The little girl tossed restlessly, some of her unruly dark hair sticking to the thin patina of sweat on her forehead. Her head rolled on the pillow and the delicate point of her ear peeked out from under her tangled locks as she grappled with the feverish dream.
Two men stood on the crest of the hill. One with chestnut hair and haunted eyes. The other, nearly alabaster skin, white-blond hair and eyes so pale and blue they looked like ice. The blond leaned forward and whispered into his companion’s ear, and then he pointed. Below them, at the bottom of the hill, a large manor house with green gardens and enormous windows. Her house.
The man with dead, haunted eyes started to chant and as he did, he conjured a windstorm so hot and fierce that it scorched the leaves on the tree that it swirled around. The alabaster man laughed and it was a cruel, savage sound. “Kill them,” he hissed. “Kill them all.”
In her bed, the child whimpered and clutched her stuffed toy.
With a savage cry, the darker man opened his hands and flung them toward the manor. Unleashed, the wind coalesced and started to roll across the ground following his invisible direction. Everywhere it passed, nothing remained—everything was burned and consumed, with only bones and ash to mark its passing.
The storm grew and darkened as it closed in on the house, feeding off the screams and the fear. It surrounded the house, enveloping it. The screaming stopped and in the silence, the cloud contracted and blackened. And from deep within its core, a wail of anger and despair erupted, so terrifying the very ground recoiled. When the cloud moved on, all that remained of the manor were some beams and tiles, and the charred bones of the family who had lived there.
The young Fae girl with violet eyes woke up screaming.
From a discreet place across the street, Aohdan considered the run-down split-level house. Moss grew on the asphalt roof shingles and the siding was faded and dented. As a growl of thunder rumbled in the distance, a threadbare curtain pulled back a few inches and then fluttered closed before a tall, lanky man came out the front door. Skiffle jiggled the doorknob and then jogged lightly down the front steps. Twirling his keys in his hand, he headed down the sidewalk toward the end of the dead-end street where his car was parked.
Aohdan’s eyes narrowed. Your good mood’s not going to last, you little shit. He glanced to the side and caught the eye of his friend, Rory, and Aohdan pointed. Rory understood and crossed the street, ready to cut Skiffle off in case the skinny man spooked and bolted. Aohdan glanced up as another rumble of thunder sounded; the sudden and fierce thunderstorm had done little to alleviate the summer humidity. Skiffle stopped to say hello to his neighbor, and when he did, Aohdan halted as well. Tall and imposing, Aohdan moved behind the cab of a pickup truck where he could watch and listen without immediately being seen.
“How’s it hanging, Sorley?” asked Skiffle.
The squat little Leprechaun hooked his thumbs into his pants. “Wee bit to the left, but the wife never complains. Where you off to?”
“Meeting my cousin at Suffolk. Play the ponies a bit,” Skiffle bragged.
“Ah, found a bit o’ money, did you?”
“You could say that.” There was a self-satisfied grin on Skiffle’s face.
Found a “bit” of my money is what he meant to say. Aohdan ground his teeth and took a deep breath as five of Sorley’s eight children tumbled into the miniscule front yard. He forced his fist to unclench and took a half-step out from behind the truck, managing to make eye contact with the stout Leprechaun. When he did, Sorley’s eyes rounded and his mouth opened slightly, and when Aohdan made a gesture toward the house with his chin, Sorley didn’t hesitate.
“Well, best o’ luck to you, Skiffle. Okay, you rug rats, back in the house.” The order was met with a chorus of disappointed voices. “Nay, I promised yer Ma we’d help with something, and you know, the faster we get it done, the faster I can take you all for ice cream.” The disappointed moans turned to excited squeals at the promise of ice cream treats and the young Leprechauns charged back into the house.
Skiffle ambled down the sidewalk, so caught in his own thoughts that he never noticed Aohdan quietly stalking him. Skiffle’s car was a beater of an old Toyota Corolla—not worth much and butt-ugly, but it ran. The lock was sticky and he jimmied the key a little, and just as he started to open the door, Aohdan’s deep voice filled his ears.
“I’m really disappointed in you, Skiffle. Really disappointed.”
Skiffle spun and backed up a few steps as a cold sweat broke out all over his body. He stared up at Aohdan. “Oh, man. I can… I can explain…”
“Explain what?” The white t-shirt couldn’t hide the muscles in Aohdan’s arms and shoulders as he crossed his arms, waiting for an answer. For a minute, all Skiffle could do was stare at those muscled, tattoo-covered arms until Aohdan asked again. “Explain what, you little weasel?”
“That, uh, I…” Skiffle’s mouth went dry as he tried to come up with a plausible lie. Aohdan pushed some of his long black hair behind one tapered ear while Skiffle fumbled.
“I think you’re trying to explain why I have to waste part of my Saturday to come down here to Dorchester and track your sorry ass down. When you came to me for that loan, what did you tell me? You needed to cover some bills, just a little something to get you by until the next job. Five grand was all you needed. That about cover it?”
Skiffle nodded miserably.
“And when I gave you the money, I told you it was a loan, not charity. A loan with interest. Remind me again what you do with a loan?”
Skiffle was silent for a moment and Aohdan slammed his hand on the roof of the car, denting it, and the skinny man recoiled, shaking.
“You pay it back,” Skiffle whispered hoarsely.
“You pay it back,” Aohdan repeated. “So when you were late and I sent Rory to collect your payment, what did you tell him?”
“I don’t… I don’t remember.”
“Don’t lie to me.” Aohdan drew himself up to his full impressive height. At a hair over six feet five inches, he dwarfed Skiffle.
“No, no! I wouldn’t lie to you! I wouldn’t. I remember now. I remember! I kinda told Rory to fuck off.” Skiffle stuffed his hands in his pockets to stop them from shaking.
Skiffle sighed heavily. “And I, uh, I told him to tell you that you could fuck off, too… because I didn’t have the money.” Pulling one trembling hand out of his pocket, Skiffle ran it through his stringy, damp hair.
“Because you didn’t have the money,” Aohdan repeated Skiffle’s answer.
“I’d been drinking, man. I was just saying stupid shit.” Skiffle kicked at a clod of crabgrass growing out of a sidewalk crack.
“Not interested in excuses. You didn’t use the money for bills; from what your cousin told me, it took less than four races at Suffolk for you to blow nearly the whole thing.”
A strangled noise came out of Skiffle’s throat at the mention of his cousin. Aohdan ignored it and pressed on.
“I actually don’t really care what you used the money for. Not really my concern. But what is my concern is your refusal to pay me back. That’s essentially stealing from me, Skiffle, and I don’t like it when people steal from me.” Aohdan’s voice grew darker and more ominous and Skiffle whimpered. Everyone knew bad things happened to people who crossed Aohdan Collins.
The thought of what Aohdan might do to him was too much and Skiffle bolted away, nearly falling as he raced around the front of his car and started to careen down the street. Aohdan watched him scramble only to run into a nasty stiff-arm from Rory. There was a dull thud as Rory’s arm slammed across Skiffle’s chest and the skinny man collapsed in a heap on the pavement, wheezing and gasping. Rory picked him up by his stained shirt, hauled him back to Aohdan, and slammed him into the side of the Toyota. Using a rag, Aohdan muffled the scrawny deadbeat’s pleas for help and mercy.
“Shut. Up.” As he bit the words out, Aohdan opened the passenger door, stretched Skiffle’s arm out and in one swift motion, slammed the door shut, crushing Skiffle’s left hand. Even with the rag, his agonized scream filled the street and when Aohdan opened the door, Rory let go and Skiffle crumpled to the ground, weeping. He spit the rag out and cradled the ruined mess of his hand close to his chest. Bleeding and disfigured, bones poked through the skin at odd angles. Aohdan grabbed him by the hair and forced him to look up. Snot ran out of Skiffle’s nose and down his face.
“No one steals from me, you worthless shit,” growled Aohdan. “Rory’s going to come back in a week or so, and when he does, you’d better have ALL of my money.”
Aohdan walked away leaving Skiffle huddled against his car, bleeding and crying.
After a half block, Rory said, “Worthless fucking human. We should have just left him in his trunk. Summer heat would have taken care of everything.”
“I don’t get any money back if he’s dead,” said Aohdan. From behind the sunglasses, Aohdan carefully looked up and down the street. As far as he could tell, no one but Sorley was home. Stopping at the Leprechaun’s house, he grabbed his wallet and fished out two crisp hundred dollar bills before walking to the front door. A little Leprechaun girl, probably no older than six, with wild, curly red hair answered when he knocked.
“Is your father here?” asked Aohdan.
“Da! A man with painted arms wants to talk to you.” She stared at Aohdan and then out at Rory who was still standing on the sidewalk, and then back at Aohdan again. When he got to the front door, Sorley swallowed hard.
“What kin I do you for, Mr. Collins?”
Aohdan handed Sorley the money. “This should cover ice cream for the kids and a nice dinner for you and your wife. I appreciate your discretion. Have a nice day.” Without another word, Aohdan turned around and headed back down the concrete walkway to meet Rory.
