More Than Lust (Courthouse Connections Book 1) (4 page)

BOOK: More Than Lust (Courthouse Connections Book 1)
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If Andi knew Gray better, she’d tell him the story about her grandfather from the Smoky Mountains insisting during a childhood visit that she try a cold cut he called “souse.” Grandpa had told her after she tasted some that it contained all sorts of disgusting parts of a pig’s head that had been pickled in vinegar. She’d thrown up violently, and since then she’d been very reluctant to eat what she considered “exotic” cold cuts, no matter their country or region of origin—even if they were served in one of her favorite restaurants.

“You sure you don’t want more?” Gray eyed the prosciutto for a minute, then speared it with his fork before scooping up the slices of soppressata that unfortunately reminded her a little of the homemade cold cut from her childhood with its mottled colors of fat and lean and God only knew what other ingredients.

“No thank you. If I stuff myself, I won’t have any room left for the main course.”

“Are you trying to hide the fact that you’re a vegetarian?” Gray asked as he polished off the last of the meats that she’d ignored and chased it with bruschetta.

“No. I’m not a vegetarian. I eat meat almost every day. Someday, if our fling lasts long enough, I’ll tell you the story of why I don’t eat cold cuts.”

Gray laughed. “Squeamish, are you?” He lifted his glass and took a sip of wine .

This man took her breath away. Andi sipped her wine and did her best to memorize his features, so they’d stay in her memory once their fling was done. “I guess I am, a little. I take it you’re not.”

“Nope. I enjoy sampling new things, whether they’re foods or ideas or…” He grinned. “…a delightful woman who has managed to fascinate me like nobody has for years, maybe since I was fourteen years old and Marcy Cohen was twelve and completely off-limits. You’re not off limits to me, are you?”

She met his gaze, saw raw desire but something else. Was it possible that he was experiencing the same unfamiliar emotions that were running through her, robbing her of her usual caution when it came to men? “N-no. You’re not off limits at all, I just hope I’m not off limits to you if we somehow should decide what we’re having ought to graduate from our weekend fling to somewhere I wouldn’t fit in. Damn, I shouldn’t even worry about that, because it’s not happening.” Andi told herself to shut up before she made a complete idiot of herself.

His expression serious, he set down his wineglass and took her hand. “It just might, and if it does, we’ll work everything out. I respect my mother, but I’m thirty years old and there’s no way I’ll let her choose my woman the way she thinks she has a right to do. If she wants to play God with bloodlines, I’ll buy her a thoroughbred stud and she can study his ancestors and pick ‘suitable’ mares for him to service.

“Believe me, no one, not even my mother, is going to run my life. I didn’t let her dictate my career. Why the hell would you think I’d let her run my life?”

Andi didn’t know how to reply to that, so she was relieved when the waiter came and brought their dinner. Gray, too, settled down to eat quietly, and when they left the restaurant, half of the pizza and a box of cannoli in hand to munch on later, they got in Gray’s car and talked about places and people they knew in common until he drove through Clearwater and pulled onto the causeway that led to the beach.

Chapter Five

 

A huge clap of thunder made Andi let out a little yelp. Gray counted nine seconds before a bolt of lightning lit the sky in front of the car.

“Don’t tell me you’re afraid of a little spring thunderstorm,” he commented. “After all, you’ve lived around here all your life. You should be used to them.”

“I’m not scared of the thunder, it’s just a noise, like that country singer said. But lightning terrifies me. I saw my best friend’s dad get struck by a lightning bolt when I was about eight years old.”

“Was he hurt badly?” Gray could see how Andi might be terrified of storms. He’d heard that lightning strikes on humans, while rare, could cause anything from burning and scarring to severe neurological problems and even death.

“He lived, but ever since he got hit, his muscles twitch. When they do, he makes faces that even scare my friend. He hasn’t been able to hold down a job, and it’s been almost twenty years since…” Her voice trailed off, as if thinking about the long-ago event still upset her terribly.

“It looks as though we’re in for a storm, so we’ll skip the walk along the beach tonight and go straight to the condo.” Gray decided to spare her the direct exposure to what looked as though it would be a severe if brief patch of weather.

Andi had mentioned going to the beach as a child, searching for new shells to add to her collection. “If we wait and go out after the storm, more interesting shells should have been deposited on shore than ones that are usually there.”

She laughed as he pulled into a parking lot outside the waterfront high-rise where his mother owned the condo that he’d been camping in since coming back to work in the DEA’s Tampa office. “That will be fun. I haven’t hunted shells for years. I don’t know if Mother still has the box where I used to keep my finds.”

Just then the skies opened up and rain started pelting the windshield, its velocity practically drowning out the sound of Andi’s voice. More thunder rolled in the distance, followed even more quickly than before by lightning bolts that even he found alarming. Turning off the engine, he turned and put an arm around Andi, who was shivering despite being safe inside the car.

