It was difficult to fake disinterest in a conversation when the subject-of-choice was a man you’d fantasized about for years. Still, Bryn Donovon was doing just that.
“Come on, Bryn, be honest,” Tamara Logan urged as she waved a forkful of salad. “There's no way you can face Daniel Mays in court each week and not want to jump his bones. You're a woman, you have eyes, and he's gorgeous. He completed the Ironman in the top five, for goodness’ sake!”
Bryn snorted, took a sip from her water bottle, then shrugged. “Did the triathlon add a new category? For Men With The Biggest Heads, perhaps?” Good, that was good. Her comment revealed none of the desire and wistfulness that had coursed through her body the second Tamara had mentioned Daniel's name.
Tam laughed, sending her chandelier earrings jingling. “It sure did, only the judges weren't measuring the head above his waist. He qualified because he had the biggest—”
Raising her hands to cover her ears, Bryn groaned. “Please. Spare me the gory details.”
“Unfortunately, I'll have to.” Tam's whole face lit up when she smiled, her eyes sparkling and the sides of her mouth dimpling, making it impossible not to smile back. Although their friendship was relatively new, eating lunch with Tam had become the highlight of Bryn's day. “I truly regret that I never got to see that man naked,” Tam said, waving her fork again. “At least I know firsthand what a great kisser he is.”
At Tam’s words, Bryn struggled to keep her face blank. Tam had dated Daniel once or twice, but Bryn was the one plagued by recurring dreams about him. In last night’s dream, they’d been doing far more than kissing. His dark hair had been fluttering against her inner thighs and his tongue had been doing delicious things to her—
She sucked in a shaky breath. Even now, the memory of her heated, aroused state when she’d woken angered her. It also confused her. There were many attractive men in the world, but only Daniel Mays plagued her dreams, as well as her waking hours.
With sandy brown hair, green eyes, and the slightest cleft in his chin, the man was undeniably handsome. He had a broad, rangy body that towered over Bryn’s own slim 5’4” frame, an easy smile, a slight Southern drawl, and a laconic genuine charm that had made him the talk of the court’s female personnel.
Daniel’s dating record and his ability to remain friends with most of his exes showed that he appreciated the unique differences in each of his admirers and treated them well. In the two years she’d been in and out of the courts, he’d dated a variety of women: a statuesque blonde from Research, a petite Asian court reporter, and of course, Tam, one of the court’s three staff attorneys. He didn’t seem to have a type, but rather enjoyed the diverse company of smart, engaging, and complicated women. Yet, none of them seemed to hold his interest for long.
And despite his good looks, his good nature, and his obvious charm, Daniel Mays defended criminals for a living. That fact should have squashed her attraction long ago.
It hadn’t in the slightest.
Realizing Tam was staring at her, Bryn struggled to remember what they’d been talking about. Oh, yes. Daniel’s skill with kissing. “It’s no surprise he’s such a good kisser,” Bryn murmured. “He’s practiced enough.”
“He’s a player,” Tam conceded, “but he’s single…who can blame him? It’s not like he has to try very hard. And his practice has paid off. What that man can do with his tongue is a miracle of nature. Vance is the exception, of course, but kissing Daniel Mays is more erotic than having sex with almost any man. And far more likely to make a woman come!”
Bryn threw the rest of her sandwich in its paper bag and squashed it into a ball. “Yes, well, I wouldn’t know nor would I want to. The only thing that holds less appeal for me than kissing Mays is what he does for a living.” And he obviously knew how she felt. In the beginning, he’d been friendly. Curious about her. When she hadn’t reciprocated, he’d ceased all efforts to get to know her better. He was courteous, but that was all.
“Defense attorneys aren’t monsters,” Tam said softly.
Bryn winced. She reached out to touch Tam’s hand but pulled back before she made contact. “I’m sorry. I shouldn’t speak so generally. There are several defense attorneys I like and respect. Vance especially. But Mays is just a little too…too…”
“Distracting?” Tam smiled knowingly.
Too much so, Bryn thought. He certainly distracted her from what was most important—bringing justice to victims of crime: the same type of justice her sister had been denied. Sighing, she stood. “Casual. He’s a little too casual about what he does. But let’s not talk about him. How are you feeling?”
Tam stood as well, groaning as she did so. The rounded bulge of her stomach made her look like she’d swallowed a basketball. “Except for the backaches and constant need to pee, I’m peachy. I swear this baby only enjoys two things—tap dancing on my spine and lying on my bladder.”
