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In a small town like Copper Lake, Georgia, there were benefits to having an office right on the square, Jamie Munroe thought as she gazed out the window behind her desk. These days, there were bigger benefits being on the corner just off the square. Namely, the mega-construction project going on across the street, turning a shabby, rundown apartment building back into the gracious pre-war gem it had once been.
Okay, so the noise and traffic could be a hassle, but the workers
"I swear, the best-looking guys in the county are on this crew," she murmured.
A few feet away, Lys Paxton, paralegal, computer wiz and friend, uh-huhed with her feet propped on the credenza, her gaze locked on a pair of the smoothest, tannest, strongest, sexiest backsand backsidesJamie had ever seen. Both men wore jeans, faded, snug and caked with the usual residue of construction work, and both had stripped off their shirts in deference to the morning heat. They were unloading lumber from the bed of a pickup, and they were definitely ogle-worthy.
Lys sighed, her hands clasped loosely around a cold can of diet pop. "Don't you love it when the lumberyard can't make deliveries on short notice?"
"Hmm. Remind me to send the owner my thanks."
It was ten-thirty on Wednesday morning, and Jamie and Lys were officially on a coffee break. Up until a few weeks ago they'd actually locked up the office and walked over to the coffee shop on the square to spend ten bucks and fifteen minutes relaxing. Then the work had started on the mansion, and they'd begun taking their breaks in the office, chairs turned to the window, feet up, savoring.
It was the only male-female relationship of any sort in Jamie's life these days. Pathetic.
"When was the last time you went on a date?" Lys asked.
"I don't remember."
"Me, either." Another sigh. "I need one. Bad."
Jamie hadn't needed a man in a long time, not since law school, and she didn't intend to let it happen again. Oh, she wasn't giving them up or anything. She could want and have. She could use and discard. She could have a perfectly normal relationship. She would just never let herself need a man.
Men were dangerous to a woman's health. Every woman she knew had gotten her heart broken, her faith shaken and her self-esteem smacked. A couple of them had lost all their money to the rat bastards, as well.
Using, enjoying, not trusting, not needing. That was the way to go.
"I call the guy on the right with the rip in his jeans beneath his truly impressive butt," Lys said.
"You're welcome to him. I'll take the one on the left. I like a man who saves his revealing clothes for just me."
"Okay, it's time for them to turn around. The mystery faces revealed. Think we know either of them?"
"If I do, I haven't seen them like that before." Not that she made a particular habit of looking at men's butts.
When the last board was in place, both men did turn, Lys's first. He was as hot from the front as from the back, and unfamiliar to them both. Jamie's pick was slower. He bent to retrieve a bottle of water from the cooler next to his booted feet before straightening, giving them an oblique view as he tipped his head back and drained half the water at once. Watching his fingers grip the bottle, his throat work to swallow, his muscles ripple from the relief of the cold water, Jamie suddenly felt as if her own temperature had redlined. She was groping for her pop on the desk and found it just as he turned to face the window head-on.
The pop fell over, dripping off the desk to puddle on the mat. Lys choked, coughing until she sputtered, and Jamie turned to pure ice inside, too frozen to move or think.
Russ Calloway, owner of Calloway Construction. Brother to her good friend, Robbie. Respondent in the first divorce case she'd handled after coming to town. Sworn enemy. Former lover.
"Son of a bitch." Lys grabbed a handful of tissues to blot the desk pad, then mop up the cola on the floor. Catching Jamie's chair, she spun it around so her back was to the street. "There should be a warning."
Jamie managed a faint smile. "The signs on all those trucks over there do say Calloway Construction. So does the big fancy sign the bank put up at the corner." This Calloway Construction Project Is Funded By Fidelity Mutual Of Copper Lake.
"Yeah, but he's the freakin' boss. He's not supposed to be over there."
He was a hands-on boss, by all accounts. Just because they hadn't seen him before didn't mean he wouldn't show up. The crew had been working for only two weeks, doing basic demolition. She'd known he would be on site eventually. She'd been prepared for it. Eventually.
