Good morning all & Happy Friday!! Here’s Chapter Two of Baptism, and remember, if you’rehooked, you can grab it for 99 cents at Amazon (link to the left)

Chapter Two

Leanan Murphy pushed the strap of her agonizingly heavy purse off her shoulder, digging for her ever-elusive keys.

Aha, gotcha, you little buggers, she crowed silently as her fingers closed around the cold steel. Her victory was short lived.

“Doctor Murphy?” The voice behind her was warm, seductive, and shot through her like a dose of good Irish whiskey. Pivoting, she gazed appreciatively at the prime male specimen lounging against the wall opposite her office. Tall, dark hair, rangy build, with a set of to-die-for blue eyes. Brad Pitt … eat your heart out.

Her head had to be in the clouds if she’d missed him the first time around. Coffee. She definitely needed coffee.

She
dropped the keys back into the cavernous depths of her purse and extended her
hand. “Yes, I’m Doctor Murphy. What can I do for you?”

“Aidan
Hughes, Metro Arson Strike Team.” His hand engulfed hers, and for just a
moment, she swore sparks flew between their fingers.

MAST?
Even she’d heard of them, in her obscure academic life. They were a combination
of fire investigators, cops, ATF and FBI agents who were taking the danger of
arson fires to the people, instructing parents, teachers and youngsters on the
warning signs of what an arsonist might “look” like.

If
they were recruiting guys like this, then she was all for educating the
populace.

“MAST,
huh? I can’t imagine what you’d want with me, but hold on for just a sec, and I
can get us some caffeine and privacy.” She dug back into her purse,
miraculously locating her keys within a few seconds–a first.

The
smell of fresh-perked coffee from the automatic machine met her nose.

She
waved the out-of-uniform hunk to a seat in front of her desk and hit the coffee
credenza.

“How
do you take it?”

“Excuse
me?”

“How
do you take your coffee?”

“Oh,
sorry. I’m a bit punchy this morning. Black, please.”

“Coming
up.” She poured two cups, adding a generous dollop of the Irish-crème flavored
creamer she adored, then slid behind her desk after handing his mug over.

“So
what can I do for you, Mr. Hughes? Or should I call you Detective, or maybe
Agent?”

“Just
Aidan is good, Doctor.”

Leanan
smiled. On a first-name basis already? This morning just got better and better.
She couldn’t imagine a nicer way to start the day than flirting with a handsome
stranger.

“Please,
don’t call me Doctor … it makes me feel old and stodgy. Leanan is fine.”

“Very
well, Leanan.” He paused, looking at her intently. “Unusual name, especially
given your office.” He swung a hand around, encompassing the unique wall art
and figurines crowding her desk, the windowsill and credenza. They were her
pride and joy. Fairies, gnomes, and sylphs, in every medium from glass to clay
to marble, danced across the desk, benevolently watched over by a large oil
painting of her namesake, Leanan Sidhe, the most beautiful and provocative
water elemental of all.

“Do
I detect a bit of a brogue, Aidan? While lots of people comment on my name, not
too many figure out the significance, at least not so quickly.”

He
grinned, making him even more breathtaking. “My clan refused to let us grow up
without learning our history. What, may I ask, is your degree in?”

Leanan
returned his smile with one of her own. This was so much fun, and she hadn’t
had this kind of fun in a very long time. Maybe Aidan Hughes was just what she
needed to bring her out of her funk, in more ways than one. Nothing would ever
come of it, but it was enjoyable, even so. “Mythological Studies. Can’t you
tell?”

“That’s
kind of what I figured.” Then he became somber, serious, and her good mood was
dashed as quickly as it had begun.

“I’m
afraid I’m here for something less than pleasant, Leanan. I need to talk to you
about what happened in your warehouse last night.”

Leanan
crunched her forehead in confusion. “I’m afraid I don’t understand.”

“I
was told you were in charge of the warehouse over by the airport.”

“Well,
sort of,” she answered slowly, still puzzled. “We house some of our older texts
and some antiquities there, in addition to some of the theater props the drama
folks haven’t used in a while. It’s basically a catch-all storage space for
most of the university, broken up by department.” The reason behind his
presence slowly sank in. “It’s gone, isn’t it? That’s the only reason you’d be
in my office.”

