Authors: Christina Dodd
In her tissue-thin t-shirt and worn old
boxers, she slipped from her bed. Going to the window, she looked
Spring was supposed to be coming, but the
cold, hard winter refused to give up. New York sidewalks glittered
with frost, and the tall, old, homeless woman who trudged down the
street waved her arms as if trying to fend off the cold. Or … or as
if she were giving a tour of the nineteenth century mansions that
lined the street.
With a shiver, Amanda grabbed her blue cotton
bathrobe from behind her closet door, pulled on her fuzzy green
socks, and grabbed her blanket. But when she went back to the
window, the old woman was gone, pushed by the north wind onto a
Amanda supposed the old woman was crazy. So
many of the street people were. But if she didn’t free Sophia soon,
Amanda could see herself walking the streets, giving tours to
invisible crowds of people. Sometimes it seemed as if the stress
was too much. Already, at night when she couldn’t sleep, she paced
the lonely corridors of Irving's mansion, making plans to rescue
Sophia, or imagining vengeance on Liam, or futilely seeking
placed her blanket back on her bed, opened her door, and down the
dimly-lit hallway she went, trying to remember what it was like
before Sophia was taken. She had slept like a baby then, always
tired from a long day of getting Sophia to school, working at the
hospital all day, and making dinner for Sophia in the evenings,
while her little sister did her homework. On the weekends, they
films and played
Amanda didn’t have her own life. She had no
time of her own, and while she knew what she was missing, she also
knew what she had; a sister and a family. When Liam came along, he
had had to ask and beg and grovel before she would date him, and
even then she was always home early. Sophia had no parents. She had
little enough of the normal existence. Amanda was determined to
always be there for her.
She had failed miserably, and all because one
wicked Irishman had convinced her she could have both — her sister,
and a lover.
Now Amanda wandered the wide and elegant
halls, wishing for her old cramped apartment back if it meant she
could be with Sophia and not know that Liam was one of the
Padding down the main stairway in her
stocking feet, she started to glide along the front hallway’s
marble floors, pretending to ice skate in Central Park. She twirled
and smiled, a pretend flirt on pretend ice. It reminded her of the
way she and Liam had been a few weeks before Christmas, silly in
love … or at least she had been.
Who could have blamed her? He had looked
amazing, the color in his cheekbones heightened from the cold, his
black hair hidden by a ridiculous fleece hat with earflaps.
She’d never learned to ice skate, so Liam had
led her around, skating backwards and holding her hands so she
could easily follow.
As she glided past the stairway that led down
to the kitchen, the sound of clattering plates awoke Amanda from
her memories. Probably a good thing, since that bastard Liam had
crushed the hope that someone would finally take care of her, as
she had taken care of Sophia. Even now, his perfidy left an empty,
aching place in her heart.
Her growling stomach reminded her she hadn’t
managed to swallow much of Martha’s dinner. She would join
whichever of the Chosen Ones was pilfering from the fridge.
Jogging down the stairs to the basement,
Amanda stopped short.
Apparently the other person who had had the
leftovers idea was Liam.
He stood in the massive kitchen, heaping goat
cheese and roasted garlic onto a piece of toasted bread, a glass of
deep red wine standing at the ready next to his plate of olives and
cold shrimp. Amanda had to admire a man with that much of an
appetite, especially one wearing snug blue jeans and not a thing on
his chiseled chest except for a dusting of black hair and the famed
dragon tattoo. “Aren’t you cold?” she blurted.
He looked up, looked her over, and smiled.
Smiled as if the sight of her with her bedhead hair, crummy blue
bathroom and fuzzy green socks gave him pleasure. “Well, what have
we here?” he asked. “Another lover of the midnight snack?”
Amanda cleared her throat and tried to focus
on anything other than that dragon, sprawling across his chest in
glorious Technicolor, clawing at his gorgeously muscled bare torso.
And his tousled black hair that she wanted to run her fingers
through. And that smile that cajoled and reassured.
