Overruled, p.5
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       Overruled, p.5

         Part #1 of The Legal Briefs series by Emma Chase
 
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  take off—gotta catch my train.”

  I stand up and smack his arm. “Hey, why don’t you stay in DC tonight? I’ll set up a poker game with the boys—it’ll be like old times.”

  He lifts his hands, weighing the options. “Let’s see . . . take Shaw’s money . . . or go home to the stunning wife who’s been sexting me all afternoon? No contest. I like you, man, but I’ll never like you that much.”

  We hug briefly, slapping each other’s back, both pledging to do this again soon.

  That’s when my cell phone chimes. I pick it up from the table, read the message, and curse.

  As Drew retrieves his briefcase from under the table, I hold my phone out.

  “Jury’s back.”

  He laughs at me. “For your sake, I hope she’s as good with a stick as she claims.” He pauses, then grins. “But I guess you already know she is.”

  With a final smack to my arm, he heads toward the door. “Later, man.”

  “Give Kate my best,” I call after him. “And my card!”

  He doesn’t turn around, doesn’t break his stride, but just raises his hand, with his middle finger extended loud and clear above his head.

  4

  Sofia

  There’s an energy in a courtroom just before a verdict is read, a static that crackles in the air. It’s a shared, breathless tension, the same the Romans must’ve felt at the Colosseum as they waited to see what direction Caesar would point his thumb. Your pulse pounds, your blood hums, and the adrenaline surges. It’s exciting.

  As addictive as really fantastic sex. The kind that leaves you marked, sore, and exhausted—and you can’t wait to do all over again.

  I always knew I wanted to be an attorney. As I was growing up, I watched shows like L.A. Law, where female litigators possessed rapier wits, wore stylish suits with impeccable hairstyles, and worked in glass and chrome offices in the sky.

  Education was the highest priority for my parents, because they had had such limited access to it themselves. My mother left the poverty of her home village in Pará for the relative opulence of Rio de Janeiro when she was a young girl. But she escaped illiteracy only after meeting my father, who taught her to read when she was sixteen years old. Together, they emigrated to the United States and became the very definition of the American Dream—building a thriving business, rising through the ranks of the middle class to prosperous wealth. Keenly aware of the opportunities their hard work afforded their children, they impressed upon each of us—myself and three older brothers—that education was the key to unlocking all doors. It was a treasure that could never be stolen, the most durable safety net. It’s no accident that we each went on to pursue professional fields: my eldest brother, Victor, became a doctor; the next, Lucas, a CPA, and Tomás, just a year older than me, an engineer.

  “Madam Forewoman, have you reached your verdict?”

  Our client Pierce Montgomery’s simmering attention is blatantly not on the woman who’s about to announce his judgment, but instead trained squarely on my chest. It makes me feel dirty in an unenjoyable way.

  There’s a nice hot shower in my future—to rinse off the sleaze.

  “We have, Your Honor.”

  Going in to criminal defense, I knew the high probability of having to work with scumbags like Montgomery, but that didn’t deter me. Because I was the youngest in my family, and the only daughter, they were highly protective. But instead of restricting me, that protective instinct drove my parents to make sure I was capable and prepared for whatever life may throw at me.

  Opportunities, my father would say, have to be seized with both hands, because you never know if they’ll come again.

  He’s the one who taught me to be fearless.

  Opportunity is all he’s ever wanted for me. More than a husband or children, he wanted me to have the chance to go anywhere. Do anything.

  Being raised in Chicago gave me an edge. It’s a beautiful city, but like all urban areas, it has its dangers. I learned early to move fast but stand my ground, to be on guard and generally distrust unfamiliar people until they prove otherwise.

  In short, a leering, skeevy son of a senator like Pierce Montgomery doesn’t intimidate me. If he ever tried to touch me with more than his eyes, I could bring him to his knees with the turn of my wrist.

  Simple as that.

  “What say you?”

  Here we go. Moment of truth.

  From the corner of my eye I see Stanton’s broad shoulders rise ever so slightly as he inhales . . . and holds his breath.

  Just like I do.

  The forewoman rattles off the case number and the charges, and then she utters the magic words: “Not guilty.”

  Hell to the yes! Whoot fucking whoot! Let the mental fist pumping commence!

  Much like with touchdown-scoring NFL players, excessive celebration in the courtroom is frowned upon, so Stanton and I restrain ourselves to glowing, congratulatory smiles. But both of us know this is huge, a win that’s a stepping stone to the kind of notoriety enjoyed by Cochran, Allred, Geragos, Abramson, and Dershowitz—the League of Everybody Knows Your Name.

