Chapter 1

“You do realize it’s five o’clock, right?” Max asked from the doorway. Jack didn’t bother to look up from the brief he was reading, hoping that if he didn’t acknowledge him he would go away.

“And that it’s Friday?” Max continued coming in and sitting in one of the chairs across from Jack’s desk.

“And that it’s your birthday?” Max continued stretching out his legs and putting his feet on the edge of the desk.

Realizing that ignoring him was not going to work this time, Jack sighed and looked up. “Do you have a point?”

“Yes, I have a point. You need to stop wallowing in self-pity and get your life back.”

“I am not wallowing. I’m working. Maybe you should try it. In your own office,” Jack said returning his attention back to the brief. The last thing he wanted to do was have this conversation with Max again.

Relaxing back into his chair, Max smirked. “Working, is that what you call it? Because from over here, it looks like you’re neck deep in self-pity and sinking fast.” Swinging his feet back down to the floor, Max leaned forward with his elbows on his knees. “You got your heart ripped out and handed to you, I get it. But it’s been nine months now. Don’t you think it’s time to get on with your life? Jane did.”

Jack’s head shot up. It took all of his restraint not to jump over his desk and grab Max by the throat. How could he throw it in his face that not only had Jane broken off their engagement and kicked him out of her house, she had married her ‘best friend’ the next day! What an idiot he had been, believing there was nothing going on between the two of them.

Reading the menace in Jack’s expression, Max held his hands up in front of him and laughed nervously. “Whoa, just trying to get your attention. Now that I have it, I’m getting you out of this office and out for some fun.”

Leaning back in his chair, Jack rubbed his eyes with the heel of his palms trying to calm down. Taking a deep breath, he looked over at Max who had propped his feet back up on the desk again. “I have work to do. Why don’t you go have fun for the both of us?”

“Sorry, you’re just not going to get rid of me this time. I’m staying right here until you give in.”

“Look,” Jack said feeling his blood pressure rise again, “I’m not interested. I have a big case on Monday and I’m going to be working on it all weekend.”

“Sorry, buddy, I know you. I’m sure you had all your T’s crossed and I’s dotted on that case a week ago. Why do you think all the defense attorneys cringe when your name is drawn for a case,” Max laughed. “You don’t leave anything until the last minute and you have the ability to pull key witnesses out of your ass and have them lined up and ready to go begging to testify weeks in advance.”

“As much as I appreciate your colorful description of my work, I’m afraid I’m not quite as confident as you are. These men brutally killed a woman and her child and I’m going to make sure they pay for it.”

Sighing, Max put his feet down and leaned forward with his arms on his knees again. “There is no way they’re going to walk. You have three eye witnesses putting them at the scene and they left a trail of DNA a mile long. You’ve got them. But you’re strung as tight as a drum and if you don’t find a way to relax, you aren’t going to be at your best come Monday. Just take one night off and then you can spend the rest of the weekend pouring over the case.”

Jack laid his head back and stared at the ceiling. This case was driving him crazy. A woman and her five year old daughter were found shot in the head execution style in their home. The husband had not yet been found but there was enough of his blood at the scene to determine chances of him still being alive were slim to none. The Burlow brothers, a team of hit men for a Detroit based crime syndicate specializing in art forgery and theft and money laundering were the prime suspects. The husband was a suspected fence who was getting ready to turn state’s evidence. Yeah, there were three witnesses who had identified them at the scene but all three of them had received death threats and were in protective custody until the trial. Jack, himself, had received a threatening phone call but refused to be intimidated. The worst thing he could do at this point was show fear. Besides, hardly a month went by in an ADA’s life in which he didn’t receive at least one death threat. To top it all off, the feds were breathing down his neck trying to convince the Burlows to turn state evidence to indict Les Konrad, the leader of the syndicate. The more the Burlows refused, the harder the feds were pressing Jack to sweeten a deal for them, even if that meant dropping the murder charges.

