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Slow Burn

Lost and Found Columbus

Brody Bennet’s brother Ethan was killed in prison. In a random coincidence, the daughter of the man that sent Ethan to prison is sitting across from him in a meeting.

Brody is faced with a decision. 

He never got the chance to get retribution against the lawyer who sent his brother to his death.

But…

Maybe he can get retribution against the daughter. 

Brody puts his plan into motion, but gets tangled in his own web, drawn to Calie more than any other woman, ever.

Will he be able to go through with his retribution plans? Or can he let vengeance go for a chance at love?

 
 
 

If he broke her neck, it would probably cost him his job.

Brody was so very tempted, though.

If he could figure out how to do it without anyone knowing about it...

In his right mind, he knew he wouldn’t literally kill the stunningly beautiful woman sitting across from him, but he wanted to do something. The shock had finally worn off and he could think again. Though he should pay attention to what was going on around him, his concentration had splintered. And not because of his insomnia-addled brain.

The woman, the lawyer, took his complete focus.

He had to do something. His pride and sense of justice demanded it. Had she recognized him? Probably not. The ball cap kept his face shadowed, and he doubted she would recognize him even if it wasn’t on his head. The court case had been many years ago.

That old hurt, that old grinding frustration at not being able to do anything to change the course of events surged through him again, fresh after all these years. There had to be something he could do. His mind worked, weighing out the pros and cons of every course of action that occurred to him.

There had to be a way to get back at them.

Brody stared at the woman, his anger surging again at the relaxed way she sat in the office chair, her long, white blond hair draped casually over her left shoulder. Her hair was not as business-like as the rest of her. It was a mass of long curls, and he wondered how long it had taken her to do it. Maybe she had a glam team, like he’d seen on one of those reality TV shows. Anytime she had a big meeting, she hired them to come in and glam her up, presenting a more put together appearance. Dark pink lipstick shaded her lips, and her eyes — the brightest, clearest, sapphire blue he’d ever seen — were highlighted and shadowed. She seemed the type to hire and demand service.

For a moment, his mind faltered on demanding service, and he pulled his gaze away from her plump lips to look at the table. Blood surged south, and he hated that his body was reacting to her. She was a beautiful woman, and he was a healthy, red-blooded male. Of course, he recognized her allure. He also knew she was out of his class. And surely poison.

While he was fighting to keep his family together, she was cavorting her way through Europe, attending private boarding schools and living her life to the fullest, never worrying about money. That had been the kind of family she’d been born into. Calanthe’s father was a lawyer, her mother a former pageant winner and small business owner. Calanthe had never had to do without anything in her life. She had been born with a silver spoon in her mouth.

The people around the table broke into laughter and he focused enough to catch the gist of what they were laughing about. Buckeye Brigade, really?

Without thinking about it, his attention drifted back to her, and he got caught in her gaze. She was looking right at him, her eyes slightly narrowed and considering. The hat, he was sure, hid a lot of his face, but he wondered if there was any way she would recognize him. It had been so long ago, and he didn’t think she’d ever actually been in the courtroom for the case — she’d been too young — but there was always a slight chance she could recognize him from one of the newspaper clippings or something.

Then her gaze snapped away, and she smiled at someone. Damn, she was beautiful. A lot of money had been spent on those perfect teeth, he bet, but it had been money well-spent. Calanthe Kemp had the look of a beauty queen, with her toothpaste smile, her porcelain skin and her sleek business outfit.

And it pissed him off because it aroused him.

Brody drew a deep breath into his lungs, held it, then let it go, trying to relax his muscles as he did. He’d grown incredibly tense looking at the woman across from him, and it wasn’t good. If he’d been in Columbus, he’d head to the gym to work her out of his system, but he didn’t really have the option here. He could probably go work out in the LNF lounge, but that seemed presumptuous since he didn’t even technically work for the company yet. Parker had hired him as a contractor for jobs here and there, and he’d promised him a spot on the payroll if he wanted it, but this mess with the home office had to be completed first.

