Authors: Helen Scott Taylor
NEW YORK CITY
Dedicated to my wonderful, supportive husband,
who always believed in me.
Rose Tremain sat on the chair before his desk, his Magic Knot cradled in her palm. She swayed slightly, her eyes dazed and dreamy. His nerves sparked. Need for her struck like lightning. He managed to suck in air, to ruthlessly crush the feeling until his body calmed.
So, he had been right. Rose Tremain was more dangerous than she appeared. She’d been sent to enslave him by capturing his stones. If she thought he’d give in easily, she had another think coming.
Silently, he walked forward and closed his hand over hers. His vision blurred at the whip of sensation. Too late, he realized his mistake in touching her. Gritting his teeth, he fought the mental pull as she sucked his very essence through their joined hands into a deep, hidden part of her that whispered of ancient magic and mystery.
Niall snatched up his Magic Knot and stumbled back. His breath came in short gasps as he stared at her in shock. Rose was the Cornish pisky Tristan wanted. How had she stopped them from sensing the truth about her? That deception alone proved she was up to no good.
Slowly, her green eyes focused on him. Confusion set tiny creases between her delicate brows, then surprise chased them away. She slapped a hand over her mouth.
“Aye, be afraid, little thief,” he whispered. “You’ll pay dearly for your deception before I’m done with you.”
Roughly translated, the slogan on Niall O’Connor’s family crest read: “We need all the help the gods can give us.”
Not that he wanted help from anyone, gods or otherwise. He’d learned early on to look out for himself. Unfortunately, every now and then he had no choice.
So here he was—cap in hand, metaphorically speaking—on his way to ask for a favor from Tristan Jago. Which unfortunately entailed getting past Tristan’s sidekick, Nightshade, a vampiric nightstalker with attitude problems.
Niall rode his motorcycle up the narrow drive to Tristan’s rambling granite manor house, stopped on the circle of gravel outside the front door, and cut the engine.
Trevelion Manor sat alone atop the rocky Cornish cliffs overlooking the Atlantic. In the distance, purple storm clouds billowed across a gunmetal gray sea. A portent of trouble if ever he’d seen one. It looked like the gods definitely weren’t smiling on him today.
As he kicked down his bike stand, the front door opened. Nightshade stepped out of the shadowy interior,
folded his arms over his glistening oiled pecs, and spread his wings to block entry. Quashing a sigh, Niall pulled off his helmet and rested it on the bike’s seat.
Niall flexed his hands to check the position of the two crystal knives strapped to his wrists. If he could avoid fighting Nightshade, he would. Not that he thought he’d lose. Quite the contrary: he was sure he’d win. But he’d fought enough hand-to-hand to last a lifetime.
“It’s a pleasure to see you, Irish!” Nightshade hooked his thumbs in the loops of his jeans and grinned, his teeth white against ebony skin. “I’ve a hankering for a taste of Tuatha Dé Danaan with a seasoning of leprechaun.”
“In your dreams, boyo.” Niall halted a safe distance away and patted the pocket of his flight jacket containing the check. “You going to let me in? I’ve a wee present here for your lord and master.”
Nightshade sneered, exposing the glistening points of his fangs. “I’m no one’s servant. Taunt me again, Irish, and you’ll live to regret it.”
Obviously Tristan’s sidekick had aspirations above his station.
In the muted light of the corridor, Tristan Jago’s thin, pale face appeared. “Boys, boys.” He smiled urbanely as he approached and placed a restraining hand on Nightshade’s shoulder. “Be a good fellow and let Niall in. I believe he comes bearing gifts.” He stroked his paisley silk cravat and slid an appraising glance over Niall. “You’re always welcome, my friend. Gifts or no.”
Niall suppressed a shudder. The druid boasted reptilian qualities any lizard would be proud of.
“Come and play chess with me, Niall. I still have our game set up in the drawing room.” As Nightshade disappeared into the house, Tristan glanced after him
and sniffed. “I can’t get that philistine interested in chess. Says he doesn’t see the point.”
Niall followed Tristan inside. The musty smell of animals long dead tainted the air of the drawing room. Niall spared a cursory glance for the multitude of stuffed wild creatures lining the walls and resisted the temptation to press his sleeve against his nose. How could anyone, even a human like Tristan, live surrounded by death?
Nightshade sat slouched across a chair before the crackling fire, his legs slung over the arm, and pointedly ignored Niall. That suited him fine. He wanted to settle his business, no hassle, and get out.
Tristan walked to the bay window overlooking the sea and lowered himself into a wing chair beside the chessboard. Lightning flashed, banishing shadows from the room for an instant and lending his pale face a ghostly appearance.
