“Please don’t look in my office,” Cassandra Finnegan whispered as she tried to balance the heavy case files she’d brought home last night. She was late for work. Again!
“Please be too busy to look in my office!” Cassy prayed under her breath as she hurried down the long hallway, ignoring the pinch in her shoes and the tight band around her waist since she’d accidentally pulled on the suit that she’d banished to the back of her closet after she’d gained too much weight to comfortably wear it. Unfortunately, she hadn’t gotten her other suits to the drycleaners over the past two weeks, so this suit was all that was clean.
Juggling several files, her computer, a gym bag, and the extra-large tote bag that served as her purse, she hurried through the maze of hallways to her tiny office, keeping her eyes forward so she didn’t have to acknowledge those already at their desks, heads down and working diligently. She wasn’t extremely late. But even five minutes after the stroke of eight o’clock in the morning would cause her boss to issue a demoralizing reprimand. Usually, those admonishments happened in front of her co-workers, which made the scolding ten times worse.
It didn’t matter that that Cassy was late because she’d only gotten two hours of sleep last night. It didn’t matter that she’d e-mailed a very important brief to her boss at four o’clock this morning, a brief that had been dumped on her desk yesterday after five o’clock. After finishing that assignment, Cassy had leaned back in her uncomfortable kitchen chair to rest her eyes “just for a moment” before heading to bed – which caused her to fall asleep in said chair. And since she’d fallen asleep in the kitchen, she hadn’t heard her alarm go off in her bedroom at six o’clock this morning.
Hence, why she was late.
Unfortunately, the fact that she’d worked twenty-one hours the day before had little bearing on the fact that she was fifteen minutes late today.
“Ms. Finnegan,” a condescending and clearly irritated male voice barked barely a fraction of a second after she’d entered her office. Thankfully, Cassy had already put both of her cumbersome bags down and turned around, still clutching the file folders.
“Mr. Hanover!” she exclaimed as if she were eager to see the man. She took the top file folder off of her stack. “The Osaka briefing is right here, although I also e-mailed it to you last night.” He opened his mouth to say something, but Cassy didn’t give him a chance. “The argument I compiled is powerful and I’ve found several cases to back up the defense.” He glanced down at the file, his mouth still open, but Cassy wasn’t going to take the tardiness reprimand! Instead of waiting for him to speak, she handed him the next file, explaining rapidly. “I won the Simms case yesterday, but I wrote a follow up summary with all the issues we confronted during the trial, as well as a list of problems we might want to e-mail our clients in similar situations. The problems this defendant faced during court will come up again in several of the cases we are working right now. I’ve summarized the problems and how I solved them, then e-mailed them to each of the lawyers, as well as copying you so you’re fully up to date.”
She handed him the last file, which was the biggest, and continued, “This was the most interesting case and I cited several problems with the treaty. And let me say thank you so much for letting me review it. International law is the area I’d like to specialize in.”
Ian Hanover was obviously flustered as he accepted the case files, trying to balance each of them as Cassy handed them over while still listening to her explanations. “Ms. Finnegan!” he finally interrupted. It only worked because Cassy was finished.
“Yes?” she asked, proud of the work she’d done during the previous twenty-four hours, despite her current exhaustion. Those briefs weren’t written by a bimbo. She’d worked long hours and done a huge amount of tedious, exhaustive research. Everything was summarized with exemplary writing and she hadn’t relaxed until each bullet point was succinct and powerful. No superfluous wording in her briefs. Everything was straight to the point. Just like her.
Cassy might struggle with timeliness, especially when she had to work until the wee hours of the morning, but she was a darn good lawyer!
