Original Paperback
May 2002

 

NIGHT GAMES

Digital Re-issue
July 2012

Read an Excerpt

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He is the MVP of the future’s hottest sport.
In the year 2502, sex is a spectator sport, and Brian Byrne is its undisputed champion. He plays with a passion for the game, never for the woman. So why does he feel burned out, used up, and in need of a vacation? A few weeks in a simpler time where he doesn’t have to think about sex sounds great.

She wants a perfect night of pleasure.
Ally O’Neill is having a career crisis. She is the best-selling author of a series on how to be the perfect wife. She is also recently divorced, so her perfect wife theory obviously needs fine-tuning. Her publisher now wants Ally to write about a night of sexual pleasure from a single woman’s perspective. What does she know about sex and today’s single woman? Nothing. Ally requires a consultant with sex-god credentials.

Ally and Brian meet in 2002 beside the ruins of an Irish castle. Ally believes she needs Brian for only one night, but soon realizes she wants him to be her forever-man. Brian thinks no woman can tempt him, but Ally quickly has him trying to renegotiate the no-sex clause in his contract.

In a world where no one has ever heard of the Testosterone Titans, Brian is about to discover that scoring is a lot less fun than falling in love.

 



 
READ AN EXCERPT

PROLOGUE

Sex. Rules of the game: play hard, play to win, and play with a passion for the game, never for the woman.

Brian Byrne stood in the center of the packed stadium, lifted his face to the artificially generated breeze that cooled his bare body, and saluted the thousands of fans who screamed his name. In future years experts would agree that 2502 was his year.

Why didn’t he care more?

Striding away from the women he’d just brought to completion, Brian fought his way through back-pounding teammates, then pushed past the hundreds of robotic reporters hovering around, wanting a piece of him. With a sense of relief, he entered his undressing room.

Alone. Well, not quite. Jupe slipped in as the door slid shut.

He tried to ignore his agent, but it was tough ignoring five feet five inches of lean, mean selling machine. Brian stepped under the cleansing spray and closed his eyes as the liquid sluiced over his body, washing away the sweat and smell of sex.

“You were incredible out there. Wouldn’t have believed it if I hadn’t seen it. You know, I still think you should try a mask. Add to the dangerous image.”

Brian leveled a dark stare at him.

“Okay, okay, so you don’t need the mask. But a few chains wrapped around you would play into a lot of women’s fantasies.”

Brian stepped out of the spray then rubbed himself dry with a towel. It would’ve been easier to use the Air Scrubber and Evapo-drier, but he enjoyed the old-fashioned feel of liquid flowing over him and the rough towel on his body. Tactile in all things. If he couldn’t touch it, it wasn’t worth his time. “I don’t need to play into women’s fantasies.”

“Right. You are every woman’s fantasy. You know why? Because women love the you-can-touch-my-body-but-never-my-heart image. You’re a challenge. Women love challenges.”

Jupe would never understand. “It’s no image. That’s me. Take it or leave it.”

Jupe ignored him. “I wish you’d let me leak this thing you do for those kids to the Cosmic Network. Soften your image. Let people know you care about something.”

Brian shook his head. “You just got through saying that women love the untouchable image. Tell them about the kids and I won’t be untouchable anymore.” He’d never use the homeless children he supported for public relations purposes. They were a part of who he was, where he’d come from. He didn’t have career choices when he entered the league, but he kept playing so his kids would have choices. They were a part of himself he shared with no one, not even Jupe.

“Yeah, guess you’re right.” Jupe glanced at the Experience-the-Thrill pressure pad with a scene of Brian holding aloft the Universal trophy the team had won three months ago. He had only to touch the pad to be drawn into a virtual world where he could relive the glory of his most famous client. He didn’t touch it. “I never asked why you chose the name Brian. Great name. Sounds primitive. Women like primitive.”

“It’s my real name.” One of his only links to the parents he’d barely known. Even after so many years he felt the anger, and took it out on Jupe. Jupe who’d seen talent in a raw teen and over the course of twelve years molded him into a face and body recognized on even the farthest explored planet. “At least I’m not named after a big ball of gas.”

