Authors: Lyla Bardan
I chewed my bottom lip. “What do you get out of all this?”
Jose grinned. “I pick riders who have true potential, turn them into winners, and then hand them over to select pro teams. I get a finder’s fee for every rider.”
“Uh-huh. So what exactly is your training regimen?”
“I thought you’d never ask,” he replied, a glint in his eyes.
I could have sworn his eyes turned black again, but at that moment, the side of my head throbbed like I’d been knifed straight through my ear. The pain left my stomach heaving.
“Hey, you don’t look so good,” Jose said. “You gonna be able to race today?”
I squinted against the sun. “I’d better be able to race if the director from Team Synergy is here.”
“Come with me,” he said. “I can give you something.”
We rode to his team van, and he grabbed an athletic bag from the back of the van. After rummaging through it, he pulled out a small black container and shoved it in the back pocket of his riding jersey.
“Not here, though,” he said, lowering his voice.
I lifted a hand in protest. “No way. I’m not taking any drugs.”
“Keep your voice down. They’re not drugs.” He gestured to the other parking lot. “Where’s your car?”
Another stab of pain shot through my head, and I nearly steered my bike into his.
“For Christ’s sake,” he snapped. “Get off your bike before you crash.”
I leaned over my handlebars, fighting dizziness. “But I have to race in like ten minutes.”
“Get the hell out of here,” Jose growled.
Wow. I never would’ve guessed he cared. Then I realized he wasn’t talking to me.
Piran and his friend Tolmin grabbed Jose by his racing jersey. Held in place, Jose twisted in vain, shouting obscenities that made me cringe, but the two Fae remained unfazed.
When Piran retrieved the black container, Jose’s eyes darkened and sweat dotted his forehead.
“Touch that and you die,” the cyclist hissed.
Piran opened the container and lifted out a medical syringe. A swirling black volcano tore through his eyes. “Dark Fae blood,” he said, his voice like ice.
My heart stopped beating. “I didn’t know,” I whispered. “Honestly, I didn’t.”
Holy shit. Jose wasn’t a dark Fae, he was doping with dark Fae blood! The infusion of dark Fae blood explained his extra strength and stamina in races, not to mention his behavior. No wonder he was such an aggressive perv.
“You missed the start of your race, Meyers,” said a grating voice behind me.
Damn it. No! I turned and glared at Mia. “Apparently, so did you.”
Hands on her hips, she tossed her blonde hair over her shoulder. “I don’t need to race today. Just signed a contract with Team Ibsy this morning.” She noticed Piran and tilted her head. “Hi, I’m Mia,” she said sweetly.
Piran studied her. Her racing suit already unzipped to the danger point, she pushed the zipper down farther. Only Mia would wear a push-up bra when racing. I gritted my teeth but said nothing. I didn’t own Piran. He could make his own decisions.
She gave him a salacious smile, looking him up and down. “Boy, you are
. How’s about you and me . . .”
Mia stared at the syringe in Piran’s hand, and her face paled.
“Keep your mouth shut,” Jose warned her. Tolmin’s large hand squeezed Jose’s neck, and the cyclist let out a squawk.
I shook my head. “Mia, I can’t believe you’re doping with dark Fae blood.”
She crossed her arms. “Look who’s talking. Don’t expect us to believe you won that Michigan Avenue race in Chicago without a little help.”
Piran’s harsh gaze turned on me, and a muscle in his jaw twitched.
“I never doped,” I insisted. “Never.”
He returned the syringe to the container and slipped it into his pocket.
“That’s mine, you overgrown fairy,” Jose growled.
“Not anymore,” Tolmin replied. “This is evidence.”
“But you’ll ruin me!”
Tolmin’s smile was thin. “I believe that is the intention.”
Piran and his friend strode away, while I stood frozen, my mind reeling.
He thought I cheated
. Finally, my brain kicked in, and I ran after them. “Piran, stop! You have to believe me. I had nothing to do with their doping.”
Without slowing, he spoke over his shoulder. “You left your bike with them.”
“I don’t care.” Tears welled in my eyes. I really didn’t care if they jacked my bike. Not when my honor was on the line. Not when Piran believed I would even
injecting myself with the blood of dark Fae just to win a race.
He whirled on me, and I jerked back and stumbled, falling hard on my butt. No longer could I hold back the tears. Not only was I embarrassed, my damn tailbone hurt. Tolmin reached me first and helped me to my feet. With a sniffle, I managed to shut off the waterworks.
“Do you have any idea how angry I am about your behavior?” Piran demanded.
His eyes flashed like fireworks on the Fourth of July, so yeah, I had a good idea.
