Authors: Marie Treanor
Tags: #sequel, #selkies, #Romance, #Paranormal, #seals, #Scotland, #shape-shifters, #In book 2, #in his wildest dreams, #suspense, #Contemporary, #Scottish Highlands
Desire beyond imagination…danger that’s all too real.
A sequel to In His Wildest Dreams
World-weary, burned-out undercover cop Aidan Grieve’s latest assignment has brought him home to the Highland village he couldn’t wait to leave, but something’s definitely wrong in Ardknocken.
When did his parents get so frail? What is his sister thinking, befriending the chief suspects in his investigation—the ex-cons of Ardknocken House? And why can he barely control his instant attraction to the house’s beautiful manager?
Her mind and body still mending from a vicious attack, ex-parole officer Chrissy Lennox isn’t ready for a complication like the charming, empathetic, gorgeous Aidan, a restless adrenaline junkie for whom this sleepy village has never been big enough.
Yet as easily as the meddling selkies shed their skins, desire strips away their hesitation, and not even the cold Scottish sea can cool the fire. But as Aidan’s investigation progresses, so does the danger—revealing secrets that could leave their hearts in pieces.
Warning: When our hero is good, he’s
good…but when he’s bad, he’s delicious! Also contains lusty, mischievous selkies who’ll steal your heart with one flipper while stealing your underwear with the other.
In Her Secret Fantasy
Chapter One The selkies swam close to the shore among their seal brethren. It had been some time since they’d touched this particular coast, but as Runi hauled himself onto a rock and gazed into the darkness, he saw that the big house still stood on the hill, high above the cliff. Unlike the last time he recalled being here, he sensed humanity there.
Even more interesting, he caught a ripple of feminine unhappiness. A troubled soul, a blast of helpless, unfulfilled lust. Just the woman he was looking for.
Beside him, Dyrfinna sensed it too and sniffed. Since seal communication wasn’t sophisticated enough for what she wished to convey, she spoke telepathically, directly into his mind. “You needn’t look so smug. She wants a man, not a pet.”
“Don’t be jealous, dear. She doesn’t even know she wants a man yet. I wonder if she’s beautiful?”
“She’s probably fat and fifty.”
“Fat and fifty can be beautiful,” Runi insisted. “Even in humans.” But in his heart, he knew she was younger, and definitely lovely. He wondered what unhappiness disturbed her. A man, probably. It was usually a man.
Around them, the seals hauled themselves up onto rocks or lay on the sand at the edge of the waves, resting before returning to their eternal quest for food. Runi needed more than food for his wellbeing. And he was growing just a little bored with the life of the sea.
With insatiable curiosity, whiskers twitching, he sensed more widely, into the village and the outlying areas. The usual mixture of human emotions, both positive and negative, bounced harmlessly off him. There was definitely more than a little female lust lurking in the region, and he wouldn’t mind turning to that to pass the time, just until the woman in the big house noticed him.
From the corner of his eye, he saw that Dyrfinna was smiling as she lifted her nose into the air. A familiar spark of jealousy caused him to home in on whatever or whoever she’d sensed. A man in pieces, lost. And he seemed to be coming closer.
“Mine,” Dyrfinna purred. “I know him already from when he was a boy. You can have your lustful lady, Runi. I will have
Chrissy sighed and lowered the binoculars. Her hands no longer shook. The dream that had wakened her had faded in her wonder at the moonlit gathering on the beach. She’d never seen so many seals in one place before. Sprawled across rocks and sand, they looked beautiful and strangely magical, bathed in a dim, silvery glow.
As she turned from the window, her stomach now calm and painless, it struck her that she could go closer. She could walk down to the beach and have a much better look. The seals wouldn’t mind.
She smiled. Maybe they were the selkies of legend, shape-shifting seals. Maybe one would just walk out of the sea towards her, a gorgeous man built like an Olympic swimmer, who’d wrap her in his muscular arms and sweep her off her feet. A little body worship, a little sex. Oh yes.
Heat swept through her, strong and powerful. It had been so long since a man had held her, made love to her.
Just for a moment, she let herself dwell on the fantasy of her selkie emerging from the sea, water tumbling from his broad shoulders and naked, narrow hips. His arms were strong as they lifted her, his chest damp and salty under her lips. He laid her in the sand, caressing her breasts, kissing her mouth, pushing gently, slowly into her desperate body. She gazed up into his face…
But, of course, he didn’t have one.
As fantasies went, this one was pretty shite. Her lust was too…unspecific. She didn’t know who or what she wanted, and in any case, she was likely to run screaming from anyone who touched her. A shape-shifting seal was unlikely to change that.
