Getting her oil changed wasn’t exactly Hazel’s idea of a fun chore for Friday afternoon, but the sixteen-year-old drooling over her made it nearly unbearable this time. Literally, drooling.
She shot him a short-tempered look as she put on her sunglasses, the Portland sun requiring it for once, though a deep gray line of clouds already clustered along the western horizon. “Can you just finish with the car already?”
He gulped. “Hey, when I’m done do you want to go to dinner or something?”
Hazel sighed and cast him a sweet smile. “You don’t want anything to do with the likes of me, kid.”
He just smiled at her and nodded, his brain obviously addled.
“So that’s a no. No dinner. Just finish my car. Thanks.”
Confused and deflated, he shook his shaggy hair into his face so she couldn’t see his profile as he worked. He called out to his pit crew, his tone wistful and sad.
Gods. Wouldn’t it be great to be normal?
Crushing men wasn’t Hazel’s idea of a good time. It was just that many of them had no control over themselves when she was around. The drooling was not attractive. But they didn’t know that. They didn’t even realize how silly they looked. It was part of her draw; men tended to be totally focused on her, unable to string together more than a sentence, much less keep her entertained for a date. They were compelled to look, to touch if she’d let them, hovering over her the entire time.
She’d heard she was lucky. Some Sidhe drew humans to madness, despair – even violence. They just wanted to love her.
Still, it was annoying.
A buzzing from her purse cast a wave of relief over her. Blessed distraction. She looked up and caught the boy staring again, and frowned at him as she reached into her purse.
Checking the number that had just flashed on her cell phone, Hazel sighed. The age-old question: to answer, or not to answer? Swallowing, she hit send.
“Hazel. Glad I caught you. Got a little problem I could use your help with.”
“Thankfully, your problems don’t have anything to do with me anymore.”
“They do when they’re not mine specifically, but more, you know, ours.”
“Great,” Hazel said. If he meant what she thought he did, her hope of getting out of whatever this was had just faded fast.
“There’s a human over here who needs to get in touch with the Fomorii. Has to pay a tribute of some kind, but hasn’t been able to get through. Think you could take him?”
“Can I take him?” Like she didn’t have enough to do. “Drake, this is your job. You know I was never into this stuff.”
“You’re missing the point. He needs to go. I can’t take him, so I thought of you.”
“Why can’t you take him?” Drake was the obvious choice. After all, he worked for the Sidhe Authority, taking care of the Otherworld government’s business in the human world. Hazel had as little to do with Otherworld affairs as possible.
“Let’s call it a little interpersonal issue between me and the Fomorii contact. I’m waiting another decade at least before I meet up with that guy again, for everyone’s sake. I’m supposed to be smoothing relations, remember?”
“See, that’s what I’m talking about. When we were together, I dealt with your interpersonal issues. Now that we’re not, I don’t see what this has to do with me.”
“You’re Sidhe, so you’re in. Our problems are your problems, and this falls into that category. Just think, what would Aunt Brigit say?”
“Damn,” she growled. He had to bring her aunt into it. Of course she knew what Brigit would say. You get the benefits; a certain amount of dirty work comes with it. Help your people. “Tell me what I’m supposed to do again?”
Eddie Drake’s office – if you wanted to dignify it with that name – was a run down loft in a run down neighborhood. From one threadbare couch, Ian MacIlroy stared out on a lifeless street. Drake was on the phone, and Ian could hear every word being said through the flimsy partition that separated the waiting area from Drake’s inner sanctum – which housed more threadbare chairs and an ancient, scratched up desk.
Ian counted himself lucky that Drake was willing to help him. He wasn’t sure what he would have tried next. He’d been looking for almost a year now, trying to figure out this tribute, how to get it paid and get back to his own life.
A year. Hard to believe that was the price he’d already paid for this mad errand. A year of his life wasted on attempts, and still nothing to give the Fomorii.
The door to the office swung open and Drake stepped out. “She’s on her way. Be here in a flash. Want a beer while we wait?”
Drake popped the caps on two bottles and handed one to Ian.
Ian gestured toward the street. “Seems pretty quiet. Mind if I ask why you’re located here?”
“An assignment. Lots of portals in Oregon. I only asked for beyond the veil.”
“I’ve never really understood why Sidhe would choose to live beyond the veil with humans.”
“Plenty of perks. Sidhe living among humans tend to get what they want, most of the time anyway.” Drake took a long swig, as he looked Ian over. “I’m hoping Hazel will be able to help with your problem, at least get you in to talk to the Fomorii. We’ll figure it out.”
