Five Years Ago
I can’t control the way my legs are shaking so I sit back in my chair and cross one leg over the other, hoping the weight and position might still the trembling.
You’ve got the job, Leary. Nothing to be nervous about.
Glancing out the lobby window to my left, I see the sun breaking high over the downtown Raleigh cityscape with hazy blue skies and diaphanous clouds smeared in the distance. It’s shaping up to be a pretty day and as the sun rises higher the skies will become that particular shade of Carolina blue. A vision made for smiling and yet I’m filled with oily dread.
Today is my first day of work with the law firm of Knight & Payne and I don’t know why in the hell I thought I would be cut out for a job like this. I’m waiting in their massive lobby on the twenty-seventh floor of the Watts Building. The firm is so big it actually has two lobbies: one on this floor for the civil litigation department and another on the twenty-eighth floor for the criminal defense department. Exposed black iron beams above and rough-hewn wooden floors below speak to strength. The raw nature of the industrial design is tempered with sleek leather furnishings in shades of cream and taupe, which screams money and power—two words that would never be used to describe Leary Michaels.
As one of only two incoming associate attorneys for the year, I’m still convinced they made a mistake in offering me a so highly prized and coveted position. I didn’t think my interview six months ago was anything special and while I graduated in the top ten percent of my law class at Stanford, firms like Knight & Payne usually only accept the top one percent.
Still . . . I wanted this position badly. It was something I had set my sights on early.
Even though I went to law school on the West Coast, I always knew I would come home to North Carolina to practice. More importantly, I wanted to be the type of lawyer who made a difference in an ordinary person’s life and in my mind, the best place to accomplish that was with Knight & Payne.
It’s a massive organization, employing sixty-three lawyers, twenty-nine paralegals, thirty-six secretaries and two receptionists, one for each floor. It’s an institution in North Carolina, sought after by every top-ranked law school graduate because the pay is legendary, the benefits are beyond belief and the work environment is cutting-edge. But that’s not why I wanted to come here.
I wanted to be a Knight & Payne attorney because the firm’s entire practice was built upon helping individuals. You won’t find any corporate lawyers here representing banks insistent on foreclosing on poor, unfortunate fools. You won’t find a single insurance company represented in these halls. Big business is the devil within this institution.
No, the founding attorney, Midge Payne, has it clearly written on her website for all to see that she only represents the downtrodden.
Come any poor soul needing help.
That’s her freakin’ tagline.
It’s like an open-door policy for every miscreant and shiftless bum to seek help from the best attorneys in the state. We’re talking the dregs of society . . . drug dealers, pimps, prostitutes, homeless people, deviants, assholes and various other scum. Some of these people are so vile most people would shun them. Many attorneys would refuse to help them, forgetting the fundamental concepts that everyone is presumed innocent and everyone deserves a fair shot at justice.
Don’t get me wrong—the firm represents ordinary citizens who need legal help too but the point is Midge Payne doesn’t discriminate, other than she’ll only represent people not corporations. She isn’t afraid to get her hands dirty and that’s what I want in my law practice. I want to help those folks who need help lifting themselves out of the filth and grime of unfairness.
Turning my head, I see Danny Payne walking toward me. He conducted my interview all those months ago and still looks as sleazy as ever. Oh, he’s dressed impeccably enough, in a custom-tailored suit that perfectly fits his five-foot, six-inch frame. I tower over him by four inches, thanks to having a tad more height and three-inch heels.
While Danny is dressed to the nines, he still looks like slime oozes out of his pores. It’s the way his eyes appraise you . . . like he’s trying to figure out how he can best use you or one-up you. It’s a calculating look, which makes me uncomfortable but it in no way turns me off from working here. I was coming for the reputation of the great Midge Payne, not her lackey cousin who manages the firm.
Danny Payne is a conundrum and not much is known about him publicly. He graduated from some law school I’d never heard of out in Idaho and rumor has it he didn’t really pass the bar exam. The dirtiest of rumors say that his degree is forged but I don’t buy it for a second. I doubt that Midge would let that occur in her firm. What I do know is that Danny doesn’t actually practice law but runs the firm for Midge. He handles all the glorious duties of the day-to-day operations such as human resources, marketing, growth and development, yada, yada, yada. Sounds boring to me actually. I went to law school so I could change the world not sit behind some desk and figure out payroll.
Standing from my chair, I wipe my moist palms on my skirt and hold out my hand. “Mr. Payne, it’s a pleasure to see you again.”
He gives me a look that could be a leer or maybe it’s just a conspiratorial gesture of welcome, but he shakes my hand enthusiastically. “Come . . . Midge wants to talk to you.”
My breath hitches in my throat and my nervousness ramps up tenfold. “Ms. Payne wants to see me?”
“It’s Midge,” he says with a smarmy grin. “We’re all on a first-name basis here. So it’s Danny…not Mr. Payne.”
“Um… okay. So, Midge wants to see me?”
This is unheard of. No one—and I mean no one—gets to see Midge Payne. She’s like the great and powerful Oz, hidden in a bejeweled tower, protected by the fiercest of dragons. It’s rumored that she comes in to work at 4:00 a.m. and doesn’t leave until after 9:00 p.m. She supposedly has a private elevator that takes her to the parking garage and you only get admittance to her office by papal decree or something.
If Danny Payne is a conundrum, Midge Payne is an absolute enigma, perhaps slightly less mysterious and elusive than Bigfoot or the Loch Ness Monster. While she was a powerhouse in in her day, she hasn’t seen the inside of a courthouse in over two decades preferring to work behind the scenes. She still handles cases and does consultations with other law firms but she does it all from behind her desk and is considered a virtual recluse. There isn’t even a picture of her on the firm’s website although I’ve seen an old photograph. When I was researching this firm before sending my résumé, I went to the library and looked at old newspaper articles. Midge was a pioneering civil rights attorney in the late seventies, early eighties, championing women’s and gay rights in rural, southern North Carolina where said groups were considered third-class citizens. In one photo she was walking out of the court of appeals building after having argued a discrimination case. She was beautiful with her shoulder-length pale blonde hair, her face regal and determined.
Looking at her, I saw greatness. She’s what I aspire to be and I hope I don’t let her down.
Danny turns to walk through monstrous double doors, which I know from my prior interview visit lead from the lobby into the main work area. “Yes. She’s looking forward to meeting you . . . to talk to you about your role in our firm.”
My head is spinning. I’m getting ready to meet Midge Payne, my legal hero, and suddenly I feel like ten times the fool for even applying to a firm like this. The cheap black suit I bought at a discount store—because that’s all I can afford with the law school debt I accumulated—is made of polyester and swishes against my taupe nylon stockings that suddenly look too dark against my pale skin.
She’s going to see me for the fraud that I am.
Danny leads me through the Pit, an open work area that takes up the entire interior of the twenty-seventh floor, so called because that’s where a lot of the “dark and dirty work” takes place. Most of the attorneys and staff work here, with no walls or offices to separate them. Client meetings are held in conference rooms bordering the exterior of the work area along with the partner offices. All of the exterior rooms are walled with glass so every office is open to the eye. There’s no privacy to the outward gaze but I happen to know the exterior offices and conference room have double-paned glass and if one wants a measure of concealment, they simply push a button on their desk and a thick, dark gray smoke filters in between the dual panes, coating the glass walls and giving the people within absolute confidentiality. When you’re done, you simply push the button and a vacuum sucks the smoke out, leaving clear glass once again.
I want one of those offices one day.
As we walk across the Pit, I get several smiles and nods from my new colleagues. Everyone is dressed differently. Some wear high-powered suits while others wear jeans and T-shirts. It’s one of the perks of working here—absolute autonomy in how you dress . . . how you look. I don’t bat an eye at one woman with pale white hair streaked with blue and her face covered in piercings. Dressed in a low-cut shredded T-shirt and black leather pants with knee-high boots, she smacks her bubble gum loudly. She’s talking to a middle-aged man in a three-piece suit who I assume is an attorney, but you never know. Hell, for all I know, she’s the attorney and he’s the secretary, which is what makes this firm so unique. Maybe my cheap suit won’t be so out of place since we’re allowed to wear whatever we want unless we’re going to court or meeting with a client. Regardless, Danny leaves it up to everyone’s smarts and discretion and he told me during my interview he only had to reprimand someone once for what they chose to wear. It was apparently a guy who showed up to work one morning after a hard night of partying and still had vomit on his Mötley Crüe T-shirt. Danny told me it wasn’t the Mötley Crüe T-shirt he had a problem with.
