Where relationships are concerned, Safire Lewis is like quick fire. She moves fast to get what she wantsthen moves on before things get too complicated. Artist Darien James's laid-back charm arouses her interest from their first meeting. But instead of seizing the opportunity for a no-strings fling, he's looking for a commitment.
Darien has been hurt before. Now he wants a passionate connection that will last. With her sizzling confidence, the gorgeous paralegal has become his artistic museand the ultimate temptation. First they're butting heads, then they're burning up the sheets. He won't settle for less than everything Safire has to give. And if she will only lose her fear of letting go, she might realize that Darien is the one man who'll keep her endlessly enthralled .
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Safire Lewis shifted in her swivel chair, turning from the computer to the open books on the long table in the law library. She loved her work, but a paralegal wasn't what she had set out to become. It was supposed to be a learning interlude on the way to law school. Her parents were gone by then, so she knew she would have to make it independently, and this seemed a way to do that. Now she was ready to make a change, and she already had plans set in motion.
She would have to fight to do it on her own, but it had been that way for a long time. After she lost her parents, she became determined to make it on her own termsfiercely determined. She was used to fighting, and she was used to going after what she wanted. It was how she had come this far and how she would go on to get what she really wantedonce she finally decided what that was.
Safire tagged a page in one of the books, picked up the phone and dialed her sister's cell phone number.
"Hey, sis. Are we still on for this Saturday?" Her sister rattled off a list of stops they would be making to look for her wedding dress. "I'll be there," Safire said. "And I'll be there to watch Philly tomorrow night Give your hunky fiancé all my love .Okay, Angelina. See you tomorrow."
Safire hung up the phone, stretched and began rubbing the back of her neck with both hands. She wanted a vacation. She'd missed hers earlier that year when one of her bosses went into labor. She'd had to cancel her plans for a singles cruise. She didn't mind because her sister got to go, and her sister needed it more than she did. But she had wanted that time to do some thinking and to relieve some of her tension, and what better way to relieve tension than to find a sexy single? Yes, she was used to going after what she wanted. Safire shook her head to get rid of her salacious thoughts and turned back to her work.
When she heard the door open, she had her nose in one of the law books on the table and thought it was one of the student interns they had taken on over the summer. The interns were supposed to lighten the load, but until they learned what they were doing, they were more a nuisance than a help.
When she looked up, however, she found not one of the interns but a well-dressed gentleman looking tentatively her way. And he was gorgeous. Safire couldn't help but smile.
He had skin just darker than milk chocolatesweet enough to lick until it melted in your mouthand his large brown eyes were astute and attentive. His lips were kiss-ably thick, set in an angular jaw that led to high, chiseled cheekbones. He wore his hair in long braids that were pulled back into a bundle and anchored at the nape of his neck.
Safire shifted her chair so that she could see beyond the table and continued her open perusal.
He was wearing an athletic-cut navy suit that flared at his broad shoulders and tapered just a bit at his waist. She could sense the muscles of his arms beneath the sleeves, and his contoured thighs struggled for release from the pant legs. Her eyes lingered over his center on the way back up. It protruded just enough to hint at the dense manhood that lay beneath. Safire almost licked her lips.
The suit was set off with a white shirt and a cobalt tie, and he carried a black leather satchel. He looked like a young attorney, which pleased Safire greatly. The firm needed some color higher up.
"Excuse me, I" he said, his voice a rich bass that sent tingles through Safire's body.
Safire cut him off. "You've got to be looking for me," she said, getting up from her chair and shrugging off her blazer.
Safire wore a purple miniskirt that matched her blazer, as well as a lavender chiffon camisole and her black two-and-a-half-inch pumps. This was her usual work attire, and she liked it because it showed off her legs and could transition into the evening if she went out.
"Pardon?" he said.
"You've got to be looking for me," she repeated, positioning her rear on the tabletop and crossing her legs in front of her. "I've been looking for you, too."
Safire was always bold, partly in fun, partly in all seriousness. She could tell that her handsome stranger wasn't used to this at all, and his hesitation only enticed Safire all the morethat and something sweet in his eyes.
"Uh, are you Janice Wilson? I just left Mr. Benson, and he said that I could stop in to introduce myself to you. You deal with copyrighting?"
