Authors: Aimee Carson
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At midnight, Jax finally heaved out a breath and flopped onto the leather couch in the guest cottage, hot tea in hand. The luxurious accommodations consisted of a sitting area, kitchen, bedroom and a beautiful marble bathroom. The living room allowed her plenty of room to pace as she pondered the problem of bringing the public's attention to the club, but her mind refused to focus.
Because Blake surely hadn't acted like a man addicted to her company.
Jax sighed and leaned her head back. Lunch with Blake's family had included a discussion about Jax's first court appearance tomorrow afternoon. Hardly a reassuring topic. And then, once the meal was over, Blake had gone back to work and hadn't come home for dinner. How was that for a man supposedly craving her presence? So Jax had watched a bit of TV, alone, and the eleven-o'clock news included a piece on the Menendez drug-cartel case, with a brief clip of a reporter interviewing the lead prosecuting attorney...Blake Bennington.
The sight of the coolly collected man had just about sent her body into a tizzy. The oh-so smoothly articulate Blake, looking
fine in his suit and coverworthy handsome face, answered the reporter's questions with an authority that few would dare question. If he handled himself in the courtroom half as well as he'd handled the interview, her legal problems would be well taken care of.
Which meant, hopefully, her return to her old life would work out.
she could secure the money to get the music program up and running again, of course.
Her heart nose-dived at the thought.
The flash mob had been her first attempt to raise awareness, but public interest had faded fast. And so far the phone campaign hadn't brought in nearly enough. To top it all off, she wondered if her failure to come up with a better plan was somehow related to being distracted, her mind constantly occupied with thoughts of Blake. One more sex dream about the man and she might remain happily catatonic for life, living out her fantasies in her head.
And the advantages of remaining conscious were slipping fast.
Unnerved and restless, Jax looked out the window, the lights in Blake's bedroom twinkling through the swaying palms. Apparently Mr. Workaholic had finally arrived home. Sipping her tea, she wondered what he was up to now. More work? Getting ready for bed? And would he be in boxers or briefs?
Blood singing at the thought, she downed the rest of her tea and set the mug on the coffee table with a thunk.
Enough, Jax. The state of his underwear isn't your concern. The lack of funding for the club is.
Spying her guitar, she crossed the living room and picked it up. Music always made her feel better, helped her think. She would play a little, relax and come up with another idea to obtain the funds. She just needed to get her mind off the man who held her fate in his hands and her body at the mercy of her steamy thoughts.
Music and the sound of soothing waves should do the trick.
Guitar in hand, she pushed through the front door and settled into a chaise longue on the teak deck facing Biscayne Bay and the city beyond. The moon and the twinkling lights of Miami offered the only light, and Jax was glad the cottage blocked the view of Blake's house. She crossed her legs, settling the guitar across her thighs. But indecision gripped her, and she startedâand stoppedâseveral songs in rapid succession, feeling too melancholy for rock and roll. Not melancholy enough for the blues. Nothing seemed to fit her mood. Her lips twisted in contemplation, and she was just about to strum the first chord to a good butt-kicking country song when a voice cut the air.
“You're up late.”
At the sound of Blake's voice, her heart jumped and desire clamped around her body. Jax briefly closed her eyes.
You're a warrior, Jax. Be strong.
She spoke without looking at him. “Says the man who got home from work at midnight.” A brief moment of dreaded guilt racked her. “When I asked you to help me with my legal problem, I had no idea you were the lead prosecutor in the Menendez case.”
Blake finally came into view, stopping at the deck railing in front of her. The full moon outlined his form. The only concession to the time of day was the lack of a jacket and tie.
Unbelievable. Midnight...and the man was
wearing a dress shirt and pants.
“The trial has been all over the news,” she said. “No wonder you're away from home so much.”
Jeez, she hoped she didn't sound like a petulant kid.
He leaned against the railing. “It's taken a lot of work to get to this point,” he said simply. “Previous efforts to nail Menendez have been unsuccessful.”
Jax studied him for a moment. Though easy, the tone in his voice brooked no argument: Blake Bennington was going to bring down this guy. It was the same determination he'd exhibited on the news clip, only it was a thousand times stronger in person. So maybe his absence from home was less about avoiding her and more about his drive.
And suddenly, she wanted to know why he drove himself so hard. Why he spent so much of his life dedicating himself to his job. Away from his home. Away from his family. And away from
was the reason she was going to miss out on the experience of a lifetime, she wanted to know.
Curious, she tipped her head. “Is this the biggest case you've worked on?”
“It's the most important one,” he said.
“Because it's so high-profile?”
“High-profile is nice because that leads to the potential for promotion.”
