Overruled, p.11Part #1 of The Legal Briefs series by Emma Chase
I didn’t eat corn again for months.
Stanton pulls into a parking spot and motions to the door in front of us. “Diner. You can piss here.”
I get out of the car before he makes it around to open my door. “I’ll wait out here,” he tells me. “If I go in with you, we’ll get stuck in a dozen different conversations and it’ll be fucking ages before we get to my house.”
I rush through the door, a bell above my head chiming a welcome. And the eyes of every patron stare. At me.
There are a few middle-aged men in trucker caps, a few in cowboy hats, two little old ladies in floral dresses with thick glasses, and one young brown-haired woman—struggling with two toddlers bouncing in a booth.
I arch my hand in a wave. “Howdy, y’all.”
Most greet me with a nod, and I ask the short-haired brunette behind the counter where the restroom is. She directs me to the one unisex bathroom in the back.
Feeling the sweet relief of being five pounds lighter, I wash my hands, pull off a sheet from the paper towel roll to dry them, and toss it into the coverless garbage can. I exit the bathroom door and run smack into the person waiting to enter.
A tall guy with a beer belly, black T-shirt, and cowboy hat, smelling of stale cigarettes, with dark gunk under his fingernails. He grasps my arms, to keep me from bouncing back like a pinball after colliding with the gelatinous mass of his midsection. A lifetime of city living has me automatically uttering an insincere “Sorry.”
But as I go to step around him, he matches my move, blocking my way.
“Slow down there, honey. What’s your hurry?” he drawls, looking me up and down before his gaze gets too well acquainted with my chest.
“Hey—cowboy,” I snap. “Lose something? My eyes are up here.”
He licks his lips slowly. “Yeah, I know where your eyes are.”
But he doesn’t look at them.
“Nice. So much for southern hospitality.”
He tips his hat back, finally looking up. “You passin’ through? Need a ride? My backseat is mighty hospitable.”
“No . . . and ew.”
Using my shoulder, I force my way past the randy cowboy and walk back out onto the sidewalk. I find Stanton by the car, chatting with a diminutive older woman with poofy gray hair. Well . . . listening may be more accurate, as Stanton’s just nodding—seemingly unable to get a word in edgewise.
He looks relieved when I step up, but his face has a pink tinge that wasn’t there before and the tips of his ears are glowing red. “Miss Bea,” he introduces, “this is Sofia Santos.”
“It’s so nice to meet you, Sofia. Aren’t you pretty!”
I smile. “Thank you.”
“And so tall. It must be nice to stand out in a crowd—I’ve never known that feelin’ myself.”
“Haven’t thought about it like that but, yes, I guess it is.”
Stanton clears his throat. “Well, we should get going.”
“Oh yes,” Miss Bea agrees. But then keeps talking. “Your momma is goin’ to be so happy to see you. I have to be on my way also, stoppin’ by the pharmacy to get Mr. Ellington the laxative. He’s constipatin’ somethin’ fierce. Hasn’t moved his bowels in four days, the poor dear. He’s grumpy as an ole bear.”
Stanton nods. “I bet.”
“It was nice meetin’ you, Sofia.”
“You too, Miss Bea—hope to see you again.”
She gets about three paces away, then turns back around, calling out, “And Stanton, don’t forget to tell your momma I’m bringin’ roast chicken to the card came on Wednesday.”
“Yes, ma’am, I’ll tell her.”
Once we’re both in the car, I ask, “What’s with your face? Are you . . . are you blushing?”
I didn’t know a guy who used his dirty mouth as well as Stanton was capable of blushing.
He nods his head, confessing, “Miss Bea was my schoolteacher, in ninth grade.”
“One day, someone pulled the fire alarm and she went into the boy’s bathroom to make sure it was clear—looking under all the stall doors to be sure.”
I think I know where this is going. But I’m hilariously wrong.
“And I was in one of those stalls . . . jerkin’ off.”
My jaw drops. “No!”
He groans. “I haven’t been able to look at her since without turning red as a baboon’s ass.”
I cover my mouth, laughing. “That’s hysterical!”
