Overruled, p.9
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       Overruled, p.9

         Part #1 of The Legal Briefs series by Emma Chase
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  “Fine! You wanna yell? Let’s both yell real loud, Stanton, ’cause that’ll solve everything!”

  Sofia rushes to the desk and furiously scribbles on a legal pad.

  Stop! Take a breath. You’re badgering—that will get you nowhere.

  My nostrils flare and my face feels like stone. But I close my eyes and do as directed—swallowing down the arsenal of insults that were locked and loaded on my tongue.

  “I’m sorry for yellin’. I’m just . . . this is a shitload to try and take in.” But I get a little louder with each word. “And the idea that some fucker, that I don’t know, has been around my daughter . . .”

  “You do know him!” Jenn replies quickly, as if that makes it better. “He went to high school with us, a year younger. But back then he went by the name Jimmy. Jimmy Dean—he was the manager for the football team.”

  Her words sink in, conjuring the image of a skinny, dark-haired little shit with Coke-bottle glasses.

  And we’re back to the yelling.

  “The water boy? You think you’re marryin’ the fuckin’ water boy?”

  On the periphery of my rage, I hear Brent say, “He’s losing it.”

  Jake watches me, fascinated. “Total meltdown.”

  “Shh!” Sofia scolds.

  But I’m on a roll.

  “We used to call him Sausage Link cause his pecker was so small! He used to pick up the jock straps from the locker room floor! You were the homecomin’ queen, for Chrissakes! Homecomin’ queens do not grow up to marry the fuckin’ water boy!”

  “I can’t talk to you when you’re like this! You’ve lost your mind!” Jenny fires back.

  “You’ve made me like this! Packed up my balls in your purse and driven my mind right over the edge into Bat-Shit-Crazy Town!”

  Sofia sticks another note in my face.

  Get a grip!!! Make a plan!! State your points or you’ll lose her.

  It’s the last words that slap me in the face—right on point. I scrub my hand over my face and breathe deeply, feeling like I’ve run a marathon.

  Jenny’s voice is cold as ice. “I have to go to work. We’ll discuss this later.”

  “I’m coming home, Jenn,” I tell her.

  She turns panicky. And I can almost see her flailing her arms, the way she does when she’s upset. “No! No, Stanton—you stay in DC and just . . . cool off. I’m workin’ twelve on, twelve off for the next three days. I won’t have any time to see you . . .”

  “I’ll be home tomorrow,” I insist. “That gives you twenty-four hours to tell James Dean you’ve made a terrible mistake.”

  “Or what?” she challenges.

  “Or I’ll kill him,” I tell her simply. “I swear on Jesus, either break it off or you’ll spend your weddin’ night with a goddamn corpse.”

  “Necrophilia is so 1987,” Brent comments.

  And Jenny hangs up on me.

  I slam the phone down and fall into my chair.

  “Shit.” I push a hand through my hair. “Motherfucking shit! My girl . . . my girl’s gettin’ married.”

  It’s only then, when I say the words calmly and aloud, that they sting. But before the pain rises, Sofia makes a disgusted sound in the back of her throat.

  “What in God’s name was that?” she asks with derision.

  “That was the Iceman melting,” Jake answers.

  She ignores him, stepping closer, arms folded, eyes hard. “You are a criminal defense attorney, Stanton. A professional arguer. And that was the most pathetic display of arguing I’ve ever seen.”

  “This isn’t a case, Sofia! This is my fuckin’ life.”

  She spreads her arms. “The whole world is a court case . . . and we’re all . . . defendants.”

  Brent squints. “I don’t think you’re using that quote correctly.”

  “Did you really think calling her up and yelling at her would score you any points? If anything, you just set yourself back. If you called me stupid, I’d tell you to go fuck yourself.”

  “I don’t know what I was thinkin’, okay!” And with more scorn than I intend, I throw out, “And Jenny’s not like you.”

  But Sofia’s not perturbed. “Obviously she’s a little like me, since she hung up on your sorry ass. But the question you have to ask yourself is—what are you going to do about it?”

  She’s right. I have to get out in front of this—make my case, hold my claim, get my shit together. I have to talk to Jenny—better this time—and convince her not to get married. And I can’t do that from Washington, DC.

