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Ray-Ban sunglasses blocking the bright sun, Blake Bennington made his way down the courthouse steps, debating whether to ask Sara out before getting back to the office. Regardless of his decision, his fourteen-hour workday would have to be cut short for his appearance at the annual Moon Over Miami fundraiser tonight. Which meant, after ten hours in a tie, he was destined to trade his suit for a tux. But the discomfort would be a small price to pay given his sister Nikki's involvement with the event was what had kept her out of trouble since her arrival back home.
Blake pushed the troublesome thoughts aside. "Thanks for the info, Sara."
Beside him, the striking brunette in a power suit sent him a smile laced with a subtle come-hither vibe. Blake had been studiously sidestepping her interest since the first time they'd collaborated on the South Florida Drug Enforcement Task Force, years ago.
"Winning a guilty verdict in the Menendez case will solidify your chances for promotion, Blake," she said. "I hope the file helps."
"Every piece of information helps." They reached the busy sidewalk and he stopped to face the beautiful lawyer. "Seriously," he said. "I appreciate your time."
"You know I'm always available," Sara said as she brushed his arm with her fingers, and Blake bit back a smile.
Her touch seemed like a simple gesture, but he knew better.
Sara was classy. Poised. And intelligent. Known for being a bulldog in the courtroom, she possessed a dedication and pragmatism that rivaled his. Just the sort of woman Blake should date. Just the sort of woman Blake usually did date. One who understood his career goals and the time requirements.
So why was he hesitating?
While the question darted around his head, a passing lawyer stopped to ask Sara a question, and Blake paused, knowing he was a fool for ignoring the offer in her eyes. Nikki might be more of a time-consuming handful than a little sister had a right to be, not to mention the high-profile case that currently required his full attention, but he was a red-blooded man who enjoyed sex as much as the next guy. Despite ample opportunity, it had been six months since he'd last woken up with a woman in his bed. Six months since he'd followed through on the urge.
What was his problem?
As he contemplated the question, a female who looked barely old enough to vote plowed into him, her eyes fixed on her phone as one of her black-booted heels landed on his toes. Gripping her arms, Blake stared down at the long, honey-colored hair, the Beatles T-shirt and the enticing cutoffsnot short enough to reveal the underwear beneath, but coming pretty damn close. His internal debate made a lateral move from his sex life to whether there was lace or a thong beneath the shorts. And combined with the sight of sexy leather cowboy boots
Man, he seriously needed to get a grip.
His feminine assailant slipped her phone into her pocket and removed her foot from his. "Sorry, Suit," she drawled, and Blake set her back, his eyebrows pulling together in amusement at the nickname. "I'm running late," she went on, "but that's no excuse for body-slamming you."
"You should watch where you're going," he said lightly. He nodded down at the fantasy-inducing footwear. "With boots like those, someone might get hurt."
"Cheer up. Maybe you can successfully sue me for a hit-and-run."
The infectious sparkle in her hazel eyes was more humor than seduction.
"Except you haven't run," he said, attempting to maintain a serious expression, knowing he was failing. "And technically, if you left me your name, I'd have no case."
"Well, when you put it like that " She stuck out her hand, and Blake took it automatically, noting the soft skin and the small tattoo on the inside of her wrist. "Jacqueline Lee," she said. "And just in case you were considering asking me out" she released his hand "everyone calls me Jax."
Blake realized his previous words had been misconstrued as a come-on, and his forehead bunched in skeptical humor. "I don't date jailbait."
"I'm twenty-three and of sound mind and body," she said. He didn't know her well enough to verify the state of her mind, but it was obvious her body was most definitely sound. She tilted her head. "Does that help?"
He lifted an eyebrow in amusement. "It would, except I never date a woman who goes by a man's name."
Her wide smile at his fictitiousand ridiculousdating guideline was alluring. "That's an awful lot of rules you got there," she said. She turned to go and then paused, shooting him a mischievous look over her shoulder. "Give me a call when you want to break one."
An amused scoff of doubt escaped as he watched her head out onto the courthouse lawn. When was the last time he'd engaged in a harmless flirtation? Too long, apparently. It was definitely time for him to start dating again if he was noticing a little hellion on heels. Hardly the kind of woman he needed in his life.
An old VW Beetle parked in front of the courthouse began to blast a song loud enough to fill the bustling courthouse lawn. And one minute his sexy assailant was crossing the grassy grounds, the next she was stepping out into a dance routine. Stunned, Blake struggled to make sense of her actions until, one by one, she was joined by adolescents in a clearly choreographed routine. Soon, more than a dozen youth were engaged in a dance number good enough to be aired on a professional music video.
