“Are you sure you don’t mind we had to take the truck tonight?” Hope asks.
I glance at her, my gaze traveling over the woven material covering her legs. “The tights you’re wearing make up for it.”
“It’s such a nice night.” She lightly touches her fingertips against her window. “Cold but clear and so pretty.”
This time I reach over and rest my hand on her knee, giving her a gentle squeeze. “Miss it?”
“I don’t think you want to show up to this thing all windblown.”
“True.” She huffs. “I don’t want to go at all. If it wasn’t for Mara, I wouldn’t.”
“This is the last event she had to organize for the Bar Association, right?”
She laughs. “She’s thrilled her term is almost finished. I don’t think she expected volunteering for a position on the executive board to be so much work. But it helped her do some networking for Damon’s next campaign.”
“What’s Damon planning to run for now?”
“The vacant Senate seat.”
I paid more attention to state politics than you’d think and knew the seat had been vacant since the last senator was arrested for corruption. Damon’s too honorable to be bribed—not that I’d try that angle with a friend of Hope’s anyway—but the idea of knowing yet another person in New York State government is appealing. In fact, I’m more interested in attending this holiday party for the Empire County Bar Association than the party my club is throwing at Crystal Ball later tonight.
“We’ll have to be sure to make a donation to his campaign.”
Out of the corner of my eye, I catch Hope swivel her head to stare at me. “I don’t think he needs our money.”
“Maybe the club will make a donation.”
“Planning to act as a legislative liaison between motorcyclists and our elected officials, are you?”
I run the hand resting on her leg up her thigh, pushing her skirt higher. “Feeling sassy tonight, Baby Doll?”
Her breath hitches, but she stops my exploration by pressing her hands against her skirt. “I don’t have any extra tights with me.”
Actually, I have a whole bag packed for her in the back of my SUV. Hope doesn’t know that after our evening out, I’m taking her to a hotel for our own personal holiday celebration.
A gift to myself for pasting on my presidential smile and enduring a whole lot of socializing tonight, instead of staying home with my woman the way I’d prefer.
“Turn here,” she says pointing to the narrow, one-way street where the Bar Association’s office is located. “I assume you don’t want anyone parking your car.”
She chuckles as I pull into the last spot available on the street.
“Wait for me.” I step into the crisp night and hurry to her side. Before we left, she’d draped her coat over the back seat. I grab it before opening her door.
Then almost lose my mind when she twists in her seat, angling her leg down to touch the running board.
“What’s wrong?” she asks, concern heightening the pitch of her voice.
Meeting her confused green eyes, I groan. She’s already nervous about tonight, I don’t need her getting the wrong idea. “You’re sexy as fuck in that little red dress, lacy tights and tiny boots. I’m starting to think we should go home instead.”
I offer my hand and she steps the rest of the way out of the truck.
“Oh.” Under the glow of the nearby street lamp she runs her hands over her hips, down her stomach, to her thighs, fixing the skirt of her dress. “You think it’s too sexy? I wasn’t sure what would work for both events.”
“Baby Doll,” I say, holding her coat out for her to slip into, “I’d make you wear a burlap sack every time you leave the house if I thought you wouldn’t slice my balls off.”
Her husky laughter works me up even more. She reaches for my cheek, her soft, warm fingers resting there for a second. “Lucky for you I don’t have a ball-slicing bone in my body.”
“Yeah? So where do we stand on the burlap sack?”
More laughter that really makes me consider taking her directly to the hotel. Instead, I offer my arm and she slips hers through, gripping my bicep. “You okay to walk?”
She glances down at her black ankle boots. “It’s a short heel. I’ll be fine as long as there’s no ice.”
Her grip tightens as we navigate the uneven sidewalk. Outside the building a number of people have congregated on the sidewalk to talk and smoke. Someone calls out her name.
“Hi, Ross!” she answers, hurrying toward her friend.
He gives me a quick glance before wrapping her up in a short embrace. “How’ve you been?” He pulls back, eyeing her from head to toe. “Damn, you look good, girl.”
“Thank you.” She chuckles nervously and takes my hand again. “Have you seen Mara yet?”
“Inside, running around like a mad woman.”
“She’s thrilled her term is almost up.”
“True. She’s done such a good job.” He lowers his voice. “I have inside information Angie wants to ask her to run again,” he answers.
Since I don’t have anything to add to their conversation, I let my attention wander to the small crowd. It’s how I’m the first one to spot Adam and his friend approaching. He notices me and lifts his chin. “Hey, Rock.” He shakes my hand, then gives Hope a quick hug, barely acknowledging Ross.
“Hope, you haven’t met Trooper Tom, have you?” Adam asks, introducing his boyfriend.
Hope raises an eyebrow. “Trooper Tom? Is that because you’re a trooper for putting up with this guy?” she teases.
I actually recognize Tom as a State Trooper and stifle a laugh.
Adam finishes the introductions—and explanation for Hope. Tom shakes my hand slowly and gives me a curious once-over. He recognizes me too. Not a surprise since it had been the NYS Troopers who arrested me two summers ago. Could’ve even been his barracks, although I don’t remember him as one of the officers who questioned me.
