“Why aren’t those spreadsheets done for the Anderson file?” Brad McCallaghan stared down his nose at Gabrielle, blue eyes frosty. Blond hair, going gray, fell over one eye and a network of fine lines in his face made him look older than forty-five. Arms crossed over his chest wrinkled his cheap, gray polyester suit.
“Sorry, sir.” Gabrielle McCallaghan looked at her scuffed black pumps and willed the green-winged pixie fluttering behind her to be silent. Brad couldn’t see fairies, but it wouldn’t be good if her small sidekick made her laugh. Brad was her uncle. He was entirely human, just like all the other members of her family, not a hybrid like her. She didn’t know if he’d refused the offer of magic at puberty, or if it had never been made. People didn’t talk about things like that.
It wasn’t that she wanted to let Brad down, but she hated accounting. She’d been an English major. When no jobs were forthcoming once she’d finished college, her father and his brother had hatched up this position just for her. That was nine months ago. She’d tried to be grateful. And she was never late for work, but…
“Well,” he persisted, “what have you been doing instead of working on that file?”
Daydreaming. It’s nearly Samhain. Maybe this year I’ll actually get laid.
Not likely, since Beltane didn’t work out, another inner voice sneered.
“Uh, I really am sorry.” Gabby risked a glance at her uncle. “I’ll get right to it. Should be done by the end of today if I stay late.”
Amalia, the pixie, doubled over laughing. Blonde hair fell over her face. A breast popped out of her one-piece black jumpsuit. She stuffed it back in. Gabby swallowed a snort. “I’ve warned you how flimsy that outfit is. I understand it’s convenient because of your wings, but…”
“Priceless,” Amalia howled, ignoring the dig about her favorite piece of clothing. “You—working late. Shit, Sister, you barely work at all.”
Gabby cringed. “Go away.”
“Make me. Make me.”
Her uncle blew out a breath through pursed lips and looked at her through narrowed eyes. “Earth to Gabrielle. You’re off in your own little world—again.”
Uh-oh here it comes. She girded herself for the sort of lecture she thought she’d escape in adulthood. Except twenty-three wasn’t much of an adult. She had her own place—if you could call a three hundred square foot room anything but a broom closet. Amalia lived there too, but fifteen-inch pixies didn’t take up much space. They didn’t eat much either.
At least the apartment was hers, though, away from six younger brothers and sisters and her perpetually-short-of-money parents. She was the only one in her family with enough magic to be offered Coven status. Gabby didn’t understand how that had happened. She’d tried to ask her mom if, maybe, someone else had been her father. But Colleen McCallaghan had gotten a closed-off look—and very red cheeks. Curious as she’d been, Gabby understood the topic was off limits.
“Yes.” This time, she made an effort and forced herself to look at her uncle. He seemed more worried than angry. She exhaled nervously, wondering what would come next.
“You don’t really like working here, do you?”
She felt the skin tighten along the sides of her face as her eyes widened. “Uh, why would you think that?” she asked, hedging to buy herself time. She couldn’t tell her uncle what she really thought of the stuffy little office where he plied his trade as a certified public accountant.
“Oh, pull on a set and go for it.” Amalia was still chortling, but seemed to have herself under better control. It was annoying the pixie could read her thoughts so easily.
“Shut up. Go away.” Gabrielle almost started making shooing motions with both hands, but caught herself.
Brad cleared his throat. “Even though your body is here, your mind is usually somewhere else. I’ve cut you slack because you’re family, but either you do the work I give you, or—” His words trailed off and he shifted from foot to foot. Gabrielle understood. Worse, so would her father once his brother explained she’d been nothing more than dead weight collecting a paycheck.
Heat rose to her face. Gabby straightened her shoulders and met her uncle’s gaze. “If you want me to leave, I will. You’re right. I’m not cut out for accounting. I have good intentions, but something about those long columns of numbers numbs my brain. I have to think about other things or I’d fall asleep.”
Fluttering a few feet away, iridescent, gossamer wings beating double-time, Amalia clapped her hands together. “Bravo.”
Brad looked nonplussed. “But what will you do? How will you—?”
She shook her head. “I don’t know, but I’ll figure something out. Don’t worry; I know Mom and Dad can’t afford to have me back at home.”
The line of his jaw tightened. She could tell this was hard for him. “Look,” he finally said, “are you sure you don’t want to give this another go? I could spend more time training—”
Gabrielle shook her head. She was shocked at how eager she was to be free of Brad and this office. Now that the possibility of independence sat there, beckoning to her, she couldn’t resist. “Thanks, Uncle Brad. You’ve been more than kind to me.”
He cleared his throat. “Well,” he said, voice surprisingly gentle, “keep in touch. If you stop by tomorrow, I’ll have your check for this last week.”
Gabrielle knew how little she’d done. “That’s okay. I’ll just grab my things and be out of your hair. I—” but she didn’t know what else to say. Suddenly uncomfortable, she turned away from her uncle and went to clear her few possessions out of her desk. After inadvertently slamming her long, dark hair in a desk drawer, she pulled it into an untidy pony tail. Ten minutes later, she let herself out the swinging glass door adorned with BRAD MCCALLAGHAN, CPA, in faded, dark blue letters.
“That wasn’t very smart,” she muttered to the pixie. “What am I going to do now?”
Doesn’t matter, I’m free.
“No, we’re free,” Amalia corrected. The pixie was clearly in mind-reading mode. It hasn’t been any fun at all being your bond fairy ever since you took that job. All you’ve done is grump around, hating life.”
Gabrielle stared balefully at the pixie. “You need to keep your opinions to yourself.”
