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Next Dragon Isles Adventure – Meet Cherry

Dragon Isles 2: Cherry

Cherry, the next book in the Dragon Isles series is due out very soon. Grab your copy today!

Here’s the blurb:

Love is a mystery, but dragons are real.

Cherry is gutted when her friend Liza disappears, presumed drowned. She has no time to mourn, however, since she must keep Liza’s daughter safe from Liza’s ex. Cherry sneaks away to Holy Island, where she meets a big, sexy, tattooed man washed up on the beach. A big, sexy, deluded man since he insists he’s a dragon.

Accused of a crime he didn’t commit, Martinos has escaped the dungeon only to wash up on the mainland. Returning to the Dragon Isles is not his most immediate problem, though, since his dragon is bound, and he cannot shift.

Unlucky in love, Cherry is surprised when Martinos returns her growing lust and camaraderie. While the man has a flawed mind, he’s excellent with Liza’s daughter and not one of Cherry’s internal alarms ping. With Martinos, her life is stimulating, and she’s falling for him. Then, everything she thought she understood about dragons pops like a balloon, and her real adventure begins.

You will love this second book in the Dragon Isles trilogy because it introduces a courageous and curvy human, a sexy dragon suffering through hell through no fault of his own, and an unfamiliar world full of mystery, magic, and mayhem. Plus one or two dragon-caused incidents when tempers race out of control.

Read an excerpt or get your copy here: https://shelleymunro.com/books/cherry/

Dragon Isles: Liza Out Now. Grab Your Copy!

Dragon Isles: Liza by Shelley Munro

Now Out!

Get your copy of Liza, the first book in my new dragon shapeshifter series.

The Dragons are Coming!

 

The Idea Behind the Dragon Isles series

One of my favorite TV shows is Escape to the Country, where English city-dwellers want to purchase a country property. The presenters are always enthusiastic and, as well as showing prospective buyers around three properties, they do a special interest item based on the area where the show is filmed. When the presenter visited Wales, they filmed a story about Newcastle Emlyn, which is purportedly the site of the last dragon slaying in Wales. This fascinated me, and I stored the idea away to percolate.

Holy Island (or Lindisfarne) off the coast of Northumberland drew my interest too, so I threw that into my percolator. I let my ideas stew for many, many months before the Dragon Isles plot emerged, and the world became real to me.

Ta-da! The first cover…

Liza by Shelley Munro
And introducing the blurb:

A dragon shifter and a human woman meet…
…Two worlds collide.

The encounter shouldn’t have occurred, and the dragon species must battle the consequences.

Elizabeth Carrington: single-mother with a daughter and an obnoxious ex who refuses to leave without a chunk of her inheritance. An aspiring writer, she glimpses the unbelievable during a research trip, and when she awakens after the resulting car crash, she isn’t in England any longer. Not that she understands this calamity, because a knock to the head has stripped her memories. She is a woman with no past and no perception of dragons or their danger to her.

Dragon shifter Leonidas, Champion of the Skies, is the youngest son, and his parents have arranged a betrothal for him with Nan, The Strongminded. He rejects this betrothal his parents insist will bring peace and cement bonds between the Dragon Isles.

Once Liza crashes into Leo’s life, everything changes. While his family, friends, and neighbors are baying for her death, instinct propels Leo to protect this attractive stranger.

Their friendship deepens from respect to love as they attempt to discover how and why they met. What they learn will rip apart the dragon world and propel the inhabitants of the Dragon Isles into an unknown future.

You will love this first book in the Dragon Isles trilogy because it introduces a courageous and sexy dragon, a feisty human battler, and a new world full of mystery, magic, and mayhem. Plus one or two dragon-caused infernos when tempers race out of control.

Release date is 19 September 2020 (In honor of my sister’s birthday)

Pre-order your copy today so you can start reading the instant LIZA is available.

Do You Like Pets in Your Romances?

We all love our pets, but what about reading about pet sidekicks? If you’re like me, you think a pet in a romance adds an extra unique element, which means this promotion is perfect for you and me!

