Pints & Potions Sampler
“You need to hurry up, Piper. You’re going to miss your flight. Although—”
“Don’t say it,” she snapped. She was currently lying, belly down, across the top of her overstuffed suitcase in order to make the edges meet. “I think I’m going to be over the weight limit.”
“Take everything out but the sexy underwear,” advised her cousin and best friend, Liz Thorne-Xuereb. “Or let me cast a spell to lighten the case.”
“I don’t have any sexy underwear.” Piper willfully ignored the spell comment. She’d be damned if she would use magic for anything she didn’t classify as an emergency. To do otherwise would be an abuse of power as far as she was concerned. Of course, her attitude wasn’t popular among her family, who used magic with the speed of a ravenous chocoholic consuming bonbons.
Damn, she could really go for lemon-buttercream chocolates to temper her traveling anxiety right about now.
“At all?” Liz screeched, pulling Piper back into the conversation. Her cousin was clearly appalled that a single woman wouldn’t have the basics.
Heat crept up Piper’s neck. “Well, I do, but not packed. It’s Ireland, Liz. People dress in layers over there.”
“Sure, but eventually they have to strip down—if you know what I mean. And thermal long johns aren’t a turn-on. What happens when you meet a hot Irishman and take him back to your hotel?”
“It’s a B&B, and I won’t be bringing any men back to my room. In case you failed to remember, I’m on a dating hiatus for a while. It’s called vacation for a reason.”
“Need I remind you that I found Rafe while on vacation?”
“Rafe found you, and he was in Paris on business.”
Liz shrugged as she rummaged through Piper’s dresser, no doubt looking for sexy articles of clothing. “You say tomato, I say tomahto.”
“I’m pretty sure you stole that line from him. Regardless, I’ve sworn off men.”
“Irish women are hot, too. Really, anyone with an Irish accent would do.”
“You know what I mean. And while I’m open to just about anything, it’s doubtful I’ll switch sides this late in the game. Seriously, I just need a break from dating.” Piper snatched the underwear out of Liz’s hands as she tried to add it to the suitcase. “Stop, or you really will make me late.”
“Let’s compromise. Take four matching sets.”
“Two and no thongs. I hate those things. They’re little more than ass floss.”
“Deal.” Liz grinned triumphantly. “But if things get hot and heavy, I want a sex tape.”
“Okay, eww, because you’re my damned cousin. You’re getting as bad as Mackenzie. Next thing you know, you’ll be telling me you’re into bondage.” When Liz flushed the color of a ripe beet, Piper laughed. “I didn’t know you had it in you!”
“It was only handcuffs,” Liz retorted.
Piper arched her freshly waxed brows.
“All right, a blindfold, too. But that’s all.”
“Who was sporting the cuffs and blindfold? You or Rafe?”
Tickled by the new carefree side of her cousin, Piper hugged Liz. “I’m so glad you found him. You deserved so much better than Franco.”
“I still can’t believe he stole my magic. Who does that?”
“Well, thankfully Rafe discovered his plan in time.” She rounded up the last of her toiletries.
Liz cleared her throat, and Piper suspected it still stung her cousin’s heart that her now-deceased boyfriend had tried to use her for nefarious purposes. “Enough with all the maudlin BS. Let’s get this show on the road. Promise you’ll FaceTime me from a pub while you’re sharing a drink with a local hottie.”
Struggling against a laugh, Piper said, “I’m telling Rafe that he’s not satisfying your urges if you’re thinking about my sex life and hot Irishmen.”
“Believe me, my woman’s urges are completely taken care of—on every level.” Rafe’s sexy, slightly accented drawl came from the doorway and startled both of them.
Again, Liz flushed, and Piper was positive he spoke the truth. She sighed with the smallest hint of envy. Hair so dark it looked black in this light, midnight-colored eyes, and six feet of sinewy body, Rafe was every woman’s walking fantasy. However, he’d only had eyes for Liz from the day they reconnected a handful of years after their Paris meeting.
Feeling a bit warm herself, Piper returned to the bathroom to retrieve the last of her travel necessities. Once her carry-on was packed, she allowed Rafe to take both cases to the car. When he was out of earshot, she turned to Liz.
