Second Breath: A steamy, opposites attract romance
What could possibly go wrong when a lawyer falls in love with a young woman whose reputation he was hired to destroy?
“Wow, what a breathtaking story! I'm simply blown away by the depth of emotions the author brought out in this book." ~Viper Spaulding
Dylan Rhodes is a cocky, up-and-coming lawyer who was just given his big break—all he has to do is win a questionable case to become the firm’s youngest partner. But after he meets the woman he’s meant to take down, all he can think about is taking her home.
Grad student Kama Ray is one date shy of finishing the research portion of her thesis about dating mind-tricks. The man who answers her ad is perfect. He’s an unapologetic player who treats women like tea bags—gets them wet, then tosses them out. But as they get deeper into the study, Kama’s not sure who’s mind-tricking whom.
As Kama falls for her research subject, she fears her feelings are a result she can’t defend. And when Dylan sees the truth about Kama’s study, his career goals grind against doing what’s right.
Will their romance be deadlocked or can they appeal to their hearts to find their forever?
Second Breath is a stand-alone in the steamy, Mixed Six-Pack contemporary romance series, featuring smart heroines, hottie heroes, funny family dynamics and quirky, witty banter. No cheating and a guaranteed HEA.
Buy Second Breath to witness the justice of love today!
Release date: August 15, 2020
Publisher: Fire Lily Press
Print pages: 332
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Second Breath: A steamy, opposites attract romance
Chapter 1 — Mr Dylan Rhodes
Barb grabbed my arm as I stepped off the elevator to my office. Told me I had an unscheduled meeting with a senior partner in the firm.
“Right now, Mr. Rhodes,” she said.
My stomach tensed and I smoothed my tie. A nervous tic. I thought about all the cases I had on the go, wondered which one was responsible for this emergency meeting. And whether I’d be patted on the back or tossed into the shitter. I’d not yet had my ass handed to me on a plate by a partner, and according to the other lawyers working on my floor, I was due.
In only two years as a junior litigator, I’d brought more new clients to the firm than any other lawyer except the partners. My strength was in attracting and arguing cases that garnered media attention, which was a double-edged sword. A win attracted positive attention to the firm and lots of phone calls for me. A loss was a public strike against my personal reputation. But my track record was forty-six wins and four losses. I felt confident about my goal of making partner before I turned thirty. If I succeeded, I’d be the first twenty-something partner with Premier Law Boutique. And I thrived on being first.
I dropped my briefcase on the floor behind my desk and headed for the emergency stairwell, taking the stairs two at a time. In front of the heavy metal door, I closed my eyes and struck a Superman pose for four deep breaths. It was the way I focused and solidified my confidence before entering a courtroom. I had a feeling I’d need that poise for this meeting.
Swinging open the fire door, I smiled and walked toward Shane James’s office. Barb, his personal assistant, was back at her desk, and she told me to knock and go in. The door was ajar, and I noticed someone was already meeting with him.
“Mr. James. Good morning,” I said to my boss. Then I reached out to the man sitting in the client chair across his desk. “Good morning. I’m Dylan Rhodes.”
The guy did a head tilt to acknowledge me but didn’t take my hand. I smiled. He looked me up and down, as if he were checking me out.
“Sit,” James said.
I sat in the chair beside the strange man.
“Rhodes, this is Bob Booker. Bob’s the son of a longtime friend of mine, and he has a case I believe your skills are perfectly suited to tackle.”
Inside, I breathed a sigh of relief and did a happy dance. Being given a case by a managing partner in the firm was typically the last step before being offered a junior partnership. “Fantastic.”
“Bob, tell Rhodes what you were telling me.”
This guy was still giving me the side-eye. It was disconcerting. A little bit creepy.
“I’m not sure he’ll work,” Bob finally said. “I’d say he’s out of her league. Have you got someone, you know, a little more… average looking?”
My head swung to James. I must have looked like a confused puppy with my head tilted and my eyes blinking. I think I even shrugged.
“He’s in a custom-fit suit, Bob. Every man looks thirty percent better in a custom suit. Put him in jeans and a T-shirt. Add an end-of-day, five o’clock shadow. He can make it work.”
“Sir?” I said.
“It’s an interesting case, Rhodes. And right up your alley. This one’s going to get a lot of media. We’ll make sure of that.”
“And this case is?”
Booker turned to me. “Puffery. Misleading advertising. Not fulfilling an implied contract. Take your pick. Oh, and a minor thing called breach of ethical conduct.”
He had my attention. I assumed, based on my brief read of the man whose shoes looked three sizes too big, that he was being accused of one or more of these things. “What is it alleged that you’ve done, Mr. Booker?”