Get your paranormal romances and fantasy romances here. Each book contains a pet sidekick for you to coo over. *grin*

Two of my books are part of this promotion: JANAYA, Alien Encounter 1 (a dog) and SNARED BY SABER, Middlemarch Capture 1 (a plump blue bird).

Get your pet sidekicks here!

Don’t Delay – First in Series FREE Books. Get them now!

First in series FREE books

Want to discover a new author?
Want to discover a new series?
Want a free book to try first?

If you answered YES to these questions, then check out the First in Series FREE Book promotion. Don’t delay because it’s only here for a short time.

I want to discover a new author and series and get the first book FREE

Sexy Shifter Series

Sexy Shifter Series

If you love paranormal romances and enjoy reading series, check out the Sexy Shifter Series promotion.

My contribution is Snared by Saber, book 1 in the Middlemarch Capture series. Grab it now while it’s free for a limited time.

Go to the Sexy Shifter Series Promo Today

The Lure of Small-Town Romances

Small Town Romance

Romances set in small towns are popular amongst romance readers. They’re a comfort read with a sense of warmth and community.

The things I love about small-town reads:

1. The slower pace of life.

2. The gossip factor can be quite high since everyone knows everyone’s business, which makes for interesting dynamics.

3. The shared history amongst the characters.

4. The eccentric characters
.
5. The pets that are full of attitude.

6. They lend themselves to romance series.

7. The town is a character too. Sometimes, the towns have a theme or are known for a famous person or icon. E.g. a Scottish themed village or a paranormal one.

8. Along with the town, there is the surrounding nature and countryside, which is often part of the setting too.

9. Any genre slots into the small-town trope. The books can be paranormal, contemporary, mystery, or suspense.

10. They’re interesting since a writer can do almost anything with tropes or issues.

11. There’s a sense of familiarity—at least there is for me since I lived in small communities while growing up.

What do you enjoy most or dislike about small-town romances?

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.

The Adventures of Aislyn O’Sullivan – Chapter 20

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.

Chapter 20

“I rang Seamus. He knows you’re here.”

Aislyn glowered at Gary. “It’s none of his business. Or yours.”

“Don’t get snappy with me, miss.” Gary planted his hands on his hips and tossed her glare right back. His red curls glinted in the morning sunlight, clashing with his lime T-shirt and black-and-white check trousers. “Personally, I’m glad you’re back. This hair is driving me crazy. I want my braids.” He thrust his face right up to hers. “And I’m not giving you any peace until you put them back.”

Aislyn yanked a stool from under the breakfast bar and plunked her backside down. “I can only perform elementary magic because they slapped this security bracelet on my leg.”

“Take it off,” Gary snapped, “or else you’re moving back to the hostel instead of sharing with me. I noticed you changed your hair back quick enough.”

“I promise I’ll try to fix your hair. Tell me about the case. Have we heard from the Maximillan resort? Did either of us get a job?”

“Two letters turned up yesterday. They didn’t want me. Here’s your mail.” He passed her three envelopes. “I wouldn’t get too excited. Rumor says they didn’t hire many applicants.”

She ripped open the top envelope and scanned the contents. “I’m in!” she shrieked. “I got the job and start…” She read the bottom line of the letter. “Today. Gary, what’s the time? I need to catch the midday ferry to attend the orientation and familiarization afternoon. The letter says I should take my bags with me. Accommodation is at the staff hostel.”

“That’s great! We’ve been trying to get someone on the island for months. The midday ferry—damn, that doesn’t give us much time. You pack your bags, and I’ll contact the boss and Seamus.” Gary paused in the doorway. “Will Seamus stop you going? And what about your hair? It’s a different color from when you went to the interview.”

Not if he knows what’s good for him. “This is a coup,” she said. “I don’t think there’ll be problems with my hair. If anyone asks, I’ll say I dyed it. Do you have a hacksaw?”

 

The ferry pulled alongside the dock, and Aislyn disembarked with the rest of the passengers. Most were guests. A woman with a clipboard escorted them to a small open-sided bus while two men piled their luggage on a truck with the Maximillan resort logo painted on the side.