By that night, Aohdan had erased Skiffle from his mind. Standing in his spacious living room, he stared out toward the city. I don’t care if there are bigger, fancier places in other parts of the city—this view was worth every last penny. With an expansive and open living room that flowed into a gourmet kitchen and dining area, the penthouse condo also a master suite with private balcony that looked out over the water, two additional bedrooms, three-and-a-half baths, an office, and a private area Aohdan used as a small gym. A second smaller balcony stretched out from the living room. The bank of windows in the living room afforded a gorgeous view across Boston Harbor towards the financial district, and the city was lit up against the night sky.
He glanced at his watch. Too nice of a night to drive; I’ll just walk to Underworld. Aohdan went into his bedroom and took a quick look in the mirror. The difference was night and day: he’d exchanged his t-shirt and ripped jeans for dress pants and a grey silk button-down shirt that looked like it had been tailored to fit him exactly. He grabbed a pair of shoes and then took the elevator down to the lobby. Fan Pier’s cobble and concrete walkway led from the condos, around the federal courthouse, and toward the city. The breeze coming off the water picked up the aroma of salt-spray roses and spread the scent everywhere. As he passed one of the park benches poised to let tourists drink in the city skyline, Aohdan noticed a man sitting, slouched, on the bench.
“Hey. Collins. Nice night for a walk,” the man said as he passed by.
Aohdan turned back. “Do I know you?”
“Nope, but I know you.” The street lamp’s light glinted off his gold detective’s shield.
Pain-in-my-ass cops. “Something I can do for you, detective?” Aohdan looked him up and down as the detective tugged at the tie around his neck to loosen it and managed to knock the whole thing off-kilter.
“You can tell me what you know about who gave Joey Terrazzi a beat down today. Mangled his hand pretty good.”
“Don’t play games, Collins. You know exactly who I’m talking about. You probably know him as Skiffle?”
That little bastard wouldn’t have the balls to talk to the cops; he’s just fishing. “Oh, him. Met him a few times, but don’t really know him. He lives in Dorchester right? Pretty tough neighborhood if I recall.”
“So you don’t know anything about what happened? Nothing at all? I heard he owed you money.” The detective fiddled with his tie again.
“Owed me money? I don’t know anything about that. But wouldn’t Joey be able to identify who attacked him? I’m not sure what information I can give you.” Aohdan smiled pleasantly at the detective and brushed a non-existent piece of lint off his sleeve.
“Nice shirt,” sneered the cop. “Fancy. Probably cost you, what? A couple of hundred bucks?”
“More, but who’s counting?” Aohdan’s answer was sharp and snide.
“Makes me wonder, you know? How does a guy like you, who works in a tattoo shop, afford a shirt like that? Or live in a place like this?” The detective gestured back toward the condominium towers.
“I own the tattoo shop,” corrected Aohdan.
“Whatever. You can’t possibly pull enough income from that to afford to live like this. The money’s coming from somewhere.” The detective stepped up close to Aohdan, full of bluster, but given that he was several inches shorter than Aohdan, his attempt at intimidation fell short.
“Where my money comes from is none of your damn business, but I will tell you this: getting in on the ground floor with Apple, Amazon, and Facebook were excellent ideas.”
“Right. Investments. That and your bookmaking, extortion, pimping, and blackmail.”
“Those are a lot of ugly words and accusations, detective.” And you don’t have shit to back them up or I’d already be in handcuffs. Aohdan started to turn away, bored with the unpleasant banter between them.
“Typical Fae,” spat the detective. “Can’t trust any of ’em. Pointy-eared fucks.”
Aohdan’s back stiffened and his jaw set in a hard line as he slowly looked back over his shoulder with narrowed eyes. “That was uncalled for.”
The detective shrugged. “I can’t wait for the day you and your crew finally fucks up. It’ll be Christmas no matter what time of year it is.”
As the detective taunted him, Aohdan forced himself to walk away. That asshole isn’t worth the jail time.
Underworld was one of the hottest new clubs in Boston. Open for six months, word of the venue’s great bands and great drinks had spread quickly. When Aohdan arrived, the line was already 25 deep and at least half of the people waiting to get in were young women in tall heels and short dresses. They preened and flirted under his appreciative gaze as Aohdan bypassed the line and walked directly up to the bouncer. Bald, stern, and clearly a bodybuilder, he pulled the admission rope back as soon as he saw Aohdan.
“Welcome back, Mr. Collins,” he said.
“Good to see you, George.” A $50 bill appeared in Aohdan’s hand and then vanished into the bouncer’s shirt pocket.
“Thank you, Mr. Collins. Always a pleasure to see you. Enjoy your night.”
Inside Underworld, the music was pounding. Often the club featured popular local bands; tonight a DJ was providing the entertainment. An expansive bar ran the length of one wall and curved for more seating. Made of dark cherry wood, the bar, chairs, and tables gleamed. The hanging, blown glass teardrop lamps were made of deep red and gold glass and gave the dining area around them a warm feeling. The burgundy theme continued to the tables and seating—the chairs at the high bar tables and regular dining tables had deep and comfortable seat pads.
Aohdan stopped for a moment and looked around the club. The dance floor teemed with people—an agreeable mix of human and Faerie. After the Desolation of Faerie, it had taken some time for the insular Faerie races to assimilate into their new world and learn to co-mingle comfortably with humans. It had taken the humans some time to adjust as well and some—as his encounter with the detective proved—hadn’t adjusted at all. As far as Aohdan was concerned, there were still too many who clung to old, outmoded ways of thinking. But seeing the ease with which everyone interacted at Underworld, it made him hopeful that fools like the detective were a dying breed.
Making his way along the edge of the crowded dance floor toward the VIP area, Aohdan stopped when a voluptuous blond stepped in front of him and started to shimmy before she pressed up against him, trying to lure him into a dance. He let her grind for a moment, enjoying the show, before he stepped around and continued on to his regular table. Waiting for him—all grinning like fools—were his closest friends and captains of his crew: Galen, Oisin, Kieran, and Rory. As he arrived, a waitress brought him a double shot of his favorite whiskey.
“There’s glitter on your shirt,” observed Galen before Oisin interrupted him.
“You seriously don’t want to tap that blond? Seriously?” Oisin’s smile was devilish and he ran a hand through his dark blond hair as he eyed the woman who’d flirted with Aohdan.
“Yours if you want her,” said Aohdan, “but she’s already sloppy drunk. She’ll be throwing up before midnight.”
“Don’t need to wait; she can be the warm-up. And that drunk, it would be even easier to bend her over the bar,” Rory’s smug comment was nearly lost in his beer.
“If that’s how you want your women, Rory. But drunk or no’, she does have a verra nice ass,” said Kieran with just a hint of Scottish brogue. “We just have to wait. There are better out there, and they’ll come to us eventually.”
“I’ll drink to that.” Galen raised his glass. “Here’s to a good night, good food, and beautiful women.”
The others echoed his toast, and as they all took a deep drink, Aohdan got comfortable in his seat. Two other waitresses arrived with more cold beer and platters of appetizers. Plates of stuffed jalapenos, meatballs stuffed with mozzarella, hummus and fresh vegetables, and some Thai lettuce wraps covered the table, and the scent made Aohdan realize how damn hungry he was. After downing a few of the lettuce wraps, Oisin leaned over to Aohdan.
“How was your day? Your errands turn out okay?” Oisin asked.
“I think that little loan problem has been addressed. I did get a little visit from one of Boston’s finest on my way here.”
“Those fucks?” Oisin shook his head. “What now?”
“Nothing but annoying bullshit, and frankly, I’m starting to get a little tired of it.” Aohdan finished his whiskey and gestured to the waitress for a refill as a petite brunette stopped at the edge of the VIP area and waved to Oisin. He raised his glass to acknowledge her and she offered a coy, flirtatious look before she disappeared into the crowd.
“Who’s that?” asked Rory.
“I think I hit that a couple weeks ago…” While Oisin tried to remember her name, Aohdan scanned the establishment with a critical eye. The dance floor was crowded and drinks seemed to be flowing steadily out of the bar. As if he’d read Aohdan’s mind, Galen sat down next to his boss.
“Club’s doing very well. We’re on every hot list in the city and most nights, there’s always a line to get in. I’m looking at ways we can increase revenue and traffic on the typically slower nights like Sundays and Mondays,” Galen told him. Although his demeanor was serious, there was a gleam in Galen’s eye that told Aohdan his second-in-command was happy with Underworld’s progress.
“Has there been any trouble?” Aohdan still hadn’t quite let go of his earlier conversation with the detective.
“Nothing of consequence. Some detectives stopped by the other day asking about a mugging,” Galen told him.
“No, I would have taken care of that myself. It was about three blocks from here. I offered them our security tapes, but it happened too far away to make a difference. Being cooperative was the smart play, and there’s no reason for us to be on their radar. Although I do think we need to make some changes in the back offices so it’s more secure when you work here.”
“Do what you think is best. I trust your judgment.”