She paused, digesting the information. “Surely you're not dedicating all this work time simply in the name of upward mobility.”
Something in the set of his chin, the tension in his body, told her that wasn't the only reason why he was living and breathing this case.
She pushed on. “Why else is it important?”
Several seconds passed before he responded, as if deciding just how much to share, and then Blake finally leaned his elbow against the rail. From his posture she knew the answer would be worth paying close attention to.
“Ten years ago my father was killed in a car accident,” he said evenly. The words weren't what she was expecting, and her body went still as he went on. “The driver that hit Dad's vehicle was strung out on cocaine sold to him by a dealer just like the one in Menendez's organization.”
Her throat grew tight. Nikki had mentioned their father's car accident, but not the cause. And the loss of a parent to such a senseless act seemed so unfair. Of course, when it came to losing family, Jax was well versed in the unfairness of the universe. But if there were any emotions churning inside Blake, his steady demeanor masked them well.
“So every case that brings down a piece of one of these organizations feels like a particularly sweet victory,” he said.
“I'm sorry,” she said, knowing the words were horribly inadequate.
Blake shrugged, as if the sympathy was unnecessary. “It was a long time ago,” he said. “Nikki was only twelve.”
A ribbon of moonlight rippled on the bay, and Jax stared at his boat gently rocking in the warm, nighttime breeze, small waves lapping a seductive rhythm against the hull. In the time since she'd been here, she'd only seen the man do maintenance on the boat. Not once had he taken it out on the water. His father's death explained a lot about his driving dedication to his job, as well as the siblings' complicated relationshipâBlake assuming the role of both brother and father figure. And suddenly his overdeveloped sense of responsibility made sense.
As did the frustratingly logical side that won over his own needs, the
Every. Single. Time.
Her curiosity about the man grew tenfold, including a desire to know if he ever let loose and enjoyed himself.
“So tell me, Suit.” She nodded in the direction of his dock. “Every Sunday you tend to your catamaran, but when was the last time you actually took your boat on a trip?”
When Blake went still, Jax was sure the question had hit a nerve.
Though he tensed at the question, Blake propped a hip against the rail, concentrating on the salty air and the form of the woman sitting cross-legged and barefoot on the chaise longue. She'd set the guitar aside and was now studying him closely. Tonight, all of his efforts to stay away had failed.
And, man, those efforts had been
He'd heard the music and stepped outside for a little fresh air, promising himself he'd simply enjoy her entertaining company for a moment. Blake's lips twisted at the picture of the Rolling Stones displayed on her top. And one look at the rest of Jax made pretense impossible. Tearing himself away would be tough. Her hair was loose and hanging wildly down her back, the fantasy-inducing legs bared beneath her simple knit shorts and matching short-sleeved shirt. An outfit that, on closer inspection, looked more like pajamas.
He was in serious trouble.
Blake forced himself to focus, despite the disturbing turn in the conversation. “Other than the occasional maintenance run, I haven't taken the boat on an overnight trip since my father died.”
Her wincing frown was instantaneous. “
, Blake.” She unfolded her legs, leaning forward with an earnest look, and he was struck by the realization it was the first time she'd called him by his name. “Your family is right. You need to learn to relax more.” He frowned and considered protesting, but she went on. “I saw you on TV today,” she said. “You played your part well, that of the confident attorney out to get his man.” She tipped her head skeptically. “But is that all you want out of life?”
He didn't answer, the words burning through him.
She stood, crossing to stand in front of him. “Look, I know how hard it is to lose a parent,” she said, and the understanding in her eyes made his heart cinch.
She'd suffered so many losses.
But it wasn't just the loss that was eating at him. It was the attempt to live up to his obligations and keep the promises he'd made to his father before he'd died. Struggling to walk in his father's shoes, day by day. And those shoes were feeling tighter and tighter as time went by. For once Blake wanted to chuck the responsibility and do what
wanted. Like making love to Jax.
Because he wanted her with an ache that couldn't be appeased by his own hand.
She shot him a concerned look. “But you can't let that one tragedy ruin your life twice.” Her gaze was earnest. “You have to bounce better than that.”
He bit back a smile, amused by her chastising words, and he was suddenly overcome with the need to touch her...so he shoved his hands in his pockets.
She must have read his mind because, when their gazes met and held, the moment was filled with more than just two people discussing their priorities in life. It was filled with an awareness of the promise in their aborted kiss, and his body tightened in response.
“Your hair is damp at the ends,” she said softly.
Hell, don't look at me like that, Jax.
His voice sounded too husky. “I ran on the treadmill when I got home and needed a shower.”
But he'd needed the shower for more reasons than just the one....