Parker had asked him if he’d wanted to fly out with them because Brody had mentioned he had an investment out here, run by his good buddy from the Marines. And he’d accepted the offer. He glanced at the watch on his wrist. In a few hours he could run out to the place Luke had built, Olive or whatever the name was, and see what he had going on. Supposedly, according to Luke, it was the hottest scene in Denver at the moment. Luke had been known to exaggerate, though.

The sooner he could get out of here and get away from the woman across from him, the better off he’d be. Catching a criminal case for homicide was not his idea of a fun time.

He needed a fucking drink. And sleep. God, when had he last slept?

The meeting eventually broke up, but the guys were still yammering. Since he wasn’t a direct part of the group, he pushed his chair out and left the room. He felt a burning between his shoulder blades and somehow, he knew she was watching him leave.

* * *

Calanthe’s attention was on the big bruiser as he left the boardroom. She was not sorry to see him go. The entire time she’d been going over the contract with Parker, the big guy had literally glared at her. Only years of dealing with her father had kept her expression calm and collected. Inside, though, she was a mass of nerves.

Why had he stared at her like that? What had she done to him? It wasn’t an ‘oh, baby, I want to fuck you’ look. She got those all the time. This was a ‘I want to string you up by your guts and watch you bleed to death’ kind of look. It had been extremely off-putting. So much so that she’d been a little off her game. Duncan had to lean over to draw her attention twice, which was so out of character for her. Had he looked at her that way because she was female? Or because she was a lawyer?

The guy had confused her, though, too. One moment he’d been mentally bleeding her dry, and the next she thought the feel of the look had changed, like he was kind of interested in her. She knew for a fact that he had been staring at her lips at one point.

At first, when he’d walked in behind Parker, a flare of interest had warmed her. Parker was big, but this guy was big as well, his bare arms heavily muscled. He wore a casual blue sweatshirt with the sleeves ripped off, exposing those thick arms and the intricate map of veins and arteries just beneath his tan skin.

Something about the man appealed to her, but he wasn’t the country club type, that was for sure. She doubted he’d ever been to any kind of country club, she thought with a slight laugh. But maybe that was the appeal. The men she normally socialized with were refined, well-bred and boring as hell. The LNF guys were a nice change of pace. And the LNF office was... homey, in a way. Or maybe the people just made it feel like that. Shannon, Duncan, John, Chad... She liked them all, though she wasn’t sure they knew what to do with her. They went out of their way to cater to what they thought were her expensive tastes, but she was much happier being treated like one of the gang. The work she did was nothing special, but they welcomed her into their space like she was an old friend. It was odd, but sweet. She enjoyed coming here.

The men were laughing as Shannon gathered the papers. Once they were collected, she straightened them and handed them to Calanthe, who put them in her case. “Thank you. As soon as I get these filed, I’ll have copies couriered over for all parties.”

“Thank you, Calanthe,” Duncan said, taking her hand in a goodbye.

Parker shook her hand as well, then turned back to the men. Calanthe shouldn’t have felt dismissed, but she kind of did.

So, when she left the boardroom and headed toward the reception area down the long hallway, her gaze was immediately drawn to the glowering man’s gigantic form, sprawled in a chair with his muscular legs spread. Her steps almost faltered at the extremely masculine pose, but decorum would not allow her to flounder. She walked straight toward the man, conscious that he was staring at her, his face shadowed by the hat bill. Did she say something to him? Maybe invite him out for a drink or something and try to get to the bottom of his animosity? 

“Why were you glaring at me in there?” she asked before she could think better of it.

The man lifted his head enough that she could see his eyes. They were a cold, iron gray, and almost appeared dead, they were so flat. His face was lean and a little asymmetrical, his nose appearing to have been broken several times and not set straight. Lean cheeks over a broad jaw, shaded with a short reddish-brown beard. The sweatshirt he wore was unzipped down his chest, showing a puff of auburn hair. The man hadn’t even bothered to dress before this critical meeting that would affect their business. But who was she to criticize?

His lips curled into a cruel smirk. “What? Not used to people who don’t kiss your ass, Princess?”

Calanthe gasped, her mouth dropping open in shock.

“You know…” the man said, shifting effortlessly to his feet to stand before her.