“New staff over here, please,” a crisp voice ordered.

Aislyn recognized Sameth from the recruitment day but didn’t recall any of the four women who crossed the jetty to join her.

“My name is Sameth. I’m Maximillan’s assistant, and over the next hour, I’ll take you through the familiarization process where we will sign confidentiality contracts, arrange accommodation, and job assignments. Questions?”

Aislyn had lots of questions, none suitable for Maximillan’s assistant. She would need to find the answers on her own.

“No questions?” Sameth scanned their faces, her dark gaze intense and disconcerting. “Good. Ladies, if you’d follow me, please?”

I want you to remember every little detail about the resort. The boss’s words flitted through her mind while they walked through the resort. During her previous visit, she’d seen the conference room, but now Sameth led them through a different part, down lushly carpeted corridors and past rest areas filled with green tropical plants. Large windows overlooked the sea.

“How many people does the resort cater for at one time?” Aislyn asked when they reached a small office tucked deep inside the bowels of the resort.

“Since we target the luxury end of the market, we take a maximum of thirty couples at once in the private bungalows. We have day-trippers from the mainland, but we regulate the numbers, so the visitors do not inconvenience our guests.”

Aislyn nodded. “But you hold conferences on the island.” Although she’d learned brief details during the recruitment drive, she wanted to confirm her facts.

“That’s correct.” Sameth sounded intrigued, and Aislyn prayed this was a good thing. The woman’s intent gaze made her worry she’d given herself away with her questions. “We hold at least one conference each week, sometimes two overlapping. The conference guests stay in the hotel part of the resort. Any further questions?” Sameth glanced at her clipboard and reached for a pile of papers. She handed one to each of the women. “Take a seat, ladies. We need to get through this quickly since I have a meeting in an hour.”

One hour later, Aislyn unlocked the door of her assigned room. Excitement and trepidation made her insides flutter. This spy business was both interesting and challenging. She was determined to do a professional job and prove a point to Seamus. This was the reason for joining the fairy force—to fight crime and make a difference.

After a quick exploration of her room—it was plain and held a single bed plus a set of scarred wooden drawers—she sauntered to the window. A distinct rustle under the bed made her freeze. Seconds later, something patted her ankle. She squeaked and backed rapidly away from the bed, her heart halfway up her throat. With a trembling hand, she yanked on the blinds. Light flooded the room, and she looked beneath the bed. A familiar cat hid in the far corner.

“Joe? How did you get here?” She coaxed him out of hiding and scooped the small black cat into her arms. He emitted a purr when she stroked his head. She set him on top of the bed and started to unpack, the animal’s presence making her feel less alone.

 

Maximillan strode backward and forward in front of Sameth’s desk, unusually agitated. Sameth guessed the cause but waited for his confirmation.

“John rang. He wants to meet.”

She sighed. “You must have known this was a possibility since you invited your brother to join the scavenger hunt.”

Maximillan dropped onto one of the chrome chairs. “I wanted to show off,” he admitted. “Show him I could run a successful enterprise. I didn’t expect him to accept my invitation.” He threw his hands in the air. “My stepbrother is practically a recluse. Ever since the accident…” He trailed off and stared at her wordlessly.

Ever since the accident, you caused. “The accident happened before you employed me.”

“Ah, yes. I forgot. It appears you’ve worked for me forever.”

Sameth studied the clipboard in front of her. Her boss was right to feel nervous. The noose was tightening around his neck even as they spoke. “Where are you meeting? You intend to meet him?”

Maximillan frowned and fingered the heavy gold ring on his left hand. “John says he’s collected the items on the list. I don’t see how since the competition hasn’t been going for long. He can’t finish this soon if he abides by the rules.”

“Max, you’re whining.”

“I never whine.”

Sameth shrugged. “What do you intend to do?”

“I’ll meet him at the prearranged checkpoint for competitors. I can hardly break the rules in my own competition.”

