Authors: Shelly Bell
UTTING AWAY THE
others as if they didn’t exist, he cropped the photograph to fill his computer screen with her flawless face and stormy blue eyes glimmering with secrets and lies.
A true masochist lurked beneath Kate Martin’s carefully crafted persona.
In every subtle sway of her narrow hips, the girl exuded passion and sex and pain.
. But the fragile and broken Alyssa had been a lone star while Kate was a galaxy.
He’d viewed hundreds of naked women. Fucked dozens. Not one of them made his dick throb with unbridled lust like a modestly dressed Kate did.
Her unblemished skin begged for the kiss of his whip. He’d train her to love the pain only he could bring. To crave it. Need it more than her next breath. To surrender and embrace it like an old friend.
She’d tried to outrun her past. But didn’t she understand? She’d endured a tragedy and had come away stronger for it. Her hunger rivaled his.
He hadn’t gotten this far by rushing. He’d meticulously planned and executed every step.
The men at her side would try to protect her, but how could they shield her from what she wanted? What she needed?
Eventually, she’d seek shelter in his arms, and, when he caught her, he’d never let her go.
He only hoped he wouldn’t have to kill her.
Eleven Days to Elections
. . .
HY WOULD ANYONE
do construction in the middle of the night?
Kate rolled over in bed to grab a pillow to cover her ears and landed stomach-down on the floor.
Her mouth tasted like battery acid. She blinked away the grittiness in her eyes and saw her front door.
She’d fallen asleep on the couch.
As she pushed up into a squat, the pounding started again. Someone was at her door.
What time was it?
Confused, the last thing she remembered was taking a shower and changing into her University of Michigan sweatpants and tank top.
“Coming,” she called out, her voice cracking. Noting that the power was still out, she picked up the candle with one hand and smoothed her hair with the other. “Who is it?”
She opened the door and came face to face with her flashlight-wielding boss. “I brought donuts and hot cocoa,” he said, holding up a paper bag with one hand and balancing a tray with two cups in the other.
“What time is it?”
He didn’t wait for her to invite him inside. “Three a.m. Sit down. You look horrible.”
“Thanks a lot,” she mumbled. As he locked the door, she set down the candle on the side table and collapsed onto the couch, cradling her head in her hands and closing her eyes.
“Here.” The tempting scent of chocolate enticed her to lift her head. Nick stood behind her, holding the drink up to her face. “Something tells me you need this.”
She automatically took the cup from him and sipped its contents, humming her assent. Her head continued to pound, but the fog in her brain lifted like a veil.
Jax. Sex. The phone call.
She plunked down the hot cocoa next to the candle. “What are you doing here?”
He handed her a glazed donut and frowned. “You called me.”
She did? What had she said? She racked her memory. “I told you not to come over.”
“I ignored you and came anyway. It’s what friends do.” He sauntered to the front door and fingered the chain lock. Crouching, he twisted the doorknob back and forth. “You need a better lock on your door. Anyone could break through the two you have.”
She couldn’t help rolling her eyes. “I’ll be sure to let the building’s superintendent know. He’ll swing by after he’s installed the swimming pool and hot tub.”
He sat beside her on the couch and stared her down, the candlelight enhancing the flecks of silver in his blue eyes. “You use sarcasm to cover your self-consciousness. It’s your tell. Better work on it now or every lawyer you come up against will use it against you.”
His stern reprimand stung. “Sorry.”
A lawsuit was like a poker game. You couldn’t give anything away or the opposing counsel would call your bluff. She’d thought she possessed the perfect poker face.
How did Nick read her so well?
He smiled and cupped her bare shoulder, his touch warm on her cool skin. “Don’t be sorry. Everyone starts out their career with a weakness or two. It’s my job to point it out so you can fix it. And you don’t need a superintendent to add a lock to your door. I’ll do it.”
“You don’t have to.” The guilt of sleeping with Jaxon ate at her, swirling through her stomach and rising to her throat.
“Humor me.” He brushed a hair off her cheek and tucked it behind her ear. “Did you get any more calls?”
“No.” She fidgeted and bit into her donut, trying to convince herself she was no longer attracted to her boss even when a single touch by the man did wicked things to her insides.
“Good.” He leaned back and folded his arms. “Did you recall anything else? Something that might tip us off as to the caller’s identity?”
Her stomach cramped. “No. I told you everything. They said Jaxon had killed before and I should drop the case.”
She hadn’t disclosed to Nick that the caller had known her real name, nor had she mentioned the caller questioning whether she’d had sex with Jaxon. Both topics she wouldn’t—couldn’t—discuss with Nick.
“There’s only one way to ensure it doesn’t happen again. I’m taking you off the Deveroux case.”
In only a couple days, this case had become important to her. It wasn’t solely a way to prove her worth to Nick and the firm. Regardless of how she felt about Jaxon personally, she believed in his innocence, and she wanted the system to work the way it was intended.
She’d spent the last two years, including summers, studying her ass off to become part of the legal system. If she didn’t have that to believe in, what would it mean for her future?
