Copyright © 2009 Sydney Somers
All rights reserved — a Samhain Publishing, Ltd. publication
“What are you going to do, fire me?”
Bold words for a woman who adored her job, even if she was the one holding the hose, and Kennedy Beaumont knew it.
Drops of water from the warning shot she’d fired glistened on the bar between her and the two men who looked ready to tear each other’s throats out. Despite the pounding beat of music—courtesy of the house band—more than a few heads had swiveled in her direction the second she’d snatched the hose from beneath the counter and promised to drench the pair if they didn’t knock it off.
Not that the threat would have been a problem if both men were drunk or hassling her. Unfortunately, the quiet regular with dark blond hair and a wicked-looking scar that curved from the corner of his mouth to his ear had never uttered a disrespectful word to her, never even needed to be cut off and dumped in a cab.
The other guy was her boss—sort of.
Tristan Callaghan ran a hand through his dark hair as though she’d actually gotten him wet. Intimidating on a good day and downright feral looking when pissed off—like now—his piercing blue eyes routinely locked her feet to the floor. But grinning, furious or indifferent, his heavy gaze never failed to unleash a slow curl of warmth that wrapped around her backbone. Never failed to make it impossible to fully satisfy the hot ache that pulsed between her thighs.
But not even her body’s predictable response to Tristan’s presence swayed her to lower the hose. Not when he looked just wild enough to jump the bar and take it from her if she showed the slightest weakness.
In her six months working at Pendragon’s she’d learned the only thing the bar’s patrons respected was a steel-edged spine and the guts to back it up. Backing down from a fight—hell, even breaking eye contact too quickly—often caused more trouble than holding your ground.
That alone kept her arm up, her fingers poised on the trigger. “Well?”
A ghost of a smile caught the regular’s mouth, and Tristan scowled at him. For a moment she thought she might have to carry through on her threat, then he turned and vanished into the sea of bodies crowded around the bar.
Kennedy stared after him, not really surprised he hadn’t said a word. He never had much to say to her, not even after his month-long absence. More than once she’d caught herself envying the other waitresses he regularly flirted with and teased. But not her. Never her.
“I think you can lower your weapon now.”
She gave the regular, Dolan, a dirty look. “No thanks to you.”
He shrugged and reached for his beer, studying her over the rim of his glass. Unlike half the men, whose attention strayed to her chest at least twice while ordering a drink, she’d never caught him looking at anything but her face.
She finally replaced the hose, sweeping the area to be sure Tristan didn’t plan to finish what the pair had started the second her back was turned. Pendragon’s was packed again tonight, the crowd just hitting its drinking stride. Between filling orders and cleaning up after sloppy drinkers there wasn’t much time for chatting and even less for her usual people watching.
And in a place like this there was never a shortage of interesting people coming and going. Half the time it seemed like the bouncers only let in the most unusual people lined up outside. Many of regulars acted more like animals than human beings, and that was before they consumed amounts of alcohol that should have landed at least half of them in the hospital with alcohol poisoning.
As long as the bouncers ran a tight ship and her tip jar continued to fill, she didn’t worry about it. Much.
Wiping down the counter, she allowed herself a quick breather, wondering if Tristan had already left for the night. The whisper of awareness across the back of her neck said no, but she hadn’t spotted him a while.
“What do you see in him?”
Kennedy glanced behind her. “Who?”
Dolan arched a brow. “The cat.”
He rolled his eyes. “Tristan.” He forced it out as if the name curdled on his tongue like sour milk.
Cat? More than once she’d compared Tristan to a sleek predator, usually when he managed to sneak up on her or the few times she’d walked into the office as he came slowly awake, stretching. She hadn’t imagined anyone else, least of all a guy, making the same ridiculous comparison.
“Well?” he prodded when she remained silent.
“He’s my boss.” She turned away long enough to pour a glass of draft for another customer.
“You’re attracted to him.”
She shrugged. “He’s easy on the eyes.” Very easy. “But then so are at least half a dozen overpaid actors. Doesn’t mean anything.”
“He’s different.” Dolan’s brows drew together as though he couldn’t possibly figure out why that was.
It was Kennedy’s turn to roll her eyes. “Not that it’s any of your business, but there is nothing going on between me and Tristan.”
He cocked his head thoughtfully, his gaze far too probing. “But you’ve thought about it.”
Too many times to count. Her attraction to Tristan hummed under her skin like a fever that wouldn’t break. The month he’d been away should have been plenty of time to get over the waste-of-time crush. But the second she’d turned around to find him standing on the opposite side of the counter tonight that same hot awareness had burrowed straight through her stomach.
