Born with a silver spoon in her mouth, Janelle Peterson longs to prove that she’s more than a spoiled brat with a pretty face. But taking a ‘simple’ clerical job at the county district attorney’s office only confirms that she’s as useless as she fears. All she does is make mistakes. If only the handsome and intense assistant DA weren’t observing her every move. His dark watchfulness causes her to mess up even more.
Juan Mendez has a single goal in life: to capture El Diablo, an evil and elusive drug lord…who happens to be his older brother. To punish his brother, Juan will go to any lengths and spends every moment of his free time researching clues regarding the criminal’s whereabouts.
Juan could use help in this extracurricular activity, but dare he snatch up inexperienced Janelle for assistance after she gets fired from the DA’s office? The woman is far too attractive. Worse than that, though, is the way her effervescent joy in life makes him question his loyalty to his dark quest. He can’t afford to imagine there might be more to life than revenge.
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The pigeon looked terrible. Perched on the window ledge of the fifteenth floor of the office building in downtown Los Angeles, the bird tilted perilously, one leg ending in a stump. Its wings were dirty and missing feathers. They didn’t look airworthy to Janelle. She put an expensively manicured finger to keep her place in the employee manual she’d been reading and peered more closely at the poor creature.
It was stuck. She was certain it was stuck way up all these floors above the ground.
“I’ve gotta do something,” she murmured. But what? Since it was over an hour before the official start of the workday, she was—almost—the only person around. She’d been coming in early and staying late, trying to keep up with her job here as a filing clerk at the District Attorney’s office. The job was easy, insanely easy, but she was having trouble managing it. The electronic filing system hurt her head, the copy machine hated her, and the push-button phone system was determined to ruin any self-respect she retained.
Her experience with the normal, workaday world was almost nonexistent. It was pathetic, really. She was twenty-eight years old, and this was her first job.
Janelle placed the employee manual face down on the desk to keep her place and regarded the stranded pigeon. Her heart went out to the animal. In a way, she felt as ill equipped and helpless. Two weeks ago, she’d applied for this position, found under the “no special skills” section of an employment website. She’d quickly learned that she did not even own the un-special skills most people had mastered by her age, such as how to use a printer or an office phone system.
You’re shameful.This was what her last boyfriend had told her a month ago, swirling the champagne in his third glass at the post-golf-tournament party in Monaco. Boris had informed her she was utterly useless. In fact, he didn’t even need her any more himself. He’d found someone other than her father to get him close to the Turkish ambassador. Boris had told Janelle she’d been a pretty plaything en route to her wealthy and influential father. Nothing more.
Then he’d broken up with her.
Janelle had spent the next day in her cabin on her father’s yacht, nursing a hangover and frothing over Boris’s behavior. Oh, she wasn’t surprised by the breakup. She’d understood he was only dating her because it gave him a connection to her father. That was par for the course. What had been unforgivable was his calling her a useless, pretty plaything. Laughing that she’d never be able to make it in the real world.
They’d been unforgivable words because they’d been true. Though she lived in her father’s posh mansion in Bel Air, she was nothing like him; she did nothing interesting or useful in the world. She was shameful.
So the next day, Janelle had decided this had to come to a stop. If she was a nobody now, she had to become a somebody from then on. To start, she needed to become independent of her father.
So she’d found this job, been hired, and she was determined to succeed, starting at the bottom exactly the way her father had.
In fact, this morning she needed to learn how to file a witness list using the court’s electronic system. Her supervisor had shown her how yesterday, but Janelle had not been able to remember all the steps. She never could. Hence, her early arrival this morning and perusal of the employee manual.
But the pigeon— She couldn’t possibly concentrate on the steps for filing a witness list with this helpless animal cowering a few feet away from her. No way.
Drawing in a sharp breath, Janelle twirled her chair toward the clunky desktop computer beside her. If she hadn’t moved out of her father’s twenty-room mansion and into an apartment in South Robertson with three roommates—determined to go all the way in making it on her own—she would have taken the animal home herself. As it was, she typed pigeon rescueinto the search engine.
