Overruled, p.8
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       Overruled, p.8
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         Part #1 of The Legal Briefs series by Emma Chase
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  “I was tired,” I offer.

  “Mmm . . .”

  Then, with exasperation, “It was raining!”

  He nods, his boyish blue eyes seemingly all-knowing. “So it was.”

  As an attorney, it’s important to know how to turn the tables on a witness. How to steer them away from certain topics. So that’s what I do.

  “And how did your ‘date’ go?”

  Brent smirks deviously. “A gentleman never kisses and tells.”

  On slow days at the office, he has a tendency to fill the empty sound space with his more outrageous stories. The actress who blew him while a thousand paparazzi swarmed outside her car; the heiress who had a thing for danger and how he screwed her while suspended from the chandelier of a sixteenth-century castle. Not all the stories involve sex—just his favorite ones.

  “I don’t see any gentlemen here.”

  He barks out a chuckle. “Good point. Let’s just say she left my house walking crooked this morning, and leave it at that.”

  We start at the Washington Monument, a warm-up pace, side by side but careful to avoid the many other joggers, bicyclists, and in-line skaters on the path. DC is a young city, active and, at least in the area I live, attractive. You can practically see the rivalry in the air, like smog in LA. Everyone wants to be at the top of their game—ready to move up or push someone else out.

  If greed is good, in DC, power is king, and everybody’s jockeying for position to get a piece of that pie.

  Our steps are steady, our breathing deep but even. “What do you think of facial hair?” Brent asks out of the blue.

  I look at his smooth, youthfully handsome face that has gotten him into trouble more than once and shrug. “Depends on the face. Why?”

  He rubs his jaw. “I’m thinking about growing a beard. Might save me from getting hit on by high school girls.”

  I laugh at his predicament. “I think you’d wear a beard well.”

  Several more minutes pass before the Jefferson Memorial comes into view. I believe that when the monuments were being planned, someone didn’t like Thomas Jefferson—because his is pretty far out there. Isolated. In terms of visitors, Jefferson got royally screwed.

  “So . . . about you and Stanton . . .” Brent hedges.

  I catch his expression from the corner of my eye and it makes me stop short.

  Concern.

  Uncomfortable friendly concern—like he’s working up the nerve to tell me something he really doesn’t want to have to tell me.

  “Did he say something to you? About me?”

  Another lesson learned from the promiscuous big brothers? Boys talk.

  “No—no, he hasn’t said anything. I just . . . you do realize that Stanton is . . . emotionally unavailable?”

  “That’s one of the things I like best about him. Who has time for available?”

  We’re walking now, side by side, getting our breath back.

  “But you get that he’s . . . spoken for?”

  “Of course I get it, Brent—he talks about Jenny and Presley all the time. He’s got a picture of them on his desk and a bunch at his apartment.”

  There are pictures of Stanton leaning close to Jenny, in a hospital bed, holding a newborn baby in a pink blanket. Stanton and a little blonde in pigtails, standing next to a shiny pink bicycle after her first ride. Stanton, Jenny, and Presley sitting together on a Ferris wheel, smiling brightly. The three of them are fair-haired and perfect—like the southern version of The Dresden Dolls.

  Brent gestures with his hand. “Personally, I think you and Stanton would be great together. And, hey, you wouldn’t even have to change your monogram.”

  With a laugh I shake my head. “You are the only straight guy I know who knows what a monogram is and would use it in a sentence.”

  “That’s how I roll.”

  Then he shrugs. “I just . . . I don’t want to see you get hurt, Sofia. However . . . unintentionally it may happen.”

  Brent’s a playboy, but he’s not a shit. He’s had casual lovers or girlfriends who were ready to take things to the next level, when he preferred to remain at their current cruising altitude. When those relationships ended, and emotions inevitably bruised, he’s always felt bad about it—guilty, even.

  I tug at his sleeve affectionately. “I appreciate that, but it’s all good. That’s the beauty of friends with benefits—no one gets attached.”

