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ANNOUNCEMENT: Cutie and the Beast, by E.J. Russell

Cutie and the Beast

QSFer E.J. Russell has a new MM urban fantasy book out:

Temp worker David Evans has been dreaming of Dr. Alun Kendrick ever since that one transcription job for him, because holy cats, that voice. Swoon. So when his agency offers him a position as Dr. Kendrick’s temporary office manager, David neglects to mention that he’s been permanently banished from offices. Because, forgiveness? Way easier than permission.

Alun Kendrick, former Queen’s Champion of Faerie’s Seelie Court, takes his job as a psychologist for Portland’s supernatural population extremely seriously. Secrecy is paramount: no non-supe can know of their existence. So when a gods-bedamned human shows up to replace his office manager, he intends to send the man packing. It shouldn’t be difficult—in the two hundred years since he was cursed, no human has ever failed to run screaming from his hideous face.

But cheeky David isn’t intimidated, and despite himself, Alun is drawn to David in a way that can only spell disaster: when fae consort with humans, it never ends well. And if the human has secrets of his own? The disaster might be greater than either of them could ever imagine.

Fae Out of Water Book One

About the Series:

Once upon a time, there were three brothers, nobles of the Seelie Court of Faerie, who set out to seek their fortunes. The eldest—

Scratch that. Rrrrrewind.

Nowadays, when tales are told in 140 character bursts on tiny LED screens, rather than spun out by the glow of a midnight campfire, even Faerie’s elite have to get with the program.

The Kendrick brothers have traded longbow for briefcase, battle steed for Harley, and enchanted harp for electric guitar.  But while they’re finding their feet in the modern world, instead of finding their fortunes, they stumble straight into love.

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Excerpt

David Evans carried his aunt Cassie from her bedroom to the sun porch, laughing at her squeak of protest.

“Put me down, you dreadful boy. I’m capable of walking through the house on my own.”

“I’m showing off for you. Stop fussing or you’ll wound my masculine pride.” He settled her on the chaise, angling it for a perfect view of her beloved garden. The morning sun was flooding the room with the crisp light of almost-summer. From a big cage in the corner, her zebra finches beeped in cheerful counterpoint to the lazy buzz of bees in the hollyhocks outside the window screens. “And you know how I love to pamper you.”

She patted his arm, smiling up at him as he smoothed a coverlet over her knees. “You look very handsome this morning, Davey.” A faint Welsh lilt still shaded her voice, even after six decades of living in Oregon. “I’ve not seen that tie before, have I?”

“What, this old thing?” David flicked the corner of the blue-on-blue polka-dot bow tie he’d saved for this exact occasion. “I start a new gig today, Auntie. Temporary office manager for a real live health care provider, so I dress to impress.”

“Really?” Her fragile skin puckered between where her eyebrows used to be. “Ms. Fischer assigned you to a medical practice?”

David dodged her shrewd gaze by fiddling with the blinds, adjusting them so the sun didn’t shine directly in her face. “Sandra’s out with a nasty flu. Her assistant is the one who placed me.”

When poor frazzled Tracy had called with the offer, he’d almost reminded her he’d been permanently exiled to telecommuting limbo. But then she’d told him the job was for Dr. Alun Kendrick.

Just once, a few months ago, he’d had a very small transcription assignment for the psychologist. He’d prayed for another, because, God, that voice. A British accent that put Colin Firth to shame. No doubt about it, the man was total ear candy.

 

So he’d neglected to mention that Sandra had banned him from office positions for life. On paper, he fit this position perfectly. In practice . . . well, there was always a first time. Besides, forgiveness? Way easier than permission.

“Are you sure this is wise?” Aunt Cassie’s mouth quirked up in a ghost of her old sly grin. “The last time, you caused a riot. In a dentist’s office.”

“I did not cause the riot.” He propped her cane within easy reach and dropped a kiss on her rainbow head scarf. “I was merely present when it occurred, and clearly those men were either unbalanced or laboring under the severe stress of looming root canals.”

