Authors: Lori Handeland
Tags: #Novella, #New York Times Bestselling Author
Her brow creased; she lifted her gaze. He’d done something wrong. He wasn’t sure what.
Slowly she leaned forward and licked him again, then took all of him in her mouth. Shock made him stiffen; the movement pushed him farther within. The back of her throat rubbed against his tip, and the groan he’d been repressing broke free.
“Mmm,” she agreed, stroking his buttocks, pulling him in and out of her mouth in a simulation of the act he craved.
He meant to stroke her hair; instead he buried his fingers in the riotous curls and held on.
Something built in his belly, spread outward like a slow flickering flame. He tingled everywhere. Did he glow?
Quinn opened his eyes. There was a glow, but it came from the flickering lightning beyond the windows and not from him. If he hadn’t been half mad with lust he might have laughed at the idea of his skin sparkling, like the vampires in those foolish books and even sillier movies. Vampires did not glow, unless they were standing beneath the moon covered in someone’s blood.
The image sent a cold dose of reality over him, and he stepped away again, shook his head to clear it and glanced at the barred door. As a lock would not keep out a Nephilim, the chair was laughable. However, the red doors would, which was why he had them.
Megan reached for him. He caught her hands. If she touched him again—anywhere—this would be over. He should probably let her touch so that this
be over before he did something more foolish than falling in love with her. Was there anything more foolish than that?
She was still completely clothed while he was naked as the day he’d been made. He would like to do something about that. He would like to do many things but...
Quinn glanced at the door.
“Oh, no, you don’t,” Megan muttered, and pulled off her shirt. Before he could stay her she lifted her hand, made a twisting motion at the center of her bra, and her round, soft, glorious breasts sprang free.
His mouth went dry; he couldn’t move. Could only stand there like a fool and stare as she shimmied out of her jeans, revealing a slim silver chain about one ankle. He licked his lips, considered licking his way from that chain to her—
The lightning flickered, and she glimmered, her skin the shade of pearls. His dry mouth suddenly watered. His tingling hands began to itch. His cock leapt.
She was both life and death, everything he wanted, all that he craved. When she held out one hand, captivated he took it, and then he took her.
Soft and warm, so tight he gasped. Her fingers clenched on his biceps, nails digging in. Had he hurt her?
A rún mo chroí
,” he began.
“Shh,” she whispered, eyes closed, face intent.
He wanted to stare forever at that face, remain for always just like this, never leave, never speak, never know anything else. Then she tightened around him, and he nearly disgraced himself, was only able to retain control by going still as a statue and counting in Gaelic.
A haon, a dó, a trí, a ceathair—
She ran her nails across his back and murmured, “Now, Quinn,” and he forgot the word for five.
Was it the
, or the puff of that whisper past his ear that took away everything but need. He couldn’t help it he thrust—just once, he promised, only that.
And then he was thrusting, pumping, coming. She was grasping, gasping, coming too. He thought the world shook with the force of their joining, but it was only thunder.
He had read books, watched movies, heard... things. He had imagined; he had dreamed. But he had not known; he had not understood. Because he had never touched a woman.
When I awoke I felt delicious, and for an instant I just savored that without knowing why. I could not remember the last time my first thought on awakening had not been a worry—Max, the children, the bar, money, time, exhaustion, Liz.
“Hell.” Thinking of what I wasn’t worrying about made me worry. And remember.
I’d slept with Quinn.
While it had seemed like a good idea at the time, in retrospect...
I stretched, my body sore in all the right places. Images of the man, of me, of us, flickered like last night’s lighting.
In retrospect, it had been a damn fine idea. One I wanted to have again.
I opened my eyes. I could see the entire cottage, there wasn’t that much of it. Not a trace of Quinn, not even a stray sock. If it hadn’t been for the soreness of my body, which hadn’t been touched in so long I was surprised I wasn’t half crippled, I might think I’d imagined him.
Was he in the bathroom? I frowned. There wasn’t a bathroom.
Crap. I really needed a bathroom.
I clambered out of the bed, wrapped myself in a sheet and went to the window. The storm had blown away, leaving behind bright sunlight and a much greener Ireland than yesterday.
It had also blown away Ben’s car.
However, I had more pressing issues right now. My bladder. As I wasn’t going to traipse outside in a sheet, I found my clothes, and dragged the chair away from the back door.
