Overruled, p.13
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       Overruled, p.13

         Part #1 of The Legal Briefs series by Emma Chase
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  will.”

  Her brows pinch together—half with heartbreak, half with anger. She steps away from me, her voice breaking. “I do not want to be the sacrifice you make! I never did! We both deserve better than that.”

  And then she launches herself at me, wrapping her arms around my waist, her soft warmth aligned with mine, burying her face in my chest, refusing to let go. I hold her right back, tight and safe, kissing the top of her head, murmuring gentle words, pressing my nose to her hair because it smells so sweet.

  We stay like that for a while, until her tears are all dried up. And it just feels . . . sad. Like the very last minutes of a funeral.

  “I’m marrying JD on Saturday, Stanton. I need you to understand.”

  I grip her arms and lean back, so she can see my eyes. “It’s a mistake. I came here for you. I’m not giving up on us. Understand that.”

  “You don’t know—” she starts.

  But then I get an idea and I cut her off with a comically heavy Alabama accent. “I’m not a smart man, Jen-ney. But I know what love is . . .”

  She covers her ears, and squeaks, “Don’t do that! Don’t you Forrest Gump me! You know that movie makes me cry, you evil sonofabitch.”

  She punches me on the arm, both of us almost smiling.

  “Yeah, I know.” I sweep her blond hair back, letting the heat of my hand seep through her T-shirt, rubbing my thumb along the ridge of her collarbone. “Does he know that? Does he know you like I do, Jenn?” I step closer, leaning toward her. “Does he know how much you like those long, wet kinds of kisses or how licking that spot behind your—”

  Her hand covers my mouth. She peers up at me with patient amusement, like I’m an incorrigible adolescent. “That’s enough, you. He knows me—some things better than even you. What he doesn’t know, he’ll have plenty of time to find out.”

  I stick out my tongue, licking circles on her palm.

  She squeals and snatches it away.

  “I want you to meet him, Stanton. He’s a good man. You’ll like him.”

  I cross my arms. “If he’s breathing, there’s no way I’m gonna like him.”

  Jenny jerks her thumb toward my truck. “C’mon, take me home. Presley will be done with cheerleadin’ soon.”

  “Let’s pick her up,” I suggest as we walk side by side to the truck. “Together. She’ll like that.”

  “All right.”

  I reach out to hold Jenny’s hand, like I’ve done a million times before, but she moves it away. I frown. Then I snatch it, not letting her escape, purposely entwining all of our fingers.

  She gazes impassively. “You done?”

  Holding her eyes, I slowly bring her knuckles to my lips. “Darlin’, I have not even begun to start.”

  She stares up at my face, looking like she can’t decide if she wants to laugh or burst into tears—maybe both at the same time. Her hand cups my jaw, her head shaking.

  “Oh, Stanton, I know I’ve turned this whole thing into a shit-show . . . but I have missed you.”

  12

  Stanton

  After I drop Jenny off at her parents’ house, I bring Presley to mine. She and Sofia seem to hit it off when I introduce them in my old room. Then the two of us head outside, tossing a football. My throw spirals through the air, arching midway, then comes to rest in her hands. A perfect pass.

  It’s nice to know I’ve still got it.

  She aligns her fingers on the laces like I’ve shown her since she was old enough to hold a ball and launches it back. She most certainly has her daddy’s arm.

  It’s not that I want her going out for the football team or anything, but I think there are certain skills every girl should learn—if only so they’re not overly impressed when some cocky little prick comes along trying to show off. How to change a tire, throw a football, ride a horse, drive a manual transmission—how to change the oil in a car is important too.

  Plus, our catches give us time to talk. To reconnect when I’ve been away for months at a time. I’ve always imagined having those chats when she’s a teenager—about drinking, smoking, screwing—will be less awkward if there’s a football between us.

  “So . . . what do you think about this weddin’ business?”

  She giggles as she catches. “Were you surprised? I was gonna tell you all about it last week, but Momma said to wait—she said you’d be really surprised.”

  I force a smile. “Oh, I was surprised, alright.”

  “I get to be the flower girl!” She practically bounces. “My dress is blue and satin, and I feel just like a princess in it. And Granny got me blue slippers to match. Momma said I can get my hair done up and I can wear lip gloss!”

  Her enthusiasm loosens my lips into a more genuine grin. “That’s good, baby girl.”

