Excerpt. © Reprinted by permission. All rights reserved.
Stephen wiped mustard from the corner of his mouth with a paper napkin
"This week?" His long draw of Georgia iced tea became a slurp, when the straw hit bottom. He lifted the glass for a refill from the waitress bustling by. "This running feud you have with Downing is starting to sound"
"Personal?" Emma scowled at the waitress's departing back. Her own tea glass remained empty except for melting ice.
She gave her friend an expectant stare.
"Hey, don't hate the messenger." Stephen snatched their check and flipped open his wallet. "Downing doesn't exactly send me flowers after I've cross-examined him on the stand. But the last week or two, you've been on even more of a tear than usual. Is there something goin' on with this guy you wanna talk about?"
"He's been the arresting officer on every case I've tried in months. He trashes my defense plans, like testifying's a contact sport." And the man's father had been the enemy for close to half her life. "There's nothing else to talk about."
Exaggerate much? Stephen's raised eyebrow implied. He tossed two tens down as they rose to head back to work.
"Okay, so it hasn't been every case." She plucked a twenty from her purse and exchanged it for his bills. She handed him back a ten. "I pay my own way, remember?"
"No," her friend said, but he took the money.
How many years had they done the same dance? Stephen Creighton was a Southern gentleman, born and bred. And a gentleman took care of a lady's lunch. Even when the man was happily married, and the lady in question was resistant to all gestures smacking of her needing to be taken care of.
"It's just lunch." He grabbed their briefcases and handed over hers.
"Right. And Downing is just another cop I have to grill on the stand this afternoon."
She hustled through the Courthouse Deli's double glass doors and into the atrium, fighting the memory of how good being in Downing's arms had felt. They'd driven each other crazy. And if it had just been about sex, maybe it would have ended there. But after the fog had cleared from her brain, she'd been horrified by her weakness for him. By how much more she'd needed.
Too much more.
She'd tried to pull away first. Tried to tell him to leave. But Rick had been holding her so close, as if she was something precious he knew he couldn't keep. And somehow she'd ended up clinging, just a little, when he'd silently handed her her clothes, put his own on and left.
They'd faced each other in court the next day, and practically every workday since. Both pretending what had happened was no big deal. But Emma had an entire afternoon of no big deal ahead of her, and her legendary control in the courtroom was starting to crumble.
She followed Stephen toward the marble stairs to the left of the courthouse entrance. The historic building was teeming with hustling bodies. Walking up the two flights of stairs would be light-years faster than waiting for one of the antiquated elevators.
"I'm sorry for being such a grouch," she said. "I don't know what's wrong with me."
"Maybe it's this case." Stephen turned right as they reached the third floor. "Your defendant's such a jerk, you half want the prosecution to win this time. And I think that pisses you off, as much as the potshots Rick takes at your defense strategy every time he testifies."
"Maybe," she agreed, even though she knew better. "I Wait a minute. Rick?" They paused outside the courtroom where Stephen, one of the top independent legal-aid attorneys in town, had been representing his own client all week. "Since when is Lieutenant Downing, Rick to you?"
Stephen shrugged. "He and Kate's brother grab a beer once a week or so. Martin was already part of Neal's and my Thursday-night game, so when he mentioned bringing Rick along one night"
"You and your boss are playing poker with that smug weasel!" Emma smiled sweetness at the strangers who stared as they passed by. She cleared her throat and toned down her rant. "You're playing cards with the police officer who lives to antagonize me."
"Rick's a good guy, Emma. Whatever hate-on you've got going for him"
Stephen held his hands up, pleading for mercy.
"He's just" he started.
"Going to get back to court before I do." Emma smacked her friend on the arm in retaliation for defending the current bane to her existence. "Give Kate my love, you big traitor."
"You and Jessie still on for Sunday dinner?" Stephen asked as Emma headed for her own courtroom. "Luigi's, in Virginia Highlands?"
"Sure." She waved without turning back. "And you better believe you're buying this time. Remember, Jessie likes pepperoni supreme, extra toppings."
She marched toward her courtroom and her next showdown with the police lieutenant her job forced her to see nearly every day. The handsome devil whose dedication and passion for the law had gotten to her, even if he was the son of the man who'd helped ruin Emma's life.
