Pride and StubbornnessbyBoadicea©
"Blonde, redhead, black hair, blue eyes, black hair, green eyes, dark hair, pale skin, curly hair . . . when is this going to stop!"
"Miss, please keep your voice down!"
Aurora blushed and ducked her head, only to realize she was standing in the middle of a massive pile of romance novels.
Aurora had read romance novels before. The good ones had an intelligent, well rounded heroine, and a gorgeous male with muscles, at least eight inches, and a personality. There was only one problem: in every book the heroine was always a blonde, or a redhead, or had dark hair and brightly colored eyes. As someone living in a society where blondes had more fun, redheads were exotic, and dark hair and brown eyes were boring, she'd hoped that there would be at least one book in which someone as plain as she would have a chance at catching the gorgeous hunk of every fantasy.
Not that she was plain.
Aurora had long legs, good cheekbones, decent breasts, and full lips. Her eyes were almond shaped and a shade of brown so dark they shifted between chocolate and black, depending on the light and her mood. Her skin had one of those chameleon tones that shifted from a pale yellow to a rich golden brown depending on the season. Aurora chalked it up to her mixed heritage, a combination of Russian and Filipino. It was something she was proud of, despite years of being labeled a half breed.
The victim of a bad relationship, Aurora hoped to find a fantasy to help her forget the combination of lousy sex, boring conversation, and emotional abuse that her association with Alexander David Pompeii, her deadbeat ex boyfriend, had been.
There she stood, in the middle of the nearest bookstore, hoping to find a romance novel that had someone like her in the story. Someone with straight brown hair and brown eyes, who was too much of an egalitarian to put up with the "the man is always right" crap she found in so many historical romances.
She'd been in the store over an hour and had yet to find anything.
If it hadn't been for the anal retentive store clerk, she'd still be screaming in frustration.
Aurora found the whole situation incredibly depressing.
As she bent to pick up the discarded books, Aurora resigned herself to another night with a bag of candy bars. It was a dirty shame.
She was just putting the last romance novel on the shelf when she felt a hand on her shoulder. The shock of it, the warmth of the hand combined with its strength had her stifling a shriek. Aurora cursed herself and with a calming breath, she turned around.
The man before her had Aurora's eyes nearly popping from her head.
She looked down at the book in her hand and back up at the man. Standing in front of her was the spitting image of the guy on the cover. Aurora didn't know how to react, but as she was in an informal setting, she did what came naturally.
She bust out laughing.
"It's not that funny," the man said with a cynical twist of his lips. The hair was a bit shorter, and he seemed taller, the shoulders broader, but there was no denying it. This man was stereotypical romantic fantasy.
"Oh yes it is," she said amidst peals of laughter.
"I did some modeling in college," he said wryly. "I didn't realize what the pictures were for. If anything, you should be embarrassed for wanting to read those books in the first place!"
Aurora managed to calm down enough to look at him with her most businesslike stare. The man had an air of arrogant derision that instantly put her off.
"I'm sorry, who are you, and what business is it of yours what my literary preferences are?"
"I'd hardly call that crap literature," the man said dryly. "Are you Aurora Nemesis?"
"And you are acquainted with Nicholas Lazarus," his voice was deep, his speech cultured.
"His office called me this morning. Why is it of any interest to you?" she asked coldly.
The man was striking, with rich dark brown hair, deep, stormy green eyes, and broad shoulders neatly packed into a dark grey business suit that emphasized his impressive height. There was something about him that made her want to pull his tie loose just to see what he looked like all mussed up, but his condescending demeanor instantly put her off. The man stank of money and breeding, which to her meant sexism, homophobia, and contempt for people of mixed blood.
"He's my friend," he replied as though it explained everything.
Darcy was here in the interest of his best friend, the good natured but nervous head of Lazarus Biotech. He'd been duped into marrying a gold digger, and after a year of misery, he had finally mustered the courage to divorce his cheating, airhead wife. There were no children from the match because Paris Waldorf the Second didn't want to spoil her figure. There was however, the matter of money.
The Waldorfs were one of North America's founding families, but extravagance and poor financial handling put them on the road to poverty. The family matriarch, Paris Waldorf the first, arranged the advantageous marriage of Nick Lazarus to the Waldorf's idiot daughter. It had taken weeks of training to instruct her on how to seem like the kind, well rounded person Nick went for, and the ploy had worked. Nick had fallen for it, hook, line and sinker. They'd been married less than a week before Paris the Second showed her true nature: stupid, shallow, spoiled, and like the village bicycle, everyone, male and female, had a ride.