The website of a local rescue organization popped right up. Smiling, Janelle reached for her cell phone—and hesitated. She was not actually the only person in the office. Hewas here. Juan Mendez, the incredibly critical and judgmental deputy district attorney whose office was down the hall from her desk. If she spent extra hours at the office, so did he. In the rare event his door was open, she’d see him seated at his desk, his grim face turned to some task that appeared to make him even more grim. She didn’t want him to hear her and think she was acting like a blond ditz.
On the other hand, the pigeon.
She dialed the number on the website.
Even though it was well before eight in the morning, someone answered right away.
“Oh, thank God,” Janelle told the man on the other end. “I have a wounded pigeon.” She explained her location and the pigeon’s situation on the window ledge.
“No, I don’t have the bird in a cage or a box,” Janelle said in answer to the question from the man on the phone. “It’s sitting on the ledge outside my window. What? I have to get it into a box in order for you to come pick it up?”
From her position by her desk, Janelle rose on her toes, trying to gauge how far the pigeon was from the window opening. At least the window was operable, but the pigeon was pretty far from where it opened. She wasn’t sure she could reach it.
“Well…okay. I’ll call you again once I have it in a box.”
Janelle hung up the phone. A box, a box…
Leaving her work area, she ran to the copier room. No one was around to see her empty a box of staplers in order to gain the necessary pigeon carrier.
But wait. Now a half-dozen brand new staplers sat on the tabletop beside the evil copier machine. That looked a bit suspicious, didn’t it?
Biting her lip, she deposited the staplers on various shelves around the room. It could look as though someone had put them there for convenience’s sake, couldn’t it? Maybe later she could distribute them to the desks of people in the office. Nobody would mind a new stapler, would they?
Nobody except the dour Juan Mendez, Janelle thought, scowling. If he knew what she was up to, he’d give her one of his patented scornful stares. It had taken everyone else on the floor at least a day to discover her basic incompetence. Janelle was convinced it had only taken Juan one look.
Of course it had. Being capability and intelligence personified, Juan would have recognized its opposite as soon as he gazed at Janelle. As one of the attorneys in the office, he’d obviously graduated law school and passed the bar. Through the grapevine, Janelle had heard he was a master prosecutor, achieving one conviction after another of terrible criminals. He was smart and educated and hard-working and serious.
He was everything she was not.
Grasping her box, Janelle hastened back to the window. She was relieved to see the pigeon had not moved. Keeping her eye on the animal, she slowly turned the handle on the old-fashioned window mechanism. The pane grudgingly eased open.
But the noise and movement appeared to concern the bird, who shifted along the ledge, putting more distance between itself and the window.
Stopping, Janelle straightened. She had been unsure if she could reach the creature earlier. Now she knew she could not. She needed someone taller than she. With longer arms.
Yup, that’s what she needed.
Janelle stood there and blinked as the realization descended on her like a black cloud. No, she thought, blinking some more. Absolutely not. She just couldn’t. She could not seek assistance from that other person in the office, the one who was taller and who had longer arms. He already scorned her. His low opinion would only sink lower.
And all right, she’d admit it. In her secret heart of hearts, she’d dreamed that one day she would attain some competence at her job here, become someone un-useless. And on that day she might possibly garner a drop of respect from the oh-so-capable Mr. Mendez.
Janelle rolled her shoulders and blew out a breath. What a stupid dream. Of course she was never going to win his respect. She couldn’t even figure out how to file a witness list. She’d yet to master the phone system. And the copier remained a mystery.
Meanwhile, the bird needed help.
Janelle hurried off to fetch Juan Mendez.
She was working down the hall. Even though it was an hour before the work day officially started, the pretty little new filing clerk—the one with the smile that lit her up from inside—was already at her desk, doing God-knew-what.
Juan would have liked to have been able to ignore this fact. He wished he weren’t aware of her presence on the floor. But his office got damn-all too hot and stuffy if he kept the door closed for too long. Gritting his teeth, he forced his attention towards the documents on his desk.
It was a pile of old criminal reports, all dealing in some way with El Diablo, the apt sobriquet for an infamous drug lord.
Juan had to plow through the reports. He had to find something, any clue, that would help him locate the evil criminal. Trying to catch a drug overlord was in no way part of Juan’s duties as a deputy district attorney. Nevertheless, the task was on him. Fifteen years ago, he’d unleashed this monster onto the world.