“I’m
afraid so, Leanan. I was sent to you first because your department’s inventory
was probably the most valuable, at least in terms of replacement.”

Leanan
lurched back in her chair, the hinges creaking as she contemplated the utter
loss with horror.

“It
can’t be replaced, any of it. It’s one of the reasons the exhibit wasn’t here
at SDSU, why the warehouse was guarded,” she breathed, staring sightlessly at
her hands, which she’d balled into fists.

The
warm contact of Aidan’s hand on her shoulder jolted her. It was surprising
because she hadn’t even seen him move around the desk. She looked up at him
angrily. She wasn’t furious with him, but with the person who could so blithely
destroy something so precious. “I wasn’t truthful with you a moment ago,
because we’ve been very careful about what we publicly kept in the warehouse.
It did house some other department’s things, but it was more. We were using it
as storage for a museum exhibit we’re going to open next month in cooperation
with the Corcoran.” It didn’t matter the exhibit would have been the culmination
of her career. What mattered was all of the beautiful art, the priceless
antiquities and texts, were now reduced to ashes. “Is anything left?”

Aidan
squeezed her shoulder, shooting heat through her entire body and curling her
toes. “I’m sorry, it’s gone, all of it.”

“Well,
shit. Excuse me, but that pretty much describes it in a nutshell.”

He
dropped his hand and resumed his seat. The heat she’d felt disappeared
instantly, and for a moment she mourned its loss almost as much as she mourned
her magnificent collection.

“You’re
right, that does describe it well. You’ll need to start with an inventory for
the insurance adjustors, but I wanted to be the one to tell you, and to find
out if you were aware of any accelerants in the building.”

“No,
we were especially careful with anything that could possibly damage the
exhibit, simply because the tapestries and texts were irreplaceable.” She
pushed the agony of what had been destroyed away, desperately needing to deal
with this in a businesslike manner, just as her position demanded. She’d have
time for recrimination later.

“Was
there anyone who seemed to have a particular interest in the storage areas?
Someone who didn’t belong or asked strange questions?”

Leanan
shook her head. “Again, no. The contents were closely held. Only myself, the
dean, a few students, and several of the museum’s docents knew exactly what was
in there. And no one acted out of the ordinary. We were all excited about the
surprise exhibit, wanted to knock everyone’s socks off with our opening, and
then move the whole thing to Sea World for the tourist crush.” She was
babbling, but couldn’t bring herself to care. Gone. Five years of hard work and
even harder acquisitions, all gone in a flash of flame. Damn. It was back
again, the emptiness of having lost something which never truly belonged to her
in the first place.

Squaring
her shoulders, she met his eyes. Startling blue and filled with compassion,
Aidan Hughes was any red-blooded American girl’s fantasy–even hers–but right
now, she had to deal with reality. “Is there anything else? I need to get with
the dean and start figuring out where to go from here. And to top it off, I’ve
got a nine o’clock class on Folklore and Fairy Tales. If you’ll give me just a
moment, I’ll get the names of the students who worked on the project with me.
I’m assuming you’ll want to talk to them.”

Aidan
nodded sympathetically, as if he understood her brusqueness, and the reason
behind it. But there was something else behind his nod, something she couldn’t
quite get a grasp on.

She
dipped her head in confusion and wrote the names of the participating students
down on a Post-It note as an excuse to ignore his look. Her life was in enough
of a shambles right now; she didn’t need to add a hot arson investigator to the
mix, even if he was scrumptious. He handed her a business card and pasted the
sticky in his notebook. “If you think of anything, and I mean anything, give me
a call, day or night.”

Leanan
took the card, wishing for just a moment, amid the chaos that had become her
life, he really meant the “night” part of his statement as more than a business
offering.

* *
* *

Lush.
It was the only way to describe Doctor Leanan Murphy, Aidan decided as he
pulled into Fire Station 1 on First Street, where MAST was headquartered.

