Overruled, p.24Part #1 of The Legal Briefs series by Emma Chase
empty doorway, as I realize someone is missing.
Chelsea sighs. Before she can speak, the grouchy girl—the fourteen-year-old, Riley—answers for her. “The idiot got arrested. He stole a car.”
In a week, the little shit went from mugging to grand theft auto. That sure escalated quickly.
The small towheaded one, Rosaline, continues. “And then he crashed it.”
The two-year-old supplies sound effects. “Brooocshhh.”
The smart one, Raymond, adds, “And not just any car—a Ferrari 458 Italia Limited Edition. The starting price is around nine hundred thousand dollars.”
I look to Chelsea, who nods. “Yeah, that’s pretty much the whole story. He’s in juvenile detention—serious trouble this time.”
This time implies there’s been other times—my almost-robbery notwithstanding. Jesus Christ, kid.
Chelsea explains in a strained voice, “My brother has dozens of attorneys in his contact list, but none of them are defense attorneys. I had your card . . . and you seem like a good lawyer.”
Out of curiosity, I ask, “What makes you think I’m good?”
She raises her chin and meets my eyes. “You look like a man who knows how to win a fight. That’s what I need—what Rory needs.”
I take a few moments to think—to plan.
Chelsea must interpret my silence as rejection, because her voice turns almost pleading. “I don’t know what your typical retainer is, but I have money if—”
My lifted finger stops her. “I don’t think that’s going to be necessary. Wait here.” Then I point to Raymond. “Come with me.” And to the oldest girl. “You too, Smiley.”
As they follow me out the door, the brooding teen corrects me. “My name is Riley.”
“I know. But I’m going to call you Smiley.”
“Why?” she asks, like it’s the stupidest, most vile thing she’s ever heard.
I smirk. “Because you’re not.”
Let the eye rolling commence.
I lead them into the office next door. Sofia Santos’s dark head is bent over her desk, her perfectly manicured hands scribbling rapid notes on a document. She looks up as we enter.
“Hey, Sofia.” I hook my thumb toward the sullen girl behind me. “This is Smiley McQuaid—her aunt is a new client and we have to head downtown for a few hours. Is it okay if she hangs with you?”
Stanton’s daughter, Presley, is almost twelve. I figure if anyone is adept at dealing with a preteen female, it’s Sofia.
“Sure. I’ll be here all afternoon.”
Riley moves to my side. “My name is Riley.”
Sofia smiles. “Hi, Riley.” Then she points to a chair in the corner, next to a wall outlet. “The phone charger’s over there.”
Riley almost cracks a grin. Almost. “Swag.”
I turn to Sofia’s office companion, who’s staring at images on his laptop. And I hope to God it’s not porn. “Brent, this is Raymond. Raymond, Brent. Can you keep him out of trouble for a few hours?”
Brent nods. Then, with the excitement of a boy allowed to watch his first R-rated horror movie, he asks Raymond, “You want to see pictures of blood splatter?”
The boy steps forward. “Is it as cool as it sounds?”
And my work here is done.
I pop my head back in my office and crook my finger at Rosaline. She looks up at her aunt, who nods her permission, and Rosaline steps out to join me in front of Mrs. Higgens’s desk.
“Mrs. Higgens, this is Rosaline. Can you mind her for a bit while her aunt and I head to the courthouse?”
Rosaline looks down shyly, and Mrs. Higgens pulls up a chair beside her. “Of course. I have a granddaughter about your age, Rosaline. I keep coloring books here for when she visits. Do you like to color?”
Rosaline nods eagerly, climbing into the chair.
“And what’s your favorite color?”
She doesn’t even think about it. “Rainbow.”
Mrs. Higgens pulls out said coloring books and crayons. “Wonderful choice, dearie.”
I stride back into my office, where Chelsea and the two youngest rug rats await. I point at them. “You both look like the real troublemakers in the group, so you’re coming with us.”
“Hi!” the two-year-old replies with a deceptively sweet smile.
I just shake my head. “Oh no, you’re not roping me into that again.”
I take the baby carrier from Chelsea’s hands—and almost drop the thing. “Wow,” I say, glancing down. “You’re heavier than you look.” He gurgles back with a drool.
I turn to Chelsea. “You grab Thing One. Let’s go.”
Her voice stops me. It’s a whisper, quiet and inquisitive.
It’s the first time she’s said my name. One small syllable that makes my gut tighten. That makes me want to hear her say it again—in a moan, a gasp. A pleasure-spiked scream.
“Can I ask you something before we go?”
I swallow, my mouth suddenly dry. “Sure.”
“If it’s not the money . . . why are you helping us?”
It’s an interesting question. Noble isn’t my style. I’m the more of an “every man for himself” kind of guy. So why the hell am I helping them?
Because I want in her pants, of course. Doing Chelsea a favor is the most direct route to doing her. Really not that complicated.
But I can’t say that.
So I shrug. “I’m a sucker for a lost cause.”
