Deal with the Devil ~ Devilish Devlins Book 1
 
When Irish eyes are smilin’…beware! Because trouble—and love—isn’t far behind!

Paradise for software designer Cynthia Wagner means uninterrupted solitude to invent a brilliant video game, and save her job. But renovations on her city apartment force her to seek refuge in a temporary rental in the ‘burbs.

The promised Paradise morphs into Purgatory when she meets her new neighbor, a deliciously tempting Irish rogue sporting a wicked grin and to-die-for body. Worse, the handsome bachelor has noisy, drooly, havoc-creating baggage on his hands for the summer… rambunctious five-year-old twin nephews, a baby niece, and the kids’ yappy dog. Rory Devlin is a dangerous distraction—and he’s hiding a naughty secret.

Jackhammers and contractors would have provided more peace and quiet.

Stuck in the Suburbs of the Damned with Mr. Uncle-Turned-Mom and his wild menagerie, Cynthia struggles to meet her deadline. But she struggles more with her undeniable attraction to her devlish-ous neighbor. 

Could it be that what Cynthia has mistaken for hell is actually the heaven she’s been searching for?

 

 

EXCERPT

 

“Hold it right there, Frat Boy!”

 

The pissed-off feminine contralto froze Rory Devlin, bent over with his Levi-clad arse in the air. One bare foot planted on the lawn, one precariously balanced on the curb, he gripped the rolled newspaper as he cautiously turned his head.

 

A slender brunette dressed in white capris and a tank top the color of lemon meringue pie stalked through dappled June sunshine from the house next door. Radiating the fury of an avenging faerie, dainty raven brows slanted in a glower and golden sparks fired in wide brown eyes.

 

Definitely not his type. So the lightning strike that seared his spine surprised the bloody hell out of him.

 

He straightened. Shite, when he’d yanked on his jeans this morning, why hadn’t he also put on a shirt?

 

Ms. Sexy-As-Hell-When-Mad jerked to a stop and glared up at him, apparently unfazed that he towered over her willowy 5’ 5” frame by nearly a foot. Her fingers tugged at the tangled crown of her wispy, chin-length hair.

“Explain this.”

 

Shiny black strands twined around a neon green Giant Chewy Pop like an amorous octopus, the white lollipop stick poking out at an odd angle.

 

Rory suppressed a grin. “Mornin’, lass. I’m Rory Devlin, and you must be my new neighbor, aye? Jared said you’d be borrowing his house while he was away.”

 

Her fists convulsed. “Look, Dory—”

 

“Rory,” he enunciated. “Sometimes the Dubliner accent throws people off.”

 

She shot him such a blazing glare he needed asbestos boxer shorts…and the heat arrowed straight through the center of his body. To his dick. Which sprang to alert.

 

What. The. Feck?

 

He liked curvaceous blondes. Curvy, easy-going blondes.

 

“Fine ... Rory,” she gritted. “I was sitting in the backyard with my laptop, when this … ” She gestured at the lime lollipop. “Sailed out of your tree and into my hair. And it won’t come loose! Jared told me a friendly, quiet, dependable bachelor lived next door. I don’t know what kind of candy-tossing freak-fest you’re having over here, but I’m trying

to work!”

 

Rory coughed to disguise his snicker. “Aye, and I’m sorry about that. Not to worry, I can get it out for you.”

 

The brunette regarded him with all the enthusiasm of a cockroach she’d found swimming in her soup. “Let me guess, you’re a hair stylist, and this is how you drum up business.”

 

She had a sassy mouth—and a sexy one at that. And he could think of far more interesting things for her to do with it. He scooped up the newspaper, using it to cover the telltale bulge beneath his fly. “Come inside, then, and I’ll take care of you.” He turned and strode up the driveway to his two-story red and white Cape Cod.

 

Reaching the porch, he looked back to see her standing motionless with her hands on her hips. Staring.

 

Roses blossomed on her finely-etched cheekbones and she ducked her head.

 

His lips twitched. Ha. Caught ya ogling my arse. Having a new neighbor for the next few weeks could be highly entertaining. “Lass? Want the sucker out of your hair, or not?”

 

She huffed out a sigh as she stomped up the driveway. “I want you out of my hair,” she muttered beneath her breath.

 

Inside his sunny sage-green kitchen, Rory offered her a chair and then headed for the refrigerator. “I didn’t catch

your name.”

 

“Cynthia.”

 

“Hello, Cyn. From Oregon, are you, or did you travel from out of state for the summer?”

 

“Cynthia. And I’m a native Portlander.”