Rick Downing is a good guy, my ass.
He was the enemy, no matter what Stephen or her hormones thought. And she'd damn well better not forget it.
Emma Montgomery had no business looking so flustered and feminine and flat-out stunning as she hustled into the courtroom. Rick tried not to notice the moisture misting across her peaches-and-cream complexion, compliments of the humid August day outside. Or how her blond hair curled around her face, framing delicate features and intelligent, cat-green eyes.
He'd run his hands through that hair. He'd held Emma's body close as they'd both lost their minds. Sure she'd shut him out after, and he'd secretly been grateful for the brush-off. But he'd sipped at all that skin that was as silky to the touch as it appeared to the eye. And now, his eyes were the only things allowed to feast on Emma. So he let his gaze drink its fill, while she ignored him so completely it was clear she knew he was there.
How the woman looked, he reminded himself, wasn't nearly as important as what she had up her designer sleeves that afternoon. Sitting at the back of the courtroom, Rick forced his mind to focus on the job. Monty never missed a chance to work whatever legal angle she could. And their one-night indiscretion had only upped her motivation to bust his balls on the stand. If he wasn't on his toes today, one of the sleaziest criminals he'd ever collared might walk free.
She was late returning from lunch, and Emma was never carelessly late for anything. It didn't matter that Judge Mathers had been delayed, too. What did matter was that Rick was overdue for his afternoon shift and needed to return to the central precinct as soon as possible. Of course, Emma had been pushing all morning for one continuance and break after another, dragging things out intentionally.
Monty was as good as they came at her job. Her closing arguments could beguile a preacher into giving Satan a second chance at wings. But lately, even before they'd slept together, it had seemed as though her passion to defend her clients had turned into a personal vendetta against him.
Rick stood and closed in on the defendant's table, watching Emma pause beside the ex-con he'd arrested for possession with intent to distribute. Rick's irritation went from simmer to boil when Emma bent to speak with her client, and Tanner Simmons used the opportunity to leer down her blouse. Rick didn't stop moving until he was obstructing the creep's view.
"You're really okay with turning this guy back onto the streets, Monty?" he asked. The delicate muscles along Emma's neck tensed as she straightened. "I know you've got the ethics of what you PDs do rationalized to perfection. But this is a new low, even for you. I made a clean arrest. This guy's guilty as hell. You and everyone else here knows it."
Emma smiled her disarming, Southern-belle smile.
"Thank you, Lieutenant," she purred, "for making my point for me. It's because of things that everyone like you knows, that PDs like me fight for every suspect's right to a vigorous defense. Even the guilty ones."
Tanner's gaze shifted from roaming Emma's curves to staring Rick down.
"You heard the bitch," the gangbanger sneered. "Piss off."
"Watch your mouth!" Rick barked in unison with Emma.
Her scowl was all the thanks Rick got for helping defend her honor.
"I need to speak privately with my client," she said. "So, if you'll excuse us "
Her glare promised Tanner it wasn't going to be a friendly chat.
She turned her back, dismissing Rick with an ease that she didn't quite pull off. Her almost-imperceptible cringe, as Simmons's stare continued cataloging her assets, said she wouldn't be heartbroken to see her current client rack up his third felony conviction in ten years.
"You're one ballsy bitch, Ms. Montgomery." Simmons lifted hands that had been cuffed in front of him. He rubbed the backs of his fingers along the sleeve of Montgomery's conservative jacket. "Just the kind of bitch I need by my side in a corrupt legal system."
Emma's composure disintegrated into disgust, but she eased away with dignity. Only then did Rick's hand relax around the handgun holstered to his hip.
Get over yourself.
He'd seen Montgomery handle tougher customers than the piece of scum trying to rattle her now. And she clearly wouldn't appreciate any further intervention on his part. Still, Rick took a seat behind the defense's table, rather than the assistant district attorney's. Not that the ballsy PD would appreciate his concern, if she noticed him there. Which she pretended she didn't.
Instead, she stayed focused on the creep she'd been defending all week, staring Tanner down until the guy looked away. The bailiff announced the judge's return from lunch break. Emma sat, but only after edging her chair anothe...