Jupe paused to study him. “So? Lots of people are named Jupiter. And what’s the matter with you? You just won it all. You’re the king.”

Brian exhaled wearily. “Sorry for the crack about your name. Guess the game took a lot out of me.”

Mollified, Jupe rambled on. “Yep, you’re every woman’s fantasy man.” Jupe was practically rubbing his hands together at the thought of how much that fantasy was worth. “This win makes you tops in the universe. When your new contract comes up, infinity’s the limit. And the endorsements—”

“I’m tired. Think I’ll take a vacation.” Brian dropped the towel and started to dress.

Jupe ignored him. “Take a look at this.” He motioned and the image of a cereal container formed in the middle of the room. “Enjoy the Best. I like that in big letters at the top. It was a stroke of genius to show you naked with all those women.”

Brian narrowed his gaze on the container. “My eyes aren’t that green. And my hair’s black, plain black. No gold streaks.” He lowered his glance. “I’m not that big. What’s with the enhancements?”

“Enhancements are good. Keeps you larger than life.” He chuckled. “The whole concept’s genius, pure genius. Gives you lots of exposure.”

“Right. Lots of exposure. Not much dignity, though. Maybe they should lose the women and show me dressed. Fans never get a chance to see me in clothes.” He was used to Jupe ignoring him when profit was on his mind. And profit was always on his mind.

Brian motioned, and the cereal container was replaced by the scene of a grassy hill with a few chunks of stone hinting at an ancient building of some sort.

“Uh-uh. Females across the galaxy will relate with the ones on the container. See, it’s all about marketing.” Jupe moved around Brian to get a closer view of the scene. “And you’re not the king of dignity, you’re the king of sex.” He pointed at the scene. “What’s this all about?”

Brian huffed in resignation. “Look, Jupe, Monday Night Sex is a team sport, and I’m a team player. The Sex Super Bowl was a team win. They should put all the guys on the container.”

“Give me a break, Byrne. You were the MVP of the series. Who was it that brought four women at once to screaming orgasms in the final minute of regulation time to win it for the Sex Monarchs? Huh? I still can’t believe it. A four-play. Never been done before. You’re a galactic hero.” Jupe swung his arms wide to demonstrate the scope of Brian’s greatness.

“Sure, sure.” Brian tried to refocus on the scene. “But that’s what The Old One paid for. Capricorn Wilson offered me a lot to stay with the Testosterone Titans another year, but I was a free agent and The Old One offered an incredible package. Plus you negotiate the best contract in the sport. I make more than the World President. More than ten world presidents.” He grinned at Jupe. “Remind me to tell you what a great agent you are.”

“I get my cut.” Jupe’s attention returned to the scene. “A vacation? A vacation? You’ve never taken a vacation.”

“Never had the chance. Had to keep busy promoting myself so I could earn more. It takes a lot to support all those kids. Now that I’m on top, I can take a little break.” He pointed at an air-chair, and it glided over to him. Sinking into it, he allowed himself to relax. So many women drained him in more ways than one.

“You can’t leave now. The Old One has appearances booked solid until the start of training camp. She figures to make a fortune off you.”

Brian laughed. “The Old One already has enough fortunes to buy the universe. She just wants to piss off the other team owners.”

“You can’t—”

“Yes, I can.” Brian turned from the scene. “I need to get away for about a month—from the fans, the responsibilities, the sex.” He stretched. “I think I’ll take a trip back to the ancestral castle. About five hundred years back.”

“Five hundred years?” Jupe’s expression hinted that Brian might as well be dodging dinosaurs. “Why five hundred years?”

“Something interesting happened between 2002 and 2010.” Brian raked his fingers through his still-damp hair. Sometimes he wished it didn’t hang past his shoulders, but it was part of his mystique in a society where everyone shaved, polished, and hired artists to paint pictures on their heads. “History’s a little vague, but during that time period the whole castle collapsed. Why would a building that had stood for centuries just fall down? I’m curious. I figure it was probably still standing in 2002. Might even use the Constructor to shore it up.” He’d rather use his hands. The Constructor made it too easy. Everything in life was too easy. That’s why most men had turned into useless Morwin blobs who couldn’t even get off their butts to have sex. They’d rather watch it. Viewers not doers. He felt sorry for them. No matter how hard his past had been, it had given him drive.