Though the brilliant sheen of day made my fears of last night seem foolish, nevertheless, I picked up the discarded sickle and took it along. Despite popular literature, demons came out in the day as well as the night.
Upon further examination, the stone and plank building I’d thought a garden shed was not. I used it for what it had been meant then took a stroll through the garden. The rain had beaten down some of the plants, but the warm air and sun were perking them up. Still, something bothered me about the place. Something I couldn’t put a finger on.
A car door slammed and thoughts of the garden fled as I followed the sound.
Quinn climbed out of Ben’s car holding a takeout cup of coffee and a bag that smelled sweet and yeasty. The man knew what I needed.
His eyes met mine and everything that had happened last night rose up between us. I expected to be embarrassed. I’d banged my bartender. Instead, I only wanted to do him again.
“Morning,” he said.
I just smiled, afraid that if I spoke my voice would break or wobble.
He held out the cup. “Double shot, nonfat latte.”
“Here?” My excitement was so great my voice both wobbled and broke. I took the cup and downed a scalding gulp.
“You’d be surprised at what we have here.”
My fingers tightened around the sickle. I didn’t plan to be surprised again.
Quinn reached into the car and came out with another cup. His would be tea. Perhaps I knew him better than I thought.
“Ben,” I blurted, and Quinn’s brows lifted as he sipped. “He disappeared.”
Confusion filled his eyes, which appeared to have taken on the emerald shade of the grass this morning. The brilliant jeweled hue dazzled me. “I just saw him in town.”
“But he...” I glanced toward the garden, and suddenly I knew what had bothered me about it. The damn panther statue was missing. Or maybe the thing had gotten buried in the potatoes.
I didn’t realize I’d strode off until Quinn tried to catch up, caught his toe, spilled tea on his shirt and dropped the bag of yeasty goodness, which split open to reveal scones bursting with raisins. My mouth watered.
Nevertheless, I left him behind to gather them while I continued to the garden and used the sickle to push aside first the potato plants, then everything else.
“What’re you doing?”
“There was a panther statue here last night. Exactly like the statue in my garden in Milwaukee.”
I returned to the place I’d seen the stone and used the sickle to stir up the ground. Had the rain fallen so hard it had gotten buried?
“Gone,” I said. “Just like the one at home.”
“I don’t remember any statue, love.”
“You didn’t bring it?”
“Why would I do that?”
“I thought...” My voice trailed off. The statue wasn’t the problem. Or at least it wasn’t the biggest problem right now.
“There was some—” I paused. I’d been about to say some
. But I changed it to— “There was someone here last night.”
“Is that why you’re carrying around the weapon?”
I followed his gaze, saw that I was still swooshing the sickle through the garden with the hand that wasn’t around my coffee, clutching the thing as if it were a lifeline. “Yeah.”
“And why you nearly took off my head with it.”
“Sorry. I was spooked.”
“You’ve had a rough few days.”
I’d had a rough few years, but who was counting?
Me. However... I eyed Quinn. Maybe I could stop, or at least stop while we were here. A man who looked like him, who was basically a drifter, had to be accustomed with short-term affairs. I wanted one.
“The fellow who came to Murphy’s is dead. He can’t hurt you anymore.”
He hadn’t been a man, but we’d let that go.
“Ben told me about the
Quinn blinked. That
sounded mighty random.
“Then we heard a shriek. The box in the car was torn open. Whatever was in it was gone. Ben took the sickle into the backyard and then... poof.”
Quinn stared at me for a minute. “Maybe you should eat something.”
“You don’t believe me?”
“Ben didn’t go poof. He returned to town.”
“On the wings of angels?”
Quinn jerked and dropped the bag of scones again. If they weren’t in crumbles by now, they never would be. “I don’t understand.”
“He left his car. How did he get to town?”
“That’s my car. He was to leave it for you. He must have gotten a ride from a friend. Like I did.”
“What about the box?”
“There was no box in the car this morn.”
Didn’t mean there hadn’t been one, though I was starting to wonder.
“The shriek of the cat?”
“Cat’s shriek, usually when they’re... uh.” He blushed. The man was an infuriating, enticing blend of sin and innocence.
“It wasn’t that kind of shriek.”
“And you know this how?”
“I’ve heard cats shriek when they’re... uh. This wasn’t that. And it wasn’t a house cat.” He opened his mouth, and I kept talking. “It wasn’t a tomcat either. It was a big cat. A wild cat.”
