Authors: Aimee Carson
His cool expression morphed to one of interest, and the gray eyes crinkled at the edges in humor. “I promise, I'm not accepting bribes. And trust me,” he said, his voice achieving the perfect droll note, “no one enters a life of public law for the salary. I'm fortunate enough that the paycheck isn't a concern.” He held her gaze a moment before turning his attention to the view, his face briefly growing hard. “I inherited my money.”
Inherited. Which meant someoneâ
âhad to die for him to acquire all this wealth. And judging by the look on his face it was a subject she should stay far, far away from. Because something in his expression told her if she pursued that line of questioning, he'd cut her off at the knees.
A perplexing and exasperating tenderness welled inside her. The man who had the world at his feet had a vulnerable spot, too. And, minus the inheritance part, one she could relate to, no less.
Toes tapping nervously, she struggled to lighten the mood again before she asked for a ride, ignoring her clamoring nerves. “Well, I guess I have to change my first impression of you as the James Bond type.” He quirked his eyebrow skeptically, and she went on. “Must have been the tux.”
His forehead bunched in amusement. “Must have been.”
“But the ultrarich guy fighting for justice is more Batman than James Bond,” she said, struggling to mirror his coolly amused demeanor.
A quick flash of a sexy half grin graced his face, and Jax's breath caught, her world tipping sideways.
“Except Batman was a vigilante operating outside of the law.” Clearly playing along, he crossed his arms, his dress shirt stretching across broad shoulders. “And for the record, I prefer the tux to tights.”
The planted image did nothing to right her still-spinning world as she pictured his muscular legs encased in formfitting fabric. And the thought of a man in tights should
be turning her on.
“Interesting visual,” she murmured, her tone holding an embarrassingly husky quality.
Their eyes locked.
And Jax struggled to shore up her body's defenses against the attraction she'd just let slip. She could tell by the wary look in Blake's eyes.
Big mistake, Jax. Big mistake.
Right now climbing into a car and riding across town with the man hardly seemed like a good idea. But without her vehicle, she was stuck in his house with no means of escape, even for a brief reprieve.
She swallowed hard and bit the proverbial bullet. “I was hoping you could give me a ride to the impound parking lot.”
He pressed his lips together, either biting back a smile or suppressing a groan of irritation. Jax wasn't sure which would be worse.
“I'm free this afternoon,” he said, and she sighed, relieved that the car ride would be delayed. “I have some work to finish this morning. But first we need to discuss the terms of our employment agreement,” he added.
Her heart slipped to her belly.
Damn. And escape had been so near at hand.
When he headed toward the door, she sighed and followed him into the hallway, praying his office was as big as the living room. Because, as she'd learned in the limo, being confined in a small space with the lethally sexy Blake Bennington was an assault on her senses she was ill-equipped to deal with. All she wanted was to survive the contract negotiations without adding to her growing list of embarrassing moments.
But given her interactions with the exasperating hottie to date, she wasn't holding out much hope.
* * *
Blake leaned back in his leather chair, elbows on the armrests, fingers steepled just beneath his chin. Fortunately, his monstrous desk separated him from Jax as she paced back and forth, reading through the contracts.
Sporting threadbare jeans and a Madonna T-shirtâdid the woman own anything that didn't have a face plastered on it?âshe looked fresh and surprisingly at ease in his office of hunter-green and dark leather furniture. Her unruly hair had been whipped into submission, a long braid extending down her back, streaks of gold intertwined with the honey tones. At first glance he'd thought the restrained hairstyle would help control his growing appreciation for her looks.
But he'd been wrong. Because the graceful neck along with her loose-limbed, lissome body conjured images of her dance routine gone awry. And the reminder of her hips swinging to the Latino hip-hop song was hardly conducive to controlling his appreciation. Not to mention the husky voice radiating from the capricious female earlier in the living room. The voice that had broadcast that she wanted him, too...