He chuckles, scratching his eyebrow. “Glad I amuse you. My momma thought it was hysterical too—when Miss Bea called that afternoon to tell her all about it.”
And I laugh louder. “You’re kidding.”
“I wish I was.”
“Oh no!” I laugh, running my hand down the back of his head, rubbing his neck in sympathy. “You poor thing. You must be so scarred.”
He smirks my favorite smirk. “Welcome to Sunshine, Soph—the place where privacy comes to die.”
Stanton backs out and as we resume our journey to his parents’ farm, I see the skeevy cowboy strutting down the sidewalk. “Who’s that?”
Stanton’s eyes harden and his jaw clenches.
It’s pretty hot.
“Dallas Henry,” he growls before looking me over from head to toe. “Did he bother you?”
“He groped me with his eyes—nothing I couldn’t handle.”
With a curse he tells me, “He comes near you again, just tell him you’re with me. He won’t look at you again after that.”
“Friend of yours?”
Shrugging, he tells me, “I broke his jaw a couple years ago.”
“Why’d you do that?”
Stanton’s jade eyes look into mine. “He tried taken somethin’ that didn’t belong to him.”
• • •
When Stanton told me he grew up on a farm, I had a certain picture in my head. A big farmhouse, a red barn, trees. But that mental image pales in comparison to the real thing—to the sheer size and grandeur of the Shaw family ranch. The Porsche kicks up dirt as we cruise up the tree-lined driveway that’s so long, you can’t see the house from the road. The white house is large, with a pointed roof, a welcoming porch, green shutters, and huge windows. Ten red outbuildings are scattered out behind it, interspersed with large pens of brown wood fencing. Up the gentle slope from the house, farther than I can see, are pastures covered with a blanket of lush, emerald grass.
I stand next to the car, turning in a slow circle. “Stanton . . . it’s beautiful here.”
There’s a breathless pride in his voice when he answers. “Yeah, it is.”
“How many acres do your parents have?”
“Three thousand seven hundred and eighty-six.”
“Wow.” My brothers could barely remember to trim the potted hedges my mother grew on our balcony. “How do they take care of it all?”
“From sunup to sundown.”
Together we walk up the gravel path to the front door. Before we reach it, a young man comes around the side of the house, intercepting us. “Looks like someone remembers where we live after all.”
During our trip, Stanton talked about his family—we both did. This blond, handsome boy would be Marshall, one of the twins—eighteen years old and a high school senior. I smile as they hug and laugh and smack each other on the back.
When Stanton introduces us, his younger brother squints shyly, greeting me with a simple “Hey.”
The resemblance is shocking—the same bright green eyes, the same strong jaw and thick golden-blond hair. Marshall’s not as broad in the shoulders, his neck is thinner with youth, but if he wants to see what he’ll look like in ten years, he doesn’t have to look any further than the man beside him.
Stanton lifts his chin, asking, “Where’s my truck?”
Marshall rests his open hand on his own chest. “You mean my truck?” Then pointing near one of the barns to a black pickup with orange flames painted on th
Stanton grimaces. “What the hell’d you do to it?”
We walk closer.
“Souped it up, bro. Custom paint, new speakers—gotta have the bass.” He demonstrates by reaching in and turning the key—nodding his head in time to the booming music that’s vibrating the ground beneath our feet.
“Tha’s Jay-Z,” he tells us, in case we’re too old to know.
Just then, a blue-and-white older pickup rumbles up to the front of the house, with several boys about Marshall’s age riding in back. He turns off the music. “I gotta go, I got practice.” He taps his brother’s arm. “We’ll catch up later.”
Stanton nods as I call, “Nice meeting you.”
After his brother’s gone, Stanton looks at the truck another minute, shaking his head.
Then we walk around the house through the side door, into the large, bright kitchen. Butcher-block counters, white cabinets, and sage-colored walls make for a warm but simple room. On the wall there’s an antique clock and a framed crocheted piece that reads: Home Is Where the Heart Is.
Stanton’s mother is a beautiful woman, thin, tall, and younger looking than I’d imagined. Her honey-colored hair is tied up, a few strands swinging as she scrubs a black pot in the large sink. Her nose is tiny, her chin the point of her heart-shaped face. When she hears us come in and looks our way, I realize Stanton and Marshall must have their father’s eyes—their mother’s are warm brown.
