Instead of groaning, Blake swiped a hand down his face. Ten years of being the sole responsible Bennington adult had trained him how to remain calm in a crisis, how to retain his cool when either Nikki or his mother had gotten into trouble, as they invariably did.

Now he had Jacqueline Lee to contend with as well, and she was more than a match.

Because this was the woman who’d slayed him with her confident air, charmed him with her endearing vulnerability and brought him to his sexual knees. The only way he was going to be able to keep his hands to himself was if he avoided her altogether.

And he hoped that wouldn’t be harder than he thought.

* * *

Two weeks later, Jax leaned against the center island in Blake’s kitchen, rechecking the spreadsheet on her laptop. The phone fundraiser for the club had ended, and, as she entered the last bit of data, the results were looking abysmal. So, it would seem, did her chances of ever touching Blake again.

How could she have thought living in his house would be an advantage?

Nikki balanced her crutches under her arms. “Have a tally yet?”

Jax struggled to push the thoughts of Blake aside. “Nope.” At Nikki’s concerned face, a wave of gratitude hit. “No matter what happens,” she said, “thanks for helping.”

“Are you kidding?” Nikki hobbled to the counter. “Boy, you have no idea how glad I am you’re here,” the pretty brunette stated with feeling, her clear gray eyes so like her brother’s that it was impossible not to think of Blake. Nikki reached across the marble counter for one of her mother’s peppermint scones. “Despite the fact that he never misses a chance to remind me of my most recent screwup, at least he’s usually good for a laugh. But lately my uptight big brother has been avoiding me more than usual,” she said and then nibbled on her scone with a furrow of concern between her eyebrows.

Jax wasn’t sure if the concern was in response to the taste of the scone or her worries about Blake.

And, with every mention of the man, Jax struggled with the heat that threatened to overtake her cheeks. Since it was hopeless, she dipped her head, letting her hair curtain her face as she pretended to check the dismal fundraiser total to date. Steering the discussion away from Nikki’s brother was critical. Blake had already taken over her dreams...commandeered her every fantasy. No sense in suffering his virtual presence during the daytime, as well.

Of course, after two weeks of living on pins and needles and various other sharp objects, hoping for a glimpse of the Suit who dominated her thoughts, she’d finally resigned herself to the fact that her previous plan was hopeless.

Seducing an absent man was impossible.

Jax entered a few more figures into her laptop. “I doubt he’s avoiding you, Nikki. It’s probably just your imagination,” she said in an even tone, hoping that would be the end of Blake as the topic of conversation.

“I don’t think so,” Nikki said, her eyes hinting at the misery beneath, and Jax’s heart twisted in sympathy. “Even though his case is at the crazy stage, he used to at least try to make it home for dinner. These days, unless you’re up at the crack of dawn to see him walk out the door, you wouldn’t even know he lived here.”

“I’m sure it’s not a reflection on you.”

More of a reflection on my presence.

Nikki tossed her leftover scone onto her plate. “No. He’s still angry at me over the whole zip-line incident,” she said with a roll of her eyes. “You should have seen his expression when he showed up at the hospital.”

Nikki pulled a face and propped her elbows on the counter, chin on her hands, and Jax’s compassion for the siblings swelled, their relationship more deeply troubled than she’d originally thought. At the hospital Blake had probably hid his fear behind his fury. And Nikki, no doubt, had gone all snarky in defense. Despite hoping for a change in topic, Jax felt obligated to point out the obvious.

“But he came for you,” Jax said softly.

A shadow flitted across Nikki’s face. “Yeah,” she said slowly, turning her gaze to the window and the shimmering pool beyond, looking almost...lost. “Mom was off on a month-long cruise with her cronies. Unavailable, as usual.” Her voice then shifted lower, almost self-critical. “With me being the typical pain in Blake’s ass.”

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