  “I have to go home. I have to see her—face-to-face. Find out what the hell’s been going on. I have to fix this.”

  Sofia puts her hand on my shoulder. “Take it one step at a time—build your case. Win her over to your side. Be charming. Be . . . you.”

  I stand up. “I’m going to human resources, to get time off.” I look at the three of them. “You’ll cover for me?”

  “Sure.”

  “Of course.”

  Jake nods.

  Before I step out through the door, Sofia’s voice stops me. “Stanton.”

  I turn back. Her eyes are encouraging, but her smile seems . . . forced. “Good luck.”

  I nod. And without another second of hesitation, I get ready to go home.

  8

  Sofia

  I haven’t lifted my head from my laptop since I walked through the door. My heels lie discarded beside the entrance, my damp beige trench coat is strewn across the floral armchair where I tossed it, my umbrella is propped in the corner, dripping. Sherman’s stretched out in front of the picture window, his big browns eyeing the raindrops that pour down the window pane. Elton’s Greatest Hits 1970–2002 has been playing as I draft one motion to suppress evidence, another asking for change of venue, and still a third—a response to the district attorney’s attempt to charge my seventeen-year-old client, the son of an esteemed lobbyist, as an adult for drug possession with intent to sell.

  The back of my neck aches as I roll my head, trying to loosen the protesting muscles. I set the computer on the couch cushion beside me and rub my shoulders as Elton croons “I Want Love.”

  And it’s then I finally let myself think about all the things I was using work to avoid.

  Stanton is leaving. Going to Mississippi to fight for “his girl.” There was no uncertainty—letting Jenny Monroe marry someone else was never a consideration. He was adamant, bold, determined as I’ve ever seen him. And I have no doubt he’ll march down there and remind her of everything she’s obviously forgotten.

  I imagine him bursting through her door, lifting her with those strong, sculpted arms—like Tarzan claiming his Jane—and convincing her, with his irresistible smile and shrewd charm, to give him another chance.

  And when she does—and I’m sure she will—my arrangement with Stanton will be over.

  I close my eyes. Because my stomach is tight and there’s a heaviness on my chest—like the feeling you get after swimming in a pool for too long.

  This isn’t my first trip around the block. I’m a twenty-eight-year-old single woman. I’ve had several one-night stands. In law school they’re about all you have time for. They fill a need, leave you in a good mood, and help you focus.

  One hand literally helping the other.

  That’s why I said what I did this afternoon—snapped him out of his shocked funk. Got him on the right track. Because before anything else, Stanton is my friend. I wouldn’t say I’m self-sacrificing—but I’m loyal. And that’s what good friends do. They help each other.

  What we have—what he and I do together—is fun. Physical and convenient. And above all else, it was supposed to be simple.

  But the sick feeling in my stomach, the tinge of sour jealousy on my tongue—there’s nothing simple about that.

  I shake my head at myself, determined to shake off this melancholy right along with it. I’m not one of those girls, the kind ruled by emotions. I’ll just put it aside, like last sea
son’s handbag. Maybe Stanton going away for awhile is the best thing. It’ll give me the space I need to clear my head. Because falling for your “friend with benefits” would be a dumb move, and I’m no dummy.

  Sherman lifts his head a moment before there’s a brisk knock on the door. He gets to his feet, but stays silent like the good watchdog he is, as I cross the room. I open the door, and there—his saturated arms braced on the frame—stands a panting, dripping Stanton Shaw. Raindrops cling to his thick lashes as he looks up at me, bent at the waist. A translucent white T-shirt sticks to his torso, outlining ridges of solid muscle and the path of hair that leads lower beneath his drenched running shorts, leaving little to the imagination of what he’s packing beneath. His golden locks lay flat on his forehead, dark and wet.

  There’s a Latin phrase—omne trium perfectum—that means everything that comes in threes is perfect. This stands in direct contrast to the commonly held belief that deaths and catastrophes also comes in threes.

  It seems only fitting that Stanton utters three words. He’s said those same words to me before in a raspy plea, as a harsh order—each time with his hands grasping my slick body and the air between us heavy with desire.

  And in this moment, just as all the ones before it, they’re my undoing.

  “Come with me.”

  • • •

  Dripping in the middle of my living room, Stanton takes my offered towel, rubbing it over his head and down his tan arms.

