She pushed on. “Why else is it important?”

Several seconds passed before he responded, as if deciding just how much to share, and then Blake finally leaned his elbow against the rail. From his posture she knew the answer would be worth paying close attention to.

“Ten years ago my father was killed in a car accident,” he said evenly. The words weren’t what she was expecting, and her body went still as he went on. “The driver that hit Dad’s vehicle was strung out on cocaine sold to him by a dealer just like the one in Menendez’s organization.”

Her throat grew tight. Nikki had mentioned their father’s car accident, but not the cause. And the loss of a parent to such a senseless act seemed so unfair. Of course, when it came to losing family, Jax was well versed in the unfairness of the universe. But if there were any emotions churning inside Blake, his steady demeanor masked them well.

“So every case that brings down a piece of one of these organizations feels like a particularly sweet victory,” he said.

“I’m sorry,” she said, knowing the words were horribly inadequate.

Blake shrugged, as if the sympathy was unnecessary. “It was a long time ago,” he said. “Nikki was only twelve.”

Twelve. A preteen.

A ribbon of moonlight rippled on the bay, and Jax stared at his boat gently rocking in the warm, nighttime breeze, small waves lapping a seductive rhythm against the hull. In the time since she’d been here, she’d only seen the man do maintenance on the boat. Not once had he taken it out on the water. His father’s death explained a lot about his driving dedication to his job, as well as the siblings’ complicated relationship—Blake assuming the role of both brother and father figure. And suddenly his overdeveloped sense of responsibility made sense.

As did the frustratingly logical side that won over his own needs, the passion.

Every. Single. Time.

Her curiosity about the man grew tenfold, including a desire to know if he ever let loose and enjoyed himself.

“So tell me, Suit.” She nodded in the direction of his dock. “Every Sunday you tend to your catamaran, but when was the last time you actually took your boat on a trip?”

When Blake went still, Jax was sure the question had hit a nerve.

SIX

Though he tensed at the question, Blake propped a hip against the rail, concentrating on the salty air and the form of the woman sitting cross-legged and barefoot on the chaise longue. She’d set the guitar aside and was now studying him closely. Tonight, all of his efforts to stay away had failed.

And, man, those efforts had been extensive....

He’d heard the music and stepped outside for a little fresh air, promising himself he’d simply enjoy her entertaining company for a moment. Blake’s lips twisted at the picture of the Rolling Stones displayed on her top. And one look at the rest of Jax made pretense impossible. Tearing himself away would be tough. Her hair was loose and hanging wildly down her back, the fantasy-inducing legs bared beneath her simple knit shorts and matching short-sleeved shirt. An outfit that, on closer inspection, looked more like pajamas.

He was in serious trouble.

Blake forced himself to focus, despite the disturbing turn in the conversation. “Other than the occasional maintenance run, I haven’t taken the boat on an overnight trip since my father died.”

Her wincing frown was instantaneous. “Jeez, Blake.” She unfolded her legs, leaning forward with an earnest look, and he was struck by the realization it was the first time she’d called him by his name. “Your family is right. You need to learn to relax more.” He frowned and considered protesting, but she went on. “I saw you on TV today,” she said. “You played your part well, that of the confident attorney out to get his man.” She tipped her head skeptically. “But is that all you want out of life?”

He didn’t answer, the words burning through him.

She stood, crossing to stand in front of him. “Look, I know how hard it is to lose a parent,” she said, and the understanding in her eyes made his heart cinch.

She’d suffered so many losses.

But it wasn’t just the loss that was eating at him. It was the attempt to live up to his obligations and keep the promises he’d made to his father before he’d died. Struggling to walk in his father’s shoes, day by day. And those shoes were feeling tighter and tighter as time went by. For once Blake wanted to chuck the responsibility and do what he wanted. Like making love to Jax.

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