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Book 3 of the Sisters of Silverwood
Cover art by Martine Jardin
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Fiona Matthews started her morning the same way she did every morning. A hefty cup of coffee and a toasted bagel with cream cheese. With a quick bite, she set the items on the counter, knelt in front of the bed and located her keys where her sister’s cat, Neelix had hidden them.
On her way back to her breakfast, she found the shoe the persistent feline had hidden and the hairball he left on the steps. He looked at her with disgust as she located every carefully stowed item from his midnight crazies. The consistent surprise in his eyes never failed to make her laugh.
Nothing could be hidden from her. She was a finder.
It had begun shortly after her stint at Camp Silverwood and had expanded with every following year as she gained control over her talent. In high school, she had been uncomfortable knowing where every classmate had lost their virginity and had no urge to help them find it.
When she found herself in the working world, she gravitated toward a job where her particular skill was useful. Inventory management it had been. She had been in that line of work now for over ten years in a craft supply warehouse and her branch had the smallest loss in the entire chain. A record she was perversely proud of. As she headed to her petit car, her cell rang. “Yellow.”
“Fee, where are my house keys? I can’t find them again,” her friend Sally asked.
Fiona leaned against her car while she concentrated. “They are under your couch, where you kicked them last night while trying to get your date out of his clothing.” She could hear the embarrassment on the line.
“Ah. You’re right. Thanks. And please, don’t tell anyone.”
“Have I ever?”
“Love you, Fifi.”
“Snuggles to you, Salary.” She turned off the phone and got into her car. It was time for work. She did so love to find things.
Work was as satisfying as it always was. She was climbing up, down, reaching under and over for her clients and stopping some of her inventory from walking out the door. She wasn’t rude, but she was firm. With the scowls of her attempted thief in her face, she calmly and deliberately described where, what and how far in the paintbrushes were hidden. They were surrendered immediately and the thief looked to the ceiling for the invisible cameras.
She almost laughed. There was nothing in the building worth the price of the cameras. And if he had asked her, she could have pointed him to some of the sponsored brushes donated by artist for those who were starting out.
Her co-worker, Brenda ran up to her. and asked her, “Fiona, have you heard? A kid has gone missing near the mountains.”
Fiona’s senses snapped into alert immediately. “When? Are they looking for her yet?”
“They are asking for volunteers. People who have been up the mountain before.”
“Brenda, can you take care of the shop this afternoon? I am going to see if they need another volunteer.”
“Of course. We just got in those new oils. I will leave them for you to put out tomorrow.”
“Excellent.” She shrugged into her denim jacket. “If I am not coming in tomorrow for whatever reason, I’ll give you a call.” Dressing casual was her favourite part of the job. It let her do things like she was about to.
“Thanks. Good luck.”
Brenda waved as Fiona trotted down the steps and headed for her car. She could still see the arm waving through the heavy glass of the door. Brenda sure loved to wave.
* * * *
The highway to the park where the child had gone missing was shockingly empty. Either no one had listened to the radio or they did not think that a small child could be harmed in a few hours.
The lot had around thirty cars in it when she arrived. So, not all of the locals were complete assholes. Half an hour of registering and collecting her kit and she was ready to go searching the hills for little Mandy Sanders. She was six and a half.
Little Mandy had gone exploring while her mother and father were fishing off the dock of a nearby lake. She had been playing at the base of the dock, but had disappeared while her parents were landing a trout. By the time they thought to look for her, she was long gone.
An alert went out immediately and the local news ran the story. Mandy had been missing for three hours by the time the local sheriff had gotten the volunteers organized.
Fiona settled her safety vest and ignored the lewd comments about the fit. Her breasts did tend to be on the large side, but that was no reason for strangers to comment. It was her bright red hair that usually drew their eye in the first place. She blamed her mother for them both. Mom took the responsibility with good humour.
She hoped for Mandy’s sake they found her and she could have that kind of relationship with her own mother. Mrs. Sanders’s face indicated that it was her fondest wish.