“You were in no shape to race today,” he fumed. “When your head hurt, I felt you scream inside. And still, you planned to race. You would risk your health? For what, Bailey?”
Damn it. He was acting all “Guardian” again. Rubbing my backside, I sighed. If only he understood. “I really want to go to nationals and be on a pro team.”
“He said he had a training regimen. Honestly, I thought it was like vitamins and protein supplements or something.” I wiped the dampness from my cheeks with the backs of my hands. “You can read my mind. Can’t you tell I’m not lying?”
His eyes narrowed as he regarded me. “I cannot tell if your thoughts are designed to deceive. Truthful thoughts are unguarded thoughts.”
“I wouldn’t deceive you, Piran. My mom, yes. Even Kelsi, sometimes.” Blowing out a breath, I finally met his gaze. “But not you.”
His mouth tightened. He didn’t believe me.
I squeezed my eyes shut. How could I convince him I’d never sell my soul to win a bike race? What did I need to show him in my mind to prove I was telling the truth?
“Stop thinking so hard!”
My eyes flew open, stunned by the gruffness in his voice. For a long moment, we simply stared at each other. Then his stance relaxed.
“Good. I believe you.” He nodded in Mia’s direction. “But not everyone does.”
“I don’t give a crap what she believes. Not anymore.”
Huddled with Jose by his team van, Mia was screaming at him.
I turned back to Piran. “So what will you do with the dark Fae blood?”
“Turn it in to the authorities and the World Federation of Cycling.” He took my hand in his and caressed my skin with his thumb. His expression softened. “I have been most worried about you.”
“He talks of nothing other than you!” Tolmin interjected. “On the drive here, I cannot make him shut down.”
“Shut up,” Piran said with a faint smile.
Tolmin folded his arms over his barrel chest. “No, I mean shut down. Your mind is Bailey, Bailey, Bailey. Enough!”
Piran’s smile grew into a sheepish grin, and I laughed. His fingers entwined with mine, the softness in his eyes filling me with hope. Maybe I hadn’t lost him after all.
But my heart sank when Coach Vinson’s team van rode past. How could I possibly tell Piran I couldn’t date him?
At my appointment with the doctor the next day, he laid down the law. No racing for two weeks, which meant I’d miss the rest of the Grand Prix Tour. Damn stupid cleat. My next chance to prove myself wouldn’t be until the Indiana Cycling Classic at the end of the month.
My cell phone chimed with a text message from Shannon asking me to call her. Curious. Why would she want to talk now after avoiding me for weeks? I tapped on her name.
“Bailey,” she said, upon answering. “I am
sorry for what’s been happening.”
“What do you mean?”
“I had no idea it was all lies! Mia and her…goddamn, she is such a bitch. She told me you’d been using performance-enhancing drugs, like anabolic steroids and human growth hormone. She never mentioned doping with dark Fae blood. Oh no. Wouldn’t have wanted to draw attention to what Jose was really selling her. I’m just really sorry I doubted you.”
“Aww, thanks,” I said.
“Well, actually . . . Honestly, I wouldn’t have dissed you just because of the drugs, but Mia told me you slept with Jose while I was dating him.”
I groaned. Sheesh, I couldn’t think of anyone I’d
want to sleep with. I said as much to Shannon, in a nice way though. No sense in insulting her.
“Friends again?” she asked.
“Yeah, totally. But next time someone tells you something crazy about me, ask me about it first, okay?”
Relief filled her laughter. “You got it. I was just such an idiot for believing her. I should have suspected there was a reason she was sucking up to me. I know, stupid.” She paused. “Hey, you up for driving together to the Indiana Cycling Classic? We can go in my car.”
“Sure, that sounds great.”
. I still can’t believe Jose has been doping with dark Fae blood!”
“Me neither. Explains a lot, doesn’t it?” I laughed. It felt great to have Shannon as my friend again.
After our conversation ended, I decided to spend the afternoon studying cycling videos online. But I couldn’t get my Guardian Fae out of my mind.
My happy mood took a steep dive. If only my chance at convincing Coach Vinson to take me back wouldn’t mean ending any hope of a relationship with Piran. Except there
no choice. I’d worked too hard training and racing to throw away my goals, not even for a guy as amazing as Piran.
I pushed my chair away from my desk and absently stared out my bedroom window. Being an adult really sucked sometimes.
My phone suddenly jangled with Piran’s ring tone, and I jumped in my seat. I stared at his name flashing on the screen, but refused to answer the call. How could I tell him we were over when we’d only just begun?
He was nothing if not persistent though. Finally, with a heavy heart, I tapped the answer key.
“My beautiful Bailey,” he said. Just the sound of his voice made my heart skip a beat. Traitorous heart. “I would love to take you to the park today.”
