These characters belong to Karen Marie Moning.

Big smooches and hugs to my friend and writing partner Bontempscutie. Not only is she an awesome beta reader but I can never thank her enough for her encouragement. Now go read her Fever stories, The Battle of Jericho and The Object of His Desire. They are terrific!

www . fanfiction u / 2159920 / BonTempsCutie


The rain started to pick up, strong enough to wash any traces of fresh blood from my coat. Otherworldly beings moved around me, and I soaked in the satisfaction from the scurrying movements as they cleared my path. The area around my bookstore was not their feeding ground. On a night like this, the smart ones stayed inside. The rest got what they deserved.

And where would my new asset be? Most likely wandering around Temple Bar in the rain, ready to betray herself to any Unseelie feeding among the humans. She needed nightly surveillance and daily monitoring, at least until I could move her into the bookstore where she would have the protection of my wards and spells. Time to stake my claim before someone else did. No doubt the other players were watching me, the same way I was watching them. She was mine.

I've watched her since the day she wandered into the bookstore. Assessing her. Ready to act if she got herself in trouble. I had plans for the stubborn sidhe-seer. Theories I was eager to test. Until I knew if she could sense the book and whatever other powers she might have, no one else was getting their bloody hands on her. No one.

She had not taken my threats seriously that night I went to her room, too stubborn and disbelieving for her own good. Ready to take on the world single-handedly. Unfortunately, she had no idea what world she had stepped into or how easily she could end up like her sister. Lesson one would be opening her eyes wide enough for her to believe.

I had no illusions about her. Willful. Untrained. Stubborn. Fiery. Compelling. She could find the book. I had wanted to fuck her the first time I met her. But it went beyond even that. There was something more beneath the surface. Potential. I snorted and shook my head. Me,falling for potential. I knew better.

Turning a corner, I could see lights from the bookstore up ahead. Without warning, an unmistakable swell of power wafted down the street, making all of my senses spring to attention. Every muscle tightened in anticipation. Something powerful and wild, like me, yet different, approached. The untamed energy set my teeth on edge. I stopped, melted into the shadows and waited.

Fuck.

It couldn't be.

She held a saturated newspaper over her head as she bounced down the street, soaked to the bone, in a wet t-shirt that hugged her body like a second skin. Fuck. Her head darted in every direction and I caught glimpses of her face, streaked in black. A growl rose in my throat when I saw the splash of red on her cheek.

What the fuck was she doing out? Had the bloody fool not heard a word I said?

She practically danced around the puddles, not fucking paying attention to the streets around her. Imbecile. My hands clenched more with the urge to throttle her rather than protect her. Her shoes, if that was what you called them, slipped from her bare feet, occasionally tripping her. Fear rolled off her with the rain, muting the wildness I felt earlier. A little blond lamb to the slaughter.

Heading right to my bookstore.

Small favors, I thought. It saved me the trouble of wandering around Temple Bar looking for her. I kept my eye on the solitary shade that stalked behind her, just out of the range of the lights.

I shook my head. Bloody hell, what had I agreed to? Could I keep her alive? The woman was a walking disaster. Trouble in a tight, wet t-shirt.

The shade closed in on her, its dark mouth stretching out, licking at her as she skirted the edge of darkness. She must have sensed something since she shot a look over her shoulder, twisting her body in a way that showed off the curve of her back, her tiny waist, and those full breasts covered in wet fabric. The lust I had been keeping at bay slammed into me. I wanted to strip her out of those wet jeans and fill my hands with her. And more.

She ran into the light. The shade retreated, no longer a threat. I leaned back against the building, left with a burning hunger, just like that night in her room. My first touch of her. I had intended to scare her away before she endured the same fate as her sister, but instead I left with her sweet scent and soft skin seared into my memory.

I had no frame of reference for wanting her like that. In her room with the door closed. My arms around her. Only now she was soaked. My hands tore at her wet garments, exposing her cold, water drenched, alabaster skin. Once I had her naked, I filled my hands with her, my fingers lingering on her tight, pink nipples. Instead of squirming away, she clawed at me, frantically pulling me closer. Soon we were both hot and wet.

The rain changed direction, blasting me in the face and shattering the fantasy just as she stepped into the bookstore. A groan broke free. My dick was hard.

Fiona, ever efficient, grabbed the sidhe-seer by the arm and led her away to the rest room in the back. Then she returned and made quick work of the customers, all the while keeping an eye on the door to the private area. Fiona didn't like the girl and wanted her dead. To protect her, she said. I had little time to fret over what side Fiona would choose. There were only two choices, with me or against me.

I waited for the last customer to leave the store and entered just as Fiona turned over the closed sign. She flipped the lock on the door and followed me as I stripped off my coat.

"What's happened?"

"I don't know. She's just frightened, as far as I can tell." We were almost to the door separating the bookstore from the back when I turned around, handed her my coat and started to make quick work on the buttons of my own damp shirt. Fiona raised her eyebrows at me. Disapproving. I ignored her. My shirt hung open as I unbuttoned the cuffs.

"You can lock up and go home Fiona. I'll take it from here," I said softly, before I pushed through the door separating the bookstore from the residence, removing my shirt as I went.

