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Harper Hamilton whacked the yellow racquetball so hard he heard his wrist crack, but when it bounced off the wall and smacked his youngest brother upside the head, he felt an odd twinge of satisfaction. Great move, wrong family member, he thought, wishing his cousin Jake had been on the receiving end of the powerful, unexpected blow.
"Are we cool?" Nelson asked, touching a hand to his cheek.
"Because that's the second time you've whacked me in the head!"
Harper wore an apologetic smile. "Sorry, man."
"You better be." Nelson coughed, flexed his jaw to make sure it wasn't broken. "This face will be worth millions one day, so take it easy, bro. I'm a budding movie star, remember?"
The brothers shared a hearty chuckle.
"I came down here to let off some steam," Harper confessed, raking a hand over his head, "but I probably should have just stayed at the office. I have depositions to read, motions to file and an important client meeting first thing tomorrow morning."
"You still pissed because Cameron Childs picked Jake to represent him instead of you?"
"No, I'm over it." Harper gripped his racket, imagined he was squeezing his cousin's neck. Thinking about how he'd been overlookedagainfor another high-profile case made his blood boil. He put in longer hours than anyone else at Hamilton, Hamilton and Clark, actively sought out new clients and had an impeccable reputation. No John Edwardstype scandals or skeletons falling out of my closet, he thought, dribbling the ball with his racket. I haven't lost a case in years, so why do I keep getting passed over for the most lucrative cases?
"I still can't believe Jake proposed to Charlotte and is about to become stepdad to a two-year-old boy," Nelson said, taking a swig from his water bottle. "If someone had told me a month ago that Jake would be engaged, I would have called them insane!"
"You and me both. I knew Jake was feeling Charlotte, but I never saw this one coming."
"No one did." Nelson added, "Well, no one besides Aunt Jeanette. Nothing gets past her!"
"I hope all the chatter dies down soon so everyone can get back to work," Harper said, cleaning the sweat off his face with the bottom of his Adidas T-shirt. Ever since Jake had gotten engaged to his paralegal, Charlotte Evans, things had been crazy around the office. Harper couldn't go anywhere without someone gushing over the couple. And he was sick of it. Sick of his colleagues congratulating Jake, patting him on the back, taking him out for celebratory after-work drinks.
"We have a huge fraud trial coming up, and there's still a lot of work that needs to be done."
"I hate to be the bearer of bad news, Harp, but no one's thinking about that fraud case anymore. The whole city is talking about Jake and Charlotte, and the only thing people care about is who's hosting their first official engagement party!"
"You'd think Jake invented the institution of marriage," Harper grumbled, folding his arms. "Charlotte's a good woman, and it's obvious Jake loves her and her son, Harry, but I don't understand why everyone's fussing over them. Couples get engaged every day. Big deal!"
Nelson chuckled. "People love a good old-fashioned love story, and I wouldn't be surprised if they made the rounds on the local TV shows, because viewers can't get enough of office romance stories."
Harper glanced at his titanium-steel sports watch and scowled when he saw the time. Premier Fitness was not only the most expensive gym in Philadelphia, but it was the busiest, and since he only had the racquetball court booked for an hour he didn't want to waste another second discussing his cousin's surprise engagement.
"Enough talk," Harper said, poised to serve. "Let's get back to our game"
At the sound of his name, spoken on such a rich, melodious toneone that evoked thoughts of passionate kisses, tender caresses and soulful lovemakinghe wheeled around. And when Harper saw the tall, willowy woman standing before him in the white tank top and workout shorts, the temperature in the indoor court soared to a thousand unbearable degrees.
"I'm Azure Ellison," she said, offering her right hand. "We met last month when I interviewed your family for Eminence magazine at"
"My uncle's Integrity Estate," Harper finished, taking her soft, supple hand in his and giving it a light squeeze. What he really wanted to do was take her in his arms and discover once and for all if her lips tasted as sweet as they looked, but fear of getting slapped upside his head and humiliated in front of his younger brother prevented Harper from acting on his desires.
"You don't need to remind me who you are, Ms. Ellison. I know." How could I forget? You've had a recurring role in my dreams for the past three weeks!
"I'm flattered that you remember me."
"I never forget a face, and certainly never one as gorgeous as yours."
