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Get Your Copy of Protecting the Bride

Protecting the Bride is book 7 in the Military Men series. It’s a contemporary romance with elements of romantic suspense.

If you enjoy:

  1. A military hottie
  2. A jilted bride
  3. Fake honeymoon
  4. Friends to lovers
  5. Danger and suspense

Then Protecting the Bride is the book for you!

Note: Although the romance is part of a series, readers can read the books out of order without missing a thing.

Protecting the Bride by Shelley Munro

Get your copy here

Read an excerpt

Excerpt: Protecting the Bride

Protecting the Bride by Shelley MunroCullen stood, grabbed their empty glasses. “Want another beer? I’ll challenge you to a game of pool.”

“Deal,” Josh said. “Check out the woman at the bar. If you have a thing for the old-fashion movie starlet, she fits the type to a T. See you at the pool tables.”

Cullen whirled around to stare and did a double-take as he watched Grace down an amber-liquid—perhaps her favored Scottish whisky—and shove her glass toward the barman for a refill. Long strides took him to Grace’s side before he even realized what he was doing.

“Grace?” When he saw her earlier, she’d worn her checked chef trousers and a baggy white T-shirt. His gaze skimmed her body, taking in her tight denim skirt and the form-fitting black-and-white T-shirt. He smiled on spotting her flat, practical shoes—the ones she wore to work, if he wasn’t mistaken.

She swiveled on her barstool and almost fell off. Cullen grasped her by the waist to right her, her flesh burning his palms through the thin fabric. As she recovered her balance, her strawberry blonde hair brushed against his cheek. “Cullen?”

Her beautiful green eyes widened, and he stilled upon seeing the evidence of tears.

“What’s wrong?”

Her backbone straightened, and her expression froze. “Nothing.”

She didn’t seem confident of the fact. “Have you eaten?”

“Not hungry,” she snapped, lifting her dainty nose a fraction as if to say none of your business.

“If you keep drinking that way, you’ll need food inside you.” He kept his tone reasonable and non-judgmental. Hell, he’d deadened his woes with alcohol a time or two.

She averted her gaze, her shoulders and tits rising as she inhaled and exhaled in a heavy sigh. “After I saw you, I was in my kitchen unpacking the groceries. I heard a strange noise, and for a moment, I thought I had an intruder. The front door was ajar, but nothing seemed out of place. I assumed I hadn’t shut it properly because it’s happened before.”

“Did you call the cops?” Cullen demanded. “What did they say?”

“I started to call them, but I heard moaning and groaning. I went into my bedroom and found Jeff and the neighbor.”

“Jeff?”

“My fiancé. Ex-fiancé.”

“And Julia—the neighbor on your other side? Is she still living there?”

“Yes, that Julia.”

“What were they doing?”

“What do you think they were doing? They were doing the naked mambo in my bed.”

Grab your copy of Protecting the Bride today!

Final Peek at Stewart Island

Oban is the main town on Stewart Island. Actually, it’s the only town on the island. My characters in Protecting the Bride, Cullen and Grace, stayed here and spent time exploring the town and the rest of the island. This is a view of Oban.

Oban, Stewart Island

We took a boat trip inland during our time on Stewart Island to the start of a popular walking track. The trip into the hut depends on the tide since the water is very shallow at low tide. The scenery, however, is stunning, with lots of pristine native bush.

Boating up the river

The view from the boat during our trip.

Native bush

Scenery from the boat

It was lovely seeing the scenery farther inland, and if I ever get a chance to return, I’d love to attempt some of the longer walking tracks.

And finally, to prove that kiwis live on Stewart Island, they have signs stating this fact.

Kiwis live here!

Yes, it’s true. Kiwis live here!

Read an excerpt of Protecting the Bride or order your copy today!

Exploring Stewart Island, NZ

In previous posts, I’ve mentioned that my visit to Stewart Island inspired the book Protecting the Bride. Mr. Munro and I had lots of fun during our visit and many of the things we did found their way into Protecting the Bride.

View over Oban township

Cullen and Grace sat on this same balcony and enjoyed the view of Oban township plus a glass or two of wine. We sat here and watched the native wood pigeons and the tui squabble over tree-sitting rights.

Fishing for Blue Cod

Cullen and Grace went fishing for blue cod, which is something I did, too. Blue cod is one of my favorite fish to eat, and I ate more than my fair share during our visit. Blue cod is a cold-water fish with firm white flesh, and it isn’t as readily available or as fresh up in Auckland. This photo is of me sitting on the boat and getting ready to fish for my dinner. Yes, we caught quite a few and took fish home.

Sunset Rock

This is Sunset rock, a spot Cullen and Grace visited, but during the day and not for the sunset. Mr. Munro and I watched the sunset and slapped at hungry mosquitoes the entire time. Not my idea of a good time!

Ulva Island

This is Ulva Island, home to lots of our native birds. As you can see, the island is small, and the distance from the mainland isn’t great. I loved wandering through the native trees and searching for native birds. Some of them are very shy and don’t enjoy posing for photos. Grace and Cullen walked the same paths we did and loved the experience as much as I did. Ulva Island is a wonderful place to visit.

