Authors: Ann Jacobs
“Gray was just a kid when it happened.” Marcy shook her head. “I’d lay odds it wasn’t his boss who worked Mr. Syzmanski to death. He probably spent 24/7 in the office to avoid the bitch he was married to.”
“I never met Anton’s wife. In any case, it made quite a topic for gossip in legal circles when he was found dead, slumped over his desk with a client folder under his head, when his secretary arrived for work one morning.”
Andi could imagine it had. For a partner in Winston-Roe to die at work certainly would have attracted malicious gossip. The firm—one she’d never have dared apply to, coming as she had from a law school that didn’t rank in the top one hundred, much less the top twenty—was the subject of much envy in Tampa’s legal community.
“I think it’s sad,” she said, not feeling competent to contribute anything meaningful to the conversation.
Beth, one of the paralegals who’d joined them for their informal conference over drinks, chimed in. “He sure looks mighty fine. It just isn’t fair that he’s as rich as Croesus too.”
Andi agreed. The guy was a prime chick magnet, as Karen, the other attorney who hardly ever said anything about men, had noted.
Marcy laughed. “I wouldn’t trade my Sam for him, even though Gray is damn hot to look at and is practically wallowing in trust fund money. He has one big disadvantage—his mother will make the mother-in-law from hell for any woman she doesn’t hand-pick for him. All of us who had the misfortune to know her back in the day referred to her as ‘Mommy Dearest.’”
Sandra took the last sip of her margarita and fiddled with the unusual looking choker Andi had noticed that she never removed. “I have to go now. Feel free to stay and imbibe as long as you’re okay to continue this conference in the morning.
.” Leaving money on the table to cover her drink and a tip, she left abruptly, as though she had somewhere special she had to be.
As Andi made her way home a little later, she couldn’t help thinking it was a rotten shame for a guy as good-looking as Gray Syzmanski to be completely and utterly out of reach for a girl like her.
that Friday afternoon
She’d rather have been almost anywhere else, but her boss, State Attorney Harper Wells, had made it very clear that he expected to see all of his underlings’ smiling faces at this bar association cocktail party, schmoozing with potential supporters of his re-election campaign.
Talk about feeling like a fish out of water! Andi refrained from counting the plentiful number of Mercedes and BMWs in the Tampa Yacht Club parking lot, never mind the dozens of Japanese luxury vehicles that made her ten year old Toyota look as though it belonged in a junkyard by comparison. She even spotted a Maserati, a couple of Porsches, and an exotic sports car that she’d never seen before except on TV.
Getting out of her car, she straightened the skirt of her all-purpose after-five uniform, an understated “little black dress” as the sales lady had called it, with off-black pantyhose and black satin pumps. Damn, she hoped her faux pearls wouldn’t draw barely concealed chuckles from the people inside, most of whom were undoubtedly used to seeing the real thing.
A brisk breeze off Old Tampa Bay tossed her hair askew, and the May humidity was doing a number on the makeup she had re-applied before leaving home. Andi couldn’t help noticing that Marcy, her coworker, had managed to cross the parking lot without getting a single strand of her shoulder-length blonde hair out of place.
Some women had all the luck, Andi thought as the two walked inside together and faced the horde of Tampa attorneys who’d gathered to see and be seen while they partook of booze and fancy hors d’oeuvre.
● ● ●
“Is that the redhead we saw in Bennie’s?” Gray honed in visually on the redhead who’d just come in with the hot little blonde that his neighbor, Sam Kramer, had robbed out of the cradle practically the day she’d graduated from the county’s flagship public high school—the only one in Tampa where the teenage residents of Tampa’s exclusive south side could get a decent education and still allow their determinedly liberal parents to remain politically correct.
“Which one?” asked Gray’s companion after he downed the rest of his beer.
“The one who isn’t their mutual boss, idiot,” Gray told Ted. “I may not be practicing law here, but even I recognize Harper Wells’ chief assistant—the one who does the lion’s share of the work that ol’ Harper keeps getting himself re-elected to do. Sandra with some unpronounceable Italian last name. I intend to find out if she’s as much fun as I think she’ll be, and I want to get to know her before I ship out on Monday.”