“You’re not taking me off the case. It was only a phone call. Besides, it was probably a reporter trying to get me to spill some details,” she said nonchalantly, waving her hand. “You put me on as second chair because you believed in me. Has that changed?”
He placed a hand on her knee. “Of course not.”
“If I were a man, would you reassign me?”
“No. If you were a man or any other woman, I wouldn’t worry. But it’s not anyone else.” He gazed at her mouth with more than professional interest. “It’s you.”
Her heart thudded as she recalled the feel of his lips on hers. Shame stabbed at her chest. She didn’t deserve Nick’s kindness or his caring. He’d told her how he felt and what had she done?
Slept with his best friend.
She forced herself to look away and concentrated on stuffing her mouth with the donut.
“I won’t let anyone hurt you. You know that, right?” he asked softly.
She yawned, sleepy from both the late hour and the hot liquid. “I know. I trust you. That’s why I called you when I got the phone call.”
Complicating the longtime torch she’d carried for him, Nick had morphed from her boss and the man she idolized into a real friend.
He gathered her in his arms and shifted on the couch so her back rested against his chest. “Get some sleep. I’ll watch over you.”
She sighed when his fingers stroked her hair. “You don’t have to stay.” Despite her protests, her eyes closed and she snuggled into him.
“Yes, I do,” he whispered.
She thought she felt him kiss the top of her head. Bathed in the warmth of Nick’s arms, she sank into sleep.
The next thing she knew, sunshine was streaming through the blinds and her cheek was resting on Nick’s T-shirt-covered chest. One of his hands cradled her hip and the other played with strands of her hair.
It had to be at least eight. She couldn’t remember a time she’d slept so soundly.
She peered up at him. “Hi.”
“Good morning,” he said softly.
They locked gazes and the air rushed out of her lungs.
His brown hair was mussed and a small patch of stubble covered his chin. It was a side of Nick she’d never gotten to see. Boyish and informal.
Nick swallowed thickly and licked his lips, his hand moving from her hip to cup her chin.
His mouth drifted closer and closer.
He was going to kiss her.
And God help her, she was going to let him.
Her pulse thumped wildly in anticipation and her eyes fluttered shut. His warm breath fanned her lips.
A loud buzzing from Nick’s phone crushed the moment.
She opened her eyes. His lips were only a couple millimeters from hers. He swore under his breath as they both sat up, and he pulled the cell from his pocket.
Disappointment slowed her heart to its normal rhythm. To keep him from noticing her reaction, she picked up the bag of remaining donuts and the two cups of cold cocoa and brought them to the kitchen.
What was she doing? She’d almost kissed her boss. Again. Only hours after making love with Jaxon. Her head hurt from all the romantic complications of the last few days. She’d gone from having a crush on Nick to kissing him, having sex with Jaxon, and then platonically sleeping with Nick. If the phone hadn’t interrupted them, they would’ve kissed and lord knows what else.
going to hell.
When she returned from the kitchen, Nick was pacing the length of her small apartment and talking on the phone. “When did we receive the fax?” He paused, listening. “That was underhanded of them. Scan it in and e-mail it to me then cancel all my appointments for the day. Thanks, Lisa.”
He stopped his pacing and passed her, going into the kitchen. “Do you have any coffee? We’re going to need it.”
She followed. “What did Lisa say?”
Nick leaned against her counter. “The county completed the autopsy and has authorized the release of Alyssa’s body. As her husband, Jaxon should have control, but her parents are contesting it, as well as Alyssa’s will, which stated she wished to be cremated after her death. They’re also petitioning the court for an injunction barring Jaxon from Alyssa’s funeral. The motion was faxed to us last night and hand-delivered this morning.”
She switched on the coffeemaker and filled it with fresh water. “When did the medical examiner officially authorize the release?”
“This morning, which means someone gave her parents a heads-up.”
She added a scoop of coffee grounds to the coffeemaker. “Who? How?”
Nick shrugged. “Money talks, and the Merriweathers are well-connected.”
“But Jaxon is wealthy too.” She didn’t have the exact number of his net worth, but she knew he was a millionaire.
“The Merriweather family is old money. I’m sure they’ll tell you their ancestors came over on the
. Compared to them, Jaxon is destitute.”
If Jaxon was destitute, what did that make her? “When is the motion hearing?”
“Since they filed it as an emergency, the hearing is today at one. Emergency motions don’t require the usual seven-day notice or have any filing requirements. Do you have access in your apartment to a legal database? I need you to do research on case law for the motion.”
She nodded and poured the coffee into two mugs and handed one to Nick. The whole scene felt oddly domestic. Comfortable. “I have a subscription through the law school.”
“Great. I’ll forward you the motion and you can draft the response. Have it to me by eleven and I’ll get one of my paralegals to file it. I’ll pick you up at noon to bring you to the courthouse. And Kate?” He took a swig of the coffee and grimaced.
So sue her. She didn’t make coffee any better than the firm did.