SHADOW SISTERS - Book One - by Theresa Meyers
O’Connell Family Rule #1: Don’t let the Fae know you see them.
O’Connell Family Rule #2: Don’t talk to the Fae.
O’Connell Family Rule #3: Never, ever follow them.
Most people only believe what they can see. Gifted with the ability to see the deep, dark fae of Shadowland, Catherine Rowan Mary O’Connell would prefer not to. When the fae abduct her friend Maya, Cate breaks the sacred O’Connell Family Rules and sets a trap for the handsome fae who haunts her every step.
Rook, High Court Advisor to the Shadow King, has been following Cate since she was sixteen. When Cate reveals herself as one of the fabled “Seers”, Rook is stunned—she is one of the few that can permanently open the gates between their worlds. If he turns her over to the Shadow King, his court will rule the human realm.
Cate knows she has precious little time to find Maya. By midnight, the glamour of Mid-Summer’s Eve will fade, leaving her trapped forever in the Shadowland, but Maya’s abductor won’t give up the woman he’s mesmerized easily.
The midnight hour is almost at hand. Cate must choose: her freedom or her destiny.
Title: Shadowlander (Shadow Sisters, #1)
Author: Theresa Meyers
Genre: Contemporary Fantasy Romance
Length: 107 pages
Launch Date: November 2011
Love this taste of SHADOW SISTERS? The full-length series begins in Fall 2012!
© Theresa Meyers
“Let it go. Say nothing.”
Catherine O’Connell swallowed hard and forced herself to ignore the ferretlike faery that scampered over her best friend’s salad and stuck half its body into Maya’s iced tea. That’s going to leave a bad taste. Jaw tight, Cate ripped off a few shreds of her paper napkin and pointedly looked elsewhere. Anything to keep herself from yelling at the creature.
Three rules had governed the O’Connell girls’ every action from the day they were born:
One: Don’t let the Fae know you can see them.
Two: Don’t talk to the Fae.
Three: Never, ever follow them.
Maya’s one-sided conversation about men continued to flow around her. Their business conversation had gone slightly off track, not that Cate minded. She had a hard time concentrating on much of anything when there was a dripping-wet faery sniffing around Maya’s cleavage.
While there wasn’t a rule against squashing the rude little fur ball, Cate knew better than to push her luck.
Maya waved her hand in front of Cate’s face. “Earth to Cate?”
The faery skittered away, knocking over Maya’s glass of iced tea. Cate scooted back as the cold liquid sloshed over the edge of the table almost into her lap.
“Oh!” Maya gasped. “I’m sorry.”
Cate stemmed the tide of tea with her napkin. “No biggie. You were saying something about not dating Alex anymore?”
“I’m going on a blind date.” Maya’s cell phone beeped with an incoming text message. “And that’s Mr. Hot as I Can Be right now.” Her fingers began to fly as she texted him back.
Cate fidgeted in her chair and watched a short, squat, toady fae with long fingers and even longer dirty nails sample the slice of cheesecake sitting on the restaurant dessert cart. It grinned, its mouth so wide it stretched from pointed ear to pointed ear, then took the cheesecake slice—plate and all—and downed it in one large gulp. God, that was disgusting.
This would teach her to never eat outdoors again. At least the fae generally didn’t follow you into a building, especially those with steel construction. Next time Maya insisted on eating outside, Cate would have to make sure the café tables were cast iron.
“So who hooked you two up?” Cate asked as casually as she could.
Maya ran her fingers lightly over her blonde waves, her eyes sparkling. “Personal ad online.”
“Oh, Maya, you’re kidding me. Do you have any idea how dangerous that can be?”
Maya shrugged. “It’s just a walk and lunch. How bad can that be?”
Maya bit her lip, her very wide eyes looking pitiful and apologetic at the same time. Cate had a sneaking suspicion she was about to get ditched.
For a moment, her chest stung. “What about our presentation on Monday?” All hope for promotion rested on them snagging this large advertising account.