"Jericho, wait—"

I didn't turn around.

I inhaled deeply in the hallway. Fear. Excitement. I smiled and grabbed a pressed shirt from the armoire where I always kept a spare change of clothes. What the fuck had she seen this time? Probably not Seelie, since their methods were more seductive than hideous. No, she had been horrified and frightened, that much I could ascertain from where I watched. One step closer to believing. Here because she wanted answers. The satisfaction I felt surprised me.

No time to think about the provocative sight of her breasts encased in her wet t-shirt or her maddening mix of stubbornness and sexuality that made me want to test her limits. I wasn't ready for that even if my dick thought I was.

No, the night was for opening her eyes to her new world.

I listened again, cocking my head toward the bathroom as I reached back in the armoire for the jacket that hung there. From the sounds of it, she was about to emerge. A few steps into the hall and she was on me.

I grabbed her by the shoulders to keep her from slamming into me. Full-length body contact would fuck me royally and distract me from my purpose. Then she started screaming and punching, flinging her anger at me until it was spent. Strong and unafraid. Surprising and impulsive. I held her at arm's length—calculating the distance between anger and lust. If I let her get any closer, I was going to take her down on the floor in this hallway and fuck her.

I kept my eyes on her face and didn't indulge myself in that fantasy. For now. There was work to be done.

I summoned the anger that kept my lust under control. Somehow, she had gotten under my skin in a way a quick fuck wouldn't satisfy. It seemed irrational that she had this hold on me but the why of it didn't matter. The only thing that really mattered was whether I could bring out what I thought I saw inside of her. She was a wild thing wrapped so tight in pink she couldn't breathe. What would it take to release her? To make her scream as she took in a big breath of life?

"What did you see?"

I watched a host of emotions cross her face as she realized my hands were on her. Too many emotions to name, even for me.

She pulled away. "Get off me."

I dropped my hands, fisting them at my side. Her wet clothes clung to her body.

"You came to me. Remember that," I said, knowing it would chafe her, while it concealed my hunger.

She tried to threaten me with being sick, but I could see she was much stronger than even she knew. The first step in dealing with her physical reaction to the otherworld was more of it. I could give her that. But not through some sympathetic caretaker gesture designed to keep her from finding her own strength.

I led her to the seating area, threw her a few blankets and pretended to be more interested in the sofa, just to draw her ire.

"Tell me," I said.

She remembered more details this time. She was learning already.

What the fuck was the Gray Man doing in Dublin? Feeding openly. And what else had he brought with him? Every day there were more Unseelie. And the Seelie would soon follow. That jealous prick V'lane would be after her too, as soon as he discovered she was here with me. War was coming. I'd seen this before.

The book just increased in value, and there were other players. All eager and willing to do anything for the power contained in the Sinsar Dubh. My advantage sat on my couch, cold and wet. Hardly believing.

I had an edge. I needed the book, and now I had the means to get it. I had no time to waste. Besides, I had made a deal. Maybe not such a bad one, if I could control my dick.

"What's that on your hand, Barrons? Blood?" she asked.

I read her face, watched her eyes as I fabricated a ridiculous story about a dog. To her credit, she didn't buy it, and shrugged it off before grilling me further about the Gray Man.

I drew a spark when I suggested her beauty made her no different than the Gray Man's last victim. She didn't like that at all, and I held back a lustful laugh when she called me a dickhead for it. Dick. Head. I'd be happy to indulge her with both.

She had attitude, but that wouldn't be enough. Survivor or victim, Ms. Lane? Choose.

I pushed and tested every facet of her personality with the brutal truth, watching every reaction. I brushed off her flippant answers, pretending that it didn't bother me one way or the other whether she took my help or not. Hinted that she might be hopeless. Forcing her to prove me wrong. Manipulating her so I could move to the next phase of my plan.

Acting as noncommittal as ever, while entertaining thoughts of stripping her out of those wet clothes, I learned her movements and expressions. Assessed what she could take, while reminding myself to keep my distance.

Ms. Lane was finally starting to believe in what lurked outside the walls of the bookstore. About bloody time.

I left her alone while I washed the blood from my hands and then rummaged around in my armoire for dry clothes. Taking her back to The Clarin House to change was an option, but why ruin this opportunity? The night was still young, and she had much to learn. In the back of one of the drawers I found something that might work. A sweater, probably long enough to cover her ass. I toyed with the idea of just giving her the sweater, groaning at the thought of her clad only in that, her bare legs spread wide as I tasted her on the couch. I grabbed a pair of old trousers with a snarl.

She started yammering at me as soon as I walked out, one foot closer to believing yet all the while fighting it. In my frustration, I threw the clothes at her, growled I wasn't her caretaker and tried to forget that I wanted her taste on my tongue.

And when she emerged, I dealt with a new wave of lust. Even with the trousers, she looked eminently fuckable in my clothes, as if she belonged in them, as if she belonged to me. And it was in that moment, as she stood there in my clothes, that I fully accepted both my lust and the challenge she laid at my feet. I would take that raw material from inside her, spin her like wool, shape her into a survivor. She was the one. My wild card. Not just my ticket to the book, but my ticket to something else. Something new. And that was hard to come by in my life.


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