December 16th, 1899
Julia drew in a sharp breath as she came back into one piece – even after dozens and dozens of times, there was still something profoundly disturbing about being taken from one place to another, drawn through the world like a rabbit from a hat.
She checked the lock on her door, then opened the window. Her room was suitable, if basic. A single bed – small and hard, to discourage bringing clients; a small cupboard that held her few clothes, a narrow table that functioned as desk and kitchen preparation, and a washbasin – though she needed to carry water from the ground floor.
And it had been home for four years. Four years, and her four walls.
And one conversation was going to change that forever.
She slipped out of her dress and changed into a looser, cooler cotton dress – something to combat the summer heat. Sweat dripped down her neck as she settled onto her bed, back against the rough wooden wall.
Rhys. Man. Monster. Magic. Machine.
Rhys. A puzzle of an existence she could sometimes barely comprehend. A part of something that touched mud and fairy tales with equal disgust.
Rhys, holder of a cock that intended to get her pregnant.
She was almost surprised at her lack of tears, but she felt all too glad of it at the same time. Five years ago, she had given birth to a beautiful child – a son, to the delight of her husband.
Five days later, the child had stopped breathing. The world had spun from its axis, never to right itself again.
At first they had grieved together. They had held onto each other and wept. And then Robert had withdrawn. He had buried himself in work, and when that had failed, he had gone in for military service, sprouting a need to protect the colony.
He had come by less and less, spending his nights elsewhere.
The house had been sold from beneath her, his lawyer delivering the tiniest portion of the money to her, and the true abandonment had become obvious.
She had fled east, traversing the forty or so miles from Ipswich to Brisbane, to be faceless, nameless, and away from the scrutiny of gossiping friends.
She had called herself a widow, and no one had argued otherwise.
And with what had seemed like very little trouble…she had found herself walking the streets, and going to bed for money.
Every once in a while, the weight of the shame nearly felled her – the thought that she was the kind of woman her mother would have spat on. The looks that women with children gave her. The judgements from some of the more pious men – men who thought she was looking for a way out, or that she needed to be pitied.
The rest of the time, however, she delighted in the freedom. There were dangers – dangers her scars served to remind her of, but often the reward felt worth the danger.
She had control – something she had never experienced as Robert’s wife. She had choice, and she had happiness, at least in small measures.
And now Rhys intended to turn her life upside down – to heap money and jewels upon her like a prince from a fairy tale, to give her the life of someone so very far above her station.
Gold danced in her eyes every time she allowed herself a second’s thought on it, and each time she did, it turned to lead. Riches could disappear without a careful mind and a sharp wit to control them.
Julia stood and retrieved a small journal and a pencil, still sharp from the last time she had written a shopping list.
Real estate would be the key. That had been the first thought in her mind, even as the fae jewel – the one still projecting winter onto her neck – had enticed her like Pandora’s box.
She sat back on the bed and began to scratch down careful notes. A fortune was one thing, even one amassed like pirate treasure, but ensuring its perpetuity would be the key to the everything.
She thought of houses, of money, of riches, and of a future.
She looked up and saw Rhys silhouetted against waning sunlight.
He stared at her for a long time. ‘Is your answer still yes, Julia?’
She rose from her bed and gave him the confident look that alternately enraged him and made him hard
– and today it seemed to be the latter, judging by his smile.
He laid a thick envelope on the bed beside her. ‘Papers. Providence. Figures.’
She held up her notebook. ‘I have questions and requests and–’
Rhys placed a hand on her shoulder, and her cotton dress shimmered, becoming some light, silky material and shimmering with a dozen different colours. Something magic, something that meant they weren’t going somewhere common for dinner.
His fingers curled around her exposed upper arm, and she stood, her body sliding against his as she did. His hands slid up onto her shoulders and into her hair, which tangled and untangled itself – her scalp itching just a little as it did so – and settled into a style piled atop her head, except for two ringlets that dropped down to her cheeks.
The first time he’d manipulated her body in such a way, she had truly wondered if he was a devil.
He handed her a small purse, and everything came apart as her small room disappeared.
Rhys steadied her as they reappeared – a small courtesy he didn’t often show – and he moved to open a rather plain door that didn’t seem to match the tone of her new dress, or his – surprisingly – blood-free attire.
She tried to take stock of the man. He eternally wore the same clothes, with barely a variation. Even with his ability to pull things from air, he only ever seemed to request the same shirt, pants, and coat – a coat she would bet had never been thoroughly washed.
Tonight she could see no weapons, and there were none of the oddities that usually hung from his waist. He looked…like nothing more than a man, ready for an expensive dinner.