Maya stood up, smoothed out her short black pencil skirt, then gave Cate’s hand an affectionate squeeze. “You are going to come up with something witty and brilliant that impresses the hell out of them, because you always do.”
“Now you’re just buttering me up so I don’t tell Stanton who really did the work.”
Maya dropped a twenty on the table, blew her a kiss, and hurried down the sidewalk. Cate sighed. While she enjoyed the creative aspects of working at the agency, she hated that everything she did there didn’t reflect her reality—what she saw day in and day out but could never talk about. It made her feel terribly lonely at times, as well as uncomfortable over not being able to share the truth with anyone but her family.
After ten minutes of watching the fae play with people’s food, she wasn’t interested in finishing her lunch. She plunked down a tip and started back to the agency, enjoying the warmth of the sun on her face.
All around her, people milled about the Seattle downtown area in business suits, enjoying the afternoon sunshine and the green of the city park by the water’s edge. Tourists snapped shots of the Space Needle in the distance, and traffic from the wharf and shipping docks mixed with those intent on going to Pike Place Market. And none of them, not a single one, saw the world as she did.
Everywhere she looked, there were fae. But today was worse than usual. It was hard to focus on formulating an advertising pitch when the fae were out in force—
Oh no. Oh no, oh no, oh freaking no!
The loaded eighteen-wheeler speeding past was already going too fast for the narrow streets. The driver, a balding man chatting on his cell phone, was oblivious to the blue-skinned faery clinging to his back bumper.
Blue fae were notorious for causing chaos—the higher the body count, the better.
”Get off there this second, you little shit!”
Heads turned in her direction. Whoops. Horrified that she’d slipped, Cate ran after the truck, although what she planned to do if and when she caught up, she had no idea.
Scales shimmering in the afternoon sunlight, the faery stretched his long arm and slit the big rig’s back tire with one of his razor-sharp fingernails. A giant boom sent bits of black rubber flying at the gawking pedestrians, who ducked for cover.
The truck shimmied and fishtailed down the street, taking out parked cars on either side. Cate paused long enough to kick off her heels, ignoring how the sidewalk sizzled beneath her bare feet. Without taking her eyes off the truck barreling toward the intersection, she took off again.
The hideous squeal of locked brakes preceded blaring car horns and the bone-crushing crunch of metal bending around metal. Cate flinched. A small four-door car was now mashed into the grill of the truck like a bug. The blue faery laughed so hard he fell off his perch on the bumper and down to the pavement.
Other faeries instantly appeared—birdlike ones dancing along the power lines, leafy faeries peering from behind the foliage of plants and trees, and dark, slick fae popping out of the sewer drains along the street. They pointed, the mixture of their laughter tinkling like shards from a million panes of shattered glass falling on concrete.
Chaos and mayhem—faery fun.
A roiling anger boiled up in Cate’s belly. “Little blue bastard,” she muttered, wanting to dropkick him back into the water where he’d come from. Forbidden, of course. But then so was staring.
Cate turned her attention to the blaring sirens and flashing lights of the emergency vehicles that came screaming up the street toward the chaotic scene. The vehicles were quickly swarmed with curious faeries—bobbleheaded ones, furry ones, scaly ones—in all shapes and sizes. Including one she’d seen far too many times before. One that disturbed her like none of the others and that perpetually followed in her wake.
She only knew him by one name: Rook. He was bigger than the rest of the fae, more human looking, and if she had to guess from how the others tripped over themselves to gain his favor, he was one of their ringleaders.
Her hand automatically curled around the rusted nails deep in her pocket.
From as far back as she could remember, her grandmother had kept an old mayonnaise jar full of rusted nails by the front door. Every time the O’Connell sisters walked out that door, Gran would admonish them to take a small handful. The iron served as protection against the danger no one else but the O’Connell women could see—lurking, cavorting, waiting outside the blessed walls of their home—the faeries.
Time to leave.
A fire truck, ambulance, and several police cars, lights flashing, were slewed across the intersection. The truck driver was being helped out from behind the wheel, as were the people in their mashed car. No one appeared to be seriously injured. This time.