“You have to be the luckiest woman on the planet. Promise me I get him in your will should anything happen to you.”
“Nope. I have a stipulation that he must mourn me forever. He’s not allowed to find comfort with another woman.”
“Now you’re just being selfish.”
They shared a laugh and headed out to join Rafe for the short ride to the airport.
After they arrived at the terminal, Rafe unloaded the cases from the truck and escorted Piper inside. “Remember, no taking candy from strangers. And any guy you’re interested in has to provide you with a full name, date of birth, and some form of ID so I can scry and check him out. That way, we can avoid an incident like the last one.”
Rafe was referring to Piper’s god-awful taste in men. Her radar was defective and had failed to pick up on the fact her ex-boyfriend—a mortal one at that—was engaged with a baby on the way.
“Got it,” Piper responded with a grin and a hug. “Thanks, Rafe.”
“Be safe and call us when you get settled. Liz and I want to know when you arrive, okay? Although, why you don’t teleport is beyond me.” He grinned when she groaned.
“Not you too!”
Rafe shrugged, glanced around, and lowered his voice to say, “Don’t use the name Thorne. Lie if you have to. It isn’t safe to bandy about that name when you’re on your own, even in this day and age.”
“I’ll be plain old Piper Kelly. I plan to vacation like a normal person. And I promise to let you both know when I arrive.”
Rafe shook his head. “This bizarre need of yours to be ‘normal’ baffles me. We’re magical beings. You should embrace your heritage.”
It was an old argument between her family and her. It seemed Rafe had taken their side. No one would ever understand. In a family full of the most powerful witches on the planet, Piper got lost. Not bothering to answer, she kissed his cheek and hugged Liz.
Two and a half hours later, Piper was boarded and on her way to Ireland for her much-needed dream vacation. Two weeks in the Emerald Isle with nothing to do but enjoy the countryside, eat fish and chips, and listen to Irish folk bands play in local pubs. No corporate headaches, no IT problems popping up from employees who could barely sign into their email accounts. Most importantly, no running into her ex-boyfriend at work or his pregnant wife at their hometown supermarket.
Piper would take the time to lick her wounds and formulate a new plan for a family of her own. Perhaps it was time to rule out a lifelong mate and go with artificial insemination. That way, she would be able to pick a sperm donor based on genetics and brains instead of waiting for Mr. Wrong to come along for what seemed like the millionth time. Goddess willing, by this time next year, she would be a mom. It didn’t get more normal than that, right?
The idea had a soft smile forming on her lips. The thought of holding her own newborn close and rocking him or her to sleep made Piper’s heart ache with longing. All she’d ever wanted was a family to love. At thirty-three, her biological clock wasn’t only ticking; it was setting off alarms on an hourly basis.
But first, she’d take one last vacation before her world would be forever altered by a baby. Afterwards, her life wouldn’t be her own, and she intended to live it up on this holiday while she still could.
* * *
Cian O’Malley didn’t miss much. Early on he’d trained himself to gauge the energy of the pub’s patrons and work the room. That gift had come in handy at times he needed it the most. From his position on stage, he noted the stranger among the standard Friday-night crowd. He caught sight of the black-haired beauty the moment she stepped into his pub. Her rich-honey eyes were bright with excitement, and he immediately recognized that she wasn’t from around these parts. Mainly because he knew almost everyone who was. He also recognized the magical glow around her. With such a bright, blinding aura, she had to be a witch—a powerful one at that. If he was mistaken, he’d eat his microphone.
As he picked out a lively tune and sang about a love gone wrong in a way only the Irish could, he tracked her with his eyes. Before this night was out, he intended to not only know her name but also steal a kiss from those glossy, beguiling lips of hers.
His sister Bridget served the stranger a Guinness, and he nearly laughed at the face the woman made upon taking her first sip. A pint of plain wasn’t for the faint of heart. But he had to give her credit for trying the dark brew.
The noise of the room abruptly faded away, and her American accent drifted to where he sat. As he transitioned from one song to the next, he watched his new obsession laugh and flirt with some of the other male patrons. Yeah, he’d be settling up with those plonkers later for making time with the woman Cian had mentally claimed for his own.
