Love Me Excerpt

Chapter One

Helen unlocked the padlock on the sheet of plywood replacing her office door.  As she swung it open, a splinter from the rough wood stabbed into her thumb.  A fitting metaphor, she thought, sucking on her finger, tasting the coppery tang of blood.  Everything about what had happened yesterday was painful.

The afternoon sun highlighted dust motes drifting across the ruins of her outer office.  The board-up company had swept up the debris from her shattered reception desk and the drawers of client files behind it.  The files themselves were haphazardly stacked against the far wall.  Behind the gaping maw left in the wall behind the reception area, her own desk listed drunkenly, its left side crushed.  By the time the car had gotten that far, it had lost a lot of its momentum.

Thank God her receptionist had left early yesterday.  Any other day, Annie would have been sitting behind the counter that was now a pile of rubble.

Helen limped to the door separating the reception area from her office.  The contents of her desktop littered the floor.  The files she’d been working on, a yellow legal pad, pens, a memo cube, her mouse pad, and the phone were covered in dirt from the cactus she kept on her desk.  It had been a gift from a ten-year-old girl after Helen helped the girl’s mother win full custody of the child.  Broken pieces of the colorful, misshapen pot, which the girl had made herself, lay mixed with the rest of the desk debris.  The cactus had shriveled to half its size and the sharp spines were limp, curled into themselves.

She stepped sideways into her office, moving carefully past the door that separated it from the reception area.  The door hung from one hinge, moving sluggishly in the breeze from the street.

Her office chair sat untouched against the rear wall, and Helen dropped into it, her ankle throbbing.  The heavy boot on her right foot was awkward and uncomfortable, but she’d have to get used to it.  She’d sprained her ankle leaping to get away from the car, and she’d be wearing the boot for the next week.

She’d managed to save her laptop, though.  She was thankful for that.  She needed something to be thankful for in the destruction that used to be her office.  Losing her computer would have been a disaster.  She had to be in court tomorrow, and she needed her computer to prepare.

So.  She’d focus on the computer.  And she’d try not to look at the ruins around her.

Her cell phone chimed, and she pulled it out of her pocket.  Her landlord.  “Hey, Michael.”

“How you doin’, Helen?”

“I’ve had better days.”  She rubbed at a lump over her right eye.  “But at least I’m alive.  Could have been a lot worse.”

“You know it.  I’m sending a contractor over this morning.  Can you meet him at the office and let him in?  I’m tied up here.”

“That’s fine.  I’m here right now.”

“You’re at the office?”  His voice sharpened.  “Helen, your office is dangerous.  You shouldn’t be working there.”

“The guy’s not coming back, Michael.  Cars crash into buildings all the time, right?  It was an accident.”  If she said it often enough, she might even believe it.

“I’m talking about the building.  The walls are unstable.”

“I’m being careful.”  She lifted her throbbing ankle and rested the boot on an open file cabinet drawer. Don’t worry, I’m not going to sue you.”

“Ha, ha.  Lawyer joke.  Good one, Brody.”

“Yeah, I’m full of them.”  She shifted in the chair.  “What’s the contractor’s name?”

“James something.  Let me get the paperwork.”

“Don’t bother.  I don’t have time to Google him.”  She had to prepare for court.  “You hear anything more from the police?”

“Only that the car was stolen.  So no lead there.”

“Thanks, Michael.  I’ll be here when James Whoever arrives.”

No leads.  Helen dropped the phone into her pocket, disappointment a bitter taste in her mouth.  After ramming into her office, the driver had reversed and driven away.  The license plate had fallen off the car after it hit Helen’s desk, and Helen had hoped it would lead to the driver.

The moments after the car splintered the glass window were a jumble of memories – the crunch of the reception desk, the foreign, wrong smell of car exhaust, the grill of the SUV barreling toward her.  It might have been an accident.

Except Helen was almost certain she’d heard the car accelerate after it hit the wall separating her office from the reception area.

The police officers who’d arrived on the scene had listened to her, nodded, scribbled in little notebooks.  But she wasn’t sure they’d believed her.  Who ran into a building and accelerated instead of braking?

Helen drummed her fingers on what remained of her desk.  Finally, she reached for her phone again.  She had three nephews and a niece in the Chicago Police Department.  Maybe they could reassure her.

And she hoped she didn’t have to go as far as her other nephew in the Chicago FBI office.

Pushing a button, she heard the phone ringing.  Finally a voice said, “Donovan.”

“Hey, Quinn, it’s Helen.  How’s it going?”

“Good, Helen.”  His voice relaxed from the brisk, business-like tone he’d used to answer.  “How about you?”

