Book 1 | Love & Law Series

 

THE MOST PASSIONATE KISS OF HIS LIFE…

Kansas City attorney MICHAEL REMINGTON is in the middle of a corporate case he can’t afford to lose. The jaded workaholic has laser focus until he’s blindsided by an unsettling distraction—an anonymous encounter that ends with the most passionate kiss of his life. When his search for the sexy mystery woman gets sidetracked by his unexpected attraction to an ambitious new associate, his life goes from merely unsettled to downright complicated.

THE BIGGEST CASE OF HER CAREER…

JORDIS MORGAN has one goal at her new firm: make partner at all costs… well, almost any cost. She’s determined to earn the firm’s coveted case assignment—as Michael’s co-counsel on the most high-profile patent case in the country—without having an illicit affair with her boss. More interested in career advancement than romance, Jordis does everything in her power to resist the explosive chemistry brewing between her and the man who’s not used to being told no.

LEADS TO THEIR GREATEST ADVERSARIAL CHALLENGE… EACH OTHER

Amidst evidence of case sabotage and high stakes litigation he can’t risk for an unethical liaison, Michael must make a life-altering choice—fight for the woman he can’t live without or hold on to the patent case of the century. In a world where he’d like to have it all, the staid attorney soon finds himself faced with his greatest adversarial challenge—the one to win Jordis’s heart.

 

 

Chapter 1

MICHAEL REMINGTON HAD NEVER had to work so hard for a one-night stand in his life.

It went against his grain and his ego.

He’d long ago become jaded about love and all things Cupid, but he generally had no problem finding a casual bedmate when he wanted. As a named partner in a prestigious law firm with political connections and ties to the social elite of Kansas City, women practically threw themselves at him. Yet, here he stood at the local bar association’s annual New Year’s Eve masked ball—at five minutes till midnight—looking for a woman who had made herself scarce. If he hadn’t been the one to walk away from his elusive prey earlier, he’d think he’d lost his touch.

“What are you doing standing here all alone?” Chase Hager, his best friend and law partner, snuck up behind him and slapped him on the shoulder. “The whole point of my convincing you to come was so you could meet someone new.”

Michael grunted. “I must have been out of my mind. And I can’t believe I let you talk me into this ridiculous costume. I feel like a piece of meat on display.”

Chase laughed. His eyes scanned the costume that made Michael look like an ancient gladiator sans breastplate. “How do you expect to attract quality prospects if you don’t show off the merchandise?”

He rolled his eyes, finding the comment ironic coming from a guy whose costume kept all his significant body parts covered. “You know I’m not in the market for quality prospects. I’m not in the market for any prospects.”

“Oh really?” Chase eyed the two champagne glasses in Michael’s hand. “It looks like you’re in the market for something. Didn’t mean to interrupt. Carry on.” Chase walked away, loud chuckles accompanying his self-satisfied grin.

Tuning out the annoying sound of his friend’s retreating mirth, Michael resumed the search for his evening entertainment. She wore a Juliet costume. Other than that, he didn’t know much about her. He hadn’t bothered to ask her any questions or even get her real name. It hadn’t mattered. The moment she’d spotted him, she’d turned on a flirt that promised more than good conversation.

Not one, usually, to go for the vampy come-on, he’d humored her. He may be jaded, but he wasn’t rude. She’d made a pouty complaint about her Romeo having gone off “roaming” and suggested Michael play her knight in shining armor. He’d laughed and responded, “Wrong costume.”

When she’d looked at him with a blank stare, he’d realized she couldn’t make the distinction between a Roman gladiator and a knight of the realm. He’d wondered if her Elizabethan-styled wig covered a natural blond. Then he’d chastised himself for the insensitive stereotyping. A woman certainly didn’t have to be blond to be intellectually challenged. He’d met enough female cerebral lightweights to know.

Categorizing Juliet as good for an easy lay, but never one to rise above an occasional late night tryst, he’d politely excused himself. He hadn’t originally felt like playing the game tonight. He’d recognized her type and the hunger in her eyes immediately. He avoided—or fought off—women like her all the time, women set on attaching themselves permanently to a rich professional with a strong reputation in the community. He didn’t make himself available for that kind of liaison.

