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Reed escaped with thirty tiny stitches along his jaw and a hole through his desire to carry a badge.

It took six months for Reed to learn the truth about the pair of bad cops. Six months of investigation he had to do on his own, since the force didn’t believe Reed had a claim.

And when Reed went above his captain with the information, Reed had been the one to take the fall. One cover-up after another, and Reed ended up looking like the bad guy.

That’s when he decided to back out.

All because he hadn’t been proactive in his investigation of the drug-dealing thugs.

And what had he learned from all that? To distrust the system and work alone. Becoming a PI seemed the right move.

Still, it was hard to watch and not get involved when something bad was happening to someone good. Reed couldn’t shake the feeling bad was about to come down on his new circle of friends.

Reed hung up without saying good-bye before making his way back to the ship.

He found Lori two hours later stretched out beside Shannon by the pool. Still wearing the jeans he roamed the city in, he was slightly out of place among those soaking in the sun.

Lori tracked his frame as he walked closer, a smile on her face. “Hey. How was Florence?”

He shrugged. “Lots of statues of naked people.”

“Not your thing?” Shannon asked.

He couldn’t stop his grin, or his eyes from landing on Lori. “I like naked as much as the next guy. It’s the marble and brass thing that does nothing for me.”

Lori’s eyes narrowed, her smirk faint enough to show she heard him.

He tried to keep his eyes from traveling to the tops of her breasts.

He failed.

Lori’s chest rose and fell a few times before he looked back into her eyes.

“Ha! Maybe I should leave you two alone.” Shannon lifted her sunglasses from her eyes.

“Don’t be ridiculous.” Lori cleared her throat and patted the space on the lounger by her feet.

Reed took the invitation and sat. He rested his hand on Lori’s calf and took her lack of pulling away as a positive step in the right direction.

“How is Trina?” he asked.

“Better. You just missed her. She has spent most the day out here but thought a nap was a good idea.”

“Did the doctor find anything?”

The women exchanged glances. Their body language answered before they opened their mouths. “A trace.”

His smile wavered. “Of?”

“They don’t know yet,” Shannon told him. “They sent out a blood sample.”

“Even if they do find something, chances are they won’t make a big deal about it since nothing happened. Word getting out of spiked drinks on a cruise ship is going to hurt sales.” The lawyer in Lori was coming out.

“Would that leave the ship open for liability?” he asked, knowing it would.

“Probably not, since Trina was drinking and ended up passed out in her stateroom with supervision. We found her before anything bad happened.”

That didn’t sound right to him.

When Lori didn’t meet his eyes, he knew there was more to the story. And perhaps he needed to do a little more digging into Lori’s circle of friends. He’d ask himself later if it was to find dirt for his client or collect information to keep them safe. Right now he justified all of his actions based on being a decent guy.

“Lessons learned,” Shannon said as she picked up a magazine.

He turned his attention back to Lori. “Can I sneak you away tonight?”

Shannon didn’t bother looking up from her riveting reading material when she replied. “Yes, please. Mother hen needs to let someone else helicopter for a while.”

“I’m not a mother hen.” Lori spoke first to Shannon, then turned to Reed. “I’m not.”

He placed a hand on her ankle. “After dinner? Night diving off the back of the boat?”

She lost her smile, her eyes widened. “Do they do that?”

Shannon started laughing.

He laughed and shook his head.

“Man, Lori, for a lawyer you sure are gullible.”

Reed knew if he stuck around these women long enough, one of them would reveal what Lori did for a living. So he smiled and pretended he was surprised. “A lawyer and a pole dancer. That must get complicated.”

Lori slapped at Shannon’s arm.

“Oops.”

Lori rolled her eyes. “Whatever.”

He let Lori believe he’d just learned the information about her true profession but didn’t press for more. He’d do that later.

Timing was everything.

“So . . . tonight?”

Chapter Twelve

She couldn’t remember the last time she went to the movies on a date. Dates for her had been dinner, talking, and deciding if the man was breakfast worthy. Reed offered a nice change.

She liked the man. He seemed genuinely interested in Trina’s health, and concerned the night before when they couldn’t find her. His chivalry came in the form of opening doors, listening without interruption, and remembering a blanket from the room. The fact that he was easy to look at was a bonus.

Lori wondered what he thought about her. She questioned what he saw in her that kept him coming back. It wasn’t like he was pushing to get her into bed. Maybe he was turned on by intelligent conversation. Although Lori had never considered herself in that pool, she was starting to change her mind. Then again, she’d done most of the talking, clearly attracting him, while he was doing the manly things that shot her pulse on high.

“I hope you like popcorn.” Reed walked up from behind her, a giant bucket in his hands. The smell alone had her mouth watering.

“Where’s yours?” she asked with a straight face.

He hesitated, and then smiled before handing her the big tub of salt, butter, and carbs. “Careful, I’m always up for a challenge.”

A wave of her hand encouraged him to sit. “Hot chocolate is coming.”

“Perfect.”

A jumbo screen was set up over the main pool, and the deck had been turned into an outside movie theater. The people around them were settling in, most had their eyes focused on the stars in the night sky. It reminded her of the Fourth of July right before the fireworks were due to blast off, and those who remembered the words belted out “The Star-Spangled Banner.” She fisted a handful of popcorn and handed the tub to Reed once he sat down. “This is a fabulous idea.”

“Inside your comfort zone?”

She nodded. “That doesn’t make it boring.”

“I imagine a lot of things with you would not be boring.”

Her eyes lingered on the expanse of his chest before taking their time moving back to his face. “I can be fun.”

“For an attorney?”

She moaned. Damn Shannon for letting that out of the bag. “It was much easier to convince you of my fun factor when I danced on a pole.”

Reed handed her the popcorn and unfolded the blanket he’d brought out as he spoke. “The imagery of a stripper tanks that of sitting behind a desk.”

“I wear heels,” she defended herself.

“Platforms?”

“Oh, please. I can’t walk into divorce court looking like a hooker.”

He spread the blanket over the both of them and moved close enough for her to feel the heat of his body on the double chaise lounge chair.

“Divorce attorney, eh? That fits, I suppose.”

“It does?”

“Sure. Shannon refers to you as the mother hen, seems to me like you’ve appointed yourself as the caregiver for the whole group.”

“I am, in a way.”

“Are they all your clients?”

She blinked a few times, felt a pull of responsibility for her client confidentiality. “They’re my friends.” Which was true.

“Nice diversion, Counselor.” He winked. “I get it. Not my business.”

The lights on the deck started to fade, and Reed skillfully placed his arm over her shoulders and tucked her into his personal space.

Her stomach twisted and her head felt light. When was the last time she’d been held while watching a movie? And why hadn’t she actively tried to find someone to do so? The truth was, she hadn’t met someone in a long time worthy of quiet movie moments.

He smelled fresh, his body was warm, and he kissed the side of her head once he settled. She could get used to this.

When the opening credits of the movie started to roll, she looked up at him. “Thanks for not pressing.”

He brushed her arm with the backs of his fingers and turned his attention to the movie.

The movie ended and all but a few stayed behind to enjoy the quiet night outside. The ship glided over the ocean with almost unnoticeable movement, the breeze picking up as the night grew on.

“I say we paraglide tomorrow.”

Lori had curled up on the lounger, Reed kept his arm around her and talked against her ear while they watched the stars.

“Jump off a cliff with a tent over my head?” she teased, but didn’t seem as dead against high adrenaline activities as she had when they first met.

“How about off the back of a boat?”

She seemed to contemplate that image. “Over the water?”

“I don’t think you can do it off a back of a boat that isn’t over water.”

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