 

A plaintive wail erupted from the bedroom, and he swiveled into an about-face. “Hang tight, be right back.”

 

When he reentered with the baby propped on one hip, she stared at him like he’d suddenly grown two heads.

 

“You have a baby?” she asked in the same tone reserved for mass murderers. “Jared assured me this was a peaceful block—with no children.”

 

Rory stroked the baby’s downy strawberry blonde curls. “Kelsey isn’t my—”

 

A loud clatter preceded a grubby, pint-sized, carrot-topped tornado that flew into the kitchen.

 

Cyn’s face stiffened in startled horror at the little boy who skidded to a stop in front of her. “Don’t deny this one

belongs to you—those distinctive blue-green irises are mirror images of yours.”

 

“She looks mean,” the child blurted. “I don’t like her.”

 

“Dylan! That’s rude, lad. Make your apology to the lady, if you please.”

 

The small freckled face scrunched. “I’m sorry you’re a mean lady,” he muttered before tearing out of the room.

 

“I apologize for my nephew, Cyn. We’re still adjusting. My brother heads up the local Red Cross response team, his wife is a nurse, and they’ve gone to Florida with the Hurricane Natalie disaster relief effort. Leaving me to pinch-hit for a few weeks.”

 

She frowned. “My name is Cynthia. And I need peace and quiet. I have a vital project due in less than three weeks, and I can’t have yelling children running around wreaking havoc.”

 

“They’re terrific kids, I assure you. You’ll hardly know they’re here.”

 

Her brows arched, and she yanked on the Chewy Pop cemented to her head. “Yes, I’ve barely noticed.”

 

“Ah, let’s remove that wee nuisance for you, shall we?” Rory settled Kelsey into her highchair, but her face crumpled and she started to whimper. He poured Cheerios onto the plastic tray. A grin creased Kelsey’s face as she chased the morsels with chubby fingers, poking cereal into her mouth.

 

He opened the pantry to rummage inside. His reluctant guest uttered a strangled exclamation, and he looked up just

in time to see Kelsey fling a second handful of chewed wet Cheerios onto Cyn’s shirt. “Kelsey!” Rory rushed to the highchair. “No, darlin’, don’t be tossing your cereal.”

 

Kelsey regarded Cyn with innocent baby blues and then puckered up and blew a cereal-spewed raspberry.

 

“Ugh!” Cyn swiped her hand down her tank top, scattering soggy clumps over her capris.

 

A yip rang out from the other room, and the resident short-legged, chubby, black-and-tan mutt galloped into the kitchen, hurtled onto her lap and started gobbling up cereal scraps.

 

“Bridget!” Rory scolded. “Bad dog!”

 

Bridget rolled her eyes at him, jumped onto the table, scrabbled across the slick wooden surface to make a flying leap off Kelsey’s highchair tray, and then flew out the door, yapping wildly.

 

Kelsey giggled and banged goopy hands on the plastic tray. “Goggie!”

 

Moaning, Cyn dropped her head in her hands. “A dog, too.”

 

“Aye, she belongs to the kids.” Rory strode toward her while unscrewing the lid off a jar of peanut butter. “Situation’s not as dire as it seems, luv. The lot of them will settle down in a day or two, after they grow used to being here.”

 

Cyn glanced up when he reached for her hair with a fistful of peanut butter. “What are you—?” She leapt out of the chair and backed toward the doorway. “Okay, it’s official, the inmates are running the asylum. Going home now. Bye.”

 

“Here now, it’s all right. Chewy Pops have gum in the center, which is what’s stuck in your hair. Peanut butter gets gum out of almost anything. I’m a teacher and have an arse-ton of experience with sticky messes. Trust me, Cyn.”

 

Wide fawn’s eyes narrowed warily. “Cynthia.”

 

“I could cut the gunk out, if you prefer. Since I’m not a stylist, your hair might end up a wee bit choppy, though.”

 

She flung her arms up to cover her head. “No cutting!”

 

“Then sit down and I’ll have that sucker out before you know it. The procedure is painless, I swear.”

 

Frowning, she edged back onto the chair.

 

“Sorry.” Rory smeared a handful into the crown of her head around the lollipop. Beneath the peanut butter, she smelled like jasmine and warm, soft woman…re-inspiring his hard-on to full salute. “Unfortunately, all I have is chunky style. Just as effective, but leaves more of a mess, I’m afraid.”

 

“Imagine my surprise.” She sighed.

 

Rory massaged the glop through her silken locks. “So, what kind of work is it you do?”

 

“I design software.”

 

“Sounds quite interesting. Most students in my school, even the youngest, are scarily technologically literate.”

