Excerpt from Blackjack & Moonlight

Blackjack and Moonlight

Read now: Amazon | B & N

Blackjack & Moonlight (a finalist in the 2012 Romance Writers of America®  Golden Heart® contest) is the story of an unlikely romance between a judge (Jack “Blackjack” McIntyre, after whom The Blackjack Quartet is named) and a bankruptcy lawyer (Elise Carroll) who appears in his courtroom.

Here is the famous “negotiation scene”, in which Elise and Jack argue how to date—as only lawyers could:

When the doorbell rang, Elise was satisfied. Her house was cleaner than it had been in a long time. She’d changed the sheets, put out fresh towels, and squeezed in time for a proper bath. With perfumed bath salts, even. She was wearing her cherry-red silk shorty robe and precious little else.

She was ready for sex. Good old-fashioned, rumple-the-sheets, make-the-earth-move sex. She smelled good. She looked good. And she felt both in control and curiously empowered by her decision to sleep with Blackjack McIntyre. She reached for the doorknob just as the bell rang again.

“Hi.” She smiled at him. “Come on in.”

He looked very formal. Impeccable gray flannel overcoat, open over a dashing suit. He might be infuriating, but the man could dress. Elise salivated, thinking about taking all that clothing off him, one piece at a time.

“These are for you.” He handed her a bag with a florist’s logo. Inside was a shallow box holding an arrangement of roses and lilies in a crystal bowl.

“Ooh, these are stunning.” She waved at the hall coat closet as she walked toward the kitchen. “You can hang your coat there.”

Elise glanced back. He was still wearing the coat, and he was frowning, presumably annoyed that things weren’t going as planned. She wanted to laugh at how predictable he was.

She unpacked the bouquet, admired the bowl, and put the flowers in pride of place on her dining room table. Maybe later she would put them in the bedroom.

“I made a reservation for seven-thirty,” Jack said carefully. He was standing in the doorway of the living room, ready to head right out. He held his wrist like he wanted to refer to his watch but was too polite.

Elise grinned at him and pointed. “The phone’s over there. You can cancel the reservation.”

His frown tightened. “You’re not feeling well?”

“On the contrary, I feel great.” She walked over to him, placing her hands on his coat lapels. “Are you sure you won’t take off this coat?”

“No. I mean, yes. I’m sure.” He stepped back a few inches. He looked stern and unwavering—a bit like he had when he’d been prosecuting Philly’s mob boss Dino “T-Rex” Reggiano. No sense of humor, clearly. Either that, or he was about to find her in contempt of court.

“Jack,” she soothed. “I can feed you if you’re hungry. Gusto’s delivers. It’s pretty good pizza.”

The offer seemed to startle him, which warmed her cynical heart no end. She watched as he considered his options.

“I would prefer to take you out to dinner. If you’ll uh, put on some clothes,” he said, studiously not noticing her breasts, which felt very perky under the thin silk of her robe. “I’ll have Gino put back our reservation at La Famiglia.”

“I don’t need to be wined and dined. I’m happy to skip straight to dessert. And by ‘dessert,’ of course, I mean sex.”

Elise drew her hand down the gray flannel sleeve closest to her. She let her fingertips skate along his hand, which he twitched away and hid behind his back. She glanced at his face. He looked stony enough for Mount Rushmore. She hadn’t thought Jack could get more austere—he appeared almost apoplectic with frustration. He clearly hadn’t gotten laid in a while.

This was going to be fun.

“That’s not why I’m here,” he insisted. He stopped trying to limit his gaze to her face. Now he was staring over her right shoulder.

“Well, that’s why I invited you. For sex.”

“I want to date you, not sleep with you.” He said it as though he were stating the obvious to a dim-witted defendant.

So crusty and serious. Elise couldn’t resist teasing him. “Really? You don’t want to sleep with me? Not even a little?”

That got his attention. He narrowed his eyes as he met her look. “Ah, the litigator’s trick. Won’t work. Of course I will want to sleep with you. But tonight, no. What I want tonight is to take you out to dinner.”

“Funny,” Elise said, reaching down to brush her fingertips over his groin. “I could have sworn you were interested in having sex sooner rather than later—”

He took another half step back and glared at her. “Still won’t work. That’s a physiological reaction. It doesn’t change my stated intention to take you to dinner. You said you would come on a date with me.”

“Assuming facts not entered into evidence, Your Honor,” she objected. “All I said was okay. No one bothered to ask what I was saying okay to, and as there wasn’t an explicit offer on the table, you can’t read terms into my acceptance.”

“Elise,” he growled.

“Judge,” she growled back at him.

He really was going to throw a blood clot, she thought as his face contorted with frustration. It got almost—but not quite—ugly. She didn’t think anything could make him look ugly. Damn him. And why didn’t he want to skip straight to the sex? If she made herself any more available, she’d be draped over the couch wearing nothing but a shiny red ribbon.

Suddenly his face cleared. His shoulders dropped a full inch and he even managed a slight smile. He folded his arms and leaned back.

“Fair enough. You’re absolutely right. We didn’t spend enough time yesterday negotiating terms. By all means let’s do that now.”

“I don’t want to negotiate terms. I want to take you upstairs, unwrap you like a Christmas present, and get sweaty with you in my bed.”