Only the vomit.
We reach the southwest portion of the Pit and Danny takes me to the corner office. With its dark-paneled mahogany walls and thick wooden door, this is the only office that varies from the open transparency of the Pit.
Midge Payne’s domain.
A middle-aged woman sits out front at a small desk with a tiny laptop on it. She has a wireless earpiece and is stunningly attractive and elegantly dressed.
“She’s expecting you,” the woman says to Danny and gives me a warm smile. “Welcome, Leary.”
“Thank you,” I reply with a backward glance as Danny leads me into the inner sanctum of Midge’s kingdom. He ushers me inside and promptly leaves. When the door shuts behind me, I turn to face my hero.
Words can’t describe my first look at Midge and I only hope she can’t hear the frantic beating of my heart. I’m shocked to see she doesn’t look that much different than that old picture I had seen circa 1985, twenty-five years ago. The woman has to be in her sixties yet could easily pass for early forties. She has the same pale blonde hair that is now styled in a sleek, shoulder-length bob and her skin is creamy, nearly flawless except for tiny lines around her eyes and the corners of her mouth. Blue eyes stare at me in cool appraisal as she sits behind her desk, elbows resting on the arms of her chair and her hands steepled in front of her chin.
“Sit down, Leary,” she says, her voice oddly warm in contrast to the aloofness of her body language as she doesn’t rise to greet me or offer me a hand to shake.
When I take one of the chairs opposite her desk, I look up at her with a nervous smile.
“Welcome,” she says softly. “I’ve been looking forward to meeting you ever since your impressive interview.”
Impressive interview? She wasn’t even there.
“Thank you,” I say, lamely squeaking out my words.
She chuckles and puts her hands down on the armrests, leaning back farther in her chair and kicking her feet up on her desk. She’s casually dressed in a low-cut, purple cotton T-shirt and dark denim jeans. Her feet are encased in olive-green patent leather pumps with a square toe that have to be at least five inches tall and make my feet hurt looking at them.
I take a quick peek around her office, surprised by how barren it is. No degrees on the walls, no photographs on her desk. Her bookshelves are stacked with law books and periodicals. Her desk is crammed with documents, manila files and three-ring binders. She has three computer screens sitting on one corner of her desk and a large-screen TV mounted to the wall that is tuned to a news channel with the volume muted. Soft tones of music play in the background and when I listen closely, I’m surprised to hear Missy Elliott’s “Pass That Dutch.”
This woman is strange and utterly fascinating.
“I watched your interview on video,” she says with amusement. “Overall, you weren’t anything special . . . not compared to the other applicants.”
My jaw drops and my face flushes red. What could I possibly say to that? She doesn’t expect me to respond, as she continues. “However, you answered one question better than any of the other twenty-three applicants and for that reason alone you got the job.”
I wait for her to tell me what amazing piece of wisdom popped out of my mouth, but she doesn’t enlighten me and unfortunately, I’m so nervous I don’t have the guts to question her.
“I expect great things from you,” Midge says firmly.
Swallowing hard, I say, “I’ll work very hard, Ms. Payne.”
Her eyebrows furrow inward and I can see she’s displeased. “I’m sure Danny told you we go by first names here.”
I nod. “I’m sorry. Just nervous.”
Her gaze warms up a bit and she swings her legs off the desk, surging out of her chair. She’s really tall, maybe five-ten in those heels. Her presence is magnetic and my eyes are pinned to her.
“I understand,” she says as she walks around her desk to sit in the chair beside me. She stares at me thoughtfully and I’m entranced. She reaches toward me and I’m powerless to even flinch away from her.
Deft fingers go to the back of my head, where she pulls at a pin helping to hold up the severe bun in which I’d wrapped my long hair. I’m stunned to inaction at such an intimate move and make no attempt to stop her when she pulls at the others.
When her hand clears, my hair falls down to the middle of my back in a cascade of chocolate. She takes one of my locks and rubs it between her fingers, staring at it thoughtfully. “You need to change, though.”
I jerk in offense and she drops my hair, bringing her gaze to my confused eyes. “I don’t understand.”
“You will,” she says confidently. “I have great plans for you. Your interview intrigued me and I know you’ll be one of my top stars. But this meek, trailer-trash image you’re carting around has got to go.”
Her words hypnotize me even as distasteful as they are. Besides, it’s true. I was raised in a trailer park and my clothes are cheap, as are my perfume and makeup.
“You’re a brilliant woman. Your law school grades and interview prove that. But you have other qualities that you need to play up.”
“Other qualities?” I ask, dumbfounded. Because past my intellect and work ethic, what more could she want?
Leaning forward, she rests her elbows on her knees and clasps her hands together. I couldn’t look away if I wanted to.
“I’m talking about using all of your skills. You are a woman in a man’s profession. You’re on the bottom of the ladder and it will be ten times harder for you to climb just one rung while a man skips up ten. Now… you’re smart but no smarter than any other man I’ve employed here. So you need more. You need to work your other talents.”
“You’re a beautiful woman, Leary. You hide it though, and I’m guessing it’s because the last thing you want is to rely on your beauty for anything. I assume there’s a sordid little story there that makes it so… maybe coming straight from the dusty front yard of the little trailer you were raised in.”
I flinch, because she has hit too close to home but there’s no way she could know about my past. I raise my chin, daring her to continue and oddly fascinated with where she is going.
“You see, Leary, in order to succeed in this world, you need to work it and work it hard. Your brain, your wit, your determination, your confidence, your sex appeal. Lose the baggy, bargain clothes and show off your body. Get a good haircut, leave your hair down and get someone to teach you how to wear makeup properly. Make men notice you and when you’ve fogged their senses with lust, slap them with your brains. Make women want to be like you but be so confident in your abilities that they’ll inevitably fall flat on their faces. When you finish with your opponents, don’t let them have a moment’s doubt that they’ve met their match.” She leans in closer. “I’m talking about winning at any cost. Doing whatever is necessary to get the victory and as a woman, you need to use every weapon in your arsenal. It’s how I succeeded and it’s how you’ll succeed too.”
I know I should be offended, maybe feel let down over this revelation that Midge Payne seems to be interested in my physical attributes as much as my mental, yet I’m not. I’m strangely titillated by it and feel a sense of power flushing through me. It’s a power I imagine my mother employed on more than one occasion and while I have the utmost love and respect for my momma, I never once wanted to use the same charms she had to use to make sure we survived in a harsh world.
But oddly, the way Midge is advising me to work my assets doesn’t seem as seedy as when my momma lay on her back and spread her legs for money to put food on the table.
Midge stands up and walks back behind her desk. “Danny’s waiting for you outside and will show you to your work area.”
I stand up, smoothing down my polyester skirt and having an insane urge to run to the mall right now and spend my meager savings on a new wardrobe. “Thank you,” I say, feeling a little bit lost.
“Great things,” Midge reminds me with a hard look. “It’s what I expect.”
I stare at her a moment, not sure whether I can truly subscribe to her philosophy.
Whether or not I can meet those expectations.
She’s asking me to completely change my way of thinking and I need just a moment to see which direction my logic will tell me to take.
My logic doesn’t wait around, apparently knowing what I need to do.
My spine straightens. Determination and excitement fill me.
“It’s what you’ll get,” I tell her as I turn away from her and walk out of her office.
An orgasm crashes through my body, causing my back to arch in my chair and my fingers to pull hard at the hair of the man who’s working his tongue between my legs. A groan pours out of me and he lashes his tongue against me harder yet.