 

She humphed.

 

“How do you know Jared, then?” He slid out a lump of green, peanut butter-covered gum and plopped it in

the garbage.

 

“We met in college.”

 

“He told me a friend would be borrowing his house while he’s on the dig in Egypt. I teach at-risk junior highers, and they’re fairly jaded. But the kids in my class go nutters over his classroom visits—his artifacts fascinate them.”

 

Another big chunk of gum slipped loose.

 

Cyn winced, but remained silent.

 

Rory breathed her in, the floral feminine scent awakening disconcerting, poignant longing. Up close, she was thinner than he’d realized, the small bones in the back of her neck as fragile as a baby bird’s. Purple shadows smudged the tender skin beneath those intriguing brown eyes, and tension radiated from every pore. Bugger all.

 

She wasn’t eating or sleeping well.

 

The inexplicable urge to sweep her up and kiss away her anxiety whammied him. He wanted to feed her a hearty meal, make love to her until she was relaxed and satisfied and the tension evaporated from her slight body…and then hold her while she slept soundly in his arms.

 

But that would be bleeding insane, wouldn’t it?

 

 

* * *

 

 

Cynthia climbed out of the shower and grabbed a fluffy white towel. Four scrubbings of her white tea and jasmine shampoo to eliminate greasy peanut butter and gritty candy particles.

 

Too bad she couldn’t wash the Devlins out of her hair. She groaned. Stuck in the Suburbs of the Damned with Mr. Mom and his wild menagerie—just what she didn’t need at the most critical moment of her life. This project was her last chance. Her future rested on her ability to complete the job.

 

And if she failed, her mother would leap at the opportunity to push her personal agenda.

 

With the worst possible timing on the planet, Cynthia’s landlord was remodeling the ground floor apartment and staircase leading to her converted old downtown Portland loft. Otherwise, she’d be safely and quietly ensconced in her own silent apartment, her project done by now.

 

Heaving a weary sigh, she began to dress. Not true, Wagner. You’re in trouble and you know it.

 

She’d drawn a blank with the game prototype she’d been assigned to conceptualize. Usually her mind overflowed with ideas, but so far, all her go-to methods for sparking creativity had failed.

 

The massive corporate machine Executec, known for swallowing smaller companies whole and spitting out the pieces, had recently purchased the company she worked for. Giving them a monopoly in the Pacific Northwest. They had their own software designers and were keeping only one development position, with four people competing for the spot. Three of them male. In an industry dominated by men, if she didn’t think up something exceptional, she was out of a job. And the nearest decent employment opportunity in her field was in Denver—1,300 miles away.

 

Living next door to a loony bin wouldn’t get her creative juices flowing.

 

Cynthia combed her wet locks, the memory of Rory’s warm, capable hands feathering through her hair flooding her mind. A shiver whispered over her. For such a big man, he had a surprisingly gentle touch.

 

That magic touch came packaged in a 6’ 4” sculpted bod…and it was one yummy special delivery. She’d almost drooled on her shirt at the sight of Rory Devlin bent over at the curb wearing nothing but snug jeans faded in all the right places. And when he’d straightened to his full height… Hoo, baby.

 

Even furious, she’d noticed her broad-shouldered, washboard-stomached, muscled-butt neighbor was jacked, chiseled, and 69 kinds of sexy.

 

Parts of her were still damp…and not from the shower. Her belly clenched. Hell, she’d have to be dead not to appreciate Devlin’s thick, collar-length sable hair with honeyed sun streaks, his succulent mouth that curved so easily into a lady-killer grin, and those compelling, intelligent, Celtic Sea eyes. Up close and personal, he smelled like paradise—hot, clean man and fresh ocean breezes. And his husky Irish baritone could talk the knickers off a nun.

 

She’d strip for him, in a heartbeat. The sharp throb between her thighs admonished her it had been a very, very long time since she’d taken off her knickers for anyone.

 

But at the memory of those eyes, her heart sank. The redheaded imp with the look-alike eyes wasn’t his, but he loved kids. After the disaster with Arthur last year, she’d realized children were out of the question for her. Pain squeezed her chest. The only thing she had was her career.

 

And that meant staying far away from men like Rory Devlin. Getting involved with anyone right now would be supremely stupid, anyway. She had enough stress at the moment.

 

Cynthia banished Rory and his sea god eyes firmly from her mind and headed for her laptop.

