Sustained, p.11
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       Sustained, p.11

         Part #2 of The Legal Briefs series by Emma Chase
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  He didn’t. Why the fuck should I?

  I yank him up by his arm and throw him against the wall.

  “She said no, asshole! Are you deaf?” Then I wrap my hands around his throat.

  It’s soft. Weak. So easily breakable.

  And I squeeze.

  His eyes bulge and he claws at my hands. But it’s as effective as the brush of a butterfly’s wings.

  “Jake, please don’t.”

  Chelsea’s hand is on my shoulder, and her voice is soft. Pleading. “Don’t, Jake. Please stop.”

  She feels like a harbor, steady and calm amid churning dark, deadly waters.

  And so I stop. Not because he deserves it.

  Only because she asked.

  I release him and the dickhead slides to the floor, coughing and bleeding. I pant, glaring down at him, my heart beating brutally in my chest. I grab his jacket from the chair—mindful enough to take the keys from the pocket, because he reeks like a brewery—before throwing it at him.

  “Get out,” I growl, sounding as savage as I feel.

  He wipes his bleeding face with his jacket and glares up at me with hateful, unrepentant eyes. “I need my keys,” he rasps.

  Dumb fuck.

  “No. You can sleep in your car. When you’re sober in the morning, then you can take your sorry ass elsewhere.”

  He actually opens his mouth to argue, but I don’t let him.

  “Two choices. Sleep in the goddamn car, or end up unconscious in the hospital. I know which one I’d prefer.”

  And it’s not the car.

  He looks over my shoulder at Chelsea, and I bristle that even his gaze is touching her.

  “Do what he says, Lucas. Nikki and Kevin will be up in a few hours. Then you can all go.”

  With a final glare, he walks, hunched over, out the door. Which I slam behind him.

  • • •

  I turn the lock and the bolt to make sure he stays the fuck out. Or maybe to make sure I don’t go out and kill him. My hands shake, my whole body still vibrating with barely restrained fury—and something else that I don’t want to put a name to.

  From behind me, Chelsea’s voice trembles. “I can’t believe Lucas tried—”

  I whirl around like a roving volcano and erupt all over her.

  “Of course he fucking tried! What the hell did you expect? You thought he flew across the country for a hug and a peck on the cheek?”

  Arms hug her waist tighter. Her voice goes quieter. “I thought he was my friend.”

  “The naïve thing is cute, Chelsea—being a goddamn idiot is not.”

  She rears back like I’ve raised my hand to strike her. “Excuse me?”

  Unfamiliar feelings bubble inside me like black tar, coating my insides, thick and clinging.

  And ugly.

  “Your friend?” I laugh. And drag my eyes up and down her body. “You dress like that for all your friends?” I click my tongue. “Lucky guys.”

  Her voice rises an octave. “There’s nothing wrong with how I’m dressed.”

  My questions slice through the air. Sharp and cutting. “Are you drunk?”


  “Are you high?”


  “Have you fucked him before?”

  “That’s none of your business!”

  My mouth twists. “That’s a yes.”

  “Don’t cross-examine me!”

  “Do you know what could’ve happened to you if I wasn’t here?” I yell, forgetting about the six sleeping children upstairs.

  Because that’s the core of it, what has me craving murder. What makes me want to put my fist through the wall—or, more accurately, makes me want to grab that worthless piece of shit outside and put my fist through him. It’s the unspeakable things that might’ve happened to her if I anyone but me had been here.

  I’ve looked into survivors’ eyes. I’ve seen the aftermath. And, sure, maybe they move on. And maybe they get past it. But they never forget.

  And they’re never, ever the same.

  “Yes, I’m well aware, Jake. Contrary to what you think, I’m not stupid. I’m grateful that you were here.” Her voice goes from flat to cold. “And now you can go.”

  I point at the door. “I’m not fucking going anywhere as long as he’s outside.”

  “Fine. Enjoy the couch.”

  Then I’m dismissed. Chelsea turns around, her back as straight as a soldier’s, and walks toward the hallway. After three steps she looks back, and her words hit me like a wrecking ball. “I see now why you’re such a successful defense lawyer, Jake. You’re so very good at blaming the victim.”