  “Explain it to me again?” I ask, because I just can’t wrap my head around his plan.

  “I want you to come with me to Mississippi. I’ve got one shot at this—I can’t afford to screw it up. If I go off like a rocket on Jenn like I did this afternoon, she’ll shut down. That girl’s as stubborn as a whole pack of mules. You can help keep me calm—focused—just like we do in court. Plus, you can give me pointers on how to show her she’s making the biggest mistake of her life.”

  “I don’t even know Jenny.”

  He shakes his head. “Doesn’t matter—you’re a woman. You know how they think. She’s obviously not satisfied with our relationship, so I need to pull out all the stops. Big romantic gestures. You can be my resource—my wingman.”

  His wingman—great. Like Goose in Top Gun. The less-than-attractive sidekick. The little buddy. The Expendable.

  His shirt makes a wet, sloshing sound as he peels it from his body. I soak in the sight of his deliciously wet, warm skin that tastes like salty heaven on my tongue.

  That’s just not fair.

  I close my eyes—he’s not the only one who needs to work on his focus.

  “Stanton,” I begin with a sigh. “Don’t you think it’ll be weird bringing me home with you while you’re trying to win back your ex?”

  He actually takes a moment to consider the question. But doesn’t get it.

  “Why would it be weird? We’re friends.”

  And I’m forced to point out the obvious. “Friends who have sex!”

  Wild, sweaty, unforgettable sex that leaves me exhaustedly, wonderfully sore. Sex we could be having at this very moment . . . if an envelope hadn’t arrived that shot it all to shit.

  Rubbing the towel across his ridged torso, he agrees. “Exactly. We’re friends who fuck—that’s nothing like what me and Jenn are.”

  The breath is knocked from my lungs—but he doesn’t notice. And I want to punch him in his stupid boy mouth, so he can’t say any more stupid words.

  But it’s his expression that stops me from doing it. Innocent, bewildered curiosity shines in his wide green eyes, making him look young and guiltless. Sherman gave me the same look after he mauled a pair of six-hundred-dollar shoes.

  A look that says: Huh? What I’d do?

  I switch tactics. “I can’t possibly take off from work. My schedule’s packed.”

  He doesn’t believe me, because he knows my schedule as well as his own.

  Damn him.

  He steps closer, grabbing my cell phone off the table behind me. “What’s your code?”

  I tighten my lips deliberately.

  He just rolls his eyes and punches in a few numbers. He gets it on the first try.

  Bastard.

  “Your birthday?” he says with a mocking snort. “You should take your security more seriously.”

  He accesses my calendar. “You don’t have any court dates. You have one deposition and one client consultation. Brent and Jake could cover those for you.”

  Stay strong, Sofia.

  “I don’t want them to cover for me.”

  Stanton changes tactics too. “You grew up in Chicago, went to school in Boston, and now you live in DC—you’ve never been to the country, never been to the South. You’ll love it—it’ll be like a vacation.”

  I snort. “Mississippi in June? It’ll be like a vacation in hell.” Before he can counter, I add, “Besides . . . I don’t fly.”

  He wasn’t expecting that. “What do you mean?”

  I point to my right side, where the jagged scar adorns my rib cage. “The plane crash, when I was a child? No one in my family has stepped foot in a plane since.”

  He gazes off to my left with squinting eyes, reevaluating his plan, and hopefully my role in it. Then his jaw clenches with conviction. “We’ll drive. We’ll get there in two days—later than I’d wanted, but still enough time. And hey, you can drive the Porsche! I’ll be able to make good on that bet: two birds, one stone.”

  All out of excuses, I tell him softly, “I think me coming home with you is a really, really bad idea.”

  Stanton holds my stare for a moment . . . then he lowers his chin, breathing deep. And he looks . . . defeated. Sad. Completely not like himself.

  And there’s a pull—the desire to put my arms around him and tell him it’ll all be all right. To see him smile that beautiful smile again. The part of me that really is his friend wants to help him.

  Unfortunately, the part of me that wants to keep being his lover votes to drop-kick her on her ass.

  “I know I’m asking a huge favor,” he says in a low, scratchy voice. “But I’m only asking because this is hugely fucking important to me. And you’re the only one who can help. Please, Sofia. I need you.”

