Authors: Gwen Jones
In memory of my mother, Claire Mary Sofchak Weerheim.
Au revoir, ma chérie.
HANKS TO ALL
who assisted me in shoving this book to fruition. As always, beta reader and receiver of all things angsty, fellow writer Linda J. Parisi, technical advisor and sister extraordinaire, Gretchen Weerheim and her husband, Andrew Chattaway, whose magic camera can even make me look good, fellow Papa’s Pizza denizens and cheerleaders Susan Crawford and Kate O’Brien (Susan, what would I have done without those LOL pix on my waning days of this project!), the family cheering section who brought me so many shoulders to lean on during my darkest days, Lorna Maguire, Marlene Stewart, Pattie Noakes, and my feisty Aunt Helen, champion retweeter and one-woman street team Chris Clemetson and her sidekick, library goddess and Book Café hostess Rachael Dohn, the girls of the First Wednesday of the Month Book Discussion Group, Jane, Pat, and Carol, Avon editor Nicole Fischer, whose patience should be smelted and sold as gold, my fabulously glamorous agent Marisa Corvisiero and her Team Corvisiero, and above all else, my own romance hero, my husband, Frank, who will finally get to eat a meal not warmed by the microwave, but from the loving cockles of my heart. Thank you all.
Center City District Police Headquarters
Monday, September 29
N HER FIFTEEN
years as an attorney Charlotte had never let anyone throw her off her game, and she wasn’t about to let it happen now.
So why was she shaking in her Louboutins?
“Put your briefcase and purse on the belt, keys in the tray, and step through,” the officer said, waving her into the metal detector.
She complied, cold washing through her as the gate behind her clanged shut. She glanced over her shoulder, thinking how much better she liked it when her interpretation of
“Name . . . ?” asked the other cop at the desk.
He ran down the list, checking her off, then held out his hand, waggling it. “Photo ID and attorney card.”
She grabbed her purse from the other side of the metal detector and dug into it, producing both. After the officer examined them he sat back with a smirk. “So you’re here for that Frenchie dude, huh? What’s he—some kinda big deal?”
She eyed him coolly, hefting her briefcase from the belt. “They’re all just clients to me.”
“That so.” He dropped his gaze, fingering her IDs. “How come he don’t have to sit in a cell? Why’d he get a private room?”
Why are you scoping my legs, you big douche?
jail. Why’d you give him one?”
He cocked a brow. “You’re pretty sassy, ain’t you?”
“And you’re wasting my time,” she said, swiping back her IDs
. God, times like these I really hate men.
“Are you going to let me through or what?”
He didn’t answer. He just leered at her with that simpering grin as he handed her a visitor’s badge, reaching back to open the next gate. “Thank you.” She clipped it on, following the other cop to one more door at the other side of a vestibule.
“It’s late,” the officer said, pressing a code into a keypad, “so we can’t give you much time.”
“I won’t need much.” After all, how long would it take to say,
No fucking way
“Then just ring the buzzer by the door when you’re ready to leave.” When he opened it and she stepped in, her breath immediately caught at the sight of the man behind it. She clutched her briefcase, so tightly she could feel the blood rushing from her fingers.
, Mademoiselle Andreko,” Rex Renaud said.
Even with his large body cramped behind a metal table, the Mercier Shipping COO never looked more imposing, and in spite of his circumstances, never more elegant. The last time they met it’d been in Boston, negotiating the separation terms of his company’s lone female captain, Dani Lloyd, who had recently become Marcel Mercier’s wife. But with his cashmere Kiton bespoke now replaced by Gucci black tie, he struck an odd contrast in that concrete room, yet still exuding a coiled and barely contained strength. He folded his arms across his chest as his black eyes fixed on hers, Charlotte getting the distinct impression he more or less regarded her as cornered prey.
All at once the door behind her slammed shut and her heart beat so violently she nearly called the officer back. Instead she planted her heels and forced herself to focus, staring the Frenchman down. “All right, I’m here,” she said
“Not that I know why.”
J’ai oublié que tu avez parlé ma langue
,” he said. “But we’ll keep to English so there’s no mistaking my meaning.” His immaculate patent-leather shoe nudged the chair opposite. “Have a seat,
s’il vous plaît
.” He tsked. “I mean—
,” he added, smiling brilliantly.