It didn’t help that he was the only one she fantasized about these days. She’d never been one to shy away from what she wanted when it came to sex or taking care of her own needs. That she couldn’t achieve that same intense pleasure without imagining him there with her—his hands trailing across her skin, his mouth slowly devouring her—left her increasingly frustrated.
“Need a refill?” She nodded to Dolan’s empty glass without answering his question.
He shook his head, an oddly resigned expression falling over his face.
For some reason Kennedy suspected the look had nothing to do with passing on another beer. Thankfully, the pace picked back up and she didn’t have time to think about their unusual conversation, or wonder where Tristan had vanished.
“So what was that about?”
Tristan cursed under his breath and straightened from the catwalk that looked out over the crowded bar. He didn’t glance in his brother’s direction, knowing nothing short of a serious brawl or a threat to one of their own drew Cale from his office. “Nothing.”
“When Kennedy reaches for that hose, she usually has a damn good reason for it.”
“She’s crazy?” Tristan offered.
Cale snorted. “You just think that because she’s one of the few who actually stand up to you.”
“One of these days that’s going to get her into trouble.” Maybe not with him, but sooner or later she’d piss off the wrong immortal and wind up hurt.
“So then why didn’t you take the hose from her?”
Tristan didn’t answer. It was far wiser to keep his mouth shut than admit he hadn’t gotten over his fascination with the human. He was pretty damn sure if he’d gotten close enough to touch her, he wouldn’t have stopped at prying the hose out of her hand.
Not when her deep brown eyes soothed the wildest parts of him and at the same time unleashed a hunger he didn’t know how to satisfy. The second he’d entered the bar and caught her scent, the cat inside him growled possessively. Only when he’d felt the pull of her, the animal prowling restlessly inside him, did he realize how much he’d missed her.
He’d left town to hunt down a lead as much as to let his craving for the human’s touch pass. One look from Kennedy tonight, one stubborn arch of her brow as she pointed that hose at him, and he’d wanted to grin at the challenge she presented. Wanted to feel her fingers wrapped around more than that makeshift weapon.
Cale nodded below. “Any problem with Dolan that I should know about?”
“We just had a little disagreement.”
“One that involved Kennedy.”
“The Fae was…watching her,” he finished lamely.
“He wouldn’t be the first.” Cale studied him carefully.
Tristan shrugged. He wasn’t in the mood for one of Cale’s infamous “don’t screw the staff” talks. Admitting he’d allowed the Fae to provoke him with vague comments about Kennedy wouldn’t go over so well with his brother. It wasn’t going over so well with him.
Hell, he wasn’t even sure why he’d let Dolan get to him at all. The bar was packed with attractive females and more than one had crooked her finger at him tonight. Instead, he continually caught his gaze sliding back to the spirited blonde behind the bar.
Below, Kennedy smiled at a guy at the counter—a damn dragon—who tried impressing her with some smoke and mirrors trick as dull as Avalon’s barren region. A moment later she laughed and leaned forward to whisper something in his ear. The dragon’s hand came up to catch her shoulder, holding her close as he whispered something back.
Tristan nearly snarled. Tangling with the dragon would be a hell of a lot more interesting than the Fae. The Fae who chose that moment to turn in his chair. It took Dolan only a second to pick Tristan out above and grin at him.
“Where’s the dagger?”
If Cale noticed his attention had strayed back to Kennedy, he didn’t let it show. Relieved his brother was letting the subject drop, Tristan brought his beer to his mouth. “In the vault at your place.”
He hadn’t wanted to carry around the enchanted weapon any longer than necessary. Too many immortals coveted the six daggers, which when united would reveal Excalibur’s resting place, to risk bringing it here. It didn’t matter which side of the covenant the immortals below intended to honor, Tristan knew where his own clan’s loyalties lay—with Arthur.
While some awaited Arthur’s return, others wanted to make sure Morgana, his half-sister, remained in power. Without Excalibur the sorceress’s reign might be limited to the kingdom of Camelot, but all of Avalon would be at her mercy if she got her hands on Arthur’s sword.
“Any trouble acquiring it?”
“Not this time.” He’d expected the fledgling sorceress who had used the mystical weapon to curse their brother would be ready to fight him for it. Instead, Tristan had found her lair eerily deserted. Twice before he’d come close to tracking her and the dagger, only to lose her trail and have to start over.
“He doesn’t blame you.”
“And you would know that how?” Seeing as Cian had been locked in his gargoyle form for nearly a century, he couldn’t say a damn word about the price he’d paid for Tristan taunting a sorceress.
Cale pushed away from the railing. “I’ve got something to take care of tonight, so if I’m not back before dawn, we’ll meet at the house tomorrow night to figure out how we use it to break the curse.”
If not for Rhiannon’s fury following Arthur’s death, they could have damn well discussed it in the morning. The goddess hadn’t cared that her son was prophesized to awaken and finish the war begun centuries ago. She’d blamed the gargoyle clans for his defeat at Camlann and believed it fitting they should spend their daylight hours trapped in their stone form as punishment.