And because I just can’t hold back any longer, I reach out and gently stroke the ivory skin of her cheek. It’s softer than I ever could’ve imagined.
“And for a pretty face.”
WE WALK OUT to the parking garage, and as Chelsea buckles the kids into their seats, I check out her truck. Her gigantically large dark blue truck. She notices and remarks, “It’s my brother’s truck.”
I lift an eyebrow. “Your brother—the environmental lobbyist—drove a gas-guzzling Yukon XL?”
She climbs up into the driver’s seat. “He had six kids. A bicycle wasn’t gonna cut it.”
I give her directions to the Moultrie Courthouse, where she was notified by phone that Rory was taken after his arrest this morning. I don’t have a lot of experience in family court, but I’m familiar enough with the process to fill her in.
“Rory will be assigned a probation officer who’ll review the charges, his history, and make a recommendation to the OAG. The probation officer decides whether he’s released to you today, or has to remain at the Youth Services Center until trial. They’re also the ones I’ll talk plea deal with.”
The good news is, I know one of the officers at Moultrie intimately. We used to bang frequently—and thoroughly—right up until she got engaged. Our parting terms were friendly.
A soft V forms on Chelsea’s forehead. “The OAG?”
“Office of Attorney General. That’s who’ll prosecute his case, but don’t worry—it’s not going that far.”
Juvenile cases are different from adult ones. The system still has hope for delinquents—it’s all about rehabilitation and redemption. Saving them before they’ve gone too far down that dark, wrong road to nowhere. In criminal courts, the main question is, did you do it? In family court, it’s all about why you did it. An orphaned nine-year-old dealing with his parents’ death by stealing a car will garner a shitload more leniency than an eighteen-year-old boosting a joy ride.
The Moultrie Courthouse is a concrete, intimidating building with a cavernous maze of hallways. After passing through security, we’re ushered into a waiting room with a dozen nondescript tables and chairs scattered around and vending machines along one wall. A few other visitors occupy the room, heads huddled, speaking in hushed, confidential whispers.
Chelsea and I sit at an empty table. I put the infant carrier with its sleeping cargo on th
His young lips are set in a hard frown, his dark blue eyes so full of resentment you can practically hear the “screw-you” thoughts. This is not the face of a sad, lost little soul who knows he messed up—it’s the face of an angry cherub, desperately trying to look badass, who’d rather go down in flames than admit he was wrong.
For a second, I reconsider helping him—a few days in juvenile detention could be just what the doctor ordered.
But then Chelsea wraps her arm around him and kisses his forehead, murmuring professions of love, relief, and threats, all at the same time. “Thank God you’re okay. Everything’s going to be all right, Rory, don’t be scared. What the hell were you thinking? A car? You’re never leaving your room again. Ever!”
I lean back in my chair, just watching.
He brushes her off with a rough shrug. “Get off. I’m fine. It’s not a big deal.”
“Not a big deal?” She grimaces, and I see a flash of hurt feelings too. “You could’ve killed yourself—or someone else.”
“Well I didn’t, okay? So stop freaking out.”
I’ve seen enough.
“Chelsea, go get Reggie a soda or juice.” I pull a few bills from my wallet and hand them to her. She hesitates. I tilt my head toward Rory. “Give us a minute.”
Still looking unsure, she sets the two-year-old on her feet and leads her away.
Once we’re alone, Rory sits down. “What are you doing here?”
“Your aunt wanted a good lawyer. Lucky for you, I’m the best—and I happened to have the afternoon free.”
I pin him with an assessing stare. “You’re in deep shit, kid.”
So sure he knows everything, he scoffs, “I’m nine. What’s the worst they can do to me?”
“Keep you here for the next nine years. At least,” I tell him simply.
For the first time since he walked into the room, his confidence wavers. His cheeks bloom nervous pink and his voice rises half an octave as he says, “It’s not so bad here.”
It’s a tiny crack in the facade—but still a crack.
I don’t waste time telling him he’s full of shit. I lean forward and explain. “Here’s what’s gonna happen. I’m going to call your aunt back over, and you’re going to apologize for the way you spoke to her.”
He wasn’t expecting that. He squints. “Why?”
“Because she doesn’t deserve it.”
He lowers his eyes, almost ashamed. Maybe there’s hope for the punk yet.
“Then you’re going to sit there,” I point at him, “and let her hug you and kiss you all she wants.”
His chin rises, not yet ready to give up the fight. “And what if I don’t?”
I look him right in the eyes. “Then I’ll let you rot in here.”
And I will.
He doesn’t look happy; doesn’t like being backed into a corner. He wants to come out swinging—to do the opposite of what I’m ordering, simply because it’s an order.
I know what he’s feeling. I know this kid through and through.
Once upon a time, I was this kid.
He needs an out—a way to give up the battle without feeling like he’s lost the war. So I give him one.
“You don’t need to show me how tough you are, Rory—I can see it. I was a lot like you when I was your age—a tough, pissed-off little asshole. The difference is, I was smart enough not to shit on the people who cared about me.” I raise my eyebrows. “Are you?”