Her smile twisted as she glanced back towards the distant beach. So, she’d ditch the fantasy. But she wouldn’t mind watching the seals from a bit closer. There was nothing to stop her. Except, of course, it was four in the morning and she had a busy day coming up. It was Hogmanay, New Year’s Eve, and there was a party to organize. Plus the village shops would all shut down for at least two days from about midday.
Then, three of the new men who were joining the ex-prisoners’ cooperative project at Ardknocken House had turned up over the last couple of days, and another was due before the third of January. It took time to integrate these guys, to make sure they understood the ethos of the place and yet still felt comfortable.
Going to the beach in the middle of the night was a bad idea. She’d sleep better now she’d seen the seals swimming and hauling themselves onto the sand. She reached up to close the curtains, but couldn’t resist a last glance down to the beach. Two seals lay on the largest rock, their round heads at identical angles. She could almost imagine they were staring at her, willing her to come and play.
Or make love,
her randy body suggested.
She smiled again. Sod that. She didn’t need ridiculous sexual fantasies. The beauty of the seals had taken her mind off the horror that still woke her from time to time with uncontrollable shaking, and she was forever grateful for that. She closed the curtains and climbed back into bed.
Louise woke to darkness. Her heart beat a little too fast from her already fading dream, and yet she doubted that was what had wakened her. She glanced at her alarm clock. Four forty-five. Too early to get up…though if she did, she’d get a head start cleaning the house. If she worked hard enough she’d be knackered by midnight and would probably fall asleep as soon as the new year arrived—which would stop her thinking of another year passing her by.
Annoyed by the surge of self-pity, she threw back the quilt, and froze as the unmistakable screech of the front door hinges interrupted her plans. An instant later, she flew across the room, grabbing her dressing gown from the back of the door as she bolted into the hall. Her father had Alzheimer’s, and her mother was deaf as a post since her accident—she wouldn’t have heard him getting up… Louise just hoped he had his clothes on this time. Or at least his pyjamas.
As she reached the top of the stairs, she pulled up short at the sounds vibrating through the nearest door. Her father was snoring in his bedroom.
A trickle of fear twisted up Louise’s spine. Although this was still a bed-and-breakfast establishment, they had no guests. It was Hogmanay. Everyone was home or going home for New Year. She and her parents were all in the house, so who the hell was opening the door?
Her heart drummed now. This was Ardknocken, not the big city. There was no crime to speak of. She only locked the doors to keep her father safe inside, not to keep anyone out, and yet someone was definitely coming in. She heard the front door close with a gentle click, and the dull thud of something being set on the floor, soft footsteps heading for the living room… And then a light switch clicked and a dim glow pierced the darkness to the right before the closing door cut it off.
This was one blatant burglar. Kids. It had to be stupid kids. Louise flew down the stairs with no more weapon than her angry, blistering tongue. She flung open the living room door, her finger already raised to point and scold—and a fully grown man regarded her from in front of the window.
Tall, lean, dressed in jeans and a black leather jacket, his untidy blond hair flopping over his forehead and his collar. He’d opened the curtains, as if to remind himself of the view, and a faint smile hovered around his mouth.
“Sorry. I tried not to wake you.”
Louise picked her jaw off the floor and clenched her fists. “Aidan, you total, stupid—”
“I know,” Aidan said.
“You scared the crap out of me! I thought you were Dad breaking out, then kids breaking in!”
Aidan blinked. “In Ardknocken?” His brow twitched into a frown. “Why would Dad need to break out?”
“Well, if you’d bothered to come home in the last year, you’d know. Why didn’t you say you were coming? Couldn’t you phone?”
“It was a sudden decision.” Aidan turned from the window, walking towards the mantelpiece, where he picked up the old china dog that had always sat there. “I was going to come up after New Year, then last night I…” He set the dog back on the shelf with a shrug and turned away, moving restlessly to the sofa. But he didn’t sit down, just kept walking, looking around him.
Louise frowned. “Last night you what?” she prompted.
An odd smile twisted his lips. He hadn’t shaved for a day or so. For the first time, she noticed the new, taut lines around his eyes and mouth, the hard yet restless set of his normally steady eyes.
“I wanted to come home,” Aidan said.
Louise’s anger fell away like water. She crossed the room, reached up and hugged him. He was lean as whipcord. Every inch of him, every muscle seemed to be wound tight.
“Sorry,” she whispered. “Sorry. You took me by surprise, but I’m so glad you’re home…”
His arm closed around her back, convulsively, then released her almost immediately. Something was wrong with Aidan.
She said briskly, “Did you drive all the way up tonight in this weather? You must be shattered. Your bed’s made up, though, so you can crash now. Or do you want some coffee and breakfast?”
