The law is a lady, p.4
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       The Law is a Lady, p.4

           Nora Roberts
 
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  the way her hair settled lazily over her breasts. A man would be crazy to tangle with that lady, he told himself. Phillip Kincaid was perfectly sane.

  “And what is Victoria L. Ashton doing wearing a badge in Friendly, New Mexico?”

  She gazed past him for a moment with an odd look in her eyes. “Fulfilling an obligation,” she said softly.

  “You don’t fit the part.” Phil contemplated her over another swig from the bottle. “I’m an expert on who fits and who doesn’t.”

  “Why not?” Lifting her knee, Tory laced her fingers around it.

  “Your hands are too soft.” Thoughtfully, Phil cut another bite of steak. “Not as soft as I expected when I saw that face, but too soft. You don’t pamper them, but you don’t work with them either.”

  “A sheriff doesn’t work with her hands,” Tory pointed out.

  “A sheriff doesn’t wear perfume that costs a hundred and fifty an ounce that was designed to drive men wild either.”

  Both brows shot up. Her full bottom lip pushed forward in thought. “Is that what it was designed for?”

  “A sheriff,” he went on, “doesn’t usually look like she just walked off the cover of Harper’s Bazaar, treat her deputy like he was her kid brother, or pay some boy’s fine out of her own pocket.”

  “My, my,” Tory said slowly, “you are observant.” He shrugged, continuing with his meal. “Well, then, what part would you cast me in?”

  “I had several in mind the minute I saw you.” Phil shook his head as he finished off his steak. “Now I’m not so sure. You’re no fragile desert blossom.” When her smile widened, he went on. “You could be if you wanted to, but you don’t. You’re no glossy sophisticate either. But that’s a choice too.” Taking the pie, he rose to join her on the bunk. “You know, there are a number of people out in this strange world who would love to have me as a captive audience while they recited their life’s story.”

  “At least three of four,” Tory agreed dryly.

  “You’re rough on my ego, Sheriff.” He tasted the pie, approved, then offered her the next bite. Tory opened her mouth, allowing herself to be fed. It was tangy, spicy, and still warm.

  “What do you want to know?” she asked, then swallowed.

  “Why you’re tossing men in jail instead of breaking their hearts.”

  Her laugh was full of appreciation as she leaned her head back against the wall. Still, she wavered a moment. It had been so long, she mused, since she’d been able just to talk to someone—to a man. He was interesting and, she thought, at the moment harmless.

  “I grew up here,” she said simply.

  “But you didn’t stay.” When she sent him a quizzical look, he fed her another bite of pie. It occurred to him that it had been a long time since he’d been with a woman who didn’t want or even expect anything from him. “You’ve got too much polish, Victoria,” he said, finding her name flowed well on his tongue. “You didn’t acquire it in Friendly.”

  “Harvard,” she told him, rounding her tones. “Law.”

  “Ah.” Phil sent her an approving nod. “That fits. I can see you with a leather briefcase and a pin-striped suit. Why aren’t you practicing?”

  “I am. I have an office in Albuquerque.” Her brows drew together. “A pin-striped suit?”

  “Gray, very discreet. How can you practice law in Albuquerque and uphold it in Friendly?” He pushed the hair from her shoulder in a casual gesture that neither of them noticed.

  “I’m not taking any new cases for a while, so my workload’s fairly light.” She shrugged it off. “I handle what I can on paper and make a quick trip back when I have to.”

  “Are you a good lawyer?”

  Tory grinned. “I’m a terrific lawyer, Kincaid, but I can’t represent you—unethical.”

  He shoved another bite of pie at her. “So what are you doing back in Friendly?”

  “You really are nosy, aren’t you?”

  “Yes.”

  She laughed. “My father was sheriff here for years and years.” A sadness flickered briefly into her eyes and was controlled. “I suppose in his own quiet way he held the town together—such as it is. When he died, nobody knew just what to do. It sounds strange, but in a town this size, one person can make quite a difference, and he was . . . a special kind of man.”