  Presley’s next pass is wide, and I jog to grab it as it bounces on the grass. “And this JD guy . . . you like him?”

  My daughter nods. “Yeah, he’s real nice. He makes Momma all giggly.”

  Giggly? Wonder if she’ll fucking giggle when I remove his head from his shoulders.

  “What, ah . . . What are you gonna call him . . . if he and your momma get married?”

  She holds the ball, her tiny features scrunched in contemplation. “Well, I’ll call him JD, o’course. That’s his name, silly.”

  My breath comes out in a quick relieved burst, sounding like a gravelly chuckle. I catch Presley’s pass, then ask, “But you’re sure you like him?”

  She stares at me for a moment.

  Thinking.

  “Do you not want me to like him, Daddy?”

  Times like this never cease to amaze me. All the things we don’t say in front of children to preserve their innocence, the words we spell, the actions we hide so they don’t copy our bad habits. Like the way my father used to smoke behind the barn, out of view. But we could still smell it on him.

  They don’t listen to what we say—they look at how we say it, picking up on the undercurrent of emotion like a sixth sense.

  And they just know.

  I don’t want to share my daughter’s affection with another man. But I also don’t want to tear her in half—make her choose between the two people she loves most in the world. It’s not her job to protect my feelings or her mother’s. It’s our job to protect hers.

  And I hate myself just a little bit for the fact that she felt the need to ask.

  I walk to her and kneel down so we’re eye level. “I want you to be happy, Presley—you and your momma. And I want you to tell me if the day ever comes that you’re not. But I never want you to feel that you can’t like him, or anyone, because of me. Does that make sense?”

  “Will you be sad when Momma and JD get married?”

  How the hell am I supposed to answer that one? Well, darling, I’m here to make sure that never happens.

  I tip my hat back and deflect. “Will you?”

  Her smile is shy, like she’s about to reveal a secret. “When I was little . . .”

  “When was that?” I tease. “Last year?”

  She pushes my shoulder playfully. “Nooo . . . when I was little . . . like five or six. I used to wish on the stars before I went to bed. After Momma tucked me in, I’d climb out, look out the window . . . and I’d wish for you to come home.”

  A knot twists in my chest, tighter and tighter, until I can barely breathe past it.

  “Or that you’d take me and Momma with you to DC and we’d stay there . . . forever.”

  Jenny and I are good parents, I don’t doubt that . . . but it’s hard to hear that you’ve let your child down. To know they wished fervently for something that was actually in your power to give . . . but you just didn’t.

  “I didn’t know you did that, Presley.” I avert my eyes and pick at the blades of grass. “Do you still wish that?”

  “No.” She sighs thoughtfully. “You’re happy there. You have your office and the White House . . . and you have Jake. And Momma’s happy here. And now she
has JD to keep her company.”

  Great—Momma gets JD and I get Jake the fucking grouch. What’s wrong with this picture?

  Then she perks up even more. “Plus, this way I get two Christmases—who in their right mind would be sad about that?”

  I laugh outright. And pull her into my arms. “I love you, baby girl.”

  She wraps her arms around my shoulders and squeezes with all her might. “I love you too.”

  13

  Sofia

  Presley Shaw was everything I’d pictured she’d be, from the sound of her voice and the photographs that fill Stanton’s apartment. Vivacious, sweet, with a mischievous shine in her eyes that reminds me of her father.

  I continued to work after Stanton popped in to tell me he was driving her back to Jenny’s parents’. I was still drafting a brief as the sunlight outside faded and the orange fireball in the sky slipped lower on the horizon.

  I put my laptop away only when Mrs. Shaw came to collect me for dinner. The table was set, with Marshall, Mary, and Carter Shaw Sr., Stanton’s dad, already seated—it seems family dinners are a consistent thing, with a regularly set time. Mr. Shaw is a tall, burly man with a handsome, weathered face and stoic disposition. The strong, silent type. He’s older than his wife by about ten years, I’d guess, but there’s a tenderness in the way he looks at her and a devotion in her voice that tells me theirs is a happy marriage.

  I was the center of attention, answering questions about my family, about growing up in Chicago, and regaling them with stories of DC courtroom shenanigans. In between bites of delicious pot roast and potatoes, they told me tales about Stanton—high school football glories, an adolescent prank that almost burned the house down, and how he broke his leg when he was five jumping off the roof because he was sure his Superman Underoos would give him the power to fly.

