A Gilded Cage Snippet #2 is here!!!
Have you been wondering what was going to happen? Hehehehe, well here you go! And man, I can’t wait for this book to launch this Sunday! A Gilded Cage is the first book in a new series by Auburn Tempest and Michael Anderle! Woot Woot!!!
“What? And I’m hearing about it now!” My father’s voice booms up the heating vent on my bedroom floor, and I track the sounds of his approach through the creaks of our old Victorian house. Depending on how mad he is, and how many stairs he skips, Da can make it from the kitchen to my room in anywhere from twenty-five to seventeen thundering footsteps.
It’s a seventeen morning. Oh goody.
“Fiona Kacee Cumhaill!”
I stiffen in my bed and pull my covers over my head. It doesn’t matter that I’m twenty-three and an independent woman. When he yells my full name, I’m back to being an eight-year-old girl caught red-handed, shearing Dillan’s hair while he slept.
Well, he deserved it. He did the same thing to Walks With No Legs, my fancy-haired Guinea pig.
My door flies open and Da busts in, followed by Aiden, Calum, and Emmet. Aiden takes one look at the gauze wraps on my hands and curses. Da’s expression darkens.
Calum and Emmet look whipped and contrite. I imagine they got a fair dose of our father’s fury for not waking him up last night when we finally finished giving our statements and arrived home.
Before I get a word out, he erupts. “Are ye off yer gob? Ye stubborn, foolish wee girl. Ye coulda been killed.”
When my father gets like this, it’s best to let him have his say before trying any form of reason. It’s a Borg “resistance is futile” thing. I sit up, nod when appropriate, and prop my pillows to await my turn to speak.
“—and then to learn that the boys found ye unconscious. What if that sonofabitch got ye into a car and made away with ye, or had a weapon? Have ye any idea…”
Now that I’m awake, I have to pee. I slide off my bed, shuffle into the ensuite that joins my room with Dillan’s and Emmet’s and close the door all but an inch.
Da doesn’t miss a beat. Dressing-downs like this are a common enough occurrence that he knows I can still hear him. The onslaught continues while I empty my bladder, unwrap my palms, wash up, and rejoin them.
“—enough to worry about with yer brothers in danger every goddamn day, do ye think I need more on my mind? After yer mother…”
I sit on the edge of my bed and examine my scraped hands in my lap, biting my tongue.
He’s winding down. My time is coming.
Auntie Shannon says I inherited the “can’t be told” gene from my mother. I don’t know if that’s true, but if Ma was considered more stubborn than Da…well, that’s saying something. I do remember she could give it as good as she got.
Yeah, maybe I am like her in that way.
“Da,” I say when he’s had the floor long enough.
“—brothers and I would do if he’d killed ye. Yer the feckin’ glue that holds us together, Fi.”
“And a person in my own right.” I break his rhythm. “You forget that sometimes. Yes, I’m the keeper of the house, and it takes most of my time to sort you and the boys out, but I’m more than that. I’m tough and smart and as much a Cumhaill as any of you.”
I point at Aiden, Emmet, and Calum, leaning against my dresser and door to ride out the storm. “You trust that they can take care of themselves in a scuffle, but I can too. I’ve got a stone fist and a fighting spirit the same as them. My instincts are sharp and my reflexes quick. And I’m smart.”
“That’s just it,” Da snaps and scrubs a hand over his morning stubble. His hair is sticking up all cockeyed and at odd angles like a crazy russet rooster. “Yer too smart fer yer own good. Ye can take care of yerself, but yer too sure of it. Ye have no fear, and that’s not good. Ye’ve never respected danger, Fi. It’s like yer temptin’ the Fates to test ye.”
“I am not.” I’m pissed at how blind he is. “I assessed the danger to Kady. There was no time to get help, and the man was unarmed.”
“Ye assume the man was unarmed,” he snaps. “He held Kady as a shield between ye. He coulda had a gun at his back or a knife in his pocket, but ye were so damn sure ye could handle things yerself, ye rushed him like a novice fool.”
