The law is a lady, p.2
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       The Law is a Lady, p.2

           Nora Roberts
 
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  He gave her a long, dry look. “You?”

  “Yes, handy, isn’t it?” She cocked her head to the side. “Sixty days, Mr. Kincaid, or two hundred and fifty dollars.”

  “Two-fifty!”

  “Bail’s set at five hundred. Would you care to post it?”

  “The phone call,” he said through clenched teeth.

  “The keys,” she countered affably.

  Swearing under his breath, Phil pulled the keys from his pocket and tossed them to her. Tory caught them neatly. “You’re entitled to one local call, Mr. Kincaid.”

  “It’s long distance,” he muttered. “I’ll use my credit card.”

  After indicating the phone on her desk, Tory took the keys to Merle. “Two-fifty!” he said in an avid whisper. “Aren’t you being a little rough on him?”

  Tory gave a quick, unladylike snort. “Mr. Hollywood Kincaid needs a good kick in the ego,” she mumbled. “It’ll do him a world of good to stew in a cell for a while. Take the car to Bestler’s Garage, Merle.”

  “Me? Drive it?” He looked down at the keys in his hand.

  “Lock it up and bring back the keys,” Tory added. “And don’t play with any of the buttons.”

  “Aw, Tory.”

  “Aw, Merle,” she responded, then sent him on his way with an affectionate look.

  Phil waited impatiently as the phone rang. Someone picked up. “Answering for Sherman, Miller and Stein.” He swore.

  “Where the hell’s Lou?” he demanded.

  “Mr. Sherman is out of the office until Monday,” the operator told him primly. “Would you care to leave your name?”

  “This is Phillip Kincaid. You get Lou now, tell him I’m in—” He turned to cast a dark look at Tory.

  “Welcome to Friendly, New Mexico,” she said obligingly.

  Phil’s opinion was a concise four-letter word. “Friendly, New Mexico. In jail, damn it, on some trumped-up charge. Tell him to get his briefcase on a plane, pronto.”

  “Yes, Mr. Kincaid, I’ll try to reach him.”

  “You reach him,” he said tightly and hung up. When he started to dial again, Tory walked over and calmly disconnected him.

  “One call,” she reminded him.

  “I got a damn answering service.”

  “Tough break.” She gave him the dashing smile that both attracted and infuriated him. “Your room’s ready, Mr. Kincaid.”

  Phil hung up the phone to face her squarely. “You’re not putting me in that cell.”

  She looked up with a guileless flutter of lashes. “No?”

  “No.”

  Tory looked confused for a moment. Her sigh was an appealingly feminine sound as she wandered around the desk. “You’re making this difficult for me, Mr. Kincaid. You must know I can’t manhandle you into a cell. You’re bigger than I am.”

  Her abrupt change of tone caused him to feel more reasonable. “Ms. Ashton . . .” he began.

  “Sheriff Ashton,” Tory corrected and drew a .45 out of the desk drawer. Her smile never wavered as Phil gaped at the large gun in her elegant hand. “Now, unless you want another count of resisting arrest on your record, you’ll go quietly into that first cell over there. The linen’s just been changed.”

  Phil wavered between astonishment and amusement. “You don’t expect me to believe you’d use that thing.”

  “I told you I don’t argue with beliefs.” Though she kept the barrel lowered, Tory quite deliberately cocked the gun.

  He studied her for one full minute. Her eyes were too direct and entirely too calm. Phil had no doubt she’d put a hole in him—in some part of his anatomy that she considered unimportant. He had a healthy respect for his body.

  “I’ll get you for this,” he muttered as he headed for the cell.

  Her laugh was rich and attractive enough to make him turn in front of the bars. Good God, he thought, he’d like to tangle with her when she didn’t have a pistol in her hand. Furious with himself, Phil stalked into the cell.

