The first time Bryn Coraline, grandson of King Sameal Coraline, of Hy Brasil, the Orkney Islands and the North Sea, comes to see Kace Darkhammer, Kace slams into him on his way out of his office and the young Selkie faints dead away in his arms. Typical Fae flair for drama. But Kace soon learns that Bryn wants to hire him for a vital mission—to find his Selkie skin that’s been stolen from him as he slept. Without his skin, Bryn can’t return to his home in the sea and will be trapped on land forever. Kace and Bryn set off to travel all over the realm, even going through the Blood Gates to the Human world, and they discover the shocking truth about Bryn’s past, a truth that is more terrible than either of them ever imagined. Using his powers as a witch and a detective, Kace manages to track down the culprit, and along the way, he develops a fierce and burning attraction to the beautiful Selkie that he knows is dangerous. Once he finds his pelt, Bryn will swim out to sea, leaving Kace behind. Yet he’s given his word to Bryn and he has to help him, even if he winds up breaking his own heart.
It had been a while since I’d held a member of the Fae clans in my arms. And this wasn’t just any old run-of-the-mill Fae, either. This was a Selkie.
Selkies were members of the Fae family, quite similar to the Fairy, but they had long, black hair, sweeping down to their waists. This one’s hair curled riotously on the ends as well, not because it needed to be any prettier—just because it wanted to show off.
He had pale, perfect skin and eyes—from the glimpse I got of them before he fainted—that were the color of a stormy sea. I swept the boy up in my arms and stared down at him, frowning a little, because no man should be so damn beautiful. It was way too distracting.
Since he had fainted dead away—typical Fae flair for drama—I carried him inside my office, placing him on the little couch beside my desk, and sat on the edge of it staring down at him. Now that I got a good look at him, I saw his body was perfection too—not too big, but well-formed and compact.
As for his lips, they were full and pouty without his even trying, so I knew then that he’d be bad-tempered. Pretty much par for the course with Fairies, but not so much Selkies. They were usually sweet-natured and long-suffering. Ad nauseum. I was pretty sure though, that this one was only half-Selkie. The other part was probably human.
In all the old legends, human fishermen took their pelts when they were transformed and often hid them away, so they could keep their beautiful Selkies with them and stop them from swimming back out to sea. The Selkies remained in the captor’s homes for years and even bore them children, instead of taking a frying pan to the sides of their heads the way they should have.
Usually in the legends the seal skins were kept in a chest under the husbands’ beds, which would have been the first place I would have looked for them myself. But there was always a caveat in the legends that the poor, dumb Selkie couldn’t take the pelt unless it was willingly given to them. Another illogical aspect to the old stories—surely, a Selkie had the right to their own stolen property.
Once they did finally retrieve them—usually by tricking their own child into giving it to them—they transformed to their seals and swam away, leaving the poor kid abandoned and never seeking any kind of retaliation or revenge on the asshole father. Happy endings were rare in Selkie stories.
Like I said, they were all illogical. But then legends about the Fae, and particularly about the Selkies, never made a whole lot of sense to me. I guess they really didn’t have to—they just had to be cryptic and obscure, and the Selkie stories had that in spades.
The Selkie on my couch at the moment didn’t look like the type who would be in the least forgiving if a fisherman had taken his pelt. He looked more like he’d give the fisherman a good, swift kick in the ass. He fluttered his ridiculously long eyelashes, then opened his eyes to stare around himself. “What-what happened?” he said, struggling to sit up. He pointed a long, elegant finger in my face. “You! I remember now. You tried to kill me!”
“If I had tried to kill you, kiddo, I would have succeeded. You were loitering around my front porch, not watching where you were going, and you almost fell off it.”
He narrowed his flashing eyes indignantly. “You mean you almost knocked me off it!”
“Semantics. Now what were you doing on my porch?”
He huffed a few times as he sat up, straightening his tunic and pulling it down so it almost reached his narrow waist, but not quite. It left at least an inch of pale, delectable skin as a tease.
“I came to hire you. The king’s consort said you were good at finding lost things, and I need something found.”
I folded my arms and waited, but he just looked up at me expectantly.
“Well? Am I supposed to guess what it is?”
A pretty pink stained his cheeks. “No, I was getting around to it.” He mumbled something under his breath that sounded like, “so rude,” and then he glanced back up at me. “I’ve lost my pelt. My seal skin. Actually, you might say it was stolen from me.”