The search was underway. The searchers fanned out from the dock where Mandy had last been seen. Every other searcher called Mandy’s name, but Fiona didn’t know how effective that would be for an age where children were taught to avoid strangers.
She was too close to the others to use her talent, so she had to wait until they had worked their way deeper into the woods. Finally, she cast her mind into the woods to find the missing Mandy. A sea of green assaulted her senses, she saw a cave, trees and Mandy in a sunny yellow short set. The girl looked healthy and didn’t seem to be under any duress. Thank goodness.
Slipping away from the other searchers while wearing a neon yellow and orange vest with flaming red hair was a feat of skill. Fortunately, it was not the first time she had engaged in this activity.
The path in her mind was clear, but the one in the material world was covered in mud and bugs. Ick. She crawled over fallen logs, moved through thick brambles and finally, hours later, came out of the path to face the cave where little Mandy was standing, in her vision.
A girlish giggle and a shriek of laughter drew Fiona into the cave. It was clear and open as she wandered down into the darkness. After smacking herself on the head for forgetting the flashlight she had been issued, her trip into the tunnel was quite a bit easier, if no less creepy.
Another giggle drew her deeper into the darkness and a light began to gleam from the end of the tunnel. She spared herself the jokes about the end of the tunnel. Only barely.
The shriek broke the silence and Fiona rushed forward. The sudden flare of light all around her blinded her for a moment, but as her vision cleared, she saw Mandy riding a unicorn in an open section of cavern.
Wait. A unicorn?
Closer inspection confirmed that it was indeed, a unicorn. The horn was solid and didn’t move as he pranced around in a circle. Perhaps Fiona had suffered a blow to the head while she was travelling? Sniffed a little too much paint thinner at work, perhaps?
The majestic creature continued to prance in circles to the delight of his passenger.
Fiona had no idea how to separate the two.
“Fiona Matthews. I am so happy to finally meet you.” A figure emerged from the shadows across the open cavern. He seemed to have no trouble picking her out of the darkness that was hiding her. Perhaps her flashlight wasn’t helping, or perhaps it was the blinding light streaming out of the cavern.
She flicked the flashlight off and stepped forward. “I am afraid you have me at a disadvantage. Hiya, Mandy. Are you having fun?”
Mandy grinned at her. “I have a pony.”
“You certainly do. How did you get down here, Sweetie?” Fiona was carefully approaching the animal and the child.
“The pretty man gave me some candy and promised that I could ride the pony as much as I wanted until you got here.”
was now in full view and he was indeed, pretty. Golden brown hair to his waist and pansy blue eyes with the body of a professional gymnast, which was easy to see as his shirt was wide open.
“And why was the pretty man waiting for me?” The male approached her with a deliberate swagger.
Was he strutting? She moved to put the unicorn between them, but the traitorous beast stepped back to leave them face to face.
“I will admit to a frisson of guilt by detouring the path of little Mandy here. But as you arrived on schedule, I am satisfied by the result.” He nodded to the unicorn who walked off with Mandy still on his back.
“Wait! Where is it taking her?”
“Why, back to the campground, of course.” He sounded like it was the most logical thing in the world.
“Why did you abduct her in the first place?”
“My dear Fiona. You would never have come here if I didn’t have bait.”
The stun gun in his hand came up quickly. Too quickly for her gaze to follow. Fiona shrieked as everything went white.
Waking up was hard to do. Every muscle in her body was screaming. Fiona raised her head and groaned. Either she was still in a cave or she had gone blind.
“Stay still. That electric shock is a bitch.”
The voice was not the one pretty boy had used. This one was different, exhausted and far lower in pitch. “So, what are you in for?” Her voice cracked, but it had the desired effect.
He laughed, “Same as you. A pawn in Baenwik’s plan.”
“Is that his name?”
“He didn’t tell you?”
“No. Like most men, he was all zap and run. Are we still in the cavern?” It was hard to see anything. There was no lighting at all.
“Deeper in the tunnels than you were. How are you feeling?”
