The longest six seconds of his life passed.

Until Nikki finally dropped her hand and said, “I know what happened that night.”

“No, you don’t,” he said, plowing ahead. “I—”

“I heard you and Mom talking years ago,” she said calmly, her eyes steady on his. “The college prank. Your drinking.” A ghost of a smile crept up her face. “The police threatening an arrest.”

She knew. All along, she knew.

Nikki paused, and Blake wondered if he’d ever been able to fool this smart young woman poised on the edge of greatness. Apparently not.

“I’m super proud of the brilliant lawyer you’ve become, Blake,” Nikki said softly. And then her face fell a touch, as if not sure how to continue, but she pressed on anyway. “But—”

The pause was long.

“But...?” he said.

“But I remember how it was when Dad was alive. You used to be fun,” she said, and his gut twisted at the sadness in her words. “I just sometimes wish it wasn’t an either-or, you know?”

She eyed him soberly with a gaze that reminded him more of his father than ever before, a wisdom he’d never really noticed until now. But perhaps that was because he hadn’t been looking hard enough.

Blake stared down at the floor as the moment stretched and he contemplated her words: an either-or.

Lust versus reason.

Need versus duty.

Was there really a reason he couldn’t have both? Veins burning with an emotion he refused to examine too closely, the possibilities stretched before him. And wasn’t that exactly what Jax had been trying to say that day on the boat?

What happened to ruin you?

Decision made, he returned his gaze to Nikki. “I have one more week until Jax’s trial goes to court. Will you help me think of a way to win her back?”

“Of course I will,” she said. And then she lifted a chastising brow. “But whatever you do, it better be good.”

THIRTEEN

Late for your own trial. Way to go, Jax.

Clutching her Ramones tote, Jax hurried up the courthouse steps, muttering curses under her breath. Starting her day upchucking her breakfast had set her behind schedule. And who could have known it would take fifteen minutes to find an empty parking space? The fact that the spot had been the farthest one from the entrance hadn’t helped matters, either.

Jax still felt nauseous as she passed through the courthouse doors and made a beeline for the bank of elevators, stabbing the up button in desperation. Heart tripping too fast for comfort, her palms damp, she tapped her foot, willing the elevator to hurry up. As she watched the numbers descend slowly she suppressed the need to scream in frustration. When the light stopped on the floor above, she let out a groan, glancing down at her watch and wincing. She was already ten minutes behind and she still had to get to the fourth floor.

And, as if being late to her day of judgment wasn’t bad enough, knowing that Blake wouldn’t be there to soothe her worries made it a hundred times worse.

For the millionth time since their fight, her heart crumpled. All the guitar playing in the world wouldn’t ease what ailed her. She’d spent the first few days in abject misery, until she’d grown so tired of being miserable she’d finally pulled herself together and thrown her energies into her plans for the club. Assuming, of course, that Sara got the charges against her dropped so she could get her old job back.

The elevator finally arrived with a ping, and Jax entered, pushing the button for the correct floor. Amazingly enough, the thought of losing her job no longer sent her into a fit of panic. It hadn’t taken long for her to realize that she would trade it all in if Blake loved her enough, trusted in her enough to let go of the stupid fear that held him in its grip. But he didn’t trust her judgment, not with the decisions she made about her life...or as the mother of his baby.

The crushing truth pinned her heart painfully, but she pushed the thoughts aside as the doors opened and she exited the elevator. Now was not the time to dwell on what could have been. Her baby was depending on her, and Jax had a date with a judge....

With a hard swallow, she gripped her tote tightly as she hurried down the hall. Nerves and baby butterflies knocked in her stomach as Jax pushed through the door to the courtroom, braced for the chastising glares. Or perhaps reprimanding words of warning. She just prayed the bailiff wasn’t waiting to clap her in handcuffs and haul her away. But she was shocked to discover the staff hovered around a computer monitor, completely unconcerned the accused had arrived late.

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