Bryn tossed her garbage and walked toward the main office, but she paused in the doorway. She looked back at Tam, who rocked to a stop behind her. “So,” Bryn began, striving for a casual tone, “I was thinking about your offer to set me up with Vance’s brother. I know I wasn’t all that interested about the idea before, but do you know if he’s doing anything next Friday? Because…well…”
“Your sister’s engagement party is next weekend, and you’re suddenly desperate for a man to run interference between you and your mother?”
“Something like that,” Bryn acquiesced. “I just don’t want to hear the same old song and dance about being a workaholic who’s going to die a bitter old maid with lots of cats and break her mother’s heart. Who knows, if Thad is free and he—”
Someone cleared his throat.
She jolted and swung around.
He was leaning against a tall file cabinet, his arms folded across his chest. As always, her pulse kicked up. This time, in addition to the intense throbbing in her veins, her mouth dried up, and mortification formed a jagged lump in her throat. Chances were he’d heard them talking about him, and he was smart enough to know what had been behind her words—unwanted desire.
Just after noon, Daniel walked into the staff attorney’s office, pleasantly surprised to hear Tam’s voice coming from a back room. Usually Tam spent her lunch hour with her husband, Vance, Daniel’s law partner and best friend, and the same lucky SOB who’d snagged Tam soon after Daniel had asked her out. Daniel couldn’t be happier for them. Vance was like a brother, and Tam was quickly becoming a sister. A sister he’d kissed, he often teased Vance.
Chuckling, he started to walk toward her voice when he suddenly got the gist of her conversation. Amused, flattered, and thinking once again that Vance was a lucky guy, Daniel turned to leave. But then he heard Tam refer to her companion by name and stopped in his tracks.
Bryn Donovon, the uptight no-nonsense prosecutor, aptly nicknamed “Justice” by the legal community? He hadn’t even realized Tam knew Bryn, let alone was friends with her. And, apparently, they were good enough friends to discuss men? And fantasies?
He should leave. He really should. Two women discussing men and sex and him wasn’t a conversation he should be spying on. But then again, after the loss in court this morning, he could use an ego boost.
When Tam mentioned the Ironman triathlon, Daniel grimaced. Huh. Not quite the ego boost he’d been hoping for. That triathlon had nearly killed him. He frowned at Bryn’s reply, surprised despite himself. They weren’t friends, but he certainly hadn’t done anything to warrant such disdain. And his reputation with the ladies was way over-exaggerated. She of all people should understand the concept of being innocent until proven guilty.
He pushed away any residual guilt he’d been harboring for eavesdropping. He’d just come in to check on a motion. If the two women didn’t have enough sense to shut the door when they gossiped, that wasn’t his fault.
“Please,” he heard Bryn say. “Spare me the gory details.”
Daniel sucked in a breath. Gory?
His annoyance intensified with every word Bryn Donovan spoke. When she sneeringly dismissed his profession and expressed disinterest in his sexual prowess, Daniel had the crazy urge to burst in on their conversation and kiss her to orgasm, just to prove her wrong.
Whoa. Kiss Bryn Donovon? That was certainly a novel thought.
If pressed, he would have to describe her as average, at best. Dark hair, slender build, impeccable posture, plain clothes. Inoffensive but nothing noteworthy. Certainly not flashy, and nothing to indicate she had a fun or warm personality. Daniel didn’t need flashy, but he needed fun and warmth.
There was something to be said for spunk, though. And Bryn had spunk. Most definitely she had spunk. Suddenly, he couldn’t get the idea of kissing her out of his head.
Had he completely missed the mark with her? Was he simply overworked? Had he thought of her as a professional adversary so long it had skewed his perceptions?
Daniel shrugged and grinned. No time like the present to find out. He crossed his arms across his chest, leaned against a file cabinet, and waited for the women to come out into the hall. When they stopped in the doorway, chatting, he grew impatient and cleared his throat, calling Bryn’s attention to him.
When she turned around and saw him, he should have been pleased by her flustered reaction. Instead, he had his own unexpected reaction to deal with. As her face flushed and her eyes widened, Daniel realized for the first time—how was that possible?—that her eyes were anything but average.
They were a warm golden brown surrounded by dark lashes that complemented their slightly exotic shape. He tried not to, but his gaze took in the whole package.
What an idiot he’d been.
Bryn was gorgeous.
Her shiny ebony hair without a hint of curl.
