Southern Nights: Enigma 3 - Destroy Me

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Some mistakes don’t deserve forgiveness.

 Lyse Sheppard planted the bomb that almost killed everyone close to her, including the man she loved. Now in hiding, she spends her days making amends the only way she knows how—using her genius computer skills to save women enslaved by the bastard who blackmailed her. And every night she punishes herself by watching the man she lost live his life without her.

 Fionn “Irish” McCullough can’t let go of the rage Lyse ignited the night she betrayed his team. Betrayed him. After months of searching, he’s no closer to finding his prey—until a mysterious message points him toward Ireland and a deadly threat against the only family he has left.

 Caught in the twisted web of his past, Fionn must choose between revenge and keeping his mother safe. But the one weapon he needs—and the one touch he craves—may be the woman he can never forgive.

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Chapter One

hese are not the droids you’re looking for.

One of the most overquoted lines in all geekdom, probably because it fit so many situations, including this one. Or rather, Lyse Sheppard had only found one “droid” she was looking for, but he wasn’t alone.

She shifted in her hard chair, the one from the dinette set that she’d snitched for a computer chair because all her focus had been on equipment, not comfort. She’d arrived in Ireland with nothing—no surveillance capability, no protection, not even a place to stay. The past two months she’d been able to establish her home base, but she forgot about padding until nighttime arrived and she was consigned to this damn chair. To aching hips and watching her former team live their lives without her.

Watching Fionn McCullough live without her. Not that he’d ever lived with her.

And why would he? She was just Bat Girl, right?

Pat the nerd on the head and give her a cookie.

Even knowing Martin Diako was dead—go, Elliot—Lyse hadn’t stopped watching over her friends, making sure they were safe from repercussions. Deacon and Elliot and Sydney. Trapper. Alvarez. Even Elliot’s team at JCL—King, Saint, Dain with his heavily pregnant wife.

And then there was Fionn.

Her heart sped up as he appeared on her computer screen. The image was grainy, rough. CCTV wasn’t the best source if you wanted clarity. It allowed her to follow her target with ease, though, watch his back.

This time his back—and backside—was being watched by a slender woman with long dark hair.

Lyse’s hands began to shake.

No, not this time. Turn it off. Don’t do this to yourself.

It was sound advice; she knew that. Just as she knew she wouldn’t take it. Not because she didn’t want to. She wanted with everything inside her to reach out, click the button, and turn the monitor off. But there was no button to shut her brain off. It would follow the path of Fionn’s sexy Lexus with the gleaming navy paint into the night, maybe to his house, maybe a hotel, who knew? It would follow him and the woman inside, and even if they were out of camera range, it would imagine exactly what happened the minute the door shut behind them.

Because torturing herself was her specialty—and no more than she deserved. 

Two months later and it still killed her inside to watch him. That was the point, after all. You didn’t try to blow your friends up and get away with it scot-free. Fionn might not be here to punish her, but he did just fine half a world away, whether he knew it or not.

His car was parked at the very back of Milligan’s lot, just out of range of the camera. The same place he parked every time he came, which was frequently. Milligan’s Pub was a favorite of Fionn’s. A couple clicks of her mouse and she’d switched to the surveillance camera used by the car dealership directly behind the bar. The one pointed in the direction of the chain-link fence and Fionn’s car on the other side. Under a streetlight. Perfect view for surveillance.

Fionn led the woman to the passenger-side door. He didn’t kiss her; Lyse never saw him kiss the women he was with. Instead he opened the door and ushered her in. His lips moved without sound, his cocky grin telling her all she needed to know about the conversation she couldn’t hear. And then he closed the woman in and circled the back of the car.

She squeezed her eyes shut, her lungs doing the same. Turn it off. Turn it off, Lyse. Stop punishing yourself for something that happened months ago.

Two months. Eight weeks. The night her life had ended. The night Fionn could’ve died.

She opened her eyelids, forcing herself to watch.

Fionn started the car, rolled down the windows. A pale hand appeared on his chest. Slid down.

A whimper escaped Lyse’s tight throat.

He turned off the car. His seat eased backward, giving her a better view of his face. It was the perfect face. Not as pale as most gingers. Wide green eyes that could narrow into intimidating lasers when he was angry. A strong nose, high cheekbones. A full mouth that made women fantasize, especially when he gave you that grin. Panties melted away when the man grinned.

Just like he did now, as the woman crawled over the center console and shimmied her way onto the floorboard between his knees.

A fist clamped down on Lyse’s heart.