He nudged her hip gently with his knee and sat beside her, his arm around her thin shoulders. “It’s the ideal job. Swing shift, two until ten, so I can still handle my billing and transcription assignments in the morning. Plus, it’s indefinite, maybe permanent. Tracy hinted that the regular office manager might not return from maternity leave.”

Aunt Cassie plucked at the blanket on her lap, pulling out tiny tufts of green and blue fluff. “Don’t hope for someone else’s misfortune, Davey. It’s bad for your spirit.”

“I’m not. Truly, I’m not. But if she chooses to spend longer at home with her baby, I’m more than happy to keep her chair warm and her desk competently staffed.”

She sighed. “All right. You know best. Show me your lucky earring.”

David turned his head to flash the onyx stud his aunt had given him on his thirteenth birthday. “Never without it.”

“You have your worry stone?”

He pulled the purple quartz oval out of his blazer pocket, thumbing the shallow dip in its top face, the familiar shape smooth and cool in his hand. “Always. Now . . .” He stood up, brushing green fuzz off his gray trousers. “I won’t be home until eleven, but I’ll have my cell phone with me every minute. Lorraine should be here any second to sit with you until Peggy brings your dinner at six, but if you need me, you call. Understood?”

“Pooh.” She scrunched her face in a near-pout. “I don’t need a babysitter.”

He picked up her pill bottle—just as full as it was yesterday. On days like today, when he’d sent off yet another partial payment to the clinic, begging for patience and an extension, he missed the time when the only things he had to worry about were studying for his next anatomy exam, or wondering why his latest sort-of-boyfriend had suddenly turned into a jealous douche bag.

And when Aunt Cassie wouldn’t even comply with the doctor’s orders for the treatment that kept David working as many hours as he could swing—and still barely earning enough to keep them from losing their home? Argh.

“Auntie, how many times do I have to—” He took a deep breath. Don’t be a jerk. You can’t browbeat someone into getting better. He rattled the pill bottle, waggling his eyebrows. “Could you at least try to do what the doctor says?”

Pink tinged her pale cheeks, but she met his gaze calmly. “I’ve been an adult for several times your lifetime. I’ve earned the right to control the end of my own.”

David’s heart tried to scrunch itself into a fetal position. No. No. No and no and no. Life without his aunt? The thought made him want to lie down on the floor and drum his heels against the hardwood like he’d done as a temper-prone toddler, or hide in the closet and rock in denial like he’d done during his years in foster care.

Instead, he dropped to his knees and took her hands. “Auntie, you’re the only family I’ve got. I want to keep you around as long as possible. Please?”

“Ach, Davey. How can I say no to that?” She sighed and took the pills from him. “Revolting little objects.”

“I know, so thank you.” He kissed her forehead. “Love you. I’ll see you tonight.”

“Be careful, cariad.” She rested one palm against his cheek. “You leap into things, heart first. Don’t be too quick to believe this your belonging place. Wait a bit. Learn how the days play out.”

David dropped his gaze from her bird-bright eyes. She had a point, but he couldn’t help it. Something about this job felt so right, as if the ultimate assignment had come along exactly when he was able to snag it.

His cheerful honorary aunt Peggy, one of his aunt’s six closest friends, would say his stars were in alignment. Aunt Regan, the more mordant one, would call it fate. But he didn’t care what any of them called it; he called it perfect.

He’d make it perfect, damn it. This time for sure.

#

A beast loomed in the stairwell, hulking and monstrous and far too savage to be contained by the glass door panel with its flimsy safety mesh.

Alun Kendrick’s pulse bucked like a frightened mare. He grabbed the door handle, teeth bared in the battle rictus of a Sidhe warrior.

Undeterred, the beast mirrored him, grimace for grimace, scowl for scowl, glare for glare.

Oak and thorn, not again. He released the doorknob with a groan. It’s been two hundred years, Kendrick. You ought to be accustomed to your own reflection by now. But intellectual acceptance didn’t trump his instinctive revulsion at the sight of his grotesque features.