“And yet you couldn't throw on a pair of shorts?” she said.
He hoped his tone masked his growing tension. “These were handy.”
Because when he'd heard her guitar, he'd been in too much of a hurry, grabbing the closest items.
“Well, you're not in the courtroom, Suit,” she said, stepping forward to touch the collar of his shirt, and his heart tripped and landed with a jolt. “If you don't have time for your boat, you can at least relax and unbutton more than just the top button.”
The tangle of desire, the one that had permanently set up residence in his gut since meeting Jax, unfurled, twining tenaciously around his every cell.
The warm sea breeze carried the scent of strawberries, and her proximity made logic impossible, his chest tight. He wanted the woman who took life by storm. He wanted the woman who planted unvirgin-like kisses on a man who'd passed on every chance to kiss a woman for six months. Until Jax. He wanted Jax and...
That was all. He wanted Jax.
And he wasn't strong enough to wait.
Decision made, hands still in his pockets, Blake maintained her gaze as the hum of awareness buzzed louder in his head, drowning out any lingering doubts.
His voice was gruffer than he'd planned. “Why don't you take my shirt off for me?”
The full moon lit the desire that flared in her eyes, sending an explosion of heat ricocheting through his body. It was almost a relief to meet the expectant air head-on. Blake concentrated on the feel of Jax absently rubbing the silk collar, the way she was looking at him melting him from the inside out. Their kiss on the boat hung in the air between them like unfinished business. Everything about their relationship felt like unfinished business. The attraction in the limo. Jax perched on his desk and driving him mad with want. In his car, touching his mouth. And then, of course, there was today by the pool.
And each time had twisted Blake's need tighter. Despite his earlier efforts, he feared one touch would release the pent-up energy and send him spinning out of control.
Jax lifted a brow with a look that was almost a reprimand. “Is kissing allowed now?” she asked. She took a step closer, and her voice dropped. “Because you need to make up your mind and be consistent. Otherwise I can't keep up with all of your rules.”
Heart tripping faster than he'd thought possible, he looked down at her, fighting the need to jerk her into his arms. Elbows tight by his sides. Hands burrowed in his pockets. The Rolling Stones logo stretched across the tempting expanse of her left breast, making resistance difficult to maintain.
“Since when do you care about rules?” he said.
“I don't,” she said, fingers toying with his top button. “I'm just trying to keep up with your ridiculous list.” She stared at him, her eyes scorching. “So why don't you tell me what's on your mind.”
The look on her face was all fire and heat, while his libido strained on his self-imposed leash. Every molecule in his body had been preoccupied with thoughts of taking her since his fingers had first closed around her wrist in the limo. And take her he would, but they had a few things to discuss first.
Heart pumping hard in anticipation, he laid out all the internal arguments he'd been wrestling with since the moment they'd met. “I never sleep with women I'm involved with professionally. And before I enter any relationship, I give it careful consideration. I think long and hard about compatibility.” God knew he couldn't afford another woman in his life that needed bailing out of trouble. He needed someone sensible.
“That usually requires a three-month getting-to-know-you period. And...” He paused for effect and held her gaze, needing to lay out his case very clearly. If he was going to be selfish, he needed her to know where he was coming from. “And I don't do one-night stands.”
The disappointment in her face was almost his undoing. Apparently, she thought he was about to push her away again.
“Impressive list,” she said. “Which just about describes everything I'm not. So why are you telling me all this?”
“Because I want to be clear where I'm coming from before I spend tonight making you the single exception to all of those rules.”
Gaze locked on his, Jax blinked, her fingers frozen on his shirt. “When did you come to this decision?”
“Fifteen minutes ago.”
“That long, huh?” She lifted an amused brow. “Logical thinking doesn't come as naturally to me as it apparently does to you,” she said, and then she popped the second button of his shirt open, sending a crippling surge of pleasure through his body.
Blake gripped her hips, his fingers splayed along her backside, his tone rough. “I'll take that as consent.”
“It'd be pretty dense of you if you didn't.”
Hands clutching her gentle curves, he walked her backward and trapped her against the cottage door. With one more step, he brought them flush, his erection pressed just above the V at her thighs, and he bit back the groan of pleasure.
Need coursed through him, but he'd be damned if he'd come unglued now. Never mind that it had been months since he'd last touched a woman. And it didn't matter that this was Jax, the woman who had him so twisted in knots he feared he'd never untangle his emotions.
He was going to do this right.
“There's something I've wanted to do to you since that day in the limo,” Jax said.
Blake went still, ready to patiently enjoy any and all activities the beautiful lady had planned. “Feel free to do whatever you'd like, Ms. Lee,” Blake murmured, fingers biting into her hips.
