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Par For Course

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"The par for this hole is three," Brianna reported, looking down at the red scorecard in her hand.

When she glanced up again, the small green ball was rolling back down the metal ramp toward Conti's feet. "How are you supposed to get a ball up that ramp without overshooting the hole?"

"Here." She handed him the scorecard and little pencil before she lined up to take her shot. Focusing, she tapped the ball with a light, forceful stroke, sending her orange ball up the ramp, through the center hole, and into the hole below. "Yes, hole in one!"

Awed, Conti stared at the water pump. "You've got to be kidding me."

Brianna grinned and pointed at the scorecard in his hand. "Don't forget to write a 1 on there."

"Why don't you do it?" He thrust the card at her and set his ball on the mat again. He hit the ball lightly so it missed the ramp entirely and plopped in the shallow water.

"Damn," he swore audibly and marched toward his ball.

"Conti, you can just get a new ball for a quarter." She gestured toward the sign next to the water. "They have people to do that for you."

Rolling up his sleeve, Conti stuck his hand in the water, finding that it was deeper than it looked. "Seems like a waste of time and money," he grunted, plucking out the ball that appeared to be his own. "Besides, it's my lucky ball."

"Doesn't seem to be very lucky so far."

"Okay, then what's your secret?"

Thoughtfully cocking her head, Brianna considered the question. "It's all about the right amount of pressure. Not too much, not too little." Six swings later, Conti still hadn't found the right amount of pressure and Brianna looked at the group behind them with an apologetic look. "Conti, just take the penalty."

"No, I can do this."

"So can I," she said, picking up the ball and walking it over to the hole to drop it in. "9. You should have taken the penalty."

Conti grumbled under his breath but strode toward the second hole, one he assumed would be much easier since all it consisted of was a small mound rising out of the ground with a hole in the center. His first swing resulted in the ball not quite rolling up the hill. She laughed over his shoulder. "It's your turn, Brianna. Let's see if you can do any better."

Dropping the ball haphazardly onto the mat, she bent her knees and Conti tried to ignore the way her jeans clung to her body. After a few practice swings, she hit the ball toward the base of the mound where it rolled to rest gently. He resisted the urge to smirk, walking over to his ball next to the cement side. "So, Conti, I thought you played golf with your cop buddies every weekend?" she asked, her eyes twinkling merrily.

"Golf is a completely different game."

"How do you figure?"

"It's a game with a ball and a hole and only grass between them. There aren't any windmills," he said, gesturing toward the next hole. "Mini-golf isn't a real game – you don't win big prizes or anything."

"Hey, I once knew the World Mini-Golf Champion."

"There is no such thing as a World Mini-Golf Championship . . . is there?"

Brianna shrugged, dismissing his complaint with a cheerful wave of her hand. "No idea, but I had you going."

"Cute, Brianna, real cute." He frowned at her teasing.

She chuckled merrily. "It's not my fault you're such an easy mark."

Conti let her words pass without comment, choosing instead to hit his ball toward the mound. It rolled up the slope, down into the hole, and bounced out onto the ledge nearby. He glared at the ball as if he could move it with the force of his expression.

"Bummer." Brianna stepped over to her ball and tapped it so it rolled up the mound and dropped into the hole where it stayed. She did not hide her satisfaction as she leaned over to snag her ball, making a great show out of writing her score. "2."

"So?" He knocked the ball into the hole. "3!"

"At least I made par." Dutifully noting his score, Brianna looked up at Conti with a smirk. "3 to 12. Well, maybe you'll score some holes-in-one to make up for the 9 on the first hole."

Conti shook his head with a wry grin. "You were never a cheerleader in high school, were you?"

"Of course not," she said with indignation. "I was too busy defending people in student court."

"That figures."

Her eyes flashed with irritation, and she poked him in the chest with her club. "What's that supposed to mean?" she demanded.

Pushing the club away, Conti tried to appease her. "I just meant that supportive isn't in your vocabulary."

"Excuse me?" Irritation gave way to offense as he dug his current hole deeper. "I'm the most supportive person at the National Justice Project . . . except for maybe Saint Sonya. And if you want supportive during mini-golf, maybe you should ask her out next time."

He caught her arm and turned her so she was able to see his apologetic expression. "Look, Brianna, that's not what I meant. I just . . . Well, you're very competitive and don't seem big on supporting your opponent."

"Clearly, you never met our varsity cheerleaders - talk about your competitive natures," she retorted, her anger deflating. "And you're one to talk. Half the time, you only take cases because Swain doesn't want them."

"I had brothers," Conti said as though it explained everything.

Brianna grinned. "So did I. And I always beat them at miniature golf."

"That sounds like a challenge." Conti stepped up to the windmill hole and took his first shot, managing to hit the ball close to the ramp.

"It was supposed to sound like a challenge," Brianna answered pertly before she took her turn, sending the ball up the ramp and through the hole without touching the windmill as it went around.

