat with a saucer of cream, which ratcheted up her worry.

“Indeed,” she replied, concealing her anxiety with the ease of practice.

Maximillan dropped a slice of lemon into his china teacup. “I’ll leave the details in your capable hands.” He handed her the envelope to lock inside the wall safe.

Sameth sighed, sensing the next month might make or break her position on the island. That was the trouble when you joined the bad guys.

Everyone had an agenda.

* * * * *

“It was great meeting you, Aislyn.” Gill enveloped her in a bear hug and gave her a big smacking kiss on the mouth.

“No doubt, I’ll see you again, since you’re staying with Seamus.”

“Not if I can help it,” Seamus muttered.

“We could have dinner one night,” she suggested.

Seamus took a firm grip on her forearm, dragging her away from Gill. “Aislyn, it’s late. We have that appointment. Remember?” He glared at his friend.

“I can take a hint.” Gill climbed into his car and waved before departing.

“Have you seen the time?” Seamus strode along the footpath leading around the rear of his house. “Someone’s bound to notice you’re missing.”

Lethargy made Aislyn wobble. He let her plop down to sit on the first step. “Apart from the costume hire place, I doubt anyone will care.”

Seamus dropped to the step beside her. “We’d better go back now. How are you feeling?”

“A bit tired, but we didn’t sleep last night.”

“You’re not dizzy?”

“Should I be?”

“Some recruits experience dizziness when they change size. The research team is working on a fix for the side effects.”

“I’m fine,” Aislyn said.

Didn’t she realize she was wobbling? She reminded him of a newborn foal with gangly legs and no balance. And she was slurring her words. Seamus curled his hands to fists, resisting his urge to gather her into his arms.

“You’d better cross your fingers because if one fairy sees us when we cross through the portal, we’re sunk.” Steeling himself, he reached for her hand and tugged her to her feet.

At first, she resisted until his greater strength prevailed. She moved with the speed of a cork popping from a champagne bottle, smacking into his chest and hitting his chin with her head.

“Ouch! What did you do that for?” Aislyn sent him a sullen glower.

Ignoring the inappropriate surge of lust, Seamus grabbed her black skirts to keep her upright and frog-marched her to the bottom of his garden. She staggered, her legs becoming increasingly uncoordinated. Her lost expression made him want to hold her and never let go. Mistake. He wished he’d never succumbed to her tears.

Muttering a curse, he scooped her off her feet. At first, he clutched her to his chest. Too tempting. He tossed her over his shoulder, dangling her like a sack of vegetables. He’d take her through the portal, escort her back to her flat and leave. Think of this as work.

Once through the portal, he set her down and activated the shrinking particles. Instead of walking back, he used his Guardian’s armband. He prayed the damn thing worked.

“Aislyn, are you awake?” He shook her. A series of tiny grunting snorts confirmed she was asleep. Probably for the best—he could drop her back and leave without messy recriminations. He picked her up, draping her over his shoulder again.

Seamus rubbed the blue stone embedded in his amulet. Nothing. Scowling, he jabbed the stone with his index finger. A sharp pop sounded in his ears, and a sense of weightlessness made him breathe a sharp sigh of relief. At last—something happening to plan. He’d pop in and out of Aislyn’s room, and no one would suspect a thing.

A flash of lights across his eyes warned Seamus of his impending arrival, and he flexed his knees, ready for landing. The bright blur coalesced into objects.

Seamus froze and clasped Aislyn more tightly, his eyes widening. Hell’s teeth. Desperately, he rubbed the blue stone in his amulet again. The bloody research department should quit watching old James Bond reruns and forget the whiz-bang gadgets.

Right now, he wanted to leave before Murphy and Moira realized their romantic rendezvous had become a cozy foursome.

A glance at Murphy’s pale white bottom had Seamus screwing his eyes shut. Way more than he needed to see. Seamus inhaled and stabbed the blue button again, picturing his destination in his mind.

Aislyn’s room. Aislyn’s room. The flurry of movement on the bed made him freeze.

“Who…what?” Moira stammered.