  For a second I just stand there. Too stunned—maybe too ashamed—to reply.

  She walks up the stairs, and I’m alone. With the echo of all the things I shouldn’t have said ringing in my ears.


  Five minutes later I’m in the kitchen, rummaging through cabinets and drawers like an addict who’s forgotten where he hid his stash.

  And I’m muttering to Chelsea’s dead brother.

  “Come on, Robert, I’ve met your kids.” I check the back of the fridge, moving aside a jug of almond milk, a block of tofu, and a bag of organic pears. “There’s no fucking way you don’t have alcohol somewhere in this house.”

  At this point I’d settle for a bottle of NyQuil.

  I burrow in the freezer. And there, below containers of frozen spaghetti sauce, I hit liquid gold. A bottle of Southern Comfort.

  I gaze at the label, already tasting relief on my tongue. “Attaboy, Robbie. My kind of guy.”

  I unscrew the cap and take a swig, too eager to wait for a glass. The cold liquid burns a pleasant, numbing trail down my throat. Before closing the freezer, I grab a bag of frozen peas for my screaming knuckles. Then I take a glass from the cabinet and fill it halfway with the amber-colored alcohol. As I swirl it in the glass, the pitter-patter of sock-covered feet comes down the back staircase.

  And a moment later, Rory stands in the doorway, in blue sleeping pants and a white cotton T-shirt, with his brown curly hair sticking up in all directions. But his eyes are alert and wide, telling me he’s been awake for some time.

  “What are you doing out of bed?” I ask gently.

  “I was thirsty,” he lies. “Can I have a glass of water?”

  I motion for him to sit down at the center island, then fill a glass with cold water from the sink. I slide it in front of him, and for a few moments we sip our respective beverages in the still silence of the dimly lit kitchen.

  Until he confesses, “I heard you and Aunt Chelsea.”

  I just nod.

  He peers up at me with a hesitantly probing blue gaze. “You were loud. You sounded . . . mad.”

  I swallow a gulp and breathe out, “Yeah. I was mad.”

  Guilt is already eating me up. But when his features tighten with worry, the bite of regret feels particularly sharp. “Are you gonna leave?”

  I put my glass on the counter and look him in the eyes. “No, Rory, I’m not gonna leave.”

  His face relaxes. “Good.”

  He sips his water, then asks, “Why were you fighting?”

  “I . . . lost my temper.”

  “Were you acting like a pissed-off little asshole?” he asks, using my own words against me.

  I snort. The kid’s astute—I’ll give him that much.

  “Something like that.”

  “My parents used to fight once in a while . . .”

  With the stress of so many offspring, I’m not surprised. Actually, if at some point Robert McQuaid had gone full-out “Here’s Johnny” from The Shining, I wouldn’t be surprised.

  “. . . but they argued in the car.”

  A grin tugs at my lips. “In the car?”

  “Yeah.” He chuckles. “I guess they didn’t want us to know they were fighting, so they’d go outside where we couldn’t hear them. We’d watch them from the upstairs window.” His voice goes hushed, smiling with the m
emory. “My mom’s hands would go like this . . .”

  Rory’s arms flail above his head like an epileptic octopus.

  “And my dad would be like . . .”

  He pinches the bridge of his nose and shakes his head—the perfect imitation of a man trying to reason with an unreasonable woman.

  “What would happen when they came back inside?” I ask.

  He thinks a moment before answering. “They’d, like, march around each other. They wouldn’t talk or look at each other. But after a while, things would just slide back to normal, you know?”

  I don’t know, actually. I had a ringside seat for my parents’ “disagreements.” But I nod and tell him what he already knows.

  “They were good parents, kid.”

  He sighs deeply, with just a shadow of sadness. “Yeah.”

  I finish off the rest of my drink. “Come on, it’s late. Back to bed.”

  Rory hops off the stool and together we head up the stairs. When we get to the doorway of his room, he feigns a nonchalant attitude I’m now familiar with.