Fear shot through her gut as the big man drew close and leaned into her personal space, trying to intimidate her, but she forced herself to stand still, unmoving. The scent of something spicy hit her, like the scent of a crisp winter morning. This must be how the deer felt as it was stalked by the wolf. Her skin prickled as he leaned close enough that wintry crispness held her tight. “Maybe I didn’t pay you enough attention. You’re not bad to look at and on your knees you all look the same, anyway.”

Calanthe gasped at the crude insinuation, even as a little thrill of something exciting swirled through her. But she didn’t allow it to take root. Instead, she closed her mouth and raised her chin, staring him down, letting him know how low-class she thought he was.

“If you’d like to slip into the back,” he continued, silky voice low, “I’m sure we can find an empty office or something.”

Her cheeks heated at the invitation, but she forced herself to maintain her poise, though her knees were quivering. “You obviously enjoy socializing with a different type of woman than I am. I’m going to pass.”

Deliberately, she took a step back from his looming presence and turned away, breath held as she waited for him to grab her arm or something, but he didn’t do that. Calanthe walked to the elevator with her head high, her shoulders back, and her hands folded in front of her over her leather portfolio. Punching the button to call the elevator, she prayed it was nearby. And it was. She climbed on, then turned to press the seventh floor button. Almost against her will, she glanced at the man.

There was a smug smile curling his lips, and one of his hands rested suggestively over his crotch. “If you change your mind...”

Giving in to the urge to hide, she shifted to the right and punched the button for the doors to close, concealing him from her view. As soon as those hard gray eyes were gone, she relaxed, her heart pounding in her chest. What the hell... She’d never been propositioned like that before so suddenly, and she didn’t understand it. She also didn’t understand why she felt a little thrilled by the encounter.

“You lead a completely boring life, Calanthe Kemp,” she said to herself as the doors opened.

“What was that?” Aspen, her office manager, asked, laughing. “Are you talking to yourself again, Calie?”

Calanthe snorted. “I am, and you caught me.” She stopped at the elevated desk and retrieved the signed document. “We need to get these filed and copied and returned to the LNF group by this afternoon.”

Aspen took the sheaf of papers. “No problem. Is this what you were muttering about?”

Calanthe blinked and wondered if she dare confide in the other woman. Aspen had never given her reason to think she was untrustworthy, or anything, but it had been a long time since she’d allowed herself to be vulnerable with anyone. “Just an odd encounter downstairs.”

“Oh, did you see the hunky guys coming in earlier? I mean, they’re all handsome, but it seemed like there were extras today,” she laughed.

Calanthe forced a smile. Yes, she had seen them coming in after lunch. She didn’t remember seeing the antagonistic one in the hat and cut off sweatshirt, though. Maybe he’d already been inside.

Her office was three floors above the Lost and Found Investigative Services offices. It wasn’t the top floor of the building, but it was close enough for her needs. Corporate law didn’t require her to be downtown as much as if she’d gone with criminal law, requiring her to talk to inmates face to face when they went to court. Her father would tell her that corporate law was for pussies, but it was what she preferred. No crazy drama, no crazy clients. Well, she had her share of crazy clients, but she could deal with them. He had started out in the prosecutor’s office and worked his way up to lead prosecutor over about ten years, so he had a different perspective on crazy.

After he’d left the prosecutor’s office and gone private, her father had become the crazy one. He’d become even more of a tyrant, ruling his kingdom with an iron fist. A therapist had explained to her that he was a classic narcissist.

When she’d broken off from her father’s firm and gone in a different direction, he’d been apoplectic with fury. It had truly been something to see. Her father angry was a normal occurrence, but that time had been different. Mostly he’d tolerated her little disobediences, but not that time. The fury had been… apocalyptic. And he hadn’t spoken to her for a year. Then, one day out of the blue, he’d called her up to tell her he’d referred a client to her, and they were on their way to her office.

As soon as she’d veered off, her younger brother Chance had taken the spotlight, slipping into her old office like it had always been his. Calanthe didn’t mind. They were completely different people, and she admired the drive Chance had for criminal law. She assumed that in a few years he would represent high-profile clients, just like her father.

The intercom on her desk beeped. “Ms. Kemp, your three-thirty is here.”

“Thank you, Aspen. Bring him back.”

Calanthe let the strange incident with the man downstairs go. She had work to do.