  Brent returns my smile and we’re back to jogging. “On a purely selfish note, it’d suck if our unit at the office got screwed up.”

  “Our unit?”

  He nudges me with his elbow. “Yeah—we’re kicking ass and taking names. We’re like the Avengers. The good ones, anyway.”

  “Ooh!” I gasp, playing along. “Can I be Thor? I always liked the hammer.”

  He pats my head. “No, you poor, foolish girl—you’re Black Widow, Jake’s the Hulk, Stanton’s Captain America.”

  “And who are you?”

  The metal of his prosthetic pings as he flicks it with his fingers, grinning. “I’m Iron Man.”

  I raise a suggesting finger. “Just a thought—you might have better luck not getting hit on by high school girls if you gave up references to comic book superheroes.”

  He purses his lips, considering. “Yeah, that’s not gonna happen.”

  With another laugh, I concede, “Facial hair it is then.”

  • • •

  On Sunday morning, I get up early and make a big batch of pão de queijo—Brazilian cheese rolls. I try to make them every week—with their light flaky outside and warm, gooey middle, they’re perfect for breakfast.

  I take a hot cookie sheet out of the oven and put it on the counter to cool, when there’s a knock on the door. I open it to find Stanton—with a brand-new golf club over his shoulder—and Jake standing on my front steps.

  “Hey,” I greet them, opening the door wider.

  “Ready to school me, hot teacher?” Stanton asks as Sherman rears, trying to lick his face off.

  “Ready, willing, and able. Are you coming golfing with us too, Jake?”

  “No, I’m just here for the cheese balls.”

  As I pour coffee for Stanton and Jake, there’s another knock at the door—this time it’s Brent.

  “Hi.”

  “Good morning.”

  He walks into my living room, and though I already suspect the answer, I ask anyway. “What are you doing here so early?”

  “It’s Sunday,” he explains, like he’s stating the obvious. “Cheese balls.”

  And this is how traditions become traditions.

  We sit around the table, finishing breakfast, when Stanton tosses a roll in the air for Sherman to catch. “Your dog’s getting kind of fat, Soph.”

  I rub Sherman’s back and come to his defense. “He’s not fat! He’s just . . . big boned.”

  Brent cocks his head appraisingly. “I don’t know, I think Stanton has a point. You may want to up his exercise regimen. You don’t want the other dogs at the park bullying him—calling him Fatty McChub-Chub.”

  I frown at them both. “I have a dog walker come by three times a day.”

  Jake chimes in. “I don’t think you’re paying her enough.”

  Men are harshly straightforward. Mean, even. In a courtroom, these three guys are capable of being the epitome of tact and charisma. But among friends—they’re sledgehammers. Maybe it’s because I grew up with brothers, maybe their thought process rubbed off on me, but there’s something about that honesty that’s appealing. Comfortingly simple.

  It’s that XY chromosomal directness that brings on Stanton’s next comment. “Did anyone else notice that dipshit Amsterdam staring at Sofia’s ass at the softball game yesterday?”

  “I did,” Jake says, raising his hand.

  “Like it had the cure for cancer written on it,” Brent adds.

  Richard Amsterdam is a contract attorney from Daily & Essex, another notable firm whose team we played—and beat
yesterday. He’s in his late thirties, successful, attractive, and has a reputation for fucking anything with a pulse.

  “Must’ve liked what he saw.” I stand, bringing the dirty plates to the sink. “He asked me out after the game. Dinner and a show.”

  “Ah.” Brent nods. “Dinner and a show—classic code words for ‘alcohol and an orgasm.’ ”

  “I don’t like Dick,” Jake says, chewing on the last cheese roll. “He goes through secretaries like I go through condoms—can’t trust a guy with such a high turnover rate in this economy. Something’s not right there.”

  “What’d you tell him?” Stanton asks, frowning at me.

  “That I was too busy. Which I am, golf lessons notwithstanding.”

  His eyes brighten. “Oh . . . good.”

