Authors: Cindy Gerard
Tags: #Romance, #General, #Contemporary, #Fiction
A week later, January glanced quickly around the emptying courtroom as she gathered her documents and shoved them into her briefcase. She was pleased with the judge’s ruling but not with her performance. Because of Michael Hayward, it had been sadly lacking; it had taken all of her concentration to block thoughts of him.
She hadn’t been as successful the previous night . . . or any of the past seven nights, for that matter. More than once she’d lain awake well past midnight damning him for showing up after all these years. Damning him for being so dangerous . . . so dangerously attractive. And damning herself for finding him so.
She wanted to deny it. She’d tried. Half of last night, she’d tried. But somewhere around one a.m. she’d given up and admitted the truth. Despite the threat he represented, she
attracted to him. That knowledge frightened her as much as the thought of what he could do to her professionally.
For the first time since she’d decided on a career in law, he made her think of herself as a woman, naked and stripped of the barrier she had long ago erected against men. And he made her aware of him as she had never let herself be aware of a man. He was so—so male. Her stomach clenched at the memory of the erotic dream that had awakened her after she’d finally fallen asleep. She
had erotic dreams! At least she hadn’t until now.
She snapped her briefcase and her memory closed, then raked a shaking hand through her hair. It wasn’t fair. She’d learned long ago that life wasn’t fair. She accepted that, but she’d paid her dues. How much more did she have to contribute? And why did Michael Hayward have to appear at a time in her life when she was having difficulty dealing with the future she’d carved out in stone? A future that called for her to go it alone, and now looked as bleak and barren as the bed she crawled into by herself every night.
Frustrated, she hefted her briefcase with one hand and tucked the overflow of paperwork under her arm. Shouldering her purse, she headed for the back of the now-empty courtroom. She’d cleared the doors and was walking briskly down the hall toward the bank of elevators before she realized she had a shadow.
She didn’t have to turn around to know who was behind her. Even in this sea of people, she recognized Michael Hayward’s scent from that afternoon in her office. It was subtle, a little musky, a lot male, and she had awakened that morning wrestling with the admission that it had lingered in her memory far too long.
She recognized, too, the same sinking sensation she’d felt when he’d sauntered into her office and taken command of the airspace surrounding them both.
“This has got to stop, Hayward,” she said without slowing her stride or turning around.
“But it hasn’t even started,” he replied with just enough sugar to sweeten, just enough threat to take note, and, she noticed, without an ounce of denial.
How could he deny it? He left messages daily on her answering machine. Her
answering machine. Fresh roses waited on her desk when she arrived for work each morning, as well as a fistful of phone messages Helen delighted in waving under her nose every time she walked in the door.
With grim reluctance she stopped and faced him. Immediately, she regretted it. The only trace of the outlaw who’d bulldozed Helen was the classically handsome face, the clear blue eyes, and the devastatingly confident grin.
Gone were the biker boots and low-riding jeans. In their place were custom-made loafers and charcoal flannel trousers. Although the physique-revealing black T-shirt had been replaced by a crisp white shirt and a navy jacket, there was no hiding the measure of the man beneath them. His hair was neatly combed, and its length enhanced rather than detracted from his good looks. Even the earring was less offensive than it was intriguing.
She loathed herself for noticing that, and the way the bright fluorescent lights cast blue-black highlights in his hair. And she hated that standing next to her, he looked down on her from a good three-inch height advantage, which most men didn’t have when she wore heels that elevated her five feet eight inches even more.
“If you look at me like that much longer, January,” he drawled, flashing that bad-boy grin of his, “I’m going to have to consider it an invitation.”
Embarrassed, she tore her gaze from his and resumed her escape toward the elevators. “If you keep hounding me like this, Hayward,” she threatened over her shoulder, “I’m going to have to consider it harassment.”
Less than a step behind her he answered amiably, “There is a solution, you know.”
“Yeah. It’s called an injunction.”
He laughed. The sound was deep and rich and, unaccountably, it wrapped around her senses like a soft, warm glove.
“There’s always that,” he agreed, “but what I had in mind was dinner.”