At thirty-eight, he’d seen enough of his buddies take the marital plunge only to end up doing the sap two-step when romantic bliss turned into an episode of reality TV divorce court. He’d almost made that mistake once, with a firm colleague no less, and his engagement had ended in disaster. He’d learned his lesson. He didn’t believe in forever-after, and he didn’t think this masked ball would net him a Cinderella. He had one use for women currently—a physical use, which is exactly where his one-night stand came in, if he could find her.

He glanced at the two flutes of champagne in his hand, tempted to down them both. He abstained. He’d probably had one too many drinks already. After he’d escaped Juliet, he’d had a few to take the edge off his boredom. That had been a mistake. He’d only managed to slide his boredom into frustration.

His gladiator costume had brought out the predator in otherwise reserved ladies. After being groped and propositioned relentlessly by women he knew—despite their masks and costumes—and a few he didn’t, he’d decided to go with it. Maybe getting laid for the first time in four months would improve his disposition. Unfortunately, now that he’d decided to give in to dimwitted Juliet’s offer of a sure thing, she’d disappeared.

He should have stayed home and watched the ball drop over Times Square. Better yet, he should have gone to the office to figure out how a box of discovery documents had gone missing in his multimillion-dollar patent infringement case. He planned to build the firm founded by his late father and his grandfather into a national powerhouse. He wouldn’t succeed if he dropped the ball on the intellectual property case of the year, a case journalists predicted would change the legal landscape for pharmaceutical patents. He sighed. He’d deal with his case issues tomorrow.

Banishing work from his mind, he stepped onto the balcony of the penthouse condo. A smile spread across his lips. A lovely vision stood staring out over the railing. He’d found her.

* * *

Mask still in place, a costumed Juliet stood on the balcony wondering why she hadn’t left this party. The couple she’d planned to meet, her first cousin plus one, hadn’t shown and she didn’t know anyone else here. She planned to give her mysteriously absent cousin a scathing piece of her mind for pressuring her to attend this party then leaving her high and dry.

She hated New Year’s Eve parties. She didn’t need to wax nostalgic about the past year. Betrayal and heartbreak had haunted most of the last three hundred and sixty-five days. She’d left the unpleasant memories behind in Los Angeles six months ago, and she never wanted to revisit them. As for New Year’s resolutions, the only resolution that mattered mandated letting nothing—and no one—distract her from making partner by the end of the year at the KC law firm to which she’d recently transferred.

She’d only come to this midnight-fest foray—against her better judgment—to appease her cousin. Then she’d compounded the mistake by letting her cousin arrange for her costume. She’d wanted Cleopatra, but a mix-up at the costume shop had led to the delivery of this Juliet getup instead. By the time she’d realized the mistake, the shop had closed and she couldn’t make an exchange.

The sound of the balcony door sliding open drew her attention. She turned towards a walking piece of art wearing a gladiator costume.

Four . . . Three . . .

“Juliet! There you are!” the masked gladiator cooed, his baritone voice slightly singsong from one too many glasses of wine . . . or something. “I wondered where you’d gone.” He placed a strong hand around her arm.

Two . . . One . . . Happy New Year!

Despite the two flutes of champagne he held in his other hand, the gladiator turned her deftly into his embrace. The shawl she’d wrapped around her shoulders fell to the ground as plastic horn toots erupted inside amidst cheers. He slid his occupied fist behind her back, gripped the base of her neck with his free hand, and kissed her thoroughly.

She pushed hard against his chest. When she opened her mouth to tell him he’d made a mistake, he took the liberty of sliding his tongue inside to play wickedly with hers. She moaned softly, which caused him to chuckle.

She didn’t know who this man was or why he thought he had an open invitation to make love to her mouth, but her ability to think straight slowly evaporated. She’d never been kissed like this—like the last beautiful woman on earth. Her libido sparked, making her excited and appalled at the same time. She’d been unattached for fourteen long months, and this hunk’s skill with his tongue sent hot flashes to an area of her body she’d almost forgotten existed.

Without removing his lips from hers, the gladiator backed her into a corner alcove west of the sliding glass door, not stopping until her back nearly touched the stone wall. With a bit of apprehension, she noticed darkness covered the alcove he’d selected, the few existing patio sconces not aggressive enough to throw their light around the turn in the wall. Her mind began to whirl. She shouldn’t be here—not at this party and definitely not in this man’s arms.