  “Doesn’t that line go something like, ‘When I break outta this joint, you’re gonna get yours’?” Tory pulled the keys from a peg, then locked the cell door with a jingle and snap. Struggling not to smile, Phil paced the cell.

  “Would you like a harmonica and a tin cup?”

  He grinned, but luckily his back was to her. Dropping onto the bunk, he sent her a fulminating glance. “I’ll take the tin cup if it has coffee in it.”

  “Comes with the service, Kincaid. You’ve got free room and board in Friendly.” He watched her walk back to the desk to replace the pistol. Something in the lazy, leggy gait affected his blood pressure pleasantly. “Cream and sugar?” she asked politely.

  “Black.”

  Tory poured the coffee, aware that his eyes were on her. She was partly amused by him, partly intrigued. She knew exactly who he was. Over her basic disdain for what she considered a spoiled, Tinseltown playboy was a trace of respect. He hadn’t attempted to influence her with his name or his reputation. He’d relied on his temper. And it was his temper, she knew, that had landed him in the cell in the first place.

  Too rich, she decided, too successful, too attractive. And perhaps, she mused as she poured herself a cup, too talented. His movies were undeniably brilliant. She wondered what made him tick. His movies seemed to state one image, the glossies another. With a quiet laugh she thought she might find out for herself while he was her “guest.”

  “Black,” she stated, carrying both cups across the room. “Made to order.”

  He was watching the way she moved—fluidly, with just a hint of hip. It was those long legs, he decided, and some innate confidence. Under different circumstances he would have considered her quite a woman. At the moment he considered her an outrageous annoyance. Silently he unfolded himself from the bunk and went to accept the coffee she held between the bars. Their fingers brushed briefly.

  “You’re a beautiful woman, Victoria L. Ashton,” he muttered. “And a pain in the neck.”

  She smiled. “Yes.”

  That drew a laugh from him. “What the hell are you doing here, playing sheriff?”

  “What the hell are you doing here, playing criminal?”

  Merle burst in the door, grinning from ear to ear. “Holy cow, Mr. Kincaid, that’s some car!” He dropped the keys in Tory’s hand, then leaned against the bars. “I swear, I could’ve just sat in it all day. Bestler’s eyes just about popped out when I drove it in.”

  Making a low sound in his throat, Phil turned away to stare through the small barred window at the rear of the cell. He scowled at his view of the town. Look at this place, he thought in frustration. Dusty little nowhere. Looks like all the color was washed away twenty years ago. Baked away, he corrected himself as sweat ran uncomfortably down his back. There seemed to be nothing but brown—dry, sparse mesa in the distance and parched sand. All the buildings, such as they were, were different dull shades of brown, all stripped bare by the unrelenting sun. Damn place still had wooden sidewalks, he mused, sipping at the strong coffee. There wasn’t a coat of paint on a storefront that wasn’t cracked and peeling. The whole town looked as though it had drawn one long, tired communal breath and settled down to wait until it was all over.

  It was a gritty, hopeless-looking place with a sad sort of character under a film of dust and lethargy. People stayed in a town like this when they had no place else to go or nothing to do. Came back when they’d lost hope for anything better. And here he was, stuck in some steamy little cell. . . .

  His mind sharpened.

  Staring at the tired storefronts and sagging wood, Phil saw it all through the lens of a camera. His fingers wrapped around a window bar as he began to plot out scene after scene. If he hadn’t been furious, he’d have seen it from the first moment.

  This was Next Chance.

  Chapter 2

  For the next twenty minutes Tory paid little attention to her prisoner. He seemed content to stare out of the window with the coffee growing cold in
his hand. After dispatching Merle, Tory settled down to work.

  She was blessed with a sharp, practical, and stubborn mind. These traits had made her education extensive. Academically she’d excelled, but she hadn’t always endeared herself to her instructors. Why? had always been her favorite question. In addition her temperament, which ranged from placid to explosive, had made her a difficult student. Some of her associates called her a tedious annoyance—usually when they were on the opposing side. At twenty-seven Victoria L. Ashton was a very shrewd, very accomplished attorney.

