ANDERS SKULDSSON took a last swing through the intimate dining room in the royal suite, but couldn’t find a single thing to criticize. The linens were spotless, the china gleamed in the candlelight, subtle music—Faerie’s Greatest Hits—spilled from the speakers.
Outside past the terrace, pastel fairy lights twinkled in the trees surrounding the private royal garden. Some of the fairies in question were a tad disgruntled over the gig, but it was hard for them to find union work these days.
The breeze from the open french doors was exactly the right temperature, strong enough to riffle the sheer drapes but not disturb a single rose petal in the centerpiece.
His chest expanded until he felt he could float above the plush carpeting. This suite, the garden, the woods, hadn’t even existed last week when his staff had moved in to set up for the event. In Interstitial spots like this resort, the “enchanted” aspect of Enchanted Occasions Event Planning was actual and not metaphorical. Because in the Interstices—the pockets in reality where worlds met—magic from all supernatural realms could coexist. Even the Earthside “magic” of technology functioned in the Interstices, a factor Enchanted Occasions exploited to their benefit.
After over a year with no supernatural bookings, they’d pulled out all the stops, because this event could make or break the company. And for some reason, the client—the Faerie Queen herself—had insisted on Andy, half-norn and cosmic screwup, as the senior coordinator on-site. Mikos, Andy’s boss, had agreed without a blink.
Given Mikos’s trust, not to mention the brilliant work his staff had already turned in, Andy was determined—determined, damn it—to make this shindig a success.
He tapped his earpiece as he stepped onto the terrace. “Hey, Brooke. All ready for the start of the Great Consort Race?”
“Don’t let Mikos hear you call it that.” His half-undine second-in-command sounded as if she were standing right next to him. Smith, their tech demon, had outdone himself with this new gear. “It’s ‘The Courting, Coronation, and Handfasting of His Royal Highness Reyner of Maidencourt, the One True Prince of Faerie.’”
“Don’t remind me.” Hadn’t their graphic designer had a party fitting all that on the invitations—especially considering the invitations were actual oak leaves. “Have all the candidates arrived?”
“Yup, and settled in their suites. The ifrit has a fire pit on his balcony and a fireplace in his suite big enough to roast a hippogriff. The… the… yoosfart and dookfart—”
“Ljósálfar and Dökkálfar, you doofus.” Andy trotted down the wide stone stairs into the garden, chuckling at Brooke’s perennial pronunciation failure—and imagining her glare in response. “Just say light elves and dark elves. They’ll look down their noses at you for it, but they do that to everyone all the time. Don’t take it personally.”
“Whatever. Anyway, their rooms are on opposite sides of the resort, as far away from each other as possible.”
“Excellent.” He paused next to the stream, expecting to see a flash of bright scales under the water. “Did you tell the undine about the river access from her bathroom?”
“I tried. She didn’t want to hear it from me.”
Andy winced. “Aw, sweetie. I’m sorry. You know I’d spare you that kind of crap if I could.” All the Enchanted Occasions staff were HAHs—half-and-halfs, aka aitchers—blends of human with one or more supernatural races. Interacting with Pures was always chancy for aitchers who shared the same blood. Some Pures took the aitchers’ mixed heritage as an excuse to act more like jerks than normal.
Not that Andy had any feelings about that.
“Oh well.” Brooke’s nonchalant tone didn’t fool Andy one bit. “She has only herself to blame if her scales dry out.”
Andy huffed a laugh. “Be serious. She’ll blame me, of course. Don’t you know it’s always the norn’s fault?”
“That’s not fair.” Brooke’s tone took on a militant edge. “You shouldn’t be everyone’s scapegoat just because they’re entitled assholes.”
“Don’t worry. I’m used to it.”
“Hey, if it makes them happy and gets us through this week successfully, I’m good. This is our one chance, Brooke. Our chance to repair our reputation after the disaster of the Olesson-Pakulski wedding.” Andy still had nightmares about that. It wasn’t really Enchanted Occasions’ fault that the bride’s uncle had mistaken the groom’s grandmother for part of the reception buffet—Andy could have told them that a mating between a vila and a goblin was tempting Fate. Nevertheless, when EO accepted a job, they accepted responsibility for its success. It was their absolute guarantee.
This time since Andy was in sole charge, any failures would most definitely be his fault, and everyone knew you didn’t screw up with the Faerie Queen. She had no sense of humor and absolutely no mercy. She’d turned her own consort into a wyvern, for sweet Fate’s sake, so she’d have no trouble relegating Andy and the entire Enchanted Occasions staff to something even less appealing—probably involving a large number of warts and a notable lack of opposable thumbs.
So he just had to make sure everything went perfectly. No problem at all. Easy peasy. Piece of freaking Kvæfjordkake.
“Heads up, people. Prince in the house.” Smith joined the conversation with his usual growl. “He’s got the robot with him.”
“Talus isn’t a robot.” Andy jogged back up the stairs and into the suite. “He’s a knight. Who happens to be made of iron.”