  Montgomery thanks Stanton with a handshake, yet manages to make even his gratitude sound supercilious. He turns to me with open arms—expecting a hug of course.

  Because I have a vagina.

  And like so many, he functions under the belief that penises shake hands, vaginas hug.

  Not this one, buddy.

  I extend an unyielding arm, which makes my point and keeps him out of my personal space. He settles for the handshake, but adds a leering wink.

  And the hot shower beckons louder.

  When we step outside the courthouse, reporters are waiting. Local, not national. Not yet. Like I said, stepping stone.

  Stanton, being first chair, fields the questions with a well-practiced mixture of charm and egotism—lawyers don’t do modest. But he gives me my due, referring to “our” defense, mentioning how “we” were confident of the outcome from the very beginning, highlighting our firm like a good little soldier, and stressing that every client of Adams & Williamson would receive equally stellar representation.

  While he speaks, I take a moment to admire him—because he’s so easy to admire. His jade eyes glitter with excitement and afternoon sun, framed by dense, surprisingly dark lashes that women would kill to have. A few rebel strands of thick, golden hair—Robert Redford, Legal Eagles kind of hair—fall over his intelligent brow. A Roman nose and high cheekbones give him a strong, noble look, but Stanton Shaw’s all man—not a hint of pretty boy here. I think my favorite part is his jaw. It’s porn worthy. Rugged and square with the perfect amount of scratchy, blond stubble to conjure images of sexy late mornings and warm beds.

  He stands at six foot two—just four inches taller than I am—and his long legs and broad torso are a tailor’s dream. It’s the kind of body that was made to wear a suit. His voice is deep, a melodic baritone with the barest hint of southern lilt that during cross-examination can slash like a scalpel or mesmerize with the comfort of a bedtime storyteller. But it’s his smile that draws you in, that disarms. Expert lips that make you want to laugh when they do or provoke the dirtiest of thoughts when they slide into that lazy, lopsided smirk.

  The smirk and I are well acquainted.

  “. . . isn’t that right, Ms. Santos?” he asks, and the reporters’ gazes fall to me expectantly.

  Shit. I have no idea what he’s asking. I was too busy staring at the jawline—damn you, jaw—remembering how its bristles scraped my inner thigh, making me purr with the satisfaction of a feline enjoying her favorite scratching post.

  But I recover smoothly. “Absolutely. I couldn’t agree more.”

  The reporters thank us, and while our client climbs into his chauffeured car, Stanton and I decide to walk the few blocks back to the office.

  “Where’d you go back there? You zoned out,” he says with a ring of amusement that tells me he’s already guessed.

 
I’ll give you detailed instructions later on,” I reply as Stanton opens the door to our building for me.

  Abrams & Williamson is one of the oldest law firms in DC. The building itself is only ten stories, adhering to the Height of Buildings Act of 1910, which prohibited construction of any new structures that would be taller than the Capitol dome, save for a few limited exceptions. But what the building lacks in stature it makes up for in historical grandeur. Polished mahogany gleams beneath overhead lighting, designed to highlight the handcrafted moldings that decorate every wall. A restored marble fireplace welcomes visitors with its perpetual light as they walk to the huge walnut receptionist’s desk.

  The longtime receptionist, Vivian, is in her fifties, her flawless white suit and blond updo providing the perfect first impression of experienced elegance to all who enter.

  She smiles warmly. “Congratulations to you both. Mr. Adams would like to see you in his office.”

  News travels fast in DC, making high school gossip grapevines look as slow as dial-up Internet. So it’s no surprise that word of our win has already reached our boss’s desk. However, impressive win or not, Jonas Adams, founding partner of our firm and direct descendant of our second president, would never descend from his top-floor perch to offer congratulations.

  He summons us to him.

  On the elevator ride up, the same eager excitement bubbling inside me emanates from my colleague in crime. We’re immediately ushered into Jonas’s office, where he stands behind his desk, speedily sliding folders into a worn leather briefcase. His resemblance to his founding father ancestor is nothing short of uncanny—a bulging midsection accessorized by the gold chain of an antique pocket watch, round spectacles balanced on a pointy nose, and white tufts of hair combed over in an attempt to cover the bald crown of his head, which is as shiny as the hardwood floors we’re standing on.

  If he ever retires, historical reenactment companies will be tearing each other to pieces to have him.

  Jonas has lectured at the finest legal institutions and is considered one of the most brilliant minds in our field. But like many gifted intellectuals, he exhibits a busy, scatterbrained temperament that makes you think he’s forever losing his car keys.

