windows and the gray, rainy New York City skyline, then turned to look at his mahogany desk, oversize leather chair, expensive oriental rug and handmade, wooden bookshelves-plus what felt like a lifetime’s worth of mementos. His college and law school degrees, his New York State Bar admission and even his high school football jacket hung from the wall.

He’d started his law career right here. All his professional achievements were tied to this firm, but his time with Mallory had shown him he had no personal accomplishments to show for those same years. And suddenly his professional ones felt insignificant and lacking.

The mess with Lederman hadn’t helped. He’d shown Paul the pictures, listened to his blustering and told him to think about the damage those photos could do to his business reputation. Jack expected to settle the case quickly and with a minimum of fuss-Lederman would get screwed and Jack wouldn’t have to compromise his principles and push Paul’s wife into an unfair settlement.

Jack stared out at the Empire State Building in the distance. He wouldn’t be around here much longer either. From the moment he looked into Alicia Lederman’s face and saw more than an adversary, more than someone he wanted to best in court, Jack knew his days with Waldorf, Haynes were numbered. Once again he had Mallory to thank for opening his eyes.

He couldn’t blame the firm or even Lederman for his current dissatisfaction, he could only blame his unwillingness to face himself and his demons-and to accept the greatest gift offered to him.

Mallory’s love.

“So what do you plan to do about it?” he asked himself.

He glanced at his too-neat desk and grabbed for a sheet of paper and pen. He’d get in touch with Mallory in words she couldn’t misunderstand. Then he’d hope for the best.

HANDS ON HER HIPS, Mallory surveyed the office space available for rent from a friend of Julia’s. He was an insurance agent with the extra room and a secretary with free time to lend her in exchange for the surplus income. It was cheaper than actually leasing space for herself. There was time enough for that huge step if she made a success of her new practice.

And she intended to. Mallory never did things halfway. Except for Jack. Somehow she’d blown that one.

Two weeks had passed since she’d left him behind and she hadn’t heard a word. Not that she’d expected him to call, but the dreamer-the one he’d brought out in her-had hoped. And there were times, mostly late at night, when she’d thought of calling him just to hear his voice, to see if he ached for her as much as she ached for him. But sanity would return and she’d remind herself that he knew she loved him. If during their time apart he realized he felt the same, he knew where to find her. There was nothing else she could say or do that would change things between them.

She walked out of the old building, pleased with the location but not ready to make the decision yet. A quick taxi ride home and she entered her apartment, tossing her bag down on the living room couch.

“Where have you been?” Julia came out of her room, impatience in her stride and in her voice.

“Checking out office space. But boy am I wiped out. This heat is a killer-not to mention that you can roast on the subway.” Mallory flopped into the nearest chair.

“While you were gone I picked up the mail.” Her cousin stood beside her and waited.

“And this is news because?”

“Of this!” Julia slapped an envelope onto Mallory’s lap.

The ivory stationery had the familiar Waldorf, Haynes insignia and return address on the left-hand corner, but that wasn’t all. The attorneys scrawled their initials below the main address and her cousin hadn’t missed the most important notation. The one that caused Mallory’s heartbeat to accelerate and her pulse to pound hard.

“J.L. That’s him, isn’t it?” Julia asked, her voice rising in excitement.

“Mind if I read this in private?” Knowing she’d asked a rhetorical question and her cousin wasn’t budging, Mallory ripped into the envelope as she spoke.

Julia stood over her shoulder and read aloud. “One last time, a lifetime to share, I will be waiting-if you dare. Oh my God, that’s so romantic.” Her accompanying shriek reverberated in Mallory’s ear.

“So much for privacy,” Mallory said wryly. A tremor shook her as she reread the words for herself and she agreed with her cousin. It was shocking and romantic and unbelievably scary.

Mallory didn’t know what had prompted Jack’s change of heart but she knew him well enough to realize he wouldn’t have sent this letter unless he meant every word.

She turned the invitation over. The date was a week away, the address unfamiliar-and suburban.

“How does he expect you to get there?” Julia asked.

“Good question.” Nothing on the paper indicated how Mallory would even find the place. She’d have to find a map for specific directions.

She fingered the paper between her fingers, imagining it held the warmth from Jack’s touch. “But then I suppose nothing worth having is easy, right?”

Julia, unaware of the invitations that had passed between Mallory and Jack, merely nodded, looking a bit stunned.

Mallory wasn’t shocked, she was certain. If she wanted him, she had to work to get him. No one’s ever gone out of their way for me. She remembered the conversation clearly.

And though Mallory didn’t think he was consciously making her work to get him, if she showed up as requested, he’d know without a doubt he was worth the effort.

It was a challenge-with a lifetime at stake.

MALLORY PARKED her rental car outside the address on the invitation. She checked the number on the mailbox twice to be certain, but the moment she’d seen the Victorian house with the white picket fence, she’d known she had the right place. Quaint and charming, the place spelled out h-o-m-e.

She stepped out of the car and into the rain, glancing around for a sign of something she recognized. Other than the tingling in her palms and the keen anticipation in her veins she always felt when Jack was near, nothing looked familiar.

Pulling up the hood and closing the lapels on her raincoat, she walked up to the front door. Though she’d never been a nail biter before, she was darn tempted to start now. Jack had issued the invitation but she’d added some special touches of her own. After their time apart, she was more nervous now than she’d been at the start. But she wanted him forever and he might as well know from the get-go the uptight Mallory was gone for good and nothing about them would ever be boring or predictable. She walked up the blue-stone steps and rang the bell.

JACK WATCHED HER pull up and opened the door at the same time the old bell sounded in the empty house. He thought he was dreaming as the object of his fantasies slipped past him and out of the rain.

She pushed back the hood and met his gaze, a hesitant smile on her lips. She held out the invitation for him to see. “I’m assuming I have the right place.”

The right place and the right man. “I’m glad you found it okay.”

She shrugged. “I never told you about my poor sense of direction but thanks to the Internet I made out okay. Can’t get lost with door-to-door directions.”

They stood in awkward silence. Not how he’d planned this meeting to go when he’d been without her too long. Jack stepped back to take her in. Her dark hair fell around her face in natural waves while her skin glowed from a combination of summer tan and perfectly applied cosmetics.

He had no idea what she wore beneath the trench coat but from what he could see she wasn’t Mallory the associate nor was she Mallory the seductress.

She was his Mallory and if he didn’t get her in his arms soon he’d howl with frustration. “I missed you.”

Her hesitant smile turned into a grin. “Well, it’s about time you realized it,” she said, and threw herself into his arms.

He buried his face in her hair and held on tight. Her scent was the same and so was the fulfillment he found just being near her.

She pulled back too soon. “So what is this place?” she asked, glancing around the empty house.

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