Beauty was a prerequisite for admittance to the Seelie Court, a tenet so basic he’d never thought to question its fairness. There’d been no need—he’d met that restriction for millennia—but he bloody well violated it now.

As long as he wore this face, the gates of Faerie were barred to him. He’d have preferred a death curse to this exile and all-consuming guilt, but he’d not been given that choice.

He shoved the stairwell door open and took the stairs two at a time, down the six flights from his top-floor flat to his clinic offices. With the curse robbing him of nearly all his former abilities, he knew better than to take the elevator. He could pass unnoticed as long as he was moving, but his paltry glamourie of not-here couldn’t stand up to the scrutiny of a bored human in an enclosed space.

Stairs were by far the safer choice.

When he emerged from the stairwell into the corridor that led to his clinic, his nerves flared again.

Intruder.

Stomach jolting toward his spine, he rushed halfway down the hall, reaching reflexively for his sword. Fool. You haven’t worn a scabbard in two centuries. He stopped and rested his hand against the wall, willing his battle reflexes to stand down. You carry a briefcase now, not a broadsword.

Besides, this intrusion, while not welcome, was anticipated. His office manager, a werewolf expecting her first child, had taken early maternity leave, collateral damage in the F1W2 flu that had approached epidemic proportions in the shifter community. Although it only affected the big cats, her father-in-law had demanded she retire to their compound to await the birth. Something about impending grandfatherhood had turned the normally tough and pragmatic alpha of the Multnomah wolf pack into a skittish old hen.

Alun opened his clinic door and slipped into the reception lobby. While the need for a temp irritated him, he had no intention of frightening her senseless before she brewed the coffee. He might be a monster, but he wasn’t an idiot.

“Hello? It’s Dr. Kendrick.”

A narrow band of sunlight spilled through open blinds, gilding the carpet with a stripe of gold, and Alun rethought his don’t-frighten-the-temp-senseless policy. Damn it to all the hells, hadn’t she bothered to read the office procedures manual?

Blinds must remain closed during daylight hours.

Throughout most of the year, the north-facing windows wouldn’t admit enough sunlight to injure any but the most helio-sensitive of his clients, and his clinic hours—midafternoon through evening—were arranged to further minimize exposure. This close to the solstice, however, the sun’s angle was acute enough to bleed into the room. She should know that. Every supe in the Pacific Northwest knew that.

A growl rumbling in his throat, he yanked the cords, plunging the room into soothing shadow. He stalked down the hallway, searching for the temp. No one was cowering in the break room, nor the restroom, nor the supply closet that housed the copier and printer.

Where the bloody hells was she? As a rule, people didn’t run until after they’d gotten a look at him, although few supes had cause to balk. Many of them looked nearly as bad at certain phases of the moon or after an ill-considered blood bender.

Cursing under his breath, he threw open the door to his inner office and came face to posterior with the most perfect arse he’d seen since the day he left Faerie.

human arse.

Flaming abyss, had everyone at Fischer Temps run mad, or only Sandra Fischer herself?

The slender man in indecently well-cut trousers and a fitted dress shirt was standing on Alun’s desk atop the latest Physician’s Desk Reference and two of Alun’s heftiest old text books, arms stretched overhead as he fiddled with the light bulbs in the track lighting. His shirttails, partly untucked, displayed a tantalizing arc of skin over one hip.

Alun’s mouth went dry, an unexpected surge of want sizzling from the base of his outsized skull to his bollocks.

No, damn it. He’s human. Humans were off-limits for so many reasons, not least of which was that heavy sedation and years of therapy lay in store for any unlucky enough to see his face. No non-supe was allowed knowledge of the supernatural world without the express permission of the all ruling councils, under pain of . . . well . . . pain.

Excruciating, never-ending pain.

He thrust his unwelcome desire away, which his strict century-old vow of abstinence made more difficult than he wanted to admit. He tossed his briefcase on the love seat next to the door and stalked across the office to stand behind the human.

“What in all the bloody hells do you think you’re about?”