As Aohdan and Galen finished their conversation, Muriel—one of the regular waitresses in the VIP area—came up to them carrying a tray holding five shot glasses full of Glen Livet whiskey. She put them down on the table.
“The good stuff,” said Kieran. “Verra impressive. Where did these come from, Muriel?”
“The young ladies over there.” She gestured toward a knot of six women at a nearby table. They all waved and smiled when they realized Aohdan and his companions were looking at them.
“What do you think, Aohdan?” asked Rory. “Ready for company?”
“It’s Saturday night; we’re here to play. Invite them up.” Aohdan started to smile as he gave the women another appraising look. Unlike the one who’d started to grind on him earlier, these women looked more sophisticated and clearly weren’t drunk, at least not yet.
Oisin walked down to their table. “Why don’t you ladies come up and join us? Let us show you how much we appreciate a shot of good whiskey.” He escorted them up and they all sat down in and amongst Aohdan and his captains. Once they were settled, Aohdan ordered another round of shots and a bottle of champagne for the table and soon found himself with a woman on each side.
One had light brown hair and as she shifted, her dress gapped giving him a tantalizing glimpse of the lacy red bra she wore underneath. She moved closer and put a hand on Aohdan’s chest. “My name’s Cindy; that’s my friend, Sonja. You’re Aohdan Collins, right?”
“That depends who’s asking.”
“People say you run this town,” Cindy purred.
“People exaggerate,” he answered, but his grin said differently. “But let’s not talk about me. I’d much rather hear about the two of you.” He poured some more champagne. It was shaping up to be an excellent night.
In the morning, Aohdan woke with the sun in his eyes and he squinted while he got his bearings. It was just after sunrise and that meant he’d only slept for a couple of hours. Shifting carefully, he untangled himself from the two women who shared the king-sized bed with him. What were their names again? Sarah and Cindy? Or was it Sonja and Suzette? Something like that. Honestly, he didn’t really care.
He stayed as quiet as possible while he pulled on his pants, and then went searching through the hotel suite for his shirt. Aohdan never brought women back to his condo on the water. Instead, he had a standing suite at the Intercontinental Hotel thanks to a very large favor the hotel’s GM owed him. The luxurious suite was where he conducted all of his rendezvous, and since he wasn’t interested in any kind of long-term entanglement, coming here avoided any awkward discussions about breakfast.
He found his shirt, crumpled, on one of the chairs in the living room. Both girls had been surprised when they started to undress him and saw the tattoos that covered his torso, shoulders, and arms. As he turned, Aohdan caught a glimpse of himself in a mirror. He loved how his body looked with the ink. Some women were turned off by them, but the two sleeping in his bed had been fascinated, as if having tattoos is some exotic Fae thing. But then again, they’d clearly been looking for the “Fae experience”…
“You’re a Fae, right?” Sonja asked when they got to the hotel.
“Why do you ask?” Aohdan thought it was a rather stupid question—his height and his slightly pointed ears made it clear he was, indeed, Fae—but he hadn’t brought Sonja back to the hotel for her intellect. He leaned in and kissed her neck and she sighed deeply.
“I’ve never been with any Fae,” whispered Cindy as she slid her arms around Aohdan’s waist from behind and started to unbuckle his belt. “Is it true you can have sex for hours?”
Aohdan never actually answered her question directly. Instead, he let the rest of the night speak for itself. Glancing back at the bedroom, he smiled as he buttoned his badly wrinkled shirt. The girls had proven to be willing partners; indulging in anything he wanted—starting with a striptease that was surprisingly good. The question about his Fae talents? That was standard half the time. He’d been answering it ever since the Desolation of Faerie, when the Faerie Realm was laid to waste by a dark, twisted spell the likes of which had never been seen, and the only escape was into the Human Realm.
After the Desolation, it had taken some time for the different faerie races—Leprechauns, Pixies, Selkies, and the like—to assimilate into the new world. It had been easiest for the Fae since they were most like humans in appearance, but over the years rumors came and went, rumors of magical powers and sexual prowess, and it seemed every generation of humans had the same questions. For his part, Aohdan was more than happy to demonstrate Fae stamina in the bedroom to any lovely who came asking. Today, he was also more than happy to leave said lovelies sleeping in the plush bed. Eventually, housekeeping would wake them and let the girls know they could order whatever they liked from room service before they left.
In the bathroom, he ran a hand through his thick, dark hair and made a few adjustments to his shirt. He opened the bottle of mouthwash, swished and spit, and as he left, he glanced in the bedroom one last time. Sonja and Cindy were still sound asleep, sprawled on the bed, naked and tangled in the sheets. The door to the suite barely made a sound when he closed it. It wasn’t a very long walk home from the hotel, and he was ready for a hot breakfast and an even hotter shower.
Seireadan cursed quietly at the bright morning sun streaming through her bedroom window. She slowly opened her eyes, turned over and squeezed them shut, willing it to be nighttime again. A moment later, she sat straight up in the bed with a grouchy sigh.
“It’s your own friggin’ fault,” she muttered to herself. “Just work on the site for a few more minutes, you said. Just another half-hour and then you’ll go out. Famous last words. You wasted yet another Saturday night working.”
And now Seireadan only had half of Sunday to herself because she’d promised to take an extra shift at Sacred Circle, a New Age spirituality shop where she worked part-time reading Tarot cards. She didn’t need the money; her Web design business was doing quite well, but being self-employed meant being by herself for long stretches of time. Sacred Circle gave Seireadan a chance to actually interact with people other than her clients.
Sacred Circle’s owner, Julia Orlando, had been thrilled when Seireadan joined the team since Seireadan was one of the few Fae who possessed the Sight. That meant, on rare occasions, she actually could see glimpses of someone’s future. Fae with this particular talent were called Ravens, homage to the birds that represented wisdom in their culture.
“Next weekend, you will take Saturday off,” Seireadan said to her reflection in the mirror. “You will go out Saturday night and try having a life. And on Sunday, you’ll spend the day doing absolutely nothing related to work.” Her dark mahogany hair was a mess, so she caught it back in a thick elastic band. After fishing a pair of running capris and a t-shirt out of the laundry, she tied on her sneakers and headed out for a run to clear her head before she was due at Sacred Circle.
From her apartment on Emerson Street, she headed to East Broadway and then up L Street until it became Summer. She followed Summer all the way to the Fort Point Channel and then ran the Harborwalk over to the Federal Courthouse. As she looped the court, she passed the new Liberty Pier condominiums before turning onto Fan Pier. Keeping up a steady pace, she crossed Seaport Avenue and cut through so she could run the other side of the Harborwalk, which threaded behind Independence Wharf, the Intercontinental Hotel, and eventually the Federal Reserve building. From there it would be a final sprint back to her apartment.
As Seireadan jogged down the steps at Independence Wharf, she ran past a Fae man in dark pants and a badly wrinkled shirt. The clothes were too nice, and too rumpled, for so early on a Sunday morning. That plus the disheveled hair, sunglasses, and air of arrogant satisfaction told her he was heading home after a fling. Despite that, she still caught her breath slightly. He’s… magnificent.
Given her pace, Seireadan passed him in a moment and continued on her way. She didn’t see him turn to give her ass an admiring and appreciative glance, but she felt the weight of his gaze and it sent a thrill through her. After her run, Seireadan made sure she was showered and at the shop 15 minutes before it opened. She took a sip of her coffee, appreciating the sweet, creamy flavor; she’d never cared much for the bitterness of black coffee, preferring hers extra sweet and extra light.
Julia smiled when she came in. “Hey, Seireadan. Thanks for covering for Lanna today. I know it means a lot for her to go see her niece’s ballet recital.”
“Not a problem. Just us today?” Seireadan pushed her hair back over one ear, revealing a set of seven amethyst stud earrings that cascaded along her right ear up to the elegantly tapered tip. They were a lovely compliment to her eyes, which were also a deep violet-purple, a trait that ran in certain Fae families.
“Only for the start of the day. Nick and Carrie will also be in.”
Good, I can catch up with them if we have some down time. My shifts haven’t overlapped with Carrie for quite a while. Carrie did reflexology and acupressure treatments, and Nick did Reiki energy sessions. The services were a nice addition to the books, crystals, oils, and other items the shop sold. It’s a good group, and I’m lucky none of them are put off by the fact that I’m a Raven. The Sight was rare and it had only happened to Seireadan once at Sacred Circle—everyone on the team took it in stride once they realized she was okay. Not all humans had been so accepting over the years; Seireadan had learned quickly that many humans didn’t understand her ability and it frightened them.
“Those are great earrings, by the way. Perfect color to highlight those gorgeous eyes of yours,” said Julia.
“Thank you.” Seireadan appreciated the compliment. She let the coffee warm her from the inside. Julia kept the air conditioning at her store fairly high, so even in the summer, it was always a little chilly inside. Seireadan flipped through the appointment book. There were three booked readings today, but that left plenty of room for walk-ins. As she waited for her first appointment, Seireadan helped around the shop, putting out samples of new crystals—moonstone, labradorite, smoky quartz, bloodstone, ocean and moss agates, and several others.
