Appealed, p.11
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       Appealed, p.11
 

         Part #3 of The Legal Briefs series by Emma Chase
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  even folded at the ankle and cuffed to death at her waist, they’re about twelve sizes too large.

  She looks fucking adorable.

  As we get to her front porch, the rear door of a black SUV with tinted windows parked at the curb opens. And out steps David Prince—dark sunglasses on his face, his brown hair perfectly sideswept and visibly hair sprayed.

  Though I’m annoyed that the bastard hasn’t even given Kennedy the morning to process, I’m delighted that I’ll be around for this little exchange. ’Cause I really want to watch her tell him to screw off. And if she’s not feeling up to it, I’ll do it for her.

  I follow Kennedy through her door and Prince slips in behind me. He closes the door and they square off a few feet apart in the middle of a tastefully decorated living room. I position myself next to the beige couch, far enough away to let their confrontation play out but close enough to step between them if needed.

  Prince looks predictably unhappy, but far from brokenhearted. The grin that graces his campaign posters is replaced with an ugly scowl. He throws his arms up from his sides, “What the hell, Kennedy?”

  Kennedy’s shoulders are back, her chin high—the same stance she takes in court, fearless and brash, ready to throw down.

  “I could ask you the same thing, David.”

  “You humiliated me last night!”

  “You humiliated yourself. The sympathy you’ll garner will only help your polls—and we both know that’s what you’re really worried about. If you had bothered to ask me what I wanted—”

  “I thought we were on the same page.” He takes a step toward her.

  But she holds her ground. “No, you didn’t—otherwise you wouldn’t have ambushed me.”

  “It was a surprise! A gesture of my affection.”

  “It was a sound bite!” Kennedy shoots back. “We both knew what this relationship was about. I was a pretty, professional face to smile next to you in your photo ops, and you—”

  “Yes,” he interrupts, stepping even closer. “What was I?”

  “You were convenient. Someone I enjoyed spending time with, but didn’t care enough about to be upset about your screwing the intern.”

  He pales just slightly and his eyes narrow. Then he moves to grab her arm, but I move faster. I wrap my hand around his wrist. And squeeze.

  “If having a functioning wrist is important to you, you’re going to want to step back. And calm down.”

  Dave drops his hand and I let him go.

  He glares at me from head to toe, then he turns back to Kennedy and spits, “This is what I’ve been replaced by? A cripple?”

  As Kennedy opens her mouth to tear into him, I throw my head back and laugh.

  “Cripple, Dave? That’s the best you’ve got? Not even gimp or stumpy or quarter-man? If you’re going to insult someone, have the decency to make it a clever insult. Otherwise, you don’t just look like an asshole—you look like a dumb asshole. Also, go fuck yourself, you entitled, parasitic, two-faced, bloodsucking prick.”

  David does his best to ignore me and looks at Kennedy with an expression that tries for persuasive, but falls short.

  “We’re good together, Kennedy.”

  She shakes her head. “Not good enough.”

  “We could’ve gone all the way to the White House. We still could.”

  How romantic. Does this douche want a girlfriend or a running mate?

  “I like this house just fine. We’re done, David. Good-bye.”

  And just like that, he gives up. If putting your fingers up in front of your forehead in the shape of a capital L was still a thing, I’d do it right now—’cause this guy is a loser.

  He turns toward the door, but he only takes two steps before he turns back around. “I know you didn’t sign an NDA, but if you even think of speaking to the press—”

  “Are you serious?” Her tone is biting. “I’m not going to be speaking to anyone. I have important matters to deal with—airing your dirty laundry isn’t one of them.” She raises her arm, pointing at the door. “Now get the hell out.”

  To help him along, I open the door wide. “Bye-bye, Dave.”

  I let it swing closed with a bang after he walks out.

  I move toward Kennedy, stretching my arms above my head. “Well, I certainly feel better now that that’s out of the way.”

  I thought she’d giggle; at least smile. But she just kind of collapses onto the couch—elbows on her knees, head in her hands.