Jupe paced in a frenzy of denial. “You can’t. What if you get hurt where it counts? Whatta we do then, huh? And how’re you going to keep your edge without Nebula?”

“I don’t need a trainer. I don’t think I’ll lose any conditioning in three weeks. And don’t worry, no sex on this trip. By the time I get back I’ll be ready for the season opener.” He raised his hand to still Jupe’s list of possible dangers. “Look, I’m going to a safe time and a safe part of earth. I’ll go at night so no one will see me arrive, and I’ll have the time-travel agent give me authentic identification and plenty of the currency in use. I’ll even bone up on a speech pattern that’s close to the one I use.”

Jupe didn’t look convinced. “You want a great vacation? Why not a Canthian Retreat? I hear you come out a new man.”

“I don’t think you want a new man.” Jupe wasn’t going to let this go. “I’d guess that five hundred years ago the ancestral castle was already looking pretty grim. Maybe I’ll fix the old place up without the Constructor’s help.” It would feel good to use his hands for something besides touching female bodies.

Jupe blanched. “Use your hands? Primitive tools? What if—?”

“That’s it. I’m going and no one can stop me.”

#

Brian watched the white stag move through the trees ahead of him. The thick mist hid much of his surroundings, and it was hard to believe the stag was leading him back in time.

Ironic. Humans had conquered space, disease, and everything else imaginable, but time remained a mystery. Only these magical stags from Sirleen held the secret of traveling through time. Intelligent, willing, and scarce, their services couldn’t be afforded by most. He would enjoy himself for a few weeks, but when the stag returned to take him home, he’d probably be glad to go.

He frowned as the castle came into sight. What a mess. Only the keep was still standing. The outer walls and towers lay in ruin. Not much shelter there. Good thing the travel agent had packed him some survival gear. It was dark and rainy; not a great way to start his vacation.

At least he wouldn’t have to worry about any females. No woman would be stupid enough to come here on a night like this.

 

CHAPTER ONE

“Horse pooky. Every red-blooded woman would want to meet Black Liam Byrne, the evilest vampire to ever bite a virgin. Bet he’s tall, dark, and horny. Heck, at my age, that sounds pretty good.” Katy pulled the collar of her all-weather coat more tightly around her ears. “Had a reading done by Mary Jo Clark two years ago. The cards said in 2002 I’d meet a sexy man from far away. Ireland’s far away. Black Liam could be him.”

Ally hated to stomp on her great-aunt’s vision of sensual nirvana. “Sorry, Katy. From the books I’ve read, I’d say we’re dealing with the dullahan here. Black-robed, headless horseman. Harbinger of death. Vampires aren’t big in Ireland, and they don’t have discriminating taste buds.” She had to shout to be heard above the waves pounding at the base of the cliff. Building a castle with one side backed up to a cliff that dropped hundreds of feet to the sea might make it safe from invaders, but it didn’t bode well for sleepwalkers or the chronically clumsy.

“The dullahan?” Katy cast her a scathing glance. “Dull is right. What good would a headless man be?”

“None. I know because I married one. All Dave’s brains were in his—”

“Can it, Ally. You’re a disgrace to the O’Neills. The O’Neills don’t give up on romance because they pulled one wormy apple out of the basket. Don’t know why the ghosts of your ancestors don’t rise up and kick you out of Ireland.” Katy peered into a darkened doorway of the ruined keep.

“I’m open to new experiences, but I really don’t expect to see any ancestral ghosts rising to defend love. Our family history says the O’Neills spent their whole lives fighting and drinking. That didn’t leave much time for anything else.” Ally flinched as a large drop of water from a low-hanging branch splattered against her cheek.