The elevator opened just as she reached it. She couldn’t step inside fast enough. He followed her, along with a crush of people heading for the first floor. When the doors had closed and the dust had settled, January found herself wedged in a back corner. Michael was facing her, his forearm propped on the wall above her head, his body forming an effective barrier from the jostling crowd. A barrier or a trap. She wasn’t yet sure which. One thing she was sure of was that this was going to be the longest elevator ride of her life.
Oddly, though, she didn’t feel threatened by him. She felt uneasy, yes. Tense, definitely. And she was far too aware of the pleasant way his breath feathered across the top of her head, of the radiant, musky heat his body generated, and of his eyes watching her with gentle amusement.
“Come on, Counselor, lighten up,” he said with the ease of an accomplished flirt. “You have to eat, so what do you say?”
Shifting her slipping bundle of legal briefs, she gave him a clipped, decisive “no,” then added a begrudging, “thank you.”
Undaunted, he relieved her of her heavy briefcase. Before she could utter a protest, he distracted her with his next comment.
“You know, you were really something in there. But then, that didn’t surprise me, given your win–loss record in court.”
She wasn’t sure which threw her the most—the fact that he had been in the courtroom, or the fact that he had researched her court record.
“I got the feeling this case was really special for you,” he added.
Unwittingly, she reacted to his observation. “They’re all special.” Jeremy Garner and his uncle had become special the moment Ronald Garner had retained January to fight for permanent custody of Jeremy.
“But you were bucking the system on this one, weren’t you?” he asked.
She frowned up at him, trying to decide whether he was simply insightful, well-informed, or playing the probing reporter. “Jeremy was temporarily placed with his uncle a little over a year ago by the Department of Human Services. By law, the state’s ultimate goal in a situation like this is to return Jeremy to his natural parents after they’ve participated in a treatment program.”
“But you agree with the uncle that the state’s solution isn’t in Jeremy’s best interest.”
“If you were there, then you heard. But to answer your question, if I didn’t agree, I wouldn’t have taken the case. I don’t like ‘bucking the system,’ as you put it, but this time the system was wrong. Human Services had Jeremy’s interest at heart too. It’s just that sometimes, given staff shortages and unmanageable case loads, perspective can get lost in the paper shuffle. The Garners are habitual offenders. Jeremy is five years old and has been in foster homes for almost three out of those five years. Ron is Jeremy’s last hope.”
Michael appeared to think about that for a moment before challenging her. “But according to the State’s case, the Garners are rehabilitated. You don’t think they could have changed their ways?”
She didn’t want to argue the case again, but for some reason she heard herself answering just the same. “For their sake, I hope they have. But I’m not concerned with the Garners. I’m concerned with Jeremy, and he deserves a chance to have something he’s never had—stability, love, and the security to get him past his parents’ neglect and abuse.”
Michael’s silence seemed both thoughtful and condemning. She didn’t want to care what he thought of her, but she did.
“Look, Hayward, the case has been tried. I don’t have to defend my motives again to you. The Garners had several chances. Now Jeremy is entitled to a chance of his own. He’ll get it with Ron.”
“Whoa, Counselor. I’m not judging you. I’m just trying to get a bead on what makes you tick. And believe it or not, there was a compliment in all that somewhere. I’m intrigued by the way you work, by your perspective. It’s almost as if you know where these people have been, and what brought them to this point.”
She quickly looked away. He’d managed to strike a nerve and at the same time get too close to the truth she was hiding. It wouldn’t do to give him the advantage of knowing it.
“Hey,” he said, his gentle, sincere tone urging her gaze back to his, “it was difficult for you, wasn’t it? Court, I mean.”
“It’s always difficult.”
“Which brings me to the reason I’m here. The way I’ve got it figured, you’re a very busy woman. You haven’t had an extra minute to answer my messages. So I thought I’d save you the trouble of calling me back by meeting you face-to-face.”
She sighed heavily and prayed the elevator would reach the ground floor sometime in this century. “You’re right, I am busy. But I didn’t answer your messages because I did not
to answer your messages. I’m not interested in doing the article. I thought I’d made myself clear.”
