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Beara Peninsula, Southwest Ireland 4:45 p.m., IST August 25
Lizzie Rush tensed at her table by the fire, watching out of the corner of her eye as a tall, fair-haired man entered the small village pub, shutting the door firmly against the gale-force wind and steady rain that had been lashing the southwest Irish coast for hours. The man wore an expensive trench coat unbuttoned over a dark brown sweater neatly draped across a flat abdomen, dark brown trousers and leather shoes that, although suited to walking the isolated hills of the remote Beara Peninsula, looked to be free of mud and manure.
The half-dozen local fishermen and farmers Lizzie had seen arrive over the past hour had hung up wet, worn jackets and scraped off their shoes and wellies or shed them and set them by the door. The men were gathered now over pints of Guinness and mugs of coffee at rickety tables by the front window. They paid no attention to the newcomer, nor did the brown-and-white springer spaniel flopped on the stone hearth close to the peat fire. The dog belonged to the barman and presumably was accustomed to the comings and goings at the pub.
Lizzie drank the last of her strong coffee. The past day had been a whirlwind. A last-minute overnight flight from Boston to Dublin. A few hours to check in to her family's small hotel in Dublin and try to talk herself into abandoning her trip to the Beara Peninsula. No luck there. Then it was back to the airport for a short flight west across Ireland to the tiny Kerry County airport and, finally, the drive here, to this quiet village on Kenmare Bay, in the rain and wind.
She set down her mug and turned a page in the beautifully illustrated book of Irish folktales she was reading while enjoying coffee and warm blackberry crumble by the fire. As tempting as it was, she knew she couldn't give in to the lure of the cozy, romantic atmosphere of the pub and let down her guard. As the newcomer walked over to the bar, she reminded herself he could have a weapon— a gun, a knife—concealed under his trench coat or tucked next to an ankle.
Or he could be an ordinary, if well-dressed, tourist getting out of the gale.
The barman, a wiry, sandy-haired Irishman named Eddie O'Shea, filled a pint from the tap. He'd been eyeing Lizzie with a mix of suspicion and curiosity since she'd shed her own dripping jacket and hung it on a wooden peg by the door, but he gave the newcomer a warmer reception.
"Ah," he said with a smile and a little hoot of surprise and recognition, "if it isn't Lord Will himself."
Lizzie forced herself to calmly turn another page in her book.
"Hello, Eddie," the newcomer said in an upper-class British accent.
Eddie set the pint on a tray on the gleaming, polished five-foot stretch of wood in front of him and sighed. "You wouldn't be in Ireland for a bit of golf, would you?"
"Not today, I'm afraid."
Lizzie stared at a lush watercolor of a quaint Irish farm, grazing sheep and trooping fairies. Of all the things she'd anticipated could go wrong on this trip, having William Arthur Davenport turn up in the same Irish village, the same Irish pub she was in, wasn't one of them.
She let her gaze settle on the details of the captivating watercolor—the pink-and-lavender sunrise above the green hills, the purple thistle along a country lane, the mischievous smiles of the fairies. The book was the work of Keira Sullivan, a Boston-based illustrator and folklor-ist with deep Irish roots. Lizzie had yet to meet Keira, but she knew Simon Cahill, the FBI agent with whom Keira was romantically involved.
Simon, Lizzie reminded herself, was the reason she was in Ireland. She'd heard he was here with Keira on the Beara Peninsula while she painted and researched an old Irish story. As much as Lizzie hated to disturb the new lovers, she felt she had no choice. She had to act now, before Norman Estabrook could make good on his threat to kill Simon and his boss, FBI director John March.
Norman would kill Lizzie, too, if he discovered the role she'd played in the FBI investigation into his illegal activities over the past year, culminating in his arrest two months ago on suspicion of money laundering and providing material support to transnational drug traffickers. He was a thrill-seeking billionaire with a long reach. There was no doubt in her mind that he would never go to trial, much less end up in prison. For Norman Estabrook, death was preferable to confinement. He was under arrest now— he'd given up his passport, posted a huge bond and agreed to stay on his Montana ranch under electronic surveillance. But it wouldn't last. There was talk he was about to cut a deal with federal prosecutors and walk.
