“Good to see you again, Barrons.”
Barrons nodded. “O’Bannion.”
“What brings you here tonight?”
Barrons murmured something complimentary about the pub and then the two men moved swiftly into a conversation about recent trouble O’Bannion had been having at one of his shipping concerns down by the docks. Barrons had heard something out on the streets that might be useful, he said.
I watched them while they talked. Rocky O’Bannion was a lodestone, six feet of pure muscle-packed charisma. He was the kind of man men wanted to be and women wanted to be dragged off to bed by—and I did mean dragged off—there would be no dominating this man by any woman. There was no doubt in my mind that the powerful, ruggedly attractive Irishman with the stone-hewn jaw was also a stone-cold killer, and from the way he was trying to pave his way to heaven by plastering over his sins with the putty of religious zeal, he was also a borderline psychopath.
Yet none of it diminished my attraction to him one bit—that was the true measure of the man’s presence. I was revolted by him, and at the same time, if he were to focus that devilish Irish charm my way, if those dark, heavy-lidded eyes would turn with favor in my direction, I was afraid I would flush with pleasure even as I knew I should be running as fast as I could the other way, and for that reason alone, the man scared the living bejeezus out of me.
I was surprised to notice that Barrons didn’t look much more comfortable than I, and that worried me even more. Nothing disturbed Jericho Barrons, yet I could clearly see tension in the angles of his body and strain in the lines of his face, around the mouth and eyes. Every bit of earlier playfulness in him was gone. He was lean, mean, and hard again, even seemed a little pale beneath that exotic golden skin. Though he stood inches taller than our host and was even more powerfully built, though he usually exuded comparable vitality and presence, at the moment he seemed . . . diminished, and I got the sudden, weirdest impression that ninety-nine percent of Jericho Barrons was currently focused somewhere else, and being nearly used up, leaving only one percent of him here and now, in this room, paying attention to O’Bannion.
“Beautiful woman, Jericho,” O’Bannion said then, turning his gaze—as I’d feared—my way. And as I’d feared, I blushed. The boxer stepped closer, circled me, looking me up and down, and made a rough sound of masculine approval in the back of his throat.
“She is, isn’t she?” Barrons replied.
“Not Irish,” O’Bannion observed.
“Protestant,” Barrons said.
I didn’t bat an eyelash at the lie.
“Too bad.” Rocky turned his attention back to Barrons and I breathed again. “Good to see you, Jericho. If you should hear anything further about my troubles at the dock . . .”
“I’ll be in touch,” said Barrons.
“You like him,” I said later, as we picked our way back through the nearly deserted four A.M. streets of downtown Dublin. The information Barrons had given him had actually been pertinent, identifying several members of a local gang as the thorns in O’Bannion’s side.
“No, Ms. Lane,” Barrons replied.
“Okay, maybe not like,” I corrected, “respect. You respect O’Bannion.”
Again Barrons shook his head.
“Well, what, then?” Barrons had accorded Rocky O’Bannion a certain solemn distance he’d not shown any of the others and I wanted to know why.
He thought a moment. “If I were in the middle of Afghanistan’s mountains and could choose either one man to fight barehanded by my side, or a full complement of sophisticated weapons, I’d take O’Bannion. I neither like nor respect him, I merely recognize what he is.”
We hurried along for a few blocks in silence.
I was grateful to be out of the stilettos I’d worn earlier and back in comfortable shoes. When we’d left O’Bannion’s, Barrons had whisked us back to the bookstore, where he’d demanded a full report of what I’d sensed. After I’d told him, he’d left me alone in the bookstore while he’d gone off by himself somewhere to “get reacquainted with some of the finer points of the city’s sewage system,” he’d said.
In his absence, I’d gone upstairs and changed. I could figure out proper sewer-crawling attire all by myself—something old, dark, and grungy.
We’d returned to the general vicinity of O’Bannion’s Pub & Restaurant in a dark, nondescript sedan I’d never have noticed parked in the shadowy rear of Barrons’ fascinating garage, left it at the curb several blocks from our intended destination, and hoofed it from there.