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AS HE SET HIS THIRD Corona down after taking a long swallow, Evan Lachlan felt Elias Bradshaw looking at him across the table. When he glanced over, there was a quizzical smile on the judge's face. Lachlan arched a brow in query.
"You really don't know, do you?" Bradshaw asked.
"Know what?" He returned his gaze to the fascinating sight of Holly McClure dancing with Susannah Wingfield--yeah, two women, like this was a dyke bar or something. A Bonnie Raitt CD was thundering from the sound system while the band took a break at what Holly swore was the only halfway decent blues bar in New York. And whoever would've thought they'd run into Bradshaw and Wingfield at a place like this? An upscale restaurant or exclusive club was more their style--or so Lachlan would have said before getting a good look at Susannah.
The prim attorney was surely a sight to behold, a Friday night fantasy (the last thing he'd ever admit to Holly) in black miniskirt, black stiletto heels, and crimson silk shirt with three--count 'em, three--buttons undone. As for the black leather biker-chick jacket that draped the back of her chair ... incredible. He'd seen her legs before, of course, but never this much of them, or in black silk hosiery. And they were well worth looking at.
Susannah Wingfield, off-duty. Lachlan shook his head in amazement. He would've bet good money that this blonde carbon copy of Audrey Hepburn could never laugh and toss her long hair and sing and shake it like--well, better not go there. He had to work with the lady, after all.
Besides, he preferred watching his own lady. Holly was dancing with as much abandon as Susannah, but her moves were sinuous as a cat's. Above boots with three-inch heels and tight faded Levi's she wore the blue-and-white baseball jersey that had been Evan's congratulatory gift on publication of her VillageVoice article, "Property of U.S. Marshals Service." Three inches taller than Susannah's five-seven, and outweighing her by at least twenty-five pounds, Holly looked chunky by comparison. Then again, anybody but Gwyneth Paltrow would look chunky next to Susannah--who was, to Evan's discerning eye, too skinny. He liked a woman he wasn't likely to pulverize in bed if he shifted wrong in his sleep. On the Evan Liam Lachlan Scale, Holly McClure rated an eight in most departments. Plus a ten for the eyes.
"You have no idea who she is," Bradshaw's voice said.
"Why, who is she?" Evan asked. Besides the slinkiest thing in this bar.
"I'm surprised the subject never came up. I thoughtyou'd been seeing her for several weeks." Bradshaw drank Scotch and leaned back, watching Susannah.
"So?" Lachlan prompted.
"What? Oh. We had quite a chat about it when she came to the office regarding her research."
The judge was enjoying this. The marshal was not. But Lachlan's voice was silken smooth as he said, "Holly went to that ritzy college with Susannah. You saying that puts her out of my league, Your Honor?"
"Not at all," Bradshaw assured him, taking another swallow of Scotch. He looked amused. Lachlan hated that expression on anybody, but especially on Elias Bradshaw.
This was not the couple he would have chosen to double-date with. As a U.S. Marshal assigned to judicial protection, Bradshaw was Lachlan's duty--and sometimes his cross to bear--three days a week. It was Lachlan's Irish luck that the judge's clerk was a woman well worth looking at who, moreover, had interesting friends. The weird part was that from a couple of hints Holly had dropped, Susannah and Elias had become an item about the same time he and Holly had. Lachlan knew how the women had met: Susannah the pre-law and Holly the history major were sopranos who had stood right next to each other in the Women's Chorale.
"Susannah can sing?"
"Like an angel with a solid gold halo,"Holly affirmed digging her hands into the pockets of her coat. Cold wind off the Hudson ruffled her hair and burned bright color into her skin, emphasizing the freckles across nose and cheekbones.
He shook his head in disbelief, then eyed her. "What about you?"
"Me? A halo?" She grinned.
"God forbid! C'mon. Prove you can sing."
"Right here in the middle of Central Park?"
He stood back from her, arms folded. "I dare ya."
"That, my dear Marshal, was a mistake."