From
her midnight-dark hair and unusual tawny eyes to her generous breasts and hips,
she flashed a fire and radiance that reminded him of the gypsies of old. This
was not some model-thin impersonation of a woman, but the real thing, shaped by
time and fate as carefully and masterfully as a Botticelli.

It
had been a long time since a woman had truly caught his interest. Oh, he wasn’t
without female company on any given day, but most of the time it stemmed from
his desire to be around women, not any woman in particular. Suddenly, this
morning, everything changed.

He
found it ironic the first woman to set off a spark within him in years was also
his direct opposite, at least in name. Leanan, Daughter of the Sea God. The one
deity in all the worlds who could put out the flame of a Salamander, if she
chose. It was a damned good thing this Leanan was a mortal.

Aidan
shook his head with amusement. He’d never expected to find a true complement,
here of all places. And while his ultimate destiny awaited him back in Ireland,
in the company of his clan, it intrigued him to think about the merry chase a
woman like Leanan Murphy could lead him on, and the more than ample rewards he
could collect.

As
much as he would like to follow such a course, he had bigger things to do,
namely tracking down the Salamander responsible for using his awesome power in
a human environment. It was not only foolhardy, but forbidden by their people,
and would result in expedient, ruthless Sanctioning.

Personally,
Aidan didn’t have the stomach to act as Moira. Rhiannon, his playmate of old
had donned the hat and taken on the responsibility of assigning every creature
in the Realm their lot in life, be it on the outside, as in Aidan’s case, or
aiding their people from within. Unfortunately, the Moira also held the final
responsibility in Sanctioning.

Aidan
knew Rhiannon, with the backing of the High Council, should be here within a
day of his report, searching for the one who dared to stray beyond the confines
of the Realm.

In
truth, he had waited two fires too long to contact the clan, but he had to be
sure, had to know what he suspected was true before calling on the Moira. He
would do it tonight, for contacting the Realm required solitude and concentration.
Right now, he needed to check in and maintain appearances.

He
stepped from the SUV into the picture-perfect San Diego morning, greeting
firefighters as they continued the never-ending process of cleaning their rig.

“Hey,
Inspector. What’s the world coming to when a white shirt rolls in before
lunch?” jibed Mikey Alvarez, one of the few people he was fortunate enough to
call friend, at least in the Outer World.

The
attitude of the smoke-eaters was always different when they were away from the
fire, at least in how they treated Aidan. Even though they were on the same
team, arson investigators were cops, “white shirts”, different from the regular
troops, and that difference was never more evident than in the aftermath of a
blaze.

“Hell,
Mikey, gotta keep you on your toes, don’t I?”

Alvarez
chuckled and fell into step with Aidan. “So what’s the good word, Hughes?”

The
fireman was referring to last night’s fire. “Same shit as before, Mikey.” He
raked a hand through his hair, not really faking his frustration. While he knew
what had set the blaze, who was still an overriding question.

“I
go off shift at four, wanna get together and hit Old Town?”

Aidan
shook his head. “Love to, but I’ve got to call home. And you know my mathair,
it may take a while.”

Mikey
laughed. “One of these days I’m going to have to meet your mom, she sounds …
interesting.”

Fat
chance, unless you’re planning on hanging out in the middle of a remote forest
in Ireland, chanting incantations lost to humans for two centuries.

* *
* *

Leanan’s
hand paused in mid-knock. She could not believe she was standing on Inspector
Aidan Hughes’ doorstep. While she certainly had a purpose behind the visit
besides the rampant hormones that had plagued her all day and into the twilight
hours, she certainly could have used the telephone.

Finding
the address on Aidan’s business card was residential, rather than MAST
headquarters, had taken her by surprise and intrigued her. The house she stood
in front of now gave her the same feeling.

It
was a quaint cottage tucked away under the trees of an older neighborhood,
reminding her of Aidan’s barely-heard brogue. It pulled her under his spell as
surely as his presence had. Night jasmine scented the warm, dusky air, soothing
and arousing her senses in equal measures.

Enough
of this. She shook herself mentally. I’ll turn around, march right back to my
car, and call him from my place. It’s not like I have to invent a reason to get
a date, and I’ve got more than enough to do trying to reconstruct the exhibit.