“You’re here, aren’t you? So they must have done something else. Ever since that rotten ex-husband of yours took off with his woman, you’ve been reading too many books. The wrong books.” Katy peered further into the doorway. “Want to take a look?”

“I’d rather eat dirt. Look, it’s cold, wet, and dark. Let’s go back to the wagon.” And away from comments about my “perfect” marriage. Dave had been a mistake, but the experience had toughened her. Strength was part of her new persona. “I still don’t know why we didn’t hire a car to get around Ireland.”

“When I was a kid, I always dreamed about living in Ireland. I used to pretend I was one of the traveling people, driving my gypsy wagon from village to village. Used to picture a dark gypsy kidnapping me and having his way with me. Exciting stuff.” Katy grinned at her. “Could still happen, you know.”

“Katy, we have a horse that’s so laid-back I have to keep checking to see if he’s dead.” Ally smiled. She’d had her own fantasies as a kid. “Excitement is a black stallion, a masked man wearing a black cape. Zorro.” Instead she’d settled for plain Dave who’d morphed into rotten Dave.

Katy looked interested. “I could go for a masked man.”

A rumble of thunder sounded in the distance. “I still think we should go back to the wagon.” Since Katy wasn’t into research, Ally had done it for her. Ally knew all there was to know about every Irish fairy, and she’d bet not one of them would show tonight.

“Know what? I think you were switched at birth. Wouldn’t be surprised if you belonged to Edna Wilson. She just sits around on that old yellow porch wearin’ a sour puss and whining about everything. Whined her husband into an early grave.” Katy marched militantly ahead of Ally, her bright orange hair a beacon in the rainy Irish night.

“Give it up, Katy. Black Liam likes virgins. You’re no virgin.” Ally had been a virgin when she married Dave. Marrying a virgin was important to him. And didn’t the “perfect” wife always try to please her husband? Fat lot of good it had done her.

“I could pretend.” Katy turned her head to offer Ally a sly grin.

Oh, boy. “This is ridiculous. Let’s look at things logically.”

“No.”

“Any vampire worth his salt would be hitting the streets of Dublin scoping out hot-blooded wenches, not wandering around an old crumbling castle at midnight. Face it, we’re small change.” Ally pushed a damp tendril of hair from her face.

“I want to see a vampire.” Katy’s tone suggested that if Black Liam knew what was good for him, he’d better appear. “Besides, I’m on to something here. I feel a presence.”

“Rain, Katy. It’s called rain.”

“You’ve got the sensitivity of a turnip, just like your Uncle George. Wouldn’t recognize a spirit if it pinched your bottom.” She hunched her thin shoulders and trudged onward. Katy Gallagher, intrepid huntress of all things spooky.

“I’ve got loads of sensitivity. I’m sensitive to sinus headaches, hacking coughs—things you get from standing in the rain.” Ally did some mental fanny kicking. Why had she let her great-aunt talk her into coming to Ireland with her? Okay, so Katy had used the an-old-helpless-woman-can’t-go-to-Ireland-by-herself ploy. Hah! Katy was a seventy year old Buffy the Vampire Slayer.

To be honest, it wasn’t all her great-aunt’s fault. When Katy had decided that if Ally could write books so could she and set her sights on writing about Irish fairies, Ally had thought it might be a fun vacation. The horse-drawn gypsy wagon had sounded relaxing and stress-free. Wrong. She should’ve known that traveling with Katy would never be stress-free.

“Too bad you take after your mother’s side of the family. Don’t get me wrong, Ruth’s a fine woman, but she doesn’t have a speck of imagination. Takes things too seriously. Always too busy fighting with that nephew of mine. Should know by now she’s never going to change him. Doesn’t pay to get too wrapped up in a man.” She cast Ally a meaningful glance.

“Save the lecture. I know I spent too much time on Dave.” Five years too much. After five years of marriage, Dave had left her for a woman who didn’t give a flip whether she pleased him or not. “I vote for heading back to the wagon. It’s going to be a no-vampire night, and it can’t be too safe wandering around by ourselves in the dark.”