The thought made her push harder against his chest. “Please.”

“Honey, there’s no need to beg. Whatever you want, I plan to give it to you all night long.” Pulling back slightly, he handed her a glass of champagne.

She accepted the glass on reflex. “You don’t understand—”

“Here’s to the New Year,” he interrupted and lifted his glass dramatically. He paused, as if searching for a more mindful toast, but simply added with a wicked grin, “It’s suddenly looking very promising.” He downed his champagne in one gulp then tossed the flute onto a cushion-covered wrought iron chair not far away.

“Drink up, Juliet.” He wrapped his fingers around hers on the stem of the glass she held and assisted it to her lips. “Don’t you know it’s bad luck not to drink to a toast made on New Year’s Eve?”

She took a sip while pressing persistently against his chest with her other hand. He budged a smidge. Her breathing came easier with the space she’d created between them until she realized his stingy costume left most of his chest bare. Her hand rested against the wall of his smooth pectorals, and what a wall it was. He sported the physique of a Calvin Klein underwear model, all planes and bulges and six-pack. Those reawakened body parts began to liquefy.

“Y-You’ve made a mistake,” she murmured, flustered by her unexpected female response to him.

Though she could count the number of lovers she’d had on half of one hand, she didn’t lack sexual experience. Still, none of her lovers, even the man to whom she’d once been engaged, had stirred in her with a simple kiss a fraction of the heat currently rising inside her. “I think you’re looking for someone else.” And that’s a shame, she thought, surprising herself.

The gladiator smiled down at her. She stood approximately five feet ten in the flat leather sandals she wore, but he still stretched several inches above her. He had to be well over six feet tall.

She’d gotten a brief look at his face before he embraced her and noted odd colored eyes in a rugged face. He wore his hair a little long. The back brushed the top of his epaulettes, and a wavy wisp fell across his forehead, touching the top of a dark brow. Given the paucity of the starlight, she couldn’t quite discern the color of the tresses—black or maybe a deep brown. He qualified as objectively handsome by any woman’s standards, but she didn’t understand this intense attraction. Even with his olive-toned skin, he didn’t fit her usual type.

Removing her champagne glass with one hand, he pressed his other over the hand she rested on his chest. “No, milady, there’s no mistaking you. How about we get better acquainted, like you suggested earlier?” He tucked his face into the curve of her neck. “Mmm, you smell good. All flowers, and sweetness, and woman.”

His lips trailed kisses along her neckline while he showered her with words of seduction. The sound of his voice, two parts sexy and one part awe, stirred her. She became enraptured by the risqué words he whispered. When he got to the part about what he wanted to do with his tongue, she shivered.

He took her mouth in another rousing kiss. His tongue sliding warm across her lips, then along the length of her own, evoked sheer bliss. Wrapped in the feel of him, she didn’t notice the hand he slid to the split at the side of her costume until that hand invaded the fabric and moved up her thigh.

Through a haze, she became conscious of his fingers caressing the side of her bare bottom, the stringy thong she wore giving him full access. His fingers massaged the firm muscles of her buttock. He still held her half-full champagne flute in his other hand, but the burden didn’t slow him down. He pressed at her back until she leaned flush against him from hip to shoulder. The long hardness of his arousal met her abdomen, and her hips swayed in a manner that made him groan aloud.

When that old R. Kelly song about a little bump and grind began to play in her head, she decided she’d lost her mind. What was she doing in a darkened corner—outside no less—with a stranger, making out like a horny teenager?

Something in her consciousness chided she needed to stop him, but she couldn’t muster the will to resist. She felt as if he’d put a spell on her. Maybe he should have come dressed like a warlock. He’d been looking for another Juliet, but he’d magically homed in on the one so deprived of a man’s touch she’d let him have his way with her outside on an open balcony.

Everything happens for a reason, her grandmother always said. Taking grandmamma at her word, she wondered if there was a reason she’d ended up dressed like Juliet on this particular balcony at midnight so Mr. Gladiator could kiss her until she turned into a shameless hussy. At the moment, a reason escaped her, but perhaps she needed to accept the serendipity of the evening to truly appreciate the divine order.

