She relaxed as they seemed to be back on safer ground. “Psychoanalyze away,” she said lightly, “but you should know the analogy doesn’t work well. If I’d really wanted to make my family happy, I’d have stayed away from prosecuting criminals at the DA’s Office and gone to some nice, comfy law-firm job.” She wrinkled her nose. “You know, doing non-profit law or some such, which would have dovetailed nicely with all those charity auctions I’m supposed to be organizing.”

He grinned, seeming to recognize the jab at him and his comment the night he’d shown up at her townhouse. “All right,” he said, folding his arms, “maybe I was too quick to judge.”

She gave him a look of mock skepticism. “You think?”

Ignoring her bait, Connor realized it was time to turn the tables on her. She’d probed and poked and made him realize and acknowledge more than he’d wanted to. He figured he was entitled to reciprocate. “Why do you do it?”“Do what?”

“Work at the DA’s Office when you clearly don’t have to, and when you could have gotten a cushier job, which your family clearly expected you to do.”

She cocked her head to the side and contemplated him for a second, as if considering how much to divulge.

“Fess up, princess. You’re not the only one who knows how to be dogged with questions.” She looked deliciously delectable perched on the bar stool, her long legs encased in snug blue jeans, a cotton top outlining a pert and enticingly rounded chest.

“Would you believe me if I said a passion for justice?” she asked. “Before a late-life career in the law, my mother was the queen of those philanthropic charity benefits you’re so fond of. I guess some of that do-gooder stuff rubbed off on me and my brothers.”

“And yet, your family wasn’t thrilled by your choice of the DA’s Office.” Connor forced himself to focus on what they were talking about despite the weight that had settled in his groin.

She looked down as if to shield her expression from him, stretching out her legs as she did so, one of the mules she was wearing dangling from her foot. “You may have noticed they’re rather protective.”

“No more so than with you, the baby of the family and the only girl,” he finished for her.

She looked up, her eyes meeting his. “Exactly.”

He smiled. “Well, you sure as heck didn’t make it easy on them. From what I recall, you did a good job of rattling the bars of the cage.”

She gave him a meaningful look. “You’d know something about that, wouldn’t you?”

He held up his hands in mock surrender. “Let’s make a deal to steer clear of that episode in the bar. I’ll admit it wasn’t one of my finer moments. I usually don’t deal in trickery.”

She looked somewhat mollified by his almost apology, but he couldn’t help adding, “Anyway, it’s not as if that night in the bar was out of character for you.”

“Oh?”

There was a wealth of meaning in that “oh” and, if he knew what was good for him, he should probably shut up now. Unfortunately, he was rarely one to shut up where Allison was concerned. “What about the year you started a campaign to get all the high-school girls to accidentally on purpose show up for class braless?” He grinned. “As I recall, it was the first time your school had to make a rule about underwear.”

“We were making a political statement!”

“Yeah, to the enjoyment of the male half of the student body,” he said dryly. He’d heard about the ensuing ruckus from Quentin.

“The point,” she said tightly, “was to show that if one girl wore a top without a bra one day, it was no big deal, but, if every girl went without a bra every day, it would be disruptive. In other words, we could wield a lot of power by joint action. After that, we were able to get some real change through the student council.”

“So is that what the DA’s Office is all about? Just more of your maverick tendencies?” he asked. “Or were you just trying to make your family crazy?”

“It’s debatable whether I drove them crazier than they drove me,” she muttered.

“Ah.”

“The DA’s Office is the first time I felt I had established an identity for myself apart from my family. I wasn’t Allison Whittaker, heiress, daughter of philanthropists James and Ava, sister of Quentin the tycoon, Matt the enigma, Noah the playboy.”

“I see.”

“Do you really?” she asked. “At the DA’s Office, I was first and foremost Allison Whittaker, Assistant DA. Many of the defendants in my cases hadn’t even heard of the Whittakers. And, the other lawyers at the DA’s Office didn’t care what my last name was as long as I was pitching in with everyone else to help dig us out from under the mountain of cases.”

Her voice had risen half an octave and her words had started coming faster. He’d touched a nerve, that was for sure.

The DA’s Office had been a means to independence for Allison and he’d been making light of it. Suddenly he was sorry for that.

“Do you really understand, Connor?” she continued. “Because sometimes you seemed to act no better than my brothers.”

“Believe me, the last thing I feel for you is brotherly,” he said, half under his breath. Her impassioned speech had brought a spark to her eyes and a boldness to her body language that his libido was intuitively responding to.

“What?” she asked, although the arrested look on her face said she’d heard him.

“Did you not hear me, petunia?” he asked, meeting her eyes directly. “Or is it that you just can’t believe what you heard?”

All the reasons he’d given himself over the years not to test the waters with Allison flew out the window. In reality, he had already tested the waters where she was concerned, and, now that he had had a taste of her, the need for more was irresistible.

She gave a laugh that sounded forced. “I imagine it was hard to feel brotherly when I was a thorn in your side.”

He pushed back from the counter. “Loss of courage isn’t something I’d ever have thought to accuse you of.”

They were alone in the woods together at the getaway cottage he’d recently finished building and where he’d brought no other woman. Suddenly, he didn’t give a damn about the consequences of getting romantically involved with her. All that mattered was now.

The threat she’d gotten in the mail, the proof that some nut had been watching her, waiting to strike, all that hammered home that he could have lost her already.

He might not have tomorrow—to laugh with her, to make love to her—and he’d be damned if he was going to wonder any longer about what might, could, or should have been.

She straightened on the stool, her brows drawing together. “I don’t know what you’re talking about.”

“Don’t you?” he asked softly. With two strides, he was in front of her, within touching distance. To her credit, she stayed where she was, her chin coming up in that way she had when she was getting ready verbally to sock it to him.

He almost smiled as he reached out to touch her.

“Don’t,” she said on a breath. It wasn’t fear in her eyes—or panic—but a turbulent set of emotions.

“Why not?” The urge to touch her was overwhelming and there didn’t seem to be a reason in the world not to give in to it. “Because your brothers would beat me to a pulp?” He raised her chin, his thumb caressing her lower lip. “I think I’ll risk it,” he murmured.

Six

Allison felt prickles of awareness all over her skin at Connor’s touch. She knew if they slept together, nothing would be the same again.

This wasn’t just about one kiss or one night. This was about getting tangled up with a man who wouldn’t be as easy to handle as any of the ones she’d dated in the past. Connor would challenge her, and there’d be no smug assurance that she was in control.When she still hadn’t said anything, the light went out of Connor’s eyes and his hand dropped away from her mouth. She hadn’t voiced an invitation—and he hadn’t read one in her eyes—so he was backing off.

In that instant, however, she knew she couldn’t let this moment pass. He offered comfort and safety in a world that had become a much scarier place. And, while she knew she could always stand on her own two feet if she had to, she also knew that now—tonight—she wanted that comfort.

Suddenly, she couldn’t wait to dive in to his arms. The possibility that she wouldn’t be in control was more of a temptation than a risk to be avoided.

She slid off the stool, bringing them nearly flush up against each other.

His usual cocky facade was not on display. Instead, what she saw was raw hunger and naked desire.

Her breath caught in her throat. “Connor…”

She placed her hands on his chest and felt the strong, rhythmic beat of his heart. He held himself very still as she went up on tiptoe, searched his face, and then, slowly, very slowly, pressed her lips to his.

His mouth opened under the pressure of her lips, his lips rubbing, stroking against hers. He took his time—as if he had all the time in the world—letting her lead, then demanding more. Yet, he held his arms at his sides, his mouth the only part building a response from her.

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