Hope seems blissfully unaware of the situation and I want to keep it that way. “Should we go inside to find Mara?” I suggest.
“Sure. Nice to meet you, Tom,” Hope says.
Ross tags along with us. “Flying solo tonight?” I ask as we climb a short, steep set of stairs into the building.
“Yup. Planning to make the rounds and head out to a much different kind of party.”
Hope chuckles. “So are we.”
Ross waggles his eyebrows and Hope shakes her head. “Perv.” She touches my arm. “We have the club’s Christmas party at Crystal Ball later.”
His gaze swings back to me. “Two very different events indeed.”
“Yeah,” I agree.
“When are you going to have some male strippers in that joint, Rock? You’d probably make a fortune.”
“Actually, Z’s been working on a couple different special events for off-nights.”
“Nice. Keep me updated.”
Hope blinks up at me. “Really?”
Her question amuses me. “Why you wanna see some male strippers?”
Next to us, Ross snorts. “I don’t see Miss Innocent going to one of those.”
A pretty flush stains Hope’s cheeks and she shakes her head. “Why would I need to—” she runs her hand over my chest “—when I have my very own beefcake at home?”
Ross flicks his gaze at me and smirks. “I see your point.” He lifts his chin at Hope. “I’m going to circulate. You good?”
“I’m fine. Do you know where Mara is?”
He surveys the crowded room. “A night without the kiddo? I’m guessing Damon used his tie to gag her and they’re busy fucking in a closet right about now.”
“Ugh, you’re awful.” Hope gives him a playful shove. “Go hustle the crowd.”
Rock’s rumbling laughter vibrates against my back and his warm hand strays to the curve of my ass. “What’s so funny?”
“Nothing at all.” He leans down, whispering against my ear, “Want to go find our own closet?”
“Here? In a building full of lawyers? I’m dry as a desert.” This is a lie. I’ve been turned on from the second Rock stepped out of our room in his gray suit, complete with red tie. On the other hand, that familiar, uneasy flutter stirs in my belly and I hate having Rock here to witness all my awkwardness around my colleagues. Especially since he’s always so at ease no matter where he goes.
Believe it or not, I’m actually looking forward to the party at Crystal Ball later. Who knew I’d ever feel more comfortable around a club full bikers and half-naked dancers than in my own world?
“I bet if I checked, I’d discover you’re lying.” The shiver that works through my body has nothing to do with the cold and everything to do with his low, seductive voice. “Fine, let’s go.” I tug on his hand to emphasize my desire to leave.
He groans and tightens his hold on me. “Nice try. You have to say hello to Mara. And you’re supposed to talk to at least three people before I can allow you to leave.”
Why did I ever share my silly rules for socializing at these things with him? “Adam, Ross, Tom—”
“And not your friends.”
Mara’s voice stops me from growling out my annoyance and I turn to find her trotting down the large staircase to our left.
I hurry over to meet her and give her a quick hug. “Everything looks great.”
My gaze narrows, giving her a more critical look. “Honey, your lipstick’s smudged.”
“Oh, shit.” She lets out a nervous giggle and I dig in my purse for a compact and hand it to her.
I step back, examining her a little closer. The green dress she’s wearing has a fitted top that both accents her assets and frames her flushed chest. “What were you up to?”
“Who me?” she asks with an innocently raised eyebrow. “Well, I definitely was not upstairs. And my husband certainly did not bend me over a desk.”
“Ahh, desk. Ross said you two were probably banging in a closet, but that didn’t seem right,” I tease.
“He what? Where is that little shit?” She stops and it’s her turn to give me the critical once-over. “Why are you out in the foyer? You look like you’re about to bolt any second.” She glances at Rock. “Hi, Rock. Thank goodness you’re here or she would’ve left by now.”
Rock laughs, but doesn’t respond to the observation. “We’ve been looking for you,” he says instead.
“Here, let me take your coat, Hope. I’m sweating just looking at you.”
“I think that’s because—”
“Hello, Hope. Rock,” Damon greets as he descends the stairs. He stops behind Mara, curving an arm around her waist, looking completely calm and collected for a man who just nailed his wife over a desk—because yes, I totally believe that’s exactly what they were doing upstairs.
“Come on, Hope. Hand over the coat,” Mara says, holding out her hands.
Damon quirks an eyebrow at her and she shrugs. “I don’t want her jetting out the door.”
Behind me, Rock chuckles and helps me slip off my coat. Damon holds out his hands and takes it away.
“I can leave without it you know,” I say, facing Mara. “Rock will keep me warm.”
She rolls her eyes. “I’m sure he will. Now come on, I want to introduce you to the chair of the small firms committee.”
Immediately suspicious, I stop in my tracks. “Why?”
“They need a co-chair.”
“Oh, hell no. I don’t want to do that.” After my initial revulsion wears off, I think it over. “You know who would be good for it though? A friend of mine, Charlotte Clark.”
“Is she here tonight?”
“No, but I’ll mention it to her.”
“I still want to introduce you.”
“Fine.” I throw Rock one last pleading look, but he stands there, spreads his hands and shrugs, as if there’s nothing he can possibly do to save me from my determined friend.