  In Albuquerque she kept a small, unpretentious office in an enormous old house with bad plumbing. She shared it with an accountant, a real-estate broker, and a private investigator. For nearly five years she had lived on the third floor in two barnlike rooms while keeping her office below. It was a comfortable arrangement that Tory had had no inclination to alter even when she’d been able to afford to.

  Professionally she liked challenges and dealing with finite details. In her personal life she was more lackadaisical. No one would call her lazy, but she saw more virtue in a nap than a brisk jog. Her energies poured out in the office or courtroom—and temporarily in her position as sheriff of Friendly, New Mexico.

  She had grown up in Friendly and had been content with its yawning pace. The sense of justice she had inherited from her father had driven her to law school. Still, she had had no desire to join a swank firm on either coast, or in any big city in between. Her independence had caused her to risk starting her own practice. Fat fees were no motivation for Tory. She’d learned early how to stretch a dollar when it suited her—an ability she got from her mother. People, and the way the law could be made to work to their advantage or disadvantage, interested her.

  Now Tory settled behind her desk and continued drafting out a partnership agreement for a pair of fledgling songwriters. It wasn’t always simple to handle cases long distance, but she’d given her word. Absentmindedly she sipped her coffee. By fall she would be back in Albuquerque, filling her caseload again and trading her badge for a briefcase. In the meantime the weekend was looming. Payday. Tory smiled a little as she wrote. Friendly livened up a bit on Saturday nights. People tended to have an extra beer. And there was a poker game scheduled at Bestler’s Garage that she wasn’t supposed to know about. Tory knew when it was advantageous to look the other way. Her father would have said people need their little entertainments.

  Leaning back to study what she had written, Tory propped one booted foot on the desk and twirled a raven lock around her finger. Abruptly coming out of his reverie, Phil whirled to the door of the cell.

  “I have to make a phone call!” His tone was urgent and excited. Everything he had seen from the cell window had convinced him that fate had brought him to Friendly.

  Tory finished reading a paragraph, then looked up languidly. “You’ve had your phone call, Mr. Kincaid. Why don’t you relax? Take a tip from Dynamite there,” she suggested, wiggling her fingers toward the mound of dog. “Take a nap.”

  Phil curled his hands around the bars and shook them. “Woman, I have to use the phone. It’s important.”

  “It always is,” Tory murmured before she lowered her eyes to the paper again.

  Ready to sacrifice principle for expediency, Phil growled at her. “Look, I’ll sign the ticket. Just let me out of here.”

  “You’re welcome to sign the ticket,” she returned pleasantly, “but it won’t get you out. There’s also the charge of resisting arrest.”

  “Of all the phony, trumped-up—”

  “I could add creating a public nuisance,” she considered, then glanced over the top of her papers with a smile. He was furious. It showed in the rigid stance of his hard body, in the grim mouth and fiery eyes. Tory felt a small twinge in the nether regions of her stomach. Oh, yes, she could clearly see why his name was linked with dozens of attractive women. He was easily the most beautiful male animal she’d ever seen. It was that trace of aristocratic aloofness, she mused, coupled with the really extraordinary physique and explosive temper. He was like some sleek, undomesticated cat.

  Their eyes warred with each other for a long, silent moment. His were stony; hers were calm.

  “All right,” he muttered, “how much?”

  Tory lifted a brow. “A bribe, Kincaid?”

  He knew his quarry too well by this time. “No. How much is my fine . . . Sheriff?”

  “Two hundred and fifty dollars.” She sent her hair over her shoulder with a quick toss of her head. “Or you can post bail for five hundred.”