Seamus cursed under his breath. If there was ever a time, he needed the blasted thing to work. No time for an incantation. Work, dammit.

The familiar displacement made him release a breath. His knees braced. The world came into focus. Aislyn’s bedroom.
An untidy pile of textbooks propped up a three-legged dresser and yet more filled a bookcase to overflowing, some of them appearing ancient. The bed was unmade. Seamus set her down and smoothed the bed covers over her slumbering form.

“Keep safe, little mischief-maker,” he said, brushing her copper curls off her face.

One final glance over his shoulder was all he allowed himself before he departed.

Chapter 6 coming next Monday

The Adventures of Aislyn O’Sullivan – Chapter 4

The Adventures of Aislyn O'Sullivan

Missed a previous chapter?
Read Chapter 1 here.
Read Chapter 2 here.
Read Chapter 3 here.

Chapter 4

“I thought you were eager to meet the guardian. You went starry-eyed when you mentioned him.”

Rats, her fib was returning to bite her in the bum. “I’ll get evicted from Glenveagh if I set one foot outside the colony.” The consequences made her shudder. Once rumors surfaced, the other colonies would reject her, and she’d end up living life in limbo.

Alone.

He nodded, his expression thoughtful.

“Won’t you get in trouble too?” she asked.

Instead of answering, he reached inside his pocket and pulled out a long, thin cylinder. Using one hand, he removed the tight-fitting lid. A mist of liquid particles floated from the vial and spread until they danced around her. A tickle built at the back of her nose. The sneeze exploded from her, dislodging a wart.

Seamus chuckled when the wart bounced once and rolled across the path, coming to a stop at his feet. “The increasing mist is disconcerting at first. Sneezing is a side effect.”

Aislyn glanced at her feet. Whoa! The ground blurred alarmingly. She swayed and jerked her gaze off the gravel track. The dizziness receded, and she risked another peek. Oh, rats. The ground undulated so much she felt as if she sat in Duncan’s boat, braving the lake waters on a windy day. Queasiness stirred in the pit of her stomach. To divert her attention, she concentrated on Seamus. The nausea converted to such gut-punching lust it stole her breath. Bother, what was she going to do about her crush on Seamus?

Seamus muttered an incantation, the words soft and obscure. A shimmering portal opened in front of them.

“Wow,” Aislyn said, sidetracked from her dilemma.

“Come.” Seamus extended his hand. “We’ll stay for one hour. And don’t worry. If you don’t tell anyone, the board of directors won’t find out.”

“I promise,” she said, grasping his hand. Now that she was close to leaving the colony, she’d pledge anything.

Seamus chuckled. “Minx. Before we go, there are rules.” At her groan, he held up his hand. “This is important. Cats are a threat to you. If one corners you while you’re fairy size, you’re history.”

Aislyn nodded, but impatience made her long to sprint past him, to jump through the portal and into her adventure. Like a bottle of O’Sullivan homebrew, she fizzed with eagerness, greedy to experience, to touch and taste every new sight at once.

“Are you listening?”

“Yeah, you’re giving me the cat lecture. I’ve heard it before.”

“Aislyn.” He grasped her shoulders and turned her away from the portal to face him. “Don’t wander. You must stay close at all times.”

“Yes, okay. What will we see?”

“I’ll take you for a drive around Auckland.”

Auckland! This was better than she’d dreamed. “Will I see the Sky Tower?” Seamus’s touch was the only thing keeping her grounded. A grin stretched from one side of her face to the other, broadcasting her emotions.

“If you’d stop and listen, we might get to the Sky Tower faster. If you’d stop interrupting, we might even have time to take the elevator to the top.”

“I’m listening. I’m listening. I need to stay with you.”

“At all times.”

No hardship there. “Yes, and I have to do what you say when you say. I must keep my visit secret. Got the rules. Can we go now?”

 

“Come on,” he said.

Together, they stepped through the portal and into his garden. The Guardian’s garden, Seamus, reminded himself. Aislyn didn’t need to learn of his Guardian status. He snapped his fingers, chanted, and the portal faded and disappeared.

