Authors: Cindy Gerard
Tags: #Romance, #General, #Contemporary, #Fiction
“Have you noticed yet that you really don’t have much say in this?”
She nodded, wrestling with the beginning of a grin.
“Smart girl. Now don’t fight it. Just come along for the ride. Will you give me that much?”
“You just told me I didn’t have a choice.”
“See what a fast study you are?”
“Shhh. I’ve got to go while I still have the strength to leave you.”
She blinked, a slow, languorous reaction to the desire shining in his eyes.
He groaned. “Lord, woman, don’t do that.” His mood changed suddenly from playful to pensive as his gaze, dark and cloudy again, roamed restlessly over her face before dropping to the black lace that, by design, revealed far more than it concealed.
She tensed all over as his rapt attention lingered on her breasts, then descended to her thighs. With infinite care, his hand followed.
She shuddered as he cupped her breast through the lace, then moaned as, with just the brush of his thumb over her nipple, he brought it to a tight, pebbled peak. Swallowing thickly, she met his gaze as his hand forayed lower until it rested, knuckles down, on the silk that covered the triangle of her dark, feminine curls.
“Think of this tonight, January.”
Think? She could barely breathe. Through a hazy cloud of longing, she listened to his deep-voiced instructions.
“After I’m gone and you’re lying here alone wondering what just happened, think of my hand loving your bare breast. Think of my mouth loving you there.” He ground his knuckles gently against the sudden, liquid heat between her thighs. “And here. Think of me loving you here.”
While she was still reeling from his blisteringly vivid mental images, he closed her robe, dropped a kiss on the top of her head, and walked swiftly to her bedroom door.
“I’ll see you tomorrow,” he promised, pausing to look back at her.
A protest—albeit a weak one—slipped out automatically. “But I have a full day’s work I brought home from the office.”
He grinned, undaunted. “So it’ll be a study date. I’ve got an article to research. We’ll work together. You’ll never know I’m here.”
Right, like a librarian wouldn’t know she was surrounded by books, she thought, but she was grinning, too, as he gave her one last unflappable look, then left.
She wasn’t grinning at five o’clock the next morning. Old, familiar dragons had reared their jeering heads and kept her awake last night. But the dragons spoke the truth, and she forced herself to listen.
What she’d gotten herself into with Michael Hayward was a major mess. She’d allowed him to get closer to her than she’d ever allowed any man, and she couldn’t let him get to her again.
Even now, though, she toyed with the idea of trusting him with the truth of her past. Dangerous thoughts. Dangerous man. And she, a self-professed emotional cripple, had believed she could handle him by letting him take her to bed?
He’d caught her off guard, turning the tables by refusing her offer of sex. He’d talked of making love. He’d talked of commitment. She shivered and curled into a ball beneath her covers.
She needed to face facts, she told herself bluntly. She was saddled with too many memories of a scarred childhood to ever be able to give herself to a relationship. Any relationship. Especially one with him. He was the last man she needed in her life. Even if he weren’t a threat to her career, she wasn’t brave enough to set herself up for the pain. And there would be pain, she affirmed stoically. When a man was involved, there was always pain.
The wall was going back up immediately. When he stopped by that morning, she would send him away. Pig simple.
Not simple. Not even remotely simple, January realized when at eight a.m. she opened her door to a big bushy hound named George and Michael’s good-morning smile.
Damn if she wasn’t glad to see him.
He looked so good in his comfortable old jeans and sweater. He smelled of cinnamon and mint, and an added bonus. The zesty tang of the cool autumn morning clung to his jacket as he breezed through her door without so much as a “mind if I come in?”
“We brought rolls,” he announced as he slipped past her, then plopped a sweet good-morning kiss on her lips. “Coffee still hot?” he continued, disappearing into her kitchen.
After coaxing a surprisingly sedate George into the foyer, she closed the door. “So much for brick walls,” she muttered under her breath. “And so much for firm resolve.”
“They’re getting cold,” Michael called from the kitchen.
She had to end this now, before she got used to seeing him show up at her door, she told herself. Before the gladness she felt when she saw his smile mushroomed into a longing to be part of the picture he’d painted last night. Before she lost the determination to send him away.
She followed the sound of his voice and, crossing her arms resolutely under her breasts, leaned against the kitchen door frame. “Michael, this really isn’t a good time for me. I told you, I have a lot to do today.”
“It won’t work,” he said, giving her attempted brush-off about as much consideration as he might give a piece of lint. “I promised George a day on your couch, and I know you don’t want to disappoint him. Besides,” he added, flashing her a boyish grin, “you don’t really want me to go.”
Helping himself to a mug of coffee, he settled into one of her kitchen chairs as if he cozied up to her table every morning.
“I know what you’re trying to do, you know, and I’m telling you it won’t fly. You didn’t sleep much last night, did you?” he asked around a mouthful of sweet roll. “Well, neither did I. While you lay awake thinking up arguments against why we should give this thing a go, I was dreaming up rebuttals. I’m ready for you. So go ahead, fire one at me.” He slouched back in the chair, looking smug and full of himself and playfully patronizing. “However, I feel it’s only fair to warn you. I was captain of the debate team in college. Our last debate was on the positive aspects of toxic waste. We won. But don’t let that bother you. Come on, give it your best shot.”
