Riley MacDermot stared at the pub sign unsure of whether to laugh or be dismayed. He glanced up and down the street to make sure this wasn’t some American reality TV stunt. St. Patrick’s Day wasn’t that far off and he’d heard the Yanks tended to go all sappy over the day. He grimaced and crossed the street. If he could get a proper Guinness, the indignity would be worth it.
Authentic Irish music spilled from the open doorway and the interior was far less Faux Irish than he’d anticipated. The oak bar was stained dark from age and use. The tables and chairs scattered about the place were a jumble of styles, all showing the wear and tear of pub life. The aroma of Irish soda bread and… He sniffed again. Could it be possible that bangers and mash hid in the kitchen?
The food menu was scrawled on a blackboard and hidden among the usual American bar grub, he found the magic words. The place did serve bangers and mash. His mouth watered as he sauntered to the bar and took a seat on a high stool.
The bartender snarled something over his shoulder and the man’s accent curled Riley’s lips. “Aye, an’ the same back t’ye. I’ll be havin’ a pint of the black stuff, poured properly if ye please, and bangers and mash if they’re edible.”
The man turned to stare at Riley and without a word, grabbed a glass and partially filled it from a pull lever on the bar. He let the glass sit while he padded toward the window pass through and yelled to the cook. Returning to top off the pint and placing it in front of Riley, the bartender went about his business until the cook yelled back. The man slid a plate heaped with sausage and mashed potatoes in front of Riley.
Sniffing appreciatively, Riley sampled the food. Not quite like his mum’s but it would do. He loosened his tie and relaxed for the first time since arriving in the States two weeks before. He’d shuttled from pillar to post in search of an elusive thief and the gold the bugger had stolen out from under the very noses of the museum guards.
He’d hit one roadblock after another and here he was in Sedona, Arizona for God’s sake. The Wild West. What in bloody blue blazes did a good Irishman working for Scotland Yard know about cowboys and Indians?
At the moment, he concentrated on the beer, the food, and the snarly bartender wearing a nametag with Aidan stamped upon it.
Britt Montgomery wrapped her fingers around the gold coin she wore on a chain around her neck. The gesture soothed her nerves—not to mention the little frisson of energy she received each time she did so. She’d found the coin in a box of doodads in a dusty corner of a secondhand shop. It already had a hole drilled in it so it had been a simple matter to slip a gold chain through it to wear. “For luck,” she’d said at the time—spending money she didn’t have on the bauble.
Her stomach rumbled, reminding her that the free bagel at breakfast had long since digested. Glancing up and down the street, all the restaurants looked high dollar. She had exactly seven dollars and fifty-eight cents in her pocket.
She snorted. “Hell. I have exactly seven dollars and fifty-eight cents to my name. Face it, girl, you’re broke. If you don’t find a job, you’ll be selling your lucky charm if not yourself.”
A door up the street opened and a couple, along with laughter and music, spilled out into the night. Drawn like the early bird to a worm, Britt slipped into the pub right behind two guys. She put a flirty smile on her face, hoping they’d ask her to join them. As if! They didn’t even notice her as they waved to two girls already holding a table.
The place was rollicking with only one stool open at the bar. Britt slipped off her jacket, smoothed her form-hugging sweater down her sides and hips, and put a friendly smile on her face.
“Excuse me, is this seat taken?” She asked no one in particular as she draped her jacket over the stool and prepared to climb up on it. The girl on the left ignored her, too busy talking to her girlfriend, but the man on the right turned and smiled.
“I’m thinkin’ it might be taken now.”
Britt stared and hoped her mouth wasn’t gaping open. Three things struck her. Blue eyes. Handsome beyond her dreams. And an Irish accent. Her foot slipped and the man steadied her elbow. Heat radiated from his palm. She licked her lips, unable to take her eyes from his face.
“What’ll ye have, cailín?”
“You-you’re Irish.” Britt wanted to headslap herself. D’uh! Of course he was.
The man chuckled. “Riley MacDermot and guilty as charged.”
She blinked rapidly and hoped whatever decided to come out of her mouth sounded semi-intelligent. “Britt Montgomery, and I’m normally not this stupid.”