“The wind whistles off the sea sounding like many things. Hence the legend of the
“Ben said the thing killed a lot of people. The wind doesn’t kill.”
That I knew of.
Quinn’s cup hit the ground and tea exploded, soaking into the already damp earth. He stared at it for a moment, then lifted his gaze to mine. “The
was a story used to frighten children into staying close to home.”
“Yet the town is named Red Door.”
“Red doors keep out evil spirits.” I lifted my chin to indicate the cottage. “You have two yourself.”
“A charming tradition you’ll see all over Ireland, as well as the UK. You truly think a painted door would bar evil from a threshold?”
Once upon a time, no. Today?
God, I hoped so.
* * *
“Let’s sit at the table to eat the scones.” Quinn started for the cottage.
“I thought they were
,” Megan said, using the British pronunciation of the word, which rhymed with
He set the bag on the table and rolled his eyes. “Please.”
If there was one thing the Irish avoided, it was anything British.
She laughed. “I don’t suppose there’s any clotted cream.” Her laughter faded. “No refrigerator.”
He shrugged. No need.
“You have lights but no appliances. Not even a toilet.”
“There’s a toilet.”
She gave him a withering glare. “That is
He experienced a moment of shame at the primitive nature of the place. However, its lack of amenities was one of the reasons it was so safe. The generator that powered the lights was fueled by propane, which anyone could buy. The water came from the well by means of an old-fashioned hand pump. He supposed he could put in a toilet and a shower, connect them somehow to the well and the generator, but that would involve workers and permits, payments and the like.
Would explaining all that arouse her suspicions higher than they already were? What kind of man kept a home that was off the grid unless he had something to hide?
A man who wasn’t truly a man. One who might never be.
The thought distracted him so that when she moved to set the sickle on one chair at the same time he reached for the bag of scones-that-rhymed-with-cones, his hand connected with the flint.
He drew in a breath, dropped the bag, spun as the pain ripped through him, cradling his hand against his belly, waiting for things to get much, much worse.
But they didn’t.
Megan leapt to her feet so fast her chair tumbled over. “Did I cut you?”
She yanked at his shoulder. He remained right where he was. He could not let her see.
“A little,” he lied. “It’s fine.” He started for the door.
“Wait. Let me—”
“Eat,” he said shortly. “I’ll wash it at the pump. ’Tis nothing.”
Quinn hurried to the garden. He spared a quick glance at the cottage. Megan stood in the doorway. From there she couldn’t see anything important, so he stuck one hand beneath the spout and used the other to pump. Cool water gushed. He let it cascade over the appendage until she returned to the table. Then he stopped and peered at the mark caused by the brush of the flint against his flesh.
D’anam don diabhal
,” he muttered.
There was no way he could explain why his hand had been burned and not cut.
The scones were soft, light, fluffy, not burned at all. So why had I smelled that unmistakably acrid scent when Quinn had dropped them on the table?
I sniffed at what was left of my coffee but it didn’t smell burned either. Perhaps someone had set fire to garbage nearby, and I’d merely caught a whiff.
Or I was losing my mind. Wouldn’t be the first time.
Max’s death had sent me to the edge. Only the kids, and Liz, had pulled me back. But I’d been close enough to feel that madness, sometimes I felt it still.
The scones were better than any I’d ever had in the States. Not that I’d tried any after the first, which had been dry, hard and downright nasty.
I had a sudden urge to try everything I’d ever heard was better here than there. Clotted cream, Guinness, wine, brown bread.
I glanced through the window. Quinn was gone.
I ran to the front door, threw it open, let out a breath. He stood at the trunk of the Fiat, poking around within.
“You need help?”
He straightened and banged his head on the top, reaching up to rub it with his uninjured hand. “I’m good.”
He had been. My lips curved. Maybe I’d try the clotted cream
the Irishman. Couldn’t hurt.
“I’ve got a first aid kit in here somewhere. I’ll be right in.”
He continued to poke around in the trunk. I lost interest and returned to the table where I contemplated the last scone. I should really save it for him.
I waited as long as I could, which wasn’t very long at all, and ate it. If everything here tasted like that, I was going to need two seats on the airplane when I returned home. Where my children were, or would be, should be.
My easy mood disappeared. How was I going to call them? What if there was an emergency and they tried to call me?
Quinn walked in, hand shrouded in gauze.
“Should you get that looked at?” I asked.
He shook his head. “It was in an odd place. I’ve cut myself before there. If I don’t keep it wrapped, it’ll just open again and again.”