“Enough,” I command, because I don’t beg well and I push his head away. Ford sits back on his haunches, grinning up at me. He’s in my office, kneeling before my chair, while my skirt is hiked up around my waist and my thong is pulled haphazardly to the side to give him access. My suede ankle-strap Alexander McQueen pumps are perched on the edge of my desk and my knees are spread wide, baring myself to Ford’s fantastically gorgeous face and shiny, wet lips.
“Feel better?” he asks with a grin because I was having a craptastic day, which he’d keenly picked up on. But then again, Ford knows all my moods and yes, I do feel better, so apparently he knows how to bring me out of a funk. A shattering orgasm does the trick.
“Much better,” I say with a grin and pull my legs off my desk, setting my four-inch heels on the hardwood floor on either side of Ford’s hips. I vaguely notice figures moving around out in the Pit, just outside my glass-paned office wall, which is now grayed out with smoke so no one can see the nasty things Ford and I are doing. My door is unlocked but I’m not worried. No one but Midge would dare walk in here without a knock and Midge has never once stepped foot in my office since I moved in here almost two years ago when I made junior partner at Knight & Payne.
Wiping his mouth with the back of his hand, Ford asks, “Wanna feel even better?”
“You know I do,” I say as I stare at the massive bulge behind the zipper of his Hugo Boss pants. Ford is as serious about fashion as I am and we’re well suited to each other in other respects, too. We’re pretty in line with our tastes and proclivities and he’s the closest friend I have in the world.
He reaches in his pocket and pulls out a condom, handing it to me. I tear it open with my teeth as he unzips his pants and pulls out eight gorgeous inches of “wanna feel even better.” Leaning forward, I roll the condom over his straining erection, loving how after five years, he still groans when I touch him there. Placing my hands on his shoulders, I pull myself from my chair and squat down, bringing the tip of his cock in perfect alignment with me.
I sink slowly onto him while his hands help to guide my hips. When I’m fully seated, we both give a moan of appreciation and then I start to rock.
Using my hands on his shoulders for balance, I pull myself up . . . push back down. Over and over again, I fuck the man who used to be my boss when I first started here but is now my good friend, close legal confidant when I need to strategize on a case and occasional lover when I’ve had a bad day.
Because some asshole attorney thinks he can try to screw me over on one of my cases but he has another thing coming. Right after I come again and get Ford off as well, I’m going to come up with a stellar plan to mop the floor with this douche. I’ll make him regret crossing me, that’s for sure. Midge would be proud of my moxie.
“Where’d you go?” Ford pants as he nuzzles his face into my neck and tilts his hips upward as I push down.
“Nowhere,” I assure him and pick up the pace.
He seems to accept my word, because he murmurs, “Feels good, baby.”
It does . . . feel good.
Damn good, but then again, Ford has always been able to push all my buttons. Ever since my first day on the job here at Knight & Payne when Danny took me from Midge’s office back through the Pit to a desk outside a large office in which a man was talking on the phone.
The man was Ford Daniels and he was to be my supervising attorney.
He glanced up and saw Danny standing there with me, then motioned for us to come in. His eyes ran over me briefly but he never gave any indication of interest. I was fresh off my meeting with Midge and my mind was buzzing. I immediately wondered if I should use these extra talents Midge seemed to think I possessed on my newest boss, but then thought better of it. I wasn’t cut out just then to be a sexy seductress. Oh, I intended to learn, but I knew I was an amateur, at best, at that point in my life.
I couldn’t deny my attraction to Ford. At thirty-four, he was ten years older than me. Light brown hair, maybe dark blond in the right light, that was slightly wavy. He had dark brown eyes, a strong jawline, was tall and wore his suit in a way that told me he was built underneath.
Ford was very professional those first weeks of our working relationship and by professional I mean he never made an untoward move. He looked plenty, particularly when by the third day of employment I had ditched my conservative polyester suits for a chic, casual office wardrobe, convincing myself it was a wise use of my money. I traded in discount and thrift for Burberry and Elie Tahari, making sure my clothes showed off my assets, as Midge instructed me to do.
I cut three inches off my dark brown hair to just below my shoulder blades and wore it long, loose and layered with softly curled waves. I learned how to apply makeup to accentuate my golden-brown eyes and full lips and I walked the Pit with confidence.
By my third week of employment, Ford and I were sleeping together and I never had a moment’s regret. I didn’t have sex with him for any gain within the firm. I made it clear to him that sex had nothing to do with work. It did, however, have everything to do with the fact that I wanted to explore my sexuality, which was something I’d never had need of prior to my employment at Knight & Payne. I had lost my virginity my senior year of high school and I’d had sex with a few men since then, but I never viewed sex as all that important in my life. Maybe because it never rocked my world. Maybe because they never told us in law school that it could be a tool.
After Ford, I needed it. Not only did he teach me that sex felt damn good and was a great tension breaker, but that I had power and it had everything to do with the fact I had boobs and a vagina. Ford taught me how to be sensual, which I used in small doses when the time called for it. My sensuality has served me well the last five years.
“I’ve lost you again,” Ford growls before biting at my ear.
“Ouch,” I whine as I jerk against him, which causes him to go in deeper and then fuels him to pump into me faster.
“Well, damn, Leary . . . you’re not paying attention here,” he complains, still heaving upward into my body.
And he’s right.
My mind is wandering more and more lately and I feel restless. While Ford tends to be a great diversion for me, he’s just that . . . a diversion. He’s my friend, occasional lover and confidant. He knows me probably better than anyone at this point and yet Ford will never be anything more than an occasional fuck and a guy I can pal around with sometimes. We just don’t have that burning, deep connection that compels us to want to be around each other all the time. We use each other as a sounding board, as a cheerleader in our work lives and to get our rocks off if the occasion calls for it.
My stomach bottoms out when Ford surges to his feet, his powerful legs easily pushing both of us up from the floor while his hands support me under my ass. He turns, dumps me on my desk and with the stapler stuck in my lower back starts to really pound me hard. He’s doing this as a way of keeping my attention and damn . . . it’s working. From this angle and the way he’s driving into me, I can’t think about anything other than how he feels and the second orgasm firing up low in my belly.
He senses my body getting ready to unleash and he picks up the pace.
Then I’m flying apart and so is he. My day is definitely a little bit better than it was before.
Condom disposed of, my fringed Tory Burch skirt pulled back down and Ford sitting across from my desk, you’d never know that we were both fucking like animals just five minutes ago.
God, it was good. It had been a long time coming, too—no pun intended—because Ford had been in a relationship with a physical therapist for several months and one thing we didn’t do was cheat if either of us tried to date someone else. In the past five years, neither one of us has had a relationship that stuck, so we always end up becoming fuck buddies in between our failed attempts to find love. Ford broke up with that woman last week and I knew it was only a matter of time before we hooked up.
Today just happened to be that day. He poked his head in my office and said, “What’s up?”
I growled at him because I was frustrated with this douche of an opposing attorney and he knew exactly what I needed.
He didn’t even say a word. Stepped in, closed my door, hit the smoke button on my desk and went down on me.
It was magnificent.
“So what’s wrong with you?” Ford asks as he watches me carefully from across the expanse of my desk.
Leaning back in my chair and fiddling with a paper clip, I shrug my shoulders. “Not sure what you mean.”
Ford cocks an eyebrow at me, one of his patented moves that I adore and that always makes me smile because of his skepticism. “Cut the shit, Leary. You’re edgy, tense. This case has you worked up and that motion they filed isn’t even that big of a deal.”
I glare at Ford and stick out my lower lip. “It is too a big deal. I don’t like this jackass nipping at my heels like a little chihuahua who thinks he has balls the size of Texas.”
Snickering at me, Ford casually crosses one leg over the other. “He’s filed a motion to dismiss. Big deal. Happens all the time.”
“Yeah, but not to me. Most attorneys know not to screw with me over something so trivial.”
“He’s new to the area. I’m sure he hasn’t heard of your greatness,” Ford says in a mocking tone.
“Don’t be condescending,” I chastise him. “Besides, this case is important to me. You know that.”
He nods because he does know how important this case is. Other than Midge, he’s the only one who knows about my past and why I have so much riding on this lawsuit. This case is a means to help absolve me of my own sins and if I can’t get salvation with this case, I’m doomed to a life of guilt.
