Russell knew he’d find her here. Fate and the local branch of the American Bar Association had placed his sweetest wet-dream-turned-worst-nightmare across the room.
Who was he kidding? He’d hoped Valerie would be here. Prayed even, while an unrelenting erection had threatened to trip him in his rush to get ready for the event. All the praying in the world wasn’t enough to quell the persistent ache swamping his groin. He’d beaten off twice in a frenzied attempt to quell his penis enough so he could zip his trousers without amputating the sucker. It didn’t stay flaccid long. His dick grew in aching intensity with every mile he put behind him and threatened to charge into the ballroom without him once he arrived at the Suites Hotel. It hurt like a son of a bitch and wasted no time homing in on the object of his frustration, sniffing her out like a wolf did its prey. Need consumed his soul—hungry, dark, feral. If Russell didn’t have her tonight, insanity threatened to eat him alive. She would
be his again. She would know who was in charge.
Russell pulled in a deep breath, ordering the craving to cease and desist. He hated these events. No matter how high-profile this event was, the only reason for being here was for her. There were a hell of a lot of better ways to spend a Friday night than schmoozing, and he planned to spend it with her. But Russell played the game. Pasted on a fake smile until his face hurt. Shook hands with people he didn’t like. Ate the too-rare prime rib. And had to listen over and over and over again about the case that had finally ended this morning. He’d waited long enough. It was growing later by the second, and his window of opportunity would be closing soon. It was time to make his move, before he was drawn into yet another discussion.
So far Valerie hadn’t noticed him standing at the bar, his hand wrapped around two fingers of bourbon on ice to give him something other than her on which to focus. It hadn’t worked. It never would. Valerie was ingrained in his bones, a part of his soul. Doing without her these last six months was a hell of its own making. Having her kick his ass all over the courtroom was a frustration beyond belief. Her win over him was the last straw.
He ground his teeth until his jaw hurt. He hadn’t become a deputy district attorney by sitting around with his thumb up his ass. No, he was competitive and appreciated the challenge of a worthy opponent. He knew Valerie would be as good a match in court as they were in bed. On some level, he’d envisioned the battle to come as foreplay for when they were reunited. That was on Day One. Six months later, she’d handed him his ass on a silver platter, doing what no one else had—taken him down.
Valerie had warned him from the start it would be a no-holds-barred attack to win her case. Peers told him she was a tigress in the courtroom, that he’d met his match. But this was his woman. His
woman, for crying out loud. Hubris was a harsh mistress.
Not once had Valerie let their private and oh-so-secret relationship spill into the workplace. She never backed down. Never blinked. Never caved on the agreement they’d made to stay away from each other while they battled in court. Damn, he’d missed her, even while she’d pissed him off.
Russell slowly hauled in another breath through his nostrils, as if by doing so, he could taste her scent from across the room. Her thick blonde hair drifted past her shoulders. Gone was the prim French twist she’d worn for courtroom battle. Yet professionalism still oozed from her pores in the obligatory little black dress she wore. High heels stretched her legs to perfection, accentuating the cut of her calves. This was a woman who took care of herself. A woman who excelled at everything she did. It was a fact he didn’t fully appreciate until they’d gone head-to-head.
He set his bourbon aside, untouched. There was no doubt about his next course of action. They’d lost too much time. This damn dry spell would end tonight. He didn’t want any alcohol to cloud his control or obscure his senses. He wanted to feel everything and lose himself in her a thousand times over—after he tossed her over his knee and paddled her bottom for driving him insane these last six months.
He strode toward his objective, confident he was about to get what he wanted. Russell also wasn’t above a bit of coercion either. Hell, he’d drag her off to the nearest restroom and fuck her against the wall if he had to. Satisfaction would be his—theirs—once more. All those lust-filled fantasies that had been spawned since the day they’d stepped into opposing corners would finally be fulfilled. He’d plunge his fingers into her dampness and watch her shudder to orgasm. Feel the clutch of her body around his cock—something he’d craved more than his next meal. Yes, Valerie Oswald was finally going to be his again tonight. This time, he wasn’t going to let go.