 

 

* * *

 

 

The next morning, Cynthia sat at the kitchen table with her fourth coffee, watching the blinking cursor on the computer screen. She’d been wrapping up another project when Executec swooped in with their coup, and her new boss had requested she finish it. Only then was she informed he was cutting all but one position, giving the other three programmers a two-and-a-half week head start. Cynthia had taken unpaid personal leave to develop this prototype.

If she ended up unemployed, only her anemic savings awaited.

 

You have nineteen days to get brilliant.

 

A rose-scented breeze stirred the curtains, and birds’ musical twitters floated through the open windows and front and back door screens. The brilliant cerulean sky promised a picture-perfect summer day.

 

Contrary to her worst expectations, she hadn’t heard a peep from her neighbors since the Chewy Pop Missile Crisis twenty-four hours ago. Maybe the disruption wouldn’t be as bad as she’d feared.

 

Her optimism shattered amid frantic pounding, suspicious thumps, and a metallic clang from the backyard next door. What now?

 

Cynthia hurried out to the poolside patio to peer in the direction of the racket. Next door, the huge oak tree shook with the force of a herd of stampeding elephants. Branches swayed and leaves rustled. A long rope swung in the breeze. Boards and poles stuck out at odd angles and leaned drunkenly over the waist-high cedar fence that separated the two lawns.

 

She squinted against the sunlight, shading her eyes with her hand. “What are you doing?” she shouted. The pounding and rustling stopped.

 

A moment later, a curly red head poked out of the leaves and a pair of suspicious blue-green eyes studied her.

“Makin’ a tree fort.”

 

Cynthia walked closer to the construction zone. “That doesn’t look very safe.”

 

“Uncle Rory said it was okay.”

 

“Well do you have to build the fort right now? Don’t you have anything quieter to do?” She forced her suggestion to sound friendly. “Maybe you could go to a friend’s house and play.”

 

The eyes narrowed and the short, freckled nose crinkled. “Don’t wanna.” The head disappeared. The pounding resumed.

 

Just freakin’ perfect. Cynthia stalked into the house and slammed all the windows shut, then the front door. So much for the sweet summer breeze.

 

As she sat back down at her computer, the thumping stopped. Ah, blessed silence. Maybe the little gremlin liked her idea after all and had gone to torment someone else.

 

An ear splitting clatter, from the front yard this time, caused her to jump out of her chair and run to the living room picture window. Dylan’s short legs straddled a pile of gigantic nails he’d spilled all over the adjoined driveways. As she watched, he squatted and began to pick them up, one by one. Hmmm, that ought to keep him busy—and quiet—for at least an hour. Cynthia returned to work.

 

Not more than eight seconds passed before chaos again erupted from the backyard. Puzzled, she leaped up and looked out the back door. How had he managed to get from the driveway to the backyard and up the tree so fast?

Probably possessed. She stalked into the bedroom and grabbed her earbuds. Once more, she plopped down in front of her computer.

 

Three hours later, she still sat there—looking at a blank screen. Squeezing her eyelids shut, Cynthia propped her elbow on the table and rested her head on her palm, listening to slapping ocean waves through her headset.

Her cell phone rang and she jerked upright, snatching it off the tabletop. “Hello? What? Oh, just a sec.” She plucked the earbud out. “Sorry, hello?”

 

“Miss Wagner, this is Lisa D’Arcy, Mr. Maxwell’s Executive Administrative Assistant.”

 

Great. A personal message from her new boss, Brannigan Maxwell. His lengthy, pompous emails usually pinged

into her inbox several times a day, signed with his bold initials. Cynthia swallowed. “Yes, Ms. D’Arcy, what can I do

for you?”

 

“Mr. Maxwell has set a firm appointment time for the presentations,” Lisa’s clear voice said. “He’s sending an email

this afternoon, but wanted you personally informed, since you’re on leave. You’re expected in Mr. Maxwell’s office

with your new prototype at 8:55 a.m. on July 5th. He wants everyone’s products ready for the beta testing group at

that time. The developer who scores highest with the beta testers will win the position and the funding, and their game concept will be pre-marketed to buyers at the industry convention that week.”

 

“Fine,” Cynthia managed to croak.

 

“Don’t be even one minute late. Anyone not in the conference room by nine o’clock will be locked out, per Mr. Maxwell’s orders.”

 

“I’ll be there.” Cynthia hung up the phone, nausea cramping her stomach. It was common knowledge in their field that Brannigan thought men were superior, but he walked the technical legal line. Jaw tight, she accessed her phone calendar, typed in the meeting time and highlighted July 5th in blood red.

 

Crap on a cracker. Her deadline had just shrunk by five days.

 

Brannigan was setting her up for failure. But come hell or high water, she would make it.

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