Read an excerpt of Protecting the Bride or order your copy today!

Operation Flower Petal Now Available for Pre-order

Operation Flower Petal, Military Men #6

Operation Flower Petal, book 6 in the Military Men series is now available for pre-order at all online retailers.

Read an excerpt here.

Purchase links here.

Meet the Delphinium

Delphinium or larkspur, as they’re sometimes known in the United Kingdom is a perennial plant native to the Northern hemisphere. Their name comes from the Greek word Delphin, which means dolphin. It’s said that the flowers are the shape of a dolphin. During Tudor times in England, growers thought the flowers resembled the lark’s claw, hence the common name larkspur.

Delphinium

Over 500 varieties grow in the wild, and there are many cultivated varieties these days. Traditional delphiniums are tall, but the modern plants come in various heights and some are suitable for growing in containers.
Delphinium are popular in cottage gardens, and they are known for attracting butterflies.

Delphinium

Beautiful blue delphinium flowers, close up

Growing Delphinium:

1. They prefer a sunny, well-drained position with fertile soil.

2. A more sheltered position is best since strong wind can break stems.

3. The tall varieties should be staked since some can grow up to 2.1 meters high.

4. Don’t plant too close together because they can suffer from mildew or fungal if they don’t have good airflow between the plants.

5. Watch out for slugs and snails.

Delphinium

Most delphinium and their seeds are poisonous to both humans and animals.

Escape to the Country is one of my favorite shows, and a special interest section on this program featured delphinium flowers. A farmer had diversified by growing the flowers and turning them into confetti. This story inspired me to write Operation Flower Petal.

Delphinium
Here’s the blurb:

He falls for her…literally.

Since her husband’s murder, Ada Buckingham’s life has comprised one calamity after another, and the hits keep coming, yet each day, she picks herself up and begins again.

Military man Matt Townsend, AKA Frog, expects a challenging assignment when he agrees to train soldiers in tough country terrain. The rules: stay away from the old lady’s flowers and notify her of days or nights with flash-bang.

Easy, right?

On arrival via parachute, he plummets into the lady’s flowers. The sexy spitfire who confronts him isn’t the maiden aunt-type he imagined, but man, she intrigues and entices him, and he’s eager to learn more.

Matt is quick to insert himself into her life, and his mission evolves once he learns something is hinky and dangerous in the world of Ada. While he fell arse over teakettle, Ada is slower to believe or trust, but Matt is confident in his charm and brings his A-game. Now all he needs to do is keep her safe.

You will love this latest addition to the Military Men series because it contains a charming, confident, and audacious soldier known for his singing voice—not!—and a brave and determined heroine with a love of flowers. You’ll also find skullduggery in a country town, danger, and gossip aplenty. Sit back with a glass of wine and enjoy the romantic adventure.

Click here to learn more about Operation Flower Petal

Delphinium

Sources:
https://www.countryliving.com/uk/homes-interiors/gardens/a718/fact-file-delphiniums/
https://delphinium.co.nz/pages/history-of-delphiniums
https://tuigarden.co.nz/how-to-guide/delphinium-growing-guide/

The History of Confetti

Wedding Confetti

It’s thought that the throwing of confetti started in Greek times when locals would shower athletes and those getting married with flowers and leaves. It was a unique way of sprinkling people with love and excitement and made for a brilliant spectacle.

But it was the Italians who we can thank most. The word confetti is of Italian origin and means small pellets made of lime or soft plaster. It is also the word for sweetmeats.

The Italians had a similar custom where the nobles threw coins, nuts, sweets, and flowers at the crowds. The confetti contributed to a festival-like atmosphere and got everyone excited. It seemed too excited since some of the masses became riled and tossed back stones, rotten eggs and vegetables, and other nasty items. Because the custom upset some and fights broke out, authorities banned confetti tossing for many years.

Paper confetti is more modern, and around 1875 a man saw an opportunity in silkworm farming. The farmers lined the worms’ home with thick paper. As the larvae hatched, they burrowed out of the paper and created small discs. One man saw possibilities, and instead of trashing the paper discs, he sold them for use at festivals and wedding celebrations. He informed people this was a safe and fun way to party.

The British used to throw uncooked rice, or sometimes wheat and barley, to signify fertility. Pelting a couple with rice was meant to bring luck and children into their lives. Having uncooked rice chucked at one can be painful, and the practice fell out of favor when paper confetti came along.

Flower Confetti

These days, many churches and towns dislike the mess of paper thrown everywhere. Clean up can take lots of time! People use flower petals as a natural alternative, which is where Ada from Operation Flower Petal comes into the picture!

Here is the blurb for Operation Flower Petal.

He falls for her…literally.

Since her husband’s murder, Ada Buckingham’s life has comprised one calamity after another, and the hits keep coming, yet each day, she picks herself up and begins again.

Military man Matt Townsend, AKA Frog, expects a challenging assignment when he agrees to train soldiers in tough country terrain. The rules: stay away from the old lady’s flowers and notify her of days or nights with flash-bang.