She glanced up as he neared, her brown eyes bright and welcoming, a smile perched on her lips. Both dimmed when she realized it was him. Her skin flushed a delicate shade of pink, hard nipples thrust against her black dress, and her breath quickened. He imagined her slick and hot for him, clit hardening with every second that ticked by. Fantasies of him falling to his knees before her and burrowing his face between her legs—right here, right now—overwhelmed him. He flexed his shoulders to shore himself against the image. He was supposed to be in charge, not Valerie. It wouldn’t do to let her know that at this moment, she ruled supreme.
The man by her side, Conrad Anson, turned Russell’s way. They’d known each other for years, often on opposing sides of the courtroom. Now Conrad had the catbird seat of California Superior Court Judge.
“Russell, you made it.” Conrad lifted his highball glass Russell’s way in greeting. His other hand pressed against Valerie’s lower back.
Russell fought the instinct to yank it away. Valerie was his. Well, she had been six months ago. At least in his mind and heart. What if she’d moved on? Found someone else to fulfill her needs? He hadn’t counted on that. She’d need relief from the pressures just as he did. He’d been able to alleviate some of his tension by helping Bev at Renard’s. But he never crossed the line by having sex with those he trained in the lifestyle, despite the pressure to do so. It was Valerie who held his heart, and apparently other parts of him as well at the moment. Valerie who had the true control and had placed it lovingly into his hands. That was what Russell needed to remember, not this quest to show her who was boss. Because with Valerie it wasn’t about who had the power. It was how they exchanged it, shared it, and made it their own. A slight doubt wiggled its way into his mind. What if she no longer felt the same way? What if the trial pressure had been so much to bear, she’d gone elsewhere? What if he’d lost her? To Conrad? Surely not.
Conrad was no match for a woman of Valerie’s caliber.
Fear gave way to resentment. Fantasies were one thing, encroaching on another man’s turf quite another. Conrad was a flirt, had little respect for personal space, and everyone knew it was all harmless. But if Conrad didn’t get his hand off Valerie right that second…
“Wouldn’t miss it, Conrad.” Smiling, Russell accepted the greeting with a slight nod while his eyes drank their fill of her. Valerie toyed with her wineglass stem and looked everywhere but at him, casually yet pointedly ignoring him. The diamond earrings he’d given her last Christmas sparkled in the light. Odd, the power that gave him. He deemed it proof that she cared. Why else wear his gift?
Because they’re a damn fine piece of jewelry, idiot.
Russell shrugged off his conscience’s reproach.
“You might want to keep a low profile.” Conrad scanned the room, then leaned in. “Alden Baker’s pissed as hell that defense made her case and won.”
His voice was meant for their ears only, low, conspiratorial. Dread crawled up Russell’s spine. It didn’t bode well to have a superior court judge angry, not to mention prejudiced in the outcome of a case.
“I never knew what the color puce looked like until I saw him afterward,” Conrad continued. “Hilarious as it was to see him in all his states, I thought you both needed to know to watch your backs. He’s been like a bear with a sore ass since his divorce and getting worse the more time passes. It doesn’t take much to set him off anymore. Personally, I thought the two of you did one hell of a job. I was very impressed with your work and professionalism, and I’m not the only one. I see big things in your futures. But then”—he smiled—“I always have.”
It was nice to know some people were still on his side. Russell’s boss was none too happy with the verdict either. Which was an understatement compared to how Russell felt. Valerie had been hell on wheels, presenting a case that had even Russell believing her client was not guilty.
“Thank you, Conrad. I appreciate knowing all that. I hate to tear you away from such lovely company, but I’d like a word with my worthy opponent. We have some business to discuss.”
Conrad straightened and raised his glass again. “Lighten up. It’s supposed to be a social event. Play nice. Save the saber rattling for the courtroom.”
Valerie leveled lusty eyes in Russell’s direction and flashed a smile that both threatened and promised. “Come now, Conrad. Where’s the fun in that?” she asked.
Russell matched her stare. Despite the wordplay, her grip on the wineglass threatened to snap the stem. She caved first. Her gaze drifted downward, submissive. Just the way he wanted her. He watched her pulse flutter at her throat and imagined it beating against his tongue.
She started to take a sip of wine. Russell took the liberty of extracting the glass from her grip. It wouldn’t do to have her inebriated. There would be no excuses of I was drunk and wasn’t in my right mind
. No, he wanted her clearheaded and very aware.
Conrad’s laughter carried over the crowd noise.
Valerie’s gaze snapped to the people who surrounded them. Her flush deepened. “Unfortunately, I was just leaving. Now, if you’ll excuse me.”
