by Alyssa Day
Bloody damn precisely, in other words.
Fiona sighed, but before she could respond, the air in the room changed and flames chased ice through her in a blaze of sensation that brought her up and out of her chair so fast she knocked the cup of chocolate to the floor. She whipped around to face the door, and it was him.
Her mystery man.
In her office, leaning against the door frame, arms crossed on that amazing chest and a cocky grin on that gorgeous face.
“Hey, I take exception to that remark,” he said. “I’m not at all common.”
* * *
Christophe couldn’t believe it. She was freaking gorgeous. Even in faded jeans and an ordinary top, her hair simple and mostly pulled back from her face, she was as beautiful as the priceless art that adorned every wall in the room.
More beautiful. Paintings couldn’t blush, after all, and the faint staining of pink on those porcelain cheeks made him think of strawberry jam, Atlantean blushberry tarts, and other luscious, delectable treats.
“Common or not, you are a trespasser, sir,” said the well-dressed elderly man with the very large gun. He was dressed like a butler or an undertaker, and yet he held that gun with the relaxed ease of a man who knew exactly what he was doing. Majordomo via MI6, perhaps? Where James Bond types went when they retired?
“Oh, no, I was invited,” Christophe replied. “Ask the ninja.”
She moved suddenly, shaking her silky white-blond hair out of her face in what he was sure was a deliberate distraction, since she now stood exactly in his line of sight to the younger man in the room. Shielding him from the intruder.
Good instincts. He spared a moment to wonder why it made him want to growl. She was protecting another man from him, and he didn’t like it, for some reason that didn’t come from his brain but from a more primal part of himself.
Christophe didn’t like that either, nor the possible implications of his not liking it.
“I am sure I have no idea what you’re talking about, sir, but let’s just call the authorities and sort this all out, shall we?” Her Scottish accent was still there but blurred, as if she were attempting to hide it from him. She crossed to the desk and picked up her phone.
He smiled again, showing his teeth. “Yes, why don’t we? That should be a fun conversation. Especially the part where I tell them you’re the Scarlet Ninja.”
The boy—he could see now that it was a boy, not a man, which calmed him down for some reason—behind her gasped.
“Fee! He knows? Is this him? The man from the Jewel House?”
She sighed and her shoulders slumped, which did very interesting things to the generous curve of her breasts, and Christophe’s body hardened in sudden, aggressive readiness. Ninjas apparently aroused him, something he’d not known before. He laughed out loud.
The sound of the gun’s hammer cocking back tempered his amusement. The dangerous-looking man still held the gun trained on him.
“Did something strike you as funny, sir? Your impending demise, perhaps?” The dry tone only underscored the promise of death in the man’s eyes. This one was a warrior, too, underneath that fancy suit.
“Are you going to shoot me? It would be the second time tonight, which isn’t my record, but it would serve to piss me off,” Christophe said, letting all emotion drain out of his face until he knew that what they saw was nothing more than a cold, deadly killer. “I’d prefer a more friendly solution.”
He turned to the ninja, who still held the phone in one hand, forgotten. “We’re after the same thing. Why not partner up?”
She dropped the phone and then fumbled it onto the cradle, those huge eyes of hers widening even further. “Are you mad?”
“Nope.” He paused to give the question more serious consideration, given that he’d just followed a ninja home. “Not usually,” he amended.
She narrowed those gorgeous blue eyes at him. “I work alone.”
“Right. I can see that. You, James Bond over there, and the kid. What’s one more partner?”
“I don’t even know who you are,” she said.
“If you’re quite done, may I kill him now?” the old guy asked, still polite, but steel underlay those proper British manners.
The ninja made a sound of frustration that made Christophe wonder what other sounds she might make. Like, for example, when he licked her neck. Or explored those lovely breasts with his hands and mouth. His cock twitched in his pants, and he forcibly yanked his mind away from visions of a very naked ninja.
“Look, I can’t keep calling you the ninja,” Christophe pointed out. “My name is Christophe. And you are?”
