Guilt roiled in Jax’s gut, because she knew Blake’s absenteeism had more to do with her than his sister. “As a matter of fact, I’m pretty sure the pain-in-Blake’s-ass title is reserved for me.”

“How so?” Nikki asked, and Jax froze.

Nice way to steer the conversation in uncomfortable directions, Jax.

She cleared her throat. “Oh, you know,” Jax said with a vague tone as she concentrated on entering the last set of figures into the computer. “He was never thrilled about handling my case.”

The final tally popped on-screen, and Jax let out a groan. Glad for the change in topic, but sorry about the news, she pivoted her computer to show Nikki, her lips twisting wryly. “Have any other friends who need help with a broken leg?” Jax said, trying to sound light when her heart was heavy.

Nikki looked at the number and winced. “Don’t give up hope yet,” she said. “We’ll figure something out.”

Staring at the computer as if searching for the answer, the brunette nibbled cautiously on a peanut-butter muffin. After confirming it was edible, she took a tentative bite before making a face of regret. Jax leaned a hip against the counter, trying hard not to feel regret herself.

Regretting the loss of her job and missing out on more with Blake.

She wanted Blake’s hungry hands on her body again. She needed his mouth on her skin, trailing those hot kisses that liquefied her bones and made her weep. More important, she longed for the kind of completion that involved a give-and-take, the shared pleasure an ecstasy of the acutest kind. And the longer she went without, the clearer it became that she’d never be satisfied with solitary activities ever again.

Abigail Bennington breezed into the kitchen. “Goodness, girls,” Blake’s mother said. “What’s with all the negative vibes?”

I lost my virginity to your son yet all he’ll give me is one night.

Fortunately, Nikki answered for her instead. “Jax is having trouble raising money for her music program at the club.”

Jax tried to push Blake from her mind. “The current economic environment is tight,” she said, feeling defeated. “Too much need and not enough dollars to go around.”

Abigail pulled up a bar stool at the center island and took a seat. “That’s simple,” she said, running her fingers through her short salt-and-pepper hair. “What you need, Jax, is a media-worthy event.”

“I tried that,” Jax said doubtfully. “It didn’t work.”

“Something big enough to really get the public’s attention,” Blake’s mother said. “And I just happen to be an expert.”

“An expert in what?” Jax asked.

“Creating a scene,” Abigail said proudly. And then she leaned forward, the excitement oozing from her lined face. “So listen, chickadees. This is what we’re going to do....”

* * *

Several days later, Blake ignored the protesters chanting on the flat-screen TV and inhaled the scent of freshly baked bread, maneuvering through the lunchtime crowd of the delicatessen just across from his office. Many of the diners were from his division. Several called out to him as he passed, wishing him luck with the case or telling him it was in the bag.

Blake wished he felt so confident. The closing arguments were set to start soon, and he knew the proceedings were going well for him. But one thing he’d learned through the years, no matter how open-and-shut the case, one could never be absolutely sure until the verdict was returned. Because human beings were unpredictable. Put twelve jurors together in a room, people with hopes and dreams and varying experiences, and anything could happen.

Jax was a prime example. She was one of the most unpredictable women he’d ever met, which had the unfortunate effect of making her the most exciting woman he’d ever slept with.

The sensual memory slid down his spine, spreading low in his gut.

Blake wasn’t quite sure how he felt about the turn of events. Fortunately his case was revving up for the final days, consuming his every waking moment. Except there were a lot of moments when his mind would drift off, delicious images of Jax tripping up his focus. And what good did it do to avoid the pretty little distraction if his mind was consumed with thoughts of her anyway?