Max was right. A night out would probably do him some good and all he had waiting for him at home was the TV and a bottle of scotch. The thought of spending another night home alone was depressing, especially on his thirtieth birthday. Dropping his head in defeat, he pushed away from his desk and stood up. “One drink and then I’m out.”

A grin spread across Max’s face. “Sure thing, after a couple of games of pool.”

Jack narrowed his eyes at him as he pulled his gray suit jacket off the hook on the back of his door but Max just laughed and walked out of the office ahead of him, smug that he was able to finally pry Jack away from his desk. Shaking his head, Jack followed him down the hall to the elevators and out to the garage. Buttoning his jacket against the lingering early April cold and drizzle, Jack said, “Where are we going? I’ll meet you there.”

“I was thinking this new place down by the river, Oxford Pub,” Max said as he pressed the unlock button for his late model black Mustang. “Sure you don’t want to ride with me? I could swing back and drop you off later.”

Jack shook his head. “No, I plan on going home before the sun rises.”

Max laughed. “Fine, follow me.”

Jack walked a couple of spots over to where his more sedate Mercedes was parked. Also black, but much less flashy. As he buckled his seat belt, he was amazed that he felt a twinge of anticipation. Maybe Max was right, maybe he did need this. Putting the car in reverse, he edged out of the spot and followed Max out of the garage and headed for the recently renovated river district. There were a slew of new bars and restaurants down there that he had been dying to try when he was with Jane, but he had lost all interest since then. Thinking about Jane made his mood nosedive. Slamming his hand against the steering wheel in frustration, he tried to push all thought of her out of his mind. Just one night without thinking about her, was that too much to ask? Max was right, she had moved on with her life. Maybe it was about time he did as well.

Jack followed Max into a city parking lot across the street from the Oxford Pub. As he got out of the car, he wished he had brought his overcoat as the drizzle had now turned into a steady downpour. He and Max made a dash for the door and the warmth of the pub brought some color back to his cheeks as they walked to the long dark wood bar where a pretty young brunette was bartending. A grin spread across her face when she saw Max.

“Max, good to see you! Who’s your friend?” she asked, eyeing Jack.

“Rachel, this is Jack. He could use a scotch in the worst way.”

“Sure thing,” she said pleasantly. “Long day?” she asked Jack.

“Yes,” Jack replied in a way that discouraged further conversation. Rachel looked slightly taken aback but she covered it well as she turned to pull a bottle of scotch off the top shelf of the mirrored bar back.

Max looked at him with raised eyebrows. “Remember when I was the surly one?”

Feeling like a heel that he had taken his bad mood out on Rachel, Jack gave her a sheepish smile as she set two glasses in front of them. “Sorry, it really has been a long day. A long week, as a matter of fact.”

“No problem. Are you a lawyer like Max?” Rachel asked as she put coasters under their glasses.

“Yes, but not nearly as good as he is,” Jack said, trying to deflect her attention back to Max. Max snorted but didn’t say anything.

“Well, if you’re even half as good as Max thinks he is, I’m sure you’re great,” Rachel said with a wink. She turned to help someone else giving Jack an openly flirtatious look over her shoulder before moving down the bar.

“Maybe I should have left you at work,” Max said sourly. Jack hid his smile as he took a sip of his scotch.

Noticing the pool tables at the back of the bar, Jack asked, “Up for a game?”

“Sure, why don’t you rack. I’ll be back there in a minute.”

Figuring Max wanted to spend a few more minutes flirting with Rachel, Jack took his drink and moved to one of the two pool tables. Slipping off his coat and hanging it on the back of a stool, he put his quarters in the table and racked the balls. The rack holding the cue sticks was against the back wall and he turned to walk over to them just as the woman at the next table turned around with her stick perpendicular to her body. Jack stopped dead in his tracks as the momentum of her turn forced her stick hard into his groin. Closing his eyes, he gritted his teeth against the sharp pain as he heard her stammering out horrified apologies.