Her smile is large and wide and she doesn’t bother to dry her hands as she engulfs her son in a hug. Stanton lifts her off her feet and spins her around. “Hey, Momma.”
When she squeals, he sets her down and she leans back. “Let me look at you.” She brushes his forehead, his jaw, and his shoulder lovingly. Then she steps back. “You look good. Tired but good.”
“It was a long drive.”
Stanton gestures to me. “Momma, this is my . . . this is Sofia.”
Before I can extend my hand, Mrs. Shaw wraps surprisingly strong arms around me. “It’s so nice to meet you, Sofia. Stanton’s talked about you—what a talented lawyer you are, how well you two work together.”
“Thank you, Mrs. Shaw, it’s great to meet you too. I’m so happy to be here.”
And what hits me straight between the eyes is, I truly am happy. Seeing where he grew up, meeting the people who made him into the man he is now, fills me with a joy. A sweet excitement that has my feet tapping and a permanent smile on my lips.
“Call me Momma, everyone does. You call me Mrs. Shaw, I won’t even look.”
She shoos us to the table. “Sit down, sit down, y’all must be starvin’.”
“And so it begins,” Stanton whispers, his breath on the back of my neck giving me goose bumps.
As his mother cracks and scrambles eggs, Stanton asks about his father.
“Up in the north field,” she explains. “For the rest of the day and then some. Mendin’ the fence that was taken out in the last storm.”
Within fifteen minutes there are plates of eggs, bacon, and warm biscuits with butter. “This is delicious, Mrs.— Momma,” I correct myself with an awkward chuckle.
“Thank you, Sofia.”
“Now you’ve done it.” Stanton grins, his mouth full of biscuit. “She’s gonna be stuffin’ your face the whole time we’re here. You’ve heard the freshmen fifteen? Be prepared for the Shaw twenty.”
“Oh my word!” From down the back stairs, into the kitchen skips Stanton’s sister, Mary, Marshall’s twin. With shoulder length blond hair, and her mother’s sherry colored eyes, there’s no doubt she’s part of the Shaw clan.
Being the youngest with three brothers myself, I feel an immediate kinship with her.
She leans down and kisses Stanton’s cheek, teasing, “I’m gonna start callin’ you the Grey Ghost, ’cause you played football, and you’re never here jus’ like a ghost, and ’cause you’re gettin’ gray in your whiskers.”
Stanton pinches her chin sweetly, then rubs his jaw. “There’s no gray in my whiskers.”
“Not yet,” Mary agrees. “You just wait until Presley’s my age—she’ll have you grayer than Daddy.”
Mary introduces herself, then immediately professes her love for my nail polish. And my lipstick. And my silver sleeveless top and black slacks.
“Momma,” she whines. “Can we go shoppin’? Please?”
Stanton’s mother starts to clear the table. “Do you still have last week’s allowance?”
“No, I spent it at the movies.”
She gives Mary a shrug. “There’s your answer, then.”
“I’m goin’ to Haddie’s,” she announces with a pout.
“Not until you feed those calves in the weanin’ paddock, you’re not.”
Mary opens her mouth to complain . . . then bites her lip hopefully. “Unless . . . the best big brother in the whole world would do it for me?”
“Your brother just got home,” Mrs. Shaw admonishes. “He’s barely eaten; give the man a minute to rest.”
She folds her hands and gives him the Sherman eyes.
His mouth twitches. And he cocks his head toward the door. “Go on, then, I’ll feed the calves for you.”
Mary throws herself at Stanton with a squeal. “Thank you!” Then in a blur she’s out the door. “Bye, Sofia!”
After the table is cleared and the dishes are drying, Stanton, his mother, and I finish our coffees.
“After I set Sofia up in my room,” Stanton says, “I’m going to drive over Jenn’s.”
His mother stiffens slightly. Then she nods and sips from her cup. Stanton worries his bottom lip with his teeth. “It would’ve been nice to have a heads-up about this weddin’ situation. A phone call . . .”