  The wound hasn’t healed yet, he thought, watching her steadily. He wondered, but didn’t ask, how long ago her father had died.

  “Anyway, the mayor asked me to fill in until things settled down again, and since I had to stay around to straighten a few things out anyway, I agreed. Nobody wanted the job except Merle, and he’s . . .” She gave a quick, warm laugh. “Well, he’s not ready. I know the law, I know the town. In a few months they’ll hold an election. My name won’t be on the ballot.” She shot him a look. “Did I satisfy your curiosity?”

  Under the harsh overhead lights, her skin was flawless, her eyes sharply green. Phil found himself reaching for her hair again. “No,” he murmured. Though his eyes never left hers, Tory felt as though he looked at all of her—slowly and with great care. Quite unexpectedly her mouth went dry. She rose.

  “It should have,” she said lightly as she began to pack up the dirty dishes. “Next time we have dinner, I’ll expect your life story.” When she felt his hand on her arm, she stopped. Tory glanced down at the fingers curled around her arm, then slowly lifted her eyes to his. “Kincaid,” she said softly, “you’re in enough trouble.”

  “I’m already in jail,” he pointed out as he turned her to face him.

  “The term of your stay can easily be lengthened.”

  Knowing he should resist and that he couldn’t, Phil drew her into his arms. “How much time can I get for making love to the sheriff?”

  “What you’re going to get is a broken rib if you don’t let me go.” Miscalculation, her mind stated bluntly. This man is never harmless. On the tail of that came the thought of how wonderful it felt to be held against him. His mouth was very close and very tempting. And it simply wasn’t possible to forget their positions.

  “Tory,” he murmured. “I like the way that sounds.” Running his fingers up her spine, he caught them in her hair. With her pressed tight against him, he could feel her faint quiver of response. “I think I’m going to have to have you.”

  A struggle wasn’t going to work, she decided, any more than threats. As her own blood began to heat, Tory knew she had to act quickly. Tilting her head back slightly, she lifted a disdainful brow. “Hasn’t a woman ever turned you down before, Kincaid?”

  She saw his eyes flash in anger, felt the fingers in her hair tighten. Tory forced herself to remain still and relaxed. Excitement shivered through her, and resolutely she ignored it. His thighs were pressed hard against hers; the arms wrapped around her waist were tense with muscle. The firm male feel of him appealed to her, while the temper in his eyes warned her not to miscalculate again. They remained close for one long throbbing moment.

  Phil’s fingers relaxed before he stepped back to measure her. “There’ll be another time,” he said quietly. “Another place.”

  With apparent calm, Tory began gathering the dishes again. Her heart was thudding at the base of her throat. “You’ll get the same answer.”

  “The hell I will.”

  Annoyed, she turned to see him watching her. With his hands in his pockets he rocked back gently on his heels. His eyes belied the casual stance. “Stick with your bubbleheaded blondes,” she advised coolly. “They photograph so well, clinging to your arm.”

  She was angry, he realized suddenly, and much more moved by him than she had pretended. Seeing his advantage, Phil approached her again. “You ever take off that badge, Sheriff?”

  Tory kept her eyes level. “Occasionally.”

  Phil lowered his gaze, letting it linger on the small star. “When?”

  Sensing that she was being outmaneuvered, Tory answered cautiously. “That’s irrelevant.”

  When he lifte
d his eyes back to hers, he was smiling. “It won’t be.” He touched a finger to her full bottom lip. “I’m going to spend a lot of time tasting that beautiful mouth of yours.”

  Disturbed, Tory stepped back. “I’m afraid you won’t have the opportunity or the time.”

  “I’m going to find the opportunity and the time to make love with you several times”—he sent her a mocking grin—“Sheriff.”

  As he had anticipated, her eyes lit with fury. “You conceited fool,” she said in a low voice. “You really think you’re irresistible.”

  “Sure I do.” He continued to grin maddeningly. “Don’t you?”

