Assistant District Attorney, Lorelei Blackwell has worked hard for her position. When she takes on a case against a dangerous drug lord, she finds herself slowed down by agents from the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives. Her biggest problem is with ATF Agent, Rafe Salazar, a vain, egotistical and highly attractive man. A distraction to her independence, he has a way of undermining her usually calm demeanor.
Rafe can’t help but put his foot in his mouth every time he’s around Lorelei. Her witty sarcasm is attractive. That she is as intelligent as she is beautiful, intrigues him. But his blood-stained past threatens to hold him back from falling for her. Then his partner is killed and he suspects Lorelei may have been the intended target.
When Rafe takes Lorelei into protective custody, he finds he can’t avoid falling for her. But can he save Lorelei from an enemy they never saw coming?
Smart, sophisticated and sassy, Lorelei Blackwell eyed the documents lying on her cluttered desk. When had her life dulled? While she loved her job as an assistant district attorney, she blamed it for her lack of social relaxation. It seemed a bad day when a girl had to imagine a lover and provide her own relief to sexual frustration.
She stared at the papers ready to fall off the edge of her desk. Scooting back into the leather seat, she pushed the stack back. But the note clipped to the front of a file folder caught her attention. She leaned forward and picked it up. She didn’t recognize her sloppy handwriting anymore.
The slip of paper fluttered to the desk when someone knocked on her office door, startling her.
Her boss poked his head into the room. “Hello, Lorelei.”
“Charles, what a surprise.”
“Can you come to my office for a few minutes? There’s something I want to discuss with you.”
With her current case lagging due to the lack of evidence, Lorelei didn’t need another distraction to keep her from figuring out a new angle. But what could she do? Her boss’ position granted him the privilege of interrupting her.
“Sure, give me a few minutes.”
He nodded and disappeared from her doorway.
She picked up the note and tucked it back under the paper clip on the file folder. Then she glanced around the small, square space she called an office. It had very little room for standing—no windows, no colors and barely any furniture. Nothing to offer a person an open invitation for socializing. Filing cabinets and boxes packed every nook. When she took meetings with victims, she had to use one of the conference rooms upstairs, out of the basement.
Lorelei’s assistant, Mary strolled in carrying the file Lorelei requested. “Mr. Vaughn came to our little hole down here?”
“Surprises cease to amaze me nowadays.” Lorelei took the folder and thumbed through the sheaf of papers.
“I know what you mean. Last week I thought I lost my wallet and luckily the janitor found it in the trashcan. I must have knocked it off my desk.”
Lorelei glanced up from the documents she scanned. “What are you talking about?”
“Surprises.” Mary laughed. “It didn’t astonish me at all that he found it. That man is very thorough. And it’s not the first time I lost something that way.”
Lorelei shook her head. Mary’s babbling was all too confusing to figure out.
“This won’t help.” Lorelei frowned, handing the file back to Mary.
“It’s too incomplete. I need information from a litigation that ended successfully.”
Lorelei shuffled the scattered mess of papers together on her desk. She tucked them into a worn blue folder. For a legal action, the more dog-eared, finger-smudged and torn covering, the older the case. “File all of these.” She scooped up a stack from the desk.
“What do you think he wants?” Mary whispered, as if they weren’t alone.
“I don’t know.”
“I can’t remember the last time he came down here.”
“That’s because he hasn’t been down here before.”
“Maybe you’re finally getting the bigger office,” Mary wistfully sighed. “Oh, how I long to have windows.”
Lorelei smiled. “Some sunshine would be nice. It might make these bleak, criminal-laden days appear hopeful for our side.”
“Hopeful! Now there’s a word that is overused,” Mary scoffed. “The day we get through an hour without any violence in the Miami streets, will be the day we’re in heaven or all the villains are in hell.”
“Still, we have to be hopeful, if for no other reason than to feel a little bit safe in life.”
Lorelei watched Mary cram the blue folder in the filing cabinet, while holding the others under her arm to return upstairs.
“Well, the only way I’d feel one hundred percent protected in this city is if I had a bodyguard to keep a lookout for the bad guys.”
Lorelei stood and glanced at the work she still had on her desk.
“You better get going,” Mary coaxed. “Perhaps you’re getting an
accommodation or a promotion.”
“I can’t get any higher up the ladder unless I kick Charles Vaughn out of his office and take over as District Attorney.”
“You go, girl.” Mary leaned on the doorjamb without any clear intention of leaving. “It’s about time this city had a lady D.A.”
“Get those files back upstairs right away.” She passed Mary and left the office, anxious to find out just why Charles had come to her as opposed to phoning.
Lorelei hurried her pace. She walked along the hall to the stairs. Her shoes clicking rhythmically on the terrazzo floor sounded different from the ping her heels made on the white marble steps. Even the lobby had marble and the taps reverberated with a tune of success on the upper floors.