"Aw," Safire said and then gave a little pout. "You're looking for Janice."
"I'm afraid I am."
"Well, you're too gorgeous to give away. What about after that?"
"After that?" He seemed a bit puzzled.
"Yes, are you done for the day after you speak with Janice?" Safire scooted off the table and put her hand out as she approached the man. "I'm Safire Lewis. Pleased to meet you."
"Hello. I'm Darien James."
Now that she was standing next to him, she could gauge his height. He must be about six feet because she was five feet eight inches, and he had a couple of inches on her even in her heels. She looked up at him and smiled.
"If you're free after you see Janice, let's go to happy hour. I'll be done in an hour, and it's nearby."
"Uh, I'm not sure how long I'll be with Ms. Wilson. Perhaps a rain check."
"Rain check nothing, Mr. James. You're not getting away, hottie that you are."
Safire took his arm as if they were out on a stroll and led him back into the hall.
"If you're already tied up, now's the time to say so. If not, we're on."
Down the hall, Safire tapped on Janice's office door and poked her head in. She hadn't let go of Mr. James's arm and ushered him in when Janice nodded.
"Ms. Wilson, this is Darien James, my date for happy hour this evening. We need him done within the hour because happy hour at Jake's ends at seven. And don't go getting any ideas of your own."
Janice laughed and got up from her desk, holding her hand out to Darien. Her blue suit with its calf-length skirt and billowy jacket looked matronly next to Safire's purple mini. Safire was kidding about Janice getting ideas. Janice was long married with two school-age children and rarely went out after work. Safire liked to give Janice a chuckle every now and again. Her coworkers knew her sense of humor and relied on it to lighten their long days.
"Good afternoon, Mr. James. Mr. Benson buzzed a few minutes ago to say that you would be stopping in. I was wondering whether you'd gotten lost."
"He was in perfectly good hands," Safire said.
"I see that he was. Come have a seat."
Safire turned to leave. "I'll be in the lobby in an hour," she said to Janice. "Don't let him keep me waiting."
Back in her office, Safire began wrapping up her research for Mr. Hines. It was a criminal case under state jurisdiction involving the mistreatment of a minor, and since cases involving children were Safire's specific interest, she tore through the research. She had already traced the applicable law and had the relevant statutory leads. She had collected all the on-point court decisions she could find, and now she only had to check the relevant cases to see if any of the decisions had been reversed, overruled or criticized.
This kind of suit was why she wanted to become a lawyer or work with children. She wanted to make a difference, not only through research but by having her own cases. Maybe it was because she knew what it was like to be young and feel vulnerable and alone. She was still in high school when her mother died. Then her father went. With her older sister taking care of their younger brother, she knew she had to look out for herself. And she hated feeling vulnerable. She'd made up her mind to rid herself of that feeling and pursue whatever she would have pursued had the foundation not been pulled from under her feet. She wanted to give that to other young peoplethat determination, that empowerment, that fierceness.
Safire worked for half an hour more and then started packing up the books she had used, keeping out the ones in which she'd tagged pages. She collected her notes, shut down the computer and looked at her watch.
While she was working, her mind stayed focused on the task, but now Safire's thoughts ran back to the ever-so-sexy Mr. Darien James. It was time to get to the lobby, or she might miss him. She grabbed her blazer, collected her purse from her office and said her usual goodbyes. She popped into the restroom to spruce up, taking the clip out of her hair to let the long curls fall down and refreshing her makeup. Then she stopped at the receptionist's desk.
"Is Darien James still in Janice's office?" she asked.
"Yes, he is," the receptionist said.
"Good. I'll be waiting for him in the lobby. Have a good night."
Safire waved and stepped onto the elevator. In the lobby, her heels ticked over the marble floor as she made her way to the central fountain, nodding to the guard on her way. She loved the click of heels and was rarely without them. It made her feel as if she was going somewhere, as if she had a presence. She took a quarter out of her purse and tossed it into the fountain, hoping that Darien James would turn out to be all that she thought he would be.