And right there in the middle of a frosty Sunday afternoon stroll she ran through the scale up to a note that hit the bare treetops--and then soared on into the sky.
Lachlan, aware that people were looking curiously at them, made a grab for her. "Exhibitionist," he growled, and she broke off to laugh as he whirled her around, catching her back against his chest. She leaned her head onto his shoulder, chortling. Wrapping his arms around her, lips buried in russet hair, he hefted her a few inches off the ground. "McClure, behave yourself!"
"Oh, do I have to?"
He smiled to himself as he drank beer and watched the two women. They shared the same taste in music--and maybe in men, too. Though Lachlan couldn't see it himself, women did appreciate Bradshaw: the frank appraisal he gave them, the honest enjoyment he took in watching them, the intent way he listened to them. Susannah had certainly fallen for it. She was directing a genuinely fiendish shimmy at her boss right now, laughing.
"Okay," Lachlan said, dragging his attention away from the women. "Who is Holly, anyway? Homicidal wacko? Notorious embezzler? Convicted felon?" He spoke with no little amount of sarcasm, knowing none of these was true. Bradshaw's amused little smirk was really beginning to annoy him.
"No, as you're doubtless aware. I mean you don't know what her work is, do you?"
"She writes." He paused for a swig of beer. "Articles for magazines." Like the ones she'd been doing when she walked into the federal courthouse and his life.
Susannah had brought her into chambers about a month ago and introduced her around. The implication was that every cooperation should be given her college friend, who was researching two articles--one on the U.S. Marshals Service (How original, he'd thought--until he read it in the Village Voice) and one on Irish Gaelic (linguistic holdovers from the Old Country, slang and the like). Lachlan had taken Susannah's hint, and was even willing to be nice about it--Holly McClure was a good-looking woman, after all. But he'd been last on her list.
The day Susannah brought her in happened to be Lachlan's birthday--there were cards and gag gifts all over his desk--and he'd thought this would earn him first interview. But Ms. McClure went to lunch with Sophia Osbourne, Bradshaw's secretary. On Tuesday she lunched with Bradshaw's other marshal, Pete Wasserman (who preened like a peacock when he left the office and grinned like an idiot when he got back, flatly refusing to reveal what--or whom--they had discussed). Susannah and Judge Bradshaw had also been interviewed, presumably over lengthy meals at pricey restaurants.
Lachlan's venue had been a hot dog stand at about four on a snowy afternoon. Somehow they got to talking about a thousand other topics besides being Irish and being a cop, and moved on to a little cafe for dinner. And then to his apartment.
Not that he got anywhere. At 10:30 she fell asleep on his couch while he wasin the kitchen brewing up a pot of coffee. He spent a couple of minutes deciding whether or not to be insulted, then shrugged, covered her with Granna Maureen's afghan, and went to bed alone. The next morning she was gone before his alarm went off. As he showered and shaved, he wondered if he'd have to chalk her up as One That Got Away. Then his doorbell rang. Not Holly: a delivery boy from the bakery down the street. Bemused, Lachlan accepted a bag of cinnamon-raisin bagels, a gigantic coffee, and a note: Sorry I faded out, but it was a long day and you must be the only person in New York with a comfortable couch! Will you, meet me for dinner tonight so we can finish our interview? You pick the restaurant--my expense account is buying.
Tired though she'd been that night, she'd been paying attention to what he said; he'd read the manuscript of the Irish article, and a lot of it had come from him (or, more accurately, Granna Maureen, born in County Meath). By the time Holly showed him the article, they'd been seeing each other for two weeks and sleeping together for one.
Not that this had been easy to accomplish.
He'd canceled his Friday night date that week even though it was a sure thing, finding himself more interested in a redheaded writer than a blonde graphics designer (even though their last session had been pretty damned graphic). He had every faith he could charm Holly McClure into a sure thing anyway. But when they parted outside O'Kelley's at one in the morning, he didn't even rate a good-night kiss. This irked the hell out of him.
