He moved the money around some more. "We had consensual sex."


"That's it?"

"That's it."

"It couldn't be that she decided she'd had enough, but you were so turned on you wouldn't let her quit?"

"No."

"From your own description, she was extremely forward. It's natural that a man might become frustrated if she backed off. Some might even insist she deliver on the promises she'd made."

A gaggle of teenagers came in, laughing loudly and taking an occasional swat at one another. They drew Luke's eye, but his thoughts remained firmly anchored on the discussion. "Some might, but I didn't."

Ava added yet another packet of sugar to her tea. She'd spent more time stirring it than drinking it. That indicated how uncomfortable she felt.

But he was uncomfortable now, too. Had he really made that "big and thick" comment? He might've laughed at himself, except he knew his behavior had been a childish reaction to her surliness.

"Stil , a scenario like that would be understandable," she said.

"To you?" he asked in surprise.

She toyed with the empty sugar packet. "To a jury."

His eyes narrowed in suspicion. "Meaning I'd get a lighter sentence."

"Exactly."

Here was the trap his attorney had warned him about. Ava was piecing the encounter together in such a way that rape sounded like a logical conclusion. "I don't care," he told her. "Maybe your version makes more sense than what really happened, but it's just that--your version."

"If you can't prove what happened, you might be better served to look at other options."

That comment convinced him Ava Bixby was every bit as dangerous as Kalyna Harter. She was trying to make him feel as if he'd have a greater chance of surviving this ordeal if he confessed. She was leading him right to the noose.

"I'd be dishonorably discharged," he said. "As far as I'm concerned, that's not a minimal sentence. And it isn't the truth. I didn't force her. Period.

As a matter of fact, I was the one who almost called it off--twice."

"Why?"

"Because she offered me..." Now that the desire to punish Ava was gone, he found himself reluctant to lay out the gritty details.

"What?" she prompted.

He swallowed a sigh. "Options I wasn't interested in."

"Like a three-way with her neighbor?"

"She told you about that?" he asked, sitting up straight.

Ava shifted her purse next to her feet. "No."

"Then how do you know?"

"I've been doing my homework."

"It appears so." His attorney hadn't gotten nearly this far. Luke had to admit that Ava Bixby was good at her job. He wanted to press her for more details, wanted her on his side, but he knew that wasn't going to happen.

She was working for the prosecution, and although he and Ava had called a truce, that was all it was--a truce.

Her knowledge of Kalyna's offer did help in one way, however. It proved to him that at least part of what had occurred could be corroborated.

That was something, wasn't it?

"Was there an argument when you turned down her offer of an additional partner?" she asked.

She was fishing, trying to find a reason for the bumps and bruises.

"Not at all. I got the impression she was showing off by suggesting it in the first place. That she was trying to prove how adventurous and fun she was--sort of like what she'd been doing in the cab."

"Why weren't you interested?" she asked.

For the first time, he stared at her openly, assessing the contours of her face, and found a simple yet elegant beauty there. What with the suit and that starchy bearing, he would've missed it entirely if he hadn't had reason to look closer.

She began to fidget under his regard. "What?"

"Are you asking to satisfy your own curiosity or because you think it pertains to the case in some way?"

She rolled her eyes. "Your conceit is really appalling."

"It was an honest question."

When she didn't answer, he knew. Her problem wasn't that she didn't like him. It was that she didn't want to like him. "I'm satisfied with one partner at a time," he explained. "It's pretty tough for sex to have any meaning beyond physical gratification if it's a party, you know?"

"Now you're saying you were investing in Kalyna emotionally?" she asked.

"Not in the way you think. But...yeah, I was interested in connecting with someone. I was upset, didn't want to be alone."

Seemingly eager to lead the conversation into safer territory, she clasped her hands in her lap. "Why were you upset?"

Phil. He grimaced at the fresh onslaught of grief and remorse. "It didn't have anything to do with her. It was something else."

"Like..."

He glared into his cup. "I'd just gotten word that my best friend was kil ed in Iraq." Embarrassed by the cracking of his voice, he scowled and forced himself to continue as his stoic father would. "We went to high school together."

"In Ogden, Utah."

Shoving his cup away, he rested his elbows on the table. "Evidently, you've contacted people besides Paris."

"My investigator has, yes."

Had he spoken to Marissa? Could she tell him how Marissa was doing? Luke had thought about calling her over the past few weeks, but couldn't let himself. He was in too big a mess, for one thing. And it felt too disloyal to Phil to contact her now. "Is that why you called me?"

"Excuse me?"

"You've studied my background, had your investigator talk to my friends. You know something like this is out of character."

"That doesn't make you incapable of it."

"But it makes the scenario as Kalyna's describing it unlikely."

She tucked a few tendrils of hair behind ears that were small and delicate and adorned only with simple pearl earrings. "You admit you weren't yourself that night."

He stretched out his legs and slumped lower in his seat. "But I wasn't violent. I was looking for escape, and Kalyna offered me a night of mindless sex when I needed it. Had I been thinking, I would've passed. I've never been interested in Kalyna. But...I wasn't thinking, and getting drunk made it worse."

"You said you almost bailed out on her twice, " she reminded him.

He shook his head. "Let's not go into that."

"The devil's in the details," she persisted.

"It won't be a comfortable conversation."

"My job seldom allows for comfortable conversation. Necessary but not necessarily comfortable, Captain."

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