“Which is?”

“I want you to handle my legal problem.”

The triumphant feeling collapsed. “I’m a federal prosecutor, not a defense attorney.”

“I can’t afford to hire a lawyer, even with the

tripled salary.”

Blake frowned. “So you’ll be assigned a public defender. Most of them are excellent. And more than capable of handling your case.”

“Sorry, Suit,” she said, her gaze suddenly serious. “I entered the foster system when I was ten years old, which means I’ve dealt with a lot of social workers through the years. I learned to spot a bad one a mile away.” The tidbit about her past was disturbing. But there was no self-pity in her eyes, just a level of acceptance that was impressive, and Blake fought the surge of sympathy. “Suffice it to say,” she went on, “I’ve had enough experience with government employees to be a little leery of the devoted public servant. Yes, I might get lucky and be assigned an excellent attorney.” She shot him a look that dared him to disagree. “But I also know how bad it will be if I’m appointed one that isn’t.”

Her hazel eyes exhibited a wariness and knowledge beyond her years, a hard-earned wisdom bubbling just beneath surface. Too bad she didn’t apply that wisdom on a regular basis. Blake shifted in his seat, wishing he could offer her words of assurance. But he had more than enough experience to know that a poorly executed defense could have lifelong consequences.

And clearly Jacqueline Lee knew it, too.

“Consider it an exchange of favors,” she said with a stubborn lift of her chin. And he supposed somewhere in that zany world she inhabited the logic made sense. “If you want me to help you with Nikki, those are my terms.”

With his current schedule, their arrangement would mean burning the midnight oil. But he wouldn’t be getting any work done if he was worried that Nikki would hobble to her car and drive across town again, just to obtain a second cast tattoo.

Blake wearily rubbed a hand down his face and then shot Jax a hard look. “You’ll have to follow my directions to the letter.”

“I can do that.”

“Which means no arguing over my every instruction.”

Her attempt to feign ignorance was comical. “I’m very capable of holding my tongue.”

All evidence to date suggested otherwise.

He paused for effect and then raised a doubtful eyebrow. “I guess we’ll find out,” he murmured.

Her gaze didn’t budge, and the challenge in her voice was another gut-clenching jolt to his libido. “I guess we will.”

* * *

The next morning Jax left Nikki relaxing by her brother’s sparkling pool, tablet computer in hand, and made her way up the bougainvillea-lined walk leading to the main house. Since Jax’s quarters were located in a separate guest cottage beyond the pool, avoiding the owner so far had been easy. The rest of the day would likely be a different story.

For the bazillionth time since she’d said yes, Jax questioned her decision to accept the temporary job. In the end, it hadn’t been because she needed the money desperately, which was true, or that the flexibility of the work would afford her time to pursue funding for the club, which was also accurate. Ultimately, the mention of Nikki’s loneliness had won her over.

Jax had spent years living in homes surrounded by people, yet feeling all alone.

But for the first time, alone was sounding almost attractive. Putting up with Blake’s disturbing presence in the limo had been bad enough, but now she was staying on his property. As his employee. And the thought of being reduced to a subordinate to the strictly by-the-book man was less than thrilling. Eight years spent at the mercy of the foster-care system had instilled in her an inherent dislike of being under an authoritative thumb. Either way, as frustrating as he was, she knew he was an excellent lawyer. Brilliant was the word Nikki had used. Which would have made the exchange of favors perfect...except for that damn coolly amused attitude of his yesterday.

An attitude that had only gotten worse.

Because last night, when the limo had arrived in front of the courthouse to drop her off, her car had been missing. After a brief moment of panic on her part, Blake had phoned the police station with her license plate...and learned her VW Beetle had been towed and impounded for a parking violation.

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