Hotshot defense attorney James Scott always follows his gut -- even when it tells him an obviously guilty man is a victim himself. Homicide detective Owen Duke doesn't have time for gut feelings -- he lives by logic and evidence. And all the evidence tells him that Scott's client is guilty of the cold-blooded murder of a young ballerina.
Scott, a notorious media darling, is willing to risk his reputation and his career on the kid's innocence. But his undeniable charm is not enough to save his client's life. He needs Owen Duke, a man who stands for truth and justice, even if the detective hates Scott and his gut feelings.
What's supposed to be an open-and-shut case quickly becomes a quagmire of lies, murder, and rotting corruption. Suddenly, instead of being a thorn in Duke's side, James Scott is the only person in San Francisco the detective can trust. As the attraction between them deepens, they race to save an innocent man, but can they save their own hearts in the process?
"When your brain goes off track from the details of the case, where does it go? If you don't mind me asking."
"Right now? To Sager." Dark lashes lifted, darker eyes locking on Scott. "He's the reason I became a cop in the first place."
A weight settled in Scott's stomach, like a stone coming to rest at the bottom of a lake. "Oh. Duke ... there's no real evidence that Sager is behind this. He could be like you. Just ... acting on orders."
"If he was anything like me, he wouldn't be trying to bury the truth," Duke lashed out. "I acted on orders blindly. He's seen all the evidence, so whatever choice he's made, he's doing it with the full knowledge that he's sending an innocent man to a death sentence. I don't care if someone else is pulling his strings. The man I thought he was would never let this happen."
For the first time in Scott's life, he was at a loss for words. He couldn't offer any comforting words. He couldn't offer any justifications or rationales. He couldn't walk away and leave Duke alone in the dark, with only his thoughts to keep him company.
"You're right," Scott finally agreed. "He's nothing like you. Is there anything ... I think we should try to find something to take your mind off everything."
Duke laughed, or at least Scott thought it was a laugh. It scoured the air between them, dry and harsh like a desert wind. "Good luck with that. I'm stuck between wondering where I went wrong, and wishing the son of a bitch who tried to kill you yesterday would walk through the door so I could shoot him. I don't know what else there even is."
Without thinking, he reached over and covered Duke's fingers with his own. His skin was cold, but it began to warm against Scott's. "Don't do that, Owen. You didn't do anything wrong. Don't take responsibility for this clusterfuck, when you're one of the few who are actually blameless."
"Until Young's back on the street, none of us are blameless." His hand twitched beneath Scott's, but he didn't pull it away. Instead, he turned it a fraction to give his fingertips room to caress the inside of Scott's wrist. "If you didn't think that, too, at least a little bit, you'd be asleep right now."
At first, Scott thought the small caress had to be a mistake. Except, Duke didn't stop. An ant could skitter across his skin with more pressure, but it was still enough to make Scott's entire arm tingle. Duke wasn't even looking at the point where they touched, but Scott could barely force himself to glance away.
"Maybe. Maybe I should have gotten him out of that cell before things progressed so far. Maybe I would have been justified in pulling a few strings and getting him released first thing. There were things I could have done that might have saved at least one life. But there are still things I can do to save Hector's."
"We, you mean."
"Yes, still things we can do." His finger twitched, moving against Duke's skin in the same pattern. Too deliberate to be a mistake. "Not to sound immodest, but I think the two of us could make a pretty formidable team."
Duke's gaze softened, some of the tension around his mouth disappearing. "And not to sound rude, but modest is never a word I'd associate with you."
"Are you calling me arrogant?"
Scott smiled. "Confident? If I were confident, I wouldn't need to work up my nerve just to touch your hand."
"Yet, you did."
"Only after I worked up a lot of nerve. Of course, the fact that you haven't stopped me has only helped my confidence level."
"You said it yourself." Duke turned his hand completely around, entwining their fingers. "If we're a team, we're now on the same side. The fact that you chose now to do it just means you finally figured out your timing."
"I usually have pretty good timing."
Scott set his glass aside and stood without releasing Duke's hand. Their legs touched and Duke parted his knees, giving Scott room to stand between his thighs. His throat felt tight, and a cloud of butterflies seemed to be lodged permanently in his chest. Scott bent toward him as Duke tilted his head back, and there were absolutely no obstacles between them. No reason why he shouldn't press his lips to Duke's.
The kiss betrayed Scott's nerves. It must have, because there was nothing forceful, nothing hard about it. His tongue gently traced Duke's bottom lip, asking for permission to continue.
Duke exhaled softly, his mouth quivering. Quivering. Duke. The hand in Scott's trembled, too, for long seconds while he tried to process the fact that this hard man, one of the most intrepid men he had ever met, now seemed as wracked by insecurity as Scott was. He might have laid the vague invitation out for Scott to try, but he wasn't necessarily as prepared to accept it, which in and of itself was something else to marvel over.
But then his lips parted ...