What would happen if she completely surrendered to the moment? Why not enjoy her first real New Year’s Eve kiss—not counting the kisses from her godchildren last year—in three years? She was long overdue for a serious, grownup New Year’s Eve kiss so surrender to the moment she did, with gusto.

The act marked a defining moment in her life. Her nature didn’t include spontaneous or frivolous. She was the intellectual in her group of friends, the deep thinker, the analytical one. Known as a FranklinCovey planner junkie, she couldn’t get through her day without a prioritized daily task list. She didn’t take uncalculated risks, and she didn’t even kiss on the first date. Despite those deep-set character traits, she slowly raised her hand, pushed her fingers into his long, silky hair, and kissed him back as if he were the love of her life.

* * *

Michael yielded to her unrestrained response and fireworks ignited inside him. Heat pulsed through his veins, and a thousand pinpricks of light exploded behind his eyelids. The colors flashed brilliant, more magnificent than poppy fields on the way to Oz and just as dangerous. The onslaught to his senses stunned him. Unfamiliar feelings shook the buzz off his intoxicated haze, warning him he needed to be more aware of the moment—more aware of her.

The sound of her soft moan lured him further into her magic, but the need to breathe forced him to release her lips. “Damn,” he gasped, leaning his forehead against hers. “Lady, you pack quite a kiss.”

She chuckled softly. “You’re not so bad yourself, Spartacus.”

He smiled. “So, you figured it out.”

“Figured what out?” Her brow creased.

The puzzled expression she wore perplexed him. The disconnect between his encounter with her earlier and her current demeanor deepened. In the parlor, she’d all but bluntly stated her obvious attraction to him. Now, she acted as if she’d never met him. Was she playing hard to get? He sensed a playful intelligence about her, but no coyness. This couldn’t be the same woman he’d met earlier. No way would he have let this woman walk away from him.

He stepped back and glanced down at her costume to determine what new diva he’d encountered. His perusal confirmed the same Juliet dress he remembered. He shook his head, annoyed with himself. He really should have laid off the cocktails an hour ago.

“Never mind.” He reached for the mask covering the top half of her face.

“No.” She stayed his hand, knocking her wig slightly askew.

“I need to see your face.”

No.” She pressed more firmly against the hand he had at her mask. She had no intention of letting him see her face.

He watched her breasts rise and fall. Like him, she hadn’t yet recovered from their soul-shattering kiss. He studied her eyes, which looked soft brown in the dim light. He could have sworn he noted greenish eyes before. Dismissing the discrepancy as a trick of the shadows, he captured her hand and pressed his full lips against her palm in an open-mouthed kiss. Although she didn’t make a sound, he felt a deep inhalation shudder through her.

His thumb rubbed across the soft skin of her upraised palm before he turned her hand over. Her long, graceful fingers ended with well-manicured, medium-length nails she’d painted with nothing more than a clearcoat. His thumb and index finger rubbed one of her fingertips, and he discovered they were her natural nails.

“You have beautiful hands,” he whispered, admiring the golden undertone to her complexion he hadn’t noticed when her tanned hand had touched him inside earlier.

To think, he’d been about to give up his search when he’d spotted her standing on the balcony. He’d gotten a full view of her soft, curvy hips and round, full bottom in the sexy, modernized costume. The snug plum velvet, with its mid-thigh split and wispy, diaphanous overlay had accentuated her womanly figure and billowed seductively about her ankles. How had he missed all those luscious curves before?

He placed her hand back on his chest. His heartbeat raced beneath her palm. Her fingers curled against his bare skin, and the butterfly caress made him hum with appreciation. Releasing her hand to its own temptation, he moved back against her. “Do you have any idea what your touch is doing to me?”

“Wha—?” Her words disappeared inside the startled gasped that rushed from her lungs when his hand brushed the front of her dress. Her nipples beaded at his touch.

“Yeah, my problem exactly,” he murmured. “Everything about you makes me hard and swollen, too.”

Her eyes darted to his. Despite the dim light, he could read the desire burning in their depths. His fingers played along a nipple before he palmed her and relished her heavy roundness. Her breast filled his grasp. She had to be at least a C cup, an all-natural C cup. The thought brought a smile to his lips. He pressed those happy lips against her neck and massaged her budded peak with deep, deliberate pressure. His hips moved.