Exhilaration pounded through her. The plan was working, as John expected. She reached for a pen, determined not to falter at this stage. “Would you like me to go instead?” Her nerves jitterbugged while she waited for the answer to seal her future.

“Would you?” Maximillan asked. “No. No, I’ll go,” he said in a quick about-face. “I want a kakapo chick for my private collection.”

“Whatever you think best.” She picked up the clipboard. “Did you want to meet up with the new employees?”

His pensive expression retreated. “Any redheads in the group?”

 

On the second day of the job, Aislyn kneeled on her hands and knees and scrubbed a toilet in one of the private bungalows. She wasn’t surprised when Joe appeared behind her. “I don’t know how you manage it,” she scolded the cat. Aislyn had checked her room door was locked before she left to start her shift. She scratched the cat behind one ear.

“These people might have piles of money, but they’re slobs.” She clambered to her feet and winced at the flash of pain from protesting muscles. After listening for approaching guests, she searched the bathroom before moving to the bedroom.

She discovered a rugby jersey hidden in the depths of the walk-in wardrobe, and since it was from the Scottish football union, it was obviously part of the scavenger hunt list. Once her excitement calmed, she replaced the jersey and continued with her cleaning duties.

In the second bungalow, she found literature for upcoming stamp auctions strewn over the top of the coffee table. In the third bungalow, her search revealed airplane ticket stubs for flights to Brazil—not a frequent destination for the average tourist.

“Hello?”

Aislyn paused in the middle of toilet scrubbing. “Yes?”

A man appeared at the end of the passage. “Hello, I’m Maximillan, the owner of the resort.” He sauntered closer and thrust out his hand in greeting. “You’re new, I understand.”

He was so pretty with his boyish face and golden hair Aislyn couldn’t help but stare, but the hedonistic lust in his blue eyes warned her to take care. She gestured at her pink rubber gloves with a smile. “I’m pleased to meet you, Mr. Maximillan.”

“Call me Maximillan.” His gaze wandered down her tunic top and trousers, the uniform provided by the resort for employees to wear. “I like to greet my new employees in person.”

So, this was the famous Maximillan—the man Gill and Seamus both hated. According to Seamus, the man dipped his fingers in every crime pie in the city. Aislyn didn’t like the way his gaze crawled up and down her body.

“Where are you from?” he asked.

“Auckland.”

The man smiled, and she acknowledged his charm. “Do you have a boyfriend?”

“Yes,” Aislyn lied. “We’re engaged,” she added. Dirty, old lecher! “You have a beautiful resort.”

“Thank you. It suits my needs.”

I bet it does. “I haven’t explored yet, but the parts I’ve seen so far are stunning.”

His smile widened into a wolfish smirk. Even without prior knowledge of the man, something in his assured manner made her wary.

“I can give you a personal tour if you like. And if you’re interested, I’ll show you my private residence. It’s a listed building. Reverend Rogers built the house during the 1800s. I have renovated, of course, but I’ve retained the character of the building.”

“It sounds fascinating.” Despite her need to investigate, the last thing she wanted was a personal tour.

“Shall we say on your day off? You can stay for dinner, can’t you?”

Aislyn took a deep breath, accepting he’d neatly trapped her. “That sounds lovely. I have only one day off this week, and it’s not worth catching the ferry home.”

“That’s settled then. I’ll contact you later in the week. Welcome to my resort, Aislyn. I’m sure you’ll enjoy your time here.”

Maximillan left. He knew her name, which meant he’d checked up on her, perhaps watched her at some stage. A warning shrieked inside her. Maximillan’s interest might make her situation difficult. On the other hand, he was offering her an open invitation to visit his estate. She could hardly refuse this opportunity, even if the man made her cringe.

 

The flat door opened at his thump, and Seamus pushed inside. “I’m here to see Aislyn.”

Gary shut the door after him. “She wants nothing to do with you.”