He didn’t make a move, but tried to calm her by continuing the conversation they’d begun before the deluge began. “I still have the ones I found when Dad used to take me out for weekends on his boat. We’d take off for the Keys, occasionally even the Bahamas, stopping to explore uninhabited islands—that’s where I found the most unusual treasures.

“They’re in my old bedroom—at least I don’t imagine Mother ever cleared out my stuff. I’m sure her housekeeper, Julianna, would call and ask me before disposing of anything that belonged to me. She’s a sweetheart, almost like a second mother, only nicer.”

Once Andi seemed calmer, Gray reached into the small backseat and dug out a golf umbrella and two plastic rain ponchos, handing one of the ponchos to her. “Here, put this on. It’s not the latest fashion, but it’ll keep some of the rain off you.”

She looked cute, wiggling around in the small space to drape the poncho over her. “I’ll be okay. I feel so stupid, letting a little bad weather unnerve me this way.”

Once he got out of the car, he opened the umbrella, grabbed her bag and briefcase, and sprinted to the passenger side. When she got out and under the umbrella, she huddled close to him, keeping his body between her and the Gulf. They made their way to the building, staying in the shelter of a covered walkway flanked by mature palm trees whose fronds bounced merrily in the increasing wind.

He put his arm around her, drawing her close enough that he could feel her trembling again. “We’ll be okay, Andi. I won’t let the storm anywhere near us.” He didn’t know quite how he’d manage to defeat the elements, but his reassurance seemed to calm her as they stepped inside the lobby where he closed the umbrella. Together, they made for the bank of elevators along an inside wall where Gray pushed a button for the fourth floor.

 

 

● ● ●

 

 

“We’re here.” He inserted a key card and swung open one of two doors opposite from the elevator. “Let’s get out of the wet stuff here in the foyer, so we don’t track water all over the carpets.” He set down her bag and briefcase, and stowed the oversize umbrella in a metal stand next to the door.

Andi wasn’t sure it was a good idea to wet the polished marble entryway, either, but she slipped off her soaked shoes and lifted the poncho over her head. “I think I’m going to need to get dry all over. My pantyhose are nearly as soaked as my shoes.”

He grinned, then picked up her bag and opened a door to the left of the entryway. “You can use the powder room and put on something dry. I’ll tiptoe to my room and do the same. Meet you in there.” He gestured toward an open archway that apparently led to the living area, before disappearing down a long, carpeted hall.

Andi stepped inside the elegant half-bath she had assumed must be a coat closet from the look and placement of the door. The floor tile was marble, too, the same beige and gray pattern as the foyer, she noticed as she peeled off her pantyhose and laid them on the floor. As she changed from her damp dress and undies to the shorts and shirt she’d packed to wear tomorrow on the beach, she noticed that her first assumption hadn’t been wrong. In addition to the vanity and toilet, there was an alcove outfitted to hold coats, boots, even ladies’ handbags.

Soft, romantic music—songs from the seventies and eighties, she thought—filled the air, its volume muted yet distinct enough that she could make out lyrics .

Deep, plush carpeting cushioned her bare feet when she entered the room Gray had pointed out, an expansive space lit by indirect lighting and accentuated by the bursts of lightning that crackled outside the floor to ceiling windows. He stood beside a wet bar, looking relaxed and at ease wearing flannel pajama bottoms and a pale blue T-shirt, his bare feet cushioned in beige carpeting.

“I’m afraid the selection of music is pretty limited. Most of it dates back to when I was being born, but I thought it would help distract you from the sounds of thunder and lightning,” he said. “I’ve always liked The Carpenters, though.”

Andi did too. “‘It’s Only Just Begun’” is still one of my mom’s favorites.”

“My mother’s too. Otherwise she wouldn’t have put it into this mix. I didn’t pick it intentionally, but the lyrics seem appropriate to us, wouldn’t you say?”

Andi couldn’t help smiling. “I guess so.” How was it that he could act so casual, so completely at ease in this place, this situation that he found a little unnerving?

Gray fit perfectly in this environment. He obviously took the elegant surroundings for granted, something Andi knew she could never do. Glancing around, she noticed the curved sectional sofa whose cream-colored leather upholstery matched that on a half-dozen bar stools somebody had arranged at precise angles in front of the free-form bar.

She bet it hadn’t been Gray who’d arranged those stools—or cleaned the outrageously impractical pale carpeting, or scrubbed the marble floors in the foyer.

“What’s going through your head, counselor?” A quirky grin played at the edges of his mouth.

She met his gaze, grinned. “I was wondering who keeps this place looking like a model home, and I’m guessing that it isn’t you.”

