THE LAWS OF SEDUCTION
Center City District Police Headquarters
Monday, September 29
In her fifteen years as an attorney Charlotte had never let anyone throw her off her game, and she wasn’t about to let it happen now.
So why was she shaking in her Louboutins?
“Put your briefcase and purse on the belt, keys in the tray and step through,” the officer said, waving her into the metal detector.
She complied, cold washing through her as the gate behind her clanged shut. She glanced over her shoulder, thinking how much better she liked it when her interpretation of bar remained singular.
“Name…?” asked the other cop at the desk.
He ran down the list, checking her off, then held out his hand, waggling it. “Photo I.D. and attorney card.”
She grabbed her purse from the other side of the metal detector and dug into it, producing both. After the officer examined them he sat back with a smirk. “So you’re here for that Frenchie dude, huh? What’s he—some kinda big deal?”
She eyed him coolly, hefting her briefcase from the belt. “They’re all just clients to me.”
“That so.” He dropped his gaze, fingering her IDs. “How come he don’t have to sit in a cell? Why’d he get a private room?”
Why are you scoping my legs, you big douche? “It’s your jail. Why’d you give him one?”
He cocked a brow. “You’re pretty sassy, ain’t you?”
“And you’re wasting my time,” she said, swiping back her IDs. God, times like these I really hate men. “Are you going to let me through or what?”
He didn’t answer. He just leered at her with that simpering grin as he handed her a visitor’s badge, reaching back to open the next gate. “Thank you.” She clipped it on, following the other cop to one more door at the other side of a vestibule.
“It’s late,” the officer said, pressing a code into a keypad, “so we can’t give you much time.”
“I won’t need much.” After all, how long would it take to say no fucking way.
“Then just ring the buzzer by the door when you’re ready to leave.” When he opened it and she stepped in, her breath immediately caught at the sight of the man behind it. She clutched her briefcase, so tightly she could feel the blood rushing from her fingers.
“Bonsoir, Mademoiselle Andreko,” Rex Renaud said.
Even with his large body cramped behind a metal table, the Mercier Shipping COO never looked more imposing, and in spite of his circumstances, never more elegant. The last time they met it’d been in Boston, negotiating the separation terms of his company’s lone female captain, Dani Lloyd, who had recently become Marcel Mercier’s wife. But with his cashmere Kiton bespoke now replaced by Gucci black tie, he struck an odd contrast in that concrete room, yet still exuding a coiled and barely-contained strength. He folded his arms across his chest as his black eyes fixed on hers, Charlotte getting the distinct impression he more or less regarded her as cornered prey.
All at once the door behind her slammed shut and her heart beat so violently she nearly called the officer back. Instead she planted her heels and forced herself to focus, staring the Frenchman down. “All right, I’m here,” she said en français. “Not that I know why.”
“J’ai oublié que tu avez parlé ma langue,” he said. “But we’ll keep to English so there’s no mistaking my meaning.” His immaculate patent-leather shoe nudged the chair opposite. “Have a seat, s’il vous plaît.” He tsked. “I mean—please,” he added, smiling brilliantly.
If there was anything she remembered about Rex Renaud—which was nearly everything because he wasn’t easy to forget—it was how lethally he wielded his physicality. How he worked those inky eyes, jet-black hair and Greek-statue-handsomeness into a kind of immobilizing presence, leaving her weak in the knees every time his gaze locked on hers. Which meant she needed to work twice as hard to keep her wits sharp enough to match his, as no way would she allow him the upper hand. Yet even though he was in jail, even with him jammed behind that metal table, and herself, looming over him, it was still a battle. Because with every advantage on her side he still dominated the room, the situation, the very airspace between them, so much so that Charlotte had to curl her hand around the back of the chair to steady herself.
Too much coffee today, she reasoned. That’s all it is. Even though she knew that didn’t even figure.
He nudged the chair again, his collar opened where his bow tie had been, his only concession to the situation. “Please sit. You heard the flic. We haven’t much time.”
“We haven’t any time at all.” She steeled herself. “It’s not like we have anything to discuss.”
“Non?” His gaze offered her a challenge. “Then why did you come?”
She smiled, with delicious, malicious intent. She waited a long time to wound him—and all men like him who dismissed women so easily—and as swiftly and as deeply as she could. “Maybe for the pleasure of seeing you behind bars.”
“Really,” he said, his eyes darkening as he drew closer. “Though the idea of pleasuring you does hold a certain appeal.”
Heat streaked through her as she slammed her briefcase atop the table. “Then take a good look, because my watching you rot in here is about as close as you’ll ever be to getting me off.”