With centuries to get used to her punishment, he should have been less bitter about the whole thing. Maybe if the lost daggers weren’t the only way to return Excalibur to Arthur and have the curse lifted against his people. A seemingly colossal undertaking when it had taken him over a hundred years to locate just one of them.
Tristan nodded as his brother walked away. Exhaustion pulled at him, the long hours of searching for the dagger finally catching up to him. He finished off his beer and managed to occupy himself with watching the band for a while.
More than sleep, he needed one of the females below if he stood any chance of forgetting the human tonight. One redheaded enchantress in particular had glanced in his direction half a dozen times in the last hour.
Sparing a brief look at the bar, he noticed the dragon had wisely moved on and Kennedy busied herself with tidying up. He swore the woman didn’t know how to stand still. Countless times he’d imagined helping her burn off the excess amount of energy she radiated.
Seeming to sense his gaze, Kennedy glanced up. The flashing lights and thick shadows should have prevented her from picking him out so easily, yet he felt the moment she locked on to him.
The cat growled softly then louder, tearing to get loose as Tristan eased back into the darkness and out of sight.
Kennedy didn’t know the inner workings of her Chevy Impala any more than she knew quantum physics or how to speak Chinese. And that was a problem for three reasons.
One—the secondhand car she’d scraped every cent to buy refused to start. Two—the flickering street lamp overhead made the quiet stretch of road downright eerie with its pulsing light and crackling hum. Three—and undoubtedly the most troubling of all—she couldn’t shake the feeling someone was watching her.
She peered at the maze of hoses and wires under the hood, struggling not to give into the paranoia that slithered across the back of her neck. Even with the late hour, she wouldn’t have considered the area treacherous. Acknowledging that did nothing to stem the creeped-out sensation that crawled under her skin. If anyone had followed her from the bar, they were doing a damn good job of staying out of sight.
For the millionth time, Kennedy cursed her roommate. If not for having to cover all the bills after her ex-roommate had bailed on her, she would have been able to afford a vehicle with a purring engine, not a death rattle. Unfortunately her choices had been limited, as her depleted bank account could attest to, proving yet again the only person she could count on was herself.
Herself and roadside assistance.
Kennedy reached in through her open window for her cell phone. Staring at the engine block wasn’t getting her anywhere. Give her unruly drunks, temperamental waitresses and bouncers with more brawn than brain and she could work wonders. Stranded at three in the morning, however, made those skills feel as useful as tying a cherry stem into a knot using just her tongue.
She glanced at the display screen of her cell phone and groaned. No signal. Perfect. Giving the area another quick scan, she walked a few feet away from her car, hoping to figure out why her phone wasn’t getting any reception. She was right downtown, for Christ’s sake.
A black BMW convertible cruised past her, its brake lights brightening the surrounding gloom as the car came to a stop a few meters in front of her. Kennedy’s heart sped up before she got a hold of herself. The familiar vehicle reversed, and while she should have been relieved to no longer be alone, her insides stretched taut.
“Car trouble?” Tristan asked, turning the volume down on the music pumping out from the speakers.
She glanced over her shoulder at the raised hood of her car. “Nah. I just like playing grease monkey in the middle of the night for kicks.”
Tristan grumbled something under his breath and turned off his car before throwing open his door. A few confident strides carried him to her crap car, its faded blue paint looking even less attractive when parked so close to Tristan’s shiny BMW.
“Do you know much about cars?” she asked when he started poking around under the hood. She tried to bite back as much of her skepticism as she could, which wasn’t much. It was either be skeptical or stare at his phenomenal ass, and the former seemed like a smarter move.
He spared her a sharp glance, but said nothing. She hovered over his shoulder, watching him check caps and fluid levels. She was opening her mouth to point out that she had known enough to check the obvious, when he straightened abruptly and pivoted on his heel, knocking into her.
Kennedy clutched the front of him to steady herself, her grip on his T-shirt seeming to drag him even closer. Too close. Heat radiated from him and his rich masculine scent overwhelmed her senses. She studied the strong column of his neck—she didn’t dare meet his gaze—thinking she’d like to press her mouth to the small scar where his neck met his shoulder.
His muscles tightened beneath her hand and a soft sound, almost a growl, rumbled in his chest. Then he moved past her, sliding behind the wheel of her car as though she hadn’t been a heartbeat from crossing the line. And running her tongue up his throat to meet his mouth definitely would have qualified.
As if she hadn’t already pushed her luck with him tonight.
Kennedy closed her eyes, leaned her forehead against the edge of the propped-up hood. If this kept up, she was seriously going to have to consider looking for a new job.