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"Your bed or mine?"
Clayton Madaris glanced up from his meal and gazed into the eyes of the woman who'd asked the question. She was beautiful, and her sensuous proposition was something any man would jump at. No hot-blooded male in his right mind would ever think of turning it down.
So why was he contemplating doing just that?
An impassive expression masked his handsome features. His hesitation had nothing to do with the fact that he'd just met her that morning. Like him, she was an attorney attending a convention in D.C. He had come to enough of these conferences to be prepared for the expected. One would be surprised just how many unmarried, as well as married people took advantage of the three-day convention to engage in short, no-strings-attached affairs. In all his thirty-five years, there had never been a time when he'd been hesitant about making love to a willing woman, granted the situation wasn't a risky one.
So what was wrong with him tonight?
His dinner companion undoubtedly was wondering the same thing and had no plans to stick around and find out. He sensed her agitation with his silence. Her eyes narrowed. "I won't make the same offer twice," she said quietly. There was a feverish edge to her voice.
Clayton nodded slowly, his eyes never leaving her face. He knew her type. She was a woman hungry for physical intimacy. Her eyes had sent him silent, intimate messages all day. There was no doubt in his mind that although he'd just disappointed her by not jumping at her offer, she wouldn't give up on him. She would make the offer again.
His smile was slow. "Sorry. Not tonight "
Evidently not happy with his response, she pushed her plate aside and stood, giving him a measured look. "Perhaps another time, then?"
Clayton stared up at her before answering. "Perhaps."
After she left he simply sat, quietly eating the rest of his meal and drinking his coffee.
A short while later, after taking care of the dinner bill, he rode up the elevator alone to the fifth floor. During the ride he tried coming to terms with his sudden lack of interest in an affair. It wasn't like him to turn down any woman's advances or not make a score or two of his own. It definitely wasn't his style. Enjoying the opposite sex was something he had been overly fond of doing since his first time with Paula Stone when he'd been sixteen.
So what was his problem now?
The huge metal elevator doors swooshed open. Taking a deep breath he stepped out and began walking down the long hallway leading to his room. Opening the door to his suite, he walked into the sitting area, then through open double doors to the large bedroom.
He leaned his shoulder against the doorjamb, looking at the king-size bed. No one, especially those who considered him a player of the third degree, would believe he'd actually slept in the huge bed alone. And definitely not by choice.
He smiled as he pushed himself away from the door. There's a first time for everything, he thought, removing his tie and jacket and going into the bathroom. Peeling off the rest of his clothes, he stepped into the shower, dismissing the fact he'd taken a shower just before dinner.
Since becoming an attorney over ten years ago, he'd discovered his most soothing moments were in the shower while warm water caressed his skin. It was during that time he possessed the ability to blank out any thoughts other than those needing his undivided attention. In the end, whatever plagued his mind was usually put in perspective. At the moment, he needed to think about why he'd just refused an offer of no-strings-attached sex.
Adjusting the water, he picked up the scented soap and lazily lathered himself as he mentally analyzed the situation.
For some reason, he was becoming bored with the way his life was going. Somehow he was getting tired of his routine of chasing and bedding women. He twisted his lips in a wry grin. Now that was a laugh, especially since the main reason he had constantly shunned any sort of commitment with a woman was the fear of that very thingboredom. He was the type of person who found any kind of routine deadly. He'd always been afraid of committing himself to someone only to lose interest with that person and end up feeling trapped.
His thoughts fell on his two older brothers, Justin, the physician, and Dex, the geologist in oil exploration. Both were happily married and neither appeared bored. If anything they seemed to be having the time of their lives with their wives, Lorren and Caitlin. Was it possible he'd been wrong? Was there a woman out there somewhere who could forever excite, stimulate and amuse him?
He shuddered at the way his thoughts were going; shocked that he could even consider such a thing. His credo in life for the longest time had been "The only men who aren't fools are bachelors." But he couldn't help wondering why lately he had been subconsciously longing for more than a little black book filled with the names of available women.