  I kneel down in front of her, rubbing my palms up her legs. “You okay, Sparkles?”

  Weary eyes meet mine. “Sparkles?”

  With two fingers I trace her collarbone, then show her the residual glitter from last night’s festivities. That gets me a small smile as she says, “I’m exhausted.”

  I stand. “I’m sure you are. So . . . relax, take a bubble bath, take a nap, recharge—then be at my place tonight at six. I’m making you dinner.”

  Kennedy’s eyes drag closed. “Brent . . .”

  “I’m not as talented in the kitchen as Harrison, but I can hold my own.” Lifting her chin gently, I tilt her head up. And my voice goes soft. “I want to feed you, Kennedy. I want to talk to you—and I want to kiss you again for a long time, knowing you’ll actually remember it in the morning.”

  That brings the fire back into those stunning brown eyes. “We did kiss last night!” Her finger jabs my thigh. “I knew it!”

  “Technically, you kissed me. Attacked me, actually—and I’m not complaining.” I lean down and press my lips to her forehead. “I just really, really want to return the favor.”

  Before she can say no, I walk to the door. Her voice stops me as I reach for the knob.

  “What are we doing? I mean, what is this, Brent?” And she sounds genuinely curious.

  “We’re starting over. This is a new beginning.”

  “But the case—”

  “We won’t talk about the case,” I reassure her. “We’ll be grown-ups. Compartmentalize—there’ll be no conflict of interest.”

  “Maybe I don’t want to start over.” She sighs. “There’s so much between us, I don’t know if a new beginning is possible.”

  “Then we’ll talk about that tonight too. Six o’clock, dollface. Don’t be late.”

  • • •

  I head over to the National Mall to run my favorite route. High-octane energy sparks along every nerve ending like I’ve never felt before. The adrenaline rush before a lacrosse game was similar, but this is more. Because I’m so psyched for tonight.

  Two hours later, I walk through my front door to find Harrison dusting in the living room. I toss my keys onto the table. “Harrison, my good man.”

  He turns, a mixture of curiosity and mild surprise in his eyes. “Yes, Brent?”

  I throw an arm around his young shoulders. “You know the Swedish au pair down the street who you’ve been crushing on the last six months?”

  He gulps. “Jane?”

  “That’s the one. I know for a fact that tonight’s her night off.” I slap three hundred-dollar bills into his palm. “It’s time to carpe diem, buddy. Take the car, take her out, show her a good time, and if you get lucky—go to a hotel. If you don’t get lucky—spend the night at your father’s. Whatever you do, don’t come home.”

  He looks at the money in his hand, brows touching. “I don’t understand.”

  “I’m having company tonight.” This is the first time I’ve ever asked him to make himself scarce; usually I’m encouraging him to watch. So I spell it out.

  “Kennedy’s coming over. I’m making her dinner. Though you’re always impeccably discreet, I want her to be completely comfortable, so we’re free to talk about our feelings.”

  Talk.

  Strip.

  Break the furniture, dent the walls, and defile every surface in the house. Could be wishful thinking on my part, but like the Boy Scouts say, it’s good to be prepared.

  Understanding brightens Harrison’s eyes.
Ah, now I see.” He puts his feather duster down. “I should go change into something more appropriate for a visit with Jane.”

  I smack his back. “Go get her, tiger.”

  Doubt falls like a gray specter across his face. “Do you . . . do you think she’ll say yes?”

  I rub his head, messing with his hair the way an older brother would. “She’d be batshit crazy not to. You’re a total catch.”

  Harrison smiles, looking more relaxed.

  We walk toward the stairs near the kitchen.

  “Would you like me to prepare dinner for you and Miss Randolph before I go?” Harrison asks.

  I step into the kitchen and wave him off. “No. I want to do it myself.”

  “Very good, then.”

  As Harrison continues toward the stairs, I call, “There’s just one small thing. How do I turn this stove on?”

  • • •

  By five fifteen, I have a simple lemon and chicken recipe in an “oven-safe dish” like the online instructions said, ready to go. I slide it into the oven and go take a shower.