She looked around – but she could not place where they were. His ability to take them apart and bring them together elsewhere did not seem to have limits. On one occasion, he had taken them to the ocean for a few seconds, simply to illustrate a point.
A cold breeze blew – a breeze with no touch of summer behind it. Wherever they were, it was far from home.
Julia rubbed at her bare arms. ‘Where are we?’
Rhys opened the door with a flourish. ‘I always said I would take you to Fairyland.’
He stood a step back and took her limp hand in his, then pulled her through the door.
There was a set of stairs, leading deep into the earth – and for one idle moment, she wondered if was a staircase to hell.
She took a step forward, and she only heard wood under her shoe – no screams of the damned, no tortured souls grabbing for her ankles, nothing but a dimly-lit set of stairs – but she didn’t argue as Rhys took her arm and held her steady.
He had mentioned Fairyland on dozens of occasions, sometimes seemingly to get a reaction from her.
Her breath caught as light appeared at the end of the stairs, and she tried to prepare herself for–
She hesitated, unsure of what to expect – Rhys’ stories of Fairyland were usually of the inside nature, of assassinations, or discussions, or other women. He tended to skimp on the details of the world as a whole. There was no way of knowing if there would be purple skies, blue grass, or orange clouds.
Julia steadied herself and stepped out.
And for a moment, she wondered if they had somehow walked in a loop. A street confronted her, and a bustle of people.
It took a moment for her to recognise the differences. There were no horse-drawn carriages. Many of the pedestrians had wings, or stranger features.
And there were electric lights everywhere – lighting the streets, in front of businesses, twisted into letters to create signs. An absolute wealth of technology.
‘This is nothing.’ Rhys pulled at her arm, uprooting her from the spot. ‘We’ll miss our reservation.’
She allowed him to pull her along the street – forcefully, but not painfully. Without his impetus, she would have simply stood and stared at every facet of life, of non-human life, of–
A child cried to her left, and she turned to look, slipping free of Rhys’ grip. It was a small fairy girl, her skin the deepest African black. Wings of blue and gold flared out behind her back, one tip bent.
Julia crouched in front of the child, glad of the flow in the dress. ‘Are you all right?’
The girl stopped crying and wiped her eyes with the back of her hand. ‘I crashed,’ she said, bending her wing in.
Julia reached out but curled her fingers back before she touched the wing. ‘Where are your parents?’
‘They’re right here, Julia,’ Rhys said, his hand on her back.
Julia stood, and a tall woman – as tall as Rhys – walked over with a small blue paper bag, a sweet, salty scent coming from the bag. The mother knelt in front of her child, handed the bag to the girl – who began to snack on the sweets inside, whilst the mother kissed the bent portion of the wing and slowly massaged it back into shape.
Rhys tugged on her arm, and once again, they walked down the street.
‘This is all so…’ Words failed her. ‘Thank you, Rhys. It’s nothing like I could have imagined.’
As much of a bastard as he could be, this was a memory she would hold on to for the rest of her life.
They walked for another quarter of an hour – passing buildings taller than she had ever seen – until they came to the restaurant. The “Top of the World”, if the sign could be believed.
He opened the door for her, and they stepped into a small entryway. A man with deep orange skin stood on a small podium, and he greeted them with a smile. ‘Do you have a reservation?’
Rhys handed across a small, gilded card, which the man took and compared with the book. ‘Right this way,’ he said, and he led them down a narrow passage.
They stepped out of the back of the building, into something that appeared to be a dark park. She saw servers pushing trolleys of food and wine, but no tables or diners.
Rhys placed his hands on her shoulders, and his lips brushed against her ears as he leaned closer.
‘Look up, Julia.’
Julia looked up, expecting to see stairs, electric lights, and–
Her knees went weak, and only Rhys’ arms stopped her from crumbling to the ground.
She leaned against him, the back of her head against his chest – able to forget his bastardly tendencies in the face of the pure wonderment before her eyes.
She took a moment to reconcile what she was seeing, to lay it all out in her mind, and to attempt comprehension.
In the darkness of the park was a tree, as round as a house, extending high into the sky – at least seven stories. Branches, each as thick as a horse, spread out at odd intervals, and at the end of each branch hung an illuminated glass cage, a magnificent creation of glass, gold, light, and magic.
It was, by far, the most beautiful thing she had ever seen.
‘This way,’ the man with orange skin said, leading them to a round dais.
She looked up again and saw one of the golden tree carriages descending towards them.
Her hands went to her mouth, and she felt herself gaping.