"It's not like I don't ever see him around town," she said, reassuring herself as much as Lys. "A woman can get lost pretty easily among twenty-thousand people, but there's always that chance."
"Yeah, but you don't drool over him if you catch a glimpse of him at the grocery store, do you?"
"Of course not," Jamie said. Truth was, she did. She couldn't remember a single time in her life when she hadn't felt at least a faint stirring of lust for Russ. Not when he'd broken up with her, not when he'd broken her heart, not when he'd sat in the conference room with her and his soon-to-be ex looking as if he despised them both.
It was his loss, Robbie had told her the one time she'd cried on his shoulder. Russ was being an assand Robbie knew, being the undisputed official ass of the Calloway family.
If it was his loss, why did it hurt her?
"Stop it!" Lys admonished. "I can tell by the look in your eyes, you're still thinking about him."
"Actually, I was thinking about that contract I have to negotiate with Robbie in ten minutes," she lied, forcing herself to really think about it. "He's such a phonymakes everyone think he's lazy and shallow and doesn't care about anything but fun, when he's a damn good lawyer."
"Which doesn't negate the fact that he really is lazy and shallow." Lys separated the Andersen folder from the stack on Jamie's desk and handed it to her. "He's a classic Calloway. They're all worthless with the exception of Sara, and she wasn't born into the family. She only married into it and had the sense to stick around and enjoy the benefits after her scum husband died."
Jamie slid the folder into her bag, easily mistaken for an attaché. What could she say? She loved big purses. She was prepared for anything.
Except finding out that the man she was lusting over was Russ.
"Your meeting with Robbie is at the country club at eleven," Lys said, "and then you're supposed to see the shrink in Augusta about Laurie Stinson. He's expecting you at two. And since he charges by the hour, he'll probably be quite wordy, so you should go on home when you get back. I'll close up here."
"Robbie switched lunch to that new little place on the riverChantal's. Says he's had all the country-club food he can stomach for a while." Jamie slipped off her sweater and folded it over her arm. The restaurant would probably be cold, but the four-block walk over wouldn't. "And I'll be back. I'll want to make notes on this afternoon's interview. But don't you wait around. I may have dinner in Augusta first."
Halfway to the door, she turned back. "Thanks a bunch, Lys. I don't know what I'd do without you."
"You'd probably still be sharing office space with Robbie and getting nothing done." Lys went into the outer office and settled in at her desk. "Have fun, boss."
Jamie went out the door and into the foyer. She was not, was not going to look across the street when she stepped out. She would turn left, walk the fifty feet to the corner, then turn left again. That was all.
She opened the door, stepped outside into the muggy May heat and her gaze zinged in on the construction site so fast that her vision went blurry. Lys's hunk was still there, and so was Russ. He leaned against the lowered tailgate of the truck, legs stretched out, ankles crossed, and they were talking. If she tried, she could hear his voice. The street wasn't that wide, the midday noises not that loud.
But she didn't try. She put on a pair of oversized sunglasses that hid half her face, turned left, bypassed her car and reached the corner without really being aware of the journey. Once she'd turned and solid limestone blocked the site from view, she sighed, her shoulders relaxing.
She'd known it wouldn't be easy living in the town Russ's family had founded and still pretty much owned two hundred years later. She hadn't expected easy. She just hadn't known it could be this hard.
Copper Lake was a lovely town, designed with aesthetics in mind. The entire downtown was on the historic register, where codes were rigid, and even new construction in town was closely monitored. The newest neighborhoods were almost as charming as the oldest, and even the shopping mall fit into the town planners' view for it.
She passed the square, site of war monuments, political rallies and summer-evening concerts. After crossing River Road, she took a few steps down into Calloway Construction's recently completed riverside retail complex. It was beautiful, looked as if it had been there a hundred years, and was already at full occupancy only a month after opening. Idly she wondered how much was Russ's vision and how much had come from his architects and designers. It was hard to think of him and charming in the same thought. Even before he'd hated her, he hadn't been exactly charming. Blunt, forthright, not charming.