Niall withdrew the check from his pocket and held it up so the figure of twenty-five thousand pounds was clear in the pool of light beneath the table lamp.
Bony fingers shot out and plucked the check from his grasp. “You have been a busy boy.” Tristan gave Niall a narrow look. “That’s some return on my initial thousand. What was it this time? Equity options?”
Niall shifted uneasily. He hated discussing his trades. “Commodities, mainly. A little cocoa and oil. Some gold. Dollar and euro to finish up.”
“You really do have the luck of the leprechauns.”
“That scrap o’ paper fulfills my half of the bargain. You’ll renew the spell of protection over me brother and sister for another three months.”
Inclining his head, Tristan indicated the seat opposite him. “Spare me half an hour, and we have a deal.”
Niall tensed in frustration at being manipulated, even if it was only into a game of chess. “Aye, then, I suppose.” He dropped into the vacant chair and scanned the chessboard to refresh his memory of where they’ left the game three months ago.
“Your move, I think,” Tristan said.
Jaw clenched, Niall placed the white knight in a square to protect his queen. The irony of the move brought a grim smile to his lips. He would never return to Ireland and subjugate himself to the Irish fairy queen, even if it meant paying Tristan to protect his brother and sister from her for the rest of their lives.
The frantic jingling of a small bell pulled his attention from the chessboard. On the other side of the room, a gold hand clicked around the face of what looked like a cuckoo clock, and a figure twirled out of a little door on the front.
Tristan jumped up, grating his chair on the parquet floor, and marched across the room to stare at the dancing doll. “At last.”
Pushing up from his seat, Nightshade prowled over to join him. “I thought you said they were all gone,” he whispered in gruff disbelief.
Tristan shook his head. The stalker slanted Tristan an accusing look that raised the hair on Niall’s neck. They both appeared to have forgotten him. “What’s this all about?” he demanded.
Dragging his eyes away from the dancing figure, Tristan gave a thin smile. “This, my dear Niall, is a magical device that tells me a Cornish pisky is about to cross the River Tamar and enter Cornwall.”
Niall frowned. “You told me they’ all disappeared years ago. That’s why I brought me sister here. I assumed
the lass’ be safe from the machinations of fairies.”
“And so she is.” Tristan ran his hand across his mouth, then tapped his lips. “Find this pisky for me, Niall. Find her and bring her here.”
Who was this lone pisky woman? The grim set of the stalker’s mouth suggested that she heralded trouble. Niall didn’t want to get involved in anyone else’s disagreements. He had enough problems resolving his own.
Niall leaned back and shook his head. “I’ve no interest in bothering meself with piskies. Find her yourself.”
Tristan turned on him, pale brown eyes flaring with emotion. “That will not do, my dear Niall. Not at all. If you want me to cast another spell to shield your siblings from Ciar’s pervasive gaze, bring the pisky woman here.”
A flash of anger burned through Niall. He was sick of having his brother and half sister used as leverage. Niall unfolded from the chair and took a step toward the druid. He had three inches on Tristan and used every fraction of them to intimidate. “You have me money tucked away in your pocket. I advise you, don’t go adding conditions now, druid. Honor the bargain.” He kept a wary eye on Nightshade, ready for him to jump to his master’s defense, but the stalker stayed still, watching with guarded interest.
Tristan glared. Smudges of red appeared on the taut, pale skin of his cheeks. They stared each other down for a few seconds; then Tristan shook his head. “I only want to give her directions to find her troop, Niall. You’ best do as I ask if you want my help.”
Niall held himself still as death. He didn’t believe that explanation for a moment, but in truth, he had no choice except to comply. The spell of protection over his brother and sister must be recast—whatever the cost.
The pisky should be easy to find. She’d be drawn to him and his brother, Michael, because, apart from Nightshade, they were the only fairies in Cornwall. All he had to do was wait for her to show up at Michael’s pub and then bring her to Trevelion Manor.
Niall thumped a fist on his chest in reluctant assent, then raised a warning finger. “’Tis a bargain, then. But no more demands after this.”
Tristan flashed a triumphant grin that added to Niall’s unease.
He could almost hear the gods sniggering at his latest plight. He hoped he wasn’t going to live to regret this.
Rosenwyn Tremain stared through her BMW’s windshield at the towering gray struts of the road bridge spanning the River Tamar.
The gateway to Cornwall.
She swallowed anxiously as the line of traffic edged closer to the bridge. In a few minutes she’d be over, on Cornish soil—or, more precisely, Cornish asphalt.
A slash of lightning cut across the leaden sky, briefly relieving the dull afternoon. She shuddered, then nervously fluffed her short hair.
