Free Chapter Friday…Chapter Four, Baptism by Fire

**warning–adult content**

This chapter continues the physical relationship of the characters, so if you’re under 18, this is no place for you to be!

Chapter Four

“She is not for you, Aidan.”

“I know, but it doesn’t stop me from wanting her.” Aidan sat in front of the fire, clothed in his human guise. Once the connection with the Realm had been made, the “line” had stayed open until he or Rhiannon chose to close it. Therefore, she’d heard and seen everything that had transpired with Leanan. Everything. Including the rather impetuous kiss that had led to something far more potent. He was still hard as a post.

“Wanting is one thing. Partaking is another. I saw the look on your face.”

“Don’t lecture me like a child. Even if you are Moira, you have no right to take that tone with me.” In truth, she had every right, but he wouldn’t give her an inch on this one. They’d known each other far too long for her to begin acting like a mother. “I’ve got it under control. Now, what are we going to do about her? She saw me.”

Rhiannon snorted. “You don’t have anything under control, but you will have to, if you are to complete this mission. Your fate has been presented to you. It is to find this rogue, not chase after a water sprite. As for her seeing you, give her time, a few days. She is human, and will begin to dismiss it with every passing hour until she imagines it as a trick of the light.”

“I don’t think so.”

“Be that as it may, she can do nothing about it. No one would ever believe her, and I doubt she would be willing to sacrifice her professional life to make such a claim. Simply stay away from her and all will be well.”

“There’s more. She opened my warded door.”

“Perhaps your warding wasn’t as strong as it might have been.”

Aidan mused over her words. She was probably right. With his mind on both the rogue and Leanan Murphy, it was a possibility he had been sloppy.

He had also forgone the joy of slipping into his Fae form for far too long. It was a necessity for their kind to flee the shackles of human guise regularly, something he had neglected through absentmindedness more than anything. Was he becoming too
human? Perhaps the only way to find out was to reconnect with his tribe, physically.

“When will you be here?”

Rhiannon sighed, her voice muted against the crackle of the flames. When she spoke, it was as his playmate, not as Moira, and she sounded weary.

“Very soon, I hope. Things are not well here, old friend. Dissention grows. There are those who feel the time for isolationism has come to an end, who wish to experience the world as you and others have, but without your training. I have to wonder if
your rogue is not a part of it all, a distraction to keep me from fulfilling my purpose here.” She sighed. “They do not understand that by leaving the clan without the proper training they endanger the very fabric binding us together, even with the absence of the last four runes.”

“They dare question you, the Council?” Aidan didn’t even try to hide the incredulity in his voice. No one, be they fire, earth, water or air, went against the Moira. It simply wasn’t done. The Moira, and by extension, the Council, was the one being holding their combined clans together, had saved them from sure extinction in the days when Fae were hunted for their power. Saved them all still. The Moira’s will simply was.

“Find our rogue, Aidan, and contain him. I will be there when the time of Sanctioning comes, and we can both return home. And stay away from the human. She will bring you only misery.”

With that, the fire went out, dead and cold as a stone.

Aidan stared at the empty grate, thoughts churning.

Home. As much as he’d longed to experience the Outer World as a boy, now he yearned to return home even more, to be among his people once again. To find a mate and frolic in the trees with the freedom denied him here.

When had things begun to go so wrong in the Realm? The Fae had lived there in harmony for centuries, building their population slowly, communing with Mother Earth, as was their way. They had branched out into the world slowly when the runes decreed, set forth to meet a fate even the Moira could not see.

Surely the dissention hadn’t been underway when he was still in Ireland? He would have sensed it, somehow.

It couldn’t be the earth elementals; they were too strongly tied to the soil itself and usually disgruntled, at the very least, when decreed to leave for the Outer World.

The undines only haunted rivers close to the Realm, since the sea, with the humans’ legion of warships and pleasure craft, was out of the question.

And the air elementals were too closely tied to Rhiannon to ever go against her wishes.

No, it had to be a fire, from his own clan, who was fomenting a rebellion. A rebellion which could quite easily destroy more than two centuries of peace.

Aidan speared his fingers through his hair.  He had a feeling his rogue was the answer to all of this, and it was time for him to begin tracking him down in earnest.

Rhiannon was right. Leanan Murphy was off limits, no matter how good, how right, she’d felt in his arms, tasted on his tongue. He had a goal, a mission, and it continued tonight.

* * * *

Leanan stared up at the wood-beamed ceiling of her bedroom, sexually frustrated and angry as hell with herself.

She couldn’t get Aidan’s taste and touch out of her mind; it was driving her nuts. She should be asleep now, but the feel of his hands on her was seared into her memory. His scent haunted her, making her body itch and burn in a purely sexual way she’d
never felt before.