She stepped back and gave the shelf a critical look. She moved one of the moonstones so it caught the display light better, and then glanced at the clock. It was almost time for her appointment and Seireadan preferred to get her first impression of a client in her reading room, where there weren’t a lot of outside distractions. The room itself was small and cozy. In the center was a circular table covered with a plush green cloth with a leaf and vines pattern woven into it. Several soft lights illuminated the space—four were embedded in Himalayan salt lamps–and Seireadan made sure there was just the smallest hint of sandalwood in the air.
The mid-weight drape that served as a door pulled back and Julia let the client walk into the room before drawing the “door” closed. The young woman stood for a moment and looked around and Seireadan watched her quietly. She was probably in her mid-twenties, no older, and looked uncertain. Pretty, but not remarkable, she had short chestnut hair, hazel eyes, and a smattering of freckles across her nose.
“Hello,” said Seireadan. “Please, sit down. You must be Anna.”
For a moment, Anna froze, looking stunned. “How… how did you know my name?”
Seireadan smiled. “Sweetie, I read your name in the appointment book out front.”
Anna flushed and offered a self-conscious laugh. “Wow, that was probably the dumbest question ever.”
“Not at all. You’d be surprised how many people ask that exact same thing,” Seireadan reassured her, hoping she’d feel less awkward.
“This is the first Tarot reading I’ve ever done,” Anna said as she sat down and looked around the room.
“Really? Wonderful. Then before we start, I want to tell you a couple things. First, this is your reading. You can share whatever you like, but I won’t tell anyone about what we discussed. Second, the future is not set in stone. If you don’t like what we see in the cards today, then it is up to you to make deliberate, thoughtful choices to change it. The cards advise about the future, they don’t dictate it. Does that all make sense?” As she was talking, Seireadan pulled a deck of cards out of a velvet pouch and started to shuffle them like she was dealing poker at a Vegas table.
“Yes, it does.” Anna stared at the cards as Seireadan put the stack down right in front of her.
“Now, you shuffle them, and as you do, think about what you want to know about.”
Anna picked the cards up tentatively. “How long do I shuffle them for?”
“Until you feel done. Now concentrate on your question.”
Shutting her eyes, Anna took a deep breath and shuffled while Seireadan watched and waited, wondering if she’d get the sharp tingle that preceded the Sight. She exhaled softly when nothing happened. If I were going to See anything connected to Anna, I would have Seen it by now. The realization was a relief for Seireadan; as far as she was concerned, the Sight was more burden than blessing.
Within the Faerie world, each faerie—regardless of race—had the capacity for magic, but like intellect, athletic ability, and beauty, each had it in different amounts. Within the Fae, a small number possessed the Sight—the ability to See glimpses of the future—and were often sought for counsel. But the Sight was a fickle thing, coming and going as it pleased. It could not be demanded, commanded, or cajoled. But Ravens, as these gifted Fae were called, tended to have sharper insights and instincts even when not engulfed by the Sight. It was one of the reasons Seireadan was so good at the readings she did for Julia’s shop.
Once Anna put the cards down, Seireadan took the deck and pulled the first five cards off the top, and one at a time, she turned them over so she could see the illustrations. The first card was The Lovers. The second, The Tower. Third was Ten of Swords. After that came the Knight of Cups, and last was the Three of Cups. She tried not to frown, knowing it would worry her client.
“Well, it looks like your question is about a relationship.” Seireadan tapped The Lovers. “You’re wondering when you’re going to find someone.”
“It sounds so lame when you say it like that.” Anna rolled her eyes.
“It can be really hard to not have someone. I don’t, and sometimes it gets really lonely.” It was the truth; it had been a long time since Seireadan had been in any kind of steady relationship.
“You don’t have a boyfriend? You?” Anna was surprised that someone who looked like Seireadan didn’t have a suitor. By human standards, all Fae tended to be beautiful and alluring, and Seireadan was no exception to that rule.
Unexpectedly, an image of the handsome Fae man she’d noticed during her run appeared in Seireadan’s memory. She brushed the thought away before she answered. “No, I don’t. Fae relationships are… complicated. But that’s neither here nor there… this is your reading.”
“Okay. What else do these cards tell you?” asked Anna. She smiled shyly.
“Well, this card—the Tower—is about abrupt change, and sometimes that kind of change can be painful. You can see here how the lightning is striking the Tower and waves are pounding the base. Then, right after The Tower came the Ten of Swords, and this card is all about pain and loss. Feeling like the worst has happened.”
Anna’s eyes got big. “Something awful is going to happen to me?”
Seireadan wasn’t going to lie to her. “It’s possible. But the feeling I get is that it will be more upsetting, unpleasant… and very abrupt.” The Tower and the Ten could be bad news, but they weren’t the whole story. She tapped the next card to take Anna’s attention away from the darker cards.
“But here we have the Knight of Cups, and Cups are connected with water, emotion, and healing. The Knight is riding out of the waves—so out of this unexpected chaos and pain we see in the Ten and the Tower, something or someone good is arriving. But you’ll need to watch for it, otherwise it might get lost in all the noise.”
“And then I’d lose my chance?” Anna sounded sad.
“Possibly, but I don’t think it will be too hard to notice this Knight when he arrives; just don’t assume it will hit you over the head. You always need to pay attention to what’s going on around you and inside you.” She let Anna think about that for a minute before she continued. “This last card represents the resolution to your question. The final outcome. Tell me, what do you see here?”
Anna peered at the card: the illustration showed three young women laughing and dancing. “I see happy people.”
“I agree; very happy people dancing and laughing. So I think the answer to your question from the beginning is happiness.”
“I guess that means if there’s happiness coming, I won’t be an old maid?” Anna tried to make light of it, but couldn’t quite quell the fear in her voice.
“I don’t need to read cards to know that won’t happen to you, Anna. But now that your question is answered, may I ask why you’re so worried?”
Anna looked at the floor. “In the past year, two of my friends at work had babies, and my best friend from college got married. And two others are engaged. I feel like I don’t have anything in common with them anymore.”
“The cards do say it will all work out,” Seireadan reassured her. “I think you’re going to find what you’re looking for, but it won’t be right away. There’s going to be difficulty, something that could change you in unexpected ways, before you get where you’re going. But once you’re there? It will be good… and worth it.”
Anna’s face lit up. “That’s awesome. I’m so glad I came here!”
Seireadan collected the loose cards and shuffled the deck a few times before tucking it back into the velvet pouch. She walked Anna to the front of the store so she could pay Julia, and then found something to do until the next appointment. She ended up doing five readings. Three were scheduled; two were walk-ins. None resulted in a true Seeing.
Just after closing, Seireadan said goodnight to Julia and left Sacred Circle. Part way through the small parking lot, she paused as she realized she wasn’t alone. She looked to her left and her lips pressed into a thin line. A Fae man with wheat-brown hair and the shadow of a moustache watched her with contempt.
“Why are you here, Cavan?”
“You didn’t come to the last Gathering.”
“Gatherings have never been mandatory; I was busy.” It was a small lie. Seireadan hadn’t been busy, but the thought of spending time with Cavan was always reason enough to stay away. You’ve hated me since the day I refused your marriage proposal and my father honored my decision.
“You spend too much time away from your people.”
Her voice frosted even more in response to the loathing she heard in his words. “Apart from my people? Please. There are precious few of ‘my people’ that I care to associate with.”
“You waste yourself among the humans.”
Seireadan shrugged slightly, loosening her shoulders, as she felt a spark of anger stirring. “The humans have proven more trustworthy than many Fae. Like the one who lied and murdered my family during the Desolation…” Old pain bubbled up inside her, flaming the anger.
A disgusted sigh from Cavan interrupted her. “Are you still clinging to that ridiculous idea after all this time? That someone deliberately guided that spell at your family?”
“I Saw it. I Saw HIM.” She ground the words out between her teeth.
“You had a nightmare, nothing more.”
“It was the Sight,” said Seireadan stubbornly.
“You just feel guilty that you weren’t there to die with your parents, so you make up stories about Seeing. Stupid, stupid girl. Everyone knows the Sight doesn’t manifest until puberty. Your father opposed the Prince; he got what he deserved…”
“Shut your fucking mouth!” In a heartbeat, Seireadan grabbed Cavan by the throat with her left hand and pulled a hidden knife from the back of her belt with her right. She slammed him back against a car in the lot and pressed the tip of the blade between two ribs. Cavan’s eyes rounded in shock, which quickly shifted to fear.
Her voice was no more than a low growl. “Don’t ever talk about my parents again or I will tear your throat out. Yes, I was a child, but I Saw it, and someday, I’ll find the Fae I know is responsible. The one who LIED about my parents sheltering Bryn and Conlan.” In her mind, Seireadan could see the pale eyes and cold, alabaster skin of the Fae man she knew was responsible.