“Loosen up, honey. It’s fun being scared.” Katy peered at her watch.

“The only one who’ll be scared is your insurance agent. What if you trip and break a leg? What’re you going to put on the claim form? I was chasing a vampire?” Okay, she’d try to think good thoughts about this trip. It would give her time to work on her new book, Coping with Single Life.

“You’re a depressing person.” Katy’s stride never faltered. “Remind me to leave you home next time.”

Ally sighed. Maybe she was, but negative was where she was at right now. Only one positive in her life at present. She was positive she’d never worry about making a man happy again.

She’d written a string of best-selling books teaching women how to be the perfect wife. The Perfect Wife in the Kitchen, The Perfect Wife in Bed, The Perfect Wife at the Baseball Game, ad nauseam, all encouraging women to go the extra mile to please their husbands. She’d been so sure this was the key to a fulfilling marriage.

Ally had watched her mother battle her father over unimportant things from the time Ally was old enough to understand all the screaming and to hide her head under the pillows. She was determined to save other women from a lifetime of constant strife.

Fulfilling marriage. Right. On the way out the door for the last time, Dave had called her boring. He wanted a woman who was more of a challenge, more exciting. Ally narrowed her gaze. He’d wanted bitchy, she’d given him bitchy. The divorce settlement had been more exciting than their marriage ever was.

“It’s almost twelve.” Katy sounded gleeful.

Black Liam had better protect his most treasured body parts with Katy on the prowl.

“That McDermott guy said if we walk around this ruin at the exact stroke of midnight, we’ll meet Black Liam.”

Ally did some mental eye-rolling. “The only thing that’ll happen if we walk around this place is we’ll fall off the cliff. I love Ireland. I might even love this old castle, if I could see it. But I don’t enjoy anything standing in a cold rain at midnight.” She hunched her shoulders against the damp chill. “It’s raining harder.”

Katy stared distractedly into the darkness. “This isn’t rain, honey. It’s the soft Irish weather.”

“Well, some of your soft Irish weather is trickling down my back.”

The quiet buzz of Katy’s watch signaled midnight. Good. Now they could walk around three sides of this gothic novel reject, nothing would happen, and they could return to their built-by-insane-gypsies-who-hate-tourists caravan wagon.

Ally shivered. As if things weren’t bad enough, the wind had picked up. Maybe the breeze would blow the rain clouds away. Was she an optimist, or what?

She turned her back to the strong gusts that whipped strands of hair into her eyes, while the rest of her hair blew in every direction. Lucky that only Katy could see her. Okay, so maybe Black Liam would get a peek.

The only comforting thing she could find about this whole rotten night was that at least she had pepper spray in her pocket. Katy might be looking for vampires, but Ally was ready if something more substantial popped up.

“When I go to the great beyond, tell everyone I’m scheduling hauntings at noon. Midnight is the pits.” Ally turned and continued walking, her muttered complaint swept away on a puff of wind that whistled through the myriad cracks and crannies of the ancient building.

Ally was so busy thinking sarcastic thoughts, she didn’t even realize Katy had stopped until she bumped into her.

“You go on ahead, honey. Got something in my shoe. I’ll catch up. Shout if you see anything.” Katy bent down to work at the laces on her running shoes.

Right. She’d just mosey along and see what she could see. Which was nothing. Ally would kill for a flashlight. Katy was wearing a Spelunkers Headlight on her head, but she wouldn’t turn it on. Said the light might scare off a vampire. Now Ally was reduced to feeling her way along the stone wall. At least the sound of the waves would keep her away from the cliff edge.”

“See anything yet?” Katy’s voice wafted to her above the wailing wind.

“No.” Curse the luck that’d sent them into McNulty’s Pub. The man who’d spun this yarn for them probably had a tale for every gullible tourist. Well, Ally O’Neill didn’t believe in ghosts and ghoulies. She was only here for Katy.

The corner caught her by surprise. One minute solid stone lay beneath her fingers, then nothing. The rain, darkness, and frenzied sea-sounds made for a great horror movie backdrop. What a fun way to spend the night.