It took just over a year for Nick to muster the courage to leave her. The Waldorf matriarch was outraged and her army of lawyers was preparing for war. The attorneys, Darcy knew, weren't being paid for their labors. They'd been promised the spoils from Nick's company. Nick wanted a champion; someone cold hearted, conniving and devious; someone who'd fight to the death with his mother in law, not caring who got destroyed in his wake. Nick asked Darcy, and Darcy asked an old friend of the family, Judge Goldberg.
The Judge, to Darcy's surprise, named a young woman, Aurora Nemesis.
"She's a killer, guaranteed. She'll chew Mrs. Waldorf up and spit her out. There'll be nothing left but her Birken bag," the Judge had told him, and with a smile he passed Darcy her contact info.
So this, he'd thought cynically, was Miss Aurora Nemesis. She wasn't at all what Darcy was expecting. The judge had described her as cold and severe, with the type of no nonsense disposition ideal for dealing with his friend's domineering "soon to be ex" mother in law. Darcy expected someone short and dowdy with glasses, a butch hairdo, and thick hairy legs. He pictured someone who never laughed, never did anything for pleasure, and wore a business suit like a military uniform.
The woman before him wasn't like that at all.
Her hair was dark and straight, neatly tied back, her lips were full; her skin a pale olive tone, and her brown, almond shaped eyes sparkled with intelligence. She seemed to be the type to laugh a lot, and had no qualms doing it at someone else's expense. She was roughly 5'7 in height, undoubtedly helped by the high heels she wore, and her slender body filled her grey pantsuit nicely. She wasn't ugly by any definition, but not beautiful enough to tempt him.
"His office called you this morning, and you gave him an appointment for next Thursday. That will not do."
"So he sent you, an underling, to try and persuade me to take him sooner. Is that it? I'm very sorry Mr . . .?"
"Rochester, Darcy Rochester." Most people were impressed by the name. "And I am not an underling."
"Whatever," Aurora said dismissively, "I am horribly sorry, but your friend will have to wait like everyone else."
His family was known and respected all over the world, but this woman didn't seem to care.
"My friend is in the middle of a very ugly divorce. Judge Goldberg recommended you, and Mr. Lazarus needs your services immediately."
"I'm flattered, but I am very busy. I will see your friend next week as planned," she said, hoping it would get rid of him. Aurora waited patiently for him to leave, but Rochester stood his ground.
"Would you be willing to put other clients aside until the matter is concluded?"
Aurora ignored the question. "Why did he send you?"
"I volunteered," Rochester said, "because he is uncomfortable with your kind."
Aurora arched a brow. "Lawyers?"
"Killers," Rochester corrected, "Nick wanted someone ruthless and the Judge insisted that was you. I caught your secretary on his way out. He said I'd find you here."
The secretary in question had been a cartoon: a flaming homosexual in a bright pink shirt and tight black slacks. The man had stifled an unprofessional squeal when he saw him, and promptly told Rochester where to find her.
"Mr. Lazarus is willing to make you a generous offer to put your other clients aside until the matter is settled."
At the mention of money, her lips tightened as though he'd insulted her. That won her points in Darcy's eyes. He loathed bottom feeders.
"I am immensely flattered, but I am not easily bought. I am a very busy woman, so if you'll excuse me," she tried to move around him, but once again, Rochester stood his ground.
"You're not busy now," Rochester corrected.
Aurora took a calming breath. "It's the end of the day... on a Friday, no less. I have been on my feet since five in the morning. I am exhausted, and I have neither the patience nor the inclination to deal with the likes of you right now, so kindly get out of my way."
Darcy changed tactics. It appeared that he'd caught her at a bad time, but that didn't mean his friend had to suffer.
"He could have any lawyer, but he wants you. He's in a bar down the street, and he's desperate. Please don't make him suffer because I caught you in a bad mood. Have a drink with him and listen to the details. If after hearing him you'd still rather not take the case, you can refer him to one of your colleagues."
Aurora's features softened slightly at his plea, and with a sigh of resignation, she smoothed her clothes and picked up her briefcase.