I jut my chin as his disapproval hits. “And if it had been Calum or Emmet in that alley instead of me, you’d be whistling a different tune. You’d be patting them on the back saying, ‘Good on ye, boyo. Ye got the girl safe home. We’ll catch the man responsible in the days to come.’ But because it was me, I’m an eejit to think I could do the same.”
Da’s finger comes up in the air between us, and his cheeks flush red. “Don’t throw yer feminist shite at me, Fiona Kacee. I work with women in uniform every day and trust them in any situation. They’re trained and competent and know what they’re up against.”
“But I don’t? Da, I grew up in this house. I’ve seen the horrors you face and heard the stories the boys tell of their shifts each day. Hell, I learned enough working behind the bar at Shenanigans to write fifty true crime novels.”
“Hearin’ and knowin’ are different, mo chroi.” He loses steam by calling me his heart. “Ye take care of yerself better than most, I’ll not argue that. Because of it, Kady is safe home. I’m proud as blazes of ye for lendin’ her aid, but no matter how sexist or unjust it is, yer a wee thing in a world of monsters—a Chihuahua ready to take on Rottweilers. If ye don’t learn to respect the danger, it’ll get ye. Like it or not, that’s the truth of it. There is always someone bigger and better prepared for the fight.”
“So what?” I launch to my feet and throw up my hands. “I should don my apron and resign myself to cooking and ironing for you lot the rest of my life? If Ma hadn’t died, I would’ve gone to college and struck my own path. Filling this house with a family to take care of was her dream, not mine. I’m capable of doing great things too.”
“Do ye think me daft?” Da drops his pointing finger and scowls. “It’s not fair that ye had to step in and take care of yer brothers and me, but it’s the way of it. Yer mam’s death left shoes to fill and broken hearts to mend. Ye’ve done better at both than any of us had a right to expect. If yer ready to take on the world, I’m all for it. Still, we need ye alive to do it.”
Not often does Da let feelings crack through his crusty shell. I’m not prepared for it. Angry I can handle. Sharp retorts, I’ve mastered. Admissions of his vulnerability after losing our mom has me looking at the door for a quick escape.
Only, there’s no escape.
Aiden is blocking the door with his muscled arms crossed over his chest. Emmet and Dillan are standing beside him looking as lost by the turn of conversation as I feel.
I can’t look at them or I’ll start crying, and I’m not crying because I’m mad. I step back and frown at my father. “I do see the dangers, Da—honest, I do—and I respect them. I can’t let that stop me. If you think honor and doing what’s right is only for the Cumhaill men, you’re cracked. The same blood runs in my veins as yours. The same teachings were drummed into me. I care about people as much as any of you.”
“More.” Emmet pushes off the dresser to straighten. “That’s what scares us, Fi. You care about people more than any of us, and don’t hesitate to stand as the shield between an innocent girl and her attacker.”
“We don’t want to see you hurt, baby girl.” Aiden comes over to squeeze my hand. “If you feel like life’s leaving you behind, carve out something for yourself. We’ll all pitch in to make it work for you. Just be safe about it.”
Calum pegs me with a look so haunted my chest tightens. “When Kady screamed for help, and we saw you lying on the ground by that tree so still…” He shakes his head. “Jaysus, Fi. You can’t put us through that shit again.”
Da nods. “After every shift, I come home knowing as soon as I see your beautiful face, the darkness of my day will dissolve. You’re our touch-stone, Fi.”
Emmet joins the love-in and kisses the side of my head. “Even though you’re a total pain in the ass.”
Calum nods. “Absolutely the worst.”
It’s close to one that afternoon when I hear the throaty rumble of my muffler grumbling along the back lane and pulling into my spot. It’s tough to find parking in the city, so by the time Aiden, Brendan, and Calum needed to get around, Da moved the back fence forward and paved a section of the lawn so they had space behind the house.
We’re luckier than most. Being the last house on the street before the ravine, we also have a little dirt lane that runs up the side of the house. It’s not for parking, but we often use it for short-term stops when friends drop by.
I finish with Emmet’s uniforms and hang them on the hooks at the bottom of the stairs. Our house, a quaint Victorian built in Cabbagetown in the 1840s, isn’t fancy but has character. It’s an old, brick semi-detached with four bedrooms upstairs and a basement finished with a pool table and enough workout equipment to open Cumhaill’s Gym if policing doesn’t work out in the end.