Punga ferns swayed in the faint breeze while the leaves in the taller kauri and rimu trees rustled. As he led her up the path toward his house, the leaf litter and small twigs crunched underfoot. The closer they walked to the wooden bungalow, the louder the noises of the city. Muted traffic sounds, and the bark of the next-door neighbor’s fox terrier shattered the silence of the garden.

Aislyn’s reaction intrigued him, scouring away years of detachment and letting him experience the world through her eyes. Awe and excitement burned on her face. Her head whipped from side to side, reminding him of a contortionist he’d seen at a circus when he was a fairling.

He took half a step toward her, the urge to brand her with his kiss so strong a tremor racked his body. The roar of a car with a broken muffler jerked him from his folly. His pulse pounded at the near-miss. Fool, he had no business dallying with Aislyn, not with his future etched in concrete.

“Are you hungry? Would you like a drink before we leave?” He hoped Aislyn didn’t clue in on his huskiness. So help him, if she threw herself at him, he feared his big brother pretense might crack wide open.

“I couldn’t eat a thing.” She skipped two steps ahead, her witch cloak billowing in the breeze.

“Come inside while I find the car keys. We’ll stand out in our costumes, but if anyone asks, we’ll say we’re going to a fancy dress party.”

“What of the man who owns this house?” Her tongue darted out to moisten her bottom lip. Seamus watched avidly and barely restrained his groan.

Spending time with Aislyn was a mistake, but it didn’t make a shred of difference. Her tongue moved on to lick her top lip. There was no holding back the groan this time. “Aislyn.”

“What?” She jerked her gaze from the wooden door at the top of the steps, freezing when she caught his expression. Delicate color filtered over her cheeks.

“You’re still wearing orange warts.” Seamus shoved his hands in his pockets so he wouldn’t touch.

A gamine grin lit her face. “Aren’t they sexy?”

“I wouldn’t say that.”

“Can you take them off for me?”

Damn. Withdrawing his hands from his pockets, he noted, without surprise, they trembled. His breathing ratcheted up a notch drawing in essence of Aislyn. Seamus stopped inhaling, rapidly plucked the offending warts from her face, and stepped back out of danger. Sweat beaded his brow as though he’d completed a grueling gym session, and his legs wavered.

“That hurt.” Aislyn rubbed her cheek with her right hand.

“Let me see.” Danger! Seamus closed the gap between them and smoothed his thumb over the tiny red spot on her cheek. “You’ll survive. A fairy kiss should do the trick.” He paid no mind to the swirling mass of conscience that jabbed and nattered at him. He lowered his head, body full of tension.

Aislyn’s eyes widened, the pupils growing large, the blue color deepening. “I…I don’t think this is a good idea.” The stuttered objection came in a heated rush.

“A kiss won’t hurt.” Even as he uttered the words, his fingers threaded through soft copper curls. Conscience poked him mercilessly. Hell’s teeth, couldn’t he do a thing for himself for once? Did he always have to put duty to the colony first?

One kiss.

Just one.

Seamus touched his lips to hers in a chaste, friendly kiss. Over and done in mere seconds once he’d quenched his curiosity.

Instead, he fitted her softness to his chest, sipped her mouth, and encouraged her to let him taste her. His heart thumped erratically, slamming against his ribs. She gave a sexy moan deep in her throat. Reaction to her innocent sensuality made his entire body clench in need.

Conscience let rip, barking orders with the precision of a military commander. Wrong. Stop. Duncan will kill you. No future here.

Seamus eased away until inches appeared between their bodies. He closed his eyes, fighting the urge to sweep her off to his bed. His hands tightened around her biceps, but he forced them to relax and drop to his sides.

He took another step back, ripping his gaze from her red, kiss-moistened mouth.

“Am I interrupting?” Gill asked, his tone dry.

“No, dammit.” Seamus straightened to glower at his partner.

Gill folded his arms across his chest and leaned back against a verandah support. “Glad you cleared that up for me.”

