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Touched #4

London’s made mistakes. A lot of them. Enough so that she’s been marked for elimination by a powerful Unseelie Sidhe. As a human cursed with an addiction to the Touch of the Sidhe, her life and her future depends on finding a Sidhe who will hire her on a permanent basis. The only way to put her reputation for causing trouble behind her is to prove herself by tracking down a powerful druid who’s endangering the Sidhe. But when old enemies resurface, can London trust the man she was sent to investigate? Or will this finally be her fatal mistake?



Chapter One



"You screwed the pooch on that one, babe." Joe tilted back his beer bottle like that was the punctuation on the statement.

"Should I be thankful you didn't say 'I told you so?'" London picked up her cell phone from the bar. She'd set it out to show him the text message she'd gotten. We're coming for you. It still gave her the shivers, like she needed to keep looking over her shoulder. The number hadn't been one she'd recognized, but she had a good idea who sent it. Kieran had taken her business card. If the message didn't come from him, then it had to be one of the other Unseelie of the Glamour Club. There were two kinds of people in the world; the kind that dropped the chase when you outran them and the kind that would hunt you to the ends of the earth no matter how long it took. Wouldn't you know it? The Unseelie were the grudge-holding kind. "It's not like I got a manual on how to be enchanted when the Sidhe cursed me. I made a mistake."

"A bunch of mistakes," Joe corrected her.

"A bunch of mistakes," she agreed. "But I am trying to change." She dropped her phone into her jacket pocket. "Probably too late now. I've got a big target on my back and no way to redeem myself."

Joe slid a glance at her, eyes half-closed like he was debating something. The cold blue of his gaze made his attention hit with more impact. For a human, Joe Lansing was one hell of a guy. Tall, casually handsome in those worn jeans and Dallas Cowboys t-shirt, with an edge of toughness that could stare down a werewolf without flinching. The military and law enforcement background showed in his bearing, but he'd been out of them long enough to lose that clean-cut look a lot of guys kept for a while after the service. His sandy-colored hair looked finger-combed and the stubble on his face was at least a day old. It added to his whole 'don't mess with me' vibe. It was a trick that worked for a guy like him. Made him seem impressively badass without even trying. And yet he was just as enchanted as she was. Just another human cursed by the magic of the Sidhe. He said, "Don't count yourself out just yet."

"You're not thinking of introducing me to your boss. He's Unseelie."

"Donovan might run the show at the Glamour Club, but he doesn't speak for all Unseelie." When Joe smiled, he looked like trouble.

London shook her head, playing with her bottle of Guinness without any real interest in drinking from it. Amazing how living on borrowed time put a damper on the small joys of life. "But you said this Tiernan fellow is mates with Donovan."

"You wouldn't know it to look at him, but Tiernan's a businessman. He wraps himself up in the partying playboy image so people underestimate him, but he's wicked sharp. Trust me." Joe pointed at her with the neck of his bottle. "Your problem isn't that Donovan wants you dead. It's your reputation. Snatching one of Donovan's boys for your personal Touch slave isn't something anyone's going to soon forget. It doesn't matter that you came to your senses and gave him back. It doesn't matter that you fought your way through a bunch of werewolves to do it. Nobody even cares about that."

She winced. "Tell me again why I shouldn't count myself out yet?"

"You've got a bad reputation. A well-deserved bad reputation at that. But it happens. What you need to do now is prove yourself." Those blue eyes twinkled with wickedness.

London laughed, and not the amused kind. It was the I-know-I'm-going-to-regret-this kind. "Why do I have the feeling that you have just the very idea about how I can prove myself to your boss?"

He grinned, and somehow it managed to be both sexy and sly at the same time. "Because you're perceptive."

"You want my help for something and that's why you called me." London finally put two and two together. That evening she'd driven all the way to this pub in Dundalk to meet him, since it was halfway between Dublin and where he was staying outside of Belfast. Catching up over a couple of pints and bending his sympathetic ear was all she'd expected. After all, Joe was the only other person she knew who'd been cursed. The only person who could really relate to what she was going through. The only person who might clue her in on how to survive as an enchanted human. "It wasn't just that you'd heard about my death sentence and wanted to give me a friendly pep talk."

"I never have been much of a pep talk kind of guy."

"And you reckon Tiernan will take me on if I prove myself?" The possibility seemed valid. Joe hadn't a pristine reputation, either. They'd met on a nasty job for a Changeling. Turned out that the Sidhe the Changeling claimed to work for was actually his captive. London hadn't figured it out at the time. From the things he'd said, she was pretty certain that Joe had. So if Tiernan could overlook Joe's sordid history, maybe he could overlook hers.

"Honestly? I haven't a clue." Joe shrugged, all casually blunt. As if it wasn't her life or her death that they were discussing. "But couldn't hurt to try. What else have you got to do?"

"You're a prat, you do know that, don't you?"

"Pretty much." He set down his beer. "So that's a 'yes, I'd love to risk my neck to help you,' right?"

London snorted. He was right. What other choice did she have? Wasn't that the story of her life since becoming enchanted? Not having any choice but the one that fed her addiction to the Touch, no matter how dangerous or morally questionable? "Just tell me the job."

"I need to check out some guy who's come to Tiernan's attention."

"Why do you need my help? You've got skills." And wasn't that the truth? The man handled a gun like the Marine Corps Special Forces that he'd been. All focused and professional, even in the heat of a firefight.

"But not the right equipment." He winked with a randy flirtatiousness that was altogether delicious on him. "This dude's a real ladies' man. You could probably just do the hair-flip thing and get him to spill his guts."

"My hair's too short to do the hair-flip thing." She slid her fingers through her close-cropped, dark hair. The style looked good on her, she thought, but more importantly, it kept it out of the way. One time having her ponytail snatched in a scuffle was enough for her. And since she frequently worked for vampires, she could imagine one using her hair like a handle to force her to arch her neck. No point in making it easy.

"Then do the sultry batting-eyelids thing. Work it, girl."

"This is the part where I slap you, right?" she joked.

"Nope. This is the part where you think it's an easy gig and if it gets you in good with a Sidhe, then it's worth admitting for five minutes that you're a sexy woman."

She smirked at him. Admittedly, she might be somewhat attractive by human standards. But compared to the fey, she was the epitome of average. Even if Joe thought she was easy on the eyes, she knew this flattery was all about leverage. "You're so full of it."

"Part of my charm." He dug a folded bill from his pocket, tossed it down on the counter for the bartender, and then extracted a slip of paper and handed it to her. "Meet me at the pier in Newcastle tomorrow. The arrangements are all set up."

London watched him walk out. Nothing wrong with the way his jeans fit when he swaggered. The cocky chap hadn't for a minute doubted that she'd agree to this job. In truth, she'd not at all been offended by the suggestion of sex appeal to get an advantage. It was nice to know Joe thought she had some.

Smiling a little to herself, London unfolded the paper. It was a flier for some bloke claiming to be a druid. He was having some kind of a ceremony at Cashtal Yn Ard, an old burial site on the Isle of Man.

London's smile vanished. The Isle of Man. Wizard territory.



Read the full story in Compelled - Touched #4