He quickly sat back in his chair. “Me? Jesus Christ! I’m the complainant. The alleged,” he said with air quotes, “is a woman named Kama Ray. She’s the one who’s broken the law. And that’s not alleged. I’m the victim. So are many other men. She’s a class-A, lying bitch who’s getting away with hundreds, if not thousands, of dollars of criminal activity every week.”
I looked back to my boss, hoping he’d give me something a little more specific.
“Kama Ray is a psychology master’s student at BCU. She’s working on a thesis about dating.” He looked down at his notes. “It’s called ‘How to be a Jedi in the World of Online Dating.’”
I smiled. Interesting thesis title.
Booker interjected when Mr. James took a breath. “Yeah, and this chick is using mind tricks to mess with the men she dates. She gets them to say things they wouldn’t normally say and not do things they normally would, if you know what I mean.”
I turned my gaze from Booker to my boss.
“The legal issue, Rhodes, is her failure to disclose her motivations to her dates, who are effectively her research subjects. It’s against every ethical and legal code for thesis research.”
“She’s going down,” Booker said, lifting an elbow and swinging his whole arm to point at the ground, like a gangster in a rap video.
This guy was ridiculous. Even though I’d never met Ms. Ray, Mr. Booker was not a very likable man on first impression. If I were the betting type, I’d put my money, sight unseen, on Ray walking away with this one. I smiled and tried to hide a niggling sense that I was being set up to fail. “This sounds like a ‘he-said-she-said’ case.”
“No,” James said. “I want this to be bigger than that. This speaks to a systemic problem with the psychology department’s research methods. This case is bigger than just the conflict between Ms. Ray and Bob. Their relationship is the springboard to a case that I believe could—and should—embarrass the entire department. And, if you do your job well, it will force the dean to step down.”
I nodded. That sounded more interesting.
“Rhodes, you can go. I just wanted you to meet Bob. I’ll brief you on the details. Ask Barb to book a ten-minute meeting with me as soon as I have a space in my calendar.”
I stood and tried to shake hands with Bob Booker, but he repeated the same aloof head tilt he’d used to greet me. Still no smile. I reminded myself that I didn’t have to like my clients. “I look forward to working on your case, Mr. Booker.”
* * *
I was staying late. Again. The first ten-minute opening with Mr. James wasn’t until six thirty. I wasn’t alone in the office, though. Not by a long shot. On my floor, twelve of my colleagues were still working away, keyboards clacking quickly.
I took the elevator this time. No need to power pose. I knew what I was walking into. Barb had gone home, and James’s door was open. His office had a full wall of glass overlooking the Vancouver waterfront and North Shore mountains. It wasn’t the largest office in the firm, but it had the best view. James looked up but instead of waving me in, he motioned for me to wait. I stood at his door while he typed something and closed his laptop.
“Rhodes,” he said, standing, “I want to show you something.”
We walked across the floor to a small office. One with a view of downtown Vancouver.
“If you win this case, this office will be yours.”
I did a silent cheer. Several images rushed through my mind. My dad looking proud. Me being the first of my brothers to win Vancouver’s Top Thirty Under Thirty award. A Tesla Model S with $80,000 of upgrades in my employee parking spot.
“That’s amazing, Mr. James. Excellent motivation! Thank you, sir.”
“Well, I can guarantee you will earn it. What was your impression of Bob… Mr. Booker?”
How to answer that? “He strikes me as a person who grows on you.”
“He’s an entitled prick,” James said with disdain. “The firm is taking this case for two reasons. Number one, his father is a longtime friend and was the first and largest investor in this firm. Second, I have some history with the dean of the psychology department. Her name is Starla Spode-Sugar. She and I were colleagues during our PhD years.”
James turned away from me and faced the view. “She attended my thesis defense, and because of her private feedback to my supervisor, my revisions were so onerous my dissertation was a virtual rewrite.”
I inhaled a whistle without thinking.
He turned to me. “So this is also personal. Not a great reason to take on a case, but I want you to be aware why it’s imperative that you win. And, since I know it won’t be easy, this”—he spread his arms like a game-show presenter—“is what you’ll earn as compensation.”
My original feeling of being set up was confirmed. These were two terrible reasons to accept a case. “From what you know, does Mr. Booker have grounds for his allegations?”
“Couldn’t tell you. Like you said, at this stage it’s a ‘he-said-she-said’ situation, and I wouldn’t bet an old sandwich on his word being more convincing than hers. So…”
I was trying to think fast but not seeing the path forward.
“So you’ll have to do something a little unorthodox. You need to become the ‘he-said’ in the scenario.”
“I don’t understand.”
James sat at the desk he was dangling like a carrot. There were no other chairs in the room and it felt awkward, towering above him, so I widened my stance, reducing my height to under six feet.
“Booker claims this woman follows a script with all of her dates. If that’s true, then you’ll have the same experience he did. As the complainant to this alleged unethical activity, you’ll have more credibility than Booker and, I’m certain, more credibility than a feminist psychology student.”