"Oh, for heaven's sake, a flash mob," Sara said as she came to a stop beside him. Her voice was loaded with disapproval. "Don't kids these days have anything better to do?"
Blake stared at the group and, in particular, their leader, passion oozing from her every movement. Her earlier playful tone couldn't be taken seriously, but the earnest enthusiasm on her face now was mesmerizing.
"They're just having fun, Sara," he said with a distracted tone.
There was a time when he used to live to have fun, having entirely too much of it along the way. But just because he'd crashed headfirst into reality when his father had died, leaving the responsibility for his madcap family on Blake's shoulders, that didn't mean the rest of the world needed one of life's hardest lessons at the age of twenty.
"No harm in that," he went on.
There was harm, however, in the way he was appreciating the fluid movements of the hazel-eyed girl/woman. She twisted, twirled and moved to the Latino hip-hop songan odd choice given her cowboy bootswith a supple grace that was capable of contorting her body into almost impossible positions. Her dancing fired his imagination, turning his blood to molten metal.
"No harm? Tell that to the police. They don't look amused at all," Sara said. "They look ready to make an arrest."
With effort, Blake shifted his gaze to the two unsmiling cops rapidly approaching the dance group, his mind filling with an interesting image of his hit-and-run perpetrator in handcuffs. And not in a professional capacity.
What the hell was wrong with him?
Blake gazed at the aforementioned policemen as one of them stopped to address the dancers engaged in the routinea routine that currently involved undulating on the grass in an impressive dance movewhile the other cop made a beeline for the beat-up VW Beetle blaring the music. And, for the first time, Blake noticed the leg encased in a long cast sticking out from the passenger seat of the offending car.
A weary groan of frustration escaped his lips, and his entertainment in the scene came to a screeching halt.
There was no doubt in his mind who the leg belonged to, because it was highly unlikely there could be two casts in Miami emblazoned with a red dragon from hip to toes. A cast tattoo, his sister had called it.
Hand on the VW's hood, the police officer hunched over to speak with the hidden occupant, the cast engulfing the leg like a plaster anchor. One that Blake had thought would keep Nikki from landing in hot waterlike getting thrown in jail. At least until he'd wrapped up his current case.
And there was nothing Blake hated more than being wrong.
Six hours later
"I came to arrange your release from jail as a favor to my sister, Ms. Lee," Blake Bennington said, and Jax winced, saying a prayer of thanks, again, that she'd been the only one arrested today. The black interior of the limo and the lawyer's dark good looks were a sharp contrast to his cool gray eyes as he went on. "Arguing the merits of the Miami Police Department with you wasn't part of the deal."
Beside him, Jax squirmed against the plush leather seat. Calling her new friend, Nikki Bennington, for advice had seemed logical. When the law student had shared that her brother was less than amused by today's escapades, Jax couldn't have cared less about some unknown stuffed shirt. Until she'd learned that Nikki's deal with her brother meant he'd informed his chauffer to bypass a charity event and head for the jail to help. Before Blake Bennington had arrived, Jax had vowed to honor the generous gesture by holding her tongue to keep the peace.
A peace that had been most profoundly disturbed.
The hairs on her arms still stood on end from the initial electrifying sight of her hit-and-run victim materializing to offer assistance. After hours in custody, she should have been too spent to feel anything. But it wasn't every day a girl was rescued from behind bars by a tuxedo-clad man more gorgeous than James Bond leaving her body both shaken and stirred.
"I wasn't arguing the police department's merits," she said, trying again for a conciliatory tone, which was pathetic at best. "I was just." She forced herself to meet his gaze, the now familiar imposing form creating a jolting sizzle.
The attraction was horribly inconvenient, especially with the disapproving vibes he exuded. Keeping her opinions to herself wasn't her usual style, and much, much harder than she'd originally thought.
She hiked her chin, aiming to bring a diplomatic end to their debate. "I was just questioning their priorities."
Blake tipped his head. "And I'm sure the police would love to accommodate you and your priorities," he said smoothly, clearly not meaning the words. "But they have a job to do and are bound by the letter of the law. So for future reference" a single brow lifted, a perfect match to his wry tone "disturbing the peace, no matter how innocently it's done, is illegal."
Jax bit her tongue at his tone, reminding herself to think of Nikki. Think of Nikki. During their previous run-in, Blake had appeared approachable, almost relaxed, but the moment he'd shown up to arrange her release, his intense lawyerly attitude had shown up, as well. Yet through it all the man had remained so cool. So calm. And now he was so right, damn him.