A smile tugged on my lips. Something about his accent never failed to light a spark inside me. Almost on instinct, I said yes, until Coach popped into my head wagging a finger at me. If I wanted back on his team, I had to play by his rules. Damn, my subconscious was cruel.
“Um, sorry, but I need to stay home.”
There was a pause on Piran’s end. I rubbed my palm against my thigh. Had he read my mind yesterday and already knew why I couldn’t go?
“I thought your doctor said you needed a break from the stress of racing?” he asked. “To relax and freeze.”
“You mean chill,” I said breaking out in giggles. I loved how his silly mistakes made me laugh. I needed that. He was right. A break from the stress of racing was exactly what the doctor ordered. And how would Coach even find out? It wasn’t as if the man was spying on me.
Arggh. No. I couldn’t take the risk. Not with so much at stake.
“I can’t, Piran.”
“Is something wrong?” he asked softly.
My breath hitched. “No, I mean . . .”
“What if I said please?”
I laughed. The hell with Coach’s stupid rule. I had a right to live my life. There was no reason I couldn’t handle both racing and dating. “Yes, I would love to go out.”
“Pick you up in an hour.”
I tapped off my phone. With a bounce in my step, I grabbed a small cooler from the basement and headed for the kitchen, where I made sandwiches and cut up fruit for a salad. Then I whipped up a batch of chili cheese dip and stuffed a bag of nacho chips into the cooler.
After slipping on my black Converses, I waited by the front screen door. When the growl of Piran’s car announced his arrival, I hurried outside.
His car’s winged doors opened, and I searched for a spot to put our lunch. With no back seat, my options were limited, so I simply held the cooler on my lap.
After I buckled my seatbelt, Piran gave the cooler a curious glance.
“Picnic food,” I explained. “You said we were going to the park.”
“Grant Park. In Chicago.”
“Ohhh. Well, why didn’t you just ask me to drive down?”
“And lose a chance to drive the car I paid to have shipped here?” He grinned.
Returning the grin, I braced in my seat as he hit the gas.
Arriving in downtown Chicago, we parked in the garage underneath Grant Park. Carrying the cooler, I held his hand as we strolled to the gardens on the north side. The sun shone high in the clear sky, but the breeze from Lake Michigan kept the summer’s heat from roasting us.
With a deep inhale, I savored the delicate fragrance of all the bright flowers around us, and then ran like a little girl from the multitude of bumblebees, sending Piran into a fit of laughter.
I stared him down. “Fine! Come protect me, my big, strong . . .”
He held out his hand, and a ginormous, fuzzy bumblebee landed on his thumb. I held my breath while the bee crawled across his palm. Gently, Piran lowered his hand to a cluster of violet flowers, and the bee ambled off, wings vibrating, before bouncing to another flower.
He cocked an eyebrow at me, and I shook my head, but the look on his face said I should at least try. Closing my eyes, I held out a shaking palm.
“Hold still,” he whispered. “They are frightened easily.”
They are frightened?
Swallowing hard, I stilled. When a scratchy tickle traversed my wrist, I nearly lost my cool. I opened one eye just in time to see the bumblebee lift off in flight. I stared at Piran. “Did you do that for me?”
His smile broadening, he wrapped an arm around my waist, and we watched a flutter of monarch butterflies forage and a hummingbird hover nearby. Releasing an appreciative sigh, I rested my head against the crook of his arm, and raised my face to the sun. I couldn’t believe how much I enjoyed being with him.
“Come, Bailey,” Piran finally said. “Let us enjoy the picnic you packed. Then we can drive to the harbor and walk along the lake front.”
I smiled. Maybe he’d call forth a lake trout for me.
We headed to a wide expanse of lawn to search for a picnic spot, and I spied a huge willow tree with a beautiful canopy of flowing branches. Perfect! I took off running.
I whirled around just as Piran jumped into the air behind me. A shiny, metal disc about the size of a plate spun down from the sky and spiked the ground.
He landed in a crouch and stared at me with white eyes, tension etched around his mouth. A line of red crossed his palm where drops of blood bubbled forth.
“Are you okay?” I gasped, unable to tear my gaze away from his hand.
Voices shouted around us, and Piran squinted past my shoulder. A stern look crossed his face, and he strode past me.
I turned and faced about twenty or so dark Fae.
Piran spoke not a word, but the dark Fae fell to their hands and knees, heads tucked beneath their arms, cowering like frightened dogs.
. My hands clammy, I set down the cooler. I’d never seen how the Guardian Fae kept the dark Fae in line, and from their reaction, I was pretty sure I didn’t want to again.