Why couldn’t he have been some old, balding guy with a paunch? It would have made her evening a whole lot less eventful.

Yeah, she was frustrated, but she could deal with it. But the anger, oh, that was a different story.

She’d run–actually run away. And from what? A hot, utterly delectable man who had obviously wanted her … just as she’d wanted him. So why had she bailed? She could be lying in Aidan’s bed right now, with a satisfied smile on her face. Instead, she was
cold and lonely in her own. Oh, to hell with this. She needed a good bitch session, and there was only one person who fit
the bill, even if it was almost midnight on the East Coast.

She punched the phone number in by memory and heard her best friend’s voice answer cheerfully.

“Speak, and you shall be heard!”

“Hey, Maggie-girl, you alone?”

“Disgustingly so. What’s shakin’, chica?”

Leanan threw her free arm over her eyes. “I met a guy today. An incredibly hot arson investigator.”

“No shit?” Maggie paused, and Leanan could almost see her mulling the situation over in her amazingly agile mind. Whoever said blondes were dumb had never met her college roommate. “You didn’t sleep with him, did you?”

“No,” Leanan sighed, “but it was a close thing.”

“Hmmm. Is that good or bad?”

“I don’t know. He scares me a little bit.” With the lights off and her best friend on the phone, she could admit to that much.

“What?” Maggie’s voice raised in concern. “Scares you how?”

“He’s … intense.”

“Good lovin’ intense or stalker intense?”

Leanan laughed. “Good lovin’ intense, for sure.”

Maggie was quiet for a long moment. When she came back on the line, her voice was contemplative. “You probably don’t want to hear this, but you need to let go of the past, girl. You’re a different person now. Hell, you always were, just beaten down by
your father and that prick James. It’s a freakin’ miracle you ever made it out of Boston.”

“I know, and it’s probably past time I heard it. Realizing it doesn’t make life any easier, though.” It helped, since Maggie knew all of her secrets, her fears, her insecurities. It had been Maggie who’d helped her pull it together in those first few months after she left James at the altar and started her new life three thousand miles away in Berkeley.

“Are you going to see him again?”

Leanan worried herbottom lip between her teeth for a moment before answering. “I don’t think so. He makes me forget who I am, what I’m doing. I can’t let someone have so much power over me again.”

Maggie sighed. “What you’re talking about is a different kind of power, and you know it. Think about it for a while first, all right?” She shifted tack with blinding speed. “So how did you meet Mr. Studmuffin?”

Leanan thumped her forehead with her palm. “Shit, I can’t believe I told you about him first and not the fire. Shows you how fucked-up my priorities are right now.”

“Fire, what fire? Are you okay?” Real worry laced Maggie’s voice now.

“I’m fine, at least physically. The warehouse the collection was in was torched last night.” The loss still echoed through her in resounding waves.

“Oh, shit. What are you going to do?”

“Start pulling together what I can, I suppose. We’ve already done all of the prelim stuff, and we’re committed to the Corcoran.”

“I wish I could tell you not to sweat it, dear, but I know you too well. Just take some time for yourself, ‘K?”

Leanan snorted. “Yeah, right.”

“I mean it.”

“I know you do. Listen, I’ve got class in the morning, and you’ve probably got early rounds at the hospital. Thanks for listening to me whine.”

“Hell, girl, you know I’m here for you anytime. Love you, sis.”

“Love you too, Mags.”

She disconnected and thought back to the day she’d become a new woman, her woman.

She’d learned a vital lesson six years ago and it was one she’d held close since. Enjoy your time with a man, but never let him hold sway over you. Her father and James had tried to force their version of the future on her. Her father, through years of nannies and indifference, until she would do almost anything to incite a response, including graduating from Harvard by the time she was twenty-one. James had stepped right into his shoes, but instead of ignoring her, he had lavished her with the attention she was starved for, and in doing so, began to enslave her.

The criticisms had begun early, and with great subtlety. But when she began to dress as he wanted and take the graduate courses he said would be most beneficial to his career, she’d felt like she was being smothered.

Two weeks before her wedding, a society event to be sure, she’d begun packing her treasures, wishing for the thousandth time since she was ten that her mother was there to help her, to lend advice on how to be a good wife. It was while she was spreading paper to wrap her favorite painting when it really hit her.

She’d stood, staring down at the unbridled, free spirit of Leanan Sidhe and seen the future as it would be with James. The conservative dresses, the downcast eyes, the continued verbal abuse which would almost certainly escalate when she was
finally “his”. In that moment she hated herself, hated what she had allowed her father to mold her into.

She’d continued packing, but instead of putting the things she valued most into storage as James had insisted, she loaded up her ultra-conservative Volvo and started driving until she hit the West coast, and Berkeley.

