Dinner for Two
Hugh Thomas has had the best day of his life. He’s a lawyer, and has won the largest case of his career. A case he took on pro-bono and modeled in his boxers to fund.
Anne-Marie Collins has had the worst day of her life. She has a job as an administrative assistant in an executive office, where she has always worked to the best of her ability. The day has seen her accused of sleeping with her boss by the boss’s wife. She’s fairly certain she’ll be fired the next day.
Anne-Marie and Hugh allow themselves to indulge in the attraction that springs between them and learn along the way that their physical attraction isn’t the only thing at work between them.
It was the best day of Hugh Thomas’ life. He’d fought for the little guy and won.
He moved around the compact space of his meager office, an office he had outgrown in a matter of minutes. Sitting down at his desk, he forced himself to be still as the door opened and his partner of three years, Scott Rosen, leaned on the doorframe.
“You were right, and I was wrong.”
Hugh laughed. Though he didn’t need it to be said, it was good to hear. “It could have just as easily gone the other way.”
“But it didn’t. You did the right thing, and it paid off.” Scott shrugged and then laughed. “Damn, did it pay off.”
“It was six months of hard work.” Work that had cost him a girlfriend and any semblance he had of a social life. Six lonely months. “Those people deserved to be heard, regardless of the outcome. Niles Jenkins needed to pay for his utter lack of humanity.”
“Yeah, now I wish I hadn’t complained so bitterly about it,” Scott muttered.
“It was risky. You had the right to voice your concerns.” Hugh stood and stretched. “I’m going to go home and crash.”
“Not interested in celebrating?”
“Not tonight.” He closed his briefcase and fastened it. “Go home to your wife, and tell her our good news.”
“Oh, she had complete faith that you were going to win. She said that any man who would strip down to his Charlie Brown boxers to earn money so he could continue to work a pro bono case had what it took to win.”
Hugh flushed, then grimaced. Entering the modeling contest had been a necessary step to keep his law practice alive. In all honesty, he hadn’t expected to win, but it had been worth a shot. The billboard of him lying in those boxers at the feet of Lady Justice would linger a great deal longer than he’d thought it would. The clothes company he’d posed for had forwarded him dozens of letters from women. Women who wanted to meet him, marry him, or who just wanted to fuck his brains out.
“Yeah, well, it got us the money we needed.” He ran his hands through short dark blond hair and picked up his suit jacket. “I’m out.”
“I’m thinking your sacrifice needs rewarding.”
“I’m not going to a strip club with you.” Hugh pointed a finger at Scott as he said it. “The last time nearly netted you a divorce.”
“I was thinking of calling one of those high-class escort services. You could use a night out with a beautiful woman.”
“I don’t need any help meeting women.”
“How long has it been since Cassandra left you?”
Hugh blushed. “How long did it take me to notice she was gone or when she left?”
* * * * *
Anne-Marie Collins was positive that her day couldn’t get worse. She slumped against the elevator wall relieved she’d made it into her apartment building without inflicting any permanent damage to her person. The doors started to close, and a brief case stopped them. She grimaced as the doors opened but managed to look neutral when the owner of the briefcase had slipped into the elevator.
“Hi,” she muttered.
Didn’t he know you weren’t even supposed to make eye contact with strangers in the elevator?
“You live on my floor.”
She turned her head and met his eyes Ah, the lawyer turned model. A smile hovered on her lips as her gaze lowered. She wondered if he was wearing the boxers.
“My ex-girlfriend burned them.”
Her gaze jerked back to his, and she laughed. “That wasn’t very supportive of her.”
“Eye candy rarely is.”
Hugh. His name was Hugh. She remembered because her favorite eye candy happened to be Hugh Jackman. Still, what was in front of her had a great deal of appeal, too. “Anne-Marie Collins.”
“Hugh Thomas.” He took the hand she offered in his and inclined his head. “It’s a pleasure to meet you.”
“Thanks. I guess I haven’t been the best neighbor.”
“Couldn’t complain.” He leaned back against the wall opposite her. “Never play the radio loud, and you are a vast improvement over the woman that lived there last. She was constantly having wild, hanging-from-the-ceiling sex.”
“That would explain the hooks in the bedroom ceiling.”
His eyes widened, and then he laughed. “Well, she was loud.”
The elevator dinged, and the doors opened. He held out his hand to stop her from exiting. “It’s the garage.”
Anne-Marie frowned and pushed the button for the top floor again. The doors slid shut, and the elevator jerked and started upward. “I hate this thing. I’ve complained to the owner like six times. I think he just likes to watch me bitch or something.”
“I’ll send him a letter.” He checked his watch, then looked back at her. “I’d ask you to have dinner with me, but it appears you already have plans.”
She glanced down to the Chinese take-out and blushed. Since she didn’t want to tell him she’d bought food for two so that she and pity could have a party, she didn’t immediately respond. “I had a long day.”
“Not a good day, either.”
“No.” Anne-Marie sighed. “Not a good day.” The elevator jerked again and made a series of grinding noises before it dropped abruptly. She grabbed a hold of the bar, and Hugh did the same. The elevator lurched and came to a dead halt. Seconds passed and then the lights went out. The emergency lights flicked on, filling the cabin with a red glow. “And it just got worse.”