She groaned when he began to lower his head. “Wait.” She placed her hands on either side of his face to still its descent.

His voice pitched low, husky. “Wait for what, sweetheart?”

“I—I . . .”

Her inability to form words amused him until he noted the look in her eyes. Sincerity and definiteness of purpose filled her gaze, with some confusion and uncertainty mixed in. Whatever the vibes she’d sent his way in the parlor, she appeared to have had a change of heart. The thought disturbed him. He couldn’t pinpoint what had happened between his gathering of two champagne glasses to track down a one-night stand and this moment of genuine human attraction. He needed more time with this woman to figure it out. Something about her beckoned him to get to know her and not only in the biblical sense.

The melodic sound of her voice replayed in his head: You’ve made a mistake. I think you’re looking for someone else.

An uncomfortable uncertainty tickled his nerves, invoking the feeling again that the woman before him differed distinctly from the woman he’d conversed with earlier. The moment of unease caused the lingering alcoholic fog around his brain to lift completely.

Spurred by the possibility she might pull away, he wrapped his arms around her. “Be mine tonight, Juliet. Let me give you your first pleasure of the New Year.”

* * *

Juliet managed only a whimper in response to the gladiator’s entreaty. Her voice completely abandoned her. His nibbling lips returned to her neck. His warm hand fondling her breast, coupled with his well-endowed shaft riding above the throbbing apex of her thighs, built an erotic pressure deep inside her center and hinted ecstasy lingered only a small pelvic alignment away.

A battle raged inside her. The level-headed intellectual in her kept telling her to nix this behavior before this stranger bashed her in the head, did horrific things to her, and dumped her body in some toxic ditch, making her a tragedy worthy of an episode of Criminal Minds. The passionate woman in her, the one she’d buried beneath a deluge of disillusionment and cured with a heavy dose of compulsive career focus, started fighting her way free of the self-imposed fourteen-month cell of abstinence.

She pushed his hip, trying to put space between their thighs. “Please,” she tossed the impassioned plea at him, not really sure what she was asking.

Was she asking him to stop? Yes.

Was she asking him not to stop? Yes.

She’d never understood the notion of mixed signals. She’d always thought it a simple matter of you did or you didn’t—you wanted to or you didn’t want to. How self-righteously ignorant she’d been. Heaven help her. Everything about this man turned her on, and she didn’t even know his name.

His hand dropped from her breast and reached under the folds of her costume. “Tell me, Juliet, are you as wet for me as I am hard for you?”

She squirmed. A deep flush spread over her body. She was wet. She blocked his hand with her leg, trying to shield the evidence of her arousal and stave off the orgasm that surely would occur if he touched her.

He squeezed his hand between her legs and cupped her intimately. He lifted triumphant eyes to hers. “Why would you want to hide this from me?” he murmured gruffly.

“I can’t . . . ,” she started, but didn’t finish. Her train of thought vanished with the glide of his fingers over the damp satin triangle of her thong. A sound squeezed from her throat she didn’t recognize, having never before vocalized this particular note of tortured bliss.

“Don’t deny me, Juliet. You’re the best part of this whole miserable New Year’s Eve for me.”

Despite herself, the urge to rock her pelvis against his fingers grew strong. She bordered on emotional overload. She couldn’t reconcile the pleasure she felt from his touch with the horror rising inside her for her uncharacteristically loose behavior. That this man’s kiss, his words, his illicitly placed fingers, could give her the most stimulating sexual encounter of her life both puzzled and overwhelmed her.

Her feminine walls started to pulse and tremble, but she couldn’t allow him to continue. She slid her hand between them, inadvertently brushing the back of her hand against his erection. His sharp intake of breath rattled her already shredded composure.

She wrapped her hand firmly around his broad wrist and closed her eyes to steady herself. When she thought she’d conquered her emotions, she opened her eyes and peered into his watchful gaze. “We have to stop.” She squeezed his wrist. “I have to stop. Please, let go.”

A few seconds passed before he moved, letting his hand drop. A question built behind his eyes, and he whispered, “Who are you?”

She hesitated a moment, contemplating her response. She could tell by his expression he’d finally accepted she wasn’t the woman he’d come looking for. Did it bother him? He seemed simply curious not angry. Nevertheless, innate self-preservation made her glance around for an escape route.