“Dr. Kendrick.” Despite Alun’s less than hospitable words, the man’s mellow tenor held welcome, not alarm.

He turned. Eyes widening under a slash of dark brows, he inhaled sharply and his smile faltered. Alun caught a brief impression of an upper lip shaped like the longbow he had last held the day he left Faerie. Enchanting.

Then the man lost his footing on the teetering pile of books, and stumbled backward, slipping on a stack of Psychology Today. His feet flew out from under him, along with a spray of magazines, and he toppled right into Alun’s arms.

Merciful Goddess. Alun hadn’t been within intimate-touching distance of a man since 1898. No wonder then that his breath sped up, his blood burning like molten silver in his veins. His cock suddenly hard behind his fly.

He inhaled, slow and deep. This was what a man’s skin smelled like when he was fresh from the bath and not the battlefield. Vivid and forest wild, with a faint undertone of salt and a hint of musk. This was what a man’s hair looked like, shiny and flyaway, gold threads glinting among the peat brown, finer than any pelt yet coarser than a woman’s or child’s. This was what a man felt like in his arms, alive and warm and—

Shite. Human.

To the human’s credit, he didn’t shriek or faint, nor did he struggle or try to escape. Instead, he remained cradled in Alun’s arms, tilted his chin, and blinked eyes the color of a storm-clouded lake. An erratic pulse beat in the angle of his jaw, betraying that he wasn’t as calm as he pretended, a bright—and undoubtedly false—smile curving that tempting mouth.

“How do you do? I’m David Evans, your new temp office manager.”

“I don’t think so.”

Alun set the man on his feet and escaped behind his desk before the state of his trousers could reveal his inconvenient reaction. Thank the Goddess he no longer wore doublet and hose.

The human, David—although despite endless years in exile, Alun mentally translated the name to its Welsh form, Dafydd—sidled away under the guise of picking up the scattered magazines and reshelving the books he’d used as an impromptu stepping stool.

“Yes, indeed I am.” He didn’t lift his gaze to Alun’s face, and who could blame him? “Don’t worry. Tracy filled me in—”

“Not Sandra?”

David shook his hair out of his eyes. “Sandra’s out with that bug that’s going around, I’m afraid, but you know she trusts Tracy to fill in for her or she wouldn’t employ her. Sandra insists on the best.”

She did, and she’d hear about this outrageous infraction, flu or no flu. Supe business, supe temps. That was the foundation—the absolute guarantee—of her company. She was a panther shifter, damn it, with the responsibility to adequately brief her staff.

“You’ve no business in here. My office is off-limits.” Especially to humans, however beautiful they might be.

“The lights above your desk. They . . .” David cast a brief glance at him from under unfairly long eyelashes and swallowed, his Adam’s apple sliding beneath the honey-smooth skin above his collar. “They were failing. I wanted to change them before they burned out so—”

“Did you not consider that I keep them dim on purpose?” Alun thrust his head forward into the merciless light. Flinching, David stumbled back, the unmistakable tang of fear tainting his seductive clean-man scent. Good. He should be afraid. He should be afraid, and he should be gone. “You think anyone wants to look at this face too closely while they’re spilling the secrets of their soul?”

David pressed his lips together, no doubt to hide their trembling. Alun should have felt gratified that he’d succeeded in intimidating the man. A necessary evil, for his own sake as well as for the safety of the supe communities. But a whisper of regret, the shadow of sorrow for something he could never have again, raised a lump in his throat and tightened his chest.

Yes, the human must leave, no matter how much Alun’s awakening libido regretted the necessity.

Instead of bolting out the door, however, David took a deep breath, a mulish cast to his pointed chin, and stared Alun straight in the eye. “If you prefer to remain in the dark, that’s your choice and privilege. After all, you’re the doctor.”


Author Bio

E.J. Russell—certified geek, mother of three, recovering actor—lives in rural Oregon with her curmudgeonly husband. She enjoys visits from her wonderful adult children, and indulges in good books, red wine, and the occasional hyperbole.

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