“I might, huh? Stolen by whom? Not a human fisherman, I presume, or you’d still be trapped somewhere in the human realm, wringing your hands and crying about it.”
He frowned at me. “No, it was a…I think it must have been a Nymph I was with a couple of nights ago.”
I took a moment to consider him. “A Nymph? Are you sure? That’s doesn’t sound like something a Nymph would do.”
“Do you know for sure she’s the guilty party?”
“She was the only one in the room with me at the time. When I fell asleep, it was there. When I woke up, both she and my skin were gone. So, what do you think?”
I smiled a little at the attitude he was giving me and wondered if he acted this way with everyone or was it just me who rubbed him the wrong way.
“What’s your name, kiddo?”
He started to reply and then reached up to his head as if to tip his hat and got a shocked expression. “My hat! Oh no, my beautiful hat! You must have knocked it off my head when you grabbed me!” He jumped to his feet and rushed to the door. I heard his footsteps clumping down the stairs, and then after a few seconds, I heard them pounding back up again. For a fairy, he wasn’t exactly graceful, but then I’d never seen him in the water. He came back in with quite possibly the biggest, ugliest hat I’d ever seen. It was a shade of blue that some people called turquoise and had a couple of scraggly ostrich feathers sticking out of one end. Some blue and white ribbons dangled needlessly from one side.
“My name is Viscount Orkney, but you may call me Brynjar Coraline,” he said grandly as he made his way back inside and stood with one foot in front of the other so he could give me a low, showy bow, sweeping off the hat to dust the floor in front of him. He looked pretty proud of himself when he stood back up. “People call me Bryn for short. And I have the gold to pay you, in case you were worried. My grandfather is King Sameal Coraline, of the Orkney Islands and the North Sea.”
“Well, good for him. My fee is fifty gold pieces. Payable in advance.”
His face blanched and blinked rapidly at me. “F-fifty gold pieces? But that’s-that’s highway robbery.”
“Well, that depends on how much that skin means to you and how badly you need it back.”
His face got red and he stamped his foot. “You know how much it means to me! I have to have it to go home again.”
“And my fee is fifty gold pieces.”
“That’s exorbitant! Outrageous! It’s-it’s blackmail!”
“How much did you pay for that hat?”
“That’s totally beside the point, but I paid thirty gold pieces. Worth every ounce.”
“Hmm. And now you don’t have any gold left over.”
He found something interesting to look at out the window and shrugged. “No, not exactly. I have twenty-five gold pieces left.”
“Go back to the market then and get your money back for that hat. Then you can pay me.”
He looked horrified. “My beautiful hat?”
I lifted one shoulder. “Up to you. There’s a troll up by the bridge who might be able to help you find your skin. His fee is less. Be careful not to turn your back on him though. He bites.”
“But…but…I need you. Prince Levi said you were the best.”
“And you can have me. For fifty gold pieces.”
He gave me the big, sad eyes again, but I simply gazed blandly back at him. “Well, what’s it to be? Do you give me the twenty-five you have now as a retainer and bring the rest to me tomorrow? After you sell your hat? Or do I give you directions to the troll?”
Furious, he stamped his foot and pulled a small sack of coins from his cloak. He threw it down dramatically on the desk I was leaning against and hissed at me. I had to admit it was a nice touch. “Take it then! It’s every penny I have left in the world! I’ll be back tomorrow with the rest of your gold. But I want you to know I hate you.”
“I’ll try to bear up under the strain. Come back early, so I can take the information and get started.” He flounced toward the door, and I stopped him just as he was leaving. “Oh, and kid?”
“Yes?” he replied with more than a hint of frost.
“If they won’t take the hat back, there’s an old harpy in the market place who will buy your feathers and give you top dollar for them. Third booth on the right. Then you can sell the rest to the scrap man. That might give you enough.”
“You’re a Philistine! No harpy will ever touch this hat! Scrap man, indeed! This hat is a work of art.”
“Mm. Well, cheer up. You can’t take it into the sea with you anyway. No sense in getting too attached.”
He sniffed at me and if I hadn’t known better, I’d have thought he looked sad for a moment. “Story of my life,” he said, and went out the door, leaving me looking after him and feeling like I’d just kicked a puppy. That was the trouble with Fairies—they had a way of worming themselves under your skin, and they always made you feel too much and think too little. A very dangerous combination.