"One drink," she said curtly, "I'll look over his papers and make my decision." Darcy had no idea why he did it, but he found himself offering her his arm. She stared at it for a second as though it was a foreign object, and then she laughed, shook her head, and headed out of the store in front of him.
He directed her to an Irish Pub minutes from the bookstore. Aurora didn't bother to hide her surprise. McLean seemed beneath a man like Darcy Rochester, who had the dress and manner of the arrogant hero of an old English novel. They walked in and moved to a table next to the front window, where a nervous man sat nursing his beer. The man smiled when he saw them, and ran a hand through his mussed blonde hair.
"I'm so glad you've agreed to see me, Miss Nemesis," he said, with an obvious tremor in his voice.
"Call me Aurora," she said with a smile. There was something about the man that made her want to put him at ease.
"I owe you one, Darcy . . . for bringing her," he said with a warm smile. The two had clearly been friends for years.
"Don't worry about it," was his friend's reply, "can I get you something to drink, Miss Nemesis?"
She was acutely aware of the heat of him as he sat beside her, but refused to acknowledge it or his inviting scent.
"One shot of vodka," she told him, and with a nod he turned to the approaching waitress and ordered her drink and a scotch for himself.
She chatted idly with Mr. Lazarus, and when the drinks came, she tossed hers back and demanded the details. She put on a pair of glasses and leafed through the papers he gave her, frowning at a lot of things, her brow arching at others. After a couple of minutes she pulled a pen and notebook from her briefcase and started scribbling. Darcy couldn't make heads or tails of her handwriting but she seemed to know what she was doing, and that was all that mattered. With a hum, Aurora put down her pen and was about to speak when a bottle blonde toothpick carrying a poodle in a designer bag in one hand and a cell phone in the other came storming in.
"Oh my God!" the girl squealed when she saw them, "Mommy said that you were divorcing me! Nikipoo, it's not true is it? Don't you want to stay married to me?"
"I . . . no I don't" Nick said uneasily.
"But don't you love me? Don't you want to take care of me?" she screamed. "Nikipoo call off this whole thing! I didn't mean to screw the chauffeur . . . and your last intern . . . and my yoga instructor . . . and the guy who does my . . . "
"Sweetheart, you're making a scene," Nick gently interrupted.
"I don't care!" Paris screamed, jumping up and down.
"That's the ex-wife?" Aurora asked.
"Indeed," was Darcy's reply. He got up, intending to lead Paris out of the bar, but to his surprise, Aurora raised her hand.
"Allow me," she said politely, and got to her feet. In a gesture of chivalry, she stepped between Paris and Nick.
"Who the fuck are you?" Paris demanded.
"Rochester, call Miss Waldorf a cab, please," she said calmly.
"No! I'm not going anywhere!" Paris insisted as Rochester opened his phone.
"Oh yes you are," Aurora corrected. "As you clearly lack the mental capacity to understand what's going on, I'll put it to you in baby terms. Nikipoo is divorcing you because you are a stupid spoiled whore. He has filed papers and will do everything in his power to make sure that you will never see a penny of his money. Now unless you want to embarrass yourself even further, I strongly suggest you get in that cab."
Next to Paris Waldorf's bulimia induced thinness and excessive make up, Aurora's gold skin glowed in the bar's dim light, and her beautiful curves flared despite her slender frame. It was like watching an Amazon Queen face off against a Barbie doll, one striking and exotic, and the other, cookie cutter plastic. As he watched the two women, Darcy's initial impression of Aurora shifted from one of ambivalence, to one of utter beauty.
"How dare you! You fucking nobody whore! Do you know who I am?!" Paris moved to slap her, but Aurora caught her hand and twisted it behind the other woman's back.
"I know exactly who you are, and I don't give a damn," she said tersely.
The blonde screamed and squealed and vowed vengeance, but Aurora ignored it. Darcy watched with a mix of horror and admiration as, with a death grip on Paris Waldorf's arm, she dragged her out of the bar and all but shoved her into the waiting cab.
Aurora returned to the bar to the sound of applause, and with a smile she wiped off her hands and took a theatrical bow. The waitress brought a fresh shot of vodka, compliments of the owner, and Aurora sat down and smiled.
"That felt really good," she said on a lusty sigh. "I'll take the case."