Fionn seemed to prefer risky locations, in his job and with his women. Tonight appeared to be no different. The woman bent forward. Lyse didn’t know if the door blocking her view was a blessing or a curse. Somewhere in the back of her mind, she knew this wasn’t only punishment; this was all she’d ever have of Fionn. As close as she’d ever get to her fantasies of him, the ones filled with the gravelly grunts and groans that escaped him now, she was sure. She’d imagined them over and over through the years. Hopeful years. Stupid years, filled with stupid fantasies for a stupid girl.

And yet her body heated at the thought of being between his legs, touching him, taking him in her mouth.

Stupid. What kind of woman watched a man with someone else and got aroused?

A desperate one. A damned one.

She clicked the mouse again, and the camera zoomed in just in time. Fionn’s face tightened. A soundless cry escaped him, his body jerking, emptying himself in the ultimate pleasure. Lyse watched, unblinking, until her eyes burned and her throat closed completely. Until the hard knot in her stomach grew so big, so full of bile and self-hatred that it rose up her throat and forced her away from the screen.

Thank God the trash can was close by. No puking on the keyboard, Sheppard.

When the heaving finally stopped—and when she could walk without her knees giving out—she carried herself and the trash can into the bathroom down the hall. The chilled water felt good on her flushed face, rinsing the bitter taste from her mouth. Hot tears mingled with the cold, but she pretended they weren’t there. Pretended she was okay. It was the only way to get through each day. Giving in to the pain didn’t help when it would only come back tomorrow. And the next day. And the next.

Avoiding her reflection in the mirror kept the illusion of control intact for a few more, precious seconds.

She couldn’t even hate Fionn for what she’d seen. He was the resident lady’s man at Global First; everyone knew it. And it wasn’t like he wasn’t made for it. The man was an Irish god—one she wished she’d never met, most days. But then she wouldn’t be able to tear her heart out night after night, would she?

She walked back into the bedroom, grateful that whatever he’d done with the woman, she’d at least missed that part. Though watching him cradle her on his lap, his big hands running over her hair and down her spine, might be worse. Lyse could practically feel those long, rugged fingers on her skin. She shivered beneath the dream touch, then shuddered at her sick imagination.

The clang of water running through the pipes jerked her back to reality. Sean in the bathroom. Her next-door neighbor must have an early shift at the restaurant. Though their shared wall was insulated enough that they both had privacy, nothing could quiet the noisy pipes that ran through them.

She glanced at the clock display in the bottom corner of her computer screen to confirm the time, and relief flooded her. Time for coffee. It might be the middle of the night in Georgia, but here in Ireland the sun was just over the horizon. Though she didn’t deserve the reprieve, she clicked off her view of Fionn and began to cycle through her regular checks—Deacon’s property, Trapper’s apartment, the Global First compound—grateful when emotion began to ebb in favor of her critical thinking. Ones and zeros, observations didn’t require feeling. With anyone else she could shut it off, do the job. Retreat when the fuckup that was her life became too much to handle, which was exactly what she did now. Retreat. There was no shame in regrouping, right?

Right. Keep telling yourself that.

She rubbed at the ache in her chest, eyes on the screen.

The last house on her list wasn’t a team member; it was a house here in North Quigley Village. A quiet neighborhood off one of the main streets that bisected the town. The houses were small, cottages really, with bigger yards that allowed for plenty of the gardening that flourished in Irish country summers. The owner would be getting up soon, following her normal routine. Lyse paused her surveillance and rewound twenty-four hours, quickly scanning the video. Nothing unusual. Her finger tensed, about to close the program.

And that’s when she saw it—a shadow. Not near the house, but up on the street. The neighbors were all in bed, everything still, quiet in that way that only occurred in the dead of night. The dark, amorphous shape near the top-right corner of the screen didn’t cross in front of the house, simply lingered there near the hedgerow. Someone else might’ve thought it was a shadow cast by the full moon or a neighbor’s still-lit lamp, but Lyse had watched hours of surveillance on this particular house. She knew every branch of the trees, every nuance of the night hours as they passed. This shadow shouldn’t be there, but it was.

The emotional girl inside her retreated, allowing the intelligence-trained woman to take over.

An hour later her analytical mind and quick fingers had supplied a face, a name, and a trail that led her back to a part of Fionn’s life he’d kept a closely guarded secret from everyone but Mark Alvarez and Deacon Walsh. A secret she shouldn’t know and had prayed would never rear its ugly head—but it had.

She knew it and the shadow knew it, but Fionn didn’t. And now she had a decision to make: keep herself safe, or protect the one woman Fionn had always loved?