If only that were true, Azure thought, masking her disappointment with a fake smile. She'd been convinced that once they were alone, away from Harper's family and all of the employees crawling around the Integrity mansion, he would remember her. But Harper didn't, and for some inexplicable reason, it stung.
Azure told herself to get a grip. There was nothing to be upset about. Back in prep school, she'd been a plump, painfully shy scholarship student who didn't have a single friend, and it was silly to think that Harper Hamiltona powerful, accomplished attorney who'd probably bedded women in the hundredswould remember her after all these years.
"What's up? I'm Nelson. Harper's younger, devastatingly handsome brother."
Tearing her gaze away from Harper, she smiled at the aspiring actor with the piercing eyes and movie-star good looks. "It's great to finally meet you," she said, shaking the hand he offered. "I'm sorry you couldn't join us for the shoot, but I understand you were out of town."
He nodded his smooth, bald head. "I really wanted to be there, but I had an audition for a commercial with Eva Mendes, and I couldn't pass up an opportunity to meet my favorite actress."
"And a woman you've had a giant crush on for years," Harper added, clapping his brother on the shoulder. "He watched Hitch so many times the DVD broke!"
The brothers laughed.
"Harper told me you're an up-and-coming writer for Eminence magazine, but he never mentioned how beautiful you are."
Nelson flashed his trademark grin, the one Harper had seen him use to get out of parking tickets and score tables at the best restaurants in town. "I didn't tell you she was stunning because I didn't want you to embarrass me. You know how you get when you see a drop-dead gorgeous woman!"
Azure's heartbeat wailed in her ears like a siren. Me? Drop-dead gorgeous? Harper couldn't be serious. He had to be playing, kidding around. Thanks to her aesthetician, she now had great skin and lush, shiny hair, but no one had ever showered her with compliments before. And more shocking still, Harper and Nelson were wearing matching smiles and staring at her intently. What was it with these Hamilton men? she wondered, fighting the urge to squeal like a schoolgirl. Why did they all have to be suave, good-looking and charming?
"I bet you used to model," Nelson said smoothly. "Am I right?"
No, but not for lack of trying. Azure shivered as bitter memories from her childhood resurfaced. If her mother, a former beauty queen, had had her way, she would have been a toddler in a tiara. But beauty pageants were for thin, pretty girls, and Azure had been neither. At least that was what pageant organizers repeatedly told her. Now, her younger sister, Eden, was another story. She was born to rip the runway, and from the time she could walk, she was doing just that. "No runways in my past," she replied with a nervous laugh. "I love fashion, but I was born to be a writer. It's all I've ever dreamed of doing."
Harper wore a pensive expression on his face. "That's too bad. With your look, and that million-dollar smile, you could have had a long and prosperous career."
"I agree," Nelson tossed in, whipping out his BlackBerry as it rang. He put it to his ear. "I better take this. It's my agent."
A grin overwhelmed Harper's mouth as he watched his kid brother exit the court. Now he finally had Azure all to himself. While they stood there, openly staring at each other, Harper allowed his eyes to do what his hands were itching to: roam over her delectable, five-foot-nine-inch frame. Her sleek black midlength bob complemented her oval face, and the side bangs that grazed her left cheek gave her a mysterious allure. Azure Ellison had lips made for kissing, hips made for squeezing and a seriously sexy vibe going on.
Casting his gaze downward, he continued his slow, thorough appraisal. Her loose-fitting workout gear hid her fit and fabulous figure, but Harper still remembered how nicely she'd filled out that black-belted-suit she'd worn to last month's photo shoot. All afternoon he'd hoped she'd ditch the stuffy blazer, but no such luck. Azure Ellison could just as easily be a model for Eminence magazine, and if he ever saw her striking face on the cover, he'd buy stocks in the tabloid.
Harper spotted three gangly teens leaning against the front window. They stood there, their eyes as big as saucers, jabbing each other with their elbows. Was that how he looked right now? Dazed, awed and googly-eyed? Harper hoped not. When it came to the ladies, he wasn't as confident as his cousin Jake. His ego had taken a hit when he'd caught his exgirlfriend cheating, and Harper was only now starting to feel like his old self. Watching the trio shamelessly ogle Azure made him feel a mixture of pride and jealousy. An odd reaction considering she wasn't his woman, or even a close friend. "I was hoping we could talk."
"Sure," he said, giving her his undivided attention, "I could spare a few minutes now."