And what was that? Safire wasn't sure, but he was handsome and sweeta dangerous and formidable combination and one that was rare in Safire's world. She hadn't really noticed that before. She went out a lot and dated a lot. It was part of her determination to embrace life, part of the willpower that kept her from being undone by the loss of her parents. She pursued men the way she pursued everything elsefiercely. But unlike an education or a career, men could also be a distraction from what was really important, what was really worth pursuing. Safire was keeping her eyes on what counted and never took men too seriously. The lookers she dated were generally a bit full of themselves, basically because they were lookers. It was easy to catch them, have fun with them and then throw them back into the sea for some less focused fisher.
Darien James hadn't seemed that way at all. He seemed down-to-earth and unpretentious, a fact that made him all the more irresistible. In fact, it made him seem a little dangerous. Maybe he was different, different enough to fall for. Safire shrugged at the thought, which was unlike her. If nothing else, he was finecapital F-I-N-E. Hopefully, he knew how to use his God-given talents. She sure as hell wanted to find out.
There was no telling how long he might be, so Safire sat on the retaining wall that skirted the fountain and took her phone out of her purse to call one of her girlfriends and talk about her latest dishthe one she wanted to be her dish, anyway. Camilla picked up on the second ring.
"Hey, girl," Safire said. "I might not have long, but I have a date for happy hour tonight. He's as good-looking as all get-out and seems sweet on top of that, not full of himself like the usual hottie .You may get to meet him. I have to meet him first for myselfreally meet him. I'll let you know how it turns out and whether he tastes as good as he looks."
Safire moved the phone from her ear as Camilla squealed. She glanced up, however, and there was Darien James getting off the elevator. She moved the phone back to her ear.
"Here he is, girl. I gotta go."
She clicked the phone shut, put it back in her bag and got up to make her way toward Darien.
As she neared him, he slowed and blinked twice.
"I hope you're not surprised to see me," Safire said.
"Well, yes. I didn't think you were serious. And your hair is different."
"Serious as an accident on I-95. You going?"
"Uh " He seemed to think about it a moment.
Safire watched him closely in those few seconds. She saw the shift in his face as his reluctance began to drain away, and then he turned and looked into her face, clearly intrigued by the woman standing in front of him. Finally, he gave her a little smile.
"Yes. Happy hour. Why not?"
"Good. We get to really meet. Are you open to that?"
"Sure," he said. "I just hadn't planned on going out tonight. But you've convinced me. I'd like to get to know you better, and a few hours in the company of a beautiful woman can soothe a work-worn spirit." He held out his arm to her. "Let's go."
Safire took the arm Darien offered, and the two ministepped through the revolving door together. They came out on the other side laughing, and Safire directed them down the street to Jake's.
Jake's was a sports bar on the corner, and it was always packed with downtown types at happy hour. It had huge television screens and a large bar in the center of the room. Booths were stationed along the walls, but these were filled by now. High tables with tall stools occupied the rest of the space. Safire and Darien took seats at one of these, and Safire signaled a waiter.
"Can I get you drinks?"
"Make mine a virgin strawberry daiquiri," Safire said, rolling her neck, "or I might end up on the floor."
"Make mine the same," Darien said.
His voice was smooth and resonant, and Safire loved the thrill it sent up her spine.
"You don't have to forgo the alcohol because of me," Safire said. "Go ahead. Unwind."
"I don't really drink."
That was a little odd to Safire, but she didn't mind. Cute as he was, he really did seem to be rather unassuming, as well. Safire liked that.
"I don't know. I guess I wasn't raised around alcohol. And I have a very hectic schedule, so I don't actually get out much." He shrugged.
"I shouldn't have a virgin daiquiri myself. It must be four hundred calories even without the alcohol," Safire complained. "But in for a penny, in for a poundin this case an American pound." She chuckled. "What do you want to eat?" she asked, turning to the menu. "We can order real food if you're hungry. I'm fine with wings."
"I'm I actually don't eat meat."
Aw. Worrisome as it wasshe'd never gone out with a vegetarian or veganSafire was glad to be sitting across from someone with convictions. This one wasn't all play. That could be a good thing.
"Oh, they must have other stuff on the menu. If not, we can go somewhere else."
"I'll have some potato skins," he said and closed the menu. "I'll be fine."