She dropped her hand away and Cavan drew in a ragged breath, rubbing the red mark on his neck. He glared hotly at Seireadan, but she didn’t move. She kept the hilt of the knife in her hand, pressing the blade against her arm in case Cavan did something unexpected and stupid.
“Feral little bitch,” he wheezed before he walked away.
Back at her apartment, Seireadan went to her closet and rummaged in the back, finally pulling out a long wooden box. Inside, wrapped in a tattered bag, was an ancient-looking sword. The scabbard was worn from use and Seireadan put her hand on it lightly.
“You belonged to my father, to my family. Someday. Someday, I will find my Alabaster Man and I will use you to run him through.” She whispered the promise to herself and the sword before she wrapped it back up and tucked it back in the closet.
At Asmodeus Ink, Donnie and Wharf Rat were working with clients and Kerry had run out for coffee. Aohdan was in the back office looking over the books. His eyes skimmed over the numbers and he nodded to himself. Business was up 15 percent in the past three months. While Aohdan had many other business ventures in the city, all intended to be as profitable as possible, Asmodeus was the one he owned because he loved it. Making a profit here was a bonus.
Nearby, Jimmy McLaren lounged in a chair playing a game on his phone. Aohdan’s smile faded as he watched the young man. He should be running errands for Galen, not sitting on his ass doing nothing. Before he could say anything, the bell for the front door rang and Aohdan went out to the front of the shop. The first was a young man who started to browse the shelves and displays. Behind him were Oisin and Rory. Aohdan flicked his head toward the office and approached his new customer.
“Looking for something in particular?”
“Thinking about getting a piercing—probably the nose.”
“Well, have a look at these.” Aohdan steered him toward a glass case where there were trays full of piercing options for ears, noses, navels, nipples, and any other body part a person might be interested in ornamenting. The customer bell rang again as Kerry bustled in with a tray full of coffee. She had multiple piercings in each ear, a ring and stud in her nose, and through her shirt, it was evident she had some sort of belly button piercing as well. Aohdan took his coffee, turned the customer over to Kerry, and went back to his office. Oisin and Rory were sitting in front of the desk, and Jimmy was still fiddling with his phone.
“Hey. Jimmy Boy.” Aohdan’s voice was sharp and Jimmy looked up furtively like he’d been caught napping in class.
“Yea, boss?” He tried to look like he’d been paying attention and Aohdan raised his eyebrows before he glanced at his captains and then back at Jimmy. Jimmy Boy should have left the office the instant Rory and Oisin came in. His lack of attention, plus the fact that he was sitting on his ass playing games, was really starting to irritate Aohdan.
“Get the fuck out of my office and go make yourself useful!”
Jimmy Boy scrambled out of his seat and left the room so fast he nearly forgot to close the door behind him, but he managed to recover before Aohdan said anything.
“I don’t know why you keep him around,” said Rory. “Weak-minded, lazy sonofabitch, that’s all he is.”
Aohdan didn’t answer Rory; he just looked at the door. If you were anyone else’s son, I would have cut you loose a long time ago, Jimmy. And in that instant, he could almost taste the blood in his mouth again…
Aohdan’s lungs burned, desperate for air, and the coppery taste of blood lingered at the back of his throat as he grabbed fruitlessly at the two pairs of arms holding him under the water. Grinding his teeth together, Aohdan willed himself to not inhale. It was going to be a shitty way to die. A moment later one set of hands disappeared and then the other and Aohdan broke the surface of the water, gasping and gulping air into his starving lungs. He grabbed onto one of the dock posts, but it was slick with algae and he couldn’t get a grip. Exhausted, he felt himself start to sink back into the water until two strong hands grabbed the back of his shirt and hauled him up onto the dock. Aohdan lay there, coughing up water, and pushed himself up to his knees.
“You okay?” asked a gruff voice.
Aohdan didn’t answer; he was too busy getting his orientation as he climbed to his feet, hoping he wasn’t going to have to fight anyone in the next five minutes.
“Damn,” his rescuer said as he looked up at Aohdan. “You’re a big sonofabitch, aren’t you?”
“What happened to…? Why did you…?” Aohdan was still getting his bearings.
“Pipe to the side of the head for one and a good, swift kick in the balls for the other. I’m Danny McLaren. Work here on the docks. Just doesn’t seem right to me to stand by and watch a man get drowned. Plus, cops would close this dock down to investigate and I’d lose a day or two of pay.” The dock man’s grin was genuine and showed he was missing a few teeth.
“I’m glad you feel that way.” Aohdan held out his hand. “Name’s Aohdan Collins. Very nice to meet you, Danny. I owe you one.”
Aohdan pulled himself out of the memory. “Forget about Jimmy Boy. I want you both to go sweep the area around the Woodridge office. Make sure no one is hanging around before our meeting. I don’t want anyone putting their nose in our business.”
As comfortable as Aohdan was the jeans and tank top he wore to Asmodeus, they simply wouldn’t do for his next meeting. He grabbed a quick shower at his condo and changed into dress pants and a blue button-down shirt. He looked at a few ties and decided against that much formality. Galen and Kieran were already at the Woodridge Consulting office when he arrived.
Located in a modest little building in Southie, the lobby listed Woodridge Consulting as occupying one of the two suites on the second floor. It was registered to a holding company from the UK and—like Underworld—Aohdan’s name was nowhere obvious on any of the paperwork. Asmodeus was the only business he owned up front, and he tried very hard to keep it separate from any of his other ventures. This location has served its purpose and I think I’ll hang onto it, but it will be just as well once Galen gets the new offices built at Underworld. I don’t like having so many different locations to do business.
A short time later, Oisin and Rory joined them in the conference room. The shades were drawn and Galen took a velvet pouch out of his pocket. Inside were four clear quartz crystals and he put one in each corner of the room. Sitting down in his plush leather chair, he took a calming breath and concentrated before murmuring the words of a Fae spell designed to prevent eavesdropping. Magic swirled in the room, and as soon as it did, Galen felt the pain start behind his eyes. He concentrated for a minute more and was satisfied with the result.
“Are we good?” asked Aohdan, concerned. I hate how Luan’s insanity has ruined Fae magic. In Faerie, Galen could have extended this spell for miles and held it for at least a day. Here, he can barely contain this room for an hour, and he’ll pay for it tomorrow, but none of my other captains can do it.
Galen nodded, his eyes tightening.
“Then let’s get to it,” said Aohdan. “Start with how your areas are doing.”
For the next 20 minutes, he listened to each captain talk about different businesses they helped manage for Aohdan. Debt collection was on track and Oisin had made headway with the upcoming union vote on the docks. Galen gave an extensive overview of Underworld’s progress as well as the plans to expand the office area. Rory updated the group on the bookmaking endeavor he was working on and expanding into some new areas.
“And what about your deal, Kieran?”
“Louis and Greer are no’ convinced, so Chris is bringing them here.” As if on cue, Kieran’s phone beeped.
“Chris is bringing them? He’s not Fae. He doesn’t need to know this much of our business,” snapped Rory.
“Enough,” Aohdan ordered. “Chris has been part of my crew for years; I absolutely trust him.” Aohdan didn’t care for Rory’s anti-human bias, but since it had never interfered with his captain’s work, Aohdan never pressed the issue.
Kieran picked up his phone. “Chris? Bring them to the office. You do no’ have to stay; I’ll put them in a cab to get them home.” He hung up and gave Rory a look. “Satisfied?”
Rory’s eyes flashed angrily.
“I said enough.” It was a stern warning from Aohdan. When he heard steps in the office, he nodded to Kieran who opened the conference room door. Out in the main office were two men dressed in dark suits, one a human and one a faerie, a Selkie to be exact. Kieran gestured for them to come into the room.
“Mr. Collins,” said the Selkie.
“Aohdan is fine. Please, come in.”
Both men looked decidedly uncomfortable as Kieran indicated they should sit in the two empty seats. Once they were settled, he asked, “You brought the items?”
“We did,” said Greer. The Selkie handed a tied suede roll to Kieran who passed it down to Aohdan. The dark-haired Fae unrolled it and looked over a handful of gems. He picked up one after the other and examined them carefully under a jeweler’s glass.
“These are magnificent. And I’m impressed with your plan for bringing them into the city without any excessive paperwork. Sourcing gems from embargoed countries can be tricky business,” Aohdan said after a long pause.
“Clearly we weren’t careful enough,” muttered Louis sourly.
Aohdan’s smile was feral as he dropped a two-carat sapphire onto the cloth and leaned back in his chair. “Perhaps you misunderstand me. I’ve got no beef with your bringing the stones in, but I think you’d benefit from some assistance.”
“Assistance for a price; you don’t do anything for free,” said Greer. Tall and slender, his dark brown hair was pulled back into a smooth ponytail.
“You’ll speak to the Patriarch with a little more respect,” growled Oisin as he leaned forward in his chair. He started to stand, but a subtle gesture from Aohdan made him subside.
Aohdan pressed his fingers together. “I ought to be insulted. I do plenty of things out of the goodness of my heart, but in this case you’re right. For a price, I can make your lives very easy and very lucrative. I can make sure customs and security don’t bother your ships when they come in. That would make things easier, yes?”