If there was anything she remembered about Rex Renaud—which was nearly everything because he wasn’t easy to forget—it was how lethally he wielded his physicality. How he worked those inky eyes, jet-black hair, and Greek-statue handsomeness into a kind of immobilizing presence, leaving her weak in the knees every time his gaze locked on hers. Which meant she needed to work twice as hard to keep her wits sharp enough to match his, as no way would she allow him the upper hand. Yet even though he was in jail, even with him jammed behind that metal table, and herself looming over him, it was still a battle. Because with every advantage on her side he still dominated the room, the situation, the very airspace between them, so much so that Charlotte had to curl her hand around the back of the chair to steady herself.
Too much coffee today
, she reasoned.
That’s all it is
. Even though she knew that didn’t even figure.
He nudged the chair again, his collar opened where his bow tie had been, his only concession to the situation. “Please sit. You heard the
. We haven’t much time.”
“We haven’t any time at all.” She steeled herself. “It’s not like we have anything to discuss.”
” His gaze offered her a challenge. “Then why did you come?”
She smiled, with delicious, malicious intent. She waited a long time to wound him—and
men like him who dismissed women so easily—and as swiftly and as deeply as she could. “Maybe for the pleasure of seeing you behind bars.”
“Really,” he said, his eyes darkening as he drew closer. “Though the idea of pleasuring you does hold a certain appeal.”
Heat streaked through her as she slammed her briefcase atop the table. “Then take a good look, because my watching you rot in here is about as close as you’ll ever be to getting me off.”
He sat back, amused. “The lady finds her bliss in the strangest places. Though if watching people in pain is your thing, I am acquainted with a few gentlemen who’d pay you a nice piece of change to put all that aggression to use.” He cast her a glance that near stripped the clothes from her body. “I believe all you’ll need is a good deal of leather and some rather kinky boots.”
Her jaw dropped. “Are you—you—” She waved her hand in front of her.
. I do like a bit of spark in my women, but I always prefer it on top.” His eyes hooded. “Metaphorically speaking, that is.”
“You bastard piece of shit,” she uttered, pressing her knuckles to the worn steel. “I had to be out of my mind to come here when it’s clear you’re guilty of everything you’re accused of.”
“And what’s that?” he said, rising. “I’d love to hear it out of your mouth.”
“Of sexual assault,” she spit out. “Of everything vile and sick and violent that men and their disgusting appetites are capable.”
“Oh, how right you are,
. How truly loathsome we are. Repulsive animals.” He leaned in, so closely she could feel his breath on her cheek, his eyes malevolent and cold. “Men are indeed beasts, always stooping to the lowest common denominator. Using brutality to get what they want, pugnacious and vicious to the end. Unlike women, who’ve crawled out of the swamp and up the evolutionary ladder to become so much more ruthlessly efficient. Who needs fists when you have feminine wiles?” He leaned in even closer. “Why shed blood when you can suck out a man’s soul.”
“What do you want from me?” she said, backing away. “Why would you ask me to defend you, knowing what I think of men like you?”
“Because I believe you’ll want to,” he said, his eyes bleeding candor and reason and some indefinable quality she found, God help her, unable to resist. “After you hear what I have to say.”
“I doubt it. But even if I were to agree—which I won’t—I’m no criminal attorney. Lawsuits, breach of contracts, employment law, women’s rights in the workplace . . . oh Christ.” It hit her like a ton of bricks. “Of
. That’s it. You want to use me because I’m a
He arched a brow. “Seems like you have it all figured out.”
“Only because I’ve seen your kind before.” She was often approached by men fighting sexual discrimination disputes, thinking a female attorney was their ace in the hole. She always turned them down. “You want to use my reputation as a women’s activist to your advantage. You want them to see if I’d defend you, then you must be innocent.” Was it possible even Rex Renaud, this womanizer, this catalog misogynist, could stoop so low? Not that she’d let him. “I won’t do it. How could you even think to ask me?”
“How couldn’t I?” he said, falling back to his seat, all the weariness in the world falling with him. “You’re the best at what you do.”
“Even if I am, what makes you think I’d agree to take your case?”
He looked to her with conviction. “Because you will,
. You’ve been waiting a long time for a case like this.”
“I sure have—from the other side of the courtroom. But to think I’d defend you?” She laughed, incredulous. “Are you insane?”