  A place at the table was set for Stanton—but his chair remained empty.

  After dinner, back in his room, I call Brent to check in. Apparently Sherman is becoming quite accustomed to his new standard of living, and might not want to come back to me. Ever.

  After a shower, I slip into a chocolate-colored nightgown, dry my hair, and open the window before lying on the bed, on top of the covers. It’s a cool night and the crisp air feels good on my skin. My eyes get heavier as I watch the window. Waiting to see headlights, the return of a certain black pickup.

  No, not just waiting. It’s much worse than that.

  I’m hoping.

  • • •

  Ding.

  “Shit!”

  Bang.

  “Damn it!”

  Smack.

  “Son of a whore!”

  I grab for the bedside lamp and shield my eyes when light explodes in the room. Stanton’s just inside the door—down on his hands and knees.

  He looks up at me, baffled. “The floor tripped me.”

  I go to him, helping him stand, his weight making us stumble toward the bed. With my face pressed against his collarbone, I smell earth and campfire, underneath the stronger, overwhelming scent of alcohol. Not unpleasant, but possibly powerful enough to get me drunk on the fumes alone.

  “It’s a good thing I don’t have any candles burning—you’d burst into flames.”

  Stanton laughs as I get him settled on the edge of the bed, his feet braced on the floor for stability. His hat is adorably askew¸ and his squinting, unfocused eyes look up at me through those dark lashes, drifting over my face. “Wow. You’re pretty.”

  Oh boy. I can’t help but smile at his less than suave delivery.

  “I’m sorry I left you alone for so long, Soph.”

  I take a step back, shaking my head dismissively. “It’s okay. That’s why we’re here, right?” But there’s a slight stirring of irritation when I realize, “You drove like this?”

  He just shrugs. “My truck knows the way.”

  “That was stupid, Stanton.” I swallow hard. “Were you . . . with Jenny this whole time?”

  His lips vibrate as he blows out a breath. “Nah, Jenn and her momma, Presley, and her sister went to get their dresses fitted. Wayne—Jenny’s father—took me out back to his hunting shed, to show me the buck he got last season mounted on the wall. We started drinkin’, talkin’ . . . mostly drinkin’.”

  Raw emotion hits me square in the chest, like a Miley Cyrus swinging wrecking ball. And I’m momentarily speechless when I recognize it for what it is.

  Relief.

  Gut-wrenching relief—like the feel of cooling balm spread on a scathing burn. It starts in my chest and spreads out through my arms, down my legs, making my fingertips and toes tingle.

  Holy shitballs. I didn’t realize how tight my muscles were strung, how much I hated the idea that Stanton had spent these hours with Jenny, until he told me he hadn’t.

  What the hell is wrong with me?

  When I glance at Stanton’s face, my misplaced emotion dissipates. Because he looks crushed. His shoulders are weighted, eyes downcast, his lips pulled low with mourning.

  “I think it’s really over,” he whispers. “I stayed away too long and . . . I’ve lost her.” His voice rises. “Everyone’s so damn fine with it! Wayne, Jenn, Presley, even my own mother—they all think the idea of her gettin’ married is fantastic. Was I the only one who thought we were in it for the long haul? I was game, you know? For life.”

  “I’m sorry,” I murmur, stepping forward between his legs, to hug him. His head rests against my breastbone, his breath warm against my chest. Those strong, gentle hands squeeze my waist, then encircle, resting on my lower back.

  I put his hat on the bed beside him, running my fingers through his hair comfortingly. His voice is soft, barely audible—lost in the fabric of my nightgown—and my nipples go taut when he adds, “I’m just so fucking glad you’re here, Sofia.”

  One of the perks of being close with a bunch of guys is knowing how they think, understanding the underlying meaning of the words they say.

  I roll my eyes. “Of course you’re glad I’m here. You’ve been figuratively kicked in the balls. You’re ego’s bruised.”

  And after a man’s crashed and burned, nothing soothes that wounded ego faster than climbing into a new, warm welcoming cockpit.

  He lifts his head from my chest and gazes up at me looking adorably bleary eyed, yet sincere. “It’s not just that. I’m not only glad someone is here—I’m glad it’s you.”

  Slowly, Stanton’s hands slide lower, cupping my ass, squeezing a muffled moan from my lungs. “Of course, if you want to kiss my bruised . . . ego . . . and make it better—I’m on board with that, too.”