Soon enough, his set was finished, and he made his way through the swell of customers and friends slapping him on the back. When he was less than five feet from her, the dark-haired siren turned her merry eyes upon him. It was as if lightning struck. His entire body sizzled and Cian found it impossible to catch his breath. His only consolation was her own dumbstruck expression. She felt the connection as well.
Good to know he wasn’t the only fool for love.
That stray thought brought him up short, but he quickly brushed it away. He didn’t do love or anything remotely leading to commitment. Burn me once, and all that shite.
“Well, hello, darlin’. I see you’ve been enjoyin’ yerself in me pub.” He laid the accent on thick because American women turned to mush after hearing his honeyed Irish tongue.
With sparkling eyes, she asked, “Your pub? So you’re the O’Malley in Lucky O’Malley’s Pub?”
“One of them. Cian O’Malley at your service, darlin’. And whom do I have the pleasure of speakin’ with in turn?”
“Ah, to be sure, you must be a good Irish cailín with a name like Kelly.”
Her laughter was as golden as her aura. The sound reached in and grabbed him by the nads, making him lose all sense of up or down.
“Does this—” she made a swirling gesture with her hand around his mouth “—actually work to help you pick up women?”
He placed his palm flat over his heart. “You wound me, darlin’. You surely do.”
“Uh-huh.” She sounded doubtful, but his soon-to-be lover had a twinkle in her eye, which clearly indicated she liked his suffering.
“Put a man out of his misery and run away with me, why don’t ya?”
“I’m sure your wife wouldn’t appreciate that.” She gestured with her thumb over her shoulder to Bridget, who stood behind the bar, giving him the evil eye.
“Bridget isn’t my wife, love. She’s my sister. And the look she’s gracing us with, is because she’s vexed I’m passing time with you, and not servin’ up these louts hangin’ about me bar.”
“Pull on your wellies, lads,” Bridget called out. “It’s about to get deep in here because Cian intends to rabbit on in hopes of catching a ride!”
“Ride?” Piper questioned just before taking a sip of her pint.
He mentally debated the merits of honesty when the ginger-haired Seamus, sitting on the stool beside her, spoke up and beat him to the punch. “Shag. Cian’s hopin’ to shag ya.”
Guinness sprayed the air as Piper choked on her drink. Seamus earned a dark glare from Cian as he snatched up a dry bar towel to mop the beer from his face.
“Dry up this mess and don’t be annoying me, Seamus, or you’ll be finding yourself out on your arse,” Cian growled and threw down the damp towel.
“Jaysus, Cian! Don’t be hasty,” Seamus exclaimed, rushing to comply. “It was Bridget who said it.”
“And it was you who were repeating it, you feckin’ eejit.”
“Is this always the way you woo women?” Piper asked with laughter heavy in her voice.
Her grin was as bright as the noon sun on a clear summer day, and Cian found himself soaking up its warmth.
“If we’re being honest, no. I’m much more smooth and charming.”
“Good to know you weren’t banking on your looks alone.”
Although they were in a crowded place, Cian only had eyes for this lone woman. The tilt of her head and the half smile still lingering on her lips fascinated him. She was, without a doubt, flirting in return. Ah, the sight of her sped up his heart. It truly did.
“Love, I have a bet with a few of me friends.” He laid it on thick, but he was savvy enough to recognize she was enjoying their exchange. “It’s a well-known fact that me boyos look up to me in these parts.”
“Uh-huh.” She sounded cynical but amused. “So what’s this bet?”
“Well, it’s more of a tradition, really,” he lied. “I’m forced to kiss all the new colleens who stroll into me pub.”
“Yeah, and if I can win a kiss from the fairest of women—that be you—I’d be a living legend in these parts.”
“Still not seeing where the bet part of this comes in.”
“I bet me boyos that you’d take mercy on me and bestow the kiss to end all kisses.”
“Interesting. When exactly did you make this bet? Since I’ve been here, you’ve been on stage or in front of me.”
Cian could see his sister’s smirk from the corner of his eye. The patrons of the pub had grown quiet to watch the interplay between Piper and him.
“She has you there, Cian!” someone hollered.
“It’s implied,” Cian informed her without missing a beat, ignoring his heckler.