Mrs. Shaw looks her son in the eyes. “That’s between you and Jenny, wasn’t my place to tell you. Unless it has to do with Presley, her business is her business.”
Stanton seems satisfied with that. A few minutes later, we grab our bags from the car and head out to Stanton’s old room. “Out” because his room is in one of the outbuildings, the top floor of the barn. Heated, sharing a bathroom with the identical bedroom on the other side, wood paneling, hardwood floor, posters and trophies galore—it’s a teenage boy’s dream.
“My brother Carter and I built these rooms one summer,” Stanton tells me, eyes dancing around the room. “My father told us if we finished them right, we could move out here—so we did.”
It’s then that I notice the pictures on the nightstand—a dashingly young Stanton in a football uniform, with his arm around a tiny Jenny in a cheerleader uniform, and a school portrait of his daughter, wearing a red sweater over a white-collared blouse, her two front teeth endearingly missing.
“Why didn’t Marshall and Mary move out here when you and your brother moved out?”
He nods, anticipating the question. “After Jenny got pregnant, my mother wouldn’t let either of them. She thought Presley was conceived here and she didn’t want any more early grandkids.”
With a chuckle, I ask, “Was she conceived here?”
• • •
About a half hour later, I’m unpacked and ready to get some work done on Stanton’s queen-sized bed. Since we crossed the Mississippi state line and entered the “friends without benefits” zone, Stanton offered to stay in his brother’s old room. He walks out of the bathroom and he’s changed his clothes. He’s now wearing a pair of jeans, leather boots, a white T-shirt, and a brown cowboy hat. The shirt hugs his arms perfectly, accenting the tight ridges of his biceps. And his jeans mold his ass, his flat stomach, and best of all those strong thighs, in a way that has my mouth watering.
I close my mouth, but he catches me staring. “Take a picture, it’ll last longer.”
I smirk. “Don’t need to, I can just tear an advertisement with the Marlboro Man out of a magazine—you look just like him.”
He throws his head back a
“You’ll be okay here for a few hours?”
I throw my hair up in a ponytail while he watches my every move. “Of course. I have emails to return. Oh, I just need the Wi-Fi password.”
He looks concerned. “We don’t have Wi-Fi, Sofia.”
“What? What do you mean, you don’t have Wi-Fi? How can you not have Wi-Fi!”
“We’ve got radar—to track the weather.”
“Radar?” I scream. Then I pick up my laptop and hold it above my head, walking around the room, searching for a signal. How am I supposed to research? Read my emails? I feel so primitive—so cut off.
Like Sigourney Weaver in outer space—no one can hear me scream.
“I’m in hell! You’ve brought me to dead-zone hell! How could you do this to me? What kind of—”
“Sofia.” He says it gently, like a breeze, but it catches my attention and cuts off my rant.
He holds up a small black rectangle, then tosses it to me. I catch it in one hand.
He winks. Then glances at my feet—still in patent leather high heels. “You didn’t happen to bring boots with you, did you?”
“Of course I brought boots.” I open his closet and take out a pair of Gucci knee-high black leather boots with three-inch heels.
He lets out a long, disappointed sigh. “All right, here’s what we’ll do. After I get back, we’ll go into town to the co-op and get you a pair of decent boots.”
And I just can’t resist.
“Really, you just said that? Into town? Can Half-Pint and Mary come too, Pa?” I dissolve into a fit of giggles.
“Keep laughin’, smartass. Let’s see how funny it is when your designer shoes are covered in horseshit and mud.”
I rub my lips together, sobering. “That wouldn’t be funny.”
“It’d be a little funny.” With a smile he reaches out and traces my cheek with his thumb, then across my lower lip.
And the action is so intimate—sweet—I almost forget why I’m here.
But then I remember.
I’m Goose. The sidekick. Santa’s little helper.
I clap my hands together. “So, last minute advice: Talk to her, not at her—no woman likes getting yelled at. Ask her how things went wrong, what she thinks she can get from James Dean that she’s not getting from you. Then, tell her how you’ll make whatever changes you have to, to give her what she needs.”
He nods pensively.
Overruled by Emma Chase / Romance & Love have rating 3.9 out of 5 / Based on134 votes