Monday, July 17, 2006
By Ann Christopher
By Ann Christopher
Attorney Mike Baldwin and his brother Sean both want the same woman: law student Dara Williams. Noble Mike decides not to pursue her, but when Dara begins an internship with his firm, his fierce passion for her turns into an undeniable obsession, and that can only lead to one thing...
Sean leaned closer and took a deep breath, as if to shore up his courage. “We need to talk.”
Dara didn’t need to be Perry Mason to see he was about to make some sort of declaration about his feelings, but one Baldwin brother per night was all she could handle. “Sean--” she began, alarmed.
“I’m crazy about you.” Hesitantly--nervously--he raised his hand and ran the backs of his fingers down her cheek; her instinct was to shake him off. Over Sean’s shoulder, ten feet away by the bar, she saw Mike staring at them, cold fury in his eyes. “I want to get to know you better. I want to take you to dinner tomorrow night.”
She fell back on the words she always used when a man she had no interest in tried to hit on her. “I don’t know what to say.”
“Just think about it.”
Unwillingly, her eyes flitted to Mike’s again. He stared at them, rigid and unmoving. Clearly he was jealous; he probably thought something was going on with her and Sean. She felt his unhappiness as if it was her own. And in that moment, she wanted to tell Sean no way--she could never care for him. But then she looked back at Sean, saw the absolute adoration in his eyes and realized she couldn’t tell him no. Not now, not in public. She would let him down gently, tomorrow. “Okay.”
From across the room Mike nursed his Coke, watched Sean and Dara in a frustrated rage and bided his time. He knew he should leave before he said or did something he’d regret--other than throwing himself at his brother’s girlfriend, of course--but he couldn’t take his eyes off them. Maybe if he stared at them together long enough, it would start to sink in.
Had Dara been toying with him? Laughing at him making a fool of himself when all the time she’d known he was Sean’s brother? He didn’t think so. Maybe his ego was way out of hand, but he still felt like he knew a little bit about women. He knew when a woman responded to him, and Dara had. So what did that mean? That she was just a slut who didn’t care how many men she slept with? Didn’t even care if they were brothers? That didn’t seem right, either. She didn’t seem like the free and easy type.
Without thinking, Mike followed Dara when she went to the bar. He slipped behind her and waited while she ordered a glass of merlot. When she turned around and saw him she froze abruptly in her tracks; the wine sloshed out of the glass, spilling over her fingers. He’d had no idea what he wanted to say, but then his mouth opened and the words came out. “Busy little thing, aren’t you?” he murmured, looking around to make sure no one overheard them.
Her eyes widened with outrage. “Excuse me?”
Suddenly it was imperative he hurt this woman and make her suffer the way he suffered. He couldn’t have her--Sean had gotten to her first--and he needed to punish her. Very deliberately he looked her up and down, letting his eyes linger on the delectable breasts he would never touch and the lips he would never taste. “Well, there’s me, there’s Sean . . . Anyone else?”
She flinched. “You--you think I sleep around?” Her voice sounded strangled.
The obvious pain in her eyes was strangely satisfying. He shrugged as if the matter held only a passing interest for him. “Don’t you?”
“No.” For a long moment she just stared at him, and in the dim lighting he could have sworn he saw tears shimmer in her eyes. But then she collected herself and her face hardened into stone. “Get away from me.”
The harshness in her voice smacked him like a slap across the face. Never in his life had he talked this way to a woman--not even Debbie--and suddenly he felt ashamed. His lips twisted into a crooked smile, and he bent from the waist in a mocking little bow. Then he turned and walked away, leaving her staring after him.
Determined to leave before he said or did anything worse, he stalked through the crowd to the foyer, ignoring a couple of people who spoke to him along the way. Forget this night, this party and his brother. Forget Dara. Forget his jacket, wherever he’d laid it--he could buy another one. He reached for the door.
Cursing to himself, Mike turned and saw Sean. He struggled to keep his turmoil off his face. “Yeah. Long night.”
Just then, Dara materialized from around the corner and marched toward the door. Something about the rigid set of her shoulders and unyielding line of her mouth reminded Mike of an armored tank. She fished in her purse, head down, and almost ran directly into Sean. Sean caught her by the shoulders and she looked up, startled. “You’re not leaving, are you?”
She nodded, pulling her keys from her purse. “It’s getting late and I’m a little tired.”
Sean reached up a solicitous hand to touch her chin, but she shrank away from him. “You do look a little strange.” He dropped his hand. “Are you getting sick?”
“No,” she said tightly. “Just tired.”
Sean looked at Mike. “Well, I’m glad you two got to meet. What did you think of her, man?”
Mike’s eyes flickered to Dara, then back to Sean. Above all else he did not want Sean to get hurt. He forced the edges of his mouth up into a lopsided smile. “She’s really something.”
Sean nodded, pleased. He turned back to Dara. “Let me walk you out.”
“Aren’t you taking her home?” Mike choked back the bile in his throat at the very thought, but he had to know. Had to.
Finally Dara looked him in the face. A wild light glittered in her eyes. For several long seconds, she stared at him with absolute revulsion, as if he was a moldy substance she’d discovered growing on top of the leftovers in her fridge. She was furious; that much was obvious. If she’d had a knife she’d have filleted him like a trout. And there was something else in her big baby browns, something that looked suspiciously like hurt. But then she abruptly turned to Sean and smiled at him, a glorious, breathtaking smile that felt like a knife directly to Mike’s gut. She slipped her arm through Sean’s and he stared dazedly but worshipfully down at her. “Let’s go.” Her voice had dropped to a sexy murmur. She turned and led Sean through the door.
Mike, sick with misery and fury, could only follow them down the long walk to the street. The night breeze felt cool and crisp, a refreshing change from the crowded air inside the house, but he barely noticed. His entire being focused on Dara’s hand touching Sean. Then Dara whispered something in Sean’s ear and they both laughed. Mike clenched his fists at his sides and resisted the urge to smash his hand through the windshield of an SUV parked at the curb.
It was apparently Dara’s car; Sean walked her around to the door. Mike started past the sickening little lovebirds, on his way to his own car. Dara glanced up, her glittering eyes bright and hard. “Good-night,” she said sweetly.
Mike grunted something--he had no idea what--in response and continued on his way. Dara’s clear voice rang through the night air behind him. “Dinner tomorrow?” Sean laughed and said something Mike couldn’t hear. A little voice told him to just walk the twenty or so more steps to his car and get away from her, but something made him slow down and look over his shoulder. And he saw Dara step into Sean’s arms, wrap her hands around his neck and pull his face down to hers.
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