Legal Passion

CHAPTER ONE

“I AM GOING to prove to you that this man is a bad man,” the assistant district attorney said as she pointed at the defense table.

Stone Michaelsen had the uneasy feeling that she was pointing at him rather than his client. But it wasn’t as if he could object. He was a bad man—sometimes.

And right now, watching Hillary Bellows work the jury, he wanted to be very bad to her. She was so damn sexy in her sky-blue suit that perfectly matched her sky-blue eyes. The skirt fit tightly over her rounded ass, and the jacket didn’t quite close over her full breasts, showing off her flesh-colored camisole. She had the rapt attention of every male juror and, since she was so earnest, most of the women as well. When she turned back toward the jury, her blond bob skimmed across her jaw. Her hair looked so silky that his fingers twitched to touch it, to touch her.

But as always, when he faced her in court, he had to resist the urge to act on this crazy attraction he had for her. Hillary Bellows was strictly off-limits. But even if she wasn’t, she had made it abundantly clear that she didn’t think much of him. He would really have to turn on the charm if he wanted to change her mind about him.

And, unlike his law partners, Stone was not a natural charmer. He was too blunt and outspoken to be ingratiating and flattering. So was Hillary.

She continued her opening statement. “I am going to prove beyond a reasonable doubt that the defendant murdered his young wife in a jealous rage. The defendant’s attorney, Stone Michaelsen, from the notorious Street Legal law practice, is going to try to trick you into exonerating his client—because he and his partners will do anything to win.”

Stone resisted the urge to flinch—barely. She was hitting low, even for Hillary, using the recent problems his firm had been having against him. And the problems weren’t their fault; they had a mole in the office, someone trying to throw their cases and make them look bad. If she’d had access to their case files, he might have thought Hillary was the one responsible for the leaks.

She seemed to be carrying a grudge against him from all the times he’d beaten her before—because her opening argument felt more like a personal attack against him than a summary of the case she was going to present.

“And like his partners,” Hillary continued, “Stone Michaelsen will use the media and other tricks to make his case, because he has no evidence.”

He suppressed a flinch at her direct hit. He had a meeting later with Allison McCann of McCann Public Relations. They were going to discuss his next press release. The publicist had already issued statements from his office about the prosecution disregarding the fact that his client had an ironclad alibi for the time of the murder. Charges never should have been brought against Byron Mueller. And the grand jury should have damn well never indicted. But because of that alibi, this would be an easy win for Stone, and another loss for Hillary.

Maybe that was why she sounded so bitter in this opening statement. She knew she was going to lose, just as she had every other time she had gone up against him in court. What if she were literally up against him? All her lush curves pressed against his body?

Now he had to suppress a smile. He couldn’t have the jury thinking he looked smug, even though he felt smug at the moment.

But Hillary looked pretty damn smug herself. She glanced at him again—instead of his client—and there was a glimmer of amusement in her blue eyes. What the hell did she find so funny?

It wouldn’t be the fact that she was going to lose. She wouldn’t find that funny at all, not with as ambitious as she was.

Then she turned away from him and focused on the jury again. She lowered her voice, as if confiding a big secret to them, and said, “Even the alibi his client claims to have for the time of the murder has been discredited with evidence from Mr. Michaelsen’s own case files.”

What the hell was she talking about? Stone jumped out of his chair and protested, “Your Honor, I object. The assistant DA is making an inculpatory statement—”

“That I can prove,” Hillary interrupted him.

The gavel slammed down. “This is Ms. Bellows’s opening argument, Mr. Michaelsen. You will have the chance to defend your client during the trial.”

“Sounds like I’m the one who needs defending,” he grumbled as he reluctantly settled back into his seat.

“Mr. Michaelsen...” the judge said, his voice sharp with a warning. Harrison had ruled the bench for a long time, probably too long. What wispy hair he had left was white, and his face was heavily lined with age and disapproval.

It was never good for Stone when he drew Harrison as a judge. But still, he had to appeal to the guy.

