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DECLAN'S CROSS
by Carla Neggers

Genre: General Romantic Suspense, Romantic Suspense

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Emma rolled back onto her heels and stared at the fire as it took hold. Then she glanced up at Colin, the flames reflecting in her green eyes. “I hate to leave this place,” she said.

“Ah, yes.” He moved closer to her. “The cold, cruel world awaits.”

She stood, and he slipped an arm around her waist, kissed the top of her head. Even her hair smelled like mud, but he didn’t mind. She leaned into him. “I thought we’d have a few more nights together here. It’s the most romantic cottage ever, isn’t it? But we need to go to Declan’s Cross, Colin. At least I do.”

“There is a Sharpe connection to this village, then.”

She eased an arm around his middle, the lingering tentativeness of even two weeks ago gone now. “I’ve reserved a room at the O’Byrne House Hotel,” she said. “It’s on the water, right in the village of Declan’s Cross.”

“That was fast.”

“The joys of smartphones.” And she’d had her plan fixed in her mind when they’d arrived back from their hike. “Have you ever been to Declan’s Cross?” he asked.

“Once, when I worked with my grandfather in Dublin. I was only there for the day. The O’Byrne House wasn’t a hotel then. It was a rambling, boarded-up private home. It opened as a hotel last fall. Apparently its spa is quite nice.”

“A spa,” Colin said, as if he were translating a foreign language.

“I bet it offers a couple’s massage.”

“Dream on, Emma.”

She grinned. “I think you’d enjoy a hot stone massage.”

“I’d rather have you heat up my stones, Special Agent Sharpe.”

“You’re hopeless.” She tightened her hold on him, her grin gone now. “Massages are good for demon fighting.”

He wasn’t going to be distracted by talk of his demons. He drew her against him. “What’s good for extracting Sharpe secrets?”

“There are secrets and there are confidences, and there are things I just can’t tell you.” She broke away from him and grabbed a black-iron poker, stirred the fire. “I wish I had a fireplace in my apartment in Boston.”

“Emma.”

She turned, and now the hot flames deepened the green of her eyes. “It was a great hike today, but I smell like dried mud, sweat and sheep dung.”

“Just mud,” he said.

“Such a gentleman. I’ve no regrets. I love hiking the Irish hills.”

Still trying to change the subject, or at least delay telling him what was going on. He wasn’t easily put off. “Roaming the Irish hills is different from figuring out what drives people to steal art. Is Declan’s Cross the scene of an art heist the Sharpe's investigated?”

Emma sank onto a bright blue-and-white rug in front of the fireplace, kicked off her shoes and tucked her knees under her chin as she stared at the flames. “It’s the scene of an art heist we’re still investigating.”