“I’m going to send him a very strongly worded letter.”
She had to laugh at his tone. “It appears that you’ve been cursed by proximity.”
He put his briefcase on the floor of the elevator and went to the panel. “Is there an emergency button?”
“Used to be.” She pointed toward a small hole on the panel. “Someone took it last week.”
“I might have to get out my dictionary for that letter.” He pulled out his cell phone and dialed 911. The phone immediately beeped in his ear. He looked to it. “No fucking signal.” He looked to her. “What about yours?”
“It’s with my purse.”
“Where’s your purse?”
“In my car.”
“Don’t women carry those things everywhere?”
“I left it there while I went in to get the food.” She sighed. “And it got towed because I parked in a red zone like an idiot.”
He didn’t say anything as he squatted down to peer into the hole where the emergency button used to be. “And I was having such a good day.”
“My karma must be stronger than yours.”
Her dry tone brought reluctant laughter. She put her bag of food down and dropped her small wallet into the bag. “What time is your company arriving?”
She pursed her lips. “Actually, I planned to spend the evening having a pity party.”
“Oh.” He walked back across the elevator to his briefcase, and after a long silent moment, he turned to face her and sat down. “Looks like you have a guest for your pity party after all.”
She shrugged and dug into the bag. “We have General Tso’s chicken, beef and broccoli, and four egg rolls.”
“Beef and broccoli, unless you have your heart set on it.”
She handed him a white container and a fork. “I’m flexible. Usually during my pity parties, I bitch to Max so be prepared.”
“Is Max your imaginary friend?”
She laughed. “Asshole.”
“Your imaginary friend is an asshole?” He took the napkins and the egg roll she offered.
“Max is my cat, and you’re an asshole,” Anne-Marie clarified and leaned back against the wall. “My boss’s wife thinks he’s sleeping around. She thinks I’m the other woman.”
“Did you get fired?”
“Not yet.” She sighed and stabbed a piece of chicken with her fork. “I worked hard to get that job. I get paid well, and it’s bullshit that I might lose it because my boss is a womanizer.”
“So he is having an affair?”
“Oh yeah, with one of the filing clerks.” She shook her head. “The wife didn’t latch on to the clerk because she isn’t very attractive. That’s rude to say, but true. I figure she picked me because I’m better looking than she is. Her ego couldn’t fathom him taking up with a plain woman.”
“What did you say?”
“I told her that she was very much mistaken.”
“In that stuck-up I-wouldn’t-fuck-him-in-a-million-years tone you just used?”
She paused and then grimaced. “Probably. Damn it. I’m going to be fired.” She snagged an egg roll and took a healthy bite. “It really sucks.” She looked briefly at him. “You were smiling when you entered the elevator. I take it you had a good day?”
“Oh yeah. Six months of work and modeling in my boxers finally paid off.”
“What? You won another modeling contract?”
He laughed. “Actually, no. I won a case. A big case with a huge settlement. I sued a slumlord, pro bono, and locked him in arbitration before he knew what hit him. These cases never get settled. It was a freaking miracle. My clients received a multimillion dollar settlement due to his neglect and outright abuse.”
“Good for you.” She dug around in a bag. “I only have one bottle of water.”
“I’ll be fine.” He sat down his food and watched her open the bottle. “You are rather beautiful.”
She smiled. “I like how you sound surprised. It isn’t like you haven’t seen me before.”
“Life has sort of passed me by lately.” The admission was hard, and he found himself shrugging it off. “I was caught up in the case. Lived and breathed it.”
“I noticed your girlfriend left.”
“You probably noticed before I did.”
“No wonder she torched the boxers.” She used a napkin to rub her fingers. “So, exactly when do you think it would be a good time to panic?”
“Not sure. Probably when the food is gone, and I start looking at your parts with a ravenous gleam to my eye.”
Anne-Marie raised an eyebrow. “You bite?”
“Not lately, but I might remember how.”
He looked amused, nearly relaxed, and predatory. The change in his demeanor was startling and interesting. Since she hadn’t taken the time to get hit on in about four months, it caught her off guard. Amused, she crossed her legs at the ankle and tilted her head to stare at him.
“Why did you lie at the feet of Lady Justice in boxers?”
“The boxers were my partner’s idea, the pose was his wife’s idea, and I only did it for the money. We had operating expenses to pay, and getting into the contest paid better than you might imagine. The case I was on ate my savings and I couldn’t let the practice fail because of my attack of conscience.”
“That’s actually quite charming.” She closed up her food and put it back in the bag.
He closed his box and passed it to her. “Well, my mother was horrified and then offended that I didn’t come to her for the money.”
“And why didn’t you?”
“I want to succeed on my own, and posing in my boxers didn’t hurt much.” He grinned as he said it. “My mother had to take a vacation to recover. I think she's still on a cruise. I sort of lost track of her, too. She calls a couple of times a week.”
His gaze dropped to her feet and then up her legs to the beige skirt that had bunched up rather high on her thighs. Anne-Marie shifted under his attention. She wasn’t wearing hose, and she felt naked. It had been quite a while since a man had made her so aware of her own body. Exhaling sharply, she bit down on her lip and lowered her gaze to the floor.