Ian put his head in his hands. “I’m just out of ideas. I don’t know how to satisfy them, but I know I must before I can get back to my life.”
A tall woman burst into the loft, red hair alight in the afternoon sun and arms full with a box that rattled as she pushed the door shut with her hip and set it on a table just inside.
“What’s in the box?” Drake asked.
“More of your stuff,” she told him as she came across the room. She stretched out a hand to Ian. “Hazel Fintan. Pleased to make your acquaintance.”
“Ian MacIlroy. Glad to meet you.” He stood to shake her hand. Her height surprised him; she was only about an inch shy of his even six feet. She was also a knockout. Big surprise.
“Good, you’ve taken care of the introductions for me. Now give Hazel the same story you told me, from the beginning.” Drake winked at her and nodded at another chair opposite Ian.
Rolling her eyes at Drake, Hazel took the chair and gave Ian a long once over that made him grin. She was definitely Sidhe.
Sobering, he turned to his story. “Unfortunately there really isn’t much story to tell. I guess it is something that happens in my family. Every generation pays their dues. A very specific tribute handed over to the Fomorii. It’s been that way for fifty generations or so.”
“What do you get out of the bargain?” Hazel asked.
He paused, not sure how to put it. “Um… a fertility blessing.”
“Is that all?” She laughed, her smile lighting her eyes engagingly.
“Anyway, the tribute is one hundred eggs of a certain pond turtle in Europe. Of course, that turtle has gone extinct since my father collected his tribute. No turtles. No eggs. No tribute,” he summed up with a shrug of the shoulders.
“So, Ian here needs to speak with the Fomorii, for obvious reasons. Some other tribute will have to be decided, and it should probably be soon. These transactions tend to come with a certain window of opportunity. We wouldn’t want Ian to miss it.”
Ian went pale. “No, I can’t miss it. I have to do this right. My family is at stake.”
“What happens if you don’t make tribute?”
“Several things. Most importantly, our family ends with my generation. If we don’t make tribute, no one in my family will have another child. Everything’s at stake.”
“Alright then,” Hazel said. She turned to Drake, all business. “Who do I talk to?”
They stood on a rainy corner a few hours later. Hazel had no trouble reaching the Fomorii, and now it was down to the waiting game. She looked over at eye-candy, passing the time. For a human, Ian was hot – broad and muscular with dark blue eyes and brown, wavy hair. A little too wholesome to be her type, sure, but he was nice enough to look at.
Right on time, a black limousine pulled up, and the rear door swung open to receive them.
“Come,” a voice, nearly a hiss, issued from the back seat.
Hazel sat across from the Fomorii contact, with Ian beside her. She’d never met one of the Fomorii before. He wore a glamour. It was a pleasing human face, but she knew it could not be his true face. Right now it smiled pleasantly, as he took his time looking her over.
“Hazel, daughter of Aengus,” she spoke, reaching out a hand.
“So your message said.” He eyed her hand, extended in such a human gesture. When he did not reach for it, she took it back, settling into the opposite seat.
“I am Ellis, son of my father. His name is none of your concern.”
Ellis turned to Ian. “The reason we’re here?” he asked shortly.
“I’m Ian MacIlroy. My family owes you a tribute we are unable to pay. Hazel brought me for your advice.”
“Yes, you owe the medib. Did you say you are unable to pay?” His dark eyes had become slits.
“The turtle is extinct. There are no eggs.”
“Hazel, did this one just tell me that the key ingredient of the Fomorii festival drink ajma no longer exists?”
“Ellis, you heard correctly. That’s exactly what he told you. How will he pay his tribute now?”
“Do you know of ajma?”
“I can’t say I’ve heard of it.”
“Ajma is the bringer of bliss, the entrance to ecstasy. You’re the daughter of a love deity, aren’t you?”
Hazel drew in a breath. She hadn’t realized he would know of her father. “I see. It’s an aphrodisiac, then?”
“The most powerful known, and it must have the medib.”
“It’s about to get pricier then, isn’t it? Not much to be done about extinct eggs.”
“No. Unsuitable. You must make tribute.” He pointed at Ian.
“I will. I swear it. But what can I bring you since I can’t bring the eggs?”
“Who knows of a replacement for the egg in ajma? Does a love god know?” Ellis’ gaze swung to Hazel. “Ask Aengus.”
It was Hazel’s turn to groan.
“If he knows of something suitable, bring it to me. Bring it by the full moon. If not, the tribute goes unpaid.”