Never set foot in Cornwall.
Her mother’s plea whispered in her memory as her car crawled forward.
Rose passed beneath the Cornish coat of arms marking the center point of the Tamar Bridge. Tension clenched her belly. She snatched a breath, held it, half expecting to be smote down by a thunderbolt.
“Oh, for goodness’ sake.” She slapped her palms against the steering wheel. “Pull yourself together, woman, and get over it.” What was the worst that could happen? She’d get a hostile reception from the business she was due to investigate. That wouldn’t be a first. No one liked being told they were insolvent.
Just over an hour later, Rose maneuvered her car along a narrow Cornish lane. She glanced at her satellite navigation system and gnawed her lip. Either the satellite was faulty, or the Elephant’s Nest Public House was in the middle of nowhere. She had a nasty suspicion it was the latter.
She crawled until the road opened out at the head of an estuary. Stopping on a small humpbacked bridge, she stared at the pretty scatter of lighted cottage windows glowing in the curve of the valley. Living in London, she found it easy to forget places like this existed.
The satellite system directed her along a narrow track beside the estuary for another half a mile. Finally, an ancient building with whitewashed walls intersected by black beams shone in her headlights. She swung her car around and parked near the front door. Her watch read five thirty, nearly opening time.
The plan had been to make a start on the financial assessment this afternoon, but the drive had taken longer than expected. As she was late, the best she could do was get the preliminaries out of the way so she could make a quick start in the morning. A small review job like this should take only two days. Then she could spend the rest of the week tracing her father.
Climbing out, she slung her purse strap over her shoulder and grabbed her briefcase. A cool breeze flowed up the estuary with the incoming tide. Salty air
tingled in her lungs. So, this was Cornwall—the county of her birth.
Checking out the parking lot, she noticed a red Porsche Boxster, spotless and gleaming beneath a streetlight. The license plate read, MICK. She grimaced. Maybe the problem with the business’s finances was an owner who spent the working capital. She’d met a few of those in her years as an accountant. Mr. Michael O’Connor’s private spending would be her first target—and he wouldn’t like that. Those she investigated never did.
As she walked toward the front door, she paused and stared at the incongruous sight of a fat pink elephant with a wicked grin perched on a nest of plastic twigs. Lucky the guy who owned this place had a sense of humor. He would probably need it when he received her report.
When she reached the entrance porch, the low drone of a powerful motorcycle engine rolled through the darkness behind her. Its headlight flickered amid the trees on the riverbank as it approached. Rose suppressed a strange compulsion to go inside before it arrived. The air vibrated with the thud of the engine as the machine slowed and, with a crunch of gravel, swung into the parking lot.
The man halted beside the Porsche, dropped a brown-booted foot to the ground, and turned his head toward her. The lamplight gleamed off the visor of his helmet. When he looked at her, the three linked stones on her necklace tingled warmly against her skin. She clasped them through her shirt to stop the weird sensation.
He twisted his hand on the throttle, and the roar of the engine snapped her out of her trance. Rose shivered
as she took in his green combat pants and battered leather flight jacket. She hoped he wasn’t the owner of the pub.
Dragging her attention back to the pub, she cleared her throat, then strode through the door into the bar. The gentle lilt of traditional Irish music and the smell of wood smoke welcomed her in. After the plastic elephant out front, she was pleasantly surprised by the old-fashioned interior with its beamed ceiling, brass ornaments, and polished oak bar.
A middle-aged woman, with a mass of fair hair secured atop her head by an orange flower, looked up from where she was restocking the shelves behind the bar.
“We’re not open till six, m’ love.” She poked her thumb behind her. “Boss is still out back working his magic.”
Rose suspected the magic had something to do with the delicious smell of food emanating from the back. So Michael O’Connor cooked. He probably couldn’t afford to pay a chef.
Rose slipped a business card from the leather case in her pocket and held it out. “Sorry to call so late. Mr. O’Connor is expecting me. I just want to introduce myself to night and get the lay of the land. I’ll be back to start work in the morning.”
The woman took the card and read out loud. “‘Rose Tremain. Francis Marchant Partnership.’ You got yourself an impressive list of letters after your name, but it don’t tell me what you’re here for.”
Rose assumed a neutral expression. Keeping the reason for her presence secret from the staff was always difficult. But it was necessary when investigating a business facing bankruptcy.
She gave the woman a reassuring smile. “Mr. O’Connor is expecting me. If you’ just give him my card, I’m sure he can spare me a few minutes to night.”
The woman flicked the card between her fingers thoughtfully. “Now, which Mr. O’Connor would you be wanting?”