He was incorrigible.
“What’s the matter, Counselor? Haven’t had enough time to prepare your brief?”
He was incredible.
“That isn’t a smile sneaking up on you, is it?”
He was entirely too hard to resist.
Maybe just for today she’d let him stay.
“I like raisins,” she said with feigned nonchalance, and joined him at the table. “Did you bring any with raisins?”
His grin was slow and sexy as he whipped out a huge frosted roll. Plump, juicy raisins poked out of the folds of the pastry. “Do I know my woman or what?”
Her gaze danced to his, then away.
. She chose not to acknowledge that remark. Because if she had, she would have felt a warm, all-over flush, a fuzzy, comfortable sense of belonging. She ignored it. And she didn’t feel any of those things. Not one. Not one sweet, welcome yearning.
Michael intended to prove to his little doubting Thomasina that he didn’t make promises he didn’t plan to keep. He had promised her he wouldn’t interfere with her work, so he didn’t. After clearing the kitchen table, he deposited her on one corner of the couch. With George sleeping comfortably between them, he settled on the opposite end. They worked over their corresponding stacks of notes that way for the rest of the morning. He insisted only once that she take a break and join him and George on a quick trip around the block.
A little after one, with his rumbling stomach leading the attack, he foraged around in her fridge until he found the makings for sandwiches. He made three. She nibbled on a half, deeply engrossed in the argument she was preparing.
Throughout the rest of the afternoon, he periodically scowled at her across the length of the sofa. She worked too hard. And she was damn near running on empty. The telltale signs were all there—the smudges of violet beneath her eyes, the slight droop in her shoulders, the delicate yawns she tried so hard to stifle.
By six thirty, he’d seen enough.
“All right, Counselor,” he said, standing before her. “It’s time for all good little lawyers to call it a day.”
She frowned up at him, her pencil poised over a thick yellow legal pad. “I’m almost finished,” she said, and went back to work.
“You’ve got fifteen minutes,” he warned her. “Fifteen minutes, then you’re done, whether you’re finished or not. You’re dead on your sweet little behind, January. It’s time to knock off.”
She mumbled something unintelligible and kept on writing.
He slipped out of the room and got busy in her kitchen. Fifteen minutes later, after drawing her a bath, he pulled the pencil from her hand and tapped the face of his watch.
“If you haven’t got sense enough to take care of yourself, then I’ll have to.”
“I’ve been taking care of myself since I was sixteen,” she snapped back, meeting his eyes with defiance.
She was past tired and more than a little bit cranky, he thought, and she didn’t realize she’d just given him another piece of that precious pie.
“Then it’s past time,” he said, carefully removing her reading glasses and setting them aside, “that someone started looking after you.”
Her eyes became as hard as onyx and he knew he was in for a battle. A bloody one.
“I don’t need you or anyone else telling me what I can and cannot do, Hayward. I’ve put up with you today because you gave me no choice, but you’ve just crossed a line. I don’t need your input. I don’t need your opinions. And I sure as the world don’t need you riding roughshod over my time. You know nothing about what I do and why I do it, so don’t presume to know what’s best for me.”
Hunkering down in front of her, he folded her hands between his. Brushing his thumbs over her smooth, pale skin, he gazed at her, letting his concern show. “Then why don’t you tell me? Tell me what drives you to work so hard, and maybe I’ll understand.
“It can’t be the money,” he continued when she answered his request with silence. “You can’t be getting rich on the kind of cases you handle. So if it’s not the money, that leaves the motive. I guess I realized that the first time I heard you speak. And when I watched you in court, I saw your dedication again. But there’s more, isn’t there? You give until it hurts, January. Why?”
Her eyes suddenly looked a little wild, as if she felt she’d been boxed into a corner. Good, he thought. He wanted her to feel cornered. He wanted her to make that fatal mistake and tell him something about herself that she didn’t want him to know.
“It’s called involvement,” she said finally, evasively.
“Involvement,” he echoed. “Involvement to the point where everybody counts but you? Whatever happened to
, January? What happened that made what
need, take on such little value?”
He’d scored a direct hit on that one. He could see it in her eyes, in the slight trembling of the hands he held. She tried to pull them away. He wouldn’t let her.
“I run my own life.”
“Your work runs your life, not you. You get involved in everybody’s life but your own.”
Her eyes pleaded silently with him. “I’m trying to make a difference, Michael. Someone has to.”
“My noble little lawyer,” he said tenderly, “you
make a difference. I’m not disputing that. But there are a whole boatload of problems out there, and you’re making a major-league mistake if you think you can fix them all.”
“ ‘Nobody made a greater mistake than he who did nothing because he could do only a little,’ ” she quoted defensively. “Edmund Burke.”
“To that, let me add, ‘No one should try to solve the problems of the world to the exclusion of solving her own.’ Michael Hayward.”
“I don’t have any problems,” she insisted.
He squeezed her hands hard and decided she looked too tired for him to badger her any longer. “Yes, you do have a problem. You’ve got me, and my mother has always contended I’m the biggest problem the good Lord in his infinite wisdom ever created.”
She looked a little lost, a little frightened, and a lot relieved that he was letting her off the hook.