“Mostly okay.  But I had an accident yesterday.”

“You hurt?”  His tone went from relaxed to sharp.  Concerned.

“Sprained ankle.  No big deal.”

“Thank goodness.”  He exhaled.  “That sweet ride of yours banged up?”

She grinned.  “The ten-year-old Toyota is good.  This was at my office.  A car drove through the window.”

“Shit.”  All teasing left Quinn’s voice.  “How much damage?”

“A lot.  The thing is, Q,” she cleared her throat.  “I’m not sure it was an accident.  I’m pretty sure the guy accelerated after he hit the building.”

“How about I grab Connor and we come over?  You going to be there?”

“Yeah.  You don’t have to come right now, though.”

“As good a time as any.  The June weather has apparently tamed the bloodlust of the good citizens of Chicago.  No active cases right now.”

“Thanks, Quinn.  I owe you.”

“Big time,” he said with a laugh.  “See you in a bit.”

Helen’s shoulders relaxed as she pocketed the phone.  Quinn and Connor were both homicide detectives.  They’d look at everything and tell her she was imagining things.

Then she could stop looking over her shoulder.

She’d just gotten her computer booted up when she heard a knock.  Setting the laptop carefully on the seat of the chair, she stood and limped to the sheet of plywood pretending to be a door.  She opened it to find a tall blond man carrying a clipboard on the other side, a messenger bag slung across his chest.

His very nice chest.  Wide shoulders, sleekly muscled arms and impressive muscles beneath a tight black tee shirt.  A shirt that highlighted his washboard abs.

His worn jeans hung low on his hips and clung to long, muscular legs.

“Are you…,” she began, looking at his face.  Then she stopped.  Oh, my God.  It was him.  The guy from a year ago.  Jamie.  James.

Her mouth was suddenly dry as sand.  The universe couldn’t possibly be so cruel as to send the one guy she’d hoped to never see again to her office.  “Are you the contractor?” she managed to get out.

“Jamie Evans.”  He smiled as he gave her his card.  “Wow.  Small world, isn’t it, Helen?  How have you been?”

He remembered her, too.  Heat flooded her face.  Apparently, neither of them had been drunk enough that night.  Without bothering to look at the card, she shoved it into her pocket.  “I’m good,” she said, hating how breathless she sounded.  As if she was thrilled to see him again.

“How…how about you?”  She couldn’t wrap her mind about having such a banal conversation with the man who’d shared one unforgettable night with her.

“The day is suddenly looking much better.”  His smile widened, revealing the dimple in his right cheek.  The one she’d spent hours exploring.  She’d teased him about that dimple.  About how it matched the ones that bracketed his ass.

“I didn’t know you were a…a contractor.”

“I didn’t know you were a lawyer.”  He leaned closer, his green eyes gleaming.  “But we didn’t do much talking that night, did we?”

No.  No, they hadn’t talked.  They’d been too busy exploring each other’s bodies.  Finding all the spots that made each other moan.  Whimper.  Gasp.

“You’re looking good, Helen,” he said.  She remembered that bedroom voice of his.  Even now, a year later, it made her clit throb.  “Except for your eyes.”  He leaned closer.  “They’re even bluer than I remember.”

He’d told her that her eyes were the first thing he’d noticed about her.  All the Brodys had bright blue eyes and dark wavy hair.  Her niece and nephews had gotten them, too, from Helen’s sister, Rose.

“Eyes are the same,” she choked out.

“Never saw them in the daylight.”

His eyes were hooded.  She remembered that, too.  If she were to glance down, there would be a bulge behind his zipper.

She wouldn’t glance down.

Her gaze drifted lower.  His jeans were a lot tighter than they’d been when he walked in.

They’d been staring at each other for far too long.  Helen swallowed and tried to gather her wits.  “So you’re going to do the repairs here.”

“Yeah.”  He shifted from one foot to the other and looked at his clipboard.  “Car plowed into the office?”

“Yes.”  He was trying to get comfortable.  She swallowed again.  “Destroyed the reception desk and came through that wall.”  She waved at the hole in the wall separating her office from the outer one.  “As you can see.”

Jamie nodded as he assessed the damage.  Finally his gaze landed on her foot.  “What happened there?”  His voice was suddenly sharp.

“I had to jump out of the way.  I tripped on a partially open file drawer.”

“Broken ankle?”

“No, just sprained.”  She wanted to tuck the boot behind her left foot.  She looked like a dork in the clunky, heavy boot.

And why did she care if she looked like a dork?  Snap out of it, Helen.

“Good thing,” Jamie said, scowling as he stared at her foot.  “They catch the guy?”

“No.  He left a license plate behind, but the car was stolen.”

