So far, the magical world of Ireland sucked eggs. Her dreams of rolling hills, rugged men, and wild adventures had given way to facts that tilted her universe, spun it around, and spiked it headfirst into the ground.
The world held too many secrets.
Tori Monzelle leaned her shoulders against the cold interior wall of the van and tried to blink through a tight blindfold. Nothing. She couldn’t see a thing. The carpet in the rear of the van smelled fresh but was rough against her pants, while she sat with her knees drawn up and her hands tied behind her back.
A metallic taste filled her mouth. Her mind whirled, and she tried to focus, but her breath panted out of her lungs as if somebody squeezed them.
The vehicle hiccuped a couple of times but ran smoothly for now. It would experience a mechanical glitch at some point. Her curse was predictable. At least then she could run.
She cleared her throat. The whole situation was just so surreal. If she could get the two kidnappers to stop the van, maybe she could get free. “Listen, jackasses. I’m done with this entire kidnapping scenario. I promise not to tell anybody that supernatural beings exist. Just let me go.”
A snort came from the front seat. “Supernatural,” one of the men muttered.
Her chest heated. “So you think you’re natural. Then how about I refrain from announcing your species even exists?”
Where were they taking her? The sounds of drizzling rain and honking horns filtered in from outside, while the two men breathed loudly in the front seats. She hadn’t recognized either of them when they’d arrived at the penthouse an hour before. For an entire week, she’d been held hostage in various luxurious Dublin locales after having been kidnapped from Seattle. The last penthouse where she’d been kept even had a piano. Finally, she’d been able to play music and had created a new score.
Then they’d come for her—again. This was the first time she’d been blindfolded during relocation. That couldn’t be good.
Had it only been a week since she’d learned the world wasn’t as she’d thought?
Immortal beings existed. As in really existed.
“Are you witches, demons, or vampires?” If she had to guess, they were witches. They were just a different species from humans. So far, she’d seen witches create and throw fireballs, and she’d met a demon who’d shown her his fangs. She had to go on faith that vampires really existed, but at this point, why not believe? “Mr. Kidnappers?”
No answer. She’d seen their faces; the only reason to blindfold her now was to keep her lost and confused. So she couldn’t find her way back to safety. She shuddered.
The van swerved, and she knocked her head against the side. “Ouch.” It was time to get free. “This is international kidnapping.” Did witches care about international laws? Her shoulders shook, and a welcome anger soared through her.
The van jerked.
“What the hell?” one of the guys snapped.
The world tilted.
Something sputtered. The engine?
An explosion rocked the van, and it started to spin. Her temple smacked metal. Pain flashed white and red behind her eyes. She rolled to the other side across the carpet. Breath swooshed from her lungs. Blood welled on her lip, and she blinked behind the blindfold.
The van stopped cold, and she rolled toward the front, her legs scrambling. Her forehead brushed the carpet and she shook her head frantically, dislodging the blindfold.
The front doors opened, and grunts sounded. Men fighting. Punches being thrown.
The back doors opened, and light flooded inside.
She turned just as broad hands grabbed her ankles and dragged her toward the street. Kicking out, she struggled furiously, her eyes adjusting and focusing on this new threat. A ski mask completely covered the guy’s head, leaving only his eyes and mouth revealed. With the light behind him, she couldn’t even make out the color of his irises.
His strong grip didn’t relent, and he easily pulled her toward the edge, dropping her legs so her feet could touch the ground.
She threw a shoulder into his rock-hard abs and stood. He was at least a foot taller than she and definitely cut hard.
Everything in her screamed to get the hell out of the area and make a run for it. She was smart, she was tough, and she could handle the situation. No time to think. She leaped up and shot a quick kick to his face. While he was tall and fit, he probably wasn’t expecting a fight.
He snagged her ankle an inch from his jaw, preventing the impact. Using her momentum to pull her forward, he manacled his other hand to the back of her thigh and lifted, tossing her over his shoulder in one incredibly smooth motion.
Her rib cage slammed into solid muscle, knocking the wind from her lungs. She stilled in shock. Her adrenaline spiked, and the blood rushed through her ears. Free—she had to get free. This guy was too powerful and way too much in control. She couldn’t fight him, and there was no doubt she was outmatched. Fear sharpened the entire day into focus.