With a sigh, Mr. Hanover waved the files in his hands to interrupt her. “You are needed in conference room six,” he said, tucking the files under his arm and frowning at her, his voice lowering in an attempt to convey the relevance of this news. “This is a very important client. As such, you will stay with the members of this meeting for the whole day, advising them on any international issues that come up. Darren Meyers will also be in the room. He has more experience, but these are,” he paused to close her office door and dropped his voice to continue, “extremely sensitive meetings. I must remind you of the non-disclosure agreement you signed when you joined this firm, as well as your absolute adherence to the lawyer-client privilege. Nothing, and I mean nothing, can be discussed outside of that conference room. Any conversations you have with the participants of that room must remain confidential as well. All information concerning these meetings will be kept in a secure location, known only to the participants of that room and this law office. Do I make myself clear?”
Cassy straightened, feeling excitement bubble up inside her. This was her break! This was her chance to show the world she was worthy of respect. “Yes sir,” she replied. She self-consciously tugged her black suit jacket down.
Mr. Hanover peered at her through his thick glasses for a moment before accepting her assurance. “Good. Then get in there. The participants should be arriving shortly. The conference room is ready for you.”
Cassy grabbed a new pad of legal paper and several pens, and hurried down the hallway. She slipped through the door and nodded to the other lawyers that were milling about. Darren, one of the other lawyers working his way through the sometimes confusing maze towards a coveted partnership with the firm, was already there. As usual, his smug, entitled expression was present as he watched her walk through the conference room doors, his red suspenders and blue striped shirt showing off his pretentious and self-important nature.
“Hello there, beautiful,” he greeted Cassy, using that smarmy smile that he clearly thought was charming. “How about drinks after this shindig? It sounds like we’re going to need something to stimulate our minds.”
Cassy walked over to one of the chairs and set her notepad and pens down before turning to Darren. “Thank you, but I have plans.”
Darren followed her, standing too close and trying to tower over her. Unfortunately for him, Darren stood only a few inches taller than her five foot, six inch height. When she wore heels, Cassy topped him by an inch and she knew that he hated that. So Cassy turned and stared down her nose at him, ensuring that the jerk knew that she wasn’t going to play his games today. Well, she never played his games. He was the kind of guy that needed to intimidate women to feel powerful and it was annoying.
“Ditch him,” Darren argued immediately. “I’m a much more generous lover.” He skimmed his fingers down her arm.
Cassy cringed, pulling back with disgust that she could barely keep from her expression. “No thanks.”
Before Darren could rally, there was a commotion at one of the doorways and Cassy breathed a sigh of relief. Now that they were no longer alone, Darren wouldn’t make any other skeevy comments or gestures. He was sleazy and impossibly forward, but this was a conservative, powerful firm with a large number of powerful, male lawyers.
Turning to face the newcomers, she pasted on a professional smile. She was glad she was standing by one of the tall leather chairs surrounding the conference room table because the man who walked in was possibly the most astonishing man she’d ever seen. He was impossibly tall. But more than that, he was…wow, there really were no words. “Harsh” popped into her mind. Yes, harsh and erotic.
Was that even possible? Her brain fizzled as she gripped the back of the chair, trying to stop herself from tipping over. She’d seen handsome men before. Darren was considered attractive physically. It was his personality that Cassy found repulsive. But this stranger, this giant specimen of masculinity was not normal. There was something so…raw about him. Raw and…harsh, she thought again.
His face was angular with a hawk-like nose and black hair. His eyes appeared to be black, but that might have just been the lighting. He was also impressively tan and had unbelievably broad shoulders. Everything about him screamed “power”. Harsh power, she thought. Ferocious power!
He shook hands with the senior partners and began discussing something quietly so Cassy had several minutes to get herself under control. Breathe, she reminded herself silently. Just breathe.
In that same moment, he turned and looked right at her. Those eyes! His dark gaze grabbed her, held her hostage in an almost sensuous way. She couldn’t move, couldn’t look away. Everything faded to a hazy blur except for this man.
He came closer. With every step, she felt her heart pounding harder, crashing against her ribs. Surely, the whole room could hear her heart pounding!
He walked like a panther stalking his pray, moving closer while holding her gaze. By the time he reached her, she was trembling. And instead of a steady, pounding heart, she felt it racing.
Gone was the sophisticated, hard-driving lawyer. Cassandra had worked so hard over the years to portray, and live up to that image. But with only a few steps into the room, this man, this ferocious beast, had demolished that image, replacing it with…something else. Something softer. She didn’t like it!