“You’re right. The condo association has a cleaning crew that comes in twice a week. Makes things easier, especially when I’m gone on assignment. I plead not guilty for picking out carpeting that’s a bitch to keep looking good, though. Mother—or the decorator she worked with the last time she remodeled the place—apparently thought the light colors wouldn’t show sand from the beach. Nobody pointed out that not everything people track in comes from out there.” He gestured toward the windows that Andi thought must offer a breathtaking view of the Gulf in daylight.

“Oh.” All she could see now was the lightning bolts, crackling in the distance, and rain coming down by the bucketful. Feeling very small, she took a seat at one end of the sectional and tried to tell herself she was safe in here, protected from the raging storm.

She noticed her briefcase on the floor beside a glass-topped end table. A state-of-the-art laptop sat on the table—Gray’s, she assumed since it bore little resemblance to the one inside her briefcase that held the file she needed to prepare for Monday’s trial. When she glanced at the screen, she noticed the screen was open to LexisNexis, the premier information system used by major law firms and law schools—a roomful of law journals and case law that she had access to only in the state attorney’s offices at the courthouse.

“I thought we might need to look up something, so I booted up LexisNexis.” He must have noticed the shock on Andi’s face at the sight of the toy she’d never be able to afford for her personal computer. “Don’t look so surprised. The DEA provides subscriptions to its operatives, at least the ones who may someday end up testifying in Federal court. If they didn’t, I could get access through Winston-Roe. My uncle still holds out hope that someday I’ll give in and start writing wills for little old ladies the way my dad did.

“Would you like a drink before we get down to work? I’ve got beer and the makings for daiquiris and margaritas if you don’t mind premixed. I’m afraid the liquor stock is down at the moment, since I threw a bachelor party for a buddy last month.”

“I’ll take a beer if it’s no trouble.”

Apparently it wasn’t, because Gray opened the refrigerator built in to the wall behind the bar and pulled out two bottles of Michelob Light that he set down next to the laptop. “What kind of case is it that you’re trying?”

“Trafficking in cocaine. Four defendants.” Andi pulled out the file. “The case resulted from a police sting set up to get a wholesaler and a street dealer. Two college kids who were customers of the street dealer got caught up in the arrest, one because he rode along with the dealer to buy a couple of grams, the other who had let the dealer use his cell phone to arrange the deal.”

Gray pulled up the Florida statute on drug trafficking, scanned it quickly, and shook his head. “Seems unfair that the law holds them all to be equally guilty, but that’s how I read it.”

“Yeah. My job’s to enforce that law, though. Sometimes I don’t enjoy what I have to do.” Andi pulled out her laptop, booted it up, and set it on the table in front of Gray. While he read the charges, she took a sip of her beer.

“I’m surprised the attorneys for the kids didn’t move to separate the case, since the degrees of culpability are so clearly defined,” Gray commented. “Oh wait. I see that they did, but the judge denied the motions.”

“Judge Smith is known around the courthouse as the hanging judge. He won’t give an inch to any defendant accused of dealing drugs—of any kind, even marijuana. It was these guys’ bad fortune to draw him. The wholesaler has the best representation. He’ll need it, because he’s undocumented, and a conviction will get him deported as fast as the judge can manage.

“The two kids’ parents retained private counsel, but the guy they hired has very little trial experience with criminal cases. The dealer, who’s likely going to have his charges reduced because he’s working with the police to trap other wholesalers, is using a public defender.”

“In those kids’ situations, I’d have gone for Tom Ellis—or a partner in one of the other big firms that has a criminal division with a record of getting the majority of its clients acquitted.” Gray set the file down and glanced out the window, sliding close to Andi and putting an arm around her .

Andi had been trying hard not to look out at that panorama of nature’s fury, but she gathered her courage and checked out what Gray had described. When she did, she saw lightning strike a palm tree near the raging surf, sending flames skyward until they fell, creating smoke that rose from the white foam on the ground. She gasped, then closed her eyes and buried her face against the soft fabric of Gray’s T-shirt.

He drew her closer and tunneled his fingers through her hair. “This isn’t just an ordinary late spring thunderstorm, honey. The wind’s ripping off palm fronds and strewing them all over the beach. Go ahead, scream if you want to. Or come up here on my lap. Trust me, this building has lasted through more than one category three hurricane. It’s not going anywhere. We can talk more about the case later, after the storm passes.”

“My God, Gray. I’m so scared.” Giving in to her fear, Andi let him lift her onto his lap and hold her as though she were a frightened child. Come to think of it, she was—a twenty-seven year old kid no less terrified of storms than she’d been ever since she was eight years old.

She tried to concentrate not on the sounds of the storm but on his slow, steady beat of Gray’s heart, the reassuring sound of his breathing. As he held her, murmuring comforting words as he ran his hands along her spine, the fury of the storm let go of her mind, leaving only the two of them . . . and a growing need that wouldn’t be denied.

 

BOOK: More Than Lust (Courthouse Connections Book 1)
2.33Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
ads

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