“Why?” Amalia settled on Gabrielle’s shoulder and crossed one leg over the other. She often perched there when Gabrielle went somewhere. The foot that dangled beat a tattoo against Gabby’s breast.
“Never mind.” Knowing it would be wasted breath to try to get the pixie to do anything but what she wanted, Gabrielle sucked in crisp autumn air and walked toward the bus stop. It felt good to be outside. Not living a lie anymore was a big relief. She’d struggled with guilt for months about her antipathy for Microsoft Excel, Turbo Tax and Tax Cut. At least that part was over.
Strangers swirled around her. Seattle’s Capitol Hill was always full of people. Gabrielle looked longingly at a Starbuck’s sign, but three dollar coffees weren’t part of her new austerity plan. Actually, neither was the bus. What she needed to do was walk home. She had the time. And lower Queen Anne Hill wasn’t all that far away. She could be home in an hour.
What a joke. I have nothing but time now. Maybe if I walked more, I could get rid of some of this blubber. She tugged at the too-tight waistband of her too-short dark green skirt. Sitting eight hours a day hadn’t improved her figure at all. Gabrielle knew her height masked extra pounds; she also knew she’d gained a good ten since she started working for her uncle.
“Don’t stare,” Amalia hissed, sea-blue eyes wide with apprehension, “but that looks like trouble.” The pixie always reverted to mind speech when she felt threatened. Good thing too. Her constant dialogue had gotten Gabrielle into trouble more than once when someone had assumed she was the source of some smartass comment or other. Not all humans could hear pixies. It depended how much magic they had. The problem was when a person had no idea they had magic, but had been blessed—or cursed—with just enough to hear fairy chatter. Those folk were the ones who’d ended up in asylums a hundred years ago. Now doctors just crammed them full of mind-numbing drugs.
Gabrielle’s head snapped up. A hunk of a man who radiated power—wore it like an aura that screamed how much clout he had—strode down the opposite side of the street as if he owned the world. Coppery hair fell nearly to his waist. Well past six feet, he was dressed like a pirate in a cream-colored shirt with full, old-fashioned sleeves, a dark brown leather vest, and tight-fitting, black leather pants that left very little to the imagination. Knee-high boots of buff-colored suede fit over the pants. Apparently feeling her gaze on him, he slowed, head turning from side to side. Gabrielle could have sworn he was scenting the air like a dog.
“What is he?” Gabby sent. “I know he’s a full blood, but what kind?” Because pixies were entirely magical just like the full bloods, they were often quicker on the uptake. Gabby was a hybrid and her human blood often got in the way.
“Warg. He can see me, Gabby. Do something.” Amalia’s nails dug into her shoulder.
The pixie’s words had barely registered when a wolfish amber gaze settled on Gabrielle, boring into her. Heart racing, she ducked into the first shop she saw.
“Are you all right, miss?” A shopkeeper hurried over. Dyed red hair spiked in curls that fell past her shoulders. Sharp, green eyes took in Gabby and her off-the-rack J.C. Penney’s clothes.
Gabrielle looked around and saw she’d entered a lingerie store, and a pricey one at that, judging from the tags hanging off flimsy bits of silk. She tried to quiet her breathing. “Yes. Just thought I’d, uh, look around a bit. I have a friend who’s, ah, getting married.” She offered up what she hoped was a convincing smile, reinforced by the tiniest leave me alone spell. The last thing she needed was for the salesclerk to boot her out of the store.
“There you are, darling.” A cultured baritone rang from the doorway. The voice had a definite German accent. “Nice of you to shop for something to entertain me.” The warg moved to her side and slid a hand under her elbow. A blast of sexual energy set Gabby’s nerves on fire. Her nipples pebbled instantly and her skin tingled with promise. Mostly so she wouldn’t throw herself into his arms, she took a step away and tried to settle her heart back into a normal rhythm. But the warg’s heat—and a delicious musky scent—followed her.
The shop girl’s eyes grew huge. She was practically salivating. Gabby could tell she was struggling to keep her gaze above the warg’s waist. “Welcome to my shop, sir,” she cooed. “We have things for men too.”
He raised a well-formed eyebrow. “Yes, dear. Your whole shop is actually for men.”
The clerk giggled nervously. “I meant we have underwear for men. Silk and Egyptian cotton. It’s in the back.” She pointed with one very long, manicured nail. “I could show you.” Her green eyes gleamed hotly. “I could even help you try things on.”
“Terribly kind of you, but not just now.”
Gabby tried edging away, but the warg’s hand snaked out, snaring her wrist.
The clerk licked her lips in an overtly suggestive gesture. “I’m here from ten until seven every day, so if you change your mind—”
“Never fear, my sweet. You’ll be the first to know. Now run along.” He made shooing motions with one hand and, amazingly, the clerk stepped back a pace or two.
Gabby felt the warg probing her mind. She snatched her wrist back and tried to throw up wards, but he defeated them as easily if they’d been made of paper mâché. She didn’t want to make a scene. A cardinal rule was to never reveal magic to mortals. The Coven—bastion of hybrid magic wielders like her—would punish her severely. And the pixie would tell on her. That was one of the purposes of the fairy bond: to keep Coven members honest—and invisible. She’d been given a choice at thirteen when her moon blood had begun to flow. She could have rejected her witch power and lived out her years as a human. But she’d picked magic and the Coven had bound her with ancient strictures—and the fairy.
“Actually,” she shot the warg a toothy smile that she hoped had a menacing edge, “I was shopping for Victoria. Remember, she and Jonah are getting married this weekend. And,” she glanced at her watch, “I just realized I’m late for my hair appointment.” She slid past him, trying to ignore the enticing scent oozing out of his pores: vanilla mixed with musk. It made her want to drop everything and run her hands through that gorgeous hair. “See you later—darling.”