* * * It was probably the dumbest thing Aurora had ever said. She was already swamped with work and one more case was going to ruin her weekend. Not that she had anything planned, but she didn't want to spend another day off with her nose buried in a file.
Aurora knew what did her in. She took one look at Nick Lazarus' and at the wife who'd so obviously duped him, and she had to give in. If there was one thing she hated, it was spoiled, vapid blondes. Her heart went out to the victim . . . and Darcy Rochester knew it. Nick Lazarus was brilliant, timidly cute, and conveniently rich. He was the ideal choice of mate for the first daughter of an impoverished old family because he seemed so monumentally naive. How his friend had allowed him to go through with the marriage was anyone's guess, and she thought even less of Rochester because of it.
As she tossed back her second shot, she whipped out her cell phone and called Jimmy. Her secretary would be pissed about working this weekend, but she made more than enough money to be able to tempt him with a few extra dollars. An amateur esthetician in his spare time, Jimmy would insist on doing her hair and nails while working and she didn't mind at all. He often did beautiful work, and whatever she didn't like was easily removable with soap, water, and acetone.
To Aurora's surprise, he was more than willing to help; his latest fuck buddy had cancelled their getaway and he had nothing better to do.
"Thanks Jimmy. You've saved my ass."
"Remember that the next time I ask for a raise," was his grinning reply. With a laugh and a sigh of relief, she closed her cell phone and turned to her new client.
"Now, Mr. Lazarus let's discuss my fee. I am going to a great deal of trouble for you, so I'll be expecting triple my hourly rate."
"Anything," Lazarus said quickly.
"I think not," Darcy interjected.
Aurora's spine stiffened at his response; she turned toward him with an irritable twist of her lips. Darcy's heart rate jumped as those eyes narrowed on him, but he managed to seem cold and impassive.
"Nobody asked you," she said slowly.
"I am merely trying to prevent my friend from being cheated," he said gently.
"Then you should have stopped the marriage in the first place," was her reply.
Nick looked sick, and realizing what she'd said, Aurora immediately apologized, putting her narrow fingers over his in attempt to reassure him. Rochester, for his part, looked wounded, but Aurora didn't care. If his friend had intervened, they wouldn't be in this mess to begin with.
Darcy wanted to stop the marriage, but he didn't want to become his namesake by breaking up two people who seemed to love each other. He'd been right about Paris Waldorf, and the guilt was killing him. He knew Nick would have broken things off if only he'd said something. That's why it had been imperative that he hire Aurora Nemesis. If she was the killer the judge had described, then she was the one to get his friend out of this as neatly as possible. At her stinging reply, he bowed out of the negotiations and nursed his scotch. While she spoke with Nick, he scanned the women in the bar. There were any number of pretty faces welcoming his idle scrutiny, but to his irritation, he felt nothing. He looked back at his friend's divorce lawyer and felt an uncomfortable tug in his gut. Darcy didn't believe in love at first sight, but he couldn't think of any rational explanation for what he was feeling. Of this, she seemed completely unaware; her attention was focused solely on his friend. She smiled warmly when he stuttered, and reassured Nick that he would get out of the marriage unscathed. He should have been pleased, but he wasn't. He was jealous of her smiles, and the way she warmed so easily to his friend and not to him. Darcy shrugged philosophically. He'd long since accepted that he didn't have that kind of charm.
She agreed to see Nick first thing Monday morning and announced her plan to leave. Like a perfect gentleman, Darcy stood when she got up and offered to drive her home. He wanted her attention on him, if only for a moment.
"That's unnecessary," she said politely, "I can take public transit,"
"It's dangerous for a young lady to be out at this hour," Darcy said to her obvious irritation. He suspected that a nastier refusal was on the tip of her tongue when Nick stepped in on his behalf. As though on cue, thunder sounded outside and rain beat against the bar's heavy windows.
Darcy was beginning to think it was fate.
"Let Darcy drive you home, Aurora," Nick said hastily. "He'll be a perfect gentleman or he'll here it from me in the morning!"
Aurora sincerely doubted Nick could do anything to make Darcy Rochester suffer. Nick was several inches shorter, with narrower shoulders. The man came off as too nice for his own good, but she was beginning to realize that Nick's gentle, persuasive charm was its own kind of power. Much to her irritation, Aurora realized she wouldn't refuse this man anything.