As the water from the shower pounded his body, he tossed the problem around in his mind, pulling it apart, analyzing and dissecting it. But he still couldn't come up with any answers.
With a groan he turned off the water and grabbed a towel. Stepping out of the shower, he began drying himself off. There were a lot of questions to which he needed answers. And he knew those answers wouldn't come from taking just one shower. The main problem might be that he had been working too hard lately. Too many court cases and too many late nights spent poring over them. A tired body occasionally filled the mind with foolish thoughts. And what could be more foolish than the notion that he was longing for a steady relationship with a woman?
Clayton shook his head to clear his muddled mind. What he needed was to get away for a while. He had some vacation time coming up. And it was time he took it.
Syneda Walters looked across her desk at the elegantly groomed woman sitting in front of it. She schooled her expression not to show her irritation and annoyanceor her pity. Bracing her elbows on the arm of the chair, she leaned forward. "Ms. Armstrong, I hope you'll reconsider your decision."
"But he has told me he's sorry about everything and really didn't mean to hurt me. He's been under a lot of stress lately. He loves me."
Syneda sighed, letting her well-manicured fingers run agitatedly over the desk surface. She could barely restrain herself from calling the woman all kinds of fool for letting a man abuse her. Yet the woman sat defending a man who evidently got his kicks using her as a punching bag.
Rubbing the ache at the back of her neck, Syneda stared beyond the woman and out the window. It was a beautiful day in early May. The midday sun slanted across the sky and reflected off another building. Its golden rays gleamed brilliantly in the blue sky. She watched as a flock of birds flew by and wished she could somehow fly away with them.
Syneda's eyes again rested on the woman's tear-stained face. The bruises hadn't quite faded and were not adequately concealed with the use of makeup. "Yes?"
"You just don't understand."
Syneda allowed her eyes to close for a moment. Then pushing her chair back she rose and sat on the edge of her desk facing the woman. "You're right, Mrs. Armstrong, I don't understand," she replied quietly. "I don't understand several things. First, how can a man who claims he loves a woman physically hurt her the way your husband has repeatedly hurt you? Second, how can a woman who cares anything about herself let him do it and get away with it?"
Mary Armstrong blew her nose in a well-used napkin. "But he's my husband," the woman implored, pleading understanding.
Syneda didn't give her any. "He's also your abuser. Look, Mrs. Armstrong, you've only been in the marriage for three years and he's doing this to you now. What do you think he'll be doing to you three more years from now?"
"That's what you said a few months ago." Syneda gave a disgusted shake of her head. "It's time for you to make changes. Don't live under a false conception you're worth less than you really are. Don't ever believe you deserve to be beaten. No one deserves that. And please stop thinking you're nothing without him."
There was a moment of silence in the room. Then the woman spoke. Her voice quavered with indecisiveness. "What do you suggest I do?"
"As your attorney I suggest the first thing you should do is get some counseling. And I highly recommend that you bring charges against your husband."
"Will he be arrested?"
"That's a good possibility."
The woman's face paled. "What will happen to his practice? He's an outstanding member of the community."
Syneda let out a huff of breath that was more disgust than anger. "He's also an abuser. As far as his medical practice is concerned, if I were you I'd let him worry about that."
"He loves me, and he's sorry that he's hurt me. I can't let him lose everything. I can't do that to him."
Syneda stood. "Then there's nothing I can do. We'll be more than happy to help you, Mrs. Armstrong, when you're ready to first help yourself. Good day."
Syneda continued to gaze at the closed door after Mrs. Armstrong had left. She let out a deep sigh of frustration. She was not having a good day. To be more specific, it had not been a good week. It had started with the case she'd lost on Monday, and the week had gone downhill from there.
She rubbed her forehead, trying to relieve the throbbing at her temples. Even after five years she often wondered about her decision to practice family law. But then, she silently admitted, the profession she had chosen was important to her because she'd always managed to feel she had somehow made a difference in someone's life; whether it was getting them out of a hellish marriage, taking on their fight for custody rights, or in a case like Mary Armstrong's, helping them to realize options in life other than one filled with physical abuse.