Russell hooked her elbow when she tried to dart away. “It won’t take long. Perhaps we can find someplace more private.” Conrad could think what he wanted of that request.
“In a crowd this large, I doubt that’s possible.” She flexed her arm, subtly removing herself from Russell’s hold. “Perhaps another time. Gentlemen.” A regal nod signaled her departure. She walked away before Russell could stop her. If he followed her now, he’d look like an idiot.
“History?” Conrad asked.
“Something like that.” Russell wasn’t ready to blow Conrad’s mind with the truth. He and Valerie couldn’t take the risk of losing their jobs. For now their relationship—if they still had one—had to remain between the two of them.
He monitored her progress across the room. The second she walked out, purse in hand, he was hot on her heels. Valerie was quicker. He lost her in the parking lot. A hard breeze obscured the sound of footsteps. The beep of car locks disengaging gave away what he hoped was her location. He snapped his head to the right, caught sight of her blonde hair, and jogged toward her, reaching her before she could open the door of her silver Ford Escape.
“You’re still as persistently stubborn as ever,” she said without turning around.
“Determined.” Russell leaned forward, pressing her into the car as he reached for the handle.
Her breath caught, yet she made no move to stop him. “To do what? Bind me for your pleasure, or mine? Or give me the fucking of my life?”
Russell’s erection swelled to life. Hot, hard, and more than ready for action. He could raise her little black dress right now, shove the crotch of her panties to one side, plunge deep inside her, and let her tight muscles do him in.
“Isn’t it all the same thing?”
“It was once.” She opened the driver’s door, subtly forcing him back. “Now I’m not so sure.” Valerie slid into the driver’s seat.
“Like hell.” Being calm took hard-won skill. She was frustrating the devil out of him. This wasn’t how things were supposed to work.
He wedged himself in the opening to keep her from shutting the door. “We have unfinished business.”
“Do we?” She curved one eyebrow his way as she stabbed the key into the ignition. “I would have thought after six months you’d be coming to me for pleasure, not business.”
Russell stumbled over his thoughts, just like he had in the courtroom when she’d challenged him unaware.
“Or have you been taking care of that need on your frequent visits to Renard’s?”
He hovered between denial and defensiveness, choosing a point somewhere between. “How would you know about that if you hadn’t been yourself?”
“That’s a nonanswer if ever I heard one.” She snapped her seat belt into place and started the engine. “Women talk, especially when it’s about a man like you. Teri Trent’s been very informative.”
Teri, not Valerie. First chance he got, Russell would inform Bev. Privacy was paramount for her business. Teri had violated that rule in spades. If she’d blabbed to Valerie, who else could she have told?
He squatted down to Valerie’s level, almost on his knees, a subservient position that went against every dominant gene in his body. God, what the hell had she done to him?
“She’s lying, Valerie.”
He curled his fingers over her knee and slid his hand up her thigh. Her warmth beckoned him. The catch in her breath and taut nipples gave him hope.
She clamped her thighs shut against further invasion. “Red light.”
It was a verbal slap in the face he hadn’t anticipated. He didn’t appreciate being put in his place, even if he did deserve it. Russell obeyed the safeword, though, and pulled his hand free, resuming his stance over her. Despite the dominant position, he’d never felt more vulnerable.
“Now step away, and let me leave.”
“You’ve been drinking.”
“No. You saw to that when you took my glass.”
“You leave when I say so and not a second sooner.” What the hell
was wrong with him? He knew the second the words were out that it wasn’t the tone to take with her. Instinct made him clasp his hands in front of his crotch.
Valerie’s gaze narrowed. Lips thinned. “I said ‘red light,’ and I damn well meant it. If you think I’m going to give up my control to a man who can’t even maintain his own… You know what? We’re done here. I don’t need you. I can do much better.”
Stunned, Russell jerked away. Valerie slammed the door shut, eased from the parking slot, and made her way from the lot with a careful pace that felt like another slap in the face. One proving she had the control, not him.
The hell of it was—it was true. He had
lost control, almost from the start of all this. He’d told himself it was Valerie who would cave first and come to him. She never had. It had driven him to distraction. Undermined everything he did. She could do better than him, but he couldn’t live without her. It pissed him off. Fault, it seemed, was primarily on his shoulders. The hell of that
was—he still wanted her more than he could bear.