  “I’m not a baby, you know. You don’t have to tuck me in.”

  I tap his back. “Yeah, I know.”

  But I walk in the room with him anyway.

  As Rory crawls into the bottom bunk I glance up to where Raymond snores in the top one and pull up the covers that he’s kicked off. Once Rory’s settled, I smooth out his covers too.

  “Night, Rory. Sweet dreams.”

  “Night.” He turns on his side, snuggling into the pillows. I walk to the door, but before I step out, Rory’s quiet voice stops me. “I’m glad you’re here.”

  And with shock, I realize . . . so am I.

  I turn around, finding his small frame in the darkness, a shy smile on his lips. And I tell him, “Me too.”

  Then he closes his eyes.

  However, there’s someone who’s probably not so glad that I’m still here at the moment. And I head straight for her room. Because she and I need to talk.

  • • •

  I’ve heard people talk about anxiety. Nerves. But that doesn’t happen to me. I don’t get nervous before an opening statement or a closing one, not when my boss calls me to his office for a meeting, and sure as hell not before a hookup. I guess I just never cared about anything—or anyone—enough to be anxious about things not working out. I always figured I’d be able to fix it or find an equal option to replace it.

  You know what I’m going to say next, don’t you?

  Yes: standing outside Chelsea’s tightly closed bedroom door, I’m fucking nervous. My palms are sweaty, my stomach is clenched, my skin kind of itches, and I can feel my heartbeat in the back of my throat.

  How do people live like this?

  It’s awful. I hate it.

  And the fastest way to not feel like this is to just get it the hell over with. Talk to her. Eat shit and smile as I chew. Which I’m fully prepared to do.

  If I could just bring myself to actually knock on the door.

  But that’s where the evil anxiety comes into play. It won’t let me knock on the door, because . . . what if she tells me to screw off? What if she doesn’t accept my apology? What if she’s concluded that I’m a violent asshole who’s unfit to be around her and the kids?


  A low movement catches my eye and I look down—Cousin It is staring coolly up at me. He’s not wagging his tail, and his eyes are mocking. I can almost hear him telepathically calling me a pussy.

  “Shut up,” I snarl.

  He turns from me in disgust and trots away.

  I push my hand through my hair, take a breath, and knock twice. It’s a soft enough not to reach any of the twelve ears one floor up, but it’s decisive; women respond to confidence. The door opens faster than I anticipated—and only just far enough to frame Chelsea’s face. Her eyes are red-rimmed and wet.

  I put my hand on the frame, leaning in. “Are you okay?”

  Her chin rises, all stoic with attempted indifference, but she’s as bad at it as her foul-mouthed, car-stealing nephew is. “I’m fine.”

  Then she shuts the door in my face. She doesn’t slam it—but I get the feeling she really wants to.

  I knock again.

  And again it opens—same width, same expression staring at me.

  “I acted like an asshole to you.” I thought it best to skip the formalities and get right to the point.

  This time her eyes travel up and down, gauging my sincerity. Her beautiful mouth remains in that firm fuck-you line. “Agreed.”

  And closed goes the door.

  When I knock again and the door cracks open again, I wedge my foot in there good to keep it open. “I’m sorry, Chelsea.”

  Can she hear the strain? The regret that sounds absolutely nothing fucking like me? Does she know this new voice is reserved only for her?

  Of course she doesn’t, idiot—’cause you haven’t told her.

  “I was angry that he—that anyone—would try to hurt you. I took it out on you, and I was wrong.”

  Chelsea blinks and her countenance thaws a couple of degrees, but it’s still chilly. She shrugs—and I almost laugh. Because I see exactly where Riley gets it from.

  “Just forget it, Jake. It’s fine.”

  “It’s not fine.” I press my face into the crevice between the frame and the door, feeling like a fucking moron but laying it all on the line. “And part of the reason I was pissed, even before you left with them, was because . . . I was jealous.”

  Her jaw drops. “You were?”

  I nod. “Can I come in? I feel like a jackass talking through the crack.”

  “Oh.” She moves back, opening the door wide. “Sure.”