The man was lethal — in more ways than
“Or perhaps another insomniac. Are you
worried, darlin’, about tomorrow?”
“It’s a good plan you came up with. As good a
plan as is possible considering who — or what — we’re dealing with.
So don’t worry.” Liam projected reassurance. “And have a little
“Yes. Thank you.” She appreciated his
reassurance even more than his offer of food. “I would like that.
The snack, I mean. I didn’t eat much at dinner.”
“Neither did I, darlin’. Planning and eating
don’t seem to go hand-in-hand.” Liam grabbed another crimson plate
from the stack in the tall, glass-front cupboards and set it on the
granite tabletop to fill with food.
“Although I should get back to bed.” She
really should. She should run away and try to ignore her growling
stomach. Because sharing a quiet meal with Liam was foolhardy. She
And yet she lingered.
Ignoring her, Liam pulled Tupperware
containers out of the fridge, opening them and placing a little of
each delicious food on Amanda’s plate. Soon, she had an array of
tidbits that made her mouth water. Liam moved like a man
comfortable in a kitchen, pulling a sparkling wine glass out of the
hanging racks and filling it with wine from the open bottle.
Amanda watched mesmerized until Liam silently
offered her a bench seat at the enormous granite-topped table.
Shaking her head, she moved to the other side of the table.
He pushed the plate over to her and sat down
She wrapped ham around a caper berry and
dipped both in whole-grain mustard.
Heaven. The dates, almonds, sliced Serrano
ham, caper berries, and pesto-smeared bread were precisely what her
tired mind needed, and she thoroughly enjoyed herself — until she
realized Liam watched her intently.
“Can I help you?” she asked, an annoyed edge
to her voice.
Liam smiled slowly, seductively. “Only if you
can tell me how you can look so sexy while eating.”
mocking her, and she did
So what if she enjoyed eating? That was no
reason to make her self-conscious about it.
But Liam didn’t seem to be following her
train of thought. Instead he picked one of the dates off her plate,
sliced it halfway through with a sharp knife, slid a spiced almond
inside, and held it out for her.
“Liam,” Amanda said firmly, “I don’t need to
“You’ll like it, I promise. The cumin on the
almond plays upon the sweetness of the date.”
“You’ve been watching too many cooking
“Come on, darlin’. You said you were
Amanda considered how she hard she could bite
down on his hand while taking the date from him. But almond-stuffed
dates did sound pretty darn decadent. And if she bit him, he might
retaliate, and he was stronger and taller and more muscular….
She was staring at his chest again.
So she leaned forward with her eyes closed,
ready to savor the delight.
But instead of a date, she was met with
Liam’s lips. His firm, warm lips.
Opening her eyes, she pulled back with a gasp
and did the first thing that popped into her head.
She slapped him across the face.
The sound reverberated through the high
ceiling, echoing off the tile floors.
Liam was clearly shocked that she would slap
was just as shocked. She had never slapped
. She’d seen it in the romantic comedies she loved
to watch, but she didn’t think women ever actually slapped a man
for being brazen.
than the violent sting of her palm and the tiniest bit of guilt she
felt about the red hand print on Liam’s left cheek, she was pretty
proud of herself.
Take that, you cocky Irishman
Liam sat down on his side of the table and
stared. “I cannot believe you slapped me. You actually slapped me.
Who does that?”
“Probably the same type of over-dramatic
people who think switching proffered food for an unwanted kiss is
the thing to do!” He deserved it. He really did.
Was she trying to convince herself?
“You used to like kissing me.” He had the
nerve to sound indignant. “You used to like it when I fed you.”
Amanda could feel the heat rising in her
neck, flushing her cheeks. Her anger filled every inch of her until
it rushed out, smashing into Liam and his good memories. She
pointed her finger at him. “You’re right, Liam. I used to like all
of those things. Then you betrayed me.” Half-rising from the bench,
she poked his chest for emphasis. “You ruined my life. You made me
lose my job. You made me lose my home. You made me lose my
Liam leaned back, then stood up, trying to
escape her rage.