“Coffee’d be good,” he said, making for the kitchen. He paused in the doorway. “It looks exactly as it always has.”
“I know. We might get it refitted next year if business picks up.”
He glanced over his shoulder as he reached for the kettle. “Is it likely to?”
She shrugged. “Maybe. The guys at the big house want to organize fishing weekends, with their guests staying here.” She grabbed two mugs and the instant coffee.
“What, the ex-cons?”
“Yes, the ex-cons at the big house,” Louise agreed.
Aidan glanced at her quizzically. “You mean the village speaks to them? I thought there was a petition.”
Louise grinned. “There was. Asking Mr. Brody and his jailbirds to go somewhere else. Glenn wrote ‘No’ on it, and it sort of disappeared.”
“Glenn? You’re on first-name terms?”
“Well, he’s going out with a friend of mine. Izzy, who’s been staying in the flat upstairs. Don’t go all cop on me, Aid. Most of them seem all right to me.”
“Even though you thought I was a burglar?”
“Aye, well, I’m a bit frazzed,” Louise admitted, pushing the coffee cups towards the kettle and watching as Aidan poured water over the granules.
Then he turned his gaze on her, and at last that was pure Aidan: steady, searching, perceptive.
“New Year cleaning?” he said lightly.
Louise nodded and picked up one of the steaming mugs. She walked back to the living room and sat on the sofa. Aidan eased himself down beside her.
“You’d better tell me how bad it is,” he said.
“Shocking. The dust in that hall corner—”
Louise closed her eyes. “Dad’s gone down fast. The pills don’t seem to work anymore. He might not know you. He’s used to me being there, but I’m not sure he remembers who I am. Or Mum. He’s forgotten how to dress himself, and you have to remind him to go to the toilet. Mostly, he’s happy enough, when he doesn’t remember how much he’s forgotten. When he does…”
“Fuck,” Aidan said slowly. “Mum must be devastated.”
“She’s coping. And he mostly does what she tells him. But she’s still so frail from the accident—I’ve given up on that ever getting better—she can’t help him physically. Or hear what he says most of the time.”
When Aidan said nothing, she opened her eyes to find him still gazing intensely at her face. He dragged his hand over his chin. “Why didn’t you say? Why didn’t you tell me it had got so bad?”
She shrugged tiredly and sipped her coffee. “What good would that have done? You had to work.”
“I never imagined they’d have gone down so fast in a year…”
“Two years. You were only here one night last Christmas.”
His gaze fell, and she nudged him. “Not getting at you, Aid. I know the job keeps you away. I’m coping. Aunt Aggie helps out. So do Morag and Izzy, and Hugh next door is great.”
“I’ve left the job,” Aidan blurted.
Louise froze with her mug against her lips. She lowered it deliberately. “You’ve what?”
He shrugged. “I’ve resigned. Got a better offer from a private security firm.”
She searched his eyes. When had they got so secretive? So…haunted? But perhaps that was just imagination. “Is that what’s wrong with you?” she asked bluntly. “Do you regret it?”
“Resigning from the police? No. I’ve had enough.”
“I’m sorry,” Louise said. Dreams didn’t always work out. She should know. Didn’t make it easier to bear.
“I’m not,” Aidan said. “I need the change.”
Several hours later, Aidan closed the front door behind him and breathed in the cold, sharp air like a man deprived of oxygen for too long. Grief and shame tore at him, for what he’d left them to face alone for so long. He couldn’t have changed what was going on, but he could at least have made things slightly easier on his mother and Louise.
Common sense might tell him that if he hadn’t been working and able to send money home, then the family would have gone under and had to sell the house. Right now, that didn’t make him feel proud. And yet his throat was tight with his mother’s smile, and Louise’s banter, and even the shadow of his dad’s laughter…
He’d been away too long.
Aidan exhaled briskly and strode up the path to the road. Someone—Hugh—called an enthusiastic greeting from an upper window next door, and Aidan grinned and waved back. But he didn’t stop. If there had been less frost on the road, he’d have run, just to ease his muscles.
Settling for a fast walk, he avoided the High Street and cut down past the church towards the harbour. The salty smell of the sea, the calling of the gulls and the clean chill of the air invaded his senses, dragging a mountain of memories from childhood. A simpler life, one he couldn’t wait to escape. The enclosed, isolated life of the village had never been enough for him. He’d known he’d miss his family and friends when he left, but he’d never imagined he’d miss anything else. He must be a bigger wreck than he’d imagined.
What the hell were his bosses thinking of, sending him home for his final mission? Had they worked out before he did that he needed to come home?