“Please remind Ms. Bellows that my law firm is not on trial here,” he said. “Only my client.”

The judge didn’t give Hillary a verbal warning, just a pointed glare that Hillary then passed on to Stone, her blue eyes narrowing. But a slight smile curved her lips. She was obviously enjoying needling him.

He found his pulse racing as well, and not just over the thrill of a high-profile trial, but over the thrill of facing her again. He’d beaten her before, but it hadn’t been easy. As a lawyer, she’d proved to be his greatest challenge.

As a woman...

No. Because she was a lawyer, specifically his opposing counsel on this case, he couldn’t think of her as a woman. But that was damn hard.

He wouldn’t mind Hillary going below his belt, as long as she was not hitting him. Hell, he’d really love her going below his belt and zipper and boxers.

Stone’s client nudged his arm. “This isn’t looking good,” he murmured with genuine concern. “What’s she talking about, your case files discrediting my alibi?”

“I don’t know,” Stone whispered back. But he was damn well going to find out.

“Mr. Michaelsen, Ms. Bellows has the floor. You and your client need to save your discussion for after court.”

Stone flinched. Great. He’d already pissed off the judge. Of course, Judge Harrison usually seemed pissed off, even before the trial started.

Stone squeezed his client’s arm, trying to reassure him, but Byron Mueller suddenly looked every one of his sixty-some years. The billionaire was known for being all brash, bluster and bravado, but then, he hadn’t ever gotten into any trouble before that he hadn’t been able to buy his way out of. By hiring Stone and Street Legal, he must have thought he would buy his way out of this, too. But the murder charge was serious.

And so was Hillary Bellows, as she continued her opening statement about all the reasons why the jury should find his client guilty. Of course, her biggest reason seemed to be Stone—like Byron Mueller wouldn’t have hired him if he wasn’t guilty.

The problem was: he wasn’t. No matter what Hillary thought she had learned from Stone’s case files—that alibi was real. Byron was innocent, and Stone intended to prove it. But if Hillary managed to throw out the alibi, that was going to be damn hard...almost as hard as Stone got just watching the beautiful assistant district attorney work.

* * *

Hillary Bellows didn’t care how late it was. She was not at all tired, not with all the excitement coursing through her. She couldn’t stop smiling. She was going to win this time. Stone Michaelsen was not going to get his client off—like he had so many others.

She leaned back in her desk chair and thought of the stunned expression on his ridiculously handsome face during her opening argument. She’d taken him by surprise, which unsettled her a bit. How had she gotten that information if it hadn’t come from his office?

It didn’t matter, though.

She was going to win. Of course, she wouldn’t be able to celebrate the way she’d have liked—with Stone getting her off. He was so damn good-looking with his thick black hair and those deep gray eyes of his. And his body...

With his broad shoulders, big chest and arms, and heavy thighs, his body was as ridiculously perfect as his handsome face.

How could he be in such good shape? He was always trying a case, so he had to work almost as hard as she did. And she never found time to get to the gym. So how did he?

He had to lift weights a lot. A lot of weights...

Or maybe he lifted a lot of women. She wanted him to lift her—to carry her effortlessly in those big strong arms of his. To carry her off to his bedroom...

She snorted at her fantasy. That was all it was ever going to be: just a fantasy. Unfortunately, she had a lot of them about Stone Michaelsen.

She uttered a wistful sigh and reached for the candy bar that was her dinner. Or maybe dessert now, since the dinner hour had passed a while ago. She closed her eyes as the smooth dark chocolate dissolved on her tongue, teasing her taste buds with the paradox of sweet and bitterness. A little moan of pleasure slipped through her lips.

A groan echoed it.

Startled, she jumped and nearly fell out of her chair as she opened her eyes to find Stone Michaelsen leaning against the doorjamb of her office. She hadn’t left that open; she never did, but especially not after hours. But then, maybe the cleaning crew had when one of them had taken her trash earlier. She’d said they could come back and finish cleaning a little later, but she suspected they’d already left for the night since that had been a while ago.