Easy, right?

On arrival via parachute, he plummets into the lady’s flowers. The sexy spitfire who confronts him isn’t the maiden aunt-type he imagined, but man, she intrigues and entices him, and he’s eager to learn more.

Matt is quick to insert himself into her life, and his mission evolves once he learns something is hinky and dangerous in the world of Ada. While he fell arse over teakettle, Ada is slower to believe or trust, but Matt is confident in his charm and brings his A-game. Now all he needs to do is keep her safe.

You will love this latest addition to the Military Men series because it contains a charming, confident, and audacious soldier known for his singing voice—not!—and a brave and determined heroine with a love of flowers. You’ll also find skullduggery in a country town, danger, and gossip aplenty. Sit back with a glass of wine and enjoy the romantic adventure.

Get more Operation Flower Petal Here

Sources:
https://ultimateconfetti.com/blog/the-history-of-confetti/
https://hoorayweddings.com/for-the-bridal-couple/the-history-of-confetti/
https://www.etymonline.com/word/confetti
https://www.brideandgroomdirect.co.uk/blog/2020/05/everything-you-need-to-know-about-wedding-confetti/

Cover Reveal: Operation Flower Petal

 

Military Men #6
Release date: 25th February 2021

 

Hero: Matt Townsend – Ex NZSAS soldier and currently training soldiers.

Heroine: Adelaide Buckingham, known as Ada. Farmer and flower grower.

He falls for her… literally.

Operation Flower Petal, Military Men #6

 

The blurb:

Since her husband’s murder, Ada Buckingham’s life has comprised one calamity after another, and the hits keep coming, yet each day, she picks herself up and begins again.

Military man Matt Townsend, AKA Frog, expects a challenging assignment when he agrees to train soldiers in tough country terrain. The rules: stay away from the old lady’s flowers and notify her of days or nights with flash-bang.

Easy, right?

On arrival via parachute, he plummets into the lady’s flowers. The sexy spitfire who confronts him isn’t the maiden aunt-type he imagined, but man, she intrigues and entices him, and he’s eager to learn more.

Matt is quick to insert himself into her life, and his mission evolves once he learns something is hinky and dangerous in the world of Ada. While he fell arse over teakettle, Ada is slower to believe or trust, but Matt is confident in his charm and brings his A-game. Now all he needs to do is keep her safe.

You will love this latest addition to the Military Men series because it contains a charming, confident, and audacious soldier known for his singing voice—not!—and a brave and determined heroine with a love of flowers. You’ll also find skullduggery in a country town, danger, and gossip aplenty. Sit back with a glass of wine and enjoy the romantic adventure.

Don’t forget to enter the giveaway to win a copy of the Military Men box set, which includes books 1 – 3 in the series.
 

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The Adventures of Aislyn O’Sullivan – Chapter 22

The Adventures of Aislyn O'Sullivan

Missed a previous chapter?
Read Chapter 1 here.
Read Chapter 2 here.
Read Chapter 3 here.
Read Chapter 4 here.
Read Chapter 5 here.
Read Chapter 6 here.
Read Chapter 7 here.
Read Chapter 8 here.
Read Chapter 9 here.
Read Chapter 10 here.
Read Chapter 11 here.
Read Chapter 12 here.
Read Chapter 13 here.
Read Chapter 14 here.
Read Chapter 15 here.
Read Chapter 16 here.
Read Chapter 17 here.
Read Chapter 18 here.
Read Chapter 19 here.
Read Chapter 20 here.
Read Chapter 21 here.

Chapter 22

Seamus heard the pounding of feet on the floor outside his office seconds before the door flew open, hitting the wall stop with a dull bump. He stood abruptly, hope surging inside him.

Gary’s chest heaved as he fought for breath. “A man rang the station. Said he saw a young woman who matched the missing person’s report on last night’s news.”

“Did he give a name? Is it Aislyn?” Hell, he didn’t know how he’d survive if they didn’t find her.

“Joe. He told us to search on Kawau Island. He sounded positive it was Aislyn.”

“Let’s go.” Impatience had Seamus heading for the door.

“But Gill said a team searched Kawau.”

“Use your brain. If Aislyn hasn’t had access to pills, it’s likely she’s shrunk to normal size. Round up a team. Fairy force only. Use the experimental infrared gear the scientists devised for our use. We’ll search on the far end of the island away from Governor Grey’s mansion first. It’s more isolated.” He waited until Gary left and rubbed his right hand across the silver amulet, circling his left bicep. Nothing happened.

“Fuck!” The bloody thing was as dead as a moa bird.

His hand dropped from the amulet in disgust. What was the point of being the Guardian if he couldn’t use magic to save the woman he loved?

 

Seamus hadn’t realized the island was so big or the vast number of private coves where a boat could land without attracting attention, but he sensed the anonymous tip held truth. Aislyn was somewhere on this island. But where?