She arched an eyebrow coyly. “Whatever?”
The thrill almost brought him to his knees. “Whatever.”
A sly grin stretched across her face as she lifted her hands to his head, threading her fingers through his hair, gently mussing the strands.
A look of satisfaction settled on her face. “It was a long time in coming, but it's been well worth the wait.”
“Messing up my hair?” he asked incredulously.
“The rumpled look goes well with your midnight shadow,” she said, rubbing her soft palms against the stubble on his chin.
When she dropped her hands down to his arms, he said, “Is that all?”
A quick flash of hurt and confusion flitted through her eyes, and Blake suddenly felt like a bastard.
But she hiked that stubborn chin. “I don't want to be responsible for making you lose all that careful control of yours,” she said with a lofty air. Sliding her hands to his chest, her secretive grin returned as she began to release more buttons on his shirt. “You might end up hurting yourself.”
“You don't frighten me.”
Jax cocked her head, her fingers working her way lower. “Should I be offended?”
Her hands reached the buttons at his abdomen, her knuckles brushing his skin, and his gut clenched in fierce anticipation.
Hoping his fingers weren't digging too deep into the soft flesh of her hips, Blake breathed in her scent, wishing she'd go faster. And needing to remind her about his cuffs. “Jaxâ”
“Don't interrupt my concentration,” she said.
Her fingers fumbled a little as she struggled to pop the bottom buttons, her hands near the erection that was clearly outlined beneath his pants. A small line formed between her eyebrows as she focused on her task.
Blake's heart twisted at the adorable look on her face. This was no artful seduction. There was no sophistication in her movements. Beneath the teasing humor, he could pick up on her tension.
Sassy, spunky Jacqueline Lee was nervous.
And knowing she felt out of her league seducing him was a surprise.
Pulling out the tail of his shirt, she clamped her teeth on her lower lip and tugged his shirt down behind his back. When the shirtsleeves got stuck on his wrists, buttons firmly in place, a short gasp of disbelief escaped her lips.
The small sound, combined with the look of total frustration on her face, was endearing, and a low chuckle escaped his lips. “I tried to warn you to unbutton the cuffs.”
Her brow furrowed in frustration as she pulled harder, as if through sheer force of will she could overcome her mistake. A typical Jax response to an obstacle.
“Clearly you need a little more practice undressing a man,” he said.
“Shut up, Suit,” she said lightly.
Hands pinned behind his hips as thoroughly as if he were in shackles, another chuckle escaped Blake. “For future reference, I hear they make special equipment for this,” Blake murmured huskily. “Matter of fact, all future ex-cons should be fairly familiar with them.”
Her movements stalled and she lifted a brow. “Are you teasing me?”
He bit back a smile. “Of course not.”
“Oh, I think you are.”
Amused, Blake nodded in the direction of his hands. “Are you going to release me?”
She looked up at him with a mischievous glint in her eyes. “This wasn't part of my plan, but then you laughed at me. Now I'm kinda enjoying it.” She placed her palms on his bared chest, and he sucked in a breath. “And I have a strong urge to make you pay for mocking me.”
Jax threaded her fingers through the sprinkling of chest hair and then rubbed her palms on his skin, lighting a fire beneath. “Nicely defined muscles,” she said. Her hands shifted lower. “Flat stomach.” She shot him a look. “You've been making good use of that gym equipment of yours.”
Jax touched her mouth to his collarbone, and the explosive shot to his groin ripped a hiss from his lips. Need now outgrowing his patience, Blake pressed his shaft against her soft abdomen and almost groaned in relief, pressing her more firmly against the wall while he breathed in the sweet smell of strawberries.
“You smell like a fresh breeze,” she said. Closing his eyes, he basked in the pleasure of her mouth on his skin, her lips moving toward the center of his chest. “But you taste like warm, salty butter,” she whispered, pressing small kisses along the top of a pectoral.
His movements restricted by the tight cuffs at his wrists, Blake pulled at the confinement. “Jax,” Blake muttered, his voice laced with a husky, barely restrained impatience.
She ignored him and ran her hands up and down his biceps. The faraway look in her eyes and the obvious pleasure on her face ratcheted his lust higher.
“You feel so good,” she said, her tone distracted as she trailed her mouth to the other side of his chest. When she reached between them for his belt, the needy feeling grew more urgent, and he began to fear his ability to control the moment was fast slipping from his hands.
His voice was a little harsher now. “Jax,” he said, instinct driving him to arch his hips urgently against hers. “I want to touch you.” Tipping his head back, he took in her flushed cheeks and the unfocused look as she released the catch on the buckle and pulled the leather strap free.