She tried to struggle.
One firm hand anchored her thighs, and he turned, moving into a jog. The sound of fighting behind them had her lifting her head to see more men in ski masks battling the two guys from the van. Those two were losing badly. Blood sprayed from the driver’s nose, and he went down. Hard.
Then her captor turned a corner and ran through an alley, easily holding her in place.
“Let me go,” she gasped, pulling on the restraints holding her hands. Cobblestones flew by below, while cool air brushed across her skin. Rain pattered down, matting her hair to her face. Begging wouldn’t work with this guy—she just knew it. What did he want? “Leave me here, and I won’t turn you in.”
He didn’t answer and took two more turns, finally ending up in yet another alley, next to a shiny black motorcycle. Her hair swooshed as he ducked his shoulder and planted her on her feet. Firm hands flipped her around, and something sliced through her bindings.
Blood rushed into her wrists, and she winced at the prickly pain, pivoting back around. “Who are you?” She set her stance to fight.
He reached out and tugged the blindfold completely off her head before ripping off his ski mask.
Adam Dunne stood before her, legs braced, no expression on his hard face. Rain dripped from his thick black hair, and irritation glittered in his spectacular green eyes. That expression seemed to live on him. She knew he was some sort of brilliant strategist, definitely a brainiac, and he always appeared annoyed.
She blinked twice. “Adam?”
He crossed his arms. “It has been nearly impossible to find you.”
His deep voice shot right through her to land in very private places. Then the angry tone caught her. She slammed her hands against her hips. He was the very last person in the world she wanted to see right now. “That’s my fault? Your stupid people, the witches, kidnapped me.”
Witches. Holy crap. Adam Dunne was a witch. Sure, she’d figured that out a week ago, but with him standing right in front of her, she was face-to-face with the reality. The sense of power she’d always imagined in him was real. True power.
The man looked like a badass vigilante and not some brilliant otherworldly being. For this kidnapping, he’d worn a black T-shirt, ripped jeans, and motorcycle boots—definitely not his usual pressed slacks and button-down silk shirt. For once, he appeared just like the criminal she thought he might be.
His sizzling green eyes darkened. “I have about an hour to get you to a plane and out of this country, so you’ll be quiet, and you’ll follow orders.”
She pressed her lips together. No matter how badly she wanted to punch him in the face, she wanted to get out of the country even more. But could she trust him? He was one of the witches. He was probably their leader, and this could be just another part of the whole kidnapping. “Fine.”
He lifted an eyebrow. “We’re getting on the bike, heading to the airport, and then you’re flying to Seattle. You don’t know who rescued you, and you haven’t seen me in weeks.”
She swallowed. Oh, she knew more about him than he could even imagine. For now, she’d play along, especially if it got her out of the country. “How much trouble are you in if we get caught?”
He grabbed a helmet off the bike. “Treason and death sentence.”
Right. Like she believed that one. Yet . . . she had a part to play. “Thank you.”
He shoved the helmet at her. “Don’t thank me. Just do what I tell you.”
Man, what a jerk. Nearly biting through her tongue to keep from lashing out, she shoved the helmet on her head. If her intel was right, he might be a killer. A cold-blooded, meticulous, dangerous killer. And here she was, alone with him.
He swung a leg over the bike, holding out a hand to help her.
She ignored him and levered herself over the bike and into place, anger flowing through her along with awareness. She didn’t know how to fight like he did. Even without dangerous powers, Adam was solid muscle and powerful strength. Could she escape him?
He ignited the engine. It sputtered. He stiffened and tried again.
No, no, no. She closed her eyes to calm her temper and soothe her fears. Being stuck in the alley with Adam was a disaster. Work, bike. Damn it, work. The more she tried to concentrate, the more irritated and breathless she became.
He twisted the throttle again, and this time, nothing.
Why did this always happen to her? What was wrong with her? “It won’t work. If it’s broken, it won’t work.” She tugged free of the helmet and shoved herself off the bike. Maybe he’d just leave her alone in the dismal alley. She could get to safety somehow.