One hour lengthened into two. Seamus returned to the designated meeting point. Gradually, the others in the twenty-strong search party drifted back. He surveyed their faces, grim expressions telling of their failure without words.

He counted heads. Three more to return.

A cry went up.

“Found her,” a man hollered. He wheezed out his next sentence. “Pure, dumb luck.”

“Where is she?” Seamus grabbed the bag holding the precious medical supplies and sprinted along the beach in the direction the man indicated.

“Over there,” the man shouted after him. “Gary is with her. We’ve found two bodies. One of them looks like Maximillan.”

Ten minutes later, Seamus jogged past a body. It was definitely Maximillan. He didn’t stop until he reached Gary. “Where is she?”

“She’s taken shelter in the drainpipe,” Gary said. “I think she’s alive, but I didn’t want to touch her when she’s fairy size in case I hurt her.”

Seamus’s heart turned over when he peered inside the pipe. She appeared frail and defenseless, her visible skin bright red and covered with blisters. Some of the blisters had burst, weeping clear liquid. A long scratch ran the length of one forearm and her hands… He swallowed. It was a miracle she’d survived. Seamus reached inside the pipe and gently picked her up, cradling her in his palm.

“Gary, make sure the team gets back to the mainland safely. Thank them for their help. Tell them I’ll see them tomorrow.”

“But—”

Gill ran up to them. “I thought you’d found Aislyn?”

“We have. Gary will explain.”

“I will?” Gary’s dark brows shot upward, incongruous with his red hair. He glanced from Seamus to Gill and back again with something akin to horror. “I will?” he repeated.

“Yeah. Explain what you need to.” He glanced at his best friend. “I’ll talk to you later, Gill.” Seamus focused on the magic humming through his veins. He pictured the hospital in the colony before saying one of the Guardian’s incantations. The displacement of air told him the amulet was working this time. He cupped his hands around Aislyn for protection.

As he shimmered out, he heard Gill’s shocked curse. His surroundings blurred. An instant later, they materialized, both fairy size, inside the colony hospital. Seamus clutched Aislyn to his chest and hollered for a doctor.

 

Aislyn opened her eyes, aware of the pain throbbing in her ankle and her shoulders. Tight skin and sore lips brought back the heat of the sun, and she wasn’t surprised at the redness of her arms. A sheet covered her while bandages swathed her chest and upper body. Her right hand connected to a drip. She turned her head to see a dark head resting on her mattress.

Seamus.

He held her hand even in a deep sleep.

A flash of movement caught her eye, and a nurse bustled into her room, taking the chart from the end of her bed.

“Ah, you’re awake now. I’ll get the doctor.”

“Seamus?” Aislyn croaked.

“He’s plain worn out. That worried he’s been about you.”

The Irish in the nurse’s voice made Aislyn want to smile. “Where am I?”

“The colony hospital,” the nurse said. “We’ll have you right in no time. Now that you’re awake, I’ve no doubt you’ll progress in leaps and bounds.”

Seamus shot upright, his eyes bright and alert. “Aislyn. You’re awake.”

The nurse grinned. “I’ll get the doctor, but I’ll be taking my time. You’ll have time to say hello before the prodding begins.”

“Hell’s teeth, Aislyn,” Seamus said, squeezing her hand so hard she feared for her circulation. “What did you think you were doing?”

Her cracked lips flattened to a firm line. Nothing had changed.

He swept an agitated hand through his hair, leaving it sticking up in unruly tufts. “Shit, I’m sorry, sweetheart. I didn’t mean to shout. You’ve been unconscious for four days. You scared me. Gary and Gill too. I’ve had to report back to them each day.”

“Four days?”

“Yeah. Aislyn, I love you. Please, will you marry me?”

Joy spread through her, then she remembered Renee. She snatched her hand from his touch. “Renee might have something to say about your proposal.”

“Renee and I have called off our betrothal. Please, Aislyn. It’s you I want. I tried to get you out of my head, but I can’t.”

Her mouth fell open. How could she love Seamus? He didn’t even sound happy about his proposal. Honor was everything to him. She understood his attempts to make up for his selfish, weak father, but he shouldn’t take on the load of guilt too.

“I love you,” she said. “I always have, but Seamus, you’re not thinking. What about the colony? You’re the Guardian and me…” She winced at the shard of pain that sliced from her shoulder down her arm. “I’m a rebel, Seamus. The board will never approve of me, and I don’t think I can change, not even for you. Doesn’t the Guardian need to marry for money? I don’t have any.”

He smoothed a forefinger across her cheek, his tenderness making her heart ache. “We’ll get married at Summer Solstice.”

“Stop trying to boss me around and listen to me.”

“You do want to marry me?” A note of panic colored his voice.

“Yes, but I can’t change. If a rule is stupid, the chances are good I’ll ignore it. We’ll end up killing each other. I don’t think it’s right to keep females secluded in the colony. Everyone should have the chance to leave if they want.”

He snorted. “Don’t you mean you refuse to change? You’re the most stubborn female I’ve ever met.” He worked up a glare and failed dismally. “And I wouldn’t have it any other way. You keep me on my toes. What do you say? Will you marry me?”