“She can tell me in person.” Seamus was in no mood for Gary’s shenanigans. He’d sorted out things with Renee, and now he wanted to fix things with Aislyn. He intended to ask her to marry him despite the fallout. His mother and the board could protest as much as they liked. He wouldn’t change his mind. The antique ring worn by Gallagher brides for centuries was a solid weight in his pocket. A unique ring, it absorbed the properties of the wearer. He imagined the stone would glow a fiery green, bright enough to dazzle everyone, just as Aislyn overwhelmed and continuously amazed him.

Gary folded his arms across his chest and leaned against the wall. “She’s not here.”

“Aislyn.” Seamus started with the kitchen and rapidly searched the rest of the rooms.

“I told you she wasn’t here.”

He grabbed Gary by the collar of his hot pink shirt and shook him. “Where is she?”

“I’m not telling you until you stop shaking me.”

Seamus scowled. Gill always said he excelled at intimidation, except his skill was failing him today. He loosened his hold on Gary’s shirt and stepped back.

“Look what you’ve done.” Gary smoothed his hands over the wrinkled fabric.

“I’ll buy you another one. Tell me where to find Aislyn. I need to talk to her.”

“I bought this shirt from Barkers. It’s not a cheap rip-off.”

Seamus snorted. The pink hurt his eyes. “I’ll purchase two shirts. Please, tell me.”

“Maximillan’s resort. She got a job. I didn’t.”

Fear whopped Seamus in the gut. “What about backup?” They’d found it impossible to place their people on the island. The boss would’ve grabbed the opportunity to put Aislyn on the workforce.

“She’s allowed to return to Auckland every second week. She has a cell phone for emergencies, and she calls every third night to talk to me. We’ve prearranged a code to prevent anyone eavesdropping from becoming suspicious.”

“Why didn’t someone tell me?”

“You’ve been busy at the colony. No doubt, the boss will tell you today. Gill and I kept it quiet.”

“In case Maximillan has someone inside the police force.” Seamus felt sick to his stomach. The dangers Aislyn faced alone on the island chilled him to the bone. What the hell would he do if something went wrong? Hell’s teeth, he loved Aislyn. He’d die if anything happened to her. “Thanks for telling me. I’d better go. Gill and I are checking out a lead.” He bolted for the door.

“Don’t forget my shirts,” Gary hollered after him. “I’ll have one shirt in peach and the other in lapis lazuli blue.”

 

The day before her scheduled time off, a note appeared under her door. Aislyn eyed it with misgiving. Although instinct shrieked to turn down Maximillan’s invitation, she couldn’t. There was too much at stake.

She ripped the envelope open and perused the contents. He wanted to spend tomorrow afternoon and evening with her. Joe jumped onto the bed and rubbed against her arm until she scratched him behind the ears.

“I hope I’m not making a mistake accepting this invitation,” she said. “Especially while my powers are AWOL.” Each day she attempted to use her magic and failed. Scowling, she stared at a jar of moisturizer sitting on the dresser.

The jar rose and hovered for two seconds before crashing to the surface and rolling onto the floor. “Better than yesterday, I suppose.”

She glanced at her watch. “What do you say to an evening stroll, Joe?”

Minutes later, she hurried down the beach path. The trail wound through the resort, past one of the swimming pools, and a stand of kauri trees before arriving at the jetty. The nippy breeze tugged at her hair. She zipped her jacket and thrust her hands in her pockets before turning right.

The farther from the resort she walked, the more care she needed to take. The sea air filled her lungs, the surge and retreat of the waves oddly restful.

A quiet hum of voices made her hesitate. She ducked behind a flax bush and waited anxiously. Two men strolled past without noticing her presence. She waited for several minutes before venturing out of hiding.

The path ended, leading down to the water. The beach comprised sand and broken shells that crunched underfoot. Not the ideal situation for someone who wanted to skulk.

With the resort in proximity to the protected island sanctuaries, she thought she’d discover nocturnal activity on this beach.

Clouds skittered across the face of the crescent moon, obliterating the scant light. Aislyn pulled out her torch. A foreign noise made her freeze. She strained her ears to identify the sound. A pebble kicked by a careless foot? She waited for agonizing minutes before deciding to proceed. Afraid to switch on her torch, she fumbled along the beach in the dark.

