Big, Bad Red
Granny’s Pub in Dublin, New York, sat on the knife’s edge between a newly gentrified neighborhood and one still rotten right down to the core. The pub faced freshly painted row houses filled with overpriced but quirky furniture, and inhabited by residents who wore hemp T-shirts and ate only the most organic of organic vegetables.
If there was anything that could give a tatted-up werewolf like Liam MacTíre the heebie-jeebies, it was a bunch of earnest vegetarian hipsters. But he wasn’t on his way to Granny’s Pub for lunch and a beer. If he wanted a Guinness, he’d hop the family jet for a well-deserved visit to the ancestral hunting grounds in Ireland.
No, he wanted what could only be found by hooking a left at the corner and going into the pub through the back. That’s where the real business took place, and what made Granny’s location so perfect. The noobs from the gentrified neighborhood gave the pub legitimacy while the cutthroats and thieves from The Woods neighborhood behind it provided what every small business really needed—a dependable cash flow. In this case, the money came from a flourishing criminal operation centered around the fencing of stolen goods and run by a surly bar owner named Red.
“I’m going in,” Liam said into the Bluetooth microphone inside his helmet as he rolled to a stop in front of the pub.
“You sure you’ve got the right place?” His best friend, Maxim Volchekov, asked from the comfort of his well-equipped yacht on the Caspian Sea.
According to Liam’s sources, the glass slipper, a pot of Leprechaun gold and several dozen flying carpets had come in through the front door and left out the back in the past two weeks, with the proprietor pocketing a hefty percentage of the profits. And that was just the tip of the unicorn’s horn. If you needed to get rid of a little ill-gotten treasure, no questions asked, Granny’s Pub was the place to make it happen.
Liam transferred the call from helmet to cell phone, tucking it between his ear and shoulder as he stored his helmet in his Harley’s saddlebag and then locked it with a pinch of pixie dust. “I’ve been tracing the Caladbolg’s location for seven years. I’m not going to fuck up now when I’m this close to getting it back.”
“Still, watch your back,” Max said. “If you get the sword back but still manage to get ganked in that shit-ass neighborhood, your family ends with you.”
An invisible line separated the good from the bad in Dublin and it ran right through Granny’s Pub. Liam couldn’t see it with his human eyes, but the wolf inside him felt it as sure as Liam could feel a shot of good Irish whiskey burning down his throat. But aware didn’t mean intimidated. The big bad wolf mythology had permeated the world for a reason.
“Who’s going to fuck with a six-foot-six ripped dude in black leather pants, tats covering both arms and a perma-snarl?” Liam paused outside the pub’s large front window. A normal passerby would take one look and assume he was reading the flyers taped to the glass, but really he was checking his six—his abundance of brawn didn’t mean he was lacking in brains.
“Yeah, I know. The only thing bigger and badder than you is your ego.” Max paused, no doubt to take in a deep breath for the lecture about to follow. “There are more child-eating witches per capita in that neighborhood than anywhere else in the country, not to mention an entire tribe of bitchy fairies and a three-headed dog with an acidic drool problem. You’re already on borrowed time. Stop thinking like the pampered billionaire you pretend to be and more like the wolf you are inside.”
“That’s all I ever think about anymore, Max. If I don’t get the Caladbolg sword back, then I’ll stop being a werewolf to become just a wolf, and soon.” Twenty-eight days to be exact. He’d had to pay Bridget Cleary a small fortune more than six years ago to whip up an extension potion, giving him an extra seven years before he went forever hairy unless he could recover the Caladbolg sword and reverse the family curse.
Max snorted. “When the MacTíres fuck things up by getting hexed, you sure know how to do it.”
“No shit.” Paranoia eased by the lack of activity behind him, Liam felt some of the tension ebb from his shoulders and he made his way to the pub’s door. “I’m going in the front, case the joint out. Maybe Red will be at the bar during a slow day shift.”
“Good luck with that.”
Luck was for suckers, no one knew that better than Liam, which was why he’d done all of his research and double-checked every source. He knew everything there was to know about the sword, Red’s fencing operation and the woman herself—except for what she looked like. Some things even money couldn’t buy. “If you don’t hear from me in a few days, send a team down here to sniff out the body.”
“What are best friends for if not to pick up your mangled remains?” Max asked.
“Exactly.” Liam hung up and walked into Granny’s Pub.
The patrons’ hushed conversations wrapped around him as soon as he crossed the threshold into the malt-and-barley-scented air. Rich, dark wood shelves filled with William Butler Yeats and James Joyce, Tana French and other Irish authors’ books lined the walls. Sepia-toned photos of famous Irish actors, from Maureen O’Hara to Chris O’Dowd and generations in between, hung above the gold-flecked mirror behind the oak bar. The taps at the bar read Guinness, Harp, Kilkenny and Murphy’s.
All in all, it looked like any other pretend-to-be-authentic Irish pub outside of the Emerald Isle, except for two things. One: The fifteen wolf heads mounted to the walls. Two: The red cloaks fastened to hooks at the end of each booth.
Liam pulled out a heavy barstool in front of the taps and sat down.
A woman stood behind the bar doling out drinks with a bored look on her face. Hot enough to make his formerly focused thought veer in a totally different direction, she was either a cruel joke or just what he needed to see right now. Maybe a little mix of business and pleasure was just what he needed—especially with someone who looked like she was really good at being bad.