“That still doesn’t change the fact the colony needs money. I have none.”

“I’m not sure how we’ll fix the colony finances. Nearly losing you made me realize the important things in life, and it sure as hell isn’t anything to do with the colony’s coffers. Do you want to marry me or not?”

He sounded a little pissed now.

“Could we not approach this slowly?” She wanted to give him plenty of time to think this through—the repercussions.

Seamus leaned over her and pressed a gentle kiss to her sunburned lips. “Hell’s teeth, Aislyn. I love you. You can break any damn rule you like, but I warn you, I intend to wear you down. You won’t have the energy to break the rules.”

A grin tugged at her mouth. She tried for meek in the voice department. “If you say so, Seamus.”

“I do.” Seamus rubbed his knuckles across her cheek, sending messages of lust to her brain. His tenderness brought a burst of hope, his smile, an extravaganza of promise and confidence.

“When do you think they’ll let me leave the hospital?” She wanted privacy—lots of privacy with this stubborn, determined male. A thought occurred. “Did you say Gill?”

“He knows about the colony. He saw us disappear and had questions.” Seamus shook his head. “Many questions.”

Aislyn giggled. “Is he okay with keeping it a secret?”

“Yes. We can trust Gill.”

“And when can I leave?”

“Soon.” He kissed her forehead while his fingers traced patterns on her palm. “You’ll make an excellent first lady.”

Aislyn gurgled. “I haven’t agreed yet. Have you mentioned it to the board? Murphy?”

Seamus grinned then—a slow, sexy smile that made her stomach jolt. “Not yet. I thought you’d want to be there.”

A chortle escaped her. “You have a wicked streak in you, Seamus Gallagher.”

“It’s you.” Seamus brushed his cheek against hers. “You make me laugh. You keep me honest.” He kissed her with exquisite gentleness. “You make me whole, and I’m not happy without you.”

She still thought they shouldn’t rush into marriage, but this might be one instance where she’d allow him to call the shots. “Did you find Maximillan?”

“Yeah. Do you know what happened?”

“His stepbrother shot him. From what I heard, Maximillan’s assistant Sameth was in league with John Watson, doing a double-cross.”

“Why?”

“It sounded like revenge.”

“We searched Maximillan’s resort three days ago and found the missing kakapo chick.”

“Alive?”

“Yeah. That was almost as good as finding you. Summer Solstice. You and me. A wedding.”

Aislyn grinned. “Maybe. What about John Watson?”

“He’s under arrest too, but Sameth eluded us. Definitely a Summer Solstice wedding,” he insisted.

They’d stopped the crooks.

A wave of contentment swept Aislyn as she settled against his chest. Soon, she’d agree, but it wouldn’t hurt to keep her man on his toes. Loving him didn’t mean he could have everything his own way. “I do love you, Seamus.”

His smile was big and full as he wrapped his arms around her, then he kissed her. Aislyn clung, euphoria filling her. Finally, she’d found her place in the world, and she couldn’t wait to learn what came next for her and Seamus.

The end

The Adventures of Aislyn O’Sullivan – Chapter 21

The Adventures of Aislyn O'Sullivan

Missed a previous chapter?
Read Chapter 1 here.
Read Chapter 2 here.
Read Chapter 3 here.
Read Chapter 4 here.
Read Chapter 5 here.
Read Chapter 6 here.
Read Chapter 7 here.
Read Chapter 8 here.
Read Chapter 9 here.
Read Chapter 10 here.
Read Chapter 11 here.
Read Chapter 12 here.
Read Chapter 13 here.
Read Chapter 14 here.
Read Chapter 15 here.
Read Chapter 16 here.
Read Chapter 17 here.
Read Chapter 18 here.
Read Chapter 19 here.
Read Chapter 20 here.

Chapter 21

Something was wrong. Seamus sensed it in his gut. “Gary, has Aislyn checked in yet?”

“Well, hello to you, too,” Gary said. “No, I haven’t heard from her.”

Seamus paced around the kitchen table, pausing to pick up a magazine then tossing it aside. “She’s overdue for her check-in.”

“Not by much.”

“I have a bad feeling.” Despite several indigestion tablets, his gut burned. He’d tried magic to sense Aislyn, but the bloody amulet wasn’t working. “My amulet isn’t working again.”

Gary sniffed. “You keep putting me off when I ask you about sending it to France.”

Someone pounded on the front door, and Gary jumped up to answer the summons. He returned with Gill.

“Has Aislyn checked in yet?” Gill asked.

Seamus raked his hand through his hair. He hated this helpless feeling. “No, and I don’t like it. The boss shouldn’t have let her go.”

“We didn’t have a choice,” Gill said. “Aislyn will be fine if she keeps her head.”

The phone rang, and both Gary and Seamus sprang to answer. Gary beat him by a hairsbreadth. He picked it up, shaking his head to indicate it wasn’t Aislyn.

Gill nudged Seamus. “Why are you so bent out of shape? Last I heard you weren’t talking to each other.”