“Wait. I’m not sure I understand. Are you telling me that my job is to go on a date with this student and take legally defensible notes?”
“Not just one date. She carries out her research over three dates. The first date is always in the same restaurant, and she always sits at the same table. Same with the second and third dates. She is meticulous in managing her research environment, despite being in an uncontrolled setting.”
“How do you know this? How does Booker know this?”
“Let’s just say he’s already spent several months and god knows how much money having her followed. He gave me a file two inches thick with details and photographs. The man is…” James sighed. “He has an unhealthy obsession with this woman that has verged on, if not wandered right into, illegal territory itself.”
James nodded. “So really, there’s nothing in the file that you can use in your actual arguments. But it may help guide you on how best to trip her up. If these other guys she used in her research were of the same intellectual and egotistical caliber as Bob, I suspect it was easy to use her so-called Jedi mind tricks on them.” He laughed.
“And you have faith in my ability to out-Jedi her?”
“You’re one of the strongest young litigators I’ve ever seen in this firm. And I have faith in your motivation to get this office—and the status and the paycheck that come with it.”
He wasn’t wrong about my motivation. And in a job where compliments were rare, especially from a senior partner, he triggered me to snap my legs together like a cadet at attention.
“Thank you, sir. So I just want to be one-hundred-percent clear: my job is to bill $300 an hour to go out on three dates with Ms. Ray.”
He nodded. “Plus expenses, of course. But the real job is to build a case that will take down Starla Spode-Sugar and give the young Booker some closure, so he can get this woman out of his system.” James stood and reached his hand toward mine. “Sound good?”
My brain was processing as quickly as it could. Did it sound good? Good is not the word I’d have chosen. It sounded like I was being asked to stroke two men’s egos with a grad student’s hand. I looked around the office that could be mine. At the view that could be mine. At James, who was nodding.
“You look good in this office, Rhodes.”
“Feels good, sir.” I shook my boss’s hand and accepted the case because, really, what choice did I have?
Chapter 2 — Ms Kama Ray
Burgersio was crowded, but my booth was empty, held for me with a small ‘reserved’ sign. I was thirty minutes early, as always, and sitting at the high table by the window, as always.
I was nervous. I was always nervous, whether it was the first, second, or third date. But each one triggered a unique kind of nerves. Date one was anticipation. Would we connect enough for him to want a second date? If not, I’d be wasting my precious time since the valuable data came from the second and third times we met.
Date two nerves were excitement. I was one date closer to graduating.
And date three? Fear. I always had a stomachache the entire time because by the third date, I’d actually started to like some of these guys. A few of them also liked me. So it was painful to end date three with a handshake and a “thanks for your time, it was nice to meet you.” But that’s how it had to be.
Tonight, I was especially on edge, not only because the guy I was meeting could be my very last first date, but also because he was a lawyer. He used the profile name LegalTender and joined the service the same day he contacted me. He’d only posted two photos. In one, there were six men in bathing suits, standing with their arms around each other at a beach. They were so fit they looked like they were all part of a team. I guessed rugby or maybe skiing, since they were too pretty to be boxers, too tall to be wrestlers, and too cool to be golfers.
He’d indicated himself with a red arrow. Of the six, he had the darkest complexion, and he was also the shortest, though his profile said he was six feet one. My first reaction was that this guy had a lot of self-confidence. Who else would use a dating photo that virtually forced women to compare him to a bunch of other very attractive men?
The second photo only showed half his face. A dalmatian puppy hid the other half. He said the picture had been taken for a fundraising event he’d organized with his brother, a fireman.
I’d seen those photos of hot men posing, bare-chested and open-hearted. Who in the world hadn’t?
So LegalTender, aka Dylan Rhodes, was a lawyer and a mini celebrity with six-pack abs and the self-confidence of a lion.
All this made me more nervous than was normal for a first date.
Something else made me anxious. Dylan Rhodes was the most perfect research subject of the two dozen men I’d met in my official research because all the men in my unofficial control group were, like him, high achievers. But I couldn’t include those first five men in my master’s thesis data since I hadn’t actually started my research yet. The only reason I’d even bothered to go out with them was because my advisor wouldn’t approve my proposal until I’d gone out with five actual men—and not for academic purposes. She had this silly idea that my experience was too limited for me to understand the dating game.
And sure, maybe I’d not made time for men since starting university, but I had a solid understanding of app-based dating from an academic article I’d read about college dating from an economic perspective. It found that the more money a man invests in a date, the more he expects in return. (No surprise to any of my friends.) Of course, said man doesn’t want to be repaid by e-transfer; he wants the transfer to be of the goods-for-services variety, payment-in-kind. And sadly, this economist’s research found that most women also believed this to be a fair exchange. Dinner for sex. Sex for dinner, as it were.