She located Chantal's in the corner, and the hostess showed her to a covered deck with paddle fans cooling the air. Robbie was seated at a table near the river, gazing out as if he'd rather be out there fishing in his john boat than working.
She nudged his shoulder before setting her sweater and bag in the seat across from him. He wore jeans, honest-to-God pressed and creased, deck shoes and a polo shirt in bright lemon-yellow. Every other lawyer in town wore suits to work, but not him. He didn't even wear them to court unless he was feeling generous. Clothes didn't make a bad case good or turn a good one bad, he said. It didn't hurt that he was a Calloway, and a good lawyer.
"Hey, babe." He stood and kissed her cheek, then held the chair for her. "You walked over here, didn't you? If you'd called, I would have picked you up."
"If I'd wanted a ride, I would have driven. How are you?"
"Anticipating my vacation. Tomorrow morning, six-fifteen, I'm on a plane to Miami."
She'd heard all about the trip. A leisurely drive halfway through the Keys, then seven days on one of the charter fishing boats owned by a law school classmate. A fishing pole, beer and sunall a Calloway needed to be happy. "Have fun."
"It's not too late for you to join me."
He'd made the offer before; she declined again. "Fishing isn't my idea of a vacation."
"Your loss. Anything new on?" He shrugged.
She smiled politely at the waitress who set a glass of ice water in front of her, then made a face at Robbie. "I managed to forget it all morning, and now you bring it up."
His scowl reminded her of his brothers, any and all of them. Gerald Calloway had had four sons, three with his wife and one with a girlfriend. Rick, Russ and Robbie, along with Mitch Lassiter, second in the lineup, all bore a very strong resemblance. Dark hair, dark skin, startlingly blue eyes, voices that sounded similar and matching scowls. Rick was the handsomest, Jamie had long ago decided, Mitch the most mysterious, Robbie the most charming and Russ the sexiest.
"You've got a freakin'stalker, Jamie. You shouldn't be forgetting it."
His words chased away what little ease she'd recovered after seeing Russ. Stalkerit sounded so ugly that she avoided using the word to describe the mystery man who'd come into her life a few weeks earlier. Secret admirer sounded so much more harmless. Less deadly.
Less likely, logic forced her to admit. But she'd lived through a nightmare before. She preferred the state of denial at this point.
"The flowers were the last thing." A dozen apricot roses her favoritewaiting in a vase on her steps when she'd gotten home Monday evening.
"What the hell kind of guy sends apricot roses?" Robbie asked. "Red, yellow, pinkthose are guy roses.You can't even buy apricot roses in Copper Lake. They're a special order thing."
She smiled faintly. "You called the florists, too?"
"Of course. And none of them had gotten an order for apricot roses in months. Did you call the police?"
"And say what? Someone sent me flowers? Left a note on my windshield? Had a box of chocolates delivered to my office? It's a little creepy, Robbie, but the guy hasn't crossed the line."
"Gee, thanks. That makes me feel better."
She pulled the file from her bag. "I've got to be in Augusta in a few hours. We should work while we eat."
He looked as if he wanted to protest, but after a moment his mouth flattened. "Okay. But next thing that happens, if you don't call the police, I do. Agreed?"
Jamie knew he wasn't kidding. His best bud was a detective with the Copper Lake Police Department, Rick worked for the Georgia Bureau of Investigation and Mitch worked for the state BI in Mississippi.
Not that anything else was going to happen. Her admirer was shy but harmless. She wanted to believe that. Needed to, for her own peace of mind.
When his cell phone rang, Russ Calloway seriously considered not answering. He received about fifty calls a day, and at least forty-nine of them were complaints. He wasn't betting that this one would be the exception.
Still, he fished the phone from his pocket and flipped it open. "This is Calloway."
"Hey, so is this." Robbie, kid brother, company lawyer and eternal pain in the butt.
"What's up?" Russ asked absently, phone braced between his ear and shoulder while he examined the framing around a third-floor door.
"The price of gas. The price of a good time."
"You've been talking to Mitch." Those were their older brother's stock answers to the question.