Walk away, Cate. Walk away now. Breathe. In, one, two, three. Out, one, two, three. Feet moving, Cate focused her vision to the next step in front of her. She knew Rook would follow her from the scene of the accident.
He’d been following her since she’d turned sixteen.
She ignored the slender waiflike creature dancing beside him. With clear blue eyes far too big for her face and a head too big for her body, the faery was like some macabre bobblehead doll.
Cate forced herself to keep a constant steady pace and not flinch even as the bobbleheaded faery reached out, stroked a long, evenly jointed finger down her arm, and blinked.
“You’re right, Rook, she’s very pretty pretty.” The big-eyed faery stepped back to take his arm.
“Too bad she’s an Uplander.”
Little Miss Big Eyes giggled, fawning over him as the two faeries keep pace with Cate. If they’d been human, she would have not-so-politely asked them to step the hell out of her personal space. Faeries had no sense of boundaries. More so, Cate suspected, because they thought themselves invisible to humans.
Picking up her pace, Cate rubbed her ears, wishing she could block out their voices.
She’d learned long ago that the warm shiver shimmying up her spine was a reaction to Rook’s gaze moving over her body. He was different from the other fae, more muscular, darker, more alluring, the power radiating off of him in a literal glow that made his dark hair look like it had been created from jet points of polished marble. His presence was certainly enough to ramp up her libido in all the wrong ways.
Sometimes he’d sit right behind her, leaning over her shoulder while she read a book on a park bench. His warm breath would caress her neck and she could feel him touching her hair ever so lightly. To anyone seeing the gentle movement of the strands, it might look like a simple breeze, but no one else could see them.
Cate shook her head. She needed to focus. Get back to the office. Finish the presentation. That would take her mind off of the fae, at least until this afternoon.
The cell phone in her pocket beeped with an incoming text message. She pulled it out as she chugged up the hill, Rook and his accomplice right beside her.
OMG he’s wicked hot. Off 4 rest of 2day.
Cate huffed in annoyance. She rounded the corner, walking into Westlake Center, and came to a dead stop. Little Miss Big Eyes bumped into the back of her, but Cate barely noticed.
Maya was skipping out on the afternoon all right.
Up ahead, amid the shoppers and traffic, she spotted Maya and her blind date. Maya’s hands curled around the large, sandy-haired guy’s bicep. He was too big to be a surfer, but he had the shaggy longish hair that swept over his forehead, giving him the look of a fallen angel.
Cate’s throat constricted until she could hardly swallow past the tightness. Had he been any regular guy, Cate would have wished Maya well and asked her for details later. The problem was, he wasn’t normal.
And he definitely wasn’t an angel.
He glanced back over his shoulder in Cate’s direction, the iridescent purple-blue flash of his eyes confirming her worst fears. He was one of them. And he’d revealed himself in physical form to Maya, which could only mean trouble. Fae didn’t reveal themselves to humans unless they wanted something.
Cate squeezed the phone hard, the tips of her fingers pulsing with the pressure.
“Pretty pretty sees Kallus,” the bobblehead hissed to Rook, so close behind her that Cate felt the fae’s wiry body tremble.
“All she sees is her friend walking away with a man. Kallus is throwing a glamour over the girl.”
But Cate saw much more than that.
A glowing hole ahead opened up, like some giant pair of scissors had ripped open a piece of fabric that looked like the side of the building, peeled it back, and another world altogether lay beyond. Maya was all smiles as Kallus held her hand and helped her step through the rift. And just as quickly as it appeared, the glowing tear mended itself, then winked out of existence.
Cate struggled not to show her panic, even though her heart beat so hard and fast it made it hard to breathe. She could not reveal herself. While there was a good chance the fae would never guess she could see them, she wasn’t about to take any chances. Especially not now.
With years of practice, she’d mastered her reactions. She sighed and turned on her heel like she was pacing, walking straight at the two fae as if she didn’t see them. Rook had a stupid smirk on his face, like some dumbass jock who’d give a thumbs-up to his buddy for scoring. She wanted to knock that smile off his face with a good right hook. Instead she glared straight ahead, her eyes level with his chin. Rook and Little Miss Big Eyes moved out of her way as she passed between them.