“Crystal clear.” His eyes gleamed with an intriguing mixture of curiosity and candor. “What I don’t understand is why. Is it just the article you’re resistant to?” His voice, like his laughter, was soft and compelling. “Or is it me?”
Even more compelling was the thread of vulnerability she heard in his softly posed question. She met his eyes and felt her restraint melting, until a stunning rush of reality hit her broadside. She’d forgotten for a moment who she was dealing with. Not only was he an accomplished flirt, he was an indiscriminate user who knew how to play his game well. She couldn’t trust him. Her eyes must have telegraphed her thoughts, because his expression hardened.
“I frighten you,” he said with both wonder and denial. “Why?”
“Don’t be absurd,” she said, wishing he weren’t correct.
The doors finally opened onto the lobby, freeing her from the scrutiny of his narrowed eyes. She shouldered around him and through the crowd filing out of the elevator.
He caught up with her in one long stride. “Why do I intimidate you, January?”
intimidate me. And I’m not resistant to the article. I’m just busy. I don’t have room on my calendar.”
“Room for me or room for the article?”
She pushed through the door that opened onto Pearl Street.
He squeezed through with her and deferred to his original argument. “Don’t tell me you didn’t schedule in dinner.”
The autumn air had a crisp bite to it as it hit her full in the face. Her reply had a bit of a bite too. “I’ll grab a sandwich at home.”
“Then I’ll drive you.”
She rounded on him. “ Will you just stop!” she shouted, then realized what he’d accomplished. He’d gotten to her. She couldn’t let that happen. Worse, she couldn’t afford to let him know he had the capability.
A gust of wind skittered up the courthouse steps, tumbling a swirl of fallen leaves in its wake as she appealed to him once more. “Look, you are wasting your time and mine. Just let it alone, okay?”
The same wind that chased the leaves and played havoc with her skirt gently ruffled his dark hair away from his face. Startled again by his sheer physical perfection, she forced her gaze over his shoulder, aware as she did so that he was studying her with a deep frown.
“I guess you’ve had a long day,” he said in a tone suggesting both concern and acquiescence. “You don’t need me to make it any longer.”
He lifted a hand to her face and without hesitation or request carefully tugged a windblown strand of hair from the corner of her mouth.
She flinched reflexively, though there was nothing frightening about his touch. Nothing repelling, no aggression. It was surprisingly gentle. Surprisingly nice.
“January?” His eyes, when she met them, were full of questions. “Are you all right?”
Unnerved by the effect he had on her, she could only nod.
“Come on, then. I’ll walk you to your car.”
“Really, that won’t be necessary,” she said, and reached for her briefcase. His cool gaze met and held hers as their fingers touched and then tangled on the leather handle.
The contact was far too potent. She felt a tingle that should have been fear, but wasn’t. She felt a wonder that shouldn’t have been, but was. In that moment, she knew only one thing with undeniable certainty. She had to get away from him.
Fighting the urge to snatch the briefcase out of his grip, she held on stubbornly.
With considerable reluctance he finally let go.
“Good-bye, Mr. Hayward.”
Before he could voice another protest, she hurried down the steps to the curb. At that moment she would have sold her soul to the devil if he would only have gotten her a cab.
The devil wasn’t about to deliver. Not today. Not at this hour.
The traffic was thick and steady. Checking her watch, she groaned, then swore softly. She’d probably end up standing there for an hour before she even saw a cab, let alone got one to stop.
The sound of slow, confident footsteps behind her ended any feeble notion that Hayward had left her alone, or that the devil wasn’t afoot after all.
“Forget where you parked your car?” he asked.
“I never said I had my car.”
“You never said you didn’t,” he said, clearly as pleased as punch that he’d caught her in a lie of omission.
“I’ll get a cab. I’ll be fine.”
“You’ll be old,” he countered with an easy smile, “before you get a cab in this town.”
There was nothing she could say to that. She was already calculating the time it would take to get home. It added up to too much. But when she calculated the risk of being alone in a car with him, she decided she’d take her chances and wait for the cab. Maybe, if she ignored him, he’d go away.