Instead,
against all better sense, she let her hand fall, palm now open, against the
carved mahogany door.

A
surge of something hot and desperately primal arrowed through her as her palm
flattened against the ornate wood. Sucking in a breath, she yanked her hand
back, rubbing it against her shorts, watching shell-shocked as silvery, watery
mist rose from the unmistakable mark of her palm against the door. What in the
holy hell is that?

Her
instincts told her to turn around, to be the rational woman she almost always
was. Things like this did not happen to a professor. They just didn’t. Almost
against her will, her hand returned to the door. Anticipating the jolt this
time, she pushed.

Eerie,
powerful sensations shot through her again, head to toe, crackling the hair on
her nape. The door swung open silently.

Her
eyes adjusted slowly to the dim light, then were drawn to the magnificent,
fully lit fireplace, which sizzled and spit as if in defiance of the temperate
night. And hovering in front of the blaze was a small, winged figure bathed in
a blue shroud of energy.

Transfixed,
Leanan watched as the phantasm swung her way in slow motion. She could actually
see the shimmer of its movements against the dark room as its delicate body
pivoted. Her eyes locked on the almond-shaped, tilted gaze of the fairy, and in
a flash, it was gone, disappearing in a streak of cerulean light that arced
across the room like an afterthought.

She
shook her head once. Again.

The
second shake brought her to her senses. She was definitely seeing things. She
wasn’t ten years old any more, imagining the flit and flare of fairies around
an ancient gnarled oak. This was San Diego, not Ireland, and it was time to get
the hell out of Dodge. She’d call the delectable Aidan Hughes in the morning
when she had her wits about her and miles of telephone cable between them.

Too
late.

Aidan
strode out of a back room, wearing low-slung shorts and little else. If she’d
thought he was gorgeous this morning, she’d been seriously delusional. Aidan
was, quite simply, the most stunning example of prime male flesh she’d ever
seen, and every inch screamed man! Her mouth went dry as her eyes devoured his
sculpted chest, abs and horseman’s thighs. A jolt of desire shocked her nerve
endings, setting everything on fire and rooted her firmly in place.

“Leanan?
Doctor Murphy?”

Leanan
shook her head, this time to rattle some comprehensible words of salutation
into it.

She
was in serious trouble.

“Um,
Aidan, hi,” she began weakly, still staring at his chest. Forcing her eyes
upward, she swallowed hard when she saw the amused expression on his face. How
was she supposed to explain why she’d come?

Then
it hit her. She really did have a reason for showing up here. “I, uh, had some
information I thought you could use.” As the words left her mouth, she realized
how totally lame they sounded. God, could she be any more pathetic? She was the
youngest professor to ever seek tenure at SDSU, and right now she sounded every
bit of her thirty sheltered years.

Aidan’s
eyes snared hers; the smoldering heat he projected nearly had her melting into
a puddle at his feet.

They
stared at each other, and each second intensified the experience until Leanan
swore she could feel his hands on her breasts, brushing the hardened tips of
her nipples, sending liquid fire to her core. Her clit throbbed in time to her
heartbeat. The air thickened until she was panting in quick little bursts,
barely able to catch her breath. Each inhalation became a sensual, carnal
experience unlike anything she’d ever felt. Ever.

A
particularly loud crackle from the fire broke the moment, slingshotting Leanan
back into herself. Drawing in shuddering breaths, she stared at Aidan, trying
to ignore the moisture between her legs, the pounding of her heart, the
insistent press of her nipples against the suddenly too-tight t-shirt.

Aidan
was no less affected than she, if the tent in his shorts was any indication.
His chest gleamed with sweat and he visibly trembled as he glared angrily at
the fireplace. Leanan heard him mutter something like “a pox upon you,
Rhiannon,” before he swung those mesmerizing blue eyes back to her.

He
exhaled loudly. “How about we start again? Come on back to the kitchen and I’ll
get us something cold to drink.”

Leanan
sighed in relief. Whatever it had been, she was free from it for a moment. Even
if she didn’t really, deep down in her heart and body, want to be.

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