Seamus scowled. What if something had happened, and he’d left it too late to talk to Aislyn? His hands clenched, and he renewed his pacing. “I don’t want to talk about it.”

“One of my friends,” Gary said. “Are you guys gonna wait for here until she calls? Do you want a pizza?”

“Is water wet?” Gill quipped. “What happened to your hair? I keep meaning to ask.”

“Aislyn.”

“What?” Seamus stared at Gary’s hair. “I thought it was a wig.”

Gary tugged on a springy red lock. “No, it’s attached.”

“You’re saying…” Shock reverberated through Seamus. “Impossible. She would’ve told me.”

“Shall I order the pizza?” Gill asked. “Because I don’t know what the fuck you’re burbling about.”

“Use your cell phone,” Seamus snapped when Gill picked up the phone.

“Keep your shirt on. Gary, do you have the number for the pizza place?”

The pizza arrived, but the phone remained silent. Gill left at midnight.

Gary stared pointedly at him. “You should go home too. Aislyn won’t ring now. It’s too late. You know what it’s like working undercover. She’ll ring tomorrow night, for sure.”

Yeah, and that’s what worried him—the variables. “What about the mobile? Can’t we ring her?”

“And blow her cover,” Gary scoffed. “The staff phone is probably bugged. A cell phone is no safer. If we ring, we’ll draw attention to her. Cripes, if it were anyone else who’d missed check-in, you wouldn’t be worried.”

Yeah, right. This was Aislyn they were talking about.

 

Aislyn spent the rest of the night and the next day locked in the cabin. Johnson delivered food and let her use the facilities before escorting her back and locking her inside the cabin again. The boat never moved until the next evening. She watched through the portholes, unable to make out landmarks or lights from other vessels. She crawled into the large double berth in the early hours of the morning, when it became too cold for her vigil at the porthole. The sway of the boat lulled her to sleep, and the creak of the cabin door opening woke her.

“Breakfast.” Johnson marched into the cabin and placed the tray on a built-in dresser.

Aislyn leaped from the bed, dragging one hand through her tangled hair. “I need to use the restroom.”

“Don’t try anything funny, or I’ll toss you overboard and drop fish-bait in the water. Understand?”

“Yes.”

The trip was a quick one, and after she stepped back inside the cabin, Johnson locked the door. She kneeled on the bed and pulled aside two blue velvet curtains to peer out the porthole. Vision was still limited. All she could see was the sea—endless miles of water.

Dejected, she slumped on the edge of the bed. Gary would start panicking. The boat rolled with the swell, and her stomach lurched. She stared at the tray, but in deference to her unsettled stomach didn’t eat.

Dizziness assailed her, and she closed her eyes. Losing sight made the giddiness worse, and she opened her eyes again. Colored spots danced in front of her eyes. Every muscle in her body tensed. Moaning softly, she curled into a ball and lay on the bed, shivering. Her nausea only subsided when she concentrated on Seamus.

Now that she’d had time to think about his confession, she understood why he hadn’t informed her of his Guardianship. But she didn’t know why he’d kept his betrothal secret. That was the part that hurt.

Aislyn sighed, made an experimental move, and found the queasiness had disappeared. She opened her eyes to stare at the ceiling and shrieked. Panic tore through her. Frantic gasps emerged from her throat, but she clapped her hand over her mouth. She didn’t want Johnson to investigate. Aislyn sat up and stared up at the cup on the breakfast tray, at her hands and feet.

She’d shrunk.

Footsteps thundered outside the cabin, forcing her to explode into action. Johnson mustn’t find her like this. She muttered a magical incantation.

Nothing happened.

She tried again. Still, nothing happened.

“Bother!” She bounded to the end of the bed and used the bedclothes to clamber to the floor. She searched for a hiding place. All the furniture was built-in with no convenient gaps underneath for her to slide beneath. The key turned in the lock, and she leaped behind the door, the only available hiding place.

The door swung open with a protesting squeak. Johnson stepped into the cabin, but Aislyn didn’t wait around to witness his shock. She dropped to her belly and slithered underneath. Once outside the cabin, she sprinted to the wooden steps leading to the upper deck.

Johnson’s roar of alarm made her flinch. Her heart raced as she struggled to regain her breath and remain quiet.

Johnson raced from Maximillan’s cabin and searched the other cabins. Just as she’d hoped, once he’d conducted a search, he thumped up the stairs to hunt for her on the upper deck.

“Dave, the girl’s gone.”

“Didn’t you lock the door?”

“I did.”

“Did you check the portholes? Has she broken one?”

“No, I checked. I had to unlock the door to get into the room. I’ve searched everywhere.”

“Aw, man. You’re pulling my leg,” Dave said.

“You look.”

Aislyn huddled under the stairs trying to decide her next move. Escape. Swimming was out of the question, which meant she needed to get to the dinghy. Then she’d wait until they used the rowboat again. She cocked her head, attempting to listen to their conversation.

“Go on,” Johnson snapped. “I tell you, she’s not there.”