On the long journey she’d made peace with herself, of a sort. She would be the woman her mother had named her for, and damn any man who stood in her way.

Never mind the fact that since then, her relationships consisted of short, brief affairs, which ended when her partner became too stifling.

Silent, angry tears leaked down her face as she realized, really realized, why she’d fled from Aidan. She’d been scared to death of the way he made her feel. Of the way she’d lost her head, been caught up in the moment.

She was scared of losing not only herself, but the carefully constructed, albeit, empty life she’d created along the way.

* * * *

Aidan slipped through the quiet night, scenting the air as he went. Older homes surrounded him, some run down, some vainly holding on to their fading glory.

He breathed in the heavy fragrance of jasmine and the tang of salt air from the nearby Pacific, barely tasting the taint of sulfur hidden cunningly beneath.

Aye, his Fae had been here, but in the past, perhaps when the home had originally been destroyed.

He’d thought the burned-out home might draw the Salamander back, but it was not to be, at least not this night.

Returning to his truck, he sat in the driver’s seat, thrumming his fingers on the steering wheel. Leanan’s warehouse should be his next destination, but it didn’t feel right. In truth, nothing had felt right after he’d digested Rhiannon’s disturbing message.

Were he a Fae bent on changing destiny, where might he go next? From where would he draw his greatest strength? Where would he hide?

In plain sight, perhaps?

If only he had another Fae to turn to besides Rhiannon. Someone who lived here and understood the Outer World as he had come to understand it these past ten years.

But he only had one being to gain counsel with tonight, and he was human. Mikey.

With a short nod of his head, Aidan pulled out of the convenience store lot he’d parked at and headed for Old Town. Finding Mikey should be no problem.

* * * *

And it wasn’t. Alvarez was propped on the same barstool he occupied every night he was off-shift, in a tiny hole-in-the wall frequented by cops and firefighters.

Aidan slipped onto the stool next to him and signaled the bartender for his usual, Jamison’s, straight up, with a Guinness draft on the side. When he’d first come to Callahan’s he’d found it interesting an Irish pub could peacefully exist in the heart of San Diego’s Mexican-inspired Old Town, but it not only existed, it thrived.

“Didn’t think I’d see you tonight, my man.” Mikey toasted him with a dip of his longneck Miller.

“Couldn’t stop thinking about last night,” Aidan admitted, nodding to the bartender as he took a sip of the whiskey.

“There’s always another fire, amigo. That’s the way of our world. What’s got you so bothered about this one?”

“Besides the obvious connection to the other torches?” Aidan quirked an eyebrow at his friend and took another sip.

“Hell, Aidan. There’s firebugs all around us, you know that better than anyone. So what’s the problem?”

“The signature is strange.” He paused, then continued. “This feels almost personal. Like he’s laughing at me. You know damned well every one of these has been in my jurisdiction.”

Mikey shot him an odd look. “Personal, huh? You need to get out more, Hughes, maybe even get laid with one of those honeys I always see you around.”

Aidan replied with a short laugh. There was only one woman he wanted in his bed, and until Mikey brought the subject up, he’d been avoiding the thought quite admirably.

“What, the mighty Aidan Hughes is striking out? I don’t believe it.”

Aidan finished his Scotch and turned to face his only friend. “Not quite.”

“Humph. Not quite ain’t scoring, my man.”

“I’ve had my mind on other things.” Aidan launched into their oft-argued discussion. Anything was better than thinking about Leanan again. “Speaking of other things, did you take the exam today?”

“Shit. Why’d you have to bring it up?” Mikey stared at his beer, peeling the label off with one stubby finger. “Yeah, I took it, for all the good it’ll do. I’m not like you, Hughes. I ain’t cut out to be an investigator, and I don’t know why in the hell I let you talk me into taking the damned test every time it comes around.”

“Because you’re good, that’s why. You’re destined to do more than pretty up your rig and cook shitty chili every week.” Aidan grinned as he said it. Mikey was obsessively proud of his chili.

For once, his friend didn’t rise to the bait. “Destined, huh?”

“Yeah. Mikey, I want you to come in on this with me. I need a clear set of eyes and ears. He’s only killed once, but what will happen the next time? What if he pulls an Orr and starts torching someplace with someone other than vagrants living there?”

If nothing else, his reference to John Orr snapped Mikey’s head around. John Orr had been a legendary arson investigator–and an even more notorious arsonist, setting hundreds, maybe thousands of fires up and down the state before he was finally caught.

“You think it’s one of us?”

“I don’t know, but the similarities are starting to grate on me.” The possibility did exist the rogue had blended in where he would be the least noticeable … in a firehouse. AndMikey knew more about the crews than Aidan, as an outsider, ever would.