“Kallus thinks he can make the king give him honor by capturing human girl as war prize?”
Rook nodded, the smirk fading to a frown. “We have enough trouble. The last thing we need is the Uplanders being alerted to the invasion before it even begins.”
Cate froze. She tapped her foot, wanting to look up so badly and stare Rook down that her muscles burned from her refusal to cooperate.
War prize? Invasion?
“Come, Phareen. We must speak with the king.”
Cate didn’t look up until they had walked away. A second glowing seam opened in the air, another tear in the fabric of the universe, and Rook and his bobblehead companion stepped through the rift. The torn halves knitted together then disappeared completely.
Her knees gave way and Cate plopped down on the curb, the colorful chaos of the city still swirling around her. The moment the numb buzzing in her brain dimmed, she grabbed her cell and texted Maya.
Saw u. Your blind date’s trouble. B careful.
There was no reply.
And somehow, she knew she was already too late.
Maya didn’t return Cate’s text. Sure, there were times when a friend might not reply to a text right away, and Cate wouldn’t fault Maya for that under normal circumstances. But these circumstances were far from normal.
A slow tightening sensation spread through Cate’s chest, and her ribs suddenly seemed a size too small to contain her pounding heart, which was threatening to crawl its way into her throat.
There was no way she could just go back to work and pretend everything was hunky-dory. Not when Maya had just been blithely abducted into the faery realm and didn’t even realize what had happened.
Her fingers shaking, Cate stood, glanced around to make sure no fae were paying any attention to her, then speed-dialed her sister. It rang twice before Maggie answered.
“What’s up, buttercup?” Her sister’s voice was comforting and irritating at the same time—it was so damn bouncy and carefree when Cate felt neither.
“They’ve taken Maya,” she answered, her tone short, clipped, agitated. She climbed aboard a bus headed for the arboretum.
A long pause made Cate wonder if perhaps the call had dropped as she settled into the seat with the most space around it and turned to glance out the window. Small, agile fae—similar to the one who’d been snuffling around in Maya’s cleavage not half an hour before—scampered along the wires that ran the electric buses downtown. “Maggie, did you hear me? They—”
“I heard you.” All traces of lightness in Maggie’s voice had evaporated completely. An even longer pause caused Cate’s stomach to dip uncomfortably. “Are you sure?”
Cate dropped her voice to an almost whisper, covering her mouth so none of the fae within visual distance could read her lips. “I watched her step into the rift with one of them.”
Maggie’s relieved sigh rippled over her. “Good. Well, not good, but better than it could have been. If he’d been involved, it would’ve been you.”
The hopeless tightness in Cate’s chest released, replaced by the slow burn of rage. Maggie was the only sister to whom she’d mentioned Rook. She’d often acted as Cate’s second set of eyes, watching out for when he came around. But at times her sister had seemed both protective and oddly a bit jealous of Rook’s interest in her. “My best friend is gone. How can you say that?”
“Because it happens every day.”
“Not to someone we know.” Cate heard the bitter tone in her own voice. She sank deeper into the seat.
“Look, right now there are probably a hundred thousand people who’ve disappeared without a trace. You damn well know a good chunk of those are fae abductions. The only thing that makes today different than any other day was that this time we know who was taken.”
“And where.” There had to be a way to enter. Midsummer’s Eve, when the rift between Earth and the fae realm became passable by humans without assistance, was only twelve hours away. But anything could happen to Maya in that time on the fae side. Hell, in just a matter of an hour, Maya could inadvertently do something stupid enough to get her stuck there permanently.
After all she’d seen, Cate couldn’t stomach abandoning her friend to the fae. She had to get her out. There. One decision made. She was going into the fae realm to get Maya.
The movement of Maggie’s cheek against the phone made a scratching sound. Cate could see her shaking her head. “Oh, no you don’t. Don’t even think about it. You are not going after her.”