  By five thirty, I’m dressed in jeans and a long-sleeved dark blue button-down.

  By five forty-five, the table is set—linen napkins, crystal glasses, china plates, silver utensils—Harrison would be proud. I turn the lights down low and put a bottle of white wine in the ice bucket to chill.

  By five to six, I have the cooked chicken warming on top of the stove, hoping it tastes better than it looks. I light the candles on the table, sit on the couch, and wait for Kennedy to get here.

  By six fifteen, I’m still waiting—but I’ve never met a woman who was actually on time, so it’s all good.

  By six thirty, I turn on the TV and use my handgrips as I walk around the room. Watching and waiting.

  By six forty-five, I pour myself a glass of wine.

  By seven, I risk looking completely pathetic and dial Kennedy’s number. It goes to voice mail and I don’t leave a message.

  By seven thirty, I’m on glass number two. And I blow out the candles.

  At eight, I thought I heard someone on the front step, but when I went to check, there was no one there.

  By nine, it starts to rain hard, thunder and lightning galore. I lie on the couch, arm bent under my head, legs stretched out, shirt open.

  But it’s not until ten that I actually believe Kennedy’s not going to show.

  12

  When I first open my eyes, I’m disoriented. I don’t know what time it is, or how long I’ve been asleep. Then I realize I’m on the couch, it’s still dark and raining outside—and as the recollection of Kennedy not showing for dinner hits me like a sharp jab below the ribs, the knowledge of what woke me up breaks through my foggy brain.

  It was a knock on the door.

  I walk to the door and open it, just in time to catch a petite blonde going down the steps.

  “Kennedy?”

  She stops on the sidewalk and slowly turns to face me. She’s soaked through—her jeans molded to the curves of her legs, the sleeves of her white and navy striped sweater dripping, her hair flat, lips slightly tinged with blue.

  “I wasn’t going to come,” she says.

  My voice is drowsy and deep. “Yeah, I kind of figured that when you didn’t show up.” I open the door wider. “Come inside.”

  Instead, Miss Vinegar to my Mr. Water takes a step back.

  “I don’t know why I’m here.” And she sounds genuinely bewildered—even a little panicked.

  “Obviously because I’m irresistible.” The wind blows, spraying ice cold drops across my bare skin where my shirt hangs open. “You’re shivering, honey, come inside.”

  She stares at me, so many emotions swirling in her expression. She’s like a skittish kitten who can’t decide if she should let the stranger pat her head or haul ass up the nearest tree.

  And it breaks my heart.

  “I don’t think I can.”

  So I go to her.

  The rain is cold and hard, soaking my shirt. Her eyes dart from the sidewalk, to my chest, up to my eyes and back again, like she’s ready to bolt—but her feet stay planted.

  I lean in so she can hear me above the deluge. “Do you remember when I first learned to ride a bike again?”

  The corners of her mouth tug up a little. “Yeah, I remember.”

  “And we only had your girly bike, so you sat on the handlebars and I pedaled?”

  She nods.

  “And one day, I was going way too fast and we hit a rock, and both of us went flying. I didn’t want to ride like that anymore, because I was afraid you’d get hurt. Do you remember what you told me?”

  Her eyes meet mine. “I said . . . I said we had to keep riding . . . because the ride was the only thing that made falling worth it.”

  I nod tenderly.

  And she adds, “Then you called me a fortune cookie.”

  And we both laugh.

  When our chuckles settle, I hold out my hand. “I’m not going to let us fall this time, Kennedy.”

  Her eyes are back on my chest. “I’m not sure—”

  “All you have to do is take my hand.”

  It’s like I was saying before—you never really know who someone is inside. That someone as magnificently ferocious in court as Kennedy could be hiding such a fragile, delicate soul. And don’t think for a second it’s because she’s weak. The fact that she’s even fucking standing here shows how strong she is. It’s just . . . instinct.

  We shy away from the things that hurt us—that have hurt us in the past.

  That’s what scars are for. They protect the wounds. Cover them with thick, numb tissue so we’ll never have to feel that same pain again. The bottom of my stump is one big, hard callus.