He sat back, amused. “The lady finds her bliss in the strangest places. Though if watching people in pain is your thing, I am acquainted with a few gentlemen who’d pay you a nice piece of change to put all that aggression to use.” He cast her a glance that near stripped the clothes from her body. “I believe all you’ll need is a good deal of leather and some rather kinky boots.”
Her jaw dropped. “Are you—you—” She waved her hand in front of her.
“Me? Why non. I do like a bit of spark in my women, but I always prefer it on top.” His eyes hooded. “Metaphorically speaking, that is.”
“You bastard piece of shit,” she uttered, pressing her knuckles to the worn steel. “I had to be out of my mind to come here when it’s clear you’re guilty of everything you’re accused of.”
“And what’s that?” he said, rising. “I’d love to hear it out of your mouth.”
“Of sexual assault,” she spit out. “Of everything vile and sick and violent that men and their disgusting appetites are capable.”
“Oh, how right you are, mon amie. How truly loathsome we are. Repulsive animals.” He leaned in, so closely she could feel his breath on her cheek, his eyes malevolent and cold. “Men are indeed beasts, always stooping to the lowest common denominator. Using brutality to get what they want, pugnacious and vicious to the end. Unlike women who’ve crawled out of the swamp and up the evolutionary ladder to become so much more ruthlessly efficient. Who needs fists when you have feminine wiles?” He leaned in even closer. “Why shed blood when you can suck out a man’s soul.”
“What do you want from me?” she said, backing away. “Why would you ask me to defend you, knowing what I think of men like you?”.
“Because I believe you’ll want to,” he said, his eyes bleeding candor and reason and some indefinable quality she found, God help her, unable to resist. “After you hear what I have to say.”
“I doubt it. But even if I were to agree—which I won’t—I’m no criminal attorney. Lawsuits, breach of contracts. Employment law, women’s rights in the workplace…oh Christ.” It hit her like a ton of bricks. “Of course. That’s it. You want to use me because I’m a woman.”
He arched a brow. “Seems like you have it all figured out.”
“Only because I’ve seen your kind before.” She was often approached by men fighting sexual discrimination disputes, thinking a female attorney was their ace in the hole. She always turned them down. “You want to use my reputation as a women’s activist to your advantage. You want them to see if I’d defend you, then you must be innocent.” Was it possible even Rex Renaud, this womanizer, this catalog misogynist, could stoop so low? Not that she’d let him. “I won’t do it. How could you even think to ask me?”
“How couldn’t I?” he said, falling back to his seat, all the weariness in the world falling with him. “You’re the best at what you do.”
“Even if I am, what makes you think I’d agree to take your case?”
He looked to her with conviction. “Because you will, avocate. You’ve been waiting a long time for a case like this.”
“I sure have—from the other side of the courtroom. But to think I’d defend you?” She laughed, incredulous. “Are you insane?”
“Arguably. But that isn’t the point.” His eyes narrowed. “You’ll want my money. You need it. And I have a lot to buy you with.”
All at once she panicked. He knew something, something about how desperately broke she was, and how he found out she could only imagine. Still, she had to play him off. She still had principles. And those principles could never allow even an inch of compromise.
“I’m a partner in a very successful law firm,” she said, her chin lifting. “How could you possibly make that assumption?”
“Because it’s no assumption. It’s a fact. And so is this—you’re broke. Although your practice is very successful, it’s the other partners who are bringing in the coin with cases like…what was that last one? That arthritis drug that paralyzed a couple of people? How many mega-millions was that worth? While there’s you, running around defending secretaries trying to squeeze another dollar an hour out of their tight-fisted bosses.”
Her jaw clenched. “So secretaries aren’t worth defending?”
“Depends how you define worth.” His gaze captured the irony. “Those pro bono cases are starting to add up, aren’t they? And your partners are tired of carrying you.”
“No one carries me. Just last week I took on a vice-president of a very successful internet start-up who’s suing the company for copyright infringement.”
“Settled before it even got out of discovery.”
“Only because it wasn’t necessary,” she countered. “The facts were as plain as—”
“Face it, Charlotte,” he cut her off. “What you lack in billables you more than aptly make up in passion. But the fact is your passions are bleeding revenue. That group you head, that band of half-naked feminists—what’s it called? Occupy Vagina—is an open festering wound, even with its membership growing every day. And though a week doesn’t go by without a couple of mentions in the press, all you’re attracting is more desperate cases. The truth is your partners only keep you around for the high profile you bring, but even that’s wearing thin. And now they’re ready to cut you loose.”
“Where the hell did you hear that?” she cried. “They need my publicity to detract from all the slimy work they do. Who could’ve possibly told—”
“How about Joshua Lido?”
Another slam to the chest. A partner in the firm? “What about him?”
