Several heartbeats passed as Jax braced for the speech she was sure he’d prepared. With his years of practice swaying juries, no doubt it was going to be a doozy.

Warrior, Jax. Remember, you are a warrior.

“I’m not asking you because of the baby,” he said in a low voice, his jaw set, emotion brimming in his eyes. “And I’m not asking you because being with you makes me happy, or because I see your scars as a sign of your incredible strength. I’m not even asking because your amazing courage has inspired me to give up a promotion that would have made me miserable.”

Her voice came out with a surprised squeak. “You’re passing up the promotion?”

“I’m passing up the promotion.”

Her heart softened a touch, and his eyes caressed her face. With effort, she steadfastly ignored the muscular body encased in a beautiful suit as she breathed in his fresh, sea-breeze scent. The familiar thrum of awareness returned, and the pounding in her chest cranked higher as he went on.

“I’m not even worried about the fact that Nikki and my mother will kill me for permanently blowing my chances with you,” he said as he shot her a helpless grin.

Her heart turned over in her chest, and she suppressed the need to return the smile. At least his prepared speech was living up to her expectations.

He leaned in, and the intensity in his eyes and his proximity left her spinning, her body sighing happily at having him close again as he went on. “I’m asking you to marry me because I’ve fallen in love with you and I can’t imagine any other woman being more perfect for me than you.”

Heart hammering louder in her ears, Jax feared she was beginning to lose the war with her encroaching tears, her heart mushier than ever before.

He loved her.

Hope gaining a huge foothold, Jax tried for a chastising tone, but barely even convinced herself. “You picked a fine time for your confession, Suit.” She sent him a watery smile and sniffed, lifting a brow. “But don’t you want to wait until the outcome of my trial before you make the marriage commitment?”

“Convicted criminal or not,” he said, his voice strong, “you are the woman for me.”

She forced back the surge of tears. “That’s the most romantic thing I’ve ever heard.”

Hope flared in Blake’s eyes. “Jax, please marry—”

“Okay, folks,” the clerk said from the front of the room, and Jax bit back the scream of frustration. “Technical malfunction fixed. Though we hardly needed the IT crew.” The man scratched his balding head, clearly perplexed. “Somehow the computer cable got pulled from the network card.”

Surprise shot through her, and Jax whipped her head around to look at Blake—the man who was now leaning back in his chair with an expression akin to the cat that had swallowed the canary. A very delicious canary. Jax recognized the faint glimmer of amusement in his eyes, and her stomach did a slow-motion flip as the reason for the delay finally sank in.

Eyes wide with disbelief, she leaned in close to Blake. “Did you pull the plug to buy me time to get here?” she whispered.

His brow instantly crinkled with humor. “Certainly not,” he said smoothly. “Because that would be wrong.”

But the light in his eyes suggested otherwise.

She blinked hard once, trying to adjust. How he’d pulled off his little stunt without anyone noticing, she had no idea. But after years of being the man who ensured society followed the letter of the law, obeyed every rule in the rulebook, the hell-raiser Blake had briefly made a reappearance.

All in an effort to ensure Jax’s tardiness would go unnoticed.

And with that, every defense she had left in her arsenal drained away. Her heart melted, pooled at her feet and spread far and wide. Coating her world with hope.

Impressed, and terribly, terribly touched, all she could do was stare at Blake. And when the clerk announced that it was time to begin, she was still so powerfully affected that Blake had to pull her to her feet when Judge Conner entered the courtroom.

* * *

The trial seemed to drag by in slow motion, but through sheer strength of will, Blake focused all his efforts on the proceedings. But it wasn’t easy with Jax beside him, smelling of apples spiced with cinnamon. Her red blouse brought out the honey coloring of her wild, tumbling hair, and the denim skirt was long enough to be respectable—but with enough bared leg to be a major distraction.

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