Mikey heaved a big sigh, pushing his bottle around the table aimlessly as Aidan took a pull on his Guinness.

“Well, what do you think? Are you in?”

“Yeah,” Mikey replied, sounding tired. “I’m in.”

* * * *

The alarm chirped obscenely in Leanan’s ear for at least a minute before she flung an arm out and silenced the wretched thing.

What day was it? Friday, thank God. She only hoped her week ended better than it had begun.

She lay in bed for a few moments, gathering her thoughts. Her mind latched onto Aidan almost immediately, but she pushed it away forcefully, grabbing the next thing that swam into focus.

The fire fairy. She snorted, snuggling underneath the covers. She’d begun her career of studying mythology to spite her father more than anything, but found herself falling in love with the concept all over again, especially in the first year after James, when she needed a giant heap of magic. Having a free spirit like Maggie in her life had only boosted what would have been a totally irrational career path just six months before.

The study of mythos had rekindled her fascination, but as much as she tried to grasp the magic of what she’d seen when she was ten, nothing had even come close.

She remembered standing, all alone, in front of a giant ancient oak, the moon high above her. Her parents had been involved in an academic argument about the standing stones they’d camped next to, and not even noticed when she wandered off.

The night had been full of magic. It sparkled on the moon-touched trees and long grasses and rode the sigh of the wind as it slipped through the leaf-laden branches.

And on the soft sough of the breeze, she could hear singing, so beautiful it made her heart ache and brought tears to her eyes. Then she’d seen the first one, flittingaround the branches of the great tree, delicately silver and dancing with the wind. A rainbow of color streaked through the sky, and coalesced into tiny fairies, hovering, dancing and swooping in a swirl of joy around and around and around until Leanan was dizzy and sat down hard on the ground.

She watched for what seemed like hours, transfixed at the pixie play. Taking the carved stone her mother had given her earlier in the day from her pocket, she tumbled it through her small fingers.

Suddenly, her father’s voice, stern and unbending, broke the ballet apart into disjointed pieces. “Leanan Murphy,” he’d yelled, “come down off the hill this instant and into bed.”

She’d gone, but not before shooting one last wondering glance at the tree. They were all gone now, scattered into the night like they’d never been.

Her father had, of course, spent the next eleven years reminding her of her flight of fancy, and how serious academics should never actually believe in what they were studying, because it took their objectivity out of focus. In time, she’d been browbeaten into accepting his truth.

Leanan sighed. She’d thought too much about the past in the last twelve hours. It was time to worry about the future, about what she’d have to do to make the exhibit at the Corcoran the success she so richly deserved.

Pushing out of bed, she poured a cup of coffee and slouched to the shower, taking the brew with her.

As she stood with her back to the deliciously hot spray, she sipped the equally warming caffeine and let her mind roam. Of course, it went exactly where she didn’t want it to go. Aidan Hughes. She should be thinking about how she was going to raise her exhibit from the ashes with the few pieces she had secured here at home and in her office. She should be thinking about insurance forms and meetings with the dean and Ian O’Shea, her peculiar student. Not about Aidan Hughes.

But the image of his face swam from the back of her mind no matter how she tried to push it back. The picture of him in those low-slung shorts that left so very little to the imagination. The feel of him behind her in the living room; standing in front of her at the kitchen table. The gentle grip of his hand on her shoulders, her arms, her hands, and oh God, her breasts. The velvety slip of
his tongue as it plunged into her mouth again and again.

Those images ran through her mind, her body, and suddenly she was hotter than the water pummeling her back.

With a muttered oath, she slammed the coffee mug down on the back of the toilet tank and leaned back into the spray. Aidan Hughes was a fantasy come to life, but one she would never realize, no matter how much her body protested.

And right now, her body was protesting mightily. As she massaged shampoo into her hair, she imagined it was his hands caressing her scalp, following the soapy trail down her body to her breasts. Cupping them so gently with his work-roughened
fingers, then tweaking her nipples until she thought she’d combust.

Her hands followed the imaginary path his would take, smoothing over her hips, brushing the silky hair of her mound, then dipping in, teasing her clit with fairy-light touches as he pressed against her, the rock-hard length of his erection pressing
against her ass. He’d go further, lifting one leg and propping it against the side of the shower, slipping inside her with one finger, then two, thumbing her clit as he moved slickly against her back.

Pure sensation washed over Leanan as she pleasured herself, lost in the moment. White light exploded behind her closed eyes as she came, sagging against the cool tile of the shower, barely able to hold herself up on trembling legs.

The cooling water brought her out of her pleasure-induced fog.

God, how long had it been since she’d come so hard by her own hand?

She pushed away from the shower wall and leaned back, rinsing her hair with shaky fingers. If nothing else, Aidan Hughes was damned good, as far as fantasies went.

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