“Christophe? Just one name? Like Madonna?” the kid said, grinning. He didn’t seem to have an ounce of self-preservation in his body. Christophe found himself grinning right back at him.
“No, I can’t sing a note. And you are?”
The kid took a step forward, hand extended as if to shake, years of breeding and manners clearly coming to the fore. “Declan Campbell, nice to meet—Oh.” Declan stopped dead and shot a red-faced glance at the ninja. “Crap. Sorry, Fee. Oh. Sorry again!”
The ninja—Fee?—sighed and shook her head. “Don’t worry about it, Declan. If he’s in our house, it would be easy enough for him to figure out who we are.”
She tilted her head and considered Christophe for a moment, then shrugged. “Fiona Campbell. My brother Declan. And the overprotective one is Hopkins.”
Christophe grinned at Hopkins. “Just the one name? Like Madonna?”
Hopkins never moved a single muscle, just stood there in a shooter’s stance with that damn gun still trained on the space between Christophe’s eyes. “This is a mistake, Lady Fiona,” he bit off. “You have put years and years’ worth of work in jeopardy in a single evening. Congratulations.”
“Lady Fiona?” Christophe watched, fascinated, as a rosy flush swept up her neck and face. “You’re aristocracy and a cat burglar?”
“I assure you, I never, ever steal cats,” she said, a glimmer of humor underneath the frost in her voice.
“No, just dragons.” He flicked a glance at Raphael’s depiction of Saint George, then back at her. “That’s the original, isn’t it?”
“I don’t know what you—”
“You’re not just good,” he said, ignoring Hopkins and his gun and crossing over to the painting to study it more closely. “You’re scary good.”
He glanced over his shoulder at her, almost able to taste the delicious possibilities. “Oh, yes. We’re definitely partners.”
“No,” she said flatly. “Not a chance.”
“Are you going to kill me, then? Or have James Bond over there do it? Because I know who you are, and you know I know who you are. So as I see it, we have several different options. One, I’m your partner. Two, you shoot me to keep me from telling the police and the tabloids that you’re the Scarlet Ninja.”
“And?” Her voice could have flash-frozen half of Atlantis.
“You said several options. You named two. What are the others?”
“Oh. I guess I was wrong. Just those two.” He couldn’t seem to stop grinning for some reason. The situation cheered him up. Hugely.
“I’ll be happy to shoot him, Lady Fiona. In fact, I’m quite anxious to do so,” Hopkins said.
“She already shot me,” Christophe offered helpfully.
The ninja glared at him. “That was a tranq gun. And nobody is shooting anyone. That’s . . . that’s my grandfather’s solution, Hopkins. You know I won’t go down that road. Not now, not ever.” The ice in her voice was gone, replaced with a white-hot rage that Christophe instinctively knew would sear anything it touched.
So why did he wonder what it would feel like to burn in those flames?
“I guess we have a partner, then,” Declan said, grinning.
“I’d much rather shoot him, but if you insist.” Hopkins put the gun down but kept it within reach. “So, then, partner.
Who are you and what exactly do you want?”
Fiona suddenly found it hard to breathe as her new partner stared into her eyes, a wicked grin slowly spreading across his face.
“Who do I want? That’s between me and the ninja,” he said, his eyes darkening from a pale spring green to a dark leafy color as his gaze practically burned the clothes from her body. Definitely not human. Human eyes didn’t do that. Unless he had a kind of magic she’d never seen before hiding behind that bad-boy long hair. The waves brushing his collar looked silken soft. If only she could touch them, she could discover—
Suddenly, the meaning of his words caught up to her fevered mind. “No! He said what do you want. What, not who.” She felt the flush rise up into her cheeks and had to grit her teeth against the embarrassment. “Stop that at once, or I’ll take my chances with the police.”
“Hey, you kissed me,” he said, still grinning.