She blinked rapidly and hoped whatever decided to come out of her mouth sounded semi-intelligent. “Britt Montgomery, and I’m normally not this stupid.”
Riley laughed and winked before raising his hand to get the bartender’s attention. “Aidan, bring the cailín a—”
Britt glanced at his glass. “Guinness. I’ll have a Guinness.”
“And would you be hungry, too?”
She nodded. “Just a burger and fries. Thanks.”
A dark shadow hovered over her and she tore her gaze away from Riley only to collide with a glower from the bartender. The man was staring at her chest. Blushing, she tugged the scoop neck of her sweater a bit higher. The guy actually smacked his lips.
“Oy, enough, boyo. Bring the girl her order.” Riley’s voice snapped, full of command.
With a bored curl of his lips, the bartender sauntered away to comply. Britt studied him, a bit freaked by the guy’s interest. Tall and thin, he had a thatch of red hair and long, nimble fingers that wrapped around the pull handle. He continued to stare at her chest as he set the beer on the bar but she refused to be intimidated. She arched a brow, and in a move designed to show him she didn’t care, Britt picked up her glass and turned to offer a toast to Riley.
“Sláinte.” He beat her to it but a moment later, his eyes also dropped to her chest.
Britt glanced down to make sure her “girls” were adequately covered. They were. But her gold coin wasn’t. Neither man was staring at her breasts. Apparently, they were focused on her lucky charm.
“Ahem. Eyes up here, boys!” She hoped she sounded indignant—but maybe a little flirty, too. The thought that Riley might be interested in her that way set her pulse to galloping.
Riley was enough of a gentleman that his gaze immediately moved to her face. The bartender, on the other hand, continued to stare and his expression unnerved her even more. He looked like her lucky charm was the most important thing in the world and she wondered what he would do to get it. She resisted the urge to cover the coin with her hand.
Aidan finally moved on called away by a red-haired waitress, and while he remained at the other end of the bar, he watched her furtively. The same waitress plopped a burger basket in front of her a few minutes later, but Britt’s hunger had fled.
She glanced up at Riley from the corner of her eye and noticed he studiously ignored her, concentrating on his half-full glass of Guinness.
Of all the bloody luck. The girl at his side was the first in ages to tempt Riley to focus on something besides work. Except she was turning out to be his work. The gold coin she wore so blatantly around her neck looked very much like the gold taken in the London museum heist. He needed time to think, and he certainly couldn’t do that staring into guileless green eyes. Not to mention all the blood in his head had rushed south the moment the cailín sat down beside him.
Riley tossed back the remains of his beer and with a hand that shook slightly, he handed money over to the bartender to pay for his meal and Britt’s. “Keep the change, lad.”
Without looking at her, he headed for the door, fighting the urge to turn around. Riley pictured Britt hunched over, looking dejected, as she had as he walked away. He wanted to return, take her in his arms, and assure her he wasn’t truly an arse. But until he could look at his files again, and separate work from personal, he had to keep walking. He made the door, stumbled out into the chilly night air, and with a headshake, walked briskly back to his hotel.
Britt chewed but could barely swallow. Despite gulping most of her beer, her mouth remained as dry as the surrounding desert. She’d sure like to know what the heck was going on. Riley had seemed like a really nice guy—okay, a really sexy guy, if she was truthful. A really sexy guy she’d felt a connection to. Until he flipped out and ran away. A shadow loomed over her again and she glanced up.
The bartender stood there, his right hand stretching toward her even though his long, supple fingers curled against his palm, as if they itched to touch her. No, not her. Her gold coin. She leaned back, putting more space between them.
“Ye shoulda gone after ’im, ye know.”
She looked askance. “Oh, really? The dude freaked out.”
A lopsided grin crinkled one of his cheeks. “Aye, he did a bit of that, true enough. But I have a sense of these things, ye know. If ye see ’em again, ye should be makin’ nice to the man.”
“Ha. And if you don’t stop staring at my girls I’m going to slap you.”
He tucked his chin and looked perplexed. “Yer girls?” Realization dawned but he didn’t blush. “Nay, girl. ’Twasn’t starin’ at them. ’Tis yer bauble has my attention.”
Her fingers curled around the coin protectively. “You can’t have it.”