“I’d like to go to town.”
He strolled to the table. I couldn’t help but admire the view and agree. He
He lifted his brows when he found nothing but an empty bag and coffee cup.
“We can get more in Red Door.”
“I’m not going back to Red Door.”
“I want to call the children. What if they have to call me? My cell has no service.”
“I already called your in-laws, told them where you were, how to contact us if they needed to.”
“You... Wait... What?”
“It’s not aeronautics, Megan.”
I blinked, then made the connection. “You mean it’s not rocket science?”
“Aye,” he agreed.
Sometimes he spoke like a little old British man.
“I brought you here to relax and get some rest. You won’t do either one if you’re worrying about the children.”
“I always worry about the children.” Even when they were sitting right next to me. I probably always would.
“You called my in-laws.” I remembered Susan’s question about Quinn and closed my eyes. “What did they say?”
“The children are having the time of their lives.”
That didn’t sound like Susan. She was not a “time of your life” gramma.
“They did seem a bit taken aback that you’d gone off to Ireland.”
I opened my eyes. “You think?”
His face creased. “I don’t understand.”
“One of the reasons my in-laws take the kids is so that they can have a few weeks away from a mother who works all the time.”
He still appeared confused.
“I never go on vacation. I have a business to run.”
“Not any—” The light dawned. “I told them what happened.” He lifted his good hand. “I asked them not to tell the children about the accident.”
I resisted the urge to snort. It had
been an accident, but I didn’t want Quinn to know that. Would he move on down the line to the next job if he knew I was marked by demons? A day ago I’d have paid him and said, “Goodbye and good luck.” Today I wasn’t sure what to do, what to say.
“I gave your mother-in-law my number. I explained that the cell service was bad way out here, but that my phone worked better than yours.”
“You told my in-laws that I’d left the country, and I’m staying in a remote cottage that has iffy cell service with my boy toy bartender. That’s swell.”
“I don’t understand why you say it like that.”
I spread my hands wide, waiting for him to catch up.
His eyes widened. “They think that I...? That you...? That we...?”
I snorted. “They thought that
you, me, we did.”
I looked him up and down. “It isn’t aeronautics.”
He blushed. I’d never seen him do that at home. Then again, at home he’d been Quinn, the bartender, and I was his boss. Now... well, hell. The last of my good mood fled. Now, things might get awkward.
“What’s a boy toy?”
Definitely awkward. “It means you and I, that we... “ I waved toward the bedroom.
This wasn’t about love. Couldn’t be. I needed to set some ground rules. Fast.
“Boy toy means we’re having fun.”
His eyebrows lowered.
“Just sex,” I continued.
“Just?” he repeated. “There’s nothing
He had a point. I should try to explain better, though why I had no idea. He was a hot, young bartender. He had to have had a hundred one-night-stands. Double damn.
“We didn’t use anything.” He blinked. I
switched gears, but I was still on the same subject. “No protection, Quinn.”
My voice was sharp. He winced, and I softened it. This wasn’t his fault.
What was he supposed to do? Run? He was a young man, and I wasn’t that old of a hag.
“I’m on the pill.” I had to be. The first few days of my periods were so heavy that without it I could barely drag myself from the house; there was no way I could work. “I won’t get pregnant.”
I’d once dreamed of having half a dozen kids. Silly in this day and age, but I loved kids, loved being a mom. I still did, though having to be a dad, as well, sucked.
“You sound sad,
My gaze met his.
looked sad. Most guys his age would panic at the very mention of pregnancy.
“I feel foolish. We should have used something, but I’m not... I haven’t. Since Max.”
“I know,” he murmured. “If you’re worried about disease ye needn’t be. I would never be the cause of any harm.”
“You haven’t slept with anyone since your last blood test?” I clarified.
His forehead creased. “I’ve never slept with anyone attall.”
I laughed. “Right. You don’t sleep. Ha.”
“Megan, I don’t—”
I lifted a hand. “Enough said.” I did
want to hear details about his lack of sleep with other women. Oddly, it bothered me to think that there’d
other women. Which was stupid. As I’d told him before, this was sex, not love.
“Did my mother-in-law say anything else?”
His gaze went distant. “There was something about a cougar. I told her that the legend was about the
—a panther. She didn’t seem to understand what I meant. Although I have no idea how she knew we were in
. I didn’t tell her.”