On Sunday he used the cell-phone number Holly had given him and asked her out dancing for the next evening. First kiss--but nothing else. Not even a second kiss. He signaled his displeasure by not calling her on Tuesday. Wednesday she showed up at Judge Bradshaw's chambers around quitting time and took him to dinner and a jazz club--a night that ended outside the club at 1:30 a.m. with two discoveries. First, she had a fantastic mouth and incredible hands and knew how to use them. Second, he'd been right--she didn't wear a bra and didn't need one. But the fantasies this conjured up went unfulfilled. So did he. And it was really beginning to piss him off. A case of the best-planned lays, he supposed.
That Thursday was Thanksgiving at his sister's house, a yearly event that reminded him why he hated this time of year: his birthday, then Thanksgiving, then Pop's birthday, then Maggie's birthday, all featuring too much food, too much booze, and way too much family togetherness. Or what passed for it with Clan Lachlan.
Friday he and Holly were just finishing salads at Da Marino's when his pager went off, damn it to hell. Holly insisted on coming with him. He'd let her take a look, then sent her home in a cab, thinking glumly that the scene of a triple homicide at a Protected Witness location was a hell of a way to enda date. But when he'd phoned her late that night (or early the following morning, depending on point of view), she'd been wide awake and waiting for his call. No tap-dancing, no Oh-you-poor-baby, no How-do-you-cope-with-your-horrihle-job, no You-still-owe-me-a-decent-meal. She listened, asked a few questions, and told him she'd pick him up at 7:00, her turn to buy.
And Saturday night, just as he was starting to think he'd never get anywhere, he nailed her. Or maybe she nailed him. Because he wasn't quite sure about this, he decided it had been mutual.
Sunday she took him to brunch. After some gorgeous food there arrived a tarte tatin with a lighted candle in it. A belated happy birthday, she told him, producing a brace of cigars to go with their coffee. Like him, she'd quit smoking years ago; like him, she still enjoyed a fine cigar.
Jesus, Mary, and Joseph--did she ever enjoy it. Watching her smoke the thing damned near gave him a coronary. Her eyes were wickedly blue above moist satiny lips that caressed the cigar and freckled velvety cheeks that hollowed as she inhaled. His conversation--fluent and wide-ranging during brunch--became somewhat constricted. So did the fit of his slacks.
Lachlan hadn't done more than glance at any other woman since.
Bradshaw had pulled a folded paper out of his overcoat pocket. "She writes a lot more than newspaper articles." He laid the newsprint on the table: The New York Times Review of Books.
"One of her pieces is in here? Great! She made the Times!"
Bradshaw smiled. Lachlan was peripherally aware that he didn't like this particular variation on the usual smile, but he was too intent on searching for Holly's article.
"I was going to leave this at the office for you, but I might as well show it to you now. Page four."
Evan found It--not a bad photo of her, but she had the kind of face that always looked best when in motion. No still picture could ever capture the quick play of wit and humor across her features. The photographer had caught the sharp intelligence but none of the laughter--or the lascivious turn of mind hiding behind those big blue eyes.
But why would a writer of articles rate a photo?
He began to read.
DRAGON SHIPS: NEW MCCLURE NOVEL ENCHANTS
After a three-year absence, H. Elizabeth McClure has returned--not to the artistic community of Renaissance Italy, scene of her previous best-seller, but to the considerably less civilized yet no less fascinating environs of ninth-century France and a tale of Norse invaders.
McClure's previous work--scholarly biographies and historical fiction--has earned her a loyal following and critical acclaim. Dragon Ships delights again with vivid characters, lively action--
He felt his guts roil and stopped reading. He looked back over at the dance floor, where Holly and Susannah were gleefully bumping hips in time to the backbeat. This was definitely not the same Susannah--and all at once it wasn't the same Holly, either.
"Don't kill the messenger," Bradshaw said suddenly, and Evan realized his emotions were scrawled all over his face. Hastily he smoothed his expression as Bradshaw went on, sincerely puzzled: "I thought you'd be pleased. She's quite a catch, Marshal."
The deejay didn't give the dancers any breather--another song came up, slower but with a driving drumbeat. Holly and Susannah went on dancing, the rhythm of hips and shoulders and flying hair provocatively emphasizing the drums.