With two weeks until their deadline, Hazel had to think fast. First, she flipped open her cell and called the last person who dialed her.
“Hello?” Drake answered.
“Was there another reason for pulling me in that you wanted to divulge?”
She thought she heard a gulp on the other end before he answered. “What do you mean?”
“Oh, a little something about this errand requires that I call my father. Did you know about that when you called me?”
“Come on Hazel, calm down. Yeah, I figured. I’d heard the Fomorii were getting bent out of shape over an aphrodisiac, so when Ian told his tale I put two and two together. I just didn’t think that was the best way to approach you with it.”
“Instead, present the hot guy in need of help, and let my natural kindness set in? I should have told you to go–”
“You think he’s hot?”
Drake laughed. “Hon, I’m over you.”
“Yeah, yeah. I just dropped him off. Don’t blame you for not wanting to meet up with that contact, by the way. Creepy.”
“Fomorii.” After a pause, he asked, “Have you called Aengus?”
“I’m about to. You owe me big.”
“We’re going out, babe. Need your help with some emergency shopping, and I’ll treat you to dinner after.” Hazel told her best friend Alise when she answered the phone. They’d forsaken hellos long ago.
“Pick me up in an hour.”
Hazel filled Alise in on their way to the mall. She was insulted to find that the dark-haired beauty beside her was more interested in the chance to meet an old race of beings than the cute guy she’d met. That was Alise, though. She’d always been more into this Otherworld stuff than Hazel, regardless of the fact she was purely human.
Growing up next to Hazel had been luck of the draw, but Alise hadn’t let any of it slide by her. She knew more of the history, more of the legend and myth, than Hazel had ever been interested in learning. She had also grown into a powerful witch in her own right. Having a goddess next door helped, and Alise’s interest kept Brigit from going overboard drilling Hazel.
The truth was Hazel was more interested in the human world than what Brigit could teach her. She never planned to return to Otherworld. Oh, maybe for a vacation or two, but not to stay – much to her aunt’s chagrin. Hazel often wondered if Brigit regretted the choice to raise her among humans.
It was nearly impossible to find a parking space. After circling for what seemed like hours, Alise took matters into her own hands. With a flick of the wrist, she repainted the lines at the end of one row of cars, leaving a spot at the end just for them.
“I won’t get a ticket?” Hazel still hadn’t paid the last one. Mental note.
“Nope, the illusion will hold for the afternoon. Let’s go.” Alise grinned, positively gleeful. She did love pulling one over on people.
Hazel shut the car door with one hip, wrestling her shopping bags into order as she struggled toward her house.
“I’d say that was a success,” Alise said as she juggled her purchases in a similar fashion.
“Yep, everything I need to spend a few days in the company of a complete hottie. Let the seduction begin.”
“Weird you met him through Drake, though.”
“I’m trying not to think of it that way. Opportunities come as they will – who am I to refuse them, even when they come through the evil ex?”
“Good point. It has been awhile. Don’t blame you for taking whatever comes your way.” Alise smiled sweetly at Hazel’s scowl.
“Hazel?” Brigit spoke from the kitchen.
“I’m home,” she called in response. She and Alise managed to get into the kitchen, where they set their bags on the table and watched sweaters and bras promptly spill out.
“Looks like quite a shopping trip,” Brigit said from the other side of the pile. Her blond hair and blue eyes could still be seen, but the rest of her was hidden behind a pastel castle of clothing. “What’s the occasion?”
“Since when do I need an occasion to spend?” Hazel asked. Sidhe were drawn to beauty, and for those who lived beyond the veil, that tended to mean shopping addiction. Brigit was old enough to have avoided such a fate; she’d already hoarded baubles aplenty long before shopping malls existed.
“Hazel met a guy,” Alise informed Brigit, a mischievous glint in her eye.
“A new beau? Tell me about him,” Brigit ordered. She swept over to the stove and put on a kettle for tea.
“I don’t know much about him yet. He’s gorgeous, and his name’s Ian. He’s human,” Brigit clicked her tongue in surprise at that, “and stuck with some tie to the Fomorii.” Hazel nodded, her commentary complete.
“So, I gather it’s the gorgeous part that got you?” Brigit laughed.
“Sure. Why not?” Hazel reached for an apple from a bowl on the counter, and settled back, taking a huge bite.
Brigit smirked. “Ian, hmm? Well, I think it’s wonderful.”
Hazel was going through her purchases. A coral sweater caught her eye. That’s the one she’d wear tomorrow. With some tight dark jeans and boots, she mused.
Ian didn’t stand a chance.
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