I smile inside—sometimes on the outside, too—whenever I think of her. While I’m very close to Ford, Midge has always been there for me too, although almost all of our communications are through e-mail or phone. But she had an influential hand in helping to shape me my first few years at Knight & Payne. She gave me advice and guidance on cases and taught me how, as a woman, I could be the best possible attorney.
Midge once confided in me, during one of those rare occurrences when we sat in her office, sipping on whiskey, “Leary, I want people who are risk takers. People like you, who are not afraid to push the envelope, stretch boundaries, get their hands a little dirty.”
“Cheat?” I asked her with a smile.
“If necessary,” she said without cracking one.
“In the right circumstances,” she confirmed.
“Use my womanly ways?” I asked with a grin.
“Always,” she murmured and we clinked our glasses together in celebration while we laughed.
Yes, Midge Payne shaped and molded me into a fearless attorney who acted like she had the biggest balls in the state. I took risks, I lied and cheated sometimes and I used my female charms over and over again to daze and confuse my opponents. Her advice served me well, but most importantly, it served my clients well. I do work that has meaning. I represent people who’ve been beaten down. I offer protection and advice to those who would otherwise be taken advantage of by the system. I uphold the common man’s constitutional rights. I do all of this because I know all too well what it’s like to feel powerless. I have made a profound difference in other people’s lives and I’ll never apologize for using every trick in my bag to get the job done.
Ford stands and leans over my desk. “Do you want any help brainstorming how you’ll argue the motion tomorrow?”
“No. I’ve got it.”
And I do. It’s a simple motion that shouldn’t take more than ten minutes but it pisses me off I even have to argue it at all. That I’m being made to waste my time just so my opposing counsel can bill a few more hours to his client.
“Are you sure you’re okay?” he asks, eyes roaming over my face with worry.
I put on a bright smile. “I’m sure. More than okay after the way you just made me come.”
Laughing, Ford turns his back on me and heads for my door. “My pleasure, babe. I’ll catch you later.”
And just like that, Ford is gone and I probably won’t see him for several days because we are both so busy with our practices. However, if I ever needed the man, he would drop everything to be by my side.
As a friend and only as a friend . . . sex benefits aside.
Sighing, I reach out and open the binder sitting on my desk with the words LaPietra v. Summerland General Surgery. It’s the case for which I will be arguing against a motion to dismiss tomorrow morning. Opening it up, I briefly scan the motion. The defendant’s counsel is asking the court to dismiss my case because I’ve failed to state a claim upon which relief can be granted.
Which is total and utter bullshit.
The complaint I filed in superior court was cogent and clear, and left no doubt in anyone’s mind that I’m suing the prick, Dr. Garry Summerland, and his medical practice for butchering my client in a breast reduction surgery gone bad.
Jenna LaPietra came to me over a year ago, distraught over the fact that when Dr. Summerland got done with an operation to reduce her from a double D to a moderate C cup, she was left with boobs of two different sizes, puckered sinkholes in her flesh with one nipple pointed north and the other pointed southeast. It was a horrific result and Jenna doesn’t have the financial means to get them fixed. One plastic surgeon she saw thinks it will take more than one surgery.
Kind of a big deal to a twenty-four-year-old topless dancer who strips to put food on the table to support her disabled son.
Acid burns in my veins as I think of all the ways that Jenna has struggled, trying to make ends meet since losing her job at Pure Fantasy. She went from bringing home two grand a week to living in the back of her car and stealing food from convenience stores to feed her kid. All of her money was paid under the table, so she can’t claim unemployment. Her kid’s father is a heroin junkie who hasn’t been seen in two years and is presumably lying dead in a ditch somewhere. She has no family and no friends and I put my law license at risk when I put Jenna up in a low-income apartment and provided a bank account in which I deposit money every two weeks so she can eat and pay rent. That was a huge no-no to the State Bar but fuck ’em. I’m not about to let that family try to survive on the streets.
Pushing the binder aside, I know I’m better served to study my opponent than the law, because the law is clear and in my favor. Tomorrow’s courtroom battle will be nothing more than me swatting away this annoying flea and making it clear he doesn’t want to fuck with someone like me.
I pull up the website of Battle, Carnes, and Pearson on my computer. It’s a powerhouse defense firm that is the polar opposite of Knight & Payne. Whereas we fight nobly to save the downtrodden, Battle Carnes sits in a gilded roost, representing only the nation’s elite one percent.
I navigate their roster of attorneys and click on the link for Reeve Holloway. The first thing I notice is that he’s extraordinarily good looking. Dark, wavy hair that’s cut short on the sides and back, with the top just slightly longer and very JFK Jr. His eyes are light colored, but I can’t tell if they’re blue or green and his lips are sensual. He’s actually really hot. His online profile states he’s been practicing for eight years, which puts him at about thirty-two and he just started with the firm six months ago. Prior to Battle Carnes he was working in foreign acquisitions in New York City, which sounds slightly boring and nauseating to me.
The rest of his profile reveals the most important piece of information I can glean, though. He doesn’t appear to be married.
The end of his biography reads like a generic single man’s dossier. New to North Carolina, Reeve spends his free time hiking, rock climbing and playing in a variety of recreational sports leagues.
Nothing about a wife and family which is usually in an attorney’s bio. Makes them seem more human. And while that piece of information truly doesn’t matter, I can definitely work much more quickly against a single guy than someone who is bound by commitment.
An idea starts brewing in my head.
Glancing down at my watch, I see I have plenty of time to make it to courtroom 21A, which sits on the twenty-first floor of the judicial building, to argue my motion to dismiss. It’s a bullshit motion.
I know it.
The judge knows it.
My opposing counsel, some guy named Leary Michaels, knows it.
Everyone who will be standing in courtroom 21A knows this is a bullshit motion and that after just a few minutes of argument Judge Henry will deny me. The only reason I’m heading to court on this unseasonably warm October day is because my new employer, Battle Carnes, has an unspoken policy to bilk our corporate clients for as much money as possible. Seeing as how I bill $300 per hour, preparing for and arguing this unwinnable motion will bring in about $1,200 to my esteemed employers. Doesn’t matter that I’ll lose—it will earn money for the firm and our client is too rich and self-absorbed to question the billing or why I’m pursing a futile cause.
My phone buzzes from my jacket pocket, indicating a text. Pulling it out, I smile when I see it’s from one of my buddies inviting me for a few beers tonight. As I walk toward the courthouse, I shoot a quick return text that I’ll see him later.
Just as I hit Send, I slam into something extremely soft and very movable. My hands come out to grasp at whatever I hit before it can get knocked over. I wince at the cracking sound my phone makes as it hits the sidewalk and my fingers clasp toned arms encased in red silk.
I hold on firmly to what I now realize is a woman who I easily could have slammed to the ground because I wasn’t watching where I was going. When my cognizance kicks in full force, I find myself looking into a pair of amber-colored eyes set into a stunningly beautiful face.
Perfectly arched eyebrows.
Dark hair pulled back into a sleek ponytail that rests at the back of her neck.
She exudes a chic, confident style in her power suit with its tasteful but narrow pencil skirt in cherry red and matching formfitting silk jacket. Her long legs are encased in sheer black stockings and she’s wearing the fucking sexiest black pumps.
“I’m so sorry,” I tell her, refusing to let her go just yet.
She smiles at me with genuine warmth and chuckles. “It’s all good. I wasn’t watching where I was going either.”
I stare at her, unsure of what to say next. It’s a rarity that I lose my tongue around a woman, but damn if her voice isn’t smoky rich, sexy beyond belief and fuck . . . she even smells delicious from where I’m standing.
“I’m afraid you may have broken your phone though.” She looks pointedly at the ground.
“Shit,” I mutter as I release her and bend to pick it up, glaring at the shattered screen. Looks like I’ll be making a trip to the store rather than the gym and drinks with the boys tonight.
Shoving the phone in my pocket, I grab the courthouse door and hold it open for her. Giving her a “no worries” smile, I motion for her to precede me in. She inclines her head in thanks and walks in, carrying an expensive-looking black patent leather purse over her shoulder.