“The police can work on that.  I’ll get your office up to speed in the meantime.”

Good.  Back to business.  That’s what she wanted.

Her swollen, aching breasts called her a liar.  They remembered the wicked things he’d done with his mouth.

“How long…how long will it take to get it repaired?”

He shrugged one shoulder.  “Depends.”

“Depends on what?”

“How long it takes to get the parts I need.”  He made a note on the clipboard.  “How long it takes to get you…”

His gaze drifted over her.

“To get me…?”

“Up to speed,” he said, his eyes hooded again.  The bulge behind his zipper hadn’t gotten any smaller.

“I’ll need it to be fast,” she said.

“I can do fast.”  His gaze touched her breasts, and her nipples pebbled as if he’d put his mouth on them.  “But slow is a lot more fun.”

Heat washed over her again.  “Slow can’t be good for business.”

“Never had any complaints.”

“I bet you haven’t,” she muttered, kicking the overturned waste basket out of her way as she reached for some files on the floor.  Slow with Jamie had been earth-shaking.  Amazing.  Even now, she remembered the way he’d touched her, the way he’d kissed her, until she was a needy, aching mess.  Begging him.

She didn’t have a single complaint about slow.

She wondered how many other women had experienced slow with Jamie.

Not her business.  Nothing about Jamie was her business.  Besides the work he’d do on her office.

When she straightened, Jamie was staring at her ass, his eyes gleaming.  He met her gaze.

“I’ll take a look around, see what needs to be done.”  His voice was a low rasp that made her swallow.  “You want me to do that fast, too?  Or should I take my time?”

God, she hated the way his eyes twinkled.  They made her remember things she’d tried too hard to forget.  “Take your time.  Do a thorough job.”

“I always do, Helen.”  He waited until she met his gaze, then removed a pencil from the clipboard and got to work.

Helen returned to her office and shuffled through the pile of folders until she found the one she needed.  The Ashcroft family.  The court date was tomorrow.  It was a custody case, like many of her cases.  Her client, the ex-wife, was petitioning for full custody.  She’d claimed abuse, and had the police reports to back it up.

Helen had filed a request for full custody until the next court date, and it had been granted.  As far as she was concerned, the man had lost all rights to see his kids without supervision.  Melinda had testified Doug had beaten her repeatedly.  She’d said that he had threatened their five-year-old son when the boy tried to protect his mother.  Melinda had been granted the temporary order.  Now Helen needed to make it permanent.

She was listing her reasons, focusing on each one and how they built her argument, step by step, when someone cleared his throat.  She glanced up and spotted Jamie, standing in the doorway.

“Oh.  Sorry.  I’d forgotten you were here.”  Not the complete truth.  Awareness of Jamie had been bubbling beneath the surface since she sat in her chair and opened the Ashcroft file.  But he didn’t need to know that.

“Yeah?  Must be an interesting case.”

“Custody case,” she said, closing the file.  She liked him a little better for not being upset when she told him she’d forgotten he was there.

Not that it mattered.  Jamie was here to do a job.  That was all.

“You do a lot of them?”

“A lot of what?”  Jamie was distracting her, and she couldn’t allow that to happen.

“Custody cases.”  One corner of his mouth curled up, as if he knew exactly how much he distracted her.

She set the file on the laptop.  “Yeah, I do.”

He nodded.  “Good for you.”  He gestured toward the outer office.  “You have a minute to talk about what you want out here?”

“Sure.”  She set the computer on the floor and limped toward him.  “But I thought you’d re-do it the way it was.”

He shrugged.  “I can do that.  But since I have to start from scratch, you might as well get exactly what you want.  Within the limits of what the insurance company’s going to pay.”

“Okay.  Let’s take a look.”  Good.  Professional.  No bedroom eyes.  No twinkling.  Exactly what she wanted.

They were talking about the reception desk and what would work when the door opened and two men stepped in.  “Hey.”  Helen limped toward them, hugging first one, then the other.  “Quinn.  Connor.  Thanks for coming by.”

The twins gave her identical smiles.  Their dark hair was cut short, and their blue eyes were mirrors of her own.  “Come and take a look,” she said.

She turned around and found Jamie watching with narrowed eyes.  “I can come back later,” he said.

“No, this shouldn’t take long.  “Quinn, Connor, this is Jamie Evans.  The contractor who’s going to repair the office.  Jamie, Quinn and Connor Donovan.”

Jamie glanced at the badges clipped to their belts and the holsters visible beneath their sports coats.  “You called the cops?”  His mouth quirked up in the smile that made her clench her thighs together.  “Not sure if I’m offended or flattered.”


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