Cate huffed. She hated that she was so transparent to Maggie. Her sister didn’t even need to freakin’ see her to know what she was thinking. “I can’t just sit back and let them take her.”
“That’s exactly what you’re going to do.”
“Give me one good rea—”
“Because people don’t come back. The rules are there for a reason, Cate. Not just to give you something to chafe against. Do. Not. Engage. Period.”
Cate’s cheeks burned. “You’re beginning to sound like Gran. Look, I don’t need a lecture; I need help. I have to find a way to get Maya back.”
“No, you don’t.”
“She’s my friend.”
“And we’re your family.”
For a second Cate wished she had superpowers and could crush her cell phone to powder. Anything to get rid of her growing frustration and anger. “Are you going to help me find a way to save Maya or not?”
She got off the bus at the arboretum and crossed into the shaded and green spaces, where the sea breeze rustled the leaves of the towering trees and traced soothing fingers over her heated skin.
Her sister’s long pause spoke volumes.
“No,” Maggie answered finally, her voice firm. “I’m sorry. I can’t take that risk. I know you care about Maya, but you’re my sister and I won’t risk losing you too.”
Maggie’s words shot a dart of pain through Cate’s chest. Out of all the O’Connell girls, Cate, as the oldest, had felt the loss of their mother most keenly. She’d been the one with the clearest memories of her, and sometimes she secretly wondered if Maggie and Clare held a slight resentment over that fact. Jane had been too young to remember much at all, and she really didn’t care so much as long as she had her older sisters and Gran. While the three rules had always been part of their lives, Gran became far stricter about enforcing them once their mother had disappeared. The O’Connell women were an entity unto themselves.
“I get it,” Cate mumbled. Maggie wasn’t coldhearted. In fact, exactly the opposite; she cared so much she was afraid of getting hurt by more loss, and Cate couldn’t fault her for that. But it didn’t change what she needed to do.
“Love you.” For a brief moment she wondered if Maggie could hear her saying good-bye as well.
“Love you too.” By the choked-up sound in Maggie’s voice, Cate could tell she had. Out of all the sisters, she and Maggie had always been closest, and Maggie knew her well enough to know once she put her mind to something, she wouldn’t be stopped.
Cate hung up and slumped down into the green grass, letting the cool slim blades of it tickle the skin of her bare legs. Calling her office and claiming she’d gotten sick at lunch wasn’t too far of a stretch. There was only one person she could think of who’d know where the blond fae had taken Maya, and if she had an ice cube’s chance in hell of getting her best friend back before Midsummer’s Eve ended, she’d need to get his help.
She needed to seduce Rook. In less than twenty-four hours. By sunrise tomorrow the rift would be passable only by fae magick for a whole year. The enormity of what she was about to do weighed heavily on her shoulders. Rules kept her safe. Rules were there for a reason, but this situation changed everything.
The time had come to break the rules.
Rook slipped around the trunk of the red Japanese maple on the edge of the artificially maintained glade, his fingers digging into the smooth bark. The Uplander sat, her hair a glossy fall of dark waves that swung about the base of her neck. She tilted her face up to the sun, like a tulip, and closed her eyes, absorbing the warmth. Just past her down the slight grassy knoll was a pond surrounded by bonsai trees, crossed at the center by a section of stone bridge.
Time was running short. The Shadow King had made it plain that this year the victor of Midsummer would lead them into battle. Kallus had made a bold move taking an Uplander back with him as a Midsummer’s conquest this early. But as a prince of the realm, Rook refused to be outdone by a mere captain of the royal guard. There was still nearly a full day until the Shadow King would call for an accounting of which of his warriors had brought back the best prize—and his father expected Rook to lead, as he was born to.
It was folly, certainly. Why waste his attentions on a simple Uplander who would never even know he existed? It would have been far more expedient, far easier to simply take her as a conquest and be done with it. But he didn’t want to merely capture her; he wanted to have her respond to him.