  Scowling at her, Phil reached for his wallet. When I get out of here, he thought dangerously, I’m going to make that tasty little morsel pay for this. A glance in his wallet found him more than a hundred dollars short of bond. Phil swore, then looked back at Tory. She still had the gently patient smile on her face. He could cheerfully strangle her. Instead he tried another tack. Charm had always brought him success with women.

  “I lost my temper before, Sheriff,” he began, sending her the slightly off-center smile for which he was known. “I apologize. I’ve been on the road for several days and your deputy got under my skin.” Tory went on smiling. “If I said anything out of line to you, it was because you just don’t fit the image of small-town peace officer.” He grinned and became boyishly appealing—Tom Sawyer caught with his hand in the sugar bowl.

  Tory lifted one long, slim leg and crossed it over the other on the desk. “A little short, are you, Kincaid?”

  Phil clenched his teeth on a furious retort. “I don’t like to carry a lot of cash on the road.”

  “Very wise,” she agreed with a nod. “But we don’t accept credit cards.”

  “Damn it, I have to get out of here!”

  Tory studied him dispassionately. “I can’t buy claustrophobia,” she said. “Not when I read you crawled into a two-foot pipe to check camera angles on Night of Desperation.”

  “It’s not—” Phil broke off. His eyes narrowed. “You know who I am?”

  “Oh, I make it to the movies a couple of times a year,” she said blithely.

  The narrowed eyes grew hard. “If this is some kind of shakedown—”

  Her throaty laughter cut him off. “Your self-importance is showing.” His expression grew so incredulous, she laughed again before she rose. “Kincaid, I don’t care who you are or what you do for a living; you’re a bad-tempered man who refused to accept the law and got obnoxious.” She sauntered over to the cell. Again he caught the hint of a subtle perfume that suited French silk more than faded denim. “I’m obliged to rehabilitate you.”

  He forgot his anger in simple appreciation of blatant beauty. “God, you’ve got a face,” he muttered. “I could work a whole damn film around that face.”

  The words surprised her. Tory was perfectly aware that she was physically attractive. She would have been a fool to think otherwise, and she’d heard men offer countless homages to her looks. This was hardly a homage. But something in his tone, in his eyes, made a tremor skip up her spine. She made no protest when he reached a hand through the bars to touch her hair. He let it fall through his fingers while his eyes stayed on hers.

  Tory felt a heat to which she had thought herself immune. It flashed through her as though she had stepped into the sun from out of a cool, dim room. It was the kind of heat that buckled your knees and made you gasp out loud in astonished wonder. She stood straight and absorbed it.

  A dangerous man, she concluded, surprised. A very dangerous man. She saw a flicker of desire in his eyes, then a flash of amusement. As she watched, his mouth curved up at the corners.

  “Baby,” he said, then grinned, “I could make you a star.”

  The purposely trite words dissolved the tension and made her laugh. “Oh, Mr. Kincaid,” she said in a breathy whisper, “can I really have a screen test?” A startled Phil could only watch as she flung herself against the bars of the cell dramatically. “I’ll wait for you, Johnny,” she said huskily as tears shimm
ered in her eyes and her soft lips trembled. “No matter how long it takes.” Reaching through the bars, she clutched at him. “I’ll write you every day,” she promised brokenly. “And dream of you every night. Oh, Johnny”—her lashes fluttered down—“kiss me good-bye!”

  Fascinated, Phil moved to oblige her, but just before his lips brushed hers, she stepped back, laughing. “How’d I do, Hollywood? Do I get the part?”

  Phil studied her in amused annoyance. It was a pity, he thought, that he hadn’t at least gotten a taste of that beautiful mouth. “A little overdone,” he stated with more asperity than truth. “But not bad for an amateur.”

  Tory chuckled and leaned companionably against the bars. “You’re just mad.”

  “Mad?” he tossed back in exasperation. “Have you ever spent any time in one of these cages?”

  “As a matter of fact I have.” She gave him an easy grin. “Under less auspicious circumstances. Relax, Kincaid, your friend will come bail you out.”

 
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