  “Come in, come in,” he calls as he pats his pockets, relieved to discover the items he was obviously hoping were still there. “I’m leaving momentarily for a conference in Hawaii, but I wanted to congratulate you both on the Montgomery case.”

  He shuffles out from behind his desk and shakes our hands. “Excellent work—not an easy win, that one. But Senator Montgomery is sure to be grateful.”

  “Thank you, sir,” Stanton replies.

  “What’s that for you now, Mr. Shaw? Eight wins under the proverbial belt?”

  Stanton shrugs, immodestly. “Nine, actually.”

  Jonas nods as he removes his glasses and cleans them with a monogrammed handkerchief. “Impressive.”

  “It’s all about the jury, Mr. Adams,” Stanton crows. “Never met one that didn’t like me.”

  “Yes, very good, very good. And you, Miss Santos? Still undefeated, eh?”

  With a smile, I lift my chin proudly. “Yes, sir—six for six.”

  Professional women have come a long way—our feet are now firmly in the door of the previously dominated boy’s club of political, legal, and business fields. But we still have a long way to go. The fact remains that more often than not, when it comes to promotions and professional opportunities, we’re the afterthought, not the first consideration. In order to get to the forefront of our bosses’ regard, it’s not enough to be as good as our male counterparts—we have to be better. We have to stand out.

  It’s an unfair truth, but a truth all the same.

  Which is why when Jonas’s driver enters the room to retrieve his luggage, wheeling out a luxury brand golf bag whose contents are worth more than Stanton’s Porsche, I comment, “I didn’t know you were a golfer, Mr. Adams.”

  That’s not true—I totally knew.

  “Yes, I’m an avid player. Relaxing, you know, helps with the stress. I’m looking forward to a few rounds during the conference. Do you play?”

  I smile like the Cheshire Cat. “I do, as a matter of fact. Just shot a seventy-seven at East Potomac.”

  He replaces his glasses over widened eyes. “That’s remarkable.” He wags his finger. “When I return from Hawaii, you’ll be my guest at my club, Trump National, for a few rounds.”

  “That would be lovely. Thank you.”

  Jonas’s jowls jiggle hypnotically as he nods. “My secretary will have your assistant add it to your calendar.” Then he turns his attention back to Stanton. “Do you play, Shaw?”

  Because I know him, I notice the nanosecond of hesitation. But then his face splits into a wide grin. “Of course. Golf is my life.”

  Jonas claps his hands. “Excellent. Then you’ll join us for the day.”

  Stanton swallows hard. “Super.”

  After Jonas takes his leave, Stanton and I are back in the elevator heading to our own respective offices on the fourth floor.

  “ ‘Golf is my life’ ?” I quote, watching the lighted numbers descend.

  His amused eyes turn to me. “What the hell was I supposed to say?”

  “Ah, you could have said what you said to me three months ago: ‘Golf is not a real sport.’ ”

  “It’s not,” he insists. “If you don’t sweat, it’s not a sport.”

  To which I respond, “Golf requires a tremendous amount of skill . . .”

  “So does Ping-Pong. And that’s not a fucking sport either.”

  Stubborn, stupid man perspective. Having grown up with brothers I’m familiar with it, yet I still laugh at the absurdity.

  “So what are you going to do? Jonas returns from Hawaii in two weeks.”

  “Plenty of time for you to teach me to play,” he answers, elbowing me softly.

  “Me?” I sputter.

  “Sure, Ms. Seventy-Seven at East Potomac. Who better?”

  I shake my head. This is how Stanton operates. Like my niece uses her quivering lip against my oldest brother, Stanton uses his damnable charm.

  It’s impossible to resist—especially when you don’t really want to.

  “Two weeks isn’t much time.”

  He puts his hand on my shoulder, rubbing his thumb against the bare skin at the nape of my neck. The action scorches a path down my spine, making all the muscles below my waist clench.

  “We’ll start this weekend. I have total confidence in you, Soph. Plus”—he winks—“I’m a fast learner.”

  As the elevator doors open, he removes his hand, and for a quick moment, I mourn the loss. “That’ll be the perfect time to settle up on our bet. Your car owes me a drive.”

  “I don’t think I should be held responsible for bets I made under duress.”

  My heels click on the wood floors as I scoff, “What possible duress were you under?”

  Stanton stops a few feet from our office doors. He lowers his voice and leans in to whisper against my ear. “You underestimate the power of your miraculous tits. They were in my face—thinking clearly was not possible.”

  I fold my arms skeptically. “Miraculous?”

  He holds his hands up, palms out. “Made me want to stand up and shout amen . . . or drop to my knees and do other things.”