Ted laughed. “Since you mentioned being interested in her, I’ve checked her out a little. Her name is Andi Young, and apparently she’s Wells’ poster child for gender and class equality, all in one tidy package. From what I hear, she’s pretty good in court for being out of law school just a year or so. If rumor is correct, she’s an east Tampa native who went to USF and Stetson Law on scholarships. She’s not like most of the state attorney’s female junior attorneys who are there mostly to catch a husband or amuse themselves until the kids start popping out. Not that there’s anything wrong with women trolling for husbands—I’m glad Pam decided to set her cap for me.”
Listening to his friend, Gray understood fully why he’d opted out of what his mother called his “birthright” by taking his brand-new Harvard law degree to the DEA a few years ago, instead of joining Winston-Roe
embracing more than a hundred lawyers in three Florida offices and three times that many paralegals, clerical workers, investigators and assorted support staff. The rarified atmosphere of a law firm steeped in nepotism and tradition didn’t hold a candle to the constant intrigue and excitement of chasing down drug lords and their minions—at least in Gray’s mind.
He suspected that the manipulating paws of Mother Dearest, as he privately thought of his only living parent from time to time, had played a part in the transfer that had brought him back to the DEA’s Tampa office where she could exert control over at least some of his activities. He knew damn well that she’d lied to his bosses to get him sent home from his most recent assignment in the Dominican Republic.
He’d arranged this week for Uncle Guy to rein Mother in—if he hadn’t, he’d probably be out of a job when she interfered again. It amused him that he’d been able to get another assignment, longer and more fraught with danger, after being back in Tampa only a few days—and that Mother hadn’t been able to interfere, for fear that her brother would cut off her trust fund income if she did.
Now all he had to do was avoid seeing her until Monday, when he’d board a plane and be back to the excitement of chasing down drug-running criminals and bringing them to justice. Meanwhile . . .
“Let’s go meet Andi,” he told his friend, his imagination taking him past the all-purpose little black dress she was wearing to the hot, naked woman he was picturing in his bed at his family’s Clearwater Beach condo.
God, but I love redheads. They’re hotter than hell.
If he read the looks that she sent his way correctly, she had similar thoughts about him. Unlike some of his past hookups that had been anything but memorable other than for some hot, imaginative sex, Gray envisioned having meaningful conversations with the young lawyer. Between bedroom encounters, that is. He concentrated his gaze on her pretty, slightly freckled face, restraining himself from ogling the delightful curve of her breasts as he and Ted approached their table.
● ● ●
He’s the same guy who was with Ted at Bennie’s the other day.
Andi tried to remind herself that this man was out of her league, but it didn’t work very well. He reminded her of a Norse god with that sun-bleached blond hair, the beach-bum tan—and well-honed muscles on a tall, sturdy frame. He definitely wasn’t a typical young attorney who spent too much time with his nose in a law journal and not enough out in the sunshine.
Remember, girl, he’s not for you . . . at least for anything long-term.
But there was nothing keeping her from angling for a weekend hookup if he should be so inclined. No ma’am.
Half listening to a casual conversation between Marcy and their mutual boss, Andi sipped her margarita and watched the two men approach. No, she watched the stranger Ted Peters was accompanying, the one whose stormy gaze promised steamy nights.
His semi-conservative attire—a navy blazer. white polo shirt and khaki slacks—looked looked more suited to an ad for fancy yachts than at this reception. When she glanced down at his feet, she held back a grin. The guy had on boat shoes, no socks.
He had to be a member of this club. If he weren’t, the snooty doorman who’d given her a dubious look most likely would have refused to let him inside unless he changed into dress shoes and put on a tie.
Whatever. Gray Syzmanski fit all her wildest fantasies about the man who’d sweep her off her feet, right down to his intense gaze with gorgeous eyes that were more gray than blue. Andi looked up at him when they stopped within an easy arm’s length and waited for the women to notice their presence.