Gritting her teeth, she shuffled onward. Besides being wet and windblown, she was bored. Ally was open to a few vampires and demons livening things up. She sure wished something would happen.

While a sudden crack of thunder shook the ground, a jagged streak of lightning illuminated the scene for a few seconds.

Ally looked up and froze. God, cancel that wish!

The brilliant white flash outlined a massive figure. Huge dark wings floated around the shape as it moved inexorably towards her.

The logical, no-nonsense upbringing of twenty-seven years deserted her in a surge of primitive fear. This was absolutely not on her itinerary of things to see in Ireland. Her voice was locked in an off position as she whirled and ran.

She panted and her arms pumped frantically as she tried to put space between it and her, but that last slice of banoffi pie she’d eaten at dinner weighed her down. Please, let me escape and I’ll never whine again. A sweeping promise she probably couldn’t keep, but it was worth a shot. She glanced back to see that Black Liam was gaining. God wasn’t bargaining tonight.

“Ally, did you see a vampire yet?” Katy’s voice drifted to her on the suddenly still air.

Yep. Been there, done that. Feet, fly. At least she was leading Black Liam away from Katy. They could put that on her tombstone: The vampire didn’t get Katy.

“Blood of Boren!”

The husky male voice behind her made her pump even harder. She didn’t care how often he mentioned his favorite drink, she wasn’t going to be part of it.

She splashed through a stream and scrambled up the steep incline beyond. The thud of pursuing footsteps intruded above the frantic pounding of her heart.

Wait. Human voice. Human footsteps. Human? Her logic struggled to its feet and dusted off the footprints her stampeding brain cells had left when they made a dash for the door.

Human. Not a vampire. Some human scumbag was chasing her. She’d allowed herself to get caught up in the superstitious claptrap she swore she didn’t believe in.

Now she was mad. Her fury stopped her headlong flight with a suddenness that brought the man barreling into her. She crashed to the ground with his weight pinning her.

“You’re trespassing, babe.”

Ally blinked at the wet blades of grass tickling her nose while she processed the huskily murmured accusation. Where? Where was she trespassing?

“This castle’s mine.” His declaration of ownership warmed the side of her neck.

She tried to concentrate on his words, but the weight of his body, the pressure of his groin tucked against her behind, sort of distracted her from any deep focusing. “Fine. So you own the castle, and I own the Boardwalk. Who the heck cares. Get off me. I can’t breathe.” The breathing thing had nothing to do with his weight.

His soft chuckle didn’t sound friendly as he rolled off her and stood.

“If the vampire’s hassling you, you tell him he doesn’t want to mess with Katy Gallagher.” Katy’s voice would’ve thrown fear into a Viking berserker.

That’s all this night needed. Katy in her attack mode. Where did awful end and accursed begin? “I’m fine.” But was she? There were different degrees of “fine.”

She thought about her pepper spray. No, he didn’t pose that kind of danger.

Ally scrambled to her knees then looked up at him. “If this place belongs to you, why don’t you sound Irish?” If she kept him talking, maybe his scary index would go down or her fearless index would rise.

He shrugged. “I don’t live here. Just visiting. Couldn’t wait till morning to see the old place, so I hiked out here tonight.”

“So, you’re kind of an absentee landlord.” Keep him on the defensive. “Sure have let the old homestead get run down.”

His laugh was low, not defensive. “It isn’t working, babe.”

“What isn’t working?” My heart, my lungs? Seemed like every part of her was either speeding up or slowing down.

“Trying to keep me talking until Katy comes to save you.” He turned his head at the sound of Katy’s noisy approach, and his long dark hair shifted across broad shoulders.

“That’s a lie.” That’s the truth, but I’d rather dunk my head in ice water than admit it.

His all-weather coat flapped open in the breeze. How humiliating. She’d been scared witless by a flapping coat.

Ally climbed to her feet. He didn’t try to help her. Carefully, she brushed dirt and grass from her jacket. She needed time to think. “If you hiked out here, where’re you staying tonight?”

