“You choose your clothes to impress.” She paused, remembering the restrained impatience as he’d shoved up his sleeves. “Not necessarily because you like them, but as a symbol of your success. To convince the masses you’re good at—” She crinkled her brow. “What exactly do you do?”

“I’m an assistant U.S. attorney.”

“Impressive.” She avoided the cool eyes watching her expectantly. “You wear your hair conservatively short, but leave it longer on top to avoid looking too militant.” Her fingers itched to dig into thick waves and muss them up, just to see what he’d do. “What are you? Thirty? Thirty-one?”

“Thirty-two.”

So nine years, numerous tax brackets and an alternate reality separated them.

She briefly inspected the deliciously bared forearms lined with muscle and sinew, irritated that his lethal sensuality was so utterly intoxicating. She avoided the tall, dark and disturbingly intense type, but this man had the heat rising in her body like hot oil in a lava lamp.

And the reemergence of a sense of humor made him vastly more appealing.

“I’d bet big money those muscles are courtesy of your home gym equipment and not from a love of sports.” From the look on his face, she knew she was right. “You keep in shape as part of your image. The self-discipline thing and all that,” she said with a dismissive wave of her hand, her bracelets tinkling again.

“An art you obviously don’t subscribe to,” he said, his level gaze not budging.

“In relationships you prefer women like yourself.” Biting back a smile, she went on, ignoring his dig. “Rules number one and two state they must be sensible and practical.”

“Wrong.” He leaned closer, bringing the gray eyes into sharper focus, and the breath stalled in her throat as her head spun from his towering proximity. “Those are numbers two and three,” he murmured. “Law-abiding is rule number one.”

Pinned in place by his look, the need to move grew unbearable. She crossed her legs and wiggled her dangling foot in agitation.

At five feet six, she’d never be considered outrageously tall. But he was six foot three, at the very least. And despite the easy tone and his almost-teasing words, there was nothing soft about him. He was all dark edginess, like a tightly coiled spring.

He’s too much for you, Jax. Just keep your fat mouth shut.

But she knew she wouldn’t. According to her friends, she lived with her heart on her sleeve. According to every foster family she’d ever been placed with, she simply lived with her foot in her smart-ass mouth. Realistically Jax knew the truth dwelled somewhere in between.

But the need to provoke him was too great.

Her leg stilled, and she adopted a wide-eyed, innocent air. “I still haven’t addressed the most critical issue. The age-old question—boxers or briefs?”

“I wouldn’t classify that as an age-old question,” he said, and the corners of his eyes crinkled as he smiled, the first show of frank amusement.

Blinking hard, Jax stared at him. She’d thought it had been a fluke, but her first impression had been spot-on. He was extra hot when humored.

Fascinated, she continued. “Sure it is. Ranks right up there with the chicken-versus-egg question.” She noticed a small scar that disappeared under a dark slash of eyebrow, daring to mar all that perfection. “And the argument over which is more influential, nature or nurture.”

Intense interest flared in his face. “I wasn’t aware men’s underwear was as hotly contested as genes versus environment in forming personality.”

“In certain circles it is,” she said.

A droll skepticism crossed his face. “None that I frequent.”

“That’s not saying much. And as far as DNA and environment are concerned...” Jax’s face softened with the faded memories of her grandmother belting out the latest country-western song. “I’ve always believed we’re a unique combination of the two.”

Pursing his lips, his voice turned thoughtful. “I’ve always hoped we could overcome them both.”

Intriguing response. Very intriguing.

Troubled by the notion, she studied his scar, wondering about its origin. “Is that why you wear a suit? To overcome your DNA?”

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