Part of Seamus wanted to hug his friend with gratitude. The other part of him wanted to thump him for ogling Aislyn. “Aislyn, meet my partner and friend, Gill.”

“Pleased to meet you, Aislyn. Seamus, a word.” Gill gestured with his head for privacy and came to the point once Seamus followed him. “Got a lead. An insider who’s willing to help us with Maximillan. Where the hell have you been? I’ve been waiting for ages.”

Seamus flinched at the gleam in his friend’s eyes.

“Never mind,” Gill said. “You’re here now. Send the girl home, and we can get going.”

“I can’t send her home.” Damn, Gill was right. They couldn’t let this opportunity pass. They needed someone inside Maximillan’s estate, but he couldn’t leave Aislyn on her own. He dragged his hand through his hair, trying to come up with a solution.

Gill started toward the driveway. “We have to go now. We owe it to Hone.”

“Aislyn will have to come with us. Look, Gill, I can’t explain, but trust me, she won’t cause any trouble.”

Gill shrugged one shoulder. “On your head.”

“We’ll meet you at the car.”

Gill disappeared around the corner of the house, and Seamus hurried over to Aislyn. “Change of plans.”

Aislyn scowled at him. “You can’t send me back. You promised.”

“I’m not sending you back, but I can’t leave you here. You’re coming with us. Promise to sit in the car and keep your mouth shut. As soon as we finish our business, I’ll take you for the drive I promised. If you behave, I’ll buy you breakfast before we return to the colony.”

This whole situation was snowballing out of control. Damn his impulse. The way his luck was running, one of the fairy force members would eyeball them, then hell would break loose. The roar of Gill’s car prompted him to haste.

“Deal?”

“Deal.” Her blue eyes sparkled with life again, allowing Seamus to exhale with relief. Crisis averted.

“Hurry, Gill’s waiting.” He grabbed her forearm and dragged her around the corner of the house. Seamus jerked open the back passenger door and hustled her into the back before climbing into the front and slamming his door shut.

Gill took off with a spray of gravel, the car sliding before the tires gained traction. A small squeak from the back seat made Seamus grin.

“I’d prefer to arrive in one piece,” he said. “And Aislyn wants to see Auckland.”

“I’ve arranged to meet Elsa near the kiosk in Cornwall Park,” Gill said. “That’s if she’s bothered to wait.”

 

Aislyn listened to the two males fascinated with the way they interacted. One seemed to know the other’s thoughts before they spoke a word. A real human male. Curiosity bubbling over, she studied the back of Gill’s head. They didn’t appear different. His hair was blond, long and shaggy, in need of a visit to the colony hairdresser, Snip ‘n Curl. He needed a shave too, but one glimpse of the human’s intense green eyes and dark lashes and his scruffiness faded into the background. He’d cause chaos amongst the female fairies if he visited the colony. Cleaned up, he’d look almost pretty, except for the large nose.

The car brakes shrieked as Gill hurled the vehicle around a corner. Aislyn grabbed the front seat for purchase. The sun climbed sluggishly above the skyline, allowing her to read the road signs as they darted in and out of traffic.

Remuera. In her mind, she sounded each syllable. A warm glow spurted through her body. The world outside the colony was foreign, and she loved it.

Gill pulled up at a set of traffic lights, his fingers drumming on the wheel while he waited for the change to green. The brick-and-tile buildings gave way to a vast expanse of green grass and trees bordered by a stone wall. Gill slowed and turned into the park. Cornwall Park.

So much to see and so little time before Seamus returned her to the colony. Resentment fanned to life without warning. It wasn’t fair a male could experience the wonder of Auckland and the towns and countries beyond while she kicked around the colony discussing sewing techniques.

“There she is.” Relief shaded Gill’s voice. “Thank God, she waited. We have to convince her to work with us.”

Seamus cursed. “I thought she’d already agreed.”

“I said she was thinking about it. But we have leverage, so she’ll come round to our way of thinking. Her older brother is doing time for aggravated robbery. She’s stayed out of trouble, but we picked up her younger brother shoplifting for the second time since school let out for holidays. I’ll suggest we help each other.”