“It would,” Greer admitted. He looked at Louis who gave a snort of displeasure.
Aohdan let them stew for a moment. They don’t really have a choice. I can simply have Kieran take whatever jewels they bring in, or a word in the right ear at the police department would ruin them in short order.
“What do you propose?” asked Greer.
“I think 50 percent would be fair,” said Aohdan.
Louis sputtered and his face turned a blotchy red. “Fifty percent? HALF?”
“I was going to say 75.” The little humor Aohdan’s smile held disappeared as his eyes narrowed.
“What I think Louis is trying to say is that 50 seems a bit high, considering we take on all the risk and all of the ground work,” said Greer. “If anything goes sideways, we’re the ones holding the bag. We’d lose everything and end up in jail. You’d only lose some money.”
Silent, Aohdan sat and watched the two would-be jewel smugglers. One minute turned into three and then into five. Greer and Louis started to sweat under his scrutiny, but continued to wait. Then, a more genuine smile started to curl the edges of Aohdan’s mouth.
“You raise a good point. Forty percent.”
“Deal,” said Greer before Louis could say anything else that might irritate Aohdan. He reached out and shook Aohdan’s hand. Louis followed suit reluctantly. Aohdan picked up the sapphire one more time to admire it. Then he put it back on the cloth, wrapped everything up, and handed all of the gems to Louis, who looked a bit baffled.
“Why are you surprised? They belong to you,” said Aohdan. “One of my associates will be in touch with you to discuss setting up a time to review and evaluate your next shipment, which is when I’ll start taking my percentage. I trust you will give him all the information he needs?”
Still somewhat perplexed by the return of their gems, the two men nodded. “Of course,” said Greer. “Have him ask for me.”
“Excellent. I’ll also make sure you get the proper non-disclosure paperwork. All of my business arrangements are, of course, highly confidential, and I take privacy very, very seriously.” Aohdan gestured toward the door, dismissing them. If either took offense, they didn’t show it; both wanted to be out of that room—with their jewels—as quickly as possible. Rory shut the door behind them.
“I would no’ completely trust Louis,” said Kieran.
“No, neither would I. But for now, giving the gems back surprised them.” The leather of the chair creaked as Aohdan shifted his weight.
“Louis will eventually get comfortable and get greedy. He thinks he’s smarter than he is, and he doesn’t like having terms dictated to him,” said Galen. Although his eyes were closed and he was pinching the bridge of his nose, he’d been paying careful attention to the conversation.
Aohdan agreed with his Second’s observation. “He will get greedy, so we’ll need to make sure there is an accurate inventory of what’s coming in. Fair’s fair, after all.”
“And if he gets too greedy?” asked Rory as he ran a hand through his red hair.
“We’ll deal with that when it happens. Now, I have one other thing to discuss,” said Aohdan. “Do you have the bandwidth, Galen?”
Galen took a deep breath and sat back in his chair. “Yes,” he said, but based on how his fingers sank into the armrests, Aohdan knew he was struggling.
“I’m a little concerned the cops are going to start mucking around in my business again and I want to avoid that, so be especially careful with anything you do,” said Aohdan.
“Is this because of that jackass detective you mentioned on Saturday?” asked Rory. “I can handle that fast and quick.”
“No, leave it alone,” said Aohdan. “Dead cops are too much trouble and attention. I don’t want any of that. I’m going to be bringing a proposal to Matriarch Baibin about the future of Providence. And if she bites, I’ll need all of you to make this work.”
“If she doesn’t bite?” asked Oisin shrewdly, his normal joking façade gone.
“We’ll also deal with that when the time comes.” Aohdan stood up from his chair. “I think that’s enough business for today. Let’s get a drink and some dinner.”
Seireadan stood with her arms folded, glaring at her closet. It was Saturday night and true to her promise to herself, she was going out. Unfortunately, she was going solo. Her best friend, Lia, was out of town on a long-term consulting gig, but Seireadan wasn’t going to let that stop her. Pulling two dresses out, she quickly discarded them. Too light. Too frumpy. She grabbed the next one and immediately tossed it on the bed. Way too slutty… what was I thinking when I bought THAT? Oh, right. I was shopping with Lia and she talked me into it.
Thinking of Lia made her smile. Seireadan picked the dress back up and gave it a critical look before dumping it back on the bed. Slutty was not the look she was going for. She pulled out one more dress and held it up. This would do; it was a relatively simple black dress, but it was covered with a light smattering of black sequins, giving just a hint of flash and sparkle. The neck was scooped and the sleeves were long, and the clingy material fit well through the body and hips until the cut of the skirt allowed it to flare as she moved. She hung the dress on the closet door and grabbed a pair of shoes: black heels with faux diamond accents. Satisfied the outfit was suitable, she pulled her shirt over her head and stepped out of her yoga pants.
She indulged in a hot shower, letting the water cascade over her as she scrubbed herself with a new lemon-essence sugar scrub she’d found at Sacred Circle. It smelled divine. Once she was dried off, she blew her hair out so the natural wave relaxed a little, and put on just a touch of makeup. If there was one thing she couldn’t stand, it was seeing a woman try too hard by caking on the makeup. She pulled on the dress, cursing at the zipper, and then slipped on her heels. Lastly, she decided on a set of diamond studs to run up the edge of her ear. Taking one last look at herself in the full-length mirror behind her door, she deemed herself more than presentable for a night on the town and headed out for her evening.
“The Seaport area,” she told the cabbie when she got in. As they pulled away from the curb, she saw him glance at her in the rear view, look down and then glance again. It wasn’t uncommon; she attracted enough appreciative glances from men of both races on a regular day, but when she dressed up, there was always a noticeable increase.
She settled back in her seat and looked out the window at the buildings. Like South Boston, the Seaport District was booming with new businesses, condos, restaurants, shops, and clubs. She went to Club Zee first. There wasn’t much of a line in front, but as she got closer, a pack of loud, well-inebriated young men arrived. They hooted and hollered at her and made a few lewd comments. She elected to go somewhere else. Hit on was one thing, hounded was a different story. I don’t want to deal with that shit all night, or get kicked out when I break someone’s nose. Maybe I’ll try Underworld. That’s only a few blocks away. She put a touch of feminine swagger in her step and walked down the sidewalk.
Once she got inside, Seireadan knew Underworld was a good choice. She found a seat at the bar and entertained herself by watching the eclectic crowd. She guessed nearly a third of the people there had origins in Faerie. A young Selkie, barely old enough to be in the club, approached her and offered to buy her a drink and based on his frequent glances at his three fairly dumbstruck companions, Seireadan guessed that they’d dared him to chat her up, assuming she’d shoot him down. While Seireadan wasn’t looking for someone to take home with her, she also wasn’t opposed to the idea.
But this one is too young for me. She told the Selkie a gentle lie about waiting for her boyfriend but that if she was single, she absolutely would have let him buy her that drink. He retreated to his friend and she was glad he hadn’t pushed his offer; she’d had to fend off aggressive suitors before and it was never fun, especially on the few occasions where she’d had to demonstrate her rather formidable right hook.
Underworld’s bartender, an Asian man with a shocking stripe of blond in his dark hair, asked if she wanted a refill on her White Hot Peach Sangria, but she declined for the moment. A few minutes later, he returned and put a Sour Apple Martini down in front of her. Seireadan eyed the neon-green drink with suspicion.
“From Romeo down there at the end of the bar,” said the bartender. “I told him you were drinking the sangria, but he insisted on this.”
“I see.” Seireadan looked down the bar and saw a thin human man staring at her. He looked young, barely 21 by her guess, and he was hurrying to tuck in his shirt and smooth back his hair. Then he started to nervously twist the Claddagh ring on his finger.
That one will have trouble taking ‘no’ for an answer. Seireadan offered only the slightest nod and took a drink of her sangria, not wanting to encourage him at all.
Galen was pleased with the night’s crowd, and the line outside the door was down the block. As he got closer to the bar, he noticed Jimmy Boy fiddling with his clothes and then nervously twisting the ring that had belonged to his father. What the hell has him all jittery? Looking down the bar, it didn’t take long to see the very lovely Fae woman with the extra drink in front of her. I give him credit for trying, but Jimmy will never land a woman like that. Not in this lifetime. He handed Tommy two bottles of rum to replace the ones that were running low and continued to watch Seireadan.
“Don’t get your hopes up, Jimmy. That one will disappoint you.”
“Screw you, Galen. You don’t know that.”
Galen slapped him on the back of the head, hard.
“Ow! Fuck, that hurt.”
“Then watch your mouth when you talk to me,” Galen growled.
Jimmy looked sullen. “I’m going to go talk to her.”
“She’s not interested,” Galen told him.
“She didn’t send the drink back, did she?”
You’re an idiot. She hasn’t sent it back, but she hasn’t taken a sip, either. And she’s deliberately not looking down here anymore. In fact, based on her body language, Galen surmised she was getting ready to leave. Jimmy started to walk toward her, but Galen caught his arm. “You’re going to be shit out of luck anyway because you have some things to take care of.”
