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Warrior of the Realm

Written by Shannon Curtis

All Luke Storm has ever known is the violence of the Chicago streets and the manipulations of the local mafioso. But when an accidental dive into the river transports him to another world, he finds himself embroiled in an ancient tribal war. Joining Balor of the Wicked Eye’s camp is the last thing he wants to do, but he can’t leave their beautiful captive, Nieve, imprisoned and alone.

Nieve won’t agree to Balor’s insulting offer of marriage—especially when she knows that he’ll kill her as soon as she’s provided him a child to unite their tribes. But she won’t abandon her family and risk Balor’s rage. Can Luke, this mysterious warrior from beyond the veil, lay this conflict to rest?

And given the chance, will Luke remain with Nieve? Or will he vanish back to his world, taking her heart with him.

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Chapter One

Luke Storm sighed as the man took off running. Really? Did he expect Luke to run after him? He pulled his slingshot out of the back pocket of his jeans. Growing up walking through metal detectors on a regular basis, this had been his weapon of choice as a kid, and nothing had changed. Of course, the weapon he used today was more advanced than the not-so-innocent child’s plaything of his teenage years. Fetching a pellet from the small canister hooked on his belt, he closed one eye, took careful aim and let it fly.

The man yelped and clutched at the back of his thigh as he crashed to the ground in the alley. He writhed in pain as he rolled over, his eyes wide with panic and pain.

“You shot me,” he gasped.

Luke rolled his eyes as he stepped closer. “It was a pellet, not a bullet.” He lifted a foot up to the slat of a discarded pallet and eyed the man on the ground in exasperation. “You know why I’m here, Arty.”

Arty held up a hand, and Luke ignored it as he casually folded the prongs of the slingshot together and flicked the catch. The weapon was of his own design, and he slid the grip off the handle, exposing the wicked blade beneath. Growing up in group homes, he’d learned it paid to be armed with multiple weapons.

“I’ll get him the money, I swear.” Arty’s eyes were wide with fear. At six foot six, Luke knew he was an intimidating figure, and he had learned to use his larger-than-average size to his advantage.

“That’s what you said last month, and the month before,” Luke commented drily. “You know Moretti doesn’t like welshers. You made a promise to me, Arty. We negotiated a deal—a fair one, if I’m not mistaken. Now you’re welshing on me.” His lips tightened. He hated this part of his job. He was damn good at it, but it still left a sour taste in his mouth. He preferred negotiating a compromise between two parties. That was what he did best. He was the negotiator. Now, though, he had to be the enforcer.

Two months. Just two more months left on his contract to Don Moretti, and then he was out. His foster brother Petey now had nothing to worry about, since Luke had paid his debt in full. Not that he deluded himself with thinking Moretti would just let him walk away, but he’d made plans, and he had insurance just in case Moretti thought he was so good at his job he wanted Luke to stay on.

“He thinks you need a little incentive.” Luke leaned forward, his gaze hardening. Moretti wanted Arty dead. Luke had managed to negotiate him down to a severe injury—to send a message to other welshers, he’d told the crime boss. The sick bastard liked the idea of torture, he’d learned.

Arty read the implacable determination in Luke’s gaze and paled. “No, wait. I’ll give you everything I’ve got. I promise, I’ll get the money to you.” Arty fumbled with his wallet, opening it to pull out a fistful of— Luke rolled his eyes. Singles? Arty’s fingers shook, and he dropped the wallet. “Please,” Arty whispered. “I lost my job—I’m trying to get the money for Moretti, but things are tight.”

Luke bent down to pick up the fallen wallet, and his gaze caught on the photo in the clear window. A plain-looking woman and two plain-looking kids who obviously bore a resemblance to Arty with their big, flat noses…and yet, the happy smiles, the bright eyes…it looked like it had been taken at Christmas, with torn wrapping and the base of a tinseled and baubled plastic tree behind them.

The man had a family.

“Where did you work?” Luke asked him, narrowing his eyes. If the guy tried to sell him a line, he’d know it.

“I worked in Puzani’s warehouse but just got laid off with a whole bunch of guys.”

Luke’s lips tightened, and he sheathed his blade, sliding his slingshot into his back pocket. He’d heard about Puzani. More than he’d wanted. Moretti had squeezed in on the local coffee distributor, demanding the store and distribution network be used for more than just coffee. Moretti had installed enough of his own men in the business to make it pretty damn impossible for Puzani to say no.

He gazed down at the pale, terrorized man on the ground. A muscle flexed in his cheek. Damn it, was this what his life had come to? A stand-over man for the local crime boss. There were times he’d just wished Petey had stayed and faced the music for pissing off the mafioso, but his foster brother would more than likely have ended up in little pieces, feeding the fish in the Chicago River. Petey was safe now.

But his boss had just kicked Arty out of a job and wanted to maim him for not paying a debt. That wasn’t cool. The man had a family, for crap’s sake. A plain, unattractive family that Luke envied. Moretti knew better—Luke didn’t mess with families. That had been his one rule, and Moretti had had to accept it. Until today.

He tossed the wallet into Arty’s lap. “Go down to Guido’s Bakery. He’s looking for a new assistant. Tell him I sent you.” Guido would be surprised to learn he needed an assistant, but he owed Luke, big-time. “And for chrissake, start paying your debt.”

Arty scrambled to his feet, shoving his wallet with the photo of the plain family into his back pocket. “Thank you, thank you, thank—”

“Get out of here,” Luke growled, uncomfortable with the fervent gratitude. He wasn’t doing this for Arty—he was doing it for those kids. Every kid deserved to grow up with family. He’d have to think up an angle to sell this new twist to Moretti—but a crippled man wouldn’t be able to pay off his debts any faster, so he’d start with that. He watched sourly as Arty limped from the alley, clutching the back of his thigh. If all that man got out of this was a bruise on his thigh, he was pretty damn lucky.

He turned away, then halted. What the—?

Three men stood at the other end of the alley, their expressions dark and malevolent.

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