“How the hell did you get in here?” she asked.

How had she not heard the door open? How had she not felt him watching her? Had she been that preoccupied...thinking about him?

He lifted one of his broad shoulders in a half shrug. “I’m not such a bad man that I can’t make it past security,” he said with a grin, “especially when I represented the guard’s grandson for a drug charge.”

She glared at him. “Of course you did.” And she suspected that he’d either gotten the charges reduced or tossed out.

He had no chance of getting the charges in his current case tossed out. Or reduced.

But she had no doubt that was why he was here. She leaned back in her chair and studied him. “So, let me guess... You want to talk plea deal?”

“I have a plea for you,” he said as he stepped inside her office and closed the door.

The room was already small, but now it seemed to shrink even more as he filled it. He was so damn big—over six feet of height and breadth. His thick black hair looked a little mussed now, as if he’d run his hands through it. Or maybe some woman just had. And his gray eyes, they were so intense and focused...on her.

Her pulse quickened as he approached her desk. He braced his palms on top of the files on it and leaned over, so that his face was nearly level with hers. Now her pulse raced. Was his plea for a kiss?

She was tempted to close the distance between them and press her lips to his. But she knew that wasn’t what he wanted. He wouldn’t—couldn’t—want her.

He and his law partners dated lingerie models, fashion designers, actresses and heiresses—not poorly paid, overworked assistant district attorneys like she was. But this was the career and the life she had chosen. And she was good with that, and even better that she could have him only in her fantasies. That was a hell of a lot safer than the reality of Stone Michaelsen.

Because she did not want the real Stone Michaelsen. He was arrogant, ruthless and amoral. No. She just wanted the fantasy one who didn’t speak, who only kissed and caressed her.

“Don’t you want to know my plea?” he asked.

She drew in a deep breath to bring herself to her senses. But she only breathed in his scent, which was soap, musk and something that was him alone. “For mercy?” she teased. “You have never showed me any.”

Not in court. And not in those damn press releases he had that PR firm issue for him. Curiously, there had not been one printed today. And she would have thought it would have been more important today—than any other day—for him to discredit her case.

But then, he knew he couldn’t discredit the evidence that had been sent from his own office. Why had he done that, though? It wasn’t like Stone Michaelsen to play by the rules, or even to play fair.

“You’re not my client,” he told her. “I only plead for my clients.”

He usually didn’t plea them out, though. He came up with some ridiculous defense instead. And no matter how ridiculous it was, he conned the jury into buying it.

What the hell was he going to come up with this time? She could hardly wait to find out.

She shook her head. “I’m not giving your client any mercy. No plea deals for him.” Stone had wasted his time coming to see her.

“I wouldn’t accept a plea deal for him,” Stone said. “Byron Mueller is innocent.”

She snorted. Who was living in a fantasy world now? “If you repeat the lie enough times, do you start to believe it?”

His gray eyes narrowed in a glare. Obviously, he didn’t like being called a liar. But it was what he was, what he did. And Hillary always called it like she saw it.

“No. Really. I’m curious,” she continued. “I don’t understand how defense lawyers do it.” How could they represent someone they knew was guilty?

But that apparently was not what Stone thought she was talking about, because now his gray eyes glittered with amusement. Wriggling his brows suggestively, he lowered his voice to a sexy whisper and murmured, “I could show you.”

Her heart stopped beating entirely for a moment. Was he flirting with her?

Stone Michaelsen didn’t flirt. He was too focused on winning trials—on always being the best. Was he that way in the bedroom, too?

Did he have to be the best?

It wasn’t as if she would ever find out, though. He wasn’t suggesting what she’d thought he was. No. She must have been fantasizing yet. He wasn’t even here, let alone uttering innuendos. She reached under her desk and pinched the top of her thigh. Then she tried not to flinch at the pain.

She wasn’t fantasizing. This was real. Stone Michaelsen was in her office, and he was...

Flirting.

With.

Her.