Authors: M. S. Parker
“It’s okay, princess,” I said softly. “Nobody’s going to hurt you. You’re safe.”
I’d make sure of it too.
No matter what.
awake in a bed that wasn’t mine, tucked up next to a hard, warm male body, and I put together pieces of a puzzle I wasn’t aware existed until I’d already solved it.
I wasn’t at home.
I hadn’t spent the night alone.
Also, it was a little later in the morning than I liked. I only realized that when I saw the glowing red numbers on the clock on the table next to my head.
It was almost ten.
I needed to get home.
When I stirred, the man next to me grunted and rolled onto his belly, but he didn't wake.
After a moment, I eased onto my side and stared at him, waiting for my mind to clear.
Bit by bit, it did.
The guy – we’d met at Club Privé. He'd stopped me from falling. We'd danced. Had a few drinks.
Then we ended up here.
A few random flashes pierced the haze of alcohol and good, hard sex. I ached in a nice way, but beyond that, I couldn’t say much about the past night. Not the first time that'd happened.
Easing out of the bed, I looked around for my clothes and gathered them up.
My head pounded a little, and I grabbed my purse as well, hoping I’d remembered to throw some sort of over the counter pain killer in there.
If not, I could always drown myself under the shower.
wenty minutes later
, I was showered, and after having dry-swallowed two ibuprofen tablets, I felt something closer to normal. My dress from last night was wrinkled, but it would do for now. My panties would not – they’d been ripped. I tossed them into the garbage, relieved to see numerous condom wrappers in there. That was always the risk when mixing alcohol and sex.
Spying my shoes by the bed, I bent to pick them up.
Shoes in hand, I looked back over my shoulder to see my partner from last night pushing up on his elbow. The hotel we’d chosen to come was across the street from Club Privé. It was pristine, discreet, elegant, and nicer than some other places I'd woken up.
A thin strip of sunlight came through the mostly closed drapes to fall across his face, highlighting the bronzed beauty of his features. Dreads secured in a neat tail at his neck left that fantastic face unframed, and I knew I’d enjoyed the view of that face from multiple angles most of the night.
But I needed to go.
He trailed a finger down my spine.
I looked away.
“When can I see you again?”
I’d done this often enough that I’d perfected my exit strategy. It helped that I never left the club with a creep. The security guys and I had developed our own little silent language. If I was with some guy who managed to slide under my radar, but who they knew was going to be a problem, they let me know. I’d only needed their intervention twice, though. I’d developed a pretty decent radar when it came to creeps.
This guy wasn't one.
He was, however, someone I needed to let down easy.
Swiveling around, I crawled across the bed and knelt over him.
Giving him a quick kiss, I pulled back and smiled down at him.
“Last night was fun…but that’s all it was. I’m not looking for anything else.”
He grimaced at me. “Ouch.” One hand slid higher on my thigh. “Sure I can’t change your mind?”
I brushed my mouth across his. “Yes. But thanks for the offer.”
He hauled me down for one more kiss and I had to admit, my heart was fluttering harder when he let go, but by the time I was on the street less than ten minutes later, I couldn’t even quite remember the exact color of his eyes.
And I knew by the time I was home, I’d forgotten a lot more about my one-night stand.
It was sad, really, but it proved what I'd already known. Love wasn't for me.
on the left were going in the shredder as soon as I got up to refill my wine. The ones on the right, I’d go through again. I had a good feeling about two of them, and the others were decent possibilities.
One thing was certain – I was hiring somebody within the next few weeks, before I drowned in paperwork.
I could see my own obituary.
Leslie Calvin – she died buried under mounds of paperwork. Those who knew her best believe she would be pissed off – she always wanted to die dancing.
Leaving the firm that had given me my first job hadn’t been a bad idea, but I hadn’t been prepared for how much work came with going solo. The paperwork alone was enough to make me want to pull my hair out.
And not everything was even connected to cases.
That was next on my list of things to conquer for the day, and it was my least favorite.
With a headache pounding at the base of my skull, I flipped to the final résumé in my pile. Within a split second, I wadded it up and hurled it across the room.
