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Patrick O'Shea wanted the one thing he couldn't have.
The knowledge burned inside him from nine in the morning until five in the afternoon every weekday—which were the hours his admin assistant, Briana Bliss, worked, plus a whole load of overtime.
It was Briana he wanted. Even admitting to himself how badly he lusted after her was dangerous. She was out of bounds. Verboten. Untouchable.
Yes, untouchable. And he wanted to touch her so badly that their constant proximity was torture.
The last time he'd wanted a woman this badly he'd married her. Patrick glanced at the picture on his desk, at the smiling face of the woman he'd loved faithfully for more than a decade, including the three years she'd been gone.
"Are you laughing, Janie?" he asked softly, tightening his tie and slipping on his suit jacket. At first when he'd started talking to the framed photo, he'd thought grief might be making him insane, but now he realized it was his way of staying in touch with his memories. Janie's laugh had been light and quick, and he imagined she'd laugh now if she could see him.
Here he was, finally registering signs of vitality in that part of his anatomy he'd thought had died with his wife, and the woman who'd brought them rushing back was the one woman he couldn't have. Not without going against his principles and destroying his career, his credibility and his reputation.
"Honey, you never should have left," he told Janie, knowing that he'd never have thought about Briana sexually if he were married. Janie knew it, too.
She'd been a warm and generous woman who would never want her children to remain motherless for long—or her husband a widower.
"Maybe this is a sign I'm ready to look around? Maybe lots of women would get to me this way?"
Janie didn't reply, merely stared back, forever young, forever smiling.
A soft knock sounded, and the oak door of his office opened. He didn't have to turn to know who had entered. Every male atom in his body—and they were all male—quivered to attention.
He turned and, even though he'd known it was Briana, was still slammed by the force of attraction. God, she was beautiful. Blond and green-eyed, she had a generous mouth and a determined chin. Her blouse wasn't tight or revealing, yet her spectacular curves made it seem both. Her skirt was straight and hung to below her knees, but he had enough imagination to sketch in what couldn't be seen.
At six foot three, he was used to looking down on women, but Briana was tall. Six feet, probably, when she wore those sexy high heels he loved. Like the ones she had on today.
"You've got to hurry," she told him with a quick smile. "Don't want to keep the chief of police waiting for his dinner."
"I hope Max is more worried about how to make this city safer than he is about what's on his plate," Patrick grumbled. Still, he patted his pockets rapidly to make sure he had his wallet, then grabbed his briefcase and headed for the door, holding it so Briana could pass through ahead of him. She stopped to pick up her shoulder bag on the way out, which meant she was going home, too. Good. Too often, it seemed, she worked more hours than he did.
The scent of her reached him. Not her perfume—he didn't think she wore any—but some kind of skin lotion that smelled like the sea air out here in Courage Bay right after it rained. Clean and fresh and bracing.
The scent wasn't remotely sexy, but it turned his libido inside out. He shook his head as he shut the door behind him. The door didn't fit perfectly into the frame and he had to shove it with his hip before he could lock it—one more reminder of last month's earthquake. The way things were going, he doubted the city would ever get around to fixing the minor damage done to city hall. The mayor's door was definitely at the bottom of the list.
At the top of Patrick's list was increasing emergency crews and bettering response times. That's what he'd be discussing over dinner tonight.
He glanced at Briana's swaying hips as she walked ahead of him on those perky heels, and he wished like hell he was having dinner with her. The conversation would be a lot more fun, and so would the view. And then, maybe afterward…
He shook his head as though he could shake his fierce attraction right out his ears. The rash of disasters and tragedies that had struck his town in recent months ought to have him thinking of something other than sex, but somehow, the added stress of being mayor of Courage Bay, California—which ought to be renamed Bad Luck Bay—hadn't lessened his desire for his assistant. As disaster after disaster struck, he'd worked grueling hours, and Briana had worked right alongside him.
You learned a lot about a person during times of stress, and what he'd learned about Briana was that underneath her megababe exterior was a focused, quick intelligence and a sentimental heart.
She was, in fact, as fine a person on the inside as she was on the outside.
Patrick normally ran down the three levels of stairs from his office to the main foyer of city hall, but a glance at those heels Briana was wearing had him punching the elevator button.
She was holding the printout of his schedule for tomorrow. "Depending on how your dinner goes tonight," she said, tapping her pen against her chin, "I can free up some time tomorrow for a press conference if you need it."
Patrick snorted. "You have more faith in my powers of persuasion than I do. Max and I will talk and argue. We both agree we need more manpower, but I've got a budget to worry about and a council to convince." He rubbed the back of his neck, feeling the knots of tension there. "I'll call you if…"
No, he wouldn't. Calling Briana at home, at night, was emotionally pathetic and politically asinine. "Scratch that. If a press conference is necessary, which I doubt, I'll call Archie—he's the media guy. He can pull together a scrum."
The elevator whirred to a stop and the doors slid open. Patrick sent a semidesperate glance down the corridor, only too happy to hold the elevator for anyone—anyone at all—but not so much as the tip of a shoe showed. The corridor was empty, the floor quiet. As usual, he and Briana had outworked the rest of the staff.
Normally, he avoided being alone in closed spaces with Briana, partly because he didn't want to torment himself unnecessarily. He was no more of a sucker for punishment than the next guy.
But there was another reason.
Patrick had been sick to his stomach last year when he saw the grainy footage on the TV news station of then mayor Herman Carter—the married mayor—getting it on with his admin assistant in a sleazy motel.
After the footage aired, the assistant slapped him with a sexual harassment suit, Carter's wife filed for divorce. His inappropriate behavior cost the man his job, his marriage and, according to local gossip, most of his money.