Ted spoke first. “Hey there, ladies. My friend Gray wants an introduction.”
Gray’s gaze locked on hers. Her breathing quickened. When he reached out and took her hand, it was as though an electric charge traveled from his callused fingers through every nerve in her body. He shot her a dazzling smile, his perfect teeth gleaming against shapely but oh-so-kissable lips.
“Hey Andi. I’m Gray Syzmanski.” His voice poured over her like molten honey, deep and rich and totally seductive. She imagined him standing in court, mesmerizing jurors, wooing them not only with his deep, well-modulated voice but also with his—well, the best way she could describe it was the powerful
that he projected—seemingly without even trying to impress her and the other women.
I’d hate to have to face him in court.
But there were plenty of other places she’d kill to run into the hot young attorney. She guessed he was one, anyhow, since this was a Hillsborough County Bar Association function, but Marcy had mentioned that he worked for the DEA.
“I’m Andi Young. I’m pleased to meet you,” she managed, knowing she sounded about as polished as the antique spittoons in hallways at the old courthouse.
Marcy put out a hand to Gray. “It’s been a long time. Remember me?”
Gray shifted his attention—and his gorgeous smile—to Andi’s colleague. “How could I forget Marcy Cohen, the only girl who broke my heart by choosing Sam Kramer over me? I hear Sam’s joined his dad’s OB practice. It looks as if working for Harper is agreeing with you, even though I’ll always think of you as the prettiest cheerleader on our high school squad.”
“And you were the star tight end on the football team. How’s the DEA treating you, or has Mommy Dearest managed to bring you back home and into the fold at Winston-Roe
? Since you’re here scoping out females, I assume she hasn’t managed to find a potential bride for you who meets her exacting standards.”
Gray laughed. “Fortunately, she hasn’t. I leave the country on Monday for an undercover assignment. Mother thought when she got me assigned to the office here, she’d have me back under her thumb. I outsmarted her though, when I volunteered for this job after she feigned illness to get me sent home from the last one.”
“Isn’t undercover work awfully dangerous?” Marcy asked.
“It can be, but it’s a hell of a lot more interesting than drafting wills and planning estates for stodgy old men, the way Dad used to do.”
The more that Andi learned of Gray Syzmanski, the less likely she figured it was that they might get together. The guy was old Tampa aristocracy, so entrenched that he didn’t worry about being tossed out of the yacht club for being improperly dressed when she’d spent close to an hour picking out accessories she didn’t think the members would laugh at.
Scratch the fantasy about them hooking up, because they had to be as opposite as black and white—or oil and water if she wanted to be politically correct .
It surprised her when Gray spoke briefly with Sandra as if they, too, were old acquaintances. Immediately afterward, he turned his attention back to Andi and slipped a powerful arm around her shoulders. “Hey, Miss Andi, what would you think of ditching this gig and letting me take you sailing out on the bay to watch the sunset?”
Why not? It wasn’t as though Gray was suggesting that he take her to the nearest hotel—or home to meet the woman Marcy had just referred to as Mommy Dearest without even cracking a smile. “I’d like that, just so long as you’re not planning to make me swim back to shore. I can’t—swim, that is.”
Gray lowered his voice, as though he only wanted her to hear. “I’ll have to teach you someday, but not today. I’m pretty sure my uncle’s boat is seaworthy—at least in the calm waters of Tampa Bay. It has diesel auxiliary power, so we don’t actually have to bother with unfurling the sails. We won’t have to worry about swimming back.”
“Okay. If you’re sure I won’t tip the boat over. I’ve never been on a sailboat.”
“This one’s big enough that moving around on her won’t tip her over.” Gray’s eyes twinkled when he reassured her. “Shall we go?”
“Yes.” Andi didn’t even consider saying no. Gray attracted her like a magnet, so she set her drink and a half-finished plate of small sandwiches and cookies on a nearby table. She stowed the worry that crept into her head about getting water splashed on her dress-up clothes. Spending time getting to know Gray would make the price of a new outfit worth spending.