The gladiator placed a hand firmly on her waist to hold her in place. “Tell me your name. Your real name. I have to see you again.”

Her mind raced. Nothing good could come of a midnight tryst with an intoxicated stranger whom you almost let get inside your panties without even trading your real names. She needed to get away.

“No.” She moved aside abruptly. “Let me go.”

“Wait!”

Their voices overlapped. Her movement caught him off guard, and he dropped the forgotten champagne flute he’d been holding. The bubbly liquid spilled down her back before the sound of shattering glass rent the air. She jerked and the corded shoulder gathers of her dress snagged on the curlicue design of his epaulettes. The cords unraveled and the bodice of her dress drooped, completely exposing her to the waist. Her mouth dropped open. Mortification overtook her when the gladiator’s eyes widened at the display of her naked breasts.

Footsteps sounded near the sliding glass door of the balcony and a giggling voice carried across the night. “Are you sure no one else is out here?”

“Don’t worry, baby,” came a masculine reply. “You’re safe with me.”

The gladiator recovered quickly and clasped her to his chest, shielding her from view with his larger body.

The giggling increased when the amorous couple passed them. “See, I told you someone else would have thought of this,” the female voice admonished.

“Baby,” the deep male voice replied humorously, “they’re so into each other they won’t even know we’re here. C’mon. Let’s find our own private corner.”

Their footsteps faded, and Juliet became aware of her bare nipples squished against the gladiator’s chest. Instead of alarming her, the warmth of him felt oddly comforting. Instinctively, she understood he’d grabbed her to cover her wardrobe malfunction, which impressed her as oddly gallant under the circumstances.

“Thanks,” she murmured, disengaging to attend her bodice.

When she couldn’t get the shoulder piece back together, he intercepted her frustrated fumbles. “Here. Allow me.”

The chore stumped him as well until he discovered a small clasp hidden beneath the gold cording. The clasp was bent, having snagged on his shoulder piece. He pressed it back into shape with a firm squeeze between his thumb and forefinger then latched it closed over her shoulder.

Adjusting her dress, she stepped towards the door, careful to avoid the broken glass at her feet. “I have to go.” She spoke without looking at him.

“I really want to see you again.”

“No, you don’t.” She shook her head and almost laughed at his shocked expression. “What you want is an easy lay. And I’m not that woman.”

“That’s not—”

She placed three fingers against his lips to silence him. “Look, this isn’t who I am. I don’t know what came over me tonight. I’ve never done anything like this before in my life. Ever. So, you can forget about your all-nighter. You won’t be getting lucky with me.” She took a deep breath before she continued. “Unfortunately for you—” She sighed. “—well, for both of us really. I’m the kind of girl who needs a commitment, not the kind of girl you keep in your little black book for late-night hookups.”

He removed her hand. “Whatever you say. All I’m asking is for you to give me a chance to find out who you are for myself.”

“I don’t think so.” She laughed and shook her head again. “Something tells me that after tonight, we’d be hard pressed to rewind to getting-to-know-you drinks or dinner and a movie. How about we simply leave it at our midnight rendezvous, and I’ll revisit the memory of tonight whenever I need to remind myself even someone as provincial as me can have a bit of a naughty girl inside.”

Still holding her hand, he insisted, “At least tell me your first name.”

She smiled fully for the first time. “What? And ruin the mystique? I don’t think so.” She began to walk away. She made it halfway to the balcony door before she hesitated. She turned to see his pensive profile staring off into the night. “Hey, Spartacus,” she called.

He turned his head towards the sound of her voice.

“You’re one hell of a kisser. Whoever your true Juliet is, she’s one lucky lady.” She returned to the party, but not before she heard him murmur under his breath.

You are my true Juliet,” he whispered, not knowing she could hear him.

Chapter 2

MORE BOTHERED THAN HE cared to admit about Juliet’s refusal to tell him her real name, Michael stood at the balcony railing staring into the night. New Year’s Day, he mused. A day for new beginnings.

He surveyed the sparkling Christmas lights on the retail and office buildings of the Country Club Plaza. Over two hundred eighty-seven thousand multi-colored Christmas lights covered approximately one hundred thirty-nine square miles of Spanish-inspired architecture. The Kansas City novelty thrilled locals and holiday tourists alike. The beautiful sight would stay lit for another two and a half weeks before being doused until the next annual lighting ceremony to be held, as per tradition, on Thanksgiving night.