And when that happened, Lizzie thought, he'd come after the people he believed had betrayed him. Simon Cahill, John March—and their anonymous source.
When she'd finally decided to come to Ireland and talk to Simon face-to-face, Lizzie had created a cover story that would explain her presence on the Beara Peninsula without giving herself away. If not the truth, it wasn't an outright lie, either.
She simply hadn't counted on Simon's handsome, dangerous British friend turning up in Ireland, too. She had no desire to pop onto Will Davenport's radar.
Lizzie decided she wouldn't mind being a tiny fairy right now. Or a shape-shifter. Then she could turn herself into an ant.
An ant could disappear into a crack in the floor and not be noticed by the man at the bar.
She'd done her research. Will Davenport was the younger son of a British peer, the marquess of something—she couldn't remember his exact title. Peter, Will's older brother, managed the family's five-hundred-year-old estate in the north of England, and Arabella, his younger sister, designed wedding dresses in London. At thirty-five, Will was the wealthy owner of various properties in England and Scotland, with offices in an ivy-covered London brownstone.
That wasn't all he did. Two years ago—supposedly— he had abruptly abandoned his career as an officer with the Special Air Service—the SAS—to make his fortune. Lizzie, however, strongly suspected he had merely shifted from the SAS to the SIS, the British Secret Intelligence Service, popularly known as MI6.
She did know her spies.
Surreptitiously she tucked a few strands of black hair back under her red bandanna. She hadn't tried to disguise herself so much as make it less easy for anyone to describe her later on. "Oh, yes, I saw a woman at the pub. She had on a red bandanna and hiking clothes."
If things went wrong for her in Ireland, which they seemed about to do, that wasn't much for anyone, including the FBI, the Irish Garda and MI6, to go on.
Lizzie picked up her fork and scooped up the last of her warm crumble, fat blackberries oozing out from under the simple crust of sugar, flour and butter. She sat with her back to the wall, facing out into the pub. "It's hard for someone to stab you in the back if you've got it to the wall," her father had explained on her thirteenth birthday. "At least you'll have a chance to defend yourself if someone tries to stab you in the heart. You can see the attack coming."
Harlan Rush didn't look at life through rose-colored glasses, and he'd taught Lizzie, his only child, to do the same.
She wanted rose-colored glasses. She wanted, even for a few minutes, to be someone who could settle into a quaint Irish pub on a windy, rainy afternoon without considering that a killer could walk through the door, looking for her.
Across the pub, in their thick West Cork accents, the local men kidded and argued. Alone at her table, alone in their country, Lizzie was struck by their ease with each other—one that spoke of a lifetime together. She was on her own, and, by choice, had been for much of the past year, at least when it came to her dealings with Norman Estabrook and the FBI.
"I was hoping Keira would be here," Will Davenport said, with just the slightest edge of concern in his voice.
Just Keira? Why not Simon, too?
Lizzie settled back in her chair and reached down to pat the dog, his fur warm from the fire.
Something was wrong.
Eddie set another frothy-topped pint on the bar. "Keira's gone to Allihies for the day to research that old story. The one about the three brothers and the stone angel. It got her in trouble once. It hasn't again, has it?"
"I stopped in Allihies before driving up here," Davenport said. "She wasn't there, but I haven't come because of the story."
"The grandfather of the woman who told it to Keira heard the story in the Allihies copper mines. The last of them shut down years ago. Keira planned to visit the museum that's opened in the old Cornish church there." The Irishman lifted the pints onto a tray and gave Davenport a pointed look. "The mansion the British owners built for themselves has been turned into a luxury hotel."
The Brit didn't rise to the bait. "Things change."
"That they do, and sometimes for the better. Other times, not."
"Did Keira say when she'd return?"
"You'd think she'd be back by now, with the gale. That story of hers has drawn curious tourists all summer." As he walked out from behind the bar with the tray, Eddie glanced toward Lizzie. "They're all wanting to find the stone angel themselves."
"Assuming it exists," Davenport said.
The Irishman shrugged, noncommittal, and carried the beers to his fellow villagers. Lizzie was aware that both he and Will Davenport had played a critical role in uncovering the identity of a serial killer who'd become obsessed with Keira's story. She and Simon had, from all Lizzie had heard, encountered true evil. That was two months ago, when Simon was supposed to be laying low ahead of Norman's arrest.