“No, I don’t think somebody with two years working as a filing clerk will count as experience,” I muttered. “Paralegal experience a
. Not optional. A
. Maybe I should've mentioned a basic understanding of the English language.”
Leaning back in my chair, I stared up at the tray-ceiling overhead.
The ceiling fan spun in slow, lazy circles. Outside my windows, I heard the hum of the city. I wanted to get out there in that hum, leaving the monotony of work for another day and just
something. That restlessness that had plagued me for days – weeks – longer – wasn’t letting up, but I couldn’t think of anything that might relieve it.
Nor could I understand why I was feeling it.
I had a great job.
I had a decent social life.
A year ago, I would have been completely happy to sit here and work my afternoon away. Work hard, play harder. Earn money, spend money.
What had changed? Had
I had a funny feeling the answer was yes. And I had an even funnier feeling that I knew when that change had started.
But I didn’t want to think about any of that too much, didn’t want to put a finger on it.
Naming it would just make it worse anyway.
like you need this.”
Looking up, I saw my assistant, Haley, in the doorway, holding a cup in her hand. Steam wafted up from it, and the scent of coffee hit my system like a jolt of speed.
“Gimme. You can have my first born, my apartment or my 401k. Which do you want?”
“You’re too easy.” Haley winked at me and came in, putting the coffee down next to the filing I’d gotten earlier that morning from a courier. A client’s soon-to-be -ex was trying to drag things out with bullshit delays. Haley grimaced when she saw what I was working on. “Ugh. The McAllisters. You should charge them hazard pay.”
“Tell me about it.”
“I was going to see if you had a minute free to go over the résumés, but I’ll leave you to have all this fun.”
“No.” Pushing back from the desk, I took the coffee and flipped the filing facedown. “I need a break from their bullshit. Let’s do it now.”
“What are they fighting over now? Is she saying she wants the dog every Monday, Wednesday, Friday, and Saturday?”
I took a small sip of coffee before answering. As I circled around the desk, I thought about the crap I’d just finished reading and wondered what they’d do if I called them out for acting like a couple of children.
“No. This time,
is saying he should get the dog because she told him once ten years ago that she was allergic, and that he fears for the dog’s well being. Even though he bought her the dog.”
She laughed as we took the résumés over to the sitting area by the window and settled down with the sun on our backs. Coffee in hand, I listened as Haley gave me her opinion on two of the possible candidates for the job. “She looks good on paper, but…well, I get the impression her previous employer wouldn’t take her back if you
“Okay. Bottom of the list. Next?”
Before Haley had a chance to answer, the phone on her desk buzzed. She kept it on vibrate, but Haley and I had an understanding about her phone. Her mother had recently been placed in hospice care and the nurses contacted her often. She didn't have to turn it off, but if it was anyone besides family, she left it alone.
“Go on.” I rubbed her shoulder. “As thorough as your notes are, I’m sure I can handle this.”
Haley gave me a tight smile and answered the phone half between the second and third buzz.
As she stepped into the small area we used for our employee lounge, I focused on the next résumé. His name was Daniel Carfax, and he was practically fresh out of school, but he did have nine months of experience, and he hadn’t left his last employer per se. He’d worked for an older divorce attorney named Max Bennett. Max had died in a rather public venue – in court – cross-examining the lover of his client’s husband. She’d been so shocked that she’d ended up confessing right there as the man staggered and fell to his knees in front of her, clutching at his chest.
I heard they’d ended up settling out of court.
Trust Bennett to get the best for his client in the end, even though he died on the floor of the courthouse.
The door opened and I said, “I think we need to give this guy a call.”
The sound of that voice, low and rough and raw, sent a shiver down my spine.
Slowly, I looked up.
It hadn’t been the door to the lounge. Rather, it had been the front door, and now I had somebody in my office.
A hot and sexy somebody too.
Scruffy and hiding behind a pair of sunglasses and a hat, but he was still a hot and sexy piece of work. My heart kicked up a beat or ten even as the professional in me offered a polite smile.
I didn’t have any appointments until this afternoon so I didn’t think he was here to see me. Except I was very much
he wasn’t here to see me.
Because that would mean he was married, and married guys were off limits.