“I understand that, Elise.” He made her name sound like a Gypsy curse. “I am declining that generous offer. My counteroffer of dinner at a five-star restaurant is clearly unacceptable to you. So let’s try to find some middle ground.”

“There is no middle ground,” she protested, retreating a bit. She crossed her arms over her chest. Clearly the poky nipples weren’t working for her.

“That’s no way to enter into the spirit of negotiation. You said yes to something last night. What was it?”

“I told you. Hot, steamy sex.” Elise winced. She sounded whiny, like a petulant teenager. That wasn’t the way to win this war and it wasn’t worthy of her skills. She was a better lawyer than that. She released a cleansing breath, lowered her arms and got into the spirit of negotiation, as he’d called it.

“I take your point,” she said in a calmer voice. “Let’s see. I want sex, and you want five-star restaurants, correct?”

Jack inclined his head slowly, guarding against some stunt she might pull. It wasn’t a stunt, though—it was a calculated risk to advance the negotiation.

“Okay, then,” she went on. “How about we trade? One date goes your way and we eat out, the next my way, namely hot and sweaty.” She figured she could resist his evil magic charm across the dinner table if she thought of it as one-week-early foreplay. Her master plan would just take a little longer, that was all.

“But not on the same night,” he said.

She pursed her lips to keep from smiling. “Of course not. We’d spend all our time arguing whose half of the date had lasted longer. No, I’m talking about alternating dates. You get one, I get one. That sort of thing.”

He appeared to consider that. “I get to go first.”

“Why?”

“Because it’s traditional to take a woman to dinner before having hot, steamy sex with her.”

Elise laughed. “That’s so last century.”

He raised an eyebrow. “I’m a last-century kind of guy.”

“Okay, I’ll concede that point. On my dates, however, the food has to take a back seat. No cooking for me, or expecting me to cook for you.”

“Why not?”

“Too romantic. If I let you cook for me, next thing I know, you’ll have white tablecloths and a Hungarian violinist here on one of our sex dates.”

He put his hands in his pockets and rested his shoulder against the wall. “So what happens on one of your uh, sex dates?”

She tilted her head. “Judge McIntyre, if you have to ask, I feel sorry for the news anchor and that biologist.”

“Nevertheless, answer the question.”

“Well, sex, of course. Styles, positions, locations, and frequency all to be negotiated on the specific date. I’m flexible,” she emphasized, looking up at him with a saucy grin.

“I can well believe it.” He didn’t make it sound like a compliment.

“And as I don’t deny that food tastes pretty good after hot, sweaty sex, the host for the sex date will either have something ready to eat, or be prepared to phone for traditional takeout food, such as Chinese, Thai, Japanese, Indian, pizza, etc. If it can be described as gourmet, it’s noncompliant with the stated intent of the sex date. Which is sex.”

“May the host of the sex date offer the guest wine?”

“If the host so desires,” Elise said. “I don’t mind a beer with my pizza, on occasion.”

“Beer,” he repeated slowly, as though she’d suggested Red Bull and Slim Jims from the local convenience store. It was fun to watch Blackjack get disconcerted by something so plebeian as beer.

Welcome to my world, bub.

She spread her hands. “If you think I’m not highbrow enough for you, it’s not too late to change your mind.”

“On the contrary, I’m more excited than ever,” he said in a monotone.

“Mmm. I could tell,” she drawled.

“One question.”

“Yes?”

“Who supplies the condoms?”

Her laugh escaped before she could stop it, but she quickly clamped down on her delight. “The host of the sex date is expected to have a sufficient supply of appropriately sized contraceptives free of defects and well within their sell-by date.” She lowered her voice to add, “And if you try to get me pregnant as a sneaky soap-opera ploy to marry me, I’ll…I’ll tell Judge King.”

“Fair enough,” he conceded. “When does this agreement begin?”

“Well, clearly not tonight. Next Saturday?”

In an instant, Jack was taut and alert again. That cool, intelligent half smile pierced her satisfaction. Everything about him screamed success, as though he’d planned everything to back her into a deal that favored his interests exclusively.

What had she been thinking, trying to handle him? Geoff had been right. Going toe-to-toe with Blackjack McIntyre was like Bambi sparring with Godzilla.

Then his eyelids drooped and he smiled. It was so erotic, Elise could only stare at his mouth, her jaw loose and her mind woolly. That smile was like a tractor beam locked on to its target.

“I believe we’ve got an agreement.” He held out his hand, but when she went to shake it, he used it to pull her closer. “We’ll seal the deal, shall we?”

His lips were softer than she’d imagined. When they got busy with a devilish assault on her senses, Elise lost track of her detachment. Oh, goodness, the man could kiss. His height, the bulk of his chest, that diabolical scent of his skin, his desire for her—hell, her desire for him—it was too much to keep track of. She slipped deeper into his embrace. When he finally released her, she was shivering with anticipation.

“Until next Saturday.”

He had to see himself out. She could barely move.

She stared at the door and touched her lips. No under-delivery there. He’d never even taken off his coat. The idea of going up against all that power when he was naked was terrifying. And oh, so exciting.

Read now: Amazon | B & N