“Things? What things?” He tried to step around Galen, but Galen moved in front of him so Jimmy had to look up to see him.
“THINGS,” Galen said with emphasis.
“Oh.” Jimmy deflated a little. That meant Aohdan wanted something done. “What’s up?”
“Apparently your last conversation with Dimitri about the importance of paying back a gambling debt wasn’t persuasive enough. You need to have another discussion with him—a much more serious one.”
“I’ll take care of it tomorrow…” Jimmy tried to look around Galen toward Seireadan.
“Now. You’ll take care of it now,” Galen said firmly.
“Jesus, fine. Yes, I’ll fucking take care of it now.” Jimmy rolled his eyes and stalked away from Galen, and on his way out, he stopped next to Seireadan. She glanced at him and took another drink of her sangria.
“Hey, beautiful. I’m Jimmy. Enjoy the martini. I have to take care of something important for my boss, but I’ll be back. Then we can have a drink together.” He gave her a wink and a smile and sauntered out of the club. Seireadan breathed a sigh of relief and drank the last of her sangria. She was about to push away from the bar when another man started to talk to her; he was well dressed and had short, dark brown hair.
“I’d like to apologize if he bothered you, Miss. I’m Galen Grey, the manager here. Jimmy’s an employee, and not only should he not be bothering guests, he should also be gone for a couple hours. Please don’t feel like you need to leave on his account. In fact… Tommy!” Galen called the bartender over. “If this young lady would like another sangria, it is on the house.”
“You got it, Mr. Grey.” Tommy put a small red chip on the bar in front of Seireadan.
“Thank you,” she said to both of them.
“My pleasure. If you need anything else, let Tommy know.” Galen offered a polite nod and returned to his work.
Aohdan slipped in through the back door of Underworld and went to the office. His last client at Asmodeus had taken much longer than he anticipated. He’d considered not going to Underworld tonight since Oisin and Rory were out of town on some business, but Galen and Kieran would certainly be up for a Saturday night of fun if he could get Galen to stop working long enough to enjoy it.
He waved at Kieran when he reached the main floor of the club, and as he wove through the crowd toward his regular table, he shook hands with and said hello to several people. There were, as always, a number of beautiful women on the dance floor. Out of the corner of his eye, he could see Galen walking toward him. He started to turn toward his second, but something at the bar caught his eye. He took a step to the side for a better look and when he got a look at Seireadan, he nearly forgot to breathe.
Aohdan had seen many beautiful women over the years but this one, this one was different. His eye wandered from the elegant black heels, up her legs until they disappeared beneath a sequined dress, and then he followed the curve of her body until it vanished beneath a fall of glossy, dark hair. There was an understated elegance and confidence about her as she turned slightly to look out at the dance floor, and he drank in her high cheekbones, violet eyes, and the diamonds accenting her lovely tapered ear.
“Aohdan?” Galen knew exactly whom his Patriarch was staring at.
“Now that’s what a Fae woman is all about.”
“You aren’t kidding. Jimmy Boy already took a run at her.”
“Our Jimmy?” Aohdan laughed, but never took his eyes off of Seireadan. “He’s got some balls, I’ll give him that.” Too bad he doesn’t have the brains to match.
“She wasn’t interested, but he doesn’t have the sense to stop. I sent him to take care of a couple errands before she left on his account.”
Aohdan didn’t answer Galen, but rather excused himself and went to the bar. With a subtle gesture, he brought Tommy over. They talked for a minute and Aohdan slipped Tommy a fifty-dollar bill.
Seireadan looked up at the bartender for the second time that night as he put another drink down in front of her. This one was the same sangria she’d been drinking plus a shot of whiskey. “I already had my on-the-house drink,” she said with a smile. “And I didn’t order a shot.”
“From the gentleman. And not the same one as last time,” said Tommy with a cheeky grin. “And the whiskey? It’s the good stuff…”
That brought a smile to Seireadan’s face and when she looked down the bar, she knew exactly who the gentleman was. Oh, shit. That’s Aohdan Collins! Her breath hitched when she saw how intently Aohdan was watching her with his dark eyes, waiting for her reaction. Even from this distance, he radiated a raw masculinity and confidence. His dark hair brushed his shoulders, and a very neatly trimmed beard and Van Dyke shadowed his face. It was cliché, but not only was he tall, dark, and handsome, but he had that dangerous, bad boy air about him that Seireadan liked so much.
For a split second, she hesitated. She’d heard the gossip and the stories about Aohdan and the harem of women he left in his wake. But then she raised the shot glass and smiled at him before downing the whiskey in a single gulp, feeling the burn slide down her throat. She watched Aohdan walked toward her, completely confident and self-assured, and when he arrived it only took a moment under his serious stare for the college kid in the seat next to her to take his beer and move to a new location. Aohdan sat and leaned an elbow on the bar.
“Thank you for the drink.” Seireadan took a sip of the new sangria and studied his face.
“You’re very welcome. I’m…”
“Oh, I know who you are,” she interrupted with a laugh.
He smiled, too. “Oh, you do, do you? Tell me then, who am I?”
“You’re Aohdan Collins, and you’re not just any Fae.” She dropped her voice to a whisper. “You’re the Patriarch of the city.”
Other than the slight widening of his eyes and the smallest twitch in his smile, Seireadan would have never known she had surprised him. “Then you have me at a distinct disadvantage…”
“Seireadan. Seireadan Moore,” she answered.
Her contralto voice thrilled Aohdan, as did the fact that she actually managed to surprise him. Seireadan. He rolled the name through his mind. It meant ‘wild one’ or ‘untamed,’ and Aohdan leaned a little closer to her. It took some effort not to just kiss her then and there, and he could feel his heart pounding. I can’t remember the last woman who made me feel like this. “And what do you do, Seireadan Moore?”
“Do you mean the Fae world or here?” She gestured around at the teeming club.
“Both. Either.” Aohdan took a drink of his beer and waited.
“I’m a web designer. I own Moore Creative Media. I also read Tarot cards at Sacred Circle.”
“A fortune teller and a reader of futures,” he grinned as he said it, but his smile faded when her expression grew serious.
“Yes. I’m also a Raven.”
For the second time that night, Seireadan Moore surprised him. He’d met Ravens before and generally found them aloof and, frankly, annoying, but she didn’t have that standoffishness he found so grating. He looked at her intently, unable to tear his eyes away, as she took another deep drink of her sangria. She wet her lips with her tongue and he had to force himself not to stare. He felt hot, flushed, and all of his clothes felt too tight. Seireadan had completely and utterly captured his interest with just a few short sentences. She stood up from her chair and tucked her small clutch under her arm. Aohdan stood as well, a single fluid movement that kept him very close to her.
“Leaving? There’s still plenty of night ahead of us, Seireadan. We could go somewhere more private.” Aohdan slid his arm partly around her waist as he stepped a little closer. It was a bold move after so short a conversation, but there was chemistry here, and he was a man accustomed to getting whatever he wanted. The implication of a night filled with breathless, wanton sex hung between them.
Seireadan closed her eyes as her insides twisted and she tightened her grip on her wine glass to keep her hand from shaking. For a moment, she thought the Sight was going to consume her, but it didn’t. Nonetheless, she couldn’t shake the feeling that—despite how badly she wanted to share a bed with Aohdan—being a one-night stand with him was a mistake; that she was worth more than that.
Listen to your intuition; it’s there for a reason. She repeated the lesson her mother had often told her as a child.
“No. I don’t think so.”
No? Aohdan couldn’t remember the last time a woman had refused an invitation to spend the night with him, especially when the attraction was so blatant, and his bewilderment was clear on his face. His eyes searched hers and he saw the desire there.
“Believe me, it is a very tempting offer, but waking up alone at your favorite hotel tomorrow to an empty bed and a hot breakfast? Not something I’m interested in.”
“My favorite hotel room?”
Seireadan forged ahead. “People talk, and I’ve heard them say that’s where you take your women. A hotel, not your home. If I’m going to wake up alone, it’s going to be in my own bed.”
People talk? Aohdan was almost offended, but the fact that she had a mind of her own made Seireadan Moore even more desirable.
“If it is your own bed that you want…” He raised his eyebrows. “I could…”
“No, you’re not coming to my place.” She shook her head and laughed softly.
Frustrated but undeterred, Aohdan pressed his suit. “I want to see you again. Will you come back to Underworld? Maybe we could have dinner?”
She looked up at him through her thick eyelashes. “Maybe.”
In an effort to get back to Underworld as soon as possible, Jimmy Boy had made short work of his errands, impressing Aohdan’s displeasure with Dimitri by leaving him beaten and bloody in an alley. Back at Underworld, he pushed through the crowd, jostling several people including Kieran who cursed at him. His face fell when he saw Aohdan was having a very intimate conversation with the Fae woman he’d tried to impress. She laughed at something Aohdan said and Jimmy realized the Sour Apple Martini was still on the bar, untouched.
