“Just the minimum,” she reminded him. “That’s all I need.”
With a nod, he got into the Jeep, nudging Izzy to the back seat. He rolled the window down for the dog, and Maddie reached in to stroke her soft, silky coat.
“Just the minimum,” she repeated softly, taking a step back as two warm doggy eyes laughed into hers, silently calling her out as a big liar.
“Smile… it makes people wonder
what you’re up to.”
Two days later, Jax was in his home office plowing through paperwork. He’d put together the bid for Lucky Harbor resort and emailed it off to Maddie. He’d handled all his city council duties, but being Lucky Harbor’s mayor for his second term now was a relatively easy position to manage and didn’t take much of his time. He was signing accounts-payable checks that his part-time office worker Jeanne handed to him one at a time.
“Electric bill,” she said, standing over him like a mother hen, even though they were the same age. Her headband had reindeer antlers with bells on them that jangled with every bossy statement she uttered. “Gas bill,” she said, bells jingling. “Visa bill. And here’s my paycheck. Thanks for the raise.”
He slid her a look, and she laughed. “Kidding. You already pay me too much. Oh, and here’s the bill for those supplies you sent over to the Patterson family. Nice of you to do that, since they lost everything in the fire. So… who’s the woman?”
Jax pushed all the checks back at her. “What woman?”
“The one you were kissing on the pier the other night.”
He arched a brow, and she grinned. “Oh, come on. You can’t be surprised that I know.”
“Call me naive, but I’m surprised.”
She shook her head, like You poor, stupid man. She gave him that look a lot. He put up with it because she ran his office with a calm efficiency that was a relief to him. He hated office work.
Jeanne was flipping through the checks, putting them in some mysterious order that worked for her. “Jake told his sister, who told Carrie at the grocery store, and I happened to run into my sister today when I was loading up your refrigerator. And by the way, you were down to an apple and a piece of leftover pizza. I also found what looked to be a science experiment growing in a Tupperware container. I made an executive decision and tossed it. How do you live like that?”
“It’s called takeout. What did you put in my refrigerator?”
“Fruit, cheese, beer, and a loaded pizza.”
“I love you.”
She laughed. “If that was true, you’d tell me about the woman.”
He smiled but kept silent. Mostly because it would drive her crazy, but also because he didn’t feel like sharing. Truth was, he’d been thinking about Maddie for two days now, and not as a future client. He thought about strangling whoever’d hurt her. He thought about how in spite of that hurt, she’d seemed so honest and artless—not like the women in his past. She was obviously afraid but doing her damnedest to move forward. He admired that.
He’d also given a lot of thought—a lot—to how she’d looked after he’d kissed her: ruffled and baffled and turned on. It was a good look for her. So was how she’d looked when she’d opened the door to him, sleepy and hung over, no bra, just a very thin T-shirt, the one that invited the general public to bite her.
Christ, he’d wanted to do just that.
“Rumor has it,” Jeanne said, shoving another check under his nose. “She’s Phoebe’s middle daughter. She was at the hardware store today, and Anderson rang her up. He said she was pretty and sweet, and even though she knocked over his entire display of five-gallon paint cans, she got a big thumbs-up. Oh, and because she has a nice rack, he asked her out.”
Jax’s pen went still. “What?”
“Hey, I didn’t see the rack myself, I’m just passing on the information.” Her smile went sly. “Betcha you want to know if she said yes.”
He said nothing, and she grinned. “You want to know.”
“I don’t gossip. I’m a guy.”
“You so want to know.”
“No, I don’t.”
“Yes, you do.”
“No, I—” Fuck. He pinched the bridge of his nose because yeah, he did. He wanted to know. “You used to be so sweet and meek.”
“That was back in the days when your badass scowl used to do it for me.” Delighted at whatever she saw in his face, she waggled a brow. “Okay, I’ll tell you, but first you have to tell me how you met her, and how it is that you were kissing her on her first night in town, and if you plan to fight Anderson for the rights to her rack.”
“Jeanne,” he said in warning.
“Use that tough-guy voice all you want. I’m not married to you. I don’t have to cave so that you’ll keep my feet—and other parts—warm at night.” With that, she scooped up all the signed checks and sashayed out of his office, humming “We Wish You a Merry Christmas.”