A slow burn took up residence in his gut, heating him from the inside out. Ignoring his own desire was a lot harder now that he was certain it was returned.
Jax finished reading and halted beside his desk, her clear skin kissed by the sun and radiating health. Hazel eyes assessed him doubtfully as she set the contracts in front of him.
“Is this really necessary?” she said.
“It's a fairly standard employment contract.”
She leaned her hands on his desk, which had the unfortunate effect of placing her breasts closer to eye level. “Seems like an awful lot of words just to say I'm hired, explain a few rules and list my hourly rate,” she said doubtfully.
Studiously ignoring the view, Blake reached for the document. “No one should enter into employment without laying out the terms of their agreement.”
Maintaining his businesslike demeanor was difficult enough after spending ten minutes admiring her features. And he wasn't above admitting a few fantasies had been entertained by the sight.
He cleared his throat, hoping to put an end to the torture by getting her to sign...and leave him in peace. “This protects your interests as well by covering the terms of the dissolution of your employment should the relationship not work out.”
Blake mentally flinched at the term
. But Jax didn't seem to notice. She was too busy looking at him as if he'd just crawled out of an alien spacecraft.
She straightened up and crossed her arms, which obscured Madonna's face and pushed Jax's breasts higher. He shifted slightly in his seat, willing his groin
“Do you ever get tired of being this careful?” she said with amazement. “I meanâwow.” Sweeping a stray lock of hair from her cheek, she eyed him closely. “I've never met anyone so cautious. Your muscles must be tired from all the overtime they put in beingâ” she clenched both her fists to emphasize her point “âtensed and poised for every possible catastrophe.” Hands relaxing, she dropped them to her sides, her hazel eyes boldly honest, her tone dry. “'Cuz this is only my second day of knowing you, and you're already exhausting me.”
Trying to hide the grin, Blake wiped his hand across his chin and lower lip. She looked younger than her years, fresh and beautifulâwith a youthful exuberance that was captivating. Exhaustion hardly seemed to be her problem. His libido, on the other hand...?
That was getting a vigorous workout.
Wishing she'd at least sit down so there was less of her to see and admire, he reached for the papers. “I'm not âtensed for every catastrophe,' as you put it. I'm just being practical. Preparing an exit strategy ahead of time makes life easier for everyone,” he said smoothly.
“Don't you ever just loosen up and let life happen?”
“No.” He slid the document forward, hoping she'd take the hint and finish the task at hand. “Because I might not like what life hands me.”
A barking scoff escaped from her mouth. “Since when did planning in advance guarantee to prevent tragedy?”
The innocently spoken statement knocked him hard, bringing the memories along, and he froze. The biggest tragedy in his lifeâhis father's deathâhad been precipitated by Blake's carelessness...at a time when he'd been so sure he hadn't a care in the world.
He'd been a thoughtless college frat kid that never gave a damn about the consequences of his actions.
His chest cinched tight and he locked the memories away, trying to subdue a frown. “I didn't say planning guaranteed a tragedy-free life.” He lifted a brow meaningfully at the disturbingly beautiful woman standing before him. “But flying by the seat of your pants doesn't help, either.”
They stared at each other a moment more, and he inched the document closer to her, using his best let's-finish-this-up tone. “Do you want to have a lawyer review this for you?”
She shot him a look that suggested he was insane, and he realized he'd be hard-pressed to offer up a defense. “As of right now,” she said, “you're the only lawyer I know.”
Tipping his head, he steadily held her gaze. “Unfortunately, my advice would be useless.” He gestured toward the agreements. “Conflict of interest and all.”
Jax parked a hip on the top of his desk. A flash of tanned, toned thigh peeked through the frayed hole in her jeans, briefly tripping up his train of thought and setting off a wail of warning in his head.
“I have an overwhelming urge to ask you to do just that,” she said as she looked down at him. “Something tells me if the contract wasn't in my best interests...” her pursed lips twisted into a grin “...you'd rat yourself out.” Her grin grew bigger, hazel eyes sparkling with amusement. “I'd love to see that.”