“Looks like a robot to me. They’ve just come through the Faerie gate, on their way to the Interside lobby.”
“Right. Thanks, Smith.” Andy straightened his tunic and checked his hair in a nearby mirror. Eeek. He’d obviously been running his fingers through it a little too much in the bustle of final preparations. He dug a comb out of his messenger bag and made himself more presentable. “Brooke, if you could head to the candidates’ lounge, I’ll greet the prince and escort him to—”
“Andy.” Forrest, their half-dryad florist-slash-arborist, broke into their channel. “We’ve got a problem.”
So much for everything going perfectly. “What’s up?”
“I was setting the flower arrangements in the Earthside lobby when one of the candidates showed up. The male dark elf.”
“Nils? What in Freya’s name is he thinking? He knows the rules.” All of the candidates had signed a detailed contract and NDA before accepting their spot. “How’d he get Earthside anyway? He should only be able to use the Svartalfheim gate.”
“Smith said he must have gotten hold of an interface talisman. He’s… ah… talking to a bellhop.”
Wonderful. The prince, the whole reason for this booking, had a reputation for being mercurial—one day kind and as wise as Odin, the next day wilder and more self-absorbed than Loki. They couldn’t risk igniting his dark side by failing in courtesy. On the other hand, they obviously had to head Nils off before he precipitated an inter-realm incident. No way could Andy foist that unpleasant duty onto anyone else.
“I’ll handle Nils, but we can’t let His Highness wander around with no official welcome. Brooke, could you escort him to his suite, please?”
Her sigh was clearly audible. Maybe the earpieces were too good. “Fine. Beats being glared at by the undine.”
“Thanks, sweetie. Later.”
He dashed through the maze of hallways to the door that led to the Earthside lobby. He took a deep breath and pushed it open, ignoring the slight dizziness when he crossed the threshold.
Sure enough, Nils was standing with one palm resting against the wall next to a dazed-looking bellhop. Andy marched over to stand next to Nils’s elbow.
“Pardon me, Your Grace, but I must ask you to return to your suite.”
Nils didn’t take his gaze off the bellhop’s face. “Why should I listen to you?”
“Because”—Andy kept his voice low and gentle, with an effort—“His Highness has already arrived and the festivities will be commencing shortly.”
“I’ve already met the royal bastard. I’ll make my own festivities.” He leaned forward to whisper in the bellhop’s ear. “You’d like to party with me, wouldn’t you?”
The bellhop gulped, gaze riveted to Nils’s face, clearly so mesmerized he couldn’t even speak.
That does it. If Nils was careless enough, arrogant enough, to use coercive glamour Earthside, then Andy had no choice but to shut him down. Fast. Mikos trusted me with this job. I owe it to him to come through.
Andy glanced around, his gaze lighting on the huge vase of peonies and hydrangeas that stood on a table next to the bellhop’s elbow. Andy mentally apologized to Forrest for destroying his lovely arrangement. Then he closed his eyes and imagined the fate of the vase—in shards at Nils’s feet, with the flowers scattered across the tile and water splashed over Nils’s pixie-made boots and leather pants.
Obedient to Andy’s will, the vase scooted to the edge of the table, teetered, and fell.
At the crash, the bellhop blinked rapidly, pulling out of his elf-induced trance, and staggered away. Nils swore, shaking water off his boots. Andy congratulated himself on his aim—if there was one thing dark elves prized over sexual conquest, it was their clothing.
“Your Grace. The talisman, if you please.”
Nils drew himself up to his full height, which wasn’t that much greater than Andy’s five-ten. “I don’t answer to you, aitcher.”
“I’m in charge of this event, so I’m afraid you do. The talisman.” Andy held out his hand.
Glowering, Nils ripped a star-shaped opal off his tunic. Even before he slapped it in Andy’s palm, his face began to pale, dislocation syndrome immediately setting in without the talisman’s shielding.
“You’ll be hearing from my clan leader.”
Andy kept a neutral smile on his face despite his hair rising on his neck. If the clan leader reports to Asgard…. “I’ll be happy to supply her with the details of the incident, should any of them slip your mind.” Andy pocketed the talisman with a mental note to hand it over to Smith later. “I suggest you take another dose of adaptation elixir before you proceed to the candidates’ lounge. You don’t appear to be feeling quite the thing.”
“Bloody aitchers.” Nils pushed past Andy and stalked off, straight-arming the Interside door with a thwack audible from across the lobby.
Andy smiled apologetically at the resort employees who had rushed over to clean up the mess. He edged out of the way, smoothing the hair at his nape.
His mother and aunts, the big three, the Norns who tended Yggdrasil, had forbidden him from interfering in Fate. If they suspected he’d broken the rules, they’d yank him back to Asgard faster than you could say Eyjafjallajökull.
But the vase wasn’t a person—at least he hoped not—so technically, he hadn’t nudged a person’s fate.
That was his story and he was sticking to it, damn it, even if he was hauled in for interrogation under Odin’s single-bored glare.