“Let’s do it.” Seamus turned to face Aislyn. “Stay in the car. Don’t move.”

Gill shot her a quick, easy grin that warmed her insides. “Have a heart, Seamus. Let the girl get out of the car. This might take a while.”

Seamus’s glare drilled holes, nailing her in place on the backseat. “Follow my orders,” he repeated. “Or I’ll put you over my knee and blister your backside. Clear?”

“Crystal.” Aislyn fired back the glower with every ounce of her Irish temper. She pictured her hands around his neck and ran through her store of rat spells.

Gill shook his head as he climbed from the car. “You need to get laid.”

“None of your business,” Seamus said.

The two men strode over to a massive, sprawling fig tree. A young girl waited by the base of the tree, her hand jerking as she puffed on a cigarette. When the men approached, she blew one last cloud of smoke before tossing the butt on the ground and rubbing it out with her foot.

Aislyn sighed. She wanted to hear the conversation. After all, she was part of the team, or she would be once she started on the job and worked with Seamus. Her hand crept to the door handle. A faint click came when the door opened. Aislyn almost leaped out of her skin at the sound. She cast a guilty glance Seamus’s way. When he continued his conversation, she let the door fall open just to let the fresh air into the car.

Once the door was open, she decided she might as well stretch her legs. They were so much longer than usual. She’d need to keep her circulatory system in tip-top condition. With another glance at Seamus, she stepped from the car.

A gentle breeze tickled her cheek and tossed her corkscrew curls into disarray. She sniffed, trying to identify the strange smells carried in the wind. There were car fumes, the richness of the earth beneath her feet, and a faint whiff of pine and greenery. Mindful of Seamus’s warnings, she checked in both directions and sniffed, trying to discern anything out of the ordinary. Yep, just as she’d thought. Not a thing out of place. Feeling both bold and invincible, she crept toward the two males and the girl. Her black cloak dragged along the dew-covered grass, mopping up water until the bottom six inches was sodden. Aislyn paid no mind, her attention centered on the trio standing by the fig tree.

“We can keep your brother’s record clean, but you have to work with us,” Gill said.

Seamus scowled at the girl. “No point. Gill, we’re wasting our time.”

Aislyn’s mouth dropped on hearing Seamus’s harsh tone. The girl cast a panicked glance at Gill. Why was Seamus speaking to the girl in that manner? She’d never work with them if Seamus treated her this way.

“Seamus, don’t be so hasty,” Gill said. “Elsa wants to help us. Don’t you, Elsa?”
Elsa’s head moved in a jerky nod.

Ah! They were playing a classic good cop, bad cop scenario. Enthralled, Aislyn edged closer, not wanting to miss a word of the technique.

“We can help your brother,” Gill said. “We might even swing a job for the boy to keep him out of mischief. How does that sound, Elsa? A job to help him build pride.”

Elsa nodded again. She fumbled in her jacket pocket and pulled out a packet of cigarettes.

Aislyn tsked under her breath. Didn’t she know those things killed? What was the point of trying to save her brother if she traveled on the path to an early death because she smoked?

“A job sounds good,” Elsa said, her voice low and throaty. “Real good.”

Seamus threw up his arms, snorting his disgust out loud.

Elsa threw him a panicked look and turned to Gill. “Don’t listen to him,” she cried. “Jason is a good boy. He’s fallen in with the wrong crowd. A job might make a difference.” She coughed then brushed a lock of dark hair from her face with a trembling hand. “I’ll do it,” she said. “I’ll help you, Gill, as long as you look out for my brother.”

“Good girl.” Gill’s voice was full of approval. “I’ll give you a cell phone. Ring me when you have something to report. If anyone asks who you’re ringing, tell them I’m your cousin, and I’m watching over your family for you while you’re working on the island.”

“What sort of things do you want to know?” Elsa asked.

“Arrivals. Departures. We need the names of guests staying at the estate, names of visitors from the resort who meet with Maximillan. Watch whenever you can. Tell us everything. We’ll work out what’s important. Can you do that, Elsa?”