“You know where I’ll be,” she called back. “Sitting at my desk working my fingers to the bone. Oh, and I’m decorating your place for Christmas, so be afraid. Very afraid. Anytime you want to come up with some answers for me, I’ll be happy to do the same.”
Shit. Shaking his head, he turned to something new, drawing up plans for a new client in Portland who wanted a handmade front door with cherry overlay and stained glass. It would take weeks to construct and was the perfect job for when the weather went bad, which it always did for about a month after Christmas. He needed work for when the weather went bad—not for his bank account, which was plenty flush—but so that he wouldn’t be stuck with nothing to do but think.
Though all he could think at the moment was that Anderson had asked Maddie out.
He could hear Jeanne in the front room, talking to her computer. He’d gone to high school with her and had even briefly dated her—if one could really call it dating when all you did was climb the bluffs and make out. When he’d gone off to USC, she’d married Lucky Harbor’s high school quarterback and given him three kids. She was still happily married but bored beyond tears. So when Jax had come back to town five years ago, she’d shown up on his doorstep one day and announced that she was his new, perfect, part-time office assistant. Perfect because she had no interest in his money or his bed.
Which was a lie. She’d been harping on his heart and soul, trying to save him, ever since she’d demanded the assistant position. Not that he had much of a heart and soul left after he’d detonated both in his last job practicing law. He’d talked himself into embracing the lifestyle: the big salary, the corner office, the penthouse condo, the trophy fiancée. And he’d reaped the benefits, plenty of them.
The firm he’d worked for had been the best of the best at getting people acquitted of their white-collar crimes. It was a multibillion-dollar industry, and Jax had been good at it. Good at twisting the facts, good at misdirecting, good at getting their clients off with their crime of choice, even when it meant that innocent people paid the price.
Jax’s discontent over that had started small and slowly grown. And then came to a head when the wife of one of their clients had paid the ultimate price.
With her life.
Her husband had been guilty as hell, and Jax had known it. Hell, everyone had known it. Yet Jax had gotten the man acquitted of embezzling from his wife’s family, a family with known mob connections, so there’d been little sympathy for either side.
Except for the wife. She’d grown up as a pawn, and she’d been married off as a pawn. She’d never known life as anything else. An increasingly disenchanted Jax had known her enough to understand that when this went down, in all likelihood her assets would be confiscated and she’d be left penniless and alone. Unable to live with that, he’d broken attorney–client privilege to warn her, but instead of heeding his advice and taking off for parts unknown, she killed herself.
Forced to face his own part in her self-destruction, not to mention just how ethically indecent he’d become, Jax had quit. His fiancée left him shortly after. Game over. He’d left Seattle without looking back. Alone, unsettled, even angry, he’d somehow ended up back in Lucky Harbor.
The last place he’d been happy.
That had been five years ago. Sawyer had come back to town, as well, and after a wild, misspent youth had become a Lucky Harbor sheriff, of all things. Ford was around, in between sailing ventures that’d included the world-class circuit. The three of them had gravitated together as if they’d never been apart.
His first year back, Jax had lived on Ford’s second sailboat in the marina. He’d practiced a little law here and there, for friends only, and he’d hated it. So he’d gone back to basics, which for him had been building things with his own hands. As he’d worked on getting over himself, he’d designed and built the house he’d always wanted. He did what he could to give back to the community that had welcomed him without question, including somehow, surprisingly, being elected mayor two terms running.
He was jarred out of his musings when his father strode into his office and immediately set Jax on edge with nothing more than his stick-up-his-ass gait and ridiculously expensive suit. They hadn’t spent much time together, mostly because his father was still good and furious over what he saw as Jax’s failure in Seattle.
“Got a case for you.” His father tossed down the file.
This wasn’t surprising. His father often felt the need to manipulate his son’s emotions. Which was ironic, since Jax had been trained by the man himself that emotions and business never mix. Hell, in their little family of two, emotions didn’t even exist. “You haven’t spoken to me since I refused to represent that charming Fortune 500 sex offender you brought me last time. That was three months ago. Now you walk in here like you own the place and toss me yet another case I don’t want. I’m too busy for this, Dad. Jeanne and I have billings to go over—”
***P/S: Copyright -->Novel12__Com