  But the scars Kennedy has inside? They’re even tougher.

  When she continues to stare at my hand, I plead, “Please, just come inside.”

  Slowly, tentatively, her small hand slides into mine.

  And we go in out of the rain.

  • • •

  Her teeth chatter as she sits on the edge of my bed. I throw a blanket over her shoulders, rubbing her arms, sliding down to cup her hands.

  “Jesus, you’re freezing. How long were you out there?”

  “Awhile. I was walking . . . thinking.”

  “Your family has more money than most small governments. Next time you go a-wandering, stop and buy an umbrella.”

  Kennedy shivers as she laughs. I pull the blanket closer around her and rub her back.

  Her voice comes out soft and wavering in the dark room. “None of this is going like I imagined.”

  “Me neither. I figured I’d be busy getting you out of your clothes, not wrapping you up like a burrito.”

  That gets me another chuckle. “I meant coming home, seeing you again . . . I thought it’d be so different.”

  I hold her hands between mine, rubbing the chill from them. “Different how?”

  “I knew we’d run into each other eventually. But when I saw your name on the Longhorn case, I thought it was fate. My opportunity for payback. I thought you’d be bowled over by my new look. Infatuated with me.”

  She can check that one off the list.

  “I pictured flirting with you, toying with you—and then totally crushing you. You were going to be devastated. And I was going to laugh over the remains of your broken heart.”

  “You’re a vengeful little thing, aren’t you?”

  Her eyes drift to the ceiling and she shakes her head at herself. “Sometimes. When it comes to my cases, the victims, I want to punish the people who’ve wronged them. But you . . . you’re still you. And when I saw you . . . it all felt exactly the same. Like how it was before the dance, before I went to your dorm room that morning. Like I was seventeen again, just hoping you’d . . .”

  Her words trail off and my chest clenches with that sublime mix of excitement and trepidation. Of wanting something so much it’s like every cell in your body is stretching, reach
ing for it, yet there’s a gray shadow of worry that you might never get to touch it. And keep it. That all you’ll be left with is the memory of how great it could have been.

  “Does that make sense, Brent?”

  I swallow. “Yeah. Perfect sense.”

  I cup my hands around hers and blow into them. Another shiver vibrates through her.

  “You have to get out of these wet clothes,” I say gently, with no teasing suggestion.

  Because we’re right on the precipice. I can feel it. And I have to tread so carefully, because one wrong move could send Kennedy away, truly lost to me.

  The room is quiet. I peel my soaked shirt off and let it drop to the floor. Only her eyes move, trailing over my shoulders, down the bronzed peaks and valleys of my torso. I stand and slowly unbutton my jeans, then push the heavy, wet fabric down my hips, sliding one leg out before bracing my hand on the bed to pull them over my prosthetic, leaving me in black boxer briefs.

  Free of the cold, damp clothes, my skin feels hot. Like the surface of a furnace, warmed from the fire burning within.

  Her wide brown eyes follow my every move, looking up at me. Waiting.

  I push the blanket off her shoulders and let it drop to the floor. My tongue wets my bottom lip as I grasp her sopping sweater at the bottom and lift slowly, taking note of every inch of creamy skin as it’s revealed.

  Kennedy raises her arms. I pull the sweater over her head and it lands with a plop on the floor. I saw her naked last night, but that was different. I couldn’t enjoy the view; I was trying too hard not to look.

  But I look now.

  And, oh, do I enjoy it.

  Firm, round breasts encased in white lace. Her nipples, dark mauve and taut, tease beneath their sheer covering. Her collarbone is delicate, her shoulders and arms toned. Her stomach is flat, with a hint of muscle, and I bite the inside of my mouth—because I want to suck on that skin, slide my tongue across it, press my teeth against it until I hear her moan.

  My chest rises and falls as rapidly as hers. I sink to my knees in front of Kennedy and reach for the button of her pants.

  And I feel those gentle amber brown eyes beckoning, like a candle in the window that shows the way home.

 
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