Chelsea remained silent, her eyes glued straight ahead, until the car came to a halt. She blinked as if jolted from her thoughts, opened the door to get out, and stopped. Turning back into the passenger seat, her accusing glare landed on Justin.

 

"This isn't the hospital."

 

"No," he agreed, "it isn't. We're getting something to eat, first."

 

She looked horrified, as if he'd just suggested they run naked through the courthouse.

 

"Look, it's only dinner. I'm not asking you to walk barefoot through leech-infested waters, okay?" he snapped, frustrated beyond reason by her distrust. "I'm going in to get something to eat. You can either come along, or sit in the car and wait. The choice is yours."

 

With that, he opened his door and climbed out. It was a risk, he knew, to offer her the choice. As contrary as she was behaving, Chelsea might choose to stay in the car out of sheer spite. If she did that, the game would be up. He'd get back in the car, drive her to the hospital, and never bother her again. But if she got out of the car now, he'd know she wasn't as indifferent to him as she pretended.

 

Just when Justin was about to concede the game, Chelsea's door opened, and she stepped out of the car, her lightning-blue eyes wary as she smoothed the material of her dark gray skirt.

 

"Just dinner, right? We eat, and then you take me back to my car."

 

Justin bit back a tight smile at the severe expression on her face, as if she was taking a monumental risk and wanted to know the rules first. This was the same woman who hadn't batted an eye at the idea of breaking into a man's home? If one thing about Chelsea continued to surprise him, it was the duality of her nature. She had no trouble bending the law whenever she felt the situation warranted it, but she had a desperate need to establish unbending rules when it came to every personal interaction in her life. Her whole manner, and the heat behind her lightning eyes, radiated disregard for rules. She had the wild freedom of a revolutionary. But her staid refusal to accept a client sight unseen, or a friend without first firmly establishing her obligations, was a contradiction of that inner rebel.

 

His smile died completely. He knew what that cool shield she wore was a sign of. He saw it every day. She was in pain. Deep, heartbreaking, soul-torturing pain.

 

Justin's gut clenched as if he'd just been sucker-punched. He'd known for a while Chelsea had been the victim of some painful trauma. But this new insight into her personality was a much more devastating one. Only a few things in this world could turn a free spirit into a paranoid automaniac. His mind roiled with the most prominent of those abuses, and he shoved it from his mind before he had a chance to blurt out the question pressing on his tongue. He had to approach this delicately. He could do that. He handled plenty of delicate examinations in the courtroom, sidestepping around an issue until the witness opened up on their own.

 

Having made the very wise decision to tread delicately, he opened his mouth, and those very foolish words tumbled out, anyway.

 

"What happened to you?"

 

Her eyes grew saucer-wide, and her breath caught in surprised fear as he came around the front of the car to stand before her.

 

"I don't know what..." Her voice trailed off, and she licked her lips, as if tasting her own lie. His libido spiked at the temptation of her lips, but he shoved it aside. Her answer was more important.

 

"Yes," he pursued with gentle firmness. "You do know what I mean. What happened to make you so paranoid about men?"

Contact Esther Mitchell at:

esthermitchell@esthermitchell.com

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