He turned toward her. “The bike ran just fine an hour ago.”
Her face heated. No way was she telling him about her oddity. She eyed the end of the alley. Could she make it before he stopped her? “I know the sound of an engine that’s not coming back to life, and so do you.”
He frowned and tried the bike again. No response. “All right.” He swung his leg over and stood, studying her. “Are you up to running?”
She blinked. Was that concern in his tone? “Yes. In fact, it’d be better if we separated and ran in different directions.”
His lips twitched.
She stared, almost fascinated. Had that been a hint of a smile? While she’d known Adam for months, she’d never seen him smile. “It’s a good plan,” she asserted, wiping rain off her hands.
“Sweetheart, I haven’t spent an entire week scouring the country for you to send you away unprotected.” His brogue deepened, and he reached out to tug a wet curl away from her cheek.
Her body short-circuited. From one simple touch. “Why have you been looking for me?” Was he telling the truth?
His pocket buzzed, and he withdrew a cell phone and pushed a button, taking a step back. “Our transport isn’t running,” he said into the phone, his gaze remaining on her.
“I’ve downloaded information from the phones on the van you just demolished. The woman has been tagged,” came an urgent male voice over the speaker. “There’s a tracker planted on her clothes somewhere, and you have about five minutes until the Guard gets there.” Keys clacking echoed across the line. “Get rid of the tag and find safety. I’ll be in touch with new coordinates as soon as I can.” The line went dead.
Adam’s expression went hard. He surveyed her head to toe, reaching for her shirt.
She slapped at his hands, adrenaline exploding inside her. “What are you doing?”
He radiated menace. “Your clothing has been tagged, and I don’t know where. Strip, baby.”
Baby? Did he just call her baby? Wait a minute. “Strip?”
“Now.” A muscle ticked in his powerful jaw. “Our tags are minute and could be anywhere on you.” He dug both big hands through her hair, tugging just enough to flood her with unwelcome tingles. “Not in your hair.”
“I am not stripping,” she said through clenched teeth, her body doing a full tremble against her will.
He lowered his head until his nose almost touched hers. “Take everything off, or I’ll do it for you.”
She blinked. Her abdomen clenched. Heat slid through her to land in her core.
He gave a barely perceptible eye roll and turned around, pulling off his T-shirt. “Drop the clothes, and I’ll give you my shirt. It’ll cover you for the time being.” Muscles rippled in his back, moving a jagged tattoo of the symbols CE9 over his left shoulder blade. What did CE9 stand for? The ink was dark and intricate and seemed right at home on him.
Her mouth went dry. Tight-assed Adam Dunne had a tat? Seriously? Who was this guy?
“Now, Victoria. We have to hurry.”
“Okay,” she whispered, taking a quick look around. Now. It was her only chance to get away from the witches. There had to be an American consulate somewhere. She pivoted to run and made it nearly a foot before his muscled arm snagged her around the waist. She halted mid-stride, and the air whooshed from her lungs. Her eyes bugged out. Whoa. He moved faster than sound.
He hauled her back against his rock-hard bare chest, and his breath brushed her ear. “Don’t forget, I gave you a chance.” His fingers tangled in the bottom of her shirt.
“No,” she yelped, struggling against him, panic hazing her vision.
“Aye,” he muttered, easily ripping the wet material over her head. A flick of his finger between her breasts released her bra, and he tugged it away. Rain splashed over her naked skin. His broad chest warmed her bare back.
The gurgle up from her chest held a slight hysterical giggle. Obviously not Adam’s first bra. “Damn it, Adam.” She kicked back, her heel bouncing off his shin.
He flipped her around to face him, and her hair spun water. “Stop fighting me,” he growled.
Her chin dropped as reality splashed in. Red slashed across his angled face, and his eyes burned a fiery green. Danger. For the first time, she would really see the otherworldly predator beneath his smooth veneer. She shivered in the rain, wanting nothing more than to cover her bare chest. But a girl had her pride, and he needed to know he didn’t scare her. Her chin lifted this time, and she met his gaze.
Something flickered in those deadly eyes. Admiration? His head cocked ever so slightly to the side, and his nostrils flared. As if accepting her challenge, on his timeline, he slowly let his gaze wander.