I’m not a southern man, having been born and raised in the small but great state of Vermont, so it certainly wasn’t due to ingrained manners that I opened the door for her. I merely wanted to get a gander of her ass in that narrow skirt.
And just kill me right now, I groan internally, because her ass is slammin’ and her sex appeal is ramped up by the fact that those sheer stockings have a thin black seam running up the back of each leg.
We reach the elevator at the same time and she pulls out her own smartphone to study something. She hasn’t given me a backward glance, so I use the opportunity to continue checking her out. This woman oozes sophistication; her eyes—from what little I was able to see—hold intellect and maybe even a bit of cunning.
I wonder what she’s doing in the courthouse, because while her cherry-red suit is professional, it also shows a hint of cleavage and borders on just a tad too provocative for an attorney. Besides, she’s not carrying the telltale briefcase that would give her away as one of my legal brethren.
When the elevator doors open, she doesn’t even lift her eyes, but we both wait for it to empty. A young guy in a short-sleeved shirt and skinny tie, who I peg as an overworked, underpaid clerk, joins us inside. I immediately walk to the back of the car and lean my back against the wall, setting my briefcase on the floor.
The guy pushes the second-floor button and I roll my eyes. Lazy ass can’t walk up one flight of stairs?
The woman in red pushes the button to the twentieth floor and I say to her, maybe in a vain attempt to get her attention, “Number twenty-one, if you don’t mind.”
She cuts her eyes at me with a small smile and hits the button, then ignores me as she steps to the wall to my left and studies her phone.
The ride to the second floor shouldn’t take any time at all, but these old elevators in the justice building seem like they’re powered by hamsters or something. After several seconds of chugging upward, the car slowly stops and the dude exits. No one else joins us, which isn’t surprising because it’s late Friday afternoon and the courthouse is pretty much dead at this time. There are only a few judges milling around hearing stupid motions like mine, with the other courtrooms usually cleared of the dockets by Thursday.
As the elevator starts its slow ascent upward again, I can’t help but notice movement from the vision in red. She glances down at the side of her leg and whispers, “Shoot.”
My attention moves with laser focus and I watch as she drops one hand down to the side of her right knee, fingering the material at the hem of her skirt. Against the dark shading of her stockings, it’s not hard to see that she has a tiny tear in the silk and I have to wonder if my briefcase snagged up against her when we ran into each other.
I expect her to just drop the hem of her skirt, but instead she raises it a few inches higher, tracing the path of the run that is creeping up her leg. My breath catches in my throat as she slides the edge of her skirt up an inch, two, three . . . right to midthigh and yet the run seems to go higher than that.
I silently beg her to keep going, but she drops the skirt and looks up at me with a sheepish grin. “Well . . . that just won’t do at all.”
I open my mouth to say something that I’m sure will be full of wit and charm while trying to figure out how I can get her phone number, but she stuns me when she holds out her phone to me.
“Here . . . if you don’t mind holding this.”
I push off from the wall and accept her phone under no volition of my own. She smiles at me coyly and I return the smile with uncertainty.
She stuns me yet again when she puts all her weight on her left leg, balancing herself with one hand on the wall. Lifting her right foot up and back, she bends to the side and takes off her shoe, dropping it the floor.
Shocked is not the word I would use to describe my feeling when she shoots me a grin and then starts to lift the hem of her skirt back up with both hands. She slides the silk material up her thighs and I’m helpless to look away as it climbs higher and higher. Right to the fucking tops of her stockings, which are trimmed with black lace and tiny red bows, clipped into place with red garters.
Swallowing hard, my pulse hammering madly, I watch as she uses her perfectly manicured hands to pop the clips holding the hosiery up.
I see the pale, smooth skin of her upper thigh and if she’d move that fucking skirt up just another two inches, I’d get a peek of what I’m betting is matching black lace covering her pussy. But no such luck. She deftly hooks her thumbs under the lace edges of the stocking and slides the offending ripped silk down her leg.
Vaguely, I hear the chiming of the elevator as it passes floor after floor. My heart is galloping over the thought that the car could stop at any moment to let another passenger on, but she doesn’t seem to be fazed in the slightest by undressing in a public place in front of a perfect stranger.
Right about the time the silk travels down over her knee, I start imagining what it would be like to have my tongue trace that same path and I start to get hard.
When the silk finally clears her foot—which I might add is a fantastically sexy foot with cherry-red nail polish to match her suit—I finally remember to pull a breath into my starved lungs before I suffocate.
Standing back up straight, the woman reaches her hand out with the stocking in it and says, “If you don’t mind holding this, please.”
I wasn’t going to say no, so I reach out and grab the delicate material from her, rubbing it in between my fingers. My cock is now pulsing in my pants and pornographic images of me pushing her against the wall and hammering my way inside her flood my senses.
My eyes are burning as she reaches calmly into her purse and pulls out a spare stocking.
She efficiently, but in no less sexy a manner, bends over and slides her foot into the silk, pulling the edges up her calf, over her knee, up that smooth thigh while pulling the skirt up along the way and then she’s clipping the lace with the garters again.
She makes a little bit of a show of smoothing the edges of the stocking against her skin, then she slowly lowers the material of her skirt. I take a quick glance and see we’re almost to the twentieth floor and a sense of urgency takes hold of me as I realize this sexy-as-hell woman will be walking away from me in just a few moments. I want to slam my palm against the Stop button and demand that she change her other stocking, but that would, of course, be ludicrous.
Because there’s nothing strange about a woman stripping in front of me in the elevator, right?
She reaches down and picks up her shoe, puts it back on and snaps her purse shut. Turning to me, she gives me another coy smile and says, “Can I have my phone back?”
I blink hard, just as the twentieth floor chimes and the car comes to a slow grinding halt. I hold her phone out to her and she takes it, scraping her pinky nail across the back of my hand, which causes lust to bubble hot inside me and my dick to swell larger.
“Thanks,” she murmurs and steps toward the doors as they start to open.
“Wait,” I call out and she looks over her shoulder at me. Holding out her stocking that I’m now clutching quite tightly in my hand, I say, “Here.”
I can’t think of anything else to say, because most of my blood has congregated south of my waist.
She grins at me, gives me a quick wink and says, “Keep it.”
My hand drops down, my thumb and forefinger rubbing against the soft material.
Turning away, she starts to walk out of the elevator car.
“Wait,” I call out again and slam my other hand against the button that keeps the doors open. She turns all the way around to me and tilts her head in curiosity. She’s a fucking vision. “What’s your name?”
Cocking an eyebrow at me briefly, she leans in slightly and whispers, “That’s for me to know and you to find out.”
She then walks away and doesn’t look back. A quick glance at my watch shows me I have about two minutes to get to the courtroom for my motion hearing, which means no time to chase her.
“Then how do I find you?” I call out to her retreating figure as she makes her way down the hallway, her heels clicking against the tile.
She doesn’t even turn around, but I distinctly hear her laugh and say, “Oh, I’m sure we’ll meet again. Karma has a way.”
I release the button to the doors and they close slowly. I practically stagger backward against the back wall and involuntarily bring her stocking up to my nose. Hints of lavender and vanilla. Fucking delicious. As soon as this motion hearing is over, I’m going back down to the twentieth floor and finding this woman. I’ll get her number and if there’s a God, I’ll talk her into going out with me tonight. And if miracles really do occur, I’ll be fucking her, too.
Grinning stupidly, I shove her stocking into the side of my briefcase and try to banish my erection so it’s not standing out when I walk into the courtroom.
I can’t believe that just fucking happened to me.
Shit like that never happens to me.
It’s now five minutes past the time my motion hearing should be starting. The courtroom is eerily silent. It’s only me, the judge and the bailiff and we’re patiently—okay, not so patiently—waiting for Leary Michaels to show up. The judge doesn’t look too perturbed, but then again, Judge Henry has a reputation for being mellow and laid-back. He’s got his reading glasses perched on the end of his nose, scanning something on the laptop that sits in front of him. The bailiff looks supremely bored, but that’s par for the course. I can’t imagine his job is very exciting.