  I can take the direct approach, too. “Why is that good, exactly?”

  The corner of his mouth pulls up into a bashful, lopsided grin. It makes me warm and tingly in all the right places. “You can do better, Soph.”

  7

  Stanton

  Wednesday morning, I’m in the US Attorney’s Office, engaging in the rudimentary but exciting behind-the-scenes activity that prevents the court system from grinding to a screeching fucking halt: negotiating the plea deal. It’s a common, everyday responsibility—but where the exciting comes in is the thrill of bargaining. I know my client is guilty, the prosecutor knows it too, but it’s my job to convince them to take the easy win—that the time and money saved by the taxpayer is worth the lesser charge and reduced sentence.

  I follow Angela Cassello, a short, red-haired firecracker of an Assistant US Attorney, down the bustling hallway. “He connects people with the same interests, people looking for specific physical attributes in a partner, who don’t have the time to vet a potential companion,” I explain.

  Diplomacy at its finest. Also known as a crock of shit.

  “He’s a pimp,” Angela argues. “Just because he’s rich doesn’t make him any less of a pimp.”

  “He’s a matchmaker.”

  “Ha!” she counters, not slowing her brisk pace. “And next you’ll be telling me drug dealers are pharmacists.”

  That’s actually not bad—I may use that in the future.

  “Look.” I lean against the wall, forcing Angela to stop beside me. “He doesn’t work with underage girls, he doesn’t cross state lines, there’s no claims of abuse. This is a guppy, Angela—a harmless, victimless fish. You’ve got sharks to fry. If this were Nevada there wouldn’t even be a charge.”

  “If your client were smarter, he would’ve set up shop in Nevada.”

  “He’ll cop to the tax evasion,” I offer. “But you have to take procuring off the table.”

  “Ah yes, because financial crimes committed by the obscenely wealthy are socially acceptable. Sex crimes are frowned upon—at least when they get caught.”

  Sometimes the best answer is no answer. I wait her out.

  And she sighs. “You’re lucky I like you more than your client, Shaw. We’ll take the tax evasion. But I want jail time; he’s not skating on probation or house arrest.”

  “Low-security facility and you’ve got a deal.”

  She holds out her hand and I shake it. “I’ll have the papers sent to your office this week.”

  “You’re the best, Angela.”

  She pushes my shoulder playfully. “You say that to all the prosecutors.”

  “Only the pretty ones.”

  • • •

  Back in my office, I open my briefcase and take out the pimp’s case file and yesterday’s mail I grabbed from the box on my way out this morning. I sit down, drink my coffee, and sort through it. Junk, junk, bill, junk . . . an envelope catches my eye.

  Five by seven, white, addressed to me in handwritten calligraphy . . . with Jenny’s parents’ return address.

  I open it and remove the flat ivory card.

  And it’s like a nuclear bomb goes off in my head.

  My brain must’ve turned to ash—making me illiterate—because I can barely decipher the words.

  Honor of your presence . . .

  Jenny Monroe . . .

  James Dean . . .

  June . . .

  Wedding . . . wedding . . . wedding . . .

  “What in the actual fuck?”

  That gets Jake’s attention. He turns in his chair. “Problem?”

  I grasp for understanding, for a theory that makes sense. “Did you do this? Is this a joke?”

  He points to himself. “Have you ever known me to make a joke? On purpose?”

  He’s right. Pranks aren’t his style.

  Brent, on the other hand . . . This is right up his alley.

  I spring out of my desk chair and stomp into Brent and Sofia’s office.

  “Is this supposed to be fuckin’ funny?” I accuse, harsh and desperate.

  He plucks the card from my fingers. “I don’t know why it would be. Ivory isn’t a particularly funny color.”

  And then he reads it. “Whoa.” He glances up to my face warily, then back down to the invitation. And again mutters, “Whoa!”

  Sofia stands from her desk. “What? Why are we whoa-ing?”

  Brent flashes her the invitation. Comprehension dawns in her eyes.

  “Wh— Shit.”