“I could stay with you.” His tone suggested the staying wouldn’t be all that unpleasant.

Ally dragged in a deep gulp of air to jump-start her breathing, then the humor in his voice registered. He was only kidding. Relief washed over her.

It was his voice. She knew even if he were reading a grocery list his voice would carry the promise of danger, sex, and sin. Ally could imagine his murmured whisper, “Don’t forget the whipped cream, babe.”

Okay, it was his voice and his body. Tall with shoulders that were solid with muscle and maturity, it didn’t matter that she hadn’t gotten a clear look at his face. Two out of three made for a tempting package. Not for her, of course. But something in his total impact still scared her. She backed up a step.

“Ally, if you found Black Liam, don’t let him get away. I have my digital still camera, digital camcorder, and digital voice recorder all packed here in my fisherman’s vest. We’ll nail this sucker.”

“So, did you find him, Ally?” His grin was a slash of white in the darkness.

A clear and present danger to all women? “Yes.” No hesitation. Some things were a given.

She had no time for elaboration, because Katy burst from the darkness, camera in hand and orange hair flying. “Where is he? Just point me at him and move out of the way.”

Ally sighed. This would not be an easy thing to explain. “Sorry, Katy. No photo ops tonight. Just you, me, and...” She waited.

“Brian Byrne. I own this keep.” End of explanation.

“Maybe it’s Black Liam masquerading as the owner. Vampires are tricky bastards.” Katy moved closer to peer up into his face. “Are you the dark despoiler of virgins that McDermott guy told us about?”

“You want a dark despoiler, I can be a dark despoiler.” He stared over Katy’s head at Ally.

Katy stepped back and grinned at him. “I just bet you can. I’m Katy Gallagher, and this is my grandniece, Ally O’Neill.”

Katy was way too friendly with this stranger. Fine, so most women would want to be more than friendly with Brian Byrne.

“Guess we missed the vampire. May as well head back to the wagon.” Katy’s pregnant pause was open to any information Brian chose to offer.

Brian chose to offer nothing.

“Where you from?” Katy was reduced to direct grilling.

“Philly.”

“Tucson,” Katy countered. “Where you staying tonight?”

Brian nodded toward the keep.

Katy made a rude noise. “You camp out here you’ll have mold growing on you by morning. Grab your jammies and—”

“No.” Ally had never been so sure in her life about a “no.”

“—bunk with us for the night. The wagon sleeps four, so there’s plenty of room.”

Ally blinked. She’d forgotten that Katy could ignore the end of the world if it didn’t fit in with her plans for the day. Ally narrowed her gaze. “No.”

“I don’t wear jammies.”

Ally knew he had Katy’s undivided attention. He certainly had hers.

“I sleep naked.”

Well, that sure cleared things up.

“That won’t be a problem. Haven’t seen a naked man since Padraic passed on. Sort of miss seeing one once in a while.” Katy turned and started walking back toward the wagon. It obviously didn’t occur to her that someone else might have a problem with sharing sleeping quarters with a naked stranger.

“No!” Ally’s shout would wake any spirits that weren’t already enjoying the show. “No one is sharing our wagon. I’m sure Mr. Byrne brought camping gear with him. Didn’t you?” She gave him her death-glare, just in case he was thinking of giving the wrong answer.

“Sure will be cold out here.”

She knew he was smiling.

“Hmmph. Probably been so long since Ally saw a fine-looking naked man her woman parts’ve all shriveled up and dried out. Hormones’ve stopped flowing. Her ex-husband doesn’t count. Wouldn’t pay squat to see him naked.” With that definitive analysis of her grandniece, Katy strode away, leaving Ally alone with Brian Byrne.

“Bet it’ll be cold in the wagon, too.” He was still smiling. “But I’m easy. Wouldn’t want to embarrass you, so I’ll stay here tonight.”

Ally sighed. “Katy’s used to getting her own way, and her own way doesn’t always coincide with good sense.” She narrowed her gaze. “You didn’t help things any.”