I didn’t think I had a snowball’s chance in hell of winning this motion but if opposing counsel doesn’t show up, the judge will probably grant me the unexpected victory. Of course, the partners in my firm will go apeshit because we’ll lose out on the opportunity to bill thousands of dollars in future legal fees to our client on this case. Quick victories don’t make attorneys rich.
I hear the door at the back of the courtroom open and Judge Henry looks up with a slight smile on his face. “Ah, Miss Michaels. Glad you found some time in your hectic schedule to join us here today.”
Miss? I thought Leary was a man. Or at least, I had a law school professor by that same first name.
I turn slightly in my chair to take a quick peek at my opponent and gravity pulls my lower jaw down hard as I see the woman in red sauntering up the aisle toward us like she was on the catwalk.
What. The. Fuck?
She doesn’t even spare me a glance as she pushes herself through the low swinging door that separates the gallery from the area that houses the judge’s bench, the counsel tables and the jury box.
My eyes narrow as I watch her take the table to my right, saying in a crisp tone as she sits down, “My apologies, Your Honor. I think all of our time is going to be wasted today with this motion.”
My head jerks back in surprise at her temerity, not only because she didn’t sound at all apologetic for keeping a judge waiting, but by the blatant venom of her tone. She’s clearly not happy to be here.
Can’t say I blame her, as this motion borders on a fraudulent use of the court’s time, so I just shrug and lean back in my chair, letting my gaze rake over Miss Michaels. She’s sitting up so straight, I’m sure a steel pole is fused to her spine. Her hands are clasped firmly on the table and she stares straight at the judge.
“Mr. Holloway,” Judge Henry says and my eyes snap to his. “I believe this is your motion, if you’d like to start. I know we all have better things to do with our Friday afternoon.”
“Yes, Your Honor,” I say as I stand up, even though my head is spinning. I still can’t let go of the image of her taking off that silk stocking in the elevator. That flash of skin on her thigh, the promise of the sweetness that was just beyond.
I’m discombobulated at best when I make my argument, fumbling several times in the process. This, of course, is almost unheard of for me. I’m a fucking phenom in the courtroom and the last time I was tongue-tied was when Mary-Beth Schubert stuck her hand down my pants in junior high when we were playing Seven Minutes in Heaven.
Fifteen minutes later, having made the lamest and most excruciatingly unmeritorious argument in the history of law-dom, I sit back down and wait to see what Miss Michaels will do. She really shouldn’t do much more than stand up, sneer in my direction, look back at the judge with arms outstretched and go, “You’re seriously going to listen to this dipshit, Your Honor?”
That’s what I’d do . . . if I didn’t think it would land me in jail.
Miss Michaels stands with the cool sophistication she’s exhibited from the moment I barreled into her. It’s quite hard for me to remember that just twenty minutes ago she was giving me quite a striptease and I have no clue why that even occurred. My dick still twitches when I think about it, so I hastily try to focus on her argument, just in case I need to react.
“Your Honor, I’m not even sure I should waste my breath responding to Mr. Holloway’s small-minded and timid arguments. The standard is that the allegations in Plaintiff’s complaint should be deemed admitted for the purposes of this motion and outside of Mr. Holloway showing some evidence of fraud, we shouldn’t be here. Not only did he fail to make a showing of such, but clearly he needs to wipe the cobwebs out from what I would loosely call a brain to even think such a motion would pass muster under your keen gaze.”
Fuck, she’s ballsy and completely going out on a limb. Her tactic isn’t to attack my argument but to attack me, as evidenced by the fact she slammed my intellect in front of Judge Henry by actually raising her hands and making air quotes when she referenced my brain. The woman is vicious and she hasn’t even yet addressed the merits, or lack thereof, of my motion.
“But let me make clear to this esteemed court,” she continues in a haughty tone. “Jenna LaPietra went to Mr. Holloway’s client, Dr. Summerland. She paid him good money to have breast reduction surgery and in return, he left her maimed. Now, Mr. Holloway might not be a breast man and in fact, based on what little dealings I’ve recently had with him, I’m not sure he’d know how to find one with a GPS, but I can assure you, Miss LaPietra’s disfigured body has left her life in a shambles with catastrophic medical bills and no means to earn a living.”
My man card in crucial need of saving, I surge out of my chair. “Objection, Your Honor. I am indeed a breast man and know my way around them with my eyes closed—but legs tend to be more my thing,” I say with a lascivious smile aimed toward my opponent.
“Couldn’t prove it by me,” Leary Michaels sneers back at me.
“Well, it takes a real woman—” I start to say, but I’m cut off.
“Children . . . I mean, counsel,” Judge Henry says in a tired voice. “Let’s use our inside voices when making snide comments that have nothing to do with the merits of this case.”
“Totally agree, Your Honor,” Leary says in a placating voice. “Mr. Holloway is being completely inappropriate.”
“I’m being inappropriate?” I snarl and turn my gaze to the bench. “Your Honor, despite the fact Miss Michaels purports to hold a law degree, she’s yet to argue one iota of law. I have to wonder who has cobwebs in that hollow space of a skull that’s supposed to hold her brain.”
Did I just say that out loud?
Judge Henry picks up his gavel and bangs it on his desk, but it’s not loud enough to cover up the growl emitting from those beautiful lips that would look amazing wrapped around my cock.
“Enough,” Judge Henry barks at us. “God, they don’t pay me enough to listen to this crap. Mr. Holloway, your motion is denied. There’s no basis for it and the one thing that Miss Michaels did say that is utterly accurate is that this is a waste of the court’s time. Now, is there anything further you two brats want to discuss with me today?”
“No, Your Honor,” the witch in red says sweetly. “As always, you make a well-reasoned decision.”
“No, Your Honor,” I mumble. “I apologize for wasting the court’s time.”
“So be it,” Judge Henry says as he raps his gavel once more. “Court’s in recess.”
I close the file on my desk as Judge Henry steps off the dais and heads through the door to his chambers. When I turn, I see that my opponent is already walking down the aisle, her black purse slung over her shoulder. It’s then that I realize she didn’t even bring a file to court with her, she was so assured that she was going to win.
“Hey,” I call out to her as I scramble through the swinging door, wincing as I bang my knee against it.
She doesn’t slow down, so I quicken my pace, grabbing her elbow just as she clears the back door.
“Want to tell me what that little show was in the elevator?” I ask as I turn her to me. “You knew who I was, didn’t you?”
“Of course I did,” she says as she leans toward me with a husky voice that hints at sex and dirty words. “And let’s just say your reaction, or lack thereof, told me all I needed to know about you.”
Dropping her elbow, I rake my hand through my hair. “Oh, yeah? And what’s that?”
Leaning in closer, she puts her lips near my ear and I almost shudder from the nearness as she whispers, “You’re all talk and no action. A docile baby, really. It’s going to be so easy to kick your ass in this case.”
I jerk back, my man card now having been fully stomped upon. “You’re fucking kidding me?”
Reaching up, she pats me on the cheek with her hand and laughs. “I never kid about stuff like that, Mr. Holloway.”
She starts to walk away, but there is no way I’m letting that happen without redeeming myself and my poor, busted man card. Quick as a striking snake, my hand shoots out and grabs hold of her wrist.
In one fluid motion, I spin her around and pull her toward me. I reach out with my other hand and lay it in the center of her chest, pushing gently and walking her backward into the wall. When she’s pinned flat against it, I step in close to her . . . really close.
Leary’s eyes flare briefly then narrow with anger. “What the hell are you doing?”
Keeping my hand on her chest, I drop my other to the hem of her skirt and start dragging it up her leg. For a moment, she does nothing, then one of her hands grabs my arm, attempting to stop my progress. “Are you crazy?” she hisses at me. “What the hell are you doing?”
Her strength is no match for me and I keep my hand moving upward. When her skirt gets to the top of the lace on her stockings, I bend my body to the side so I can see what I’m revealing. “I want to see if your panties match your stockings and garters.”
“We are in fucking public,” she practically wheezes and her head flips to the right to make sure no one is coming down the hall. I can feel her heartbeat thumping madly under my palm that’s still resting on her chest.