“Yes,” she whispered.

“Good girl,” Gill said, and his soft voice stirred the hairs at the back of Aislyn’s neck. Wow, this man was good.

Aislyn imagined him with a haircut and better clothes and nodded. Oh, yeah. He’d do nicely.

A low cry came from the leafy bush, a few feet from where she hid. The leaves trembled at ground level, rustled again, and parted.

“Wow.” With a furtive glance at Seamus, she crept closer to investigate the small fluffy creature that emerged from the bush. She crouched and stretched out one hand in greeting. To her delight, the black and white animal swaggered closer.

“You’re cute,” she cooed. She held her breath, silently urging the creature to step close enough for her to touch. Just as her knees started to protest, the creature strutted up to her, its tail swishing through the air. Then, wonder of wonders, the animal rubbed its fluffy head against her hand. She grinned and sank to the ground, unperturbed by the damp seeping through her cloak.

Meow.

A gurgle escaped Aislyn when the creature climbed on her lap and nibbled at her arm. She ran her hand over the animal’s soft fur. What was it? They didn’t have them in the colony.

The bush rattled. Two more creatures appeared. Just as cute, but in different colors. They slinked toward her on their bellies. A black and white one leaped at her, landing with a bump, sharp claws extended to catch her cloak.

“Ouch,” she scolded the creature. “That hurts.” When she tried to remove the animal, it bunted her with its head and slid a small pink tongue across her skin. It charmed Aislyn. “I wonder if Seamus will let me take you home with me,” she said, lifting the white one and holding it in front of her face. “I bet all the fairies will want one.”

“Aislyn!”

The roar made her shriek in alarm. The creature hissed and leaped for safety, leaving a track of claw marks across her hand. The animals scuttled into the leafy undergrowth. One glimpse of Seamus’s face made her wish she could follow.

“I told you to stay in the car.” He grasped her hand and hauled her to her feet, the black glower on his face leaving little doubt of his mood.

“I’m sorry.” Aislyn yanked from his touch because she had the urge to step closer. “I wanted to see more.”

“I turn my back for one minute, and you disobey my orders. What was I thinking of bringing you here?” A vein pulsed at his temple.

“I’m sorry. I…I…” she trailed off, unable to put her sense of exhilaration at leaving the colony into words.

Seamus hauled her into a bear hug, holding her so tight she could scarcely draw breath. “If anything happened to you, I’d never forgive myself.”

A surge of intense excitement flared in her, the smoldering flame she saw in his eyes igniting hope.

“I thought you said she was a relation.” Gill’s laconic voice broke the dangerous currents swirling between them.

“She is,” Seamus snapped, loosening his hold.

“I presume it’s the kissing kind.”

Seamus pushed her away, treating her as if she carried a contagious disease. “I’m meant to look after her. She’s not used to the city.” He dragged a hand across his face. “If something happened to her, I’d never hear the end of it.”

Gill sent Aislyn a pitying glance. “Hell, Seamus. Lighten up. Your mystery woman’s tied your good sense into knots. The girl was playing with a few cats, for God’s sake. She wasn’t doing anything wrong.”

Cats? Aislyn peeked at Seamus. “They were cats?” she asked in a hushed voice.

The deep color on his cheekbones highlighted his fury. He folded his arms across his chest. “Oh, yeah, sweetheart. Those cute, cuddly animals were cats. The things you’re allergic to, remember? See the blackbird sitting in the fig tree?”

Aislyn nodded when she spotted the bird.

“Cats hunt birds that size.”

A solid pressure formed in her chest. Her normal size. She swallowed, trying to release the tension choking her throat.

“If I see you within spitting distance of a cat again, I’ll blister your backside so hard it will hurt you to sit for a full week.”

Aislyn’s gaze slid away, guilt making it difficult to maintain eye contact. Now she’d done it. Did this mean she’d miss breakfast and a visit to the Sky Tower?

Chapter 5 coming next Monday

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

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.

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