  “I think you’re a spoiled, egotistical ass.”

  His temper rose, but Phil controlled it. If he lost it, he’d lose his advantage. He stepped closer, keeping a bland smile on his face. “Do you? Is that a legal opinion or a personal one?”

  Tory tossed back her head, fuming. “My personal opinion is—”

  He cut her off with a hard, bruising kiss.

  Taken completely by surprise, Tory didn’t struggle. By the time she had gathered her wits, she was too involved to attempt it. His mouth seduced hers expertly, parting her lips so that he could explore deeply and at his leisure. She responded out of pure pleasure. His mouth was hard, then soft—gentle, then demanding. He took her on a brisk roller coaster of sensation. Before she could recover from the first breathtaking plunge, they were climbing again. She held on to him, waiting for the next burst of speed.

  He took his tongue lightly over hers, then withdrew it, tempting her to follow. Recklessly, she did, learning the secrets and dark tastes of his mouth. For a moment he allowed her to take the lead; then, cupping the back of her head in his hand, he crushed her lips with one last driving force. He wanted her weak and limp and totally conquered.

  When he released her, Tory stood perfectly still, trying to remember what had happened. The confusion in her eyes gave him enormous pleasure. “I plead guilty, Your Honor,” he drawled as he dropped back onto the bunk. “And it was worth it.”

  Hot, raging fury replaced every other emotion. Storming over to him, she grabbed him by the shirt front. Phil didn’t resist, but grinned.

  “Police brutality,” he reminded her. She cursed him fluently, and with such effortless style, he was unable to conceal his admiration. “Did you learn that at Harvard?” he asked when she paused for breath.

  Tory released him with a jerk and whirled to scoop up the hamper. The cell door shut behind her with a furious clang. Without pausing, she stormed out of the office.

  Still grinning, Phil lay back on the bunk and pulled out a cigarette. She’d won round one, he told himself. But he’d taken round two. Blowing out a lazy stream of smoke, he began to speculate on the rematch.

  Chapter 3

  When the alarm shrilled, Tory knocked it off the small table impatiently. It clattered to the floor and continued to shrill. She buried her head under the pillow. She wasn’t at her best in the morning. The noisy alarm vibrated against the floor until she reached down in disgust and slammed it off. After a good night’s sleep she was inclined to be cranky. After a poor one she was dangerous.

  Most of the past night had been spent tossing and turning. The scene with Phil had infuriated her, not only because he had won, but because she had fully enjoyed that one moment of mindless pleasure. Rolling onto her back, Tory kept the pillow over her face to block out the sunlight. The worst part was, she mused, he was going to get away with it. She couldn’t in all conscience use the law to punish him for something that had been strictly personal. It had been her own fault for lowering her guard and inviting the consequences. And she had enjoyed talking with him, sparring with someone quick with words. She missed matching wits with a man.

  But that was no excuse, she reminded herself. He’d made her forget her duty . . . and he’d enjoyed it. Disgusted, Tory tossed the pillow aside, then winced at the brilliant sunlight. She’d learned how to evade an advance as a teenager. What had caused her to slip up this time? She didn’t want to dwell on it. Grumpily she dragged herself from the cot and prepared to dress.

  ***

  Every muscle in his body ached. Phil stretched out his legs to their full length and gave a low groan. He was willing to swear Tory had put the lumps in the mattress for his benefit. Cautiously opening one eye, he stared at the man in the next cell. The man slept on, as he had from the moment Tory had dumped him on the bunk the night before. He snored outrageously. When she had dragged him in, Phil had been amused. The man was twice her weight and had been blissfully drunk. He’d called her “good old Tory,” and she had cursed him halfheartedly as she had maneuvered him into the cell. Thirty minutes after hearing the steady snoring, Phil had lost his sense of humor.