In the distance, the lights of one bungalow glittered. Officially named the Veronica bungalow, it was situated nearest to the sea. Aislyn had no idea why, but all the cottages had women’s names. As she neared the accommodation, she eased into the deep shadows thrown by a pohutukawa tree. She crept closer, intent on learning if the guests were inside.

The wind shifted, and low voices carried from the balcony above the lounge—a male and a female. When a third voice joined the discussion, disappointment surged through her. All the Veronica occupants accounted for. She slipped back the way she’d come when the rattle of pebbles occurred again.

She stilled, and when the noise subsided, she moved down the beach away from the resort. The moon appeared briefly and disappeared. She kicked something…a large log she discovered when she cautiously stretched out her hand.

Ow! Something stunk to high heavens. She wrinkled her nose and breathed through her mouth.

Without warning, the unidentified sound came again, carried on the wind. A knot of fear constricted her throat. Had someone heard her? She crouched low, unwilling to sprint for cover, and attract attention. At least her dark clothes wouldn’t be too noticeable. If she kept her face from the light, she might escape notice. A pebble dislodged, and the distinctive crunch of footsteps on the broken shells escalated her anxiety. Half of her wanted to flee, while the other half was too petrified to move. And she wanted an active part in the fairy force. The wry thought echoed through her mind and lent steel to her backbone.

People were counting on her.

She cocked her head, listening to the retreating noise. Her breath eased out with relief. Yes, she was positive. She stood and stole down the beach, away from the foreign stench and possible discovery.

The lights in Veronica bungalow winked out, and she hesitated in the total darkness. Then she heard a boat motor, the low throbbing of an engine carrying across the water. A man on a fishing trip would use lights to help him navigate and avoid another boat, but someone with something to hide might try a clandestine landing.

The boat moved away from her. Bother. She took two quick steps and stumbled. A startled cry escaped as she sprawled head-first on the sand. The air exploded from her lungs. She gasped for breath. Something furry rubbed against her face. Terror welled inside her. Damn, she wasn’t cut out the fairy force. Then she heard a familiar purr.

“Joe?”

A second purr and the flick of a tail across her cheek made her giddy with relief.

“I thought you’d gone back to our room.” She sat up and gathered the black cat to her chest. “You’ve interrupted an important mission.” Once her tremors receded, she placed the cat on the ground and clambered to her feet. She needed to hurry if she wanted to witness the boat landing.

Aislyn increased her speed, grimacing at the noisy rattle of shells when Joe raced after her. Someone would hear, but his presence made her feel braver. She paused. Frustratingly, she couldn’t see or hear a thing. Perhaps she’d try again tomorrow. Make that the night after. Tomorrow she had a date with Maximillan. Disappointed and disheartened, she turned back in the resort’s direction.

The lights blinked in the distance. Aislyn frowned, surprised at how far she’d walked.

“Are you coming, Joe?”

The chug of a motor halted her on the spot. Surely, she couldn’t be so lucky? The splutter of the engine died. Voices carried from nearby. Two men, maybe three, strode toward her from the resort.

She hesitated, unsure whether she should wait or move toward the boat. The voices were louder, too close for comfort. She crouched, making her body small and unnoticeable in the dark. Soon, she made out the silhouettes of three men. Their faces were turned to the sea. She felt Joe brush her leg and stroked his fur while she waited. As the boat neared the shore, a single light flickered on. The boat coasted with the waves and finally ground to a stop in the sand. Two men jumped from the boat and hauled it clear of the water.

The men from the resort joined the boat occupants. Now what? She was too far away to eavesdrop on the discussion, and her frustration made her fidgety. The wind nipped at her face and hands, making her shiver. Finally, she sank onto the damp sand and thrust her hands in her jacket pockets to keep warm. Joe climbed on her lap while she waited.

“Now, what have we here?”

Aislyn stopped breathing. Her head turned to find a man right behind her.