“This is Ms. Cassandra Finnegan. She and Mr. Meyers will be sitting in to advise on issues and to answer any questions,” the lead partner explained.
Mr. Ferocious shook Darren’s hand first and Cassy breathed a sigh of relief. He and Darren exchanged a few words, but Cassy knew what would happen next and braced herself as he turned those dark eyes on her. Darren bowed slightly.
“Ms. Finnegan,” he said, her name a soft caress as he reached for her hand.
Cassy extended her hand, praying that he wouldn’t notice the trembling. Unfortunately, the moment their skin touched, she felt an electric shock run up her arm. She tried to hide her reaction, but those eyes caught her surprised expression, as well as the slight jerk at his touch. His hand holding hers captive wasn’t warm, it was hot! And it held hers firmly, his other hand coming to cover her fingers. Cassy felt trapped, but in a way that she didn’t want to escape. While the rational part of her mind told her to step back, another part, the part of her that was inexplicably fascinated by him, wanted to step closer.
Thankfully, a noise from the other entrance startled her enough to break the spell and she pulled her hand away. Turning around, she gripped the back of the chair, not sure why she felt so dizzy. She worked with men all day long, worked out at the gym with men, and swarmed the subway system with men all the time. Why was this man, who was now standing so close behind her that she could feel the heat from his body against her back even through the thick layers of her wool suit, further crumbling her defenses? What kind of magic did he have?
The senior partner stepped up and made the introductions to the newcomers. Darren, always the opportunist, introduced himself, sticking his hand out quickly to be the first. “It is an honor, Your Highness,” he said, bowing again.
‘Your Highness’? Cassy tried to step away, needing to process, but the heat of Mr. Ferocious ensnared her. She realized that she’d just backed up into him and tried to step away, only he put a hand to her shoulder, pulling her back. The trembling that had begun the moment he’d stepped into the conference room increased, leaving her fighting to breathe. She looked down at the carpet, trying to regain control but, even though his hand was no longer there, she could still feel his touch, and knew that he was right there, holding her prisoner.
“Nasir,” a tall, handsome man came forward. “I see you have already made a productive acquisition,” the new man said with amusement sparkling in his eyes.
Cassy looked up and found that the man was looking directly at her, his startlingly golden eyes dancing. Oddly, although this man was just as tall and intimidating as the man behind her, Cassy didn’t feel the same shocking current as she extended her hand when introduced to him.
“You understand the situation correctly, Mikal,” Nasir del Soya Irazi replied, his dark eyes daring the other man. The two men spoke in Arabic though, to maintain their privacy. He suspected that capturing the interest of the woman trembling in front of him would be much more of a challenge than his previous conquests, and the thought pleased him inordinately.
Sheik Mikal el Diarasi chuckled and eyed the woman again. “Your choice is clear, my friend. I would not dare to get in your way. And I applaud your choice. She will give you strong children to carry on your legacy.”
Nasir glanced at the lovely Cassandra Finnegan again, noting the flare of emotion in her dark eyes, the glossy shine of her hair. He wanted to release her hairpins and see her hair dance around her shoulders. He doubted the lovely lady would enjoy being reduced to a baby factory, so he didn’t translate Mikal’s comment.
Still, he wanted to take her hand again and reassure her. He could see the trembling in her shoulders as she struggled to maintain a professional demeanor. Her presence here in this room indicated that she had a strong legal mind. These meetings today were to forge an agreement between two countries. Both he and Mikal had demanded the expertise of this firm because of the firm’s reputation. The lawyers employed here would be the best, so Ms. Finnegan wasn’t just a lovely woman. She was likely a force in the legal world.
A part of him wanted to walk away from Ms. Finnegan, to ignore the powerful pull he felt. He had enough challenges in his life, he didn’t need more. But there was no denying the attraction he felt. In fact, he’d never felt this kind of pull before. There was no chance of ignoring the increasing awareness.