As soon as he’d gotten rid of the sycophantic Phareen, he’d returned to find Catherine. She was far superior to whomever Kallus had taken. The spicy scents of cinnamon and vanilla that cloaked her skin drifted to him, carried on the breeze. Awareness arced along his body, shooting sparks through his blood.
For years he’d followed her, learning her movements, the certain sparkle she’d get in her eye as she contemplated doing something she knew she shouldn’t. He longed to run his fingers along the smoothness of her skin. All this time he’d held back from truly touching her, afraid it might not be all he’d built in his imagination.
Just watching her interact with her sisters, the closeness and caring they shared, triggered a deep ache inside of him. And yet, there was an impending war and invasion to consider. He needed to get back to court. He had a duty to his people he could not shirk to indulge in his fondness for Catherine O’Connell.
He glanced at the other Uplanders in the park, all of them oblivious to his presence, and none as enthralling as Catherine. By all rights he shouldn’t find her so appealing. As the Prince of Shadows, he could have his pick of females in Shadowland, and perhaps even a few of those from Wyldwood as well.
But there was an indefinable allure about Catherine. He was so intent on her as he walked through the grass, he didn’t notice a round disk flying at him until it nearly hit him in the head. With fine-tuned reflexes, he caught it midflight and flung it away in irritation.
The Uplander who’d thrown the disk frowned. “Dude! Did you see that? It’s like a freak gust of wind caught my Frisbee!”
“What wind? Your aim just sucks.” The two Uplanders bantered with each other as their game of catch continued unabated by Rook’s presence.
For a mere instant he thought about glamouring himself to appear in their limited vision. It would be briefly amusing to see their shock, but hardly fulfilling. He had much bigger conquests on his mind.
He wanted to capture Catherine.
He wanted her for his own.
Rook hesitated. Where had that thought come from? She could never be his. Once he brought her into his world she’d be treated as a slave, passed about the palace to whomever had need of her. He couldn’t bear to have that happen. Her scent, her very laughter was indelibly imprinted upon him, like an inkmage’s mark. Just the sight of her was enough to fuel his erotic dreams.
And he so dearly loved to feature her as his sensual imaginary plaything.
Rook walked slowly around her as she sat, determining the best way for him to reveal himself in a glamour to her. His current form didn’t even cast a shadow as he stood between her and the sun. He crouched down beside her and stared for a moment.
Her long, dark lashes formed feathery crescents along her smooth cheeks, and her full lips, the color of lush rose petals, parted slightly as she sighed. An image of her in his arms looking much the same as he took her filled his mind. A blinding rush hit his blood, firing him from the inside out.
Once he transformed himself through a glamour, how long would it take before she let him kiss her, touch her? He leaned in just a bit closer, bringing his mouth dangerously close to hers. Catherine was pure temptation. Enough to make him forget himself and his responsibilities when he was this close to her. Perhaps he should kiss her first, before he glamoured, just to be sure the wait wouldn’t kill him.
“I’m still breathing. You don’t need to resuscitate me with mouth-to-mouth.” Her tone was smooth and even, her eyes still shut. Until he glamoured there was no danger she could see him. Perhaps she’d felt the warmth of him beside her skin and assumed it was another Uplander?
Rook’s fingers itched to touch her. He reached out, running the tips of his fingers down the smooth length of her throat and over the tip of one of her breasts.
She gasped and grabbed his hand, her green eyes, the color of the midsummer leaves, snapping open. “You’re awfully bold, considering we haven’t even been introduced.”
At first Rook was too stunned to speak. She had hellishly fast reflexes for not being able to see what was touching her, and yet she still held fast to him in an iron grip. He found it somewhat endearing that he could get a reaction from her, despite her not being able to see him, and he let his mouth lift with satisfaction.
Her gaze locked with his. “And you can wipe that cocky smirk off your face. Just because I wasn’t watching didn’t mean I gave you permission to feel me up.”
The smile died on his lips. Shock rippled through him, turning his muscles rigid. “You can see me?” His voice cracked.