  Sweat breaks out on my forehead and my chest squeezes like I’m having a panic attack. I grab the card, and with Brent and Sofia right behind me, trudge back to my office—needing to fucking yell at someone.

  And I know just the someone.

  I punch the familiar numbers into the phone. But I’m brought up short by the voice that answers.

  “Presley?”

  “Hey, Daddy.”

  “Why aren’t you in school?” It’s an hour earlier in Mississippi, but she should still be in school.

  “We got the day off—teacher trainin’.”

  “Where’s your mother?”

  “She’s gettin’ ready for work.”

  “Put her on the phone.”

  There’s a rustle, muffled talking and then my daughter’s back on the line. “Momma says she’s late for work, she’ll call you back.”

  I don’t think so.

  “Presley,” I hiss, “tell your momma I said to get on the goddamn phone right fuckin’ now.”

  There’s a shocked pause. Then a hushed whisper. “You want me to say that?”

  “Say exactly that,” I urge. “You won’t get in trouble.”

  With a little too much enthusiasm, she yells, “Momma! Daddy said get on the goddamn phone right fuckin’ now!”

  I can practically hear Jenny stomping to the phone. “Have you lost your mind?” she screeches seconds later. “Tellin’ my daughter to cuss at me? I will cut you!”

  “You’ve already cut me!” I unleash. “What the hell am I lookin’ at right now, Jenn?”

  Obviously she can’t see what I’m looking at—not my best opener—but it’s hard to be logical when you’ve been kicked in the nuts.

  “I don’t know, Stanton, what the hell are you lookin’ at?”

  “Well it looks like a fuckin’ wedding invitation!”

  She sucks in a mouthful of shocked air. “Oh my lord.” Then in a growl not directed at me, “Momma!” An inaudible argument ensues with sharp tones and angry pitches. Then she comes back to me. “Stanton?”

  My grip on the phone tightens. “I’m here.”

  Jenny swallows with a gulp. “That news I was gonna tell you about this weekend? I’m gettin’ married, Stanton.”

  It’s like she’s speaking another language—I hear the words but they make no sense.

  “Sonofabitch!”

  “I was gonna tell you . . .” she rushes out.

  “When? When the golden anniversary rolled around?”

  She tries to soothe me. “I know you’re angry . . .”

  But I’m gone. “I passed angry so far fuckin’ back it’s scary!” I look over the card again. “Who in the holy hell is James De
an? And what kinda name is James Dean anyway?”

  Brent chooses this moment to comment softly. “The same as one of our finest American actors. Rebel Without a Cause, Giant with Elizabeth Taylor . . .”

  “Elizabeth Taylor,” Jake pipes up. “She was hot when she was young.”

  I ignore the idiot ramblings and focus on what Jenny is saying.

  “We’ve been seein’ each other for a few months now. He asked me three weeks ago.”

  An unsettling thought occurs to me and goes straight out my mouth.

  “Are you pregnant?”

  Offense rings clear in Jenny’s tone. “Why would you ask that? You think bein’ pregnant is the only way I could get a man to marry me?”

  “No, but between you and your sister—”

  “Don’t you talk about my sister!” Now she’s yelling too. “Not when you got a brother livin’ in a trailer sellin’ marijuana to high school kids!”

  I kick my desk. “I don’t want to talk about fuckin’ Carter or Ruby! I want to talk about this ridiculous notion that’s runnin’ in your head.” Then another, worse thought flashes through my brain. “Has he . . . been around Presley?”

  She breathes slowly, whispers guiltily, “She’s met him, yes. He comes to the park with us sometimes.”

  “He’s a dead man!”

  Dead. Gone. Done. I think of every perfect murder scenario that’s ever been suggested simultaneously, and plan to inflict each one on James fucking Dean.

  “Stop yellin’ at me!” she screeches.

  “Then stop bein’ stupid!” I rail.

  I pull the phone away from my ear, as Jenny’s volume threatens to rupture my eardrum.

 
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