“If you’re looking for the modeling agency, they’re on the third floor.” I really hoped he was there for the modeling agency, because if he was, I could get his name as I took a few minutes to walk him up. Give him mine. Maybe ask him about a drink later on…?
“No.” He looked around, a bit lost before shifting his attention back to me. “I…you’re Leslie Calvin.”
And just like that, my heart sank. If he wasn’t here for the modeling agency and he knew my name, then that meant one thing.
He’d come here looking for me.
Damn it to hell.
A piece of work like this scruffy pretty boy might've had just what I needed…
He tugged off the hat and looked around. “Do you have any free time for a…um…what do you call it, a consult?”
“Are you needing an attorney?” I asked calmly. “I specialize in divorce.”
“I know.” He gave a short nod. “Do you have time? Is there anybody else here?”
“Just my – ”
Another door, just to his left, opened and Haley came out. She looked a little surprised at the sight of him, and more than a little dazed. Her eyes were damp as she looked over at me. “Leslie, I…”
Shit. She didn’t even need to finish.
“Go.” I managed a smile as I got up and went to her, pausing to collect her purse and keys from the drawer where she always kept them. “Call me when you can.”
She nodded jerkily. “I’ll call Agnes about covering for me. I might…well.”
Agnes was my part-time assistant before I’d hired Haley full-time and she still came in to help out as needed, although she was moving closer and closer to retirement.
“Don't worry about it,” I said immediately. “I'll take care of it. You do what you need to do.”
“Thank you.” After I turned over her purse and keys, I hugged her. She clung to me tightly for a second and left, not saying another word. I didn't know what happened, but I knew Haley, and it wasn't anything good.
Once the door closed behind her, I focused on the man who’d lapsed into silence the moment he’d seen Haley. “Now there’s nobody else here.” It was a little unsettling that he’d asked, but he didn't really look like the psycho killer type.
Then again, they never did...
“Although I do need to make that call to my temp,” I added.
“Okay. I…uh…well…” He swore and all but ripped his sunglasses off.
Then it was my turn to swear, although luckily for me, I managed to bite my tongue in time to keep the words from actually making it out into the open. Shit. I knew who he was now.
His jaw went tight at his name. “Everything I say is confidential, right? Nobody is allowed to say anything about me being here, even your assistant?”
“Absolutely.” My heart was racing at full throttle now. The sight of those blue eyes, so seductive and haunting, and the streaky blond hair that tumbled into his beautiful face – he had the kind of features that had probably launched a thousand wet dreams.
And he was here to
“I’ll tell you what…” I moved toward him, taking a deep slow breath. “Let me lock the door. My assistant has a family emergency going on, and I'll wait until after you leave to call in my temp, so no one else will be around to hear us talk.”
As I stood next to him, I caught a heady lungful of his scent and found myself thinking a hundred things, all at the same time.
He was here to get a divorce.
He’d be single.
He was so hot.
He was about to become my
This could be the kind of case that made my career.
Except…I really, really didn’t want to represent him in court.
I wanted to ride him…or have him riding me.
Talk about a conundrum.
nd it was worse
than I thought.
He didn’t just want a divorce. It sounded like he needed one, fast, and in the worst way because his wife, Brinke Maynard, mother of his child, was a complete disaster
a danger to their little girl.
“Is this the first time such a thing has happened?” I asked, making furious notes.
“Fuck, yes!” he snapped.
I met his blue eyes, saw the rage snapping there and understood it. At least as much as somebody who didn’t have kids could. “Mr. Gorham, I’m not implying anything with these questions, but you need to prepare for the fact that if you go through with a divorce, and she fights it, these questions are just the tip of the iceberg. And I have to ask them so I know the answers and can plan for them.”
The heat in those blue eyes didn’t change, but he muttered something under his breath before heaving out a hard sigh. He dropped down and my heart banged hard against my ribs at the nearness of him. Why did he have to sit next to
? On the couch?
My heart raced and fluttered, and I gripped the pen tightly, staring at the notes I was taking. It didn’t help, because from the corner of my eye, I could see the way his jeans stretched tight over long, lean legs. I wanted to feel those legs moving against mine. Wanted to feel that hard body against mine.
Why in the
did he have to come to
for a divorce?