He swiveled toward her, leveling his gaze. “We did a little research on you before we started negotiations on Dani Lloyd up in Boston. Seems your firm was very grateful for –my company’s settlement, as you’d actually be bringing in some cash. Or how did he put it?” He looked away for a moment, his hand to his chin. “‘I guess we’ll have to let her stay until the check clears.’”
“That’s a lie,” Charlotte said. “Why would he purposely disparage me, especially to you?”
“That’s a question you have to answer yourself, ma chèrie. As why would you want to stay on in a firm that does?”
“Why are you doing this?” she finally asked. “You could get anyone to defend you—the best criminal defense attorney in the world. Why ask me?”
“I already told you,” he said evenly. “Because you’re the best.”
“Oh come on,” she scoffed. “You’ll have to do much better than that.”
“Then there’s this.” He rose, and was on her in a second. “I watched how you operated in Boston against Mercier. How you worked a wrongful termination suit to transform that little female captain into a veritable cult icon.” He looked at her with more than a bit of awe. “My God—when you believe in something you’re like a terrier with a bone. You were brilliant.”
Charlotte sincerely hoped she wasn’t blushing. Because incredibly enough, she felt herself basking in his praise. “Wow, you sure know how to dish it, don’t you? Why don’t you just go ahead and tell me how nice my ass is.” Oh Christ— did I just say that? She must have, as he was laughing with the kind of intimacy that usually accompanied a slide of naked thigh up her own.
“It is, isn’t it?” he said, leaning so closely his intoxicating scent dizzied her, his dark eyes gleaming with mirth. “But I think I’ll save that for another campaign. One I also plan on winning.”
If she was reddening it was only because she was seething. “You know, they have a word for men like you.”
“You mean the one that pays tribute to the greatest part of my anatomy?”
“That wasn’t quite the one I was thinking of.”
His mouth crooked. “Neither was I of its feminine correlation.”
“That’s it, I’m done. Finished! Va te faire voir,” she spat, grabbing her briefcase, ready to bolt out the door.
“Charlotte—c’est bon—I’m just playing with you,” he said, latching hold of her arm. “Mon Dieu, I’m fucking incarcerated. The joke’s already on me. What can be funnier than that?”
She shrugged him off. “I don’t know—waterboarding?”
“Not when I’ve already made your day. Now please, have a seat.” He returned to sit at the other side of the table and folded his hands atop it, looking as serious as she’d ever seen him. Charlotte remained standing, needing the advantage of height to keep her balance. After a few moments he continued.
“Someone is out to ruin me—for whatever reason, I’m not sure yet. But when I find out…” His eyes narrowed, face turning hard and steely. “Look, if you defend me I’ll make it more than worth your while. I’ll make it so goddamned worth it you’ll never have to depend on anyone again, let alone those two-faced sycophants at your firm. And we can win this, I know we can, because anyone who puts as much passion into their work as you do will always succeed. And Charlotte…” The look he gave her was as close to pleading as a man of his kind was capable. “I need you to work that passion for me.”
She didn’t answer, turning to the window instead. Which was pointless, the outside as dark and muddied as her thinking, her mind racing so fast she was unable to process a sensible thought. Maybe because nothing made sense anyway. Because if it did, why would she even contemplate representing someone like Rex Renaud, a man who could’ve been CEO of any of a dozen multinational corporations, but chose to stay on as Chief Operating Officer for a company as misogynistic as Mercier Shipping? True, perhaps now it was a bit more friendly to women since its president, Marcel Mercier, married the independently-minded, Dani Lloyd, the company’s only female captain. But Rex Renaud, second-in-command or not, was his own man in every sense of the word. And that made her trust him even less, no matter how physically aware of him she felt every time she was around him. As she was now, catching his reflection in the window, watching her. Waiting for her answer.
“Charlotte,” he said, his rich baritone enveloping her from halfway across the room, “You need my money and I need your expertise. Now I want to hear you say you’ll do it.”
Wanted her to? Rex needed her to. And for one more reason than the obvious. From the moment he met her in Boston he couldn’t get her out of his mind. A frustration almost as bad as being in this hellhole of an American jail.
Quite frankly, he wanted to get out of it so he could get into her as soon as possible.
Crude, but he also knew there was only one way to get over an obsession and that was to confront it directly. And Charlotte Andreko was quite simply a confrontation waiting to happen.
And why was that? Because she certainly wouldn’t be the most beautiful woman he’d ever been with, the amount of which he stopped counting by the time he’d turned twenty. The same number of years later his choices in women had only become richer and more varied. Yet the moment he made Charlotte’s acquaintance all the others seemed lacking. There was just something about her, whether it was her overconfidence or sense of self-importance or an intelligence that always kept him on his guard—he couldn’t be sure.