‘My legs…’ she managed as the carriage reached the ground.
She heard – and felt – Rhys growl, and he lifted her, one arm slipping under her legs, cradling her in his arms like a man walking his wife across the threshold – or carrying her to bed on their wedding night.
The orange man opened the carriage door. Rhys stepped through and lowered her gently to the gold-flecked polished wooden floor. The door was closed, and Rhys grinned as the carriage took flight.
Julia rushed to the window and watched the ground recede, leaving them higher than she had ever been before.
She took a half-step back and fumbled with the latch of the window, needing some air.
She hung her head out, dizzy from the height but needing to experience every second at the same time.
Rhys came in behind her, his hands sliding across her arse, his fingers slowly drawing the fabric of her dress up, exposing her legs, her thighs, and finally, the abbreviated underwear he had placed on her when the dress had appeared.
Without asking her to turn or look away from the view, he slipped her underwear away and began to massage her rear – a gentle, purposeless thing, but one that spoke of his intent.
Fairyland was a glittering maze of twinkling lights and buildings. The carriage swayed lightly, a swing beneath a tree, but it felt safe. There was no worry that it was going to break free of its moorings.
Rhys’ fingers slipped around her thigh and began to pump into her. He was competent with fingers, even if they lacked subtlety – and he rarely failed to bring her to climax.
His mouth seized her neck, teeth scraping against her skin – a small show of brutality, but not one that hurt.
She kept her eyes on the lights, and the small shadows of fairies, burning the moment into her mind as pleasure rolled over her.
He kept his fingers inside of her as she came down from climax, and only removed them when she fully sagged against the windows. He passed her a small cloth, and she wiped herself before righting her clothes.
Rhys pulled on her hand, and she let him spin her around, taking her view away from the world outside, to the wonder of the carriage they occupied.
It was larger than the room she lived in – glass on all sides, though there were curtains drawn to each corner, allowing the possibility of privacy. A bed took up one end of the carriage – large enough for three people to comfortably lay with each other. One corner was blocked off with a small door – perhaps, and hopefully, a toilet.
There was a low table, barely a foot off the ground, which was covered in a spread of food. Several platters were covered, but fruits and small foods sat in the open. A sideboard held plates, cutlery, and wine.
Rhys took off his jacket and kicked his shoes to the side, then sat at the table. A golden rug separated him from the polished floor.
‘Your mouth is open like you’re ready to suck my cock, Julia.’ He picked a piece of red fruit from the bowl and began to peel it with a knife. ‘I wouldn’t object, but I thought you might like dinner first.’
Julia sat and ran her fingers over the fruits. ‘My – Notebook?’
Rhys slapped it on the table. ‘I see figures, but use your mouth, and tell me what you’re thinking.’
‘I– Whilst I accept that you are giving me a large sum in money and commodities, I would like some of it – or on top – in real estate. It will add a layer of consistency. It will add a level of believability to the flow of money. And it will mean that–’ She hesitated on the words. ‘That your son will grow up, having the opportunity to learn business from the moment he is out of the womb. It will be an advantage for his life.’
She touched her belly, nerves still dancing at the idea of bearing an angel’s child.
Rhys popped a slice of fruit into his mouth and chewed for a moment. ‘Seems fair. You’ll need to diversify.’
Julia nodded to this. ‘I know, so the other thing I’ll ask is… I’ll need someone who can advise me, who will not attempt to swindle-–
Rhys waved a hand dismissively. ‘I’ll get you a rabbit with a business degree. I have fae currency I need to use up.’
She stared at him, feeling as if he had suddenly started speaking in an Oriental language. ‘I…do beg your pardon?’
‘Rabbit. Or…a bunny,’ he said, looking distasteful at the second term. ‘Generally a term given to a type of whore in Faerie, soft fae, usually something from the mammalian families. They specialise in virgins, in giving…soft, gentle first experiences. There are some, though, that specialise in long-term servitude, providing services other than sex. They will be yours, for a certain number of years, and contractually obligated to give you good advice.’
‘Years?’ she asked.
He curled a hand and rested his chin on his fingers. ‘Years is common for a slave contract.’
‘I don’t want to own a slave, Rhys,’ she said, feeling appalled at the idea.
‘It’s not a real slave,’ Rhys said, looking nonchalant. ‘I’ve rarely had cause to buy from those markets.
This is a mutually agreed term of indentured servitude.’
She stared at him.
‘Willing participant,’ he said, ‘working under contractual terms and safety.’
‘You will need to further explain–’
Rhys stood and began to undress himself. ‘All in good time. Let us do what we are here to do.’