The enticing curve of her calves above those utilitarian black pumps.
The fullness of her lower lip, which even now she punished with straight, white teeth.
And her eyes. Man, her eyes.
He pictured those golden eyes dazed with pleasure, pleasure he could give her in so many ways. Verbally. Physically. Lying down. Standing up. Soft and slow. Then hard. Then harder still.
As if she could read his mind, she flushed but said nothing.
Tam grinned at Daniel over Bryn’s shoulder. Tall, and wearing heels despite the watermelon in her stomach, she towered over Bryn’s petite frame. She fluttered her fingers in a cheery wave. “Well, hello, handsome. We were just talking about you.”
Bryn looked ready to strangle Tam with her bare hands. Instead, she tilted up her chin and walked past Daniel.
Or rather, she attempted to. Daniel blocked the exit. Despite the arousal coursing through him, he stifled the urge to laugh. “Really? It sounded like you were talking about getting Thad to take Bryn to an engagement party.” He snuck a sideways glance at Bryn. “But I’ve known the guy for years and, even if he wasn’t in an exclusive relationship right now…” He saw Tam’s eyes widen and narrowed his infinitesimally. Immediately, she pressed her lips together to suppress a smile. “…I’m not sure how he’d feel about being used as a—let’s see, what should we call it?—a diversion. Can’t say I blame you, though. I have an eternally optimistic mother, too.”
Bryn’s gaze flickered, indicating that despite her best intentions, he was getting to her.
“But who would’ve thought it? Apparently, something does scare you, Ms. Donovon.” He grinned, wanting to get those ramrod stiff shoulders to relax. From the way she’d talked with Tam, she obviously had a sense of humor to match her acute intelligence. Maybe once she relaxed she’d be more fun and warm than he’d ever imagined she could be. “Careful, or you’ll mar your trial-dog reputation.”
She blushed. For her, that was the equivalent of stuttering and getting knocked on her ass. “Excuse me, but I’m late for court.”
Daniel lifted his gaze to the office clock. “Court doesn’t start for another ten minutes.”
She tilted her pert nose in the air. “Perhaps I’d rather stand outside the courtroom than stand here with you.”
Spunk, he thought again.
“Yes, get out of the way, Daniel,” Tam interrupted. “You don’t want Bryn to get physical with you, do you?”
Tam winked covertly from behind Bryn’s back.
Daniel straightened, stepped to the side, and swept a hand in front of him. As Bryn slid past him, he said, “I guess it depends on what she has in mind. Say, for example, she wanted to rip off my—oh, I don’t know—big head…?”
Bryn froze and Daniel heard her barely concealed gasp.
“That could be kind of fun,” he said, openly grinning now. “What do you say, Justice?”
Shoulders tense, she slowly turned to face him. “I say I’d rather face a jury in my underwear.”
“Whatever turns you on. And I mean that.”
She marched out, her back as ramrod straight as ever.
When she was out of earshot, Daniel turned to see Tam shaking her head at him. He shrugged innocently. “What?”
Tam snorted. “Thad isn’t dating anyone exclusively, and you know it.”
Widening his eyes dramatically, Daniel said, “Really? I could’ve sworn that’s what Vance said. Hmm. My mistake.”
“She’s not particularly fond of defense attorneys.”
“Most prosecutors aren’t. She’ll get over it. I’m a great kisser, after all.”
Tam snorted again and he grinned. “I’m just sayin’…” he drawled.
Twenty minutes later, after telling Tam he’d buy her unborn child a drum set for its second birthday if she set Bryn up with anyone, let alone Thad, Daniel stared at Bryn’s back from the courtroom audience.
No doubt about it. She intrigued him. He wanted to get to know her better, including what it would take to make her relax.
To make her smile.
To wrap her arms around him and moan in pleasure.
A renewed ripple of desire made him smile ruefully.
Rumors aside, he was careful about who he dated. He rarely dated lawyers, and he’d never dated a prosecutor, let alone one with Bryn’s rigidity. Still, who knew Bryn Donovon had so many luscious layers to explore? He prided himself on seeing nuances others missed, and the fact that he’d missed hers pissed him off.
They’d worked at the Sacramento Courthouse together for the past two years. He’d smiled cordially in greeting. Admired her trial technique. Even shook her hand to congratulate her when she succeeded in beating him at trial, which so far had been every single time.