He dropped that long, lean body into one of her chairs, and the floral print of the upholstery didn’t do a thing to diminish his aggressive maleness. He was a predator, no matter where you put him, and she needed to be very, very cautious, in spite of the part of her that wanted to crawl into his lap and bite his neck.
Hopkins cleared his throat. “You kissed him?”
“Wow! Your first kiss in years and it’s a criminal? Sis, you’re going to have to watch out. You’ve got a thing for bad boys. Look at Sean.”
Her face was on fire. Surely the house sprinkler system would activate itself at any moment. Christophe’s avid interest wasn’t helping any, nor was the way he kept checking out her body whenever she moved.
“It was not my first kiss in years, not that it’s any of your business, and I—he—it was a distraction technique!”
“It’s true. She distracted me, and then she shot me,” Christophe offered. Then he leaned forward, and those amazing green eyes narrowed. “Also, who’s Sean?”
“Don’t help me,” she told him. “I don’t have a thing for Sean,” she said to her rotten brother.
“You adopted him!” Declan sputtered. “That’s what I meant. Not that you have a romantic thing for him. That would be gross. You’re so old.”
“I’m not old,” she gritted out.
“Not compared to me,” Christophe said cheerfully, relaxing back into his chair. “So long as you’re not kissing Sean, too.”
Hopkins picked up the gun again. “Now I’m definitely going to shoot him.”
“I’d rather you didn’t,” Christophe said, but he was either insane or had balls of bloody steel, because there wasn’t a hint of fear on his face.
“No shooting! I won’t have it,” she shouted, smashing her fist down on the desk, which accomplished nothing but hurting her hand. Everyone else in the room ignored her completely. Stupid men.
“Look, man, in all seriousness, if you mess with my sister, you’re going to have to face me,” Declan said, and he was only shaking the tiniest bit as he faced Christophe, holding one of the ceremonial swords from the display on the wall.
“When did you get that down? How—”
“Later, Fee,” Declan said, suddenly looking a lot more grown-up.
Christophe’s grin faded and an expression of total seriousness took its place as he slowly rose from the chair, hands held loosely at his side. “Declan, it is both courageous and honorable of you to protect your sister. I swear on my oath as a warrior not to do anything with her that she doesn’t want me to do. Does that satisfy your honor?”
Declan nodded uncertainly, and lowered the sword.
Fiona’s mouth fell open, and she stepped between the two of them, placed a hand on each of their chests, and shoved. “I. Am. Standing. Right. Here!” she shouted. “Bloody Neanderthals!”
Hopkins put the gun back down on the table. “Perhaps you might lower your voice before the housekeeper and the rest of the staff call the constables or rush down here to investigate?”
Christophe caught her hand in one of his, raised it to his lips, and kissed her palm before she could snatch her hand away. She had to fight herself not to give him the satisfaction of rubbing her hand against her pants to make the tingling feeling go away. His smile told her he knew anyway.
Damn the man.
“Look. Why don’t we all calm down? I don’t want to hurt anybody,” Christophe said. “We both want the Siren. I happen to represent . . . a consortium of very wealthy investors who will be happy to pay. So we steal it together, I get the Siren, I give you the money. Minus a certain finder’s fee for myself, of course.”
He poured himself a cup of chocolate, bold as brass, while she and Hopkins stared at each other in stunned disbelief. Disbelief being the operative word.
“What possible incentive could you have for giving us all the money? We weren’t born yesterday,” she pointed out.
Christophe put his cup down and flashed that wicked smile at her again. “No, but the gods clearly blessed whatever day you were born. As to incentive? I’m in the mood for a little challenge, and may Poseidon himself strike me down if that’s not the truth.”
Oddly enough, the man paused and looked to the windows for a moment before continuing. “I don’t need money, and clearly you don’t, either, from the looks of this place. So we both do this for the fun of it. Why don’t we have a little fun together this time?”
The double entendres in every sentence out of his sinfully gorgeous mouth was sending little shock waves through her nerve endings. Have a little fun together, indeed. She’d like to have naked fun with him . . . Oh. No. She was doing it again. She clenched her fists and tried to remember all the reasons this was such a bad idea.