“Hey, I did my part. She wanted to know how I slept,” He shrugged. “I told her how I slept.”

“She didn’t ask you.” Probably Ally should end this conversation.

“But she wanted to know.” Unexpectedly, he moved close. “You wanted to know.”

“I didn’t.” Okay, so she sort of wanted to know.

“Afraid of me, Ally?”

“No.” Yes. Because she’d finally gotten a good look at his face. She might have missed out on a vampire, but she’d sure as heck found a devil, if you thought of the devil as temptation incarnate. Full sensual lips, knife-edge cheekbones, and his eyes... She’d never seen eyes like his. Deep forest green: cool, secret, and shadowed by a thick fringe of lashes as black as his hair. Ally noted the slight slant of those incredible eyes. Yep, definitely a devil.

“Liar.”

“What?” She’d forgotten the question. But she hadn’t forgotten his closeness. Close enough to feel his body heat, to catch the scent of danger and warm male. Before she could transfer the danger signal from brain to feet, he pulled her into his arms and kissed her.

It was a kiss to build fantasies on. His lips brushed across hers then settled in for the long haul. Firm, with a high enough “hot” index to melt her lips and seal them together forever. When his tongue slid along her lower lip, she was relieved to discover her lips weren’t permanently bonded. She parted them so he could explore possibilities. His tongue tangled with hers, deepening the kiss, deadening her other senses to everything but the taste, the feel of him.

A sudden flash of lightning lit up the world behind Ally’s closed lids. It also woke up her snoozing brain to the reality of an intruder in the house.

But before Ally could move to push him away, Brian stepped back. She blinked up at him. “What was that all about?”

“Damned if I know.” He sounded sincerely puzzled.

She couldn’t read his expression in the darkness.

“Well, don’t do it again.”

“Believe me, it’ll never happen again.” He didn’t sound amused any more.

The conversation was stretching into the uncomfortable range, and she should just leave, but she couldn’t resist one more shot at all that alpha maleness. “Guess you think all women like to be grabbed and kissed.”

“Always have, babe. Always have.”

Sensual waves washed over Ally like breakers rolling in off the Atlantic. She fought to the surface and swam for shore. Shore being the safety of the wagon where Katy no doubt waited armed with barbed comments aimed at Ally’s non-relationship with men.

She felt his gaze slide down her back, linger on her behind, as she walked away.

She walked faster.

#

Brian raked his fingers through his damp hair as he watched her practically run away. She was escaping him as fast her legs could take her. Smart lady. She wasn’t tall, but those legs went on for a long way. He watched the sway of her bottom until she was hidden in darkness.

Amazing. A woman who didn’t recognize him, didn’t know what he did and how well he did it. A woman who wasn’t waiting for him with legs spread.

Brian Byrne thrived on the can’t-be-done things in life. That’s why he was tops in the sex game. The league routinely scoured the galaxy searching for females to challenge him. They hadn’t found any yet.

But in this new time... He was a competitor, and Ally’s signals were broadcasting can’t-be-had loud and clear. What if he gave her a try? He clamped down on that thought fast.

Brian was a man of his word. He fulfilled the terms of his contracts, and League contracts stated that players could not have unauthorized sex without permission. Besides, sex with females who understood the game was one thing, sex with a woman who didn’t realize he’d walk away from her was another. And he’d promised Jupe...

He’d learned the power of a broken promise when he was six years old. His mother had left him in a spaceport with a parting order to be good until she got back. She’d never come back, and he’d never wanted to be the cause of that kind of pain for someone else. He’d only broken a promise once. That one broken promise had cost a life. He’d never broken one since.

He stared into the darkness where Ally had disappeared. Could’ve been fun, though. Females hadn’t been anything more than hard training and harder competition in a long time. Fun would’ve been a change.

Brian walked to his pack and pulled out the Constructor. He entered a code, focused his thoughts on a mental image, then watched distractedly as it built his heated shelter for the night.

He smiled, and women in any time would’ve understood it.

“Lucky escape, Ally O’Neill. Because next to me, Black Liam is a hell of a nice guy.”

 

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