  Three words. Again. The only ones he really needed to say.

  Damn it.

  This time I lower my head with a defeated sigh.

  “Okay.”

  9

  Stanton

  Some ideas hit you like a flash of lightning—a quick shock of brilliance. Like that story in grade school of how gravity first occurred to Sir Isaac Newton—with a knock to the head by an apple. Other ideas aren’t as obvious or immediate. They stew in the back of your mind, simmering slowly, then eventually boil to the forefront. And when the proverbial lightbulb goes off, you wonder why it took you so long to see it.

  I went for a run to burn off the frustration of my conversation with Jenny. And somewhere along the path in front of the Lincoln Memorial it occurred to me what going home would entail. Clients would need to be passed off to other attorneys at the firm, extensions might have to be requested, Jake could take care of the apartment . . . and Sofia would be back here. In DC. Without me. Surrounded by a whole town of Richard Amsterdams who would swarm her like bears on an unclaimed honey pot.

  The thought was . . . bothersome.

  Sofia’s a grown woman, she can take care of herself—and she has no obligation or commitment to me. I understand this. But I’m allowed to care about her—I’m her friend. The idea that she could take up with an Amsterdam, that she may replace me with someone so fucking unworthy, because of a physical need, didn’t sit right with me at all.

  Then I recalled my talk with Jenn. I went over it in my head the way a quarterback reviews last game’s tapes. And I saw clearly the tone I should’ve taken, the words I shouldn’t have said. All the worse things I would’ve said if Sofia hadn’t been there to set me straight, to pull me back from the brink. That’s when the notion occurre
d to me—the solution.

  And the more I thought about it, the smarter it seemed. The best course of action for both of us.

  When I looked up, I was outside Sofia’s townhouse. Like my feet had led me there on their own. My dick does that on occasion, and he’s never steered me wrong before.

  So here we are. Bright and early Thursday morning, in front of the same townhouse, carrying Sofia’s bags out to load up the Porsche for our covert operation.

  Sofia’s many, many bags.

  “I think I just gave myself a hernia,” Jake complains, dropping a Louis Vuitton duffel that sounds like it’s filled with bricks. Next to five matching—and equally weighted—bags. “Are you going for a week or a year?”

  Sofia emerges from the house, wearing a black sleeveless jumpsuit, loose but elegant, with a low-cut V-neck that pushes it to the front of my favorite-outfits lineup. A boxy yellow purse is slung over one arm, a floppy white-straw sunhat sits on top her shiny dark head, and big round sunglasses cover half her face. In the light of the early morning June sun, she’s nothing short of breathtaking.

  Brent walks beside her holding Sherman on his leash, listening as she rattles off a litany of instructions. Her dog walker’s still going to take care of the mammoth beast during the day, but his nights will be spent in Brent’s care.

  “I really appreciate this, Brent,” she says, leaning down to give the jowly dog a few hugs, a bunch of kisses, and two be a good boy’s. Then she feels Jake’s and my stare. She looks between the two of us. “What?”

  I hold up a member of the luggage gathering. “Did you get Porsche confused with Winnebago?”

  She takes off her sunglasses, revealing eyes clouded with genuine confusion. “Are you suggesting I overpacked?”

  “I’m suggesting you need to narrow it down, Soph. Take only what you need.”

  Her hand circles over the bags. “This is narrowed down.”

  Pointing to rear of the car, I counter, “We’ve got one compact trunk and a backseat that’s not big enough to fit a . . . Sherman.”

  “Woof.”

  It sounds to me like the dog’s on my side.

  Sofia frowns at him, then insists to me, “I need all of it.”

  “Do you want to see what I’m bringing?” I march around and pull a battered old gym bag out from behind the driver’s-side seat. “This is my luggage.”

  “And I should change my packing habits because you choose to live like a hobo? I don’t think so.” She rolls up imaginary sleeves and looks from the car to her bags then back to the car.

  “These will totally fit.”

  Jake shakes his head. “No way.”

  Sofia grins. “Sure they will.”

  “They’re not gonna fit,” I reiterate.

  “Watch and learn, boys.”

  Fifteen minutes later . . . they fit. Each bag strategically placed, stacked in just the right order—like one of those riddle puzzles that you can’t ever get back together again once it’s taken apart.

 
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