  I step inside and close the door behind me, and I’m surrounded by all things her—her scent in the air, her clothes lying across the corner chair, the jewelry that’s graced her delicate neck on the dresser, a framed picture of her in a graduation gown flanked by her brother and sister-in-law on the nightstand, and her sketchbook open on the bed. The sensory overload of these intimate sights and scents literally makes me weak in the knees.

  She stands in front of me, waiting. She’s changed her clothes—gone are the sexy halter and skintight jeans. In their place is an even sexier royal-blue LA Dodgers jersey and tiny white cotton shorts. Her face is flawlessly makeup free, framed by soft auburn waves. My hand twitches with the insane impulse to run my fingers through those waves—to count every shiny shade of color I find.

  “You’re sure you’re all right?” I ask.

  She unfolds her arms and nods. “Yeah. I’ve dealt with overeager guys before.” She sits on the bottom of the bed, toying with the blanket. “I just never expected Lucas to be one of them.”

  I don’t want to ask, but the masochist inside me needs to know. “Was he . . . like . . . a boyfriend?”

  “No, it was never like that. We were . . . friends. Casual, you know?”

  Yes, yes I do.

  She shakes her head. “They texted me from the airport after they landed—a surprise. But as soon as they got here, I knew it was a mistake. How much everything—the way I look at things, my idea of a good time—all of it’s changed.” Her eyes crinkle with grief. Grief for her brother, for the carefree girl she used to be. “I guess responsibility will do that to you.”

  I sit down on the bed beside her. “I’m sorry.”

  I’m sorry your brother died. I’m sorry you had to grow up overnight. I’m sorry you’re carrying the weight of six worlds on your slender shoulders.

  My hand travels to her knee to give comfort, but when my palm makes contact with her warm skin, it changes into something else.

  And she feels it too.

  Her thick lashes flare a bit, her eyes meeting mine. She leans my way—inching closer.

  “Why were you jealous of Lucas, Jake?” Her tongue peeks out, wetting her bottom lip. I don’t think she realizes she’s doing it—but I can’t notice anything else. “I mean, he’s still a boy, mo
oching off his parents, partying every night. You have an actual life; you have an amazing career.”

  “But he had you.” I don’t even think before I speak, because something about Chelsea McQuaid makes me want to . . . give. More. I reach across with my other hand and cup her cheek. The silky strands of her hair dance across my fingers. “At least for tonight, he did. How could I not be jealous?”

  Chelsea leans closer and I dip my head, until we’re just centimeters apart. So close I can taste the sweet mint of her breath.

  “Is that what you want?” she asks quietly. “Do you want me?”

  I lose myself in those clear blue eyes. Endless and cerulean, like tropical seas. And my voice is barely a whisper. “All the time. I can’t remember not wanting you anymore.”

  We close the wisp of distance together, and our lips fuse. Jesus. It’s slow at first, a gentle exploration. And then my fingers grasp firmer, pressing into the back of her neck, pulling her nearer. My mouth covers hers; it’s pliant and soft and so fucking eager. And it feels . . . electric . . . and important. Like every kiss before was just a dress rehearsal to prepare me for this. To bring me here, to this moment, where I can’t taste her deep enough—can’t get close enough.

  I press harder against her and she’s right there with me—head arching, meeting me touch for touch. I drag my tongue across her lips, tasting mint and her. Chelsea opens her mouth and I slide my tongue inside its wet depths, delving and groaning, ready to devour.

  With our mouths still joined, she rises to her knees, hovering above me. Her fingers scrape my jaw, touching my cheek. We move up farther on the bed, and she lies back, her hands guiding me to her—keeping me close. I settle between her open thighs, feeling heat and clenching, grinding desire. Her nipples are hard and hot beneath the jersey. They press through the fabric against my chest like two sharp flames, and I fucking moan into her mouth. Because I want to stoke those flames with my tongue, suckle that fire. She tilts her head, swiping her tongue slowly against my own.

  And her hips slowly, deliberately rise.

  Fuck me. I thrust against her in a long tight stroke, because it feels too goddamn good not to. She answers with a gyrating moan, low, guttural, and as
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