When four Chicago police officers came running over, Faezers drawn, I took a step back, heart pounding, wishing I had something to hide behind. Piran said something to the dark Fae in his native language and raised a hand to the officers, a gesture to wait, and the officers slowed.
Piran stood before the kneeling dark Fae and spoke to them, his words no more than a low murmur to me. One of the officers retrieved the metal disc from the ground and held it gingerly between black-leather gloved fingers. Sharp spikes edged the rim. A weapon? The dark Fae had tried to attack us?
I gulped. Fucking surreal. In broad daylight. And Grant Park wasn’t even one of the more sketchy areas of Chicago.
Piran gestured with his hands, and the dark Fae rose and shuffled around, heads down. No longer scared, they seemed more embarrassed. Although one could never tell with dark Fae, particularly the less human-looking ones. The police officers approached Piran, and after a moment of conversation, they sheathed their Faezers.
While the officers turned and spoke with the dark Fae, Piran jogged back to me.
“What’s going on?” I asked in a hushed whisper. “Why did they attack us?”
Piran’s eyebrows rose. “Attack us? No. They were playing razor Frisbee. But they know better than to play so close to humans. The razor discs are . . .”
He held out his hand, the red line on his palm already fading.
Razor Frisbee? I growled beneath my breath. Chalk it up to the dark Fae to have a game that could take someone’s head off.
The following day at work, I sold several kids’ bikes in the morning, but by afternoon, the store was dead. I resorted to wiping down all the bikes in the show room. Then I started alphabetizing accessories.
“I am interested in purchasing a bicycle,” a familiar voice called from behind me.
“Of course, sir,” I replied, turning around, trying to keep a straight face. “Let me show you some of our top sellers.”
I wandered into a bank of kids’ bikes and retrieved a shiny silver and red tricycle. “This little number is fast. You’ll be the king of your block.”
Piran nodded thoughtfully. “May I try it?”
“Of course.” I set it down, and he eased his tall frame onto the seat. I gestured to the pedals. “Feet up so I can be sure this bike is the right size for you.”
He drew up his legs, and his feet flailed as he aimed for the tiny pedals. “Is this good?” he grunted, giving me a pained look, his knees nearly to his ears.
“Whoa, dude,” Tyler said with a laugh. He finagled a mountain bike down from the ceiling hooks. “I think this is more your size.”
I wrinkled my nose at the bike mechanic. “You’re killing my sale here.”
Chuckling, Tyler slipped a wrench from his back pocket. “Let me adjust the saddle height . . . There.” He held out the bike to Piran. “Here you go.”
Straddling the mountain bike, Piran smiled. “Can I test-drive this outside?”
Nick skirted the front counter, wariness evident in his eyes, but the beginning of an amused smile lifted his lips. How long had he been watching?
Piran regarded Nick for a moment, then cocked his head. “Lead the way.”
Nick grabbed a mountain bike off the sales floor and headed for the front door.
I groaned. They had to be kidding me. Granted, Nick was a skier and not a cyclist, but had Piran ever ridden a bike before?
“Go with them,” Tyler said, shooing me. “I’ll keep an eye on the shop.”
I dashed out the front door and caught up to them walking their bikes to the alley next to the bakery. “What do you two think you’re doing?”
Nick shrugged. “Having an impromptu bike race.”
“Isn’t this a little, um . . .”
“Come on, Bails. Cheer me on!” My friend jumped on his bike and rode down the alley.
With a wink, Piran mounted his saddle and tore after Nick. What the hell? Piran pedaled like a pro. Slapping a hand over my mouth, I shook my head in disbelief.
They crossed the finish line in a near split finish and circled around to face me, both laughing. A lightness bubbled up inside my chest. Nick and Piran were getting along! Bouncing on my toes, I gave them an enthusiastic wave.
Smiling, Piran rode back, then dismounted.
I threw my arms around his neck. “You sandbagger. Why didn’t you tell me you could ride like that?”
His eyes widened. “Had no idea I could! But I study your form when you race.”
Pulling over, Nick snickered. “Study your form.”
I smacked Nick on the arm.
My friend grinned. “Hey Bails, this guy could be a hardcore track racer. You should take him to the velodrome sometime.”
“Sure, Nick. As soon as you go.”
He lifted his hands, his mouth puckering like he’d just tasted something bad. “And risk my life riding a bike with no brakes on a banked wooden track? No way.”
We both laughed. Nick waved us off and headed back to the bike shop.
“When are you free from work?” Piran asked.
“About an hour,” I replied.
“Would you like to see a movie tonight?”
“Sure. Do you have a specific one in mind?”
“My friend Tolmin wants to see the movie about the water aliens that attack Manhattan and join the New York Knicks.”
“Tolmin?” I rubbed my chin with the back of my hand. “Um, okay.”