As the pain started to ebb, Jack slowly opened his eyes to look at his assailant. The first thing he saw was her hair. It was the most beautiful red hair he had ever seen with strands of color ranging from strawberry blonde to dark auburn. As she moved, her hair seemed a kaleidoscope of colors. Moving his gaze downward to her face, he stopped at her eyes. Bright green irises rimmed with a band of darker green, or maybe dark blue. It was hard to tell in the bar lighting. Her lips were a perfect bow of pink. Jack had never seen a woman more beautiful. Even the embarrassed flush of her cheeks only enhanced the beauty of her face.

“I am so sorry. I can’t believe that I just did that!” she stammered again.

Trusting his voice finally, Jack said, “It was my fault. I should have looked where I was going.”

Not at all appeased by his obvious attempt to deflect the blame, she said, “No, it was me. I’m…I…I don’t know what to say!” As words failed her, she spun on her heels and walked quickly towards the ladies room with her friend fast on her heels.

Taking a deep breath, Jack walked over to the rack of cues trying not to walk as if he had just been hit in the groin. After picking his cue, he turned to find Max standing next to the pool table making only the slightest attempt not to laugh outright.

“Glad you’re amused,” Jack said as he picked up his scotch and downed the rest of it in one gulp. The searing in his throat was a welcome relief from the pain lower down.

“I was hoping you hadn’t lost your touch with women but that wasn’t exactly how I expected you to meet them,” Max smirked as he nodded towards the ladies’ room door.

“Meet them? Are they friends of yours?” Jack asked, suddenly suspicious.

“Stacey and I hang out sometimes,” Max replied.

“The red head?” Jack asked. He was surprised at how his gut clenched at the thought of Max and his beautiful assailant together.

“Nope, that’s Abby, Stacey’s friend. Stacey’s the blond.”

Trying not to show his relief or the fact that he hadn’t even noticed the blond, Jack said, “How about if we get on with this game? I’m not planning to be here long.” With the way his night was going so far, Jack would be happy to finish this game and head home. He didn’t need to be thinking about red heads, much less being attacked by them. He had too much going on with this case.

“Yeah, yeah,” Max replied as he got his own cue stick and broke up the balls sending two into corner pockets.

Out of the corner of his eye, Jack noticed the two women coming back out of the ladies room. Abby went straight for her stool and sat with her back towards Jack. Jack tried not to notice her long shapely legs showing from under her short skirt as she crossed her legs at the knee.

“Planning to shoot any time soon there, buddy? Or are you too busy enjoying the view?” Max smirked.

Glaring at Max, Jack brought his attention back to the game getting four of his balls in before missing. As he shot, the blond who must be Stacey had come over to talk to Max. She was as different from Abby as she could be. She looked like a walking Barbie doll down to the plastic look about her like it was all a carefully put together act and he was sure that she was aware of the dangling tongues she probably left in her wake. Definitely not Jack’s type. He preferred his women a little more down to earth.

“You must be Jack,” she said as he stepped away from the pool table. “I’m Stacey. Max has told us a lot about you!”

“Nice to meet you,” Jack said trying hard to sound like he meant it. If this was Max’s idea of a setup, he was going to have to kill him later. Max knows he hates blonds.

“That’s Abby over there. I’m afraid she’s too embarrassed to come over. I told her it would be fine but after your little incident, she thought you would prefer if she didn’t. Isn’t she being silly? Maybe you could convince her to come over?” Stacey said giving him her best pouty face.

Barely restraining an eye roll, Jack said, “Actually, I was only out for a drink. Maybe you and Max could finish this game up.” He started to give his cue stick to her but Max wasn’t going to be that easily thwarted.

“No way are you going to walk out on the first game we’ve played in months. And where’s that perfect gentleman persona you usually carry around with you? You’d really leave a woman feeling guilty?” Max asked with a smirk.

“Pretty please?” Stacey pouted. Jack’s knuckles were turning white from squeezing the stick instead of Max’s throat. So, Stacey wasn’t the setup. Abby was.