From somewhere Lachlan dragged up a crooked smile and the words, "Yeah, Ma always told me not to bring a girl home unless she was brainy, beautiful, and rich." Which happened to be true, which was why he'd never even tried to do it. Pleasing the late, unlamented Patricia Lachlan had never been high on his list of priorities--more like down with scrubbing the mildew from the grout in his shower. He leaned back and drained the Corona down his throat before signaling the waitress for a fourth. He wasn't yet numb--and he wanted to be.
"So tell me, Your Honor, before I reel her in--she any good? You read any of her books?"
"A biography of Christine de Pisan--a medieval poet. Yes, she's very talented. And, in certain circles, quite well-known."
Holy shit. "Gee, I'll have to run out and get a copy. And a dictionary to go along with it, for all the words of more than one syllable."
Bradshaw's dark brows arched. "Are you about to make a fool of yourself?"
She's already done a pretty good job of it. He gave the judge stare for stare and said nothing. His Corona came; he put a five on the table and squeezed the lime wedge into the bottle. As he took a large mouthful of ice-cold beer, he had the feeling he wouldn't be able to drink this one fast enough.
"Do yourself a favor and think first," Bradshaw continued. "She comes from where all of us come from. Susannah, me, you, HoHy--we all worked our way through college and fought to establish careers. No free rides from rich parents. The town she's from in Virginia is smaller than the one Susannah was born in--and that's saying something. So if difference in social status is your problem--
"Problem? I got no problems."
Lachlan drained the bottle in four long swallows and stood, threading through the sparse crowd to where Holly was laughing with Susannah. The look those blue eyes gave him went straight to his chest. And then lower.
"Have this dance?" he asked, appropriating Holly's hand, spinning her once under his arm before drawing her possessively close. It wasn't exactly a slow song, but he had no trouble easing her into a swaying, clasping, intimate dance.
"Oooh--smooth, Lachlan, very smooth," Holly commended, eyes full of laughter and promises. Dancing wasn't quite vertical sex, but it was definitely public foreplay.
Her head bent to rest comfortably on his shoulder, and he indulged himself with the feel of her in his arms. So sweet, and so sensual, the way they moved together, as attuned in this as in bed. From their first night together she had sensed his every move telegraphed through his muscles, following his lead so perfectly they might as well have been one person. He gritted his teeth. God-dammit, she smelled so good, and her dark russet hair was soft against his cheek, and her fingertips did their own delicate dance on the nape of his neck. He could feel the warmth of her slowly turn feverish as his arm involuntarily tightened around her back and his hand slid south down her hip. At least her body had never lied to him.
"When were you gonna tell me?"
"Tell you what?" She tilted her head back to look at him, shoulder-length hair glinting gold and copper along every loose, lazy curl.
"'New McClure Novel Enchants,'" he quoted acidly.
Her quick, expressive face went blank for a moment. Then she tossed her hair back and said, "I never believe my reviews."
"I got one for you now. Headline goes 'Rich Writer Makes Jerk of Mick Cop.' Like it so far?"
Scowling, she began, "Evan, don't be an asshole--"
He dipped her seductively, making it look good for Susannah and Bradshaw. He tried not to react as her thigh slid between his; he tried not to see the line of her throat or the tender hollow at its base. He lost his battle against his own body as her thigh nudged deliberately higher, taunting him. Her head came back up, her body tense and cold in his arms. Angry eyes blazed at him, one hand taloning into his shoulder and the other rigid within his palm. She was mad at him? What the hell right did she have to get pissed off? He was the one who'd been lied to.
He righted her again and pulled her close. "Now I know why we never go to your place. Why I never even get to pick you up at your place. Almost a month of this musta been a kick for you, slumming with the big dumb Mick who can barely read, let alone read anything literary."
The song ended and she yanked herself out of his arms. He tried to hang on,but she was tall and strong--and furious. "You are a big dumb Mick if that's what you think!" she snarled. "And if it is--well, fuck you, Marshal, and the horse you rode in on!"