Not that Patrick wanted to benefit from another man's misfortune, even if it was self-inflicted, but that sex scandal had eventually led to Patrick himself getting the mayor's job.
He'd been fire chief then, still grieving the loss of his wife and questioning a lot of things. He knew he'd spouted his mouth off a little more vigorously than he might have had he not been furious that a man with a living, healthy wife would screw around, while Patrick, who'd barely peeked at another woman in all his years of marriage, should lose his young wife to a sudden brain aneurysm.
He and Briana stepped into the elevator and he took up a position behind and a step away from temptation. To a stranger, his rapt attention might appear to be on tomorrow's appointments, but really, he was mesmerized by the blond fall of hair, the way it curled provocatively against her cheekbones and teased her jaw.
How much more of this could a red-blooded man take?
"Why don't you let me put in a word for you tonight with Max?" he asked. "The police department has far more challenging positions than anything I can offer you. I hate to see you wasting your talents on scheduling my speeches to the rotary club and presenting service medals to school kids. You're overqualified for what you're doing." Indeed, he'd been amazed that she'd applied for the job. Before coming to Courage Bay she'd been the city manager of a small town in the Midwest. She was so much more qualified than the other applicants that he'd been grateful she was even interested in the position. He still was grateful to have her working with him—except it meant he couldn't ask her out.
She glanced up, startled. Probably he'd sounded more vehement than he'd intended. He could have sworn a light blush warmed her face. As he gazed into her bright green eyes, intense sexual awareness passed between them—and not for the first time. He couldn't come right out and make his position clear—that he wanted her to take a promotion so he could ask her for a date—but damn, he wished she'd take the hint.
As usual, she didn't.
Her lips tilted slightly and she glanced away, as though denying the attraction that hovered in the air. "Are you trying to get rid of me?"
"You know I'm not." Quite the opposite. For a very smart lady, Briana was acting pretty dumb. Or else she simply wasn't interested in him, and all those sizzling glances were the product of his overheated imagination. He was so out of practice with women, he wouldn't be a bit surprised.
A slight shudder ran through him. He'd pledged the people of Courage Bay his integrity and his morality and he took his promises seriously. Getting involved with an employee was a bad, bad idea. Getting involved with his admin assistant would be like taking a gun and shooting himself in the foot.
He wanted to touch her so badly he had to shove his fisted hands in his pockets.
She passed him a computer printout and he was forced to take the thing. "What's this?"
"I ran some numbers for you. If Chief Zirinsky starts throwing statistics at you, you'll be able to check them for accuracy."
He chuckled. "A cheat sheet."
She shot him a glance of shock. "I can't believe you'd even know that term." She widened her stance and dropped her voice, slowing her usual quick speech. "A man is only as good as his ethics."
Since it was a favorite saying of his, he had to assume she was imitating him. Still, her teasing only reminded him that he'd allowed his campaign team to hoist him onto a damn white horse. A Mayor with Morals had been his slogan. Now he had to live with the consequences.
While he scanned the stats, trying to concentrate, he was keenly aware that he wanted to bury his nose in Briana's hair, run his lips down the curve of her throat—
Abruptly, all visions of Briana fled from his mind, and it wasn't the rising number of suspicious homicides or the increasing delays in 911 response times that grabbed his attention.
It was the lurch of the elevator. It banged and shuddered like a children's carnival ride, throwing Briana and Patrick against the back corner. He hit first, jarring his shoulder against the faux wood panel. Instinctively, he put his arms out to brace Briana when she landed, with a sharp cry of panic, against his body.
He held her tight against him, then dragged them both to the floor, rolling her on top of him. With only two floors to drop, there was a good chance she'd survive, especially if he cushioned her with his body.
She didn't argue, or struggle, but let him maneuver them until her body pressed his from breast to ankle. Like lovers.
They clung together while the world shook and trembled around them. Each second seemed like a year. After the earthquake last month, he knew the signs well. Was this going to be another major quake or a milder aftershock?
First came a shudder, then a rumbling noise as the elevator swayed and their bodies rolled back and forth like surfers waiting for a wave.
He held her tight against him, every muscle and nerve tensed for the cable to snap and the elevator to plunge.
Then, as suddenly as it began, it was over. The thunderous noise stopped. The elevator stilled.
The cable had held.
Still, they remained unmoving, pressed together. He heard the thump of her heart, felt her body so soft and womanly against his.
"Aftershock," she whispered, her breath soft against his ear. He heard the tremor in her voice, and felt it throughout her body, but she had herself in control. She wasn't going to scream or freak out on him.
"Nothing too serious," he said softly in the same tone he used to soothe Fiona, his five-year-old daughter.
"Are we out of danger?" she asked, rising up on her elbows to stare down into his face.
He grinned up at her. "I think so."
Relief made him light-headed. His kids weren't going to lose him. He was alive, healthy, reasonably young, and it looked as though he and Briana were going to see another day.
He was also lying beneath a warm, wonderful, sexy woman.
"You okay?" he asked, running his hands up her arms and lightly over her back.
She made a sound in the back of her throat and he felt a shiver run through her that had nothing to do with fear.
Her gaze was locked on his, the clear green clouding with passion. Her lips, soft and full, opened slightly in a silent plea.
His own body hardened immediately in response to the expression in her eyes and the press of her body against his. Their minds might have dozens of reasons why intimacy was a bad idea, but their bodies didn't care.
Patrick thrust his hands into her hair, pulled her head down to his and kissed her. He couldn't think of a better way to celebrate life.
The heat that flared between them was amazing. Hotter than he could have imagined. With a soft sigh, Briana flicked her tongue into his mouth, making him half crazy with excitement.
It was as though all the electricity that surged between them was too much for the city's power grid. As he deepened the kiss, pulling her even closer against him, they were plunged into darkness.