But until today, he had never sat in court for the specific purpose of learning about her. He had never studied her body so intently, committing every angle and curve to memory, as if in preparation for a full frontal attack. This was exactly what he was doing now, and exactly what he was planning.
It took him less than a minute to accept the truth.
He’d been an idiot for overlooking her. But no more. The tough DA with the bedroom eyes was a mystery, and he wouldn’t be satisfied until he solved it.
Thanks to Tam, he just might have the chance.
The clerk called court into session. Vaguely, he listened as the public defender and Bryn handled the first few cases. Then, when the clerk called Kyle Winsor’s case, he rose and made his way to the front of the courtroom. He sat at the defense table with his client, a nineteen-year-old punk with too much time on his hands, but a punk who could still turn his life around.
“Are we still set for jury trial next week, Mr. Mays?” the judge asked.
“Unless Ms. Donovon is willing to agree to probation in exchange for a no contest plea?” He glanced at Bryn’s profile, even though he already knew what she was going to say.
Without looking at him, Bryn quietly said, “That’s not going to happen, your honor. The people are asking for the maximum sentence in this case, and we’re prepared to go to trial.”
“Very well, counselors.”
As the judge discussed logistics with his clerk, Kyle cursed softly. Behind them, his father, known to Daniel only as Winsor, cursed far more loudly.
Winsor’s curse was the only warning the courtroom got.
Before anyone grasped the man’s intent, he’d leaped over the low wall separating the audience from the court staff and made a beeline for Bryn. Bryn looked up, eyes widening as Kyle’s father charged her. Fear flashed across her face.
“No!” Daniel shouted, lunging out of his seat. By the time Daniel reached Bryn, Winsor had her pinned against the table. She frantically clawed at his hands. Gasped for air. She kneed Winsor in the nuts an instant before Daniel grabbed the guy by the back of his shirt.
Winsor released her throat but managed to grab hold of her lapel, pulling her with him. Daniel wrested her away and covered her body with his own. Winsor lunged again, and the bailiff hit him in the back of the head with his baton. He crumpled to the ground. The bailiff picked the man up by the back of his pants and dragged him back, away from Bryn.
Shouts echoed. The judge ordered everyone to calm down as Daniel and Bryn stood, Bryn trembling. Someone pushed forward through the crowd, trying to get at Bryn. Daniel grabbed the asshole, noting it was Kyle's brother Paul.
“Get back,” Daniel growled, wrapping his arms around Paul’s chest. The man kept going, trying to drag Daniel forward.
“Let me go,” he wheezed. “I’ll finish what my dad started. Leave my brother alone,” he spat at Bryn.
As Daniel tackled him to the floor, Paul got in a powerful punch to Daniel’s face, bloodying his lip before two more bailiffs dragged him after Winsor. A quick glance confirmed to Daniel that his client was being ushered out of the courtroom. Just before he disappeared around a corner, Kyle looked back at Daniel, his expression one of shock.
Bryn half-leaned against the table. Daniel rushed up to her. With one hand under her elbow and the other wrapped around the back of her neck, he looked into her dazed eyes. Unlike him, dragging air in and out of his billowing chest, she seemed unable to breathe. “Bryn, are you okay? Bryn!”
She just looked at him. He ran his eyes over her body, trying to assess if she was hurt. Her throat was red from where Winsor’s fingers had squeezed her delicate skin. Her jacket had been wrenched to the side, and her button-down shirt ripped open, exposing part of a lacy pink bra covering a rounded breast. His heart slowed its awful pounding when she finally managed to take in some air.
“You’re okay,” he reassured her. And himself. When he reached out to straighten her clothes, he noticed a dark mark just above the breast that peeked out from behind her shirt. Thinking it was a bruise, he pushed the fabric back. Not a bruise. A tattoo. A scrolled heart on her pale ivory skin.
Daniel raised his brows and glanced at Bryn. She was still shaken, leaning into him. From what he knew of her, she never let herself lean on anyone. He stared into her eyes and felt the oddest tightening in his chest, as if something had burrowed inside him. He tightened his arm just as she seemed to get a hold of herself, pulled away, and began buttoning her blouse.
“Bryn—” he began, but was immediately jostled aside by Linda Mendell, the court reporter. The woman, who was built like a freight train, grabbed Bryn’s arm, yanked her upright, and led her toward the judge’s chambers. Bryn looked back at him, golden eyes wide, and he felt a sensation in his gut.
He’d been sucker-punched, hard, and not just by old man Winsor.