Amanda stood and stalked toward him. “I am
tired of keeping all my emotions in check. I am tired of seeing you
every damn week when all you do is make me think about Sophia. I am
tired of tricking good people to help the bad ones. And I am sick
and tired of you, Liam Gallagher.”
As he backed up toward the refrigerator, his
lips became tighter and tighter.
Amanda had never really seen Liam angry.
But he was now, and he came back at her, eyes
flashing a hot blue. “You think my life has been a picnic? Since
that day, none of the Others and none of their thugs have trusted
me. I’ve been mocked and beaten. Then I have to see you every week
and have you use every chance to tell me how I ruined your
Amanda stood stock-still, her finger still
raised in front of his chest.
His voice grew quiet, the heat of his anger
cooling as he leaned back against the metal refrigerator door. “I
shouldn’t care what you think of me. I shouldn’t be telling you why
I am what I am. But I do care, so look — the Others saved me from a
miserable existence in Ireland. They fed me and clothed me. No one
had ever bothered to do that. I was asked to do questionable things
to people who possibly didn’t deserve it. But that’s a small price
to pay for not starving every winter.”
Deflated, Amanda lowered her finger.
She hadn’t known that. Why hadn’t he told
Maybe because she hadn’t asked about his
past. He had seemed the perfect man, interesting and interested in
her, kind to her sister, looking toward a future together.
That should have made her suspicious if
nothing else did.
hadn’t been perfect. If what he had said was true, he had been
abused as a child, raised in austerity, cold and hunger. None of
that was an excuse for his behavior … but now she wondered … “Why
did the Others send you to work on us? Surely seduction isn’t your
talent.” A horrible thought occurred to her, and she waved her hand
up and down at him. “Is
your real form?”
“Yes!” He rubbed the scar on his forehead,
the one Robbie had put there with the butt of his gun. “Man, you’re
suspicious. And yes, yes, I know why. I betrayed you and your
sister, and it’s my fault she’s a statue. If it helps, I feel like
“It doesn’t.” But actually, it did. If he
meant it. Which he probably didn’t, and his story about his youth
was probably a lie, too. But if it was the truth, well, that would
explain a few things.
“They sent me because they like to keep their
talents busy — Osgood gets his pound of flesh — and at that moment,
he had no other job for a shapeshifter.”
“And you’re good at romance,” she
“You don’t have to make it sound like a sin.”
But his gaze slid away from hers.
“It’s only a sin when you’re lying about your
“You think I don’t know that?” He glanced at
her, then away. “But conscience is a slippery thing, and from an
early age mine learned to accommodate anything to remain
Why did she so badly want to believe him
He looked back at her. “Then there was you.
The Others sent me to spy on you, to draw you in, to find out if
Sophia really had a power and exactly what it was. But as I spent
more time with the two of you, I realized what a real family was
like. You were like nothing I’d ever seen: close, warm, thoughtful,
She remembered what it was like to feel her
sister’s love, her sister’s warm hugs before bedtime. She clamped
down on her emotions, and in a soft voice, she said, “We were a
good family, weren't we?”
“I shouldn’t have cared what happened to you.
It took me forever to realize I couldn’t hand Sophia over to them.
That child deserved all the chances I never had.” He shook his
head, and his blue eyes grew brighter, almost as if he looked at
her through a sheen of tears. “And I couldn’t break your heart like
Amanda's upsurge of emotion caught her by
surprise. “You already did, Liam.” Her tears matched his, and they
spilled over, running down her face unchecked.
Embarrassed, she turned and walked out of the
kitchen, her sock feet making barely a sound.
AMANDA HURRIED toward the main stairs, torn
between a desire for Liam to follow her and a fear of what would
happen if he did. Tonight she needed comfort, and each moment she
spent alone with him brought the bright thrum of affection and joy
rushing back at her. She had loved him so much….