"Not here. I'd prefer we speak in private."
"Are you in need of legal counsel, Ms. Ellison? Because if you are I'm your man."
I wish you were. Azure knew Harper was teasing, but a part of hera big partwished he wasn't. Lean and well built, the thirty-one-year-old attorney was an imposing figure with long, muscular limbs and a firm, hard butt she'd spent the past ten minutes drooling over. "I'm not in trouble with the law, but if I ever need an attorney, I'll be sure to give you a call."
He blessed her with a wide, disarming smile.
"Are you free tonight?"
"It depends on what this is pertaining to."
"I'm doing a follow-up piece on the interview I did last month." The lie slid smoothly off her lips. It should. She'd rehearsed it on the drive over to Premier Fitness, and again while she was working up a sweat on the elliptical machine. "I would love to sit down with you and discuss it further. Why don't we meet later for cocktails? I can tell you all about it then."
Harper raised an eyebrow. Three weeks ago, Azure had sat down with his family for an in-depth interview, one that had lasted for several hours. No way she was writing a second piece about the Hamilton clan. Only Brad and Angelina got that kind of coverage. "I'm afraid you're going to have to give me a little more information about this new story, Ms. Ellison."
Azure parted her lips, but nothing came out. Not a single word. Then she remembered the conversation in the staff room that morning and invented another, more compelling tale. "The whole city's buzzing with the news of your cousin's surprise engagement, and I thought it would be great to add some quotes and anecdotes about the darling couple to the piece I originally wrote. You're the first person who came to mind, so here I am."
His face hardened like stone. "I'm sorry, Ms. Ellison, but I have nothing to offer. I was just as shocked as everyone else when Jake proposed. But, if you'd like, I can arrange for you to meet with my aunt Jeannette, because she had to know something
Azure watched Harper closely, and all but fainted when he licked his full, thick lips. She admired the famed attorney from the top of his brown close-cropped hair to the bottom of his sneaker-clad feet. His skin looked as smooth as whipped peanut butter, he had a strong chiseled jaw and a pair of powerful, muscular legs. Azure longed to run her hands down his arms, wished she could touch and massage his athletic physique. Damn, and he smelled good, too. Like a rough and tough alpha male. One who could show her a thing or two in the bedroom. Or the kitchen. Or any other room he wanted to have her in.
At the thought, goose bumps prickled her flesh. Azure blinked, forced her gaze away from Harper's sexy mouth. No more lusting. It was time to refocus, to get back to the matter at hand. She had to convince Harper to meet her for drinks at Table 13, that chic, upscale restaurant bar in the heart of Center City, but how?
"I'm sorry you wasted your time coming all the way down here, but"
"Maybe instead of writing a piece about your cousin and his new fiancée, I should feature you, alone," she began, casually resting a hand on his forearm. Touching him was a mistake. Her heart did a triple back flip, and Azure suddenly felt so woozy she feared she'd collapse at his feet.
What's wrong with me? Azure wondered, taking a deep breath. She'd interviewed scores of attractive men over the years, and not once did she have butterflies in her stomach or sweaty palms. But in Harper's presence she became a bumbling, stumbling fool who couldn't think straight. What's up with that?
Seconds passed before she felt composed enough to speak. Once her head cleared, she continued her pitch. "I'd love to discuss my idea further with you, and if you could spare an hour of your time to meet with me tonight I'd really appreciate it."
"Just tell me when and where." His smile was back, and his dark, penetrating gaze moved over her like the fierce autumn breeze blowing leaves outside the downtown streets. Azure didn't have the presence of mind to think, let alone speak. Harper Hamilton had it all. Dashing good looks, keen intelligence and a physique that would make an action hero jealous. And he did it for her in a big way. "Let's meet at Table 13," she said, breaking free of her sinful thoughts and reuniting with her voice. "Is seven o'clock okay?"
"Great. I'll see you then."
"I look forward to it."
Azure's legs were shaking, but she turned around and walked across the racquetball court without wiping out. How the hell am I going to make it through cocktail hour with Harper when I could barely handle a five-minute conversation? she thought, hustling back through the lobby of Premier Fitness and out the front door. Azure had a date to get ready for, and no time to waste. She only hoped that between now and the time she met Harper for cocktails at Table 13, she had a new plan because her first one had just been shot to hell.