One more statement pleading her point of view and then she'd happily remain silent. "I didn't plan this event with the intention of breaking the law."
As if preparing for an interesting story, Blake leaned back, his posture one of a man in control. One arm thrown along the seat behind her. One leg crossed over the other. And two eyes focused on her as if daring her to impress him with her explanation.
"Then what was your intention?" he said.
"I work as a music therapist at South Glade Teen Center, an after-school club for kids. The county pulled their funding."
Her heart rate jumped, fear squeezing her chest. The club provided a safe place for the kids to be themselves. To belong. Without the facility, her high school years would have been unbearable. Shifting from foster family to foster family, South Glade had been the only constant, the one place she'd truly felt at home. Losing it now wasn't an option.
Seeking calm, she rubbed the small tattoo that partially disguised the two well-healed scars on her wrist. Warrior wounds, she liked to call them. Symbols of her past. They reminded her of who she was.
And how far she'd come.
She straightened her shoulders and pushed the panic aside. "So I wanted to gain a little positive publicity for our cause."
"By getting arrested?"
Was he mocking her?
She inhaled a soothing breath, straining for patience. "That's how Nikki got involved. A mutual friend asked her for tips on how to proceed legally."
And you should have followed Nikki's advice more closely, Jax.
Blake appeared unimpressed with her explanation. "Well, according to the police report, the music blaring from your VW Beetle was loud enough to disturb the peace."
Inwardly, she winced, hating her defensive tone. "I told Nikki it's kinda hard to keep the beat to music you can't hear."
He went on as if she hadn't spoken. "Not to mention the dance move that landed you on the sidewalk where you" he leaned forward to the seat across from them and retrieved the report, scanning the page "and I quote 'failed to comply with a lawful order to cease from obstructing a public sidewalk.' End quote."
His gaze landed on hers again, and heat crept up her face, but she refused to let him see her blush. So Jax concentrated very hard on brushing away the grains of sand clinging to her denim cutoffs, remnants of her time spent on the ground.
"I couldn't hear the police officer's order to move because of the music," she mumbled.
"Precisely," he said evenly.
She shot him a look she hoped was veiled by her lashes, her voice growing stronger. "And I didn't intend to land on the sidewalk. I just overshot my mark doing the Worm."
He raised a brow higher. "I assume you're referring to the dance step that involved you undulating along the ground on your belly."
He set the report on the seat between them and went still, as if he couldn't wait for her to explain further. Somehow she didn't think further details would help.
"The maneuver isn't easy to do," she said. "It certainly looked painful."
She ignored him and went on. "And I unintentionally positioned myself in the wrong spot. I didn't know that I was getting too close to the walkway."
"In retrospect, a fatal error in judgment," he said drily.
The sarcasm was really getting on her nerves.
"There was no time to practice," she said. "We needed to react quickly to the budget cuts. While the news was fresh in the public's mind."
He settled a little deeper into the seat. "And you thought taking the teens you were responsible for out on a flash mob and risking arrest was a good expression of your dissatisfaction?"
Jeez, putting it like that made her feel like a crazy lady. "I told you, I was trying to keep it legal."
Above the pristine tux and the tanned, flawless complexion of his face, the two dark slashes of eyebrows were perfectly schooled into a noncommittal expression. And despite the sophisticated polish and the undertones of skepticism, she suddenly got the impression that Blake Bennington was as amused as he was disapproving of her actions.
She narrowed her eyes suspiciously. "Deep down, you find this whole thing funny, don't you?"
"Just the part where your carefully planned flash mob was ruined by a dance move." His lips twitched, as if suppressing a grin. "Perhaps next time you'll plan your routine more carefully."
The hint of restrained humor was annoying, and she said, "And perhaps Officer Brown will learn to lighten up a little?"
His eyebrows shot higher as the gray eyes grew dark, holding her in their power as he leaned closer. She'd obviously stepped on a nerve.
"I can assure you, Ms. Lee. When it comes to people who break the law" his voice was deadly soft, and his proximity brought her attraction back in full force "both Officer Brown and I take our jobs very seriously."
Trapped by the force of his gaze, Jax's heart rapped harder beneath her ribs. Getting beyond the thickly fringed, hypnotizing eyes was difficult, but she finally allowed her gaze to skim down the angular planes of his face, landing on his mouth.
Oh, great.he had lips just the way she liked them. Full. Sensual. The kind that could kiss a girl senseless and make her forget she'd sworn off men forever. Or at least until she found one who didn't think she was certifiable.
And Superman here, with the eyes of steel, clearly wasn't the type.