“Max, can I have a word with you?” Jack asked barely unclenching his jaw.

“Sorry, man. My shot,” Max said as he moved to the other side of the table, out of reach.

Running his hand through his hair in frustration, Jack knew he was beaten. Max knew perfectly well that Jack would feel like a real heel if he left without at least trying to make Abby feel better. But, he didn’t need to jump at their command. He’d do it when he was ready. “I need another drink,” Jack said as he grabbed his empty glass and walked back up to the bar.

As he waited for Rachel to finish up with another customer, Jack gave his full attention to the hockey game that was playing on one of the four televisions around the bar. The Red Wings were up by one in the third period. “Need another?” Rachel asked, leaning across the bar towards him giving him a great view of her ample cleavage.

“Please,” Jack replied, carefully keeping his eyes above her neck not wanting to send her the wrong signals.

“Sure thing,” she said as she turned to get the scotch. She poured his drink and slid it over to him. “On the house. You seem to be having a rough night.”

“Hmm, saw that, did you?”

“Didn’t see a thing,” Rachel said with a wink as she moved down the bar again to another customer.

Jack was tempted to just stay at the bar and watch the last few minutes of the Red Wings game, but he knew he was being rude. It wasn’t Abby’s fault that Max was a jackass. With a resigned sigh, he picked up his scotch and turned from the bar – right into Abby. And Abby’s drink, which was now mostly down the front of his pale gray shirt and black striped tie.

Abby seemed to be at a loss for words. She just stared up at him wide-eyed with those beautiful green eyes. Her pink lips in a perfect O.

“I can’t believe that just happened,” she said when she finally found her voice. “I am so sorry! Again!”

She reached over to the bar and grabbed a handful of napkins and started dabbing at the front of his shirt. Jack knew he should say something but he was caught between the shock of being assaulted twice in less than ten minutes and the feeling of electricity that shot through his body every time she touched him.

“I promise, as soon as we clean this up I’m leaving so there’s no chance of me doing anything else horrible to you,” Abby said as she reached for more napkins.

That was enough to wake Jack up from the stupor he had fallen into. He stilled the motion of her hands with his and smiled down at her. “Both times were my fault. I should have been paying attention to where I was going. Please don’t leave on my account.”

Abby looked up at him. Her cheeks were again stained with that pretty pink. “Thank you for being so nice about this. I was just coming to apologize again before I left. I felt badly that you didn’t want to hang out with Max because of me.”

Jack laughed. “Trust me, my not wanting to hang out with Max tonight has absolutely nothing to do with you. And I only came up for another drink. I had every intention of coming back.”

“Oh, okay,” Abby said now looking even more embarrassed. “I guess I should just go then.” She looked down at her hands that were still clasped in Jack’s and then back up at him.

“Do you play pool, Abby?” Jack asked before he even knew the words were going to come out of his mouth. Immediately, he wanted to kick himself. What was he doing?

“Not well, I’m afraid,” she said.

“How about if I give you some pointers then?” Jack asked. What the hell? He didn’t want to stay. He wanted to get out of here, away from Max, and tall blonds. And especially away from dangerous redheads.

Abby bit her bottom lip and looked up at him, considering. “Really? You’re not just trying to be nice?” she asked.

“I would love it if you stayed. Besides, it’s my birthday, you should at least stay and toast my birthday,” Jack replied. What was going on with him? His mouth seemed to have a mind of its own. Or maybe some other part of him had taken over his ability to think rationally. At least now he knew he wasn’t permanently injured.

“Okay,” Abby said finally.

“Great.” Jack let go of only one of her hands and signaled to Rachel who came right over. “Another, um,” he looked down at his stained shirt and pointed. “One of these,” he said with a wink at Abby.

Rachel laughed. “Looks like vodka and cranberry?” Abby nodded, her cheeks still that beautiful pink. “Coming right up.”

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