While Eddie delivered the drinks, Davenport walked over to the fire, his gaze settling on Lizzie. She was used to being around men. She worked as director of concierge services and excursions for her family's fifteen highly individual boutique hotels, and she'd grown up with her four male Rush cousins, who now ranged in age from twenty-two to thirty-four. They were all striking in appearance, but, even so, she felt herself getting hot under the Brit's scrutiny. He had the bearing and edgy good looks that could spark even the most independent woman to fantasize about having her own prince charming come to her rescue.
Lizzie quashed that thought. No Prince Charming for her. Not now, not ever.
He nodded to her book, still open at the mesmerizing illustration of the farm. "Is that the Ireland you've come here to find?" His eyes, Lizzie saw, were a rich hazel, with flecks of blue, green and gold that changed with the light. "Fairies, thatched roofs and pretty gardens?"
Lizzie smiled. "Maybe it's the Ireland I have found."
"Do you believe in the wee folk?"
"I'mkeeping an open mind. Keira Sullivan's quite the artist, isn't she? I overheard you and the barman. I gather you know her."
"We met earlier this summer. Did you just purchase her book?"
"Yes. I bought it in Kenmare this afternoon." That wasn't true. Keira's young cousin in Boston, Fiona O'Reilly, a harp student, had given it to her, but that, Lizzie decided, was something Will Davenport didn't need to know. "I heard about the story that brought Keira here. Three brothers tussle with fairies over an ancient Celtic stone angel. The brothers believe the angel will bring them good fortune in one form or another, and the fairies believe it's one of their own turned to stone."
Davenport studied her with half-closed eyes.
"It's a wonderful story," Lizzie added.
"So it is." His tone gave away nothing.
Lizzie pushed her empty plate to the center of the table. She wanted more coffee, but she'd already drunk two cups and figured they'd give her enough of a caffeine jolt to counteract any jetlag. She was accustomed to changing time zones but had slept only fitfully on her flight from Boston.
She turned the book over to the full-color, back-cover photograph of Keira Sullivan in a dark green velvet dress. She had pretty cornflower-blue eyes, and her long blond hair was decorated with fresh flowers. "Keira could pass for a fairy princess herself, don't you think?"
"She could, indeed."
Lizzie doubted she'd ever pass for a fairy princess, even if she wore velvet and sprinkled flowers in her hair.
Not that she was bad looking, but her eyes, a light green, seemed to have perpetual dark circles under them lately. She'd had a rough few days.
A rough year, really.
"Do you know Keira?" Davenport asked.
"No, we've never met."
"But you're familiar with the story—"
"It was in all the papers," Lizzie said, not letting him finish. "Yes."
He was clearly suspicious now, but she didn't care. His presence and Simon's absence were unexpected and called for a revision of her plan. Whatever she might have ended up telling Simon, she had no intention of telling his friend Lord Davenport anything. She needed more information about what was going on, where Simon was, where Keira was.
"What brings you to the Beara Peninsula?" Davenport asked.
"I'm hiking the Beara Way." She wasn't, and she didn't like to lie, but it was easier—and possibly safer for all concerned—than telling the truth. "Not start to finish. It's almost two hundred kilometers. I don't have that much time to spare."
"You're on your own?"
She gave him a bright smile. "Now, that's a bold question to ask a woman having coffee and crumble by herself."
His eyes darkened slightly. "I trust you've a room for the night. The weather's terrible." He gestured back toward the bar where Eddie had returned with his empty tray. "Perhaps Eddie could direct you to a local B and B."
"It's decent of you to be concerned." Lizzie doubted concern for her had anything to do with his motive. She'd sparked his interest by having Keira's book out, by being there alone by the fire. If she was staying nearby, he wanted to keep an eye on her. "I have a tent. I can always camp somewhere."
She saw the beginnings of a smile. He had a straight mouth, a strong jaw, a hint of a wave to his dark blond hair. As good-looking and expensively dressed as he was, he wasn't in any way pretty or soft.
"I wouldn't have taken you for a woman who likes to sleep in a tent," he said, with the barest hint of humor.