From his position atop the upscale Wornall Hills condo building, Michael could see the entire fifteen-block display. The postcard-perfect visual made a fitting backdrop for what had turned into the most romantic encounter of his adult life. Two things were certain: One, he would never view a simple kiss the same way again; two, the woman he’d kissed tonight was definitely not the same woman who had accosted him earlier in the parlor.

The feel of his Juliet lingered across his fingers and across his senses. A strange sensation flowed through his consciousness. Amore a prima vista. He hadn’t thought about the concept in a long time. He didn’t believe in it—the notion that when a man met the woman right for him, he would recognize her instantly.

As he stood alone with his thoughts, he remembered his father telling him often about the day he’d first seen his mother. His father always claimed it had been “love at first sight.” When he was young, Michael had loved listening to the story of how his parents had met. After all, his mother was beautiful. How could a man not fall in love with her instantly? Once he reached his teens, he became more skeptical, and his skepticism had grown over the years.

His personal experiences with women suggested no such magic exists. In his opinion, what his father had felt for his mother amounted to lust at first sight, and his father had simply gotten lucky. His mother had turned out to be as beautiful on the inside as she was on the outside. More often than not, the women Michael encountered showed themselves to be calculating, manipulative, and creatures of false passion or coyness.

He found it interesting that the most genuinely passionate encounter of his life had occurred with a complete stranger. The woman had been not only beautiful, but also spontaneous and sexy and the most naturally responsive woman he’d ever touched. And what had he done? He’d let her walk away.

He tensed. Idiot!

Turning abruptly, Michael rushed into the party. His eyes skimmed the crowd. Packed from wall to wall, the normally cavernous room shrank to a tiny blockade. Couples huddled together, discreetly making time or swaying together on the makeshift dance floor. Groupings of friends and acquaintances chatted and laughed. The crush made his search dense work, but his height allowed him to see over ninety percent of the party guests. When he didn’t see Juliet immediately, an unfamiliar wave of anxiety rushed over him.

Anticipation slipped towards dread. His eyes scanned the room again and finally located her on the platform leading to the front door. She stood talking on a mobile phone. Her demeanor turned animated. He couldn’t hear her side of the conversation, but he recognized signs of distress in her expressions. After a few moments, she closed her eyes, lowered the phone, and blew out a breath. That she might have trouble concerned him. He moved towards her, his desire to learn her identity now coupled with a strong need to make sure she was all right.

He’d only taken a few steps when she looked up and saw him advancing towards her. A look of astonishment crossed her face. Turning quickly, she opened the door, exited, and closed the door behind her.

Michael quickened his pace, muttering apologies as he pushed past people left and right. When he finally made it to the door, he swore. His unsuccessful tugging revealed she’d locked it. Disengaging the lock, he simultaneously admired and cursed her ability to keep her wits about her while making a hasty getaway. He’d lost precious seconds in his pursuit.

The door finally swung open, and relief washed over him. She stood in front of the lone elevator located at the end of the hall.

“Wait!” he called.

A resonant ding announced the arrival of the elevator a half second later. She raised her hand, palm out, before stepping inside. He couldn’t tell if she’d meant to wave goodbye or simply tell him not to follow her. Either way, he had no intention of letting her get away.

He dashed into the stairwell. The overly bright white lights shocked his pupils after the soft yellow lighting of the hallway, but he didn’t slow down. He descended each flight of stairs in a rush, leaping three and four steps at a time. The tinny reverberation of his footsteps on the metal stairs bounced around the whitewashed walls. The sound mocked him with the possibility of failure.

He made it to the lobby level in time to glimpse the hem of Juliet’s flowing gown flutter on a gush of air and disappear inside the revolving panes of the glass exit. He pressed forward. Darting into the slowing turnstile, he pushed hard, but the natural lethargy of the revolving door fought against his urgency.

Trapped inside the circular, mechanical obstruction, he watched a taxi pull to a stop in front of Juliet.

She reached for the door handle.

* * * End Excerpt * * *

© Copyright 2015, Lisa Rayne. All Rights Reserved.

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