Who needs more than that?
“Fiona?” Liam lets himself in and is jogging up the back hall looking panicked when I step out to meet him.
“I’m fine—” I’m caught up in his arms as he gives me a quick hug, then eases back to take inventory. He touches the bruise on the side of my face and scowls at the road-rash on my palms. I regain possession of my hands and step back. “Seriously, I’m fine. Your mom told you I take it?”
He nods and pulls me into the kitchen. “I’m sorry, Fi. If I hadn’t skipped out—”
I wave that away. “It’s nobody’s fault except the weirdo in the alley. Even if you were there, I would’ve still taken out the trash. S’all good.”
He sits me down at the table and busies himself at the counter. He’s as comfortable in our home as we all are in his. “I’m making hot toddies. Talk to me and keep talking until I believe you’re all right. Tell me what happened.”
I give him the full recap. Explaining everything for the eleventeenth time increases my sense that I’m missing something—something big.
“And you saw him inside earlier?”
“Yeah, a Tyson Beckford-type drinking Redbreast in booth nine.”
“Who’s Tyson Beckford?”
“Beautiful, black supermodel for Polo, piercing eyes, easy smile…ring any bells?”
He makes a face at me. “Sorry. I’m not up on male models, but I do remember a slick-looking black guy set up in nine. Pissed me off that we were busy and he sat alone and taking up a booth for six.”
“Yeah, that’s him. Hey, did anyone check on Kady?”
He grabs two glass mugs and the honey out of the cupboard. “Mom called this morning and told her to take the night off. She refused, of course. Dillan said he’d stay with her for the day and escort her in for the dinner shift.”
I picture how protective of Kady my brother got after hell broke loose. “While the two of us gave our statements inside after I came to, it was like a switch flipped for him. Kady was shaking and about to crumble into a heap of tears, and he finally saw her—like, saw her.”
Liam measures the shots of whiskey and mixes our drinks with a stick of cinnamon. “Mom said he volunteered to take her home and stay with her.”
I accept the drink and inhale the honey-lemon glory of it. “Yeah. D’s good like that. The patience of a saint, that one. He’ll play the part of her loyal watchdog for as long as she needs to lean on him. Then, it’ll be more, guaranteed.”
Liam settles across the table and smiles. “Thank fuck. That love match was a long time in coming. Every time Dillan came in the bar, Kady became half as productive. It had to happen sooner or later.”
“You’re not kidding. Hey, speaking of love matches, how was your night?”
Liam fills me in on the PG broad strokes of his evening, but the tension of his worry never eases. After our second round of restorative whiskey drinks, I can’t take it.
“Stop worrying. I am fine.”
He arches a brow. “That might work on your family, Fi, but I know better. Tell me what you’re not saying. You know I’ll keep your secret.”
I do. Liam’s good that way. I stare into those ice-blue eyes and my guts twist. “It’s going to sound crazy.”
He shrugs and leans back in his chair. “With our families, what’s not crazy?”
True. “Okay, so, last night, I thought it was simple. A crazy guy assaulted a pretty girl, and I got in the way.”
“But you don’t think so anymore?”
“I’ve been running it over in my head. I’m going into the station this afternoon to go over my statement and sign it. I was trying to remember every detail because more comes to you once you settle down and your mind unlocks.”
“And you remember something new?”
“A couple of things.”
“He never hit me or raised a hand to me. I punched him and sacked him and kneed him in the face and he never once returned the favor.”
“Maybe he was busy trying to subdue you.”
“Why not hit me? He had a foot on me and was strong. He pinned me against the tree out back for like, five seconds, then walked away. Why?”
Liam’s getting angry again. I watch the mottled flesh of his cheeks darken. “What else did you remember?”
“Not remember. Found.”
“Found? What do you mean?”
I get up from my chair, give him my back, and pull my shirt off. Clutching the fabric to my front, I swing my hair away from my shoulder blades.
“What the fuck is that?”
“My question exactly.”
The legs of his chair scrape on the floor as he gets to his feet. He’s taller than me—most people are—so when he takes a good look at the Celtic knotwork tattoo that spontaneously appeared on my back, he has to bend to do it.