He watches me. Looks deep inside with that sixth sense that all children have, to see if I’m being straight with him or just fucking patronizing. After a moment, he gives the briefest of nods and says in a small voice, “Okay. I’ll apologize to Aunt Chelsea. And I’ll let her kiss and hug me if it makes her happy.”
I smile. “Good. Smart and tough. I like you more already, kid.”
I LEAVE CHELSEA with the kids and head upstairs to the probation offices. I knock on Lisa DiMaggio’s door, even though it’s open. She swivels around in her desk chair, her long blond hair fanning out behind her.
“Jake Becker,” she says. She stands, giving me a perfect view of tan, toned legs beneath her black skirt, and hugs me. Parting on friendly terms most definitely has its benefits. “What are you doing in my neck of the woods?” she asks, stepping back with a smile. “Or is this a social call?”
“I’m here about a client.”
“Since when do you play in family court?”
“Long story.” I shrug. “And its name is Rory McQuaid.”
“Ah.” She retrieves a file from her desk. “My car thief. I did his intake this morning. Said he took the car because, and I quote, he ‘wanted to see if driving was as easy as Mario Kart.’ ” She shakes her head. “Kids these days.”
I lean back against the wall. “That’s not why he took the car. There’s extenuating circumstances.”
“Enlighten me. I haven’t had a chance to interview the parents yet.”
“The parents are dead,” I tell her. “Robert and Rachel McQuaid were killed in a horrific crash two months ago, leaving Rory and his five brothers and sisters in the care of their aunt—their only living relative.”
She sits down in her chair. “Jesus.”
“The kid’s been dealt a shitty hand—he’s not handling it well. But he doesn’t belong in lockup. Talk to his social worker; I’ll bet my left nut he was a saint until his parents died.”
“That’s really saying something—I know how precious your nuts are to you.”
“Unfortunately,” Lisa sighs, “Rory picked the wrong person’s car to steal.” She rattles off the name of a cranky, influential former presidential hopeful. “And he wants the boy’s ass in a sling.”
“Fuck that,” I growl.
I don’t know if it’s because I have a hard-on for his aunt or because he reminds me so much of myself, but if anyone wants a piece of that kid, they’re going to have to come through me first.
“Besides, a public servant has no business owning a car like that.”
“Okay,” Lisa allows. “Then what are you offering?”
“Court-mandated therapy, once a week. Monthly progress reports.”
“Twice a week,” she counters. “And I want to pick the therapist. No feel-good quacks permitted.”
Lisa’s gaze travels over me, head to crotch. “I’m surprised at you, Jake. I don’t remember you being so . . . soft.”
I move forward, bracing my hands on the arms of her chair, caging her in. “Soft isn’t in my vocabulary—I’m still as hard as they come.” I smirk. “And after.”
Her eyes settle on my mouth. “Good to hear. Particularly since Ted and I broke up.” She holds up her ringless left hand.
Lisa definitely falls under the “known” category, which means no awkward first-date dinner conversation, no twenty-goddamn-questions that I don’t want to ask, let alone answer. Nope—it’ll be straight to the fucking.
“It’s a long story,” she says. “Which I’m sure you have no interest in hearing.”
Yes. Lisa knows me well.
“You still like tequila?” I ask.
“Absolutely. You still have my number?”
Her smile is slow, and full of promise. “Good. Use it.”
I stand up and walk toward the door. “I’ll do that.”
“And I’ll get started on the paperwork.”
A FEW HOURS later, after approval from child services and a quick compulsory appearance before an indifferent judge, Rory walks out of the courthouse with us. We head back to my office to gather his many siblings. They all seem happy to see him—if the affectionate “stupid idiot” and eager questions about his stay in “jail”
Then she comes around and stands in front of me, all warm eyes and soft gratitude. And I’m struck again by the smooth flawlessness of her skin beneath the glow of the streetlight.
This close, I notice the adorable dusting of freckles across the bridge of that pert nose and wonder if she has them anywhere else. It’ll take a slow, exhaustive search to find out. And I’m just the guy for the job.
She pushes her hair behind her ear. “Thank you, Jake, so much. I don’t know what I would’ve—”
“Aunt Chelsea, I’m starving!”
“Can we get McDonald’s?”
“Do you know what they put in McDonald’s? Insects won’t even eat it.”
“Shut up, Raymond! Don’t ruin fast food for me!”
“You shut up!”
“No, you shut up!”
I can’t help but laugh. And wonder if she owns earplugs.
Chelsea blows out a breath through her perfect, smiling lips. “I should go before they start eating each other.”
“That may not be a bad thing. There’s enough of them to spare.”
She shakes her head and climbs into the truck, then rolls down the window. “Thank you again. I owe you, Jake.”
I tap the side of the truck as she slowly pulls away. “Yes, you do.”
And that is a debt I can’t wait to collect.
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Overruled by Emma Chase / Romance & Love have rating 3.9 out of 5 / Based on134 votes