Shrugging and with my eyes pinned to the black lace and creamy flesh exposed just above it, I murmur, “Oh well. Besides, didn’t seem to bother you when you put on that little striptease in the elevator. So quit being a baby and let me see.”
I dare a glance up and her eyes are no longer heated through with offense. Instead, I see challenge staring back at me and I’m thinking she didn’t like being called a baby. Her hand goes lax against my wrist and I push the material of her skirt past her hip.
“Just as I thought.” I breathe out softly when I get a look at her lingerie. “Black lace panties . . . goddamn perfect.”
For a brief moment, I’m overwhelmed with the urge to slide my hand between her legs and cup her lush heat. But I’m all about proving a point.
I let my thumb graze along the elastic edge that sits in that sexy crease just between her pussy and her upper thigh. She gives the tiniest gasp and my eyes seek hers again, which have a slightly fevered look to them.
“Oh, Miss Michaels, what I wouldn’t give to run my tongue right along this edge,” I rumble low as my thumb sweeps back and forth against it.
Leary swallows hard and her bubblegum-pink tongue slips out and swipes at her lower lip. I nearly groan but tamp it down hard. I’m the one in control now.
Staring at her for a moment more, I whisper, “Maybe another time.”
Dropping her skirt and stepping away, I shoot her a charming smile. “Can’t wait to see you again . . . in or out of the courtroom.”
Her mouth hangs open slightly when I turn to walk away.
I’m a pretty smart cookie. Graduated first in my class in high school and went on to do my undergrad at Duke and then law school at Stanford. While I didn’t graduate at the exact top of those two schools, I was in the top ten percent of both. I was also on law review at Stanford as well as a member of their trial advocacy team that placed third in the nation during my third year.
Again . . . smart cookie.
But even the brainiest of people have their weaknesses and unfortunately, mine happens to be legal research. I have a nursing home abuse trial starting next week and there’s going to be a huge argument over a statement that I’d like to introduce into evidence that the other side is claiming as hearsay. I know there’s an exception to the hearsay rule that applies to this exact situation . . . at least I seem to remember reading something along those lines in another case, but fuck if I can find it now.
I normally assign this shit to my paralegal, but she’s on maternity leave and the temp I have working in her place doesn’t know how to do legal research. So here I am . . . slogging through the overwhelming database to find this obscure case that expounds on the exception I might have read about but am not really sure if I did. It could just be that I want that exception to exist, so maybe I created it in my mind.
Pushing back from my computer, I glare at my monitor.
Give me the answer, I shout at it telepathically.
My cursor just blinks in monotonous fashion, mocking me.
There’s a knock on my door despite it being open and I look up to see Ford standing there. I wave him in and peer back at the computer, hoping something will leap out at me.
“What are you doing?” Ford asks as he takes a seat on the other side of my desk.
I don’t even spare him a glance. “Legal research.”
“You? Doing legal research? Are we on the cusp of Armageddon or something?” he teases.
“Stuff it, Ford,” I say while reading a court of appeals case summary on my screen. “My paralegal’s out so I had to break down and do it myself.”
“Want some help?” he asks amiably.
“No, thanks. I can figure it out on my own.”
“Such stubborn pride,” he muses and I finally slide my eyes to his. He’s smirking at me.
“What’s that look for?” I ask as I push back from my desk a little.
“Nothing. It’s just . . . you’ve been wound up pretty tight since your motion hearing last week. You won, right? What’s the deal?”
“I’m not wound up,” I mutter, but God, I’m so wound up. I’m no longer pissed that Reeve Holloway would waste my time with that motion. It’s done. I won. Anger gone.
But jeez . . . what he did to me after the hearing was over?
In the freakin’ hallway, just outside the courtroom. Where anyone could have walked up on us. He shocked me and then—I admit, with no small amount of shame—turned me on more than I’ve ever been in my life.
I thought the guy was a pushover. The way he just silently watched me in the elevator as I took my stocking off clued me in to all I thought I needed to know about him. He didn’t have any game. He had no confidence, no gumption. He would be easy pickings.
Then he turned it all around and practically had me begging for him to touch more when he pulled my skirt up and looked at my lace panties.
I didn’t miss the hard-on he was sporting, either. He was as turned on as I was and there is no denying he’s sex on a stick. He was handsome in his profile picture on his firm’s website, but he was even better looking in person. When I saw him outside the courthouse with his head down as he looked at his phone, I couldn’t help but stare. He’s tall with broad shoulders and with each stride his well-muscled thighs pulled at the charcoal gray of his dress pants.
When we “accidentally” ran into each other and he first raised his gaze to me, my girlie parts nearly rolled over and sighed at the light green of his eyes staring at me in apology. Framed by the thickest, darkest lashes, they finished off his sex appeal with a flourish.
“You need an orgasm . . . maybe two.”
“What?” I exclaim, wondering if Ford can read my thoughts about Reeve.
His palms are resting calmly on the armrests of the leather chair and he has one leg crossed casually over the other as he smiles at me. “You need an orgasm or two. I can tell by the pinched look on your face, which isn’t very attractive, by the way.”
I immediately lessen my frown, roll my eyes at him and turn back to my screen. “No, I don’t.”
“Yes, you do. Let’s go. I’ll take you out to dinner and then we’ll go to your place. I’ll have a smile on your face in no time. Then you can return the favor.”
“Not tonight,” I say absently as I stare at the computer and try to refocus on the research.
“Okay, who is he?” Ford asks curiously.
My eyes fly back to his and I try for my most innocent look. “What do you mean?”
“Whoever has you in a knot,” he says with a knowing look. “You’ve never turned me down before unless you were involved with someone. That’s the only thing that would have you turning your nose up at the magic my lips can work on you.”
Sighing, I push back from my desk again and rub the bridge of my nose. Not only does Ford know me well, he’s also my closest friend. While we might indulge in pleasure with each other, there’s also a mutual care and trust that has been fortified over the years. Besides that, neither one of us has a jealous bone in our bodies and we’ve always stepped out of the picture if one of us wants to pursue someone else.
“It’s that attorney that I had the motion against,” I admit.
One of Ford’s eyebrows arches high with skepticism. “You won the motion. How can that still be bothering you? Your temper doesn’t work that way. Once it blows and you purge it, you’re cool as a cucumber again.”
Yup . . . see . . . Ford knows me as well as I know myself.
“It’s not the motion. It’s what happened before and after.”
Leaning forward in his chair to rest his elbows on his knees, his eyes light with curiosity and wait for me to tell my story.
“I timed my arrival to the courthouse at the same time as the opposing attorney and when we were alone in the elevator, I got this wild idea. So I sort of performed a tiny striptease in front of him.”
“You did what?” Ford asks as he rears back in his chair.
“Relax,” I tell him with a laugh. “I just changed one of my stockings that had a run in it. He didn’t get much more than a flash of lace.”
Ford stares at me, mouth slightly agape. His eyes have a slight look of censure.
“Stop looking at me that way,” I chide. “I wanted to see how he’d react. Get a read on what type of man he was.”
“And exactly what did you learn?” he asks, his tone now intrigued.
“He didn’t do anything. Just watched me. Although he finally found his voice when I got out on a different floor. Asked for my name, but I didn’t give it to him. He had no clue who I was and I wanted him to be shocked when we met again as opponents.”
Ford shakes his head as he leans back in his chair once mor. “What did he do when you walked into the courtroom?”
“No clue,” I tell him honestly. “I didn’t make eye contact. I wanted him to know that he wasn’t worth my time.”
“But that’s not all that happened?” Ford guesses.
Standing up from my desk, I walk around it and take the chair that sits next to Ford. Turning slightly so I’m facing him, I cross one leg over the other, gently swinging my foot. Leaning toward him conspiratorially, I say, “We had a moment in the hallway . . . after the hearing.”
“A moment. I goaded him, pretty much called him a pansy ass for the way he did nothing in the elevator and I guess he didn’t take kindly to it. He pushed me up against the wall and told me he wanted to see if my panties matched my silk stockings and garters.”