Busted. She pushed Joe off her knee and jumped to her feet, dusting the sand off her ass with a loud slap. Then she opened her mouth in a wide exaggerated yawn. “What time is it?” Her groggy voice sounded perfect. “I went for a walk after dinner and sat for a while and enjoy the peace. I must have gone to sleep.”

The man snorted. “Good try. I don’t buy it. Hey, boss.” His voice traveled to the group standing near the boat. “We got ourselves an audience.”

“Only the one?”

“Far as I know. Johnson’s along the other end of the beach. I’ll check with him.” The man grasped her elbow and shoved her forward.

A torch clicked on, the beam shining in her face.

“Aislyn. I thought our meeting was for tomorrow. Did I get the day wrong?”

Rats, Maximillan. She’d done it now. “I told the other man, I decided to walk after dinner, sat for a while, and nodded off to sleep.”

Maximillan’s brows shot upward. “In this cold breeze, my dear? Hard to believe. Why don’t you tell me what you’re doing alone in the dark?”

Aislyn forced a frown to her face and sighed. “I know it’s against the rules, but my boyfriend said he’d try to come over to meet me. His friend has a boat.”

“Really, my dear. Would you like to try again?” Maximillan stepped close and brushed a curl off her face. Although the gesture was careful, gentle even, she shuddered inside, recoiling with horror. The fury in his eyes didn’t match his kind actions. “Unload the cargo and take the girl with you. Keep her on the boat until I direct otherwise. Lock her in my cabin.”

Maximillan stepped away, and another bigger man grabbed her forcibly by the arm. He dragged her down the beach, Aislyn struggling every step. She took a deep breath and screeched. “Help!”

“Really, my dear,” she heard Maximillan say. “Johnson, hit her if she screams again.”

She yanked from Johnson’s grip and glared up at the mountainous hulk. One glance at his detached expression told her he’d strike her, given provocation. She willed her body to relax and silently chanted a magical spell. Nothing happened. When Johnson took his gaze off her for an instant, she bolted.

Johnson gave a gruff shout. Adrenaline lent her feet wings, but the soft sand made speed difficult. If she failed to escape this time, she was in big trouble.

Footsteps thundered behind her, then the man tackled her, knocking her to the ground. The air collapsed from her lungs. She struggled, kicking and punching, but the massive brute overpowered her.

“Keep that up,” the man gritted out next to her ear, “and I’ll think you’re attracted to me, that you’re interested in a little bed sport.”

Aislyn froze, her skin crawling once she realized the full extent of the danger. She’d be alone with this hulk of a man and his partner on a boat. They could do anything to her, and without magic, she was powerless to stop them. Gary wouldn’t raise the alarm until after she missed the check-in tomorrow night. No one would miss her at the resort either since it was her day off.

Johnson jerked her to her feet. In the tussle for freedom, grains of sand had collected in her shirt and shoes.

“Move,” he snarled, giving her a shove in the middle of her back. “Dave, you ready?”

“Coming.”

The moon peeked out from the cloud cover and shyly lit the night. Aislyn watched the second man exchange a few words to Maximillan and look at her.

“In the boat,” Johnson ordered, digging her in the ribs with his elbow.

Aislyn sent him a belligerent glare and climbed into the dinghy. The two men pushed the boat into the waves before leaping inside. Dave started the outboard motor, and they headed away from the island, navigating without lights. Ten minutes later, they arrived at a moored launch.

“Get up on the boat.”

Aislyn followed his instructions, knowing Johnson would force her if she disobeyed. Another shove in the middle of the back, and she’d end up in the water. And that would be a problem because she wasn’t a strong swimmer. Once she stood on deck, Johnson followed and caught the rope Dave tossed him. He tied up the dinghy and jerked his head at her, indicating she should go below the deck. Furious with herself, she stomped down the steps into the luxurious living area.

“In there,” Johnson ordered.

She stepped inside, and Johnson slammed the door shut. The key rattled when he twisted it in the lock.

The pitch-black cabin reinforced her dangerous position. No one would help her.

She was on her own.