Burned



src="/img/170610/burned.jpg" alt="Burned" title="Burned">Page 1

  Prelude

  Eleven months ago, the Clarin House Hotel

  Dublin, Ireland

  August 6, BWC

  JERICHO BARRONS

  “Who is it?”

  Two A. M. Humans sleep. Her voice through the door is drowsy, sweet, southern, and young. So fucking young. Innocent. In my zoo, MacKayla Lane is an exotic.

  “Jericho Barrons. ”

  “What do you want?” All trace of slumber is gone from her voice. She couldn’t sound more awake if she’d rolled over on a rattlesnake in her bed.

  I laugh silently, mirthlessly. More than she can handle. “We have information to exchange. You want to know what it is. I want to know what you know about it. ”

  “Bright guy, aren’t you? I figured that out back at the store. What took you so long?”

  Sarcasm fails to mask the fear in her voice. I choose my next words carefully. I want her to open the door of her own accord, invite me in. It means something, that courtesy. “I am unaccustomed to asking for what I want. Nor am I accustomed to bartering with a woman. ”

  She is silent a moment, liking my reply, that I placed her in a class of women with whom I am willing to barter. It makes her feel she has a modicum of control over the situation—as if I am a “situation. ” What stands on her doorstep is a fucking cataclysm. Words. Why do they always ask for words? Why do they ever believe them?

  “Well, get used to it with me, bud, because I don’t take orders from anyone. And I don’t give up anything for free. ”

  She called me “bud. ”

  I might kill her for that alone before I’m done questioning her.

  “Do you intend to open this door, Ms. Lane, or shall we converse where anyone might attend our business?” Formality makes her perceive me as older than I am, less dangerous. I will wear any skin to get in.

  “Do you really intend to exchange information?”

  “I do. ”

  “And you’ll go first?”

  “I will. ” So fucking gullible.

  “We can trade through the door. ”

  In her dreams. My dick isn’t that long. I came here for two things. I’m not leaving without them. “No. ”

  “Why not?”

  “I am a private person, Ms. Lane. This is not negotiable. ”

  “But I—”

  “No. ”

  “How did you find me?”

  Bedsprings squeak. The sound of jeans being pulled on.

  “You procured a hired conveyance at my establishment. ”

  “We call them taxis where I come from. And bookstores. ”

  Is that a little spine? Does she have a backbone under all that fluff? “We call them manners where I come from, Ms. Lane. ”

  “You should talk,” she grumbles. “It’s not my fault. Being threatened brings out the worst in me. ”

  She opens the door. Peers out. Puny-ass chain across it. I could break it with a blink.

  Fuck, I think. Just that. A multitude of various fucks all in one great big clusterfuck. As in: I am fucked if I want this … this … newborn imbecile. And she is so fucked if I take her. And fuck if I’m going to walk away. Letting her leave my store was bad enough. Should have killed the cabbie. Taken what I wanted then. Innocent. Soft. Smells good. Sleep-swollen. Hair a blond tangle of invitation for a fist. I see it spilling down her back, grazing the curves of her ass. Me under her, behind her. Driving up into her. What will she do? Say? How does she sound when she comes? Does she, like most women, lose a part of her soul in sex? Leave it lying there for the taking? Fuck. “May I come in?” I don’t smile. My smiles don’t make people relax.

  “I wouldn’t have let you up this far. ”

  Her eyes are green, angry. Her nipples are hard. Lust is absurd. It strikes in the strangest places at the oddest times. She doesn’t even realize she’s feeling it. She’s erected a barricade of propriety and lies between us. I despise the type of woman she is. I loathe her soft pink innocence. My body doesn’t concur. I wonder why her? Why not, say, a streetlamp, for all we have in common? She’s chiffon and satin ribbons. I’m raw meat and razor blades. I have never been drawn to my opposite. I like what I am. “Your nipples are hard,” I murmur, allowing her the choice to hear it, or pretend she didn’t.

  She blinks, shakes her head. “How did you get up here?”

  Ah, the human ear has splendid filters. “I told them I was your brother. ”

  “Right. Because we look so much alike. ”

  The lace of her sleep-shirt flutters with each breath. She’s trembling, trying to conceal it. I glance beyond her, at the tiny room. It’s little better than a let-by-the-hour. It won’t take that long to get what I came for. Business first. “Well, Ms. Lane?” Page 2

  “I’m thinking. ”

  “Don’t hurt yourself. ”

  “Don’t be a jackass. ”

  “You have till the count of three, then I leave. Two. ”

  “Oh, fine, come in,” she snaps.

  I do smile then but permit it only because she has closed the door to unhook the chain and can’t see me. She opens it and steps back. I have found there to be little distance between the unlatching of a chain and the spreading of a woman’s legs. As if they can never unbar only a single entrance. It’s a disease called hope.

  She pushes the door flat to the wall. She thinks it makes her safe. I enter. Don’t bother to close it. That will come later. She toes a rug and a lacy bra beneath the bed. I will see much more than that before I leave.

  “So, what is it? No, wait—how do you spell it?”

  I pace a circle around her. She spins as I stalk her, unwilling to give me her back. I’m going to have it anyway. Every way. “S-i-n-s-a-r. ”

  “Sinsar?”

  “Shi-sa. Shi-sa-du. ” I continue pacing. I like the way her body moves. If she glances down, she’ll see my coat is open and my suit fails to conceal how hard I am. She never takes her gaze from my face. Few keep it there.

  “Oh, that makes great sense. And the du?”

  I stop circling, facing the door. She stops, her back to it. Three feet separate us. I can feel her. Smell her.

  “D-u-b-h. ”

  “Dubh is ‘do’? Should I be calling pubs ‘poos’?”

  “Dubh is Gaelic, Ms. Lane. Pub is not. ”

  “Don’t bust a gut laughing. ”

  “Nothing about the Sinsar Dubh is a laughing matter. ”

  “I stand corrected. So what is this gravest of graves?”

  Flippant. She has no business being here. Fio was right.

  It would be merciful, Jericho. Kill her quickly before one of the others tortures her for days then rips out her throat.

  Does mercy look like my middle fucking name?

  Do it for me, Jericho. I can’t bear the thought of what one of the others will do to her.

  One of them? Or me, Fiona? Which thought can’t you bear?

  I saw the look in your eyes. Jericho, how could you want that … that … that foolish, empty-headed child! What could she possibly offer you?

  “Too long,” I say. Fiona has been with me too long.

  “What?” she says blankly.

  I’m suddenly furious that MacKayla Lane came to my city, thinks to play on the same field with me and mine, made herself my problem in any capacity. “Go home, Ms. Lane. Be young. Be pretty. Get married. Have pretty babies. Grow old with your pretty husband. ”

  “Oh, screw you, Jericho Barrons! Tell me what it is. You said you would. ”

  “If you insist. Don’t be a fool. Don’t insist. ”

  “I’m insisting. What is it?”

&nbs