“Cougar,” I repeated, and the light dawned. “She wasn’t talking about the legend. She was talking about me.”
. I wasn’t that old.
“What does a cougar have to do with you?”
“Do you watch any television, Quinn?”
“Why would I?”
I suddenly realized I knew nothing about him after he left Murphy’s. Where did he live? What did he do? Who were his friends?
“What do you do in your free time?”
He looked away, lifted one shoulder. “Sleep.”
“You work and you sleep?” Sounded like me.
His gaze flicked to mine. “You’re changing the subject.”
Was I? I hadn’t meant to.
“Why did your mother-in-law use the word cougar?”
Maybe I had meant to.
“A cougar is a name for an older woman who likes younger men.”
“You aren’t older than me.”
I laughed. He didn’t. “Quinn, I’m at least five years older than you, maybe more.”
“How old are
I resisted the urge to say,
I asked you first
, the childishness of which would only prove his point.
“Twenty-nine,” I said. Though there were days, as well as nights, that I could swear I was aging in dog years—seven for every one—which would make me two hundred and three. That felt about right.
“I am much older than that.”
He opened his mouth, shut it again, tilted his head. “How?”
“Driver’s license?” I held out my hand.
“I didn’t bring it.”
“Passport?” He glanced out the door. “You had to have that or they wouldn’t have let you on the plane.”
“I left it in the car of the friend who brought me here.”
“Not really.” His gaze returned to mine. “Does age matter?”
“No.” Age didn’t matter. Lying did. Though I wasn’t sure what, exactly, Quinn was lying about, I did know he was lying.
I was the mother of three. I could smell a lie as clearly as a recently soiled diaper.
* * *
Quinn’s hand burned as sharply as his chest. He should probably breathe—not that lack of breathing would kill him—but he couldn’t let out the air he’d taken in until she stopped staring at him as if he’d lied right to her face.
He had, but how did she know that?
The same way she knew when Anna had watched a show on the TV box that she shouldn’t, or Aaron read a comic book instead of a schoolbook, or Benji ate everyone’s candy.
“About last night,” she began, and the breath he’d held in rushed out.
That she’d kissed him had been a miracle; that she’d touched him even more. The joining of their bodies had been beyond anything he’d ever dreamed. Who would dream something like that?
“We can’t do it again.”
He thought they could. In fact, he thought they could again right now.
“Don’t look at me like that,” she said.
“Like... like... “ She threw up her hands. “Like you’re that damn
and I’m a mouse.”
He froze. “Why would you say somethin’ like that?”
She let out
breath. “You work for me, Quinn. It’s taking unfair advantage if I—”
“I don’t mind.”
“I mind. My mother-in-law is a bitter, sad woman, but she isn’t the only one who’d think badly of me for—”
“Who cares what anyone thinks?”
“I have a business to run. A small business in a local neighborhood.”
“I don’t understand.”
“It might be the twenty-first century, but it isn’t really.”
He spread his hands. She wasn’t making any sense.
“We might be living in a more enlightened age, but it still wouldn’t be good for business if it gets out that I’m banging the help.”
“We’ll be quiet.” At her obvious confusion, he continued. “We won’t bang about at all.”
One short, sharp laugh escaped before she quelled it. “I have small children.”
“They aren’t that small,” he muttered.
He sighed. “I’d marry ye—”
“Whoa!” She held up a hand. “I don’t even know you.”
He let his gaze travel from the tip of her curly red head to the toe of her well-worn shoe—not that long of a trip, but an enjoyable one—then lifted his brows.
“That’s not what I meant. We can’t continue this...” She waved a hand toward the still rumpled bed visible through the open door into the bedroom.
“I understand. Back there you have children, the business, your friends and... his.”
“Back there,” she echoed, and her gaze went to the bed, stayed there a while. She licked her lips, and he wanted to do the same, even before they curved and her blue eyes met his. “In Milwaukee this ends. But here... “
“Here?” he repeated, both hoping she was saying what he thought and fearing it.
“Here I don’t have anything else to do.” Her smile broke free. “But you.”
She took the few steps that separated them, bumping her breasts against his chest. His hands clenched. The burn throbbed. He throbbed.
He knew what she was asking. He also knew what he must say. He might be able to explain away a single night in her bed as an accident, bad judgment, a mistake. But a dozen? Even half that?
Liz Phoenix would kill him.
He opened his mouth to refuse but the words that came out were, “All right.”