The bartender just smiled, his expression condescending. “So you say now, girl. But we’ll see now, won’t we?”
Unnerved, Britt wrapped up her food in the paper lining the basket in which it was served, snagged her jacket and headed for the door. It might have just been bad timing rather than bad luck, but as she stepped outside, the music ended and the bartender’s laughter followed her into the night.
After a night spent pacing the confines of his room, Riley glanced in the mirror. He looked much worse for the wear. His hair sprouted in odd directions from tunneling his fingers through it. The telephone conversation he’d had with his superior hadn’t helped.
“A girl has one of the coins?”
“The girl has a coin. I can’t confirm it is from the stolen cache.”
“What color are her eyes, man?”
“Oh. Green.” Green like Irish moss on a misty morning.
“Blonde. No. Brown.”
“Make up your mind, MacDermot.”
“The lighting wasn’t very good. Her hair is dark blonde or maybe light brown.” Would it shine with golden highlights in the sun?
“She doesn’t fit any descriptions associated with the case. Track her down. Find out how much she knows. Maybe she can lead you to the loot and the takers.”
So here he stood, staring bleary-eyed and sleepless at his reflection. How the bloody feck was he going to find her again?
Britt couldn’t believe her luck. She’d found a hundred dollar bill on the sidewalk last night, which meant she could stay one more day in her hotel. She stroked her lucky charm, smiling and feeling hopeful for the first time in a year. Heaping her plate full from the free breakfast buffet, she planned out her day. She needed to find a job. And a place to stay cheaper than the hotel.
Her thoughts elsewhere, she turned without looking. She bumped into someone and would have dumped her food had strong hands not gripped her arm and steadied her plate. Glancing up, her gaze melted into surprised blue eyes.
“Here, cailín. I’ve a table there by the window. Let’s get you settled and you can eat.”
A few minutes later, both of them sated and with steaming mugs in front of them, Riley cleared his throat.
“I’m glad I ran into you. I feel wretched about my behavior last night.” His conscience only twitched a little at the statement. It was the truth but not the whole reason for his need to see her again.
Her expression didn’t change. “You acted really weird, Riley. And I’m not sure I should be talking to you. You could be like a serial killer or something.”
Wondering for a moment if the truth would be worse, he decided to gamble. “Actually, I hunt serial killers.” Her expression morphed into one of disbelief. “I work for Scotland Yard. I’m a DCI—Detective Chief Inspector.”
Britt’s cheeks flushed with color. “Seriously? I mean…that’s like…so…BBC.” Her brow furrowed as she considered. “Are you here on vacation or something? And I want to see some ID, dude.”
“Something, and here.” He reached into the breast pocket of his suit jacket and offered her his badge and ID. Despite his best intentions, his gaze was drawn repeatedly to her necklace. When she noticed, her fingers closed over the coin protectively.
“What do you mean something?” Her expression turned suspicious. “Are you on a case?”
“I am. There was a heist at a museum in London. We traced some of the stolen goods to the States and I’ve been hot on the trail since.”
Her jaw dropped and then her lips pressed into a grim line. “Wait! You think I’m involved?” She sputtered angrily as her full lips worked to form words.
Riley couldn’t stop himself. He leaned in, captured her lips with his in a swift hot kiss. Britt fought for a moment and then melted. His fingers brushed against the medallion as they stroked her neck and a tiny electric shock danced across their tips at the contact. He pulled away to stare at the gold coin. It was glowing, but that wasn’t possible.
Britt opened her eyes and he thought he might get lost in their soft, green depths. Inhaling deeply to get his emotions under control, he then cupped her cheek in his palm. “I won't be apologizin' for my actions, and I plan t’kiss ya again, but I gotta know. Tell me, cailín, about the coin. Please?”
“I bought it. At a shop in Phoenix. And then I bought a bus ticket to come here.”
She blinked a few times before her brows knitted and she looked perplexed. “I don’t know. I mean…” Her voice trailed off as her color deepened again. When she pulled back, Riley dropped his hand from her face, only to capture her hand with it. He offered a gentle squeeze but didn’t speak. After several breaths, she continued. “I’m broke. I need a job. But something told me to get on that bus and come here.” She gazed down at their connected hands before glancing back up. “Just like something told me to go into the pub.”