Blake's internal siren grew louder. Her position, as well as the knowledge the attraction was mutual, made her all the more alluring.
“I can assure you, the contract is designed to protect us both,” he said as he leaned back in his seat, seeking distance.
She loosely shrugged her shoulders. “I believe you.”
“You should show a little more caution in the future.” His eyebrows crept higher. “Next time you might be dealing with someone who isn't so trustworthy.”
“You exude trustworthiness. And at the risk of sounding like a lawyer basher, I doubt you learned that skill in law school. Are you a former Eagle Scout?”
“Come on, fess up.” Perched on the desk above him, she leaned closer, as if to share a secret, and shot him a teasing smile. Her sweetly spiced scent filled his nose, eliciting sensual visions, and his heart began to work harder at her proximity, even as he fought to maintain a calm expression. “In your youth you helped little old ladies cross the street, right?” she said.
Hardly. He'd spent his younger years with a rebellious streak a mile wide. And he'd fought long and hard to subdue the genetic tendencies his sister and mother wielded without a care. But his carefree days were long gone.
Blake calmly asked, “Are you going to sign the agreement or not?”
Delicately arched eyebrows pinched together in amusement. “I'm just here to help Nikki with her daily activities and drive her around. What could possibly go wrong?”
Lips twisting wryly at her words, his mind filled with the possibilities. But it was only one that consumed his mind. He could slip up, get lost in the sexual fog that enveloped him every time she was near.
His voice grew rough at the thought. “A great many things could go wrong.”
The worst of which would involve touching this woman.
As she held his gaze, the amused glint in her eyes slowly faded, replaced by something else, and tension billowed thick around them. He had the distinct impression she was finally considering just how...wrong, for lack of a better word, this living arrangement could become.
Or perhaps his traitorous libido had finally made itself known to the woman.
Frowning, she nibbled at a corner of her mouth, and Blake's eyes were drawn to the process before moving on to her partially parted lips. Pink, soft and infinitely kissable lips. Which ultimately proved his downfall.
Because when her amused smile returned, he knew she'd caught him staring.
Her tone of voice and her words gave her away. “Would you feel more at ease if we inserted a no-kissing clause?”
Instantly, desire flared. Incinerating his thoughts. And every cell in his body demanded he pull her head down and take that too-sassy mouth with his. The seconds passed agonizingly slow, blood surging as the internal battle raged.
Lust versus reason.
Need versus duty.
Selfish college frat kid versus responsible adult.
Sweat prickled along his hairline as Blake mentally built a case against the insane craving to pull her onto his lap and give in to the fierce urge. Most notably, he needed a woman who fit with his life. One who was predictable. Rational. Jax was clearly neither of these. So why was he still contemplating kissing her?
Annoyed at himself, he removed a pen from the brass container on his desk, holding it out to Jax. “That won't be necessary. Let's just make sure everything goes smoothly.”
After a moment's consideration, she took the pen and dropped her attention to the contract, scrawling her signature along the bottom with a carelessness that matched the woman herself. For a moment, he was distracted by the glimpse of the lacy pink bra beneath her shirt. The gentle cleavage. A view that was cut off when she pushed off his desk and stood, tossing the pen next to the contract.
“If that's all,” she said, “I'm rejoining Nikki at the pool.”
Relieved, he gave a curt nod. “I'll find you when I'm ready to drive you to your car.”
His gazed lingered on the agile swing of her long legs and the gentle sway of her hips as she exited, and he tightened his grip on his pen...doubting the sanity of hiring Jax. Which was confirmed when he caught a glimpse of their employment contract, where, right after he'd listed the job description and duties, Jax had added a single line:
No kissing allowed.
With a groan, he leaned back in his chair, trying to decide if he should feel relieved he'd just solved his Nikki problem. Or alarmed he'd created an even bigger one with Jax.