Conti stared at her with an expression of disbelief. "How do you do that?"

"You gotta put a little muscle into it."

Unlike Brianna's perfect stroke, Conti hit the ball too hard, causing it to fly up and ricochet off the tin surface, falling into one of the large ponds.

"That was a little too much muscle there, Tiger."

He stepped nearer, looming over Brianna; she took a step backward, only to discover the side of the windmill at her back. "I seem to remember you saying something about applying pressure, not too much, not too little," he murmured, leaning to pin her against the metallic wall. "Applying pressure like this?" He kissed the hollow of her neck with a delicate touch, moving upward with tiny kisses until he pressed his lips harshly against her mouth. "Or like this?"

"Conti," she muttered, a hitch in her breathing as she put her hands inside his jacket to pull him closer.

A nearby speaker crackled to life. "Dudes, didn't you see the sign? No making out against the windmill." As the speaker died, they heard the trailing start of another sentence. "Do you see how old they are . . ."

Conti pulled away immediately, shoving his hands inside the pockets of his jacket. He looked annoyed, dissatisfied, and befuddled, a comical mixture of expressions that made Brianna grin. "Oh, Conti, come on, you're not that old." She ducked out of his reach and shook her head. "Uh-uh, no making out on the golf course."

"It's your turn," he growled before he lumbered over to the pond where his ball had landed.

She strolled to her ball and paused. "I have a better idea," she said, bending down to grab her ball, "Let's go for pizza instead."

"We haven't even finished three holes."

"I think we know how this game is going to turn out," she replied.

"With your win?"

Brianna flashed him a mischievous smile. "I was going to say your slaughter, but my win works too."

Glancing between the deep, wet pond and Brianna, Conti knew that there was no decision to make. He swung his club onto his shoulder. "Fine, but you're buying since you won."

"You pay my salary so you know how little I can afford to pay for both of us," she retorted. "I'll buy the pizza and you can buy the beer."

"I bought the beer last time," he said, following Brianna toward the counter where a couple of teenage boys were lounging nearby, half-heartedly watching the busy golf course. He had to clear his throat a couple of times before the boys realized that they were waiting to turn in their clubs.

"Already done?" one asked, jumping to his feet to take their equipment. "Where's the other ball?"

Brianna dropped a quarter onto the counter. "It's over in one of the ponds. It turns out it wasn't as lucky as he thought it was."

"Bad luck, dude. Want a new ball?"

"No thanks. We'd just like to turn in our clubs," Conti answered.

The other boy got to his feet and peered at Conti. "Hey, wait a minute . . . aren't you the old guy that we yelled at about making out against the windmill?"

Conti grimaced at the description, but Brianna's expression was one of delight. The kid's thoughtless comment had the potential to be a great deal of fun. Meanwhile, the boys briefly glanced at her and then stared harder. "Wow, you're not that old. In fact, you're kind of hot."

Smirking, she gestured toward Conti. "Maybe one day when you're his age, you'll have someone just as hot."

"Thanks for your defense."

"I'm not a lawyer, Conti. I'm sure Sonya would be able to mount an adequate defense for you. He's not old, Your Honor. Men are like fine wine, and once they become more mature, blah, blah, blah." He gave her a look that indicated he was Not Amused by either her reference to Sonya or his age and turned to walk away from the counter. Once they were out of earshot, Brianna said, "Did you hear that? They thought I was hot."

"I'm sure that you'll be repeating it often," he answered dryly, his good humor restored by her enthusiastic smile. When she glared at him with an air of expectation, he repented immediately and said, "Only I would have said that you're more than kind of hot; you're hot with a capital H."

Brianna furrowed her brow and looked slightly uncomfortable. "Conti, promise me you'll never use the word 'hot' that way again."

Confused, Conti tilted his head and gazed down at her with a bewildered expression. "What? I thought that's what you wanted to hear."

"Yes, but it's just kind of creepy to hear you use contemporary slang."

He bit back a remark that probably would have resulted in a painful punch in the arm and settled for a congenial shrug. "I'll remember not to compliment you next time."

"Did I say anything about that?" She tossed her head and changed the subject. "That was the best three holes of mini-golf I've ever played."

"Because you were winning," he grumbled.

"Just because a girl can actually beat you . . ."

"Trust me, Brianna, I have no problem with you being a girl," Conti said, giving her the melting smile that made her weak in the knees and placing his jacket around her shoulders.

Her hands clutched at the jacket and she admitted in a low voice, "I have a confession, Conti."

She sounded so serious that he frowned. "You didn't actually pepper spray your gym teacher, did you?"

"No . . . but I won the state mini-golf championship when I was seventeen." Her eyes sparkled with mischief.

"I never would have pegged you for a ringer," he said with a grin.

"In that case, you probably don't ever want to play pool with me either." She paused for a moment. "Or darts. Oh, and probably not horseshoes."

"Brianna!"