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Six blocks later, on the twelfth floor of her white stone office building, Julie unlocked the darkened door and smiled. She’d beaten Dade in. Not easy considering his Lake Shore Drive condo sat only a few miles away.
She flipped the overhead switch in the reception area to reveal the four butter-colored leather chairs, love seat, and round table with popular magazines, all waiting for the day’s clients.
Her catalog case squeaked as she rolled it along the variegated design of the short carpet leading to her side of the suite. Once rid of the case and her purse, she darted into Dade’s office, where she hung the decorations and hastily retreated down the hall to her own file-filled office. She had to do something about all this work. Only a few inches of her walnut colored desk were visible. Blocking that thought from her mind, she awaited Dade’s arrival.
Five minutes later, she heard the unmistakable sound of his quick stride. Her heart sped. Any minute now he’d discover her handiwork.
Then came the expected, “Julie McGuire, I’m going to get you.”
She smiled at the success of her efforts then counted one, two and three.
There he was, filling her doorway, charging the room with his energy.
Glancing up from her work, she wagged a finger at him. “You didn’t think I’d forget, did you?”
“I hate this kind of stuff, and you know it.”
“And I know you’re a fake. Come over here. I’ve got something you’ll like.”
He raised his eyebrows. “An interesting variation, but I’m game.”
A typical Dade remark. Julie snorted.
“I’ll let that pass. Happy Birthday, Dade.” She handed him the wrapped gift. Her heart raced with anticipation. Dade was bound to be floored. Though he was usually a “doer” and not a reader, he did have a weakness for Jensen’s books. Wait until he saw this one, which hadn’t even hit the shelves.
Still standing, Dade ripped open the wrapping. His whistle hurt Julie’s ears.
“How did you pull this off?” He switched the book back and forth in his hands.
“Oh, let’s just say I’ve got connections.”
“We’re in trouble now. This baby will seriously jeopardize client time for at least two hours.”
Julie felt the warmth spread throughout her, as she gazed at her law partner, taking in his azure eyes, the corners etched with thin wrinkles, and his untamed dark hair which stuck out in all directions as if he’d run a finger through it instead of a comb. That was Dade for you. He never concerned himself with trivialities. Then again, he didn’t need to, not with his God-given looks and his outgoing personality.
Dade had been a member of her honorary family for ages, even before her parents had passed away. He was a vital part of her past and present. Thanks to their law practice, she saw more of him than of his sister, Avery, whom she counted as her dearest friend.
“Sit down and read me the autograph,” she said. “I’m dying to hear what he wrote. I forgot to look.”
Dade flipped open the book atop Julie’s desk, then raised his eyebrows. “You know Jensen?”
“I just met him at the conference yesterday.”
“So you don’t know him that well?”
“This autograph says different.”
“Let me see that,” Julie said, spinning the book around.
She stared at the tight script, her face growing warmer by the second. It read, “Dade, your partner is worth stealing. Watch your step.”
“That’s strange. Well, he is a mystery writer. He’s probably staying in character.”
Dade snorted. “No, it’s more than that. He wants you, Julie.”
“I told you, we just met at a conference. He couldn’t be after me. I doubt if I’ll ever see him again anyway.”
Dade stared at her with knowing eyes.
He had to be kidding.
“Don’t give me that look.” Reaching around the desk, she poked him in the arm.
“I want you to stick around here, that’s all.”
“Well I’m not around for everything. Remember the agreement.”
“Oh, that,” he said, making it sound of little consequence. “You wouldn’t break it for once, would you?”
“And ruin a good thing?” Although outwardly laughing, inside she was serious.
She had something better than marriage. She could do whatever she wanted and still see Dade more often than most wives saw their husbands. They’d faced a lot together, business and personal-wise. He was there for her and she for him. They were partners. She didn’t need anything more.
She had all that, yet she was thinking of deserting him. Could she do it?
Dade stood up to leave. “As usual, partner, you’re right. I wouldn’t think of reneging on our agreement. On that note, I’ll scram. I do have cases up.”
“And I’ve got Miller on trial,”Julie said. “Hey, don’t forget your present. It should be a good read. Oh, and again, happy birthday.”
Dade’s face looked grim as he swiped the book from her hands. “Thanks,” he said curtly.
Julie stared at Dade’s stiff back as he lumbered off. Disappointment washed over her. She’d just given Dade a terrific birthday present. He should be happy. Was he upset about getting older or was it something silly like Jensen’s innocent autograph?
* * *
“That son of a bitch.” Dade heaved Jensen’s book onto the chair in his office. It bounced off the black leather edge and landed open on the floor.
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