Holly stalked right past Susannah, who was returning to their table from the ladies' room. Snatching up her coat and scarf, Holly flung a furious glare at Bradshaw. "Any more little revelations tonight, Your Honor?"
"Holly," Susannah exclaimed, "what's--?"
"Read all about it in my next eachanting novel!" After casting one scathing backward glance at Lachlan, she pushed her way out of the bar.
Susannah turned to him with a disgusted expression. "Nice work, Lachlan."
"Never occurred to you to tell me, did it?"
She didn't pretend not to know what he meant. "She asked me not to."
"Yeah, I guess the joke was too good. You were havin' too many laughs--"
Green eyes ignited. "We weren't laughing at you and you know it!"
"Why the hell not? Seems pretty funny to me." He tried to hang on to his temper. This was no time to feel like a ten-year-old from the wrong side of town who took the same French classes and wore the same St. Thomas Aquinas blazer and played on the same softball team as the rich kids--who never let him forget where he came from.
Susannah latched on to his arm, nails digging in. "Don't be stupid. Do you know what kind of man she usually meets? They're interested in her money, her connections--"
"But I'm the perfect toy boy. I get your drift, Counselor."
"Oh, for Christ's sake, Evan!"
He grabbed his leather coat from the back of his chair just as Susannah was turning on Bradshaw to demand, "Goddammit, Eli, what the hell did you say?"
It was piercingly cold outside on the street, and raining. Holly was gone, of course--long gone. Probably in a limo, he thought bitterly. Oh, but she was slumming, remember--hiding the Rolls and the platinum credit cards and the diamonds and the penthouse--
It hurt much more than he thought it should.
It was just that he'd let himself begin to think there might be something to this one besides a good time in bed and out. A few rousing arguments about life, politics, religion, whatever. Sharing popcorn at the movies, trading off paying for lunches and dinners--and making breakfasts at his place, which was his task because the woman couldn't cook worth a good goddamn.
He liked her. She was smart, sassy, sexy, and let him get away with no bullshit whatsoever. His particular brand of bullshit had gotten him just about every woman he'd ever bothered to want. So why did he have to want some lying rich bitch who probably lived in one of those huge high-rises off the Park, or a three-story brownstone, or a Gramercy Park place, or--
She didn't act it. Not really. Okay, she dressed it right enough. When he met her for dinner last Friday she'd been incredible in sapphire silk and pearls. Her mother's, she'd told him, necklace and earrings and bracelet; it might even have been true. The jewelry was one thing; the clothes were another. In a month of seeing her four times a week, she'd never worn the same outfit twice. The labels he'd noticed as he helped her on with coat or jacket were DKNY, Ralph Lauren, Armani, and others of that expensive ilk. All he'd thought was that, like many another woman, she spent way too much on clothes, and he was glad he didn't have to foot the bills. Which she probably had her accountant pay, never even seeing them.
Fuck it. He didn't need her. There were plenty of other women, dozens of 'em, ones who'd fall all over themselves to get into his bed the first date, not make him wait, the way Holly had. Ones who wouldn't lie to him, the way Holly had.
Ones who, within a couple of days or a couple of weeks, would bore him witless--the way Holly never had.
Fundamental fairness compelled the admission that she'd never actually lied to him. Not directly. But she always had some excuse not to go to her place. The living room was being painted; the heat was off; she was near the courthouse so why didn't she meet him for dinner if his desk permitted--
He could have found out a lot from the prefix of her home phone, but she hadn't given it to him. Clever girl. "Feel privileged, Lachlan--only the people I want to talk to get my cell-phone number." As for her work--she'd downplayed it, just saying that she'd had some stuff published, and was working on a novel. " ... loyal following and critical acclaim ... ."
"Fuck!" he snarled to the streetlights.
Uptown girl, slumming around with a Lower East Side Mick cop. He hoped she'd gotten her jollies.
He dug his hands into his pockets, heading for the subway and home.
Copyright © 2006 by Melanie Rawn