Her left brow practically shot to her hairline and she bit one corner of the plump lip he was dying to sample.
“One taste, darlin’. That’s all I’m hoping for. Then I can die a happy man,” he said softly.
“Who am I to stand in the way of tradition?”
He wasn’t sure he heard her correctly, but he didn’t give her a chance to change her mind. Swooping in, hands cupping her exquisite face, he claimed his prize. When their lips connected, warning bells sounded in his brain. This long-legged dream of a woman was dangerous to his well-being.
Her arms went around his neck, and her fingers wound their way through his hair. Her light caress on his scalp sent desire racing through his entire body like a runaway train. He tightened his hold and had his eyes been open, he’d have closed them in ecstasy. Hoots and catcalls sounded around them, but Cian was damned if he could sever their connection.
That was until a cold blast of water from his right side dampened his ardor.
“Bridget, you she-devil!” he swore.
“Stop mauling the customers and get back to strumming. We have a pub to entertain.”
“Oh, you can be sure we were entertained, mo ghrá!” A male voice called out from a table in the far back reaches of the pub.
“I’m not your love, Ruairí O’Connor. And you’d best be remembering your manners in my pub.”
“You’d be my everything if you give me a chance, Bridg,” Ruairí returned.
“Pfft.” She rolled her eyes. “Right. You say that to me and every other woman within a hundred-kilometre radius.” Bridget winked in Piper’s direction. “Don’t believe any of these wankers, girl. They delight in pulling your leg. My brother Cian is the worst of the lot. You’re the fifth woman he’s hit on this week.”
Piper turned disappointed eyes on him but didn’t look surprised.
Cian felt a tightening in his chest and scowled at his sister from where he stood behind Piper. “Now, don’t be spreading tales, Bridget. You’ll have my darlin’ Piper believing the worst of us.” He swept aside the hair from Piper’s neck and leaned in to whisper. “Ignore her. She’s out to kick a man in the bollocks on her best day. Will you stick around for my next set? I’ll dedicate a song to you.”
“It’s been a long day. Maybe next time,” she demurred, apology heavy in her voice.
Although it sounded as if she’d like nothing better than to hang out for another beer and to flirt with him, she also looked like she was on her last leg.
“Are you stayin’ local?”
She nodded. “For a few days.”
“Good. I’ll walk you back to your hotel.”
“No need, I’m only right next door at the B&B.”
The steely tone caused her to frown and most likely had her wondering where his charming Irish accent had gone. She was clever enough to realize he laid it on a little thicker for the tourists, and Cian surmised it was why she didn’t say anything.
“You can trust him to walk you to your room, Piper,” Bridget assured her as she drew another Guinness from the tap. “He knows if he disappears on me, there’ll be the devil to pay.” Addressing Cian, Bridget warned, “Five minutes. Any longer, and I’ll come for you myself.”
Seamus snorted and said, “Five minutes? More than three be one too many for Cian.”
Cian shoved him off the barstool.
Seamus had the reflexes of a cat, and the man didn’t spill a drop of his beer. “What? I was meaning to get into the gal’s—”
Cian clamped a hand over Seamus’s mouth. “I know what you were meaning. You’d do well to shut your pie hole, Seamus McCleary.” He released his drunk friend with a second none-too-gentle shove. “He’s cut off.”
“Ya got a mean streak as wide as—”
“Not another word, Seamus,” Cian growled.
“You’ve wasted two of your five minutes, Brother.”
“Come on, love. I don’t want you to be a witness to murder.”
Cian placed his hand on Piper’s lower back and guided her toward the door. A current of sorts passed between them, surprising him, and he sent her a sharp glance to see if she’d experienced the same.
She appeared unfazed.
A simple touch had never set him off before. Dry-mouthed, he held his own council and silently walked with her toward the building next door.
“You handled that well,” she said as he strolled beside her.
Thrown by her cool sarcasm, he stopped and stared. His laughter, when it started, was deep and boomed out across the night. The sound carried and seemed to echo forever. He couldn’t remember the last time he’d laughed that hard.
Cian reached for her hand and placed a lingering kiss on her fingertips. “Come, let’s get you home.”