She gave a subtle nod, her gaze darting toward the other Uplanders around her. “But they can’t. So rather than risk looking like an idiot talking and feeling myself up at the park, I’m going to let you go.” Caution, hard and cold, laced her words like frost over autumn leaves.
Catherine released her grip on him, but Rook still couldn’t feel his hand. Hell, he couldn’t feel anything, because he was still reeling. If she could see him it meant only one thing.
She was a Seer.
Rare as Glaxon teeth, Seers were few and far between: Uplanders who had been gifted with the fae sight. It passed down through families, sometimes skipping generations. She’d hidden it well. Not once in all the years he’d followed her had she given any indication that she was aware of him beside her. Of any fae for that matter.
He rested back on his heels, weaving his hands together to keep himself from touching her to ensure she was still real. She was a Seer? How could the stars have aligned more perfectly? A Seer would certainly ensure their victory in the coming invasion. The last time a Seer had been uncovered by the fae, the Wyldlings had captured her. This could even their chances against the Wyldlings in the battle for the Upper Realm. While the fae agreed it was past time for them to take back what had once been taken from them, they had yet to determine which kingdom would lead the assault.
But the same thing that would make her a boon to his country made her off-limits to him personally. As a Seer, she was in a higher caste. He’d never be able to pursue her if he took her back with him, yet he had to. It could make all the difference to the Shadow Court.
“Have you always seen me?” He deliberately kept his tone casual while the knowledge of the power he had within reach vibrated through him. A slight buzzing filled his head.
Catherine worried her bottom lip with her teeth, which brought to mind thoughts of exactly how she might taste if his lips were in that same supple spot.
She shrugged. “Only since I turned sixteen. Have you been around longer than that?”
He gave her an enigmatic smile. He’d been around far longer than fourteen Uplander years—hundreds of years longer—but it had only been in that miniscule span of time that he’d noticed Catherine. Never had he believed he’d be holding a nearly normal conversation with her, and certainly not in an unglamoured state. She was intoxicating and beautiful and…a Seer. Utterly off-limits.
He glanced around and noticed the two Uplanders playing their disk game had stopped and were gazing in Catherine’s direction. A possessive rage simmered in his belly. He resisted the urge to tackle them and thrash them soundly for eyeing her so. It was more important for him to get her to Shadowland, the sooner, the better. Regardless of his attraction to her, it was more important than ever to bring her to the Shadow Court.
“Your name’s Rook, isn’t it?”
He raised a brow, surprised at how attentive she’d been to him without his knowledge, and gave her a curt nod. “Rook Blackwood, and you are Catherine O’Connell.” He glanced toward the two men playing nearby, who seemed far more interested in Catherine than in their silly disk-slinging game. “Our conversation is being noticed.”
Catherine followed his gaze, and a delicate blush infused her skin to a delectable pink. “Will you walk with me?” He offered her his hand to assist her from the ground.
For an instant, time stretched and slowed as he waited for her response. Even the glittering trails of the smallest fae, who looked like bits of dandelion fluff on the wind, appeared to hang suspended in midair. Once she slipped her hand into his, there’d be no going back. He’d have her.
Cate knew it wasn’t the slight breeze off of Puget Sound that started the shiver along her skin, but Rook’s offer. She needed him to make the first move, or he would have been suspicious. One simply didn’t walk up to a fae and say, “Hey, I can see you; how about you take me on a tour of your world?” and expect them to be ready and willing to comply. She turned back and glanced at Rook’s large hand , the blunt-tipped fingers held out to assist her from the grass.
She had to find a way through that rift if she was going to help Maya. And right now, seducing Rook was her best option.
Still, she hesitated, a flood of memories assaulting her. Gran telling her how tricky the fae could be. The worn picture of her mother she kept tucked beneath her pillow. The hot spill of tears against her cheeks as she’d cried her eight-year-old self to sleep. How could she willingly leave her family?
Cate ruthlessly shoved the thoughts aside. She was running out of time. If she was smart enough to wheedle her way into the fae world, she was smart enough to find a way back. And at least Maggie would know where she’d gone. It wasn’t as if she were abandoning them.