They thumped down the stairs and into Maximillan’s cabin. Aislyn dived from cover and clambered up the steps, arriving at the top exhausted and out of breath. No time to stop. Pounding footsteps raced from cabin to cabin, rocking the boat. She sprinted the length of the deck, holding her side when the stitch threatened to defeat her.

The dinghy. It was her only lifeline since they’d use it to land on the island.

She reached the stern to find the dinghy trailing behind the launch, attached by a stout rope. Her stomach turned when she saw the drop to the water. She hesitated, but the thud of boots helped her to decide in a hurry. If they caught her, she’d never live a normal life again. The threat of capture made her fear of falling in the water seem ludicrous, her decision easy.

Aislyn ran to the railing, where the rope held the dinghy fast. The approaching footsteps and voices raised in anger propelled her to speed. Gripping it with both hands and feet, she swung out over the water. Don’t look down. Do not look down.

A blur of red and white stripes flashed before her eyes. The man was close. If he looked to the right… Panic made her rush, despite the burn of her palms. Then she was over the edge and out of sight. She kept her hands and legs moving and hoped like heck neither of the men checked the dinghy.

Sweat dripped in her eyes. Each time she changed her handhold, she had to push her fingers into the rope strands. A jagged pain sprinted from her fingertips up her arm as she bent a fingernail back. She bit down hard on her bottom lip to stem her agonized cry. Tears clouded her vision, and for an instant, terror clogged her throat when she slipped and almost fell. Both shoulders screamed for relief, and her hands burned from the friction of the rope.

Her abused fingernail throbbed. Fiery hot agony throbbed the length of her body, screaming at her to give up—to release the line. Waves slapped the boat, splashing Aislyn. The line shook like a live beast. Droplets of icy water soaked her clothes.

Aislyn glanced down and shuddered with horror. If she let go, she’d drown. She had to continue. She was fairy force, dammit! If she fell to her death, Seamus would never give another female the chance to join the force.

Doggedly, she reached for another handhold and inched her body down the rope to the dinghy.

“The girl’s not here.”

“She can’t have vanished.” Johnson’s disgruntled voice sounded from above.

“You didn’t lock the door.”

“Of course, I did. I had to unlock the door to get into the cabin.” Fury and a trace of fear colored the man’s voice.

A swell hit the rowboat, kicking up a curl of white. Droplets of seawater splashed her square in the face. She spluttered and almost lost her grip on the rope.

The journey to the dinghy became a battle with the elements—a quick frenzied scramble in between waves.

When her feet clattered against boat, she sobbed with relief. Just a little farther. She fought the tremble of her arms, the furtive urge to give up. A tiny metallic rattle sounded when her legs and bottom hit the aluminum dinghy.

She released the rope and fell in an untidy sprawl against the solid surface.

A wave hit, water rushed over the edge, sweeping her across the dinghy bow like a piece of flotsam. She grabbed the nearest handhold. Her jaw clenched, and her shoulders shrieked at the strain but she clung like a limpet. The water subsided, and she half clambered, half fell into the body of the dinghy before another wave hit.

Safe.

Her chest heaved, each muscle in her body screamed of abuse, but for now, she was safe.

“She’s not in the dinghy either. Damn, the woman can’t just disappear. I locked the door, I tell you.”

“You can tell Maximillan tonight when we meet him.”

The voices faded, still arguing. Aislyn slumped in a dry corner where she hoped to escape notice when the men used the dinghy.

Hours passed. Exhausted, she slept, waking in alarm when the boat tilted to one side. From her hiding place, she glimpsed a faded canvas shoe. She edged back until the wall of the aluminum dinghy pressed against her spine. A pulse roared in her ears. If they saw her…

She prayed the closing night would hide her until they reached the shore.

The engine started with a gruff roar. The dinghy lurched, the movement sending Aislyn flying. She grabbed for a handhold, saw the man’s striped T-shirt before she scuttled back into hiding.

Johnson stepped into the boat, his face sullen.

The journey to their meeting with Maximillan seemed endless. The swell tossed her from side to side and battered her against the hull of the dinghy. She bit back her cry of pain, tears filling her eyes.

“Over there,” Johnson grunted. “There’s the light.”

The dinghy changed direction. Waves continued to pound the hull. Aislyn closed her eyes and prayed they’d drag the dinghy ashore like last time they’d landed. She’d never survive the waves crashing to shore.

The noise the dinghy made as it scraped the sandy bottom brought more tears to her eyes. Solid ground.

Johnson jumped out, and Dave turned off the outboard engine before leaping out too. They hauled the boat onto dry sand.

“They’re over there,” Dave said. “Don’t forget, you tell Maximillan about the girl.”

“I’m not likely to forget with you harping on the subject.”

Aislyn counted to fifty then crept from hiding. She cocked her head, listening for voices but couldn’t hear anything except the waves. Ignoring her aching body, she hauled herself onto the rim of the dinghy and slid down the rope hanging over the side.

With her feet on solid ground, she stood, trying to decide which direction to hide. A gunshot echoed through the night. A shout followed, and a second gunshot.