“Does it hurt?”
“No, but I feel it. It tingles like it’s squirming up from beneath my skin. Like it’s alive somehow.”
“That’s not gross at all.”
“Right? This morning when I had my shower, I saw the faint outline of the tree of life. The triquetra came around lunch. What does it look like now?”
Liam brushes a gentle sweep across my skin, and my cells light up inside. It’s the same sensation I got when the handsome weirdo in the alley pressed his palm there.
“The tree is a brilliant, shamrock green, the triquetra a shimmering royal blue, and circling the whole thing are the words, Glaine ar gcroi. Near tar ngeag. Beart de reir ar mbriathar.”
“Well, shit.” I flap my shirt in front of me and shuck it back on.
“You know what that means?”
“If you’d spent more time paying attention during Irish classes instead of flirting with the girls, you’d know what it says too.” I free my hair and face him. “It’s three sayings, and it means purity of our hearts, strength of our limbs, and action to match our speech.”
His gaze narrows on me. “That was your toast last night for Emmet. Do you think that has something to do with it?”
“Indirectly. It’s the three-part family motto of Da’s people back home in Ireland. How weird is it that a guy gets the better of me in a dark alley, presses his hand on my back, and leaves when I pass out?”
Liam crosses his arms and frowns. “I, for one of many, am damned thankful that’s when the asshole took his leave.”
“Me too, but how do you explain a family crest magically appearing on my skin hours later?”
“I don’t… I can’t.”
“Yeah, me either.” I’m still standing there thinking about last night when the man’s voice drifts into my head. It was right before I passed out. He leaned close and whispered in my ear, “Ye’ve got fight in ye, kin of mac Cumhaill. I’ll give ye that.”
I blink, and my entire body tingles. “I need to speak to my father right now.”
The Fifty-first Division Headquarters, where Da has served since he graduated from the academy almost thirty years ago, is a bustling, gritty old law enforcement center on Parliament a block south of King. It’s a heritage building, with decorative masonry, arched windows, and an interesting roofline that looks more like a turn of the century bank than a police station.
There’s limited parking in a public lot, which is nice, but what I love most about the place is that across the road there’s an original city fire hall complete with shiny brass poles and a Dalmatian named Pongo.
It’s hot—in fact, I’m cooking with a cotton shrug on and annoyed I have to wear one. With the foresight of not wanting to strip my shirt off at da’s station, I wore a strapless tank with an airy knit sweater. Even that’s too much.
“It never gets old, does it?” I lock my car and Liam and I cross in front of the fire station.
For once, I’m more interested in getting inside to the air-conditioning than watching the fireman with no shirts polish their trucks.
Liam follows my gaze and chuckles. “I’ll take your word for it. I’ve never gotten weak in the knees for a pec wink.”
I laugh. “Sucks to be you.”
I wave to Greg working the door and head straight up the staircase on the left. Da knows I’m scheduled to go over my statement, so of course, he’s working in-house for the afternoon.
“Hey, kiddo.” Da’s partner Marcus lifts his gaze over the monitor of his computer and gives me a once-over. “I heard about last night. How are you?”
I glance at the concerned faces of two dozen cops I’ve known my whole life and smile. “Right as rain, guys. Seriously. You know us Cumhaills. You might be able to knock us down, but you’ll never be able to keep us there.”
“Good girl.” Marcus points across the space. “You’re set up in meeting room two.”
I weave my way through the warren of cubicles with Liam on my heels. “Meeting room two is good. The walls are mirrored so I can read his reaction. There’s no way he can front when he sees the tattoo.”
“Do you hear yourself, Fi?” Liam casts me a sideways stink eye. “In what world would Niall Cumhaill be associated with a man who attacks his daughter in an alley?”
I pause with my fingers curved around the handle. “Only one way to find out.”
So, are you going to grab your Pre-Order copy now? Read it the moment it goes on your ereader? Yup, me too!
Fi seems like she’s going to be a fun and snarky heroine! A little spitfire who won’t know when to stop! I love it. 🙂
A Gilded Cage, on pre-order now and goes live this Sunday on Amazon!