Some might say it had been an accident or unwitting or that Juan had been an inexperienced teenager, but he knew better.
Through the open doorway of Juan’s closet-sized office, he heard some rustling and banging from the supply and copier room. The new clerk evidently didn’t know where to find whatever she was looking for. It was no doubt because of her nervousness and anxiety to please—characteristics Juan had immediately noticed about her—that she’d come in early today.
Trying not to think about her, Juan closed his eyes, but that only made it worse. He immediately formed a picture in his mind of the woman: petite, blond, delightfully curvy. And that sunny smile of hers, as if the wonder of life had been born in her soul. If it weren’t for that smile, she’d look like some rich guy’s trophy wife.
Frowning, Juan opened his eyes. Yes, an aura of money floated about the woman, though he couldn’t articulate how. Her clothes were definitely not fancy. Instead, they appeared determinedly middle class, almost as though they were part of a disguise. So much so that he’d had to resist the urge to Google her name the other day. It had sounded somehow familiar: Janelle Flynn. He couldn’t help wondering why his boss, Wayne Jordan, had hired her. Despite her desire to please, she clearly didn’t have the skill set necessary for the job. Yet, to his credit, Wayne did not appear to be on the make with the woman. If anything, he kept a wide berth.
Damn it. Juan couldn’t stop thinking about her. Rising quickly from his wheeled office chair, he took a single pace to the side. That brought him to the wall of his small office. Some of his law school friends had gone into corporate defense work. Their offices were probably big enough to hold tea parties. They definitely had adequate air conditioning. But Juan wasn’t envious. He was exactly where he wanted to be: in the county’s hardcore gang unit.
This was where he’d find the most clues to sniff out El Diablo’s current location and the possible timing of his next visit to his ‘holdings’ in the States. If El Diablo could be found, he could be ambushed. And then he could be punished.
Professional advancement meant little to Juan, financial growth meant even less. Personal life? Forget it. He cared about his immediate family and his two good friends, Beau and Harry. That was it. He was a man on a mission. He’d focused on this mission ever since his return from McMillam Reform School at age seventeen. That’s when he’d learned his part in enabling El Diablo’s criminal career.
Anger filled Juan at the thought of the drug lord. He moved back to his desk, ready to get back to work on those crime reports. A change in the light spilling in from the hall, however, startled him and made him spin around.
She was standing there. The new clerk. Janelle Flynn. She was wearing a tight pencil skirt, a lacy blouse, and a very anxious expression. In her hands, she held a shoe-sized box. It had a picture of a stapler on it. “Mr. Mendez?” she said. “I know you’re busy, but I really need your help.”
Were there any words in the English language that, issuing from an attractive woman’s mouth, could better get the attention of a man? Juan struggled to restrain the natural instinct that urged him to rush to her aid. He had to remain in control. So he kept motionless except for a slight lift of his eyebrows. “What’s the problem?”
She caught the left side of her lower lip below her teeth.
Juan noticed that lip, that mouth, too much.
“There’s a pigeon,” she admitted cautiously. “It’s stuck on the ledge outside the window near my desk. It’s missing a foot and its wings look…wrong. I don’t think it can fly. I think it’s stuck.”
“Stuck,” Juan repeated. How had the pigeon gotten up to the fifteenth floor if it couldn’t fly?
“Please?” Janelle took a step back from his door. “I wouldn’t ask, but I can’t reach it myself. Pigeon Rescue says I need to get it into a box before they’ll come pick it up.” She held up the box, from which she’d presumably removed the staplers.
Pigeon Rescue? Juan couldn’t say he was surprised such an organization existed. This was Los Angeles, after all, home of absolutely everything. Meanwhile, she was looking at him with beseeching eyes. She seemed to think he could rescue the pigeon, kittens stuck in sewers, and children stranded on a cliff during a hurricane. Like there was nothing he couldn’t do.
Juan was a hard case. He’d avoided every woman at the office who’d ever tried to catch his attention. In fact, he avoided any woman anywhere who tried to pull him into a relationship—his life was too skewed to involve a woman in it.
But there was no resisting those eyes.
“Let me take a look at it,” Juan said.
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