Cate slipped her hand into his. The rasp of his skin against hers was warm and dry, but the electric quality of it tightened her skin from her scalp to her toes.
She locked gazes with him, staring at him boldly. A lazy smile curved his mouth with blatant male appreciation. He liked the way she was looking at him, liked the response he caused in her, and knowing it made her stomach flip.
In the past, she’d always been so intent on not looking at Rook that she’d never had the opportunity to fully drink in the sight of him before. Intense eyes the color of coffee were flecked with bits of gold. His strong jaw was balanced by a slight indentation in his chin and sculpted lips made for slow, sensual kisses.
When they were teenagers, she and Maggie had giggled under the covers at night about what it might be like to kiss a fae—but since it was never going to happen if they followed the rules, it had never been a real possibility before. Thinking about it now made her lips tingle.
He was a hell of a lot bigger, and more muscular, than she’d anticipated. She seriously doubted if she could fit both hands around his biceps or wrap her arms fully around his chest. Her curiosity spiked. Did fae have to work out or were they just naturally built like a WWE wrestler?
Cate tore her gaze away, her heart pounding hard in her chest. “You don’t look much like the other fae I’ve seen.” It was the understatement of the century. She fell into step beside him. He didn’t look anything like that scaly little blue bastard that’d wrecked the truck or the little bits of fluff fae in their dandelion skirts that drifted around them.
“Difficult for you to judge when you’ve only seen me fully clothed,” he teased.
A rush of awareness pooled low in Cate’s belly, followed by an insistent throb in response to the erotic image her mind painted of precisely what he might look like beneath his ordinary-looking faded jeans, tight forest green T-shirt, and dark boots. “You don’t look like a horse on the bottom half, do you?”
“A centaur? No. But I assure you the men of the Ragnor caste are far superior to other fae in every way.”
He said it so deadpan it was obvious to Cate he’d missed her humor entirely, but she shrugged it off. She’d never been able to find a man who was a match for her personality. Either they were turned off by how direct she could be, or they were convinced she was lying to them about something. Why should Rook be any different?
They turned off the asphalt path onto one of gravel that wound deeper into the trees and away from the Japanese gardens. The leaves shifted and swayed, rustling lightly like music in the breeze. Cate saw small faces of tree fae here and there, with their leaflike manes of green circling their faces. They blended in far too well to catch more than a glimpse.
The hairs on the back of her neck prickled in warning. Was she crazy? She and Rook were alone in the middle of the arboretum, and if he took her, no one would know. Maybe it wasn’t a good plan after all. Maybe her sister was right. He’d practically been stalking her since she was a teenager, for God’s sake. But then the fae had a very different view of personal boundaries. Maybe for them he’d been downright standoffish. As much as she knew about them, she felt like she knew nothing at all.
Cate frowned, Gran’s voice pounding at the base of her skull. She should not be holding his hand. She shouldn’t be talking with him. And she sure as hell shouldn’t be walking into the woods with him when he could do far more than just harm her physically.
She abruptly stopped and tried to pull her hand away from his, but he held it firmly. Cate gazed up at him, her eyes narrowing. “Why have you been following me all this time?”
His free hand caressed her hair, tenderly tucking her dark, chin-length curls behind one ear like a lover. She shivered, and he leaned closer. His warm breath stirred a sultry breeze across her skin and skimmed the curve of her ear. Her heart beat harder, nearly in her throat, and her blood turned hot and thick, flowing like heated honey in her veins.
“I’ve been waiting for the right time.” The husky tone of his voice made all her girl parts sit up and take notice. He pulled back, staring deeply into her eyes. His free hand slipped over the curve of her hip, pulling her in closer to him. Her breathing grew shallower as the scent of him—a mix of rosemary, mint, and potent male—swamped her senses. The edges of her mind grew muzzy, dizzy with longing.
“For what?” Her words came out a mere puff of breath.
He didn’t answer. Instead, he crushed his mouth to hers in a soul-stealing kiss that ensnared her senses and liquefied her bones.