Goddamn it. I saw her first. He’s going to fuck my girl.
From behind him, Jimmy heard Kieran’s voice. “Do no’ feel too badly, she was out of your league anyway.”
“I saw her first,” Jimmy whined, sullen, as he turned back to watch Aohdan and Seireadan. His fists clenched when they stood and Aohdan pulled her closer. All Jimmy could think about was her naked in bed with Aohdan and not him. But then she walked away, leaving Aohdan standing by the bar.
“Look!” he crowed. “She’s leaving… without him. The mighty Aohdan isn’t going to get the girl tonight. I told you she was mine.”
“Keep your mouth shut with talk like that,” warned Galen.
Kieran agreed. “Rubbing this in Aohdan’s face would no’ be a good idea.”
Jimmy walked away, acting smug and somehow vindicated, but no one really paid attention. Kieran and Galen were still much more interested in watching their Patriarch who still stood at the bar looking confounded. Aohdan waved down Tommy and got another shot of whiskey, which he downed in a swallow, and then he stared at the door as if willing Seireadan to walk back in. Abruptly, he turned away from the bar and headed back to the offices.
A beam of afternoon sun wandered through the office window as Aohdan tapped a finger slowly on the pile of papers he was supposedly reviewing, but instead of looking at the sheets, he was looking out the window. Oisin looked at Galen who offered little more than a non-committal shrug. Aohdan had been utterly distracted for the past three days.
“Aohdan! Hey! Seriously, dude. Where are you? Because you sure aren’t here in this room.” Oisin finally raised his voice and knocked on the desk.
Oisin is absolutely right. I should be paying attention to his update on Providence. But all he could think about was Seireadan. “Sorry,” Aohdan said with a shake of his head. “Distracted today.”
Aohdan refocused on the discussion they were having, and fifteen minutes later, Oisin finished and left with a punch list of things to follow up on, including paving the way for Aohdan to meet with Providence’s Matriarch. Galen followed him out and once they were in the hall with the door behind them closed, Oisin looked sharply at Galen.
“What’s going on with him? He’s crazy distracted.”
“A woman,” answered Galen. “Met her here on Saturday. Chatted her up. I don’t think he got her number.”
“He didn’t charm the panties off this one?”
“No, but he wants to. I think that’s where his head’s at.”
“Both of them.” Oisin snickered like a 12-year-old boy.
Back in the office, Aohdan leaned back in the chair and put his feet on the desk. On the laptop screen next to him was the home page for Moore Creative Media. He flipped through some of the pages on the site and took a careful look at Seireadan’s samples and references. She’d designed websites for everything from little boutiques to larger financial firms. Each one was unique and eye-catching, but not cluttered. He was impressed. Clicking on the Contact page, he stared at the email and phone number for a minute before grabbing his phone.
It rang twice before Seireadan’s voice came on the other end. “Moore Creative Media, how may we help you?”
“Seireadan Moore, please.”
“Seireadan, hello. This is Aohdan.”
On her end of the phone, Seireadan smiled in spite of herself.
“From the club,” he added when she didn’t say anything right away.
“Oh, I remember you, Aohdan-from-the-club.” There was a laugh in her voice that made his entire body respond.
“Good, I’m glad you remember. I really enjoyed talking to you and thought maybe we could continue the conversation. Over dinner on Saturday?”
“I can make that work. What time?”
“I’ll come get you at 6:00. Dinner at 7:00.”
“Perfect. Do you want my address or would you prefer to track it down yourself?”
“Might be easier if you just told me.” There was a rumble of humor in his voice.
Seireadan gave him her address and they chatted for a few more minutes so Aohdan could learn what kinds of food she liked. When he finally hung up the phone, he looked at the stack of paper and elected to ignore it: daydreaming about Seireadan was far more appealing.
For their first official date, Aohdan was determined to impress Seireadan. He’d made reservations for them at Top of the Hub, a restaurant offering amazing views of the city. For a while it had been a premier location in the city, but had fallen from favor in recent years. The arrival of an ambitious new chef, however, had breathed fresh new life into the venue. He found a parking spot about a half-block from Seireadan’s apartment and pulled his sleek Audi RS7 sedan over to the curb. Pulling down the visor, he fussed with his tie in the mirror before stopping himself.
I’m acting like I’ve never been out with a woman before. Pull your shit together, Collins, and calm down! Aohdan couldn’t remember the last time he’d been nervous about a date, but there was something about Seireadan. Something that tied him up in knots.
Dressed in a tailored suit with a tie, he walked up the sidewalk toward Seireadan’s apartment. He’d only managed to take two steps up the stairs when her door opened. Aohdan stopped and stared appreciatively. The deep blue dress hugged Seireadan’s curves and she’d pulled the sides of her long hair back. The heels of her shoes clicked on the steps.
“You look amazing,” he said. She glanced down and smiled at the compliment, and then took his offered arm.
“Same can be said for you,” she replied.
They exchanged a few mild pleasantries on the way to his car and Aohdan opened the passenger door for her. When they reached the restaurant, he gave his keys to the valet and offered Seireadan his arm again as they walked to the elevator. The maître d’ escorted them to a quiet table in the corner where they had an uninterrupted view of the city and the world beyond. The conversation was simple and light as they waited for their salads and main courses. Aohdan opted for the rib eye steak while Seireadan indulged in some shrimp scampi.
She told him more about her work at Moore Creative Media and what had led her to that line of work, and they were able to share common woes about owning businesses. She also told him how she found Sacred Circle and started working there. Her part-time career as a fortune-teller led him to other questions, including ones about her being a Raven.
“The biggest misunderstanding people have is thinking I can just turn it on and off. I have no control over the Sight. I could See something once a day for a week, and then not See anything for decades. Sometimes people will demand you See something for them, and I can’t. It just doesn’t work that way.”
“And even when you do, things aren’t always clear?” asked Aohdan.
“Most of the time, no. I tend to see related images, but they might not be in order. Or small details might be emphasized. Then I need to figure out what it means, or at least what I think it means. Sometimes I can’t even do that,” Seireadan told him.
“Now, if you don’t mind my asking, what’s a Gathering? I’ve heard the term in the past but never understood what it was.”
“The Elder Raven—that’s the oldest living among us—can summon the Ravens to gather, but it isn’t exactly mandatory. When we’re together, we often find several of us have had Seeings of the same thing, but have Seen different parts. If that’s the case, sometimes we can piece together a fuller picture.”
“Putting together a puzzle, then.”
“Exactly,” said Seireadan. “Although we still may not have all the pieces. King Fionvarr has asked for a Gathering if something very serious worries him. But like with individual Sight, there are no guarantees.” Her brow furrowed for a moment.
Aohdan asked, “Do you like having the Sight?”
Seireadan’s brow furrowed a little more before she looked up and met his eyes. “No, I don’t, actually. It’s painful and confusing, and sometimes I have to carry the burden of knowing what will happen to others.”
Aohdan took a drink of his wine. He was impressed with how candid Seireadan was, and wondered if she was nervous at all. He knew, however, that eventually the tables would turn and Seireadan would start asking about his business. It was one thing to tell her about Asmodeus Ink, but he wondered how candid he could be about other parts of his life.
The few Ravens I’ve met have always been cagy about the Sight, but Seireadan’s not like that at all. She called me out as Patriarch at the club, so she must at least suspect that some of my business isn’t completely above board. That there’s blood in my past… Shit, she’d be smart to just leave me here at the table right now.
“There must be something very fascinating in your wine.”
Seireadan’s voice brought him abruptly out of his thoughts and Aohdan’s cheeks colored slightly when he realized he hadn’t heard his date’s question and was simply staring at the claret liquid in the glass.
“I’m sorry, Seireadan. Lost in thought for a moment. I apologize.” Nice way to show you’re interested in her. Idiot.
“That’s fine. I was asking about your shop. You said earlier that you owned a business?”
“Yes, I do. Asmodeus Ink. It’s a tattoo studio.”
Seireadan’s eyebrows went up slightly. “Tattoo shop? I love it.” She took a sip of her own wine before she continued with a grin, “But I have to say, if you can afford an Audi like yours on what you make running a tattoo shop, I’m in the wrong line of work…”
Her voice trailed off ever so slightly as Seireadan realized what she was saying a fraction of a second too late.
Seireadan’s heart jumped into her throat. For the love of… You’re out with the Patriarch of the city and you make a wiseass comment about where his money comes from? Now THAT’S how you ruin a date. Her eyes rounded as she watched his face darken and she put her hands in her lap so Aohdan wouldn’t see them tremble.
“I’m sorry. I’ve offended you.”
His face softened at the worry in her voice. “No, I’m sorry. Please don’t apologize. I’ve just had a lot of people make digs about where my money comes from. The sour face is for them, not you. I’ve made some good investments; not just stocks, but clubs, restaurants, things like that. I do dabble in other businesses.”
Aohdan didn’t elaborate on the other businesses and Seireadan stayed quiet. I’ve put my foot in my mouth once. Not going to do it twice.