“Arguably. But that isn’t the point.” His eyes narrowed. “You’ll want my money. You need it. And I have a lot to buy you with.”
All at once she panicked. He knew something, something about how desperately broke she was, and how he found out she could only imagine. Still, she had to play him off. She still had principles. And those principles could never allow even an inch of compromise.
“I’m a partner in a very successful law firm,” she said, her chin lifting. “How could you possibly make that assumption?”
“Because it’s no assumption. It’s a fact. And so is this—you’re broke. Although your practice is very successful, it’s the other partners who are bringing in the coin with cases like . . . what was that last one? That arthritis drug that paralyzed a couple of people? How many mega-millions was that worth? While there’s you, running around defending secretaries trying to squeeze another dollar an hour out of their tight-fisted bosses.”
Her jaw clenched. “So secretaries aren’t worth defending?”
“Depends how you define
.” His gaze captured the irony. “Those pro bono cases are starting to add up, aren’t they? And your partners are tired of carrying you.”
“No one carries me. Just last week I took on a vice-president of a very successful Internet start-up who’s suing the company for copyright infringement.”
“Settled before it even got out of discovery.”
“Only because it wasn’t necessary,” she countered. “The facts were as plain as—”
“Face it, Charlotte,” he cut her off. “What you lack in billables you more than aptly make up in passion. But the fact is your passions are bleeding revenue. That group you head, that band of half-naked feminists—what’s it called? Occupy Vagina—is an open festering wound, even with its membership growing every day. And though a week doesn’t go by without a couple of mentions in the press, all you’re attracting is more desperate cases. The truth is your partners only keep you around for the high profile you bring, but even that’s wearing thin. And now they’re ready to cut you loose.”
“Where the hell did you hear that?” she said. “They need my publicity to detract from all the slimy work they do. Who could’ve possibly told—”
“How about Joshua Lido?”
Another slam to the chest. A partner in the firm? “What about him?”
He swiveled toward her, leveling his gaze. “We did a little research on you before we started negotiations on Dani Lloyd up in Boston. Seems your firm was very grateful for my company’s settlement, as you’d actually be bringing in some cash. Or how did he put it?” He looked away for a moment, his hand to his chin. “ ‘I guess we’ll
to let her stay until the check clears.’ ”
“That’s a lie,” Charlotte said. “Why would he purposely disparage me, especially to you?”
“That’s a question you have to answer yourself,
. As why would you want to stay on in a firm that does?”
“Why are you doing this?” she finally asked. “You could get anyone to defend you—the best criminal defense attorney in the world. Why ask me?”
“I already told you,” he said evenly. “Because you’re the best.”
“Oh come on,” she scoffed. “You’ll have to do much better than that.”
“Then there’s this.” He rose, and was on her in a second. “I watched how you operated in Boston against Mercier. How you worked a wrongful termination suit to transform that little female captain into a veritable cult icon.” He looked at her with more than a bit of awe. “My God—when you believe in something you’re like a terrier with a bone. You were brilliant.”
Charlotte sincerely hoped she wasn’t blushing. Because incredibly enough, she felt herself basking in his praise. “Wow, you sure know how to dish it, don’t you? Why don’t you just go ahead and tell me how nice my ass is.”
Oh Christ—did I just say that?
She must have, as he was laughing with the kind of intimacy that usually accompanied a slide of naked thigh up her own.
“It is, isn’t it?” he said, leaning so closely his intoxicating scent dizzied her, his dark eyes gleaming with mirth. “But I think I’ll save that for another campaign. One I also plan on winning.”
If she was reddening it was only because she was seething. “You know, they have a word for men like you.”
“You mean the one that pays tribute to the greatest part of my anatomy?”
“That wasn’t quite the one I was thinking of.”
His mouth crooked. “Neither was I of its feminine correlation.”
“That’s it, I’m done. Finished!
Va te faire voir
,” she spat, grabbing her briefcase, ready to bolt out the door.
—I’m just playing with you,” he said, latching hold of her arm. “
, I’m fucking incarcerated. The joke’s already on me. What can be funnier than that?”
She shrugged him off. “I don’t know—waterboarding?”
“Not when I’ve already made your day. Now please, have a seat.” He returned to sit at the other side of the table and folded his hands atop it, looking as serious as she’d ever seen him. Charlotte remained standing, needing the advantage of height to keep her balance. After a few moments he continued.