She stopped at Charles’ office door and knocked firmly on the thick glass. Her gaze flitted over the impressive words, District Attorney, etched in a fine script with Charles’ name below, stenciled in white.
“Come in,” Charles answered.
The room had two windows. The brightness made Lorelei squint. Mary was right. They needed a room with a window. Charles’ space clearly defined the perks to the job.
“Sit.” He motioned to a brown, tufted leather chair.
Lorelei tucked her tight, navy blue skirt under her bottom and dropped onto the seat. “If this is about the Barnes case, I still think we might be able to get the judge to allow the journal into evidence. I’m not going to give up without trying everything.”
“Yes, I know.” He nodded with an uninterested bob of his head. “That’s not what I wanted to talk to you about. Your gung-ho is what I need for another, more serious matter.”
His obvious reluctance caught Lorelei’s attention. She scooted forward to the edge of her seat, eager to hear what he had to say.
“It’s a very delicate matter and something I didn’t want to discuss outside this office.”
She tried to stay dignified, instead of drooling like a dog over a juicy steak that just landed in her path. Charles Vaughn had a tendency to keep all the high profile cases to himself. Or he handed them off to one of the boys, the male assistant district attorneys who had a way of making her feel as if she was beneath their intellectual level. But then, just as Charles, they were all over fifty. To them, she figured they saw her as a kid, a pesky little sister, the girl that spent more time on make-up and hair. Little did they know she was capable of looking gorgeous and doing her job.
Prepared to take on anything, she waited. Anytime he asked specifically for her to take a case, goose bumps tickled her arms as an excited pride swept through her.
“A man was arrested for murdering his girlfriend. Evidence is there, but we have a problem with how it was obtained. To make matters worse, there’s another ongoing investigation overlapping with a different agency.” He sat back in his chair. “It would seem our suspect, Victor Bennington, is under investigation by the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives. That means we’ll take a lot of flack about our interference.”
“And just what is the ATF’s problem with our Mr. Bennington?” Lorelei crossed her legs and eased back in the chair, ready to hear more.
“They won’t say.” He shook his gray-haired head. “You know how other agencies like to keep all information in-house.”
“What do you mean they won’t say? How ridiculous. He either deals in bootleg alcohol, untaxed tobacco or he’s a gun dealer. Or God-forbid, he plans to blow up something. Do they want us to pick which one like a pea under a walnut shell?”
“I don’t know, but I have a witness. He may be the link we need to get the judge to accept the other evidence.” He lifted a folder and she rose to take it. “You have until Monday morning to get a better case together. They were going to release Bennington, however, we got him under some...ah...misplaced files until then.”
“Who’s the witness?” She sat back down.
She smoothed her fingers over the thin, red cardstock paper, nearly worn through in spots. A new case came with a new folder. What she held had seen better days.
“That’s the tricky part, and it’s why I wanted you on this case. I need discretion—no leaks and above all, I wanted someone sharp.”
Lorelei shifted, slightly uncomfortable by the compliment. She often felt men gave them to gain ground with her. After taking a few seconds to settle into the idea he really did think she could hold her own, she smiled.
“Who’s the witness?”
“He’s an undercover ATF agent.”
“What has his agency said about this?”
“I don’t think he’s told them his plans. Seems he’s a man with a conscience. He came straight to us and offered a tape recording.”
“This Bennington is dangerous, isn’t he?”
“You can refuse the case.”
Refuse had no meaning in her vocabulary, except where dates were concerned. She spent many Saturday nights sitting home with take-out food menus, a bad movie and her folders from work.
“Now why would I want to refuse something this interesting?” She smiled.
“If I thought you would, I wouldn’t have come to you in the first place.” He fiddled with the tape dispenser on his desk as if he weren’t telling her everything.
“You said he offered a tape recording, but what about testifying?”
Charles shook his head. “He’s a bit iffy on the testifying part.”
That was the downside he had waited to give her.
“We need him to testify.” She glanced at the inside of the file.
“He says he can’t. You know how closed-mouthed other agencies are.”
“Won’t is more like it. I’ve met some of those ATF boys and they all had egos like they were God almighty himself.” She gave pause and read a gruesome bit about Victor Bennington’s murders. “But the ATF agent, he called us, right? You said you thought he had a conscience.”
“Then I’ll work on that bad, bad trait I’m sure his superiors aren’t overly thrilled about.” She grinned.
“You get full cooperation from him and this indictment will be a breeze.”
“Well it most certainly should make things easier for the judge to see our position. If we go to trial with an impeccable witness such as an ATF agent, then we’ll have it in the bag.”