Because it couldn’t just be her juicy breasts, her slim waist, that delicious double handful of cul he ached to squeeze, those slim, endless legs he longed to part. Could he really be that base? He smiled to himself—oh, he most certainly could. Ever since Boston he dreamed of burying himself inside her, taking her fast and hard and in someplace not quite respectable. Against a car. In some dark corner of a barroom. He glanced over. Right atop this table. Fist those blonde twists of hair between his fingers as her neck arched back, those lusciously plump lips open in a silent scream of release as he pummeled her senseless.
But there was something else he needed to accomplish before he’d let his lust take over, and that was to destroy whoever was doing this to him. And as with any business challenge it’d be a complete annihilation, no prisoners, no looking back. Except, he knew, for Charlotte. Charlotte. Because as much as he wanted out of this jail, this ridiculous charge, this whole infuriating mess, he wanted her more. Infinitely so.
“Get me out of here,” he said.
She snapped her fingers. “Just like that. Do you really think it’ll be that easy?”
“Why wouldn’t it? Are you thinking I can’t make the bail?”
“Oh, I’m sure you could. But what was it they called you?” Those blue eyes swiveled upwards. “Ah yes—an extreme flight risk. And your own jet to do it with.”
“I’d have to be an idiot to jump bail.”
“You would think.” She bent toward him, her creamy décolletage in plain view. “And then you thought to call me. That alone has me questioning your sanity.”
“You’re here, aren’t you?” As he knew she would be. “What does that tell me?” Hopefully, that she found him as irresistible as he found her.
“That maybe you should be questioning my sanity as well.”
“At this point I really don’t care,” he said, strangely apprehensive. He wasn’t used to feeling this on edge. But then again, he’d never been arrested for sexual assault before. “Will you do it or not?”
“Don’t you think you’d better tell me your side of the story?”
He shrugged. “It’s actually pretty simple. There’s a funding bill Mercier wants Congress to pass. It has to do with dredging harbors to deepen them for the new larger ships and tankers we’d like to purchase. In this region there’re two ports vying for consideration. Here in Philadelphia, and Elizabeth in North Jersey where Mercier has a terminal. Naturally, Mercier wants the funding for Elizabeth, but the bill has been stuck in committee so long, it’s becoming more and more apparent it’ll never get to the floor for a vote. Especially since Congress is due to adjourn this week until after the elections. After that the bill may as well be dead.”
“You seem to know a lot about American politics,” Charlotte said.
“When you’re working with international trade deals, learning what you’re up against becomes second nature.” Just as when you’re working with women, you learn their vanity comes first. “Just as I’m sure you’ve come to know every labor law on the books to be as good as you are.”
She tilted her head slightly, a subtle nod to his praise. “I suppose. But what does that have to do with you being in Philadelphia? You’d think you’d be haunting Elizabeth.”
“Not when one of the committee members is in town for a fundraiser.”
“You mean Congresswoman Lilith Millwater?”
“Well, this is her district.”
She eyed him over. “Hence the tux. So you were here for a bit of a schmooze.”
“Only because nothing gets done in Washington anymore,” he said, shaking his head. “Used to be ninety-percent of business was accomplished during cocktail hour. Now the righteous lot of you are afraid to be seen with a drink in your hand. You seemed to have forgotten the immense value of a tumbler of scotch. Why is that?” He looked at her, truly curious. “Why is it that Americans have created every type of pleasure for themselves but are vilified if they indulge?”
“Perhaps because some forget there’s a time and place for everything.”
“Perhaps they should realize it doesn’t have to hurt or taste bad to be good for you.”
“Is that what happened, Monsieur Renaud?” she asked. “Were you looking for lightning in your glass of champagne?” She crossed her arms in front of her, throwing up the gate. “Perhaps you were showing someone the value of pleasure only to have it explode in your face? Is that what happened when you took that lobbyist in the next room and tried to rip her clothes from her?”
He clenched his fists. “Bravo. You’ve well-proved your can read a police report.”
“And a good thing I did as you’re telling me nothing.” She huffed, tossing her hand in futility. “You know, out of everything you’ve said so far the one item you’ve omitted is that you’re innocent.” She eyed him speculatively. “Are you?”
He rose, coming around the desk, remaining at a respectful enough distance so he could read her reaction. “They say a good defense attorney doesn’t need to know that. That all they need are facts and evidence.”
“But I’m not a defense attorney, am I?”
Now she was just irritating him. “Don’t be flip with me, Charlotte.”
“And don’t play me for an idiot. The one thing I need more than facts and evidence is to absolutely believe in what I’m doing, and I can’t defend you if you lie to me. So I’m only going to ask you this once, and I expect absolute truthfulness.” She met his gaze squarely. “Are you guilty of what they’re accusing you of? Did you sexually assault that woman?”
A knock came at the door. “Ten minutes,” they heard the guard say.
He looked down on her. “Well, let me tell you…”