It made me so angry I based my thesis research on finding a way to beat this bias in one-on-one situations, since changing the whole cultural norm would take a few more years and probably a PhD to accomplish. Hey, a girl can dream.
My thesis goal was to prove that women could game the dating system by using subtle psychological cues to convince their dates that there was no so-called debt, no matter how large his investment of time or money.
Remember that scene in Attack of the Clones when Obi-Wan Kenobi is offered death sticks by Elan Sleazebaggano? Obi-Wan waves his hand, mind tricks him, and Mr. Sleaze agrees to go home and rethink his life? Yeah, that’s my goal. To research what it takes for a woman to wave her hand, say, “You don’t want to have sex with me,” and for Mr. Pushy to happily agree to go home and get off on his own.
So here I was, waiting for my first date with one of Vancouver’s hottest young lawyers. He was so much more everything than the guys who normally replied to my dating profile, which was exciting but terrifying, since I really needed three dates with him to collect the useful data. And I wasn’t convinced I’d be able to hold this guy’s attention that long.
Lizzy, my best friend and a hostess at Burgersio, brought me a cup of chai with cream.
“So is this really the last time I get to spy on the early dating days of our generation’s Dr. Ruth?” Lizzy hung her head and made a sad face.
“If I’m lucky, he’ll be magic number twenty-four, which is all my advisor says I need. And I’m not going on one more date than I have to. But I have zero confidence he’ll be my last. I mean, why would a guy like Dylan ‘Have you seen his freaking abs?’ Rhodes be interested in going out with me?”
“Um… because you’re smart and beautiful,” Lizzy said. She was the best friend and worst liar ever.
“Riiight. Maybe, but more likely he lost a bet.”
“Shut up, idiot. So, which playlist do you think you’ll be using for this tender, legal guy?”
“It’s LegalTender, a totally different thing. And I’m guessing the sexy one.”
At a specific moment in the date, Lizzy always put on one of two special Spotify playlists I’d created, based on whether or not I was the type of woman the guy usually dated. If, within the first five minutes, he said I was his type, Lizzy would put on my neutral playlist, one that wouldn’t amp up his innate interest in me. If I wasn’t his normal type, she’d put on a playlist of songs with sexually suggestive lyrics—nothing overt, since this was a family restaurant—and a beat that echoed a heartbeat. Music was one of the many tools I used to control my dates’ reactions to me.
But one thing that stayed consistent from date to date was my appearance—my makeup, the way I did my hair, and what I wore. Exactly the same every time. Every date had its special uniform. But the overall look was always ‘Girl Next Door’: natural, unpretentious, maybe a little naive looking. The girl next door inspired a man to feel comfortable about sharing, for example, his secret interest in her best friend. She was trustworthy and—let’s face it—just too plain to be the romantic lead in a love story.
I even made sure I smelled the same by using scent-free soap and shampoo—nothing that could trigger a nostalgic childhood memory for the guy.
Honestly, I had more fun making sure these dates were scientifically defensible than actually going on them. The academic element was the big turn-on for me.
The door chimed, and a man walked in.
“Gotta go.” Lizzy walked to the podium where Dylan now stood.
I looked at my watch. He was twenty minutes early. My heart sped up, and I panicked a little. Don’t tell him I’m already here, I willed Lizzy. I watched as he let her know he was meeting someone with a reservation. She walked him to my reserved table without giving me away. He smiled and thanked her as he sat down.
Then she came right back over to me, eyes wide. “He said your name right,” she whispered.
“Really? You sure it didn’t sound like ‘gamma ray’?” I stared over at him. He was looking at the drink menu and moving his head to the beat of the song playing through the speaker above my table.
“One hundred percent, clear as day, he said Kama with a hard ‘a’. He’s the first one to get it right. It’s a sign, Kama.”
“Probably just a sign that he read my LinkedIn profile bio where I pointed out the proper pronunciation.”
“Did you see him? Jeez Louise, why is he online dating? How is it even possible that he’s single? After you’re done with him, I want his number. Promise you’ll introduce me.”
“Sure, sure,” I said, hoping to temper Lizzy’s excitement. I didn’t need her sparky energy swirling around me. “Did he ask for anything?”
“No. I offered to bring him water, but he said he wasn’t sure if his date would like ice or not, so he said he’d wait. Kama, did you see him? He doesn’t look like a lawyer—at least not the kind you see in movies. He looks more like an action hero. He’s—”
“Shush! Yes, I saw him. I know. He’s way out of my league. But for some reason he asked me out, so…” I took a deep breath and exhaled slowly, trying to settle the anxiety tingling in my limbs. “Okay, go back to work. I need to get into the zone.”
I waved Lizzy away with wide arms and open palms, hoping to disrupt the messy energy she’d sloshed all over me.
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