“It’ll only work if you get him to that witness stand.” Charles leaned forward placing his elbows on the desk. “He says it would jeopardize their investigation and hoped we could use only the tape. That’s why I need you, Lorelei. If anyone can convince a witness to testify, it’s you.”
Her cheeks heated with another blush of gratification to have her skills voiced by her boss. Offhanded compliments were nothing compared to his reason for trusting her to get the job done.
“We can’t just use the tape. We have to show how we came into possession of such a thing and if it were obtained through legal means. The witness would have to verify this information personally and when I get through talking to him, I’ll have him begging to spill his guts.”
“Well, Lorelei, that is your job. The ATF agent’s name is Phillip Reynolds. I’ve talked to him and I can’t seem to get anywhere. It’s your case now, so I’ll leave it up to you to convince him.”
“You’re not using me because I’m a woman, are you, Charles?” She reconsidered his reasons.
“Just keep your feminist panties in place, Ms. Blackwell. Reynolds is married with three boys. He goes to church on Sundays, coaches little league for his oldest son’s team and is a model citizen. I doubt he’s interested in checking out your legs.” He cocked his head and gave a look for himself.
Lorelei pursed her lips. “All right, just as long we’re clear on that.”
“Now when did I ever ask you to take a case because you’re an attractive woman?”
“You don’t fool me. I know you have.” She shook the folder at him.
“You’re a man and if I didn’t like you so much, I would have reported you a long time ago for sexual harassment.”
“Well, Lorelei, whatever works, huh?” His teasing smile coaxed one from her.
While she believed he was as sexiest as the other men in the office, he was the one that hired her. It had to count for something.
“I suppose.” She stood and flipped open the folder again to look at a rap sheet riddled with arrests and no convictions.
At the door, she turned and looked at Charles. She tugged up the edge of her skirt. “What do you think, Charles, another couple inches for Mr. Reynolds?”
She left to the sound of him chuckling. While she had no intentions of trying to sway a witness by showing him her legs, if he glanced, she’d not hide the weapon at her disposal.
Lorelei carried the information to her office. Surprisingly, Mary had returned before her and sat typing away on the keyboard in front her computer.
“Mary, I want no interruptions for the next half hour.”
“Sure thing, but aren’t you going to tell me what Mr. Vaughn wanted?”
“It’s nothing, just a case he thought I would handle best.”
“Oh pooh, I guess I really didn’t need that window after all. I’d just get distracted,” she sighed.
“I need an appointment with Phillip Reynolds.” Lorelei read off the phone number on the file. “Get him on the line for me.”
She closed her office door, went straight for her desk and dropped into the chair behind. Mary opened the door.
“I have Mr. Reynolds on line two.” She gave her a curious look.
“ATF, huh, are you taking my advice and getting a Special Agent to protect you?”
“It’s just business.”
“Too bad, he sounds cute.”
Lorelei reached for the phone on her desk and waved Mary away.
“Hello, Special Agent Reynolds. This is Lorelei Blackwell. I’m from the District Attorney’s office and I’m calling regarding Victor Bennington.”
“Come by my office, three this afternoon and don’t be late.” He hung up before she got another word out.
“Well, he obviously knows who I am and what I want.” She put the receiver back in its cradle.
Next on her agenda was to have a one on one with their killer, Mr. Victor Bennington. She made the arrangement through his lawyer. At one o’clock, she waited in the small visitor’s room of the city jail. The place badly needed a paint job to cover over the filth on the walls. She tried to imagine how graffiti managed to appear on the old painted block. Continuing down one corridor after another, she examined the traces of coffee, food and maybe even blood interwoven with the scribbling. Prisoners allowed to roam freely concerned her each time she visited the place.
“Good morning, Ms. Blackwell.” The familiar guard smiled through the mesh security door.
“It’s afternoon, Bill.” She took the clipboard to sign in.
“Can’t tell that in the basement, there aren’t any windows. Could be night for all I know.” He unlocked another door.
“I know just what you mean.” She stepped through the opening and listened to the key turn in the lock behind her. Bill took a stance at the exit and it made her think of Mary’s sudden obsession with bodyguards.
“Mr. Thomas, I presume.” She extended her arm, offering her hand to the man alongside the table.
“Yes, and this is my client, Victor Bennington.”
She gave a nod to the man.
Brazenly, Bennington studied the length of her.
“Nice stems,” he smirked. “I bet your man loves them wrapped around him while he’s poking it to you.”
“Mr. Thomas, if your client doesn’t wish to have a conversation about his predicament, I can leave this until another time,” she commented, not batting an eye at Bennington’s crude behavior. It wouldn’t be the first time a criminal made sexual wisecracks.
“Victor is willing to cooperate, Ms. Blackwell.”
Lorelei pulled out a chair and sat down. She hated talking to the scum of the earth. Somehow, it made her feel dirty being near Bennington. Unfortunately, it came with the job.