Her nipples, the little bastards, hardened instantly just as his heated gaze landed on them.
Tension rolled through the small alley. From him.
She swallowed. “Give me the shirt.” A small tremor caught her words.
“The view is too lovely to hide.” His gaze lifted. “But as soon as you finish stripping, I will.”
Lovely? She clenched her teeth together. Rain and wind whipped into her, and goose bumps rose on her skin. Even so, beneath his gaze, her body warmed. They had to get out of the alley. “Fine. Turn around?”
His lip curved. “I already gave you that chance. Lose the pants and shoes. I’ll allow you the count of three.”
Her jaw ached, and her temper snapped. “Excuse me?” she said levelly, turning just enough to get a good aim at his balls.
His eyebrow lifted. “I retaliate, Victoria. Don’t forget that.” There was a sexual undertone to the threat that vibrated through the rain.
Oh, she was out of her depth on way too many fronts right now. Yet nothing in her was about to show vulnerability to this man. Not once. Not ever. “Back off, Adam.”
Her entire body stiffened, and she felt like she grew two inches. “Don’t even think about it.”
“Two.” He didn’t so much as twitch, and yet, as prey, she could sense he was about to pounce.
Dropping all pretense of talking to him, she twisted and aimed a side kick for his groin with all the strength she could muster.
He caught her ankle, tossed it down, and grabbed her pants with both hands. A quick twist, and they tore down the middle.
She gasped. The material had been good and strong, and he’d destroyed it with his bare hands. “You jerk.” She swung and nailed him beneath the right eye. Pain shot through her knuckles to her wrist. What was his damn face made of?
The sound he gave was much more growl than hiss. He tore her panties in two, and they hit the ground. Less than a heartbeat later, he yanked his shirt down to cover her. The soft material fell beneath her thighs and surrounded her with the scent of male.
Her breath panted and she gasped out, already making another fist. Tattoos covered his chest, too!
He flipped her around, and his palm landed square on her ass. Hard. The sound reverberated through the alley, and pain exploded through her butt. “Retaliation,” he muttered, yanking her back around to face him. Her hair spun around. He dropped his face to hers. “We done now?”
“No,” she breathed out, the air hot, her mind spinning and her temper roaring.
“Yes.” He settled a hand around her throat and drew her even nearer. “Kick. Off. The. Shoes.” His face was an implacable mask of determination, and he stood over her like an avenging god.
She opened her mouth to let him have it, and he tightened his hold, almost cutting off her air.
Her eyes widened.
“I see you’re starting to understand me,” he said, his hold not relenting. “I’m sorry. You either get this, or you don’t. We’re at a life-and-death moment, darlin’. Obey me, or I’ll knock you out just to make sure we both fucking live.”
He wasn’t bluffing. Everything inside her knew he was giving her the full truth. The witch would actually do it. “You’ll pay for this,” she sputtered.
She had to remain conscious. “Fine.” She could barely get the word out as she kicked off her shoes.
“Good girl.” He leaned down and whipped off her socks, gently placing her feet on the wet cobblestones.
His phone buzzed, and he released her to grab it, pressing the speaker button. “What?”
“They’ve upped the order on the girl and canceled the ‘no harm’ directive. It’s upgraded to take her at all costs,” the same male voice all but shouted. “Get the fuck out of that alley.”
The urgency got through to Tori, and she bunched her legs to run. Survival was all that mattered.
Adam took her hand. “Sorry about the bare feet, but we’ll get you replacement clothes soon. For now, we don’t look back.”
A car screeched to a stop outside the alley.
“Bollocks. They’re here,” he muttered, launching into a run down the alley. “Hurry, and if I stop, keep going.”
Panic seized her, and she held tight to his hand, her bare feet slapping hard cobblestones. Her ankles ached. A fireball careened past her, smashing into the brick building above her and raining down debris. She screamed.
Adam stopped and shoved her behind him, dark blue plasma forming down his arms as he pivoted to fight.
She gulped in air and peered around him as three men, all forming different-colored plasma balls, stalked toward them from the street.
“Run, Victoria,” Adam bellowed.