  A small laugh escapes me. “If all breasts distract you so easily, you’ve got bigger problems than me driving your baby.”

  Stanton looks me over for a moment, and his eyes grow warm. Almost tender.

  “Not all breasts, Soph. Just yours.”

  I’ve heard the expression ‘my heart skipped a beat,’ but I didn’t realize it can actually happen. Until this moment.

  Still, I feign indifference. “Nice try. Request to be excused denied. I don’t give golf lessons to jilters.”

  “Can’t blame a man for trying.”

  Brent steps out of our office, on his way into Stanton’s. He stops whe
n he sees us and raises his arm in salute. “Ah, the returning victors. Just the two people I wanted to see.”

  We follow him into Stanton’s office, which he shares with Jake Becker, who’s reclined in his desk chair, perusing an open case file on his lap. With barely a glance our way Jake says, “I hear congratulations are in order. My compliments on proving that justice is dumb as well as blind.”

  Stanton and Jake have known each other since law school, when Stanton was in dire need of a roommate to offset the rent and Jake was in dire need of sleeping somewhere that wasn’t his mother’s living room couch. Jake Becker doesn’t look like a lawyer. He reminds me of a heavyweight boxer or the muscle from a black-and-white mobster movie. Black hair, eyes the color of cold steel, full lips that rarely smile and utter the most caustic remarks. His frame is large and dangerously powerful, with hands that swallow mine whole when we shake. Bricklike hands that would make you pity his foolish opponent in a brawl.

  Despite his intimidating appearance, Jake is the perfect gentleman. He has a dry sense of humor and he’s unwaveringly protective of those he counts as friends. I feel lucky to say I’m one of them. I’ve never seen him lose his temper or raise his voice, but I suspect his is the kind of anger that strikes with a lethal vengeance—without any warning at all.

  Stanton puts his briefcase on his desk and sits down.

  “Don’t get too comfortable,” Brent warns him. “We’re not staying long. It’s Friday, and your victory gives us the perfect justification for cutting out early.”

  I didn’t know Brent when he was young, but he has all the makings of an epic class clown . . . or a child in desperate need of Ritalin. Always upbeat, with a joke at the ready and an endless supply of energy. He rarely sits still; even if he’s reading, he’s on his feet pacing or balanced on the edge of his desk, a file in one hand and a grip strengthener in the other.

  Oh, and he doesn’t even drink coffee. Some Monday mornings I want to strangle Brent.

  “I have to finish the Rivello brief,” I explain, but his head shake cuts me off.

  “You can finish it tomorrow, Miss Go-getter. You’re already Adams’s new pet—don’t need to show the rest of us up that much. Besides, we have cause for celebration, and I make it a rule never to pass those up. Time for happy hour.”

  I look at my watch. “It’s three o’clock.”

  “Which means it’s five o’clock somewhere.” He hooks his thumb toward the door. “Let’s go, kids—find your buddy. First round’s on Jake.”

  Jake’s already standing, packing his briefcase with take-home work. He twirls his finger in the air and says flatly, “Sure. Water for everyone.”

  With a chuckle, Stanton loops his arm over my shoulders. “Come on, Soph. There’s a Tequila Sunrise with your name on it. We’ve earned it.”

  I have an enduring love/hate relationship with Tequila Sunrises—I love them at happy hour and hate them in the morning.

  With a sigh, I give in. “Okay, what the hell.”

  5

  Stanton

  By the time happy hour officially rolls around, Sofia and Brent are way past happy. Not Jake, though—Jake’s the original designated driver. He enjoys a single-malt scotch as much as the next guy, but I’ve never seen him drink to get drunk. Unlike everyone else around him at this moment. Six o’clock on a Friday night in Washington, DC, the streets are a ghost town—because anyone who’s still here is already inside the bars.

  Politicians don’t actually live in the city. If Congress isn’t in session, they go back to their home districts. Those who are married with kids head back to the suburbs. That leaves the rest of us—hungry, hardworking, and horny. And there’s no better way to blow off a whole lot of steam from a long-ass week at the office than having a nice drink in a noisy tavern. Sofia calls it the “Grey’s Anatomy effect.”

  “Air bubble in the IV,” Brent suggests in a diabolical voice, leaning his elbows on the wood table cluttered with empty glasses. “Hard to trace, impossible to prove beyond a reasonable doubt—unless there’s video cameras in the patient’s hospital room, quick, efficient . . .”

  “And totally unreliable,” Sofia quips, tapping him on the nose. “The amount of air to cause an embolism varies, plus the victim would already have to be in
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