Valkyrie-tall with brown skin and a smattering of dark freckles across her high cheekbones and nose, she wore a tight red T-shirt over her generous curves and a short gingham skirt revealing plenty of leg. Her shoulder-length hair’s tight curls ended in red tips. The uniform looked good on her, but he couldn’t shake the feeling that it didn’t quite fit her personality. Not that any of the customers were complaining—including him. Watching her move was more than enough entertainment while he waited for his turn.
She dropped off a pair of pints to the granola nerds at the other end of the bar and made her way over.
“Going for a theme, eh?” Liam jerked his chin toward the stuffed wolf frozen forever in mid-snarl to the left of the bar.
“It is called Granny’s Pub. It’s expected.” She flipped a bar towel over one shoulder with a soft thwap. “What can I get you?”
“A black and tan. I’m looking for someone who works here.”
The bartender didn’t bother to look up as she filled a pint glass half full of golden Bass Ale. “Goldie doesn’t work day shift and I already told her twice this week no more boyfriends at the bar. The last time that happened it took ten cops to break up the brawl. I’m not going through that again.”
Goldie sounded like a good time, but that wasn’t what he was after today. “I’m looking for Red.”
She tilted her face toward him, her gray eyes assessing. “It doesn’t work that way. Red looks for you.” Verdict delivered, the bartender turned her attention back to his drink, this time moving the pint glass under the Guinness tap.
“She’ll want to see me.” He let just the right amount of cocky confidence slip through in his tone to let the bartender know she needed to skedaddle off and get her boss as soon as she delivered his drink.
“Why’s that?” She kept her attention on the dark stout coming out of the tap, making sure the stream traveled down the spoon and into the pint glass so the black liquid came to rest on top of the golden ale.
“Why?” He had millions of reasons sitting in his bank account right now. “Because I have an offer she won’t want to refuse.”
The bartender set the pint of black and tan in front of him and wiped her hands off on the bar towel. “Trust me, honey. I’m an expert at saying no.”
He froze in the middle of reaching for the pint. “You’re Red?”
“Yeah, I get that reaction a lot.” She didn’t laugh. She didn’t even crack a smile. “Who the hell are you?”
He blanked out for a second before he remembered. “Liam MacTíre.”
If Max had been here, he would have been laughing his ass off at Liam’s rookie mistake. Best friend and mentor, Max had taught him everything he could about investigations and treasure hunting, but it was still hard to break out of the alpha wolf mentality of thinking he knew everything.
Taking a second to rework his plan of attack, Liam took a good look at Red, going beyond the packaging to see what she was hiding behind those gray eyes. He didn’t get much, the woman had excellent mental defenses, but he knew turning on the charm would be a waste of effort. Red was all business. “I understand you got a special delivery last week. I want to take it off your hands.”
“I get all kinds of deliveries.” She shrugged. “Running a pub takes…inventory.”
Everyone in town knew Granny’s Pub received a lot more than kegs in terms of deliveries. Red may get plenty of stolen-treasure traffic, but hot weaponry was unusual. The Treasury Department went after those purloined goods with the intensity of a Leprechaun sprinting to the rainbow’s end before it faded into nothing.
“You’d remember this one.” He sipped the beer, watching her over the foam top. “It was a sharp delivery.”
She smiled. It was sexy as hell, but not even a little bit nice. “Oh, you mean the very expensive delivery?”
His access to money wasn’t infinite, but it was close. Getting the sword, breaking the curse and not turning permanently hairy in twenty-eight days took precedence over a tiny dip on the balance sheet. “Five hundred thousand dollars.”
Now Red laughed, big and bold as she pleased. The lusty sound drew the attention of the other pub patrons, but she shot them a glare and they turned back to their pints. She looked at Liam, a greedy gleam in her eyes. “We both know you can do better than that.”
Could and would. “A million.”
“No hesitation.” She grabbed his pint and took a sip, licking the brown foam off her Ferrari-red lips. “You really want this.”
He did, but negotiating time was over. “One point five and that’s it.”
Nibbling on her lip, Red considered him. Her frank perusal went from his blond hair to the multicolored tattoos peeking out beneath his T-shirt to his mouth. No doubt she was sizing him up; for what, he wasn’t exactly sure, but his stiffening cock had ideas.
She pushed the pint across the shining bar to him. “You seem like a nice guy and I wish I could help you out, but there’s already an interested party. It wouldn’t be fair of me to take your offer without giving him an opportunity to beat it.”
Exactly the worst news Liam could get. It had taken God knew how many hours and bribes to track down the Caladbolg. He’d been damn sure to only share information with a few people, and those few were more than friends—they were family, the only kind he had left. The one thing he’d never gotten the scent of was another possible buyer.
“Who is it?”
Red tsked-tsked and shook her head with false pity. “Honey, you know I’m not at liberty to divulge that. Come back tomorrow and I’ll have your answer.”
Liam pushed away from the bar with equal amounts frustration and determination. Red’s plan to start a bidding war for the Caladbolg sword was about to blow up in her pretty face. He’d be back alright—a lot sooner than she expected. The sword would be in his hands before the last stroke of midnight.
All he had to do was steal it.