A quick knock sounded at the door. "Come in."
The door opened and her secretary stuck her head inside. "I'm leaving for lunch now. Do you have anything you want me to take care of before I go?"
Syneda shook her head. "No, Joanna. There's nothing that can't wait until you return."
Joanna nodded. "All right. And Lorren Madaris called while you were with Mrs. Armstrong."
"Thanks, and enjoy your lunch."
"I will," Joanna replied, closing the door behind her. Syneda picked up the phone and began dialing. Lorren Madaris was her best friend. Both of them had grown up as the foster children of Nora and Paul Phillips. "Lorren? How was Hawaii?"
"It was great. Justin and I had a wonderful time."
"What about you? What was the outcome of that case you were working on?"
Syneda studied her manicured nail for a long moment before answering. "We lost." She shook her head and tried shrugging off her disappointment. "As far as I'm concerned the judge's decision was wrong. No one can convince me that Kasey Jamison should have been returned to her biological mother. Where was the woman when Kasey really needed her? If you ask me she showed up five years too late. You of all people know how I feel about parents who desert their kids."
There was a slight pause before Lorren replied. "Yes, I know. And you're thinking about your father, aren't you?"
Syneda's body tensed. "I don't have a father, Lorren." Lorren said nothing for a while, then broke the silence. "So what're your plans now about the case?"
"For one thing, I won't give up. I feel like I've let Kasey down, not to mention her adoptive parents. I plan to appeal the judge's decision."
"Don't let things get you down. You did your best."
"But in this case, my best wasn't good enough." Syneda stood. She let out a deep sigh of frustration, not wanting to talk about the Jamison case any longer, not even to her best friend. "Lorren, I'll get back with you later. I need to prepare for my next client."
"Okay. You take care."
As Syneda hung up the phone, a part of her mind slipped into a past she had done everything in her power to forget. Eighteen years ago this week, at the age of ten, she had received her mother's deathbed promise that the father Syneda never knew would be coming for her.
Syneda sighed deeply, remembering how her mother had died of an acute case of pneumonia. Even after the juvenile authorities had come and taken Syneda away because she'd had no other relatives, her mother's words, "Your father will come," had been her comfort and hope. Weeks later, after she'd been placed in the foster home with Mamma Nora and Poppa Paul, she still believed her father would come for her. She would never forget how she would stand in front of her bedroom window, watching and waiting patiently each day for him.
For an entire year she had waited before accepting he was not coming. She began pitying her mother for dying believing in the love and devotion of a man. If his actions were proof of the love two people were supposed to share, then Syneda wanted no part of love. As far as she was concerned, love was like a circle. There was no point in it. She swore to never blindly love a man and put her complete trust and faith in one like her mother had done.
Syneda's thoughts drifted back to the present when she heard a group of fellow attorneys conversing outside of her door. She quickly wiped away the tears that had filled her eyes and released a quivering breath. Just as she had told Lorren a few minutes ago, she didn't have a father.
"Lorren? Is anything wrong?"
"No. I'm glad I was able to reach you before you left the hotel for the airport. Will your flight make a layover in New York?"
"I need to ask a favor of you."
Clayton Madaris smiled. "Sure. What is it?"
"Will you check on Syneda when you get to New York?"
"Why? Is something wrong?"
"I talked to her a few minutes ago, and she's down in the dumps. She lost an important case."
Clayton frowned. "I'm sorry to hear that. No attorney likes to lose."
"It wasn't about just winning the case, Clayton. This case was very important to Syneda."
He glanced at his watch. "All right, Lorren. I'll check on her when I get to New York."
"Thanks, Clayton.You're the greatest. Next to Justin, of course." Clayton laughed. "Of course."
"By the way, how was the convention?"
"Not bad. I had a nice time."
Lorren laughed. "Knowing you, I'm sure you did." Clayton chuckled. "I'll call you after I've seen Syneda."