Of course, if he hadn’t, well…I wouldn’t be sitting here daydreaming about having that beautiful mouth pressed to mine, now would I?
The short, succinct phrase caught me off guard, and I looked up to see him staring off at absolutely nothing. He looked…lost.
It wasn’t the first time I’d seen that expression on a man’s – or woman’s – face here in my office. Sadly, people either came in here furious or hurt, or both. I couldn't think of anybody who ever came in looking for a divorce
over it. It didn't get to me. Usually. This was business for me, after all. While I’d gone into law for the money, there were times when I actually enjoyed my job. Especially when somebody was married to a real sleaze and I was able to help them get away.
When I was able to help somebody decent keep from getting screwed over, I liked that too. I had a feeling that would be the case with Paxton Gorham when it came time. His wife would push hard. I still didn’t have all the information, but I’d bet my new Jimmy Choos that he was the only reason she was even still singing. If he didn’t keep her on as his backup singer, would anybody else ever give her a chance? She’d look at him as her meal ticket, even if it was unconsciously.
Drug addicts were notorious users. It might even be an unconscious behavior, but it was a deeply ingrained one, and until it was acknowledged and addressed, it would continue.
My job was going to be all about making sure she didn’t have a chance to do any more harm than she already had.
Reaching out to touch his shoulder, I gave him a reassuring smile.
I’d done this dozens of times.
This time, my reassuring, comforting smile fell flat.
Tension sparked between us.
Slowly, he shifted his gaze my way, his eyes lingering first on my hand and then coming up to meet mine.
My breath hitched in my chest and I pulled back, my fingers curling into my palm, as if to hold in the memory of the heat that had arced between us.
I wondered if he’d felt it.
He stood up, moving away on jerky strides.
For some reason, it felt like a rejection – like a blow. Of course, he was a hot musician who had hundreds of groupies hanging all over him. Gorgeous eighteen year olds who'd drop to their knees in a second. Blood rushed to my face as I stared back down at the notes I’d made.
“What about my daughter? Should I be able to get full custody?”
He was staring outside. I didn't think it was my imagination that he was taking deliberate care to avoid looking at me. I hadn't meant for the touch to be anything but professional.
I cleared my throat and gave myself a moment to take a sip from the coffee on the table. “Well…” Drawing the word out, I deliberated on the answer. “The first thing we’d have to do is provide proof that it’s in Carter’s best interest not to be with her mother.”
“She was shoved into a closet so a couple of her mother’s friends could screw on her bed while Brinke was passed out in the bathroom,” he said stiffly. “I’m pretty sure that Brinke’s forgotten what Carter’s best interests
“I can see that,” I assured him. “But right now, it’s your word against hers.”
His shoulders rose up and down on a heavy breath, and I watched as he leaned forward, bracing his hands on the polished wooden window sill. I looked down at my notes again, double-checking what I had. He’d given me his contact information, but only after telling me repeatedly that he didn’t want me contacting him, not at home and not on his cell. I’d assured him I wouldn’t. The information he’d given me was for a place in Upper Manhattan. I didn't know why he’d come looking for an attorney over in Queens, but maybe he’d wanted to avoid having Brinke see him or having anybody else run into him while he was here.
Moments passed as he continued to stare outside.
“How would you go about getting this…proof?” he asked softly.
“Same way it’s always gathered.” I shrugged, even though he wasn’t looking at me. “We hire private investigators. That cost is passed on to you, of course.”
“I’m not worried about how much this will cost.” He muttered again under his breath and swore quietly. “Son of a bitch.” Finally, he turned and looked at me. “Okay. I need to think about all of this. If I decide to go through with it, I’ll give you a call. Thanks for the time.”
“No problem.” Feeling strangely awkward, I rose from the couch and moved forward, offering my hand. “I’m sorry about everything you’re going through, Mr. Gorham.”
He stared at my hand for a long moment and then slowly reached out.
He didn’t shake, though. He just held my hand, his fingers warm and strong around mine.
After he released me, he left without saying a word.
Once he was gone, I turned around and pressed my back to the door, staring up at the ceiling.
It felt empty in there without him.
But I was damn glad he was gone.
Too intense, especially considering I was supposed to be looking at him as a