“Are you fucking serious? He attacked you?” Ford growls.
“No, it wasn’t like that. It was all sexy slow. Seductive. He was proving to me that he could do something about it if he wanted.”
Ford stares at me quietly and his face is impassive. Finally he asks, “Did you ask him to stop?”
Odd, that tone of voice he’s using on me. I would expect him to be a little protective, but it smacks of jealousy.
“No, I didn’t ask him to stop. I wanted to see how far he’d take it. I wanted to know exactly what type of opponent I’m dealing with.”
“Bullshit, Leary,” Ford says in a rush. “You liked it, plain and simple. You like him.”
“I absolutely do not like him,” I argue, but then because I’m always honest with Ford, I tell him, “but I did like what he did. I liked that confidence, that ego. But that’s all there was to it. Even if I wanted to check this guy out some more, it’s impossible. We’re on opposing sides of the case. It’s unethical.”
Sighing heavily, Ford looks at me a moment more, then smiles softly. “So I’m definitely not going to be giving you an orgasm tonight?”
Ordinarily, that would be lovely. A quiet dinner with Ford where he’d make me laugh and then his mouth on me all night. But for some reason, I’m not into it. At least not tonight.
“Rain check? Okay? I have a lot of work to do tonight and I’m looking forward to a quiet night alone after that.”
Slapping his palms on his thighs, Ford gives me an understanding smile and then stands up. “Sure. I’ll catch you later.”
I watch as he leaves and wait for something to flash through me where I change my mind and tell him that I want to see him tonight.
But it never comes.
Fortifying myself with determination, I make my way back to my computer and the legal research that’s not going to do itself.
“Miss Michaels?” I hear hesitantly from my office doorway.
I glance up from the deposition transcript I’m reviewing and see one of our runners, a young girl who just started college and is working for our firm for the fall semester. She wants to go to law school eventually and—like a lot of the young people who work here—has grand aspirations of joining the team of Knight & Payne one day. Until that day, they start at the bottom, running errands back and forth between the lawyers and the courthouse.
“Hi, Keri. What’s up?”
“You had a hand-delivered package up at the front desk,” she says as she steps into my office, “and they asked me to bring it back to you. It says, ‘personal and confidential,’ so it didn’t go through the mail room.”
“Thanks.” I take the box from her and set it on the middle of my desk.
“No, problem. Have a great evening,” she says before leaving.
“You too,” I murmur but I don’t look back at her. I’m staring at the box and the big, white label that shows a return address of Battle, Carnes, and Pearson.
My skin tingles with awareness and my heart beats faster. What in the hell could that firm have sent me that’s personal and confidential?
No, not “that firm.”
No doubt in my mind that this is from him.
Pulling a pair of scissors out of my drawer, I cut along the securely taped seams. The box isn’t very big, maybe only a foot by a foot and about six inches deep. My curiosity is on overdrive.
When I finally pull the flaps back, I immediately see a cover letter on top of a stack of documents, the Battle Carnes logo prominent, top and center. Beneath the stack of documents is a small white envelope that looks like it holds a card, as well as a smaller box wrapped in glossy white paper.
I remove all of the contents, pushing the small envelope and white-wrapped box aside and look at the legal documents first, starting with the cover letter.
After the requisite formalities of my name, address and the case reference, Reeve writes as follows:
His informal use of my first name is not lost on me.
Enclosed please find Defendants’ First Set of Interrogatories, Requests for Production of Documents and Requests for Admissions. As you know, you have thirty days to answer these, but I’ll be happy to grant an informal extension of time if you need it.
BATTLE, CARNES, AND PEARSON
He signs it “Reeve,” and I am lost as to why this was a personal or a confidential matter. These documents were expected. I plan on sending my own interrogatories and requests out to him late next week after I finish my other trial.
I start flipping through the pleadings, scanning the interrogatories, which are nothing more than questions that my client is bound to answer, in writing and under oath. They look pretty standard to me. Same for the requests for production of documents . . . all standard stuff, requesting my client’s medical records, both as a result of her surgery and those ten years prior, lost wage documentation, photographs, yada, yada, yada.
Finally, I pull out the requests for admissions. This is a method of discovery that a party can use to narrow down the issues by having the opposing party admit or deny certain statements. Normally you don’t see them used by the defendants in a case, so I’m slightly surprised to have them in my hand, but again . . . not by any means something that would be personal or confidential.
I scan through the requests for admissions addressed to my client, Jenna LaPietra. They’re ordinary . . . no surprises.
Admit your name is Jenna LaPietra.
Admit your age is twenty-four.
Admit you sought out Dr. Summerland for a breast reduction surgery.
Admit you worked at Pure Fantasy as a topless dancer.
Yup . . . all benign, ordinary requests.
My eyes scan further, seeing nothing that jumps out at me.
Until I get to request number eighteen.
- Admit or deny that at the time of your employment as a dancer at Pure Fantasy, your job duties included taking off your clothing in exchange for payment of money.
Okay, that’s a bit inflammatory, but still within the bounds of a reasonable request, because we certainly aren’t hiding what she did for a living. It might not be considered the most respectable of professions but damn it, she worked a steady job to provide for her family. No shame there and part of her damages are the fact that she’s so maimed she can’t return to her work.
I read the next one.
- Admit or deny that at the time of your employment as a dancer at Pure Fantasy, you solicited and performed sexual acts on the customers in exchange for money.
What. The. Fuck?
I read the request one more time and yup . . . they’re basically asking Jenna if she was prostituting herself.
My blood pressure rises and my head feels like it’s going to explode. I read through the rest of the requests and there are no other questions that are inappropriate. Just this one.
I push the documents aside and turn to my computer, intent to pull up the contact information for Reeve Holloway so I can call him and give him a piece of my mind. But before my fingers can even touch the keyboard, a thought crosses my mind.
This was not a long list of inappropriate questions. All of the questions seemed well within the normal boundaries of what I’d expect. All except request number nineteen.
Which makes the hairs rise up on the back of my head.
If Reeve was trying to goad me, he would have sent me a slew of crazy questions. Instead, he only asked one and he placed it in a chronologically appropriate place with the other requests asking about her work at Pure Fantasy.
Which means that he must have some type of information to lead him to believe that Jenna was selling herself in addition to just dancing topless.
I quickly dial Jenna’s number, needing to put this issue to rest as quickly as possible. I pray to God she tells me that it’s not true because if it is, that’s going to throw a big fucking monkey wrench into her case.
She doesn’t answer and I leave her a voice mail, asking her to call me immediately.
Drumming my fingers on my desk, my mind starts working on overdrive. How will I handle this if it’s true? Can I do a pretrial motion to keep the information out? Is it even relevant? That will definitely call for more legal research.
My eyes drift over my desk, lost in thought over this conundrum and come to rest on the white envelope and smaller box I had pushed aside.
Reaching out, I decide to open the box first, because I love to get to the surprise. I peel the paper back efficiently and lift the top off a small black box.
Inside, nestled in deep purple tissue paper, is a pair of black silk stockings. Picking them up, I see they are almost identical to the ones I had on last week when I chose to show Reeve my partial goods. Sheerest of silk with a two-inch band of black lace around the tops. The only difference is that these don’t have little red bows on them. My finger and thumb rub the soft material for a moment, then I set them down.
Picking up the white envelope, I break the seal and pull out a note card with blue ink handwriting on one side. The message is simple:
Stockings to replace the ones you ruined last week and to take the sting out of request number nineteen. It’s a legitimate question . . . check it out.
P.S. Are you wearing black lace right now?
I read the note one more time, not sure how to feel. Reeve couldn’t have been more clear. He believes Jenna might have been involved in some criminal activity as part of her job at Pure Fantasy. He’s warning me loud and clear.
The silk lingerie is a different matter. He sent those stockings to remind me that there’s a sexual tension now existing between us. And his postscript? He’s telling me that he wants to continue our sexual byplay.
Everything about this note and gift is wrong, according to normal standards. He’s crossing personal boundaries and his gift is completely unethical. His postscript highly unprofessional.
But I’m not normal and fuck . . . it turns me on.