Pounding feet raced toward her, and Aislyn scrambled for cover behind a nearby rock.

“Damn, did you see that?” Johnson spluttered. “The man’s crazy. He came out of nowhere and shot Maximillan point-blank.”

“I was there, dammit.” Dave manhandled the dinghy out to sea. “Give me a hand, will you? I want out of here before that fanatic comes after us.”

“Who was he?”

“Looked like Watson. Maximillan’s stepbrother.”

Johnson peered over his shoulder. “Shit.”

“We’re out of here.”

As the sound of the dinghy outboard receded, Aislyn stepped from behind her rock.

She’d heard the gunshots and the discussion between the two men. Watson had shot Maximillan? Was he dead or injured? And Maximillan and Watson were stepbrothers?

Wanting answers, she crept in the direction the men had come from. Then she needed to figure out where she was and how to get back to Auckland.

Voices guided her steps, and she crept as close as possible. A group of people stood next to two bodies on the ground. Neither moved.

“John, what are you going to do next?” a woman asked.

The cluster of people moved, and the light shone on the woman’s face. Sameth—Maximillan’s personal assistant.

Aislyn frowned at this new piece of the puzzle.

“I will play the bereaved brother to the hilt, my dear, and savor the feeling when I inherit all of Max’s beloved possessions.” He chuckled. “Ah, my dear, revenge is so sweet. And I owe it to you. A reward. Anything within my power—ask and it’s yours.”

“All I want is to marry Kyle and take two months off.”

Watson grinned. He turned to the tall, silent man at his side. “I can arrange that. Look me up when you get back.
There’ll be jobs for both of you.”

While Aislyn watched, the couple left.

“What will we do with the bodies, boss?”

Watson stared down his stepbrother, his expression dispassionate, cold. “Leave them for the birds to eat.”

As one, the rest of the men turned. Aislyn noticed the boat pulled up on the sand and cursed. With no time to get to the boat, all she could do was watch while the men departed, leaving her stranded.

 

The piercing cry of a gull jerked Aislyn from a deep sleep. The flap of wings and painful peck on the foot galvanized her to action. She sprang to her feet and ran, zigzagging to a small pile of rocks. The gull squawked, flapping after her, but panic lent her greater speed.

From beneath the rocks, she took stock. Her skin felt stretched and tight. Sunburn. A thud sounded, and the gull’s red legs strutted toward her. Hell, she needed a better hiding place.

After five long minutes, the gull gave up and took flight. She peeked from under the rock and scanned both beach and sky. No birds. No animals. No humans. She wriggled from her hiding place and raced to the undergrowth for shade and protection.

The mew from the bushes took her by surprise. She came to an abrupt halt on seeing two glowing orange eyes. A purr rumbled from within so loud the ground under her feet shook. Aislyn backed up rapidly. The eyes edged toward her as the animal stalked her. Terror froze her on the spot.

“Joe?” she croaked.

It was Joe, and he looked hungry.

The black cat stalked closer. With nowhere to hide, a quiver racked her body. All she could think of was Seamus and how much she loved him. Her last words to him had been hateful, angry ones. And it was too late to confess the truth now. How much she’d always loved him.

She hung her head, knowing her luck had run out. She was going to die.

Seamus was right.

She wasn’t smart enough to make it as a fairy force member.

Leaves rustled, and grass twigs snapped. Joe prowled closer. Fishy breath whooshed across her face, hot and fetid.

She held her breath, waiting for sharp teeth to rip into her flesh and waited.

When nothing happened, her head jerked up. Joe sat in front of her, and she could’ve sworn his feline face bore a smirk. Hope of survival surged through her only to die when Joe resumed his stalking. Soon his furry face and wet nose filled her vision. Her breath quickened, and she wiped her clammy palms down her legs.

Joe rubbed his nose against her, opened his mouth, and swiped his rough tongue over her face. Then he backed up, leaving her reeling in astonishment. Swallowing, she stared at the myriad colors sparkling around Joe. His feline features warped, twisting to a new shape.

“Yes!” he squeaked in a high voice. His fur changed to a smart red shirt and dazzling pair of lime green trousers.

A pointed hat appeared on top of his head, held in place by a pair of pointed ears.

Aislyn’s mouth dropped open. “You’re a gnome.”

“Of course, I’m a gnome,” he snapped.

“But you were a cat.”

“Old Lady Wickham put a spell on me.”

“Lady Wickham from Glenveagh?”

“That’s the one. Wanted me to pose nude while she painted, and when I refused, she bespelled me. I’ve waited twenty years for a fairy female to flout the rules and leave the colony. And now I’m free!” He spun about, clicking his heels together in a snappy jig of delight. “I’m free, and I’m going home!” Joe warbled, painfully out of tune, then he started to fade from view.

“Wait!” Aislyn shrieked in panic. “I helped you. Can’t you help me too?”

“Nope,” Joe said. “Maybe. I’ll think about it.”

Her hand darted out to grab his shirtsleeve and snatched empty air instead. Joe faded in front of her eyes, leaving her alone with no way of returning home.