She laughed to cover her embarrassment. “Maybe it’s magic or something.”
Riley swallowed his chuckle. Who was he to say? His grandfather insisted he’d shared a pint on more than one occasion with a leprechaun. The old man even confessed it to the village priest. He tapped the coin with a fingertip and Britt giggled.
“Yeah. I get a little buzz from it when you touch it.”
He jerked his hand back. “Indeed.” Upon closer examination, he’d decided this coin had nothing to do with the museum heist. He needed to concentrate on his investigation, but something about this woman beguiled him, made him want to forget his duty.
“Maybe I can help?”
Riley shook his head in an attempt to refocus and remember what they’d been discussing.
“I’m a history major. I can help you research and stuff.”
And stuff. Oh, yes, she could help him with…stuff.
Britt laughed and looked delighted. “You’re blushing!”
“Aye, that I am. Ye’ve caught me, cailín, with my mind anywhere but where it should be.”
“Good.” She leaned across the table and whispered, “Then kiss me again.”
By dinnertime, Riley had moved Britt into his room, totally smitten by her. They’d even managed a bit of research in between kissing and other more pleasurable pursuits. Convinced Britt’s lucky charm had nothing to do with the stolen loot, Riley faced making the phone call to his supervisor. He had nothing to report and figured he’d be ordered back to London. But he didn’t want to go alone. The whole situation with Britt was crazy. A man didn’t fall in love out of the blue. And neither did a woman, though the girl seemed just as gobsmacked as him.
They’d agreed to meet at Finnagan’s for a bite to eat so Riley occupied the same bar stool. So much had changed in twenty-four hours. Aidan greeted him with a Guinness and a smirk.
“Back again, eh?”
“I am. And waitin’ fer the lady.” Riley noted the bartender’s quirked eyebrow. “And speakin’ of, you’ll be keepin’ yer hands an’ yer eyes t’yerself.”
Aidan shrugged. “I’m not interested in the fluff.”
“Yer wantin’ the gold around her neck.”
The bartender chuckled but the sound held more darkness than amusement. “’Tis a curious piece, doncha think? With a bit o’luck, it’ll return to its rightful owner.”
Riley bristled. “What’s that supposed t’mean?”
Aidan shoved another Guinness in front of him. “It means what it means. Do ye love the girl? Enough to fight for her?”
“What the bloody—” Before he could finish his question, a ruckus at the front caused him to swivel around. A man had a death grip on Britt’s arm as his fist wrapped around her medallion. Riley didn’t even think. He simply leaped into action. Before he could take a deep breath, he’d crossed the room, peeled the man off Britt, and hit him with a haymaker even as he dodged a clumsy punch delivered by the guy.
The chain around Britt’s neck broke and the gold coin rolled toward the bar. “My lucky charm!” She scrambled after it while Riley wrestled with her attacker.
He subdued the man, and within minutes, two Sedona police officers arrived. After official stories were exchanged, they marched the man off to jail and Riley could do what he’d wanted from the moment he saw Britt in danger—take her in his arms, holding her against his chest where he knew she was safe.
“Are ye all right then, love?” Riley murmured against her hair, which indeed shone with golden highlights. Her Irish moss green eyes smiled up at him.
“I am now.”
He dipped his head and kissed her. “As am I.” His voice teased her lips. “Ye nearly scared me out of year’s life, though, love. I think we’ll be puttin’ yer lucky charm under lock and key.” His arms tightened around her. “I know it’s too soon, but I’m not a man to beat around the bush. Maybe it is magic. All I know is that I love ye, cailín, and I want ye to be comin’ back to London with me.”
Britt rocked up on her tiptoes to kiss him. “I love you, too, Riley MacDermot.” She offered a cheeky grin. “I don’t think I need it anymore because I have the feeling you’re my lucky charm now.” Her eyes sparkled with mischief. "And you know what they say about lucky charms being magically delicious...”
Neither Britt nor Riley saw the flash that shimmered around Britt’s pocket or the look on the bartender’s face as the gold coin appeared in his hand. He curled his long fingers around it. “Aye, an’ the luck of the Irish to ye both,” he called to them. “And may ye live happily ever after.”