  He wiggles his eyebrows and I laugh. His thick hair is soft against my palms as I continue to push my fingers through it, thinking. Weighing my options.

  I want him. I always want him. Why shouldn’t I have him? I thought keeping things platonic while I was here would help keep things straightforward. Compartmentalized.

  But now, gazing down at that handsome face, those full, grinning lips . . . why shouldn’t I enjoy him while I have him? It’s not like I’m the other woman—Jenny turned him down.

  His hands skim and knead, fingers searching, knowing my body so well. The rhythm I like, the secret touches that make me clench and gasp and want.

  Why shouldn’t I reap the benefits of what she so stupidly threw away?

  It’s only sex. Amazing, hot, physical release. I try to think of a reason I should say no.

  And can’t come up with a single one.

  I pick his hat up from the bed, placing it on my own head.

  Ride ’em cowgirl.

  He smirks. And my knees go weak.

  “My hat looks good on you,” he drawls.

  I stare at his mouth, then smile devilishly. “You know what else looks good on me?”

  “What?”

  I lean in, close enough to taste him. “You.”

  He starts to chuckle, but the chuckle turns into a groan when I kiss him. A tongue-probing, lip-sucki
ng kiss that says I mean business. Stanton’s hands rise, burying in my hair, caressing my face, fingertips brushing my neck. He pulls me closer, moving his mouth across and over mine. He means business, too.

  A tender electricity surges between us, and a new, rough affection presses us together. It’s warm and familiar, wild and exciting at the same time and I want to drown in it. I can’t get close enough; I need the contact of his skin more than my lungs need the air they’re screaming for. I tear my mouth away and lift his shirt. As soon as it’s off, he’s pulling at the strap of my nightgown, teeth scraping my shoulder, suctioning the flesh of my collarbone, my neck, hard enough to mar.

  I pepper kisses across his bronze chest, running my hands over every sculpted crest, loving how his stomach tightens under my touch as I move lower. My tongue pays homage to the hard nub of his nipple along the way—swirling and flicking—making Stanton hiss. I get on my knees and look up into his eyes as I unbuckle his pants.

  He watches me with heavy, hooded lids, knocking the hat from my head, petting my hair, smiling like he has a secret.

  There’s a naughty joy—a dirty fucking thrill from being on my knees in front of him, when he yanks at my hair, when he utters the filthiest words. Because Stanton knows exactly what he’s doing—knows what I need. I give him my body, my supplication, and he gives me breath-stealing pleasure in return. He doesn’t rely on my direction. I don’t have to worry about instruction—he’ll get me there gloriously and all on his own.

  But I’m not powerless, even on my knees. I give, he takes—but he needs me to give. He’s desperate for me to give—it’s there in the pleading of his eyes, the assertive push of his hand, and the whispered command to fuckin’ hurry. We’re the perfect balance of passion—a heady, equalized mix of desire and fulfillment.

  I peel his pants off and push them to the side. Stanton’s cock juts up, thick and ready, exacting all of my attention, waiting to be handled. His dick is a sight to behold—impressive girth, masculine veins, potent length—it deserves to be emulated, sculpted, and revered like a precious piece of art.

  I take him in my hand, gripping firmly, stroking slowly from base to tip.

  “Fuck, darlin’,” he moans.

  For a horrifying moment, I wonder if he’s imagining it’s her fist around him, her blond head bowed at his feet. But then I lick him, up and down, slathering moist desire along the length . . . and it’s my name groaning from his lips.

  “Sofia . . .”

  Liquid heat suffuses my body at the sound of his voice, wetness gathers between my legs, spurring me on. Driving me to give him this pleasure, to make him writhe, to swallow his moans—to swallow him.

  To make him forget why we came—leaving him fixated only on who’s about to make him come.

  “I love how hard you are,” I breathe against him, making him twitch in my hand. “I love how you taste.” I place my lips around the head, bulbous and hot. I suck at it, circling my tongue. Then I descend, taking him all the way down, the way I know he loves. I relax my throat, letting him in, breathing through the gag impulse, and swallow—knowing the reflexive muscles will contract tight around him.

  His hips surge up, seeking more depth—more snug, wet heat. Then I slowly withdraw, sucking hard, dragging with my lips and tongue as I go. I lower down on him again, quickening the pace, adding the tiniest scrape of teeth.

 
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