  She hadn’t spoken a word to him. With a detached interest Phil had watched her struggle with the drunk. It had pleased him to observe that she was still fuming. She’d been in and out of the office several times before midnight, then had locked up in the same frigid silence. He’d enjoyed that, but then had made a fatal error: When she had gone into the back room to bed, he had tortured himself by watching her shadow play on the wall as she had undressed. That, combined with an impossible mattress and a snoring drunk-and-disorderly, had led to an uneasy night. He hadn’t awakened in the best of moods.

  Sitting up with a wince, he glared at the unconscious man in the next cell. His wide, flushed face was cherubic, ringed with a curling blond circle of hair. Ruefully, Phil rubbed a hand over his own chin and felt the rough stubble. A fastidious man, he was annoyed at not having a razor, a hot shower, or a fresh set of clothes. Rising, he determined to gain access to all three immediately.

  “Tory!” His voice was curt, one of a man accustomed to being listened to. He received no response. “Damn it, Tory, get out here!” He rattled the bars, wishing belligerently that he’d kept the tin cup. He could have made enough noise with it to wake even the stuporous man in the next cell. “Tory, get out of that bed and come here.” He swore, promising himself he’d never allow anyone to lock him in anything again. “When I get out . . .” he began.

  Tory came shuffling in, carrying a pot of water. “Button up, Kincaid.”

  “You listen to me,” he retorted. “I want a shower and a razor and my clothes. And if—”

  “If you don’t shut up until I’ve had my coffee, you’re going to take your shower where you stand.” She lifted the pot of water meaningfully. “You can get cleaned up as soon as Merle gets in.” She went to the coffeepot and began to clatter.

  “You’re an arrogant wretch when you’ve got a man caged,” he said darkly.

  “I’m an arrogant wretch anyway. Do yourself a favor, Kincaid, don’t start a fight until I’ve had two cups. I’m not a nice person in the morning.”

  “I’m warning you.” His voice was as low and dangerous as his mood. “You’re going to regret locking me in here.”

  Turning, she looked at him for the first time that morning. His clothes and hair were disheveled. The clean lines of his aristocratic face were shadowed by the night’s growth of beard. Fury was in his stance and in the cool water-blue of his eyes. He looked outrageously attractive.

  “I think I’m going to regret letting you out,” she muttered before she turned back to the coffee. “Do you want some of this, or are you just going to throw it at me?”

  The idea was tempting, but so was the scent of the coffee. “Black,” he reminded her shortly.

  Tory drained half a cup, ignoring her scalded tongue before she went to Phil. “What do you want for breakfast?” she asked as she passed the cup through the bars.

  He scowled at her. “A shower, and a sledgehammer for your friend over there.”

  Tory cast an eye in the next cell. “Silas’ll wake up in an hour, fresh as a daisy.” She swallowed more coffee. “Keep you up?”

  “Him and the feather bed you provided.”

  She shrugged. “Crime doesn’t pay.”

  “I’m go
ing to strangle you when I get out of here,” he promised over the rim of his cup. “Slowly and with great pleasure.”

  “That isn’t the way to get your shower.” She turned as the door opened and Tod came in. He stood hesitantly at the door, jamming his hands in his pockets. “Good morning.” She smiled and beckoned him in. “You’re early.”

  “You didn’t say what time.” He came warily, shifting his eyes from Phil to Silas and back to Phil again. “You got prisoners.”

  “Yes, I do.” Catching her tongue between her teeth, she jerked a thumb at Phil. “This one’s a nasty character.”

  “What’s he in for?”

  “Insufferable arrogance.”

  “He didn’t kill anybody, did he?”

  “Not yet,” Phil muttered, then added, unable to resist the eager gleam in the boy’s eyes, “I was framed.”

  “They all say that, don’t they, Sheriff?”

  “Absolutely.” She lifted a hand to ruffle the boy’s hair. Startled, he jerked and stared at her. Ignoring his reaction, she left her hand on his shoulder. “Well, I’ll put you to work, then. There’s a broom in the back room. You can start sweeping up. Have you had breakfast?”

  “No, but—”

 
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