“I don’t trust you,” Hopkins said flatly, aiming his deadliest stare at Christophe. “I wouldn’t trust you with the good silver, let alone a priceless jewel from the British royal collection. Certainly not with Lady Fiona.”
“Right. Patriotism?” Christophe rolled his eyes. “From the man who was obviously helping her steal the Siren from queen and country in the first place? Try again.”
“We’re going to do it,” Fiona said. “I’ll be your partner, for this one time, and one time only.”
Hopkins jerked his head to stare at her in disbelief. “But—”
“We have no options. He will promise never to disclose my identity if we do this, correct?”
Christophe tilted his head and considered her for a long moment, then nodded. “Yes. You have my word.”
Something changed in the air—a tingle of power washed over Fiona and she shivered. Words had power, and perhaps his words had more power than most.
Hopkins narrowed his eyes, studying Christophe, but then he slowly shook his head. Fiona knew he must be using that extra sense he had—a super-hyped sense of intuition—that let him read people and their intent. “No. I don’t care if you believe you won’t hurt her. I can’t trust—”
In a flash of movement far too quick for her eyes to follow, Christophe was at Hopkins’s side, twin daggers raised, one to each side of her butler’s throat. “I respect your need to protect Fiona, but do not question my word, or my honor, as I accord you the same.”
Before any of them could move, Christophe sheathed his daggers and bowed to Hopkins. “I give you my sworn oath that I will not cause harm to come to her, nor will I allow any other to harm her.”
That sense of power was back, but more than a tingle this time—more of a jolt. Fiona noticed that the hair on Declan’s head and arms was standing straight up.
“Perhaps, since we’re no longer actually living in the time of William the Conqueror,” she said, in case they didn’t understand her point, “you might address any promises about me to me.”
Christophe swung around to face her and strode across the space between them with the arrogant confidence of a conqueror himself. “And so I should. I give to you, my ninja, my sworn oath not to lay a single hand on any part of your extremely luscious body.”
She blinked. “Well. Right. Then let’s—”
“Until you ask me to.” He bowed again, to her this time, and she stared down in disbelief at his lowered head and his broad, muscled back. As he straightened, she considered whether or not it was bad form to shoot the man. Again. He had the nerve to grin at her and she dove for her tranq gun.
Declan pulled her back and put his arm around her shoulders, probably sensing her need to do violence. “Should we start planning?” he asked. “I can work on a longer time-out for the cameras, but they’re going to be tougher to crack now that they caught us.”
“We can discuss plans tomorrow. It is very late, and Lady Fiona must make an appearance in the morning. Preferably without bloodshot eyes from lack of sleep,” Hopkins said, taking charge of the room the way he’d done since she was small. “Have you forgotten the Charing Cross Children’s Books reading and signing?”
She had. Somehow this infuriating criminal had driven all rational thought from her mind. Ask him to put his hands on her. The cheek of the man.
“Of course not,” she lied. “The store owner has been lovely to me; she has nearly two hundred copies of The Forest Fairies already purchased and ready for me to sign.”
“The what?” Christophe leaned against the wall, his powerful arms folded across that muscular chest, dangerous even at rest. “Did you say forest fairies?” He grinned and some no doubt evil thought lit up his eyes with amusement.
“Fiona’s the best author and illustrator of children’s books in all of Europe, maybe the entire world,” Declan boasted.
Fiona felt her cheeks heat up again, although she’d have thought she was too tired for even embarrassment. “Let’s not get carried away. The Forest Fairies is my newest book. It’s a retelling of a rather grim Scottish fairy tale.”
“Aren’t most fairy tales grim? If you’d ever met any of the Fae, you’d understand why. Vicious bastards, most of them,” Christophe growled. “Especially the Unseelie Court.”
Declan laughed. “Unseelie Court? Isn’t that a myth?”
“Sure, that’s what they’d like you to think,” Christophe muttered. “Then they murder you and steal your child.”