“Stiff, sore, but otherwise intact, I think.” A quick inventory of her body parts let her know she was in one piece. One aching piece.
“Good.” Silence fell.
“What’s your name? You obviously know mine.”
“Ander. Ander Limon, at your service.”
A small clink clued her into another fact. Ander was chained to something. “How long have you been down here, Ander?” She was carefully feeling around her area. She was sitting on a pallet of some kind and, when she turned her hands to frisking herself, she almost crowed in triumph. Her safety vest was gone as was her search-issued flashlight, but her personal wind-up flashlight was still tucked into her sock. So was her hunting knife. Yippee. She left the knife where it was, but started to crank up the flashlight immediately.
“What the hell is that?”
“A flashlight that doesn’t need batteries.” She finished the fifteen cranks and shone the light into the darkness around her. She was indeed on a small bed and there was one snag she hadn’t counted on, the bed was on a tower of rock surrounded by a pit. The distance from the tower to the edge of the pit was more than ten feet. She would never be able to jump it on her own. “Son of a bitch.”
“Yes, Baenwik certainly is that.”
She swung the light toward Ander’s voice and gasped as she saw his dark hair matted with blood and his arms spread to shackle them to the wall over twelve feet away.
“Not in my eyes please.”
She moved the beam of light to survey his body and there was a lot of it to see. He was naked. As the light caressed his groin, she jerked guiltily and moved the light to examine his feet instead. “Sorry about that.”
“Doesn’t bother me. Look all you like.”
He was smiling. She could hear it in his voice.
“He’s coming. If you want to keep the flashlight, hide it.”
Scrambling, she flicked it off and hid it down the back of her jeans. She left her shirt untucked to hide the bulk. Her shirt had just settled into place when light flooded into the room and pretty boy stood on the other side of the chasm.
Completely naked. That was obvious as the light was coming from him. Without clothing to block the effect, he was truly a beautiful sight to behold. And he was also the psycho that had lured her, stunned her and dropped her on a tower of rock with a precipice only a few feet from her hand. She wasn’t falling for his obvious charms.
Plus, if she was completely honest, Ander was much more her type, and better endowed. As pretty as the psycho was, standing across from her, he had still kidnapped a child and shackled Ander to a wall to achieve his goal. Nutcase.
“Are you comfortable, my dear?”
“I hope the stun gun didn’t damage you too badly.”
“Uh, not too badly. I am sore as hell though. Why couldn’t you just ask me to accompany you?”
“Because if you joined with Ander before I was ready, it would have ruined everything.”
That was a puzzler. How long had she been down here? “But you just zapped me a few hours or not even an hour ago. How could my seeing Ander any sooner have ruined anything?”
“Ander must have told you when he first met you. He and you are arranged mates. Arranged by the Silverwood society.” Baenwik’s expression turned puzzled by her lack of response. “He said that he had told you all this when you started having sex.”
She tried to keep her expression neutral. “Of course he did. But just because we are lovers does not mean I am tied to him in any way, shape or form.”
He shifted in relief and turned to display his body to her. “My name is Baenwik and I am a much more attractive choice than Ander. His species breeds with other races while my blood remains pure.”
She put on a coquettish face and tried to force a look of admiration through her eyes. “He was a little weak on the details of your races. Only that they were different. Could you explain your lineage?” This was obviously the correct thing to ask as Ander groaned in disgust and Baenwik preened.
“I am born of the Lios Alfar. The elves of light. We pride ourselves on our pure bloodlines and strength of purpose. Ander is of the Svart Alfar, the elves of the dark. They ferry human souls to the afterlife and pride themselves on hunting. They were chosen by the Fae Council to be the mates of the new magic, but the Lios would not suffer such an indignity.”
“So, you disagreed with the ruling?”
“I did indeed and came through the rift with seven of my brothers a few weeks ago.”
“Yes. We learned your language, but it has been difficult to get you alone. And given your talent, I felt I had finally hit on the perfect plan to get you to the Arena.”
This was absolutely freaky. She had to have hit her head on the rocks. “Wait. Did you say Arena?”